jedibuttercup: (harry potter)
[personal profile] jedibuttercup posting in [community profile] backagainharry
PG-13; Harry Potter. Harry makes a different choice in King's Cross, and is given the double-edged gift of a second chance.

Time Travel AU; spoilers for Deathly Hallows.



Chapter Eight: Tests and Theories

"Bet it's going to be the school library," Ron commented under his breath as he followed Hermione out of the Room of Requirement. "No Madame Pince in here to keep her out of the Restricted Section."

Harry grinned at his friend, but did not reply; privately, he rather thought Hermione might choose to summon a room from one of the more famous libraries or museums her parents had taken her to when she was younger. He'd heard her comparing the Hogwarts collection-- with all its tens of thousands of old scrolls and books-- to the wonders she'd seen in the Muggle world, and in her opinion the "restrictive" and "limited" selection of Wizarding texts had come up short. Never having been anywhere grander or more "cultured" than the zoo, Harry hadn't been able to judge the accuracy of her comparison, but he remembered wondering how it could even be possible for there to exist a single library holding more than a hundred times the number of works in Madame Pince's domain.

It didn't look like today would be the day he got an answer to that question, though. Harry's grin faded as he stepped into the hallway after the other two and discovered that they were not alone anymore.

Normally, this section of the seventh floor was fairly empty; around mealtimes, however, the lesser-used corridors filled with older Gryffindors trying to avoid the traffic down the main staircases and passageways. They must have been in the Room long enough for the supper hour to arrive-- and there were the twins on their way down, mischievous faces lighting up at the sight of their ickle brother and his friends.

"We'll come back later," Harry whispered to Hermione. "But next time, we'll bring the Cloak." He was painfully aware that the door to the Room was visible behind them, but after a moment he realised that it must have disappeared before Fred and George could notice it; the twins weren't paying that section of the wall any extra attention. That was a relief; Harry didn't want to share it with them just yet.

"Not tonight, though," Hermione hissed back. "I'd much rather not be out after hours if it's not an emergency-- what if Filch caught us!"

Harry rolled his eyes, but didn't reply, as they joined the flow of students heading downward. He supposed she was right-- the rules did exist for a reason, and he didn't want to give Snape any more ammunition than necessary to taunt him about thinking himself above the rules. Still, he'd be glad when Hermione outgrew her rigid attachment to authority structures again. In his experience, there wasn't a single controlling body in the Wizarding world that deserved that kind of loyalty or trust.

After the meal, Harry continued with his tentative plan for a day of relaxation and played a few games of chess with Neville, who was much closer to his skill level than Ron. It was more fun that way, since there was a good chance that either of them could win, and even when he lost a game it was an interesting battle right to the end. After Neville went back to his Herbology books, Harry joined Ron's Gobstones circle in the corner and had a good time until it broke up for the players to go to bed.

Quidditch and studying ate up the rest of his weekend. Harry didn't think about the Room of Requirement again until late Sunday, when he took out quill and ink to write Lupin back. He didn't want to commit anything important to paper anywhere that Scabbers might be watching, but it was too late to visit the library, which meant the Room was probably his best shot at privacy. It wasn't quite curfew yet, but he ran back up the stairs to get his Cloak just in case, and when he came back down Hermione was waiting by the portrait hole.

"You're going to that room again, aren't you," she said, following him out into the hall.

Harry shrugged. "I'm just going to write a few letters," he said, evasively.

"You know, you don't have to be so secretive about it anymore," she continued, determinedly. "I think it's wonderful that you're writing to your parents' friends. No one's going to make fun of you, or anything, if you stay in the Common Room."

Harry gave her a sharp glance at that; imagination painted a line and hook in her hands to go with her resolute, inquisitive expression. He was starting to get the impression that whatever she was trying to find out had to do with his past, and not his other future. Unfortunately, that didn't ease his wariness any. While it was reassuring to know that his biggest secret wasn't at risk, there were many other sensitive subjects in his life that he'd really rather not share with anyone. Even Hermione.

"Maybe not," he said, thinking quickly-- and hit on the perfect excuse. "I'd rather not find out the hard way, though, when someone offers the Daily Prophet an exclusive about how much I miss my parents and what kinds of questions I've been asking about them."

Hermione shook her head, sending bushy hair flying in Harry's peripheral vision as they walked side by side down the hall. "That's ridiculous, Harry," she said. "Why would the Prophet want to buy an article about an eleven-year-old student's letters?"

Harry snorted. "I'm not just any student, Hermione, as much as I might wish otherwise. Or don't you remember the first thing you ever said to me?"

Hermione had no answer to that; she made a huffing noise, and when Harry snuck a glance in her direction her face was quite red.

"Well, I have a few more inches to write on my Herbology essay," she finally said, as they drew up abreast of the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy. "Good luck with your letters."

Harry felt a little guilty as he watched her walk away; he shouldn't have been so rude. Especially not over her forgetting for once that he was the Boy Who Lived, the way he wished everyone else would. He'd have to make it up to her later. Still, at least she wasn't hovering over him with that look anymore. He conjured up a quick replica of his room at Grimmauld Place-- with a comfortable desk instead of the extra bed, and no portrait of Phineas Nigellus to report on him-- and sat down to write.

The letter to Lupin came first. Harry thanked his father's friend profusely for the photograph, and also for the information about his parents' favourite classes. Then he asked a few more general questions-- had they had any hobbies besides Quidditch, did he know if Harry's dad had had any cousins who might still be alive, when and how did Lupin first meet Lily and James? That sort of thing. Finally, he pried, as lightly as he could, for more details about Sirius and Pettigrew. Lupin had mentioned them in passing in his last letter, and that made them fair game, where Harry couldn't have brought them up himself before.

To soften the end of the letter and distract from the importance of those questions, he turned the letter to Lupin himself-- asking what his own favourite subjects had been, whether he'd played Quidditch too, what he'd been doing since leaving school, and if he thought he might be able to visit Hogwarts again anytime soon. It was a fairly transparent appeal for more contact with a man he'd never even met, but Harry was pretty sure a real eleven-year-old in his situation would be asking the same thing. Besides, it would be good to see Remus again, completely aside from the Scabbers issue. Even if he wasn't really Remus to Harry yet.

Harry closed with an apology for not enclosing a photograph of himself in exchange for the one Lupin had sent of his parents. He didn't have a Wizarding camera yet, and being a first year he couldn't exactly shop for one on his own. He was planning to send some money with the twins next Hogsmeade weekend for that purpose, plus a little extra for some jokes to play on Ron. He thought it might encourage them not to "forget" his request if they thought he'd use the camera to capture the results of a prank on their younger brother.

He might, too, at that, Harry thought as he folded the letter up and addressed it. It might be the easiest way to get Ron and Scabbers into the same photograph without awkward questions; that way, he wouldn't have to ask Ron specifically to pose with the rat and risk either Wormtail or Ron himself twigging that something was going on.

He sat for a moment staring at the folded letter, then drew out a fresh sheet of parchment and started the next. He was treading unknown territory now, but Lupin had given him an opening he'd be a fool to pass up. The next time he visited the Ministry, he wanted to have more resources there than just Mr. Weasley or Percy. As much as he loved them, none of the Weasleys were exactly the kind of wizard one could rely on for solid, well-respected support in the government arena.

"Dear Miss Macdonald," he began, hoping that she hadn't married after leaving Hogwarts. Lupin's reference to her by that name suggested not, but the werewolf might not have heard if she had.

"My name is Harry Potter, and I'm a first year student at Hogwarts. I know we've never met, at least not that I can remember, but Remus Lupin recommended that I write to you if I had any questions about my mother's time at Hogwarts.

"I know a little about my mother's favourite classes, and that I have her eyes, and that she loved my father very much. Anything else you could tell me about her would be very much appreciated.

"Sincerely,

"Harry J. Potter."

It took him several attempts to get the letter right-- he kept going back to worry over whether the words he was using were too advanced for a Muggle-raised eleven-year-old, and whether he was saying too much or too little. Finally, he decided that his latest copy was good enough and wrote her direction on the envelope. He didn't know which department she worked for, but he was pretty sure that a letter addressed to "The Ministry of Magic, London" would get to her eventually.

It was well after curfew when he tucked the finished letters into his robes and shrugged the Cloak on over his head. He left the crumpled wads of parchment from his failed attempts on the floor when he left; he wasn't sure where they would go when the Room reset, but he planned to try and Accio one of them from the Room of Hidden Things and see whether it came to hand. The sheer size of the hoard of old and broken things stored in that vaulted space would make more sense if every incarnation of the Room dropped its non-conjured leftovers in the same place.

Not to mention, it might explain why Voldemort had believed himself to be the only person ever to find it. Wouldn't someone hiding a priceless relic in a room full of junk wonder where the junk had come from? It couldn't all be house elf discards. Harry checked both ways as he emerged into the hall for any hint of observers, then turned around and quickly summoned the Room again.

The familiar cathedral-sized space opened before him. He hadn't bothered specifying a time of day when he called it; he wasn't sure you could with this particular version of the Room. Its high windows were dark with night, showing only a few sparks of light from high stars or lit windows elsewhere in the castle; the towering city of junk spread out below them was shrouded in deep shadows. Harry raised his wand and cast a quick Lumos, then peered around, orienting himself toward where the diadem had been.

He hadn't planned to fetch it tonight. But maybe--

He edged through the stacks until he found the cage with the skeleton of the creature with five legs. The bust, the wig, the tiara, and the old, blistered cupboard he'd hidden his Potions book in were all visible from there. It took him longer than he'd thought it would, since the Vanishing Cabinet wasn't there to orient on; he'd forgotten that it couldn't have been added to the mess until after Montague got lost in it during fifth year. Once he'd found his target, he doused his wand with a Nox and pictured the wads of parchment he'd just discarded in his mind.

"Accio Harry's parchment!" he muttered, sweeping his wand through the spell's movements. Almost immediately, he heard a rustling somewhere in the Room; seconds later, Harry felt several small, soft things hit the back of his head.

He looked down, and smiled. One theory proven. Now to test another. He'd been thinking, off and on, about how he might store the diadem and any other Horcruxes he might collect until he could destroy them. The key thing was keeping them from ensnaring him, as they would if he kept them on his person-- and keeping anyone else from stumbling over them, which would surely happen if he left them anywhere else in the castle. One thing had come to mind: the year before, Hagrid had given him a magical storage device that only let the owner of an item retrieve it after he'd put it in.

Obviously, he and Hermione and Ron had all used it to store things that hadn't originally been theirs. But whatever items they'd each put in had only come back to that person's hand. It had to read magical signatures somehow; Harry didn't understand the magic behind it, but he certainly knew how to use it.

"Accio mokeskin pouch!" he said next, hoping fiercely that someone in the last thousand years had left one behind. Maybe one with items in it whose 'owners' had died? Or that a bully had shoved in and then refused to take back out? He wouldn't be able to retrieve anything left behind in it either, but that didn't matter for his purpose.

The piles rustled again, this time from in front of him. A dark object shot out of a stack of old uniform cloaks, dimly silhouetted against the starlight above; Harry caught it before it could hit him in the face.

"Yes!" he said fiercely, clutching the worn pouch that had come to his call. Then he opened its mouth wide and carefully approached the place where the diadem lay in wait.

Moments later, Harry was back in the hall, pouch and contents safely tucked away under his Cloak. He got back to his dorm without any problems; Hermione hadn't even waited up for him this time. He tucked Cloak and pouch both deep into his trunk, then climbed into bed. It took several hours for the excitement of the evening to wear off enough to let him sleep, but at least it left him too tired to have any nightmares.

Hermione was a little chilly toward him at breakfast the next morning, but she was herself again by lunchtime, and Ron didn't seem to find the brief, unexplained awkwardness worthy of comment. Harry gratefully made plans with them to explore the Room again after classes on Friday to make up for their interruption the week before, then threw himself back into classwork and Quidditch.

His second week as an eleven-year-old student seemed to go by much more quickly than the first. His strategies for dealing with his various professors had been established, and there were fewer opportunities for things to catch him off-guard. There were no summons from Dumbledore, and McGonagall and Flitwick seemed delighted that he was "growing into his talent" now that he was finally "becoming acclimated to a Wizarding environment." He'd never had so much approval from authority figures in his life. It certainly kept his otherwise easy classes from becoming boring.

Fortunately, he still had Snape to keep all the praise from going to his head. The Potions professor seemed to have got past whatever had kept him from challenging Harry the week before, and was back on top form. He directed Harry to sit at the very front of the class, and ordered Neville to sit beside him. Then he singled Harry out for the toughest questions from the week's reading, hovered over Harry and Neville's cauldron with narrowed, glittering eyes as Harry prepared the most sensitive stages of the potion, and made derisive comments about the legibility of Harry's handwriting.

By the end of the class, Harry's temper was running very hot despite his attempts to calm himself with Occlumency. He'd known better than to let other successes get his hopes up, and he was determined not to give in and play by Snape's petty rules; that was all that kept him from exploding and abandoning his carefully-laid plan. He handed in his sample vial at the end of the class with gritted teeth and stormed out hot on Ron and Hermione's heels.

"Still think he's not evil?" Ron commiserated glumly as they headed for the Great Hall.

"Honestly, Ron." Hermione rolled her eyes. "Didn't you notice? He didn't take a single point from Harry-- or Neville-- the entire class period."

Harry frowned at her as he ran the morning's events back through his mind. He'd never have believed it, but-- she was telling the truth. Never once, amid all that vitriol, had Snape taken a point from him. In fact--

He was challenging Harry. Not with sarcasm and ego, as in Harry's other life, but on another field the Potions master excelled at: on the field Harry's mother had excelled at. He was offering Harry a tiny window of a chance to prove himself not to be a dunderhead. It was so close to his usual behaviour that Harry hadn't noticed, but-- it was there.

"He was testing me," he said aloud.

"Testing you?" Ron echoed, incredulously. "What for?"

Hermione nodded. "Haven't you ever had teachers do that before? Push you to your limits, to find out whether you could handle advanced instruction? I have. Though they were usually a bit more polite about it."

Harry shook his head. "No," he said absently, amazed by the fact that that part of his plan was working after all. "I wasn't allowed to earn better marks than Dudley, so the teachers never paid me any extra attention."

"I thought it must be something like that," she replied, smugly.

Harry winced. He hadn't meant to give her more fodder for whatever theory she was pursuing, but clearly he'd done just that. "Hermione--" he said.

"That reminds me," she interrupted, brightly. "When we go up to the Room later, I thought that since Ron showed us his bedroom last time, we should each show him ours. I know I was interested to see what a bedroom in a Wizarding house was like; we ought to show Ron what Muggle living is like."

Harry knew very well that wasn't her real reason. Her real reason was becoming clearer with every question: in trying to account for his jump in abilities, she was apparently making up all kinds of theories about him being a repressed genius, or something. And she was hitting a little too close to the truth for his comfort.

"Maybe next time," he said, casually, thankful that he'd removed the diadem already. "I found something in there I think you'll want to see, first."

He refused to say anything more. By the time they were through eating, stowing their things in their dorms, and visiting Hagrid, Hermione's curiosity had reached a fever pitch. And when Harry opened the door to show her the vast cross-section of Hogwarts history waiting for them in the Room of Hidden Things, all thoughts of other uses for the Room that afternoon appeared to flee her mind entirely. Harry cautioned her to be careful of potentially cursed or magical objects, then grinned and waved her deeper into the maze.

Ron picked over the discarded debris near the door as she began enthusing over this book and that, and referencing the occasional find to a passage out of "Hogwarts: a History."

"We'll never get her out of here," he laughed, throwing a Fanged Frisbee in Harry's direction.

"I'm sure she'll get hungry eventually," Harry replied, throwing it carefully back.

"I wouldn't bet on it," Ron replied, teasingly. "I bet she could survive on ink and paper if she had to."

"I heard that!" Hermione called back.

Harry smiled. It hadn't been his best day ever-- but things were looking up in general.

Maybe he wasn't doomed to fail, after all.

---

Index | To Chapter Nine >>
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Back Again, Harry? - A Harry Potter Time Travel Tale

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