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Chapter posted Nov. 4, 2007
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.
© 2007 Jedi Buttercup.