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Fan Fiction:
Back Again, Harry?

Chapter posted Nov. 1, 2007

Chapter Six:
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.


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