Chapter 8 : Padfoot and Moony

Publish Date: 31 July 2005

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, its characters, or anything associated with it. I'm not making any money from this story, and I don't intend to. I'm writing it purely for the satisfaction of it, and because several people warned me that there would be dire consequences if I didn't finish it. The resemblance of any character to an actual person is completely accidental. Please don't sue -- I don't own enough to make it worth your while.

Note: This is a Harry / Severus slash story -- and while their relationship is also accompanied by plot, action, and drama, if you seriously object to the slash element -- or to the particular pairing -- then don't read the story!


THE MIRROR OF MAYBE: Chapter 8
-- Padfoot and Moony --

"Sirius?!" Lupin's shocked voice demanded, "What's going on?!"

"He... he smells like Harry!" Black replied.

"What?! That's impossible!"

"Dammit Moony -- I'm telling you he smells like Harry! When I'm Snuffles, my nose tells me that this is my godson!"

"I am your godson," Harry replied. "I've cast a disguising spell on myself -- one that anti-glamour magics can't penetrate."

"You're not my godson!" Sirius roared. "You can't be! You don't even have Harry's scar!"

In response, Harry slowly lifted his fringe, and scrubbed away the makeup. "The damned thing can't be hidden with magic," he explained, "so I had to resort to muggle tricks."

Shocked, Sirius stared at the scar, while Remus slowly lowered his wand. "But..." the werewolf protested, "you -- you're a teacher! Our Harry isn't old enough to be a teacher -- he doesn't know enough...!"

Harry smiled tiredly. "A fact that has done more to protect my identity than a thousand disguise spells," he agreed. "But there is a great deal you don't know about what happened to me last year -- and particularly about what happened when the Mirror of Maybe pulled me in."

"The mirror?" Sirius repeated. "The one that fool Fudge brought to the dance?" Harry nodded. "But... Dumbledore assured me that you... that Harry... that my godson, was all right. He said everything was fine!"

"He didn't know," Harry said simply. "I didn't tell him."

"Sirius?" Lupin suddenly interrupted. "Are we buying this? Are we really going to believe this is Harry?" He didn't sound as though he dis-believed it -- only as though he wanted confirmation of the decision from Sirius.

"I..." Sirius looked confused.

"Let me show you my animagus form," Harry suggested, "I think that might help to convince you."

Tentatively, Sirius and Remus stepped back to give him room, and also to give themselves room for a fight in case he turned into something dangerous.

Harry concentrated -- focusing his magic internally, and mentally reciting the spell that would trigger the change to his other self. The animagus spell was one of the very few pieces of wizarding magic that did not need to be spoken aloud. It also didn't require a wand, since the magic was focused inwards, and not channelled into an external activity. This was fortunate, since both Harry and Sirius would be hard pressed to hold a wand in their animagus bodies, let alone repeat a spell out loud while using an animal's vocal equipment.

When he next opened his eyes, Harry had four hooves planted firmly on the ground, and his view of the world was both higher, and strangely flattened. The eyesight from within his animagus body always took Harry a few moments to adjust to.

Having four feet and no arms was a bit of a challenge too.

"Oh my god," Sirius breathed. Remus looked equally shocked.

Harry knew what they were seeing. In the Mirror, Sirius had almost burst into tears the first time he'd seen Harry in his full animagus transformation.

He looked exactly like Prongs -- his father -- who, before his death, had been Sirius' best friend.

This time, though, Harry was somewhat uncomfortable in his other body. The disguise spell -- which reflected the human features he had imagined -- could not cope with his animal form. That meant that the spell would lie dormant within him until he changed back. As a result, he now appeared as a teenaged version of his animagus self.

The last time Harry could remember transforming, it had been within the Mirror -- and he'd been a fully-grown stag with a magnificent set of antlers. Those antlers could be deadly weapons if he chose to sweep them low in battle. But now, he was only a young buck, and his tiny branched horns would hardly frighten a mouse.

It was embarrassing!

But at least it served to reassure his godfather and Remus that he really was Harry Potter. The form he now had was exactly the right age for a sixteen-year-old.

They came up to him then, and Sirius used one finger to trace the outline of his scar in the white markings on his forehead. "... can't be disguised with magic..." he murmured.

Harry nodded, surprising Sirius, who then pulled his hand away.

"You look just like him," Remus whispered. "So much like Prongs..."

"Change back, Harry," Sirius told him in a voice thick with emotion. "I think there's a lot we need to talk about -- starting with that mirror."

So Harry resumed his human form, and watched in sympathy as both Sirius and Remus tried to cope with the way he now looked under the disguise spell.

This meeting was easier on Harry than it was for his godfather and Lupin, since Harry had already adjusted to seeing all the Hogwarts teachers and students in their younger selves. Thus, he'd already anticipated seeing these two men as they now appeared. Added to that, Harry also had the benefit that they, at least, still looked like Sirius and Remus to him -- merely younger -- but to them, he knew he looked nothing like 'their' Harry.

"Would you remove the spell?" Sirius asked, "Just for a little while?"

"I'm sorry," Harry replied, "but it's based on a face I made up. If I take it off, then I probably won't get it exactly right when I re-cast the spell -- and I can't afford to give people any excuse to think that this might not be my real face."

Sirius looked disappointed, but Remus nodded in understanding.

They all stared at one another for a few moments, until finally, Remus broke the silence.

"So," he said in a light tone, "what's this about a mirror?"

----oo00oo----

Half an hour later, the two astonished men were still having trouble with Harry's explanation.

Remus was frowning as he asked, "What you're saying, then, is that you went into the future -- or at least a possible future..?"

"Not at all," Harry replied, shaking his head. "Think of the Mirror of Maybe as if it were a book. When you open a book, you can read the whole thing in only a day or two -- yet the story itself may encompass years. But once the book is finished, you return to the real world where very little time has passed, and everything you thought you experienced never happened. There's no time travel involved, and no paradoxes or alternate realities. It's just a story."

"In my case," Harry went on to explain, "when I was pulled in, the Mirror created a story based upon things that would probably happen. But the book -- which was the world the Mirror created -- was so real, that I couldn't tell the difference between being inside it, and being out here."

"For me, there was only a second or two of dizziness, and then the Mirror turned blank. It looked as if I was still at the dance -- and Ron and Hermione were still standing next to me. Nobody could figure out what had happened -- why the Mirror stopped working."

"Actually," Harry added ruefully, "a lot of the other students -- the ones in the Mirror -- blamed me for ruining their fun. They said I must have done something to it to make it stop working."

"But you weren't even gone half an hour!" Remus protested. "How could thirteen years have passed for you?"

Harry shrugged. "How can a book describe years in only a few pages? The Mirror was a very complex device with some very intricate and powerful spells on it. Hermione thought it must have been created by a group of very powerful wizards -- and that at least one of them must have been a mathematical genius."

"But it didn't really happen," Sirius interrupted. He had been very quiet during Harry's explanation, and Harry was beginning to become a bit worried about him. "It was only a story, after all -- so under that disguise, you're still my sixteen-year-old godson. Right?"

Harry sighed. Sirius was obviously hoping that thirteen years in a mirror didn't make that much difference in the real world. "No Padfoot," Harry firmly denied, "I'm not sixteen anymore. From my perspective I haven't been sixteen in a very long time." Then he turned to Remus, and said, "You mentioned that I couldn't be a Hogwarts teacher because I didn't know enough..."

Remus blinked, and then understanding filled his face.

Harry turned back to his godfather and gently asked, "Do you imagine I could be teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts if I was only sixteen? And do you really think I could fool Gringotts into believing I was a War Mage if I wasn't?"

Desperately, Sirius cast about for an argument. "But... but your animagus form --"

"Reflects the age of my body," Harry interrupted, "-- not my mind -- not who I am. What if I'd been hit with some kind of de-aging spell? Or one that added years to my body for that matter? Would you pretend I was fifty if I'd been hit with a curse that aged my physical form?" Harry paused. "I'm sorry godfather," he finally said, "but I'm not sixteen anymore. I'm a twenty-nine-year-old War Mage -- and all the wishing in the world isn't going to change that."

Sirius looked distressed, and Harry felt as if his heart was being squeezed. He loved his godfather so much -- and it hurt to see him like this. What if Sirius couldn't accept him as he was now? //Please, Padfoot,// Harry silently begged, //please accept this. I can't pretend to be something I'm not -- even for you.//

But sometimes -- when you were too personally involved -- it took a friend to stand back and get to the core of the problem.

"Sirius?" Lupin asked. "Why are you trying to deny what's happened to Harry? We've both listened to him -- watched him. I admit that the face and voice are all wrong -- but he knows too much about us -- and about Hogwarts, the Dursleys, Hagrid, Ron, Hermione... need I go on? This is Harry, and he's not sixteen any more. You know it's true -- hell, I can even see you in him -- in some of his mannerisms -- the way he phrases things..."

Sirius stiffened. "No," he interrupted. "You can't possibly see that! That's just the point, isn't it?"

Remus looked confused. Harry felt the same way.

"You can't see me in him," Sirius growled, "because I wasn't there! I wasn't there when he was growing up in a household full of prejudiced muggles! I wasn't there for his school years -- and how many times has Voldemort tried to kill him in the last five years? And now I find I wasn't there for thirteen years while he grew into a man -- all because of a god-damned mirror!"

"I was supposed to be his godfather!" Sirius yelled -- and then he brokenly added, "But now it's too late. I've screwed it all up -- and now it's too late." The room was suddenly silent, and Sirius quietly whispered, "I'm sorry, James -- you should have picked someone better to look after him."

Suddenly Harry spoke up in a strong and calm voice. "You're wrong, Sirius -- you didn't screw it up. You were there."

Sirius looked at him sorrowfully. "No..."

Harry crossed over to him, and grabbed his arm. "Yes!" he said, and he shook his godfather to emphasise the point. "You were there! All right -- maybe not for the muggles, or Hogwarts -- but for the rest of it? You. Were. There! And there were times when I don't know whether I would have made it, except for you!"

Remus remained silent, watching the drama unfold between the two men.

"How could I have been?!" Sirius demanded. "The Mirror --"

"Exactly!" Harry stated. "The Mirror! It created a whole world -- including all the people who should have been in that world! D'you think you were an exception?"

"But that wasn't me!"

"He was based on you," Harry argued, "-- created from the real you, just like the rest of it was created from the real world. He did all the things you would have done -- all the things you wanted to do. It doesn't matter if you don't remember doing them -- because I remember you doing them."

Harry paused to let that sink in. Then he said, "Because of who you are now -- because you're my godfather and you love me -- the Mirror was able to create someone who was, is, and always will be, an incredibly important part of my life."

"I remember how you always came to visit me during my training. A lot of it was with the elves, and once they knew the truth -- that you were innocent -- you were always welcome there. You could easily have stayed, and been safe from the Aurors until we could clear your name. But you didn't! I remember you and Remus working as scouts for Dumbledore -- you never stopped, because you were afraid that without the information you could provide, Voldemort would win -- and I'd be killed. You worked to protect me! But you still came to visit every chance you got!"

"And then -- after I joined the war -- you were always around. I couldn't get rid of you! You insisted on watching my back in every battle! It annoyed the hell out of me -- until you nearly got your fool self killed saving my life! I was young and cocky -- so sure of my power and my skill -- it wasn't until I nearly lost you that I realised I wasn't invulnerable -- and that my arrogance could get the people around me killed just as easily as it could get me killed! That was something the War Mage circle tried to drum into me at every turn, but it took you to finally make it real for me. You taught me that, Sirius -- and that's a lesson that's done more to keep me alive than all the spells in the world."

Harry watched as Sirius struggled to accept what he was saying. "And afterwards," he continued, "when you finally let go and allowed me to stand on my own -- you told me how proud my dad would be -- but it meant more to me that you thought I was ready -- that you thought it was time for me to make my own decisions. I was happy because you were proud of me!"

Then finally Harry said: "But the hardest times -- the worst times of my life -- when I... when certain people... died... I needed you -- you and Ron and Hermione. Your support was all that kept me going sometimes." And Harry grabbed his godfather into a fierce hug. "So don't tell me you weren't there!" he cried. "You were! I'm telling you -- you were! And dad could never have picked a better godfather!"

Caught up in Harry's embrace, Sirius looked stunned, grateful, and confused all at the same time. Awkwardly, he raised his arms to return Harry's hug -- still a little daunted by Harry's strange new appearance.

"See?" Remus smiled at his friend, "I told you I could see you in him."

Tentatively, Sirius smiled back. "Yeah," he said, as he finally hugged his godson tightly, "I guess... maybe you did."

----oo00oo----

Afterwards, once Sirius had adjusted to the fact that he wasn't the failure he'd imagined, they settled down onto the floor of the Shrieking Shack to discuss why Harry was causing everyone so much distress by pretending to disappear.

The first thing Remus said was: "I notice you haven't told us very much about what happened to you in the Mirror. You said you spent thirteen years inside it -- but you only mentioned that you became a War Mage, lived with the elves for a while, and fought against Voldemort. That's not much to say for thirteen years."

"No," Harry grinned, "It's not -- but I'm afraid I can't really tell you more than that at the moment. I'm currently trying to change certain things that happened in the Mirror, so that they don't happen in reality -- or so that if they do happen, then they occur in a slightly different way. If I start telling you things, you might be tempted to interfere with that."

Sirius frowned. "But you said the Mirror was only based on probabilities," he protested, "-- that it wasn't really the future, only a possible future."

"And besides," Remus added, "wouldn't the fact that you were twenty-eight when you came out of the Mirror mean that reality is already different? After all, in the Mirror's version of events, you didn't disappear in sixth-year; you didn't destroy the Mirror itself; you didn't become a War Mage overnight; and you didn't meet with us here today to tell us about what happened."

Harry nodded. "You're both right, of course -- and I've already had several indications that things are diverging radically from what I remember. But there's a theory that Hermione came up with which I'd like to put forward..." Both Sirius and Remus looked at him curiously while Harry tried to organise his thoughts. "Bear with me," he began, "this is a little confusing -- especially since I never really understood it myself."

"To begin with," Harry explained, "you have to ask yourselves why I was pulled into the Mirror, and not any of the other people who tried it. After all, plenty of people looked into it -- and not just the students at the dance, but also the wizards and witches who found it -- not to mention everyone who studied it before Fudge got hold of it. So, why me and not any of them?"

"The answer," Harry continued, "is that it wasn't just me. Everybody who looked into the Mirror was pulled in. But for most people, the Mirror only created a world that lasted a couple of minutes -- and when you consider that thirteen years still returned me to the dance in under half an hour... well, you can imagine just how fast they disappeared and reappeared."

"Even if you didn't blink," Remus commented, "you'd still miss it."

"Right," Harry agreed. "From a bystander's perspective, it would appear as if nothing happened -- a mere split instant of time."

"So why were you different?" Sirius asked. "From what Dumbledore said, you were not only gone longer, but when the Mirror returned you, there was also a very impressive display of some sort -- like an explosion or something."

Harry nodded. "The Mirror's surface bulged outwards," he agreed, "and it did so very rapidly until it covered the spot where I was standing. When it receded, it left me behind." Wryly, Harry added, "That's not how it happened in the Mirror -- but I asked a few people what they saw after I was returned -- and that's the consensus of opinion."

"So what did you do that triggered the Mirror to behave differently?" Remus asked.

"And," added Sirius, "why does everyone else only remember watching themselves -- not living it like you did?"

Harry replied, "Hermione wrote a paper on the Mirror about a year and a half after she started studying it. Last year, after I was returned, I tried to remember as much of it as I could -- or as much of it as I could understand -- and basically her theory said that I didn't do anything at all to trigger the Mirror. In fact, if she was right, then it worked exactly the same way for everyone who looked into it. The difference was in who looked into it, and whether the mathematical equations in the Mirror could use that person to generate a probable future."

"You see, the world generated by the Mirror depended on what Hermione called 'Key Incidents'. The probability equations that worked out what these Incidents were, then calculated them like dots along a potential timeline. After that, the Mirror simply connected the dots to create a complete history -- or future, I should say."

"But," Harry continued, "in order to generate these Key Incidents, you have to have someone who plays a fundamental role in creating them. It isn't enough that the person who looks into the Mirror was just there -- they actually have to be important enough to the event, that if they weren't there, then the Incident wouldn't happen at all -- or would happen in a completely different way."

Lupin frowned. "It sounds like you're saying that only someone who plays a pivotal role in history -- or the future, in this case -- can make the Mirror work."

Sirius broke in. "That sounds a little arrogant, doesn't it? -- to say that of all the people who looked into the Mirror, you're the only one who was important enough to make it work?"

"No," Harry argued, "that's not what I'm saying at all. Take Ron for instance. In the Mirror he became an Auror -- and it's still very likely that he'll become one in reality. As an Auror -- and my best friend -- he was with me for an awful lot of important events -- and some of what he did was crucial in determining how things turned out. To me that says that Ron's presence was just as important as mine ever was. But does that mean those events wouldn't have happened without him? No. If he hadn't been an Auror, there would still have been an Auror with me, simply because whatever we were planning required one. Someone else would have taken his place in the event -- and because of that the event would probably have turned out differently -- but it would still have occurred."

"And more than that," Harry added, "I don't have to play an important role in a Key Incident either -- hell, I don't even have to be there! -- I simply have to be part of the underlying reason that the Incident occurred."

By this time, both Sirius and Remus were frowning. This was getting very complicated.

"Think of it this way," Harry suggested, "pick a key event in the past and consider the people who were involved in it. Most of them will be nameless individuals who could have been anyone. But some of them are recorded in history as key figures without whom the event would not have happened -- or without whom the event would have happened in a completely different way."

"I think I understand," Remus said cautiously. "It's like when you survived the attack that killed Lily and James. Voldemort was hunting them -- and he would still have hunted them, whether you were there or not. But because they had you with them, they chose to go into hiding -- and that led to Wormtail's betrayal, which otherwise might have come later, or been about something else entirely -- and that in turn led to Sirius being framed for murder. So, in a way, the events with Wormtail and Sirius happened simply because you existed -- even though you were miles away with your parents, and had no idea what was happening because you were only a baby."

"Yes," Harry said sadly. "We would call the moment my parents decided to go into hiding a Key Incident. It seems such a small thing, doesn't it? Most people would have expected it to be the moment Voldemort tried to kill me, and then botched the job."

"I'm sorry, Harry," Remus said, reaching out to touch him on the shoulder. "I didn't mean to imply that any of it was your fault."

Harry gave the werewolf a lopsided half-smile. "I know," he replied. "And I'm hardly going to blame myself for existing. As you said -- Voldemort would have hunted them anyway."

"But Harry," Sirius said slowly from his other side, "your parents would never have had to go into hiding if Voldemort hadn't been hunting them. Does that mean Voldemort...?"

"-- would also have triggered the Mirror." Harry finished with a nod. "Yes -- he's almost certainly another person who's linked to Key Incidents. In fact, there's no rule that says it can't be two or more people who cause a single Incident." Unhappily, Harry added, "I expect that Voldemort is probably the other half of nearly every Incident I've been involved in," and absently he reached up to trace a finger down his scar. "Voldemort and I are linked together on so many levels..."

"Then I'm bloody glad you destroyed that damn mirror," Sirius growled. "It would be a disaster if Voldemort had any idea of what the future might be."

Harry snorted. "It might still be a disaster," he reminded his godfather. "As I told you before -- reality is diverging pretty rapidly from what I remember."

"But you said there were Key Incidents..."

"Yes, but I never said I knew what they were!"

Sirius and Remus just looked at him.

Harry sighed. "I said Key Incidents were what the Mirror used to generate its world of probabilities. But the people who could trigger the mirror are few and far between. Hermione thought there might only be a handful of them in the world at any one time. But aside from all that -- Key Incidents are only what the Mirror used -- I have no idea whether the real world works like that -- and even if it did, think about the Key Incident Remus just came up with. It was a decision! One little decision by two people! How on earth could I know what any of the others might be? I'm not the mathematical genius who invented the damn Mirror! Even Robert didn't understand all the math!"

"Who's Robert?" Sirius asked in confusion.

"Hermione's husband," Harry automatically replied.

Sirius blinked. "She got married?"

With a spreading grin, Remus asked, "And I imagine by the time you turned twenty-eight, you would've had a few 'interesting' dates, too. Anybody you'd care to tell us about?"

Harry was suddenly aware that his face was slowly heating up. //How is it,// he wondered to himself, //that even after thirteen years, these two still have the power to make me blush?// Aloud, he indignantly replied, "I'm not telling two nosy old men the details of my sex life!"

"Hey!" Remus objected, "Who're you calling old?"

Just a moment behind him, Sirius asked, "So there was nobody special?" He sounded slightly sad. "I'd kind of hoped..."

"Ehrm..." Harry didn't want to lie to his godfather, but this younger version of Sirius didn't know Severus Snape nearly as well as his older counterpart from the Mirror did. By the time Harry and Sev had settled into a steady relationship, Sirius had become more or less used to the idea that Severus was one of the good guys, and had endured a lot of private suffering and public scorn in order to bring their side vital information. Even then, Sirius hadn't been too pleased with Harry's choice. The animagus might have learned to respect Severus, but he'd never really come to like the Potions Master.

Perhaps Harry could break it to him slowly -- one step at a time...

"Well..." Harry began.

Sirius immediately perked up. "There was someone...?"

"Umm... I was never married as such..."

"Ah," Sirius nodded, "-- the uncertainties of war. You weren't sure about a commitment when life was so unpredictable." The amused and apologetic expression on Harry's face told Sirius that he'd made a mistake somewhere. "It wasn't the war?" he asked. Then he frowned. "Then there was some other reason -- something to do with her?"

Cautiously, Harry said, "Well -- more like something to do with him."

Sirius and Remus both had identical stunned looks on their faces.

"Him?!" Sirius squeaked. "You're -- I mean... That is..."

"Gay?" Harry enquired.

Dumbly, Sirius nodded.

"No, actually," Harry explained. "When you get right down to it, I really don't care what gender my partner is -- so long as I know them reasonably well, and I trust them and care about them."

Sirius looked slightly calmer. "All right," he said slowly, "I can deal with that. I've always believed that what two people feel for each other is the most important thing -- so I suppose I'd be a bit of a hypocrite to get upset with you now."

"Although," Remus added apologetically, "I think... we -- uh I, might need a bit of time to adjust to the idea." Quickly he went on: "It's not you, Harry -- it's just me. I... I hope you'll forgive me and let me just... get used to it."

Harry smiled. "Don't worry about it Remus -- it's just the shock. You forget that I've already had this conversation in the Mirror, and I promise you -- neither of you ever gave me cause to doubt your support or your love. Give it a while, and I think you'll find that neither of you really care who I pick, so long as I'm happy."

"Now that I can definitely agree with!" Remus stated, and Sirius heartily concurred.

"So -- who is it?" Harry's godfather asked after a moment.

Harry smiled. "Would you mind terribly if I didn't tell you just yet? In the Mirror, he and I didn't get together until several years from now, and... well, it's a bit confusing at the moment. I'm not sure how to approach him, and of course at this point in time, he doesn't really know me at all -- well, not outside of 'The Boy Who Lived' anyway."

Sirius considered it. "Whether you tell us or not, is of course, completely up to you -- but Harry, have you thought about the fact that this person might feel betrayed if you... um, date... er -- go out with him -- and he finds out later that you've been wearing a disguise all this time? Not to mention the fact that he'll be mentally and emotionally thirteen years younger than you now."

"Yes," Harry replied seriously, "I have thought about that -- but you forget that I know him very well, and I have reason to believe that in the end he'll be able to see who I am, regardless of what I look like. Also, he's actually older than me -- so the age discrepancy isn't quite what you're imagining." //In fact,// Harry thought to himself, //Sev is now only four or five years older than me.//

"All right," Sirius said. "It's none of our business unless you decide to tell us. I just hope things go the way you want them to."

Harry smiled. "Me too."

"So," Lupin said after a moment, "getting back to business -- I think I sort of understand why you were the only one who got pulled into the mirror for more than an instant -- but if everybody else still entered the mirror and lived a couple of minutes in it, then why did Dumbledore tell us they only watched themselves?"

Harry explained. "Although the Mirror tried to create a potential future," he said, "the world they entered was cut short when the Mirror found out that it couldn't generate a series of Key Incidents for them. Hermione thought that the Mirror might have been able to generate one or two Incidents for quite a number of people, but without more than that, it couldn't string them together to create a potential timeline. So, for example, you might need to have five or six Incidents in your life before the Mirror would work for you."

"And," Remus was nodding, "when the Mirror aborted the possible world, it would also have aborted the process that let you 'read the book', so to speak."

"-- which," Harry finished, "left them with the impression that they had only watched the story, instead of living it."

Then Sirius added, "That would also explain why you got thrown out after thirteen years, instead of living a whole lifetime in the Mirror. The potential future ended when the Mirror ran out of Key Incidents for you."

"Or when the Mirror's ability to judge probabilities dropped below fifty percent, " Harry suggested. "Hermione was never certain which it was."

"God," Remus said, massaging his temples. "The thought of everything involved with it -- mathematics, Key Incidents, probable futures -- not to mention the confusion you must have felt when it kicked you out! I've got a headache, and I didn't live it! How do you cope with this?"

"I remind myself that I'm not alone," Harry smiled, "and I look around and promise myself that things will be different this time. I'm going to change things -- but I need the two of you to help me."

"Us?" Sirius asked in surprise. "Why us? I'm still on the run from the Aurors -- and Remus here isn't exactly Mr Popular in the wizarding world. Wouldn't you be better off asking Dumbledore for help?"

"No," Harry replied with a shake of his head. "Albus is central to one of the things I'm trying to change -- and if he knew about this -- about me -- then he might not react the way he normally would. I love the man dearly, but this is too important to risk screwing it up."

"Do you really think he wouldn't listen?" Sirius asked.

"It's not a matter of listening," Harry argued. "It's a matter of reacting naturally, and not trying to second-guess yourself all the time. That's always harder when it's your own life involved -- and Albus doesn't really appreciate how important he is to our side."

Remus and Sirius both looked disturbed. Remus asked, "Are you saying this 'event' you're waiting for could get Albus killed?"

"I'm saying there's a possibility of it," Harry replied grimly, "and if I tell him about it, I think it will become much more likely that he won't survive it."

Sirius chewed on his lower lip for a moment. "Would you tell us what happened?" he eventually asked.

"No," Harry said firmly. "But if you'll help me, then maybe we can prevent it -- or alter events enough so that a great many things turn out differently this time around."

Padfoot and Moony glanced at each other with a look of complete agreement.

"What do you want us to do?" Sirius asked.

----oo00oo----

Harry spent the next couple of hours teaching Remus and his godfather how to cast the two-part disguise spell, and then supervising them as they practiced with different faces. Now they would be able to walk around undetected in both the wizarding and the muggle world.

Remus had been fascinated by the simple trick of layering the two versions of the spell together, so that the disguise became immune to anti-glamour charms.

"Such a simple thing!" he'd exclaimed, "Why didn't someone think of it before?"

"Because they didn't need it so badly," Sirius had wryly replied. Then -- ever the practical one -- he'd turned to Harry and begun to quiz his godson on the apparent lack of effect on Harry's animagus form.

After Harry had explained the limitations of the spell when transformed as an animal -- and reminded them of how Sirius had recognised him by scent -- Harry had gone on to explain what he needed from them now that they could walk around undetected.

"Whenever you report to Albus on Voldemort's activities," Harry said, "I'd like one of you to give me the same information."

"No problem," Sirius agreed. "When Moony here goes to see him, I'll just wait a while, pick a face, and then walk right in." He eyed his godson speculatively. "I take it I should ask to see Professor Ash, right?"

"That's me," Harry agreed. "In public you'll both have to remember to call me Ash -- but when it's just the three of us, I'd rather you use Harry." Neither of the two men standing before him had any inkling of the privilege the War Mage had just granted them, and Harry quietly reflected that for his godfather and Remus Lupin, using his private name was something he wanted them to take for granted anyway.

"Is there anything else we could do to help?" Remus asked.

Harry considered it. "There may come a time," he said, "when I'll ask you to go somewhere specific, and see if you can find out particular information. But for now -- no, I just need a general idea of what Voldie and the Death Eaters are up to."

Sirius laughed, and Harry looked at him curiously.

"Voldie and the Death Eaters!" Padfoot hooted. "You make them sound like a band!"

Remus chuckled too, and Harry smiled as he said, "It's something Albus taught me -- that fear of a name increases fear of the actual thing. After that, I decided that I didn't need to go around saying 'You-Know-Who' all the time -- although sometimes I go a bit far in the other direction."

"No, no -- its pretty funny," Sirius protested. "I like it."

While Padfoot was still enjoying the joke, Lupin turned to Harry and asked, "Would you like an update on what we know so far?"

"Please," Harry said, and then listened attentively to all they had to tell him.

After that, they all realised that it was getting dark, and it was time to go. Lupin and his godfather watched with interest as Harry conjured up a small mirror, and pulled out the muggle makeup he always kept in his robes. With all the practice Harry had at applying it every day, he quickly made his scar disappear again, and then tucked the makeup back out of sight.

They said their goodbyes to one another, and Harry hugged his godfather one more time. Then -- just as Harry was on the verge of departing -- Sirius asked, "Harry? -- could you... would you show me what you look like now? I mean -- what you think you should look like -- as a twenty-nine-year-old?"

Surprised, Harry said, "If you like..." and then used his wand to create an illusion of himself at twenty-eight -- the age he'd been when he'd last seen himself in a mirror, and hadn't been surprised by the reflection.

Sirius gazed at the illusion silently.

"It's reversed, of course," Harry explained after a moment. "This is me as I expect to see myself in a mirror -- an ordinary mirror, that is."

Sirius seemed to shake himself for a second -- like a wet dog shedding water. "It's fine," he said. "I just... needed to see you the way you think of yourself."

Curious, Harry asked, "And what do you see?"

Sirius tilted his head slightly to one side. "I see James," he said, "and Lily -- especially around the eyes. But at the same time, I also see you -- an older you. Your face is -- I don't know... it's not a child's face anymore, but it still looks like you. There's also a kind of... confidence there -- like you know who you are now." He paused. "I think," he finished, "that I'd like him -- you -- even if you weren't my godson."

"In the Mirror," Harry replied, "we were friends and comrades, as well as godfather and godson. I like to think we'll be all those things again."

Deliberately looking away from the illusion, Sirius turned to Harry and said, "We will -- if we aren't already."

Then Padfoot and Moony departed, and Harry went back to being Ash: Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

----oo00oo----

It was evening by the time Harry arrived back at the castle.

Sirius and Remus had told him that Voldemort seemed to be taking an undue interest in dragons at the moment -- although neither of them could understand why.

But Harry understood the reason, and it had to do with a little-known fact that some dragon species reached a stage in their later life where their flame ceased to be ordinary fire, and became a magical blaze that could consume anything -- and would also cling to objects and spread like a plague without the need for fuel or air. The dragons that developed this ability seemed to be able to choose how far their flame would spread before it burned itself out -- but no one had ever been able to explain how they did it, or even how the flame was produced. That meant there were no counter-measures to protect against this kind of fire.

It was for this reason, among others, that Ron's older brother Charlie Weasley was studying dragons in Romania.

Little wonder Voldemort was interested.

But Harry also knew that so far, the studies being conducted were only in their early stages and would not be of any use for a number of years -- if ever.

Still -- in the Mirror, Voldemort had instructed his followers to keep an eye on the research at about this point in history, so Draco's premature attempt to become a Death Eater didn't seem to be an indication that any other major changes were occurring.

Harry was still pondering the situation, as he made his way to the staff lounge.

There was no staff meeting scheduled tonight, but occasionally teachers liked to gather and chat in the comfortable chairs. There were always several newspapers lying around, and the adjoining kitchenette boasted the best coffee-maker on the school grounds -- except for the one Madam Hooch kept hidden in her office.

Tonight though, Xiomara had apparently decided to accept second-best, and was sitting on a sofa not too far from the large open fireplace, with her teaching schedule spread out before her on one of the coffee tables. The rest of the lounge was nearly deserted, with only a couple of professors scattered around the room -- each reading a book, magazine, or newspaper in their own little world. The fire in the hearth snapped and popped, cheerfully adding a little background noise to the occasional shuffle of paper.

Oddly enough, Severus -- who never willingly spent time with his fellow staff members -- was reading a book of some sort in one of the armchairs by the fire.

Still preoccupied with thoughts of Voldemort and dragons, Harry absently poured himself a coffee, and crossed the room to sit down in the adjacent armchair. Then he proceeded to stare into the gently flickering flames in the hearth, pondering the intricacies of trying to alter a history that never happened.

"Why do you always sit next to me?"

"Because I like you," came Harry's unthinking answer.

Madam Hooch's sudden coughing fit from the nearby sofa caused Harry to remember where he was and precisely what he'd just said.

Glancing over at Xiomara, Harry saw that the flying instructor had somehow managed to choke on her coffee. She was, however, studiously refusing to even glance in his direction, which told Harry that she'd most definitely heard what he'd just said. With some trepidation, Harry turned to see what Severus himself thought of the War Mage's unguarded admission.

What he saw was the most completely blank expression he'd ever witnessed on a human face. It was as if Severus literally didn't know what to do with the fact that another human being liked him.

Cautiously, Harry waited while Severus tried to decide how he felt about that careless declaration of liking.

Not surprisingly, a slight frown appeared after a few moments. Harry almost laughed at the typical expression on the Potion Master's face.

"That's ridiculous," Severus scowled. "You don't know a thing about me -- how can you possibly say you like me?"

"You assumed I dis-liked you before," Harry pointed out.

Grudgingly, Severus admitted, "Perhaps I was mistaken... again."

"I'm not keeping count," Harry smiled.

Severus watched that easy smile with a faint hint of suspicion. "You still have no reason to either like or dislike me," he argued. "Therefore, your previous comment has no real meaning." Then his mouth took on a sarcastic twist, "Unless of course, you have imagined me as some poor unfortunate who secretly desires at least one true friend -- thus generously casting yourself in that noble role."

Harry laughed. "Don't tell me that's actually happened to you!"

Severus raised an eyebrow and made a face as if to say 'you wouldn't be the first one'.

Harry chuckled. "The tall, dark, and dour look pulls 'em in, huh? Poor Professor -- all he needs is someone to stand by him!" Harry shook his head in disgust. "What an arrogant attitude!" Then he asked, "How long did it take you to disabuse the last one of that rubbish?"

Surprised by Ash's attitude, Snape answered, "Just under a week."

Harry raised an eyebrow of his own. "That long?"

"They were very determined," came the sour reply.

"Well, you have nothing to fear from me on that front," Harry commented. "I have no particular desire to see you happily exchanging pleasantries with every fool who crosses your path -- or to watch as you wondrously change into a 'new man' under my beneficial influence."

"I'm so glad," Severus replied cynically. "In which case -- what do you want?"

//Now there's a leading question, if ever I heard one,// Harry thought. But he ruthlessly suppressed the intense desire to tell Sev exactly what he wanted, since the sceptical Potions Master wasn't quite ready to hear it. Instead, Harry replied, "I want you to believe that I like you, just because I like you."

"You don't even know me," Severus snapped.

Looking perfectly relaxed, Harry took a sip of his coffee and wondered how far his next words were going to spread -- since Madam Hooch was still so very carefully not looking in their direction... "I know," Harry began, "that you're a cynical, sarcastic, son-of-a-bitch who unfairly favours his own House; doesn't give a damn about other people's opinions; and enjoys seeing fools and Gryffindors get themselves into trouble."

There was muffled snickering coming from Xiomara's direction.

Severus didn't deny it. Instead, he replied, "I would have thought it unnecessary to distinguish between fools and Gryffindors, myself." Then he added, "But if that is, indeed, your opinion of me, one begins to wonder about the honesty of your previously stated liking. Either that, or the students have the right opinion of you."

"And what opinion might that be?"

"That you're a raving lunatic."

Harry laughed. On the sofa a short distance away, Madam Hooch sounded like she was going to burst something.

Once he'd calmed down, Harry looked at Severus, and said, "No comment on the sanity thing -- but I've never been diagnosed or admitted." Then he grinned, "And I never said that was all I could see in you. I simply used those traits to demonstrate that I'm not blind to your less than amiable disposition." Harry took another sip of his coffee, and then -- just to rub it in -- he added, "But I still like you."

Frustrated, Severus could only glare at him, before stating, "You are both ignorant and annoying. Nothing you've said proves that you have anything more than a simpleton's idea of who I am -- and as such your so called 'liking' for me is hardly worthy of note." Then Severus leaned over towards Harry's chair, and in a low, dangerous tone added, "I am not a nice man, War Mage -- get used to the idea." Then he abruptly leaned away and rose to leave.

As he turned to go, Harry called after him with a voice like dark velvet. "I know you're not, Professor," he purred dangerously, "-- but what makes you think I only like nice people?"

Looking back at the man, Severus was suddenly struck by the play of shadow over the Mage's face, as the other man leaned back into the embrace of the armchair's winged support. The impression of half-lidded eyes glinted knowingly at the Potions Master over an amused half-smile.

Gone was the light, good-natured Dark Arts teacher -- and in his place was the image of a man who knew all too well the sacrifices and ruthlessness that were required to survive in the dark places Voldemort made.

For a moment, Severus wondered whether he might dare to trust the War Mage -- then he quashed the thought. Trust was a luxury he could not afford -- particularly not with someone who had already killed a man with the Dark Mark on him. The Mage knew nothing about Severus really -- or about his role among the Death Eaters. Certainly, the other man could have no way of knowing about the Dark Mark that existed on Severus' arm -- carefully concealed beneath his robes.

The Potions Master turned away.

As if he were a mind reader, the Mage dropped words quietly into the air between them: "I know more about you than you would believe possible."

Severus hesitated. Then, before he lost all common sense entirely, he fled the room -- and the confusing presence behind him.

----oo00oo----

After Severus had departed, Harry glanced over at Madam Hooch. She wasn't laughing anymore, and neither was she pretending to ignore what she'd heard. Instead she was staring at him with a very peculiar expression on her face.

Harry immediately smiled his most charming, disarming, and flirtatious grin at her.

She blinked, looked completely confused, and then resolutely dropped her eyes back to the teaching schedule in front of her.

Harry leaned back into his chair, propped both feet up on the low table before him, and watched the fire for a while.

At some point he noted that Sev had left his book behind.

----oo00oo----

Thinking about it the next morning, Harry decided that Severus had probably been waiting for him to show up in the staff lounge. This was highly likely since Sev was almost never there outside of staff meetings. //In fact,// Harry thought, //it's a pretty good bet that he intended to confront me over our strange watching-me-watching-you ritual.//

It was another pretty good bet that things hadn't gone exactly the way Sev had expected them to.

//I suppose I'll have to sort it all out at some point,// Harry reflected. //But not today.//

Today, Harry had an appointment away from the school grounds, and he'd already arranged for a retired Auror to cover his morning classes. Albus had approved the time off two days ago, so now Harry only needed to stop by and pick up his companion.

He reached Professor Flitwick's classroom, where the diminutive Charms teacher was trying to educate the sixth-year Slytherins. Politely, Harry knocked on the door.

"Oh, er -- yes Professor Ash?" Flitwick asked.

"I'm afraid I'm going to need Mr Malfoy, Professor," Harry explained. "I've already cleared it with Albus -- he's to be excused from the rest of his morning classes."

The other students immediately started whispering and looking at Draco.

The young man himself simply looked confused, but nonetheless dutifully packed up his books and ink.

Once they were alone in the hallway Draco asked, "Where are we going?"

"To a funeral," Harry replied.

----oo00oo----

The cemetery was empty except for Harry, Draco, a priest, and two men who waited patiently off to one side for the service to end, so that they could fill in the grave.

Once the priest had finished and quietly departed, Harry led Draco a short distance away, and the two of them watched as the casket was slowly covered with earth.

"Ashes to ashes..." Harry murmured.

"Like your name?" Draco asked with a flash of insight.

"Not quite," Harry replied, "but very close, yes."

There were a few more moments of silence, then Draco asked, "Was he the one you killed -- that night?"

"Yes," Harry confirmed. "His name was Cameron Jeffries. I owled his family to find out what religion he was, and to ask for permission to bury him. The Aurors released his body yesterday."

Draco looked around at the deserted cemetery. "I guess his family aren't too proud of him being a Death Eater," he said bitterly.

"You think they don't understand?" Harry enquired.

"If they loved him, it wouldn't matter," Draco said. "After all, it's not like he's going to do anything they disapprove of anymore, is it?"

"In death lies forgiveness," Harry quoted. "Do you think he cares about forgiveness right now?"

Draco shrugged. "Probably not."

Harry sighed. "I note that none of his 'other' family are here, either."

"They'd be mad to turn up," Draco explained. "The Aurors are bound to be watching."

"Perhaps that's why his regular family stayed away too," Harry suggested.

Draco looked surprised. "Maybe," he said thoughtfully. It wasn't unknown for the Aurors to keep watch on a relative who showed any feeling for a departed Death Eater.

Eventually Draco asked the question he most wanted the answer to: "Why am I here, Professor?"

"You mean, is there some deep and meaningful lesson I'm trying to teach you with all this?"

Draco nodded.

"No," Harry replied. "You and I are both here for the same reason -- because we were there when he died, and it felt right to me that we should be here when he was buried." Harry glanced over at his student. "Anything more meaningful than that is up to you, and how you feel about it."

They were silent again for a little while, until Draco made the comment, "Y'know -- my dad says purebloods should be buried separately from muggles and mudbloods."

"What on earth for?" Harry asked curiously. "It's not like you can tell the difference between any of them after they're dead."

"That's why, I guess," Draco answered, "-- so you can know which families are pureblood -- even if the current descendants lie about it."

Harry snorted. "If you can't tell the difference while they're walking and talking, then the place they're buried isn't going to help you. Personally, I don't think muggles are really any different from the rest of us anyway."

Draco looked shocked.

"But... but they don't have magic!" he said in amazement. "Even mudbloods have that! How can you say they're no different?! It's... that's.... they're nothing like us!"

"Because they can't do magic? Or because they don't have magic?" Harry asked.

"Both!"

"Then you have a problem, Draco -- because muggles can do magic -- they simply can't do it the same way wizarding folk do."

Draco looked at him as though he was mad.

"It true," Harry assured him. "Take Heart Magic, for instance -- every human, and almost every non-human -- can perform that. All it takes is the right set of circumstances."

"But that's not under their control," Draco argued. "They can't use it -- it just happens."

"Ah," Harry said, "then by your reasoning, you're hardly better than a muggle yourself," and before Draco could take offence, Harry added, "after all, if you lose your wand, you can't consciously control your magic either."

"That's not the same!" Draco insisted. "I've got a lot more magic than a muggle! And there are some spells wizards can do without their wands -- like... like the animagus spell!"

"Ah, yes," Harry said, "I forgot. So, you're saying that if someone has better control over their magic, or if they have more magic than someone else -- then they're a naturally superior kind of person?"

Draco frowned. "Well, you have to admit, it's a better survival trait," he said. "And pureblood wizarding families do tend to consistently produce more powerful wizards and witches."

"Have you got proof of that?" Harry asked, "Or was that something your father told you?"

Draco opened his mouth, and then closed it again. Memories of their first conversation together were obviously still having an effect on the young Slytherin.

"Mmm," Harry said with amusement. "Don't know huh? Well, neither do I actually. Let me know the results if you ever decide to research it."

Obviously not trusting himself to speak, Draco just nodded.

"And while you're thinking about it," Harry added, "consider this -- by your line of reasoning, wizarding folk are better than muggles in the same way that mages are better than wizards. I don't need a wand to control my magic, and there's an awful lot I can do without it. In fact, I've even been trained to take out an enemy in situations where I can't use my magic -- where I have to pretend I'm a muggle myself. Doesn't that make me superior to you, in the same way that you're arguing you're superior to a muggle?"

"And if so," Harry finished, "think about whether you really want to spend the rest of your life obeying me, and bowing down to me, just because I have the power to force you to do it."

It was a very thoughtful Draco Malfoy who silently resumed watching the last of the earth cover up the lonely grave.

----oo00oo----