Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, it's characters, or anything associated with it. I'm not making any money from this story, and I don't intend to. I'm writing it purely for the satisfaction of it, and because several people warned me that there would be dire consequences if I didn't finish it. Please don't sue -- I don't own enough to make it worth your while.
The Mirror of Maybe
Chapter Seven - Confusion and Quidditch
By Midnight Blue
It was one thing to anticipate that Voldemort might unwittingly assist Harry in his pursuit of Severus, but actively relying on it was not something Harry was foolish enough to wait for. Two days ago, he'd been sitting in the library trying to figure out a way to get Severus to have dinner with him, and this afternoon he was going to try out his idea.
But first, he had to find the Potions Master.
The wretched man was not in his apartment as Harry had hoped, nor was he in the staff lounge, or having lunch in the dining hall. After checking out the dungeon classrooms and Sev's office, Harry came to the reluctant conclusion that he must be away from the school grounds somewhere -- possibly picking up more potion ingredients, or browsing around in some esoteric bookshop for more magical recipes to add to his collection.
Harry was on his way back to the dining hall to grab something before the remains of lunch were cleared away, when he heard Professor McGonagall's voice.
"Oh, Ash! A moment, please?" she called out.
He stopped and turned, noticing that the Transfigurations professor was being accompanied by an Auror.
"Can I help you, Minerva?" he enquired politely.
"Yes," she responded, "I'm afraid so."
Harry raised his eyes at her phrasing. "Is there a problem, Professor?" he asked, warily eyeing the Auror beside her.
"Some people seem to think so," she said. "As you can see, the Aurors are here and they have some questions for you with regard to last night's... incident."
"Ah," Harry replied, "and I suppose they've already questioned the other parties involved?" Minerva rolled her eyes heavenward. Standing behind her, the Auror missed her expression.
Amused, Harry turned to the man at her shoulder and said, "I haven't had lunch yet, so if this is going to take more than half an hour, I'd like to postpone it until I've eaten something."
Stonily, the Auror replied, "I'm sorry sir, this shouldn't take long, but a man *was* killed here last night, and I'm afraid we need you to come as soon as possible."
//Meaning right now,// Harry thought. Aloud, he said, "Oh, well -- I suppose going over it all would have soured my stomach anyway," and then in a soft aside to Minerva, he added, "or at least, being asked the same stupid questions a thousand times would have." Beside him, Minerva stifled a laugh.
The Auror frowned.
It was two and a half hours later that Harry finally escaped from the inquisition.
They'd gone to Dumbledore's office, where Harry discovered that both Albus and Poppy had already been given the third degree. Albus had apparently put his foot down with regard to questioning Draco -- arguing that the boy had suffered a terrible shock last night, and was after all, still a minor -- so if they were going to insist on questioning him as well, then they would have to wait a few days until he got over the trauma, and even then, they would have to have one of his parents, or an adult legal representative, with him at all times.
As the resident mediwitch, Poppy had backed Albus on this stand all the way.
Faced with such stiff opposition, the Aurors had decided to redirect their enquiries toward Hogwarts staff members.
And now -- as the primary teacher involved -- it was Harry's turn.
How did he know the Death Eaters would be there last night? Why didn't he stop Mr Malfoy sooner? Did he recognise any of the Death Eaters? Did they say anything to him? Did he really believe that Draco Malfoy was under a spell? Wasn't it possible the boy might have gone to meet them willingly? Had he ever met Draco's father? Would he recognise the Lucius Malfoy's voice? Did he know Cameron Jerffries? Was he *sure* he didn't recognise any of the Death Eaters?
Harry's replies -- in order -- were: No -- he didn't know the Death Eaters would be there -- he'd simply been following a student who was out of bed. He didn't stop Mr Malfoy sooner, because it was difficult to see him in the dark, and after a while he'd begun to wonder whether Draco was sleepwalking, and he'd heard it was dangerous to awaken sleepwalkers. He didn't recognise any of the Death Eaters -- they were all wearing masks, and he was new in town anyway, and didn't really know that many local wizards. Yes -- the Death Eaters had spoken to him. When they'd seen him following Mr Malfoy, they'd asked him whether he would like to become one of them -- to which he'd basically replied: 'sod off'. He didn't know whether Draco had actually been under a spell, or simply sleepwalking, but it would have to be one hell of a coincidence for a Hogwarts student to 'sleepwalk' right out to three Death Eaters. No -- he didn't think Draco had willingly gone to meet them -- and more to the point, why would Death Eaters want to meet with a sixteen-year-old student if they weren't going to kidnap him? Surely the Aurors didn't think Voldemort was recruiting children for his organisation these days. No -- he'd never been introduced to Lucius Malfoy, although, yes -- he knew what the man looked like from the occasional picture of him in the Daily Prophet. No, he wouldn't be able to pick the man out from his voice alone, and if they were implying what he *thought* they were implying, then they'd better have some pretty strong evidence to back it up, or Draco's father would have them for lunch in open court. No, he'd never heard of Cameron Jeffries, and *no* -- as he'd said before -- he had no idea who any of the Death Eaters were.
By the time Harry had answered every question three times, he understood quite plainly that the Aurors were essentially fishing around, and trying to figure out whether a) the dangerous and unknown War Mage had Death Eater sympathies, b) they could implicate Draco as a potential Death-Eater-in-training, and/or c) they could place Draco's father, Lucius Malfoy, as one of the two Death Eaters who'd gotten away.
Unfortunately for them, Harry had gotten over his honesty-is-always-the-best-policy phase a *very* long time ago, and could lie like a champion whenever he felt it was necessary. Actually, he'd even taken a few classes on how to lie believably when he'd been a student in the circle. Lying well enough to fool your enemies could be an invaluable skill -- and had occasionally saved a lot of lives throughout both Muggle and Wizarding history.
Albus had blinked in surprise once or twice during Harry's straight-faced answers, but Harry suspected that -- after his poor non-attempt at making up explanations early this morning -- Albus was only now coming to terms with how *well* his new Dark Arts professor could spin a tale when he was serious about it.
Finally, however, when Harry's stomach was complaining so loudly that everyone in the room could hear it, they let him go.
As he was leaving, Harry stopped to ask, "Cameron Jeffries -- was that the name of the man I killed?"
"Yes," the senior Auror replied with narrowed eyes. "So, you knew him after all?"
"No," Harry said sadly. "I was just wondering -- has his family claimed the body?"
The Auror snorted derisively. "Not likely -- they disowned him years ago -- and they're currently trying to distance themselves from his death as far and fast as they possibly can."
"I see," Harry said quietly. Then he left.
It was way too late for lunch, and much too early for dinner. So, rather than bother the house elves for a special meal, Harry decided to get away from the castle and the Aurors entirely, and walk down to Hogsmeade so he could treat himself to a counter-meal at the pub.
Harry enjoyed a sandwich and a butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks, while he pondered the ultimate fate of a stranger named Cameron Jeffries.
The locals were curious about him, and one or two came over to say hello -- if only for the prestige of being able to tell their friends later that they had spoken with the War Mage whose picture had been on the cover of the Daily Prophet a few months ago.
Harry didn't mind -- it was pleasant to be able to chat with strangers about small things like the weather and their families. It helped to remind him that not everything in the world was an earth-shattering problem that demanded life and death decisions from him.
After his very late lunch, Harry went to the post office and sent off a couple of owls -- one to the Jeffries family -- and one to the Auror's post-mortem facility.
On his way out of the post office, Harry spied Severus emerging from the Script 'n Scroll, and suddenly remembered his original plan to get Severus to have dinner with him.
"Professor Snape!" he yelled, and Sev' instinctively looked 'round to see who'd called him. By the time Harry crossed the street and made his way up the footpath, the potions master had developed a fierce scowl.
"War Mage," Severus began before Harry could utter a sound, "while I'm sure there are many exhibitionists in the world who are quite happy to have their names shouted across public venues, I can assure you that I am not one of them. Furthermore, while I cannot stop you following me about during the working week, and staring at me as if I were some kind of specimen -- I would appreciate it if you would refrain from subjecting me to whatever strange suspicions you may have about me on my weekends."
Horrified, Harry realised that Draco's assertion that 'everyone' thought he hated Severus, also included Severus himself! Before the potions master could stalk off, Harry hastily replied: "Professor, I assure you I harbour no 'suspicions' or ill-will towards you at all! I apologise for yelling at you from across the street, and I certainly won't do it again -- but I had hoped to ask for your assistance with one of my Defence Classes."
Severus looked surprised -- and then suspicious. "And why would the great War Mage require the assistance of a lowly potions master in Defence Against the Dark Arts?" he all but sneered.
"For the same reason," Harry humbly replied, "that he needed the assistance of the Herbology professor for a lesson on Leech Root. I am a War Mage, true, but that doesn't mean I'm a master of anything outside my own speciality. In fact -- as I told Professor Sprout -- I'm hopeless with plants, and I freely admit that I would also be hard pressed to brew a decent potion to save my life."
Noting that the almost-sneer had disappeared from Sev's face, Harry earnestly continued, "When I became a Mage, I was taught that mastery in *all* fields of magic would be impossible -- unless I planned to become immortal. They told me that the most I could hope for was mastery of one or two specialities, and in the end -- for all my dabbling -- I really only mastered one: the magics of War. To assume that this makes me superior in any way to someone such as yourself -- simply because your mastery lies in potions -- is a stupidity that could easily get me killed on a battlefield."
"Indeed," Harry continued, "while I can easily defend myself or others from potions flung in combat, I must still rely on those with your skill to help heal me afterwards -- *and* to prepare me beforehand." Harry drew back one side of his battle robes to reveal the vials on his belt. "Do you imagine I have the skill to brew what's in these bottles?" he asked. "If so, you are mistaken."
His little speech had drawn a small crowd of rubberneckers just down the street -- many of them older students from the school -- and Harry decided that he would once and for all make his respect for the unpopular potions master very clear.
He took a step back, and brought his hands up to cross them at the wrist in front of his chest. With his fingers spread wide to indicate that he held no weapon -- and standing in the middle of a public sidewalk on Hogsmeade's main street -- War Mage Ash bowed to Severus Snape, and said, "My respects to a fellow Master in magic -- and my apologies for the misunderstanding between us."
As Harry bowed, he did so with his eyes lowered -- an action that left him vulnerable to attack from the one to whom he was bowing. For a War Mage, it was a symbol of trust, while to a Death Eater it was a mark of submission. But Harry knew that Severus was experienced enough to understand both meanings, and intelligent enough to realise that he didn't intend it as submission. From this, Severus was quite capable of working out the rest for himself, and realising that the War Mage had deliberately implied that he *trusted* the Hogwarts Potions Master.
After he straightened, Harry added, "I hope that I may still ask for your assistance later -- when I won't be intruding on your personal time." And then, with a final courteous nod, Harry left an astounded and completely baffled Master of Potions standing on the street behind him.
As Harry continued to walk away, he could feel dozens of eyes watching him -- students, wizards, witches, and probably even an owl or two. But the only gaze that truly burned him was the one he could imagine coming from Severus Snape, as the older man's confused gaze followed him into the distance.
The second week of term brought with it the arrival of the Quidditch trials, and on Sunday evening, as Harry was sitting by himself in the teachers' lounge, re-reading bits of the latest issue of 'Quidditch World', Madam Xiomara Hooch dropped into the chair across from his and asked, "How would you like to help the Gryffindor team select a new Seeker, a pair of Beaters, and a new Captain?"
Harry pursed his lips, remembering Sev's slight smirk as Draco Malfoy claimed that Slytherin would pound Gryffindor into the Quidditch pitch this year. Certainly, Harry had no objection to helping his old House -- if for no other reason than to ensure Severus Snape would not spend the entire year gloating at Minerva.
"Is Gryffindor really in such bad shape?" he asked.
"Well," Xiomara temporised, "they are the team with the largest number of players to replace, and their old Seeker -- young Harry Potter -- really was quite good. But I suspect it's going to be more of a morale issue than a problem with finding talent -- although you never really know until the trials."
Harry considered this. "What would I need to do?"
"You simply need to turn up for the Gryffindor try-outs and give me a second opinion on the students, and what position you think they'd be suited for." Madam Hooch explained. "Until they've elected a new captain, they'll be looking to me for guidance, but if I pick a great team -- or even a really bad one -- then it makes me look a little biased. A second opinion would help alleviate the problem. You don't have to do it," she hastened to add, "It's just that -- since I'm the referee for our House matches -- it helps if I don't look like I'm playing favourites."
"And I haven't been here long enough to be accused of favouritism, yet," Harry grinned.
"Actually," she replied, "you've already started to gain a reputation for being scrupulously fair -- even if you are a bit stingy with House points."
Harry blushed. He was still having problems with the concept of handing out points. It just didn't come naturally for him, and he kept imagining that he might end up handing out points mostly to his own house, while neglecting the others. But apparently he wasn't going to be accused of bias anytime in the near future -- even though 'stingy' wasn't all that flattering either.
"The other reason I'm asking," Xiomara continued, "is that you told me you've at least *played* Quidditch and still have an interest in it." She pointedly eyed the magazine in his lap. "Can you imagine," she drawled, "if I got Trelawney out there on her broom?" and then Xiomara placed one hand over her eyes, while stretching her other arm out in front. "No, no, dear," she mimicked in Trelawney's slightly higher tones, "don't bother with the ball -- I can see it all now. You'll make a wonderful Beater, but the Bludger will knock you off your broom and you'll fall to your death in the second match. *Then* the stands will collapse and all the spectators will be killed."
Harry laughed. "All right, all right!" he cried, "You've talked me into it -- if only to prevent the deaths of all those spectators."
"Excellent!" Madam Hooch said. "Then I'll see you on the pitch bright and early tomorrow morning!" and off she went.
"Hey!" Harry called after her, "what *time*?" But she was already gone.
The sun was still just below the horizon when Harry arrived on the Quidditch pitch with his Skyfire Two. He had expected that in the dim pre-dawn light, he would have the pitch to himself for a while so that he could finally spend some time acquainting himself with his new broom. But Madam Hooch was already there.
"You're an early one!" she called out as he approached. "Even the keenest student won't be out here for at least another half hour."
"Well, y'know," Harry drawled, "you didn't actually tell me what time to be here."
"Oops," she replied -- totally unrepentant. Then she noticed his new broom. "So that's a Skyfire Two, is it?"
Harry handed it over for her inspection. "Yes, and I was hoping to try it out this morning. I've owned the bloody thing for well over a month now -- and I've still only ridden it once!"
Handing the broom back, Madam Hooch laughed. "Such a disaster!" she commiserated.
Harry looked at the equipment on the ground. There were Beater clubs, the chest with the Quidditch balls in it, some protective pads for arms and legs, as well as a clipboard with the parchment containing the names of all the Gryffindor students who would be trying out this morning.
"You look like you have everything well in hand," he said. Then he mischievously added, "Wanna play a little one-on-one?"
Xiomara pursed her lips and looked at his new broom. "How good are you?" she asked, weighing her chances.
"If I wanted to spend my life on a broom," Harry replied, "I could probably play for England. As it is, I might get taken on as a replacement player -- in one of the minor clubs."
"Out of practice, eh?"
"No time!" Harry whined. "And it's a new broom, too," he reminded her.
Harry had basically just told Xiomara that he had a lot more natural talent than she did, but on the other hand, he hadn't flown at all in quite a while. As well, the fact that his broom was new meant he would have to be cautious, because he didn't yet know what it was capable of. Madam Hooch, however, flew every day and knew her broom like the back of her hand.
"Oh, why not," Xiomara finally decided, "It's been ages since I've played one-on-one, and we do have a little time until the students get here."
One-on-one Quidditch was played with a single Bludger and two Beaters. The object of the game was to get the Bludger through one of the hoops at your end of the Quidditch pitch. To do this, you would ideally be hovering behind one of the rings, and the Bludger would be coming straight for you through a hoop. A less-favoured option was to use your club to smash the bludger through a ring from the other side. But -- since Bludgers tended to swerve and chase after players -- you had to be pretty close to a ring to make the second tactic work.
Getting the ball *to* your end of the pitch was also a challenge, since -- once again -- you only had two choices: 1) hit the ball away from you, whereupon it would probably swerve to chase your opponent, or 2) let the ball chase you -- which meant risking either a Bludger-induced injury, or your opponent smashing it off in the opposite direction.
Thus, a game of one-on-one usually involved a combination of fast flying, quick turns, careful aim with your club, and eyes in the back of your head as you tried to keep track of your opponent and the Bludger all at the same time.
"Give me a couple of laps, first!" Harry cried out as he kicked off from the ground.
"Not on your life!" Xiomara's voice called from behind him.
Harry leaned forward, adding speed to his ascent. Behind him, he knew he would only have a few seconds until Madam Hooch released the Bludger and took to the air herself.
Looking down and revelling in the sensation of having all that empty space beneath him, Harry was forcefully struck by the sheer sense of freedom that flying always gave him. On a broom, 'up' and 'down' were not something you simply pointed at -- they were directions you could *go*, and you only had to make a tiny shift in balance to dip or rise -- soaring like the birds in flight.
Which didn't mean you could afford to daydream.
Harry ducked as the Bludger shot past him.
Then he swerved as Xiomara shot past him.
"Hey!" he yelled, "Skinning is still a foul, you know!"
"I never touched you!" she called back.
"And you never will!"
Laughing at the childish banter, Harry leaned forwards and shot after her. "Where's *my* club?" he demanded.
And he did, as she threw it over to him.
"Best two out of three?" Xiomara called.
"Done!" Harry yelled back.
Then they got down to business.
Madam Xiomara Hooch was good.
Not world-class good, but Harry could certainly understand why she was the Flying Instructor. She turned neatly in the air, and seemed to be able to keep track of both him and the Bludger with no trouble at all -- a skill Harry also laid claim to, but which many people never managed to develop.
She was also a fair tactician -- and at one point Xiomara looped back behind him in order to hit the ball directly at his head. Harry's instinctive reflex was to smash the Bludger back where it came from -- the same way he was trained to return a curse to the one who had cast it. However, Madam Hooch had noted this tendency, and took full advantage of it by lining herself up with her own end of the Quidditch pitch. When Harry hit the Bludger back to her, she easily ducked, and Harry suddenly realised that he'd hit the damned ball with all his strength right back towards Xiomara's end of the field!
"Thaaannk yooou!" she called out as she sped away after it.
Harry was on her tail in seconds. But the Bludger had already turned back towards them, and it would be only a matter of moments until Xiomara hit it into one of her rings. Harry knew he was just a fraction too far behind to intercept her, so instead of uselessly trying to fly any faster, he gripped the end of his broom handle and suddenly turned upside down. Instantly, he brought the tail end of his broom up over his head, and -- by swinging it out in front of him -- had just enough extra reach to smash it down on the twigs at the back of Xiomara's broom. She yelped as her broom kicked upwards, while Harry dropped down, righted himself, and got his Skyfire back underneath him.
The Bludger missed them both, and they each came around -- only to end up parallel to each other as they raced after their target.
"How did you *do* that?!" Madam Hooch yelled -- for of course, she'd been watching the Bludger coming towards them, and hadn't seen Harry's crazy tactic behind her.
"Wouldn't you like to know!" the War Mage called back.
They chased each other and the ball all over the pitch for a while, and although Harry had a couple of dicey moments where his broom couldn't quite do what he asked of it, he eventually grew accustomed to its limitations, and was soon pushing it to the edge without quite going over.
By the end of their game, it was obvious that Harry -- having got the 'feel' of his new broom -- was pulling ahead, and would probably win if they continued to play. But Xiomara called "Time!" as she passed him after the second point, and he was happy enough to leave the score at one-all.
Taking a last speed-curve around the hoops at his end of the pitch, Harry lured the Bludger back to the ground, and executed a low, spinning twist that allowed him to grab the ball as it zoomed in. The crazy turn also forced the ball to expend most of its momentum harmlessly, instead of ploughing Harry into the ground as it hit. Then Harry manhandled it back over to Madam Hooch, who secured it into the chest.
They got the lid closed, and collapsed on top of it -- exhausted, but grinning madly.
Then the applause and cheering started.
Harry had been vaguely aware of the students as they'd assembled at the far edge of the Quidditch pitch, so he wasn't surprised they were there. But both he and Madam Hooch blushed bright red when they realised that they'd been playing a bit longer than they'd thought -- and their students had probably witnessed some very silly antics from both of them.
"Wow!" a young Gryffindor yelled as he rushed up. "You two can really fly! That was amazing!"
Similar comments were forthcoming as the Gryffindor Quidditch players crowded 'round. "Can we have both of you on our team?" one of them begged.
"Er... I'm afraid not," Madam Hooch told them.
Ron -- being a mad Quidditch supporter -- had risen early so that he could come and watch the trials. He was presently sitting in one of the stands -- along with a few other Gryffindors scattered around the seats -- watching the students who were trying-out. In the opposite stands there were students from the other three Houses -- all scoping out the potential opposition.
Hermione arrived and sat down beside him.
"You must have gotten here early," she said.
"Not as early as Professor Ash and Madam Hooch," he replied.
Ron grinned. "You should'a seen it 'Mione! They were playing one-on-one when I got here -- and they were amazing! Okay -- it's not the same as watching a full Quidditch game, but -- wow, they can both fly! Watching Professor Ash was -- well it was great!"
Hermione smiled. It was good to see Ron enjoying himself. "So why aren't you down there trying out for the team?" she asked.
Ron fidgeted a bit before answering. "I didn't want to try out for a Beater position -- Fred and George were really good, and if I ended up as a Beater..."
"...then everyone would always be comparing you to one of them," Hermione finished.
Ron nodded. Then, after a moment, he added, "And I don't want to be Seeker. Nobody would be trying out for Seeker if Harry was still here -- and... well, I just don't want it while he isn't."
This time it was Hermione who nodded in understanding. "And on that note," she said, "I think we may finally have some progress."
Ron's head came up as he stared at her. "Really?!"
"I'm not promising anything," she warned, "but I'm pretty sure I know who to go to if we want any more answers."
"Who?!" Ron demanded.
"Not here," Hermione said in a low voice. "Remember, we still don't know *why* Harry didn't tell us he was leaving. He may have had a very good reason -- and I don't want to do this if it's going to put him in danger. We have to be careful."
Ron nodded seriously. "Let's go," he agreed.
As they were exiting the stands, Ron took a last look back over his shoulder at the Dark Arts professor. He was hovering in mid-air on his broom, carefully watching a third-year Gryffindor beat off one of the Bludgers.
"What's the matter?" Hermione asked.
"Huh?" Ron abruptly turned back to her. "Oh," he replied, "It's nothing. I just... well, I really enjoyed watching Professor Ash this morning." and he once more looked back towards the War Mage. "You'll probably think I'm barmy or something, but... well... watching him kinda reminds me of the way Harry flies..."
"Really?" Hermione asked. She turned a speculative gaze onto the Dark Arts teacher, as though Ron had said something very significant. "Isn't that interesting..." she murmured -- and then it was Ron's turn to remind her that they still had an important conversation waiting.
Harry and Madam Hooch -- with the assistance of the remaining Gryffindor team -- eventually selected two Beaters. One was a boy named Ian Denning from fifth-year, while the other was a fourth-year girl named Abigail Vere. They were both good players, and the two of them seemed to have compatible personalities. Harry and Xiomara both agreed that -- with a bit of practice -- they should work well together.
The Seeker was a more difficult decision. They narrowed it down to two boys -- one in seventh-year and the other in second. The seventh-year student was a slightly better player, but the second-year boy was still fairly inexperienced on a broom -- which meant that he had the potential to improve drastically once he started regular Quidditch practice.
If Gryffindor wanted the short-term benefits, then Harry and Xiomara would recommend the seventh-year boy. But of course, he was already an experienced flyer, and although he would certainly improve with the extra practice, he still didn't have the potential to become a truly great Seeker. It was *that* potential that the two teachers felt might lie in the younger boy. On top of that, the older student would be graduating at the end of the year, and if they selected him for their new Seeker, then they would have to go through this whole procedure again next year.
Ultimately, the two teachers simply presented their opinion of each student to the rest of the Gryffindor team, and let them choose. The fact that the older boy would be graduating next year was, perhaps, a bit more significant than it usually would've been, since the remaining team members were well aware that they *could* have been replacing all of their chasers as well. It would have been a disaster for the team if the three girls who'd once occupied those positions had decided to keep playing, and then graduated alongside Fred and George Weasley. Fortunately, the girls had quit last year to concentrate on their O.W.L.s, so the team already had three Chasers who'd played together in the previous year.
As it was, the choice was unanimously in favour of the second-year boy, and Marcus Lynman became the new Gryffindor Seeker, amidst much cheering and backslapping.
Gryffindor now had a complete Quidditch team again.
In the meantime, Ron and Hermione made their way up to the top of one of the castle battlements. It was windy and cold, but the wind would prevent their voices from carrying, and the open nature of the castle's parapets would prevent anyone from sneaking up behind them, or hiding in a secret passage next to them, or even just stumbling over them by accident. For those benefits, they could put up with a little cold.
"So," Ron began as he blew on his hands and tucked them inside his robes, "what did you find out?"
Hermione had a very satisfied look on her face as she began to explain. "Heart Magic," she said, "is very, very rare -- and not considered the usual kind of spell that a wizard or witch can perform."
Ron frowned. "So it's really hard to do, is it? Then where would Harry have learned...?" Suddenly he looked excited, "That's what you've found out, isn't it? You know who taught Harry how to do that spell!"
"Sort of," Hermione replied. "But Ron, Heart Magic isn't just hard -- it's actually considered to be impossible for wizards and witches -- except by accident... or unless you happen to be a Mage."
"A Mage? You mean like..."
"Yes," Hermione told him. "-- like Professor Ash."
After that, Hermione explained what Heart Magic was, and how it could be performed by anyone -- even Muggles -- if their emotions were powerful enough, their need was great enough, and they had a specific task in mind to use as a focus for the uncontrolled magic. Then she explained that this was *not* the same as what Harry had done to Hagrid. *That* had been the deliberate and controlled use of Heart Magic -- which, by definition, meant that the one who'd cast the spell must have been a Mage.
"So," Ron began, "either Harry's a Mage -- which would explain a lot about the last five years of our lives -- or else someone like Professor Ash cast the spell, and Harry just made it look like he was responsible for it."
"And even if it *was* Harry," Hermione added, "he would still need someone like the Professor to teach him how to use Heart Magic safely. It's far too dangerous to be experimenting with -- even for Harry!"
Ron looked sceptical about his, but wisely didn't argue. Instead, he stuck to the obvious conclusion of their discussion, and neatly summed it up by saying: "So, no matter which way you look at it -- it all comes back to Professor Ash."
"Just great," Ron frowned, "How are we supposed to find out what he knows? We can't just walk up and say 'Tell us where Harry is!'"
"Why not?" Hermione asked, "He can only refuse to answer."
Ron looked at her as if she was mad. "Do you," he asked, "-- or do you not -- remember the welcoming feast? That man is dangerous! What if he gets offended? I don't know about you, but *I'm* not going to stand in front of him and basically accuse him of kidnapping Harry."
"We wouldn't be accusing him... exactly." Hermione winced at the tentative sound of her own voice. "Okay," she continued, "I'll give you that one; but I still say he's not as bad all that -- after all if we figured this out, then I'm sure Dumbledore did too -- and the Headmaster still hired him!"
"Maybe that was just to keep an eye on him," Ron argued.
"Oh, Ron!" came Hermione's exasperated voice. "Don't you have anything good to say about him at all? Personally, I don't think he's nearly as bad as Professor Snape!"
Ron looked thoughtful. "Yeah, okay -- I admit he's a good Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher -- and the fact that he doesn't like Snape means he can't be all bad."
Hermione frowned. "What do you mean he doesn't like Professor Snape? What makes you say that?"
Ron snorted, "Don't tell me you haven't seen the way he's always staring at Snape? He doesn't trust our Potions master as far as he could throw him! I bet he even knows Snape used to be a Death Eater."
Hermione pursed her lips, and then said, "I wouldn't be so sure about Professor Ash's feelings, if I were you. You obviously haven't heard what happened in Hogsmeade last Saturday," and she went on to explain how a whole group of sixth- and seventh-years had seen Ash bowing to Professor Snape and apologising for bothering him. "There's even a rumour," she added, "that he wants Snape's help with one of his Dark Arts classes -- same as he asked Professor Sprout for help."
Ron was stunned. "Are you sure?" he asked.
"Ron -- it was all over the school! I don't know how you could've missed it!" Then she sighed and added, "Nobody knows what it means -- even Professor Snape. Ever since it happened, he's been watching Professor Ash right back! It would be funny if it wasn't so confusing. Personally, I think Professor Snape is trying to figure out what's going on, just like the rest of us."
Ron nibbled his lower lip. "Maybe Ash is just trying to throw Snape off -- y'know, confuse him a bit." Then Ron brightened. "Actually, that's very clever -- whatever the Professor has planned, Snape will never see it coming. He'll be too off balance to anticipate it!" Hermione looked dubious. "Think about it, 'Mione!" Ron urged, "Our Darks Arts professor might be a little crazy -- but maybe he's crazy like a fox -- too clever by half!"
Hermione threw her hands in the air. "Fine!" she complained, "First you don't trust Professor Ash, and *now* you think he's a marvel of planning and strategy! Let me know when you've decided whether we should ask him about Harry."
Ron looked thoughtful. "Hermione," he began slowly, "do you remember our first Dark Arts lesson -- with the Leech Root?"
"Yes, Ron," Hermione replied patiently, "It's not like we've had hundreds of Dark Arts lessons so far this year."
"Well, remember how Goyle asked the Professor about his name -- and later we all thought Draco must have put him up to it?"
"I remember." Hermione repeated. She was becoming impatient, but was still curious enough not to interrupt.
"Then why should *we* be the ones to ask Professor Ash about Harry? Why don't we just tell someone else -- say, oh... Harry's godfather -- about what we've discovered, and then let *him* ask Ash all the hard questions?"
Hermione considered it. "Well, I suppose because we promised Hagrid that we wouldn't tell anyone... and I don't want Sirius to get hurt... oh, and of course," Hermione finished in a slightly sarcastic tone, "Sirius isn't here at the moment..."
"We won't need to tell him about the Heart Magic," Ron argued. "We just need to say that we have good reason to believe Professor Ash is involved. If we have to, we can tell him that we've been sworn to secrecy -- I know he'll respect that. And as for getting hurt -- if it involves Harry, do you really think the man who survived twelve years in Azkaban -- let alone three years on the run from the Aurors -- is going to let a little thing like a War Mage stop him? Not on your life!"
"But he's still not here, Ron," Hermione reminded him.
"But he will be, won't he?" Ron replied. "Even if he has to send Lupin in -- he'll be too desperate to know what's going on -- he won't be able to resist *not* trying something. All we have to do is look for Snuffles or Professor Lupin! And if Dumbledore won't tell them what's really happened -- then you know we'll be the next people he tries to contact anyway."
Hermione thought it over. "Yes," she finally agreed, "I guess you're right -- and he *is* Harry's godfather after all -- I don't think we really have the right to hide something like this from him."
"And afterwards," Ron agreed, "we can ask him what Professor Ash said."
Hermione nibbled her lower lip for a moment. Tentatively, she protested, "I don't know, Ron -- it still seems like... well, like we're using him..."
"But we're not going to lie to him," Ron argued. "-- not even about how dangerous Professor Ash is -- and I bet Sirius won't think of it as 'using' him."
"No," Hermione admitted. "He wouldn't. All right -- I guess we can do it your way. But we're going to make very sure Sirius knows exactly what he's getting into!"
"No problem," Ron agreed.
Then -- with their decision made -- they descended from the battlements together, heading for the dining hall to grab a quick breakfast before classes began.
The subject of Ron and Hermione's speculation -- Harry himself -- was unaware that his best friends had so quickly managed to connect Ash with Harry Potter's disappearance. But his thoughts were surprisingly similar to theirs in that his own concerns also centred around what he was going to do when his godfather and Remus turned up.
Harry knew that Albus had assigned Sirius and the Remus to work together as information gatherers and spies for the Order of the Phoenix. Currently, their directives were very likely to include trying to discover what plans Voldemort and his followers might have, and whereabouts in the world they were trying to put those plans into action.
That was information that Harry needed as much as Dumbledore did.
The problem was, they weren't likely to tell him anything unless they trusted him as much as they trusted Dumbledore -- and Sirius was probably going to be useless for any kind of activity so long as he was worried about his missing godson.
Even more -- as an animagus and a werewolf, the two of them were the only wizards Harry knew of who could easily recognise him through the disguise spell. They'd each been in his presence in their animal forms before, so his unique scent would quickly give him away. It would be a disaster if they were to meet up with him in their four-footed shapes, and they made that discovery before Harry had a chance to explain what was going on and ask for their silence.
Harry also had one more consideration -- his godfather and Remus would be much more effective in their job of spying and tracking down information, if neither of them could be recognised. Sirius was still on the run from the Aurors, who thought he was a murderer -- and Remus was too well-known as a werewolf, which made him unwelcome nearly everywhere in the wizarding world.
If Harry taught them the full disguising spell, then they would be able to change their appearance and walk freely into places that were currently denied to them. No anti-glamour spell in the world would be able to break their cover.
But if he taught them the spell -- and they told Albus about it -- then Harry's own disguise would be put into serious jeopardy. If Albus had not already guessed who he was, then it was partially because the Headmaster had already tried to use anti-glamour charms to see whether Ash's appearance was genuine. The failure of those spells to reveal his sixteen-year-old self would have gone a long way to ensuring that Albus was still ignorant of his true identity.
The only other thing keeping Dumbledore from the truth, was the fact that Harry really *was* a War Mage now -- and he could obviously work spells that were completely beyond anything young Mr Potter could be expected to know.
So, when it was all added up, Harry realised that his best course of action would be to get Sirius and Remus together somewhere private, and tell them who he really was. It was going to have to be somewhere *really* private, because it was going to take a lot of explaining, and Sirius wasn't going to like it very much.
Actually, Sirius was probably going to hate it.
And so two more days passed while Harry, Ron, and Hermione all continued to wait for the appearance of Harry's godfather and Remus Lupin.
During this time, Harry allowed himself to concentrate on his classes. He had very graciously decided to allow Severus some time to get used to the idea that Ash didn't hate him, before he took any further action in his pursuit of the Potions Master. Harry continued to sit next to him, of course, but he also toned down the staring, and didn't push the issue of helping him with a Dark Arts class, or otherwise spending time together.
However, Harry soon found that he owed Severus an apology. Ever since their meeting in Hogsmeade, Severus had taken to watching Harry in the same way that Harry had previously been watching him. Sideways glances, and the occasional considering stare quickly became common, and Harry soon discovered that after a while, it became moderately irritating.
//Gods,// Harry complained to himself, //No wonder Sev' thought I hated him! If I didn't know better, I'd think he was doing this deliberately to annoy me!//
Normally, Harry would have enjoyed being watched by the other man, but in the Mirror, he and Severus had been lovers -- and their mutual glances had been filled with sexual overtones and the pleasure they found in each other's company. At present, Severus' fleeting looks contained an odd combination of confusion, consideration, and occasionally -- suspicion -- none of which Harry enjoyed having directed at him.
But what really made everything so much worse, was that by now their encounter in Hogsmeade was the talk of the school -- so not only was Severus watching him, but the rest of the staff -- and the entire student body -- was also watching *both* of them!
Admittedly, the staff and students were more subtle about it than he and Severus were -- to the extent that Harry could almost make himself believe that he was imagining things. But unfortunately, there were two external proofs that told Harry professor-watching had definitely become a sort of second-string hobby around the school.
The first one of those proofs was that Draco found the entire situation screamingly funny. The sixth-year still didn't want any details -- ever! -- but the fact that he knew what was going on while nobody else did, only made it all the more entertaining for him. Draco was one of the few people not watching Ash and Snape -- instead he was watching the rest of the students -- and occasionally starting the most outlandish rumours just to see whether anybody would believe them.
Harry couldn't imagine anyone buying the story that he was some kind of creature that Severus had brewed up in his cauldron years ago -- and that now he was back to torment his creator and eventually kill him. Draco, however, swore blind that a couple of first-years were *still* waiting for their Potions Master to disappear.
The other proof Harry had, was that Albus had finally figured out why he kept sitting next to Severus. The Headmaster didn't *say* he knew why Ash was doing it, but Harry occasionally found himself being subjected to all kinds of advice on restaurants and music. And while it was all very well to have the Headmaster's implied support, Harry already *knew* what kinds of food Severus liked, and that he enjoyed classical compositions.
What alerted Harry to the fact that the others were watching him, was the fact that he never received this free advice where any other teacher -- or any of the students -- could possibly overhear it. From this, Harry could tell that Albus believed anyone within earshot would definitely try to listen in. That, in turn, was an acknowledgement that people were taking an undue amount of interest in Professor Ash. Thus, Harry had his secondary proof that people really *were* watching him.
All the attention was beginning to make him feel like a goldfish in a glass bowl.
By mid-week, Hermione was arguing that she and Ron shouldn't wait any longer, but should confront their Dark Arts teacher by themselves.
They were whispering together about it, and just walking into the great court after morning classes, when they were greeted by the most astonishing sight...
Professor Ash -- the feared and dangerous War Mage -- was playing wizarding hopscotch with a bunch of first-years!
As they joined the ring of other disbelieving students -- Ron and Hermione noted that the Professor was demonstrating some absolutely amazing skills. He was performing backflips and turns with a flourish and grace that almost made it look like he was dancing. At one point, he even seemed to hover in mid-air for a second -- but of course, that was impossible for a wizard without his broom.
The first-years were plainly in awe of the War Mage's physical skill, while the older students were arguing amongst themselves about whether a particular move had actually involved magic -- and if so, what kind of magic, since Ash wasn't using his wand. It was pretty much agreed that he *was* using magic, since the professor had previously made some moves that would've been impossible without a little extra assistance.
At last, Professor Ash came to the end of the game, and laughingly confronted the children whose hopscotch squares he had appropriated.
"And does that settle your argument?" he asked.
The first-years -- still very respectful, but now much less frightened of their Darks Arts teacher -- all nodded in agreement. "Yes sir!" several of them replied, and one in particular added, "I guess I was wrong -- you really *can* finish the game without anyone else having a turn."
Ash smiled, and then replied, "Yes you can, but really -- that takes all of the fun out of it. Even losing is all right so long as you're having fun. The last time I played, I lost, but I still enjoyed it."
"You *lost*?!" several students exclaimed.
"Yes," Ash laughed, "-- to the Headmaster, actually."
Every student suddenly had eyes as round as saucers. "The Headmaster plays hopscotch!?" was suddenly mixed up with other exclamations such as, "You lost to the Headmaster?!" and "Surely you're joking!"
Laughing, Ash, confirmed that yes -- he really had lost a game of wizarding hopscotch to Albus Dumbledore. "But then," he finished, "Albus cheats you know -- he doesn't let me use magic!"
As Ash bid all them goodbye, and walked back into the castle, one cheeky first-year yelled after him, "And next time, we won't either!"
A hearty laugh drifted back to them, while inside the school, Harry smugly congratulated himself on successfully helping his youngest students to become a bit less frightened of him. He was especially proud of himself because he'd also managed to ensure that they retained a healthy respect for his abilities. With any luck, the other students who'd been watching would also take the lesson to heart.
//Maybe a few of those bells and chains will start to disappear,// Harry mused.
Back in the courtyard, Harry's hopes for a little less fear did not find their mark in Ron.
"Hermione?" he asked in a stunned voice. "You remember when I said that the Professor was crazy like a fox? -- well I take it all back. He's just plain crazy!"
Beside him, Hermione was obviously still trying to fit a hopscotch-playing War Mage into her view of the world. "Maybe you were right about waiting for Sirius," she finally said. "I think... it might be best... all things considered."
Ron nodded sagely. "He's totally nuts, of course," Ron eventually added, "just like Dumbledore in some ways. I expect that's why they get on, you know -- 'cause they're both barking mad."
Hermione didn't reply, but they both understood what hadn't been said -- that someone so unpredictable could be very dangerous indeed, because you never knew what they were going to do next!
It wasn't until Thursday that Remus Lupin finally put in an appearance.
Remus came alone, but everyone who knew Sirius also knew he wouldn't be far away. Ron and Hermione overheard Draco complaining about 'that damned werewolf' and how he shouldn't be allowed into the school. Ron immediately decided to skip their next class and go find him, while Hermione insisted that she would cover for him and take notes so that he wouldn't fall behind.
There were still one or two Aurors lurking about the place -- supposedly to prevent any more attempted kidnappings -- but in reality looking for evidence of Death Eater activity in and around the school. So Ron knew that Sirius was unlikely to enter the castle -- even in his animagus form as a large black dog named Snuffles.
So, instead of looking for Sirius, Ron concealed himself down the hall outside the Headmaster's office, and waited for Remus show up.
When Remus finally revealed himself, Ron discovered that he'd been in Dumbledore's office all along -- and it was as the werewolf was leaving that Ron could plainly hear his parting words: "I'll tell him what you've said, Albus, but it's precious little to give him, and you know he's not going to be satisfied with it."
"Believe me, Remus," Albus' voice answered, "I hardly know anything more myself. All I can really say is that I firmly believe Harry is fine, and that he will rejoin us when he's ready."
Remus didn't seem too impressed with that, but all he said was: "I'll tell him."
Then the door closed, and as Remus walked past the suit of armour Ron was hiding behind, the fifth-year student caught his attention.
"Psst!" Ron hissed at the man. "Professor Lupin! -- over here!"
"Weasley?" Lupin asked in surprise. "It's not professor anymore, Ron -- and why aren't you in class?"
"Because Hermione and I need to talk to you," Ron replied in a hushed voice from behind the armour. "Listen, did Dumbledore give you the same story he's been feeding everyone else? -- that Harry's fine, but he won't say how he knows, or what happened?"
"Yes, he did," Remus acknowledged, "and Sirius is going to hit the roof when I tell him. I don't know how I'm going to convince him not to come in here and demand to see Albus for himself."
"Don't bother," Ron grinned, "Dumbledore's not the one you need to talk to. Look, can you both meet me and Hermione somewhere after classes this afternoon? We need to tell you some stuff."
Curious, Remus agreed. "How about at the Shrieking Shack?" he suggested.
"Perfect," Ron answered, and then he dashed off down the hall back to class, leaving behind a curious werewolf, who was now going to have to explain all this to a large, angry dog back in the Forbidden Forest.
Harry became aware of Remus' presence in much the same way that Ron and Hermione did. It was hard to keep down gossip about a known werewolf wandering the halls and asking to see the Headmaster.
But Harry didn't have the luxury of skipping class like Ron -- after all, that would be a little difficult since he was the teacher! So, instead he waited until after class and then kept watch on the people he thought Remus might try to see.
Albus stayed in his office, and a few questions to Minerva quickly confirmed that Remus had already come and gone on that front. Harry hoped that Remus and Sirius were still in the area, and consoled himself with the thought that Sirius was unlikely to leave with only the tiny scraps of information Albus could give him.
That left Harry with watching Ron and Hermione -- whom both men knew Harry regarded as his best friends -- and who would therefore be their next best source of information after Albus Dumbledore.
Eventually, Harry's patience was rewarded when he finally saw Ron and Hermione heading for the Whomping Willow and the secret tunnel out to the Shrieking Shack.
//Trust those two to be involved already,// he thought with amusement, as he quickly moved to follow.
By the time Harry arrived -- well concealed under his invisibility cloak -- Ron and Hermione were already telling Remus and his godfather all about their new Dark Arts professor -- and how they should be asking *him* questions about Harry, rather than Dumbledore.
Harry was surprised to realise that they'd made the connection to Ash so quickly.
In light of this revelation, Harry didn't reveal himself immediately, but instead settled back to find out how much Ron and Hermione really knew.
It turned out that they didn't know much.
Harry was relieved to discover that they didn't really suspect anything more than Albus had already figured out. That was surprising enough for a pair of students -- //Although I should know better than to underestimate *that* pair,// Harry reminded himself -- but it wasn't as much damage as he'd feared.
Ron and Hermione were currently refusing to explain how they knew their Dark Arts teacher was involved, but to Harry it was obvious that Hagrid had let something slip some time in the last two weeks.
Harry sighed quietly. //Time to put an end to this,// he thought, and then pulled off his invisibility cloak, while adding, "Excuse me, but I really think I should be part of this conversation, since it has involved me one way or another from the very start."
Ron and Hermione both jumped, but to their credit, didn't scream.
Sirius and Remus had their wands out and pointed at him before he could blink.
"Nice reaction time," Harry commented, "Sort of reminds me of me."
"That's Harry's invisibility cloak!" Ron accused.
Sirius scowled at him darkly. "What have you done with my godson?" he demanded.
"Nothing I care to discuss in front of two of my students," Harry replied, and then he turned to Ron, adding, "and by the way, I hope you don't imagine there's only one invisibility cloak in the world."
Without taking his eyes off the War Mage, Sirius said, "Ron, Hermione -- I think you two should go back to the school now."
"But --" Ron started to protest.
"It would be safest," Remus agreed in a warning tone.
"And if you don't leave, immediately," Harry added in a milder voice, "it's also going to cost you fifty points for deliberately disobeying a teacher."
Faced with the unanimous agreement of every adult present, and scowling at the injustice of it all, Ron allowed Hermione to pull him into the secret passage. Just before they disappeared from view, Ron looked back at Sirius with an expression that plainly said 'we *will* talk later'.
//Don't bet on it,// Harry thought.
Then he was alone with Remus and his godfather.
"They're gone," Lupin said after listening for a few moments.
Harry made his own brief magical check to ensure that the secret passage was well and truly empty -- and that Ron and Hermione weren't simply hiding out of sight.
After satisfying himself that they were actually gone, Harry then turned his attention back to his godfather.
"Now talk," Sirius growled.
"Harry is closer than you might think, Padfoot," he explained. "If you change into Snuffles, I think you'll find you can even sniff him out from here."
Sirius looked suspicious, but Remus interceded. "Go on Sirius," he urged, " I've got him covered -- and if Harry's nearby, we want to know."
Still not taking his eyes off the War Mage, Sirius Black lowered his wand and concentrated. Moments later, there was a large black dog in the middle of the room.
The dog started sniffing, but Remus kept his eyes firmly on Harry. It was quite a surprise to him, therefore, when Snuffles ended up in front of the War Mage, sniffing at his boots. It was even more of a shock when said Mage knelt down and cupped his hands over Snuffles' nose to give the dog a full dose of his personal scent.
Suddenly, Snuffles yelped, and leapt backwards so fast that he ended up on his back with all four paws in the air. There was a brief shimmer, and then a stunned looking Sirius was lying on the dirt floor staring up at the man in front of him with disbelieving eyes.
"Hello Godfather," Harry smiled.
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