Ron was standing on his right, and Hermione was next to Ron. Neville was on Harry’s left, and as far as Harry was concerned, everything was just about perfect. Crabbe and Goyle were huddled together with the pug-faced Parkinson heiress, alternately whispering and looking about urgently.
McGonagall was slowly working her way through the names. As she called out the names of the brainless thugs that were Malfoy’s sycophantic followers, and later his witless masters, they were blatantly sullen in their loss of a leader. Harry caught Snape looking around furtively, but nothing had been said yet. When the man’s gaze locked onto Harry during one of his sweeps of the first-years, Harry just smiled broadly and waved vigorously, trusting his Occlumency to be sufficient to handle any probe. The deep scowl was the only outward sign of his success, but Harry knew it was his own vacant smile that retarded Snape’s further efforts in watching the new arrivals.
Harry was amused when Ron loudly whispered “Go for Gryffindor!” as she left. Her light flush as she took her seat and the Hat was deposited upon her brain casing was a tell-tale sign that things really were changing quickly. After Hermione’s initial appearance and departure, Harry had speculated openly with Ron what it must be like for an only child, raised by Muggles and never hearing of magic, to suddenly find herself alone and friendless in a scary new world. There were no known rules and no comfort of familiarity, and humans feared change. Harry had taken pains to exaggerate his own discomfort and to portray Ron’s unwitting nobility in befriending poor Harry as the true act of compassion mixed with bravery.
When Hermione had come back near the end of the ride, Ron had boldly stepped up to the plate and invited her to join them. The impromptu discussion of the pranks his twin brothers pulled, along with the realisation that his failed spell had come from them, had shortly left them all laughing together. When Neville looked in on them, claiming to be after Hermione, Harry had encouraged him to join them in their compartment.
McGonagall’s voice cut across Harry’s idle reminiscence, and he was amused to see her stern composure take a turn for the worse.
Her voice called out again, but this time it carried a faint hint of disapproval. At this point, most of the students and staff were looking around in an exaggerated manner, as though they expected the boy to arrive from thin air.
As the silence stretched out, Harry did his best to think of anything other than an unmarked, watery grave that was likely to never be found. It was far more than the future-Malfoy deserved, but the pre-emptive strike against current-Malfoy was one more thing his mind would use against him if he let dreams come.
The silence was finally broken as Snape and Hagrid converged on Dumbledore and held a quiet conversation. Snape returned to his seat with a frank look of utmost loathing on his face, while Hagrid bustled out the back door of the Great Hall and disappeared. McGonagall, at a gesture from Dumbledore, continued calling names.
A rather short and non-descript boy ran up to the stool, and Harry was distracted by Ron whispering in his ear. “What d’you reckon that was about?”
“Dunno,” Harry said after a moment. “Maybe he fell asleep and didn’t get off the train?”
Ron laughed quietly, obviously amused by the opportunities for blackmail such an event might make possible. “I hope that’s true!” Ron’s expression could only be called gloating.
Ron’s soft clap on his shoulder was the final contact Harry had before the Hat was dumped on his head, obscuring his vision.
Hmmm, difficult, very diff— by Merlin! This is not allowed! Harry’s muscles froze, and he could feel the Hat rapidly shifting through what he had been doing, from that day backward.
Stop! Harry yelled in his own mind. Take a hard look at what happened to this school and to you before you judge me!
The memories ran back farther and faster, becoming nothing but a blur in Harry's own mind. Disjointed images flashed through his consciousness, memories of broken bodies, burned ruins, and the years of desolation following the fall of Hogwarts. As abruptly as it began, it stopped.
You are familiar with the Ring of Gyges, Harry Potter?
I’ve heard the story, Harry replied.
What do you offer to avoid becoming the unjust in your plans?
This was unexpected. It was apparent that the Hat would either let him carry on or else bring everything crashing down. What, exactly, was Harry trying to do, and what would he offer the Hat? What would the Hat value above all else?
Unity, peace, and prosperity. I will unite the Houses here, I will reform Wizarding society, which has become so corrupt, and I will see to it that agents of chaos are no longer able to influence life — by whatever means necessary.
The Hat was silent for a long time, and Harry became uncomfortably certain that the entire Great Hall was focused on him. Surely he had not been on the stool for long, but by the growing silence all around, perhaps he was quite wrong.
Harry Potter, I will agree to let you continue, but I will demand one condition. When your adjustment to the balance is complete, you must come and talk with me. Do you agree to these terms?
On my magic, I so swear. Really, what choice did he have?
“Gryffindor!” The faint clapping reached his ears as he strolled off to his table, leaving the Hat behind to continue the Sorting. He was unsure what the Hat wanted, but at least he was being left unfettered. The opportunities stretched out before him. Before he could unify the school, however, he had to be sure the balance of power shifted properly.
oOo oOo oOo
Harry waited patiently, letting the night drift on. He had asked that the window be left open, to allow the cool night air to swirl about the dormitory room. The cool air and warm blankets would cause the boys around him to sleep more deeply, and he needed that advantage on this first night in the castle. Time was ticking away, and he had a tight schedule to keep.
When his watch revealed the hour as two in the morning, Harry knew it was time to get on. Parting his curtains ever so slightly, he silently cast Accio Wormtail! As the rat shot across the room and into the pillowcase Harry was holding, he immediately cast an Imperturbable Charm around his bed, followed by a Stunner on the rat that was struggling in the bag.
After he dumped the motionless rat on the bed, Harry cast a charm to reverse the Animagus transformation involuntarily. With the man Peter Pettigrew Stunned and silent on his bed, Harry cracked open his trunk to the special third chamber, the chamber where he kept his toys. There were few items in there at present, so it was easy to pull out the special manacles he had picked up in Knockturn Alley. The Anti-Apparation, Anti-Portkey, and Anti-Animagus manacles had cost a pretty penny, but in the end, Wormtail was going nowhere once Harry had them properly locked on.
Pulling out a bit of rope, Harry tied the shackled Pettigrew’s ankle to his belt and then cast a Mobilicorpus Charm to get the fat body floating docilely. The final piece of the puzzle was a long letter, written to explain who the cuffed man was, why he had been hiding, what it meant for Sirius Black, and how to verify everything. The scroll was shoved in a pocket, and then Harry was almost ready to leave.
Three Disillusionment Charms later, with an extra Stunner and Full-Body Bind tossed in for good measure, Harry made his way to the one-eyed witch, determined to fix another problem immediately. As soon as he reached the end of the tunnel under Honeydukes, Harry knew he was outside the protective wards of Hogwarts, and he tapped his wand in the proper sequence to temporarily deactivate the Anti-Apparition component to the manacles. Grabbing firmly onto Pettigrew’s throat with one hand, Harry Apparated them directly onto the lane outside a small home in the area near Brixton.
Harry immediately re-activated the Anti-Apparition feature before pulling the scroll out of his pocket. He opened it near the end, scrolled around until he found the right spot, and then used a Severing Charm to separate the bottom piece from the rest. After pocketing the removed piece, Harry attached the larger portion with a weak Sticking Charm, and he made sure the scroll was obvious by attaching it across Pettigrew’s eyes. Cancelling the Disillusionment on the disgusting body, Harry floated it over to the door — where he used Pettigrew’s head as a doorknocker and slammed it into the hard wood a few times. The loud thumping noise was followed almost immediately by the front door opening to reveal a rather angry Kingsley staring out in the darkness, his wand trained on the bundled carcass.
When Kingsley failed to notice any threats, Harry watched him pull the scroll off and read it. The tall Auror’s eyes kept flicking out into the darkness of the night, but Harry was content to wait him out. He was particularly happy when Kingsley slowly paled as he worked his way through the lengthy explanation, which culminated when the Auror removed the manacles and tossed them into his house, grabbed the body, and Disapparated with a loud crack!
Chuckling to himself, Harry Apparated back into the tunnel between Hogwarts and Honeydukes and slipped back into the castle proper. Once there, he went straight to the Owlery, where he called down both Hedwig and a random owl.
“Look, girl, you’re far too beautiful, people will recognise you. I can’t let you carry this, but I’ve got another letter I want you to deliver tomorrow, all right?” She nipped a little harder than was necessary at him, but she flitted back into the ceiling perches. Harry focused on the random owl and extracted the remaining piece of parchment from his pocket. “Right, take this to Rita Skeeter as fast as you can.” Securing the scroll to the owl’s leg, Harry scratched it briefly behind the ears before it took off into the night sky.
The wheels were spinning, the plans were rolling, and he needed to wrap up tonight. Harry stole back up to his dormitory room, removing the Invisibility Cloak along the way. With that safely stowed, he extracted from his trunk’s third compartment a plain, ordinary, dubiously magical pet rat he had purchased at the Magical Menagerie. One permanent Transfiguration later, said rat looked exactly like the now-missing Scabbers. Harry firmly pointed to Ron’s sleeping form and whispered, “He’s your new master, and your name is Scabbers. In you get!” Harry stuck the rat in by his friend’s feet and happily went to his own bed. With the Dreamless Sleep Charm in place, he was secure in the knowledge that tomorrow would be a wonderful day. Pettigrew was arrested, Crouch was implicated, anyone involved in the original or any subsequent cover-up would be tarnished, and best of all there was no creepy adult male sleeping in his friend’s bed.
oOo oOo oOo
Black was framed!
Massive Ministry Cover-up!
by Rita Skeeter
Harry wanted to laugh outright at the headline in the Prophet, but instead he had to put on airs as though everything he was reading — about Black’s supposed treachery and the new truth about the so-called hero, Pettigrew — was completely new.
Hermione, Ron, and Neville were full of outrage and horror on his behalf, so he just bumbled along as well as he could, mimicking their expressions and outcries of disbelief. He could feel the eyes of the Head Table’s occupants on him and knew he was being watched closely. He knew none of the staff would approach him to discuss it, given how they avoided it during his third year before, but that actually made things easier for him. He could pretend to be innocent and absorbed in classes rather than dealing with the unwanted attention from classmates and instructors.
The one thing he was most certainly looking forward to, beyond writing another lovely note to Rita, was his first Potions lesson, but that would have to wait until Friday. In the meantime, he had correspondence to work on.
oOo oOo oOo
It had been a bad week for the pureblood movement. Between Kingsley’s raids and Rita’s articles, the best thing that could be said at Hogwarts was that if you were not a pureblood racist, you were amused. The Avery family, the Malfoy family, and nearly every banner Dark Lord supporting group had prominent members sitting in holding cells, hard pressed to explain Dark artefacts and incriminating evidence of bribery or dubious financial transactions. Harry was the most pleased with the well-publicised results of the Malfoy Manor search. He had further encouraged his correspondents to look closely at the campaign contributions for each politician, as well as the timing between sizable charitable donations and some of the more egregious laws that had been passed over the last decade. With so many Dark supporters headed for Azkaban soon, Harry was content to know where he could find them, should they need to be dealt with on a more permanent basis.
All in all, it looked like Fudge, Umbridge, and Crouch — to name just three Ministry officials — were all one short step from criminal charges themselves. Harry was having a hard time not gloating as he moved about the castle, ignoring the whispers and pointed stares, instead focusing on the relationships he wanted to build among his friends. He hassled Ron into telling his family, especially his sister, what it was like at Hogwarts. He pushed Hermione to help them get their homework done early, so they could spend the evenings having fun. He all but begged Neville to help him with chess against Ron, knowing that there was no chance he could win on his own.
His week had received an extra boost when Wednesday’s Prophet announced that Sirius Black had been freed and Pettigrew given the Kiss. Harry expected to hear from Sirius at any moment by owl, and the anticipation was simply excellent. At the same time, every opportunity that Dumbledore made to subtly be ‘available’ should Harry have any questions was quickly deflected by a sudden emergency nearby. Harry knew that the game would be impossible to continue for too long, but he wanted to be sure things were well in hand before he risked the first meeting with Dumbledore.
Harry went out of his way to avoid making eye contact with Quirrell, as that would be a sure sign to Voldemort, who was sharing the DADA teacher’s body. He had no illusions that Voldemort would fail to detect his Occlumency skills immediately, which in turn would lead to far too many complications. Instead, Harry did his best to maintain a low profile, determined to be good but not outstanding in the class — or not yet, at any rate.
By the time Friday rolled around, Harry thought that life was getting better and better by the second. As expected, Snape took roll at the first class. When he stumbled over Malfoy’s name, glancing about furiously, Ron nudged Harry sharply in the ribs. Aurors had appeared and searched the place thoroughly, and reports had them searching the train and the tracks all the way back to London. Nothing was found, and the Malfoy heir was finally listed as a runaway. The outraged letters to the editor of the Prophet from various pureblood families were predictable, but Harry tried hard to avoid thinking about the situation. He would only have to keep the game going for a little longer, and then he could take the steps he planned on to eliminate his future knowledge — as well as his actions to secure a new future this time around the wheel.
When Snape was about to call out Parvati’s name, Harry did a silent and wandless Langlock Curse on him. It would have been far too obvious if he did it on his own name, but the name just before his would work quite well. It took a glacial moment before Snape extracted his wand and spent a few furious seconds trying to remove the curse. At last freed from the effects, he glared at the classroom one student at a time.
“Who did that?” His rage was easily evident in his whisper.
Harry made sure his hands were in plain sight, his wand tucked in his bag, and his eyes wide open and firmly on the man’s face. Preparing for this confrontation had been a tremendously embarrassing quarter-hour of his life, the most embarrassing moment in his old or new life even with several strong Notice-Me-Not Charms about him, but he was prepared for this first lesson. He was all but demanding that Snape take a moment to use Legilimency on him, as he desperately wanted to use the memory he had prepared for this moment.
It was almost too easy. Snape’s eyes locked on his, and Harry could feel the probe start. Immediately, he focused solely on what he did shortly after securing his freedom from the prison Dumbledore had placed him in. Snape would find himself looking at a naked Harry Potter frolicking in the giant flowerbeds of Hyde Park whilst random Muggles walked right past. He would be able to see Harry eating flowers, rolling in them, and rubbing vigorously against them. Harry had taken particular care to frolic extensively with a set of very vibrant, over-sized yellow daisies.
Within heartbeats, he felt the mind of the professor withdraw abruptly, and the man’s eyes opened wide. Snape took two steps back and was forced to stop by the blackboard behind him. Harry continued to gaze at his teacher with wide-open eyes, trying for the most vacuous expression he could. Inside, he laughed himself sick, planning the next stage of some well-deserved payback for the man.
Snape shook himself visibly and abruptly went back to the roll call. When Harry’s name was called, Snape shot him a vile look, but Harry just waved merrily while keeping his vacuous expression on. Almost all of the students around him gave him puzzled looks, since he had never acted in this manner before, but no one was willing to say anything.
With a sour expression, Snape began the class, ignoring Harry completely.
oOo oOo oOo
This will be a very short fic — just five chapters.
Thanks, as always, to the betas. Chreechree, cwarbeck, Reg, Lathac, Sherylyn, and Sovran all lent their usual thoughts and commentary, warranted or otherwise.