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Chapter posted Aug. 7, 2007
Harry woke the next morning to the clamour of a young, excitable voice calling his name.
He turned over and groaned, burying his face in his pillow. Who had let an ickle Firstie into the dorm at such an hour? "Go 'way," he muttered.
"Harry, come on, wake up!" The curtains around his bed parted, and someone jumped on the end of it, jarring him further awake. "We're going to miss breakfast!"
Harry cracked an eye open and glared over his shoulder at the intruder, then nearly swallowed his tongue as he recognized the freckled face of his best friend. Of course Ron sounded like an ickle Firstie; he was a Firstie. And so was Harry. Neither of them were old enough yet for their voices to have changed. And wasn't that a disturbing thought; he had puberty to look forward to a second time, on top of everything else on his plate.
He was going to have to get used to the way everyone sounded all over again, in addition to the way they looked. Hopefully, he wouldn't say or do anything stupid in the meantime. It was a good thing he'd come back over Christmas break, to give himself some time to adjust. It was going to be strange enough just living at Hogwarts again, nevermind trying to attend classes, deal with teachers, and interact with the other students as peers without tripping himself up.
He yawned, and Ron gave him a chastising look. "You didn't go back down after that Mirror again last night, did you? I told you it was a bad idea."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Don't worry, I won't do it again. Dumbledore found me--"
Ron's eyes grew round. "Merlin. What did he do?"
Harry shook his head, then sat up and squirmed out from under the covers. "Nothing, really. He just wanted to talk to me about the Mirror, I think. He says it's supposed to show us our deepest desires, and that people can go mad sitting in front of it."
"Blimey," Ron said. "Good thing he found you, then."
Harry frowned as he rummaged among his clothes for something comfortable to wear. It was a good thing Dumbledore had found him the first time. He'd thought so then, too; he'd decided Dumbledore must have set him up to learn the Mirror's secret so he'd be prepared to test his strength against his arch-enemy. From the vantage point of six years' more experience, though, that seemed an overly simplistic explanation. He'd have to mull it over again later, when he had time to think without Ron's stomach dictating the schedule.
"I'll just take a quick shower," he said, dismissing the subject. "Meet you in the Common Room in a few minutes?"
"All right," Ron shrugged. He was fully dressed already, wearing his newest Weasley jumper with a pair of comfortable trousers. "I'll just go see what my brothers are up to."
Breakfast was a merry affair; it was just Ron, Harry, and the twins at their table, as Percy had apparently eaten much earlier. Fred and George were still snickering over the latest prank they'd pulled on him, and were in an expansive mood, bragging about all the tricks and traps they were planning to pull on the other students when everyone returned from Christmas break.
Harry couldn't help but wonder just how much of their pranking success was due to the Marauders, who'd given them a standard to live up to, and how much was natural mischievousness. He knew they'd got the map away from Filch during a detention in their first year, implying they'd had a certain amount of talent at it before they ever arrived at Hogwarts, but they'd had an unnatural advantage ever since. He didn't think the original Marauders would have minded, though. They'd probably have cheered them on, in fact.
After breakfast, the ginger tribe plus one all trooped back up to the tower. Ron challenged Harry to a few games of wizard's chess as they entered the common room; Harry had a brand new set of pieces in his trunk, won out of a Christmas cracker a few days before, and he decided it couldn't hurt to put them to use. It seemed a safe diversion; he'd never been much good at the game, and if they had fun now he'd have an excuse to leave to do some "homework" after lunch.
Besides, he was enjoying being able to relax after the chaos of the last few days of his other life. Something wound up tight inside him from all the loss, panic, and struggle he'd fought his way through was slowly unwinding in the light-hearted presence of his friends, and he wanted to bask in that warmth just a little bit longer.
Despite his best efforts to play "normally", however, Ron gave him a funny look partway through the first game and paused, staring at him over the board. "You've been holding back on me, mate," he said, thoughtfully.
"What do you mean?" Harry frowned, staring first at his friend, then down at the board. "You're still winning."
"Yeah, but a couple of days ago you were acting like you didn't even know what the pieces did. Sure, it's more of a challenge this way-- but you didn't have to lie about it."
Harry winced. After all of the bits of knowledge he'd brought back with him, he'd never expected chess, of all things, to trip him up. He was going to have to come up with a good overall cover story straight away to use in the future-- visions, maybe? That's what he'd said to Dumbledore, back at the end of everything. Still, nobody in their right mind would believe he'd had a vision of chess, or any of the other little mundane things he did every day. He was going to have to get creative.
"I did play chess a bit, back in the Muggle world," he said, hesitantly. "Dudley had a set he'd thrown out, and I rescued it from the bin. I didn't know if all the pieces moved the same here, though, and Seamus' set was a bit distracting, yelling at me and all. This set is friendlier, though, and they do move just like Muggle ones after all, so I suppose I've got used to it."
Ron goggled a bit at that. "Muggles play chess, too?"
"'Course they do, Ron." Honestly, for a family whose dad was so obsessed with Muggle technology, the younger Weasleys were all amazingly ignorant of what the non-wizarding world was like. "Haven't you played with Hermione?"
"But that's Hermione," Ron said, still staring. "She knows everything."
"Not everything," Harry answered, grinning at his friend. "You're better at it than she is."
Ron looked pleased at that thought. "Yeah. That and flying," he snickered.
Harry shook his head, and they went back to their game.
After lunch, Harry casually claimed an interest in getting some more of his reading done for the next term, and maybe looking into the Flamel question some more. Ron was as unenthusiastic about the idea of visiting the library as he usually was when Hermione wasn't present, and decided he'd rather lounge about the Common Room playing gobstones and Exploding Snap with his brothers. Harry didn't push him; it was exactly what he'd hoped would happen.
He went up to the dorm first to fetch his letter to Remus, some supplies to take notes with, and his Albus Dumbledore chocolate frog card; he planned to show the text on it to Ron when he returned as "proof" that he really had been researching Flamel. What he'd actually be doing, of course, was secluding himself in a corner of the library while he figured out what he was going to do with the next six years of his life, take two. Madam Pince kept pretty short hours over break, but it was one of the few places he could be sure of finding some peace and quiet for the next few hours. And if anyone came looking for him, the books made a great cover story.
He went by the Owlery first, and had another painful moment at the first sight of Hedwig. He could still hear her screeching as she collapsed to the floor of her cage in a flash of green, four days before his seventeenth birthday. Her loss had gone almost unremarked amid the greater tragedies of George's disfiguring injury and Moody's death, but he'd missed her a great deal.
He talked to her softly for a moment before giving her the letter, praising her for being such a good owl, and sent her off with promises of extra treats when she got back. Then he took a deep breath and headed back down to the fourth floor.
The first thing he wrote on his note parchment, after securing a suitably remote study table in the back of the library, was Sirius' name. Underlined. Twice.
He'd learned enough about his father and the rest of the Marauders in the years since he'd first met Sirius Black to understand that his godfather wasn't perfect. He had a bad habit of leaping before he looked, even worse than Harry did, and that last year in Grimmauld Place he hadn't been anybody's idea of a good role model. But he was still Harry's godfather. His innocent godfather, who loved him, and who had died protecting him. Maybe he wouldn't be the perfect guardian. But he was the guardian Harry wanted, and surely things wouldn't be nearly so bad if he were freed right away and had time to heal from Azkaban before the war came back to haunt him.
The Headmaster probably wouldn't like it. He might even still make Harry spend most of each summer with the Dursleys because of the blood protection. Sirius would still be there for him though, available to sign permission slips, visit with over Christmases and Easters, and write long letters to about any trivial thing that came into Harry's head. Harry could deal with that.
He underlined Sirius' name one more time for emphasis, then put quill to parchment again to list out each of the known Horcruxes. He wasn't one anymore, and Nagini wasn't one yet if Dumbledore had been right about the order of events. That left just five: Riddle's diary (still with the Malfoys), Hufflepuff's cup (in Bellatrix's vault), the Resurrection Stone (as part of the ring hidden in the Gaunt shack), Slytherin's locket (on display at Grimmauld Place), and Ravenclaw's diadem (hidden in the Room of Requirement). One of them he could get to right now; another he could get to once Sirius was free; the others would take a bit more effort. Someone would have to Apparate to Little Hangleton to fetch the ring, and he was years too young for that; the other two were even further out of his reach.
Taking down Voldemort had been Harry's primary purpose since old Tom had tried to kill him sixteen years ago-- no, ten-- and ended up triggering Trelawney's prophecy instead. Harry had understood that instinctively from the beginning, and more explicitly since the mess in the Ministry his fifth year. His 'second chance' was going to have to be all about that, too, only quicker and smarter if he wanted to spare his friends all the pain they'd gone through the first time round.
That meant destroying the Horcruxes. Nothing else-- not the Tri-Wizard Tournament, not OWLs and NEWTs, nor the D.A. nor even Quidditch-- mattered in the long run, compared to that goal. So really, he didn't have to worry about contaminating the timeline. As long as Voldemort didn't get the Philosopher's Stone and Malfoy still tried to give Riddle's diary to Ginny, it didn't matter much how everything else fell out. He'd be able to collect all the Horcruxes bar the cup long before Voldemort regained a body, and the second war, if things got that far, would be all the shorter for it.
He didn't know what other effects his changes might have; he wasn't Dumbledore. He couldn't predict things that far in advance, and he wasn't all that interested in managing his friends on a day-to-day basis. He'd just have to make an effort to keep including them, and to tell them as much as he could, as soon as he could, so they could make their own choices. Nothing he could do would change the people they essentially were, and he'd drive himself crazy if he tried to take responsibility for their decisions. He'd thoroughly learned that lesson already.
No matter what he did, though, he couldn't tell anyone the time travel secret. Not yet. None of his friends still at Hogwarts knew even as much Occlumency as he did, and once that secret got out he would be doomed. It would only be a matter of time before somebody got to him with either Veritaserum or an Obliviate, trying to either gain an advantage or stop him from meddling, and maybe even both. The adults were another story-- but he'd already dismissed the idea of telling Dumbledore. That left only one person already at the school that might possibly be willing to help Harry without running back to the Headmaster with the details.
Harry wrote the Potions Professor's name on the parchment next, and regarded it with a scowl. Snape hated him. He hated Snape. It had been that way since the very first time they'd met, and if someone had asked him even twenty-four hours ago if that would ever change, he'd have said no. But then he'd finally, finally learned why Dumbledore had trusted the man. And it hadn't been anything like what he'd expected.
Snape had loved his mum. Loved. His mum. And Lily had been Snape's best friend since before Hogwarts; she hadn't given James much more than the time of day until after that friendship had ended. If Snape hadn't called her a Mudblood and sided with the Death Eaters their fifth year, things might have gone very differently. Harry might even have been born a Snape instead of a Potter! The very thought made him want to sick up.
But Snape had loved her. And still did; Harry had seen the evidence of it. And Dumbledore had used that love, since even before Voldemort's first fall, to keep an extra eye out for Harry.
That bothered Harry, on several levels. Even knowing what he knew, even knowing how much Snape must have loathed him both for being James Potter's son and for surviving when Lily hadn't, he still thought Snape's behaviour toward him was way worse than any professor should be allowed to get away with. But he could understand Snape's motivation. He could grasp it, and trust it not to change, unlike the slippery entity known as "the Greater Good". If he could get at the man from a Lily angle instead of always being the echo of James, a lot of the worst bits of the next six years might be avoided. There was just the slight problem of convincing the man that helping Harry, and keeping his secrets, served Lily's legacy better than sticking strictly to Dumbledore's orders.
Harry had his work cut out for him if he ever intended to get to that point, though. And he wasn't even sure yet if the effort would be worth it. Maybe he'd be able to finish up the Horcrux hunt this time without an adult's help. Yeah, and maybe pigs would fly without the benefit of a Hover Charm.
He drew little question marks around Snape's name, and moved on.
The Philosopher's Stone was next. It was supposed to be in the Mirror of Erised right now, sitting at the end of the Headmaster's homemade labyrinth. Except the Mirror had been up on the fourth floor last night, not so far from where he was sitting, where anybody could have discovered it. So where had the Stone been, then? Lying unprotected just past Snape's potion-flame trap? Temporarily in the Headmaster's office? Or still bewitched into the Mirror? And why hide the Stone in such a way that three reasonably clever first years could get to it at all? Why not fake everyone out with the elaborate trap, and secretly send the Stone to some other Unplottable location?
There was only one conclusion that made sense. Dumbledore had meant for the thing to be found. But had he meant for Harry to find it? Or had he just been using the Mirror to test him, totally unrelated to the Philosopher's Stone quest? Harry had vanquished Voldemort last time, sure. But he'd also killed Quirrell in the process. And Quirrell would never have got the Stone out of the Mirror without Harry's help; he might have stood there for hours prodding at the thing with no result. Dumbledore had come back from the Ministry pretty quickly that night; had he meant to catch Quirrell down there red-handed for some reason?
Harry rubbed his forehead with a sigh. He'd just have to keep an eye on the situation, and feed enough clues to Ron and Hermione for them to figure out that Quirrell was the thief. Maybe a solution would present itself from there. Something besides simply walking up to the Defence professor and pressing his hands to his face, anyway. He'd never be able to explain that.
Speaking of clues; it was time to find a book to mark with the card and carry up to the tower. Harry crumpled the list into a tight wad of paper and tucked it into a pocket, then got up, stretched, and started drifting among the shelves in the general direction of the Potions and Alchemy section. He couldn't remember what book Hermione had found Flamel in the first time, but he was sure he'd be able to find something on the ancient alchemist in there.
© 2007 Jedi Buttercup.