Wednesday, January 6, 1999

Harry Potter looked out the window of his office and sighed. It was a deep, discontented sigh because first it was not really his office but rather one corner of the space he shared with five other wizards, and second because he was bored and depressed. Who would have believed just eight months after defeating Voldemort that I'd be longing for those days again? There's got to be something wrong with me. Harry glanced at the office clock, hoping that it was close to five, when he would be able to leave. Ten minutes. Thank Merlin, only ten minutes to go.

It was the slowest ten minutes of his life. At a minute to five, Harry started putting everything back into drawers and file boxes – his ink and quill, the account books, the requisition forms, the assignment sheets – all the horrid paperwork that he had to learn how to do if he was ever to be permitted to sign up for field training in the Auror Department.

"Leaving already?" said Mark Savage with a sneer. "I guess after being the Savior of the Wizarding World, being an Auror is dull as dishwater." Savage was Harry's supervisor.

"No, really, it's great work," Harry said rather lamely. "Necessary work. Valuable. What kind of Auror would I be if I didn't understand how to do the basic stuff?

"Excellent attitude, Potter. You stick to it. I have to turn in an evaluation on you in three weeks, and we want it to be a good one, don't we?"

"Yes, sir," was all Harry said, there not being very much else he could say, and headed out of the office to the elevators and the atrium. Instead of taking the floo connection home, he decided to go out onto the street. There was no hurry. There wasn't much for him at home anyway.

Once outside the Ministry, Harry debated how to get to the boarding house where he lived. He'd several months earlier chosen to get his own place in London rather than be a burden on the Weasley family, and had long since regretted the choice. He couldn't go back, though. That would be admitting defeat, admitting that he was dependent on them. He looked around, then chose to take the Tube.

The problem was, he had no one to talk to, to hang out with. Ginny and Luna were in seventh year at Hogwarts – he'd seen them during their Christmas break and wouldn't be able to see them again until Easter unless he went to Hogsmeade for the February excursion. Ron was helping George in Diagon Alley and was turning into quite the businessman, often working twelve hour days and relishing the money he was finally earning. Hermione had started legal training and spent all her evenings studying case files, and Neville had gone back to Hogwarts to study for his NEWTs so he could qualify for the Ministry's worldwide program for the classification and preservation of endangered magical plant species.

Harry was filling out forms and submitting requisitions for the Auror Department and he hated it.

Lost in his moping reverie, Harry almost missed his station, leaping up from his seat and bolting for the already closing door just in time to force it to open again and let him off at Bond Street station in Mayfair. Outside he discovered that it was snowing, and he turned up his coat collar. A short walk in a generally south-eastern direction brought him to a narrow, pedestrian-only street lined with fashionable shops. The entrance to Harry's building was between a shop that sold expensive Italian shoes and a ladies' beauty parlor. The shopkeepers were muggles. Harry's building belonged to an elderly witch.

"Evening, Mr. Potter. Good day at the Ministry, I trust," the concierge greeted him when he entered the lobby, a lobby that was much larger than the doorway squeezed between two shops.

"Good evening, Mrs. Purdy," Harry replied. "About the same as usual."

"That's all right, then," said Mrs. Purdy, who had no idea what Harry did at the Ministry. "Supper's at 6:30. Roast beef tonight."

Harry's rooms were four flights up, at the top of the building. He was the only resident who had an entire floor to himself, consisting of three large, airy rooms. The other witches and wizards who lived there didn't have Harry's financial means, so he didn't like to show off that he had money. He ate with them in the boarding house's dining room, lived modestly, and disturbed people as little as possible. The other boarders were considerably older than Harry was and were correspondingly unimpressed by his scar and his recent past, though all agreed that he seemed to be a very nice boy.

Muttering the spell that opened his door, Harry stepped into the front room, removed his overcoat, and hung it on a rack by the door. He took off his shoes, too, for they were damp from the light dusting of snow. Then he padded in his stocking feet into the bedroom.

There was a thin, silver mist trailing out from under the door of the closet where Harry kept his clothes.

Harry stared for a few seconds at the smoky grayish thread, having no idea what it could possibly be. Then, pulling his wand from his pocket and holding it ready, he advanced cautiously to the closet door and warily opened it.

A tiny pool of glistening fog was forming on the floor of the closet, drifting down from somewhere among the clothing.

Moving quickly, Harry pushed the clothes aside and found the jacket that was the source of the mess. Reaching into the pocket, he extracted a glass flask packed with silver tendrils. Its stopper had loosened, allowing the ghostly contents to seep out.

Panic sharpened Harry's reflexes. The spell he needed surfaced instantly. "Contineo in ampullam!" he cried, and a second flask appeared, larger than the first, drawing the contents from the older, deteriorating container into itself, absorbing the spilled part as well. When every particle of the mist was inside the new flask, Harry stoppered it. The original flask vanished with a wave of his wand.

His heart thumping unnaturally loudly in his chest, Harry carried the flask into the front room and set it carefully on the table in the room's center. Then he fixed himself a cup of tea and sat in front of the flask to regroup his thoughts and calm himself down.

How could I have been so stupid, leaving it in a jacket like that? It wasn't even a transfigured container. It was conjured out of thin air. What if I'd decided to go to a movie, or visit the Weasleys? By the time I got home… Harry didn't want to think about what he might have found had he arrived even an hour later.

Sipping his tea and relaxing now, Harry contemplated the swirling silver fog in front of him. It was really quite pretty, the threads twisting and intertwining in endlessly shifting patterns. Mesmerizing, in fact. Odd that something this beautiful could come from such an ugly git.

That was the wrong thing to think of, though, because it brought to mind the last time that Harry had seen the man whose thoughts coiled in the flask on his table. Severus Snape had died clutching Harry's robes, practically in Harry's arms, staring desperately into Harry's eyes. Harry recalled the moment that the light behind the black eyes had faded and gone out, and a lump rose in his throat.

Gone, Harry thought. They're all gone. Sirius, Remus, Dumbledore, Wormtail, Snape. Every person who could tell me something about my past, about my parents, is gone, and I have to live the rest of my life not knowing…

That wasn't exactly true, of course. Hagrid knew some things, as did other teachers like McGonagall and Flitwick. Aunt Petunia still held memories that Harry might be able to coax out of her. But it wasn't the same. It wasn't like talking to his dad's friends…

Harry stared at the flask. Not like talking to his dad's friends maybe, but he still had access to one of his mum's friends. He hadn't liked thinking about it – that his mum had been friends with someone he hated so much – but wasn't it still possible that there was a silver lining to that cloud? Harry knew that the night Snape died there hadn't been time to view even a fraction of what Hermione had captured in her flask. The most important things had surfaced first, allowing Harry to fulfill his destiny, and then he'd stuffed the whole thing into a jacket pocket to hang in his closet for months.

This new flask is ex nihilo, too. It's going to deteriorate just like Hermione's flask did, and I'll lose it all. It'll go even faster because I'm not as good at this as Hermione is. I have to get it into a proper container as soon as possible!

Harry rose and strode to the door, where he put on his shoes and his overcoat. Diagon Alley. Surely someone in Diagon Alley knows how to preserve things like memories. I'll get a larger bottle and a pensieve.

Picking up the flask and cradling it in his arm, Harry clattered down the steps. "Mrs. Purdy, I have to go out, and I may be a while. Do you think you could keep some supper warm for me?"

"Of course, dear," the motherly concierge smiled. "And if you're very late, it'll be in the kitchen waiting. Back door?"

"Yes, ma'am," said Harry, and crossed behind Mrs. Purdy's desk to go out into a sheltered open space where he could apparate. Grasping the flask securely, he concentrated and apparated to Diagon Alley.

It was harder than he'd anticipated. None of the apothecary shops wanted to touch either the flask Harry showed them or its contents. Two apothecaries simply told him they weren't qualified in such matters. The third was more direct. "Those are someone's thoughts. From the look of it, all their thoughts. People don't give you all their thoughts; they can't live without them. So we're talking about a death. Maybe you'd better get that thing out of here. Or maybe I'd better contact the Ministry."

Harry got out. Then, beginning to feel depressed again, he reluctantly decided to try Knockturn Alley. At least there they'd be less likely to summon the Ministry.

The second shop Harry tried in Knockturn Alley was called 'Gills and Drams.' The apothecary examined Harry's flask carefully. "These ain't been well cared for," he said. "They're all of a jumble, like they were spilled out sudden-like – violently, if you take my meaning. Don't know as it's even possible to untangle 'em. I'd need a day or two just to transfer 'em to a decent flask without breaking the threads, and no guarantee they wouldn't be all crossed and confused."

There was nothing else to do. Harry agreed and arranged with the man to return Friday evening. He spent the following two days in a haze of worry and anticipation.

After work on Friday, Harry went straight to Diagon Alley, where he purchased a small but very expensive pensieve before going to 'Gills and Drams.'

The new flask, larger than the one Harry had left, was not what Harry expected. Made of green crystal, it was angular with thin sides, the shoulders spreading outward from the neck and then tapering to a toe pincher base. It looked for all the world like a small, green, glass coffin. The apothecary leered at Harry's shocked expression. "It's for a dead man, ain't it?" he said. "Green for Slytherin, too."

Harry didn't answer. He paid the money the man asked, took the flask, and apparated to Mayfair.

"There he is!" sang out Mr. Upton as Harry entered the lobby of the boarding house from the apparation yard. "Could you ever give us a bit of information, Harry? It'll only take a minute."

Harry smiled. Desmond Upton, second floor rear, was an inventor – at least that was what he told anyone who would listen. Although only in his sixties, he seemed to have an uncommonly poor memory, for he was constantly asking Harry the same questions about filing for patents with the Ministry of Magic. Harry secretly believed that this was a ruse Mr. Upton used in order to bring up the fact that he was an inventor in casual conversation. Harry saw no reason to expose this motive, since Mr. Upton's questions really did take only a minute.

"Be right there, sir," he called back. "Good evening, Mrs. Purdy," he then said to the concierge. "It's a fine day, isn't it?"

"For January," she replied, then laughed. "La, you're thinking about the weekend, aren't you, Mr. Potter? Sleeping in and all? Well, supper's at 6:30. It's poached salmon tonight."

Harry went over to Mr. Upton in the sitting area of the lobby, where he was talking with Mr. Whitbeck, the artist (third floor, rear). After answering Upton's patent questions, Harry took the stairs two at a time up to his fourth floor rooms.

With considerable excitement, Harry unwrapped his new pensieve and placed it on the table in the front room. Then next to it he stood the green, coffin-shaped flask. Deciding to wait until later for a cup of tea, he sat facing the flask and took out his wand. There were so many threads of memory swirling in the crystal coffin – how was it possible to choose the right one? Hoping for a glimpse of at least one of his parents, or a moment with Dumbledore, Harry unstoppered the flask, hooked a short filament of memory on the tip of his wand, and placed it in the pensieve. Then, holding his breath, he leaned into the silver mist and let himself fall…

Harry found himself in the tiny sitting room of a very old worker's cottage. The windows were dirty, the carpet threadbare, and the sofa and chairs worn. It was apparently summer, and the room was relatively light, which was lucky as there was only one lamp. In the center of the room was a low table for serving tea or coffee, and seated on the floor next to the table was a small child with soft black hair twining in infant curls around his narrow, pointed face. He looked to be about five years old.

It was not what Harry had hoped or expected. He approached the coffee table and noted that the boy was drawing a picture on a scrap of newspaper with a crayon. He was dressed in brown corduroy overalls and a blue shirt, both too big for him, and the socks he wore on his shoeless feet needed darning. Looking over the child's shoulder, Harry saw a clumsy picture of a bright red sun in a green sky, under which stood the awkward stick figures of a man and a woman, both dressed in brown with purple hair and eyes.

Harry snorted with laughter and moved to face the artist, whose features were set in absorbed concentration. Finishing scratching brown streaks on the man's trousers, the child laid his crayon aside and reached for another, and it was then that Harry saw there were only four crayons – red, green, brown, and purple, all either broken or worn to stubs.

There was a sound from upstairs, and the boy raised his head. Harry stared straight into the pointed pale face with its frame of black hair and noted with horror that the coal black eyes were just as closed, just as cold and empty, as they had been when he saw them last in the Shrieking Shack.

Before Harry had time to think about this, a dark-haired, thin-featured woman, wearing an apron and carrying a moth-eaten feather duster, appeared at the head of the stairs. "Your dad's come home early. Quick, through the kitchen 'til we know if he's poorly." Her voice was thick with eastern Lancashire.

The boy was on his feet in an instant, running through the kitchen and out the rear door into the small paved area beyond. Harry hesitated, then felt the inescapable tug of the pensieve and followed the child. Through the closed kitchen door, both of them could hear the conversation in the sitting room.

"Toby! You're home early. Nothing wrong, is there?"

"Everythin's right as rain, 'Leen lass. Thought I'd call on m' girlfriend. Ya got time f'r an old mill hand? Where's th' boy?"

"Out playing," answered the woman, and her voice rose slightly in volume. "It's a bit 'til supper. I reckon he'll be out for a half hour or more yet."

The man chuckled. "Half hour's good. More's even better. Wha' say we move upstairs?" The voices ceased, and footsteps could be heard on the stairs, the sound muffled by the closed rear door.

Harry turned to look at the boy, whose face was still set in the same look of focused concentration that he'd worn while drawing. Then he turned away from the door and walked toward the alleyway beyond the paved area, but stopped suddenly to gaze down at his socks. He'd had to leave the house too quickly to even think about shoes. Calmly he sat on the rear step and took the socks off. Stuffing them into a pocket, he walked barefooted out to the rocky wasteland that came almost to the rear of his cottage, climbed onto a large, flat boulder, and sat there watching the moor and the sun, clearly trying to estimate how long it would be before a half hour had passed.

Harry again moved to a position where he could watch the boy's face. It remained expressionless, though the black eyes darted in all directions, noting every sound and movement.

Suddenly a voice, good-natured and matronly, called from behind the boy, "Afternoon, Russ. What're ya doing out here?"

"Ah sore a rappit, Mizziz 'Anson!" the boy cried, slipping from the boulder and running to meet her, and the voice was so utterly different from what Harry anticipated, so young and high, so steeped in the same regional accents as those of the adults, that it was a moment before he registered what the boy had actually said – about the rabbit he'd just seen.

"You're not chucking stones at them rabbits like them other boys, are ya, dear?" Mrs. Hanson asked sternly.

"No 'm," said little Russ. "Don't know how."

"How long you waiting for?"

"Half an hour."

"How much of that half hour's gone by already?"

Russ looked at the ground. "Don't know," he admitted.

"Would ya like t' come over t' my place an' have a jam buttie and a glass of milk?"

For the first time an expression of pleasure crossed the young face. "Oh, yes," he said, then added suddenly, "Can't."

"Why not, love?"

For answer, Russ took a step forward and pointed down at his bare feet.

Mrs. Hanson laughed. "Whatever have ya done with your shoes, child?"

Russ pointed at his house.

"I'll tell ya what. I'll stand here by the door, and you creep in silent as a mouse, snag 'em and creep back out. What say?"

The boy nodded vigorously, and the two tiptoed into the area yard where the woman held the door open while the boy snuck in, found his shoes, and snuck out again. He then sat on the step, pulled his socks on, and watched while she tied his shoes. That done, the woman held her hand out to the boy, he took it, and hand in hand they walked away from the old cottage, the boy beginning to tell the woman about the picture he was drawing…

The scene suddenly blurred and jumped. Harry glanced around him as the shapes and colors flashed and hiccupped. It was, he told himself, probably because the memory thread was damaged, and waited to see what would happen. When the scene stabilized, he could tell from the quality of the light that it was later in the evening. The boy's mother was standing behind the house calling softly.

"Russ! Where've ya got to, child? Russ?"

"Over here, 'Leen. Your boy's with me." Mrs. Hanson approached softly, still holding Russ's hand. "We've been taking tea together."

"Thank you, Kate. I was that worried. I should've known you'd have an eye out for him."

"He's like my own. Ya know that. All's quiet on the home front?"

"Right as rain. C'mon, Russ. Supper's waiting."

Russ ran to his mother, who knelt to embrace him. Harry was standing behind her and saw the boy's face as they came together. Behind the dark eyes something opened, like a door into a garden, and suddenly the empty cold was filled with dancing warmth. Mother and son hugged each other, sharing what could be shared of the day through the unspoken joining of their eyes. Then 'Leen took her son's hand and led him into the kitchen where his supper was waiting…

Harry leaned back in his chair, staring at the pensieve where the gossamer thread of the memory still floated. It was not, not in a million years, what he had expected. He'd seen Snape as a small child before, huddled in a corner crying while his mother cowered before an abusive husband. That had been a stark, simple image. This one was layered, complex, and he needed to think about it. From far below he could hear someone calling his name.

"Mr. Potter? Supper's on, Mr. Potter. Will you come down now, or shall I put some aside to keep warm for you?"

Harry struggled to his feet and went to the door. "I'll be down right away, Mrs. Purdy. Thank you." He went back to the table, paused, then returned the memory to its flask. He didn't know if he would ever be able to find the same one again out of so many hundreds, but it didn't matter. He already knew that he would be pondering what he had just seen for the rest of the evening and into the weekend.

Supper that evening in the boarding house was as supper always was. Mrs. Nokes, the owner of the establishment, sat at the head of the table with the writer Mr. Ashbrook at the foot as he was the eldest male resident. Harry was between the Dowd sisters on the right side. The conversation seldom varied, being a litany of the small things of the day. Usually Harry listened politely, adding few comments. He enjoyed suppers. It was like living in a pleasant, warm family where you were the youngest child.

This evening, he found himself thinking about the people around him in a new way. Had Ashbrook scribbled little stories in his school notebooks instead of paying attention to his teachers? Had Whitbeck begun his career with awkward stick figures in the standard child's medium, crayon on newspaper? Every one of them had started as a new, innocent baby. What had set them on their different paths, and what had brought them together here? Harry wished he'd thought to ask questions of his dead friends while he still had the time. He had some information, but nowhere near enough. He didn't even know the names of his grandparents.

Later that evening, alone again in his rooms, Harry watched the strands of memory move and shift in the green flask. Part of him understood the little boy – Russ – very well. Keep out of everyone's way. Russ had run for the back door as if keeping out of his dad's way was a daily occurrence, an automatic reflex. He went outside because the house was so small. Harry'd gone to his cupboard under the stairs for the same reason. Out of sight, out of mind.

And no wonder he thought I was so stupid about the occlumency. He was doing it ever since he was a baby. I kind of do that too with people who can't ride brooms. I used to wonder why I was so good on a broom. It's because my dad taught me how to fly when I was a baby. I'll bet I spent three months doing nothing but ride that broom I got for my first birthday. When I got on a broom at Hogwarts, it just all came back.

It was 8:00. Harry took a deep breath and picked up his wand. He still wanted to see something of his parents or of Dumbledore, but he was also prepared to see other things. He'd told Voldemort that Snape was Dumbledore's servant from the moment that Voldemort had killed Harry's mother, but now he wasn't so sure. It might have been more complex than that. Just as the scene he'd witnessed earlier had been more complex than his previous glimpse.

Harry unstoppered the flask and removed another piece of memory, placed it in the pensieve, and entered it…

Professor Snape stood before the gargoyle on the seventh floor, watching it move aside to admit him to the headmaster's office. This was a much younger professor climbing the spiral staircase than Harry'd known – he appeared to be in his early twenties. He was narrow shouldered and very slender, wearing a belted school gown, but no cloak or cape. He looked nervous. At least that was how Harry interpreted the way his eyes darted around, sizing up the situation.

Even before Snape reached the office door, Harry could hear the voices inside, one raised in anger and the other, Dumbledore's, trying to calm and soothe.

"It's an outrage! An outrage! Five years of education and this is the result! Do you know how much we've invested in his career? All destroyed because of an incompetent teaching staff! I'm telling you Dumbledore…"

"Yes, Horatio, I can hear that. And I understand your disappointment and frustration. But the exams are conducted in the most…"

"Why wasn't he properly prepared for them? Why were we led to believe…"

Snape, the light behind his eyes closed and guarded, put a hand on the door latch and entered the room. Dumbledore was seated at his desk while a large, florid-faced man stood in front of him, hand raised in an almost threatening gesture, clutching a roll of parchment. Dumbledore rose as Snape walked into the room.

"Ah, Severus. Come in please. Horatio, this is Professor Snape, Ambrose's Potions instructor. Severus, this is Horatio Camberwell. Horatio is on the Board of Governors for the school. He has some concerns about Ambrose's OWLs…"

"Concerns! I want him to explain this!" Camberwell tossed the piece of parchment onto the table where Snape could look at it, a parchment Harry recognized as the official OWL scores.

Snape stepped up to the table and unrolled the scroll. If anything, his pale face got paler. "A 'P' on his Potions OWL? I don't understand. Master Camberwell always…"

Horatio Camberwell strode across the room, large and aggressive, and Snape took several steps backwards.

"Yes! you poor excuse for a Potions master! He always does, doesn't he!" Camberwell swung on Dumbledore. "If we'd known he was having trouble in Potions, we'd have hired tutors, we'd have given him extra support, the way we did in Transfiguration. He was having trouble there, but we got a tutor and he worked his tail off, and he got an 'E.' But his marks in Potions came up after Slughorn left, and we thought he was all right there."

"Severus?" Dumbledore prompted. "Was Master Camberwell performing proficiently in his work?"

"Of course he was, Headmaster," Snape exclaimed. "His essays were good, his tests adequate, his practical work more than acceptable. I expected him to… an 'E' for certain. I don't understand…"

"I understand!" Camberwell roared, thrusting his face to within an inch of Snape's, who seemed to quail in front of him. "You're incompetent! The marks in your classes are meaningless! I'm going to see that you're fired from Hogwarts!"

"Now Horatio," Dumbledore said quietly, "I would resist you in that. In the two years that Severus has been on the staff, the percentage of students who have passed their OWLs in Potions has risen, as has the number who get 'Os' or 'Es.' That is hardly the record of an incompetent teacher."

"Then explain how he gives high marks to a student who can't squeak an 'Acceptable' on an OWL."

Dumbledore sighed. "The Express has already arrived. The students should be gathering in the Hall. Perhaps we might ask Ambrose himself that question."

The three left the office and walked down the long flights of stairs, Dumbledore in the lead and Snape trailing diffidently behind. McGonagall was in the entrance hall waiting for the first years. "Have you seen Ambrose Camberwell yet, Minerva?" Dumbledore asked. "We should like to see him in the Potions classroom if you do not mind."

"Certainly, Headmaster," McGonagall replied, casting a curious glance at Snape, who shifted uncomfortably. She went into the Great Hall while the three men took the dungeon steps to the Potions room. Ambrose, a tall, sturdy, good-looking boy, joined them a few minutes later.

"Master Camberwell," Dumbledore said, peering over his glasses, "your father has come today to speak with us about your OWL scores."

"Yeah." The boy shrugged. "I guess I didn't do so good in Potions."

"Why was that?"

"I didn't try hard enough, I guess."

"You did understand how important the OWLs are, did you not? It was hardly the moment in which not to do your best."

Ambrose was looking even more embarrassed. "I had this idea I could pull it off. Guess I was wrong."

"But Master Camberwell," Snape said, "You could pull it off. I would have sworn to it. You do very good work. You got top marks for your last Draught of Peace…"

Ambrose interrupted him with a bark of laughter. "No, Professor. I got top marks for Mandy Twinklebine's Draught of Peace. She was monitoring everything I did. I didn't have to think about anything. I just did what she told me. That's why I couldn't remember it during the exam."

The room was absolutely silent for a moment. Then Snape stammered, "Who… helped you with your… essays?"

"Different people. I was worried you'd catch on because my marks on tests weren't quite as good as the marks on essays, but you never did."

"Some people just get nervous during tests," Snape whispered.

"Nervous!" Mr. Camberwell exploded. "You let him get through two years of practical work in Potions by having someone else do it! You let him cheat on his homework and you never noticed! What kind of a teacher are you? Dumbledore, I want this person off the staff… He's ruined my son's career!"

"Now, now, Horatio," said Dumbledore. "Let us look at this dispassionately. When all is said and done, Severus's greatest error was to trust too much in your son's industry and honesty. He has forgotten that at the age of fifteen or sixteen, many students still see the attaining of the goal – the good mark – as more important than the route taken to get there. They have other priorities than to spend all their time with books. You and I know differently, but the children do not yet. Severus was simply not so attuned to this problem as more experienced teachers are. I am certain he will never err in this fashion again."

"What about Ambrose?" Camberwell was calming down, though the look he gave his son did not bode well for the boy's immediate comfort.

"If Ambrose is willing to – how did you phrase it? – work his tail off during this sixth year, to do his best in all the classes he takes and to study with the tutors you are so willing to provide, the school would be willing to allow him to repeat his fifth year Potions class and take the OWL again in June. There are precedents. Would that be acceptable to you, Severus?"

"Of course, Headmaster."

Camberwell also agreed, and the little group went out to join the school at the welcoming feast and to watch the sorting…

Once again Harry went clattering down the stairs, only this time he didn't apparate to Diagon Alley. "Mrs. Purdy," he gasped to the concierge, "do you happen to have a jar or other glass container with a very tight stopper?"

"Bless you, Mr. Potter, I have several," said the woman. "I could let you borrow one. Why don't you come into the kitchen and have a look-see?"

The kitchen was high-ceilinged and old fashioned, with a hearth on one side that Harry was vaguely aware was connected to the floo network. Mrs. Purdy pulled out an assortment of jars and bottles with stoppers, and Harry chose a tiny one that was about the size of a medicine vial. Mrs. Purdy wiped it out carefully and handed the little bottle to him.

With a quick "Thanks a lot, ma'am," Harry raced back upstairs.

I can't lose this one, he thought as he set the vial next to the pensieve where the second memory still floated lazily. Neville has to see this one. Hermione has to see this one. If I put it back with the others, I'll never find it again. It doesn't explain everything, but now I at least have some idea why.

With exquisite care, Harry lifted the memory thread from the pensieve and placed it in the jar, which he then tightly stoppered.

Do I have time for one more? The next day was Saturday, and Mrs. Purdy was right – he could sleep in. Harry contemplated the coffin flask for a moment, then selected a long memory strand. and placed it in the pensieve…

Snape was once again climbing the spiral staircase to Dumbledore's office, but this time it was a Snape Harry knew well. Now in his mid thirties, the professor's face was set in an almost permanent scowl, his eyes hard and cynical, his movements controlled and confident. The door opened before him, and once again Dumbledore rose from his desk in greeting.

"Severus! Do come in, have a seat. I must say it has been too long since you graced this office with your presence and me with your company. Let me pour you a glass of something. Mead? Firewhisky? To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"I doubt you'll find it a pleasure, Headmaster. I've come about the constant danger presented to the school and to Master Potter by the continued presence of…"

"Severus, we have discussed this over and over again since last August. I can only repeat myself. Remus is not here to injure Harry. He is not assisting Sirius in any way. You do need to relax a bit, you know. You are becoming bilious. Please, sit down. Have some firewhisky. If you will sit by the fire with me and partake of a libation or two, for the sake of your own health, I promise I shall listen to you."

"Really?" said Snape, sarcasm in the rise and fall of his voice. "And will you act on what I say?"

"That depends on what you say, Severus." Dumbledore held out a large measure of firewhisky. Snape looked at it for a moment, then took the glass and sat down.

"Headmaster," he began, "when did Black escape from Azkaban?"

"A very easy question indeed. Very early in the morning of July 31."

"When was the escape publicized?"

"The same day."

"When did Lupin apply for the Dark Arts position?"

"The following day."

"Yes, and it took him an entire month to get here. A month during which he could have been in communication with Black. Why didn't he come to Hogwarts in August like the rest of us? He's helping Black get his hands on Potter so Black can kill the boy."

"Or maybe he truly is here because of Sirius, except that he's trying to protect Harry from him instead of harm him. Is that not an equally possible explanation?"

"It might have been a possibility once, but since Halloween…"

"I have told you before, Severus. I do not believe that Remus let Sirius into the castle that evening."

"Then who did? Would you accuse me or any other member of the staff of the deed?"

"Of course not!"

"Then who? Hogwarts is protected at night by the strongest of spells, and is now surrounded by dementors. Black couldn't have gotten inside on his own."

"I must confess that I do not know, Severus, but it is not Remus Lupin."

Snape sipped his firewhisky. "Lupin," he said quietly, "has been trying to lure Potter out of Hogwarts so that he can be more easily attacked."

Dumbledore raised his eyebrows, but said nothing.

"He has been gradually wheedling his way into the boy's confidence. On the day of the first Hogsmeade excursion – Halloween in fact – when Potter was unable to go, Lupin invited him into his office. To 'chat.'"

"How would you know this?" Dumbledore asked.

"They were both there when I brought Lupin his Wolfsbane potion. They ceased talking the instant I entered, and then Lupin told me some nonsense about a grindylow, so he was obviously trying to hide something… By the way, Headmaster, did you know he no longer drinks the potion in my presence?"

"Do you suspect him of not taking it?"

"Oh, he takes it. But what if it is part of their plan that on some future occasion he not take it, so that with the full moon he would be at the height and strength of his power? We would have no way of knowing it was going to happen until it was too late."

"Surely…"

"He's been meeting privately with Potter on other occasions as well. A little bit too chummy for a teacher – student relationship, don't you think?"

"Severus…"

"Do you remember last week, Headmaster? The Quidditch game between Ravenclaw and Gryffindor?"

Dumbledore chuckled. "The mock dementor attack."

"Where was Lupin?"

"He was there. I saw him speaking to Harry after the match."

"Did you see him at the beginning of the match? Did anyone notice him in the stands at the beginning, when the castle was empty… Headmaster, that night Black was in the Gryffindor dormitories…"

"Where he is accused of having attacked Ronald Weasley, not Harry Potter."

"Where he attacked a student! An intruder in the dormitories, an attack on any student, is cause for alarm. Besides, it was dark. How was he to know which bed was Potter's? And then, of course, there is today's incident."

"Ah, the reason why you have come visiting." Dumbledore sighed, and the sound seemed to irritate Snape enormously because he clutched his glass so tightly that some of the firewhisky sloshed on his hand. Dumbledore rose and refilled the glass.

"Potter," said Snape, setting the glass down and wiping his hand with a handkerchief, "was in Hogsmeade today."

Dumbledore frowned. "Harry is unable to go to Hogsmeade."

"He was there nevertheless. Malfoy saw him, or rather part of him because he was wearing that dratted invisibility cloak…"

"Harry has an invisibility cloak?"

Snape glared at Dumbledore. "I presume it's the one his father had. Did you know nothing of what was going on in the school when we were students? At any rate, instead of staying safely in the village, Potter was leaving it in the direction of the Shrieking Shack. Fortunately he was unable to resist attacking Malfoy from ambush and allowed the cloak to slip from his head. At that point he had to return as quickly as possible to Hogwarts where I found him."

"With the invisibility cloak?"

"No. With something much worse. With a piece of enchanted parchment which, when I tried to unlock its contents, insulted me using four different identities, one of which was 'Padfoot.' Do you recognize the name, Headmaster? It's what Potter's father always used to call his best friend. It was Black's nickname in school. Potter was leaving Hogsmeade wrapped in an invisibility cloak and bearing an enchanted item that came from Sirius Black!"

"Do you have the parchment?" Now Dumbledore looked concerned.

"No. I followed school procedure. I contacted the Dark Arts instructor. And what did Lupin do? He professed not to recognize the name Padfoot, said that the parchment was merely a Zonko joke, and then confiscated it so that I could not examine it any further. Headmaster, Sirius Black is trying to entice Potter away from Hogwarts to kill him, and Remus Lupin is helping him!"

Dumbledore got to his feet and began pacing the room while Snape sat in silence sipping his drink. "No," said Dumbledore at last. "It makes no sense. It never did make any sense. Why would either Sirius or Remus want to harm James's son? They were such good friends. I never could understand why Sirius would want to harm James either. That whole business is a mystery. There was no reason… no motive…"

"Yes there was, Headmaster. Revenge. Revenge will trump friendship every time."

"Revenge?" Dumbledore said incredulously, turning to face Snape, whose eyes were glittering with intensity. "Revenge for what?"

"For the death of his brother. He must have been planning it for a long time, but the Potters were too well protected. Then the Fidelius Charm gave him the opportunity, but only if he was the secret keeper. Black and his brother Regulus were the last males left to carry on the family name. After James killed Regulus, the Black family was gone – Black must have realized he would never… What better revenge for the destruction of the house of Black than to encompass the destruction of the house of Potter? That's why the boy is so important to him."

Dumbledore pulled over a chair so that he could sit face to face with Snape. "Severus," he said, "James Potter did not kill Regulus Black. Regulus Black was killed by Death Eaters."

"That's a lie. Nobody at headquarters knew what had become of him. We searched for him, for his body, for weeks. Our contacts in the Ministry said it wasn't the Aurors either, so it must have been someone in the Order. They couldn't make it too public, though, because Regulus was Black's brother – it might upset him too much. Then Black discovered that Potter was the murderer and he snapped. He arranged for them all to die, Potter, his… wife…, and his son, in a way that would still leave him free to act. It just backfired is all, and he ended up in Azkaban, but now he's going to finish the job."

"How do you know all of this? Who told you?"

"Nobody told me. Nobody had to. I spent a good part of my school years being Black's punching bag, and I know that nothing could turn him into a raging madman as quickly as the thought that someone was threatening Reggie. Now Reggie's gone, and the last Black is trying to wipe out the last Potter, and I intend to stop him."

Tilting his head to one side, Dumbledore studied Snape's face. "It is odd to hear that you care about the old wizarding families, Severus."

"Care! I don't care. Families die out, it's the way of the world, wizard and muggle alike. I'm the last Snape and the last Prince, but you don't see me moping about it. Black and Lupin want to kill Potter because he's all that's left of James, and if that were all, I'd obey you and stay clear of the whole business, but he's also all that's left of Lily, and if you order me to stay clear, I'll defy you."

"We shall have to test your resolve, then, Severus, for I am ordering you not to take action against Lupin."

"What if I have incontrovertible proof that Lupin has been deceiving you?"

"Then you must bring it here to me."

"And if the proof is a raging werewolf?"

Dumbledore was silent. Snape drained his glass of firewhisky, rose, and strode to the door. As he walked down the spiral staircase, the memory faded…

Harry sat staring at the pensieve for a long time, trying to put some order into the thoughts rioting in his brain. It was now well after midnight, but he hadn't noticed. Time was not what was important.

All this time, all this time I thought he was just being petty and vindictive about something that had happened all those years ago, but he really had reasons. Pretty good reasons, too. It must have all been coming together like some terrible nightmare for him – Sirius lured him into the Shrieking Shack so that Lupin could kill him, and Sirius was luring me into the Shrieking Shack so that Lupin could kill me. Why did Lupin forget to take his potion that evening? That's why Snape was so sure he was right about him… Harry crossed his arms on the table and laid his head on them…

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