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Back Again, Harry?

Chapter posted Dec. 1, 2010

Chapter Fourteen:
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.


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