Harry stood still, weighing his options.
It might be Snape in disguise, but the fact that he had chosen to be Gringwad was problematic because where would Snape have gotten a bit of Gringwad to switch into him?
And if it was Gringwad, how on earth had he come to Azkaban? He hadn't shown up at the trial, and Harry wasn't sure, but he guessed there was a penalty for not showing up when the Ministry called.
And most galling of all, Harry knew that Snape would be a thousand times more proficient at that moment than Harry could ever be. Snape, with his spy background and measured responses and political intrigue, would know just what to say to figure out the situation. Snape would have plans and strategies and be five steps ahead, and that all made Harry feel awkward and slightly stupid.
So he said the only thing that he could think of – "What are you doing here?"
Gringwad's expression stayed neutral. "I came to see you."
Arg, that told Harry nothing! He tried to counter. "Well, I don't want to see you."
Once the words had left his lips, he realized how stupid they sounded, like a cross child sulking.
And of course Gringwad wouldn't let a stupid response go. "Then feel free to leave."
Harry wished he could, wished he had the raw nerve to turn and leave, just walk out like with an attitude of confidence – I don't need you or anyone so go jump in the lake, old man. I'm Harry freaking Potter, and I don't have to –
"Sit down," Gringwad point to the chair next to him with the handle of his cane.
"I don't want to," Harry internally winced again at the petulance in his voice.
"You're going to sit down with or without a beating," Gringwad's tone stayed calm and even. "Your warden tried to refuse to bring you down. I bloodied his nose, and when he set two Dementors on me, I warded them off as well. Another tussle would not bother me."
Harry lifted his chin. "I'm the most powerful wizard in the world right now."
"You're stuck in a prison with your friends. You look terrible – bags under your eyes, white as a sheet, shaky hands."
"My cell doesn't have a mirror!" Harry felt a wave of hysteria rise up in him. He was certain Gringwad was Gringwad, but then that meant Snape wasn't here and something must have gone wrong and Snape didn't want him talking to Gringwad but who cared what Snape wanted because Harry didn't care and if he did, it was too late but –
Gringwad stood up, strode across the space between them, and grabbed Harry by the back of the neck.
"Get off me," Harry tried to duck away, but the man pulled him a few steps and shoved him into a chair.
Harry leaned forward to stand up, but Gringwad held the handle of his cane against Harry's throat.
"Sit still. I have no patience for childish behavior this morning."
"Because you're sooooo busy," Harry retorted, but he didn't say it too loudly with the hard handle jammed against his Adam's apple.
"I am busy."
"You see," Gringwad pulled back his cane and took his seat, "it's questions like that which make you seem young and silly. You remind me of a toddler – why this, why that? A wizard, an adult, a hero, a warrior, they don't ask questions. They discern, they listen and draw their own conclusions, they confront, they demand truths. When you're my apprentice, I will strip this annoying tendency from you. I may forbid any questions at all."
"I'm not your apprentice. Snape didn't sign the contract. And honestly," Harry drew up what little courage he had left, "in case you haven't noticed, I have bigger concerns than that stupid contract. I have friends to take care of and a plan to get out of here and to right the wrongs of wizarding world. You aren't even a concern at this point. I forgot all about you."
A slight smile twitched up Gringwad's lips. "It's this indominable spirit I enjoy so much. You present this unique blend of aggression and self-doubt. You so desperately need to be disciplined and molded, to have strict rules and harsh consequences. You're only happy when you're challenged and have obstacles to fight against, and a good mentor would recognize your need for severe monitoring as you can only excel when you are repressed."
"That's not true! I'm not like that at all. I'm repressed here and I hate it. It's not making me a better anything."
"Of course not here. You have no mentor here, no one to structure your time and activities. You can't tell me that worm Finberg cares two bits about what happens to you. He's a bottom feeder and uses sadistic methods to intimidate others. Yet, at the first sign of a threat, he retreats. He enjoys his petty authority, his own importance in his own eyes."
Finberg had caved, had withdrawn when Ginny challenged him, and had been almost hiding ever since his authority was questioned.
Harry shook his head, trying to rid himself of the impulse to agree with Gringwad. "I don't care what you say. Snape told me to stay away from you."
"The same Snape who left you to rot in here?"
"He hasn't! He's planning out a rescue. I have to be patient, but a hero needs to wait on others sometimes."
Gringwad smirked, and it was the most irritating thing in the world.
"Oh, you would have done it differently. You would have blown up the whole Wizarding world."
"No," Gringwad twirled the handle of the cane idly, "I would have taken you to the middle of the Ministry and I would have announced to everyone that you were the new leader of the Wizarding world. I would have demanded Scrimgeour resign. I would have had every journalist, ministry member, and foreign government leader I could find to witness my siege. Then I would gather a mob to demand a trial of all the Ministry's top officials. Every scrap of evidence I could find, every piece of paper, every magical object, every witness that saw anything in the last 16 years – I would parade them all through the trial. And I wouldn't make it short. It would drag on for months. And unlike Scrimgeour, I would allow everyone to talk. The longer you let people speak, the more they tend to trip themselves up if they are lying and the more the truth reveals itself. No secrets, just raw openness."
Damn it all, that sounded brilliant. Harry bit his tongue to keep from asking Gringwad to go on, to keep talking, to keep painting this beautiful picture of a world where truth and justice reigned. He wanted to go there, to live there, to relish that beauty of that place.
"Instead," Gringwad went on, "Snape decided to go to trial, have you look all pathetic and weak, and hope that Scrimgeour wouldn't come down too hard. I don't pretend to know the inner working of others' minds, but I judge a man or woman based on the outcomes. What did they achieve? What did they accomplish? How were they successful?"
"I don't have to defend Snape to you," Harry muttered.
"If you agree with the outcome, then ignore everything I've said. If you feel you deserve fifteen years in prison to atone for your sins, well, now, only you can answer to your conscience."
Harry said nothing, his throat tight and his ears buzzing with fury.
"Given the evidence at the trial, I do concur that you have been quite reckless and impulsive, but I would have recommended restitution. When a person is sent to prison, he fades from memory. People think, ah, yes, he's somewhere living out his punishment, but it's not satisfying. An execution excites the masses, especially a public one, but it's over too quickly. The kiss of a Dementor and then the letdown because there's nothing else to do once the prisoner's body has no soul."
He paused, but Harry refused to ask him to continue. He scowled at the floor, hating himself for liking the hypnotizing words and images that Gringwad produced effortlessly.
"No, not the slow punishment or the fast for me," Gringwad went on. "I would have put you on punishment tour."
"You would have beaten me in every city in Britain?"
"I would have put you on display, acting out your contrition. You broke out of Hogwarts – I would have taken you there and made you repair the window with the whole school watching. At the end, you make a speech to the school about why obedience matters. Then in Diagon Alley, where you burned the whole street, then crashed through windows weeks later – oh, you would have learned how to rebuild buildings in humble Muggle style. That young man you impersonated – you would hold a public conference with him to apologize and then donate lots of money to some charity that he would oversee. That inn and forest you destroyed – repaired to even better circumstances than before. On and on, each time, you on display, contrite and humbled and very, very sympathetic."
Harry clenched his fists against the seat of the chair. It all sounded so very wonderful.
"Eventually, public opinion changes. People see you remorseful and repentant, sweaty and tired from physical labor, having to give yet another apology under the stern eyes of a guardian or mentor. Then they start to think, poor lad, he's very young and so sorry and he is an orphan and never had a proper upbringing. Then after that, when anyone dares to mention that you destroyed some of the Wizarding world, the immediate reply is 'Yes, but he rebuilt it, too. If only all young men could be as noble and brave as our Harry Potter'."
Somewhere at the back of Harry's mind, he remembered the embarrassing dinner with Snape and Narcissa where the conversation with Gringwad in the wood had been revealed. He remembered Snape cautioned him against Gringwad, saying he was dangerous and bad, but . . . but . . .
Harry couldn't remember exactly why. All Gringwad's ideas were good, and Snape had no ideas so who cared?
The room fell silently.
Outside the window several Dementors floated by.
How wonderful it would have been to be the Harry Potter in Gringwad's story. That Harry Potter was a true hero and got to show his concern about other people. That Harry Potter wouldn't feel guilty or worried because he got to show his regret. That Harry Potter probably was smarter, and stronger, and had better answers than he did. That Harry Potter got to live out dreams while he, the other Harry Potter, had to sit in Azkaban like a loser.
"I need a timeturner," he said.
"You need to choose mentors better. And the last time you had a timeturner, you nearly got yourself and your friends killed."
"Why are you here? Do you just visit people in prison to make them feel bad about themselves?"
"No, I'm just checking on my investment."
"I am not your investment."
"This tends to by our repertoire. You ask a question, I give an answer, and you argue with the logic of what I've just said."
"It's not logical!"
"I consider you an investment. How is that not logical? And why are you so insulted? I think you are most important wizard alive right now. And that is problematic how?"
"You want to own me. We don't own people anymore."
"Nonsense, I offered an apprenticeship contract. Those are legal in both the Wizarding world and the Muggle world. And you signed it."
"I didn't sign my full name. And Snape signed nothing."
Another infuriating shrug. "In July, you'll be of age. Then you can do whatever you want."
"I'll still be in prison."
"We both know you won't stay in prison."
"Because Snape is going to get me out."
"No, because you are going to break yourself out."
Harry shot him a quick, side look, but the man's face was blank as always. "You can't break out of Azkaban. I mean, Sirius did, and then a bunch of Deatheaters, but normal people . . ." He trailed off at the hard look Gringwad gave him.
"Don't you dare refer to yourself as normal. There isn't a thing normal about you. You ever claim to be normal, and I'll cane you for a week."
"I'm not going to break out of Azkaban!"
"Did you promise Snape that?"
Had he? Did he promise Snape to stay in prison?
"I don't have to tell you anything," Harry snarled. "And if you've come to check on your investment, your investment says you should get out of his sight."
"So temperamental," Gringwad sighed. "I blame these Dementors, though you really are so much stronger than them. But never let it be said that I only look out for my own interests and can't think of others. I brought you something."
He pulled out a black box wrapped with a red ribbon.
"What is that?" Harry demanded.
"I'm sure your friends got presents from their family and I don't want you to return without some trinket to prove that your visitor cares about you. Children always want presents."
"Adults like presents." Harry wasn't sure why he felt the need to contradict Gringwad. The man was so patronizing and belittling that Harry just couldn't let him go unchallenged. But he stood to take the present because, well, he wanted a present.
"Here you go," Gringwad handed him the box.
A tug loosened the bow, and Harry opened the top. Inside, nestled between thin sheets of white tissue paper was a green object, smaller than his fist. It was round in the middle but sharpened to points at both ends. He picked it up, about to shake it.
"Put your hand around it."
Harry wrapped his hand around the smooth middle, half-thinking that he probably shouldn't do anything that Gringwad told him.
"Ah, you're doing it wrong," Gringwad rose and came over. He closed his hard, gnarled hands with so many scars over Harry's hand.
"What – ow!"
Needles popped out of the object, piercing his hand. But he was frozen, unable to move as he stared in Gringwad's face, the man's brown eyes glowing an uncanny yellow.
"Take it in. It's not poison – you're too powerful to hurt with mere poison. But this is a mood enhancer. Whatever you are feeling, it will amplify it, and you will feel so much better when you give into this feeling."
Harry tried to make a gurgling sound, but the pain had received from his hand and been replaced with bright euphoria. He was feeling overwhelmed with how lovely - bright and sparkling - he felt.
"I can't wait for you to show all your tricks. All right, that's enough for now."
Gringwad pried Harry's fingers off the green object. Tiny marks of blood appeared on the smooth surface of the object, but Gringwad wiped it clean with the tissue paper and slipped the object into his pocket. Out of another pocket he pulled out a small box of Bertie Bott's Beans and put it in the open gift box.
Harry still couldn't move. His own breath rasped in and out, and he wondered if he would fall over eventually as his legs couldn't move
Gringwad took his hurt hand and spread a cream over it. The tiny punctures healed immediately, and then Gringwad took him by the elbows and maneuvered him to sit back down. Thankfully, his knees still worked and he flopped down easily enough.
Gringwad put the box with the candy on his lap. "I'm leaving now. You'll feeling slightly amnesic for a few hours, but by tonight, the potion will take full effect."
Harry tried to move, but he still had no control over his body.
"Here's the kicker," Gringwad stepped back, one hand casually leaning on the cane. "I stole this potion concoction from Snapdragon Manor. For all his wards and protections, Snape has some of the laxest security measures. I put one of his house elves under the Imperious Curse, and he brought me whatever I wanted. Some of that research that Snape had hidden away," Gringwad leaned in, "it was fascinating. I couldn't believe what he had discovered about you. Of course, he probably doesn't realize what he discovered, but . . ." Gringwad paused. "And what he found out about your mother – absolutely mind-shattering."
Harry made a growling noise in his throat.
Gringwad smiled, and it was wolfish. "Sadly, you won't remember that I told you any of this. I could perform a quick Obliviate, but –" Gringwad straightened and brushed at his cuffs – "I'm going to let you sit here and lose this memory slowly. Uncomfortable for you, but that's payback for your rudeness today, especially after I came all this way to visit."
Gringwad strode out, but Harry sat, staring down at the box of candy.
All right, all right, remember. Everything that had just happened, remember it. Gringwad infected him with that green thing, stole from Snape, and knew important information about him and his mother.
A few Dementors flew by. Harry wondered if someone would come fetch him, and what they would do when he couldn't move. But feeling was slowly returning and he could move his feet.
Oh, wait, remember. He had to remember. Gringwad had infected him somehow, gone to see Snape, and knew something really important.
The candy in the box were all bright colors, absent of the brownish, blackish, and whitish beans that were in most boxes. Gringwad must have gotten a special box. It didn't matter – Harry wasn't going to eat them.
Wait, why wasn't he going to eat them? Oh, remember, ugh, that Gringwad had come to see him and Snape and brought these beans.
That was nice of Gringwad. Why was everyone so hard on him?
Harry's right hand moved and he realized he could pick up the box. He opened the box and let the bright beans roll into the box.
One piece of tissue looked dirty, stained with dots of reddish-brown liquid. Harry pulled out the dirty tissue, crumpled it up, and tossed it aside.
He took several beans and raised them to his lips. He paused, squinting in concentration as he tried to remember.
Remember something. Gringwad had been somewhere?
No, wait, he hadn't seen Gringwad since that day in the woods. Ugh, such an embarrassing day.
A note was under the clean tissue. A white piece of paper with black ink – To brighten up your prison stay, Luna Lovegood.
Harry smiled and tossed the beans into his mouth. They were good flavors – pineapple, raspberry, and mint.
He stood up and took the candy with him.
Back in the cell room, Harry settled on his bunk to eat the rest of his candy, humming a little as he chewed.
"Who visited you?" Ginny asked.
"Ugh, I guess Luna did."
"Luna visited you? I thought her father had her under house arrest."
"She brought me candy. Have some?" Harry offered the box to her.
She took four beans and ate them slowly. "You look different, Harry."
"I'm still me. It was nice to have a visitor though."
That night, he got in his bunk when the candles went out. He heard the others drift off to sleep, but he couldn't. He tossed and turned restlessly as feelings came over him.
He was angry at Snape – rage.
He wished Ron would stop snoring – he wanted to strangle Rom until the air left his lungs.
He wished he had more candy – tears filled his eyes and he hated how sad he was without any more beans.
He thought about the weird flavors of the beans – he started giggling and kept chuckling until his chest hurt.
He felt slightly unhinged, mad as a hatter.
Still giggling, he stood up and went out of his cell to stand under the window. The crooked stone by the window that he had fixed was where he left it, but suddenly all the stones looked crooked.
Obviously, the whole wall would have to go.
He would make the room bigger.
He sent a row of stones out the wall, letting them drop to the sea below. He could get them later.
With a nod of his head, he blew all the stones, hundreds of them, out of the wall and held them out into the dark night where the Dementors floated.