Chapter Seventeen: Echoes of Padfoot
Confined to the common room, Ron waited for his Headmaster and Head of House to make up their minds about his punishment. He was on his own; Madam Pomfrey was insisting on keeping Harry in at least another twenty-four hours, and Hermione was spending most of her time with him. So was Ginny, so he didn't even have his sister to talk to. He tried—and failed—to do some coursework, and went to bed early, surprised the next morning at how well he'd slept. He wasn't sure if he was supposed to be going to class, or staying where he was; unsure what to do, he was distracted when Hermione entered the common room at breakfast time, still in her clothes from the day before yesterday and looking worried.
"Ron, Harry's disappeared. He's not here, is he?"
"No. What do you mean, disappeared? I thought he was in the Hospital Wing."
"He left before I woke up. Madam Pomfrey wasn't happy. He'd just gone. I'm scared; you saw the look in his eyes when he woke up."
Ron nodded. "Where do you think he went?"
"I don't know. Is the map still in your room?"
They fetched the map. Hermione spotted a moving dot labelled with Harry's name. "Look, there he is. Where's he going?"
"I don't know. You'd better get after him."
Hermione took his arm and began pulling him towards the portrait hole.
"Me? Hermione, I'm grounded, remember, till Dumbledore and McGonagall tell me otherwise?"
"I'm sure they'll appreciate this is urgent; if Harry's in a state then it might take both of us to reason with him. Come on."
They found him at last, on the top of the Astronomy Tower, gazing unseeingly out at the grounds, his hair and clothes whipped by the wind. Why Harry was here, Ron could not fathom. If he was cold, being up here could hardly help.
"Harry, you okay?"
No answer. Ron looked sideways at Hermione, who shot him one of her looks.
"He looks like he wants to be alone," Ron murmured. "I don't blame him, if I'd had a taste of Azkaban—"
"Harry was not in Azkaban, Ron," Hermione sighed. "You know that perfectly well, he was with us the whole time."
"He managed to describe it just like my dad did," Ron argued.
"For goodness' sake." Hermione ignored Ron and stepped forward herself. "Harry? What are you doing up here?"
"Thinking," Harry replied quietly.
"Yes, but why here?"
"I don't know," Harry whispered. "It seemed like the right place to be."
Hermione looked back at Ron, who shrugged.
"Harry, come on down. You really shouldn't be out in the cold like this." Hermione moved forwards again, almost nervously, and gently took Harry's hand in hers. "Please don't dwell on it, Harry. If it was really anything to worry about, Dumbledore would have said—"
"He couldn't explain it," Harry said firmly. "he admitted only the one theory made sense, that I was Seeing—"
"That doesn't mean it's right." Hermione pulled at his hand. "Come on, come downstairs."
"The last time a Dementor came anywhere near me, I heard my mother," Harry said, rounding on her. "That's always been the case, Hermione, you know it has. Tell me this; if the memory of the night my parents died is the worst I have, why was I not reliving it in Az—"
"Harry, you were not in Azkaban!" Hermione repeated shrilly. "I don't know what happened with that Dementor but you're scaring yourself, convincing yourself that you were there when you were not—"
"What could possibly happen to me, Hermione, that's so bad it replaces my worst memory?" Harry demanded, trembling now. "What could be worse than my parents dying, than Sirius dying, than Voldemort torturing me with visions of cruelty for months on end? What could possibly make all of that pale in comparison?"
"I don't know, Harry, but please, stop it!" Hermione begged.
Harry seemed to have realised now that he was scaring her, and bit his lip to stop more thoughts pouring out. Ron unfroze and moved forwards swiftly to put his cloak round Harry's shoulders, and gently urged him away from the turrets.
"Come on mate, come back to the common room."
Harry slumped, as if all the energy had been drained out of him again. "Yeah, 'kay."
He remained silent for the rest of the day, in the common room with Ron while Hermione went to class very late, until the teachers found them. Harry was given a reprimanding and full examination by Madam Pomfrey, while Ron was told to go to classes and then go to Professor McGonagall's office after his last one.
After his examination, Madam Pomfrey reluctantly declared Harry was free to leave the Hospital Wing, but advised him to take it easy for a day or two. Harry headed back to the common room, where he waited for the classes to end so he could see his friends again.
Ginny was the first through the portrait hole.
"Hi," she said, sitting down next to him and eliciting an involuntary grin from him. "Feeling better?"
She slipped her hand into his and squeezed it, not asking any more questions. Harry was grateful. He wasn't entirely sure how he could try and put into words the confusion and fear currently whirling round his mind.
"Do you want to talk?" Ginny said finally. "Not about what happened, if you don't want to. Just something."
She shrugged. "I don't know. Just something mundane. Mundane by Dumbledore's definition, that is, not ours." Harry chuckled. "Oh, I know. How about things we don't know about each other yet?"
"Well ... what's your favourite colour?"
Harry considered. "Not sure. Red, maybe. And blue, that really deep midnight blue, that's nice. What's yours?"
"Yeah. it has to be the right shade, though; quite a ... bright green. Not Slytherin green."
"Your turn to think of a question."
"Okay ... what's your favourite food?"
"Uh, hmm ... pumpkin pasties. Don't tell Mum. You?"
"Shepherd's pie. Though I have a weakness for Chinese food. I don't get to have it very often."
"Chinese food? I don't think I've ever had that."
"No. What's it like?"
"Tell you what, I'll make you some sometime," Harry said.
"Can you cook?"
"Well, you'll just have to cook me some Chinese food sometime."
"It's a deal."
They were giggling together, Harry's spirits starting to lift, when Hermione entered the common room. She smiled that infuriating smile and headed over to her homework stack rather than disturb them.
"So, what did I miss from school life while I was in the torture chamber?"
"Hospital Wing," Harry explained.
"Oh!" Ginny sniggered. "Does Madam Pomfrey know you call it that?"
"Well, I've never mentioned it to her. She might put bed bugs in my usual mattress."
"That's a fair point. Well, it wasn't that eventful. Though I heard from Susan that Zach had another accident, in Potions this time. He's really accident-prone, isn't he?"
Harry frowned slightly. "Yeah."
They continued discussing mundane topics until Ron came back. He looked pale and shocked, and stooped slightly in shame. Harry, Ginny and Hermione all jumped up.
"Hi," Ron said.
"Well?" Hermione was the first to ask.
Ron took a deep breath. "I'm leaving Hogwarts."
Ron shook his head. "No. Suspended. Till Christmas. And I've got detention with McGonagall twice a week after that till the end of the year, with all my privileges revoked till Easter. Also Mum's going to kill me. Her and Dad are on their way to pick me up now, I've got to pack and say goodbye. And it's going on my permanent record. I think I got off lightly, to tell the truth, I deserve expulsion. It was a stupid thing to do, I could have got someone killed."
There was an awkward pause; whilst not wanting to agree with him, they all knew he was right. Ginny stepped out first and hugged him.
Harry and Hermione waited a minute before joining in a four-way embrace.
"If Mum does kill you," Ginny said, "can I have your room?"
"Sorry, just wanted to lighten things a bit."
Ron packed his trunk up in sombre silence, before saying his goodbyes and leaving the common room, heading back to Professor McGonagall's office.
Harry pushed open the door, and Remus looked up, then smiled widely as he saw who it was. "Harry! What a pleasant surprise, I've barely seen you since I came back. Come in, come in!"
"How are you, professor?" Harry said, closing the door behind him.
"Oh, please, as I'm not teaching you you may as well continue calling me Remus." He pushed aside a pile of essays and reached for the kettle. "Tea?"
"Yes, please. Remus."
"How are you doing?" Remus asked as he busied himself making the tea. "I heard about the Hogsmeade incident; are you all right?"
"Yeah," Harry said, not entirely truthfully. To be honest he was just trying not to think about it anymore. "Madam Pomfrey let me go."
Remus raised an eyebrow, not fooled. "Harry."
"All right, maybe not brilliant," Harry mumbled. "But I'll be fine."
"Was there a particular reason for your visit now?" Remus asked, giving Harry his tea. "Did you want to talk about the Dementors?"
"Thanks. And, no, not really. It was something else ..." Harry wondered how to phrase the query. "I wanted to talk to you about my Patronus."
"What about it?"
Remus stared at him. "That's unusual. You noticed this in Hogsmeade the other day?"
"What is it now?"
"It's Sirius. I mean, Padfoot. His Animagus form. Is that ... I mean ... is that normal?"
"Well ..." Remus considered. "I wouldn't say normal, but I wouldn't think it's anything to worry about. It's a reaction to your grief, I expect. You miss Sirius."
"Yeah, I do."
"Your Patronus is merely a reflection of that."
"So, will it change back to Prongs?"
"I don't know," Remus said honestly. "But like I said, it's nothing to worry about."
Harry raised his wand and pointed it at the middle of the room, summoning the thought of Voldemort defeated. "Expecto patronum."
The silvery dog poured from the wand and turned round to face them. Harry and Remus sat and watched in sombre silence as Padfoot paced the room a couple of times, wagged his tail, barked and finally, no Dementors to protect against, faded away to nothing.
For a moment neither man said anything. Then Harry spoke again.
"Remus, do you have any photos of Sirius? I only have one, from my parents' wedding. Apart from the ones from last Christmas, anyway."
The question startled Remus out of his reverie. "Oh—yes, I do. Hold on a moment, I'll go and get them."
He returned with a photo album. "I've got a couple of others as well. Do you want to take it with you to look at?"
"Yes, please. Thanks."
"You're welcome, Harry. Feel free to take copies of any you want to keep."
Albus was knee-deep in paperwork, and hoping for an excuse to take a break. Minerva was busy with her own work, and unable to provide a distraction; and his conscience would not allow him to just stop without a reason, despite the growing migraine.
So it was with great relief he heard the sound of footsteps on his staircase. The relief was short-lived, however; the fast pounding implied something urgent, and something urgent implied bad news. He groaned, resisting the urge to sweep all his papers off his desk in frustration, and plastered a patient expression on his face just as someone rapped on the door and then, without waiting for an answer, pushed it open.
"Severus," Albus said, trying to project calmness into his voice and to his own ears failing miserably. "What is it?"
"Albus," Severus gasped. "One of the students has been Imperioused."
Harry was awake late that night, flicking through the albums Remus had given him. There was loads of photos of all the Marauders, and there were a few of his parents together, but tonight he wanted to focus on Sirius, making a note to go back later and check for any featuring James and Lily that he didn't have.
He turned another page, one on from a group photo of all four Marauders, and paused, stunned.
In the photo was Lily and Sirius, alone under a tree by the lake. Lily was sitting on Sirius' lap. As Harry watched his mother and godfather together, she tucked her head on his shoulder, and he kissed her.
A memory jumped into his head: As he watched, Lily turned to the figure and they began to kiss … the figure's face come into light. "Sirius?"