Charlie leaned forward so that he could see around Alison Pemberly’s head; she’d played chess and then Exploding Snap with them until about an hour ago and then she’d gone unnaturally quiet and turned toward the window.
Dawn Carter, the soon-to-be-former Head Girl had been unabashedly sobbing for the last half hour, much to the amusement of everyone in the compartment, though the ribbing had been more subdued than in previous years; even Tom Durban - a Slytherin - had only made a few jibes before shuffling over to put an arm around her.
Charlie glanced at the buildings which were becoming more and more frequent and then settled back into his seat again, scratching Canis’ ears for good measure. Tonks’ little cat purred and leaned into the touch and Tonks herself peered over the top of the book she was reading and glared at them both. The cat stopped purring immediately and glared back until Tonks hid behind her book again.
Charlie, determined to make the most of his remaining time on the train, pulled out his sketchbook and - with a few pats as coercion - was able to rest it on Canis. He flicked through to his half-finished dragon and - once he’d located his stick of charcoal - added another line that would form the basic structure of the dragon’s wing.
He frowned and added another line and then moved the book back a little. He muttered a quick spell to siphon the charcoal off and tried again. After the third repeat of this, Tonks huffed noisily and yanked the book out of his grip. Canis made a swipe for her hand but missed.
“This looks fine to me,” she said, examining the sketch.
“Hold it up,” Charlie said. She did. He stared at it with narrowed eyes and then nodded. “That’s actually not bad,” he said,
“For a Gryffindor,” Tom drawled.
Charlie grinned. “You should put your reading glasses on, Durban. If you could see it properly, you might appreciate it for the work of art it really is.” Tom chuckled.
“Oh, so now you like it?” Tonks muttered. Charlie winked at her and tugged the sketchbook from her hands. He added spines down the dragon’s back and along it tail and was just shading the wing membranes when Dawn let out a particularly loud sob and the train slowed noticeably.
Tonks stuffed her book into her trunk and pulled it down from the luggage rack - almost knocking Alison’s head off in the process - and snatched Canis off of Charlie’s lap. Before the little cat could even realise it was his despised owner that was holding him, Tonks had stuffed him into his wicker basket and shut the lid. A furious hissing came from inside but she latched it without any trouble.
By the time the train had come to a complete stop, everyone’s things were down, making for very little leg-room and Dawn and Alison actually climbed over Tom’s trunk to reach Tonks. Tonks looked surprised; the only time she and the other girls had ever spent much time together was in the library, studying, or on train rides, like this, but she accepted the hugs with a bemused smile and the girls hugged Charlie, waved at Tom and then went on their ways.
Tonks and Charlie were the last to leave because Charlie knew she’d have no hope of navigating the train until most of the students were on the platform.
“That’s it,” Tonks said with a sad little smile as she and Charlie hopped off the train.
“Not for me,” Charlie said, passing Canis’ basket down to her. It hissed as Tonks grabbed it and she poked her tongue out at it. “I’ll come to see Perce and the twins off next year and then Ron two years later and Ginny the year after that.”
“Not if you go dragon-taming,” she said with a smile. “Norway, isn’t it?”
“Romania,” he said. “And that’s a big if. Bill had to fight for days to let Mum let him go to London.”
“London and Romania aren’t that different,” Tonks said thoughtfully. Charlie gave her a disbelieving look. “They’re not. I don’t think it matters where you are, it’s the fact that you’re not home.”
“Maybe,” Charlie said, not quite convinced. He reached out and caught Tonks as she stumbled over a first year. Canis hissed again from his basket.
“Sorry,” she called cheerfully as the boy flushed and hid behind his parents. Charlie laughed. “Oh, shut up.”
“Nymphadora! Hey, Nymp-”
“Call me ‘Nymphadora’ one more time...” Tonks muttered, spinning around. Her blue hair turned purple and then red. She sighed when she spotted Booth and Williams fighting through the crowd to get to them and her hair went back to blue.
“So they get away with calling you by your first name?” Charlie asked, playfully indignant.
“They’re Hufflepuffs,” she muttered. “They’re too polite to know better.” She tugged his Gryffindor scarf, tripped on her own feet and nearly strangled him with it. Charlie gasped. “Gryffindors,” she said recovering, “on the other hand, do it for the thrill.”
“Oh, come on, there’s always a very good chance you’ll get an earful or a hex. How many detentions did I get this year?”
“Less than in previous years,” Charlie said.
“Still considerably more than you,” she said, proudly. “Wotcher,” she added as Booth and Williams appeared beside her.
“Hi, Nymph- er- Tonks, sorry,” Williams said.
“Hi,” Booth said.
“Weasley,” Williams added. Charlie supposed these two were to him what Dawn and Alison were to Tonks; friends of hers and therefore friends of his, but only really by association.
“Charlie! Charlie - oh, sorry, Ron - Charlie, over here!” Charlie could see Mum and the rest of the family - minus Dad and Bill - waving frantically from beside a pillar.
“That’s me,” Charlie said, grinning. He waved back to let Mum know he’d seen them, gave Tonks a quick hug and nodded at Booth and Williams. “I’ll see you all later.”
“Make sure you remember to write!” Tonks said at once. “If you don’t, I’ll write to Tom and make him make you write back!”
“Tom won’t write,” Charlie laughed. “When’s he ever answered a letter?”
“Even more reason for you to write. Between the pair of you-” Tom wanted to be a dragon Healer and would probably go to Romania with Charlie. Charlie was glad he’d have a familiar face there, and thought Tom was too, but Tom was too much of a Slytherin to admit it. “- I want a letter a week! I don’t want to have to go all the way to Norway-”
“Whatever. It’s still a long way away and I don’t want to have to go all the way there just to give you a talking to!”
“If that’s what it takes to get you to visit...”
“Bye, Canis,” he said, tapping the basket. The cat mewled curiously. Tonks scowled and he hissed.
“Shut up,” she said, giving the basket a little shake. She gave Charlie one last hug and then vanished into the crowd with the other two.
Charlie parted a sea of fourth year girls and made his way toward his family. Before he could reach Mum, however, a small, skinny figure collided with him. “Charlie!” Ginny cried.
“Gin,” he said, ruffling her hair. She flattened it and pulled away, wrinkling her nose. He scooped her off the ground and tossed her over his shoulder easily, like he would with his broom on the way back from practice. She squealed and kicked. Charlie pretended to the struggle was too much and set her down again, puffing dramatically. “What happened, kiddo? You’ve grown since Christmas!”
“I’m taller than Ron now,” she said happily, seizing his hand.
“With the way he eats? I don’t believe it.”
“It’s true,” she said, towing him toward the rest of the family. “Look.” She released him and went to stand beside Ron and was indeed taller.
Mum hugged him tightly and then fussed over his hair. “Dad’s come straight from work - he’ll meet us at the car.”
“He didn’t have to do that,” Charlie said, touched.
“He wanted to,” Mum said, smiling. “Oh, Charlie, I can’t believe I’ve got two sons out of school!”
“You’ve got lots of sons out of school,” Fred pointed out, ushering her out of the way so he and George could hug Charlie. “It’s holidays.”
“But when it’s not-” Mum said.
“You’ve still only got Perce,” George said. “We haven’t started yet and neither’s ickle Ronnikins.”
“They call you ickle now?” Charlie asked, laughing as he turned his attention to his youngest brother. Ron wore an odd expression – as if he didn’t know whether he wanted to smile at Charlie or scowl at Fred and George – but the grin won out, splitting his freckled face.
“Yeah,” he said a little ruefully. “I’m the shortest Weasley.”
Charlie hugged him. “You’re the shortest male Weasley,” he corrected. And privately, he didn’t think it would be for much longer; Bill, Percy and Ginny had always been tall and thin for their respective ages, though Bill was about average height now and he suspected Ginny would stop growing early and be short like Mum. He and the twins had always been shorter and stockier. Ron fit into neither group; he seemed to have gained a little weight – his face was a little rounder than Charlie remembered it being at Christmas – but if that weight was there to stay, Tonks wasn’t a Metamorphmagus. “Ginny’s the shortest female.”
“Ginny’s the only female,” George said. Ginny scowled.
“I don’t know,” Fred said. “If Perce grew his hair out...”
“Where is Percy?”
“Dunno,” Ron said, straining to see through the crowd.
“Don’t bother looking,” Fred told him.
“Yeah,” George said, grinning, “leave that to the taller Weasleys.”
Ron made a face and then said, “There he is!”
“What?” Fred demanded.
“Where?” George asked.
“Clearly height isn’t everything...” Ron said slyly as Ginny dashed off into the crowd.
Five minutes later they were all - well, minus Bill but he’d be there for dinner - off. Mum, Dad, George and Ginny sat in the front seat; Ginny was on Dad’s lap and kept moving so he had to look around her to see the road. George was watching Dad drive with a shrewd expression, and every now and then he would turn and share a look with Fred. If Charlie didn't know better, he'd swear they were trying to learn how to drive the thing... And then he shook his head; playful as the twins were, he didn't think they'd try anything like that.
Charlie himself was between Percy - who was looking out the window, clearly missing school already - and Ron who was talking animatedly about a trip to Diagon Alley.
“-in the Leaky Cauldron and this boy fell out of the fireplace, right.”
“Right,” Charlie muttered, not really listening.
“Well, we didn’t think anything of it at the time but do you know who it was?”
“No, do tell,” Charlie said, yawning.
“It was Harry Potter!” Ginny shrieked from the front seat. Dad jumped and had to swerve at the last moment or he would have crashed the car.
“Ginny! Not while your father’s driving!” Mum said crossly.
“Sorry,” Ginny said, not looking sorry at all. She climbed over George, over the back of the seat and wedged herself in between Ron and Fred. “Tell him about it, Ron,” she said, her brown eyes bright.
Charlie was listening with interest now; he knew quite a bit about the Potter-Black case because Tonks wanted to be an Auror and had often regaled him with newspaper articles. Ron nodded eagerly. “So he came out of the fireplace and talked to us for a bit and then he left and I went to the bathroom but when I came back, I walked right into him again. He was wearing his glasses this time, though, and I recognised him and he told me not to tell and then some lady saw him too and then he ran.”
“We were interviewed and everything,” Ginny said huffily. “I thought the reporters were so rude. He seemed really nice and all they care about is a story for their silly paper.”
“We didn’t tell them anything,” Ron said proudly. “And then Mum got in a fight with a reporter that tried to follow us home.”
“It was wicked,” Fred said. “She had her wand out and everything.”
“Didn’t know you had it in you, Mum,” Charlie said, impressed. Mum looked rather flattered.
“What else has been going on?” Percy asked.
“The gnomes are back,” Mum sighed.
“Dad helped Ron and I-”
“Ron and me,” Percy corrected. Fred booed him.
“Dad helped Ron and me,” Ginny continued, smiling at Percy, “build a house for them in the backyard.”
Charlie grinned. “Can you show me when you get home?”
“First thing,” Ron said, nodding. “But the painting’s bad.”
“Blame Ginny for that,” Fred said.
“It looks like a Unicorn threw up on it,” George said. “All bright and sparkly.”
“It looks nice,” Ginny said defensively. Fred, George and Ron exchanged looks.
“I’m sure it does,” Charlie said, shifting so he could grin at Dad in the rear-view mirror.
* * *
“No more school work,” Alfred said. “And do you know what?”
Tonks pulled her eyes off of Charlie - who’d just been hugged by his little sister Ginny - and laughed. “What?”
“I’m actually going to miss it,” Alfred said, pulling a face.
“I’m not,” Keith said. “I’m going to join our local Quidditch team and teach the younger kids how to play.”
Alfred’s eyes brightened at that. “Do you reckon I could help?” Alfred, Tonks knew, wanted a job in the Department of Management and Control of Magical Children.
“Sure,” Keith said, shrugging.
“Brilliant- Oh, that’s Bec.” He waved at a tall girl with short blond hair - Alfred’s younger sister Louise was there too - hugged Tonks, shook Keith’s hand and dragged his trunk toward them.
Tonks waved at Rebecca who smiled and waved back; she’d been Head Girl in Tonks’ fifth year. “It’s nice of her to come and get them,” she said.
Keith shrugged. “She doesn’t have much choice, since Alfred failed his Apparition test.”
“She could have made them catch the Knight Bus,” Tonks pointed out.
“I guess.” He fidgeted, looking quite nervous. “So, got any plans for the summer?”
“I’m spending some time with Mum and Dad,” Tonks said, smiling at the thought. “Mum’s offering a few galleons if I help her out at the bank so I might do that for a bit and Dad says I’m always welcome at the station so I’ll probably be there quite a bit too. How about you?”
“Quidditch, like I said,” Keith muttered. He scuffed his trainer on the ground and then looked up hopefully. “I was wondering, though, if you’d like to catch up at some point?”
“Of course!” she said. “We aren’t about to fall out of contact, Keith.”
“Great,” Keith said, smiling.
“Just send me an owl or something to say you aren’t busy.” She checked her watch and made a face. “I’ve got to go - I told Dad I’d be there by five...”
“Yeah, that’s fine. I told Mum I’d help her with dinner.” They hugged and then he vanished into the throng of students and Tonks headed back toward the train.
She used the window as a mirror and lengthened her hair until it rested on her shoulders, made it brown and changed her eyes to a nice blue - the same colour her hair had just been. She left her face as it was - pale and heart-shaped - returned her nose to its usual shape - small and buttony - and then, willed a smattering of freckles into existence. She examined herself critically, shrugged and grabbed her trunk.
She knew it would be easier to Disapparate from the platform, but nostalgia made her want to walk out into the muggle world one last time, so she set off through the crowd.
This is it, she thought sadly, facing the wall. She took a last glance over her shoulder at the scarlet steam engine and then squared her shoulders. She lifted her trunk and Canis’ basket and strode through. A muggle man gave her an odd look and then shook his head and walked away. It’s funny how muggles go out of their way to ignore magic, she thought, smiling slightly as she headed through the station.
“Are you still there?” she asked Canis, who hissed again. “You’re just lucky I didn’t leave you at school,” she told him. He hissed again. “Yes, well I don’t like you much either.”
“Mother, we’re late!” a little girl screeched, hauling her mother toward the barrier Tonks had just come out of. “Bertram and Clarice are probably the last ones there!”
The mother, a tall, willowy woman with dark hair - the little girl looked a lot like her, but smaller - sighed and said, “Go ahead then, Astoria, and let them know we’re on our way.”
“Why does she get to go?” a blond girl demanded as the little one ran off with a delighted yell.
“You’re welcome to go too,” the woman replied calmly. The blond gave the woman a suspicious look and ran after the little dark-haired girl. “Are you going too, Vivienne?”
“No,” said the third girl who was also dark-haired. “If Clarice gets more time with Edmond, she’ll be happier all holidays.”
The woman laughed. “Is that so?”
“Yes,” the little girl said matter-of-factly. She saw Tonks looking and smiled. Tonks smiled back and then collided with something soft and dropped Canis’ basket. It burst open and the cat stuck his head out and glanced around the station before darting away.
“Watch it!” a heavy man with a bushy moustache said.
“Sorry!” she said, righting her trunk.
“As you should be,” an equally large woman said. “Youths these days! No respect for anyone anymore. She’s as bad as that boy of yours-”
Tonks prepared herself to be berated, but the man’s expression changed dramatically at the mention of this mysterious boy. He seemed to forget about Tonks altogether.
“He’s gone!” the man said brightly as they walked away. “Clearly you haven’t been reading the papers, Marge...”
Tonks picked Canis’ basket off the station floor and set it on top of her trunk. “Here,” the girl said, holding Canis out.
“Thank you,” Tonks said. Canis hissed at her and sank his claws into the girl’s jumper. “Sorry,” she said, prying the little cat free. “He’s not very well behaved.”
“What’s his name?”
“That’s a funny name.”
“Vivienne!” the woman said, looking embarrassed. “I’m terribly sorry-”
“It’s all right,” Tonks said cheerfully, stuffing her cat back into his basket. She winked at the girl. “I gave him a funny name on purpose.” She smiled and the mother seemed to relax a bit. “Thanks again,” Tonks said, gathering her things.
The pair continued towards the platform, while Tonks headed out of the station and into muggle London. She pulled her trunk and Canis’ basket down an alley, checked for muggles and then Apparated into a storage room in the studio. Canis yowled, making her jump.
She swore and steadied the box of tapes she’d almost knocked over. Tonks spent a moment in the darkness with her ear pressed up against the door and once she’d decided there was no one there, stepped out into the bright hallway.
She was waiting by the lift - Canis was still grumbling in his basket - when it opened and three people stepped out. Two were very professional looking, a man and a woman, both with short, sleek hair and pinched expressions. The third stopped when he saw her. “Dora!” Jim said, giving her a bright, very white smile.
“Jim!” Tonks said, delighted. He and Dad had worked together since she was born and she’d spent a lot of time in the studio as a kid. She dropped her trunk so she could give him a hug.
“I thought you might have been too old for hugs,” he said, letting her go.
“Never,” she said. “How’ve you been?”
“Not too bad, thanks,” Jim said. “Dawes - you know Kevin Dawes, the weatherman?”
“I think Dad’s talked about him,” Tonks said, frowning.
“Dad’s talked about him...” Jim said, shaking his head. “Of course he has; he’s the longest serving weatherman in London!”
“When did he join the station?”
“A few years back,” Jim said. He shook his head. “Anyone would think you didn’t watch the news.”
“I don’t always,” she said, shrugging.
“You must be in the minority. My brother can’t pull his kids away from the television. Anyway, Dawes is retiring in March and he’s training me up to take his place.” He straightened his tie importantly.
“Brilliant,” Tonks said.
He smiled. “I’m looking forward to it – I’ve only done the weather a few times, and most of those were years ago, before Dawes worked at this station. Here, we’re blocking the hall.” He picked her trunk up and led her down the corridor. “I hear you’ve just finished school?”
“Makes me feel old,” he said ruefully. “I still remember when you were five and wore that big knitted hat everywhere.”
Tonks was startled into laughter. “I remember that,” she said; until she’d turned seven, she hadn’t had proper control of her Metamorphmagus abilities and had had to wear the hat everywhere to cover her hair, which had been - and still was - the part of her that changed most readily.
“You wouldn’t take it off, even in summer,” he said fondly. “So how’s it feel?”
“What? Being free of the hat? It’s great.”
“No, you duffer. Finishing school.”
“Oh.” She laughed. “A bit sad, really, but I think I’m ready to face the real world.”
“Know what you’re going to do?”
She tried to remember the name for muggle law enforcers and couldn’t. A conversation from a few weeks back drifted through her head. “Politics,” she said, to buy herself time. And it sounds like that, too... pilates? Pol-something...
“Politics? You? Really?”
She laughed. “No, not really. I was thinking I might join the police force.”
He chuckled. “Now that I’ll believe. Here we go.”
Tonks blinked at the door that said Ted Tonks. “It’s moved. When-?”
“Last week,” Jim said. “Some idiot from advertising decided he wanted a better office so your dad swapped.”
“Because Parker would have quit otherwise and he’s too valuable,” Jim sighed. “Ted doesn’t mind much, I don’t think. He’s only here on afternoons anyway.” He knocked and pushed the door open.
“That and the less space I have, the tidier I have to be,” Dad said as they walked in.
Tonks took one look at the desk and smiled. “Dad, you don’t know how to be tidy.”
Dad hugged her. “I do so.”
“I’ve never seen it,” she said. She cleared a little patch on the desk and put the basket down. “Besides, I’m a slob and I certainly didn’t get it from Mum.”
“True,” Dad said. His eyes landed on Jim and he chuckled. “Oh, Jim, you didn’t need to carry that. You should have made her do it.”
“It’s fine, really,” Jim said. “Besides, she carried the cat.” Canis hissed to remind everyone he was there.
The phone rang. Dad had to shift several folders and his briefcase to get to it. “Ted Tonks speaking,” he said. “Yeah, there’s room.” He gestured wildly with one hand. Tonks recognised the old gesture and grabbed a blank sheet of paper and a muggle pen and passed them to him. He smiled and fumbled with the lid. “Mmmhmm.” He scribbled something down and then paused. “No!”
“What’s happening?” Tonks whispered but he waved a hand to quiet her.
“Yes... Yes... Yes, send through the details... No, but I’ll see what I can do... All right. Thanks, Sean.” He hung up and let out a gusty breath.
“Sean Green?” Tonks asked. Sean was an old school friend of Mum and Dad’s. He was a Slytherin - cunning to the core and talented, according to Mum - but the few times Tonks had met him he’d been nice too, and had no prejudices against muggles or muggleborns. A lot like Tom, really. To prove that, he’d gone into Muggle Liaisons, like Dad had, and he worked part-time with the Ministry and part-time with a muggle newspaper, to moderate what wizarding events muggles were exposed to, and how those events were presented.
Dad nodded. “Did you see anything suspicious when you were at the train station?”
“A woman was at... erm... killed.”
“Where?!” Tonks asked. “At the station?!”
“Just outside,” Dad said, looking pale.
“Did they catch whoever did it?” Jim asked.
“No. He disappeared.” Dad met Tonks’ eyes. “Right into thin air.” She nodded to show she’d understood. “But they’re looking.”
Jim shivered. “It’s uncanny how criminals do that. Anyone would think they were magical or something.”
Tonks baulked and clamped down on her instincts before her hair could turn bright pink for embarrassment, or perhaps white for shock. “Let’s just hope our side have magic too, then,” Dad said with an easy smile. He pulled a stack of papers toward him, added a note about the death, checked his watch and then said, “I’m on in five.”
“Tie,” Jim said as he stood.
Dad adjusted the offending article - it was black with little gold-yellow diamonds on it to show his house pride - and combed his hair out of his face with his hand.
“Tuck the back of your shirt in,” Tonks said critically.
Dad rolled his eyes. “I’ll be sitting down anyway,” he said, even as he fixed it.
The three of them left Dad’s office, though they said goodbye to Jim just before reaching the set - he needed to find Dawes before he went on.
“So what happened?” Tonks asked, nervously.
“A woman was taken.”
“Taken by who?”
“Greyback,” Dad said, his eyes flashing. Tonks closed her eyes for a moment. “Someone recognised him and contacted the Aurors. They’re looking now. She’ll either be found dead, or found bitten.”
“Why are you telling everyone she’s dead, then? She might be alive!”
“She’s a muggle,” Dad said heavily. “They’ve got half the Ministry searching and the other half trying to cover everything up; she’s been declared dead in the muggle world, which is what I’ve got to present tonight and I’m supposed to ask her family to come to a police station tomorrow, where they’ll speak with a team from Muggle Liasons.”
“That’s awful!” Tonks exclaimed. Dad nodded grimly. They set off again, only to turn a corner and stop when they spotted a woman hovering near the studio entrance. “Mum?” Tonks said.
“Surprise,” Mum said a little sheepishly, glancing at Dad.
“I didn’t know you were coming!” Tonks ran to her mother and hugged her. Next thing she knew, both of them were on the ground.
“Was that you or me?” Mum asked.
“Both,” Dad said helpfully, pulling them to their feet.
Tonks laughed but Mum squawked and flapped a hand. “Hair!” she said. “Nymphadora!”
“Sorry, sorry!” She scrunched up her face and her hair went back to the shoulder-length brown style it had been before, though it was tinged with red - from her mother’s use of her name. She always relaxed around family - or magical folk in general, really - and found her Metamorphmagus abilities behaved accordingly.
Mum gathered her up in another hug. “I can’t believe you’re finished. It’s going to be so wonderful to have you back at home again.”
Tonks exchanged an exasperated look with Dad but she tightened her arms around Mum. “You’ll get sick of me being around,” Tonks assured her. “Eating all your food, getting in your way, making the house messy...”
“Your father already does all of that,” Mum said fondly.
“You’ll be out of a job,” Tonks told Dad, who chuckled.
“How was the train ride home?” Mum asked. “I’ll bet you’re starving; I remember the food coming early-”
“You’re fussing, Dromeda,” Dad said with a smile.
“I’ve got my baby girl home,” Mum said, folding her arms. “I’m allowed to.”
“Baby?” Tonks asked. “I’m legally an adult!” Mum and Dad both gave her amused looks and then Dad wrapped an arm around Mum and led her down the corridor to the set. Tonks followed behind, muttering to herself about babies and delusional parents.
* * *
Harry landed with a thump. Padfoot jumped and fell off his chair. “What the hell just happened?” he asked, disgruntled.
Harry was a little winded but couldn’t feel any other damage. “Hit the wards,” he gasped, managing to sit upright. After learning that Padfoot and Harry intended to destroy the locket, Kreacher had all but reversed his personality; he was now fairly polite - though he still had his moments - had taken on all of the cooking and cleaning there was to be done, and with a lot of coaxing from Padfoot, agreed to come with them to the cave.
He’d also become a much better Apparition instructor, and Harry, had managed to Apparate for the first time last week, almost two and a half months after he’d started learning. Finally, the daily lessons were beginning to pay off; he’d been able to repeat the feat several times, but not with any consistency yet. Finite.
“Are you hurt?”
“Good.” Padfoot clambered back into his chair and shooed Harry off the table. Grinning Harry climbed down, retrieved his wand from the ground and thought, Ostendere me omnia. His vision flickered and in addition to what he could see with his eyes, he could see his magic, Padfoot’s, the faint white glow, flecked with Harry’s red and gold where he’d tried to Apparate before, and more on the table where he’d landed, covering an oblivious Padfoot. There were streaks of pale red hanging in the air where Padfoot had Summoned books the day before and then there was the web of wards.
Fiercely intricate - stranded with thin lines of murky green-black that was Padfoot’s dad’s magic - and the red that belonged to his godfather, there were more shades than Harry had ever seen and would ever be able to name. It was like a skin made of a thousand different fibres, clinging perfectly to the roof, walls and floor, but it was also alive, rippling and pulsing and every now and then, a hole would appear and be gone a second later. He didn’t need a second though, if he timed it right.
Harry steeled himself, one foot already beginning to twist. Another hole appeared, just above the door and Harry spun on the spot, mentally throwing himself at it, the rest of his mind already focusing on the ground floor study. Harry swore when he hit a hard surface and again when he bounced off of it and landed on the carpet. Finite.
Feeling rather dizzy, he made a mental note to thank his godfather for his much-expanded vocabulary. He picked himself up off the ground, rummaged through the desk for a few rolls of parchment, grabbed two quills and an inkwell, stuffed the whole lot in his robe pockets and then mentally murmured the spell that would let him see magic. He waited and then leapt through a fluctuating gap in the warding, hoping to make it back to the library.
“Oof!” For the second time in as many minutes, Padfoot found himself on the floor, though this time, Harry was there with him.
Finite, Harry thought and the magic vanished to his eyes. “Sorry,” he said, laughing as Padfoot lifted him off.
“Not a prob-” Padfoot made a funny choking sound and then doubled over, laughing.
“What?” Harry asked, emptying the contents of his pockets on the table.
“You’ve left your eyebrows and eyelashesbehind,” Padfoot chortled.
Harry lifted a hand and traced his forehead. The skin was completely smooth, or at least lower down was – his scar was still there. His eyelids were smooth too. He patted his ears to make sure they were still there - he’d done that the day before last - and while Padfoot had re-attached it without any trouble, it still itched terribly. “Can you fix it?”
“Nope,” Padfoot said without even looking up.
If Harry had had eyebrows, they would have arched. “What do you mean?”
“Well, kiddo, ‘nope’ is synonymous with ‘no’ which is basically a way of me saying I can’t or won’t do something. In this context-”
“I meant why not?”
“Ah, but you didn’t say it.” Padfoot grinned at him and the sight of Harry caused him to start chuckling again. Harry’s eyes narrowed. “And I can’t fix it because I don’t know any hair growth charms.”
“None?” Harry asked.
“Actually, that’s a lie: I know one hair charm, if you’re interested...” Harry watched him expectantly. Padfoot tilted his head and watched Harry thoughtfully. “You know, a beard might actually suit you...” Harry clapped his hands to his chin and turned away before Padfoot actually did it. Padfoot just laughed.
Harry retreated across the room, keeping a hand in front of his face the entire time and up and down one of the bookcase-walls, searching for a book that might help. Beauty Fixes, Finishes and Flourishes To Have Your Wizard Fantasising seemed like an unfortunately named book but did contain a whole chapter on the eye and eyebrow region of the face.
Harry passed the book to Padfoot who glanced over the page before pulling his wand and muttering the incantation. Harry’s face itched horribly and his eyes watered - growing eyelashes wasn’t exactly pleasant - and then it stopped. His forehead started to tingle as Padfoot cast another spell, and then the sensation faded. He lifted a hand to feel the results.
“It feels okay,” he said tentatively.
Padfoot glanced at him and frowned slightly. “I think your left eyebrow might be a little bit wonky,” he said critically, and with a slight grin. Harry frowned and reached up to touch it again. Padfoot’s grin widened and then he glanced at his stomach which had just growled loudly.
“Do we have any birthday cake left?”
“Dunno,” Harry said, shrugging, but all thoughts of wonky eyebrows vanished and a small smile forced itself onto his face; three days ago, it had been Harry’s ninth birthday. Harry hadn’t really known what to expect - Dudley was always horribly spoilt, and had been given thirty presents from his parents alone last year (a figure which would undoubtedly have risen this year) while Harry was lucky to get even a pair of socks.
He thought Padfoot, like the Dursleys (although Padfoot was certainly nicer about it), had done more than enough for him already, giving him a place to live, clothes - new ones, to replace most of Dudley’s awful ones - food and had also been giving him magic lessons.
As a result, Harry had been stunned when Padfoot presented him with a large supply of sweets, several books of spells, an Auror-quality target dummy and a new pair of trainers. The sweets alone had cost more than all of the presents Harry had ever received from the Dursleys and to top it off, Padfoot had had Kreacher help him bake and ice a birthday cake, which they’d surprised Harry with after dinner.
“Kreacher!” Padfoot called. The elf Apparated in and Padfoot requested birthday cake for both of them. Kreacher bowed and even made an odd facial expression that might have been a smile before vanishing so easily that Harry could only watch enviously. Kreacher didn’t leave his ears or - though he didn’t have them - eyebrows behind.
Padfoot seemed to know what he was thinking; he was very obviously fighting a smile. Harry made a face and flopped down on the couch where he’d been that morning. This morning, he’d been reading Simple But Effective Spells For Sticky Situations - which had been one of his birthday presents - but Harry could only spend so much time with his head in a book each day, so instead he played with the solid gold puzzle they’d found in Orion Black’s office.
Padfoot said it had belonged to Regulus when he was a few years younger than Harry, and that when one put all the pieces together, it formed a small snake that would slither when touched. Harry, however, had been trying for quite some time and was yet to make anything that even faintly resembled a snake and it was frustrating him as much as his attempts at Apparition.
“How’s it going?” Padfoot asked as Harry tried to force two jagged, circular pieces together. Harry glowered at him. “Oh, that well?”
“There’s always reading,” Padfoot said. “Can’t be too prepared, you know.” Harry threw a piece of the puzzle at him, but even as Padfoot threw it back and he lifted a hand to catch it, those words rang in his ears and Harry’s stomach gave an unpleasant jolt at the reminder of what was to come.