Ginny Weasley/Harry Potter
Harry Potter
The Harry Potter at Hogwarts Years
Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire
Published: 09/18/2001
Updated: 03/30/2002
Words: 425,244
Chapters: 21
Hits: 583,257

Harry Potter and the Time of Good Intentions


Story Summary:
During his fifth year, Trelawney did a Tarot reading for Harry. She told him he would have to make a choice that could "change the world as we know it." At the beginning of his sixth year, Harry chooses, and the world does change. Does it change for the better? If he wants, can Harry change it back? Or is giving Harry exactly what he wants Voldemort's ultimate revenge? The sequel to
Read Story On:

Chapter 13 - Justice

Chapter Summary:
During his fifth year, Trelawney did a Tarot reading for Harry. She told him he would have to make a choice that could "change the world as we know it." At the beginning of his sixth year, Harry chooses, and the world does change. Does it change for the better? If he wants, can Harry change it back? Or is giving Harry exactly what he wants Voldemort's ultimate revenge?

Harry Potter and the Time of Good Intentions

(or: The Last Temptation of Harry Potter)

Chapter Thirteen


Harry shook his head in disbelief, swallowing. His legs collapsed beneath him, and he found himself kneeling in the cold dirt, continuing to stare incredulously. He inched forward on his knees, approaching her cautiously.

"Mum?" he choked. "Mum?" he ventured, more softly. He was looking right down at her now. Ron followed him; he sank down onto his haunches next to Harry. He looked up at Ron and couldn't see him clearly; suddenly, it was impossible to get his eyes to focus. It was as though he didn't have his glasses on at all.

"Potter," said the indistinct red-headed blur that was Ron Weasley, putting his hand on Harry's shoulder. His voice was very soft. "I don't think--I don't think there's anything to be done."

Harry swallowed and pushed up his glasses, blinking rapidly. Ron came into focus now; the trouble was, he could see his mother, too. "I was just trying to disarm her." He still whispered. "She would have killed you..."

Ron looked very white and nodded. "You saved my life. Unfortunately..."

Harry frowned. "Saving your life was unfortunate?"

"I didn't say that." Ron straightened up. "You didn't let me finish. I was going to say, unfortunately, the Ministry doesn't care about things like that."

"Things like what?"

"Self-defense. Or in this case, defense of someone else."

Suddenly, Harry heard a voice in his head: Sam Bell's voice. Accidental or not, a person was still dead. The spell I cast was to blame. It wasn't the killing curse, but it still killed. That was all that mattered.

"But--but you could tell them. She was going to torture Draco if I didn't kill you; she was in the middle of performing the killing curse. It was just the Disarming Charm. It was just..." He trailed off, looking down at his mother, then tentatively brushing the hair out of her face; now there was a small viscous puddle of red on the cave floor, under her head. Her vivid green eyes seemed to look directly into his, but those eyes would never see again. He gently brushed his hand over her eyelids, closing them, then smoothing her hair somewhat aimlessly. His eyes ached as though he'd been rubbing them hard for days on end.

"She was just trying to--to--" but he couldn't finish. Just trying to protect me. Like I was just trying to save her life when I put Imperius on her...

He looked up at Ron. "Someone will probably be here soon. Draco will have gotten someone. Could you--could you give me a few minutes alone? With my mum?"

Ron nodded and started to go, then turned. "Potter." Harry lifted his head and looked at him. "Did you mean it? That--that if You-Know-Who told you right out that he wanted you to kill me, you'd refuse, knowing that you'd die?"

Harry gulped and nodded. "I'm not a killer. I--I never meant to hurt my mum--"

"I know," Ron whispered. "It's just that--I don't know that I would have done the same thing. I mean, all these years in school, we haven't--"


"And I just tried to--when I found out about Ginny--"

"Yes." Harry said again. He remembered when Ron was only twelve, seeing him lying on McGonagall's giant chessboard after letting he'd let himself be taken; he remembered him sprawled on the bed in the Shrieking Shack, in agony from his broken leg, telling Sirius Black, whom he thought was a Death Eater and a murderer, that if he killed Harry, he would have to kill him and Hermione too...He remembered reentering his body after Ron had put the Cruciatus Curse on him, his best friend looking down at him and saying simply, "You back?" in that tone of voice that told simultaneously told Harry, I knew you'd be okay, and You should have known all along that I'm with you. I'm your best friend, and I always will be. Ron had risked going to Azkaban for the rest of his life, if anyone had seriously believed that he'd put Cruciatus on Harry....

"You never know, Weasley," he said evenly. "In my place--you might have done the same."

Ron gave him a small half-smile, looking doubtful, then put the Invisibility Cloak back on; Harry heard him scuffling on his knees as he left the cave. He turned back to his mother. He wanted to do something, sing for her like she and Jamie had done for Stu, but his throat was too tight; he sat instead, talking to her softly as though she could hear, telling her about his life--his other life. Was she nearby? he wondered. Was she a ghost now, like his father? Or did her dying mean that she and his father could leave this world, that they could be together in their afterlife, as they were meant to be?

He didn't knew; he just kept whispering, not knowing whether she could hear him, just needing to get it out. He told her about the Dursleys, about Hagrid telling him he was a wizard, about the first time he saw her and his father in the Mirror of Erised....And then he remembered something Dumbledore had said about men wasting away for years, staring into the mirror, and about people choosing precisely what is the worst thing for themselves. But in choosing my mother and sister, he thought, how did I choose the worst thing for me? A family is supposed to be a good thing. Then another voice in his brain said, But was it the best thing for the world?

He stopped talking, looking down at her again, seeing her as others would see her: violently murdered by her own son. He thought of Sam again. I'm going to Azkaban, he thought. With the dementors. He shivered all over; No. I won't be like Sam, he thought. Sam Bell was eaten up with guilt; he capitulated without a fight. I--I feel responsible for my mother dying, but--but it's defensible. I won't just lie down and let them put me away. I'm going to fight. He brushed his hand across her brow; I have to fix things. I can't do that from prison....

He heard voices. They were coming for him. He had a sudden panicky thought. What if they break my wand? Then how will I ever change back the timelines?

He looked around; there had to be something he could do. He'd managed to hide Voldemort's wand; if his own wand were broken, hiding Voldemort's wand would have been completely pointless. He scrambled around, finding some loose stones; he tucked his wand into a long, thin space at the bottom of the cave wall and stacked stones against it and on top of it, like a small cairn, until it was hidden from sight. Then he removed his mother's wand from her grasp and put it in his pocket. In her other hand she held Ron's and Draco's wands. He took these from her and put them in his other pocket, then sat down next to her again, waiting for the tears to come. Why can't I cry? he wondered. Because, his brain told him, she was supposed to be dead all along. You mourned your mother years ago....

Someone was entering the cave, crawling on all fours, then standing up, brushing down black robes...

It was Severus Snape.

Harry wished he were dead once he saw the expression on his dad's face. "Lily!" he cried hoarsely, running to the two of them. Dumbledore entered the cave then, looking like Davy. Heedless of the blood, Harry's stepfather sank to the cave floor next to Harry and pulled her onto his lap, leaning down and kissing her cold lips, his tears falling on her pale, white skin; far, far too pale....

He looked up at Harry, his dark eyes wild. "What happened?"

Harry looked to Dumbledore; he was glad that he appeared as Davy at this moment. He was a little less formidable this way. It made it easier for Harry to choke out the terrible story. As he explained (leaving out the part about telling his mother he'd been the one to put her under Imperius), Dumbledore nodded sagely.

"I wasn't worried about the body identification, as she was," he said slowly. "I think she was being a bit overcautious there. But after you had all left the castle, I realized that she hadn't said which operative was meeting you up here.... I called all of them to find out which one, and which safe house was going to be used. I managed to reach everyone fairly quickly, and none of them said they'd heard from Lily. I thought her manner had been somewhat peculiar, so I explained to Sirius what I thought was going on and told him to call some Aurors, anyone who used to work with Lily, and tell them to get up here. I hoped that someone who had known her in the old days might be able to talk some sense into her. Then I set out from the castle and met Draco when he was about half-way back; I had him fetch your stepfather. I had hoped to be here before something happened, but when I arrived, Ron Weasley was blocking the way into the cave, wearing your Invisibility Cloak."

Harry looked to his stepfather, but he was oblivious; he had not noticed the comment about the cloak. Dumbledore continued. "Ron informed me of what occurred, but I decided to leave you alone with your mother until your stepfather arrived."

Harry swallowed. "It was an accident," he whispered. "I never meant--"

Dumbledore stopped him with a raised hand. "We know, Harry. The trouble is, the Ministry will only care that you cast the spell that resulted in her death. Now I wish I hadn't had Sirius call Aurors....We need to get you out of here. You're the one who needs a safe house now."

Harry started; would that work? Should he perhaps take his wand out of its hiding place? How could he, now that his dad and Dumbledore were here? How could he explain hiding his wand? And if he went into hiding, how would he get out to retrieve Voldemort's wand from its hiding place? It might be as bad as going to Azkaban--without the dementors.

Suddenly, he heard a commotion outside the cave; several voices, including a woman's voice, were raised anxiously. Harry heard Draco trying to stop someone from entering, and then a man's voice cried out a stunning spell and Harry heard the dull thud of a body hitting the earth.

The Longbottoms entered the cave.

Frank Longbottom immediately pointed his wand at Harry. He said, "Step away boy. This doesn't concern you." He turned and looked with contempt at Dumbledore. "Get back to the school, caretaker. We'll take over from here. Have the headmistress ready to meet us in the entrance hall when we return with the murderer she deigns to keep teaching at that school; the man who murdered his own wife, who happens to be a former Auror."

Harry's jaw dropped. Could Frank Longbottom be so dead set against Severus Snape that he could believe he would kill his own wife? And how did they get here so fast?

Harry stood, shaking with anger. "Get out of here and give us some peace for a few minutes! He didn't kill my mother! He just got here! I killed her--but it was an accident! She was trying to kill Ron Weasley, and I was trying to disarm her--"

Gemma Longbottom smirked. "That's rich. Lily Evans was trying to kill someone. Too bad you chose to name a person who's already dead...."

"But--but--" Harry sputtered. He realized now why Dumbledore had wanted to get him away; the only witness to what happened could not testify to what he had seen. He turned to Dumbledore. "Binns knows he's not dead. What's the point in keeping up the charade? We need him to say what happened."

Frank Longbottom crossed his arms and glared at Harry. "You may be a Slytherin, but you are James and Lily Potter's son, so I'll ask you again to move away from the murderer and let us do our jobs...."

"No one here is a murderer! This was an accident! When I disarmed her, she went flying back...." But Harry couldn't go on; the tears that wouldn't come before suddenly wouldn't stop flowing, and he could barely speak. "And then--and then she was so still--" He swallowed repeatedly, trying to clear his throat so he could continue, but it was impossible.

Dumbledore stepped toward Frank Longbottom and put his hand on his arm. "Surely you can give grieving family members time--"

Longbottom shook his hand off. "This doesn't concern you, old man! Get out of our way!"

Dumbledore drew himself up, no longer bent over. He put his wand to his nose, muttering, "Finite Incantatem," and he pulled half-moon spectacles from his pocket, putting them on. Longbottom barely blinked, but Harry did see him swallow as he stared at the face of Albus Dumbledore.

"This concerns me a great deal, Longbottom," Dumbledore informed him in that dangerous voice that Harry remembered. "Harry agreed to be initiated as a Death Eater to work as a spy for me, and now he has been ordered to kill Ron Weasley. I have been hiding Ron and his--that is, I have been hiding Ron since his sister disappeared in the storm, but he was seen by Professor Binns, who happens to be a Death Eater...."

Longbottom brushed this aside. "We've heard people accuse Binns before. There is no proof against him. No one has ever witnessed him doing dark magic or consorting with Death Eaters. You, on the other hand, disappeared after you resigned as headmaster, and now you admit that you conspired in a young boy's initiation as a Death Eater and that you are employing people to work for you against the Ministry--"

"No!" he cried, angrier than Harry had ever seen him. "Not against the Ministry--against Voldemort! There are too many people in the Ministry who are working for him for that to be a viable way to fight him. Harry would have had no choice but to be initiated, at any rate; better for him to be a spy than a loyal Death Eater, isn't it? Ron Weasley is still alive, isn't he?"

Gemma Longbottom raised one perfectly-arched eyebrow. "I'll believe it when I see it."

Suddenly, Ron, who must have crept back into the cave at some point, threw aside the Invisibility Cloak and said testily, "Then bloody well believe it."

Harry sagged with relief upon seeing him. He gave a small, grateful smile to Ron, but suddenly, the Longbottoms had overtaken him.

"Stupefy!" Frank Longbottom cried, while his wife caught Ron as he fell.

"What did you do that for?" Harry yelled angrily.

Gemma Longbottom looked at him. "Don't you think we'd know our son's best friend? This can't possibly be him; he would never be involved in such a thing. We need to take this person back to the Ministry and find out who took Polyjui--that is, a potion to make themselves look like him, especially as he's dead. It's likely to be his murderer; that's probably why he was killed, so that someone could assume his identity."

Harry threw up his hands. "You're barking mad! The pair of you! That really is Ron Weasley. Everything Dumbledore told you is true. You don't know what you're doing!"

Frank Longbottom put up his hand to stop Harry. His tone was utterly patronizing. "Now, now, it could very well be that you thought in all sincerity that this person was Ron Weasley, and that your mother was going to kill him. But she probably knew who it really was, if I know Lily. You shouldn't have stopped her. An Auror can take certain liberties when apprehending a dark wizard, and since it's probably Ron Weasley's murderer--"

Harry was getting more and more frustrated. "She's not an Auror any more! I mean she's--she wasn't an Auror. And that really is Ron Weasley. I did not stop her from killing a murderer. You have to listen..."

"No, you'd better listen. Accident or no, you were interfering with someone who was dealing with a Dark Wizard, and you cast a spell that resulted in someone's death. Now, as you've already confessed, there's no need for a trial--"

"Confessed?" he cried, panicked. "I haven't confessed!"

Gemma Longbottom looked at him dispassionately. "Oh, yes you did. I heard you distinctly. You said, 'I killed her--but it was an accident!' It was perfectly clear."

"But--but--" he floundered. "I haven't written anything down. Why is it that she could have killed Ron Weasley--or someone you think is impersonating him--and that would have been justifiable, but you don't think this is?"

Frank Longbottom nodded at the prone form of Ron Weasley. "Because it's a dark wizard."

"How do you know my mother wasn't dark?"

Frank and Gemma Longbottom both laughed. "Lily Evans?" he said. "Surely you're joking."

Harry shook his head, his face dead serious. "Not about this. Suppose, just suppose, that that really is Ron Weasley, and that my mother was killing him as Voldemort had ordered me to do so I wouldn't have to. Would what I did be considered justifiable then?"

Gemma shrugged. "I suppose it would probably be left up to a jury."

Harry glared at them defiantly. "Then that's what I want. I want a trial. With a jury. Let them decide."

Frank made a face. "When someone has already confessed, to waste the Ministry's time with a trial...."

"If the jury doesn't think it was justified, I'll go to prison, won't I? And it will be just the same as if I had confessed. Right?"

They nodded, unhappy about this, and Harry turned to his dad, who was on his knees again, holding his wife. Harry sank down onto his haunches and put his hand on his shoulder. "I'm so sorry, dad, but I just couldn't let her--I mean, she was about to--"

His dad nodded miserably. "I know Harry. I just wish--I wish I'd never told her--" His voice cracked.

"Never told her what?" Harry whispered.

His stepfather lifted dark, tortured eyes to him. "Never told her to promise you to the Dark Lord. If I hadn't--"

Harry squeezed his shoulder. "It's not your fault. It's not. Trust me." He looked down at his mother's face again. "And just as you two were getting back together..." he added softly.

"No," Severus Snape said, shaking his head. "We were comforting each other. We'd lost a son. It's not the same as getting back together. Something was--something was just missing. We had some good years, but lately--we were just spinning our wheels, trying to get them back, and failing...." He was quiet for a long moment. "Harry--I know you did what you had to. I'll be by your side through all this. You know that, don't you?"

Harry looked at him in amazement. He was kneeling here, silent tears running down his face, holding his wife's cold body, telling the person responsible for her death that he was going to be by his side....

Now Harry thought he was going to break down completely, but he sniffled and blinked, swallowed painfully. "Dad--you don't have to--"

"Yes," he interrupted, his voice more forceful. "I do." Harry looked in his eyes, saw the pain there, but also a kind of pride. Was he proud of Harry? "You're really your father's son," he whispered to him, then turned back to his wife. Was that it? Harry thought. He was remembering a sixteen-year-old James Potter saving the boyfriend of the girl he loved from two of his best friends, when Snape was someone about whom others--like Sirius Black--would merely say, "Good riddance." As far as anyone else knew, Harry and Ron were sworn enemies. No one except Voldemort had any way of knowing that they were best friends in another life....

"I'm also the product of the man who raised me," he said to his stepfather softly. The grieving man raised dark, haunted eyes to Harry and nodded in acknowledgment. The one really lucky thing that happened to me in this life, he thought, was having you for a dad.

Harry stood and walked toward the Longbottoms, so his dad could have some privacy again. "Can't you do whatever you're going to do to him right here?" he asked them quietly, pointing at the stunned Ron. "Then you'll see straightaway that he's really Ron Weasley." They looked disgruntled, but agreed. Harry looked to Dumbledore, abashed. "I'm sorry, sir. I've really made a mess of everything...."

Dumbledore shook his head. "We'll fight this Harry. But--we will have to protect your sister and brother, if it's to be public knowledge that Ron Weasley is alive." Harry nodded. He looked toward the Longbottoms, wondering what they'd seen, how they'd become so hard. It can't have been easy for them, he realized. They probably had to deal with real Death Eaters so much that everyone immediately became suspect. They'd even accused Dumbledore of being up to something. He wondered how many Aurors wound up in St. Mungo's without benefit of having their brains fried by torture, just because they'd become completely paranoid.

"I know she was your friend, once," he said to them softly now. "Do you want to--" He nodded at his mother. His stepfather looked at Harry in surprise, then reluctantly stepped away from her and let them approach. "Can I revive Ron?" Harry asked them tentatively. When he had received permission, he used his mother's wand for this. Ron blinked and sat up and Harry picked up the Invisibility Cloak next to him, whispering, "You won't need this any more." He put it in his pocket; the Longbottoms had been too preoccupied to notice it after Ron had revealed himself. "And I believe this is yours," he said, removing Ron's wand from his pocket and handing it to him. The Longbottoms didn't see or hear any of this exchange; they were looking at his mother.

Ron nodded, taking the wand, and Harry helped him stand. "What did they do that for?" he said, rubbing the back of his head and giving an annoyed look to the Longbottoms. "I've been in their house countless times, Neville's been to my house, they know my parents, and the moment they see I'm alive they stun me?"

"They thought you might be someone who'd taken a potion to impersonate you," Harry explained to him softly, but even as he said the words, he had to try very hard not to laugh; it sounded ridiculous.

Frank Longbottom made everyone leave the cave but Ron. His wife kept her wand trained on Harry outside the cave while he performed the spell on Ron that would reveal his true form, if he was someone who had taken Polyjuice Potion (Harry recalled that Gemma Longbottom stopped herself from saying the potion name). When they emerged from the cave, Ron was smiling with relief, but Mr. Longbottom didn't look very happy; he'd clearly wanted to be proven right. Ron nodded at Harry and Harry nodded back. That was one of them off the hook, anyway.

They made a strange procession, going back to the castle. Dumbledore was disguised as Davy once more, Harry gave Draco his wand back once he had been revived (he'd been stunned before the Longbottoms entered the cave), his dad and Dumbledore levitated his mother's body, and the Longbottoms kept their wands trained on Harry, Ron and Draco, who walked ahead, looking nervously at each other. Harry still wasn't sure that the Longbottoms were completely convinced about Ron, and they seemed to think something was up with Draco as well. Harry and Draco had never been very fond of Neville in this life, but Ron was very perplexed at his best friend's parents not trusting him.

When they reached the entrance hall, unfortunately, it was time for the evening meal, and as a result, it was swarming with students who immediately spotted Lily Evans' body and started screaming; the Longbottoms were also recognized, but if Aurors were here and Professor Evans was dead, that must mean that one of the other people was to blame. Harry saw people looking suspiciously at him, Draco, his dad and the caretaker. Then it finally dawned on someone that Ron was there, too.

"Look! It's Ron Weasley! He didn't die in the blizzard!"

A ripple of excitement moved through the crowd, and suddenly, Cho Chang pushed her way through, screaming, "Let me past! I'm the Head Girl!" When she finally reached Ron, she threw her arms around him, weeping uncontrollably, and Ron took her in his arms somewhat sheepishly.

Professor McGonagall followed soon after, and Harry thought he had never seen her look so astonished; her lips became very thin indeed as she pulled her mouth into a line and her eyes went wide upon seeing Ron and Harry's mother's body. Her eyes went even wider when the Longbottoms explained to her that they were taking Harry into custody, and that he would be tried for his mother's murder. Harry couldn't look at her. The entrance hall was so quiet now you could hear a pin drop. When Minerva McGonagall was disappointed in you...well, you didn't want to see that expression on her face, ever.

Harry saw through the open front door that the Aurors had already summoned a purple carriage from the Ministry; it looked to Harry like the sort of vehicle they'd used to take Remus Lupin away. If he was going to have a jury trial, if he was to have a chance to prove his innocence, this was how it had to be. There was to be no dilly-dallying; as he was leaving, the Longbottoms standing with their wands trained on him suspiciously, Ron extended his hand (having extricated himself from Cho).

"I'll be there to testify, Potter," he said firmly. Harry nodded at him gratefully. Next, Harry looked at Draco, whose eyes were shining with tears.

"Dammit, Harry," he said, sounding more irritated with himself than Harry for getting so emotional, then gave him a brief, gruff hug, before turning away.

Finally, his dad looked down at him sadly, and the fatherly hug he gave Harry went to his heart as nothing else had. We'll get through this, Harry thought. And then I'll fix it so you won't have to remember losing a wife or a son....

Harry felt the eyes of every student in the school on him as he followed the Longbottoms out the door. Young black-robed witches and wizards stood on the marble stairs leading down into the entrance hall; they hung over the balcony rails and banisters one and two stories up. Everywhere he looked, he saw faces staring down at him in awe, watching Harry Potter being arrested for murder. And then he saw them.

His brother and sister leaned over the railing half-way up the marble stairs. Harry swallowed, gazing at them. I'm sorry, he mouthed silently. Jamie was crying; she put her arm around Simon's shoulder, and he leaned against her, dry eyed, but looking permanently mournful (ever since his twin had died). Harry couldn't bear the expressions on their faces any more and he turned away from them, his heart aching.

He turned his wand (really his mother's wand) over to Gemma Longbottom, and his dad, Draco and Ron trailed him out the front door. Just before he followed the Aurors down the front steps of the castle, he surreptitiously pulled the Invisibility Cloak out of his pocket and stuffed it into Draco's hands. "Keep it safe," he whispered, and Draco's eyes went wide; he'd never imagined having such a thing for his own use. Harry tried to smile at him but he couldn't quite get his face to contort in that way. He walked down the castle steps.

Frank Longbottom opened the back door of the wagon and put his hand on Harry's upper arm, "helping" him step in, but it really amounted almost to throwing him in. Harry's back was immediately sucked against the wall, and he found that he couldn't move; it obviously a spell designed to keep prisoners from being able to freely move around the back of the wagon. He thought about Remus Lupin being sucked into the interior of the wagon when the Longbottoms had come to take him to the werewolf camp. He hadn't known, at the time....

The last thing he saw before the door closed was his dad, nodding at him, but also looking grim. With the door closed, there was no light at all in the wagon. Harry sat in inky darkness, and wrapped his hand around the basilisk amulet on his chest for comfort. The vehicle rocked as it moved forward, but after just a few yards, there was a sudden loud popping! noise, and he suspected that they were no longer at Hogwarts. Harry was now in the custody of the Ministry of Magic.

He was going to be tried for the murder of Lily Evans.

* * * * *

"Potter!" came the gruff voice for the second time within only about a half-hour. That was unusual; the meager meal had been served about fifteen minutes earlier, magicked through the solid wood, windowless cell door. Harry had merely picked at it. It was a thin gruel with a mealy texture, accompanied by coarse, stale bread that his aunt would have thrown away. (Harry used to steal the old bread to feed Hedwig when she was forbidden to fly outdoors and hunt for her own food.) He had a tin mug of tepid water for a beverage, and this he had drunk quickly, feeling parched, before dipping his wooden spoon into the gruel and forcing down a couple of mouthfuls. The guard limped down the corridor between the mostly-empty holding cells, a dementor by his side. As the tall, thin creature approached, Harry felt the now-familiar sickening coldness creep over his mind and body. He shook violently, trying to keep his head clear, but it was very difficult. Little by little, the dementors were already sucking all the joy he'd ever felt--in either life--out of his mind, leaving him a twitching, paranoid shell of his former self. He sometimes managed to distract himself by exercising, doing mindless repetitions of push-ups and sit-ups and, for variety, running in place, but sometimes he simply fingered the basilisk amulet under his shirt to feel better; it was one of the only things that brought him any small peace of mind, any comfort, in this comfortless place.

"Ye 'ave a visitor," the guard snarled. He was an old man of indiscriminate age--anywhere from sixty to a hundred and twenty years old--with long white hair, deep fissures running down his face, robes that looked as though they hadn't been washed during the twentieth century, and a limp. He looked more weather-beaten even than the Mad-Eye Moody from Harry's old life. The guard seemed to feel no discomfort from the dementors at all. Then again, Harry had thought more than once, perhaps he'd never had any joy to lose....

Clutching the amulet as if for dear life, Harry backed against the rear wall of his cell when the door was opened, so he was as far as possible from the dementor. He was relieved to see that his visitor was Dumbledore, his Davy-disguise still intact. Harry had been afraid that it was going to be another Ministry employee with an automatic quill, itching to take down his confession and avert a trial. He'd already received visits from three such people, the last one a very pretty strawberry-blonde witch who was only about nineteen, wearing a rather tight robe. Harry recognized her as having recently finished her schooling at Hogwarts (he seemed to remember her being in either Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff). Harry didn't have to guess why she'd been sent.

After the guard locked them in together, Dumbledore nodded at Harry and sat on the small stool in the middle of the stone-walled room. Harry moved to sit on the edge of his narrow bed (which he suspected had fleas living in it) and lifted haunted eyes to the old man, who looked shaken at seeing Harry like this.

"How are you, Harry?" he asked quietly. His blue eyes looked dull and did not twinkle at all.

Harry sighed. "Tired of waiting. When's the trial?"

"That is why I am here to see you. It's to be next Thursday. Then they'll keep the jury overnight and get the verdict on Friday."

"What's today?" Harry had already lost track of time; the walls were as windowless as the door, and he couldn't hear the outside world at all, either. He assumed that he was far underground in London, somewhere in one of the abandoned tube stations that made up the Ministry of Magic. He'd heard a man being dragged past his cell on the day he had arrived, being taken to his trial. We must be close to the portal to the courtroom, he thought, remembering the echoing underground chamber with the serried rows of seats, lit only by flaming torches. The only light came from a single flickering magical candle high up on the wall, which never went out. He'd tried asking for it to be extinguished when he wanted to sleep, to no avail.

"Today is Friday the twenty-eighth of February."

"And the trial isn't to be until next Thursday? That's almost another week! Why so long?"

"They're waiting for the Inquisitor to return. He's on a trip."

"Can't they get some other Inquisitor to do it?"

Dumbledore heaved a great sigh. "This is some other Inquisitor. It's to be the Minister of Magic himself, Barty Crouch. He has insisted. If it were going to be Fudge or Bean, you could have been tried as early as yesterday or the day before. But Crouch--"

Harry shook his head. "No! He just wants to get on a soapbox! He wants to shore up his sagging support and keep his power!"

Dumbledore nodded. "I don't disagree with your assessment, Harry, but we have no choice in this. The Minister is meeting with ambassadors in our embassies in Brussels and Luxembourg, and after that he is scheduled to move on to Vienna and the USSR." Which shouldn't still exist, Harry thought, remembering the newspaper he'd gotten at Maggie's and Bernard's flat. "Your trial will commence almost the instant he's back on British soil, but although he has insisted on being the Inquisitor, he could not be persuaded to cut his trip short."

Harry paced, running his hand through his hair. He had what looked like a permanent dark shadow on his face because he used his Animagus powers everyday to shorten his beard, but he didn't do it all the way, so there was always just a little growth protruding from the follicles. He'd taken to changing into a golden griffin to sleep and also for a number of hours during the day, keeping an ear out for when someone was approaching so he could quickly change back. He'd found, as Sirius had in his other life, that it was just a little easier to withstand the dementors when in the form of an animal, whose minds were not as easy for the dementors to prey upon. Perhaps it helps even more that a griffin is a magical creature, he thought. When he wasn't a griffin, or exercising, he tried to hold onto the amulet as much as possible.

"Barty Crouch," Harry muttered while he paced. He remembered the way he'd reminded Harry so forcefully of a bank president when he'd been dressed in Muggle clothes for the Quidditch World Cup, the one flaw being that bank presidents didn't show up in the middle of nowhere in their nicest suits. Crouch seemed to have overlooked that. Why was he so insistent on being the Inquisitor for Harry's case? The Minister didn't usually do that. Harry also remembered seeing Crouch send his own son to Azkaban. What would he do to Harry?

"Harry, please sit. We need to discuss a number of things, but I can't really talk to you about them."

Harry sat on the lumpy mattress again. "What?" He furrowed his brow. Dumbledore drew the stool closer and took a piece of parchment and a self-inking quill out of his robe pocket. He wrote something on the parchment and then handed it to Harry with the quill.

I have charmed this parchment, he wrote, so that only you and I can write on it or see what is written on it. I suspect that someone is listening to us. There are things we must discuss without others hearing.

Harry read it and nodded. He had an idea what sort of things Dumbledore was talking about.

How's Ginny? he wrote. And the baby?

Dumbledore read this and sighed, then picked up the quill to write a reply.

That is one of the things I must tell you. Ginny is not going to have a child. She never was. From the time she went into hiding, she had virtually stopped eating. She did try to eat, but could not keep food in her stomach. She was sick with anxiety and also nervous about possibly being with child, after Madam Pomfrey told her that the potion she wanted was illegal. When women don't eat properly, they don't have regular cycles. And she was tired because she wasn't eating, not because she was with child. It was an understandable mistake. She wasn't in the best of health, and because she was worried about it, she mistook her health problems for a pregnancy. We've got her eating properly again. It is quite certain that she is not going to have a child, nor ever was.

Harry remembered how painfully thin she'd been when he was holding her hips while they made love, how he'd thought he could probably count her ribs...he suspected that she hadn't been eating enough even before she'd gone into hiding. Probably from anxiety. Oddly, after so much fretting about her health and the baby's health, he didn't feel relief about her not having a baby, even though he had previously been feeling an enormous amount of guilt for being responsible for putting her through all of the pain and discomfort of a pregnancy, and eventually, a birth. Instead, he now felt an emptiness in his chest, an intolerable feeling of loss, as though yet another person had died. Yet the baby had never been....

Then he realized that the mess he was in was all for nothing. There was never a baby. Ron had accosted him in that classroom all for nothing! And if he hadn't done that, Binns wouldn't have seen him, and his mother would still be alive....

Harry felt an overwhelming anger surge through him, and he punched his mattress in frustration, over and over and over again. Dumbledore watched him, face passive, as Harry cursed and punched, feeling no obligation whatsoever to restrain himself just because Dumbledore was here. After all, he was no longer the headmaster....

It was all for nothing!

Harry finally stopped, trying to steady his breath again, staring down at his shaking hands. He'd discovered that the dementors' proximity tended to churn up his emotions, even though they weren't in the same room. Sometimes they sent him spiraling down into depression, reliving his parents' murders from his old life, or Dudley's funeral, or Simon's, and he also had relived, dozens of times over, putting the Disarming Charm on his mother, seeing her fly backwards....

At other times he felt an irrational anger grip him, and he punched and kicked whatever he could get his hands on in the tiny cell, screaming in fury until his throat wouldn't produce any more noise, feeling like there was no one left on earth who could possibly hear him. Then he would sink to the floor, exhausted, and eventually, transfigure himself into a griffin and curl up in the corner to sleep, letting his own inner purring motor lull him, feeling far more comfortable on the stone floor in his Animagus form than when he'd tried sleeping on the lumpy, infested mattress in his human body. And in his Animagus form, he was less prone to the dreams, the same dreams he'd had the night before Dudley's funeral....

His breathing still somewhat labored, he took the parchment and quill from Dumbledore again. He shook as he wrote.

How are Jamie and Simon and my dad?

Dumbledore responded:

Jamie and Simon are in Dunoon right now, along with your stepfather. Your mother's funeral was this morning. Soon they will be hiding with Ginny. Their teachers and classmates have been told that they will be visiting their great-uncle in Dunoon for at least a month, in light of their brother's and mother's deaths. They will actually only stay there until tomorrow. Then we will smuggle them back into the castle, so they can hide.

Harry swallowed.

They had the funeral already?

Dumbledore nodded sadly.

I just came from your great-uncle's. I am truly sorry, Harry.

Harry felt like punching something and yelling some more, but he was all done in from his earlier fit. He'd missed his mother's funeral. Well, he realized, no one mourning her would want to see me, would they? He thought about Jamie; her mother had died on her fifteenth birthday. Oh, god, Jamie, I am so sorry....

Harry took the parchment from Dumbledore again.

What about Ron?

Dumbledore replied:

Ron Weasley is back in Gryffindor Tower, but he will be coming to the Ministry to testify on your behalf next Thursday. He has told a story about wandering all the way through the forest to a Muggle town and being taken in by people there during the storm; he said they were so concerned over him, it was difficult for him to get away to return to Hogwarts, and he had no way to send an owl or any other communication. He said he was in a Muggle hospital. I gave him some details and names of places on the other side of the forest that lend credence to his story. No one is questioning it. Charlie is also safe. No one has contacted your stepfather to demand that he kill Charlie. The wizarding world is understandably distracted by the fact that you are going to be tried for your mother's murder.

Harry nodded, reading this. The other oddly comforting thing about being held at the Ministry was that no one was coming to him and demanding that he kill someone; he couldn't very well do that while locked in a cell with a guard and several dementors blocking his way to the outside world, not to mention the maze-like corridors he'd had to negotiate to reach his current abode. He'd tried to remember the twists and turns on the way in, but when he turned to look behind him as he walked, he discovered that a doorway through which he'd just come had mysteriously disappeared. The corridors seemed to spontaneously mutate while one was walking through them. He knew that that was just one of the reasons why escape from here would have been impossible.

Harry handed the parchment back to Dumbledore; he had nothing to add. But Dumbledore took it from him and started scratching away with the quill once more, looking very earnest. He wrote quite a lot, then handed it back to Harry, looking very grim.

I came here today to talk to you about your decision to be tried for your mother's murder. I know you wish to have the full story known and to be vindicated, but I am worried about the ramifications of that. If all were known, you would have to implicate your stepfather either as a Death Eater or a spy, neither of which is desirable. You will need to reveal that you are not really a loyal Death Eater also. The fact that you saw some of my operatives at the Death Eater meeting could come up--and remember, two of them are Weasleys. Details of your relationship with Ginny may become public knowledge as well, which would be embarrassing for you both in the extreme. There is nothing good about this. Too much that we have built and worked for will be jeopardized by this trial. I must ask you to reconsider and let me help you to escape.

Harry read this and frowned, then took the quill back and wrote:

I won't tell about Dad or the others. I'll leave them out of it. I can work around some of these issues, but if I run, I'll look guilty. And I have something very important I must do once I'm cleared, which will be virtually impossible if I'm trying to keep one step ahead of the Ministry. I won't reveal anything that will hurt anyone, don't worry. It will be fine.

Dumbledore read this and looked more irritated than Harry had ever seen him. He scribbled so quickly with the quill that Harry had a very difficult time reading what he'd written.

This isn't just about you! There is more at stake here. Even without meaning to, you could put all of the operatives at risk.

Harry responded:

I've put them at risk? You're the one who told the Longbottoms about who you really are, and about the operatives.

Dumbledore took the parchment back.

I have taken care of that with a highly-selective memory charm. They will still remember most of what they saw and heard in the cave, so they will not be likely to suspect any missing memories. If you tell your story in court, what I have done will have been for nought. It may sound impossible, but I can help you escape.

Harry shook his head, reading this. He was tired of having a conversation in writing. "What are you going to do if I don't agree; kidnap me? You don't understand," he said. "There's something I must do..."

He paced again, grasping the amulet. He leaned against the wall, closing his eyes, seeing Ginny; she was sitting near a fire, alone, reading a book, then putting it down and gazing into the flames, her eyes unspeakably sad....Perhaps she'd also been just a little disappointed to learn the truth about the child, Harry thought. Or rather, the fact that there wasn't a child. But now that he had resolved to do whatever was necessary to fix the timelines, he was glad that there was one less thing to occupy his mind....

He turned to Dumbledore, still holding the small silver-colored basilisk. "Have you ever used a Time Turner?"

The old man looked at him shrewdly. "Once, a long time ago...but if you ask me in front of anyone, I'll deny it. And if you have used a Time Turner, you'd better deny it too, as they've been illegal for the last thirteen years."

Harry nodded, pacing again, feeling like the wheels in his mind were spinning too fast for the words to get out of his mouth quickly enough. "I'll bet Voldemort told Barty Crouch, Jr. to tell his dad to do that....I'll bet...." he muttered as he moved, still holding the amulet in his fist. That way, one possible method for Harry to fix things would be cut off (if it actually were possibly to go that far into the past using a Time-Turner). He wondered whether Voldemort had told the younger Crouch about the changed timelines. Was that why the Minister of Magic himself had declared that he was going to be the Inquisitor on Harry's case? Had his Death Eater son suggested it, prodded by Voldemort?

Harry turned to face the former headmaster of Hogwarts. "When you used the Time Turner, what did you do?"

Dumbledore looked away from him. "I'd prefer not to discuss it. I only went back two hours in time, and it was all for nought...." Then he looked at the troubled young man before him as though seeing him for the first time, and narrowed his eyes. "Harry--what did you do?" he breathed.

Harry swallowed and sat on the bed again. "I--I used to be an orphan....." He told Dumbledore about his father being killed, then his mother begging for Voldemort to kill her instead of Harry, and then Voldemort trying to kill him and failing because his mother's love, her sacrifice, protected him somehow. He described how the curse had rebounded onto him, not killing him, but reducing him to a mere shadow of his former self, with no real body. "He could possess others' bodies, but only for a while. It tended to kill them. So he fell from power and disappeared from the wizarding world, and I became famous for being the Boy Who Lived. But you," he pointed at the old man, "took me to live with my aunt and uncle, my mother's sister and husband, and my cousin, and I grew up in the Muggle world and didn't know I was famous, or even a wizard, until Hagrid came to bring me my Hogwarts letter when I was eleven."

Dumbledore didn't say a word, but he was looking at Harry through blue eyes that had more life in them now; Harry could see the spark of interest there, and he plunged on with his story. "Then, at the end of my fourth year, Voldemort managed to get his body back. He started to gather his Death Eaters around him once more, and he tried to do again what he'd been doing when I was a baby: he tried to recruit me. He did it through Lucius and Draco Malfoy. But Draco turned on his father and managed to get him put into Azkaban. In that life, Draco and I always used to hate each other. Actually, we didn't exactly get along famously even after his dad went to prison, but it was better than it had been...."

Harry paused, breathing heavily; he was speaking so rapidly that he was in danger of choking from not being able to process air properly. He took a breath and continued. "Last September, when I was supposed to be getting the Hogwarts Express to school, Voldemort came to talk to me at the station. Then he threw a Portkey to me which took me to Godric's Hollow. He told me about my mum being pregnant when she was killed and told me about a spell we could do together to bring back my mother and sister. Well, not exactly bring them back--it was a spell to go back in time, to when they were both still alive. We did it; we went back to the night my parents were killed, and I heard my father die...Then I saw Voldemort about to kill my mum, and I couldn't take it. I put her under Imperius and told her to do whatever was necessary to save both of us. She promised me to Voldemort and he put an Obedience Charm on me. Then I blacked out for a while. When I came to, I was in my room at Hog's End, and I soon realized that I'd lived a different life for the last fifteen years. I still remember my old life, though sometimes it's a bit of a muddle. Sometimes things from this life are what's a muddle; I think the human mind wasn't meant to remember more than one life at a time...."

Harry stopped, breathless. He looked uncertainly at Dumbledore, who was staring down at his hands. Slowly, he lifted his eyes to Harry's. "What exactly are you saying, Harry?"

"I'm saying--I'm saying that I need to fix this. It's all wrong. I need to get back to that night again--"

But Dumbledore was shaking his head. "Harry--"

"You don't believe me, do you?" Harry cried hysterically.

The old man shook his head. "That's not it, Harry. Actually, what you have said makes a great deal of sense. Some of your behavior since September could only be explained by such a story. However, you are mistaken in your belief that you should change things back to the way they were."

Harry frowned. "Are you mad? Do you like this world? You quit as headmaster because they stopped letting Muggle-born students attend the school. You know how riddled with Death Eaters the Ministry is. And don't even get me started on the differences in the Muggle world....I can't not do this. It's the right thing to do."

But Dumbledore was still shaking his head. "And who are you to decide that, Harry? Would you feel the same if your mother hadn't died? She was why you did what you did, correct? What makes this world any less valid a reality than the other life you knew? This has been the world for the rest of us for over fifteen years; we have known no other. Think of the lives you'll be snuffing out, to change such a thing...."

"Think of the lives it'll save!" Harry shouted at him, getting more and more frustrated.

"Harry, Harry," Dumbledore muttered sadly. "I've traveled back in time. It's not something to trifle with. You could find yourself in a situation far worse than even your current predicament if everything does not go as you wish....Perhaps even if you restore the other timeline, since Voldemort is gathering strength again, as you say, you may find that people you care about are dead or have turned against you...You could even be dead...."

"I don't care! This--" he waved his arms around him "--was never meant to be. My own father's ghost told me I should fix it all. Who are you to tell me I shouldn't?"

"Well, Harry," he said softly. "I assume you told me all this because you wanted some sort of stamp of approval. But I'm afraid I can't give you that. I don't agree with the idea of changing timelines--"

"They've already been bloody changed!" Harry bellowed. "And you're not responsible for creating a world which is completely and utterly buggered up!"

Suddenly the door burst open; the guard stood there, flanked by dementors. Harry sank to his knees, his head in his hands, cold slicing through his body, screams filling his brain, despair taking over....

"What in bloomin' 'ell is all this noise?" the guard demanded. Harry struggled to raise his eyes, but he only got as far as the guard's knees. He saw Dumbledore's legs too; the old man stood, and Harry thought he heard him tucking the parchment and quill into his robe pocket.

"I'm afraid I had some distressing news for Harry and I've upset him. I should go now. And--it will probably help to keep those things away from him." Harry assumed that he meant the dementors. He addressed the top of Harry's head now. "I will take my leave now, Harry. I believe that your stepfather spoke of coming to visit you this Sunday. Please remember our talk. I will probably not see you again until the trial. Goodbye."

Why did I think it would do any good to tell him? Harry thought, angrier with himself more than Dumbledore. I knew what he would say; I knew he wouldn't approve....

Harry watched his feet move toward the door; when it was closed and locked securely again, he closed his eyes and felt the change ripple through his body. Once he'd made the transition to a golden griffin, the cold from the dementors started to leave him, and his mind gradually grew peaceful again. He washed his tawny coat a little with his rough, sandpapery tongue. Then, his own purring motor calming the turmoil in his mind, he curled up in a corner of his cell to sleep.

* * * * *

"Get up, you," the guard snarled, kicking Harry's leg. It felt like he was wearing steel-toed boots. Harry lay curled in the corner of his cell, having had only moments to revert to his human form when he heard the guard at the door. "Bed not good enough for ye?"

"Infested," Harry said shortly, scratching behind his ear; he wasn't completely certain some of the vermin hadn't migrated to him anyway, even though he'd been keeping as far as possible from the mattress in the small room. "Am I to be allowed to wash myself before my trial?" He hadn't had a shower since he'd been taken into custody, and even he could tell that he'd gotten quite ripe.

"It's washing ye want now, is it? First ye're too good for the bed, now ye want to wash. All right, here: Fluvius!"

An arc of water rushed suddenly and violently from the tip of the wand he pointed at Harry, soaking him; it was like being hosed down, as though he were an animal in the zoo. Harry spluttered, choking on some water that had gotten into his mouth. He fell to his knees, gasping.

"Finite Incantatem!" The water stopped. "There ye go. A loverly shower. Have I made yer day?" he chuckled. Harry noticed that when the dementors weren't around, the guard actually smiled and laughed, although it was always at Harry's expense. Harry glared at him.

"I don't think they want me dripping wet when I'm on trial. Do you have a towel?"

"Here," he said roughly, throwing Harry the course blanket from the bed, which he suspected had as many organisms living in it as the mattress. Harry dropped it distastefully.

"Oh," the guard said in an alarmingly cheerful voice. "I almost forgot: special breakfast today. Ever' one goin' on trial gets a nice big breakfast beforehan'. You know; somethin' to remember when yer in Azkaban...."

Harry swallowed as a tray heaped with a generous breakfast came floating into the room, summoned by the guard. He had his own small pot of tea, plus pumpkin and orange juice, a rack of toast, poached eggs, sausages and kippers, and even a bowl of porridge with a small dish of currants on the side that he could add to it if he wished. For his toast he had butter, marmalade and blackberry jam. For the tea he had cream and small, perfect white sugar cubes. should he wish that, lemon and honey if he preferred that. Or he could opt to use the honey on the toast, or in the porridge. He had gone abruptly from famine to feast.

Here was only a tiny amount of the food that appeared on the tables in the Great Hall every day of his life since starting at Hogwarts--in both lives--and yet, even though he hadn't had a decent meal since being thrust into this cell a week-and-a-half earlier, he had absolutely no appetite, and in fact, the presence of the tray of food was threatening to make him spew the meager contents of his poor, shrunken stomach.

Harry put his hand over his mouth, feeling his gorge rise. "Please go," he managed to mumble through his hand, feeling a prickling all over his scalp. The guard left the food and departed with a shrug. Harry sat in his corner again, still in human form, his knees drawn up to his chest, his arms wrapped around his legs. His hair dripped onto his legs. Oh, god, he thought. I'm going to go into court bedraggled, no comb for my hair, no proper shave, soaking wet and still smelling anyway. They just want me to appear as disreputable as possible....

Harry blinked back tears that were threatening to send him into court with a red nose and bloodshot eyes as well. What if I'm found guilty? he wondered. How soon will I be able to fix the timelines then? Will it be ten years, like Sam?

He sat in the corner for what seemed a long time, gradually watching the rising steam dissipate from the teapot and porridge and meat and fish as the food cooled. Finally, he pushed his damp hair from his brow and felt his robes; they were drier than they had been. He tentatively picked up a kipper and started eating it; his stomach had settled, he decided. He ate his now-cold breakfast, leaving the jam and marmalade, favoring butter on his toast, which he also topped with cold poached eggs.

As he chewed, he went over his testimony in his head again. His dad had visited him on Sunday, with another enchanted parchment, and they had written out his trial strategy in great detail, every aspect of what Harry could say and what he shouldn't say all worked out--as long as Crouch didn't catch him in a lie or trick him into saying something he'd had no intention of revealing. Harry hoped the preparation would be for something, that Crouch would ask the predictable questions Harry expected him to ask. He almost wished for Cornelius Fudge to be Minister of Magic; Fudge was about as original and clever as a shepherd's pie with nothing under the mashed potatoes.

Barty Crouch, Sr., on the other hand, had concocted a fiendishly-clever plan to break his own son out of prison, substituting his dying wife for the young man and then concealing his son in his house for years before Barty Crouch, Jr. managed to overcome the Imperius Curse his father had placed on him....And Crouch, Jr., was no slouch in the brains department either, having spent the better part of a year impersonating a well-known and very unique Auror and outsmarting the Goblet of Fire so that Harry would be the fourth Triwizard Champion. He'd been in Ravenclaw, Harry remembered, and he'd been a prefect. He wondered whether his father, the Minister of Magic himself, had also been a prefect in Ravenclaw. He'd probably been Head Boy, too, Harry thought. He thought again of Bill and Percy Weasley, both former Head Boys. He mustn't mention their names in the trial, either as Death Eaters (which they were just pretending to be) nor spies for Dumbledore (which they really were). He couldn't jeopardize their lives and their work. This was going to be a very delicate balancing act, and he was up against a formidable, determined man....

Harry finally took off his robes and most of his clothes, laying them out on the floor; he was damned if he was going to let them control how he appeared in court. He held out his hands toward them and whispered softly, "Dessicatio." The water dissipated from the garments, and then Harry charmed them to smell like fresh-cut grass, an innocuous odor that most people did not find offensive. He put the clothes back on; he hadn't dared to do anything in front of the guard, but he'd discovered since being arrested that the extra power Voldemort had conferred upon him through the Obedience Charm made it possible for him to perform quite a lot of magic without benefit of a wand; he knew that all witches and wizards could do some wandless magic with claps of their hands or just adequate concentration, but he'd never realized that he was especially good at this because he simply had been given more power than most wizards. He thought back to the time when he was seven and he had disarmed Lucius Malfoy while lurking in the corner of his study....Most wizards had to use the Disarming Charm to do that. Of course, he thought, look where using the Disarming Charm has gotten me....

He also remembered the way he'd made the door fly open and crack at Hog's End when he'd discovered his mother in Sirius' arms. He'd thought at the time that it was just his emotions that were amplifying the magic, that he was worked-up and agitated, and his magic was similarly out-of-control as a result. He had no idea now how much of his magical ability was his own, and how much was given to him in order to carry out the orders of a dark wizard....

He did know that he had the ability to do the Animagus transfiguration in his other life, and he used this now to approximate a close shave, risking the ingrown hairs he hated, and doing his best in general to appear neat and ready for trial, despite not having a mirror or proper access to a bath. He combed his wet hair through his fingers, trying to bring some order to it. When he was finished, he sat on the stool with his hands folded, but that felt ridiculous, so he paced the length of the small chamber, back and forth, over and over, until he thought he would go mad.

Finally, the door opened; the guard stood glaring at him malevolently, looking slightly surprised that Harry wasn't a soaking mess. He had two dementors by his side. Harry swallowed and reached for the amulet. Help me, Ginny, he thought, seeing her in his mind's eye, lying in a narrow bed, sleeping, one hand under her pale cheek. Give me the strength to get through this.

He shivered and kept his head down as the dementors grasped his arms with their putrid, rotting hands and dragged him quickly down the corridor, not letting him get his feet under himself properly. His parents' death screams echoed in his mind....Cedric dying, seeing Ginny hit by the car in London....When, after numerous twists and turns, they had reached the door of the courtroom, the guard stepped forward and opened the door, and Harry entered the chamber, his head spinning from the chaotic memories evoked by the dementors.

He looked up at row upon row of faces, a sea of accusing stares. Finally, he saw in the third row, his dad, with Draco on one side of him and Uncle Duncan on the other. Jamie and Simon were not there; he was just as glad about that. He swallowed when he saw that Dumbledore, disguised as Davy, was sitting several rows up from them, and then he saw that Ron and Sirius were next to him. The Longbottoms were nearby. Why isn't Ron with my dad and Draco? he wondered.

He didn't have a chance to continue this train of thought as he was dragged to the large chair in the center of the lowest part of the room and thrust into it. Golden bonds snaked up from around the legs of the chair and bound his arms and legs to it. The dementors continued to hover over him, and Harry looked down again, shaking. He felt colder inside than he had ever been before, unsure whether anyone would stop them if, in plain sight of a chamber full of people, they pulled his face up to administer the kiss before the trial had even begun....

Someone clapped loudly, two sharp noises like gunshots, a clear nonverbal command, and the dementors withdrew, returning to the corridor and closing the door. Harry raised his head and saw Barty Crouch, the Minister of Magic, glaring back at him. He looked as Harry had never seen him in his other life; he was not merely an Inquisitor, but the head of the magical government in Great Britain, a stern, impressive and unforgiving man who had no intention of letting Harry go free. He and his dad had discussed this; Crouch did not want to lose. Harry remembered how upset he'd been about the jury letting Ludo Bagman go free; but Bagman had been a popular Quidditch player, very nearly as charismatic as Gilderoy Lockhart, and much less irritating (although even more shifty, Harry thought). Bagman had had a following; Harry wasn't the famous Harry Potter in this world. He might be the infamous Harry Potter, now that he was on trial for his mother's murder, but he had no following, no band of supporters other than his stepfather and best friend and the brother of his girlfriend. The assembled people in this chamber leaned forward avidly, making Harry wonder whether they thought they were going to see a hanging or something equally gruesome and spectacular.

Crouch wore immaculate robes of royal purple velvet, edged with gold braid. His hat was a perfect cone of matching velvet, with the braid starting around the bottom, then spiraling upward in two directions so that the gold overlapped and a large diamond-shaped space was created above his face. In this space was the seal of the Minister of Magic: a brilliant green snake eating its own tail was the border, with a Union Jack in the background, and superimposed upon that was a golden pyramid with the upper portion partially separated, floating above the base, and a glowing eye with rays of light emanating from it was at the top. A rampant lion and unicorn flanked the pyramid and a crown hovered above it and its eerie eye, which, Harry thought, seemed to be moving.

Harry looked back down at the minister's face. Crouch was glaring at him with more hatred than Harry had ever seen; it chilled his bones even more effectively than the dementors. Harry turned his head to see his jury, to find out in whose hands his fate rested. He saw eight witches and four wizards, all of whom seemed to be over the age of fifty or so; no one seemed especially young. Why were most of them women? he wondered, but not for long. Mothers, he thought. I'll bet all the witches are mothers.

He'd had no say in choosing the jury. He had no advocate, no one to speak for him. If his stepfather hadn't visited him to work out his trial strategy, he would be mounting his defense all by himself, a sixteen-year-old wizard charged with murder. As far as Harry knew, no allowances were made for age. The wizarding world was still far behind the Muggles in terms of fairness for someone accused of a crime, and Harry had found this to be a good thing when someone he knew was guilty was in the chair, when it was Lucius Malfoy. But now....

"Harry Potter!" Crouch boomed out suddenly into the silence of the packed chamber. "You have been brought before the Council of Magical Law to answer to the charge of murdering your own mother, Lily Evans. The Aurors who apprehended you say you confessed on the spot, yet you have refused to sign a statement to that effect and have insisted upon wasting my time and the time of everyone in the Ministry of Magic with this trial, instead of just--"

Crouch stopped his snide speech and looked at Harry closely. He was looking down, breathing shallowly, his nostrils flaring, as he tried to contain his anger.

"Is there something you'd like to say, Mr. Potter?" he sneered at Harry.

Harry raised his head and looked right into the eyes of the Minister of Magic, who appeared to be disturbed by this.

"May I?" he asked softly.

"Please," the Minister responded in a ringing voice. "But do speak up, else no one will hear you."

Harry turned his head and looked right at each juror, one by one. "I was not 'apprehended' by Aurors. No one had to pursue me. I came of my own free will, because I wanted to tell the full story of how my mother died and clear my name." He spoke clearly and simply; each word was like a single drop of water falling into a still pool. No one in the chamber made a sound, not even a rustling of robes or a creak of someone shifting their weight on the wooden benches.

"As for wasting your time and the Ministry's time--I apologize for that, Minister, but I was told that you insisted upon personally serving as the Inquisitor on my case. If you had allowed one of the other Inquisitors to do the job, I would not have been waiting ten days for my trial and I would not be wasting your time today."

Harry looked in Crouch's eyes again, and he saw a thinly-veiled fury there; then, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a familiar face a few rows above the jury: Rita Skeeter. She was letting her Quick-Quotes quill roam over her parchment notebook as she met Harry's gaze. He gave her a small smile and saw her blush furiously--but continue to keep eye contact with him. She was flirting with a sixteen-year-old prisoner on trial for murder! he thought, incredulous. All right, I can kiss up to the press. It can't hurt to have them on my side....

But when he looked back at Crouch, he lost the small smile he'd directed at Rita. Crouch looked more determined and fearsome than the Hungarian Horntail Harry had faced in the Triwizard Tournament.

"Yes, Mr. Potter," he nodded sagely, his hat bobbing, "I did insist upon taking the case of a sixteen-year-old who murdered his own mother, a former Auror, in cold blood."

Harry started to get up, but found that he was bound too tightly to the chair and could not. "I didn't--" he started to say angrily, then stopped in frustration. He looked at the jury again. "I said I was here willingly to clear my name. May I tell the court exactly what happened?" Crouch bowed slightly and retreated to the side, sitting down on a bench next to a thin young wizard taking notes very quickly. "And may I stand to present my case? To show the respect due to the court?" Harry watched Crouch's face closely; the Minister's eyes swiveled around the chamber, gauging the crowd's reaction to this. Harry also looked around quickly. It seemed as though he had the sympathy of most of those gathered, and with a flick of Crouch's finger, the bonds were loosed from around Harry's arms, and he stood, trying to ignore the way his stomach was leaping about. Damn kippers, he thought, wishing he'd stuck to tea and toast for his breakfast.

But he raised his chin, moving his eyes around the chamber, speaking to every person there, trying to keep his voice steady as he pleaded for his freedom, and he attempted to justify what wizarding law said was unjustifiable: casting a spell that caused someone to die, whether or not that was the intent of the spell.

"It all began," Harry said to the chamber, "the night my father was killed by Voldemort--" Harry paused when he heard the crowd gasp at his use of The Name, but then the Minister took advantage of this pause.

Crouch jumped to his feet. "Come now, Mr. Potter! You have already been told that you are wasting the court's time! Are you telling me that you have to go back almost sixteen years to explain your mother's murder?"

Harry fixed him with a stern gaze. "We will waste far less time if I am not interrupted." He kept his eyes on Crouch's, and finally, Crouch sat again. He'd backed down.

"As I was saying--my father was killed by Voldemort--" more gasping "--when I was a baby, and Voldemort would have killed me and my mother, too, but what he really wanted was for me to join him when I was old enough, and he spared my life and my mother's life when she promised that I would be his servant one day."

Now Crouch laughed outright. "And why would he want to recruit a baby?" he sneered. Harry looked at him levelly.

"Because a seer told him of a prophecy concerning the fall of Voldemort, and he was convinced that I was one of the people in the prophecy who could eventually be responsible for this."

Crouch harrumphed again, laughing rudely. "You? Bring about the fall of You-Know-Who? I hardly think so. If that were so, why would he let you live?"

"It is not important whether you think so," Harry told him condescendingly. "It is important that he thought so. He is a great believer in the expression Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. He wanted to be able to control me and to keep an eye on me."

Harry looked up at his stepfather, who was very pale and nervous. Don't worry, dad, he wanted to tell him. I won't tell them anything about you...

"This last winter solstice," he went on, "I was finally initiated. A Portkey was sent to Hogwarts, and I used this to go to the meeting where I was to become a Death Eater." So far, technically, he had neither lied nor given away that his dad, best friend and his best friend's father were technically all Death Eaters. The lying was to come now.

"Nothing unusual occurred during the meeting; fortunately, Voldemort did not ask me to do anything illegal to prove my loyalty. That was to come later. I'd felt trapped into being initiated, and I was feeling rebellious. I wanted to do something I knew Voldemort would hate. I thought that the Board of Governors had made a dreadful mistake in banning Muggle-born students from the school years ago, so I concocted the plan for the General Strike, to force the board to rescind the ban. The strike worked, and they agreed to begin taking Muggle-born students again. But since I was, as far as Voldemort knew, a loyal Death Eater, I could not publicly lead the strike, and I convinced Ron Weasley to do it instead, since he was a prefect, and he wasn't in Slytherin. Unfortunately, after the strike was over, I received my first instructions about what I was to do as a Death Eater: I was to kill Ron Weasley, because he had organized the General Strike."

Harry looked up at Ron, who did not meet his eyes, but turned to look at Dumbledore, next to him. "I had no intention of killing him, of course, and I was feeling especially bad about his being targeted since I'm the one who thought of the strike and I'd asked him to be the public leader of it. I didn't have any ideas about how to get around it, however, and after a couple of weeks, someone--probably someone within Hogwarts--kidnapped my brother Stuart as a message to me. I was to kill Ron Weasley or something dreadful would happen to my brother.

"Well, it so happened that earlier that day was when Hogwarts was hit by that dreadful blizzard. Ginny Weasley and I were both out walking round the lake when it hit, and I lost her in the storm. I managed to find my way to the Quidditch changing rooms and took shelter there, but she never got there, and she still hasn't been found. I returned to the castle and spoke to Ron; I said that others would go out searching for her, including me, but he should take this opportunity to hide, and we could pretend that he had gone out looking for her and was also lost. I grew up running around the castle, since my parents were teachers, and I knew about all kinds of secret rooms and passages. I knew of a place where he could hide and I could take food to him. This way, Voldemort might think Ron was dead and stop telling me I must kill him. My brother was returned, but he inherited porphyria and was already very sick; he'd been in a desert for a fortnight, which was the worst possible environment for someone with photophobia--light-sensitivity--and he was practically dead when we got him back. A few days later, he did die. Not long after the funeral, Ron came out of hiding to talk to me, and something dreadful happened: he was seen by a Death Eater, who now knew that he wasn't dead."

"Seen by a Death Eater? Where?" Crouch demanded.

"In an empty classroom."

"At Hogwarts you mean? A Death Eater at Hogwarts? I thought you were the only Death Eater at Hogwarts."

Harry drew his lips into a line. "There's another. A teacher."

A gasp went up from the crowd and Crouch leaned forward, his eyes narrowed as though he were daring Harry to say it. "Who?"

"Professor Binns, who teaches History of Magic."

"How do you know?" Crouch barked.

"I saw him at my initiation. I could only see two people's faces besides Voldemort," he lied, "as most people had hoods up or were hiding their identities in some way. But one of the two people I saw was definitely Professor Binns."

Harry waited for him to ask who the other person was, but Crouch grunted. "Go on."

"Soon after, I received this letter," Harry said looking up at Draco, who walked down an uneven passage between some of the spectators now, carrying the habeus corpus letter. Harry took it from him and handed it to Crouch, who then read it aloud for the court. When he was done, Crouch looked up from the letter.

"And?" he prompted Harry.

"Well, my mum knew about the fact that I'd been asked to kill Ron. I'd told her what had happened at the initiation and about being told to kill Ron. She had been helping me hide him, and so I took the letter straight to her. She suggested that maybe we could transfigure a dead animal to look like his body and get him out of the castle to a safe place. That sounded like a good idea, so I went along with it. She had an Invisibility Cloak she put on Ron so no one would see us leaving the castle with him, and we were going to go to this cave in the foothills to meet a friend of hers who would take Ron somewhere safe."

"Who was this friend?"

"There was no friend. But I'll get to that. As we were leaving the castle, my best friend, Draco Malfoy came running up, wanting to know what we were doing. He couldn't see Ron, of course. I hadn't told him anything about my having to kill Ron Weasley or even being initiated as a Death Eater. My mum told Draco we were walking up into the foothills looking for some potions ingredients, and she invited him to come along. I was surprised, since I didn't want him to know I was supposed to kill Ron, and Ron was still alive. But I couldn't really talk to my mum about it with Draco right there, so the four of us walked up into the foothills. Draco couldn't see Ron.

"When we reached the cave and went in, Draco was wondering what potions ingredients we could possibly find there other than mushrooms, and when Ron took off the Invisibility Cloak he was completely shocked. He was even more shocked, and I was too, when my mum disarmed both of them. Turns out she thought Draco coming along was a very lucky thing, because she decided she could use him as leverage."

"Leverage?" Crouch asked, his brow furrowed.

"Well, it turned out she hadn't contacted any friend of hers. She decided that she didn't want my other brother or my sister killed just because I hadn't killed Ron Weasley, and she told me that she wanted me to get it over with, and if I didn't, she was going to torture my best friend, Draco Malfoy. I--I think Mum was still really grief-stricken over Stu. I mean, she wasn't thinking at all clearly. She was just trying to protect her children. But I'm not a murderer; I told her I wasn't going to kill Ron--I told her we'd find another way out of the mess, and I got between her and Draco so he could run out of the cave and go to get help. So then she decided that if she couldn't force me to kill Ron by threatening my best friend, she would kill him herself, so I wouldn't have to and her three remaining children would all be safe. But I couldn't let her do that either, and when she had gotten more than half-way though the Killing Curse, I disarmed her."

He paused, his voice caught in his throat. He felt like he'd been talking forever; the courtroom was quiet enough to hear a pin drop. "I--I must have been terribly worked up, because she flew backward really fast and hit the cave wall very hard. There was this sharp outcropping that her head hit--I think that was what did it--" He couldn't go on, breaking down now. "I never meant to hurt her, let alone kill her," he choked out through his tears. "She would have killed Ron Weasley if I hadn't disarmed her. She was a grief-stricken mother protecting her children. She wasn't thinking straight. She wasn't a murderer at heart either--or at least, I didn't want her to be...."

Crouch gave him a moment to compose himself; he sat down on the edge of the chair, wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his robe after he'd removed his glasses. When he'd replaced the glasses on his face he stood again, trying to get his breath, and found that the Minister of Magic was smiling at him.

"Well, Mr. Potter. That's certainly a very interesting and imaginative account, but it hardly agrees with what we know to be the facts of your case."

"Imaginative! But--"

Crouch clapped his hands and the golden bonds reached out from the prisoner's chair and pulled Harry back into it, binding his arms and legs once more. Harry struggled with bonds momentarily, noticed some jurors looking askance at this, and stopped.

"Now we will hear a slightly different version of what occurred. We will hear from--Ronald Weasley!"

Harry heaved a sigh of relief. Ron would help him--he'd already said so. Harry stopped struggling and looked at Ron, giving him a nod and a small smile. Ron, however, did not meet his eyes, but stood in his place, next to Dumbledore, visibly nervous.

"So, Mr. Weasley," Crouch began. "Is it true that during the time you were missing you were being hidden in Hogwarts castle by Harry Potter because he did not wish to kill you, as he says he was ordered to?"

"Well--I don't know whether anyone told him to kill me or not. I'd certainly be surprised if someone had to talk him into it, though. We've never exactly gotten on."

"I see. So where were you after the blizzard in which your sister disappeared?"

"Well, to really tell it right, you have to understand about Potter and my sister. He was obsessed with her, ever since I can remember. Followed her everywhere, wrote her poetry...It was a bit sick, really. She wouldn't give him the time of day. When we finally found out that Professor Evans was his mum, it all started to make sense to me...."

"How so?"

"Well, they looked a bit similar. Different eyes, but both with long red hair, about the same height...superficial similarities, really, but obviously it mattered to Potter."

Harry's jaw dropped. What was he implying?

"Interesting theory, Mr. Weasley. But I was under the impression that Mr. Potter was rather on the outs with his mother."

"Oh, yeah, completely. I mean, on the day we all found out about Professor Evans being his mum, the way it happened was his best friend made a comment at lunch about the way Professor Evans looked that day. I didn't hear it, but when Potter started yelling and screaming about it, it was pretty obvious the sort of thing Malfoy had said. Potter said he was especially hacked off because Malfoy knew she was his mum, not like blokes like Zabini, who made comments about her without knowing any better. I mean--it's just one of those codes, isn't it? A bloke doesn't talk about another bloke's mum that way. It just isn't done."

"What way, Mr. Weasley?"

Ron turned bright red. "You know; like a girl you fancy." He looked at Dumbledore for a moment, Harry noticed, who nodded almost imperceptibly. He's coached him, Harry realized. Dumbledore's told him what to say.

"Anyway," Ron continued, "the next thing we all know, Potter's standing in the middle of the Great Hall, telling the entire school that Evans is his mum and that she's married to Professor Snape. So she orders him to go to her office, and he gives her some lip, but he goes out, and she does too. You could tell they were going to have a terrible row--"

"What?" Harry cried. "You don't know what happened--" he started to say, unable to continue, he was so shocked. That was when he and his mother had reconciled. He'd told her that he loved her....For Ron to twist it all around like this made it all seem so tawdry. Crouch ignored Harry.

"Did Mr. Potter and his mother often have rows?"

"Well, I don't know about that. But she was often quite cross with him in Potions. Always marking him down or taking away house points."

All Harry could do was to stare at Ron in disbelief. "I see," Crouch said, pulling at his chin and pacing. "And what about your sister?"

"Well, we'd thought he'd stopped bothering her, but then he brought her to the infirmary one day last term, said he'd found her at the foot of the stairs in the Great Hall. She had really bad internal injuries that Madam Pomfrey said she couldn't have gotten from a fall down some stairs. And Potter was suddenly there all the time, sitting with her while she was recovering."

"Hmm. So Mr. Potter is the one who found her, injured badly in a way that can't be explained by a fall down the stairs, after four years of almost constant rejection by your sister?"

"That's right."

"And what about the blizzard?"

"Well, he kind of cornered her and asked if she'd like to go for a walk. That was when we were at the end of that weird warm spell. I think she wanted to put him off once and for all, but also let him down easy. She was like that. So she went along. While they were out, the cold front moved in and it began to snow heavily. A lot of prefects and professors went out looking for them, but when the storm got too bad, we had to come back to the castle. I couldn't bear it, though. I couldn't sleep, knowing she was out there. So I went out myself, but I got a bit blown off course.

"I wound up going all the way through the forest to this Muggle village named Rhynie--a policeman found me and took me to hospital in Huntly, which is a larger town nearby. Rhynie is near Clashindarroch Forest. I heard people calling it the Clash. Apparently there are a lot of ski trails through the Clash. I think it's actually the same as our Forbidden Forest, but part of the way through the Clash, non-magical people will come up against the Muggle-repelling charms and decide to go back. Apparently, they were used to stupid tourists going skiing on the forest paths and getting lost in storms if they didn't come back to the village soon enough.

"I think it was over three weeks before they'd let me get up and walk around much. For one thing, I couldn't tell them where my family lived and where I went to school, because my parent don't have a telephone, their house isn't on the regular Muggle post-route and Hogwarts can't be found by Muggles, obviously. And even if I'd tried to tell them I'd come from a great castle on the other side of the Clash, no one would have believed me. So they thought I had memory-loss or something because I wouldn't tell them a lot of things. I didn't want to tell them my name, either, so they assumed I didn't know that either. Well, here, see for yourself."

He took what appeared to be a folded-up newspaper out of his robe pocket and walked down to hand it to Crouch, who looked at it with great interest.

"You might like to see this, Mr. Potter."

Harry took the paper in his left hand, holding it awkwardly because his arm was bound to the chair. It was a Muggle newspaper from the town of Huntly, Aberdeenshire, and there was a picture of Ron, described as a young man who'd been found by the police wandering in the blizzard near Rhynie, who didn't remember his name or school and who wanted anyone who recognized him to ring up Gordon-Huntly Hospital with the information. Harry turned over the newspaper; there were also stories about the local school, a bazaar that was held at the parish church, an argument about whether to install a traffic signal at a particular intersection in the town, something about a recent visit by the Princess of Wales (Harry did a double-take at that)....It looked completely legitimate. The problem was, Harry knew it was a fake. He started shaking; was Dumbledore going to do everything in his power to keep him from fixing the timelines? Harry couldn't believe that one of the people he'd counted on could turn on him this way....

Ron went on speaking. "Finally, I managed to find my clothes and sneak out of the back the service entrance early in the morning and go back to Rhynie and the forest. It was the twenty-fifth. I had some food with me I'd taken from the trays of the patients near me, and I kept to the edge of the Clash. Finally, I was near the foothills, and I could see Hogwarts and Hogsmeade in the distance, through the trees. I also saw something strange; it looked like Potter and Malfoy and my sister walking up into the foothills together. That seemed very odd, so I followed them at a distance. After a while, I could tell it was Professor Evans, not my sister. By then they'd seen me. Professor Evans waved her arms and yelled for help, but Potter shut her up with some kind of pain curse. I caught up with them and demanded to know what was going on, and whether my sister had ever been found. I hoped that if Potter had gotten back from the storm, maybe she had too. I didn't know yet that my parents had already held a funeral for her--and for me. Then Potter forced me to come along to the cave, too. I didn't know yet that he'd gotten Malfoy to help him get his mum up to this cave by blackmailing him. Well, his dad really."


"Yeah. Well, you know Potter's a Death Eater. He's already said. Not that I'm surprised. He said he saw Malfoy's dad at a meeting and he made Malfoy come along to help him kill his mum or he'd send an owl with an anonymous tip about his dad to the Ministry."

Harry could not be more shocked. Ron was covering up for Draco for some reason, but trying to implicate Lucius Malfoy.

"Of course," he went on, "if I'd known that he came back from that blizzard but my sister didn't, I'd have known he was a cold-blooded killer and I would have been more on my guard."

Crouch nodded, but Harry finally found words. "Why are you lying? You're just making all this up! This--" he tossed the Muggle newspaper on the floor "-- is a fake, and for some reason, you're trying to frame me--"

"Do I need to put a silencing charm on you, Mr. Potter?" Crouch sounded almost bored.

Harry's head swam. This wasn't happening, he told himself, this wasn't happening....

"Then what happened, Mr. Weasley?"

"Well, inside the cave, Potter disarmed me and Malfoy. Then his mother tried to disarm him, but he managed to do her first. It is true that she died from hitting her head on the cave wall while he was disarming her. He's not lying about that part. It wasn't the killing curse."

"What do you mean 'I'm not lying about that part?' I'm also not lying about her trying to kill you and about my saving your sodding life!"

Ron looked at him dispassionately. "Where's my sister? My sister who refused you, over and over again...." he asked softly.

"You know very well--" Harry started to say, then realized that he couldn't finish. He couldn't reveal Ginny's location, or that she was still alive. He was stuck. He put his head down on his arm where it was bound to the chair. Did Ron know that Ginny was never pregnant? Or had Dumbledore conveniently forgotten to tell Ron that? "I didn't murder your sister," he sobbed into his sleeve. "I didn't plot to kill my mother....that was an accident....I was trying to save your life...."

He heard Crouch say to Ron, "That will be all Mr. Weasley. Thank you, and I'm very sorry for your loss." Harry lifted his head; Ron took his seat next to Dumbledore again. Crouch turned to Harry. "Well, Mr. Potter. Your story was quite fascinating. Unfortunately, Mr. Potter, it is so full of holes I don't even know where to begin. Perhaps we should hear from someone else who can shed some light on what sort of motive you might have for killing your mother...."

"Motive?" he whispered, alarmed. Was Crouch implying that he'd planned it now? That it was premeditated?

"Sirius Black!" Crouch called out, and Harry's godfather, who had been sitting on the other side of Dumbledore from Ron, stood now. Harry had a bad feeling about this; Sirius was also sitting with Dumbledore, and having heard Ron's tale, Harry thought he knew what to expect.

He was wrong.

"Can you tell us something about your relationship with Lily Evans?"

Sirius immediately colored deeply. "I was very much in love with Lily. For years. When she was seeing Severus Snape while we were in school, I really hated it. He and I had never gotten on. But when she started going out with my best friend, James Potter, I put aside my feelings and accepted their relationship. I was best man at their wedding.

"After James was killed, both Severus and I came round to see her quite a bit. But then he was the one who was there when she had her daughter, so he got a bit of a leg up on me. After they were married, I accepted again that she and I weren't going to be together. But then their twins were born with porphyria, and she started turning to me for friendly support more and more. In the last year and a half their relationship had become terribly strained, as they spent a great deal of their time arguing about what to do for poor Stuart, who was worse off than his twin. At some point, they decided that their marriage was basically over and although they maintained the fiction of still being happily married when they were at home, at Hogwarts they slept in separate rooms. They came to an understanding: they could each see other people, if they liked, as long as they exercised discretion and didn't let the children get wind of anything amiss.

"Well, when she told me this, I took it as a sign, and I told her that my feelings for her had never changed....Even though it was a bit embarrassing to admit to carrying a torch for a good friend for so long, I didn't mind, because she--well, she let me know she returned my feelings. We didn't want to keep this from Severus, so we told him, and he just reminded us to be careful. He didn't look thrilled, mind you, but the 'arrangement' had been his idea....

"And then--well, we were sloppy one day, and Harry saw us together at the house in Hogsmeade. We thought everyone else was out Christmas shopping....We were just holding each other--fully clothed, I might add--but Harry looked absolutely furious. Without using a wand, he made the door swing open so violently that it cracked in two when it hit the wall. And I'm talking about an old, three-inch-thick solid oak door. Then he ran off somewhere and didn't come back for hours. Severus explained their marital situation and our relationship to him when Harry returned.

"After that, Harry definitely treated me differently. I'm his godfather, and his sister's godfather, and we've always had a good relationship. Somehow....he decided to take his stepfather's side in this, instead of being glad that his mother was happy. But in a way, he didn't really take his stepfather's side; I mean, like I said, Severus wasn't thrilled, but he'd accepted our relationship. They were staying married to maintain a stable family life for the children, and because of the twins' illness."

Crouch turned a gimlet eye on Harry, who felt utterly unable to keep his distress from showing on his face. Bloody hell, he thought. Are they implying that I wanted my mother myself or that I wanted her for my stepfather? He had no words to respond to what Sirius had said. He couldn't argue veracity, since everything he was saying was true, in stark contrast to Ron's story. And the part about splitting the oak door didn't sound very good, either.

Crouch surveyed Harry for only a moment before turning back to Sirius. "Would it be safe to say that you feared for your life, Professor Black? That you worried that your godson would attempt to punish you for the relationship you were having with his mother?"

Harry struggled to get out of the bonds again, screaming at Sirius almost hysterically, "I never did anything to threaten you--"

"Well, actually--not anything specific. But all last term--he was behaving very strangely. He suddenly started displaying a number of magical abilities that none of us had known him to have before, and quickly became proficient at very difficult new spells. The news about the Patronus he conjured spread all over the school like wildfire...."

Crouch's eyebrows flew up, disappearing temporarily under his hat. "A Patronus?" he said, incredulous. "Someone in his sixth year in school--someone still in school at all, for that matter--conjuring a Patronus?"

Sirius nodded. "They were studying boggarts in Dark Arts, and Harry's turned into a dementor. As soon as it did, he conjured the Patronus, and the dementor couldn't get near him."

Crouch turned to eye Harry suspiciously again. "Interesting, isn't it, Mr. Potter, that when you are confronted with a boggart, it turns into a dementor. Even more interesting, though, is that you already took the pains to learn how to fight it...."

Harry was shaking. They were going to turn that against him? He was justifiably proud of his Patronus; and he would never forget that first encounter with a dementor on the train to Hogwarts when he was in his third year in his other life....Was Crouch going to treat every detail of his life in the last sixth months as evidence that he was a dark wizard and a murderer?

Crouch had turned back to Sirius. "Thank you, Professor Black. That will be all for now. You have been most helpful, and I am also sorry for your loss." Sirius nodded at him and sat, and Harry felt a despair deeper than anything the dementors had ever inspired in him creep around his heart and hold it still, so that he felt it was a strain for it to continue to beat.

The rest of the testimony was a blur to him; his dad stood and said many of the same things Harry had said, refuting Ron's story and claiming that Harry had confided in him about hiding Ron, and emphasizing how distraught Harry had been that he'd lost Ginny in the storm. Draco did also, denying that Harry had ever threatened to blackmail, him, and denying that his dad was a Death Eater. Crouch made a very disbelieving face when Draco said this. Harry didn't take his eyes off Dumbledore while they were speaking, glaring at him, feeling himself growing angrier and angrier. I have to fix it! You can't stop me!

Only--he could. He could just sit there, quiet and unassuming, appearing to all the world to be merely the elderly Hogwarts caretaker, while the things he'd done behind the scenes brought Harry's world crashing down about him.

Finally, the Longbottoms testified to being called by Sirius Black because he'd seen Lily leaving the school with Harry and Draco, and he was worried for her safety, especially after the Weasley girl, who was in his house, had disappeared. Everyone knew that Harry had been obsessed with her for years and that she had last been seen in his company. They also brought up the fact that they suspected Harry had something to do with Ginny's disappearance; their "very clever son, Neville," who had gone out on one or two dates with Ginny, had first raised this as a suspicion. Harry struggled against the bonds again.

"She never did any such thing!" he cried suddenly, unable to stop himself. Gemma Longbottom had been speaking and she looked at him now with an expression of triumph in her glittering eyes. Harry sank back into the chair again, stilled by those hateful eyes. Frank Longbottom told Crouch that they immediately Apparated to the foothills outside the village--which were not on the grounds of Hogwarts--and when they arrived at the cave and entered it, Severus Snape was kneeling over his dead wife.

"At first," he said, "I assumed that he had killed her himself. And now that we know he knew she had a lover, he certainly had a motive.... But young Mr. Potter told us on the spot that he had been the one to do it. I'm still not sure he isn't covering up for his stepfather...." He looked at Severus Snape with narrowed eyes, while Harry's dad turned and met Longbottom's gaze unflinchingly. "But," he continued, "it seems that Professor Snape had an alibi, and Mr. Weasley saw Potter, his friend and his mother climbing the foothills alone, and we reluctantly decided that the Professor had not killed his wife."

"So," Crouch said, frowning, "you are absolutely certain that Severus Snape was not an accomplice in his wife's murder in any way?"

"Well," Longbottom answered after a beat, "I wouldn't go that far."

"He had nothing to do with it!" Harry screamed suddenly, seeing the stricken look on his dad's face. "He loved her completely; that's why he let her go. He wanted her to be happy..." he trailed off. His stepfather looked back at him grimly, shaking his head. Harry knew he was digging his own grave....

He felt like he was waking from a dream when Crouch declared that they were in recess for the day, and the jury would hear final statements from him and from Harry in the morning, and present their verdict. This time, when the dementors came to drag him away, Harry didn't bother to try to get his feet under him; he let the tops of his shoes scrape along on the ancient stone floor, his head sagging. They threw him in his cell, and he collapsed on the floor where he'd landed.

At sixteen, he was a broken man.

* * * * *

Harry didn't even bothered to transfigure into a golden griffin. He lay on the cold stone floor, feeling drained after weeping for he knew not how long. Food had been magicked through the door some time ago; the tepid broth was likely ice cold now and the bread was probably like rock. Harry stared at it listlessly. Suddenly, he heard someone on the other side of the door, and after the bolt had been thrown back, it opened slowly.

It was Draco.

"Ten minutes," the guard said to him tersely, then locked the two of them in. Harry gazed at him through deadened eyes, and thought, It's going to be a very quiet ten minutes. He did not feel like talking.

But then, Draco moved to sit on the edge of the infested mattress, and Harry suddenly said, "Not there. Use the stool. You'll thank me."

Draco nodded and moved to the stool, which was a few feet away from where Harry was sprawled on the floor. Draco waited; Harry finally sat up and changed to a lotus position, then removed his glasses, wiped them on his robes, and replaced them. He looked up at his best friend.

"I'm totally screwed, aren't I?"

Draco smiled ruefully and nodded. "Harry--I had no idea. Why would Weasley lie that way? And the Longbottoms went along with the story...."

"Dumbledore," Harry said simply.

"Dumbledore? But--"

"He--he was afraid I'd jeopardize the other operatives. I swore I wouldn't. But--he didn't want to take any chances."

"So he sacrificed you that way? And Crouch was calling you cold-blooded."

Harry didn't tell him it was more likely that Dumbledore didn't want Harry to change time again. But he knew he still needed to do it. He just had to fix this horrible world....

"Draco, I want you to promise me something."

His best friend looked at him earnestly. "Anything."

"If--if I go to--to Azkaban--"

"Don't say that, Harry!"

"I'm just saying if....Anyway, if that happens, and then you hear of any rather remarkable news concerning me....promise me something...."

"...of course, Harry," Draco stuttered, and Harry saw that his best friend's eyes were shining.

"...promise me that you'll go every day to the cave. Every day. Go wearing the Invisibility Cloak, so no one will see you, and take the diary with you."

Now Draco looked less like he might cry. "The what?"

"The diary your dad gave you. Where have you put it?"

"It's--it's in a secret compartment in my trunk. I'm the only one who knows where it is or how to open it."

"Good. Keep it safe. And remember--you hear of any remarkable news..."

Draco nodded, a look of understanding on his face now. "Right. I know what to do."

Harry nodded back, fighting back his own tears now. "Right."

They sat silently, looking at each other helplessly for what seemed a long time. Suddenly, the door swung open; the guard stood there with two dementors, and Harry felt freezing cold down to his marrow....

"Time's up! Unless you want to be locked up, too!"

Draco shook his head violently and practically ran for the door, then turned suddenly. "I'll tell Jamie--I'll tell her--"

"Tell her I love her." He nodded. "And--and the other person, too. Same thing."

Draco nodded again. "Your dad and I are staying at the Leaky Cauldron tonight. He--he was in a pretty bad way. I told him I'd come see you. He wants to see you tomorrow though." The guard pulled him into the corridor, where Harry saw Draco cower before the dementors, before the door was slammed shut again.

Harry spent a horrible night sleeping in the corner. He slept as a griffin at first, but then he changed back to his human form and curled his fingers around the amulet. He closed his eyes, finally feeling some peace, and he saw in his mind's eye Ginny sitting in the dark at a castle window, gazing at the stars, her arms wrapped around her legs, a tear gliding down her cheek. Then he saw his sister approach her and sit next to her, an arm around her shoulder. Jamie was crying too, and the two friends leaned on each other, crying softly. Harry yearned after them; they seemed near enough to touch. Would he ever actually see them in person again? he wondered.

He wasn't sure when he finally dozed off, but when he awoke, the cell looked the same as ever, with the flickering light from the never-failing candle. A breakfast tray was sitting near the door, as full and groaning as the one he'd had the day before. He ignored most of it today, eating just a piece of toast with jam and drinking the orange juice. He used his Animagus abilities to 'shave' again and tried to bring some order to his hair with his fingers. He had to hope that the jury believed him and not Ron or the Longbottoms. He had to win against Barty Crouch, the Minister of Magic himself.

The door opened suddenly, and the guard grunted, "Ten minutes," as he had with Draco, the day before. It was his stepfather. Harry rose to meet him.

"Dad--" he started to say, but Severus Snape enveloped him in a fatherly hug and then held him at arms' length.

"Harry. How are you?"

Harry drew his lips into a line and assumed a stoic expression. "Fine. I'm fine." He took a deep breath through his nose and tried to look determined. "I'm ready."

His dad nodded. "I know you are." He, on the other hand, looked as though he hadn't slept at all. His eyes looked haunted and he had dark circles under them. His skin was sallow and Harry wondered whether he'd been taking his Porphyry Potion. Or whether Simon had been taking his, with his father away in London. That reminded Harry of his siblings.

"How are Simon and Jamie?" he asked shakily. "Do--do they hate me?"

His stepfather looked pained and put his hand on Harry's shoulder. "Jamie doesn't hate you, Harry. She understands it was an accident. And Simon--" His dad sighed. "Well--he's really not over Stu's death yet. Not that he'll ever be. This coming on the heels of Stu--he's upset with you, I won't lie. And even though that will last a while, I don't think it will be forever."

Harry nodded; if there's one thing he knew a Snape could do, it was to hold a grudge. "And you? How are you? I mean--yesterday, Sirius told the entire wizarding world he was having an affair with my mother and you were okay with it."

His dad looked grim. "Draco wouldn't let me see the Daily Prophet this morning. Not that I really wanted to; but I have a feeling the coverage is pretty bad."

Harry nodded. Hogwarts professors pretending not to be married, then their son revealing that they are married, then another Hogwarts professor revealing that the married couple's marriage was just a sham and he was sleeping with the wife.

"The press loves a scandal," Harry said feebly.

"Right. And what do we have here? Accidental murder, sex, a reluctant Death Eater, unexplained disappearances....Oddly enough, according to Draco, the only person who turned out looking good in the article was you. Pity she's not on the jury."


"Some reporter named Rita Skeeter..."

Harry actually had the urge to laugh. Rita always was a contrary person. Trust her to make out the accused killer to be the only person in the melodrama with any redeeming qualities.

Suddenly, the door swung open again. "You," the guard said, pointing at his dad. "Out. Court starts in fifteen minutes."

His stepfather grasped his hand earnestly. "We're here for you, Harry. I know you'll do a good job."

Harry nodded, trying to find as much confidence in himself. When his dad was gone, that gave him fifteen minutes to pace aimlessly, wringing his hands and worrying over what he was going to say. When the time was finally up, the guard opened the door again and Harry took a deep breath before approaching him and the dementors. He managed to walk to the courtroom today, and when he sat in the chair, looking up at the serried rows of witches and wizards, he laid his arms on the arms of the chair docilely, waiting for the restraints to wrap his arms, as they very shortly did.

When the Minister of Magic entered the chamber, everyone sat up a little straighter in anticipation. He stepped down the rows of seats, and when he reached the bottom, he turned and addressed those assembled.

"Most of you are here," his voice rang out, "because you wish to see justice done. We all wish to see justice done. A beloved mother is dead. A former Auror. A respected Potions professor. A woman whose late husband was killed by the very Dark Lord whom her son, her murderer, now serves." He turned to look contemptuously at Harry. "He spits on the graves of both of his parents by choosing the Dark Lord over them." He turned to the jury. "I ask you to show respect to their memories by sending their murderous son to prison, to Azkaban, for a sentence of not less than twenty-five years." He turned to Harry again. "Oh, he was clever; he didn't use an Unforgivable Curse on her. That would have been an automatic life sentence. But for killing someone with another curse, especially killing them so violently, twenty-five years is the maximum you can give him, and I ask you do to this. Send a message to the Dark Lord that his youngest servant is not available to him any longer, and the same will happen to any other Death Eaters that cross my path!"

The Minister finished with a glare at Harry, and strode over to sit next to the young clerk again. Harry gazed around the silent chamber, the echo from Crouch's speech fading away. He lifted his chin, trying to look confident and feeling his stomach doing flip-flops inside him. He swallowed once, then began, softly at first, then growing in both confidence and volume.

"I did not choose to be initiated as a Death Eater, and I never served Voldemort in that capacity. The only thing he asked of me I refused to do: kill Ron Weasley. To protect him I needed to disarm my own mother, and in so doing, she was accidentally killed. I mourn my mother; I mourn my brother. I am torn up inside knowing that I am causing my dad and sister and brother to go without both of them because I would not kill another person. But I am still not a murderer. This happened because I refused to let Voldemort turn me into a murderer.

"Sometimes we must make difficult choices when we are resisting evil; I didn't know what would happen by my refusing to kill Ron Weasley, and I do not know whether I would do everything the same if I did know what would happen. I acted on my conscience and did what I felt was right. I never set out to hurt anyone. I was trying to save a life, not take one. I only hope that that will be taken into consideration. And I know that there are probably loyal Death Eaters who have already told Voldemort that I was never his true servant. I am a target now. But that is not what is important. If we each did only what was expedient, did what was necessary to save ourselves, the world would be...."

He stopped and looked around the quiet chamber. The world would be as this world is, he realized. A world that resulted from his telling his mother to be selfish, instead of letting her do what she knew to be necessary: sacrificing herself.

The silence lengthened as they waited for him to finish. He looked his stepfather in the eye and saw strength and support there; he drew on that and took a deep breath. "The world is a troubled place. And it can seem like doing any one small thing does not matter at all. But sometimes it is the smallest thing that matters the most. All that is necessary for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing. I can't remember where I read that now, but I thoroughly believe it. I still believe that my mother wasn't evil; but she was feeling driven to do something that was, and I chose to stop it, to stop her. I'm not sure that you can say that a man is good who would just let such a thing happen. I'm not a philosopher; I'm just a boy, really. I'm still trying to learn to be the best wizard and the best man I can be. I'm lucky enough to have a great dad to help me do that," he smiled at his stepfather. "I just wish I still had my mum to help me, too."

He stopped, turning his head to look at the jury. Two of the witches were dabbing at their eyes with hankerchiefs, and one of the wizards was looking a bit red about the nose and eyes, but trying to look stern and headmasterish. Harry wondered whether they were on his side. To win, he needed a simple majority. Seven out of twelve had to vote to acquit. For Crouch to win, he needed a three-fourths majority: nine out of twelve voting to convict. It was the only real advantage the accused had, that the prosecution had to get two more jurors on their side to win. If only eight voted to convict or only six voted to acquit, there would have to be a new trial with a new jury.

Crouch looked at him malevolently and stood. He turned to face the jury. "You heard the testimony yesterday, and our statements today. You had a chance to discuss the case together. The time for discussion is over. It is time to present the verdict."

The witch in the front row on the left looked nervous, even more so when she realized Crouch was staring right at her. She swallowed and stood shakily. "I find the defendant--guilty of accidental murder by magic."

Crouch nodded at her and the wizard next to her stood next. He found Harry guilty as well. The next witch also found him guilty, and after her it was one of the two who were looking sympathetic to him....

Her voice shaking, she said, "I find the defendant--not-guilty of accidental murder by magic."

Harry felt for her; she cowered under Crouch's glare. The next witch stood and voted to convict. Then the wizard who was looking red-eyed said "not-guilty" as well. Then Harry's heart was in his throat as the next witch also pronounced him not guilty. That was four to convict and three to acquit. The next wizard also said guilty. Come on, Harry thought at them. Two more of you...just two more....

Finally, it was eight to convict and still three to acquit. Harry could hardly breathe; the best he could hope for now was to have to do this all over again, another trial....

The wizard stood. He was middle aged, maybe his dad's age, with some grey hair streaking through his unkempt long dark brown hair. His robes looked stained and worn, fraying at the edges. Then Harry's eyes opened wide; he recognized him. He'd been at the ceilidh in Hogsmeade, wearing the MacGregor tartan, like him. It was Mundungus Fletcher. Harry looked at Dumbledore and braced himself.

"I find the defendant," he said shakily, "guilty of accidental murder by magic."

Harry struggled to breathe. This couldn't be happening. He was being convicted of killing his mother. He was going to go to Azkaban for twenty-five years....

Crouch was beaming; he took something out of his robe pocket; Harry recognized it as his mother's wand. "Do you know that this is, Mr. Potter?" Harry nodded, knowing what was coming. "You are hereby officially expelled from Hogwarts." He grasped the wand firmly in both hands and then, with an effort, he snapped it in two. A red feather peeked out from the jagged break. Harry felt like weeping, even though it wasn't really his wand.

"But it was an accident!" he cried, unable to stop himself. Crouch rounded on him where he still sat, bound to the chair. He had won the case; he no longer bothered to look amiable for the sake of the juror or the press.

"An accident you say," he drawled lazily, drawing out the word as though it were patently ridiculous that anyone should believe it. "You were saving the life of a boy with whom you've never got on, who didn't like you following his sister about--a girl who was first mysteriously injured when you were in the same vicinity, and then who disappeared when she was out for a walk around the lake with you. And the mother with whom you did not get along was supposedly trying to kill the brother of the girl with whom you were obsessed, a girl who bore a remarkable resemblance to--your mother. And you were very, very upset when you saw your mother with your godfather, and practically killed them both with that oak door!"

"I did no such thing! The door didn't come near either one of them. You've twisted everything!"

Crouch turned to the jury. "It is time for the sentence. Remember my recommendation." His voice could cut diamonds.

Harry watched the jury huddle together, gesturing and nodding or shaking their heads. Would they give him the maximum time? How long would it be before he could set things right?"

Finally they settled into their seats again, and the first witch stood once more. "We have decided on the sentence. For the accidental murder of his mother, Lily Evans, Harry Potter is to be sentenced to not less than five years in Azkaban prison in solitary confinement, to protect him from possible reprisals from Death Eaters."

Five years! Harry breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn't as good as an acquittal, but it was better than the twenty-five that Crouch had requested, and the ten years that Sam had gotten.

Crouch, however, was livid. He behaved as though he had lost the case. "Five years!" he practically squeaked. "Why don't you just send the boy on a trip to the Azores and say, 'Mind the sun, you don't want to burn?'"

"But--" Harry began, not knowing what he was going to say. Then suddenly, he saw him, sitting in the very top row, and Harry knew; he knew what to use to bargain for his freedom. Karkaroff had done it, and gone free. He could too. "What if--" he said loudly "--what if I can give you the identity of the other Death Eater I saw at the meeting when I was initiated?"

Crouch stopped and stared at him. "We already know, boy. You say you saw Binns, not that I believe that, and Malfoy, which I do believe."

Harry shook his head. "I wasn't talking about Malfoy. I was talking about someone else. Someone with access to the innermost workings of the Ministry of Magic."

The Minister looked very, very interested now. "Really?" he breathed, pacing in a circle around Harry. "And who is this other Death Eater?"

Harry nodded his head at the man in the high far corner of the chamber.

"Barty Crouch, Junior."

Under his straw-colored hair the younger Crouch paled, but his father did not notice. The Minister went vivid purple. "How dare you--" he struggled to say, shaking and quivering in his rage. The room had erupted in chaos; voices bounced off the stone walls, everyone was talking and shouting at once. It was complete mayhem. Crouch went to the door leading to the cells. "Guard! Come here and bring support!" He strode back to Harry and leaned over him. "He'll get what he deserves from me, if he won't get it from the jury!"

Harry looked around with wild eyes, wondering what was going on. His stepfather was standing up amid the jostling crowd, looking like a panther ready to pounce. Crouch returned to the chamber, the guard following him, and two dementors trailing. Harry tried to pull his arms and legs free of the chair, shaking all over. No, he thought. He wouldn't. He can't...

Cold permeated his body down to his bones. One of the dementors grasped his head and tipped it back while the other began to bend over him. Harry squeezed his eyes shut and his mouth; he would have closed his nostrils against the reek of the unearthly creatures if he knew how. There was a roaring in his ears of people in agony--his mother, his father, Cedric Diggory--even louder than the roaring of the unruly crowd in the chamber, and suddenly, above the cacophony, he heard a familiar voice, a powerful voice that cried with authority, "EXPECTO PATRONUM!"

Harry opened his eyes, seeing the dementor alarmingly close to him, and then he saw, emerging from his stepfather's wand and moving swiftly toward the dementors, a silvery shape. A number of silvery shapes, actually, but functioning as one creature, driving the dementors back, sending them out of the room, away from Harry.

His dad's Patronus was a flock of bats. They beat their wings and made as much noise as a real flock would have, wheeling around the dementors' hooded shapes and hounding them until they were no longer a threat to Harry. His stepfather stepped down the serried rows and was at Harry's side in a trice, crouching next to him, looking at him with concern.

"Are you all right, Harry?" he said, and Harry had to strain to make out his words; the chamber hadn't yet come to order. Voices bounced off the stone walls, ricocheting like bullets, while clusters of witches and wizards huddled here and there and everyone seemed to be talking at once and gesticulating wildly. Harry nodded, suddenly incredibly tired.

"Thanks, Dad," he said simply, giving him a limp smile. Severus Snape nodded too and tried to smile back, but he still looked quite grim. He stood, and suddenly, Crouch was standing very close by.

"Get the guard," his dad said to the Minister of Magic as though he were one of his first-year students. "You come, too. Together we will see Harry safely back to his cell. I don't want any more dementors anywhere near him. Is that understood?"

Crouch practically had smoke coming out his ears. "Look here, you can't conjure a Patronus in a court of---"

"And you can't afford the bad press you're about to get," Severus Snape informed him, gesturing with his head to the row of reporters above the jury. "It's going to be all over the domestic and foreign wizarding press that you set dementors on a sixteen-year-old boy. In front of a packed courtroom. And another thing--I advise you to take what he said about your son very, very seriously."

Crouch's jaw dropped. "But--but he--" He couldn't continue; Harry knew from the expression on his face that Crouch hadn't erupted because he doubted what Harry had said, but because had suspected it was true for some time, and he couldn't tolerate the truth being uttered for the first time in public, in a way that could completely humiliate him and possibly end his career.

"Handle it right, and it won't hurt you," his dad said to Crouch softly. "Do what you just did--fly off the handle--and the Ministry will be in chaos. We won't have a magical government any more. We all need you to keep your head about you right now. Can you do that?"

Crouch stared at the man he knew only as the Dark Arts professor at Hogwarts. He didn't know Severus Snape had recruited his son to be a Death Eater when they were both still teenagers. He didn't know this man had been a spy for over fifteen years. But he evidently did know sense when he heard it.

Harry was released from the chair and hustled out the door and down the corridor between his dad, Crouch and the guard. When he was back in his cell, his dad asked to be allowed to talk with him for a few minutes, and the door was closed again with the two of them inside.

Harry looked at his dad, trying not to break down. "I'll--I'll be all right," he said shakily. "They only gave me five years. That's--that's not too bad," he finished weakly.

"I'll write to you regularly, and send you whatever I'm allowed--books, photos--"

Harry nodded. "Thanks. And thanks for--" But he couldn't finish. He couldn't adequate describe the relief that had flooded through him upon hearing his dad cry out the incantation to conjure the Patronus. And considering what a burden his stepfather felt his disease was, and how irksome it had been when people had teased him about being a vampire, it was a very interesting form his Patronus took.

"Thanks for everything," he finally said. They embraced once more, and then his stepfather went to the door and pounded on it authoritatively. It opened and with another look over his shoulder, his dad was gone. Harry had not received the dementor's kiss, but he would be going to live with dementors now.

Harry Potter was going to Azkaban.

* * * * *

For he himself had said it,
and it's greatly to his credit,
that he is an English-man!
That he is an English-man!

For he might have been a Roosian,
a French or Turk or Proosian,
or perhaps Italian!
(Or perhaps Italian!)

But in spite of all temptations
to belong to other nations,
he remains an Englishman!
He remains an Englishman!

For in spite of all temptations
to belong to other nations,
he remains an Englishman!
He remains an Englishman!

Harry changed back into his human form and dragged himself over to the door to his cell. Unlike the cell far underground at the Ministry of Magic, his Azkaban cell had a small barred opening in the upper part of the door, and the door was actually opened whenever food trays needed to be passed in and out--no magicking the food about was done here, since the guards were dementors, not wizards. There were also two high windows that allowed Harry to see the sun during the day (as much as anyone ever saw the sun in early March in the islands northeast of Scotland) and the moon and stars at night. That was all the illumination he had at night; no everlasting candles burned here. There were no torches in the corridors; when the dementors patrolled, they didn't need light, since they could not see. Thus, when the sun went down, Harry could no longer read. Often he had to eat his evening meal in half-darkness.

The advantage to the barred windows in the doors was that they allowed sound to travel from cell to cell; adjacent prisoners could sometimes engage in conversation (if they hadn't already been driven into madness by the dementors; Harry was told that a number of prisoners spent all day every day curled in balls in the corners of their cells, gibbering incoherently).

The disadvantage to the door windows was that they did not just allow conversation to be exchanged between less-brain-damaged prisoners, they also allowed something like music to flow from the cell across the corridor from Harry's, where a middle-aged wizard with long light-brown hair who insisted on being called Buttercup (and who refused to admit to having any other name) also insisted upon singing constantly. His repertoire consisted almost entirely of Gilbert and Sullivan tunes, executed off-key in a kind of baritone. When he attempted to sing the running eighth-notes that articulated the first syllable of the word "Englishman," it turned into a complete muddy mess, until he slid into the final syllable and sang the note forth as though he were trying to reach the back row of a packed music hall. The note was extremely wobbly, with far too much vibrato.

"Shut the hell up, Buttercup!" Harry bellowed at him for the fourth time that day. Truth to tell, Harry sometimes was rather glad to have the diversion of Buttercup's singing to pass the time. He seemed to know every song in every Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Harry found it difficult to concentrate on any of the books his stepfather had sent him, and he hungrily reread the letters from him and Jamie and Draco and (unsigned ones) from Ginny far too many times, so that even relatively new letters were threatening to disintegrate.

When Harry, sitting in a small launch with his wrists bound behind him, had first seen the cliffs of Azkaban rising up out of the North Sea, he had trembled with apprehension and promptly had to lean over the side to spew into the dark water. An Auror he'd never seen before (a thirtyish man with dark hair, a beard and a Welsh accent) sat next to him in the bow, while a dementor sat behind the two of them and a young blonde woman who was also an Auror rode in the stern of the boat and was actually operating the small Muggle-made motor and steering the vessel. No magic was used. As the dreaded destination approached, he never imagined that his daily life would be most defined by a fellow prisoner's bad singing.

He'd tried to have a conversation with the Auror next to him on the launch, figuring it would be some time before he would be able to talk to anyone again.

"So," he'd said, trying not to tremble from the cold the dementor induced in him. "We left from Banff. Is that the nearest town to the prison?"

The Auror turned to him suspiciously. "Why do you want to know what's close to the prison? Banff isn't especially close, as a matter of fact. Fraserburgh's closer, or the Broch, as it's called. But there's more wizards in Banff; half the town, roughly. We have our own jetties where we can set off for Azkaban, the Orkneys or the Shetlands; anti-Muggle charms surround our part of the marina, so the Muggles don't see the dementors and start asking questions...." Harry nodded, but he didn't know where else to take the conversation, so he sat quietly for the rest of the choppy trip.

When they entered a cave at the base of the cliff, Harry had turned around to look for the Scottish coast, but it was shrouded in mist and impossible to see. The motor was turned off now and the vessel was allowed to drift down a long meandering passageway lit by torches, not a sound to be heard but the gentle slapping of water on wood, before the launch grounded itself on a sandy bank and he was guided out and made to climb the interminable steps up to Azkaban fortress.

The Aurors left him when they were at the top, and Harry panicked, left alone finally with nothing but dementors. But they didn't try to administer the kiss; they dragged him into the topmost section of the prison where the lifers were (since he was to be in solitary, and usually only lifers were in solitary). Another dementor was standing outside his cell with the door open, waiting, and Buttercup was singing lustily in a trembling falsetto:

I'm called little Buttercup, dear little Buttercup, though I could never tell why.
But still I'm called Buttercup, poor little Buttercup, sweet little Buttercup, I.

When the dementors had removed his wrist restraints, thrown him into his cell and locked the door, Harry had eventually ventured back to the door to try to get to know his neighbor, who was now on a different song:

Behold the Lord High Executioner!
A personage of noble rank and title.
A dignified and potent officer,
whose functions are particularly vital.
Defer, defer, to the Lord High Executioner!
Defer, defer, to the noble Lord, to the noble Lord,
to the Lord High Executioner!

"Um, hello?" Harry had said timidly. His head felt like it was going to explode; the screams of his parents dying in his other life were only just starting to wane a little (this only happened when the dementors moved far enough away), but Harry thought he might regain his equilibrium more quickly if he could have an intelligent conversation with someone. "Er," he said, "my name's Harry. What's yours?" He peered through the barred opening, looking at the corresponding opening across the corridor, but over to the left a few feet; they weren't lined up precisely. Probably on purpose, Harry thought.

Suddenly, the prisoner across the corridor went roaring into the "Buttercup" song again, his falsetto even louder than before. Harry tried to get a word in edgewise, to no avail. He decided that the other prisoner had clearly gone barmy from being exposed to the dementors for too long, and Harry sank down onto the cold flagstone floor, his head in his hands as his neighbor swung into a new song:

When a felon's not engaged in his employment
(his employment)
or maturing his felonious little plans
(little plans)
his capacity for innocent enjoyment
('cent enjoyment)
is just as great as any honest man's
(honest man's).

"Hello!" Harry tried to call again, above the noise. There was sudden silence. Harry thought he might actually be ready to talk, so he stood and spoke through the window in the door again. "I said," Harry repeated slowly and clearly, as though the man were from another planet (and perhaps he was), "what is your name?"

A pause. Harry wondered how long he'd been in prison, and whether he'd forgotten this. After a few minutes of silence, Harry decided that he wasn't going to get an answer, and he decided to lie down on the miserable thin mattress on the pallet that served as his bed. Just as his head hit the flat pillow, the voice drifted into his cell from across the corridor again, very lilting and sweet now....

I'm called little Buttercup, dear little Buttercup, though I could never tell why.....

Harry gave up. The next morning, he had taken his breakfast tray from the dementor who had handed it to him through the open doorway and sat on the edge of his bed to eat, hearing the singing prisoner begin again:

Things are seldom what they seem,
skim milk masquerades as cream.
Highlows pass as patent leathers,
jackdaws strut in peacock's feathers....

Harry groaned and put his tray on his mattress then went to the door, yelling irritably through the opening, "Shut up already, Buttercup! Can't a person eat breakfast in peace around here?"

Suddenly, it was quiet, and Harry breathed a sigh of relief, sitting down to eat again. Without warning, a speaking voice was heard saying, "About time."

Harry hesitated. Was that who he thought it was?

"What's about time?" he finally answered.

"About time you called me by name. I told you as soon as you arrived."

Harry started to smile, but then he felt a coldness sweep into the small room, and through the door opening, he saw that a dementor was passing by; they patrolled the corridors every half hour or so, making sure the prisoners received a steady dose of misery from their presence. He ducked his head down and tried to take deep breaths, waiting for the sensation to pass before attempting to eat any more, so he wouldn't be sick.

After about three weeks in prison, Harry was developing a routine, which included transfiguring himself into a golden griffin whenever he felt the dementors approaching, so he wouldn't be as affected by their presence. The other part of his routine was trying to have conversations with Buttercup, who still seldom spoke, especially if the dementors were anywhere nearby.

Buttercup stopped singing the "Englishman" song and there was quiet for a few precious moments. Then he started in on another one of his favorites:

A wand'ring minstrel I, a thing of shreds and patches,
of ballads, songs and snatches, dreamy lullaby!
My catalogue long, through ev'ry passion ranging,
to your humours changing I tune my supple song!
I tune my supple song....

"Why is it, Buttercup," he asked grumpily, "that the rest of us in here are miserable as hell, and you can still sing merrily all the time, day in and day out?"

The singing stopped. Harry waited. And waited. He opened his mouth to ask his question again, but suddenly, Buttercup's spoken voice was heard.

"What makes you think I'm singing merrily? What makes you think I even like to sing?"

Harry frowned, perplexed. "What?"

He heard Buttercup sigh. "Those damn dementors sucked all good thoughts out of me ages ago. All that's left are my most miserable memories. My dad was a Muggle. He was an itinerant actor, went town to town looking for every damn Gilbert and Sullivan company in the British Isles. I heard these songs in my nightmares while I was growing up. Mum was a witch, and traveled with us; she loved the theatre, and my father's profession. Thought it was very exciting. She also figured that if she wasn't in the same town or even around the same people in the same acting company for an extended period of time, they wouldn't catch on to any peculiarities about her, if she was a little careless now and then about her magic. I was never so glad in all my life as when I received my Hogwarts letter and I could get away from the infernal noise of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. And now...now this shit is all I have left."

This was the largest number of spoken sentences Buttercup had put together since Harry had arrived. He didn't know what to say. It occurred to him to ask Buttercup to sing something, but he quickly realized that actually wouldn't be very kind. He wanted to know other things about him, like what house he'd been in and what classes he'd liked, and what he'd done to wind up in solitary in Azkaban....but soon the singing started up again, and Harry lost his chance.

He spent much of the day curled up in a corner as a golden griffin; he was starting to become quite a lump, he thought, but although he had exercised in the holding cell at the Ministry, since arriving at Azkaban, he hadn't felt motivated enough. I guess you have to feel more cheerful to exercise, he thought.

In the middle of the day, the dementors came round delivering mail that had arrived in Banff by owl that morning, after Aurors had checked through it all for any contraband or illicit information. Harry had a letter from his dad; he unrolled the parchment and glanced absentmindedly at the letter that was meant for the Aurors' eyes, innocuous stuff about the school, then turned it over to read the real letter. His dad always charmed the parchment so one side could only be read by him and Harry, and the Aurors always thought it was blank on that side.

Dear Harry,

I don't know how to say this, so I'll just do it straight out. Jamie and Ginny have both been killed and Simon is in St. Mungo's. We had Jamie's funeral yesterday; I wanted to have you here and I asked for permission to bring you to Dunoon, but I was denied. It was just me and Draco and Duncan.

Simon found the passage that Ron Weasley had used to go down to that classroom--he was feeling cooped up. He and Jamie had been hiding with Ginny for a while. Binns caught him out and put him under Imperius, took him back up to their hiding place. When he discovered Jamie and Ginny, he killed both of them, then put Cruciatus on Simon. Albus arrived then and stunned Binns, but not before Simon was too far gone. He's got irreversible brain damage. After Albus wormed the story out of Binns, he killed him. It almost made me like him again. I feel I was a fool to trust him to continue to hide Ginny and Jamie and Simon; I should have known he had his own agenda after your trial. I feel that Albus and I have had a permanent parting of the ways.

I am going to try to find a safe place to go with Draco and Charlie; they are the only ones I trust now, and Charlie is as appalled with his brother's trial testimony as I was. We will probably not be able to get away immediately, but we will do it soon. It may be difficult to continue to write to you for a while. Please don't worry about us; I will communicate as often as I can once we are in a safe place. We think about you every day.



Harry stared at the letter, his eyes glazing over with pain.

Ginny dead.

Jamie dead.

Simon permanently damaged.

And soon, Draco would be in hiding. Harry's heart was in his throat. He'd never felt more sure that this world was a mistake, but he couldn't bear to think of trying to fix it....It would be so difficult....

Of course it will be difficult, said a voice he still occasionally heard in his brain. No one said it would be easy...

But Draco....soon Draco would be somewhere else, and he wouldn't be able to come to the cave to meet Harry if he managed to escape. He had to do something now, before it was too late....He couldn't wait until he'd served his five years.

He had hoped all along to escape and get Draco's assistance in fixing the timelines, but he had thought he would need more time to get adjusted to the Azkaban routine and work out the best way to make his escape. It has to be now, today.

He grasped the basilisk, as he hadn't for days, and realized that it no longer warmed his hand and gave him a mental image of Ginny; instead, his hand held hard, cold metal, almost like ice, and he had no image in his mind at all. She was gone. She was really gone....And Jamie too....

A despair like that he had never known gripped him and he gave himself over to a good cry; the despair deepened when dementors passed. Eventually, he fell asleep, and he didn't wake until he heard the dementors opening cell doors to deliver the evening meal. The sun was just beginning to set, and he would be eating in the dark again.

Then he realized that he wouldn't.

I'm not staying for dinner.

He changed into his Animagus form and stood near the door, waiting, waiting....

When the door opened, and the dementor entered, he slipped out into the corridor as Sirius had said he'd done, in his other life. The dementors did not detect the mind of the animal as he trotted past them and out the door onto the unforgiving rock of Azkaban. He turned to observe the stern prison, the dark shapes of the dementors flitting here and there, carrying food trays, their sick, rotting hands protruding from the sleeves of their cloaks. He turned away from them again and looked to the west and south. The sun was gilding the horizontal, scudding clouds that drifted in the pinkish sky, and in the distance, Harry thought he saw a greenish-purplish line on the horizon that could be the Scottish coast. It was now or never. He felt he would probably never again get up the nerve to do this, and if he waited too long, he wouldn't be able to find Draco....

Spreading his wings, he leapt off the cliff and fell for a few moments before moving his wings back and forth, back and forth, rising through the chilly sea air and building momentum. As he moved forward, he kept his griffin's eyes on the dark line on the horizon that was the northeast coast of Scotland, and flew toward the setting sun.

* * * * *

Author's Notes: He Is An Englishman, (I'm Called) Little Buttercup and Things are Seldom What They Seem are from the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta H.M.S. Pinafore. Behold The Lord High Executioner and A Wand'ring Minstrel I are from G&S's The Mikado and The Policeman's Song (When a felon's not engaged...etc.) is from The Pirates of Penzance. All words to the G&S operettas are by the inimitable W.S. Gilbert.

Go to the Psychic Serpent Homepage for links to the PDF files, the audio book of PS, and PS-related fics by other authors, as well as links to my essays and other fics. Thanks for reading and reviewing!