“The Cannons?” Chang asked, lowering her quill to look at Ron. Harry looked over his book to glance between them. “Really?”
“Yeah,” Ron said, feeling a little defensive. “What’s wrong with the Cannons?”
“What’s wrong with- the Cannons are awful, Weasley,” one of Chang’s friends - a blonde Hufflepuff - said.
“Harry and Sirius go for the Cannons too,” Ron said. He could feel his ears turning red. “Don’t you?”
“More than anyone else, yeah,” Harry said, shrugging. He grinned. “Except for maybe Gryffindor.” The girls all groaned, but then one said that Wood was handsome and next thing Ron knew, the girls were having a noisy, rather enthusiastic discussion about whether Wood, Diggory or Davies was better looking.
“Mad, all of them,” Ron muttered to Harry, who nodded, looking rather shell-shocked. “Besides, it’s obviously Flint.” Harry snorted and Ron grinned. “What, stupid and half-troll isn’t your type?” This time, Harry burst out laughing and he and Ron both got odd looks from Chang and her friends.
“Definitely not,” Harry said, trying to get himself back under control. His eyes flicked to Chang, who was admittedly about as far from stupid and half troll as it was possible to be. She and her friends were still giggling over Quidditch boys - the lot of them were now giving Harry appraising looks. His cheeks were red, and Ron suspected he could hear them.
Chang shushed them halfheartedly and turned to Harry, blushing.
“How’s your reading going?” Harry - who Ron was sure had the Map open behind his book and was watching for Wormtail - angled his book away from her. Chang gave him an odd look. “Have you found anything interesting?”
“Nothing,” Harry said, glancing at Ron, who shook his head; he hadn’t found anything to help Hagrid either.
“And you’re- this is for a hippogriff?” Chang asked, a little doubtfully. “The one that attacked Malfoy?”
“Stupid git,” Ron muttered. Harry grinned.
“I- well- not that I like Malfoy,” Chang said, a bit awkwardly, “but if it attacked him, then isn’t it- you know, dangerous? So-”
“I should think so!” Chang’s curly haired friend said. “And that Hagrid’s a bit-” she made a vaguely distasteful gesture and scrunched up her face. “-too.” Ron glared at her.
“I think Hagrid’s brilliant,” Harry said, rather coolly.
“I’ve never had him as a teacher,” Chang said quickly. “I’m sure he’s wonderful.” She gave Harry a smile, and Harry smiled back, then stood. Chang’s face fell. “Where are you going?”
“Arithmancy,” Harry said. Ron didn’t have Arithmancy, but he certainly wouldn’t be staying here without Harry. Not that he thought Chang would want him to.
“But the next lessons aren’t for twenty minutes,” Chang said.
“I said I’d meet Hermione when she finishes Runes,” Harry said, running a hand through his hair. They had to swap the Map over, so that she could have it in Muggle Studies… which was happening right now, so really, she already had the Map, except it was there, being tucked surreptitiously into Harry’s bag, and Merlin, time-travel confused Ron.
“Oh,” Chang said, in an odd voice. “Well, if you’ve got to meet Hermione, then sure…”
“Yeah, sorry,” Harry said, packing his things away. Ron shut his book with a loud snap, swept his things into his bag and hopped to his feet. He was all for helping Hagrid, but the books were boring as anything, and he wasn’t entirely comfortable sitting with Chang’s friends. Nor, did he think, was Harry; Chang had all but dragged him over when they walked into the library, giving Ron no choice but to follow.
“Unbelievable,” Chang’s friend said - and crossly, Ron thought - and some of the other girls were murmuring amongst themselves. Then, more loudly the red-haired girl said, “Did you know it’s Valentine’s day on Monday, Potter?”
Harry blinked at her, then glanced at Ron, who shrugged. Harry shook his head.
“And that it’s a Hogsmeade weekend,” Chang’s friend said, rather pointedly. “Or have you already made plans to go with Hermione Granger?”
“Marietta!” Chang said, but the look she turned on Harry was hopeful.
“Oh,” Harry said, ruffling his hair again. “Er- I hadn’t really-”
“We could get lunch?” Chang said.
“Yeah,” Harry said. Ron shifted impatiently and Harry half-glanced in his direction. “I - yeah, sure.” Chang beamed. She and Harry looked at each other and Ron wondered if they were going to hug or kiss goodbye, but Harry just waved awkwardly and backed up a few steps. Chang’s friend and the Hufflepuff who’d been on Ron’s back about the Cannons put their heads together, whispering.
“See you,” Harry said.
“Bye, Harry!” Chang said, and several of her friends echoed her. They didn’t say anything to Ron.
* * *
“Hogsmeade” Sirius repeated, massaging his forehead with an ink-spotted hand. He’d completely forgotten about it. “I’m sorry, I’m up to my neck in reports at the moment, and I just can’t spare the time-”
“It’s all right,” Harry said. He looked a bit disappointed, but not as disappointed as Sirius had expected him to be. Still, Sirius wasn’t going to question it, not if Harry was prepared to let it go without making a fuss. Perhaps he realised that - after the disaster that had been the last Hogsmeade trip - if Sirius was able to go, he’d be keeping Harry firmly in his sight the entire time, which probably wouldn’t be all that much fun anyway.
Not that Harry was going to be much safer in the castle, necessarily; as seemed to be the way of things, Peter had disappeared entirely again after his burglary of McGonagall’s office, and Merlin only knew where he was, or what he was planning now.
“I saw the paper,” Harry said eventually. “Eric was seen in London. Looks like you were right.” He didn’t look particularly happy about it. Sirius grunted, not happy either. “Do you think you’re close to finding him?”
“Couldn’t say, kiddo,” Sirius said, and changed the subject: “When’s your next match?”
Harry wasn’t fooled - his eyes narrowed, and he was quiet for just long enough that Sirius thought he’d refuse to go along with it all.
“March,” Harry said finally. “Ravenclaw and Slytherin play next weekend though.”
“Who do you want to win?”
“Ravenclaw,” Harry said, and for just a moment he looked scandalised that Sirius would even ask such a thing. Then he scrunched his face up, considering. “Except our odds for the Cup are better if they don’t.”
“In that case, go Slytherin,” Sirius said, but without much enthusiasm, and Ron made a strangled noise in the background. Harry glanced over his shoulder and laughed at whatever he saw there.
Sometime later, when Harry said goodnight and let the mirror go dark, and Sirius returned his attention to the parchment before him:
I’ve never had to write this sort of thing before, so I’m awfully sorry if I’ve addressed it wrong. I think I saw Crouch heading down into Knockturn Alley this morning, in disguise as Eric Munch and thought you’d like to know. Sorry if I’m wasting your time.
He tapped it with his wand to change the handwriting, once, twice and then a third time, just to be sure. Then, he levitated the copy into an envelope he’d prepared earlier, careful not to touch it. Another tap of his wand - this time on the Ministry-emblem stamp on the envelope - and it vanished.
The stamps were more expensive than the cost of borrowing a post owl, but they also ensured immediate delivery. ‘J Lynch’s’ letter would be sitting in a Ministry post sorting basket now, with a whole lot of other letters - complaints, mostly - and would probably find its way onto his desk or Robards’ in the next day or two.
Sirius leaned back in his chair with a sigh, and rubbed a hand over his face.
It was awful what he was doing, wasting the Aurors’ time with false information and leads, and even more awful that he was dragging poor Eric’s name through the papers and the DMLE, framing and blaming him.
Sirius knew exactly how it felt, to be hunted and called a Death Eater. That Eric was likely dead and therefore unaware that he was being framed did little to soothe Sirius’ conscience.
The only reason he’d kept up the whole charade was because he needed Crouch to think he was safe, wherever he was hiding. If Crouch knew he was being watched, he’d be careful, and have all sorts of contingency plans in place. A Crouch that felt safe was a Crouch that was more likely to slip up, and Sirius would be ready for him when he did.
* * *
This, Draco thought, as memories rushed by him - Hydrus throwing a shoe, him licking a spoon while Dobby baked in the Manor’s kitchen, sitting with Potter out by the lake laughing at some joke or other - was different to what he’d felt before. Severus’ Legillimency wasn’t so much the sharp, probing thing it had been previously; instead, it was everywhere at once, and for all that Draco had had some success in the past in keeping him out, he wasn’t even sure where to start with this.
Severus withdrew and the pressure on Draco’s head eased. Gasping, he realised he’d fallen to the floor of Severus’ office, while Severus watched disapprovingly from his the chair behind his desk. The pensieve, swirling gently atop the desk, cast odd shadows on his face. Draco hauled himself to his feet and back into his chair.
“You need to clear your mind, Draco,” Severus said curtly. “Remove any emotions-”
“I’m trying!” Draco said crankily, and pushed his hair out of his face. “Why’s it so different?”
“Different to what?” Severus asked, arching an eyebrow.
“To before,” Draco said, “when I was having my headaches.” Severus’ face went smooth, and Draco had to make an effort not to roll his eyes; though he was certain they both knew it was Severus behind Draco’s headaches last term, Severus had yet to admit it - and was still going to lengths to pretend he didn’t know - which made learning difficult. “I was able to make-” He swallowed the word you. “-them stop, I could feel it, just in one spot and block it, but with this-”
“There are a number of different types of Legillimency, as very few minds operate entirely the same. Broadly, however, they can be assigned to one of two categories; Legillimency that requires a wand and a spell, and Legillimency that does not.” Severus lifted his wand slowly. “Today, we are working with the former. Now, clear your mind… Legillimens!”
He could feel Severus in his head, everywhere, digging through thoughts and memories, and Draco tried to shove him out the way he had in the past, tried not to think of anything, but then he was four, and Father was pointing out a Mudblood (the first Draco had ever seen), and Severus had sliced his palm open, and Aunt Bella had his face in her hand, was saying he had Mother’s smile, and Draco had Weasley in checkmate-
Draco was on the floor again.
“I told you to clear your mind,” Severus said.
“I heard you,” Draco huffed. He wished he’d gone to Hogsmeade with Granger and Weasley, instead of coming here. “But I must have missed the part where you told me how.”
“I have - free yourself of any emotion-”
“How?!” Draco demanded, throwing himself down into his chair. Severus gave him a warning look, and Draco knew - godson or not - he was about to be in a world of trouble if he kept speaking to Severus like that. He let out a gusty breath. “How do I ‘clear myself of emotion’?”
Severus looked a little lost.
“You simply… do,” he said.
“How did you do it when you learned?”
“The same way I have instructed you to,” Severus said, more briskly. “Now, concentrate… Legillimens!”
With no time to prepare himself, Draco was snatched up by his memories as Severus glanced over them; he was walking with Dumbledore and talking about red and green, Hydrus had just broken his nose, a sinister hiss and then yellow eyes reflected off the damp dungeon walls, and then Granger and She-Weasley were squealing as the twins dumped snow over the pair of them on Christmas day-
“This isn’t working,” Draco said, frustrated. He’d managed to stay in his seat this time, at least.
“No,” Severus said, mouth a thin line. “It isn’t.” He set his wand down on the desk and watched Draco so intently that Draco half-expected to feel a probe, but he didn’t. “I’d expected you to take to it quickly.”
He sounded disappointed, and that stung.
“You’re the one meant to be teaching me,” Draco said sulkily. Truthfully, he’d thought his previous exposure to Legillimency, and the books Black had loaned him would give him an advantage.
“You requested these lessons, Draco,” Severus said irritably. “If you no longer wish to continue them, you can leave.”
“Lie,” Draco said, folding his arms. If Severus didn’t want Draco to know Occlumency, he would never have started poking at his mind, nor would have he been as quick to agree to giving Draco lessons in the first place. They stared at each other for several long seconds, and Severus was the first to look away.
“The Legillimency I am currently using on you, is Legillimency in its simplest form-”
“And I can’t even keep you out,” Draco muttered, disheartened. Severus gave him a quelling look.
“-and as such, is the most difficult to defend against.” Draco looked up, and the faintest shadow of a smile flickered across Severus’ face. “The spell Legillimens-” Draco flinched a bit, but Severus was not holding his wand, and nothing happened. “-is designed to provide the caster with immediate access to a subject’s mind. As there is directed magic behind it, it is almost always successful, but is limited; if the caster has no other ability with Legillimency, their only hope is that the subject will panic and reveal whatever it is that the caster is searching for. That is why you must learn to put your emotions aside; with them, come memories, and with memories come weaknesses, tools for the caster to use against you.”
“And if the caster is decent at Legillimency?”
“Then the spell is simply a way in, if they are too weak or too lazy to work their way in without the spell. Once inside, a talented Legillimens can actively search through thoughts and memories, and gain access to far deeper parts of the mind. At that level, memories can be implanted, altered, locked away… I could induce pain, cause hallucinations and unconsciousness or- Draco?”
“I’m fine,” said Draco, who actually felt a bit sick.
“I will not be altering your memories, or causing you pain, Draco,” Severus said quietly. “As you said before, I am here to teach you how to defend yourself against such things.”
“So- so if the spell gets you in every time, how do I get you out?” Draco asked.
“If the spell has put me there, not easily,” Severus said. “But ask yourself: is it more important to get me out, or to stop me from accessing anything important once I am in?”
“Apparently the second one,” Draco muttered, able to recognise a directed question when one was presented to him. “And let me guess: I have to clear my mind and put aside my emotions?”
“Don’t take that tone with me, Draco,” Severus said, but then his mouth twitched. “But you are correct, yes.”
“Well where do I put my emotions?” Draco asked, and then added snidely, “Or am I just not supposed to have them?”
“Can I put them all in the pensieve?” Draco asked suddenly. “Would that-”
“I said clear your mind, not empty it,” Severus snapped.
“If you told me how, I’d try!”
Severus took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose.
* * *
Harry thought Ginny’s pleased expression had more to do with her having the chance to help Hagrid and mess with Mr Malfoy’s plans, than any genuine delight over the book Harry had given her; it was a dusty thing, thick enough to daunt even Hermione, and older than any sort of printing press; the text looked to have been handwritten, and none too neatly.
“Didn’t you want to go to Hogsmeade today, Harry?” Colin asked, bouncing in the seat beside Ginny’s.
“Padfoot- my godfather said I couldn’t,” Harry said. It was Valentine’s day tomorrow, and Cho had asked him to Madam Puddifoot’s. Harry had been quite relieved to have a good excuse not to go back to the teashop, though he disappointed he wouldn’t be seeing Cho today.
“Why not?” Colin asked. “Are you in trouble?”
“Harry’s always in trouble,” Ginny said, grinning. Harry grinned back at her.
“Yes,” Luna said, choosing a book off the top of Harry’s pile, and flipping it open. “Cho Chang was very upset you wouldn’t be going with her today. I heard her talking in the common room.” Harry’s stomach gave a little flop. Luna looked up at Harry and cocked her head. “It’s not just you, though, don’t worry.”
“What’s not just me?” Harry asked.
“Causing her to be upset,” Luna said.
“Is it nargles?” Colin asked curiously.
“Well, I was going to say losing to Slytherin in yesterday’s match,” Luna said, frowning thoughtfully. “But now that you mention it, Colin, nargles might be involved...” She suddenly looked at Harry. “If you’re worried, you should give her an aubergine. They’re a very apologetic vegetable, don’t you think?”
She didn’t appear to be joking, nor did he think her question had been a rhetorical one.
“Honestly, I’d never thought about it,” Harry said weakly. He glanced at Colin who looked as if he was seriously considering the matter, and at Ginny, whose expression was hidden behind a curtain of her long hair, but she smelled amused.
“Aubergines,” Luna said, nodding.
“Right,” Harry said. “I’ll-er- keep it in mind.” Luna nodded approvingly and returned her attention to her book. “Right,” Harry said, more to himself than the others this time, and reached for a book of his own.
* * *
There was a soft knock on the wall of Sirius’ cubicle and he looked up to see Robards standing there, a grim expression on his face.
“What?” Sirius asked.
“I’ve got new information about Crouch.” Sirius sort of doubted it, but couldn’t say so; it wasn’t Robards’ fault that he’d been misinformed. It was Sirius’.
“Not here,” Robards said, shaking his head. “Have you got a moment?”
“Sure.” Sirius flicked his wand and the files on his desk soared neatly into his filing cabinet, which locked with a soft click. He stood.
Robards led him down the corridor and into his own office - a proper office, since he was a senior Auror - and waved Sirius in, his scent a curious mix of nervous, angry and determined.
Sirius glanced at him as he passed, hand dropping to his wand in a way he hoped was casual.
It’s Robards, he thought, mentally shaking himself.
Constant vigilance, a voice that sounded like Mad-Eye’s murmured back.
Robards followed him in and shut the door.
“Sit,” he said.
Sirius did, wary despite himself, but trying his best not to look it.
“So, what’s this information?” he asked.
Robards’ spell was so quick Sirius barely got his wand up in time to parry it. It hit a shelf on the wall and sent books crashing to the floor. Sirius scrambled to his feet, slashing his wand through the air to block Robards’ second spell which hit the wall with a sizzle, and dodged the third, which sounded like it hit the chair behind him.
Wordlessly, Sirius sent a Paralysis Hex and Disarmer, parried what he thought might have been a Stunner from Robards and lifted his wand-
Something knocked into the backs of his knees and Sirius turned for the barest moment to see the chair had come to life-
Robards’ spell hit him hard in the side and his wand went rolling away as he fell back onto the chair. Before he could recover and process that his wand was gone and that he should go after it, thick ropes were on him, strapping him down.
Sirius did the only thing he could:
“Don’t bother. The room’s Silenced,” Robards said, turning Sirius’ chair to face the desk. Snarling, Sirius tried to bite his hand, but Robards moved it quickly and calmly away. “This office has been warded, for the purpose of our talk, to prevent you from transforming and using portkeys, and I’ve disabled the Floo.” Sirius felt a small stab of fear. Robards retrieved Sirius’ wand and set it on the desk, then sat himself and gave Sirius a long, considering look.
Robards still smelled like Robards, and his expressions were the same, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything.
Unsettled by the intensity of the stare, Sirius averted his eyes and made sure Padfoot was guarding his thoughts. When he was sure his Occlumency was fixed in place, he looked up.
“Crouch, I presume?” Sirius asked.
“I’ll ask the questions, if you don’t mind.”
“And if I do?”
Robards’ expression tightened.
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