The Sugar Quill
Author: Athena Arena (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Unknown Witness  Chapter: Memories and Mysteries
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Chapter One: Memories and Mysteries

July 1993

She lay there sweating again. The image of her dream was the closest her mind ever got to any form of visual reality. She would see the same scenes over and over, childhood sights interspersed with adult glimpses. A teddy bear left abandoned in the middle of the road, a birthday party, balloons and streamers, pigtails and hopscotch. Her office, her reflection in the mirror, always frozen twelve years previously, never to age. The estuary from the train. Her London. Then the dream shifted, as it always did, to a man with gleaming red eyes, evil to the bone. A family destroyed. A friend. A traitor. A dark-hared man on the brink of insanity. The dog star.

She sat up and gasped, feeling in the darkness for her bed lamp as her eyes developed into a feeble attempt at focus. They were soon defeated. Her mind was met with a whitish blur; the most minuscule of outlines inhibited her ability to have the independence she used to thrive on. The images had been slow to start with; her familiar memories warm and comforting like a blanket of smooth summer air. Then came the visions. People she didn't recognise - implanted in her brain without her consent - had invaded the privacy, normally reserved for her bouts of insomnia. She'd grown to accept their presence, almost feeling as if their memories belonged to her. She felt the panic alongside them too, as that final flash of white faded to the deepest shade of green. She sighed wearily. They were gone for now. She reached out for her old-fashion alarm clock, feeling its metallic arms of an indication of time. Half past six. Time to start the longest of days.

This was how her life had been for twelve years. Over a decade of bumping into lampposts, as she often liked to put it. For Claudia Darlington was always one to make a joke of the worst possible situation. She was content to be the dude in the sunglasses, wearing them indoors like a Hollywood glamour puss. When asked for their presence upon her pale and dominating face, a mere peer over the top of the rimless lenses was enough to quiet even the most harsh of critics. For it would have seemed that whatever blinded her - the debris of the gas explosion if the police were to be believed - robbed her eyes of any colour, depth, and to the casual observer, emotion. The blue iris around her pupils had faded like a sheet of writing left out in the sun, neglected for years on a forgotten windowsill. Ice-like framed by long dark lashes they were, forever trapped the snow. She liked her eyes. She never saw them of course, but the reaction they got surpassed any sensual boundary. The intake of breath and shifting in the seat always indicated the strong desire to stare. Let them, she always thought to herself, smiling a little in the process. It's not at all likely that she'd really know the difference.

Claudia hadn't always been in her present frame of mind. It had taken time, patience and the downright embodiment of a saint on the behalf of her friends and relatives to pull her out of the dark abyss the loss of her sight had thrown her into. She'd been one of the first removed from the quad, only cuts and bruises from the shock of the explosion, no visible injuries except her eyes, still smoking. She vaguely remembered someone touching her shoulder, whispering in her ear a demand for answers, for explanations. She remembers the voice, probably a bumbling fool of a police sergeant, desperate and shaky, colleagues breathing down his neck as she answered his question in a voice she barely recognised.

'I can't see, Mr Fudge.'

He had mumbled his apologies, taking it as read that the blind lady was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not much use. She didn't see anything. But for her, that answer marked the beginning of the rest of her life. She couldn't see. The light, the blinding, burning light expelled from the now smoking crater in the middle of her beloved quad had robbed her of a birthright. She felt outraged. She wanted it back. It hadn't been the rounded man's to take - the rat had merely scampered away and escaped all the possible blame.

These thoughts were yet again prominent as she headed down the stairs to breakfast, the sound and smell of the sizzling bacon inviting her to the kitchen. Their fizzing excitement to be covered in brown sauce and slapped between two slices of economy white bread was simply too good to be true. Lucy was obviously doing a good job. Claudia's sister was singing along to the radio as she cooked the cholesterol attack in the making, doting on the fact she had another body to care for in the absence of her husband. Claudia had lived with Lucy and her husband, Paul, for the past two years, Lucy grateful for her company as Paul tended to spend a lot of time abroad on business. She was as much a part of the household as they were

'Bad night?' Lucy enquired without turning round. Claudia sighed and sat down.

'Just the dream again. Back with a vengeance.'

'You know, you should go to the doctor's about that. It's probably like that Gulf war syndrome thingy. Only what you see would be a great plot for a children's book. Wizards and wands... honestly woman, you'd make a mint.'

She set the sandwich in front of her, and Claudia immediately took a large and oversized bite, dribbling sauce down her chin. She reached across the table and felt for the usual pile of napkins, dabbing it away with the etiquette of royalty. The song on the radio ended as the newsreader's voice materialised, ringing in her oversensitive ears as he gravely read the headlines as if it was the end of the world.

'John Major's 'Back to Basics' campaign is yet again in tatters as another colleague...'

'Yawn!' Claudia said loudly, her mouth still filled with bacon. 'Another scandal. He'll be out by Christmas, you mark my words.'

Claudia could sense Lucy raise a metaphoric eyebrow as she placed the dirty frying pan in the sink. The newsreader went through the sport with his usual depression about the state of the nation's Cricket team. Lost again. No surprises there.

'And finally, news just in. The Home Office reports that a high security prisoner has escaped from an undisclosed detainment centre. Obviously adding to the problems already rampant in the prison service, the latest outbreak of Sirius Black comes after many MPs have called for a public enquiry into the agency run by Derek Lewis. Although home office secretary Michael Howard was unavailable for comment, a press release did state that the public is warned that Black is armed and extremely dangerous. A special hotline has been set up...'

Later, she would have sworn that time stood still. She choked loudly on her bacon as she felt the colour drain from her face, the remaining pigment of her disabled eyes flashing for an instant, like a long distance sensor ringing loudly in her head. Sirius, Sirius, Sirius... the alarm had a voice, the voice of that day belonging to the round faced man, unable to contain his glee as the full extent of the implementation of his attack came to him in a satisfied smile flashing across those pale, traitor-like lips. He had won. She and the mysterious Sirius had lost. She wondered, not for the first time, what it had been all about. The dog. The wands. The light. Her eyes were forced open at the horror of the memory, unknowingly focused on the glass of milk in front of her as she continued to sit in a trance, oblivious to the latest scandal in the ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. She was shaking.

'Claudia?' said Lucy's soft voice, turning away from the washing up at the lack of political commentary. Her breath caught in her throat as no answer came to the front.

Then suddenly it happened. The anonymous glass, the milk flat and calm upon the wooden tabletop, began to shake. Little rings emigrated from the glass's epicentre, growing in intensity until it threatened to topple over. Lucy made no attempt to stop it, staring wide-eyed at her sister's focused daze. Then it exploded.

'What the?...' Lucy had to duck to avoid the flying glass. Claudia didn't batter an eyelid, but felt somehow liberated by the unseen devastation. She breathed again as the pale liquid crept across the wooden surface, Lucy staring on, mouth wide, as it dripped onto the white lineal floor tiles with a silent splash. She made no attempt to explain.

'I've... I've got to go.'

She silently rose from the table, making an aimless grab for her white stick before opening the door and slipping into the summer sun. Lucy was left to clear up the mess. As much as Claudia would outwardly pretend otherwise, the accident had obviously had a more profound effect upon her than anybody realised.

***

She was back on her bench again, her head in her hands as she cried dry and absent tears. Every time it got to her, she'd walk up here, back to the grounds of her beloved castle, the empty shell that dominated the estuary of the Medway as it cut its way through the Kentish countryside. Not that she was able to appreciate the view. She pressed her fingertips into her eye sockets, cursing the day she'd ever bought that tuna and sweet corn roll.

It was the last day of July. The warm breeze coming down the river from Maidstone softly ruffled her mahogany hair, left long and flecked with a minuscule amount of grey she'd been told helped 'define' her. Her eyes gave nothing away. For some odd reason, she held a strange sense of foreboding in the air, as if the whole world had taken an intake of breath in expectancy of a catastrophe. Maybe she was just a little over sensitive. The name had that effect on her.

She hadn't mentioned the specifics of the accident to anyone, not even her beloved sister. Lucy, like so many others, still firmly believed Claudia lost a few of her marbles the same time Covent Garden was deprived of several tonnes of pavement. The dreams had of course been unavoidable. You can't go around screaming about wands and magic spells in your sleep and not expect the topic to appear at the kitchen table. Everyone said the same thing. She'd always had an overactive imagination, probably heightened by the imagery she was now forced to conjure up in the place of what everyone took for granted. It was true that her dreams were more vivid in those dark hours, but their relevance had never been totally uncovered.

The dark-haired man's name was Sirius. She knew that. So many times she had doubted her fragile sanity, whether those two figures in the quad were real, or just some form of scapegoat her bitter mind created as a means to vent her anger. But Sirius wasn't that a common of a name, was it? The mere mention of that name had sent a shiver of remembrance down her spine, opening a chasm inside her she didn't know existed. She knew it was her who smashed the glass. She knew that the memory of that name had ignited it, this unknown entity within her that seemed so powerful, it was frightening. The anger that welled up in her chest at the thought of Sirius, the last person she ever saw, eyes wide and dismayed as his fate was laid in front of him, was causing such an eruption in her blood, she wanted to shout his innocence from the rooftops. She wanted to scream his name right across the valley and laugh maddeningly at the realisation that she'd never be believed. The anger became vengeful as her fingertips tingled, an unknown power invested in her hands finally emerging from its shell. And right now, she was scared at what she was capable of.

But of course, her observer knew exactly what it was. He watched her intently while sitting in a trance under an ageing oak which adorned the castle grounds, and dominated the park with outstretched arms. He sensed her emotions. She knew what she was feeling. And as the silent, black dog tiptoed away into the day, his resolution was firmer than ever. He was after revenge. Not just for himself, to satisfy a hunger that had been eating away from him more than any creature of hell could possibly attempt, but for her. And all the other people who'd been hurt by the betrayals of twelve years ago.

In a small town hidden away in the depths of Surrey, a boy, the worst effected from the tragic events, was finally confronted with the image of his Godfather. It was instantly dismissed.

***

July 1995

Harry Potter was up late again. He'd perfected the art of being a shadow of the night, his book propped up against the pillow as he studied the complicated text, his tongue protruding a little from between his teeth as his brow deepened in concentration. His wand made a much better source of light than the flimsy torch he'd previously been using. Arriving back at Privet Drive a few weeks before, he'd handed over his Hogwarts materials to a daunted looking Vernon, seizing his trunk as soon as they stepped through the door and searching it for missing artefacts. He was like a customs officer as the port of Dover, ruthless and efficient. But he had been fooled: George and Fred Weasley's fake wands certainly had their advantages. Clutching the real Macoy firmly up his sleeve, he'd disappeared upstairs and immediately slid it under the loose floorboard without Aunt Petunia batting an eyelid. Using magic during the holidays was a crime currently overlooked. And after the events of the third task, he felt in need of the extra protection.

As he sat there, watching the crudely repaired clock count down to his fifteenth birthday, he was reminded of a similar situation just two years previously. Two years ago, when he was just thirteen. It felt like a lifetime away. Two years ago, he was carefully avoiding making ink blots on the sheets as he struggled with that History of Magic essay. The escapism it provided was a godsend when compared to his living arrangements with the Dursleys. He hated them. They hated him. It was a mutual agreement. But now it didn't bother him. Things were a little beyond all that.

Of course, Privet Drive remained the last place on earth he wished to reside. Leaving the mock-Tudor suburban dwelling for the turrets of Hogwarts had delivered him the best times of his life. But the rough has to come with the smooth. Voldemort was on the rampage again, and there was little he could do about it. Despite the protests from Mrs Weasley, Professor Dumbledore had insisted he return to the Dursleys, where at least the 'ancient magic' he'd evoked whilst Harry slept soundly in the little wicker basket all those years ago was still functional. It had been a nerve-wracking summer, waiting for news from Hagrid and the Giants, and Sirius back out in the wild, risking his freedom to deliver Dumbledore the tools he needed to set up the resistance. Even Snape, negotiating his way back into Voldemort's inner circle, no doubt, gave him a little cause for concern. And all Harry could to do was sit there, in the smallest bedroom of Privet Drive, trying to read in the dim light of his wand while hoping Dudley didn't catch him out as he wandered the darkened landing for his usual midnight feast.

But Harry couldn't just sit there while the wizarding world faced the biggest threat in decades. 'Greater and more terrible than ever before...' The divination teacher's warning echoed in his ears. Both Ron and Hermione agreed with him as all three sought the best course of action. Which went some way toward explaining why he was reading such a complicated document as a Magical Law Enforcement Department Evidence file. And this one was bigger than most.

It was Hermione's idea to do it. Within the first week of the holidays, she'd owled Harry with the suggestion, both finding means to quell his boredom while in virtual imprisonment in Privet Drive and quenching his unnerving thirst to be of some help to his elders. Dumbledore, Sirius, Hagrid... these were just some of the people Harry depended on, now risking their lives in their quest against Voldemort. And if reading testament after testament of that fateful winter day almost fourteen years ago made anyone's lives easier, it was worth every page. Hermione had written to the Ministry asking for a copy of the report in the first week of the holidays. Eager to help any student in the middle of an important O.W.L research project, the unobservant workers of the Ministry document office had copied them without a word, considering the ten-year release restriction had expired such a long time ago. But picking out evidence for the defence of Sirius Black in amongst the hundred odd statements blaming him for the destruction of a small corner of Covent Garden was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Harry's' heart had sunk lower and lower as he tuned yet another page, and another Muggle clearly stating that upon the accusation, Black had whipped out his wand and the street disintegrated in a blinding white light. Nothing in a ten-metre radius survived intact. The more he read, the more he would have been otherwise convinced that Wormtail's escape was exceedingly unlikely. But Harry had seen, with those staggeringly green eyes, the truth. Peter Pettigrew was alive. He'd blown up the Muggle street causing the Charring Cross emergency department to overflow that day. There had to be something the former Mr Crouch overlooked in his haste to lock up the traitor. Anything. Harry's search was so frantic, so absorbing, he failed to notice the silent switch to midnight that heralded the arrival of an entourage of owls.

This late night ritual - although only a recent development in his previously present-lacking life - never failed to lift Harry's normally flagging spirits. Pigwidgeon almost crashed through the window, distracting Harry from the heavy text as he bounced off the walls, coming to a stop in the middle of his duvet, a little fluffed up ball of squeaking excitement. Hedwig followed in her usual, dignified manner, beak turned up slightly as she observed Pig's antics whilst dropping a particularly heavy package on Harry's pillow. It was closely followed by his Hogwarts letter and present from Hagrid. She nibbled his ear affectionately before going to her perch as he excitedly ripped off the wrapping paper of his three presents. For a single moment, he felt like any other boy on his birthday, happy to have another year behind him and many more to come. The gifts surpassed his expectations. A Quidditch tactics book emerged from Ron (obviously expecting Harry to fill the shoes of Oliver Wood as captain of their house team the following September) along with what looked like a lifetime's supply of sweets and fireworks from Hagrid. A bulky letter from Hermione accompanied a rather splendid-looking galaxy ball. Harry admired it in the light for a moment, captivated by the tiny pinpricks of light moving in the darkened wastelands in perfect harmony. Then upon reading Hermione's letter, he fell instantly to earth.

Dear Harry,

Happy Birthday! I'm staying at Ron's at the moment, so I've sent this over with Hedwig. Don't think your present is an excuse never to go to Astrology ever again! It'll certainly help with your OWLs, though. You can never start revising too early!

Harry smiled. Some things would never change.

Anyway, I need to be serious for a moment... How is the research going? Have you found anything that might help Snuffles? I seem to be staring down dead ends at the moment... all the accounts I've read lend nothing to his defence. And with the Ministry stepping up the search he needs all the help he can get. You'd think in the middle of a hundred odd witnesses someone would have heard something... It's just a matter of going through everything with a fine toothed comb. If you find anything, send Hedwig straight away. We can't waste any more time.

Harry could feel his face dropping as the pointlessness of the task they'd set themselves seemed to overwhelm him. Hundreds of witnesses, and all of them saying the same thing. That Sirius pointed his wand at Wormtail, blowing a reasonable sized hole in the middle of the road and turning Pettigrew into a pile of bloody rags. Report after report of damning evidence... no wonder Crouch thought it unnecessary to go through the formalities of trial. Harry put down Hermione's letter, not bothering to read the rest as he flicked to the beginning of the report to examine the statistics. It was like a casualty list from the trenches: A number of amputated limbs, cuts and bruises, broken bones. The newspaper cutting Hermione had sent him from her local Muggle library outlined all the gory details.

A gas explosion in central London cost the lives of twelve innocent shoppers yesterday morning in an accident which brought Covent Garden to a standstill. A further thirty-six were treated for a variety of injuries at nearby Charing Cross hospital. A spokesman for British Gas was unavailable for comments today as police begin to investigate...

Harry frowned at the article for an instant, mentally checking the numbers against the official ministry report. Thirty-six injured? He flicked to the report's contents page, where the fault line was horrifically obvious. His heart beat wildly in his chest as he double-checked the statistics. Thirty-five Muggles interviewed at Charing Cross, all thoroughly dealt with by a team of specially sanctioned Obliviators. Someone was missing. Thirty-six went into the hospital and thirty-five left with the gas explosion story implanted firmly in their brains. But one didn't. One single soul escaped the procedure. What if this person knew something? What if... Harry was too excited to think as the possibility of a breakthrough emerged fully on his grey and tired face, instantly flushing colour into his cheeks as he grabbed his quill to divulge the information to Ron and Hermione. He was so caught up that he failed to notice he was down a present from the year before.

***

He was absolutely shattered. He was curled up in a tight fisted ball, asleep in a chair beside the fire a roaring fire. His hair, although a lot shorter now and beginning to be flicked with grey, still flopped gently across his closed lids, which in turn concealed a pair of sunken pale eyes tired with his flight. He'd arrived merely hours before, muttered an excuse for a hello to the occupant of the house before settling in his current state, sleeping like he hadn't done for a month. But then as the other man entered the room with a tray of crumpets, he reminded himself that this was probably accurate.

'Padfoot?'

Sirius stirred a little and opened a suspecting eye, which quickly scanned the room as he adjusted to his new surroundings. After two years on the run, he still found it hard to shake off the constant need to be on guard. He'd already had to travel the length of the country in his Animagus form just to avoid detection, an obstacle meaning the journey had taken him the best part of a month. But all too soon his face broke into the legendary mischievous smile that felt so alien to his aged features.

'Honestly, Sirius, you could always sleep for England...' muttered Remus as he set down the tea tray. 'But it's great to see you anyway.'

'What's an old dog like me got to do if he can't drop in on his partner in crime?'

'Depends what crime you're referring to, Padfoot.' Remus raised a single eyebrow as Sirius' face became weary again.

'We live in difficult times, dear Moony,' he sighed, finally sitting up and buttering a crumpet. 'I presume you've heard what happened at the Triwizard tournament.'

'Only that Harry won...' replied Remus, a little wary. 'Let's face it, I don't get out much. There was hardly anything in the Prophet.'

'Typical ministry cover-up job.' muttered Sirius, rubbing his face at the daunting task ahead of him. 'You'd better sit down.'

Remus did just that, as his sleepy guest launched into the events on the night of the third task. How Harry and Cedric tied for first place, and about Cedric's death and Voldemort's resurrection. Remus' face paled more than he thought possible as Sirius recited Harry's worst nightmare word for word. When he told him the truth about Moody, he gasped out loud while he fell into a guilt-ridden abyss.

'Oh God,' he whispered hoarsely, 'Its all my fault. I should have killed Pettigrew when I had the chance. If only he hadn't got away... If only I'd stayed on at Hogwarts, then none of this would have happened... I could have...'

'This isn't anybody's fault, Remus.' said Sirius strongly, pouring himself a cup of tea from a battered teapot. 'We can't change fate. We just have to make the best of it.'

'You mean...'

'Time to get the old gang together. Dumbledore's orders. The Phoenix is about to rise from the flames. We need to get the message out to Arabella and Mundungus at least. They'll alert the others. It's really happening Remus...'

'But what about Harry?'

A silence fell over the both of them as the clock struck silently twelve. Sirius glanced at its golden hands as he sighed heavily. 'Well, as of a minute ago, he's fifteen years old, with the weight of the world upon his shoulders. The tournament really took it out of him. But something tells me he's too much his father's son to stay like that for long.'

They allowed themselves to smile for a moment; both diverging into their own private memories of a friend long since passed. For the first time since he'd left Hogwarts, Sirius began to feel his exterior falter. He swallowed sharply and regained his composure.

'Harry is safe for now. That's all we have to worry about.' He stood up.

'Sirius!' Remus exclaimed, outraged by his friend's sphere of concern. 'Voldemort's back! No one is safe!' He almost yelled, the sound quelling in his throat as Sirius attempted to silence him with a glance. He continued indignantly. 'And what can we do if the Ministry isn't on our side? They'll be hunting you down - excuse the pun - like a dog. Voldemort's right hand man is still at large. This is too risky. If you're found you'll be hexed on the spot.'

Sirius spun around with his eyes full of fire.

'Since when did that stop me before?'

***

Something was definitely different. Claudia hadn't felt it for a long time, but when it came back, it washed over her like a flash flood, never to cease. Fear. The terrible, gut feeling that something was going to happen, something so awful that it electrified the air with its probability. Her sister Lucy had always put it down to over-sensitivity. She'd mentioned to Claudia once what she'd read in a book somewhere - a common problem in the visually impaired was that their other senses over compensated to make up the difference. But this was stranger still, like something outside her sphere of sensitivity was trying to alert her to danger. It was like a sixth sense, but without the dead people. Not that she'd see them anyway.

She'd felt like this since the end of June on a star-less night when a scream echoed vividly in her dreams, manifesting itself in reality through a retched cry that awoke the rest of the household. She hadn't dreamed in months. The pills the doctor had prescribed her seemed to be very effective, calming her down tremendously since the glass incident. But this dream had broken the drug-induced barrier. As she explained to Lucy the next morning over coffee, she knew the exact reception it was likely to receive.

'It was that man again - you know, the little round-faced one I saw in Covent Garden. He was in pain... I could feel it. Something was draining from his arm, hot, sticky like. I felt like I was swimming through it...'

Lucy subjected her to that usual bout of silence, as if to say she was truly off her rocker. Claudia continued, choosing to ignore it. She needed to get it off her chest.

'There were masked faces everywhere, it was horrible. Everyone was so scared. And the worst thing of all there was this boy, couldn't have been more than a teenager. He was screaming as if his nerves were on fire.' She gulped as the memory of the dream became too painful to divulge. 'And that's what woke me up.'

'And the rest of the house…' muttered Lucy, disapproving and clearing the cups away. 'Have you been taking your tablets? Maybe we should up the dosage...'

'No.'

Lucy fell silent at her sudden protest. By the tense nature of the silence, it appeared that she was unsure exactly how to respond. Claudia sank back in her seat, unsure where her temporary insolence came from. She hated the dreams, the nightmares, more accurately. They felt more real than any of her visual memories did. It was as if they didn't belong to her but she'd watched them, over and over, like a battered movie reel torn at the edges, lacking in final detail leaving her thirsting for more. And that scream... it had seemed so familiar, like the wretched moaning of a voice she once knew, one that had spoken to her before, pleadingly. Just thinking about it she got goose bumps all the way down her spine. The voice was going to come back.

'Sorry, Lucy. I just have this horrible feeling something's going to happen. It's as if the dreams are the key to it.' The words felt ridiculous as soon as they left her mouth.

'Doing your best Cassandra impression, heh?'

'You could say that.'

 

***

Dear Harry

I don't believe it! I think you've cracked it! I totally agree with you - it looks as if one of the witnesses slipped the net. There's some Muggle wandering around, totally oblivious to the fact they hold the key to everything. Makes you want to laugh out loud at the irony of it all, doesn't it?

Anyway, Hermione's gone home now, but I think she's trying to talk her folks into rescuing you from that dungeon pit from hell otherwise known as the Dursleys. We all really hate the idea of you being cooped up in there. Don't give up yet, I'm really working on it.

Ron

PS Don't do anything stupid. You know what I mean. Hermione says hello.

Harry sighed wearily as he read the letter for the umpteenth time, his brain fizzing with scams and ideas that hadn't a hope of working. The excitement of the discovery had faded into a flickering light on the horizon, always just that one step away and totally unattainable. It was a horrible feeling, knowing that someone out there was wandering about with the memory of one of the many incidences that resulted in his scarred childhood. Something that could have so easily been avoided if it wasn't for that excuse for a rodent. And he didn't have the faintest how to snatch it.

The letter which was now at rest on his bedside table was a few days old at least - you could never tell with owl post - and the long, warm haze of summer was making it feel even more so. Hedwig hadn't been back for a couple of days. When she'd delivered the letter from Hermione, she'd quickly fled back into the night, barely pausing to award Harry his usual friendly nip around the ears. Harry thought she'd hurried off to satisfy the growl in her stomach with an unfortunate mouse that chose exactly the wrong moment to emerge from its safe haven. Harry wasn't too bothered. Hedwig was quite an unpredictable tyke and liked to surprise him. She was all too aware of this self-imposed isolation. Dumbledore hadn't exactly said Harry couldn't leave the Dursleys anytime during the vacation, but he could imagine the look that graced his face when Dumbledore explained this to a worried Mrs Weasley: Serious, pained and the sparkle that lurked behind his half moon glasses hideously dimmed. He wouldn't put Harry through this unless he had sound reason. And he always had sound reason. Harry trusted him.

He tore his eyes away from the open window and attempted to focus on his transfiguration essay regarding the moral implications of human transfigurations. But not even McGonagall's Animagus abilities could inspire him on this summer's day. Especially when considering Hedwig chose that moment to make her most dramatic entrance yet.

For a minute, Harry didn't know what was happening. He felt a rush of wind ruffle his hair and he swung round on his chair just in time to see a bundle of snowy feathers tumble off the bed and out of sight. Judging by its frantic flutterings, for a moment Harry thought it was Ron's owl, Pigwidgeon. But all too soon the familiar hooting and scrambling to climb back onto the floral duvet revealed the owl's true identity.

Harry stood up and rushed to Hedwig's aid, as she was unable to move due to the weight of the parcel. Harry frowned a little as he unwound the various coils of string to release Hedwig from her bind. Hooting gratefully in the process once she was finally liberated, Hedwig immediately took off to settle back on her perch. Harry watched her in flight for a second. She seemed a little shaken, probably from the weight of the package and the possible length of her flight, and her eyes were rather unfocused as she swayed in her cage before drifting off to some well-earned sleep. Harry took this chance to examine the package. It was about the size of a large sweet tin, wrapped securely in brown paper and twine that he proceeded to tear apart with a slight glaze of bafflement across his emerald eyes. Another birthday present? He wasn't entirely sure. He wasn't disappointed when he didn't get a gift from his Godfather, as he wasn't really expecting it. The adults in his life had their own battles to fight over the break, Hagrid somewhere in the Alps on the trail of his mother among the giants, Sirius rounding up what Dumbledore referred to as 'The old crowd.' Harry had learned a long time ago that Dumbledore always knew what he was doing. Nevertheless, he shredded the brown paper and whatever it was concealing tumbled out onto the cast-off floral duvet that currently covered his bed. The sun caught the glass it was encased in for a second, splattering his walls with an array of spectrum coloured light dancing across the shelves before it came to rest. He gasped.

It was an hourglass, much larger than Hermione's time turner from the third year, and much more elaborately decorated. The sand inside it was almost white, specked occasionally with a darker grain that made it an uncertain shade of yellow, yet maintaining an air of trusting purity. He picked it up cautiously, rolling it over in his hands as he examined the craftsmanship, the glass shielded in elegantly carved mahogany wood, with words engraved around its edged that he didn't recognise. It felt incredibly heavy. Mystified as to its origins, he frowned slightly and turned it over to examine the base where yet another inscription lay.

'Tempus,' he muttered out loud under his breath, fingers tracing the heavily engraved letters. Tempus? The frown on his face became fully formed as he thought long and hard about this word. It seemed familiar, Latin at least. He closed his eyes and tried to remember, returning the hourglass to its upright position as he thought it over in his head.

'Tempus?' he whispered again, wishing he had the walking talking Latin dictionary in the form of Hermione right now. 'Tempus, Tempus, Tem - '

Then he tried to pull his fingers away from the hourglass, but found them apparently sealed to the poles that encased its delicate form, rapidly burning to the touch. It was glowing. In the panic that now settled in his chest, he attempted to rip the thing from his grasp but to no avail. It was glowing brighter still, the light burning his eyes slightly as he was able to cover them with the sleeve of his shirt. He tried to cry out as the burning in his fingertips became unbearable, but no sound came to the fore. The colours around him blurred and spun frantically and more painfully than he'd ever experienced. Then with a final, muffled attempt at a cry, everything went black.

***

When he finally dared to open his eyes, he found himself huddled in a doorway and had to catch himself before he stumbled onto the cold, hard pavement. He gasped, his first breath virginal like that of a creature emerging from the dark depths for the first time in its life. It reminded him strongly of his initial gulp of air after he emerged from the Hogwarts lake at the end of the second task. The memory made him shudder, but didn't distract him from the scene that was unveiling before his eyes. Chaos.

He wondered for a moment whether he'd Dissapparated into the middle of a war zone. There was glass everywhere in the street in front of him that he now staggered down, still a little dazed from his unexpected journey. Was it another Portkey? As the thought crossed his confused mind he gripped his wand tighter in his pocket, the other hand still gripping the hourglass like a vice. He stared at it for a moment, holding it out at arm's length during his examination, a suspicious gaze now forming across his face. He hadn't asked to be taken there - he in fact had little idea where the object had taken him. It was as if it was setting the agenda. Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain... It wasn't the first time he wished he'd taken more heed of Mr Weasley's advice. Finally able to prise it from his fingers, he stuffed it in his pocket and continued to stare at the scene. It looked like the end of the world. Injured people here and there were having various cuts and bruises tended to by Muggle paramedics. The more serious being lifted onto stretchers and carted off to a collection of ambulances who now and then let off a squeal of a siren as they dashed off into the busy London streets. And a sickening but unfortunately significant number lay covered with blood splattered sheets. He knew where he was now, glancing up at a street name fastened high on a corner building, which read Monmouth Street, WC2. Central London. If his memory served him correctly, he was somewhere near Covent Garden.

'Get back, please, get back!'

He heard a voice suddenly approach him, somewhat shaky and lacking in authority, but one that caught his attention and brought him back to reality with a very sharp thud. It couldn't be... no, it was impossible... Then a voice echoed through his memory of a conversation overheard back in the Three Broomsticks...

'I was junior minister at the department of magical catastrophes at the time, and I was one of the first on the scene after Black murdered all those people. I - I will never forget it. I still dream about it sometimes...'

It was Cornelius Fudge, but not as Harry had ever seen him. This man was at least a decade younger, his eyes wide and panicky at the scene all around him, looking incredibly uncomfortable in his tweed Muggle suit. He didn't even cast Harry a second glance. Harry was now attempting to flatten his hair across his scar, which was currently aching from some unknown blow. Harry screwed up his eyes for a second as all this new information began to be processed. Mr Fudge obviously had too many things on his mind as Harry began to edge away from the scene to observe from a distance. The crater in the middle of the quad was smoking still, cracks in the pavement reaching out from its epicentre like cruel, creeping fingers out towards the survivors on its edges. And judging by the occasional piles of rags and covered heaps in the road, these seemed to number few.

Harry turned suddenly to face the doorway he was now standing in as the realisation hit him so hard he was physically sick, all colour now draining from his face along with the contents of his stomach. He felt faint and dizzy, as if he'd done a round the world trip by floo power after a rather nasty Indian curry. Luckily, Fudge hadn't seen him and was back on the job, advising the memory charm squad of people to watch as they attempted to put their wands out of sight, considering the sheer volume of Muggles they were having to deal with. There was also the small matter of the gibbering wreck of a wizard backed up against the wall from the other side of the square. The man, noticeable due to his choice of wizard attire, had his dark eyes open wide, hair a little swept back from the blast, but was visibly shaking with a mixture of fear and hysteria. He was a man on the verge of madness. A man who was all too aware of the fate that lay ahead of him. A man that, a few days earlier, had lost everything dear to him in the world through the actions of one little rat.

'Sirius...' Harry whispered.

Harry watched the event for himself as Sirius was taken down. Heavily armed hit-wizards dressed as Muggle CID officers handcuffed him without a struggle. The satisfied looks upon their faces were enough to make Harry feel like emptying his stomach again. Sirius looked around the quad desperately, knowing that he was hardly going to be believed, seeing straight through Harry like everyone else before being pushed headfirst into a ministry car and speeding away from the scene, his strangled cry echoing around the tragic scene. His twelve-year booking at the hotel a la Azkaban had just been confirmed.

Harry swallowed the feeling to vomit again as he wandered out of his hiding place and among the debris. The hourglass must have been some sort of time turner gone hideously wrong. He'd got the impression that that sort of contraption could only transport you back over a matter of hours, not years... and who had sent it to him? And how did he set it off? Most of all, how for all the gold in Gringotts was he supposed to get back? Whatever did it, it certainly did it well. He was now firmly stuck in what by all evidence looked like London in early November 1981, just after the fateful gas explosion that set off so many chains of events that it made Harry feel faint again just trying to think about it. Dumbledore's instructive tones echoed through his mind again... You must not be seen... and for once he took it straight to heart. He realised what exactly had been handed to him on a plate. The perfect opportunity to find them. Someone who wasn't going to be at the negative end of a memory charm by the time the day was out. The missing witness from the records.

'Hermione's going to kill me...' he thought as he backed down the street and flagged down a taxi for Charing Cross hospital.

***

'Harry!'

Silence.

'Harry, you retched boy! Get your sorry little behind down these stairs and mow to front lawn! Its beginning to look like the Amazon rainforest!'

Silence once again. Aunt Petunia sighed. Maybe he'd gone for good. She mentioned it to Vernon, who had parked his own oversize behind in the chair by the new gas fire. He barely looked up.

'We can only hope...' he muttered from behind the newspaper.

***

 

//
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