Chapter 1: Prologue
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
looms but the horror of the shade
and yet the menace of the years
finds, and shall find me, unafraid
by William Earnest Henley
Harry and Dumbledore sat for a time without talking. The realization of what would happen next settled gradually over Harry in the long minutes, like softly falling snow.
"I've got to go back, haven't I?" he asked, weighing the day's revelations in his mind.
"That is up to you," Dumbledore replied.
"I've got a choice?"
"Oh yes." Dumbledore smiled at him. "We are in King's Cross, you say? I think that if you decided not to go back, you would be able to... let's say... board a train."
Harry nodded, thoughtfully. "And where would it take me?"
"On," Dumbledore said simply.
Silence fell again, as Harry worked out how to ask his next question. "Voldemort's got the Elder Wand."
"True. Voldemort has the Elder Wand."
"But I'm it's master," Harry continued, remembering the sight of Dumbledore's wand flying in an arc over the ramparts under the sickly glow of the Dark Mark, and the feel of Draco's bloody hand as he wrenched the wands from the other wizard's grip.
"Only until you are defeated, Harry," Dumbledore reminded him, directing a piercing look over his half-moon spectacles. "If you do not return..."
Harry shook his head. "That's not what I meant," he said. "What I mean is-- right now, right this minute, I'm the master of all three Hallows. Like you said, I'm the true master of death."
"Because the true master does not seek to run away from Death," Dumbledore replied cautiously, repeating himself.
There was no sign of a twinkle in Dumbledore's bright blue eyes; he seemed perplexed by Harry's train of thought. Curiously, that made Harry's heart lift a little; for all the old man had seen, for all he had planned, plotted, and predicted, he could not know everything. Harry might not be able to hate the professor for what he'd done to him-- there really hadn't been any other way to beat Voldemort, as it happened-- but a part of him still railed against the way he'd been molded and shaped for martyrdom from the very beginning, and wished he'd been allowed to make his own choices.
He might not always have been the most mature wizard, but he'd never been a child, not the way the professor had meant him to be, and so many people had been hurt or killed due to his ignorance along the way. So much pain could have been avoided, if he'd only known all along what he'd have to do.
"Oh, I'm not running away from it," Harry said, with a wry twist of his lips. "I'm just wondering-- do I have to go back the same instant I was cursed? Or is there really some extra benefit to mastering all three Hallows, instead of just one or two? I'm not invincible, obviously, but-- can I choose when I want to wake up?"
Dumbledore frowned at him. "The Hallows have not been united since the deaths of the Peverell brothers," he answered. "There is no certain lore on the subject, though I would not discount the possibility even if that were not the original intention. We are speaking of deep, uncharted magic; as you have already discovered, will counts more than words at such a level. However, I do not see why you would wish to delay your revival. There is no predicting what might occur while your body lies abandoned; you could rejoin it half an hour after your encounter with Voldemort, only to find Hogwarts in ruins at his feet."
"That's not what I meant, either." Harry shook his head, then took a deep breath. "What if I want to go backwards, instead of forwards?"
Dumbledore was silent a moment; he looked very grave. "Harry, you know the risks of time travel are very severe."
"I've thought this over," Harry insisted. "More than once, actually; I've wondered what might have happened if I'd stolen a time turner from the Department of Mysteries when we went there looking for Sirius. See, the problem with going back in time is that you if you change things you might stop yourself from going back in the first place, and that would create a paradox, so I couldn't have done anything useful with one anyway. But this-- I wouldn't be sending anything physical back. Just my soul. It'd be like waking up from a very long vision, not like time travel at all, really."
Dumbledore considered that. "What led you to believe this might be possible?"
"Merlin, actually," Harry said, shrugging. "Some of the Muggle legends say he lived backward in time. I dunno if that's true-- I've never read the wizarding version-- but Hermione says that legends always have some basis in fact. It just made sense to me that there might be a way to send information back, not to avoid death exactly, but to undo some of the suffering that happened along the way. It's like you said; there are far worse things in the living world than dying."
And my friends and I have seen more than our fair share of them, he did not add, but was sure the professor understood.
Dumbledore nodded slowly. "And due to the manner in which you reached this place, you would return without the fragment of Voldemort's soul that made so much of your suffering necessary. I quite see your point, my boy-- but I must warn you, such a path would be fraught with even more danger than simply returning now, and I could not say what might happen when you reached this time once more."
Harry thought for a moment of all the things that might go wrong, all the victories as well as tragedies that would be undone, all the Horcruxes he'd have to find once again. Then he pictured Cedric's face, slackened in death; Sirius' eyes, wide with shock, as he fell into the veil; Dumbledore himself toppling from the Astronomy Tower; Mad-Eye Moody's eye, mounted like a trophy in Voldemort's Ministry; Nagini's fangs piercing Snape's neck; Fred, Lupin, and Tonks, laid out in the Great Hall; Neville carrying little Colin Creevey...
"It's worth it," he said, filled with conviction. It didn't matter what happened to him. He'd already made his peace with the necessity of his death. But the others had deserved better.
"Very well, then. I only suggest that, should it work, you find someone trustworthy in whom to confide, and that you choose your moment very carefully. I do not believe you will be able to go further back than the moment in which you first mastered a Hallow-- in your case, your father's Cloak-- but you should be able to choose any moment between that and this."
A sense of disbelief momentarily gripped Harry, leaving him speechless. Somehow, despite how often his instincts had been right over the last two years, he'd not quite believed that such a thing might actually be possible. Yet-- if Dumbledore was right-- there really was a chance he could do it. He could be eleven again, back at the beginning of everything.
How could he resist? Hermione would chide him-- again-- about his hero complex, but it was as much a part of him as the colour of his eyes.
Another pang shot through him; he'd been through so much with Ron and Hermione, and neither of them would remember any of this. They wouldn't remember what they'd been to him or each other, or anything they'd learned; they'd be just a pair of eleven-year-old wizards whose biggest triumph was defeating a mountain troll. Ginny would no longer be the fiery young woman he loved; she'd be a little girl again with a blind crush on the wizarding world's hero. Could Harry really do this without their support?
He swallowed hard. Of course he could. He had to. And besides, even if they wouldn't be the same people he'd leaned on so much over the last six years, they would still be there. They would still be his friends. He'd just have to make sure they became the people he knew they could be, that was all.
Harry took a deep breath and nodded to Dumbledore again as the bright mist swept back in, obscuring the old man's figure. "Thank you for everything, sir," he said.
Then he closed his eyes and concentrated very firmly on the unused classroom he'd visited that first Christmas break at Hogwarts. He didn't remember the exact moment he'd first donned the Cloak, but he did remember visiting the Mirror of Erised shortly afterward; he remembered slipping the Cloak off to sit down in front of it. That memory had been dredged up more than once during his disastrous Occlumency lessons two years ago; it was easy to focus on.
The brightness around him increased, then dimmed suddenly. He could feel the chill of stone appear beneath his suddenly folded legs, and his body felt abruptly out of proportion. Was he smaller? Did that mean he had done it?
Harry opened his eyes, and there before him was the familiar, enormous gilt frame bracketing the fondly smiling images of his parents. Hot tears sprang up unbidden, and he took a deep breath. He knew the difference now between this and the real thing, but he could not help the pang of longing that he always felt at every glimpse of them. He reached a hand out to the glass—noticing again how much he had shrunk-- and promised them silently that he would make them proud again.
Then a voice spoke up, sudden and unexpected, behind him.
"So-- back again, Harry?"
Chapter 2: Back Again
Harry flinched, utterly startled by the sudden question. He knew that voice.
Of course he knew it; he'd just spent several-- however many units of time-- listening to it in an empty, sunlit replica of King's Cross. But that had been six years and a bit into the future. Had the other wizard somehow followed Harry back?
Gingerly, feeling as though his insides had turned to ice, Harry turned to peer behind him. And there, perched upon one of the desks pushed against the sides of the disused classroom, he saw Albus Dumbledore, smiling and twinkling away at him as knowingly as ever.
"I-- I didn't--" he stammered, hardly knowing what to say.
"Strange how nearsighted being invisible can make you," the headmaster replied.
Invisible? Harry glanced down again, at the silvery folds of the Cloak of Invisibility pooled at his side, and nearly fainted in reaction as he realized what must have happened. This wasn't the first night Harry had spent at the Mirror of Erised, as he'd intended; he must have mixed things up in his head. This was the third night, December 27th, the night after he'd shown it to Ron-- the night Dumbledore had come to explain to him what it was. This wasn't the professor of Harry's time, teasing him about his journey to the past; this was the professor from the past, checking up on Harry's reaction to the Mirror.
Harry gave the headmaster a sheepish look as the old wizard moved to sit on the floor with him. He had no idea what he'd said the last time this had happened; he only hoped it hadn't been anything important, because he was no more capable of speaking at the moment than if he'd been struck with the Prince's langlock jinx.
Snape's jinx, rather. The ice began to gather in Harry's stomach again as he remembered how difficult things had been between him and the bitter professor even this early on in his Hogwarts career. By this time, if he remembered right, he'd already caught the man limping from Fluffy's bite, and of course there'd been the incident with the cursed broomstick; the Griffindor/Slytherin match Harry had won by nearly swallowing the Snitch had definitely been before Christmas his first year. That meant even skeptical, logical Hermione was already convinced that Snape was the one after the object Fluffy was guarding. It wasn't going to be easy to establish a working relationship with the potions master out of the wreckage of all that, especially since Harry was just as much James Potter's son now as he'd ever been. He had the feeling it would be necessary, however, if he wanted his second life to go much better than his first.
This wasn't the time to worry about it, though. If Dumbledore caught Harry ignoring him he'd have questions Harry wouldn't be able to avoid answering, and the last thing Harry wanted was to have the truth picked out of his mind and dealt with for the greater good before he had the chance to figure anything out for himself. He felt guilty about that reaction-- about not trusting the professor to be the confidant his later self had suggested Harry find-- but though he might have forgiven Dumbledore for everything the old wizard had done, he hadn't forgotten. If he let Dumbledore take up the reins of his new life now, he knew he would never get them back.
"--the delights of the Mirror of Erised," the headmaster was saying; Harry had completely missed the rest of his statement.
"They call it that because of the inscription, I expect," he replied inanely, fumbling for something to say as he looked back up at the Mirror.
"Yes," Dumbledore replied. "And have you unravelled its riddle?"
Harry winced at the choice of words. "It shows me my family, sir," he said, evading the question.
"And it showed your friend Ron himself as Head Boy."
The conversation was becoming more familiar with every word; the next question sprang from Harry's tongue almost without his volition. "How did you know--?"
"I don't need a cloak to become invisible," Dumbledore replied, his answer resonating with Harry's memories, both new and old.
Harry fought down the sudden urge to confront the headmaster about the Cloak, to ask him why he'd kept it all these years if he didn't need it. He wasn't going to be an idiot about this. The fact he'd been given this second chance was a miracle; he wasn't going to get a third, and he couldn't afford to poke at people with his extra knowledge just to see how they'd react. It was tempting, though. How had Snape walked around all those years, keeping so many secrets and yet never spilling any of them out of turn?
"Now, can you think what the Mirror of Erised shows us all?"
He'd shaken his head the last time, Harry remembered, and dithered a bit; this time round, he hadn't the patience to draw things out. "It shows us what we want," he said, glancing over his shoulder at the professor. He caught a glimpse of piercing blue eyes, then turned back to the Mirror hurriedly. The little Occlumency he'd managed to pick up would never protect him if Dumbledore decided to look in on his thoughts.
The reflections of his parents were mildly chiding, now, as though they knew what he was up to. Harry smiled wryly at them, wondering at himself for apparently desiring a firm hand as much as the rest of the parenting package. He would have thought he'd had enough of that at the Dursleys'. "Not just any old want, though," he added, qualifying his statement. "It shows our heart's desire."
"Exactly," Dumbledore replied, quietly. "Quite perceptive, my boy. You, who have never known your family, see them standing around you; Ronald Weasley, who has always been overshadowed by his brothers, sees himself standing alone, the best of all of them."
"But none of it's real," Harry said, nearly choking as several unexpected faces materialized in the crowd behind his parents. It wasn't just his blood family there, anymore-- though he supposed if you went back far enough, they counted on that score, too. Sirius' face looked back at him from over James' shoulder, young and unlined the way Harry had seen it when he'd used the Resurrection Stone. Remus was also there, looking just as young as Sirius-- and with his wife at his side, appearing the same age despite the decade and a half between them. Tonks turned her nose briefly into a pig's snout as Harry watched, then winked and lay her head against Remus' shoulder; a tiny body with a tuft of pink hair was barely visible in the crook of her arm.
"No, it is not. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible," Dumbledore said gravely. "I am pleased that you understand this, Harry, but the Mirror shall still be moved to a new home tomorrow, and I ask you not to go looking for it again. It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that. Now, why don't you put that admirable cloak back on and get off to bed?"
Harry stood up, tearing his eyes reluctantly away from the Mirror, and picked up the Cloak, feeling the fabric ripple like water through his fingers. Another question hovered on the tip of his tongue, but he couldn't ask it this time, not after what he'd learned about Dumbledore's past. It was the professor's own business what he saw in the Mirror's depths, even if it was just an image of himself holding a pair of warm woollen socks.
Harry offered Dumbledore a shaky smile and a nod, then slipped the Cloak hastily over his head and padded back toward Gryffindor Tower, feeling thoroughly unsettled.
The disorientation did not let up in the corridors, either. There were far fewer hex-marks on the walls than he remembered, and the suits of armour stood watch as silently as they ever had; the smooth stone underfoot was clear of the debris of battle. Harry knew that if he went up to a certain corridor and paced the hall asking for the place where things were hidden, he'd find the cursed diadem of Ravenclaw waiting for him, unmarred by the Fiendfyre that Crabbe had cast.
But he couldn't deal with that just yet. His eleven year old body was announcing its exhaustion, and it would be a bad idea to rush off into action without at least trying to come up with a plan. Better to get some rest, and work on the problem when his mind was fresh.
Provided, of course, he could actually get to his bed at all.
"Bloody hell," Harry muttered, stuffing the Cloak into a pocket as he stared at the Fat Lady's portrait. How was he meant to remember a password six and a half years old? What had they been on that year-- animal parts?
"Caput draconis?" he tried. No-- that had been from the beginning of the year; his memory of it was coloured with Percy's voice, and he couldn't recall any others. "Bat wing? Centaur elbow? Billywig sting?"
"Sorry, dear," the Fat Lady told him, yawning.
It was like guessing sweets outside Dumbledore's office; he felt a bit ridiculous, but he didn't want to wake up the whole tower just to be let in. "Lion paw?" he offered weakly. "Phoenix beak?" Too bad Tonks wasn't around yet; this might feel less like a waste of time if she was playing along. "Pig snout, even?"
The portrait swung open with a click.
"Finally," Harry muttered, stifling a yawn as he shuffled through the Gryffindor common room toward the boy's staircase. It was cold and empty at this hour, but a lump rose in his throat nonetheless, the product of nearly a year's separation from the place that had been more his home than the Dursleys' perfectly normal residence ever had. He hadn't exactly had time to go visiting when he'd come to Hogwarts in search of the last Horcrux, but in a way, he was glad of that; his memories of the Tower hadn't been tarnished by the ghosts of war the way the rest of the castle had.
He did have time for one particular visit now, though, despite the tiredness weighing down his bones. He stopped partway up the stair, outside the door to the third year boys' dorm, and crept quietly into the domain of Gred and Forge.
The twin Weasleys looked unnaturally angelic in sleep. Harry knew better than to trust appearances, of course, and stayed far out of reach of the beds, but he approached close enough to watch the rise and fall of Fred's chest and to make sure both of George's ears were still affixed where they belonged. They looked so young! More than his own changes, more than the sight of a still-living Dumbledore, that was what truly brought it home that he'd actually gone back in time.
When he'd looked his fill, Harry crept back out to the stairwell, then up and into the first years' dorm. Ron was the only other boy still there over Christmas, and his familiar snoring seemed all the louder in the general silence. Harry smiled, pushing Ron's bedcurtains aside just a bit to look down at the first friend he'd ever made, then crept over to his own bed. He tucked the Cloak into his trunk, then stifled another yawn and reached to nudge Scabbers off his pillow so he could curl up on his bed.
His fingers froze in place an inch from the dozing rat's fur.
"Wormtail," Harry hissed. How could he have forgotten? All trace of drowsiness left Harry as he scrabbled frantically for his wand. He pointed the shaking tip at the rat's whiskered nose. Pettigrew had died too quickly the last time, as ugly as his death had been; he'd deserved to rot in Azkaban for the rest of his days.
Only-- what could he do with the rat now? Even if he cast Incarcerous on him this instant and ran straight to McGonagall, who was going to believe an eleven year old boy who claimed his best friend's pet was the animal form of the real traitor that had betrayed his parents? Especially when they'd never even told him the official story of the betrayal? Last time he'd had Professor Lupin, Sirius, the map, and his friends all to back him up. This time, if McGonagall even bothered to humour him long enough to try the spell to force an Animagus back into human form, she'd want to know why he suspected the rat in the first place. What would he tell her? What could he tell her?
He couldn't. He couldn't do anything.
Harry lowered his wand and staggered back away from the bed, then sat down hard on the cold floor and put his face in his hands. Was this what Dumbledore had meant by "fraught with danger"? How was he supposed to deal with situations like this? He really hadn't thought this going-back-in-time thing through.
Except-- maybe he couldn't deal with this situation, but--
Harry sat up, then threw his trunk open again and rummaged frantically in it for some scraps of spare parchment, a bottle of ink, and a quill. Wormtail startled at the noise and scuttled off Harry's pillow, but Harry forced himself to pay the rat no mind; in the other time, Scabbers had stayed with Ron another two whole years before faking his death again and framing Hermione's cat. He'd still be there tomorrow. Or however long it took to get things moving.
"Dear Professor Lupin," Harry scribbled on the parchment, then grimaced and crossed the "Professor" out. He'd couldn't use Remus or Moony either, not yet, so it would have to be "Mr. Lupin." That sounded wrong, somehow, but it would have to do.
"Dear Mr. Lupin," he wrote on a fresh piece of parchment, then paused and nibbled on the feathery end of the quill. What excuse could he use for writing? Well-- it would sound dumb, but maybe--
"My name is Harry Potter, and I'm a first year student at Hogwarts. I've been told you went to school with my parents, and I was wondering if you would mind talking to me about them sometime. My aunt and uncle don't speak of them, and all the professors have said is that I have my father's hair and my mother's eyes."
Was that too pathetic sounding? He nibbled the quill a little more, then decided the more needy he sounded the better. What had Moony been doing all those years, anyway? Had Dumbledore asked him not to visit Harry for whatever reason, or had Remus been so grief-stricken by everything that happened that he couldn't bear to see his friends' surviving son? Or had he just been too busy to think about contacting him? Harry had never dared ask before, for fear of the answer he might get. It didn't matter so much, now, though; Harry knew Remus cared, even if Remus himself didn't know how much yet.
He couldn't broach the topic of Wormtail so soon, and bringing up Sirius would probably be a bad idea; he didn't want Remus to throw the letter away. If he could just get the older man to start exchanging letters with him, though, they'd have to get around to the topic sooner or later, and Harry was confident he could work in enough innocuous references to rouse Moony's suspicions. Hopefully before the end of the year. Harry couldn't bear to think of his godfather still penned up while the real villain ran around free.
"It's okay if you don't want to. But I'd appreciate if you could let me know who else I might write. I know I don't remember my parents, but sometimes I feel like they're with me, like they're still watching over me, and I'd like to learn as much about them as I can."
That was all true enough, though he'd never say it to anyone else, except maybe Sirius or Ginny. Not even Ron, who would mock him for it, or Hermione, who'd get that pitying expression. Harry shuddered, then took a deep breath and scrawled his signature across the bottom. He squinted over at Scabbers, now dozing on the bed next to Ron, and glared at the rat. He'd take the letter up to Hedwig in the morning, and they'd just see where things went from there.
Harry folded the letter up into an envelope, then set it on the bedside stand with his wand and glasses and slipped into his bed. It was too bad he'd had never been all that brilliant at chess; he had a feeling most of his second trip through Hogwarts was going to be filled with more of what he'd just done, setting things up to try and head off the disasters he knew would be coming.
It was a good thing he had so many friends and adults ready and willing to help him. He just had to remember to take that help this time round.
Chapter 3: Checking It Twice
Harry woke the next morning to the clamour of a young, excitable voice calling his name.
He turned over and groaned, burying his face in his pillow. Who had let an ickle Firstie into the dorm at such an hour? "Go 'way," he muttered.
"Harry, come on, wake up!" The curtains around his bed parted, and someone jumped on the end of it, jarring him further awake. "We're going to miss breakfast!"
Harry cracked an eye open and glared over his shoulder at the intruder, then nearly swallowed his tongue as he recognized the freckled face of his best friend. Of course Ron sounded like an ickle Firstie; he was a Firstie. And so was Harry. Neither of them were old enough yet for their voices to have changed. And wasn't that a disturbing thought; he had puberty to look forward to a second time, on top of everything else on his plate.
He was going to have to get used to the way everyone sounded all over again, in addition to the way they looked. Hopefully, he wouldn't say or do anything stupid in the meantime. It was a good thing he'd come back over Christmas break, to give himself some time to adjust. It was going to be strange enough just living at Hogwarts again, nevermind trying to attend classes, deal with teachers, and interact with the other students as peers without tripping himself up.
He yawned, and Ron gave him a chastising look. "You didn't go back down after that Mirror again last night, did you? I told you it was a bad idea."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Don't worry, I won't do it again. Dumbledore found me--"
Ron's eyes grew round. "Merlin. What did he do?"
Harry shook his head, then sat up and squirmed out from under the covers. "Nothing, really. He just wanted to talk to me about the Mirror, I think. He says it's supposed to show us our deepest desires, and that people can go mad sitting in front of it."
"Blimey," Ron said. "Good thing he found you, then."
Harry frowned as he rummaged among his clothes for something comfortable to wear. It was a good thing Dumbledore had found him the first time. He'd thought so then, too; he'd decided Dumbledore must have set him up to learn the Mirror's secret so he'd be prepared to test his strength against his arch-enemy. From the vantage point of six years' more experience, though, that seemed an overly simplistic explanation. He'd have to mull it over again later, when he had time to think without Ron's stomach dictating the schedule.
"I'll just take a quick shower," he said, dismissing the subject. "Meet you in the Common Room in a few minutes?"
"All right," Ron shrugged. He was fully dressed already, wearing his newest Weasley jumper with a pair of comfortable trousers. "I'll just go see what my brothers are up to."
Breakfast was a merry affair; it was just Ron, Harry, and the twins at their table, as Percy had apparently eaten much earlier. Fred and George were still snickering over the latest prank they'd pulled on him, and were in an expansive mood, bragging about all the tricks and traps they were planning to pull on the other students when everyone returned from Christmas break.
Harry couldn't help but wonder just how much of their pranking success was due to the Marauders, who'd given them a standard to live up to, and how much was natural mischievousness. He knew they'd got the map away from Filch during a detention in their first year, implying they'd had a certain amount of talent at it before they ever arrived at Hogwarts, but they'd had an unnatural advantage ever since. He didn't think the original Marauders would have minded, though. They'd probably have cheered them on, in fact.
After breakfast, the ginger tribe plus one all trooped back up to the tower. Ron challenged Harry to a few games of wizard's chess as they entered the common room; Harry had a brand new set of pieces in his trunk, won out of a Christmas cracker a few days before, and he decided it couldn't hurt to put them to use. It seemed a safe diversion; he'd never been much good at the game, and if they had fun now he'd have an excuse to leave to do some "homework" after lunch.
Besides, he was enjoying being able to relax after the chaos of the last few days of his other life. Something wound up tight inside him from all the loss, panic, and struggle he'd fought his way through was slowly unwinding in the light-hearted presence of his friends, and he wanted to bask in that warmth just a little bit longer.
Despite his best efforts to play "normally", however, Ron gave him a funny look partway through the first game and paused, staring at him over the board. "You've been holding back on me, mate," he said, thoughtfully.
"What do you mean?" Harry frowned, staring first at his friend, then down at the board. "You're still winning."
"Yeah, but a couple of days ago you were acting like you didn't even know what the pieces did. Sure, it's more of a challenge this way-- but you didn't have to lie about it."
Harry winced. After all of the bits of knowledge he'd brought back with him, he'd never expected chess, of all things, to trip him up. He was going to have to come up with a good overall cover story straight away to use in the future-- visions, maybe? That's what he'd said to Dumbledore, back at the end of everything. Still, nobody in their right mind would believe he'd had a vision of chess, or any of the other little mundane things he did every day. He was going to have to get creative.
"I did play chess a bit, back in the Muggle world," he said, hesitantly. "Dudley had a set he'd thrown out, and I rescued it from the bin. I didn't know if all the pieces moved the same here, though, and Seamus' set was a bit distracting, yelling at me and all. This set is friendlier, though, and they do move just like Muggle ones after all, so I suppose I've got used to it."
Ron goggled a bit at that. "Muggles play chess, too?"
"'Course they do, Ron." Honestly, for a family whose dad was so obsessed with Muggle technology, the younger Weasleys were all amazingly ignorant of what the non-wizarding world was like. "Haven't you played with Hermione?"
"But that's Hermione," Ron said, still staring. "She knows everything."
"Not everything," Harry answered, grinning at his friend. "You're better at it than she is."
Ron looked pleased at that thought. "Yeah. That and flying," he snickered.
Harry shook his head, and they went back to their game.
After lunch, Harry casually claimed an interest in getting some more of his reading done for the next term, and maybe looking into the Flamel question some more. Ron was as unenthusiastic about the idea of visiting the library as he usually was when Hermione wasn't present, and decided he'd rather lounge about the Common Room playing gobstones and Exploding Snap with his brothers. Harry didn't push him; it was exactly what he'd hoped would happen.
He went up to the dorm first to fetch his letter to Remus, some supplies to take notes with, and his Albus Dumbledore chocolate frog card; he planned to show the text on it to Ron when he returned as "proof" that he really had been researching Flamel. What he'd actually be doing, of course, was secluding himself in a corner of the library while he figured out what he was going to do with the next six years of his life, take two. Madam Pince kept pretty short hours over break, but it was one of the few places he could be sure of finding some peace and quiet for the next few hours. And if anyone came looking for him, the books made a great cover story.
He went by the Owlery first, and had another painful moment at the first sight of Hedwig. He could still hear her screeching as she collapsed to the floor of her cage in a flash of green, four days before his seventeenth birthday. Her loss had gone almost unremarked amid the greater tragedies of George's disfiguring injury and Moody's death, but he'd missed her a great deal.
He talked to her softly for a moment before giving her the letter, praising her for being such a good owl, and sent her off with promises of extra treats when she got back. Then he took a deep breath and headed back down to the fourth floor.
The first thing he wrote on his note parchment, after securing a suitably remote study table in the back of the library, was Sirius' name. Underlined. Twice.
He'd learned enough about his father and the rest of the Marauders in the years since he'd first met Sirius Black to understand that his godfather wasn't perfect. He had a bad habit of leaping before he looked, even worse than Harry did, and that last year in Grimmauld Place he hadn't been anybody's idea of a good role model. But he was still Harry's godfather. His innocent godfather, who loved him, and who had died protecting him. Maybe he wouldn't be the perfect guardian. But he was the guardian Harry wanted, and surely things wouldn't be nearly so bad if he were freed right away and had time to heal from Azkaban before the war came back to haunt him.
The Headmaster probably wouldn't like it. He might even still make Harry spend most of each summer with the Dursleys because of the blood protection. Sirius would still be there for him though, available to sign permission slips, visit with over Christmases and Easters, and write long letters to about any trivial thing that came into Harry's head. Harry could deal with that.
He underlined Sirius' name one more time for emphasis, then put quill to parchment again to list out each of the known Horcruxes. He wasn't one anymore, and Nagini wasn't one yet if Dumbledore had been right about the order of events. That left just five: Riddle's diary (still with the Malfoys), Hufflepuff's cup (in Bellatrix's vault), the Resurrection Stone (as part of the ring hidden in the Gaunt shack), Slytherin's locket (on display at Grimmauld Place), and Ravenclaw's diadem (hidden in the Room of Requirement). One of them he could get to right now; another he could get to once Sirius was free; the others would take a bit more effort. Someone would have to Apparate to Little Hangleton to fetch the ring, and he was years too young for that; the other two were even further out of his reach.
Taking down Voldemort had been Harry's primary purpose since old Tom had tried to kill him sixteen years ago-- no, ten-- and ended up triggering Trelawney's prophecy instead. Harry had understood that instinctively from the beginning, and more explicitly since the mess in the Ministry his fifth year. His 'second chance' was going to have to be all about that, too, only quicker and smarter if he wanted to spare his friends all the pain they'd gone through the first time round.
That meant destroying the Horcruxes. Nothing else-- not the Tri-Wizard Tournament, not OWLs and NEWTs, nor the D.A. nor even Quidditch-- mattered in the long run, compared to that goal. So really, he didn't have to worry about contaminating the timeline. As long as Voldemort didn't get the Philosopher's Stone and Malfoy still tried to give Riddle's diary to Ginny, it didn't matter much how everything else fell out. He'd be able to collect all the Horcruxes bar the cup long before Voldemort regained a body, and the second war, if things got that far, would be all the shorter for it.
He didn't know what other effects his changes might have; he wasn't Dumbledore. He couldn't predict things that far in advance, and he wasn't all that interested in managing his friends on a day-to-day basis. He'd just have to make an effort to keep including them, and to tell them as much as he could, as soon as he could, so they could make their own choices. Nothing he could do would change the people they essentially were, and he'd drive himself crazy if he tried to take responsibility for their decisions. He'd thoroughly learned that lesson already.
No matter what he did, though, he couldn't tell anyone the time travel secret. Not yet. None of his friends still at Hogwarts knew even as much Occlumency as he did, and once that secret got out he would be doomed. It would only be a matter of time before somebody got to him with either Veritaserum or an Obliviate, trying to either gain an advantage or stop him from meddling, and maybe even both. The adults were another story-- but he'd already dismissed the idea of telling Dumbledore. That left only one person already at the school that might possibly be willing to help Harry without running back to the Headmaster with the details.
Harry wrote the Potions Professor's name on the parchment next, and regarded it with a scowl. Snape hated him. He hated Snape. It had been that way since the very first time they'd met, and if someone had asked him even twenty-four hours ago if that would ever change, he'd have said no. But then he'd finally, finally learned why Dumbledore had trusted the man. And it hadn't been anything like what he'd expected.
Snape had loved his mum. Loved. His mum. And Lily had been Snape's best friend since before Hogwarts; she hadn't given James much more than the time of day until after that friendship had ended. If Snape hadn't called her a Mudblood and sided with the Death Eaters their fifth year, things might have gone very differently. Harry might even have been born a Snape instead of a Potter! The very thought made him want to sick up.
But Snape had loved her. And still did; Harry had seen the evidence of it. And Dumbledore had used that love, since even before Voldemort's first fall, to keep an extra eye out for Harry.
That bothered Harry, on several levels. Even knowing what he knew, even knowing how much Snape must have loathed him both for being James Potter's son and for surviving when Lily hadn't, he still thought Snape's behaviour toward him was way worse than any professor should be allowed to get away with. But he could understand Snape's motivation. He could grasp it, and trust it not to change, unlike the slippery entity known as "the Greater Good". If he could get at the man from a Lily angle instead of always being the echo of James, a lot of the worst bits of the next six years might be avoided. There was just the slight problem of convincing the man that helping Harry, and keeping his secrets, served Lily's legacy better than sticking strictly to Dumbledore's orders.
Harry had his work cut out for him if he ever intended to get to that point, though. And he wasn't even sure yet if the effort would be worth it. Maybe he'd be able to finish up the Horcrux hunt this time without an adult's help. Yeah, and maybe pigs would fly without the benefit of a Hover Charm.
He drew little question marks around Snape's name, and moved on.
The Philosopher's Stone was next. It was supposed to be in the Mirror of Erised right now, sitting at the end of the Headmaster's homemade labyrinth. Except the Mirror had been up on the fourth floor last night, not so far from where he was sitting, where anybody could have discovered it. So where had the Stone been, then? Lying unprotected just past Snape's potion-flame trap? Temporarily in the Headmaster's office? Or still bewitched into the Mirror? And why hide the Stone in such a way that three reasonably clever first years could get to it at all? Why not fake everyone out with the elaborate trap, and secretly send the Stone to some other Unplottable location?
There was only one conclusion that made sense. Dumbledore had meant for the thing to be found. But had he meant for Harry to find it? Or had he just been using the Mirror to test him, totally unrelated to the Philosopher's Stone quest? Harry had vanquished Voldemort last time, sure. But he'd also killed Quirrell in the process. And Quirrell would never have got the Stone out of the Mirror without Harry's help; he might have stood there for hours prodding at the thing with no result. Dumbledore had come back from the Ministry pretty quickly that night; had he meant to catch Quirrell down there red-handed for some reason?
Harry rubbed his forehead with a sigh. He'd just have to keep an eye on the situation, and feed enough clues to Ron and Hermione for them to figure out that Quirrell was the thief. Maybe a solution would present itself from there. Something besides simply walking up to the Defence professor and pressing his hands to his face, anyway. He'd never be able to explain that.
Speaking of clues; it was time to find a book to mark with the card and carry up to the tower. Harry crumpled the list into a tight wad of paper and tucked it into a pocket, then got up, stretched, and started drifting among the shelves in the general direction of the Potions and Alchemy section. He couldn't remember what book Hermione had found Flamel in the first time, but he was sure he'd be able to find something on the ancient alchemist in there.
Chapter 4: Planning Ahead
As luck would have it, Harry discovered a slim volume entitled "Great Discoveries in Alchemy" after only a few minutes of searching the library shelves. He took it down to check the publication date, then flipped to the index and scanned the list of chapters. Partway down, right where anyone could see it, was the title: "The Philosopher's Stone: Nicolas Flamel's Greatest Achievement?" He flipped to the chapter to check it, and grinned as he saw that the author had included a brief biography of the man.
That should satisfy Hermione and Ron. And since it was still fairly early in the afternoon-- he probably ought to look up a few books to satisfy his professors, as well, before he went back up to the dorm. Establishing a history of recreational text reading would save him a lot of trouble later on, should he ever get caught casting a spell he really oughtn't to know how to perform. And he knew he would; he'd been the one who'd thoughtlessly said Voldemort's name out loud when he knew it had been put under Taboo, after all.
His sudden bookishness would probably seem strange to his friends, but neither knew him as well in the here and now as they would in the future; this Ron had known him only a few months, and Hermione really only since Halloween. He could probably pass off the change as a decision to try and live up to the memory of his parents, now he'd seen them for the first time via the Mirror of Erised. It wouldn't even really be all that much of a lie.
Of his parents' specialties-- Lily's gifts for Potions and Charms, and James' talent for Transfiguration-- the only one Harry had ever seemed naturally gifted at was Charms, and even then only when he really cared about the Charm in question. He'd always been just above average in the other two subjects, and given everything else going on had never really felt like putting in the amount of work it would take to earn steady O's in them. He'd been much more concerned with his other natural talent-- Defence. This time, though, it seemed a good idea to make the effort. Completely aside from the question of Snape, good marks covered a multitude of sins. At least in that, the Marauders' school careers were worth taking example from.
He wandered the Potions stacks a bit more, pulling down a few likely titles on common interactions and ingredient preparation and things, then carried the lot over to Madam Pince. She gave him a baleful look and a warning not to go brewing unsupervised, followed by a mutter that might have contained the name "Weasley"; he affected not to notice, but made a note to ask the twins later just what that had been about. They might be a decent resource, too, come to think; he'd never really asked them how they went about creating new Wheezes, but Potions were obviously a big part of it.
He packed the books into his bag, then headed up to the seventh floor. The staircases had been shifting about more than usual-- celebrating the season like everyone else, probably, while they didn't have to worry about so many feet using them-- and he ended up several corridors over from the entrance to Gryffindor Tower. He blinked when he noticed the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy a short distance ahead, and abruptly paused to mess about with his bag as cover while he thought hard about whether or not he dared stop and open up the Room of Requirement.
The problem with not stopping was that when he mentioned the Room to Ron and Hermione-- and of course he would, it was the perfect place to do independent study and plan pranks and such, much better than Moaning Myrtle's bathroom-- they'd ask how he'd found out about it in the first place. He could always lie, but basing a lie on thin air was much more dangerous than basing it on a partial truth. Life was going to be hard enough the next few years without tangling his brain up in a web of what he'd told to whom, and the more lies he told the more likely it was he'd get caught out.
The problem with stopping now to provide an excuse, however, was that if any of the Professors, especially Dumbledore, were hanging about invisibly to keep an eye on him, or thought to ask the paintings and ghosts what he'd been up to, it might seem odd if he just walked up to it as though he knew what he was doing. That might be a bit paranoid of him, but he'd really better begin as he meant to go on. No, this was going to require a bit of Slytherin sneakiness and finesse. He'd managed to break into Gringotts and the Ministry once apiece, after all, though granted he'd had help and nothing had gone perfectly to plan; still, he was sure he could think of something.
A moment later, he had a tentative plan in mind, and decided to give it a go. He pulled something out of the bottom of his bag-- an inkwell, the first small thing that came to hand-- and held it up, making a show out of being relieved, as though he'd been afraid he'd left it behind in the library. Then he filled the bag back up, making sure to place the box he kept his quills in atop everything else. Finally, he continued along the hallway, casually sticking one hand into his trouser pocket to grasp his wand
He ambled along slowly, as though he hadn't a care in the world, until he had nearly reached the bit of wall opposite the tapestry. Then he gripped his wand tighter and directed a silent Wingardium Leviosa at the box-end that stuck out of the top of his bag. He'd never had a chance to fully master silent casting, and the most his eleven-year-old magic could manage was a soft nudge rather than the usual full lifting effect; still, it was enough, and the box slipped from his bag to clatter on the stones.
Harry walked a few paces more, looking around as though searching out the source of the sound, all the while furiously thinking of the way the Room had looked when it had been Dumbledore's Army Headquarters. Then he glanced over his shoulder, frowned, and walked the few paces back past where the door to the Room would open. He bent to pick up the box, still murmuring his request to the room in his head, and put it back in his bag before starting off toward the Gryffindor Tower again.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the door begin to materialize; he stopped and turned to gape at it as though in surprise or dismay. It wasn't difficult to fake the emotion; he was dismayed at the sight of it, remembering Neville sheltering the other rebellious students inside and Crabbe's animated fire consuming centuries of hidden artefacts. Not to mention the Horcrux brooding over the whole. He was going to have to leave the diadem here for now-- the Room was a more secure hiding place than any he could devise on short notice-- but maybe after Hermione came back for spring term he could bring her to have a look over the discarded books. There had to be thousands of them in there; she'd be in heaven.
Harry swallowed, then opened the door for a quick look round, and sighed at the familiar scenery. The sight of it brought back more memories; it made him want to rub the back of his hand where Umbridge's quill had left its mark. Only-- it hadn't yet, had it? He glanced down in surprise, spreading his fingers wide as he took in the absence of the familiar scars. No more fine lines reading "I must not tell lies"-- and if things went as he intended them to, there never would be, either. He laughed, caught in a strange mix of elation and relief, then stepped back out of the room and hurried off toward the tower. As he glanced behind him, he saw the door melting back into the wall-- and across from it, Barnabas peering out of his tapestry, watching Harry go.
He'd better get used to that sight, Harry thought giddily; he'd be seeing a lot more of Harry, and his friends too, if Harry had his way.
He slowed down as he reached the Fat Lady, and murmured the password; her portrait swung wide, and he stepped through into the common room, where Ron was handily beating Percy at chess and the twins were huddled over a study table, muttering to each other as they scribbled on the same piece of parchment. Planning something, most like.
Ron ordered his only remaining knight forward, then looked up. "Find anything, then?" he asked, grinning at Harry.
"I did, actually," Harry replied, grinning back as he dropped his bag next to a chair near the fire.
Across from Ron, Percy frowned as his chess pieces gave him advice. He didn't appear to like whatever it was they were saying; he shook his head, then ordered one to move.
"You never did," Ron gasped, surprised. "After all the time Hermione spent in there?"
"Ron--" Percy said, disapprovingly.
"Oh--" Ron turned back to the board, assessed it at a glance, then leaned over to give a bishop directions. It slid along a diagonal, then turned menacingly toward Percy's king. "Checkmate, then," he said, and turned back to Harry. "Go on. What did you find?"
Percy shook his head as his king knelt, dismayed, and took off his crown. "That's it for me," he said, and began gathering up the pieces. "I've studying to do, anyway."
Ron ignored him as he got up to leave, watching as Harry rummaged through his bag for the alchemy book.
"I found him in here," Harry said excitedly, in a low voice, turning the thick pages to the spot he'd marked with the chocolate frog card. "You remember this? You gave it to me on the train," he said, holding the card out to Ron. "I had it in my bag, and it fell out when I was digging for quills."
Ron stared at the book for a moment longer, curiously, then took the card and turned it over, reading again the words on the back. "Greatest wizard-- Grindlewald-- dragon's blood-- oh! 'And his work on alchemy with his partner, Nicolas Flamel.' Blimey; I knew he sounded familiar!"
"Right, right," Harry said. "So I looked for anything on discoveries in alchemy-- and listen to this!" He turned the book so Ron could see it, too, and read the introductory portion of the chapter aloud.
"The most popular field of alchemy is, of course, concerned with making the Philosopher's Stone, a legendary substance with astonishing powers. The Stone will transform any metal into pure gold. It also produces the Elixir of Life, which will make the drinker immortal. There have been many reports of the Philosopher's Stone over the centuries, but the only Stone currently in existence belongs to Mr. Nicolas Flamel. Mr. Flamel and his wife, Perenelle, are well into their seventh centuries as of the publication of this book."
"No wonder Snape's after it," Ron said, awed. "A stone that makes gold and stops you from ever dying. Who wouldn't want it?"
"I'm not so sure it's Snape, actually," Harry demurred. "But someone definitely is. Why else move it out of Gringotts? Of course Dumbledore would hide it for him if they're friends."
Ron gave him an incredulous look at his defence of Snape. "Who else could it be?"
Harry sighed. "Ron-- I know it looks bad. But he's a professor, and we're first years--"
"But he jinxed your broom!" Ron hissed.
"What if it was someone else, and he was doing a counter-jinx? Somebody had to be, or I'd have fallen off my broom for sure. Maybe Hermione distracted both of them! The more I think about it, the more it bothers me. I'm sure there's something we're missing."
Ron shook his head in disgust, but thankfully dropped the subject. "Anyway," he said, ruefully, "it's no wonder we couldn't find Flamel in that 'Study of Recent Developments of Wizardry'. If he's nearly seven hundred years old, then he's not exactly recent, is he? Hermione will go spare when we tell her."
"I know!" Harry laughed. "It was right under our noses the entire time."
Ron shook his head, then threw a look over at Fred and George, who were still obliviously muttering to each other on the other side of the Common Room. "So what next, then?" he asked, quietly.
"About the Stone? I'm not sure we should be doing anything," Harry said. "If Dumbledore's guarding it, I'm sure he's got more heavy protections on it than just Fluffy." He shrugged. "Maybe Hermione will have an idea."
Ron shrugged. "Yeah, probably." He glanced back toward the chessboard, where his pieces were still moving slowly back to starting positions, giving each other congratulatory pats on the back and making rude gestures toward the empty half of the board where Percy had taken his away. "You want to play?"
Harry thought about the Room of Requirement again, eager to share it, then reluctantly put the idea away. He'd already solved the Flamel issue in Hermione's place; it wouldn't be fair to show the Room to Ron first, too. He'd show them together, after term started.
"All right," he said. "Just let me put these away and fetch my set."
He paused as he passed the fireplace, aware of the crinkle of parchment in his trouser pocket, and pulled his list out for another quick look. Sirius, Horcruxes, Snape, Stone; he'd best not be leaving that around for just anyone to find, or the jig would be up before he'd even properly got started fixing things. He crumpled it tight and tossed it on the coals, then watched it burst into flame. Wasn't like burning it would make him forget.
"What was that?" Ron asked, curiously.
"Oh, nothing important," Harry said. "Just useless notes. I'll be right back down."
The rest of Christmas holidays went by much the same. Harry would play chess or Gobstones or Exploding Snap with Ron and his brothers for part of the day, or sit around toasting bits of things over the fire, or explore some of the disused corridors (though never on the seventh or third floors). The only thing really missing from the holiday experience, Harry was sure, was the wind in his hair and a broomstick under him-- but it wouldn't be the same alone, and Ron wasn't allowed yet.
In the afternoons, however, he'd sneak off with his potions text, "One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi", and the supplementary reading he'd taken out. Snape's Advanced Potions book had been full of notations on what to do instead of or in addition to the text's instructions; Harry wasn't that good yet, and mightn't ever be, but the scribbles in the margins way of preparing seemed like a good one. He started at the beginning of the class text with the potions he was supposed to have already done, like the boil-curing potion he vaguely remembered had backfired on Neville, and wrote down all the significant things he could find on ingredients and process in the other texts.
It was slow going, but after a few days Harry could already see that it would make a big difference. If he could do this for each potion before they had to make it, he'd already know which stages were the touchiest, requiring exact timing and number of stirs, and which ingredients and mixtures were a little more forgiving. It would help him to know when to really pay attention-- and when the Slytherins were likeliest to interfere. He didn't doubt Malfoy already knew half of it, else how did he always know to throw something into Gryffindor cauldrons at the exact moment to put things hideously wrong? And the more he researched, the more he already knew each time he started notating a new potion.
One of the supplementary texts even covered in depth the magical effects different kinds of preparation could have on ingredients. It had never made sense to him why crushing versus slicing or finely chopped versus diced with different kinds of knives or pestles or what have you could have such different results-- it never made that much difference when he was cooking at the Dursleys'. He'd learned to do it by rote, but never really cared about the why. Making potions really wasn't as much like cooking as he'd always thought, though; there was so much magic involved in the process, even without wands. It was no wonder he'd always struggled with it.
Muggle-raised, he reminded himself. He'd done his best, he'd just never known which things were the most important to pay attention to amid the chaos going on around him, and Dumbledore's hands-off way of preparing him for his fate hadn't helped him at all. Really all the extra seven years had given Harry were a few advanced spells, some important facts related to the war, and maybe enough basic knowledge to bring him up even with the wizard-raised.
The wizard-raised who cared about such things, anyway; there was no accounting for Ron, Harry thought, smiling fondly to himself as he ate breakfast the morning of the last day of the holidays. Hermione would be arriving that afternoon; tomorrow, he'd be back in classes. He was actually beginning to look forward to it.
And then a familiar, white-feathered form swooped down through the Great Hall.
Lupin had written back. Harry swallowed, and rescued the letter as Hedwig dropped it onto his plate.
Chapter 5: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Harry stared at the parchment envelope for several seconds, absorbing the sight of Lupin's familiar writing. Remus'. Moony's. They'd just managed to reach adult footing with each other toward the end, Harry and his father's last friend, but their friendship had still been an awkward thing, disrupted by the loss of Sirius, the strain of the war, and Remus' turbulent relationship with Tonks.
Harry winced at that thought. He really hoped his going back in time hadn't undone the future existence of his godson. He'd forgotten Remus and Tonks hadn't really known each other before the Order of the Phoenix had reformed, at least not on an adult footing. Harry had never had the chance to meet Teddy Lupin in person, but the joy he'd seen in Remus' face when he'd arrived at Shell Cottage to share the news of the baby's birth-- Harry had never seen the man that happy before. He deserved that happiness. What if Harry's decision had stolen that future from him?
"Mr. Harry J. Potter," Ron read aloud, leaning suddenly over his shoulder. "Sounds official. Who's it from?"
Harry flinched, startled out of his reverie, then shook his head and tossed a few pieces of bacon to Hedwig, who was eyeing him reproachfully.
"Friend of my parents, I think," he answered Ron as casually as he could. "I wrote him last week, you know, after the Mirror?"
Ron made a sympathetic noise. "Going to read it here?" he asked.
Harry swallowed, then shook his head and put the letter on the bench beside him. "No. I think I'll wait 'til we're back in the Common Room."
Ron shrugged, as if to say 'Suit yourself,' and went back to eating. Even at eleven, he still put away more food than Harry ever would at a single meal.
"It's all right, Hedwig," Harry told his owl. "I'll have another for you later, all right?"
She hooted softly at him, then took wing again and left the Great Hall.
Harry finished his breakfast quickly, barely registering the taste of the food. His mind was wholly occupied with the letter lying next to him. He wasn't sure why he'd insisted on reading it in a more private setting; maybe to put off the possible consequences a little longer? It was one of the first pebbles in the avalanche he hoped to set in motion, and the first one that would seriously impact other people. What if it had somehow gone wrong?
He chided himself on his lack of Gryffindor courage all the long way up to the dorm. It wasn't until they'd actually stepped through the portrait into the tower that a much better reason for waiting to read the letter surfaced in his thoughts, and he eyed the lump of Scabbers in Ron's pocket with dismay. Harry hadn't thought much about the rat over the last few days; it was too easy to forget and treat it as a dumb pet, despite the fact that he knew it to be a traitorous wizard in disguise. It would be a disaster if Wormtail figured out ahead of time what he had planned.
He waited for Ron to head up to the dorm, then sank down into one of the squashy chairs by the Common Room fire and turned the letter over in his hands. "Now or never," he muttered to himself, and resolutely opened it.
"Dear Mr. Potter," the first line of the letter read.
"I was very pleasantly surprised to receive your letter this morning. It hardly seems as though enough time can have passed for you to be at Hogwarts already; at times it seems only yesterday that I was a student there myself.
"I did indeed attend Hogwarts with your parents. We were Sorted together into Gryffindor House in the autumn of 1971, and I shared a dorm with your father, James, for the next seven years. He was a very clever young man, very brave, and a good friend. Your mother I did not know as well until our sixth year, but it was obvious even from the beginning that Lily was the most brilliant witch of our year. She earned Gryffindor more House points during our time at school than your father and I combined.
"Your professors undoubtedly remember them as fondly as I, but are waiting for you to make the first inquiry. They likely do not wish to single you out publicly or add to your burdens, especially in your first year. You might try approaching Professors McGonagall or Flitwick during office hours, over a cup of tea.
"I would also be happy to answer more specific questions for you, should you care to write again.
"Sincerely yours, Remus J. Lupin"
Harry read the letter through a second time, then dropped it in his lap and stared into the fire, a curiously stifled feeling stealing the energy from his limbs. It was a kind letter, but-- distant; a letter written to a stranger, carefully phrased and frugal with emotion. He didn't know why he should have expected anything different; he ought to have remembered how very self-contained Remus had been when he'd first met him. It had taken years-- and Sirius and Tonks and Teddy-- to fully unearth the deeply feeling man behind the polite, protective front. He'd been Harry's professor for ages-- a whole term-- before he'd even told Harry he'd known Harry's parents, much less that he and James Potter had been close friends.
Harry shook his head. He was still thinking like the almost-eighteen-year-old he remembered being, not the eleven-year-old he actually was, no matter how much extra experience he had rattling around in his head. He couldn't keep expecting people to act like they had at the other end of time; they were never going to live up to expectations they couldn't possibly know he had.
So-- what would he have thought about the letter if he hadn't been subconsciously hoping the current Lupin would pick up where the other Remus had left off?
Harry Potter, age eleven (original model), hadn't known much of anything about his parents other than their names, their House, and what he'd seen of them in the Mirror. He hadn't even known what they sounded like; he had not yet seen their shadows emerge from the end of Voldemort's wand, and the Dementors had not yet given him the dubious gift of their dying words. That Hary would have been thrilled beyond words to hear an actual friend of theirs refer to James as clever and brave and call his mother a brilliant witch. He wouldn't have cared at all about the things Mr. Lupin hadn't said.
This Harry wouldn't either, he decided firmly. He could be patient. And-- he'd probably take his former Professor's advice about his other teachers, as well. He hadn't really thought about how awkward it would have been for them to approach him directly, especially a professor as strict about treating all students equally in her classes as McGonagall. And even if she didn't have much to say about James-- he couldn't imagine her being very keen about the idea of encouraging him to follow in the Marauders' footsteps-- she would probably be willing to talk about his mother.
He'd better write Lupin back immediately and thank him for the advice, too. He didn't want the man worrying that Harry didn't care to write back. He might not have shared much detail yet, but he hadn't told Harry to bugger off, either, and Harry was determined to take the inch he was offered and stretch it into a mile. With that idea in mind, he got up from the comfortable chair, the letter gripped tightly in his hand.
Ron must have come back down while Harry was lost in thought; he was seated in a chair near a window, staring out at the grounds, and looked up as Harry's movement caught his eye. "All right then, mate?" he asked, nodding toward the letter.
"Yeah," Harry said. "Yeah, just-- here, take a look." There wasn't anything especially incriminating in the letter, after all; it wouldn't hurt to let Ron see it, especially now he didn't have Scabbers with him.
Ron took the sheet of parchment with obvious curiosity, and read it quickly. "Your mum sounds a bit like Hermione," he said thoughtfully, as he finished. "You really going to talk to McGonagall?"
"I might," Harry said, then grinned ruefully. "I think I'll wait and see if I can bring my grade up a bit first, though."
Ron chuckled, then handed the letter back. "So, sometime around fifth year, then?"
Harry snorted and folded the letter back into its envelope for safekeeping. "Listen, I'm going to run up and write a quick reply. You want to go exploring again when I'm done?"
"Sure," Ron shrugged. "Beats waiting for the train to get in."
The reply didn't take very long to write, probably half the time it would have in Harry's original first year. He'd still been missing biros and pencils at that point in his education; his letters and notes had been full of blotches and smears where fingers unused to quills and inkwells had moved clumsily over the parchment.
He carefully thanked Lupin for the advice and the information, then asked a few other simple questions-- what his parents' favourite classes had been, which floor had been their dorm in Gryffindor Tower, who their other friends had been. He was hoping for a mention of Sirius or Pettigrew, but anything that moved the topic forward would be useful. He deliberately signed the letter with just his first name, hoping it would encourage Lupin to be a little less formal in his next reply, then sealed it up, tucked a few owl treats in his pocket, and ran back downstairs.
Ron accompanied him to the Owlery; Hedwig was napping when they arrived, but seemed willing enough to go right back out. Harry told her not to wear herself out, as there would hopefully be a lot more letters where these had come from, then gave her the treats he'd brought. She nipped at his fingers affectionately, then took the letter and went on her way.
The boys spent the next few hours walking up and down staircases and poking into niches behind tapestries and statues. Harry already knew most of the castle's layout due to his experiences with the Marauder's Map-- which he fully expected to get away from the twins again sooner rather than later-- but neither the twins nor the Marauders had known everything; there was always the chance Harry and Ron might find something new. None of their predecessors had known about the Room of Requirement, for instance, though Fred and George had mistaken it for a broom cupboard once if he remembered right.
When lunchtime approached, Harry sent Ron on to the Great Hall without him with an excuse about having to go grab something from the tower. Then he went downstairs to the dungeons alone, wishing he'd thought to bring his Cloak along but trusting that the few Slytherins still around would be at lunch as well. He'd been thinking about Snape's potions notes again, and had decided to see if he could nick the Half-Blood Prince's copy of "Advanced Potion-Making" a few years early. Most of the spells in its margins couldn't be found anywhere else, being Snape's own creations; some of them, like Muffliato, were dead useful, and he didn't want to have to wait another five years to justifiably use them.
He got into the Potions classroom easily enough-- there was a simple spell lock on the door, but nothing Alohamora couldn't conquer, as Snape didn't keep anything terribly valuable in the student stores-- but once inside Harry's luck ended. The book wasn't to be found in the corner cupboard where the used texts were kept, nor any other unlocked cupboard in the room. After a few minutes, he was forced to give up the search as a bad job. Clearly, the book hadn't always been available for student use-- which meant someone must have put it there intentionally later on.
That was a nasty shock for Harry. It had never quite occurred to him to wonder why no one had warned him over the summer that Slughorn's N.E.W.T. class requirements wouldn't be the same as Snape's, nor why Snape hadn't pushed harder when Harry handed over "Roonil Wazlib"'s copy of the text instead of the one Snape knew very well he must have been using. And the only one who could have put a personalized text like that into the common stores for Slughorn to give out would, of course, have been its last owner.
"Merlin's balls," he muttered under his breath as he put everything back to rights. Someone had been surreptitiously trying give him a little extra training that year, despite everything, and probably over Snape's better judgment, too, since Dumbledore and McGonagall would have had to be in on it. And yet, no memory associated with the book had shown up in the Pensieve--
But that thought brought back the horrible blankness overtaking his professor's dark gaze, and Harry shook his head, dismissing the memory. It didn't matter now how it had happened. There'd be another chance to "officially" learn the spells, he was sure, whether he got his hands on the book again, or whether he'd have to worm them out of Snape himself or one of the man's contemporaries. Harry's dad had known the Levicorpus spell, after all; maybe Lupin or Sirius remembered a few of the others, too.
He checked both ways for the telltale sweep of black cloak before slipping out into the corridor, then spelled the door shut again behind him and dashed up the next flight of stairs to join Ron at the Gryffindor table.
They spent the rest of the afternoon in the tower, as it had finally registered with Ron that classes would begin again on the morrow, and he had some last-minute reading to get done. Harry took a few more notes in his potions text, then skimmed the next few chapters of his other class texts. He knew the practical part would be no trouble, but it had been forever since he'd read the theory of the basic spells the firsties practiced, and he didn't want to be caught short if one of the professors asked him a question.
Hermione found them that way, bent over their books, when the crowd of returning students began flooding back into the tower. She greeted them enthusiastically, but once she noticed what they'd been up to she seemed torn between berating them for waiting so late to do their studying and praising them for doing it at all.
Ron, reddening a little with embarrassment at the impromptu lecture, cut her off as soon as he could get a word in edgewise. "Honestly, Hermione, is homework all you think about? Aren't you going to ask what we found out about Flamel while you were gone?"
"Flamel?" she blurted, caught off guard, and stared bright-eyed at him. "You know who he is? You actually found him?"
"Yeah," Ron said, puffing up a little. "Harry figured it out, but I'm the one who gave him the clue."
Harry rolled his eyes, amused by his friends' behaviour toward each other. Some things hadn't changed between eleven and eighteen. "We probably shouldn't talk about it here, though," he said, nodding at the crowd of other returnees passing through the Common Room. "Let me put my study things away and get the book-- I found a perfect place where we can talk without being overheard."
A few minutes later, the three of them escaped from the Common Room. Harry had the alchemy text tucked under one arm and the Cloak of Invisibility in his pocket; Hermione was practically bursting with anticipation, oblivious to their surroundings, but Ron was scanning the corridor as they walked in confusion.
"We didn't explore up here this week, mate," he said. "Where are we going?"
"Just up there," he told them, gesturing to the bit of wall where the door to the Room would appear. "I found it by accident on my way back from the library."
"Are you sure, Harry?" Hermione asked. "I don't see anything there." She walked up and touched the smooth wall, then glanced back at Harry with a frown.
"You have to open it just right," Harry explained. "Here, I'll show you." He walked past the tapestry to the point where he'd dropped the quill box days before, then turned back toward the tower. "I think it was here I dropped my quills. So-- I walked past the tapestry," he said, putting on a distracted look as he demonstrated, "then realized I'd dropped them and turned around, so-- and then walked back-- and picked up the quills-- and the whole time I was thinking about the Common Room. And when I went forward again--"
As he passed the tapestry a third time the door began to form under Hermione's hand, and she jumped back with a squeak. "A secret room?" she asked, glancing between him and the door with an intrigued expression.
"Go on, open it," Harry encouraged her, watching as she turned the knob and peered into the room on the other side.
"It does look just like the Common Room," she said as she stepped through the door. "You're sure it's not just an enchanted door that bypasses the painting entrance somehow?"
"There'd be people in there if it was," Ron said pragmatically as he stepped through behind her. "Can it be anything, or is it just an extra Common Room? The dorms haven't ever moved, have they?"
"Not according to "Hogwarts: a History"," Hermione said, walking around the edges of the room, tracing her fingers over the artwork and furnishings. "It's a remarkably exact duplicate, though, right down to the current notices on the board. How is that possible?"
Harry grinned at his friends' perceptiveness. "I'm pretty sure it can be anything you want it to be," he said. "Look at the windows-- I was thinking about the way it looked this morning when I called up the door."
"Wicked," Ron said, amazed. "We could do anything in here."
"Like practice spells privately," Harry suggested, "or have private conversations?"
Hermione's attention snapped back to him at that, and she sank into a chair near the fireplace. "Flamel!" she blurted. "You were going to tell me what you found!"
"I found him in the library," he told her, handing over the book. "But I never would have done if not for the chocolate frog card Ron gave me on the train."
Hermione opened the book to the marked page, then took out the card and glanced at it, muttering under her breath. "I should have remembered this," she said, then read the passage in the book and gasped. "The Philosopher's Stone! It has to be!" she exclaimed.
"Yeah, we think so," Ron nodded solemnly, taking a chair opposite Hermione. "Harry reckons Snape might not be after it after all, but I think he's barking; Snape must have bewitched him, or something."
"Ron!" Harry objected, but Ron ignored him.
"I'm serious, Hermione," his red-haired friend said. "He's been studying Potions all week! Does that sound like Harry?"
Harry sighed. He'd been expecting this; better head it off before things got out of hand. "It's not like that," he objected. "It's just-- I found out some things about my parents last week, and it's got me thinking. Did you know that my mother was a genius at Potions?"
"No, I didn't," Hermione replied, surprised. "The history books don't say much about your parents."
"I bet they don't mention my dad's invisibility cloak, either," he said, further baiting the hook.
"Invisibility cloak?" Hermione sat up straighter at that. "But those are so rare! Who told you?"
Harry pulled the Cloak from his pocket with a flourish and demonstrated, draping it around himself so that only his head showed.
"Someone gave it to him at Christmas," Ron informed her. "There wasn't any name with it-- just a note saying it used to be his dad's."
Harry pulled it off and handed it to her, and Hermione studied the spill of silvery fabric for several seconds with a speculative expression, before her rule-abiding tendencies kicked back in. "But if you get caught with it here at school--" she blurted.
Harry shrugged. "It's an heirloom; they can't take it away from me, right? Not permanently, anyway."
"It could be useful if we need to find out more about the Stone's protections..." she said, speculatively.
"There you go," Harry told her with a grin. "Now-- we'd better get downstairs if we want to eat tonight. Don't tell anyone about this place, all right? It'll be our secret."
One of far too many. But at least this one, they could share.
Chapter 6: Balancing Acts
In the week and a half since Harry had wound back the last six years of his life, he hadn't woken from a nightmare even once. He had tried to avoid putting much thought into the reasons why; he'd half-expected terrible dreams after everything that had happened, and he'd been irrationally convinced that if he drew any particular attention to their absence they'd return. Whether or not his not-thinking strategy had had any effect, however, their forbearance gave out the night before term was due to start. Early Monday morning, several hours before breakfast, Harry jerked awake, panting and sweating, from a familiar dream filled with green light and a high, piercing laugh.
He clapped a hand to his forehead immediately, automatically bracing for the heat and pain that always plagued him when Voldemort tried to access his mind, then stiffened in surprise when he realised there wasn't any sign of a headache. Harry's breathing slowed as he considered that anomaly; he couldn't remember ever having had a Voldemort-dream that didn't hurt. Was it because it was just a memory this time? He vaguely remembered dreaming of the night his parents had died before, after the first time he'd seen the mirror, and he couldn't recall whether or not those dreams had woken his scar.
Then he slapped his forehead again as another obvious reason for the difference filtered through his sleep-muddled mind: the Horcrux! Harry's connection to Voldemort had been linked to the bit of soul stuck in his scar, and with it gone he'd never be sensitive to Voldemort's presence in that way ever again. At least, in theory. So it couldn't be Quirrell's presence in the castle causing him nightmares: it had to be good old-fashioned, normal-person trauma for a change.
He grinned stupidly up into the dark for several seconds, thinking about what that meant. All the sleep he'd lost over the last six years that he wouldn't lose this time around. All the important events that had been interrupted by sudden scar pain and visions. All the--
The smile slid off Harry's face as he realised what else that would mean. As much pain as the visions had caused him over the years, especially in his O.W.L. year, they hadn't all been bad. They'd saved Mr. Weasley's life, and they'd been the key to his eventual success when he'd begun chasing Horcruxes. They'd been a vital source of information when he'd really needed it, a way of peering in on Voldemort that hadn't depended on whatever so-called "news" he could glean from the Prophet or his limited communication with the Order.
On the other hand, if he played his cards right, things would never get bad enough for him to need that kind of inside information in the first place. He hoped. And he was far better off with that connection severed in the long run; he was almost sure of it.
After all, Dumbledore hadn't found out for sure that Voldemort had made any Horcruxes until after Harry's first year, or at least that's what he'd told Harry. If he never showed any signs of being contaminated by Voldemort's evil, if Dumbledore never had any reason to conclude that Harry had been infected with a bit of Voldemort's soul, then he might not be quite so keen to train Harry up as a martyr this time. That had to be worth the sacrifice of information, right?
Harry mulled over that conclusion a little longer, then yawned and checked the time. It was too early to be up for classes, but he'd never fall asleep again with so many other boys breathing around him; he was used to sleeping in the same space as Ron, but it had been awhile since he'd had to deal with Seamus, Dean, and Neville, too. He decided instead to take an early shower, then study his texts a bit more before breakfast to make sure he was as prepared as he could be.
That turned out to be the last moment he truly had to himself that week as classes, Quidditch, and assignments swept him up in a disorienting whirl. The rhythm of schoolwork turned out to be both more and less difficult than he'd been expecting; his classes were full of people whose fate he remembered clearly from the War, and it was a struggle not to react to the changes in them, but homework was much less of a burden, and Quidditch was unspeakably wonderful no matter how hard Wood worked the team. None of his future knowledge mattered when he was on the back of a broom; he was free to let his guard down and abandon all other worries in pursuit of that winged, golden sphere.
The difference of years didn't matter much in Astronomy, either; the stars didn't change significantly in so small as span of time, no matter what the centaurs said, and he'd retained enough that all he had to do was dutifully look where Professor Sinistra directed their telescopes and make sure he didn't misspell anything or add too many stars on the charts they were assigned. He recognised many of the names this time from the tapestry at the House of Black, and entertained himself during the boring lecture portions imagining other names Sirius might have had, like Betelgeuse or Eridani.
Even Herbology was easier than he'd feared. Neville was as gifted with plants at eleven as Harry remembered; all he had to do was sit next to Neville and treat him like an authority on the subject, and his own uncertain depth of knowledge was completely camouflaged by the other boy's enthusiasm. Not to mention, it gave him a chance to befriend Neville a little earlier than he had the first time round. No one who'd seen the older Neville fighting Death Eaters in the Ministry, or proudly wearing the marks of his resistance against the Carrows, could ever doubt his worth as a Gryffindor or as a friend.
That didn't set well with Ron, of course; the youngest Weasley boy had always been a bit jealous of Harry's other friendships, as far back as the first day they'd met. Rather than react defensively, though-- especially since, long-term, Harry knew his plans were going to require a lot less time spent sitting around in the Common Room in the evenings-- Harry decided instead to expend a little more effort reassuring his red-haired friend that he wasn't going to leave him behind.
He hadn't been able to do that before; his own insecurities had blinded him to a lot of things, and he'd taken each doubtful reaction and sour comment as a personal attack. He'd known Ron long enough now, though, especially after their joint encounter with the locket Horcrux, to understand that the other boy was often too full of his own hurts-- and fears-- to realise how he was affecting other people. Besides, they were eleven. Hardly an age to be expecting emotional maturity out of anybody. And it wasn't like it would take much to make Ron happy, and salvage a little of his own childhood for himself at the same time. He'd just have to schedule regular breaks between plotting, Quidditch, homework, and classes-- or even during classes.
With that in mind, he nudged Ron toward a desk behind Hermione in their first History of Magic lesson, and livened up Binns' lecture with scribbled commentary and drawings on scraps of spare parchment. Hermione was very pleased to see him and Ron alert and awake at the end of the hour; fortunately, she didn't think to ask them what they'd actually been doing.
The Auror classes-- the ones he'd need N.E.W.T.s in if he picked the same career option he had the last time-- were where things got trickier.
Charms was the first hurdle, and the one-- after Potions-- that he'd worried the most about. It wasn't as though he could just fake his way through the spell-casting portions; he could cast most of the simple first-year charms as easy as breathing after all the practice he'd had in the D.A. and with Hermione. Which meant he couldn't just pronounce the spells a bit wrong or flub the wand movements, like first year students often did. Once a wizard trained their magic in the degree of effort and intent needed for a charm to function, deliberate errors could produce unexpected and dangerous results; Harry hadn't forgotten Flitwick's cautionary tales about the Wizard Baruffio.
The strategy he eventually settled on, as he fidgeted in the line of students outside the door waiting for the professor to arrive, was to see if he could master casting the charms silently instead of the usual way. That would slow him down enough to hopefully hide his experience, and make his spellwork look about as skilled as a first year's should.
The challenge was pulling it off without anyone else realising what he was up to. He had to pretend to cast each charm a few times, muttering the necessary incantation aloud but trying not to push any magic through his wand, then cast it for real when no one was looking. He had to stay to the back, and he had to be careful when they were partnered up for demonstrations, but on average he thought he should simply seem a bit quicker to learn than before.
In the meantime, he'd have to keep up his visits to the library, and then next term he could pretend to have read far enough ahead to have a basic grasp of all the Charms in the text, like Hermione. He would have been tempted to try that right from the start, but he knew it would be too drastic a change; Professor Flitwick would be sure to compare notes with Harry's other teachers if he showed that sudden of an increase in aptitude, and that would be a definite mark against him as far as the "convince Dumbledore I'm not a Horcrux" plan was concerned.
He was feeling cautiously optimistic about his chances of actually getting away with his grand deception by the time he got to Transfiguration that week; aside from Ron's defensive behaviour, everything had gone about as smoothly as he could have hoped. Excepting the usual "Boy Who Lived" nonsense, he was just one more eleven year old in a sea of them, and not a particularly gifted one at that. No one was paying him any extra attention, not even Hermione, which was just the way he wanted it.
He ought to have known it wouldn't be so easy to pull the wool over Professor McGonagall's eyes.
Harry's year had begun their first term with the matchsticks-to-needles transformation, and concluded before the holidays by transfiguring mice into snuffboxes; they started off the second term with a quick review, and then were given drumsticks to transfigure into feather dusters. Hermione, as usual, was quickest to produce a recognisable, finished object, though McGonagall was not immediately satisfied with the texture of her feathers; Harry simply prodded at his drumstick awhile, waving his wand aimlessly at it while he muttered under his breath, then decided on what he thought would be a decent compromise. Rather than perform the complete transfiguration, he deliberately stalled it at intermediate stages, first lengthening the drumstick and changing the grain of the wood, then performing a second transfiguration that made the ex-drumstick look rather like a miniature broom with a bundle of branching twigs at the end instead of a bunch of feathers. Then he set about transfiguring the twigs into feathers, one by one.
He looked up about halfway through his work on the feather end to find the professor standing over him, a pinched expression on her face as she watched him spell another individual twig.
"Mr. Potter," she said, sharply. "I appreciate your taking the time to progress through the individual stages of the transfiguration for the benefit of your classmates, but you are doing yourself no favours."
"Professor?" He blinked up at her, dismayed, not sure what she wanted him to say. He'd been trying to make it look like he'd failed to grasp the entire spell and was trying to approximate the results with transfigurations he did know; how had she known he was faking it?
The lines around her mouth deepened as she frowned at him; then she glanced around at the other Gryffindors and raised her voice to address them as a group. "In this subject, your goal should be to envision each step in a transfiguration progressing into the next as swiftly as possible, not training yourself to slow the process down. The diagrams in your text are there as suggestions, not to serve as a substitute for your own imagination; you must see the shifting form of the object in your mind's eye as you cast the spell in order to facilitate the changes, and crippling your ability to clearly and quickly visualise complex alterations will have a serious impact on your marks in the future."
She glanced down at him again then, and shook her head, lowering her voice once more. "While I am pleased to see that you have discovered a method that works well for you, Mr. Potter, you must not allow bad habits to develop; performing the entire transfiguration in one go may be difficult, but it will serve you far better in the long run."
Harry stared up at her, wide-eyed behind his glasses, for a long moment; then he flushed and stuttered his way through a "Yes, ma'am." She nodded by way of reply, then sailed majestically back up the room to her desk; he watched her blankly as she went, feeling round the edges of her impromptu little lecture as the words bit into his mind.
Suggestions, he thought to himself, as he finally dragged his attention back to the half-completed feather duster lying on his desk. He prodded the sad thing with his wand, feeling strangely short of breath, as though he were on the verge of an important discovery. Diagrams, imagination, visualisation; had McGonagall ever explained it like that before?
She had to have, he realised. In fact, he'd probably already memorised the concept from the books six times over for one test or another, or heard Hermione repeat it ad nauseum during homework sessions. But he didn't think he'd ever heard it spelt out quite that way.
Could it be that simple? Was it truly just a matter of picturing how the object was supposed to change as he cast the spell, as though it were a bit of action captured in a wizarding photo, rather than applying a huge effort of will to simply force it to go from one state directly to the other?
Harry lifted his wand and said the incantation to reverse the changes he'd already made, this time closing his eyes and picturing every change inside his head as he made the required wand movements: the feathers fading back into twigs, the twigs joining back together into a smooth piece of wood, the wood itself changing texture and size back into the form of a drumstick. The gathering of will, the mental focus he was using, felt almost familiar to him; he frowned as he opened his eyes, wondering where he knew it from, but the thread of thought escaped his grasp as he gaped down at the perfectly innocent drumstick lying on the desk.
Transfiguration had never been that easy for him. Never. Not even with spells he'd known backwards and forwards. Something had to have changed; this couldn't be right. He'd expected to do better than he had in his original first year, but this--
Another test, then. He had to prove it wasn't an accident. Harry took a deep breath, then cast the proper spell, this time with his eyes open, willing the bit of wood to length and lighten and sprout feathers until it should look exactly like the exemplar the professor had on her desk at the front--
"Bloody hell," Ron muttered disgustedly beside him. "I still can't even get feathers on mine."
Harry laid his wand down on the desk, ignoring his friend, and stared down at his completed feather duster in something very like shock. After a moment, he rallied and reached for the stabilising effect of the bit of Occlumency he'd finally mastered, trying to block out the turmoil of his emotions as he'd held off Voldemort's anger; he couldn't afford to be this distressed in class. How would he explain it?
Then he realised what he was doing.
No wonder his attempt to follow McGonagall's instructions felt familiar: he was applying principles of Occlumency-- the sustained focus of will for a single purpose-- to Transfiguration! No wonder it was easier than before; even if he had completely grasped the gist of the instructions back when he was truly eleven, he wouldn't have been able to do the visualisation bit properly.
So, not a freak then. But-- so much for keeping McGonagall in the dark about his abilities. He glanced up at her, and caught a rare smile on her face as she nodded at him; he flushed and looked back down.
At least she just seemed to think it was late-developing talent, not something more ominous. Maybe because of his dad? And maybe because he hadn't been wizarding-raised?
Maybe it'd be okay. Maybe Tom Riddle hadn't been especially gifted in Transfiguration-- even if he had been flat scary with it during that duel in the Ministry. Maybe Dumbledore wouldn't think anything of it; maybe he'd just chalk it up as a sign that Harry was James Potter's son, instead of ticking off another mark on his list of "Harry's connections to Voldemort".
Right. Because that was just the kind of luck Harry usually had. So much for his plans.
And he hadn't even been to Defence or Potions yet! He was doomed.
Chapter 7: Tangled Webs
On an academic level, Harry's first Defence Against the Dark Arts class was something of a let-down, especially after what had happened in Transfiguration. He'd been thinking of Defence as some great obstacle to get through, but clearly, he'd been thinking more about the Voldemort side of things than Quirrell's actual reputation as a professor. Really, Quirrell was no better a teacher than Umbridge had been; he was just a lot less spiteful about it. Reading from the text and taking notes was no way to prepare for real world problems.
Of course, that had probably been the point. Umbridge had been afraid they'd use anything useful she might teach them against the Ministry, and as for Quirrell-- well. Harry sat as calmly as he could, with only two rows of desks between him and the professor, and tried very hard not to let on that he knew what lay under that foul-smelling turban. His memories of the man had long been overshadowed by the spectre of Voldemort's face attached to the back of his head; it was hard to look at him, now, without hearing the echo of that cold, sharp voice as he'd taunted and threatened eleven year old Harry.
It felt strange, sitting there with his nemesis only a few yards away from him and doing nothing about it. Every time he'd encountered Voldemort knowingly in the past it had been at the end of a school year in some life-or-death situation or other; in a matter of hours, minutes, or even seconds, the threat had always disappeared again, leaving Harry behind to pick up the pieces. This time was different. This time, he had to be patient.
Too patient, maybe. The more time he had to think about it, the more he doubted whether he should face Quirrell again himself when the time came. His mother's protection would still do the trick if he needed it to; it wasn't dependent on his being a Horcrux, and would defend him against any and all manifestations of Voldemort unless Wormtail bled him again for that resurrection potion. But the part of him that had been horrified about the idea of becoming a murderer, no matter how evil his enemy might be, was nauseated at the reminder that he'd been a killer long before he'd ever heard Trelawney's prophecy.
Looking back, Harry knew there hadn't been any other way he could have survived at the time. He'd been young, inexperienced and frantic, pressing the first advantage that came to hand to stop Quirrell from cursing him or escaping with the Stone. But Harry had killed him. And wilfully, too. He'd latched onto Quirrell's arm with both hands and held on despite the blinding pain in his scar and Quirrell's terrible shrieking and Voldemort's voice over everything, over all of it, yelling "KILL HIM! KILL HIM"…
Harry shuddered, and tried to focus on the parchment in front of him and the shaky loops of his handwriting rather than the disturbing memories Quirrell's presence had unearthed. His skin prickled in a cold sweat; he couldn't believe he'd actually spent several months, once, smiling at the man and trying to cheer him up when they'd thought Snape was threatening him. That was Voldemort up there. Voldemort--
--Except for the part of him that wasn't. The part that was just a young man with too much book-learning and not enough experience, who'd gone on a Dark Arts field trip and come back with an unexpected spiritual appendage. Harry knew what that was like. Even if the appendage, in his case, had actually been a part of him since he was a baby, and Harry hadn't exactly invited it to share space with him. Didn't Quirrell deserve the chance to be freed from his mistake before it killed him? Harry wouldn't even have to do anything except watch for Quirrell's move and try to warn McGonagall again about the thief; when Dumbledore returned from the Ministry he'd find Quirrell stopped short in front of the Mirror of Erised and be able to capture him before anything else could happen. Maybe they could even get some early proof of Voldemort's return this time, and head off the newspaper articles that had branded Harry a liar in his fifth year.
There would only be one thing that could make him act sooner, he decided, firmly. If Quirrell threatened anyone, if he harmed anyone before the end of the year--
--Like the unicorns? Harry's quill froze mid-motion, dripping ink onto his parchment, as he remembered the silvery-blue shine of blood on the leaves of the Forbidden Forest and the sight of the cloaked figure stooped over, drinking from the body of its victim. The sense of justification that had filled him mere moments before flowed out of him like water, leaving him feeling slightly hollow. The detention in the Forest had been in May, hadn't it? When the weather was warmer, maybe a week or two before exams? But-- had that unicorn been the first one Quirrell had killed, or only the first one Hagrid had found out about?
Bloody hell. The last thing he'd needed was another complication for his plans. But he couldn't just sit back and let it happen, could he? Harry took a deep breath, pressed his lips into a firm line, and took up his note taking again before anyone could notice his distraction.
Harry couldn't believe it; for all he'd been determined not to turn into another Dumbledore, planning out the lives of everyone around him, he'd nearly gone and fallen into another of the Headmaster's bad habits. The professor was forever giving his enemies just one more chance, and then another, and another, all in the interests of saving one self-damaged soul, and all the while around them collateral victims piled up like drifts of snow. There was a time and a place for mercy, but Harry had a feeling that this wasn't it.
No. He knew his purpose, here: he'd come back in time to save as many of Voldemort's other victims as he could. He'd try to think of a way to stop Quirrell from acting without killing him, but if he couldn't-- well, then, he couldn't, and that would be the end of it. He'd heard it said once, back in his Muggle school years-- or maybe read it for an assignment, he couldn't remember-- that mercy, detached from justice, grows unmerciful. He thought he had a better understanding of what that meant, now.
Harry's eyes drifted back to the garlic-scented cloth wound around Quirrell's head. Incongruously, he remembered the snowballs the Weasley twins had enchanted to attack it, and wondered what Voldemort had made of that accidental assault. What had he been doing all that time Quirrell kept his face covered? Was he awake right now, listening in on Quirrell's lecture? Harry had no way of knowing, now that his scar had lost its ability to warn him of Voldemort's attention.
At least Quirrell would be distracted most of the year playing helpless in a futile attempt to keep Dumbledore from catching on to his deception. Harry was beginning to get an idea of how difficult it could be to sustain that kind of facade; he was pretty sure Quirrell was going to be too occupied to notice anything going on with him, as long as Harry was careful not to do anything too Gryffindorish before the time came. The last thing he wanted to do was spook the parasitic spirit into making Quirrell do something rash-- like maybe taking Ravenclaw's diadem back out of the Room of Requirement?
Harry was going to have to do something about that, too, and soon.
He reached for the calming focus of Occlumency again, more confident in it since it had worked for him in Transfiguration. It was strange how easy it seemed, now that he didn't have a piece of Voldemort tainting all his emotions and undermining his efforts from within. Not that he expected it to do him much good against Snape or Dumbledore. But it was something.
The rest of the class flew by as uneventfully as he could have wished for.
He crammed in a few last hours of Potions research before and after supper, much to Ron's consternation. Hermione had caught on to what he was doing, though, and brought out her own potions books to study with him. She'd been a bit distraught the first time she saw him actually put ink to one of his texts-- she wasn't quite ready to commit that kind of sacrilege herself-- but she was fascinated by all of the cross-referencing he was doing. She generally had no trouble following directions on her own or listing the potential uses of any given ingredient, which regularly earned her a higher grade than any other Gryffindor in their year, but Harry remembered how rigid she'd been about textbook procedure by the time Slughorn began teaching the class. He would be interested to see whether developing a better feel for the art of the subject now would help her as much as he was hoping it would help him.
Wouldn't that stick in Snape's craw? Another Half-blood and his female Muggleborn friend tops in Potions after all these years, a weekly reminder of what Snape himself had once had and lost.
Not that he'd ever say so. It wouldn't do to antagonise Snape any more than he already did, just by existing. It wasn't easy, though, to put aside nearly seven years of concentrated ill-will. Harry didn't know how Remus had done it-- just blanked out all the bitterness and started over-- back in third year when he'd heard Sirius' story after more than a decade of thinking of him a traitor. Of course, Remus had also had several years' worth of good memories to fall back on once the truth had been revealed. Harry had no such foundation with Snape. And the man was a total git besides, no matter how trustworthy he was.
About all Harry could be sure of at this point was that things would be different than before. Hopefully in a good way. This being Snape, though? And given the tangles he'd run into already? Maybe it was time to start thinking about a Plan B.
Breakfast settled uneasily in his stomach the next morning. Harry snuck a glance up at the head table several times, but never caught so much as a glimpse of Snape. He'd been hoping to get an idea what the Potions professor's mood was like before he had to sit through a double lesson in the man's classroom, but it looked like Harry was going to have to go in blind. Best be early, then.
He chased the last of his toast down with a gulp of pumpkin juice, then grabbed his bag and headed for the nearest staircase leading down to the dungeons. Ron and Hermione followed right behind him; together, the three of them joined the group of students already waiting outside the locked classroom door. Ron had a glum expression on his face, but Hermione looked thoughtful, and kept glancing at Harry out of the corners of her eyes. He hoped it was because of the things he'd told her and Ron about his mum and not anything more serious. Merlin only knew what would happen if she started piecing things together this early on.
Malfoy lifted his lip in a sneer as he saw them, then turned to Crabbe and Goyle and started bragging in a loud voice about all of the marvellous presents he had received from his parents over the holidays. Harry gave the blond boy a half-hearted glare in return, but didn't say anything; his heart just wasn't in it. He'd seen Malfoy through Voldemort's eyes; he'd beaten him at Quidditch time and again; he'd seen him waver in the face of Dumbledore's mercy; and he'd even half-killed him once without intending to. Petty childish taunts just didn't seem very important anymore.
"Smug git," Ron muttered under his breath, narrowing his eyes at the Slytherin trio. "Bet he's never had to ask for anything twice in his entire life."
"Bet he has," Harry whispered back, elbowing him in the side. "Think what he'd say if he found out about my Cloak."
Hermione rolled her eyes, but Ron looked inexpressibly cheered by the thought. At least, for the few seconds until Snape swept up the corridor, scowling at all and sundry.
Harry had forgotten just how tall the man was, and how severe his disapproving expression appeared from the perspective of a shortish eleven year old. Harry's stomach swooped again in dismay as he watched the man unlock the door; without the festering reserve of resentful anger that had always fuelled his defiance in the past, all he was left with were nerves. And Snape was about as unnerving as they came.
Harry gulped in a fortifying breath and deliberately pictured Snape the way he'd been in the earliest memories in the Pensieve, greasy and awkward and desperate to please. Then he focused his thoughts on the Potions notes he'd taken the night before and forged on into the classroom.
Snape couldn't be using Legilimency on his students every second of every day; for one thing, Harry doubted Dumbledore would approve, and for another, it required focus, just like Occlumency did. There'd been times in his first few years at Hogwarts when Harry had been sure Snape was reading his mind, but the Potions professor had always been staring at Harry at the time with that creepy intent glitter in his eyes. Harry could deal with that. And apart from the mind-reading threat, what was the worst Snape could do? Take points? There was no need to panic just yet.
He headed for the workstation he usually shared with Ron, put his things down, and got out his notated copy of Magical Drafts and Potions. Another book thudded down next to his, followed by a roll of parchment and a quill for note-taking-- but when he looked up, he saw Hermione standing there instead of Ron. She gave him her best innocent expression, then shook her bushy hair back and sat down, looking attentively toward the blackboards. Harry cast about to see just where Ron had ended up, and saw him sitting at the table behind them, next to Seamus; he had a slightly baffled expression on his face, and shrugged when Harry jerked a thumb at Hermione.
If they were in any other class, he'd just ask her what the big idea was, but as this being Potions... He wasn't that eager to start banishing rubies from the Gryffindor counter just yet, thanks. He sighed and took his own seat, just as Snape shut the classroom door and stalked to the front of the room.
Snape opened the hour with acidic commentary and questions about the assigned reading. This being their first class since the holidays, several of the other Gryffindors were a bit unprepared; naturally, Snape saved the hard questions for them and gave the easy ones to his Slytherins. Harry was surprised to find, though, that like Malfoy's attitude, the professor's partisanship didn't burn him nearly so much as it used to.
He wasn't sure whether Snape was sucking up to the children of other Death Eaters, trying to keep the potential next generation of Voldemort's followers from learning as much as they otherwise would, trying to offset the negative treatment the Snakes got from the rest of the school, or something else entirely, but whatever reason Snape had, it obviously wasn't all that effective. By the Battle of Hogwarts, his House would be even more divided from the rest of the school than it was now, and plenty nasty thanks to the likes of Umbridge and the Carrows. If he'd been trying to fight fire with fire, he'd long since lost control of the flames.
Harry was pretty sure that fixing that mess was beyond his control, short of being resorted into Slytherin, which would be a disaster on too many other levels to even think about. But he could refuse to let it bother him, and focus on more important things.
Like answering questions? He froze as Snape's attention finally turned to him.
"Perhaps Mr. Potter can tell us?" Snape said smoothly, dark eyes boring holes in Harry's face with the intensity of his stare.
Harry gulped, and ran back Lavender's answer in his mind. Snape had been asking her about the ingredients for the Forgetfulness Potion; luckily, he'd reread that part of the text only the night before. "Yes, sir," he said determinedly, then began listing, one by one, the bits of animals and herbs that went into the potion's making. As he listed them, starting off with a feather plucked from a dead Jobberknoll (rather than from a live one, which would go into a Memory potion instead), he pictured them in his mind's eye as though they were being dropped one-by-one into a cauldron.
Snape's gaze didn't waver, though a faint frown grew between his brows as Harry continued. When he finished, Snape shifted his gaze from Harry to Hermione with a sneer. "Miss Granger," he said, imperiously. "I see that you have moved from facilitating Potter's heroic shenanigans to propping up his academic career." Then his attention slid back to Harry. "One point from Gryffindor for profiting from others' efforts, Mr. Potter."
Harry ground his teeth, but held in his irritation until the professor turned toward the blackboards. Then turned to Hermione with an apologetic frown.
Hermione, however, didn't seem as displeased as he'd thought she would be. She had that thoughtful expression on her face again, a little sadder this time maybe, and Harry glanced away again, feeling inexplicably embarrassed.
It looked like it was time for the practical portion of the lesson; Snape had tapped one of the blackboards with his wand, and words were appearing, filling it with instructions written in Snape's slanting script. It looked like the recipe for the Forgetfulness Potion-- exactly as Harry had given it a moment before. Harry waited for the invisible chalk to finish its work, then opened his text to the relevant page so he could see the notations he'd made. There were a couple of places where the timing was pretty sensitive, and a reference about how best to add the Jobberknoll feather that it would have really helped to know back when he'd been making the potion for his first year exams.
Hermione was already setting up her cauldron for them to use, so Harry got in line to get their ingredients from the student stores. He was aware of Snape's presence looming over them the entire time, watching suspiciously to make sure they each took no more than was needed, but that wasn't really any different from the usual; Harry put it out of his mind best he could, exchanged a grimace with Ron as they passed each other again, and brought the collected materials carefully back to his workstation.
They'd just lit the fire under the cauldron and started heating it up when the swish of a dark cloak moved back toward the front of the room, passing right next to Harry's chair. He tensed a little as Snape's looming presence paused right behind him, then forced himself to relax; it was just his usual intimidating behaviour. Except-- he wasn't moving on, was he? Harry tensed again, then gathered up his courage and looked over his shoulder.
The first thing he saw was Snape's stained hand, splayed across the open pages of his textbook. Harry just stared at the long, discoloured fingers for a moment, then made himself look further up to meet Snape's gaze. He'd intentionally set himself on this course; it was the least he could do to accept the consequences as they came.
Snape wasn't actually looking back at him, though. That faint frown was there between his eyebrows again, and he was staring down at the page his hand was resting on with an abstracted air, as though he were seeing something else entirely. Harry held his breath, waiting for the inevitable outburst-- then flinched in startlement as something solid and forceful impacted against his shin.
Hermione was staring at him, eyebrows raised and mouth pursed in a prim expression.
"Ow," he said, wincing. "Sorry, Hermione." He scooped up the shredded bits of herb that were supposed to go in first, then let them sift down between his fingers onto the heated liquid of the potion base.
A moment later, heavy footsteps moved toward another station.
Harry let the last of the leaf bits drop between shaking fingers and drew a deep breath. He wasn't sure what he'd been expecting, but that hadn't been it.
One thing he did know: he'd been right. He was never going to make it to the end of term.
Chapter 8: A Pleasant Interlude
Harry walked out of the Potions classroom feeling as though he'd just flown an all-day Quidditch match. Snape had seen the notes in his textbook-- and hadn't said anything about them. And then he'd spent the rest of the class period practically avoiding Harry and Hermione's workstation. No critiques about the way Harry was crushing the poppy seeds, snide comments about how slowly he was stirring the mixture, or orders to start over because clearly Mr. Potter would never have done so well without Miss Granger's assistance.
He'd only caught Snape's eyes on him twice more: once when he was carefully adding the Jobberknoll feather to their cauldron, and then again when Hermione went up to turn in their vial of finished potion. The professor had frowned at the bright colour of their sample, then put it into the rack for grading next to the duller contributions of the rest of the class and narrowed his eyes at Harry for several long seconds. But that was it. No questioning, no points taken, no calls for detention. No invading of Harry's mind. Harry didn't quite know what to make of it; he wasn't sure whether to take it as a good sign, or just the calm before a storm.
He trailed the other Gryffindors back up to the Great Hall, listening to their chatter. Neville was in a grim mood, as he often was after Potions; he'd been paired up with Dean again, and though they hadn't destroyed their cauldron this time their final potion had been a lumpy, greyish mess. Snape had apparently given them the sharp side of his tongue for it, not that Harry had noticed in the grips of his own distraction.
Business as usual there. What wasn't business as usual was Hermione's new fixation on Harry. Surely she wasn't angry at him for studying more and making an effort in class? There was no way she could have figured out the truth-- but was it like Potions in their sixth year? He'd thought her anger then was all about him cheating to get ahead, not the fact that he was earning better marks than she did.
No, he didn't think that was it. She was acting concerned, not upset; he'd known her long enough to read that much from her. Obviously, she'd noticed something different in him besides his study habits, but Harry couldn't think what it was. As long as it wasn't a rule-breaking or life-threatening issue, though, he was pretty sure she would voice whatever it was to him before taking it to McGonagall. He just hoped he had a believable answer for her when she did.
At least it was Friday-- and they had the afternoon free. He'd survived the first week of classes more-or-less intact; that was something to celebrate, wasn't it? He ate with increasing enthusiasm as he put the events of Potions further behind him, and was nearly in a good mood by the time the noon flock of owls swooped in to drop off their letters.
Hedwig was with them, bearing another letter with Lupin's handwriting on the outside. It was addressed simply to "Harry Potter" this time, of the Seventh Floor, Gryffindor Tower, Hogwarts; rather less formal than the first one. He smiled at that, then glanced over at the lump of Scabbers riding in Ron's pocket and tucked the letter into his robes. He'd find a corner to read it in sometime before they went down for Friday afternoon tea with Hagrid.
"Another one from that friend of your parents?" Ron asked, casually, between bites.
Hermione, seated across from them, put down her fork and gave him that concerned, evaluating look again. It was an expression that he was more used to seeing on Molly Weasley's face than hers: a suspicion that something wasn't quite right with someone she cared about, and a determination to do something about it. The problem was, Harry just wasn't used to being parented, and he was never quite sure how he was supposed to react to it. Or even what exactly might have prompted the behaviour to start with.
"You've been writing to one of your parents' friends?" she asked intently. "I didn't think you knew any of them, since you didn't know anything about magic before you came here."
Harry winced. He had made a point of not mentioning Lupin's name in front of Ron's rat, or the exact contents of the letters; it wasn't that he hadn't wanted to tell her, he just didn't want to risk Wormtail panicking on him and pulling another disappearing act, and Ron was usually there when he remembered. Hermione wasn't going to settle for a non-answer now, though, so he was just going to have to be vague about it.
"I didn't," he said, shrugging awkwardly. "It's just been since Christmas. I wanted to find out more about their Hogwarts years. You know, which professors liked them, what classes they got the best marks in, that sort of thing."
That evidently meant something more to Hermione than Harry had intended it to; she raised her eyebrows a little, then nodded to herself as though she'd just had some private theory confirmed. "Like Potions," she said, thoughtfully. "What else have you found out?"
Harry couldn't help glancing at Ron-- partly because Ron had actually seen the only other letter, and partly to check on Scabbers-- but he turned it into a more general nervous movement, glancing to his other side also as though pointing out how many other people were in range of this rather private conversation.
By the time he turned back to Hermione and opened his mouth to say something to that effect, she seemed to have picked up on the hint. A little too well, actually. Her eyes got big and sympathetic on him, and she started talking again, right over him. "Oh, I suppose I shouldn't ask until you've read that one, but I'm going to be terribly impatient until you tell me, you know. I can't believe you hadn't even thought to mention you were writing to someone about them! If I had been sending letters--"
And on she went, launching right into a story about a penfriend she'd had in primary school.
Harry closed his mouth, finally, and shook his head, baffled.
"Girls," Ron said feelingly, giving Harry a disgusted look over his goblet of pumpkin juice.
Hermoine gave Ron a haughty look of her own, but kept right on talking.
Harry stifled an amused laugh against his own goblet, then abruptly found himself blinking back tears. He hadn't realised until just this moment how much he'd missed the way things had been between the three of them in the beginning. Back before he'd been locked into the hero's role, before the rifts when one of the three of them would refuse to speak to the others for months at a time, and before they'd started pairing up. Before the onset of adulthood had complicated things.
Maybe there were some good points to being eleven again, after all.
In the spirit of enjoying the second chance he'd been given to enjoy the few good things about his childhood, Harry decided to take the afternoon off from worrying. He went back to the Common Room with Ron and Hermione and spent the next couple of hours doing nothing that could be in any way construed as constructive. Hermione had a volume of "light reading" on hand-- a thick, dusty old monstrosity that was probably the book she'd found Flamel in the last time-- but even she consented to play a few rounds of wizard's chess with Ron.
About half an hour before they were scheduled to go down to the gamekeeper's cottage, Harry finally excused himself and went up to the dorm to read his letter. No-one else was up there, but Harry drew the curtains on his bed just to be sure of his privacy, then took it out of his robes and stared at the parchment envelope for several long seconds.
It was thicker than the first one had been, he thought. A longer letter, then, or else Lupin had put something in with it. Clippings? Photographs? No way to tell just from looking at it. Harry lifted it up to one ear and shook it, like a gift whose possibilities he wanted to savour before putting the mystery to rest. Something small slid audibly around, paper-on-paper, inside it.
Harry reminded himself how disappointed he'd been with the first letter before he lowered the envelope again and ripped it open. Just because it sounded like a photograph didn't mean--
He tipped the envelope above his cupped hand, and a very familiar image slid out into it.
A lump rose in Harry's throat as he stared at the picture of his parents in their school robes, Head Boy and Head Girl badges pinned securely to them, arms around one another and great beaming smiles on their faces. He'd last seen it amidst a score of other photos in the photo album Hagrid had given him as an apology-- an album Hagrid had assembled by writing to people like Remus, who'd probably been the source of it that time, too.
Even his photo album was going to be different this time, he thought, watching as his father planted a smacking kiss on his mother's cheek, and she shoved him away playfully, laughing and tossing her hair. That is, if Hagrid even made the album, now. On the other hand-- that didn't lessen the impact of this Lupin deciding to give it to him unprompted in the first place.
Harry stroked the photo with a careful fingertip, then set it down on the bedspread and turned his attention to the letter itself.
"Dear Harry," the first line read. Harry smiled at that; no more Mr. Potter.
"It was good to hear from you again so soon. I'm happy that my letter was of use to you, and would be glad to tell you more about your parents.
"I'm not surprised that you were given my name when you began asking questions about them; there are not many people left who knew them even so well as I did. Many of our friends and classmates suffered tragic fates in the war, as did your parents. Among them were Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew, who shared the sixth floor dormitory with James and I. I am afraid your mother's friends fared little better, though you may be able to contact one of her dormmates, Mary Macdonald, who had taken a post in the Ministry last I heard.
"Your father's best subject was always Transfiguration, though he got high marks in general. The only class that completely failed to hold his interest was Divination, which is one of the electives that will be offered in your third year. (Unless you have a genuine gift for the subject, I don't recommend it). Lily's best subjects were Charms and Potions, though she also did especially well in Arithmancy (another of the electives). She said her early education in Maths had prepared her for it better than most wizards, though she was not particularly fond it. She had a very light touch with the more delicate charmwork, and very few students in our year could match or surpass her with a cauldron.
"Your father also played Quidditch; he was a Chaser for the Gryffindor team for five years, until he was appointed Head Boy and no longer had time to play. Your mother was appointed Head Girl, as well; I have enclosed a photograph taken at the beginning of our seventh year, not long after they received their badges.
"I've heard that you have inherited James' talent for flying. Seeker in your first year; that's an extraordinary achievement! I hope that your classes are also going well. Hogwarts can be quite an adjustment for those who were not raised in a wizarding family.
"I look forward to hearing from you again,
Harry read the letter through twice more before folding it up again, blinking back the burn of tears in his eyes. Lupin still wasn't saying anything about himself, and he'd been really, really vague on the subject of Sirius and Pettigrew, which was going to have to change, but apart from that-- this was what Harry'd been hoping for in the first letter.
There really wasn't anything important in it that Harry hadn't heard before-- from other sources, mostly, and years later. But some of the details-- the bits about his dad's dislike for Divination, and his mother's opinion of Arithmancy-- were new, and made him smile. He tucked the letter away in his pocket again with a much lighter heart, and then picked up the photograph, watching his parents behave like teenagers in love.
He had no idea how long he'd been sitting there cross-legged on his bed, when the curtains finally moved and Ron stuck his head in with a frown. "Still coming, mate?"
Harry nodded, and scrambled off the bed. "Sorry. Lost track of time. But look--" He held the photo out for Ron to see.
"Are those your parents?" Ron asked, a slightly awed tone in his voice as he took it gently for a better look.
"Yeah," Harry said, grinning. "I'll tell you all about it, later, after tea at Hagrid's. We can try out that secret room again, the one that can be anything? I'll bring the letter, and the other one too, so Hermione doesn't quiz me on it."
Ron handed the photo back with a grin. "Sure," he said. "Just let me drop Scabbers--"
He put the rat down on his bed as Harry tucked the photo away in his pocket and dug the older letter out of his trunk. Then they went down to meet Hermione in the Common Room and went out into the dreary, rainy weather.
The rock cakes at Hagrid's were as inedible as always, but that had never been what they went there for, and at least the tea was warming after they'd been out in the cold and wet. Hagrid looked almost exactly the same as he had the last time Harry had seen him up close, apart from the whole being tied to a tree thing; Harry found his presence more than a little reassuring after all the stress and changes of the last couple of weeks. Ron had been the first friend he'd ever made, but Hagrid had been the first wizard who'd ever befriended him, and though the half-giant had some pretty strongly biased opinions, he also had a bigger heart than almost anyone else Harry had ever met, and he didn't just mean literally.
There wasn't any sign of the dragon egg yet; Harry remembered that that was supposed to happen sometime within the next few months, but not the exact date. Hopefully, they'd be able to think up a fix for it this time that didn't involve losing a hundred and fifty points or getting caught by Malfoy, but there was little Harry could do to fend it off before it happened. He couldn't exactly infiltrate the pub at his age to stop the transaction, and there was no way he could warn Hagrid ahead of time. At least that particular adventure hadn't involved anyone getting killed, or even injured, except for Ron's hand.
After the visit was over, Harry told Hermione about their plan to go up to the Room; she agreed eagerly, almost as anxious to experiment with the Room's properties as she was to find out about the letters. Harry thought briefly about asking it for the Room of Hidden Things instead of someplace innocuous, imagining the look on her face when she saw so many books and Hogwarts relics piled up in one place, then put the idea aside as he realised what would happen if she found the Horcrux before he could get to it, or even caught him with it in his hands. Anything inscribed "Wit Beyond Measure is Man's Greatest Treasure" would be a Hermione-magnet, even if it weren't a Founder's artefact, and that line of thought led to some very scary places.
He didn't want what had happened to Ginny to happen to her. He didn't even want what had happened to Ginny to happen to Ginny this time: he didn't want to do anything that might stop Malfoy's dad from dropping the diary in Ginny's cauldron, but he didn't intend to leave it in Ginny's cauldron, either. Hopefully, she would never even know it had been there. He knew that might be risky-- part of the reason she had understood him so well later on had been because she knew what it was like to be possessed by Voldemort, and without that things might happen differently between them-- but it was a pain he could spare her, and her family, and everyone who had been Petrified, and Hagrid too, and even the basilisk, and that meant there was no question whether or not he would take action.
When they finally reached the seventh floor corridor, he decided to let Ron trigger it this time in case it picked something out of his subconscious he might not want it to, and talked the other boy through the procedure. When the door opened, it wasn't the Common Room again as he'd half-expected, but someplace else familiar: Ron's room at the Burrow, painted orange from top to bottom, practically wallpapered with posters of the Chudley Cannons and scattered haphazardly with wizarding comics and enchanted toys. Harry grinned to see it, but Hermione winced at the colour scheme, and Ron turned red in embarrassment.
"It's-- it's not much, I know," he said. "It's my room at home. I was just thinking of some place comfortable and--"
"It's brilliant," Harry said, much as he had once before, five years ago and several months in the future. And he still meant it. The Burrow was his second favourite building in all the world, behind Hogwarts, chiefly because it was one of the most welcoming places he'd ever been. Compared to Privet Drive, it was positively heavenly. "Which Quidditch team is that?" he asked, feigning ignorance as he pointed toward the walls.
As Ron happily launched into a history of the Cannons, Hermione circled the room, watching the players move in the enchanted posters and testing the deck of self-shuffling playing cards lying on the windowsill. The light shining in from outside was summery and warm, as it had probably been the last time Ron had been home. Hermione peered out for a moment, then turned back to the boys, eyes wide with amazement.
"This room really can reproduce anything, can't it?" she asked, interrupting Ron's commentary about the antics of the Cannons' current seeker, Galvin Gudgeon. "I mean, the magic in here-- Ron can't possibly have remembered every single detail of his room, or the way the enchantments on things work, but it's all still here, and they do. How is that possible?"
"I dunno, magic?" Harry replied, fighting back a snicker.
She narrowed her eyes again and crossed her arms, then gave up and laughed ruefully. "Magic," she agreed, taking a seat on the duplicate of Ron's bed. "Of course. I'll have to keep an eye out for references in the library, though; there has to be a more detailed explanation for it."
"Of course," Harry mimicked her. "Now, did you want to find out about my letters, or not?"
He wasn't going to tell her what had prompted him to write in the first place, no more than he'd told Ron; he let her draw her own conclusions. But he gave her the first letter to read while Ron read the second, then let her read the second one as well, complete with enclosed photograph.
"Oh, Harry," she said when she was done, staring down at the little captured slice of his parents' lives.
"I know," he said, heading off whatever else she might've meant to say. "I didn't show it to you before because-- because I don't want you to feel sorry for me, or whatever. But-- I'm going to keep writing to him, I think, and finding out whatever I can."
She stared at him a moment, then nodded. "That's a good idea," she said. "I know if I found out-- oh, that I had a wizarding uncle or something I'd never met-- I'd be asking everyone I could all about him. Just tell us if you find out anything really interesting, all right?"
"All right," he nodded. Hopefully, that would be the end of whatever her concern was. And in the meantime--
"So," Ron said. "Harry's done it, and I've done it; what are you going to turn the room into?"
Hermione brightened. "Give me a moment to think about it," she said distractedly, and headed for the door to the hall.
Chapter 9: Tests and Theories
"Bet it's going to be the school library," Ron commented under his breath as he followed Hermione out of the Room of Requirement. "No Madame Pince in here to keep her out of the Restricted Section."
Harry grinned at his friend, but did not reply; privately, he rather thought Hermione might choose to summon a room from one of the more famous libraries or museums her parents had taken her to when she was younger. He'd heard her comparing the Hogwarts collection-- with all its tens of thousands of old scrolls and books-- to the wonders she'd seen in the Muggle world, and in her opinion the "restrictive" and "limited" selection of Wizarding texts had come up short. Never having been anywhere grander or more "cultured" than the zoo, Harry hadn't been able to judge the accuracy of her comparison, but he remembered wondering how it could even be possible for there to exist a single library holding more than a hundred times the number of works in Madame Pince's domain.
It didn't look like today would be the day he got an answer to that question, though. Harry's grin faded as he stepped into the hallway after the other two and discovered that they were not alone anymore.
Normally, this section of the seventh floor was fairly empty; around mealtimes, however, the lesser-used corridors filled with older Gryffindors trying to avoid the traffic down the main staircases and passageways. They must have been in the Room long enough for the supper hour to arrive-- and there were the twins on their way down, mischievous faces lighting up at the sight of their ickle brother and his friends.
"We'll come back later," Harry whispered to Hermione. "But next time, we'll bring the Cloak." He was painfully aware that the door to the Room was visible behind them, but after a moment he realised that it must have disappeared before Fred and George could notice it; the twins weren't paying that section of the wall any extra attention. That was a relief; Harry didn't want to share it with them just yet.
"Not tonight, though," Hermione hissed back. "I'd much rather not be out after hours if it's not an emergency-- what if Filch caught us!"
Harry rolled his eyes, but didn't reply, as they joined the flow of students heading downward. He supposed she was right-- the rules did exist for a reason, and he didn't want to give Snape any more ammunition than necessary to taunt him about thinking himself above the rules. Still, he'd be glad when Hermione outgrew her rigid attachment to authority structures again. In his experience, there wasn't a single controlling body in the Wizarding world that deserved that kind of loyalty or trust.
After the meal, Harry continued with his tentative plan for a day of relaxation and played a few games of chess with Neville, who was much closer to his skill level than Ron. It was more fun that way, since there was a good chance that either of them could win, and even when he lost a game it was an interesting battle right to the end. After Neville went back to his Herbology books, Harry joined Ron's Gobstones circle in the corner and had a good time until it broke up for the players to go to bed.
Quidditch and studying ate up the rest of his weekend. Harry didn't think about the Room of Requirement again until late Sunday, when he took out quill and ink to write Lupin back. He didn't want to commit anything important to paper anywhere that Scabbers might be watching, but it was too late to visit the library, which meant the Room was probably his best shot at privacy. It wasn't quite curfew yet, but he ran back up the stairs to get his Cloak just in case, and when he came back down Hermione was waiting by the portrait hole.
"You're going to that room again, aren't you," she said, following him out into the hall.
Harry shrugged. "I'm just going to write a few letters," he said, evasively.
"You know, you don't have to be so secretive about it anymore," she continued, determinedly. "I think it's wonderful that you're writing to your parents' friends. No one's going to make fun of you, or anything, if you stay in the Common Room."
Harry gave her a sharp glance at that; imagination painted a line and hook in her hands to go with her resolute, inquisitive expression. He was starting to get the impression that whatever she was trying to find out had to do with his past, and not his other future. Unfortunately, that didn't ease his wariness any. While it was reassuring to know that his biggest secret wasn't at risk, there were many other sensitive subjects in his life that he'd really rather not share with anyone. Even Hermione.
"Maybe not," he said, thinking quickly-- and hit on the perfect excuse. "I'd rather not find out the hard way, though, when someone offers the Daily Prophet an exclusive about how much I miss my parents and what kinds of questions I've been asking about them."
Hermione shook her head, sending bushy hair flying in Harry's peripheral vision as they walked side by side down the hall. "That's ridiculous, Harry," she said. "Why would the Prophet want to buy an article about an eleven-year-old student's letters?"
Harry snorted. "I'm not just any student, Hermione, as much as I might wish otherwise. Or don't you remember the first thing you ever said to me?"
Hermione had no answer to that; she made a huffing noise, and when Harry snuck a glance in her direction her face was quite red.
"Well, I have a few more inches to write on my Herbology essay," she finally said, as they drew up abreast of the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy. "Good luck with your letters."
Harry felt a little guilty as he watched her walk away; he shouldn't have been so rude. Especially not over her forgetting for once that he was the Boy Who Lived, the way he wished everyone else would. He'd have to make it up to her later. Still, at least she wasn't hovering over him with that look anymore. He conjured up a quick replica of his room at Grimmauld Place-- with a comfortable desk instead of the extra bed, and no portrait of Phineas Nigellus to report on him-- and sat down to write.
The letter to Lupin came first. Harry thanked his father's friend profusely for the photograph, and also for the information about his parents' favourite classes. Then he asked a few more general questions-- had they had any hobbies besides Quidditch, did he know if Harry's dad had had any cousins who might still be alive, when and how did Lupin first meet Lily and James? That sort of thing. Finally, he pried, as lightly as he could, for more details about Sirius and Pettigrew. Lupin had mentioned them in passing in his last letter, and that made them fair game, where Harry couldn't have brought them up himself before.
To soften the end of the letter and distract from the importance of those questions, he turned the letter to Lupin himself-- asking what his own favourite subjects had been, whether he'd played Quidditch too, what he'd been doing since leaving school, and if he thought he might be able to visit Hogwarts again anytime soon. It was a fairly transparent appeal for more contact with a man he'd never even met, but Harry was pretty sure a real eleven-year-old in his situation would be asking the same thing. Besides, it would be good to see Remus again, completely aside from the Scabbers issue. Even if he wasn't really Remus to Harry yet.
Harry closed with an apology for not enclosing a photograph of himself in exchange for the one Lupin had sent of his parents. He didn't have a Wizarding camera yet, and being a first year he couldn't exactly shop for one on his own. He was planning to send some money with the twins next Hogsmeade weekend for that purpose, plus a little extra for some jokes to play on Ron. He thought it might encourage them not to "forget" his request if they thought he'd use the camera to capture the results of a prank on their younger brother.
He might, too, at that, Harry thought as he folded the letter up and addressed it. It might be the easiest way to get Ron and Scabbers into the same photograph without awkward questions; that way, he wouldn't have to ask Ron specifically to pose with the rat and risk either Wormtail or Ron himself twigging that something was going on.
He sat for a moment staring at the folded letter, then drew out a fresh sheet of parchment and started the next. He was treading unknown territory now, but Lupin had given him an opening he'd be a fool to pass up. The next time he visited the Ministry, he wanted to have more resources there than just Mr. Weasley or Percy. As much as he loved them, none of the Weasleys were exactly the kind of wizard one could rely on for solid, well-respected support in the government arena.
"Dear Miss Macdonald," he began, hoping that she hadn't married after leaving Hogwarts. Lupin's reference to her by that name suggested not, but the werewolf might not have heard if she had.
"My name is Harry Potter, and I'm a first year student at Hogwarts. I know we've never met, at least not that I can remember, but Remus Lupin recommended that I write to you if I had any questions about my mother's time at Hogwarts.
"I know a little about my mother's favourite classes, and that I have her eyes, and that she loved my father very much. Anything else you could tell me about her would be very much appreciated.
"Harry J. Potter."
It took him several attempts to get the letter right-- he kept going back to worry over whether the words he was using were too advanced for a Muggle-raised eleven-year-old, and whether he was saying too much or too little. Finally, he decided that his latest copy was good enough and wrote her direction on the envelope. He didn't know which department she worked for, but he was pretty sure that a letter addressed to "The Ministry of Magic, London" would get to her eventually.
It was well after curfew when he tucked the finished letters into his robes and shrugged the Cloak on over his head. He left the crumpled wads of parchment from his failed attempts on the floor when he left; he wasn't sure where they would go when the Room reset, but he planned to try and Accio one of them from the Room of Hidden Things and see whether it came to hand. The sheer size of the hoard of old and broken things stored in that vaulted space would make more sense if every incarnation of the Room dropped its non-conjured leftovers in the same place.
Not to mention, it might explain why Voldemort had believed himself to be the only person ever to find it. Wouldn't someone hiding a priceless relic in a room full of junk wonder where the junk had come from? It couldn't all be house elf discards. Harry checked both ways as he emerged into the hall for any hint of observers, then turned around and quickly summoned the Room again.
The familiar cathedral-sized space opened before him. He hadn't bothered specifying a time of day when he called it; he wasn't sure you could with this particular version of the Room. Its high windows were dark with night, showing only a few sparks of light from high stars or lit windows elsewhere in the castle; the towering city of junk spread out below them was shrouded in deep shadows. Harry raised his wand and cast a quick Lumos, then peered around, orienting himself toward where the diadem had been.
He hadn't planned to fetch it tonight. But maybe--
He edged through the stacks until he found the cage with the skeleton of the creature with five legs. The bust, the wig, the tiara, and the old, blistered cupboard he'd hidden his Potions book in were all visible from there. It took him longer than he'd thought it would, since the Vanishing Cabinet wasn't there to orient on; he'd forgotten that it couldn't have been added to the mess until after Montague got lost in it during fifth year. Once he'd found his target, he doused his wand with a Nox and pictured the wads of parchment he'd just discarded in his mind.
"Accio Harry's parchment!" he muttered, sweeping his wand through the spell's movements. Almost immediately, he heard a rustling somewhere in the Room; seconds later, Harry felt several small, soft things hit the back of his head.
He looked down, and smiled. One theory proven. Now to test another. He'd been thinking, off and on, about how he might store the diadem and any other Horcruxes he might collect until he could destroy them. The key thing was keeping them from ensnaring him, as they would if he kept them on his person-- and keeping anyone else from stumbling over them, which would surely happen if he left them anywhere else in the castle. One thing had come to mind: the year before, Hagrid had given him a magical storage device that only let the owner of an item retrieve it after he'd put it in.
Obviously, he and Hermione and Ron had all used it to store things that hadn't originally been theirs. But whatever items they'd each put in had only come back to that person's hand. It had to read magical signatures somehow; Harry didn't understand the magic behind it, but he certainly knew how to use it.
"Accio mokeskin pouch!" he said next, hoping fiercely that someone in the last thousand years had left one behind. Maybe one with items in it whose 'owners' had died? Or that a bully had shoved in and then refused to take back out? He wouldn't be able to retrieve anything left behind in it either, but that didn't matter for his purpose.
The piles rustled again, this time from in front of him. A dark object shot out of a stack of old uniform cloaks, dimly silhouetted against the starlight above; Harry caught it before it could hit him in the face.
"Yes!" he said fiercely, clutching the worn pouch that had come to his call. Then he opened its mouth wide and carefully approached the place where the diadem lay in wait.
Moments later, Harry was back in the hall, pouch and contents safely tucked away under his Cloak. He got back to his dorm without any problems; Hermione hadn't even waited up for him this time. He tucked Cloak and pouch both deep into his trunk, then climbed into bed. It took several hours for the excitement of the evening to wear off enough to let him sleep, but at least it left him too tired to have any nightmares.
Hermione was a little chilly toward him at breakfast the next morning, but she was herself again by lunchtime, and Ron didn't seem to find the brief, unexplained awkwardness worthy of comment. Harry gratefully made plans with them to explore the Room again after classes on Friday to make up for their interruption the week before, then threw himself back into classwork and Quidditch.
His second week as an eleven-year-old student seemed to go by much more quickly than the first. His strategies for dealing with his various professors had been established, and there were fewer opportunities for things to catch him off-guard. There were no summons from Dumbledore, and McGonagall and Flitwick seemed delighted that he was "growing into his talent" now that he was finally "becoming acclimated to a Wizarding environment." He'd never had so much approval from authority figures in his life. It certainly kept his otherwise easy classes from becoming boring.
Fortunately, he still had Snape to keep all the praise from going to his head. The Potions professor seemed to have got past whatever had kept him from challenging Harry the week before, and was back on top form. He directed Harry to sit at the very front of the class, and ordered Neville to sit beside him. Then he singled Harry out for the toughest questions from the week's reading, hovered over Harry and Neville's cauldron with narrowed, glittering eyes as Harry prepared the most sensitive stages of the potion, and made derisive comments about the legibility of Harry's handwriting.
By the end of the class, Harry's temper was running very hot despite his attempts to calm himself with Occlumency. He'd known better than to let other successes get his hopes up, and he was determined not to give in and play by Snape's petty rules; that was all that kept him from exploding and abandoning his carefully-laid plan. He handed in his sample vial at the end of the class with gritted teeth and stormed out hot on Ron and Hermione's heels.
"Still think he's not evil?" Ron commiserated glumly as they headed for the Great Hall.
"Honestly, Ron." Hermione rolled her eyes. "Didn't you notice? He didn't take a single point from Harry-- or Neville-- the entire class period."
Harry frowned at her as he ran the morning's events back through his mind. He'd never have believed it, but-- she was telling the truth. Never once, amid all that vitriol, had Snape taken a point from him. In fact--
He was challenging Harry. Not with sarcasm and ego, as in Harry's other life, but on another field the Potions master excelled at: on the field Harry's mother had excelled at. He was offering Harry a tiny window of a chance to prove himself not to be a dunderhead. It was so close to his usual behaviour that Harry hadn't noticed, but-- it was there.
"He was testing me," he said aloud.
"Testing you?" Ron echoed, incredulously. "What for?"
Hermione nodded. "Haven't you ever had teachers do that before? Push you to your limits, to find out whether you could handle advanced instruction? I have. Though they were usually a bit more polite about it."
Harry shook his head. "No," he said absently, amazed by the fact that that part of his plan was working after all. "I wasn't allowed to earn better marks than Dudley, so the teachers never paid me any extra attention."
"I thought it must be something like that," she replied, smugly.
Harry winced. He hadn't meant to give her more fodder for whatever theory she was pursuing, but clearly he'd done just that. "Hermione--" he said.
"That reminds me," she interrupted, brightly. "When we go up to the Room later, I thought that since Ron showed us his bedroom last time, we should each show him ours. I know I was interested to see what a bedroom in a Wizarding house was like; we ought to show Ron what Muggle living is like."
Harry knew very well that wasn't her real reason. Her real reason was becoming clearer with every question: in trying to account for his jump in abilities, she was apparently making up all kinds of theories about him being a repressed genius, or something. And she was hitting a little too close to the truth for his comfort.
"Maybe next time," he said, casually, thankful that he'd removed the diadem already. "I found something in there I think you'll want to see, first."
He refused to say anything more. By the time they were through eating, stowing their things in their dorms, and visiting Hagrid, Hermione's curiosity had reached a fever pitch. And when Harry opened the door to show her the vast cross-section of Hogwarts history waiting for them in the Room of Hidden Things, all thoughts of other uses for the Room that afternoon appeared to flee her mind entirely. Harry cautioned her to be careful of potentially cursed or magical objects, then grinned and waved her deeper into the maze.
Ron picked over the discarded debris near the door as she began enthusing over this book and that, and referencing the occasional find to a passage out of "Hogwarts: a History."
"We'll never get her out of here," he laughed, throwing a Fanged Frisbee in Harry's direction.
"I'm sure she'll get hungry eventually," Harry replied, throwing it carefully back.
"I wouldn't bet on it," Ron replied, teasingly. "I bet she could survive on ink and paper if she had to."
"I heard that!" Hermione called back.
Harry smiled. It hadn't been his best day ever-- but things were looking up in general.
Maybe he wasn't doomed to fail, after all.
Chapter 10: A Vital Question
Harry and Ron had to drag Hermione out of the Room of Requirement at curfew; she muttered imprecations about holding students to an unjustifiably early hour on the eves of weekends all the way back to the Tower, and by the time they got there Harry's cheeks hurt from trying not to smile. Her bag bulged with old and damaged tomes, and she'd made him repeat how he'd called that version of the Room three times over before she'd even let them leave. It looked like she'd definitely found a project to keep her busy.
The good mood stayed with Harry all through the night. He woke without remembering any nightmares, and headed for Quidditch practice that morning with a lightened heart. Ron saw him out of the Common Room with a cheery wave; he was messing about with several slightly damaged prank items he'd taken from the Room, and Hermione sat nearby, bushy hair protruding from behind a large, dusty book. The symbols on its cover looked vaguely familiar to Harry at a distance, but not enticing enough for him to stop and ask. He was sure she'd tell him later if she'd found anything particularly fascinating or important.
The pitch was very wet and muddy that morning, but Harry remembered the charms for keeping his glasses clear and warming his Quidditch robes, and was not bothered by it. He flew circles above his teammates for a while, repeatedly chasing and catching the Snitch while Wood lectured the rest of them about how best to do their jobs, and generally enjoyed the time spent in the air. Every so often he would vary the routine by diving down to interrupt the passage of a Quaffle or attempt to distract the Keeper. Wood never fell for it, of course, but he usually had a word of praise or correction for Harry's efforts.
That day, however, something seemed to have the Quidditch captain a bit more distracted than usual. When the Weasley twins began dive-bombing each other and pretending to fall off of their brooms, he snapped at them more harshly than was his wont, and then gave them a bit of news Harry had forgotten to expect:
"Snape's refereeing this time, and he'll be looking for any excuse to knock points off of Gryffindor!"
George really did fall off his broom at that-- and Harry's heart fell with him. Not so much because of Snape-- whose real purpose there, as weird as it still seemed, would be to protect Harry-- but because it reminded him of Quirrell, and Voldemort, and the fact that time was slowly getting away from him.
When the rest of the team hung back to talk after practice, Harry trudged back toward the castle, not in the mood for the usual banter. Instead of heading up to tell Ron and Hermione about Snape's decision, however, as he vaguely remembered doing before, he wandered aimlessly through the lower floors of the castle, deep in thought.
It had been three weeks and one day since he'd awakened back in first year, with all the pain and grief of the war still to come. In that time, he'd mostly figured out a way to survive his classes with decent marks and earn respect from his professors; he'd reconnected with his friends; and he'd taken his first Horcrux, leaving only four to collect. He'd also written to Remus and formed a plan to hopefully free Sirius before the end of the school year. But what else had he done? What else could he do? He'd been moving as quickly as he thought safe, but at the same time, he felt as though he were already falling behind.
His feet eventually carried him, without any deliberate intent on his part, to a hall containing a very familiar bathroom. Moaning Myrtle was apparently on form; there was water leaking out from under the door, covering the floor in a thin, shimmering sheet, and the soles of Harry's trainers had already been dampened by the time he noticed the problem. He took a few steps back, frowning at it, and shook the water from his feet, wondering whether he ought to go in and see whether he could still open the Chamber of Secrets.
Dumbledore had said he'd inherited his gift for parseltongue straight from Voldemort; if it had been part of the Horcrux left within Harry, then Harry had probably lost it along with whatever else the soul fragment had given him. In some ways, it would be a relief not to have that Dark brand hanging over him any more-- but at the same time, it would make his tasks considerably more difficult.
He'd just about made his mind up to go ahead and get it over with, when one of his least favourite people suddenly spoke up from behind him.
"Well, if it isn't Potter," the familiar Slytherin voice drawled, somehow managing to sound smug, condescending, and disapproving all at the same time. "Had a little accident, I see," it snickered.
It was the kind of voice he'd hated ever since he was old enough to differentiate bullies from victims; it reminded him of Dudley's gang and too many afternoons spent running away from children whose parents had let them believe anyone inferior was legitimate prey. He couldn't even imagine a world where he could have taken Draco's hand back on that train, no matter how much trouble it might have saved him later; it just wasn't in him to excuse, or become a party to, that kind of behaviour.
"Malfoy," he acknowledged with a sigh, turning to face the other boy.
Draco had his bookends with him, of course: the ever-present Crabbe and Goyle. They looked as thick and spiteful as ever, and between them Malfoy was his usual pale, pointy, arrogant self. There was a kind of honest, malicious joy in his expression, though, that Harry hadn't seen in years; the war had broken him down just as thoroughly as it had Harry, filling him up with bitterness and desperation.
"You've been ignoring me lately, Potter," Draco said, smirking as he drew his wand from his pocket. "Finally learning not to interfere with your betters?"
Harry gritted his teeth and clenched his hands at his sides to prevent himself from drawing his own wand in reflex. Just let Malfoy try to curse him. His father might still be on the school board, but Harry knew about pensieves and priori incantatem this time around; if Draco attacked Harry, it would be more than just Harry's word against him. Pity no one had ever called his bluff last time before he was old enough to be dangerous; a little humility on Malfoy's part might have saved Dumbledore's life.
"If it makes you feel better to believe that," he said coolly, "then be my guest."
Draco narrowed his eyes. "You know, I've been looking for someone to practice my newest spell on," he said, sharply. "How good of you to volunteer, Potter."
"Professor Snape!" Harry blurted, staring over Malfoy's left shoulder.
The boy whirled around, hastily shoving his wand back in his pocket, already stuttering an excuse-- but he fell silent a moment later, staring down the empty hall, and the look on his face when he turned back to Harry was ugly indeed.
"Sorry if I startled you," Harry said unrepentantly, smirking back at him. "But you sounded exactly like Professor Snape just then."
"Is that so, Mr. Potter," a new participant in the conversation spoke up behind him.
Harry's blood ran cold, and he froze, struggling not to show his dismay in front of Malfoy. Had he just sacrificed all the progress he'd made in Potions over the last two weeks? "No disrespect meant, sir," he said as calmly as he could, turning to face the professor.
Snape's sharp gaze lingered on his face a moment, then drifted past him to where Malfoy and his goons still stood, watching. "Indeed," he said slowly. "And just what was your purpose for lurking here in the first place, Mr. Potter? Come to spy on the girl's loo, no doubt?"
"No sir," Harry replied, heart beating wildly in his chest as he tried to avoid staring directly into the professor's eyes. No matter what he knew about Snape these days, it was hard to shut down the instinctive fight-or-flight response the former Death Eater's presence always provoked in him. "I was just passing through, sir."
"Then do not let us stop you," Snape sneered, stepping to one side of the hall, the implication clear.
So much for testing the entrance to the Chamber. Harry took a deep breath to calm himself, then took the offered opening, a bitter taste in his mouth as he hurried by the professor.
As if that wasn't enough, he heard Snape speak again as he scurried off: "Five points to Slytherin, Mr. Malfoy, for foiling--"
Harry didn't hear the rest of it, but it was enough to burn in his gut all the way back up to the Tower. He'd like to see Hermione find an upside to that, he thought, then shook his head as he remembered he was supposed to be the one insisting Snape was on the side of the Light.
Who needed enemies really, he thought, when he had allies like these?
He nearly ran into a flustered Neville on the way up; the other boy had apparently just been in the library, and was still trying to stuff the books he'd borrowed into his satchel as he walked. One of the books had a very familiar title; it was one Harry had borrowed the week before in his quest to better understand the way certain herbs behaved in Potions. Grateful for the distraction, he struck up a conversation about it with Neville as they climbed the stairs, and by the time they reached the Common Room both boys were in a much better mood.
Ron and Hermione were playing chess again when he got there, but Ron appeared to be distracted; Hermione was actually doing well against him, for once, and when he noticed Harry standing next to them he abandoned the game entirely.
"Harry!" he hissed, glancing over his shoulder toward the twins-- who'd apparently made it back to the Tower ahead of Harry. "George said Snape's going to referee your next match!"
Harry sighed. "It's several weeks away yet, Ron. I'm not going to worry about it before it gets here."
"Are you sure?" his friend asked, frowning. "You could break your leg."
"Or pretend to be ill the day of the match," Hermione put in, looking up at him.
Harry scowled at her. "I thought you believed me about Snape," he said.
"I believe he wants to push you in Potions," she said primly, "but until we find some other explanation for what's been happening, I'm going to reserve judgment about everything else."
"Forget it," Harry told them, firmly. "There's no reserve Seeker, so I've got to fly or Gryffindor will automatically lose. Besides, the rest of the professors will be watching for it this time; if he really wants to kill me, he'll have to find a more direct way of doing it than knocking me off my broom."
"Shh, keep your voice down," Hermione admonished him, as other heads in the room began turning toward their conversation. Then she frowned down at the chessboard again, tipped her king over, and stood. "Thanks for the game, Ron, but I'd better get back to my books."
Ron shook his head as she headed for the stairs to the female dorms. "Ink and paper, mate," he said, watching her go. "Ink and paper."
His friends' distress over the prospect of Snape watching him at the Quidditch match accomplished one good thing, at least; it reminded Harry about what had happened afterward, when he'd seen Snape confronting Quirrell in a clearing of the Forbidden Forest. It had been some kind of an arranged meeting, if he remembered right, and the conversation had been fairly incriminating. If Harry could arrange to observe it again-- which shouldn't be too difficult, knowing what he'd be looking for-- then he could simply happen to encounter them there, maybe even fall off his broomstick onto Quirrell. It would be a little abrupt, but it would take care of most of his concerns about confronting the possessed teacher: his broom would give him a believable excuse for being out there, the potential witnesses would not include anyone or anything Dumbledore could use to backtrack Harry's more deliberate than accidental approach to the clearing, and the witness that was there would be more concerned with the implications of Quirrell's possession than with sugarcoating events for Harry's benefit.
The only question was, whether he could afford to wait out the five weeks until the match came around before doing anything about Voldemort's presence in the castle. He rather thought it would do for an initial plan, though, unless a better opportunity came to light in the meantime. It would be far better than waiting for the end of the year, in any event.
Harry suffered impatiently through the next two weeks of classes and practices, his list of unmet goals much more on his mind than they had been the two weeks previous. He could hardly wait for the Hogsmeade weekend to arrive; the Twins had promised to pick up the camera he'd asked for in exchange for copies of any photographs they might particularly fancy, and he was very impatient to use it. Remus' next letter had already arrived, and he dearly wanted to include an incriminating image of Wormtail in his next reply.
At the same time, however, he was also rather glad to have an excuse to wait to write back. Lupin had answered his question about James Potter's family with a most unexpected answer-- Harry did have cousins in the wizarding world. Several of them, a couple of generations removed; James hadn't had any siblings, and his father had been an only son, but James' mother had been one of a very large family.
It was the identity of that family that had temporarily knocked his wits loose.
"I'm part Black?" he'd sputtered, jaws agape, staring down at the curling parchment of the letter. "I'm part Black?"
Even more surprising had been Ron's answer. "You didn't know that?" he'd replied, around a mouthful of potatoes.
"No!" Harry had blurted, feeling dizzy as he tried to remember whether he'd seen the name Potter on the Black tapestry. He'd never really paid that much attention to it, except for the places where names like Sirius' had been burnt off. But if he'd been Sirius' cousin the whole time, why hadn't his godfather ever said anything?
And if it was true-- did that make him Tonks' cousin, too? And Malfoy's?
"Most of the old families are related to each other," Ron had said, casually. "Not that most people keep track, beyond making sure first cousins don't marry. Dad's mum was a Black, too, until they disowned her for marrying a Weasley."
Harry had stared at him, dumbstruck. "Does that make us cousins, then?"
"Probably," Ron had answered. "You'd have to ask Dad how close, though."
"But why didn't you ever say anything?" Harry had replied-- aware that he was asking the best friend he'd left behind in the future as much as the one sitting in front of him.
"I guess I thought you already knew," Ron had answered with a shrug. As though it were no big deal.
He must have sat there, watching Ron eat, for several more minutes while Ron dug further into his meal. It wasn't until he'd realized that expression was creeping over Hermione's face again that he'd turned back to his own plate, mind awhirl.
Could it be possible that no one had ever guessed how much it would have meant to Harry, before, had he known that he had actual, blood family in the wizarding world? Not that it wasn't great to have friends, and a godfather, and all, but family--
--Or maybe they had known, Harry had thought, glancing reluctantly up at Dumbledore. Maybe people like Sirius and Arthur Weasley had simply thought he already knew-- or maybe they'd been specifically told not to bring it up by a certain someone with a vested interest in keeping Harry's connections to the world, his reasons to live, as limited and uncomplicated as possible. He was trying not to be paranoid, but-- with so much evidence already out there of Dumbledore's manipulations, it was hard not to at least suspect.
And if he'd never thought to write to Lupin now, before the werewolf came back to Hogwarts and into Dumbledore's sphere of influence again, Harry might never have known. That thought kept him on-task in classes when his mind started to wander, and kept him at his extra studies in the evenings when the temptation to socialize or run off to the Room again grew distracting.
He had to stop Voldemort before Sirius-- before anyone-- died this time. He just had to.
When the Hogsmeade weekend finally came around, Harry slipped the Weasley twins the last of the gold he'd taken out of Gringotts at the beginning of the year and settled down in the Common Room to impatiently await their return. He'd finally thought up a trick he could play on Ron using the rat that wouldn’t be either too harmful or too complex for a first year, and he was ready to try it out.
Neville spent part of the afternoon with him, studying for Potions; he still shook like a leaf and mostly let Harry do all the actual brewing in Potions while Snape hovered over their cauldron making vicious remarks, but he'd regained some of his confidence when dealing with the ingredients themselves, and they hadn't blown up a single potion in the weeks that they'd been paired in the class. Snape still wasn't taking any points, but he wasn’t showing Harry any more respect, either; he was still as harsh as ever.
At the rate things were going, he would never warm up to Harry enough to believe him about the Horcruxes instead of taking the matter directly to Dumbledore. But who else could Harry ask for help? Sirius, maybe-- but even Sirius would be more inclined to think of him as a child to be protected, especially at the age he was now. And Harry couldn't afford that level of interference. That was one side effect of Snape's insistence on identifying him with his father that Harry had never thought he might have reason to be grateful for: the fact that Snape saw him-- and criticized him-- as an individual old enough to be responsible for his own actions, rather than just a kid.
The whole point would be moot if only he didn't have to worry about the Trace. Then he wouldn't have to tell anyone the whole truth. Until he was of age, though, there was nothing for it-- he needed an adult pair of hands, and six years was much too long to wait.
His study session with Neville finally broke up mid-afternoon when the other boy left to send a letter to his grandmother. Hermione was deep in yet another book, and Ron was playing Exploding Snap with Seamus and Dean; Harry was briefly tempted to join the game, but didn't quite have the heart for it. Instead, he decided to get back to the task he'd been interrupted in two weeks before-- Myrtle's bathroom would be easier to investigate with so many students and staff out of the castle.
He stopped by the third floor on his way down for a detour through the trophy room; he lingered in front of Tom Riddle's Special Award for Service to the School for a moment, then in front of the Head Boy's plaque where his father's name was inscribed. Then he stared at the place where his and Ron's Special Awards would have been, and sighed. He'd put it off long enough.
He approached Myrtle's bathroom slowly, as though approaching his own execution; he recognized the way his heart pounded and the world seemed to fade away into the distance, leaving only the task ahead of him. He'd been trying not to think about how vital the question would be to everything else that was yet to come-- and until that moment, he'd succeeded. How would he open the locket, when the time came, if he'd lost the ability to speak to snakes? How would he destroy the Horcruxes, if he didn't have access to basilisk venom? But what would it mean for him, if the ability wasn't gone?
Finally, he opened the door and stepped in. Myrtle didn't seem to be around, but he doubted he'd have had the energy to deal with her even if she was; all of his attention was focused on that one particular sink and the tiny snake etched onto one of its copper taps.
He licked his lips, then spoke the crucial word: "Open."
Nothing happened. He took a deep breath, trying to listen past the English he'd always heard for the sibilant hisses that accompanied the language of the snakes, and said it again. "Open."
Nothing. And again: nothing.
No hissing. No Chamber. No parseltongue. No Horcux.
He collapsed to the floor like a puppet with its strings cut, breathing harshly, as he processed what it meant. He couldn't-- he couldn't--
--but he wasn't. For all the assurances he'd had before, this was the first solid proof he had that he didn't still carry a piece of Voldemort inside him. More than Dumbledore's word, more than the mere absence of scar-prickling or easier Occlumency, this was positive confirmation. A weight that he hadn't realized he'd been carrying around since he'd first viewed the Prince's tale in Dumbledore's pensieve had fallen from him, and he was shaken by the loss of it.
"Just Harry," he said aloud, and laughed, feeling slightly hysterical. "I'm just Harry, now."
Then the rest of what that meant sank in. If Harry-with-a-Horcrux had been Voldemort's equal, could Harry-without-one match up? Did the prophecy still apply at all?
And if particular magics truly were attached to the soul-- and stayed gone once ripped away--
Harry had been assuming the Trace was back, this whole time.
...What if it wasn't?
Chapter 11: Nevermind the Consequences
Harry wasn't sure how long he'd been sitting on the damp, tiled floor of Myrtle's bathroom, staring at the scratched copper tap that marked the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets, when the resident spectre began making gurgling noises in her favourite toilet. He blinked his way back to awareness, drawing his wand reflexively at the sound, then shook his head, leaped to his feet, and quickly headed for the door. Hopefully, she hadn't yet realised she had an audience. That was the last thing he needed today: a petulant ghost darting out into the hall, complaining loudly to anyone who would listen about the strange boy in the girl's loo.
He pushed the door open a crack, glancing out to make sure no one was loitering in the hall, then ducked out and directed his steps toward the castle courtyard. He needed air. For the first time since he'd decided not to tell Dumbledore the truth about his time travelling, he truly felt the loss of the older wizard's wise counsel. He was only seventeen, going on twelve; these kinds of questions were a little more than he was used to dealing with on his own. But he'd already made that decision, and for good reason; he wasn't going back on it now. Maybe if Dumbledore's memories had come back through time along with Harry's he'd have felt differently, but not as things stood.
He finally settled onto an out-of-the-way stone bench under the open sky, kicking his feet as he stared up at the mostly-quiet castle and the low clouds scudding overhead. "All right, then," he muttered, narrowing his eyes in thought. "What would Hermione say?"
He'd known that the bit of Voldemort's soul embedded in his scar wouldn't travel back with him, expected it, though the proof of it had caught him off guard. Could other magics attached to him-- and removed over the course of future events-- have also failed to follow on? Or had they been attached to his body, rather than his mind, and thus were still active on this eleven-year-old version of himself?
The Trace, as he'd been told by the Weasleys and Mad-Eye Moody, was a charm applied to all wizarding children-- or at least school-aged children attending Hogwarts-- that detected the use of magic around under-aged wizards. It was the Trace that had caught Dobby's Hover Charm the summer before Harry's second year; Dumbledore had confirmed that in one of their sixth year meetings, though he hadn't called the charm by that name. It was also the Trace that had detected his Patronus when the Dementors had attacked in Little Whinging. Also, from the way everyone had spoken of it, it was a charm individually applied to each wizard, rather than one enormous active spell like the Taboo or the Caterwauling Charm in Hogsmeade. It was set up to break automatically the moment a wizard turned seventeen. But how did it tell when a wizard was seventeen in the first place?
He'd seen the Age Line Dumbledore had cast around the Goblet of Fire before the Triwizard Tournament, and witnessed what had happened to Fred and George when they tried to circumvent its magic with an Ageing Potion. Clearly, magic had ways of detecting age that weren't dependent on physical changes, else there'd be loads of teenaged wizards trying to beat the system every year and passing on the secret to the younger students in their dorms. He wished he'd thought to ask Hermione whether the extra hours she'd built up using the Time Turner had made any difference; that might have been relevant now.
How could he possibly test whether his Trace was still active? Both of the warning letters he'd received from Mafalda Hopkirk's office had arrived during the summer months, when he'd been living with the Dursleys. But he wouldn't be officially sent back to Privet Drive for months-- and he was a first year, not allowed off the grounds at all during term. He might as well keep waiting until Dobby arrived and let the elf do it for him; it would only cost Harry a few more weeks' worth of patience.
He winced at the thought of going back to Little Whinging at all. Dudley hadn't turned out so bad in the end, and he had a little more sympathy for his aunt after viewing Snape's last memories, but nothing would ever reconcile him to living under Vernon Dursley's authority. If it hadn't been for the Death Eater attack, the night he'd flown away from Number Four for the last time would have been one of the happiest of his life.
If it hadn't been for those wards--
Harry's throat closed up rather suddenly as he felt the blood drain out of his face. The wards. He remembered what had been said about them pretty clearly; he'd been cautioned enough about the limitations of the blood protection over the years. "Your mother's charm will only break under two conditions: when you come of age, or you no longer call this place home." If the Trace was gone, the wards were gone; both were limited by the same precondition. The wards would have fallen the moment he'd apparently skipped straight from age eleven to seventeen, and Dumbledore would never, could never, send him to the Dursleys in the name of keeping him safe ever again.
He wanted to explode in six directions at once; he wanted to Accio his broomstick, fly out to the nearest Muggle town, and test the Trace immediately, nevermind the consequences. If the wards had fallen-- if he never had to go back to the Dursleys-- if he could live with Sirius, or failing that the Weasleys, straight away--
Except-- Surely Dumbledore would have known if the wards had broken? And even if that wasn't the case, even if he wasn't going to check until Easter holidays came round and with them the potential for Harry leaving the castle again, what conclusions would Dumbledore draw about the matter should Harry's speculations prove correct?
Harry glanced up at the castle again and rubbed absently at his quiescent scar. He might have to wait for answers on his other questions-- especially what he was going to do about the Horcruxes now he wouldn't have access to a Goblin-made sword steeped in basilisk venom-- but at least the answer to that last one was easy.
Home sweet home, he thought to himself with a wry smile.
The Twins found him still in the courtyard somewhat later that evening, and approached him with identical mischievous grins. Fred was carrying a gaily-wrapped package plastered with the logo of a specialty shop in Hogsmeade; George was holding something as well, something flat and very familiar to Harry, but when he saw Harry had noticed their presence he tapped it with his wand and folded it away.
"Friend of ickle Ronniekins--"
"Junior prankster in the making--"
"So this is where you've been hiding!" They spoke quickly, making a show of finishing one another's thoughts.
Selfishly, Harry was suddenly quite glad he hadn't stayed around to see how Fred's death had affected George. Being there with Percy and Ron when it had happened had been horror enough.
"Took us long enough to track you down, didn't it, George?" George said, nudging his brother with a wayward elbow.
"Sure did, Fred," Fred answered, as he retrieved Harry's much-lightened money pouch from a pocket and tossed it to him. "Thought you'd be in the common room, plotting."
"Or marking up your texts," George shook his head, disapprovingly. "We thought you'd gone mental, these last few weeks. Glad to see you've got your priorities straightened out."
"Just remember to make us copies of anything embarrassing!" Fred continued, smirking as he handed the package over.
"We'll see," Harry said absently as he tore into the package. A camera that resembled Colin Creevey's was nestled inside, along with a roll of parchment-- probably instructions on how to operate it-- and several small, sealed containers. Spare film, and whatever potions were used to develop the photographs, it looked like. "This is brilliant, Fred. Thanks!"
"We've already loaded it for you," George pointed out, as Harry lifted the camera for a closer look.
"Just look through the Ocular and press that button there," Fred gestured. "And then--"
Harry adjusted the camera again, then pressed the button with both Twins in the frame: Fred still pointing at him, an uncharacteristically serious expression on his face, and George looking on in amusement. A flash of light and a cloud of purple smoke erupted in their faces, and they both blinked in momentary surprise.
Fred mock-scowled, then broke out into a laugh, echoed by his brother. "Good one," he said. "Clearly, we can leave you to figure out the rest on your own."
Harry grinned back at them, then wrapped the camera up again and followed the Twins into the castle. They passed Snape on the way up to the Tower; the sneering professor barely glanced at the three of them as he passed, but Harry felt the full force of his attention nonetheless. Merlin only knew what favoured activity Dumbledore had pulled him away from to make him keep an eye on Harry and Quirrell, but at least he wasn't taking it out on Harry in class this time round.
The common room was mostly empty when they reached it; everyone else had gone down to the Great Hall for supper. Fred and George whispered to each other a bit, then headed up to their dorm. Harry stayed below for a moment, glancing around the room, then unwrapped the camera and snapped a quick image, capturing as much of the place as he could. Best start covering his tracks where the wards were concerned, just in case. He'd send that one in the same letter as the one of Ron and Scabbers, with a suitable message scrawled on the back.
He was a bit hungry, but he decided that food could wait; now that he actually had the camera in hand, he was burning to put it to its intended use. He retrieved his Cloak, his potions text, and a few supplies from his trunk, then ducked back out through the portrait hole. It was time to see whether the Room of Requirement could supply a better potions lab than their old standby, an unused toilet in Myrtle's loo.
Fortunately, the potion Harry wanted to make took very little time to brew, used only common ingredients, and didn't require much preparation. He was back in the Tower before curfew, bearing a basket of food from the house elves-- and several glass phials carefully tucked away under the napkins. He pled research to his friends as an excuse for missing supper, distracted everyone in the common room with the pilfered sweets, then nipped upstairs early and spent the last hours of the evening writing letters.
He'd just about exhausted the immediate questions he could ask about his parents and their friends, but fortunately it wasn't hard to find other topics to write to Lupin about. It was only just beginning to occur to him how very little he knew about Wizarding culture, and how very much he could have used an approachable adult friend during his actual first year. Why hadn't the headmaster sent Lupin to him instead of Hagrid that first summer, or even McGonagall? Someone who'd have told him about more than just the untrustworthiness of Slytherins, and encouraged him to ask questions about more than just why everyone seemed so awed to meet him. It was only now that he knew enough even to know what he should have been asking all along.
He was a bit more circumspect in his second letter to Mary Macdonald. It had taken her weeks to reply to the first one, and her response had been brief, but it had warmed his heart all the same:
I am afraid I cannot be as helpful as you may have hoped. Though we shared a dorm, Lily Evans and I were not the best of friends; she spent most of her free time with one or more of the boys in our year in Gryffindor, or with the Slytherin boy she studied with in Potions. She was beautiful, brilliant, opinionated, and outspoken; naturally, most of the girls in our year hated her, and half of the boys wanted to date her. Luckily for your father, he grew up more quickly than most of his competitors. I did respect her, however, and grieved when I learned what had happened. Her untimely loss was a tragedy, not only on a personal level but also for our world as a whole.
She had signed off with best wishes for his health and education, and hopes that his name would not cross her desk in an official capacity: it turned out that she worked for the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes. Harry thanked her for her sincere response, and asked a few careful questions about her job. A contact in that office might prove useful in the future.
When he was finished, he slipped the letters into a pair of unsealed envelopes on the bedside stand, hid the phials of potion and several bars of chocolate under his pillow, then changed into his pyjamas and curled up to sleep.
One very early alarm charm, several ounces of a thin, pungent, nontoxic Healing potion, a large quantity of shape-Transfigured chocolate, and a Stunning charm later, Harry's prank was ready at last. It probably wasn't the brightest idea he'd ever had, but it made good use of the materials he had available and jibed well with what he remembered of preteen humour. All he had to do was wake Ron up with an underpowered Tickling hex, and watch the show.
On cue, Ron swiped irritably at his nose, then blinked awake as something wet on his hand came in contact with his face. "Bloody hell!" he spluttered, sitting up and blinking at his fingers in the early morning sunlight. "Ugh!"
Harry grinned and covertly shifted his camera up to his pillow, so that he was squinting at his friend through its Ocular. He watched as confusion spread over Ron's face, then melted into disgust at the sight of the small brown pellets stuck to the yellow liquid coating his palm. He shook it frantically, eyes darting around the bed, then snatched up the limp form of Scabbers with his untainted hand.
"Oh no," Ron moaned. "Percy said he was getting old, but he's never--"
It was only then that Ron seemed to realise just how far the mess had spread. Harry activated the camera just as Ron leapt up, horrified, and tried to scramble backward off his bed. The Ocular captured Scabbers with both front paws completely exposed, and Ron's other arm flailing midair as he tangled himself in the bedcurtains on the way down.
The flash did not go unnoticed. Ron popped back up a moment later, glaring across the bedcovers at his friend, then sniffed his stained hand again suspiciously. "Harry! What did you do?" he growled.
That was Harry's cue to widen his eyes and implement stage two of the prank. "What? I didn't do anything! It's just, your brothers gave me this camera yesterday and told me to make them copies of anything embarrassing that happened this morning--"
"What!" Ron exclaimed, his ears turning red. "I'm going to hex them into next week!" And that was all it took: a moment later the youngest Weasley at Hogwarts was pelting down the stair, yelling at Fred and George, shedding chocolate pellets and potion with every step.
"--Not that I'm going to," Harry snickered to himself as he got out of bed. The Twins might cry foul, but Ron would never forgive him if he took the joke that far. He could always offer to take advertising photos for their Wheezes later on to make up for it, and in the meantime-- well, he'd just pranked the pranksters, hadn't he? It was a new experience for him, pulling something clever and creative that didn't have "enemy action" stamped all over it. Well, on the surface, at least. He might have to try it again sometime just for the fun of it, once Wormtail was taken care of. It was amazing how much time he'd freed up, now that he actually had some idea what he was facing and wasn't spending every minute worrying about his life, his friends, his grades, or all three at once.
He spelled Ron's sheets clean, then took the photography kit out of his trunk. Of course, now he also had to worry about Weasleys pranking him back, which hadn't really been a concern before. But as long as no one was hurt, no belongings were destroyed, and all was in good fun, he rather thought he'd enjoy getting in trouble for normal reasons for once.
--But not just yet. Harry snickered again, then grabbed up Cloak, kit, letters, and wand, and bolted from the Tower still in his pyjamas. Time to finally set his godfather's freedom in motion. Everything else could wait.
The next several days seemed to pass at a crawl. Ron had been surprisingly good-natured about the prank, once Harry had explained his deal with the twins and exactly how much of it Harry would be honouring; he slipped something into Harry's breakfast cereal that coloured his hair green, and challenged Harry to a few more games of chess than usual, but aside from that seemed not to take offense.
Fred and George had not yet made a move of their own, however. Harry spotted them from time to time watching him in the common room, whispering behind their hands to each other; he knew it was meant to be intimidating, but he couldn't help feeling a bit nervous all the same. One never knew what to expect from the proprietors of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, even in the years before they'd begun actually marketing their products.
That didn't concern him half so much, however, as the wait for his next letter from Lupin. Would he recognize Pettigrew's animagus form as quickly as Sirius had? Harry could only hope so. It would be the most colossal letdown if all his plotting came to nothing because Lupin hadn't looked closely enough at the crucial evidence. A terrific sense of impatience had infected him; he blew off a Potions research session that Tuesday for the first time all term in favour of Defence practice in the Room of Requirement. It had earned him a disappointed lecture from Hermione, who had apparently tried to access the Hidden Things version for more books while he was in there, but he felt much more comfortable in his magic and his skin by the time he was done, so it balanced out. The physical development of his scrawny eleven-year-old body couldn't provide quite the level of stamina and power that he'd been used to in the future, but he still had most of his seventeen-year-old knowledge and control, so as long as he kept to spells O.W.L. level or under he had no trouble. In another year or two, even that limitation would be gone.
As compensation for disappointing his friend, he volunteered an hour the next afternoon to actually ask Hermione about her recreational reading. He'd finally realised where he'd seen the symbol on the cover of her latest find, and listened with interest to the Beedle the Bard tale of "The Fountain of Fair Fortune". The story was supposed to teach wizarding children that magic ultimately was not the best weapon to achieve their heart’s desire. After his experiences with the Mirror of Erised and the Resurrection Stone Harry was inclined to agree, but he wondered just how many adult wizards truly believed that moral given all the Deathsticks, Horcruxes, and Philosopher's Stones cluttering up the landscape.
She didn't mention the Deathly Hallows, but Harry hadn't been expecting her to; she hadn't seen the Cloak in use more than a handful of times, after all, and had no other reason to connect the story to Harry. It was just as well. It was enough to know that she'd have some idea what was going on if the topic ever became important again. He hoped it never did.
No letter came that evening, either, and as a result Harry spent most of Thursday growing increasingly irritable. He overpowered a supposedly new Charm they were learning, and earned a surprised frown from Flitwick; in Defence, he waited until Quirrell began pacing in the middle of his lecture, then tried to perform a wordless Summoning Charm on his turban, eager to get something over with, at least. Unfortunately, the smelly cloth was securely stuck to the stuttering professor's head, and he must have felt the attempt, because he stopped short to stare around at all the students before retreating back to the chalkboards. Worse yet, Ron had noticed him pointing his wand, and immediately began sketching out a chart of Quirrell's virtues and detractions versus Snape's in the margin of his notes nearest Harry.
He was in a truly vile mood by the time the class was over, and went tearing up the stairs toward the seventh floor well ahead of his classmates, determined to vent his temper again in the Room rather than on his friends. It was in this state of mind that he practically ran over a visitor to the castle, headed up toward Dumbledore's office. A quick dodge saved them both from a painful spill on the steps, but unfortunately it did nothing to clear his thoughts.
"Professor Lupin! You're here!" Harry blurted, halting in his tracks as he stared round-eyed at Lupin. Was this why there'd been no letter-- because he was coming in person? Did he dare believe his plan had worked?
Then his tongue caught up to him. "I mean Remus, sorry," he said, correcting himself.
...And then his brain caught up to him, and he winced. "I mean, Mr. Lupin?" he finished weakly, hoping his father's old friend would just think him terribly awkward with people. It wasn't like he'd actually know the reason for the mistaken greetings.
...Right? Harry thought, taking a step back at the increasingly alarmed expression on Lupin's face.
Lupin stared at Harry in something like horror, then down at the letter clutched in his hand, the photo of Ron and Scabbers tucked carefully inside. Then Lupin looked up again, and went paler than Harry had ever seen him.
"Harry," Lupin said again, in a tone of voice like a death knell. "What have you done?"
Chapter 12: Unexpected Revelations
Harry's heart seized in his chest. For a brief, breathless moment, he was utterly at a loss for words. Echoes of his last conversation-- argument, really-- with Remus before Teddy's birth swarmed thickly in his ears; they'd not had a chance to really talk again before Remus had named him Teddy's godfather, nor afterward, and Harry had hoped never to hear that tone in the other man's voice ever again.
Distraught replies built up behind his teeth: he wanted to say what I had to and please, don't try to stop me and you said you wanted to make a world where your son could live a happier life, but you bloody well died, so I'm doing it for you! But he couldn't actually say them; he'd be answering the Remus he'd known, not the Lupin in front of him-- the one who'd lain so pale and still in the Great Hall next to his dead wife, the one who might have survived if only Harry'd found that last Horcrux a bit more quickly.
Sirius' name had been the first to flow from Harry's quill when he'd begun enumerating his losses, but Remus' life, for all the mild face he'd turned to the world, had been as tragic as anything his more well-known friend had suffered. Harry took in the grey threading through Lupin's hair, the patches on his well-worn robes, and the lines already forming on his still-young face, and mentally added the werewolf's name to the List. Harry'd been so intent on using him to get Sirius freed that he'd kind of short-changed the man himself, and Lupin deserved better than that from Harry.
They all deserved better. That was why he'd come back, after all.
"I-- I don't know what you mean," he finally managed to say, still staring round-eyed at the older man.
Lupin stared back at him, still pale with some unnameable depth of emotion, then shook himself, glancing around at the curious students walking around them on the stairs. "I apologise; this is not the place for this discussion," he said, grimacing. "I have a few moments before I'm scheduled to meet with the Headmaster; perhaps we can find a quiet place for a brief chat?"
Alarm thrilled through Harry again. What had Lupin's knickers in such a knot? It didn't seem possible that he could know what Harry had done-- but why had he reacted so strongly? After everything, Harry was wary of willingly going into any situation that he didn't fully understand or control, but there was no help for it in this case.
Of course, he couldn't just give in, either. Harry was supposed to be an eleven-year-old boy who'd just taken his first step on the path several famous Gryffindors had lain down before him, not a might-have-been-Slytherin calculating the potential costs and benefits of going along with Lupin's not-quite-request. "It was just a prank!" he exclaimed. "I mean, I know my dad and his friends used to pull pranks, I didn't think you'd get mad at me for sending you a photograph of one! It was meant to be funny!"
Something shifted in Lupin's expression at Harry's words, flickering in his eyes, gone too quickly for the younger wizard to identify. "One man's humour is another man's humiliation, Harry; remember that, and respect it, and you'll be a far wiser man than we were at your age." He softened the stern words with a faint smile, and gestured to the faint green streaks still marring Harry's hair. "Though I do recall the stories told of Gideon and Fabian Prewitt; they had left Hogwarts by the time your father and I arrived, but their legend lived on. If your friend Ron and his brothers are anything like their uncles, I daresay there's no harm in your indulging in a bit of competitive mischief."
"Then-- I'm not in trouble?" Harry asked plaintively, scuffing a shoe on the stair.
"Now, I didn't say that." The colour had come back into Lupin's face, but his smile faded as he tapped the letter he held against his other hand. "There is the small matter of what you've potentially done to the wards at your aunt's-- but as I said, this is not the place for that discussion." He gestured back down toward the fourth floor landing. "If you don't mind?"
The wards? Harry turned Lupin's words over in his mind as he obediently stepped down, then followed his once-and-future professor down a corridor on the fourth floor. The clue represented by the second photo tucked into the letter had been meant for Dumbledore to pick up on eventually, not Lupin; he'd hoped that Lupin would mention it to the Headmaster sooner or later if the question ever came up, not press the issue now while Harry was still trying to lay a false trail. What was going on?
They turned down an empty corridor, and Harry realised they were headed toward the mirror he'd quietly investigated a few weeks before whilst reminding himself of the locations of all the secret tunnels shown on the Marauder's Map. The Weasley twins had told him that that particular tunnel had collapsed during the winter of his second year, but he'd thought it might come in handy until then. Especially considering the timing of the collapse; it might not be damaged this time at all, provided he captured Riddle's diary before someone began using it to release the basilisk from the Chamber. It would be brilliant to have an alternate route to Hogsmeade that Filch didn't know about.
Immediately behind the mirror, a dry, slightly crumbly passageway opened into a small chamber wide enough for several people to stand in comfort, before narrowing again and curving steeply downward toward ground level, and it was to this space that Lupin led him. Harry kept his mouth closed, wary of saying anything else potentially revealing, as Lupin carefully lit the torches in a pair of wall sconces and spelled the mirror back into place.
"There," Lupin finally said, and turned back to Harry. His eyes lingered a moment on the lightning bolt scar, not quite meeting Harry's gaze; then he shook his head. "It is good to see you, Harry," he said. "I expect you've heard this before, but you look a great deal like your father, except--"
Harry ducked his head, swallowing down a sudden lump in his throat. "--for my mother's eyes. Yes, I know." He had to fight the urge to squirm; it felt suddenly very awkward to be reintroducing himself to an adult he'd known well in the future. He hadn't had to go through this with any of his actual professors; he'd simply slipped back into a familiar student role with them. This was more like meeting Mad-Eye again after a year of Barty Crouch Jr.'s impersonations; he hardly knew what to say.
A warm hand gently touched the top of his head, just brushing against his hair. Harry tilted his head back again, looking up-- and up-- in surprise; he hadn't been nearly so small when he'd met Remus during his third year. It made him feel even more like a misbehaving child than he usually did around the more benevolent adults in his life.
Lupin smiled again, very briefly, and dropped his hand. "Yes, you do. As I'm sure you have many more of their excellent qualities, tempered by your own strengths and gifts. Unfortunately, you seem to have inherited the worst of their Gryffindor impulsiveness as well." He unfolded the letter then, exposing the photographs Harry had sent-- the one of Ron and Wormtail, and the one of the empty Gryffindor Common Room-- with the Common Room photo on top, carefully marked in Harry's script with the words 'My new home'.
Harry swallowed. "I'm not sure I understand why you're asking me about my aunt," he said carefully. "I never said anything about her in that letter."
Lupin's lips thinned, and a muscle jumped in his jaw as he paused a moment before replying. "You know, I trust, why Dumbledore sent you to live with her?" he asked.
That seemed safe enough to answer. Harry shrugged. "Because she's my family?"
"Because she's your mother's closest living blood relation, and Dumbledore was able to use that connection to protect you from any and all Dark wizards as you grew up," Lupin elaborated.
Any and all--? Harry put the words together with the tension in Lupin's stance, and suddenly felt both relieved and ashamed of himself all at once. He'd never quite acknowledged the vast sense of abandonment he felt towards the wizarding world in general, and especially his parents' friends, for the barrenness of his childhood; even if Dumbledore had forbidden contact in the name of keeping him safe, surely a true friend would not have simply accepted that objection without finding some way of checking up on him? That silent hurt had no doubt contributed to his otherwise unaccountable rage when Lupin had thought to abandon Tonks and their unborn son. But if the blood protection had been set to keep out Dark creatures-- or at least said to do so-- as well as Death Eaters until it had weakened with the passage of time and Voldemort's resurrection, everything was explained.
"I still don't see what that has to do with my letter," he said, trying to remain calm as he returned his focus to the conversation at hand.
Lupin sighed. "Don't lie to me, Harry," he said. "I know you must be aware of the wards, and their limitations. Even if Dumbledore has never fully explained them to you, they will have appeared in your dreams by now; I know you're aware of how important it is that they remain strong. What I can't understand is why you'd risk them so recklessly."
"Dreams?" Harry blurted, wondering what in Merlin's name Lupin was on about.
"Yes," Lupin replied. "Or so I assumed, at first. I had no reason to believe otherwise. I saw myself as a professor at Hogwarts; spending a full moon in complete control of my own mind; handing the Marauder's map to James' son; embracing Sirius again; marrying his young cousin; and fathering a son of my own." He glanced away, amber eyes burning with pained emotions. "Impossible wishes; and impossible terrors as well. Endangering a group of children as I'd sworn never to do; duelling Death Eaters again; hearing James' son call me a coward; and escorting that same young man to a death no one should ever have to face. The dreams repeated night after night, to the point where I began to wonder if I might have been cursed with a subtle and creative Nightmare hex."
"Until my letter came," Harry said, slowly. His mind raced over the implications: every thing Lupin had listed had been something that actually happened to the man over the next six and half years-- up to and including an event that had actually taken place after his death. An event that had taken place just before Harry's death and subsequent jump to the past-- but after the activation of the Resurrection Stone. Could Lupin's dreams have something to do with Harry's use of the Hallows to send his own spirit back in time, without first dismissing the other spirits he'd called up?
"Until your letter came," Lupin confirmed, nodding. "I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the photo of Wormtail; it was proof that my dreams were more than they appeared to be. And as you sent no other photos of your friends, it seemed more than coincidental that you should have mailed me proof of Peter's survival just as I became aware it might be needed. I made an appointment to see Dumbledore as soon as I could. If one of my dreams held an element of truth, then perhaps more of them will as well; and I cannot let that knowledge pass without acting on it."
"But when you ran into me first, and I called you by the wrong name--" Harry said.
"--My theory was confirmed," Lupin agreed. "Harry, I can understand why you made an effort to target Wormtail, especially as you could not have known that I was experiencing the same phenomenon, but this!" He tapped the photo of the Common Room again, emphatically. "I've seen what happens when your mother's charm collapses, Harry; I know what level of danger they can deflect. I've dreamt it more than once, and I know you must have seen it as well; why on earth would you want to remove the protection it provides any earlier than absolutely necessary?" As Harry opened his mouth to object, he shook his head and spoke over him. "Even if we are able to free Sirius immediately, the fact remains that he's hardly going to be considered a suitable guardian for you on an immediate basis after all the time he's spent in Azkaban. The Minister would never allow it, not with the more conservative purebloods prompting him, and neither will Dumbledore. The Dursleys are the safest possible--"
This was exactly why Harry hadn't wanted to say anything to even a trusted adult. He was through with people acting for his own good; he would not tolerate it, not even from people he loved. "The Dursleys are only safe while no one knows where they live!" he exclaimed. "They might have the blood protection, but there's nothing else keeping anyone from finding them. We're just lucky none of the Death Eaters know enough about the Muggle world to look in a bloody phone book; anyone who knows my aunt's name-- anyone who was ever at my parents' wedding, or heard my mum talk about her sister-- could look up her address and just wait for me to leave!"
Lupin's frown deepened at that. "That's true; perhaps I should raise that issue with Dumbledore when I speak with him today. As supportive as he is of Muggleborns, he was not raised in Muggle culture himself, and may not have thought of that."
"No," Harry objected, quickly. He had to head off that train of thought immediately. Everyone still looked to Dumbledore to fix things for them, and Boy Who Lived or no, they would never listen to an eleven-year-old over such an important wizard. Bad enough Lupin wanted to tell Dumbledore about his own dreams; if he ratted on Harry, he would be sunk. "You can't tell him about that. Please. Or that I'm having the same dreams you are."
Lupin's eyebrows flew up. "Harry, if what I've dreamed is accurate--"
"You can't tell him!" Harry insisted. "Look, I know he has my best interests in mind. And everyone else's. And I know you owe him, because he made sure you got to come to Hogwarts when your parents thought it would be impossible. But-- please. The prophecy basically says I've got to die before anyone can kill Voldemort. That's the bottom line. If it happens again...." He didn't have to fake the rush of emotion that nearly choked him. "These next few years might be all the time I ever get to spend with my godfather."
"Harry," Lupin said gently. "The source of these dreams is completely unknown; the fact that we're both having them and that we can show at least one of them to be accurate is the only proof we have that they are more than simple nightmares. Hiding your dreams from Dumbledore can only weaken our attempts to avert the worst of what I've seen come to pass."
Except that telling him would just make things worse, Harry knew. Dumbledore would get himself cursed because he couldn't leave the Resurrection Stone alone even when he knew it was booby trapped; he'd let Quirrell keep teaching because at least that way he'd know what Voldemort was up to; he'd make sure Wormtail escaped so Peter would do the ritual for Voldemort to get a body back which he had to have so he could be killed and which had to use Harry's blood so he could survive Voldemort killing him first--
But he could hardly tell Lupin that. Even if he was rather more Remus than Harry'd had any right to expect. He'd have to appeal to the part of the man that had been willing to conceal Sirius' means of access to the castle for an entire year right under Dumbledore's nose, despite everything; no matter that Remus had claimed it as the act of a coward, Harry had seen how fiercely he'd embraced his friend in the very first moment he had accepted Sirius' innocence. He'd been fooling himself if he'd really believed it was only guilt over childhood misdemeanours keeping him silent all that time.
"Please, Remus," Harry said plaintively, tearing up a bit. "I know I'm supposed to save everyone, but I'm not ready. I don't want to spend the next six years picking over every possible thing that might or might not happen to me. The dreams scare me; they're all awful. Every time anything good happens to me, it gets taken away. What if I tell them all to Dumbledore, and he decides that it all has to happen just the way I saw it? I just want a chance to be happy first, that's all. Just for a little while."
"Oh, Harry," Lupin said sadly, reaching out to lay a calming hand on his shoulder. "You're only eleven; you can't take the entire weight of the world on your shoulders. That's what adults are for."
Harry rubbed at his eyes, shaking the hand off in embarrassment. "So-- will you just tell him how I sent the Wormtail picture, but not the other one? Or that it was on purpose? I promise I'll tell it all later, just not today."
Lupin's eyes narrowed a little at that, and he stared at him intently for several seconds before saying anything else. "I may regret this," he said, with a slight bemused smile, "but I will keep your secret, just this once. Provided--" He raised a finger as Harry's expression lightened in relief-- "that you tell me the entire truth afterward. Remember, I knew both your father and Sirius as children; I can tell you're holding something back."
Harry bit his lip, considering; could he afford to agree? Could he afford not to? He'd have to consider carefully how much to say later; Occlumency might help. "Deal," he finally said.
"Very well." Lupin nodded, then turned and raised his wand to clear their exit-- but the mirror leapt aside before he could so much as swish or flick, and something small and pungent rolled in through the widening gap.
Several somethings. Harry swore as he recognised them as dung bombs, and quickly pinched his nose shut as a foul quantity of gas began to erupt from them. "Remus!" he choked.
"Evanesco!" Lupin cried, then gestured sharply at the mirror with his wand as it tried to wedge itself shut again. It flew open smartly to reveal the backs of a pair of twin redheaded Weasleys sprinting away from the portal, the Marauder's Map clearly visible in their hands.
"Accio!" Harry called after them, seizing the opportunity as they fled; the map fluttered out of their grasp just as a series of ropes sprang from Lupin's wand. One of them managed to dodge in time-- George, Harry thought-- but he stopped short as his brother tripped and fell, pausing to try and untie the ropes with his own wand.
"I thought the rule at Hogwarts was, no mischief in the corridors?" Lupin asked mildly, tucking Harry's letter into his worn robes as he stepped out of the hidden passageway and approached the fallen boys.
"Sorry about that," Fred said cheekily, abandoning his struggle against the ropes as Lupin approached.
"Harry deserved it, you see," George grinned.
"He pranked us and actually thought he could get away with it, the git!"
"So when we saw him out of bounds--" George added.
"Well, it was the perfect opportunity."
"We're sorry we caught you up in it--"
"--We thought you were just another student," Fred concluded. He glanced between Harry and Lupin then, checking the state of Harry's clothes with a concerned wrinkle of brow, and Harry flushed, suddenly realising what else they may have been thinking.
"You aren't a visiting professor, or anything?" George asked, suddenly looking a bit worried.
Lupin chuckled softly. "Not at present," he said. "But I am rather curious as to where you procured that extraordinary map." He held out a hand, casting a sharp glance at Harry, and Harry winced, realizing that while his knowledge of the map could be easily explained by the dreams, he was going to have to answer for that Accio later. He passed the map over hastily, wondering how long it would take before he got his hands on it again this time.
"We don't know what you're talking about," Fred said, looking perfectly unconcerned he began to shrug off the loosening ropes.
"Map, what map?" George shrugged.
"That's just a bit of scrap parchment," they concluded, together.
"You'll have to try better than that." Lupin tsk'ed at them, then tapped the blanked map with his wand and spoke the magic words. "I solemnly swear I am up to no good."
Ink spread out across the parchment from the point of Lupin's wand, forming lines and dots and carefully scrolled labels in abundance. Dumbledore's dot paced slowly in his office, right in the centre of the design, and approaching it slowly--
"Bloody hell," George breathed, aghast. "How'd you know the password?"
"Is that even important right now?" Harry interrupted, stabbing a finger across the map at a particular, heavily blurred dot. "Look! What d'you make of this?"
"That's just Quirrell," Fred said, leaning over the map to look as he climbed back to his feet. "We've snuck up on him loads of times. I dunno why it shows him like that, he's the only one it does that to--"
"I think I know why," Lupin said, quietly, and nudged at the dot with his wand, muttering under his breath. A moment later, the blurred name shimmered and pulled apart, forming two distinct lines of legible text.
"Quirinus Quirrell," one label read, floating above the doubled dot.
"Tom Riddle," read the other, floating below it.
Chapter 13: Responsibility to Act
Harry stared at the two names floating next to Quirrell's dot on the Map, a curious mixture of wild anticipation and grim satisfaction curling in his gut. Finally, finally, he'd brought the current Voldemort situation to the attention of other people in a way that wouldn't raise suspicions about the source of his knowledge. It might be the first time that had ever happened, actually, including all the times he'd encountered his nemesis on his first go at Hogwarts. No adult had ever believed his warnings in enough time to keep him from facing off against the Dark Lord on his own.
He looked up at Remus, marvelling at the strange sensation of not being the responsible one for once. Remus swallowed visibly, nudging Riddle's name again with his wand, then met Harry's gaze, alarm leaching the colour from his skin.
If his father's old friend had had any doubts left about whether or not the glimpses he'd seen of the future were true, that had put paid to them. Harry understood a bit more now, after struggling for so long to accept the truth about Dumbledore and his own destined role in the fight against Voldemort, why people might choose not to believe a hard truth even when proof was shoved right beneath their noses. Forget Dumbledore; he'd had a hard enough time even accepting that his own father's behaviour might have been somewhat less than blameless as a teenager. None of this could be easy for Remus, who had as much reason as anyone to desperately wish Voldemort permanently gone. The thing that separated people like Remus from people like Fudge, though, was that they would believe-- and act on that knowledge-- no matter how painful.
"Well, that's torn it," Remus said, grimly. "Gentlemen, if you would agree to a temporary cease fire? I had best bring this to the Headmaster's attention at once."
Fred shook off the last of the conjured ropes Remus had bound him with, then dropped them to the floor. "But who's Tom Riddle, then?" he asked.
George snorted and banished the ropes with an Evanesco. "You're telling me you don't remember?" He shook his head, adopting a disappointed expression as he stared at his brother. "We've only polished his trophy enough times. Special services to the school?"
"You've polished his trophy enough times, you mean," Fred replied, affecting an equally patronising tilt of chin. "I always take the other side of the hall when Filch assigns us cleaning duty."
George ignored that. "Maybe Riddle's a ghost?" he theorised with a shrug. "We've seen names overlap before, when the Headless Hunt makes a run through the Great Hall."
Fred shook his shoulders, as though reliving the memory of a chill. "Never seen two of them stick together for more than a few seconds, though," he disagreed. "Only ghost I've really seen hover about in one spot is that girl in the second floor loo-- what's her name?"
"Myrtle." George made a face, the same one Harry knew he made every time he encountered the basilisk's first victim. He completely sympathised. What had happened to Myrtle was horrible, but-- well, he supposed he wouldn't have been any prize as a ghost either, had he been killed fifth year during that phase when his temper had frequently got the better of his ability to deal with everyone else's bullshit.
Remus sighed and interrupted the twins' two-person monologue. "I would appreciate it if you would keep your speculations to yourselves," he said. "I'm certain the Headmaster will deal with it appropriately; in the meantime, you had best return to your dormitory."
"And let you out of sight with our Map?" Fred turned back to the adult of their little group, pretending-- though it probably didn't take very much pretending-- to be utterly horrified at the thought.
Neither twin seemed much in awe of the shabbily dressed man staring them down; but then again, they hardly had reason to be. Remus wasn't a professor yet, so they'd never seen him in any sort of authority role, nor been given any reason to connect him with the Moony whose reputation as a Marauder they claimed to hold as their ideal. At this point he was still a stranger to them-- and what's more, a stranger who'd dragged their little brother's best friend off behind closed doors.
Remus frowned, but seemed to correctly conclude that he wouldn't be rid of them that easily. He glanced down at Quirrell's movements again, then back up at Fred and George, and drew his lips into a thin, disapproving line. "I suppose I can hardly prevent you from accompanying me, but you must realise the Headmaster will say much the same thing."
"Let's just go, then," Harry urged him. Trying to shake the twins when something interesting was in the offing was a lost cause, and they were burning time that could best be put to other uses. Such as altering the Ministry to the presence of a pathetic wizard hiding in Ron's linens. "The sooner we take care of this, the sooner we can take care of-- other matters," he hinted.
That earned him another sharp look; but having caved for the Weasleys, Remus could hardly order Harry to stay behind. "Very well," he said. He traced Quirrell's position one last time, then blanked the Map and tucked his wand away. "I trust you'll be on your best behaviour," he said, giving them all a stern glance, and ushered them off toward the main staircase.
The twins made elaborate 'after you' gestures in echo of Remus; Harry drew a deep, irritated breath, then choked on the lingering dungbomb fumes and elected to take the path of least resistance. He put his own wand away, then hurried down the corridor, coughing into his sleeve.
The worst of the foot traffic had already cleared; Harry earned a few curious looks-- and wrinkled noses-- from other students as he made his way back to the seventh floor, but he was in no danger of running into anyone else.
He was nearly out of breath by the time he arrived at the stone gargoyle that guarded Dumbledore's office. The difference between seventeen and eleven was as evident in the shortness of his stride-- and his stamina-- as it was in every other part of his life, and just as irritating when he needed to get something done in a hurry. The twins, by contrast, seemed just as eager and energetic as they had outside the mirror; Harry scowled at them, then turned an anticipatory face toward Remus.
Anticipatory, nothing; he might as well call it hopeful. It wasn't an emotion Harry had often been on speaking terms with, but he recognised it well enough. Sirius' freedom was only a breath away-- if he could just get Quirrell out of the way first.
No Quirrell, no hunt for the stone, he mused as Remus spoke the password and the gargoyle swivelled back out of the way. No killing in his first year. No reason for Gryffindor to suddenly receive hundreds of extra points at the last minute, torquing off half the school and making the other students even quicker to judge him when he inevitably fell afoul of public opinion. No reason for Dumbledore to think of Harry as anything more sinister than a gifted young wizard with a prophecy hovering over him, either.
And a summer spent with Sirius, if all went well. Harry clung to that thought as Remus stepped onto the rising staircase, and followed closely behind him.
"Ah, Remus," he heard the headmaster say, as the door to the office swung open. Harry's bright mood dimmed a little at the tone in the older man's voice, and he peered curiously around the raggedly robed obstacle in front of him. Dumbledore had sounded distracted already; not that the elderly wizard didn't usually put on an absentminded air, but he hadn't even looked up from his desk at their entrance. It seemed an ominous beginning to what should be a momentous conversation.
"Headmaster," Remus began, stepping forward with letter and blank Map clutched in hand.
"I apologise," Dumbledore continued, speaking right over Remus as he smoothed a hand across a large rectangle of parchment unfurled across his desk. "But a certain matter has just come to my attention that will prevent me from keeping our appointment today. It's just as well that you are here, however; the issue affects you as well, and I would not want you to hear of it from a less-- sympathetic source."
He looked up then, blue eyes strangely clear of twinkles searching the face of his former student and Order compatriot. Then he blinked as he caught sight of Harry standing next to Remus, and a frown gathered between bushy silver brows. "Mr. Potter, Misters Weasley, as delighted as I am to see you, if you could return to your dormitories? I will have to speak with you at a later time."
Harry hesitated, glancing up at Remus. Disappointment weighed bitterly at the back of his throat; he swallowed it down, trying to objectively assess the change in the situation. If something serious had just happened-- something that affected Remus and, like as not, himself as well-- he should be there to hear it. Especially if it was something new, something that hadn't happened in the original timeline.
"Perhaps you'd better, Harry," Remus cautioned him, quietly, reaching out to lay a hand on Harry's shoulder. "Some things aren't for the ears of eleven-year-olds, however exceptional they might be." Then he raised his eyebrows slightly, and fluttered the parchment in his hand. "I'll find you afterward, if you would be willing to wait?"
Harry gritted his teeth slightly at the eleven-year-olds comment. He'd never appreciated being treated as though he were too young the first time round, and had even less patience with it now that he really did have experience and perspective that his elders lacked. He also had a sinking fear that if he walked away from Remus before they'd really had a chance to talk about what they had each seen and what they intended to do, his once-and-future professor might just go with his first instincts and start acting without him, like every other adult who'd ever claimed to have Harry's best interests in mind. Not to mention-- who knew what Dumbledore might say to convince Remus not to take action regarding Quirrell. Harry definitely wanted to be there for that conversation.
He swallowed, and reached out to snag the edge of the Map with his fingertips. "How about I find you afterward?" he suggested, the quickest compromise he could come up with. Maybe he couldn't control everything, but he was at least going to have some say in it.
A muscle jumped in Remus' jaw again, and Harry could practically see the concerns shifting behind his eyes. But in the end, he nodded solemnly and relinquished the parchment.
"Oi," Fred-- or George-- objected, eyeing the blanked sheet as it transferred hands.
"What about Quirrell, then?" the other asked
Dumbledore, who had been watching Remus attempt to dismiss them with intent concern, rose from his chair at that, looking sternly over the rims of his half-moon spectacles at them. "If you have concerns about Professor Quirrell, Misters Weasley," he said curtly, "please share them with your Head of House. Professor McGonagall will keep me informed, I assure you. Now if you will please excuse us?"
Harry tucked the map surreptitiously away in his robes, then gave Remus one last speaking look and followed the twins out the door, no longer all that eager to stay. Dumbledore wasn't simply distracted; he'd seemed irritated, even angry. But not with Harry, nor the twins, nor Remus, nor even Quirrell if his hurried dismissal regarding the possessed teacher was any indication. Something else had gone wrong-- something Harry hadn't planned for.
A knot of worry coiled in his gut as they descended the staircase. Harry had been trying not to fall into the trap of imagining that everything that happened was his own fault or responsibility, but he knew that anything that didn't occur the same way it had before his return had to be a direct result of his messing about with the Hallows, and for good or ill, he wanted to know the consequences. Partly in order to predict whether or not the rest of his plans were still viable, but also partly because-- well, his 'saving people thing' was acting up again, he supposed.
If Remus still aired the subject of Quirrell's dual names while he was up there with Dumbledore alone, or showed the photograph of Wormtail that Harry had sent him, Dumbledore was likely to insist that he not do anything about either situation. Legally, without proof he could present to the Wizengamot about Quirrell's passenger or about Wormtail's true nature, any action Dumbledore might pre-emptively take would come under intense scrutiny from the Board of Governors. Unfortunately, most of those wizards were more on Quirrell's and Pettigrew's side, practically speaking, than the headmaster's. The only time the Ministry came down on Dumbledore's side of any given issue-- or Harry's-- was when it materially benefited them to do so. Neither fugitive's exposure would even remotely qualify.
Dumbledore and Remus both had told him at one point or another that a werewolf's support meant next to nothing in wizarding culture, and while that status wasn't widely known at present it was on record with the Ministry. Dreams and a trick parchment would amount to even less as an excuse. No, unless there were other witnesses available to back up what Remus was saying and cry foul if it weren't challenged, Dumbledore was far more likely to simply sit on the information and keep a closer eye on the culprits, waiting as always for the malefactors to act first.
To hell with that. That was why Harry'd come back in the first place. After the way Dumbledore had let his enemies choose the ground to fight on again and again and again, it was no wonder they'd suffered so many losses. He'd sworn not to allow Voldemort any more victims this time, and he'd meant it.
As long as Remus didn't break and tell Dumbledore everything they'd discussed...
As long as Dumbledore didn't simply Legilimise it all out of him...
Harry shook his head abruptly, clearing his mind of his worries. He couldn't do anything about it, now; he could only wait for the dot labelled "Remus Lupin" to leave the headmaster's office, and handle the fallout as it happened. And in the meantime--
"Harry, Harry," one of the twins chided him, startling him with an abrupt clap of hand on his shoulder as they led him down a side corridor. He'd lost track of them, and of his surroundings, while deep in thought; inexcusable of him, really. The room they ushered him into seemed familiar, but he couldn't quite recall when he'd seen it before.
The other Weasley-- Fred, Harry decided, as he focussed on him-- spelled the door shut and crossed his arms, frowning at Harry. "I think we're owed a bit of an explanation, don’t you, twin of mine?"
"I do indeed," George said, looming as much as his thirteen-year-old stature would let him. Compared to the nineteen-year-old proprietors of Weasleys Wizarding Wheezes that Harry remembered, the pair weren't all that intimidating; but they still outnumbered him two to one, and he'd seen how vicious they could be when they were of a mind to teach someone a lesson. Someone who had, for example, shown them up in front of an adult and appropriated one of their treasured possessions? He'd never really been a target of theirs in the past-- or future-- so he hadn't really thought of them as a danger in the present, but that might have been a serious oversight. Montague had never really been the same after his little Weasley-assisted detour through a Vanishing Cabinet.
Warily, he brushed his fingers over the pocket where the Map rested, reassured by the crinkle of parchment, then slid his hand down to rest on the handle of his wand. "What sort of explanation?" he asked, cautiously.
"What sort of explanation, he asks," Fred mocked him dryly.
"Exactly how long were you planning on playing dumb?" George asked sternly, tapping his wand against the palm of his off hand. "You're good, you know; you really had us fooled last term."
Harry swallowed. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said, lifting his chin a little. It wasn't even a lie; he really hadn't had anything to hide before the winter break. Nothing they'd find interesting, at any rate. And knowing them, they were probably just fishing for proof of a guilty conscience. He wasn't about to give them any more material to go on; the Map and Remus were more than enough.
Fred made a tsk'ing sound and casually cast a mild tripping jinx. Harry flinched, caught off guard, and raised a Protego by instinct, but the weakly cast silent spell didn't quite manage to deflect it. He stumbled a step back, then sat down hard in a chair he hadn't known was there.
"You're good-- but we're better," Fred told him, smirking at him. "Did you really think you could fool the a pair of professional pranksters like us indefinitely?"
"It was a good plan, coming into Hogwarts all the innocent, letting everyone else show you how to fit in," George said admiringly.
"Got people in the habit of underestimating you," Fred said, shaking his head.
"Helping you," George added. "You showed a bit of House loyalty, showed off on a broom, pretended you were otherwise ordinary, and inside a week half the school had forgot you were supposed to be this great powerful hero and treated you like any other boy in your year."
"You did slip up a bit with the troll," Fred pointed out, "though I suppose you could hardly have avoided it-- unless you were the one who brought it into the school in the first place?"
Both twins looked briefly intrigued at that, then glanced at each other and shook their heads. "Nah," George concluded, "you'd have arranged for someone else to be on scene. We figure Snape for that."
"Or Quirrell," Fred shrugged. "We hear you've been pointing fingers at him of late, and that double name of his is a bit unusual."
"Or it might even be this new bloke you've brought in." George leaned forward at that, his expression growing sterner as he finally got to the point.
"We had Ron slip us a few of your Potions texts earlier," he said. "All that marking you've been doing, we were curious. Ron said you told him you'd been inspired by your parents' example, or something else all noble and Gryffindor like that. But there's stuff in your notes even we haven't learnt yet, and we've read up through fifth year material in Potions."
"Then you prank Ron and us all in one--" Fred broke in.
"Sneak off with an adult neither of us have ever heard of before--"
"Use an advanced Charm to snag the Map out of our hands--"
"When you shouldn't even know what either one is--" George raised his eyebrows.
"And your friend knows the password phrase?"
Both of them crossed their arms, staring at him. "Clearly, there's more to you than you've been letting on," they said in unison.
Harry winced. They weren't wrong-- and they weren't accepting his cover story, either. He'd have to think of something, quick. But first... "It wasn't Remus," he blurted. "With the troll. That was definitely Quirrell."
"But the spellwork?" Fred pressed. "The Map?"
Harry drew a deep breath, then let it out in a sigh. What could it really harm to let the blame for that fall on Remus, anyway? He'd have to explain it to him later, but-- the man had been the one to teach Harry the Patronus Charm well in advance of the usual curriculum, he could handle taking the blame for doing something similar this time round. The story would collapse if Fred and George talked to Hermione about the details-- but maybe they'd figure he'd lied to Hermione and Ron as further cover?
That was an upside to Remus' remembering things that Harry hadn't considered before. Backup.
"All right, all right," he said. "I'll tell you. Provided you let me keep the Map."
"Let you keep the Map?" George said, aghast.
"What do you take us for?" Fred looked angry. "That's ours, that is; we nicked it from Filch's office fair and square."
"You've had it for two years," Harry said, sitting up straighter in the chair as he felt his way back to a grip on the situation. "And it was never originally yours. I knew what it was the minute I saw you with it when you brought the camera to me-- you had it out then, remember?"
Fred glanced at George, questioningly; George nodded, grimacing.
"And I knew that because I knew who'd made it," Harry continued, triumphantly. "One of them, anyway. If the Muggles had had their way I'd never have found anything out about my parents or Hogwarts or any of it, but Moony's been writing me for a while now."
"Moony?" That caught their attention.
"Of Messrs. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs," Harry confirmed. He solemnly swore the parchment's passphrase, and traced Moony's name with the tip of his wand as ink traced its way across its surface again. "More commonly known as R. J. Lupin. Remus. My friend from before." He gestured with his chin back in the general direction of the headmaster's office. "He and my dad used it back in their school days. If it could be said to belong to anyone here...."
The twins stared at each other again, arguing with excited eyebrows and minute shrugs. Then they nodded, and faced him again.
"All right," George said, decisively. "You can keep it-- if you let us borrow it from time to time."
"And if you introduce us to him," Fred added, eagerly.
"Fine," Harry said, relieved they'd accepted that so easily. "And yeah-- like I said, I've been writing Remus for a while. I'm the one who wanted to blend in rather than stand out, that wasn't his idea, but he's been making sure I know what I'm about, if you know what I mean."
"Got it," George smirked, tapping his nose. "We reckoned it was something like that. Don't worry; we'll keep your secret. As long as you're not keeping it from us."
"Though-- bloody hell!" Fred grinned. "Moony! You couldn't have asked for a better mentor. No wonder you got away with it for so long. Pranking all of Hogwarts!"
"Something like that," Harry shrugged. Then he glanced down at the Map again, and saw Remus' dot moving away from Dumbledore's office. That really had been a short conversation, he thought, growing worried again. "Uh, guys, can we continue this later? I've got to catch him up before he leaves the castle. And-- no," he held up a pre-emptive hand, "this isn't a good time to meet him. We've some important things to discuss, alone, but next time he's here I'll introduce you, I swear."
The twins consulted each other one last time, then nodded and gestured toward the door. "Go on then. We'll track you down later-- let us know about the Quirrell thing, yeah?"
"Right. Sure," Harry said, standing and ducking out of the room before they could change their minds.
Bloody hell. First Hermione, now Fred and George; he was damned lucky that every wizard he'd accidentally revealed himself to had come up with their own explanations for the discrepancies.
He'd have to think on that later, he promised himself as he hurried to intercept Remus' slow approach to the Gryffindor common room. Quirrell's dot had disappeared while he wasn't looking, but Pettigrew's had appeared, clearly visible in the Tower. The day could be salvaged, yet.
Or-- not? Harry's steps slowed as he finally reached Remus and caught a glimpse of the ghastly expression on the man's face. "What's wrong?" he exclaimed.
Remus stopped walking and turned to face him, setting his jaw grimly. "I should have thought," he said quietly, half to himself. "I should have known. If it was happening to me--"
"Remus," Harry said urgently. "What's going on? What's happened?"
Remus swallowed. "It's Sirius," he said.
Chapter 14: Aurors in the Castle
Sirius? Already? Harry thought, shocked. Before he and Remus had even had the chance to bring Pettigrew to Dumbledore's attention? Then he realised what must have happened.
"Bloody hell." He stumbled a step back, then glanced up and down the corridor, looking for the tapestry that marked the Room of Requirement; he knew they were close, and didn't want to have to run back to the fourth floor for a bit of privacy. He gestured for Remus to wait a moment, then summoned the first comforting place that came to mind: a duplicate of the first year Gryffindors' dormitory.
"The dreams," he prodded, as the door closed behind them. If Remus had been having them--
Remus sighed, and nodded. "It's just as I dreamt it happened," he confirmed, "except that it's happening a year and a half too early. They heard him saying your name in his sleep, and he broke out of Azkaban this morning; there'll be dementors at the school by dusk."
"So much for the easy route," Harry muttered, then reached up to rub at the back of his neck, thinking furiously. "I almost hate to ask, but-- what did he say about Quirrell?"
Remus shook his head, frustration drawing his expression into grave, forbidding lines. "I only got as far as telling him that a magical artefact in my possession shows Professor Quirrell to have a second name. Dumbledore insists that he already knows there's something the matter with your Defence professor, and that he's keeping a watchful eye on him."
"Naturally," Harry replied, soured hopes thick on the back of his tongue. "And-- Wormtail?"
Remus grimaced and glanced down at the letter still absently clutched in his hand. "I mentioned that I also had reason to believe that Peter might still be alive. There was no time to discuss it further-- he was expecting imminent visitors from the Ministry-- but he told me that if such did exist, I was to bring it to him later. Then he dismissed me, with the instruction not to discuss any of this with you."
Harry sighed and forced himself to calm down a little. Getting angry at Remus would solve nothing; and in the meantime, Remus was risking Dumbledore's good opinion to include Harry anyway. "Thank you for telling me," he said.
"Yes, well." Remus gave him a wry smile. "I wouldn't have, if it hadn't been for the fact that I knew you'd involve yourself regardless. I know I agreed, but I'm still not fully persuaded that Dumbledore ought not to be told about your foreknowledge, for your own safety."
Harry took a deep breath, then let it out in a rush. "I know you think I'm not mature enough to handle what's going on, or to know what I really want," he said carefully. He had to hope he could do a better job convincing the older man this time than he had earlier.
"Harry--" Remus began to reply, a slightly reproving tone in his voice.
Torn between conflicting impulses-- the desire never to let anyone, even someone he loved, control his life without his consent ever again, and the need to keep Remus on his side-- Harry struggled to find a compelling explanation. "I know I must look like any other self-centred eleven year old right now," he continued. "But I'm no Ron, nor Malfoy, nor even Hermione. I know you must have seen a little of what it's like for me at the Dursleys', you were there at least twice that I've-- dreamed about. But it was worse before my Hogwarts letter came. Much worse. You were right, before."
He gestured toward Remus' letter. "It's not just that I think it would be dead easy for the Death Eaters to find me, if they only knew how to look. Or that I'm frightened by the dreams. I do want to live with Sirius-- but not just because he's my godfather, because I'd be willing to live with almost anyone who wanted me around, no matter what sort of protection my mother's charm is supposed to give me. I've never been a child at the Dursleys'. And I never will be, no matter how much Dumbledore might like to pretend he's sheltering me. Any chance I ever had of being normal died when my parents did, whether he wants to admit it or not."
Remus's expression was sympathetic, but not yielding, so Harry lowered his voice. He hadn't wanted to hurt Remus; but there was one more thing he knew he could use. "That may have been what you needed when you were here, and I respect that you're grateful to him, as I've said. But it's not what I need. I'm not as much like my dad as I look; I don't want danger, or glory. I just want to live, and not endanger everyone around me because all the adults are too busy shielding me from reality to deal with it themselves."
Remus looked away, rubbing his free hand over an old set of scars beneath his shirt. He stared toward one of the false windows for a moment, then reached out to stroke his fingertips down the fabric of one of the red and gold bed hangings. "That's unkind, Harry," he said. "But I suppose you've carried your point. I can't think of any other eleven-year-old-- not even Snape, back when we were First Years ourselves-- who would have spoken to me as you just did."
Harry grimaced. "I'd say I'm sorry, but...."
Remus shook his head. "Don't ever say anything to me that you don't mean; that was one thing I valued very much in your mother, and believe it or not, something I respect in you, even in the dream where you call me a coward." Then he turned to look at Harry again, a glint of amber in the depths of pale eyes. "You will tell me everything eventually, don't think you won't. But for now, I'll hold to my promise. Where is Ron likely to be at this hour-- and will 'Scabbers' be with him?"
After determining that Ron would probably be in the Great Hall by then, and coming up with some reasonable excuses for Harry to draw him aside depending on the circumstances they found him in, Harry and Remus left the Room of Requirement and headed directly for the main staircase. It definitely wasn't Harry's day for luck, though, for nearly halfway down they encountered Professor Snape walking in the opposite direction.
Harry swallowed at the malevolent look on his Potions' professor's face as the man caught sight of Remus. If he'd thought Snape disliked Harry... he really must have softened his attitude toward him a little in the new timeline, because the harshness of the glare directed over his head went beyond anything Harry had seen from him in weeks.
"Lupin," he said sourly, then dropped his gaze temporarily to Harry's face. "With... our resident celebrity. I might have known I'd find you here, considering the latest news. Does the headmaster know you're in the castle?"
"Severus," Remus replied, calmly. "As a matter of fact, he does."
Harry stared down at the ornate buttons on Snape's robes, hoping to avoid further trouble. He pleaded silently with Remus to leave it there so they could get on with it.
But while Remus may not be as reckless as Sirius, and his polite manner had disguised some of his needling of Snape from Harry's eyes back in third year, there'd been plenty of conversational nose-thumbing going on under the surface at the time. And this Remus was just as unable to resist the urge to score verbal points in front of Harry.
"It seems there may be evidence that Sirius Black was not guilty of the crimes for which he was sent to Azkaban," Remus continued, smiling placidly in Snape's face, "and Dumbledore has asked me to bring it to him."
Harry winced as the mild tone of voice brought up echoes of Remus refusing to drink his Wolfsbane in front of Snape, when he bloody well knew how paranoid Snape was about werewolves. Not that Snape had been-- was-- any nicer.
"That is a lie," Snape hissed, half-raising his wand and staring at his former classmate with a venomous expression. "As if the headmaster would believe the word of one of his little friends over a street full of eyewitnesses! What evidence could you possibly have that would outweigh testimony given-- and never questioned-- a decade ago?"
"Excuse me, Professor Snape--" Harry spoke up, determined not to let the confrontation end in a forced march back to the headmaster's office.
"Not now, Potter," Snape hissed, though from the startled glance he threw him Harry rather thought he had forgotten he was there.
"I'm sorry, Professor," Harry insisted, "but he says there's a man's been hiding in our dorm, pretending to be Ron's rat all year. Someone called Peter Pettigrew. I don't know what's going on, but if it's true...."
Snape's eyes widened, then narrowed to dark slits, and his fingers tightened on the grip of his wand. "Pettigrew?" he repeated, staring intently into Remus' face.
Remus swallowed, but did not look away. "Yes," he said. "It seems that Peter's still alive. And if you don't mind, I'd like to catch him and question him before he hears that Sirius has escaped."
"A rat," Snape said next, lifting his lip in a sneer. "An illegal Animagus. A likely story. Don't tell me; your other little friends were Animagi, as well? I ought to drag you straight back to the headmaster's office and turn you in as an accomplice in Black's escape. If the DMLE had known about this...."
"Please, sir," Harry said, the words bitter on his tongue as he edged in front of Remus to recapture Snape's attention. "If there is a man hiding in our dorm, he's been watching us for months! What if he's dangerous? What if he's the one that let the troll into the castle?"
Of course that wasn't true; but Snape might not know that for sure yet. He already suspected Quirrell was behind the attempts on the Stone, but did he have any proof? And he could hardly insist to a student that he thought the Defence professor was up to something dodgy if Dumbledore himself had declared the subject off limits.
But Snape didn't even pause to consider it. "Pettigrew? Dangerous?" he snorted. "Even if he is still alive, there's little chance of that. It's much more likely that he ran the day Black betrayed your parents and killed all those Muggles, and hasn't stopped running since, pathetic coward that he is."
That's right, Harry realised in dismay: Snape probably didn't know that Wormtail had been a Death Eater, yet. If Voldemort had shared the double-crosser's identity with some of the inner circle, Snape must not have been among them, else he would have reacted rather differently when he'd had Sirius under his wand third year. Blast.
"Still...." Snape drawled, glancing back and forth between Harry and Remus. "I suppose his testimony could serve as another nail in Black's coffin... and his presence in a student dormitory does violate several school rules." He stepped aside on the stair, gesturing downward with a scornful expression. "Very well. Let us apprehend this unexpected visitor, if he exists; and then we shall see how long Black runs free with his method of concealment exposed."
Remus grimaced at that, but inclined his head in acknowledgement and started back down the staircase, ushering Harry ahead of him as he went.
Harry's heart was in his throat practically the whole way to the Great Hall. So much for all his hopes about freeing Sirius; it was third year all over again. All they were missing was Padfoot himself, dragging Ron off under the Whomping Willow. Even if they did catch Wormtail now, Sirius' escape complicated things immensely. And what if the dementors got to him before Harry did?
They paused just inside the open doors to cast an eye down the Gryffindor table. Ron was sitting there, eating something as usual and frowning over a roll of ink-spattered parchment while Hermione flipped pages in a dusty tome beside him. It could have been any other study session, but for Remus' presence at his elbow. Even Snape looming behind him fit the atmosphere. Harry put that out of his mind as he searched for any sign of Scabbers; finally, he spotted a tail protruding from one of Ron's pockets.
"All right, then. Pull Ron aside, as we discussed; we'll do the revealing spell out here in the corridor, where there will be fewer chances for him to use the other students for cover."
"Or fewer witnesses to the failure of your absurd insinuations," Snape said silkily, behind them.
Remus turned to him, exasperated. "If Peter sees me, I fear he'll run before we can contain him...."
"Then by all means, wait out here," Snape said, "and let me ascertain the truth of this sorry business." Then he swept past Remus and Harry both, staring down his nose at all the seated students like some great predatory bird.
Harry gaped after Snape a moment, then bolted after him, leaving Remus protesting in the corridor.
"Mr. Weasley," Snape said, stopping at last behind Ron with his hands clasped behind him.
Ron froze in the act of reaching for another sweet, and the colour ran out of his face. "Professor Snape?" he blurted, looking up at the figure looming over him.
"If you would please turn out your pockets?"
"Professor-- what is this all about?" Hermione piped up, next to him. "He hasn't done anything."
"Professor Snape? What is the meaning of this?" Professor McGonagall asked, hurrying over from the seat where she'd been supervising the students.
"Mr. Weasley, I will not ask you again," Snape said, ignoring the others. "Turn out your pockets."
"Just do as he says, Ron," Harry said quietly, his eyes intent on the visible bit of Scabbers.
Ron turned round eyes toward Harry, surprise and offense written all over his face, then gulped and started doing as he'd been told. He emptied his trouser pockets first: a handful of his brothers' trick sweets joined a bit of string, a familiar chocolate frog card, a scrap of parchment, and a couple of knuts on the table. Then he paused, looking up at Snape's implacable expression, and hesitantly started emptying his robe pockets as well.
Several Zonko's products, a sugar quill, his wand, and a battered chess piece contributed to the pile before he lifted Scabbers under Snape's watchful, glittering eye and gingerly placed the rat on the table with all the other detritus of a schoolboy's day.
Scabbers squeaked, shivering as he took in his changed environment. His quivering nose turned toward Snape, then Harry-- then with a surprisingly swift leap, he dove off the table and ran toward one of the side doors.
Snape raised an eyebrow and aimed his wand, and a flash of blue-white light leapt to illuminate the scurrying figure.
Ron swore and nearly reached for the professor's arm, but Harry intercepted him before he could get them both in serious trouble. Then he swore again, sagging as his erstwhile pet suddenly twisted and sprouted into the shape of a cringing little man, wringing his hands together where he crouched between tables.
Gasps went up around the room as students climbed on their seats for a better look.
McGonagall pressed a hand to her breast and hastily drew her wand with the other. "Dear me. Who is-- no. It can't be Peter Pettigrew?" she asked, in tones of disbelief.
Snape-- just stood there for a long moment in shock, looking nearly as pale as Ron. Then something ugly curdled in his expression under the usual condescension and bitterness, and two more spells leapt from his wand: a Petrificus Totalus and an Incarcerous, judging from the effects. The hunched man cried out as he went stiff as a board, then toppled onto his side while conjured ropes wrapped him from head to toe.
"Contact the Ministry," Snape said harshly, staring down at him. "And clear these children out of here!"
McGonagall blinked at him, then shook her head and started calling on prefects to clear the Hall; Harry paid her little attention, concentrating on Ron at his side and Remus, hurrying up between the tables to stare down at his former friend.
Snape had limited the petrifaction so that Wormtail's face was still free; probably so the Aurors could administer Veritaserum. That meant everyone still gathered round got a good look at his reaction to Remus: the flinch, the cringing shame, and the desperation in his voice when he opened his mouth to speak to his former friend.
"Remus," he said, pleadingly. "Sirius tried to kill me, Remus. You don't blame me for hiding, do you?"
Ron flinched at the sound of Wormtail's voice; Harry tightened his grip on Ron's arm in apology. Hermione did the same on his other side, staring in fascination at the tableau before them.
Remus shook his head, knuckles whitening on the grip of his own wand. "It's been ten years, Peter. Ten years. Why didn't you come to me after he was captured?"
"I knew it wouldn't stop him from coming after me! I've always known he'd be back for me! I've been waiting for him ever since-- since--"
Snape interrupted then. "You knew Black was going to break out of Azkaban?" he asked, throwing a sharp look in Remus' direction. "When no one has ever managed it before?"
Wormtail squeaked at that, sounding remarkably like his rat form, and the sharp scent of urine suddenly filled the air. "He's out? He's going to kill me! Remus, old friend, please, you have to protect me!"
"You-- you were my rat?" a young voice broke in, sounding utterly betrayed.
It wasn't Ron, though; Harry, Hermione, and their redheaded friend all looked up to see Percy standing several paces away, having returned after shooing the rest of the Gryffindors out of the Great Hall.
"Percy," Wormtail cried, rolling his eyes in an effort to get a better look at his former owner. "Kind boy. Kind master. Wasn't I a good friend to you? A good pet? Ron!" he added, as he caught sight of Harry and his friends. "You'll protect me, won't you?"
Ron stood up and took several hasty steps toward his brother, stopping at Percy's side, their faces equally ashen with distress. McGonagall hurried over to them, then beckoned to Hermione and Harry; Hermione scrambled to her feet at the professor's gesture, but Harry tugged his arm away when she would have pulled him along. McGonagall gave him a sharp look, but ushered the other three toward the hall doors without waiting for him; apart from Harry, no other student remained in the room.
"Harry!" Wormtail said next, catching sight of him as the others left; it was uncomfortably like the scene in the Shrieking Shack all that time ago. "Harry... you look just like your father... just like him..."
"Don't speak to Harry," Remus growled, wordlessly casting a charm that lifted Wormtail and turned him in mid-air until Harry was no longer in his line-of-sight. "You sold Lily and James to the Dark Lord, not Sirius. Didn't you?"
"Why would you say such a thing, Remus? He's the one that came after me!"
"Don't lie to me, Peter!" Remus replied, cutting off the charm and dropping Wormtail's still-rigid form atop the Ravenclaw table. "You were the one who betrayed them. Admit it!"
Wormtail replied with only a wailing noise, and Snape made a sound of disgust. "Veritaserum will get it out of him," he said. "Although I assure you, whether or not he's guilty of this particular crime does not mean Black is innocent."
"We'll see what the Ministry has to say about that," Remus replied, as McGonagall returned to the Hall one more time with a flock of sternly robed wizards at her heels. Harry looked, but didn't see Tonks among them; because of course, she was probably only a trainee yet. Shacklebolt was there, though, and Harry was relieved to see him.
With an Order member involved, Wormtail was a lot less likely to get suspiciously lost or Kissed on the way to the Ministry's holding cells, like Barty Crouch, Jr. Surely Fudge could find some way to spin Sirius' innocence to his benefit. Wasn't he still taking Dumbledore's advice?
Dumbledore himself was the last one into the Hall. He took in Remus' position, and Snape's, standing almost side-by-side as they confronted Pettigrew, and an unreadable expression crossed his face for a moment. Then he glanced down at the dishevelled, reeking form sprawled across the Ravenclaw table, and immediately took on an air of grave, grandfatherly disappointment. He walked slowly up to Pettigrew's side as the Aurors checked the man's bindings and cast their own levitation charm; Wormtail cringed under the headmaster's regard and turned his head away, refusing to meet his gaze.
"How curious to see you here, Mr. Pettigrew," Dumbledore said. "This does raise a few interesting questions regarding the matter of Sirius Black."
Harry held his breath-- but before anyone could say anything else of interest, Professor McGonagall finally snuck up and ushered him away from the scene. "This is not a situation a student should be involved in, Mr. Potter," she said, sternly.
"But professor," Harry objected, trying to shrug off her hand. "Mr. Lupin said that man was responsible for what happened to my parents!"
"Did he, now," McGonagall replied, her lips pursed critically. "Well, I'm sure Professor Dumbledore will get to the bottom of things. In the meantime, I'll have to ask you to remain in Gryffindor Tower. The house elves will bring supper; word will be sent to the prefects when the current upheaval has been resolved. Do not attempt to sneak out, or the consequences may be far worse than the loss of a few House points. Do you understand?"
Harry swallowed. "Yes, professor," he said. Two steps forward and one step back, again. What was he supposed to do now? Other than send an owl to Remus, next time he was allowed out of the Tower? Just go on with classes as though everything were normal?
He cast a last glance back as they ascended the stairs to the next floor-- and caught a glimpse of Quirrell, standing in the shadows still as death, staring after them.
Harry swallowed. No; everything wasn't normal. He'd taken one of Voldemort's most devoted minions away from him, right from under the evil git's nose. Quirrell wouldn't dare do anything to rescue Wormtail now, as he hadn't yet snuck Hagrid the dragon's egg to coax the secret of Fluffy from him and thereby bypass the Stone's protections. But that didn't mean he wouldn't find some other way of making Harry pay for it.
The Map gambit hadn't worked; as he'd feared, Dumbledore had shut Remus down on that subject. He would have to find another way to solve the Quirrell problem, soonest. But he couldn't afford to mess it up like he had his correspondence with Remus.
He needed help. Perhaps it was time to slip his friends a few more clues.
Chapter 15: Sharing the Load
The professors didn't send word to let the students out of their dorms that night; but McGonagall did bring an Auror to speak with Ron and Percy just before supper. It wasn't Shacklebolt nor Dawlish, and of course not Mad-Eye or Tonks; Harry didn't recognise her at all. He was rather chagrined, in fact, to realise that for all his wanting to be a dark wizard catcher before his original sixth year, he'd never really bothered to learn much about them. He hadn't even known Scrimgeour was the department Head until he'd taken over as Minister; the man had said something about Dumbledore keeping him away from Harry for several years the first time they'd spoken in person, but that was a rubbish excuse for Harry's not having known his name.
The Auror took them to be questioned at the Ministry-- presumably through one of the castle's restricted Floos-- and kept them there for several hours. They returned after most of Gryffindor Tower had already gone to bed; Ron was still pale and snapped at Harry when he tried to ask him how it went, but Percy seemed to have taken it harder. He sat in the common room 'til morning, turning his prefect badge over in his hands, and went off to breakfast when McGonagall unlocked the portrait without so much as mentioning a school rule or giving the Twins a disapproving look.
"They were after him for ages," Ron finally confided in a subdued voice as he picked at his porridge. "They let me wait with Dad after I told them I'd only had him a few months, and Dad confirmed it; they'd questioned him a bit, too, before we got there. But Perce-- I think they wanted him to say he'd picked him out of the gardens on purpose, or ran errands for him, or something. Said he couldn't have had him nine years and never known he wasn't just a rat."
Harry stared at him. That was another consequence he hadn't expected; though how could he have? Pettigrew had never been arrested before. It was true there was no profit for either Fudge or Dumbledore leaving Sirius a fugitive with Wormtail caught, not so long as they could make good capital on correcting the previous administration's errors and still keep Harry living with the Dursleys for 'security reasons'-- but obviously, someone was looking to cover the Aurors' arses for not having realised Pettigrew was still alive in the first place. 'Only a finger left of him,' right. They'd really stepped in it there. So if they could pin Percy as an accomplice-- just like when Scrimgeour had refused to declare Stan Shunpike innocent because at least his consignment to Azkaban meant people saw the DMLE making progress against the Death Eaters....
"They didn't, though, right?" Harry replied, shaken.
"'Course not," Ron replied. "Someone finally came and said Pettigrew's testimony cleared him, unless they could find some other proof he'd done something wrong. As if there would be; you know what he's like! But we were a bit worried, when they kept him in there all that time."
Harry thought of the Ministry climber he'd seen at Crouch's shoulder, and Fudge's, and Scrimgeour's, and even in Voldemort's ministry over the years. Once upon a time he might have wished an interrogation like that on Ron's most stuck-up of brothers, but Percy hadn't been such a bad sort at fifteen. Just a little too caught up in the trappings of authority.
"I'm sorry, Ron," he said, awkwardly. "It's probably my fault-- those photos I took, when someone recognised his Animagus form--"
Ron turned wide eyes on him. "Are you mental?" he asked, horrified. "Dad says the man's probably a Death Eater, and he's been in our dorm all this time. In my brother's bedroom! If it is your fault, then I'm bloody glad you sent those pictures, and I'd bet you a sickle Percy will say the same. Who knows what he might have done to one of us, if Snape hadn't caught him."
"Or possibly did do," Hermione said, hesitantly, from her seat across from him. Her expression was nearly as pinched as Ron's. "I've read about memory modification charms...."
Ron dropped his spoon into his bowl, and Harry gaped at her. "Thank you, Hermione, for adding to our nightmares," he said, a cold shiver working its way down his spine.
None of them ate anything else after that. They waited out the rest of the meal silently, then followed their designated prefect off to class. Students moved everywhere in escorted groups for the rest of the day, but no official reason was given about the cause until that evening after supper in the Great Hall, when Dumbledore tapped his water goblet and stood to give an address.
Harry missed most of what he said through the roaring in his ears after the headmaster dismissed the subject of Pettigrew by saying his identity and purpose in the castle was still 'under investigation' and added that 'though his testimony has cast some doubt on the original charges laid against Sirius Black, the wizard you may have heard escaped from Azkaban, Black is still wanted for detention by the Aurors. He is likely to be disoriented and dangerous after his long incarceration. The dementors posted at the edges of the grounds should keep him at bay, but if you encounter him despite their protection-- or a large black dog, as that is his Animagus form-- you are to report him to a professor at once; do not try to approach or assist him.' He'd given Harry a significant look at that, and Harry had never been more grateful for the calming side-effects of practising Occlumency.
Once he got his breath back, he nudged Ron and Hermione and whispered to both of them that he wanted to meet in the Room of Requirement that night, as soon as they could sneak away. The day's events had only strengthened his conviction that it was time to let them in on a bit more of the action, whether it was dangerous or not; if he grew any more frustrated trying to change things on his own, he was liable to burst out raging like he had fifth year, this time without a bit of Voldemort's soul stuck to his forehead to excuse it.
He couldn't afford to wait for adult help any longer. He'd been right, so far, about being able to trust Snape's motivations to remain constant-- but whether he'd ever soften enough toward Harry to make involving him in the Horcrux hunt feasible was impossible to predict. Remus having a window into the truth could be useful, but Harry would have to spend half his time convincing him to let Harry stay involved and not tell Dumbledore every time something dangerous came up, and that would get tiresome, fast. Sirius' knowledge presented additional possibilities-- but only if he were safe, sane, and somewhere Harry could access him, and the odds of that weren't very good for the foreseeable future.
Why hadn't he guessed Sirius might also have the dreams? Not that it would have done much good; he hadn't even known Remus was dreaming until the former Marauder had told him in person, by which time it had been too late to stop Sirius from escaping. But it did make sense: of the four spirits Harry had called up with the Resurrection Stone before sacrificing himself to Voldemort and using his mastery of the Hallows to send his own spirit back in time, only two were alive in the here and now, and if one of them were experiencing strange symptoms it was only natural to expect that the other would as well.
His parents' spirits probably also had seven years' worth of extra memories, if the side effects carried over to the other side of the Veil. It almost made him wish he'd called up more of his dead that day: the Dumbledore who'd spent too much time shaping Harry to expect him to leave the task undone now; or his killer, who'd call Harry a dunderhead for not following through and go after Quirrell himself; or Tonks, to keep Remus company and be their contact in the Ministry; or any of their other lost friends. But he'd wanted the comfort and support of the only parental figures he'd ever known, and that's what he'd been given. Parental figures. Who were as much hindrance as help to him now, glad as he was to have them with him.
Perhaps he could use Hermione's disturbing suggestion about Pettigrew and memory charms as an excuse to start her and Ron on Occlumency? Ron would go for it, if the way he'd looked at breakfast meant anything, and if Harry told Hermione it had helped him with his schoolwork she'd be all for it, too. If he didn't have to worry so much that whatever secrets he might tell them would spill to any skilled adult who looked in their eyes, it would take a load off his shoulders.
In the meantime, they all three went up to bed like good little children to await the opportunity to sneak out. It came earlier than it might have otherwise, since students still weren't allowed to wander the corridors without supervision. Harry lay awake, still dressed, with the hangings on his bed drawn around him and the Marauders' Map spread over his Potions texts until all the other named dots in the Tower had gone still. Then he grabbed Cloak, Map, and wand and tiptoed over to Ron's bed.
He'd known Ron was also awake by the lack of snoring, but he was still surprised to push the other boy's curtains back and find his friend staring right back at him, wearing the sort of solemn, intent expression he had previously only managed over a chessboard at this age. He was fully dressed as well, seated cross-legged atop the coverlet with his wand in hand, looking at his copy of the Scabbers prank photo.
"All right there, Ron?" Harry asked, eyeing him warily.
Ron nodded, and dropped the photo on his bedside table. "Let's get Hermione. You have the Cloak?"
Harry held up an arm draped in silvery, slippery fabric. "C'mon, then."
The Map had shown him Hermione already waiting in a chair by the fire, one with its back to the portrait so that any professor or prefect who might peer in would overlook her. She looked up as he and Ron came down the stair, placed a bookmark in her worn copy of the Tales of Beedle the Bard, then left it there as she moved to join them under the folds of the Cloak of Invisibility.
It was a tight fit for the three of them, but they made it to the Room of Requirement without tripping over any authority figures. Harry paced quickly back and forth in front of the blank wall, thinking about nothing more specific than a generic place to scheme together, and smiled sadly when he walked in to find a familiar tent set up as it had been in the Forest of Dean.
"This looks like the inside of a wizarding tent, mate. When'd you ever see one?" Ron asked, looking around as they shrugged off the Cloak.
"A wizarding tent?" Hermione asked, examining its features with interest. "What's the difference between it and a Muggle tent, apart from the size?"
"Loads of comfort features, and the fact that it looks quite a bit smaller from outside?" Harry told her, mood warming at her familiar curiosity. Then he offered Ron a shrug. "Where I saw one is a long story," he said, "one that's not important right now. This thing with Pettigrew...."
Ron's jaw set, and he settled onto one of the camp chairs, effectively distracted by the change of topic. "Dad owled about him again today," he said, gloomily. "There'll be a hearing next weekend in front of the full Wizengamot. Dad'll be attending as a witness to confirm that his Animagus form is the same rat as Scabbers; he doesn't expect they'll call me or Percy, since we're at school and they questioned us already."
"You think they'll reach a decision the same day?" Harry asked. He'd never seen the wizarding courts in a normal criminal proceeding, so he had no idea how long it might be expected to take. Between his own rather abrupt hearing for underage magic use, the glimpses of wartime trials he'd seen in Dumbledore's Pensieve, and Umbridge's trumped-up Muggle Registration Commission, all his experiences with magical prosecution had been rather atypical.
"Surely not," Hermione said. "There'll be evidence, and witnesses...."
"And truth serum, Hermione," Harry reminded her. "And Pensieves, so they can show memories. I doubt it works like a Muggle courtroom."
"I dunno; they don't use those much in important trials, since memories aren't foolproof-- they can be tampered with," Ron said, frowning at Harry. "Where'd you hear about Pensieves, anyway?"
That bit of confusion, Harry could clear up without problems, so he did. "Dumbledore's got one in his office. Says he's got a lot on his mind."
Hermione made an indelicate noise, then gave an embarrassed smile as though she hadn't meant to do so out loud. "Well, that's not exactly a surprise," she explained.
Ron gave her a half-hearted grin, then looked down at his clasped hands. "Almost wish we had one, so I could watch back what happened yesterday. I still can't believe it's true. A Death Eater! Pretending to be my pet! And I have Snape, of all people, to thank for stopping him!"
Hermione, seated beside him in roughly the same posture, laid a hand briefly on his arm. "I know what you mean," she said. "If Professor Snape was really after the Stone-- or if he meant to kill Harry, like we've been thinking ever since Harry nearly fell off his broom-- why would he expose Pettigrew like that? Why not use him himself? I don't understand. I wish I could watch the match back, now; see if there was anything I missed when I set Snape on fire."
"Like someone else staring at me at the same time?" Harry prompted her.
She nodded, forehead wrinkled and mouth turned down in distress. "If it really isn't Snape, then we've been watching the wrong person all this time."
Harry chewed his bottom lip a moment, thinking about the idea of a Pensieve; he doubted he could find one, or afford one, on his own without attracting the wrong sort of attention, but Sirius might have one at Grimmauld Place. Or perhaps....
He closed his eyes, and thought urgently at the Room.
"Blimey!" Ron said, chair creaking a bit as he jerked in surprise.
"Harry-- is that?" Hermione gasped.
Harry opened his eyes to find a flimsy card table standing in what had been empty space in the centre of the circle of chairs he, Ron, and Hermione were seated in. A shallow stone basin rested atop its wooden surface, odd runes and symbols carved around the edge. It was empty at the moment-- no silver-white mist of memories shining forth from within-- but he recognised it instantly for what it was. He couldn't tell at a glance whether it was a temporary creation of the Room or one served up from its Hidden Things collection, but either way, it was definitely a Pensieve.
"I Required a Pensieve, so the Room gave us one," Harry confirmed. "It won't do us much good, though. I know how to put a memory in and view it-- but I don't know what spell to use to retrieve one in the first place, and I don't think it's a good idea to muck about in our memories at random."
Hermione frowned at it. "I can research that this week. This could be really useful!"
"So what do we do until then?" Ron asked, fidgeting with his wand.
Harry took a deep breath. "There's something else I've heard of that we can practise in the meantime, that might help us use it," he said. "It's called Occlumency; it's supposed to help wizards organise their memories. It's useful for other things too, though; it helps with concentration-- which is I think why I've been doing so much better in Transfiguration--" here, he paused for a significant glance at Hermione, "--and then there's the reason I looked it up in the first place: it helps stop other wizards getting into your mind."
Ron's eyes widened at that. "I've heard about that, I think!" he said. "Bill's mentioned Occlu-thing before-- my oldest brother, the one who breaks curses. He says it's dead useful against some of the ancient Egyptian trap spells that make people see things that aren't really there."
"It sounds like something out of a science fiction television show," Hermione said. "Telepathic defences! What made you look that up? And why haven't you said anything about it before?"
He gave her a hesitant look, thinking swiftly; then he reached up to lift his fringe and expose his scar. "D'you remember last term, those weird headaches I kept having? I was worried about them, but I didn't want to sound even more paranoid than I already did. They only happened when other people were around-- especially a few of the professors, and since we were already so suspicious of Snape...."
"You were looking for a way to stop them!" Hermione filled in, breathlessly. "And did it work?"
Harry nodded. "Haven't had a single headache since the start of term," he confessed, truthfully. "So when you mentioned memory charms this morning, it made me wonder, if you were defending your memories already...."
"Sign me up, then," Ron said, decisively.
Hermione nodded. "It can't hurt," she said, "and if it helps with school work too, it only makes sense to try. Is it difficult to learn?"
Harry snorted at that, remembering his own early instruction and how problematic Voldemort-- and Snape, and his own contradictory desires-- had made it for him. "Easiest thing in the world to practise," he said, "though I can't manage any mind-reading spells; we'll have to find some object that reads thoughts to test whether or not it's really working. All you have to do is clear your mind."
Hermione blinked at that. "Clear your mind? But what does that mean?"
"What it sounds like," Harry explained, wryly. "You're supposed to let go of all thought and emotion and just-- focus on nothing."
Ron smirked at her. "Good luck there," he said. "You never stop thinking."
Harry rolled his eyes. "I had trouble getting it to work that way, though. So I sort of-- meditated on an important memory instead, until everything else went away and I felt calm and-- well, clear. I can do it without the memory, now, and it only takes a few seconds, but when I first started it I had a terrible time getting there at all. Right before sleep turns out to be a good time to try it."
"All right, then," Hermione said, "we'll try that, and I'll look up spells for working with Pensieves. You've been telling us for ages you didn't think it was Snape after the Philosopher's Stone any more, but have you come up with any other possibilities?"
Harry opened his mouth to answer-- but Ron unexpectedly spoke for him. "I think it's Quirrell," he said.
Harry and Hermione both gaped at him, though for wildly differing reasons.
"Professor Quirrell?" Hermione asked, raising her eyebrows in disbelief.
Ron nodded. "You didn't see his face last night, Hermione, when McGonagall was hurrying us out of the Hall. Made my blood run cold, it did. He keeps turning up around Harry-- remember when he rescued us from Peeves the first day of classes? Remember where we were?"
Harry had forgotten about that; much of the first half of that year had gone misty and vague from seven years' worth of distance. "The door to the third floor corridor!" he blurted in surprise.
"And he was the first one to spot the troll, but ran all the way up to the Great Hall and fainted instead of fighting it himself-- what kind of Defence professor is he supposed to be, anyway?" Ron was clearly warming to his theme.
Hermione clapped a hand over her mouth. "Oh! And I think I ran into him when I set Professor Snape's robes on fire," she said. "But he just seems so harmless!"
"And Snape seems so evil," Harry replied, reasonably. "If you wanted to sneak about Hogwarts trying to steal something from Professor Dumbledore, which kind of person would you think he'd suspect first?"
Hermione shook her head. "Except Snape's been here for years, and the older students say he hasn't changed a bit," she countered. "If he'd pretended to be friendly, Dumbeldore would have wondered."
"Exactly," Ron said, scowling thunderously. "Quirrell's been gone for a year, and he didn't teach Defence before he left, so everyone already expects him to've changed. He has the perfect cover."
"I think you might be right, Ron," Harry said, smiling at his friend. He always forgot how perceptive Ron could be, when he wasn't bored or jealous or otherwise caught up in his own concerns. He didn't want Hermione to take this as licence not to research those memory harvesting spells, though, and caution would serve them well anyway as events diverged further-- more so than acting as typical 'leap before looking' Gryffindors.
"But just to be safe, we probably shouldn't do anything until Hermione comes up with those Pensieve spells and we can check to make sure we're right. Just think if we'd done something worse against Snape, and the thief got the Stone because we'd distracted one of its protectors?"
Ron sighed. "I still think he's an utter git, you know. But after what happened with Scabbers--" He shook his head. "I suppose I'd better start paying more attention in Potions."
"That's very responsible of you, Ron," Hermione said approvingly.
"I'd help you, mate, but I think he's going to keep me working with Neville for the rest of the year," Harry added. "You can check my notes for help with the homework, though."
Ron nodded. "Thanks. So, is that it then? Keep an eye on Quirrell, let Hermione research this memory stuff, do that meditating thing? What else?"
"We'll discuss it again then when we've seen the memories," Harry decided. They hadn't a prayer of getting any adults to listen-- or excusing any actions they might take against Quirrell-- before then. They'd just have to be careful that none of them were ever alone with the Defence professor. "Let's give it a time limit of-- until the next Quidditch match? If we haven't come up with proof by then, we'll think of something else."
None of them were very satisfied with the lack of immediate action, but they all seemed to feel much better for having talked it over. Before they went back up to the dorms, Harry made sure to tell them about Sirius, as well; that 'Mr. Lupin' had told him Sirius Black was his godfather, and that if Pettigrew had been the real criminal Sirius might be a help to them as well.
They all woke up bleary in the morning for the lack of sleep, but went back to classes with a renewed will. And if Ron's marks were slightly higher that week-- and Snape had to resort to taking points from the unlikely duo of Lavender and Parvati because the rest of the Gryffindor first year pairs were all too attentive or respectful to earn the usual demerits in his class-- nothing else much changed. Quirrell did give Harry a few dark, veiled looks, but didn't try to get him alone. Not yet, anyway.
Harry had found his equilibrium again, and he hadn't even had to break his own self-imposed rules about his time travelling. Hermione gave him and Ron a knowing nod Saturday morning over the bacon, and he found himself quite looking forward to another afternoon spent in the Room of Requirement-- until Hedwig dropped another letter in his lap, addressed from Remus. It was the first since his visit. Harry remembered the scheduled hearing that day and opened it with an anxious heart.
Fortunately, his first fear-- that something had prevented Wormtail's trial-- was quickly appeased. It was still going forward, and Remus would be attending. But he'd enclosed something else in the envelope as well: a small mirror that closely resembled the one Sirius had given him after Christmas hols fifth year.
Harry swallowed thickly, then slid it into a pocket, still half-wrapped.
Keep the mirror with you, Remus had written after explaining its use, and I'll let you know the outcome after the hearing. But he hadn't said anything about the mirror's origins-- and Harry's pulse picked up at the idea that he might have got it from the source. That it was Sirius' mirror. That Remus had found him already!
Harry could hardly wait for the day to end.
Chapter 16: Progress Report
By mutual agreement, Harry and the others scattered after breakfast to pursue their own interests. Harry had Quidditch practise first thing; Hermione was headed for the library, as per usual; and the morning owl delivery had brought Ron a package from his brother Bill. He'd volunteered to write him earlier in the week for more information about Occlumency, and Harry was just as eager as Ron to find out what Bill had to say on the subject. The official curse breaker's version of Mind Arts training was likely to be quite different from the brute force introduction Harry had been given.
He'd been a little sceptical at first when Ron had told him about the letter, but Ron had made the connection between Harry's mention of 'some object that reads thoughts' and the Mirror of Erised quite easily, and said their encounter with it would make the perfect excuse. All he had to do was frame the story with worries about cursed objects corrupting his mind. Bill might be a dashing twenty one year old with a dangerous and exciting job and no incentive to humour a pair of curious children, but he was Ron's eldest brother, and well inured to the habit of looking after him. He could be counted on to at least share something to put Ron's mind at rest, even if he didn't fully believe him.
Between his curiosity about the package and the hours spent hunting for the Snitch, Harry almost managed to leave his worries about Pettigrew's trial and Sirius' whereabouts behind for the rest of the morning. One step at a time; there were some things that just couldn't be rushed.
Lunchtime came and went while Wood worked the team through drill after drill; Harry was sweaty, exhausted, and nearly relaxed by the time they all set foot on the pitch again. He hadn't bothered to try to convince anyone on the team that Snape wasn't actually out to ruin them, as only a week remained until the match the Potions professor was scheduled to referee, and their paranoia was actually working out in his favour. Between all the extra practise and the constant distraction of the Dementors at the edges of the grounds, the twins had been too preoccupied to corner him again about Moony. And the joy of flying, itself, was no small compensation; it cleared Harry's thoughts and improved his focus almost as well as Occlumency. As long as he was in the air, he was free.
Perhaps he'd go for professional Quidditch next time McGonagall spoke with him about careers. If they put an end to Voldemort again before Harry left Hogwarts, he could hopefully-- provided he survived the effort, this time-- do anything he wanted. And at the moment, that sort of liberty-- hours spent in the air every day, regular travel to places he'd never dared hope he'd have the chance to see, and no responsibility other than catching that winged golden ball-- appealed to him a great deal.
He might as well be staring into one of Trelawney's teacups, though, dreaming such dreams, and he knew it. Harry sighed as he trooped back to the castle a safe distance behind Fred and George and decided to visit the elves for a basket rather than wait until supper to fill his growling stomach. If he knew Hermione, she'd forgot to eat as well, searching out just that one more reference; they could make a picnic of it. Ron would be more than happy to finish off any crumbs they left behind.
He found the Room already active when he arrived on the seventh floor, set up-- as mutually agreed, so they would all be able to find it no matter who entered first-- as a duplicate of the Gryffindor common room. Hermione and Ron were both bent over a study table, reading from a large, dusty tome; there was a concerned crease between Hermione's brows, and Ron's jaw was set. Not likely anything to do with Pensieves or Occlumency, then.
"Hello," he said, giving them a crooked smile as the door closed behind him. "Having fun without me?"
"Harry!" Hermione blinked as she looked up, expression clearing into welcome. Then she wrinkled her nose. "Ugh, did you come directly from the pitch?"
"Sorry," he shrugged, brushing absently at the grass stains over his knees. "Thought this was more important than a shower. What've you found so far?"
"Trial records," Ron said, grimly. "Or-- lack of them, really. From after You-Know-Who killed your parents."
Hermione winced at Ron's phrasing, but nodded in agreement. "I had already found the information I was searching for about memory recovery-- I'll show you that in a bit; it doesn't appear to be difficult, just precise, and you weren't wrong when you said Occlumency might help. But I thought I'd do a bit more reading while I had the time, and I remembered what you said Mr. Lupin told you about your godfather's arrest and how Pettigrew's survival threw everything that happened that night into question. So I went looking for the trial records, to see how they could possibly have overlooked such a crucial detail. I mean, if the Ministry made a mistake investigating your godfather, how can we be sure they aren't also making mistakes today?" She sounded quite put out about the possibility.
Harry grimaced. He should have expected her to look it up; he could have saved her a lot of trouble if he'd thought to give her a bit more information. "Only, there wasn't a trial, was there?"
"No," she said, indignantly. "Which shouldn't even be legal, but Ron says they probably won't offer him reparations even if he's proven innocent!"
Ron shrugged. "The head of the DMLE-- Bartemius Crouch apparently, I think he's over in International Magical Cooperation now-- signed off on it, under the Minister's seal. See?" He turned the book toward Harry, pointing out a group of names printed in faded ink between summations of trials, 'committed to Azkaban under the Minister's seal, ex parte'. "It's an old loophole; Dad's griped about it before. The Wizengamot can override the seal, but in wartime, or if it's something they don't think's important, like say an enchanted Muggle artefact someone's bribed Fudge to approve...."
Abruptly, several of the less explicable quirks of the Weasley household came clear. The invisible flying car, for one. Arthur Weasley had faced an inquiry at work after Harry and Ron had borrowed the temperamental machine to fly to Hogwarts; once he'd found out just how illegal that had been, Harry had wondered why the man had ever bewitched such a thing in the first place. Not to mention the joy he'd taken in all those raids, the summer before second year-- as good a man as Arthur was, there was a part of him that apparently gloried in thumbing the eye of the system and all its flaws.
Harry understood the impulse quite well. Though he hoped he could avoid exposing the Weasleys to quite so much scrutiny this time round.
He frowned and dropped into a chair beside Ron, scanning down the paragraph of assumed Death Eaters. He snorted when he saw Antonin Dolohov's name partway down the list; he remembered hearing Karkaroff mention that wizard's name in his own trial in Dumbledore's Pensieve memories, and Crouch saying he'd already been arrested, but apparently the incident prompting Dolohov's arrest had been such that they hadn't bothered going through the motions of a trial. Not that Harry felt guilty about him-- he well remembered the injury Hermione had suffered at Dolohov's wand-- but it was all of a piece.
It seemed that unless they'd had loads of money to buy an Imperius defence, or some politically explosive issue forcing a trial such as with Barty Crouch's son or Ministry employee Augustus Rookwood, any wizard caught with a Dark Mark or 'obviously' bloody hands in the waning days of the War had been committed to immediate, lifelong imprisonment. Making a show of ensuring the people's safety-- but only after their most dangerous foe had already disappeared.
Too harsh and too lenient all at once: a perfect encapsulation of the Wizarding world as a whole. Harry shook his head and looked up at Hermione.
"Does the Ministry even have the concept of 'commuted to time served'? Looking at this-- I have to wonder, even if they prove Pettigrew was the traitor, not Sirius, will they just arrest Sirius again for being an illegal Animagus? And who knows what else-- probably escaping, too."
Hermione glanced at Ron, taking in their wizard-raised friend's blank expression, then sighed. "Good question, Harry. I suppose that'll be up to the Minister and the DMLE, as well. What an inefficient way to run a country!"
Harry shook his head. "Hopefully Dumbledore will put in a word for him."
She was right, though. Hagrid hadn't had a trial either when Ginny had opened the Chamber; Fudge had come straight for him, claiming it was just a precaution, and chucked him into Azkaban for two months. And then there'd been Harry's entire fifth year, persecuted by that Ministry hag for daring to tell a truth Fudge didn't want heard. The few times the Minister's personal intervention had come out in Harry's favour-- such as the incident with Aunt Marge-- didn't make up for the harm done by small-minded men and women who valued appearance over substance. He didn't even want to think about the wreckage that would've been left behind by the reign of Pius Thicknesse; no matter who was elected afterward, vile precedents would have littered the legal record like unexploded bombs.
Hermione gave a dissatisfied sniff, but changed the subject willingly enough, taking the record book back from him and closing it up on the table. Then she pulled another heavy tome from her bag, this one bound in milk-pale leather with a shallow basin drawn on its front cover in silver ink. "In any event, there's nothing we can do about that until the trial's over. Fortunately, my other research was slightly more productive."
"Illuminating the Inner Landscape," Ron eyed the runic title. "Sounds a bit barmy."
"I found it in the Restricted Section," Hermione informed him, loftily. "Some of the concepts might be a little advanced for the average first year, but it seemed quite straightforward to me." She flipped the book open, rapidly turning pages until she found one with an illustration of a witch pressing a wand to her temple. "The process for copying a memory out for placement in a Pensieve, or any other storage or viewing medium of choice, is quite simple. Press the wand against your temple and speak the incantation: Capere Memoria. The difficult part seems to be visualising the memory properly in the first place."
Harry wrinkled his forehead. He'd never heard that incantation; though he supposed the wizards he'd seen use the spell were probably casting it silently. And Snape hadn't even needed a wand. "How does one visualise a memory improperly?" he wondered aloud.
Hermione rolled her eyes at him. "If you don't invest the right amount of magic, you can blur your own memories rather than copying them out, or end up with a shadowy fog rather than distinct scenes. Or you could mix one memory up with another unintentionally; our minds link memories together by association, not in direct temporal lines. For example-- we want to see what actually happened at the Quidditch match, not a jumble of every Cannons game Ron's ever watched."
"Just for example," Ron commented, dryly.
That could be awkward, when they asked for Harry's viewpoint; he had a lot more memories to mix up than Ron and Hermione did. And he wouldn't be able to just make something up out of whole cloth; he'd seen the results of a far more experienced wizard's attempt to do so in the blatantly overwritten memory Slughorn had given Dumbledore. "I gather this is where Occlumency enters the picture," he said.
"Rather literally, in fact," Hermione replied. "It helps one organise one's thoughts, which naturally includes visualisation of memories. It's easiest for adults, of course, given that our brains don't complete the process of synaptic pruning and myelination until our twenty-fifth year--"
Ron cut her off before she could get too technical. "And what's that mean for us?"
She cleared her throat. "It means an adult's mind is more efficient. But we can still do it; Harry's proved that. It'll just take a bit more effort."
That particular bit of anatomical disadvantage would have been useful to know back when he'd first been learning, Harry thought wryly. "Excellent, Hermione," he nodded to her. "Ron? What'd Bill have to say?"
"Mostly that I must've been mistaken about what I saw; nobody in their right mind, not even Dumbledore, would store an artefact as rare as the Mirror of Erised in a classroom where just anyone could trip over it," he snorted. "And no, Hermione, I didn't tell him what it was; I just described it to him. Apparently, it's pretty well known."
"At least that means we're right about what it does," Harry said, grimacing.
"I wish I could have seen it," Hermione frowned pensively, tapping a finger against the image of the witch on the page in front of her. The witch gave her a dirty look and shifted position slightly, but Hermione was too preoccupied to notice. "I'd love to know what it would have shown me."
"That's easy: more books," Ron told her with a shudder. "Stacks and stacks of them, I'm sure. Here--" he reached into his bag and pulled out a small volume illustrated with a smart wizard in a dragonhide jacket on the cover. "Maybe you can make better sense of this than I can; I didn't even recognize half the words. I think Bill expects I'm up to something, and he's hoping to discourage me."
Hermione took it with an interested expression. "The Curse Breaker's Guide to Breaking Curses of the Mind! Excellent, Ron. I'll study it tonight and summarize the relevant parts-- this should make things much easier for us."
"If you say so," Ron shrugged. Then he turned a quizzical frown on Harry. "So what have you been up to all week, then?"
"Quidditch, mainly," Harry shrugged. "Trying to keep track of Quirrell-- though he's left the castle at least twice this week that I'm aware of. I didn't dare try to follow him off the grounds on my own. And…" He paused, considering, then decided justification could go hang; he'd just blame it on Remus if the subject ever came up. "I found a couple of spells that might come in handy. One of them will stop people listening in on our conversations, even if we're talking in the middle of class; they'll just hear a buzzing sound instead."
Hermione's eyebrows shot up. "Oh, that will be useful. What's the incantation?"
What a difference that was from her reaction when he'd first found it in the Half-Blood Prince's book. Harry smiled crookedly at her, then spent the next half hour teaching her and Ron to cast it. Once they had the hang of it, he followed up with a rather obscure spell that he figured had to've been the basis for the identification charms on the Marauders' Map. The incantation was Nomine Revelio, and it named things. Not just people: that function had apparently been toned down for the Map. When cast in person, anything with a proper name acquired a visible, glowing label.
Hermione and Ron didn't see the point of the Naming Charm at first, but after Harry shrouded himself under his Cloak of Invisibility and proved that it still worked to identify him, they began to get the idea. It would work on someone under Polyjuice Potion; it would work on someone under disguising charms; and it would work on an Animagus, the chief attraction from Ron's point of view. More importantly to Harry, it would also work on Quirrell and his passenger, if he could only find an opportunity to cast it on the possessed teacher in public.
It had puzzled him at first, when doing research on the subject, that the Ministry didn't use some form of the charm already for security purposes; instead, all of their procedures were keyed to a wizard's wand. It was as though the magic it produced was more important than the wizard who used it: Magic is Might, already codified in their culture. That actually explained quite a bit about the ease with which the Muggleborn restrictions had been implemented under Thicknesse. There were probably magical ways to change a name, which might be why the spell was obscure-- but if there were, nobody in the Wizarding World seemed to much use them, and Harry was happy to take advantage of that oversight.
Finally, late in the afternoon after they'd demolished the basket of food, moved on to Defence practise, and collapsed in front of the empty fireplace in three dishevelled heaps of exhausted limbs, the communication mirror finally chimed to alert him its mate had been activated.
"Harry?" A muffled voice issued from his robe pocket, calling his name.
A jolt of adrenaline brought Harry upright, and he scrambled for the mirror, heart in his mouth. "Sirius?" he asked breathlessly, drawing it out of his pocket and carefully holding it in both hands.
The eyes that looked back were amber ones, however, not grey, framed by brown hair rather than ragged black. "Sorry, Harry," Remus said, shaking his head with an apologetic smile. "I should have realised you'd think of him when you saw the mirror; but no, this set was mine."
Harry flushed with embarrassment, unable to reply properly with Ron and Hermione listening in on the conversation. Bad enough he'd said Sirius' name so eagerly; he'd been reacting, not thinking, which had always been his downfall. He couldn't remember; had he told Remus his friends didn't know about the so-called dreams, yet? He'd have to warn him they were listening in, regardless.
"Ah, I suppose I was just hoping for good news; and I'd heard he and Dad had a pair of mirrors like these. Anyway, Hermione and Ron are with me, and we've been waiting to hear; how'd the trial come out? Did they send Pettigrew to Azkaban?"
A line came and went between Remus' brows, but he nodded and went with Harry's lead. "They ruled half an hour ago," he said, more melancholy than triumphant. "Guilty on all charges; they'll move him from the Ministry holding cells first thing tomorrow morning. His defence team tried to block the use of Veritaserum, claiming the only thing he'd done was run away from Sirius and hide for ten years. But they had him dead to rights on illegal Animagery, so the Wizengamot approved a short list of authorised questions-- including whether or not he'd ever willingly served the Dark Lord."
Ron, leaning over Harry's left shoulder, shuddered. "I still can't believe it. A Death Eater, sleeping on my pillow all year. I'm glad he's gone, even if it means I have Snape to thank for it."
"And the charges against Sirius...?" Harry asked, impatiently. "Have they been dropped?"
Remus winced. "Not entirely. I'm afraid the illegal Animagery charges in Peter's case have set a precedent-- they still want Sirius arrested for unlicensed transformation. And they've added obstruction of justice charges. Since he was working with a vigilante group unaffiliated with the Ministry, and went after Peter directly rather than report his crimes to the authorities...."
"But that's ridiculous!" Hermione cried. "That was ten years ago! He's been in Azkaban all that time, accused of crimes he didn't commit, and they want to send him back there?"
"I'm sure it won't come to that," Remus said; but he did look doubtful.
"Blast," Harry frowned. If he hadn't turned up at Grimmauld Place by now, or Remus', where was Sirius likely to have gone?
"Surely they'll call back the Dementors, though," Ron shivered. "Since he wasn't a murderer, after all."
"They'll begin withdrawing next week," Remus nodded. "And they've reduced the reward; that's something." He paused then, glancing at Harry's friends, a pensive frown turning down the corners of his mouth as though he was holding back another, more sensitive secret.
Harry bit his lip, then took out his wand. "Sorry, guys; I think this bit is private," he said, and cast Muffliato on both of them, ignoring their outraged exclamations.
Remus smiled faintly, but still looked rather agitated. "I'll keep it brief; I'm not even sure I should be telling you, but Harry-- they found two wands on Peter when they searched him."
"Two?" Harry's spine straightened, and his breath caught in his chest. "Was-- was one of them yew? And phoenix feather?"
Remus nodded. "I take it you recall what that means?"
"Tell me they snapped it," he said, anxiously. "Or that Dumbledore has it."
"It's been impounded by the Ministry."
"Then it's as good as in Lucius Malfoy's hands!" he cried.
"Relax, Harry," the werewolf shook his head. "Dumbledore realised the significance as well; and Fudge still favours his advice. It won't remain in the vault for long."
Harry sagged back, remembering his first sight of that wand in Voldemort's hands: casting the Cruciatus Curse on one of his Death Eaters in the graveyard after the Third Task. Before he'd restored Wormtail's arm, before his mockery of a duel with Harry-- the first thing he'd done with that wand in his new life had been to cause pain. With any luck, he would never have the chance to reconstruct a body of his own this time... but the wizarding world would still be much better off if that wand were destroyed. Wands learned from their masters, according to Ollivander; that was why they chose their own wielders, why children were encouraged to purchase new ones, and why the Elder Wand had only grown more dangerous throughout its long existence. The thought of Voldemort's wand in another Death Eater's hands was alarming; even Peter Pettigrew had been able to use it to commit murder.
"Good," he said, forcibly calming himself. "I hope you're right."
Remus nodded at him, then glanced aside, as though hearing noises on his end. "That's all the important news for now; I'll contact you again when I hear anything more about Sirius. And if you find something, there-- promise me, Harry; promise me you'll let me know."
Harry hesitated, then nodded in agreement. "I promise," he said.
The glass went dark in his hand. Then Harry glanced up the alarmed, irritated faces of his friends, and cast the countercurse for the muffling charm.
"Sorry, guys," he shrugged. "He thought I should know... Pettigrew was found with an extra wand, one he's been carrying all this time...." He let his voice trail off suggestively.
Hermione slumped and placed a hand on his arm, and Ron's scowl softened. Harry knew they would assume it must've belonged to either his mum or his dad; but he couldn't afford to tell them otherwise until they had those Occlumency instructions sorted. Merlin knew the last thing they needed was for Quirrell to look one of them in the eye and catch wind of the wand's rediscovery.
"We understand, Harry," Hermione said, then sighed and got to her feet, gathering up the books she'd left on the tables. "I suppose it's time to head for the Great Hall, regardless; and I have six inches to write for Charms. We can try out the Pensieve tomorrow."
Ron hesitated, but nodded, as his stomach put up a rumble of agreement.
"Thanks, guys," Harry said. Then he followed them out of the Room, mulling over plans to sneak out of the castle and visit a certain cave out in the Forbidden Forest.
Wormtail was on his way to Azkaban-- and Sirius was free. Step one-- nearly-- complete.
Chapter 17: Fresh Perspectives
The problem with Sirius' cave, Harry realised as he absent-mindedly filled his plate in the Great Hall, was that the only other time he'd had occasion to visit he'd been a fourth year, old enough for permission to go to Hogsmeade. First years weren't allowed-- and the cave was a good half hour's walk past the village, even if he took one of the secret passages out of the castle. It wouldn't be a quick trip, and even under his Cloak, there was little chance he could make it there and back without his absence being noticed. By Hermione and Ron, if no one else. He'd have to take them along; and that meant waiting until the next time they all had several hours free when no one would be expecting them.
If they could manage that, though-- and if he could come up with a really excellent excuse for knowing about the cave in the first instance-- it would have to be after the match against Hufflepuff, when Quidditch practise resumed a normal schedule. But the only afternoon they would have free the week following would be that Friday, twelve days away. If Sirius didn't make himself known before then, that would be the first chance Harry would have to go looking for him.
Should he send a letter before then? Hedwig had always been too recognisable for secret communication, but he'd sent one of the school's barn owls to 'Snuffles' before. But how much did Sirius even remember, or suspect, about what had happened? Remus seemed to have dealt with the influx of future memories as dream-visions well enough, but he'd only been dead a few hours when Harry had activated the Resurrection Stone. Sirius had fallen through the Veil a full two years before Harry's final non-duel with Voldemort. Waking again in Azkaban must have been like going from one nightmare to another. And Harry wasn't convinced that a simple sheet of parchment-- on which he couldn't even write anything of real importance, lest it be intercepted-- would do much to convince his fugitive godfather to be careful.
He tossed and turned for nearly an hour that night, worries popping to the surface of his thoughts like Bubble Charms, before he finally made the effort to clear his mind and catch some rest. But even going through the motions of Occlumency stirred up things he'd rather forget, the sorts of memories he wouldn't want his friends to see the next morning. The last image to pass through his conscious mind was the Mirror of Erised, oddly reflecting the sunlit, ethereal expanse of King's Cross.
He must've been overdue for nightmares of his own, because the things he saw only grew worse from there. Harry woke indecently early the next morning with tears drying on his cheeks and the faces of his dead burnt into the backs of his eyes. He'd watched his friends and family sacrifice themselves for him again, each one more gruesomely than the last; had envisioned how those left behind might have fallen while he'd abandoned them for his suicide march into the Forest. He gasped into his pillow for several long seconds, feeling frozen and brittle and razor-sharp round the edges like a knife chipped from glass, then fumbled for his wand and cast a silent Cheering Charm.
He lay there for a moment longer, reminding himself that Harry Potter, aged eleven, had in fact not lost anyone but his parents, while that artificial feeling of warmth percolated through his veins. Then, when he'd begun to feel somewhat human again, he shoved the bedcurtains aside, faking a yawn to shield his puffy eyes from view, and shuffled determinedly toward the showers.
It was still early enough when he finished towelling off that none of the other boys in his dormitory were awake. He thought about lying down for a few more hours, but his sweaty sheets didn't appeal, and he didn't like his chances of escaping dreams a second time. He dressed, digging his Weasley jumper out of his trunk for comfort's sake, chucked a few books into his bag, and went on down to the common room.
There were only a handful of other people there, mostly upper years talking quietly in corners or revising for their OWLs and NEWTs. Percy was among them, though for once, he didn't seem to be paying much attention to his books. The third Weasley brother sat alone at a study table near the fireplace, systematically shredding the ragged feather end of a quill and staring absently into the flames burning low on the hearth. It was very unlike the sort of behaviour Harry had grown to expect from him. Had the older boy heard about the outcome of Wormtail's trial, then?
"Hullo, Percy? I was wondering...." he said tentatively, approaching Percy's table.
Percy started, then straightened in his chair as he turned toward Harry, visibly drawing the mantle of Prefect about him like a shield. "Morning, Harry," he said, focusing a warily attentive expression on him. "You're up early. Is something wrong?"
Harry blinked back at him, at a loss. He didn't actually know what to else to say, only that he felt he should say something. He reached up to nudge the bridge of his glasses further up his nose-- then had a sudden, serendipitous idea and took them off, holding them out toward Percy. "I was just wondering if you happen to know any transfiguration charms for glasses?"
"For glasses?" Percy replied, relaxing a little as he wrinkled his brow in thought above his own horn-rimmed frames. "I don't remember that being part of McGonagall's first year curriculum."
"What? Oh, it's not for class," Harry shook his head uncomfortably. "It's only-- they look a lot like my father's. It's all everybody says the first time they meet me: that I look just like him. And I thought, if I changed them a bit... I don't know. I know it sounds silly, especially considering all the Boy Who Lived nonsense, but--"
Percy's expression softened unexpectedly. "It is difficult to step out of the family shadow sometimes in our world, particularly if there's an established reputation involved. You'll want to learn the incantations yourself; but I'll see what I can do, just this once." He took the glasses, with their round lenses and frequently repaired bridge, from Harry's hands, then muttered several charms under his breath as he waved his wand over them. The frame slowly acquired a bottle-green tinge, then thinned to accommodate wider, newly rectangular lenses. A tiny pattern of lions appeared on the arms at the temples as Percy finished, representing Gryffindor House against the Slytherin colouring.
"Lenses are tricky, as you have to be careful to maintain the curvature lest the alterations change your prescription, but this should serve," he said, handing the glasses back with an encouraging nod.
They did look much smarter; Harry slid them back on, and found that if anything his vision seemed clearer with less obstruction from the material around the lenses. "Thanks, Percy. That was brilliant!" he said, grinning widely at him.
Percy ducked his head, turning back to his books; but his cheeks reddened a bit at the praise. "Not at all," he said loftily. "Now, run along; I have quite a lot of revision to do."
Harry took that cue to find a table of his own, and sat down to open his books in a much improved mood. He should have thought to ask someone that question earlier in the term! He'd never be ashamed to be his father's son-- not even after all the Pensieve revelations; not since he'd been bludgered with the fact that every adult in his life had once been a flawed, hormonal teenager not all that different from Harry and his schoolmates-- but he didn't think his dad would've minded Harry shifting a bit more of the spotlight to his mum, either.
He pondered that concept further as he spread out his books and unrolled his Charms essay to review it for spelling errors and length. He'd never really bothered to make sure he always handed in clean copies of his parchment work before; that sort of thoroughness had never been consistently rewarded in the years before Hogwarts, and he'd seen no reason to change his revision habits after his arrival in the magical world. Not with dangerous creatures and mysterious mirrors and Slytherin nemeses and all to better spend his time on, and most of his professors apparently indifferent or hostile to his concerns.
In the past six weeks, though, he'd seen a notable improvement in both his marks and the professors' attitudes. He was beginning to see how his behaviour might've made it harder for them to treat him seriously the first time. It had to do with respect, something he'd had little positive experience with before Hogwarts; it had seemed like a load of arbitrary rules to him, and he was frequently punished either way, so why observe them? As a result, even the professors who'd liked him had tended to discount whatever he said when things went wrong. It had taken most of his Hogwarts career to prove himself to them, and there'd been too many negative consequences to let that happen a second time.
Harry would never be a bookworm on Hermione's level, but the results of his recent efforts had convinced him it was well worth his time to continue. That wasn't to say he'd changed his mind about fully trusting any of them, but if a few minutes of care now could smooth the path later when he really needed the room to manoeuvre, he could put up with a little extra tedium. And if it encouraged people to compare him to his mother, so much the better. Perhaps that was why the tactic had never worked on Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon; if it had, his life might have been so much simpler.
He managed to complete his assignment, covered two more chapters of Magical Drafts and Potions with careful notes, and was well into a borrowed copy of The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 4 to cover his slip with the Summoning Charm when one of his dormmates finally came down the spiral staircase after him. Harry greeted Neville cheerily, then put his books away and accompanied the other boy down to breakfast. It had been more than a week since they'd last played chess, and Harry felt conscious of neglecting their friendship.
Neville seemed startled by Harry's remade glasses, but complimented them, and so did several other students in the Great Hall. One third year even pinched his cheek as she walked by the Gryffindor table and said they 'emphasised the colour of his eyes', much to Harry's embarrassment.
Green as a fresh pickled toad, he thought to himself, and hid a wistful smile behind a goblet of pumpkin juice. He'd been so distracted in recent weeks that he hadn't even missed Ginny; he hoped she was getting on all right. And Luna, too; they'd been childhood playmates, hadn't they? Though Luna, now that he thought about it, must've just lost her mum. He'd forgotten that she'd been the first person he'd been able to talk to about Sirius' death without wanting to lash out or run away. He'd write her now if he could, but he wouldn't actually 'meet' her-- or Ginny-- until late summer at the earliest.
The Weasley twins cut off that line of reminiscence-- and his conversation with Neville-- a few moments later, plopping down on either side of him.
"Morning, Harry," they said in unison, staring at him intently. They didn't bother dishing food on their plates; they were clearly there for conversation.
"Morning," Harry replied around a spoonful of porridge. He waved around them at Neville as the other boy got up; he'd already finished his toast and eggs, and was understandably wary of Ron's prank-loving thirteen year old brothers. Especially when they were echoing one another as closely as they were that morning, wearing bland, mischievous smiles on their faces.
Harry glanced at them both, trying to remember which was which-- then grinned to himself. Was he a wizard, or wasn't he? He drew his wand under cover of the table, then pointed the tip toward the twin on his right. "Nomine Revelio!"
Both boys startled, looking up in dismay as glowing letters appeared above that one's head, pronouncing him Fred Weasley. "Fred," Harry nodded, then turned to the other one. "George."
"Now that's just not sporting," George replied, entirely distracted from whatever question had brought them to Harry as he watched the letters begin to fade.
Fred held up a hand, catching the dimming, misty W as it drifted down toward the table. "I'm starting to reconsider the value of Ron's friendship with you," he said, in mixed admiration and disgust. "I don't suppose you'd let us bribe you not to teach him that spell? The Map wasn't our only secret, you know."
"Sorry, Fred," Harry replied with a grin. "Taught it to him yesterday."
He'd looked up the Naming Charm and taught it to his friends as an excuse to identify Quirrell's passenger-- but it had just occurred to him that providing it to the more mischievous Weasleys, and incidentally any other students who might have just seen him cast it, might result in someone exposing the DADA professor for him, neatly deflecting any questions about the Charm's origins.
"Naturally," they sighed in unison, exchanging a speaking glance.
Then Fred shook his head. "You've been busy, Harry," he declared in chiding tones.
"Very busy. And not just with Quidditch, or this mean-spirited spell of yours," George added.
"Don't think we haven't noticed you've been avoiding us," Fred tsk'ed.
Harry did his best to look nonchalant as he took another bite, and thought rapidly. He only had so much Marauder capital to spend with them, but they'd find out eventually anyway, if-- when-- they met his godfather for themselves. Might as well put the knowledge to good use. "M'not avoiding you. Just don't have anything to tell you yet," he said. "Moony's been busy with the trial. You know Scabbers used to be Peter Pettigrew, right?"
Fred's frown deepened, and George shuddered. "Don't remind me," George said. "Wish that spell we gave Ron on the train had turned the git yellow. Or better yet, blown him up."
"I can't believe we never noticed anything unusual about him," Fred shook his head. "But what's that got to do with Lupin? Is he Pettigrew's solicitor?"
"Ugh," Harry shuddered at the very idea. "No. Who'd want that job? Actually, it's sort of a long story, but-- you realise they were in the same year? Who d'you think Wormtail was, anyway?"
The twins' eyes went wide with astonishment as they put the Marauder's name together with the form Pettigrew took as an Animagus. "Merlin's beard. Then Sirius Black must be...." Fred lowered his voice, glancing around to make sure no one else was in earshot.
Harry nodded knowingly, though he didn't bother to elaborate. They could already guess which he was, if they remembered Dumbledore's warning at supper the week before. "So you might say Remus has had a lot on his mind of late. And Dumbledore says he already knows something's odd about Quirrell. So there's not much else to tell." He shrugged.
They looked at each other, then at him again, politely incredulous. "And you're just going to leave it there? Harry, where's your sense of adventure?"
"Concentrating on Quidditch for the moment," Harry lied blandly. "There'll be time to worry about what Quirrell's up to afterward."
They stared at him, then glanced at each other again, carrying on some twinnish conversation with eyebrows and wrinkled noses. Then Fred snorted, and George laid a finger alongside his freckled nose.
"Don't worry, we won't tell a soul," he said, then reached across Harry to nudge his brother. "Come along, then, Fred; let's just leave our budding young mastermind to his breakfast."
"We'll be by for the Map later though, yeah?" Fred replied, nodding to Harry. Then they both stood and left the table, muttering to each other in lowered voices.
Harry shook his head in bemusement, watching them go, then drained his goblet and left the Hall himself, heading for the great marble staircase and the Room of Requirement. If he was lucky, he could get some practise in with the Pensieve before Ron and Hermione found him; they'd probably be using Hermione's memories to review the attack on Harry at the Quidditch match, but he wanted to be ready if they decided to check anything else-- such as Quirrell's dramatic arrival at the Halloween feast.
He made it up to the seventh floor without drawing any unwanted attention, and summoned the same version of the Room as the day before. There was one small addition, though: a plinth in the centre of the duplicate common room, surmounted by the shallow stone bowl of a Pensieve.
Harry's stomach turned over as he looked into its empty well. His last experience-- practically all of his experiences-- with one had not been pleasant. But it was too useful a tool not to use. He sighed, then repeated the incantation Hermione had discovered a few times without his wand, practising the pronunciation and reminding himself what he was supposed to do next. Then he pressed the tip of the wand to his temple and closed his eyes, concentrating on the memory he'd chosen for the first test.
It had to be an important memory, one that meant something to him, for him to focus properly; he'd always had better luck with Occlumency that way. It couldn't be too important, though, in case he botched it-- a memory that he wouldn't regret damaging or erasing. And lastly, it couldn't be anything from the future of the other timeline, in case Ron and Hermione arrived before he put it away again. He could re-examine the critical moments of the War another time, once he was sure of the procedure.
That left only a handful of moments, really. And only one that neither Ron nor Hermione had been around for. He focused very tightly on those few moments inside the Leaky Cauldron, the very first time he'd visited Diagon Alley, and spoke the words of the spell. "Capere Memoria."
He felt a slight trickling sensation at his temple, then a kind of hollowness, and that day in the Leaky-- everything between the moment he'd stood out front, frowning at the tiny, grubby pub Hagrid claimed was famous, to watching Hagrid tap the bricks out back with his umbrella, went sort of vague in his thoughts. The memory was still there, sort of, but so misty he couldn't properly grab hold of it, and almost stripped of emotion; no wonder Snape had used the process before every Occlumency lesson.
Harry opened his eyes to see a silvery strand dangling from the end of his wand, and moved it away from his temple to shake it free into the Pensieve. It drifted down into the stone basin, where it swirled silvery-white, neither gas nor liquid, just as it should. He prodded the lonely, drifting strand with the tip of his wand, then took a deep breath and screwed up his courage. Slowly, he leaned forward to press his face against the glow.
He felt the familiar vertigo as the floor of the Room seemed to lurch, tipping him forward until he fell awkwardly to the floor of a dark, shabby room. He was in! He could see a few old women sitting in a corner, drinking sherry and smoking. Dedalus Diggle was talking to Tom, the bartender. And there, just coming in the street entrance, was the great, tall, shaggy form of Hagrid, twice the size of any other wizard in the place. Harry recognised his own small self at Hagrid's side, pale and nervous and looking distinctly underfed in Dudley's worn hand-me-downs, his eyes wide with wonder. Between his unruly fringe and his round, distinctive glasses, the thin slash of the famous scar stood out like a flag.
Harry reached up to brush his fingers over his own forehead as he watched the rest of the scene unfold. It really had started to fade, then, since he'd got rid of the Horcrux; he hadn't been imagining that it was less vivid. He found that thought heartening, and watched the rest of the scene unfold with curious eyes. The edges of the room were a bit misty when he looked closely, and the colours were all slightly duller than reality, but on the whole he thought he'd done rather well for his first attempt.
Memory Hagrid announced himself again, and Memory Tom leaned forward, announcing his charge's identity to the room at large. Harry winced; but he was still grateful, more even than he'd been at the time, that Hagrid had been the one Dumbledore sent for him. The half-giant might've been rubbish at actually educating Harry about the world he was to join... but he also hadn't been in the least inclined to use Harry to score points with the wizards he introduced him to, and he'd been content to let Harry form his own, amazed first impression of the wizarding world. The only bias he'd introduced had been the one Harry would have run into anyway: the sharp dividing line between Slytherin and not-Slytherin.
Then Quirrell walked up to his memory-self, and Harry's attention sharpened. He looked much younger without the turban, pale and sort of twitchy, but with a full head of hair; Voldemort apparently hadn't possessed him yet. He shook Memory Harry's hand, stammering away with an earnest expression, and present Harry swallowed, bile rising in his throat. The break-in at Gringotts had happened later that day, hadn't it? Which meant-- Quirrell's participation really must have been fully voluntary, all along.
"N-not that you n-need it, eh, P-P-Potter?" Quirrell stuttered, laughing nervously-- and this time, Harry saw the buried spark in the professor's eyes as his gaze flicked up to take in the scar. He shuddered-- then felt a slight tug somewhere in the vicinity of his shoulder, and blinked, rushing upward and away, pulled up through inky blackness until he stood in the Room of Requirement once more.
"Harry!" Hermione said delightedly, pulling her hand back from his arm. "You've done it!"
He nodded. "I tried the spell you found. And it worked!"
"What memory'd you put in?" Ron asked curiously, stepping out from behind her. "And how long've you been up here? You weren't in the dorm, and we didn't see you at breakfast."
"I woke up early and didn't fancy a lie-in," Harry shrugged. "And have a look yourselves; I picked the first time I met Quirrell, in the Leaky Cauldron when Hagrid took me to get my supplies."
"Well done, Harry." Hermione beamed at him-- then blinked and took a closer look, staring at his face. "Are those new glasses?"
Harry shrugged. "Transfigured. I got Percy to help."
"Hmm," she said critically. "I wouldn't have made them quite so green; but they do make quite a difference. I'll have to ask him what charms he used."
"Who cares about Percy's charms?" Ron rolled his eyes impatiently. "I thought we were here to find out if Quirrell's really the one trying to kill you, or if we're barking up the wrong tree-- again."
"Honestly, Ron," Hermione sighed, but she did turn back to the Pensieve. "All right then. Can we view it at the same time, or do we have to go one after the other?"
"You don't need Occlu-thing to just look at it, though, right? I mean, it's not like Hermione's had a chance to tell me what Bill's book says yet," Ron put in, disgruntled.
"Yeah. And-- no, Ron, you don't. Just touch your wands to it, and lean in. You'll see. Watch your footing, though-- it's a bit of a step, the first time." Harry smiled at them.
It was strange to watch from the outside; one moment his friends were leaning in, extremely dubious expressions on their faces, and the next they were staggering back, blinking at each other.
"Blimey," Ron said, slightly pale. "I've never seen anything like that before. I thought it would be something like the Mirror-- but it was like we were really there."
Hermione was pale as well, her expression solemn as she looked Harry over from head to toe. He knew before she even opened her mouth that she was about to make him squirm, by the glint in her eye. "Harry, did people really bow to you in shops in the Muggle world?" she asked, frowning.
Harry felt his face flush hot. Of course Diggle was the one she'd noticed. "What of it? It's not like I ever knew why they were doing it."
"And you never asked?" She seemed incredulous.
"I learned not to," he said forbiddingly, ignoring Ron's wrinkled nose behind her. "That wasn't why I picked that memory, though; what'd you think of Quirrell?"
"He was really laying it on thick, wasn't he?" Ron commented, shaking off his jealousy. "The stutter, I mean. He's not even that bad in class."
"It's a bit thin to base a conclusion on, though," Hermione frowned. "I've barely had any time to review the basics of Occlumency myself-- but the next match is only a week away. Harry, do you mind if I...?"
"Go ahead," he gestured to the basin, then touched his wand to the memory-strand. He hadn't thought to ask if there were any reverse incantation to restore it-- but the silvery stuff clung to the wand tip without any difficulty, and he lifted it cautiously back to his temple. He blinked as the memory seemed to refresh itself in his mind, then stepped back to watch Hermione.
She frowned, concentrating fiercely, then chanted the memory capture spell. The process seemed to go just as it had any time Harry had witnessed it, though the wispy bit of magic produced seemed slightly paler than usual. "Well. Shall we give it a go, then?" she said, nervously.
"All together?" Harry glanced at them.
Ron nodded, and they leaned forward for a look at Harry's very first attempted assassination at Hogwarts.
Chapter 18: Gathering Momentum
If Harry's first go at the Pensieve had been a bit dull and misty around the edges, Hermione's was quite foggy, and half drained of both sound and colour. Harry felt a tiny surge of pride as he regained his footing inside the memory, but made an effort to quash it before she could pick up on it.
Really, she'd only just discovered the Mind Arts. Given how long it had taken him to learn, he had a feeling she'd outdo him handily once she had a little more practise. And he hadn't brought all that knowledge back with him just to lord it over his friends like a Malfoy; he'd come back to defeat Voldemort, and discouraging Hermione's efforts would not further that cause one bit.
Hermione stared around at the hushed roar of the Gryffindor crowd with a frustrated, intent expression. "I did test the spell a few times with a phial from my Potions kit, to make sure I wouldn't accidentally destroy an important memory, but I suppose this is the sort of magic that takes more than a few trials to perfect," she said, critically.
"Did you? Have any trouble, I mean?" Ron asked, nervously.
Harry was only half listening, watching the silvery forms coursing around in the air beyond the stands; he was having difficulty recalling the details of the game, other than the frantic moments he'd spent dangling from his Nimbus Two Thousand. The smallest high-flying shape had to be his; but Memory Harry didn't appear to be having any difficulty as yet. No, wait, they'd only entered a bit early: there he went, spinning off to the side as a much larger player-- Marcus Flint, most like-- slammed straight into him to block him from catching the Snitch.
"Just a bit, at first," Hermione said briskly, turning to frown at her own silvery self, still seated with Ron and Hagrid. "It isn't a particularly difficult process, as it uses only the simplest of Occlumency principles, and you only need maintain the state of mind for as long as it takes to retrieve the memory. But I rather underestimated the focus element-- it turns out to be a bad idea to try it with a routine event, the sort that's so ordinary your mind tends not to register the details." She grimaced.
"Well, no danger of that here," Harry said lightly, gesturing out at the swiftly moving players.
Ron snorted. "Never is around you, mate. What happened, Hermione?" he pressed.
She frowned while the misty form of Alicia Spinnet took the penalty goal for Flint's foul. "Remember what I said about associations? Let's just say that for a moment there, I wasn't sure I'd be able to remember how to brush my teeth anymore," she said, alarmingly. Then she shook it off, expression brightening. "Oh! There, it's started." She pointed across the pitch. "We need to reach Snape before I do, if we want to see who's really jinxing you."
"But how? If it's your memory...." Harry frowned. He'd been able to follow his father while investigating Snape's O.W.L. memory, but they'd been walking in the same direction, within easy shouting distance of one another. A much greater span separated this memory's Snape from Hermione.
"Oh, your senses pick up all sorts of things you don't consciously notice at much greater distances than you'd expect," she replied, hurrying away from their Gryffindor corner of the crowd toward the main staff seating area. "I remember reading that in context with hypnosis long before I came to Hogwarts; that's a process Muggles sometimes use to retrieve buried details from memories."
Harry and Ron scrambled to keep up with her as she moved, barely paying attention to her explanation. The shimmering faces around them-- some with hands clasped over their mouths, all with eyes riveted on the pitch-- did seem less detailed the further they got from Hermione's original position, but most were still recognisable. They reached Memory Snape just as his features leapt into sharper relief-- "Oh, I must've just borrowed the binoculars from Hagrid," Hermione muttered-- and watched as he repeatedly muttered some sort of spell, aiming his wand at the thrashing form of Memory Harry's broom.
They couldn't hear anything at such a distance from Hermione's original body; all they had to go on was his appearance. Snape's posture was rigid with strain; his eyes were hooded, and his knuckles were nearly bloodless with the strength of his grip. There was something very severe about the set of his jaw.
"Sorry to tell you this, mate, but I think he is cursing you," Ron said, wide-eyed and pale.
But Harry, educated by years of exposure to the Potions master's bitterness, saw more grim determination than hatred or menace there. "No, he isn't," he said, firmly. "He's definitely casting an anti-jinx." Then he turned to examine the rest of the professors and staff. "Where's Quirrell?"
"Right there," Hermione said, pointing to a seated figure a short distance away. "He doesn't look happy, either. But Harry, his lips aren't moving."
"But he does have his wand out," Harry realised, pointing to Quirrell's hand; the professor was holding it low in his lap, aiming the tip between a pair of witches seated in the front row. "And look at his eyes! He's staring even harder than Snape; he's got to be casting silently."
A few seconds later, the sound around them abruptly increased, for all the world as though someone had just turned up the volume on the Dursleys' television set, and they caught sight of the rapidly approaching form of Memory Hermione. In her haste, the young witch tripped over the Defence professor on her way to cast bluebell flames on Snape's robes, knocking Quirrell forward-- at exactly the same moment that Memory Harry's broom went still out over the pitch.
A crucial few seconds later, Snape noticed the fire and broke his line of sight, shouting in alarm. The present three all looked at each other, then stumbled back as the memory abruptly released them, sending their awareness back to the Room of Requirement.
Ron swallowed, still pale, every freckle standing out on his face. "I don't believe it," he said, shaking his head. "I mean, I knew-- I even said-- but Snape's still-- and why would Quirrell even have it in for you?"
Hermione bit her lip, looking conflicted. "Harry, we have to tell someone about this."
Harry had been expecting her to say something of the sort. His Muggleborn friend had been raised with responsible authority figures in an environment that valued logic and order, conditions neither Harry nor, on the latter point, Ron could claim. She had a tendency to let her emotions affect her judgment, but if given no compelling reason to do otherwise always wanted to shift serious problems to the care of a respected adult. And the more Harry insisted on subterfuge, the more frustrated she became each time he decided not to entrust a dangerous secret to those with the power to do something about it.
Or, more importantly from his perspective-- those with the power to do something about him. He and Ron really did need a voice of reason in their lives, Harry knew; but he could do without Firebolt reporting and drawn-out Prince arguments this time. But the solution wasn't to tell her to shut it; that had never worked out well for him before. And it would only make him furious, if he were on the receiving end of similar treatment. He might occasionally be oblivious, but he'd like to avoid committing outright hypocrisy.
"Not Dumbledore," he began, cautiously.
She glared at him. "It was all very well to investigate Snape and the Stone ourselves when we hadn't any proof, but we just saw Quirrell try to kill you, Harry. He's an adult wizard, and we're only eleven! We can't deal with this on our own."
"But we still haven't got any proof, really," Ron said, waving a hand in the direction of the Pensieve. "I told you last week. Dad says if they could have proved any of the people that said You Know Who made them do things were lying, half Malfoy's cronies would be in Azkaban, too. But there's too many ways to make people forget things, or make them remember things that never happened. And like you said, we're only eleven. Why should they believe us?"
"Besides," Harry broke in before Hermione could object again, "Dumbledore already knows something's wrong with Quirrell, and he's told Remus he's keeping an eye on him. I was only going to suggest, if we tell someone, it's someone who has reason to care more about us than the other professors."
Hermione frowned. "You mean, our Head of House," she said, then looked around at the Room. "But she's really strict. If we tell her about the Room, and the Pensieve...." She looked torn.
Harry shook his head at her. "We don't have to tell her all the details. Actually, I don't have to tell her all the details. I just have to tell her you said you'd tripped over him at the match and saw he had his wand out, and I'm worried he might try and jinx me again next week."
Her frown deepened. "And why won't I be the one telling her? It's my memory."
"Because she keeps office hours on Sunday afternoons for one on one counselling," he pointed out. "And I already have a good excuse to go to her. Don't I, Ron?"
Ron blinked, then snorted, remembering their discussion about the advice Remus had offered in one of his early letters. "Thought you weren't going to try that till fifth year, though."
"I haven't got in any new trouble lately," Harry shrugged, "and I really do want to know more about my mum." If he could get McGonagall talking first, and if she didn't have reason to think he was just seeking attention, she might actually listen. Not that it would probably matter in the end, but it would calm Hermione down to have tried, and set a precedent for future problems.
Hermione's expression softened, the frown fading into something that Harry would be tempted to call a pout on anyone else. "Oh, all right. But you'd better come back straightaway and tell us what she says," she insisted.
"'Course," he agreed easily. Then he nodded to the Pensieve again. "Any other memories you wanted to look at while we're here?"
Harry and Hermione took it in turns over the next couple of hours, retrieving memories of Quirrell collected throughout the school year and reviewing them with Ron. Harry brought up the pain that had struck him when he looked at Quirrell at the Welcoming Feast; the day he and Ron had coincidentally encountered the professor on the third floor; and the moment Quirrell had come screaming into the Great Hall about the troll and collapsed in a dead faint. Hermione showed them the moment when the professors had burst into the bathroom to find the troll already knocked out on the floor, and the day she'd run into him being chased by Fred and George's enchanted snowballs.
Every gesture took on a more ominous aspect, now they knew what to watch for. Quirrell was very, very good at feigning nervousness and lack of competence, but he didn't always remember to control his expression when he thought no one was looking. As a control factor, Harry pulled up a few of his more suspicious encounters with Snape as well, and the contrast was jarring: hateful Snape might be, but he always seemed vehemently genuine about it.
Of course, that had been the genius of his role as Dumbledore's spy, the way he used his hatred as a cloak for other things-- but Hermione and Ron didn't know that, and it would only have muddied the waters to tell them. They left the Room for lunch well convinced that Quirrell was the one to watch for, and very curious to hear the outcome of his intended meeting with McGonagall.
They weren't the only ones. It was yet another new experience for Harry, something he would have expected to be rather more rare given his situation. But he wasn't going to complain. His second life would be awfully boring otherwise, even if it was frequently nerve-wracking.
He did stop by the Tower long enough to pass the Map to the Twins-- whatever they were up to, he'd rather go ahead and give it to them than risk their mischief tracking him down later. And while he was there, he decided to write a brief letter to drop by the Owlery, as well. It had occurred to him, between reminiscing about his professor telling him to keep his head down in front of Umbridge and her turnabout, months later, when he'd caught her actively encouraging Peeves to commit sabotage, that it might be useful to know just what the legal procedures were for detecting and expelling a malevolent spirit. Surely someone working in the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes could tell him? It had been several weeks since he'd last written to his mum's old dormmate.
Even if Mary Macdonald couldn't give him any more ideas about getting Voldemort out of Quirrell, though, she should certainly know how he might tell if the Trace was still on. Some of the accidents and catastrophes her department dealt with had to be detected through the Trace's magic, rather than any other means-- take the time he'd blown up Aunt Marge. What thirteen-year-old without wizarding supervision would be responsible enough to call the Ministry on their own? He certainly hadn't done. He'd been expecting punishment, after all, not assistance, and he doubted he was the only teenager to have ever been in similar circumstances.
He was very careful how he phrased the question, mentioning the times when he'd turned his teacher's hair blue or ended up on the school roof and asking why he'd never seen a Ministry wizard on such occasions. He knew the answer was that he hadn't been tagged with the Trace yet, but the average Muggle-raised eleven-year-old wouldn't. Hopefully, the explanation would include a way to tell the difference, or even just a description of how it had been applied. It would be nice to find out now whether or not he could use magic without alerting the Ministry, rather than waiting around for Dobby's reappearance. He didn't fancy spending another month locked up without post at the Dursleys'.
He arrived outside McGonagall's office after seeing Hedwig off just in time to hear the door unlatch, inviting any student who dared to seek advice or share their concerns to step within. Harry paused, staring at it, as a momentary doubt rose up to assail him; the Deputy Headmistress had never exactly invited confidences. There was a reason the only time he'd ever been in there before was for career counselling. But before he could tie himself up in too many knots, the door swung open.
McGonagall looked down at him, a slight curl of amusement at the corner of her mouth softening her stern features and tightly-pulled back hair. Her gaze lingered briefly on the frames of his glasses, but she didn't comment on them. "What can I do for you, Mr. Potter?" she asked, crisply but not unkindly.
He swallowed, then allowed her to usher him into the office, where he took a seat across from her desk. The stiff-looking chairs she kept were more comfortable than they looked, probably due to Cushioning Charms. The decor was more of the same, severe but not unwelcoming; she kept a pot of tea steaming on her desk, and he took a cup for something to do with his hands while he scraped enough nerve back together to ask his questions. Some part of his eleven-year-old hindbrain was quivering like a mouse crouching before a cat, but he was determined not to leave without accomplishing his purpose.
Hermione would never let him forget it if he bolted now, he reminded himself, and took a deep breath. "Professor, I wanted to ask-- I mean." He faltered and started again. "I've been writing to a few of my parents' friends since Christmas," he said, awkwardly.
She nodded. "I had noticed an increase in your mail," she said. "I was pleased to see it. It is difficult to adjust to our world without such prior connections. I assume this has to do with the improvement in your schoolwork?"
Harry fidgeted with his cup. "A bit? I mean, it did help, though that's not why I came by today."
"Oh?" She arched dark eyebrows inquisitively. "Then do share your question, Mr. Potter."
"One of them, one of the ones I was writing-- he was my dad's friend. Remus Lupin?"
Her gaze sharpened on him, probably recalling the incident in the Great Hall, when he and Remus had both been present for the discovery of Peter Pettigrew. "I see," she said. "Yes; he knew him quite well. They and Sirius Black were largely inseparable for the majority of their time at Hogwarts. Though Remus was always the most studious of the three. If he has been offering you advice, I do believe he would have your best interests at heart, if you're wondering whether or not to accept it."
He shifted in his chair again. "Ah, actually," he said, trying out a weak smile. "Remus recommended coming to you or Professor Flitwick, if I wanted to learn more about my parents? I've heard plenty about Dad since I got here, but almost nothing about my mum, and I was wondering...."
McGonagall's brows drew together, though her expression softened slightly. "Ah," she said. "Yes. I suppose it's natural. Your mother was an excellent student, and much admired, but your father had many more friends; he was blessed with a naturally gregarious temperament."
She didn't say it, but Harry could guess what other reasons there might be. "And she was Muggleborn."
McGonagall pursed her lips, looking discomfited. "Actually, that was not so great a factor as you might think. She had met another future student before arriving at Hogwarts, one who was also Sorted the same year, who introduced her to many concepts about the Wizarding world. She knew what she would face here; she was simply determined to exceed all expectations." Harry's Head of House smiled a little at that, a fond but mournful curl at the corner of her mouth, then met his gaze apologetically. "I feel I must apologise for not seeing to it that you were afforded similar opportunities; I had hoped that your aunt's knowledge of our world would prove to be sufficient preparation."
Her tone reminded Harry of the studied advice she'd given him the day he figured out how to use Occlumency in Transfiguration. He was briefly tempted to tell her the truth, even just about his aunt-- but he knew it wouldn't do him any good. Like Dumbledore, McGonagall had hoped for the best, but failed to prepare for other alternatives. He couldn't be sure she'd keep his best interests in mind.
He tried to think like an eleven-year-old, shrugging carelessly. "I guess she really doesn't like magic," he said carelessly, then put on a frown. "Who was Mum's friend? Could I talk to her, too?"
The corner of McGonagall's mouth twitched again, but she shook her head. "I am afraid they had a terrible argument in fifth year, and seldom spoke afterward; he would not thank me for giving you his name, Mr. Potter. In any event, I daresay I can answer some of your questions myself; Lily was certainly one of Gryffindor House's star pupils. Her natural gifts lay more in Charms and Potions, of course, but she had a very thorough understanding of magical theory...."
She expanded on that theme from there, telling Harry about his Mum's collection of O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s, and offered a few amusing anecdotes about her duties as Head Girl. She hadn't been perfect-- there had been classes she'd disliked, and people she hadn't got along with, and Madam Pince had always been reluctant to allow her around the more valuable books. McGonagall gave Harry's bag an amused, significant glance at that. She was careful not to mention anything about Snape, or about the Order in general, but she did share that Lily Evans had meant to apprentice in Spell Creation after Hogwarts; that she'd laughed when she'd told McGonagall the Hat said she was too results-oriented for Ravenclaw; and that she'd been a very stubborn young woman. She'd believed that the Wizarding world needed change just as much as Hermione did, but she'd chosen to prove her aims with magic rather than by championing causes.
Privately, Harry was fascinated; he wondered how much further Hermione might have got with freeing the House Elves if she'd researched the magic that bound all of them to households rather than trying to trick individuals into picking up clothes. And he wished very much that his mum's notes had survived. Whether the Potters' books and papers had been destroyed when Voldemort blew up the cottage, or if the Ministry had left them to rot in their creepy idea of a monument, or if someone had given them to Aunt Petunia and she'd thrown them all out, the fact was he'd probably never know what she might have done with her life. All most wizards cared about was what her death had given them: Harry.
Harry absorbed the conversation with a curiously hungry, hollow feeling; it took him several minutes, and a refill of his teacup, to remember he'd actually come with another purpose in mind. He awkwardly dragged the conversation round to Defence, asking if it was true his mum and Dad had had a separate professor in the subject every year, and was working up to mentioning the current professor when the coals on the hearth behind her desk suddenly erupted into green flames.
"Minerva, there has been--"
McGonagall looked just as startled as Harry felt to see the bearded face of Dumbledore emerge from the Floo. "Headmaster? I'm with a student."
"Ah, Mr. Potter." Dumbledore's eyebrows lifted. His expression was bemused-- but his eyes weren't twinkling. "How expedient of you to have anticipated my message."
"Sir? What's wrong?" he asked, baffled.
Dumbledore inclined his head to him, slightly, within the flames. "I am sorry to inform you that there has been an incident at Number Four, Privet Drive."
"The Dursleys?" Harry blurted. Nothing of the sort had ever happened during the school year that he could remember, and he couldn't think what might have changed to make anyone seek him in Little Whinging before he came of age. He hadn't even seen the Dursleys since he came back, so nothing he did should have affected their household.
Or had it? Guiltily, he remembered the photo he'd sent Lupin. "What happened, Professor?"
Dumbledore looked very grave. "Your family are in perfect health; none of them were present, being variously occupied with school, employment, and shopping. But the house is not. It seems that someone got past the wards and burnt it to the ground. Magically."
McGonagall took a sharp breath. "But that isn't possible," she said, clasping her wand hand to her chest.
Unless Harry's impetuous act really had brought down the wards. Or unless the one who'd done it was neither a dark wizard, nor a dark creature. If that was true-- he swallowed.
Could that be where his godfather had gone? If Harry couldn't go back to the Dursleys, the next most secure alternative was the house at Twelve Grimmauld Place. But would Sirius really risk fresh charges just to alter Harry's living arrangements?
But what if it wasn't Sirius? What if Harry had been wrong about the importance of the wards?
"Was it Sirius Black?" he asked, heart thudding in his chest.
Chapter 19: Additional Complications
Dumbledore's white, bushy eyebrows arched higher at Harry's question, and Harry swallowed in sudden self-consciousness. He really oughtn't to have mentioned his godfather, had he? But he didn't dare look away. He felt a bit like a mouse crouching before a basilisk, waiting for the twinkle to appear in that piercing blue gaze, for that powerful mind to reach out and touch his in a silent Legilimens.
But the moment was broken, instead, by McGonagall's hand on his shoulder-- and a sudden touch of sympathy in Dumbledore's expression as he looked up at the other professor. "Of course," he said, voice gentler as he drew a more likely conclusion from Harry's presence there. "I understand; the discovery of Peter Pettigrew in your friend's possession must still weigh heavily on your mind."
The Headmaster's head briefly pulled back from the flames-- and then returned, spinning in the ashes atop long, blue spangled robes as he stepped wholly through to McGonagall's office.
He folded his hands together, their wide, embroidery stiffened cuffs half covering his fingers, and bent slightly to look Harry in the eye. "I assure you, Mr. Potter, that the Wizengamot found Mr. Pettigrew guilty of all charges; Sirius Black was not, after all, responsible for betraying your parents, and is more of a threat to himself now than to you. He may be a bit of a wild card at present; but if he was anywhere in the Muggle world at the time of the attack, it was in Little Hangleton, not Little Whinging, where a caretaker reported his presence through the use of their ingenious hot line service."
While Harry was still gaping in surprise, trying to digest that unexpected revelation, Dumbledore continued blithely on. "In any event, the attack on the Dursley residence seems to have been a routine test of the wards, rather than any true attempt at destruction. The spell used was a simple Ignition Charm, which is largely reversible when caught before the ashes have time to scatter. It will be repaired within a few hours. The problem is not the damage; the problem is that spell succeeded. That should not have been possible, if you and your relatives both considered that house to be your home."
Harry swallowed, thoughts flashing again to the photograph he'd sent Lupin of the Gryffindor common room-- and then to his reasons for sending it. Aunt Petunia, swiping carelessly at him with a frying pan. Aunt Marge, cruelly and casually insulting his mum for no better reason than that her brother had spoke ill of the woman, and her dog, who'd chased him up a tree. Dudley practicing Harry hunting with his friends, or gloating over massive mounds of gifts. The click of the latch as Uncle Vernon shut him up in the cupboard under the stairs, yelling that he'd forfeited his right to supper. They'd be glad to see the back of him. Because Harry was a freak, just like his parents.
He became aware, halfway through the bitter chain of reminiscence, of a subtle thread of unusual urgency behind them. It wasn't anything he'd have noticed when he was an actual first year, full of self-importance at having the Headmaster's full attention; he hadn't known to watch for that twinkle or flash in another's eye then, or recognise the touch of a foreign consciousness. But the true state of his childhood was one observation Harry didn't mind Dumbledore making, if he really was using silent Legilimency. Harry let the memories keep flowing rather than trying to block them out, dwelling in the lingering, raw feeling of loneliness they produced, drawing it like a shroud about his mind.
"But I don't, Professor," he replied, simply but emphatically. "This is where I belong. This is where I've always belonged. Or at least, that's what people keep telling me."
The combination of raw emotion and childish petulance seemed to work; Dumbledore blinked, then looked over Harry's shoulder at McGonagall again, a troubled frown knitting his brow.
But the Headmaster received no help from whatever he saw on the other professor's face. He turned his gaze back to Harry again, wearing a grieved, grandfatherly air that reminded Harry unpleasantly of previous times he'd asked Harry if he had anything to tell him, and his disappointment after Harry had failed in his initial attempt to retrieve the Horcrux memory from Slughorn. "For ten months out of the year, Harry, that may be true; but Hogwarts does not board students over the summer. I am sorry that your relatives have not made you feel welcome in their home, but until you are of age, you must understand that there is no safer place for you to live."
He cleared his throat to allow time for that bald statement to sink in, then moved on with brisk assurance. "I had hoped to shield you from such truths a little longer, Harry-- but I think you have already realised what a powerful talisman your name can be in our world?"
Harry thought again of the wizards like Daedalus Diggle who'd bowed to him in Muggle shops, and of the way the Ministry had conspired to trap him in the Dursleys' house just before his seventeenth birthday...
Merlin's baggy Y fronts, he was an idiot! He'd told Remus straight out that Number Four, Privet Drive was only safe while no one knew where he lived, completely forgetting that the Ministry already had that information, and that its bureaucracy was leakier than a sieve. It wasn't ignorance that had kept his childhood so isolated; the wards really were that important. He nodded slowly, mortification burning in his stomach as he grasped at something to say.
"I don't understand why, though. I'm not even the one who did anything; my mum was the one who saved me. Wasn't she?"
McGonagall's hand flexed on his shoulder, and he heard an indrawn breath; Dumbledore's expression grew more severe as he replied. "Be that as it may, you are a symbol to many people, Harry-- and not necessarily a positive one, to some. Such is the nature of fame. I have set up temporary wards to discourage further such incidents, and I believe they will hold without further incident until the spring holidays, but I will require your presence then to shore up them up properly and give them time to settle before summer. If you have further questions, we can discuss them at that time."
Harry's stomach sank further at that. The family-based ward could be repaired? Why had he never anticipated that? "Must I, Professor?" he blurted in dismay.
Dumbledore nodded, gravely. "They are your only living maternal relatives, Harry. I am sorry to say you must." Then he shook out the hem of his robes and turned briskly back to the hearth, as if to ward off the possibility of further questions. "I will notify you of the exact date and time after I have settled matters with the Ministry. Now, I shall take my leave of you; and do not let my news put you off the tea, or the company. I find that Professor McGonagall brews quite the best blend in the castle, and her perspicacity is unparalleled." And with a whoosh of green flames, he was gone.
It was only then, as he disappeared out of reach, that Dumbledore's earlier mention of Sirius fully registered. Harry took an abortive step toward the fireplace, then stilled, looking up over his shoulder at his Head of House. He desperately wanted to ask McGonagall what exactly Sirius had been up to in Little Hangleton, but he knew better than to draw further attention to the subject.
She sighed, watching him with a solemn, roughly sympathetic expression. He knew Dumbledore cared about him, in a vaguely proud older relative sort of way, but it had always been tempered by the prophecy: he'd taken an interest in Harry to better know and shape the path of Voldemort's destined opponent, even before he'd become aware of the Horcruxes, and was careful not to let his feelings affect his plans. McGonagall had no such grand schemes in mind; she simply wanted him to succeed.
Ineffectually, maybe, but at least she was honest about it. Small comfort.
"My condolences, Mr. Potter," she said.
Harry gulped, fumbling for a way to excuse himself. This was not a conversation he wanted to be having. "I-- I'm sorry, Professor. I've probably taken up enough of your time already...."
"Nonsense," she said, gently. "I am here to assist my students; and you are certainly one of them. I would of course be happy to answer any other questions you have about your parents-- but I hope you know you may come to me with any of your concerns."
Unless, of course, they had to do with matters she thought shouldn't be his concern, such as the protection on the Philosopher's stone, or Snape's true loyalties....
"Actually, there is something," he said hesitantly, one hand on the door knob; he'd nearly forgotten the true reason he'd actually gone to her office. "About the last Quidditch match, when I nearly fell off my broom...."
McGonagall nodded. "Rest assured, every care is being taken to ensure that next week's match be free of any such difficulties," she said lightly, with a reassuring smile. "This is the first year Gryffindor has had a chance at the Cup since Charlie Weasley left us; I will not tolerate any further threat to my team."
Meaning Dumbledore had assured her he was taking care of it. Harry bit his lip. "The thing is," he said, wringing his hands together. "Hermione was watching the crowd when it happened-- and she said she saw someone pointing a wand at me."
McGonagall raised her eyebrows, her smile fading as she assessed his sincerity. "That is a very serious accusation, Mr. Potter," she said. "Why did she not bring it to me herself?"
He could almost see the walls going up in her mind as she spoke; she probably already thought she knew which adult he was about to accuse. Well, she was in for a bit of a surprise, then. "Because she couldn't figure out what Professor Quirrell's motive was, and she thought at first he might have been casting a counter curse. But he's been acting a bit strange lately, and after finding out about Peter Pettigrew...." Harry let his voice trail off uncertainly. "She decided it was better to say something, than to risk someone else getting hurt."
McGonagall seemed equal parts pleased, confused, and perturbed by his reply. "You think Professor Quirrell is a danger to you?" she asked, voice rising with the question.
He looked down, scraping the toe of his trainer against the rug covering the stone floor in front of her desk. "I know it doesn't sound very likely, but-- I just thought. You said any concern, so...."
She shook her head, lips pursed as though torn between her earlier impulse to offer sympathy, and a desire to express the absurdity of his claim. "Mr. Potter, while I appreciate that you brought this observation to me, the day any professor of Hogwarts is a direct threat to its students, is the day Albus Dumbledore is no longer Headmaster of this school."
Harry winced, but forbore to comment. "Thank you, Professor," he said, referring to the remarks about his mother more than that last bit of blind advice; but she offered him a smile again as he left, and the courtesy hadn't hurt him any. At least he could tell Hermione that he'd tried.
Before he tracked her down again, though, he had an urgent question for someone else altogether. He ducked into an empty classroom on his way back to the Tower and pulled it out of his pocket, then cast a Muffliato at the door and called Remus' name.
Unexpectedly, it took several minutes-- and several tries-- to get an answer. Long enough for Harry to refigure the lunar schedule they'd just gone over in Astronomy, and realise that the next night was, in fact, the full. Well, technically it would be early Tuesday morning; but for magical matters, it was close enough. He thought he remembered that Remus hadn't been able to afford regular Wolfsbane before he was employed by Hogwarts, but he wasn't sure what really meant in practical terms.
Eventually, though, the mirror did light up: the werewolf looked decidedly more wan than he had the day before, but fortunately not as bad as Harry had sometimes seen him the morning after a full moon. He did seem under a great deal of stress, though; what Harry could see of the room behind him suggested a small closet, or perhaps a lavatory. "Harry? Is everything all right?"
Harry frowned at him, unhappily. "Yeah; only Dumbledore just told me Sirius turned up in Little Hangleton. Do you have any idea what he might have been doing there?"
Remus sighed. "I had intended to tell you after the investigation was complete-- I just heard about it myself not three hours ago. Apparently, he was sighted destroying graves in a certain cemetery."
His words were heavy with significance-- and Harry gasped, suddenly comprehending the details. With Pettigrew already in Ministry hands, Sirius must have decided to eliminate the next most deadly threat to his godson... one Harry would never have expected him to act on.
"Riddle?" he asked. He already knew which grave in particular must have been disturbed, but he had to ask, just to be certain.
"Tom Riddle Senior, yes," Remus grimaced. "He was nearly caught by the caretaker from the Riddle house, who had come to pay his respects. He recognised Sirius' face from the evening news; the Muggle government has been reporting him as an escaped felon."
It made a certain amount of reckless sense; Harry had told him every detail about the graveyard incident, the summer after it had happened. If Sirius destroyed the bones of Voldemort's father, then the particular ritual Voldemort had chosen to restore himself to a body would be much more difficult to perform. At least that answered one question: whatever Sirius had dreamed, whatever he thought was happening, he believed those foreign, future memories had some basis in fact. He wasn't simply acting on long-delayed revenge; he had a plan of his own in mind.
It was a shame he hadn't also known about the Gaunts. Or was it? Given what had happened to Dumbledore, it might be a very good thing that Sirius hadn't known the Resurrection Stone was nearby, waiting to be rediscovered. Harry shuddered at the thought of what could have happened to him.
"And he still hasn't tried to contact you?" he asked. If Sirius knew enough about current events to go after something other than Pettigrew, then he had to know Remus would know he hadn't actually betrayed Harry's parents. So what was keeping him out there alone?
He carefully didn't think about what he would have done in Sirius' place. He suspected the answer wouldn't reflect too well on either of them.
Remus shook his head, shoulders slumping wearily. "I'm afraid not," he said. "I tried addressing a letter to him, but the public post owl wouldn't accept it. I'm afraid only a familiar is likely to be able to find him."
Harry worried his lip between his teeth. "I'll have to send Hedwig, then," he concluded. Recognisable or not, he had few other options. Hermione didn't have an owl, and even if Ron could borrow Errol, the tired old Weasley family bird would probably either get lost or deliver the letter several days too late to be of any use. And he didn't want anyone else to know about the letter. "But never mind about that-- I'm sorry, I won't keep you. I'll let you know in a couple of days if anything else happens, all right?"
Remus nodded. "Be careful, Harry," he said. He looked as though there were several other things he would like to have added-- Harry had no doubt that if he'd heard about events in Little Hangleton, he'd heard about Little Whinging as well-- but offered only a faint sad smile, which had approximately that same guilty effect on Harry as the entire skipped lecture would have. Then the mirror went blank.
Harry rubbed a hand over his face, then put the mirror away and lifted the silencing spell to head back to the tower.
He ran into Fred and George just short of the portrait outside Gryffindor Tower, bent over the Map and holding a fierce whispered argument. They looked up at his approach, then shared a determined glance and folded it up between them.
"Something wrong, guys?" he asked them.
They shared another glance, then shrugged and replied in tandem.
"Just a minor setback," Fred said.
"Seems your precious spell isn't strong enough to get through whatever he's got shielding that manky turban of his," George added, glumly.
"Map still says he's got two names, but the spell didn't give us any name at all in person."
It was instantly clear what they'd been up to-- and equally obvious what had gone wrong. Harry winced as he realised his mistake; it was the day for them, apparently. "I suppose I should have been expecting that. I tried to summon his turban weeks ago, and it didn't budge at all. Sorry, guys." The Map tapped into the castle's magic, but the spell itself was limited to the caster's power, and between Quirrell and Voldemort he doubted anyone short of Dumbledore could overcome their protective spells.
"But now we know for sure he's got something worth hiding," George said, speculatively.
"We'll just have to be a bit more creative how we go about it," Fred continued, mischievously.
Harry accepted the Map back with a gulp. "Be careful, guys. He didn't catch you, did he?"
"Teach your grandmother to suck eggs," they scoffed in unison. Then George ruffled his hair as Fred supplied the password to the Fat Lady. "Don't worry; you'll only owe us the one favour. This is starting to get interesting!"
"Define interesting," Harry said, batting George's hand away; but the twins ignored the comment.
He sighed, then followed them into the common room. Time to write a letter-- and prepare for the upcoming week of classes.
He had no success with the letter: Hedwig wouldn't accept any envelope addressed to Sirius under any of his various names. Harry tried Snuffles, Padfoot, and finally his actual legal name, and she gave a mournful hoot at all of them. A carefully phrased question to Professor Flitwick earned him the information that post owls required either a definite address or, for a reasonably intelligent owl, some familiarity with the magical signature of the recipient; some familiars could even glean that impression from their wizards by proxy. But as neither Hedwig nor Harry had technically met Sirius in the current timeline, she had nothing to go on.
There was no reference to the sighting in Little Hangleton in the Daily Prophet the next morning, however, nor during the rest of the week; and Harry heard no more on the subject from either Remus or Dumbledore. Whatever Sirius had got up to next, he must have been a bit more circumspect. It would still be several days before Harry could get to the cave to do something more about finding him.
He did get another letter back from Mary Macdonald, but it was equally unhelpful. She'd covered several inches of parchment with information about the causes and typical manifestations of accidental magic, and mentioned that he'd given the local Obliviators quite the workout, but seemed to give the impression that was nothing out of the ordinary for a muggleborn or muggle-raised student. She hadn't discussed the Trace at all.
At least his classes had settled into a predictable routine. He caught McGonagall giving him a sympathetic glance from time to time, Quirrell's stutter grew worse whenever he walked by Harry's desk in Defence, and it seemed as though he ran into Snape everywhere he went-- but as none of the three gave or took any more points than usual, no one but Harry seemed to notice a difference.
Not even Hermione and Ron. They were both distracted with the mysteries of Occlumency and the Pensieve; they spent most of the time he was at Quidditch practise experimenting with one or the other. Harry missed seeing them in the stands, but he'd never seen Ron pay so much attention to anything that seemed like work before, so he wasn't about to discourage him, given his own altered habits. And Neville's increased presence made up for their absence, a bit.
By the time Saturday afternoon arrived, though, he was more than ready to put the match behind him and move forward.
He tightened his grip on his Nimbus 2000 as the Snitch was released and shot into the sky.
Chapter 20: An Unexpected Sighting
The best thing about Quidditch, in Harry's recent experience, was that no two matches or even practises were ever alike. Not even between one life and the next; the movements of the balls were far too random for even the Bludgers to fly a repeatable pattern, never mind the Snitch. Every time he mounted his broom and soared into the sky in Gryffindor colours, it was an entirely unique experience that carried absolutely no pressure to get it right. Well, apart from in the ordinary way, of course.
Harry took a deep breath of clean, crisp afternoon air as he assumed his starting position above the rest of the team, and shared a respectful nod with his Hufflepuff opposite number. He'd been surprised-- and even briefly, shamefully relieved-- not to see Cedric with the yellow-robed team when they'd flown onto the field, but he'd forgot they'd had a seventh year as Seeker his first year. The game hadn't lasted long enough the first time to get a good measure of her skills, but he thought he had the edge in speed, if he could spot the Snitch first.
On a fine clear day like this, that shouldn't be a problem. He had an appointment to keep in the woods after the game, but until then, he intended to thoroughly enjoy the experience.
Even knowing things were likely to be different, though, Harry still glanced in the direction he'd seen the Snitch before; he'd feel rather silly if he didn't and Hufflepuff won the game instead five minutes in. But there was no golden glitter of swiftly moving wings there to be seen... and no early penalty earned by George hitting a Bludger at Snape to ensure the game would end 150 points to 10, either. Harry grinned to himself at the memory and began slowly circling the pitch, buoyed by the cheering of the crowd and the feel of the wind ruffling his hair. Perhaps he would seriously consider Quidditch as a career this time; or at least until he had the chance to play Krum in the World Cup, then retire into the Auror corps once he'd had a bit more distance from the War.
The match proceeded along those lines for the next while; Harry was hardly keeping track, but Lee Jordan's familiar voice called a few goals for each side during that time, bringing the score to 60-30 in Gryffindor's favour. Hufflepuff's Chasers were good, but the Gryffindors were better, younger, and used to training to beat the far less polite Slytherins; if it had been a Chaser-only game, they'd already have it sewn up. He spared a glance toward the crowded stands from time to time-- hadn't Ron said he and Neville had got into an altercation with Malfoy and his goons the last time round?-- and toward the darkly scowling Snape, but nothing interesting eventuated from either source. It was turning out as close to a clean game as he could remember playing at Hogwarts.
He snorted at that observation, then decided it was time to spice things up a bit and turned sharply to fake a dive toward the pitch far below. And it was then, as he was pulling back up, just shy of the turf with the Hufflepuff Seeker hard on his heels, that he saw it: the last thing he'd expected, though he really, really should have. He instinctively jerked the handle of his Nimbus 2000 at the sight of the big, half-starved black dog crouching in the shadow of the stands, and had to hastily over-correct to keep from cart-wheeling into the turf. By the time he was stable enough on the broom to chance another look, Snape was already hovering where the dog had been, wand out... and the Animagus form of Harry's godfather had already vanished.
Blast. Harry had worked out that Snape had chosen to referee this match to prevent a repeat of the broom hexing incident, but he hadn't realised that the professor had been watching him that closely. That had been Sirius! Watching Harry on the sly just like he had in third year, and this time without a crowd of Dementors hanging round to complicate things! The fact that he'd been there, just within reach--
A gasp from the crowd alerted Harry that something important had happened while he'd been wool-gathering, and he turned sharply, instinctively searching for the other Seeker. The young woman had made her own sharp turn, abandoning Harry's wake to dart across the field; a quick moment's glance along her route turned up a spark of gold hovering by the opposing hoops.
Harry accelerated instantly into the chase, leaning as close to his broom as he could to reduce the drag, and focused his thoughts down to just the next few seconds: the length of the pitch in front of him, the speed of his Nimbus, the other student racing beside him, the ever-jinking location of the finish line. Much as he wanted to fly after Sirius, his godfather would never want him to lose the game on his behalf; and this was the best part of Quidditch. They flew neck and neck right up until 'til the end, when he guessed the next move of the Snitch a half second before the other Seeker could.
The rest of the team mobbed him to the screams of the crowd, and he pumped his fist with the tiny, fluttering sphere clutched between his fingers. Winning this match, an act of skill rather than sheer luck, might not be the first thing he'd ever really done to be proud of anymore, but Quidditch was still his, not his parents' or Dumbledore's or Voldemort's or anyone else's, no matter how often they found a way to try and take it from him. He laughed in relief as the others put him up on their shoulders for a victory lap around the pitch.
Even Dumbledore's cornering him a few minutes later to congratulate him for 'not brooding on recent events' could throw him entirely out of his good mood. Not only had he won the game, he had proof that Sirius was still alive and free; what more did a boy reliving his first year at Hogwarts really need? Only the upcoming chance to be rid of Quirrell's passenger at last; and he wouldn't have to wait for that for much longer.
He managed to linger behind everyone else in taking his broom to the shed, just as he had the last time; it was closer to full dusk than the glow of sunset he remembered from before, but he'd been keeping a casual eye on Snape, and was certain he hadn't messed up the timing. It had been just long enough for the surly professor to return to the castle and arrange the meeting; Snape should be scurrying down the steps with his robes flowing behind him at any moment.
Several minutes of waiting later, Harry frowned at the empty doorway and fumbled in the pockets of his Quidditch robes for the Map. Surely he hadn't missed them? But there was no dot bearing the name of Severus Snape or the blurred dual signature of Quirinus Quirrell and Tom Riddle anywhere within the Map-covered portion of the Forest; and nor, to Harry's increasing dismay, was Snape's name visible anywhere in the dungeons. He gulped, then checked on Quirrell-- still in his rooms!-- and finally turned to the Headmaster's office. There, he finally found the dot he was looking for, grouped with two others: Albus Dumbledore and Minerva McGonagall.
"Merlin's balls," he muttered, his earlier joy at seeing Sirius deflating like a punctured balloon. He really ought to have expected that as well. So much for the convenient opportunity to 'accidentally' get his hands on Quirrell without any inconvenient witnesses. He put his Nimbus 2000 away in resigned disappointment and trudged back into the castle with very mixed emotions.
He hadn't exactly wanted to kill Quirrell. But something had to be done to derail Voldemort's plans before any innocents died, and he'd let himself get fixated on that opportunity. He was just going to have to come up with another plan now, hopefully before the possessed teacher managed to smuggle a dragon egg to Hagrid. Events would only get more complicated from there.
With no urgent reason to pull Hermione and Ron aside first thing, Harry did his best to enjoy the party in the Gryffindor common room. The Twins had gone all-out for it, bringing in the usual load of snacks and Butterbeer; Oliver Wood was over the moon with the Quidditch Cup now a distinct possibility, and the rest of the House wasn't far behind him. The prospect of unseating Slytherin after six years atop the rankings was apparently worth celebrating even to the house's more studious members; he'd caught a glimpse of Percy at one point, laughing with Wood's arm slung around him, more animated than Harry could ever remember seeing Ron's most serious brother.
The party was still going near curfew when Harry at last broke away to sneak upstairs for the Cloak of Invisibility; he might not have any news about Quirrell and the Stone's protections to impart this time, but he did want to ask if either of his friends had seen Padfoot and pass the news on to Remus as well. No one had reported any sightings of his godfather since the desecration of the Riddle graves, and though Harry would much prefer to be out looking for Sirius himself, Remus was the one currently free to search out his trail.
He'd caught Ron's eye before he went up; he and Hermione were both waiting when Harry came back down the stairs. He'd chosen a book to return to the library as cover in case any prefects questioned them; Hermione beamed approvingly at that bit of practicality, though as it happened, they didn't need it. The only ones to actually stop them on their way out were the Weasley Twins, who gave them a wink and a nod and took the opportunity to remind Harry that they hadn't forgot his promise to introduce them to Moony. He got out of that by solemnly swearing to ask at his first opportunity, then led his friends back to their now-accustomed meeting Room.
Hermione took the opportunity to open the Room of Requirement herself, conjuring a copy of her Muggle bedroom with another pointed, inquisitive look in Harry's direction when the door opened. She really wasn't giving up on the topic of his home life, and he hadn't yet found any better way to dissuade her than to simply avoid answering. Ron gave him plenty of opportunity to continue the tactic this time, fortunately; the wizard-raised boy spent the first several minutes gaping at everything the least bit technological, making amused comments about the full bookshelves lined up along one wall, and prodding in puzzlement at all the still pictures framed on Hermione's dresser and the posters attached to the walls.
Harry didn't blame him for the last, though; the gigantic image of a handsome man with ruffled blond hair, a wide smile, and a microphone in his hands explained a lot about certain events of his original second year at Hogwarts. It was always disconcerting to be reminded that Hermione was, in fact, a girl; mostly, he supposed, because she'd never directed that sort of attention toward him before. In fact, while she'd been a very good friend ever since the Halloween they'd defeated the troll, she'd never spent as much effort trying to get inside his head as she had this time round, preferring instead to manage him like he imagined a sister would. Whether that was because he seemed to have more in common with her now, or because he somehow presented a much more intriguing puzzle to her this time, he couldn't fully say, but....
The thought gave him an uncomfortable, uncertain sort of feeling in the back of his mind, and he hastily shut it away to deal with later. There were other, more important things to discuss.
"So." He cleared his throat and took a seat at Hermione's desk. "How's the Occlumency going?"
Hermione shrugged, but somehow contrived to look even more inquisitive. "Well enough," she said, throwing a sidewise glance at Ron. "I found a book on Legilimency in the Room, and...."
"Bloody hell," Harry blurted, aghast. "But isn't that-- I mean, I thought we were going to look for something like the Mirror!" He didn't even know why the sudden image of her poking about in his thoughts made him so nervous; it wasn't as though she'd use it against him, like Snape, or pry into his secrets like Dumbledore.
"There weren't any artefacts like that in the Room; I know, I've looked," she hastily explained. "And it's not as if I'm very good at it! It's an impressively difficult spell, much more so than Capere Memoria. But I don't especially need to be good at it to check if Ron's Occlumency is working. He detected me straightaway every time I tried, even when I set up the Room so he couldn't see or hear me casting, and I only once got a glimpse of a memory. It would be easier to know for certain if one could cast Legilimens on oneself, but I'm reasonably certain I'm doing at least as well."
Ron had turned a bit red at the mention of Hermione's one success; Harry carefully didn't pry, too busy quashing his own immediate emotional reaction. "Uh, well done, then," he managed, nodding to her.
She grinned at him, then sat down on her bed, clasping her hands in her lap. "Is it that secret, then? Whatever it is you have to tell us, I mean. Is it about Quirrell? I looked for him today, but I didn't see him in the stands."
"And he hasn't exactly done anything suspicious this week, except bore us to tears in Defence," Ron said, wrinkling his nose. "I know we said if we didn't find any proof by the next match we'd think of something else to do-- but I'm not sure how we're supposed to manage that if he doesn't, you know, do anything."
"No," Harry said, shaking his head. "Not that. I looked, too; and I saw something else at the foot of the stands. Or someone-- a Grim."
Ron went pale, then stiffened as the superstitious reaction faded. "You mean, a ruddy great black dog, like...."
"Your godfather's Animagus form!" Hermione rushed to finish the sentence, breathlessly. "I remember Dumbledore describing it at supper after Pettigrew was arrested. You saw him, here?"
Harry nodded. "Just a glimpse, but I think Professor Snape saw him too; it was right before I caught the Snitch."
"I remember that," Ron nodded, eyes lighting up. "Went right for the edge of the pitch; nearly missed the end of the game. You should have seen the look on his face; sour, like Neville had melted his cauldron again. I thought I'd check it in the Pensieve, later; see if it was something important."
"That's a good idea, Ron," Hermione nodded, firmly. "We should make sure. But if it is... are you going to tell someone?" She frowned at Harry. "I realise how important he is to you, after what happened with Pettigrew and all the research we've done, but if he is disoriented and dangerous, and he's hanging about the school...."
"He wouldn't hurt me; I'm the reason he's here!" Harry objected, then took a deep, calming breath. It wasn't actually her he was upset with; Hermione couldn't know. Dumbledore was the one who'd made that announcement, and even he probably did think he was acting in everyone's best interests. As usual.
Besides, she might have had a point, if it weren't for the memories-- much as Harry would prefer to forget the fact that Sirius had originally torn up the Fat Lady's portrait, conspired with Hermione's cat, broken Ron's leg, generally terrified the entire student body, and not cared one fig about any of it if it got him one step closer to his goal. "But yes, I do plan to tell someone; Lupin's been looking for him ever since he escaped. They were best mates; if anyone can get through to him, he probably has the best chance."
Hermione worried at her lip, then nodded, slowly. "He hasn't hurt anyone yet, or even threatened that caretaker who spotted him. But if he does hurt someone...."
"I know, Hermione," Harry nodded to her. "If Lupin thinks more caution is warranted, I'm not going to argue. But I'll let an adult with a little more perspective than us make that decision, all right?"
"Very well," she sniffed, then softened. "You think he was really here just to see you play, despite all the people looking for him? That's-- sort of sweet, in a reckless kind of way."
"Yeah. Except-- if he's not mental, why doesn't he turn himself in?" Ron frowned. "Now that Pettigrew's been caught, and everything. I mean sure, yeah, the unlicensed Animagery and obstruction charges will make things a bit awkward-- but there's awkward, and then there's getting cursed on sight by the likes of Snape. They'll have to let him out before long; he's Harry Potter's godfather. And the sooner he's free, the sooner he can do things like come watch you play Quidditch without making everyone think they've seen a Grim."
"I dunno, I think Snape might still curse him a bit; he and Sirius and my dad were all rivals back in school, according to Lupin," Harry gave his friend a crooked smile, then sighed. Even without the time travel vision stuff, the answer to that was pretty obvious; they'd discussed some of it when they were researching old trials. "He probably doesn't trust the Ministry to let him out at all, though, after what happened before. He probably doesn't even know whether the same people who locked him up in the first place are still in charge, unless he's been getting the Prophet in Azkaban all along."
"And no one can reach him to tell him otherwise," Hermione shook her head sympathetically. "I hope your friend finds him soon, then, because there's really nothing we can do unless he comes back to the castle."
"We'll see, I suppose," Harry shrugged, then checked the time and pulled out the communications mirror. There was always the cave-- but it would be easier and less likely to get him expelled to let Remus have a look, first. "I'd best go ahead and let Lupin know, then."
Hermione and Ron exchanged a glance; then Ron cleared his throat and asked her something about how the mirrors compared to a 'fellytone' while Harry placed his call.
It didn't take long; Remus had no new news, and Harry wasn't ready to discuss what he hadn't seen of Quirrell yet, not until he'd had more time to think through the implications. Remus thanked him for the information, then congratulated him on the results of the game... and concluded by advising him to get back to the Tower before anyone realised they were gone.
...Why had he only called up parental figures with the Stone, again? Surely he could at least have spared a thought for Tonks, or even Cedric! But it was too late to castigate himself for that; not least because that was only one of the many choices he intended never to have to make again.
He rolled his eyes and bid Lupin good night, then held up the Cloak. "Ready to head back to the tower, then?"
Hermione gave him a thoughtful look, then nodded. "By way of the third floor corridor? Not to go in ourselves or anything," she added to Ron. "Only it's just occurred to me that with half the other professors distracted by Sirius Black, it might have seemed a good opportunity for someone else to go snooping about."
A chill went through Harry; that was another thing he'd nearly missed. Quirrell might not yet have given Hagrid a dragon's egg, but there was always the chance things would go differently, this time.
"Good thinking, Hermione," he nodded, then pulled the Marauder's Map out of his robes and solemnly swore the activating incantation.
Both of his friends startled, round-eyed, as the lines of ink representing the castle and its inhabitants materialised; Harry had forgotten that they hadn't seen it, yet. "This is the Marauder's Map-- Dad and Lupin and my godfather and, well, the four of them made it while they were here. This is where I got Nomine Revelio from; look, it shows where everyone is in the castle."
"Wicked," Ron swore reverentially, watching a pair of footprints labelled Percy Weasley pace down the corridor outside.
"This is really, really advanced spellwork, Harry," Hermione said, fingers hovering over the edge of the parchment. "It might even be beyond NEWT level. Did he tell you how it was made?"
Ron's interest faded into a faint bitterness as he looked up at Harry. "Nevermind how it was made. It's brilliant. Between the Cloak and this Map, I wish I'd had an heirloom even half so useful."
Instead of Scabbers, he didn't add. Harry shook his head, unwilling to let that pass; he'd learnt the hard way that small seeds were how bigger feuds started. "And I wish my dad was here to pass them on properly. I actually got the Map from your brothers; they took it off Filch their first year."
"What?" Ron's temper flared up. "They never said!"
"You can yell at them about it later," Hermione interrupted. "Does it show the third floor corridor?"
Harry folded open the leaves of the map until the relevant section appeared, and was bemused to see Fluffy scrawled across a banner over two enormous pawprints. No wonder the Twins had been so quick to find their way behind that door.
"Wicked," Ron breathed again, then frowned. "Look-- there's a blurred name there, too. What's that mean?"
"Quirrell!" It looked as though Harry would get his chance after all-- just not in the way he'd expected. Like so much else. He checked the seventh floor again to make sure Percy's patrol had moved on, then quickly cleared the Map and folded it away.
"Wait! Shouldn't we tell someone?" Hermione asked, alarmed.
Harry shook his head. "You said it yourself, we're not going in; we just need to see if he does. Proof, remember? If we see him get past Fluffy, I'll go get McGonagall, I swear. Now, c'mon!"
Ron and Hermione exchanged a glance, then scrambled to join him under the Cloak, and together the three of them hurried out the door.