Harry Potter and the Trouble With Neurotypicals 21

Harry Potter and the Trouble With Neurotypicals: Book Three.
Or, "Aspie Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."

Note: I do not own this. J. K. Rowling does. This is just fan fiction. No money is being made.

Note 2: There may be a few bits and pieces lifted word-for-word from the canon material. I tried to do that as little as possible, though.

Note 3: My writing has suffered from my fear of the Trump administration. :( As if I needed more things getting in the way of my writing. But that's why it's been so long between chapters.

Note 4: I had to edit something in this chapter. Something Harry said didn't match the history of the story.

Chapter 6: Sniffing Out A Rat

Harry was sitting in his room, staring at the Marauder's Map. Specifically, he was staring at the dot labeled both 'Ron Weasley' and 'Peter Pettigrew,' down in the Common Room, silently annoyed that he couldn't do anything yet about Peter without tipping the animagus off. As it was, he needed to keep on the alert to hide the Map away from Peter in case he recognized it.

He wanted to go to Lupin about it, too, but Lupin was still ill from the full moon. After asking the headmaster, it transpired that Lupin generally slept for almost an entire day and a half after each full moon to recover his strength. The Wolfsbane potion, the headmaster had explained, made Lupin much more ill, made him ill sooner, and made the after-effects last longer, so it wasn't an ideal solution, but prevented needing to use his old standby of the Shrieking Shack, which was a security risk with Black on the loose. Harry didn't tell Dumbledore anything else yet, of course, but he was sorely tempted to.

So until his second anti-dementor lesson with Lupin, unless he changed his mind and did it sooner, Harry alternated between staring at Pettigrew on the Map and helping Ron and Hermione with Hagrid's defense of Buckbeak in the library. Or, when he couldn't do either, he read his books from Christmas.

The Animagus book was a fascinating read, especially, but he tried to read it whenever Scabbers wasn't around, in case the rat animagus got too nervous about it. After all, animagi could always sense other animagi, at least up close in their animal form, according to Sirius. Harry tried to remember if McGonagall had ever gotten close to Scabbers in her cat form. It didn't seem likely; she didn't seem to do it much, though if she used it for patrolling hallways, he wouldn't be surprised. Mrs. Norris was good at sneaking up on people, and he suspected a cat animagus would be even better at it. Which made him wonder if Mrs. Norris was part kneazle like Crookshanks too, since she didn't really seem like a normal cat.

On the 31st, Harry had something else to worry about, though. Because that day he received a letter from an eagle owl that was bigger than Draco's, and looked meaner. He cautiously took the letter from the owl by holding the letter in a piece of cloth in case it was hexed, and the owl took off at once, which was odd; owls usually wanted a treat for their work.

The letter, which he had Hermione scan for magic first, was sealed with the Malfoy family crest, which he recognized from Draco's letters, but he had a suspicion it wasn't from Draco. After cautiously opening it despite Hermione saying it was safe, he found it was from Mr. Lucius Malfoy.

When he was done reading it, he tossed it aside in disgust.

“What's it say, Harry?”

“Uses a lot of fancy words and formal style to tell me to leave Draco alone, that there are Death Eaters who wriggled out of going to Azkaban, and that it is thus unsafe for him to associate with me. Though he does also acknowledge that he doesn't really have any control on what either of us do or who we associate with while in school. I can't say I'm terribly surprised by it.”

“So what're you gonna do, mate?” Ron asked.

“Ignore it, of course. Assuming Draco wants to ignore it, that is. I'll have to wait till he comes--- never mind,” he said, as a more familiar eagle owl flew to the window. He took its letter and thanked the owl with an owl treat.

“That from Draco?” Ron asked.

“Yes.”

Dear Harry,

Sorry about my father's letter. I swear it's not hexed, I watched him write it, telling him not to the whole time, but of course he won't listen to me. He's not happy with me. Honestly, if I had any other siblings, especially brothers, I'm sure he'd be disowning me by now for associating with you. But between his hatred of you and your ideals, and mother's worries about me being known to be a blood traitor now, I'm not surprised he's trying to intimidate you. But I'm not going to let his disapproval stop me from being your friend, if you feel the same way. Don't write me your answer, it'll just anger father. You can tell me when I get back. But for now, just don't send any more letters to me while I'm here at home. Neither of my parents will like that much.

Hoping we're still friends,
Draco

PS = Hermione might find something interesting in this letter if you hand it to her.

Confused, Harry showed the letter to Hermione, who read it and also looked confused by the postscript. Then she had an aha! moment and checked the letter with her wand. Nothing happened at first, so she tried a few more. When that failed, she had one more idea to try. Using her wand to prick her finger, she dropped a single drop of blood on the letter before either boy could stop her. The blood evaporated from the page, and more words appeared under the postscript:

Just so you know, mother never agreed with father becoming a Death Eater. She's still a blood purist, but she never approved of You-Know-Who or his tactics, even before marrying father. She believes that whatever our differences of opinion, the magical world is too small to afford to spill any magical blood. Don't let that information around too much, though; despite this, she's never resisted You-Know-Who, as she values her own life and her family too much to resist him.

The words faded after a few minutes, and no matter what Hermione did to it, even bleeding on the page again, they didn't return.

“That's a clever spell he did on the letter,” she said. “He wrote a secret message that resists the usual litany of spells used to reveal hidden messages. All I got from 'specialis revlio' was a faint sense that there was magic on the page. It's gone now, by the way. The magic disappeared as the message did.”

“I don't like it,” Ron said. “It sounds like dark magic.”

“Blood magic isn't all dark,” Hermione said. “Blood seals aren't, and I think this was some sort of blood seal. The goblins of Gringott's require blood seals for some things far more powerful and binding than this. Honestly, Ron, just because it's a little icky doesn't mean it's dark magic.”

“It's useful, too,” Harry said. “If you knew to key it to a specific person, somehow, then only that person could reveal the message. That could come in handy in the future. I'll have to get him to teach me that one.”

“Yes, that's what he did. I don't think your blood would have done it, Harry.”

“How'd he get Hermione's blood signature, though?” Ron demanded.

“Probably from a hair sample. Blood and hair both contain DNA, which is unique to the individual, aside from identical twins. And even then, there might be some magical component to it that's unique to each person, even in the case of identical twins.”

“Well... that's alright then, I suppose.”

Hermione just rolled her eyes at his over-protectiveness.

*

The third of January was the start of term again. Hagrid was feeling a little better, and instead of flobberworms, he had a bonfire full of magical salamanders for them all to keep warm around as they watched the little fire elemental creatures scamper around the burning logs.

He was most anxious to get to Defense Against the Dark Arts first, though, to remind Lupin of the anti-dementor lessons.

“Ah yes,” said Lupin, when Harry reminded him of his promise at the end of class. “Let me see... how about eight o’clock on Thursday evening? The History of Magic classroom should be large enough. I’ll have to think carefully about how we’re going to do this. We can’t bring a real dementor into the castle to practice on.”

“Still looks ill, doesn’t he?” said Ron as they walked down the corridor, heading to dinner. “What d’you reckon’s the matter with him?”

Harry looked at Hermione, who – by the look on her face – knew what he did.

“Well, Ron... we'll tell you in a bit. Come here,” Hermione said, pulling them into an unused classroom and setting up quick wards so they wouldn't be overheard.

“So what's wrong with him?”

“Well let's see,” she said, enjoying herself a little too much, “he's always sick once a month, isn't he?”

“Yeah, I guess. Wait... do you reckon he's a werewolf?”

“I don't know for sure,” she said, “but it makes sense.”

“He is,” Harry said. “He confirmed it to me a few weeks ago when I asked him about it. I figured it out after Snape's werewolf essay. Also, his boggart is a full moon.”

“What? You're sure? Wow, better not tell Dumbledore then, or he'll get---”

“Dumbledore already knows Lupin's a werewolf. Lupin was a werewolf when he went to school as a kid. The rest of the staff know, too. He takes Wolfsbane Potion Snape brews for him, and curls up in his office as a harmless wolf.”

“Seriously? Wow, they sure kept a lid on that one. Oh! That's why Snape skipped ahead to werewolves?”

“Yes. He hates Lupin, just like he hated my father. He and my father were friends in school, and were enemies of Snape.”

“So he's trying to get Lupin found out so he'll have to resign?”

“Sounds right. But of course he probably made a promise to Dumbledore to not tell anyone, so he was reduced to dropping a huge hint.”

“Yes, Harry wasn't the only one to figure it out from that essay. I did, too. I don't know if anyone else did, though.”

“About half the class did the essay. For all we know, all those people know now. But we can't exactly ask in case we're wrong. I wasn't even sure about Hermione knowing, but I took a calculated risk because I trust both of you.”

“Well my lips are sealed, mate. I like Lupin, I don't care if he's a werewolf, especially if he's taking precautions. But I reckon Antigone or Danzia might have figured it out.”

“I'll have to do some careful probing to figure out if they know,” Harry said.

*

At eight o’clock on Thursday evening, Harry left Gryffindor Tower for the History of Magic classroom. It was dark and empty when he arrived, but he lit the lamps with his wand and had waited only five minutes when Professor Lupin turned up, carrying a large packing case, which he heaved onto Professor Binns’ desk.

“What’s that?” said Harry.

“Another boggart,” said Lupin, stripping off his cloak. “I’ve been combing the castle ever since Tuesday, and very luckily, I found this one lurking inside Mr. Filch’s filing cabinet. It’s the nearest we’ll get to a real dementor. The boggart will turn into a dementor when he sees you, so we’ll be able to practice on him. I can store him in my office when we’re not using him; there’s a cupboard under my desk he’ll like.”

“Okay,” said Harry, trying to sound as though he wasn’t apprehensive at all and merely glad that Lupin had found such a good substitute for a real dementor.

“So …” Professor Lupin had taken out his own wand, and indicated that Harry should do the same. “The spell I am going to try and teach you is highly advanced magic, Harry — well beyond Ordinary Wizarding Level. It is called the Patronus Charm.”

“How does it work?” said Harry nervously.

“Well, when it works correctly, it conjures up a Patronus,” said Lupin, “which is a kind of anti-dementor — a guardian that acts as a shield between you and the dementor.”

“Er... do you think I could see yours, to know what to expect?”

Lupin smiled. “Of course, Harry.” He took out his wand and stood a moment thinking before he cast the spell. “Expecto patronum!

Out of Lupin's wand came a translucent wolf made of bright, silvery light.

“As an aside, there's also an advanced trick for those who can cast a corporeal patronus, where we can send messages to other people; messages that cannot be faked or intercepted. If you'll go to the other side of the room, I will demonstrate.”

Harry nodded and got in place. When he got there, he saw Lupin whisper something to the patronus, at which point the patronus ran through the air quick as a wink and opened its mouth, saying in Lupin's voice, “This is a test of the patronus communication method, Harry.”

“That's brilliant, Professor,” Harry said as the wolf faded. Harry went back over to Lupin.

“Of course, yours will look different, I'm sure. Every wizard who can conjure a patronus has a different animal. Well, I suppose there may be some overlap given the limited number of known animals in the world, but I believe you know what I mean.”

“Yes. It's a little like animal guides, isn't it?”

“Indeed. Many cultures have similar ideas. And there are cultures of wizards who don't use wands for one reason or another, but can still cast a patronus. I wouldn't recommend trying it without becoming proficient at wandless magic first, though, and that takes years, even decades, to master.”

“So the incantation is Expecto patronum?” Harry asked.

“Yes. But there's more to it than that. There is an emotional component to the spell. You have to concentrate on a single, very powerful happy memory when you cast it.”

“A powerful happy memory?” Harry asked, sounding worried.

“Do you not have happy memories?”

“Oh I do. I just don't know if I have any strong enough for this.”

“Harry, I am a werewolf who was bitten as a young boy. I have spent most of my adult life shunned, unable to work, usually homeless, often starving, because of what I am. If I can find a happy memory sufficient to cast a patronus... well I know everyone is different, but I would be very surprised if you didn't have one.”

“That is a good point,” he conceded.

“Okay, ready to start?”

“Yes.” Harry closed his eyes and started to cast his mind about for a happy memory. Certainly, nothing that had happened to him at the Dursleys’ was going to do. Finally, he settled on the moment when he had first found out he was a wizard.

“Concentrating on your happy memory?”

Instead of answering, he tried casting the spell. “Expecto patronum. Expecto patronum. Expecto patronum!”

A small whisp of light came out of his wand.

“Did you see that?” said Harry excitedly. “Something happened!”

“Very good,” said Lupin, smiling. “Right, then — ready to try it on the boggart dementor?”

“I don't know, shouldn't I learn to do it first and then try it with the boggart?”

“Hmm... I hadn't considered that, but that's a good idea. Alright then, try it again.”

He tried it again, with the same memory, trying to feel how excited he had been. “Expecto patronum!”

More wispy gas, barely there at all.

“Actually, I think that one's not right. I was thinking of when I first found out I'm a wizard, but that one was tainted by worry and a little confusion and disbelief. So maybe that's not a good one.”

“Hmm, yes, that doesn't sound quite right to me either. But from what I've read in my studies, it doesn't have to be a pure happiness. The patronus charm can be powered by love for friends, family, or others, especially love mixed with protectiveness. That would be a hard emotion to conjure in a situation like this, of course, but something to keep in mind.”

“Friendship, you say?”

Harry started thinking again, and picked a new memory: meeting his first ever friend, Ron Weasley.

He tried casting the charm with that memory twice, but both times the mist was just as pathetic.

“Don't punish yourself, Harry. For a thirteen-year-old wizard, even an indistinct patronus is a huge achievement. As you saw on the train, it's enough to make a single dementor back off.”

“Yes, but what if there's another crowd of them like before? I need to protect my friends.” Then, on a whim, he cast it again. “Expecto patronum!”

The vapor was stronger this time, brighter.

“Open the box,” he said.

“You're sure? You wanted to cast a corporeal patronus first, didn't you?”

“I did. But with what you said... I had an idea, and it requires the boggart dementor.”

“Alright then,” Lupin said, getting into position.

Lupin grasped the lid of the packing case and pulled.

A dementor rose slowly from the box, its hooded face turned toward Harry, one glistening, scabbed hand gripping its cloak. The lamps around the classroom flickered and went out. The dementor stepped from the box and started to sweep silently toward Harry, drawing a deep, rattling breath. A wave of piercing cold broke over him. Harry concentrated on Lupin, whom he was fond of, trying to concentrate on thinking of the boggart as a real dementor, as Lupin in real danger.

Expecto patronum!” Harry yelled.

But the classroom and the dementor were dissolving. Harry was falling again through thick white fog, and his mother’s voice was louder than ever, echoing inside his head — “Not Harry! Not Harry! Please — I’ll do anything —

Stand aside. Stand aside, girl!”

“Harry!”

Harry jerked back to life. He was lying flat on his back on the floor. The classroom lamps were alight again. He didn’t have to ask what had happened.

“Sorry,” he muttered, sitting up and feeling cold sweat trickling down behind his glasses.

“Are you all right?” said Lupin.

“Yes …” Harry pulled himself up on one of the desks and leaned against it.

“Here —” Lupin handed him a Chocolate Frog. “Eat this before we try again. I didn’t expect you to do it your first time; in fact, I would have been astounded if you had.”

“Thanks, professor, but I brought my own this time,” he said, pulling the bar of dark chocolate Danzia had given him from the pocket he'd had it in.

“Harry, won't that chocolate be melted?”

“I put a Cooling Charm on the pocket, so I doubt it.”

As he ate the chocolate, Lupin looked at the wrapper and nodded.

“Seventy-seven percent cacao dark chocolate. Impressive. Where did you get it?”

“My friend Danzia got it for me.”

“Danzia McCullough?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Because I believe one of her fathers is an Auror.”

“Ah, so that's the 'reliable source' she mentioned in her Christmas note.”

It seemed she'd been right, too. He remembered how the milk chocolate on the train had made him feel, and this was so much better. The taste was a bit bitter, not something he'd probably want to make a habit of eating otherwise, but he was eating it for its medicinal use.

“Kinda bitter.”

“Dark chocolate takes some getting used to, especially at that high a concentration of cacao.”

Harry nodded and put the last of that piece of chocolate in his mouth.

“Ready to try again?” Lupin asked when Harry had swallowed it.

“Yes.”

“All right then … ,” said Lupin. “You might want to select another memory, a happy memory, I mean, to concentrate on. … That one doesn’t seem to have been strong enough.”

Harry frowned a little at that, but nodded, and thought. He thought of Luna, thought of his friendship with her and imagined needing to protect her.

“Ready?” said Lupin, gripping the box lid.

“Yes.”

“Go!” said Lupin, pulling off the lid. The room went icily cold and dark once more. The dementor glided forward, drawing its breath; one rotting hand was extending toward Harry —

Expecto patronum!” Harry yelled. “Expecto patronum! Expecto pat —”

White fog obscured his senses … big, blurred shapes were moving around him … then came a new voice, a man’s voice, shouting, panicking —

Lily, take Harry and go! It’s him! Go! Run! I’ll hold him off —

The sounds of someone stumbling from a room — a door bursting open — a cackle of high-pitched laughter —

“Harry! Harry, wake up.”

Lupin was tapping Harry hard on the face. This time it was a minute before Harry understood why he was lying on a dusty classroom floor.

“I heard my dad,” Harry mumbled. “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard him — he tried to take on Voldemort himself, to give my mum time to run for it.”

Harry suddenly realized that there were tears on his face mingling with the sweat. He bent his face as low as possible, wiping them off on his robes, pretending to do up his shoelace, so that Lupin wouldn’t see.

“You heard James?” said Lupin in a strange voice.

“Yes. Sorry, I forgot for a moment you knew my dad.”

“It's alright, Harry. Pain shared is pain that becomes easier to cope with.”

“Thanks, Professor.”

“You're welcome. But Harry, listen — perhaps we should leave it here for tonight. This charm is ridiculously advanced. I shouldn’t have suggested putting you through this.”

“No!” said Harry. He got up again. “I’ll have one more go! I’m not thinking of happy enough things, that’s what it is. Hang on.”

He racked his brains. A really, really happy memory … one that he could turn into a good, strong Patronus...

Sirius Black is innocent, he thought. He's my godfather, and when we prove he's innocent, maybe I can go live with him.

Harry got to his feet and faced the packing case once more.

“Ready?” said Lupin, who looked as though he were doing this against his better judgment. “Concentrating hard? All right — go!”

He pulled off the lid of the case for the last time, and the dementor rose out of it; the room fell cold and dark —

EXPECTO PATRONUM!” Harry bellowed. “EXPECTO PATRONUM! EXPECTO PATRONUM!”

The screaming inside Harry’s head had started again — except this time, it sounded as though it were coming from a badly tuned radio — softer and louder and softer again — and he could still see the dementor — it had halted — and then a huge, silver shadow came bursting out of the end of Harry’s wand, to hover between him and the dementor, and though Harry’s legs felt like water, he was still on his feet — though for how much longer, he wasn’t sure —

Riddikulus!” roared Lupin, springing forward.

There was a loud crack, and Harry’s cloudy Patronus vanished along with the dementor; he sank into a chair, feeling as exhausted as if he’d just run a mile, and felt his legs shaking. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Professor Lupin forcing the boggart back into the packing case with his wand; it had turned into a full moon again.

“Excellent!” Lupin said, striding over to where Harry sat. “Excellent, Harry! That was definitely a start!”

“Can we have another go? Just one more go?”

“No, I think not, Harry. You’ve had enough for one night. Have some more chocolate, then go back to your dorm. In fact, have three or four pieces, or else Madam Pomfrey might just hex the both of us.”

He nodded, and ate four pieces of the dark chocolate, sitting at a desk to rest as he did.

When he was done with those, he got up and gave Professor Lupin a wan smile.

“Thank you for helping me, Professor.”

“You're welcome, Harry. Same time and place next Thursday, Harry?”

“Sounds good to me. See you then.”

“You too, Harry,” Lupin said as Harry headed toward the door.

He put his hand on the doorknob, but a thought occurred to him as he did, making him stop.

“Professor?”

“Yes, Harry?”

“How am I able to remember something from when I was one year old? Most people can't remember things from before they were six, and even fewer can remember things from before they were four.”

Lupin looked thoughtful. “I don't know, Harry. But you're right, it is unusual. I've never heard of a dementor making someone remember something that far back before. Quite apart from the memory issue, a child that young doesn't generally know much of what's going on around them, or more accurately doesn't understand much of what they're aware of. And to a child that young, there isn't a lot of difference in the emotional component to different things that upset them, due to that lack of understanding. Unless whatever upsets them is physically hurting them, of course. So I suppose it's possible that you might remember the scar being formed. But you wouldn't have understood what was happening to your parents...”

Lupin paused, frowning, before continuing. “In fact... you wouldn't have been able to understand what they were saying. It would have sounded like gibberish to you at that age. You should be remembering it as gibberish, too.”

Harry didn't know what to say to that, since Lupin was the expert. So he just waited for Lupin to speak again.

“Well,” Lupin said at last, “that's a mystery for another night. I think I'll discuss it with the headmaster later. He might have heard or read something I haven't, some time in his very long life.”

“Oh, okay. Thanks.”

“You're welcome. Good night, Harry.”

“Good night, Professor.”

*

With two new classes, anti-dementor lessons with Lupin, regular MAC meetings, and working with Sirius to try to plan Peter Pettigrew's capture, Harry was busier than ever before. But clearly, Hermione was having it far worse. Her immense workload finally seemed to be getting to her. Every night, without fail, Hermione was to be seen in a corner of the common room, several tables spread with books, Arithmancy charts, rune dictionaries, diagrams of Muggles lifting heavy objects, and file upon file of extensive notes; she barely spoke to anybody and snapped when she was interrupted.

“How’s she doing it?” Ron muttered to Harry one evening as Harry sat finishing a nasty essay on Undetectable Poisons for Snape. Harry looked up. Hermione was barely visible behind a tottering pile of books.

“Doing what?”

“Getting to all her classes!” Ron said. “I heard her talking to Professor Vector this morning. They were going on about yesterday’s lesson, but Hermione can’t’ve been there, because she was with us in Care of Magical Creatures!”

“But she was,” Harry said. “She never misses Arithmancy, we have it at the same time.”

“Yeah, and that's just weird, but that's not even the half of it. Ernie McMillan also told me she’s never missed a Muggle Studies class, but half of them are at the same time as Divination, and she’s never missed one of them either! Not to mention all the Arithmancy classes going on during both those classes, too. Somehow, she's able to take three classes at the same time!”

“I don't know what to tell you, it's a mystery to me too. Unless wizards have figured out time travel, but that's just silly. If they had, surely they could just send someone back in time to kill Voldemort when he was a baby, prevent the whole war.”

“Time travel? You can't travel in time, Harry, that's impossible. I mean, I suppose everyone technically travels in time, but only in one direction.”

“Actually, time travel is theoretically possible, according to advanced Muggle physics. But it would take an immense amount of energy. I don't know how much offhand, but I'm pretty sure that it's more energy than the entire human race is capable of even generating, even if we knew how to do it.”

“Yeah, but that's the Muggles. They don't know about magic.”

“Unless magic is more powerful than it seems to be, by several orders of magnitude, I doubt it. I mean sure, magic can do some things that ought to be impossible. Transfiguration, even though it fades in time, ought to be impossible by conventional laws of physics. And I'm convinced that conjured objects are always either actually summoned from somewhere else, like my pet snake Cleopatra, or are just constructs made of magic, because Albert Einstein, a famous Muggle physicist, has some pretty hefty mathematical proof to back up his statement 'matter can be neither created nor destroyed,' and its tie-in concept, that energy and matter are two forms of the same thing. So magic as a force comes from somewhere, maybe another dimension, but I would be astonished—no, flabbergasted, if it was able to make actual atoms.”

“Mate, I know I've been going to MAC with you for years now, but most of that went right over my head.”

“Well all that's really important is I don't think magic can create anything real, or even permanently alter its structure except by damaging or destroying it, and since magic is energy and matter – physical stuff – is made of energy, with enough magic I think one could make matter. But matter is so complex, structurally, that I don't think wizards have ever managed to make any real matter with magic. Though that could just be because there isn't enough magic in the world to do it. And more importantly, the amount of energy it would take to make even a single atom, though immense, would probably be trivial compared to the energy needed to travel back in time.”

Ron, he saw then, still looked very confused.

“Would it help if I mentioned that physicists are pretty sure that the only time matter was ever 'created' was at the beginning of the universe, in an explosion that would wipe out our entire galaxy in a nanosecond if it happened again?”

“Wow! That'd be a HUGE explosion!”

“Larger than you know. Probably larger than anyone can know. But for a start, the galaxy is so large it takes light millions of years to get from one side to the other.”

Ron's eyes got huge, and his jaw dropped.

“Wait, so you think it would take more energy than that to travel back in time?”

“I'm not certain, since I'm not a physicist, but it sounds right from what I've read.”

“Wow. Well then maybe one or more of these Hermiones everyone keeps seeing is, I dunno, an illusion? If you don't think magic could make real objects, maybe she's not really there.”

“I dunno. I mean, she still carries her things, and turns in her schoolwork. But I suppose there could be a spell to move stuff like that around, even invisibly. So she could still be an illusion. Possibly an illusion that's capable of, like, recording the whole class to view it later?”

“That'd be a hell of an illusion. But with McGonagall helping her, I bet she could do it, or learn how to do it herself from McGonagall. Anyway, we should try to touch her in classes, see if she's real.”

“Hmm... but I'm fairly sure conjured objects, even things that look and act like animals, are just some kind of magical illusion with magical force-fields to make them seem real. It's possible someone could do that with a human form, too. But yeah, we should still test if she's tangible – touchable, I mean – for completeness' sake, if for no other reason.”

“Right.” Ron said, then paused, thinking. “Say Harry, this is that Muggle science thing we're doing, isn't it? Come up with a hyposis, make osser... obzer... observations, refine the hyposis, and so on?”

“It's not 'hyposis,' it's 'hypothesis,' but yes, you're right. Observation: Hermione appears to be in multiple places at once during some classes. Given the unlikeliness of time travel, we hypothesize she's making illusory copies of herself. Now, as you pointed out, we just have to test that hypothesis with more observations, like trying to touch her in classes to see if she's tangible. Let me just write this all down.”

“Cool. I never thought this science thing would be fun, but it kinda is. It's like solving a mystery. Which I guess it is. Muggles see things they don't understand, they come up with ideas to explain them, they test the ideas with observations, then if what they see doesn't match their ideas, they come up with better ideas, and start over again. Huh. I wonder what would've happened if we'd done that with the Philosopher's Stone thing?”

“We kinda did. When we thought it was the philosopher's stone, we tested that idea by telling Hagrid, and he confirmed it for us.”

“No I mean like, I wonder if we could have tested if it was Snape who wanted the stone?”

“Huh. No idea. I mean, we could have asked him about it, I suppose.”

Ron snorted. “Yeah, I can see it now. Hypothesis: Snape wants the stone. Test: We ask him if he wants the stone. Result: He either kills us or has us expelled. Yeah, I don't think that would have worked.”

Harry laughed. “Good point. Sometimes science is risky. But good scientists know better than to take unnecessary risks.”

*

Having been inspired by his and Ron's conversation about the scientific method, Harry decided to take a similar approach to the problem of Pettigrew. He met Sirius in the Shrieking Shack one Saturday after lunch for a brainstorming session.

“So,” Harry said, “our problem: we have to capture a rat animagus without him realizing what we're doing and running away.”

“Crookshanks told me that Peter has been very nervous all year, more nervous than could easily be explained by Crookshanks being after him all the time. So I reckon he found out I'd escaped and was scared I'd hunt him down.”

“Makes sense. I remember he was nervous ever since we got back from Egypt.”

“Yes. He probably thought I either wouldn't recognize him in the picture, wouldn't see it at all, or would be too out of my mind to do anything about it. Plus, I'm the first person to ever escape from Azkaban, as far as I know, and I only managed it because the ministry didn't know I'm an animagus.”

“Right. So I was thinking, to figure this out, we have to look at it like a puzzle to solve. First problem: he's already scared, so he'll be jumpy and prone to fleeing. Right now I think he's certain he's still safe in the castle, Crookshanks aside, which is the only reason he hasn't run off yet.”

“I agree. And I have an idea.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. I hate to suggest this so soon, especially as it'd be risky for me, but what if I left and let myself get spotted going away from Hogwarts, possibly even going abroad to get spotted there? Then he'd think I had given up, and you could work with Moony to capture him. He'd be easier to catch if he lets his guard down, after all, and he has no reason to think anyone in the castle suspects him.”

“I dunno. He knows you really well, remember? He might get suspicious. You broke out of Azkaban, presumably to find him and kill him, and then you just give up without even once making it into the castle? When he knows that you're an animagus too, and that you know of at least two secret entrances into the castle? No, I don't think he's that stupid, do you?”

“Damn, you're right. He's never been very book smart, but he's still pretty clever. He was clever enough to be a double agent for years without anyone ever suspecting, wasn't he? So yeah, that wouldn't work.”

They thought about the problem for several more minutes in silence.

“The problem is,” Harry finally said, “that we're limited. You coming into the school will scare him, and if anyone spots you inside the castle, it'll be like last year with the Chamber of Secrets all over again. They'll lock the castle down, search high and low for you, and all in all the task will be even harder. And then me... I don't know if I could just grab him. I mean, I know I live in the same dorm as Ron and Peter, but in two and a half years, I don't think I've ever once touched him, even by accident, and I don't think he'd take well to my sudden and ineffable desire to pet him or hold him. With you about, he'll be paranoid. After all, as unlikely as he might think it, you could always tell someone else. Like Lupin. And you did. He'll be considering every possibility if he's smart, no matter how unlikely they may seem to him.”

“Hmm... yes. You know, I wish we could tell Dumbledore. He's always been good with this cloak-and-dagger stuff.”

“Why don't we tell him? I mean, we don't have to tell him you're involved. I did, after all, get the Map from Fred and George, and I could show it to Dumbledore. Though Fred and George might be mad if I did, they gave it to me in good faith. After all, Dumbledore could listen and let me keep the map, or he could not listen and take the map, or listen to me but still take the map. After all, it's kind of a dangerous thing to keep around.”

“Yeah, I guess it is. But it was also dangerous to run around the grounds of a school at night with a barely controlled werewolf tagging along. We were so carried away with our own cleverness that we were dangerously reckless idiots. The Map is nowhere near as stupid an idea as that.”

“How'd you make it, anyway? I thought the school was Unplottable?”

“It is. But we found a way around that. See, the school's wards know everything there is to know about Hogwarts, insofar as its dimensions, rooms, secret passages, and the locations and true names of everyone on the grounds. We tried mapping out the inside of Hogwarts normally at first, to no avail. It wasn't until the year we became animagi that we knew enough from Ancient Runes and Moony's Arithmancy class to sneak into the ward room at the bottom of the school and made some additions to make the Map possible. We would've been expelled if we'd been caught, but we did so many things that could get us expelled that I've forgotten half of them by now, I'm sure. Hell, I once did something to Snape that would've gotten me expelled for sure from anyone other than Dumbledore, and would've landed me in Azkaban if James hadn't saved the day.”

“Oh? What was that?”

“This boy in our class, whom James and Moony and I all hated, but whom was very clever, was getting suspicious of where Moony went every full moon. So I, er... told him how to get past the Whomping Willow.”

“You didn't!”

“Like I said, I was an idiot. I thought it a perfect prank. I remember I was smiling when I told James, later. But James was properly horrified, which was infectious, thankfully, and he ran off like a demon from Hell to stop Snivelus before he went in after Moony. And he made it just in time to grab Snivelus before he could get bitten or worse, but he still saw Moony. James saved his life, and I was properly ashamed, and Snivelus was fine. All of which is, I think, the only reason we weren't expelled. Well, that and the fact Dumbledore would probably have been sacked if the incident had come to light. He'd been on pretty shaky ground with the Board of Governors on letting Lupin in to begin with, after all.”

“Wait, 'Snivelus'? You don't mean Severus Snape, do you?”

“Yeah, I do. How do you know that name?”

“He teaches Potions here.”

“WHAT? That slimy git, teaching? When he was almost certainly a Death Eater?”

“He was?”

“Yes. In school, he always hung around with Lucius Malfoy, Bellatrix LeStrange, and a bunch of other people who later became Death Eaters. And he always had his nose so far into the Dark Arts that it's a wonder he didn't smear the ink with his nose.”

“He hung out with Draco's father? Hmm... he probably was a Death Eater, then. But Dumbledore trusts him, now.”

“Well we already know Dumbledore can be fooled. Peter fooled him, and so did the Dursleys. Granted, I don't think he ever actually met Petunia or her husband before he put you with them, but they had corresponded. I remember Lily telling me once that her sister tried to plead to be allowed to come to Hogwarts, but of course she's a Muggle.”

“Wait, the Snape thing made me think of something. Just in case, roll up your left sleeve.”

“Huh? Why?”

“Just humor me, please.”

“Fine, fine,” Sirius said, rolling up his sleeve to show Harry.

“Hmm... I don't see anything odd. Then again, I don't know what I'm looking for. I just know Draco said his father was especially keen on hiding his left arm for likely Voldemort-related reasons.”

“Your friend reckons Voldemort was stupid enough to put a visible mark on his followers' arms?”

“Stupid or not, you have to admit that even Dumbledore never figured it out. If he had, he would've told the Ministry, and they would have checked everyone arrested as Death Eaters for marks on their left arms, and you would have been freed.”

“Good point, Harry. Anyway, it'll be useful once we catch Peter, but until then it's not of much use.”

“It proves you're not a Death Eater.”

“First, all we have to go on for that is the word of the son of a suspected Death Eater, and even that's speculation on Draco's part since he's never even seen whatever it is that's supposed to be there. Second, we don't know if said mark is visible now that Voldemort's powerless, if it even was when he was powerful. And of course, we don't know what this mark even looks like. Though... if I had to venture a guess, I'd go with the Dark Mark. It was a shape they used to cast into the sky over the houses of people they killed, we never did figure out the spell they used for that. It was a green skull with a snake for a tongue. But this possible left-arm mark might have been a picture of a daisy for all we know. Not very likely, I know, but possible.”

“Is there some way we could look at Snape's arm?”

“You know him almost as well as I do, do you think that has any chance of succeeding? And anyway, nobody on our side was ever certain he was a Death Eater. Except for Dumbledore, I suppose, but we haven't asked him about it.”

“Ugh, we're getting off track again. How do we capture Peter?”

“I wish I knew, pup. Until you get Lupin on our side, though, I don't have any other ideas for now. I can keep thinking while you're up at school, though. Just leave me some conjured parchment and quills and so on, so I can write my ideas down.”

“Sure,” Harry said, conjuring those things for Sirius. He sighed. “This would be so much easier if I could get my friends in on this. But Hermione thinks I'm mad to even suggest you might be innocent, same with Ron. Draco's on my side, but I don't know how he'd react to you being at the school and interacting with me. Even if he thinks you're innocent in theory, he's been raised thinking of you as a mass murderer, so the fear might bypass his reason.”

“That, and I'm not so sure I want to trust a Malfoy, no matter how much you trust him, Harry.”

Harry sighed. “Well unless we think of something before then, I guess I'll just have to get Lupin in on this with the Map.”

“Agreed. Anyway, pup, it's getting late. You should head back before you're missed.”

“Okay, Sirius,” he said, hugging his godfather. “You stay safe, okay?”

“I will, Harry, I will.”

*

Professor Lupin had been meaning to ask Dumbledore about Harry's dementor lesson for weeks, but had only gotten around to it four days before January's full moon. He would have put it off til even later, except that he knew the stress of the full moon would make him forget again, possibly until the next full moon, so he decided to get it out of the way sooner rather than later.

“Ice mice,” he told the gargoyle guarding the headmaster's office, and the gargoyle let him by.

When he got upstairs, the door opened on its own and he heard Dumbledore say “Come on in, Remus.”

He came in, noting as he did that Dumbledore was across the room and sitting behind his desk.

“What can I help you with tonight, my good man?”

Remus closed the door behind himself. “You remember I'm giving Harry lessons on how to cast the Patronus Charm, headmaster?”

“Yes, I do. How is he progressing?”

“Quite well for his age. Having some difficulty resisting the allure of hearing his parents voices, of course, even given the context.”

“Understandable for an orphan who, unfortunately, did not know love growing up.”

“Yes. But something he said after the first lesson made me realize I had to talk with you about it. But I've been so busy I quite forgot until now.”

“I am listening,” Dumbledore said.

“Well, he asked me how he's able to remember that at all, when he was only an infant at the time. And he's right, it is extremely unusual for dementors to pull up memories that old. What's more, the words he hears in the memory are in English. He can understand them, headmaster, when by rights he should be remembering it as gibberish.”

Dumbledore was a hard man to read, but Remus had gotten to know him over the years, and the old man looked downright disturbed by this news. But not surprised, he noted. If he had to guess, the headmaster was more disturbed that Harry had even made note of the oddity of it, and further disturbed that he'd told someone about it.

“I see you know the reason, headmaster,” he said placidly, inviting the older man to continue.

“I have a suspicion. I cannot be certain yet. Certain things about Harry have bothered me since his first year.”

He paused, thinking, for several moments before continuing.

“Tell me, Remus, do you know Occlumency?”

Remus frowned slightly. “No. I know of it, but I'm afraid I never bothered to learn it. Why?”

“Because unless you learn Occlumency, I'm afraid I cannot tell you all of what I suspect about this issue. In fact, I believe I cannot tell you anything about my suspicions, given your cleverness, lest you figure it out from even a modified version of the truth. It is much too dangerous, that information.”

The hair on the back of his neck rose. “So I take it this has something to do with Voldemort?”

Dumbledore winced slightly.

“Yes. And this is why I cannot tell you more. I'm sorry, Remus. But if you wish to learn Occlumency, I can teach you.”

“I think I'll take you up on that, headmaster. I came in here today with a minor curiosity, and you've just turned it into a major one for me. I don't think I could go the rest of the year not knowing. How does February first sound to you, for my first Occlumency lesson?”

Dumbledore chuckled. “I should have known. Yes, the first sounds good to me. Let's say 9 pm, shall we?”

Remus nodded. “I'll see you then, headmaster.”

“Likewise. And Remus, before you go, let me fetch you a book on the subject. I had these books removed from the library because I do not feel most students should be learning this art.”

Dumbledore went into a door behind his desk for a few minutes and came back with a book called Guide to Advanced Occlumency by Maxwell Barnett, which he handed to Remus.

“That should start to prepare you for our first lesson if you have the time, Remus, but if you don't, do not worry yourself about it.”

“Understood, Professor.”

“Good. Oh, and Remus? Do not tell Harry we had this discussion. Or anyone else, either, for that matter.”

“Oh? Why is that?”

“That Harry is clever enough to be suspicious of these dementor memories is disturbing. I wish you to try to nip his curiosity about this in the bud if he brings it up again. Lie if you must, but this issue is so dangerous I fear what his curiosity will uncover. I doubt he'll figure it out himself, especially with nothing more to go on than curiosity, so my fear is more about who he might accidentally tip off by digging into it. Perhaps I am being a touch too paranoid, but with Voldemort, even in his weakened state, it is best to take no unnecessary chances.”

Remus felt a shiver go up and down his spine. This was far more intense than he'd even remotely been prepared for when he came into Dumbledore's office.

“I understand, headmaster. You have my word, I won't tell anyone else of our conversation. And I'll do what I can to keep Harry away from this... little curiosity. At least until I find out what has you so scared.”

“Excellent. Now I bid you goodnight, Remus.”

“Good night, headmaster.”

(End chapter six)



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