A/N: Here's the next chapter of Backward With Purpose by Deadwoodpecker with my commentary. Please read the original, it is mind-blowing!
Backward With Purpose: Christmas Cheer
"The Ripple Effect" Tonks read without enthusiasm.
January was well underway by the time Harry had a chance to speak with Dumbledore alone. Ron, infuriatingly, did not share any of Harry's misgivings, and did not give it as much thought as Harry would have liked.
"Relax, Harry! You worry too much," Ron had said one night when they'd had a chance to meet in the Room of Requirement.
"It's that kind of attitude that's going to get them killed," Moody muttered.
"I'm sure Dumbledore will be of some comfort," said Kingsley reassuringly, seeing the Weasleys' pale faces.
Harry was reminded forcibly of the several instances throughout the years when Ron had blithely ignored what he called Harry's obsessions.
"And you don't worry enough," Harry'd replied darkly.
"Sounds like you found a kindred spirit, Mad-Eye," said Tonks, recovering her humour. Moody grunted.
Ron spent much of his time goading Hermione into small arguments with such relish that she could not take offense. Already she seemed to be fonder of Ron than of Harry, and he had little doubt that her feelings would deepen when she was ready for it. It warmed his heart.
"Your son seems a smooth operator in the future, Arthur," Sirius said with a laugh.
Thus Harry was left to take his concerns to Dumbledore alone, and it took no small effort to find a way to do so without arousing suspicion. He thought of repeating his actions on the first day, or doing something similar, but that could lead to trouble.
"It will, if he disrupts my class again," Snape vowed, while the others choked back their laughter.
He also thought of asking Professor Snape to help, but he needed to speak to Dumbledore alone, and he was not sure if Snape would understand. True, they were on much better terms than they were before, but Snape was still very prickly and Harry knew that he still resented the fact that Harry was the offspring of James and Lily.
Sirius and Remus shared a glance, understanding that Snape's hatred ran a lot deeper than mere school rivalry.
He finally resolved to send Dumbledore a message with his Patronus, and hope that Dumbledore was not in a public place.
"Very risky," said Moody shortly.
"Yes, but he can't go around afraid of taking the smallest risks," Sirius argued.
You would know, wouldn't you, Black?" Snape said snidely, while Remus grinned.
If Aberforth heard, it wouldn't be so bad. Aberforth Dumbledore was about as tight-lipped as they came. But if Dumbledore was enjoying a drink at the Three Broomsticks, the Leaky Cauldron, or even having a conference with a teacher… It would be difficult to explain why a Patronus spoke with a child's voice.
I have got to stop doing this,Harry thought, frustrated. The constant second-guessing was taking its toll.I can't possibly live like this.
"What I said," Sirius said smugly.
With that in mind, he lifted his wand to his lips, murmured, "Expecto Patronum." The bright stag shone clearly in the Room of Requirement which he currently occupied alone. Ron had long since gone to bed. Harry stared at it for a moment, thinking of his father. He wondered what James and Lily would say if they were alive; would they understand his need to save the Weasleys and his friends? Or would they be angry that he had not tried to save them too?
They would want nothing more than for Harry to be happy," stated Remus, with Sirius, Tonks and Molly nodding in agreement. Snape privately agreed, thinking of Lily sacrificing herself for her son.
"Tell Albus Dumbledore this: 'In the Come and Go Room. Need to talk. Please,'" He told the stag firmly. It turned and leapt into nothing, leaving behind a misty vapour.
Harry did not have long to wait. After several moments, he stood and cracked open the door of the Room of Requirement, both to let Dumbledore in, and to give himself something to do. While he did so, he noticed the Room had provided another large armchair and a crackling fire in a tall hearth.
Five minutes later, he heard swift-moving footsteps echoing along the corridor. Dumbledore was still wearing the same robes as he had that day, and he appeared alert, but not reproving.
"Do you ever sleep, Professor?" Bill asked curiously.
Snape and McGonagall merely shook their heads, while Dumbledore chuckled.
"I'm sorry, Professor," Harry said. "I hope I didn't take you from something important."
"Quite all right, Harry," Dumbledore replied. He gazed around the room with an expression of open delight. "I do wish I'd known of this room earlier, I must say."
"Yes, I could have had some fun with it in my school days, I daresay," said Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling at Sirius, Remus and Tonks.
"You were a prankster, Professor?" Percy asked in astonishment, while McGonagall pursed her lips.
"Ah, I dare not say anymore, Mr Weasley, lest Professor McGonagall put me in detention."
He seated himself on one of the chairs, and looked at Harry expectantly. "To what do I owe this very late pleasure?"
"I have some questions for you," Harry sat down, and looked at the fire. After a moment, he turned to meet the other wizard's gaze. "About the prophecy, and the differences in the timeline."
"As do we all," Remus muttered.
"Ah, I see that we have been thinking along the same lines," Dumbledore nodded. "Have you had any luck in figuring out what the 'terrible' power you have is?"
"No," Harry answered. "Not really. Professor… how did the prophecy become common knowledge? Did you and Professor Snape tell others?"
"Absolutely not," Dumbledore said. "The moment I heard it, I knew that it must be kept secret. For Voldemort to find out…that would have been terrible." He looked troubled. "We can only be thankful that the fullness of it was not leaked."
Harry emphatically agreed. "So… how did it happen? In the other time, Snape heard the first part of the prophecy, and he's the one who told Voldemort about it. Who was it this time?"
Sirius looked ready to fly at Snape, but Remus stopped him.
"I owe no one an explanation," Snape snarled at the room at large.
Dumbledore looked startled. "It was Severus. That's the same. He did not turn against Voldemort until he started hunting down you and your mother and father."
Harry nodded. So the Dumbledore in this time had trusted Snape with the full prophecy. No matter. It was a very small difference in the grand scheme of things, and Snape was a trusted ally. "So who else knew enough of it that they could spread it throughout the Wizarding world?"
'I cannot think of any reason why anyone else would have knowledge of it," said Dumbledore pensively.
He looked deeply troubled by this mystery person, as were everyone else.
"That, Harry, is a decade old mystery," Dumbledore sighed. "We suspect that it was one of the Death Eaters. Severus claimed that he had never spoken to anyone in Voldemort's inner circle about the prophecy, but that does not mean that Voldemort did not confide in one of them.
"I do not consider that very likely," Dumbledore said, as everyone looked at him. "Tom prefers to operate alone and it would be laughable for him to confide his mortality in anyone else."
Bellatrix Lestrange and her husband seem likely candidates, and I would not be surprised if it was Lucius Malfoy. It also could have been Peter Pettigrew; we can ask him when the time comes. He could have heard it from your parents or from Voldemort. Until a few months ago, I must admit that Sirius Black was suspect."
"No, Peter didn't hear it from James and Lily," said Sirius bitterly. "I think they wanted to spare us the danger as much as possible."
"My parents knew about the prophecy?" Harry asked, surprised.
"Yes, I explained to both them and the Longbottoms that a prophecy had been made concerning one of their sons and Voldemort," Dumbledore answered. "I couldn't ask them to go into hiding without offering a reason to do so."
"Could the Longbottoms have told anyone?" Percy asked.
"If someone had asked me two days ago, I would have denied it," Dumbledore sighed. "I cannot imagine how the time-travellers' arrival could have had such a bearing on the past, however."
"Maybe someone they confided in survived this time around and let it slip," said Moody grimly.
That made sense. It didn't really change anything, but Harry had to wonder what his parents had thought when they'd realized that their son was destined to either kill Voldemort or be killed himself.
"I'm surprised Lily didn't rip you a new one," said Sirius bleakly.
"James turned out to be the voice of reason, for once," Dumbledore offered.
"Listen," Harry said. "We'll ask Wormtail when we 'discover' his true identity. But that doesn't concern me that much at the moment. I want to know about that article in theDaily Prophetconcerning me and my loyalties." And then he told him everything that had occurred at the Burrow, and all of his concerns, including the fact that it was of no concern to Ron at all. It was a relief that Dumbledore did not dismiss his concerns as Ron had, but instead remained silent for long moments. He appeared to be marshalling his thoughts.
Everyone seemed put-out at the reminder of the chasm the accursed article had caused.
"I can see your point," Dumbledore finally said. "I can also see Mr Weasley's. No," He held up his hand when Harry opened his mouth to argue. "Do not get me wrong, I find it disturbing. But I also agree that you will prove time and time again where your loyalties lie. I believe the first time will be only months from now. I think that will dispel suspicion a great deal. Not to mention that I – forgive me my lack of modesty – have a great many friends in the Wizarding world. I will do all in my power to counter the suspicion."
"That's hardly working out now," said Remus grimly. "I think your alternate self is being a tad optimistic."
Harry grinned at him. He felt as though a huge weight that had rested on his shoulders had been lightened. The worry was still there, but by its decrease, Harry realized just how worried he had been. Then his brows furrowed. "About that article…"
"Yes, the infamous article," Dumbledore said ruefully. "Forgive me for allowing a seed of doubt."
"It must have been quite a write-up to have convinced your alternate self," said McGonagall grimly.
Everyone else seemed to be thinking along the same lines.
"Don't worry about it," Harry assured him. "You couldn't have known," he paused. "Do you think it might've been written by the same Death Eater – or whoever – as leaked the prophecy?"
"The thing is, Harry," Dumbledore said thoughtfully. "I do not believe that the person who wrote the article was a Death Eater. You must remember that I taught all of them in their youth. I know them, and I know how their minds work. Unless it was a foreign Death Eater – and I'm almost positive that it wasn't – or a Death Eater previously unknown to me, I'm almost certain that none of them wrote that article. It was not an accusation, exactly. It felt more like a warning, and a well-reasoned one at that."
"So the writer truly believed what he/she said," Dumbledore mused.
Harry could not help but feel a little confused. "If it wasn't a Death Eater, then who would write it? Rita Skeeter?"
"No way will she write anything anonymously!" Sirius said venomously.
"No. Whoever wrote the article did it completely objectively," Dumbledore said slowly. "It even swayed me a little, as I have already told you. It did not attempt to stir fear, I do not believe, although many people were afraid before the initial furore died down. It was written logically. It discussed the history of prophecies, and it offered several speculations as to the nature of this specific one. It pointed out the flaws of them, and how they do not generally come to pass in an expected manner. I would not be surprised to find that the author was an Unspeakable with advanced knowledge of the subject. It offered several different speculations as to your nature, the nature of the prophecy, and concluded that the Wizarding world could not immediately think of you as a saviour."
"So there are two mystery persons," Remus concluded. "Both seem to have a vendetta against Harry, but are cunning enough to not advertise it."
Harry grew warier and warier. "Did it mention anything about the last bit? The part that you and Snape have kept to yourself?"
"No," Dumbledore answered. "I still have the article; I've saved it, as I daresay many have. I'll be sure to pass it along to you in the near future. After you have read it, possibly you can offer insight with your prior knowledge."
Harry was doubtful. This was something completely new to him. He tapped his fingers against the arm of the chair, and stared in the general direction of the wall. "Why do you suppose this changed so much?"
"As to that, I can only offer a guess."
Harry snorted. "Your guesses generally turn out to be true," he said fondly.
Dumbledore chuckled, and his eyes twinkled madly behind his glasses. "I suspect that your arrival – yours and Mr Weasley's and Mrs Potter's – caused a ripple effect. If you drop a stone into a pond, the ripple does not move straight out. It causes circles that move in all directions. You've already changed the future by being here; I am not surprised that the past was also affected."
"Seems more a whirlpool than a ripple," Tonks quipped, eliciting laughs.
"Let's just hope that the future is changed far more than the past," Harry said pointedly. "I don't think I could survive another devastation."
This sobered everyone up.
The month was almost over when Errol brought the morning mail. He flew, lopsided, through the air, clipped a few students' heads with his wings, tumbled over, righted himself, and landed on Ron's plate of fried eggs and sausages with a wheeze and a faint hoot. Ron, covered in egg, sputtered indignantly, while several of the other Gryffindors looked on and laughed.
"That owl doesn't look like he'd survive another trip," Hermione said thoughtfully. Harry sprinkled some water over Errol's beak, hoping it would help revive him.
"You can always use Hermes, Mother, Father," said Percy awkwardly. Molly, Arthur and Bill smiled at him.
"Yeah, because I'm going to kill him," Ron said darkly.
"Get your letter and give him here, Ron," Percy was beside them. "I'll take him to Hagrid."
The Weasleys looked relieved that Ron's idea of including Percy was working.
Ron pulled the letter off the nearly unconscious owl's leg. Percy gently lifted Errol and left. He opened it. "It's from my sister," he said. "She'd better have a good reason for nearly killing Errol."
"This sounds ominous," muttered Moody.
I'm glad you got back to school okay. Thanks for telling me all about Hogwarts. Fred and George always talked about it like it was a mixture of a dungeon where professors routinely inflicted torture on students, and a Muggle amusement park. I'm glad to know that it's neither. Six more months and I'll know for myself! I'm counting the days, and I'm marking my calendar.
I met Luna Lovegood today. She's very strange (Mum thinks it's because Zella Lovegood died just last year), but in a good way. She was very quiet at first, but once our lessons were through (Mum is teaching us some basics, although she won't allow us to use a wand), we had a nice long talk. I'm sure we'll be good friends.
Speaking of friends, has Harry recovered from Christmas? He seemed a bit nervous. Don't tell him I asked, of course.
'Doesn't seem to contain any hidden meaning," said Remus confused.
It was quite unlike her previous letters. It was scattered and if there were hidden meanings behind the words, Harry could not figure them out. Either she was being too subtle, or this was only a chat-filled note to her brother. His brows furrowed.
"Unlikely," Arthur commented.
"Maybe you shouldn't read other people's letters if you aren't going to like what they say," Hermione said waspishly, looking at Harry. She was on the other side of Ron, and she had obviously read it too. "And Ron, you shouldn't let Harry read it if your sister doesn't want you to. Does she have a bit of a crush on Harry?"
"Yeah, a crush," said Bill with a laugh.
"Yeah," Ron said at once. "She's been talking about him for years."
Harry could tell that Ron was a little worried as well, although they could not possibly break away from Hermione until after Herbology. They finally muttered an excuse about having to go to the loo, and found a secluded area away from prying eyes.
"Always and always," Ron tapped the parchment, and found a long letter that contained surprising news.
Luna knows! I have no idea how, and I was completely shocked. Mum had us learning basic magical theory about wands and such, and Luna was very, very quiet. She didn't say anything about Nargles or Wrackspurts or Crumple-Horned Snorkacks, but she stared at me a lot. You know that look she gets, when her eyes are even wider than normal. After the lesson, I offered to show her our Quidditch pitch, and she didn't say a word at all while I babbled. Then she asked me how old I was. When I said ten, she tilted her head, and said "How old are you really?" I nearly fell over. Then she told me her dad had told her all about time-travellers, and that she knew perfectly well that I was not ten years old. I couldn't think of a way to get out of it; you know how laughing it off never works with her. So I told her the truth. Not all of it, but I had to tell her about the two of you, and how we lost nearly everyone, so we had to come back and do it all over again. I didn't tell her anything about the prophecy, or the Horcruxes.
"How?" asked Percy, choking out the first word he could articulate.
"Ms Lovegood has always been a… unique student," McGonagall said. Snape snorted and she threw him a sharp look. "I always had the impression that she was more perceptive than most gave her credit for."
"Question is, whether she can be trusted to keep her trap shut." Moody growled. Many seemed affronted but Snape was in complete agreement.
I must admit that I'm still in a state of shock. She swore – and I trust her – that she wouldn't tell anyone, not even her dad. Is it bad that I'm happy that she knows? It's very lonely without the two of you to keep me company, and I know we agreed not to tell anyone until the time is right, but it makes me happy that I have someone to confide in. Just as I'm sure you both would be relieved if Hermione found out on her own (although I doubt our sensible friend will). Don't pretend that you didn't give her that book just to set the stage. I'll bet you two – and especially you, Ron – wished she'd sent a letter on Christmas telling you she'd figured out everything.
She also said that there's a precedent for time travel in some of the older Wizarding fairy tales, the ones even before Beedle the Bard. She said that her dad and mum used to read her the old Arthurian legends. Supposedly the Tears of Merlin actually came from Merlin himself.
"Yes, that is true," said Dumbledore. "Though, if you'd asked me a couple days ago, I would have been highly sceptical."
Given the sad way Camelot fell, I hope we have more success. I know we'll have more success. She was surprisingly rational about it, until she asked if I was Guinevere. When I said absolutely not, she actually told me that it was an easy mistake to make. How is it easy for someone to mistake me for some long dead queen? There's my name, and that's about it.
She asked me how she died (another shock). She seemed to understand when I wouldn't tell her – I don't think I can. I don't even like to think about what happened to her…
Everyone seemed to be going spare over the cryptic references to everyone's deaths in the future.
Harry, don't brood over this. We always thought that Luna would be the one to guess our secret. I just didn't think that it would happen so soon!
Always and always,
Harry and Ron stared at each other in stunned silence. How could she possibly have known?
"You owe me ten galleons," Ron informed him.
Everyone laughed incredulously.
Hermione threw herself down on the floor of the common room with a loud groan. "My head hurts," she moaned.
"You read too much," Ron told her. She tilted her head and smiled up at him.
The Weasleys laughed at this typical Ron response.
"It's your own fault," she replied.
"Unlikely," Bill snorted.
"That you read too much? Doubt it. When do you ever see me with a book in my hand that isn't a textbook?" Ron argued.
McGonagall and molly bot looked disapproving and Tonks ploughed ahead to avoid a lecture.
"Well, that book you gave me was really interesting," she said. "So I've been doing further research just for fun."
"That'll get their attention," said Remus smiling.
"I'd be surprised if Miss Granger sets much store by time-travel," McGonagall said.
Harry sat up straight, and exchanged a glance with Ron. This was the first time (beyond thanking them) that she had mentionedMemories Unbound. It had been a month since Ginny's letter about Luna, and Harry could not help but feel a little hope that Hermione had figured it out. Perhaps the research was in different methods of time travel, and she was about to confront them with her knowledge.
"What?" Hermione looked from one to the other.
"Just the fact that you call research fun," Ron grinned at her. "Give us poor blokes a break. We haven't got your brains."
"Nice save," Sirius grinned. "Remind you of the old days, Moony?" Remus and Tonks grinned.
"You could if youtried, Ron. You're a very talented wizard," Hermione argued. "If you paid more attention in class instead of playing hangman with Harry..."
"Not likely," Ron shrugged. "What's given you a headache?"
"Well, I've been researching the triumvirate of mind magic – you know, Occlumency, Legilimency, and Obfuscomency," Hermione explained. "I've been trying to do a bit of Occlumency, but it's given me a headache."
"Obfuscomency?" Harry asked blankly.
"It's a mixture between Occlumency and Legilimency. Occlumency is –"
"Of course," said Snape softly. "Why didn't we think of it?" he asked looking at Dumbledore. The rest looked entirely mystified at this entirely new approach to mind magic.
But Ron interrupted her. "We know what Occlumency and Legilimency are – we, er, flipped through the book before we gave it to you."
"How? You ordered it from Flourish and Blotts," Hermione said shrewdly. "I saw the owl."
"How do you think we knew what to get?" Harry asked quickly.Damn.Hermione was too smart for her own good. "We went to Diagon Alley right after we got to the Burrow for some last minute Christmas shopping Ron's mum had to do."
"Yeah, and we knew you'd like a book," Ron told her. "So we tried to find an interesting one."
"So what's Obfuscomency?" Harry asked, hoping that she wouldn't know that that they'd ordered it back in early November. It was just lucky that they had, in fact, gone to Diagon Alley, so if she asked one of the older Weasley boys their story wouldn't completely fall apart.
"They ought to learn to lie better," Moody grumbled.
"They shouldn't be lying at ALL," Molly retorted, glaring at Sirius for some reason.
"Well, the bit about Obfuscomency is a bit confusing. But from what I can work out, it's sort of a mixture of Occlumency and Legilimency. No, that isn't quite right. While Legilimency is offensive and Occlumency is defensive, Obfuscomency is both."
"I don't quite underztand," said Fleur confused.
"It wasn't the best explanation," said Dumbledore. "Essentially, obfuscomency involves trapping the person using legilimency in a preconceived cycle of inconsequential memories. This gives him the impression that he is succeeding, while protecting your confidential memories; I would say it is tailor-made for them."
Harry wondered if he'd have better luck with Obfuscomency, and resolved to speak to Professor Snape the next time he went for his weekly torture. Occlumency continued to elude him, just as it had in the past. This time, he was actually trying, and despite his desire to erect a wall in his head that would keep Voldemort from discovering his secrets, it was not going well. He'd managed a thin shield last time, but Snape had battered through it within thirty seconds.
"How so?" Harry asked.
"Unlike Occlumency, it does not attempt to keep out a Legilimens," Hermione explained. "It's more like it traps them in specific memories. Although that's a horrid explanation. Let's say… if someone has something to hide, they can effectively use some of their own memories as a shield. It isn't perfect, of course, but the benefit is that the Legilimens won't even know."
Leave it to Hermione, Harry thought.She's only twelve years old, and she's still smarter than us. He grinned.
"Well, that isn't hard to accomplish," Snape said snidely, but without the usual malice.
"My dad reckons that You-Know-Who is a Legilimens," Ron told her. "That's why we're so interested. I reckon I might learn this Occlumency."
"Should they go about bandying this stuff about Voldemort?" moody demanded.
"She's their best friend, Mad-Eye," Tonks told him sternly.
Hermione looked horrified at the thought of Voldemort being able to read minds. "That's what I've been doing, that's why I've got such a headache," she bit her lip, and said so quietly that Harry had to lean forward to listen, "Do you really think that he's going to come back? You-Know-Who?"
"Yes," Harry said gently. "The first time I met him, Hagrid said that he didn't think Voldemort was really gone," he ignored her flinch. "He said that Dumbledore didn't think he really was either."
They sat in silence for a time. Ron fidgeted with a tear in the armchair, while Hermione stared up at the ceiling. Harry repeated the vow the vow he'd made repeatedly to himself over the last years, ever since Dumbledore's portrait had given them hope for a future without devastating loss.I'll be ready this time,Harry vowed.
Everyone vowed the same. They would not allow this to happen at all.
"What'd you think of the rest of the book?" Ron asked after a time.
Hermione snorted. "A lot of it is complete rubbish. The triumvirate of mind magic is about the only thing useful; that, and there's averyinteresting section on memory charms. I do wonder if the author wasn't insane."
No one was very surprised.
"How so?" Harry asked, confused.
"Well, for one, why would he use that stupid nickname – the Wise Asp?" she scoffed. "Why not just use his own name instead of a ridiculous nickname? And he wrote about all sorts of the things that couldn't possibly be real. Not that I don't appreciate the gift…" she assured them.
"It's a book, after all," Sirius grinned.
Ginny had mocked the ridiculous nickname of the author as well.
"The Wise Asp?" She asked, grinning, holding the thick and obviously old tome in her hands. "The author is a genius that chooses to go by a nickname that sounds like 'wise ass?'"
"Probably a nickname at school," Snape mused.
Dumbledore's portrait chuckled. "I must admit that it sounds humorous to me as well. But it is my thought that the man – or woman – was in Slytherin, and wished to pay homage to his old house. But also, it is a reference to the Wise Ape, a former governor on an island in ancient days. He was also a wizard, and he ruled both wizards and Muggles. This was before the statute of secrecy. It is said that his library rivalled that of the Library of Alexandria when it came to arcane knowledge."
"Still," Ginny said. "It sounds bad."
"Some geniuses have little in the way of common sense." Dumbledore agreed.
"You're one to talk of eccentricities, Albus," McGonagall said and nearly everyone snorted.
"I liked the Tears of Merlin bit," Ron offered. "I thought it was really interesting."
"It was interesting," Hermione agreed. "But don't you think it belonged in a book of fairy tales? It's completely impossible."
"How do you know?" Ron muttered. Harry tried not to watch them too eagerly. Ron was being a bit reckless, he felt, but he found himself wanting to hear Hermione's answer.
Moody shook his head in disgust.
"Time traveling?"Hermione asked incredulously. "Sending memories back years and years?"
"My dad told me that they have Time-Turners in the Ministry," Ron pointed out. "I don't know about years and years, but they can definitely manage a few hours."
"The Tears of Merlin doesn't exist, Ron," Hermione said exasperatedly. "And even if it did – did you read what itrequired? It's terrible. I frankly can't imagine anyone being that desperate."
Everyone looked down sadly. It was horrible that their innocence had been shattered in a few short years.
Hermione has no idea,Harry thought as a crawled into his bed later that evening. It was early yet; Ron was still playing a rather loud game of Exploding Snap with Neville. Harry had been playing with them, but pleaded a headache when Neville won his fourth consecutive game and made to set it up again. He forced the thought away and focused on emptying his mind. Until he had spoken with Snape, he couldn't afford to ignore his practice.
"Try,Potter!" Snape growled from in front of him. He'd just broken into Harry's mind again with what seemed like little effort. It was two days after the discussion he and Ron had had with Hermione, and Harry had not experienced any sort of miraculous change with his Occlumency skills.
"I am," Harry snarled through gritted teeth.
"If you want to save all your little friends this time around, you'd better try harder," Snape warned viciously. "Honestly, Potter, you can defeat the Dark Lord, travel through time, and youstillcan't muster the concentration required to become an Occlumens?"
Is it really necessary to goad him so, Severus," Dumbledore said tiredly. Snape did not reply.
Harry panted, and rested his head against the cold stone wall of the dungeons. It was evening, and he'd had a particularly long day. He'd had another nightmare, and could not fall back to sleep despite the fact that it had only been four in the morning.
"Professor," he said, ignoring Snape's question, and winced. It felt like his head had been split open with a dull axe. "Sir, do you think I should try Obfuscomency instead?"
Snape looked stunned for a moment, but hid it quickly. "Is that what you eventually did last time?"
"No, no, I'd never even heard of it until Hermione Granger told me about it two days ago," Harry replied. He quickly told him about what had transpired in the common room two days before.
"Was that wise? Giving the Granger girl that book?"
"Yes," said Tonks firmly before Moody could interject.
Harry paused. "I hope so. We're going to tell her eventually, and we've set the stage a bit. Perhaps it'll open her mind a little. Also, it inspired her to learn Occlumency on her own. That can only be a good thing."
"If she can. You seem unable to."
"I would be astonished if Ms Granger is unable to accomplish it," Dumbledore said smiling.
Harry grinned despite himself. "Hermione's not at all like me. She's more rational. I think the only person less suited for Occlumency than me is Ron. We're both too…" he searched for a word that described his inability to learn the shield. "Reckless, I suppose. We're not pragmatic enough. I dunno. It makes me wonder why the Hat wanted to put us in Slytherin."
Snape's mouth twisted, as if he had just swallowed something very bitter. "Your plan is very cunning and ambitious. You obviously know that these are traits that my House is known for."
"Was that a compliment, Severus?" Remus asked mildly. Snape grimaced his displeasure.
Harry hid a smile. It was perhaps the first compliment that Snape had ever given him, and he did not look happy to have done so.
"Smart change of subject," Kingsley said, looking at Snape.
"Yes," Snape rubbed his chin. "I must admit to some surprise that I did not think of this sooner. Or at all in your timeline. Now it seems obvious that you must train yourself in this. The fact that you have a wealth of other memories to choose from makes it tailor made to your situation. I might have to give Granger a few points for Gryffindor when she answers a question tomorrow. Or perhaps just allow her to answer one – you know how she likes to be a know-it-all."
McGonagall grumbled about unfair Heads of Houses.
"What exactlyisObfuscomency?" Harry asked. Hermione's explanation had not gone into any sort of depth.
"To put it simply, it is a shield of sorts, like Occlumency, but instead of a wall, there will be a maze of memories," Snape said. "Again, it is well-suited to you. While it takes everyone else much effort to choose the memories that would be appropriate, you have them already.WhyI didn't think of this sooner… No matter."
"And here you see why it is Snape who is teaching Harry and not I," said Dumbledore, smiling kindly at his former student.
"But won't Voldemort –"
"Do not say his name!" Snape hissed.
"Sorry, sir. But won't You-Know-Who be able get through this maze?"
"Obfuscomency is a spiral."
"Yes, brilliant explanation," Sirius couldn't resist commenting.
When Harry looked completely blank, he continued. "I suggest that you put nearly all of your memories from the past – up until the moment you meet Quirrell – into this spiral. And I mean all your memories. It would be nearly impossible for the Dark Lord to maintain the connection long enough to make it through all of them. And, since it's a spiral, it would repeat itself, moving upward through the years. You begin with the most recent, and end with the very first things you remember. And then it moves from begining again."
Harry started to understand. "How do I do it, sir?"
"Well… you have to start by…"
Not even the rain-washed April could dampen Harry's spirits as he sat underneath his Invisibility Cloak a little ways off the road to Hogsmeade. He was waiting for Dumbledore to take him to the Gaunt shack where they would liberate and destroy the ring Horcrux. Ron would have gone with them, but he was 'serving detention' with Professor Snape, neither of whom was pleased. Ron wanted to either be with Harry and Dumbledore – despite his wariness of Horcruxes – or at the Quidditch pitch, watching the match between Gryffindor and Slytherin. But he did not have the same background in Occlumency that Harry did, and he was not as quick to pick of Obfuscomency.
Not that Harry was a perfect Obfuscomens. But he and Snape had reckoned that he had a good grasp on it, enough to counter any Legilimency Voldemort might use during his first encounter with Harry. He did not nearly have all of his memories included in the spiral of the Obfuscomency shield, but he had enough that he was certain Voldemort would not suspect a thing.
The mystery of the Philosopher's Stone was well underway. Hermione had thrown herself into searching for clues. She suspected Snape – which amused Ron and Harry to no end, and they'd had several laughs about it in the Room of Requirement – but, with a tiny nudge from Harry, she'd also begun to suspect Professor Quirrell. Harry had mentioned that he'd overheard Quirrell talking to someone without even a hint of a stutter.
No one dared comment on this development seeing the look on Snape's face.
"Harry," Dumbledore said softly, cutting through his thoughts. Harry got up and followed him down the road. Both were silent during the fifteen minutes it took to reach a small alley beside the Hog's Head Inn. Harry waited for him right outside the back door, while Dumbledore entered the front and immediately exited.
Moments later, maintaining a tight grip on Dumbledore's forearm, Harry felt the familiar, unsettling feeling of being squeezed through a tube.
"That went well," Harry offered.
"As usual, I would suspect," Arthur said shrewdly. Dumbledore merely smiled.
"Indeed," Dumbledore agreed amicably. He held out a small cup to Harry. "I've taken the liberty of acquiring a few strands of hair from a Muggle, Harry. I think it best if you're well-disguised. Even out here."
"Smart idea, "said moody approvingly.
Harry took it, and grimaced before he drank the entire potion down. It was just as vile as he remembered. As soon as his body lengthened and grew stouter, he pulled off his cloak.
"Awoman?" Harry looked down at his body incredulously. He was a stout, older lady who was roughly the same size and shape as his old neighbour, Arabella Figg.
Everyone laughed and Sirius gave Dumbledore a high-five, which he accepted with enthusiasm. Even Snape looked highly amused.
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled madly. "I thought it best. It adds further layers of deception to our presence. We're an old man and his daughter out for a walk, perhaps."
"Yes, it had nothing to do with your amusement, I'm sure," said McGonagall chuckling.
"It could easily have been an old man and his son! You're enjoying this," Harry accused. Dumbledore did not even attempt to deny it, but motioned him forward. Feeling awkward in this completely different body, he did so. His breasts – his breasts! –jiggled as he walked. He could not help but feel mortified.
The shack previously owned by the Gaunt family came into sight after five minutes of trudging up the dusty, little-used road that connected Little Hangleton and Great Hangleton. At one point, Harry stopped to shield his eyes with his hand and gaze in the direction of the small cemetery he knew was there. If all went to plan, he would be there in three years, watching as Wormtail resurrected Voldemort once more.
The mood darkened as everyone thought of what Harry had gone through a few short weeks ago.
The Gaunt shack was even more over-grown and ramshackle than Harry remembered. The walls were practically falling down, and they looked decayed and like to fall down with a strong wind. The sight of it caused him to remember a question he'd had for years and years.
"Professor, why didn't Voldemort protect any of his Horcruxes with the Fidelius Charm?"
"Good question," said Percy, looking curious.
"I believe that Voldemort thought his protections sufficient," Dumbledore replied. "And the nature of the Fidelius Charm would not appeal to him, despite its ability to protect a location beyond almost anything else."
"The Fidelius Charm requires at least two people. Did you never wonder why your mother and father did not simply cast the charm themselves? Or, from what you've shown me in your memories, why I was the Secret Keeper for Grimmauld Place?" Dumbledore asked him. "In order for the charm to work, the secret must beentrusted, which is where the name of it came from. Voldemort would never give anyone such a valuable gift, it is not in his nature to trust, as I am sure you know."
"But he trusted Lucius Malfoy with the diary and Bellatrix Lestrange with the cup," Harry felt compelled to point out.
"He trusted them to obey him out of fear," Dumbledore corrected.
"Ah, but he did not tell him what they were. The Fidelius Charm would have required him to tell another soul what he was about. It isn't just the location that is a secret, Harry."
Harry mulled that over in his mind while Dumbledore opened the door. He'd never thought about it before, which surprised him. How could he have never wondered why his parents had had to choose a Secret Keeper besides themselves?
"It is here," Dumbledore interrupted his thoughts. Harry felt a wave of relief. He had wondered if the Ripple Effect – as he and Ron called it now – would change the locations of some of the Horcruxes.
"That would have been a nightmare," said Arthur.
"Give me a moment, Harry," Dumbledore said, and lifted his wand. He muttered several different spells under his breath, although Harry had no idea what they could be. He heard a bang and a flash of light, and felt an invisible hand pressing him back against the less-than-sturdy wall.
"There it is," he heard, and the pressure lifted. He told himself to remember to ask Dumbledore what he had done to break the concealments.
"A little of this a bit of that," Dumbledore said, smiling at the curious faces.
A floorboard had been lifted up, though Dumbledore had not moved, revealing a small box. Stupidly, Harry moved forward.
"No!" Molly exclaimed in horror.
"Harry, no!" Dumbledore tried to stop him but it was too late.
Pain.Pain beyond all reason racked Harry's body and he fell heavily to the floor. He screamed and screamed, an anguished, pitiful sound like nothing he had heard himself make. Not even the Cruciatus Curse could turn his every nerve ending against him. It travelled like waves and waves of fire, and he couldn't think as he buckled and seized upon the dirty floor.No, no, no, no, no more.
Everyone was white and shaking.
Gradually, it began to ease. His limbs jerked with spasms, but the intensity of the fire that travelled through his body receded until it was only a memory. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," Harry heard someone say, and realized it was himself speaking.
"Pay attention to me!" an old man shouted, gripping his shoulders and shaking him. "Pay attention! Do you know who you are?"
"That was a powerful curse," Snape said sounding unnerved.
"I'm sorry," Harry said again. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
"Tell me who you are!"
Harry licked his lips, thinking. The effort hurt, but he wanted the man to stop shaking him. Who was he? He wasn't a woman, he was certain of it. He was a boy, trapped in a woman's body… His name was Harry. Harry Potter. His parents were dead, they'd been murdered, and whoever murdered them wanted to kill him too. He thought about that, and decided the man's name was Voldemort, or maybe it was Tom Riddle? No, it was both. He had a stupid nickname, like the Marauders, like the Half-Blood Prince, like the Wise Asp...Always and always.Something cracked inside his head, and clarity returned.
The Professors and senior Aurors seemed to relax ever so slightly.
He sat up straight, and winced when his stomach clenched. He leaned away from Albus Dumbledore and vomited onto the floor. A little of it splashed on the dress he was wearing.
"I'm Harry Potter, and I travelled from the future using the Tears of Merlin," he told him, once he'd thrown up everything he'd eaten for the last day. "I remember it. I remember everything. I'm sorry, I was sostupid."
"I believe only strength of character allowed Harry to retain his sense of self," Dumbledore said sombrely.
Sirius, Remus, Tonks and the Weasleys and Fleur seemed to be in shock.
"An easy mistake to make," Dumbledore said weakly. "I thought you were lost. You didn't say anything for five minutes, and then you started saying you were sorry, and that was all I could get you to say."
"What was it?"
"A terrible curse. I didn't even know it was there until you walked right into it. I take it the other Albus Dumbledore did not tell you about it?"
Harry shook his head. "You… he… probably didn't think I'd need to know. He'd already gotten the ring."
"Only moments longer and I fear all would have been lost…" Dumbledore looked badly shaken and strangely vulnerable.
"A good thing you both have each other, then," said McGonagall, her voice sounding strained.
Harry gripped the wizard's forearm. His fingers still shook from the curse. "I'm glad I told you," Harry said. "I think I need you more now than I did then, which is saying quite a lot."
"So am I," Dumbledore muttered.
Dumbledore took several deep breaths and rose to his feet. Harry wanted to do the same, but he wasn't sure that his legs would hold him upright.
"Professor," he said. "Don't put on the ring."
Harry watched as he carefully made his way to the small box. He was not worried; Dumbledore knew that the ring was cursed, and would not fall into temptation as he had the last time. He would not find himself with a cursed, deadened hand and only a year to live. Snape would hopefully not need to kill him atop the Astronomy Tower.
Snape looked nauseated at the thought.
Still, he watched, and was glad he did. As soon as the box was opened, Dumbledore's facechanged. His eyes were blank, and he smiled a wistful, happy smile that was out of place. Harry watched with horror as he reached inside and took the ring.
"No!" everyone cried in fear and anguish.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" Harry shouted. And despite the fact that his legs were shaky along with the rest of his body, he hurtled toward Dumbledore and knocked it out of his hand just as he was about to slip it on his finger. Dumbledore fell sideways with a grunt. The strange woman's body was heavier than Harry had ever been in his life.
"Thank Merlin!" Molly whispered looking at Dumbledore. He, himself looked shocked at his slip.
He looked at the ring, and decided it was safer ifhewas the one to touch it. With that thought, he picked it up. Dumbledore obviously could not stand the temptation to hear words of comfort from Ariana, and from his parents…
His parents. Harry could use the Resurrection Stone to see his parents. They would reassure him that what he was doing was right. They would tell him that they were proud of him, that he could do this. And he could tell them that he was sorry for not trying to change the past enough that they would still be alive. Guilt nearly crushed him. He forgot the curse that had caused the other Dumbledore's death, and the fact that he would never have been able to save Lily and James Potter. Hehadto tell them that he was sorry, and the only way to do that would be to put on the ring…
'That ring is cursed," Snape said in a deathly whisper, looking at Dumbledore. "That ring is cursed and you never realised…"
Dumbledore looked troubled.
There was a loud bang and Harry found himself thrown backward and through the wall. The ring clattered to the floor, unnaturally loud.
"Let's stay away from that ring," Harry said finally.
"I concur," Remus said bleakly.
"Ingenious," Dumbledore murmured. Then, louder, "You are quite right, Harry. That's one of the vilest curses I have ever seen – I mean no offense, the pain curse was quite horrible. But this… like an Imperius Curse, it made us forget what we were doing, and what we were about. It tried to trap us into death. I assume you meant to use the Resurrection Stone as well?"
"Yes," Harry answered. "The other Dumbledore thought that he hadn't any idea what the Stone was, though; he only thought it was a priceless heirloom."
"And I still suspect it," Dumbledore said. "I believe that if anyone else besides the two of us – and Mr Weasley, Mrs Potter, and Professor Snape, of course – would simply put on the ring, despite the danger. We were particularly vulnerable, I believe. But we will never know for sure. I'm going to destroy it with Fiendfyre."
'But Harry needs it to survive the Killing Curse!" Sirius said in shocked outrage.
Dumbledore shook his head, "I have another theory about Harry's survival, Sirius. I don't believe my alternate self is aware of it, but I am quite convinced of it myself. Please do not ask me to explain."
Sirius and Remus glowered at the old man, but Tonks read on.
"Do not worry, when Voldemort returns to Little Hangleton, the Gaunt shack will stand once more. We will rebuild it. Later. Now, are you able to perform the spell of protection that will shield us from curious onlookers?"
"Yes, that's the only worry," Sirius spat bitterly.
Harry strode around the shack in a wide circle, murmuring the spells Hermione had taught him while they'd been on the run. He did it almost absently.The otherDumbledore never knew about the curse,he thought.He just thought that he'd been weak and tempted by the Stone enough to cause his own death. And I didn't even question it; I thought he'd been weak, too.The thought made him strangely sad. Dumbledore, who had seemed to know everything, had been tricked into thinking he'd made a terrible mistake.
This seemed to strike everyone as sad, too, though Sirius tried not to feel sorry for Dumbledore.
"Will it destroy the Stone?" Harry asked, coming to a halt beside Dumbledore who stood on the threshold.
"Yes," he said. "I'm certain of it. Fiendfyre is even more destructive than Basilisk venom, for not only does it destroy the physical, it destroys the spells and magic of that which is destroyed. It will no longer be a Hallow."
Harry blew out a slow breath, and remembered the one and only time he had used the Stone. His parents… Sirius… Remus… what he'd thought were all the Weasleys and Hermione… Luna… Neville. Seeing them had given him the desire to basically commit suicide to be with them, though he did not like to think about that. The Horcrux inside of him had been killed instead. And he had returned to find that Ginny and Ron had yet lived, otherwise he might have done it again. While it was an uncomfortable thought, he wondered if he'd be able to willingly put himself in the path of the Killing Curse if he was not also the Master of Death. He wasn't sure that it was wholly his mother's blood that had saved him.
He knew without having to ask that Dumbledore too regretted the necessity of destroying the Stone. The older man had lost loved ones as well, loved ones to whom he wished to speak, and the Resurrection Stone was his only chance… He also knew what Harry did, and how the fact that he had united the three Deathly Hallows had played a part in his continued survival.
"I would not presume to understand your suffering, Sirius, Remus," said Dumbledore heavily, "but believe me, robbing Harry of the opportunity to survive pains me greatly.'
"Do it," Harry said quietly.
They watched the shack burn, side by side, a few feet away from the destructive flames. Harry heard an eerie, keening scream and knew that it was done. He felt a mixture of relief and foreboding.
"Don't tell them," Harry said, thinking of Ron and Ginny, and how they would react to the uncertainty of Harry's survival. Dumbledore seemed to understand.
"Ginny is going to murder him," said Percy shakily.
Bill silently held out this hand for the book.
A/N: As always, thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed. I would also like to thank all reviewers and apologise for my absence over the past few, long months. I commit to updating regularly from now, though.