Chapter Twenty-Nine: Judgement
Everything materialised very suddenly around them, and the world came back into existence again. Harry looked down, and saw he was out of his pajamas, wearing long black robes with gold trim, and black velvet gloves with a design on the back like a spider's web. Snape was wearing similar. Looking around, Harry saw that he was in a long corridor that seemed to stretch on endlessly. Doors lead off the hall into other rooms, though there were no numbers or handles.
"Where are we?" said Harry quietly.
"Your mind," murmured Snape. "Our physical state is left behind, in reality. We are now inside the very corridors of your brain. The doors lead to the sections of your conscious."
"How do you know?" said Harry.
"At one point, I wondered whether you were perhaps telling the truth... I read into the matter." Snape was walking forwards. Harry followed along behind him silently. Every step seemed to echo endlessly into the blackness, and the wooden floor underfoot creaked gently. "We need to find the wizengamot. They will be somewhere inside your mind."
"Leave that question. We will consider it when we need to."
They reached the first door. Harry stopped before it. Fiery words, in red and gold flames, spelt out in front of him - "RON". Harry reached out, tentatively, and the door creaked out. He and Snape entered.
Everything was brightly coloured, and in the centre of the room was a large pillar. Heaped around it were piles of objects. Harry bent down, and picked a few up. Some he recognised, some he did not. He held up an old, battered school book, and Snape took it. "Mm. Education uncared for, the basic information barely legible. No extra effort taken, or pride in school work. Disorganised." He flicked through the book. Harry saw many missing pages, to which hand-written notes had been taped. "Shoddy replacement for lacking knowledge," said Snape. "How typically Weasley."
"So all this stuff represents Ron," said Harry, sorting through it. There were a lot of things belonging to Hermione, or carrying pictures of her. "She must be really important to him."
"Not necessarily," said Snape. "This is a representation of how you view Weasley. Perhaps subconsciously, you are aware of how much Granger means to Weasley." He raised an eyebrow, and put down the book. "As fascinating as this is, there are hundreds of rooms to explore. Come, Potter."
Harry and Snape left, proceeding to the next door. Flaming words appeared before it as Harry approached. "HERMIONE." They stepped through. It was quite the opposite to Ron's room. The colours were browns and creams, and everything was neatly stacked on shelves all around the room. Everything was categorised, with signs tacked to the wall.
"Neatness and organisation to the point of impracticality," said Snape calmly. He traced his hand over a shelf of books, and then glanced at a carefully set-out desk in the middle of the room. A notebook was open, the quill inked and ready for somebody to write at, pages in surrounding textbooks open with relevant information. "And yet greatly useful and convenient. A caring quality."
"There's nothing in here about Ron," said Harry. He glanced into the corner, and saw a tiny cramped little shelf. Tiny photos of Hermione's friends were put there, quiet and out of the way. "Wait... one small picture. So I don't think Hermione cares about us much, even though she probably does. Like... wanting more appreciation."
"Clever boy," said Snape. He took Harry's shoulder, and steered him out of the room.
They carried on door the corridor quietly, checking each room, though there were no signs of the wizengamot or Voldemort anywhere. They found rooms about Harry's parents, rooms about Sirius, about Snape, Kainda, Draco, Crabbe and Goyle, the Dursleys, Mrs Figg, Ludo Bagman, nearly everybody Harry had ever known. Once the people were out of the way, they found rooms about places and objects, Harry's emotions, his opinions of school subjects, his favourite things, past dreams and nightmares, all sorts of odd things. Harry noticed that all the rooms so far had only been his opinions, but this changed, as they came across a set of double doors.
"HALL OF MEMORIES," the fiery words spelt out. They burnt for a few moments, and then flickered out. Harry glanced at Snape, and pushed the door open. They both stepped through, into darkness that seemed to stretch on forever. A glass path stretched out before them, leading into the blackness. Harry and Snape followed it, until the path branched out and around into a small circle around what looked like a huge crystal ball. Harry stepped closer and put his hands on the glass. Inside, it looked like a million spiders had weaved sticky white webs, stretching from corner to corner. Harry realised it was the same substance that was added to the pensieves.
"Is all that stuff my memories?" he asked Snape.
Snape nodded. "Look above you..."
Harry looked up, and saw other glass balls suspended in the blackness, full of the stringy stuff. Something moved in the darkness. Instinctively, Harry stepped closer to Snape. The next moment, what looked like a white shadowy spider had descended from nowhere, and curled around the smallest sphere. Thin strings spun into the ball, and filled it. The spider scuttled away into the blackness above. A few moments later, the contents of the ball vanished.
"What's going on?" asked Harry.
Snape pointed out the largest ball. "Your most recent memories. The balls decrease in size gradually, as time passes. The largest contains the things you are processing now. Irrelevant detail is shed, and the rest passed onto the next ball. It continues like this over a period of time, and anything truly important is moved into the largest sphere here." He pointed at the largest ball. Another spider had appeared, and was extracting the stuff, taking it to the next sphere. "They move the memories, and decide for you what is useful and what is not. If any memories alter your opinions, the information is passed on, and the rooms back along the corridor will change accordingly."
Harry watched another spider start adding things from the smallest ball to the huge one just before him. After a moment, he said, "So, with memory charms... only really recent things can be gotten rid of. The sphere is just wiped, of everything, so you can't remember it."
"Indeed," said Snape. "Nobody is sure how long the chain of memory spheres lasts for. The textbooks claim that the longest period of memories ever removed by a memory charm is around ten years, but in rare cases, the largest sphere can be wiped. Every single memory is removed, leaving nothing."
"That's what happened with Lockhart," said Harry, nodding. "But... he forgot information too, didn't he? And information and memory aren't the same thing. You can know something but not remember being taught it."
"Nobody understands the process of storing information entirely," said Snape. "I researched the mind as a student. Most information about its workings comes from people entering their minds physically, as we are doing now. Nobody has ever found a chamber which contains information. Sometimes, memory charms affect information, and sometimes not. Lockhart still had a hold of language, and the knowledge of survival, but not knowledge of himself and his life... though whether they could be classed as memory is unsure."
"How could you remove a single memory from somebody?" asked Harry. "Just a single one, not a whole bunch. Say if I wanted to just forget doing my Charms NEWT paper."
"The memories must be extracted," said Snape calmly. "And then destroyed, by use of various charms on a pensive. Remind me to take you to the library at Snape Manor, so I can explain this to you in greater detail."
There were footsteps coming from behind them, at the start of the glass path. Harry and Snape turned. Somebody was walking towards them out of the darkness. At first, Harry thought he didn't recognise them, until the figure stepped into the light from the main memory sphere. The white glow glinted off silver-blonde hair, and cold grey eyes. Lucius Malfoy looked every bit as daunting when he was dead as he had done when he was alive.
"My Lord," he called. "They are here."
"Ah... well done, Lucius..."
Harry stepped closer to Snape. Snape's hand tightened on his shoulder, and both of them drew their wands simultaneously, as a dark shape appeared in the shadows, walking behind Malfoy. Voldemort's pale, horrible face loomed at Harry out of the darkness. His livid red eyes surveyed Harry with the utmost hatred and loathing, and then moved up, to Snape.
"Severus," said Voldemort softly, the sound more a hiss than a voice.
Snape said nothing. Lucius was stepping forwards, smiling slightly at Snape, one eyebrow arched just a tiny bit. The two met eye to eye.
"What happened to you?" said Malfoy, quietly.
"Sense," Snape replied.
"You contradict yourself, old friend," said Malfoy. "Standing by such a foul creature. What sense is this?"
"I could say the same," whispered Snape.
There was a gentle flicker in the air before them, followed quickly by another, and two creatures appeared floating there. One was Khepri, and the one looked quite a lot like him, but had black fur, and a snake as a tail.
"No bloodshed," said Khepri. "The fight doesn't start until after the judging."
The black Khepri nodded, with a sinister smile. "Just to fill you both in before the wizengamot get here... the boy will answer 42 questions, from the wizengamot. For every question that he truthfully answers 'no' to, he will be allowed a weapon, another battler, or a minute's head-start."
"Then when the questions are over, you'll be let out to fight," said Khepri. "It's that simple. Winners live. Losers die."
At that moment, a gong sounded somewhere in the blackness. Harry stiffened. "What's that?" he said to Khepri.
Khepri smiled. "Your wizengamot are coming... the Egyptian council are long gone, but their spirits choose people that you know, to represent them best. You're the one who's been dragged here, so people you know will be conjured."
Flames burst in the darkness, one by one. Harry tried to count, but lost track quickly, and simply stood staring around as flames burst up. They spread around him in a ring, burning fiercely. The black Khepri lead Voldemort and Malfoy from the circle, while Khepri moved up to Snape and grinned.
"You're required, Sir," he said. "Serapis. Saviour in life and death, redeemer in sickness." He pointed to one of the fires in the ring. "You're there."
Snape put his hand on Harry's shoulder. They locked eyes for a moment, then Snape moved away, and stood in front of the fire. Harry looked around, as more people started to step from the flames, looking around in confusion. He saw Ron, Hermione, Draco, all of his friends, a lot of teachers, people from the ministry he knew, even Peter.
"What's going on?" Ron shouted. "Harry? Where are we?"
Khepri floated into the centre of the circle, above Harry, and clapped for attention. "You're all here to be judges. All you need to know is that you must think of questions, which you believe Harry can truthfully answer no to. The more he does, the better off he'll be. Think now. They must be about Harry, his life and his sins."
Everybody went quiet. Some still looked very suspicious and doubtful, most were looking at Harry, and a few had clearly started to think. Harry could almost see the cogs going in Hermione's brain. Across the circle, Draco was trying not to look at his father.
"Ready? Good... let's see where we shall start then..." Khepri floated down, looked around, and then spotted Mad-Eye Moody. To Harry's surprise, Mad-Eye didn't look suspicious, and he wasn't trying to jinx everybody in sight. Khepri approached him, smiling. "Horus," he said. "Lost an eye in the fight against evil. Do you have your question?"
"I do," growled Moody.
"Ask him then," said Khepri, turning to Harry.
Moody's normal eye rested upon Harry, as he asked, "Ever killed without it being self-defence, Potter?"
"No," said Harry stoutly.
"Wrong," said the black Khepri. He floated into the ring, glaring at Harry. "When he was twelve, he crushed thousands of spiders in that car, fleeing the forest."
"That was self-defence," said Harry fiercely. "They were trying to kill me!"
"Not the tiny ones upon the ground," said the black Khepri.
"Oh, come on, they were spiders," said Harry. "I didn't set out to kill them."
"They were still lives," said the black Khepri. "His answer was not truthful. Ask the next question."
Khepri moved on. Lupin stood in front of the next flame. He looked rather pale and weak, but he lifted his head as Khepri addressed him, with quiet defiance in his features.
"Anubis," said Khepri. "We sense a jackal-head deep within you. Ask him your question."
Lupin turned to Harry, and gave him a kind smile, as though they were just in class. "Have you ever abandoned somebody when they needed help most, Harry?"
"No," said Harry.
"He lies," said the black Khepri. "He abandoned his guardian, outside the hospital wing."
Khepri nodded, and moved on. Harry was feeling desperately sick now. Khepri turned to Hagrid, and said, "Geb... God of the Earth, and nature. Your question?"
Hagrid's beetle-black eyes were warm as they looked into Harry's. "Have yeh ever killed on purpose, Harry?"
"No," said Harry, shaking his head.
The black Khepri gave a hollow laugh. "The basilisk is not included in this, I see?"
Khepri moved on. Harry felt very, very sick. He couldn't answer Madam Sprout's question truthfully, or any of the people after her for quite some time, but finally, Hermione redeemed him.
"Maat," said Khepri. "Goddess of order, truth and justice... your question?"
Hermione smiled encouragingly to Harry. "Have you ever hurt somebody without a good reason to do so?"
Harry felt a surge of hope. "No," he said, hurriedly, shaking his head.
The black Khepri was quiet. Harry turned to look at him. He nodded, just once. "That is true. Choose, boy... another battler, a minute's head-start, or a weapon?"
Harry paused, and then he said, "A minute's head-start." More battlers or weapons would do him no good if he couldn't get far away enough to use them.
Khepri was moving on. He failed Professor Sinistra, and Mr Weasley, Professor Pebblebank, before Khepri stopped in front of Ron. Ron was looking determined.
"Ra," said Khepri. "God of the sun. Your question?"
Ron turned to Harry, took a breath, and then said, "Have you ever fancied a mate's girlfriend?"
"No," said Harry.
There was a pause. The black Khepri was looking very contemptuous. "That was not a proper question, and he lied in his answer anyway. Cedric Diggory, and Cho Chang."
"Cedric wasn't a friend," said Harry stoutly. "And I liked her before him."
"I think it was a perfectly fair question," said Khepri, raising an eyebrow at his counter-part.
The black Khepri sighed impatiently. "Oh, very well. Choose another reward."
"Weapon," said Harry.
There was a clatter at his feet, and when he looked down, there was a golden shield lying there. Khepri moved on again. He passed Neville, Dumbledore, McGonagall, Luna and Ginny, Kainda, Flitwick, Madam Pince, on and on through nearly all the people, until only four were left. Harry was begging them to give him a question he could answer. Snape, Alrister, Draco and Rookwood all looked at him as Khepri strolled over. He headed to Snape first.
"Serapis... your question, please."
Snape and Harry locked eyes. "Are you afraid, Harry?" asked Snape.
At first, Harry was taken aback by the question. He thought, and then said, still a little surprised, "No."
There was silence. The black Khepri raised an eyebrow. "Intriguing question. He tells the truth. Choose, boy."
"Another minute," said Harry. He figured that more weapons would do him no good, if it was going to be a psychic battle, and if he chose any more people to help and then lost, they would die with him. He couldn't do that, not to his friends.
Khepri moved onto Draco. Harry failed his question about jealousy, and the same happened with Rookwood, but Harry hardly expected Rookwood to try and help him. Alrister was the last in the circle. He looked Harry in the eye, smiled, and set, "Ever committed adultery, Harry?"
"I'm not married, am I?" said Harry, startled. "So... no."
"That was an unfair question," said the black Khepri angrily. "The boy is too young to marry."
"No, he's not," said Alrister with a smile. "As long as he's got permission from his legal guardians. Which I believe would be Snape. Severus? Would you give him permission, if he asked?"
"What, to marry me?" said Snape, staring at him.
"No, marry somebody else."
"There you go then," said Alrister, smiling up at the black Khepri. "It was a perfectly fair question. Harry could easily be married now, if he wanted to, and he hasn't cheated on his wife before."
The black Khepri looked furious. "Fine," he spat. "Boy! Choose something."
Harry thought for a moment. "If I choose a battler who's already dead, what will happen if we lose?" he asked carefully.
"Nothing," said Khepri, shrugging. "They're already dead, so they'll go back."
"Then I want a battler," said Harry. "I want Sirius. Sirius Black."
Khepri nodded. He turned to the wizengamot. "You will now be sent back to reality, and your memories wiped..." He clapped his hands, and the flames of the wizengamot flickered away, taking the people with them. Snape stepped forward next to Harry again, just as a fire crackled into life nearby. Khepri looked at Harry quickly. "The moment he appears, you have two minutes to run and hide in the rooms of your mind. Then the other two will be coming after you. Winners live, losers die. You may use only the Pure Arts, the Psychic Arts, and physical attacks. Ready?"
Harry nodded. His eyes were fixed on the flames, crackling and dancing. A shadow was appearing in their midst, and then stepped out, coughing, looking confused. "What... where...?"
"Sirius! Come on!" Harry shouted, and he grabbed his godfather's arm, pulling him from the room, with Snape racing afterwards. They sprinted down the glass path, burst through the door, and took off running down the corridor. Sirius was staring around, looking utterly bewildered.
"What's going on?" he said.
"Shut up," Snape growled. "And keep running."
Harry finally skidded to a halt in front of a door. He didn't even stick around to properly register the fiery word "LOVE" before he burst through the door, dragged Sirius and Snape in, and slammed it behind them. He and Snape managed to jam the shield in place and make a crude but effective sort of lock. Harry then turned to Sirius. His godfather was staring at the red glitter everywhere, the soft flashes of white light every now and then, and the photographs of loved ones stuck everywhere.
"Sirius," said Harry.
"Ready to tell me what on earth's going on now, are you?" he said.
"This is my mind," said Harry. He approached Sirius tentatively. "It's the final fight. Me and Voldemort. I got to pick people to help, and I wanted you... whoever kills the other will win, and their side will all live. So... if we kill Voldemort, we live. If Voldemort's side kill me, we die."
Sirius looked from Harry, to Snape. He and Snape glared at each other, and for a moment, Harry worried that he had picked the wrong combination of battlers. Then Sirius extended a hand. Snape took it without hesitation, and they shook.
"For Harry's sake, of course," said Sirius gruffly.
"Indeed," said Snape.
"What are you here for?" said Sirius. "He didn't pick you to help, did he?"
"He did," said Snape, calmly. "And I will ask you to respect Potter's decision. If we stand here debating Daily Prophet scandals, we are dead men running. We need a strategy, and a plan. Black, do you have any training in wandless magic?"
Sirius gave him a very blank look.
"Pure Arts," said Snape. "Psychic Arts. No?"
Sirius's blank look remained.
Snape sighed. "Very well... you will have to be our physical attacker. Harry, if you're in contact with me try Psychic Arts, but until then, I will have to trust Alrister's teaching of you, as much as I will probably regret it later. Rely on nothing, and stay together."
Sirius nodded, and transformed into the huge shaggy black dog. He bent low to the ground and growled, baring his teeth, hair standing up.
"Very intimidating," said Snape idly. "Harry, come here."
Harry stepped closer. Snape bent down, splayed his fingers and placed them on Harry's forehead. Harry felt a rush, as his psychic power momentarily returned. They both closed their eyes.
"This will be the fastest lesson of your life," said Snape. "And it will hurt. Brace yourself."
Harry braced. Next second, he found out what it was that would hurt, as pain seared across his scar. He felt his mind being torn apart forcefully, and something flooded in between the gaps, slotting in here and there, filling him with sudden information. He felt himself shaking. Snape was too, but he didn't let go of Harry's head. Harry gave a cry. There was a distant growl, as Sirius leapt forward and sank his teeth into Snape's leg, but Snape didn't seem to notice. It last for about half a minute more, and then Snape broke off. Harry staggered backwards, and nearly hit the floor, before Snape grabbed him and held him upright.
"Has it worked?" he said. He looked down. "Black! Get off my leg!"
Harry was seeing stars. He felt as if he had just been blitzed with knowledge. Suddenly, he knew things he couldn't explain at all. It was like learning how to jab things with a stick, then suddenly being handed a battleship to control, and somehow knowing how to work it.
"Wow," he breathed.
Sirius the dog had run over, and was licking Harry's face, as though he was injured. Harry laughed and pushed him away.
"I'm okay, Sirius," he said. "Just a bit... dazed. I'll explain everything later, okay?"
"That's rather optimistic," said Snape. "How do you know there will be a 'later' to explain things in?"
Harry got to his feet. "Sheer arrogance."
Snape gave an amused huff. He looked at Harry, and paused for a moment. He put a hand on his shoulder, ignoring Sirius's growls. "You realise there is a chance we won't ever leave your mind alive."
"It was always coming to this," said Harry, with a small shrug. "If I die, I die. I'd rather go down a hero, now, than a coward in two hundred year's time when Voldemort's taken over the world."
"Interesting philosophy," said Snape. He nodded. "Very well then, Harry. Let us go down heroes. Black? Come along. Time to look fate in the eye."
The three of them turned to the door, and pulled it open. They stepped out, standing side by side, all once bitter enemies and now allies. Harry looked down the long corridor, and knew he was ready. It was time.
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