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Back Again, Harry?

Chapter posted June 30, 2012

Chapter Seventeen:
Gathering Momentum

If Harry's first go at the Pensieve had been a bit dull and misty around the edges, Hermione's was quite foggy, and half drained of both sound and colour. Harry felt a tiny surge of pride as he regained his footing inside the memory, but made an effort to quash it before she could pick up on it.

Really, she'd only just discovered the Mind Arts. Given how long it had taken him to learn, he had a feeling she'd outdo him handily once she had a little more practise. And he hadn't brought all that knowledge back with him just to lord it over his friends like a Malfoy; he'd come back to defeat Voldemort, and discouraging Hermione's efforts would not further that cause one bit.

Hermione stared around at the hushed roar of the Gryffindor crowd with a frustrated, intent expression. "I did test the spell a few times with a phial from my Potions kit, to make sure I wouldn't accidentally destroy an important memory, but I suppose this is the sort of magic that takes more than a few trials to perfect," she said, critically.

"Did you? Have any trouble, I mean?" Ron asked, nervously.

Harry was only half listening, watching the silvery forms coursing around in the air beyond the stands; he was having difficulty recalling the details of the game, other than the frantic moments he'd spent dangling from his Nimbus Two Thousand. The smallest high-flying shape had to be his; but Memory Harry didn't appear to be having any difficulty as yet. No, wait, they'd only entered a bit early: there he went, spinning off to the side as a much larger player-- Marcus Flint, most like-- slammed straight into him to block him from catching the Snitch.

"Just a bit, at first," Hermione said briskly, turning to frown at her own silvery self, still seated with Ron and Hagrid. "It isn't a particularly difficult process, as it uses only the simplest of Occlumency principles, and you only need maintain the state of mind for as long as it takes to retrieve the memory. But I rather underestimated the focus element-- it turns out to be a bad idea to try it with a routine event, the sort that's so ordinary your mind tends not to register the details." She grimaced.

"Well, no danger of that here," Harry said lightly, gesturing out at the swiftly moving players.

Ron snorted. "Never is around you, mate. What happened, Hermione?" he pressed.

She frowned while the misty form of Alicia Spinnet took the penalty goal for Flint's foul. "Remember what I said about associations? Let's just say that for a moment there, I wasn't sure I'd be able to remember how to brush my teeth anymore," she said, alarmingly. Then she shook it off, expression brightening. "Oh! There, it's started." She pointed across the pitch. "We need to reach Snape before I do, if we want to see who's really jinxing you."

"But how? If it's your memory...." Harry frowned. He'd been able to follow his father while investigating Snape's O.W.L. memory, but they'd been walking in the same direction, within easy shouting distance of one another. A much greater span separated this memory's Snape from Hermione.

"Oh, your senses pick up all sorts of things you don't consciously notice at much greater distances than you'd expect," she replied, hurrying away from their Gryffindor corner of the crowd toward the main staff seating area. "I remember reading that in context with hypnosis long before I came to Hogwarts; that's a process Muggles sometimes use to retrieve buried details from memories."

Harry and Ron scrambled to keep up with her as she moved, barely paying attention to her explanation. The shimmering faces around them-- some with hands clasped over their mouths, all with eyes riveted on the pitch-- did seem less detailed the further they got from Hermione's original position, but most were still recognisable. They reached Memory Snape just as his features leapt into sharper relief-- "Oh, I must've just borrowed the binoculars from Hagrid," Hermione muttered-- and watched as he repeatedly muttered some sort of spell, aiming his wand at the thrashing form of Memory Harry's broom.

They couldn't hear anything at such a distance from Hermione's original body; all they had to go on was his appearance. Snape's posture was rigid with strain; his eyes were hooded, and his knuckles were nearly bloodless with the strength of his grip. There was something very severe about the set of his jaw.

"Sorry to tell you this, mate, but I think he is cursing you," Ron said, wide-eyed and pale.

But Harry, educated by years of exposure to the Potions master's bitterness, saw more grim determination than hatred or menace there. "No, he isn't," he said, firmly. "He's definitely casting an anti-jinx." Then he turned to examine the rest of the professors and staff. "Where's Quirrell?"

"Right there," Hermione said, pointing to a seated figure a short distance away. "He doesn't look happy, either. But Harry, his lips aren't moving."

"But he does have his wand out," Harry realised, pointing to Quirrell's hand; the professor was holding it low in his lap, aiming the tip between a pair of witches seated in the front row. "And look at his eyes! He's staring even harder than Snape; he's got to be casting silently."

A few seconds later, the sound around them abruptly increased, for all the world as though someone had just turned up the volume on the Dursleys' television set, and they caught sight of the rapidly approaching form of Memory Hermione. In her haste, the young witch tripped over the Defence professor on her way to cast bluebell flames on Snape's robes, knocking Quirrell forward-- at exactly the same moment that Memory Harry's broom went still out over the pitch.

A crucial few seconds later, Snape noticed the fire and broke his line of sight, shouting in alarm. The present three all looked at each other, then stumbled back as the memory abruptly released them, sending their awareness back to the Room of Requirement.

Ron swallowed, still pale, every freckle standing out on his face. "I don't believe it," he said, shaking his head. "I mean, I knew-- I even said-- but Snape's still-- and why would Quirrell even have it in for you?"

Hermione bit her lip, looking conflicted. "Harry, we have to tell someone about this."

Harry had been expecting her to say something of the sort. His Muggleborn friend had been raised with responsible authority figures in an environment that valued logic and order, conditions neither Harry nor, on the latter point, Ron could claim. She had a tendency to let her emotions affect her judgment, but if given no compelling reason to do otherwise always wanted to shift serious problems to the care of a respected adult. And the more Harry insisted on subterfuge, the more frustrated she became each time he decided not to entrust a dangerous secret to those with the power to do something about it.

Or, more importantly from his perspective-- those with the power to do something about him. He and Ron really did need a voice of reason in their lives, Harry knew; but he could do without Firebolt reporting and drawn-out Prince arguments this time. But the solution wasn't to tell her to shut it; that had never worked out well for him before. And it would only make him furious, if he were on the receiving end of similar treatment. He might occasionally be oblivious, but he'd like to avoid committing outright hypocrisy.

"Not Dumbledore," he began, cautiously.

She glared at him. "It was all very well to investigate Snape and the Stone ourselves when we hadn't any proof, but we just saw Quirrell try to kill you, Harry. He's an adult wizard, and we're only eleven! We can't deal with this on our own."

"But we still haven't got any proof, really," Ron said, waving a hand in the direction of the Pensieve. "I told you last week. Dad says if they could have proved any of the people that said You Know Who made them do things were lying, half Malfoy's cronies would be in Azkaban, too. But there's too many ways to make people forget things, or make them remember things that never happened. And like you said, we're only eleven. Why should they believe us?"

"Besides," Harry broke in before Hermione could object again, "Dumbledore already knows something's wrong with Quirrell, and he's told Remus he's keeping an eye on him. I was only going to suggest, if we tell someone, it's someone who has reason to care more about us than the other professors."

Hermione frowned. "You mean, our Head of House," she said, then looked around at the Room. "But she's really strict. If we tell her about the Room, and the Pensieve...." She looked torn.

Harry shook his head at her. "We don't have to tell her all the details. Actually, I don't have to tell her all the details. I just have to tell her you said you'd tripped over him at the match and saw he had his wand out, and I'm worried he might try and jinx me again next week."

Her frown deepened. "And why won't I be the one telling her? It's my memory."

"Because she keeps office hours on Sunday afternoons for one on one counselling," he pointed out. "And I already have a good excuse to go to her. Don't I, Ron?"

Ron blinked, then snorted, remembering their discussion about the advice Remus had offered in one of his early letters. "Thought you weren't going to try that till fifth year, though."

"I haven't got in any new trouble lately," Harry shrugged, "and I really do want to know more about my mum." If he could get McGonagall talking first, and if she didn't have reason to think he was just seeking attention, she might actually listen. Not that it would probably matter in the end, but it would calm Hermione down to have tried, and set a precedent for future problems.

Hermione's expression softened, the frown fading into something that Harry would be tempted to call a pout on anyone else. "Oh, all right. But you'd better come back straightaway and tell us what she says," she insisted.

"'Course," he agreed easily. Then he nodded to the Pensieve again. "Any other memories you wanted to look at while we're here?"

Harry and Hermione took it in turns over the next couple of hours, retrieving memories of Quirrell collected throughout the school year and reviewing them with Ron. Harry brought up the pain that had struck him when he looked at Quirrell at the Welcoming Feast; the day he and Ron had coincidentally encountered the professor on the third floor; and the moment Quirrell had come screaming into the Great Hall about the troll and collapsed in a dead faint. Hermione showed them the moment when the professors had burst into the bathroom to find the troll already knocked out on the floor, and the day she'd run into him being chased by Fred and George's enchanted snowballs.

Every gesture took on a more ominous aspect, now they knew what to watch for. Quirrell was very, very good at feigning nervousness and lack of competence, but he didn't always remember to control his expression when he thought no one was looking. As a control factor, Harry pulled up a few of his more suspicious encounters with Snape as well, and the contrast was jarring: hateful Snape might be, but he always seemed vehemently genuine about it.

Of course, that had been the genius of his role as Dumbledore's spy, the way he used his hatred as a cloak for other things-- but Hermione and Ron didn't know that, and it would only have muddied the waters to tell them. They left the Room for lunch well convinced that Quirrell was the one to watch for, and very curious to hear the outcome of his intended meeting with McGonagall.

They weren't the only ones. It was yet another new experience for Harry, something he would have expected to be rather more rare given his situation. But he wasn't going to complain. His second life would be awfully boring otherwise, even if it was frequently nerve-wracking.

He did stop by the Tower long enough to pass the Map to the Twins-- whatever they were up to, he'd rather go ahead and give it to them than risk their mischief tracking him down later. And while he was there, he decided to write a brief letter to drop by the Owlery, as well. It had occurred to him, between reminiscing about his professor telling him to keep his head down in front of Umbridge and her turnabout, months later, when he'd caught her actively encouraging Peeves to commit sabotage, that it might be useful to know just what the legal procedures were for detecting and expelling a malevolent spirit. Surely someone working in the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes could tell him? It had been several weeks since he'd last written to his mum's old dormmate.

Even if Mary Macdonald couldn't give him any more ideas about getting Voldemort out of Quirrell, though, she should certainly know how he might tell if the Trace was still on. Some of the accidents and catastrophes her department dealt with had to be detected through the Trace's magic, rather than any other means-- take the time he'd blown up Aunt Marge. What thirteen-year-old without wizarding supervision would be responsible enough to call the Ministry on their own? He certainly hadn't done. He'd been expecting punishment, after all, not assistance, and he doubted he was the only teenager to have ever been in similar circumstances.

He was very careful how he phrased the question, mentioning the times when he'd turned his teacher's hair blue or ended up on the school roof and asking why he'd never seen a Ministry wizard on such occasions. He knew the answer was that he hadn't been tagged with the Trace yet, but the average Muggle-raised eleven-year-old wouldn't. Hopefully, the explanation would include a way to tell the difference, or even just a description of how it had been applied. It would be nice to find out now whether or not he could use magic without alerting the Ministry, rather than waiting around for Dobby's reappearance. He didn't fancy spending another month locked up without post at the Dursleys'.

He arrived outside McGonagall's office after seeing Hedwig off just in time to hear the door unlatch, inviting any student who dared to seek advice or share their concerns to step within. Harry paused, staring at it, as a momentary doubt rose up to assail him; the Deputy Headmistress had never exactly invited confidences. There was a reason the only time he'd ever been in there before was for career counselling. But before he could tie himself up in too many knots, the door swung open.

McGonagall looked down at him, a slight curl of amusement at the corner of her mouth softening her stern features and tightly-pulled back hair. Her gaze lingered briefly on the frames of his glasses, but she didn't comment on them. "What can I do for you, Mr. Potter?" she asked, crisply but not unkindly.

He swallowed, then allowed her to usher him into the office, where he took a seat across from her desk. The stiff-looking chairs she kept were more comfortable than they looked, probably due to Cushioning Charms. The decor was more of the same, severe but not unwelcoming; she kept a pot of tea steaming on her desk, and he took a cup for something to do with his hands while he scraped enough nerve back together to ask his questions. Some part of his eleven-year-old hindbrain was quivering like a mouse crouching before a cat, but he was determined not to leave without accomplishing his purpose.

Hermione would never let him forget it if he bolted now, he reminded himself, and took a deep breath. "Professor, I wanted to ask-- I mean." He faltered and started again. "I've been writing to a few of my parents' friends since Christmas," he said, awkwardly.

She nodded. "I had noticed an increase in your mail," she said. "I was pleased to see it. It is difficult to adjust to our world without such prior connections. I assume this has to do with the improvement in your schoolwork?"

Harry fidgeted with his cup. "A bit? I mean, it did help, though that's not why I came by today."

"Oh?" She arched dark eyebrows inquisitively. "Then do share your question, Mr. Potter."

"One of them, one of the ones I was writing-- he was my dad's friend. Remus Lupin?"

Her gaze sharpened on him, probably recalling the incident in the Great Hall, when he and Remus had both been present for the discovery of Peter Pettigrew. "I see," she said. "Yes; he knew him quite well. They and Sirius Black were largely inseparable for the majority of their time at Hogwarts. Though Remus was always the most studious of the three. If he has been offering you advice, I do believe he would have your best interests at heart, if you're wondering whether or not to accept it."

He shifted in his chair again. "Ah, actually," he said, trying out a weak smile. "Remus recommended coming to you or Professor Flitwick, if I wanted to learn more about my parents? I've heard plenty about Dad since I got here, but almost nothing about my mum, and I was wondering...."

McGonagall's brows drew together, though her expression softened slightly. "Ah," she said. "Yes. I suppose it's natural. Your mother was an excellent student, and much admired, but your father had many more friends; he was blessed with a naturally gregarious temperament."

She didn't say it, but Harry could guess what other reasons there might be. "And she was Muggleborn."

McGonagall pursed her lips, looking discomfited. "Actually, that was not so great a factor as you might think. She had met another future student before arriving at Hogwarts, one who was also Sorted the same year, who introduced her to many concepts about the Wizarding world. She knew what she would face here; she was simply determined to exceed all expectations." Harry's Head of House smiled a little at that, a fond but mournful curl at the corner of her mouth, then met his gaze apologetically. "I feel I must apologise for not seeing to it that you were afforded similar opportunities; I had hoped that your aunt's knowledge of our world would prove to be sufficient preparation."

Her tone reminded Harry of the studied advice she'd given him the day he figured out how to use Occlumency in Transfiguration. He was briefly tempted to tell her the truth, even just about his aunt-- but he knew it wouldn't do him any good. Like Dumbledore, McGonagall had hoped for the best, but failed to prepare for other alternatives. He couldn't be sure she'd keep his best interests in mind.

He tried to think like an eleven-year-old, shrugging carelessly. "I guess she really doesn't like magic," he said carelessly, then put on a frown. "Who was Mum's friend? Could I talk to her, too?"

The corner of McGonagall's mouth twitched again, but she shook her head. "I am afraid they had a terrible argument in fifth year, and seldom spoke afterward; he would not thank me for giving you his name, Mr. Potter. In any event, I daresay I can answer some of your questions myself; Lily was certainly one of Gryffindor House's star pupils. Her natural gifts lay more in Charms and Potions, of course, but she had a very thorough understanding of magical theory...."

She expanded on that theme from there, telling Harry about his Mum's collection of O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s, and offered a few amusing anecdotes about her duties as Head Girl. She hadn't been perfect-- there had been classes she'd disliked, and people she hadn't got along with, and Madam Pince had always been reluctant to allow her around the more valuable books. McGonagall gave Harry's bag an amused, significant glance at that. She was careful not to mention anything about Snape, or about the Order in general, but she did share that Lily Evans had meant to apprentice in Spell Creation after Hogwarts; that she'd laughed when she'd told McGonagall the Hat said she was too results-oriented for Ravenclaw; and that she'd been a very stubborn young woman. She'd believed that the Wizarding world needed change just as much as Hermione did, but she'd chosen to prove her aims with magic rather than by championing causes.

Privately, Harry was fascinated; he wondered how much further Hermione might have got with freeing the House Elves if she'd researched the magic that bound all of them to households rather than trying to trick individuals into picking up clothes. And he wished very much that his mum's notes had survived. Whether the Potters' books and papers had been destroyed when Voldemort blew up the cottage, or if the Ministry had left them to rot in their creepy idea of a monument, or if someone had given them to Aunt Petunia and she'd thrown them all out, the fact was he'd probably never know what she might have done with her life. All most wizards cared about was what her death had given them: Harry.

Harry absorbed the conversation with a curiously hungry, hollow feeling; it took him several minutes, and a refill of his teacup, to remember he'd actually come with another purpose in mind. He awkwardly dragged the conversation round to Defence, asking if it was true his mum and Dad had had a separate professor in the subject every year, and was working up to mentioning the current professor when the coals on the hearth behind her desk suddenly erupted into green flames.

"Minerva, there has been--"

McGonagall looked just as startled as Harry felt to see the bearded face of Dumbledore emerge from the Floo. "Headmaster? I'm with a student."

"Ah, Mr. Potter." Dumbledore's eyebrows lifted. His expression was bemused-- but his eyes weren't twinkling. "How expedient of you to have anticipated my message."

"Sir? What's wrong?" he asked, baffled.

Dumbledore inclined his head to him, slightly, within the flames. "I am sorry to inform you that there has been an incident at Number Four, Privet Drive."

"The Dursleys?" Harry blurted. Nothing of the sort had ever happened during the school year that he could remember, and he couldn't think what might have changed to make anyone seek him in Little Whinging before he came of age. He hadn't even seen the Dursleys since he came back, so nothing he did should have affected their household.

Or had it? Guiltily, he remembered the photo he'd sent Lupin. "What happened, Professor?"

Dumbledore looked very grave. "Your family are in perfect health; none of them were present, being variously occupied with school, employment, and shopping. But the house is not. It seems that someone got past the wards and burnt it to the ground. Magically."

McGonagall took a sharp breath. "But that isn't possible," she said, clasping her wand hand to her chest.

Unless Harry's impetuous act really had brought down the wards. Or unless the one who'd done it was neither a dark wizard, nor a dark creature. If that was true-- he swallowed.

Could that be where his godfather had gone? If Harry couldn't go back to the Dursleys, the next most secure alternative was the house at Twelve Grimmauld Place. But would Sirius really risk fresh charges just to alter Harry's living arrangements?

But what if it wasn't Sirius? What if Harry had been wrong about the importance of the wards?

"Was it Sirius Black?" he asked, heart thudding in his chest.


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