- 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: 09/18/2001Updated: 03/30/2002Words: 425,244Chapters: 21Hits: 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 18 - The Search for Snape
- 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)
The Search for Snape
...Falling, falling, falling....
He tumbled through space, through blackness. His mind cried out through the void, Help me!
But was there anyone to hear him? Why did he still see blackness? Had he changed the timelines back only to discover that he, Harry Potter, had died in the meantime? Was he tumbling from life in one reality to death in another?
But then he felt something solid under him, and he groaned with pain. He suddenly realized that he had a body, and he tried unsuccessfully to sit up; he wanted to rub the back of his head but he couldn't. He had a body. A body that hurt. Or rather, a head that hurt. Then there was a very strange sensation, like oddly soft sandpaper rubbing on his earlobe. Cautiously, he opened his eyes. The world didn't come into focus right away. He struggled to prop himself up on his elbows. Finally, he saw a fire burning in a grate, and on a keystone at the top of the fireplace arch, he saw what appeared to be a rampant lion. He knew, of course, that it was really a golden griffin without its wings spread. He turned and saw to his left the thin, long-nosed, freckled and red-bearded face of Ron Weasley, with a concern there that started to evaporate as he saw that Harry was all right. To his right was a person he'd seen only a little while before, her hair considerably shorter and more in control, but her shining brown eyes were the same, and her relieved smile.
The sandpapery feeling had come from his being licked by a small cat sitting next to him, looking oddly concerned, in her way, like Ron and Hermione. She had fluffy silver and black striped fur with markings around the eyes as though she had spectacles. She was too large to be a kitten, but as cats went, she was still rather small. Is that Argent? he thought. Harry was sitting on the floor, and there were a number of chess pieces scattered on the hearthrug around his legs. He saw the board nearby. He and Ron must have been playing chess. The pieces were pacing around restlessly now, and the white queen--Harry didn't know if it was his or Ron's--was glaring at him with her fists on her hips.
Harry looked back and forth between Ron and Hermione. They were both wearing black Hogwarts robes. Ron's were open, revealing a wrinkled white shirt ornamented with cat hair and buttoned wrong, and faded jeans and brown shoes that were very old; the leather was cracked and worn across the toes. His apprehension leaving him, Harry felt a grin creep across his face, then cried, "Ron!" Unable to contain himself any longer, he launched himself at the amazed boy, throwing his arms around him and feeling like he would weep. Ron disentangled himself from him rapidly, sputtering.
"Harry! Are you all right? Did you hit your head?"
But Harry wasn't listening to him. He turned to Hermione. "You're at Hogwarts!" he told her needlessly. He looked down at his own black Hogwarts robes, seeing the silver badge there. Then, pointing at her prefect's badge, he choked with emotion. "And you're a prefect!" He threw his arms around her now, and after a moment's hesitation, she returned the embrace awkwardly.
"Um, Harry, perhaps you should go to see Madam Pomfrey. You really don't look well, you suddenly fell backward and looked like you were having a fit, and now you're saying the queerest things--"
He pulled back from her, grinning. "But--but you don't understand! I've never felt better in my life!" He'd done it. He'd done it! He'd done it! He felt a giddiness bubbling up from inside him, as he looked around at the Gryffindor common room. The same tapestries hung on the walls, the same overstuffed red armchairs were scattered about, the same large tables for schoolwork that were invariably used for Exploding Snap instead. His eyes lit on Neville, sitting in a corner looking like he'd been leaning over Trevor's terrarium which Harry remembered he'd received for his sixteenth--or his fourth, depending how you looked at it--birthday. He peered at Harry curiously, as though he was nervous of coming closer.
"And there's Neville!" he cried happily. "And Dean and Seamus!" he said, nodding at the boys, who were sitting in adjacent armchairs looking at a Quidditch magazine together. They too looked as though they had stopped this activity to gawk at him. "And Will and Jamaica!" he added; the second year students were sitting very close together at a table, heads bent over a thick book, and he noticed that Dean was surreptitiously keeping an eye on the pair of them as they worked. They had apparently not noticed his "fit" as his dorm mates had. He continued to look around the room, seeing Zoey and Annika and Ruth, who were talking about their upcoming O.W.L.s. He ran to their table and leaned on it.
"Ruth!" he said excitedly. "What--what did you do about Passover this year?"
She frowned and looked up at him, startled. "My--my family had a sort of early seder for me during the school's Easter holiday. Since Hogwarts doesn't take Jewish holidays into consideration, that's what we've done since I started here. Except for the times when Passover has actually occurred during the Easter holiday. Why on earth are you asking?"
"Well, I think that next year, we should have a seder with you here in Gryffindor Tower. At the right time. Next year would be an Ashkenazy seder for your family, right? Since you had a Sephardic one this year?"
Now she looked frightened. "I'd--I'd really rather you didn't. And how did you--"
But he was spinning around looking all about the room, searching, searching....
"Ginny!" he said suddenly, then turned back to her dorm mates. "Where's Ginny? She's all right, isn't she?" His heart was thudding painfully in his chest. He thought about what Dumbledore had said, that anything might have happened in the last eight-and-a-half months....
Zoey nodded dumbly and looked at him as though he were quite unbalanced. "She just went up to our dorm to get some transfiguration notes. We're in the middle of O.W.L. revision here..."
"Dorm!" he said briskly. "Right!"
He sprinted up the stairs to the girls' dorms, feeling a power in his legs he'd missed; he must have been keeping up with his morning runs, he thought. That's good. He felt strong and fit and more alive than he had in ages. All was right with the world. He was a Gryffindor, Ron and Hermione were his best friends, and Ginny was all right!
He flung open the door to the dorm for the fifth-year girls, startling her. She was sorting through curling yellow parchments, scattered all over her bed, but she stood when she saw him, her brow furrowed. He closed the door and strode over to her, grinning, unable to contain his happiness at seeing her, at seeing her messy red hair and her wide brown eyes, at seeing every freckle and every inch of her tall, gangly frame. He wasn't as tall as he'd been in his other life, but she had stopped growing the previous year and he had not, so now he was about an inch taller than her. She had a questioning look on her face as he pulled her into his arms, running his eyes over her dear, dear face in amazement, and then he cradled her cheeks between his palms, shaking his head in wonder.
"You're all right," he choked, the tears in his eyes starting to make his vision bleary. He felt like his heart would burst. "You're all right...." he repeated over and over.
She stood stiff as a statue, not pushing him away, not responding except by frowning, a perplexed look frozen on her face. And then he pulled her to him and lowered his mouth to hers, unable to refrain from this for a second longer. She was still like a life-sized doll in his arms, unresponsive and limp. Then, as when he'd bidden her goodbye in the caretaker's office in his other life, he kissed both cheeks, her brow, the tip of her nose, the orbits under her brows....He pulled back, staring into her amazed face again, unsure whether to laugh or cry. "Oh, Ginny," he whispered, feeling like he might start doing both simultaneously. "Do you have any idea how much I love you?"
Her eyes opened even wider upon hearing this, her jaw dropped in shock, and he pulled her to him again, moving his arms across her back and one hand up to her head, laced into her hair, and, taking advantage of the surprised open mouth (as she had once done with him), he pushed his tongue gently and slowly between her lips, something he hadn't done after the Quidditch match in his fifth year. She shivered in his arms, coming to life at last, suddenly moving of her own accord instead of being moved, like a marionette. She gasped against his mouth and welcomed him in, twining her hands into his hair, holding his mouth in place as she softened and molded her body to his.
He exulted in the solid, warm reality of her; joy sang through every bone in his body. This was Ginny at last, in his arms, alive. Safe and alive....
...and she was kissing him back.
For half a minute.
Suddenly, she seemed to come to her senses and pulled away from him. Harry grinned at her happily, his mouth tingling, his heart singing and his mind screaming, She's alive! She's alive!
But Ginny had continued to back away from him, her hand covering her mouth in horror, and as he slowly came to realize that she was nowhere as glad to seem him as he was to see her, she started to shake her head, her chest heaving, her eyes round.
"No, no, no, no, Harry! We've been over this! You have to stop! You can't just come up to me and start--start kissing me and--and saying those things....You can't! I thought you understood; the last time we talked about this you seemed to understand...."
He furrowed his brow. He'd said these things to her before today? In this life?
"But--but Ginny," he stammered, extremely confused.
"No buts, Harry. Nothing has changed. I am with Draco and you are with Hermione. We can't--we can't just--just give in to--"
He stepped toward her so that they were standing very close again. He looked down at her earnestly. "To love?" he whispered.
"Yes! No!" she corrected herself quickly. "I mean--you can't just suddenly decide that--that you want to turn back the clock! It doesn't work that way! You can't just go back through time and say, 'All right, I want to take this path instead--' and rewrite history. Too much has happened...."
He furrowed his brow. "Just because a person has started down the wrong path they can't change it? Fix it? Look at--look at Professor Snape. He was a Death Eater. He returned to Dumbledore's side. How can you say it's impossible?"
Now she looked even more horrified, backing up still more until the mattress of her bed pushing at the backs of her knees forced her to sit abruptly. "Oh, Harry! How can you just--just casually talk about poor Professor Snape that way?"
Poor Professor Snape? What had happened to Snape?
"I'm--I'm sorry Ginny," he said awkwardly, backing up himself now. "I--it's just that I--I had this dream. A very vivid dream. And you--you--"
She flushed. "Harry. If I was in a dream you had, I don't think you should be telling me about it..."
He widened his eyes when he realized after a moment what kind of dream she thought he meant. "No! I--I don't mean that kind of dream. I--I dreamt that you were--" He couldn't say it.
"Yes?" She actually looked somewhat curious now.
"Um--I dreamt that you were--dead," he said finally, very softly. "And it seemed so real. I was so afraid--afraid that it was real--" he stammered, hoping this would make up for so summarily barging into her room and presumptively kissing her and telling her he loved her. She covered her mouth again.
"Oh, Harry. I--I don't know what to say..."
"Just--just say you forgive me and you'll forget all about this Ginny. My--my head doesn't feel quite right, frankly. Maybe I should go see Madam Pomfrey..."
"Is it your scar?"
He shook his head. "I don't think so."
"Maybe you should go to see Madam Pomfrey. It never hurts to play it safe."
He turned, then whirled and exclaimed, "Not that I'm saying a person has to be not quite right in the head to want to kiss you and--"
"Harry!" she said, laughing, and his heart was doing somersaults, hearing that laugh for the first time in what seemed to be a lifetime without it. "I didn't think you meant that. Just go see Madam Pomfrey. Maybe she can give you a draught of something so you'll have a dreamless sleep."
He nodded. "Yes. That's probably all I need." He put his hand on the doorknob and turned to her again. "Thanks, Ginny."
She smiled ruefully. "Don't worry about it." Her voice was very soft.
In the short corridor between the top of the steps to the lower floor and the steps leading up to the next level, he paused. He knew he shouldn't have done that, that he shouldn't have flown off the handle and run around Gryffindor Tower like a madman--but he was just so glad to know that she was alive, and to hold her, and hear her voice and her laughter....And when she had kissed him back....
He looked at the closed door, then turned to the steps. After going down only two he stopped and sat down on one of the broad stone treads, his head in his hands. Maybe he should go to Madam Pomfrey. Ron and Hermione had said they thought he'd hit his head. Perhaps he had. He rose again and started walking down the stairs very slowly. When he reached the common room again, Hermione and Ron were finishing putting the chess pieces away in their velveteen-lined box, and they came over to him, both looking very concerned.
"Are you well, Harry?" Hermione asked, putting her hand on his forehead solicitously. He removed it gently but firmly.
"I just need a lie-down," he said, his voice wavering. "I'll be fine...."
"You're sure?" Ron asked, and Harry could have hugged him again, very hard; it was so wonderful to know that Ron was his friend again, that he cared what happened to him instead of wanting to throttle him for snogging his sister--
--oh, wait, Harry thought, remembering. I was just snogging his sister. And he probably wouldn't be thrilled about that....
....although he might prefer it to Draco Malfoy.
He'd put his father in prison for Ginny's sake. In the tent in Godric's Hollow, he'd sacrificed himself for Harry's sake--for the sake of the world. And now he, Harry, had returned to Gryffindor Tower and swooped in and started kissing his girlfriend....
His stomach clenched, and not in a good way. He felt like the world's worst person....
"Are you sure you shouldn't go see Madam Pomfrey, Harry?" Hermione said again, frowning. "You look positively green."
He shook himself. "Just--just a lie-down, like I said. I'll be fine; really. Just come up and get me when it's time to eat..."
Then he knew he'd said the wrong thing again, because Ron and Hermione were exchanging a concerned look once more. "Um--you mean when it's time for breakfast?" Ron said. "Because it's almost nine o'clock. We've had the last meal today, and I'll be in the dorm with the others when it's morning," Ron said, looking like he might bodily cart Harry off to the hospital wing any second.
Harry nodded. "Right, right. I meant--" but he looked at their concerned faces, afraid to put his foot in it again. "Never mind," he amended himself. "I'll just go up to bed early. I need the rest."
He turned to look at them for a second after he had gone up the boys' staircase a few steps; they were still looking at him with concern. He remembered the picture of the three of them that Colin had taken, the one he and Ron had given Hermione for her fifteenth birthday, and then he thought of the photograph of him and Jamie and Draco which had been on his mantel at Hog's End. Jamie... He continued up the steps, his feet on autopilot, and soon he was opening the door to the sixth-year boys' dorm and throwing himself on the crimson coverlet on his four-poster. He looked down at the deep red color, the color of Gryffindor House. He'd wanted to be back here for so long, and now all he could think of was the people he'd lost forever in that other life....
And a stepfather who had always been there for him, who had waited for him, day in and day out, to come to Dover, who had delayed going to France, where he'd be safe, because he had to look out for him, Harry. Where was he now? In this life? What had happened to Severus Snape? He needed to rest now, but he knew that when he awoke, that was the question that needed to occupy all of his consciousness....
What on earth had happened to Snape?
When he awoke, the dorm was dark and he could hear snoring coming from the other beds. He lay listening to the peaceful, familiar sound through the curtains of his four-poster. Ron's snores blended in with the others'. He smiled to himself. He and Ron had made up. When? he wondered. He closed his eyes again, trying to think back to the autumn term....
During the first two weeks of the new term Harry and Ron did not speak to each other except when absolutely necessary. Ron had come to him with an idea for a birthday present for Hermione, and Harry had agreed that it was a good idea and figured out how to get it to her, but otherwise, they almost never spoke to each other. Harry was getting tired of it, feeling like he was walking on eggshells all of the time. The fact that Hermione had been completely overwhelmed by her present, and that it had been Ron's idea, grated on Harry for no reason he could understand. Finally, at the beginning of the third week of classes, Ron came over to Harry in the common room one evening and practically made him jump out of his skin by speaking to him suddenly.Harry thought about what he'd remembered. He hadn't yet recalled making up with Ron. That must have come later. He surveyed the peaceful sleeping shapes that were Neville, Dean and Seamus. Thank goodness I'm not in the same dorm with Zabini any more, he thought, wondering how Malfoy was faring with that. I hope Zabini's giving him hell....
"Where does she go?" he said in a whisper that only Harry could hear.
Harry looked up at him, frowning. Ron was talking to him? But then, he realized, he shouldn't really be surprised. The only reason he spoke to Harry these days was Hermione. This was no exception. He hesitated to answer, but then his curiosity got the better of him. "I dunno. Er--who?" he added, as though he didn't know perfectly well.
"Hermione. Every night after dinner, she disappears. She hasn't told you where she's going?"
Harry closedQuidditch Through the Ages, which he'd been rereading yet again. He shrugged, trying to look unconcerned, although Ron was making him curious now. He fought against showing this. "I just figured it was the library. You know Hermione. Are you sure it's every night?"
"Yeah. You're not very observant, considering she's your girlfriend." Harry bristled; Ron's favorite topic: Harry-The Not-Very-Good-Boyfriend. "She hasn't been in here earlier than ten o'clock since the term began. And it's usually a lot later than that."
Harry was silent, staring at the fire. It was true that he hadn't noticed that Hermione had been disappearing in the evenings. They'd only had time alone together once since the term had started, and it was an awkward, hurried affair on a Saturday afternoon, born of their two-month separation. (And it was her way, she said, of thanking him for her birthday present.) Harry had felt somewhat embarrassed disrobing in front of her, as though she'd never seen him before, and she had been somewhat shy as well.
When they'd returned to the common room from Fluffy's old lair, where they'd had their tryst, Ron had looked daggers at Harry, clearly knowing what they'd been up to, and Harry had returned the look. Harry was damned if Ron was going to tell him what to do, but all the same--something about his relationship with Hermione felt changed. Different. Harry didn't want to believe he was being affected by what Ron had said at the Burrow, but deep down, he knew he was, that it was always at the back of his mind....
"Well," Ron said truculently. "I'm going to wait for her to get back. And ask her outright." He sat himself down in the armchair next to Harry's. Harry had no interest in speaking further with Ron, however. He sprang up.
"Well, I trust Hermione. I'm not going to sit around waiting for her like I'm her father. If you want her to get hacked off at you for treating her like a child, be my guest. Don't expect me to come visit you in the hospital wing when she hexes you, and don't blame me for the points Gryffindor's liable to lose for her performing magic on you." Harry took his book up to the dorm and settled down on the bed to read. His heart was thudding in his chest. It hadn't been very satisfying to talk to Ron. He wished he could go back down to the common room and say, 'What do you think she's doing? When did you first notice her disappearing?' But he didn't want to admit to Ron that he was also concerned now. Mostly he was annoyed with himself that he hadn't noticed her nightly disappearances. But then, Ron always noticed everything Hermione did. Harry had seen him in every class, gazing at Hermione when she was absorbed in her work, watching her chew every bite of food at every meal, watching her every second when she was dueling during club meetings....
The other boys came upstairs to bed and Harry noticed that still Ron had not returned. He extinguished his candle last, still in his clothes. He waited in the dark for Ron. He checked his watch in the moonlight; at twelve-thirty Ron was still not in his bed. He assumed that that meant Hermione wasn't back yet.
Great, Harry thought. Now I've got to be worried about the pair of them, even though I'm angry with that red-haired git and it turns out she's going somewhere every night and hasn't bothered to tell me about it. He went to his trunk and removed his map and his Invisibility Cloak. He crept out of the dorm and crossed the corridor into the lavatory. When the candles on the walls had flared into life, he took out his wand and spread the map on the counter between the sinks, waving the wand over it and saying, "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."
The map of Hogwarts appeared gradually. Harry looked at the corner where Gryffindor Tower was; in the common room he saw two dots, labeled 'Ron Weasley' and 'Hermione Granger.' So, shewas back; Ron was probably asking her where she'd been, he thought. Fine; Ron could go off to the hospital wing alone when she caused boils to pop out all over his face. Then Harry noticed a moving dot near the Trophy Room labeled 'Virginia Weasley.' What was Ginny doing out at this hour? he wondered. He held his breath when he saw another moving dot labeled 'Argus Filch,' which appeared to be heading directly toward Ginny. He saw the dot that was Ginny duck into an alcove that he knew held a troll statue, and when Filch turned the corner, he kept moving past her, evidently unaware of her presence. Harry let out his breath again. What are you doing, Ginny? he thought. Filch is sure to catch you, or Mrs. Norris will lead him to you....
Then Harry noticed two other dots on the map, actually inside the Trophy Room. One was labeled 'Draco Malfoy' and the other was labeled 'Mariah Kirkner.' The dots were very close together. Harry swallowed. What was Malfoy up to with Mariah Kirkner at twelve-thirty at night in the Trophy Room? Did Ginny suspect? he wondered. Harry wondered whether Filch would discover them. That would serve them right. But then he thought of how Ginny would react if she knew they were together....Hecould be jumping to conclusions about the two of them, but he didn't seriously believe that. Ginny would be devastated....
He thrust the map into his pocket and threw on the Invisibility Cloak. At the very least, he could help Ginny get back to Gryffindor Tower without her being caught by Filch. Hopefully, he could also prevent her seeing Draco Malfoy with Mariah Kirkner. Unless she already had....
Harry tiptoed down the stone stairs to the common room. He turned around, looking for Ron and Hermione. Finally, he found them, sitting at a table in a far corner, a lone candle illuminating the piles of books and scattered parchments upon which Hermione had fallen asleep, her head on her right arm. Ron had fallen asleep as well; his arm was around her waist and his head was on her shoulder. There was a string of drool falling slowly from his mouth onto Hermione's robe. Harry shuddered, then was thankful he would be able to leave without their noticing him.
But then, as if he could read minds, Ron suddenly lifted his head, swinging it around and blinking as though he'd heard Harry, who now stood frozen near the fireplace. Ron yawned, stretching, and then he put both hands on Hermione's shoulders, shaking her gently.
"Hermione," he whispered. She grunted. Harry smiled and resisted the urge to laugh, remembering how soundly she could sleep. "Hermione," Ron said again, more insistently. "It's late." He shook her shoulder again. Still no response except a sleepy, contented sort of noise as she turned her head in the other direction. Ron was now presented with the back of her head. He sighed, obviously very tired himself. Then he seemed hypnotized by something; he moved closer to her, and Harry found that it was her neck which suddenly seemed so fascinating to him, exposed by her short haircut. Ron brought his lips to her neck, once, briefly, and then sat back, waiting for a response. Harry held his breath.
Ron leaned in again, his mouth finding her neck once more, but not briefly this time. Finally, he had his response. She gurgled in her throat, turning her head, her eyes still closed. "I suppose you think that's going to get you somewhere, Harry," she said sleepily, assuming that if someone were kissing her neck, it had to be her boyfriend. Ron hesitated for a moment, then brushed his lips along her jaw, finally bringing his mouth in contact with hers. She still had not opened her eyes. She moved her hands up to touch his face, and when her hands detected his facial hair, her eyes flew open, even as their mouths were still touching. Then he touched her waist, and Harry knew what spot he'd come in contact with; it made her melt to be touchedjust so below her ribcage and above her hipbone, and she closed her eyes again, moaning softly as she continued the kiss, opening her mouth. Harry could tell that she knew now who it was, and yet she still did it.
So. Ron was getting his wish, and Harry didn't have to break up with her for it to happen. He was shaking with rage. And Hermione! he thought. She wasn't even--
"No!" she suddenly cried, pulling back, coming to her senses at last. She covered her mouth with her hand, aghast. "I'm--I'm sorry Ron. I'm tired, I wasn't thinking...."
He ran his hands through his hair, sitting back with a resigned expression on his face. "Well, I finally got you to wake up, didn't I?" he said, as though that were his only motivation. She raised an eyebrow.
"That's what that was all about?"
He looked at her with a mixture of love and resentment in his gaze. His voice was very hard. "We both arranged for your birthday present. Why should only Harry get something out of it?"
Her jaw dropped. "Oh, is that it? You expected some 'thank-you' snogging? Or 'thank-you' shagging?"
His face relaxed, he ran his hand over his beard. "No, no, Hermione. I just thought--I thought you'd like to have it with you here at school..."
She swallowed. "It was--it was your idea?" He nodded. "Oh, Ron--" She leaned toward him and slid her hands up around his neck, but the kiss was very brief. She moved back again. "There. A proper thank-you."
He smiled ruefully. "Well, I don't know about proper..."
"Oh, Ron. That was--I mean, how can you complain I was leading you on with that kiss?"
He smile turned into a grimace. "Yeah, well, I'm evidently made of stone."
She frowned at him, standing up to close books and gather up parchments. "What'sthat supposed to mean?"
He stood next to her and turned her to him, while she clutched a large library tome to her chest. "It's supposed to mean that I can kiss you and you can kiss me, but somehow it's allmy fault. And I'm not supposed to feel anything for you when--""
She looked down, coloring deeply. "Ron. It's late. This isn't the time for--"
"Then whatis the time? When you've been with him for another ten years out of duty? When the hell is the time, Hermione?"
"Oh, now you think Harry's going to live another ten years, do you?"
He frowned. "What are you talking about?"
She bristled. "For someone who pretends to care about me, you're certainly very good at thinking of nasty things to say about me."
He frowned. "What nasty things?"
"I know what you said to Harry. Before we all went to King's Cross."
Ron had the good grace to look ashamed. But then he recovered and looked slightly hostile instead. "Oh, he told you, did he?"
"No; Malfoy overheard the pair of you, evidently. He told Mariah Kirkner and she told me. Very nice. Now I know what you really think of me..."
"Hermione, these are two Slytherins we're talking about--" he said.
She ignored this. "I mean, you honestly think I just wanted to shag him before he dies? Did you actuallysay that?"
Ron shuffled nervously. "Erm--not exactly--"
"Not exactly. Oh, that's just lovely. Just lovely."
"Hermione, I just think--I think you're confused about why the two of you are together, that's all. If you really think about it--"
"Then what? I'll realize that I really want to be with the prat who, when he suddenly realized that Fleur Delacour wasn't losing sleep over him at night decided to notice I'm agirl? Very nice, Ron, very nice..." Harry swallowed. Hermione was still upset about Fleur Delacour?
"Hermione," he said softly. "You were kissingme a minute ago, and I don't mean your little 'thank-you' kiss..."
She looked flustered at being reminded of this. "Yes, well--" she trailed off, at a loss for words. "It's not nice to take advantage of someone being sleep-deprived--"
"Is that what it was? When we were at the Burrow it was, 'The sun was in my eyes...'"
This happened before? Harry thought. It must have been late summer. He wondered whether it was before or after Ron told him he should break up with her...
Ron stepped closer to her and stroked her cheek with his fingers. "I'm sorry, Hermione. I don't want to start a fight at this hour. I understand that you're tired. Is it--is it very difficult? I can't believe what you're putting yourself through every night...."
She seemed to relent a bit and reached up to rub her neck. Ron looked like he might want to do it for her. "Oh--you have no idea. But at the same time--when I get something right--it's absolutely incredible. It's brilliant. I can't really adequately describe it..."
He frowned. "Are you doing this for him?"
She looked completely exasperated. "No, Ron. I've wanted to do this since I first learned that some witches and wizards could. I amnot doing this for Harry. For once in my life I'm doing something for me. Everything in my life is not about Harry Potter, even though you obviously take great pleasure in accusing me of that."
"Good. I'm glad you're doing it for you. I'm--I'm incredibly proud of you, you know. What you're doing....I can't even begin to imagine it." He shook his head, smiling at her. "Do you have any idea how special you are?" She colored, looking down. Ron put his hand under her chin and brought her face up to him again. "But don't pretend to me that you didn't know exactly what you were doing when you kissed me back, Hermione," he said softly. "You're not in love with Harry. And he's not in love with you. But someone else is..." he whispered against her mouth, and she was utterly still while he kissed her lightly and then withdrew, looking in her eyes, waiting, hoping. She trembled, staring up at him with a clear fright showing in her face. He still held her chin in his hand. "Listen, I know I've been a complete sodding idiot and I don't deserve you--as if anyonedoes, and I know I should have said something a year ago--two years ago. But if you just say the word, Hermione, I'll leave it alone. Just say that you're not in love with me. I'll accept it, I will. Just say it and we can go on and pretend all this never happened..."
She continued to stare at him, then backed up, her mouth opening as though shewould say something. But nothing came out of her mouth. Finally, a look of extreme distress contorting her face, she turned and fled up the staircase to the girls' dorms without another word or looking back at him. Ron brought both hands down on the heavy wooden table, swearing loudly at the same time that his palms struck the wood, producing a sound like a gunshot, then leaning heavily on his large hands, staring forlornly down at the scattered books and parchments, a single tear running down his cheek.
She couldn't say it.
Harry didn't know what to think. Had Hermione been unfaithful to him or not? Had Ron betrayed him or not? It wasn't like he didn't know how Ron felt. He just hadn't expected him to go ahead and kiss Hermione like that, justdo it. He felt deflated, his rage gone, a kind of spirit-fatigue sapping his energy as he watched Ron trudge toward the stairs. Suddenly he was feeling an incredible wave of guilt for no reason he could identify, and he tried to shake this off. I'm not the one who did anything wrong tonight, he reminded himself sternly.
When he heard Ron's footsteps receding, he finally crept to the portrait hole and left Gryffindor Tower. He had a lot to think about when he returned to the dorm. But right now he needed to help Ginny return to her dorm without being discovered by Filch, and without discovering Malfoy and Mariah Kirkner. He tried to focus on the task at hand.
He checked his watch; he had been standing near the fireplace for less than ten minutes. Ginny could have been discovered in that time. He hurried down a flight of stairs, then checked the map to ascertain Ginny's position. He found that Draco Malfoy and Mariah Kirkner were now down in the dungeon corridor, on their way back to Slytherin House, having somehow bypassed Filch. Why had they been in the Trophy Room in the first place? he wondered. Had they needed to have a conversation that couldn't be overheard by other Slytherins?
Ginny's dot on the map was now in the Trophy Room. Did she suspect that her boyfriend was sneaking around with another girl? Then he saw the Argus Filch dot moving toward the Trophy Room. Damn! He would find her any second. Harry looked around the corridor in which he stood, down a flight from the entrance to the Gryffindor common room. There were two suits of armor standing side by side; they'd been worn by twin brothers in a thirteenth-century Goblin war. Harry ran toward them with all his might, producing an incredible CRASH! when the bits and pieces of the suits cascaded to the stone floor. He grabbed the sword that one of them was holding and proceeded to beat it against the breastplates of the suits and the helmets. Then he dropped the sword and dashed down some narrow stairs that were an alternate route to the library. He stopped on the stairs to look on the map for Filch, and sure enough, his dot was now moving swiftly toward the source of the noise, taking a slightly different route. If Filch had thought he would check the Trophy Room for students, he was clearly going to have to postpone that until after he investigated the wrecked suits of armor.
Harry ran down the stairs, then up another short flight after going down a corridor whose only purpose was to connect the stairs. After several more turns and going up and down staircases, he dashed into the Trophy Room, checking the map again; she was on the far side of the largest display case. He couldn't see her; she was obviously hiding from Filch. He went behind the case himself, seeing her crouching there immediately, and he put the map into his pocket and picked up the edge of the cloak, stooping over to look at her.
She turned her head and opened her eyes wide and began to scream; Harry quickly put his hand over her mouth.
"Don'tdo that!" he hissed. "I'm here to help you get back to Gryffindor Tower. Filch almost had you but I wrecked some armor upstairs to distract him. Here--get under the cloak with me."
She recovered, scrambling to her feet and ducking under the cloak, whispering to him as they shuffled cautiously toward the door.
"How did you know I was here?" her mouth was so close to his ear he shivered.
"Fred and George's old map. I was wondering where Ron was, but when I looked, there you were, about to be nabbed by Filch."
She nodded, continuing to shuffle along beside him. Her left hand kept brushing his right thigh, sending sparks through him that he was having a very hard time ignoring. Then they heard pounding footsteps, and Harry pulled her into the alcove in which she'd been hiding before, behind the troll statue.
They saw Filch stride purposefully into the Trophy Room, looking around suspiciously, Mrs. Norris by his side. Then the cat turned and Harry could swear she looked right at the pair of them, pressed into the alcove. Harry held his breath. It was a tight spot; they were pressed together very closely, her hair tickling his nose, her breath warm against his neck. He thought he might very well be going insane from the closeness to her....
"Eh? What's that, my sweet?" Harry could see over Ginny's shoulder, around the statue. Filch, in the middle of the Trophy Room, turned on his heel and walked back into the corridor, where the cat stood staring, evidently, at the troll statue. Filch stopped and began to stare at the statue as well, then looked down at the cat.
"You never liked'em, I know, but that's no reason to stare...."
He turned away and began striding back in the direction of the wrecked armor. Perhaps he had left it, Harry thought, because he correctly surmised that it was a ruse to draw him off from someone else.
Ginny started to move, but Harry put his arm around her waist, holding her to him. "Too soon," he whispered. "And the armor is at the foot of the stairs to the Gryffindor common room. It was the best I could do. He might be watching there for a while; if the portrait opens and no one's there, he'll be pretty suspicious...."
She nodded, then leaned against him and put her head down on his shoulder. She didn't have much choice; with his arm around her waist she was forced to continue to stand very close to him. He tentatively put his other arm around her shoulder, closing his eyes.
Ginny. He was holding Ginny. The simple fact of her, of her gentle breathing and her heartbeat, serving as a metronome for his own heart and breath, calmed him and made him feel more peaceful than he had since returning to Hogwarts. At length, he whispered to her, "Why were you out this late, Ginny?"
She lifted her head from his shoulder to speak, and he could feel the heat radiating from her face. She was embarrassed.
"When I was leaving Potions, I noticed a note on the floor in Draco's handwriting. I'd know it anywhere. It said, 'Trophy Room at midnight.' It wasn't signed, of course, and didn't have my name on it either. He was being discreet, obviously. He must have tucked it into one of my books when I didn't realize. I'm lucky I found it at all. But now he'll think I've stood him up. Filch has been maddening; I've been trying to get to the Trophy Room since eleven-thirty. No matter what route I chose, he always seemed to get in my way."
Harry never thought he would do this, but now he thought fervently,Thank goodness for Argus Filch! If it weren't for Filch, Ginny would have reached the Trophy Room and found--what? Perhaps Malfoy had intended to meet Ginny, and Mariah was worried about him possibly being ambushed by other Slytherins and followed him, and perhaps they'd just chatted while he waited for Ginny, who was being thwarted by Filch....
But he knew he was probably grasping at straws. How could he find out, though? He looked in her dark eyes. "How do you like Potions with MacDermid?"
She shrugged prettily. "Fine. I'm still getting used to his accent, but he seems to know what he's doing."
Harry nodded, trying to work out how to ask her what he needed to know without her suspecting anything. "Who do you usually work with? Zoey? Ruth?"
"I used to work with either Annika or Colin, but he likes pairing up Gryffindors and Slytherins. Good for intra-house cooperation, he says."
He nodded. "He does that with us, too." Harry, unfortunately, had been stuck working with Pansy Parkinson since the term had begun.
"So which Slytherin did he stick you with?"
"I'm lucky. I got Mariah. I don't think he knew that we were already friends. It could have been a lot worse. Jason Bassett keeps trying to pinch my bum--" Suddenly, she blushed. "Oh--sorry--"
He smiled at her; their faces couldn't have been more than an inch apart. His hand was just a few inches higher than Jason Bassett's usual target....
"That's all right. I know what teenage boys are like, and what gets their hormones racing--" Suddenly, he was the one blushing, saying this to her while holding her in his arms. He turned his eyes away from her, his heart going very fast. "It's probably safe now," he said, trying to change the mood. "Let's give it a try."
She nodded and they slipped out of the alcove. Harry kept his arm around her waist, and she put hers around his as well, so they took up less space under the cloak. They crept up some hidden staircases Harry knew of, and Ginny then led them up another he didn't know about, the entrance covered by a tapestry. They finally reached the portrait of the Fat Lady without encountering Filch, and were admitted when they gave the correct password ("Mugwort.") Once in the common room, they removed the cloak and each sank with relief into one of the armchairs near the dark fireplace. It was already starting to get cold at night, so Harry pointed his wand at the firebox to start a fire. Ginny sighed, sitting back in her chair with her eyes closed, and Harry smiled, watching the flames illuminate her peaceful features and her hair which seemed to have more shades of red and gold than the fire itself. Then he remembered Malfoy again. I will have to have a talk with him, he thought. Or maybe--maybe he should talk with Mariah Kirkner. In any event, Ginny must never know that the two of them were in the Trophy Room, and that the note was probably not meant for her, but Mariah, who must have been the one who dropped it during Potions....
Ginny opened her eyes abruptly. "Gah. I dozed off. I should do that upstairs. Thanks for helping me get back, Harry. Perhaps sometime--I could borrow your map? Or your cloak--?" She smiled hopefully. He wanted to refuse, but her pleading eyes made it so difficult.
"Perhaps," he said, thinking that this could be very dangerous. If she saw her boyfriend and Mariah Kirkner together on the map, or came upon them while she was wearing the Invisibility Cloak and they were unaware of her presence....
He shook himself. He'd talk with one of them. Find out exactly what was what. Ginny mustn't be hurt; that was the most important thing. She rose now and bent over him; he held his breath for what seemed to be the hundredth time since he'd come down from the dorm. Her hair formed curtains on either side of his face and her mouth came closer and closer to his....
"Goodnight, Harry," she said softly, kissing him on the cheek. Then, all too soon, he was grasping at empty air and she was gone, skipping up the stairs to the girls' dorm. Harry leaned back and sighed, then finally went back up to bed, feeling like he could sleep for a year, and dreading having to confront either Malfoy or Mariah about their midnight wanderings....
But when he looked over at Ron's bed, it was empty. He'd thought his snores were just blending in with the others. Harry checked his watch; it was almost midnight. After the memory he'd just pulled out of his brain, this was feeling very, very familiar. He padded softly to the door without putting his shoes on, then crept down the stone stairs to the common room. The treads felt cool through his socks. When he reached the shadowy archway leading into the comfortable space, he saw that only two people were left: Ron and Hermione. The torches in the room had been extinguished and they sat on the floor before the fire, which was now the only light. They were leaning against the same armchair. Ron's arm was around her shoulders and her head leant on his chest, his cheek on her hair. They were speaking to each other softly, but in the empty room, the words carried easily to Harry's ears.
"....and he was fine then," Hermione was saying, looking into the flames.
"Well," Ron said, "would you really say fine? I mean--"
They were silent again. Harry assumed they had been talking about him, but he couldn't tell what any of the specifics were.
"Hermione," Ron said softly, looking down at her. "You need to do it. He's not going to. I thought he might, but--"
"--but you went out of your way to get him hacked off last summer, so he's decided to be contrary?" she smirked. Ron's ears turned red.
"Okay, okay, we've covered that. I did a really stupid thing. I meant well...."
She stroked his cheek tenderly. "I know you did, in your completely inept way." She seemed to have gotten over his accusing her of wanting to shag Harry before he died. Somehow, her statement sounded more affectionate than critical, and Ron didn't object to the assessment. "But how can I--I mean, I'd die if I ever did anything to hurt him. And then he was being so strange tonight. You don't suppose--"
"It's hurting him to let this go on for so long. In the end, it's really the kindest thing, Hermione. It would free him."
"And me," she said more softly still, looking down and lacing her fingers through his.
"You wouldn't be selfish to do it, Hermione. It would be honest."
She looked up at him in distress. "It would be abandoning him. He still seems to need me so much--"
Now Ron made a face. "Well of course he feels like he needs that. He's a normal teenage boy...."
She hit him on the arm now, but it wasn't hard. "That's not what I mean. Although--"
She hesitated, looked down. Her voice was very soft. "It seems that for quite a while now, I'm the one who has to start things. And it's not that he doesn't go along once we start, it just seems--"
"--like he's going along?"
She nodded, turning pink. "Not that that even happens very often..."
He cupped her chin in his hand. "Are you afraid you're not desirable, Hermione?" he whispered. She turned her head, pushed his hand away.
"Don't make fun, Ron--"
"I'm not. I'm just wondering whether--"
"That's not what's worrying me, Ron. Afterward, we just--we just hold each other quietly. No talking. It never used to be that way. He feels so--separate. In another world. And once he was rather tired after and dozed off. While he was sleeping, he was having very restless dreams, calling for his mother, and also saying--" She hesitated. Harry held his breath. He hoped he hadn't been saying Ginny's name....
"What?" Ron wanted to know. Harry was amazed that Ron had been so patient for so long, and that he was able to sit here and listen to her speaking of sleeping with her boyfriend when he wanted her, too.
"He said, 'Jamie,'" she said, perplexed. Ron looked the same.
"Why would he call his dad by his first name? By a nickname, actually."
She shook her head. "I don't know. And sometimes when he was mentioning his mother, he was saying, 'I'm sorry, Mum, I'm sorry.'"
Ron stared into the fire. "He was doing that when he fell asleep on the train to school, remember?"
She nodded. "He's been queer ever since then. First he had to run and jump on the train after it had started moving, then he looked as though he'd been through some horrible ordeal, and his clothes were cold and damp and he had wet leaves all over his robes. And he just looked--horrified. I haven't seen him look like that since the dementors were here in third year. He looked like that after being too near them and hearing his parents scream while they died...."
"And then, last October, he went to see Dumbledore, said he couldn't not tell him any longer..."
"Tell him what?"
Ron shrugged. "He wouldn't say. He said we'd know sometime in May. I thought he was barmy, and I didn't think about it again. But now--now it's May. And something weird was going on with him tonight..."
They were silent, both looking at the fire, then suddenly, Hermione reached over for his left arm and dragged his hand up before her face. It took Harry a moment to realize that she was trying to see Ron's watch.
"It's after midnight. Happy birthday."
He looked down at her, his face full of emotion. "Thanks," he said almost inaudibly, then leaned down and kissed her softly on the lips. She let him do it, then turned her head quickly so it remained a brother's kiss. He put his hand on her cheek and turned her head back to him.
"No, Ron. Not yet." He lowered his hand and sighed, turning to look at the fire again. "I'm sorry," she went on. "I really am. But--he's gotten so bad, and I'm afraid--"
"--afraid he'll get even worse. I know, I know..."
"I mean--he goes through all the motions. Gets up, goes running. Runs the Dueling Club. Trains the elves..."
Trains the elves? Harry thought, perplexed.
"...goes to prefects' meetings, goes to Quidditch practice, does his homework...but it's like he's not really here."
Ron furrowed his brow. "Well, it's been a pretty uneventful year in the castle. All of the stuff that's been happening seems pretty far away. I mean, the news from the outside world has been pretty appalling, but we can't do anything about it from here. Usually he's had more to occupy him. Not that that was a good thing....But, I dunno. Maybe he's bored?"
"Bored because he only has school to worry about instead of people trying to kill him or recruit him to be a Death Eater? He should have been so bored the last five years..."
"That's not what I meant."
She looked at the fire. "He misses Snape. I know that. He's said so, many times. It's so odd. First year, I never would have thought those words would come out of his mouth."
Ron laughed. "That's true. Although he admitted that MacDermid's not bad--" he looked slyly at Hermione. "--and you think he's not hard on the eyes...."
She hit him again. "Stop that! Don't tease--"
He laughed again. "If you're going to be gawking at him, at least he's not a git like Gilderoy Lockhart...."
She raised one eyebrow and looked like she was about to taunt him. She did. "You should have seen him in a kilt at the ceilidh last year..."
"That wasn't him; that was Snape."
"But he was using his uncle's appearance."
Ron smiled. "He's ancient, you know."
"He isn't; only around--what? Sixty?"
"Should I tell Harry you're running off to elope with Professor MacDermid?" His eyes were merry. She poked him in the ribs.
"Stop. I'm not as bad as Pansy Parkinson. Gah. I think she ruined her venom antidote last week because it had too much drool in it..."
They both laughed, then Hermione tried unsuccessfully to stifle a huge yawn, and she stretched both arms over her head, groaning.
"Oh, I need to get some sleep--"
"I'll walk you to your dorm--" Ron said, standing and extending a hand to help her up; he had swallowed, watching her blouse intently when she'd been stretching. Her robe was open over the simple white blouse and grey skirt. She seemed to be oblivious to the effect her stretching had had on him.
"All right. Then maybe I won't wind up sleeping on the stairs...."
He scooped her up in his arms suddenly, grinning. "I can always carry you up--"
"Put me down!" she said, hitting him on the chest, turning deep crimson as he deposited her feet on the floor again. They stood very close to each other, and the look in their eyes as she gazed up and he gazed down was unmistakable. But when she raised herself on her toes, she brushed his cheek with her lips, in that small soft spot between his mouth and his sideburns where the beard didn't grow.
"Harry birthday, Ron."
He groaned, looking down at her, his hands on her shoulders. "Who's teasing now?" he asked quietly. She looked down and walked toward the stairs to the girls' dorms, her hand trailing out in the air behind her, and he caught it and followed her. Harry shrank back into the shadows in the entrance to the boys' stairs when they passed. When he heard them going up the other stairs, he padded softly back up to the sixth year boys' dorm and scrambled into bed; then he realized he was still clothed, and he leapt up, undressing quickly, then springing back into bed just as Ron opened the door. Harry saw him swing his head in his direction, and he immediately closed his eyes, feigning sleep. After a few minutes, he dared open them; Ron was undressing for bed. When Harry heard him climb into his four poster, he called out softly, "Is that you Ron?" as though it could be anyone else.
"Yeah, Harry. You all right?"
"Fine. Happy birthday."
A pause. "Thanks. We should get some sleep."
"Right. G'night, Ron."
Harry listened to his friend's breathing in the dark, wondering for how much longer he and Hermione would be able to continue reining themselves in....
His eyes flew open in the dark. He stared up at his canopy, breathing hard. He had thought he was having a dream, but after a time he realized that it was actually another memory. It was starting to slip away from him again. He closed his eyes and tried to remember. Ginny had said that he'd told her before that he loved her, and now he did remember. It hadn't been that night under the Invisibility Cloak, hiding from Filch. It was during the Christmas holiday....
There were a lot of students staying at the castle during Christmas. Many of them were reluctant to return to the dangerous outside world (although they were also worried about their families) and to ease any feelings of guilt they might be having because of this, Dumbledore had told the students that he wanted as much participation as possible in the second annual Boxing Day switch with the elves.
Harry felt like the autumn term was all about elves. Elves, elves, elves. They talked about elves in Hagrid's class. Lupin had them learning about various species of elves that lurked in dark places and tended to lie in wait to harm humans. In October, Dumbledore had put Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny in charge of training an Elven Army to fight dark wizards alongside other magical humans, with the promise that no elf would receive clothes that did not specifically ask for them. They didn't give the elves wands, but things they were teaching them did start to verge on breaking the laws that had been laid down by the Ministry to curtail elves' freedom and autonomy.
Many of the elves had actually decided they liked the training. (Dumbledore had convinced them that they were still being of service to humans, which is the most important thing to a house-elf.) Harry was the General and Hermione the Colonel, because of their work with the elves during the previous Boxing Day (the elves chose them by acclamation); Hermione convinced them to make Ron a Lieutenant. It was during these elf-training sessions that the relationship between Harry and Ron normalized somewhat; they had to unite against the collective menace that the house-elves represented (they could be quite infuriating at times), and by mid-October, Harry and Ron were actually able to laugh with each other again. However, at the back of Harry's mind was the night when he'd helped Ginny return to the dorm, the night when Hermione couldn't tell Ron she wasn't in love with him. He felt more distant from her all the time, unable to get this out of his mind....
Draco Malfoy had declined when Dumbledore had also offered him a position of leadership in the Elven Army; he didn't like house elves, free or not. He'd been just as happy to see the back of Dobby after Lucius Malfoy had accidentally freed him by flinging the sock at him with Riddle's diary in it (inadvertently creating Dobby's sock obsession). Ironically, Ron, who'd always told Hermione it was crazy to free house-elves, was the one who had accidentally come up with the idea for the Elven Army, which Harry then proposed to the headmaster (reluctantly admitting that it wasn't his idea). This was why Hermione had campaigned for Ron to have a leadership role. Harry had to admit, itwas a good idea. Elves were very powerful. He remembered vividly the way Dobby had been able to make Lucius Malfoy fly down that flight of stairs, with absolutely no wand at all....
But the house-elves had to also agree that one day a year, they would allow the humans to wait on them. On Boxing Day they would leave off their cooking and cleaning and let the staff and students take over management of the castle. Hermione was thrilled that her idea from the previous year was being taken up again, even if she was a little wistful about not spending the holiday with her parents--yet again--and Ron and Ginny also hated the idea of not being at home for the holiday (Ginny stayed because Dracohad no home to go to, and Ron stayed to keep an eye on Ginny). To compensate for this, Percy and the twins invited their parents and older brothers to come spend Christmas at Hog's End in Hogsmeade, and Percy himself went to Dumbledore to ask whether Ron and Ginny could come down to the village for the day to celebrate with family; they could be back at the castle before bed time and be all set to participate in the Boxing Day switch the next morning.
Dumbledore had given his permission, and Ron immediately wangled invitations and permission for Harry and Hermione as well, and Ginny managed to get Draco included too (although Harry had thought he looked rather apprehensive about this). Then it grew still further; since Angelina was still seeing George (they actually lived in the same bedroom at the house, something Mrs. Weasley studiously ignored) and Yarrow Swartz was now seeing Fred, the two of them were going to prepare the Christmas dinner. Upon hearing this, Ron was convinced that his mother would be physically unable to stay out of the kitchen (even if she did only deign to use monosyllables around Angelina).
Angelina's parents were coming as well, and Lee Jordan and his parents and older sister, along with his sister's husband (who was a Muggle) and their three children. Lee and Katie had broken up, and he dreaded his sister playing matchmaker (Fred and George had told Harry this). It promised to be madness, but Harry was looking forward to it. He'd only ever experienced Christmas at the Dursleys and at Hogwarts. He'd never been in a large, noisy private home for the holiday (with people who liked him). Hermione's parents were coming too; they were driving to Ottery St. Catchpole and the Weasleys' home, then they were going to come through the Floo network with Mrs. Weasley. (Mr. Weasley and Bill and Charlie were going to Apparate). Hermione was a little nervous about this, as her parents had never traveled by Floo before. The one thing everyone was worried about was Percy; he seemed to be forcing the whole Christmas thing, compulsively decorating the house, forbidding the twins and Lee to look in cupboards where he'd hidden presents (he'd put some nasty curses on some of the locks) and in general, it seemed that he was trying to forget through overactivity that he was without Penelope during the holiday.
When Harry and Ron awoke on Christmas morning, they wished each other a happy Christmas, but it was odd not to see piles of presents at the feet of their beds. They would be exchanging gifts at Hog's End, and both Harry and Ron had a pillowcase that they were using to carry the gifts they were bringing for other people. They met Hermione and Ginny in the common room, also wishing them a happy Christmas and carrying gift-laden pillowcases of their own. Then the four Gryffindors met Draco Malfoy in the entrance hall, serenaded on the way down by various suits of armor singing off-key carols. (One suit singing an off-color carol turned out to have Peeves inside it.) The pale Slytherin dropped his jaw when he saw the four of them.
"What are you carrying pillowcases for?"
"I know you were virtually raised in a cave, Malfoy, but have you never heard of the tradition of exchanging gifts at Christmas?" Ron demanded.
He narrowed his grey eyes and drew his mouth into a line. "That's all very well and good if you have themoney to buy gifts...." he said softly, clearly very uncomfortable about this, especially since he was talking to Ron Weasley.
Draco Malfoy hadnot taken well to being destitute. He had insisted upon using the money he'd earned during the summer to pay for his own school supplies for the year. Between the actual cost of the purchases and the exorbitant exchange rates the goblins charged him to change his Muggle money into wizarding money, it had left him with only a few sickles, which had disappeared after the first two Hogsmeade weekends. Harry had even tried to offer him a loan of a few Galleons for Christmas gifts, which he had thrown at Harry's feet before stalking off. Afterward, Harry had heard Ginny arguing with him about it. Ron, not Harry, had told her what Harry had done, and she was calling her boyfriend pigheaded and ungrateful. They were in the corridor outside the library, and Harry had sunk into a classroom doorway to avoid being seen. Draco Malfoy wasn't any more gracious than Ron Weasley was about being helped financially. Harry suspected that Ron had told Ginny about this because he was feeling very smug, but it annoyed Harry that he couldn't see his own behavior in Malfoy.
Ron, on the other hand, had been very careful about hoarding his reward money. He'd spent almost none of it and considered every purchase very, very carefully, almost as though he were risking being broke again if he spent so much as one Knut. Hermione was somewhat irritated about this; when the three of them went to Hogsmeade and stopped in Honeyduke's, Ron spent an inordinate amount of time calculating which treats were the best buy for the money.
"See," he would start to say, "the Transfiguring Toffees are quite chewy, so they last a long time. Chocolate Frogs, on the other hand, are more expensive and go very quickly. Although you might say that that's offset by the fact that you get to keep the wizard card...."
She would roll her eyes and practically snarl, "Justpick something already!"
Harry shifted his feet uncomfortably on the cold stone flags of the entrance hall. "Let's just go, okay?" he said, trying not to look at Malfoy. They were meeting Hagrid in front of the castle, where the horseless carriages were waiting for them. Percy had invited Hagrid on impulse when he'd come to the castle to ask Dumbledore for permission for Ginny and Ron to come to the village. Hagrid hadn't told them he was coming until Christmas Eve, slapping Ron on the back so hard when he did tell them, Harry thought Ron just might go through the stone floor down into the dungeons.
They climbed into the carriages, Hagrid in one with Ginny and Malfoy (making it sink down considerably) and Harry, Ron and Hermione in the other. Harry tried to push his worries to the back of his mind. The three of them smiled at each other as they rode to the village, anticipating a wonderful Christmas day at Hog's End. Where necessary, the wheels magically changed to sled runners so they wouldn't stall on the snow that was already scattered here and there.
Soon they were pulling up in the drive of Hog's End. The large front door had an enormous wreath on it. They climbed out and the door immediately opened and Percy stood in the doorway, grinning at them. "Happy Christmas, everyone! Come inside, quickly....presents go under the tree in the drawing room...."
There was an enormous tree in the entrance hall as well, plus green garlands looped along the banister leading to the second floor and along the balustrade edging the balcony that overlooked the hall. Fairy lights glittered on the tree and in the leafy garlands, and intricate blown-glass ornaments on the tree seemed to change color from moment to moment, while some bell-shaped ornaments playedHere We Come A-Wassailing as though they were part of a carillon. Harry agreed that Percy did seem slightly hyper, but he reasoned that it was just his way of coping. Whose business was it if this was the way he wanted to mourn Penelope?
The twins took their cloaks in the front hall; there was much laughter and cries of, "Happy Christmas!" and sly peeks into the pillowcases with the gifts. They went into the drawing room to place their presents under the tree and say hello to the other guests. Mrs. Weasley greeted all of them warmly, especially Draco Malfoy, it seemed to Harry, who visibly flinched under her gaze (he seemed to think it was pity, and hehated being pitied). Bill slapped him on the back and Charlie shook his hand (squeezing rather hard, it seemed to Harry, based on Malfoy's slightly-pinched facial expression).
They played Exploding Snap and wizarding chess and sang carols around a magical player piano. Mrs. Weasley looked around shiftily at one point and then slipped from the room; Harry exchanged a look with Ron. They both knew she was going to invade the kitchen, and make Angelina's and Yarrow's lives hell. Hermione and Ginny followed soon after; perhaps they thought they could neutralize Mrs. Weasley's effect on the other girls.
At noon they sat down for Christmas dinner at the enormous refectory table in the kitchen, since the house's dining room had been pressed into service as a combined office for Lee and the twins. There were twenty-five people total; Percy placed his parents at one end of the table, while Hagrid sat at the other end by himself and the rest of them flanked its length, eleven people to a side.
It was an unparalleled feast; even Mrs. Weasley could fault nothing, from the enormous Christmas goose to the flaming plum pudding. There were wizarding Christmas crackers at each place, and the Grangers were delighted with these, having never encountered them before. Lee's brother-in-law, Miles, began a long diatribe about his gradual introduction into the wizarding world, and Harry was grateful that there being so many people meant that there were several conversations to choose from at any given moment.
After the meal, they retired to the drawing room and Lee's nieces--Tina, Lee Ann (named for her uncle) and Millie, as the only children present, had the job of running around the room delivering presents to people. It was mayhem, but enjoyable mayhem. At least half-a-dozen people were opening presents at any given moment. Each time a package was deposited in Draco Malfoy's lap, Harry noticed that he grew very pink, opening it very slowly. He knew he was dreading someone noticing that none of the presents werefrom him.
At length, Harry noticed Ginny rise and leave the room. He looked around; there were so many people that no one had noticed she had gone, and he rose slowly and made his way to the door, following her to the kitchen. She didn't seem to have noticed that someone was twenty feet behind her.
The torches on the walls flared into life when she entered; although Percy and the twins had bought a generator to power a fridge, they still used magic for lighting. Ginny went through to the pantry, still not noticing someone was following her, and she opened the fridge door and removed a bottle of butterbeer, then went to the back door and opened it, leaning against the jamb, feeling the cool breeze and looking at the starry night sky. Harry almost didn't want to disturb her, she looked so peaceful. The drawing room, noisy and full of peoplehad been a bit tiresome and far too warm, and he didn't blame her for wanting to get away.
But he hadn't given her his present yet; he didn't want to do it around so many other people. He had to do it now, before he lost his nerve. He'd been unable to get that September night out of his mind; he was so worried that she would be hurt by Malfoy. The next day, he had confronted Malfoy, telling him that it wasn't a good idea to slip notes into Ginny's books asking her to meet him in the middle of the night. He'd looked baffled, and Harry had told him that because Ginny had found his note asking him to meet her in the Trophy Room at midnight when she was done Potions, she had nearly been caught out by Filch, and had been lucky to get back to Gryffindor Tower without a detention. Malfoy let out a sigh of relief and agreed that it had been a stupid thing to do, which left Harry speechless and suspicious; Malfoynever admitted to doing stupid things....
"Ginny," he said softly. She whirled, startled.
"Harry! What are you doing here?"
"I--I haven't given you your present yet."
"But all of the presents have been given out--"
He removed a small cloth-wrapped package from his pocket. "It wasn't under the tree." He handed it to her. "Happy Christmas, Ginny."
She took it and looked at him uncertainly. Placing her bottle on the old slate counter, she opened the gift, frowning in puzzlement. When she saw what it was, she looked horrified.
"Harry! Why--why are you giving this back to me?"
It was the basilisk amulet. He smiled at her. "I'm not. It's another one. Here," he said, moving behind her and putting it around her neck. She looked down at it uncertainly.
"But--but the man I bought it from said it was one-of-a-kind...."
Now it was Harry's turn to frown. "Wheredid you get it from?"
She looked at the doorway of the pantry as though she was afraid they'd be overheard. "Promise not to tell?" He nodded. "It was actually in a pawnshop in Knockturn Alley."
"Oh--do you mean Borgin and Burkes?"
"Yes! How did you know?"
"Um, never mind. What were you doing in Knockturn Alley?"
She sighed. "I was hacked off at Mum, what else? We'd had a row and I ducked out of the back of Flourish and Blotts and just started running, turning corners without really paying attention to where I was going. The next thing I knew, I was staring in a shop window with this on display. I didn't even pay attention at first to the fact that I was in Knockturn Alley. I just went into the shop and asked how much it was. I recognized it for a basilisk right away. It just seemed--it seemed like the perfect thing to get you for your birthday. And I could afford it too--except that my money was at home, in my room. I hadn't been planning to buy anything that day. I asked him whether he'd set it aside if I promised to come back the next day, and he said he couldn't make any promises. I think that was just to scare me.
"The next day, when Mum was busy in the garden, I used some Floo powder to go to the shop with my money. Mr. Borgin seemed surprised to see me again. He let me hold the amulet and--and the oddest thing happened. When I did that and closed my eyes, I saw you, working in a garden. It was a little fuzzy, but there you were. I thought that must be some sort of sign that I was supposed to give it to you. So I paid for it and he wrapped it up, and I went home. Of course, as soon as I stepped out of the kitchen fire, there was Mum, demanding to know where I'd gone and why. We had another row. Anyway, in my haste to get back home before Mum noticed I was gone, I forgot to ask Mr. Borgin wherehe'd gotten it."
She turned the amulet over, staring at both sides. "Are you sure it isn't the same one?" He pulled his amulet out of his shirt and showed it to her. She nodded. "I suppose that's just something shop-owners say, 'one-of-a-kind.' They'd like you to think that, but it's just to make a sale...."
"Except," Harry said, "that itis the same one."
"But--you just showed me your amulet."
"Yes. It's--it's the same one because of where I got that one from," he said, nodding at the amulet she now wore. She waited, then sighed and gave in.
"And just wheredid you get it?"
He frowned. "Promise not to think I'm nutters?"
She laughed. "I don't know...."
He smiled. "Okay, okay. It was given to me. By someone who--who had traveled through time." She didn't change her expression. "Ginny?" he said, wondering if she had somehow suddenly become petrified by the amulet. She shook herself.
"Um--I'm here, Harry. Did you just say what I think you said?"
"If you thought I said I'd gotten it from a time traveler, then yes." What he didn't say was that he had received itfrom himself while he was traveling through time. "Now Ginny--you said you wouldn't think I was mad--"
"I said no such thing," she retorted, then laughed. "I'm sorry, Harry. It's just that--well, youknow what it sounds like--"
"Why do you think I asked you not to think I'm nutters?" He grinned at her. "Anyway--do you like it?"
She looked down at it. "Of course I do...."
He stepped toward her and put his hand on her cheek. Thinking about how Ron felt about Hermione, and about how full his heart felt now. "I'm glad," he whispered. She looked up at him, a slightly apprehensive shadow behind her eyes, and he slowly leaned in and brushed his lips against hers. She didn't move or respond, but continued to look at him with that shadow in her eyes. He pulled back, his hand still on her cheek. "I--I love you so much, Ginny--"
She widened her eyes and backed up, so that she was completely outdoors now; she hugged herself for warmth. "H-harry," she stuttered, her teeth clacking. "Please. Don't say--" She stopped, swallowing, then wrapped her hand around the amulet and closed her eyes. The moment she did, she shivered, then opened her eyes again. She took off the amulet abruptly and handed it to him.
"I'm--I'm sorry, Harry. I can't accept it. You--you give it to Hermione or something." She pushed past him and closed the outside door, still shivering. Harry stared down at the amulet, perplexed.
"Ginny--why? Because--because of what I said?"
She turned around at the doorway that led back to the kitchen. "Um--partly--"
"Well--what's the other part? Did you--did you see something when you held it?"
She looked straight into his eyes and said, "Oh, Harry. I'm sorry. But--"
His stomach dropped into his feet. "Draco?"
She nodded. "Harry--I'm sure Hermione will like it very much--"
He shook his head, feeling like crying. "No, no; she was petrified by a basilisk, remember?" And I'm not in love with her, I'm in love with you. I was going to tell her as soon as I'd told you, give her her freedom, so she no longer thinks I'll fall apart without her....
Ginny looked shocked, then recovered. "She--she was petrified by the basiliskI loosed upon the school..."
"That wasn't your fault! That was Riddle!"
"Still....I don't think you and I should be going about with matching amulets. That's--that's a 'couple' sort of thing to do. We're--we're not a couple, Harry." She looked like she hesitated to say this. He knew he was probably showing how hurt he was very clearly on his face. "You and Hermione are a couple. I--thought you loved her."
He hesitated. She would be horrified if he said 'No, I don't,' which wasn't strictly true, anyway. "I do, but it's--it's different. It's nothing like the way I feel about you--" And your brother's in love with her, he couldn't help thinking....
"Harry," she said, "please don't--don't say that again. When I bought that for youI was a different person. I've changed. Perhaps--perhaps the problem is that I'm the one who loves Hermione. As a friend, I mean. I could never--I could never hurt her...."
She looked at him helplessly, her eyes full of regret. "Do what you like with the amulet, Harry. We mustn't speak of this again...."
She left quickly, before he could say anything, agreeing or disagreeing, and he slumped against the doorway, looking down at the basilisk in his hand.
When she'd held it, she had seen Draco Malfoy....
He rolled over and closed his eyes, trying to get back to sleep, but he ached inside, remembering now the way she had looked at him when she had admitted to seeing her boyfriend, not Harry, when she'd held the amulet....
It had all gone wrong. He was going to tell Ginny he loved her and also tell Hermione that he loved Ginny and that she was free to be with Ron....but after Christmas, he clung to Hermione more tenaciously than ever, knowing it was wrong, but also knowing that she would never leave him as long as she thought he needed her. Ron was speaking to him again, but now Harry felt as though he were the one in the wrong, the one who should be snubbed and ostracized for continuing to claim a girl who loved and was loved by someone else.
Harry sighed; perhaps he and Ginny were never meant to be, like everything else in his other life. He thought about the way Hermione and Ron looked at each other, the way they seemed to be holding themselves in check constantly. Because of me. Something had obviously happened between them since September. Something emotional, if not physical. And today was Ron's seventeenth birthday. This has gone on long enough, he decided. I may have had a bad reaction to the stupid things Ron said at the end of the summer, and to Ginny telling me she saw Draco when she held the amulet, but I have to get over that and do the right thing, for the sake of my two best friends....
He had to put a stop to it.
Even if it meant being alone.
Harry blinked when a sunbeam struck his face full force; he hadn't pulled his curtains closed around his bed the night before. He sat up, looking around the room, smiling, feeling peaceful and refreshed and satisfied with the decisions he'd made in the night. Most importantly, he was waking up in Gryffindor tower! It was true that he had traded one imperfect world for another, but this at least was the world as it was meant to be.
He scrambled out of bed and pulled on his running clothes. Going to the window, he opened it and breathed in the fresh spring air. It was a beautiful day, and he had a chance now to make things right in this world. He and Hermione would have a chance to talk, alone, after their morning run, and he could do it then. If he was the one who broke up with her now, surely she wouldn't be upset? It seemed that she wanted to be with Ron and he with her. If he did it, then she wouldn't have to feel guilty about it, as it seemed she might when he overheard her and Ron. He just had to do it in a way that didn't seem odd or abrupt. She already seemed to think he was strange and distant since September first. And she and Ron were aware of him telling Dumbledore something in October...Had he told him about the timelines? he wondered.
But when he reached the common room, he found a virtual running club present. Hermione and Ron were there, doing stretches on the hearthrug (he hadn't given Ron's bed a glance upstairs, assuming--as before--that the snoring he heard was coming from all of the other beds). Ron was getting up early to run? he thought. Ginny was also dressed for running, making him draw in his breath (he remembered what she had looked like the other times she'd joined him and Hermione for running) and Annika Olafsdottir and Tony Perugia were present as well. What the hell--? he thought, perplexed.
"Harry?" He jerked his head up. Hermione had finished the stretches. "I didn't notice you standing there. Are you sure you want to go running this morning? We thought you might sleep in." He was touched by her look of concern.
"Why wouldn't I want to go? It's a beautiful day. I'm fine," he said, opening the portrait hole, not letting her look at him. He wouldn't have the chance to talk with her after running. The break-up would have to wait for later. Draco Malfoy met them in the entrance hall with Mariah Kirkner, and the eight of them went down to the Quidditch pitch together. Oh, that's right, Harry remembered; last summer, Malfoy started running with me. And now Mariah comes along too. That's not at all suspicious, he thought ruefully, wondering again whether their friendship was as innocent as they wanted others to think.
He tried to remember other morning runs from earlier in the year; all he remembered was that when he had confronted Malfoy about the Trophy Room, he had done it by going down to the entrance hall early, pulling him aside so Mariah wouldn't hear them talking. Otherwise the morning runs blended together indiscriminately in his brain. All four girls went to the girls' prefects' bathroom afterward (Harry remembered that Ginny and Mariah had become prefects in September, and the two of them plus Hermione decided that Annika had their permission to use it also, when she was with them). Ron, however went upstairs to Gryffindor Tower, and only Harry, Tony and Malfoy used the luxurious marble-lined boys' prefects' bathroom. (Harry remembered that Tony was the other Gryffindor prefect in Ginny's year.) While he was showering, Harry also vaguely recalled some activities from the previous months: going to classes, training the elves, playing Quidditch, practicing with the Dueling Club, teaching some younger, newer members to cope with Confundus-class charms....
Professor Flitwick had taken over the club in Snape's absence. And Snape's uncle, Duncan MacDermid, had been tapped to teach Potions. Professor Sinistra was interim head of Slytherin House. All of the titles had "interim" in them. Interim Potions Master. Interim Faculty Director of the Dueling Club. Interim Head of Slytherin House. No one wanted to think Professor Snape wouldn't be coming back. Harry tried to remember what excuse Dumbledore had given the school for Snape's absence; then he recalled the notices he'd given at the welcoming feast in September. A sabbatical, he'd said. Professor Snape was on a sabbatical.
Except that he and his closest friends knew better.
Harry dressed and walked down to the Great Hall for breakfast with the other Gryffindors, lost in thought about Snape, not taking notice of the other people around him. He really needed to think....but he was rather distracted by the sight of Ginny laughing and talking animatedly as she skipped down the stairs. As he watched her beside her dorm mates (why did she seem to be in color, and other people in black-and-white?), he recalled again the glorious half minute when she had forgotten herself and kissed him back; it seemed to require a consciousness and self-discipline that had temporarily left her to pull away from him....
I am with Draco and you are with Hermione.
Did Ginny really still love him or was she staying with him out of obligation, because he had put his father in Azkaban for her? Was there anything between him and Mariah? Did Malfoy have any other friends in his own house? Harry closed his eyes and wracked his brain. Think, think....
It was very, very odd to walk into the cavernous Great Hall again and go to the Gryffindor, not the Slytherin, table. The ceiling overhead was cerulean blue with fluffy white clouds. For a moment, Harry allowed himself to stop worrying and he breathed in the delicious smell of the food that the elves had cooked for breakfast.
He was home.
He sat down, trying to absorb everything. Never again did he want to forget what this was like, or take it for granted. When he had been in school in Little Whinging, he had once had to read an American play in which a girl who had died returned to her family to live one day in her life again, and she pondered whether humans ever actually appreciated life while they were living it, whether they really noticed everything and cherished it. He felt like he was working to memorize everything about his life now, every sound and smell and sight, every well-loved face, the timbre of each voice and laugh, even the rough texture of the scrubbed tables in the Great Hall or the smooth stones underfoot when he walked from one place to another in the castle. He would never again let himself forget this, any of it. Every detail was important.
Then, while he was drinking his tea, he looked up at the head table and noticed Dumbledore looking right at him. And he also noticed that Nearly Headless Nick was hovering next to the headmaster on his right, while the Bloody Baron was on his left. Harry swallowed. He'd forgotten about the ghosts. Would they know? Of course they would! Harry knew that he would probably eventually have to confess to Dumbledore what he'd done, but he hadn't realized it would be so soon. He wasn't a bit surprised to see the headmaster walk toward him when he was done his breakfast.
Dumbledore beamed around at the other Gryffindors and said, "Good morning, everyone. Excellent breakfast this morning, wasn't it? The kippers were a bit iffy, but--" and he shrugged, smiling. Will Flitwick, who had been about to bite into a kipper, put it down on his plate hastily, trying to look nonchalant about it. But then Dumbledore ceased the pretense that he was there for any other reason than to speak to Harry. He put his hand on Harry's shoulder. "Harry--I wonder whether I could have a few words with you before you begin your classes? What do you have this morning?"
Harry opened his mouth, but he was drawing a blank. "Care of Magical Creatures, first," Ron volunteered, "then Potions." Harry realized that Ron was speaking to the headmaster with a very casual air; years ago, he'd been very intimidated by Dumbledore. Harry was glad to see that that had abated.
"Ah, then Hagrid won't mind if I borrow you for a while, will he? I'm sure he'll understand. What are you doing in his class these days?"
"Fwoopers, sir," Dean Thomas volunteered. "And some other magical birds." Harry remembered doing this early in his sixth year with Charlie. Funny, he thought; Charlie didn't seem to have simplified the curriculum like the other teachers. Then again, the Ministry in his other life may not have cared how much the students knew about magical birds, probably disregarding the class in magical creatures altogether.
"Ah, fwoopers. Fascinating creatures, fascinating. I'm sure you'll have no problem catching up Harry, hmm?"
Harry nodded and turned to follow Dumbledore; Hermione mouthed a question to him:
What's this about?
He raised his eyebrows and shrugged; although the ghosts had retreated, he had a pretty good idea. Fixing the things wrong in this life--such as putting his relationship with Hermione to rights--would have to wait. Harry followed the old wizard up to his office, smiling when he gave the password to the gargoyle: "Pepper imps."
The moving spiral stairs soon deposited them outside the office door, which opened with a flourish of Dumbledore's hand. Fawkes was on his perch and spread his wings in welcome when he saw his master and Harry. Dumbledore smiled and clucked at him, giving him a morsel of bacon. Harry hadn't noticed him carrying it, so it was possible he had just conjured it up on the spur of the moment.
He waved Harry to one of the chairs before his desk and he sat, putting his fingers together and looking at Harry over the thin, crooked tips.
"I expect you know why you are here, Harry?" he said, starting to sound a little less cheerful, but not exactly confrontational.
"Yes, sir," Harry said, beginning to feel a bit apprehensive. What would Dumbledore say about changing time? Nothing good; that much was certain.
"So," he said, putting his hands down flat on the desk. "You did it." Harry swallowed.
"Yes, erm," he said uncertainly. It wasn't completely clear that he knew what Dumbledore was talking about. It might not be safe to assume. The old wizard looked at him shrewdly.
"You do know what I'm talking about, Harry? Obviously, since this is the reality in which we are all living, you did manage to fix the timelines back to the way they were. From what I have been told, it was last night that this occurred, correct?"
Harry nodded. "The--the ghosts told you? That I'd changed time?"
Dumbledore was the one who looked confused now. "No, Harry. You did. In October. They simply told me last night that you were now aware of the other life you had led."
Harry nodded. "Oh, okay. I guess if you say I told you, that means--"
"You don't remember?"
Harry frowned. "My head's sort of swimming with information right now, most of it from my--my other life. All I've managed to remember of what's happened to me here since September is one night soon after the term began, part of Christmas day and some vague memories of going running in the mornings with my friends...."
Dumbledore looked very concerned now. "I had been planning to lecture you about changing time, but I can hardly do that now. This is serious, Harry, very serious. We need to get you to Madam Pomfrey."
"None of that Harry. We can't take chances. Come with me." He lit his fire and threw some Floo powder into it, then guided Harry into the firebox with him. Harry held his glasses to his face, whirling dizzily, and when he fell out of a fireplace, he found himself in the office of a very surprised and none-too-pleased Madam Pomfrey.
"Poppy, I need you to look at Harry immediately."
She looked up from a large wizarding medical tome she'd been examining. "What's wrong?" she demanded.
"Harry is having some trouble with his memories of the last eight months or so...."
"Hmmm," she said informatively, beginning to look in Harry's eyes and ears, up his nose, down his throat, under his arms and--making him giggle in a most undignified manner--in his navel. She put her head down near his heart and tapped on his sternum with her wand; Harry felt a thrumming noise in his ears. He felt like his entire body was vibrating rapidly, every blood cell, every bacteria in his pores or under his fingernails. She said, "Finite Incantatem," and straightened up, looking at Dumbledore very seriously.
"Let's get him into a bed."
Harry felt positively bustled into the infirmary, and soon he was sitting on one of the beds while Madam Pomfrey poked and prodded him some more, Dumbledore standing near the foot of the bed, his chin in one hand thoughtfully. Finally, she nodded at Dumbledore and retreated to her office again without a word to Harry, who looked up at the headmaster quizzically.
"Is all this really necessary, Professor? Can't we just talk instead?"
"Talk? Talk? You want to talk, Harry?" Harry cowered back again his pillows, seeing a Dumbledore he'd only encountered once before; the stern, forbidding wizard who had entered the office for the Defense of Dark Arts teacher when he discerned that the man he'd thought was Mad Eye Moody was an impostor and that Harry might be in grave danger. What Harry had never seen was that ire directed against him, and he was startled by it.
"Harry, how could you let him manipulate you that way?" Harry swallowed to keep from crying. He had never thought of seeing that look on Dumbledore's face, not directed at him. He felt more miserable than when the door to his cell in Azkaban had closed on him.
"I'm--I'm sorry sir. I can't excuse it. I--I can only tell you how it happened. Voldemort--he managed to give me nightmares during the summer. Through my scar. I wasn't sleeping for almost two straight months. I--I wasn't thinking very clearly. And then he told me about my sister...."
"Yes. You told me all this in October."
"Yes." He turned to Madam Pomfrey. "Please excuse us, Poppy." She looked a bit miffed, but retreated to her office. He turned back to Harry. "You didn't tell me very much...just that Voldemort had taken you back in time to the night your parents were killed and suggested that you might save your mother and sister, and you didn't because you met another version of yourself, a Harry Potter who said he'd lived in another reality for fifteen years because he had saved his mother and changed time..."
Harry tried very hard to remember October, with no success. "Did I tell you anything else, sir?"
"Only that you wouldn't remember that life until some time in May."
Harry nodded. "Except--I wish there was some way for me to have fixed things and not remember...."
Dumbledore sat on the edge of the bed, the fearsome look gone, replaced by concern. "You know what they say, Harry. Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it." Harry nodded; he'd heard that many times, but it had never had such meaning for him before. Now Dumbledore came closer to him and put his hands on his temples. "I will help you to remember Harry. We need you to be fully functional. Let's start with September first, shall we?"
Harry nodded, the old wrinkled fingers touching his head lightly. He closed his eyes as Dumbledore mumbled an incantation, and Harry felt himself floating through his own mind, searching for the right day, the right memories, for the day when the world had changed....
After he'd looked in the window of his house, he turned to Voldemort. "I can't save them both?" he whispered desperately, his heart aching. The other wizard shook his head grimly. He looked at his father through the window again. "I don't want to see him die," Harry said, his voice catching. "How long do we have to wait?"
The older man looked at the sky. "Not long now." His answer was terse and quiet. Harry shivered; it was a cold night. Smoke billowed from the stone chimney, hinting at the warmth and comfort inside the modest house. Harry's heart was beating faster and faster...
They hid near the fence in the front garden. They hadn't been hiding for very long when he suddenly heard a strange voice behind him whisper, "Impedimenta!" He turned, wincing as some thorns pierced his leg, and he saw that Voldemort was standing stock-still beside him. What was going on? He squinted into the darkness. Someone was standing in the road, his wand out. Harry gawked.
But it couldn't be me, he thought. The only other me here right now is a baby, inside the house....
He did what his instincts told him and pulled out his wand, saying, "Expelliarmus!" But the other him leapt out of the way and pointed his wand, saying, "Stupefy!"
He had no room to physically maneuver, no way to get out of the way of the spell. He felt himself fall into darkness. He was aware of nothing. It seemed quite sudden, as though no time had passed, when was abruptly wakened. He remembered Hermione saying that when she had been abducted, it was as though she had been "turned off," like a light switch. He didn't care for the sensation at all. He blinked; he was lying on the ground, some uncomfortable sticks under him, and damp leaves. He was looking up at a canopy of dark trees; faint moonlight filtering through the branches. He was frightened and unsure what to think. Was this another trick of Voldemort's?
He sat up slowly, staring at the other him, thinking furiously about what to do next. He took note of the fact that his wand was no longer in his hand; he saw the other Harry holding two wands. It wasn't in his pocket, then. Maybe he could just physically attack the other person; he didn't look as fit as Harry felt he probably was. I can probably take him, he thought. He wouldn't know what hit him, and I could get my wand back in a trice....
The other him looked taken aback by his determined expression. "Dinnae be alairmed," he said quickly. "Please, jest listen to whoot I have to say." Harry glared at the other him, not feeling very trusting. Whoever it was--perhaps someone who'd taken Polyjuice Potion?--he was Scottish. Why did he think he could masquerade as him when he had a Scottish accent?
"Who are you?" he said simply.
Grasping a wand in each hand, he swallowed. "I'm you. If ye change the timelines, I'm you. Actually, yedid change the timelines. Ye did it once, anyway, last Septaimber. I've lived in anoother wairld, in another reality since then. Or rather, you have. Or rather, I've lived in it for the last fifteen-and-a-half yairs. But--it's wrong. And it's been vairy hard for me to manage to get back here, but now I am, and it's vairy important that ye let things play out tonight as they did the fairst time, when both of your--our--parents were killt," he stammered awkwardly. "It all has to go back. All of the things that have happened in the new timeline....It's all wrong. None of it should aiver have bean. I know it seemed--" his voice caught "--it seemed like you were savin' a life. Savin' yer mother's and yer sister's lives, that is. But--but ye jest have to acsaipt that they're gone."
Harry didn't feel any more trusting after this speech. He nodded at the wands. "You have my wand," he said stiffly.
"Yes, wail--ye tried to attack me back there by the cottage. I couldnae take any chances. Will ye please listen ta me fer a minute? Then I'll give it back ta ye, I promise."
Harry reached up and touched the scar on his forehead, then looked at the smooth forehead of the person confronting him. "You don't have a scar," he said softly. "And you sound strange." That was the nicest way he could put it.
The other him touched his smooth forehead. "When Mum wasn't killt by Voldemort, it was because she promised me ta him. He put an Obedience Chairm on me. He put it on Draco Malfoy, too. And we lived in Hogsmeade. I grew up there, so I sound Scottish."
He thought about all this; if he had a choice, he'd far rather believe that he was actually talking to a Harry Potter who had lived in another life in Scotland for over fifteen years, rather than some sinister person who had somehow traveled through time to the exact same time as him and Voldemort, disguised as him, but not getting it quite right. In fact, most people would have wanted to get it right down to the last small freckle or blemish, and certainly the same accent. Harry nodded, feeling less inclined to try to find a way to physically attack the other Harry.
The scarless Harry was looking at him, very distressed. He felt a bit guilty. Had he created another world by interfering in his mother's death? He was still feeling extremely fatigued and judgment-impaired from his lack of sleep. "I--I wanted to tell him no. I really did. But when he said Mum had been expecting a baby--"
"I know, I know," the scarless Harry said softly "And Jamie was a wonderful sister...."
"Mum named her after our father."
He choked. "Then--then how can you just let herand Mum die out there?" he demanded, his voice going up.
"Sssh! B'cause--" The other him paused, then took a deep breath. "B'cause they're alraidy daid. And there's more bad besides that, things that aren't jest abootmy life. The wairld is--well, I won't tell ye right now. When the day comes, sometime in May, that I come back to your wairld, ye'll remaimber ever'thin' then. I think it's baiter that ye don' know right now. Mebbe you'll have something like a normal time in school this yair..."
He smirked. "Normal. What's that?"
The other Harry smiled agreement. He pushed up his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes, aware of the other Harry watching him do it. Sitting here with himself was rather eerie. He settled his glasses on his nose again, then ran his fingers over his scar for a second. "What now?" he asked his other self.
"Now," the scarless Harry told him, "we wait. With no interfairence, ever'thin' should be as it was b'fore. We have ta stay oot o' the way and wait for ever'thin' that's supposed ta happen."
He looked down, then up again. "I'm sorry. Has it been rough?"
In response, the other Harry pulled up his left sleeve, revealing the mark that had been magically burned into the skin there. He drew his breath in sharply. He had become a Death Eater! He asked when it had happened, and the other Harry told him that it was at the winter solstice, that Draco had been done at the same time, and when he asked about calling him "Draco," he was informed that they wereboth in Slytherin and had been best friends since they were "wee."
Best friends! He remembered the revelations at Mrs. Figg's. Then he smiled. "Wee?" he said, smiling. His other self grimaced. "Best friends, huh? Well, I suppose Mrs. Figg didn't need to put memory charms on the two of you."
"No; but I'm used t' callin' 'er Nanny Bella here."
Harry shook his head. "This is so strange. And in a few months--"
"More than eight, actually."
"In about eight months, I'm suddenly going to remember all this?"
The scarless Harry nodded. "On September fairst, I suddenly found meself in my baidroom in Hogsmeade with fifteen yairs worth o' maim'ries. They were a little hard to get at, at the beginnin', but eventually it became easier. Ye might want t' ask Sirius for your own Pensieve, just to get raidy fer May. It might be easier in the long run, to put some of this life in a sort of saip'rate place. But a place where you could still--experience the maim'ries."
He agreed to this, although he thought he would only want to put a few memories into it. They were both silent for a while, listening to the wind in the trees. He reached for his basilisk pendant and fingered it lightly, closing his eyes, holding it, feeling the usual peace and calm come over him, but now, slowly, a picture also came into his mind; a slightly plump red-haired woman, holding a squirming red-haired bundle on her lap, wrapped in a towel. The baby was pink and clean, fresh from the bath. That's odd, he thought. I've never seen anything before when I've held the pendant....The image of the mother and child was slightly fuzzy, though. He wasn't sure who they were....
He thought of something else the other him had said, and opened his eyes. He looked intently at the other boy and said, "Slytherin?"
He had startled him. The other Harry looked up suddenly, saying, "What?"
"You said you--I mean we--I mean--" he sighed, getting all twisted up in pronouns. "Slytherin. You said Slytherin. How didthat happen?"
He watched himself shrug, and then he got the explanation about the sorting order, and Draco going into Slytherin, and the hat giving him a choice.
"Yes. And I also wanted ta be in Slytherin b'cause my da--" He could see that he had stopped himself for some reason. "Er," the other Harry said, trying to recover. "There were other reasons, too." Harry frowned; the other boy was hiding something, but what?
But he had too many other questions. He asked about Ron and Hermione, and the scarless Harry grimaced and explained that Ron wasn't his friend, since he was a Slytherin and Ron was a Gryffindor prefect, likely to become Head Boy the following year. Head Boy! he thought, remembering Ron looking into the Mirror of Erised in their first year. His heart's desire...
And then there were some cryptic comments about Hermione, and the other Harry seemed reluctant to continue to talk. "Leesten, I don' think I should tell ye any more. Too much has happened in the last fifteen yairs fer me ta be able ta jest tail ye aboot it. It'll be easier whain ye can jest acsaiss the maim'ries yersailf. I'm afraid I'll tail ever'thin' oot o' order an' confuse ye...."
They were silent, and again he reached instinctively for his basilisk amulet. Suddenly he looked up and noticed that the scarless Harry was holding something too. "What's that you've got there?" He opened his hand and showed it to him silently. "Where did you get it?"
The other him laughed. "If I told ye, ye wouldnae believe it. I noticed ye were smilin' when ye held it. Did ye--see anythin'?"
"Yeah, I did. Usually I just feel sort of calm and comforted, but this time I saw something. I never did before. It was very faint...."
"Was it Mrs. Weasley? With a baby?"
His jaw dropped. That must have been who the woman was. "Yes!"
The other him nodded. "I saw the same thin', but mine wasn't faint. It was very clair." Looking like it was a sudden impulse, the scarless Harry took off the amulet, holding it out. "Take it. Here."
He hesitated, then reached out for it, making sure their hands did not touch. He looked up into the face of the scarless Harry. "Why?"
"Jest--if you manage to make it back with it, give it to someone ailse."
He hesitated. "I cannae tell ye that. Ye have ta decide. But ye'll know when the time is right."
He held up the amulet that had been resting on his sternum and compared the two. "They're identical."
"No, they're not. They're actually the same amulet. There's only one in each wairld. That's why I'm not sure ye can take that one back, but it's wairth a try."
He stared in fascination at the second amulet. Then he pocketed it. "You need to give me something else," he said.
"Oh; right." The scarless Harry handed the wand back to him, which he also put in his pocket. They turned their faces toward the cottage in unison, ever so subtly holding their breaths, waiting, waiting....
When it finally happened, they both jumped. They heard James Potter shouting his wife's name and his son's name, too. They began creeping cautiously through the trees. "Donothing," his other self told him. He nodded. They reached the edge of the trees; they could see the side of the cottage where the chimney was, and they could dimly make out the figure of Voldemort, still under the Impediment Charm. They saw the front door fly open and Lily Potter run into the garden in her night dress, carrying the baby, who was crying non-stop. He heard his father scream as he was being tortured and they both instinctively covered their ears.
Everything happened so fast after that; the green light flashed in the window of the cottage, the roof went flying into the air....Voldemort stepped purposefully out the front door of the house. Flames were clearly visible through the windows flanking the chimney, and he reached out without thinking and grasped his other self's wrist while he stared at the flames, tears running down his face.
His mother pleaded with the dark wizard, "Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry," and he called her a silly girl and told her to stand aside. She sank to her knees.
Harry waited for her next words. She needed to say them, or the timeline wouldn't be fixed. He watched, his heart in his throat, waiting, waiting....Harry knew what was coming next; he'd heard it in his head before.
"Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead--" That was it. She'd said it. Harry couldn't see straight; Voldemort was going to do it, he was going to kill her. Harry couldn't bear it, he couldn't not do something...And yet, he knew that he should not. He was holding onto his own wrist, the evidence for why nothing should be changed. He willed himself to comply, gripping that wrist tighter and tighter, so he couldn't get out his wand and do it, change the world....
And in the end, he let it happen. His mother was lying dead at the madman's feet, then the terrible words were uttered again and the curse rebounded upon Voldemort, who uttered that other-worldly cry before his body dissolved, became less than spirit, and his wand dropped to the ground and the thing which Voldemort had become flew up into the air, and blew over the trees where they lurked, still wailing that terrible cry. After a few minutes they dared to uncover their ears; they saw Peter Pettigrew take Voldemort's wand (for Harry was certain that was who it was) and run off in rat form to live at the Weasley's house for thirteen years. He saw Severus Snape run through the garden gate and go to his knees by the side of his beloved Lily, taking her in his arms. Harry backed away from his other self, then went running through the trees. The scarless Harry hadn't noticed.
He turned to look back. Then a familiar voice behind him said, "Harry."
He whirled. Damn! The Impediment Curse that the scarless Harry had put on Voldemort had worn off, and the wizard had Apparated into the trees. He wondered whether Voldemort realized who had put the curse on him. The dark wizard did not look pleased.
"Are yousure you don't want to join me, Harry?" he said silkily. "After all, someone who could just watch his mother and sister be killed like that...."
He remembered seeing the Dark Mark on the other boy's arm--his arm. He trembled with rage. To suggest that because he didn't think it right to change things that meant he didn'tcare....
"No! I'll never join you. Never! It's not right to change past events!"
He clutched his wand and braced himself, standing on the balls of his feet, ready to spring out of the way of a curse or hex at a moment's notice. Voldemort raised his wand, his face angrier than Harry had ever seen it...
Then suddenly he felt as though a rug on which he'd been standing had been pulled out from underneath him quite violently, and he felt himself falling, falling, falling, falling.....
....onto Platform Nine-and-Three Quarters. Harry winced as he landed on the hard concrete, shaking his head to clear it. His scar was throbbing slightly. He glanced up, seeing that the Hogwarts Express was still there! Only--it wouldn't be soon. The train was moving! He scrambled to his feet and ran, and with a wild leap, he landed on the caboose platform, panting and dizzy, unable to believe that he'd really seen everything he'd seen....
Voldemort had talked him into doing a tandem spell.Well, he thought, that's never going to happen again... He'd talked to himself, a self that had lived the last fifteen years in another world because Harry had changed the timelines, in one version of reality....
He was starting to get a splitting headache, thinking about it....And then he realized that it was actually his scar that was making his head feel like it was splitting....He cried out, going to his knees, trying to keep hold of the rail so he wouldn't topple off the train. Through the pain in his head, he saw Voldemort at the cottage in Godric's Hollow, and he looked enraged. He pointed his wand at the cottage and cried, "Incendio!" What was left of the small building burst into flames, vines and all, and Harry cried out in anguish. Everything would be gone; the Welsh dresser, the blue and white teapot, everything....Voldemort would probably even salt the earth....
He lay before the caboose door, winded, as the pain passed. Finally, he rose and opened the door, surprising the wizard who worked in there. Harry nodded at him as he went through.
"Almost missed the train," he said feebly to him, his head still achy. The wizard gawked at him, especially at his forehead, clearly recognizing him. Harry moved on quickly, walking down the corridor past the other compartments until he reached the one he and Ron and Hermione usually chose. He opened the door, finding them there with Draco Malfoy and Ginny as well. Hermione leapt up and threw her arms around him.
"Oh! There you are! We were so worried you'd missed the train! What happened?"
He pried her hands from around his neck and looked nervously at the others; even Malfoy looked concerned. He sat down opposite him and the two Weasleys, Hermione by his side. "It's--it's a bit hard to explain. I blame my lack of sleep. I really need to take a nap..."
Ron looked at him guiltily. "I thought--I thought you might still be hacked off at me..." he mumbled. Harry furrowed his brow, then remembered the things Ron had said when he'd told Harry to break up with Hermione. The things he'd seen in Godric's Hollow had made all of that fly right out of his head. Hewas still hacked off at Ron. He opened his mouth for a second, but he didn't have a chance to respond before Hermione began speaking again. She had moved to the edge of the long seat.
"Well, just lie down here and put your head on me. I can still talk to the others. You're sure we won't keep you awake?"
He shook his head, putting his hand into his pocket, checking to make sure he had his wand, just in case...but he didn't find just his wand. His hand closed over the metal amulet. He withdrew his hand quickly. He could feel the other one around his neck. It had worked....He'd brought back the other amulet....
He sank down onto the seat, lowering his head onto Hermione's robes and closing his eyes. "Just do me a favor this term, all right? If any of you think I haven't been getting enough sleep, just say so and make me go take a nap or something if I start yawning...."
He opened his eyes and looked up at Dumbledore. "I remembered it. From this end." He tried to explain what had happened to the headmaster, who nodded when Harry told him about what happened to the cottage in Godric's Hollow. "I heard about that fire. I wondered what all that was about. He also fired the Dark Mark into the air afterward. He must have been quite enraged that he hadn't been able to convince you to save your mother. After all, it was her death which seemed to lead to his fall...."
"Except--he did convince me. The first time. But then--I convinced myself not to do it the second time round."
They were both silent. Harry thought more about the beginning of the term in September. He had initially been surprised to see Duncan MacDermid sitting next to Professor Dumbledore at the head table, and pleased to see Remus Lupin, who would once again serve as the teacher of Defense Against the Dark Arts. Unfortunately, the absence of Professor Snape produced a little problem that Dumbledore hadn't been anticipating; without Snape on hand to brew Lupin's Wolfsbane Potion, the werewolf had to resort to his old habit of going to the Shrieking Shack three nights a month, where the residents of Hogsmeade were once again terrorized by the sounds of his agony and anguish. MacDermid just didn't feel up to brewing the complicated potion. He had been working on learning how to do it since October, but he had yet to get it right, and did not wish for Lupin to take the risk of drinking a concoction which could expose him to far too much wolfsbane and make him quite ill.
Sirius came almost every month to keep his old friend company, and to prevent him from hurting himself too badly, but once when Sirius couldn't come (he was working as an operative and was in the middle of a sensitive mission) Harry had received permission to accompany him in his golden griffin form (he transfigured after he entered the tunnel under the Whomping Willow). He remembered now how touched and honored he had felt that Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore allowed him to do this, to fill a role that his own father had filled as Prongs, keeping his friend company in the midst of his unwanted monthly sojourn as a dark creature....
Snape's absence had affected people in so many ways. He was greatly missed. Harry looked up at Dumbledore. "Where is he?" he whispered. "Is he--"
"Ah. Is he dead? Is that what you are asking?" Harry nodded miserably. Dumbledore shook his head. "I don't think so. You'll remember this on your own eventually, but I'll tell you now. He's being held prisoner. By Wormtail. He was discovered in some tunnels he knew of near Dover--"
Harry opened his eyes wide. "The old magazine and battery!"
"How on earth do you know about--" he began, then thought better of it. "At any rate, during a Death Eater meeting which Severus was monitoring, he put a charm on himself to increase his hearing, so he would know everything that was being said without being close enough to be discovered. However, he in fact was discovered by Wormtail, who changed into a rat after the meeting, preparing to leave in that form. He immediately picked up on a familiar scent--Severus Snape. He followed the scent to his hiding place. Severus, for his part, had returned his hearing to normal after the meeting, so he didn't detect Wormtail's approach.
"Wormtail held him prisoner there in his own hiding place for some time, torturing him to try to get him to tell about the other operatives. He might have used Veritaserum to find out what he wanted, but he would have had to leave to acquire some. He might also have had Severus brew it himself, but again, Wormtail would have needed to leave to acquire the ingredients, and he would have felt it likely in any case that Severus would purposely botch the preparation. Why should he do it correctly? However, I happen to know that even had Wormtail possessed some Veritaserum to extract the information from him, it would not have worked, for Severus has done something that not many people know about...."
"What?" Harry whispered.
"Over the years, knowing how potent his own Veritaserum is, he guarded against others being able to use it against him, and he took measured amounts of it, over time, and learned to lie quite fluently even under the influence of the strongest version of the potion. He built up an immunity to it. Wormtail may have guessed, he may not--but Veritaserum is utterly useless if you are attempting to extract information from Severus Snape."
Harry nodded; that would be like Snape. He smiled just a little; it had never occurred to him to try to build up immunity to a powerful potion like Veritaserum.
"Wormtail didn't inform Voldemort," Dumbledore continued, "hoping to bring him the information when he'd broken Severus, presenting it as a fait acompli. Severus didn't give him the satisfaction, and in December, he managed to overcome Wormtail and escape. He Apparated to Diagon Alley and wrote to me, telling me what had occurred. He managed to hide in Diagon Alley for more than two weeks, hoping Wormtail would forget about him, in case he might attempt to waylay him on his way back to the castle, since Severus couldn't Apparate back here; he would only be able to get as far as Hogsmeade.
"Finally, he felt that it was probably safe to Apparate to the village and he was evidently on his way back to the castle--but Wormtail had greater patience than he anticipated. He had been waiting by the roadside, in his rat form, all the time Severus had been gone, and when he appeared, Wormtail captured him again. This time he kept him prisoner with another wizard's help--I do not know who it was or where they were, or whether this other wizard helped to capture Professor Snape--and Wormtail began a slower torture process, presided over by the other wizard. Evidently, Wormtail hoped to break down his defenses and create a bond of trust between the two of them to extract the information he wanted.
"Imperius and Cruciatus were out of the question from the start. Wormtail had eliminated them as useful during the first time he'd been holding him prisoner. Severus is adept at resisting Imperius, and Wormtail didn't want to risk Cruciatus causing too much brain damage for him to be useful. They have engaged in actual physical torture--non-magical--to get him to cooperate--"
"What?" Harry finally said. He felt oddly proud of Snape for resisting Imperius and withstanding the pain of Cruciatus. "What have they done to him?"
Dumbledore sighed. "Wormtail sends me letters. That is how I know this. He would like me to give in and tell him what Severus will not. However, as much as I would like to spare Severus more suffering, I think instead that the moment Wormtail has the information he wants, he would simply kill Severus. He would no longer be of any use to him. He moves around quite a bit, as a rat, while the other wizard does the torture. Several times they have somehow found out when we are close to finding them, and have moved at unpredictable times."
Harry put his hand up to stop the headmaster. He was remembering something now. Sirius, his head in the fireplace in the Gryffindor common room, telling Harry about Arabella Figg's desperate ride on a broomstick, following a post owl with a letter they'd addressed to Snape. She didn't manage to keep up with the owl (post owls are far faster than the fastest broomstick), but from a distance, she saw where the owl appeared to go to deliver its letter....A large manor house, to all appearances abandoned and run-down, near the town of Little Hangleton. But when she Apparated to Fletcher and Sirius, so that they could join her, they arrived at the manor house too late. The owl was still there, sans the letter which had been on his leg, picking at a full plate of food which had been abandoned.
Soon after, another owl arrived from Wormtail, congratulating them on finding their former hiding place....Sirius seemed to be genuinely concerned for Snape's safety, and told Harry that he hoped that having to keep one step ahead of the operatives at least gave Wormtail less opportunity to torture the Potions Master. Unfortunately, Harry knew, all of the effort that the operatives had been expending to find Snape had meant that numerous Death Eater attacks--mostly on Squibs and households with mixed wizard-Muggle families--went undetected until they were history. There weren't enough Aurors to keep up with the attacks. More than one student at the school had been summoned to the headmaster's office and given the horrifying news that their home had been attacked, their parents killed or maimed....
"Wormtail takes a great deal of pleasure in writing to me and detailing everything that they are doing to him." Harry noticed that Dumbledore's hand was shaking visibly as he pushed his half-moon glasses up his nose.
Harry swallowed. Snape had been tortured for months! And yet, it seemed, he hadn't broken. Harry felt strangely moved. Who else could have withstood what he had? Who else would resist telling what he knew? "What did they do to him?" he whispered.
He had never seen Dumbledore so clearly distressed, although he was trying very hard to hide it. "Just recently, I received with a letter--" He stopped. Unable to go on. Then Harry remembered; Dumbledore had already told him.
"A finger," Harry said softly. Wormtail had relished this, evidently, as he had cut off his own finger to avoid capture and frame Sirius Black for the betrayal of James and Lily Potter, as well as the murder of a street full of Muggles. Dumbledore nodded.
"You are starting to remember things on your own."
"I started to remember some things last night, like I said, but I still don't really feel like I'm completely in this life...."
Dumbledore moved toward the office door. "I will see how Poppy is coming with that potion. It will help you to remember more." He disappeared into the office. Harry bit his lip with apprehension.
Wormtail had cut off one of Snape's fingers...
This couldn't be allowed to continue. It was too horrible. He knew what had to be done. It was up to him. When the headmaster returned, trailed by Madam Pomfrey, who was carrying a steaming beaker, Harry immediately put forth his proposal.
"Professor--I know what we can do to get him back."
Dumbledore raised one eyebrow. "I do too, Harry. We can tell him what he wants. But that would put all of the other operatives at risk."
"We'll make a deal with Wormtail."
"A deal? What kind of a deal?" He looked like he didn't care for the idea.
Dumbledore shook his head. "Wormtail isn't asking for ransom."
"Not money. Or goods. Me. We'll offer him me. I'll take Snape's place."
Dumbledore sat on the hospital bed. "Harry, you don't know what you're saying...."
"Yes, I do," he said, trying not to choke as he remembered the man who had raised him, as he thought of him being tortured for months on end. "I want to do this. I need to. I got away from Voldemort once; I can get away again."
"How, Harry? You had a Portkey at your disposal then. You don't know how to Apparate, and it would be illegal for you to learn until you turn seventeen. I won't allow it. Severus knew what the risks were, and I trust him implicitly."
He lifted his chin. "You forgot--I accompanied Professor Lupin in February--" he said softly, one eye on Madam Pomfrey, who seemed intent in making certain the potion did not overflow the container.
"That is a talent which he knows about," Dumbledore said, obliquely, also sliding his eyes in Madam Pomfrey's direction. She sighed and put the potion on the table next to the bed.
"Since you are once again feeling that you cannot discuss some things openly while I am here, I will return to the Apothecary. I have work to do," she said with a slightly injured tone. Dumbledore watched her go without comment. He did not deny her assessment of the situation.
Once she was gone, Harry said, "He thinks I'm a lion. He doesn't know I'm a golden griffin. And I can do the pain blocking."
Dumbledore looked at him sternly. "If he starts removing your fingers, can you grow them back?"
"Erm," Harry said, trying not to feel ill at the thought. Dumbledore patted his arm.
"Drink your potion, then go to sleep. It will help you to remember."
"What kind of potion is it?"
"What?" Harry practically screeched. "Isn't that what Neville--"
"Yes, he abused it. This is a carefully controlled dosage prepared expertly by Poppy. No one will allow you to become addicted. Do not worry. It has its uses. Anything which is this useful is also open to being abused. If you do not take matters into your own hands, you will not have a problem."
Harry nodded and carefully lifted the beaker to his lips, trying not to make a face like a five-year-old eating Brussels sprouts as he drank the vile stuff. How had Neville become dependant on this? he wondered. Did he take another potion to destroy his taste-buds first?
Then he had a vivid picture of both of his brothers learning to tolerate the vile taste of Porphyry Potion....
"Porphyry Potion!" he said excitedly. Dumbledore had been starting to go, but now he swung around.
"What did you say?"
"Snape has Porphyria. If Wormtail hasn't been giving him Porphyry Potion, he could become very ill...."
Dumbledore nodded. "Severus always carried some of his potion with him. And Wormtail wants him for information, so he will not have let Severus become ill, I think. Get some rest Harry...."
Then Harry thought of something else; suddenly his mind was racing. Was it the Mnemonis Potion? "The forest!"
"What about the forest?"
"Why didn't Snape come back to Hogwarts through the forest? Wormtail wouldn't have been able to get him then. He was on the road from the village, you said. Snape should have gone to Gartly, then walked through the Clash--"
"The Clash? You know about the Clashindarroch Forest --"
"Really being the Forbidden Forest? Yes. I--" He lowered his voice. "I escaped from Azkaban in my golden griffin form--"
"You were in Azkaban?" Dumbledore looked shocked, the first time Harry had ever seen him so.
"That's not my point. I went to Gartly, to the pub, which backs up onto the forest. I went through there, and of course I didn't have any trouble with the Muggle-repelling charms that form the border between the Muggle world and the magical world. Snape should have done that to get back here instead of Apparating to Hogwarts and walking from the village...."
Dumbledore furrowed his brow. "Very few wizards know where Hogwarts really is, Harry. Most took the train when they were children, then once they learned to Apparate, they did that to reach the village, taking the Floo network if they couldn't Apparate and following the Hogwarts train line--undetectable by Muggles--if they flew here by broomstick. Only a few of us know that the Forbidden Forest and the Clash are one and the same."
Harry smiled. "That's how we'll get Wormtail to trust us."
Dumbledore did not look happy about this. "How?"
"Like I said, we'll offer me for Snape. We'll tell him how to get into the forest from Gartly, and to make sure he and this other wizard bring Snape. But we won't really be offering a trade--it'll be an ambush. It's about time we showed what we've got. There are the teachers, the Dueling Club, the elves, Hagrid's mum and the other giants are still out there in the forest....We'll throw everything we've got at them, until we get Snape back and--" He caught his breath. "--and we'll capture Wormtail and get him to clear Sirius!"
He grinned at the headmaster, who appeared to be pondering the plan. "I don't like Death Eaters knowing how to get to Hogwarts through the forest. Of course, the forest has perils of its own--"
"And we'll have safety in numbers. It'll be brilliant! And if you need something else to tempt Wormtail with, besides promising him me--"
Harry paused. "Tell him--I know who the heir is, and what he's for. Tell Wormtail I will tell the heir--all I would need to do is send him owl post--and then he'll know he's being used. I--I don't think Voldemort knows how the heir can be really useful because it was Barty Crouch, Jr. who knew, and he's been kissed by a dementor now....Of course, I suppose he could have told Voldemort before that, but even if he did, I don't think Voldemort has done the ritual yet," he said breathlessly; his head was starting to hurt from the thoughts tumbling through it so quickly. "I don't remember everything yet, but if that had happened, I'm sure my scar would have hurt a great deal, and that it would be pretty unforgettable."
Dumbledore put his hand on Harry's head and gently pushed him back onto the pillow. "Rest and remember, Harry. Your mind is running away from you a bit at the moment. I will think about your suggestion. All Wormtail would have to do is refuse, and we would be right back where we were."
"But tell him I'll take Snape's place! And that if he doesn't agree, I'll tell the heir--"
"Yes, yes. I heard you. It may be worth a try. I will contact some of the other operatives and consult with them and get back to you. I will check with you soon; I do not think you should miss all of your classes today, but you should probably not get up until it is time for lunch."
Harry nodded agreement and closed his eyes, hearing the headmaster leave the Infirmary. Dumbledore had to agree; he just had to. He could do it, Harry knew he could; he felt a power moving restlessly through his veins as he pondered the details of the plan, and the desired outcomes.
Wormtail would go to prison and Sirius would be cleared.
The heir would not be sacrificed, would not wreak havoc on behalf of Voldemort, and his death would not strengthen his grandfather. And most importantly--
Harry would save his dad.
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