Chapter Nineteen: An Unexpected Sighting
The best thing about Quidditch, in Harry's recent experience, was that no two matches or even practises were ever alike. Not even between one life and the next; the movements of the balls were far too random for even the Bludgers to fly a repeatable pattern, never mind the Snitch. Every time he mounted his broom and soared into the sky in Gryffindor colours, it was an entirely unique experience that carried absolutely no pressure to get it right. Well, apart from in the ordinary way, of course.
Harry took a deep breath of clean, crisp afternoon air as he assumed his starting position above the rest of the team, and shared a respectful nod with his Hufflepuff opposite number. He'd been surprised- and even briefly, shamefully relieved- not to see Cedric with the yellow-robed team when they'd flown onto the field, but he'd forgot they'd had a seventh year as Seeker his first year. The game hadn't lasted long enough the first time to get a good measure of her skills, but he thought he had the edge in speed, if he could spot the Snitch first.
On a fine clear day like this, that shouldn't be a problem. He had an appointment to keep in the woods after the game, but until then, he intended to thoroughly enjoy the experience.
Even knowing things were likely to be different, though, Harry still glanced in the direction he'd seen the Snitch before; he'd feel rather silly if he didn't and Hufflepuff won the game instead five minutes in. But there was no golden glitter of swiftly moving wings there to be seen... and no early penalty earned by George hitting a Bludger at Snape to ensure the game would end 150 points to 10, either. Harry grinned to himself at the memory and began slowly circling the pitch, buoyed by the cheering of the crowd and the feel of the wind ruffling his hair. Perhaps he would seriously consider Quidditch as a career this time; or at least until he had the chance to play Krum in the World Cup, then retire into the Auror corps once he'd had a bit more distance from the War.
The match proceeded along those lines for the next while; Harry was hardly keeping track, but Lee Jordan's familiar voice called a few goals for each side during that time, bringing the score to 60-30 in Gryffindor's favour. Hufflepuff's Chasers were good, but the Gryffindors were better, younger, and used to training to beat the far less polite Slytherins; if it had been a Chaser-only game, they'd already have it sewn up. He spared a glance toward the crowded stands from time to time- hadn't Ron said he and Neville had got into an altercation with Malfoy and his goons the last time round?- and toward the darkly scowling Snape, but nothing interesting eventuated from either source. It was turning out as close to a clean game as he could remember playing at Hogwarts.
He snorted at that observation, then decided it was time to spice things up a bit and turned sharply to fake a dive toward the pitch far below. And it was then, as he was pulling back up, just shy of the turf with the Hufflepuff Seeker hard on his heels, that he saw it: the last thing he'd expected, though he really, really should have. He instinctively jerked the handle of his Nimbus 2000 at the sight of the big, half-starved black dog crouching in the shadow of the stands, and had to hastily over-correct to keep from cart-wheeling into the turf. By the time he was stable enough on the broom to chance another look, Snape was already hovering where the dog had been, wand out... and the Animagus form of Harry's godfather had already vanished.
Blast. Harry had worked out that Snape had chosen to referee this match to prevent a repeat of the broom hexing incident, but he hadn't realised that the professor had been watching him that closely. That had been Sirius! Watching Harry on the sly just like he had in third year, and this time without a crowd of Dementors hanging round to complicate things! The fact that he'd been there, just within reach-
A gasp from the crowd alerted Harry that something important had happened while he'd been wool-gathering, and he turned sharply, instinctively searching for the other Seeker. The young woman had made her own sharp turn, abandoning Harry's wake to dart across the field; a quick moment's glance along her route turned up a spark of gold hovering by the opposing hoops.
Harry accelerated instantly into the chase, leaning as close to his broom as he could to reduce the drag, and focused his thoughts down to just the next few seconds: the length of the pitch in front of him, the speed of his Nimbus, the other student racing beside him, the ever-jinking location of the finish line. Much as he wanted to fly after Sirius, his godfather would never want him to lose the game on his behalf; and this was the best part of Quidditch. They flew neck and neck right up until 'til the end, when he guessed the next move of the Snitch a half second before the other Seeker could.
The rest of the team mobbed him to the screams of the crowd, and he pumped his fist with the tiny, fluttering sphere clutched between his fingers. Winning this match, an act of skill rather than sheer luck, might not be the first thing he'd ever really done to be proud of anymore, but Quidditch was still his, not his parents' or Dumbledore's or Voldemort's or anyone else's, no matter how often they found a way to try and take it from him. He laughed in relief as the others put him up on their shoulders for a victory lap around the pitch.
Even Dumbledore's cornering him a few minutes later to congratulate him for 'not brooding on recent events' could throw him entirely out of his good mood. Not only had he won the game, he had proof that Sirius was still alive and free; what more did a boy reliving his first year at Hogwarts really need? Only the upcoming chance to be rid of Quirrell's passenger at last; and he wouldn't have to wait for that for much longer.
He managed to linger behind everyone else in taking his broom to the shed, just as he had the last time; it was closer to full dusk than the glow of sunset he remembered from before, but he'd been keeping a casual eye on Snape, and was certain he hadn't messed up the timing. It had been just long enough for the surly professor to return to the castle and arrange the meeting; Snape should be scurrying down the steps with his robes flowing behind him at any moment.
Several minutes of waiting later, Harry frowned at the empty doorway and fumbled in the pockets of his Quidditch robes for the Map. Surely he hadn't missed them? But there was no dot bearing the name of Severus Snape or the blurred dual signature of Quirinus Quirrell and Tom Riddle anywhere within the Map-covered portion of the Forest; and nor, to Harry's increasing dismay, was Snape's name visible anywhere in the dungeons. He gulped, then checked on Quirrell- still in his rooms!- and finally turned to the Headmaster's office. There, he finally found the dot he was looking for, grouped with two others: Albus Dumbledore and Minerva McGonagall.
"Merlin's balls," he muttered, his earlier joy at seeing Sirius deflating like a punctured balloon. He really ought to have expected that as well. So much for the convenient opportunity to 'accidentally' get his hands on Quirrell without any inconvenient witnesses. He put his Nimbus 2000 away in resigned disappointment and trudged back into the castle with very mixed emotions.
He hadn't exactly wanted to kill Quirrell. But something had to be done to derail Voldemort's plans before any innocents died, and he'd let himself get fixated on that opportunity. He was just going to have to come up with another plan now, hopefully before the possessed teacher managed to smuggle a dragon egg to Hagrid. Events would only get more complicated from there.
With no urgent reason to pull Hermione and Ron aside first thing, Harry did his best to enjoy the party in the Gryffindor common room. The Twins had gone all-out for it, bringing in the usual load of snacks and Butterbeer; Oliver Wood was over the moon with the Quidditch Cup now a distinct possibility, and the rest of the House wasn't far behind him. The prospect of unseating Slytherin after six years atop the rankings was apparently worth celebrating even to the house's more studious members; he'd caught a glimpse of Percy at one point, laughing with Wood's arm slung around him, more animated than Harry could ever remember seeing Ron's most serious brother.
The party was still going near curfew when Harry at last broke away to sneak upstairs for the Cloak of Invisibility; he might not have any news about Quirrell and the Stone's protections to impart this time, but he did want to ask if either of his friends had seen Padfoot and pass the news on to Remus as well. No one had reported any sightings of his godfather since the desecration of the Riddle graves, and though Harry would much prefer to be out looking for Sirius himself, Remus was the one currently free to search out his trail.
He'd caught Ron's eye before he went up; he and Hermione were both waiting when Harry came back down the stairs. He'd chosen a book to return to the library as cover in case any prefects questioned them; Hermione beamed approvingly at that bit of practicality, though as it happened, they didn't need it. The only ones to actually stop them on their way out were the Weasley Twins, who gave them a wink and a nod and took the opportunity to remind Harry that they hadn't forgot his promise to introduce them to Moony. He got out of that by solemnly swearing to ask at his first opportunity, then led his friends back to their now-accustomed meeting Room.
Hermione took the opportunity to open the Room of Requirement herself, conjuring a copy of her Muggle bedroom with another pointed, inquisitive look in Harry's direction when the door opened. She really wasn't giving up on the topic of his home life, and he hadn't yet found any better way to dissuade her than to simply avoid answering. Ron gave him plenty of opportunity to continue the tactic this time, fortunately; the wizard-raised boy spent the first several minutes gaping at everything the least bit technological, making amused comments about the full bookshelves lined up along one wall, and prodding in puzzlement at all the still pictures framed on Hermione's dresser and the posters attached to the walls.
Harry didn't blame him for the last, though; the gigantic image of a handsome man with ruffled blond hair, a wide smile, and a microphone in his hands explained a lot about certain events of his original second year at Hogwarts. It was always disconcerting to be reminded that Hermione was, in fact, a girl; mostly, he supposed, because she'd never directed that sort of attention toward him before. In fact, while she'd been a very good friend ever since the Halloween they'd defeated the troll, she'd never spent as much effort trying to get inside his head as she had this time round, preferring instead to manage him like he imagined a sister would. Whether that was because he seemed to have more in common with her now, or because he somehow presented a much more intriguing puzzle to her this time, he couldn't fully say, but...
The thought gave him an uncomfortable, uncertain sort of feeling in the back of his mind, and he hastily shut it away to deal with later. There were other, more important things to discuss.
"So." He cleared his throat and took a seat at Hermione's desk. "How's the Occlumency going?"
Hermione shrugged, but somehow contrived to look even more inquisitive. "Well enough," she said, throwing a sidewise glance at Ron. "I found a book on Legilimency in the Room, and..."
"Bloody hell," Harry blurted, aghast. "But isn't that- I mean, I thought we were going to look for something like the Mirror!" He didn't even know why the sudden image of her poking about in his thoughts made him so nervous; it wasn't as though she'd use it against him, like Snape, or pry into his secrets like Dumbledore.
"There weren't any artefacts like that in the Room; I know, I've looked," she hastily explained. "And it's not as if I'm very good at it! It's an impressively difficult spell, much more so than Capere Memoria. But I don't especially need to be good at it to check if Ron's Occlumency is working. He detected me straightaway every time I tried, even when I set up the Room so he couldn't see or hear me casting, and I only once got a glimpse of a memory. It would be easier to know for certain if one could cast Legilimens on oneself, but I'm reasonably certain I'm doing at least as well."
Ron had turned a bit red at the mention of Hermione's one success; Harry carefully didn't pry, too busy quashing his own immediate emotional reaction. "Uh, well done, then," he managed, nodding to her.
She grinned at him, then sat down on her bed, clasping her hands in her lap. "Is it that secret, then? Whatever it is you have to tell us, I mean. Is it about Quirrell? I looked for him today, but I didn't see him in the stands."
"And he hasn't exactly done anything suspicious this week, except bore us to tears in Defence," Ron said, wrinkling his nose. "I know we said if we didn't find any proof by the next match we'd think of something else to do- but I'm not sure how we're supposed to manage that if he doesn't, you know, do anything."
"No," Harry said, shaking his head. "Not that. I looked, too; and I saw something else at the foot of the stands. Or someone- a Grim."
Ron went pale, then stiffened as the superstitious reaction faded. "You mean, a ruddy great black dog, like..."
"Your godfather's Animagus form!" Hermione rushed to finish the sentence, breathlessly. "I remember Dumbledore describing it at supper after Pettigrew was arrested. You saw him, here?"
Harry nodded. "Just a glimpse, but I think Professor Snape saw him too; it was right before I caught the Snitch."
"I remember that," Ron nodded, eyes lighting up. "Went right for the edge of the pitch; nearly missed the end of the game. You should have seen the look on his face; sour, like Neville had melted his cauldron again. I thought I'd check it in the Pensieve, later; see if it was something important."
"That's a good idea, Ron," Hermione nodded, firmly. "We should make sure. But if it is... are you going to tell someone?" She frowned at Harry. "I realise how important he is to you, after what happened with Pettigrew and all the research we've done, but if he is disoriented and dangerous, and he's hanging about the school..."
"He wouldn't hurt me; I'm the reason he's here!" Harry objected, then took a deep, calming breath. It wasn't actually her he was upset with; Hermione couldn't know. Dumbledore was the one who'd made that announcement, and even he probably did think he was acting in everyone's best interests. As usual.
Besides, she might have had a point, if it weren't for the memories- much as Harry would prefer to forget the fact that Sirius had originally torn up the Fat Lady's portrait, conspired with Hermione's cat, broken Ron's leg, generally terrified the entire student body, and not cared one fig about any of it if it got him one step closer to his goal. "But yes, I do plan to tell someone; Lupin's been looking for him ever since he escaped. They were best mates; if anyone can get through to him, he probably has the best chance."
Hermione worried at her lip, then nodded, slowly. "He hasn't hurt anyone yet, or even threatened that caretaker who spotted him. But if he does hurt someone..."
"I know, Hermione," Harry nodded to her. "If Lupin thinks more caution is warranted, I'm not going to argue. But I'll let an adult with a little more perspective than us make that decision, all right?"
"Very well," she sniffed, then softened. "You think he was really here just to see you play, despite all the people looking for him? That's- sort of sweet, in a reckless kind of way."
"Yeah. Except- if he's not mental, why doesn't he turn himself in?" Ron frowned. "Now that Pettigrew's been caught, and everything. I mean sure, yeah, the unlicensed Animagery and obstruction charges will make things a bit awkward- but there's awkward, and then there's getting cursed on sight by the likes of Snape. They'll have to let him out before long; he's Harry Potter's godfather. And the sooner he's free, the sooner he can do things like come watch you play Quidditch without making everyone think they've seen a Grim."
"I dunno, I think Snape might still curse him a bit; he and Sirius and my dad were all rivals back in school, according to Lupin," Harry gave his friend a crooked smile, then sighed. Even without the time travel vision stuff, the answer to that was pretty obvious; they'd discussed some of it when they were researching old trials. "He probably doesn't trust the Ministry to let him out at all, though, after what happened before. He probably doesn't even know whether the same people who locked him up in the first place are still in charge, unless he's been getting the Prophet in Azkaban all along."
"And no one can reach him to tell him otherwise," Hermione shook her head sympathetically. "I hope your friend finds him soon, then, because there's really nothing we can do unless he comes back to the castle."
"We'll see, I suppose," Harry shrugged, then checked the time and pulled out the communications mirror. There was always the cave- but it would be easier and less likely to get him expelled to let Remus have a look, first. "I'd best go ahead and let Lupin know, then."
Hermione and Ron exchanged a glance; then Ron cleared his throat and asked her something about how the mirrors compared to a 'fellytone' while Harry placed his call.
It didn't take long; Remus had no new news, and Harry wasn't ready to discuss what he hadn't seen of Quirrell yet, not until he'd had more time to think through the implications. Remus thanked him for the information, then congratulated him on the results of the game... and concluded by advising him to get back to the Tower before anyone realised they were gone.
...Why had he only called up parental figures with the Stone, again? Surely he could at least have spared a thought for Tonks, or even Cedric! But it was too late to castigate himself for that; not least because that was only one of the many choices he intended never to have to make again.
He rolled his eyes and bid Lupin good night, then held up the Cloak. "Ready to head back to the tower, then?"
Hermione gave him a thoughtful look, then nodded. "By way of the third floor corridor? Not to go in ourselves or anything," she added to Ron. "Only it's just occurred to me that with half the other professors distracted by Sirius Black, it might have seemed a good opportunity for someone else to go snooping about."
A chill went through Harry; that was another thing he'd nearly missed. Quirrell might not yet have given Hagrid a dragon's egg, but there was always the chance things would go differently, this time.
"Good thinking, Hermione," he nodded, then pulled the Marauder's Map out of his robes and solemnly swore the activating incantation.
Both of his friends startled, round-eyed, as the lines of ink representing the castle and its inhabitants materialised; Harry had forgotten that they hadn't seen it, yet. "This is the Marauder's Map- Dad and Lupin and my godfather and, well, the four of them made it while they were here. This is where I got Nomine Revelio from; look, it shows where everyone is in the castle."
"Wicked," Ron swore reverentially, watching a pair of footprints labelled Percy Weasley pace down the corridor outside.
"This is really, really advanced spellwork, Harry," Hermione said, fingers hovering over the edge of the parchment. "It might even be beyond NEWT level. Did he tell you how it was made?"
Ron's interest faded into a faint bitterness as he looked up at Harry. "Nevermind how it was made. It's brilliant. Between the Cloak and this Map, I wish I'd had an heirloom even half so useful."
Instead of Scabbers, he didn't add. Harry shook his head, unwilling to let that pass; he'd learnt the hard way that small seeds were how bigger feuds started. "And I wish my dad was here to pass them on properly. I actually got the Map from your brothers; they took it off Filch their first year."
"What?" Ron's temper flared up. "They never said!"
"You can yell at them about it later," Hermione interrupted. "Does it show the third floor corridor?"
Harry folded open the leaves of the map until the relevant section appeared, and was bemused to see Fluffy scrawled across a banner over two enormous pawprints. No wonder the Twins had been so quick to find their way behind that door.
"Wicked," Ron breathed again, then frowned. "Look- there's a blurred name there, too. What's that mean?"
"Quirrell!" It looked as though Harry would get his chance after all- just not in the way he'd expected. Like so much else. He checked the seventh floor again to make sure Percy's patrol had moved on, then quickly cleared the Map and folded it away.
"Wait! Shouldn't we tell someone?" Hermione asked, alarmed.
Harry shook his head. "You said it yourself, we're not going in; we just need to see if he does. Proof, remember? If we see him get past Fluffy, I'll go get McGonagall, I swear. Now, c'mon!"
Ron and Hermione exchanged a glance, then scrambled to join him under the Cloak, and together the three of them hurried out the door.