Chapter Eighteen: Additional Complications
Dumbledore's white, bushy eyebrows arched higher at Harry's question, and Harry swallowed in sudden self-consciousness. He really oughtn't to have mentioned his godfather, had he? But he didn't dare look away. He felt a bit like a mouse crouching before a basilisk, waiting for the twinkle to appear in that piercing blue gaze, for that powerful mind to reach out and touch his in a silent Legilimens.
But the moment was broken, instead, by McGonagall's hand on his shoulder- and a sudden touch of sympathy in Dumbledore's expression as he looked up at the other professor. "Of course," he said, voice gentler as he drew a more likely conclusion from Harry's presence there. "I understand; the discovery of Peter Pettigrew in your friend's possession must still weigh heavily on your mind."
The Headmaster's head briefly pulled back from the flames- and then returned, spinning in the ashes atop long, blue spangled robes as he stepped wholly through to McGonagall's office.
He folded his hands together, their wide, embroidery stiffened cuffs half covering his fingers, and bent slightly to look Harry in the eye. "I assure you, Mr. Potter, that the Wizengamot found Mr. Pettigrew guilty of all charges; Sirius Black was not, after all, responsible for betraying your parents, and is more of a threat to himself now than to you. He may be a bit of a wild card at present; but if he was anywhere in the Muggle world at the time of the attack, it was in Little Hangleton, not Little Whinging, where a caretaker reported his presence through the use of their ingenious hot line service."
While Harry was still gaping in surprise, trying to digest that unexpected revelation, Dumbledore continued blithely on. "In any event, the attack on the Dursley residence seems to have been a routine test of the wards, rather than any true attempt at destruction. The spell used was a simple Ignition Charm, which is largely reversible when caught before the ashes have time to scatter. It will be repaired within a few hours. The problem is not the damage; the problem is that spell succeeded. That should not have been possible, if you and your relatives both considered that house to be your home."
Harry swallowed, thoughts flashing again to the photograph he'd sent Lupin of the Gryffindor common room- and then to his reasons for sending it. Aunt Petunia, swiping carelessly at him with a frying pan. Aunt Marge, cruelly and casually insulting his mum for no better reason than that her brother had spoke ill of the woman, and her dog, who'd chased him up a tree. Dudley practicing Harry hunting with his friends, or gloating over massive mounds of gifts. The click of the latch as Uncle Vernon shut him up in the cupboard under the stairs, yelling that he'd forfeited his right to supper. They'd be glad to see the back of him. Because Harry was a freak, just like his parents.
He became aware, halfway through the bitter chain of reminiscence, of a subtle thread of unusual urgency behind them. It wasn't anything he'd have noticed when he was an actual first year, full of self-importance at having the Headmaster's full attention; he hadn't known to watch for that twinkle or flash in another's eye then, or recognise the touch of a foreign consciousness. But the true state of his childhood was one observation Harry didn't mind Dumbledore making, if he really was using silent Legilimency. Harry let the memories keep flowing rather than trying to block them out, dwelling in the lingering, raw feeling of loneliness they produced, drawing it like a shroud about his mind.
"But I don't, Professor," he replied, simply but emphatically. "This is where I belong. This is where I've always belonged. Or at least, that's what people keep telling me."
The combination of raw emotion and childish petulance seemed to work; Dumbledore blinked, then looked over Harry's shoulder at McGonagall again, a troubled frown knitting his brow.
But the Headmaster received no help from whatever he saw on the other professor's face. He turned his gaze back to Harry again, wearing a grieved, grandfatherly air that reminded Harry unpleasantly of previous times he'd asked Harry if he had anything to tell him, and his disappointment after Harry had failed in his initial attempt to retrieve the Horcrux memory from Slughorn. "For ten months out of the year, Harry, that may be true; but Hogwarts does not board students over the summer. I am sorry that your relatives have not made you feel welcome in their home, but until you are of age, you must understand that there is no safer place for you to live."
He cleared his throat to allow time for that bald statement to sink in, then moved on with brisk assurance. "I had hoped to shield you from such truths a little longer, Harry- but I think you have already realised what a powerful talisman your name can be in our world?"
Harry thought again of the wizards like Daedalus Diggle who'd bowed to him in Muggle shops, and of the way the Ministry had conspired to trap him in the Dursleys' house just before his seventeenth birthday...
Merlin's baggy Y fronts, he was an idiot! He'd told Remus straight out that Number Four, Privet Drive was only safe while no one knew where he lived, completely forgetting that the Ministry already had that information, and that its bureaucracy was leakier than a sieve. It wasn't ignorance that had kept his childhood so isolated; the wards really were that important. He nodded slowly, mortification burning in his stomach as he grasped at something to say.
"I don't understand why, though. I'm not even the one who did anything; my mum was the one who saved me. Wasn't she?"
McGonagall's hand flexed on his shoulder, and he heard an indrawn breath; Dumbledore's expression grew more severe as he replied. "Be that as it may, you are a symbol to many people, Harry- and not necessarily a positive one, to some. Such is the nature of fame. I have set up temporary wards to discourage further such incidents, and I believe they will hold without further incident until the spring holidays, but I will require your presence then to shore up them up properly and give them time to settle before summer. If you have further questions, we can discuss them at that time."
Harry's stomach sank further at that. The family-based ward could be repaired? Why had he never anticipated that? "Must I, Professor?" he blurted in dismay.
Dumbledore nodded, gravely. "They are your only living maternal relatives, Harry. I am sorry to say you must." Then he shook out the hem of his robes and turned briskly back to the hearth, as if to ward off the possibility of further questions. "I will notify you of the exact date and time after I have settled matters with the Ministry. Now, I shall take my leave of you; and do not let my news put you off the tea, or the company. I find that Professor McGonagall brews quite the best blend in the castle, and her perspicacity is unparalleled." And with a whoosh of green flames, he was gone.
It was only then, as he disappeared out of reach, that Dumbledore's earlier mention of Sirius fully registered. Harry took an abortive step toward the fireplace, then stilled, looking up over his shoulder at his Head of House. He desperately wanted to ask McGonagall what exactly Sirius had been up to in Little Hangleton, but he knew better than to draw further attention to the subject.
She sighed, watching him with a solemn, roughly sympathetic expression. He knew Dumbledore cared about him, in a vaguely proud older relative sort of way, but it had always been tempered by the prophecy: he'd taken an interest in Harry to better know and shape the path of Voldemort's destined opponent, even before he'd become aware of the Horcruxes, and was careful not to let his feelings affect his plans. McGonagall had no such grand schemes in mind; she simply wanted him to succeed.
Ineffectually, maybe, but at least she was honest about it. Small comfort.
"My condolences, Mr. Potter," she said.
Harry gulped, fumbling for a way to excuse himself. This was not a conversation he wanted to be having. "I- I'm sorry, Professor. I've probably taken up enough of your time already..."
"Nonsense," she said, gently. "I am here to assist my students; and you are certainly one of them. I would of course be happy to answer any other questions you have about your parents- but I hope you know you may come to me with any of your concerns."
Unless, of course, they had to do with matters she thought shouldn't be his concern, such as the protection on the Philosopher's stone, or Snape's true loyalties...
"Actually, there is something," he said hesitantly, one hand on the door knob; he'd nearly forgotten the true reason he'd actually gone to her office. "About the last Quidditch match, when I nearly fell off my broom..."
McGonagall nodded. "Rest assured, every care is being taken to ensure that next week's match be free of any such difficulties," she said lightly, with a reassuring smile. "This is the first year Gryffindor has had a chance at the Cup since Charlie Weasley left us; I will not tolerate any further threat to my team."
Meaning Dumbledore had assured her he was taking care of it. Harry bit his lip. "The thing is," he said, wringing his hands together. "Hermione was watching the crowd when it happened- and she said she saw someone pointing a wand at me."
McGonagall raised her eyebrows, her smile fading as she assessed his sincerity. "That is a very serious accusation, Mr. Potter," she said. "Why did she not bring it to me herself?"
He could almost see the walls going up in her mind as she spoke; she probably already thought she knew which adult he was about to accuse. Well, she was in for a bit of a surprise, then. "Because she couldn't figure out what Professor Quirrell's motive was, and she thought at first he might have been casting a counter curse. But he's been acting a bit strange lately, and after finding out about Peter Pettigrew..." Harry let his voice trail off uncertainly. "She decided it was better to say something, than to risk someone else getting hurt."
McGonagall seemed equal parts pleased, confused, and perturbed by his reply. "You think Professor Quirrell is a danger to you?" she asked, voice rising with the question.
He looked down, scraping the toe of his trainer against the rug covering the stone floor in front of her desk. "I know it doesn't sound very likely, but- I just thought. You said any concern, so..."
She shook her head, lips pursed as though torn between her earlier impulse to offer sympathy, and a desire to express the absurdity of his claim. "Mr. Potter, while I appreciate that you brought this observation to me, the day any professor of Hogwarts is a direct threat to its students, is the day Albus Dumbledore is no longer Headmaster of this school."
Harry winced, but forbore to comment. "Thank you, Professor," he said, referring to the remarks about his mother more than that last bit of blind advice; but she offered him a smile again as he left, and the courtesy hadn't hurt him any. At least he could tell Hermione that he'd tried.
Before he tracked her down again, though, he had an urgent question for someone else altogether. He ducked into an empty classroom on his way back to the Tower and pulled it out of his pocket, then cast a Muffliato at the door and called Remus' name.
Unexpectedly, it took several minutes- and several tries- to get an answer. Long enough for Harry to refigure the lunar schedule they'd just gone over in Astronomy, and realise that the next night was, in fact, the full. Well, technically it would be early Tuesday morning; but for magical matters, it was close enough. He thought he remembered that Remus hadn't been able to afford regular Wolfsbane before he was employed by Hogwarts, but he wasn't sure what really meant in practical terms.
Eventually, though, the mirror did light up: the werewolf looked decidedly more wan than he had the day before, but fortunately not as bad as Harry had sometimes seen him the morning after a full moon. He did seem under a great deal of stress, though; what Harry could see of the room behind him suggested a small closet, or perhaps a lavatory. "Harry? Is everything all right?"
Harry frowned at him, unhappily. "Yeah; only Dumbledore just told me Sirius turned up in Little Hangleton. Do you have any idea what he might have been doing there?"
Remus sighed. "I had intended to tell you after the investigation was complete- I just heard about it myself not three hours ago. Apparently, he was sighted destroying graves in a certain cemetery."
His words were heavy with significance- and Harry gasped, suddenly comprehending the details. With Pettigrew already in Ministry hands, Sirius must have decided to eliminate the next most deadly threat to his godson... one Harry would never have expected him to act on.
"Riddle?" he asked. He already knew which grave in particular must have been disturbed, but he had to ask, just to be certain.
"Tom Riddle Senior, yes," Remus grimaced. "He was nearly caught by the caretaker from the Riddle house, who had come to pay his respects. He recognised Sirius' face from the evening news; the Muggle government has been reporting him as an escaped felon."
It made a certain amount of reckless sense; Harry had told him every detail about the graveyard incident, the summer after it had happened. If Sirius destroyed the bones of Voldemort's father, then the particular ritual Voldemort had chosen to restore himself to a body would be much more difficult to perform. At least that answered one question: whatever Sirius had dreamed, whatever he thought was happening, he believed those foreign, future memories had some basis in fact. He wasn't simply acting on long-delayed revenge; he had a plan of his own in mind.
It was a shame he hadn't also known about the Gaunts. Or was it? Given what had happened to Dumbledore, it might be a very good thing that Sirius hadn't known the Resurrection Stone was nearby, waiting to be rediscovered. Harry shuddered at the thought of what could have happened to him.
"And he still hasn't tried to contact you?" he asked. If Sirius knew enough about current events to go after something other than Pettigrew, then he had to know Remus would know he hadn't actually betrayed Harry's parents. So what was keeping him out there alone?
He carefully didn't think about what he would have done in Sirius' place. He suspected the answer wouldn't reflect too well on either of them.
Remus shook his head, shoulders slumping wearily. "I'm afraid not," he said. "I tried addressing a letter to him, but the public post owl wouldn't accept it. I'm afraid only a familiar is likely to be able to find him."
Harry worried his lip between his teeth. "I'll have to send Hedwig, then," he concluded. Recognisable or not, he had few other options. Hermione didn't have an owl, and even if Ron could borrow Errol, the tired old Weasley family bird would probably either get lost or deliver the letter several days too late to be of any use. And he didn't want anyone else to know about the letter. "But never mind about that- I'm sorry, I won't keep you. I'll let you know in a couple of days if anything else happens, all right?"
Remus nodded. "Be careful, Harry," he said. He looked as though there were several other things he would like to have added- Harry had no doubt that if he'd heard about events in Little Hangleton, he'd heard about Little Whinging as well- but offered only a faint sad smile, which had approximately that same guilty effect on Harry as the entire skipped lecture would have. Then the mirror went blank.
Harry rubbed a hand over his face, then put the mirror away and lifted the silencing spell to head back to the tower.
He ran into Fred and George just short of the portrait outside Gryffindor Tower, bent over the Map and holding a fierce whispered argument. They looked up at his approach, then shared a determined glance and folded it up between them.
"Something wrong, guys?" he asked them.
They shared another glance, then shrugged and replied in tandem.
"Just a minor setback," Fred said.
"Seems your precious spell isn't strong enough to get through whatever he's got shielding that manky turban of his," George added, glumly.
"Map still says he's got two names, but the spell didn't give us any name at all in person."
It was instantly clear what they'd been up to- and equally obvious what had gone wrong. Harry winced as he realised his mistake; it was the day for them, apparently. "I suppose I should have been expecting that. I tried to summon his turban weeks ago, and it didn't budge at all. Sorry, guys." The Map tapped into the castle's magic, but the spell itself was limited to the caster's power, and between Quirrell and Voldemort he doubted anyone short of Dumbledore could overcome their protective spells.
"But now we know for sure he's got something worth hiding," George said, speculatively.
"We'll just have to be a bit more creative how we go about it," Fred continued, mischievously.
Harry accepted the Map back with a gulp. "Be careful, guys. He didn't catch you, did he?"
"Teach your grandmother to suck eggs," they scoffed in unison. Then George ruffled his hair as Fred supplied the password to the Fat Lady. "Don't worry; you'll only owe us the one favour. This is starting to get interesting!"
"Define interesting," Harry said, batting George's hand away; but the twins ignored the comment.
He sighed, then followed them into the common room. Time to write a letter- and prepare for the upcoming week of classes.
He had no success with the letter: Hedwig wouldn't accept any envelope addressed to Sirius under any of his various names. Harry tried Snuffles, Padfoot, and finally his actual legal name, and she gave a mournful hoot at all of them. A carefully phrased question to Professor Flitwick earned him the information that post owls required either a definite address or, for a reasonably intelligent owl, some familiarity with the magical signature of the recipient; some familiars could even glean that impression from their wizards by proxy. But as neither Hedwig nor Harry had technically met Sirius in the current timeline, she had nothing to go on.
There was no reference to the sighting in Little Hangleton in the Daily Prophet the next morning, however, nor during the rest of the week; and Harry heard no more on the subject from either Remus or Dumbledore. Whatever Sirius had got up to next, he must have been a bit more circumspect. It would still be several days before Harry could get to the cave to do something more about finding him.
He did get another letter back from Mary Macdonald, but it was equally unhelpful. She'd covered several inches of parchment with information about the causes and typical manifestations of accidental magic, and mentioned that he'd given the local Obliviators quite the workout, but seemed to give the impression that was nothing out of the ordinary for a muggleborn or muggle-raised student. She hadn't discussed the Trace at all.
At least his classes had settled into a predictable routine. He caught McGonagall giving him a sympathetic glance from time to time, Quirrell's stutter grew worse whenever he walked by Harry's desk in Defence, and it seemed as though he ran into Snape everywhere he went- but as none of the three gave or took any more points than usual, no one but Harry seemed to notice a difference.
Not even Hermione and Ron. They were both distracted with the mysteries of Occlumency and the Pensieve; they spent most of the time he was at Quidditch practise experimenting with one or the other. Harry missed seeing them in the stands, but he'd never seen Ron pay so much attention to anything that seemed like work before, so he wasn't about to discourage him, given his own altered habits. And Neville's increased presence made up for their absence, a bit.
By the time Saturday afternoon arrived, though, he was more than ready to put the match behind him and move forward.
He tightened his grip on his Nimbus 2000 as the Snitch was released and shot into the sky.