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Chapter posted June 11, 2008
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 heartís 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?"
© 2008 Jedi Buttercup.