Harry Potter & the Ritual of Merlin's Choice

Chapter 17

"Sirius! Remus! You made it!" Harry exclaimed in relief, breaking into a wide grin as he caught sight of first his godfather, then Remus crowding into Dumbledore's office to join his parents. "No side-trips then, Sirius?"

"Huh? What?" asked Sirius, sounding puzzled, "Side-trips?"

Harry's smile widened—was it possible that it hadn't even occurred to Sirius to foolishly take off after Wormtail on his own? He opened his mouth to explain, but Sirius cut him off, "Wait a minute! Why are you tied up?" as his mind finally registered the scene before him.

Harry sighed, his frustration at the current situation leaking through, "Apparently, you're too trusting, Sirius," he explained, "My parents want to dose me with Veritaserum; the Headmaster agrees…"

"Truth serum!" Sirius exclaimed, all questions about side-trips forgotten. "What do they need truth serum for?"

"To ascertain the truth of Mr Potter and Miss Lovegood's tale, of course" responded Dumbledore, "If you and Remus would take a seat, we can get started."

Sirius looked ready to continue arguing—it made Harry smile to know that somebody was on his side, though it raised questions as to why his godfather was so vehemently opposed to the idea—but Remus placed a calming hand on his shoulder. "Enough, Sirius. The Headmaster has a point. If you're right and he's telling the truth, Veritaserum will confirm it; if he isn't…"

Sirius continued to grumble—something about invasion of privacy—but he did sit down.

Dumbledore ignored the grumblings and smiled benevolently, his eyes twinkling, as he turned his attention back to Harry, "Are you ready, Mr Potter?"

Harry gulped nervously, twisting around one last time to meet his parents' eyes—hoping for some indication that they'd changed their minds and decided to believe him; he didn't find what he was looking for.

Instead, an uncomfortable feeling settled in his gut. His mind made up, he turned back to the Headmaster, and nodded. If taking Veritaserum was what it took to gain his parents' trust, he was willing to do so.

Dumbledore pulled a vial of clear liquid from the top drawer of his desk and approached Harry. Steeling himself, the young wizard opened his mouth, without being asked, and allowed three drops of the potion to be placed on his tongue.

It began to work within a few seconds. The potion lacked the subtlety of the Imperious Curse, but, unlike Imperio, Harry found himself unable to resist its effects. He was only vaguely aware of the Headmaster warning the others against interrupting the interrogation, too busy dealing with an overwhelming compulsion to be completely and immediately honest about everything.

As long as no one asked any questions, he could just barely control the urge. But, the moment Dumbledore asked him for his name, the answers began spilled forth without any conscious thought.

His mind barely registered Lily's gasp of surprise—or was it disbelief at his response? He was too busy answering the next question.

And so it continued—question after question, with no time for Harry to think. They were simple questions though—chosen to quickly ascertain that Harry was who he claimed to be and not an agent of the Dark Lord. And really, the whole interrogation could not have lasted more than five minutes. Still, Harry was relieved when it was finally over, the Headmaster fell silent, and the bonds on his ankles and wrists dissolved.

Apparently, so was Luna, "Oh thank you! That's much better, Headmaster!" she exclaimed. "Can I have a sherbet lemon now that my hands are free? I really like the Cheering Potion you usually mix into them."

Harry didn't get a chance to hear Dumbledore's response; in the next moment, he found himself overcome by a mind-splitting headache, as everyone else took the Headmaster's silence as licence to begin asking questions. They spoke all at once, at a rate far too fast for him to respond coherently—though he did try, "I—He—It—No—We—When—"

"Can't you see you're hurting him!" Luna's voice pierced through the overwhelming melee of questions.

Silence. The questions stopped just as abruptly as they had begun.

As his headache faded, Harry opened his eyes—which he couldn't actually remember closing—and took in the scene before him. The baby was still sleeping—how he didn't know—but everyone else was sitting on the edge of their seats. They were silent, but it was quite obvious that they still had many questions that they wanted to ask.

The tension of the unanswered questions was palpable. Finally, the Headmaster spoke up, breaking the uneasy silence, "I did warn you all that the effects of Veritaserum would compel our young guest to answer all questions thoroughly and immediately. Inability to comply is quite painful, as you just saw." His eyes twinkled as he added, "Perhaps it would be best if we let him tell his tale at his own pace."

Reaching back into his desk drawer, he pulled out a second vial, this one containing a murky yellow potion, which he handed to Harry. "The antidote," he explained, "It's a single-dose vial."

Harry accepted it gratefully, and downed the entire vial in one gulp, sighing in relief as he felt the Veritaserum's compulsion fade almost immediately. "Thank you, Headmaster," he glanced back at his parents, taking in the mixed emotions reflected on their faces—at least they were no longer hostile. "So how far back do I need to start?" he asked, "Has everyone here heard the 'prophecy'?"

Harry wasn't particularly surprised when Dumbledore shook his head in response. "Heard of the 'prophecy'?" he tried again.

This time Harry felt a surge of irritation, when the Headmaster once more responded in the negative. "Not even Lily and James?" he asked.

When Dumbledore shook his head a third time, Harry felt not just a surge of irritation, but one of anger as well. "You didn't even tell my parents why Voldemort was after us?" he accused, struggling to control his temper, "What did you tell them?"

"Only that your family had been targeted by Voldemort and that it was crucial to the war effort that they remain in hiding." If Harry had been hoping for an apology, he didn't get one. "That was all they needed to know."

"I see..." said Harry, his voice hard. It took a moment before he could calm himself enough to continue, "Well then, I suppose that's where this story begins...Would you like to tell them, or shall I?"

When Dumbledore didn't volunteer any information, Harry continued, "A year ago, Professor Dumbledore heard what he believed to be a prophecy," he began. Ignoring the Headmaster's reaction to his choice of words, he launched into first a recitation of Trelawney's 'prophecy', then an explanation of why he thought it was a self-fulfilling load of dung.

He'd then followed up with a few highlights about his childhood—Lily had objected quite vehemently when she'd heard that he'd lived with the Dursleys, which had led to Sirius asking where he'd been and why he hadn't taken his godson in himself. The older wizard had barked in disbelief when Harry had explained that he'd been in Azkaban, sobering only after Harry explained why, bringing to light the full extent of Wormtail's treachery.

Harry's abbreviated account of his Hogwarts years had similarly met with much consternation. But since neither his childhood nor his Hogwarts years were the focus of his tale, he refused to answer any but a couple of questions about them. Instead, he focused on recounting his hunt for Voldemort's Horcruxes, the final battle—particularly the death toll—and his reasons for invoking the Ritual of Merlin's Choice, skimming over most of their journey.

By the end of Harry's tale the Headmaster's expression was carefully blank and his eyes had stopped twinkling. The others—except Luna who had heard nearly of it all once before, and lived through the rest—mostly looked shocked and overwhelmed, with elements of confusion, sadness, disbelief, and horror. They'd need some time to assimilate what they'd just been told.

Tonight was not the time to start planning an assault on Voldemort's Horcruxes much as Harry might like to. So, when Lily suggested that they all get some rest and continue their discussion the next day, Harry didn't object. Nor did he complain as first Remus, then Sirius left through the Floo, though he desperately wanted to catch up with them both.

James had looked ready to head through the Floo as well, but Lily had lingered, approaching Harry hesitantly, as though unsure if she still had a right to, "So where are you staying tonight?" she asked.

"I don't know," answered Harry, honestly. He and Luna hadn't really talked about accommodations when planning their trip; he'd sort of assumed that they'd stay with the Potters. But that was before they'd stunned him, tied him up, interrogated him but refused to believe a word he said, held him at wand point—again, refused to believe a word he said—again, tied him up—again, levitated him around like a sack of potatoes, and then finally dosed him with truth serum…

So, instead of voicing his secret wish, he found himself responding, "We'll probably head on back to the Shrieking Shack. It should clean up well enough, without too much effort. If not, there's always the Room of Requirement."

Lily shook her head, surprisingly vehement in her objection, "No son of mine is squatting overnight in a rundown haunted shack. The two of you can stay with us."

"You do know it's not really haunted right?" cut in James.

"Haunted or not, it's still a dump! I really must insist."

"We wouldn't want to impose," said Harry, his fear of rejection making him suddenly wary of the offer.

"It wouldn't be an imposition. Please, for my peace of mind," she practically pleaded.

"And mine," added James, "I'm sure she'll keep me up all night with her worrying, if you refuse."

Harry looked to Luna for her opinion; she nodded. So, he relented "If you're sure," he said, still hesitant.

"I am," Lily insisted, "and while we're on the subject of impositions, I know we didn't get off to a good start, but..." she hesitated, "Please call me Mum."

"You held me at wand point and kept me tied up for a better part of the evening." He wanted to—he really did—but part of him still remembered the feeling of betrayal and helplessness he'd felt earlier that night when he'd wanted so desperately to hug her and been unable to. "Calling you Mum doesn't seem like a good idea."

Disappointment flitted across Lily's face, "I'm sorry about that, I really am, but you have to admit that your story is pretty incredible," she said, "Would you have believed it, if you were us? These are dangerous times and we have a baby to protect."

Harry hesitated, but if he was perfectly honest with himself, there was no denying that she was right. Finally, he nodded, "I understand…Mu—Mum," he had a hard time getting the last word out.

Lily smiled, "Good."

She bent to collect her young son from the cradle where he was still sleeping. "The Floo address is Potter Cottage," she added as she stepped through herself, with young Harry in her arms. James went next, followed by Luna.

Harry brought up the rear, stumbling out of the fire just in time to hear James ask Luna, "So, one room or two? You never did answer my question, earlier..."

"Which question was that?" Harry interrupted, though he suspected he knew the answer.

"Are the two of you a couple, or not?" asked James, "It makes a difference for sleeping arrangements, you know."

Harry shook his head, "We're just good friends; Luna is my closest friend to have survived the war..." He missed the look of disappointment that flitted across Luna's face, "But you don't have to worry about rooming us separately; we've been sharing a tent for the last four weeks..."

"Nonsense, why share a room with a woman you're not sleeping with, if you don't have to?" James asked, then added in a conspiratorial whisper, "Unless you're hoping to sleep with her, in which case, say no more..."

Luna smiled at his suggestion, but Lily was slightly less enthused with the idea, if the fact that she smacked her husband's arm in response was any indication. "Just for that you get to transfigure the couch into a bed, while I show Luna the guestroom."

She stomped off, not even checking to see if Luna followed.

"It's not like she would have done it herself, either way," confided James, after she left. "She's pants at Transfiguration."

Lily popped her head back into the room, "I heard that!"

Once the two men were alone again, James set about transfiguring the couch into a bed, trying to engage his son in conversation, while he worked. He was only partially successfully. While Harry was willing to admit that the fact that he'd called Luna his 'closest friend to have survived the war' meant he'd lost many close friends, he'd refused to discuss the matter in any more detail than he'd already given in the Headmaster's office; the list was far too long, and the pain still too raw.

He nearly lost his temper a couple of times. But eventually James got the message and gave up, though not without adding, "I know you barely know me, and I understand that you don't feel comfortable talking about your feelings with me, but Lily's offer earlier goes for me too… I mean…" he stumbled over the words, "Please, feel free to call me Dad if you want to."

Harry smiled sheepishly and nodded. "Good night, Dad," he tried out the words, as he crawled into the transfigured bed.

"Good night, son."

"You know that's the first time I've ever said that..." the words came out a barely audible whisper… But James heard him all the same…

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