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Back Again, Harry?

Chapter posted May 28, 2012

Chapter Fifteen:
Progress Report

By mutual agreement, Harry and the others scattered after breakfast to pursue their own interests. Harry had Quidditch practise first thing; Hermione was headed for the library, as per usual; and the morning owl delivery had brought Ron a package from his brother Bill. He'd volunteered to write him earlier in the week for more information about Occlumency, and Harry was just as eager as Ron to find out what Bill had to say on the subject. The official curse breaker's version of Mind Arts training was likely to be quite different from the brute force introduction Harry had been given.

He'd been a little sceptical at first when Ron had told him about the letter, but Ron had made the connection between Harry's mention of 'some object that reads thoughts' and the Mirror of Erised quite easily, and said their encounter with it would make the perfect excuse. All he had to do was frame the story with worries about cursed objects corrupting his mind. Bill might be a dashing twenty one year old with a dangerous and exciting job and no incentive to humour a pair of curious children, but he was Ron's eldest brother, and well inured to the habit of looking after him. He could be counted on to at least share something to put Ron's mind at rest, even if he didn't fully believe him.

Between his curiosity about the package and the hours spent hunting for the Snitch, Harry almost managed to leave his worries about Pettigrew's trial and Sirius' whereabouts behind for the rest of the morning. One step at a time; there were some things that just couldn't be rushed.

Lunchtime came and went while Wood worked the team through drill after drill; Harry was sweaty, exhausted, and nearly relaxed by the time they all set foot on the pitch again. He hadn't bothered to try to convince anyone on the team that Snape wasn't actually out to ruin them, as only a week remained until the match the Potions professor was scheduled to referee, and their paranoia was actually working out in his favour. Between all the extra practise and the constant distraction of the Dementors at the edges of the grounds, the twins had been too preoccupied to corner him again about Moony. And the joy of flying, itself, was no small compensation; it cleared Harry's thoughts and improved his focus almost as well as Occlumency. As long as he was in the air, he was free.

Perhaps he'd go for professional Quidditch next time McGonagall spoke with him about careers. If they put an end to Voldemort again before Harry left Hogwarts, he could hopefully-- provided he survived the effort, this time-- do anything he wanted. And at the moment, that sort of liberty-- hours spent in the air every day, regular travel to places he'd never dared hope he'd have the chance to see, and no responsibility other than catching that winged golden ball-- appealed to him a great deal.

He might as well be staring into one of Trelawney's teacups, though, dreaming such dreams, and he knew it. Harry sighed as he trooped back to the castle a safe distance behind Fred and George and decided to visit the elves for a basket rather than wait until supper to fill his growling stomach. If he knew Hermione, she'd forgot to eat as well, searching out just that one more reference; they could make a picnic of it. Ron would be more than happy to finish off any crumbs they left behind.

He found the Room already active when he arrived on the seventh floor, set up-- as mutually agreed, so they would all be able to find it no matter who entered first-- as a duplicate of the Gryffindor common room. Hermione and Ron were both bent over a study table, reading from a large, dusty tome; there was a concerned crease between Hermione's brows, and Ron's jaw was set. Not likely anything to do with Pensieves or Occlumency, then.

"Hello," he said, giving them a crooked smile as the door closed behind him. "Having fun without me?"

"Harry!" Hermione blinked as she looked up, expression clearing into welcome. Then she wrinkled her nose. "Ugh, did you come directly from the pitch?"

"Sorry," he shrugged, brushing absently at the grass stains over his knees. "Thought this was more important than a shower. What've you found so far?"

"Trial records," Ron said, grimly. "Or-- lack of them, really. From after You-Know-Who killed your parents."

Hermione winced at Ron's phrasing, but nodded in agreement. "I had already found the information I was searching for about memory recovery-- I'll show you that in a bit; it doesn't appear to be difficult, just precise, and you weren't wrong when you said Occlumency might help. But I thought I'd do a bit more reading while I had the time, and I remembered what you said Mr. Lupin told you about your godfather's arrest and how Pettigrew's survival threw everything that happened that night into question. So I went looking for the trial records, to see how they could possibly have overlooked such a crucial detail. I mean, if the Ministry made a mistake investigating your godfather, how can we be sure they aren't also making mistakes today?" She sounded quite put out about the possibility.

Harry grimaced. He should have expected her to look it up; he could have saved her a lot of trouble if he'd thought to give her a bit more information. "Only, there wasn't a trial, was there?"

"No," she said, indignantly. "Which shouldn't even be legal, but Ron says they probably won't offer him reparations even if he's proven innocent!"

Ron shrugged. "The head of the DMLE-- Bartemius Crouch apparently, I think he's over in International Magical Cooperation now-- signed off on it, under the Minister's seal. See?" He turned the book toward Harry, pointing out a group of names printed in faded ink between summations of trials, 'committed to Azkaban under the Minister's seal, ex parte'. "It's an old loophole; Dad's griped about it before. The Wizengamot can override the seal, but in wartime, or if it's something they don't think's important, like say an enchanted Muggle artefact someone's bribed Fudge to approve...."

Abruptly, several of the less explicable quirks of the Weasley household came clear. The invisible flying car, for one. Arthur Weasley had faced an inquiry at work after Harry and Ron had borrowed the temperamental machine to fly to Hogwarts; once he'd found out just how illegal that had been, Harry had wondered why the man had ever bewitched such a thing in the first place. Not to mention the joy he'd taken in all those raids, the summer before second year-- as good a man as Arthur was, there was a part of him that apparently gloried in thumbing the eye of the system and all its flaws.

Harry understood the impulse quite well. Though he hoped he could avoid exposing the Weasleys to quite so much scrutiny this time round.

He frowned and dropped into a chair beside Ron, scanning down the paragraph of assumed Death Eaters. He snorted when he saw Antonin Dolohov's name partway down the list; he remembered hearing Karkaroff mention that wizard's name in his own trial in Dumbledore's Pensieve memories, and Crouch saying he'd already been arrested, but apparently the incident prompting Dolohov's arrest had been such that they hadn't bothered going through the motions of a trial. Not that Harry felt guilty about him-- he well remembered the injury Hermione had suffered at Dolohov's wand-- but it was all of a piece.

It seemed that unless they'd had loads of money to buy an Imperius defence, or some politically explosive issue forcing a trial such as with Barty Crouch's son or Ministry employee Augustus Rookwood, any wizard caught with a Dark Mark or 'obviously' bloody hands in the waning days of the War had been committed to immediate, lifelong imprisonment. Making a show of ensuring the people's safety-- but only after their most dangerous foe had already disappeared.

Too harsh and too lenient all at once: a perfect encapsulation of the Wizarding world as a whole. Harry shook his head and looked up at Hermione.

"Does the Ministry even have the concept of 'commuted to time served'? Looking at this-- I have to wonder, even if they prove Pettigrew was the traitor, not Sirius, will they just arrest Sirius again for being an illegal Animagus? And who knows what else-- probably escaping, too."

Hermione glanced at Ron, taking in their wizard-raised friend's blank expression, then sighed. "Good question, Harry. I suppose that'll be up to the Minister and the DMLE, as well. What an inefficient way to run a country!"

Harry shook his head. "Hopefully Dumbledore will put in a word for him."

She was right, though. Hagrid hadn't had a trial either when Ginny had opened the Chamber; Fudge had come straight for him, claiming it was just a precaution, and chucked him into Azkaban for two months. And then there'd been Harry's entire fifth year, persecuted by that Ministry hag for daring to tell a truth Fudge didn't want heard. The few times the Minister's personal intervention had come out in Harry's favour-- such as the incident with Aunt Marge-- didn't make up for the harm done by small-minded men and women who valued appearance over substance. He didn't even want to think about the wreckage that would've been left behind by the reign of Pius Thicknesse; no matter who was elected afterward, vile precedents would have littered the legal record like unexploded bombs.

Hermione gave a dissatisfied sniff, but changed the subject willingly enough, taking the record book back from him and closing it up on the table. Then she pulled another heavy tome from her bag, this one bound in milk-pale leather with a shallow basin drawn on its front cover in silver ink. "In any event, there's nothing we can do about that until the trial's over. Fortunately, my other research was slightly more productive."

"Illuminating the Inner Landscape," Ron eyed the runic title. "Sounds a bit barmy."

"I found it in the Restricted Section," Hermione informed him, loftily. "Some of the concepts might be a little advanced for the average first year, but it seemed quite straightforward to me." She flipped the book open, rapidly turning pages until she found one with an illustration of a witch pressing a wand to her temple. "The process for copying a memory out for placement in a Pensieve, or any other storage or viewing medium of choice, is quite simple. Press the wand against your temple and speak the incantation: Capere Memoria. The difficult part seems to be visualising the memory properly in the first place."

Harry wrinkled his forehead. He'd never heard that incantation; though he supposed the wizards he'd seen use the spell were probably casting it silently. And Snape hadn't even needed a wand. "How does one visualise a memory improperly?" he wondered aloud.

Hermione rolled her eyes at him. "If you don't invest the right amount of magic, you can blur your own memories rather than copying them out, or end up with a shadowy fog rather than distinct scenes. Or you could mix one memory up with another unintentionally; our minds link memories together by association, not in direct temporal lines. For example-- we want to see what actually happened at the Quidditch match, not a jumble of every Cannons game Ron's ever watched."

"Just for example," Ron commented, dryly.

That could be awkward, when they asked for Harry's viewpoint; he had a lot more memories to mix up than Ron and Hermione did. And he wouldn't be able to just make something up out of whole cloth; he'd seen the results of a far more experienced wizard's attempt to do so in the blatantly overwritten memory Slughorn had given Dumbledore. "I gather this is where Occlumency enters the picture," he said.

"Rather literally, in fact," Hermione replied. "It helps one organise one's thoughts, which naturally includes visualisation of memories. It's easiest for adults, of course, given that our brains don't complete the process of synaptic pruning and myelination until our twenty-fifth year--"

Ron cut her off before she could get too technical. "And what's that mean for us?"

She cleared her throat. "It means an adult's mind is more efficient. But we can still do it; Harry's proved that. It'll just take a bit more effort."

That particular bit of anatomical disadvantage would have been useful to know back when he'd first been learning, Harry thought wryly. "Excellent, Hermione," he nodded to her. "Ron? What'd Bill have to say?"

"Mostly that I must've been mistaken about what I saw; nobody in their right mind, not even Dumbledore, would store an artefact as rare as the Mirror of Erised in a classroom where just anyone could trip over it," he snorted. "And no, Hermione, I didn't tell him what it was; I just described it to him. Apparently, it's pretty well known."

"At least that means we're right about what it does," Harry said, grimacing.

"I wish I could have seen it," Hermione frowned pensively, tapping a finger against the image of the witch on the page in front of her. The witch gave her a dirty look and shifted position slightly, but Hermione was too preoccupied to notice. "I'd love to know what it would have shown me."

"That's easy: more books," Ron told her with a shudder. "Stacks and stacks of them, I'm sure. Here--" he reached into his bag and pulled out a small volume illustrated with a smart wizard in a dragonhide jacket on the cover. "Maybe you can make better sense of this than I can; I didn't even recognize half the words. I think Bill expects I'm up to something, and he's hoping to discourage me."

Hermione took it with an interested expression. "The Curse Breaker's Guide to Breaking Curses of the Mind! Excellent, Ron. I'll study it tonight and summarize the relevant parts-- this should make things much easier for us."

"If you say so," Ron shrugged. Then he turned a quizzical frown on Harry. "So what have you been up to all week, then?"

"Quidditch, mainly," Harry shrugged. "Trying to keep track of Quirrell-- though he's left the castle at least twice this week that I'm aware of. I didn't dare try to follow him off the grounds on my own. Andů" He paused, considering, then decided justification could go hang; he'd just blame it on Remus if the subject ever came up. "I found a couple of spells that might come in handy. One of them will stop people listening in on our conversations, even if we're talking in the middle of class; they'll just hear a buzzing sound instead."

Hermione's eyebrows shot up. "Oh, that will be useful. What's the incantation?"

What a difference that was from her reaction when he'd first found it in the Half-Blood Prince's book. Harry smiled crookedly at her, then spent the next half hour teaching her and Ron to cast it. Once they had the hang of it, he followed up with a rather obscure spell that he figured had to've been the basis for the identification charms on the Marauders' Map. The incantation was Nomine Revelio, and it named things. Not just people: that function had apparently been toned down for the Map. When cast in person, anything with a proper name acquired a visible, glowing label.

Hermione and Ron didn't see the point of the Naming Charm at first, but after Harry shrouded himself under his Cloak of Invisibility and proved that it still worked to identify him, they began to get the idea. It would work on someone under Polyjuice Potion; it would work on someone under disguising charms; and it would work on an Animagus, the chief attraction from Ron's point of view. More importantly to Harry, it would also work on Quirrell and his passenger, if he could only find an opportunity to cast it on the possessed teacher in public.

It had puzzled him at first, when doing research on the subject, that the Ministry didn't use some form of the charm already for security purposes; instead, all of their procedures were keyed to a wizard's wand. It was as though the magic it produced was more important than the wizard who used it: Magic is Might, already codified in their culture. That actually explained quite a bit about the ease with which the Muggleborn restrictions had been implemented under Thicknesse. There were probably magical ways to change a name, which might be why the spell was obscure-- but if there were, nobody in the Wizarding World seemed to much use them, and Harry was happy to take advantage of that oversight.

Finally, late in the afternoon after they'd demolished the basket of food, moved on to Defence practise, and collapsed in front of the empty fireplace in three dishevelled heaps of exhausted limbs, the communication mirror finally chimed to alert him its mate had been activated.

"Harry?" A muffled voice issued from his robe pocket, calling his name.

A jolt of adrenaline brought Harry upright, and he scrambled for the mirror, heart in his mouth. "Sirius?" he asked breathlessly, drawing it out of his pocket and carefully holding it in both hands.

The eyes that looked back were amber ones, however, not grey, framed by brown hair rather than ragged black. "Sorry, Harry," Remus said, shaking his head with an apologetic smile. "I should have realised you'd think of him when you saw the mirror; but no, this set was mine."

Harry flushed with embarrassment, unable to reply properly with Ron and Hermione listening in on the conversation. Bad enough he'd said Sirius' name so eagerly; he'd been reacting, not thinking, which had always been his downfall. He couldn't remember; had he told Remus his friends didn't know about the so-called dreams, yet? He'd have to warn him they were listening in, regardless.

"Ah, I suppose I was just hoping for good news; and I'd heard he and Dad had a pair of mirrors like these. Anyway, Hermione and Ron are with me, and we've been waiting to hear; how'd the trial come out? Did they send Pettigrew to Azkaban?"

A line came and went between Remus' brows, but he nodded and went with Harry's lead. "They ruled half an hour ago," he said, more melancholy than triumphant. "Guilty on all charges; they'll move him from the Ministry holding cells first thing tomorrow morning. His defence team tried to block the use of Veritaserum, claiming the only thing he'd done was run away from Sirius and hide for ten years. But they had him dead to rights on illegal Animagery, so the Wizengamot approved a short list of authorised questions-- including whether or not he'd ever willingly served the Dark Lord."

Ron, leaning over Harry's left shoulder, shuddered. "I still can't believe it. A Death Eater, sleeping on my pillow all year. I'm glad he's gone, even if it means I have Snape to thank for it."

"And the charges against Sirius...?" Harry asked, impatiently. "Have they been dropped?"

Remus winced. "Not entirely. I'm afraid the illegal Animagery charges in Peter's case have set a precedent-- they still want Sirius arrested for unlicensed transformation. And they've added obstruction of justice charges. Since he was working with a vigilante group unaffiliated with the Ministry, and went after Peter directly rather than report his crimes to the authorities...."

"But that's ridiculous!" Hermione cried. "That was ten years ago! He's been in Azkaban all that time, accused of crimes he didn't commit, and they want to send him back there?"

"I'm sure it won't come to that," Remus said; but he did look doubtful.

"Blast," Harry frowned. If he hadn't turned up at Grimmauld Place by now, or Remus', where was Sirius likely to have gone?

"Surely they'll call back the Dementors, though," Ron shivered. "Since he wasn't a murderer, after all."

"They'll begin withdrawing next week," Remus nodded. "And they've reduced the reward; that's something." He paused then, glancing at Harry's friends, a pensive frown turning down the corners of his mouth as though he was holding back another, more sensitive secret.

Harry bit his lip, then took out his wand. "Sorry, guys; I think this bit is private," he said, and cast Muffliato on both of them, ignoring their outraged exclamations.

Remus smiled faintly, but still looked rather agitated. "I'll keep it brief; I'm not even sure I should be telling you, but Harry-- they found two wands on Peter when they searched him."

"Two?" Harry's spine straightened, and his breath caught in his chest. "Was-- was one of them yew? And phoenix feather?"

Remus nodded. "I take it you recall what that means?"

"Tell me they snapped it," he said, anxiously. "Or that Dumbledore has it."

"It's been impounded by the Ministry."

"Then it's as good as in Lucius Malfoy's hands!" he cried.

"Relax, Harry," the werewolf shook his head. "Dumbledore realised the significance as well; and Fudge still favours his advice. It won't remain in the vault for long."

Harry sagged back, remembering his first sight of that wand in Voldemort's hands: casting the Cruciatus Curse on one of his Death Eaters in the graveyard after the Third Task. Before he'd restored Wormtail's arm, before his mockery of a duel with Harry-- the first thing he'd done with that wand in his new life had been to cause pain. With any luck, he would never have the chance to reconstruct a body of his own this time... but the wizarding world would still be much better off if that wand were destroyed. Wands learned from their masters, according to Ollivander; that was why they chose their own wielders, why children were encouraged to purchase new ones, and why the Elder Wand had only grown more dangerous throughout its long existence. The thought of Voldemort's wand in another Death Eater's hands was alarming; even Peter Pettigrew had been able to use it to commit murder.

"Good," he said, forcibly calming himself. "I hope you're right."

Remus nodded at him, then glanced aside, as though hearing noises on his end. "That's all the important news for now; I'll contact you again when I hear anything more about Sirius. And if you find something, there-- promise me, Harry; promise me you'll let me know."

Harry hesitated, then nodded in agreement. "I promise," he said.

The glass went dark in his hand. Then Harry glanced up the alarmed, irritated faces of his friends, and cast the countercurse for the muffling charm.

"Sorry, guys," he shrugged. "He thought I should know... Pettigrew was found with an extra wand, one he's been carrying all this time...." He let his voice trail off suggestively.

Hermione slumped and placed a hand on his arm, and Ron's scowl softened. Harry knew they would assume it must've belonged to either his mum or his dad; but he couldn't afford to tell them otherwise until they had those Occlumency instructions sorted. Merlin knew the last thing they needed was for Quirrell to look one of them in the eye and catch wind of the wand's rediscovery.

"We understand, Harry," Hermione said, then sighed and got to her feet, gathering up the books she'd left on the tables. "I suppose it's time to head for the Great Hall, regardless; and I have six inches to write for Charms. We can try out the Pensieve tomorrow."

Ron hesitated, but nodded, as his stomach put up a rumble of agreement.

"Thanks, guys," Harry said. Then he followed them out of the Room, mulling over plans to sneak out of the castle and visit a certain cave out in the Forbidden Forest.

Wormtail was on his way to Azkaban-- and Sirius was free. Step one-- nearly-- complete.


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