Chapter 14: Castle in the Mind
"I can't leave it alone," Harry said as he paced. "Slytherin's books have to be somewhere."
"Dumbledore does have a point, though," Ron said. "If we go poking around and Voldemort finds out, it'll be a right mess."
"And he did say that he's certain that you can defeat Voldemort, Harry," Ginny added. "If Dumbledore's sure, then we don't really need to know what spell Riddle invented."
Harry stopped and turned towards his friends. "You're right. All of you are. And Dumbledore's probably right, too. But I can't just put this out of my mind."
"But Harry, we have to trust Dumbledore," Hermione said.
"I do trust him, but that's not enough. Maybe he knows what he's doing. Maybe he doesn't need to know all the details, but I do. I'm the one who has to face Voldemort. I'm the one who has to beat him and I reckon I'm only going to get one shot at it. I need to know what I'm up against. I need to know that I can finish him."
There was a moment's silence as Ron, Hermione and Ginny considered Harry's words then Ginny stood up. "If you need to know what spell Riddle used then we'll find it."
"Yeah, we will," Ron agreed. "Whatever it takes."
"We ought to at least be able to track down Mordecai Lawrence," Hermione said. "I'll go and check the archives first thing tomorrow."
"We'll come and help you right after Quidditch practice," Ginny said.
Harry grimaced. "I can't come. I have that stupid detention with Snape."
"Don't worry, mate," Ron said. "We'll manage."
Harry smiled, deeply grateful that he had such good friends.
The Gryffindors were on the pitch at six-thirty the next morning, despite the fact that the sun wasn't yet up. They kicked off into the clear pre-dawn sky and circled the pitch, cold air whipping their robes about them. Harry found it exhilarating. Flying was definitely the best part of being a wizard. He put the team through their practice drills as the sun rose and the sky turned from pale periwinkle to bright blue.
It seemed like no time had passed before Ginny flew up to him and said, "It's after eight-thirty, Harry. You'd better go or Snape will give you another detention for being late."
Reluctantly, Harry nodded. "Ron, take over!" he called down the pitch to where Ron was playing Keeper.
Ron waved an acknowledgement and Harry headed for the ground. As he dismounted his broom he could hear Ron calling for passing drills. "Faster! And Beaters watch that Bludger! The Chasers can't keep their eyes on that and the Quaffle at the same time."
Harry pulled off his Quidditch robes, put on his school robes, and with a final glance up at his teammates, trudged out of the stadium. With his book bag slung over one shoulder and his broom over the other, he headed back to the castle where he grabbed a piece of toast from the Great Hall and ate it on his way down to the dungeons.
Snape barely looked up from the essay he was marking as Harry entered his office. He simply pointed at the workbench where Harry's homework from summer lay and went back to his own work without a word. Harry took a deep breath. He refused to let Snape make him angry since he was certain that nothing would give the man greater satisfaction. Instead he went to the workbench and began leafing through his work, pointedly ignoring Snape just as the man was ignoring him. He wasn't really concentrating though.
It felt odd being back in Snape's office where he'd spent so much time the previous year. The memories of his Occlumency and Legilimency lessons were vivid in his mind. There was the spot by the desk where he'd vomited after experiencing Snape's memory of becoming a Death Eater. Over by the door was where he'd knelt in shock after seeing the memory of his own parents being murdered. He and Snape had shared so many of the most private and painful moments of their lives in those lessons. None of it had been pleasant and they had argued and shouted at one another time and again. And yet somehow Harry had found strength and comfort in those long hours he'd spent here. There had been an intimacy – an understanding – between them then, but Snape had begun to withdraw emotionally soon after the lessons ended and that withdrawal had become complete after the revelation of his role in Harry's parents' deaths.
Harry had chafed at Snape's aloofness over summer, but now, sitting here in the man's office, he was acutely aware of the emotional void between them. He felt the familiar frustration, but it was much stronger than it had ever been before and Harry suddenly realized that he'd felt it before in entirely different circumstances. It was the same uncomfortable emptiness he'd felt in his fourth year when Ron had accused him of putting his name into the Goblet of Fire and they had stopped speaking to one another.
"Potter." Harry started as Snape interrupted his thoughts. "While I may have all year to wait for you to finish your work, I do expect you to put forth some modicum of effort while you're here."
"I'm thinking," Harry said irritably. He pulled out fresh parchment and unrolled one of his old essays on which Snape had scrawled numerous disparaging remarks. Harry hardly noticed them. His thoughts were still on Ron and the Tri-Wizard tournament. He had missed Ron fiercely during those weeks when they hadn't spoken, particularly given the dangerous challenges he'd been facing. He had felt horribly alone without his best friend to share his fears with.
But how can I be feeling the same way about Snape, now? Harry wondered incredulously. We've never been friends.
Harry shook his head, annoyed with himself. He had to be mistaken. He turned his attention to his Potions essay and set to work.
It was past noon before Snape finally told Harry to put away his work and leave. Harry quickly shoved his book, quills and extra parchment into his bag and began gathering his work into a tidy pile.
"Leave it," Snape said curtly. Harry hesitated only a moment then grabbed up his bag and left the office without a word.
The time with Snape hadn't been too bad, Harry thought as he headed upstairs to have lunch. Once he'd settled down to work the time had passed quickly enough and he'd made substantial progress on rewriting his first essay which he had to admit really was quite dreadful.
The Great Hall was crowded when Harry arrived, but he spotted Ron, Ginny and Hermione at once and hurried over to them.
"Any luck?" he asked, sitting down next to Ginny.
"We've found one of Riddle's mates," Ron said quietly. "Or rather, Hermione did."
"You've found Lawrence already?" Harry said excitedly. "That's fantastic!"
"Actually, we haven't found Lawrence," Hermione said. "But I did find Albert Keene."
Hermione pushed a newspaper article across the table to Harry. "The Ravenclaw. Hagrid said he was from a wealthy old pureblood family, so I started checking the surnames of all the Ravenclaws in Riddle's year. The Keenes were one of three families who fit the description. I did a search on the family in the school's archives of the Daily Prophet and found this."
Harry looked at the article which had a photo above it.
"Randolph Keene was honored at this year's annual charity gala at St. Mungo's Hospital for his generous contribution …"
Above the article was a photo of a tall, thin man in dress robes being presented with a plaque by a smiling woman wearing a chartreuse evening gown. Standing next to the man and smiling proudly was a dark haired woman and a boy whom Harry immediately recognized as the serious young man with glasses who had been one of Riddle's friends. The caption beneath the photo identified the boy as Albert, Randolph Keene's son.
"Hermione, you're a genius!" Harry said. "So do you know where this fellow lives?"
"Well, I know where he is, but I wouldn't really say he lives there." Hermione handed Harry another article. This one was very small and had a picture of Albert alone. He now looked to be in his early twenties, but what caught Harry's attention was the heading above the article: Obituaries.
"Unfortunately, yes. But we did discover some interesting information. He died with no heirs and left all of his possessions to a small import company."
"Care to guess who were listed as members of its board of directors?" Ginny said.
A smile spread across Harry's face. "Tom Riddle and Mordecai Lawrence."
"Along with Albert himself and a fellow named Cecil Thane, who also happens to have been a Slytherin at Hogwarts and was in the same year as the other three." Hermione smiled, looking thoroughly self-satisfied and Harry didn't blame her in the least.
"So now that we know who these fellows are, what are we going to do?" Ron asked. "We don't actually know where to find these blokes, except for Albert who's six feet under at his family's estate."
"Give me some time to do some more investigating," Hermione said. "I got lucky with Keene, but it may take a while to find Lawrence and Thane. Hopefully at least one of them is alive and will be able to answer some questions."
Harry nodded and Ron asked, "So, how was detention with Snape?"
Harry shrugged. "Not too bad. How was the rest of practice?"
"Terrific, if you don't count the fact that Ron kept us nearly an hour past our allotted time," Ginny replied, rolling her eyes at her brother. "If the Hufflepuffs hadn't finally told us to shove off, we'd probably still be there."
"So I lost track of time," Ron said, unconcernedly. "It was still a great practice."
Ron had barely finished speaking when Seamus and Dean arrived and sat down next to Ginny.
"Have you seen the Quibbler?" Seamus asked excitedly, shoving the latest edition of the paper towards them. "Another Death Eater was found dead last night."
"What?" Ginny said.
"Haven't you lot been following the story?" Dean asked at Ginny's blank look. "There's some vigilante who's been killing them. It's been going on for about three months. The Quibbler's keeping a running total."
"Let me see that." Hermione snatched up the paper and scanned the article quickly. "This is supposed to be murder?" She said disdainfully. "I read about this in the Daily Prophet this morning. The woman was last seen leaving a pub alone at two o'clock in the morning – rather inebriated. It's no wonder she landed in the river."
"Even drunk, most people don't fall into rivers and drown," Ron pointed out, reading the article over Hermione's shoulder. "And look at all the other people who've died."
"Oh, honestly! These are all just random deaths."
"Yeah, but that's seven random deaths in three months," Dean said. "A little too much coincidence, if you ask me."
"I'm sure the Ministry would be investigating if someone were really killing these people," Hermione said. "And I can't believe that the Daily Prophet would pass up such a sensational story if there was any truth to it."
Seamus snorted. "The Prophet only reports what the Ministry wants it to these days and as for the Ministry itself, they have their hands full enough, don't they?"
Hermione sniffed. "I know how thinly stretched the Aurors are, but I still can't believe the Ministry would let this sort of thing go without an investigation."
"Why not?" Ron asked.
Hermione looked at him incredulously. "A serial killer responsible for seven deaths? They'd have to investigate that."
"Hermione, this fellow isn't a serial killer. He's on our side and frankly he's doing a better job of taking out Death Eaters than the Aurors are."
Ron blinked at Hermione's horrified expression. "What? It's true. The Aurors haven't managed –"
"These Death Eaters weren't killed in battle. If their deaths really weren't accidents, then we're talking about cold-blooded, premeditated murder."
"I know what we're talking about," Ron said irritably. "I'm not thick."
"Well, surely you can't condone that!"
"Sure I can. The Death Eaters don't have any problem murdering people. They sure didn't mind murdering my mum. So as far as I'm concerned, they deserve whatever they get. I say good on whoever's doing them in."
Ron stabbed a potato with his fork and shoved it into his mouth, pointedly ignoring the stricken look on Hermione's face. Hermione pushed the paper aside, stood up and hurried away.
"Hermione!" Ron called after her.
"Leave it, Ron," Ginny said. She tossed aside her napkin and followed Hermione out of the Great Hall.
"Sorry," Seamus said sheepishly. "We didn't mean to start a row."
Ron sighed. "You agree with me, don't you?"
"Of course we do!" Dean said.
Seamus nodded. "The fewer Death Eaters the better."
Harry said nothing. He picked up the paper and scanned the article. He ignored the discussion of conspiracies and cover-ups, and quickly found the one piece of information he was looking for. Luella Delaney had disappeared after a late night of revelry sometime between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning of the previous week, the same night Harry and his friends had gone down to the Chamber of Secrets. The same night he'd seen Snape leaving Hogwarts.
Harry looked up at the staff table where Snape was eating. It was one thing for Ron, Seamus and Dean to talk about some anonymous vigilante killing Death Eaters. It was another to look at a man and imagine him committing those murders in cold blood.
"You okay, Harry?" Ron asked.
"Yeah." Harry forced a smile and with one last glance at Snape, laid aside the paper and returned his attention to his lunch. He didn't notice Professor Knight watching him from the opposite end of the staff table.
Due mostly to Ginny's efforts, Ron and Hermione managed to patch up their differences with minimal argument, agreeing to disagree on the morality of killing Death Eaters outside of actual battle. Harry was very grateful that he didn't have to get involved. He was busy enough trying to work out how to stop the murders altogether.
That evening while Ron and Ginny were playing chess and Hermione was studying, he slipped up to his dormitory and dug the Marauders' Map out of his trunk. He stuck it in his bedside drawer then retrieved his handkerchief from the pocket of his dress robes. He unfolded it and stared at the long strands of black hair. He pulled his wand from his pocket and pointed it at the hairs.
The hairs shifted slightly as if disturbed by a soft breeze then lay still once more. Harry folded the handkerchief up again and replaced it in the pocket of his dress robes. Then he pocketed his wand and went to rejoin his friends.
On Monday morning, the ceiling of the Great Hall was slate grey and mist seemed to hover above the tables. Harry felt equally foggy as he sat yawning over his half-eaten breakfast. He looked up at the staff table and stared sullenly at Snape who was reading the morning paper. How could the man look so alert when he never slept? Since summer, Harry had suspected that Snape was something of an insomniac, but he'd never really appreciated that fact until now. For the past two nights Harry had lain awake far into the wee hours of the morning, watching the tiny dot marked Severus Snape on the Marauder's Map as it wandered the corridors or sat in Snape's office or paced in Snape's living room. In fact, the dot had been almost everywhere in the castle except for Snape's bedroom, or at least Harry hadn't been able to stay awake long enough on either occasion to see it get there.
At least no more Death Eaters had died, nor had any gone missing in the last two days and Harry was fairly confident that Snape hadn't left Hogwarts. Catching Snape leaving was the whole purpose of Harry's nightly vigil. He was determined to follow the man the next time he left the castle. He planned to use Fred and George's Sniffer Charm to track Snape down and put an end to his homicidal outings once and for all.
Ron nudged Harry. "Time to go."
With a final yawn, Harry joined Ron and the rest of his classmates as they headed to their Defense lesson. Knight had rearranged the classroom, moving all of the desks against the walls. On top of the desks, evenly distributed around the room, were a score of mundane objects and Harry guessed that they were cursed even before the Curse Detector in his pocket started to vibrate wildly. Knight confirmed this a moment later.
"Each of these items is jinxed," she said by way of greeting the class. "Nothing serious. None of you will end up in the hospital wing if you accidentally trigger them. But they are unpleasant. Your task today is to apply what you've learnt about disarming cursed objects. Choose a partner then pick an item and work together to disarm its jinx. If and when you succeed, you may bring the item to me."
The students all looked dubiously at one another, but followed Knight's instructions. Harry and Ron joined forces and approached an innocent looking wine glass.
"What sort of jinx do you suppose is on this?" Ron wondered as he leaned over to examine the glass. Without warning, a stream of putrid purple liquid appeared in the glass and shot at him, catching Ron full in the face.
"Ugh!" Ron jerked back, wiping his face with his sleeve. "That's disgusting! What are you laughing at?"
Harry couldn't help it. He'd burst out laughing when Ron had been sprayed with the noxious liquid and the indignant look on Ron's face now only made him laugh harder.
"All right, then," Ron said, clearly miffed. "You have a go at it."
Harry opened his textbook to the chapter on disarming cursed objects and looked at the list of spells. None applied specifically to glasses that spat stinky liquid, so Harry picked what he hoped was the most likely counter curse – one to neutralize poisoned goblets – and cast it at the glass. Nothing happened. The glass sat on the desk looking perfectly innocuous. Warily, Harry moved closer to peer into it. He ducked just in time to avoid getting squirted in the face; the purple liquid sprayed his robes instead.
This time he and Ron both dissolved into laughter. For close to an hour Harry and Ron took turns trying the numerous spells they'd studied for disarming cursed objects and only succeeded in becoming increasingly soaked in the smelly liquid. None of their classmates were having any better luck as the constant din of shrieks, laughter and cries of outrage attested.
At last, however, Hermione let out an exultant shout. "That's got it!"
Harry looked over at her. She and Neville were both covered in some sort of green slimy substance, but were grinning from ear to ear. Neville was clutching an old worn out boot as if it was the House Cup that he'd just won.
"Good work," Knight said, approvingly. "Ten points to Gryffindor for being the first to succeed in disarming your item. The rest of you, keep at it."
The other teams renewed their efforts and soon there were other yelps of success. Ron finally managed to find the right spell to stop the wine glass from squirting them and by the time the lesson was drawing to a close, the last of the items – a shoe that kept trying to kick Lavender and Parvati – was disarmed.
Knight surveyed her class, a wry smile playing on her lips. "Needless to say, if the spells on these items had been fatal, you'd all be dead. Can someone tell me why?"
"We didn't know what sort of jinx had been placed on our item, so we couldn't figure out the counter spell," Seamus said. "It was all just trial and error until we found something that worked."
"Exactly. You'll never find a note lying alongside an object telling you what sort of curse has been placed on it."
"Then what's the point in learning all of these counter curses?" Malfoy asked in disgust. He was picking sticky orange string off his robes and looked thoroughly ill-tempered which made Harry grin.
Knight, however, was not amused. Her eyes flashed with disgust to match the Slytherin's before she collected herself and addressed the class. "Learning to identify curses will be the topic of our next lesson. Now that you all fully appreciate the need, I expect you'll pay close attention. Dismissed."
It took ten minutes in the shower for Harry to scrub away the last of the odor from Knight's lesson, but the exercise had thoroughly invigorated him, dispelling his sleepiness from the morning. He ate a hearty lunch with his friends then went down to greenhouse three for Herbology.
Professor Sprout was waiting for them next to a large glass case which contained a dark green plant with pale yellow flowers. On closer inspection, Harry saw that the center of the plant had numerous long hairy vines extending from it.
"Oh my goodness!" Hermione exclaimed. "Do you know what that is?"
"What?" Ron asked.
"It's a Stinging Tentacula."
"Right you are, Miss Granger," Sprout said. "Five points to Gryffindor. If there is a single plant you should all learn to recognize on sight, it's this one. Everyone gather round please. Closer. Can everyone see? Good. The Stinging Tentacula is related to the far more common Venomous Tentacula, but is much more deadly."
While she was speaking, Sprout picked up a brown bag from a nearby potting bench and pulled a large dead rat out of it. Next she tied a length of twine around the rat's neck while the students looked on curiously.
"Observe." Sprout donned a long pair of dragon hide gloves then opened a small window in the top of the case. The plant within, rustled slightly. She lowered the rat into the case. The plant trembled then its vines lashed out with remarkable speed. Startled, the students in front jumped back as the Tentacula's thin, whip-like vines flayed the rat. After a moment, Sprout raised the rat back out of the case and closed the window. The plant continued to writhe a few moments longer, then settled down once more.
"Come closer and have a look."
Cautiously, the students crept forward once more. Harry peered over Hermione's shoulder and saw numerous red welts on the rat's body.
"As the vines strike the victim, they shoot out small razor-sharp spores," Sprout explained. "The spores are propelled with tremendous force and will penetrate almost anything. Clothing won't stop them. Only dragon hide is impervious. Once implanted in the victim, the spores begin to grow at an astonishing rate."
Harry was only half listening to his teacher. His attention was riveted on the rat. At first he thought it was his imagination or a trick of the light, but as he stared at the creature, he became convinced that it was neither. There was no mistake – the welts were moving, or rather something beneath each of them was. As he continued to watch in horrified fascination, the welts began to swell and then one by one they split and started to ooze green pus. Harry heard someone gag next to him.
"The spores are parasitic and will take over their host very quickly," Sprout continued. "The only way to kill them is by burning them out like so."
Sprout raised her wand. "Candeo!" The tip of her wand glowed with intense heat and she pressed it to one of the oozing pustules. There was the unmistakable stench of burning flesh and when she drew her wand back the pustule was gone, replaced by a blackened, cauterized scar.
"If destroying the spores was enough to save a victim, an attack from the Stinging Tentacula wouldn't be so bad. Unfortunately, the spores also release a potent toxin as they grow. The longer they remain in a victim's body, the more poison is released. The only antidote is belladonna."
"But that's poison!"
"Exactly, Mr. Longbottom. Give the patient too large a dose and the antidote itself will kill them. Too little, and they'll die of the Tentacula toxin.
"The Stinging Tentacula does not simply kill its victim, however. The purpose of its attack is to reproduce. It uses the nutrients in the victim's body to nourish its spores which, if undisturbed, will grow into fledgling plants in a matter of hours as you can see from this rat which I used in the morning class's demonstration.
Sprout reached under her potting bench and pulled out a small, sealed glass container. Within it was another dead rat, but the animal was barely recognizable. Dozens of vines protruded from it, some already a foot long. Harry heard someone behind him retch.
"The Stinging Tentacula is considered the deadliest of plants, even more so than Devil's Snare," Sprout said. "Fortunately, the plant is also rare. It can't survive sunlight, so it's only found in dense forests, caves, or similar places where no sunlight can penetrate. I will expect a two-foot essay detailing the plant's reproductive cycle and defenses against it by our next lesson."
"I'm glad we had that lesson after lunch," Hermione said as they walked back up to the castle.
"I don't know," Ron replied. "I think Ernie lost his. I almost lost mine."
"You know, I've read about that plant somewhere before," Harry said, frowning in concentration. "But I can't remember where."
"It's in our textbook," Hermione said.
Ron grinned. "Well, we know Harry didn't see it there."
Harry cuffed Ron good-naturedly on the shoulder and they continued up to the castle where luckily, by dinner, memories of their Herbology lesson had faded sufficiently to allow the seventh years to enjoy their meal. Harry ate quickly, anxious to be on his way for his lesson with Dumbledore and as soon as the headmaster rose from the staff table, Harry left the Great Hall and hurried after him.
Dumbledore had tea waiting as usual. "This evening, Harry, I would like to try something different," he said, filling Harry's cup. "Instead of you entering my mind, I would like to enter yours."
"But didn't you say that most people can't remember what happens when their mind is invaded that deeply?"
"That is correct. You will remember nothing that transpires in your own mind."
"Then how will that help?"
"It will give me insight into your mind which will in turn help me to better prepare you for the task you face."
Harry said nothing as he considered the proposal. He didn't like the idea of having anyone, even Dumbledore, poke around in his mind when he wouldn't be able to remember what happened.
Dumbledore seemed to understand his concern. "I realize that it is difficult to bare your innermost self to another and to do it blindly is doubly so. I can only assure you that I have your best interests at heart and ask that you trust me."
"Of course I trust you, Professor," Harry said quickly, feeling ashamed of his apprehensiveness. "If you think it will help, it's fine with me. Just tell me what I need to do."
"You, Harry, need do nothing but drink your tea."
Harry did as Dumbledore instructed, drinking his tea down as quickly as possible. Then he set his cup aside and waited. Dumbledore gazed serenely into his eyes.
"Relax, Harry. This will be no more difficult than entering my mind."
Harry nodded and took a deep breath to relieve the tension in his body. As he exhaled he felt Dumbledore's mind reach out to his and was immediately surprised at how different it felt from Snape's. Snape's mind was sharp and penetrating, like a scalpel that cut through all resistance.
By contrast, Dumbledore's mind felt like a vast rolling wave, breaking over his mind, overwhelming him and supporting him at the same time. There was no possibility of resisting, but Harry felt no fear. While Snape's mind could cut through his effortlessly, Dumbledore's mind enveloped him in a comforting peace.
Harry felt Dumbledore's mind plunge downward, carrying him along deep into his own mind. This was another entirely new sensation and it was exhilarating, like surfing a wave. Down they sped, faster and faster. Then they slowed to a halt and Harry found himself standing on a broad expanse of meadow in bright morning sunshine. Off to his right, a lake sparkled placidly. In the distance to his left stretched acres of sparsely wooded land. Several hundred yards ahead of him, he could make out the edge of a bluff and standing upon it was a castle, or at least the beginnings of one. The foundation was laid along with most of the ground floor, but only one tower was complete. Great piles of stone were stacked all around and the entire structure was ringed with scaffolding.
"Do you know where you are?" Dumbledore asked next to Harry.
"Not really, though it does seem familiar."
Dumbledore smiled, his eyes twinkling merrily. "Would it help if I told you that the Quidditch pitch should be just over there?"
Harry's jaw dropped and he looked around once more in astonishment. "This is Hogwarts?"
"It is Hogwarts as it likely would have appeared a thousand years ago – or at least the closest approximation your mind could come up with."
Harry grinned delightedly. "This is brilliant!"
"I agree. All the more so because it is not actually Hogwarts you see before you, but yourself."
Harry's smile faded and he looked at Dumbledore questioningly. "That's right. This isn't real. But I don't understand…"
"You think of Hogwarts as home, Harry, but it is even more than that. It also represents your entrance into the wizarding world and the life you know. Indeed, your sense of self and your entire future flow from here. It is a fitting representation of your soul."
"But why am I seeing it the way it looked a thousand years ago?"
"Think, Harry. What you see before you is a collective metaphor. Symbolically, what does it tell you?"
Harry stared at the castle and thought. "Gryffindor Tower is the only thing that's finished."
"Indeed. You have proven your bravery beyond question, time and again."
"So then, different parts of the castle represent different parts of – of me?" Harry asked slowly.
Harry looked at the castle again. "I have a long way to go, don't I?"
Dumbledore chuckled. "Let us take a closer look before passing judgment, shall we?" He waved Harry ahead and Harry set off towards the castle with Dumbledore at his side.
As they began to draw nearer the castle Harry began to see people moving about. Fred and George were playing croquet with mallets that looked like flamingos. They waved cheerily at Harry as he passed. Ron and Hermione strolled by, hand in hand, and greeted Harry. He'd never seen them look so happy and paused to watch them go.
Harry turned back around to see Ginny racing towards him. Before he could say a word in greeting, she threw her arms around him and pressed against him, kissing him passionately. Astonished, Harry held her tightly until she at last pulled away. Ginny grinned and winked at him. "I'll see you later." With a final sensuous kiss, she tossed her hair back and walked away.
Harry stared after her until he noticed Dumbledore watching him with an amused look. He felt himself blush in embarrassment.
"I didn't mean for that to happen. Honestly!"
"It's quite all right, Harry. Believe it or not, I still have a dim memory of what it was like to be seventeen. Come."
Dumbledore struck off towards the castle once more. Grateful to move on, Harry hurried to follow him. But as they approached the main entrance, Harry saw four more people clustered at the base of the front steps and felt his chest tighten as he recognized who they were.
Lily and James Potter were sitting side by side on the stairs talking with Sirius and Remus. All four were laughing and Harry stopped to watch them. Lily was the first to spot him. She smiled radiantly and waved. The men turned and waved as well.
"What do you think of it, Harry?" Remus asked, indicating the castle looming before them.
"It's brilliant, of course!" Sirius declared heartily, clapping Remus on the shoulder. "Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise, Harry!"
"I think it's brilliant, too," Lily said, smiling happily.
James took her hand and squeezed it. "It's all thanks to your mum, Harry. Don't forget that."
Harry nodded mutely, unable to speak because of the lump in his throat. He longed to stay where he was, to talk with his parents and godfather, even just to look at them. But Dumbledore took his arm and steered him away and up the stairs.
"They aren't real, Harry. One of the reasons why it is best not to delve into one's own mind is that it can present a similar danger to that of the Mirror of Erised. One can become too entranced and forego living."
Harry nodded and with a final glance at the figures on the steps he stepped into the entrance hall. It was bustling with activity and there was an unmistakable air of excitement and promise in the place. Numerous people were dashing about: students, teachers, members of the Order of the Phoenix. Harry gave a particularly violent start as Mrs. Weasley hurried by with an enormous plate of biscuits which she was passing out to all and sundry.
Harry jumped and turned to find Professor McGonagall regarding him sternly. "Either make yourself useful or get out of the way. We're trying to finish the ceiling in the Great Hall and the enchantments are not going well."
"We were just leaving," Dumbledore replied good-naturedly. "Follow me, Harry. I need to have a look around."
Dumbledore set off on a brisk inspection of the castle. He didn't bother with Gryffindor Tower, but instead took keen interest in the progress on the unfinished portions. Harry followed behind, up one set of stairs, then down another, marveling at everything. Once their route had brought them back to the entrance hall, Dumbledore stopped. McGonagall was nowhere in sight and Harry wondered if she'd got the enchantments working on the ceiling in the Great Hall.
"I presume you have gathered the significance of the construction?" Dumbledore asked.
Harry stared blankly at him. "Er…"
"Ravenclaw Tower is little more than a foundation, but the foundation is a sturdy one. That tells me that you have the capacity for intellectual pursuits but have so far left it woefully underutilized. Both the Astronomy Tower and the North Tower remain un-built. These lack even foundations, so I would say that you have little interest in stargazing or Divination. On the other hand, the Hufflepuff common room and dormitories are complete, indicating your capacity for hard work and I would guess in particular, loyalty. Interestingly, the dungeons and Slytherin common room are equally well appointed."
Harry scowled, not liking the implications of that. "What does that mean?"
"That you are ambitious and will go to any lengths to achieve your goals: something that is obviously true of anyone who seriously seeks to defeat Lord Voldemort."
"I would venture to add that it also means you are not always what you wish to be," a silken voice purred in Harry's ear.
Harry whirled around. Standing next to him and regarding him with a familiar smirk was Snape.
"The noble Harry Potter: always fair, always honest. No one would ever guess that there's a darker side lurking beneath the shining exterior, would they?"
"I don't know what you're talking about!" Harry backed away, but Snape advanced on him, refusing to allow him to put any distance between them. "Never forget that I know what hides in your mind that you don't want anyone else to see. I know you because we are far more alike than you'd wish to admit."
Snape's eyes bored into Harry's and Harry felt naked. He desperately wanted to deny the man's words, but couldn't because he knew that they were true.
"I'm not the only one who doesn't want to admit that," Harry hissed. "Don't forget that I know your secrets, too. I may be like you, but you're also like me."
Harry and Snape glared at one another in silence for several long moments before Harry felt a touch on his arm and looked away.
"I think it is time for us to go, Harry," Dumbledore said. "Severus?"
Snape looked at Dumbledore, nodded then turned away.
Dumbledore was silent, seemingly lost in thought as they headed out of the castle and back across the meadow. Harry was silent too, still disturbed by his confrontation with Snape.
"Have you and Professor Snape had that argument before?" Dumbledore suddenly asked.
Harry shook his head. "No. Never. We've had arguments, but nothing like that."
"Well, I don't. Why does that matter?"
"Because it means that you were not merely reenacting a defining moment in your relationship with Professor Snape. It was far more important than that."
"What do you mean?"
Dumbledore came to a halt and Harry stopped as well, turning to face his teacher.
"Harry, that was not Professor Snape speaking to you just now," Dumbledore said. "No more than anything else you see around you is what it appears to be. The argument you just had, you had with yourself."
Harry felt a chill run through him. "What does that mean?"
Dumbledore heaved a sighed and smiled apologetically at Harry. "Given that you would not remember if I told you, I think I will refrain from wasting both our time since it would be quite a lengthy discussion. Rest assured that we will work it out. Now, I believe it is time to return to my office."
Harry nodded and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath, opened his eyes again and found himself seated in the chair by Dumbledore's fireplace. It was like awakening from a dream. As the real world reasserted itself, the memory of his foray into his own mind, slipped away. He tried to grasp at it, but it was gone.
He looked at Dumbledore. "So what did you see? What was it like?"
"I am afraid, Harry, that I never discuss the contents of someone's mind with them. It invariably leads to more introspection than is healthy."
"Can you at least tell me if it was useful?"
Dumbledore gave Harry an enigmatic smile. "Yes, Harry. I would say that it was immensely useful."