Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: One Winged Angel :: 29 :: Scoping

29 :• Scoping

Harry breathed a sigh of relief as soon as Hermione and the others were safely in carriages headed for the station. Blaise had also elected to go home, but sternly told Harry and Ron that he expected at least one letter from one of them regarding their upcoming prank situation during the holiday.

“You realize, of course,” said Harry as the carriage pulled away, “that I have no idea what to get anyone for Christmas.”

Ron wrinkled his forehead and shrugged. “I’m not exactly the best person to ask.”

“Yeah, but. . . . Well, let’s go back.” He arched his brow and pivoted, then strode off toward the entrance. Once inside Harry headed for the staircase to the kitchens, then ducked into the secret passage with Ron right beside him. When he emerged on the other side he appeared to be alone as he headed into the Slytherin common room, and from there to his bedroom.

Ron faded back into view and flopped into a chair as Harry called for Dobby and requested some drinks, then took a seat as well. “It’s just . . . we could owl order and all that, but I don’t think that would work out very well for certain people, like your parents.”

Ron shook his head and said, “Mum and dad won’t care, Harry. The fact that you thought of them would be enough.”

“Maybe so, but it’s still nicer to get people something they can appreciate. I mean, your mum loves to knit, so maybe yarn? I can always get your dad something muggle-ish again.” He paused as Dobby popped in and handed him and Ron each a butterbeer.

“When is Remus supposed to be here?” Ron asked as Dobby popped back out.

Harry shrugged and had a sip of his butterbeer, trying to look more casual about that than he felt. “Tomorrow, I think. I expect he’ll come with us. He’ll just have to look the other way when I get something for him, if I can figure out what.”

“And just how worried are you really?” asked Ron shrewdly.

“I don’t know,” he replied softly. “We aren’t exactly close, you know? Sure, he was one of my dad’s best friends, and Sirius’s, but that says very little for me. It helps that he supported me without question when I was re-sorted, but I don’t know how much that actually matters. If he’s Dumbledore’s man. . . .”

“Can’t you sound him out first?”

“Sure, but I guess I’d have to think about what specifically.” Harry tipped his bottle back and forth indecisively. He would have to be very careful about what he chose to say or ask while outside the confines of his room. And on that thought, he blinked and summoned Dobby.

“Master is needing something?” Dobby asked expectantly.

“Yes, I do.” Harry gave the elf an intent look, then said, “I was wondering something. A few things, actually. Do you know which room Remus will be in?”

Dobby nodded so Harry continued, “Would you do me a favor and check to make sure his room is secure and keep an eye on it, like you’ve been doing for Professor Snape?”

“Dobby is being happy to.”

“Thank you. Just make sure you don’t get caught.” As soon as Dobby popped out he looked back at Ron and made a slight face. “That’s the whole question, right? Just how confident is Remus in Dumbledore? Maybe I have a unique perspective because of who I am, but if he can’t conceive of something more than what the headmaster sees, it’ll be too risky to say much to him.”

“Yeah. But just how upset are you going to be if that happens?”

Harry busied himself with sliding his fingers through the condensation on his bottle, then said, “I’m not sure, honestly. With you, I would have been really hurt. Remus, though, I’ve barely spent any real time with. When he was here before, none of us knew until the end, and then he left. After that we saw him, what, a few times here and there because of the Order? This summer has been the most time I’ve spent with him, and even then I was left alone a lot. His letters have been all right, though. I just don’t know. But I do know that if he can’t be trusted, or he refuses, that we’ll have to be very careful around him in the future.”

Ron raised his brows as he drank.

“It’s already going to be risky if he comes in here while Tom is around. What we’ve learned of werewolves isn’t much, all told. Can he identify a person by scent? Hear the number of heartbeats in a room? Will he know that someone is hiding?”

Ron looked thoughtful for several moments, then grinned. “I can think of something that might work.”

“Oh?”

*

Remus arrived the next morning midway through breakfast and slipped into a seat beside Harry, which had conveniently been left open. Few students had stayed that year, which was perhaps a good thing, so there was very little competition at the table for food, though one had to be careful to speak in low tones or avoid anything sensitive, as fewer people meant less noise pollution.

Of course, Harry hadn’t been making much in the way of conversation given that Ron was immersed in his usual mealtime behavior of eating as though the food would be taken away at any second. When Remus sat down he was favored by a pleased smile and a nod.

“Good morning, Harry. And you, Ron.”

Ron grunted, so Harry took on the mantle of conversationalist. “Good morning, Remus. We really weren’t sure what time to expect you. Since you’re here so early, though, I hope you’ll come with us to Hogsmeade to go shopping.”

Remus gave him a sidelong look before filling his plate, then nodding down the table at the headmaster and several of the professors. “Shopping?” he eventually asked. “Leaving it a bit late, are we?”

Harry shrugged. “Well, it’s a little hard to shop for people when so many of them insist on accompanying you. With just you and Ron, I think I can persuade each of you to look the other way for a bit, right? It is a bit of a shame, though. Blaise went home for the holiday, so you won’t be able to meet him.”

“I believe I recall him vaguely from your third year. Darkish, a bit exotic looking?”

“You could say that, yes. Still, looks don’t mean much.”

“Yes, Harry, but you have spoken of him in your letters. I’m sure he’s a decent person, or you wouldn’t still be friends with him, nor would Ron. And, I assume if I’m to go with you, I can keep an eye on you two at the same time.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “Expecting trouble, or are you just being cautious?”

“I’m always cautious, Harry,” Remus said, then began eating.

Harry let out a slight sigh and glanced at Ron. He could not tell if Remus meant something deeper by that or not, and hated the idea of him being some kind of spy for Dumbledore. Hopefully their outing that day would shed some light on the situation. Even so, if he did go ahead with speaking to Remus privately, at least Tom would be present.

Fifteen minutes later they finished up and Remus waited just inside the entrance for Harry and Ron to run and fetch their things. The walk down to Hogsmeade was mainly spent on discussion of their first prank, which Moony was quick to appreciate. It wasn’t until they were browsing through Gladrags that Harry sidled up to Remus and said, “I really want to ask you some questions, but you might find them a bit odd.”

“Go ahead.”

“What are you going to do once all this is over?” Harry asked casually, pushing one cloak aside on a rack to see another one more clearly.

“That assumes that I’m still alive,” Remus said just as casually.

Harry stopped and turned to face him. “Isn’t that supposed to be my line?”

“Harry! Don’t say such things,” Remus said with a stern look.

“Why shouldn’t I? After all, children learn by example, correct? And here you are saying such things, setting a bad example for me. You know, I asked you once to take me seriously and you did. What’s changed since then?”

Remus passed a hand across his forehead and dropped his gaze briefly. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I can’t very well chastise you for that when it would brand me a hypocrite. But, Harry, it’s still not good to say.”

Harry arched his brow. “So, what do you plan on doing? I know it must be hard for you.”

“More of what I’ve already done, I suppose. Odd jobs and such.” Then Remus turned it around and said, “And you?”

“I thought I’d learn about what I’ve missed in muggle schooling, perhaps. Or maybe one of the more esoteric trades that may not really fit in with OWL and NEWT scores.”

“You’re worried that people would hire you for your name, not your brains or talent?” Remus asked shrewdly.

Harry shrugged and went back to flipping through the rack. “That’s possible, don’t you think? It’s not like I have much interest lately in being an auror. What about the headmaster—he can’t help?”

“He’s not a god, Harry, he can only do so much. Most people simply aren’t willing to take a chance on a werewolf, no matter who vouches for him. And, muggles tend to get suspicious when I consistently cannot be around during the full moon period.”

Harry nodded at a new rack and moved over to it slowly, Remus following. Unfortunately, his introduction to the subject of Dumbledore hadn’t revealed much of anything. Moony hadn’t seemed to be anything other than ultimately indifferent. He supposed it could have everything to do with resignation toward the prejudice he must have faced all of his life. With that weight, how could a person expect anyone to make it all better? He himself couldn’t think of anything offhand, though he was willing to admit that he was barely an adult, that didn’t involve being a bit of an entrepreneur.

He shook his head slightly; none of it was helping him with his current goal. “Well, here’s another odd question, I guess. What do you think of Professor Dumbledore?”

:Very subtle, Harry.:

“In what sense?”

:Shut up, unless you plan to make helpful suggestions.: Harry smiled at Remus and gave a half shrug. “I don’t know. Viewpoints change as you age.”

Remus shifted and arched a brow, then smiled as Ron popped up on the other side of the rack and asked, “Found anything?”

Harry glanced to the side at Remus and grinned. “I don’t know. See anything you like, Moony? Maybe I should keep an eye on you while we’re shopping today so I have an idea what to get you, see where your eyes stray.”

“The headmaster would be easy,” commented Ron. “Just get some socks and sherbet lemons.”

Remus shook his head with a slight smile. “I don’t think we’ll find much in here. Let’s move on? Unless you wanted to get those socks?”

“Socks are a very personal thing,” Harry said loftily. “I wouldn’t dream of attempting that challenge.”

They went through several more shops before Remus asked softly, “What are you really wondering about, Harry, because how I feel about Albus is more or less irrelevant.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“Harry, I can tell when you’re edgy. For some reason my opinion of Albus is important to you, and I’d like to know why.”

“Because it is. Sometimes I think that people forget the headmaster is simply a man, that’s all. Some people see him as nothing more than an irritating obstacle, while others see him as practically omnipotent. It’s like there’s no middle ground.”

“That still doesn’t explain why you’re curious about my opinion,” Remus pressed gently.

“You’re one of the few people I think I could trust to even talk to about things like this. Most people would—how am I supposed to make sense of things, or see more clearly, if all I ever hear are the extremes? You’ve been through so much in your life. Surely you have a unique perspective.”

“That’s a delicate way of putting it,” Remus said mildly. “All right. I think Albus is as human as the next person. He makes the best decisions he can with the information he has, and yes, sometimes those turn out to be mistakes.”

Harry nodded and ran a hand through his hair.

:A fairly guarded answer, but he seems to mean it,: Tom commented.

:Yes, but. . . .:

:And have you found a gift for me yet?:

:You think I’m stupid enough to shop for you without blocking you out of my mind first?: Harry retorted.

“Harry?”

He blinked and said, “Sorry. My thoughts were elsewhere for a moment.”

“Most people would what?” Remus inquired.

Harry cringed inwardly, but decided to be as honest as he could be. “Most people would brush me off if I asked a question like that. They’d either get upset that I’d dare question things, anything, or treat me like I was still eleven. You know what people expect me to do. Is it so strange that I would start to look more closely at those around me?”

Remus didn’t look entirely satisfied. Nevertheless he said, “You’re nearly an adult, Harry, so no, it isn’t. But, if you want to talk more along these lines, we probably should not continue in town, so how about we finish up your shopping?”

“Sure. I think we’re going to have to drag Ron away from the sweets, though. It might take both of us.”

*

Later that evening in the Chamber library they discussed their little shopping trip.

“So, what do you think?” Harry asked.

“Well, I heard most of it, and I think it’s worth a shot,” Ron said.

Harry looked at Tom expectantly. “We can put Ron’s idea into play. I think there’s little risk if we do things that way. While I could say that Remus was saying what you wanted to hear, I believe he was sincere at the time, so it is very possible that he would be open to seeing things from your point of view. And, if not, I obliviate him.”

“I suppose a lot depends on his primary loyalty,” said Ron. “Even if that means he would side with Harry because your James’s son. . . .”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Well, if he meant what he said, then maybe he doesn’t blindly follow the old man. If he listens, but we’re at all unsure, we can make him swear that oath, right?”

“Yes,” Tom agreed, “we can. And if it’s that bad, I’ll still obliviate him, all right?”

*

Harry waited silently in one of the chairs for several minutes after Dobby had popped a soundly sleeping Remus onto the library couch. He might have wondered why it was that a creature such as Remus had not awoken, but he rather figured that Dobby had likely done a little something extra to ensure that the man would arrive safely unaware. Not that it mattered. Though, if Harry completely lost his nerve, Dobby would be able to return Remus as though it had never happened.

:Harry, now is not the time to waffle.:

Harry turned his gaze toward the fire and sneered for effect. Tom being invisible did not mean he wasn’t aware of where his bonded was. :Sometimes, Tom, you are much too confident.:

:Don’t be silly. All dark lords are confident, even if we are insane. It’s just how it is. In fact, we’re usually overconfident, much to our eventual chagrin, not to mention probable death. You know, muggles are really quite fascinating—amazing technology. Did you know that on the internet there’s an actual list of rules for evil overlords?:

Harry grinned. :And you question whether or not I should be learning chemistry?:

:Harry, all I’m saying is you need to make a decision. Tell him, or don’t. It’s entirely up to you. Sitting there staring at him isn’t accomplishing anything, and if you wait too long, he may wake on his own from having been disturbed. You know that I’ll support you either way.:

Harry rose to his feet with a slight sigh, moved to kneel by the sofa and shook Remus gently, then sat back as the man blinked his eyes open and yawned.

“Harry? What—?”

“Hello, Moony. I’m sorry I’ve had to wake you like this, but it was the best way for us to talk without any well-meaning persons interfering.”

Remus rubbed his eyes and sat up, looking around the room in some confusion before resting his gaze on Harry again. “Where the hell am I and how did I get here?”

Harry ignored the ‘how’ and said. “This isn’t a particularly weird dream, by the way, in case you were wondering. You are awake. As for where you are, it’s my private library.” He stood back up and returned to his chair, settling in with outward calm. “I told you before that I had questions for you. Unfortunately, there are very few places I can ask those where I can be guaranteed of privacy, so here you are.”

Remus narrowed his eyes and said, “I’m going to take that on faith for the moment. What questions?”

Harry was pleased that so far Remus hadn’t seemed to notice they were not alone, though it could simply be the disorientation of having been woken abruptly from a sound sleep. “I’m awfully curious, Moony. For instance, do you happen to know the contents of the prophecy?”

Remus blinked in surprise, then took on a suspicious expression. “What? Is that what this is about? Harry, don’t think you can presume to use our relationship to interrogate me for information you have little need to know.”

Harry frowned angrily and shifted in his chair. “Little need to know? This is my life we’re talking about, Moony, my life on the line. And I’ll thank you to remember that I did not ask you to tell me what it said, only if you knew. I am the one with a psychotic dark lord out for this blood. Oh, wait, he already got that. So sorry, I meant to say trying to kill me.”

“Harry, Harry, let the Order handle things.”

Harry snorted rudely and began laughing. “You have no clue, do you? He never told you. I have to wonder if he told any of you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Moony, Dumbledore told me the prophecy barely an hour after Sirius went through the veil. Don’t tell me to sit back and let the Order handle things because you have no idea what you’re talking about. Dumbledore knows and I know that the only person who can defeat Voldemort is me.” He favored Remus with a slightly sneering look of expectation.

“No.” Remus gave a sharp shake of his head. “That’s not possible.”

“Oh? Why is that?”

“He would have said something,” Remus insisted.

“You mean like how he said something about me being Sirius’s sole heir?” Harry asked. “Or that I own headquarters? Or is it only the Order members who know those trifling little details?”

Remus stared at him blankly so Harry said, “I suppose not judging by your expression. Would you like to see my memory of that night? I’m sure that would help to convince you.” When Remus nodded Harry retrieved his wand and summoned to his hand a pensieve Tom had secured for him, then extracted a memory to place inside. After putting the device on the table he said, “Feel free.”

Some time later Remus pushed it back and looked at him intently. “All right, I concede that point. Obviously, no, I did not know. If I had. . . .”

Harry responded with a shrug before he retrieved his memory.

“How did you know about the will?”

Harry glanced up sharply. “Are you saying you did?”

Remus shook his head.

“Do you remember when you came to fetch me this summer, and told me that the headmaster had sent a letter to my aunt and uncle? Do you know what that actually meant? What consequences it had for me?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Of course not.”

:Harry, you’re being more than a little snippy here.:

He took a deep breath and tried to relax. It wasn’t right to take his anger out on Remus even peripherally. “They knew about Sirius, that he was in Azkaban and had escaped. They were afraid if they did anything to me, that he would come. Would you like to see what happened when they knew he was dead?” Without waiting for an answer he dropped another memory into the pensieve and pushed it back toward Remus.

That time the man came out looking flushed and angry. “How in the world. . . ?”

“That’s what I’d like to know,” Harry responded.

“Then how is it that when I came to get you, you looked perfectly well?”

Harry smiled slightly as he retrieved his memory. “I don’t know. I’m not sure if you really want to know the answer to that. I mean, I realize that you’ve always seen Dumbledore as . . . well, I’m not sure, really. Not bad, though, right? Tell you what. Let’s see how you react to this memory first.” He dropped the memory of his final vision in the pensieve.

Harry was well into a bottle of butterbeer by the time Remus turned his attention back to him. “Would you like something to drink while we talk?” he asked politely.

Remus nodded absently so Harry fetched him a bottle of butterbeer. Several minutes later Remus asked, “So who is this angel?”

“You don’t know?”

“Damn it, Harry, I am not your enemy, so stop treating me like one. Yes, I have my suspicions, but I would prefer to hear it from you.”

“Not my enemy,” Harry repeated with a nod.

“Harry,” Remus said sternly, then relented and said more softly, “I’m really quite touched that you’ve trusted me this far, but I do wish you’d stop being so damn difficult. At any rate, something tells me I’m not getting out of here so easily should I choose to do a runner.”

Harry bit his lip and nodded. “That’s right, you won’t. Not unless you’re a parselmouth, anyway.”

“Then talk to me. Seeing as how I’m not going anywhere, you may as well, without the dramatics.”

Harry snorted softly and took a swig from his bottle. “All right. The angel is my soulmate, Tom.”

“Tom Riddle.”

“Yes.”

“Harry, where are we really?”

“We’re in the Chamber of Secrets. Part of it, anyway. The main chamber is a short distance from here.”

“If Tom Riddle is your soulmate, then would I be right to assume that it was he who got you out of the situation you were in with the Dursleys?” When Harry nodded he continued, “And that would generally be a rather large sticking point in the grander scheme of things. Your aunt’s home isn’t protected, is it?”

Harry shook his head. “It’s not been properly protected since the third task, Moony. On top of that, it’s obvious that whatever the Order guards have been doing it hasn’t had much effect on my health and well-being. Yes, Tom got me out of there, fixed me up, then made sure I could go back and not be afraid for my life. I get the feeling you know as much about soulmates as Ron does.”

Remus cocked his head to the side curiously. “You’ve already told him, then. Why me?”

“Because first, you’re the only other person I would want to, and second, the only other person I think might be able to accept what’s happened without immediately dashing off to blurt everything out to the old man.” He paused to sneer before saying, “For my own good, of course.” After a sip he continued, “This was my decision entirely, but with full support. It’s nice being an equal partner in something, with no deception or lies.”

“An equal partner in what, Harry?”

Harry gave him a wide-eyed look, then chuckled. “I hope you don’t think I’m referring to my apprenticeship in the art of being an evil dark lord, Moony. Far from it. However, I can’t say that I’ve entirely kept my hands clean. After all, helping to figure out how to dispose of the problematic Death Eaters means I do have to think about and discuss things I would normally never consider. Peter is dead by the way, as is Bellatrix. I thought you might like to know.”

Remus shifted. “I cannot say that I’m entirely sorry to hear that. Did you kill them yourself?”

“No. Tom did, because I asked him to do something. Either Azkaban or death, but it turned out death was the result. You’re being alarmingly calm about this so far.”

“I’m not sure I’m past the fact that you were being beaten this past summer. Trying to wrap my head around the fact that Voldemort is your soulmate hasn’t quite hit me yet, I think.”

Harry coughed and glanced toward the fireplace. :I feel out of my depth here. Maybe it would be easier if we just had Dobby bring in Ron and you come out of hiding. What do you think?:

:If that’s what you would like, we can do that. Let me go into the other room and talk to Dobby. I’ll be back in just a minute, and I’ll come out after Ron arrives.:

Harry continued to gaze at the fire until footsteps signaled Ron’s arrival, at which point he smiled and said, “Hey.”

“I wasn’t asleep, if you were worried about that. Too excited to sleep,” Ron said as he snagged a drink and flopped onto the rug. “Hullo, Remus.”

More footsteps from the corridor heralded the arrival of Tom, who was dressed quite casually and appeared to be approximately twenty years old. He dropped onto the arm of Harry’s chair, nodded at Ron, then gazed at Remus boldly.

Remus blinked in bemusement and said, “Hello, Ron. And . . . Tom?”

“Correct. I hope that you will allow for the distinction between Tom Riddle and Voldemort, naturally. I find I become slightly peevish when people call me by that particular name these days. Of course, Lord Voldemort is nothing more than an ill-fitting mask of late, and shall soon enough be dead, his loyal followers with him.”

“If you’ll forgive me saying so, you’re looking surprisingly normal for a psychotic mass murderer. Were you this charming when you offed Lily and James?”

Tom glanced down at Harry and said, “You know, I think I sense some hostility here.”

“Moony, you attack Tom, you attack me.”

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t aware it was the done thing to throw in your lot with the same person who murdered your parents and countless others.”

Harry glared at him and turned away, immediately striking up a conversation with Tom and Ron about their latest prank. Tom allowed that he had managed to secure the supplies they needed and said that they would be able to create a test batch in the next few days. That line stopped when Remus cleared his throat as a bid for attention, then said, “I don’t think I’ve ever really got over their deaths, you know. Everything seemed to happen so fast. Harry, can you honestly tell me that if they could speak now, they would be okay with this?”

Harry took a deep breath before saying, “Yes, I do. If you factor in what was happening to me, what Dumbledore has been doing, the real reason for Tom’s insanity, and hell, fate itself, yes, I think they would. Right now I have someone who cares for me, who watches out for me, but doesn’t treat me like a mindless soldier or a silly and recalcitrant child to be stuck in the dark somewhere until he’s needed. He’s treated me with more honesty and feeling than the old man ever has, and he’s given me everything I’ve asked for in the way of training, books, and anything else that might make sense. Ron, too.

“Whose fault is it, Remus? Where does the blame lie? Does it start with Dumbledore, who may have never told my parents exactly why they were going into hiding? Does it start with you Marauders who never saw what was happening to Peter? Does it start with whoever overheard the beginning of that prophecy and told Voldemort, for surely had he never learned of it, none of this would have happened. Does it start with the birth of Tom Riddle, years too early to stay sane while waiting for me to arrive on the scene?

“Should I blame Peter for being a sniveling, weak coward? Should I blame Sirius for being so idiotic as to chase after Peter instead of heading straight for Dumbledore to explain what had happened? Should I blame you for never setting a foot near me all those years to make sure I was okay? Should I blame Dumbledore for consciously and knowingly setting me up to face Voldemort as often as possible? For not telling any of you why I was so damn important? For not telling any of you about the second prophecy?

“Should I blame fate itself for sitting up there and laughing at us? What should I do, Moony? Go ahead and kill Tom, thereby killing myself in the process? That’s what Dumbledore wants, and expects. Maybe that’s why he never cared about the abuse. Who cares if his weapon gets a bit bruised along the way, right? Three prophecies, Remus, one of which was spoken by my mother. She certainly never knew of it. The old man kept it a secret, and the only way I know of it is because of the sorting hat.

“He knew, damn it! He’s been waiting all this time for me to die and take Voldemort with me. Instead, there came that third prophecy, the one that opened my eyes to so many possibilities. You’re right. I could have held on to my anger, the injustice. I could have continued on the same way and eventually killed Tom, or died trying. Not that it would have mattered, since the other would have died directly. I chose differently, obviously, and now I’m working to make sure that when Harry Potter and Voldemort do die, all the sadistic and demented Death Eaters go with them, and everyone else is set free.”

Remus finally got a word in edgewise and said, “Die? Harry, you can’t die.”

Ron unleashed a silly grin and said, “Funny, I feel as though I’ve heard that somewhere before.”

Harry clenched his jaw and stared fixedly at the floor as Tom snickered quietly, then said, “Is that what you would prefer, Moony? Do you want me to die so badly when the problem is already negligible, and nearly gone?”

“I don’t want you to die, Harry.”

“Then help me! Listen to us! Honestly, I didn’t want to shatter your last remaining tie, so I brought you here to reveal all this to you. Just because this is crazy doesn’t mean I’ve gone round the bend.”

“You’re not going to let me go with my mind intact if I refuse, are you,” Remus stated.

Tom shook his head. “Memory, no. Mind, yes. Should you find yourself unable to accept any of this, you’ll be returned to your bed just as you left it, completely unaware you were ever here, that’s all.”

“Then I suppose it’s time for a game of twenty questions. How did Peter die?”

Tom decided to field that one, saying, “The killing curse. Harry decided in the end that it was better to do that than attempt to send him to Azkaban. Given that they do not have wards in place to prevent animagi transformations and Voldemort has lost his best agent in the Ministry, that would have been a chancy proposition. Also, he felt that were his parents to be watching, they might have felt that Azkaban was far more sadistic than simple death. In any case, it also served as a way to see if Harry was able to properly block me from his mind.”

“Bellatrix?”

“Dementors, actually. She and the other Death Eaters who were aware that I am a half-blood were given to them. They were planning an insurrection and I couldn’t allow that to happen. As well, given that the old man is aware that only Harry can kill me, it would have looked decidedly odd should Voldemort die by another’s hand.”

“I see. Now. . . .”

Several hours later saw Harry half asleep, having somehow managed to be transferred to Tom’s lap. Ron was snoring fitfully on the rug, sprawled out with his face toward the fire. Harry yawned and buried his face in Tom’s neck, getting a gentle nudge a second later. “Please wake up a little, Harry. We aren’t entirely done here. Perhaps if we ordered breakfast?”

Harry opened his eyes enough to see Remus smirking at him and grunted.

“I’ll take that as a yes, then.” Once Dobby popped in Tom asked, “Would you please scrounge up breakfast for us all, Dobby? Anything would be fine.”

Dobby started to nod, then narrowed his eyes at Harry. “Master is not taking care of himself properly.”

“I’m fine, Dobby,” Harry said with another yawn. “I’ll go to bed soon, I promise. You can even tuck me in yourself if you like.”

Dobby made a vaguely disgruntled noise and said, “Dobby is being off to the kitchens and is being back shortly,” then popped out.

“Ron will wake up once he smells food, I’m sure,” Tom said dryly.

“I must have dozed off at some point,” Harry said. “Are we good here, or are you gonna have to zap poor Uncle Moony?”

“I think we’re fine, Harry,” Remus said, still smirking. “I’ll even swear a Wizard’s Oath if it would make you feel more secure.”

“Whatever you think is best,” Harry mumbled, dropping his forehead back down to Tom’s neck and snuggling closer, and ignoring the resulting sigh.

“I must say, you are terribly persuasive when you put your mind to it,” Remus said.

“Am I? I think it’s more to the point that truth speaks for itself, though that assumes the listener is not entirely close-minded. Ah, Dobby, thank you. This looks wonderful.”

“Master Tom is being welcome,” said Dobby, then popped out.

Harry woke up considerably when Tom wafted a forkful of eggs under his nose, electing to sit up properly and snatch it away for himself, and take the plate offered to him. And predictably, Ron awoke within minutes and scooted up the the table to fix a plate for himself, then set to devouring everything he could get his hands on without bothering to acknowledge anyone.

That did not stop Harry from yawning repeatedly once he was full, at which point Tom said, “Would you like to simply repair to the bedroom here, or have Dobby take you back to your room?”

“Here.”

Tom nodded and looked at Remus. “If you’ll excuse us for a minute?”

*

By the time Tom returned to the library, Ron was also gone. “Dobby returned him to his room while you were gone,” Remus supplied.

“Not surprising, and safer, I suppose, in the long run. While I would not put it past the old man to start using tracking charms, he has not as of yet, though we continue to be cautious.” He paused, then said, “I realize that all of this has been difficult for you. I can no more absolve my sins in your eyes than I could in Harry’s, but I think I have made an excellent start.”

“You seem to care for him very much. I have never seen him so mature, and while I could attribute some of that to Sirius’s death, I don’t think that’s the real explanation.”

“All Harry ever needed was for someone to accept who he truly is and support him. He is incredibly distrustful at this point of authority figures, with good reason, and has certainly begun to look beneath the surface and question everything he comes across. I know that he was short with you, and even bordering on hostile, but he was mainly worried that you would reject him and acting in an irrationally defensive manner.

“He did not come to trust me easily, Remus. The fact that I have been nothing but honest with him has said much in his eyes, and given my willingness to listen, he has been able to express himself without fear. I admit, it was difficult in the beginning to take the time to explain myself or my plans, where before I answered to no one, but I have learned, and Harry has a brilliant mind. We would not be half so far along were it not for his ideas and suggestions.”

Remus pursed his lips. “How did Ron react to all this?”

“Dramatically, though he repeated a number of times that he knew about soulmates. I think that and his much earlier promise to Harry that he would think things through before reacting made it easier for him to accept what he was hearing, even if he didn’t like it. Harry was only going to tell him the prophecy, but decided to just get it over with and spilled everything. But, he made sure that Ron had learned Occlumency first.”

“Hermione?”

Tom shook his head violently. “You and Ron are it, aside from Severus, of course. None of us trust Hermione, especially after she went straight to the old man to report on Harry’s words and actions at one of the DA meetings. She hasn’t any real faith in Harry at all. She blames him for Sirius’s death, and blames him for his re-sort, even though it was technically the old man’s suggestion that Harry talk to the hat. Yes, I know, Harry manipulated him into that, but still. She also firmly advocates that Harry do exactly as society dictates, despite the fact that the wizarding community is two-faced and hypocritical in the extreme.” He shrugged and waved his hand.

“I’m going to say from the strength of that response that none of you feel she could be adequately swayed.” Remus shrugged as well, then said, “That’s Harry’s decision, I suppose. Well, you’ve caught me up on the past, so what’s going to happen now?”

“When Harry is ready, I’ll fetch him from Privet Drive and we’ll stage the showdown. Whether or not the remaining Death Eaters end up in Azkaban is anyone’s guess. We thought it would be a nice touch, though, for me to leave a note in his room so that people would know the protections had been worthless. We had considered at one point making it look as though Ron had been kidnapped and that Harry, the ever reckless fool, had rushed off to his rescue, but we’ve more or less discarded that idea.”

“And where’s he going to live? Here?”

Tom nodded. “Or Hogsmeade, at least for the next year. He wants to remain close to Ron.” He took the time to hunt out the Marauder’s Map and activate it, seeing as how it was getting on the usual time for people to be waking up, then said, “Would you like a tour?”

“Sure, but, why the map?”

“Just to keep an eye out in case anyone should try to rouse you from your rooms. Should that happen, I’ll simply call Dobby to return you immediately.”

“Without an oath?”

Tom gazed at him intently, then smiled. “You could make one now if you like. Though, I don’t think Harry would have dozed off if he had felt any real doubt about you. Of course, if you did break faith, I’m sure you realize that you’d never see him again in this lifetime.”

“True. Carry on.”

When they reached the bedroom Tom noticed a fond smile spread over Remus’s face at the sight of Harry sprawled beneath the covers while snuggled up to one of the pillows. Nagini was curled on the other pillow, hissing softly.

Once back in the corridor Remus said, “He looks so innocent when he’s sleeping.”

“And he maintains it, strangely enough, despite everything. There’s just something about him. Let’s check out the practice room next.”

Remus burst out laughing once they arrived, after seeing the targets set up for use. “Harry’s idea, I presume?”

“He said there should be joy in learning when I offered to set this up for him.” Tom went on to relate his mistake of creating a target of Dumbledore in their dream room and how it had eventually morphed into this particular incarnation.

Then he aimed an intent look at Remus and said, “You know, I want you to tell me if you have even the tiniest doubt about this. Either you need to squash it ruthlessly, or I need to do some creative tinkering with your memories. Because, let me say that while Harry would undoubtedly attempt to tear me to shreds if he found out, I would agonize only briefly over the decision to rip your heart out and add you to my collection in the back garden if you betrayed him, no matter how much I might like you.”

Remus took a step back and coughed. “You don’t mince words, I see. I certainly have no doubt whatsoever that your statement is valid, so if you want me to make that oath, I will. Apparently certain parts of your past are not so easily exorcised.”

Tom shook his head and chuckled. “Perhaps. I simply want to make sure we understand each other. I will not allow anyone to harm Harry.”

“Including yourself?”

“Of course.”

“Did you also . . . encourage Ron to behave himself?” Remus asked dryly.

“There was no perceivable need, and Ron, despite his training, is fairly transparent. You, on the other hand, are harder to read.”

“Tom, I have no valid claim on Harry except for what he’s granted me himself. Yes, I would have gladly taken him in to raise as my own if they’d let me, but we both know no one wants to trust a werewolf. Harry stole my heart as a baby, but that doesn’t make him mine. The fact is, he’s the only thing I have left that’s like family, so don’t worry, I won’t do anything to jeopardize Harry’s situation. Even if Albus were a living saint he’s still made mistakes. That those mistakes often center around Harry is enough for me to cast his leadership aside and stick with what I consider to be my family instead. I am amazed, at any rate, at how much Harry has managed to learn, either on his own or with your assistance, despite Albus’s policies.”

Tom shrugged a shoulder and nodded. “Even so, depending on how often the old man calls on you for support. . . .”

“He mostly has me attempting to garner support from other werewolves, but that is difficult given how badly the Ministry treats my fellows. There are some who would rather form a third faction and attempt to overthrow whoever comes out on top of this confrontation under the assumption that the winner would be too tired to resist.”

Tom let out a snort of laughter. “I do believe they’ll be quite disappointed in the end, then. Given how little real activity is being ordered, I cannot imagine that forces on either side will so much as have to breathe heavily. You’re a bit of a prankster, correct? If you come up with any interesting ideas for my lackeys, feel free to suggest them. I’ve been sending them out on pointless missions to keep them busy and out of my hair. Well, when they aren’t actively recruiting.”

They ended up back in the library, taking seats, then Remus said, “What do we do now?”

“Well,” Tom said gravely, “you help me figure out what to get Harry for Christmas. Sure, I will be getting him that dartboard with Dumbledore’s face on it I keep mentioning, but. . . .”

Remus laughed softly.