Chapter 33: Knowledge

"We need Uncle Shay," said Levi as the doors to the Great Hall closed behind them. "He'll know what to do."

"We need to find Neville," said Brie, still trying to chase down the train of thought that had led to that conclusion. Something was wrong with his thought process. Everything was so scrambled… Oh right, Aunt Geni's potions. And that had been Harry Potter in the Great Hall that had sent Neville into a cold sweat. But it wasn't him. Right.

"Why is Neville scared of Harry Potter?" asked Brie.

"Longbottom is scared of Potter?" Levi repeated, sounding as confused as Brie felt. "What reason would he have for being scared of Potter?"

"I don't know. That's why I asked," he said, frowning at his cousin. Usually Levi wasn't this slow. Levi glared back at him.

"What makes you think that he's scared?"

"He ran," said Brie. "Scared people run."

Explaining his thoughts further would take too much brain power. He concentrated on the next logical step. Terrified Gryffindors ran to places they felt comfortable when their flight instincts took over. Where did Neville feel comfortable? Brie gripped Levi's shoulder as they started up the stairs. This was going to be harder than he thought.

Neville leaned against the stone wall and stared at the empty window seat in horror. He could feel the cold sweat on the back of his neck. His skin felt clammy and his head felt tight enough to burst. There were no words to describe the burden of his new knowledge except, perhaps, dead meat. If only he were wrong…

But he had recognized those scars. He had seen them once before, in the mirror. The lightning bolt hadn't stood out like that, but there was no mistaking that burn and that scarred cheek. If only the Polyjuice were where he left it, he would have been able to relax. That would have proven he was overreacting, just like the rash Gryffindor he was. But no, the potion was gone and there could be no other explanation for Harry bloody Potter's sudden reappearance.

"I'm dead," he whispered, head pounding. "I'm actually dead." Not even his sometimes-friendship with Gabriel would save him now.

He slid down the wall, unable to stay standing under the staggering weight of his knowledge.

Harry Potter had been abused by his relatives. He had been – rescued was the only word for it – by Sarai mal Théa. Her family had hidden him for reasons Neville didn't want to seriously contemplate. They had raised Harry Potter to be a murdering military dictator and had cemented the alliance by marrying him off to a daughter of the family. The daughter of a known ally of the Dark Lord.

At least his presence at Hogwarts, which had always puzzled Neville, could now be rationally explained. Not that the knowledge meant much now. Where could he hide from the wrath of the mal Théas?

"Oh, there you are!"

Neville rolled to the side and vomited.

Meli frowned down at her soup as her fellow Slytherins nattered away about the reappearance of Harry Potter. It was odd. The timing was too close to be coincidental. Her potion had something to do with his reappearance – but what? What had that potion been? She wouldn't be happy until she figured it out. As soon as dinner was over, she would go back to the window seat. Whoever had left the potion might have left some other clue that an enterprising young witch could follow.

To be the person who rediscovered Harry Potter!

She glanced over at Malfoy. He was holding court over the Slytherins as usual, though this time he had something real to prop up his pretentions. Everyone had seen him walk in with Potter, and even the Ravenclaws were leaning in to try and hear more. She wanted to tell them that it had been her; she was the person who had produced Harry Potter. But until she could reproduce her results, it seemed better to wait. Mother would not want her tipping her hand too soon.

Sirius was in a fog. He'd been chatting with Minerva. The conversation had been rousing, though he couldn't remember the details anymore. When the commotion had started, he hadn't bothered to look until he'd heard the name.

Harry Potter.

And there he'd been, walking up the aisle as alive and well as any teenage boy could hope to be. He'd looked so like James, though he'd lacked the confident stride that had so marked his father. Still, there had been purpose in that walk, and determination as he faced the Headmaster. His eyes had been as green and clear as Lily's, with none of the hardness that had clouded hers in the later days of the war.

The scars had broken his heart. Every facial twitch had pulled and stretched the scars, calling attention to the horror that had been done to him as a child. Sirius had wept when he saw those scars. He'd heard that things had been bad in the Dursley house, but nothing had prepared him for that.

Then, to be denied the right to speak to his own godson, to touch him and reassure them both of the reality… He had come closer in that moment to understanding the lure of the Dark Arts than he cared to admit. Dumbledore had no right to do what he had done. Sirius was the boy's rightful guardian; Sirius had the right and the obligation to be present in that room for the interview.

He barely noticed Minerva's gentle hand on his shoulder, but when she urged him to start walking, he shrugged her away.

"I need to stay here," he told her, voice thick with emotion. "I need to be here when they come down. I need to."

She sighed and patted his arm. "Alright. Stay here. You should think about calling Remus. He would want to know."

They had all left him alone then, standing in the hall outside the Headmaster's office. He couldn't believe how easily and obediently they walked away from the savior of the wizarding world. How could they not stay, standing guard at the door? Sirius didn't understand.

As his mind whirled from one thought to another, it occurred to him that Minerva had a point. Remus had a right to know. He wouldn't be allowed back on campus, of course. Too many parents had learned the truth about his affliction, thanks to Snape. Still, they could meet in Hogsmead; if the situations were reversed, Sirius would expect Remus to tell him immediately that Harry had been found.

But how could he walk away now? How could he bear to walk away from Harry now?

Levi wrinkled his noise and suppressed his own gag reflex. "Scourgify," he muttered, waving his wand at the Gryffindor's mess. Maybe Brie's theory was correct – Longbottom seemed terrified of something.

Brie eased himself down against the stone wall to sit next to Longbottom. They made an odd pair: Neville was sick and shaking, while Brie was pale and strangely unfocused. Levi was fairly certain that he was missing something important.

"H-hi," said Longbottom, eyes darting around as though searching for an exit.

"Hi," said Brie, eyes focused somewhere near the window sill across the narrow hall.

Levi paused for a moment, looking down at the two of them. He didn't want to miss anything, but he got the feeling that this conversation would go much better if he wasn't present for it. He was also pretty sure that Brie wouldn't want to be caught like this. He was far too vulnerable, sitting there slumped against the wall.

With a careful swish of the wand, Levi provided the boys with a privacy bubble and walked away to sit near the stairs. He needed to do some strategizing of his own. For one thing, Uncle Shay would need to be contacted. Whatever it was that had just happened would have serious repercussions for everyone.

Neville closed his eyes as the Defayne boy waved his wand around in a distinctly threatening manner. He felt the strange echoing silence of a privacy ward, and opened his eyes in surprise. The cousin was walking away! He felt his heart flutter again. Maybe he would survive to see his seventeenth birthday after all.

"You ran," said Gabriel. His head seemed to loll against his shoulder as he turned to look at Neville. He was obviously still sick.

"Yes." It came out as an embarrassing squeak, but at least it came out clearly.

"Why are you scared of," there was an odd pause, "Potter?"

If Neville had doubted what was going on, that pause would have erased the last of his doubts. A fraction of his brain was aware that Gabriel was acting out of character, and that there might be more going on than Neville was aware. In fact, he thought ruefully, there usually was.

"I," Neville coughed, trying to keep his voice from squeaking. He was a Gryffindor. He was supposed to be brave in the face of danger. "I know where Potter is."

There was a moment of silence.

"Yes, we all know. Potter is in the Headmaster's office," Gabriel sounded as though this was both a fact and a bewildering paradox.

"That's just someone who looks like he could be Potter," said Neville, eyes focusing on the window sill. It was easier to confess without eye contact. "The real one is already enrolled at Hogwarts."

The silence stretched into infinity. Neville's stomach did a backflip.

"I see," said Gabriel. This was followed by a tiny sigh.

"I'm sorry, Harry," Neville said. "I thought I wanted to know."

"I'm sorry too," said Gabriel. "I'm not sure… My uncle will be told, of course. I wish there was another way. You… I liked having you as a friend."

When the gargoyle stepped aside, it was only Dumbledore who exited. Sirius nearly screamed in frustration.

"You have no right!" he growled, stepping into Dumbledore's personal space. "Harry is my godson. You have no right to keep him from me! Let me see him!"

"I'm sorry, my boy," replied the Headmaster, reaching up to touch his shoulder. Sirius growled and the Headmaster wisely held his hands out instead. "I truly am. I don't know how to tell you, but that boy is not Harry Potter."

The bottom dropped out of Sirius's stomach. He felt like a portkey had him and wouldn't land; there was only the rushing in his ears, the spinning of his world, and the Headmaster standing there looking sad and reassuring.

"It was an elaborate prank, I'm afraid, and that boy upstairs is a victim in it. He has no idea how he came to look like that, be I assure you that I am going to do everything in my power to find out."

Sirius's body reminded him that he needed to breathe, and he shakily sucked in air. A prank. It was a prank. For the first time in his life, it occurred to Sirius that pranks were cruel and not very funny at all. It occurred to him that he had been a cruel child, and he hated that self with a strange suddenness that left him reeling. He didn't watch as Dumbledore walked away, leaving him to his thoughts in the corridor.

Meli glared around the empty hall. There were no signs of anyone else passing through, and no convenient notes announcing who had left the potion. She hadn't expected it to be easy, but she had hoped to find something. She could feel opportunity rapidly slipping away.

By this time, Dumbledore undoubtedly knew that the entire thing was a prank. He wouldn't be fooled for long once the Creevey boy opened his mouth. What really concerned Meli was the possibility of Dumbledore replicating the results of her blunder before she could; if he could conjure a Potter at will, he would be holding too many cards.

Even worse, she knew that Dumbledore was a Leglimens. She was skilled at her mind trick, but not skilled enough to erase all traces of her presence. This was never supposed to come to Dumbledore's attention – it was supposed to have been a schoolyard prank where no one really got hurt. Instead, the Headmaster would likely inspect the boy's head and find her. She really didn't want to get sent home. Her father had pulled a lot of strings to include her in the exchange program. She couldn't afford another black mark on her record.

She needed to "talk" to Dennis.

Levi sighed as he watched the two older boys get to their feet. Brie stumbled slightly, and Longbottom reached out a steadying hand. It seemed they had worked things out between them, whatever the problem had been. Both were pale and sickly looking, but both seemed to be ready to face whatever it was they perceived as standing against them.