Chapter 63: TSPE, Aftermaths

After­math, Hermione Granger:

She was just start­ing to close up her books and put away her home­work in prepa­ra­tion for sleep, Padma and Mandy stack­ing up their own books across the table from her, when Harry Pot­ter walked into the Raven­claw com­mon room; and it was only then that she re­al­ized, she hadn’t seen him at all since break­fast.

That re­al­iza­tion was rapidly stomped-on by a much more startling one.

There was a golden-red winged crea­ture on Harry’s shoulder, a bright bird of fire.

And Harry looked sad and worn and re­ally tired like the phoenix was the only thing keep­ing him on his feet, but there was still a warmth about him, if you crossed your eyes you might have thought you were look­ing at the Head­mas­ter some­how, that was the im­pres­sion that went through Hermione’s mind even though it didn’t make any sense.

Harry Pot­ter trudged across the Raven­claw com­mon room, past so­fas full of star­ing girls, past cardgame-cir­cles of star­ing boys, head­ing for her.

In the­ory she wasn’t talk­ing to Harry Pot­ter yet, his week wasn’t up un­til to­mor­row, but what­ever was go­ing on was clearly a whole lot more im­por­tant than that -

“Fawkes,” Harry said, just as she was open­ing her mouth, “that girl over there is Hermione Granger, she’s not talk­ing to me right now be­cause I’m an idiot, but if you want to be on a good per­son’s shoulder she’s bet­ter than me.”

So much ex­haus­tion and hurt in Harry Pot­ter’s voice -

But be­fore she could figure out what to do about it, the phoenix had glided off Harry’s shoulder like a fire creep­ing up a match­stick on fast-for­ward, flash­ing to­ward her; there was a phoenix fly­ing in front of her and star­ing at her with eyes of light and flame.

Caw?” asked the phoenix.

Hermione stared at it, feel­ing like she was fac­ing a ques­tion on a test she’d for­got­ten to study for, the one most im­por­tant ques­tion and she’d gone her whole life with­out study­ing for it, she couldn’t find any­thing to say.

“I’m—” she said. “I’m only twelve, I haven’t done any­thing yet—”

The phoenix just glided gen­tly around, ro­tat­ing around one wingtip like the be­ing of light and air that it was, and soared back to Harry Pot­ter’s shoulder, where it set­tled down quite firmly.

“You silly boy,” said Padma across from her, look­ing like she was de­cid­ing whether to laugh or gri­mace, “phoenixes aren’t for smart girls who do their home­work, they’re for idiots who charge straight at five older Slytherin bul­lies. There’s a rea­son why the Gryffin­dor col­ors are red and gold, you know.”

There was a lot of friendly laugh­ter in the Raven­claw com­mon room.

Hermione wasn’t one of the laugh­ing ones.

Nei­ther was Harry.

Harry had put a hand over his face. “Tell Hermione I’m sorry,” he said to Padma, his voice al­most fallen to a whisper. “Tell her I for­got that phoenixes are an­i­mals, they don’t un­der­stand time and plan­ning, they don’t un­der­stand peo­ple who are go­ing to do good things later—I’m not sure they un­der­stand re­ally the no­tion of there be­ing some­thing that a per­son is, all they see is what peo­ple do. Fawkes doesn’t know what twelve means. Tell Hermione I’m sorry—I shouldn’t have—it just all goes wrong, doesn’t it?”

Harry turned to go, the phoenix still on his shoulder, be­gan slowly trudg­ing to­ward the stair­case that led up to his dorm.

And Hermione couldn’t leave it at that, she just couldn’t leave it at that. She didn’t know if it was her com­pe­ti­tion with Harry or some­thing else. She just couldn’t leave it with the phoenix turn­ing away from her.

She had to -

Her mind keyed a fran­tic ques­tion to the en­tirety of her ex­cel­lent mem­ory, found just one thing -

“I was go­ing to run in front of the De­men­tor to try and save Harry!” she shouted a lit­tle des­per­ately at the red-golden bird. “I mean, I ac­tu­ally did start run­ning and ev­ery­thing! That was stupid and coura­geous, right?”

With a war­bling cry the phoenix launched it­self from Harry’s shoulder again, back to­ward her like a spread­ing blaze, it cir­cled her three times like she was the cen­ter of an in­ferno, and for just a mo­ment its wing brushed against her cheek, be­fore the phoenix soared back to Harry.

There was a hush in the Raven­claw com­mon room.

“Told you so,” Harry said aloud, and then he started climb­ing the stairs up to his bed­room; he seemed to climb very quickly, like he was very light on his feet for some rea­son, so that in just a mo­ment he and Fawkes were gone.

Hermione held up a trem­bling hand to her cheek where Fawkes had brushed her with his wing, a spot of warmth lin­ger­ing there like that one small patch of skin had been very gen­tly set on fire.

She’d an­swered the ques­tion of the phoenix, she sup­posed, but it felt to her like she’d just barely squeaked by on the test, like she’d got­ten a 62 and she could’ve got­ten 104 if she’d tried harder.

If she’d tried at all.

She hadn’t re­ally been try­ing, when she thought about it.

Just do­ing her home­work -

Who have you saved?


After­math, Fawkes:

Night­mares, the boy had ex­pected, screams and beg­ging and howl­ing hur­ri­canes of empti­ness, the discharge of the hor­rors be­ing laid down into mem­ory, and in that fash­ion, per­haps, be­com­ing part of the past.

And the boy knew that the night­mares would come.

The next night, they would come.

The boy dreamed, and in his dreams the world was on fire, Hog­warts was on fire, his home was on fire, the streets of Oxford were on fire, all ablaze with golden flames that shone but did not con­sume, and all the peo­ple walk­ing through the blaz­ing streets were shin­ing with white light brighter than the fire, like they were flames them­selves, or stars.

The other first-year boys came to bed, and saw it for them­selves, the won­der whose ru­mor they had already heard, that in his bed Harry Pot­ter lay silent and mo­tion­less, a gen­tle smile on his face, while perched on his pillow a red-golden bird watched over him, with bright wings swept above him like a blan­ket pul­led over his head.

The reck­on­ing had been put off one more night.


After­math, Draco Malfoy:

Draco straight­ened his robes, mak­ing sure the green trim was straight. He waved his wand over his own head and said a Charm that Father had taught him while other chil­dren were still play­ing in mud, a Charm which en­sured that not a sin­gle speck of lint or dust would dirty his wiz­ard’s robes.

Draco picked up the mys­te­ri­ous en­velope that Father had owled him, and tucked it into his robes. He had already used In­cen­dio and Everto on the mys­te­ri­ous note.

And then he headed off to break­fast, to seat him­self on ex­actly the same tick of the clock where the food ap­peared, if he could man­age it, so that it would seem like all oth­ers had been wait­ing on his ap­pear­ance to eat. Be­cause when you were the scion of Malfoy you were first in ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing break­fast, that was why.

Vin­cent and Gre­gory were wait­ing for him out­side the door of his pri­vate room, up even be­fore he was—though not, of course, dressed quite as sharply.

The Slytherin com­mon room was de­serted, any­one who got up this early was head­ing straight to break­fast any­way.

The dun­geon halls were silent but for their own foot­steps, empty and echo­ing.

The Great Hall was a hub­bub of alarm de­spite the rel­a­tive few ar­rivals, some younger chil­dren cry­ing, stu­dents run­ning back and forth be­tween ta­bles or stand­ing in knots shout­ing at each other, a red-robed prefect was stand­ing in front of two green-trimmed stu­dents and yel­ling at them and Snape was strid­ing to­ward the mess -

The noise dimmed a lit­tle as peo­ple caught sight of Draco, as some of the faces turned to stare at him, and fell quiet.

The food ap­peared on the ta­bles. No one looked at it.

And Snape spun on his heel, aban­don­ing his tar­get, and headed straight to­ward Draco.

A knot of fear clutched at Draco’s heart, had some­thing hap­pened to Father—no, surely Father would have told him—what­ever was hap­pen­ing, why hadn’t Father told him -

There were bags of fa­tigue be­neath Snape’s eyes, Draco saw as their Head of House came close, the Po­tions Master had never been a sharp dresser (that was an un­der­state­ment) but his robes were even dirt­ier and more disar­rayed this morn­ing, spot­ted with ex­tra grease.

“You haven’t heard?” hissed their Head of House as he came close. “For pity’s sake, Malfoy, don’t you have a news­pa­per de­liv­ered?”

“What is it, Profe-”

“Bel­la­trix Black was taken from Azk­a­ban!”

What?” said Draco in shock, as Gre­gory be­hind him said some­thing he re­ally shouldn’t have and Vin­cent just gasped.

Snape was gaz­ing at him with nar­rowed eyes, then nod­ded abruptly. “Lu­cius told you noth­ing, then. I see.” Snape gave a snort, turned away -

“Pro­fes­sor!” said Draco. The im­pli­ca­tions were just start­ing to dawn on him, his mind spin­ning fran­ti­cally. “Pro­fes­sor, what should I do—Father didn’t in­struct me—”

“Then I sug­gest,” Snape said sneer­ingly, as he strode away, “that you tell them that, Malfoy, as your father in­tended!”

Draco glanced back at Vin­cent and Gre­gory, though he didn’t know why he was both­er­ing, of course they looked even more con­fused than he did.

And Draco walked for­ward to the Slytherin table, and sat down at the far end, which was still empty of sit­ters.

Draco put a sausage omelet on his plate, be­gan eat­ing it with au­to­matic mo­tions.

Bel­la­trix Black had been taken from Azk­a­ban.

Bel­la­trix Black had been taken from Azk­a­ban...?

Draco didn’t know what to make of that, it was as to­tally un­ex­pected as the Sun go­ing out—well, the Sun would ex­pect­edly go out in six billion years but this was as un­ex­pected as the Sun go­ing out to­mor­row. Father wouldn’t have done it, Dum­ble­dore wouldn’t have done it, no one should have been able to do it—what did it mean—what use would Bel­la­trix be to any­one af­ter ten years in Azk­a­ban—even if she got strong again, what use was a pow­er­ful sor­cer­ess who was com­pletely evil and in­sane and fa­nat­i­cally de­voted to a Dark Lord who wasn’t around any­more?

“Hey,” said Vin­cent from where he was sit­ting next to Draco, “I don’t un­der­stand, boss, why’d we do that?”

We didn’t do it, you dolt!” snapped Draco. “Oh, for Mer­lin’s sake, if even you think we—didn’t your father ever tell you any sto­ries about Bel­la­trix Black? She tor­tured Father once, she tor­tured your father, she’s tor­tured ev­ery­one, the Dark Lord once told her to Cru­cio her­self and she did it! She didn’t do crazy things to in­spire fear and obe­di­ence in the pop­u­lace, she did crazy things be­cause she’s crazy! She’s a bitch is what she is!”

“Oh, re­ally?” said an in­censed voice from be­hind Draco.

Draco didn’t look up. Gre­gory and Vin­cent would be watch­ing his back.

“I would’ve thought you’d be happy—”

“—to hear that a Death Eater had been freed, Malfoy!”

Amy­cus Car­row had always been one of the other prob­lem peo­ple; Father had once told Draco to make sure he was never alone in the same room with Amy­cus...

Draco turned around and gave Flora and Hes­tia Car­row his Num­ber Three Sneer, the one that said that he was in a Noble and Most An­cient House and they weren’t and yes, that mat­tered. Draco said in their gen­eral di­rec­tion, cer­tainly not deign­ing to ad­dress them in par­tic­u­lar, “There’s Death Eaters and then there’s Death Eaters,” and then turned back to his food.

There were two fu­ri­ous huffs in uni­son, and then two pairs of shoes stormed off to­ward the other end of the Slytherin table.

It was a few min­utes later that Milli­cent Bul­strode ran up to them, visi­bly out of breath, and said, “Mr. Malfoy, did you hear?”

“About Bel­la­trix Black?” said Draco. “Yeah—”

“No, about Pot­ter!”

“What?”

“Pot­ter was go­ing around with a phoenix on his shoulder last night, look­ing like he’d been dragged through ten leagues of mud, they say that the phoenix took him to Azk­a­ban to try to stop Bel­la­trix and he fought a duel with her and they blew up half the fortress!”

What?” said Draco. “Oh, there is just no way that—”

Draco stopped.

He’d said that a num­ber of times about Harry Pot­ter and had started to no­tice a trend.

Milli­cent ran off to tell some­one else.

“You don’t re­ally think—” said Gre­gory.

“I hon­estly don’t know any­more,” said Draco.

A few min­utes later, af­ter Theodore Nott had sat down across from him and William Rosier had gone to sit with the Car­row twins, Vin­cent nudged him and said, “There.”

Harry Pot­ter had en­tered the Great Hall.

Draco watched him closely.

There was no alarm on Harry’s face as he saw, no sur­prise or shock, he just looked...

It was the same dis­tant, self-ab­sorbed look Harry wore when he was try­ing to figure out the an­swer to a ques­tion Draco couldn’t un­der­stand yet.

Draco hastily shoved him­self up from the bench of the Slytherin table, say­ing “Stay be­hind,” and walked with all deco­rous speed to­ward Harry.

Harry seemed to no­tice his ap­proach just as the other boy was turn­ing to­ward the Raven­claw table, and Draco -

- gave Harry one quick look -

- and then walked right past him, straight out of the Great Hall.

It was a minute later that Harry peered around the cor­ner of the small stony nook where Draco had waited, it might not fool ev­ery­one but it would cre­ate plau­si­ble de­ni­a­bil­ity.

Quie­tus,” said Harry. “Draco, what—”

Draco took the en­velope out of his robes. “I have a mes­sage for you from Father.”

Huh?” said Harry, and took the en­velope from Draco, and tore it open in a rather un-neat man­ner, and drew forth a sheet of parch­ment and un­folded it and -

Harry gave a sharp in­take of breath.

Then Harry looked at Draco.

Then Harry looked back down at the parch­ment.

There was a pause.

Harry said, “Did Lu­cius tell you to re­port on my re­ac­tion to this?”

Draco paused for a mo­ment, weigh­ing, and then opened his mouth -

“I see he did,” said Harry, and Draco cursed him­self, he should’ve known bet­ter, only it had been hard to de­cide. “What are you go­ing to tell him?”

“That you were sur­prised,” said Draco.

“Sur­prised,” Harry said flatly. “Yeah. Good. Tell him that.”

“What is it?” said Draco. And then, as he saw Harry look­ing con­flicted, “If you’re deal­ing with Father be­hind my back—”

And Harry, with­out a word, gave Draco the pa­per.

It said:

I know it was you.

WHAT THE—

“I was go­ing to ask you that,” said Harry. “Have you got any idea what’s up with your Dad?”

Draco stared at Harry.

Then Draco said, “Did you do it?”

“What?” said Harry. “What pos­si­ble rea­son would I—how would I—”

“Did you do it, Harry?”

“No!” Harry said. “Of course not!”

Draco had listened care­fully, but he hadn’t de­tected any hes­i­ta­tion or tremor.

So Draco nod­ded, and said, “I’ve got no idea what Father’s think­ing but it can’t, I mean it can’t pos­si­bly be good. And, um… peo­ple are also say­ing...”

“What,” said Harry war­ily, “are they say­ing, Draco?”

“Did a phoenix re­ally take you to Azk­a­ban to try to stop Bel­la­trix Black from es­cap­ing—”


After­math: Neville Longbottom

Harry had only just sat down at the Raven­claw table for the first time, hop­ing to grab a quick bite of food. He knew he needed to go off and think about things, but there was a tiny re­main­ing bit of phoenix’s peace (even af­ter the en­counter with Draco) that he still wanted to cling to, some beau­tiful dream of which he re­mem­bered noth­ing but the beauty; and the part of him that wasn’t feel­ing peace­ful was wait­ing for all the anvils to finish drop­ping on him, so that when he went off to think and be by him­self for a while, he could batch-pro­cess all the dis­asters at once.

Harry’s hand grasped a fork, lifted a bite of mashed pota­toes to­ward his mouth -

And there was a shriek.

Every now and then some­one would shout when they heard the news, but Harry’s ears rec­og­nized this one -

Harry was up from the bench in an in­stant, head­ing to­ward the Hufflepuff table, a hor­rible sick feel­ing dawn­ing in the pit of his stom­ach. It was one of those things he hadn’t con­sid­ered when he’d de­cided to com­mit the crime, be­cause Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell had planned for no one to know; and now, af­ter­ward, Harry just—hadn’t thought of it -

This, Hufflepuff said with bit­ter in­ten­sity, is also your fault.

But by the time Harry got there, Neville was sit­ting down and eat­ing fried sausage pat­ties with Snip­pyfig Sauce.

The Hufflepuff boy’s hands were trem­bling, but he cut the food, and ate it, with­out drop­ping it.

“Hello, Gen­eral,” Neville said, his voice wa­ver­ing only slightly. “Did you fight a duel with Bel­la­trix Black last night?”

“No,” Harry said. His own voice was also wa­v­ery, for some rea­son.

“Didn’t think so,” said Neville. There was a scrap­ing sound as his knife cut the sausage again. “I’m go­ing to hunt her down and kill her, can I count on you to help?”

There were star­tled gasps from the mass of Hufflepuffs who had gath­ered around Neville.

“If she comes af­ter you,” Harry said hoarsely, if it was all a ter­rible mis­take, if it was all a lie, “I’ll defend you even with my life,” won’t let you get hurt for what I did, no mat­ter what, “but I won’t help you go af­ter her, Neville, friends don’t help friends com­mit suicide.”

Neville’s fork paused on the way to his mouth.

Then Neville put the bite of food in his mouth, chewed again.

And Neville swal­lowed it.

And Neville said, “I didn’t mean right now, I mean af­ter I grad­u­ate Hog­warts.”

“Neville,” Harry said, keep­ing his voice un­der very care­ful con­trol, “I think, even af­ter you grad­u­ate, that might still be a just plain stupid idea. There’s got to be much more ex­pe­rienced Aurors track­ing her—” oh, wait, that’s not good -

“Listen to him!” said Ernie Macmil­lan, and then an older-look­ing Hufflepuff girl stand­ing close to Neville said, “Nevvy, please, think about it, he’s right!”

Neville stood up.

Neville said, “Please don’t fol­low me.”

Neville walked away from all of them; Harry and Ernie reach­ing out in­vol­un­tar­ily to­ward him, and some of the other Hufflepuffs as well.

And Neville sat down at the Gryffin­dor table, and dis­tantly (though they had to strain to hear) they heard Neville say, “I’m go­ing to hunt her down and kill her af­ter I grad­u­ate, any­one want to help?” and at least five voices said “Yes” and then Ron Weasley said loudly, “Get in line, you lot, I got an owl from Mum this morn­ing, she says to tell ev­ery­one she’s called dibs” and some­one said “Molly Weasley against Bel­la­trix Black? Who does she even think she’s kid­ding—” and Ron reached over to a plate and hefted a muffin -

Some­one tapped Harry on the shoulder, and he turned around and saw an un­fa­mil­iar green-trimmed older girl, who handed him a parch­ment en­velope and then quickly strode away.

Harry stared at the en­velope for a mo­ment, then started walk­ing to­ward the near­est wall. That wasn’t very pri­vate, but it should be pri­vate enough, and Harry didn’t want to give the im­pres­sion of hav­ing much to hide.

That had been a Slytherin Sys­tem de­liv­ery, what you used if you wanted to com­mu­ni­cate with some­one with­out any­one else know­ing that the two of you had talked. The sender gave an en­velope to some­one who had a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a re­li­able mes­sen­ger, along with ten Knuts; that first per­son would take five Knuts and pass the en­velope to an­other mes­sen­ger along with the other five Knuts, and the sec­ond mes­sen­ger would open up that en­velope and find an­other en­velope with a name writ­ten on it and de­liver that en­velope to that per­son. That way nei­ther of the two peo­ple pass­ing the mes­sage knew both the sender and the re­cip­i­ent, so no one else knew that those two par­ties had been in con­tact...

When Harry reached the wall, he put the en­velope in­side his robes, opened it be­neath the folds of cloth, and care­fully snuck a peek at the parch­ment he drew forth.

It said,

Class­room to the left of Trans­figu­ra­tion, 8 in the morn­ing.

- LL.

Harry stared at it, try­ing to re­mem­ber if he knew any­one with the ini­tials LL.

His mind searched...

Searched...

Retrieved -

“The Quib­bler girl?” Harry whispered in­cre­d­u­lously, and then shut his mouth. She was only ten years old, she shouldn’t be in Hog­warts at all!


After­math: Le­sath Les­trange.

Harry was stand­ing in the un­used class­room next to Trans­figu­ra­tion at 8AM, wait­ing, he’d at least man­aged to get some food into him­self be­fore fac­ing the next dis­aster, Luna Love­g­ood...

The door to the class­room opened, and Harry saw, and gave him­self a re­ally hard men­tal kick.

One more thing he hadn’t thought of, one more thing he re­ally should have.

The older boy’s green-trimmed for­mal robes were askew, there were red spots on them look­ing very much like small dots of fresh blood, and one cor­ner of his mouth had the look of a place that had been cut and healed, by Episkey or some other minor med­i­cal Charm that didn’t quite erase all the dam­age.

Le­sath Les­trange’s face was streaked with tears, fresh tears and half-dried tears, and there was wa­ter in his eyes, a promise of still more on the way. “Quie­tus,” said the older boy, and then “Homenum Reve­lio” and some other things, while Harry thought fran­ti­cally and with­out much luck.

And then Le­sath low­ered his wand and sheathed it in his robes, and slowly this time, for­mally, the older boy dropped to his knees on the dusty class­room floor.

Bowed his head all the way down, un­til his fore­head also touched the dust, and Harry would have spo­ken but he was voice­less.

Le­sath Les­trange said, in a break­ing voice, “My life is yours, my Lord, and my death as well.”

“I,” Harry said, there was a huge lump in his throat and he was hav­ing trou­ble speak­ing, “I—” didn’t have any­thing to do with it, he should have been say­ing, should be say­ing right now, but then again the in­no­cent Harry would have had trou­ble speak­ing too -

“Thank you,” whispered Le­sath, “thank you, my Lord, oh, thank you,” the sound of a choked-off sob came from the kneel­ing boy, all Harry could see of him was the hair on the back of his head, noth­ing of his face. “I’m a fool, my Lord, an un­grate­ful bas­tard, un­wor­thy to serve you, I can­not abase my­self enough, for I—I shouted at you af­ter you helped me, be­cause I thought you were re­fus­ing me, and I didn’t even re­al­ize un­til this morn­ing that I’d been such a fool as to ask you in front of Long­bot­tom—”

“I didn’t have any­thing to do with it,” Harry said.

(It was still very hard to tell an out­right lie like that.)

Slowly Le­sath raised his head from the floor, looked up at Harry.

“I un­der­stand, my Lord,” said the older boy, his voice wa­ver­ing a lit­tle, “you do not trust my cun­ning, and in­deed I have shown my­self a fool… I only wanted to say to you, that I am not un­grate­ful, that I know it must have been hard enough to save only one per­son, that they’re alerted now, that you can’t—get Father—but I am not un­grate­ful, I will never be un­grate­ful to you again. If ever you have a use for this un­wor­thy ser­vant, call me wher­ever I am, and I will an­swer, my Lord—”

“I was not in­volved in any way.”

(But it got eas­ier each time.)

Le­sath gazed up at Harry, said un­cer­tainly, “Am I dis­missed from your pres­ence, my Lord...?”

“I am not your Lord.”

Le­sath said, “Yes, my Lord, I un­der­stand,” and pushed him­self back up from the floor, stood straight and bowed deeply, then backed away from Harry un­til he turned to open the class­room door.

As Le­sath’s hand touched the door­knob, he paused.

Harry couldn’t see Le­sath’s face, as the older boy’s voice said, “Did you send her to some­one who would take care of her? Did she ask about me at all?”

And Harry said, his voice perfectly level, “Please stop that. I was not in­volved in any way.”

“Yes, my Lord, I’m sorry, my Lord,” said Le­sath’s voice; and the Slytherin boy opened the door and went out and shut the door be­hind him. His feet sped up as he ran away, but not fast enough that Harry couldn’t hear him start sob­bing.

Would I cry? won­dered Harry. If I knew noth­ing, if I was in­no­cent, would I cry right now?

Harry didn’t know, so he just kept look­ing at the door.

And some un­be­liev­ably tactless part of him thought, Yay, we com­pleted a quest and got a minion -

Shut up. If you ever want to vote on any­thing ever again… shut up.


After­math, Amelia Bones:

“Then his life isn’t in dan­ger, I take it,” said Amelia.

The healer, a stern-eyed old man who wore his robes white (he was a Mug­gle­born and hon­or­ing some strange tra­di­tion of Mug­gles, of which Amelia had never asked, al­though pri­vately she thought it made him look too much like a ghost), shook his head and said, “Definitely not.”

Amelia looked at the hu­man form rest­ing un­con­scious on the healer’s bed, the burned and blasted flesh, the thin sheet that cov­ered him for mod­esty’s sake hav­ing been peeled back at her com­mand.

He might make a full re­cov­ery.

He might not.

The healer had said it was too early to say.

Then Amelia looked at the other witch in the room, the de­tec­tive.

“And you say,” Amelia said, “that the burn­ing mat­ter was Trans­figured from wa­ter, pre­sum­ably in the form of ice.”

The de­tec­tive nod­ded her head, and said, sound­ing puz­zled, “It could have been much worse, if not for—”

“How very nice of them,” she spat, and then pressed a weary hand to her fore­head. No… no, it had been in­tended as a kind­ness. By the fi­nal stage of the es­cape there would be no point in try­ing to fool any­one. Who­ever had done this, then, had been try­ing to miti­gate the dam­age—and they’d been think­ing in terms of Aurors breath­ing the smoke, not of any­one be­ing at­tacked with the fire. If it had been them still in con­trol, no doubt, they would have steered the rocker more mer­cifully.

But Bel­la­trix Black had rid­den the rocker out of Azk­a­ban alone, all the watch­ing Aurors had agreed on that, they’d had their Anti-Disillu­sion­ment Charms ac­tive and there had been only one woman on that rocker, though the rocker had sported two sets of stir­rups.

Some good and in­no­cent per­son, ca­pa­ble of cast­ing the Pa­tronus Charm, had been tricked into res­cu­ing Bel­la­trix Black.

Some in­no­cent had fought Bahry One-Hand, care­fully sub­du­ing an ex­pe­rienced Auror with­out sig­nifi­cantly in­jur­ing him.

Some in­no­cent had Trans­figured the fuel for the Mug­gle ar­ti­fact on which the two of them had been to ride out of Azk­a­ban, mak­ing it from frozen wa­ter for the benefit of her Aurors.

And then their use­ful­ness to Bel­la­trix Black had ended.

You would have ex­pected any­one ca­pa­ble of sub­du­ing Bahry One-Hand to have fore­seen that part. But then you wouldn’t have ex­pected any­one who could cast the Pa­tronus Charm to try res­cu­ing Bel­la­trix Black in the first place.

Amelia passed her hand down over her eyes, clos­ing them for a mo­ment in silent mourn­ing. I won­der who it was, and how You-Know-Who ma­nipu­lated them… what story they could pos­si­bly have been told...

She didn’t even re­al­ize un­til a mo­ment later that the thought meant she was start­ing to be­lieve. Per­haps be­cause, no mat­ter how difficult it was to be­lieve Dum­ble­dore, it was be­com­ing more difficult not to rec­og­nize the hand of that cold, dark in­tel­li­gence.


After­math, Albus Dum­ble­dore:

It might have been only fifty-seven sec­onds be­fore break­fast ended and he might have needed four twists of his Time-Turner, but in the end, Albus Dum­ble­dore did make it.

“Head­mas­ter?” squeaked the po­lite voice of Pro­fes­sor Filius Flitwick, as the old wiz­ard passed him by on his way to his seat. “Mr. Pot­ter left a mes­sage for you.”

The old wiz­ard stopped. He looked in­quiringly at the Charms Pro­fes­sor.

“Mr. Pot­ter said that af­ter he woke up, he re­al­ized how un­fair had been the things he said to you af­ter Fawkes screamed. Mr. Pot­ter said that he wasn’t say­ing any­thing about any­thing else, just apol­o­giz­ing for that one part.”

The old wiz­ard kept look­ing at his Charms Pro­fes­sor, and still did not speak.

“Head­mas­ter?” squeaked Filius.

“Tell him I said thank you,” said Albus Dum­ble­dore, “but that it is wiser to listen to phoenixes than to wise old wiz­ards,” and sat down at his place three sec­onds be­fore all the food van­ished.


After­math, Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell:

“No,” Madam Pom­frey snapped at the child, “you may not see him! You may not pester him! You may not ask him one lit­tle ques­tion! He is to rest in bed and do noth­ing for at least three days!


After­math, Min­erva McGon­a­gall:

She was head­ing to­ward the in­fir­mary, and Harry Pot­ter was leav­ing it, when they passed each other.

The look he gave her wasn’t an­gry.

It wasn’t sad.

It didn’t say much at all.

It was like… like he was look­ing at her just long enough to make it clear that he wasn’t de­liber­ately avoid­ing look­ing at her.

And then he looked away be­fore she could figure out what look to give him in re­turn; as though he wanted to spare her that, as well.

He didn’t say any­thing as he walked past her.

Nei­ther did she.

What could there pos­si­bly be to say?


After­math, Fred and Ge­orge Weasley:

They ac­tu­ally yelped out loud, when they turned the cor­ner and saw Dum­ble­dore.

It wasn’t that the Head­mas­ter had popped up out of nowhere and was star­ing at them with a stern ex­pres­sion. Dum­ble­dore was always do­ing that.

But the wiz­ard was dressed in for­mal black robes and look­ing very an­cient and very pow­er­ful and he was giv­ing the two of them a SHARP LOOK.

“Fred and Ge­orge Weasley!” spake Dum­ble­dore in a Voice of Power.

“Yes, Head­mas­ter!” they said, snap­ping up­right and giv­ing him a crisp mil­i­tary salute they’d seen in some old pic­tures.

“Hear me well! You are the friends of Harry Pot­ter, is this so?”

“Yes, Head­mas­ter!”

“Harry Pot­ter is in dan­ger. He must not go be­yond the wards of Hog­warts. Listen to me, sons of Weasley, I beg you listen: you know that I am as Gryffin­dor as your­selves, that I too know there are higher rules than rules. But this, Fred and Ge­orge, this one thing is of the most ter­rible im­por­tance, there must be no ex­cep­tion this time, small or great! If you help Harry to leave Hog­warts he may die! Does he send you on a mis­sion, you may go, does he ask you to bring him items, you may help, but if he asks you to smug­gle his own per­son out of Hog­warts, you must re­fuse! Do you un­der­stand?”

“Yes, Head­mas­ter!” They said it with­out even think­ing, re­ally, and then ex­changed un­cer­tain looks with each other -

The bright blue eyes of the Head­mas­ter were in­tent upon them. “No. Not with­out think­ing. If Harry asks you to bring him out, you must re­fuse, if he asks you to tell him the way, you must re­fuse. I will not ask you to re­port him to me, for that I know you would never do. But beg him on my be­half to go to me, if it is of such im­por­tance, and I will guard him as he walks. Fred, Ge­orge, I am sorry to strain your friend­ship so, but it is his life.

The two of them looked at each other for a long while, not com­mu­ni­cat­ing, only think­ing the same things at the same time.

They looked back at Dum­ble­dore.

They said, with a chill run­ning through them as they spoke the name, “Bel­la­trix Black.”

“You may safely as­sume,” said the Head­mas­ter, “that it is at least that bad.”

“Okay—”

“—got it.”


After­math, Alas­tor Moody and Severus Snape:

When Alas­tor Moody had lost his eye, he had com­man­deered the ser­vices of a most eru­dite Raven­claw, Sa­muel H. Lyall, whom Moody mis­trusted slightly less than av­er­age be­cause Moody had re­frained from re­port­ing him as an un­reg­istered were­wolf; and he had paid Lyall to com­pile a list of ev­ery known mag­i­cal eye, and ev­ery known hint to their lo­ca­tion.

When Moody had got­ten the list back, he hadn’t both­ered read­ing most of it; be­cause at the top of the list was the Eye of Vance, dat­ing back to an era be­fore Hog­warts, and cur­rently in the pos­ses­sion of a pow­er­ful Dark Wizard rul­ing over some tiny for­got­ten hel­l­hole that wasn’t in Bri­tain or any­where else he’d have to worry about silly rules.

That was how Alas­tor Moody had lost his left foot and ac­quired the Eye of Vance, and how the op­pressed souls of Uru­lat had been liber­ated for a pe­riod of around two weeks be­fore an­other Dark Wizard moved in on the power vac­uum.

He’d con­sid­ered go­ing af­ter the Left Foot of Vance next, but had de­cided against it af­ter he re­al­ized that would be just what they were ex­pect­ing.

Now Mad-Eye Moody was turn­ing slowly, always turn­ing, sur­vey­ing the grave­yard of Lit­tle Han­gle­ton. It should have been a lot gloomier, that place, but in the broad daylight it seemed like noth­ing but a grassy place marked by or­di­nary tomb­stones, de­mar­cated by the chained twists of frag­ile, eas­ily climbable metal that Mug­gles used in­stead of wards. (Moody could not com­pre­hend what the Mug­gles were think­ing on that score, if they were pre­tend­ing to have wards, or what, and he had de­cided not to ask whether Mug­gle crim­i­nals re­spected the pre­tense.)

Moody didn’t ac­tu­ally need to turn to sur­vey the grave­yard.

The Eye of Vance saw the full globe of the world in ev­ery di­rec­tion around him, no mat­ter where it was point­ing.

But there was no par­tic­u­lar rea­son to let a former Death Eater like Severus Snape know that.

Some­times peo­ple called Moody ‘para­noid’.

Moody always told them to sur­vive a hun­dred years of hunt­ing Dark Wizards and then get back to him about that.

Mad-Eye Moody had once worked out how long it had taken him, in ret­ro­spect, to achieve what he now con­sid­ered a de­cent level of cau­tion—weighed up how much ex­pe­rience it had taken him to get good in­stead of lucky—and had be­gun to sus­pect that most peo­ple died be­fore they got there. Moody had once ex­pressed this thought to Lyall, who had done some ci­pher­ing and figur­ing, and told him that a typ­i­cal Dark Wizard hunter would die, on av­er­age, eight and a half times along the way to be­com­ing ‘para­noid’. This ex­plained a great deal, as­sum­ing Lyall wasn’t ly­ing.

Yes­ter­day, Albus Dum­ble­dore had told Mad-Eye Moody that the Dark Lord had used un­speak­able dark arts to sur­vive the death of his body, and was now awake and abroad, seek­ing to re­gain his power and be­gin the Wizard­ing War anew.

Some­one else might have re­acted with in­cre­dulity.

“I can’t be­lieve you lot never told me about this re­s­ur­rec­tion thing,” Mad-Eye Moody said with con­sid­er­able acer­bity. “D’you re­al­ize how long it’ll take me to do the grave of ev­ery an­ces­tor of ev­ery Dark Wizard I’ve ever kil­led who could’ve been smart enough to make a hor­crux? You’re not just now do­ing this one, are you?”

“I re­dose this one ev­ery year,” Severus Snape said calmly, un­cap­ping the third flask of what the man had claimed would be sev­en­teen bot­tles, and be­gin­ning to wave his wand over it. “The other an­ces­tral graves we’ve been able to lo­cate were poi­soned with only the long-last­ing sub­stances, since some of us have less free time than your­self.”

Moody watched the fluid spiral­ing out of the vial and van­ish­ing, to ap­pear within the bones where mar­row had once been. “But you think it’s worth the effort of the trap, in­stead of just Van­ish­ing the bones.”

“He does have other av­enues to life, should he per­ceive this one blocked,” Snape said dryly, un­cap­ping a fourth bot­tle. “And be­fore you ask, it must be the origi­nal grave, the place of first burial, the bone re­moved dur­ing the rit­ual and not be­fore. Thus he can­not have re­trieved it ear­lier; and also there is no point in sub­sti­tut­ing the skele­ton of a weaker an­ces­tor. He would no­tice it had lost all po­tency.”

“Who else knows about this trap?” Moody de­manded.

“You. Me. The Head­mas­ter. No one else.”

Moody snorted. “Pfah. Did Albus tell Amelia, Bartemius, and that McGon­a­gall woman about the re­s­ur­rec­tion rit­ual?”

“Yes—”

“If Voldie finds out that Albus knows about the re­s­ur­rec­tion rit­ual and that Albus told them, Voldie’ll figure that Albus told me, and Voldie knows I’d think of this.” Moody shook his head in dis­gust. “What’re these other ways Voldie could come back to life?”

Snape’s hand paused on the fifth bot­tle (it was all Disillu­sioned, of course, the whole op­er­a­tion was Disillu­sioned, but that meant less than noth­ing to Moody, it just marked you in his Eye’s sight as try­ing-to-hide), and the former Death Eater said, “You don’t need to know.”

“You’re learn­ing, son,” said Moody with mild ap­proval. “What’s in the bot­tles?”

Snape opened the fifth bot­tle, ges­tured with his wand to be­gin the sub­stance flow­ing to­ward the grave, and said, “This one? A Mug­gle nar­cotic called LSD. A con­ver­sa­tion yes­ter­day put me in mind of Mug­gle things, and LSD seemed the most in­ter­est­ing op­tion, so I hur­ried to ob­tain some. If it is in­cor­po­rated into the re­s­ur­rec­tion po­tion, I sus­pect its effects will be per­ma­nent.”

“What does it do?” said Moody.

“It is said that the effects are im­pos­si­ble to de­scribe to any­one who has not used it,” drawled Snape, “and I have not used it.”

Moody nod­ded ap­proval as Snape opened the sixth flask. “What about that one?”

“Love po­tion.”

“Love po­tion?” said Moody.

“Not of the stan­dard sort. It is meant to trig­ger a two-way bond with an un­bear­ably sweet Veela woman named Ver­dandi who the Head­mas­ter hopes might be able to re­deem even him, if they truly loved each other.”

Gah!” said Moody. “That bloody sen­ti­men­tal fool—”

“Agreed,” Severus Snape said calmly, his at­ten­tion fo­cused on his work.

“Tell me you’ve at least got some Mala­claw venom in there.”

“Se­cond flask.”

“Io­cane pow­der.”

“Either the four­teenth or fif­teenth bot­tle.”

“Bahl’s Stu­pe­fac­tion,” Moody said, nam­ing an ex­tremely ad­dic­tive nar­cotic with in­ter­est­ing side effects on peo­ple with Slytherin ten­den­cies; Moody had once seen an ad­dicted Dark Wizard go to ridicu­lous lengths to get a vic­tim to lay hands on a cer­tain ex­act portkey, in­stead of just hav­ing some­one toss the tar­get a trapped Knut on their next visit to town; and af­ter go­ing to all that work, the ad­dict had gone to the fur­ther effort to lay a sec­ond Por­tus, on the same portkey, which had, on a sec­ond touch, trans­ported the vic­tim back to safety. To this day, even tak­ing the drug into ac­count, Moody could not imag­ine what could have pos­si­bly been go­ing through the man’s mind at the time he had cast the sec­ond Por­tus.

“Tenth vial,” said Snape.

“Basilisk venom,” offered Moody.

What?” spat Snape. “Snake venom is a pos­i­tive com­po­nent of the re­s­ur­rec­tion po­tion! Not to men­tion that it would dis­solve the bone and all the other sub­stances! And where would we even get—”

“Calm down, son, I was just check­ing to see if you could be trusted.”

Mad-Eye Moody con­tinued his (se­cretly un­nec­es­sary) slow turn­ing, sur­vey­ing the grave­yard, and the Po­tions Master con­tinued pour­ing.

“Hold on,” Moody said sud­denly. “How do you know this is re­ally where—”

“Be­cause it says ‘Tom Rid­dle’ on the eas­ily moved head­stone,” Snape said dryly. “And I have just won ten Sick­les from the Head­mas­ter, who bet you would think of that be­fore the fifth bot­tle. So much for con­stant vigilance.”

There was a pause.

“How long did it take Albus to re­ali-”

“Three years af­ter we learned of the rit­ual,” said Snape, in a tone not quite like his usual sar­donic drawl. “In ret­ro­spect, we should have con­sulted you ear­lier.”

Snape un­capped the ninth bot­tle.

“We poi­soned all the other graves as well, with long-last­ing sub­stances,” re­marked the former Death Eater. “It is pos­si­ble that we are in the cor­rect grave­yard. He may not have planned this far ahead back when he was slaugh­ter­ing his fam­ily, and he can­not move the grave it­self—”

“The true lo­ca­tion doesn’t look like a grave­yard any more,” Moody said flatly. “He moved all the other graves here and Me­mory-Charmed the Mug­gles. Not even Bel­la­trix Black would be told any­thing about that un­til just be­fore the rit­ual started. No one knows the true lo­ca­tion now ex­cept him.”

They con­tinued their fu­tile work.


After­math, Blaise Zabini:

The Slytherin com­mon room could be ac­cu­rately and pre­cisely de­scribed as a remil­i­ta­rized zone; the mo­ment you stepped through the por­trait hole you would see that the left half of the room was Definitely Not Talk­ing to the right half and vice versa. It was very clear, it did not need to be ex­plained to any­one, that you did not have the op­tion of not tak­ing sides.

At a table in the ex­act mid­dle of the room, Blaise Zabini sat by him­self, smirk­ing as he did his home­work. He had a rep­u­ta­tion now, and meant to keep it.


After­math, Daphne Green­grass and Tracey Davis:

“You do­ing any­thing in­ter­est­ing to­day?” said Tracey.

“Nope,” said Daphne.


After­math, Harry Pot­ter:

If you went high enough in Hog­warts, you didn’t see many other peo­ple around, just cor­ri­dors and win­dows and stair­cases and the oc­ca­sional por­trait, and now and then some in­ter­est­ing sight, such as a bronze statue of a furry crea­ture like a small child, hold­ing a pe­cu­liar flat spear...

If you went high enough in Hog­warts, you didn’t see many other peo­ple around, which suited Harry.

There were much worse places to be trapped, Harry sup­posed. In fact you prob­a­bly couldn’t think of any­where bet­ter to be trapped than an an­cient cas­tle with a frac­tal ever-chang­ing struc­ture that meant you couldn’t ever run out of places to ex­plore, full of in­ter­est­ing peo­ple and in­ter­est­ing books and in­cred­ibly im­por­tant knowl­edge un­known to Mug­gle sci­ence.

If Harry hadn’t been told that he couldn’t leave, he prob­a­bly would’ve jumped at the chance to spend more time in Hog­warts, he would’ve plot­ted and con­nived to get it. Hog­warts was liter­ally op­ti­mal, not in all the realms of pos­si­bil­ity maybe, but cer­tainly on the real planet Earth, it was the Max­i­mum Fun Lo­ca­tion.

How could the cas­tle and its grounds seem so much smaller, so much more con­fin­ing, how could the rest of the world be­come so much more in­ter­est­ing and im­por­tant, the in­stant Harry had been told that he wasn’t al­lowed to leave? He’d spent months here and hadn’t felt claus­tro­pho­bic then.

You know the re­search on this, ob­served some part of him­self, it’s just stan­dard scarcity effects, like that time where as soon as a county out­lawed phos­phate de­ter­gents, peo­ple who’d never cared be­fore drove to the next county in or­der to buy huge loads of phos­phate de­ter­gent, and sur­veys showed that they rated phos­phate de­ter­gents as gen­tler and more effec­tive and even eas­ier-pour­ing… and if you give two-year-olds a choice be­tween a toy in the open and one pro­tected by a bar­rier they can go around, they’ll ig­nore the toy in the open and go for the one be­hind the bar­rier… sales­peo­ple know that they can sell things just by tel­ling the cus­tomer it might not be available… it was all in Cial­dini’s book In­fluence, ev­ery­thing you’re feel­ing right now, the grass is always greener on the side that’s not al­lowed.

If Harry hadn’t been told that he couldn’t leave, he prob­a­bly would’ve jumped at the chance to stay at Hog­warts over the sum­mer...

...but not the rest of his life.

That was sort of the prob­lem, re­ally.

Who knew whether there was still a Dark Lord Volde­mort for him to defeat?

Who knew whether He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named still ex­isted out­side of the imag­i­na­tion of a pos­si­bly-not-just-pre­tend­ing-to-be-crazy old wiz­ard?

Lord Volde­mort’s body had been found burned to a crisp, there couldn’t re­ally be such things as souls. How could Lord Volde­mort still be al­ive? How did Dum­ble­dore know that he was al­ive?

And if there wasn’t a Dark Lord, Harry couldn’t defeat him, and he would be trapped in Hog­warts for­ever.

...maybe he would be legally al­lowed to es­cape af­ter he grad­u­ated his sev­enth year, six years and four months and three weeks from now. It wasn’t that long as lengths of time went, it only seemed like long enough for pro­tons to de­cay.

Only it wasn’t just that.

It wasn’t just Harry’s free­dom that was at stake.

The Head­mas­ter of Hog­warts, the Chief War­lock of the Wizeng­amot, the Supreme Mug­wump of the In­ter­na­tional Con­fed­er­a­tion of Wizards, was quietly sound­ing the alarm.

A false alarm.

A false alarm which Harry had trig­gered.

You know, said the part of him that re­fined his skills, didn’t you sort of pon­der, once, how ev­ery differ­ent pro­fes­sion has a differ­ent way to be ex­cel­lent, how an ex­cel­lent teacher isn’t like an ex­cel­lent plumber; but they all have in com­mon cer­tain meth­ods of not be­ing stupid; and that one of the most im­por­tant such tech­niques is to face up to your lit­tle mis­takes be­fore they turn into BIG mis­takes?

...al­though this already seemed to qual­ify as a BIG mis­take, ac­tu­ally...

The point be­ing, said his in­ner mon­i­tor, it’s get­ting worse liter­ally by the minute. The way spies turn peo­ple is, they get them to com­mit a lit­tle sin, and then they use the lit­tle sin to black­mail them into a big­ger sin, and then they use THAT sin to make them do even big­ger things and then the black­mailer owns their soul.

Didn’t you once think about how the per­son be­ing black­mailed, if they could fore­see the whole path, would just de­cide to take the punch on the first step, take the hit of ex­pos­ing that first sin? Didn’t you de­cide that you would do that, if any­one ever tried to black­mail you into do­ing some­thing ma­jor in or­der to con­ceal some­thing lit­tle? Do you see the similar­ity here, Harry James Pot­ter-Evans-Ver­res?

Only it wasn’t lit­tle, it already wasn’t lit­tle, there would be a lot of very pow­er­ful peo­ple ex­tremely an­gry at Harry, not just for the false alarm but for free­ing Bel­la­trix from Azk­a­ban, if the Dark Lord did ex­ist and did come af­ter him later, that war might already be lost -

You don’t think they’ll be im­pressed by your hon­esty and ra­tio­nal­ity and fore­sight in stop­ping this be­fore it snow­balls even fur­ther?

Harry did not, in fact, think this; and af­ter a mo­ment’s re­flec­tion, whichever part of him­self he was talk­ing to, had to agree that this was ab­surdly op­ti­mistic.

His wan­der­ing feet took him near an open win­dow, and Harry went over, and leaned his arms on the ledge, and stared down at the grounds of Hog­warts from high above.

Brown that was bar­ren trees, yel­low that was dead grass, ice-col­ored ice that was frozen creeks and frozen streams… whichever school offi­cial had dubbed it ‘The For­bid­den For­est’ re­ally hadn’t un­der­stood mar­ket­ing, the name just made you want to go there even more. The sun was sink­ing in the sky, for Harry had been think­ing for some hours now, think­ing mostly the same thoughts over and over, but with key differ­ences each time, like his thoughts were not go­ing in cir­cles, but climb­ing a spiral, or de­scend­ing it.

He still couldn’t be­lieve that he’d gone through the en­tire thing with Azk­a­ban—he’d switched off his Pa­tronus be­fore it took all his life, he’d stunned an Auror, he’d figured out how to hide Bella from the De­men­tors, he’d faced down twelve De­men­tors and scared them away, he’d in­vented the rocket-as­sisted broom­stick, and rid­den it—he’d gone through the en­tire thing with­out ever once ral­ly­ing him­self by think­ing, I have to do this… be­cause… I promised Hermione I’d come back from lunch! It felt like an ir­re­vo­ca­bly missed op­por­tu­nity; like, hav­ing done it wrong that time, he would never be able to get it right no mat­ter what sort of challenge he faced next time, or what promise he made. Be­cause then he would just be do­ing it awk­wardly and de­liber­ately to make up for hav­ing missed it the first time around, in­stead of mak­ing the heroic dec­la­ra­tions he could’ve made if he’d re­mem­bered his promise to Hermione. Like that one wrong turn was ir­re­vo­ca­ble, you only got one chance, had to do it right on the first try...

He should’ve re­mem­bered that promise to Hermione be­fore go­ing to Azk­a­ban.

Why had he de­cided to do that, again?

My work­ing hy­poth­e­sis is that you’re stupid, said Hufflepuff.

That is not a use­ful fault anal­y­sis, thought Harry.

If you want a lit­tle more de­tail, said Hufflepuff, the Defense Pro­fes­sor of Hog­warts was all like ‘Let’s get Bel­la­trix Black out of Azk­a­ban!’ and you were like ‘Okay!’

Hold on, THAT’S not fair -

Hey, said Hufflepuff, no­tice how, once you’re all the way up here, and the in­di­vi­d­ual trees sort of blur to­gether, you can ac­tu­ally see the shape of the for­est?

Why had he done it...?

Not be­cause of any cost-benefit calcu­la­tion, that was for sure. He’d been too em­bar­rassed to pull out a sheet of pa­per and start calcu­lat­ing ex­pected util­ities, he’d wor­ried that Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell would stop re­spect­ing him if he said no or even hes­i­tated too much to help a maiden in dis­tress.

He’d thought, some­where deep in­side him, that if your mys­te­ri­ous teacher offered you the first mis­sion, the first chance, the call to ad­ven­ture, and you said no, then your mys­te­ri­ous teacher walked away from you in dis­gust, and you never got an­other chance to be a hero...

...yeah, that had been it. In ret­ro­spect, that had been it. He’d gone and started think­ing his life had a plot and here was a plot twist, as op­posed to, oh, say, here was a pro­posal to break Bel­la­trix Black out of Azk­a­ban. That had been the true and origi­nal rea­son for the de­ci­sion in the split sec­ond where it had been made, his brain per­cep­tu­ally rec­og­niz­ing the nar­ra­tive where he said ‘no’ as dis­so­nant. And when you thought about it, that wasn’t a ra­tio­nal way to make de­ci­sions. Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell’s ul­te­rior mo­tive to ob­tain the last re­mains of Slytherin’s lost lore, be­fore Bel­la­trix died and it was ir­re­vo­ca­bly for­got­ten, seemed im­pres­sively sane by com­par­i­son; a benefit com­men­su­rate with what had ap­peared at the time as a small risk.

It didn’t seem fair, it didn’t seem fair, that this was what hap­pened if he lost his grip on his ra­tio­nal­ity for just a tiny frac­tion of a sec­ond, the tiny frac­tion of a sec­ond re­quired for his brain to de­cide to be more com­fortable with ‘yes’ ar­gu­ments than ‘no’ ar­gu­ments dur­ing the dis­cus­sion that had fol­lowed.

From high above, far enough above that the in­di­vi­d­ual trees blurred to­gether, Harry stared out at the for­est.

Harry didn’t want to con­fess and ruin his rep­u­ta­tion for­ever and get ev­ery­one an­gry at him and maybe end up kil­led by the Dark Lord later. He’d rather be trapped in Hog­warts for six years than face that. That was how he felt. And so it was in fact helpful, a re­lief, to be able to cling to a sin­gle de­ci­sive fac­tor, which was that if Harry con­fessed, Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell would go to Azk­a­ban and die there.

(A catch, a break, a stut­ter in Harry’s breath­ing.)

If you phrased it that way… why, you could even pre­tend to be a hero, in­stead of a cow­ard.

Harry lifted his eyes from the For­bid­den For­est, looked up at the clear blue for­bid­den sky.

Stared out the glass panes at the big bright burn­ing thing, the fluffy things, the mys­te­ri­ous end­less blue in which they were em­bed­ded, that strange new un­known place.

It… ac­tu­ally did help, it helped quite a lot, to think that his own trou­bles were noth­ing com­pared to be­ing in Azk­a­ban. That there were peo­ple in the world who were re­ally in trou­ble and Harry Pot­ter was not one of them.

What was he go­ing to do about Azk­a­ban?

What was he go­ing to do about mag­i­cal Bri­tain?

...which side was he on, now?

In the bright light of day, ev­ery­thing that Albus Dum­ble­dore had said cer­tainly sounded a lot wiser than Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell. Bet­ter and brighter, more moral, more con­ve­nient, wouldn’t it be nice if it were true. And the thing to re­mem­ber was that Dum­ble­dore be­lieved things be­cause they sounded nice, but Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell was the one who was sane.

(Again the catch in his breath­ing, it hap­pened each time he thought of Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell.)

But just be­cause some­thing sounded nice, didn’t make it wrong, ei­ther.

And if the Defense Pro­fes­sor did have a flaw in his san­ity, it was that his out­look on life was too nega­tive.

Really? in­quired the part of Harry that had read eigh­teen mil­lion ex­per­i­men­tal re­sults about peo­ple be­ing too op­ti­mistic and over­con­fi­dent. Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell is too pes­simistic? So pes­simistic that his ex­pec­ta­tions rou­tinely un­der­shoot re­al­ity? Stuff him and put him in a mu­seum, he’s unique. Which one of you two planned the perfect crime, and then put in all the er­ror mar­gin and fal­lbacks that ended up sav­ing your butt, just in case the perfect crime went wrong? Hint hint, his name wasn’t Harry Pot­ter.

But “pes­simistic” wasn’t the cor­rect word to de­scribe Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell’s prob­lem—if a prob­lem it truly was, and not the su­pe­rior wis­dom of ex­pe­rience. But to Harry it looked like Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell was con­stantly in­ter­pret­ing ev­ery­thing in the worst pos­si­ble light. If you handed Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell a glass that was 90% full, he’d tell you that the 10% empty part proved that no one re­ally cared about wa­ter.

That was a very good anal­ogy, now that Harry thought about it. Not all of mag­i­cal Bri­tain was like Azk­a­ban, that glass was well over half full...

Harry stared up at the bright blue sky.

...al­though, fol­low­ing the anal­ogy, if Azk­a­ban ex­isted, then maybe it did prove that the 90% good part was there for other rea­sons, peo­ple try­ing to make a show of kind­ness as Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell had put it. For if they were truly kind they would not have made Azk­a­ban, they would storm the fortress to tear it down… wouldn’t they?

Harry stared up at the bright blue sky. If you wanted to be a ra­tio­nal­ist you had to read an awful lot of pa­pers on flaws in hu­man na­ture, and some of those flaws were in­no­cent log­i­cal failures, and some of them looked a lot darker.

Harry stared up at the bright blue sky, and thought of the Mil­gram ex­per­i­ment.

Stan­ley Mil­gram had done it to in­ves­ti­gate the causes of World War II, to try to un­der­stand why the cit­i­zens of Ger­many had obeyed Hitler.

So he had de­signed an ex­per­i­ment to in­ves­ti­gate obe­di­ence, to see if Ger­mans were, for some rea­son, more li­able to obey harm­ful or­ders from au­thor­ity figures.

First he’d run a pi­lot ver­sion of his ex­per­i­ment on Amer­i­can sub­jects, as a con­trol.

And af­ter­ward he hadn’t both­ered try­ing it in Ger­many.

Ex­per­i­men­tal ap­para­tus: A se­ries of 30 switches set in a hori­zon­tal line, with la­bels start­ing at ’15 volts’ and go­ing up to ‘450 volts’, with la­bels for each group of four switches. The first group of four la­beled ‘Slight Shock’, the sixth group la­beled ‘Ex­treme In­ten­sity Shock’, the sev­enth group la­beled ‘Danger: Se­vere Shock’, and the two last switches left over la­beled just ‘XXX’.

And an ac­tor, a con­fed­er­ate of the ex­per­i­menter, who had ap­peared to the true sub­jects to be some­one just like them: some­one who had an­swered the same ad for par­ti­ci­pants in an ex­per­i­ment on learn­ing, and who had lost a (rigged) lot­tery and been strapped into a chair, along with the elec­trodes. The true ex­per­i­men­tal sub­jects had been given a slight shock from the elec­trodes, just so that they could see that it worked.

The true sub­ject had been told that the ex­per­i­ment was on the effects of pun­ish­ment on learn­ing and mem­ory, and that part of the test was to see if it made a differ­ence what sort of per­son ad­ministered the pun­ish­ment; and that the per­son strapped to the chair would try to mem­o­rize sets of word pairs, and that each time the ‘learner’ got one wrong, the ‘teacher’ was to ad­minister a suc­ces­sively stronger shock.

At the 300-volt level, the ac­tor would stop try­ing to call out an­swers and be­gin kick­ing at the wall, af­ter which the ex­per­i­menter would in­struct the sub­jects to treat non-an­swers as wrong an­swers and con­tinue.

At the 315-volt level the pound­ing on the wall would be re­peated.

After that noth­ing would be heard.

If the sub­ject ob­jected or re­fused to press a switch, the ex­per­i­menter, main­tain­ing an im­pas­sive de­meanor and dressed in a gray lab coat, would say ‘Please con­tinue’, then ‘The ex­per­i­ment re­quires that you con­tinue’, then ‘It is ab­solutely es­sen­tial that you con­tinue’, then ‘You have no other choice, you must go on’. If the fourth prod still didn’t work, the ex­per­i­ment halted there.

Be­fore run­ning the ex­per­i­ment, Mil­gram had de­scribed the ex­per­i­men­tal setup, and then asked four­teen psy­chol­ogy se­niors what per­centage of sub­jects they thought would go all the way up to the 450-volt level, what per­centage of sub­jects would press the last of the two switches marked XXX, af­ter the vic­tim had stopped re­spond­ing.

The most pes­simistic an­swer had been 3%.

The ac­tual num­ber had been 26 out of 40.

The sub­jects had sweated, groaned, stut­tered, laughed ner­vously, bit­ten their lips, dug their finger­nails into their flesh. But at the ex­per­i­menter’s prompt­ing, they had, most of them, gone on ad­minis­ter­ing what they be­lieved to be painful, dan­ger­ous, pos­si­bly lethal elec­tri­cal shocks. All the way to the end.

Harry could hear Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell laugh­ing, in his mind; the Defense Pro­fes­sor’s voice say­ing some­thing along the lines of: Why, Mr. Pot­ter, even I had not been so cyn­i­cal; I knew men would be­tray their most cher­ished prin­ci­ples for money and power, but I did not re­al­ize that a stern look also sufficed.

It was dan­ger­ous, to try and guess at evolu­tion­ary psy­chol­ogy if you weren’t a pro­fes­sional evolu­tion­ary psy­chol­o­gist; but when Harry had read about the Mil­gram ex­per­i­ment, the thought had oc­curred to him that situ­a­tions like this had prob­a­bly arisen many times in the an­ces­tral en­vi­ron­ment, and that most po­ten­tial an­ces­tors who’d tried to di­s­obey Author­ity were dead. Or that they had, at least, done less well for them­selves than the obe­di­ent. Peo­ple thought them­selves good and moral, but when push came to shove, some switch flipped in their brain, and it was sud­denly a lot harder to hero­ically defy Author­ity than they thought. Even if you could do it, it wouldn’t be easy, it wouldn’t be some effortless dis­play of hero­ism. You would trem­ble, your voice would break, you would be afraid; would you be able to defy Author­ity even then?

Harry blinked, then; be­cause his brain had just made the con­nec­tion be­tween Mil­gram’s ex­per­i­ment and what Hermione had done on her first day of Defense class, she’d re­fused to shoot a fel­low stu­dent, even when Author­ity had told her that she must, she had trem­bled and been afraid but she had still re­fused. Harry had seen that hap­pen right in front of his own eyes and he still hadn’t made the con­nec­tion un­til now...

Harry stared down at the red­den­ing hori­zon, the Sun was sink­ing lower, the sky fad­ing, dark­en­ing, even if most of it was still blue, soon it would turn to night. The gold and red col­ors of Sun and sun­set re­minded him of Fawkes; and Harry won­dered, for a mo­ment, if it must be a sad thing to be a phoenix, and call and cry and scream with­out be­ing heeded.

But Fawkes would never give up, as many times as he died he would always be re­born, for Fawkes was a be­ing of light and fire, and de­spairing over Azk­a­ban be­longed to the dark­ness just as much as did Azk­a­ban it­self.

If you were given a glass half-empty and half-full, then that was the way re­al­ity was, that was the truth and it was so; but you still had a choice of how to feel about it, whether you would de­spair over the empty half or re­joice in the wa­ter that was there.

Mil­gram had tried cer­tain other vari­a­tions on his test.

In the eigh­teenth ex­per­i­ment, the ex­per­i­men­tal sub­ject had only needed to call out the test words to the vic­tim strapped into the chair, and record the an­swers, while some­one else pressed the switches. It was the same ap­par­ent suffer­ing, the same fran­tic pound­ing fol­lowed by silence; but it wasn’t you press­ing the switch. You just watched it hap­pen, and read the ques­tions to the per­son be­ing tor­tured.

37 of 40 sub­jects had con­tinued their par­ti­ci­pa­tion in that ex­per­i­ment to the end, the 450-volt end marked ‘XXX’.

And if you were Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell, you might have de­cided to feel cyn­i­cal about that.

But 3 out of 40 sub­jects had re­fused to par­ti­ci­pate all the way to the end.

The Hermiones.

They did ex­ist, in the world, the peo­ple who wouldn’t fire a Sim­ple Strike Hex at a fel­low stu­dent even if the Defense Pro­fes­sor or­dered them to do it. The ones who had sheltered Gyp­sies and Jews and ho­mo­sex­u­als in their at­tics dur­ing the Holo­caust, and some­times lost their lives for it.

And were those peo­ple from some other species than hu­man­ity? Did they have some ex­tra gear in their heads, some ad­di­tional chunk of neu­ral cir­cuitry, which lesser mor­tals did not pos­sess? But that was not likely, given the logic of sex­ual re­pro­duc­tion which said that the genes for com­plex ma­chin­ery would be scram­bled be­yond re­pair, if they were not uni­ver­sal.

What­ever parts Hermione was made from, ev­ery­one had those same parts in­side them some­where...

...well, that was a nice thought but it wasn’t strictly true, there was such a thing as literal brain dam­age, peo­ple could lose genes and the com­plex ma­chine could stop work­ing, there were so­ciopaths and psy­chopaths, peo­ple who lacked the gear to care. Maybe Lord Volde­mort had been born like that, or maybe he had known good and yet still cho­sen evil; at this point it didn’t mat­ter in the slight­est. But a su­per­ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion ought to be ca­pa­ble of learn­ing to do what Hermione and Holo­caust re­sisters did.

The peo­ple who had been run through the Mil­gram ex­per­i­ment, who had trem­bled and sweated and ner­vously laughed as they went all the way to press­ing the switches marked ‘XXX’, many of them had writ­ten to thank Mil­gram, af­ter­ward, for what they had learned about them­selves. That, too, was part of the story, the leg­end of that leg­endary ex­per­i­ment.

The Sun had al­most sunk be­low the hori­zon now, a last golden tip peek­ing above the far­away tops of trees.

Harry looked at it, that tip of Sun, his glasses were sup­posed to be proof against UV so he ought to be able to look di­rectly at it with­out dam­ag­ing his eyes.

Harry stared di­rectly at it, that tiny frac­tion of the Light that was not ob­scured and blocked and hid­den, even if it was only 3 parts out of 40, the other 37 parts were there some­where. The 7.5% of the glass that was full, which proved that peo­ple re­ally did care about wa­ter, even if that force of car­ing within them­selves was too of­ten defeated. If peo­ple truly didn’t care, the glass would have been truly empty. If ev­ery­one had been like You-Know-Who in­side, se­cretly clev­erly self­ish, there would have been no re­sisters to the Holo­caust at all.

Harry looked at the sun­set, on the sec­ond day of the rest of his life, and knew that he had switched sides.

Be­cause he couldn’t be­lieve in it any more, he couldn’t re­ally, not af­ter go­ing to Azk­a­ban. He couldn’t do what 37 out of 40 peo­ple would vote for him to do. Every­one might have in­side them what it took to be Hermione, and some­day they might learn; but some­day wasn’t now, not here, not to­day, not in the real world. If you were on the side of 3 out of 40 peo­ple then you weren’t a poli­ti­cal ma­jor­ity, and Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell had been right, Harry would not bow his head in sub­mis­sion when that hap­pened.

There was a sort of awful ap­pro­pri­ate­ness to it. You shouldn’t go to Azk­a­ban and come back hav­ing not changed your mind about any­thing im­por­tant.

So is Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell right, then? asked Slytherin. Leav­ing out whether he’s good or evil, is he right? Are you, to them, whether they know it or not, their next Lord? We’ll just leave out the Dark part, that’s him be­ing cyn­i­cal again. But is it your in­ten­tion now to rule? I’ve got to say, that makes even me ner­vous.

Do you think you can be trusted with power? said Gryffin­dor. Isn’t there some sort of rule that peo­ple who want power shouldn’t have it? Maybe we should make Hermione the ruler in­stead.

Do you think you’re fit to run a so­ciety and not have it col­lapse into to­tal chaos in­side of three weeks flat? said Hufflepuff. Imag­ine how loudly Mum would scream if she’d heard you’d been elected Prime Minister, now ask your­self, are you sure she’s wrong about that?

Ac­tu­ally, said Raven­claw, I have to point out that all this poli­ti­cal stuff sounds over­whelm­ingly bor­ing. How about if we leave all the elec­tion­eer­ing to Draco and stick to sci­ence? It’s what we’re ac­tu­ally good at, and that’s been known to im­prove the hu­man con­di­tion too, y’know.

Slow down, thought Harry at his com­po­nents, we don’t have to de­cide ev­ery­thing right now. We’re al­lowed to pon­der the prob­lem as fully as pos­si­ble be­fore com­ing to a solu­tion.

The last part of the Sun sank be­low the hori­zon.

It was strange, this feel­ing of not quite know­ing who you were, which side you were on, of hav­ing not already made up your mind about some­thing as ma­jor as that, there was an un­fa­mil­iar sen­sa­tion of free­dom in it...

And that re­minded him of what Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell had said to his last ques­tion, which re­minded him of Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell, which made it hard once more to breathe, started that burn­ing sen­sa­tion in Harry’s throat, sent his thoughts around that loop of the climb­ing spiral once again.

Why was he so sad, now, when­ever he thought of Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell? Harry was used to know­ing him­self, and he didn’t know why he felt so sad...

It felt like he’d lost Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell for­ever, lost him in Azk­a­ban, that was how it felt. As surely as if the Defense Pro­fes­sor had been eaten by De­men­tors, con­sumed in the empty voids.

Lost him! Why did I lose him? Be­cause he said Avada Ke­davra and there was in fact a perfectly good rea­son even though I didn’t see it for a cou­ple of hours? Why can’t things go back to the way they were?

But then it hadn’t been the Avada Ke­davra. That might have played a part in ir­re­versibly col­laps­ing a struc­ture of ra­tio­nal­iza­tions and flinches and care­fully not think­ing about cer­tain things. But it hadn’t been the Avada Ke­davra, that hadn’t been the dis­turb­ing thing that Harry had seen.

What did I see...?

Harry looked at the fad­ing sky.

He’d seen Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell turn into a hard­ened crim­i­nal while fac­ing the Auror, and the ap­par­ent change of per­son­al­ities had been effortless, and com­plete.

Another woman had known the Defense Pro­fes­sor as ‘Jeremy Jaffe’.

How many differ­ent peo­ple are you, any­way?

I can­not say that I both­ered keep­ing count.

You couldn’t help but won­der...

...whether ‘Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell’ was just one more name on the list, just one more per­son that had been turned into, made up in the ser­vice of some unguess­able goal.

Harry would always be won­der­ing now, ev­ery time he talked to Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell, if it was a mask, and what mo­tive was be­hind that mask. With ev­ery dry smile, Harry would be try­ing to see what was pul­ling the lev­ers on the lips.

Is that how other peo­ple will start think­ing of me, if I get too Slytherin? If I pull off too many plots, will I never be able to smile at any­one again, with­out them won­der­ing what I re­ally mean by it?

Maybe there was some way to re­store a trust in sur­face ap­pear­ances and make a nor­mal hu­man re­la­tion­ship pos­si­ble again, but Harry couldn’t think of what it might be.

That was how Harry had lost Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell, not the per­son, but the… con­nec­tion...

Why did that hurt so much?

Why did it feel so lonely, now?

Surely there were other peo­ple, maybe bet­ter peo­ple, to trust and befriend? Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall, Pro­fes­sor Flitwick, Hermione, Draco, not to men­tion Mum and Dad, it wasn’t like Harry was alone...

Only...

A chok­ing sen­sa­tion grew in Harry’s throat as he un­der­stood.

Only Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall, Pro­fes­sor Flitwick, Hermione, Draco, they all of them some­times knew things that Harry didn’t, but...

They did not ex­cel above Harry within his own sphere of power; such ge­nius as they pos­sessed was not like his ge­nius, and his ge­nius was not like theirs; he might look upon them as peers, but not look up to them as his su­pe­ri­ors.

None of them had been, none of them could ever be...

Harry’s men­tor...

That was who Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell had been.

That was who Harry had lost.

And the man­ner in which he had lost his first men­tor might or might not al­low Harry to ever get him back. Maybe some­day he would know all Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell’s hid­den pur­poses and the doubts be­tween them would go away; but even if that seemed pos­si­ble, it didn’t seem very prob­a­ble.

There was a gust of wind, out­side Hog­warts, it bent the empty trees, rip­pled the lake whose heart was still un­frozen, made a whisper­ing sound as it slid past the win­dow that looked upon the half-twilit world, and Harry’s thoughts wan­dered out­ward for a time.

Then re­turned in­ward again, to the next step of the spiral.

Why am I differ­ent from the other chil­dren my age?

If Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell’s an­swer to that had been an eva­sion, then it was a very well-calcu­lated one. Deep enough and com­plex enough, suffi­ciently full of sug­ges­tions of hid­den mean­ing, to serve as a trap for a Raven­claw who couldn’t be di­verted by less. Or maybe Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell had meant his an­swer hon­estly. Who knew what mo­tive might have pul­led that lever on those lips?

I will say this much, Mr. Pot­ter: You are already an Oc­clu­mens, and I think you will be­come a perfect Oc­clu­mens be­fore long. Iden­tity does not mean, to such as us, what it means to other peo­ple. Any­one we can imag­ine, we can be; and the true differ­ence about you, Mr. Pot­ter, is that you have an un­usu­ally good imag­i­na­tion. A play­wright must con­tain his char­ac­ters, he must be larger than them in or­der to en­act them within his mind. To an ac­tor or spy or poli­ti­cian, the limit of his own di­ame­ter is the limit of who he can pre­tend to be, the limit of which face he may wear as a mask. But for such as you and I, any­one we can imag­ine, we can be, in re­al­ity and not pre­tense. While you imag­ined your­self a child, Mr. Pot­ter, you were a child. Yet there are other ex­is­tences you could sup­port, larger ex­is­tences, if you wished. Why are you so free, and so great in your cir­cum­fer­ence, when other chil­dren your age are small and con­strained? Why can you imag­ine and be­come selves more adult than a mere child of a play­wright should be able to com­pose? That I do not know, and I must not say what I guess. But what you have, Mr. Pot­ter, is free­dom.

If that was a snow job it was one heck of a dis­tract­ing one.

And the still more wor­ri­some thought was that Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell hadn’t re­al­ized how dis­turbed Harry would be, how wrong that speech would sound to him, how much dam­age it would do to his trust in Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell.

There ought to always be one real per­son who you truly were, at the cen­ter of ev­ery­thing...

Harry stared out at the fal­ling night, the gath­er­ing dark­ness.

...right?


It was al­most bed­time when Hermione heard the scat­tered in­takes of breath and looked up from her copy of Beaux­ba­tons: A His­tory to see the miss­ing boy, the boy who had been mis­placed at lunch that Sun­day, whose din­ner non­ap­pear­ance had been ac­com­panied by ru­mors—and she hadn’t be­lieved them be­cause they were com­pletely ridicu­lous, but she’d felt a lit­tle queasi­ness in­side—that he’d with­drawn from Hog­warts in or­der to hunt down Bel­la­trix Black.

Harry!” she shrieked, she didn’t even re­al­ize that she was talk­ing di­rectly to him for the first time in a week, or no­tice how some other stu­dents started at the sound of her yel­ling all the way across the Raven­claw com­mon room.

Harry’s eyes had already lifted to her, he was already walk­ing to­ward her, so she stopped halfway out of her chair -

A few mo­ments later, Harry was seated across from her, and he was putting away his wand af­ter cast­ing a Quiet­ing bar­rier around them.

(And an awful lot of Raven­claws were try­ing not to look like they were watch­ing.)

“Hey,” Harry said. His voice wa­vered. “I missed you. You’re… go­ing to talk to me again, now?”

Hermione nod­ded, she just nod­ded, she couldn’t think of what to say. She’d missed Harry too, but she was re­al­iz­ing, with a guilty sort of feel­ing, that it might’ve been a lot worse for him. She had other friends, Harry… it didn’t feel fair, some­times, that Harry talked to only her like that, so that she had to talk to him; but Harry had a look about him like un­fair things had been hap­pen­ing to him, too.

“What’s been go­ing on?” she said. “There’s all sorts of ru­mors. There were peo­ple say­ing you’d run off to fight Bel­la­trix Black, there were peo­ple say­ing you’d run off to join Bel­la­trix Black—” and those ru­mors had said that Hermione had just made up the thing about the phoenix, and she’d yel­led that the whole Raven­claw com­mon room had seen it, so then the next ru­mor had claimed she’d made up that part too, which was stu­pidity of such an in­con­ceiv­able level that it left her com­pletely flab­ber­gasted.

“I can’t talk about it,” Harry said in a bare whisper. “Can’t talk about a lot of it. I wish I could tell you ev­ery­thing,” his voice wa­vered, “but I can’t… I guess, if it helps or any­thing, I’m not go­ing to lunch with Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell any more...”

Harry put his hands over his face, then, cov­er­ing his eyes.

Hermione felt the queasy feel­ing all through her stom­ach.

“Are you cry­ing?” said Hermione.

“Yeah,” said Harry, his voice sound­ing a lit­tle breathy. “I don’t want any­one else to see.”

There was a lit­tle silence. Hermione wanted to help but she didn’t know what to do about a boy cry­ing, and she didn’t know what was hap­pen­ing; she felt like huge things were hap­pen­ing around her—no, around Harry—and if she knew what they were she would prob­a­bly be scared, or alarmed, or some­thing, but she didn’t know any­thing.

“Did Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell do some­thing wrong?” she said at last.

“That’s not why I can’t go to lunch with him any more,” Harry said, still in that bare whisper with his hands pressed over his eyes. “That was the Head­mas­ter’s de­ci­sion. But yeah, Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell said some things to me that made me trust him less, I guess...” Harry’s voice sounded very shaky. “I’m feel­ing kind of alone right now.”

Hermione put her hand on her cheek where Fawkes had touched her yes­ter­day. She’d kept think­ing about that touch, over and over, maybe be­cause she wanted it to be im­por­tant, to mean some­thing to her...

“Is there any way I can help?” she said.

“I want to do some­thing nor­mal,” Harry said from be­hind his hands. “Some­thing very nor­mal for first-year Hog­warts stu­dents. Some­thing eleven-year-olds and twelve-year-olds like us are sup­posed to do. Like play a game of Ex­plod­ing Snap or some­thing… I don’t sup­pose you have the cards or know the rules or any­thing like that?”

“Um… I don’t know the rules, ac­tu­ally...” said Hermione. “I know they ex­plode.”

“I don’t sup­pose Gob­stones?” said Harry.

“Don’t know the rules and they spit at you. Those are boy games, Harry!”

There was a pause. Harry ground his hands against his face to wipe it, and then took his hands away; and then he was look­ing at her, look­ing a lit­tle hel­pless. “Well,” Harry said, “what do wiz­ards and witches our age do, when they play, you know, the kind of pointless silly games we’re sup­posed to play at this age?”

“Hop­scotch?” said Hermione. “Jump-rope? Uni­corn at­tack? I don’t know, I read books!”

Harry started laugh­ing, and Hermione started gig­gling along with him even though she didn’t know quite why, but it was funny.

“I guess that helped a lit­tle,” said Harry. “Ac­tu­ally I think it helped more than play­ing Gob­stones for an hour could’ve pos­si­bly helped, so thanks for be­ing you. And no mat­ter what, I’m not hav­ing any­one Oblivi­ate ev­ery­thing I know about calcu­lus. I’d sooner die.”

What?” said Hermione. “Why—why would you ever want to do that?

Harry stood up from the table, and there was a rush of re­stored back­ground noise as his rise broke the Quiet­ing Charm. “I’m a tad sleepy so I’m go­ing off to bed,” Harry said, now his voice was or­di­nary and wry, “I’ve got some lost time to make up for, but I’ll see you at break­fast, and then at Her­bol­ogy, if that’s all right. Not to men­tion it wouldn’t be fair to dump all my de­pres­sion on you. G’night, Hermione.”

“Good night, Harry,” she said, feel­ing very con­fused and alarmed. “Pleas­ant dreams.”

Harry stum­bled a lit­tle as she said that, and then he con­tinued on to­ward the stairs that led to the first-year-boys’ dorms.


Harry turned the Quiet­ing Charm all the way up, on the head of his bed­board, so that he wouldn’t wake any­one else up if he screamed.

Set his alarm to wake him up for break­fast (if he wasn’t up already by that hour, if in­deed he slept at all).

Got into bed, laid down -

- felt the lump be­neath his pillow.

Harry stared up at the canopy above his bed.

Hissed un­der his breath, “Oh, you’ve got to be kid­ding me...”

It took a few sec­onds be­fore Harry could muster the heart to sit up in bed, pull the blan­ket over him­self and his pillow to ob­scure the deed from the other boys, cast a low-in­ten­sity Lu­mos and see what was un­der his pillow.

There was a parch­ment, and a deck of play­ing cards.

The parch­ment read,

A lit­tle bird told me that Dum­ble­dore has shut the door of your cage.

I must ad­mit, on this oc­ca­sion, that Dum­ble­dore may have a point. Bel­la­trix Black is loosed upon the world once more, and that is not good news for any good per­son. If I stood in Dum­ble­dore’s place, I might well do the same.

But just in case… The Salem Witches’ In­sti­tute in Amer­ica ac­cepts boys as well, de­spite the name. They are good peo­ple and would pro­tect you even from Dum­ble­dore, if you needed it. Bri­tain holds that you need Dum­ble­dore’s per­mis­sion to em­i­grate to mag­i­cal Amer­ica, but mag­i­cal Amer­ica dis­agrees. So in the fi­nal ex­trem­ity, get out­side the wards of Hog­warts and tear in half the King of Hearts from this deck of cards.

That you should re­sort to it only in the fi­nal ex­trem­ity goes with­out say­ing.

Be well, Harry Pot­ter.

- Santa Claus

Harry stared down at the pack of cards.

It couldn’t take him any­where else, not right now, portkeys didn’t work here.

But he still felt un­nerved about the prospect of pick­ing it up, even to hide it in­side his trunk...

Well, he’d already picked up the parch­ment, which could just as eas­ily have been en­chanted with a trap, if a trap was in­volved.

But still.

“Win­gardium Le­viosa,” Harry whispered, and Hovered the packet of cards to lie next to where his alarm clock rested in a pocket of the head­board. He’d deal with it to­mor­row.

And then Harry lay back in bed, and closed his eyes, to dream with­out any phoenix to pro­tect him, and pay his reck­on­ing.


He came awake with a gasp of hor­ror, not a scream, he’d yet to scream this night, but his blan­ket was all tan­gled around him from where his sleep­ing form had jerked as he dreamed of run­ning, try­ing to get away from the gaps in space that were pur­su­ing him through a cor­ri­dor of metal lit by dim gaslight, an end­lessly long cor­ri­dor of metal lit by dim gaslight, and he hadn’t known, in the dream, that touch­ing those voids meant he would die hor­ribly and leave his still-breath­ing body empty be­hind him, all he’d known was that he had to run and run and run from the wounds in the world slid­ing af­ter him -

Harry started to cry again, it wasn’t for the hor­ror of the chase, it was that he’d run away while some­one be­hind him was scream­ing for help, scream­ing for him to come back and save her, help her, she was be­ing eaten, she was go­ing to die, and in the dream Harry had run away in­stead of helping her.

“DON’T GO!” The voice came in a scream from be­hind the metal door. “No, no, no, don’t go, don’t take it away, don’t don’t don’t—”

Why had Fawkes ever rested on his shoulder? He’d walked away. Fawkes should hate him.

Fawkes should hate Dum­ble­dore. He’d walked away.

Fawkes should hate ev­ery­one -

The boy wasn’t awake, wasn’t dream­ing, his thoughts were jum­bled and con­fused in the shad­owlands that bor­dered sleep and wak­ing, un­pro­tected by the safety rails that his aware mind im­posed on it­self, the care­ful rules and cen­sors. In that shad­owland his brain had wo­ken up enough to think, but some­thing else was too sleepy to act; his thoughts ran free and wild, un­con­strained by his self-con­cept, his wak­ing self’s ideals of what he shouldn’t think. That was the free­dom of his brain’s dreams, as his self-con­cept slept. Free to re­peat, over and over, Harry’s new worst night­mare:

“No, I didn’t mean it, please don’t die!”

“No, I didn’t mean it, please don’t die!”

“No, I didn’t mean it, please don’t die!”

A rage grew in him alongside the self-loathing, a ter­rible hot wrath /​ icy cold ha­tred, for the world which had done that to her /​ for him­self, and in his half-awake state Harry fan­ta­sized es­capes, fan­ta­sized ways out of the moral dilemma, he imag­ined him­self hov­er­ing above the vast tri­an­gu­lar hor­ror of Azk­a­ban, and whisper­ing an in­can­ta­tion un­like any syl­la­bles that had ever been heard be­fore on Earth, whispers that echoed all the way across the sky and were heard on the other side of the world, and there was a blast of silver Pa­tronus fire like a nu­clear ex­plo­sion that tore apart all the De­men­tors in an in­stant and ripped apart the metal walls of Azk­a­ban, shat­tered the long cor­ri­dors and all the dim or­ange lights, and then a mo­ment later his brain re­mem­bered that there were peo­ple in there, and rewrote the half-dream fan­tasy to show all the pris­on­ers laugh­ing as they flew away in flocks from the burn­ing wreck of Azk­a­ban, the silver light restor­ing the flesh to their limbs as they flew, and Harry started cry­ing harder into his pillow, be­cause he couldn’t do it, be­cause he wasn’t God -

He’d sworn upon his life and magic and his art as a ra­tio­nal­ist, he’d sworn by all he held sa­cred and all his happy mem­o­ries, he’d given his oath so now he had to do some­thing, had to do some­thing, had to DO SOMETHING -

Maybe it was pointless.

Maybe try­ing to fol­low rules was pointless.

Maybe you just burned down Azk­a­ban how­ever.

And in fact he’d sworn he’d do it, so now that was what he had to do.

He’d just do what­ever it took to get rid of Azk­a­ban, that was all. If that meant rul­ing Bri­tain, fine, if that meant find­ing a spell to whisper that would echo all across the sky, what­ever, the im­por­tant thing was to de­stroy Azk­a­ban.

That was the side he was on, that was who he was, so there, it was done.

His wak­ing mind would have de­manded a lot more de­tails be­fore ac­cept­ing that as an an­swer, but in his half-dream­ing state it felt like enough of a re­s­olu­tion to let his tired mind fall truly asleep again, and dream the next night­mare.


Fi­nal After­math:

She came awake with a gasp of hor­ror, a dis­rup­tion of her breath­ing that left her feel­ing de­prived of air and yet her lungs didn’t move, she woke up with an un­voiced scream on her lips and no words, no words came forth, for she could not un­der­stand what she had seen, she could not un­der­stand what she had seen, it was too large for her to en­com­pass and still tak­ing shape, she could not put words to that form­less shape and so she could not discharge it, could not discharge it and be­come in­no­cent and un­know­ing once more.

“What time is it?” she whispered.

Her golden jew­eled alarm clock, the beau­tiful and mag­i­cal and ex­pen­sive alarm clock that the Head­mas­ter had given her as a gift upon her em­ploy­ment at Hog­warts, whispered back, “Around two in the morn­ing. Go back to sleep.”

Her sheets were soaked in sweat, her night­clothes soaked in sweat, she took her wand from beside the pillow and cleaned her­self up be­fore she tried to go back to sleep, she tried to go back to sleep and even­tu­ally suc­ceeded.

Sy­bill Trelawney went back to sleep.