A Study in Magic: The Application
by Books of Change

Warning/Notes: This is the sequel to A Study in Magic, which is a BBC Sherlock and Harry Potter crossover AU posted here. The HP timeline and BBC Sherlock's timeline was shifted forwards and backwards to match up. One major BBC Sherlock character's gender was changed for the sake of the plot. Readers beware!


Chapter Nine: The Cost of Questions

From the moment Harry entered Hogwarts, he sensed something was off. It wasn't the castle itself; the floating candles, the ceiling enchanted to look like the night sky, and the ghostly residents presented as stunning a sight as ever. Students stared at him, pointing and whispering, but he expected that, and it didn't explain the jarring feeling of wrong.

Then as he sat at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall, it suddenly dawned on him.

He couldn't find Justin Finch-Fletchley. Terry Boot's Muggle-born friend wasn't at the Ravenclaw table. Julia's two Hufflepuff friends were also absent. Looking down his own house's table, he could see wide gaps between the students. And that wasn't all. Hagrid was conspicuously absent from staff table.

Harry turned his gaze away, just in time to note Ron, Hermione and Neville were scanning the staff table, too.

"He can't have left," said Ron, sounding slightly anxious.

Harry knew Ron was talking about Hagrid. "Of course he hasn't," he said firmly.

"You don't think he's… hurt, or anything, do you?" said Hermione uneasily.

"No," said Harry at once.

"But where is he, then?" Neville wondered.

There was a pause, then Harry said very quietly, so that Parvati and Lavender could not hear, "He's not back yet. From his mission — Dumbledore must've sent him on one over the summer."

"Yeah… yeah, that'll be it," said Ron, sounding reassured, but Hermione bit her lip, looking up and down the staff table as though hoping for some conclusive explanation of Hagrid's absence.

Harry considered telling her about the secure wiki Ms Jacqueline Shin— Mrs Ransom, now—set up at John and Sherlock's request. The last time he logged in (a frustrating process that required him to receive a six digit pin number each time, besides entering his username and password and personalized security question's answer), Hagrid's status said he was travelling North to contact the Giants. He didn't receive any instructions on whether he should share this information with his friends, but John told him:

"Do not be like Sherlock. Share information."

To which Sherlock countered:

"Need to know only."

Harry decided to follow John's advice. He then mentally kicked himself for not telling his friends about the wiki when they were in Hogwarts Express. There, he could've told Julia about the wiki, too.

But then again, Ginny Weasley had been in their compartment, and he wasn't sure if—

Harry caught the sight of Professor Grubbly-Plank, the supply teacher who filled in for Care of Magical Creatures classes when both Hagrid and Kettleburn were unavailable, just as she appeared behind the staff table. She worked her way along to the very end and took the seat that ought to have been Hagrid's. That answered who would assist teaching Care of Magical Creatures while Hagrid was away. A few seconds later, the doors from the entrance hall opened. A long line of scared-looking first years entered, led by Professor McGonagall, who was carrying a stool on which sat an ancient wizard's hat, heavily patched and darned with a wide rip near the frayed brim. The buzz of talk in the Great Hall faded away. The first years lined up in front of the staff table facing the rest of the students, and Professor McGonagall placed the stool carefully in front of them and stood back.

The first years' faces glowed palely in the candlelight. The whole school waited with bated breath. Then the rip near the hat's brim opened wide like a mouth and the Sorting Hat burst into song:

I sort you into Houses

because that is what I'm for.

But this year I'll go further,

listen closely to my song:

though condemned I am to split you

still I worry that it's wrong,

though I must fulfil my duty

and must quarter every year

still I wonder whether sorting

may not bring the end I fear.

Oh, know the perils, read the signs,

the warning history shows,

for our Hogwarts is in danger

from external, deadly foes

and we must unite inside her

or we'll crumble from within

I have told you, I have warned you...

let the Sorting now begin.

"Branched out a bit this year, hasn't it?" said Ron, his eyebrows raised.

"Too right it has," said Harry. The Sorting Hat usually confined itself to describing the different qualities looked for by each of the four Hogwarts Houses and its own role in sorting them; Harry could not remember it ever trying to give the school advice before.

"I wonder if it's ever given warnings before?" said Hermione, sounding slightly anxious.

"Yes, indeed," said Nearly Headless Nick knowledgeably, leaning across Neville toward her (Neville winced, it was very uncomfortable to have a ghost lean through you). "The hat feels itself honour-bound to give the school due warning whenever it detects periods of great danger for the school. And always, of course, its advice is the same: Stand together, be strong from within."

"How can it know if the school's in danger if it's a hat?" Ron asked.

"I have no idea," said Nearly Headless Nick. "Of course, it lives in Dumbledore's office, so I daresay it picks things up there."

Harry opened his mouth to ask something, but Professor McGonagall, who was waiting to read out the list of first years' names, was giving the whispering students the sort of look that scorches. Nearly Headless Nick placed a see-through finger to his lips and sat primly upright again as the muttering came to an abrupt end. With a last frowning look that swept the four House tables, Professor McGonagall lowered her eyes to her long piece of parchment and called out,

"Abercrombie, Euan."

A terrified-looking boy with prominent ears stumbled forward and put the hat on his head. As Harry watched Euan tremble, he felt his eyes inadvertently drawn to Professor Severus Snape.

Harry waited for some ugly emotion to rise as he scrutinized Snape. His potions professor looked no different from all the years he'd known him: sallow, hooked-nosed, greasy-haired, and dressed in his customary black. As far as he knew, Snape was spying for Dumbledore at "great risk to his life". No doubt he had his own mission in Hogwarts. Why he bothered, Harry still didn't know, though Sherlock said one can make an educated guess. So far Harry hadn't tried because he didn't want to understand Snape. Not when his loathing of Harry had not abated one whit since day one.

That moment, Harry noted he felt nothing for Snape. That made him feel strangely victorious.

Harry turned his attention back to sorting. A different boy was sitting on the stool. Slowly, the long line of first years thinned; in the pauses between the names and the Sorting Hat's decisions, Harry could hear Ron's stomach rumbling loudly. Finally, "Zeller, Rose" was sorted into Hufflepuff, and Professor McGonagall picked up the hat and stool and marched them away as Professor Dumbledore rose to his feet.

"To our newcomers," said Dumbledore in a ringing voice, his arms stretched wide and a beaming smile on his lips, "welcome! To our old hands — welcome back! There is a time for speech-making, but this is not it. Tuck in!"

There was an appreciative laugh and an outbreak of applause as Dumbledore sat down neatly and threw his long beard over his shoulder so as to keep it out of the way of his plate.

"Excellent," said Ron, with a kind of groan of longing, and he seized the nearest plate of chops and began piling them onto his plate, watched wistfully by Nearly Headless Nick.

Harry wanted to enjoy his steak-and-kidney pie, but the Creevey brothers, Colin and Dennis, kept asking him about his hair ("Did it turn whiter?!"), his glasses ("Did you use a spell to correct it?"), whatever rumours about him they'd read from the various Wizarding News, and back again. Then there was the stares and blatant eavesdropping attempts from everyone, including Nick. It all drove him nuts.

After pudding, Dumbledore stood up and spread his arms as though to embrace the entire school.

"The very best of evenings to you! Now, to our new students, welcome! To our old students, welcome back! Another year full of magical education awaits you… As loath as I am to keep you long, there are a few items I must address."

Dumbledore went over the usual: anyone who wanted to play for their House Quidditch teams should give their names to their Heads of House, and the list of three hundred odd items Filch the caretaker banned can be viewed in his office, etc. Then came the inevitable:

"Now, as everybody in this Hall knows, Lord Voldemort and his followers are once more at large and gaining in strength."

The silence seemed to tauten and strain as Dumbledore spoke. Harry glanced at Snape again, but his expression was unreadable.

"I cannot emphasize strongly enough how dangerous the present situation is, and how much care each of us at Hogwarts must take to ensure that we remain safe. The castle's magical fortifications have been strengthened over the summer, we are protected in new and more powerful ways, but we must still guard scrupulously against carelessness on the part of any student or member of staff. I urge you, therefore, to abide by any security restrictions that your teachers might impose upon you, however irksome you might find them—in particular, the rule that you are not to be out of bed after hours. I implore you, should you notice anything strange or suspicious within or outside the castle, to report it to a member of staff immediately. I trust you to conduct yourselves, always, with the utmost regard for your own and others' safety."

Dumbledore's blue eyes swept over the students before he smiled once more.

"But now your beds await, as warm and comfortable as you could possibly wish, and I know that your top priority is to be well-rested for your lessons tomorrow. Let us therefore say good night. Pip pip!"

With the usual deafening scraping noise, the benches were moved back and the hundreds of students began to file out of the Great Hall toward their dormitories.

"We'll catch up with you two after we take the first years to the dormitories," Hermione said as everyone stood up.

Then she did something she'd never done before; she tangled fingers with Ron before joining Harry in herding the first years off the dormitories.

"I heard you're Harry Potter," a blonde first-year girl said loudly while they walked down the corridors. "You must be. I can see your scar."

Lord, give me strength, Harry thought as he answered: "Use to be."

"How can you used to be?" the girl demanded.

"Got adopted, and changed my name," Harry replied curtly. "It's official. Even magic says so."

"Why is your hair white?" the boy with prominent ears, Euan, asked.

Harry shrugged. "Haven't the faintest."

Harry continued to deflect questions until another girl—Harry guessed Muggle-born, from her Timex wrist watch— asked how were they supposed to find their classrooms.

"Yeah, navigating the castle is confusing. At least you lot don't have to deal with Forbidden Corridors," here Harry and Hermione shared a smirk. "Don't worry, I'll give you a map tomorrow."

Harry said goodnight to Hermione and took the first year boys to their dorm. Then he trudged up to his own. But before he entered, he heard Seamus and Ron talking:

"No, I didn't ask Harry if he's the Chosen One, and you shouldn't, either."

"Why not?"

"You-Know-Who can read minds. My security advisor for Zing, he's an old Auror, he said so."

"But if he is, and You-Know-Who thinks he is, what's the harm in us knowing?"

"Listen, just because the Ministry thinks Harry's the Chosen One, doesn't mean You-Know-Who thinks so, too. And can't you imagine what's going to happen if You-Know-Who thinks you know Harry can defeat him?"

Harry gripped the doorknob in the tense silence that followed. Then he pulled it opened and stepped inside. Ron, Neville, Seamus and Dean all jumped as they looked up.

"How'd it go?" Ron asked, in a would-be casual voice.

"It was all right," said Harry, playing along. "But they were cheeky. I don't remember us asking that many questions when we were first years."

Ron snorted, "Well, they had you, didn't they? And we had Percy. Who'd want to ask him questions?"

"That's mean," said Harry. Then he sat on his four poster bed, pulled out all the potions and pills he had to take that evening from his messenger bag, and lined them on his bedside cabinet.

"Blimey, Harry, did you always take that many potions?" Seamus exclaimed.

Harry shook his head. "I switched doctors…and healers. They put me on a different regimen." John and Dr Robert Ju didn't like the way Harry's hair was turning whiter so the two consulted medical experts, both Magic and Muggle, from all around the world. Indeed, half of Harry's summer consisted of going to medical appointments and submitting to a battery of tests.

Harry took a mouthful from the vial labelled '1' and grimaced.

"Bleargh. I envy you guys. Must be nice, not needing drugs. I don't even remember when I didn't have to."

Harry took a sip from the bottle labelled '2'. From the corner of his eye, he could see Ron's ears were turning red and Neville was looking down. Then he heard Dean ask,

"Say, didn't your hair turn grey the day You-Know-Who returned, Harry?"

Harry paused. His hair went grey several days before that when he donated his blood to Remus, but since he made it look as though it turned grey when Lord Voldemort had risen in order to convince the Wizarding World of his return, he answered:

"Mmm, yeah. Why d'you ask?"

"Just wondered," muttered Dean. Then he and Seamus gave each other the side-eye. Harry frowned, but didn't press; he had to swallow a particularly large pill.

The dorm went dark and quiet after Harry took all his medicine. While his roommates slumbered, Harry lay in the dark, thinking…

He still had to tell everyone about the secure wiki. He also had to tell them about the mission Sherlock set him on: to find everything he could about Tom Riddle's younger years. On top of that, he had classes to go, prefect duties to perform, and meetings with Dumbledore to attend. The last was particularly important, as they were supposed to help him learn Dao-ga, which would let Grandmaster Shin remove Voldemort's soul fragment from him, after which he wouldn't be required to die…

Tomorrow, he promised himself. I'll tell them tomorrow…

-oo00oo-

Harry woke up before sunrise the next day. Unable to go back to sleep, he spent the hours before breakfast trying to create a simplified version of the Marauder's Map. He quickly discovered he could replicate the drawings ("imago exemplum") but not the spells.

Can't copy spells, he noted in his mobile phone and added: probably learned this in Charms, but forgot.

Ron and Neville woke up by the time he'd finished creating two maps.

"Why are you up so early?" Ron asked, puffy-eyed and incredulous.

"I'm making a map for the first years," Harry answered.

"That's nice of you," said Neville.

"You shouldn't baby them. Let them figure it out. We had to," said Ron.

"Don't be like that," Harry chided mildly.

Hermione caught up with them five minutes later, halfway across the common room, as Harry, Ron and Neville headed toward breakfast.

"Good Morning," she said briskly. "We should check out the music room after we get our schedules. Better to start whatever we need to do early before our workload grows."

Yes, there was Hermione, trying to organise their lives, Harry thought. "Okay."

They climbed over the portrait hole and headed to the Great Hall. At the staff table, Professor Grubbly-Plank was chatting to Professor Sinistra, the Astronomy teacher. Hagrid was once again conspicuous only by his absence. In his stead, there was a stranger: an enormously fat, bald old man who had a moustache shaped like a walrus. He was eagerly removing a large package tied to an Owl wearing a scarf that bore Honeydukes's logo. Crystallized Pineapple, Harry noted when the strange old man opened his parcel.

The four of them had just taken seats at the Gryffindor table when a tall black girl with long, braided hair marched up to Harry.

"Hi, Angelina."

"Hi," she said briskly, "good summer?" And without waiting for an answer, "Listen, I've been made Gryffindor Quidditch Captain."

"Congratulations," said Harry, grinning at her.

"Thanks. Well, we need a new Keeper now Oliver's left. Tryouts are on Friday at five o'clock and I want the whole team there, all right? Then we can see how the new person'll fit in."

Dread filled Harry's stomach as his smile faded. "Oh, yeah, about that… there's something I have to tell you."

Angelina looked like she was about to punch his face.

"Don't tell me you're quitting!"

"Errr…"

"How can't do this to me! To the team! We lost Oliver, we can't lose you too!"

Harry looked down guiltily. "I don't want to quit, but my healers—"

"Since when did you listened to your healers?!"

"Since this summer?" Harry winced at Angelina's furious glare. "I know and I'm sorry, but I have to— do physical therapy. Or I'm going to get banned indefinitely."

Angelina breathed in and out a few times before asking:

"How long?"

"No end date, but they're going to check my progress at the end of each month."

"So it's possible you'll be clear to play by October."

"Yes, but—"

"I'm keeping you in reserve," Angelina declared. "If you can't, you can't. But there's a chance you'll still be clear to play, and I'd rather you available than not have the option."

Harry couldn't bring himself to object. "You still need to find a Seeker."

"Damn right I do," growled Angelina. "Let's hope we can find someone who can replace Oliver, at least. Anyway, tryouts on Friday. Be there." Then she stalked off.

"Physical Therapy?" Hermione asked with palpable alarm.

"Dumbledore's giving me private lessons this year. That's what I'm calling it in public," Harry muttered in a low voice.

Ron choked on his bit of toast, Neville dropped his goblet, and Hermione gasped.

"You kept that quiet!" said Ron.

"I only just remembered," said Harry honestly. "I meant to tell you."

"Blimey. Private lessons with Dumbledore!" said Ron, looking impressed. "I wonder why he's…?"

His voice tailed away. Harry saw him and Hermione exchange looks. Further down, he saw Professor McGonagall moving along the table handing out schedules.

"Later," Harry hissed as McGonagall approached.

"Look at today!" groaned Ron, not long after. "History of Magic, double Potions, Care of Magical Creatures, and Transfigurations… Binns, Snape, and Kettleburn, all in one day! Are they trying to kill us?"

History of Magic was by common consent the most boring subject ever devised by Wizard-kind. Professor Binns, their ghost teacher, had a wheezy, droning voice that was almost guaranteed to cause severe drowsiness within ten minutes, five in warm weather. He never varied the form of their lessons, but lectured them without pausing while they took notes. Or rather, gazed sleepily into space and took a nap. One good thing about the soporific power of Binns's voice, if you could resist it, was it allowed you to have confidential conversations under the pretence of playing hangman.

So the private lessons are to teach you Dao-ga, Hermione wrote on the corner of Harry's textbook.

And to learn about LV's past, Harry scribbled. He's basically a serial killer. Need to understand what his MO is, so we can trace his potential soul jars.

Hermione shuddered.

Storm clouds hung low in the sky when they left the classroom for break (Binns drifting away through the blackboard). Harry, Ron, Neville, and Hermione chose a secluded corner under a heavily dripping balcony, turning up the collars of their robes against the chilly September air and talking about what Snape was likely to set them in the first lesson of the year. They had got as far as agreeing that it was likely to be something extremely difficult, just to catch them off guard after a two-month holiday, when someone walked around the corner toward them.

"Hello, Harry!"

It was Cedric Diggory and Cho Chang. Harry flicked his gazed on their joined hands before looking up.

"Hi, what's up?"

"I need to give you and Granger the patrolling and evening class schedules," said Cedric.

"Do we have to be in the classes?" asked Harry in dismay; his schedule was feeling crowded as it was.

Cedric smiled knowingly as he unlinked hands with Cho and pulled out a roll of parchment from his bag. "No. Only the weekend ones you're assigned to."

So much for free weekends, Harry thought gloomily as he took the parchment.

"Hey, have you two been dating? Since last year?" Ron demanded suddenly.

"Yeah, since the Yule Ball," said Cedric with a smile.

"Nice," said Ron, smirking back in a conspiratorial way.

Harry felt his eyebrows rising. Since when was Ron interested in Cedric's dating life? On that matter, what was going on between him and Hermione? Were they ever going to tell him? He wasn't sure how he felt about this, not when he couldn't…

…No, wait, he could, Harry realised with a start. He'd promised himself he'd refrain from dating until Dr Robert and Ms Jacqueline got together, and now they were. He didn't have anyone he wanted to date yet, but now he had the option…

"Anyway, that's all. See you, later," said Cedric.

Harry waved a beat too slow as Cedric and Cho walked away, again hand in hand. His epiphany left him both preoccupied and giddy. Even the ominous sound of Snape's dungeon door creaking open did not puncture the small, hopeful bubble that seemed to have swelled in his chest.

"Settle down," said Snape coldly, shutting the door behind him.

There was no real need for the call to order; the moment the class had heard the door close, quiet had fallen and all fidgeting stopped. Snape's mere presence was usually enough to ensure a class's silence.

"Before we begin today's lesson," said Snape, sweeping over to his desk and staring around at them all, "I think it appropriate to remind you that next June you will be sitting an important examination, during which you will prove how much you have learned about the composition and use of magical potions. Moronic though some of this class undoubtedly are, I expect you to scrape an 'Acceptable' in your O.W.L., or suffer my … displeasure."

His gaze lingered this time upon Neville, who met it with defiance.

"After this year, of course, many of you will cease studying with me," Snape went on. "I take only the very best into my N.E.W.T. Potions class, which means that some of us will certainly be saying good-bye."

His eyes rested on Harry and his lip curled. Harry glared back. Though the idea of never setting a foot inside Snape's classes after fifth year was pleasant, he refused to give Snape the honour of making him fail. Nope, not gonna happen.

Snape set them mixing a potion that often came up at Ordinary Wizarding Level: the Draught of Peace. Just as Harry, Ron, Neville, and Hermione had predicted, Snape could hardly have set them a more difficult, fiddly potion. The ingredients had to be added to the cauldron in precisely the right order and quantities; the mixture had to be stirred exactly the right number of times, firstly in clockwise, then in counter-clockwise directions; the heat of the flames on which it was simmering had to be lowered to exactly the right level for a specific number of minutes before the final ingredient was added. This time, though, Harry felt prepared. He'd practiced potion mixing all summer, and John's tip to use checklists made sure he followed all steps. He also took Dr Robert's advice and bought a thermometer.

Ten minutes left to go, and the surface of Harry's potion was simmering mist of silver vapour, just like Hermione's. As Snape swept by, he looked down his hooked nose at it without comment, which meant that he could find nothing to criticize. Harry was starting to feel triumphant when warm blood started gushing out of his nose.

Harry swore as he tried to stem the tide with his robe sleeve. But it was too late; several drops ended in his Cauldron, and his potion started giving out billows of white smoke.

"Potter, what is this supposed to be?"

The Slytherins at the front of the class all looked up eagerly; they loved hearing Snape taunt Harry.

"The Draught of Peace," said Harry tensely.

"Professor, he got the potion right," Hermione interjected. "Just before the blood, he—"

"I'm not addressing you, Miss Granger," said Snape coldly. To Harry he said, "Did you think you'd get some special leeway, Potter, playing up your handicaps, real or otherwise?"

Malfoy laughed. Harry grit his teeth and said,

"No."

Snape's lip curled again. "Does your mother know you use such language?"

Who d'you think I learned it from? Harry thought angrily as he wiped his face and glared, blood smears be damned.

Snape looked away.

"Fill one flagon with a sample of your potion, label it clearly with your name, and bring it up to my desk for testing. I strongly recommend that you do not pull a stunt like Potter for I accept no such excuses. Homework: twelve inches of parchment on the properties of moonstone and its uses in potion-making, to be handed in on Thursday."

"That was really unfair," said Hermione consolingly, when at long last the bell rang and everyone trudged out of the Dungeons. "You got the potion right, and I know Snape saw it before your nose decided to act up."

"Yeah, well," said Harry, glowering, "since when has Snape ever been fair?"

No one answered; all four of them knew that Snape and Harry's mutual enmity had been absolute from the moment Harry had set foot in Hogwarts. Also, as far as Snape was concerned, Neville was no more valuable in potions class than a crushed bug under his boot.

"I did think he might be a bit better this year," said Hermione in a disappointed voice. "I mean... you know…" She looked carefully around; they were alone in the corridor. "Being on the same side and all…"

"Poisonous toadstools don't change their spots," said Ron sagely. "Anyway, I've always thought Dumbledore was cracked trusting Snape, where's the evidence he ever really stopped working for You-Know-Who?"

"I think Dumbledore's probably got plenty of evidence, even if he doesn't share it with you, Ron," snapped Hermione.

Harry palmed his face and groaned while Ron and Hermione started bickering in earnest. He was wrong; Ron and Hermione were the same as always.

"When you two are done fighting," said Harry heavily, "meet me in the Music Room. Neville, let's go find Julia."

Harry strode away. He didn't stop to see if Neville was following, but he did hear Neville huffing and puffing behind him.

Harry found Julia helping herself to some stew in the Great Hall. He waved and beckoned her to come over. Julia gazed at her bowl mournfully before picking it up and shouldering her bulging tote.

"What's up?" Julia asked.

"Too many things," said Harry. "Here, give me that bowl, I can carry it." He took it and then blinked at its murky contents. "What the hell is this?"

"Damned if I know," Julia sighed. "At least it doesn't have meat? I think?"

"Remind me to have a word with Blippy. Anyway, c'mon, the usual place."

"We need to start thinking alternatives," Julia said as they headed out. "It already bit us in the arse once."

"Where else can we go?" asked Harry.

"What about that room up on the seventh floor? The one that turns into whatever you need?" Neville suggested.

Harry would've slapped his forehead if he had free hands. "The Room of Requirement. That's an excellent idea, Neville. Let's go there."

They climbed up the staircase to the seven floor and headed to the blank wall opposite to the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy. They walked past the wall three times, thinking about a room that wouldn't let anyone else enter or eavesdrop. On their fourth circuit, a solid wooden door appeared. It led to a large room that had hammocks, bookcases, and tapestries with Gryffindor and Hufflepuff emblems.

"I was hoping it would have better food," Julia remarked.

"Pretty sure food is one of the things Magic can't create out of thin air," Harry said.

Julia heaved a sigh. "Figures."

They sat down on the floor. "So what's this about?" Neville asked.

"You know the Prophet have been calling me the 'Chosen One', right?" said Harry. "Well, they're sort of right."

He told them about the prophecy, and that Voldemort considered all three of them as someone 'with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord'. Both Neville and Julia were silent and terribly pale when Harry finished talking.

"And he decided it was you," said Neville tremulously.

"Maybe. I don't think that matters. If I were him, I'd kill all three of us," said Harry grimly.

"That makes sense," muttered Julia. "Why guess if you don't have to. Better safe than sorry."

There was a beat.

"I'm going to tell Ron and Hermione about this," Harry said. "But before I do, I wanted you two to know. And if you don't want them to know about … your part in it, just tell me, and I'll leave it out."

"I don't mind," said Julia.

Neville shook his head. "It's okay."

Harry felt his heart swell. "Right then. I said I'd meet them in the music room. Let's go."

"We can stay here," said Neville. "This is a good setup, and I don't want us to lose it."

"Good point. I can text them and bring them in when they get here," said Harry.

"I wonder," said Julia thoughtfully as Harry dug out his magical mobile phone. "You said LV didn't get to hear the whole prophecy. Did he hear up to 'born as the seventh month dies' or 'the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal'? If it was the latter, then he wouldn't have gone after me. I mean, you wouldn't mistake my name for a boy one, would you?"

"Possible," Harry admitted. "I guess it depends on how LV figured out our birthdays."

Ron and Hermione showed up fifteen minutes after Harry texted them.

"Hermione and I aren't fighting anymore," Ron stated.

"Good."

"We'd also appreciate it if you didn't wander off just because you're feeling impatient," said Hermione with dignity.

"Right. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have," said Harry, which seemed to mollify the two.

"So why'd you go off to see Julia?" asked Ron, once he and Hermione got inside the Room of Requirement.

"I wanted to make sure she was okay with me telling you what I'm about to tell you," said Harry.

He repeated his short speech about the 'Chosen One(s)'. Hermione seemed frightened and Ron amazed as he told them the prophecy implied Voldemort marked him as his equal, and that he had to finish off Voldemort… at least, it said neither of them could live while the other survived.

The five of them gazed at each other in silence for a moment. Then Hermione whispered,

"Harry, oh, Harry… Are you afraid?"

"Not as much as I was," said Harry. "I was the first time I heard it, but now …" he shrugged. "Prophecy or no, I'm going to face him. I'm not a coward."

"If Dumbledore's giving you private lessons, he must think you've got a chance!" said Ron eagerly. "He wouldn't do that if he thought you were a goner, he wouldn't waste his time…"

"That's true," said Hermione. "I wonder how it will work? I haven't found anything about Dao-ga magic in the library…"

"Chances are no one translated any books from the original Chinese," said Julia. "I wish Hanzi was easier to learn. Memorizing ten thousand characters is no joke."

Harry did not really listen. A warmth was spreading through him, and a tight obstruction in his chest seemed to be dissolving. He knew his friends were more shocked than they were letting on, but the mere fact that they were still by his side, speaking bracing words of comfort, not shrinking from him as though he were contaminated or dangerous, was worth more than he could ever tell them.

"I'll let you know when I get more information," said Harry. "Until then, Sherlock wants us to do something for him."

He pulled out an iPad from his messenger bag.

"Sherlock commissioned a website. A secure wiki," said Harry as he unlocked the screen. "Only a few computers can access it. The idea is everyone posts their findings there so we can share information while keeping them secret."

He enabled his Muggle mobile phone's Hotspot, opened the wiki page on the iPad, and logged in. Everyone looked mesmerized at the wealth of information on the dashboard.

"So Hagrid is on a mission," said Ron. "Contacting the Giants up North, eh?"

"Professor Lupin is reaching out to the werewolf community," Hermione said, her eyes roaming furiously. "Telling them about the cure. So far, he's reached about fifty people and thirty are ready to receive treatment. Oh, that's wonderful!"

They browsed through the contents. On the discussion forum, there was a comment from Mr Weasley that the Ministry of Magic had sent a letter to all Muggle-born students that all but stated they shouldn't return to Hogwarts. While ostensibly it was for their safety, there was the possibility it was a ploy to purge Muggle-born students from the school. Dumbledore replied a number of Muggle-born students did pull out, but so did students from Wizarding families. Also, the majority of Muggle-born students elected to continue their schooling, so if it was a ploy, it didn't succeed.

"Is there an entry for Snape?" Neville asked.

"Let's find out," said Harry.

He typed 'Snape' in the search box. To his surprise, the query returned a short entry:

Draco Malfoy set on a mission he is expected to fail. SS to offer assistance and mitigate collateral damage.

Everyone stared at each other with their jaw hanging open.

"I was right. Malfoy is up to something," Harry gasped.

"But he's expected to fail," whispered Hermione. "What kind of mission could that be?"

"Who cares? Serves him right for thinking following You-Know-Who is all fun and games," said Ron.

"People might get hurt! And what if his mission is to kill Harry?" Hermione cried.

"Doubt it. LV wants to kill me personally in public," Harry muttered. Then he noticed Hermione and Julia's thoroughly stricken expressions, and added, "But if it is, I'm not going to make it easy for either of them. I doubt he can do much, not with Dumbledore and Mr Shin around. Anyway, this is what Sherlock wants us to work on."

He showed them the Voldemort timeline Sherlock had been building.

"Our job is to fill out LV's earlier years," explained Harry. "Dumbledore's said he was going to share what he knows. I'm guessing he delivered Tom Riddle his Hogwarts letter."

Ron whistled. "Wild. You-Know-Who as a firstie. Imagine that."

"Can't he write that himself?" Julia asked.

"He could, but for whatever reason, he wants me to do it. Something about this being a matter of wits. I guess he's counting on us to use the information to figure out what LV could've used as his soul jars."

"How're we supposed to do that?" said Ron, wrinkling his nose. "It happened more than seventy years ago. Who remembers stuff from that way back? It's not like people know You-Know-Who used to be Tom Riddle."

"That doesn't mean people don't remember Tom Riddle," Hermione countered. "We can ask the ghosts and some of the older teachers. Like Professor McGonagall and Professor Flitwick."

"Oh, good catch, that," said Ron. "So how should we do this?"

"Let's split the effort," said Hermione. "Team one interviews the teachers and team two interviews the ghosts."

So it was settled. Hermione would lead team one, since there was nothing unusual about her peppering their teachers with obscure questions, and Harry would lead team two.

"You remember how you're supposed to get ghosts to open up, don't you Harry?" Hermione asked in closing.

Harry nodded. "Ask them how they died."

The four of them detoured to the music room afterward. The door was locked, but the notice pinned on it said music lessons would resume next week.

It was nice to know some things didn't change.

-oo00oo-

Harry started interviewing the Hogwarts ghosts the same afternoon. He started with Nearly Headless Nick, mostly for practice. As expected, Nick didn't remember much about Tom Riddle except that he was a brilliant and charming student who disappointed all of his teachers by not pursuing a glorious career in the Ministry of Magic after leaving Hogwarts, but apprenticing at Borgin and Burkes.

"Really?"

"I speak the truth, young Harry, he did. Though heaven alone knows why," Nick replied.

Harry put a note about this curiosity on the secure wiki. He then went to interview the Fat Friar, since he had a number of Hufflepuff friends. As luck would have it, only Susan Bones was available. Ernie and Hannah had prefect duties, and Julia said she had to spend time with her grandfather.

"He's torturing me. I'm serious, Harry, send help," Julia moaned before hanging up.

Harry brought Susan up to speed on their way to find the Fat Friar.

"I need to collect information on a Hogwarts student from seventy years ago."

"Why?"

Harry pondered how much he should tell her. In the end, he told Susan that the culprit behind their harrowing second year was a cursed object Voldemort created as a student and left behind.

"His name was Tom Riddle back then," Harry finished.

Susan gaped for a long time. Then she shivered.

"This is crazy. I mean, it makes sense, but still. Crazy."

The Fat Friar was happy to answer Harry's questions, but like Nick didn't have a lot to contribute. He told Harry the first time the Chamber of Secrets had opened, a Muggle-born Hufflepuff died ("she still haunts the castle, poor girl"), and Tom Riddle received a Special Services Award for discovering the beast that killed the aforesaid student (which Harry knew was a gross falsehood).

"That's all I can tell you," said the Fat Friar.

"Thank you, sir," said Harry.

He turned to leave, but the Fat Friar said,

"Actually, there is one more thing. I'm not sure if this is of any interest to you, Master Harry, but one year Tom Riddle went around asking us ghosts many questions."

Harry felt his hands and insides turn to ice. "He interviewed all the ghosts?"

"Indeed. He seemed deeply interested in learning about the lives we once lived and the circumstances of our deaths." The Fat Friar looked at Harry keenly. "Do you think this is important?"

Harry mumbled something non-committal, thanked the Friar again, and left with Susan. They didn't talk until they reached the Entrance Hall.

"Was that helpful?" Susan asked.

"We'll see," said Harry evasively before looking at Susan. "I heard about your Aunt. I'm so sorry. How are you holding up?"

Susan looked down at her feet.

"People stare, and keep asking me these questions." When Harry made an outraged noise, Susan gave him a weak smile. "I guess I know how you feel."

"Prats, the whole lot of them," Harry said with feeling as a group of girls walked past. "Don't let them get to you. Same time at the library next week?"

Susan's smile grew. "You bet."

Harry added a blurb about Voldemort interviewing all the Hogwarts ghosts when he was a student on the wiki after they parted. Sherlock sent him a text almost immediately after he clicked "post".

What kind of questions did he ask? SH

He asked about their personal histories and how they died. Should I ask for the specifics?

Obviously. SH

How are you planning to question the Slytherin ghosts, assuming there are any SH

Harry felt his heart sink as he thought about the Bloody Baron.

Dunno, i'll think of something

Send me thirty plans in the next twenty-four hours SH

Harry scowled as he put his phone away. Thirty plans. Like that was a piece of cake…

-oo00oo-

Sherlock pinged reminders to Harry every fifteen minutes that night. Harry came up with twenty plans just to shut him up. Only one wasn't rejected outright: "Bribe a teacher". Since Harry had no desire to bribe a teacher or have anything to bribe one with, he vetoed the idea himself.

Sherlock-induced irritation aside, Harry knew he had to interview the Bloody Baron. It seemed daunting. Why would the Baron answer him? What if he lied to him? But as the Slytherin's ghost, he probably knew Riddle better than all the other ghosts…

Harry mulled over the problem for the next three days. He was still turning it inside head when he met up with Ernie MacMillan, Hannah Abbott and Susan Bones in the library.

"Heard you're interviewing the ghosts, Harry," said Ernie, as soon as they sat down.

"Yeah," Harry replied.

"I suppose it's only natural and wise to try to understand your enemy as much as you can," said Ernie pompously. "Now if you don't mind me asking, why the ghosts?"

"I heard you can't make ghosts forget things. That seemed to imply they can't forget, full stop. If true, that's valuable eye-witness testimony," Harry said.

Ernie nodded sagely. "I see. I guess this means you'll have to interview the Bloody Baron."

"If I can get him to agree."

"What if we asked the Fat Friar to ask on your behalf?" said Susan. "He gets along with all the ghosts."

Harry's heart leaped. "That would be great! Do you mind?"

"No," said Susan, blushing.

Harry beamed. "Thanks a lot, Susan! I owe you."

Thus with a viable plan, Harry was able to relax a bit and get his Transfigurations homework done. Unlike his first class, he was able to vanish his snail after the third try. Spells really were a matter of focus, Harry noted to himself.

Speaking of focus, Susan seemed to be having trouble with it.

"It's not been the same since my aunt passed," said Susan sadly, when Harry asked. "I heard it can happen when you lose someone, but I didn't think…" she stopped and turned bright red. "Sorry, I didn't mean to dump this on you. You have enough to worry about—"

"You have a right to your emotions," said Harry, repeating what his therapist told him years ago. "And I don't mind. You don't have to go through this alone."

Harry returned to the Gryffindor tower after saying good-bye. He spotted Ron and Hermione at a table close to the windows and made his way toward them. He walked past Lavender and Parvati on his way there. He wasn't sure why, but the back of his neck prickled when he heard their furious whispers.

Harry glanced at Ron's parchment and textbooks scattered on the table. "Potions homework?"

"Yeah," said Ron, dipping his quill into his ink. "'The properties … of Salamander blood … and its uses … in potion-making …'" he muttered, writing the words across the top of his parchment as he spoke them. "There." He underlined the title, then looked up expectantly at Hermione.

"So what are the properties of Salamander blood and its uses in potion-making?"

But Hermione wasn't listening. "You're taking Susan Bones with you to the interviews, aren't you, Harry?"

Harry stared at her. "How did you know?"

"The girls," said Hermione simply. "They talk."

"Why would they talk about this?"

"It's what they do," said Hermione ominously. "So are you interested in her? Would you ask her out?"

Harry opened and closed his mouth. "Why are you asking me this?"

"Just answer the question, Harry."

Harry looked at Ron, who looked just as baffled as he was.

"We're friends! We've been hanging out since first year! You know this!"

"Oh, Harry," said Hermione, giving him a 'why-are-you-so-stupid' or 'you-naive-cinnamon-bun' look, he wasn't sure which. "It's a girl thing. Trust me on this. So?"

"I never thought about it," Harry answered after a moment.

Hermione groaned. "I was afraid you'd say that." She didn't elaborate and Harry was afraid to ask.

The next day Hermione and Harry had the Study of Ancient Runes, Ron had Muggle Studies, and Neville had Divination, so they split up after Charms. When they reconvened for lunch, they found Ginny consoling Ron, who looked equal parts stunned and upset.

"What happened?" Hermione asked, alarmed.

Ron looked up. "This girl, Romilda Vane, do you remember her Neville?" Neville shook his head. "She came to our compartment, while you two were at the prefect meeting. She invited me to her compartment, bold as brass. I said hell, no."

"You would've gone if Julia didn't give you the Eyebrow," said Ginny.

"Shut up!" said Ron, looking affronted. "Anyway, she went after me again. Today. Asked if I was interested in a double-date; me, her, Harry and Susan Bones."

"What?!" Harry shouted. Several people looked up and more probably started eavesdropping, but he didn't care; because seriously, what the hell?

"If that was it, it wouldn't have been too horrible," said Ginny. "But yesterday I heard her telling her friends if Ron agreed, she'd go after you, Harry."

Harry pulled a face. "That's the stupidest and sh!test thing I've ever heard."

"Harry," Hermione glared. "Watch your language, we have first years listening."

"Give him a break, Hermione," said Ginny. "Besides, he's right."

They sat quietly for a moment. Then Ron shook his head.

"You know, when Mum warned me about — about scarlet women I didn't think she was serious."

"Scarlet women," Harry repeated while trying to keep a straight face. Hermione, on the other hand, was shaking with suppressed giggles.

"It's what my mum calls them," Ron muttered, his ears going red.

Hermione composed herself, finally. "Such rubbish. Ron, good job handling Romilda. And Harry, don't let this get to you."

"Oh, it won't," Harry grouched.

Nevertheless, Harry spent his afternoon classes feeling distracted and aggravated. The idea people thought he was dating Susan offended him. More specifically, he was offended people decided he was dating her already when the possibility had just occurred to him. How dare they! Then he thought about Susan. How awkward was this situation for her? What should he do?

Normally, Harry would've gone to John for advice. This time, he decided to ask Sirius. Of all the people he knew, Sirius seemed the person who'd likely went through a similar situation. His first instinct was to call him, but Harry thought better of it. Sherlock had been sending Sirius on missions non-stop. What if he called him while he was undercover?

So he wrote a letter. He brought it with him when he visited Remus, who was talking to Sirius's cousin Nymphadora Tonks when he stepped in. Harry noted the hasty, embarrassed way in which Remus ended the call and put away his MMN phone. He was about to ask about it when the old man who looked like a walrus barged into the office.

The old man was Horace Slughorn, Remus's old potions professor. Like many magic people, Slughorn seemed more interested in eyeing Harry's scar than he was looking at Harry himself. Unlike most magic people who'd known his birth parents, he compared Harry solely to Lily Potter. That was a first and a rather endearing one at that.

Then Slughorn mentioned Sherlock and said he couldn't believe a Muggle can tell a person's life story without magic.

That… was not on. One thing Harry couldn't stand about the Wizarding World was its tacit assumption all Muggles were idiots. Is this why Sherlock starts his conversations with deductions? Harry wondered as he rattled off some things about Slughorn he'd figure out: 1) Honeyduke's owner thinks he owes Slughorn a great debt [he went through the trouble of Owling Slughorn a package], 2) Slughorn was the head of Slytherin house before Snape [an educated guess based on Slughorn's age, the subject he taught, and the fact Dumbledore asked him to teach the night classes], 3) Slughorn had believed in the LV resurrection broadcast [another guess based on his lack of knowledge of Zing and the owl from Honeydukes], 4) he thought the Magical Mobile Network posed a security threat [speculation, but something a prideful wizard would never deny], and 5) he was very fond of crystallized pineapple [the Honeydukes parcel contained a large bag of it].

Slughorn was far too impressed at the little show, but at least he conceded Sherlock could figure out a person's life story without magic. Then out of the blue, on the same breath, Slughorn invited Harry to a "get together".

Harry decided to accept. If Slughorn was old enough to have taught Remus, he might be old enough to have taught Voldemort. The get together could be an opportunity to ask him if he'd known Tom Riddle.

Harry raced back to the Gryffindor tower after he'd handed his letter to Remus.

"You're really killing this investigation," said Ron when Harry told him the latest development. "Me and Hermione got nothing, and not for the lack of trying." Then he whispered into Harry's ear, "She's really bad at it. Don't tell her I said that."

"By the way, Harry," said Hermione, "did Susan get back to you?"

"Not yet. Let me text her."

Then Harry did just that:

How did the talk with the Friar go?

Susan didn't answer.

Harry's text remained unanswered the next day. And the day after that. At Herbology, Susan kept to herself and spoke to no one. Then on his regular library meeting with the Hufflepuffs, only Hannah and Ernie showed up.

"Where's Susan?"

Ernie looked uncomfortable. "She's not coming," Hannah mumbled.

"What happened?" said Harry. Then, feeling a dreadful premonition, he asked, "What did I do?"

"It's not you," said Hannah hastily. "It's not your fault. It's just…"

"What?"

Hannah floundered helplessly. At last, Ernie said,

"I think you should ask Lestrade for the details."

Harry got up and went looking for Julia.

He didn't have to go far. He found her and Hermione at a different table in the library.

"What happened to Susan?" Harry demanded.

Julia and Hermione shared a wince.

"A bunch of girls started vandalizing her stuff and calling her names for getting too friendly with you," Julia answered.

Harry was so outraged he couldn't speak for a while.

"Did they think this would make me like them?"

"I think they thought if she was out of the way, they'd have a chance to ask you out," said Hermione gently.

Harry couldn't take it; he stormed out.

He marched down the empty hallways and up the marble stairs. At length, he pulled out his magical mobile phone and sent Susan a message.

I'm sorry for what happened. You didn't deserve that. Are you alright?

Again, no answer. Feeling desperate, Harry sent another message.

We're still friends, right?

Susan didn't reply.

Instead, he got a message from Dumbledore.

Dear Harry,
I would like to start our private lessons this Saturday.
Kindly come along to my office at 8 P.M. I hope you are enjoying your first week back at school.
Yours sincerely,
Albus Dumbledore
P.S. I enjoy Acid Pops.


Final Notes: Oh, Harry, romance is going to be so hard for you. Ahem, so a very long chapter to compensate. Enjoy!

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