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Fan Fiction:
Back Again, Harry?

Chapter posted Aug. 20, 2007

Chapter Four:
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.


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