Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: One Winged Angel :: 25 :: Tangential

25 • Tangential

Harry was, indeed, to be found in his usual place the next morning with a full plate for breakfast. He spared an occasional moment to glance up, finally seeing Ron stumble into the Great Hall. He waited until his friend had the presence of mind to look for him, smiled, then went back to his meal, only to be interrupted when the morning’s post arrived, and with it, a note for him, delivered by his very own Hedwig.

Harry scowled slightly at the thought of someone using Hedwig without having asked first, then remembered that she did, on occasion, seem to show up to certain people just as they needed her. On that thought he opened the note.

Harry,

Please come to my office when you are finished with breakfast. The password is Milky Way.

A. Dumbledore

A quick glance showed that Dumbledore was not in his usual seat at the high table. Perhaps the old man hadn’t wanted to use Fawkes, had thought it would be too flashy. He crumpled the note and shoved it into his pocket. :Tom?:

:Yes, Harry?: Tom’s mental voice was sleepy and soft.

Harry stifled a chuckle and sent, :Merlin, don’t tell me I wore you out. Come on, you need to wake up.:

:I’ll have you know I’m quite spry for my age, young man,: came the indignant response. :What is it?:

:The old man sent me a note, wants to see me this morning. We may have thrown him for that loop.:

The change in Tom’s demeanor was immediate. :Oh, really. I expect he wishes to know if you sensed anything last night.:

:I expect you’re right. And since I’ve no idea how strong he really is, I wanted you with me in case my defenses needed some assistance. Besides, I figured you would want to spy anyway.:

:Give me five minutes to properly wake up, Harry.:

:That’s fine. I’m not quite done with my meal.: Harry turned to Blaise and said quietly, “I’ve got to go see Dumbledore in a few and I don’t reckon Ron will be done stoking up by then, so if he stops you and asks. . . .”

“Sure, Harry. Any idea why?”

Harry gave a slight shrug. “Probably because yesterday was Halloween. It’s more often a bad day than not, you know?”

*

“Ah, Harry. Please have a seat. Sherbet lemon?”

Harry sat down and shook his head, saying, “No, thank you. I don’t think that would sit well with what I’ve just eaten, sir.”

:He probably does lace the damn things.:

“I suppose you’re wondering why I’ve called you here,” said Dumbledore. When Harry did not respond he continued, “As you know, yesterday was Halloween. While I am sure you would have requested a meeting if anything untoward had happened to you last night, I thought it was best to find out without question.”

“Untoward?” Harry asked, letting his eyes go slightly wider. “You mean like visions or my scar hurting?”

“Exactly so.”

“No, sir, nothing like that happened last night. I went to bed early and slept quite well, actually.”

Dumbledore nodded vaguely as Tom snickered in the back of Harry’s head, then asked, “Have you experienced any pain or visions since returning to school?”

:Don’t mention Occlumency unless he brings it up.:

“No, sir. Should I have?” Harry asked ingenuously.

“No strange dreams?” persisted Dumbledore.

Harry shook his head. “It’s almost as though Voldemort has given up on me for the time being.”

Dumbledore’s response was to fiddle with his beard for a minute, then say, “I see. I expect you will keep me informed should you experience anything of that nature?” After peering at Harry over the rims of his spectacles for a moment he continued, “Good, good. I shall let you get on with your day, then, Harry.”

Harry mumbled a farewell and exited as quickly as he could without seeming suspicious, feeling better only once the gargoyle had resumed its place. :Well, that didn’t take long.:

:True, but. . . . Perhaps I’m seeing only what I wish to, but I almost think he was disappointed, Harry.:

:Conspiracy Theory 101. Where Dumbledore really was secretly having Snape purposely mess up the Occlumency lessons so that Harry Potter, brave but misguided hero, would have Visions with which he could alert the Order to Voldemort’s nefarious deeds.:

:Possibly. Note the fact that he did not bother to tell you rumor has it that Voldemort is occluding his mind as well so as to stop those pesky and persistent leaks of information. Either way, I should talk to Severus.:

Harry stopped dead in the middle of the corridor to consider.

:No, not here. If you’re going to mull that over, do it somewhere private. The last thing you want is for Dumbledore to happen upon you dazed in a hallway.:

Harry set forth again, letting his feet guide him automatically toward the dungeons.

*

“I’ve given you some time, Harry, but now I’d really like to know how you feel about certain things,” Tom said from his perch on the arm of a chair.

“Such as?”

“You’ve read your parents’ will. How do you feel about how Dumbledore handled things? Is he a good guy or a bad guy?”

“One of these days you’ll ask a simple question and I’ll have no idea how to answer it,” Harry complained. “Fine. I think Dumbledore is quite solidly stuck in the grey divide, though he would believe he’s pristine white and light. I find it both amusing and hypocritical that a man who sent me off to live with those muggles for the stated purpose of letting me grow up normally and without a swelled head is the same one who apparently has let his own battle with a dark lord go to his.

“I’m very sure that he carefully considered the available options and made the best decisions he could, but given his willful blindness on some matters, we still end up with less than optimal results, such as me being abused for most of my life. The most obvious instance of that is when his people, my supposed guards, were too ineffective to notice I was being beaten.

“At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were right. And maybe it is true that the original Occlumency lessons were nothing more than a sham. They left my mind wide open to Voldemort. Maybe the more I saw, the more revolted and righteously angry I would have become, and the more likely I would have taken Voldemort down out of sheer determination for the hell he and his merry band of miscreants put people through.

“I also think he’s willfully blind to the corruption in the Ministry. If I didn’t know better, and maybe I do, I would say he’s done very little to counter the ineffectiveness of the Ministry, and in particular, Fudge. It may be just as well that he’s always refused the position of Minister. I have to wonder if the reason he stays as headmaster is because he likes playing the role of beleaguered leader of the light. He gains sympathy from certain parties because he has to defend not only against Voldemort, but against a misguided and recalcitrant bureaucracy. And, of course, because he can keep a much closer eye on me from here.

“I mean, really, where does it say that in this case if you cut off the snake’s head that you destroy the entire body? I don’t think so. So why isn’t Dumbledore more concerned with destroying Voldemort’s power base? He’s obviously not expecting me to be the one to take care of the Death Eaters. I’ll be dead, after all, right?

“I’m not necessarily saying that it’s always right to fight fire with fire, but when you have a Ministry that looks the other way for the right amount of coin, refuses to even see the problem, and then fails to properly enact honest measures to stem this dark tide, what else should you do? Hope the Death Eaters will play nice and stick to tickling charms?

“As far as my inheritance goes. . . . I’m not sure what to think. Is there some law that demands that such things are not revealed until the person is seventeen?” Harry glanced over at Tom, who shook his head slightly. “So if that’s not the case, why did he never say anything? Should I be digging deeper to see if he’s been siphoning off funds for use by himself or the Order? Should I be checking to see if he’s removed anything aside from money from any of my vaults?

“For that matter, if I’m the sole heir of Sirius—I certainly don’t recall a proviso in the will which specified that headquarters should stay headquarters—then why is it that I have not been informed that I own a home? Should I assume he thought I would act childishly and insist on moving there rather than remaining with the Dursleys? Or that I would kick them out? Is it legal for him to maintain the Fidelius Charm over a property he doesn’t own and doesn’t have the current owner’s permission for?

“I was right when I originally thought his reference to a weapon meant me. It sure as hell wasn’t that prophecy sphere. Dumbledore is either extremely devious or supremely overconfident. Probably both.”

Tom cocked his head to the side and asked, “Do you think he ought to be removed from the picture?”

Harry jerked his head back slightly in surprise. After a moment he said, “I think that depends on your point of view. He was the person two prophecies were spoken to, which is a likely indicator that someone up there wanted him involved. Still, just because he’s made some lousy decisions doesn’t mean he deserves the worst. Let him have his second day in the sun when Voldemort and the Boy Who Lived die. Assuming there’s any justice in the world, he’ll realize he was outmaneuvered after his death, presumably from old age. And if there’s such a thing as the afterlife, I’d be willing to bet that mum and dad will bend his ear once he arrives.”

“Just checking,” Tom said lightly. “You know, Harry, he may not have the keys to the vaults. He may only have had your trust vault key in order to give it you when you were retrieved from the Dursleys. The accountings only showed deposits.”

“Then I’ll just have to ask, right? Maybe it’s all aboveboard and I’m worrying for nothing. Still, I don’t know why any of it was kept from me. Even if there had been something in either will stating that I couldn’t access them until I was an adult, I ought to have known.”

Tom smiled and nodded. “We’ll just go on, then, finalizing plans. And in the end, we can live normally.”

“Do you think abnormal people can live normally?” asked Harry.

“I think that whatever lives abnormal people live is normal for them, so yes.”

“Ha bloody ha. Since you’re in such a good mood—”

“After last night, who wouldn’t be?”

Harry glared at Tom and continued, “—you can look these over and see if the trust conditions I specified make sense.”

*

Harry thought it was a wonderful thing that he had, after all, gone through with some of those obscure and arcane rituals that Tom had mentioned briefly. Though, it also posed some slight problems all the same. Teaching the much smaller DA how to properly disillusion oneself wasn’t so much the problem as was his ability to see past such trickery.

He was, in fact, having a difficult time in determining whether or not his friends were getting the spell right. It was only when he realized that he could discern a faint aura around a disillusioned person that he relaxed.

“Right, listen up,” he said, interrupting them. “You guys are doing great. I know you’re having a little trouble with this, Ginny, but I think in another session or two you’ll have it down. The same for you, Luna. I think it’s just because you’re both a year behind, but I can’t imagine that will hold you back any more than you let it. After all, you did exceptionally well last year, so I expect it to continue this year.”

Everyone looked fairly pleased with their progress so Harry nodded and said, “That’s enough for tonight, then. It’ll be curfew shortly anyway. After we all get this perhaps we can start on using transfiguration in battle situations.”

Hermione gave him a sharp look, but he ignored it. That is, until she came over to speak with him. “Why that, Harry?”

“Why not that? It can be a very effective tactic in battle, as I’ve witnessed myself.”

“Ah, yes, the Ministry. Harry, I hope that’s all it has to do with this.”

Harry arched a brow and gave her a steady look. “The main point of Defense Against the Dark Arts is learning how to defend yourself. Transfiguration can be just as effective as a shield or a stunner, and at times, far more so. A shield isn’t going to help against the killing curse, that’s for sure. The point of the DA is to learn to defend ourselves, and certainly to learn what we’re denied in class. Is there a problem?”

“Of course not, Harry. I just want to be sure of your priorities.”

He glanced over her shoulder to see the rest of the DA staring at them, then focused on her. “I think my priorities are exactly where they ought to be. However, if you feel differently, then I should think you would do me the courtesy of confronting me in private.”

“Something to hide, Harry?”

He gave her a sad smile. “I’m so glad to see you still have faith in me. It warms my heart, it does.”

She frowned and said, “You didn’t answer my question.”

“No, but you answered mine. Being a friend gives no person the right to know everything, or demand to. If you disagree with what I think is important to teach, that’s fine. You can always skip those meetings. You started all this, and chose me as the teacher precisely because I have confronted Voldemort more than once. I fail to understand why you’re questioning that decision now, especially as you’ve never made suggestions of your own for our curriculum.”

“Do you really think things like this will come up on the OWLs for Ginny and Luna? Or on our NEWTs?”

Harry bit back a sigh and instead gave her a patient smile. “If you have a list of things likely to come up on the NEWTs, I’d be happy to see it. I’m hardly concerned about the OWLs, though. We all did fine, and both Ginny and Luna were with us last year, learning the same things, so I’m quite sure with some revision on their parts they’ll also do fine.”

“I will look into it,” she said, then turned and marched off.

Harry rubbed his forehead as Neville, Ginny, and Luna also took their leave, then sighed. “Did I step into an alternate dimension when I wasn’t looking?” he asked quietly, not expecting an answer. After a moment he grabbed his bag and hoisted it over his shoulder. “Ron, do you want the cloak, or are you comfortable using the charm?”

Ron grinned. “I’ll try the charm, thanks.”

“Okay, but be careful. You know very well it isn’t quite the same as being invisible.”

*

“Has she been giving you lectures for coming back after curfew on Saturdays?” Harry asked as he flopped into a chair.

Ron shrugged and nodded. “I sort of expect it, but I don’t let it bother me.”

“I actually think I’m angry with her now. I don’t like what she was insinuating. Of course I have secrets. Doesn’t everyone? Where is it written down that she deserves to know everything?”

Ron raised his hands in mock surrender as Tom sent, :Now, Harry, for all you know she has a rule book somewhere that says exactly that about friendship.:

“I know, mate, but. . . .”

“Do you think she blames me for the whole Department of Mysteries thing? Really, I don’t get it. She insisted on coming along. You all did. No, I didn’t want any of you in danger, and no, I shouldn’t have gone, but does that make it my fault?”

Ron rolled his eyes. “Look, mate. I agree, we shouldn’t have gone, but we did. We all made the decision to go and no one forced us to do it. If she does blame you, then she’s mental. As it is, she almost got you both killed by the centaurs.”

“Thank goodness for Grawp. Well, anyway, do you want—” Harry stopped abruptly at the sound of hissing coming from his bed, and when Ron opened his mouth to speak he thrust up a hand quickly. A minute later he lowered it, a scowl blossoming on his face.

Ron, obviously confused, asked, “What was that about? And since when did you keep a snake?”

:No, Harry, you can’t kill her.:

:Ha ha. Know any curses that can cause laryngitis?: Harry rubbed his face with both hands and sighed, then looked up at Ron. “It’s not exactly a snake.”

“What, then? Your inflatable Malfoy target spring a leak?”

Harry grinned slightly, involuntarily, and shook his head. “Hardly. But that would make for a lovely Christmas present now that you mention it. What would you say if I told you I had a spy in Dumbledore’s office? A spy that just now told me that Hermione went straight to the headmaster after the DA meeting to tell him about her”—he made quotation marks in the air—“concerns.”

Ron opened his mouth, closed it, then frowned. A minute passed before he spoke, making Harry think that his friend really was thinking before he was willing to respond. “I would say that I’m also concerned, and curious as to how you managed to get any kind of a spy in his office.”

“I have friends in low places,” Harry said vaguely. “Look, I’m just going to be straight with you if you think you can handle it, starting with the prophecy.”

:This is much earlier than you’d planned on, Harry.:

:I know that, so be ready to stun him senseless if he freaks out at any point and looks like he might run.:

“I think I’m ready. You’ve said my shields are quite strong, though I’m not sure how I’ve managed that.”

Harry shrugged. “Several things, I suppose. Everyone is good at something, Ron, and you had incentive, not to mention a good starting point for this. But you need to tell me if, after I tell you, you can’t handle knowing. You can always be obliviated.”

“Just what the hell have you been teaching yourself?”

“You didn’t think I stayed in my room on Sundays so I could relax in the bath all day, did you?” Harry gave him a pointed look. “So, the prophecy Dumbledore revealed to me.” He rattled it off from memory and waited.

Ron stared at the floor for a while, then took a deep breath and said, “I guess I can see why you think you might not live through all this. But, Harry, if that’s—why hasn’t Dumbledore been giving you special training?”

“Your guess is as good as mine, Ron. I’d love to think it’s because he wanted me to have something approaching a normal childhood, but I can’t quite bring myself to believe that. He only told me the prophecy because Sirius was killed. Sometimes I think it’s because I was in shock already, and maybe it would take a while to sink in. Well, it didn’t work out that way. Do you know what else he said? He said he had made the mistake of caring more about my needs than those of the wizarding world. Sort of an explanation of why he’d kept me in the dark for so long.”

He could see that Ron was struggling through the implications of that and went silent, waiting to see how his friend would eventually react. He was happy, at the least, that Ron was still keeping to his word.

“This is why you brought up chess before?”

“Yeah. Partly.”

Ron gave him an assessing look. “Why did you really speak to the sorting hat?”

Harry laughed. “Are you absolutely certain you want to know?”

“Yes, so stop stalling,” Ron said firmly.

“All right, you asked for it. I just hope you’re still my friend when I’m done explaining. I spoke to the sorting hat because I had certain suspicions about Dumbledore. I used the excuse of Sirius and Slytherin to do that.”

“What do you mean?”

“It is true that the sorting hat wanted me in Slytherin. I didn’t lie about that, or about why I rejected it. It even came up again our second year and I was just as resistant to the idea. But after Sirius died, and that conversation in Dumbledore’s office, I really wanted to know if the sorting hat knew anything, would tell me anything. I mean, it’s in his office year round, so it probably overhears a ton, right?

“Dumbledore came to see me the day the Order brought me to headquarters. I told him I thought it might be a good idea if I made out a will. He agreed almost immediately, which I found suspicious. Then I told him, after he tried to coax me to unburden myself to him, that I still didn’t understand how the sorting hat could have possibly wanted me in Slytherin, that Sirius would have hated me, how could it think that, and so on. He was the one to offer to let me speak to it.”

“You made a will?”

Harry nodded. “He came back a few days later. We went to Gringotts and took care of the will. When we returned to headquarters he produced the hat, so I put it on. I found out several interesting things, the least important of which is that I am a blood descendant of Godric Gryffindor.”

He waited patiently for Ron’s expression of jealousy to fade, then said, “I also found out that there was a second prophecy, though I don’t know the exact wording. According to that one, if I manage to kill Voldemort, I’ll also die.”

Ron’s face immediately betrayed his horror.

Harry plowed right on and said, “And the other thing I learned was that Dumbledore never cared. He’s been waiting for the day I manage it, and he’s purposely let me get into all those encounters, hoping I’d off the bastard with a lucky shot of some kind, presumably whatever this power is I’m supposed to have.”

:I resent that. My father may have been a disgrace, but my parents were married.:

Harry’s mouth twitched in response while wondering if he should be fetching a calming potion for Ron, who looked to be turning an interesting shade somewhere between red and purple. :Two points for me!:

:Aren’t we being optimistic.:

:Well, I try.:

“So, are you a pawn or the white queen?”

Harry looked back at Ron and blinked. “How dare you call me a queen. Do I walk funny? Speak with a lisp?”

How can you joke about this?”

“Are you ready for the next part, or would you rather I stop here?”

Ron groaned and buried his face in his hands. “Oh, no,” he said in a muffled voice, “you go right ahead.”

“Okay. There was a third prophecy.”

Ron’s head shot up in disbelief.

“That one was pretty odd, though,” Harry said musingly, rubbing his chin. “In fact, it wasn’t all gloom and doom. I mean, you could take it that way, but I didn’t. However, it meant I had to learn to trust someone. Someone pretty scary.”

“Please tell it wasn’t Snape. I’m begging you,” Ron whined.

“No,” he said with a slight chuckle, “not Snape. But to be honest, I’m beginning to see he’s not such a bad guy. Are you sure you want me to go on, because you look pretty awful if you’ll forgive me for saying so, and you’re going to be certain I’m insane.”

Ron gave him an offended look. “I meant what I said.”

Harry rattled off the third prophecy. By the time Ron had figured that one out Harry had managed to call Dobby for refreshments and was on his second cup of tea. So was Tom, who was openly sitting on the arm of Harry’s chair.

“Who the hell are you?” was an able distraction from their mental conversation, and both looked over at Ron, who was sporting a confused expression.

“Not to be rude, but, who do you think I am?” Tom said mildly.

“Well, if you have anything to do with that third prophecy,” Ron said slowly, “then you would be . . . Voldemort?”

“Sort of,” Tom said agreeably, “but not really.”

Ron blanched and pressed back into his chair.

Harry let out a soft sigh and said, “I distinctly remember telling him that he was going to think I was insane.”

“You did, Harry. Now, how did the DA meeting go?”

“Fine, except for the part where Hermione started making insinuations. I really think that Ginny and Luna will get that charm down soon.”

“I’m sure they will. And what set Hermione off, hm? Whatever it was that sent her rushing off to see the old man?”

Harry nodded. A discreet look at his friend revealed that Ron was looking morbidly interested and a little confused. “I was planning on doing transfiguration in battle next, and she thought, apparently, that I was up to something no good.”

Tom snorted and had a sip of tea. “This is the same girl who, at one time, had aspirations of becoming an auror? She would do well to learn such things, then.”

“Harry, am I having a particularly weird dream?” asked Ron plaintively.

“Nope. Ron, I’d like to introduce you to Tom Riddle, my soulmate.” Harry honestly thought Ron was going to pass out, but he didn’t in the end. He just breathed deeply for several minutes before looking back up.

“I know about soulmates,” he said. “You’ve tested this?”

“Of course. We can speak telepathically, as well. Er, Ron, it’s Tom who’s been teaching me Occlumency this year, not Snape. And because he can teach it properly, I was able to teach you properly.”

“Dumbledore doesn’t know about this, or the third prophecy.”

“No, he doesn’t,” answered Tom. “The sorting hat was quite adamant that knowledge of these things would not matter to the old man. He would probably do whatever it took to ensure that Harry tried to kill me, and preferably succeeded.”

“I do know about soulmates,” Ron repeated, though his voice was a bit shaky. “I can understand, Harry, why you’ve done what you’ve done. As much as I might like to, I can’t fault you for your choices. How did you know, though?”

“The last vision I ever had. Unfortunately, that vision triggered something. And if you’d rather not just take my word for it, I can show you the memories. When it happened, it was like any other vision. Very painful, and I’ve no doubt I caused a disturbance. Uncle Vernon got very upset at that point. He’d already been doing to me what he did the summer before second year, but when the vision happened, he . . . took things a step further. It was then that Tom started experiencing things from my point of view.”

“He started . . . hurting you?”

“Regular beatings,” Harry said with a nod and a grimace. “And no Order to save me, strangely enough. Don’t you think that’s odd considering they were there to keep an eye on things? Apparently, they were only checking for people coming from the outside. If they did know what was going on, they either ignored it or reported it and were told to leave things be. I’d ask the hat again, but I’ve no idea how I could do that without alerting Dumbledore. At any rate, it was Tom who saved me from them.”

“But you—” Ron stopped and looked thoughtful for a minute. “Your uncle made you write the letters?”

Harry nodded again. “Maybe it was so I’d be so happy to be rescued at the end of the summer. As it was, he wasn’t going to send anyone for me until the last week. He changed his mind for some reason, though. I’m told that he felt uneasy over the fact that I’d never been seen outside the house all summer. I also found out that he sent my aunt and uncle a letter saying that Sirius had died.”

Ron blinked and said, “But—”

Harry shrugged. “Uncle Vernon knew that Sirius wouldn’t be coming to help me out. And when the Order didn’t interfere. . . .”

“You’re right, Harry. You didn’t ask enough questions. But I guess that’s beside the point. So, let me get this straight. Dumbledore isn’t a saint, Voldemort isn’t a problem any longer, and—”

“And you finally have a decent chess partner,” Tom said.

“I do?”

Harry rolled his eyes, hoping that Ron really was taking all this all right. “And yes, in a way, Voldemort is no longer a problem. However, we aren’t quite there yet. Ron, when I told you I thought I might not live through this, I wasn’t being morbid. Harry Potter will die, if only to ensure that Dumbledore thinks everything went as he planned.”

“I refuse to believe you’re going to die, Harry.”

“Harry Potter is going to die, as is Voldemort,” said Tom cheerfully. “But we won’t.”

Ron sighed and wilted in his chair. “This is too much,” he said softly.

Harry waited anxiously, biting his lip, hoping that hadn’t meant what it sounded like. After several minutes he said, “You can change your mind, Ron. You can forget about all of this.”

“No,” Ron said softly. “It’s not that. I believe you. It’s just so much to take in all at once. I mean”—he raised his head—“this is either a very elaborate trap, or it’s the truth. Why else would I be sitting here, in Voldemort’s presence, still alive?”

Tom scowled slightly and said, “I would prefer you not call me that. If you know as much about soulmates as you claim, then you would know why I was like that, and why I changed. My name is Tom.”

“Then explain to me how it is that my best friend is going to die, but isn’t?” Ron demanded, showing a bit of that Gryffindor courage.

Tom’s expression softened to a smile. “That, my young friend, is simple, and you can thank Harry almost entirely for it. Imagine my surprise when I realized that Harry has as devious a mind as my own, and is willing to see beyond the obvious.”

Ron made an impatient huff in response.

“It is possible to take on a new identity,” Tom said simply.

Ron mulled over that, then shot a piercing look at Tom, then Harry, and then changed the subject. “Do you think that whatever Hermione said to the headmaster will make you seem more . . . uh . . . aware than you ought to be?”

Harry blinked slowly and dropped his gaze before saying, “He might think that, but, I did get the idea from watching him battle Voldemort at the Ministry, just as Hermione surmised. The fact that perhaps now I’ve chosen to get serious about things, that I’ve decided to research things like that, shouldn’t be too big of a surprise to the old man.” After a delicate pause he said, “You were right, by the way, about how much money I ought to have. As it turns out, Dumbledore never told me my vault was simply a minor trust. He also never told me I’m Sirius’s sole heir.”

“Then how did you find out?”

Tom answered with a smirk. “Harry was raised in the muggle world, which means those laws apply. I arranged for him to be emancipated by bribing his aunt. Once we had the paperwork we went to Gringotts. Of course, as the person known as Harry James Potter must die, we have to return so that Harry can detail what he wants done with his estates.”

The next hour or so was taken up in Harry and Tom explaining the situation in more detail, with Ron becoming alternately angry and impressed. Apparently, his knowledge of soulbonds, and his promise to Harry earlier, was sufficient for him to accept what he was hearing, and accept that Tom was not, strictly speaking, Voldemort. It did not, however, make him any more inclined to have favorable thoughts about Snape, which Harry found inordinately amusing.

“We have a question for you,” Harry said.

“Yes,” Tom said in the next second. “Now that you understand, we would like to know if you would consent to help.”

“In what way?”

Tom flicked his eyes heavenward, then said, “Well, it seems to me that as Harry’s best friend, and brother of sorts, that were you to be captured, naturally Harry would recklessly race off to rescue you, and in the process, manage to kill Voldemort in his excessive anger.”

Ron stared at Tom for a moment, then grinned. “Yeah, he would. Harry is kind of stupid that way.”

Harry gasped in outrage and chucked a cushion at his friend. “I resent that.”

Ron grinned again, then sobered. “Harry, I can understand why you wouldn’t want to tell Hermione. I know she would never accept this, and after the things she’s said, even if she did, she would try to convince you to do things differently. I’m fairly certain that she would try to paint the headmaster in a much more flattering light. I’m not saying that I think he’s the Light’s version of Voldemort, but I do think he’s made a lot of mistakes. I don’t think Hermione could or would understand that. I expect she would go straight to Dumbledore with whatever you told her.”

Harry and Tom both nodded. “I don’t like that he’s lied to me all these years, and used me. Things could have been so much different. That’s why we choose to disappear and start over. You’ll be the only person who’ll know besides Snape, unless Remus can be convinced. He’s very loyal to Dumbledore, for understandable reasons, so I honestly don’t know how he would react.”

Ron shrugged slightly. “So what exactly did you have in mind?”

“Once we have all the details finalized, we can move forward. The hardest part is getting the people in Azkaban set up. That reminds me. . . .” Harry turned to Tom and said, “Did those dementors ever, er, die?”

“That’s a good question. I’ve had so many other things on my mind that I hadn’t thought to look recently.” Tom concentrated for a moment, then asked, when Dobby popped in, “Would you do me a favor and retrieve the sphere from my desk, please, Dobby?”

“Dobby is being happy to.” The elf popped out and returned a minute later, holding out the requested object.

Before the elf could disappear again Harry said, “I’ll probably want you again in a bit, Dobby. I’m not sure how long, but I’ll need you to return Ron to Gryffindor tower when we’re done here.”

“Of course, master,” Dobby said, then popped out.

“You must have been laughing at me when I suggested Dobby watch over you the other night,” Ron said a bit ruefully.

“Maybe,” was all Harry would say before giving Tom an intent look.

Tom activated the sphere and looked into it, motioning for Harry and Ron to come closer.

“Ugh,” Harry said a moment later. “Tom, I really think you should just leave things as is. If they’re still, er, alive, I’m not sure I want to know how long it will take, and I don’t fancy anyone having to breathe that air.”

A very pale Ron nodded his agreement.

Tom deactivated the sphere with a flick of his wrist and tucked it away in his pocket. “I’m inclined to agree. That will have to remain their tomb. At any rate, when the time comes, you, Ron, can be captured, so to speak, and Harry can go charging off after you. The so-called final battle can take place, the Boy Who Lived and the Dark Lord can die, and all will be right with the world.”

“Well, either Ron gets captured, or it appears so. You might come in for far too much in the way of questioning if you were actually there. Occlumency won’t prevent you from being interrogated by overzealous Ministry officials,” Harry pointed out.

“So use polyjuice. I’ll hang out in the Shrieking Shack or someplace, knocked out. If you had good enough proof, shouldn’t that be all it took? The same for Remus, assuming he falls in.”

“I’m sure we can think of something that would suit.”

Harry nodded, then rose and went to kneel by Ron’s chair. “I don’t want to ask this, but. . . . Please, Ron, don’t betray me, don’t turn against me. I know right at this moment you’re okay, but once you’ve had a chance, alone, to think, I just don’t—”

Ron covered his mouth and cut him off. “I understand. And yes, I do need to think, but not for the reasons you believe.” After removing his hand he continued, “I need to think about how to react to others. I need to think about how I’m going to shoulder the burden of this knowledge and keep it safe. Harry, I meant it. I did some really stupid things myself, and I won’t repeat them. I also promised you I would think things through before I went off half-cocked. I really think I’m starting to understand, even if just a little, how much pressure you’ve been under all this time, and how much courage it took for you to open up to me. I won’t betray you. You’ve done nothing but be my friend, even when I’ve been a complete ass about so many things. I’d have to be a fool to turn my back on that. Hermione is going to be difficult. Now that I know, I want to be able to spend even more time with you, but I’m not sure how.”

Tom cleared his throat and said, “Dobby can help. He can always bring you down here after you’ve retired for the evening and take you back later on. No one would need to know you’ve gone elsewhere. And, if possible, you can certainly join Harry and I during some of our lessons. Occlumency has already had an effect on you, and I expect that you’ve been finding your studies and classes easier, no?”

Ron nodded, so Tom went on, “You could begin to show yourself as being more studious, though that might have the effect of Granger being thrilled over the change and demanding more of your time. However that works out is up to you, ultimately. Still, something can be worked out. You just need to remember that there are only two safe places for you to speak freely, and that’s here or the Chamber. I would not trust even the Room of Requirement.”

Harry sat back, a thoughtful expression on his face. “Tom, would you teach him now how to detect monitoring charms? If the old man gets suspicious, he might get nosy. If Ron is being tracked, he can’t risk coming down here, and I’m not sure it would be wise to remove it.”

“All right, but what do you suggest?”

“If that happens . . . . You have any more of those portraits, or could get more? Dobby could place one in Ron’s bed like he did mine. Even though Ron can’t understand snakes, he could speak to me that way so long as he put up the appropriate charms. And Ron, I want you to be really careful. Malfoy still has it in for me, and with allies from other houses, he might use them to attack me, or you, or anyone who’s friendly with me.”

While Tom was teaching Ron, Harry was checking the Marauder’s Map to see where Hermione was. Given that she was still in the common room when his friend had got down the spell, Harry quickly devised a plan to divert suspicion.

“Look,” he said, tapping the map, then, “Since she’s lurking, I’ll ask Dobby to pop you into the boy’s bathroom, okay? You can wander down the stairs with some excuse—maybe you thought you left something in the common room—and surprise her. She’ll think you got back before her, or without her noticing, and you can always wonder out loud at what she’s still doing up. It doesn’t matter so much if she’s suspicious. I’m quite sure she’ll have been keeping an eye on the portrait entrance, so you wouldn’t have got past her that way.”

“Sounds good.”