You are viewing a story from

Revolution by greengecko

Format: Novel
Chapters: 41
Word Count: 385,604

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Mild Language, Mild Violence

Genres: General, Horror/Dark, Action/Adventure
Characters: Harry, Hermione, Lupin, McGonagall, Snape, Tonks, Arthur, Ginny
Pairings: Harry/OC, Snape/OC

First Published: 09/07/2005
Last Chapter: 07/10/2007
Last Updated: 04/18/2011


Sequel to Resonance. Harry continues his Auror training and begins a journey of mastering his unusual and growing powers. Harry, with the help of his adoptive father, is finally making his own way, but fate and prophecy are never completely absent.

(written Sept 2005 - Nov 2006, so some book 6 canon, but no book 7)

Chapter 1: Year's End
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Introduction to the Sequel

This is the sequel to Resonance, which I'd recommend reading before reading this. In very quick summary though: (SPOILER ALERT for Resonance) Harry defeated Voldemort at the end of sixth year and, while he was stuck at Hogwarts over the summer, he and Snape came to an expected understanding. This understanding was helped by an episode in chapter 2 where Snape has to get Harry through a bad night after he has been maltreated by Crabbe and Goyle seniors. This understanding, through Dumbledore's prodding, becomes an offer of adoption. Many amusing scenes follow where various parties learn of this odd adoption, including Harry's friends, whom Harry hesitates a bit in telling. Harry gets through his seventh year with a parent around as a teacher, gets to visit the continent, applies for and is accepted into an Auror's apprenticeship with the Ministry and begins his training. Through this, Harry dates a number of people, but his heart is still stuck on Tonks, whom he is not allowed to date because she is now his boss. Not every loose end of Death Eater evil was tied up, and revenge found its way into Hogwarts and Snape is almost killed by one of his former associates. Harry sees all of this in his mind (in this AU he can see the Death Eaters as shadows) and comes to the rescue. In the end Snape not only gets far more than even with James Potter while beyond the veil, he even comes to feel guilty about it. Harry no longer sees Snape as a Death Eater shadow, so Snape in his risking becoming a ghost to return to Harry has actually, finally, redeemed himself.

This storyline is clearly now AU with the advent of book 6. The most glaring canon problems are: Madam Bones is not only alive and well, but is Minister of Magic. Snape's parents are both magical, but probably not much more adept at parenting than in actual canon. Snape lives in much nicer digs, although still old and a bit crumbly. Dumbledore is dead, but not offed by Snape, obviously. Harry likes Ginny, but not in that way, although she has made it clear she likes him. Ollivander is still around. I invented an Apparition which isn't totally off base, but given the lack of detail in book 6 regarding this I'm going to stick with mine, since it doesn't clash horribly. Some book 6 things are going to weasel their way into Revolution but their plot origin may be different from the original.

Chapter 1 - Year's End

By her side stood a tall, thin man, clad in black. His face was turned from us, but the instant we saw it we all recognized the Count -- in every way, even to the scar on his forehead.
-- Bram Stoker, Dracula

A single lamp upon a lone table lit the stone floor, providing a flickering yellow light. Frost framed the nearby window panes in a bristling white that glittered warm in the flame’s glow. Harry exhaled loudly and flipped ahead a few pages in the small, worn spell book he held before him. With a flick of his wand he tried the spell again to no effect. His scarred brow furrowed as he held the rough paper closer to his nose, just in case he was reading the incantation incorrectly or missing an arrow on the gesture diagram. Uttering a noise of impatience, he lowered the book and gazed at his efforts so far. The Christmas tree standing before him looked pretty plain with just blue lights hovering in it and nothing else. But the tree itself was a nice full one with an attractive aquamarine tinge to its outer needles. He had picked it up at a neighbor of the Burrow just that morning after the all-night party Ron had hosted. This party was on top of the late evening the night before, when he and his fellow Auror apprentices had celebrated reaching their sixth-month review.

Harry rubbed his neck and his tender right shoulder as he carefully reread—from the beginning—the chapter on fairy lights, frustrated and determined all the more by the apparent utter simplicity of the spells he was attempting. He winced. His shoulder was even sorer today than it had been immediately after his six-month review testing. At first, he had been pleased to be assigned to Mad-Eye Moody for his spell examination, but the old Auror had apparently seen more confidence in Harry than he liked and had proceeded to put Harry on his backside with an Alibappa spell that they had not learned, and in fact one Harry suspected none of the other full Aurors knew either given their puzzled expressions. As Harry had picked himself up off the floor and caught his breath, Moody had looked about as pleased as Harry had ever seen him.

It was a subsequent chain binding curse that had bruised his shoulder. Harry had been required not to counter it, but to cancel it once it had captured him. He had accomplished this in record time, but neglected to point out to his trainer, who gave Harry a rare grunt of approval, that he had no choice given how little he could breathe with the spell so tight.

Harry soothed his pride with determined and almost dark expectations about his one-year review. He couldn’t find a reference to the two difficult spells Moody had used, but he had sent a letter off to Penelope, a former girlfriend who lived in Switzerland, asking if she would check the archives where she worked. He was confident that she would find a source for them. Harry just had to work out a way of making sure Moody was his spell examiner next time as well.

Scratching his head, Harry decided to give the remaining fairy lights a go later. He put the book down on his stack of presents, noticing the one from Ginny on the top. This reminded him that he needed to work out how to convince her to trade brooms with him. If he just wrapped up his own broom, that would cause confusion. Instead, he sat down in the drawing room and began writing a charmed letter that would only let you open the second half of it after you had agreed to the first half. He wrote out: An unconventional present idea, but you must agree to it before you will be able to read the remainder of this letter.

Harry was just chuckling to himself, knowing how very batty that would make any Weasley, especially Ginny, when the doorknocker sounded. Harry set the parchments aside and quickly closed the ink bottle before answering the door.

“Elizabeth,” Harry greeted his neighbor, who was still recognizable although extensively bundled up and half-swallowed by the early evening dimness.

“Hope it’s all right to call?” she asked, sounding uncertain, but also smiling brightly with winter-flushed cheeks. She unwrapped her scarf, leaving her long brown hair to fall around her.

“Of course,” Harry insisted.

In the main hall she handed over a large box of unevenly shaped biscuits. “My mum made me bake these for you.”

“Thanks,” Harry said and made a show of opening the box. The scent from inside was hard to place. He plucked one out and gamely took a bite, chewing thoughtfully. “Delicious,” he said, hoping he didn’t sound uncertain. “What’s in them?”

“Ginger, carrot, pumpkin and courgette.”

Harry ceased chewing and peered at the bitten edge of the biscuit in his fingers. He resumed chewing and even managed to swallow. “In that case they are really quite good,” he honestly said.

“They’re from a 1960 issue of Witch Weekly my mum keeps around for the holiday recipes. Those won that year’s recipe contest, the theme of which was . . . “ Here she frowned at the ceiling as though trying to remember precisely. “Treats from things found rotting in the cellar.” She failed to notice Harry had stopped chewing again and went on with, “Mum makes them every year. It wouldn’t be Christmas without them.”

Harry was fairly certain that she was not joking. “There are a lot of them here . . . you wouldn’t mind if I take them into the Ministry, would you?”

“No, not at all,” she replied easily, to Harry’s great relief.

Her biscuit mission complete, Elizabeth clasped her hands, looked around the hall, spotted the tree and immediately headed that way. “You’re decorating,” she said happily. “My mum did our tree while I was visiting my aunt, so I didn’t get to help.” She picked up the book Harry had left open. “Do you want help?”

Harry, knowing Elizabeth wasn’t particularly adept at magic, shrugged in reply.

Elizabeth went on, “I love decorating trees. Can I borrow your wand?”

Surprised and curious how she would fare, Harry pulled his wand from his pocket. Elizabeth studied it for just a short hesitation and Harry expected that she was pondering what most people did: that it was the very wand that killed Voldemort. If it were, she recovered much quicker than most, and with a glance at the book incanted, “Feelichtrote,” while tapping one of the branches. A lovely red light sprouted into existence in that spot; the very charm Harry had given up on earlier.

“Do that again,” Harry said.

With a smile she obliged. She was pronouncing it differently than Harry expected, with gruff noises in the middle of the word. She added four more and said, “Enough red. How about yellow?” She flipped forward a page in the book and added copious yellow fairy lights to the tree, even reaching around the back with her long arms.

Harry took the book away while she was busy. “You’re pronouncing all of these strangely,” he commented as he looked over the spells. She grabbed the book back and flipped to the front and pointed out the cover page. Translated from Der Magische Tannenbaum, it read.

“Christmas trees are German, Harry,” she informed him in a teasing voice. “So, all the spells are German. How did you manage the blue?”

Feeling taken down a notch on top of his Auror testing, even though she sounded strictly amused, he said, “I’m not sure. Took a lot of tries.”

She brightened more as she gently paged through the battered pages of the book. “Zapfen are my favorite. Do you want to get a pitcher of water?”

A glance at the book showed an illustration of an icicle-laden tree. Harry fetched a pitcher from the kitchen. “You pour,” Elizabeth suggested. She selected a branch with no fairy lights and drew a circle around it with the wand. A puff of frozen air hovered around the branch. Harry poured a thin stream of water into the vapor and it hardened into spear of ice fixed firmly onto the branch. The fairy lights beyond glittered pleasantly in it. They did a whole tree and three pitcher’s worth, until the branches were beginning to sag.

“How long do they last?” Harry asked, taking the book up to read about them.

“A few weeks. Ours have never melted before we canceled the charms. Take it outside before you do.”

They both stepped back and admired their handiwork. “Thanks,” Harry gratefully said. He suspected that he might not have managed before Snape’s arrival tomorrow without her help.

“Goodness, but you have a lot of presents,” she said, noticing that the tall stacks were all his.

Harry shrugged. The Floo flared, startling Harry because he had lost track of the time. “Oh, that’s my dinner date.”

“Oops,” Elizabeth uttered. “I’ve been keeping you too busy.”

Harry brushed his hair back repeatedly with his hand during the walk to the dining room to greet Belinda. She gave him a quick kiss and hug before allowing him to lead her into the hall, where he could sense her stiffen through the hand he was still holding. “This is my neighbor, Elizabeth,” Harry said, doing introductions.

Elizabeth gave a dainty handshake to Belinda and said with casual aplomb, “Sorry to be in the way. I spotted this lovely tree in the Snape window and thought I’d stop in for a quick hello. I’ll just be going, if you’ll excuse me. Nice meeting you, Belinda. Have a nice holiday, Harry.” With that and some quick rebundling, she was gone. Harry, until that very smooth lie, had never considered that she might have sorted into anything but Ravenclaw had she gone to Hogwarts.

Turning to his date, Harry said, “It’s good to see you. You finally escaped the Minister.”

With a look of great annoyance she shook her head. “It was close. Almost ended up scheduled to trail along to some big party at a Lord’s manor. But I’ve got five days off. Not sure what I’m going to do with myself.”

“Bones is going to Lord Freelander’s party?” Harry asked, remembering that Fudge had been absent.

Belinda stopped and looked at Harry in mild surprise. “Yes. You know of it?”

“Went last year, but I turned it down this time ‘round.”

“We could have both gone,” Belinda said in clear disappointment.

Harry took up the box of biscuits from the chair and led the way back into the dining room where the house-elf, Winky, had set the table with candles and nice china. Belinda sniffed curiously, making Harry think quickly for an explanation for the odd biscuits. Until she asked eagerly, “Are those Rotting in the Cellar biscuits? My mum made those when I was a kid.”

Harry held the box open for her. She nibbled quickly through one, humming happily, and Harry experienced that displaced-from-the-magical-world feeling that he hadn’t had since he was a third-year at Hogwarts. “Want a butterbeer to wash those down?” Harry asked pleasantly when she took another. He hoped she accepted; it would make him feel better.

When they had finished dinner, Duck bones littered the plates and the candles had burned down to stubs. Harry sat back, feeling sleepy, not even caring that Belinda was eating yet another biscuit. His bum was sore, though, from Moody putting him forcibly on the floor. “Should we move somewhere more comfortable?” Harry suggested, trying not to frown at the memory of his review testing.

Belinda sat up straighter. “Sure,” she replied in a warm tone that caught Harry, who was thinking only of getting out of the hard straight-backed chair he was in, a bit by surprise. Scratching his ear, he led the way to the library, where they sat on the lounger, which wasn’t really a couch, but as close as it got. Harry, relaxing, leaned back and put one foot up.

“You aren’t going to sleep, are you?” Belinda asked, sounding startled.

Harry opened his eyes, which he had not meant to close. “No,” he denied, but after two long nights of parties in a row, it was a welcome idea.

With a doubtful, teasing smile, she leaned in closer and gave him a kiss. Harry winced as her shoulder bumped his when he tried to put his arms around her. “What’s that?” she asked.

“Um,” Harry hedged, and gingerly touched his shoulder. “My Auror review. I got knocked around by Mad-Eye. A bit hard, really,” he complained mildly, feeling now that the old Auror had been unnecessarily rough in making his point.

“Aw, did you get bruised?” She sounded almost sympathetic.

“Yes,” Harry breathed and opened the top buttons to pull the collar wide and reveal what he knew was an impressive, chain-imprinted bruise that wrapped around his right shoulder.

Belinda did gasp and said, “That looks terrible,” before leaning over and giving the bruise a light kiss.

“I don’t think that is going to help,” Harry commented, thinking that was perhaps a bit much. He wrapped her cashmere clad self up, ignoring the pain this time. She was pleasantly soft against him.

“No other bruises?” Belinda asked in a sly manner.

“None that I am telling you about,” Harry insisted.

- 888 -

Severus Snape stepped into his dining room from the hearth. One stub of candle flickered on the table, only feebly lighting the dark-paneled room. A hint of unfamiliar perfume hung in the air. He placed his small trunk on the floor, moved into the hall, and followed the lamplight toward the library, glancing in surprise at the gloriously glowing Christmas tree near the front windows. In the library he found Harry fast asleep on the lounger, his head tucked down into the crook of his arm, a telltale smear of red lipstick on his collar.

Quietly calling Harry’s name did not rouse him. Smiling faintly, Snape plucked Harry’s glasses from the table and hovered him off the lounger and carefully up the stairs. As Harry floated onto the bed, Snape wondered in mild concern at his ultra-deep sleep. He wondered with more alarm at the very distinct blue and green bruised imprint of a chain around Harry’s chest and shoulder that was revealed when the hover spell was canceled and his shirt fell aside.

“Harry,” Snape prodded loudly this time, while patting one limp arm well below the bruises.

Harry, hearing the stern, familiar voice, snapped awake, wondering groggily what he was in trouble for this time. “Huh?” Harry glanced around, surprised to find himself in his room and unable to piece the evening together quite properly as a result. Rubbing his eyes and sitting up slightly, he said welcomingly, “You’re home early.”

“Minerva dismissed the staff the evening before she originally planned to.” Snape crossed his arms. “I think, frankly, she was tired of us all. You should owl if you have a ladyfriend over so I’ll know not to drop in unexpectedly.” Glancing at Harry’s shoulder, he added in a disturbed manner, “Perhaps, though, you could use some closer monitoring.”

“I could?” Harry uttered doubtfully, thinking that the evening had turned out rather tame, what with his falling asleep repeatedly and all. In retrospect he kind of wished it had ended more interestingly.

Pointing as the bruises, Snape sternly demanded, “What is this?”

Harry squinted at his shoulder. “That was Mad-Eye,” he complained, and then looked around for his glasses, which Snape handed to him out of his pocket. Harry sat up to put them on and explained, “I drew Moody for my six-month review testing.”

“Ah,” Snape uttered in relief. “And how did that go? Besides the injuries, that is.”

Harry frowned, thinking of his results letter which was downstairs stashed with the other post. “All right, I guess. I got a 94 on my written examination, and 65 is passing,” he added more brightly. “Most of the questions were pretty easy, I thought.”

Harry was glad to see Snape, especially since he was looking very much his normal self, healed completely. Despite wanting to chat a bit, Harry yawned widely, followed by a sleepy nod of his head.

Snape said, “We’ll discuss it in the morning. Do you want something for the pain?”

Harry was already setting his glasses aside, intent on curling right back up. “No, it’s fine.”

In the doorway Snape turned. “The tree is rather impressive,” he said.

“Oh yeah,” Harry murmured, voice muffled by his pillow. “Merry Christmas.”

- 888 -

The next morning Harry sleepily arrived for breakfast with Kali, his bat-like violet pet, on his shoulder. He did not sense the mood shift in his guardian right away, even though Kali was strangely restless. Plates arrived and Harry happily buttered his toast and squashed his roasted tomato out over it. He was relishing having this quiet normalcy which he came so close to losing for good. It wasn’t until he started on his coffee that he noticed Snape had Harry’s six-month results beside his plate on top of the Prophet.

Harry’s glance at it was a cue to start, apparently, and Snape intoned darkly, “Your results are far less than impressive.”

Harry grabbed up the handwritten parchment, wondering if the scores had changed magically overnight. “I did well enough. On the written, especially.”

“Your score was third, behind two of your colleagues.”

“You don’t know the competition,” Harry insisted, thinking of the two bookworms, Kerry Ann and Vineet who always knew all the details of the readings, every day.

Sharply, Snape asked, “You are happy with third?”

Harry’s face twisted faintly. Some part of his score was due to joining Ron one evening two days before the exam, even though Harry had originally promised himself that he was going to go straight home every night and revise for the whole week before. “No, I guess not,” he conceded.

Snape wasn’t finished, however. “And you scored a 6 out of a possible 10 on your spell testing.”

Defensive now in response to Snape’s unexpectedly hard anger, Harry countered in kind, “Moody was really rough on me. Didn’t you see the bruises?” Kali, picking up Harry’s mood, stood up on his shoulder and circled his neck, pricking him with her claws. Harry picked her up and put her in his lap.

“He is presumably at liberty to test you however he sees fit, correct?”

Harry again was forced to concede, which ground painfully on his ego. “Yes. For the examination he had to do three predetermined spells and two of his own choosing. I can’t find either of the two in any of the books you have here.”

In his well-seasoned sneer Snape asked, “Is 6 a passing score?”

Kali stiffened and hissed faintly, head darting side-to-side to peer along the edge of the floor beside the hearth. Harry, with enormous effort, squashed the anger burgeoning in him. It tore at his pride to do so, but Kali’s reaction and her bristling alarm propelled him to. In a much quieter voice, that he hoped masked his sudden worry, Harry said, “Rodgers declared it a passing score because of the degree of difficulty involved.” He petted Kali until she calmed, hoping Snape didn’t suspect he had that poor of control over his lapses into the Dark Plane. “I scored 20 out of 20 on my field work evaluation,” he stated in a flat voice, not risking any emotion, but needing to point that out. His voice came out sounding defeated. “I’ll do better next time; I have six months to prepare,” he promised.

“I certainly hope so,” Snape said, and returned to reading the newspaper. Harry set the results aside and tried to eat a bit more of his scramble, which didn’t hold much appeal now. The remainder of breakfast passed in silence.

Snape stood eventually and at the door turned back and returned to stand beside Harry, where he almost placed his hand on his shoulder and instead settled for placing it on his head. In a vaguely conciliatory tone, he said, “I do not mean to spoil the holiday, but I demand the best from you because I see no other way to ensure your safety.”

Harry, despite insisting to himself a moment ago that he wasn’t going to argue, said, “But I am doing much better than the score on my examination shows. I’m doing really well on spells, in fact.”

Snape’s hand pressed down very hard on the top of his head. “You have apparently grown dangerously overconfident, Harry,” Snape chastised darkly. “And I am grateful to Alastor for demonstrating that to you so clearly.” His hand eased up and he said more gently, “Come, let’s see what we can add to the tree.”

Doubtful, Harry said, “You’re going to decorate the tree?” He leapt up and followed his guardian to the main hall. Snape went into the drawing room and returned with a box showing pictures of spherical ornaments on the side in a variety of bright colors. “Candide sent these.” When he opened the box, however, the cardboard tray inside contained only clear globes with hooks attached at the top.

Snape removed one and with a quick tap of his wand it filled with smoke which began glowing dark blue with rotating swirls. He handed it to Harry, who hooked it on a branch with care.

“Where’d you learn that charm?” Harry asked.

Snape paused, one hand holding a clear ornament, wand poised over it. “I did have a tree as a child.”

“Oh,” Harry uttered, trying with little luck to accept the notion of Snape of all people having had a more normal childhood than himself. Snape handed him another blue globe. “Is that the only color you can do?” Harry asked, hearing in his voice that he was still smarting from the earlier chastisement over his review scores.

“Yes,” Snape confirmed, “each person creates one that reflects who they are. So a large family, such as your friends the Weasleys, would have a rather colorful tree. When I was younger, the joke was that the One-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s Christmas tree would be all black ornaments.” He handed Harry another blue one. The box held eight, so Harry expected he would be given the other half to do himself. He hung this one higher up, trying to spread them out evenly. They added something the tree had been lacking and it was starting to look quite nice.

Snape colored the forth one and hung it himself before handing a clear one to Harry. When Harry turned it around in his hand to examine the glass and the way it reflected in the light, as well as the gold cap that held the hook, Snape said, “You merely have to tap it with your wand. A child can do it, even a non-magical one.”

Harry cradled the glass in his hand and just touched it with the point of his wand. Smoke bloomed inside of it, which began to glow white from the core but only for an instant before the globe filled in jet black, suffocating the light. For a time, Harry stared at it dumbly. Snape scratched his chin and looked Harry over with chagrin.

“I don’t want it to be black,” Harry said in dismay. In the next instant the glass globe shattered, even though Harry was certain he had not squeezed it at all. He jerked his hand aside and the glass slivers crackled as they settled onto the floor.

Snape reached for Harry’s hand. “Did you cut yourself?” he asked in concern.

Harry pulled his hand farther out of reach. “No,” he snapped and reached for the box of ornaments. “Give me another one,” he said, determined.

Snape grasped Harry’s wrist as he held the new clear globe up. “Harry,” he said, gaze intent. “It will be the same.” It sounded like a promise. This globe shattered before Harry could even change it, leaving two large curves of clear glass resting in his palm and glass shards on his sleeve and Snape’s. Snape calmly shook his arm off, sending more glass to the floor.

Snape shook out his robe front and picked up another clear ornament but didn’t hold it out. “I shouldn’t have told you that joke.” He sighed and then firmly said, “Harry, I do not care if there are black ornaments on the tree.”

Harry accepted the clear globe when Snape held it out. Feeling annoyed, he uttered, “I thought I was something more than Voldemort’s puppet now.” He spoke this in carefully banked anger, shaken by the violence of the accidentally shattered globes.

“You are,” Snape insisted, as though Harry were a little dim.

Harry stared at the hollow of glass. “I don’t want it to be black,” he said again. Willing it to be otherwise, he tapped it with his wand. The light this time had a bright green tinge before it filled in black just the same. Snape quickly lifted it from his grasp and hung it up. Harry dreaded seeing it there all holiday but frowned and didn’t complain farther. Snape held out the last clear one and Harry changed it too, and then repeated the tap again when Snape removed one of the blue ones from the tree and held it out as well to be changed over.

Harry didn’t want to look at the tree, just stared down at the presents. Snape picked up the small book Harry had been using and paged through its index. “We need to capture an electric frost sprite for the top,” he informed Harry casually, as though nothing were amiss. When Harry didn’t respond, Snape demanded, “If I had not told you that silly story, which even I cannot verify, what would you be thinking right now?”

Harry was staring at one of the black ornaments. Unlike the blue ones, it perfectly reflected his distorted face back at him. He shrugged. Snape waited for more response before lifting Harry’s chin to force him to look at him. Snape’s eyes were full of something that Harry had not seen before; they had an aching in them, but it disappeared in the next moment and Snape was just studying him intently.

Chin released, Harry looked back down and sighed. So what if his ornaments were black? Pink would be worse. He half listened to Snape reading aloud about possible means of trapping sprites, including using colored cake frosting as bait inside a glass woven cage, and wondered what was in the present from Ginny.

At lunch, Snape seemed keen to make up a bit for his earlier stridency. He kept Harry talking about his last two weeks of training much longer than normal. “And we finally managed a Muggle-proof barrier, all four of us.” Harry said. “We managed with three a week before. I was starting to spell barriers in my sleep I was so terribly sick of working on them. Does it matter how similar the wizards are who are trying to produce a barrier spells? It seems that way.”

“That is a common perception, yes,” Snape replied. “Barriers are not easy in any event even barring the need for multiple witches or wizards for large ones.”

“And I talked Rodgers into starting on triage and wound closing spells earlier than he planned,” Harry said, his voice dipping at the end as that now-familiar straining in his chest gripped him, leaving him as breathless as two weeks ago when he had found Snape lifeless in a pool of blood.

Perhaps as a distraction, Snape asked, “I did not hear, nor did Minerva, that there were any leads on locating Mr. Lockhart.”

Harry frowned and put his sandwich down on his plate. He swigged the remainder of his butterbeer before saying, “From what I’ve heard—and believe me, it isn’t much considering that I am there every day—they don’t know where to look. Apparently he used one of his best Memory Charms on Nott, because Nott, who should know where he is, has a lot of holes in his memory even under their best truth serum.” Harry watched Winky set another butterbeer on the table for him and considered that he heard less than he probably would if they trusted him to not run off and start investigating on his own, although he couldn’t entirely assure even himself that he wouldn’t.

“That is worrisome,” Snape murmured. “He was in no condition to be taking independent action . . . I believe.”

Harry shook his head that he agreed. He tried to imagine where Lockhart might be, but the former Hogwarts teacher had never been a Death Eater, so Harry would have no better luck finding him than finding anyone else, although he wished he could just zero in on him where ever he might be, the way one zeroed in on an Apparition destination. “The Ministry printed more wanted posters. Hopefully someone will report seeing him.” But, Harry thought, no one has so far and most witches and wizards knew who he was at one point, so they would have remembered if they had.

- 888 -

Christmas morning arrived and Harry, in a dressing gown over his pyjamas and sitting cross-legged on the floor, began sorting through the stacks of presents. Snape stepped out of the drawing room, holding a cup of tea, and observed him as he worked at this. As Harry rearranged the piles, he knocked one of the black ornaments onto the large bow bedecking the present from Ginny. With a frown he hooked it back up on a higher branch and then attempted to ignore it again.

In a dry tone Snape said, “So very many presents for a dark wizard to receive.”

Harry rolled his eyes and didn’t let himself be baited. Instead, he plucked a label that read H. Potter off one of the larger boxes and pushed it toward Snape. Snape’s brow lowered and he shook his head at hiding his present in Harry’s own pile. “I didn’t want you to guess,” Harry explained. Even though he had repacked the present from the Muggle packaging, it still rattled distinctively.

Snape hefted the unexpectedly heavy box and hovered a chair in from the drawing room to sit in while unwrapping. Harry paused in his sorting to watch. Snape revealed the plain white box and shook it curiously before opening the lid and pulling out one of the squarish glass containers with wire-clamped glass lids.

“Polly recommended those when I asked her. I was going to get you a decorative potion bottle but these seemed much more useful.” The widow of Harry’s second cousin was frequently canning when Harry visited.

“Much more useful,” Snape agreed, plucking at the replaceable seal on one of them. “I think the wire may accept an additional protective hex as well without impacting the ingredients. Thank you, Harry. Open yours.”

Harry dug through to find the one from Snape. “Too small to be a broom,” Harry commented to the two foot square box. He shook it lightly, and it thunked strangely. However, when he opened the box he found nine smaller boxes inside it, arranged in rows. “What’s this?” Harry asked, amused.

Snape responded, “Each of the staff wished to give you something.”

“Oh,” Harry said, and swallowed hard, remembering disquieting random pieces of what had happened. He had to distract himself to make it stop. He picked out the box labeled Hagrid and opened it. Inside was a new pair of rabbit-lined gloves.

Snape said, “When he inquired what you needed, I told him you had nearly worn out your previous pair. The resulting sniffles were a bit much, but he was clearly touched by your use of his gift.”

Harry opened the rest, one at a time. McGonagall has given him a rare old storybook that read one of a hundred stories aloud to you. Trelawney had given him boots to match the gloves from Hagrid. Madam Hooch, a gift coin to the Quidditch Supply Catalog. Snape himself had given him a small pewter dragon lamp that stood straight and spread its wings when you lit the wick and curled up as though sleeping when you blew it out. Harry left it lit on the only table in the main hall. Its emerald eyes glittered and seemed to follow him as he went back to the pile of presents.

As Harry opened the gold Astral Compass from Sinistra, he said, “They must be happy to have you around still.” He had attempted it as a tease, but it didn’t come out right. Instead it cut straight through his own chest. Grateful that he was facing away from his guardian, he pretended that he needed to sort through the remaining packages to choose which to open next. Ginny’s was right in front of him, he managed to gather through the haze of meaninglessness that had enveloped him. He had been curious about the rather sizable box and focused fiercely on the previously established emotion attached to it to drag himself back to the here and now. He was desperate for Snape not to see him struggling, because any outward sympathy from that quarter would render him helpless, he was certain.

Breathing slow and deep, Harry opened the box before him only to blink at yet another gift inside of it. “What is it with this year?” he asked, managing a convincingly light laugh. The box inside was wrapped in brown paper with the Tri-W logo stamped on it. Written upon it were the words: Do not open in the presence of Hogwarts staff, Ministry officials, or flammable pets. Harry resealed the lid and risked a glance over at Snape, who sat with his hands intertwined in his lap, appearing amused. Harry couldn’t tell if he had been able to read the writing. “I’ll open that one later.” He pushed a box from Anita, Snape’s mother, over to Snape, figuring that should keep him distracted for a while.

- 888 -

On Boxing Day Harry had promised to go to Belinda’s parents’ for dinner. It was the same night that Snape’s father Shazor and his second wife Gretta were visiting, from which Harry was glad to have an excuse to leave early. Gretta was in good holiday spirits but her husband was his usual difficult self and ignored his wife’s good-natured attempts to get him onto better topics.

“Well, your position is quite secure, it seems,” Shazor rattled on as they stood in the drawing room, “what with Bones’ announcement that all of the Death Eaters are put away for good.”

Harry was pleased to see that Snape remained utterly unfazed by this. “Yes, quite secure, I think,” Snape agreed easily, removing the sting from the words. With a glitter in his eye, added with grinding amiability, “And Harry’s influence with the Ministry was boosted as well, should it ever be needed.”

Harry exhaled and thought, I couldn’t get Sirius off. But he put on a cocky expression when Shazor turned his way.

Finally, it was time to depart for his date, but Gretta insisted on giving him some final primping, which he barely stood still for even though he didn’t really mind another set of eyes making sure he was acceptable for parental judgment. Gretta said, “Too bad you have to take the Floo, dear, it always makes a nice white shirt a little dingy with ash.”

Harry, feeling the cockiness from earlier in the evening come to the fore, said, “No, I’ll Apparate. It’s only to London.” Everyone turned at that and before he could lose his certainty, he scrunched himself down very small and the drawing room was gone.

Harry was very grateful that he had practiced localized steering with as much care as Snape had forced in their lessons. The trouble with getting to London wasn’t the distance for Harry’s power, it was finding his way to the place he had fixed in his mind. At a great distance, no matter how clear your mental vision, your destination was actually foggy and wavered unpredictably. Once you got close, it became easier, but by that time you were already expanding and the split second with which you could make any adjustment too short to recover from any serious error.

Harry’s feet hit the ground with a resounding slap! when he fell the four inches he had Apparated above it. Exhaling loudly, he considered that that was much preferable to the alternative, which would have involved having his feet back near the border with Scotland and the rest of him here in London. Thinking that had perhaps been too risky at the same time as grinning to himself for succeeding, Harry stepped out of the alleyway, used an Alohomora on the outside door, and after a quick dash up the stairs, rang the bell at the door to Belinda’s flat.

Belinda was a little slow in answering and when she opened it, it became clear why: she was simultaneously removing rollers from her hair and putting in earrings. But she greeted him warmly. “Come on in . . . I’ll be ready in a mo. You look nice.” Harry felt unexpected relief at that. Aaron, an always dapper fellow Auror apprentice, would think Harry a nutter for worrying that Belinda’s parents could possibly be less than pleased with him, but apparently Harry could not shake the possibility.

When she was finally ready, a bit late by Harry’s reckoning, she took his hand and Apparated them both into a small living room. A thickly bearded, nearly bald man with shoulder-length brown hair growing out the sides of his head looked up sharply at their arrival. Big band music played loudly elsewhere in the house. The man set his pipe aside and stood to greet them. He bore little resemblance to Belinda, but he greeted her warmly and then held out his hand to Harry. “And this must be Mr. Potter,” he said graciously.

“My father,” Belinda introduced the man, took Harry’s cloak, and then urged him to take a seat in one of the overstuffed armchairs before heading off to greet her mother.

Harry clasped his hands together and settled back; Mr. Belluna did as well, clamping the tip of his pipe back in his mouth. Talking through his teeth, he said, “Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Potter, I’m sure.”

Harry, who had been surveying the sphinx heads carved in plaster below the mantel, turned back to his host. He had not imagined that he would be left alone to deal with Belinda’s father quite so quickly. “Thank you, sir.”

“How is your apprenticeship progressing?” the man then asked after a series of puffs on his pipe.

“Fine, sir. We’re learning a lot.”

“And getting some field work in as well,” he said with an odd twinkle in his hazel eyes. He had the appearance of a well-groomed hermit, which made Harry relax rather than wonder at the questions.

“Some, yes. We aren’t allowed to do much, though.”

“You missed the last dinner, I believe, due to your needing time to recuperate after a bout of field work?” he asked this with deceptive innocence, seeming almost amused.

Harry sat up a little straighter, remembering taking care of Snape after the attack the previous occasion he had been invited to dinner here. “Well, that doesn’t technically count as field work for my apprenticeship.”

“No?” Mr. Belluna queried, seeming disappointed. He puffed more on his pipe.

“So, what do you do, Mr. Belluna?” Harry asked, more alert.

Amiably, Mr. Belluna replied, “I am a watchmaker. I have a little shop in Greenwich.”

Harry was saved from further questions by Belinda returning with her mother, who was just stashing her wand into the pocket of her frilly white apron. “Harry! So good to finally meet you,” she exclaimed while giving his hand a dainty shake. “My! Well, please make yourself at home. Dinner will be on in just a moment.”

Harry and Belinda’s father settled at the dining room table instead, and Belinda, to Harry’s consternation, disappeared again. Harry sat straight and considered the man beside him on the end of the table.

Mr. Belluna asked, “So, your training is three years, correct?” The man seemed to be working up a profile on Harry, the way the Aurors did when interviewing a witness for the first time.

“Yes, sir.”

Clutching his pipe again between his teeth, Mr. Belluna asked, “And you are progressing well, I presume? Belinda said you just had a six month examination.”

“Well enough, sir.”

Belinda thankfully reappeared before more questions came Harry’s way. Had the man been anyone other than his girlfriend’s father Harry would have been more assertive, but with the constraint that he needed to make the man like him, he felt hobbled from defending himself. Belinda gave him a positively glowing smile; she seemed quite happy to finally have this dinner. Harry returned the smile, happy enough to make her so.

That was until she asked brightly, “So Daddy, do you like Harry?”

“How can one not?” her father asked airily. “Have you set a date yet?”

“A date for what?” Harry asked in true confusion. Belinda looked as though she may have swallowed a skrewt.

Mr. Belluna sat back and puffed his pipe. “In that case my opinion is of limited consequence,” he stated easily.

Belinda’s mother returned and, as she sat across from Harry, he found himself facing Belinda’s older image, even down to the dimple on her right cheek when she smiled. She was full of much less challenging conversation and the rest of the meal passed quickly.

Late in the evening, they Apparated back to Belinda’s flat. “Well, thank you for coming,” she said, and then added with some shyness, “I have a present for you.” She retrieved a sizable package from the floor beside the couch and presented it with aplomb. Harry opened it and held up a dark green cardigan with yellow edging.

“Thanks,” Harry said and laid it back in the box before reaching into his cloak pocket.

Belinda was explaining her gift. “I had a real hard time picking out a color. I finally decided on a color Professor Snape could stand to see you in.”

“Yeah, he’ll like that color,” Harry assured her. “This is for you.” He held out the slim box that another Auror apprentice, Kerry Ann, had helped him pick out, or to be more honest, had picked out for him. Upon seeing the thin silver chain with three pearls, Belinda let out a little whine of exclamation. She thanked him a bit more than Harry thought it deserved, but he didn’t at all mind the resulting attention.

When he returned home late, he found Snape at the dining room table, nose in a letter. In his hand he clutched a small glass stained with the liqueur that was open on the table before him. With a stab of emotion Harry wished then that he had stayed; Belinda’s parent’s could have waited yet again. Harry swung his cloak off, sat across from his guardian, and simply asked, “Are you all right?”

Snape looked up with some surprise. “Yes, quite.”

“How did the rest of the visit go?” Harry asked carefully.

“As well as one involving an overbearing and vengeful parent could go. And how was your dinner?” Still sounding flatly snide, he added, “Are the Bellunas already planning for a new son-in-law?”

“How did you know that?” Harry asked.

After a sharp look Snape’s lips curled slightly and his shoulders fell back. “Ah, and here I thought I had experienced the worse evening.” He hovered another stout glass over. “Here, have a swallow.”

- 888 -

The next afternoon, Sunday, they Apparated to the front stoop of Polly Evans’ small but rambling house. The door opened a second later. “I thought I heard something,” Mrs. Evans greeted them. “Come in. Come in. Merry Christmas.”

Snape shut the door behind them, blocking out the cold, although they had brought a roomful of it in with them. The stove and its boiling pots quickly negated it. Harry handed over the pot of turkey Winky had prepared. In the sitting room Patricia’s children, Briar and Basel, were playing with plastic toys, presumably presents that year. Briar was making a small horse gallop along the worn edge of the coffee table. Mrs. Evans’ daughters, Pamela and Patricia, stood to greet them warmly. “Did you have a good trip?” Patricia asked. Harry almost pointed out that the trip was quite short before realizing that the question was for her husband’s benefit.

“Yes, thanks.” Harry reached into his pockets and took out the presents he had brought for the youngsters. He had kept wanting to shop for something at Tri-W but that was right out, and instead from a Muggle shop he had bought very unmagical toy cars that went forward very fast after you dragged them backward a bit. Harry had bought an extra one and left it on Mr. Weasley’s desk, knowing he would be delighted because they were a clever enough machine that they felt sort of magical. And since it didn’t require a battery he expected that it wouldn’t break the moment it was brought home to the Burrow. The children were tearing into the wrapping with relish.

“Uh, oh, Harry is playing uncle and spoiling you two,” Pamela chided. The children ignored her in favor of car noises.

At dinner, Pamela sat across from Harry beside Snape on the end. The children were in the middle, forming a wall of noise that Pamela was taking advantage of to ask questions, mostly of Snape. “Maybe while Greg is taking a nap after dinner, we can see some spells?” she suggested hopefully, glancing to the opposite corner of the table where Patricia’s husband sat, cutting up Basel’s turkey while the boy squirmed impatiently. “Good turkey by the way; which of you cooks?” she asked teasingly.

Snape gazed at her momentarily before looking into his whiskey glass and dryly replying, “The elf cooks.”

Pamela nearly dropped her fork. “An elf?” she whispered. “An actual elf? You have an elf as a cook?”

Harry opened his mouth to explain, but Snape beat him to it. “She is more of a general servant,” he stated uncaringly. “Bound into servitude by a sort of enslavement spell.”

Pamela stared at Snape; Harry wondered why he was intentionally shocking her so. “It’s hard to explain,” Harry hedged. “But it’s not as bad as he is making it sound.” He then tried to explain about Winky and why it was better that she have a household, but he couldn’t even manage to explain about her previous employer without simply generating more alarm.

“This elf sounds evil,” Pamela whispered.

Harry said, “No, not at all. I’m just not explaining well. Maybe some other time when it is easier. You should come visit and see her.”

Previous invitations had been met with a better reception. “Uh, if you think it would be all right. . . sure.”

Harry wondered that Snape appeared smug. He served himself seconds while searching for another topic. Snape said, “Perhaps you should tell your cousin about meeting Prime Minister Daire.”

“Really?” Pamela exclaimed, bringing the table’s attention to her.

Greg asked, “Did he visit the MI5 office where you apprentice?”

“Uh, yeah,” Harry replied, finding his way through the version of his job Greg had been told. Harry told the table a heavily edited version of events.

“Well, that’s good he’s happy with you blokes. That isn’t always true.”

“He seemed happy enough,” Harry confirmed.

“Is he really so cute in person?” Pamela asked.

“I . . . guess so,” Harry hedged.

When the table’s attention focused instead on the children—who had removed themselves from the table to play a game involving tossing colorful sacks of beans into a target—Snape crossed his arms and stated, “The real story is much more entertaining.”

“Oh, let’s hear it.” Pamela leaned forward eagerly to listen.

“Uh. . .” Harry uttered, figuring out where to start. “So, Daire came, mostly like I said, to check up on how the Ministry of Magic is doing in fighting dark magic. So our trainer has myself and an Indian apprentice, Vineet, do a demonstration. Says he wants it loud and colorful. Oh, and Daire has two assistants with him who are about as terrified as you could imagine. And after the demonstration starts, they are basically hiding behind the Prime Minister.” Harry paused while Pamela snorted into her glass of milk.

“So we are doing as he says, but Vineet is putting too much power in his spells and I’m trying hard not to hit him back too hard. He isn’t as good at blocking and countering, you see, and I don’t want to knock him down in front of all those people. So, Daire notices this difference and comments to our Minister that he thought I wasn’t so great as he thought.”

“Oooh,” Pamela uttered with relish. “So you proved him wrong?”

“I tried. I disarmed Vineet with a new spell we had just learned. It makes a whip appear that wraps around the other person’s wand and jerks it out of their hand. But it made Vineet a bit angry and he, well, he transformed into a tiger and came at me.”

Excitedly curious, she asked, “Can you transform into a tiger too?”

“No . . . my Animagus form, as we call it, is a . . . resembles a eight-foot griffin, except with a cat’s head.” She stared in silence at him. Harry went on, “So, I transformed into that. Imagine, there’s the Prime Minister, the Minister of Magic, all their staff, and this big white tiger and an even bigger bright red gryffylis tussling in the middle of the room.”

While Pamela giggled, Snape sat back and said, “The rumors generated by those events were almost unmatched. The wizard newspaper the Daily Prophet suppositioned that Minister Bones had set magical animals loose on Daire with the intent of rescuing him herself.”

Harry chuckled then. “I didn’t read that.”

“No, rumor has it Bones put a halt to the print run of that edition and insisted they change it. Ms. Skeeter replaced it with a one-column piece asserting that the Ministry should order Witch Weekly to allow Muggle politicians to compete for their annual best smile award.”

“You can’t mess with Skeeter,” Harry commented as he accepted a large slice of apple pie.

“She has left you alone for a while,” Snape pointed out.

“Who is this?” Pamela asked.

“A reporter for the Daily Prophet. She’s been the bane of my existence since I was a fourth-year.”

“The press harasses you?” Pamela asked, a twinkle in her eye.

“Even the American press,” Harry insisted.

Pamela propped her chin on her hands and gazed at him intently. “You really are famous, then?”

“Uh, only among the wizarding community.” Harry replied at the same time as Snape said, “Quite.”

By the time they returned home it was almost dinner time although Harry couldn’t imagine eating again. “Was that all right?” Harry asked, still uncertain why Snape had gone out of his way to shock Pamela, and worried it had been sheer boredom expressing itself.

Snape hung his cloak over his arm. “It was fine. Phenomenally normal relatives you have there. Congratulations, Potter.”

Harry, plotting out the rest of his free evening, said, “Yeah, they are, aren’t they? So, my friends are getting together at the Burrow, do you mind if I go?”

“No, please do,” Snape replied, but Harry had a sense that he had expected him to be staying.

“What time will you be returning?” Snape asked from the drawing room when Harry came back down from getting ready.

Harry, rather than resist having to say, was glad to, due to previous times that something bad had befallen him and he had wished Snape had known his precise schedule. “11:00 I think. Will you still be up?”

“I may be out, actually,” Snape replied.

Harry grinned, “Well, in that case: what time will you be back?”

Snape matched his smile with a wry one. “Midnight, most likely.”

Harry fetched his broom and took the Floo to the Burrow because of his previous close call Apparating all the way to London. The endless teasing that would result from getting Splinched in front of the Weasley clan made the ash on his clothes seem very minor.

Harry arrived into a noisy living room and quickly stepped out of the hearth that returned to blazing hot as the Floo powder dissipated. He had to step over Charlie reclining on the floor, his wife draped over him, using him as a mattress. Harry greeted everyone on the way to butterbeers, floating in a pan of hot water with rocks in the bottom of it.

Ginny appeared at his side as he took a swig. Harry held out his broom to her.

“You sure?” she asked.

Harry nodded. “Yeah. ‘Course. I rarely use it what with Sirius’ bike and flying on my own.”

“I can fly on my own too,” Ginny pointed out, referring to her Animagus form, which was a red-tail hawk.

“Not during the Slytherin-Gryffindor match, you can’t,” Harry pointed out.

“Oh, that’s what this is about. You have a bet with Professor Snape or something?”

Harry's denial was interrupted by Hermione coming up and giving Harry a holiday hug. “Have a good Christmas, Harry?”

“Yup. Except tree decorating was a bit annoying . . .”

Ginny took hold of Harry’s broom and with a smile sneaked off. Hermione continued levelly, “How are your fellow apprentices doing?”

“Good,” Harry replied, watching across the room as Neville was showing some no-heat fire spell to someone Harry didn’t recognize. The young stranger had an awed expression as he watched Neville’s spell, which made Harry smile. He responded to Hermione’s ongoing questions with only half an ear.

“And how is your Indian friend faring with his spell power?”

The twins were putting a headband sporting glowing horns on Ron, who apparently was having a mental lapse on having been their brother his whole life. “He still can’t counter well.”

“Does he need more help?” Hermione asked. “I’ve been reading up on that a bit.”

Harry shrugged. “He might.” He was watching Ron’s eye’s glaze and the whites begin glowing like a jack-o-lantern so he missed Hermione biting her lip at the effort to sound merely conversational.

Ginny returned with her secondhand Cleansweep Seven. “You’re sure?” she asked again, voice tinged with pain.

“Yes, Ginny,” Harry insisted, taking her broom. Ginny for her part gave Harry’s Firebolt an inspection which involved trailing her hands on it a bit reverently. Harry explained to Hermione that for his Christmas present to Ginny he was trading brooms with her until the end of the school year.

“That’s very nice of you, Harry,” Hermione said. “Are you having a party soon?” she then asked, sounding a little out of the blue.

“I could,” Harry replied with a shrug, still watching Ginny testing the heft and checking the true of her loaner broom.

Harry returned just before 11:00, just after the Twins insisted on quizzing Ginny on her future N.E.W.T.s despite not having taken them themselves. Their potential questions included things like: How often do giant spiders not eat their young and how do they chose which? and if you curse an object and then die, how much of the curse still remains? When Charlie joined in with detailed questions about Dragon breeding and Ginny’s blushing was matching her hair, Harry took his leave, partly to save her further public embarrassment. But once he had noticed the time, he really needed to head home.

“You don’t still have a curfew, do you?” Fred had asked in horror, when Harry made his goodbyes.

“No, but I said 11:00,” Harry explained.

George shook his head sadly, “An obedient Harry, where did we go wrong?”

“Goodnight all,” Harry said with a little wave before tossing powder onto the coals of the hearth.

Harry was surprised to find Headmistress McGonagall sitting across from Snape at the dining room table, a tall, tanned, brown and grey-haired man Harry didn’t know sitting beside her. McGonagall greeted him warmly. “Harry, how are you? You haven’t met my husband, Richard, have you?” Harry shook hands with the man, certain he was a Muggle without knowing for certain how he knew that. McGonagall was explaining, “Richard researches birds on the Savannah.”

“Honored to meet you, Mr. Potter,” Richard intoned. “I’ve heard rather a lot about you.”

Harry took a seat across from him. “I hope some of it was good.”

Richard grinned. “Most of it, actually.”

“Your visit at the Burrow went all right?” Snape asked.

“Yeah, it was fun. Ginny still gets the worst of her brothers though.”

McGonagall put her glass to her lips. “I expect she can handle them by now.”

“Maybe if it were only three of them at a time. She was a little overwhelmed, I think.” Harry noticed Richard watching him curiously.

The conversation moved to school matters and Harry finally turned to Richard and gave him a sharp look. “Sorry,” Richard said. “Never met a legend before.”

“And you still haven’t,” Harry snipped, feeling ungenerous this late in the day. He felt that queasy slipperiness of the Dark Plane then and quickly bottled his annoyance back up.

“Harry,” Snape chastised at the same time as Richard was by McGonagall. Harry pushed his chair back and stood. It had been a long day.

“No need to go, Harry,” McGonagall said in concern.

“It’s all right. I. . .” He almost said he had an early morning the next day, but he didn’t have training. “I’m a little tired. Long day. Goodnight. Nice to have met you.” In the hall, the tree still glowed brightly, reminding Harry of much poorer Christmases. He shouldn’t let one gawking Muggle ruin his mood.

In his room Kali was clamoring frantically inside her cage. Harry let her out saying, “Maybe you’re the reason I’m ornery.” He sat down with his pet curled on his leg and answered letters that he had put off until holiday, somehow thinking the holiday would be less busy than normal times.

A half-hour later a light rap preceded Snape opening the door. “Everything all right?”

“Yeah,” Harry insisted.

“Minerva was concerned that Richard may have offended you.”

“No, not really,” Harry insisted, thinking he should have behaved better. “I’m surprised she married a Muggle, though,” Harry observed without looking up from a letter to Suze, thanking her for the Snitch-shaped tea cozy and offering her some advice in preparing for the upcoming match against Ravenclaw.

Snape had not moved from the doorway, and at the end of a sentence, Harry looked up at him. “How did you know that?” Snape asked. “Very few have met Richard, and fewer are aware he isn’t magical.”

Kali raised her head and cocked it curiously at Snape. “I don’t know,” Harry muttered. “He just didn’t feel magical.” Harry dipped his quill in the inkwell, but held it over the blotter instead of continuing his letter. “You are going to tell me this is some extraordinarily rare skill, telling wizards from Muggles?” Even Harry had to admit, he had never heard of it, but he still fixed Snape with a stubborn glare.

“No. Not extremely rare, but unusual at least.”

“Can you do it?” Harry challenged. Then reading Snape’s expression added, “Without Legilimency . . .”

“No.” Then after a pause where Harry resumed writing with the quill, Snape continued, “It is a useful skill, Harry; why are you being difficult?”

Harry shrugged, still scratching away at some Seeker training suggestions.

In a harder tone Snape said, “I expect an answer.”

Harry put the quill down. “It takes some getting used to, I guess. I never noticed I could do that before. I couldn’t tell Tara wasn’t a witch, for example.”

“A new skill then, perhaps.”

“Or a lucky guess,” Harry countered.

Snape began pulling the door closed. “Let me know which when you determine it.”

Chapter 2: Trailing the Monster
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter 2 -- Trailing the Monster

January settled around Shrewsthorpe as a blanket of bitter white cold. Harry knocked the snow from his boots before stepping into the entryway. The house was quiet; Snape had returned to Hogwarts and Harry was back to being on his own.

Harry put his bag on the floor of the library with a thud in deference to it always seeming to weigh twice as much at the end of the day than it did at the beginning. The extra walk from the train station hearth, where the Floo network had ejected him instead of home, had felt burdensome as well as cold and he would have Apparated if the station hall hadn’t been full of silly Muggles joking about a late Santa. He pulled out his newest Auror-assigned book, which he had picked up at Flourish and Blotts just that afternoon. Accursed Aid, the title read. Behind the title a logo was embossed of a wand with a snake twined around it. Harry flipped immediately to the chapter on wound closing and read until long after he usually went to the dining room for dinner, partially because reading about reconnecting tendons and muscle tissue didn’t leave him very hungry for roast.

Finally, eyes aching, Harry put the book down. He was tempted to go down to the kitchen for a knife to try out the basic skin sealing spell, but he couldn’t bring himself quite to that. Instead, his stomach began to insist on dinner, queasiness and all.

While Harry waited at the table for the food to appear, his eyes strayed to the silver combined salt and pepper mill that was a new addition to the table. Draco Malfoy had sent it to Snape for Christmas and Harry kept eyeing it suspiciously even though Snape insisted it was curse-free and Harry himself couldn’t feel any evil upon it. Harry picked the weighty thing up. Salt came out the top which rotated to grind the pepper out the bottom. It was the kind of thing his Aunt Petunia would have treasured, which only decreased its appeal for Harry, but he couldn’t credit Draco with being that clever in an attempt to annoy him. But it was working. It was such an odd gift and Harry entertained the notion that Draco had stolen it from somewhere. He plunked it back down as a plate of vegetable garnished roast appeared; too bad it wasn’t breakable.

During dinner, Penelope’s owl arrived at the window. Harry was very glad to see the bird as it meant she would have news of the two spells Mad-Eye had used on him. After his difficulty handling his sixth month testing, Harry had returned to his training after the break with a fierceness that surprised even himself, but he really wanted to have a counter to those attacks should the opportunity to demonstrate them come up again soon.

The letter started with wishes that Harry had had a good holiday, but it quickly moved on to the spell research in a way that made Harry suspect that she rather enjoyed the task of researching obscure things.

The Alibappa spell was not Middle Eastern but a middle twentieth century spell from the States, hence its appearance as a giant mitten, which was probably a boxing glove shape had you been far enough away to see it properly.

Yeah, Harry thought, it was a little too close to notice that, precisely. He frowned, pride still smarting even if his backside had healed. He honestly suspected Moody of avoiding him since the beginning of the year. Harry had moments where he hoped this was the case.

The Counter is Jabbajabba, the letter went on, and below she had carefully drawn in the wand motions, in diagrams nicer than most in any of Harry’s books. It looked like a repetitive poking motion and it indeed was intended to puncture the giant attacking “glove”.

The Swarm Curse you also described, which had no incantation, doesn’t appear in any books on dueling, defense or war tactics. I did however, hence the delay in replying, find a reference to something similar in a seamstress’ guide from the Middle Ages. There is a spell called the Blue Bottle Charm that could be used to hold pieces of a dress on a dummy for easy sewing without pins. Taken to an extreme, it could be used to pull someone’s clothes and limbs so tightly that they can’t move. Harry hoped she hadn’t been grinning, or worse, laughing as she wrote that. The cancellation is Fliteeficus, but you have to aim it at yourself and to do that you would have to be able to move, presumably. Harry had to agree given the complicated weaving motion of the wand waving diagrammed below.

Harry felt less certain about facing that spell than the other one, even though it wasn’t even a defensive one. But knowing something about them, especially given the spells’ obscurity, made him feel better. He composed a very grateful response and sent it back with her owl.

- 888 -

The next day, training seemed to drag, probably because Harry had a date that evening. He began to suspect that the clock in the training room was cursed to always display a time a mere five minutes later than the last time one looked at it. Harry stopped glancing at it, just in case.

“We are going to start on tracking spells this afternoon-” Rodgers began.

“Tracking spells?” Kerry Ann blurted. “We didn’t have any readings on those.” She sounded alarmed about being unprepared.

Rodgers frowned at the interruption and said, “We haven’t assigned a reading because we couldn’t find a book fit for your training, unless you wish to limit yourself to only hunting big game in Africa, because there is a most excellent book available on that.”

“Oh,” Kerry Ann uttered, putting her books away and tightly interlocking her hands before her.

“Come up and help me demonstrate if you will, Ms. Kalendula,” Rodgers said. With a sigh Kerry Ann obeyed. Rodgers instructed her to walk back and forth on the floor. “Give me your shoe,” he then said to her. “This is the easiest spell, but you must have one of the shoes that made the tracks.”

He tapped the toe and heel of the red patent leather shoe, back and forth until a pink sparkle like static zapped between the wand and the shiny leather. Then he gave a bouncing flick at the floor. A back and forth set of overlapping prints glowed pink on top of a muddied lighter scuffle of prints. “See the older ones? From previous days probably. Color indicates age, in case you hadn’t grasped that.” He waved the spell away and handed the shoe to Kerry Ann and had to prevent her from putting it back on. “No, you try it.”

“Can you repeat the trail-revealing wand motion again?” Kerry Ann asked.

After many attempts she finally succeeded and each of them were called up in turn until they also managed the spell.

“Good,” Rodgers said, sounding relieved. “Then we can move on to more difficult ones out in the field next week. For now let’s repeat that with someone else’s shoe and trail, perhaps Ms. Kalendula is just highly trackable.”

“Don’t I wish,” Kerry Ann muttered when she resumed her seat and leaned over to tie her shoe. To Harry, she whispered, “I hear you have a date tonight.”

“Where’d you hear that?” Harry demanded.

Kerry Ann grinned. “Harry, you are highly trackable.”

Up front, Aaron was still tapping his own shoe, waiting for the static spark. Harry whispered, “No, really. Where did you hear that?” He had bad visions of Belinda, or worse Minister Bones, sending out a special newsletter.

Kerry Ann leaned a little closer, “Well, Belinda had her friend Jezzy over to help her pick out an outfit to wear and Jezzy told her sister Jami, and she told her best friend Sarah, whom I happened to run into on Diagon Alley yesterday.”

Harry blinked at that. “Please tell me that the first part of that, at least, isn’t true.”

“Why?” Kerry Ann asked. She chuckled and quickly looked to see if Rodgers had taken note. “You should give up on dating, Harry,” she said with a sad shake of her head.

Harry leaned over to whisper, “I don’t care what she wears.”

“She cares,” Kerry Ann said out of the side of her mouth. “Compliment her on it anyway. At least try to notice.”

Harry frowned; he had just been thinking he would do the opposite, just out of principle. He sighed. Kerry Ann was called up to repeat the spell and when she returned and Harry passed her, he asked, “So, what kind of flowers does Belinda like?”

- 888 -

Harry waited outside on the street for Belinda to come down. She had shouted from the window for him to wait and he didn’t mind because a very light snow had fallen and for the few minutes before it melted, the world would be a white fairyland. Harry stood, enjoying the windows and lamps glowing on the white pavement up and down the street. Belinda came down a few minutes later, trailing a rich brown cloak Harry hadn’t seen before.

“Nice cloak,” Harry said, admiring its fuzzy looking warmth.

Belinda actually blushed. “Thanks. It’s borrowed from a friend.”

Oh, it’s Jezzy’s cloak? Harry came very near to asking, just to see her surprise. But his aversion to gossip and his belief that too much was already circulating, held him back. “It looks warm,” Harry said instead.

“And it matches my outfit,” Belinda added casually, implying that that had been the deciding factor.

“Hopefully this matches your outfit too,” Harry said, holding out a pink rose and congratulating himself for that line.

She was clearly touched. “Thanks,” she said, smiling almost girlishly and holding it closely.

When they began walking, Belinda asked, “So, you really want to go to the Wren’s Den?”

Harry had suggested the place he and Ron had been frequenting of late. Belinda had wanted to go somewhere quiet or stay in for their date, but Harry had nixed that without clearly explaining why. “I like it there,” Harry said, thinking that the noise would cover any lapses he may have. His moments of attracting the Dark Plane were few at the Ministry for some reason, perhaps because of all the magical individuals that were around all the time, but out in London he felt uncertain about making it through the evening.

Belinda frowned and looked straight ahead as they walked. After the next corner, though, she took Harry’s gloved hand in hers as they walked. The snow had already melted by the time they reached the pub. Harry noticed as they slid into a booth that she was rather overdressed for the place. Harry himself had pulled out slightly nicer clothes than he originally would have. He managed to compliment Belinda on her top as he took her cloak, which had led to another blush.

Drinks came quickly. It was only a Thursday, so it wasn’t too crowded, which meant that when the door opened and a familiar face appeared, Harry immediately put his drink down with a loud thunk.

“Rita?” Belinda uttered upon seeing the reporter’s smiling face standing beside their table. Her photographer skulked behind her, perhaps hiding.

“Good evening to you as well,” Rita said merrily without skipping a beat. “And you are looking spiffy as well, Mr. Potter.”

“This is a Muggle place, what are you doing here?” Harry asked.

Rita took affront. “We are allowed to be in here, Mr. Ministry, even to be reporters in here. Just have to change the flash to these expensive Muggle things, but it is a small price to pay. Especially since my employer has been screaming in my ear about not getting a nice picture of you two lovebirds.”

Harry, at that moment, was very glad that the pub was loud. He took a deep breath as a chilly, sickly breeze seemed to pass under his clothes. A small dog sitting under a bar stool across from them barked frantically in their direction until shushed, and then it growled instead. The photographer inched around to stand beside Skeeter, as though the tiny thing on a leash might be more dangerous. Harry tried valiantly to level himself and the dog quieted.

Belinda was biting her lips. She said, “I hesitate to suggest that we give her the picture so she’ll go away . . .”

Harry squelched the suspicions that tried to rise in his mind because they would be fatal to his control. Given the number of people who knew where they were, Skeeter wouldn’t have had much trouble finding them. Harry said with no little derision, “Really Skeeter, aren’t there more important things for you to be reporting on?”

Belinda said, “There are better things to be reporting on,” in a way that implied rather a lot.

Skeeter turned her beady predator eyes on Harry’s date. “Care to give me an exclusive, Ms. Belluna?” she asked hungrily.

Belinda returned the reporter a skilled, patronizing look. With a small laugh in her voice, she said, “There are plenty of upset people who would be happy to talk to you off the record, Ms. Skeeter. I for one don’t care to. You understand of course.”

Her tone and words flipped the power around in an instant. Harry was impressed. He was also curious as heck what was being discussed.

“My priorities,” Skeeter explained patiently, “are not always my employer’s. Trust that I am following up. But I need a picture. Chummy is fine, no need to look like you’ve purchased any small but expensive jewelry.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Harry?” Belinda prompted. Harry unclenched his teeth. He hated being trapped. Some of the other patrons were starting to eye the boxy old camera the wizard photographer was carrying.

“Sure,” He uttered, thinking that getting rid of Skeeter by any means was absolutely essential to his regaining calm inside himself. He hated giving in though. Belinda stood and moved to Harry’s side of the booth and took his hand in hers.

“Ah, that’s nice,” Skeeter purred, making Harry shoot the reporter a dark look. “Oh, you don’t want that face in the Crystal Ball on the Street section, do you?” Skeeter asked, still patronizing. Harry straightened his face and the photo was taken quickly. Skeeter disappeared after a little whisper to Belinda and a little wave at Harry. The others in the pub looked at the two of them in curiosity before returning to their own conversations.

“What’d she say?” Harry asked.


“Really?” Harry was still feeling annoyed and it came out in his tone.

Belinda pulled her drink over to their side of the table and swigged the remains of it. “She was just proving how much she knew.”

“Knew about what?” Harry asked.

Belinda gave him a sideways glance and then shrugged. “Minister Bones is going to appoint Fudge as Head of the Department of Mysteries.”

Harry nearly spit out his beer. “Oh, that can’t be a good idea. Why?”

“Because he still has a lot of friends and they’re making things difficult. Making politics out of issues that shouldn’t be so laden. So she’s throwing them a bone. The position does need to be filled.”

Harry waved at the passing server that they both needed fresh ales because Harry was planning on finishing his quickly to keep up. “I can’t bear Fudge,” Harry breathed into his mug.

“He’s not my favorite either,” Belinda admitted. “But how much damage can he do at the Department of Mysteries? No one ever knows what they’re doing.”

“Worse!” Harry uttered. “They could screw up and no could trace it to them. But he’ll be in good company with Ogden . . . he doesn’t like me either.”

Their beers arrived. Belinda lifted hers to clink their mugs. “You don’t think Fudge likes you?”

Harry drank a few sips while he thought about that. “No, I don’t think so. I think he’s afraid I’ll go into politics.”

“Are you?”

“I’d like not to,” Harry insisted, repulsively imagining turning into Fudge. The air felt oily, so he thought quickly about something else.

Much later, Belinda said, “Do you want another before last call or to go back to my place?”

Harry pulled out his watch. “I have field work tomorrow afternoon, so I shouldn’t have another.”

“My place?” Belinda asked.

Harry thought about being in a quiet place where any lapses in his emotional control may reveal to her that something was very disturbingly, ominously wrong. “Um, no, I think I have to get going.”

Out on the street as Harry walked her home, she said, “I don’t think you like me as much as I like you.” She sounded sad.

“It isn’t that,” Harry insisted, feeling immediately on the edge again, which angered him, which made it worse. He felt for the wand in his pocket, just in case, although he had no idea what spell he might use. “I just have too much going on right now.”

“That’s going to be true for a long time,” she pointed out pragmatically.

“I hope not,” Harry immediately returned. If his weakness toward attracting evil things went on much longer, well . . . he cut the thought off.

They stopped on the pavement before her flat. The street was empty and quiet. “Harry,” she began in a tone that caught his attention completely. “I know you’re not a virgin because-”

“What?!” Harry blurted.

“Well, during Rothschild’s trial, you had to answer . . .”

Harry rubbed his forehead and stared at the wet pavement. As well as they connected on some things, like Harry’s background and Ministry dealings, Harry was repeatedly reminded that they didn’t connect at all in other areas. Some other part of him was nudging him not let this pass and to prove himself, darn it.

Belinda, hands on hips, spoke into the silence, “This isn’t that your-actually-a-dark-wizard thing, is it?”

“I don’t know,” Harry uttered. He could feel himself closing her off and resisted it. Lots of replies came to mind, including accepting the invitation up to her flat. All of them had the potential to create even more misunderstanding. Harry took her by the hand. “It’s too hard to explain.”

“You are so hard to get through to,” she commented.

“I don’t mean to be. Look, you know once you start to talk about something, it makes it much harder.” Harry uttered this without much forethought. Her resulting expression was rather dubious. “But it does,” Harry insisted. He gestured with his arm at her building. “If I accepted your invitation up now, what would you think?” Her expression shifted to one more thoughtful.

She didn’t answer that. She said, “You’re very moody.”

Harry dropped his arms. “You haven’t yet seen me really wound up, either.” A car passed on the street. “I have to get up and do three hours of readings before my field work to make up for tonight. Severus wasn’t happy with my review testing score so I’m on a serious reading schedule. And I have to be alert out in the field.”

“You aren’t supposed to be put at risk when you’re out,” Belinda countered in an argumentative tone.

“So they say. Evil is attracted to me though,” he soberly stated, thinking that in the right context it would be a confession. “I always have to watch out.”

“Well, good night.” She turned to go to her door.

“Belinda,” Harry called in a soft tone. She turned slowly back, head tilted. Harry stepped over and gave her a nice kiss. When he pulled back she had a very different expression.

“All right then. Good night,” she repeated, melancholy, but not angry now.

- 888 -

“Harry,” Shacklebolt greeted him the next morning. “You are with me today.”

“Oh,” Harry uttered, his shoulders falling. “I thought I was with Tonks.”

“She got called away,” the tall black man explained as he tossed a coat over his broad shoulders. “Ready?”

Harry buried his disappointment. After last night he had found himself looking forward to his shadowing the gregarious female Auror much more than previously. Probably a bad thing, given that any more-than-professional affection he still felt for Tonks was out of line.

Shacklebolt cleared his desk off and put all of his quills into a holder that snapped like a beak to hold them firmly. His desk was the only neat one in the entire office. “We’ll just be on patrol, unless something comes up. From what I hear, having you as a shadow is a good way of avoiding a boring shift.” He gave Harry a teasing smile full of white teeth as Harry pieced that together.

“I don’t mean to attract trouble,” Harry said.

Shacklebolt patted him on the arm as he passed on the way out the door. “Saves us the effort of looking for it,” he pointed out happily.

Harry rolled his eyes and followed him out of the office. They Disapparated from the corridor so as to be less disruptive to others working quietly at their desks. As their arrival echoed off the walls of the alleyway, Harry yet again wished he could do that in silence. Snape had explained some techniques, such as consciously unpacking yourself slowly, but it had only made a small difference in the sound and it made Splinching much more likely, so Harry didn’t usually attempt it.

They walked along the back alleys and small streets of London for a time. Shacklebolt sometimes stopped and talked to people, but much less often than Tonks. An hour into this, they were interrupted by a silver message. Shacklebolt read it before it dissolved.

“Ah, we have an assignment. What did I tell you?”

“What is it?” Harry asked eagerly when they arrived back at the Ministry.

Shacklebolt didn’t reply right away. He handed Harry a broom out of the cupboard at the end of the corridor. “Good gloves?” he asked and nodded in satisfaction at Harry’s newest pair from Hagrid.

“What is the assignment?” Harry asked again, hoping he wasn’t being too difficult.

“Errant pet,” Shacklebolt explained, deflating Harry’s excitement considerably. “Come,” he said, leading the way to the lift with his long stride. “We have to take the Floo.”

They arrived in a small stone cottage. The hearth had been allowed to go cold, Harry noticed and breakfast was only half eaten on the rough hewn wooden table.

Outside there was an argument going on. A short round man with a long auburn beard was arguing with a ginger woman of identical shape and clothing although she wore an apron. A cloud of mist rose from their mouths as the shouted. Shacklebolt led the way over the crunching snow.

“You the Aurors?” the woman demanded in a rough accent. The man eyed Shacklebolt suspiciously.

“Indeed we are, Madam,” Shacklebolt responded with aplomb and bowed slightly with his hat off.

“Hmf,” the woman huffed grudgingly. “Didna want no one’s ‘elp, ya know. That ruddy daughter a’ mine should keep her long nose bludy well out . . . well, anyway.”

The man frowned more as he looked up at Shacklebolt. “Didna know there were any Moors in the Ministry,” he muttered.

Harry stepped forward, but not quite beside the Auror. He now understood Shacklebolt’s overly gracious introduction; he had been trying to head off exactly this. Anger boiled up in Harry at the bearded wizard’s sour expression. Harry couldn’t afford the anger though. It would be disastrous. As he struggled with himself, Shacklebolt went on, sounding unaffected, “You have a loose pet, we are to understand?”

“Aye,” the woman responded and pointed at a monstrous stake, the size of a ship’s anchor, pulled up from the mossy earth. The cottage and adjoining lands was situated in a picturesque cliff-bordered area open to the ocean.

“Where did it head do you think?” Shacklebolt asked.

“Iceland, no doubt,” the woman said, picking her teeth with her pinky nail. “Is’ breeding season, it is and he knows it. We’ve kept him light on food, we ‘as so ‘e ‘asn’t the strength to make it, I’m sure. Las’ year ‘e turned around on his own. Came right home.” The man snorted and she amended to say, “Eventually. Stopped fer a snack, I believe. Can’t blame ‘im fer that, can ya?”

Shacklebolt shook his head and looked out over the ocean. “What got away?” Harry asked, almost afraid of asking.

Shacklebolt angled his head down to reply, “A Welsh Green.”

Harry’s gaped before asking, “They’re not allowed to keep dragons are they?”

“Grandfather clause to when the rule was made three hundred years ago. A few families still keep them,” Shacklebolt explained. At Harry’s widened eyes, he said gamely, “Ready for a little dragon hunting?”

Harry, his anger completely forgotten, said, “Yes sir.”

Shacklebolt gave him a grin. “My partner and I will fetch your dragon, if possible,” he announced in that gallant way while putting a hand around Harry’s shoulder. For the first time, their attention fell on Harry and just as quickly, his scar. “See you in a few hours, I think,” Shacklebolt said. He hovered his broom and with a nod at Harry, who quickly did the same, took off out over the open ocean.

White mist obscured all but the immediate vicinity and collected as freezing dew on their cloaks and hair. Harry glanced back at the receding shore and shouted over the wind, “Are we really going to catch up to a dragon flying full speed?”

Shacklebolt flew close in, so their knees pressed together. As long as they each steered a little into the other it was easy to maintain that easier talking distance. “A wild one, not a chance. This is a sedentary, very elderly, underfed dragon. I think we can out-fly it.”

Harry shrugged, preferring a flight out over the white capping waves to an endless walk in the alleyways. The Ministry-issue Cleansweep Eleven would indeed do a pretty good clip, making Harry suspect that its safety spells had been tampered with by one of the others in their department. Harry wondered if he could have the same done to his borrowed Cleansweep, he liked the hair-trigger responsiveness of this broom that resulted from its not caring if you knocked yourself off of it with an unwise sudden maneuver.

Within half an hour, they could see something in the misty distance. If it wasn’t a dragon, it was something awfully strange. Shacklebolt again flew in close. “This is the plan. It should still have its collar and chain attached, which is heavy and is probably slowing it down as well. I want you to fly out in front and distract it while I get hold of it to turn it around.”

“I’m flying out in front?” Harry asked in confirmation, thinking of the fire-breathing feature most dragons were equipped with.

“Yes,” Shacklebolt confirmed with another white-toothed grin. “Piece of cake, Harry.”

“You’re going to owe me a piece of cake,” Harry muttered when Shacklebolt broke away and sped up again.

When they were just three hundred yards behind, Shacklebolt gestured in a throwing motion for Harry to go on ahead. Harry did so, cloak bounding and snapping as he sped up to pass the monster. It didn’t pay as much attention to Harry as he expected. In fact it was so intent on looking far ahead that Harry had to shout and wave his arm to get its rummy eyes to shift up to him.

Its eyes narrowed and its chest expanded. Harry pulled up hard as a burst of flame came roaring his way, sizzling away the mist. He ended up just above the dragon’s snaking neck where its wings sprouted. Raising its head had slowed it considerably, making Harry brake. Shacklebolt was moving; he had the chain end hooked over his broom and was making a broad turn to the left. Harry watched the slack in the chain disappear and suddenly the dragon was flying to the left as well, easily steered by its long neck. It snorted and tried to hit Shacklebolt with a burst of flame, but it mostly just let out a trail of smoke and made a hiccupping noise.

“Come on, you. Can’t have you wandering aimlessly, eating sheep until you fall asleep like last time.” Shacklebolt urged his broom forward, but the dragon resisted and snapped its head like a whip, forcing the Auror’s broom up and the chain to slip off. The dragon made a turn back west again, but the pumping of its wings was slower and it was loosing altitude now as well as speed.

Shacklebolt made another dive for the chain and Harry dodged close to the dragon’s head to distract it again, believing that it was out of methane. It wasn’t. A burst of flame came rolling out and Harry was too close this time. He dodged and ducked under his cloak, which ignited. Again the dragon was tugged around by its chain and Shacklebolt shouted something that Harry had to guess at. “I’m fine!” Harry shouted back, even though he was still trying to use a freezing charm on his flaming cloak. He dove for the water and hovered just above the chop. Icy sea water splashed his legs, but it put out his cloak and sleeve quickly enough.

Harry, after a quick check that his broom tail wasn’t smoldering, rushed to catch up to Shacklebolt who still dragged at the dragon’s chain in the direction of home. The dragon flared again but the chain was just long enough to allow its master to be out of reach.

“You all right there?” Shacklebolt asked in real concern when Harry was flying just feet away.

“Yeah, yeah,” Harry insisted. He couldn’t feel any pain anywhere, but the iciness of his wet clothes was going to be a problem. “I’ll catch up; I have to dry off.”

“You’ll stay here with me,” Shacklebolt countered, glancing back at their charge. “We’re not going that fast. Try a heating spell or two.”

Harry tried about ten of them over the next few minutes and decided that was good enough. They landed a half hour later and between Shacklebolt and the two owners, they cemented the dragon’s stake back into place. Harry, to hide his half-burned cloak, waited near the cottage. A few sheep stood at the very far side of a pen beside him, eyes wide and forlorn, presumablye at the dragon’s return. The dragon for his part curled up on the snowy ground, rested his head on his rump, and closed his eyes. Shacklebolt made the witch sign a few parchments and then they were off.

Harry could smell the charcoal of his clothes as soon as they arrived back at the Ministry. The sleeve the tailor could replace, but the cloak that Snape had given him the Christmas before last was done for. Harry bundled it up and put it in his bookbag. He was sitting beside Shacklebolt’s desk as the Auror filled out reports when Tonks came in decked in all black Muggle clothing with a ring in her eyebrow. She sniffed and came over, immediately noticing Harry’s sleeve.

“You tangle with a dragon, Harry?”

“Yes,” Harry replied levelly.

“What, Control of Magical Creatures didn’t take that call?” Tonks asked in confusion.

Shacklebolt replied without looking up or slowing his writing. “Said they couldn’t get to it until the afternoon. And three years ago when they were called out there, the owners started a fight with them and Aurors were called out anyway. Rodgers thought it would be a decent training assignment.”

Tonks lifted Harry’s hand, which made his stomach turn strangely at the feel of her soft fingers. “Not burned?” she asked, examining both sides of his arm.

“No,” Harry assured her.

“That’s good. Simplifies the paperwork.” She took a seat at her desk. Her hair changed from green to its normal pink as she dug through the piles looking for something.

While Shacklebolt wrote out a report, Harry watched Tonks bend over another on her desk. By the time Shacklebolt’s prod came to get moving again, Harry had no idea how much time had passed. He really shouldn’t do that, he decided.

- 888 -

Sunday, Harry owled Belinda, asking if she wished to go to the Broken Candlestick on Diagon Alley for brunch. He felt he should try to make up for their previous date and he did want to see her; it was a raw ache without much reason behind it, but he found he couldn’t deny it.

They met at the little restaurant, which was tucked away above Madam Malkin’s with a creaky, hammered metal door on the street. A goblin ran the place but it was immediately apparent why he didn’t work at Gringott's. After claiming to have no free tables, he spotted Harry and with startled eyes led them to one for four, beside the window even.

“The Minister doesn’t even get such service,” Belinda teased. She was all smiles and looked almost cute in a thigh-high boots and a thick, high-collared jumper that almost matched her auburn hair. Harry had worn the cardigan she had given him, hoping to assuage her further.

They chatted easily through servings of quiche; Harry was calm this morning and felt better than he had in weeks. If he could feel like this all the time, his whole life would be in order. His unusual calm was disturbed by a voice nearby saying, “Oh . . . Potter.”

Harry turned and found that Malfoy and Parkinson had just been seated behind them. Pansy was saying, “We’ll have to find a new place for brunch, dear; the riffraff are taking the good tables at this place.”

Draco didn’t add to this, just continued to appear stern. Belinda looked ready to snap back with something unladylike, but Harry, still holding a well of good will toward Draco from his rescue, found himself smiling instead. “Good morning,” Harry said amiably, which made Pansy’s face go sourly mystified.

Draco looked between Harry and Belinda and said, “Currying favor with the Ministry as usual, Potter?”

Still smiling, Harry retorted, “I don’t need to curry favor with the Ministry, Mr. Malfoy.”

Malfoy’s lips curled with a tinge of disgust. “No. I don’t suppose you do, Mr. Potter.” After a pause, his eyes narrowed and his voice dropped. “Would it be unrealistic to hope that you have added some desperately needed competence to that miserable place?”

Belinda’s eyes flashed and she drew herself up as though ready to counterattack. Harry took her hand to forestall her. He said, “You suddenly taking an interest in the welfare of the common witch and wizard, Mr. Malfoy?”

“Hardly,” Draco huffed with a snort. In an even lower voice he said, “Just hearing things.” He studied Harry very closely for a long pause. “But of course the Ministry is ignorant as always.” He turned away, seeming honestly disturbed.

Harry again gestured for Belinda to stay her anger. They paid and departed as soon as their tea was gone.

“I never liked the Malfoys,” Belinda grumbled through clenched teeth on the way down the stairs to the street. The stairs were illuminated only wanly by the dirty light coming in the small panes of bottle glass in the door at the bottom. Belinda bounded quickly down the steps despite this and was out into the cloudy morning. “The Ministry is supposed to bend to their purposes and theirs alone, I suppose,” she went on sarcastically.

“He was just baiting us,” Harry pointed out, fascinated by a truly angry Belinda. “Why give him the satisfaction?”

“Oh . . .” she grumbled as she walked quickly down the alley, away from the Leaky Cauldron. “He gets me going,” she growled. “Death Eater father and all.”

Harry stopped before Fortescue's, thinking that a hot cocoa sounded good. Belinda turned when Harry stopped and stalked back, shoulders hunched, cloak crooked and off one shoulder.

“He isn’t the only one,” Harry pointed out.

Belinda zeroed in on Harry finally from her inward focus. “Hmf. What . . . you think his father shouldn’t be in Azkaban?”

Harry laughed, “You know how many times Lucius has tried to kill me? If I thought he should be out of Azkaban it would only be to give him a wand and stand him up on a duelling platform so I can get even for a few things.”

“You’re serious . . . aren’t you?” she asked.

Harry was suddenly conscious of the wand in his pocket. “Completely serious,” he assured her. “I’d love a chance to go at him again. He loved Voldemort. Loved hurting people.”

“So, hurting him back sounds good?” Belinda asked warily.

Calm still, Harry said, “Only in a fair fight.” He didn’t expect her to understand, so it failed to bother him that she clearly didn’t. He ordered two hot cocoas when the children in long coats ahead of them moved away from the window.

“People don’t understand how hard it is to govern witches and wizards,” Belinda muttered but built in force as she went along. “Balancing between illegal magic detection and promoting magical activities. We spend three years preparing an expansion of Diagon Alley and all people can complain about is that they can’t buy a flying carpet. We fund a new wing at St. Mungo’s and all we hear is that witches aren’t allowed to brew toxic Nacissinium-laced beauty cream.”

Harry handed her a cocoa, hoping to quiet her diatribe. She sipped the chocolatey milk and sighed, which made Harry follow suit. He was used to railing against the Ministry and felt uncomfortable with her spirited defense of it.

“Do you know what Draco was referring to when he said he was hearing things?” Harry asked.

Belinda stared off into the distant rooftops and then shrugged. “Could be anything. I thought you said he was baiting us.”

“I think he was serious about that part,” Harry said, replaying Draco’s expression; this time certain Draco was concerned about something. Harry tried unsuccessfully to imagine dropping him an owl to ask.

“Well,” Belinda said when they reached the end of the alley. “I have to bail on you this time . . . there is a ribbon cutting at the expansion of the Museum of Magical Mining Apparati in Lopwell that I have to attend with the Minister.”

“On a Sunday, eh?” Harry confirmed.

Belinda shrugged. “It’s going to be a busy week, too. Come down and see me at lunch, okay?” she asked, sounding hopeful.

“Of course,” Harry replied.

- 888 -

Seven of them gathered in the morning light outside Shoreditch. Munz and Blackpool, the senior apprentices had joined in their lesson partly for a refresher and partly to help teach. An airplane flew overhead, buzzing annoyingly as only a Muggle device could. Rodgers watched it go by and waited for silence before beginning. “I suppose we can’t give all the Muggles broomsticks to help the peace, can we?” he uttered before saying, “This is a good day for tracking practice with the fresh snow since it masks tracks unpredictably. We’ll only have it for a few hours, so let’s get started.

He explained the new spells. One for showing all tracks in an area. When he used it the ground was blank. One for finding tracks by time up to a week or more old, depending upon the power of the spell and whether it had rained. Yet another for illuminating one distinct set based on a single print of the trail. This last spell was the hardest and involved a very long incantation and careful concentration. Only Augustus Munz, Harry and Kerry Ann managed that spell once each and couldn’t repeat it to their frustration. They were each called up to practice the spells after the others jostled around creating confusing trails for that person to investigate.

Harry had a hard time squashing his frustration over the one spell and had to step back from the others and make himself not care about anything. Even so the snow shifted ominously as though picked up by a countering wind. Rodgers looked around with a lowered brow when this happened, clearly alarmed.

“Hm,” he said, stalking in a circle with this wand out. “This should be a secured place . . . we use it all the time.”

Harry stared at his water stained leather boots and pretended to be thinking of other things. Kerry Ann and Aaron were whispering gossip about Fudge’s new appointment, announced that morning, including Percy’s lack of fashion sense. Vineet was watching Rodgers circle. Munz and Blackpool were off to the side chatting. No one was looking at Harry, who was feeling uneasy with how quickly his control had slipped that time. He had been doing well, he had thought, and perhaps had grown less vigilant. He swallowed and forced a normal expression onto his face before lifting his head and facing their trainer, who had just given up finding the disturbance.

“Potter, you next,” Rodgers said and for one missed heart beat, Harry thought their trainer had discovered that he was the source of the wayward magic.

Harry stepped over, turned his back and listened as the others scuffled about creating a visually misleading set of prints. Harry’s feet grew cold as he waited and he had to stomp them to get them warm. Finally, Rodgers gestured that he could turn around. Harry faced the trampled ground with its red starting flag. His fellows stood off to the side, looking distinctly pleased with themselves. Further contemplation of the snowy tracks, some melted clear to the grass, did not yield any clues to their sly smiles.

Harry stepped carefully around to the marker and used his eyes first to try and track who had placed the flag before retreating. Everyone’s boots were equally worn, it appeared, although differing in size, but the trails went over each other repeatedly. Harry waved a general track illumination spell and the whole ground lit up in one color, the tracks were too close in time to allow them to be distinguished. Harry crouched and lowered his wand and touched one of the prints and then incanted the spell he couldn’t manage to repeat earlier. It took three tries and a nearly empty-minded focus on the magic, which wasn’t easy over Aaron’s and Babs Blackpool’s heckling. The trail of nondescript prints illuminated pink as though an invisible person were rewalking them. The ghostly footprints went left, in a circle, then right and then just stopped, somewhere near the middle.

With a tilted head Harry considered this. He hadn’t heard anyone Apparate. “Did someone carry someone else?” Harry asked. Aaron was grinning fully now and the others seemed genuinely curious if he were going to work this out.

“No,” Rodgers replied.

Harry stood and walked to where the end of the trail was slowly fading to plain white. He was about fifteen feet from the potential trailmakers. They hadn’t made the exercise this hard for any of the others, but Harry was certainly game for equaling their cleverness. Harry studied the last prints he knew were left by his target; they didn’t have any distinct characteristics he could use to physically identify them. Harry dropped his glove between the prints so he wouldn’t lose track of them when the spell finished fading and looked down the line of his fellow apprentices, none of whom appeared the least bit bored with waiting while he struggled.

Harry could go down the line and test each person’s boots to see which caused these tracks. That would take time and be a bit awkward with each having to stand around one-footed in their socks as they had for Aaron, who had been determined to use the one spell he always got right.
Aaron in fact held out one booted foot. “Want to check?” he offered. Harry resisted Legilimizing him, but at least he now knew that tact wasn’t going to work. But why wouldn’t it work? Harry wondered, and realized that he didn’t know enough about these spells. Spell theory did help, Harry realized, even though it usually filled up his evenings with mind numbing readings.

What if the spell tracked a person and their boots as a unit? Harry considered, not just a particular pair of boots. Harry lifted his glove out of the way and tried to see what the closest next set of prints was. One set, in a line with the others, seemed a good possibility. Harry repeated the single trail spell again and, possibly due to his rising determination, got it to work the first time. The next trail illuminated, leading to Vineet.

“Oh, you figured it out,” Aaron said in disappointment.

Harry put his icy glove back on as he stood up. “That’s enough for today, I think,” Rodgers was saying. He glanced up flatly at Harry, who couldn’t read if his trainer were glad or not that Harry had worked out their trick.

Vineet after trading his boots back with Aaron came over and intoned, “You are difficult to fool.”

Harry turned off to the side with him as the others began Apparating away. “I’ve been fooled before,” Harry assured him. The surrounding buildings looked empty still but presumably their owners would be coming home from work although the barrier spells on this plot of land would continue to hold and continue to obscure the Muggles’ view of them standing there.

“Are you by chance having another party soon?” Vineet asked.

Harry put his wand away and waved goodbye to Kerry Ann when she waved before disappearing. “Hadn’t thought about it.” He shrugged. “I’ll let you know if I do.”

Vineet crossed his arms, apparently to ward off the cold. “I would be appreciating an invitation. You have most interesting friends.”

“Yep,” Harry replied as he thought about the incoming Apparition area at the end of the corridor in preparation for sending himself to it. “And I don’t see them enough, so I should plan something soon . . . the month is going fast.”

- 888 -

The next day they waited in the workout room, training long overdue to start. Aaron put his leg up on the desk before him--nearly folding himself in half to do it, and sighed at the ceiling in boredom.

Kerry Ann said, “So, Harry, nice picture of you in Witch Weekly’s latest issue. So, it’s official?”

“What’s official?” Harry asked carefully.

“You’re dating Ms. Belluna.”

Harry shrugged. “Yeah, I guess.”

Kerry Ann shook her head. “I’m glad all guys, even the most sought after, are as clueless as the kappa slappas I end up with.”

Harry was actually insulted. But he gave the cause of the sometimes uncertain state of his and Belinda’s dating some thought before composing a response. Maybe he was the one more at fault for that, but it was hard to tell. He always looked forward to seeing her but at the end of the date it seemed all mixed up. Maybe if she didn’t push so much to understand everything, Harry considered.

“Harry?” Kerry Ann prompted. When Harry turned a level gaze on her, she said, “Come on, I didn’t mean that personally. I was bucking myself up with that thought, not bringing you down. Or that wasn’t what I meant to do. You two make a cute couple. And her parents like you I hear.”

At Harry’s dark, narrow look, Aaron bust out laughing. Aaron’s feet hit the floor with a slap as he straightened up in his desk, unable to laugh in his overly-lounging position. “Bloody, no relationship could survive that kind of scrutiny. None of mine could, anyway.” He stood and said, “What IS up?” before going to the door.

With the door open a raised voice could be heard. The four of them were in the corridor in an instant, Aaron with his wand out. He put it away again when it was clearly just an argument between Ministry staff. Inside the Aurors’ group office. Tonks and Percy Weasley were having a face-off in the middle of the desks, but over what, was unclear. Rogan, near the door mumbled, “Fudge’s been in that office three days and already he’s making a power grab.”

Arthur Weasley, their Department head, wove between them all outside the door and stopped between the two red-faced combatants. “All right now, calm down.”

Percy turned his nasal argument on Mr. Weasley instead. “I have come for the artifact.”

“Do you have a req-?” Mr. Weasley began.

“YES. I have the proper requisition forms,” Percy stated, stamping his foot even. “SHE, has them. They have disappeared for the moment, but I doubt it was permanent. In any event, they were copies.”

“Tonks,” Mr. Weasley prompted, holding his hand out.

Tonks pulled a set of parchments out of her shirt. Mr. Weasley didn’t even look at them, just handed them back to Percy. “I’m sure you are aware that we are not finished with it.”

“You have admitted to failing to determine its function or spell origin. THAT is what the Department of Mysteries does,” Percy stated annoyingly, as though talking to an errant child rather his own father.

Harry had to give Mr. Weasley boundless credit for not only failing to deck Percy, but failing to rise to anger at all. Harry previously would have thought him a bit soft in the spine, but since his own struggles with anger and negative emotion, he felt awed instead. Mr. Weasley merely frowned lightly and glanced down at some parchments on the nearest desk.

More calmly, Percy said, “You cannot hold it back. Our paperwork is in order.”

“Tonks,” Mr. Weasley said calmly. “Give him what he came for.”

Tonks tossed her arms at her sides, fists balled. “Arthur . . .”

“Ms. Tonks,” Mr. Weasley said, more sternly.

Tonks moved around to the other side of the nearest row of cubicles and dug around. From the door the apprentices couldn’t see what she was doing and it was too crowded to move into the room for a better view.

“Here,” Tonks muttered. “I’ll put it in a box-” she started to say, but a quick crash of breaking pottery interrupted her. Percy gasped and turned fully red again. Tonk’s eyes and hair were visible over the top of the cubicle when she straightened up. Her pink eyebrows were nearly in her pink hair. “I didn’t mean to . . . “

Percy looked about as ready to kill as Harry had ever seen him. Mr. Weasley said, “Well, give him the pieces.”

Shacklebolt and Rodgers moved to help Tonks clean up by hand, resisting using a spell for some reason. A covered box was handed over to Percy, who tugged it away and shoved it under his arm, making the contents rattle and probably break farther. With that he stalked out, knocking a path out the door with his boney shoulders.

Tonks approached Mr. Weasley and said pleadingly, “Honestly, Arthur, I didn’t mean to . . .”

Mr. Weasley held up his hand to forestall her. “We weren’t going to see it again anyway.” He turned to go. “Back to work, everyone.”

“What was that?” Kerry Ann asked. No one replied. The four of them shared a mutual shrug and returned to the workout room as the office returned to order. Rodgers came in soon after and went through their morning with even more cursory attitude than usual.

At lunch Harry wandered into the office to find Tonks. He had been worrying about her through the morning and wanted to at least try to cheer her up. She was working at her desk, head bent far over the memo she was reading. The room was empty otherwise.

“Hey, Tonks,” Harry said.

She didn’t lift her head. “Harry,” she said, sounding glum.

Harry reached out and brushed the shoulder of her robe to get her to look up. As he stepped farther forward his foot bumped something. She brought her eyes up; they contained a complex mixture of things. “It’s all right, Harry,” she said dismissively.

Harry bent down and found what his foot had encountered. It was a broken piece of orange ceramic like from a cheap jug.

“We didn’t get it all,” Tonks said upon seeing it and then held out her hand for it.

Harry didn’t hand it over. It felt stranger than its innocent appearance let on. It felt unexpectedly sharp against his skin, or perhaps charged as though with electricity. Tonks put her hand down.

“Are you feeling something from that, Harry?” she asked, sounding intrigued.

“Doesn’t feel normal,” Harry said, holding it out. “I don’t know what it feels like. What is it?”

“We’re not sure. Something someone doesn’t want us to have. We only had a broken piece of it anyway. Discarded unwisely. Something the Department of Mysteries thinks is too dangerous for us to have. What does it feel like to you, Harry? You gave it a good scope there.”

“It feels electrically charged. Like when you put a battery to your tongue.”

“A what to your what?” Tonks asked, thoroughly amused.

“It feels like it is shocking me, just a little. You don’t feel that?” Harry asked.

She shook her head and slipped the piece into her desk drawer. “Didn’t mean to break it, but it worked out in the end,” she said with small satisfaction.

“Most things do,” Harry ventured.

She gave him a sideways look. “Aren’t you supposed to be in training?”

“It’s lunch,” Harry pointed out.

“Is it?” she asked in surprise.

- 888 -

At home, Harry found Snape’s owl, Franklin, at the window. He took the letter and gave the bird a toss into the chilly darkness to help it get going again. The letter was short and written hurriedly.


This weekend will be the first chance that I can possibly get away. I assume you are behaving yourself and keeping to your studies--certainly no one here seems to be. Minerva asks after you--perhaps you could send her an owl. Lovely photo of you in Witch Weekly, by the way, you can thank Minerva for showing it around.

Harry cringed and sat at the table. He remained there, looking at the letter in the dim flicker from the hearth. As much as he wished to not disappoint Snape by letting him discover how bad things had become, Harry half wished Snape had at least asked, or suspected, or something. But at least he was coming home soon. Just thinking that made Harry feel a bit better.


Thanks everyone for all the encouragement! I’ve been writing on the story, but not in the mood to fix up in preparation for posting. Finally got a quiet day to do that. Chapter 3 is going to the betas today.

Yes, Charlie is married. I’ll be fixing that. Thanks. (I blame book 6 for the confusion)

The plot will be picking up the pace in chapter 3, hopefully to not slow down until the very end, given all the subplot ideas swirling in my brain above and beyond those in the outline.

Next: Chapter 3 -- Twilight

Harry was back inside himself and feeling offense flowing into him. The files rattled again and this time Fergus jumped back in surprise since he had been bending over them to look more closely. Something snapped like small hungry jaws. Harry did not really wish to rein himself in; he wanted to let this all loose. He wanted to point out that her father wasn’t the best of company, frankly. A second later he did calm himself, for no one clear reason, perhaps just reason itself. He let go of her arm and her expression gave away that she realized she had made a mistake.

Chapter 3: Twilight
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter 3 — Twilight

In the candlelit dining room, Harry welcomed Hermione in from the Floo and helped her brush off.

“Been getting grimier as winter gets on,” she complained as she shook out her long bushy hair. She tossed her cloak over a chair back and gave Harry a quick hug. “How have you been?”

Harry shrugged, started to compose an honest response, but was interrupted by her going on with, “I’m so relieved the holidays are over and I finally figured out why.”

Harry straightened up and avoided frowning. “Why’s that?”

“Because,” she replied as she took a seat at the table. “I was so very tired of pretending things were all right with Ron. We agreed to not totally split up until the holidays were over. I went along with it because I thought it was a good idea, but it really wasn’t.”

Harry stood beside the chair across from her. “So you’re officially, finally split now?”

“Yeah,” Hermione said softly. “We agreed we could date other people and everything.” She pulled her jumper sleeves down straight and crossed her arms. “That’s why I’m here alone tonight.”

“What?” Harry managed despite not being able to breath quite properly as he tried to deal with what sounded like a misunderstanding he hadn’t imagined previously.

Hermione tossed her thickly clad arms. “You know . . . without Ron. So, how are things with Belinda?” she plowed right in and asked, which returned the breath to Harry’s lungs.

Harry sat down heavily and said, “All right, I guess. She wants it to be a bit more serious than I do at this point.” Harry felt very relieved to have someone to tell this to. “At the same time, she has so little time to get together. . . I don’t feel like we know each other all that well.” He met Hermione’s attentive and caring face and continued, “I think she thinks sex would be a substitute for having spent enough time really getting to know one another, which we just haven’t done. I think she really believes she knows me, but she doesn’t and I know I don’t know her all that well.”

Hermione had put her chin on her hands to listen even more closely. After a long pause she prompted, “Go on . . .”

Harry laughed. “It’s nice and all to have someone to talk to about Ministry things, but that might be all we have in common.” He paused. “Well, that and liking me.”

Hermione laughed. “Oh dear, you aren’t dating a member of your fan club, are you?”

“I might be,” Harry admitted, putting his own elbows on the table. “Want a butterbeer or a hot chocolate?”

“Butterbeer would be lovely,” she said.

Harry snapped his fingers and a warm bottle and glass sparkled in before each of them.

“You are turning into Dumbledore!” she exclaimed.

“No,” Harry denied, smiling slyly at his guessed timing. “Winky’s just very good at knowing what and when you want to eat or drink. The finger snap was coincidental,” he teased her.

“Are you sure?” she challenged, pouring for herself.


“How are things at the Ministry?” she asked.

“Power struggles are already starting with Fudge,” Harry complained.

“Already! He just got that position,” she marveled, aghast.

“Tell us about it,” Harry grumbled. And something is going on, he wanted to say, but held back, wanting to keep the evening away from such musings. “How’s your job going?” he asked in the hopes of being distracted by someone else’s troubles.

Hermione didn’t disappoint, going on for a long while about the various cases she was working on. “But I think I have to get a degree if I want to be more than a grunt doing research and write-ups that someone else puts their name on. That’s a big leap and I have to be sure this is what I want to do before making it.”

During the lull, Chinese egg rolls appeared. Hermione stared at them suspiciously. “Winky is really good,” she said before lifting one gingerly and biting into it.

Harry smiled, happy to see her pleased, happy to have her there. “You should come over more often.”

“Without Ron my social life is dropping to zero, so I’d like that.” She ate another roll. “So, when are you having another party?”

“Everyone has been asking me that,” Harry commented. “When I can manage . . .”

“What do you mean ‘manage’ . . . Winky does everything.”

“It isn’t that,” Harry said but found himself reluctant to explain, even to her, his difficulties with attracting dark creatures. He told himself it was because he wanted to keep the evening light. Dinner arrived then and the conversation stopped in favor of eating.

Much later, as she swung her cloak over her shoulders while getting ready to go, Hermione said, “It was really good to see you.”

Harry was sleepy from post dinner sherry and too much food, which he discovered only when he stood up to see her off. “You too.” He felt relaxed and safe and realized he had forgotten what that felt like.

“Have a party soon, Harry. You have interesting friends and they all come when you invite them.”

Harry smiled but behind it he was wishing that he knew for certain that he could stay this safe to make that possible. “Sure.”

She stopped getting ready to depart and let her hands drop. “Everything all right, Harry?” she asked, apparently seeing something he was trying not to show.

“Well enough,” he said, stopping himself from fidgeting.

“You’ve never been a great liar you know,” she said, sounding lightly exasperated. The hearth light was highlighting her dark brown hair with a halo of blonde. Harry wished that he could have this level of understanding with Belinda. But the events and years that had led to this instinctive friendship were unrepeatable, even should Harry wish to.

Harry said, “I’m having . . . these odd, I don’t know what to call them, not visions but . . .”

“Something with the Death Eater shadows?” Hermione asked in alarm. “Are they closer?”

“No, no, they’re all far off in Azkaban. And you know, Severus isn’t one anymore.” At her puzzled expression, Harry went on, “When he came back from nearly being killed by Avery, his shadow was gone.”

“Harry, that’s wonderful.”

Harry dropped his gaze, feeling vaguely guilty for that distracting change in topic. “Yep, it is.”

Harry needn’t have worried. “So it isn’t the shadows . . .” Hermione prompted.

“It is other things. . . dark creatures.” He waited for her reaction—it was a bit distressed. “When I get angry, or upset, or even just frustrated. Which, just thinking about it, is making me right now.” Harry listened closely but the crackle of the fire was the only sound, and he felt warm, still safe. “So if I push you into the Floo without warning, you’ll know why,” he added lightly.

She considered him deeply thoughtful. “Does Professor Snape know about this?”

“Yeah,” Harry said, which was true enough to pass her subsequent verification. “I don’t like having others around who can’t defend themselves. So at the Ministry it isn’t so bad. Just worrying less makes it less of a problem.”

She stepped closer, throwing her face into shadow. “Yes, but Harry, you can’t go on like this . . . can you?” she said with pained concern.

Harry held her gaze, which wasn’t easy. “What else can I do? Severus has researched it all he can . . .”

“Next time I’m at the London library I’ll look too,” she said, sounding motherly.

“I’ve looked there, but I’d appreciate any help.”

She stepped closer still and gave him another quick hug. “Owl, or silver message, or something if you need anything. Okay?” she asked sternly.

“Sure,” Harry replied, feeling touched and even a little embarrassed.

“You said Professor Snape was coming home tomorrow, right?” Hermione turned to ask before tossing in the Floo Powder.

“Yeah,” Harry assured her.

“Okay,” she said, sounding as though she might feel compelled to check on him if Snape wasn’t. “Take care of yourself, Harry. Normally I don’t say that because you have a house-elf and all, but . . .”

“I will,” he insisted and this satisfied her, apparently, because she finally departed.

Harry took himself up to his room right after; he had field work the next morning at 10:00 a.m. and he wanted to be well rested for that. As he settled into sleep he mused that Hermione without Ron was a more interesting Hermione than she used to be.

- 888 -

Harry impatiently waited for the lift to ascend to his floor; he was five minutes late due to the Floo diverting him to Knockturn Alley. He was tempted to owl Belinda when he arrived to ask what was going on with the Floo network. But he arrived at the office and found Tonks in a close discussion with Shacklebolt, and he found himself caring a bit less that he was late, if no one would notice his tardiness.

The chat, or more accurately: quiet debate, went on for rather a long while and Harry finally stepped back down to the workout room where Vineet sat, waiting patiently, gaze distant.

“Do you know who you’re paired with?” Harry asked him.

“I expect Mr. Shacklebolt,” Vineet intoned without turning to him.

“Oh,” Harry said, pleased by the prospect of being paired with Tonks.

The two Aurors came in soon after and Harry, his face carefully serious, gave his arm to Tonks to take him out on the pavements of London for patrol.

The streets were whipped by a cold wet wind and only a few others were out. The Muggles they encountered walked quickly without a glance at the two of them. Harry followed for many blocks beside Tonks’ sensible shoes that made no sound at all on the pavement. Nothing much happened as they went, except for Tonks stopping occasionally to look in a window—and she might very well have been shopping.

“I was thinking,” Tonks said when they stopped to wait for a walk signal, “of circling around to Diagon for a hot soup before continuing.”

“Sounds great,” Harry said, his arms now wrapped around himself. Today he only had his old cloak, which was only knee length and didn’t block the wind nearly as well as his usual one. It did have a good wand pocket, however, and Harry kept his gloved fingers near the edge of it all of the time.

Harry walked, pitched slightly into the wind. He began studying the passersby with more care the way Tonks was doing, as though looking for someone in particular. Two men dressed casually went by, arguing about a football match. A woman and her daughter went by, the woman keeping the girl close with a hand on her shoulder. Muggles all, Harry noted without much thought until a woman approached from a small square they were passing. It may have been the knitted jumper and shawl being just a little too handmade looking, but Harry was certain she was a witch. He slowed and waited for her to look up from the small notebook she held before her. He wanted to be certain, because it seemed like more than the clothes, really.

The woman looked up at the street sign, down the street and, just before Harry had to speed up to catch Tonks, she looked at him and her eyes did indeed go wide in surprise and recognition. Harry nodded in a kind of hello and hurried ahead. One last glance back before they exited the square showed the witch befuddledly scratching her head with a mittened hand.

Harry spent the rest of the walk to the Leaky Cauldron trying unsuccessfully to pin down what it was about each person that marked them as magical or not. By the time they passed through the marred old door, Harry had been distracted by his numb arms and he was grateful to be able to use a warming charm on them after they entered.

“Two soups, Tom,” Tonks shouted across the pub. She tossed her gloves down and took up a place with the other patrons crowded near the hearth. The rest of the table gave them suspicious looks, some of which changed to glowing, half toothed smiles upon recognizing Harry.

Soup arrived with a sloshing thunk of the big pot on the end of the table and Tom used a rusty ladle to fill two bowls. Harry pressed his hands to his hot bowl and held them there.

“Winter isn’t my favorite,” Tonks said, sipping directly from the edge of the bowl, ignoring her spoon. Somehow it didn’t seem rude when she did that. “So, how are you doing, Harry?”

The pair of old witches beside them were listening in. Harry shrugged. A brown owl fluttered by and landed on someone’s shoulder. A family emerged from the hearth in a blast of green and, with a shriek of metal corners on the hearthstones, towed their luggage to the stairs.

The soup break ended too soon and they headed out again. On the Muggle street Tonks said, “Maybe I should have asked Rodgers for an easy assignment like Kingsley did. Doing something would be warmer.”

“Shacklebolt accused me of attracting trouble,” Harry teased.

“You do attract trouble,” Tonks asserted. “But how are you doing?”

Harry, rather than admit to anything even though he liked hearing those words from her, said, “Can you tell witches and wizards from Muggles?”

“Muggles dress better and bathe regularly,” Tonks said. “If you haven’t noticed that, Harry . . .”

“I mean without those clues,” Harry insisted, forced to dodge around a large man holding his bowler on and staggering a bit.

“I don’t think so. I usually ask something that would be meaningless to a Muggle when I need to find out.”

“You can’t just tell by . . . feel?” Harry persisted.

“No. Don’t know anyone besides Moody with his eye, who can.”


Not ten minutes later, Tonks pulled up short and stepped behind a magazine stand to pull out her slate tablet. “Cripes,” she breathed and then almost frantically glanced around. “Not an alleyway when you need one, is there?”

Harry pointed at a parked lorry from which the delivery man had just wheeled something inside a shop. Tonks grabbed Harry’s hand and dashed up the metal ramp, making rather a racket. A voice shouted from somewhere but Tonks had already pulled Harry behind a stack of pallets and Disapparated. Harry imagined a very puzzled lorry driver returning just seconds later.

They arrived back at the Ministry where Vineet and Shacklebolt were just stepping out of the marked incoming area at the end of one corridor. Without a word the Aurors moved close, pulled their wands, and disappeared.

Harry huffed, feeling useless, but he quickly let it go. Vineet intoned, “At least we are being deposited somewhere comfortable.”

“Yep.” Harry stood there thinking, then had an idea. “Assuming they are going to be gone for a while, I’m going up to the Minister’s office.” As he stepped away, he added, “In case anyone is looking for me.”

Despite it being a Saturday, the Minister’s reception area contained Belinda and two other assistants. “Harry,” Belinda said happily when she noticed him lingering there in the doorway. The other two shared knowing looks. Harry ignored them and stepped in.

“Working hard?” Harry asked, thinking that was a safe topic.

She straightened and met him halfway across the room. She was dressed as nice as a weekday in a dark green pantsuit and waist-length cloak. “Not so much. Saturdays are fortunately quiet. What are you doing here?”

“My field work got interrupted,” Harry answered casually, but the eyes of the other two assistants came up with what had to be vague alarm. Harry wondered if he went back down to the Auror’s office, he could find any written record of the assignment Tonks and Shacklebolt had been sent out on.

A figure stepped briskly out of the far office. “Fergus, do you have the . . . Mr. Potter,” Madam Bones said with a clear change in voice. “Just the man I wanted to see. Come in. Come in.” She turned immediately around, causing her monocle to swing, and headed back into her office. Harry followed slowly and took the offered tall leather chair that backed onto the real skylight by the wall. Bones hitched her hip on the edge of her desk and clasped her hand before herself. “So . . . have you decided?” she asked with interest.

Harry’s mouth fell open a bit and he worked his brain backward to what this might be. Her expectant expression didn’t help the process. “I’m not sure what you are referring to . . .” he finally admitted.

She smiled all the more, oddly enough, as though doting on him by doing so. “It is barely over three months away, Mr. Potter . . . Harry—the anniversary that so deserves to be a holiday.”

“Er,” Harry began, remembering her earlier threat in a rush. “I really don’t think we need a Harry Potter Day, Minister,” he quickly said, trying to sound reassuring rather than panicked.

She stepped around her desk. “I am certainly open to other monikers . . .” she stated easily.

“Um, Demise of Voldemort Day?” Harry suggested.

“A bit negative don’t you feel using his name?” Bones said. She put her monocle to her eye and looked for a parchment on her desk. “Ah, here it is. We have compiled a possible list. Let’s see: Dark Diminishment Day . . . no. Ah, Dastardly Demise Day, Dark Lord Death Day. No. Or how about Free-As-You-Please Day?” She shook her head and let her monocle fall. “Demise of Voldemort Day you think?”

Harry, who would accept any option that didn’t include his name, nodded vigorously.

“And how shall we celebrate? Parade? Honorary Quidditch match?”

Harry, who had not considered the second, hesitated but finally said, “I was thinking of an annual dueling competition . . . where I’d be the judge.”

“Well!” She exclaimed, pleased. “You have been putting some thought into this . . . I’m so glad.” She paced back around her desk, her polyester pantsuit making loud fabricky noises. “Dueling competition . . . dueling competition,” she muttered to herself. “I do think we can manage that.”

Harry almost folded in relief.

“Well, we’ll get planning on that,” Bones stated. Harry stood and followed her to the door. “I’ll let you know the exact time and such . . .” she said dismissively, to Harry’s dismay. Before he could even get out of the way, she said another goodbye, called one of her assistants into her office, and closed the door.

Harry approached Belinda where she was looking through the shelves. She said, “Want to do something tonight?”

“Can’t,” Harry said. “Severus is going to be home.” At her odd expression he quickly offered, “You could come over for dinner.”

Her expression remained strangely flat. “Um . . . Maybe not.”

Harry felt like he had stepped out of himself and now stood beside his own left shoulder. The files stacked on the floor across the room rattled and rustled, drawing Belinda’s and Fergus’ attention that way. Harry, for once, did not care if he, a poltergeist, or even a Shetani were causing it. Quietly, while stalling her from going over as well with a hand on her arm, he said, “What’s the problem?”

“Well, I don’t really want . . . well, Saturday night with Professor Snape doesn’t sound like what I was thinking of.”

Harry was back inside himself and feeling offense flowing into him. The files rattled again and this time Fergus jumped back in surprise since he had been bending over them to look more closely. Something snapped like small hungry jaws. Harry did not really wish to rein himself in; he wanted to let this all loose. He wanted to point out that her father wasn’t the best of company, frankly. A second later he did calm himself, for no one clear reason, perhaps just reason itself. He let go of her arm and her expression revealed that she realized she had made a mistake.

“Harry,” she said, disbelieving, “You are taking this the wrong-”

“No,” Harry only whispered but she fell silent. He had seen more in her eyes, a distaste and derision even although it was short-lived and she hadn’t really expressed it. “He’s my father now, you know,” he continued, sounding like someone else talking.

“Harry,” she said soothingly, “I know that. I didn’t mean-” A file exploded with an odd squeal, interrupting her. Looking between her colleague and Harry, she accused, “Are you causing that?”

”Not intentionally,” Harry said, backing up and thinking he had to escape here if he was going to pull himself back under control. She gave him a searching look now. Harry said, “Sorry, I have to go. Tonks and Shacklebolt may have returned,” he added quickly. If she said anything more, he didn’t hear it.

Back downstairs, Harry found Vineet rehearsing Eastern Defense Arts in the workout room. Harry stopped in the doorway, queerly relieved to be in the other’s presence. The workout room and the whole floor were quiet. Needing a distraction, Harry stepped in, sat down, and started talking about the first non-Ministry topic that leapt to mind.

“Have you told your wife about your power yet?”

Vineet came to a halt, mid-turn of his hips, leg raised. He slowly stood straight and replied, “Not precisely.”

“What does that mean?” Harry demanded a little sharply. “You’ve either leveled with her or you haven’t.”

Vineet considered Harry in silence, head tilted to the side. “You think it so important?” he asked, sounding honestly curious, in contrast to his sharp gaze.

“I don’t know,” Harry muttered and leaned over the desktop onto his elbow. Antsy and annoyed, Harry stared at the far wall.

Vineet crossed his arms. “Is anything the matter?” he asked.

Harry was certain that this man—who honored him above anything Harry had encountered previously, had changed his life path even because of him—didn’t want to hear the truth. “It’s hard to explain,” Harry hedged. “I just had a little tiff with Belinda, is all.”

“Ah,” Vineet uttered. “Such an inefficient process, this dating.”

“I’m not looking for a wife,” Harry pointed out. “Not right now, anyway. Besides, as much as I trust Severus, I wouldn’t send him off to find me one, even if I were looking or hoping.” Harry let his shoulders fall and found calm finally. Vineet returned to what he had been doing.

After watching Vineet hypnotically practice repeated movements for ten minutes, Harry said, “I wonder if their assignment is recorded anywhere. I’m darn curious.”

Vineet paused and glanced at the open door. “I did not find anything meaningful.”

“You looked!” Harry said, laughing.

“I was curious,” Vineet argued. “You think I should not be?”

Harry shrugged. “You seem so honest otherwise. . .”

“I did not open anything that was not allowed for me to see,” Vineet stated.

“Didn’t find anything, eh?”

“Not unless MM means anything to you,” Vineet said. When Harry shook his head, he explained, “It is coded in several places of interest among the assignment logs.”

“MM? Malfoy Manor?” Harry suggested. “Draco Malfoy seemed more worried than suspicious the other day when I ran into him. I don’t remember another Malfoy . . . sure it was MM and not NM?” At Vineet’s nod, Harry frowned thoughtfully.

Tonks and Shacklebolt were gone until 4:00 p.m. They Apparated in and sank wearily into their desk chairs. Harry and Vineet, who had been occupying themselves with drills and just plain silly spells, stepped in at the sound of their arrival.

“What happened?” Harry asked.

Tonks and Shacklebolt shared a look. “Nothing,” Tonks said.

“Absolutely nothing?” Harry demanded, remembering the last false alarm that interrupted their field shadowing. “Again?”

“Yep. Again,” Tonks said. “Why don’t you two head on home,” she suggested in a manner that came out as an order.

“Who’s MM?” Harry asked. When Tonks paused, Harry said, “It is on the log.”

With a slash of her wand the door boomed closed. Shacklebolt said, “Whitley and Reggie didn’t want it shared.”

“Want what shared?” Harry asked.

To Shacklebolt, Tonks argued, “We don’t know if any of this is even connected.”


“You going to squeal on me if I tell them?”

Harry and Vineet’s gaze shifted together between the two Aurors, spectator style. Shacklebolt crossed his arms before his broad chest. “I would rather you not put me in the position of having to divide my loyalties.”

Tonks put her wand back away. “They’re not going to keep it quiet much longer.”

“So you’re not going say?” Harry demanded after a silence, acutely disappointed.

“No,” Tonks admitted and appeared to move on to writing up a report.

Harry gestured between himself and Vineet. “Are we part of this organization or not?” he asked.

“No. Not fully. Not yet,” Tonks countered.

“It’s always years away,” Harry complained as best he could while holding his anger on a chokingly short leash. “Can’t join the Order, Harry, until you’re of age. . .”

“For the record, I disagreed with that,” Tonks said while Harry continued with, “ . . . doesn’t matter, Harry, that you’ve fought Voldemort more times than anyone else actually in the Order . . .” Harry went on despite her attempts to cut in. “And now you are saying that we have to wait two and half more years to find out who the enemy is? How many times is he going to have to try to kill us before you will tell us?”

“Finished?” Tonks snapped into the gap when he took a breath. Harry dropped his gaze and pulled himself together. “You are out of line,” she stated and it cut through him like a blade. With forced calm she said, “I will ask Reggie to revisit the issue of what you are allowed—of the vague suspicious, not facts—to hear. I trust you, Harry, up to the point where your discipline as an Auror is lacking. I honestly would trust Vishnu here a bit more to not do anything stupid, although in this case there isn’t anything personal for you, so perhaps you wouldn’t act on your own.”

The room fell silent. Harry stared at the floor, feeling less than nothing as the safest option. If he felt anything at all, he would be lost. Tonks said, “Go home. Next week I’ll ask Reggie to schedule a briefing for you. It’s overdue, I believe.”

Harry turned and departed without a glance at Shacklebolt, whom he was afraid would be disappointed in his tirade. In the workout room Vineet approached as Harry was collecting his bag. “I will be seeing you next week,” he said.

“Yeah. Have a good weekend—rest of weekend.” Harry Disapparated from there to home right then, not having the patience to spin that long in the Floo.

The quiet house immediately didn’t feel so. Harry pretended everything was all right and put his things away as he usually did. When he turned from rearranging his books and emptying his mind until the house felt calm, he found Winky at the door to the Library, looking skittish and more suplicating than usual.

“Master Harry waiting for Master to have dinner?”

“Yes,” Harry replied.

Winky nodded to herself as she backed away. Harry dropped onto the lounger and closed his eyes.

“Shall we move your bed down here?” a voice asked from the doorway some time later.

Harry must have fallen asleep. He rubbed his eyes and asked, “Who’s MM?”

“What?” Snape asked, and his voice shifting made it sound as though he had returned to the doorway at that question. “MM?” he confirmed. “No idea.”

“You’re certain you have no idea?” Harry asked while staring at the ceiling in a fit of calm control.

“Mad-Eye Moody?” Snape suggested.

“Doubtful,” Harry answered. “Besides those aren’t his real initials.”

“It was the first thing that came to mind. May I ask what brought the question up?”

“Something is up at the Ministry. Our field shadowing got interrupted by another non-emergency and they won’t tell us anything, but the logbook has MM in it.”

Their gazes locked for a long second. “If I knew I would tell you, Harry,” Snape stated in an almost soothing tone. “I’ll ask Minerva, who I presume is not the MM in question.”

“Thanks,” Harry said. He washed up for dinner and hungrily settled in across from Snape, who didn’t have a plate. “You already ate?” Harry asked.

“You needn’t have waited,” Snape said, rolling a tumbler of something between his hands.

Harry ate quickly, grateful that he was having a better time with the Dark Plane than earlier; Snape’s sharp gaze felt like a microscope. He filled his guardian in on what they had learned that week, lost in memory as he spoke. When he looked up, he found that Snape appeared worn a bit thin. So even though he wanted to talk more, he headed off to his room as soon as the plates disappeared.

As Harry awoke the next morning, he had a delayed reaction to his encounter with Belinda. He stared at the dim ceiling of his room and wondered what she was thinking right now. Noises came from the vicinity of the hearth that weren’t easily explained by the quiet glow of its coals. Reining in his emotions, Harry got up and went through his usual morning routine almost robot-like. On his trunk, he found the remains of his nice cloak. He rolled it up carefully and took it downstairs cradled in his arm.

Snape was most of the way through a cup of coffee, piles of post open and sorted before him. “Good morning,” he said without looking up.

Harry, numbed by the effort of keeping his emotions in control said, “I need Galleons for a new cloak.”

Snape raised his eyes to the bundle Harry held. He looked well-rested and bright-eyed this morning as he asked, “Why’s that?”

Harry unrolled the cloak to show him the missing half of it, the edge crinkled brown and ragged from fire. Snape’s brow twisted in alarm. “What happened?”

“Dragon,” Harry answered simply.

Snape studied Harry’s gaze as though looking for an alternative truth. “Goodness.”

“I don’t need so nice of one since I wear it while on duty, which can be hard on it.”

“Well, certainly. But do try to be more careful, nevertheless.”

Doggedly pursuing this necessary conversation, Harry admitted, “I made a mistake. I thought the green was out of methane.”

“Do be more cautious next time. I have a bit of extra gold I can give you,” Snape assured him. “After breakfast though,” he said as breakfast sparkled in on top of his pile of discarded envelopes. He caught the plate as it tilted and cleared a space for it.

Harry sat down and ate slowly, wishing otherwise, but conflictingly grateful as well, that Snape hadn’t noticed his difficulty. At least, he thought he hadn’t. After handing Harry a brightly clinking small sack, Snape said, “You seem a little out of sorts.”

Harry parted his lips and for an instant teetered on the cusp of telling him everything, but what came out was the easy excuse. “I had an argument yesterday with Belinda.”

“Ah,” Snape stated dismissively. He moved to make ready then with purpose, putting on his gloves and tucking his post into his breast pocket. “Should I ask over what?”

“You,” Harry went on, unable to censor himself. Snape’s gaze shifted sideways back to Harry. Harry said, “I don’t think she likes you.”

Surprisingly easy going, Snape commented, “Many people don’t.” He raised his eyes to above the mantel. “I don’t remember being exceptionally hard on her as a pupil.”

Harry shrugged. He didn’t actually know what Belinda’s issue was. In the end he hadn’t given her a chance to explain and now Harry wondered if he had overreacted. A long silence ensued while Snape hesitated with Floo powder in hand.

“Owl me, Harry, if you will.” He sounded concerned now, which made Harry feel much better.

Harry nodded that he would, and a moment later he was alone.

- 888 -

Still on automatic, Harry went to training the next few days and answered owls from both Hermione and Snape. His replies, when he reread them before sending them, sounded as though someone else had written them. His momentary instinct to confess to Snape was overwhelmed by the memory of Snape’s own derisive words when Harry had long ago asked what he should do if he started seeing the Dark Plane all of the time. Get used to it, I should think, still rang clear enough in Harry’s mind that he sent off the mundane letter exactly as he had already written it. He was so far inside himself that he didn’t even get angry when Tonks informed him that Rodgers had nixed a briefing for them right now on the department’s mystery investigation.

It was Wednesday before Harry was forced to face Belinda again.

“You’ve been very quiet, Harry,” Aaron teased as they ate their bagged lunches in the tearoom.

“That won’t last long,” Kerry Ann commented and nodded at the doorway.

Belinda stood there, looking vastly overdressed for this level of the Ministry. “Can I talk to you?” she asked Harry.

Harry, grateful that his trainer and Tonks were both off elsewhere, stood up and joined her in the corridor. He didn’t want to wander far, feeling an inexplicable instinct to stay close to his fellows while the two of them talked. Belinda backed up a few steps from the door and said quietly, “Look, I’m really sorry. I wasn’t thinking before I spoke. You want me to have dinner with Professor Snape, I’ll do that anytime.” Her eyes were earnest as she spoke and the waft of her perfume livened up the corridor.

Also quiet, Harry said, “I overreacted, I think.”

“I didn’t realize that was such a sensitive topic. But I’m not a recently adopted orphan, either,” she added with a light lilt. “Why don’t you come over tonight. I’ll make dinner.”

Harry thought that sounded like a terrible idea, to be alone with her where the slightest distress would bring disaster. But he couldn’t say no, it would undo the last thirty seconds and then some. “Sure.”

“Eight, then?” She brushed his arm with her hand. “Really, I didn’t mean to offend you. It’s just that seven years of Professor Snape at school is hard to get over.”

Harry’s lips curled slightly. “I understand,” he said, sounding robotic.

“I’ll see you tonight,” she said brightly, clearly happy.

When Harry reentered the tearoom, all eyes were on him. Kerry Ann dove in with, “So, how did it go?”

Harry had this dizzying notion that she knew everything from the weekend and just needed a little filling in. “None of your concern,” Harry heard his temper, otherwise bound and gagged by fear, state.

“Whoa,” Aaron breathed.

Sounding disturbingly like Belinda, Kerry Ann said, “Sorry, Harry. I didn’t mean-”

Crossing the warning track of his mind, Harry risked saying, “You already know everything, don’t you?”

Kerry Ann’s mouth worked silently. “It’s been going around. Don’t have a tiff in front of other Ministry staff, Harry.” This last was offered in a tone of truly caring advice and it pushed Harry into silence. She said, “Partner with me during the rest of drills. That will make you feel better.”

Harry actually smiled at her humor. “No it won’t,” he said.

That evening, Harry, roses in hand, arrived at Belinda’s door. He felt lightheaded, as though he were facing fate on a grand scale, as though the world was about to change irrevocably.

The door opened and a smiling Belinda welcomed him inside to the steam and heat emanating from the cook-top. She pressed a beer into his hand and they carried on an inane conversation while she finished dinner.

Through the meal, Harry was a bundle of nervous control. Repeatedly, he had to stop himself from fidgeting with the silver. He turned down a second beer on the theory that he needed a completely clear head. A wave of her wand sent the dishes to the sink before she took her pink cocktail to the couch and sat back. Harry joined her there, thinking he had been dumb lucky so far that he hadn’t slipped and that he shouldn’t push it further by staying much longer. She wrapped him up in a way that implied she didn’t expect him to go anytime soon. Harry kissed her back as a way of pretending everything was all right.

They remained that way, despite Harry’s wandering thoughts of concern. It was warm that close together, despite the draft from the flat’s old windows. Harry so wished to not be concerned. He had a gulp of her drink when a pause allowed for it, tempted to ask for his own and get blasted drunk in a fit of the hell with it. Bad emotions were leaching in as her hands touched his bare back. He disliked himself for feeling only attracted to her lovely features and not her. He hated that he wished she were Tonks.

A chittering sounded from under the cabinet beside the stove. Belinda turned her head, brow furrowed. “I thought I got rid of the mice.”

Harry sat frozen, even down to the hands he had around her. He began breathing faster. The chittering repeated and now a scratching as though of very needle-like claws could be heard too.

Harry stood up despite her grip. “I have to go,” he said, barely finding breath to say it.


Harry couldn’t even spare anything to absorb her tone. “Really, I have to go,” Harry insisted. The sound of something dragging over the floor came from near the pantry. Belinda turned again, but at that moment, her neighbors trouped past outside in the corridor, talking and banging their door open and closed again.

Belinda angled her head up and stared at Harry, agape. “But why? What’s wrong?”

Harry pulled his shirt together and with fumbling fingers found a few buttons to hook, but they didn’t line up. He quickly retrieved his cloak. He needed to be alone to quash all of the emotion and close down the gateway. Fear for her was making that impossible at that moment and that ineffectiveness was feeding the fear.

“Really,” Harry insisted. “I’m sorry.”

She appeared alternatively concerned and upset. “What did I do wrong?” she asked, sounding a little angry now.

“Nothing,” Harry insisted. “It’s me. Really, it’s just me.” He Disapparated.

Harry reappeared in the main hall in Shrewsthorpe. The slithering, scraping noise sounded behind him, near the windows, breaking the silence of the house. Relieved to hear it, because it meant the opening had followed him, Harry relaxed and the sound stopped. Legs quivering faintly, Harry mounted the stairs to the first floor and entered his room. Kali was circling inside her cage, frantic. Despair was trying to grip Harry, but even that emotion might be deadly.

Letting Kali out to climb on his shoulder and leveling himself forcefully, Harry sat at his desk and opened the first book he found. It was Rules of Riot:— A Primer on Crowd Control. Despite the title, it was a rather boring text full of detailed instructions for dividing and quieting crowds of various sizes and states of inebriation. Harry wondered with ill humor if any of these quieting spells would work on a hundred vicious Shetani, should they come pouring into the room. The sounds quieted again as Harry chuckled darkly, making him chuckle more, but grimly.

The purple book was in the stack on top of the upper shelf, the stack that kept the roll-top from closing. He opened it and flipped through it, desperate for any help, something to close the gateway once open, or a spell to force the creatures back from the interstice. There was nothing, only theory and large words and supposition. The author had known but he had not understood. Disgusted, Harry tossed the book in the direction of the flaming hearth. It skidded on its open pages and stopped before the grate.

Harry took a slow deep breath. At this instant all was calm, but it would not remain that way. Shaking with frustration and angry helplessness, Harry took up a quill and a half sheet of parchment.

Dear Severus, Harry began but hesitated. He didn’t want to need help. He didn’t want Snape to know things had gotten this bad. He suspected that Snape couldn’t help in any event. A rattle like a snake’s tale sounded from the hearth. One could pretend it was the fire, but Harry strongly suspected it was not. Snape would have to manage, Harry insisted, using that faith to quiet things again. Merlin, he thought grimly, how had he let it get so bad.

I’m sorry I didn’t say anything sooner, but I have to say it now: the Dark Plane has become unmanageable. It haunts me constantly and I don’t know what to do.

Harry imagined an upset Belinda, pacing her flat and frowned.

I’m afraid to be near anyone, even Winky avoids me. I know you told me to “get used to it” if I sensed it all the time, but I cannot. I can’t control my emotions enough anymore. It used to be just anger and ill temper that brought the plane too close, but now it is any emotion it seems.

I’ve reached my limit. I need help. I don’t know what you can do, if anything, but I cannot continue like this.

There, he had said it. Despair tried to settle over him, but he shook it off with faith that his adoptive father would think of something. At the least, he could potion Harry to sleep until something could be done; then Harry wouldn’t have to worry about hurting anyone. The faith that Snape would do what needed to be done, no matter the cost, relieved Harry no end. He gave the letter to Hedwig and urged her to her best speed.

Next: Chapter 4 -- Refuge

In Shrewsthorpe, Snape immediately went up to Harry’s room. Harry lay across the top of his desk, head resting on his arm, his pet draped over his shoulder. Kali lifted her head at Snape’s approach, blinking heavy eyes at him.

Rather than awaken his charge, Snape hovered a trunk from the corner and packed it with the contents of the wardrobe as well as the many stacks of books scattered about the bedroom, including the purple one that looked forlornly destined for the fire. After another moment of studying the sleeping Harry, Snape went downstairs and hefted the books lying out in the library.

Chapter 4: Refuge
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter 4 — Refuge

Severus Snape sat in the candlelight, a thin book entitled Horobane: Curse Propagation and Astrological Conditions open before him. It was late. The third-year Gryffindor, who had been doing detention for dangling another student’s kneazel out of the classroom window, had long since left, hand appropriately cramped from doing lines.

A scratching sound emanated from the window just as Snape closed the book and bent to snuff the candles. The familiar white shadow of Hedwig showed through the glass, hurrying Snape to open it. Hedwig handed over a letter, which had been rolled rather than put into an envelope. With alarm Snape read its contents before striding from the room, leaving Hedwig on his chairback, head tucked in her wing.

The door to the headmistress’ office was closed, which usually meant McGonagall had gone to bed. Snape knocked anyway and after a short delay the door swung open on its own. The headmistress stood on the second level of the office, just by the handrail, wearing an emerald green dressing gown. “Severus? What is it?” she asked.

“I just received a missive from Harry, and I am in need of your advice.” He held the letter out. She descended and accepted it. After scanning it, she lowered the parchment and stared into the distance. Handing it back, she said, “Go and fetch him.”

Snape froze while rerolling the letter. “Fetch him?” he echoed in alarm. “Did you not read this?”

Sounding intentionally patient, she said, “Yes, Severus; I did. First off, I believe this castle capable of holding back such a doorway, and second this school owes it to Mr. Potter to do all that we can. Go and fetch him . . . he is clearly at wit’s end.”

Snape used her Floo and powder with only one pause of hesitation, during which he failed to find the heart to continue to argue.

In Shrewsthorpe, Snape immediately went up to Harry’s room. Harry lay across the top of his desk, head resting on his arm, his pet draped over his shoulder. Kali lifted her head at Snape’s approach, blinking heavy eyes at him.

Rather than awaken his charge, Snape hovered a trunk from the corner and packed it with the contents of the wardrobe as well as the many stacks of books scattered about the bedroom, including the purple one that looked forlornly destined for the fire. After another moment of studying the sleeping Harry, Snape went downstairs and hefted the books lying out in the library. On the way back, he stepped down into the kitchen, Winky, shining a cauldron with a bundle of steel wool, flinched at his approach before standing and tugging her tea towel straight.


The room seemed orderly enough but Winky had a row of scratches on her arm that didn’t look owl or chimrian in origin. “I am taking Harry away,” Snape informed her. “Look after the house as usual.”

In an almost inaudible voice, Winky said, “Bad things happening, Master.”

Snape, who had turned to go, turned back with a snap. “I expect they will cease with Harry removed.”

Her long-fingered hands turned over one another. Sounding far away, she said, “Winky cannot protect master’s house. Winky failed. Should Winky punish herself?”

“No. Just continue as you were,” Snape insisted. Her pathetic posture didn’t ease but she stopped wringing her hands.

“No punishment for Winky?”

“No,” Snape insisted more firmly and with no little exasperation before stepping away.

Back in Harry’s room Snape finished packing the trunk and latched it before moving to rouse Harry. Harry’s wand lay loose in his hand lying across the desk. Snape considered slipping it away before risking startling him, but instead, trusting him not to jump immediately to a dangerous spell, simply patted Harry lightly on the shoulder and called his name. Harry’s head jerked up and he did clutch his wand, but he didn’t raise it.

“Severus?” Harry mumbled and rubbed his eyes.

“Come with me,” Snape instructed him.

Harry turned in his chair but didn’t rise. “Come where? Did you get my owl?”

“Yes. That is why I am here to fetch you.”

Harry swallowed hard. “Fetch me where?”

Snape hovered Harry’s trunk to the door from where he stood. “To Hogwarts. Come.”

Harry woke up quickly then. “Hogwarts? I can’t go to Hogwarts,” Harry fiercely insisted. A dragging sound and a burst of chittering came from beside the hearth. Snape turned his head slightly but didn’t react otherwise. Kali growled, a sound more like a purr in her tiny throat. “Did you hear that?” Harry asked him.

“Yes. Come.”

Harry stood and faced him down, visibly struggling. “Severus. I can’t-”

Grasping Harry by the upper arms, Snape stated in a calm, measured manner, “Harry, you asked me for help and I am still legally your father and I am taking over.” Squeezing harder on the muscular arms under his hands, he added, “You will do as I say.”

Released, Harry swayed once before leaning on the desk. “What is Minerva going to say?” he asked blamefully.

Snape took Kali from him and placed her into her cage. He then put both cages on top of Harry’s trunk and rehovered it. “She ordered me to fetch you. Come. No more arguing.” His attitude grew unyielding, prompting a tired Harry to obey.

At the dining room hearth, Snape took the cages and gestured for Harry to lead with the trunk. “I’ll follow. Go on.” His voice had already lost its hard edge and sounded only sadly sympathetic, which left Harry zero space to argue.

Harry tossed in powder and disappeared. He landed with a slap and stepped out into McGonagall’s office, trunk in tow. The headmistress stood beside her desk in a dark green dressing gown with a matching nightcap so long that it nearly reached the floor. “Harry,” she said in a warm greeting.

Harry dropped his gaze. “Professor,” he returned. She approached and ducked her head to catch his eyes. “You are always welcome here, Harry,” she said in kind tones.

“I don’t want to put anyone at risk. Especially not at Hogwarts.” As he said this, Snape arrived behind him.

“Filch and the house-elves have opened up a visitor’s suite on the fifth floor,” McGonagall informed them. “First one off the staircase,” she directed to Snape. “Harry dear, if you need anything . . . “

Harry nodded, wishing uselessly that he were elsewhere. Resigned, he followed Snape out of the office. The corridors were dark and quiet. At the steps, a portrait of a man with a lamp turned it up brighter to watch them pass.

“How are you doing?” Snape asked as they ascended.

Harry hadn’t heard a thing that didn’t belong. “All right,” he answered in a whisper. More thoughtfully, he said, “I may be all right here, after all.” They had reached the fifth floor and Snape stopped at the first doorway they came to down a side corridor. Harry went on, “I remember when I was taking Nott up to McGonagall’s office. I was furious with him. Threatened to kill him even . . . and there wasn’t any sign of the Dark Plane.”

Snape turned at this, his glowing wand tip hovering between them. His expression didn’t change. “Minerva is quite confident in the wards of the castle.” He unhooked the oversized latch on the door and wanded up the lamps.

Harry paused in the doorway. Before him was a room almost half the size of the Gryffindor common room, with two long couches and an overstuffed chair around a low table. Dormers were cut into the roof, though right now they showed the black night sky. Snape opened the room on the left and Harry followed, dragging his trunk. A large four-poster stood in the middle of the next room. “This is nice,” Harry said, hovering his trunk over to rest beside the wardrobe. He brushed his fingers over the large claw of one of the carved phoenixes framing the wardrobe doors.

“You may be here a while,” Snape observed.

Harry grumbled darkly and then relished that he could. He exhaled in relief and relaxed for what might have been the first time in weeks. Without turning around he said, “Thank you, Severus.”

“I am glad we found a refuge for you.”

The phoenixes had rubies for eyes, Harry noticed. “I can’t stay here forever. What am I going to do?” His voice sounded difficult.

“We will discuss it in the morning after you have rested. Is there anything else you need?”

Harry finally turned around. “No. Thanks,” he answered grimly.

“Send me a silver message if you do.”

Alone, Harry paced around the room once before changing for bed and falling into it like a stone.

- 888 -

On the fourth floor of the castle, Ginny Weasley was returning from the kitchens with a bowl of chicken soup for a Gryffindor second-year who had not felt well enough to go to dinner. She spied something moving on the staircase and at first thought it was a house-elf, but they didn’t have such a head of hair.

“VanEschelon, what are you doing out of your tower in the middle of the night?” Ginny demanded. Erasmus, shrunk down behind the railing a moment before relenting and coming around the balcony, feet dragging. Ginny huffed, “Stay RIGHT HERE. I have to deliver this before it burns my fingers off.”

Presently she returned and found Erasmus getting brow-beaten by a painting of a knight. “You should have more sense of chivalry and responsibility,” the knight was lecturing pompously, although he couldn’t stand up straight and his speech slurred.

“Yes, sir,” Erasmus replied obediently anyway.

Ginny grabbed the small boy by the arm and pulled him down the corridor. “Now, what are you doing out at this hour?”

Erasmus scrunched up his face and stammered, “Sir Nicholas told me that Harry Potter was here and-”

“Harry isn’t here,” Ginny interrupted, stopping suddenly.

“Sir Nicholas said he was,” Erasmus insisted. “Said he just saw him in one of the chambers on the fifth floor.” Erasmus stared at the floor and tapped his toe against a nearby banister pole. “I just thought, maybe, you know, I’d say hello.”

“Go back to your tower, VanEschelon. If Harry is here, you’ll see him tomorrow, I’m sure.” When the boy didn’t move she sternly said, “Now. Or I’ll give you detention . . . with Hagrid,” she added since she had heard he scared the boy more than Filch did.

“All right. All right,” Erasmus whined and headed down the stairs with a desultory step.

Ginny stood thoughtfully in the dim lamplight; unexpectedly, it grew just a little brighter. She turned to the painting of a man in a stained white nightcap and flowered pyjamas. “You didn’t see Harry Potter come up this way?” Ginny asked it.

The man yawned. “Someone came up this way, towin’ a trunk. Professor Snape was leadin’ ‘im.” Ginny was off up to the fifth floor like a shot.

The main corridor was quiet and deserted, but the cobwebs had been cleared from the first door down the smaller left-hand corridor off the staircase. Ginny ran a quick check for intruder spells and found the standard one they used in D.A. She neutralized it and opened the door onto a dark sitting room. The door on the left was ajar, so she tiptoed over to it and pulled it open a little more, flinching when it creaked loudly. She stopped still but didn’t hear any movement from within. After giving the hinges a quick oil charm she opened the door farther. Inside, a lamp burned low on the side table illuminating the bed’s occupant.

Ginny stepped closer on quiet feet. Harry was indeed here and he was quite soundly asleep, lying with one arm extended, his head tilted to the side, lips parted just slightly. He looked, Ginny had to admit, highly kissable. Feeling tingly she shook herself, remembering that stupid day she had taken her twin brothers’ bravery enhancing Hutzpotion and ended up in Harry’s bed, to Harry’s dismay. Rolling her eyes, which helped drag them away from the well-studied angles of his face, she stepped back, resisting the still sharp urge to lean in just a little closer. She huffed at herself and backed up again before dredging up enough self-disgust to turn to leave.

A dark figure loomed in just as Ginny turned, making her gasp and raise her wand. “Professor,” she breathed, wincing badly.

Snape’s wand ignited blue-white and he stepped by her with a swish of his robes. She watched him circle the room, dropping the wand low at his side as he reached each corner of the room. With growing mystified curiosity, she watched him stop in the corner where the cages sat and lift his wand to study Harry’s sleeping pet for rather a lengthy half a minute. Snape then moved to the bed and, wand held at arm’s length to reduce the light, leaned over Harry to study him as he slept. In the glow of his wand Snape’s face took on a rather uncharacteristic look of deep concern. Ginny’s brow went up under her hair, stunned to see that look on this man.

In the next instant, Snape was striding past Ginny again and the door to the bedroom soundlessly closed. “Ms. Weasley,” Snape sternly snapped. Ginny followed him out and down to the Defense office.

“Sit down,” Snape ordered her, and Ginny did so, wondering what was in store. “First off,” Snape said, staring down at Hedwig who still sat on the back of his chair. “How did you find out so quickly that Mr. Potter was here?”

“Oh, Nearly-Headless Nick told Erasmus VanEschelon and I found him making his way up to the fifth floor. I thought Harry would still be awake if he’d just arrived. Actually didn’t imagine he’d be here at all. Is Harry all right?”

Snape paced to his ingredient cabinets. “At the moment,” he replied cryptically. “Tomorrow the Prefects will be told that he was in need of a rest and has come here to get it.”

“But that’s a lie?” Ginny suggested.

“No, it is quite true, but hardly complete.” He turned to face her, placing his hands on his hips. “Harry is having difficulty with a new power he has acquired, the nature of which he can share with you if he wishes.”

“Is he dangerous?” Ginny asked, then quickly added, “Sir.”

Snidely, Snape replied, “Not while he is here. The castle renders him safe . . . for others and himself.”

“Can I go visit him, then?”

“I am certain he would appreciate that,” Snape replied neutrally although his eyes were oddly knowing. Ginny bit her lip. Her professor went on in a more stern tone, “And you were out of the tower, why?”

She cocked her lips in amusement at his gruff change in demeanor. While trying to square both the sneering professor she was accustomed to with the look she had seen on his face just minutes ago on the fifth floor, she replied a little cockily, “I was getting soup for Algie who was sick at dinner time, sir.”

Snape’s eyes narrowed in on hers and an instant later, his look went befuddled before he turned away with a jerking motion. Ginny blinked and wondered that he was checking for a lie in that; she was a Prefect and any decent excuse usually sufficed to be out of the common area during the night. She stood. “It’s late . . . may I go, sir?” He gestured with a wave of his hand that she could.

In the corridor she walked slowly to the tower while considering things. Professor Snape was still a little strange but as long as he took care of Harry . . .

- 888 -

Harry awoke when the sun streamed through the dormers. He hadn’t closed the drapes around the bed but the sun was up late enough this time of year that it made an acceptable alarm. Dobby appeared by his bed in a sparkle, bearing a covered tray. “Morning, Dobby,” Harry greeted the elf.

“Breakfast for Harry Potter, sir,” Dobby squeaked.

“Thanks.” Harry accepted it and set it on the bed. The scent of ham and fried potatoes made his stomach rumble. Dobby departed only after many assurances that Harry didn’t need anything else. A knock sounded on the door, and Harry invited in whomever it was.

Snape glided inside. “How did you sleep?”

“Good morning to you too,” Harry teased. “Not bad.”

Snape stood at the foot of the bed, arms crossed. “No dark creatures?”

“None. So what am I going to do . . . move into Hogwarts?”

Snape’s lips twitched. “No one would mind if you did . . .”

“I would mind,” Harry complained. “Not that I don’t like it here . . . I just have other things to be doing. Speaking of which, I’m supposed to be at training in less than an hour.”

“I took the liberty of sending owls to both Rodgers and Tonks.”

Harry nibbled on a bite of ham since he was too hungry to resist it. “Saying . . . ?”

“I requested for leave for you . . . I did not know how much you had told them-”

“Tonks knows,” Harry supplied, rubbing the back of his neck in a nervous gesture.

Snape said, “I gave them an outline of the truth. It is not the easiest to explain to the Ministry that their star future Auror is attracting the attention of the vilest of dark creatures. Plus I am not certain exactly where we stand.” He moved in closer. “Go ahead and eat, Harry,” he said. “I can hear your stomach growling from here.”

Chagrined, Harry picked up his fork and ate while Snape talked. “Minerva has owled a number of witches and wizards with the intent of finding someone who can help, as have most of our staff members. Most of the letters need to travel quite distant, so it will be a few days before we receive replies. Also, according to research I set Madam Pince to, several Shaman in Mozambique have experience with opening a gateway for some of the creatures you are sensing, usually to intercede with powerful ancestors, but it would be a start. Certainly one does not call forth something one cannot send away again.” More dryly, he added, “At least I certainly hope not.”

“Mozambique?” Harry asked doubtfully between large bites of toast.

“I am not keen to send you so far, but we will do whatever is necessary, Harry.”

Harry frowned, but then shrugged. He didn’t have any choice, really. “I wish . . .” he began, then trailed off. No more wishing, he told himself firmly.

A knock sounded on the outside door and a moment later, Ginny stepped through the doorway to the bedroom. “Morning, Harry.”

“Ginny!” Harry said. “Good to see you.”

“Good morning, Professor,” Ginny said brightly.

“Ms. Weasley,” Snape muttered grimly before turning and stalking out. Ginny and Harry both watched this departure with some surprise.

When the outside door had closed, Harry asked, “What was that about?”

Ginny shrugged, but a moment later was distracted inward. “So how are you?” she asked after shaking herself.

“Better,” Harry admitted.

Ginny plunked down on the end of the bed. “So what is up with you?” she demanded.

Harry slowed his chewing. “I’m sensing the Dark Plane,” he admitted, figuring he could trust her not to tell anyone else. “Actually, I’ve been sensing it a long time, but now I’m some kind of gateway and these terrible creatures can come into our world whenever I get angry or even just annoyed.” As he spoke his shoulders tightened and his hand gripped his fork fiercely. But the room remained still and he allowed himself to relax again.

“That doesn’t sound good,” she commented.

“It isn’t. It’s really awful,” Harry said, feeling good to complain to someone. “I’m stuck here for a while, I think.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve been stuck here since September. Don’t tell me about stuck here.”

Harry laughed, which eased his heart rather a lot. “You need to get down to breakfast.”

“Yes, Professor,” she teased. But she stood and left with a grinning promise to visit later.

Harry had barely finished breakfast before another visitor arrived. Rodgers came marching into the room with a sharp knock that didn’t wait for an answer. He crossed his arms and stood at the end of the bed, a disgruntled twist to his lips.

“What is this about?” he asked stiffly. “I received a rather bizarre owl early this morning. Something about you having Dark powers you can’t control. I would have ignored it except the letter was signed by the one dark wizard that I happen to know personally . . . who happens to legally able to send owls,” he snarkily added.

Harry was tempted to point out to Rodgers that he and Snape had remarkably similar tones of voice sometimes, but he held back. “I’m apparently, without trying, opening a gateway to the Dark Plane. Here in this castle it doesn’t happen. So that’s why I’m here. Last night I got into a spiral of frustration that kept feeding on itself and it was too much. . . anyway.”

Shaking his head, Rodgers said, “A little warning, Potter. A little . . .”

“I told Tonks,” Harry countered, happy to be able to get a little angry. “I can’t help this. If I could help this I wouldn’t be here right now.” Harry banished his breakfast tray and stood up, only putting his wand back away slowly. Rodgers tracked him doing this with far too much attention. “So, do I get leave or are you just going to kick me out because I need a break?”

“We’ll see,” Rodgers snipped, looking Harry up and down a few times. “Keep up with your reading at least.”

Harry gestured at his Auror books lined up on the otherwise empty shelf on the wall, very grateful Snape had the foresight to bring them. “I will.”

With a deeper frown Rodgers departed. Harry, feeling annoyed and helpless, pulled down a book on sneaking and tracking techniques and buried his nose in it.

The day passed quickly enough considering how very quiet it was, given the thousand pupils below him going about their day. Harry moved his wardrobe directly under the dormer in the bedroom and sat atop it, reading with a view over the frozen lake and the mountains beyond. His breath froze on the cold window when he leaned close. Harry had another visitor just before dinner. Headmistress McGonagall seemed a little surprised to find him huddled up on top of a piece of tall furniture. Harry jumped down and greeted her properly.

“Would you like to come down to dinner in the Great Hall?” she asked.

“Not really, but thanks,” Harry replied.

“Are you certain? There is plenty of room at the head table . . .“

Harry grinned, thinking that didn’t help her invitation much. “No, really. I’m enjoying the quiet.” In all honesty he was a little stir-crazy already.

“All right, then . . . perhaps tomorrow if you change your mind.”

Or the day after, or the day after that, Harry thought darkly.

She stepped a little closer and touched his arm. “Anything you need, Harry?” she asked kindly.

“No. I’m all right, right now.” He dropped his gaze. “Thanks for letting me stay.”

She squeezed his arm. “You are quite welcome.”

When she had gone, Harry felt the warmth of her hand on his wrist still. He didn’t particularly like being treated as though he were a terminally ill patient. Focusing his stubborn anger, he returned to his assigned readings, this time while lounging on the couch in the sitting room.

Over the next day, the room grew oppressive, so Harry decided to explore the fifth floor a bit. It required a few complicated unlocking spells to get all the way to the far attic, but once Harry started walking he didn’t feel like letting anything block his path, even as the rooms grew successively colder. In the last gabled section of the last wing, an array of broken statues stood like blind sentinels. Harry read their plaques. Iris the Irascible, who’s headless body clutched a thick stone book of hexes, was followed by Ivan Invisible who had been reduced to just a marble platform. Or perhaps he had always been just a marble platform and Filch finally decided that was too silly and shoved it up here. It certainly wasn’t broken. Harry turned at the end and found himself facing the familiar.

Sighing, Harry stepped over to the Mirror of Erised and made himself step directly in front of it because, if he didn’t, his curiosity would make him come back and do so. His parents were gone. Harry stared at his reflection smiling confidently out from the glass. It was him, unbothered by any dark creatures. Yup, he thought, that was exactly what he was desiring right now. He didn’t need the mirror to tell him that. More illuminating was the familiar arm hooked around Harry’s and the bubblegum pink Mohawk the arm’s owner was sporting. Harry shook his head in annoyance.

A foot scuffing on the dusty floor brought Harry’s attention to the robed figure standing by the status of Iris. “Everything all right, Harry?” Snape asked, seeming unwilling to invade Harry’s private moment.

“Yeah,” Harry said, moving away from the mirror to join his guardian.

“Learn anything?” Snape airily asked as they stepped from the room.

“No. I could have figured it out for myself. Any owls today?”

“You should relock the door,” Snape said as Harry closed the door to the attic.

Harry obliged, using a spell even harder to break than the one that had been on there. If it made trouble for Filch later, that would be fine. “Any owls?” Harry repeated.

“Two, both recommending the same Shaman. I will owl him tonight, but I wanted to borrow Hedwig.”

“Sure,” Harry said, his spirits lifting a little. “Is he African, then? I could use a break from the cold weather, I’ve decided.”

“No such luck,” Snape replied. “He is in Finland.”

“Oh,” Harry said, following along back through a disused corridor with faded tapestries on the walls. “What’s his name?”

“Per Hossa,” Snape replied. “Master of the Dark Plane.”

“Seriously?” Harry asked, sounding doubtful.

“So he is reputed.”

“What kind of wizard is he?” Harry asked, wondering about trusting him.

“Standoffish, so I am informed.” They had reached Harry’s rooms where Harry handed Hedwig over after insisting that she carefully deliver this letter Snape would give her.

When Harry was alone again, he found he really didn’t want to be. He put on his cloak and headed down and out to Hagrid’s hut, stopping halfway along the snowy lawn to be certain either his emotions were controlled enough or the castle’s wards extended far enough. All seemed quiet, so Harry followed a trail stomped through the drifts by boots the size of a small trunk. Hagrid gave him a hug when he opened the door, and warned Harry that he had to get off to class in half of an hour.

Harry settled into a mug of tea and cauldron cakes that seemed to have improved a bit, at least one could bite into them, sort of. Harry dipped it in his tea, determined to actually finish one for once. He explained to Hagrid why he was visiting, to exclamations of certainty that everything would work out all right.

“I don’t know, Hagrid. This is fighting something inside, not someone outside.”

Hagrid stood to poke the fire up a bit and the little gamekeeper’s cabin warmed up even more. Hagrid’s small place with its massive hearth was always toasty even on the most blistering days. “Yer always fighting yerself, Harry, even when it’s driven by meetin’ up with someone else who wants to do you harm.”

“I suppose,” Harry uttered, giving that surprisingly philosophical view due consideration.

The new log on the fire sent a pop of sparks out onto the floor. Fawkes fluttered his wings in the wake of it and cocked an eye at Harry.

“How is Fawkes?” Harry asked.

Quietly, Hagrid answered, “Right ornery bird that is. Doesn’ pay any heed when ya’ talk to him, barely deigns to be a class demonstration, and can’t keep any kind of molting schedule.”

Harry sipped his tea and secretly thought Hagrid didn’t believe the bird dangerous enough to respect. “Does he carry you places if you ask, like he did for Dumbledore?”

Hagrid gave a burst of laughter that nearly shook the cauldron off its hook over the fire, let alone forced Fawkes to flit back to his perch. “’E’s got no interest in that.”

“Dumbledore was his favorite, I guess,” Harry said, eyeing the bird knowingly.

- 888 -

In his office Snape penned a polite letter and addressed it after no short deliberation. He had two different addresses for the man in question, one in Finland and one in Norway. The addresses were possibly seasonal, but both were at the same extreme latitude, making distinguishing them impossible. Worse, a quick second look at the atlas showed both to be north of the artic circle. Eyeing Hedwig, Snape decided that she was smart enough to work it out if the first address was wrong, so he wrote out one followed by the other on the front of the envelope.

With the letter off the only thing to do was wait. Well, that and grade essays on Dementors. After the third one that expressed rather creative guesses about the creatures, he was half-tempted to call on Harry to grade them.

A knock sounded on the door and Professor Cawley put his head inside. “You sent me a message?” he asked, fidgeting with the door handle.

“Yes,” Snape said, “I have a question for you. You studied African magical arts . . . do you know any Mekonde Shamans, by chance?”

“Mekonde? No. Totally other side of the continent from my expertise. Most South American African slaves came from the west coast.”

“Ah, well, never mind then.” Snape thought to himself, that would have been too easy.

“Oh,” Cawley said, leaning back in after beginning to close the door. “Can you do a little demonstration for my class this week? I asked Headmistress McGonagall and she suggested asking you.”

Dryly, Snape asked, “What is it?”

“I want to do an Animagus demonstration . . .”

Snidely, Snape asked, “And you aren’t one?”

“No, no. I am, it’s just that . . . well, my shape is not the most conducive to a class demonstration. It ah, well, it’s a sea slug . . . you see,” he explained in the voice of a man who sees no hope for putting off the truth. “It is most inconvenient and embarrassing, frankly. Headmistress McGonagall is a rather attractive house cat, but she is too busy, she says. She suggested you,”

“Perhaps you should ask Mr. Potter. He has copious time on his hands.”

“Ah,” Cawley uttered, looking a bit put-upon at having been handed off again.

“But if Mr. Potter is unwilling, I can probably arrange to be available for a short demonstration.” Cawley thanked him and started to depart, hesitating only when Snape began muttering something along the lines of: “There’s been a shortage of screaming around here lately. A bit too quiet really.”

- 888 -

Per Hossa glided to a stop outside an empty corral and kicked his skis off the curved toes of his boots with practiced ease. His pale slate eyes scanned the twilight-lit snow. A figure emerged from the trees, also on skis, but stouter and shorter than himself and gave him a wave. Siri Blind approached and accepted the supply sack Per carried.

“Have you finished charming the area?”

“For all the good it will do in the winter talking to rocks . . . it is charmed.”

Per scanned the hillsides of the valley that led into the corral. During summer calf marking, the reindeer at the end must be driven downhill against their nature. “I think this will be good. Did you ward those erratics there?” he asked, pointing at the tall stones dotting the distant hillside.

“Yup,” she answered. “Now I’m ready for coffee.” Before she slid off toward the snow covered goahti with a plume of smoke emerging from it, she asked, “How long has that owl been following you?”

Per huffed. “Since yesterday. Stubborn. Won’t even go off to hunt.”

“Lucky it’s an artic,” She held up her hand, breaking the wards Per had up to keep the owl at a distance. The snowy owl immediately launched from the branch it rested on and glided down to land on her woolen-covered arm. She took the letter from it, then reached into her hide bag for a strip of smoked reindeer meat. Despite Per’s scoff, she held it out for the owl, who snarfed it hungrily. “You shouldn’t make the animal suffer. It is only loyal to its master’s command.”

Per used a glove to clean the ice off the bottom of his ski. “It should learn to think for itself in that case.”

“Mr. Hossa,” she began aloud, translating the letter into Saami, their native tongue. “I am writing to you on behalf of my son who is experiencing grave difficulties with the Dark Plane.

Per dropped that ski, base up, and began scrubbing at the other one.

“I am only taking this extraordinary step of contacting you because I fear he may be on the verge of causing harm to himself or those around him. The only option I see is to arrange for him to receive training in controlling the gateway he is inadvertently opening to this other Plane. You are highly recommended by wizards from both Britain and Denmark, so I am appealing to you to consider providing-”

Per stuck his feet back into his skis. “Don’t bother,” he interrupted. “Silly man has a typical teenage son with brooding dark magic he’ll outgrow on his own and assumes the worst.”

“He signs the message as professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry,” Siri pointed out before folding the letter and holding it out. Hedwig swayed on her shoulder when she moved, but held fast.

Per paused and then scoffed again. “Send the owl away,” he said, before skiing off, retracing the bands through the snow he had just broken.

- 888 -

Friday morning came with ice crystals covering the dormer windows so there was no view out from his usual perch. Harry had been at Hogwarts all week. His only scheduled task was to happen today when he had agreed to help with a demonstration in Transfiguration at 10:00 a.m. Mostly he had agreed to this because the very notion, after years of struggle in that class, had made him chuckle. He occupied himself before then with wondering how he could get Belinda to reply to his owls. He had sent two letters to her, explaining, but not really, truly explaining. Harry frowned and scratched his head. He didn’t fancy writing yet another dodgy letter to her and he couldn’t bear laying the full truth out, so by the time class arrived, he hadn’t written anything.

Harry stepped into the Transfiguration classroom just on time. It looked much the way it used to with its tiered seats and animal cages lining the tall shelves. Only Snape, who stood cross-armed beside the teacher’s desk, was a unique addition. The class was of fifth-years—the oldest Cawley taught. Harry accepted the professor’s welcome and introduction as though perhaps, just maybe, someone in the room wouldn’t know who he was. A glance around the blue and green uniforms showed keen interest in him. Harry wondered at this point what exact rumors were circulating to explain his presence.

“As I said last class,” Cawley continued lecturing, “Animagia is one of the hardest Transfigurations attempted by ordinary witches and wizards. Few succeed, although this school has an unusual number of registered Animagi seventh-years, due, I am told, to Mr. Potter here.”

“Hermione Granger, really,” Harry supplied.

Cawley gave him a distracted smile. “Of course.” He went on with the lecture, “Animagia is the ultimate self transfiguration. Metamorphmagia is a quick make-over by comparison. If you will demonstrate, Mr. Potter.”

“Most everyone here has seen this,” Harry pointed out, “But here goes.” Harry transformed on the spot after only an instant of concentration, it had become so natural. A few students ohed and stared up at him with wide expressions. Cawley on the other hand, fell backward in surprise.

“My Merlin! What is that?” he exclaimed, picking himself up after scuttling to the first row of seats.

Harry transformed back so he could reply. “A Scarlet Mountain Gryffylis. It is native to the Ural Mountains.”

Cawley closed his mouth with a clap of his teeth. “Well, amazing, just amazing. And do you fly?”


“Ah,” Cawley muttered, looking disturbed and perhaps jealous. “Must be nice. All right then, Professor Snape is also an Animagus.” He gestured for Snape to approach and quietly asked, “You aren’t anything quite so big, correct?”

“Not at all.” Snape leaned back on the demonstration table before transforming so he could slither into a tall coil on top of it. At least two students, both Ravenclaw, ducked behind their desks when the asp hissed at the room, long teeth bared.

Cawley seemed to be frozen in place beside the table. At least, Harry expected that if he could have moved when Snape slid over beside him, he would have.

“Be nice,” Harry teased and it must have come out as a hiss of Parseltongue given Cawley’s further, frozen, unblinking dismay now turned upon him instead.

Snape returned to his human serpentine self and gave his colleague one of his thin-lipped smiles.

“Do we get to learn that?” one of the Slytherins asked, hand raised in the air. She sounded intensely interested in the prospect.

“Well, if we get through your O.W.L. preparation . . .” Many students began madly pulling out their notes and sat straight and attentive, quills poised. “Well, we’ll try . . .” Cawley began before dismissing the two of them. “Thank you, Professor, Mr. Potter, for the demonstrations. I think,” he muttered more quietly.

In the corridor the afternoon sunlight shot straight along the floor, glinting on a nearby suit of armor. Snape said, “I will be finished with meetings and detentions after 4:00 today if you would like to play a bit of chess.”

Harry thought ahead to his extraodinarily open afternoon. He was tired of doing his readings even though he had intended to reread nearly all of his books so as to impress his trainer when the opportunity arose. “Sure,” he replied.

Snape was unaffected by Harry’s delay in replying. “Come down to my office around then.”

Harry really needed to find something productive to do to combat this boredom or he might go stir-crazy. “I think I’ll go to the library in the meantime.”

“Madam Pince has done an exhaustive search-”

“Yeah, but she doesn’t really know what to look for.”

Snape conceded this point with a tilt of his head. Small figures had gathered nearby by passing along the corridor and then slowing with artificial casualness. Harry recognized two of the first-years who composed the unofficial Harry Potter fan club. They gave him shy giggles, half hidden behind hands or books.

Snape’s stern voice cut through their wide-eyed trances. “Is there something you need?”

Sobering, they shook their heads and moved slowly on, large eyes darting back over their shoulders. Snape growled in annoyance.

Harry said, “It’s hard to be cruel to them.”

“No, it isn’t,” Snape countered forcefully, making Harry grin. Ginny stepped up in their wake with a warm greeting. Snape turned suddenly, sending his cloak billowing. “I’ll see you in my office later, then. It is good to see you out of your chambers,” he added over his shoulder while stepping briskly away.

Harry watched his rapid departure and said, “That’s the second time he’s done that. What did you do to him?”

Ginny crossed her arms and casually replied. “I think I showed him his soul, but it was his fault.”

“What?” Harry uttered.

“I’ll explain some other time.” She adjusted her backpack and stepped away in the other direction.

Harry watched her turn the corner and considered going back to his chambers instead of the library and trying another letter to Belinda. But failing to get a reply yet again would only frustrate him more. He really needed to go talk to her, or send someone else to go talk to her. Snapping his fingers, he realized that there was someone who could go talk to her for him.

“Dobby?” Harry called out in the nearly deserted corridor. A moment later the house-elf appeared, pulling nervously on one ear. He had scaled back to wearing only one pair of socks at a time but today they were a huge pair of white and red striped ones that spilled around his stick-like legs.

“Harry Potter called Dobby?”

Harry crouched down before the elf so as to talk to him more easily. “Yes. I need you to do something for me. Is that possible?” The elf nodded vigorously, sending his ears bobbing. “All right, then. Can you go see Belinda Belluna? She’s Madam Bones’ receptionist at the Ministry. She hasn’t answered my owls and I think she’s upset with me. Can you tell her that I really care about her, but I just can’t fully explain some things.” Harry frowned, frustration at himself overtaking him. “Just say that, I suppose.”

“Dobby will deliver this message, Harry Potter,” the elf promised.

“Thanks.” The elf disappeared in a bang. Harry wondered anew at how he did that inside the school, getting around the Apparition barrier. As he straightened and stood, he found Ginny standing nearby with an uncomfortable smile. “Hi again,” Harry said.

“Sorry, forgot to tell you something,” she said.

Harry assumed she had heard his message to Belinda. He shrugged, “All right.”

“There’s a party in the Gryffindor tower tonight . . .” she offered.

“Thanks, I’ll think about it.”

She twitched one shoulder. “Okay. Maybe see you later. . .”

“Sure.” Harry headed toward the staircases, firmly deciding that moment on going to the library. Dobby sparkled in ahead of him, hands clasped, looking humble.

“Harry Potter, sir,” Dobby said. “I delivered your message.”

Harry glanced back and saw Ginny again turn the corner at the far end. “What did she say?” he asked the elf.

“She said that if Harry Potter doesn’t trust Belinda enough to tell her what is happening that she is glad to be knowing that now.”

“Tell her Harry Pot- tell her, I don’t know how to explain, but there are some things I just have to take care of on my own, without explaining.” Dobby spent a dubious moment taking that in. Harry added, thinking grimly that his not explaining had become a bigger issue than the terrible new power itself that he didn’t want to explain. “Nevermind, don’t tell her anything. No,” Harry said, pointing for emphasis. “Tell her she should trust me.”

Dobby bowed and disappeared again. Harry stalked off to the library thinking that he had bigger things to worry about and he couldn’t let her bull-headedness get to him. He would sort it out later with her when it was easier to.

Professor Snape returned to his office to find Hedwig waiting there. He glanced around the desk, but didn’t see any new envelopes. “Did you deliver the letter?” he asked the empty-clawed owl. Hedwig dipped her head up and down a few times. “No reply?” The white owl looked out the window and back and tilted its head. Snape made a tisking noise with his mouth and the owl looked up at him. It was dangerously unpredictable to Legilimize an animal, especially one with such radically different instincts than a human, but needing to know; he delved into the bird’s thoughts.

Flashes of distorted memory flickered by. White fields and forests of pine. A man. A barrier. Hunger. Being forcefully sent away for her own good. Snape put Hedwig in Franklin’s cage and sat rubbing his fingertips together in thought for many minutes. The sun came and went from behind small white clouds, sending many transient beams through the numerous panes of the tall windows.

When Snape did move it was to rapidly assemble a good quill and fresh ink.

Mr. Hossa,

Your lack of answer leaves little chance for argument, forcing me to guess what your objections may be. Were you not my only option, I would not be bothering you again. Certainly, I can send this disturbed young man to an African Shaman, but I fear he will be seen as a tool rather than an unskilled wizard in need of guidance and I cannot risk that unless it is truly my only option.

My first guess as to your objection is that you believe I am sadly mistaken and do not have the skills to recognize the Dark Plane. Let me assure you that I am no stranger to the Dark Arts as a teacher nor as a practitioner.

Snape hesitated. He needed this man’s help badly enough that he felt this second and possibly only chance had better get the Shaman’s attention.

I have stared straight into the eyes of evil many, many times—into the eyes of Voldemort himself as one of his servants—so trust that when I hear the sounds from the corner of the room and see the odd injuries to my house-elf—that I do indeed recognize what I am encountering.

Your second likely objection is that you belive this young man is not worth your attention. I do not know how bad things were in your particular village during the previous reigns of the Dark Lord, but trust that here they were most grievous. And here in Britain, at least, we feel that we owe every last effort of assistance to the one who freed us from this horrible Dark Reign. For the young man I am asking you to instruct in your rare skill is none other than the Destroyer of Voldemort himself, Harry Potter, my adopted son.

I will be concrete in my request. All I ask is that you see him and judge the first for yourself. I will send him to you strictly for this consideration with no further expectation. Simply tell me where and when and I will see to it that he is there.


Pronouncing Candide — Like the Opera. CanDEED. I figure her parents liked the name but were too clueless to know the origin. Candide (a man, by the way) in the opera maddeningly always sees the bright side of even horrendous circumstances. I figured someone who was with Snape had to have a bit of that.

Harry/Hermione — I’m just going to shoot this here. I’m not going that way. That one instant of Harry’s panic at a potential misunderstanding actually emphasizes how much he needs her purely as a friend.

Demise of Voldemort Day — Wizards can’t have a cool/catchy name for something; that would be unwizardish. Besides, this makes it d-v-day, which harkens to other vaguely similar holidays.

Why doesn’t Harry just tell Snape? — Well, that wouldn’t be very much fun... Better reason though is he is in denial, which is not rational. This has been remarkably hard to write with Harry as my primary point of view, because it makes him an unreliable source of information and reasoning on unfolding events. It means the events he observes and his internalization of them have to not match so that the reader is ahead of him. I may be failling on pulling that off—and thank goodness we are past it, it made for very slow writing—but I wouldn’t feel bad if I failed, because it is tough to do. And by the way, I don’t know jack about writing; I’m just making this up, really. Sounds good though, doesn’t it?

Chapter 5: Foundations
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter 5 — Foundations

The Hogwarts library was nearly empty, as it usually was on Fridays. Harry went straight for the gate at the back and let himself into the Restricted Section. It was quiet and musty and the sun streamed in, lighting tilted columns of dust motes between the shelves. He walked all the way to the back where hooks held extra lamps and a wooden lectern sat against the wall for reading the heavier lead-bound grimoires. Harry moved down the row, reading faded titles in gold on cracked leather: Suspicious Suppositions, Trident’s Inheritors: Powers of the Water Dwellers of the Lake District, Pyres of the Vampyres. . . He was set upon this as a long task, so he went on to the shelf below, reading each title there. He pulled Magycle Manyfestation out and flipped through it, grateful that it didn’t bite, scream or slam shut again when he did so. It appeared to be mostly about Ghouls and Poltergeists, but he thumbed through it slowly, glancing at phrases on every few pages, looking for anything even vaguely related to the Dark Plane or the creatures he knew to dwell there.

Madam Pince stepped back in from having her tea, something she never did in the library because of the crumbs. Hungry things attracted by cake crumbs often didn’t stop eating when the crumbs were gone. She headed for her desk at the front but stopped instead in the middle of the floor and turned around, feeling something was not quite right. Her eyes scanned the room, the high upper windows visible over the shelving, the two young students whispering over a small pink-paged book of affection charms. Unable to shake the out-of-place sense, she stepped toward the gate to the Restricted Section and stopped just short of it, breath unusually loud in the hush. She studied the tall still shelves, the swirling dust motes. Her predecessor had mentioned watching for this, but she could not recall, thirty-five years later, what he had said regarding it.

A figure moved into view, scanning the small shelves on the end of the farthest row. “Mr. Potter,” Pince uttered, not a greeting, more a quiet exclamation.

Harry looked up. “Madam Pince. Sorry, you weren’t here when I came in . . . I assumed it was all right for me to look around in this section.”

Her face relaxed into an odd little smile. “Of course, young man.”

She turned and departed, trying not to appear to hurry. At the top of the stairs to the Headmistress’ tower, she knocked and when called to open the door, discovered why it was closed—she and Professor Snape were having a meeting. Files and a few long-tasseled scrolls were open on the large desk.

“Oddest thing,” Pince said. “The books, every last one, are all quiet right now. I’ve never seen it before.”

McGonagall’s brow furrowed in response. Snape finished reading a parchment before glancing up, back down, and then back up again, slightly startled. “Harry is in the library, isn’t he?”

“Yes,” Pince replied.

McGonagall shook her cloak out and sat back in her chair. “Never know with that boy.”

Pince rubbed her hands together. “Well, but I was wondering, you know, if that meant Her Book might be . . . calm as well.”

This returned McGonagall’s attention directly back to the librarian. Snape appeared confused. “What book?”

Her Book,” McGonagall echoed as she came around her desk. “Why don’t we see,” she suggested with a keen look about her.

Back in the library the last students had departed. The trio of Hogwart’s staff approached the gate to the Restricted Section and stopped, listening. Sure enough, there wasn’t a single sound from within. Not a creak of leather, a groan of binding, a rattle of shelf, nor even a rustle of paper. McGonagall reached for the gate and several books on the immediate shelf jostled each other, banging their metal covers on the oaken shelf. She pulled her hand away. Harry stepped into view near the far wall, carrying a book over which he was hunched, reading. He appeared to be pacing.

“Harry,” McGonagall said, drawing his attention, which grew curious to see them there. In particular he eyed Snape questioningly. The headmistress went on, “I wonder if you wouldn’t do me a favor, young man? Do you see that cabinet over there just to the left of the lectern?”

Snape turned sharply to her. “You don’t mean-”

She cut him off and continued. “Take a look inside for me, will you?”

Harry, looking a bit as though he questioned their right-headedness, went over to the brass metal grate mounted flush in the stone wall where a stone block was missing. He peered inside as best he could. “There’s a book inside,” Harry said. “A very dusty one.”

“I would imagine,” McGonagall intoned. “Put your hand on the latch if you would . . . see what happens.”

Snape said, “Do be careful.”

Harry turned back and looked at each of them. McGonagall appeared unusually eager, Snape vaguely alarmed, Pince somewhere between the two. With a shrug Harry grabbed the handle and opened the grate. The book was barely discernible through the inches thick layer of dust blanketing it. Without preamble Harry waved an Expulsion spell at it to clear it out. A gasp brought his head around and he found the three staff members ducking even though they stood on the far side of the metal barrier.

Giving them all a doubtful look, Harry, with a modest effort, set the book out on the lectern and looked it over. It had a chiseled stone cover with the four house mascots, one in each corner. He opened the cover and blew the dust from the cover page, which had the same mascots repeated in a row of fanciful hand drawings. Below that a message was penned.

“There’s a letter,” Harry said, thinking it an odd introduction to a book.

The metal gate rattled as McGonagall put her hand on the lever to open it. The stone cover of the book slammed closed with a resonating boom! Harry pulled his nose back, although it would have been too late had it actually been in the way. He shot McGonagall a chastising look and she backed up again. Several books rustled on the shelves around Harry, and he waited for calm and for the noise to cease echoing before reopening the cover.

“The letter says . . .” Harry said, squinting dangerously close to the unfamiliar handwriting. “Knowledge should never be mistaken for learning, information, or insight. Herein collected are the notes of the builders. So forced by apparent betrayal, I present this: Warning: take only a pure heart inside, take only pure knowledge away. You have been warned.” Harry stared at the signature before exclaiming, “It’s signed by Rowena Ravenclaw.”

“Yes,” McGonagall said, keeping her hands locked behind her back now. “She collected all the information about the castle’s construction and locked it away in there. After someone . . .” Here she sent a glare at Snape. “Disturbed the very foundation of this place by building a secret chamber of dark power within it.”

They glared at each other, making Harry grin in amusement. He turned the page. A diagram of the lake and forest stretched across the next two pages, with no castle but with measured landmarks. Next was a list of materials, like a thousand, thousand gross of stone and brick, 1375 tall straight oaks, 500 men to dig, 400 Mules and Thestrals to pull carts, windmills even. The list went on for pages. “Neat,” Harry said.

A glance up at the teachers showed McGonagall looking pained and, ironically, caged. “Harry, I don’t suppose you could flip ahead to anything regarding the basement retaining walls and the waterproofing spells used on them?”

Harry thought that sounded rather dull, but he reached to thumb the disparate cut and torn edges of vellum and parchment to look ahead. He barely got his hand out of the way before the heavy slabs snapped closed. “Feisty book,” Harry quipped.

“It has done much worse,” Snape muttered, and then directed at McGonagall, “Hence the always empty painting in your office of Wilfredus Thurgoodmaster . . .”

She waved him to quiet. Harry waited for stillness and again opened the book to the cover page before trying to turn to the next. It banged closed again with an ear-splitting clap of stone.

“Perhaps, this is not the best-” Snape said, sounding exasperated.

“No, I think I need to read the letter again,” Harry insisted. The cover refused to budge when he pulled up on it. Annoyed, Harry put his hands on his hips, and insisted, “I’m pure of heart.” The cover still would not move. It felt as though the book had become a solid block of stone. Miffed at the notion that the book could believe him the enemy, he went on, “Hey, who do you think kicked Slytherin’s heir out of the Chamber?” The book still refused to open and Harry didn’t want to pry too hard. He calmed himself and assumed his earlier attitude of easy curiosity. It still held fast. “Hmf,” he muttered and looked up apologetically at the teachers, noticing that Snape had his wand in his hand although pointed at the floor.

“I don’t think that’s helping, Severus,” Harry said.

Snape frowned and reluctantly stashed his wand away, garnering accusative glances from the other two. This time the book opened. Harry read the letter aloud, just in case, and then turned each page forward. Diagrams of floor beams, roof beams, and enchanted circles of tower stone were followed by instructions for landscaping the lawn and rose garden. No Quidditch pitch appeared in the plan map, Harry realized. Uninterested, he merely glanced at the rose garden planting and upkeep notes. The book slammed closed.

“What happened?” McGonagall asked.

“Er, I think I have to learn every page before going on.”

“That would be rather like Ravenclaw,” McGonagall breathed.

Harry pulled over a stool and settled in before the book. The cover opened easily and again he read the letter aloud before turning to the first page.

“Thank you, Harry,” the headmistress said with affection. “If you need anything, please let Madam Pince know.”

Harry waved them off, conjuring up an interest in perennial flowering plants as he studied the gardening notes.

Twilight brought gloom to the library’s Restricted Section. Harry moved the largest lamp closer to the book and peered dangerously close to a diagram that apparently explained the original layered spell barriers at the edge of the forest. Harry didn’t recognize some of the spells and worried that paging ahead without fully understanding would force him to begin yet again.

A sound from the gate brought Harry’s attention around. A lamp hovered on the far side held by a familiar figure, who gave him a small crooked smile. “I brought you dinner,” Snape said.

Harry rose from the stool to discover how very stiff he had become from sitting there. He opened the gate from his side, which didn’t disturb the books, fortunately. “Thanks,” he said, accepting the tray.

“You are being rather diligent. The lake water has been flooding the lower dungeons for over three centuries.”

Harry peeked under the plate warmer. “I don’t have anything else to be doing,” he pointed out. “But I found reference to a Compelling Barrier Charm that I don’t know. Maybe you know something of it? If I can’t figure it out, and I’m stuck on this page.”

“You don’t mean Repelling do you, like the spells at the edge of the forest?”

“It is at the edge of the forest but it definitely says Compelling.”

“I don’t suppose you could show it to me?” At the far end of the room, the book rattled on the lectern. Snape said, “I guess not. No sign of foundation sealing spells?”

“Not yet. I found another likely hidden passage though,” Harry said, while plucking a bite of ham off the plate. “Madam Pince better not see the tray.” Talking around another bite of ham, Harry went on with, “I’ll give it another hour and then hope that I can continue tomorrow where I left off.”

That night Harry dreamt of stones being stacked into arches and raised up, of men with sharp axes carefully whittling massive trees into notched ceiling beams, of windmills and Archimedes screws. When he woke in the morning, the castle felt less like a home and more like a piecemeal construct. Feeling lighter of heart, he decided to go to the Great Hall for breakfast.

“Harry,” Ginny greeted him warmly. The Gryffindors made space as the hall buzzed louder and many glanced his way in curiosity. "I hear McGonagall locked you in the library all night,” she teased.

“Ravenclaw locked me in the library last night.”

“The house?” Dennis asked.

“Rowena, the Hogwarts founder,” Harry clarified.

“You have such an odd life, Harry,” Ginny declared while passing him the butter and juice.

“I learned a few things, though,” Harry said with a mischievous grin. He pulled out his wand and glanced up and down the hall. “Watch this.” He tapped his hand with his wand and then pointed up at the ceiling with his index finger. The usual four vertical Gryffindor banners above their table vanished. Harry tapped his hand again and again pointed with a sweeping motion. A very long single banner appeared, hooked near the walls and draped low in the middle, a dazzling gold lion outline stretched across its length.

“Wow,” Ginny said, gazing at it. “I like that one much better.”

The rest of the hall quieted and turned their heads up at the new banner; mostly the reaction sounded positive. Harry ate a few casual bites before hazarding a glance in the direction of the head table. McGonagall shook her head. Snape stood and came around and off the dais.

“I think you’re getting detention,” a younger student said in concern.

“I’m already in detention,” Harry retorted. “Professor,” he said sweetly when Snape came up behind their bench. “I’m not in trouble, am I?”

“Headmistress wishes to remind you that magic is not allowed in the corridors or the Great Hall between classes. That said,” he went on factually, “She suspects that was tame compared to what you could have done and requests that you replace the other three in the same style, as she rather . . . likes this one.”

Several students giggled. Harry turned on the bench and repeated the spell, pointing above each of the other tables. Even he had to admit that the silver Slytherin snake was best suited to such a very long banner. Most of the magical ceiling was hidden now. Snape raised a brow as he studied his house banner. “Very nice,” he conceded. He clasped his hands before him and said more quietly, “I am a little worried about what else you may be able to do.”

“If the puddings for lunch were ready I could call them up to the tables. Not terribly dangerous. These are the stormy sky banners, by the way. There are several sets for different ceiling conditions.”

“Are there? I’ll inform Minerva, I am certain she will wish to have you show her the spells. I believe her banner repertoire is limited.

“Harry Potter,” Dennis teased after Snape was back out of range. “Hogwarts housemaster.”

“Watch it or I’ll see that your tower room is shrunk down,” Harry threatened.

“Can you do that?”

“Haven’t you noticed that years with extra students have extra-large rooms, even though the tower is the same size all the way up on the outside? ‘Course I can do that.”

“What else can you do?” Ginny asked with quite the twinkle in her eye.

”I’m not completely sure, but I’m going to wander the castle today to find out. After I try the library again,” he added less enthusiastically.

In the Restricted Section, Harry retrieved the book from the brass cabinet and read the letter aloud. He paged—one slow page at a time—to where he left off and let out a loud sigh of relief upon arriving at it successfully. Late into the night he had researched Compelling Spells to determine which one would be at the edge of the forest. He assumed it wasn’t one to compel customers into a shop or Quidditch fans into a queue—two of the most common Compelling Spells. He looked over his notes again and looked back at the notation on the diagram. It was a circle with two lines and an M drawn over it. The only possibility on the list was a Compelling Spell for amphibians. The notation could be a crude drawing of a frog. But why anyone would want to compel amphibians to live along the edge of the forest?

Harry remembered Neville’s constantly wandering toad and slapped his hand on the lectern. He put his notes aside and biting his lip, turned the page. The book mercifully remained open. The next page contained instructions for framing paintings. He settled in as though revising for an examination and simply tried to memorize every notation.

“Going all right?” A familiar voice asked from the gate.

“Hello, Severus. Yes, I finally figured out the spell I didn’t know and now I’m . . .” Harry studied the page before him. “Learning about art. Still nothing in detail about the foundation. The notes aren’t in much order, but since you have to learn them all anyway, why should they be?”

“Are you coming down to lunch?”

Surprised by the question, Harry glanced up at the time. “Wow, sure.” He shut the book and put it back away, hoping he didn’t have to take it out too many more times.

On the way down the quiet corridor, Harry asked, “Any reply to the letter?”

“No, not yet,” Snape answered easily.

“It’s been a long time,” Harry pointed out.

“It had more than one address.”

“So maybe Hedwig is having a hard time locating him,” Harry conjectured.

Snape remained silent. They reached the main staircases and a commotion from a painting behind them drew Harry over that way. A drunken Sir Cadogan was in the middle of disrupting a tea party on a lovely lawn before a lake. The other painting’s occupants were dropping their frilly umbrellas and running. Harry drew out his wand. “I’ve always wanted to do something about him. Resetum Provenance!

Sir Cadogan was sucked like a flimsy paper doll out of the picture, through the nearby pictures, and disappeared down the line. Harry restashed his wand with a cocky motion. “There. That’s better.”

Snape tilted his head at him. “Ravenclaw does not know what she has done.”

“Haven’t you seen that spell?” Harry asked.


“You’re saying I know a whole bunch no one else does?” Harry asked with a delicious gleam in his eye.

They made the floor of the Entrance Hall. “No one has been able to open that book for eight hundred years. Much has been forgotten.”

“But don’t the old headmasters remember?” Harry asked, stopping before the doors as a few stragglers entered the Great Hall. “Why else keep all those paintings around?” Harry was remembering a spell for the Entrance Hall, one, like many of them, that he knew no good purpose for.

“They are kept around for their memories, but what they mostly are is what the painter can capture, which is personality.”

“Why is the book letting me read it?” Harry asked. He tapped the floor with his foot four times and whispered the incantation Pupilprism.

With a vaguely disdainful sneer, Snape said, “You are pure of heart, remember?”

“Really,” Harry insisted. The stones in the floor where changing color, forming zones leading to the doors.

“I certainly do not know what the book is thinking, nor does Minerva. It is either reacting, like the other books in the Restricted Section, to something about you that calms them down-”

“Or scares them to death.” The uneven stones were now tinted green, yellow, blue, and red, lined up with the tables inside.

Snape went on, unaware. “Unlikely. Ravenclaw’s book has dealt out only violence to those seeking to abuse the knowledge within it.” Snape studied Harry as Harry studied the stone floor. “Or, perhaps it is as you said, in jest I believe, that you have done more for this place than anyone in a very long time.”

Harry tapped the toe of his trainer against the brass plaque in the floor, now surrounded by blue-tinted stones. “Maybe,” he said. “What purpose does this serve?” Harry asked, gesturing at the floor.

Surprised, Snape glanced down in all directions. “Did you just do that?” At Harry’s nod, he calmed and said, “I expect it is for organizing students for the Grand Entrance to the Grand Feasts.”

“Why don’t we have Grand Feasts anymore?”

“We do: Christmas, Easter, Welcoming, Leaving . . .”

“Oh. Hey, did you know there’s a spell to make all the windows black to avoid taxes?”

“Best forgotten, I expect,” Snape said, pulling open the broad door beside him.

“It wasn’t permanent. It went away when the assessor went away.”

“And on that note . . . “ Snape waved at the floor behind them.

Before following into the hall, Harry tapped the floor four times with his foot and the stones returned to their usual grey selves.

- 888 -

That night, Harry had a bad dream; his first in a long time. He was running down the longest Hogwarts corridor on the second floor, except it continually grew longer ahead of him. He was desperately trying to find Dumbledore, because in his mind, Harry believed he had gone to face the dark creatures himself to distract them from Harry. As he ran, Harry had a terrible vision of the dear old headmaster in the Defense classroom, dragged down to the stone floor, flesh shredded and consumed by all manner of distorted hungry things. The corridor continued to have no end no matter how fast Harry pounded his feet and, frantic, Harry began shouting for the old wizard, insisting that he not face the darkness for Harry—that he himself must do this.

“Harry?” A voice sharply cut through the dream.

Harry groaned and rolled away from the eye-stabbing lamplight beside the bed. “Yeah?” he muttered.

“Are you quite all right?” Snape asked.

“Yeah,” Harry spoke into his pillow.

The bed tilted as Snape sat down on the edge. “Willing to tell me what is in your nightmare?”

Harry closed his eyes into his pillow and rather than answer, asked, “How did you know I was having one?”

“Hm. This,” Snape said. Harry was forced to turn to look at the glass ball Snape held; it previously had been sitting on the nightstand.

“I thought that was a sneakascope someone had left behind.”

“Not exactly.” Snape set it back down with a dull clunk. Harry picked it up and peered into it. It had color stripes of glitter inside of it, waving slowly. On the bottom it read: Toddler Tattler, by the spellbinders who brought you Wee-Watcher.

Utterly aghast, Harry said, “You put a baby monitor in my room?!” He set it back down hard, hoping it would break. It just thudded loudly. He tossed himself back on his pillow with a huff. When he finally did turn a glare on Snape, he found only vague amusement on his guardian’s face.

“Quite finished?” Snape asked.

“You make me wish I were home.”

“That would not be wise.”

Still miffed, and unable to come up with a response equal to his disdain, Harry demanded, “Get a reply yet?”

More soberly, Snape replied, “No. But I am still hopeful.”

“That’s saying a lot,” Harry muttered.

Snape sat straight and looked up at the nearby wall and the painting of a herd of ponies on the Dartmoor. “I realize that you are impatient with your situation. But do try to act your age.”

“Hey, I’m not the one who put a baby monitor in my room,” Harry retorted, appalled all over again.

“I wished to be informed if there were any disturbance in the room. Such as a horde of Lethifold slipping in,” he stated firmly. “I was not prepared to be as trusting as Minerva.”

Harry picked up the flattened glass ball again. “Can this thing really detect Lethifolds?”

“According to the user’s manual. Goblins and Ghouls are its primary detection mode, however.”

“Goblins?” Harry queried. “What, in case they come into your kid’s room in the middle of the night and ask them to open an account?”

“Goblins have a much older and worse reputation than merely exorbitant exchange rates,” Snape informed him. He took the monitor from Harry and set it gently back on the nightstand. “In any event, was your dream meaningful at all?”

“Just stuff I’m worried about,” Harry hedged. “The only person dying in it was Dumbledore, and he’s already dead.” He shifted to a more comfortable spot and pulled the covers up in the cool air. “I’m all right. You didn’t have to come.” He closed his eyes and pretended to sleep. After a long pause the lamplight went down and a hand brushed his shoulder as the edge of the bed lifted.

- 888 -

Saturday night, a restless Harry took a stroll around the grounds just outside the castle. He felt less certain out here of the protection from the Dark Plane, but he was too in need of diversion to care. He bundled his old cloak tighter as he rounded the wall and an icy breeze lifted it. The snow absorbed Harry’s footsteps and at the next turn the wind quieted too. The rose garden lay ahead of him. Harry, with renewed interest in it, headed closer to wander through it. One couple walked hand-in-hand, too absorbed in their whispering to notice him as they stepped down a path lined with brown-leaved bundles of dead stems. Closer by, a shock of red stood out from the deep bluish snow.

“Hello,” Harry said as he came upon the curved stone bench where Ginny sat.

She brightened instantly. “Wotcher, Harry. Have a seat.”

“A little late to be out,” Harry commented.

“Yeah, I was going to take points away from them, but I didn’t have the heart.” Harry realized then that she was referring to the wandering couple. She asked, “How are you, Harry?” When Harry merely shrugged, she said, “Still the secretive Harry.”

“No, I’m not. I told you what was happening . . . much more than I told Belinda.”

She crossed her heavily insulated arms. “Sounded like that was causing trouble.”

Harry didn’t reply. He was feeling stubborn about this issue and didn’t feel like examining it any more. He examined the moon—only a sliver, but it looked to be waxing—took out his wand, and used a Winter Bloom spell from Ravenclaw’s book on the rose bush beside him. A single green stalk grew up out of the snow and slowly blossomed into a blue rose. Harry picked it and handed it to Ginny.

“You’re a tease, Harry Potter,” she said, breathing in from the center of the flower. The other couple was wandering back to the doors.

“Sorry, just thought you might like a flower.”

She sniffed it again. “I do like a flower. But you’re still a tease. Maybe you don’t know what that’s like.”

“No. I do know what that’s like,” Harry said, thinking of seeing Tonks every day.

During the resulting silence, Ginny looked around the broad, snow-blanketed garden. “So, what are you going to do? You’ve been here a week.”

“Severus is trying to find someone to give me some instruction. It’s taking some time though. He could only find one good book on the topic and it isn’t very useful. He isn’t going to give up, though,” Harry heard himself go on.

“No, of course not,” Ginny said reassuringly.

“Right now I feel as though I could just go back home and it would all be okay again. But it isn’t true. I’ve been having this happen for months now where these creatures try to come into our world around me. At first I just heard them and felt them, sorta, this oily evil they bring to the air.” Harry sighed. Ginny patted his leg. “Knowing that I’m channeling evil doesn’t bother you?” he asked her.

“No. Why should it? It’s not as though you’re doing it on purpose.” She waited for a reply and when none came, said, “Professor Snape does seem worried about you.”

“He hides it well around me. Speaking of which,” Harry said, turning on the bench to make another rose. “What about that comment you made yesterday?”

“Oh.” Ginny glanced around them, but the expanse of snow leading to the castle was empty and the torches framing the doors were the only thing moving in the dim air. She accepted the second rose, putting it with the first. “The night you arrived I heard from Erasmus that you were here and I came up to the fifth floor to see you. But you were asleep already. Of course I must not have detected all of the charms on the door because as I turned to leave, Professor Snape was blocking the way. Scared me silly for a second and I almost hexed him. It was close. Anyway, he goes into your room and circles it, checking the corners, maybe for monsters, and then he comes back over and checks on you.”

“I don’t remember that,” Harry said.

“You were completely out. You didn’t even hear the door squeaking when I came in.” She sighed and continued, “So, as I said, he was checking on you with a lumos . . . anyway, he had such an odd look on his face. Like one my mum would have and I would think she was completely overdoing it. But this was Snape.” She shook her head at the befuddling memory.

“But you said-”

“Yeah, so he takes me down to his office wants to know how I knew you were here and when I tell him—the truth—he Legilimizes me. But at the moment I was thinking how funny it was that he could also try to be so mean, you know, after that look. So, I think he saw my memory of the look. At least that’s the only thing that would have set him off so.”

Harry blinked as he thought this through. He laughed lightly and said, “And this is making him avoid you?”

“Harry, you didn’t see it. Like my mum when Ron was made Prefect . . . remember that? I think she cried, even.”

“What about when you were?” Harry asked.

“No. She just said, ‘Well, why wouldn’t you be?’”

Harry gazed over the snow to where it met the grey mass of the forest’s dormant branches. His nose was growing too cold as he breathed. He said, “That would explain the baby monitor in my room.”

Ginny laughed in a sharp bark, carrying loudly even over the snow. “The what?”

Harry stood. “Come on, I’m getting cold.”

Ginny was still chuckling when they stepped inside the castle and relocked the doors.

- 888 -

Harry, armed with extensively moldy knowledge from the school’s builders, followed Headmistress McGonagall and Professor Snape down the dungeon steps. As they approached, Greer stepped out of her empty classroom and glared suspiciously at him and Snape as they passed. Snape ignored her and Harry tried to do so as well, until she brightly asked, “Oh, Professor, need any extra extract of Ociumum?”

Harry stopped and spun, wand in his hand without thought. In that instant of turning he had fallen into a state of concentrated clarity, prepared to do battle. A hand grabbed a hold of his wrist as he raised his arm to aim. “Harry,” Snape said sharply.

Greer had dropped her arms and stepped back to duck into her office, but she recovered quickly and smirked. “Quite a temper on that boy. One would think he’d never learned an ounce of discipline in his life. Oh. . . that would have been your lacking, wouldn’t it, Professor?” she sneered at Snape.

Snape’s hold tightened. “Harry. Put your wand away,” he stated easily, perhaps to avoid catering to his nasty colleague.

The sudden fury didn’t let go of Harry though. He relaxed his wand hand but stood leaning toward the Potions classroom door, breathing rapidly, glaring at the pudgy, badly make-uped women who so casually tossed such painful words at them. McGonagall stepped into the fray. “Gertie, I know you don’t agree with Mr. Potter being here, but that was uncalled for,” she chastised tiredly.

Spells flashed through Harry’s mind, vicious takedown spells for a dangerous opponent, followed by more subtle castle altering spells. His arm ached to toss a series of them at her taunting face, to wall up her classroom with immovable stone blocks, for example, with her inside.

Still holding his wrist firmly, Snape twisted around to block Harry’s view of Greer by stepping in front of him. “Harry,” he said, more gently. “Come, there are better things to expend magic on.” Harry gave in reluctantly, feeling raw and almost hungry at giving in. But he let himself be led to the end where McGonagall opened a large door with very rusty metal braces holding its warped boards together. The scent of mildew and cave wafted up from a set of stairs leading down into darkness. A wave of the headmistress’ hand lit the torches.

“This is the alternative route to the cave entrance from the lake,” McGonagall explained as they descended a curving stone staircase, stone blocks on one side, but cut directly into the rock on the other. Her footsteps began to sound wet, even before she reached the bottom. Doors led off this lower corridor, but they were missing their bottom foot of wood due to rot and their hinges and latches looked sulky about opening. The lower hall had inches of stagnant water covering it and patches of green algae near the torches. Harry held up his robes like the others did as he looked around with interest at the wide, low arches that held up the mass of castle above them. This part of the castle wasn’t on his Map; he would have to add it.

“This way,” McGonagall said, sounding the tour guide.

At the far side a short set of steps led up to the end of the ledge where the boats docked with the first-years before the welcoming feast. That explained the water, Harry thought. He walked along inside, parallel to the ledge, ducking under an arch. Water was seeping between blocks higher than he estimated the lake to be on the other side. Perhaps it was rainwater or condensation. The stones were worn and round at the edges where the water lapped at them. Harry took out his wand and selected an area that didn’t look quite as bad as the others to try out the spells. He tapped one stone with the incantation Lapisvigil then tapped all the stones that touched it before returning to the first and reciting Aqua et Igni Interdicere Aqua. At first there didn’t seem to be a change but as Harry watched, something like mortar rose to fill the cracks around that stone and solidified.

“Bravo, Harry,” McGonagall exclaimed from beside him.

Snape glanced around the arches with a baleful eye. “Rather a lengthy task.”

“Not so bad,” Harry said. “The other stones are still awake. The book had some suggested patterns.” Harry demonstrated by tapping in a ring around the first ring with the first incantation and then repeating the second with the inner stones. The area of solid wall expanded as they watched.

McGonagall moved to her own area and began spelling. After a short while, she stood straight with a groan and said, “Perhaps I will send Grubbly-Plank down to learn the spell.” She looked at Snape standing behind them, arms crossed. “You are not going to help?” she asked him.

“I . . . think I will just observe,” Snape replied a bit haughtily.

McGonagall gave him a sharp look until Harry said, from his crouched position to reach the very lowest stones that were mostly underwater, “He tried the spell and it didn’t work.”

“Convenient,” McGonagall grumbled as she stalked off.

Harry slopped in the water to shift to the left. His trainers were wet all the way through now, but he kept at it, finding the task strangely satisfying.

“Minerva will have to find or make up a medal to give you for this,” Snape stated. Harry wasn’t certain if he were serious.

“I’d prefer one for not turning Greer into a giant octopus the next time I see her. That’s going to be harder.”

Snape put a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “I realize you are frustrated, but I expect you to behave, even when so provoked.”

Harry pushed himself to his feet. “I lost myself,” he admitted as he ran his hand over the newly smooth surface before him. It was only a fraction of the area between just two of the arches. “You’re right, this is a huge job.” Harry stretched his arms to the sides and over his head and started on a new area that would expand to meet the one he had just finished. When that circle grew too large to continue, Harry stopped again and let out a yawn. A few seams had been missed and he went back and did those, which required waking all the stones around the cracks again.

Harry shook out his arms yet again. “Why doesn’t Headmistress order Greer to do this?”

“Professor Greer, Harry,” Snape pointed out quietly.

“Fat chance,” Harry retorted.

Snape started to step away. “For that, finish this section before you come up.” He stalked off, high-stepping in the water, which only seemed to be getting higher.

Harry rolled his eyes, but once Snape’s footsteps faded the only sound was the amplified lapping of the water in the cave, a lulling sound. Harry, humming faintly, tapped his wand against a new, unsealed array of stones.

By the time Harry finished, just that one section, his arms ached terribly from holding them up to tap repeatedly with his wand and he couldn’t feel his cold toes. He used the boy’s bathroom off the Entrance Hall to wash up for lunch and dry his shoes with a spell. He was feeling surly about what had turned into a kind of detention, so he didn’t look up at the head table as he made his way to where his friends sat.

“Wheh,” Colin said. “You smell like a crypt.”

“Thanks,” Harry retorted sarcastically. “I apparently did get detention for learning too much about the castle.” At the raised heads, he added, “Well, that and threatening to turn Greer into a cephalopod.” Numerous giggles followed this, which made Harry smile faintly, but Snape was right, frustration was beginning to rule him. Trouble was, knowing this didn’t help, perhaps the opposite. “If I show the next D.A. a few spells can you get a few members to help me with something this afternoon?”

“Sure,” Ginny answered eagerly. “What do you need help with?”

“Sealing the castle foundation against lake and groundwater.”

Ginny narrowed her eyes at him. “You’re so secretive, Harry.”

“You think I’m kidding.”

After lunch twenty students Harry knew well from his school days followed him down to the lower dungeon. All were quite excited to see such a remote part of the castle. Suze stepped down last, seeming reluctant to get her tiny cloth shoes wet.

“Clearly you have not spent enough time pawing around in the bowels of this place, chasing monsters, chancing Voldemort,” Harry criticized them, half-playfully. “Chasing Ginny,” Harry added, elbowing his friend. Ginny rolled her eyes and frowned—still a sensitive topic, apparently. Harry moved on quickly, “So this is the spell . . . “

Two hours later when the footsteps on the staircase revealed themselves to be McGonagall, they were almost halfway finished. “My,” the headmistress exclaimed. She studied the newly sealed arches a moment, looking nostalgic. “Well, we’ll have to come up with a treat for all of you in appreciation for this, and I’ll send some staff down to assist.”

“That’s all right,” Ginny piped up from where she sat on Wereporridge’s shoulders so as to reach the upper part of an arch. “We’re fine.” Everyone else seconded this.

“Perhaps I’ll have the elves send some butterbeers down then?”

Strong ascent greeted this suggestion. Someone quietly suggested real beers would also be welcome. McGonagall either didn’t hear or ignored it.

It was nearly evening when Harry, after heartily thanking his friends and the other students, like Wereporridge, who consented to be dragged along, headed to his fifth-floor chambers. Upon opening the door, he found Snape sitting on one of the couches, grading papers. Snape gave him a sideways glance as Harry stood in the doorway, taking this in before moving to his room with the intent of changing into something fresher smelling. Snape’s voice stopped him as he opened the door to the bedchamber. “Just because I correct you, does not mean I am not on your side.”

Harry tweaked the door handle, making the latch clatter. He wanted to get angry, just to feel it. He teetered at the cusp of hot anger before letting it go. “Yeah, sure,” Harry said. He went in and returned presently in a fresh set of robes and clean trousers. His ankles, tired of having damp cuffs pressed against them, thanked him as he sat down across from his guardian. After a pregnant silence, Harry said, “What are we going to do if this Finnish Shaman-”

“Saami,” Snape corrected.


“He is actually a Saami.”

Harry didn’t know what that was, but he went on with, “If this Saami Shaman doesn’t respond or says no?”

Snape didn’t look up from his grading. “We will find an alternative,” he replied easily.

“It isn’t like you to be so optimistic,” Harry pointed out with a grumble.

“We have no choice but to find something . . .unless you relish the roll of housemaster?”


“Pity.” Many minutes and two essay markings later, Snape asked, “Still angry?”


“Even though you have nothing to look forward to but sealing stone walls?”

“That’s finished.” Snape did look up at this proclamation. Harry went on, “Although I’ll go down tomorrow and make sure no joins were missed. Likely some have been. The D.A. are now the D.A.A.W.I.—Dumbledore’s Army Against Water Infiltration.”

“It pays to have lots of friends.”

Next: Chapter 6 — Arctic Flight

Harry was almost to the bottom of his trunk. “Planning on beating them?” he asked as he plucked up the dingy grey jumper that he had inherited during his last visit to Hogwarts. Snape needn’t have brought it since he was going to use the old thing for gardening and that was months away. Age had softened its woolen threads to the point of near disintegration.

“We always plan on beating everyone,” Suze pointed out.

Harry considered a response to this as he fingered the Glad Rags tag on the jumper. He flipped the tag up and stared in frozen fascination at the faded initials T.R. inked on the back of it.


Ociumum — I don't usually explain but this may be too remote. That is the ingredient stolen from Snape's cabinet at the end of Resonance and used against him. We have a word for people like Greer, and ironically, it rhymes with “witch”.

Harry/Ginny — This will be clarified in um, Chapter 9. And it's a very funny scene. Oops, make that Chapter 10, otherwise 9 would be way too long. I'm trying to stick with ~20 pages to a chapter because longer than that I can't carefully check before brain melts.

Updates — I'm going to try for weekly, but real life and quality issues may override that. But the next 5 updates should be Wed/Thurs. (Weekends have enough fun already)

Voltaire, yeah, that guy. I was thinking that for a pronunciation one needed it spoken, but opera is just written down too, isn't it? Although, there might be a performance tradition that preserves pronunciations. I have to confess that my idea of studying the classics is to read George Eliot. Man is she subtle and sometimes I think I'm hallucinating the underlying things in her dialog.

Erasmus and Nearly Headless Nick — I figure Erasmus regularly pumps Nick for stories about Harry and that made Nick not unlikely to go whisper in Erasmus' ear since the ghosts have free run of the castle.

Candide — She's around; she was just one plot line too many for the already overloaded chapters 1 and 2.

Not following — I'm trying harder to not leave readers behind. If you find this happening, it is either intentional, because I'm going to clarify it later (as in the case of Snape and The Look), or it will ruin the flow of the scene to provide more detail, or I've messed up. So in this case—why Snape is avoiding Ginny—I didn't have a point of view to provide more detail than was provided until Ginny was forced to explain. Just because Snape is doing better as a father doesn't mean he's accepted that fact to the degree of turning into Molly just when he has to deal with so much Darkness. It would be out of character for him to. When McGonagall points out how well he is doing, he can snarl at her and feel better, but Ginny is serving as a mirror in this case and he can't dismiss it so easily. The Mirror of Lained I guess you could say.

Arrogance — Usually masks something else.

Harry climbing the furniture — Those of you mystified by this behavior have never been stuck in a room with only dormers. They let in great light, but you can't see out and it can feel claustrophobic.

Chapter 6: Arctic Flight
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter 6 — Arctic Flight

Snape wandered through the Ministry of Magic atrium where something had clearly gone very wrong. Shredded wall hangings were strewn across the floor and ash from the hearths had been scattered and tracked across the broad wood boards of the floor and hovered in a ghostlike haze in the light. No one guarded the dreamily glittering gateway at the end of the atrium and Snape hurried his pace to the lifts, feeling a surging sense of doom. The metal gate on the lift had to be forced closed to get the lift moving and only then did it move reluctantly with much squealing of damaged parts.

The chaos only grew worse on level two. Shredded parchments were piled in the corridors, scattered with discarded pointed hats and gloves, many of which appeared to have been gnawed upon. In the main Auror’s office a barricade of desks had been hastily erected and Tonks crouched on the near side of it. Snape stepped around it, not even pausing when the Auror hissed a warning to be careful.

Beyond the last desk—the only upright one in a sea of spilled files, ink bottles, and a few wounded, fluttering memo airplanes—crouched Harry, one arm covering his head, the other clutching his wand, although not in a manner that would allow him to spell anything. Something rustled under a pile of parchments and chattered at Snape. It didn’t sound like anything terribly dangerous, but Harry started badly at the noise and rather than raise his wand properly, ducked farther into his arms.

“Harry,” Snape called his name and when he didn’t respond, hauled him to his feet by his raised arm. This was his old Harry, a head shorter and much narrower in the shoulders. “Come. Let’s go,” Snape said, sounding confident to help bolster his charge.

Snape turned to lead the way out, but Things were emerging from behind the toppled furniture, from under the piles of parchment. Harry stepped closer to Snape and finally raised his wand. Stick-like limbs and distorted bulbous bodies crept out of hiding, sensing the dominance of their numbers.

The next instant, without consciously Apparating, they stood in an utterly grey world. It was silent here as though vastly open and empty. Harry shifted the aim of his wand back and forth, but there was nothing to point it at. “Where are we?” he asked, sounding hopeless despite being relocated from obvious danger.

Snape moved closer still and gripped Harry’s bony shoulder blade with the intent of not losing track of him. Not recognizing this place of vague light and meaningless distance, he was forced to answer, “I do not know.”

Snape started awake. As he stared at the almost equally grey ceiling of his chambers, he had to admit the truth of the dream: he truly had no idea what he was going to do for Harry.

Alert now, Snape considered that he had not checked on him since the alarm several nights ago. Motivated by that concrete task, one that would certainly mollify the dream, Snape tossed on a heavy robe to face the chilly winter castle.

At the door to the guest chambers, Snape removed the alarm spells, including the two that Ginny Weasley had not detected, and crept inside. Harry had trustingly not added any others. The door to the bed chamber was open and Harry lay deeply asleep in the streaming pale moonlight and orange glow of the flickering hearth. Snape clearly needn’t have worried, given the lightly snoring slumber going on.

Kali rose up in her cage, fingers tweaking the bars like strings on a musical instrument. Snape went over and released the door latch. She groggily climbed on his arm and accepted a ride over to her master. The normally vicious Chimrian had accepted Snape ever since Harry’s kidnapping, and he patted her head once in memory of that before she climbed down and curled up between the pillow and Harry’s shoulder.

“We just need to tame a few more monsters,” Snape whispered wryly to the sleeping, tossle-haired visage. “Trust that no matter how vile and dark they are, I will not abandon you to them.”

Harry shifted in his sleep before falling still again. Snape closed his eyes and grimaced, he probably looked about how he had the first night, a mirror of that bizarre vision he had seen in Ginny Weasley’s eyes. If he grew too weak, he was not going to be fit for this task, and he feared that he already had. Had the vision been of anyone else, he would have believed them already far too fatally sentimental. Spinning sharply on his heel, Snape purposefully departed for his own chambers.

The sun, as usual, woke Harry, who proved reluctant to close the drapes around his bed at night. He didn’t have drapes at home and perhaps they reminded him too much that he was back at Hogwarts. He dug through his trunk in search of clothes for the day, deciding that he should just hang everything up in the wardrobe. It depressed him a bit to do this, since it meant he was moving in longer term. A welcome knock interrupted his chasing the worst of the dust out before putting in his clothes.

Harry found the petite Suze at the door. “Is it all right if I visit?” she asked, blinking her white eyelashes nervously.

“Of course it is,” Harry said, inviting her in with a sweep of his hand. He retied his housecoat and said, “As long as you don’t mind if I haven’t gotten dressed yet . . . Have a seat,” he said.

She pulled a spindly straight-backed chair from the corner to beside the bed while Harry returned to sorting out his clothes. “You haven’t unpacked?” she asked.

Harry’s shoulders fell as he shook out a crumpled shirt from the middle of his trunk. Snape had stuffed the entire contents of his wardrobe at home into it, it seemed. “I was kind of hoping to not be here so long. That was wishful thinking.”

“I hope you’re feeling better soon,” she said with almost innocent encouragement.

“I do too.” As he sorted out his socks, he considered asking her what the current rumors were about him, but then he decided he didn’t care, which felt better than knowing.

Suze said, “We have Quidditch practice this afternoon, if you wanted to come watch?”

Harry gave her a grin. “Not afraid that I’ll tell the Gryffindor captain what I see?”

“You wouldn’t do that,” Suze asserted with a laugh. “And we don’t play Gryffindor ‘til the end of the year.”

Harry was almost to the bottom of his trunk. “Planning on beating them?” he asked as he plucked up the dingy grey jumper that he had inherited during his last visit to Hogwarts. Snape needn’t have brought it since he was going to use the old thing for gardening and that was months away. Age had softened its woolen threads to the point of near disintegration.

“We always plan on beating everyone,” Suze pointed out.

Harry considered a response to this as he fingered the Glad Rags tag on the jumper. He flipped the tag up and stared in frozen fascination at the faded initials T.R. inked on the back of it. Suze had said something but Harry didn’t hear. With slow movements he held the sagging jumper up and looked it over. It looked old enough all right.

“Harry?” Suze’s sharp prompt pulled him away from his deep thoughts.

“Um, sorry.” What should he do with it? Should he throw it into the hearth? He turned to do that and then thought perhaps he was overreacting. It could have belonged to anyone with those initials.

“Harry, you all right?”

Bundling the jumper up and clutching it, Harry said in a little embarrassment, “Yeah. Just, um, thinking.” He held the jumper out and said, “Old thing, I think I’ll just toss it on the fire.”

With no little distaste, the primly dressed Suze said, “Good idea.”

“Good idea,” Harry echoed.

Irrational or not, Harry felt better just getting rid of the jumper. It burned up rapidly in a halo of bright blue flame from the dye.

- 888 -

“Another letter for you?” Siri demanded when she met Per outside the supply store in the nearest village that had one. It sat on the same lake their village did, but lakes were long, many armed things, so the distance was significant. The same white owl was perched on the roof edge of the store waiting for Per to reappear from within, apparently. Its feathers showed bright against the perpetually twilight sky behind it.

“You may answer my post whenever you wish. I can do without it,” Per said dismissively.

Siri called the owl down and again fed her after taking the letter. Per was skiing away, and Siri needed nearly a mile to catch up to the much longer-legged Shaman. Fortunately, he had skied away along the shore, out on the flat frozen lake. Footprints and snowmobile tracks also ran along on the snow-coated ice and Per used the well-packed paths for his skis. The white owl followed along with ease, dodging and stopping in trees ahead of them.

“Are you coming with me to see if this boy down the lake really is a Stauncher?” Per asked.

“If I may. Mostly, I am delivering your post.” She handed him the letter. It fluttered in the wind, blowing steadily off of the sheer expanse of the lake.

Per grumbled but accepted it. He opened it and handed it back to her to translate for him. Siri read the letter aloud until Per interrupted, with, “Are you certain it says that? That you have it right: Voldemort’s servant?”

Siri reread the sentence out loud in English and then shrugged that it indeed read as she had originally translated. She read out the rest, Per growing more perplexed as the letter went on. When Siri finished and folded it, Per said, “This British wizard presents us an enigma.” He shook his head as though he had water in his ears.

“It does seem likely that . . .” Siri began.

“Harry Potter is a foci of the Plane. He is another enigma on his own. Two enigmas . . . bound together by an adoption. And the father wishes to send the famous Boy Hero here to us . . . begs us to be allowed to, in fact.” He stared out over the lake with his bright slate eyes. “Well, how can we resist, if only to unravel some of these mysteries.” He stashed the letter inside his coat and skied on toward the cluster of pole and turf goahti at the bend of the lake shore, each with a banner of smoke trailing out the top of it.

- 888 -

Monday morning, just as Snape collected his things together for class, Hedwig scratched at the window. He quickly moved to open it, grateful that she carried a rolled up letter this time. Well, a letter of sorts—it was written on the inside of a piece of cardboard packaging for a box of Muggle cereal. In the brightly colored picture a bear wearing a bib was holding a spoon before a bowl of puffy yellow things in milk.

But the letter read. “Oulu train station, 8:00 Saturday. Hope you have a safe place for him until then.”

Snape sat down in his chair a moment before he gathered his wits and put the letter away where Harry wouldn’t see it, having to admit that lack of proper parchment didn’t inspire confidence in the sender. He gave Hedwig a toss out the window to go to the owlery and went to class, an unusual five minutes late. Lunchtime was the first chance he had to find Harry and give him the news.

“He’ll take me then?”

“He agreed to assess you,” Snape clarified as they strolled quickly down toward the Great Hall. “But it seems likely he will take you, I believe. We now must work out your travel arrangements. I think an airplane flight is in order. We can limit it to one, if you wish.”

“Can’t I just take my broom?” Harry asked.

“To Finland?” Snape asked derisively. “Across the North Sea . . . in winter no less? NO.”

“How about my bike-”

“NO. You will take Muggle transport.” They had reached the doors to the hall so the debate was cut off.

- 888 -

Harry spent the week getting as far ahead on his readings as possible, since he couldn’t carry all of his books. Midweek, Snape had presented him with stiff pieces of paper like those he had seen his Uncle Vernon with a few times, but Harry had never taken a very close look at them before. They were covered in confusing robotic numbers; even the date wasn’t locatable without rather a lot of hunting and deciphering. With the airplane tickets beside him on the desk, Harry swallowed his pride and wrote out one more letter to Belinda after he had written to all of his friends.

In a fit of pique he ended the letter with: To avoid turning into a dark wizard I have to visit a wizard in Finland who knows something I don’t. I don’t know how long I’ll be gone. Minister Bones most likely knows this from the Auror’s office, so tell her if you like. Even knowing that was an unfair thing to say, didn’t stop him handing the letter to one of the tawny school owls to take away.

Friday night, Harry packed his things into his backpack, the limit Snape believed that Harry should carry. He had taken perverse pleasure in not packing a single book, but had packed excess parchment at Snape’s insistence. His two extra thick woolen weasley jumpers, Harry tied to the straps of it and set it down where he had laid out his new boots, knee-length woolen coat, mittens, gloves to fit inside the mittens, and fur muffler purchased just for this trip.

A knock on the door brought Harry’s thoughts out of the dark loop they were caught in. It was McGonagall. “Harry,” she greeted him warmly. “All packed?” At Harry’s nod, she fetched a silver flask out of her pocket. “You should bring a gift and I believe this is most appropriate.”

Harry sniffed the contents and his eyes watered at the whiskey assault they suffered. “Thanks,” he said and turned to make a space down the side of the pack for it.

“Ready to go?” she asked in concern.

Harry shrugged; his initial excitement had been worn down over the course of the week and now he felt numb as an alternative to feeling hopeless.

“You may always return here, Harry. Your friends will certainly not abandon you, no matter what.”

Kali rattled frantically in her cage at that moment. Harry went over and took her out and let her climb to his shoulder. “Even though this was my first real home . . . I don’t want to be here any more,” he admitted. Kali chewed on his hair, which he had unintentionally let get long since the New Year. He shrugged his shoulder to get her to stop. “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful . . .”

“No, no, Harry. I understand. You will watch yourself while you are gone?”


She patted his arm. “Have a good trip, Harry.”

- 888 -

Harry stood before a series of gateways, each with a row of flashing lights atop them. People and bags were queued up leading to them. He was told by a chubby guard that only people with tickets were allowed through. Harry had to be told everything today, it seemed, and he felt very wizardishly lost in the fast-moving complexity of Heathrow Airport.

“She says only people with tickets,” Harry said to his guardian, who, in his cassock and robes, continued to attract unwarranted attention from the uniformed and armed people helping usher travelers through the queues.

Snape’s eyes again swept the strange place they stood in. People towing small wheeled bags swept past in one direction; people pushing orange trolleys maneuvered by in the crosswise direction. “You will watch yourself, correct?” Snape demanded.

“Yeah,” Harry said. He had been careful with his emotions all day but the feeling of oily dark watchfulness from elsewhere had only increased as he tried to push it away.

“Take the potion if you have any difficulty. There are several doses.”

“Yeah,” Harry said, impatiently. He wasn’t keen on being half-sedated while traveling, but if it came to that . . .

Snape unhooked his fur-lined cloak and folded it lengthwise before handing it over. “Take this, just in case your new coat is not sufficient.”

Harry hefted the heavy faded cloak under his arm. “Thanks. I gotta go,” he said. “See you . . .”

“Take care, Harry. And behave yourself,” Snape intoned, sounding as though he wanted to be sterner but failing.

Harry nodded and said goodbye before moving to join the shortest queue. Snape stood waiting until Harry made his way forward through the square plastic gateway. On the other side Harry turned and waved and at that moment, seeing those strained dark eyes, wished no one cared for him so; the burden was too much on top of everything else.

Sighing lightly, Harry collected his bag from the conveyer when it was disgorged and stopped to decipher the lit-up signs hanging from the ceiling to determine which way to go.

The airport was a very busy place but not a single person gave him a double-take or sharp look of recognition. He found his gate eventually and was relieved to see “Helsinki” printed on the lit-up display behind the counter. He sat down between a man in a suit and a woman who chatted into a mobile phone. Startling numbers of people streamed past in the wide corridor and continued to do so pretty continuously until the man behind the desk spoke into a microphone. Trouble was, Harry didn’t know his row number. He peered at the additional piece of round-cornered stiff paper he had received when he arrived at the airport and read it, eventually locating this information. Many other travelers were also squinting at their tickets as though they needed stronger glasses, which made Harry feel better.

On the plane, Harry copied everyone else and stashed his bag overhead like he would on a train except with latched doors before sitting down and strapping himself in same as he used to in his uncle’s car, not because his aunt and uncle ever told him to, but because they always made sure Dudley did. Harry peered out the window at the row of airplanes beside theirs. They didn’t look like contraptions that wanted to fly without magic. They were ungainly, weighty monsters that looked perhaps able to roll easily, but certainly not get aloft. Harry, as he puzzled this, thought that he could better understand Mr. Weasley’s fascination such things. The woman who sat down next to Harry immediately took out a magazine covered in snapshots of people and buried her nose in it, for which Harry was grateful.

While they all waited for something to happen, Harry played with all of the interesting things around him, like the air nozzle and flip-down tray, until the woman beside him asked in a very posh accent, “First time flying?”

“Uh, yeah,” Harry admitted, figuring he couldn’t fake this given how poorly he had navigated things so far today.

“Visiting family?” she asked.

Harry kicked himself for attracting her verbal attention. “No. Visiting someone I know in the north, in Lappland.”

“Primitive up there,” she pronounced, raising her magazine again.

After the day Harry had had, that was a welcoming thought.

Sure enough, the metal contraption was more than willing to fly—with enough of a running start, which Harry could understand rather well. The ground fell away and soon clouds fell from above, obscuring it. Within minutes they were higher than Harry could go on his motorcycle and he grew interested in the view again. His feeling of security from Hogwarts was slipping away as fast as the ground and he dearly hoped he could hold out until they landed; this fragile, unCharmed, tin can he was riding in wouldn’t take much to come down.

Fortunately, they landed safely with a screech that at first made Harry grip his armrests in alarm, but it was only the tires. Off of the plane, Harry felt as though he were chewing on a piece of the twins’ Babble Bubblegum, which made everything you heard incomprehensible. He moved through the Helsinki airport well enough but found the swell of gibberish conversations around him unexpectedly disturbing and he kept trying to listen closer as though that might let him understand. Fortunately, the first person he asked for help—a man in a long overcoat who had just put away his mobile—spoke perfect English and pointed to where one could catch a shuttle to the train station.

The bus ride was long but Harry had plenty of time since he was taking the overnight train. He watched out the window at the city and people bathed in the angular light. He thought he heard the chittering from the Dark Plane a few times but with the loud motor of the bus it was hard to be certain. This uncertainty did not help. A well-bundled infant in the seat across from Harry stared at him with wide eyes; Harry turned to watch out the window instead, calming himself as best he could.

Harry had a few hours to wait at the train station. He wandered through the shops and sat on a bench on the platform for a while, letting the flow of passengers in and out wash over him, wishing he had brought just one of his books to read. The yellow warning track stretched out before him. That was what he himself needed around him, Harry thought, a warning to others about the hazard he represented. He couldn’t even conceive of the chaos that would ensue if hordes of grotesque dark creatures poured into this world here in the train station. Was there even a Finnish Ministry of Magic to clean up such things? Harry rubbed his eyes; he could always take some potion, he reminded himself.

Finally, his train arrived with a hiss of its brakes. Harry stood by one of the doors while the incoming passengers stepped down. He had a reserved seat in one of the few cars without sleeper compartments and when he found it, he fell into it with relief and closed his eyes.

Harry woke from his drowsing when the train stopped at the next station, confused about where he was. The landscape outside was shrouded in black but the lights of the station revealed snowy ground and snow-laden pine trees. The train lurched forward and the station slid out of view. A young blonde man sat down in the seat across the aisle. Harry peered out into the blackness, using his hand as a shade for the lights which had been turned low after they resumed moving. Harry wished he wasn’t here, or that it was bright enough to see where “here” was. The distinctive chitter sounded nearby. Harry wasn’t the only one to hear it; the young blonde man ducked down to look under his seat in curiosity. Harry reached for his backpack and fished the potion bottle out of the front pocket and downed a gulp. Moments later the world grew soft and meaningless and blissfully silent. Harry stared at the reflection of the carriage in the dark window for a long while after that. Whenever that grew boring, he took another small sip of potion.

The train pulled into Oulu at 7:30. Morning only by the clock as the sun gave no hint of rising yet. Harry bundled Snape’s cloak around himself after almost forgetting it on the shelf in his dazed condition. This prompted him to go back and check again that he had everything. Ominous noises of the train decoupling hurried him off.

The platform lights illuminated cones of misting snow in the greyness. Harry looked up and down the platform but didn’t see anyone waiting. He walked with the small crowd through the station out to the front. The other passengers moved off, including the young man from across the aisle, who unlocked and boarded a bicycle, despite the deep snow piled alongside the pavement. Harry around this white-shrouded area but didn’t see anyone waiting. Back inside, he settled on a bench across from the ticket booth and relaxed; he was a little early for the meeting.

At 8:00 a.m. Harry again made the rounds, first checking the platform and then the front of the station. This time a squat figure stood on the pavement in a thick grey belted tunic and yellow rubber boots. Harry stepped in that direction and the woman, he realized, looked up curiously at him. She had deep weathered lines in her face and nearly Asian eyes. She gave Harry a slightly cocked smile and with an unfamiliar accent said, “Harry Potter, I presume.”

Harry swallowed and nodded. She held out her hand, Harry believed to shake hands, but she took his wrist and the front of the train station disappeared.

Harry stumbled on uneven ground and caught his bare hand on frigid, wind-swept stone. The woman was gone. Thick snakes slithered over the dim flat plane surrounding him, slithered bizarrely through boiling, steaming snow. Blasting icy wind sucked the breath from Harry’s chest the way a Dementor sucked happiness.

Harry struggled to pull his mittens out of his pockets and put them on, fighting the wind that tried to rip them away from him. He then struggled to tug his cloak tighter, relieved that Snape’s cloak was as heavy as it was. There were no snakes, he realized after finding his breath by angling his head diagonal to the wind, only trees growing horizontally in the twisted shelter of the crevices in the rock, and the steam was just finer snow lifted into the air in billows. He drew another breath with effort and scanned the area. Two figures stood a distance away, one significantly taller than the other. The taller one stepped away. The smaller one turned too, but gestured for Harry to follow.

Harry tried another breath through his mitten with more success. He stepped forward into the wind, losing the grip on his cloak which let the wind cut through him as though he were merely a skeleton with no flesh to warm his bones. By the time he made the edge of the plateau, his stunned bones rattled with the cold. Dazed and having a hard time focusing for the bursts of white filling the air, Harry was given skis, which he had never worn in his life. They were strapped over his boots and the man bent for a minute as though talking to them, but that must simply have been Harry’s deranged impression. The woman tested the weight of Harry’s cloak and waited while he added his gloves under his thick mittens. She then nodded in apparent approval and two of them turned gracefully to slide away. Harry’s skis moved to follow of their own volition. After a dozen strides, Harry got the feel of the motion and managed to move with the long clumsy things, rather than fighting them.

They slid down-slope a long, long way, through gloom and blasts of snowy air. Harry truly began to worry about the future as his clothing although the best he could get, seemed unsuited to this climate. Perhaps if he wore all of his jumpers at once, he thought hopefully. After a time, the repeated movement began to warm up his middle, at least, and eventually even his hands.

The blue-tinted dark-grey world flattened out and they crossed a low treeless expanse where the wind held less sway and one could see a bit farther between less frequent waves of airborne snow. Harry’s skis followed in the exact tracks of the man’s until they reached the far valley side where the Shaman stopped before one of a row of very small hills, the grass of which showed through . The man left his skis behind and walked around the nearest one. Harry, with a grunt of cold-stiff limbs, moved to follow only to discover that this hill had a perfectly ordinary window in the side of it, and opposite the window, a door, albeit a small one.

A candle flared as Harry ducked inside the darkness. He was directed by gestures to sit on a log to the left and he copied his hosts as they removed their boots and deserted them on the bare dirt. Behind him, furred hides were piled over dense tree branches spread on the frozen ground. The walls were lined with closely spaced, barkless branches of the size a wizard might use as a staff. The woman quickly went to work at the firepit in the middle of the hut. Harry shucked his pack and climbed backward to settle on the surprisingly springy and soft fur pile. He watched as the woman lit a curl of birch bark and drop small twigs onto its eager flame. Across from him the Shaman, Harry assumed, was shucking his ice-matted hat, revealing short light brown hair. He reached for his boots next and pulled bird’s nests out of them. Well, they certainly looked like nests. Harry watched, mystified, as these were pulled apart and spread with great care on the edge of a hide. Harry scratched his head and tried not to wonder what he was doing here. The hut was filling with smoke from the sputtering fire. Harry removed his ice-coated mittens and set them on a rock near the fire—but not too close—and warmed his hands. No one spoke, so Harry remained silent as well.

As he watched the fire catch, Harry concentrated on the world around him and, surprisingly, felt safe. He relaxed with an exhausted sigh. Maybe this strange place was charmed, he thought. When his hands had warmed, Harry took out parchment and found his never-out quill would not work; it was frozen apparently. He placed this on the rock beside his mittens to thaw and put the parchment back away. Snape had said he would send Hedwig to fetch a message. She may be outside now. Hopefully she could find him all right; she certainly had in the past when Harry had made unexpected moves.

The hut warmed a bit more and the air cleared out as the fire rose higher and stronger. Everyone still sat in total silence. Harry tried his quill again and found it working well enough to write out a message telling Snape he had arrived all right, but found he couldn’t put down much more than that without sounding terribly uncertain. He wrote that he wasn’t bothered by dark creatures at the moment, but he wasn’t certain what was blocking them. He stashed the letter back in his bag to send when Hedwig arrived.

Since no conversation, nor anything else, was expected of Harry, he laid down on the furs using his cloak as a blanket, and closed his eyes. He was awoken a short time later by two things, one was his host leaning very close over him and the other was a conversation that he couldn’t understand. Harry studied the lined face and bright slate eyes of the Shaman above him. He was examining Harry’s scar. Apparently satisfied, he moved away and said something to the woman.

He is a gateway but it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with that mark upon him,” Per said as he settled back beside the fire and took up a knife and a piece of antler.

“So what is your plan, other than settling into a summer home in the middle of the winter?” Siri asked.

Lars used to live here all year,” Per pointed out. “We are here because no one else is.

Harry, used to being discussed as though he weren’t there, rested back and re-closed his eyes; the cold had leeched a lethargy into him that he didn’t feel like fighting.

Per went on, “As to my plan . . . I need to know him better. Then we shall see.

Harry woke next to the most unexpected scent of bread baking, his stomach growling plaintively as he breathed in the wondrous odor. Siri was turning a flat circle of bread on a large flat stone balanced over the largest logs of the fire. Harry stretched his neck; he needed to find the toilet, or equivalent. No one said a word when he moved to put on his boots, re-hooked his cloak around him, and fetched his mittens, now toasty warm, from near the fire. Outside, the slightly brighter sky revealed a new trail in the snow, which led to an outhouse where apparently an ax had been utilized just recently to hack away the ice around the door.

On the way back to the hut, Harry stopped and looked up in amazement at the sky. It was ablaze in color as though a giant were throwing buckets of fairydust through the atmosphere. Harry had seen the aurora borealis before but it had only been yellow and green and sparse. This was a festival of the night sky and he stood transfixed by the silent spectacle.

Harry apparently stood gaping too long, because the hut door opened and the Shaman looked out. He had pulled on only his boots and tunic. He stepped out and looked up where Harry’s chin was still pointing. He grunted and went back inside. When Harry followed, the woman spoke as he removed his boots.

“There are wolves nearby, you must be careful. They are hungry.”

“Wolves?” Harry confirmed.

She handed him half a loaf of bread when he had settled back on the hides and passed him a stone bowl which turned out to hold butter of all things. Harry happily spread some on the warm and wondrous bread before passing the bowl around to the Shaman. Harry was glad someone was talking . . . in English especially.

She went on in a warning tone, “They go for the hands first so you cannot knife or spear them.”

Harry didn’t know her name, introductions had not been made, were not expected to, apparently. “I’ll watch out,” Harry said with confidence. “Thanks for the bread . . . it’s delicious.” And it was; Harry quickly devoured his half loaf and was immediately handed another from what turned out to be a pile lying on the coals. Before total silence could rule again, he asked her name.

“Siri Blind,” she replied. Harry glanced over at the man but she didn’t expand the introduction. Harry assumed he was Per Hossa, whom Snape had written to. What Siri did say was, “His English isn’t very good.”

“Oh,” Harry said. “I don’t speak Finnish.”

She smiled then, which completely took over her face. “His Finnish isn’t so good either.”

“Oh.” Her smile made him relax. He settled back with his second loaf of bread and ate until he thought he might burst out of his double layer of jumpers.

After sleeping, Harry had to check his watch to assure himself that it indeed was 10:00 in the morning. The sky was still merely a dull grey-blue and only the glowing snow made the world apparent, although misleadingly so. Harry discovered how flat the light rendered the snow when he tripped over a two-foot high snow-covered rock while wandering along the row of what he now knew to be huts, looking for Hedwig. He picked himself up and brushed off his face which burned from the cold crystals adhering to it. Harry had never experienced cold like this, it changed his very spirit, simultaneously dampening and awakening it. The woman, Siri, came aside Harry as he walked and at that moment Hedwig appeared over the trees and alighted on Harry’s arm. Harry greeted his owl, very happy to see her. He gave her his letter and she took off again, instantly disappearing into the surroundings.

The day passed quietly after some things were attended to around the hut. A metal cage on top was removed and repaired. The ice on the lake was hacked open to fetch water. The wood pile was uncovered and wood moved to just inside the door. Harry practiced on the skis while the sun was highest, meaning that the light revealed at least the largest rocks and dips under the snow. He headed out 20 yards onto what he now knew was a lake, turned around with very ungainly movements, and returned. He repeated this many times until he was out of breath and his fingers numb from clutching the poles. He hoped he didn’t have to go very far on them anytime soon.

The scent of coffee brewing filled the hut when Harry returned to it. He accepted a cup of it gratefully. It tasted odd as though it had been salted. He swallowed forcefully and also accepted a bowl of what appeared to be green leaves mashed in milk, which it was, except highly sweetened. Harry sat back and forced the food and drink down without any outward sign of the strangeness of the meal. As he dug in his pack for fresh clothes, Harry found the flask McGonagall has given him, but that he had forgotten about. Per wasn’t in the hut and it didn’t feel like the right moment for a gift presentation, so Harry restashed it.

Night came again. Harry curled up to sleep until a dull thrumming made him lift his head again. Per sat cross-legged on the other side of the hut, pounding on a shallow drum with a forked piece of antler. Harry sat up and scooted closer, curious. The drum had silhouetted animals and stick figures drawn on it in red. A deer, a wolf, a hut, a wolverine, something demonically grotesque, a hut, a bear, the sun, the moon, the mountain and more symbols Harry couldn’t make out. Per drummed lightly for a while before dropping a ring onto its surface and whispering something. The ring bounced when he resumed striking the hide. It bounced around and halted its slide when it reached the demon where it simply bobbed up and down. Per grabbed up the ring and set the drum away, not looking up at Harry who finally laid back in the resulting silence.

Harry slept very soundly but had an odd dream about a following a bear while wearing skis. The bear skirted the edge of a deep ravine and Harry struggled to keep from sliding into the misty depths to the left of him, yet he had to keep following. Harry woke to a howling outside nearby. The fire was down to glowing coals. By that poor light he saw Per rise up from his side of the hut and go out, not even taking the time to put on his boots; perhaps he was still dreaming.

The next day when the light was good enough, Harry went out and investigated the little settlement again. He stashed his wand in his cloak pocket in case the wolf came back. He had little concern for his skills against it. As Harry paced back, Per was towing a sled, which he left before the door of their hut. He spoke in Saami to Siri in response to what sounded like a question from her.

I cannot rest and watch the boy. I am going to set up some wards.

Harry stepped over at these unknown preparations and asked Per, “Can I help?”

Per gestured at the skis and Harry moved to put on the pair he had practiced with yesterday. He had to hurry to catch up to his host as he skied off, towing the sled. When Per finally stopped on the hillside above the settlement, Harry was long since out of breath and his arms were drooping with fatigue from keeping himself from sliding backwards downhill. He coughed and didn’t fail to notice the odd look his gasping was garnering. Per shook his head and bent to uncover a rock. He looked it over and uncovered the snow from the next. This one had an odd twisted shape to it. Per pushed it with his foot hard until it rocked up and then he bent as though to heft it in his arms. Alarmed, Harry took out his wand and said, “Do you want me to do that?” Per ignored him, Harry tapped him on the shoulder and repeated the question.

Per released the rock and turned to look at Harry, obviously annoyed. “Sorry,” Harry said. “But . . .” he held out his wand and mimed moving the rock to the sled.

Per looked between the rock, the sled, and the wand before standing and gesturing that Harry should give it a go, in the way one might if one sincerely doubted the outcome. At that, Harry hesitated. He hadn’t used any magic since arriving. What if magic were different here? Why didn’t either of these two have wands if they were magical? Harry swallowed and swished and flicked at the rock. It obediently lifted into the air, oblivious to Harry’s doubts. Harry directed it to hover over the sled and down again.

Per, hands on hips, considered the rock in its new location. He tilted his head like an animal might before moving to secure it to the sled with ropes and grab the harness to tow it away. Harry would have offered to hover the rock the whole way but he didn’t think he could manage a hover while also managing himself on the skis.

Back at the hut, Siri came out and a discussion ensued. Per cleared a spot in the snow and gestured for Harry to move the rock. Harry did so. Per made some final adjustments to the positioning and then crouched before it as though communing with it.

“Come inside,” Siri invited. “Talking to rocks in the winter is slow.”

Harry, with one last look at his host bent over an inanimate object, followed her inside. “Do rocks talk back?” he asked.

“No,” Siri said with a laugh in her voice. She handed him a cup of coffee. “Trees sometimes do though. Water always does.”

Harry nearly spit out his coffee. He swallowed finally and, to cover, asked, “Is there salt in this?”

“Yes. Tastes awful without salt, snowmelt coffee does.”

Some time later, Per leaned his head in, barked something in Saami, and let the door close. “He wants you to help again,” Siri informed Harry.

It took until the end of the day to find and move two more odd-shaped stones to form a triangle around the hut. As they came back in for the last time, Per gave Harry what sounded like a long string of instructions Harry didn’t have a chance of understanding. Siri piped up immediately though with, “He says the rocks will keep the Dark Things away and that you should remain nearby. Don’t leave the village unless you are with him.”

“Oh. Sure. Thanks,” Harry said. His host though made no acknowledgment to this, simply stretched out on the hides and fell asleep.

Bored and not tired enough to sleep so early, Harry reached for the antler his host had been bent over the night before. It had a fantastically detailed pattern carved into it of a bear walking along a ridge. This felt queerly familiar to Harry, who had forgotten his dream. The antler was stained with grey fingerprints around where soot had been rubbed into the carving to make it visible. Harry carefully returned the antler as he had found it.

“Would you like to try?” Siri asked from where she sat working over something in the stone paved area of the hut. She didn’t wait for an answer, just dug out a piece of antler and gave Harry one of the knives from her belt. “Knife’s sharp,” she warned before returning to her task.

Harry, very carefully, tried to work out how to carve antler. He didn’t manage much more than scratching it randomly. Clearly there was some trick to it. Harry would have to watch more closely next time Per was working at it, or maybe even risk asking for a lesson.

The next few days passed this way, in regular chores to keep the hut livable, such as clearing the vent holes of snow, cutting new birch branches for the floor, hacking the ice of the lake, and always, always, chopping wood. Harry had never wielded an ax before, but it was handed to him without ceremony one day and he spent most of an hour working out the trick of splitting logs. Hitting them along one of the radial cracks was the only way to avoid strain. Otherwise one was required to either lever and heave the heavey, razor-sharp blade back out of the log, or pound the log and wood into submission until the ax re-emerged. As he stretched his unbelievably sore arms, Harry thought wryly that at least his physical training was continuing while he was away from the Ministry.

Harry went back inside. Per had headed off some time earlier and had not returned. Siri was weaving something on the right side of the tent. They seemed to leave the left only for Harry’s use. Curious what she was doing, he sat on the log on the right and tried to catch a glimpse.

“It is a shoe band,” Siri explained, holding the colorful strip of red and white zigzag weaving up for him to see. “To keep the snow off of the socks.” She bent her head back over it and resumed plucking the treads from a notched piece of cardboard and swapping them with one of the opposite color.

Harry started to remove his boots until Siri, without looking up, said, “Per is off hunting if you wish to help. We are low on meat and he has scented an unmarked and unburdened Vaja in the area.” Harry replayed that sentence in his head without much illumination. Siri went on, “If you want to help you can put on your skis, go up the hill and circle along the ridge of the hill, through the trees.” Harry wondered how she knew this. She sounded far away as she spoke. “Take that bucket with you,” she said, pointing at the one nearest the fire.

“Okay,” Harry said for lack of an argument against this task.

“It is probably unnecessary to tell you to make noise as you go.”

“Probably,” Harry said, thinking of his sorry skiing ability.

Harry carried the skis up the hill, trudging through waist-deep drifts at the deepest parts. The wind and cold now didn’t seem so fatal when he was out, rejuvenating almost as his body rose to the task of keeping itself alive. Harry strapped on the skis and poled himself forward. It was hard going over the deep, unbroken snow, but he made his way well enough. He was so much in the rhythm of his skiing, in fact, that he didn’t notice the reindeer until it flushed from the cluster of small trees where it had been standing, grazing on hanging moss.

Harry froze and watched the animal, the size of a small pony, turn one way and then charge back toward Harry only to turn yet again, snow pinwheeling off its hooves. As it leapt a thicket another figure flew by, low to the ground. With a growl the wolf bit firmly around the back leg of the reindeer and was pulled forward through the snow. Harry, stunned, scrambled for his wand, which was stupidly tucked in his jumper pocket. He dropped the bucket and one of his ski poles and scrambled to get into his coat. The deer dragged the wolf to the edge of the clearing—the wolf braking with its feet the whole way—where the prey fell and was immediately seized at the neck. Thrashing ensued while Harry tried to extract his wand with cold clumsy hands. Blood-flecked snow flew as the deer thrashed and Harry started to think that it didn’t matter anymore. As he raised his wand, the deer fell limp.

The wolf turned to him and Harry recognized the light, slate-blue eyes. He lowered his wand and pocketed it, picked up his pole and the bucket and started across the clearing. When he arrived, the wolf was washing its paws clean of blood with its tongue, turning Harry’s stomach. He held out the bucket and seconds later Per was standing there, blood smearing his face. He wiped up with a cloth from his pocket and with a knife he made a cleaner slice into the animal’s throat and let the blood drain into the bucket.

Per fingered the animal’s ear. “No mark,” he said. “No owner. Any season is legal for wolves to hunt.” He laughed then; this was apparently a more humorous statement than it sounded. He moved very quickly after to skin the animal and hack it apart, saving even the tendons. Harry was given the skin, now frozen into an ungainly shape, to carry. The heavier meat such as the ribs was propped up on poles and Per put the neck meat and smaller scraps into a sack he carried and they headed back. Red quickly soaked the bottom of the cloth sack.

“You never see wolf I think,” Per said awkwardly, carrying the bucket so as not to slop the blood out.

Harry could barely ski as fast as his host walked. “No, just werewolves,” Harry admitted.

Per came to a sudden stop and for a moment Harry felt his vision blurring, but he attributed it to his physical exhaustion. “Just werewolves,” Per repeated. Harry wondered if Per thought he were lying.

Harry rested the edge of the heavy, frozen hide on his skis. “Yeah. My good friend is a werewolf, for example. And my friends fought Fenrir Grayback in the final battle.”

“Voldemort’s servant?” Per asked, his English suddenly improved.

“Yeah,” Harry confirmed.

Per didn’t move, just gazed at Harry with his abnormally bright eyes. “Like your father?” he asked, picking the strange words out as though taking them from Harry.

“My father?” Harry echoed in confusion. “Oh, you mean Severus,” he said, understanding then. “Yeah,” Harry admitted, wondering how Per knew that.

Per’s eyes narrowed as though seeking something behind Harry. He eventually turned and walked on. Harry, fighting the dizziness again, picked up the hide as best as possible and used his other hand to hold both ski poles together.

Back at the hut the neck meat was put in a roaster and set over the fire. The scent that soon filled the place was heavenly. Per made a show of making a notch in one of the thicker wall sticks near the kitchen. There were at least twenty other notches above it. Per collected the remaining meat from the forest and when he returned Harry helped him arrange wood in one of the other huts that turned out to serve as a smokehouse.

By the time they finished, reindeer meat was being laid out into bowls. A bowl of liquid was placed on a wide board balanced between the entryway logs. Per dipped his meat in it before eating it. Harry did the same, only to discover the bowl was filled with melted reindeer fat. It tasted pretty good though, once Harry got used to the mouth-feel of it. He dipped his next piece as well.

“You hunt with that wand?” Per asked in slow English.

“Only dark wizards,” Harry admitted.

Per laughed, loudly, and continued to chuckle between hearty bites of meat balanced on his knife, cut against another wooden board. Harry’s meat had already been cut, he realized, making him feel a little chagrined. Harry remembered the gift and figured the moment didn’t get more congenial than this. He fished out the flask and handed it over. “A present,” Harry explained.

Per’s eyes went very wide as he accepted the silver flask. With a crooked grin at Siri who shook her head, he unscrewed the top and took a deep sniff. “Scottish,” he pronounced.

“I expect,” Harry agreed.

Per took a sip. “To the hunters,” he toasted. He handed the flask back to Harry who took a very small sip and still had to clear his throat to avoid coughing.

After the meal, Harry, from his usual seat on the left-hand pile of hides, asked for an antler carving lesson. Per shrugged and picked up the antler he had been working on. Eager, Harry picked up the antler piece Siri had given him and started across the hut to the other side. “Uh, uh!” Per said sharply when Harry was about to step onto the stone floor between the window and the fire. Harry stopped in confusion. Per gestured with his hand that Harry should go around the other way. Less certain, Harry obeyed, crossing from one log to the other to avoid the dirt floor in his socks.

Harry settled in, accepted a knife and a lesson in pressing hard and rocking the knife to produce straight deep lines. Then he was shown how to tilt the knife just so to get a curved line. Harry’s appreciation for the myriad different lines and detail of the bear carving went up considerably after these explanations. Harry set back and worked at his own antler, careful to keep the knife from slipping.

Harry paused in his work to shake out his hand and slowly asked Per, “What is your plan for me?” Asking this made a chill go over Harry’s neck, but he needed to know. He waited while Siri translated.

Per didn’t answer; Siri did. “He knows what is outside trying to get in, but not what is inside to meet it.”

“Oh,” Harry uttered, and bent back to his antler. Carving occupied the rest of the evening until the candles were snuffed for the night.

Next: Chapter 7 — Blind Magic

Harry woke in the middle of the night when the fire shifted. Per was adding wood, carefully lining the logs all up in the same direction. Harry raised his head and looked at the sleeping forms around the hut. Per sat back, reclined against the entryway log and sucked on a pipe. He gestured impatiently with his head that Harry should go back to sleep. Harry lay back then, realizing that Per had to stay awake to guard everyone from the Dark Plane. Harry glanced at the fur bundle on the far side that held two children and hoped he was indeed a Master of this.


Another suggestion was pointed out for getting to the new chapters: Use the link from your favorites list (thanks Ezmerelda).

Ah, then The Book could be described as a Semisentient Sisyphusian Object. Or SSO. I like that. Sounds like a classification from the Department of Mysteries.

Stressed Harry — Harry's pride is probably easier to wound in Chapter 5 given how little of his life is in his control at that point.

Finns — Boy, so many Finnish readers (and Scandinavians too). That's great! And bad, given that I've only been to Finland once and am now using it as a major setting for the next few chapters. We'll see how I do. I'm getting some extra betaing... Quiet people, the Finns. I don't do well there; I'm pretty loud.

Chasing Ginny — This is in reference to the Chamber of Secrets. That other unresolved throwaway I still haven't resolved.

Greer — I think I've succeeded where JKR failed—in creating a Potions Master that everyone universally hates. None of this, "oh, but..." that Snape generates :) Evil characters are fun and in fantasy stories, they fit in so well.

Chapter 7: Blind Magic
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter 7 — Blind Magic

The next day a buzzing noise invaded the quiet and Siri said, “Scooter,” to explain, which actually didn’t explain. A snowmobile finally came into view around a tree-covered point in the lake. The rider got off and spoke with Per. Something like an argument ensued, where Harry was certain the rider wanted Per to come back with him. Per waved him off and the man reluctantly departed, slower than he had approached.

Per and Siri then exchanged words. “Come,” she said, “we should not keep them waiting.” She moved to get the skis and re-tarred them quickly. Per stalked off to check the smokehouse. He made a point of moving more wood inside. Harry moved to help but Siri restrained him with a shake of her head.

“What’s going on?” Harry asked, quiet enough to not be heard four huts down.

“The village over the mountain needs a Seer,” she explained.

“Per is a Seer?” Harry asked with interest.

Siri frowned and tilted her head while she worked at smoothing a ski bottom. “He used to be.”

“Oh,” Harry said, grasping at understanding.

“But used too much it is like staring wide-eyed into a blizzard and going snow-blind,” she explained. She finished the last of the skis. “Fortunately, I am a Seer,” she breathed more quietly.

“Why don’t you go?” Harry asked, accepting his skis back, hopeful that they would work better somehow.

She gave him a wry grin. “Woman cannot be Shaman,” she explained.

“Why not?” Harry asked sharply.

“There is not supposed to be any magic at all anymore. Per is accepted, but I would not be,” she explained gently before going inside to collect a pack together. She came out and silently handed Harry a light sack of supplies to carry. Harry must have still looked difficult, because she pointed out, “You hide in your home country as well,” which Harry couldn’t argue against. She added, “Per is a very old friend to me, do not look so judging.”

Per reappeared, looking sullen. He took up his skis without putting them on and grumpily held out his arm. Siri grabbed it and they both disappeared. Maybe I’m not going, Harry considered, although he held a freshly tarred pair of skis. Siri reappeared with a bang and took Harry next.

They Apparated into the forest and Per was already gliding away. Harry struggled to get going and get into Per’s trail where he stood a chance of not being a drag on their travels. They slid down into a village composed mostly of cabins with a few of the turf-covered huts. The simple wooden cabins looked like the life of luxury to Harry with their metal smokestacks out the top and tightly sealed walls with no drafty airvents for the fire.

People gave Harry glances and then ignored him. He took off his skis and propped them on the side of a cabin with a long row of others. Then he hung back and watched as a discussion involving the lake ensued. Per gazed out over the water and the crowd fell silent. People were ice fishing out in the middle, otherwise there was nothing of interest. Per stalked away to the left along the frozen surface of the lake. Only Harry spotted that Siri had tugged the back of Per’s coat in that direction, and the group made their way down the lake shore following him. Harry followed as well along the top of the low hill that bordered the village. The wind was stronger up here, but it was warmer here in general, so it felt almost balmy.

Per led the way, Siri just behind. Eventually they stopped about a half mile down the lake. Harry had long since moved in closer, keeping himself just outside the crowd. Per pointed at the ice below him. A chain saw started to life and a stout man moved in to cut in the ice. Harry, intensely curious what exactly was going on, moved farther on away from the crowd to see better. The chain saw whirled higher pitched and was plunged again into the ice to form a square. When the ice broke loose, the saw was pulled with a jerk out of the way of the water that surged in as the ice block bobbed. The chunk was leveraged out of the way and a pole with a hook was put down into the hole. Surreally, someone sobbed just once, a woman. Harry leaned against a sapling and stood on tiptoe to see better. The hook had grabbed on something bright blue with red and white tassels. It matched the hats some of the villagers wore. Hands reached in and a body was heaved onto the ice.

No one made a noise; everyone moved efficiently to lift the body onto a tarp and away back toward the cabins. Per and Siri remained behind. Per, with a great shove of his foot, slid the block back into the hole with a splash. He then gestured impatiently at Harry to follow. Harry hurried over. Strands of red and white yarn had frozen to the ice where the body had laid, only for a minute. He hurried past, jogging to catch up to his hosts, who seemed in an even less talkative mood than usual.

It wasn’t until they were back to their own hut and having a meal of reindeer meat, bread, and tiny berries that Harry couldn’t contain his curiosity any longer. He turned to Siri and asked, “Why was that person under the ice?”

“Accident or he was old,” Siri explained.

Harry puzzled this, wondering bizarrely if somehow the man accidentally didn’t stay above the ice, forgetting it was there because of a failing memory. Another possibility then occurred to him. “Oh,” Harry said.

“The home is death too,” Per muttered.

“The home?” Harry asked.

“The state-run home for those who cannot be cared for in their village,” Siri clarified. “It is considered a slow death by some.”

“Ah,” Harry said, understanding that, but not feeling any happier.

- 888 -

“Come in, Severus,” McGonagall invited when a black-robed figure appeared on the staircase to the Headmistress’ tower.

Seeming distracted, as he had the last two weeks, Snape accepted the indicated chair and stared into the hearth. A jangle of porcelain brought his attention to the teacup and saucer the headmistress held out to him.

“Have some tea. I have chocolate as well . . .”

“What?” Snape uttered, pulling himself into the present finally.

A crystal model of Hogwarts Castle drifted nearby, suspended on a thin metal arm off the corner of the desk. It swung over Snape’s teacup when he set it down, scattering miniature snow into it, creating a puff of steam.

“How is Harry?” McGonagall asked over her own steaming cup. “You have heard from him, I assume?”

“Yes. Hedwig is reluctant to make the trip, but I have convinced her to do so twice and will do so again soon.” Snape clasped his long-fingered hands in his lap and resumed staring at the hearth. “He is living in a turf hut, apparently, despite the arctic temperatures and nearly nonexistent sunlight, but he insists that his host is keeping the Darkness at bay. He is also learning to ski,” Snape added as an afterthought, sounding wry.

McGonagall didn’t respond right away. The bright partial moon appeared and disappeared from the charcoal clouds out the tall window behind her. Two clocks ticked in tandem, setting a rhythm to the crackles of the fire. A portrait near the ceiling snored faintly.

“So, what is wrong?” McGonagall finally prompted.

Snape huffed. He had not moved at all in the silent minutes. “I do not know if I am doing the right thing, sending him off like that to someone I barely know anything of.”

McGonagall smiled lightly. “You’ll never know if you are doing the right thing. You just have to try your best,” she stated philosophically. “Things in the end always seem to work out.”

Half a minute later, Snape snorted.

“Your tea is getting cold,” McGonagall pointed out.

Snape stood and excused himself, gaze still inward.

“Severus,” McGonagall called when he had reached the doorway. “It will work out.”

“Are you branching into Divination, now?” he asked with some derision.

“No,” she said, smiling against his harshness. “I have just never seen Harry defeated by anything, that’s all.”

- 888 -

Short days passed north of the Arctic circle. In the mornings before Per got around to it, Harry fell into a routine of hacking the hole in the lake ice back open and splitting a fresh supply of wood from under the big tarp. The task was easy now—his aim as good as a practiced Quidditch Beater—but also satisfying, because the benefits of it so stark, as in, having water to drink and not freezing to death overnight. These meaningful, athletic tasks left him relaxed and almost tranquil for much of the day.

The sky glowed blue-grey earlier in the day now and stayed that way longer. The temperature didn’t seem to improve much as a result. Hedwig returned again with a bundle of letters from all of Harry’s friends. Harry impatiently finished the chopping before returning to the hut to answer them all. His hand cramped as he wrote out replies, already growing unaccustomed to holding a quill.

After Hedwig headed off with an equal bundle of letters, Harry swallowed a sigh at the notion that he had nothing else to do now. Siri’s narrow weaving was hanging from a nail on the wall. “Can you show me how to make one of those?” Harry asked, pointing.

Rather than getting annoyed at being interrupted from the work of pounding something in the stone-floored kitchen area, she gave Harry a broad smile. Without speaking she located a folded and sliced plastic card and long lengths of yarn. She started a weaving by tying each thread to a stick, notched to hold the yarn securely. At the end she made a hoop with the excess, just the size to hook it over a toe. Then she meticulously slipped each length of yarn through a slot on the card, alternating edge and fold for where they passed through. Folding and flipping the card up easily swapped the two layers of thread to make a weave. This didn’t produce a pattern though, Harry noticed, after he passed the longer weft thread back and forth a few times, getting corrected in silence with slow re-demonstration. The trick of using one’s finger to bunch the weave the same tightness after each pass of the weft was going to take some practice, Harry could see.

Harry only had two colors to work with, white and red and the old shoe band Siri laid beside him had a pleasing, and dauntingly complicated diamond pattern on it. She took the weaving back from him and slowly showed him how to swap selected threads from the edge of the card to the middle to get the colors to change. Or, alternatively to skip selected thread when passing the crosswise weft thread through. Harry realized that even a simple diamond was going to take some concentration, which explained how someone could bend for so long over the task.

She handed the rig back to Harry who hooked it on his toe and stretched his already stiff back before hunching over to try the next line. He undid it many times before deciding he had finally gotten it right. Siri moved back into the kitchen and said, “I will make you a matching hat. Then all you will need is some reindeer.” She was grinning broadly as she said this.

When Per reappeared, Siri announced, “We need supplies.”

Without further discussion, they put every empty sack over their back and shoulders and, towing the sled, skied to the village at the far end of their lake. Harry’s skiing was almost acceptable, he thought, although he was by far the slowest. Siri didn’t suggest Apparating this time and Per started out fast, getting far ahead, which implied that he did not want to. They made the distant village in four hours and some, by Harry’s watch. Most of the good daylight was gone the fires inside the huts windows glowed even from a distance. There were three cabins in this village, one of which housed the store.

“We will stay here with a friend for the night,” Siri informed Harry.

This raised Harry’s spirits. He waited outside as his hosts greeted and caught up with acquaintances. A pair of girls trudged by wearing tunics with colorful belts around the waist and thigh-high fur boots. They giggled at him standing there and glanced back many times before going out of sight. Harry doubted they spoke English, but he wouldn’t have minded a little conversation with someone his own age, even one-word sentences. He sighed, leaving a puff of breath in the air.

A group emerged from the hut, including Harry’s hosts and they all trudged down to another hut and piled inside. Harry bundled his feet under him to keep them out of the way. Conversation bubbled and then quieted. Harry looked around at the various faces, all worn and lined except for the very young. A plastic bottle of something alcoholic was passed around. Harry, feeling like he should remain alert, passed it up. The offerer said something insistent and Per explained—Harry assumed—that he didn’t speak the language. An uproar of sorts ensued at the stranger in their midst and explanations and questions went back and forth until the topic was dropped as suddenly as it had been taken up. The small children were lying down, Harry wished he could too; it had been a long trip getting here although neither Per nor Siri showed any effects. Harry shucked one of his jumpers in the warmth of the hut and hung it up where the other guests had, on one of the crossbeam poles. His clothes were looser, Harry realized as he straightened his soiled shirt. They needed a wash but that had only come up once and had involved tediously heating lake water and very cold hands and in the end, even with the help of some spells that Harry had never been very good at, things hadn’t gotten all that clean, or at least not house-elf clean.

Pipes were drawn out and the hut filled with blue smoke. Harry was offered a pipe that he turned down also, to much amusement of the assembled. The women sitting at the edge of the stone floor by the window gave Harry small smiles of sympathy at the ribbing. Eventually the crowd thinned and Harry could stretch his sore legs out. Their hosts were a man and woman and two small children. The man made a strange sound after he put the children down to sleep as though singing but not like any singing Harry had ever heard. It put him strangely in the mind of waterfalls and rolling waves. He had to shake his head to clear it in fact, the image was so strong. Harry lay down now that no one was paying any attention to him, making certain to leave space for Per and Siri who were also sharing the left side of the hut this time. The singing sent Harry directly off to sleep despite the loudness of it.

Harry woke in the middle of the night when the fire shifted. Per was adding wood, carefully lining the logs all up in the same direction. Harry raised his head and looked at the sleeping forms around the hut. Per sat back, reclined against the entryway log and sucked on a pipe. He gestured impatiently with his head that Harry should go back to sleep. Harry lay back then, realizing that Per had to stay awake to guard everyone from the Dark Plane. Harry glanced at the fur bundle on the far side that held two children and hoped he was indeed a Master of this.

A commotion interrupted their fish breakfast. Someone was knocking on the door and calling for Per. Siri followed quickly out the door, both dressing as they went. Harry was slower but the crowd still huddled in the middle of the village when he made it out. Several people were talking to Per with animated gestures. Harry watched as Siri looked around, gaze distant. She had to pretend to be nothing, Harry thought, and do Per’s job. Harry at first had wanted to think less of the Shaman, but anyone willing to stay up all night to keep Harry’s Darkness at bay, Harry could hold nothing against. The conversation went on. When Harry saw Siri shake her head every so slightly at Per, Harry moved into the crowd.

He tugged Siri by the sleeve away from the others and asked what was going on. Per either noticed this or just happened to step away, moving the villagers with him. “What is happening?” Harry asked, feeling like himself for the first time since he had arrived. His wand felt warm in his cloak pocket.

“A child went missing in the night. The villagers believe the Shaman from the neighboring area is responsible.” At Harry’s mystified look, she explained quietly, “It is believed the Shaman take the form of wolves to wreak havoc on rival Saami.”

“Do they?” Harry asked, thinking that Per had made a point about the reindeer he had taken down not having an owner. Perhaps that wasn’t ordinary care.

“Perhaps,” she replied. “Partly they believe this because Per is here now. Coincidences are not readily accepted here.”

Harry, feeling danger on more levels than he had recognized before, said, “I know some tracking spells. I can find the child,” he said. He had even practiced in the snow, he thought gratefully. “What house did the child disappear from?” Harry asked insistently.

Per led the crowd farther away. Siri said, “Per is explaining that he doesn’t have his drum, but he doesn’t really need it.”

“But he isn’t a Seer anymore,” Harry insisted.

“He can often manage. He can be stubborn about these things, and sometimes the trees tell him, I think. Or he uses a wolf’s sense of smell.” The crowd had moved far enough on. Siri headed the other way and stopped before one of the cabins. “This one,” she said.

Harry pulled out his wand and looked all around. “No one is supposed to see,” he explained, although the British Ministry of Magic certainly wasn’t going to know. Harry wondered who else might notice magic in the middle of a nonmagical village; not knowing made him more careful. Siri moved to stand between his wand and the crowd, which wasn’t paying any attention to them.

Harry whispered the tracking spell which caused glowing trails to appear on the packed snow, colored according to how old the tracks were. There was one set of small tracks leading away, orange because they were old and then a gap in colors until red for this morning. The orange trail disappeared between the buildings.

“Nice magic,” Siri breathed.

“Why don’t you have a wand?” Harry asked.

Siri tilted her head side to side. “It would be talking to me all the time. I would have to get rid of it.”

“This has never talked to me,” Harry said as they moved to follow the trail. “Although it has gotten me into an awful lot of trouble with its silence.”

Rounding the next cabin hid them from view. Harry repeated the spell and the tracks reappeared leading up the hill and disappeared from sight in the copse of trees beyond. Snow hadn’t fallen in a few days so the physical tracks were not distinguishable from the general pounding the ground had taken. “I’ll fetch Per,” Siri said.

Harry stashed his wand away and stood off to the side. Per passed a minute later, leading the crowd. He turned and with a sharp argument and a gesture, insisted they stay behind. They clearly didn’t want to do this. Siri stood in their path and the crowd seemed to deflate, letting Per walk away. Harry took a few quick steps to join him. Per walked on without speaking, with Harry jogging occasionally to keep up. They made the trees and Per kept going. Harry considered repeating the spell but he would have to stop to do so. Per seemed to know where he was going, so Harry followed beside along the well-used trail of packed snow.

Per stopped suddenly and Harry had to turn and step back to rejoin him. A trail crossed the main one, a trail of large dog tracks. Per started out again. He stopped again a few steps later and turned left, following a small set of prints through the close brush. Harry wanted to ask if children were silly enough to run off at night often. It seemed a self-limiting behavior. He remained silent however. Per shifted to wolf form and sniffed the air before shifting back to himself without breaking stride. The trail stopped at the edge of a steep downhill of rocks. The view would have been breathtaking if the situation had not been so serious. Snowy hills stacked up on top of one another all the way to the pink horizon. Harry tried the tracking spell but it came up empty.

After they stood there for a cold minute, Harry suggested, “Maybe she turned into a bird?”

Per tilted his head and appeared to give this due consideration. “Perhaps an äparis took her off in revenge,” he replied, suddenly speaking clearly, although Harry’s eyes seemed to be blurring strangely as Per spoke.

“What’s an äparis?” Harry asked, when he decided that wasn’t just an English word he wasn’t hearing properly.

“A ghost we don’t want to meet without Siri here to put it to rest.” He finished this in a way that made Harry’s skin prickle. Per turned back into a wolf and scanned the distance before transforming back to man. “Can you take us?” he gestured forward ahead, seeming angry at himself.

“Sure,” Harry said and took the arm held up for him. Harry focussed on a point three hilltops away and bunched them both down for the trip. They reappeared on uneven stone and struggled to stay upright.

Per turned into a wolf again, and this time he growled before he transformed back. “There, a wolf leads her.” He pointed. Harry followed along where Per indicated and with a great deal of squinting and pushing his glasses up his nose, could barely make out a figure in blue moving among the rocks following something grey. Per transformed yet again and started down, slaloming easily between the rocks. Harry followed slower, not wanting to intervene in something he wasn’t completely clear on.

The invading wolf heard or smelled them approaching and it turned and snarled. Per continued forward, weaving around the larger boulders. Harry realized as Per got close that the invader was substantially larger, with a collar of long thick fur and beefy haunches. Per on the other hand was as boney a wolf as he was a man and the match didn’t look so promising. The wolves faced off and growled in unison, fangs bared. Per lunged.

“NO!” Harry shouted, fearful of the mismatched outcome and perhaps remembering too starkly the fight between his godfather and a werewolf. Harry transformed and leapt from the nearest high-jutting rock, flapping twice to get above the fight, his wings relishing the cold wind. The invading wolf turned its snout up in surprise as Harry angled his wings and dropped forward fast. The wolf dodged as he descended. Harry swerved as well, cutting him off and then swerved farther to separate the invader from the other two figures. The girl let out a squeal of panic. Harry’s claws hit and he hefted the thrashing wolf into the air and tossed it aside. It landed hard and struggled to its feet, red streaked on its flanks. Harry wondered if it were truly animal or just a man.

Harry used his wings to hop agilely from rock to snowcapped rock, following the creature as it angled away. It turned and lunged at him, but a powerful flap took Harry easily out of reach and, as he drifted back to earth, he took a swipe with claws as long as the wolf’s snout and much sharper than its teeth; it heeded and jerked away.

Harry, not fully understanding the situation, wasn’t keen on seriously injuring the wolf, which was now slinking off with purpose, belly low. Harry hopped a few more boulders to follow and make certain it slunk away for good. Eventually, it found a wash and disappeared more rapidly. Harry landed and looked back. Per, now human and leaning down to talk to the girl, gazed at Harry in wonder. Harry flapped his way back over to them. The child gaped at him, eyes like tea saucers before burying her face in Per’s coat. Harry transformed back to himself, but Per gestured for Harry to go, holding the girl’s eyes against him so she could no longer turn to see the human Harry.

Harry transformed again and flew back up to the ridge where he watched Per carry the girl over the rocks and up to the top much farther down. When they were gone, Harry flew down to the wash and made sure the wolf had continued to retreat, and indeed, it was crossing over the next hill already, moving fast. Harry followed and landed ahead of it. With a last sweep of his wings for balance, he transformed back to himself and pulled out his wand.

“Are you man and not beast?” Harry demanded and then berated himself inside because were this another Shaman, he probably didn’t speak English. The wolf growled. “One bark for ‘yes’,” Harry joked and to his surprise the animal barked once. When the wolf tried to advance and pass him, Harry aimed his wand and said, “Don’t.”

The wolf turned to him with a furious glare in its eyes. “What were you thinking?” Harry snarled, making the wolf pull its head back in surprise. The wolf simply glared balefully at him in response and finally Harry ordered, “Get out of here.”

The wolf sidled away. “And don’t come back,” Harry added.

At this the wolf turned and gave Harry a look of derision. But Harry’s anger was opening gateways again. Things slithered and snapped their jaws. Many, many things. An oily air blew around the rocks. The wolf froze for just an instant, eyes wide, ears back, before it loped away in a panic.

“Oh well, that worked,” Harry said, calming himself with the humor, which helped the noises considerably.

Worried now that more villagers were in the area that might see him, Harry Apparated back to the top of the first ridge, rather than fly, and then began walking, reversing their earlier route. “Sure, sure,” Harry said aloud. “That idiot is going to go home and insist some friggin’ British dark wizard has invaded Finland.” He sighed and shook his head. “Talking to myself is not helping.”

When he reached the trail finally after two wrong turns, Per was there. He seemed relieved to find Harry. “I scared him off,” Harry said. “Or the Dark Things scared him off, anyway.” Per shook his head, looking like someone who had been in a panic and now realized it was for nothing. “Sorry,” Harry said, regarding the gateway. “I got angry with him.” Per didn’t comment just started walking back the way they had come.

A party was in full swing when they returned. They were urged to stay but Per shook his head repeatedly and they went back to the hut to collect their things.

Packs laden from a visit to the supply story, which opened just for them, the three of them headed back over the frozen lake. Harry’s legs felt like jelly and he really didn’t think he could make it all the way back, even with his pack as light as it was compared to the others’. After they were out of view he was going to ask if they wouldn’t mind him just Apparating the rest of the way, but after fifteen minutes or so, his legs unstiffened and warmed to the task and the miles disappeared behind them. When they arrived, he helped unload and immediately curled up for a nap under his cloak, even though the hut was icy from the fire being out.

Harry woke again to a meal of reindeer meat and more of the bitter leaf mush in sweet milk, which wasn’t half bad now. As well there were now oranges from the store. Per and Siri ate bites of the peel as well as the middle. The coffee could lose the salt still, but this serving had whiskey in it, so it mattered less. Per ate, seeming impatient about something before dressing again and disappearing out the door. Harry sat twiddling his thumbs without anything to do.

“Do you wish to help with the bread?” Siri asked.

Harry shrugged, bored enough to take any task. She gestured for him to come to her part of the hut. Harry moved to join her, but stopped at the edge of the stone floor. She gestured again for him to come closer. Harry pointed out, “Per said I shouldn’t be on the stones.”

She gave Harry a narrow, doubtful look. “Are you certain you defeated Voldemort?”

Bemused, Harry replied, “Yes. Very.”

“Per did not say to stay off the stones.” She gestured with her arm back and forth. “He told you not to cross the stones. To go around the goahti the other way.”

“Oh,” Harry said, thinking that made more sense, but then thinking again that perhaps it didn’t. All parts of the hut seemed more or less equal to Harry.

Harry made loaves of bread, kneading and flattening with his fingers. Siri started a lesson but halted it to just watch. “You are good at this,” she said suspiciously.

“What?” Harry’s thoughts had flown off elsewhere, to Hogwarts, to the Ministry, to Belinda, which had sunk him into a moment of anxiety. “Oh, yeah. I had to do a lot of cooking for my aunt and uncle, to earn my keep, I guess, when I lived with them.” He set that flat loaf aside and started on another ball of dough that was handed to him.

“The stone should be hot enough soon,” Siri said, putting a crooked, time worn finger on it. “Almost.”

Per returned later and crouched beside Harry, taking a chunk of the bread that was on the stone and eating it. He looked Harry over as he ate, seeming to be thinking about what to say. Instead, he spoke in Saami to Siri who returned a question and a long conversation ensued.

Siri finally said, “He says you can become a monstrous cat griffin. He didn’t think the British had this art.”

“It isn’t very common,” Harry admitted.

“He says you took on the Skolt Shaman without hesitation.”

“I wasn’t sure it wasn’t just an ordinary wolf,” Harry pointed out, moving the bread from the stone to the coals to brown. “And at the time I was a beast too. Besides, how evil could he be? He doesn’t have a wand.”

Sternly, Siri said, “Do not underestimate powers you do not see.”

“I’ll try not to,” Harry said, but found himself dismissing the events, nonetheless. “What did he want with the girl?” Harry asked.

Siri replied, “Probably just wished to increase the rivalry between the groups. When people lived closer to the reindeer, slaughtering a few guaranteed this, but now the reindeer are on their own more, so the dead ones aren’t always found.”

Harry frowned at this explanation. “I didn’t know if I should kill him or not.”

His hosts gave each other a long look. Siri said, “Sending him off defeated is best. He will be embarrassed to return.”

Per was still eyeing Harry very closely as though they had just met. Eventually, he backed up and occupied himself with looking for something among the lockers. When all the bread was baked, Harry returned to his side of the hut and relaxed on the soft furs, enjoying the heat of the fire. The wind was lower today so the smoke trailed obediently out the hole at the top of the hut and the place was actually quite pleasant.

Per took out his drum and eventually the brass ring. Again the ring ceased its bouncing over the distorted stick demon. Per put the drum away and took out his pipe instead. After a long span of smoking he said, “Tell me a story.”

Harry wasn’t certain who was being addressed but Siri was looking at Harry expectantly so he said, “A story about what?”

Per shrugged, gaze far beyond the sapling and turf walls.

Harry sat up and crossed his legs. His socks were wearing out, he noticed, and his big toe was peeking out on both feet. “Um, you want a story about me, or Britain . . .?” Per didn’t respond, just puffed on his pipe. Harry waited for an answer but these two were good at silence, so he didn’t get one. “I could tell you about Dumbledore, he was the greatest wizard of our time. When he died, he was over a hundred and sixty years old-”

“A story,” Per repeated.

Harry stopped and thought that over. A story. He had never really told a story before, he didn’t think. “Um . . .” Harry finally began. He wanted to tell a story about Dumbledore, but where to begin? When he and the old wizard first met, Harry was too young to remember, although Hagrid had described the meeting often enough. “Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, was already older than most when he took over being headmaster.” Harry paused, this was hard, he thought. Especially since Harry really didn’t know the old wizard all that well, really. He had to guess. Harry waited for Siri to finish translating before going on, “He needed to live longer, though, because he suspected that one of his old students was going to sink deeper into evil and would need to be countered. So he and another wizard by the name of Nicolas Flamel created a Philosopher’s Stone. Flamel was a master of this and was already eight hundred years old.”

Per sat up a bit at that with a sharp look and, for a moment, ignored his pipe as he took in Siri’s version in Saami. Harry went on when it was quiet. “Dumbledore didn’t just finish Riddle off though, I don’t know why,” Harry said in frustration.

“Story,” Per insisted sharply.

“Oh, yeah,” Harry said, forgetting. Also forgetting where he was going with the story. “To combat Voldemort’s rise to power, Dumbledore gathered his friends and others together in an organization called the Order of the Phoenix. The Ministry didn’t believe in the threat that he warned of, so they had to operate in secret as well. They also had to operate in secret because when Voldemort learned who they were, he would seek them out and kill them, or send one of his Death Eaters to.” That is what happened to my parents, Harry wanted to say, but it needed to be a story, so he said, “More than a decade into this struggle, Dumbledore heard a prophecy that said that one was coming with the power to destroy Voldemort. Lily and James Potter, who were members of the Order, fit the prophecy and went into hiding. They had defied Voldemort three times, that’s what the prophecy had said, and they had a son at the end of July, which fit as well. So they went into hiding and assigned a secret keeper to make them impossible to find.

“But the old friend from school they had trusted to keep them safe, instead betrayed them, and Voldemort came to where they were hiding, intent on killing their son.” Harry paused for longer than it took for Siri to translate. It was harder telling it this way, as though it wasn’t himself. It was easy now, through practice, to say, Voldemort killed my parents, but it was all so complicated and it so easily could have worked out differently.

Harry was seeing the scene clearly now as he spoke. “My fa- James Potter was downstairs when Voldemort came in, black hood pulled over his head so that he looked only out of the depths of it. But . . . James, despite being a . . . pretty good wizard, didn’t manage to stop Voldemort.” Harry stopped; he could imagine this confrontation too well, having been in that position himself. Had his father made a mistake? Had he been too surprised or panicked with a wife and young son to defend? Harry released the pent up breath he had been holding. He didn’t know why his father had failed. Maybe he was just overwhelmed and not good enough. “Voldemort went upstairs where Lily Potter was left guarding their son. She pleaded with Voldemort.” That I know, Harry thought and swallowed hard. “But Voldemort was hardly going to heed her. He killed her too and then turned on the boy. But in dying for him, Lily had created an old magic charm more powerful than anything Voldemort had, including the Killing Curse. So when he used it next on the boy, it bounced back at him and nearly killed him instead.”

Per sat in silence after Siri’s retelling. Harry didn’t feel like telling any more; the rest of the story was too long. He hugged his knees even though he wasn’t cold and stared at the tiny blue flames flicking occasionally above the red coals of the fire. The sudden silence turned out to be acceptable, since no one spoke.

- 888 -

“You are exceptionally quiet this afternoon,” Candide observed over a steaming mug of butterbeer. The Three Broomsticks was quiet as well, the only movement coming from Madam Rosmerta wiping down the bar.

“Yes,” Snape uttered, sounding not quite present.

“Worried about Harry?”

Snape didn’t bother to reply to this, just continued to stare at the far ceiling.

“How long is he supposed to be gone?” she asked. When Snape shook his head to indicate he didn’t know, she added, “The Prophet has been full of all sorts of theories. Rita Skeeter’s last column said you refused to talk to her. Why don’t you just set things straight?”

Snape laughed mirthlessly. “She does not truly wish to print the truth. It would be better if she made something up.”

Candide appeared dubious but dropped the topic and moved to collect her things. “I was going to ask if you wanted to go out this weekend, but I expect the answer is no.”

Quietly, Snape stated, “Harry always comes first.”

Candide leaned forward over the table and said, “Harry isn’t here to come first. That and he is eighteen.” She shook herself and hitched her pocketbook over he shoulder. “Sorry, forget that. Of course he comes first,” she conceded. She moved to stand but then held off. “You’re making me feel sorry for you, Severus.” His angled left brow and sharp disbelief made her confirm, “Yes. You’re tormenting yourself.”

The bitter wind made the window rattle. Snape said, “I should have been able to help him. He has already gone beyond me.” Candide dropped her gaze and he said, “If you wish to do something, perhaps a distraction is in order.”

She shook her head with a wry grin. “All right. I’ll owl you then.” As she stood, she said, “Who’d have known you were a sucker for sympathy?”

- 888 -

The next morning, Per pulled out a waist-high corkscrew and the three of them trouped off carrying a small tent to sit on the lake for the day and fish. Harry watched his host speak to the ice drill and it must have listened because the task of cutting a hole went quickly, and Harry didn’t ask if he should use his wand instead. The task of fishing did not go quickly, and a quarter hour into it, Harry decided this had to be one of the most boring activities in the world. It was cold on top of mindless and Harry constantly tugged Snape’s fur-lined cloak even more thoroughly around himself as he sat on a crate beside Siri. Even an extra inch of overlap of the cloak seemed to make a difference in his comfort.

Per fished not with a pole but with a large empty tin with a line tied around it. He could wrap and unwrap the line with ease though and soon a pile of stiff fish sat on a plastic sheet laid on the ice. “Tell me a story,” Per said after an hour of silence. “O red winged one.”

Harry, who had opened his mouth to dive into a story about Quidditch that he found he must have prepared without thinking, shut it again and tried to read what was behind that comment. He was forced to decide it was merely playful, because he couldn’t sense anything else. “It was a beautiful day and Gryffindor had a Quidditch match against Slytherin,” Harry began and decided from Per’s expression of dismay upon translation, that he had gotten even. “Harry Potter was only a first-year, but he had been allowed on the team anyway as Seeker, which was a first in over a hundred years.” Harry felt himself warming to this method of telling, especially given the rolling of Per’s eyes when he heard what Harry had said.

Per baited his hook from a worm that had been staying warm in his mouth, and dropped the line into the icy water. Harry had even gotten used to that.

“Terence Higgs was the opposing Seeker for Slytherin and had at least played in a match before. Harry had practiced a lot but he had never played, but he had a very good broom that the teachers had bought him and he was small and light enough to be quick on it. That and he made a very small target for the Bludgers.” Harry paused to huff into his mittens for warmth while Siri translated. “But well into the match, Harry’s broom began to jump about, trying to toss him off. He was high off the pitch and had a long way to fall.

“Harry’s two best friends were watching this through field glasses and noticed that Professor Snape appeared to be the one cursing Harry’s broom. He was looking up intently and mouthing something constantly while the broom kicked around.”

Per appeared to decide that this story was perhaps interesting after all, so much so that he let a fish tug his bait away by being half a second too late in jerking on the line. While Harry continued, he re-baited the hook with a fresh worm from his mouth.

“Harry’s friend Hermione was one of the smartest students in school. Maybe the smartest. She hurried around to the other bleacher where the teachers sat and lit Professor Snape’s robes on fire. Harry’s broom calmed down immediately in the commotion and he caught the Snitch, thereby defeating Slytherin, Professor Snape’s house. It was the first time Harry had won anything, so he was pretty happy.”

Indeed, Harry re-felt that moment of primitive joy even this many years later. He sat enjoying it again, until Per said, “That isn’t the end.”

“Yes it is,” Harry countered. “It’s my story.”

Silence ruled for a long while as fish after fish was pulled up out of the water after patient waiting in between. Per said something to Siri and she said, “Didn’t you or your friends complain about Professor Snape?”

“Oh, yeah. We complained to our friend Hagrid, the gamekeeper. He told us we had to be mistaken. Then he accidentally confirmed that the Philosopher’s Stone was being held at the school to protect it from being stolen. We decided that Voldemort wanted to use it to return to life and that Professor Snape was trying to steal it for him.”

Per relayed through Siri: “Did you know he was a Death Eater?”

“No. We just didn’t like him. Didn’t trust him. In the end after finding my way to where the stone was hidden, I found another Professor, Quirrell, trying to steal the stone, and he told me he was the one cursing my broom and Professor Snape was countering him to save me.”

Another long silence was finally broken by, “So, what happened?”

“Quirrell dissolved when he attacked me trying to get the stone. He was harboring Voldemort like some kind of parasite so he couldn’t touch me. The charm from my mother was still on me.”

Per again missed a fish. “So, how did you get the stone?”

“Ah, that’s another story,” Harry said tiredly, to his audience’s dismay.

Per rolled up the line and hook, scooped up the plastic sheet with the fish and said, “Tomorrow we take a journey.”

Harry stood when they did and, given the complaints of his muscles, thought his legs could use a little more rest, but he didn’t argue.

Next: Chapter 8 -- The Journey

By the time Harry meandered his way beyond the worst of the metal barriers and stood at the cliff edge, he had attracted quite a following. Dark shadows with pin wheeling light inside them hovered above salivating Shetani which jostled and climbed over things that looked like thorny puffballs except with human mouths on the bottoms. The shadowy cloak turned to a bat shape and flitted around Harry's head. Many other slightly less aggressive things scrambled around behind the first line of creatures. The stench of them all resembled fermenting rancid earth and as their numbers increased, the air grew weighty and slow like being underwater.

Author Notes

Quidditch Schedule -- If there was a canon fixed order of games (I honestly never noticed), then McGonagall must have rearranged it when she got the chance ;-)

Lappland -- The Saami culture presented here is an amalgamation of 1970's setting and 1600's pre-missionary Shamanism. (Nearly every Shaman drum was burned, for example, and just a few remain in museums. Their owners may not have fared any better.) The culture is changing very rapidly, due to imported goods and techonology, tourism, land use rights issues, flooding of grazing areas to build hydroelectric dams, and now, and probably the clincher, arctic warming. (Warm is worse in the artic because the snow ices over and the reindeer can't dig for moss to graze on.) Do the Saami exist as written here in 1999? I'd imagine some still do since it is only 30 years since the publication of the books I read to write this part, but it is fast disappearing or reinventing itself for tourism, so a distorted snapshot is perhaps all you could ever capture unless you want to try to capture change itself, which I didn't attempt.

I finally put up a page of my own: darkirony(dot)com If you want links to all other stories.

Chapter 8: The Journey
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter 8 — The Journey

The next day Harry waited for his hosts to get the skis ready or to settle the foodstuffs into the lockers or some other sign of departure. Instead, after the fish were tended to in the smokehouse, Per worked at a powdery mixture on the other side of the hut. He was using a mortar and pestle to grind things up which he then poured into a tanned animal bladder. Eventually, he tied this closed and said, “Come,” to Harry, who quickly put his boots, gloves and cloak on and followed outside.

Per cleared a firepit in the snow. There had been no sign of it from the white trampled surface; apparently, Per knew the area well. Per then started a fire without speaking. Harry sat on a sawed off log and watched and waited. The sun was trying valiantly to clear the low hill to the south and an occasional streak of orange would cut across the snow as a few stray clouds drifted by.

Per piled small twigs onto a burning curl of birch bark and when its flames grew to survive the tossing of the wind, he added three split logs, arranged in a pyramid. He pulled a moose hide from the hut and spread it on the snow beside the fire and gestured for Harry to sit upon it. Harry did so, pulling his feet close and hugging his legs beneath his cloak for warmth. The bare sunlight seemed to make it feel colder than usual. Per stared in silence into the flames as they stretched higher.

Siri came out and joined them, carrying the ungainly cooking stone. Her round, flattened face appeared even more deeply lined in this light. Per held his hands out to warm them and then placed the stone before Harry; upon it, he placed one of the well-lit logs, letting the other two collapse flat. He then swept the old blanket from his own shoulders over Harry’s head, stretching it out over the stone. Smoke stung Harry’s eyes and he turned his head to the side to breath. He watched Per untie the bladder and pore a handful of its contents onto the glowing wood. Acrid smoke billowed, and the blanket was pulled down to trap it in. Harry didn’t want to breath but instinct made him and the world before him, the moose hide, the red glowing log, his own legs, twisted bizarrely. Another shallow inhale and the acrid smell became bursting color, sound became scent, color became noise. Harry tried to toss the blanket aside but it was too late; he couldn’t lift his arms.

Harry opened his eyes. He was crouching on the ground, not snowy ground, but gravel and dirt. Around him, waist-high hillocks strewn with rocks and saw grass blocked his view except for Per standing before him. Harry dizzily got to his feet. The whole landscape, to the horizon, was composed of these same little clumps although some sported tangles of rusty metal wire. It was dim, but the light seemed to come from the ground itself rather than the sky, which was a flat grey, with no clouds and no stars.

Per gestured for Harry to follow and, on unsteady legs, he did so. They walked a long distance, their footsteps crunching on the gravely sand. Harry, still confused, fell behind a bit. Something clapped its jaws together nearby and rocks shifted over dirt. Course metal snaked suddenly around Harry’s leg, ensnaring him. Per spun back and stepped right up against Harry, lording over him, suddenly taller. His gaze was sharp as it swung around the nearby ground. The metal released Harry just as suddenly and whatever creature he had heard, scrambled away. In the distance, so did many other things. A breath of oily air touched Harry’s cheek and he froze in stark horror. They were in the Dark Plane and Per truly was master here.

Per backed up a step and gestured for Harry to keep close this time. Harry stutter-stepped quickly to make the pace, having little interest in being left behind, unescorted. They walked a very long time, weaving around the hummocks and clumps of jagged metal. Eventually, they reached the edge of the world and below and beyond lay only greyness. Harry’s eyes blinked, trying to find a distance to focus on, but there was none. The ragged cliff edge beyond his boots fell away into nothingness.

Per finally spoke, “When you understand this, you will rule here.”

Understand what? Harry wondered. There was nothing here; although, as he thought that, a drift of icy fresh air struck his face before returning to stillness.

“Of course, you must believe that you rule. That is important,” Per added. He eventually led Harry away again and they met another cliff, and again they stopped and looked out. Harry swallowed his frustration and confusion and let his eyes lose focus, trying to be open to what it might mean. Per turned away and gestured back inland. “Can you lead us back?” he asked. Harry realized that Per had no accent here, perhaps because he wasn’t really speaking. Harry looked out over the ubiquitously uneven land that revealed no significant landmarks. Harry shrugged.

“Go on,” Per urged.

Harry only had a vague notion of what way to head so he started out that way, making certain Per remained close behind.

Harry was accustomed to finding his way by broom and Sirius’ bike over the hilly landscape around home; that wasn’t too different from this. Rubbing his suddenly dizzy head, he made his way more to the left, since that felt correct.

It was difficult to decide if they were close. Per gave no hints either way, just kept close behind, driving the slithering, chattering, hungry things before them until they scrabbled away in a panic. Finally, Harry, whose dizziness was only increasing, stopped and said, “I think we’re there, but I don’t really know.”

Per said, “You did better than expected. We are running out of time. Come.”

Harry followed his guide’s faster footsteps as he made his way farther to the left, detouring around an exceptionally large weaving of metal, looming like a giant old box spring. By the time they stopped, Harry could barely keep his feet his legs had grown so wobbly and his head so dizzy.

Per reached out and put his palm flat on Harry’s forehead and Harry collapsed.

Harry awoke while he was being carried into the hut and placed on an extra high pile of hides. His skull felt like a log which had an ax lodged in it and was being repeatedly pounded against a sawed off tree trunk. The only other time Harry had felt this awful was when Voldemort had taken him over. Same as that time, he was truly thinking death was a viable option. Someone knelt nearby and lifted him up to press a cup to his lips. Bitter liquid tasting of nettle slid down his throat and the pounding in his skull eased to feeling merely as though reindeer were dancing on his temples. He closed his eyes as he was laid back and blissfully fell asleep.

Harry still had a nearly blinding headache when he next awoke and, as he levered himself up on his hands to look around the darkening hut, he found he dearly missed Severus, not only because if he were there, Harry was certain his headache would be cured, but because he wanted desperately to return to the familiar.

Siri handed him another cup of bitter tea and Harry rested back. The board blocking the air vent nearby had been removed, letting in a steady breeze of cold, but wonderfully fresh air. Harry pulled his cloak closer around himself and drifted back into sleep.

It was a whole day before Harry felt like sitting up for more than five minutes at a time. Per was out and Siri was weaving her shoe band again. When his headache receded, boredom moved in. Needing something to do with an almost psychotic ache, Harry found the piece of antler he had been practicing scrimshaw on. The previous scratches looked a little like a broom shape, so he decided to extend them more in that direction. Given his errors though, he may need to add a rider as well. Harry worked at adding a tie to the bristle bundle, which meant making a short, deep cut in the antler. He pressed hard with the knife and rocked the blade side to side to make it bite deeper. His hands were not up to this much carving though and his hold on the work slipped. The knife broke loose and flashed downward into the fleshy part of his hand.

Harry let out a cry of dismay and closed his uninjured hand around the blood that oozed forth. Siri was up in an instant, calling out the door to Per in a long string of Saami. Harry felt very odd then; his cut hand went cold and compressed as though already tightly bandaged. When he lifted his covering hand the bleeding had stopped.

The hut door banged open and Per ducked as he came in. “Did you do that?” Harry asked, indicating his red streaked hand by lifting it before him.

Per nodded before kneeling on the hides beside Harry, booted feet carefully hooked on the entryway log. He inspected the wound and then released Harry’s hand, seeming less concerned.

“That’s pretty good,” Harry said as he dug his wand out of his backpack one-handedly. “You weren’t even here.” With careful concentration Harry used the wound sealing spell he had just learned but had not practiced for real. The cut was shallow enough that it closed up and disappeared on the first try. Harry moved to put his wand back away but was forestalled by Per grabbing up his now uninjured hand and gazing in total shock at it. “Oh, come on,” Harry said. “All Aurors know that one.”

Again, Per was gazing at Harry as though they had just met. He then pushed himself to his feet and stalked out.

“What’s wrong?” Harry asked Siri, who had returned to her weaving.

“Nothing,” she insisted in a singsong.

Harry threw his cloak on and stumbled to his feet where he struggled to put his boots on. Moving was making his head pound again, but he ignored it and went out.

Twilight ruled the landscape. The snow glowed that eerie blue that made it seem the lake below them had risen up and now stood above them as a flat hill. Harry walked disconcertingly downhill toward this elevated vision where Per was chopping a fallen tree in half. Harry stood back and watched each long arc of arm and ax, the chips of wood scattering before the razor edge at the end of it.

Breathless, with the tree broken into three long logs, Per finally stopped and leaned on the ax handle. He was probably around forty but looked a worn down and weathered sixty and in his native shapeless outerwear, he almost seemed menacing. Harry wasn’t certain what to say and Siri hadn’t followed to translate anything complicated. Harry didn’t want the Shaman annoyed with him, and he definitely seemed in a fit of jealousy. Harry had no interest in this being a competition; he needed help with only one thing, at which Per was an undisputed master.

“Look,” Harry started, trying to think of simple enough words to express himself. “I really appreciate that you’re helping me. I’m very grateful for that.” Nope, none of the words were getting through, Harry could tell by the furrowed brow, but the tone might be. Per used the back of the ax head to knock the snow from his rubber boots. “Look, I didn’t ask for this much power, but since it’s the only reason I’m alive, I’m not complaining,” Harry was talking more to himself now. “I don’t want this other power for certain. I don’t want to be Master of the Dark Plane, no offense. What I really want is a chance to live my own life for once.”

Per had returned to leaning on the long ax handle and simply watched Harry as he ranted. Just as well he can’t understand, Harry thought, I don’t have the right words anyway. “Well, just . . . thanks. Thanks for trying to help me.” Harry gripped the front of his own cloak to make more of a point of his feelings. “That’s all that matters to me.”

Per’s bright slate eyes flickered to Harry’s ungloved hands. In the heat of trying to be understood, Harry couldn’t even feel the cold on them. He waved his earlier-injured hand. “I’ll leave it cut next time if that makes you feel better,” Harry offered, half serious.

“That would be silly,” Siri’s voice came from the stand of birch nearby. Harry hadn’t noticed her approach. She spoke a few words to Per then and walked away.

Per rested the ax against a birch tree and approached Harry. When he stopped a foot away another world slid hazily on top of the current one, but oddly, upside down. Harry froze, trying to feel what this was around him. The breeze had stilled. Per spoke and Harry understood him perfectly.

“How did you, with your dark wizard hunted life, your prophecy-weighted childhood, with your . . . Death Eater father . . . how did you preserve such purity of heart through all of it?”

Harry relaxed a bit and half shrugged. “I don’t know. This is just me.”

Per laughed through his nose. “That Charm of your mother’s still working upon you?”

Harry considered that. It was strange standing here in stillness with the wind clearly tossing the snow and pine branches around them. It was as though, somehow Per had pulled a pocket of the Dark Plane around them. “I don’t know. I wouldn’t mind imagining that.” The effect fell away in the next breath and the wind cut through Harry. Per returned for the ax and they started back up to the hut where they ate smoked fish and bread in the usual silence.

Rather than return to carving after injuring himself, Harry worked on a letter to Snape and had a difficult time explaining how his instruction was going. He felt now like he was learning something, but when it came to writing down what, he realized he had only learned what he needed to learn.

Severus, Hopefully Hedwig comes soon to take this letter. I still have not seen any other owls delivering post here. I saw today the depths of Per Hossa’s power over the Dark Plane. You chose teachers well. Harry imagined Snape being pleased by that. I’m still doing well. My skiing has gotten quite passable and I’ve gotten used to the cold, so don’t worry about me, if you have been.

Harry folded the short letter, trying to count the days since Hedwig’s last visit. He found that he couldn’t, but it felt as though she should be returning soon. Every cold, dimly lit day stretched into the next, it seemed. Harry put the letter into his pack and stared into the fire, letting his mind relax.

He picked up the shoe band he had been working on and, noticing how much better the weaving was at the end versus the beginning, he painstakingly unwove and untangled it all in order to start again. Unfortunately, the previous weaving had reminded him of the pattern of it and with just loose threads it wasn’t so clear how he was to start. He experimented a while until he had something that looked okay and had a nice pattern of interlocking zigzags but it wasn’t how it had been woven before.

As he sat pondering it, wondering if he should start yet again, Siri said, “Every group has a pattern. You may invent your own, if you wish.”

Harry shrugged. He was mostly doing this to pass the time so he continued on rather than restart.

Before the sun completely set, Per led Harry out on skis to the top of the nearby ridge. He gestured for Harry to stay and skied away about 20 yards before stopping and turning to look back. Harry slapped his arms around himself a few times to warm himself, wishing he had taken the time to put on more than one jumper under his coat and cloak. The wind pressed the cloak against his legs where it prevented a wave of blown snow from battering them and Harry felt very grateful to have it; although, given the wear it was taking, he was going to owe Snape a new one.

Per stood watching for long cold minutes and Harry realized that he was being tested. Per retreated another 20 yards and stopped again to wait. Harry had been starting to feel confident until then. An oily feeling came over him like an oddly warm breeze and Per immediately came back half the distance. Harry frowned in frustration and after that, 20 yards was too far. Per returned to Harry’s side in two long strides of his skis.

“Sorry,” Harry said. He really wished he could do better. He really wanted to go home.

Per started away without speaking. Harry followed, certain this wasn’t the direction that led to the hut. They skied for half an hour or so, until Harry had wonderfully warmed even to his fingertips and toes. He was glad to be warm if only because he couldn’t complain about cold feet when his skiing companion was using grass for socks.

Per came to a sliding stop on a flat area and Harry managed a clumsy one and stood just as still. Head tilted as though listening, Per scanned the sky. He finally pointed at a small bird flitting through the bare tree branches.

The otherworld calm slid over Harry and Per said, “That band Siri has you weaving, do not ever lose it in the snow.” Per was still watching the bird, which had fluttered to a stop on a high branch. Per explained, “I thought I heard it crying out, but it is not carrying anything.”

Harry pondered this without luck. “What would it be carrying?”

Per shrugged. “A piece of clothing. A shoe band. Because you create it, the band holds a part of you in it, so it is most dangerous to lose. That is a gouttalvis bird . . . it is deadly.”

Harry eyed the tiny thing, which didn’t look large enough to survive the winter, frankly. It flitted up a branch. Harry still was not following the logic. Per adjusted his ski binding and straightened up, giving Harry an expectant look. Harry was busy trying to see the otherworld layered before him like a window reflection, but the snow was too bright. He hadn’t asked more about the bird because he worried he was being put on.

Per continued, “If you see such a bird carrying something and you recognize the person’s voice that it cries in, you must call out their name to make the bird drop the thing it carries. If the bird reaches the graveyard with its burden, the person is cursed to die.” Per started away. “Do not lose your shoe band,” he repeated sternly.

“Got it,” Harry said, and they slid out of the overlaying otherworld into the fresh, sharp breeze; this time in the direction of home.

The next few days were quiet ones of chores, weaving and carving. Harry tried hard not to think of home or of the Ministry and what his fellows were working on without him, because it made him feel left out and even more isolated. It also made the twice daily testing sessions with Per go much worse.

One day, up on the same ridge on a cloudy evening, Per came in close and eyed Harry with impatience. Harry heard himself apologizing again and when Harry spoke, the otherworldly feeling descended, presumably so Per could understand. “I don’t know why I can’t do better. I used to have lessons similar to this with Severus.” Harry took Per’s interested look for an invitation to explain further. “Voldemort used to get into my head when I got too emotional so Severus was assigned to teach me Occlumency. But Occlumency doesn’t work against this. I wish it did.”

A long pause and then Per asked, “Those would be difficult lessons. Is that how you came to understand each other?”

Harry burst out laughing. Clearing his throat with effort, he answered, “No.” After he laughed a little more, Harry admitted, “It took me a year to get a handle on the Occlumency. I really hope this doesn’t take as long.”

“You need to believe in your power. You do not.”

And with that Per skied away to try again. Harry did a little better that time and after three more rounds of approaching and retreating, Per led the way back to the hut for the night.

The next morning, Siri got her things together and said, “Since you do not need me for communication I am going to see my family and to delay the others from coming here early if they get it in their heads.” When she had everything together she said, “Keep weaving,” to Harry and then held up her hand to stop him, when Harry started to say goodbye.

Harry looked up and down the row of huts; he hadn’t considered that others might start arriving. Per was here in an empty, seasonal village to keep Harry isolated and that wouldn’t last forever, he now realized.

It was the very next day that a snowmobile could be heard approaching. Per led the way out to greet it and spoke to the rider incomprehensibly. He came back and collected his things together in a pack and started off with an admonishment in Saami to Harry and a gesture that clearly said he was to stay put.

Harry watched the snowmobile as it seemed to rise up with the vision of the floating lake and finally disappeared over the hill bordering the far shore. Harry fingered the wand in his coat pocket before fetching his gloves to stack the day’s wood inside the door.

A very quiet day and night passed. Harry lay awake listening for wolves. A low distant rumble went by in the night that made him squint at the ceiling in curiosity. Going out to investigate wouldn’t get him far since he shouldn’t go more than 20 yards from the hut and its wards. Although, Harry thought, no one was here and all he would put at risk would be himself.

With that thought Harry, by the light of the precious batteries in the torch, threw on his cloak, mittens, and boots and went out into the night. The moon was shrouded by clouds and Harry didn’t see anything when he circled the village, wand out. Back before the hut he stood in the stillness, his breath puffing fog into the air around him. The rumble had stopped anyway, so he went back inside and tried to go to sleep.

The next morning broke slowly through the clouds. Bored and frustrated, Harry took up his weaving and carving in quick succession only to hang each of them back up again. He decided on an early lunch, and as he looked around for more butter he came across the skin full of powder that Per had mixed for the journey to the Dark Plane. Harry untied the top of the bladder and very carefully sniffed. It didn’t smell like much more than dried leaf. Per hadn’t needed this for the journey, Harry realized now, rethinking that day.

Harry ate a little plain bread and smoked fish, trying hard to ignore the tanned bladder lying on a shelf on the other side of the hut. With the point of the blade Harry was painstakingly attempting to carve a Snitch above the broomstick on his practice antler, when he could resist no longer.

He dropped the knife and carving where he sat and put his outdoor things on with fierce purpose. He found the firepit and after several failed tries, got a good blaze going in it. He arranged everything as before on the moose hide, the bladder beside him, stiff from the cold air.

A light snow had begun to fall when Harry picked up the well-lit log by a cold corner and placed it on the cooking stone. He bit his lips as he held the blanket at ready and reached for the bladder with unsteady hands. The tie almost defeated his chilled, uncertain fingers, but he finally opened it and, using his palm, tried to measure out the same amount as he remembering from last time. Heart beating fast, Harry lifted the blanket over the glowing coal before him and tossed the powder over it.

One choking breath and then, before taking the second, he dizzily lifted the blanket off of the stone to avoid having it catch fire when he passed out. A second tainted breath and the world twisted away, even though Harry grabbed desperately for it with a second, more rational instinct.

Harry came to on the same gravely ground as before. Things shifted around him, including the thick rusted metal. You need to believe in your power. Harry quickly got to his feet and rather than retreat from the onslaught of scrabbling claws and snaking metal, he stood his ground. There was no choice. If Per could master this, then he could. The noises slowed, but things still moved in closer. A tall shadow flitted by as though trailing a cloak, but it didn’t look like a Dementor. A creature crept out from behind the nearest hillock, long clawed fingers—half jointed the wrong direction—pulled the sawgrass aside to better peer at Harry with slitted eyes.

Harry met the rancid yellow eyes and didn’t blink. The beaked creature tilted its bulbous head and brought another limb around. This one was capped by something like a lobster claw. Harry wondered if it was the powder that distorted his vision of the thing, or if it revealed its true form.

Pointedly ignoring it, real or not, Harry started off, passing it as though it wasn’t there. It balefully watched him step by. Farther along, Harry could hear it, and many others like it, moving to follow. Metal windings shuddered threateningly as he passed them. Even they felt hungry.

Harry’s confidence in his actions faltered as he picked his way around the misleading ground and the air grew oilier. “No,” he uttered and mastered himself out of sheer fear of failing to do so. He turned and looked behind himself, trying to mark the spot where he had arrived so as to find it again. Then he turned with purpose and hiked toward the edge of the world.

By the time Harry meandered his way beyond the worst of the metal barriers and stood at the cliff edge, he had attracted quite a following. Dark shadows with pin wheeling light inside them hovered above salivating Shetani which jostled and climbed over things that looked like thorny puffballs except with human mouths on the bottoms. The shadowy cloak folded down into a bat shape and flitted around Harry’s head. Many other slightly less aggressive things scrambled around behind the first line of creatures. The stench of them all resembled fermenting rancid earth and as their numbers increased, the air grew weighty and slow like being underwater.

Harry studied the grey vastness before him beyond the edge, then turned and looked back at the hungry distorted things trapping him in. “No going back, I think,” he muttered aloud. He had gotten himself into this; he was the only one who could get himself out.

Taking a deep breath and holding it, Harry stepped off of the cliff.

Bitter wind and blinding light bombarded Harry’s senses. He couldn’t breath and below his chest he couldn’t move. He shaded his eyes with his blessedly mittened hand and tried to see through the onslaught of cutting white wind. He was buried up to his waist in powdery snow but it was the intense sun, slicing through the thin atmosphere, which was hitting him the hardest.

Harry, feeling his poor footing with alarm, drew a difficult breath into his lungs and looked about himself. Snow-shrouded mountains of indescribable beauty spread out before him. The vision of it alone stripped his breath away. From each reaching craggy peak streamed banner-like blowing snow which mixed with the thin clouds hugging the mountain flanks. The air was too thin; Harry stood still but breathed as though he were running a race. He wondered where in the world he was. It could be any one of many mountain ranges. The clouds prevented him from seeing down into the nearest valley to gain any clues.

Precise questions of geography were tossed from Harry’s attention by his feet slipping again and his body plowing forward through the snow. He stood just a hundred yards below the actual peak. To the right and below him was a slightly flatter area where a smaller side peak rose, grey and unforgiving, out of the snow. Harry lost what little breath he had as his feet slipped again and a tiny avalanche poured down the endless slope before him, fading into the clouds.

Harry stared off a hundred miles into the distance, gathered his wits, and launched himself off the face of the mountain as a Gryffylis. The wind caught him as he cleared the peak, throwing him eighty miles an hour into the open space above the nearest valley. Harry oriented himself by shifting the angle of his wings to dump the air carrying him along. The peak he had arrived on was miles distant by the time he had himself stabilized in the buffeting gusts. He twisted his largest wing feathers to reduce their lift and flapped back to where he had started. This required wide zigzagging passes against the wind, but eventually, Harry dropped low enough to enter the lee of the mountain. He then flapped easily up to the small bowl between the peaks. His four clawed feet found easy purchase on the rough granite and he folded his wings and ducked under the breeze. His Gryffylis lungs were fine at this altitude and he was warm from the flight and the sun on his fur.

He seemed to have two choices. Fly down to civilization—whatever kind that might be—or find his way back to the Dark Plane. Harry found the best spot he could, cleared it of snow with powerful kicks, and transformed back to his breathless, unfit-for-this-environment self. He had gotten here by stepping off of a cliff and he had arrived at the top of a mountain. That probably wasn’t merely coincidence. Every time Per had pulled the Dark Plane around them to talk, it had felt upside down. Harry pondered all this as his limbs numbed and his head grew faint.

Somehow the Dark Plane was close here; as in the Alps when he had sensed the Shetani on the train. It was an easy place for them to cross as well, apparently, although they hadn’t followed Harry into the blazing sunlight. Harry needed to re-invert himself into the mountain again somehow. He adjusted his boots on the granite and imagined the uneven cliff edge as the inverse of the mountains here. He replayed what it felt like when the otherworld was pulled down around him by his host. He let his mind go and his eyes lose focus and fell, backward, into the sheer granite.

Harry’s heels barely caught the edge of the cliff and he almost slipped back into the abyss-which-really-wasn’t. The still air of the Dark Plane was a relief to his frozen limbs, and the burst of cold fresh air that came with him dissipated quickly. Something howled hungrily behind him and he turned forcefully to face it. The creatures that remained backed off a step or two and fell silent. Harry turned from them dismissively and walked along the cliff, zigzagging along with it for a long distance. He had to try that again to feel absolutely at ease with it.

As he walked, he let his mittens slide off his overheated hands. His earlier belief: that only his mind had traveled here last time, was apparently mistaken. And he had gone out the other side—a staggering thought.

Harry stepped off the cliff edge again, this time not at the very deepest scarp but somewhere along an edge. He arrived in much deeper snow and slid a long way downslope until he reached a bowl that was fed by a massive glacier. The sun was low in the sky here and the glacial ice glowed with an unearthly blue. Its hulking creak and groan could be felt even miles away.

Harry took flight again and circled the area. That was, until he spied an encampment, an actual cabin surrounded by tents in the middle of the miles-wide white bowl. Marks in the snow hinted at a landing strip. Harry veered away, hoping that he really had not seen someone pointing up in his direction. Time to go, Harry thought and quickly returned to the exact markings in the snow where he had appeared. He was, after all, bright red and hard to miss against the snow and white sky.

Again, Harry cleared a spot to stand, although this one was precarious. He didn’t have much time to work out the falling, and he didn’t manage it on the first attempt which required sliding down again on his cloak to fly back up and try it again. The second time he was successful and scrambled for the cliff edge again on the other side. This time he saw the creatures cower at the burst of air that arrived around him. Something larger snarled and snapped at him. It resembled a disfigured werewolf with one human arm and bare patches of pink skin on its sides rather than fur. Its flesh was torn away revealing white boney ribs. It snarled again and flattened its mangled pink ears against its head.

Harry lifted his cloak edges upward and took a confident step forward, toward it. It made a yelping snarl and twisted away to growl quietly from a safer distance. The other smaller things scampered backward to peer at him from behind cover. Harry’s lips quirked; he was whole and could move at will in and out of this place of rot and twisted nightmares; he didn’t have to let it touch him.

He stepped away, in the direction he had originally come. He had to find the exact place where he had arrived; his last test.

Harry walked a long time, growing dizzy and weary as he did so. His heavily booted feet began to drag, sending small stones before him and making him trip more and more often. His arms quivered from generating the willpower it took to keep moving.

Finally, he found the large pile of twisted metal resembling an old box spring. He was close. He moved to the left and meandered around more metal. The ground was disturbed here; it looked like footprints. Elated, Harry followed them, intending to stop when they did. He shuffled along, following the disturbed ground for a mindless time, until the ground began to dip. Harry didn’t remember that from before and he came to a halt and lifted his head to look around. He was in a completely unfamiliar area, making his heart skip in momentary panic. Things shifted around him, closing in, claws snapping, limbs sawing together. He had walked into a trap, or was just about to; the trail had been faked. Harry turned and surveyed the ground. He had been paying too much attention to the trail to notice where he had travelled. It may or may not be safe to follow the same trial back out again as it may have been erased and recreated behind him as a further trick.

Harry rubbed his pounding, swimming head. He picked a direction and walked, ignoring the trail he had just followed, including his own new footprints. Turning back repeatedly to gauge his current view in that direction against his dizzy memory of just minutes before, he managed, with much backtracking and much anxiety, to make it back to known territory.

Utterly exhausted and even shakier, Harry stood before the same twisted metal box spring as before. He walked in a widening spiral away from it, hoping dearly that he would recognize where he had first arrived. He trudged for half an hour, long after the adrenaline surge from his near miss had worn off. He stumbled repeatedly now, unable to reliably sense what direction was up though his dizziness.

Harry stopped and turned a slow full circle. This looked like the right place; although he couldn’t be certain given his blurred vision. He rubbed his eyes and turned again. The creatures had perhaps grown bored with him because few moved around nearby now.

So, if this was the right place, what to do? Should he fall into the ground? He was going to fall, literally, any moment, drop like a dead weight and then who knew what the creatures would do to him. Even the shyest Lethifold could get him then. Desperate now, Harry let go again as he had done on the mountainside and fell. He hung upside down on the ceiling of a white world for just an instant, and then darkness overtook him.

- 888 -

Per Hossa stepped off of the back of the snowmobile before it even stopped. As they had made the far side of the lake, he had felt uneasy, as though there were an opening to the Dark Plane nearby. The snowmobile driver raised his arm in a wave as he turned the noisy machine around and departed. Per pounded quickly up the shallow hillside to the village. He found Harry unconscious beside the fire pit, now long since cold. The bladder of hallucinogenic powder and the blanket tangled around him made it clear what had transpired.

Per knelt beside Harry’s unmoving figure and tugged the snow-sprinkled blanket aside to feel how cool the skin of his neck was. Harry had been lucky to get wrapped in as much of the blanket as he had or he may have frozen to death after the fire burned out. But he was here in the Above World, apparently whole. Per quickly rewrapped Harry and carried him inside the hut. Siri usually sensed that there was trouble, and Per expected that she would arrive shortly.

Per piled the new wood from inside the door—Harry must have put it there—onto the fire pit. He needed a lot of heat, right now, not in half an hour when the wood caught fully. He crouched before the pile of fresh wood in the center of the pit, a circle of half-blackened stones. When he was younger, he could have ignited this pile to a blaze with conceited ease. It had been a long time since he had even risked the pride in attempting it. Were Harry awake, Per expected the British wizard could light a fire without effort. Having Harry around had worn more roughly on Per’s pride than he had expected, especially given the pleading letter to take him in.

Per took up his drum and pounded it lightly. When he was learning Shamanism, it had been a necessity, but he later decided it was a crutch. Perhaps, a return to the beginning was in order. He let the drumming set his mind into focus and summoned heat from the surroundings, the way a master herder can summon and direct his dogs without speaking.

Unblinking, Per knelt before the hearthstones, gathering and summoning warmth in a place that had very little to give. He grimaced and almost gave up; except, the slightest wisp of smoke trailed up from the center of the pile. Bolstered by this, Per drummed louder and clenched his hand on the drum rim. He used to do this with ease, he reminded himself and rather than get dissuaded by that disgusted thought, used the heat of it to narrow his summoning to a single spot, which ignited in a pop of sap. He broadened the focal point, using the new heat that was escaping the small blaze to spread the fire quickly out the lengths of the logs.

Per dropped the long antler he used for drumming and more carefully set the drum aside. The heat was building fast from the fire, but it gave him more relief than victory. He re-approached Harry, noticing in the confined space that his soiled clothes were going to have to be taken care of.

- 888 -

Harry awoke to a not quite blinding headache and he swam up from unconsciousness into confusion. He was hot, very hot, and more confusingly, naked. Cracking his eyes open, he squinted around himself. He was in a different hut. This one had only wooden benches around the walls and a large fire in a sawed off barrel in the center with rocks placed on top of it. A bucket of water and wooden ladle sat near the fire. Harry managed to sit up and nearly passed back out again when he did so.

A sauna . . . he was in a sauna, Harry’s cottony brain decided. This was unexpected. He was warm though, all the way through, which he had not really been since arriving. He leaned over and used the ladle to pour water on the rocks. A satisfying sizzle of steam erupted into the air, raising the heat considerably.

The door opened and Per put his head in, spied Harry awake and reached in to hand him a pile of clothes. They weren’t Harry’s clothes—just the boots were his—but he put them on anyway. Wearing a heavy tunic edged with white and red weaving and the warmest trousers he imagined existed, he staggered out the door. The sauna hut was the last one on the end. Harry trudged through the snow beside Per who had been waiting outside for him. Per didn’t speak and Harry’s head hurt too much to try a conversation. At their usual hut Harry discovered that Siri had returned as well. She handed him bitter tea without a word and Harry honored the silence while sitting cross-legged to drink it.

Silence raged for nearly an hour. Harry’s headache was almost manageable by the time his hosts began talking, in Saami, of course.

You were very lucky,” Siri said. When Per didn’t respond, just continued to work at his ski binding with a tiny pliers, she said, “He is very famous. His death would have caused quite an uproar.”

Per snorted. “He is unthinking, childish and impatient. I had no imagining he would journey without me.

Harry watched their faces for clues as they talked. Per sounded more like Snape than ever as he spoke. Harry figured that for a bad sign.

After finishing his binding repair, Per laughed as he set it by the door. “He is utterly unharmed. I would not have survived my first two visits were I not a Stauncher.

Siri handed Harry bread and smoked reindeer meat as well as two apples, which tasted like sweets. Harry started to settle in to rest his still vaguely aching head, but Per stood and said, “Come,” sternly.

Harry followed his lead and put on his boots and cloak. The rest of his clothes were boiling in the large pot on the fire, apparently, or someone’s were. Outside Per put on skis, so Harry did as well, slowly, because bending down made his temples pound. He followed behind as they skied up to the ridge. Using the well-worn trail from previous trips, they made very good time.

Per stopped and gestured for Harry to go on ahead. Harry did so, stopping 30 yards away, or so. Per leaned on his pole, waiting. Harry pounded his feet to warm them, sad that the residual heat from the sauna hadn’t lasted longer.

Long minutes passed and there was nothing. No strange sounds, no oily hunger. Per backed up farther. Harry felt something then, but he easily pushed it away, instinctively walled it off. He bit his lip as hope tried to swell his chest. Per waited rather a long time before skiing back over. His pale eyes looked pleased, perhaps. Without a word he turned and skied away. Harry hurried to follow.

As they set their skis upright in the snow, Per said, “You are good.”

“You’re saying I’m done?” Harry asked eagerly.

“You are foolish boy,” Per stated slowly.

Harry swallowed at the fierce look he got with that admonishment. Per gestured with his head toward the hut. Inside he spoke to Siri, “Explain to the young wizard that he is finished. I have nothing more to teach him.

Siri relayed this and Harry simply stood in the dirt entryway, trying to accept it. He felt lightheaded with elation. He could go home! Harry scrambled into his bag to write a letter to Snape. Hopefully Hedwig would come soon, he thought, as he pressed the nib of his never-out quill against a warm rock to get it flowing.

Severus, I have completed what I came to learn. I have the return ticket and will come home-

Harry stopped. “What day can I get home?” he asked.

Siri said, “You should stay for the Equinox. There is a little gathering in the village at the end of the lake we can attend.”

“The Equinox?” Harry uttered. “That won’t be until . . . March 21 or so.”

“Two days,” Per grunted.

Harry failed to breathe for many seconds. “I’ve been here a month and a half?” he whispered, stunned. Back at the Ministry his fellows must now be very far ahead of him. Belinda must think he was nutters. His plans for making it up to her seemed pale given the time that had passed. Harry’s heart, which had been flying rather high, now sank. “A month and a half,” he uttered again.

Harry returned to his letter, having a hard time focusing on the parchment with his thoughts circling around so many distant things. ... and will come home on the 22nd. Sorry it took so long for me to master this. Harry was sorry; he wondered if he were still in the Auror’s program at all. Snape would not have forwarded anything regarding that to him, for certain. But I have mastered it, rest assured. I am looking forward to being home and seeing everyone. Harry then wondered what state his Chimrian was in. Hopefully Snape kept her with him at school; she seemed to tolerate him now, so perhaps she was all right.

Hedwig arrived the next morning. Harry accepted the thickest yet stack of letters, fed her, and immediately sent her off with just the letter for his guardian. Unable to sit still, Harry put his cloak on over his borrowed clothes—his were hanging in the sauna to dry—and skied out across the lake. He followed in the trail a snowmobile had recently left, which let him make very good time. When he was out of breath, he turn around with an almost graceful maneuver and skied back, stomach rumbling in the hopes of lunch.

Per and Siri were quiet through lunch, but it felt like a different kind of quiet this time. Per almost seemed melancholy. Harry returned to his weaving, determined to finish at least one shoe band before leaving.

“Thank you,” Harry said. “For everything.”

Per shook his head and continued to load his pipe up with something that didn’t really smell like tobacco, it smelled like wood. It was a long time before he spoke. “You go back to hunting dark wizards?”

“Yes. If they’ll let me,” Harry added grimly.

“How can they stop you?” Per asked, confused.

Harry grinned. “True.”

Per gestured with his pipe at the notched stick in the corner. “How many marks . . . for you?” he asked.

“Oh,” Harry said. “I don’t know. I lost count.” Per favored Harry with a most disturbed look. Harry said, “I wrote them all down once, but I didn’t count them. And there are more since then.”

Siri provided a translation of this when Per looked her way.

“Some I’ve had to catch twice,” Harry complained. “Three times even.”

“Best get back to it, then,” Per commented through Siri.

Harry grinned again, feeling happy despite the uncertainties he faced when he returned. He had survived this, the other details should be easy.

Next: Chapter 9 -- Home, Part I

"She is fine. A bit subdued. She is in Hagrid's care today."

"Oh good. Thanks for taking care of her."

"It was no difficulty," Snape answered softly.

Harry put a foot down the first step but turned again. "You aren't really Molly Weasley using a Polyjuice potion, are you?" Snape's fiercely disturbed expression answered for him. Harry muttered, "No, I guess not," before he escaped down into the dimness of the corridor to the toilet.

Chapter 9: Home, Part I
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter 9 — Home, Part I

The next day Harry regretted his long skiing practice as they headed out for the Equinox party in the nearest village. He had noticed that Per was resistant to Apparating unless there was no choice, so Harry did not suggest it out of deference to his host. The second half of the trip, carrying everything he possessed, was all sheer willpower against lead-weighted limbs. The others gradually slowed down for him and even stopped occasionally to give him a rest.

Harry caught his breath and said, “We don’t do this at home. Although I kind of like it so maybe I’ll start.” He breathed in deeply a few times, leaning heavily on his poles to bend over comfortably. “Okay, I’m ready.”

The long meditative trip left Harry too much time to think and he began to wonder seriously how everyone, Snape in particular, were getting along. Of all the letters he had received, the ones from his guardian had been the most reserved and now Harry wondered if he had been keeping things from Harry to avoid distracting him with events out of Harry’s control. As his skis made their own gliding way in the packed trail, Harry, for the first time in a month, experienced that haunting memory of finding Snape beyond death. Trying to ski too hard with his lungs constricted, required yet another rest stop. When they started moving again, Harry ached for tomorrow to come and did so for several miles.

In the village a bonfire was blazing, filling in nicely for the sun which had just dipped sideways out of view. People were drinking glögg and sitting on sawed off logs around the fire. Per and Siri joined their friends and Harry circled outside the small crowd, just observing. Another group were having a lassoing competition and a dog barked excitedly every time the rope was tossed. While Harry watched this activity, someone giggled nearby. He glanced around and found the two young women he had met in the village last visit. One of them spoke and Harry found himself surprised to recognize the words, despite being foreign, and even returned the greeting. His pronunciation elicited another giggle.

The shorter one with her hood pulled up asked, “English?” At Harry’s nod she went on, “You are far from home. You have been staying with our cousin Per, I think.”

“He’s your cousin?” Harry asked.

“Yes.” Her companion gestured in the other direction toward another fire lighting the trees and cabins. “She wishes to join our friends,” she explained. They started to walk away, but she turned and said, “If you want to come. . .”

Harry eagerly followed to smaller fire with another a girl and a young man sitting at it. The boy was telling the girl about a great wolf his grandfather had once killed and wore every winter except for herding when it would scare the reindeer. Harry recognized the little girl as the one he and Per had rescued, but of course she didn’t recognize him.

Harry sat down without introductions, something he still found very odd. The fire crackled and spat, lighting the trampled snow. Conversation went on, although Harry found himself understanding a few common words here and there.

The boy asked about Harry and the young woman explained that Harry was staying with Per. Harry caught almost all of that sentence, even if he couldn’t have spoken it himself. Watching the Saami teens talking, Harry realized how dearly he missed all of his friends including Belinda and his fellow apprentices. He sighed; a sound taken away unheard by the wind in the boughs around them.

The young woman moved closer to let the little girl sit on their side, away from the smoke. “You dress like a native,” she said, referring to the borrowed tunic Harry still wore. “What is your name?” she asked.

Harry smiled, feeling better knowing some names. “Harry. And yours?”


“And yours?” Harry had to specifically ask each of them, leaving him feeling maddeningly foreign.

They chatted for a long while, interspersing some English for his sake. Eventually, Anna stood and said, “Do you want to go for a walk? The wind is gone.”

Harry, whose exhausted legs were stiffening from the rest they were getting, stood also and agreed. When Anna’s friends declined to follow, Harry wondered how far they were going. They walked around the backs of the cabins and up the small rise behind the village until the fires were out of view. The stars were thick like sand in the sky and a few green threads wove randomly in the north.

“It’s very beautiful,” Harry said. He stared up and tried to take it in despite wishing for home more strongly than before.

Anna stepped closer. Very shyly, she said, “You are beautiful too. Or is it cute for boys? You are dressed like a herder,” she then teased.

“Er,” Harry began, but she had grasped his arms and the next moment they were inside somewhere.

After some scuffling a candle flared. “You Apparated us!” Harry said in surprise.

“Siri taught me,” she said, sounding sly.

“Ah. You should study more magic if you can do that.”

She carried the candle and its halo of warm light to a table. “Not much use for magic here. That Sending is useful. It is easy to get stranded in the snow, and I can always get home, although I am not supposed to let anyone see. Since you are with Per and Siri . . .” She poked at the coals in the stove to make them flare before coming back to where he stood. “Is this all right?”

Harry, not wanting to bluntly dissuade her, took a chair at the table. “I guess. Where are we?”

She took the chair beside his at the small table. “My house.”

Harry studied the stove with its metal pipe running out the wall. “It’s very nice. It’s not a . . . goahti.”

She giggled. “No. Much warmer.” She stood suddenly as though unable to sit still. “I have a few of these,” she said and pulled three magazines from the end of a shelf on the bottom. When they were laid out in the candlelight of the table, Harry saw that they were Swedish wizard magazines, worn ragged with the staples rusted. Still sounding like she couldn’t contain herself, despite trying, she said, “In the south, Stockholm, they have, um, witches, women shaman.” She turned a few pages. “You have these where you come from too, right?”

Harry nodded, feeling pained at her excitement; she wasn’t allowed to practice witchcraft here and the notion of it clearly pulled at her. Harry could identify with that agony from his own fights with the Dursleys over his returning to school.

“And here, flying carpets!” she said with a laugh, pointing at an advertisement. “But I think I am boring you.”

“No, no,” Harry denied, but she closed the magazine anyway and clasped her hands between her knees.

“You have girlfriend?” she asked.

“Yes,” Harry replied, mind leaping to Belinda and her shining hair and attractive turn of her head. He was glad also to settle the issue.

“Ah,” Anna said softly. “Would you like tea? I can show off my other charming.” She heated the pot by placing her hand upon the side of it until she couldn’t hold it there any longer. “I know it is hot enough then,” she said with a laugh as she shook her hand to cool it, clearly enjoying the audience. “It is nice to have someone to talk to about magic,” she said wistfully. “You do not mind?”

“No,” Harry insisted. “Not at all. I’m going home tomorrow and we talk about magic all the time there.” He shucked his outer coat and hat as she poured since the fire had warmed the small room.

“I do not think I could talk only about magic,” she said, clearly disdainful. “There are so many other things, like reindeer and stories. Singing,” she added.

Harry grinned and cradled the cup she handed him, which on this journey he had come to associate with the immeasurable pleasure of warming his hands. Anna did the same a while before drinking. She also folded herself in the familiar slouch that kept one just a little bit warmer.

“But you do lots of magic?” she asked.

“A fair amount,” Harry answered between sips.

Anna studied him now that his outerwear was off, eyes going over his hair, which must have been sticking up everywhere. She gasped. “You have this,” she uttered, pointing at her forehead.

“Yeah,” Harry said. The candlelight must be making it stand out; mostly it was becoming less noticeable.

Anna studied him in strange alarm before turning back to her magazines and flipping through the one whose cover had a family wearing tall pointed hats posing before tall pointed mountains. She flipped hurriedly before stopping and turning it toward Harry. On the right hand page was an article on the Tri-Wizard Tournament with a big photograph of the four school champions, or more correctly, three school champions and Harry. The text wasn’t readable, being full of strange letters with cross-outs and dots in odd places, but Harry said, “That takes me back. That’s Cedric,” he said, indicating the smiling boy, confidently pulling his shoulders back. “And Fleur Delacour, and Victor Krum.” Fleur was tossing her long hair and primping a bit. In the lower right was an ink drawing of Harry holding the cup as though he had just won it, looking like he might have done if everything had gone normally. The artist had actually drawn him as though he were happy to have won.

“You are this wizard?” Anna asked.

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“This wizard?” she asked again, pointing this time as though he might not be easily recognized out of that disparate group.

Harry laughed lightly. “Yep.”

She looked at the picture of one very uncertain, much younger Harry and then back up at him to compare. “You are very powerful wizard in this case,” she said.

“I work hard to be,” Harry said.

This comment was greeted by more wariness. Harry sighed silently and poured himself more tea while she reread the article.

“It says something mysterious happened at the end. This boy died.”

“It was bad what happened,” Harry confirmed. “And a very long story . . . even if you like stories.”

She didn’t get a chance to come up with a response. A rapid knock was followed by the door creaking open; the other girl’s head peeked in. “Dad is coming!” she said in Saami, but Harry understood it and the tone conveyed the rest. The door closed again and Anna started to clean up rapidly and a bit clumsily as a result of panic.

“We’re only having tea,” Harry stated.

“Still,” she breathed.

Harry stood and restrained her arm. “Stand back.” He pulled out his wand and with two quick spells—Pack for the magazines and candle and Tiptop for the teapot and dishes—the room was untouched. But the sound of boots on the wooden steps meant the cleanup was probably a mistake.

“Don’t,” Harry hissed when she moved to grab his arm as though to Disapparate them. The noise would be too loud, he feared. He tapped her on the head with a Disillusionment charm and then himself. He pulled her into the corner and waved a quick Muggle illusion barrier before them. He hadn’t done so many spells in a row in a long time and it felt good to feel magic flowing so freely and easily through him as though the holiday from it had made the path for it clearer and wider than before.

He touched a finger to her lips and held her fast behind the small barrier. She stood against him, small and rigid under her tunic and fur. Wane light seeped in from the open doorway until the electric light overhead switched on. Anna gasped quietly as her father’s eyes stared in their direction before roving around the room. The man turned his wind-worn face around with a frown before he stomped out with his thigh-high reindeer skin boots. Anna almost collapsed with relief.

“He didn’t see us,” she whispered, confused. “We were right here.”

Harry cancelled the spells and re-stashed his wand. “We should get back to the others.”

“What else can you do?” she asked.

Harry shrugged but couldn’t help grinning. “All kinds of things.” He took her hand and Apparated them both back to the ridge above the village. In silent consensus they walked along the ridge and then down through the trees beyond where the smaller fire burned. Fish-drying frames stood, incased in ice along the lake edge. The two of them came around the long way and joined the larger group at the bonfire. An old man was speaking slowly and gesturing as the other’s listened.

Per turned at their approach, but his expression revealed nothing. Harry, intending to claim that they had been wandering nearby all along, didn’t move in any closer until the story ended. Same as at the end of all speech, silence descended. A few men took out their pipes and lit them, staring into the fire contemplatively.

Harry had gotten used to the length of the silences and began to feel the end of it was near and wonder who was going to speak. Per finally did, and everyone looked up at him. Harry couldn’t understand any of what he was saying, but he turned and gestured for Harry to come closer.

In question Harry pointed at his chest with his thickly mittened hand. When Per nodded, Harry approached the inner circle. Siri, sitting beneath him on a long log cut into a bench, said, “He wants you to tell a story.”

“Me?” Harry glanced around the expectant crowd. “Are you going to translate?”

Teasing, she said, “If your Saami is not yet good enough . . .”

“No, I definitely need a translator,” Harry muttered. With a deep breath, he composed his thoughts and wondered what story to tell. Leaning down close to Siri, Harry asked, “What was the last story about?”

“Gregov was telling about the time when he was young that he saw a ghost herd and managed to throw a lasso over their heads to bring them from the underworld. He still laments that he only got five of the hundred he saw.”

Harry straightened and thought that stories about magic might be all right in that case. “Once upon a time,” Harry began, “there was a . . . an evil Shaman named Tom Riddle.” This opening seemed to capture the wandering attention when Siri provided a translation. Anna’s father stepped up to the far side of the circle, looking angry, but he held silent.

“Riddle loved power and he wasn’t afraid to use dark magic to get what he wanted. For ten years he worked his evil magic, growing more powerful and gaining more followers as the years went on.

“One good Shaman, a very powerful one, stood against him but it wasn’t enough. One day this good Shaman, whose name was Dumbledore, heard a prophecy that one was coming who could destroy Riddle. Unfortunately, this person wasn’t yet born and soon after he was, his parents had to hide him from Riddle and his followers, who wanted to kill him. They didn’t hide well enough and Riddle came one October night and killed them, but when he tried to kill the infant, his evil curse bounced back and nearly destroyed him. But it left a strange scar on the boy, in the shape of lightening.”

As the attention grew more intent on his story, Harry suspected Siri of elaborating a bit. She looked up at him when she had caught up.

“For ten years Riddle was nothing more than a spirit haunting the forest, his dark heart—that could feel nothing warm and renewing, like love—refused to die completely. He roamed like this until someone very weak sought him out and let him live upon him, like a parasite. This began his rise back to power and he tried still to kill the boy from the prophecy but failed, twice, each time returning to being a mere spirit. Finally, years later, with the help of his most traitorous follower, he set up an elaborate trick that brought the boy and his schoolmate to him at the end of a contest. He had turned the trophy into a magical portal, so instead of winning, they were taken away to a strange place, a graveyard. Riddle killed the boy’s schoolmate, the way one might kill . . . a fish—without thought. He then tied the boy to the tombstone of his Riddle’s father and took his blood and brewed a fantastical potion from which he emerged a whole man again, no longer just a spirit.”

Harry glanced down at Siri and found her gazing at him oddly. She shrugged though, and dove in with retelling.

“Riddle intended to kill the boy but the boy was more a Shaman than Riddle expected. As well, the ghosts of his parents and even his schoolmate cheered him on in his battle and the boy got away back to where the good Shaman could protect him.

“Riddle had to plot again to trap the boy and this time his godfather died trying to rescue him, which made him very sad. The boy had lots of friends though and despite efforts by those in charge to keep their magic weak they worked in secret to increase it. And one day Riddle came to their school with 22 of his evil followers. But the boy’s friends stood with him, fighting his followers and giving him time to overwhelm the evil Shaman. The good Shaman had told him how to do this. He had said that feeling love was his best weapon, so that is what the boy did—he made the evil Shaman feel love by showing him the longing for his lost parents and his affection for his friends, who would do anything for him.

“This was enough to paralyze the evil Shaman, which left him defenseless. The boy then killed him with the same curse that had bounced off of him as an infant. And now Britain is quiet again, and people can go about their lives without this dark threat over them.”

Harry waited through the translation. He had wanted to say that Voldemort was dead once and for all, but he couldn’t find the words for it. This left him with cold prickles under his collar. Silence had fallen; Siri was waiting for more; the audience was waiting for more.

“Riddle, who threw away that name and called himself Voldemort, is gone, not even a spirit anymore, and his followers are all in prison. And the boy found a home and a father, finally. Not his original one, but a pretty good one.”

Someone asked Harry something and Siri translated. “He wants to know where you heard this story.” She was smiling slyly as she spoke.

“It’s my story,” Harry said.

Much murmuring followed this pronouncement. Per stepped forward and spoke then. Siri quietly supplied, “Per is explaining that you were sent here by your new father to learn magic from him.” The crowd seemed impressed with this—more impressed by Per than Harry, perhaps.

Eventually things quieted in the usual way and pipes were refilled. “Was that story all right?” Harry asked Siri from a spot beside her on the log.

“It is true. How can it not be?” she returned with a wink. “And it had a good ending.”

“It did,” Harry agreed, feeling that everything was all right in the world at that moment. He leaned back and watched the sparks from the fire swimming up into the blackness. The aurora was gone and the stars glittered thickly across the whole dome of the sky when Harry’s breath wasn’t obscuring them.

Anna’s father stomped over to them and looked down at Harry with uncertainty. He seemed about to speak as his eyes roamed Harry’s face and finally fell on his forehead. In the end he stomped off without saying anything.

Siri leaned closer. “He is an important man. You should not have gone off with his daughter.”

“She went off with me. And we only talked about magic. And by the way, you should send Anna to Britain; her magic is very good.”

“That would just make her more unhappy, I think.”

Harry frowned but didn’t argue. He studied the orange glow on the faces around the fire, finally coming around to Per’s with his unusually light eyes. Per looked up at Harry as though sensing his gaze and Harry stood and took the two steps to close the gap between them. Quietly but eagerly, given that he didn’t have much time left, he asked, “Can you teach me how to Staunch?”

Per glanced over at Siri, apparently needing a translation, and Harry realized now that Per only pulled the Dark Plane around them to understand when they were alone. Per stood, collected Siri without any indication he wanted her, and wandered from the immediate circle into the cold. Harry repeated, “I was asking Per if he would teach me how to Staunch wounds.” Harry, feeling even more eager, removed his mitten and held up the hand he had cut. The ache from the day before came back and Harry, thinking that he need not have been almost too late to save his adopted father, was almost prepared to plead for a lesson in this.

Siri said, “One does not teach a Stauncher, one simply is.” Per held up his hand to stop her speaking. He spoke and Siri translated, “It is a dying skill, so he is willing to test you.”

They stepped over to the second fire in the trees, which was now unoccupied. Per tossed two fresh logs on the flames and sat across from Harry on a tree stump that, given its gouged surface, must frequently be used for chopping wood. Per took a knife off of his belt and removed his mitten. Harry tried to stop him. “I don’t want-” Per gave him one of those looks that Snape favored and Harry quieted and watched as Per nicked his hand, letting the blood course down his palm.

Per watched Harry as Harry itched to take out his wand; this wasn’t a test of that kind of magic, though. This worked at a distance, which was what Harry desperately wished to learn, believing that the knowledge would help staunch the haunting ache that still occasionally reared up inside him.

Siri spoke, “You need to concentrate.” She translated for Per then, “Like a weaving, blood holds its owner’s spirit inside of it. If you can sense its escape you can squeeze down the opening it leaks out of. Per says that he imagines packing snow around the wound. But first you must feel its escape.”

Harry cleared his mind and watched the trickle of blood, which was slowing on its own. His focus relaxed and for an instant, Harry had the same sense he had with his quills, the sense of their Radiance. Per’s leaking blood would be radiant, Harry realized. He relaxed again and the sense came quicker this time, although the bleeding had stopped naturally.

Per took the knife, still held at his side as though expecting to need it again, and reopened the wound, making Harry flinch at the necessity. The Radiant sense was stronger now as the blood ran thicker and dripped into the snow between them. Squeeze it closed, he had been told. Harry imagined a binding and then a cold binding, cold like the biting wind that came off the frozen lake. Per stiffened discernibly, even through his thick clothes. Harry lost his concentration and a new trickle of blood emerged. Trying harder to imagine binding and cold simultaneously, Harry focused on the point of leaking Radiance again. The bleeding stopped again. Harry held that imagining a full minute, long enough that the small wound should remain closed on its own. He raised his eyes to Per, half expecting another bout of jealousy, but Per had a crooked, pleased smile on his face instead.

Per spoke and Siri provided, “He says now he truly has nothing left to teach you.”

Harry glanced in the direction of the rest of the villagers before pulling out his wand and healing Per’s cut for good. Per scoffed and shook his head as though Harry were cheating.

“Thanks for the lesson,” Harry said as Per held his hand to the fire to warm it. “That’s a good skill to know.”

“You knew all along,” Siri said, “You just did not know that you knew.”

Harry watched the black logs settle lower on the fire and said, “Most all magic is that way, isn’t it?”

“The kind we have here, yes.”

They spent the night in the same goahti as last time. Harry woke long before the sun when their host was carefully laying logs on the low fire. Harry was immediately wide awake and eager to get on with his travels home. For once he was the one waiting impatiently for others to put on their outdoor gear. This was after a quick, and he assumed his last ever, smoked reindeer and coal bread breakfast.

The village was quiet when they put on their skis and slid away around the first bend in the lake shore. Breath heaving in clouds of steam, they stopped. Harry removed his borrowed skis and handed them to Per. The wind blew blasts of biting snow down the lake and Harry was not unhappy to be leaving on that regard.

“Thanks for everything,” Harry said to his host. When Per simply nodded in silence, Harry went on, “Really, if you ever need anything, just owl, or post even.”

Siri removed her skis as well and held a hand out.

“I can make it on my own,” Harry said, thinking that he could easily relay himself using the Oulu station as a halfway point.

“I will take you,” Siri insisted. Harry shrugged. “You may take the train from closer, if you wish, now that you are not a risk,” she pointed out.

An impatient Harry could not imagine the extra long hours of worry. “No, I’ll Apparate the rest of the way.”

“Goodbye,” Per said when Harry held up his arm for Siri.

Harry, who had been stopped from using that word earlier, replied in kind this time. With a clap! the icy flat expanse disappeared and a snow-covered rail yard appeared. They had Apparated behind a concrete block building adjacent to the Oulu train station.

In her methodical speech Siri asked, “Do you have an uncrowded place to arrive to in Helsinki?”

Harry nodded. “I was thinking of the employee toilet at the bus station. It was locked,” Harry added with a crooked grin. “But I used it because I couldn’t find another.”

“Well, Harry,” she began. “It is difficult to say goodbye but I think we should.”

Harry was glad to hear a sentiment that implied he had not been strictly a burden. “Goodbyes are that important?” he teased.

“One only says goodbye if one never expects to see the other again,” Siri explained.

Harry understood then why he had been kept from saying it earlier. He pulled off his cloak and removed his woolen coat which he had seen Siri admiring as she hung it up to dry after its sole wash. “Here,” Harry said, “in trade for the tunic and hat.”

With slow movements, she accepted the dark grey coat and slipped it on; it nearly reached her ankles. With a little bow she said, “Goodbye then . . . you have far to go.”

Harry bundled his fur cloak around himself and pictured the dingy little toilet carefully before saying goodbye yet again and Sending himself away. The small closed space of the toilet was a shock after the open air, but he hadn’t impinged on any walls or porcelain. He lifted his hand from his wand pocket where he had held it in case he had needed to do a quick memory charm.

The corridor was empty. The noise of his arrival had mixed in with the rumble of bus motors and the hiss of brakes. Harry purchased a ticket to the airport and found the proper stand for that bus. The others standing there occasionally tapped their feet against the cold. Harry thought it quite balmy this far south. The sun was even shining for real here, glinting blindingly off the icy road.

At the airport, Harry got another round-cornered ticket, this time to Edinburgh, and again waited in line to pass through the plastic gates. This time his backpack was pulled before it arrived at the end of the conveyer. The guard searched through it, staring dumbly for a moment at the quills he pulled out. He then pulled out something Harry didn’t recognize and measured it with a ruler and handed it to Harry along with his backpack. Harry looked down at a small knife with the familiar bear carved into the antler handle, but he was holding up the queue, so he quickly stashed it back away and moved on.

When he sat down he found a note in his backpack, written on a sweet wrapper: We cannot send you off on such long travels without a knife. Touched, Harry carefully packed the note where it wouldn’t get crushed more and fingered the expert carving that seemed to speak more than its simple picture could.

Given how much time he had before the flight, Harry backtracked to where he had spotted a row of gift shops promising authentic souvenirs of Finland. Inside one store he found little burl wood cups like those he had seen people drinking glögg out of at the Equinox party. Each one had a leather loop to go over one’s head—an essential feature for a long night of drinking when one is likely to misplace one’s drink. Harry, despite the high price, bought a handful of them. He also bought a jar of cloudberry preserves for Belinda and smoked reindeer meat for himself. All of this he managed to add to his bulging backpack as he waited for the plane to board.

When they finally allowed the passengers on, Harry took his seat with an insufferable ache of anticipation of being home. He couldn’t rightly worry about the immediate future because he would know very soon where he stood with his training and Belinda. Instead of worrying, he sat tensely, watching the men load luggage onto a conveyer that went into the belly of their plane.

This flight was only sparsely occupied and no one took the seat beside Harry. He watched the snowy preparations for departure with a vastly different outlook than the flight out. This time he had no fears, just a painful longing for home to occupy him. Sitting back with a sigh, Harry imagined he was already home, seeing his guardian, his friends, and with the happy prospect of his own actual bed to sleep in.

The flight passed quickly and it wasn’t until he felt the dip of the airplane and the steward announced that they were descending, that Harry remembered he wanted to test a hover spell. With a glance around him he pulled out his wand and set his foam tea cup on the tray before him. The stewardess was rapidly coming down the aisle to collect rubbish and he didn’t have much time. The man across the aisle was reading a newspaper, and he conveniently turned the page and held it up so it blocked his view of Harry.

Wingardium Leviosa,” Harry whispered. His swish and flick was limited in the small space, but the cup flitted upward and hovered half a foot above his tray. Harry caught it, and with a smile dropped it into the stewardess’ rubbish sack while hiding his wand under the tray.

Hm, he thought. Snape had not thought that would work. Harry would have to tell him that it did. He put his wand away, stowed the tray, and then crossed his arms, impatient to land.

Harry disembarked late from the back of the plane and he wasn’t looking around much, so when Snape stepped up beside him, just as Harry passed the gate counter, he started a bit.

“Severus!” Harry said in pleased surprise. He almost reached out automatically to give his guardian a hug, but immediately thought better of it given how public this place was. To his complete surprise, Snape gave him one, albeit a quick and stiff one.

“How are you?” Snape then asked while eyeing Harry about as closely as he ever had, which was saying a lot.

“Good,” Harry assured him.

As Snape continued to hold his upper arms firmly and verify that with his dark gaze, Harry noticed that Snape looked a little more worn than he had expected and that a few strands of white were sprinkled along his part. He looked noticeably older, even though Harry hadn’t been gone that long.

Snape backed off and looked Harry up and down with his brow furrowed. “You have gone native,” he uttered at the sight of Harry’s belted tunic with hand woven diamond trim and the matching hat Harry clutched in his hand, half covered by Severus’ cloak which he also carried.

“This was much warmer than what I brought. I traded the coat for it,” Harry explained. “They joked about getting me some reindeer, but said my skiing was still too atrocious and I would lose them.”

Snape smiled lightly then. “You are probably eager to get home . . .” he said, finally releasing him.

Harry nodded and they stepped away with Snape’s arm around Harry’s shoulder. Harry wondered if he were just misremembering his guardian after a month and a half, but he didn’t think so. They passed between a large pillar and the back of a display of nuts at the first shop and Snape halted them, took a half step back, and after a glance around, including the ceiling, Disapparated them to their main hall.

“So that’s how you got past security,” Harry teased. He glanced around the house; it was just as he remembered it, full of dark varnished wood and grey stone.

Snape said, “I took the liberty of allowing a few of your friends to invite themselves over this evening . . . if you are up for it, that is.”

“That’s brilliant. I’d love to see them.” With a glance down at himself, he added, “After a bath, though. And I should check in at the Ministry since it is only half past one.”

Harry’s heading for the bath was interrupted by Snape saying, “Your letters were tantalizingly short on detail. I would like to hear a bit more . . .”

“Sure.” Harry gestured at himself. “I’m dying for a bath, though.”

“It smells it.”

“Thanks,” Harry countered in a hurt tone, but he was laughing. It was too good to be home, and Snape’s frankness certainly didn’t detract from that. “How is Kali?” he asked from the doorway that led down to the bath.

“She is fine. A bit subdued. She is in Hagrid’s care today.”

“Oh good. Thanks for taking care of her.”

“It was no problem,” Snape answered softly.

Harry put a foot down the first step but turned again. “You aren’t really Molly Weasley using a Polyjuice potion, are you?” Snape’s fiercely disturbed expression answered for him. Harry muttered, “No, I guess not,” before he escaped down into the dimness of the corridor to the toilet.

The first tub full of water grew alarmingly dingy even before Harry got around to soaping much of himself. He drained that water and started again, wondering how he had grown so used to not bathing given how happy his skin was to be clean.

Harry hadn’t brought any clothes down. so he wrapped the bath towel around his waist and padded out toward his room, leaving damp foot prints on the stone floor. On the way, though, he found his bag still in the hall and decided to sort the gifts out of it for giving to his friends that night. As Harry crouched on the floor, wet hair sending rivulets of water down his neck and back, Snape came out of the dining room.

“Aren’t you cold?” he asked.

“What?” Harry replied, as he considered whether to give the reindeer meat to Ron or keep it. “No, not at all.” He reached farther into his bag and found the knife.

“You must be cold. There isn’t even a fire in the hall hearth.”

Harry stood, pulling the antler sheath off the knife to look at it more closely; it glistened and the edge looked quite sharp. “Severus, this is a house . . . it can’t not be warm.” He held out the knife. “Look at what they gave me,” he said.

Snape accepted the knife but did not look at it. He said, in the unmistakable tone of an order, “Get a housecoat on, now.”

Harry blinked at him in surprise. “Severus,” he uttered in disbelief.

In an equal tone of disbelief, Snape said, “You are making me cold. And I have on a cassock and a robe. Go.”

Not really hurt by being ordered in such a manner, Harry gave in. “All right.”

He returned shortly after dressing, wearing his ragged old Gryffindor slippers. His trousers had to be cinched at the waist with one of his old, smaller belts. He returned the fur-lined cloak to Snape. “I think I owe you a new one,” he apologized. As Snape looked the threadbare garment over, Harry added, “Thanks for letting me use it, though. I don’t think I’d’ve made it otherwise.”

Snape examined a long ragged tear that Siri had sown up. “How did that happen?” he asked.

“Oh,” Harry hesitated. “I’m not sure, but I think it was Tibet. I slid a long way down a slope, on the cloak fortunately.”

After a pause, “Tibet?”

“It’s kind of a long story,” Harry hedged. “Can I tell it to you after I check in at the Ministry?” he asked hopefully.

Snape failed to find an immediate response. He finally asked, “How did you get to Tibet?”

“I’m not sure it was Tibet,” Harry pointed out, starting to get impatient. “It could have been somewhere else in the Himalayas.”

This only dismayed Snape more. “How did you come to arrive in this place that you aren’t certain was Tibet?”

“That’s the really long story part,” Harry explained with extra care.

“I see,” Snape muttered. He stood and in a sudden change in topic, said, “While you are gone then I will fetch Kali.”

“Thanks,” Harry said. He wondered if Snape had decided that deferring understanding wasn’t such a bad idea.

At the Ministry, Harry interrupted the afternoon reading review session. The room erupted with noise that seemed far more than three people could produce as his fellows leapt up to greet him.

“Hey!” Aaron said, giving him a slap on the back. “Rumor had it you’d be back today.”

Harry looked past them to Rodgers, who stood beside the front table, wearing a displeased expression. “Sir,” Harry said in his most respectful voice.

“Potter,” Rodgers uttered. “Going to be in tomorrow?” he asked with a hint a snide.

“Yes sir.”

Using a tone that implied someone else was making him do this, Rodgers said, “Give him the reading list, someone.”

Harry’s heart leapt—he was still in the Auror’s program, and at the moment, he didn’t even care who’s influence it had been that had kept him in. After Kerry Ann wrote down the readings from memory, Harry quickly departed so as not to try Rodgers’ good will any more than necessary. The only thing Harry said as he departed was that they could all come to his place that evening.

Hoping his luck held, Harry then headed directly for the Minister of Magic’s office.

Later, when the Floo deposited Harry in the dining room, he discovered a serious deficiency of arriving that way—there was no door to slam. Furious, in a way he had not been in months, Harry stomped into the main hall after resisting tossing the fireplace irons across the room. He only carefully set down the jar of cloudberry preserves because he was certain that Hermione or Elizabeth would be happy to have it. His ranting attracted Snape from the drawing room.

“What is the matter?” Snape demanded, sounding uncharacteristically alarmed.

Harry stopped in the center of the floor, far away from the single lamp so as to not make it too easy to smash. “Belinda . . .” Harry began but was too stung to go on. Snape’s sigh penetrated Harry’s red thoughts. “You knew didn’t you? It’s been in the paper’s Crystal Ball column I suppose?” he demanded.

Snape ignored the tone that could have been construed to imply he was somehow at fault. “Yes. It was hard to miss given the lack of other things to print lately. I did not tell you because it could not have assisted you to know.”

“It would have saved an awful lot of embarrassment just now,” Harry countered, smarting from his confused response to Belinda’s dismissal of him when he arrived at the Minister’s area.

Snape crossed his arms. “Ah, your pride is all that is at stake, then?”

“No!” Harry argued, but immediately wondered if that was honest.

Snape glanced around the room as Harry continued to fume, and finally put his wand away; Harry hadn’t seen him take it out. “You are not having any difficulty with this anger?”

“No,” Harry said. He had learned to instinctively shut out the Dark Plane and hadn’t even thought of that in his rage. He felt around himself. The interstice was there but it was idle and quiet.

“Well, good,” Snape said in clear relief. “An interesting little test then.”

An interesting little test,” Harry mocked. “Thanks.”

Snape still refused to be baited. Calmly, he said, “I am indescribably pleased that you have control now. And besides, should you wish for meaningless companions, you are well positioned to have as many as you have time for.”

Harry stared at him. Was pride all that was bothering him? He rethought the confrontation of just minutes ago. Belinda had been smug and that had bothered him the most. “But she’s going out with Percy now!” Harry argued, cringing again as he tried to visualize that. “Says he’s nice and attentive,” Harry quoted, wondering now if that meant she hadn’t thought him to be so. “Doesn’t that bother you?” Harry demanded, thinking even Snape could see how disturbing that was.

“I am only pleased that you are better,” Snape stated flatly.

“Didn’t fancy having to lock me in a Hogwarts dungeon for the rest of my life, eh?” Harry taunted..

Quietly serious, Snape responded, “By far the least-disturbing choice available.”

This sober sentence brought Harry up short but to really get past the anger he needed a distraction. “I have to get ready for my friends,” he said. When Snape simply nodded, Harry stalked off up the stairs. At the top he leaned over the railing and stated, “I have total control,” in an almost dark voice. Snape’s unreadable gaze had lifted up to follow him. He didn’t respond, prompting Harry to assert, “I’m a master of the Dark Plane now too.” This statement flowed through him as though it were a spell. He could feel it even in his fingertips clutching the cold railing. “Those vile creatures stay away from this world now because they have to come through me to get in. And they are frightened of me,” Harry asserted, pointing at his own chest.

When Snape again failed to react, Harry pushed away from the rail and stalked into his room.

When Snape approached, a short five minutes later, Harry sat sorting through his Auror books, just removed from his Hogwarts trunk, marking his readings for tomorrow. Harry wished he hadn’t blown up like that and his unease made Kali circle his shoulders. “Sorry,” he uttered. “I actually am feeling pretty good, despite dealing with maddening Belinda. I’m still an Auror’s Apprentice, for example.”

Snape hadn’t moved, forcing Harry to look up at him. He didn’t look like himself, making Harry’s earlier accusation about Mrs. Weasley return to mind. Harry was beginning to suspect that the last month and half had been as hard for Snape as it had for him.

“I regret having been unable to help you myself,” Snape said.

“How could you have?” Harry said. “You don’t know . . .” he began, then stopped. “He took me there, you know, into the underworld, the Dark Plane, whatever you want to call it. I wouldn’t have expected you to know how to get there. I wouldn’t have expected anyone to know how to get there.”

After a pause Snape asked, “What is it like?”

Harry put his books aside and said, “It is all grey, even the sky, with these small hills of coarse grass and lots of twisted metal everywhere. And the creatures follow you everywhere. Shetani and shadowy glittering things that I’ve never seen in any book, and ancient werewolves . . .” Harry was stopped by the notion that Lupin could someday end up there. The thought made him cold all the way through. “But it is the edge of the plane . . . where there is a cliff. When you step off you are suddenly in the mountains. I think the Plane is closest there; that’s why I sensed the creatures on the train in Switzerland.”

Harry paused, thoughts far away. Snape didn’t interrupt his silent musings for a long time, but eventually he sat on the bed beside Harry and said, “I had no idea what Mr. Hossa might be able to teach you. But if it is effective at rendering you safe, I believe the ends justify the means.”

Harry neglected to mention that he had gone to the Dark Plane on his own the second time, garnering the wrath of said teacher at his impudence. “I don’t think he ever expected to teach this. He spent most of the time figuring out who I was. He seemed a bit fascinated by you too . . . knew you were a Death Eater.”

“I told him that in the letter to get his attention.”

“Oh,” Harry uttered, surprised.

“So you know as much as Mr. Hossa about the Dark Plane?” Snape asked.

“I doubt it. He just said he didn’t have anything more to teach me.”

Snape clasped his hands before him and stared down at them. “I am very pleased you are home, Harry.”

“Not as pleased as I am to be home,” Harry countered.

Snape’s lips curled a bit as he stood. “Your friends are most eager to see you, but given that you have training tomorrow, do try to make it an early night.”

“I will,” Harry promised, even knowing how hard that might be.

Snape turned at the door. “And if you should feel warm wandering wet in merely a towel, you are free to do so. It did serve to reveal how very much in need you are of a week of good meals.”

Harry plucked at his loose shirt. “I ate a lot, but I was out on skis a lot too. And I’m used to an Arctic hut, you know.”

“So your letters stated. They were not reassuring,” Snape pointed out.

Harry laughed. “I didn’t mean to worry you more. I just wanted to share what was going on.”

“And so I wished to hear. If you need anything, Harry . . .”

Snape still sounded very much unlike himself, but Harry didn’t want to tease him about it again. “Thanks,” he said instead.

Author Notes:

Harry's foolishness — Harry did not think ahead at all to returning and that the cold might be an issue. At worst, returning would be a luxury that would seem easily dealt with. And Per and Siri, while Harry may have learned to be a bit more circumspect in general while with them, were not going to cure him of being Harry. If they did, there wouldn't be anything left to write.

Marks — The marks were Per's, noting how many reindeer he'd gotten, presumably in wolf form. He was asking Harry how many dark wizards were on Harry's own marking pole at home.

Dark Plane — The Dark Plane exists just below Harry's feet so he has to invert himself into it. Stepping off the edge is just an absolute way of being forced between the worlds. I suspect that Per thought the edge exceptionally meaningful because that is how he figured out how it worked. The whole thing is bit fanciful on top of logical so spelling its function out completely is going to lead to literary trouble. The second mountain range was someplace with a high bowl like Denali that actually does have a cabin and a landing strip.
Harry's mastery — Maybe fast, but he only needed to learn that confidence in his power was all he needed. The power to open the gateway is equivalent to controlling it, but if you don't know this you are merely a victim of your own situation. Which is why after one visit Per kept testing Harry, assuming he would catch on. Per could have taken Harry for another visit at the end to be sure, but he is more blunt than hospitable and assumes Harry would like to get on with his life now that he is not a danger. If rushing this is the only serious problem the story ends up having, I'll be pretty happy, and maybe I can rework 8 to fix it.

Next: Chapter 10 — Home, Part II

Tonks replied, "We don't know, but I want to check. Bobbies found someone in the Docklands with, as it says on the note: a strange wooden rod in his cloak pocket, no apparent identification in his wallet but a note saying to call that number in case of emergency. And its the number for the Muggle Liaison desk here at the Ministry." To Mr. Weasley she said, "Note says whoever it was 'as been taken to the Royal. I can nip over and double-check in just minutes."

Chapter 10: Home, Part II
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter 10 — Home, Part II

“Good to see you, Harry,” Candide said as she came out of the hearth, almost the first guest. Hermione eyed her with interest as Candide then greeted Snape in what might have been a restrained manner. She handed Harry the triple layer collection of Honeydukes chocolates with a red ribbon around it. “I assumed you were probably missing these.”

Harry eagerly accepted the box. “Yes, thank you. Would you like something to drink?”

“Sure, something small . . . I can’t stay long.”

Harry glanced at his guardian, realizing that he didn’t know what the status was in this department, but Snape’s neutral expression gave nothing away and Harry led his guest to the drinks table in the main hall.

People began arriving in earnest after that and the hall filled with the pleasant rumble of conversation. Harry welcomed Vineet in from the front door. “You could have used our hearth,” Harry pointed out.

“I did attempt this. I was redirected to a very nice house up the street,” Vineet explained.

“Probably the Peterson's,” Harry said, as he hung Vineet’s cloak up on top of three others on the overloaded hooks. “Elizabeth, the daughter, is here. Where’s Nandi tonight?”

“Visiting with our mothers,” Vineet replied evenly.

It bothered Harry that he couldn’t read anything into that, positive or negative. “In India . . . didn’t she just visit last month?”

“If her mother were not willing to pay for these tickets, to make this trip she would not be able.” As they entered the noisier main hall, Vineet had to bend closer to say, “I am thinking the weather may have something to do with these repeated visits.”

“This feels like typical March weather,” Harry pointed out, thinking it wasn’t too bad, really.

“Precisely,” Vineet intoned.

Fred and Ron pulled Harry away then, through the many chatting clusters, undeterred by Harry’s attempt at doing introductions. “We just got it working, you have to come,” Fred insisted. “George is with Dad, just for this, rather than here.”

Harry was pressed down into a chair before the desk in the drawing room. Upon it sat something similar to a large crystal ball, although a badly scratched one.

“Look inside it, then,” Fred insisted, pushing Harry forward so his nose left yet another mark on the old glass. Harry squinted at something that seemed to be moving inside of the globe. The shape came into focus and Harry sat straight when he recognized Mr. Weasley. Fred leaned over Harry and said, “He wanted to welcome you home. Said he was sorry he was in a meeting when you stopped in today.”

Harry hadn’t actually gone to look for his department head. After his stop in the Minister’s office, he had forgotten. “Mr. Weasley?” Harry asked the exceptionally large-nosed vision of his friends’ father.

“Harry!” a very tinny voice said. “Good to, uh, see you my boy!” Mr. Weasley appeared to be getting as good a picture as Harry was, given his close squinting. “Everything all right, then?”

“Yes, sir,” Harry assured him, just as he had assured every guest that evening as they had arrived. This had inevitably been followed by assertions that he was better off without Belinda.

Mr. Weasley was saying, “Well, that’s just splendid, Harry, my boy. Do stop in as soon as you can at the Burrow. Molly’d love to see you and it is just too quiet. We’ve even let the gnomes move into the broom shed, just to get a little noise.”

“I will, Mr. Weasley,” Harry promised.

Mr. Weasley began to reply but the crystal sphere went blue and then clear, flickered in and out a few times with bright streaks, and then went clear for good.

“Aye,” Fred said in a very tired tone. “Well, you were finished, right?”

“Yes. That is slick. Did you invent that?” Harry asked while Fred carefully wrapped the crystal ball in black velvet and tenderly lowered it into a battered pink Muggle bowling ball bag.

“Yep, but it only works about a quarter of the time. Still working out the glitches and also getting the charms to stick long-term, and not cancel each other out . . .” He sounded worn down by the notion.

Ron said, “It’s ruddy brilliant and it’d be a real seller if you could get it working better.”

Fred tilted his head from side to side. He was wearing a violent purple smoking jacket with tails this evening which made him look like a showman. “Yeah, but I’m blasted tired of working on it. I think I’ll put it aside for a bit.”

“That put-aside cupboard of yours must be getting rather full,” Ron criticized.

“Hey,” Fred countered as he hefted the bowling bag. “Some of our best new ideas come out of that cupboard—usually on their own,” he added in tone of confession. To Harry he said, “Dad really does want you over for dinner.”

Ron added, “Yeah, he’s been making us right crazy with asking us if we’ve a new owl from you and how we thought you might be doing. I kept telling him it wasn’t worse than most stuff that usually happens to you.”

“No, it wasn’t,” Harry agreed, wanting dearly to put it behind him and return to normalcy. Maybe after this party everyone would return to treating him as they had before, rather than with the extra curiosity and side whispers he had been noticing early in the evening.

Harry left them packing up and returned to the drinks table only to discover that he had forgotten where he had put his cup. He retraced his steps around the room with some dismay. “Looking for this?” Aaron asked, grabbing up the burl wood Finnish cup tethered to Harry’s neck.

“Oh yeah, thanks,” Harry said. “No wonder I couldn’t find it.” He went back to the punch bowl and filled his small cup, drank it down, and filled it again before joining Aaron and his date as they discussed the upcoming Gryffindor-Hufflepuff Quidditch match.

Over near the door to the quieter library, Kerry Ann abandoned Vineet to intercept Fred Weasley, the only interesting male in the room who was reputed to be unattached. Vineet watched the house-elf creep in to hand a steaming mug, smelling tantalizingly of chocolate, to Hermione. Using this interruption as an opening, he followed the elf in.

Hermione was just closing her eyes with her nose over the mug. “No one makes a hot cocoa like Winky,” she reverently stated.

Vineet put his hands behind his back as a way of resisting a bout of chocolate jealousy. “Harmony,” he intoned with a small bow of his head.

“Hi,” Hermione said, gesturing with her mug. “Lots of interesting books.” She sounded as though she wished to excuse herself for hiding away from the party, but she couldn’t help continuing to peruse the shelves.

Vineet stepped over and looked the shelf up and down. “The collection is incomplete, I think.”

“Is it?” Hermione asked in surprise.

Flight or Fright, should be here beside Goldwing’s Duel or Die,” Vineet pointed out.

“Oh,” Hermione uttered. “I have to admit . . . I’m not as well read in offensive magic, more defensive . . . as well as general knowledge.” She lowered her mug to the small desk, careful to set it on the blotter. “Like these old Wizard Encyclopedia Albion Annuals. I don’t remember these here before.” She pulled one of the tall thin books off the bottom shelf and flipped it open. “Nineteen Hundred and Seventy Five, that was ages ago. ‘Harvey Meyers becomes the first assistant to the Minister in five years to survive more than six months in his position before he mysteriously disappears . . .’ Bad times, I guess.” She put the book back away, as though that long ago was not worth dwelling on. “It’s Vineet, right?”

“Few call me that, actually,” Vineet said, running his brown finger along a high shelf. “Usually I am called by Vishnu.”

“Oh, that’s a nice name,” Hermione said. “Why does Harry call you Vineet?”

“It is officially my name. I was mistaken in introducing myself in this way to him, perhaps.”

Hermione’s brow furrowed. “Is the other your dachnam or something?”

Vineet ceased his shelf browsing. “Yes. You know of such things?”

Hermione blushed lightly and shrugged. “I’ve . . . done a bit of reading.”

Vineet eyed the abandoned mug on the blotter and bit his lip before saying, “Harmony, you have been Harry’s friend for a long time, I think.”

Hermione replied, “A very long time, and my name isn’t Harmony.”

The evening wound on and the party was beginning to thin out. A glance at the clock showed it to only be 10:00, which meant that many people had responsibilities the next day. Harry wandered into the dining room. Snape sat at the table, apparently sharing a pot of tea with Hermione who stood beside the hearth. Harry, his feet unaccustomed to so many hours standing on a hard stone floor, sat heavily across from his guardian.

“How is the party?” Snape asked.

“’S good,” Harry replied. “People are going home early, though.”

“Fortunately,” Snape said, the flicker of the hearth making his expression unclear. “As it may be getting to be that time.”

“You think?” Harry asked in disappointment.

Snape sat back and turned his teacup in his long hands. “I expected that you would wish to impress Rodgers upon your return . . .”

“Yeah,” Harry breathed. “I do wish.”

Aaron came in then, arm around his date. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Bro. Good to see you again, Professor.” They were gone moments later. Even less sound came from the main hall after that.

“I have a question,” Harry asked Snape, thinking of Aaron’s arm comfortably around his date’s waist. “If you had to arrange a marriage for me . . .”

“If I what?” Snape interrupted. “How much of that punch have you consumed?”

Harry stared into his cup, still tethered to his neck. “I lost track.”

Snape appeared highly disapproving of this. He sighed and said, “Better mix you a dose of neutralizer before you go to sleep.”

“Thanks,” Harry uttered gratefully; he really did need to be at his best.

“Do not expect it next time,” Snape growled lightly. “But . . . you were in the middle of some bizarre question . . .”

Harry regrouped his thoughts. “Yeah. So if you HAD to arrange a marriage, who would you pick?”

“For you?” Snape confirmed sharply.

“Yeah,” Harry persisted.

Snape fell thoughtful a few seconds before replying. “I expect I would choose Ms. Weasley.”

What?” Harry uttered in surprise.

Hermione giggled and said, “That would go over well all around.”

“Why her?” Harry asked.

Snape crossed his arms. “Why not? Seems to tolerate you well enough.”

“Well, she’s like a sister, for one thing,” Harry countered.

“I also think she’d be a good match,” Hermione offered.

“Don’t you start too,” Harry complained before he glanced around, “Did Ron go?”

“No, I think he’s still here,” Hermione replied. “Ginny and he are very different, you know.”

“No, they aren’t,” Harry argued, sounding difficult.

Snape sipped his drink and retorted, “You did ask.” Eyes sharp he said, “Perhaps you were hoping for a different answer?”

Harry looked away. Maybe he had been.

After the few remaining guests had gone, Harry yawned and rose to go to his room. “Are you going back to Hogwarts tonight?” he asked.

“Others are covering until morning,” Snape replied. “I will go then.”

Harry smiled broadly at this news, making Snape glance away from his bright elation. “I’ll see you in the morning, then,” Harry said.

Snape stood as well. “I’ll mix you a bit of potion . . .”

Harry rubbed his forehead where a mild headache bit at him. “Thanks.”

Harry was sitting on his bed reading a bit more for training the next day when Snape entered, carrying a mug half-full of thick fizzing pink liquid. As he accepted the mug, Harry said, “Maybe I should have held off on the party. I barely skimmed tomorrow’s readings.”

“Rodgers cannot kick you out,” Snape stated.

“And you would know this, how?” Harry asked suspiciously.

Snape’s lips curled. “I work closely with a member of the Wizengamot, remember?”

Again, Harry found himself not caring that such influence had been brought to bear on his life. “Tell her thanks; will you?”

“Certainly,” Snape intoned. “And I think sleep will serve you better than reading more at this point.”

Harry closed the book on advanced distraction techniques and set it on the nightstand. When Snape moved toward the door, Harry said, “Thanks for everything.”

“Thanks are unnecessary, Harry,” Snape stated soberly.

Harry considered Snape as he stood in the doorway, worn robes lit both by the chandelier behind him and by Harry’s beside lamp. He had changed in Harry’s absence; he had mellowed and his hard edges were no longer sharp enough to cut. Harry too had changed, but he hadn’t yet figured out how, exactly. All he knew was that they had drifted apart and he couldn’t see how to pull them back in sync.

“Should you need anything, Harry . . .” Snape intoned with a dip of his head.

It was queer for Snape to be so outwardly caring yet feel more the stranger for it. “Sure,” Harry said.

After a long look Snape departed and a minute later the chandelier went dim.

- 888 -

The next day Rodgers treated Harry as brusquely as he had before Harry left and seemed resigned to his resuming Auror training. To Harry’s relief, he didn’t expect him to produce spells that Harry had missed, nor did he select him more than average to discuss the readings and Harry managed all right on that part, to his relief. His mind felt clear and uncluttered, and remembering what he had read the day before was unexpectedly easy.

The day passed quickly, bringing with it the wonderful feeling of a life back in order, and soon they were packing up their things to head home. Mr. Weasley appeared while Harry was chatting with Tonks, who had given him a very welcome hug upon his approach to her desk. It was Mr. Weasley’s slap on the back that really reminded Harry how little physical contact he had had during his time away.

“Everything all set, my boy?” Mr. Weasley asked.

“Yes, sir,” Harry said, unable to avoid dropping his eyes as he replied.

“Good to have you back. Things sure are busy around here . . . we could use the extra help.” With that and a wink he was gone.

“Don’t listen to that,” Tonks breathed when Mr. Weasley was out of range.

Harry merely snickered, too happy to be back in these surroundings to care if he were being teased and by whom, happy enough to be near Tonks that he found himself caring much less about Belinda’s breaking up with him.

Folded up on the desk was the Daily Prophet. Tonks scooped it up and opened to an inside page. With a mischievous glint in her eye, she asked, “The Regionals are coming up for London. Think I should enter?”

Harry stared at her dully. “Regionals?”

“Gosh, you don’t know? Harry, you’re the judge, aren’t you?” She quickly folded the paper and said, “Oh, only for the championship . . .”

Harry grabbed the paper away from her and read the article.

Free Field Filling Fast

The 1st Annual Demise of Voldemort Dueling Competition enters its first phase when the London Regional commences this Saturday at the Ministry of Magic Atrium. The Minister herself will introduce this inaugural competition. It is expected that the Championship judge, Harry Potter will make an appearance, as he has recently returned from a mysterious and previously unannounced retreat in the Far North. The finals will also be held in the Ministry Atrium on May 10th. Tickets are available at the Leaky Cauldron and all Gringott’s locations, or by owl to our offices here at The Daily Prophet.

“Wow,” Harry uttered. “Bones really is putting together a dueling competition.”

“It was your idea, wasn’t it?” Tonks asked as she took the paper back.

“Severus’ actually . . . he suggested it as a joke.”

“It’s brilliant,” she said. “Think I should enter?”

“Why not?” Harry asked.

She twisted her mouth and said, “I’m not really a dueler.”

“Yeah, but you’re an Auror, doesn’t that already give you an advantage?”

She looked up at him with a grin. “I’m pretty sure some others around here are going to be in that regional. You and me have a history, does that give me an advantage?”

“Uh . . .” Harry began, having not thought ahead to having to judge his friends, should they make it to the finals. “I would try to make it not,” he insisted.

“You’re no fun,” she teased.

“It has to be fair,” Harry asserted, unable to imagine a tournament that wasn’t.

- 888 -

That Saturday, Harry, and a surprisingly large number of others, made their way to the Ministry Atrium. Harry emerged from a hearth at the far end from where a dueling platform had been set up and had to weave through the audience filling the hall to get closer. Minister Bones stood off to the side, near the golden gate; she was reading a parchment and put it away then as though ready to start. Right beside the platform, the crowd was packed tightly and Harry had to push his way through. He was hurrying because he expected the Minister would be looking for him before she started.

“Aye thare!,” a middle aged witch in old maroon robes complained when Harry slid in front of her.

“’Scuse me,” Harry said. The witch’s eyes widened from annoyed to meek when he glanced back.

“Ah, Mr. Potter,” Madam Bones greeted him offhandedly when he finally made it to her side. Belinda already stood at Bones’ side. She glanced away, down at the papers she held, and then off over the crowd. The Minister spent undo time giving detailed instructions to another member of her staff regarding registration requirements, so Harry had far too much time to glance repeatedly at Belinda and attempt, unsuccessfully, to imagine her and Percy out on a date.

Their long, awkward moment ended when Bones stepped up onto the wooden platform and announced the opening of the First Annual Demise of Voldemort Dueling Tournament. As she spoke, a broad-shouldered figure gimped up beside Harry.

“Potter,” Moody muttered in a kind of greeting.

“Sir, are you competing?”

Moody snorted. “I’m judgin’”

The gathered spectators began clapping and Moody gave Harry a shove toward the Minister. Harry wondered, as he put his grimy trainer up on the polished wooden platform, if he shouldn’t have worn a bit nicer robes.

“Mr. Potter is deeply disappointed that he cannot compete, but that means the field is wide open for the rest of you. And . . .” With a flourish she pulled out a stack of note cards and waved them. “There are rather a large number of you wishing to claim the title of Britain’s best dueler. So we will have a long show for you today while we eliminate all but the toughest, fastest, and smartest of you all.”

She invited the competitors onto the platform and handed the introductions over to Moody. Harry tried to depart the platform with the Minister, but Moody clamped a hand on his shoulder and held him fast. Harry had to turn his head hard to see the whole line which ran the gamut from a stooped old man who must be well over a hundred and twenty, to a housewitch, still in her flowered apron, to a pigtailed girl who looked as though she should be just starting at Hogwarts next year. Harry glanced back again when he thought he recognized his trainer, and indeed Rodgers stood on the very end of the line beside one of the Weasley twins.

Moody went over the rules in a voice that sounded more threatening than informative. He finally released Harry when he selected two competitors for the first round. As he passed them, Harry gave Rodgers and the Weasley twin a wave. He wondered where the other twin was.

Harry spotted Mr. Weasley in the crowd and made his way over beside him. “Fred or George?” Harry asked.

“Fred.” Mr. Weasley replied and then leaned closer to whisper, “George is registered in the Wales/Midlands Regional. Used our cousins’ address to avoid one of them getting eliminated so early.”

The crowd howled in delight as the first pair—the little girl and the old man—simultaneously wrapped each other up in toffee. Moody waved the sticky sweet away and growled at them to start anew and warned that if they did it again, they were both disqualified.

As the competitors’ numbers were whittled down, few showed any real dueling ability and ones that did went through untouched until the final round where Fred and Rodgers faced each other. Real spells banged forth then rather than exaggerated pranks. The crowd made appreciative noises —and backed up a few steps—after Rodgers’ dome block sent Fred’s ice curse shattering to the floor and off the edge of the platform. In the end though, Fred could not hold out against someone who spent hours everyday drilling. Time was about to be called for a draw when Rodgers demonstrated that he had been holding back all along. He sent a polymorphic chain binding at Fred who didn’t recognize it and attempted a Charmer Counter probably because the chain did seem to snake a bit as it flew out of Rodgers’ wand.

Rodgers didn’t leave Fred in a helpless heap for long. Rather than wait for Moody to do the cancellation, as had happened after most of the rounds, Rodgers freed Fred and helped him to his feet.

The crowd cheered, most likely for the winner being determined rather than any acts of sportsmanship. Moody handed Rodgers a half-size brass wand on a chain with a tag attached upon which Moody used a spell to inscribe Reginald Whitherspoon Rodgers below the tournament name. Rodgers accepted the award with more delight than Harry would have expected from him. The crowd clapped again and the Minister returned, calling Harry back up just long enough to remind everyone to return for the Finals.

“Congratulations, sir,” Harry said to his trainer, and then turned quickly to say, “Good try, Fred,” to his friend, who merely mumbled something unintelligible in reply.

When Fred had joined Mr. Weasley, Rodgers, apparently still captivated by victory, gave Harry a quirked smile and assured him, “Easy win. Hope the Finals present more of a challenge.” He said this while holding the brass wand up by the chain and letting it swing back and forth.

Harry hurried home from the competition to see if his guardian had arrived yet. He had not, but Winky had put out chocolate biscuits and hot cocoa and the scent greeted Harry upon his arrival. Harry was looking forward to the next day’s lunch at the Evans’, idle thoughts of which lifted him lightly above the troubles of the last few months.

Halfway through the plate of irresistible treats, Harry finished reading the day’s Prophet and sorting the post. The Floo flaring preceded Snape into the room.

“Hey, Severus,” Harry greeted him. “I wasn’t sure McGonagall was going to let you off two weekends in a row.”

Snape put down the small trunk he carried and helped himself to a biscuit. “She was remarkably amenable. I think she may believe you to be in need of closer watching.”

“That’s not true,” Harry complained. “Everything’s fine now.”

Snape ceased nibbling and said, “I did not attempt to dissuade her assumptions, I must confess.” He picked up the post and tapped the nearly empty biscuit plate with the edges of the letters. “I see Winky is working to fatten you up.”

“Is she?” Harry said in surprise. He tugged at his exceptionally baggy shirt. “I suppose that is easier than buying new clothes.”

“They fed you there in Finland?” Snape asked snidely from the doorway.

“Yes, rather a lot. You should try five hours of Nordic skiing in one direction and five hours back the next day.”

The two of them had a quiet dinner with Harry absorbed in his far-behind readings, but asking Snape about anything of interest in the text. “So, it says here a repelling barrier rarely holds around a cursed object. But it doesn’t say why.”

Snape put down the two chunks of bread he had just torn in half. “I don’t believe a good theory exists to explain that. Magical theory is a spotty affair, you do realize.”

“Speaking of theory, I didn’t tell you that I tested a hover spell on the airplane.”

“Did you? And the result?”

“Worked like a charm.”

“Did it?”

Snape sat thoughtfully for a while until Harry said, “You missed the first Regional today at the Ministry. Rodgers won it.” When Snape responded only with a raised brow, Harry added, “Only Fred provided any real competition for him and not really that much, so he won easily.”

“Did he?” Snape confirmed in a tone that indicated he had changed the topic of his deep thinking.

“I think Fred was lucky Rodgers was in a good mood,” Harry opined.

The logs in the hearth shifted, throwing sparks into the room. “And the other twin?” Snape asked.

“Registered for a different Regional.”

“Still flaunting the rules,” Snape muttered.

“Does it really matter if it’s not your rules they’re flaunting?” Harry teased.

“They flaunt Ministry rules all of the time in that little shop of theirs. Those would be your rules now,” Snape pointed out in a deceptively mild tone.

Harry frowned and tried to pretend to be reading, but the book was not holding his attention. A little peevishly, he said, “You know, they won’t let me do anything at the Ministry, so I don’t think of them as my rules yet.”

“And when they are truly yours?” Snape continued to probe, which Harry wished he wouldn’t.

Harry put his nose closer to his book. “I’ll figure it out then.”

A minute later Snape said, “Some believe in allowing a little cheating. I find it leads to an uncontrolled atmosphere of poor behavior.”

“I’m reading about curse limitations here,” Harry pointed out.

Dryly, Snape said, “Rather slowly. You have been on the same page for ten minutes.”

Harry couldn’t deny that. “Want to play some chess?” he asked brightly, prepared to close his book.

“Your readings . . .” Snape commanded, tapping Harry’s book with one long finger.

“All right . . .” Harry breathed and redoubled his efforts at taking in the words before him.

- 888 -

Polly Evans’ small house, as usual, was overflowing with the scent of cooking and home when they arrived. The sight of the children gave Harry a painful twinge that he might have been isolated forever from all of this. Patricia’s husband stood to shake hands and Pamela gave Harry a hug. Basel, Patricia’s son, toddled up and handed Harry a toy rocking horse with almost grave seriousness.

“Thank you,” Harry told the boy as he shook off his cloak. He then took a chair near where he and his sister played. Snape sat on the end of the couch and considered the room with a hooded gaze. Conversation resumed and Harry noticed that Snape was drawing into himself.

Feeling he needed to make up for Snape’s lack of sociability, Harry launched into a long description of his trip to Finland. “So, I can ski rather well now and it feels downright warm here,” Harry concluded, holding back a frown at Snape’s continued reticence. It was almost as though Harry’s story had sent his guardian farther away.

Briar handed Harry a toy plastic goat during the silence, so Harry shifted to sit on the floor to play farm with the children, occasionally hiding toys or holding them out of reach in the hopes of inspiring some magic in the children to get them back, but he had no luck with this and the children were deciding he wasn’t a very good playmate.

Greg departed to run to the store for something and Pamela immediately moved to plunk down beside Snape. “How are things in the magical world? Can I see a spell?”

Even though she had asked this of his guardian, Harry took out his wand and said. “I learned this one this week. Repulsum Captum,” he uttered while drawing a circle in the air around a toy sitting on the table. “Try to pick it up,” Harry said.

Pamela gave it a try, but when her hand got close, the toy house moved away in a little burst as though magnetically repelled. She tried again, with a quicker motion and the house slid off the far side of the table onto the floor.

“Oops. Usually we use it on large, heavy things,” Harry explained.

Snape said, “I think that you have been doing so for practice because larger objects are harder to charm. Small objects one does not want stolen are the most common use for that spell.”

“Maybe,” Harry said. “It would be like our trainer to make learning something as hard as possible.”

“Aw,” Pamela sang in false sympathy and Harry was surprised to find Snape smiling lightly in the wake of it. She slapped Snape on the arm. “Let’s see one from you now.”

After a moment’s thought, Snape tapped Briar on the head with an Obfuscation Charm.

“She’s melting? Where’d she go or did you make her invisible?” Pamela asked. “Oh wait, I still see her . . . no I don’t.”

“This spell does not impart complete invisibility,” Snape explained, sounding as ever the teacher. “If one knows the person is present and concentrates, they can see the person just fine.” Pamela called for Briar to come over to her and had to use her hands a lot to locate the girl to pick her up.

“That’s a eerie one.” She stood up and carried the invisible girl to the kitchen. “Hey Patty, take a look.”

“Uh, oh,” Harry uttered.

Patricia stepped to the doorway and with some surprise, accepted the invisible, giggling burden. “Who did that to you?” she asked.

Pamela said, “I’m not telling.”

Patricia seemed a bit alarmed, even though Briar, from her conversation and giggles, was not. Harry stood and cancelled the charm. Briar re-melted into clear view and clapped her hands. “I hope neither of you turns magical,” Patricia said to the girl. “It’s hard enough keeping track of you when you aren’t.” She set Briar on the floor, where she quickly returned to her playing.

Pamela returned to her seat and said wistfully, “We missed a lot of fun growing up, I see.” To Snape she said, “So, how is teaching going?”

“Same as always. The students are unruly, uninspired, and unrepentant about doing poor work on their assignments.”

In a mock serious tone Pamela said, “But you keep trying anyway.”

“Yes,” Snape admitted quietly, and Harry thought he was unsettled by the unaccustomed teasing.

Lunch was being carried to the dining room and Harry jumped up to help. Minutes later they settled into eat and Harry enjoyed two heaping plates full of lasagna while listening to Pamela untiringly keep a conversation going with Snape. For once, Snape was putting some effort into his side of things, despite the lack of topics in common between them that were safe within earshot of Greg.

It wasn’t until Harry caught sight of Polly’s furrowed brow as she listened in on this conversation from the far end of the table, that Harry thought anything of it. He watched more closely then as Snape was saying, “The Board that oversees our school, for example, was influenced too easily in the past by the interests of a few, but now with these people gone, it is in a state of lethargy and the headmistress and I have been working out ways of injecting our own agenda into their discussions in the hopes of moving some things along.”

Harry expected this dry political topic to fall flat, but Pamela leaned in slightly on her elbow and said, “When it was manipulated before, what purpose did they put it to?”

Snape paused, presumably to formulate a Muggle-safe response. Harry let the bite on his fork go cold as he glanced between the two of them and attempted to overcome the sense that they were getting along startlingly better than they had been just a half hour ago. At Harry’s welcome-home party Candide had been distracted and hadn’t stayed long at all and had only cursorily interacted with Snape. After listening to Snape and Pamela’s continuing friendly conversation, including Snape’s highly unexpected outgoing contribution, Harry found himself sending a small helpless shrug at Polly, who he hoped wasn’t as unhappy as she looked.

By mid-afternoon, when Patricia began bundling her children in layers of outerwear, Polly seemed resigned, although the conversation had not gone beyond general amiability, but for Snape, that was odd enough. Harry found himself shaking the notion that something was possibly budding between his guardian and his cousin. Pamela was just curious about magic, Harry argued to himself regarding her extra attention to Snape.

But when they arrived back in their own hall, Harry heard himself say to his adopted father, “You were having a good time.”

Snape turned sharply, his boot scraping on the stone floor. “What of it?” he asked, clearly defensive in an instant, which spoke volumes.

Harry, careful not to appear to backpedal, said casually, “Well, last visit you were baiting Pamela terribly, not exactly cruel, but pretty close.”

Snape hesitated as he formulated a response. “I wasn’t in the mood to be bothered,” he finally said and headed for the stairs.

“Bothered with what?” Harry asked, pursuing him.

Snape turned at the bottom of the stairs and said, “Muggle females. Overly curious ones who are inspired by what they see as a challenge.”

Harry took this in and instead of arguing on the merits said, “You use that Legilimency a little too much.”

“Don’t you?” Snape countered.


“Really? I find it almost always useful.” His tone turned against Harry then. “I cannot imagine working in the Ministry without knowing what was going on around me. Nothing is on the surface there.”

“It is with Mr. Weasley,” Harry argued.

“Well, consider yourself fortunate to have him, then. Honestly, you have never used that skill at the Ministry?”

Harry gave in trying to steer the conversation and thought back. “Once, accidentally with Minister Bones.”

Snape seemed intrigued. “Learn anything useful?”

“That she likes me well enough but is mostly very happy I’m not opposed to her.”

“Very useful information,” Snape pointed out.

“I suppose. It’s not fair to people to do that all the time though. You aren’t at risk anymore, Severus,” Harry argued to Snape’s back, because he was now heading up the stairs.

At the midway point Snape turned and said over his shoulder, “Survival habits can be very hard to break.”

By the time Snape reached the balcony, Harry remembered the original topic. “But what about Pamela? Polly didn’t seem exactly pleased.”

Snape leaned over the railing to say, “There is nothing with Pamela except an unexpected possibility and unlike you, who must supposition, I know Mrs. Evans is displeased.” He leaned away and then back again to add, “And I know Pamela would be pleased to have displeased her so.” Then he was gone.

“Wonderful,” Harry muttered under his breath.

Harry went to his own room and took out his nicest parchment to send a thank you letter to Per and Siri. His gratitude flowed easier now and he was glad he had waited to write the letter. He also wrapped a box of Weasley Wizard Wheezes Fruit Metamorphos Sweets in brown paper for Hedwig to take as a present, but when he collected his owl out of her cage she didn’t hold out her claw for the package and nipped him instead.

“Hey,” Harry chastised her. “This is hardly the first time you’ll have made this trip,” he pointed out to her. “And this will probably be the last time.” Her head bobbed a few times but she still didn’t hold out her claw. Harry pondered this unusual behavior. “Do you want me to address the letter to Siri?” Harry asked. When Hedwig tilted her head as though interested, Harry put the letter in a new envelope with a different address. Hedwig took the delivery this time without hesitation.

After finishing his post and faced with the prospect of poorly defined worry, Harry went to the door of the drawing room and asked, “So is anything up with Pamela?”

Snape’s shoulders fell in annoyance. “Nothing at the moment. Probably nothing ever. What is this leap to conclusions about?”

Harry stepped in and would have dropped into the chair before the desk, except it held a pile of large parchments. “I just don’t want you to upset Polly, is all.”

Snape lowered his quill and straightened up from the document he was working on, although his hair still hung before his face. “I do not intend to put your extended family at risk of wishing you had never entered their lives. Besides, blood relatives cannot be lost so easily.” He bent forward again and muttered, “Believe me, I know.”

- 888 -

Tuesday’s training still hadn’t started and it was already a quarter to nine. Aaron and Kerry Ann sat joking and exchanging prank spells while Harry stared off into the distance, wondering again if Belinda had really meant everything she had said when Harry had stopped in to see her after his return, or if some of it was just anger speaking.

“Someone should check, perhaps, what is going on,” Vineet suggested without looking up from the book he held open before him.

“I nominate Harry,” Kerry Ann chimed in.

More than willing to be distracted from his thoughts, Harry shrugged and went down the corridor to the office. It was empty, as was the file room. Growing more curious, Harry wandered down to the department head’s office. Mr. Weasley was sitting with his feet up on his small desk with a report open before him. He quickly sat up normally when Harry greeted him. “Harry, my boy, what can I do for you?”

“Do you know where everyone is? Rodgers and Tonks aren’t around, nor is Shacklebolt or any of the senior apprentices.”

“Hm,” Mr. Weasley huffed, put the report down and passed Harry in the doorway.

Harry moved to follow but jerked his head back to glance at the report which was entitled, Magical Threats Post-Voldemort. To his displeasure he didn’t have enough time to read even a sentence of it, since Mr. Weasley had turned around to see if he were following. They reached the office and Mr. Weasley was just confirming for himself that the whole staff were absent when Tonks came flying down the corridor from the lifts.

She looked frantic and her spiked hair drooped raggedly. She held out a parchment for Mr. Weasley, who read it with his brow lowered. Harry leaned over a little to try to see. The title line read, Muggle Liaison Office followup request to telephone call of 8:27 a.m. “Why the panic?” Mr. Weasley asked.

Tonks said, “Reggie kept that office number in his wallet, and he hasn’t come in yet this morning, and there’s no word from him.”

“Something happened to Mr. Rodgers?” Harry asked.

Tonks replied, “We don’t know, but I want to check. The police found someone in the Docklands with, as it says on the note: a strange wooden rod in his cloak pocket, no apparent identification in his wallet but a note saying to call that number in case of emergency. And its the number for the Muggle Liaison desk here at the Ministry.” To Mr. Weasley she said, “Note says whoever it was ’as been taken to the Royal. I can nip over and double-check in just minutes.”

Mr. Weasley handed the note back. “Tone down the hair and take someone with you.”

Harry tried to appear available. Tonks looked through him as she said, “Fetch Kerry Ann; will you?”

“Sure,” Harry said, feeling let down as well as worried about their trainer, even as little as he liked the man personally.

Kerry Ann bounced to her feet when Harry explained the little he knew. From the doorway, Tonks said. “Harry, you too. The both of you,” she looked at Vineet and Aaron, “Go man the office with Mr. Weasley, just in case.”

Aaron, who moments before had been jesting, immediately fell serious and obeyed.

Tonks said, “I picked you two to come along because I know you have Muggle clothes with you. Change and let’s go.”

The information desk at the Royal London Hospital was not cooperative in helping them locate one Fred Bloggs. The overly made-up woman insisted that they speak with the police if they had information. Tonks was about to launch into something sharp, when Harry tugged on her sleeve. She allowed Harry to pull her aside, where he said, “I know whom to ask.”

She gave him a coy look and said, “Your Legilimency is getting as good as Severus’. Lead the way.”

Harry went to the directory to find the right department and they rode up in the lift in their own silences. The nurses at the station outside the lift were more than willing to give them a room number.

As soon as Tonks opened the door, after receiving no answer to her knock, she breathed, “Oh, Reggie.”

In the first bed the Auror trainer was lying unconscious with a pale sheen to his skin and unusually deep-set eyes. His roommate was intently watching a loud television and didn’t even look over at their entrance.

Tonks pulled the curtain to separate the beds and leaned over Rodgers. “Reggie,” she prompted, shaking him lightly. He didn’t look capable of coming around, but his eyes cracked open and zeroed in on Tonks. “Still with us?” Tonks prodded. At Rodgers’ weak nod, she straightened and said to Kerry Ann, “Go over to Mungo’s and arrange for an ambulance transfer.” Kerry Ann appeared a little doubtful, but headed out. Tonks said to Harry, “Stay with him. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” She started away but then turned and whispered, “Consider yourself on guard.”

Harry pulled over a chair and sat beside the bed. He tossed his cloak over his shoulder and held his wand before him under it, ready for use. Rodgers’ gaze found its slightly unfocussed way over to Harry. “What happened?” Harry asked.

Rodgers raised his hand to rub his eyes. A thin tube was taped to the back of his hand. Harry traced it up to a plastic sack of liquid above the headboard. “I’m not sure,” his trainer admitted. He narrowed his eyes as though lost in memory and said, “I was investigating a call about some silent fireworks in the abandoned Titan warehouse. I heard some strange noises and when I stepped inside a Blasting Curse hit me. I didn’t even see anything move. I got a block up for the second one but it was the hardest one I’ve ever had to counter. And then another one came . . . and another. I couldn’t see a target and decided to beat a retreat.” He hesitated then, eyes unfocused as though he were back at the scene he described. “I got outside behind a hunk of equipment and tried to Disapparate. I don’t remember anything after that.”

Rodgers stared at the ceiling, his sunken eyes pink. Harry unexpectedly found himself feeling sorry for the man.

Tonks returned then, with Mr. Weasley in tow. Harry had started to pull his wand around, but hadn’t revealed it. He put it back away. Mr. Weasley leaned over the other aluminum rail on the bed. “All right there, Reginald? Who got the best of you?” he asked, sounding his most caring self.

Rodgers hmfed wryly. “I didn’t see who hit me. And I couldn’t seem to hit anyone back, even though I threw some serious spells in the direction of the attacks.”

“Not just cloaked?” Tonks chimed in.

“They didn’t move,” Rodgers insisted in annoyance. “I can hit someone in a cloak who isn’t moving between casts.”

Mr. Weasley patted Rodgers shoulder. “Well, we’ll get you to St. Mungo’s and get a fuller report there.”

Harry followed the two of them as they arranged to fill in many crinkly thin white sheets of Muggle paperwork. Finally, they wheeled Rodgers to the garage where an antique, but well-kept ambulance, waited. It had long, gleaming chrome horns on the roof and resembled a large old London cab except that it was white. The orderlies loaded the patient and then walked around it, pointing at the whitewalls and brass oil headlamps in astonishment.

Mr. Weasley rode inside, leaving Tonks and Harry behind. They walked around the garage until they were out of sight and Disapparated back to the Ministry. Tonks didn’t speak, just went to her desk and with hard-set features, began filling out a report. Moody was also there now, intent upon something on his desk. Harry hovered beside Tonks’ desk a minute before returning to the workout room and filling in his fellows, who were quizzing each other out of the assigned readings.

Figures stepping rapidly down the corridor drew all of their attention away from that and down to the office where Shacklebolt and Munz had just returned. Shacklebolt held out curved broken pieces of orange ceramic. Tonks took one of them and turned it in the bright light from the ceiling lamp.

“Found it near where Reggie was picked up. I think we have it all this time, so I was going to piece it together.” With a clink Tonks set the piece back into his broad hands.

“Don’t use magic to put it together,” Tonks said. “There might be some residual charm on it.”

“What is it?” Aaron asked. Harry had held back and was glad his fellow had dived in and asked.

“We still don’t know,” Tonks said, returning to her report. “But we keep finding them in suspicious places.”

Mr. Weasley returned. “Ah, Kingsley,” he said, sounding haggard. “Find anything?” When Kingsley held up a piece of the object he was reassembling with the help of a bottle of Almers glue, Mr. Weasley was at his side to take it up. “So we can tie this to Merton, then,” he said idly.

Tonks looked up sharply.

“Who’s Merton?” Harry asked.

The room had grown a little tenser. “Someone we’ve been wanting to talk to but we can’t seem to find,” Tonks replied.

“His first initial ‘M’ as well?” Harry asked, feeling as though if he didn’t receive an answer he might get extremely angry, now that he was free to.

“Maurdant,” Mr. Weasley supplied. “Maurdant Merton, perennial trouble for years and years. Collector of unique objects, who isn’t above stealing them when the owner refuses to sell or be coerced into giving them up. When we aren’t investigating him, he comes in and raises a stink about someone he doesn’t like. He’s taken up new lodgings all of a sudden and we don’t know where. Every time we get close we find some inexplicable things left behind.”

Shacklebolt held up the patchwork object, the grey glue still oozing from the seams. Mr. Weasley gingerly took it. It was bulbous with three lobes melded together in the middle and three opposing fluted extrusions not unlike a vase might have. The main body wasn’t much bigger than a crystal ball. “So, what is this?” Mr. Weasley asked rhetorically.

“Give it to Harry,” Tonks suggested when the room remained silent.

Mr. Weasley seemed mildly surprised by this suggestion but gamely gestured for Harry to come take the specimen. Harry, curious, but also aware of all the eyes upon him, approached their department head and reached out to take the orange object. Before his hand got close he felt a queer shiver run through him and he pulled his hand away. That retreat wasn’t enough though; as if a channel had been opened between himself and the object, his chest buzzed with a queer vibrating alarm. Harry must have stepped back because he bumped the cubicle partition, knocking down a pinned up photograph of Shacklebolt's dog.

“Harry?” several voices said in concern.

Harry focused on the object held in Mr. Weasley’s hands. He couldn’t imagine how the man was surviving that. “Put it down,” Harry insisted in alarm.

Mr. Weasley did so, setting it on Shacklebolt’s clean desk. “Harry?” Mr. Weasley prompted.

“It’s evil,” Harry explained, but that didn’t seem to cover it. Most cursed objects radiated their dark power with the personality of their spellbinder. This strange thing felt mindless, like a machine, but at the same time malevolently powerful.

“Harry?” Mr. Weasley prompted again from much closer, although Harry hadn’t noticed him approach. With him stepping between Harry and Shacklebolt’s desk, the effect snapped off and Harry drooped, limp with relief. Mr. Weasley surveyed the others in the room as though looking for advice. “Maybe no one should touch it without dragonhide gloves or metal gauntlets on. You all right, Harry?”

Feeling his face heat up at all of the odd attention he had attracted, Harry said, “Yeah.”

“Well, fortunately Reggie is going to be all right . . . should be out tomorrow, in fact, although I told him to take a few days off. Moody and Munz, can you two work out handling the junior Apprentices until he gets back?” He didn’t wait for a reply to this before departing.

Moody heaved himself to his feet and led them back down to the workout room. Kerry Ann said, “We can do our reading review . . . that’s what we’ve been doing in fact.”

“How about drills?” Moody growled.

“Not today yet,” Kerry Ann admitted.

“We’ll do some o’ those then.” Moody then uttered something that made Harry’s bones ache in unpleasant memory. “Potter, you up here in front. Two others o’ you pair up there.”

Harry pulled out his wand before even returning to the front of the room.

“You disappointed me last time you were up here, Potter. And you’ve been gone. Getting out of practice, I’ll wager.” He tapped his wand on the ring on his hand as he spoke. “Let’s see how bad the damage is then.”

He threw a chain binding that Harry dissolved with a combination fire curse and blasting counter. They weren’t spells he had ever used together before; they had simply flowed out of his wand as though it was natural for them to.

Moody lowered his wand. “That was interesting,” he said.

“Thank you, sir,” Harry said, taking that as a compliment.

“Overconfidence, Potter,” Moody growled and Harry guessed what was coming as soon as Moody’s wand started turning in a circle. Harry had the counter ready and actually had to wait to cast it.

Jabbajabba,” Harry calmly incanted just as the maroon ballooning beast emerged from Moody’s wand.

It popped like a giant bubblegum bubble, momentarily leaving jagged maroon splotches on the walls and ceiling. The other apprentices, rather than running their own drills, had stopped to watch this unexpected duel.

“You asked your dad about that one, I suppose?” Moody asked.

“No,” Harry honestly answered and then declined to explain further.

Moody huffed but returned to drilling normally after that, before finally switching off to work with Kerry Ann instead.

Harry felt a bit like he had won his own Regional dueling competition.

Author Notes

Thanks for the Britpicking. Would not have thought the perfect tense of "get" would be different.

Next: Chapter 11 — Tangled Webs

Mr. Weasley pulled out an old stained, booklet with the title Dark Wizardry's Dementia and flipped through it. "Have you in the last three months considered or acted out magic that would do harm to another whom you disdained?"

"Greer," Harry replied, feeling perhaps too honest for his own good.

"The Potions professor at Hogwarts?"

Chapter 11: Tangled Webs
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter 11 — Tangled Webs

Harry’s training continued to be chaotic until Thursday when Rodgers returned, looking a little run down and moving stiffly and slowly.

“How are you, sir?” Kerry Ann was the first to ask.

“Mostly here,” Rodgers returned in a tone clearly intended to deflect sympathy.

Aaron asked, “Was someone getting even for losing in the dueling competition, do you think?” This suggestion had been floated around in the Department.

Rodgers replied, “If he or she were that good they should have just won it outright. I’m not sure what the motivation was. Let’s get into some real training, though. I have a meeting and some paperwork to attend to as well once you are set on the new spells this morning.”

He taught them some new blocks, which were not on the agenda—dome-surrounded crystalline blocks that were extremely hard to produce because they were really two blocks, one inside the other. Despite his stooped posture, Rodgers patience was higher than normal and he worked meticulously with each of them for most of the morning, only mentioning once in a stab at being snide, that he would have expected Harry to have mastered it on the second try. His attempt at being difficult came off so badly, that Harry actually felt more sorry for Rodgers after he had said it.

They worked on the new spells by themselves until Tonks came in and told Harry that Mr. Weasley wanted to see him. Oddly, she followed Harry down to their department head’s office and even knocked on the door before Harry had the chance.

“Ah, Harry,” Mr. Weasley said graciously. “Come in, have a seat. Shut the door.”

There wasn’t much space in the office with the door shut, since visitors usually sat half in the corridor. Harry managed to sit only by propping his knee up against the closed desk drawer. Mr. Weasley clasped his fingers together in his lap. On top of his filing cabinet, his gloves did the same. Harry noticed how much older Mr. Weasley looked with his hair thinning away to nothing on the top of his shiny head.

“I need to talk to you, Harry, about the issues that drew you away so unexpectedly.”

“I’m sorry about that,” Harry said truthfully. “If I’d been a little more honest with myself, I could have given you more warning.”

“It isn’t the lack of announcement that matters at this point,” Mr. Weasley clarified. He fell silent and looked around his desk. Harry was used to silences now, but didn’t expect them from Mr. Weasley. Releasing the corner of the folders that he had lifted, Mr. Weasley finally said, “It’s like this, Harry. There are concerns about your sudden attractiveness by dark creatures and I-”

“From whom?” Harry interrupted.

“Uh, it doesn’t matter who initiated the investigation; it is an organizational issue now.” Mr. Weasley rearranged folders on his desk for no purpose.

Harry sat back; he had thought that he was clear of this. Someone had used influence, in fact, on Rodgers to keep Harry in the program. The likely candidates for that influence were Minister Bones herself and McGonagall working through the Wizengamot. Someone else with influence was still working against his presence, apparently.

“What do I have to do?” Harry asked.

“Just go through this interview with me,” Mr. Weasley answered reassuringly. “Others tried to insist on conducting it but I pulled rank, so to speak, as your departmental superior. On the other hand if my report isn’t sufficient, the issue may not be put to rest.” He pulled out a scribbled note that Harry couldn’t read due to handwriting that may have been done while flying top speed on a broomstick. “So, Harry, I need a list of the dark creatures you have encountered. Severus provided a few to me, although I don’t think he realized it would end up in an official report. He said his research indicated that you were seeing Shetani, Lethifolds, and Rakshasas at least.”

Harry replied, “I don’t know the names of all the things I saw. There were shadows of vampires and at least one decrepit old werewolf. These other small things like sea creatures but with human mouths . . .” Harry cast his mind back to his walk alone through the Dark Plane. “Lots of other shadowy things and small things like black mice with spider’s legs.” Harry shrugged. “I don’t know what else. There were too many to pay close attention.”

Mr. Weasley looked concerned as he wrote out just the things that were identified by name. “Dementors?”

“No.” As Mr. Weasley wrote that out specifically, Harry asked, “What is the Ministry worried about?”

“The obvious, I should think. That if you show signs of dark wizardry that you shouldn’t be in the employ of the Ministry . . . at the very least.”

“I’m not a dark wizard,” Harry said, half laughing nervously. He said that now without hesitation, partly from living with Per for six weeks who, while capable of traversing the underworld, was clearly not evil. “I just have this weird skill.”

“I know you’re not a dark wizard, Harry, but my vouching for you only goes so far. People are still nervous, almost more nervous, even with He-Wh— Voldemort gone.” He put the quill down and sat back. “Word’s traveled around that you are quick with that wand at picking up even the toughest spells and that you aren’t short on raw magical power.”

“That should make people happy,” Harry pointed out. “I’m trying to be an Auror, here.”

In a calming tone Mr. Weasley said, “I know that, Harry. Anyone who knows you at all, knows that as well. But not every last wizard in this Ministry is so confident and some of them carry the burden of not doing enough last time and that makes them overzealous.”

Fudge, Harry thought to himself. “What else do you need to know?” he asked, glad to have identified the enemy.

Mr. Weasley pulled out an old, stained booklet with the title Dark Wizardry’s Dementia and flipped through it. “Have you in the last three months considered or acted out magic that would do harm to another whom you disdained?”

“Greer,” Harry replied, feeling perhaps too honest for his own good.

“The Potions professor at Hogwarts?”

“She said something very cruel,” Harry elaborated, jaw clenching even now. “I wanted to wall her up alive inside her classroom.”

“She said something very cruel to you?”

“No, to Severus.”

“What did he do?”

“Nothing. Told me to put my wand away.”

Mr. Weasley scratched his nose and peered at his pamphlet. “Let’s see, A. Physical Harm or permanent disfigurement. No. B. Verbal threat of A or another dire action.

“I didn’t say what I wanted to do,” Harry provided.

“No? Well, that’s good. C. Curse placed upon subject or subject’s descendants. Not that either. D. Destruction of subject’s property or business interests. E. Torture until subject relents. No. I guess that one doesn’t count, then,” he said. “That was the only time? No evil thoughts targeting anyone else?”

“I certainly don’t like Lucius Malfoy very much.”

“No one does,” Mr. Weasley said, flipping the pages of the pamphlet. “What would you do to him, if you could?” He asked this rather conversationally.

“What I really want is a chance to duel him,” Harry explained honestly although he sensed Mr. Weasley’s easy tone as a kind of trap. “Be across from him on a platform and really show him that he isn’t made of much, even if he is a pureblood.”

Mr. Weasley considered Harry a moment before saying. “I’d pay to see that. You haven’t been plotting to kill him though?”

“Only if he shows up at my house.”

Mr. Weasley put the pamphlet down with a slap of his hand. “Harry, if he shows up at your house, you have my permission to make him wish he were dead.” He didn’t release Harry, though, after this pronouncement. He stared at the battered photographs pinned to the wall over his desk of the many Weasley children at various ages, all waving vigorously or performing acts of mischief upon one another.

Harry waited, wondering what was going through Mr. Weasley’s mind. While he waited, Harry flipped his hair behind his ear off of his face; he really needed to get it cut.

Finally, Mr. Weasley said, “Harry, there is no doubt in my mind that you are as kindhearted and humble, frankly, as you always have been. Those Muggle relatives of yours didn’t leave you much of a legacy, I don’t think, but they did make you very aware of what it feels like on the bottom of the pile, and that’s important for someone destined to have too much power.” He pulled out a report form that had the words Official Inquiry printed across the top. Harry forced himself to breath deeply. Mr. Weasley dipped his pen and said, “I just have to figure out how to write that up to convince everyone else.”

“And if you can’t, what will happen then?” Harry asked, wondering where his own state of calm was coming from.

“Someone else will probably interview you.”

“Like whom?” Harry wanted to be prepared, didn’t want to get caught unexpectedly before a more strident questioner than Mr. Weasley.

“Alastor, perhaps . . . he’s roundly considered to be paranoid enough to judge anyone with a critical eye. Worse case, would be the Wizengamot itself, I should think, but you have a lot of allies there.” Harry realized with a prickle on his arms that he had been feeling too secure over the last week and wondered what he had been thinking. Mr. Weasley said, “You can go. I’ll do the best I can on this.”

“Thanks, Mr. Weasley.” Harry stood but held off on moving the door latch. “Has Severus been drawn into this?”

Mr. Weasley didn’t look up from neatly filling in the form. “No, not that I know of. I’ll be honest and open with you, Harry . . . I think he could easily be, mostly because it is detrimental to your case.” He did look up then. “Keep your nose clean, Harry.” Here he pointed at Harry with the quill. “And keep that temper of yours in line.”

“Yes, sir.”

A subdued Harry ate his lunch quickly while the others talked. He wandered into the Auror offices to see if Tonks was there. She was, but she, Rodgers, and Shacklebolt were having a discussion around Rodgers’ desk in the far corner. Harry, figuring this for a secret discussion, turned to go, but Tonks waved him over.

She said, “So, Harry, we are deciding on which applicants to accept for testing this year.”

“Applicants?” Harry echoed.

“First, we have to decide if we are going to have any at all,” Shacklebolt pointed out.

Tonks argued, “Shouldn’t we offer the test and see if there isn’t someone we would want no matter what? That’s how it was done for Munz and Blackpool. We didn’t have a set number of Apprentices in the past.”

Harry blinked at her, stunned at the notion that he had been at this long enough to see new Apprentices coming in.

Rodgers said, “We took four only to make up numbers, and honestly we can’t handle six.” He sounded extra tired as he said this, and no one argued.

Grinning too much, Tonks held up a sheaf of applications before Harry and said, “What do you think of this applicant?”

Harry squinted at the tiny writing on the familiar grey parchment form. “Ginny?” At that, he took the stack away from Tonks and read over the application. Her responses read pretty standard, only really boasting where she mentioned having a flying Animagus form and fighting in the final battle against Voldemort. “What did Mr. Weasley say?”

“He hasn’t seen it yet,” Shacklebolt explained.

Rodgers rubbed his eyes and looked up at Harry, “What do you think his reaction will be?”

“Er . . .” Harry tried to imagine it. “I . . .” Really, he thought, any reaction seemed plausible. Mrs. Weasley on the other hand . . . “I don’t know. I think he’d be all right with it. Molly Weasley though might not be so sanguine.”

Shacklebolt sat back in his chair. “Hadn’t thought about that.”

“Are you considering inviting Ginny to apply?” Harry asked.

“She has the application that looks the most like yours did,” Tonks teased. “But if we aren’t planning on accepting anyone, we shouldn’t invite anyone to apply.”

“In the old days, we did that all the time,” Shacklebolt argued. “Everyone knew that they had to convince us to let them in.”

Rodgers said, “I agree with Kingsley. Last year was an exception and, because it was more open, the number of applicants went up enough that we didn’t need to drop our standards to fill out even a large cohort.”

“Harry?” Tonks questioned, apparently looking for support.

Harry shrugged. “I guess make it clear that you are back to being extremely selective when you send out the examination invitations.”

Tonks tapped her fingers on Ginny’s application. “And we’ll deal with this if we have to. If we don’t have testing this year, we can skip dealing with this.”

Harry said, “I don’t think Ginny’s N.E.W.T.s are going to be sufficient anyway. But she might manage if she really wants to get in,” he added quickly, because it felt wrong to be so negative about a good friend.

- 888 -

April brought not just the long-awaited promise of spring to the air, it also brought decent weather for Quidditch. Harry met his friends in Hogsmeade, most of them already heavily into the cask-aged mead. Ron put a chummy arm around Harry and said, “Good to see ya, Harry. Good to see ya.”

Harry waved to Madam Rosmerta and said, “I think I need to catch up.”

Hermione said, “I wouldn’t try.”

“Hermione’s a spoilsport,” Ron complained.

Hermione rolled her eyes. Harry changed the topic. “How are the trolls, Ron?”

“Good,” Ron assured him, while rocking unsteadily on his feet. “Too good,” he pronounced soberly seconds later. “Sometimes I think they are smarter than we think.”

Harry started in on his own mug of mead and found that the first sip explained the state of everyone here. He held the stone mug angled into the light to peer at it better. “I think this stuff would burn,” he said.

Hermione giggled. Ron just looked at him oddly as though he were being stupid. Dean came up then, looking ready to burst. Ron interrupted him before he could talk. “You’re late,” he accused the other.

“I was at the Devon Regional,” he said in excitement. “Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.” He leaned in conspiratorially and said, “Draco Malfoy lost in the final round to a total unknown. He was livid. I thought he was going to curse the judge and he might have if it hadn’t been Whitley, this old retired Auror. Guy was strictly regs, which messed up Malfoy as you could imagine. Deducted a whole point, he did, for Malfoy spelling out of turn even though it was blocked all right.”

“So who beat him?” Hermione asked.

“Some little guy named Vogle. Never heard of him but he was fast with his blocks. Had to be, the field was much better than the London Regional.”

“Wished I’d seen it,” Harry said, feeling the spirit of the thing from Dean’s excitement. “Speaking of which, we should go up and get seats. It’s getting late.”

They needn’t have worried as the match didn’t start on time. Madam Hooch marched between the gates of each of the changing rooms and stopped before the Gryffindor one with an impatient posture and chatted with someone inside.

Aaron arrived then and everyone made space for him beside Harry. “Thanks,” he said. “I must say that about Gryffindors, you are all deathly polite. Have I missed anything?”

“Not yet.”

The teams, Hufflepuff on the far side and Gryffindor on the close, were finally coming out, leaving little puddled footprints on the soaked spring field that positively glowed in the intermittent sunlight. The players took flight and circled once before falling into formations. Harry looked for Ginny and found her, tying her hair tightly while steering her broom with her knees.

“Ginny really likes your broomstick,” Ron leaned over to say. Harry noticed then that he had snuck a full mug of mead in under his cloak.

Aaron chuckled and then cleared his throat. “Sorry.”

“What?” Ron queried.

“You brought more mead,” Harry said, hoping for a distraction.

Ron grinned broadly and toasted Harry in the air. “Yeah,” he said with pleasure.

Aaron nudged Harry with his elbow and gave him a knowing glance.

“Knock it off,” Harry grumbled.

Aaron leaned in closer. “You don’t find someone else, Witch Weekly is going to run another essay contest.”

“Don’t say that,” Harry pleaded.

Hufflepuff put up a long fight, but in the end lost the Snitch while they were only down one goal. Ginny shook the Hufflepuff captain’s hand, then bounced over when she spied her mum and dad just coming out of the stands, and received a hug from each of them.

Someone tapped Harry on the shoulder, distracting him from somewhere farther away than he realized. It was Aaron. “Going back down to the pub?” he asked.

“Yeah, sure.” Down on the pitch when he spied the teachers ducking under some low-hanging bunting above the steps leading up to their seating, Harry told his friends, “I’ll catch up.”

“We’ll wait,” Aaron said amiably, and they all stopped in the middle of the pitch to chat in a spot of sunlight.

Harry congratulated the Gryffindor team as he passed by them, waving off a blown kiss from the Seeker, Louisa, a freckled blonde with very short hair. Harry hoped he wasn’t blushing as he greeted headmistress McGonagall, who was wearing a wide-brimmed, pointed hat.

“Did you have a good week?” Snape asked when he came up beside.

Harry, thinking of his questioning by Mr. Weasley, hesitated before replying, “It went well enough.”

Snape’s gaze narrowed sharply, but any further questions he may have had were cut off by McGonagall linking her arm through Harry’s and stepping away, asking, “How are you settling in, my boy?”

“Very well, thank you,” Harry replied, glancing back to see if his friends were following. Snape and the other teachers were—Snape with his hands linked behind his back, cloak tossed over one shoulder.

McGonagall was patting Harry’s hand, making him wonder if mead were served in the teachers’ section. “You may come use our library anytime, Harry, you know that.”

“Yes, Professor, I know that.”

Harry didn’t get disentangled from her until the castle steps when he insisted he had to join his friends.

“Owl,” Snape commanded before stepping away.

“Have a good week,” Harry offered before turning to catch up to the others.

Aaron talked Quidditch all the way down the lawn to the path beside the lake, sparking a friendly argument with Dean and Ron.

“Slytherin is back,” Aaron insisted. “They beat Ravenclaw right out last month. Gryffindor is still too undisciplined on defense and we’ll take them out too.”

“Yeah, we’ll see about that,” Ron grumbled.

Back at the Three Broomsticks, which had grown very crowded, the group of them took their mugs out onto the street at Harry’s suggestion. Hermione hadn’t said a word, letting the boys carry on about Quidditch with a doubtful expression as though it confirmed something in her mind.

Harry wandered around to her. “How was your week?”

She shrugged. “Pretty good . . . and yours?”

The attack on Rodgers hadn’t been made public so Harry, despite wishing to, couldn’t share his concerns. “It was an odd week. But I can’t talk about it.”

“I know what you mean,” Hermione said, sipping from her warm cider.

Harry spied that the billboard before the newsstand had the evening headlines on it. He bought a copy of the late edition and brought it back over. “Thought I’d read about Malfoy’s defeat,” Harry told his friends. On page two he found the announcement and began reading, “Two of the Regionals for the Annual Dueling Competition have run their course and the second was more exciting than the first, with four nearly-matched contenders battling ‘til the end to see who would carry the honor of going on to the Finals. When the last spell had been cast, the favorite, Draco Pentheus Malfoy fell in the Cornwall/Devon Regional to another more worthy contender, Wesley Armanily Vogle. The remaining two Regionals will be held in the upcoming weeks and we are all looking forward with high anticipation to the Finals which will culminate the Demise of Voldemort Day festivities. The Ministry of Magic would like us to remind you that private bets over ten Galleons are strictly prohibited vis-à-vis a law handed down from the Wizengamot just one month ago today.

“Like we have that much to put on a silly duel,” Ron complained.

“Duels aren’t silly,” Harry said. “How come you didn’t enter?”

Slurring slightly, Ron said, “I can’t even beat the twins. It didn’t make sense to air that fact in public. I thought as long as one of them wins, it’d be all right. George can still win it.” He gestured with his mug laughing, “Or Fred can try again . . .”

“How much would you be willing to wager on that?” Aaron smoothly asked.

Ron, rather than be offended, fell thoughtful, shook his pocket, and said, “Two Galleons . . . no three.”

They shook hands as the rest of them laughed.

“So,” Aaron said to clarify, still holding Ron’s hand. “We are betting three Galleons that one of your twin brothers . . . no keep it simple . . . one of your family will win?”

“Yeah,” Ron blurted.

Aaron pulled out his wand. “You don’t mind if I seal that, do you.”

Ron blinked. “No, go ahead.”

Aaron tapped their joined hands and repeated the bet. “I have a policy of sealing all my wagers—saves enormous annoyance.”

“You could take Ron on his honor,” Harry said.

“I’ve seen that spell save any number of friendships,” Aaron pointed out.

“Only among Slytherins,” Hermione commented quietly.

Harry glanced at the time on the tower above the Hogsmeade branch of Gringott's and almost dropped his beer. “I have to go. I have field shadowing in five minutes.” He handed his mead to Ron, who accepted it easily. He didn’t even wait to hear everyone’s goodbyes before rushing into the pub to Floo home for a hurried dose of fizzy pink stuff. As he stood in the before the small mirror over the sink, letting it work and halfheartedly combing his hair, it became apparent by the contrast after it took effect that perhaps he had had one too many. He quickly mixed another half dose, checked his robes and cloak, checked for his wand and Disapparated for the Ministry.

In the Auror’s office, Harry, at a run, found Rogan waiting. “Sorry,” Harry breathed.

Rogan stood and put his cloak on quickly. “Don’t make a habit of it.”

“No, sir,” Harry agreed.

In the corridor Rogan stopped and turned. “How much mead did you have? You smell like the Hogs Head.”

“A bit, but I’m completely sober now,” Harry insisted.

“Fortunately not every weekend is Quidditch weekend,” Rogan muttered. “Let’s go down to the Docklands this shift. And keep an eye out.”

- 888 -

The keystone above the large rotting delivery doors read 1814. The doors were abandoned portals to a derelict warehouse which stood in a row of similarly half-rotting buildings just on the edge of the sound of the bells. Almost no one came up the street, along which blew random newspaper pages and plastic bags, and even should someone happen to wander by, the tenants were most careful to not give any outward sign that they were lurking within.

The old oak beams of the first floor were leaden with silencing charms, which made it possible for the most fitful occupant of this place to pace at will, which is what he was doing at that moment.

Maurdant Merton wasn’t a tall man but he walked like someone who was. He had wild greying hair that he had stuffed under a moth-eaten beret. His tweed coat had once been very stylish but he wore it now against the chill. They could only run the kiln on rainy nights to avoid notice and ironically the sun had been shining for three straight days, so it was cold.

“This takes too long,” Merton complained and turned his displeased gaze on the other occupant of the large room, a smaller, Indian man with light brown skin, a disproportionately round belly and constantly moving eyes.

This man obsequiously replied in an accent, “There is nothing for it. It just takes time.”

“Perhaps if we could run the kiln . . .” Merton started to say.

Impatiently, the man interrupted with, “That would not help. We have plenty of suitable vessels. We have solved that problem.”

“And our guest is still no help?”

The Indian fidgeted a bit before answering. “He is some. He is some.”

“I want to do more,” Merton ranted and resumed pacing. “This inaction after such success is maddening. There must be something . . .” He stopped again, sending dust into the air with his quick turn. “Perhaps another guest . . . someone who can provide more power?”

The Indian frowned and pointed out pragmatically, “Our current guest cooperates because he does not know any better. An uncooperative guest could be trouble.”

“There must be something. I want to show them another demonstration . . . watch them struggle pathetically to understand something so very simple at its core.” He drew himself back from this joyful reverie. “Tell me what you need and I will get it. Many people owe me favors or will simply do as I wish. I have much to offer people in trade because like the man who has found the one most valuable pearl, I have no need of my collection of trinkets anymore.”

“We need time, really.”

“I don’t want to wait any longer,” Merton growled. “The time is ripe.”

- 888 -

Harry left the Ministry by one of the telephone boxes and walked in the sunshine to meet Hermione. His friend had sent an insistent owl earlier telling him that he must meet her for dinner. Her owl nearly bit him when he hesitated responding while he thought about his plans.

The walk did Harry enormous good. The streets were full of other Londoners getting a touch of sunshine after the long winter. By the time he arrived at the small restaurant Hermione had specified, Harry thought he was ready for anything.

Hermione ordered drinks for them both after the waiter seated them and then made a shooing motion to the waiter’s back as he departed, as though to hurry him away. Leaning forward over her clasped hands, she said, “I need to talk to you.”

“I’m here,” Harry said.

“I need to talk to you about Vishnu.”

“What about him?” Harry asked, feeling less ready for anything all of a sudden.

“So, I’ve owled him a few times-” Hermione began.

“You have?”

“Yeah, he seemed very nice at your party and you’ve never said anything bad about any of your fellow apprentices . . . So, I figured, why not?”

Their drinks arrived, for Harry just in time. “Hermione, you do realize he’s married.”

She didn’t spit out her drink as Harry expected, just sipped at it calmly. Harry took a gulp of his.

A tiny bit patronizingly Hermione said, “I figured that out, Harry.”

“Why are we discussing this, then?” Harry suddenly disliked white tablecloths over glass tables, especially turned diagonal like these were.

Hermione paused before going on, her face set as though considering things from many aspects. “I thought I could talk to you.”

Harry tilted his head back to look at the dark blue paint over the mechanics of the uncovered ceiling, the ducts, beams, and electrical pipes for the lights. “Hermione, this is such a bad idea.”

“Harry, in an awful way, I’m really, really happy.”

Harry gazed at her incomprehensibly. He had received no sense of anything amiss from Vineet. “Have you . . . been getting together?”

“No. Just owling.” She didn’t say this defensively, more . . . melancholy.

Harry waved away the waiter who came to take their order. The man took one look at Harry’s face and closed his mouth on whatever follow up he was going to give and moved to check the next table. Calming himself, Harry said, “Has he given you any indication? Are you misreading things, perhaps?”

In an honest voice that now sounded exactly like his old friend, Hermione said, “That’s actually what I wanted to ask you.” She stirred her drink with her straw. “I brought the letters, but I don’t want to show them to you. I’m too embarrassed.”

“I don’t want to read them, anyway,” Harry said.

She speared the olive in the bottom of her martini, then plucked it off the straw with her teeth. “Harry, don’t you think that there is this person out there, just for you?”


Harry felt strangely numb and when the waiter looked their way, he waved him back over and ordered the first thing his eyes fell upon. Hermione didn’t open her menu. “I’ll just have a hamburger,” she said.

The waiter executed a small bow. “Yes, madam.”

When he was gone, Hermione asked, “Was there one on the menu?”

Harry shook his head. “I don’t know.”

“I thought you’d be a little more helpful,” Hermione said quietly. Harry attempted a response but was too slow, because she added, “You’re too perfect, you know. No wonder you go through girlfriends so fast.”

“This isn’t about me,” Harry came back with an edge.

“Sorry,” Hermione said honestly. “I’m upset.” Then a minute later: “I feel cheated.”

“Hermione,” Harry began softly. “He’s married, forget him.”

“You are almost the only person who says that. The women I work with say the opposite.”

In a harder tone Harry returned, “Stop talking to them, then. Right now, no one is hurt. There is nothing going to come out of this but hurt.” Harry shook the ice in his glass. “I wish it were Thursday so I could get drunk.”

“Sorry,” Hermione said again.

Harry felt something inside relenting in the face of that repeated honest apology. “I understand, Hermione, really. You see someone you really think is right and you just can’t have them. I’m sorry you have to go through that. I’m not trying to be anything but a friend here.”

Hermione’s eyes had grown bright as Harry spoke. “Have another drink—I’ll walk you back to your place after dinner.”

Hermione nodded, apparently afraid to speak. By the time their food arrived, she was halfway back to being herself and asking how his training was going.

“Since you can keep a secret, I’ll tell you one,” Harry offered to take her mind off things.

She smiled finally and said, “What’s that?”

“Ginny applied for an Auror apprenticeship.”

“Oh no!” Hermione blurted.

Harry bit through a shrimp and dropped the tail on the edge of his plate. “What’s wrong with that?”

“She’s only doing it to get closer to you.”

“Hermione, I don’t believe that. That would be pretty extreme . . . if only because it means she actually has to study for her N.E.W.T.s like a demon to even have a chance.”

Hermione conceded, “There is that. True, that is a stretch.” Then more quietly, she muttered, “Like Ron that way.”

Hermione didn’t really need an escort home, but Harry walked slowly with her anyway until they found a good alley from which they could Disapparate directly to her flat.

Hermione shucked her coat in a dismissive fashion and pushed her piled up post aside on the table.

“You going to be all right?” Harry asked.

She shrugged while she leaned over the chair. “Yeah. Thanks for going out on such short notice.”


She ran her fingers over her coat. “Well, it’s late and you have training. I’ll see you later.”

“Owl if you want to talk again,” Harry said. She nodded for a reply and after a long wait to see if she spoke, Harry Disapparated for home.

His own house was deathly quiet when he arrived. He went up and woke Kali to have her in his lap as he sat on his bed and took a glance at the readings he was supposed to have done, hoping to learn at least one fact he could spill forth the next day. But despite the agitation from his dinner with Hermione, his head nodded and soon he curled up in his clothes, Kali nestled against his chest.

Harry woke groggy the next morning, stiff from the cold of not being under the duvet and sticky from his day-old clothes. A quick wash-up and change helped a lot as did coffee and soon he was yawning in the corridor at the Ministry and wondering what in the world he was going to say to Vineet.

Harry sat down in the desk beside the Indian, who looked the same as he always did. Rodgers came in right then, so Harry had to hold off. At lunch, similarly, they weren’t alone and Harry wasn’t in the mood to pull his fellow aside and confront him. In the end he wondered what he was going to confront Vineet with; Harry hadn’t seen the letters.

Distracted during a round of afternoon drills, Harry’s counter failed and that left him with a bruised elbow from smacking the wall as he flew into it. After that he put Hermione’s problems from his mind as counterproductive to worry over without a better understanding of them.

Field shadowing went along quietly the next day as Harry followed Shacklebolt around while he questioned people in the area of the Docklands where Rodgers had been attacked. They were both dressed as Muggles and Shacklebolt was pretending to be journalist. Other than his difficulty remembering to click his ball point before it would work, he pulled this off all right. Harry, given nothing else to do, tried a little Legilimency on the people they talked to, but he got nothing but concerns about wayward daughters, overdue rent, sick parents, and a headache for himself.

Saturday, restless and wishing he had confronted Vineet, if only to settle his own nerves, Harry went to visit the twins’ shop as a much needed distraction.

“’Arry!” One of them said, coming around from doing invoices at far too small a desk behind the counter. The female shop clerk gave Harry a glowing smile. “Come on upstairs, Harry, Verity can watch things alone for a bit. It will get crazy later, but it is early still.”

Harry followed up the unlit, uneven staircase. The twin knew it well and had to stop and wait at the top. “Hey, George, Harry’s here.” When a mad scramble ensued inside the workroom, Fred said, “Don’t worry about that stuff . . . Harry’s not going to say anything about it.”

Harry had reached the top where Fred was holding the door only cracked open. “Give him a minute. How are things with you? You dating our sister yet?”

“No,” replied. “Why would you ask that?”

“She wanted to know how much trouble one might get into using a real love potion. The real kind, not that pale substitute the kids brew when they think no one is looking.” He peeked inside. “It’s clear.” He led the way inside.

“Ginny wouldn’t do that,” Harry asserted as he stepped inside. A complicated arrangement of glass tubing bubbled and steamed on the heavy table in the middle of the room. Boxes lined the walls, stacked to the ceiling, making the room cramped. Harry wanted to be distracted from his concerns about Hermione. “So, are you working on anything I can try out?”

Later, sporting a sour stomach and full pockets, Harry made his way back out into the sunshine. Fred leaned out the upper window and gave Harry a shout goodbye. Harry waved back and threaded his way between the shoppers who had stopped stock still upon recognizing him.

At home, Harry put away his collection of sweets in the box where the others from Christmas were kept. He hadn’t touched most of those either, even though he could clearly remember a time when they would have been among his prized treasures. The gum bombs, Harry separated from the others in a small tin since they sizzled when he put them down.

His things organized, Harry settled into the dining room with his books and felt the oppression of the quiet house. He was very glad his guardian was coming home that weekend. He hadn’t the weekend before and Harry had missed him. Now Harry dearly needed someone to talk to and there wasn’t anyone else to which he could air this dilemma.

That evening, the Floo’s activation brought Harry from his barely productive reading. Snape was in a bright mood, a strangely bright mood, but Harry was too tangled up in his own problems to wonder about it for long. Snape sat down to sort through the large stack of post, and Harry sat across from him, resting his chin on his fist to watch.

Snape looked up from a letter he was slashing open with a shining blade and stopped. “Something the matter?”

“Yeah,” Harry replied, plucking up an empty envelope and fussing with it. “Hermione dragged me out to dinner this week and wanted to know if I think Vineet likes her. At least I think that was what she wanted to know.”

Snape returned to his letter. “And the problem is . . . ah, he is married, is he not?”

“Yes,” Harry muttered.

Snape read for a minute. “Not really like Ms. Granger to make such a mistake.”

“No, but I think she’s smitten.” Snape paused to survey Harry, but didn’t comment. Harry said, “I feel bad for her.”

“There is an anti-love potion. Shall I write out the recipe for you to send to her?”

“How long does it last?”

Snape again resumed slicing letters open. “A week perhaps.”

“Maybe, then. And on top of that Ginny sent in an Auror’s application and Hermione thinks she is just trying to get closer to me.”

This garnered a doubtful tilt of the head. “Her N.E.W.T.s will not be good enough.”

“Still, it’s the thought.”

“So you haven’t been out today? You have been moping about, worrying over things you have no control over?”

Defensively, Harry said, “This morning I went to Diagon Alley . . . got caught up at the twins’ place.”

“Then you have not heard the news,” Snape asked.

“What news?” Harry prompted, sitting up.

Snape reached into his pocket and pulled out a half-sized brass wand on a chain and set it on the table. Harry gaped at it and picked up the tag, which read Newcastle Upon Tyne & All-Parts-North Regional — Severus Prince Snape.

“I didn’t even know you were entering!” Harry complained. “They better not disqualify me from judging, otherwise I’d have been in the competition.” More forcefully, Harry insisted without forethought, “Keep an eye out, someone may want revenge.”

“Mr. Vogle has not had anything befall him, has he?”

“Not that I’ve heard.” Harry was grateful he didn’t ask about Rodgers. He picked up the brass wand again to study it. “Why didn’t you say you were entering?” Harry asked a little hurt.

“I thought you would come on your own to watch, in all honesty.”

“I was thinking of it, but I got tied up. How did it go?”

“Only one serious challenger and that was Tertius Ogden.”

“You beat Tertius Harry-you’re-a-pathetic-substitute-for-Dumbledore Ogden in a duel and I missed it?” Harry complained.

Snape was about as amused as Harry had ever seen him. He seemed to be trying not to laugh. “I didn’t realize you referred to him thusly.”

“Yeah,” Harry confirmed. “What’d you hit him with?”

Snape glanced at the clock and stood suddenly. “I can give you a full recount later. As amusing as your As the Wizarding World Turns difficulties are, I do not wish to be late.”

Harry had to follow him to the hall and up the stairs to ask. “Late for what?”

“A date,” Snape replied from inside his room. Harry stood considering that until Snape returned a minute later wearing a better shirt. He followed to the entryway cupboard where Snape took out his dress cloak.

The preparations seemed not quite right. “With Candide?” Harry asked.


Harry’s stomach did a queasy little flip. “With whom?” he asked, feeling doomed just asking.

Snape shot him a knowing look rather than reply and plucked up the tall collar on the cloak to make it stand straighter.

“You aren’t,” Harry uttered. It was the best he could do.

“I’m not what?”

“You’re not going out on a date with my cousin.” Harry wanted to make that some kind of demand but it was a statement of dreary fact instead.

“It is just a casual date, Harry.”

Harry thought that had to be one of the most unexpected things to hear Snape say. “Does Polly know?”

Sounding vaguely patronizing now, Snape replied, “Yes. Her sanctioning is not required in any event.”

“What time are you going to be home?” Harry then asked, sounding methodical and very much not like himself.

Snape paused and gave him a long look that seemed on the verge of a glare, but simply replied, “Ten.”

“All right.”

Snape Disapparated and Harry stood alone in the entryway, feeling not all that well. He stomped out the door and almost didn’t wait for traffic to pass before transforming and leaping into the air.

It had been a long time since his last meaningless flight around his house. The wet wind still flowed cool enough over him to refresh his furred and feathered limbs. Unsure where to go, he circled over the village with its miniature grid of street lamps and its sparse necklace of tail and headlights leading to and away from it. The sun was just completing its setting and the clouds at the horizon were ablaze with orange and pink. Harry thought that maybe he should have taken the bike instead. He circled once again and decided that this physical effort was more distracting. He lowered his head and flapped madly north.

Flying wasn’t distracting Harry nearly enough. He turned at the edge of a city and drifted back southward, using an updraft to hover and work on his fine steering control, a skill that suffered from lack of practice; without it, he grew tired too quickly on long flights.

Too soon the Shrewsthorpe train platform was beneath him again, lit more brightly than anything around it. Harry landed in the dark square of their garden a hundred yards away and went in the back door, not feeling much better than when he had left.

He tried to study; he tried to reorganize his books; he wished he knew where Ron was tonight. He considered that he could Apparate to the Burrow and ask. He was just thinking that this might be the best course of action, when the doorknocker sounded.

Harry had thought that the evening had reached its limit on romantic difficulties, but he was mistaken; in the darkness of the front garden stood Candide.

“Sorry to just pop in, but I wanted to speak to Severus.”

“He’s not here,” Harry said and then because he dearly wanted anyone to talk to, said, “But come on in for a spot of tea.”

“Oh,” she hesitated. “Thanks Harry.”

“What are you doing home on a Saturday night?” she asked as she hung her cloak up and put her hat and gloves in the cupboard herself.

“I was just trying to figure that out,” Harry explained dully.

“So where is Severus?” she asked.

Harry had no desire to lie. “Out on a date.”

This brought her to a halt in the hall. Harry stopped beside the staircase and turned. “Oh,” she said. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Harry confirmed.

“You . . . don’t sound happy about it?” she probed with mixed feeling coming through.

Harry took a seat, wishing for hot cocoa, and expecting that would induce Winky to bring some. “Everyone’s gone mad this week. My best friend has fallen for a married man, apparently, and all of a sudden doesn’t have the sense I thought she did. My other friend may be trying to become an Auror because she is still holding a candle for me.” Talking felt very good, and her sympathetic surprise kept him going. “The other friend that the first friend is smitten with, I don’t know what is up with him. I couldn’t bring myself to confront him. I don’t even know if he’s done anything wrong and that all of this isn’t just in the first friend’s head.”

Hot cocoa appeared in a sparkle and Candide pulled the closer mug to her nose. “Love makes people pretty stupid—especially impossible love.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed and sipped his beverage. “Did you want tea?”

“No, I wanted this, thanks.”

“Good. I should have asked. But . . . Winky usually figures it out, anyway,” Harry commented distractedly.

“Haven’t you ever been in love, Harry?”

“All the time,” Harry heard himself answering.

“Really? Where’s this lucky girl?” she teased, glancing around.

Harry smiled wryly. “Not here,” he answered wistfully.

“Don’t tell me she’s married too.”

“No. My boss.”

Candide shook her head. “So even Harry Potter can’t have who he wants.” She lifted her cocoa mug for a toast. “To unrequited love.” Harry halfheartedly joined the toast and Candide said in consolation, “You know she probably isn’t any good in bed anyway.”

“No, she is,” Harry replied, and then suspected the cocoa of having been cask-aged. Although, given how much lighter his heart felt after saying that, he didn’t want to take it back.

Harry,” came the highly chastising comment. “Better not let the Press get wind of that.”

“It was before she was my boss,” Harry argued.

After a long pause Candide asked, “Is she good looking?”

“Who, Tonks?”

“Severus’ date . . . or haven’t you met her?” She downed half her mug then, even though the question came out rather smoothly.

“No I’ve met her.” Harry pictured Pamela. “Ordinary looking. You hoping for a grotesque hump or something?”

“Something,” Candide confirmed.

Drearily, Harry stated, “She’s my cousin.”

Candide froze. “Really?” she asked a bit bleakly.

Harry nodded. Same as with Hermione, he was on horrible footing, having little clue as to what had recently transpired between the two of them. He had to ask even though it was disloyal to. “Severus isn’t . . . cheating on you or anything?”

“No,” she replied easily. “We’ve just been getting together as friends.” Currents underlied the tone she used. She flipped her mug around between her hands. “While you were in Finland, Severus was miserable, and it seemed to do him good to drag him out for a pint or a cup. It was a good thing you made it back as soon as you did.”

“I’m always very hard on whoever is my parent,” Harry glibly offered but it came out sad. “So, nothing is up between you and Severus?” Harry asked, wondering if there was an out here somewhere for this thing with Pamela.

“At this point in my life, accepting less than everything doesn’t make any sense.”

Harry pondered that. “He doesn’t want to get married.”

“He doesn’t want to get within a hundred miles of the topic,” Candide corrected with an air of bitterness.

After a long silence, Candide said, “A date. He’s really on a date?”

“Came as a shock to me,” Harry asserted and they both chuckled. He picked up the brass wand that still lay nearby on the table and said, “This was a surprise too.”

She accepted the thing with curiosity and Harry explained, “Severus won one of the Dueling Competition Regionals.”

“That’s wonderful,” she said brightly, reinforcing Harry’s belief she really did care for Snape. She put the wand back down and rested her hand on it for a moment too long. “Well, I shouldn’t be here when he gets home and I shouldn’t stretch your very kind hospitality.”

“That’s all right . . . I needed someone to talk to,” Harry admitted.

She took out her pocket canister of Floo powder, waving off Harry’s offer of theirs. “Anytime, Harry, really. And I’ll leave it up to you whether or not to tell Severus I stopped by.”


She was gone. Harry fetched one of his books and with a fresh mug of cocoa, began reading in earnest. He was still at it when the blast of green flame hit the hearth and Snape reappeared.

After he removed his cloak, he spied the second used mug and asked, “You had a guest?”

You had a guest,” Harry clarified a little stiffly, which he hadn’t intended.

After a pause, Snape said, “Ah,” before taking his cloak away. He returned and sat down.

“How was it?” Harry asked.

The tiniest of shrugs answered this, and Harry knew from his expression that he wasn’t going to say anything. Harry returned to his book, wishing it were just a little later so he could go to bed.

“Would you like a game of chess?” Snape asked.

“I have to do my readings,” Harry replied without looking up.

“Hm,” Snape uttered with an insinuating lilt. “At least you are turning the pages this time.” He got up and left.

Harry sighed loudly, finished the chapter, and went to bed.

Author Notes

There will be a 2-week delay before Chapter 12. Have to work out some plot line/time line issues. Plus, learning Flash is sucking up literally all of my time, not to mention, melting my brain.

Next: Chapter 12
"No, Albus never did. So what have you been teaching that boy?"

Snape laughed. "By 'boy' I assume you mean Harry . . . and lately, I have had nothing to teach him that would do him any good."

"No dark magic spells? I know you have mastered rather a large number of them over the years. I know that because I've seen you use them myself"

"I have never taught Harry a dark magic spell."

Chapter 12: Power Play
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter 12 — Power Play

Rodgers was feeling well enough the next week to drill against each of them while they worked on the advanced double blocks he had shown them the week before. He tired easily though, and eventually stood off to the side offering advice. Their training schedule was now seriously out of sync, but no one mentioned that fact, especially not Harry, who was getting a chance to catch up on his readings.

“It should be more like a Diamona than a Chrysanthemum, Kalendula,” Rodgers critiqued. “You have almost no vertices on the inner block.”

“I can’t do both at once,” she said. “They are too different.”

“Keep trying,” he replied.

Again Vineet sent a mild blasting curse her way and parts of it reflected around inside between the inner and outer blocks before fading.

“Wickem, now you and Potter.”

Harry held a deep breath when the first curse came his way. He hadn’t been doing much better than Kerry Ann, and discouragement was starting to seep into his attempts. Rodgers repeated demonstrations made it clear that it was possible to layer a crystalline block inside a dome. As each mild curse arrived, Harry easily blocked with a wavering, warped Chrysanthemum that was really one bizarrely twisted dome rather than two layers like it was supposed to be. His wand simply didn’t want to emit two different block forms at once.

“Still not getting it, Potter. You need to produce the inner before the outer block, as I’ve said countless times, I’m certain.”

Harry wondered if two wands might work better. He imagined he held two in one hand and produced the crystal form of the Chrysanthemum out of one and then pretended to focus the dome out of the other. A solid structure appeared around him in the form of glowing rods and a shimmering dome. Aaron dropped his hand rather than aim another curse as Kerry Ann ooohed.

“Much better,” Rodgers complimented Harry. “What was different?”

“I pretended I had two wands.”

“Whatever works,” Rodgers stated tiredly.

During lunch in the tea room, Harry—when Kerry Ann headed off to pick up dress robes on Diagon Alley and Aaron needed to renew his dangerous magical pet license—found himself alone with Vineet. Harry’s sandwich suddenly seemed too thick to eat and he had to swallow hard. He was seriously wondering why he couldn’t properly bring up this topic when Vineet did, in a roundabout manner.

“You are having another party?”

Harry answered, “Probably on the weekend before DV-Day, which is a month away. I wasn’t thinking of anything sooner.”

“Hm.” Vineet returned to his eating his daal with a piece of flat bread.

“Why do you ask?” Harry ventured.

In his usual solemn tone, Vineet replied, “You have interesting friends.”

Harry considered and disposed of possible rejoiners. All of them revealed that Hermione had spoken to Harry, and Harry didn’t want to give that away for reasons he couldn’t pin down. Instead, he said, “I’ve spent years collecting them. Most of them stood by me, or more accurately, in front of me, when things were at their worst.”

“It is good to have such friends,” Vineet declaimed in that philosophical way of his.

“Yup,” Harry said. “It’s good to have loyal friends.” With that and the immediate evidence of Vineet’s calm, he gave up on delving further.

- 888 -

Maurdant Merton slapped open a large book with a binding so broken it laid fully flat on the table. In the corner of the hazy room, stacks of large books and grimoires stood beside battered trunks of supplies. The books ranged from worn and cracked to pristine, but all were now hopelessly dusty and marred with fingerprints of red clay. Cursed trinkets and charmed baubles lined the edge of the floor, many of them broken.

“There must be a way to speed this up,” he grumbled, reading the smeared printing on the page. He tore the page free from the book and carried it to a side room where a small, round Indian woman sat with the tip of her wand inside a clay vessel. She ignored Merton’s entrance and continued to stare straight ahead.

“Where is Debjit?” Merton demanded.

“Errand,” she replied, still unmoving. She moved only when Merton bent down to scoop up a toroidal vessel from atop a shipping crate, and that was only to give him a sharply disapproving look.

“This one ready?” he asked as it crackled faintly.

“It is an experiment,” she answered in a clearly annoyed tone. “And it is dangerously fragile.”

“Another experiment?” He placed it back down gently and said, “Debjit needs to see this,” as he waved the page. “We can use two wizards using a barrier technique.”

Annoyed, she returned, “We tried that . . . unsuccessfully.”

“We need a way to store more energy more quickly,” he complained. “This requires a ridiculously long time.”

“They are working, though,” the woman said stiffly. “You did not manage this before.”

Merton paced. “That’s just it. If we had more of them, we could do anything.”

A rattle of cups brought his attention to the tray carried in by their guest. “My, my but this place is such a mess!” the man declared. He pulled a battered feather duster from his sleeve and dusted the crate and the ceramic vessels upon it before setting the tray down with a last dusting of the teapot. He looked hopefully between Merton and the Indian woman. “Is it going to be cold again all day today?” he queried.

“Yes, probably,” Merton replied, scooping up a teacup and filling it.

“Hm,” the blonde man replied in disappointment before strolling out again, passing Debjit in the doorway.

“Hello, Gildie,” Debjit said in passing.

“Too bad we haven’t come up with a good use for him,” Merton mulled. “Holding onto him as a favor to someone who cannot touch us anymore seems a waste of time.”

“He is very pliable,” Debjit pointed out, putting down the grocery sacks he carried. “Some use will come of him, I am sure.”

Merton put his hands on his hips and, sounding difficult, said, “We need more magic.” He stuffed the page under Debjit’s nose. “I am tired of waiting. I have plans I wish to execute and they have been on hold too long. We could hold the entire Ministry for ransom if we could only work faster.” Here he pounded his fist on an invisible surface.

Chastened, Debjit studied at the torn page, but immediately dropped it to his side. “We are working as fast as is possible. Svaha is better than I at charging the vessels, and our guest’s magic isn’t so strong, even though he is willing to put in long hours trying. If only there were a way to make our guest more powerful.”

Merton’s eyes narrowed. “Perhaps we should look into that.” He pondered his stack of books thoughtfully. “We must have someone with more power, no offense to your lovely wife.” He paced to the fouled window and stared out. “Pay our good friend a visit and ask who he would recommend. I want to have enough vessels in reserve to make a statement that we can afford to take credit for. The Ministry is a sitting duck.” When he turned back, he had a darkly determined look about him.

Debjit bowed his head once and went out again.

- 888 -

Headmistress McGonagall turned to the last page of her staff meeting notes. “The elves have been instructed to not serve bangers and mash again for the rest of the year after the unexpected incident . . .” Here she eyed Snape over her spectacles. “At the Slytherin table last night.”

Snape returned a haughty look back to her. Vector chimed in with, “Those old spells never quite die do they? Some enterprising pupil always manages to dig them up.”

With a sigh McGonagall let it drop. “I believe that covers it,” she said, stuffing her notes away in a folder.

Everyone shuffled to their feet around the large table. Firenze clopped his way out of the staff room, followed by Hagrid, both of them needing to duck deeply at the doorway. Parchments were gathered together and eventually only Vector and Grubbly-Plank remained other than the headmistress and her deputy headmaster. When Snape moved to stand, McGonagall put a restraining hand on his arm. Half a minute later they were alone, hurried along by Vector who had noticed them waiting there, still seated.

“So, Severus . . .”

Snape gave McGonagall a questioning eyebrow when she hesitated.

“Harry has long since returned and you have not,” she stated frankly. Snape flipped his raven quill over his fingers and didn’t speak, so she asked, “Is anything the matter with Harry?”

“No, he seems quite himself, if not a bit more independent and with an almost eerie resistance to cold.”

She folded her diary closed and pushed it aside. “Well, that is good. So what is the matter?”

Snape’s gaze went distant and then he shook his head faintly while tugging on the barbs of his quill to make the vane edge even.

McGonagall persisted, “You don’t wish to say, I see. But it is not Harry?”

“I don’t know,” Snape replied.

She sighed and began polishing her glasses with her kerchief. As she held them up before the lamp in the center of the table, she said, “I only ask because a rather unexpected report was presented to the Wizengamot two evenings ago.” Snape simply waited in curiosity, so she continued with, “The Department of Mysteries has an open case on Harry right now, which I should not tell you, but I will, because you will be finding out soon enough, I expect.”

“And why will I be finding out?” Snape asked suspiciously, sounding more his old self all of a sudden.

McGonagall’s lips curled. “You are like Harry, Severus, you need an enemy to really get you moving.” She sighed. “You will be finding out because the Wizengamot voted to leave the issue open and sent it back to the Department of Mysteries. Arthur owled to inform me that they have assigned another investigator and I expect that person will be paying you a visit.”

Children ran by in the Entrance Hall outside the door, feet slapping loudly, and the voice of the Nearly Headless Nick could be heard berating them.

Snape asked in rapid succession, “Who was the first investigator? Harry did not mention this . . . was he aware?”

“I expect. Arthur interviewed him for his report. Told me in his letter that he was disappointed the matter hadn’t been closed, but that there was nothing he could do. According to him, Harry has the full support of everyone in the Auror’s office, with the possible exception of Alastor, who is now handling the case.”


“I think he would like to be. Whether he can dole out enough memory charms to keep it that way . . .”

“Thanks for the warning.” Snape stood, hands propped on the table, over which he leaned rather than move away when McGonagall commented darkly, “There were concerns among the Wizengamot that I, and several others, could not allay regarding Mr. Potter.”

Snape, bent forward, hair over his face, said, “Something along the lines of his being the Lord of the Underworld.”

“Something along those lines,” McGonagall conceded unhappily.

Snape stared into the flame of the lamp on the table. “Harry is no danger that I can see. The day he returned I saw him raving with fury over Ms. Belluna and there was no sign of anything impugning on the interstice between the worlds. He has mastered control of it to my personal satisfaction.”

McGonagall said, “I would not have believed it existed before all this.”

“Every sensitive child who is deathly afraid of what lurks beneath their bed or behind an ajar cupboard door is apparently well aware that it exists.” He finally stood straight and gathered his things.

“Severus,” McGonagall called his attention back. “I feel you are unwilling to be frank with me because of my position on the Wizengamot. Is that the case?”

Snape gathered his diary and folder to his side. “No, that is not the case at all. I am relieved beyond measure that Harry is back. I realize now that I was expecting the Shaman would simply teach him how to close the barrier he was opening. I did not imagine he would show him how to traverse the two worlds, and becalm and walk safely among the vile creatures of the underworld. I am still absorbing that, I suppose.” With a dark huff he added, “It is not a skill even the Dark Lord had.”

McGonagall stood as well and said in an official tone, “So you feel there is no basis for this inquiry?”

Snape let the diary and folder in his hand slap back onto the table. “Are you losing faith in Harry?” She started to speak, but he interrupted her. “Because I find no conflict in my trust regarding your position with the grey beards of the Wizengamot but if you have lost faith in Harry, then I cannot be so open with you.”

She studied him in a tense silence before laughing lightly. “Funny, Arthur’s owl mentioned that Harry’s main concern was that you not be drawn into this.”

Snape’s shoulders dropped as he took in her words, and he looked away with a grim expression.

She rubbed her forehead. “You’re right, of course. I spent too many hours last night with the overly cautious grey beards, as you call them. Harry’s been through so much and has managed to remain this kind-hearted . . . there is no reason to expect that to change.”

They exited the staff room. The last of the sunlight was glinting on the beveled glass above the main doors.

“Severus?” a familiar but unexpected voice said.

“Candide?” Snape returned, surprised to find her standing before the doors to the Great Hall. “What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to speak with you.”

Snape glanced at McGonagall, but she merely shrugged and headed off. Snape angled his head toward the Grand Staircase and said, “Come up to my office, then.”

“The students said you were in a staff meeting and I thought it all right to wait,” she explained as they walked. They reached his office and he removed the protective charms on the door. She said, “I stopped by Saturday night, but you were out.” This was clearly hard for her to say.

Snape, moving stiffly, gestured at the visitor’s chair before sitting behind his desk.

She propped her hands on the arms of the chair and sat awkwardly as she said, “All the things I planned to say seem much harder now.” Snape didn’t reply, just clasped his hands before him. She said, “What does it take to get through to you?”

“You have asked that before,” he pointed out softly.

“I know it’s possible. Harry certainly has managed.” As she spoke, Snape turned his chair sideways and leaned his head back to stare at the ceiling. She added, “Otherwise, I would have given up long ago.”

“You didn’t ask Harry?” Snape inquired snidely.

“No. What would his answer have been?”

Snape laughed. Still staring at the ceiling he replied, “Ah, let’s see. Something along the lines of understanding me too well, I suppose,” he answered dryly.

Candide glanced around the mixed shelves of Defense Against the Dark Arts books, Potions manuals, and bleached out Potion ingredients floating grotesquely in thin green liquid. “Oh, well, I’m flat out of luck then,” she commented.

Snape laughed lightly again. “Was there some point you were hoping to make?” he asked, finally sitting forward, but still facing the window.

“Only to myself, I now realize,” she answered, crossing her arms as though the room were too cold. “It hurt more than I imagined to find out you were out on a date.”

That garnered her a sideways glance. “Surprised, were you?” he asked snarkily.

She shrugged. “Yes. Harry seemed to be too. Said it was his cousin you were out with.”

“She was more fascinated by the notion of Wizardry in general than by the notion of me in particular,” Snape stated. “If that is any consolation.”

“Some, I suppose. Why are you rubbing it in?”

Taken aback, Snape returned with a hint of concern, “I am not trying to.”

Candide looked down at her hands and said, “What do I have to do?”

Snape leaned forward over his desk and asked, “Why are you persisting?”

“Because I can’t seem to do otherwise,” she confessed.

Snape’s head fell forward slowly but he lifted it again immediately. “You are asking too much of me. I do not mind your company . . . I will even go so far as to admit that I prefer your company, but I am not marriageable material. What would your parents say?”

“I don’t care-”

“You care dearly,” Snape snapped back harshly.

Candide pursed her lips. “You have an unfair advantage here.”

“Yes, and I have no qualms about using it,” Snape stated as though it only added to his side of the argument.

“You won’t even meet them.”

“It is all too quaint,” Snape sneered. “I cannot take it.”

Candide’s brow lowered as though she were figuring something out. “You have these moments where you are utterly shallow.”

I do?” Snape mocked.

“Do you want to be alone forever?” she asked.

“I am not now. There is Harry,” he pointed out tiredly.

“Oh, so I’ll come back when he’s gone then. That should only be a half year away,” she pointed out. Snape’s eyes fell distant, prompting her to amend. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”

He shook his head. “No, you are correct. He certainly will be on his own, probably in London, sometime in the near future.” More quietly, he added, “Though I was thinking it would be more distant than that. Perhaps I am deluding myself.” He clasped his hands on the desktop again among the overlapping open books and stray parchments.

“Can we go out again?” Candide asked. “I’d like that.”

“I scheduled another date with Pamela.”

“Oh.” Candide stood then before the desk and hooked her cloak over her shoulders. “I don’t understand you,” she complained.

“I don’t want you to,” Snape pointed out.

Candide dropped her arms, the breeze making the candles on the desk flicker. “Now you tell me.” She returned to buttoning her coat. “So do you want this . . . cousin of Harry’s to understand you?”

Certainly not,” Snape replied.

“Well, there’s that,” Candide said under her breath. “Owl if you want to get together.”

Snape crossed his arms. “Silly to keep stringing it along . . . isn’t it?”

She shrugged. “It is easier than the alternative.”

Snape studied her closely before standing and seeing her out, appearing thoughtful.

Much later, at the eve of midnight, as he was turning down the lamps, Snape reached for his wand and spun on the instinct that he was no longer alone.

“Hmf,” a voice grunted and then Mad-Eye Moody pulled an invisibility cloak off of himself.

Snape lowered his wand and criticized, “You could have knocked. Next time I will let instinct react for me.”

“Wanted to see if I could get in unawares.”

“Neither the castle, nor my office, is charmed to resist Ministry Aurors,” Snape sneered before taking a seat behind his desk. “What is it you want?” he asked dismissively.

Moody circled the room, examining the shelves, stopping to stare up at the Pensieve before perusing the Defense books below it. “Answers.”

“Perhaps try a question first,” Snape pointed out dryly. “I was in the midst of retiring when you arrived . . . if you could hurry this along.”

Moody didn’t reply, just stomped on his peg leg around the full circuit of the room, stopping before the dangerous ingredient cabinet and letting his magical eye rove over it. “Some rather interesting things in there,” he grunted. “Rather illegal things.”

“You may take them with you if you wish,” Snape stated easily.

Moody finally stomped to the desk. “As long as I know you’ve got them, you can’t very well use them for anything questionable. A few of them I’m certain you are the only one in all of Britain to possess them. Keep that in mind.”

Patronizingly, Snape replied. “I certainly will.”

“I don’t particularly want to be on your bad side, Snape,” Moody said. “You are a too good a liar for one and your notion of loyalty is questionably fluid.”

“Albus never questioned it,” Snape pointed out mildly, fingers peaked before him.

“No, Albus never did. So what have you been teaching that boy?”

Snape laughed. “By ‘boy’ I assume you mean Harry . . . and lately, I have had nothing to teach him that would do him any good.”

“No dark magic spells? I know you have mastered rather a large number of them over the years. I know that because I’ve seen you use them myself.”

“I have never taught Harry a dark magic spell.”

Moody leaned on the desk. “See, you are too good o’ a liar to make this a job possible. The way I figure it, you groomed him for this Dark Plane skill. He is just a little too tempting to mold, isn’t he?”

“You are letting your paranoia out. May I recommend a new cage for it?” Snape huffed as he stood up. “What is your purpose here, Alastor?” he asked in a tone clearly short on patience.

Moody began pacing again, rocking side to side as he did so. “I’d rather not say.”

“I can guess. The Ministry is concerned about Harry given his need for rather unorthodox training in Shamanistic magic.”

Moody paced for a while longer. “Could be, but I’m not sayin’” Snape rolled his eyes. Moody, not noticing this, said, “So, say your claim is correct that you have nothing to do with this, then where is this skill from? ‘E didn’t get it from Voldemort.” Here his eyes slid over to Snape. “I’m pretty sure.”

Snape didn’t respond.

Moody went on, “‘E didn’t get it from his parents.”

“I don’t know where he got it from. It is his own. It is not unprecedented, witness the fact that I found someone with expertise in it to send him to.”

“Yeah, I was thinkin’ on payin’ the Finn a visit.”

“By all means. He doesn’t speak English and he is highly suspicious of outsiders . . . you and he should get along splendidly.”

Moody came back around to the desk and faced Snape down. “Are we on the same side, here, Snape?”

“I don’t know,” Snape stiffly replied. “Are we?”

“Albus left you with a big responsibility,” Moody pointed out after a pause.

Snape crossed his arms before him. “He had no idea how big.”

“Is that so?” Moody responded as though this were exceptionally meaningful.

Snape huffed. “Have you spoken with Harry?”

“Many times. Not about this. He isn’t to know.” Moody backed off then and went to the door. “Pleasant evening to you I suppose. Your helpfulness is overwhelming.”

“I told you nothing but the truth,” Snape countered, now angry. His anger stalled Moody from turning the door latch. Snape continued, “Harry is a young man in need of loyalty, security and trust, not suspicion. Tell that to Fudge in your report.” When Moody twitched just slightly at that, Snape sneered, “It isn’t difficult to guess who is persisting in this. What is harder to understand is why you are here as his representative, given the feelings you have for him . . . and I know this because I have heard you speak them.” Snape ended with an exceptionally mocking tone.

“I do what needs to be done. I always have.” Moody tossed the cloak over his head and departed without another word, the office door swinging closed as though of its own volition.

- 888 -

“Gwynedd!” Harry shouted after tossing in the Floo powder. He spun around almost as long as it took to get to London before being dumped out in a hearth in a grimy little apothecary with only one small circular window in the door to let in any light.

A little man shuffled out of the back and glanced at Harry before shuffling away with a, “Ach, another one misdirected.”

“Do you know where the dueling tournament is being held?” Harry asked politely.

The man stopped and, shoving his hands deep in his pockets, arched his back, and said, “Ah, is that what this diflas day is all about?” He waved his arm. “It’s up at the castle, I hear.”

Harry paused in taking out his Floo powder for another attempt. “Which castle?”

The man scratched his rough beard thoughtfully. “Abergwyngregyn Castle is the closest. But I don’t suppose they’d be holding it outside?”

“Aber . . .” Harry blinked. “I don’t think so.”

“Well, then Penrhyn Castle would be it. Hideous place . . . all fancied up.” He shuffled off into a back room.

Harry turned back to the Floo to give it another go, hopeful that the man had the location correct. Harry had been expecting that the Floo Network would direct everyone from London to the right location. Unfortunately, the event wasn’t large enough to warrant having portkeys set up.

When he arrived in the next hearth, Harry was greeted by robed figures filling a grand white ribbed hall, all facing a dueling platform. The competition was already underway. Whitley was again judging and two figures were battling it out relatively well. A quick look around revealed Hermione standing near a large arched window. Harry crossed over to her and they shared a smile.

The competition varied in skill as much as it had in the first Regional and soon it was down to merely George Weasley and two others. Whitley declared a round robin because of their odd number and Harry cheered along with a cluster of red heads much closer to the platform when George won his first pairing with ease and with the help of a Japanese water demon spell that his opponent had no counter for.

“How are you doing?” Harry asked his friend during a lull.

“Okay. Do you want to come over tonight?” Hermione asked.

Harry replied, “I have field work this evening . . . may have to leave early from here if it runs long, even. Fortunately, I don’t have to wait for the Floo getting out. Had a real bugger getting here. Has the Floo Network been misdirecting you more lately?”

She shook her head.

“Oh,” Harry uttered.

George was now facing his second opponent of the round robin, a small, older woman who was still shaking off a Jelly Limbs Curse from her previous opponent. George actually let her get in the first spell, apparently feeling gracious. He paid for it though when it turned out to be a Belt Tightening Curse that doubled him over. Gaze fierce, he clenched his arm around his middle, and returned a Hornet’s Nest that chased her off the platform and then required help from the audience to cancel it completely.

Harry and Hermione joined the assembled Weasleys: Molly, Ron, and Fred, as well as the Weasley cousins as they congratulated George on going to the finals. George dangled the small brass wand before his twin brother tauntingly until Harry said, “You didn’t have to face my trainer.”

George collected the chain against the wand and stashed it away. “But I will next. How tough is he really? Someone took him down, I hear,” he whispered and Harry wondered and immediately doubted if Mr. Weasley had let that slip. The conversation was dropped when Skeeter approached.

“George Weasley . . . oh, and Harry. What a find, well, a few words from you, Mr. Weasley, in a moment.” She peered at Harry through her tortoise-shell glasses, quill poised and asked, “Ready for the final tournament, Harry? Disappointed that you aren’t competing?”

“A little, but judging will be fun.”

“Even with all of your friends battling against each other? No qualms about a conflict there or . . . losing any friends?” She asked this with no little insinuation.

Harry had not worried about that. “I intend to be fair,” Harry asserted and left it at that.

Ron put an arm around Harry and said, “He intends to be fair by favoring Weasleys over any others.” The twins grinned at this.

Hermione crossed her arms. “Over Professor Snape, even?” she sniffed doubtfully.

George leaned in and despite Skeeter standing right there, said, “We are going to need some help there.”

“I’m not favoring anybody,” Harry insisted, feeling surrounded.

George stared at his fingernails and said, “No, you see you have to favor some o’ us to make it even, so as to not be favorin’.”

“Right,” Harry said doubtfully.

Ron patted Harry and let him go. “We’ll work on him,” he assured Skeeter.

Skeeter was grinning in amusement but she straightened her face and turned to George. “You and your brother use rather a lot of foreign spells. Where do you learn them?”

Fred replied. “Pen pals. We trade spells with some students in Kyoto.”

“Have to use Muggle post, in fact,” George added. “It’s too far to send an owl.”

Harry had been watching the time and saw that he needed to go now to be ten minutes early rather than ten minutes late as he had been last week. He tugged on Hermione’s sleeve. “I have to go. Tell everyone I said goodbye.”

“Be careful, Harry,” she said automatically and turned immediately back to the conversation.

Next: Chapter 13
Inside the warehouse, a noise up and to the left boosted Harry's already fast heart rate even higher. Moving as quickly as he could, while remaining silent, he found the metal stairs up to what appeared to be a windowed row of former offices that overlooked the warehouse floor. At the top of the stairs, glass from the mostly broken windows littered the floor, making it very difficult to move in complete silence, even while casting a silencing charm ahead of his feet.

A doorless opening led into the old office area, now empty except for a smashed telephone and some dangling wiring. The noise he had heard may simply have been vermin moving about. Harry stepped cautiously, his wand damp in his fingers but radiating his nerves back at him as energy, which made him feel more confident.

Author Notes
Ginny fans -- It isn't piling onto Ginny if she herself has made a point of not wanting to finish school and freely admits to hating studying and exams. Everyone else is simply locked into this notion from long association with it. Only Harry is a loyal enough friend to realize that if Ginny now wants to do better, that she could still manage to. Although, like many teens, she may be deciding too late.

Chapter 13: A Hero's Weakness
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter 13 — A Hero’s Weakness

Harry stopped at home to pick up a warmer cloak for his shift and he arrived right on time. It was only six but it felt as though the day should already be over. He rubbed his arms and tried to gather up the energy for a full shift of Auror patrol. In the workout room, Kerry Ann sat reading a curled and yellow Muggle paperback. She waved hello and Harry wandered down to the Auror offices, surprised to find them empty. He was turning around when he spotted the logbook on the stand against the right-hand wall, its automatic quill lying beside it, twitching.

Curious where everyone was, Harry stepped over to read the last entry in the thick tome. The last entry was Tonks, checking in to say she had arrived at the Titan warehouse. Harry stared at the writing a long breathless moment, trying to remember where he had heard of that just recently. He checked Tonks’ desk to see what files were out. The usual disorganized stacks were there but on top of them was a note stating that she had gone to take another look around where Rodgers had been attacked.

Harry had a stab of panic as he remembered Rodgers’ description in the hospital of what had happened. A noise from the log stand brought Harry’s attention back over there just as he set the note back down. A five pointed star was being scratched out on the board in pink, Tonks’ color. Action took hold of Harry, he dashed to the corridor, looked both ways and spied the light in the workout room.

“Kerry Ann,” Harry breathed from the doorway. “There is an emergency call from Tonks, who apparently went back down to the Titan warehouse where Rodgers was attacked. There isn’t anyone around, so I’m going.” With that, he Disapparated.

Kerry Ann had been getting to her feet, with the usual need to disentangle herself from the desk, and as Harry disappeared she said, “Harry . . . you idiot.” She ran down to the Auror’s office and then around the corner, trying to find someone. Blessedly, around the next corner, light spilled out from Mr. Weasley’s open door and faint conversation could be heard. Kerry Ann pounded down there, bringing Mr. Weasley to his feet when she arrived. He was alone, which seemed curious, but she disregarded it.

“Mr. Weasley, thank goodness. No one is around and Harry said he saw an emergency call from Tonks and so he took off.”

“He what?

“But, there isn’t any call that I can see. And he for some reason thinks she’s at the Titan warehouse in the Docklands, but she’s logged in with Shacklebolt in Devon to help the Magical Reversal Squad. So, I have no idea what he’s talking about.”

Mr. Weasley stared at her a long befuddled second before pushing past her. Kerry Ann said, “It sounds like some kind of trap.” She glanced into the office before following and noticed an old crystal ball on the desk. She hesitated on her toes because she thought she saw something in it, but having never seen anything in one, despite years of Divination classes, she assumed it must have been her own reflection.

Down in the Auror offices, Mr. Weasley was peering at the log book. “Did you see a five pointed star?”


“The quill certainly didn’t log one.”

“Should we go down there, sir?”

“And leave the office completely unmanned? No. We have reinforcements we can call in at times like this. Mr. Moody, for example, who should be at home.” He thought a moment about direction, and fired a silver message away and slightly upward.

- 888 -

Argus Filch’s eyes narrowed when he heard glass breaking somewhere high above where he stood. He dropped his cat—who landed easily—stomped to the nearest window, and threw open the sash to peer up. A figure high above on broomstick, clearly in a school uniform, was whispering in a hiss to someone inside the tower. A second later the pupil took off at top speed.

Filch hurried his way along the corridor and pounded on a door midway down the line. The door swung open forcefully and Professor Snape straightened upon seeing the school caretaker there.

“Student just took flight from the Gryffindor tower,” Filch grumbled. “Thought you’d like to know.”

“What?” Snape didn’t wait for a reply, just went to his window. “Heading which way?”

Filch stooped to pick up his cat, who was circling and bumping his legs. “South.”

Snape swore quietly and went to his cupboard for his own broomstick.

Filch said, “If you catch ‘em can I use the manacles?”

“Possibly,” Snape said through clenched teeth while mounting the window sill to push the sash wide. “Tell the headmistress that I will silver message her when I catch this pupil.” With that he was gone.

Snape flew straight south, squinting into the distance. A glowing mist clung to the lowest corners of the hills despite the thinnest sliver of moon. The only lights ahead beyond Hogsmeade came from the railroad signal just before the bridge where the rail lines came together. It also marked the edge of the Apparition barrier. On a hunch, and suspecting that he saw a dark figure swooping down toward the light, Snape kicked his broom into its top speed. Whoever it was ahead of him must have a fast broom as well since he didn’t gain on his quarry at all.

A crack! that sounded as Snape began descending over the tall trees indicated that someone had indeed stopped there to Apparate away. Snape landed hard and immediately used a tracking spell to find the exact spot where the person had been standing. By the red light of the railroad signal, he marched off a pentagram around it in the tall grass. Two steps, stop and set a flare, two steps... This was a Dark magic spell, but he was not going to be deterred while chasing a run-away student. Red bars rose up from the corners of the pentagram and subsided, which indicated that the spell had worked. Snape stepped into the center, activated the spell again so that it formed a glowing cage around him, and blindly Disapparated on the faith that the spell would take him to precisely the same spot as the last person had gone.

- 888 -

Harry stepped along the fence surrounding the Titan warehouse. He had been down here twice on patrol since the attack so he felt he was on familiar ground. All appeared quiet, but his concern for Tonks imagined all kinds of bad possibilities that might account for the lack of obvious battle. He cut a gap in the chain link fence and ducked inside, dodging a hulking piece of mysterious, rusty equipment. The heavy padlock on the door to the warehouse had previously been cut and the door pushed open silently after Harry used a charm on it to ensure this.

As dark as it was outside on the waterfront, it was even darker inside the massive building. The vertical skylights offered the only light and it was paltry at best. Harry made his way carefully forward, aware of the tall pillars arrayed from here to the far side but not much else. His eyes strained to make out anything and he was beginning to wonder exactly how best to proceed given that there were no obvious clues as to where exactly Tonks, or the trouble, was.

Stepping gingerly and silently, Harry stopped at the first pillar and breathed slowly so as to remain quiet. He didn’t want to shout or use a light, so he wasn’t certain what he should do since he wasn’t giving up yet.

- 888 -

Shaking off the quivers that the spell left him with, Snape looked around himself. He was in a tree-lined field and ahead of him the low clouds radiated the glow of a large city’s lights. He took a few steps and the distinctive outline of the Burrow came into view through the trees. Swearing again, Snape took flight and flew at top speed toward the glowing sky. If she had only gone home for a visit, he could deal with her later, but he had a hunch she was headed into London. As he flew, he sent a silver message to McGonagall indicating that he believed that it was Ginny Weasley he was chasing.

A distant figure fluttered tantalizingly as a speck against the bright sky, too far away to apprehend with a spell that would not put Ginny at risk. She presumably rode Harry’s Firebolt, which meant it was not possible to catch up. Snape fired several Tracker Charms in case he lost her, but none of them seemed to hit their mark and soon she dipped below the sky, out of sight against the grey mass of buildings.

Snape urged his broom forward even though it was already at its top speed; the cold wind bit fiercely into his bare hands. He slowed when he reached the lazily winding river through the city. Ginny appeared to have descended in a broad swoop somewhere in this area. No figures were on the street, so Snape swooped low to read a street sign and sent another message to McGonagall. He had been moving too fast to receive any back, if she had sent one.

- 888 -

Inside the warehouse, a noise up and to the left boosted Harry’s already fast heart rate even higher. Moving as quickly as he could, while remaining silent, he found the metal stairs up to what appeared to be a windowed row of former offices that overlooked the warehouse floor. At the top of the stairs, glass from the mostly broken windows littered the floor, making it very difficult to move in complete silence, even while casting a silencing charm ahead of his feet.

A doorless opening led into the old office area, now empty except for a smashed telephone and some dangling wiring. The noise he had heard may simply have been vermin moving about. Harry stepped cautiously, his wand damp in his fingers but radiating his nerves back at him as energy, which made him feel more confident.

At the outer corner where the gaping window frames looked down upon the vastness of the warehouse, Harry turned. There was nothing here. His shoulders fell as he frowned into the darkness. But just as he was relaxing his wand arm, his spine prickled with a warning vibration and a sickly malevolence. Harry spun while generating his best block but he was too late to finish the spell before a blast of sparkling blue and white struck him, buckling his knees.

Fiercely angry, mostly at himself, Harry desperately fought the blackness trying to envelope him. He guessed which direction to fire a returning spell and issued a blasting curse that pounded against the window frames, splintering the rotted wood and plaster in a shower that rained down onto the floor below.

- 888 -

Ginny Weasley was just maneuvering herself through a broken skylight and wishing she knew some kind of night vision spell, when a first floor area in the corner lit up blue-white. Without thinking she leaned her broom into its highest acceleration and held fast to her wand. Another blast out of the windows forced her to veer severely to the left and fight the magical currents to cut a new course to the long row of side windows. She landed inside with a crunch of broken glass and immediately needed to block a shot that she thought must be cast by a cloaked person on a broomstick since it was emanating from twenty-five feet in the air beyond the glassless windows.

By the light of the clashing spells she saw Harry collapsing to the floor as his block failed, and she immediately stepped forward into the onslaught to get him at least partially under her own block. The glass shards shivered around them on the floor. The spell finally let up and Ginny had to catch herself with her hand on the broken glass as a wave of sleep tried to overcome her. A Sleeping Curse, that’s what the spell resembled, she realized. The world was tilting distressingly like a funhouse as Ginny scrambled forward. On her knees beside Harry she cast a hatchet class curse out the widened window, imagining it lodging in someone’s chest and not caring if it did. It clattered to the floor far below instead and she had no choice but to find the power for a second block as another interminably and impossibly long bombardment of Sleeping Curse lashed out at them, from closer yet; although she saw no one who could be casting it.

- 888 -

Snape landed at the base of an old bridge that crossed the river thirty feet above the waterfront quay of cracked, sagging tarmac. The street lamps atop the bridge shed scant light around him.

As he approached a hole cut in the fence bordering the nearest property, a cloaked figure approached. Snape aimed his wand and the figure tossed back its hood to reveal Mad-Eye Moody. “Got a message that we have an errant Apprentice,” he growled almost inaudibly.

Snape tilted his head. “I am chasing an errant student.”

Moody’s magical eye moved without his head. “What’s this then?” he uttered just before a flash of light could be seen through the cracks in the rusting wall of the building. Another spell followed on its heels, accompanied by the sound of excessive debris being thrown about.

Both of them broke into a run, but Snape reached the door first, having the advantage of two good legs and far greater determination. He stopped just behind the first pillar and peered around it. Dust settling in the air caught the paltry light available and then lit up brightly when a spell poured forth from the first floor area to the left. Blinded by the spell, Snape was slow locating the stairway up and had to follow Moody, who was more cautious than Snape’s blind determination would allow for.

At the top, Snape slipped on deeply layered blades of broken glass and had to right himself with his hands as yet another spell lit the area ahead of them, outlining two figures, one down and one kneeling, the latter clearly Ginny given the long hair.

Moody shouted for Ginny to duck and fired something that streamed out on a sizzling white wire before meeting up with something beyond the window opening and exploding in a blast of sandy particles and white light.

Silence fell as the debris settled with a strange rustle of the glass shards around them. Ginny shook Harry and called his name in an attempt to rouse him. Snape crouched quickly beside her, wand illuminated, and laid two fingers on Harry’s carotid artery. He then exhaled in relief and asked, “What did he get hit with?”

Ginny answered, “It looked like a Sleeping Curse. It felt like one too.”

“Let’s get out of this confined and highly trap-like area,” Snape snarled.

Moody, who was peering out into the warehouse said, “It’s clear now. Although there was a barrier just a second ago. Odd.”

“I don’t care if you don’t see anything,” Snape countered. “I’m taking Harry outside.” And with that, he grasped Harry’s wrist and Disapparated to the shadowy area at the base of the bridge.

Moody appeared beside him a second later, Ginny firmly gripped by the wrist. “What do you want with her?” he asked.

Another voice said, “It will take some time to come up with something appropriate.” They all turned and watched as McGonagall stepped carefully down the uneven stone staircase from the roadway above. “There is fortunately an old tartan shop down here that despite being closed for a decade is still on the Floo Network. What happened to Harry?” she asked in concern, pushing Moody aside to bend over Harry’s supine figure.

“He was lured into a trap,” Moody supplied. “A rather cleverly laid one. A Sleeping Curse got ‘im.” As he spoke, his magical eye roved constantly around them.

McGonagall turned on Ginny, “And what are you doing here, young lady? Alastor, you can let go of her.”

“You certain?” Alastor asked.

“Yes,” McGonagall assured him. “We know where she lives, even if she may or may not be a student at our school after this is sorted out.”

Ginny dipped her head. “I was talking to dad about George’s win in the dueling regional and overheard one of the other apprentices saying that Harry had headed off here thinking that Tonks was in trouble but she said the logs and the note he mentioned weren’t at all as Harry had said. She said it must be a trap and that no one was around to take care of it.” She nervously shifted Harry’s broom from one hand to the other. “If I hadn’t arrived-”

“Help had been called,” Moody pointed out, leaning toward her.

“You were too late,” Ginny countered angrily, gamely leaning into the argument as well.

“Enough!” Snape snarled, crouching beside Harry again. “We need to take Harry somewhere safe until this is sorted out. If we are dealing with insider help at the Ministry in trapping him, I am leery of doing the predictable.”

“He doesn’t need St. Mungo’s?” McGonagall asked.

“He needs to sleep off the curse.” Snape leaned farther over Harry in the dim light. “Although, he is showing nervous agitation from an overdose of the spell, it doesn’t appear dangerous.”

“We can use the Floo node I arrived in to take him back to Hogwarts,” McGonagall pointed out.

“Harry gets misdirected in the Floo all the time, you know,” Ginny pointed out. “In his last two letters he’s complained about that.”

“Plod’s coming,” Moody whispered and pushed McGonagall and Ginny a little more into the shadows. Up on the street heavy footsteps could be heard approaching the bridge.

“Take hold of my bracelet,” McGonagall instructed them, holding out her arm and pulling her sleeve back to reveal a glittering gold band.

All but Moody obeyed. He stepped backward into the shadows and held his wand at ready. Snape lifted Harry’s limp hand and McGonagall lowered her arm so Harry’s arm could reach and a rushing two breaths later they were in a small sitting room with bookshelves lining one wall surrounding a cold hearth, a tall wing chair, into which Ginny plunked down with a groan, and a dark green sofa, where Snape hovered Harry’s slumbering self. Harry’s arm twitched strangely followed by his head as he was covered with his own and Snape’s cloaks. Snape again checked his pulse and leaned back, apparently satisfied.

A figure came to the doorway just as Ginny asked, “Where are we?”

“Minerva?” the figure queried. “What is happening?”

McGonagall went over to him, standing close and putting a hand on his arm. “Richard, we needed a quick escape. Sorry if we startled you-”

Snape interrupted from the sofa where Harry was growing more agitated, although not any more conscious, “Do you have a Calming Draught, Minerva?”

“Yes, I’ll fetch it.” She stepped away, leaving Richard rubbing his arms nervously just outside the doorway.

Ginny gave him a thorough looking over, fascinated by the notion of a married Professor McGonagall. Richard appeared to be an average, middle-aged man, medium brown hair, unkempt, wearing a blue cotton shirt with a cardigan over it. “Is that Harry Potter?” he asked, leaning his head sideways to see around Snape, but not approaching.

“Yes,” Ginny replied. “Foolish Harry, running after someone he can’t have.”

“Oh,” Snape sneered. “And we don’t have anyone else in this room who qualifies as foolish under that metric.”

“And, I was going to add, when they weren’t in any trouble anyway.” Ginny finished and sat back with her arms crossed. “Sir.” Harry’s leg jerked this time. “What’s wrong with him?” Ginny asked.

“Multiple Sleeping Curses can over-stimulate selective parts of the nervous system even as it shuts down consciousness. How many times did he get hit?”

“About two and a half but the spell was long. I tried to get him inside my block but my block was leaking since the spell almost took me out too. I’ve never seen anything like it; It just went on and on, unstopping, like a gushing spigot rather than a wand.”

He considered her, and she held his gaze, part of her hoping she had scored enough credit with that to avoid the worst of the punishment that could be upcoming. On the other hand, she didn’t regret at all what she had done. She slouched back in the tall chair and watched Harry’s fitful face with no small ache of sympathy.

McGonagall returned to the doorway and murmured something to Richard. Ginny leaned forward in the chair to observe them interact, but she felt strangely heavy when she moved, as though she moved through water. A stinging on her ankle made her pull her leg over, but it resisted her tug and the pain shot higher. A high-pitched chattering noise emanated from the corner of the chair and Ginny turned and discovered the most grotesque creature clinging to her ankle. It had hair growing right out of its rancid yellow eyes, which were surrounded by wrinkled excessive flesh. It had what appeared to be a lobster claw latched around her leg and it was opening its shockingly large mouth—relative to its tiny head—as though in preparation for taking out a chunk of her flesh.

Ginny shouted and leaped fully onto the chair, pulling her leg free and scrambling for her wand. The whole room was in motion. The floor was crawling with similarly distorted creatures. Snape had pulled Harry to a sitting position and was shaking him. McGonagall had thrown herself backwards into her husband, wand out and spelling anything that approached the door.

“Minerva, the potion!” Snape shouted over the chattering of teeth and clacking of mingling boney and chitinous limbs.

McGonagall gathered her wits and pushed forward into the room, her floor-length robes immediately caught up in claws and grasping long fingers. She tossed the potion bottle the last few feet. Snape caught it up, yanked the stopper, and forced it between Harry’s lips while chanting a swallowing charm.

The noise in the room dwindled and the creatures melted into the floor. One last one was climbing over the armrest of the wingback chair and Ginny, crouched on the cushion, hit it with Harry’s broom, which she had left propped against the chair. It slapped into the corner, fell, and sunk into the floor. Limbs shaking, Ginny lowered herself slowly down to sit, although she kept her feet up on the blessedly wide cushion and she kept the broom held at ready. Snape, still clenching the potion bottle, was holding Harry’s limp head against his chest.

Except for the sound of everyone’s breathing, the room remained silent for nearly a minute. Eventually, Richard asked in a quavering voice, “What was that?”

Everyone turned to him, including McGonagall, who released her panicked grip on the doorframe in order to push Richard away and shepherd him off. Snape, still with a slouched Harry leaning into him, stoppered the bottle and put it in his pocket. He then pushed his straggly hair back repeatedly, eyes far away.

Ginny leaned forward in the chair and glanced around the room, including under her own chair. She still didn’t wish to put her feet down when she sat back. Her sock was wet. She shifted and examined the slices in her ankle that were leaking blood down into her shoe. The vision of the creature that had had a hold of her made her shudder. A sharp query drew Ginny from that memory. “Did you get hurt?” Professor Snape asked.

Thinking that it could have been worse, Ginny replied, “Just scratched.”

McGonagall returned and stepped to the couch. Snape lowered Harry back and removed the potion from his pocket and handed it to her. He stood and asked McGonagall, “Did you get injured?”

McGonagall shook her head without lifting it from her scrutiny of Harry’s absolute stillness. He looked as quiet as death now. Ginny wrapped her arms around herself as though the room had grown icy cold. Snape approached her and lifted her foot, yanking off her shoe without preamble.

“Did you get bit?”

Ginny shook her head, “No.”

“Well, that is something.” He dropped her foot and headed for the doorway. “Come.”

Ginny stood and hobbled two steps before kicking off her other shoe. “What would have happened if I did?”

Snape’s reply was muted by his striding away. “I do not know precisely, but nothing good, presumably.”

Ginny hurried to follow as Snape stopped to check each room branching off along a linear line of small rooms. He stopped at the door to a pink tiled toilet and waited for her.

Ginny sat on the closed toilet seat and washed off the blood with the warm wet cloth she had been unceremoniously handed. Her bloody sock she tossed into the rubbish bin. The jagged slices were still bleeding so she pressed the cloth firmly around her ankle and watched as Snape prowled through the pink cabinets and the cupboard before finding what he needed. He sat on a footstool and opened a plastic bottle that boded ill with the sharp aroma of denatured alcohol. With a thick white towel under her foot, propped on his leg, Snape poured the half-full contents of the bottle over the wounds.

Ginny very nearly screamed. Without meaning to, she tried to yank her foot back, but it was held surprisingly fast. All she could manage was to rock back and forth as the crucio-level pain peaked and subsided in waves of cold and hot from the wounds. The air itself was misery on the lacerations in the wake of the alcohol. She dried her eyes and felt embarrassed to need to, but Snape wasn’t paying any attention; he was opening a tin of salve and covering the wounds, which relieved most of the remaining pain. Gauze and significant amounts of white tape followed.

Ginny’s foot was released to drop to the floor without warning before Snape stood and said, “It will have to be checked hourly to see that nothing is changing.” When Ginny responded by pulling her leg close as though to protect it, he added, “You would look far less ladylike with a giant lobster claw for a foot.”

Ginny shuddered at the thought. Snape was tossing out the plastic bottle, leading Ginny to ask, “Wasn’t that sufficient punishment for leaving school grounds?” while drying her eyes yet again.

Snape’s black gaze slid over to her as he closed up the other supplies. He didn’t reply, and Ginny found herself lowering her gaze.

Back in the sitting room, McGonagall was in the chair Ginny had occupied and Ginny, who would normally willingly sit on the floor, opted instead to sit upon the armrest at Harry’s feet, even though it wasn’t her house. No one even glanced at her, so she relaxed. Harry was lying so still he did not appear to be breathing, but his color was good, and Snape stood straight after checking him over, so he must be all right.

“We should take him to Hogwarts,” Snape suggested.

McGonagall tiredly replied. “There is no Floo network here, that is why I was allowed the bracelet to get home. But now it is reset to the Docklands as its second port. This is actually Richard’s house and Cornelius denied me a permanent attachment because I am here so little of the year. I could reapply, I suppose now that it Amelia I could appeal to for a dispensation.”

Snape said, “I could take him on my broom from beyond the Apparition bar-”

His speaking was coincidentally interrupted by twin cracks! of Apparition which brought everyone’s gaze to the doorway where Moody and Mr. Weasley appeared. As they entered, the small room grew quite crowded. Ginny swallowed hard at the disturbed look her father sent her way. But she was given a temporary reprieve when he turned to the others and asked about Harry.

Snape spoke: “He was hit with multiple Sleeping Curses, otherwise he is unharmed. Ms. Weasley arrived in time to prevent further harm or anyone from taking him away.”

Ginny stared, eyes wide, at Professor Snape, shocked silly by his moral support.

Moody grunted doubtfully. “We were right behind ‘er.” His magical eye circled the room inside its socket. “No other problems?”

“No,” Snape lied easily and then in an apparent distraction added, “If he is in need of further care we will take him.”

McGonagall shifted in her seat, but did not speak. Mr. Weasley bent over Harry, touching his forehead and then his cloak covered shoulder. “We’re still sorting out what happened at the Ministry. But if it was only a Sleeping Curse then someone clearly wanted to capture him unharmed and went to great trouble to do so . . . someone who has too much access and knows far too much about Harry,” he finished grimly.

Moody looked Ginny over, noticing her bare foot with both eyes. “What happened to your leg?” he asked softly.

Ginny opened her mouth and managed to reply almost as smoothly as Snape had, “I must have cut it on a piece of glass.” She held up her nicked hand which actually had been cut on a glass shard at the warehouse. “There was a lot of it about.”

Snape stood suddenly and said, “Harry should recover in a few hours. We will let you know how he is faring and I would appreciate a patrol or two being assigned to Shrewsthorpe for the next few weeks.”

“Already arranged, Severus,” Mr. Weasley replied. “I’ll assume he’s coming in on Monday unless I hear otherwise.” He sounded as caring as Ginny had ever heard him and she felt a stab at having to lie to him. He turned to her, glanced at the two teachers and then back to her, saying, “I’m assuming that you aren’t supposed to be here.”

Ginny shook her head faintly.

Her father sighed and said, “We’ll sort it out later after they decide on their punishment for you. I’d say a Quidditch ban is in order.”

Ginny nearly collapsed in reaction and just barely resisted swearing. She straightened up immediately, though, upon deciding she still wouldn’t have changed what she did in the face of that. Against her will, her eyes were burning in frustration, but she didn’t touch them in an effort to avoid drawing attention to it.

Mr. Weasley asked the teachers, “Do you want me to take Ginny home with me?”

Snape glanced surreptitiously at her ankle and said, “No, she may remain here,” leaving Ginny in the bizarrely unexpected position of preferring the company of Professor Snape to her father’s.

After Mr. Weasley and Moody departed, Ginny let out the breath she didn’t realize she had been holding. McGonagall stood and said to Snape, “If you can handle Harry alone, I need to attend to Richard.”

Snape nodded and since he was sitting on the couch, hand resting on Harry’s arm, Ginny took the tall chair again. That was, until Snape said, “Light a fire, will you, Ms. Weasley?”

Ginny immediately stood back up to do as she was told, beginning with pushing the chair out of the way in the small space, but still having it face the couch. Minutes and one firestarting spell later, a fire was flickering merrily in the hearth. Its warmth contrasted distressingly with recent events and failed to feel comforting.

Brushing ash off her hands, Ginny returned to the chair and jumped poker-straight on raw nerves when Harry’s hand jerked. Snape, moving with rapid confidence, lifted him upright and, using his arm to hold Harry’s head up, again forced potion into him. After stoppering the bottle, he turned around to sit back on the couch and continued to hold Harry while staring intensely beyond the floor.

Ginny relaxed only after a long, quiet time passed. She found her gaze unable to remain fixed on the scene of a hunched Professor Snape cradling Harry’s head on his arm and looking as though the future were grim. She finally let her heavy eyes close and drifted to the sound of the fire behind her.

Harry awoke to a pummeling from an array of confusing memories. His face was pressed into warm robes and the familiar scent of his guardian. With his comprehension of this, his immediate alarm drained away and he floated in absolute security despite being unable to piece the immediate past together. When he could, Harry blinked his eyes open and pondered the sliver of unfamiliar wall and ceiling visible beyond Snape’s shoulder and the curve of his chest. Harry’s hands were stinging in places and he moved them under the heavy cloaks to feel what might be wrong, startled when he was suddenly raised into a sitting position, his head lolling against Snape’s breastbone.

Harry wanted to lift his hands before him to look at them but Snape had too firm a hold. “What’s going on?” Harry managed to ask through what felt like a potion haze in his mind. Oddly, a potion bottle was before him as he asked this. It retreated slowly and the hold on him loosened enough for him to bring his hands up to study the numerous small cuts on them. Flashes of recent memory came back at that: broken glass, the dark warehouse. “What happened? Is Tonks all right?” Alarm brought clear thinking back for a moment, but it faded again into a general cottony pressure.

Snape set the potion bottle down nearby with a thunk. Snidely, he chastised, “She wasn’t there.”

Harry tried to take that in while gathering his strength to sit up on his own and not be draped against Snape. “No?” Harry then noticed that Ginny was sleeping in a chair nearby, feet curled under her, head awkwardly angled into the corner, mouth open. Harry rubbed his forehead and managed to get upright with a little help. Memories and nightmares were competing in his brain, making him woozy.

“Why don’t you have another sip of this?” Snape asked, bringing the potion bottle back before Harry.

Harry put his hands around the frosted green glass bottle and tried to stare down into it. “What is it?”

Snape’s arm was around him and it tightened as he replied, “Calming Draught. Just another sip and I think you will be fine. You are recovering from the effects of repeated Sleeping Curses.”

Harry didn’t want his limbs to be any more rubbery than they were now. He gripped the bottle in both hands thinking he should resist.

“Go on,” Snape urged softly.

Harry obeyed; the potion was bitter and it reflected the stale taste already in his mouth. Snape took the bottle before Harry might drop it and set it aside. Harry’s head fell to the side and Snape sat forward and let him down onto the couch to lie flat. Harry’s last perception was Snape bending over him, laying his fingers on the side of his neck.

Harry awoke later when Ginny added logs to the fire. He looked around the unknown room and felt at a loss. “Where is Severus?” he asked.

Ginny turned to him and said, “Sleeping in the other room. Do you want me to fetch him?”

Harry sat up and found it easier than expected. His fuzzy memory regarding potions was confirmed by the bottle beside the arm of the sofa. “No.”

Ginny stood and came beside him. “Are you certain? I’m under orders to fetch him if you so much as ask where he is.”

“No, no, it’s all right.” Harry put his feet down on the floor, massaged his head and sniffed. “I had the worst nightmare.”

“Really?” Ginny asked facetiously as she dropped back into the wing chair and crossed her legs.

Harry fumbled through his thoughts and laughed lightly. “Yeah. I dreamed I set demons loose on McGonagall’s husband.” He shook his head and looked perplexed.

“Ah huh,” Ginny muttered. She linked her fingers together and rested them over her knee. “Now ask where we are . . .” she invited.

Harry’s stomach dropped an inch. “Where are we?” he asked despite not wanting to hear the answer.

Ginny shot him a look that Snape frequently used. “Headmistress McGonagall’s house.”

“No,” Harry breathed.

“Yes,” Ginny stated.

Harry’s eyes roamed the room, trying to hook this place into his memory, but he couldn’t. “Did I really let them loose?” Harry asked bleakly. “Did anyone get hurt? Did Richard get hurt?”

Sounding more upbeat, she said, “Professor McGonagall went on defense for Richard. It was kind of cute, actually. The only person who got hurt was yours truly.” She pulled up her trouser cuff. “And just a scratch that Professor Snape said is healing all right.”

Harry studied the bandage on her ankle. “I’m sorry.”

“Harry, it’s all right. No harm, no foul.”

“Right,” Harry muttered, rubbing his hair back repeatedly. How did he lose control? he wondered.

Ginny laughed. “I was thinking that whoever was trying to kidnap you would have had a rather nasty surprise if they had captured you.”

Harry tried to piece that in with the previous evening. “What happened?”

Ginny filled him in while Harry leaned far back, eyes fixed on the fire.

“Someone went to that much trouble to trick me?” Harry asked at the conclusion.

“Yes. Wanted you rather badly.”

“Who?” Harry asked, and then thought he might know the answer.

Ginny shrugged. “I don’t know. My dad and Moody stopped by, said they hadn’t worked it out yet.”

Harry shifted his head to look at Ginny again. “Moody was here?”

“Yeah. Everyone lied to him.” Ginny sounded sober. “It was freaky standing by and watching Professor Snape lie to my dad. I think he needs to know, Harry.”

“I think he does too,” Harry agreed, although it made his empty stomach do a flip. “I need to get something to eat. Is there anything?”

“There are some snacks in the kitchen.” She stood and led the way down the long row of small rooms that made up the old house. The kitchen was at the far end just past a long formal dining room. Its white walls and cabinets were blinding when the electric lights were switched on. Ginny pulled bread and cheese out as well as chutney. Harry took them and sat down at the small table to eat.

A bit of food improved Harry’s outlook and he almost felt like himself after two cups of tea.

“So how much trouble are you in?” Harry asked.

Ginny sipped her tea and said, “I don’t know. Professor McGonagall threatened to expel me.”

“Isn’t that what you want?” Harry teased.

“At the beginning of the year, maybe,” she replied sharply. “Now that I’ve made it this far . . . no. My dad suggested a Quidditch ban.”


“Yeah, and if he insists on it, I think I’ll insist on becoming a professional Quidditch player.” She looked determined and Harry didn’t doubt she would do just that. “You think I’m good enough?” she asked.

“You’re pretty good,” Harry admitted. “I think you’d need more training, though.”

She took a cracker and munched through it. “You think Suze is good enough, though,” she pointed out, sounding a little hurt. “She hasn’t been doing as well this year,” Ginny added, sounding as though she were scoring points.

“Don’t tell anyone, but Severus changed the Snitch to a professional one.”

Ginny dropped her hand onto the table loudly. “No wonder the games have all been so bloody long this year. He do that just for her?”

“I expect,” Harry answered, pouring himself a third cup of tea.

Feet scuffing on the floor brought their attention to the doorway where Richard stepped in and immediately scuffed to a stop upon seeing Harry. Leery, he glanced behind him as though contemplating a retreat. Harry’s fingers suddenly felt the sharp outline of his teacup handle as he fiddled with it. He felt rather bad, but didn’t know what to say.

“Good morning,” Ginny said easily, as though everything were normal.

After a hesitation Richard returned her greeting before quickly going to the icebox for the milk. He fumbled in cabinets he must know well, but at this moment didn’t appear to know so well, to get out a glass. Harry stared at the chipped edge of the table, feeling worse. Richard put the milk away and departed.

“He’ll get over it,” Ginny asserted when quiet descended.

“Doesn’t look like it. How many creatures were there? I didn’t notice any damage.”

“I wasn’t counting, and they seemed to want to get at the people mostly.” She frowned as though regretting saying that. “Professor Snape thinks the conditions in your head that made it happen won’t easily occur again. But avoid Sleeping Curses, if you can . . . especially three in a row.”

Harry’s stomach felt sour and he pushed the remainder of his tea away.

“Harry,” Ginny cajoled. “Everything’s all right. If you hadn’t been rescued, everything would still be all right because of those things. They weren’t going after you that I could tell. What’s the problem?”

Harry stared in the direction Richard had shuffled off to and sighed lightly. “What did McGonagall say?”

Ginny sent the dishes to the sink with a wave of her wand. An early morning glow filled the small window high on the wall. “Nothing.”

Harry shook his head in disbelief. “Nothing?” he repeated and Ginny confirmed with a nod.

Snape stepped in then, looking around as though still on alert. His hair was exceptionally mussed and he looked in need of far more sleep, but he stepped over to Harry and placed his hand on his shoulder.

“How are you feeling this morning?” he asked.

Harry looked away, at the salt and pepper shakers beside a jar of toothpicks, utterly mundane things. He shrugged. “All right, I guess.” His stomach burned fiercely and he only felt worse in the face of Snape’s sympathy. He didn’t see Ginny’s chagrined frown at his guardian.

More firmly, Snape said, “Harry?”

Sounding annoyed, Harry turned straight and prompted, “Yeah?” What he was realizing with grim outlook was that he was a potential time bomb for everyone around him.

“Any nervous twitches or sudden weakness?” Snape asked.

“No,” Harry replied, hoping dearly that meant he was through it for now.

Snape’s hand squeezed his shoulder. “Good. We should depart soon and leave McGonagall’s household in peace.” He crossed his arms. “As to you . . .” he said, staring down his nose at Ginny.

In his mind’s eye Harry saw himself rising and raging at Snape for even considering punishing Ginny, even though a moment before he had been tempted to hypocritically point out her poor judgment himself. He imagined Snape’s shock and alarm with detachment. He sat quiet, though, not even fidgeting outwardly.

“Someone had to do something,” Ginny was arguing.

Snidely, Snape demanded, “Did it not occur to you, Ms. Weasley, that you could have come and informed me and that I would be more than capable of dealing with it?”

Ginny bit her lip. “I didn’t think of it.”

Snape rolled his eyes. “Identical bloody hero instinct. I take it back, Potter, I would not choose her . . . you would mutually self destruct.”

Ginny’s brow furrowed and she turned to Harry and asked, “What is he on about?”

“Don’t ask,” Harry replied quietly. He stood and said, “I’m ready to go home.”

Familiar footsteps indicated McGonagall was approaching. She took in the room with calm eyes and greeted everyone. Harry dropped his gaze for what felt like the tenth time that morning. “Recovered, Harry?” she asked, as though he might have had touch of flu.

“Yes, ma’am,” Harry replied, eyes roving the worn laminated floor.

To Snape she said, “I’ll expect you early Monday, then?”

Snape nodded and went to fetch their cloaks from the far room. Harry stood waiting awkwardly. Ginny gave him a hug, which did not aid in reducing the awkwardness. Snape returned, grasped Harry’s wrist and Disapparated them to their main hall.

“I could have Apparated myself,” Harry pointed out, sounding peevish on top of tired, “that didn’t feel very far.”

“Why don’t you go to your own bed for a little more rest?” Snape suggested stiffly.

“I just had three cups of tea,” Harry pointed out.

“Why don’t you work on your readings then.”

- 888 -

Ginny tensed as she was left alone with the headmistress. “We should be going as well,” McGonagall said. “I left Grubbly-Plank in charge, but I do not like to be gone so long . . . especially when there is apparently more trouble brewing than I previously realized. Get your things together,” she commanded Ginny.

“Yes, Headmistress,” Ginny responded politely, but as she stepped away, McGonagall said, “Little late for a bid for obedience, Ms. Weasley.”

Ginny returned as McGonagall was collecting a broom for herself from a hall cupboard. Upon seeing Richard hovering outside another doorway, she said, “Go on ahead Ms. Weasley, but wait for me at the doors to the castle, I doubt they will be open this early.”

Ginny slipped her hand-knitted gloves on, grasped Harry’s broom and Disapparated to the end of the railroad bridge.

The valley and its bridge spread out before her in misty steep hills and low stray streaks of wan sunlight. It was beautiful and for a moment, all she wanted to do was to fly off into the scene rather than go back to Hogwarts. Sighing, she hovered the broom and took off on it in the direction of the school, quickly collecting moisture on her cloak as she flew. The castle walls were streaked grey as though it had rained and the torches beside the doors were unlit blackened stumps, making the castle appear unoccupied. She landed before the front steps and sat down on the top one, damp cloak tugged tight around her.

It was almost ten minutes before McGonagall appeared and Ginny had fallen into a bored stupor, watching the matted grass of the lawn flutter in the wind. McGonagall didn’t speak, just unspelled the door and led the way in. A few students mingled in the Entrance Hall even this early and they watched in curiosity as Ginny trouped in behind the headmistress.

McGonagall hadn’t instructed it, but Ginny continued to follow her up to her office, where she glanced at a few notes on her desk before turning her attention to her charge. While she waited, Ginny examined a glass model of Hogwarts castle that hung from a stand on the desk. It was wet, dripping the occasional water droplet onto the floor.

Still standing, McGonagall asked facetiously, “Well, Ms. Weasley, what are we to do with you?”

“If I hadn’t gone, Moody might have taken Harry to St. Mungo’s and he would have opened the Dark Plane there, which would have been terrible.”

“Claiming the ends justify the means does not fly with me, young lady, especially accidental ends,” McGonagall stated. “But the kind of trouble you caused did not put other students at risk, so I have little reason to expel you.” She paused while looking Ginny over. She adjusted the bun in her hair and took a seat before saying, “But we must be hard enough on you to deter others. Three weeks detention would be a start. And would you consider banishment from the D.A. a severe punishment?”

Ginny thought a moment. “It takes a lot of time that I’ve been thinking I should be using to revise for my N.E.W.T.s.”

McGonagall considered Ginny with what might have been a grudging acceptance of her attempt to sound the dutiful student. “Would others think it a severe punishment?”

“Probably. I’m in charge of it at the moment.”

“As little as I wish to remove you from what essentially constitutes teaching duties, it does sound the best option.” Ginny was just letting her tense shoulders fall when McGonagall ordered, “Give me your badge as well.”

Ginny required a second to realize that it was her Prefect badge that was being requested. Frowning, she pulled it from her pocket and handed it over. McGonagall said as she accepted it, “Your behavior is not exactly becoming of a Prefect, Ms. Weasley.”

“No, ma’am,” Ginny agreed and felt more lacking than expected from losing that status.

“You may go, Ms. Weasley. I will ask the staff who needs extra help, so report here this evening after dinner for your detention.”

“Yes, Professor.”

“And if you ever again leave school grounds without permission,” McGonagall threatened, “it will be a full Quidditch ban.” Under her breath she added, “As little as I wish to give Slytherin any additional advantages.”

Next: Chapter 14 - Duels

McGonagall paced to the tall windows. "The incident this past weekend with you running off after Harry-"

"I ran off chasing one of our students," Snape corrected.

McGonagall turned and nodded in concession. "Nevertheless, the incident quickly became one centered around your adopted son." She clasped her hands behind her back where they fidgeted. "We had an emergency meeting of the Wizengamot this evening to discuss . . . what happened to Harry and some other incidences." She turned around. "I very much need to know if you were faced with choosing between being here to help protect this school and going to Harry's aid, which you would choose."

Chapter 14: Duels
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter 14 — Duels

Harry sat at the dining room table, mostly reading successfully until lunchtime when Winky asked what he might like. He had been up since 4:30 and thought that it felt more like dinner should be arriving and wondered if that was why she felt the need to ask. Snape was in and out of the room, sorting old piles of post and dealing with other random things. He always gave Harry a bit of a looking over before departing.

Harry, for his part, could get lost in his readings for a while but then Richard’s fearful visage would float before him and make him feel ill all over again. He was resting with his eyes pillowed on his arm, trying to deal with that, when Snape reappeared and took a seat across from him.

“I’m sorry about everything.” Harry said after lifting his heavy head. “You haven’t even yelled at me for taking off after Tonks.”

“Would you do so again?” Snape asked evenly. Harry knew that level tone meant the question was a test.

“I’d try harder to find someone to help, I guess. But . . .” Harry could not, after everything that had transpired, imagine staying put at the Ministry. He rubbed his gritty hair, and said, “I guess I would.” And then he laughed wryly. “You don’t seem angry. You don’t seem angry about any of it.”

Snape steepled his fingers before him on the table. “That instinct of yours to take action is the reason I am still here, so I cannot by rights insist that you always do otherwise. I do wish you would be more careful. Someone clearly wishes to do you harm.”

“Merton,” Harry said, and when Snape’s head tilted with great interest, Harry said, “He also attacked Rodgers. At the same place. Took him two days in Mungo’s to recover and he still isn’t himself.” Snape eyes were intent as he took that in. Harry added, “That’s why I was certain there was trouble; it was the same place.”

Snape leaned forward with interest. “Did Rodgers also get taken out with a Sleeping Curse?”

“No. Blasting Curse. Seemed like they intended to kill him. He just barely managed to Apparate away, but he passed out after that so he may have tried to go through a barrier. The Muggle police ended up finding him just outside the warehouse”

Snape rubbed his lip. “Is this the mysterious M.M. of whom you were asking before?”

“Yes. I shouldn’t be telling you any of this, by the way.”

Reassuringly, Snape replied, “I assumed as much.” Lunch appeared before them and Snape took up the Draco pepper grinder that still annoyed Harry. Sounding unusually concerned, Snape said, “Rodgers is hardly unskilled with that wand of his.”

“Whoever was spelling me yesterday wasn’t either.” Harry imagined getting a better shot next time, hopefully in the light, and felt a determination to do much better should the opportunity arise.

“Fortunately this Merton fancies convoluted traps rather than direct assault, or I would drag you back to live at Hogwarts.” Without missing a beat, he continued with, “How are your readings progressing . . . are you catching up?”

“I am, slowly. Rodgers did a review day last week. I think someone insisted he be nicer to me and after the attack on him he’s changed our lessons to strictly blocking so I’ve had more time to make up the older readings.”

“What are you learning?” Snape asked between bites.

“Combined dome and crystalline blocks. Also rubber shields, which can also be thrown over your opponent once their energy stabilizes, but we haven’t learned that yet. We’re still working on the basics. It’s going slow.”

“As little as I like the man personally, I am pleased by the level of training you are receiving,” Snape stated.

“I’m having a hard time staying on Rodgers’ good side.”

Snape said, “You will receive more effective training, perhaps, if you don’t.”

“I suppose,” Harry returned. He stared at his plate, remembering, yet again, Richard’s obvious fear. “You think I’m all right, though?” he asked, pained. Snape was behaving as though everything were normal, and if he didn’t believe it was, he certainly wouldn’t remain silent.

Snape put down his silver and put his hands on the table. “Have you had any other episodes since returning from Finland?” When Harry shook his head, Snape prodded, “None at all?”


“Then I expect you are all right . . . in general. Avoid Sleeping Curses, certainly,” Snape stated easily.

Harry didn’t feel so confident; he felt a bit like Dr. Jekyll must have. “I need to tell Mr. Weasley what happened.”

Snape picked up his fork again. “If you feel you must.”

“You think I shouldn’t?” Harry challenged.

Gently, Snape explained, “I don’t think everyone is going to understand, Harry.”

Harry held Snape’s gaze and felt relief at the reinforcement that Snape would be his ally, always, for good or ill. “I think he needs to know,” Harry restated.

“Then by all means tell him,” Snape continued in the same soothing tone. “It is your decision.”

The next morning, just as the sky was lightening, Snape stood ready to depart. Harry, after a very early night, came down in his housecoat and slippers to see him off. On the stairs, Harry remembered dreaming that Tonks had come to his room to see how he was. At least, Harry thought it a dream and then wondered with warm insides if she really had come. He found Snape standing beside the hearth, which had just been lit and crackled with fresh wood. Harry dismissed asking Snape about Tonks because he didn’t want to give away that he might have been dreaming about her, if it had been a dream.

“Have a good week,” Harry said.

“I shall attempt it.” Snape reached for the canister of Floo powder, but then set it on the table and faced Harry. “I should not be telling you this, but I will nonetheless. Alastor has been assigned to investigate you. The Wizengamot debated Arthur’s report and left the case open.”

Harry frowned lightly and said dismissively, “Mr. Weasley warned me that might happen.”

Sharply, Snape said, “Do not take this lightly. Mr. Moody came to interview me and exhibited his usual extreme paranoia.”

“Ginny said you lied to him when he came to McGonagall’s house.”

“I had no interest in handing him sufficient evidence to have you removed from the Auror’s program.”

Harry put his hands into his housecoat pockets. “Thanks,” he uttered.

“You are welcome,” Snape returned, yo-yoing back to calm. “I truly believe such circumstances will not easily occur again, but you must be careful.”

“I will. You too.”

Snape hesitated. “Do you need anything at all?” he asked solicitously.

Harry, with the fresh memory of the care he had needed the night before last, flushed lightly and shook his head.

“Do keep me informed,” Snape said, recovering some of his snide tone.

“Yes, sir.”

After his own breakfast Harry put his things together a little clumsily and, feeling less than adept, took the Floo into the Ministry. He arrived in the very farthest hearth from the golden gates, but at least he arrived in the right place. He joined the long, but fast-moving queues being checked in at the desk and arrived on his floor earlier than expected.

“Harry,” Mr. Weasley said from the end of the corridor. “A word with you, young man.”

Harry scratched his head and followed nervously, his vague dread now properly realized. Mr. Weasley led the way to his office and took a seat. Harry closed the door behind him and leaned against it since the visitor’s chair was absent. “Harry,” Mr. Weasley began, sounding disappointed. “When I suggest you keep your nose clean, this isn’t what I had in mind.”

“No, sir,” Harry agreed. He started to explain further but gave up on the belief that he wouldn’t be capable of composing an excuse of any benefit. He also had no will at this moment to explain that he had opened the gates to the underworld in McGonagall’s sitting room, so saying nothing seemed the best course.

Mr. Weasley was happy to speak. He glanced over an official report parchment on his desk that had a detailed timeline scratched onto it. “Partially, it is our fault,” he admitted. “The office was left unstaffed, and apparently invaded, to boot.” He dropped the parchment. “It has also been pointed out that you have not been informed of proper procedures and that, perhaps if you had, you would have taken wiser action.” Mr. Weasley’s reassuring words were tempered by his continuing dismayed tone. “Procedures are usually covered at the end of the second year of training, but I’ve asked Reggie to cover the Ministry office procedures as soon as he can work it into the regime.” He gazed up at Harry then, waiting for something.

Harry nodded. “Yes, sir.” It sounded lame to his own ears.

“Harry,” Mr. Weasley said firmly. “You are not an Auror yet. You are not authorized to take action of the kind you did on Saturday. Is that clear?”

Harry nodded, not raising his eyes from the floor.

“For now you are a liability to this organization. We are responsible for you, your welfare, safety, et cetera. Actions like yours the other evening make our responsibilities too difficult to fulfill. I, for one, would not want to be in the position of having to inform Severus that something tragic had befallen you.”

“Yes, sir,” Harry repeated yet again, feeling severely chastened by that particular vision.

Mr. Weasley sighed. “On the other hand we have a traitor in our midst and that is our failing, not yours. Without inside help none of this would have happened. Nevertheless, you are on probation for two months.” Here he wagged a finger up at Harry. “Don’t slip up again.”

“No, sir,” Harry replied, sounding obedient and feeling overly so as well. Mr. Weasley’s chastisement, on top of what Harry knew to be real concern, was having an unusually powerful effect on him.

Mr. Weasley appeared satisfied with Harry’s reply. He asked, “Are you completely recovered, Harry?”

Harry had been staring at the worn and cracked leather of his trainers. “I’m all right now, but . . .” He took a deep breath. “But the repeated Sleeping Curses had a really bad side effect.”

Mr. Weasley leaned back in his creaky office chair and laced his fingers over his slight paunch. “How so?”

“I uh . . . Severus said that an overdose of Sleeping Curses hyper-stimulates some parts of your nerves, even as you lose consciousness. I don’t remember much of this, but I apparently . . .” Harry took another deep breath to fight the uneasiness beating at him. “I opened a gateway to the Dark Plane while I was out cold.”

There, he had said it; now he awaited a verdict. Mr. Weasley studied him closely while rubbing his chin. He said, “I’ll keep that in mind. Happens again, let me know.” The second comment had a tone of finality that squeezed at Harry’s chest.

“Yes, sir,” Harry said, yet again. He turned to the door and Mr. Weasley said, “Molly wanted to know if you were free for a luncheon this weekend . . .” Harry nodded without turning back around. He felt ashamed all around but mostly from admitting his weakness with the Dark Plane. Mr. Weasley asked, “Sunday noon, then?”

“I’ll be there, sir. Thank you.”

Harry returned to the training room just as Rodgers arrived, giving him his usual vaguely disdainful glance before beginning. Harry focused on his notes and Rodgers’ voice, ignoring everything else.

- 888 -

“I am sure you are busy,” McGonagall said when she gained admittance to Snape’s office late in the evening, midweek. “But there is something I need to discuss with you.”

She sounded even more serious than usual, so Snape closed the grade book he had open and put down his quill. “What is it?”

McGonagall paced to the tall windows. “The incident this past weekend with you running off after Harry-”

“I ran off chasing one of our students,” Snape corrected.

McGonagall turned and nodded in concession. “Nevertheless, the incident quickly became one centered around your adopted son.” She clasped her hands behind her back where they fidgeted. “We had an emergency meeting of the Wizengamot this evening to discuss . . . what happened to Harry and some other incidences.” She turned around. “I very much need to know: if you were faced with choosing between being here to help protect this school and going to Harry’s aid, which you would choose?”

Snape sat back in his chair and considered that. While he thought, McGonagall went on, “There is a belief at the Ministry that things are getting bad again, although they are nowhere near the level they were at two years ago. In comparison, things are extremely quiet and if someone were not singling out the Aurors, no one would be noticing yet, let along worrying, I don’t believe. But, it is clear that someone is testing the Ministry’s strengths and if they are holding back on something larger, there could be real difficulties when they are brought to bear.”

Snape rubbed his fist on his chin. “I cannot promise you what my priorities might be in the future. It would depend too heavily on the circumstances.” More softly, he said, “I do not mean to sound disloyal . . .”

“I realize that.” She paced to the bookcase on the other wall, the one full of Potion manuals. “I also realize that I do not inspire the same loyalty from you as Albus did.”

“It is close,” Snape conceded.

She gave him a small smile at that. “What I propose is this: We bring Remus in to assist in teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts because your deputy headmaster duties are taking up too much time. At least, that will be the ostensible reason for his presence. The real reason will be so he is present as backup for you, should you feel your loyalty divided too far.” They considered each other. “Is that equitable to you, Severus?”

Snape shrugged.

McGonagall pointed out, “You have not got along with him terribly well in the past and have previously strongly resisted his presence here. I don’t want to bring him into an environment of enmity, although given how badly he needs the employment, I don’t think he would complain.”

Snape sighed. “I will not resist your hiring him.”

“Nor working with him?” McGonagall prompted.

“Nor working with him,” Snape conceded. “But others will resist. Are you prepared to fight the board and the parents on his behalf?”

She tugged her forest green robes straight at her sides and said, “After last weekend’s little invasion of my house, I find myself in the mood for a fight.” With a small, knowing smile she departed.

- 888 -

“How are you, sir?” Harry asked his trainer as he entered the workout room. For once, Harry had arrived earlier than everyone else.

Rodgers stopped and considered Harry before replying. “Getting better.”

“Are you going to be well enough to compete in the finals?”

“Oh, is that what this is about?” Rodgers snapped nastily.

“I was just curious, sir,” Harry said, alarmed that his attempt at being nice was apparently backfiring so brilliantly.

“Yeah, sure,” Rodgers scoffed.

“I really was only asking,” Harry explained. “Just curious how you were doing. Making conversation.”

Rodgers organized his notes on the table. “That Death Eater father of yours teach you how to lie that well?”

Harry frowned. “Sorry sir, I didn’t mean to upset you. I was just asking for myself, not because Severus wanted to know. He hasn’t even mentioned it.”

Rodgers bit his lip. “He isn’t even supposed to know, Potter.”

Harry straightened, cringing at his error. “I had to tell him after what happened last weekend,” he explained quickly. “He rightfully wanted to know what was going on. Not like I have much to tell him.”

“You want him to win the tournament that badly, what?” Rodgers mocked. “Bad enough that you are judging.”

Harry dropped his head and found hurt burgeoning rather than anger. “I intend to judge the tournament in complete fairness, sir.” Harry took a seat and opened his backpack. “And I’m glad you’re feeling better, even if you don’t think I am.” Harry opened the first book he took out to its bookmark and began reading, ignoring Rodgers until training started.

The whole day became an exercise in graciousness in the face of enmity. Rodgers used Harry for every demonstration, even of blocks they had not mastered.

Harry was just picking himself up off the floor for the fourth time, rubbing his elbow, which seemed adept at finding hard surfaces, when Rodgers said, “Again.”

Harry held up his hand. “Can you show me again, sir?”

The other apprentices were sitting in tense silence. Harry was certain it was only their presence that made Rodgers run another demonstration of a domed Diamona. “You were doing better last week, Potter. Something happen between then and now?” he taunted.

“Apparently, sir,” Harry answered tiredly, finding stress of this kind to be a surprisingly strong deterrent to learning. He was starting to pin his hopes on making a visit to Hogwarts and getting a lesson from Snape that weekend.

Another Blasting Curse and Harry was on his knees again, his distorted block shattered and casting yellow stabs of light around him.

Finally, Rodgers said in clear disgust, “Vishnu, you come up and try it.”

“Harry,” Tonks said at the end of the day as Harry packed his things. She stepped close even though they were alone, reminding Harry of the dream he wasn’t sure was one. “What did you say to Reggie?” she asked in a hiss.

“I asked him how he was,” Harry explained, sounding hurt.

“You asked him how he was,” she repeated doubtfully. “You pissed him off that bad asking him how he was?”

Harry sighed, feeling surrounded. “He apparently thought I was looking for information for Severus for the tournament.”

Tonks’ expression shifted into a befuddled one. “Oh,” she said, sounding saddened.

Sticking with the hurt tack, which he found easy with her, he said, “I was trying to be nice.”

“Don’t, I guess,” she suggested.

- 888 -

Professor Snape circled his classroom at the end of the day on Friday, checking that everything was in order and put away. A rap on the open door frame brought his attention that way, where Lupin stood, a battered leather case held before him in his hands.

“Severus,” he said in greeting.

“Remus,” Snape replied neutrally. He picked up his files from the front table and considered the newcomer before approaching him.

Lupin tilted his head and said informationally, “Minerva put me in an office one floor up.” He pointed up. “Just above here, in fact.”

Snape strode down the corridor to his own office and Lupin followed but stood in the doorway while Snape put his remaining things away. When Snape straightened and noticed Lupin still standing there, he gestured abruptly at the visitor’s chair.

Lupin accepted the invitation, straightening his faded and excessively patched robes as he did so. “If you have copies of the syllabi, I can get acquainted with where the courses are before Monday.”

Without expression Snape opened a file drawer and went through several folders to pull all of the requested copies. He handed them over and stood, hands on hips, while Lupin perused them.

Lupin glanced up and said, “I’m not trying to be the interloper, Severus.”

“I realize that,” Snape uttered flatly. He settled behind his desk and rubbed his fingers together. “You are going to be indisposed already at the end of next week.”

“Yes,” Lupin confirmed easily.

Snape’s fingers still rubbed over one another. “Are you properly stocked with potion or do you need more?”

Lupin stopped reading. “I could use more, if you are willing to make it.”

“I shall start it tonight,” Snape said grimly. In a more neutral tone he asked, “In what way do expect you can assist next week? You can certainly be useful for demonstrations.”

Lupin laughed dryly and stated, “Yes, I’d expect you to find me useful for that.”

Snape’s hand slapped the table. “You are doing me a favor by being here.”

Easily, almost teasing, Lupin replied, “You certainly aren’t acting like it.” When Snape frowned and looked away, Lupin asked, “Minerva made clear the real reason was for my presence here. Harry still that much of a burden?”

“More so,” Snape muttered.

“How’s that?” Lupin asked with a laugh.

After a long pause Snape replied, “He has moved beyond me. He needs a necromancer or a mage as a keeper, not me.” Snape sat in pained silence after this confession.

Lupin put the parchments down. “I thought he came back from Finland in good shape,” he said in real concern.

“He did . . . from one aspect. He gained controlling power to match the uncontrolled power he was exhibiting.” Snape picked up his quill and dropped it again.

Lupin adjusted himself in his chair. “So this isn’t about protecting Harry at all.”

Snape’s hand hit the desktop again. “Of course it is about protecting Harry.”

“This is really troubling you, isn’t it?” Lupin asked, clearly surprised. When Snape merely rubbed the knuckles of one hand under his chin, Lupin prodded, “Severus . . .”

Snape stood suddenly and said, “It is no matter.”

Lupin tried to go back to the syllabus before him. “Doesn’t seem like no matter. Is there something I can do?”

“Such as?” Snape asked snidely.

“Anything,” Lupin replied.

Snape paced to the bookshelf. “If he doesn’t need me, he most certainly doesn’t need you,” he retorted quietly.

Lupin’s brow went under his hair. But he closed his mouth on his initial reply and observed Snape instead. Finally, he asked, “You think Harry doesn’t need you anymore?”

With his long finger Snape tugged out the binding of one thick book on pressure brewing. “He no longer asks me for help when I could provide it, which is getting rarer. He works on blocks now that I cannot produce, although I am somewhat relieved he has not asked for help, from that regard.”

Lupin rested his chin on his hand and continued to observe Snape as the other prowled the Potion shelves without purpose. Lupin said, “I am really quite certain that Harry needs you and that he is doing fine.”

“Good,” Snape said, sounding unconvinced.

“Severus,” Lupin argued, “I saw him just last week. Spoke with him in the Ministry Atrium for ten minutes. He seemed perfectly normal.”

“You have no idea, Remus,” Snape returned in a low growl. He had finally pulled out a book and flipped through it intently.

Remus laughed then. “He even asked me to take the stain out of his shirt cuff, claiming he could never get the spell to work right.”

A knock came on the door and Ginny Weasley stepped in when called to enter. “Headmistress sent me down to see if you could put me to work for detention, preferably on something miserable. Those were her words. Hello, Remus,” she said, noticing Lupin sitting there when he turned to her in amusement.

“Professor Lupin, for now, my dear.”

“Oh,” she said brightly. “Of course, sir.”

Snape stepped over. “How timely. I have just the thing for you to assist with, Ms. Weasley. But first, how is the ankle?”

Ginny bent as though to touch it, but didn’t, and said, “Fine, sir.”

Snape said, “You are certain?” in such a sharp tone, that Lupin interrupted with, “What’s this then?”

Ginny opened her mouth to explain and Snape muttered, “He is not to know.”

“I was going to lie, Professor,” she pointed out smartly. “And it’s barely visible now I’ve been using Roop’s tincture on it.”

Snape collected his cloak off of the coat rack to go to the dungeon and swung it over his shoulders. “You didn’t show it to Pomfrey, did you?”

“Headmistress said not to. I got someone else to get the Roop’s from the dispensary.”

Lupin eyes were moving between them. “What did you get detention for?” he asked carefully.

“It’s general knowledge around here, to my misery: running off to rescue Harry.”

This befuddled Lupin unusually so.

Snape said, “Feel free to stay as long as you wish, Remus. The files of examinations and assignments are there . . .” He gestured at the cabinet below the window. “Should you wish to review them.”

Snape led the way down the corridor, striding fast enough that Ginny had to jog intermittently to keep up. “I’m glad you have something for me to do, sir, otherwise I was going to have to ask Professor Greer.”

They reached the bottom of the Grand Staircase and Snape turned and waited at the top of the dungeon staircase. “Where are we going?” Ginny asked.

“Potions classroom,” Snape stated snarkily.

“Oh,” Ginny groaned.

Snape released the spells on the classroom door and entered, waving up the lamps without breaking stride. “We will start three cauldrons and take them up to my office to brew overnight.” He spelled open the ingredient cabinets. One required four charm cancellation attempts before it would open.

“Professor,” Ginny prompted carefully. “Is Professor Greer going to like this?”

“The classrooms are open to all teachers in this school,” Snape said while moving ingredient baskets out onto the front table before crouching to look through the bottles on the bottom shelf.

“I’m sure Professor Greer doesn’t feel that way.”

Snape stood and shifted some of the baskets to the first bench. “Sad for her then,” he mocked, making Ginny have to catch a laugh with her hand. Snape ordered her, “Come here and chop.”

Ginny obeyed, finding the clean knives and a stack of wooden boards to cut on. “She’s not so bad now that Harry’s gone.”

“Really?” Snape uttered, sounding only half interested as he dug around for more ingredients.

Ginny looked at the basket label which read Poison Hemlock Root. “Yeah, she kept accusing him of being a dark wizard. Couldn’t get over the Parseltongue thing. Isn’t that funny?”

Snape didn’t reply immediately, not until he came over and handed her a basket labeled Helleborus Niger. “She has no idea . . . does she?” he asked with an odd lightness. “Cut those diagonally into one-inch strips. And these, grind into a powder.”

Using the ruler burned into the edge of the board, Ginny began cutting. “Are you worried about Harry, sir?” she asked hesitantly.

Snape was cautiously sniffing a jar of something grey and viscous. “Your detention assignment is the only topic allowed right now, Ms. Weasley,” he stated coldly.

“Right.” She went back to cutting and added, “Sir,” as an afterthought.

“What is this?” a strident voice came from the doorway half an hour later.

Snape answered offhandedly as he stirred a cauldron, “Brewing. I would have thought it obvious.”

Ginny shot him a look of disbelief and then bent back to her task of dripping spirits over seared mandrake tongues and collecting the essence in a tiny glass phial. Greer was stalking about the front of the room the way she did in class. She picked up and examined the crocodile claws, the high mallow, the moonwort. She stared at Snape who was ignoring her better than any student could.

Snape came and took the phial from Ginny and gestured impatiently at the next task: juicing buds of beauty of Liveremere.

Papaver bracteatum?” Greer asked snidely, hands on hips. “Are you brewing a Lynconthropic potion, Professor?”

“And if I were?” Snape queried.

“For whom?”

Snape evenly and without any indication of falsehood, stated, “The gamekeeper insists upon a new pet and since the last time he had a dragon all kinds of trouble resulted, and then he was keeping a hippogriff, and that was . . . even more trouble. So we have finally simply found him a werewolf.” Ginny was staring at him and almost squashed her fingers with the wooden mallet she was using. Snape went on, “To keep him busy, you see.”

Greer turned her beady and challenging gaze upon Ginny, who said, “I’ve seen the werewolf, ma’am.”

“Minerva knows about this?” Greer challenged Snape this time.

Snape finally raised his gaze, his hair well tangled before his face. “It was her idea,” he said, disdain now clear as well as clearly honest.

“Well,” Greer uttered. “Clean up when you are finished, and don’t leave that noxious substance brewing in here.” She stalked off.

For the next minute Ginny appeared to want to say something but in the end went back to squeezing bud juice into a sandalwood box.

Hours later, Ginny was carefully rubbing her eyes with a corner of her robe, since her fingers were foul with all kinds of odd things.

“Use the neutralizer,” Snape ordered, even though he hadn’t looked up to see her doing this. “It is beside the sink in the back room.”

Ginny went into the back, picked up the narrow-necked glass bottle and shook drops onto her hands, which were rendered normal after a rinse. “How come we don’t get to use this during class?” she complained.

Snape gave her a derisive look. “It would lead the students to be even sloppier than they already are.” He peered into the cauldron he was stirring and pulled the stirring stick out.

Ginny yawned. “Are we finished, sir?”


“So we have been making Wolfsbane?” Ginny asked as she shook the cutting boards over the rubbish bin.


“Hm. Complicated one,” she opined tiredly.

“One of the most,” Snape said, waving the fires away from under the cauldrons.

“Do you think it will be on the N.E.W.T.s?”

“It sometimes is,” Snape replied.

“I hope it is,” she said wiping down the bench she had used.

Snape handed her a cauldron to carry. “Why did you apply for the Auror’s program, Ms. Weasley?” he asked. When she merely blinked at him in stunned response, he went on, “You do realize dating is right out among the Aurors?”

Ginny recovered herself and snapped, “I thought my detention tasks were the only allowed topic.”

Snape conceded this point with an angled nod of his head, but his own point had already been made.

- 888 -

The next afternoon, Snape opened the door to his office and gestured abruptly for Lupin to enter. Three cauldrons bubbled and steamed on the wide window sill. Lupin wandered over to them, wrinkling his nose. “I think it smells worse than it tastes, Severus. Just as well I can’t brew it myself . . . I’d get kicked out of my flat.”

Snape hooked his cloak and said, “Those are set until tomorrow. I am going home for the evening. If Ms. Weasley stops by, you may put her to some task as you see fit.”

“Should I ask her about her ankle?” Lupin prodded.

Snape shook his cloak straight and replied, “You do not wish to know what happened, I assure you.”

“I’ll give Ginny something easy to do,” he said, as Snape moved to the door.

Snape stopped before pushing the latch to say, “As you wish. Oh, and if Alastor stops by, don’t tell him where I am.”

“You don’t think he’ll figure it out?” Lupin asked.

“You’re right,” Snape sighed. “Lie and tell him I am in the Forbidden Forest with Hagrid.”

Lupin laughed. “I’ll do that, but don’t you think he’ll know better.”

“That magical eye of his has its limits and that Forest is one of them.” Snape finally opened the door. “I’ll return tomorrow evening, since you are so fortuitously here to cover.”

“Shall I do checks on your house, then?” Lupin suggested.

Snape hesitated. “You may do so if you wish. Good luck if you do.”

“Tell Harry I said hello,” Lupin said before the door closed.

In the library in Shrewsthorpe, Harry looked up from his reading to see Snape striding in from the dining room. “Didn’t expect you so early,” Harry said in greeting, eagerly closing the book in front of him.

“Don’t stop learning on my account,” Snape said as he shook out his cloak and draped it over his arm.

“I was thinking you might want to do something. The weather seems to be holding out. We could go somewhere.”

Over his shoulder as he crossed the main hall, Snape said, “I only have a few hours.”

When he returned to the library doorway, sans cloak, Harry asked, “A few hours only, because . . . ?” Snape’s response was an insinuating lift of one brow, leading Harry to drop his shoulders. “Oh. You have another date.”

“You disapprove why?” Snape asked as he came into the library and sat at the small table in the corner, arms crossed.

It wasn’t a pose that invited open conversation, but Harry chose to ignore the signals. “I guess I just don’t know why you are dating her.”

Snape’s head angled sharply. “You don’t trust me?”

Harry, tired of this sort of banter rising between them, said, “It’s not that. Exactly. I trust you not to do anything untoward. I just can’t imagine your . . . you and she’s . . . understanding of it are the same.” Harry huffed at himself and his trouble finding words. He tried for something easier. “If Pamela gets hurt, Polly will be completely miffed. More so than I expect she is now.”

Snape considered Harry before replying. In a vaguely lecturing tone, he said, “There are two things you do not understand, Harry. Firstly, there is the reduced risk of misunderstanding between two adults. Pamela is not one of your teenage friends; she is twenty six. Secondly, and perhaps more important to your own sense of well-being, you could not lose Polly so easily as a pseudo-grandmum, as she has clearly become to you.”

Harry glanced away, mulling that over. Snape went on, “These particular blood relatives are not seeking any excuse to be rid of you. They care quite deeply for you and in fact have shown protective instinct for you that you are not aware of.”

“Is this dating getting serious?” Harry asked, choosing to bypass Snape’s arguments for the moment.

“Only an eighteen-year-old would ask that about a second date,” Snape countered. “But to mollify you, I would have to answer no. She is merely curious and I . . . a bit bored, I suppose.”

“Bored with Candide?” Harry prodded.

“Hm,” Snape uttered gruffly, indicating further questioning would not be productive.

Harry sighed, feeling slightly appeased by Snape’s lecture. “So, we have a few hours to do something. You’re probably leaving again tomorrow morning already.”

Snape shook his head. “Remus is filling in and will be present to do so for the foreseeable future. I don’t need to return until dinner, when I should make an appearance and check on my house.”

“You can go to the Burrow tomorrow, then,” Harry said brightly. “Mr. Weasley invited me.”

“You must not have told him what really happened last weekend,” Snape gibed. He uncrossed his arms and now sat with his fingers steepled, looking relaxed.

“I did,” Harry countered, not sensing the insincerity of the question. “I’m not sure, however, that he understood the ramifications,” he confessed.

Darkly, Snape commented, “One would have had to have been there to do so.”

Harry frowned. “I’m sorry about that, I-”

Snape cut him off with, “I was not fishing for further expressions of regret.” Snape sat forward then, which made him appear almost candid. “Last weekend worked out as well as it could have under the circumstances. I do not want you to take yet more regret away from that experience.”

Harry started at the forcefulness of Snape’s statement.

Toned down slightly, Snape went on. “The only lesson I wish you to take from it is that you must be more careful. You are not at your trainer’s level, which implies that had Merton, if that is who is behind this, wished to do harm to you rather than render you immobile, you would have been gravely hurt or worse.”

“I already got this lecture from Mr. Weasley,” Harry quietly pointed out, unsettled by hearing it revised.

Snape fell silent for a brief spell before he asked, “How would you care to occupy the next few hours?”

They sat in the library—Harry with Kali climbing over him—playing chess. Harry lost the first game but drew the next two.

“You aren’t letting me tie these matches up, are you?”

Snidely, Snape asked, “Would I do that?”

Harry grinned. “No, I guess not.” He stretched, stiff from sitting, inducing Kali to circle his shoulders. “It will be warm enough to take the bike out soon.”

“We could take broomsticks out anytime.”

“It’s not the same,” Harry insisted. “We could go to the zoo on it.”

“You enjoyed the zoo that much?” Snape asked, resetting the board before setting it aside.

“I’m nostalgic for it,” Harry explained.

“You are not old enough to be nostalgic for anything,” Snape countered disgustedly.

“What are you nostalgic for?” Harry asked, picking Kali up off his shoulder to hold her in his lap and pet her.

“Nothing, I hope. I abhor nostalgia,” Snape said, sitting back to reach the shelf where a stray book needed reshelving. He dropped his arm. “Perhaps that is not quite true. I believe I am nostalgic for one thing from the past.”

Harry looked up from studying Kali’s tiny fox-like features. “What’s that?”

“I miss Slytherin not winning at Quidditch all of the time. Used to be that way . . . in the old days.”

Harry laughed lightly. “More fun to win when you have a chance of losing, or when you lost the time before,” Harry asserted.

“No, it is always better to win.”

“Planning on winning the dueling competition? Are you practicing? It is just over two weeks away.”

“I plan to employ Remus, if he is amenable, as a drill partner.” Snape thought that over. “Next weekend is the full moon, so I should ask him tomorrow evening, in fact.”

Harry let Kali, who had grown restless, fly off back to her cage. “You don’t want me as a dueling drill partner?” He pulled out his pocket watch. “We have half an hour before your date . . .”

Snape stood. “I could perhaps hold out that long,” he muttered as he led the way to the main hall.

As Snape hovered the two pieces of furniture out of the way, Harry asked in disbelief, “Are you afraid I’m going to beat you at this?”

Snape took his place a pace from the front wall, in the wide space between the two windows. He pulled his wand and stroked it as though it were a quill in need of unruffling. Finally, he replied, “Unless I employ something underhanded against a weakness of yours . . . yes, I am certain you will come out on top.”

Harry stood, wand pointed at the floor, dumbfounded. “Severus, be serious,” Harry laughed, “there is no way I could best you in a duel.”

Snape aimed his wand at Harry and commanded, “A crystal-dome block. Raise it.” Without hesitation Snape fired a Blasting Curse. Harry instinctively brought up the double orange block they had been working on relentlessly at training and the curse shattered away inside it, between its layers. It was the best he had ever managed by far, which reinforced his belief that his stress with Rodgers was dragging him down during training.

Snape slowly lowered his wand, his expression opaque. “Very good,” he said, sounding vaguely startled.

“That’s the best one I’ve done,” Harry admitted, replaying the feel of it in his mind to better replicate it.

“It was textbook,” Snape said.

“But, it’s just one block . . .” Harry began to argue.

“I cannot produce that block, Harry,” Snape interrupted. “Despite endless attempts at it over a span of years. It is beyond me.”

Harry stared him, trying to rearrange all of the assumptions in his mind necessary to accepting this. “But you know loads of spells I don’t-”

“Most of them illegal,” Snape pointed out with clear enunciation. “Or they would be if the Ministry officially knew of them.” When Harry still didn’t move as he worked this out, Snape asked, “Do you still wish to duel?”

“Um . . . yeah.” Harry rubbed his hair back, still oddly unsettled. He gathered his wits and waved a chain binding at Snape, but he was befuddled a bit about how much power he should put behind it, and it appeared cracked, some of the links just hooks.

Snape canceled it with a sharp motion and said angrily, “If you pull your spells for me-”

Harry cut him off with quick excuses. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. I hadn’t decided exactly what I was casting.” Strongly desiring to prove that last was an accident, Harry cast a torpedo spell that Aaron had taught them during one of the many drilling periods when they had been left on their own. Snape didn’t have a counter and had to duck and use a Titan block to deflect the pillow-sized, black pill as it zipped overhead. It turned before the wall and came back around in a broad loop, slowing as it ran out of magical energy. Snape cast a cannonball curse at it that shattered it before it could finish its turn.

“Where did you learn that one?” Snape asked. “That is an old Slytherin one.”


“Ah.” Snape aimed again. “Modulated this time,” he instructed Harry before casting a blinding beam of light at his eyes.

Ten spell exchanges later, Harry dropped his aim. “You need to go,” he said.

“True,” Snape admitted, sounding reluctant. But he moved off to collect his cloak. When he came back into the hall, he muttered, “Limit of my Apparition distance, Godric’s Hollow.”

“This relationship isn’t a competition, Severus,” Harry chastised.

Snape froze mid-adjustment of his shirt collar inside his cloak collar. “No, but it means I am not much help to you anymore.”

“What do you mean?” Harry demanded. “You think all I care about is whether you can teach me spells?”

“No, I do not think that,” Snape said, now brushing off the shoulder of his cloak with his hand.

“You better not,” Harry said, feeling stung.

Appearing to take a bit of affront at Harry’s tone, Snape asked, “So, what do you care about?”

“I . . .” Harry launched himself in but then had to think. “Just . . . that we’re a family. What else matters?”

Snape shrugged his cloak together in the front so he was completely shrouded in it. “And what does family mean to you?”

Harry stared at him. “What a ridiculous question, Severus.”

Snape stepped closer, his tone softening. “Only if you don’t have an answer is it ridiculous.” He stared closely at Harry a breath before muttering, “Hm.”

Harry said, “It means having a place where you’re always cared about.”

“So you are not planning on moving out anytime soon?” Snape asked.

Harry again found unsettled surprise filling him. “No. What would make you think that?” He finally stashed away his wand which he still held pointed at the floor.

Snape again adjusted his cloak by tugging on the edge of it and shifting his shoulders under it. “Just a general expectation that you would prefer to live closer to your friends.”

Harry, feeling for the first time in a very long time as though he were gaining some insight into Snape’s strange moods, said softly while gesturing to take in the hall, “This is the first home I’ve ever had . . . I’m in no hurry to leave it. And I certainly still need you—you’re the only person who understands . . .” Harry finished much quieter, “. . . what’s happening to me.” Speaking this so unsettled him that he dropped his gaze.

“It does not bother you that I cannot aid you in magic any longer?”

“I didn’t think that,” Harry admitted and re-raised his eyes. “I still think of you as my teacher, somehow.” Quickly though, he added, “But, it doesn’t matter. I’m certain to encounter dark magic that I need explained.” As they considered each other, Harry remembered how after his letter about the Dark Plane, Snape had swooped in and taken him off, with no hysterics, not even a flicker of stress. Harry had desperately needed that commanding stability. Flushing lightly, Harry said, “I’m still really happy to be your son . . . in case you need to hear that again.”

An awkward silence descended until Harry said, “You’re going to be late.”

“Work on your studies this evening,” Snape said, recovering his poise.

“Yes, sir,” Harry responded easily. His alternative was meeting up with Ron, whom he was going to see the next day anyway.

Author's Notes
Fell way behind in writing over the holidays. Next chapter probably will be late, but you will all be hung over from the new year and won't notice, right?

Next: Chapter 15 -- Backup Plans
"Bored already?" Pamela asked with a hint of unhappiness, sounding as though the bitters were already at work.

"No. Simply disciplining myself."

"How's that?" she asked

Snape, before such long exposure to Harry, would not have spoken thusly, but he did now. "I am attempting to avoid reading your thoughts. You are an open book."

Chapter 15: Bad Dates
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter 15 — Bad Dates

In Godric’s Hollow the wind, as usual, blew harder than expected. Snape stepped from the copse of trees bordering the Evans’ property and crossed the narrow, cracked road to reach Pamela’s house. No one was about and the house windows up and down the line were all dark or had the curtains pulled closed, giving the village a withdrawn air.

Pamela opened the door as he approached it, making him instinctively assume, and then have to dismiss, the notion that she had placed a visitor alarm charm on the property line. She had a crooked smile on her face as she greeted him. Snape couldn’t help taking one last glance around outside as the door closed.

Pamela looked very Muggle in wool trousers and a jumper. She touched his arm as she led him into the sitting room. “I was hoping you’d want to go out this evening,” she said. “I had a ruddy awful week at work and need to get out.” She dropped onto the couch, much more relaxed than the previous date, Snape observed. She asked, “Can you zip us off to London?”

Adjusting his cloak, Snape sat in the white wicker chair across from her. “In theory. In practice it is against Ministry rules.”

“Oh, like you not being able to use magic at this house?” she asked, disappointed.

“Something like that. Your mother’s house is the one filed with Harry’s dispensation. Very minor magic would be ignored in any location,” he informed her while glancing around the room, thinking idly of the conversation he had just had with Harry regarding what made a home. This home was a mishmash of old and new furnishings in no particular style.

Snape stated slowly, “On the other hand I am quite capable of hiding most any magic I do from the Ministry.”

Brightly, Pamela asked, “Does that mean we can go to London?”

Feeling strangely reckless, perhaps due to the vague flattery of her attention in general, Snape said, “Why not?” As he stood, he suggested, “You should fetch a cloak . . . coat, perhaps.”

She jumped forward but didn’t stand. “We’re really going to London?”

Dryly, Snape said, “You expressed a desire to do so.”

“All right,” she cheered and fetched a long camel-colored coat. When she had buttoned it, Snape took her wrist in his hand and used his wand to cast a fogging magic barrier around them before Disapparating them to an alleyway in Soho.

Pamela gazed around them in surprise, patting at her ears from the shock of the popping air. “Very, very cool,” she stated and gave him a glowing smile. “And if the Ministry of Magic decides to come after you for that?”

“They won’t detect it,” Snape stated, thinking then that he did know a set of spells to show Harry, ones he really should learn.

As they walked along the pavement past rows of mouldering red-brick houses darkened by rain, Pamela asked, “So, do many wizards know how to block the Ministry’s magical detection?”

“No, not many,” Snape replied, thinking that most of the ones who could were in Azkaban. He waited to speak further until they were clear of a little old woman towing a trolley bag. “The spells that fog what magic one is casting are themselves forbidden and most witches and wizards are basically law-abiding even if they are skilled enough to master them.”

She studied him as they walked. “So you aren’t basically law-abiding, is that it? When I told Mum that we had another date, she threatened to tell me things about you that I, quote, wouldn’t believe, let alone want to hear.

They turned and followed the pavement beside a wider road carrying heavy traffic and well lit from the bright shop windows. The increased number of pedestrians forced the topic to remain vague.

Pamela asked, “Does she really know bad things about you, or is she, per usual, disliking anyone I date who is the least bit interesting?”

They had reached a corner with steps leading up into a pub. Snape gestured for Pamela to decide to go in or not. “Sure, I’m thirsty,” she replied.

They found a small, high table in the corner, near the rear door. Snape immediately tossed his cloak over the chair in the moist heat of the place. Pamela tossed her coat backwards over the chair back and leaned forward on her elbows to ask, “So, which is it?”

“You do not wish to know,” Snape replied and used a touch of Legilimency to compel the waitress over when her eyes flickered over them. “Two pints of bitters,” Snape told her.

“I don’t?” Pamela confirmed in a teasing tone.

“Correct. Especially since I do not feel like sharing my past.”

Silence fell until the pints arrived. Between sips, Pamela said, “Mum only likes incredibly boring men. Like Greg.” She spoke his name with some disdain.

“You do not like Greg?” Snape prompted, mostly since it was an easy way to hold up his side of the conversation.

Pamela took another large sip of her drink. “Greg is all right. NOT my type, despite my mother’s insistence that I find someone just the same as him.” She considered Snape over her glass. Snape resisted reading her thoughts under the belief that the evening conversation would lose all interest if he did so. He had glanced away as part of this effort and watched a couple putting on their coats by the door. The young man was holding the long brass door handle for much-needed balance. If someone coincidentally should enter, he would be on the floor.

“Bored already?” Pamela asked with a hint of unhappiness, sounding as though the bitters were already at work.

“No. Simply disciplining myself.”

“How’s that?” she asked

Snape, before such long exposure to Harry, would not have spoken thusly, but he did now. “I am attempting to avoid reading your thoughts. You are an open book.”

She stared at him, color gradually filling her cheeks beyond what the alcohol had already accomplished. “You can’t read minds . . .” But this ended uncertain.

“Shall I prove it?” he asked airily and then paused for a response which was not forthcoming. “What is your favorite color? Ah, red,” he finished immediately. An imagine of her in the mirror in a silken red dress had popped into her head. “You should have worn that dress,” he added with a touch of snarkiness.

She took that in with a vague choking movement before swallowing a gulp of her beer.

Snape went on, “Harry has been criticizing me for using that skill too often.”

“I’d say,” she stated forcefully. They stared at each other. “Still doing it?” she asked. She was recovering well. Muggle reactions to magic could be so unpredictable, Snape mused.

“No, I will resist,” Snape assured her, feeling an odd flush from his unusual frank honesty.

She huffed and stared into her drink. “Is that what Mum was on about?” she asked.

“Goodness no, she does not know about that.”

“Oh. Perhaps a new topic?” she suggested.

“Wise idea,” Snape agreed.

“How did your week go?”

“It was a typical week, all things considered,” Snape replied. He began fiddling with his glass and, annoyed at himself, forced his hand still. “Bit of trouble with Harry weekend last.”

“Oh, what was that?” she asked in concern.

“Nothing you truly wish to know.”

A group at the far table broke out in drunken song but quickly faded. “Oh, some weird magical thing, then?” Pamela asked.

“Yes. Some weird magical thing,” Snape awkwardly repeated, but then half-wished he could unburden himself to her with his concerns. Fleetingly, he considered that he would willingly have told Candide.

“He’s all right, though, Harry is?” Pamela asked.

“For the moment.”

“Oh, that’s reassuring.”

Snape admitted, “I wish I could be more certain. Someone or something always seems to want to do him harm.”

“Lucky he has you to protect him then,” she said.

Snape frowned mildly and didn’t respond.

“New topic?” she asked.


“Even though I really want to know more about that last one.”

With light snide Snape asked, “You wish to discuss Harry all evening?”

“I just want to know that he’s all right.”

“He is all right,” Snape assured her. “I just never know what the future holds.”

Pamela sipped her drink. “Is he all right with us dating? You wouldn’t answer that last time.”

“He was somewhat better with it this time ‘round.”

“Oh, so he is unhappy about it. Why didn’t you say?” she asked blamefully.

“It would have changed your mind?” Snape asked.

She shrugged. “Perhaps, I don’t want to make Harry uncomfortable.” She looked around the table, finally borrowing a menu from the next table over. “Unless we are going somewhere else to eat?”

“We can if you wish.”

“Nah, just get some grub here.” She read the menu over, which did not require much time as it was only six items long. “What about it upset Harry?” she asked without looking up.

“I’m not actually certain,” Snape replied.

“What, you don’t use that little trick on him?” she asked.

“I cannot . . . he blocks me from doing so.”

“Good for him,” she asserted, glancing around for the barmaid.

“I taught him how to do that,” Snape pointed out.

She gave up on ordering for the moment and turned back to him. “It would only be fair for you to.”

Now, it would be fair,” Snape muttered. “Used to be the only way to keep track of his overly active imagination before Voldemort was destroyed.”

“Let’s eat somewhere else,” she said after failing again to wave the barmaid over.

They paid at the bar directly and headed out. On the steps outside, Pamela asked, “So do all . . . of you people . . .” She waited for a large group to stagger in the other direction and then spoke more quietly, “Do all witches and wizards read minds?”

“No, not many at all,” Snape responded. They crossed and turned down a quieter side road and stopped before an establishment where the Latin letters of the name had been rendered in gaudy Chinese strokes.

As they pondered the hot pink menu taped in the window, Pamela pointed out, “You know how to do a lot of things only a few people do.”

He considered her before replying, “Yes, I do,” in a manner that was intended to cut the topic off.

Inside, they found a table near the window looking into the kitchen, Pamela said, “You play the bad boy too well, you know.”

Her making light of him set off something inside Snape that he had not felt in a long time. He could sense the strength of that other, older self rising eagerly up, wanting its chance to appall her simply by setting her straight. His odd silence had unsettled her on its own. He squashed the old instincts and calmly and soberly, as though offering her important advice, said, “You truly do not wish to go there.”

She bit her lip. “You’re no fun. Don’t tell me my mother is right about you.”

“Your mother knows nothing about me,” he snapped, immediately surprised to find that instinct still waiting just below the surface when he was certain he had suppressed it. “Apologies,” he muttered. “Pick a new topic.”

She ordered Thai noodles and then doubled the order when Snape waved that she should chose something for him as well. “Never eaten in a noodle shop?”

“No,” Snape admitted.

She drank the glass of water before her, clearly wishing it were something stronger. “Most bad boys aren’t really. But you are the real thing then?”

“Yes,” Snape replied quietly. “Barely reformed, shall we say.”

“But you adopted Harry . . .” she prompted.

“Yes,” Snape said with a laugh. “My penance, I realized later. Although, I have never regretted taking him in.” He breathed deeply and avoided outwardly revealing anything; her questions were bringing the past to life far too effectively. Harry’s lamentations to him about not ever connecting with someone who could not understand were feeling painfully true at this moment.

“Regretting this date?” she prompted, sounding teasing, rather than displeased.

“Partially,” Snape admitted, “I don’t like revisiting the past unless absolutely necessary.”

Silence fell until the waiter returned with their order. Snape accepted the oversized bowl placed before him containing a neat pile of shiny noodles with peanuts and chili pepper forming a hill atop them.

Snape said, “I am not who you think I am, even if I, for a delusional moment, thought perhaps I could be.” He hesitated picking up his fork due to wincing at how much he had revealed with that statement.

Pamela chuckled wryly. “And since you are an expert both on who you are and who I think you are, then you would know.”

Snape let his lips curl slightly at that. “Yes,” he confirmed.

Partway through their bowls, Pamela asked, “So, you won’t give me a chance of accepting who you are?”

“You would not,” Snape stated. “Your vision of the world is too black and white. Even as much as you have an unusually flexible acceptance of magic and dark humor, you would not accept this. I have assured Harry that I will not put this extended family in any jeopardy, and I will not do so by satisfying your curiosity.”

“How bad are we talking? Did you murder someone?”

“I have never killed anyone,” Snape assured her quietly, lest he be heard two tables over despite the banging woks in the nearby kitchen.

“Have you been in prison? Do wizards have prison? They must, mustn’t they?” She wondered aloud.

“They do. It is a magically warded island far off the coast,” Snape informed her.

“Been there?” she prodded.

“No. Why are you still pursuing this?” Snape asked with some snide.

“I’m curious still despite, or because of, the warnings.” She shrugged. “My noodles aren’t gone yet.” She grinned then.

Snape rolled his eyes and put his fork down. The dish was bizarre, tasting of oily nuts and rancid fish despite appearing to contain only chicken.

She ate a bite containing just one noodle, carefully rolled up on her fork. “So you haven’t ever been sent to this island, yet you insist you are too horrid for polite company.”

Snape said, “I was not sent to that island purely by the grace of someone with enough power to keep me out because they desperately needed my help. Otherwise, I most certainly would have been.”

“Oh,” she said. Apparently taking this as truly a bad sign, she began eating her noodles at a more normal pace. She paused though and said, “Harry, in his letters—because for some reason you have no telephone—certainly respects you.”

“Yes, he does,” Snape softly agreed. In his head he was realizing that living up to that respect was half of the reason he had changed so much in the last two years.

- 888 -

Ginny knocked on the door to Professor Snape’s office. After a pause it opened but Lupin stood inside holding the door rather than the expected Head of Slytherin house. “Good evening, Professor,” Ginny said. “I was just wondering if Professor Snape had anything I could do for detention.”

“He isn’t here, but I can find something for you. Come in.” He backed off and gallantly waved her inside. The cauldrons still bubbled on the window sill although the noxious odor had muted from earlier.

“Where is Professor Snape?” Ginny asked.

“Home for the evening,” Lupin replied from where he looked over the shelf of Defense books. “Ah, here. Severus said you may come looking for a task and when I threatened to give you an easy one, he said to do as I please.” He handed her a book. “Amazing how mellow he has grown. There was a time he would have thrown out all the pickled rat’s brains just to force students to extract and pickle more. Sit down and read chapter seven aloud to me.”

Ginny peered at the spine and had to squint to read the flaked gold leaf. “Dodging Dreary Disadvantages,” she read. “What’s this?”

“A beginners book on Defensive spell theory.”

Ginny pulled the visitor’s chair closer to the desk and peeled the book open in her lap. The pages were brittle with brown age. Chapter seven was titled Sustenance for the Credible Counter. “Why chapter seven?” she asked.

Lupin, who was staring out at the lawn which was brightly lit by the waxing gibbous drooping over it, replied lightly, “Because starting at the very beginning would be discouraging.”

Ginny couldn’t argue with that. She began reading, “Counters are generally of the class aegidis vorare and are therefore boosted easily by increasing general magical effort. However, counters of the class compulsum resilio each require a different technique- I’m actually quite good at Counters,” Ginny stopped and pointed out, sounding as though another topic would be more appropriate.

Lupin turned to her from the window. “But are you good at writing a test on them?”

Ginny frowned. “No. Probably not.”

Lupin turned back to the window. “Keep reading then.”

“Did Professor Snape tell you I’d applied to the Auror’s program?” Ginny asked in surprise.

“Did you?” Lupin asked.

“Yes. But he didn’t tell you that?”

“No.” In the dim lamplight and blue glow from the window Lupin’s eyes appeared less kind than normal, although his voice was its usual gentle self. “I just assumed that since, despite hopes to the contrary, you are still attending Hogwarts, that you intended to try for as many N.E.W.T.s as possible.” He put his hands in his cardigan pockets and considered her additionally. “Have they accepted your application and sent you the test time?”

“Not yet,” she said, sounding hopeful.

“Go on and read then. After each paragraph, close the book and summarize that paragraph for me.”

- 888 -

After the meal and returning Pamela to her house, Snape returned home directly to his main hall, interrupting a conversation in the drawing room. After hanging his cloak in the front entryway cupboard, he stepped into the well-lit room prepared to point out to Harry that he was supposed to be studying. He closed his mouth upon encountering Aaron Wickem in the guest chair, heavy book open in his lap.

“An unusual pose to find you in, Mr. Wickem,” Snape managed to recover enough to say.

This chagrined Aaron appropriately. “Harry and I are equally far behind so we are doing readings together. My date bailed on me this evening so it was either Harry’s glowing company or nothing. How was your date, sir?”

“None of your concern,” Snape responded flatly, but this made Harry’s eyes narrow in alarm. Snape sent him a reassuring glance.

“Do you want your desk?” Harry asked when Snape came to collect letters from the middle drawer.

“No, I’ll be in the library,” he said, taking up a quill and inkwell. “Don’t let me disturb you.”

Harry, however, couldn’t hold out until Aaron departed. “I’ll be right back,” he said after ten minutes of reading the same page repeatedly and still not knowing what it was about.

Harry stepped just inside the door to the library and leaned on the side of a bookshelf in a relaxed pose with his arms loosely crossed. “Did it go all right?”

“It was undoubtedly our last date.”

Harry stiffened. “How’s that?” he asked in concern.

“Do not be alarmed. It is for the best. I cannot possibly tell her my past and she is too curious to stop asking about it. As you have said previously, with unusual wisdom I might add, there is not much understanding in such a situation.”

“I’m sorry for that,” Harry said.

“Are you?” Snape challenged mildly.

“Well,” Harry hedged, tilting his head to the side to stretch his neck. “Not entirely sorry it isn’t working out, but I’m sorry for you.”

“Hm,” Snape uttered noncommittally. “I catch you pitying me you will be in deeply serious trouble.”

Harry laughed. “I’m not pitying you,” he said, lowering his voice in case Aaron could hear across the hall. “You have a perfectly good girlfriend.” Snape froze at that assertion and Harry added, “Just because you are too chicken to marry her . . .”

Snape’s gaze sharpened severely at that, but it rapidly faded to merely bemused. “Go back to your studies,” he said.

Harry didn’t budge. “Really Severus, what’s your problem?”

Real anger came forth then. “I have no interest in discussing this with you.”

Even more quietly, Harry rhetorically asked, “And who else do you have to discuss it with?”

“You misunderstand. I do not wish to discuss it with anyone.” His anger was gone already, seeming to have been replaced with mild uncertainty.

“I think you’re making a mistake,” Harry said after a pause. Snape glanced down at the parchment before him, prompting Harry to ask, “Are you writing a letter to Candide?”

Snape held off a breath before replying, “Yes.”

“Oh.” Harry straightened and feeling a little regretful of being so forthright, backed up a half step and said, “I’ll go back to my studies now.”

“Good idea,” Snape said dryly, but without rancor.

- 888 -

Harry arrived in the Weasley hearth, met by many bright voices echoing up the blackened stone chimney. He ducked out as Snape arrived just behind him and the voices dipped and turned their way. Ron nearly dropped the heaped bowl of mashed potatoes he carried when he attempted to enthusiastically wave to Harry.

“Take a seat, take a seat,” Molly Weasley invited over her shoulder from where she worked at the counter.

The old dining room table was packed tight with Mr. Weasley at the head, the twins beside Molly’s empty chair, followed by Ron. On the far side sat Charlie and his wife, Bill and his date, and surprisingly Percy, mercifully sans date, and looking sulky.

“Everyone’s here,” Harry said, surprised. He took the last seat beside Ron, leaving the end for Snape.

“Well, almost everyone,” Molly said with overdone melancholy while setting an overflowing platter of sliced roast before her husband.

Snape had pulled out his chair but he didn’t move to take it. Instead, he stood considering the full table. After a pause he asked, “Shall I fetch the last of you?”

The clanking of silver halted and serving bowls froze mid-pass. Ron asked, “Wha? You’re saying you could fetch Ginny?”

A tad stiff, Snape replied, “That was what I was suggesting.”

“Severus, isn’t that sweet of you?” Mrs. Weasley asked brightly.

Mum, don’t dissuade him . . .” Charlie grumbled at her, but stopped mid-whisper with a blush.

“Can you do that?” Bill asked, also appearing awkwardly stunned.

Snape gripped the back of the chair in his long-fingered hands. “I am the deputy headmaster . . . I expect I can.” His eyes circled the table once again as though counting redheads. “I will return shortly.”

After Snape had disappeared up the Floo, Ron said, befuddled, “That’s awful nice of him . . . what’s he up to?” Across from Harry, Percy appeared relieved that Snape was gone.

Harry grinned and accepted the platter of meat Ron passed him. “He’s been trying harder.”

In the long second floor corridor, Snape stopped to consider where Ginny Weasley may be. Gryffindor had reserved the pitch that morning for practice, but they should have returned from that as the pitch was usually booked solid on the weekends. The tower seemed a likely place to look, or at least ask.

Snape folded himself to step through the Gryffindor portrait hole and found his quarry in the common room surrounded by the rest of the house Quidditch team, all of whom turned to him in surprise before rapidly stuffing away large parchments with play diagrams on them.

“Ms. Weasley,” Snape intoned in a manner that invited her to follow him elsewhere.

Ginny stood without complaint but Dirk Hickory, a fifth-year Beater, was having none of it. “What’s Ginny done, then?” he demanded.

Not in the mood to argue, Snape returned, “Nothing. Simply being a Weasley is sufficient grounds in this instance.”

Hickory flushed as red as his bottle-brush hair. “Sufficient grounds,” he mocked. “What’s that about? You’re being unfair as usual. You just want Slytherin to win the cup.”

Snape propped his hands on his hips and as though speaking to an idiot, said, “Of course I want Slytherin to win. That is why we play Quidditch . . . so that someone can win.”

“Dirk, it’s all right,” Ginny began.

Hickory continued angrily though. “It’s not all right,” he said, standing as well and imposing his oversized self across the small table.

“You are inches from detention yourself, Mr. Hickory,” Snape threatened.

Dirk,” Ginny, repeated firmly. “Let it go.”

Hickory’s glare and the other players’ concerned gazes tracked them both as they departed the common room. They had traversed the many staircases and reached the gargoyles before Ginny asked, “Am I in trouble for something new, sir?”

Snape didn’t reply, simply gave the password and gestured that she should lead going up the stone staircase. Ginny did so, commenting as though to herself, “I don’t remember doing anything else I could get in trouble for . . .”

Snape said, “Just being a Weasley is the reason for your removal from your little strategy session.”

“Is it?” Ginny confirmed bleakly. “I’m getting it for some recently discovered transgression of one of my brothers?”

McGonagall’s office was empty, but many of the portraits straightened their robes and watched them as Snape led the way to the hearth. He lifted down a Persian slipper from the mantel and gestured for her to hold out her hands.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“Floo powder.”

Ginny stared, mystified at the grey granules cradled in her hands. She glanced sidelong at the hearth behind her. “What’s this for?” she asked, dividing the pile into her two palms.

“You are the only missing Weasley offspring from the Burrow Sunday luncheon,” Snape stated, sounding as though her questions were vaguely tiresome.

Her face lit up and, closing her fists tightly around the grainy powder, she jumped forward and gave Snape a lightning quick hug. Ginny jerked back immediately, apparently as startled by her own behavior as Snape was. “Sorry sir,” she stammered, flushing fiercely. “I didn’t mean to do that.”

Snape squared his shoulders and forced himself to step forward. “I should think not,” he said. An awkward pause followed before Snape impatiently commanded, “Go on, then.”

Back at the Burrow both Snape and Ginny took their seats quickly—Ginny after a hug and hair petting from her mother. She sat beside Harry, crushed in close. Mr. Weasley said, “Thank you, Severus.”

Snape nodded without looking up from his place setting. Harry nudged him with an elbow and received a sharp look in return. Harry grinned at him and thanked him quietly as well. He was also grateful that his guardian was back to provide a barrier between himself and Percy, who was starting to get under Harry’s skin.

During a lull, Percy, in his usual nasal-sniffy way, asked, “Have a date for the VIP dinner yet, Potter?”

Snape turned to Harry in curiosity as well as everyone else sitting at their half-end of the table. Harry hated to do so, but he asked, “What dinner?” and wished he didn’t sound so defensive.

Percy scoffed with a smile curling his lips just at the corners.

Ginny chimed in, “You look Slytherin with that expression, Percy. Got a place for him, Professor?” Beside her Fred nudged her as though to silence her and Harry overheard him whisper something to the regard that their mum had insisted that everyone be nice to Percy no matter how obnoxious he himself behaved.

Snape’s expression of masked distaste as he considered that suggestion made Harry and Ginny both giggle. Coloring, Percy said, “Only the DV-Day VIP dinner, Potter. How can you not know about that? Doesn’t anyone tell you anything?” More airily, he said, “The Minister is just sending you an invitation same as everyone else, I suppose.” While Harry withheld his tongue, Percy continued, “Too bad you are in a department so very in the dark about what is happening.”

“Oh, I know what is happening,” Harry insisted, tossing vague insinuation into his statement. He was thinking that Percy was just using Belinda. This gut twisting thought was followed by one he should have thought of sooner: That there was someone who apparently knew more about what was going on, and that Harry should break down and go talk to him.

Harry’s tone had the desired effect on Percy. Upper lip twitching, Percy colored additionally before returning to his eating, although he only picked at his plate with nervous movements.

Bill asked, “Security for the tournament is going to be tight, I hear. Some of Gringott’s personnel have been hired to supplement the Ministry. You are, aren’t you, Ron?” he asked.

“I’m doing sweeps the night before. But I get to just watch the show . . .” Here he glanced down the table, first at his brother and then at Snape. With a fast broadening grin, he said, “And I’m looking forward to it. People at the bank keep asking me who you’re favoring, Harry,” he teased.

“I’m not favoring anyone,” Harry argued, suddenly almost physically aware of the black-clad figure on his right.

“The bookies have Rodgers to win by just a hair,” Ron went on, then to Snape asked in an innocent tone, “Are you aware of that, Professor?”

“I do not care,” Snape said in a tone that conveyed the self same.

Harry took great interest in spooning himself more cabbage as he considered that he also believed that his trainer had a slight edge. Unless Snape tried something underhanded, in which case it was up to him to penalize him for it.

Harry had spooned himself half a plate of boiled cabbage while he pondered this and began to truly wish that he were not judging.

“Hungry still?” Snape asked in his slight sneer.

“Excellent cabbage,” Harry announced to the table as though to compliment Mrs. Weasley.

Ron cornered Harry again while they were all relaxing after eating. The twins were outside trying to coax more of them out for a Quidditch match, but everyone else was resisting. “I’m glad I’m not judging this tourney,” Ron said in great sympathy.

Ginny gave Harry a grin as she scooped punch from a giant ceramic bowl nearby. Harry lamented, “I may have to let this Vogle person win so as to not seem to be favoring anyone I know.”

Quieter, Ron asked, “I got paid on Friday and was thinking of putting more Galleons down on this match with the Goblin bookie at the bank. I’d love to see his face when I collect,” he laughed. “Who do you think is favored? You aren’t really going to overcompensate in trying to be fair, are you? That would really mess things up.”

Harry sighed. “I’m going to be glad when this is over.”

“What weaknesses would an Auror trainer have?” Ron rhetorically asked, then immediately followed more forcefully with, “What weaknesses does Snape have?”

Harry, remembering Candide teasing Snape once, said with a laugh, “He might be ticklish.” At Ron’s horrified expression, Harry quickly added, “I don’t know that first hand.”

“Oy, I hope not,” Ron said, looking pale as he downed his punch. He handed his mug to Ginny to refill and shook his head. “Well, I better cut my losses then and stick with my brother. Harry here is too honest,” he complained to his sister.

“Definitely,” Ginny confirmed with a sly smile.

Later, when Ginny reluctantly began to remember all of the incomplete assignments she had stacked up on top of her trunk back in her dormitory, she sighed and approached Professor Snape, who sat on the old couch talking with her parents and George, who most likely had quit the backyard Quidditch match to research his opponent.

“Professor,” Ginny interrupted. “Can I get a note or something to take back to Hogwarts?” At his odd expression, she explained, “I have to go back through McGonagall’s office. She isn’t going to believe my story.”

“You don’t think?” George chimed in, fully sarcastic.

Snape said, “Go on Ms. Weasley. You don’t need a note.”

“Did you leave Headmistress one?” Ginny said, sounding as though she now understood. She made ready to leave. “Good, I fear how she’ll react if I tried to pawn off this story on her.”

“No, I did not leave a note,” Snape stated. “But go on anyway and see what she says . . . and do take careful note of her words. It will be most amusing to have to prove her wrong.”

Ginny stared at Snape, trying to take that in. George bent over the armrest he was laughing so hard. Molly Weasley had her hand over her mouth.

Ginny said, “I think I’d prefer a note, sir. At least then I don’t have to go through the trouble of being un-expelled when you do return.”

“I shan’t be long, Ms. Weasley,” Snape insisted with a softness that could be interpreted either for good or ill.

Ginny slowly moved to pick up the tin of Floo powder. George said, “Here, I’ll write you a note.” He moved the stacks of magazines around on the table before him as though looking for a scrap of paper. “I can even sign it S. Snape,” he added with a wicked grin.

Snape crossed his arms. “I would like to see that,” he stated darkly.

George found a never-out quill, which he had to suck on to get flowing, and a sheet of parchment was eagerly handed to him by his father. George, parchment before him stretched his arms, his neck. He made circles in the air with the quill as though directing an unseen orchestra.

“I’ll just wing it,” Ginny grumbled and scooped out the Floo powder and after an eye-rolling at her brother, departed.

Back in Shrewsthorpe, Snape put his things together to leave and Harry followed him to the dining room to see him off. “Before you go, I have a quick question,” Harry said before he could scoop out a handful of Floo powder. Snape set the tin on the table and gave Harry his full attention, which a moment before had appeared to have been cast ahead to Hogwarts. “Where is Malfoy Manor?” Harry asked.

Snape’s brow lowered. “Why do you wish to know?”

“There’s something I want to talk to Draco about.”

Snape considered this before saying, “It is in Devon. I can draw you a map of the nearby Floo nodes, but none are particularly close. You will want to take a broom the rest of the way . . . or simply fly yourself, I suppose.”

“That’d be great,” Harry said, taking up an unanswered letter from Hermione from the sideboard for Snape to draw on the back.

Snape drew out a map, carefully annotating it. “This wall here, marked by the entrance gate, is not where the barriers are. They are usually spelled halfway along the main drive to the manor itself. Do not try to land inside that area. The drive winds so you can land unobserved from the Muggle road a hundred feet inside the gate. Do not veer from the drive into the wood, it is set with all manner of traps as can the drive be if they want to resist any visitors.” Snape hesitated in pushing the map over. “Do you wish me to go in your stead?”

Harry tugged the map out from under Snape’s fingers. “No, I’ll go. Thanks.”

“Owl me upon your return, if you will,” Snape commanded before again taking up the tin of powder.

“Sure. Are you going to come home again next weekend?”

“No. Remus will be indisposed, so I cannot.” He stood before the hearth, hand clenched around a ball of Floo powder. “You are going to speak with young Mr. Malfoy this week?” At Harry’s nod, Snape said, “Owl me before you depart and if I do not receive another owl from you by 8:00, I will assume the worst.”

“Severus,” Harry criticized. “I think I can handle Draco.”

- 888 -

The next evening Harry, upon returning from training, changed and made a quick second check of his appearance in the hall mirror before stepping into the hearth with the destination of a rambling wizard book shop in Devon named Dealer Démodé. The place smelled of yellowed paper and must and the other customers, with their noses buried in books as they stood before tall shelves, paid him no heed when he squeezed by them carrying his broom on the way to the door.

Outside the shop the wind was warmer than Harry was accustomed to, balmy even. He found a well-treed area and hovered his broom, which he had opted for upon the realization that he couldn’t put a Obsfucation Charm on himself once he was already in his Gryffylis form and he certainly wouldn’t go unnoticed flying like that.

Snape’s map was accurate to a fault and Harry soon circled Malfoy Manor with its rambling, hilly property, thick with trees and brush except immediately surrounding the main buildings which were framed by a neatly cropped lawn. Harry’s neck prickled as he landed one-quarter the distance up the main drive, as promised, well out of view of the road.

He removed the charm on himself and, whistling faintly, strolled the long distance to the house. He had imagined himself knocking on the door and surprising the occupants no end, but he should have thought better. Before he reached the last bend and just as the upper corner of the grey, moss-spotted hulk of the old manor came into view, a figure appeared before him, tossing an invisibility cloak aside.

“Potter,” Draco breathed disgustedly.

Harry had his hand on his wand, but Draco was putting his own away so Harry returned his empty hand to his side.

“What are you doing here?” Draco asked rather than demanded, befuddled with disbelief, it seemed.

“I wanted to talk to you,” Harry said.

Draco frowned and glanced behind him back at the manor before stalking down the drive past Harry, who assumed he should follow. Sunlight glowed ahead of them before sliding on into the dense forest lining the road. The new leaves rustled but no birds sang that Harry could hear.

Draco stopped and flipped his black cloak off his shoulder as he turned. His invisibility cloak was clenched in his thin pale hands and with his back bent in annoyance he resembled his father even more than the last time Harry had seen him.

“What is it?” Draco hissed.

Harry, who had been working out approaches all day during training—to the detriment of his elbows which were now re-bruised—said, “How did you know something was going on before anyone else did?”

Cagey, Draco said, “Know what was going on?”

Harry, who had to pretend to know more than he actually did, had to pretend to be only looking for confirmation, said, “About Merton. How did you know he was a threat?”

The news about the two attacks had been well enough kept secret that Draco turned to him in surprise and made a grudging sound in his throat. Harry held his excitement firmly in check at this sign. Not looking at Harry, but instead staring into the trees, Draco replied, “Like I said, I’d been hearing things.”

“From whom?”

“Like I’d give you names,” Draco sneered. “Old associates of my fathers—fellow collectors of objects the Ministry likes to confiscate. Merton, whom I dislike immensely, had been on the hunt for particular kinds of things and was bragging about his plans because he’s an idiot. Anyone with any real sense would keep their bloody mouth shut about wielding unchecked power for his own amusement.”

“What does he want?” Harry asked, truly curious.

Draco scoffed disgustedly. “I’ve only met the man twice; my father hated him and certainly didn’t have him over often.”

“Because he collected things your father wanted?” Harry asked, trying to understand.

Yet another scoff. “Better reasons than that,” Draco mocked. Gaze still far away, he went on, “He came by half a year ago to buy things he had heard were in my father’s collection, things the idiots at the Ministry hadn’t found when they thought they had taken everything. He caught my mother in the right mood to sell . . . it’s the money we’re living on now,” he said in utter disgust. He paced away across the drive and Harry had to strain to hear, “To think we have fallen so low; it’s unbearable to contemplate.”

Harry waited in silence, hoping for more and not sure how to coax it out. Draco was in the mood to rant, though, so giving him space to do it worked well enough. His blue eyes reflected the patches of blue in the sky as he paced back. “Merton wanted anything that had stored power. Figures. Wasn’t interested in your ordinary cursed object, no matter how useful. My mother did make him pay handsomely. Father would have a fit if he knew what she had sold . . . things he had specifically told her not to.”

Stored power, was replaying in Harry’s head. “What things?” he asked, still thinking with a kind of cold horror about the smashed ceramic vessel and spells too strong for himself or even his trainer to counter properly. Harry came back to the here and now when Draco glared suspiciously at him.

“I’ll only tell you if you promise to get them back,” Draco growled.

“What? Expecting your father to return soon?” Harry scoffed.

Draco pulled his cloak tight despite the balmy weather. “I don’t like . . . fearing his return. I certainly don’t expect it,” he snapped. “She should not have sold him two of the things she did. Father specifically said they were to be kept safe—threatened to kill us all if they weren’t.”

Harry breathed deeply of the scented air wafting from the surrounding greenery. A patch of sunlight made them both blink as they stood measuring each other. Harry did not want to be on the hook to steal something Lucius Malfoy wanted kept safe, but he thirsted for more information. “All right. But I can only promise to try, assuming I am around when Merton’s place is found.”

Draco spent many seconds judging the value of this, before saying, “A golden inkwell and a seal.”

“That’s it?” Harry asked.

“Yes,” Draco said, his posture shifting as though to downplay the request. “Father truly will kill us should such a time come that he discovers them missing. But, of course . . .” Here he gestured magnanimously. “I don’t expect to see him anytime soon.”

Author Notes: We will eventually get back on a schedule, but not for chapter 16 either since I can't assume there is much internet in hurricane ravaged Yucatan.

Next: Chapter 16 -- A Full, Cold Moon

Dobby appeared with tray in hand and placed it on the table beside Lupin. "Masters require anything else?" he queried. Lupin was clumsily lifting lids. Mounds of mashed potatoes, slices of roast, and a square of pudding were revealed.

"No, thank you."

Dobby disappeared. Lupin managed to hold the fork but gave up on attempting to spear anything from the tray with his quivering hands. Instead he said, "I really don't need anything else, Severus, unless your plan is to reduce me further by some additional twisted act of unprecedented charity."

Chapter 16: A Full, Cold Moon
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter 16 — A Full, Cold Moon

Harry arrived just in time for training the next morning after lying awake much of the night, reliving in slow motion and guessing at unperceived details of being attacked at the warehouse. He was also thinking—round and round in his head—about objects storing magical power. Kali had been as restless in her cage as Harry had been in his mind, so he had released her to sleep beside him on his pillow and it was she who had woken him—with a sharp prick of her claws to the neck—just in time to dress and Apparate directly from his bedroom.

In the training room, each of their desks contained a tall stack of manuals with unpromising titles such as Rules and Regulations Amended Vol. IV.6 and Archives & Records Retention Policy. His fellows all had the same dull expressions as they flipped through their stacks with the exception of Vineet, who appeared intrigued. Rodgers came in and with little ceremony dropped an additional, similar book on Harry’s stack. Harry almost complained, had opened his mouth to, in fact, until he spied the title: Uniform Manual on the Arte & Code of the Magical Duel.

“Minister Bones sent that down,” Rodgers informed Harry in his usual hard tone.

“Thank you, sir,” Harry replied in his usual Best Boy way of combating his trainer’s vitriol. This attitude had been wearing away at Rodgers, slowly; so Harry was hopeful. He also hoped, with a twist of his gut, that if Rodgers won the dueling tournament fair and square, that that would also improve his mood and his attitude towards Harry. Harry wanted Snape to win, though, but he would also be happy with George Weasley winning, because the dismay it would cause Snape would be amusing. His trainer losing would only make him more annoyed with Harry, although if George did manage to beat him, perhaps he wouldn’t be quite so cocky during training.

Rodgers’ reading the introduction to the Magical Law Enforcement Recordkeeping Manual pulled Harry from his circular, angsty thoughts into mind-numbingly mundane and trivial rules.

During lunch, which his stomach complained bitterly about the prospect of skipping on top of lacking breakfast, Harry tried to find Tonks, but she was out on a call. Instead, Harry approached Kingsley Shacklebolt who was working at his desk and eating mixed nuts from a tin. Without comment he held the tin up for Harry, who gratefully accepted a handful.

“Something you need, Harry?” Shacklebolt asked easily.

Harry had rather a lot on his mind, and he wasn’t certain what order to address things in. He settled for beginning with, “So during the attack on me at the warehouse, Ginny said that Moody fought back at something that exploded and then the attack stopped. Was it one of those orange vessels?”

Shacklebolt leaned his chair back on two legs and turned his broad body to better face Harry. “We think so. Mad-Eye said he had never seen anything quite like it.”

“It wasn’t a person, then?” Harry confirmed, feeling better about that notion given his poor faring.

“No, it wasn’t,” Shacklebolt said, sounding reluctant to say more.

“So,” Harry stated, looking for a reaction if not a response, “Merton has some kind of spell casting object, like a Muggle machine gun.” When Shacklebolt didn’t respond, Harry said, “You aren’t supposed to say, I suppose.”

More quietly, Shacklebolt said, “It is being kept secret. Minister Bones isn’t keen to overly concern the wizarding public and so far Merton’s only gone after us, and we’re considered fair game, at some level, or at least game not worth calling a conference before the press over. You understand that, right?”

“That the Ministry, as usual, doesn’t want to air its lack of ability? Yeah,” Harry taunted grimly. Shacklebolt’s eyebrows rose halfway up his forehead. Harry added, “You don’t think the average witch or wizard deserves fair warning?”

Shacklebolt rubbed his forehead while Harry helped himself to another handful of nuts from the tin still open on the desk. Shacklebolt said, “The average witch or wizard does not take simple advice about even common problems well.”

“Wouldn’t you want to know?” Harry asked.

“I’m hardly an average wizard,” Shacklebolt argued. “But, yes, I would. It isn’t your place to decide to announce it,” he warned.

“I wasn’t going to,” Harry said, stung. “I just don’t like how it’s being handled, is all.”

“When you’re in charge, you can change it,” Shacklebolt retorted.

Harry considered fulfilling his original intent, which was to tell someone what he had learned from Draco beyond confirming what the department already knew, which was that Merton had been collecting similar objects. But that was obvious; how else did he learn how to store magical spells expect by studying objects that did? Harry decided the information wasn’t worth revealing that he had essentially gone off and started investigating on his own; especially since he was already on probation.

“So . . .” Harry began, voice pitched low. “Has anything been found out about who changed the logs?” It occurred to Harry only now that they may not have believed he had misread the logs.

Shacklebolt’s frown didn’t look like the doubtful kind. “That’s still being investigated, Harry.” His tone ended on a note of finality.

“Well, thanks, and thanks for the nuts,” Harry said and stepped away, honestly grateful that Shacklebolt had spoken as freely as he had.

At home before dinner appeared, Harry opened the dueling manual rather than his studies and began reading, intent on getting through all the way that evening so that he could study it in more detail over the next week and a half; he definitely didn’t want to have to reference it before an atrium full of spectators and he definitely didn’t want to get any rules wrong given who he would have to be arguing with over them.

- 888 -

Ginny knocked and entered when called to and found Lupin staring out the darkened window at the moon, hands clasped behind his back. Only one small candle was lit in the sconce by the door.

“May I spend detention revising with you again, Professor?” she asked.

“Certainly,” he answered after a long pause.

“If you’re busy, I can ask someone else,” Ginny said quickly and more willingly than she truly was. She had grown clearly aware of how dearly she needed this extra tutoring before the N.E.W.T.s.

“My workload is actually quite light,” he assured her.

“Is it?” she asked, taking the battered desk with half a writing top that sat before Lupin’s desk in the corner. “I thought you were hired because Professor Snape was too busy.”

“I was,” he assured her pleasantly, and Ginny had the strangest sense that he was lying.

As she read through Chapter 2 of a tome entitled Calamitous Charms a knock came on the door succeeded immediately by it opening. Snape strode in carrying a stone goblet that trailed a noxious stream of smoke behind it.

“For you, Remus,” he said, setting it carefully on the desktop.

“Thank you, Severus,” Lupin said, not approaching from the window where he stood. The only significant pool of light in the room was the lamp hovering before Ginny’s reading. There was a long moment where the two professors considered each other as though facing off and then Snape departed with only a cursory glance at Ginny sitting in his path.

After the door closed, Lupin took a grimacing sip from the cup. “Keep going,” he instructed her.

- 888 -

Merton paced along a grimy wall lined with magical objects from his vast collection. Most all were cracked, burned or broken due to investigations into their curses and charms. Broken vases—Chinese, Grecian, Roman—made up the bulk of the collection, but other odd things occupied the piles: candlesticks, a coffee grinder, a picture frame.

Merton was still angry from their failure. “Such a waste . . . I cannot believe we were foiled,” he raged for the hundredth time, eyes narrow. “EVERY last contingency had been planned for. We drew away the entire on-call staff of Aurors with plots we cannot repeat. An utterly wasted opportunity,” he growled again, slapping his fist into his hand and kicking at the few plates of glass still scattered on the floor—glass that had been charmed as portkeys to carry their quarry to them. “And in the end some block shielded him from the portkeys. Even that failed.”

Debjit stood to the side, only his eyes tracking the pacing man.

Merton paced back to the table where a thick book lay open, its iron covers chained to a slate slab—a discarded, rough-edged end of a billiard table. The book rattled against its bindings and a distant howl emanated from it. “I like your earlier idea, Debjit. We have a pliant servant . . . let us make better use of him.” He trailed his finger down the vellum page, eliciting a thrashing of sorts from the book, albeit a restricted one. Debjit took a step back, swallowing hard.

“Yes,” Merton cooed. “It is perfect. The spells work best on a weak personality. We have an entirely blank personality to work with. Message our friend who was so cooperative last time. I want a meeting with him myself. Let’s put his bragging to the test. We need a few things that only he can get for us. Those along with a few things we fortuitously already have should put us in very fine shape.”

He carefully unhooked that page and tucked it on the other side under the other loop of heavy, rusted chain. “Prepare the clay to be molded, it says. How ironic.”

- 888 -

Friday, Harry returned home after drinks with Ron and Bill to find a parchment envelope bearing a color version of the Minister of Magic’s seal among the pile of post delivered that day. It was the invitation Percy had mocked him about; the invitation to the VIP dinner to take place the evening before the second anniversary of Voldemort’s defeat. Harry stared at the handwritten invitation, decorated with gold leaf cartouches in the corners which repeatedly erupted into fireworks.

In nearly indecipherably flourished writing it said that his presence was requested at 6:00 p.m. at the Wickem residence, which had been kindly offered for the occasion. Harry grinned at the opportunity to see his fellow apprentice’s mother again, and hoped that meant his friend Aaron was invited or could slip in. Harry hoped someone interesting to talk to would be attending. Perhaps Headmistress McGonagall would be, Harry considered. He stood the invitation up on its edge on the mantel where the gold flickered in the dimness above the hearth. Two years, he thought to himself. It felt more like two decades.

- 888 -

Snape closed the door, pressing until the latch clicked. Lupin’s sparsely furnished office flickered with shadows thrown by the light of one stout candle. Snape looked about himself and back at Lupin, who was making notes at his desk with avid motions.

“How long have you been completely without potion?” Snape asked bluntly.

Lupin’s writing ceased abruptly. He set the quill down gently and said. “This is the first I have had in months.”

Sharply, Snape said, “Then you are not fit to be in this castle. Why have you lapsed?”

Not meeting Snape’s gaze, he said stiffly, “I haven’t exactly had Galleons for the ingredients or the Apothecary’s fee, which is exorbitant.”

Snape flicked his cloak out as he paced to the window to look out at the dusk that settled over the low mountains. “Any number of people would be willing to assist you with that,” he pointed out fiercely. When Lupin didn’t reply to that, Snape said, “Four days of potion is not sufficient to render you sensible through the transformation . . . you must leave the castle.”

Lupin drooped as though terribly fatigued, but he nodded.

“I will collect some things together for you,” Snape said, and hurried from the room.

Ten minutes later they were leaving by the heavy rear doors near the rose garden. The spindly stalks were quickly awakening for spring and many tiny leaves crowned the otherwise dead twigs. “I will tell Hagrid that you are in the forest tonight, so there won’t be any difficulty,” Snape said, leading the way quickly over the muddy ground. Sparse cloud cover might buy them a little bit of time, but they were cutting it close.

A quarter mile into the Forbidden Forest, where the massive trees stood far apart and the forest floor was open, Snape stopped and hung the bundle he carried on a low, broken branch. “You can find your way back to this spot, correct?”

Lupin nodded, barely discernible in the dimness. The forest was eerily quiet, not even the leaves rustled. Snape used his wand to charm the bundle, saying, “Animals will leave it be. There is a bit of food and pepper-up potion as well as a warmer fur cloak, which you may keep.” Lupin opened his mouth to protest and Snape cut him off with, “Once you see its condition you will not think it any great favor. Ask Harry what befell it, if you truly wish to know.”

Lupin’s head jerked to the side as though he heard something. “You should go, Severus.”

Snape strode away quickly then, masking his trail with a spell periodically so as not to be followed out. Around the side of the castle at Hagrid’s hut, he found the gamekeeper and his hound having tea before their fire, the hound using his great tongue to lap from a steaming bucket.

“Aye, ‘ello Professor. What can I do for you?” Hagrid said in welcome as he stood his great frame up when Snape stepped in.

Snape took in the room and said, “Remus is in the Forest this evening for the full moon. He has not been drinking Wolfsbane regularly and presents a danger as a result. If you could keep an eye on things?”

Hagrid sat back in his great chair and, with one long arm, checked the stringing of his giant bow propped in the corner. “Fang and I’ll go for a few strolls this evening, then.”

“Thank you. And, I have not informed Minerva of Remus’ rather irresponsible lapse, just so you know.”

Hagrid stirred his great fire until it roared even higher and sat back again with his hands on his patched knees. “Kind of you, Professor,” he opined.

“Yes . . .” Snape said in a hiss. “I am going to regret it, I believe. But if you are keeping watch . . .”

“I will,” Hagrid assured him.

In contrast to Hagrid’s cottage the air outside was bitter and it stiffened Snape’s robes. As he made his way back around to the rose garden he spied a small shadow moving over the lawn and arrested it with a Leg-Locker Curse. When he arrived at the errant student, he hoisted him up by the back of his robes and canceled the curse with a violent wave of his wand.

“Mr. VanEschelon, WHAT are you doing out?” Snape demanded.

Erasmus was too startled to respond immediately, eventually jabbering, “I . . . I was looking for my toad. She got away.”

“You are NOT to be out of the castle at this hour,” Snape snarled, dragging the small boy toward the doors.

Erasmus had trouble keeping up and tripped repeatedly, swinging by the grip on his uniform. “But, Peeves said he saw Pippin out here,” Erasmus complained. “And she’s a firebelly, she can’t take the cold.”

Disgusted all around, Snape said, “Peeves was undoubted lying.”

A howl went up, echoing off the broad castle rampart before them. They were only ten feet from the door, but Snape stopped to aim his wand and check the perimeter of the lawn. Erasmus stopped struggling and whispered, “What was that?”

“Werewolf,” Snape replied.

“Really?” the small voice queried.

“Yes. Let’s get inside,” Snape said, more levelly than before. But when he released his charge and pushed the latch, the door would not budge. He pushed more forcefully before moving his wand over the metal-strapped surface, considering several spells, but discarding them all as ineffective against the castle’s exterior wards.

Another howl made Erasmus grab hold of him. Querulously, he asked, “We’re locked out?”

“I believe Peeves may be blocking the door.” Snape didn’t really know this, but it was the only explanation that came to mind. He grabbed hold of Erasmus’ shoulder and said, “We will go around to the front.” He could send a silver message to McGonagall, but he held off, still bent on preserving the secrecy of his errand.

“That’s a long way ‘round,” Erasmus complained.

“We will stop at Hagrid’s cottage then,” Snape said, trying to soothe the boy, but as he said this, he lost his grip when Erasmus stopped and backed up four quick steps.

Standing small in the vast dimness of the dead grass, Erasmus whined, “I don’t want to see Ha- Hagrid.”

Snape, momentarily mystified by this unexpected fear, came back to himself and snapped, “If you don’t come along now, I will spell you to a tenth your already small size and carry you back in my pocket.”

This tactic was a mistake. Erasmus began backing up slowly, in the direction of the forest. Snape rolled his eyes and said more gently, “Mr. VanEschelon, come, we need to get back into the castle.”

An abbreviated howl sounded. Snape wished it didn’t seem closer, and in his mind cursed all things Lupin and the circumstances that made his presence necessary. Erasmus glanced at the dark mass of the trees and sprinted for Snape, who took hold of his uniform again. As Hagrid’s cabin came into view, Erasmus slowed down, but his size gave him little influence on their pace.

“Hagrid!” Snape called out, but there was no answer. “He is out. No worries, Mr. VanEschelon,” Snape stated evenly as though everything were all right. Erasmus certainly relaxed.

At the main doors the latch worked normally and they were soon inside the warm Entrance Hall. A few mingling students glanced at them. Snape didn’t release Erasmus, but dragged him to his office. “Sit,” Snape ordered. “You are in detention for the evening.”

Erasmus slouched in the visitor’s chair. “But what about Pippin?” he asked in a small voice.

“If you still require a toad tomorrow, I will be happy to turn you into one.”

Erasmus fell quiet.

“Bloody Baron!” Snape shouted and half a minute later the Slytherin ghost came up through the floor. Erasmus leaned away from the disturbing apparition, almost falling out of his chair. Snape commanded, “Go down to the rear entrance and if Peeves is there, banish him to the lower dungeon for the week. If he is not there, come back and tell me immediately.”

Erasmus remained silent but fidgety for the rest of the evening as Snape worked. The Baron did not return.

- 888 -

At a quarter to four in the morning just as the east began to glow in earnest, Snape rose and dressed. He found himself unable to resist heading down to check that Lupin did not need entrance to the castle. Why he was intending to do this, he wasn’t entirely certain. Perhaps it was merely the notion that if Harry were here, it was certainly what he would be doing. But as he adjusted his robes, he heard a creak overhead as though someone were walking across the rooms above him—Lupin’s office and chambers.

Snape dropped his arms and stood in the wan light from the windows. Clearly Lupin had been shown the new spells to enter the castle at night and Snape need not have worried. But still he stood there, not removing his robe and returning to bed. A full minute of pondering in the soupy greyness of his office was required before Snape decided that he could not return to his own bed without actually checking on Lupin. This realization disgusted him, but was not sufficient to eliminate the original compelling motivation.

Dismayed at his actions, Snape nonetheless rapped on the door of the office suite a floor above his own. Having come so far in overanalyzing this, he felt a undeniable need to finish it. The door opened after a long pause and Snape squinted in the dimness at the blanket clad, haggard vision of Lupin, who was using the door handle for support.

“Need anything?” Snape asked and wondered with a sleep-deprived kind of detachment, whether he was indeed under some surreal kind of Imperio.

Lupin, fortunately, wasn’t cognizant enough to take in the significance of Snape’s unexpected behavior. “No,” he said, clutching the blanket around his neck as though hypothermic.

Snape began to doubt the man’s better sense and sharply asked, “Are you certain? Have you eaten?”

Lupin glanced behind him as though seeking help from the inanimate objects in the room. Snape snarled faintly and slipped inside the door. “Dobby,” Snape called in a hoarse whisper.

After a pause the house-elf appeared and with a half bow asked, “Harry Potter’s father called Dobby?”

Snape paused at that Harry-centric title, but let it go. “Yes. Bring up a tray of food. Joint, pies, whatever you have that is extremely heavy, along with chamomile tea, a big pot of it.”

Dobby nodded and disappeared. Lupin essentially fell into the chintz armchair behind him, breathing fast and staring across the room with glazed eyes. Snape paced as he waited.

“Remus, if you run out of Wolfsbane, whether you are in Hogwarts’ employ or not, come ask for it. Your pride cannot be worth this,” he added insultingly.

“I’m surprised Minerva’s not here reading me the riot act,” Lupin said groggily.

“She does not know,” Snape admitted.

Lupin’s eyes raised slowly to peer at Snape. He laughed lightly. “You have really changed, Severus.” After further consideration he asked, “Or are you planning on holding it over my head?”

In a poor attempt at a sneer Snape said, “Only if I need to.”

Dobby appeared with tray in hand and placed it on the table beside Lupin. “Masters require anything else?” he queried. Lupin was clumsily lifting lids. Mounds of mashed potatoes, slices of roast, and a square of pudding were revealed.

“No, thank you,” Lupin said and Dobby disappeared. Lupin managed to hold the fork but gave up on attempting to spear anything from the tray with his quivering hands. Instead, he said, “I really don’t need anything else, Severus, unless your plan is to reduce me further by some additional twisted act of unprecedented charity.”

Snape straightened. “That was not my plan, believe me. I just wanted to . . . make certain you realized Minerva did not know,” Snape lied and felt better for it. “If you believe any specific potions will help, let me know rather than Greer; she does not realize who the werewolf in the school is and I would suggest you keep her unaware unless you wish to be on her bad side.”

Lupin half smiled. “As you clearly are, I’ve noticed.”

“Yes.” With that, Snape departed.

- 888 -

The Ministry buzzed the next week with preparations for the upcoming celebration and tournament. As a result, training was less focused, except on Wednesday, when Rodgers made each of them pair up with him for drills that seemed more to Harry like dueling practice. Harry wisely did not voice this observation to his trainer.

As he departed the atrium that afternoon, Harry noted the unusual queue of people waiting to be checked in at the desk. The desk staff had burgeoned to five from the usual one and extra spells were being cast at those wishing to enter the Ministry, even staff coming into work. Gold bunting was being hung from the ceiling, draped to just above the doorways and hearths. Harry had slowed to observe all of this and turned when his name was called by a very familiar voice.

“Harry!” Hermione called out again before he had a chance to wave. She dropped her paperwork-stuffed attaché and gave him a broad hug when they came together, attracting smiles from complete strangers. “What time on Sunday can you arrive?” she asked.

“I don’t know for certain yet,” Harry explained, thinking of the formal dinner he was scheduled to attend.

“Well, get away as soon as you can, all right? ” she asked as though extracting a major promise. “Nearly everyone from Hogwarts has said they’re coming, it’s going to be like a reunion.”

“You have room in your little flat for that many people?” Harry asked doubtfully.

She became vague. “I, uh, took care of that. Just temporarily,” she added quickly, making Harry laugh.

“There is a special filing specifically for that; you know,” Harry falsely lectured her. “Form 7802, Special Event Magical Preparation Permission.” He thought further. “Or maybe actually, Form D-63, Temporary Dwelling Tardification.

“Harry,” she said, sounding concerned. “I hope you are more fun at the party.”

They both giggled. “We have been reviewing Ministry paperwork policy instead of spell training.” More quietly, he added, “Ever since I messed up and changed the schedule, but I’m not allowed to talk about that.”

Both of them quieted as Percy, Belinda on his arm, strode by, nose in the air. “See you on Sunday, Potter,” he said. At least Belinda looked embarrassed.

When they were distant, waiting in queue at a hearth, Hermione said, “Poor Harry. You can hint more about your troubles on Sunday and grouse about you-know-who after you survive Bones’ party.” She aimed a thumb over her shoulder as she said this. More brightly, she said, “You and George can come together.”

“George is going to the VIP dinner?” Harry asked.

“Haven’t you read the Prophet coverage of the event? The Fashionably Gossipy section has covered nothing else all week,” she said in disbelief.

“I don’t read that section,” Harry admitted. “Skeeter writes it.”

“All the more reason to read it, Harry, to keep track of her. But at any rate, all four of the finalists were invited.”

“Severus was invited? He didn’t tell me he was.” When Hermione simply shrugged, Harry said, “Probably assumed I knew.”

Once home, Harry immediately owled his guardian to ask if he had accepted the invitation to the dinner. Upon visualizing tables full of Ministers of Magic, he then felt compelled to check his wardrobe and what he was planning to wear. Since he had ceased dating Belinda, his wardrobe had not been subjected to this kind of scrutiny. In the far right corner, he found his dark blue dress robes. He had only worn them a handful of times and they glowed like new, calling out to be worn.

Harry slipped them on, glad he had never had them taken in, because now they fit perfectly, which meant that Winky’s cooking had filled him in and then some since his return from Finland, something he wouldn’t have noticed wearing his usual workout clothes, t-shirts, or his bulky casual robes. Over the top of his dress robes, his replacement red lined black cloak was not going to be fancy enough, he didn’t think. Downstairs he tried it on and discovered that not only was it too plain, it clashed with the blue. Sighing as he turned side to side before the old mirror in the hall, Harry considered that he needed to get another, but purchasing a cloak just for one evening would be silly. Aaron, the nicest dressed friend he knew, floated up before his mind’s eye. Without even removing his mismatched cloak, Harry went to the drawing room to write out a request to Aaron to borrow a dress cloak to match.

As he stared at the completed letter, he pictured Percy from the atrium and then wondered with a chill of embarrassment if he needed a date. He thought over possible dates and then thought about Skeeter and how much attention bringing someone would attract. Hermione could hold her own in the face of insinuation, but she was already busy that evening with her own party. As much as he disliked being dateless in the face of his ex-girlfriend and Percy, he didn’t see an alternative.

Harry folded the letter, but he had already sent off his owl, so he changed into a dressing gown to await Hedwig’s return.

As he sat in his room, giving Kali a break from her cage, Harry was gripped by another panicky thought: he may need to give a speech. Kali picked up this concern and flew out of his hands, scrambled even with her claws to get free.

“Sorry,” Harry said to her, fetching her from the paltry remains of the drapes. “I’ll just make something up, if necessary,” he said to her in reassurance.

Hedwig returned and Harry let her in from the still night air. Snape’s letter was just a note scrawled on the back of his own letter. It stated that he was not attending the party because he did not really care to and as well because McGonagall was and they did not wish to both be absent from Hogwarts. Harry’s hopes for the evening sank a bit.

Before closing the sash after sending off his second letter, Harry breathed in the dewy night air and thought that he should really find a regular date again. If Skeeter decided to write about his datelessness specifically, he worried what she might conjure up, although that probably was not the best reason to find an acceptable girlfriend. Elizabeth’s even-headed self came to mind, but she was in the middle of a term and unlikely to be home soon.

Idly thinking about various woman he knew, Harry dressed for bed and crawled under the duvet, which chilled him and made him wish he had used a spell to warm it up first.

The next morning before training, Aaron swooped in and handed Harry a large shopping bag. “Best I have in blue,” he announced.

Harry, as he took the bag, said, “As long as it isn’t powder blue.”

Aaron winced and said in dismay, “Powder blue makes me look like a Healer’s apprentice.”

Harry couldn’t hold back a noise of appreciation as he pulled the piles of deep blue velvet from the heavy paper bag. Silver needlework ran along the front edges in a fancy interlocking snake pattern with the occasional bead for an eye and clusters of tiny sequins for the border. “Wow, thanks,” Harry said. “It’s perfect. Are you going to be there?”

Aaron became comically evasive. “I don’t exactly have an invitation . . . but I certainly know where the servants’ entrance is,” he said, nudging Harry in the ribs.

Rodgers came in, so Harry quickly dumped the cloak back into the bag and took a seat. Aaron moved a little slower as though to attract attention to himself. Vineet entered then followed by Kerry Ann at a run. Rodgers, apparently distracted by internal concerns, didn’t even look up from his notes.

When it became clear that Rodgers wasn’t ready to start, Aaron leaned over and whispered, “Who’s your date?” Harry frowned and shook his head. Aaron leaned closer and asked, “Want me to find one for you?” Harry favored him with an expression of distaste. “Take Kerry Ann, then,” Aaron suggested.

“We’re not allowed to date,” Harry pointed out. Kerry Ann turned around upon hearing her name, and Harry said, “He thinks I should take you to the DV-Day dinner.” When Kerry Ann appeared very interested in this, Harry asked, “You really would like to go?”

Aaron raised his hand and Rodgers, after setting his notes aside, called upon him. Aaron asked, “Is is all right if Harry takes Kerry Ann to the VIP dinner as just friends?”

Aaron,” Harry began. “You can’t just ask for permission . . .” he turned to their trainer, “Can he?”

“It would look bad if you took a fellow apprentice to the dinner,” Rodgers said, making Kerry Ann’s shoulders sink and her lower lip pop out.

“But it’s not against the rules?” Aaron prodded. “He wouldn’t be dating her, really.”

“The rules are not so specific to include precise events that are off limits to joint attendance. No one in the department is allowed to date anyone else. The only exception is married couples who were married before they entered the department and that has only come up once.” Rodgers turned to Harry and snidely asked, “Trouble finding a date, Potter?”

Anger prickled at Harry’s back and he couldn’t find a safe reply before Aaron chimed in with, “He—and I—would have dates just fine if we didn’t have five hours of reading every evening.”

“Keeps you out of trouble, though, doesn’t it?” Rodgers asked facetiously.

- 888 -

After washing and repeatedly combing his hair down, Harry dressed in his dark blue robes and checked himself all around for lint or anything amiss. He looked good, he thought, as he gazed at himself in the hall mirror. The robes could have been custom made for the occasion and the addition of Aaron’s formal dress cloak rendered him ready for the fashion page of Witch Weekly, he felt certain, except for the clasp on the robe which was set with a gaudy blue gem, too big and bright to be real. Harry rushed up to his room to find the clasp from his old ruined cloak. The snake-shaped silver clasp, once polished, nicely set off the embroidery bordering the cloak edge.

Confident that he looked the part and realizing he was on the verge of being late, Harry pictured the entry foyer of the Wickem house and scrunched himself down to Apparate there. His feet remained planted on the floor of his room, however, as his chest smacked into a solid wall or something that felt very much like one. Harry gasped and stepped back to catch himself. He hadn’t even considered that the house may have a barrier around it, but clearly it did. Coughing, he made his way downstairs and took down the Floo powder. This was undoubtedly going to make him fashionably late, but he didn’t know another nearby Apparition target.

As he stepped into the flames, Harry announced both the Wickem house and the party itself, just in case. He landed in a cloud of ash in a small stone building containing an old carriage and some horse tack hanging from the rafters.

“Good evening, Mr. Potter,” a young man in formal robes said, waving his wand at him.

Harry, getting his bearings, held up his hand but was hit by a grooming charm anyway to remove the ash he had picked up. “Thanks,” Harry muttered, shaking out his robes. He recognized the man from Bones’ office now that he took a second look at him.

“This way,” the man said invitingly, gesturing to the broad doors that were cracked open. Fully open they would easily allow the big carriage out.

Harry stepped out into the evening air. Torches lined the stone path up to the house, which blazed with light from all of its windows. Fortunately for Harry, everyone seemed to be late and a small queue waited at the door to be checked in.
The couple in front of Harry were forced to hand over their invitation, which was checked with some kind of spell to reveal a hidden message as though to verify its authenticity. The couple themselves were each checked with spells as well to detect if they were enchanted or disguised. Harry wondered if the spells could detect a Polyjuice potion.

The queue finally advanced and the middle-aged wizard held his hand out and rotely asked for Harry’s invitation.

“Do I really need one?” Harry asked in surprise. He hadn’t even thought to bring it.

The man stared at him and uttered an “Uh . . .”

“I’ll handle this one, Thornwater,” Shacklebolt said graciously, stepping over in his Auror dress robes to lead Harry away.

“The minister said everyone was to be screened,” Thornwater insisted. “Without exception.”

“I’ll let Madam Bones screen him herself, then,” Shacklebolt said with a wink. When they were five steps away, the Auror turned and explained, “Thornwater works in Games . . . can’t stand to break the rules.”

They stepped out of the foyer and into the broader main hall which had been attacked by the same purveyor of gold bunting as the Ministry atrium. Fairy lights floated in orbiting clusters, casting long warm flickering shadows across large round tables draped in yet more gold cloth. A string quartet played unnoticed in the rear left corner. Witches and wizards in rich robes of midnight black with a few in dark colors of maroon, blue, or green milled about carrying drinks and chatting. No one looked ready to start.

Following behind Shacklebolt in his distinct robes made Harry wonder if the parts of the invitation he couldn’t decipher mentioned what he was supposed to have worn. He had come as himself without considering that they may have expected to come as a Ministry employee. Shacklebolt stopped at a large cluster where Madam Bones stood speaking with foreign dignitaries and Ministry people.

“Ah, the guest of honor has arrived,” Bones said, handing her drink to the person on her right, probably expecting it to be one of her staff, but instead it was Cornelius Fudge, who appeared bemused to be treated thusly. Bones used her free hands to take Harry’s arm and lead him to the head table.

She gestured at the seats. “You are here, Mr. Potter, beside me, and the regional finalists are here and here, and-”

“Only two finalists?” Harry asked.

“Two of them declined our invitation, stating prior engagements . . . on a Sunday, no less.” She sounded mildly insulted.

Harry squinted at the little crystal balls sitting above each plate, each with a name floating inside it. Only George Weasley and Harry’s trainer were going to attend this evening, it seemed. “I was hoping to meet this wizard, Vogle,” Harry commented to the minister.

“You will tomorrow, I expect.” She continued down the line. “Select elder members of the Wizengamot: Tiberius Ogden, Griselda Marchbanks, Headmistress McGonagall . . . ah, Minerva,” Bones said in greeting, holding out her hand as McGonagall stepped up just then.

“Hello Harry,” McGonagall said in a twinkling welcome.

“Professor,” Harry returned. Around the room the mingling crowd began to look for their seats, which required lots of bending low and squinting at the tiny crystal balls. Belinda and the other Ministry staff were hurrying about trying to assist with this. Bones headed off to collect her other head table guests.

McGonagall came aside Harry and put her hand on his arm. “I almost sent Severus in my stead, but I selfishly decided I needed a break from the school more than he did.”

Harry smiled, “That’s all right, Professor. You’re letting him off for tomorrow, right?” he teased.

“We will switch roles for tomorrow, yes,” she said with another twinkle in her eye.

Voice pitched low, even though the murmur of the room provided cover, Harry said, “You’re that concerned about security?”

“I’m not taking any chances, Harry.” She removed her white gloves and smoothed them before bundling them into her pocket. With an air of admission, she said, “Sometimes the responsibility I’ve been entrusted with staggers me and I wonder all those years how Albus managed to take it so lightly, or appeared to.”

“I hope Severus hasn’t been shirking his part being home so much lately,” Harry said.

She patted his arm. “Not at all. It isn’t the day-to-day activities I am speaking of; it is the larger obligation of determining when extra precautions and reduced privileges are required to protect my charges.”

The guests were settling into their seats en masse now, and George gamboled over and aggressively shook Harry’s hand. “Mr. Judge, good to see you this evening.”

Harry took his hand away and felt something in it. He rolled his eyes and held his hand back out to George without opening it. “Here,” Harry said, “take that back.”

“No, my dear man, you keep it.”

“No, really,” Harry insisted.

“What is it?” McGonagall inquired.

Harry shrugged. “I don’t know. A bribe I assume.”

McGonagall reached out unexpectedly, took Harry’s hand, and pulled it down to his side, near his robe pocket. Out of surprise, Harry didn’t resist and was glad he hadn’t when McGonagall brightly said, “Ms. Skeeter, having a good evening?”

Harry slipped whatever it was into his pocket. A pan of flash powder went off when he turned with a carefully neutral expression. He shook Skeeter’s hand, just to ensure she knew his hand was empty. George, grinning very widely, took his seat with overly-done dignity, nose high in the air. Rodgers appeared at that moment and shook everyone’s hand as well, resulting in a few more blinding flashes for the camera. Bones returned and Skeeter insisted she and Harry and the two finalists line up for a picture.

Despite Skeeter wanting to take yet another photograph, the Minister waved her off and gestured for Harry to sit while looking him up and down as though noticing his appearance for the first time. She leaned down and asked, “You weren’t in Slytherin, were you Mr. Potter?”

“Not officially, Madam Minister,” Harry said with a smile.

“Hm,” she uttered in consternation before turning to the room and announcing, “Welcome everyone to the minister’s dinner to open our Demise of Voldemort Day festivities. Some of you have traveled quite a distance and we are honored that you took the time and effort to do so...”

As the speech went on, Harry scanned the dim room. He spotted Obolensky, the Bulgarian Minister, seated with others who were vaguely familiar from past parties and were dressed in foreign robes edged with colorful embroidery. The next table contained Ministry staff, but the only one sitting, because he was not helping the stragglers be seated, was Percy. He sat with his chin on his palm, looking far away and not particularly happy. When Harry glanced at George to see if he had noticed his brother, the Weasley twin winked at him. Behind the Ministry staff table, the Order of the Phoenix table held the usual suspects, including Mundungus, nearly unrecognizable freshly shaved. Mrs. Wickem floated, despite her size, along the back wall, shepherding the chefs steering carts of food out of the kitchen. Aaron stood against the wall nearby, enjoying the room and apparently eyeing the tables for an empty seat. When he noticed Harry’s gaze, he waved.

The speech ended with Bones tapping Harry, who had not been listening, really, on the shoulder. The room was clapping. Chagrined by his own lack of attentiveness as well as lack of preparation, he put on a smile and stood beside the Minister of Magic.

“Thanks,” he said and the clapping died down. “Two years is a long time . . .” He then hoped Bones had not just said that. “I’m sure everyone has forgotten already how it was before.” Noises of denial echoed faintly. “Living with no sense of real security. The regular disappearances and mysterious minor catastrophes.” He tried to cast his mind back to that time; back to when the Ministry of Magic could barely remain below average Muggle awareness. But he could not fixate on the past for long; Merton and the unknown threat he represented kept intruding. “This . . . holiday should serve as a reminder to remain vigilant, always, against new threats.” Harry stopped, afraid of implying that there already was another threat. In a mere thirty seconds he had boxed himself in as though in a poorly opened chess match. Any moment now the knight was going to come through, mace swinging.

Harry backtracked quickly. “We also can, when we remember how bad things can get, better appreciate the peace and freedom we have, which we are apt to take for granted otherwise . . . without this annual reminder.” Harry shook himself; that had been an okay recovery. He noticed that George had filled the glasses of mead at their table. Gratefully taking this opening, Harry picked up his mug. “So with that in mind, we should all properly enjoy this evening.” A few chuckles emanated from the room as he raised a toast and the other tables scrambled to fill their own mugs.

“To quiet times,” Harry toasted, hiding the forbidding sense that the current times were not going to last much longer.

- 888 -

Ginny strode down the cold and dim fourth floor corridor on her way back from serving a long and mind-numbing, door-hinge-polishing detention with Filch that involved copious use of caustic liquids and an old toothbrush. A strange noise behind her, where she had just passed, made her pull her wand and turn. The sound repeated and a small figure emerged from behind a crooked suit of armor. It was Mrs. Norris. Half laughing at herself, Ginny re-stashed her wand and continued on.

“Ginny?” a small voice queried at the next turn.

“Colin?” Ginny asked, sounding annoyed to her own ears. “What are you doing skulking around here?

Colin pulled himself up a bit and said, “Professor Trelawney asked me to help her move some things. Big things. I wondered why she didn’t just hover them, but I think . . .” Here his voice dropped to a whisper so that Ginny had to lean over to hear. “I think she’s drunk. Why else would she ask someone my size to help move furniture.”

“Oh,” Ginny muttered. She wasn’t a Prefect anymore and things like this weren’t supposed to be her problem. “I guess I can see what she’s doing,” she said nevertheless.

Colin gave her a grateful smile and headed off. Ginny sighed loudly and mounted the steps to the nearby tower, wishing for an Un-Prefect badge to wear so as to relieve her of the responsibility of habit. Trelawney’s off-key, mumbled singing echoed in the curved stairwell, rising and falling. A bat took flight when Ginny opened the door at the top.

“Professor?” Ginny asked loudly, pulling out a straightforward attitude to bolster herself. Trelawney was sitting on one of her mushroom chairs, painting little stars on a tall bureau that had been pulled to the center of the circular room. The visual effect on the ugly hunk of furniture wasn’t half bad. “Everything all right, Professor?” Ginny asked.

“Huh?” Trelawney gave a start and squinted at Ginny through her thick glasses. “Everything’s fine!” she proclaimed, waving her hand grandly so that she slopped yellow paint onto the dusty floor.

Ginny looked around for the bottle of alcohol Trelawney must have near to hand, but didn’t see it. She was hoping to gauge how long this state would continue, since she didn’t relish informing the headmistress about this and would prefer to think it was temporary.

“You know my dear,” Trelawney began conversationally, just as Ginny turned to leave. “That talking horse might have something there. The stars, you know. They go around and around.” She put the paint down and gestured with the long handled, fine pointed brush she held. “But you know, every time they go around . . . they change just a little . . . tiny . . . bit.” She held her forefinger and thumb close together up to her own eye to accent this point.

“Yes, ma’am,” Ginny responded patronizingly, quietly adding to the score of things that she thought Hogwarts owed her for this last unnecessary year. “I really have to go, Professor. Have fun with your decorating.” She started to back up. A waft of incense hit her nose, making her rub at it. Shoulders falling, she held off on retreating again when Trelawney continued speaking. “Really-” Ginny started to say, but stopped; the Divination professor was not speaking in her normal voice, more of a croak. Ginny strained to pick out the words.

“. . . darkness bound, sought and released . . . they do not understand what they have wrought . . . they conjure allies that they cannot control and poisonous dark hordes will be liberated to rend the land. . . only the one born into prophecy is equal to stopping the fountain of evil at its source . . .”

Ginny stood with breath gone. “What?” she uttered.

“My stars, I seem to have spilled rather a lot of paint!” Trelawney had leapt up and was checking her many layered translucent gowns that floated over her robe.

Ginny swallowed hard against simply being sick right there on the spot. Breathe, she ordered herself and ran from the room as soon as her lungs filled.

The corridors were too long reaching the stairs. The stairs too numerous. The returning corridors too long again before she reached the gargoyles. Out of breath it took two tries to say the password to get them out of the way.

At the top of the stairs the door was closed. Ginny didn’t even think to knock. Inside, Professor Snape reclined in McGonagall’s chair. At her unceremonial entrance his head snapped up with a very displeased expression. Ginny looked from him to Lupin and back.

“Where’s Headmistress?” Ginny asked desperately.

“Late returning from the party,” Snape uttered grimly as though just by asking Ginny had crossed the line.

Ginny looked between them again. Lupin’s eyes held concern, but it was clearly held in check by his own general fatigue. Ginny simply had to say what had happened. She couldn’t keep it in or even judge who should or should not know.

“Professor Trelawney . . .” Ginny started and then ran out of words.

Snape pulled his foot down off of the desk. “What? Drunk again?”

“Uh,” Ginny put her hand to her forehead, which felt clammy. “Well, probably, but, she . . .”

“Ms. Weasley,” Snape began firmly. “If she isn’t cavorting with animals or performing black magic, it isn’t important enough to bother with.”

Oddly, his chastisement calmed her completely. Ginny un-balled her fists and said, “She prophecized.”

The effect of this statement was even greater than Ginny had expected. Snape almost collapsed before catching himself on the desktop. Lupin bowed his head and shook it, swearing quietly.

Snape rubbed his forehead rather hard with his long fingers for nearly half a minute. “Recite it, Ms. Weasley. Exactly as you heard it.”

“I might have missed the very beginning of it.” At Snape’s furious look, she insisted defensively, “I didn’t realize what was happening.”

“It’s all right, Ginny,” Lupin said gently. “Just tell us what you heard.”

Again, Ginny had a moment’s panic that she could not judge who should hear the prophecy. Wanting desperately to shed this burden, she recited it quickly. Lupin swore again, loud enough to hear it this time.

“Can I go check on Harry, sir?” Ginny pleaded.

“What for?” Snape demanded.

“Well, it is certainly about him isn’t it? ‘The one born into prophecy?’” Harry doesn’t deserve this, she thought angrily.

“The prophecy is almost certainly not going to come to fruition this evening,” Snape stated derisively. He gazed hard at her, unfortunately just as she was considering alternative plans. “And if you so much as step foot outside or fetch a broom—as I see you are considering—I will personally curse you to spend an extra year here repeating seventh year with all of the classes, such as Advanced Astronomy and Astral Linear Algebra, that you so conveniently choose not to take.”

“We don’t have a class on Astral Algebra,” Ginny uttered in confusion.

Snape stood up and leaned over the desk like a predator. “I will see to it that we do. Go back to your tower.”

Ginny shirked back at the very notion of even the next week here. At the door she said angrily. “You’ll tell Harry?”

“Of course,” Snape said, voice now tired and level. “As soon as it is convenient.”

“Tell him we’re all with him, you know,” Ginny insisted.

Snape sat back, making McGonagall’s chair squeak. “I am certain he is aware of that. GO ON WITH YOU.” His attempt at returning to fierce was pale compared to just seconds before, but Ginny went anyway, if only to hide her damp eyes.

When the door closed, Snape put his hands to his head and uttered, “Bloody hell.”

Lupin said, “We can probably call one of the old Order members from Hogsmeade if you want to go now.”

Snape shook his head. “Ignoring that I promised Minerva I would be here, I need time to prepare.”

“Harry probably won’t even blink when you tell him,” Lupin offered lightly.

“The reaction I would fear the most,” Snape growled. “Ms. Weasley is correct, Harry does not deserve this.”

“She didn’t say that,” Lupin said.

“Didn’t she?” Snape asked rhetorically.

Lupin dropped into the visitor’s chair. “You have to watch that Legilimency, Severus.”

“Why? It has kept me alive so far and it seems extreme measures are likely to be needed again.”

Author's Note: Should be posting back on the usual Wednesday/Thursday schedule starting next week.

Next: Chapter 17 -- Demise of Voldemort Day

"The four competitors' names have been put into the goblet which will select the order of the pairings." Harry waved his wand over the low blue flames of the goblet and two slips of parchment burst forth with a small explosion that made the people packed in front lean into the strangers behind them. "First up we have Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Weasley," Harry announced, dropping the slips back in immediately.

The goblet was swept efficiently away and the others stepped back behind the curtain. George and Rodgers arranged themselves back to back, each concentrating hard on what was to come. Harry figured that he needed to worry about George more than his trainer with regard to the rules but he couldn't catch his friend's eye to give him a warning look. "Ten steps turn and spell. This is alternating format, you must wait for your opponent to return a spell before making an additional one yourself if the spells are not simultaneous."

Chapter 17: Demise of Voldemort Day
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter 17 — Demise of Voldemort Day

Harry leaned back on the open spot on the couch just vacated by Lavender. Hermione’s flat was quieter now that half the partiers had left to go to yet another party. Lots of people were taking advantage of the Monday holiday to celebrate tonight, it seemed. Aaron himself was having his own late-night party which his fellow apprentices were attending. Harry was starting to think he should Apparate over before he had another mug of ale, or give up on the idea in the interest of personal safety.

“Going to leave the room this big?” Ron teased Hermione following a burp. He too was slouched low on the couch, his lanky legs bent out over the floor.

Hermione gave Harry a questioning look. “I’m thinking not . . .” she replied airily.

Harry laughed. “You think I’m going to report you for unlicensed domicile enlargement?”

“Harry wouldn’t do that,” Neville chimed in from his spot on the floor leaning back against the couch.

“They really don’t let me do anything, so I’m not exactly out looking for evildoers,” Harry said. “Your father,” he added, nudging Ron, “said, ‘You aren’t an Auror yet, Harry. You can’t go out . . . taking care of things . . .’” He waved his hand in the air as he forgot Mr. Weasley’s exact words, then dropped his arm with a sigh.

Ron pointed out, “It’s not as if you . . . haven’t not spent years taking care of things.”

“Huh?” Hermione prodded with a giggle. “Cut Ron off.”

“He talks like that sober,” Harry said. “Maybe give him another beer.”

They all laughed more.

- 888 -

McGonagall returned to find her deputy headmaster still sitting at her desk where had she left him. “You’ve been here all evening, Severus?” she asked, startled to see him there. “You needn’t have waited here for me. I just wanted you to fill in post dinner in case a student came with a concern, as they tend to do at that time.”

She hung up her cloak and considered Snape as he grimly rose from her chair. She rambled on a little tipsily: “Your son conducted himself with his usual aplomb, but you were correct that the party was mostly intended to give Amelia’s longtime associates a chance to mix with the foreign ministers. At least, that was just about the only interesting thing to do.”

“There was a student with a problem,” Snape stated vaguely.

“Oh, who?” McGonagall asked, hesitating in heading up the stairs to the other half of her office. Her red rimmed eyes focused on Snape with a little difficulty.

“Ms. Weasley. I had to threaten her with an eighth year of school to keep her from leaving the grounds.”

“What happened?” McGonagall asked, clearly alarmed.

“Sybill saw fit to proclaim a prophecy to her, and since it regards Harry, she wished to rush off and inform him of it.” Snape sounded tired now. “Something I should perhaps go and do, now.”

“Is he mentioned literally?” McGonagall asked. Snape shook his head, causing her to moved to sit at her desk and arranged a parchment before her.

“What are you doing?” Snape asked.

“In that case it should be registered with the Ministry.” She rapidly recut a quill with a pen knife from her drawer and stared at it cross-eyed to check it.

“It is unnecessary,” Snape insisted. “It most certainly pertains to him and I will tell it to him myself. Only prophecies whose subject or subjects are indeterminate need be registered.”

She poised the quill. “Tell it to me.”

“I don’t particularly wish it to be officially recorded,” Snape pointed out harshly.

A small standoff ensued until McGonagall pleasantly said, “Severus, I can simply ask Ms. Weasley to recite it.”

Snape put his hands on his hips and said, “If I tell her not to, I am fairly confident she will not.”

McGonagall snorted. “Surely you don’t imagine that possible, Severus.” When he failed to reply or ease his stance, she said, “Severus, you are being unreasonable. Is Voldemort mentioned in this prophecy?”


She put the quill down and addressed the freshest painting in the room, the one that snored the quietest and therefore was allowed to hang at eye level. “Albus,” she prompted.

The painted version of Albus Dumbledore shook himself and blinked his bright blue eyes. “Minerva, you’ve returned. How was the party?”

“Did you overhear the prophecy Ms. Weasley recited earlier in the very office?”

“Prophecy?” Dumbledore echoed dully. “Hm, prophecy . . . prophecy. I’m sorry, my dear Minerva, I must have been sleeping.”

“Albus!” McGonagall snapped in disgust. A glance around the walls showed all the other paintings slumbering as well. She tapped her fingers on the desk. “Severus, I expect better from you,” she criticized in real anger. “And you as well, Albus.” But all the painting did was shrug as though amused with itself.

“Hear it before you determine that you must register it,” Snape insisted.

She pushed the parchment to the side and rubbed her eyes. “All right, then.”

“Ms. Weasley believes she missed the very beginning of it-”


“But, it goes as follows: ‘Darkness bound, sought, and released. They do not understand what they have wrought. They conjure allies they cannot control and poisonous dark hordes will be liberated to rend the land. Only the one born into prophecy is equal to stopping the fountain of evil at its source.’”

McGonagall tapped her fingers on the broad top of her desk in thought for a minute before she called for one of the house-elves from the kitchen, whom she instructed to fetch the Gryffindor house ghost. Nearly-Headless Nick she then instructed to send Ginny Weasley up to them. “While I consider what course to take, I wish to satisfy my curiosity about your challenge,” she primly informed him. She squinted at her watch as though suddenly thinking of the time, “No class tomorrow, tower should still be awake.”

The clocks around the room marked the time until the door knocker tocked loudly. Ginny Weasley, wearing a dressing gown with her uniform, stepped inside when called to. She moved her blurry gaze between the two of them, appearing deeply saddened.

McGonagall said, “You heard the prophecy from Professor Trelawney, Ms. Weasley?”

Ginny nodded and opened her mouth to speak but Snape cut in with, “Headmistress McGonagall is insisting that the prophecy be registered, which I do not wish to happen. Do not tell it to her.”

Ginny blinked at him, rising in alertness. She looked between the two of them as though carefully gauging them.

McGonagall said kindly with a sigh, “Ms. Weasley, kindly recite the prophecy you heard from Professor Trelawney this evening.”

Ginny looked back at Snape and then back at McGonagall and swallowed. “Why do you want to register it, ma’am?” she asked.

“No one is named outright in it, Ms. Weasley, correct? So technically the subject of the prophecy is indeterminate. All indeterminate prophecies must be registered.”

Ginny stood thoughtful for a few seconds before she said, “No. I won’t tell you in that case.”

“You what?” McGonagall snapped.

“If Professor Snape thinks it should be kept from the Ministry then I won’t tell you. He can tell Harry, or I can tell Harry. No one else need know.” She sounded more tired than defiant as well as a little shaky as though the emotional load had gotten a little too high.

“You win, Severus,” McGonagall said. With extra gentleness, she said, “Go back to your tower, Ms. Weasley.” When Ginny hesitated, she added, “It’s all right. It will be dealt with.”

“You’ll withhold it from the Ministry, then?” Ginny asked, sounding very concerned.

“Yes,” McGonagall reassured her.

“Good,” Ginny breathed and then took her leave.

When the door clicked closed, McGonagall said, “Liberated dark hordes sounds a little familiar, Severus. Which part of the prophecy exactly applies to Harry?”

Snape stared down at his interlocked fingers and didn’t reply except to say, “May I borrow your Floo node?”

- 888 -

Empty silence greeted Snape in his own main hall. “Winky!” Snape shouted and the elf instantly appeared. “Where is Harry?”

“Master at friend Hermione’s house, Master,” Winky replied with a little curtsy.

“Thank you,” Snape muttered and on the sideboard found a letter from her open but still in its envelope with the address written clearly in Hermione’s neat hand.

After taking the Floo to Diagon Alley and Apparating as close as he could manage, Snape knocked at the door to Hermione Granger’s flat. London was bathed in rain and quiet and Snape was soaked from walking much farther than he needed to in an unusual fit of stalling.

“Professor!” Hermione said in surprise when she opened the door. She wore a dressing gown as well at the late hour. Behind her the remains of a party littered the room and apparently all the other guests had departed.

“Severus?” Harry said, standing up and approaching. “What’s wrong?” he asked upon seeing Snape’s dark countenance.

“Sit down,” Snape ordered after he stepped in.

Harry obeyed, mostly out of surprise. He took one of the flimsy kitchen chairs and watched his guardian circle. Snape eventually stopped before him, arms crossed. He looked extremely annoyed. Harry didn’t dare ask again what was wrong, even when Snape rubbed his forehead and delayed starting.

“Sybill . . . prophecized again,” Snape finally explained.

Harry’s shoulders curled downward. “Oh,” he uttered breathily.

“That’s it? ‘Oh’?” Snape demanded.

“I haven’t heard it yet,” Harry argued. “I’m assuming it’s about me or you wouldn’t be here.” When Snape stalled additionally, he prompted, “I want to hear it.”

Snape glanced at Hermione, who appeared grave. He recited the prophecy. Harry repeated it aloud to make sure he had it. “Huh,” he uttered uneasily from far away. “At least it doesn’t mention my dying.”

“I do not want you to take this lightly,” Snape said.

“What?” Harry responded with arms gesturing. “You want me to freak? Curl up in a ball and insist I can’t handle it?”

Quietly, Snape said, “I’d feel better if you expressed something more. Some measure of the unfairness of it.”

“’Course it’s unfair,” Harry said with a laugh. “That doesn’t change it.” He dropped off into thought again, repeating the phrases to himself and considering different possible interpretations of them. Hermione emitting a noise like a stifled sob interrupted whatever Snape was going to say. She hurried to her room, hand over her mouth, and closed the door. Harry thoughtfully said, “So you heard the prophecy from Trelawney?” He could picture the scene, her odd voice, her confusion afterward.

“No, Ms. Weasley did. She is most concerned about you; perhaps you should owl her. She insisted that I point out that she and everyone else are with you.”

Harry looked around at the remains of their pizza dinner. “I know that, but it helps to hear it anyway.” Harry stared at the stove with its little row of spice jars along the back. Snape’s cloak smelled of fresh rain and it competed with the stale food scent that lingered in the utterly mundane room. Facing a prophecy-laden future was something he had grown unaccustomed to and he resisted it with a painful twist of his midsection. “Do you think it’s Merton?” he asked in a whisper so Hermione couldn’t overhear.

Snape paced, looking fierce still. “I don’t know, but he is the likeliest possibility at this point.” Sounding as though he wished to reassure Harry, he said, “The last prophecy required nearly eighteen years to run its course.”

“No, there was another that took only one night,” Harry corrected him.

Snape’s eyebrows rose and then he sighed. “You aren’t in this alone, Harry. You were not last time either, although you never seemed to fully grasp that.”

Sounding annoyed, Harry said, “That’s because no ever told me what was going on.”

Flicking his damp cloak wide, Snape said, “Well, I certainly will not keep anything from you this time. Please do not keep anything from me.” He frowned as he stared beyond the wall for a while. “This is a rather large flat, how does Ms. Granger afford it?”

“Don’t ask,” Harry muttered.

“Smart girl,” Snape said in a low voice. “Keep your skilled friends near at hand, Harry.”

“I will,” Harry assured him.

“You are leaving for home, soon?” Snape asked, sounding protective.

“In a little while.” Here he glanced at the closed bedroom door. “I want to talk to Hermione a while.”

Snape nodded and gathered his cloak close around himself. “Keep me informed. And I will see you tomorrow.”

“Good luck tomorrow,” Harry said quickly, before Snape could Disapparate.

Snape nodded with a raised, knowing brow and disappeared.

- 888 -

The Ministry atrium glowed gold with bunting and a scattering of gold pointed hats that some in the crowd had chosen to wear. Harry ducked back behind the black curtain backdropping the dais as Minister Bones gave instructions to her assistants, including Belinda, who looked too harried to notice him. Bones finally turned to Harry with a bright look of pleasure as her staff scattered.

“Well, this has turned out to be a roaring success, Mr. Potter. Pure genius. We’ve sold every last ticket available.” She took his arm. “And you’ve read the rule book, correct? People can be astoundingly picky about these things.” Here she leaned sideways to see a little around the curtain. “Especially when Galleons are being wagered on the outcome.” She smiled, widening her round cheeks even more when one of her assistants waved from near the first hearth that everything was set. “Whenever you are ready, Mr. Potter.”

Harry glanced down to verify that his dress robes were straight and neat enough. He took out his wand and then stashed it again, wondering why he thought he might have needed it. At the edge of the curtain, he took a deep breath and stepped around and up onto the dais. The boisterous crowd, which stretched all the way to the far end of the atrium, noticed him immediately and began cheering. Behind him, Bones was stepping up as well. Harry remembered why he needed the wand and quickly did a Sonorous charm on himself to be heard over the noise.

“Thank you everyone for coming,” Harry said, and almost stepped back as his voice echoed around the vast, filled space. The crowd quieted. “And we also must thank the Minister for sponsoring this competition, this, the First Annual Demise of Voldemort Dueling Championship.” The crowd noise surged appreciatively.

Bones beamed and stated, equally Sonorous, “We were going to call it Harry Potter Day, but Mr. Potter wouldn’t allow us to.” Harry was glad that the crowd didn’t sound entirely on her side. She went on, “We are honored that Mr. Potter, while not loaning us his name for this day, has nonetheless agreed to loan us himself to be the judge this afternoon. The prize for the First Annual Duel is this wonderful trophy.” She gestured behind her where two assistants where carrying out a monstrous trophy in the shape of a hand holding a wand done in silver with a helix of crystal sweeping up and around it as well as forming the base. Harry found himself severely torn between being horrifically appalled at its ungainly stature and incredibly jealous that he was disqualified from possibly taking it home personally. The crowd unabashedly loved it, perhaps because of the distance most of them stood away from it.

Bones waited for a lull. “To go with the trophy there is also three hundred Galleons of prize money.” This was greeted by even more cheering. “Mr. Potter, if you will introduce the regional winners . . .”

Harry took the note cards she held out and looked at the top name, which he was very familiar with. Harry announced, “Representing Ipswich, Dover, and London as the easy winner of that region, we have Reginald W. Rodgers, head Auror apprentice trainer—and my boss here at the Ministry, but I’ve already promised not to be biased . . . one way or the other.”

Rodgers was giving Harry an overly doubtful look which made the crowd laugh more. Harry glanced at the card and found a note below, which he read, “Mr. Rodgers claims to have been dueling since the age of ten. Must have a few older brothers,” Harry commented.

“I do,” Rodgers mouthed as he took the position Bones indicated and glared at a spot in the crowd.

Harry went to the next card. “Here from the Midlands and Wales Regional, one of the more memorable competitions, we have George S. Weasley.” George bounded upon the dais with an overdone leap. He was wearing a silvery cloak that alternated between floating and sinking as though it were underwater. Harry said, “We think this is George, but it may be Fred, but it probably doesn’t matter either way.” George took up a stance beside Rodgers and Harry said, “And that cloak will have to go.”

George gave Harry an insulted look complete with hand upon breast. “Yes,” Harry confirmed. “No magical clothing allowed.”

George sighed loudly as a few people jeered as though terribly insulted by his apparent attempt at cheating. “And I thought we were friends,” George lamented, generating more rumbles of complaint from the crowd.

“We are,” Harry said quietly, but with the Sonorous charm it came across to everyone. “But I still promised to enforce the rules evenly. Especially with the next competitor . . . from the Newcastle Upon Tyne competition, we have Hogwarts own Professor Severus P. Snape.” A chorus of supportive hooting emanated from the back left corner of the crowd as Snape flipped the back curtain aside and came up, prompting Harry to comment, “I see he has brought some Slytherins with him.”

Snape gave him a look that said, Of course before giving Rodgers a dark glance and standing beside George, who appeared honestly uneasy about his position. George asked with a tilt of the head at Snape, “Shouldn’t ‘e be disqualified with you judging?”

Harry lowered the card he was about to read from and said, “We’d have to disqualify you as well, Fred or George, you’re like a brother to me. Brother, father, boss . . .” Harry said, summarizing the line so far. “Good thing I had absolutely nothing to do with selecting any of you for this.” Harry returned to the card since the crowd had fallen the quietest yet. “From the Cornwall and Devon regional we have Wesley A. Vogle. Wes I don’t know at all. We’ve never so much as met, let alone share any kind of past.”

Onto the back of the dais stepped a fine-boned man in his twenties with a black goatee and severe widow’s peak with contrastingly light brown eyes. With graceful steps he took up a position beside Snape and surveyed the crowd as though gleefully memorizing it. Compared to the others, he looked as though the first serious breeze would blow him off the dais.

Harry put the cards away to keep from waving them around as he talked. They bumped something in his pocket as he did so, and he remembered that George had given him something disk-shaped and it was still in there. Figuring that now was not the time to examine what constituted a bribe, he put it out of his mind and announced, “Now, the format of the tournament will be a round robin, which, if it works out properly will reduce us to a single winner, or a final duel, if necessary. Two points are given for a win and a half a point for a draw. No dismembering, disemboweling, or personality changing spells are allowed. Neither are forbidden curses, but I hope I don’t need to point that out.” The goblet of fire was being carried onto the front of the dais and placed on a rickety tray-table. The crowd ooohed at its appearance.

“The four competitors’ names have been put into the goblet which will select the order of the pairings.” Harry waved his wand over the low blue flames of the goblet and two slips of parchment burst forth with a small explosion that made the people packed in front lean into the strangers behind them. “First up we have Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Weasley,” Harry announced, dropping the slips back in immediately.

The goblet was swept efficiently away and the others stepped back behind the curtain. George and Rodgers arranged themselves back to back, each concentrating hard on what was to come. Harry figured that he needed to worry about George more than his trainer with regard to the rules but he couldn’t catch his friend’s eye to give him a warning look. “Ten steps turn and spell. This is alternating format, you must wait for your opponent to return a spell before making an additional one yourself if the spells are not simultaneous.”

Harry backed up to the curtain and began counting aloud. George looked intense as they marched away from each other, but Rodgers almost relaxed and happy. Harry felt a little sorry for George. As they turned, spells rolled out right on the mark allowed, making the crowd gasp hungrily. George had fired something curly and bright with no incantation but Rodgers blocked it without effort and his blasting curse sent George back two steps to catch himself. Two more spells came forth coincidently and met in an explosion that brought cheers from the crowd; that is, the ones not in the front who were patting at their smoldering clothing.

George had been knocked back again and had to put a hand down to get up. Harry considered calling for a pause to verify he was unharmed but held back. He could see in George’s eyes that he had begun doubting himself; Harry began cheering for him silently. The dragon spell rolled out of George’s wand during the lull that Rodgers gallantly gave him to recover. Unfortunately, Rodgers had seen this one from Harry’s own wand and he used three quick zapfen spells to shatter the incoming line of flying amphibians.

George was biting his lower lip but at some cheers of encouragement, he sent a rainbow beam from his wand. Rodgers ducked his head, hand over his eyes, blinded. This time he had spelled at the same time, but his chain binding curse was blocked. George quickly sent another spell at his impeded opponent. But, Harry thought as it unfolded before him, he should have chosen one with no incantation because Rodgers brought the correct block up easily just hearing the spell. Blind still, he cast a mummy curse back, and George, realizing too late that he should shift to one side to make himself harder to hit, got caught by the sticky streamers and despite repeated cancellation attempts, fell in a bundle to the wooden floor.

Harry went over to Rodgers first, who gave him a half-focussed look but waved off any assistance and headed for George, whom he released with a quick flick of his wand. George stepped back up onto the dais and gave Rodgers a sad shake of the hand as Harry announced the first match was going to his trainer.

The competitors stepped off behind the curtain. “Wasn’t that fun?” Harry asked the crowd, who wholeheartedly and loudly agreed. An anticipatory calm fell and the goblet was brought forth again. “Weasley and Vogle,” Harry announced, feeling sorry for George not getting a chance to recover.

Vogle, expressing determination in every line of his body, did well against the rattled George and after four exchanges, the unfortunate George was again sent off, this time with his fingers turned into ivy which he insisted didn’t keep him from holding a wand, but Harry had made his decision, and George didn’t argue long. Vogle was elated, the first expression he had shown. He fairly bounced off of the dais after shaking hands . . . when George returned to having hands.

The goblet next selected the pairing Harry was dreading. He tried hard to read it off as if he weren’t. “Snape and Rodgers.”

The two of them stalked onto the dais and to the center, accompanied by isolated cheering. “You both know the rules,” Harry felt compelled to say before he stepped back and began the countdown.

What resulted was a textbook battle of power. Neither tried anything strange or self-invented, they just alternated attacks and counters that rattled the chandeliers and knocked the bunting behind the dais down. Both men had such deep looks of concentration that no other expression reached their faces as spells and blocks exploded between and around them. Both returned precisely to their starting spot to restart after getting knocked back. Both aimed their wands with exactly the same finger grip.

“Time!” Harry shouted. Both of them stopped and gave him the same look of shock. “One hundred seconds,” Harry pointed out. “It’s a draw.” Some in the crowd booed, wanting to see a real outcome. “Maybe you’ll tie for first and get another chance,” he pointed out. “Shake hands,” he then had to sternly command them because they were both heading off to the back as quickly as possible. Harry couldn’t help grinning at getting to order them both around as they grudgingly obeyed and then stalked off same as they’d come.

“That’s the halfway point, everyone and we have a fifteen minute break to put things back together here. There are refreshments being sold along the back wall to benefit St. Mungos.” The goblet was stood up in the center of the dais and allowed to flicker quietly to itself.

Harry tapped his throat with his wand and went back behind the curtain. Snape was standing, arms crossed, pointedly ignoring his recent opponent. When he saw Harry, he snapped, “You could have let it go longer.”

Replying easily, Harry countered, “You could have tried a more imaginative spell.” He glanced at his trainer and added, “Either of you.”

“Looked like a draw to me,” Vogle piped in gruffly.

“Me too,” George said. “It was like watching someone duel a mirror.” Unaware that they had mirrored expressions, Snape and Rodgers gave George horrified glares. “See, you still look like twins . . . and I should know.” Snape stalked farther away, beside Vogle, who considered his dark demeanor with bright amusement.

“Everybody ready?” Harry asked when it was time to resume. He stepped back before the curtain and over to the goblet. He started to speak and then remembered that he needed to renew the Sonorous. “Welcome back everyone.” The crowd had quieted a lot during the break and many conversations were still going on. Harry waved for another pairing. “Vogle and Rodgers,” he announced.

Vogle took his position slowly as though trying for a little more time to prepare. Rodgers looked ready to take out his annoyance on this next opponent, and indeed his first ice curse was full force but Vogle was agile and jumped aside most of what he didn’t block. That was one advantage to being small, Harry thought. In return Rodgers got a faceful of what might be seaweed; it certainly smelled like seaweed and since the spelling was even, Vogle could send something as a followup, and it turned out to be a web charm that tangled the seaweed up all the more.

Rodgers managed to stab his wand out of the mess and issue a blasting curse that made a portrait on the far wall fall down with a cracking of its frame. Vogle blocked it but almost lost his balance and fell off the edge of the dais, which would have ended the match. His eyes narrowed and with a grimace he sent a broad shrinking curse at his still tangled opponent. The mass of slithering wet greenery and white webbing pulled taut, binding Rodgers from raising his wand, although he continued to struggle for the ten seconds he was allotted to respond.

Harry called the match, secretly pleased his trainer had been gotten the best of. “Match to Vogle,” Harry announced and then had to wait while the man worked out the right cancellations to free Rodgers, which resulted in a lot of audience jeering. By the end Vogle was beet red and didn’t meet Harry’s eyes as he dashed off the platform after shaking hands with a thoroughly peeved Rodgers.

“Next we have one I am personally looking forward to: Weasley and Snape,” Harry announced as the goblet was again carried away. Harry was hoping George would look ready to get even, but he mostly appeared resigned.

“Care to forfeit, Mr. Weasley?” Snape asked smugly when they arrived at the center but hadn’t turned their backs yet.

“NO,” George responded, showing more spunk in the face of Snape’s sneer. He spun his back to him to prepare for the countdown and raised his wand, much more determined. Snape gave Harry a wink as he copied this move. When they turned after the pacing, George, perhaps inspired by the previous match, sent a rain of toffee at his former teacher and received a fat chain binding in return. While each cancelled the others capturing spell, the audience hooted. Snape, yellow toffee still stuck in his hair, spelled a weight hex at George who could only block part of it and fell to his knees, but his swarm of hornets curse had Snape occupied with repeated titan blocks and then finally a water canon, which he turned on George after clearing away the stinging beasts. The water pushed George off his end of the platform and Harry called the match.

Ministry people raced onto the dais to dry it. Snape came to the center, obvious stings on his face and even his nose. Harry thought it a good thing George was well out of school. There was a longer delay as things were cleaned up and Snape managed to procure salve from somewhere because the bites were much reduced by the time Harry called him and Vogle up for the last match.

“As it stands now,” Harry said to quiet the chanting and unruly crowd, “Mr. Vogle is in the lead with four points and Professor Snape and Mr. Rodgers are tied with two and a half each. This match is indeed for the whole win. It’s almost as if the goblet knew,” Harry insinuated.

Snape appeared utterly confident as he turned his back to his small opponent, who looked rattled initially but then recovered by the time the count reached ten. Vogle reused the toffee curse, only with more power and dealt neatly with the fireball from Snape that Harry was tempted to call out of line but let slide. The audience roared in appreciation of the danger level going up. Snape didn’t manage to free himself from all the toffee before the next exchange, which exploded between them more or less harmlessly, as did the next. Snape’s expression grew as determined as Harry had ever seen it. And Harry had an inkling that he was trying to Legilimize his opponent but he must have been failing since the match went on evenly with Vogle’s unusual and borderline childish spells tangling Snape and his just managed survival-level blocking and countering of Snape’s textbook attacks.

Mutushorum,” Snape shouted fiercely, sounding victorious. Vogle ducked, but got caught in the backlash of the spell and fell on his wand as his body went stiff. Harry was stepping forward to call the match, when Vogle moved his wand hand and held it up, albeit shakily. It was his turn, Snape had to wait. Harry began quietly counting down from ten. Vogle had to have at least one foot flat on the floor to spell back. Slowly, he pulled one foot forward beside his arm, displaying great flexibility, and pushed it flat, shouting “Rictusempra!” in desperation.

Snape jerked, his face going surprised. And then he started laughing. Laughing with such force that his attempted chain binding curse flew to wrap up the bunting. Harry stood in surprise an instant until the crowd began chuckling as well. Harry called the match on time and cancelled the laughing spell himself, trying hard not to grin at the strange vision of his guardian doubled over in magical glee. Snape released his breath and awkwardly got up off his knees. “We ran over?” he gasped.

“Yep,” Harry confirmed. “But a half point each gives Vogle the win.”

“Yes!” Vogle shouted with a high-pitched hiss, putting a boney fist in the air.

Snape staggered to the side, making Harry step along with him backwards to verify he was all right. Snape shook him off and uttered, “Whatever made me think this might be fun . . .”

The competitors were all brought up before the crowd. Vogle stood as though shell shocked while everyone moved around him, bringing up the trophy, getting the Minister into position for a photograph. “So,” Bones was saying while holding her wand over the brass plaque for the trophy. “We’ll just engrave this, let’s see . . .” She looked for her note cards in her many pockets until Harry remembered that he had them and handed the correct one over. “Yes, Wesley Armanily Vogle, correct?”

“What?” Vogle uttered.

“Your name,” Bones patiently asked. “Would you like it engraved that way?”

“No, that’s not right,” Vogle uttered as though in a trance.

“No?” Bones responded, holding up the card. “I have the spelling wrong?”

“Yes,” Vogle confirmed. He lifted his wand and waved off his beard with a metamorph cancelation. “It’s actually . . .” he began while tapping himself on the head. His dark hair faded and red bushy hair came in its place. “Ginevra Molly Weasley.”

Harry bit his lips tightly to keep in what was either an oath or a barking laugh. The crowd was rumbling with sharply whispered conversation.

“Ginny!” George uttered in complete dismay. “My own teeny tiny sister?” Beside him, Snape dropped his head and shook it tragically. Rodgers merely appeared thoughtful, perhaps because recognized the name from the apprentice applications.

“Uh huh,” Bones uttered, failing to notice that Percy was straining under the weight of the trophy in addition to the shock. He finally set it on the floor with a grunt and moved as though to yell at his sister. Bones leaned over to Harry, “Anything in the rules about impersonations?”

“No,” Harry said, grinning so wide it hurt.

“We’ll amend them for next year,” she said easily. “Well, Ms. Weasley, the trophy is yours.” She pulled Ginny close as the flash powder went off and whispered, “But enter as yourself next time.” She patted Ginny and gave herself a Sonorous Charm. “Well, ladies and gentlemen, witches and wizards, we have a bit of twist here . . .”

A commotion in the crowd nearby caused her to pause. Molly and Arthur Weasley were shoving their through the tight crowd to get to the dais, followed by a wake of redheads.

“Young lady,” Mrs. Weasley said as she she stepped up to them. “What are you doing out of school!?”

Only a tiny bit cowed, Ginny replied, “Winning the tournament?”

Mr. Weasley shook his head with a frown, but he patted her on the arm and said, “Good blocking, champ.”

Ginny positively glowed. “Thanks dad.”

He patted her arm further and added, “But you are grounded for two months.”

“Yeah. All right.” She pointed at the trophy. “But can you help me carry this home?”

Bones caught the attention of the crowd again. “Seems our winner was incognito and AWOL to boot from Hogwarts, but of age, so that is no issue for the Ministry. Here are your Galleons, Ms. Ginny Weasley.” She held out a heavy black silk sack to Ginny, who accepted it with an intense expression of hunger. The crowd gave a little cheer. Bones added, “Be sure to join us for the afternoon picnic at the Puddlemere Quidditch grounds.” The crowd began to disperse and the buzz of conversation surged as a happy sound. The noise of the row of Floos flaring in rapid succession rose to compete.

In contrast Ron glumly said to his sister, “You owe me the ten Galleons I bet on George. I even let Harry’s friend spell-seal the bet . . .”

Harry straightened in memory and said, “You won that bet. It was for anyone in your family.”

“Hey! That’s right! Wow, twenty Galleons,” he said dreamily.

Ginny rolled her eyes and stepped up to Snape. “Sorry about that last spell, Professor. I had insider information.”

At this, Snape sent a disbelieving glare at Harry.

“What?” Harry blurted, protesting his innocence. “I didn’t . . . Oh, maybe I did. It was an accident,” he insisted. Snape shook his head and Harry pointed out smartly, “If Ginny hadn’t won, you and Rodgers would have kept drawing until the picnic began and it’d have ended a tie. We’d have had to cut the trophy in half.”

Ginny said, “You did a good job judging, Harry, really.”

“You’d say that,” George complained. “You won.”

“Shall we move onto the picnic?” Harry suggested as a distraction.

“Where’s the basket?” Molly Weasley said in sudden alarm, looking around herself.

“I have it, Mum,” Bill said, holding up an overflowing, monstrous basket with a red and white checked blanket dangling out of it.

“Oh, thank goodness,” Molly said.

“I want to take my trophy home, first,” Ginny insisted, moving to pick it up with her money sack bundled awkwardly under her arm. It nearly came up to her waist it was so tall.

“I’ll get it for you,” Harry said, stepping in and hefting the thing with no little effort.

Fred said, “Let her carry it; she shouldn’t win trophies she can’t carry.”

“You’re just jealous,” Harry accused him. “Coming, Ginny?” He Disapparated and reappeared in the Weasley living room. Ginny appeared beside him a half second later.

“Thanks, Harry.”

“No troubles,” he said, straining to avoid sounding strained as he mounted the rickety, creaking stairs. “You were really good, you know. Your blocks and counters, anyway. Your attacks were a little . . . nonstandard.”

They walked down the narrow crooked corridor to Ginny’s room. “How do you think I saved your arse the other night?” she asked pointedly.

“There is that,” Harry said with a light blush.

“My blocks are always at your disposal, Harry,” she added in a more serious tone.

“I may need them again,” he admitted as he placed the heavy trophy on a rough shelf under the window where it caught the sunlight and sent prisms around the room. “Looks good there.”

Ginny was staring at the trophy. “I really won. I don’t care if they expel me. I really won.” She turned to Harry. “Professor Snape didn’t say anything about that, did he?” she asked in alarm, negating her previous statement.

“Not that I heard,” Harry reassured her.

Ginny opened a small trunk and put her Galleons into it before re-locking it. “Can’t wait to do some shopping . . .” she sang with relish. “Oh no,” she then breathed in horror, hands at the sides of her head. “I hope I get expelled! I remember now that he threatened to make me take an eighth year!”

Author's Note:

Congratulations to the three (and apparently only three) people who caught on that Vogle was Ginny right away: Lady A, Potterfan44, & siriuslymental
Highly symbolic (read: tiny) gift certificates to amazon will be winging their way to you, suitable toward whatever you please.

Honorable mention to Chandlia Jade, who almost figured it out on a clue I didn't mean to leave (Vogle apparently is German for "bird"—who knew?)

I left a lot of clues beyond the anagram, that despite lengthy effort contained the name "Wesley" a whopping single letter different from "Weasley". Ginny is also blatantly late for Quidditch the day of that Regional tourny.

Next: Chapter 18 — The Foibles of Youth

Rodgers said, "We've arranged enough protection to give Merton's place a thorough going over. Several Aurors have visited it at night, alone, being careful not be seen by the neighbors, or to set off any traps. We're going in as a group this time, going to comb the whole place from top to bottom.

Harry stiffened, thinking that this was an opportunity to look for the objects Draco wanted back. Not necessarily to give them to Draco right away. First he would take a very long look at them. Maybe have Hermione take a very long look at them as well—and Bill too, if he were willing.

Rodgers was still talking. “Remember, we aren't just looking for the unusual, we're looking for what be missing as well. He hasn't been back, as far as we can tell, to fetch anything. We left a few traps of our own that haven't been triggered. On that note, no Apparating in our out from inside the perimeter. Only by foot, understood?”

Chapter 18: The Foibles of Youth
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter 18 — The Foibles of Youth

The sun emerged momentarily as Harry, walking with the Weasley family and his guardian, stepped through the rusted, wrought iron gates leading onto the Puddlemere Quidditch grounds. Families were braving the wet grass and spreading out woolen blankets with picnics upon them. Children on half-size broomsticks squealed and shouted as they chased each other around the high, high goal posts.

Ginny glanced yet again at Professor Snape, who had yet to comment on her status or punishment for being absent from Hogwarts without permission. Fred and George with some help from Bill had convinced the Weasley parents that the winner of the dueling tournament could not skip the picnic; that all Hogwarts students should have been allowed to attend; and anyway, she couldn’t get into additional trouble that day with all of them watching her.

Molly stopped in an open spot and decided that they had found a good place to spread out. The Weasley brothers turned drying the ground into a competition and soon they were all lounging comfortably on the huge checked blanket. Some pre-Hogwarts youngsters, wearing brand new gold hats that must be for sale just for the event, asked Harry to autograph theirs. Harry borrowed a quill from Bill to accommodate them. They stood with hands quaintly behind their backs as they waited their turn. As soon as their hats were returned they dashed off excitedly with them clutched in their hands.

As the picnic basket was unloaded, Ginny came around to the edge where Snape sat, eying a nearby group of wizards who were prepping fireworks while glancing around as though to see if they had attracted attention from anyone in authority. “Professor . . .” Ginny began. “Deputy Headmaster Professor . . .” she said with a light grimace of reluctance. Snape’s brow furrowed oddly at the convoluted title, but he didn’t comment. Ginny crouched down, glanced at her closest brothers, who were playing a mini dueling game with their wands, and asked sheepishly, “What is my punishment going to be?”

“I have not decided yet. Professor McGonagall should certainly be involved in the decision. I’m assuming she knows of your location from listening to the tournament on Wizard Wireless with the rest of the school.”

Ginny balked at that. “Wizard Wireless was broadcasting the tournament?”

“You didn’t notice them off to the left in a wooden booth?” he asked. “I guess you were otherwise occupied,” he went on snidely.

“I was,” she retorted smartly. “You were using non-reg spells on me that required a bit of extra attention to counter.”

Snape glanced sideways at Harry, who was just biting into a chicken leg Molly Weasley had given him. “I almost called you on that,” Harry told him and then pointed out to Ginny, “But, you handled it all right, so I didn’t.” Sliding his eyes back to Snape, Harry added with false gravity, “Wonder what Minerva will say about you tossing a fireball at a student.”

“I did not realize my opponent was a student, so it does not count,” Snape returned smartly.

The fireworks erupted and everyone turned and watched the colorful display as the perpetrators scattered in the face of approaching Ministry personnel. Some people even clapped in appreciation and called for more. The Games and Sports Department staff who were running the picnic slunk away after sending threatening glances around the nearby blankets.

Harry scanned the now crowded pitch, which resembled a giant quilt with all of the colorful blankets laid out upon it. Children scampered about, mothers tended to the youngest, fathers tossed Quaffles back and forth with the older kids. Despite being surrounded by friends and family, Harry felt wholly isolated from the events around him; the prophecy hung like an impenetrable membrane between him and everyone else in their apparently carefree lives.

“Harry Potter,” a small voice prompted from Harry’s right. Harry started and found a small boy removing his commemorative t-shirt which he then held out and asked to have signed.

“Bill, can I borrow that never-out quill again?” Harry asked.

The boy stood shivering with his exposed pink skin while Harry used the marker pen charm and signed his shirt, which Harry admonished the boy to put back on immediately. A harried looking witch in plaid robes came up from behind the boy and said, “Paisley, there you are! Whatever are you doing with no shirt?” When she spotted Harry, she said, “Oh,” and her mouth held in that shape.

The boy, Paisley, held up the t-shirt in her view before moving to put it on but it was snatched away. “Save that, dear,” the witch said, carefully folding it before draping her bright orange shawl over the boy instead.

Fred and George were pounding the blanket, laughing, as the pair walked away. “Oh, Harry Potter, sign my hand,” George teased, holding out his hand as though to have it kissed. “No,” Fred interrupted while holding out his foot. “Sign my shoe! My shoe first!” He grabbed Harry around the neck to better hold his foot up in front of him and they tumbled backward onto the blanket. George pretended to reach for his trousers as though to pull them down. “Sign this!” he said, waggling his bum back and forth. Fred’s hands slipped away because he was laughing too hard to hold on and they all fell into a hysterical heap, and for one glorious minute the membrane between Harry and the rest of wizardry was pierced.

“Boys,” Ginny grumbled as their antics continued and their jokes grew incomprehensible over their laughter. She accepted a carrot stick from the bowl of them that was held out by Ron, who eyed the pile as though looking for an opening. Ginny munched on the carrot thoughtfully. “You can’t really make me stay an eighth year, can you?” she asked Snape. “I’m of age. I didn’t actually have to come for my seventh year.”

“Anything is possible,” Snape uttered softly.

“No, it isn’t,” Ginny countered, now sounding more confident.

“With a special decree from the Wizengamot,” Snape enunciated carefully, which made it come out more threatening, “anything is possible.”

Ginny bit through the carrot stick loudly and paled a little as she held off on chewing. A shadow fell across her and she looked up at Reginald Rodgers, standing above her, hands on his hips which spread his cloak wide.

“Weasley,” he said in greeting, and then “Snape,” with less enthusiasm. He glanced at the wrestling match with mild dismay, but Harry didn’t notice him. “A word with you, Ms. Weasley, if I could.”

Ginny eagerly stood up and followed him a few steps away, out of hearing. The scent of seaweed still clung to him and Ginny considered apologizing but waited to see what he would say first.

Rodgers said, “You made a good showing, considering. And I couldn’t help but recognize your name from the apprentice applications. We would certainly be remiss if we didn’t offer you a chance to apply.” At her excited reaction, he added sternly, “But realize that we are not necessarily opening a spot this year.”

“No?” Ginny asked in disappointment.

“No. You will have to convince us that we cannot do without you.”

“Ah,” Ginny uttered, thinking that didn’t seem quite as hopeful as she would have liked. “I’ll certainly try my best,” she said. “Do I have to have N.E.W.T.s to be accepted?”

Rodgers appeared concerned. “Usually. Why?”

Ginny hedged and gestured at Snape behind her. “Well, I may get expelled before I get a chance to take them.” At his further confused expression, she went on with: “I was already in trouble for trying to rescue Harry at the warehouse and now I’m not supposed to be here either. Professor Snape won’t tell me what my punishment is going to be.”

Rodgers leaned around her to peer at Snape, who gave him an unyielding look in return. “Your Auror test scores will have to be impeccable and an exception would have to be made. That is not unheard of, though, so you certainly should come to the initial testing.” After another glance at the full blanket behind her, he said, “I assume since I have not heard anything from Arthur, that he does not know you have applied?”

Ginny bit her lips and shook her head.

“Hm,” he grunted and giving a little bow with his head, said, “I will see you at the Ministry this summer then, if not sooner, Ms. Weasley.” With a last dismayed glance at the roughhousing young men, he stepped away.

Ginny bounced back to the blanket and sat down, thinking hopefully that things could still work out. Now if only she were certain that was what she wanted.

Molly Weasley leaned over and asked through the melee, “Was he congratulating you, dear?”

“Uh, yeah. Yeah, he was.”

Snape gave her a very dubious look, but didn’t speak. Harry somersaulted through between them and gracefully stopped in a crouch, dress robes fluttering. “'Scuse me,” he said, his face red from exertion and laughing. Snape’s expression made him add, “Sorry.” And rather than restart the wrestling, he sat down between them and took up a carrot.

“‘E’s given up, then,” George complained disparagingly.

“About time you decided to act your age,” Molly said, handing sandwiches to each of the twins.

Harry sighed and brushed his hair back. “You did really well today, Ginny.”

“That’s what your boss just said,” she pointed out.

“Who? Rodgers?” Harry asked, looking around with much less of a confident attitude.

Smirking, Ginny said, “Yeah, he was just here.”

Snape said, “Looked willing to trade her for you, in fact, given your position at the bottom of the pile.”

“It was two against one,” Harry pointed out, feeling a little embarrassed to have been behaving so juvenilely in retrospect.

Ginny nudged Harry, “Get Professor to tell you what my punishment is.”

Harry stared at her before that sank in. “Oh, for being out of school, you mean?”

“Again,” she clarified.

“Oh yeah. You had good reasons both times,” Harry pointed out.

“Tell him that,” Ginny said, even though Snape clearly must have overheard.

Harry turned to his guardian. “So, what’s Ginny’s punishment?”

Snape replied, “Minerva will have to decide.” Far off near the banner poles more fireworks were erupting.

“What are you going to recommend?” Harry needled.

“What do you recommend,” Snape immediately asked Harry. “Oh ye, who was so fond of breaking the rules himself.”

“Oh,” Harry uttered, munching his carrot to stall answering. “I don’t know,” he sheepishly admitted. “There’s only a month and some left . . .”

“So it will have to be something exceptionally harsh to add up during that time,” Snape stated with a twisted pleasantness.

Harry leaned closer to Ginny and murmured, “I think you’re in trouble.”

As it turned out, Ginny was. When she and Professor Snape arrived in the headmistress’ hearth an hour later, McGonagall strode quickly down from the upper half of the office to face her. The paintings behind her held supporting expressions of dismayed disappointment, although one of them appeared to be leering as though punishment were the ultimate form of entertainment.

When Snape hesitated behind Ginny, McGonagall said, “Go on, Severus, I’m certain you have grading since all I heard today were complaints about your extra assignment to make up for the holiday.” While she spoke, she didn’t take her eyes off Ginny, or her hands off of her hips.

Snape didn’t move immediately. “I am curious what punishment you are going to assign . . . I had some ideas.”

“I think you are too biased, in Ms. Weasley’s case, to consult on any corrective action.”

Snape’s expression grew disturbed. “Biased in what way?” he asked carefully, sounding on the verge of anger.

The two of them stared each other down. Ginny lifted her shoulders and glanced around uneasily. More of the former headmasters appeared to think entertainment was being provided and were smirking. Ginny didn’t speak because she would rather be expelled than end up with an eighth year.

“I will handle this, Severus,” McGonagall insisted firmly but conversationally. Snape stalked out, closing the door just a little louder than usual. Ginny shifted from one foot to the other nervously. McGonagall paced the room and finally spoke.

“I’d have liked to think that once you made the finals you could have come to me and asked for permission to leave,” the headmistress said slowly, green robes swishing as she walked. “Given that you clearly deserved to be in the tournament. But I suppose I would have simply been forced to punish you then for being absent without permission earlier.” She looked Ginny up and down as she passed her. “You don’t seem as trouble-seeking as your brothers on the surface, Ms. Weasley, so I find myself shocked to be dealing with such blatant and repeated transgressions. What do you have to say for yourself?”

Ginny wanted to simply shrug, but she would have derided that in someone else. “I guess I just would rather not be here at all. It’s too constricting here at school.”

“Is it?” McGonagall asked doubtfully.

“Planning for the tournament and working out how to sneak away unnoticed has been the only thing keeping me going the last few months. Otherwise I’d have lost my mind,” she admitted.

“It at least explains your long hours in the library,” McGonagall commented.

“School doesn’t matter,” Ginny pointed out. “These horrid prophecies are what matter, and helping Harry with them.”

“And to this end you wish to be an Auror, do you?” McGonagall asked in a tone that implied she knew the answer.

Ginny wondered who had told her. “I was considering it,” she allowed.

McGonagall wandered to her desk and straightened the stack of files there. “Do you have any idea how much discipline the Auror’s program requires, Ms. Weasley? How much studying, rote memorizing, repeated practice and drills? I suspect that you do not have the self-discipline necessary if you cannot keep yourself satisfied for a mere year here in varied and presumably occasionally interesting topics, among your friends, no less, with Quidditch as a diversion when all else fails.”

Ginny had not considered it quite that way. It was true that Harry seemed to do nothing but read his Auror books. “I just said I was considering it. And I’ve been invited to apply, so they think I have enough skill.”

“I don’t doubt that you have sufficient skill, Ms. Weasley . . . many have sufficient skill. It is not as unique as you think.” She stepped around her desk, sat down, and began taking out official looking parchments and a quill. Ginny wrung her hands a moment before forcing them to her sides.

“Do you wish to be expelled, Ms. Weasley?” McGonagall asked.

“Depends on what the alternatives are.”

McGonagall’s brow furrowed. “What could be worse than that?” she asked in confusion, but then immediately answered her own question. “Ah, yes, Severus said he threatened you with an eighth year, didn’t he?” She was smiling now in real amusement. “The only difficulty with that, is that we’d be punishing ourselves as well; otherwise it is a splendid idea given that you are already in detention for the foreseeable future.” McGonagall began scratching out something on a parchment. “Do you at least regret what you did?”

Ginny thought of the three hundred Galleons stashed away in her room at home—more money than she had ever imagined having at one time. She remembered her intense happiness when Harry called the last match a draw, giving her the win. “No.”

McGonagall rolled her eyes. “Very short term thinking, Ms. Weasley, I would have expected better foresight from you.”

“Why?” Ginny prodded, sounding difficult.

McGonagall paused. “I just would have. I’m surprised you sacrificed your last Quidditch match, as well. You’re letting your team down severely.”

“I didn’t expect to win the dueling final. If I’d come in second or third, it wouldn’t have mattered, no one would have known. I just . . . couldn’t let them make out the trophy wrong. For once I was out from under my many brothers’ shadows.” It hurt to say that even though, or perhaps because, it felt incredibly true.

McGonagall’s writing paused again. “A Quidditch ban and detention for the remainder of the year is barely more punishment than you are already under. But I don’t wish to expel you, if only because I fear that you will become entangled in worse troubles. I feel we should keep you isolated and safe here with the rest of the wizarding youth.”

“If things are so bad, why did the Ministry hold such an event? Why didn’t th-”

“Didn’t you notice how small the crowd was kept to?” McGonagall interrupted. “There were far larger places to hold the tournament. Many of the Regionals were held in larger venues. The atrium was the size the Ministry felt certain they could secure. The picnic was only held on the condition that nothing go wrong at the tournament. Many in the Wizengamot wanted the very public picnic canceled outright but doing so would have revealed how worried the Ministry really is, so it was not.” She gazed at Ginny for many seconds. “I am only not expelling you because I owe old loyalty to your parents and feel obliged to protect you as long as possible.” She sighed. “To that end, the only punishment I can see is one where you are compelled to volunteer to help clean up and organize the school for a month after classes end. You need not live here during that time, unless you wish to. All of this is dependent upon obtaining your parents’ agreement, but I expect they will.”

“What?” Ginny uttered, trying to take that in. She had felt nothing but pity when Harry was stuck here over the summer while the rest of them were home. “No, I wouldn’t want to live here.” Her gaze dashed over the objects in the room, disliking them all suddenly. “Can’t I just be expelled?”

“No. Go back to your tower; I believe your evening detention begins shortly.”

Ginny huffed and turned to stalk out, but stopped to hear McGonagall add. “Look at it this way, Ms. Weasley: you can still take your N.E.W.T.s.”

Ginny closed her eyes and in the interests of demonstrating some discipline, didn’t swear, even under her breath.

- 888 -

Harry opened the letter from Ginny that arrived that evening. It was a long letter for her, both sides of two full pages, but apparently she had needed to rant. Harry had to stop and reread twice the part where she offhandedly mentioned that McGonagall had kept Snape from consulting on her punishment on the argument that he was biased. Once Harry was sure of what he read, he chuckled.

Harry wrote out a long reply saying that he sympathized deeply with the notion of being stuck at school after everyone else had left, but insisted that it would go faster than she thought. He wrote:

Ten years from now I don’t think you’ll regret sneaking off to the tournament even if it means an extra month of Hogwarts. The trophy will always remind you of why it was worth it and heck, there’s no reason Hogwarts shouldn’t be as happy to see you go as it was for your brothers. It allows you to sit for your N.E.W.T.s as I’m sure Minerva intended and it’s only 30 days. The teachers are much more relaxed once the students are gone so it won’t be as bad as you think. Just make certain now that you can get the days off you need for the Auror testing and STUDY HARD—the tests are a bear, worse than the N.E.W.T.s.

P.S. Minerva probably thought Severus would be biased simply because you probably handed Slytherin the cup and he owes you for it.

After sending the Hogwart’s owl back with Ginny’s letter Harry leisurely got ready for bed, prodded the fire one last time, and crawled under the duvet. Sleep didn’t come though and gradually the fresh orange flickers on the ceiling from the hearth faded to a slate grey so flat it seemed the ceiling had disappeared into the far distance.

Hours later, the prophecy circling in his mind like a vicious animal, Harry lit his bedside lamp and read instead of attempting to sleep.

Fortunately, training the next day was all review during drills and, though tired, Harry had no difficulty keeping up, even when Rodgers called him to the front to demonstrate on him. Maybe it was Harry’s foggy brain, but Rodgers didn’t seem utterly disgusted with him today. Harry would have puzzled on this, but he couldn’t concentrate on two things at once, so he just put it aside and hoped it continued.

“Did you pay Ron?” Harry asked Aaron when they were packing up at the end of the day.

“Sure did,” Aaron replied. “Found him at the picnic, thank god, I almost had an epileptic fit from the jitters caused by the spell by the time I located him.” He hefted his shoulder bag. “Usually I win those bets I put a seal on, so serves me right I suppose,” he added with a laugh. “Glad it’s over, though?” he asked Harry.

Rodgers, who was straightening his notes in front, stopped and looked up to hear the answer to this as well.

“Yeah,” Harry admitted, although his worries about everyone being angry about his judging had long since been overshadowed by other larger concerns. He wondered now why he had been so concerned before when all he had to do was be fair and no one could remain upset for long.

Rodgers dug through his things and pulled out a copy of the Prophet, folded it to the back page and stepped over to hand it to Harry. “Skeeter thinks you must have known who Vogle really was.”

Harry stared at the back page gossip column. “She’s a nutter. I had no idea.”

Rodgers simply shrugged and stepped out, leaving Harry in the dark about why his trainer had pointed out the column.

That night didn’t go much better for Harry. Again the persistent greyness of his unlit room felt as though it might suffocate him. He petted Kali until she fell asleep and placed her gently back in her cage in the hopes that it would help him sleep; instead it made him feel so utterly exhausted that it drove him into a state of jittery alertness. He pulled out a one-inch thick volume entitled Obscure Ministry of Magic Regulations involving Charmed Objects and Homemade Spell Invention, his last resort to sleep. It eventually worked; he woke an hour later with the page stuck to his face and the lamp low due to the wick curling to black and needing adjustment. He put the book aside and lay back, hoping to fall back to sleep. He didn’t. Instead, memories he hadn’t perused in years swirled through his mind.

Harry remembered the battle at the Department of Mysteries and more starkly than previously, remembered his friends’ injuries and their outright dumb luck. He remembered all of it, disjointed and out of order with Dumbledore's sad and affectionate countenance overlaying it all.

The last prophecy required over eighteen years to run its course looped through Harry’s tired mind. The last one took only one night followed closely on its heels. Only the one born into prophecy is equal . . . is equal . . .

Harry didn’t sleep at all again the rest of the night and the next day required well-timed Pepper-Ups to remain equal another day of training. Fortunately it was a relatively easy day of drills and quizzing and discussion of common regulations that all shared ninety percent of their wording with the other seven hundreds they had already reviewed. Harry was rubbing his eyes and slowly getting his things together after everyone else had departed when Rodgers said, in his far snidest tone for the week, “You aren’t holding a week-long party to celebrate DV-Day, are you, Potter?”

Harry straightened and pretended to be alert. “No sir. Regulations just make me sleepy.” As Harry stood there under his trainer’s scrutiny, facing another long night, he wished Rodgers knew about the prophecy. But Snape had strongly suggested Harry not tell anyone at the Ministry. Harry was starting to think that wasn’t the best plan.

Hermione stopped by the house while Harry poked at his dinner; it was almost as though she knew he needed company. Rather than discuss the prophecy, they discussed Ginny, with Harry getting to share the news about her punishment, which a letter just that day from Ginny had depressingly stated that her parents had indeed agreed to the arrangement because her mother was desperate that she finish school and sit for her N.E.W.T.s.

“‘Just look at Ron,’ Mrs. Weasley apparently told Ginny when Minerva had them visit for a conference about it,” Harry said to Hermione and they both had a chuckle.

“I think Ginny would rather end up anything but like Ron: training Trolls and keeping the Goblins happy. But Ron is better at that than I would have expected,” Hermione opined as they ate more of the cake that Winky had provided soon after Hermione arrived.

After a long silence Hermione asked, “How are you doing, Harry?”

“Not as good as I would have thought. I thought I’d still be used to this . . . pressure. The Ministry hasn’t been told and now I think they should. I think I’d feel less suffocated if they did.” He thought further, imagined awkward meetings with Bones to discuss what was expected of him. “Though, maybe not,” he then added.

“Maybe it will get resolved quickly this time,” Hermione optimistically offered.

“Then there’ll just be another one after it,” Harry grumbled.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Harry, don’t think like that.”

It was getting late and Harry’s eyes tried to close on their own. “I need to get to sleep,” he said. It was the most optimistic thing he had said all evening.

Again though, he catnapped for an hour and then found himself awake, with the remains of a very bizarre dream haunting his dim bedroom. In the dream he was at the Demise of Voldemort Day party, sitting around a table occupied by Bellatrix Lestrange, the Malfoy family, Avery, MacNair and a few hidden, hooded others. All of them sat still and silent as the party went on around them, eyeing Harry as though waiting for him to slip up and make a mistake.

Harry rubbed his eyes and forehead and turned up his lamp. The room was cold. He padded across the floor and added three logs to the hearth without bothering to stir the coals first, so all they did was smolder thick black smoke, some of which billowed into the room. He pulled out the most boring of regulations manuals again and, curled up on his side under the duvet, forced himself to read it starting from the random page where the book fell open.

He dosed lightly again, but woke shortly after, thinking he should exhaust himself, perhaps with a long flight. But the destination he thought of was the warehouse in the Docklands because he was curious to look around again. Going anywhere else didn’t hold any purpose.

As he lay there with the lamp sputtering, the door to his room swung silently open, rather than with its usual faint squeak. Harry had his wand in his hand before the shadow in the doorway said, “You are up.”

Harry put his wand down and released the breath he had taken. “Yeah.”

Snape stepped in and looked down at him from beside the bed. Harry couldn’t read his expression in the oblique sputtering light.

“I wish . . .” Harry started to say before cutting himself off and biting his lip.

“I do not think there is any point in wishing,” Snape pointed out.

“No,” Harry agreed. Snape reached into his pocket and pulled out a small vial, prompting Harry to say, “I don’t want it.”

“You need to sleep.”

“How did you know I wasn’t?” Harry challenged.

“I asked Winky.”

“Oh,” Harry murmured. Snape had set the vial down on the night stand. Harry eyed it. “I don’t want to not wake up if I need to.”

Snape didn’t move to pick up the vial again. Instead he sat down on the edge of the bed and hesitated before asking, “Do you need to speak of things?”

“What’s to say?” Harry retorted. “I’m on the hook again. Me. Why me?” He was angry all of a sudden, which he would have sworn he hadn’t been a moment before.

“Perhaps because you bear the burden better than others.” Then more solemnly: “I do not know why you are chosen.”

“So I should be rubbish at taking care of it so it doesn’t happen again,” Harry grumbled.

“I don’t think you have that option.”

“‘Dark hordes.’ How do you know it isn’t me releasing the dark hordes?” he taunted, finding it easy to use Snape as an outlet for his anger.

“I don’t,” Snape replied easily, unflappable.

Snape’s calm for once didn’t incense Harry further; instead, he fell into a brooding silence. In the morning he wouldn’t feel so cheated; he was certain that this was just exhaustion making him weak. “I have to sleep,” he said, curling up and pulling the duvet up snugly to his ear.

A hand stroked his hair back, making Harry squeeze his eyes more tightly closed. He asked, voice muffled by the covers, “Should I just hunt Merton down and get it over with?”

The hand returned for another pass, surprising Harry, although his fingers tugged hard on his hair as he spoke. “Albus always appeared content to let events play out. Infuriating really. His instinct would have been to wait until circumstances are aligned properly, believing that you would know when the time was right. I hope you do recognize the moment, should you chose that route.”

Thinking about it everything at once was only making things worse. Harry rubbed his forehead and asked Snape to turn the lamp down. He then said, “I’ll get used to the idea. Right now I just want to do something about it. Inaction is killing me. I hate waiting for the right moment. I’m not a Hogwarts student anymore . . . not a child; I should be able to do things my way this time.”

Snape’s hand rested on his shoulder, muted by the thick covers. “The prophecy is a conjunction of events, just like the stars and planets form in the sky. You may not be equal to the task until that time.”

After a pause, Harry accused from under the duvet, “You’ve been reading up, haven’t you? From books Trelawney probably takes to bed.”

“Yes,” Snape admitted.

“You don’t believe any of that,” Harry accused.

“I don’t know,” Snape honestly admitted. “But I have seen you overcome very poor odds and I am not unhopeful.”

Harry snickered. “You’re such an optimist.”

Snape sat back and said, “No reason to get insulting”, although his lips were faintly curled.

Harry awoke when the morning sun filled his room. He had slept soundly after Snape had departed and although he was a bit groggy, he felt significantly better. He even arrived early for training, and curious what might be going on, wandered down to the Auror’s office.

“What’s all this?” Harry asked of the very tall stack of files on Rogan’s desk.

“Research,” Rogan said, paging through a file before setting it on another knee-high pile on the floor.

“Looking for Merton?” he asked because they were alone.

Rogan smiled. “Give you an inch, Harry,” was his only reply.

Tonks came in then carrying more files and greeted him warmly. “Ready to work, Harry?” she asked.


“That’s good,” She replied while paging through her own stack of files. “Especially since you are on real duty tomorrow.”

“I am?” Harry asked in quick excitement.

“Your sense of cursed objects is being put to use, so real field work for you.”

“Brilliant,” Harry said happily, needing more than ever to be doing something useful.

“Don’t be eager,” she admonished him. “Be careful.”

Training seemed to take forever that day: the discussions were even longer and more boring than previously, the regulation numbers and conditions blurring from previous days. Finally Harry was released. He immediately went to find Ron, too chipper to go home and study.

Harry came home from a much-needed carefree evening at the pub and fell into bed. The notion of meaningful action calmed him enough to put him to sleep almost immediately and he woke feeling ready to conquer any dark wizard stupid enough to cross his path that day. Dressed and at the Ministry early in an unprecedented second day in a row, Harry found a small conference going on in the break room.

Mad-Eye Moody’s magical eye swung over to Harry as he entered and the room fell silent. “Potter, come on in,” he invited in a tone that sounded the opposite of the words.

Harry, who had been hesitating in the doorway, joined the group around the small table. Tonks was there as well as the oldest Auror, Whitley, Rodgers, and Mr. Weasley, plus some staff from the Magical Reversal Squad.

Rodgers said, “We’ve arranged enough protection to give Merton’s place a thorough going over. Several Aurors have visited it at night, alone, being careful not to be seen by the neighbors, or to set off any traps. We’re going in as a group this time . . . going to comb the whole place from top to bottom.

Harry stiffened, thinking that this was an opportunity to look for the objects Draco wanted back. Not necessarily to give them to Draco right away. First he would take a very long look at them. Maybe have Hermione take a very long look at them as well—and Bill too, if he were willing.

Rodgers was still talking. “Remember, we aren’t just looking for the unusual, we’re looking for what might be missing as well. He hasn’t been back, as far as we can tell, to fetch anything. We left a few traps of our own that haven’t been triggered. And on that note, no Apparating in or out from inside the perimeter—only by foot, understood?”

Everyone nodded, so he said, “We need clues to where Merton might be now. We have a pretty good idea what he is doing, but we think he must have help and we’d like to know who that is as well, so we want to look for the usual things: old post, datebooks, etc. We’ve looked before but we’ve come up empty so far, so they may be hidden if they’re there.”

Harry’s trainer turned to him. “Potter here is good at spotting cursed objects and seems to have a special antipathy for Merton’s toys. I want you to look for anything, anything at all, that sets you off the same way, got it?” Harry nodded. “Alastor will also be looking for things along that line. We want to be in and out as fast as possible and the place is big. Magical Reversal will be helping us blanket the neighborhood to make the surrounding Muggles unaware of our activity, but there is always a chance for exposure so let’s minimize it. Alastor is in charge of the operation, so all decisions to withdraw fall on him. Any questions?”

Harry shook his head and worked to keep his excitement at bay.

The Aurors who had previously patrolled the area didn’t need assistance, but Harry had to have Tonks Apparate him. As little as he minded having her hold his hand, he wished it wasn’t for something so childish feeling.

“Everyone be careful,” Mad-Eye said as they approached the very ordinary front door with a little curved window in the top middle. “No telling what might try to lop a limb off in a house like this.”

They moved as a group into the narrow entryway, until Mad-Eye gestured for a few people to go right and some to go straight, ending the traffic jam.

Harry wandered off down a side hallway lined with windows that looked into the neighbor’s garden. As he walked, he looked up and down and carefully at the wall, just in case. He even checked the floor for loose boards with his toes.

At the end through a door, he found a sitting room that resembled a shop on Diagon Alley it was so crammed with objects. There were no fewer than ten lamps just in this one room, a very tall one in the shape of a stork that followed him with its head as he moved about, making him worry that there could be a monitor somewhere where Merton could watch him. Harry eyed it closely, but it didn’t feel exceptionally magical and its eyes were of the same brass as the rest of it. He decided to ignore it for now and instead went over to the largest cabinet along a wall of them, peering at each shelf while checking for a gold inkwell or a seal. Merton seemed to own one frilly specimen of just about everything but nothing that matched Draco’s description. Many of the objects felt cursed but none significantly so he moved on to the next cabinet.

At the end of the line, he pondered the room again. On the far wall, a portrait hung, its subject absent. Suspicious, Harry began to cross the crowded room toward it.

Before the stove and its very full wood bin, sat a small overstuffed chair, and against its seat, blocking the path, rested a silver cane, or strangely, half a cane, lengthwise. Harry tripped over this on his way by, or perhaps, as he wondered darkly when it clattered to the floor, it had tripped him up. Since there had been talk of setting additional traps for Merton here, Harry didn’t want to leave the room other than exactly as he had found it. So, without forethought, he picked it up to set it back precisely as he had first seen it.

Harry stared in confusion at the thing he was holding in his hand. It was all silver and shaped like a cane, but it was flattened along on one side. It was also very heavy, as though it were solid metal. It occupied a most unusual room full of all kinds of old, twisted and curious things. In the distance footsteps could be heard and low conversation. Someone stuck their head in the room, pulled it back and then leaned in, mouth agape.

“Harry?!” a woman with bright pink hair done up in a Mohawk uttered in shock.

Harry stared at her, looked around the room, and asked, “How do you know my name?”

The woman saw the cane. In a low voice of dismay, she said, “I told you not to touch anything. Why are you holding that?” she demanded, almost frantic.

Harry, used to being yelled at just like this, set the cane down quickly against the chair beside him. The woman stepped closer and stared down at him, hands on hips. “The effect didn’t go away,” she lamented and then leaned over to glare at the cane in consternation, careful not to touch it.

Harry hazarded another question even though his previous one had gone unanswered. “Where am I?” He had just minutes before been hiding in his cousin Dudley’s cupboard to avoid him and his friends who had bored of their other games and had begun to plot various things they could do to Harry.

Another figure came to the door, a black man with very short hair wearing a long cloak. “This room clear?” This new person glanced at Harry and his expression went horrified. “Tonks, what’s this then?”

The woman turned her head. “He picked that up. Had it in his hand.”

“Harry!” the man chastised forcefully. Harry backed up a step, and would have tripped over about a dozen things sitting on the floor had the woman not pulled him back forward by his oversized t-shirt.

The woman called Tonks, said, “We’ll have to take it with us. Get a sample bag, will ya?”

“Reggie said, ‘exactly as we found it’,” the man argued.

“We don’t have any choice. Harry didn’t revert when he put it down. We’ll have to figure out how it works.” Using Harry’s shirt, which Tonks still held, she dragged him from the room, down a long corridor, around a corner, and out the door. Harry, for lack of a good reason to resist, followed along. They walked out into the cool air to the end of the drive and started down the road. Harry glanced back at the ordinary house and the street and didn’t recognize where they were. Cloaked figures stood in the yards of each of the houses, sticks held up before them like short swords, reminding Harry of something . . . something very dim and frightening.

The woman stopped and her sharp voice broke his chain of horrific, dreamlike memory. “I’d yell you silly if I thought you had any notion of what you’ve done,” she said angrily.

“Sorry,” Harry offered automatically.

She took his arm and the strange neighborhood and its strange figures disappeared. Air hit Harry’s ears with a bang! and they appeared in a wood-paneled corridor with lamps flickering along it high along the wall. The woman immediately dragged him by the arm to the first room, tugged out a chair before a desk in a room full of desks, and said with a forceful wave of a finger, “STAY!”

Harry shrunk down a bit at this. Somehow she didn’t look like she would normally be mean. Harry sighed and watched a paper airplane turn in the door and land smoothly on the next desk over. He started to stand up to investigate, but then remembered the last insistent command and sat back again. This grew increasingly difficult as various interesting things happened, such as files ruffling themselves, and a glass lump upon another desk glowing brightly as though it were spinning inside. Someone ran by and his footsteps could be heard running away.

Tonks returned. She sat down and started writing furiously with a quill on a piece of parchment. Harry couldn’t see what she was writing since her hand mostly blocked the view. She was shaking her head and muttering a lot though.

“Where am I?” Harry asked again.

The woman closed her eyes, looking to be on the verge of a real blow up, or perhaps a collapse. Harry thought he should not have asked. Quietly, she said, “This is the Ministry of Magic.”

“The what?” Harry couldn’t help blurting. He had never heard of that. Of all the Ministries his Uncle Vernon frequently complained about, Harry was pretty certain he would have remembered that one.

“You’ve never heard of it because we don’t want anyone to know about it.”

“Is your name really Tonks?” Harry asked. It was an odd sort of name.

“Yes.” She blotted the paper with haste and ran off, her footsteps echoing as well.

Harry sighed. This was better than running from his cousin, he had to admit, especially since his ribs still hurt badly from the day before when Dudley and his friend had caught him. On the other hand, all the strange goings on in this place were a little alarming. A man stopped in the corridor and stared at Harry. He was a lean Indian with thick hair down to his collar. He looked one way down the corridor and then the other and then back at Harry. Harry figured that this man also knew who he was.

“May I inquire what has happened?” the man asked in an accent. When Harry shrugged, he said, “Ah, that is not far-fetched that you are not knowing.”

“I’m in big trouble,” Harry offered. “I think.”

“Oh yes,” the man said, eyes glittering a bit. “I imagine you are. My name is Vishnu, by the way.”

“Hi, I’m Harry.”

“I am knowing this,” the man said, now definitely smiling. “How old are you, Harry?”

“Nine. Nine and a half,” Harry quickly amended. The paperclips beside him on the desk were dancing. Harry leaned a bit away from them, quite certain that wasn’t normal paperclip behavior.

“They are just magical,” Vineet explained. “Don’t you have your wand? Ah, it is there on the desk.”

He came over and handed a long wooden pointed stick to Harry. It was highly polished and worn around the handle as though used a lot. Harry felt a rush of something as he held it, as though a breeze were filling him with possibility.

“Ah yes. That is yours for certain. Shall I show you a spell?” At Harry’s vigorous nod, the man came and crouched beside him. “Wingardium Leviosa,” the man said while waving the wand. A quill on the next desk rose into the air. He demonstrated the hand movement several times until Harry had it down and then corrected his pronunciation. Harry put it all together but nothing happened.

“You are losing the proper swish when you speak,” Vineet explained. “Try the motions a few more times without speaking.”

Well over ten minutes of patient help passed; so patient Harry really wondered about this man and who he was. No one had ever spent this much time with him on anything, not even a teacher at school. But Harry finally got the feather to jump in the air.

“Did you do that?” Harry demanded.

“No, no. I am doing nothing. It is your doing only,” the man insisted kindly. He looked Harry up and down. “You are too small for your clothes; they must not have changed with you.”

Harry looked down at his grey t-shirt and the rolled up cuffs on his trousers. “These are my clothes. Well, they were my cousin’s before. He’s a bit bigger than me.”

“He must be. And this spell must be very strong to bring you with your clothes.” Vineet straightened up then and gave Harry a soft look.

“How do I know you?” Harry asked.

“You are forgetting much, but I am assuming it is safe to tell you-”

“Vishnu,” Tonks said, rushing back in. “I see you’ve met Harry.”

Vineet smiled more. “Yes. I am having an advantage for the first time . . .”

“I have to send an owl through the Floo to Hogwarts. I wish I had any kind of advantage.” She propped her fists on her hips and considered Harry at length. “I wish he’d just revert and save an awful lot of trouble.”

“What has happened?” Vineet asked.

“He picked up a cursed or charmed—we’re not even sure which—object at Merton’s place. I found him like this. He seemed well enough so we didn’t bother with Mungo’s, which we’d prefer to avoid anyway, but Severus is going to kill me when he sees him.”

Harry’s brow furrowed as he tried to follow what Tonks was saying. It was similar to the code Vernon and Petunia used, but Tonks didn’t seem to be trying to lock Harry out of the conversation.

Tonks teased her companion, “Feel like babysitting? Then we could just hide him until this is straightened out. I was down in Mysteries trying to move them along. I had to leave before I did something permanent to Percy.”

“Nandi would not be unwilling . . .” Vineet said, “And it is the weekend.”

“Tempting,” Tonks said, tapping her fingers on her elbow. “But if Severus ever found out . . . and he is very good at finding things out.”

Vineet straightened as though less willing to pursue his offer. “Ah, there is that.”

Tonks sighed. “Well, there’s nothing for it.” She stomped to the desk and wrote out another message, more carefully this time, that Harry could almost read, if he could have understood the unusual words. Then she disappeared again.

“I’m in trouble, aren’t I?” Harry asked the Indian.

Vineet smiled lightly, which eased Harry’s worries. “It will be straightened out,” he assured Harry.

Tonks returned and, to Harry’s disappointment, sent Vineet off on an errand. She sat down at her desk and opened the fluttering paper airplanes with nervous motions, even dropping one on the floor. “As soon as I get a reply, I’ll take you home,” she said.

“Oh,” Harry said sadly. “Can you come in and explain? My aunt and uncle are going to be furious that I’ve gone missing. Maybe they’ll listen to you.” Harry looked her now green-spiked hair over and thought again that maybe they wouldn’t, but it was the best chance he had.

Tonks shoved the pile of parchments aside and said, “You don’t live with your aunt and uncle anymore.”

Harry, who had just been at his relatives’ house, wondered about this sudden reassignment. “Where am I going?”

“Harry,” Tonks said, sounding less patient. “You are eighteen. Well, you are supposed to be eighteen. Almost nineteen. Nine years have passed since the last things you remember right now.” She looked through her desk drawer. “Drat, I don’t have any photographs here. Just trust me. You’ve been adopted and you live with your new father, although he is teaching and lives at the school during the school year.”

Harry studied her small eyes and pert nose, looking for a clue to the truth. “I’ve been adopted?” Harry couldn’t imagine that. From what his relatives always said, he wasn’t the most desirable material for offspring.

“Yes,” Tonks confirmed. “By a man named Severus Snape.” Tonks wasn’t working anymore, had pushed her work aside in fact, and was now giving Harry her full attention.

This was another very odd name. Harry went on with, “Is he nice?”

“Er . . .” she hesitated awkwardly. “That isn’t exactly the right word . . .”

Harry’s heart fell out of his chest after feeling queerly swelled up. “He’s cruel?”

Tonks grew more nervous. “He’s a little hard to summarize.”

Sadly, Harry asked, “Can I go home with Vishnu instead?”

“Harry,” Tonks sharply chastised him. “No, you can’t. Severus is your father now and that’s where you live. Luckily it’s Friday so he only needs to find a substitute for the rest of the day, I expect.” Harry’s disappointment apparently made her soften her tone, because she took his arm and said, “He takes very good care of you, really. He’s not at all like your aunt and uncle . . .” Here she paused as though needing to recover from that statement. “And I can’t count how many times you’ve told me how happy you are to have him as your dad.”

Harry sat, resigned, until an owl came fluttering in carrying a letter. When it landed, it scattered ashes onto the desk. Tonks opened the letter with nervous motions. “Forty-five minutes he’ll be home. He has Remus to substitute, apparently. I told him it wasn’t a total emergency . . . I hope he views it that way when he sees you.”

Author's Notes
Ginny's surprise win — Wow, finally a controversial chapter. Made it a long way into the sequel without one, I realized upon reading the reviews. Clearly playing it much too safe with this story. I'll keep that in mind as it continues. Bwa hah hah hah.

In an unstructured fight, I think Ginny would have lost easily. The format of alternative spelling gives creativity a chance to trump professional knowledge. For example, I'd expect Rodgers or Snape to cast three spells to her one easily if there were no limit. In an overly fair fight such as this, superior complex blocking maxs out as an asset—the nasty spells the ultrablocks work against aren't going to be cast anyway. So, dark alley fighting with no scruples, I'd probably give it to Snape, but Rodgers would be a close second, and only because I think he's been trained to fight fair, to his detriment.

Would Rodgers beat Harry? Yes, I think so, if only because he's been studying Harry's every weakness for the last year and Harry doesn't have the advantage of surviving six older, highly creative brothers like Ginny does.

Harry vs. Ginny? Hm... I might have to work that in somewhere... I'd give the psychological advantage to Harry.

Harry + Ginny? In case Harry's comment that Ginny feels like a sister doesn't make it clear enough that he has no girlfriend interest in her, let me lay it down again: the story is not going Harry/Ginny. I've just felt lately in need of developing another strong female character that wasn't an OC, because boy are they lacking in this universe. Also discovered another lacking in my outlining: by total scenes, Ginny isn't in there much but putting her scenes so close together boosts their importance (and them being "starring" scenes doesn't help) especially for people who find that she grates on their nerves. I feel sad for you—book 7 is going to hurt. I do appreciate the sentiment that the story is perhaps still worth reading further. As you can see, things have taken a very interesting turn for our main characters...

Next: Chapter 19

Harry took a tight hold of the woman's robes and closed his eyes as rushing air assaulted his ears. He opened them after half a minute and watched as brick, and stone, and cement rushed by interspersed with flaming and glowing hearths. They were spinning dizzily, and Harry worried he might lose his glasses, but he didn't want to let go of his escort even with one hand.

They landed with a slap on a cement slab. Tonks led the way out, ducking under the mantel. Harry looked around the darkly paneled room. There was a window on the right and on the far wall a high shelf held strange bottles. A figure all in black swept into the room from the door to the left and glared at the two of them.

Chapter 19: Home Is Not a Place
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter 19 — Home Is Not a Place

Harry sat as quietly as possible while Tonks worked at her desk. A balding man with bright red hair came in and gave Harry a very amused expression.

“Arthur,” Tonks said, and gazed up at him in concern. “Oh good, you aren’t going to yell at me.”

Arthur stood with his arms crossed, leaning on the door frame. “Not unless it’s permanent. How are you, Harry?”

Faced with this most recent unknown person who apparently knew him, Harry replied easily, “All right, sir.”

“Need anything?”

Harry shook his head. A paper airplane veered around Arthur and looped fast around Harry, who grabbed it out of the air without thinking and handed it to Tonks.

“Good catch,” Tonks said and the two adults shared a look.

“Is he going home?” Arthur asked Tonks.

“In about thirty minutes.”

Since the new man looked the kindliest yet, Harry asked him, “Am I really eighteen?”

“Oh yes,” he replied. “I have a photograph down in my office . . . if you want to come have a look?”

Harry jumped up and followed the man’s faded blue robes—or perhaps they had once been black—down to the end and around the corner. At a small room with just a desk and one file cabinet, the man stopped and took out an album. He flipped through it to nearly the end and held it out for Harry. Harry stared at a moving photograph of four teenagers, two with the same bright red hair as Arthur, one a girl with flowing brown hair, and one that must be him, since he had glasses and the same scar.

Arthur was saying, “That’s my son and daughter, friends of yours, and another girl named Hermione.” The girl, Hermione, was holding the two boys hard around the neck, nearly pulling them forward, but they were all laughing happily. It was some kind of unreal fantasy brought to photographic life.

Arthur waited until Harry took his thumb and forefinger off the album before flipping to another photograph, an older one where Harry could recognize himself much more starkly. In this one a very, very large bearded man in rough clothing was bending close to get into the photograph. Arthur again found a new page. In this one, someone who looked like Harry was standing with a auburn-haired woman and they were arm and arm.

“Is that me?” Harry asked.

“That’s your mum and dad,” Arthur explained. “But you are the image of James, all right.”

Harry stopped breathing; he had never seen a photograph of his parents, much less a moving one. They looked happy but it was muted by something, worry perhaps. Feeling dizzy, Harry took a deep breath. This man, Arthur, seemed unbelievably sensitive to Harry’s distress. He gently put the album away in a drawer, which necessitated putting back some additional things that jumped out of it when it was opened, such as a kerchief and gloves.

“I have to get to a meeting, so I’ll take you back to Tonks.”

Back at the cubicle office, where Arthur urged Harry inside, Tonks said, “Sure you don’t want to take him home?”

Arthur laughed and gave this a moment’s consideration. “Trouble is Molly’d never let him out of her grasp again.”

In the ensuing pause Harry said to Tonks, “He had a photograph of my mum and dad.”

“Tonks didn’t tell you what really happened to them?” Arthur asked and then despite offering this easily, seemed reluctant to explain further.

Harry who had always sensed something deeply mysterious about this issue and had met with only vitriol when he brought it up at home, sharply asked, “What happened to them?”

Arthur said, “My, I see that quick temper of yours is not a recent acquisition. Your parents were killed by a dark wizard named Voldemort, who tried to kill you too, but only gave you that scar.” He touched Harry’s forehead with a forefinger, and Harry instinctively covered it.

Well, Harry thought, if that were true, his aunt and uncle certainly wouldn’t have told anyone. He wasn’t sure he believed it, but he didn’t say anything, just met the red-haired man’s gentle eyes. Arthur said, “I wish it weren’t true, Harry.” He clapped his hands then and rubbed them together. “I expect we’ll be seeing you next week, back to your old self.”

“Such an optimist,” Tonks teased.

With confidence Arthur explained, “You said the cane was in the middle of the room. If the spell were too strong, it wouldn’t have been left lying out.”

“Unless it were a trap,” Tonks offered.

“Strangest one I’ve heard of,” Arthur countered and gave a little wave before disappearing around the door frame.

“He’s nice,” Harry said.

“He is,” Tonks agreed. “Almost too nice. I’m going back down to the Department of Mysteries, see if they’ve learned anything about that thing. Sit down,” she ordered, and Harry obeyed.

Moments later, yet another person arrived and immediately took Tonk’s chair. “Hello,” this man said. He seemed less trustworthy to Harry for some reason. “You don’t remember me, I see, I’m Aaron. We’re in training together here.”

He held out his hand, which Harry shook. “Training?”

“Yeah,” Aaron said, propping his feet up on the desk. “Auror training.”

“What’s an Auror?” Harry asked.

Aaron leaned back to relax, hands behind his head. “A dark wizard hunter, of course.”

“You’re having me on,” Harry criticized.

Aaron lost his laid-back posture when he started to laugh. And when he stopped, he continued to snort occasionally. “Harry, you are the foremost dark wizard hunter.”

Yet another figure darkened the doorway to the offices with his cloaked self. “So, it’s true. Potter . . .” he muttered disdainfully and shook his head.

Aaron leaned toward Harry and whispered, “This is your boss.”

Harry, who had no notion of having a boss beyond his relatives, greeted this one with: “Sir.”

This man shook his head again in an air of dismissive tragedy. “Tonks sending him home?” he asked Aaron.

“Yup. Snape is meeting her there shortly. I’m just playing nanny until then,” Aaron explained casually.

“Ah,” the mustached man said airily, “Snape doesn’t eat children anymore, does he?”

Harry looked quickly to Aaron to see the reply to this. Aaron was chuckling. “Not in a few years . . . unless he’s gotten better at hiding it.”

Feeling that he didn’t like this Aaron bloke much, Harry asked, “You know my new dad?”

“Oh, yeah, pretty well in fact. I went to the school where he teaches; had him for seven years as a head-of-house.”

“Is he mean?” Harry asked, really needing to know. The man in the doorway snorted.

Aaron thoughtfully echoed, “Is . . . he . . . mean? When I was in school that wouldn’t have covered it. Heartless, might have covered it. Cruel. Vicious. Heartless, no I used that already. But of course,” Aaron said, waving his hand with aplomb, “He liked us. We were in his house. Students like you, who were in Gryffindor . . . Snape hated the students from Gryffindor.”

Harry didn’t know whom to believe. The man in the doorway looked far too amused and Aaron gave no sign that he was lying.

Seeing Harry’s expression, Aaron said, “I think Snape likes you now though.”

“I would say,” the man in the doorway uttered snidely, “You are the only thing keeping him out of prison.”

Harry disliked that man more all of a sudden. To Aaron Harry asked, “Is that true?”

Aaron looked befuddled in an almost comic manner. He straightened his spine and replied, “I don’t know.” He glanced at the man in the doorway. “Maybe. It’s not impossible. I like Professor Snape though. If you’re on his good side, he’s a very good ally. Just don’t get on his bad side . . . he knows an awful lot of dark magic.”

“Dark magic?” Harry asked in alarm, but Tonks had returned so he didn’t get a response.

“See ya later, Harry,” Aaron said chummily as if he had not just withered Harry’s future to something, if possible, glummer than the prospect of the Dursley’s.

Tonks said to the man in the doorway, “I’ll be back, hopefully in fifteen. If not, I’m being flayed.”

“Get Mr. Weasley to drop him off,” Aaron suggested.

“He’s in a meeting and I’d have to fear Severus hunting me down if I don’t just face him now.” She sounded honestly worried about that, which only reinforced everything Aaron had said. Tonks took a cloak down off a coat rack and hooked it around Harry’s neck and then pulled the hood over his head and as far forward as it would go. “Keep that there,” she ordered, making Harry drop the hand he had brought up to adjust it so he could see something other than a small tunnel and the floor. His hand was taken up and with a heavy heart Harry let himself be led away.

The lift ride was a clanging and banging affair and then they were in a large open area, where Harry lifted his head and looked around as much as possible between Tonks’ repeated yankings of his hood forward. They passed a fountain and then faced a fiery hearth, one of a long row of them. Tonks crouched before him and said, “I’m going to take you with me, just in case.” She steered him close to the heat of the flames and tossed something onto the logs that burned pure green. With her arms she swept Harry forward and shouted something about a shrew and then they were spinning in near darkness.

Harry took a tight hold of the woman’s robes and closed his eyes as rushing air assaulted his ears. He opened them after half a minute and watched as brick, and stone, and cement rushed by interspersed with flaming and glowing hearths. They were spinning dizzily, and Harry worried he might lose his glasses, but he didn’t want to let go of his escort even with one hand.

They landed with a slap on a cement slab. Tonks led the way out, ducking under the mantel. Harry looked around the darkly paneled room. There was a window on the right and on the far wall a high shelf held strange bottles. A figure all in black swept into the room from the door to the left and glared at the two of them.

“Severus,” Tonks breathed.

Dismay crossed the angular features of the man and his unkempt hair tossed about as he shook his head. “Your note didn’t exaggerate at all,” he said to Tonks.

“‘Fraid not,” she admitted.

The man circled the table like a predator to better see Harry. With his long black cloak and prominent hooked nose Harry thought he looked more than a bit like a giant raven. The man’s eyes narrowed and Harry had the oddest notion that the man somehow knew he had come up with that unflattering imagery. Tonks gave a reluctant Harry a push toward the large table that dominated the room.

“I know I promised to keep an eye on him, but I can’t stop him doing really stupid things.”

The man pinched the bridge of his nose as though he had a headache. “And the object responsible?”

“Department of Mysteries has it,” Tonks explained. Harry inched his way over to the other side of the table where he felt safer. On the sideboard behind him, post was scattered, some of it was even addressed to him, which was a first in his life. He fingered it with a swelling heart. A photograph of himself with two of the people from the other photograph was there as well. It helped a lot to see it there.

Conversation stopped and Harry turned. A small creature with ears that ended in long drooped points had come in bearing a tray with biscuits and a glass of milk. It set this down, curtsied in its tea towel and departed. Harry forgot the elf quickly but the plate of chocolate biscuits, in a room that also didn’t contain Dudley, held his full attention.

The conversation about spell reversal and curse negation continued as Harry inched forward and took the first chair at the table. Slowly, stomach complaining, he took the milk and sipped that. No one said anything or looked his way. Harry took a biscuit and intended to nibble it, but instead gorged it down. He reached for another, thinking that he might get to like this place. His hand was halted by a sharp voice.

“If you are that hungry, we should have an early dinner, rather than excessive biscuits.”

Harry removed his hand from the vicinity of the platter and returned to his milk. Rather than satiate his hunger, the biscuit had defined the hollow of his stomach all the more clearly. He had only gotten toast for breakfast and because he had been hiding from Dudley and his friends, he had missed lunch. The scent of the biscuits, about twelve of them, Harry guessed, was torment.

Tonks approached and gave him a one-armed hug, “I’ll stop by tomorrow when there’s news. Behave yourself.” With another flash of green fire, she was sucked, spinning, up the chimney. Harry blinked at that, certain he had never heard of that working outside of the realm of Christmas.

The man stood considering Harry. Harry considered him back. The only sound was the tick of a clock in the next room. Snape said, “I’ll go see that Winky is preparing dinner.”

Harry almost took a biscuit in his absence but expected that he wouldn’t get away with it, that perhaps some magical trick would give him away and he feared what kind of magical punishment would be forthcoming. He finished his milk and sat trying to fathom what the objects on the mantel were for. None of them resembled torture devices, he was relieved to note. Other than the windmill, which turned in the brown painting on the far wall, nothing in the room was terribly, horribly out of the ordinary.

The man returned and took up a seat across from Harry. “Not much sense in yelling at you, is there?” he asked smartly.

Harry cleared his throat, “Everyone else said that today too.”

Snape shook his head, which caused his stringy hair to obscure more of his face.

Harry needed to find some footing here. He had been left with this man by a mix of people who marginally seemed to care what happened to him and some who found dark, mocking amusement in the prospect. “Tonks said that you adopted me?” Even as he voiced it, it sounded absurd and he wished he hadn’t spoken.

“Yes,” came the wry reply.

Harry swallowed hard, not sure what answer he had been hoping for.

“Do you wish to examine the paperwork?” came the snide follow up.

“I guess,” Harry said.

The man stood without warning after examining Harry’s gaze extensively with that disturbingly close attention. With a swish of his robes he was gone but he returned presently and held out a rolled up parchment.

Harry awkwardly unrolled it. It was long with miles of small print and lines that had been filled in with his name and Snape’s name. At the very bottom were some signatures. The first few lines were reassuring, going on in the manner of: henceforth shall be responsible for all welfare, health, and long-term educational/vocational requirements of adoptee. Harry let the parchment roll itself up again like an uncoiled spring and handed it back. Snape set it aside with his long, fine-boned hand.

Harry had only ever daydreamed of his parents suddenly coming for him to take him from the Dursley’s, not adoption, but if he had imagined adoption, this would not have entered his imagining. He shifted in his chair under that black scrutiny and felt something in his pocket bump the chair. Remembering his wand with a spark of happiness, Harry pulled it out. “I learned a spell,” he said.

“Really?” Snape crossed his arms doubtfully. “Let’s see.”

Harry, after three tries because he was nervous, got the silver pepper grinder to hover over the table. It drifted there on its own axis before suddenly falling with a loud bang! and a scattering of loose peppercorns. “Sorry,” Harry immediately said, hurrying to set the thing upright.

“No matter; it is a rather heavy object for a beginner.” Snape said. “One of your worst enemies sent that for Christmas.”

Harry picked it up and looked it over. “It didn’t break,” he pointed out before rethinking the assertion about enemies sending Christmas gifts.

“I don’t think it can be broken.” The man now had a wand in his hand as well. “Shall I show you another?” With a quick flick and another strange utterance that sounded like Elphaskrasi, the peppermill suddenly had pink polka dots.

“You’re a wizard too?” Harry asked, stunned by how many there seemed to be all of a sudden.

“Of course,” Snape sneered lightly. “You would prefer to be adopted by a Muggle?”

“What’s a Muggle?”

This question made the man rethink a moment. More calmly, he said, “It is a non-magical person.”

At that moment plates and platters of food materialized on the table, clad in a sheen of sparkles. Harry sat back in surprise, not believing it could be real until the odor of roast chicken hit his stomach, making it twist painfully. He clasped his hands between his knees to wait his turn.

“Go ahead,” Snape said.

Harry never got to serve himself first. Ever. He hesitantly reached for the serving spoon in the potatoes and once he started, rushed to give himself a chicken wing as well so he wasn’t holding up the meal.

Harry had never eaten better food. The potatoes tasted like cream and the chicken fell off the bone. Harry quickly nibbled his piece clean to the tiny wingbones where the feathers attached. He then began eying the platter, which was still heaped with the rest of a chicken and there was no Dudley or Uncle Vernon to be satiated. One wing was all Harry ever was given though when his aunt cooked chicken. He slowly ate his potatoes and wondered if he could have more chicken.

“Do you want another piece?” came the sharp question, and for a moment, Harry dealt with the notion that he had annoyed his new dad by NOT helping himself to seconds.

“Er . . .” Harry glanced down at the wing bone sitting forlornly on his plate. There really wasn’t so much as a molecule of meat left on it so he couldn’t claim he wasn’t finished with it. “Can I?” he asked.

“Of course. I cannot possibly eat all that,” the man said, still sharp as a whip.

Harry had somehow angered his new parent without trying. More to the point, by doing exactly as he knew he was supposed to. Confused, Harry said, “No, I’m all right.” Which was true; he was more full than he usually was after dinner.

This did not work to negate the anger, however. Snape turned his head, angled and sideways, like a raptor might and said, “You are as thin as that tiny bone you have gnawed raw that now sits before you.”

Harry didn’t know what to say to that. The tone was clearly a challenge demanding a response, but Harry was only growing more confused by these mixed signals.

Snape huffed ominously, the way Vernon did before everything got the worst it could. But instead of turning red and becoming verbally violent, the man’s entire attitude transformed and he mutely shook his head. With awkward patience Snape softly said, “Harry, take as much as you like to eat.” He threw his napkin down on the table and sat back. “I am quite finished, in fact.” He watched Harry gingerly take a thigh off the plate. As Harry gratefully ate it down, amazed at how much meat such small bones could hold, the man stood and took a bottle of dark liquid off the shelf and poured himself a serving. He failed to put the bottle back away, and instead made a point of keeping it close in reach.

After a second piece of chicken Harry was very full, as full as he had ever been in his life. His stomach hurt, which he didn’t know was possible and made him think Dudley’s must hurt after every meal and sometimes after his snacks.

Snape said, “We’ll have to find something to occupy you. I have grading to do for tomorrow that I did not wish to foist off on my replacement, who is sometimes too forgiving of half-correct responses.”

“Do you have a television?”

“No,” came the dry reply.

“No television?” Harry asked in disbelief; he thought everyone did.

Snape waved at the oil lamps on the walls and table. “There isn’t electricity. Nor do I wish to have a television. There is a library, perhaps we can find something there for you to read.”

He took his drink and led the way across a two-story hall and into the far room, which was lined floor to ceiling, all around, with books. Snape said, “These are yours over here, although most of them you will probably not find interesting at this stage in your magical career.”

“Magical career?” Harry echoed.

Snape waved him off and said, “Should you need anything. I’ll be in the drawing room.”

Harry sat on the rug before the shelf and pulled down each of the books and flipped through them. He finally found a book with lots of dragon pictures and very amusing stories of bad encounters with dragons. This book he sat back with and quickly forgot where he was, although he skipped over a lot of words he didn’t know.

Harry’s head nodded for the third time. He put the book away and went out to the main hall. On the left were stairs leading down a half a flight. Harry went that way and found the kitchen. The creature that had brought the biscuits earlier gave him a curtsey. “Master.”

“Do you know where the toilet is?” Harry asked.

The elf nodded, making its ears flap. “Next door down this corridor, Master.”


As he washed up, Harry stared at himself in a mirror that had lost half of its silvering. The tile in the bath was sparkling clean but around the edges of things most of them were cracked and the grout chipped away. His Aunt Petunia would have run screaming from this place. Harry relished the realization that that gave him some protection from her. He yawned, exhausted and wondering where he could sleep. He checked the rest of this lower corridor. The large cupboard across from the toilet had only kitchen supplies in it, not anything that resembled a bed.

Growing more weary by the second, Harry roamed around the main hall following the light from the far room. Inside the drawing room, Snape worked at a tall stack of parchments. He didn’t notice Harry in the doorway.

“Please, sir,” Harry began, really not wishing to risk interrupting, but seeing no choice. The dark, very dark, eyes came up and fell on him with that intensity Harry was not used to. “Where do I sleep?”

The intensity vanished as Snape stood. “In your room.” An eye blink later, he passed Harry with a gliding stride. “Come.”

Harry followed up the steps to the first floor balcony. At the last door Snape stopped and gestured for Harry to enter. Harry went into the dark room a few tentative steps before the lamps came up bright on their own. Snape, wand out, passed Harry and went to the wardrobe.

“You’ll have to wear an oversized pair of pyjamas I believe.” He took out a pyjama top and handed that to Harry, who couldn’t believe how soft it was.

Harry looked around at the four poster bed with its detailed carving on the posts, the trunks stacked in the corner, the animal cages. “This is my room?”


Harry wandered the perimeter and stopped at the cages. One was empty but the other contained something furry and violet curled up in a pile of rags. Harry touched the wire bars, trying to get a better look. The creature lifted its head and blinked at him sleepily. Harry reached for the cage door but was restrained by a hand.

“To bed instead. Her sleepiness gives away yours.”

“Yes, sir,” Harry said, but he had to finish exploring the room first. The man waited by the door, watching, so Harry didn’t try to open either of the huge trunks. Instead, he went over to the bed and looked in the drawer of the night stand and then on the shelf. He spied a photo album very much like the one the nice red-haired man had shown him. Pulling this out brought Snape back over and Harry started to put it back away.

“Go ahead,” Snape said. “I thought perhaps you would like to know who was in the photographs.”

The first page was obvious. “That’s my parents,” Harry announced. “Mr. Weasley had a photo of them too, but I thought my dad was me.”

“You do look just like him.”

Harry stopped and looked up sharply. “You knew my mum and dad?” When Snape replied affirmative, an undefined tension relaxed inside Harry. “You were friends with them?” he asked, trying to figure out why, if his parents had friends still alive, he was still left at the Dursley’s who clearly were not friends of his parents.

“Not exactly,” Snape admitted wryly. “Your father and I did not get along well.”

“Oh,” Harry responded, thinking that may explain it, which also made him feel oddly better. “Were they magical?” Harry suddenly thought to ask. “Or . . . what’d you call it . . . Muggles?”

“They were very magical,” Snape confirmed.

“No one ever told me,” Harry lamented in a mutter, flipping now to pages showing his older self with the same friends as the other photographs. “I have these two friends,” Harry announced happily.

Snape made a snorting sound that made Harry look up sharply on the verge of hurt. “You have more friends than you can possibly count,” Snape explained.

Harry glanced back down at the album and a photograph showing himself sitting around a thick wooden table in a library, he looked displeased at having the picture taken and kept shading his face from the flash bulb. The table was full of other students, all dressed in the same uniform. “I don’t have any friends; Dudley beats up anyone who talks to me.”

“Your cousin would not survive three seconds with you anymore,” Snape assured him. “And that is assuming you were feeling generous toward him.” He moved to the door. “Do not have the lamp lit too much longer.”

Left alone, Harry finished slowly flipping through the pages before he changed into the pyjama top, of which he needed to fold up the sleeves three times over, unable to imagine fitting in it, but apparently it was his. He settled into the huge soft bed and his eyes wanted to close, but he held them open to look around the big room filled with all kinds of things . . . all his. With care, Harry turned down the lamp and willingly let his eyes close this time.

Around midnight, Snape slipped in to check on his young charge. Mussed hair peaked out from under the duvet above where Harry’s small self barely formed a tall wrinkle at the top of the bed, barely reaching the middle. For one breathless moment, Snape imagined Dumbledore attempting to guide this small life through prophesized events that even in hindsight loomed overwhelmingly. He wondered how the old wizard had managed it and thought that perhaps, he had underestimated Dumbledore’s power, or at least his wisdom; he had certainly underestimated his resistance to stress. The very notion filled Snape with cold dread.

The cold knot tightened Snape’s insides painfully. If Harry were not transformed back, he himself would be in precisely the same position, for which he was sorely lacking in both power and wisdom. He could not accept that daunting future; it refused to take hold in his mind. His Harry, powerful both magically and physically, would return to fulfill the prophecy. He must.

- 888 -

Ginny awoke with a jerk and grappled for her watch and her wand. Shrouded by the thick drapes, she used a Lumos Charm to read the time: ten after four. She tossed the watch back down beside her pillow so as to not have to set it down loudly on the wooden night stand and potentially wake her roommates.

As she buried her face in her pillow again, Professor Trelawney floated up before her mind’s eyes, speaking in that awful voice. Ginny groaned and willed her away until she realized that she was remembering the very beginning of the Prophecy, the part she thought she hadn’t heard but apparently had just forgotten.

With a huff she rolled over and assumed it could wait two hours until what a reasonable person would consider morning.

She didn’t fall back to sleep, however, despite steeping herself in reliving the recent dueling win, usually a sure-fire way of lifting her mood. At six in the morning, she dressed in silence and went out of the dormitory. She considered informing Professor Snape, but then remembered that he had been absent from dinner and maybe had gone home for the weekend. Ginny wished she could go home for the weekend, especially to Harry’s house.

As she expected, Headmistress McGonagall was awake. She sat with her glasses on her nose, reading from a yellowed tome propped up on her desk. “Ms. Weasley, this must be a record,” she said.

“I remembered the beginning of the prophecy,” Ginny explained.

McGonagall clasped her hands over the vellum pages before her and appeared extra attentive as she lowered her head to look over her spectacles. “It is good that you did, sometimes these little details matter.”

Ginny shrugged. “I think we’re better off without the beginning part this time,” she stated tiredly.

After a long pause McGonagall prompted, “What is it, Ms. Weasley.”

Ginny took a deep breath, “‘Few will escape the blood and chaos of the darkness, bound, sought and released.’”

McGonagall’s eyes closed momentarily. “Well, that is a jolly thought for this morning.”

Ginny put her hands in her pockets to quell the nerves making them fidget. “Maybe the Ministry should be told,” she suggested quietly.

McGonagall nodded. “Very selectively though. I’ll discuss it with Severus . . . and Harry,” she added in an awkward manner. She then appeared mysteriously befuddled for just an instant.

“Do you want me to go inform him, ma’am? I notice that you don’t both like to be absent.” She asked this in what she thought was an admirably professional tone.

McGonagall shook her head. “No, I will take care of it.” She almost appeared to reconsider, then waved Ginny off.

- 888 -

Morning came for Harry. He awoke thinking that he had had a very nice dream about having his own room and a good dinner, but when he opened his eyes to the sunlight, he realized it had not been a dream. He quickly dressed in his own baggy trousers and a clean t-shirt from the wardrobe that reached below his knees, and went downstairs.

The man from the night before, the strange dark-eyed one who had adoption papers saying he was now Harry’s father, was at the dining room table drinking coffee and reading a strange newspaper. A white owl sat on the back of the chair opposite. It bobbed its head at Harry’s approach.

“Would you like breakfast?” Snape asked.

Harry stopped just inside the doorway. “Shall I go make it?” he asked.

The sharp edge came back then, “Heavens no. Take a seat . . . the elf will bring it.”

Harry wished he could avoid annoying this man, but it was impossible. He moved warily over to his chair. The owl tilted its head endearingly and clacked its beak.

“That is your owl,” Snape informed him. “Her name is Hedwig.”

“Where was she last night?” Harry asked, carefully pulling out the chair so as to not upset the bird’s perch.

“Hunting, picking up your post from your friends at Hogwarts.”

Breakfast arrived before Harry could get fully acquainted with this pet. The plate that appeared before him had two rashers of bacon and two pieces of toast and two eggs. Harry looked over at the identical plate before Snape. He sensed now that making a point about the food was a mistake, so he dove into eating without asking if this was all for him.

Another owl arrived at the end of breakfast, carrying a letter. Snape read it and bunched it up. “Still no progress on reversing the charm upon you. And they do believe it is a charm, rather than a curse.”

“What will happen then? Will I go back to the Dursley’s?” Harry asked.

“You will go back to being your eighteen-year-old self,” Snape replied.

“Oh,” Harry said, thinking that didn’t sound so bad. In the photographs he had looked big enough to fend off anyone.

“What to do with you today, though,” Snape muttered. “What do nine-year-old wizards like to do?”

Harry had no appropriate suggestions and hoped the question was merely thinking aloud.

“The weather is a bit warmer today. I think I know what we can do.” He stood and Harry followed quickly, curious to see.

The man went to the front entryway and took two brooms out of a cupboard there. “Not your usual one, but perhaps that is just as well.” He handed a broom to Harry, who studied it in confusion. It wasn’t an ordinary broom though, it had a logo on the end of the handle and it was highly polished. Snape also gave him a cloak and a pair of gloves, although they were both far too large.

“Come,” Snape said and led the way through the house and out the back to an overgrown garden. “You were reputed to be a natural at this at eleven, so I expect you already are at nine and a half. Do like this. Set the broom on the ground, hold your hand out over it, and say ‘up!’”

Harry did as he was told and nearly let go after catching the broom as it jumped up into his grasp and hovered there, alive and willing.

“Up for a little flight?” Snape asked with what could have been snide, but Harry thought instead that it meant they shared an inside joke.

“Sure,” Harry replied eagerly.

Snape dropped his broom and said “Up!” before it could hit the ground, a slick looking move. “Oh, and one more thing.” He took out his wand and tapped Harry on top of his head. Cold liquid ran over Harry’s head and neck, making him rub at it to no avail. “Get on like this, lift the handle slightly to increase your height. Very good,” he praised Harry, who had lifted to a steady hover seven feet from the ground, a bright smile ruling his face, making it ache. Snape mounted as well and sped off toward the low clouds, and Harry instinctively leaned forward to make his broom follow.

Everything about flying on a broomstick felt inherently obvious and instinctive. He zipped side to side, testing the steering before catching up to the man.

“Having fun?” Snape asked.

“This is wonderful,” Harry shouted, feeling his stomach flip at the view of the spring green ground far below. But he was free, at home, freshly liberated; everything before this had been imprisonment in an alien country.

Snape slowed and stopped. The cold breeze blew fiercely in their faces, so he turned his back into it and Harry did the same, knocked off balance by the maneuver, but recovering with a quick hand of help. “Where shall we go?” Snape asked.

“Can we get ice cream?” Harry asked.

“You wish to have ice cream?” Snape asked, sounding snide again.

Harry swallowed nervously, afraid that he had crossed the line, certain that he would never know where the lines were with this man.

“If you wish.” Snape conceded and turned slowly on his broom. “What town looks likely to you to hold an ice cream shop?” he asked.

Harry looked keenly around them. A larger town sat at the horizon in a small valley along a canal. He pointed his oversized glove that way. Snape gestured that he should lead, and Harry eagerly did so.

Before they were halfway there—farther than it seemed at the outset—Harry’s hands were growing cold inside his fur gloves. A wisp of very low cloud passed by, moistening his cloak even more than it already was. Below them a road snaked through greening fields dotted with sheep. It wasn’t real, Harry’s sensible mind suddenly asserted. He was dreaming. By sitting back Harry slowed without trying. He was on a shiny black broomstick, flying over the countryside. It wasn’t real.

The man flew close beside him. “All right, Harry?”

Harry couldn’t believe the man was real either. Any second now he was going to wake from this dream or he was going to fall. Harry gripped the highly polished wood before him as tightly as his half-numb hands could manage through the ungainly oversized gloves. He was dangerously high in the air and brooms couldn’t really fly. But despite his screaming instincts, he wasn’t falling; the broom didn’t need his faith to continue hovering, even five hundred feet above the earth.

“Harry?” Snape prompted more sharply. Harry reached out for the man, and got gathered up as soon as the world careened wildly. “One hand always on the broomstick—difficult to steer without that,” Snape corrected, forcefully planted Harry’s right hand on his broom. The world leveled out, but Snape’s arm was still fast around him. “I think this is perhaps too much too soon.”

Harry was breathing normally now and he anchored himself by watching the cars snaking along the road below them. Flying on a broomstick was feeling real again, as real as the warmth of an adoptive father wrapped around him. The broom hadn’t failed him, even though he had failed it. Experimentally, he leaned a little left and they both turned.

“Let’s get you home, Harry.”

“No,” Harry countered. “I want ice cream.”

“You do? You are dead certain that you are about to fall and you want ice cream?” Snape asked facetiously, but he gradually released Harry to fly on his own. Harry took it as a test and did the best he could, even though his arms felt quaky as well as cold.

“It will be warmer on the ground. Come.” Snape led the way this time, cloak billowing, checking back frequently to see that Harry followed. Harry for one was angry at himself for faltering at his first taste of real freedom. He wouldn’t do that again, no matter how certain he was of falling.

They landed behind a shed on a small football pitch. Snape tapped each of them on the head, set their brooms up against the wall and tapped them as well, and then led Harry away. It was considerably warmer on the ground; halfway to the nearby road, Harry had to toss his heavy cloak off of his shoulders. Down a small slope and across the road stood a chinese restaurant and beside it an ice cream shop. Three boys of about fourteen were already enjoying treats on the pavement before it.

Harry followed past them, pausing to roll his worn right cuff up, which he was walking on, as usual. Snape waited by the window for him. The boys were whispering, but Harry was used to comments about oversized clothes and ignored them. When he reached him, Snape said, “Perhaps we should get you some clothes that fit.”

Harry, to whom it had been made abundantly clear that new clothes were not appropriate somehow, said, “These are all right. Can I have double chocolate?”

While Harry’s treat was being prepared, Snape reached into his pocket and pulled out large shiny gold coins. He put these quickly away and tried a different pocket, which contained ordinary, dull, pound coins. “What’s the other?” Harry asked.

“I’ll explain later,” Snape dismissed the question, paid, and handed Harry his treat along with a stack of serviettes.

They sat at the small plastic table beside the window. The other boys had moved on and the two of them were alone. Snape considered the small version of his adopted son with a practiced eye as the boy vigorously ate his treat. So involved in eating, he was, that he remained unaware of Snape’s attention. The brief sunlight swept through accompanied by a cool wind and Harry pulled his bulky cloak tighter with his free hand. A wave of protective instinct washed through Snape, sitting there at a Muggle table in an entirely Muggle village.

This Harry he could protect, unlike his own independent Harry with his own duties and his own grown-up predilection for trouble. Voldemort was gone; could this new trouble possibly be worse, Snape wondered. And if he tried to protect his older Harry with the kind of forthright confidence he felt certain he could bring to bear upon this Harry, would that work? Or would his Harry thrash immediately against the necessary limits placed upon him?

If Snape kept Harry this size, he could protect him much easier—a tempting, if not irrational, notion. But the prophecy would either be void or had better have a lengthy timeline to fulfillment for Harry to get prepared. Snape found himself unable to assume Harry’s decrease in age could be part of the expectations of the prophecy. He would get his own Harry back and this would just be an opportunity to better understand the son he had taken in.

Harry paused in his voracious eating and sighed as though it were hard work, this eating.

“Thanks for the ice cream,” Harry said. It was delicious . . . and all his. The only other time Harry got any was when Dudley overturned his bowl, upset that it only had four scoops instead of five. Harry had turned it back over and eaten it anyway because no one told him not to. “You’re not having anything?” he asked, seeing Snape empty handed. “Do you want some of this?”

“I am quite all right. Thank you.”

Harry finished his treat as slowly as he could while watching the boys kick a football around on the pitch. He wished he were as big as they were. “Am I as tall as them now?” he asked.

Snape, required a second to take the question in, apparently his thoughts were elsewhere. He glanced over his shoulder at the impromptu match going on and said, “You are very near as tall as I am.”

“I can’t be,” Harry argued, but then had to lick a large drip that threatened his already sticky hand. “You’re really tall.”

“You truly are. You have grown enormously from where you are now.”

“Then I could beat anyone up,” he asserted.

“You don’t require height for that; your wand is quite sufficient. Finish your ice cream, it is melting.”

Harry guessed this was a signal that the topic should be dropped and thought perhaps with a little practice that he could find the lines around this man.

They returned to the broomsticks, Snape, instead of handing Harry his, used a charm to lock them together and hovered them as one. “Fly with me this time; the tryptophan is making you sleepy already.”

“The what?” Harry asked, but he had to admit that he was feeling a little groggy on top of full to bursting.

Snape lifted him onto the broom before him and tapped him on the head. “A compound prevalent in milk and chocolate that makes you tired and a bit happy.” He stashed his wand away and steered them directly upward into the wind. The boys on the pitch grew smaller and smaller until they were no more than insects.

“I am pretty happy,” Harry said, leaning into the cloak-shrouded strength behind him. Despite being a little sad that he wasn’t flying himself, Harry didn’t complain; this riding along in warmth was fine too. Snape’s arm held him fast and he had no concern this time about falling, even when they skirted the grey clouds. A gust of wind struck them and they turned with it and the arm around Harry tightened and didn’t let up until they were hovering down into the back garden of the house.

Snape didn’t release Harry immediately when they landed; in fact, he held him tight enough to restrict his breathing before he finally set him on his feet, and Harry, for the first time that he could remember, felt what it was like to be cherished. The man gave no outward sign of this as he broke the brooms apart and led the way inside, but Harry was certain of it. He was also certain, despite their short time together, that this man did not give up such emotion easily, and that only made it strike Harry harder.

Harry took his gloves and cloak off and handed them up to be put away in the front hall cupboard. Snape then instructed him to follow to the drawing room where a measuring tape was dug out and used upon him with cold efficiency. Snape then picked up a quill and jotted down the numbers. “I’ll owl a shop for some basic clothes for you so you do not have to look as though you shrunk and your clothes did not.” He said this in a mocking tone, but Harry felt its sharp edge slide off him without harm.

The pink-haired lady from the Ministry came during the afternoon with apologies. Harry listened from the doorway to the drawing room as she and his new father spoke about technical magical things. Tonks was reassuring Snape. “We’ve figured out that Merton must have been using the cane to chop wood and do other chores. He’s up there in years and the cane was sitting right before the full wood bin, all cut with an ax that was right out back, which would have been a lot of work for someone his age. He must have owned the cane long enough to know what it did and how to reverse the charm. For all we know it’s been in the family for generations. He could have written himself a note with a To-Do list, read it, did the chores, and changed back. Probably used it for all kinds of tasks that would be easier for someone younger. So if he went back and forth easily . . .”

Snape sat back in his desk chair and steepled his fingers. “That implies that his magic is not very good, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, I guess it does,” she admitted. “Pathetic to be having so much trouble with him, in that case.”

Snape said, “He is presumably getting help from someone more powerful.”

“We’ve figured that out, but we don’t even know who inside the Ministry is helping him, let alone outside.” She considered Harry as he hung in the doorway. “We’ll get this straightened out, Harry,” she assured him.

“I don’t think he is in any hurry,” Snape commented.

Harry, wishing for a television for the hundredth time, carried a stack of books with lots of pictures up to his room to read until it was time to sleep. It was quiet here without Dudley and his uncle yelling and stomping up and down the stairs over his head. The elf snuck in, startling Harry, but it mostly ignored him and went to the hearth to lay on a fire. Harry liked having a fire in his room. Even Dudley with his two bedrooms didn’t have a hearth in either one. He would probably just try to burn his toys in it if he did.

Harry cracked open a book entitled Encyclopedia Albion Wizard Annual 1980. It had a lot of pictures and Harry could turn the pages slowly and pretend they were little televisions. Ten pages with around eight photographs each were devoted just to something called the Quidditch World Cup and Harry, since he had spent the morning on a broomstick, found this intensely intriguing, considering that he knew nothing about the sport. He enjoyed being alone for real rather than alone with lots of loud people around, pointedly ignoring him.

When a rushing sound like the hearth flaring sounded, Harry jumped up and bounded to the stairs, almost tripping on his much too big dressing gown as he tried to put it on. At the bottom of the stairs Snape was pointing at him with a fierce look instructing him to stay put and presumably out of sight.

A man’s voice could be heard. “Minerva sent me . . . wants to talk to you.” The two of them stepped into the hall and Snape glanced up but didn’t give Harry, who had inched back forward, any further instructions.

The other man, who had a generous head of greying brown hair, a pointed chin and slightly pointed nose, looked up and said, “Well, look at that. Harry, how are you?” he asked with kindness.

Harry tentatively stepped down until he was at eye level with the two of them. Snape said, “I must go for a few minutes. Remus here will look after you.”

“Who are you?” Harry asked the man.

“Remus J. Lupin,” he said, holding out his hand. “An old friend of your father’s.”

Snape stopped in the doorway to the dining room long enough to say. “He’s a much better candidate to tell you stories about your parents.”

They settled into the drawing room after the Floo flare sounded, and Winky brought tea in almost immediately. “Ah, thank you,” Lupin said to her. Harry accepted a cup as well and blew over it.

“Did you know my mum too?” Harry asked.

“Yes, Harry, I did. The finest person I’ve ever met,” he said with feeling.

“My aunt gets mad when I ask about her,” Harry lamented. Lupin gave him a wry smile. Harry went on, “But I have a new dad now, and he’s pretty nice.”

Lupin nearly spilled his tea. He shook his head and didn’t respond, even when Harry prompted, “What’s wrong?”

Lupin grinned crookedly and finally said, “Nothing is wrong, Harry. Most people don’t use the word ‘nice’ with regard to Severus, is all.”

“Well, he isn’t sickly nice like my aunts are with Dudley, all kissy facing and hugging . . . ick.”

Lupin sipped his tea. “Well, you are in the right place, Harry.”

Snape returned a short while later, and immediately escorted Harry up to bed. Harry wasn’t ready for bed so he circled the room as he did the night before. The violet, bat-like creature stirred from grooming itself as Harry reached up to release the latch on the cage door. Before he could untwist the wire holding the latch secure, the creature hissed at him, revealing rows of needle-like teeth.

Snape was there beside him in an instant. “Do not open it. That is strange . . . she doesn’t seem to know you.” That deep scrutiny turned on Harry for a long moment before Snape moved to cover the cage with a towel. “To sleep with you then,” he said abruptly, and Harry thought he was talking to the animal, but his gaze came back around to Harry.

Snape stalked to the door, turning back with a sharp look to be certain Harry obeyed. His brow was furrowed and he seemed mildly disturbed by something, but Harry assumed it must have been something from his meeting the way Vernon got angry at work, rather than anything Harry himself had done. Harry, still delaying, said, “Remus was nice. He told me about my dad playing Quidditch and my mum being really good at schoolworks.”

Snape’s his eyes seemed to be focused a bit farther away than where Harry was standing. He stated coldly, “Remus is a werewolf. Fortunately you met him on an evening when the moon isn’t full.” While Harry stood with eyes wide, Snape shook himself and said sternly, “I am quite certain I told you to get into bed.”

“Yes, sir,” Harry said, and hurried up to the wardrobe to find his oversized pyjama top.

Despite what Harry would have ranked as one of the best days he could remember, that night didn’t pass as blissfully as the previous one. He snapped awake with a nightmare, one he had sometimes, with lots of green flashing light, but this time instead of the reassuring close walls of his cupboard, he found himself in a large room that in the disturbed moments after waking, felt far too vast, as though he might float away and be lost.

Harry told himself that it was just a dream, stilled his breath, and listened for any sound of footsteps. The last thing in the world he wanted was to hear the dreadful approach of an adult woken by his nightmare, followed by pounding on the door rebuking him even though it wasn’t Harry’s fault he sometimes had bad dreams.

Harry fluffed his pillow, hugged it, and closed his eyes. His dreams returned almost immediately. He heard a horrible vicious, almost triumphant, laughter and a man shouting in a panic before getting cut off suddenly with a queer gurgle. Harry swallowed hard and tried to understand what he had been in his nightmare. Usually when he heard voices with the green light it was a woman.

Across the room his brightly colored pet moved frantically in its cage and Harry flinched as footfalls clearly approached outside his door. The door creaked open and Harry closed his eyes, pretending to sleep.

“Harry?” Snape prompted. He didn’t sound angry. “Are you having a nightmare?” Harry couldn’t bear to reply and admit it. “I asked you a question,” came then, far less yielding.

“Yep,” Harry admitted quietly. When his new father approached the bed, Harry said, “Sorry I woke you.”

“You should not be. I wish to know when your sleep is disturbed.” He sat on the bed; Harry felt it tilt in a dip at the edge. “Did you have nightmares last night as well that I did not know about?”


“What is in your nightmare?” Snape asked. When Harry didn’t reply, Snape asked, “Are there shadows?”

Harry rubbed his eyes and then his forehead. “Shadows? No.”

“If there ever are shadows in your dreams, come to me immediately. Do you understand?” Snape’s tone had taken on an ultra hard edge.

“All right.”

Snape rested a hand on Harry’s shoulder, startling him. It was removed quickly. “If you need me, you may come down to my room, although I expect you will not do so. I unfortunately left the monitor I could have used for you at Hogwarts. Perhaps I will fetch it tomorrow.”

“Am I going to still be here tomorrow night?” Harry asked.

“The Department of Mysteries, who is charged with determining how to reverse this charm upon you, is not the most competently led part of the Ministry of Magic, and that is saying rather a lot. You wish to return to normal already?”

The question was asked with such neutrality that Harry felt there must be something more to it. No one asked a question without caring so little about the answer, or seeming to. Harry replied, “I don’t know what I’m doing here.”

“You are biding your time,” Snape pointed out gently. “You need not have any cares.”

Harry scratched his head and gazed into the fire burning warm across the room. “This is better than the Dursley’s though. Loads better.”

Snape stood. “I should hope that even I could improve upon that. If you have nightmares again I can bring you a potion to make them go away.”

Harry shrugged. “They just happen sometimes.”

Snape examined him closely, but not for as long as usual, before saying goodnight again and departing, leaving the door widely ajar, presumably to better hear if Harry’s sleep was disturbed. Harry rested his head back on his pillow and wondered why he had spent so much time at the Dursley’s if there were places like this to be living instead.

Next: Chapter 20
Unlike the rest of the house, this room was dusty and it tickled Harry nose. Inside, spare household things were stored, such as a few ugly paintings, a door, battered trunks and more books. The room felt icy, making Harry rub his arms vigorously to get rid of the chill. On shelves to the left sat some interesting things: a skull with a candle stub on top of it, string, chalk sticks, more half burned candles. In the right hand battered bookcase, books were stashed more randomly than in the library downstairs. Harry pulled one out and just barely read the title before Dark Mastery: A Gyde squirmed out of his grip and fell to the floor and lay still.

Author Notes
Wow, I continue to be unable to predict reader reaction. I'm officially giving up trying. (That sounds familiar...) This is all too much fun; it ought to be illegal or something.

I have to respond here to a careful reader who posted anonymously: Harry is not the Avatar. Vineet was speaking in generalities, although he may, and probably does, have someone in mind. That stated, understand that in my stories what absolute story truth is and what the characters believe don't have to match up. It's more interesting if they don't, I think, with each character having their own worldview and assumptions, none of which are in sync with any other character's, nor in sync with any absolute truth artificial or real. btw, if one of the characters ends up with my worldview, that is my definition of Mary Sue.

Chapter 20: Postage Due
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter 20 — Postage Due

Nymphadora Tonks waved her wand at the plain black door before her. It refused to open. She waved again and pushed harder still with no luck. Turning around, she took in the large circular room with its shiny floor. “I know it was two to the left after the spin last time. Percy probably changed it just to annoy me,” she muttered under her breath. The blue flames in the branched holder between the doors flickered as she shifted past to try the next door, still with no effect.

“Looking for someone?” a snide voice came from behind her. Percy, arms crossed, stood outside the door directly behind. “You aren’t supposed to be poking around without an escort, Nymphadora”

“Why did you change the spin then?” Tonks complained. “And don’t call me that.” Stalked over to stand before him, she said, “What is taking so long with that cane?”

Percy tilted his nose up. “It’s a very rare device despite its ordinary appearance. We have been forced to experiment and that takes rather a long while.”

Tonks put her hands on her hips. “The reversing initiator can’t be that hard to work out, Percy.” She cut by him and went into the laboratory. “Where’s Fudge?”

“Out, unexpectedly.”

Tonks turned slowly, one brow raised. “Did himself in with it, did he?” she grinned broadly. “That’s rich.” She stalked past glowing tanks and steel strapped cabinets with locks the size of dinner plates. Percy hurried along behind her. “Where’s Oggie?”

“Here,” a voice said from around a corner.

Tonks followed the voice around the corner despite Percy’s objections. The cane sat on a long bench before a pegboard wall with all manner of tools. Near at hand hung a row of gloves in a wide variety of materials; a rack of wands in every conceivable wood and even a few metals; farther up were reams of wire, clamps, and for the frustrated worker, hammers and chisels. The cane glistened with a fresh polishing as it sat within the folds of a black velvet cloth. A young man stood nearby, looking shy and sheepish.

“Who’s this?” Tonks asked.

Ogden explained, “That’s Pontypool—did himself in yesterday and now he handles the experiments because the cane only works once on any given person.” Ogden held up a thick notebook with all manner of gestures, spells, wand tap sequences and passwords written upon it. Most were crossed out.

“You all right there Blyth?” Tonks asked the stunned looking man of around sixteen waiting patiently beside the table. Now that she looked him over he did seem to be wearing rather outdated robes for someone his age.

“Yes, ma’am,” Pontypool replied, eyes still wide.

Ogden said, “We keep him in Muggle cokes and crisps and he cooperates all right.”

“So, still no news?” Tonks asked with dread.

“Lucky for you up there your little wonderkid isn’t the only one who’s hexed himself now,” Ogden said.

“That’s reassuring,” Tonks muttered.

Percy, who stood in silhouette before a large glowing tank, broke in with, “Tell her she cannot come in without an escort. That’s the rule.”

Ogden and Tonks turned to him. The brains floating behind Percy were clearly congregating on the far side, bumping into one another. Tonks said, “What’s with that, Percy . . . the Tank of the Ancients doesn’t like you?”

Ogden snorted. “No, they don’t.”

Percy’s mouth twisted and he glanced behind himself with disdain before turning his nose up and stalking away. Tonks grinned at getting rid of him so easily.

“Wish they didn’t like me,” Ogden muttered quietly. “Wife hates it when I come home reeking of formaldehyde and complaining about the invention of flying broomsticks.”

The two of them stared at the cane and Tonks said, “Please, let us know when you learn anything. And don’t let your break from Fudge go to your head,” she added before departing. At the door out she backed up and around to the work area and sheepishly asked, “It’s spin and then second on the right from straight behind?”

- 888 -

The next morning Harry was a little sleepy at breakfast and when something loudly struck the window glass behind him, he spilled his juice. “Sorry,” he quickly said as the pool flowed off the table and onto him when he turned around to see what had hit the window.

The expected blowup did not occur; Snape merely went to the window to let in a ruffled old owl that in turn dropped a letter into the spilled juice before flapping clumsily off again.

“That was Errol, your best friend’s family owl,” Snape explained, waving his wand to remove the juice from the table, although the letter and Harry remained damp with it.

Harry carefully opened the soaked letter and read the sloppy handwriting with great effort. Some of the words he could not make out, nor could he comprehend the message beyond Ron complaining that his sister, Ginny, had not spent any of her prize money because she could not decide what to spend it on. That she had their mum come into the bank and open a vault for her and insisted that Ron come with her to put Ginny’s money away, which he thought was just an excuse to rub it in.

“I don’t understand this,” Harry said, holding the letter out and plucking at his cold, sticky clothing.

“Finish your breakfast and then you can clean up.”

Harry dropped the letter to the table by the corner, still thrilled to have letters, but it stressed him that he couldn’t reply.

After breakfast, in the steamy bathroom with its old chipped tile, Harry stripped off his orange juice soiled clothes and would have hung them on the hooks, but couldn’t reach the hooks. It occurred to him that if he had his wand with him, he could have hovered them up to the hooks. He dropped them on the floor instead, hoping the elf would do what she seemed to always do: pick them up without comment.

Harry washed slowly, careful not to rub the face cloth too hard over the bruises on his ribs, which had turned an alarming dark blue, and in spots, almost black. He could ignore the discomfort easily in the context of not having to worry about running away from his brutish cousin here, or perhaps ever again. Harry slowly squeezed out the bundled-up flannel as he tried to accept that notion. The worn bath tiles with their outdated pattern screamed the absence of his Aunt Petunia and the absolute quiet of the house screamed the absence of everyone else. It was almost eerie.

Figuring that no one was going to yell at him to get moving out of the bath, Harry twisted the gaudy silver handle of the tub and let in more hot water so he could more easily wash his hair.

When the tub had cooled a third time, Harry finally got out. He towel dried his unruly hair, which left it sticking up in all directions like well-trodden grass, then stood on tiptoe to peer into the half fogged mirror and try to push it down, but it had no interest in obeying. The state of his hair hadn’t been mentioned and the man’s hair wasn’t exactly well-kempt, so with pleasure, Harry toweled it some more and left it like that.

A knock sounded on the door and it opened immediately. Harry quickly bundled up in the thick white softness of the towel from drying his hair. He wanted to hide his bruises more than the rest of him, but modesty made for good cover.

Snape gave him one of those penetrating looks before holding up a brown paper wrapped bundle. “Your clothes arrived rather fortuitously.”

Harry stepped forward to take them, tripped on the long towel and had to right himself using the battered white cabinet that shielded the hot water pipes. Snape helped right him as well, suspicion edging his expression and movements.

“Thanks,” Harry said, and accepted the package with difficulty given that one hand was already dedicated to gathering and holding the towel around himself. He backed up to sit upon the footstool where he could open the bundle on the floor. The string around the bundle was knotted and re-knotted. “Do you have a knife?” Harry asked.

“Better than that; I have a wand,” Snape said and aimed a flick at the bundle, which popped it neatly open.

Harry looked down at the rust colored pullover and small stack of starched shirts and two pairs of jeans still dark blue and stiff—the first new clothes he had ever possessed. They went along with a lot of other firsts in the last two days. Harry looked up at the man who, with his predatory features and flinty eyes, appeared unlikely to be responsible for such a positive change in Harry’s life.

“Thanks,” Harry said again.

Snape, with one last narrow-eyed look, departed.

Dressed, Harry emerged and found Snape in the dining room reading the newspaper. “They fit,” Harry said, indicating his clothes.

“Good,” Snape stated and returned to his reading, but as Harry moved to step around the table, Snape reached out and grabbed Harry by the shoulder and marched him backward. He locked his eyes on Harry’s and said, “I assume those bruises are not from flying yesterday—they look too old.”

Harry felt frighteningly transparent; he didn’t think there was any way the man could have seen. “No,” he said, wondering how his new father seemed to know everything. “My cousin . . .”

Harry’s shoulder was released. “Ah,” Snape uttered and then added with a point of his long finger, “If anyone ever harms you, you will tell me . . . immediately.” His tone spoke of retribution beyond Harry’s imaginings, of protectiveness beyond his previous experience.

“Dudley did,” Harry pointed out, thinking that he would rather enjoy seeing a wizard terrify his bully cousin and reduce him to the kind of blubbering he normally only faked to get his own way.

“About ten years too late for this transgression,” Snape commented as he returned to reading again.

Harry pictured Dudley halfway to looking like his uncle. “He must be really big now,” he said, alarmed.

“He cannot harm you,” Snape assured him casually. “When I went to get your papers signed, he hid behind your aunt, which was quite a trick from someone his size.”

Harry grinned at the image conjured up by that and, as he pulled out the heavy chair opposite Snape, he noticed the remaining pile of unopened post addressed to him. Stacking it neatly before him at the table, Harry began systematically opening each one and reading them even though he could understand very little of them. “Who’s this?” Harry asked regarding one letter that looked normal, with the kind of postage the letters arriving at the Dursley’s always had.

Snape glanced at the letter just an instant and, with his nose back in the paper, replied, “That is your cousin.”

“My cousin?” Harry returned in disbelief bordering on elation.

“Muggle young woman, nice enough . . . if you like that sort of thing,” Snape muttered.

Harry read the letter. “She wants to come over for a visit? Can I invite her?”

“As long as it is next weekend, you may invite whomever you wish. You may wish to make a list on the side, however.”

“Do you have something to write a letter on?” Harry asked plaintively, thinking he should invite everyone who has sent him post. Snape snapped his wand out of his pocket and writing supplies zipped in from the hall, stopped just before Harry and finally drifted to a gentle rest on the table. “That’s awfully lazy, isn’t it?” Harry asked but he unscrewed the inkwell eagerly.

After writing out one line, he stopped and said, “My handwriting’s not so terrific.”

“It isn’t terribly so at eighteen either,” Snape stated wryly, but he leaned forward and said, “But that is slightly worse than your cousin may be expecting.” When Harry’s face fell, Snape reached out with his wand to tap Harry’s quill with, “Munditiscriptum.” As he stashed his wand back away, he said, “That should take care of it.”

Harry smiled as he started a new version of the letter and found the words flowing out quite nicely. “Thanks. I want to invite my friends from the photograph too.”

“I’ll help you with their addresses. You will have to use your owl for letters to them.”

“And that nice man who was friends with my dad,” Harry continued and waited for a verdict on that.

“Your party.”

A scratching at the window indicated an owl had arrived. Snape fetched the letter it carried, opened it and read it thoughtfully. “Hopefully that will keep you occupied for a while. I have to take care of something,” he said distractedly, and headed for the drawing room.

Harry was hoping for another ride on a broomstick, but he didn’t ask since it seemed too much to ask for. When his letters were finished and labeled but not addressed, he wandered around the house to pass the time, poking in the cellar until the elf came and asked if he were looking for something in particular. Then he went up to the first floor, noticing that there were rooms on the other side too. Harry walked around the balcony to the opposite side and carefully opened the first door.

Unlike the rest of the house, this room was dusty and it tickled Harry nose. Inside, spare household things were stored, such as a few ugly paintings, a door, battered trunks, and more books. The room felt icy, making Harry rub his arms vigorously to get rid of the chill. On shelves to the left sat some interesting things: a skull with a candle stub on top of it, string, chalk sticks, more half burned candles. In the right hand battered bookcase, books were stashed more randomly than in the library downstairs. Harry pulled one out and just barely read the title before Dark Mastery: A Gyde squirmed out of his grip, fell to the floor and lay still.

Books didn’t usually do that in Harry’s experience. He let that one be and pulled out the next: C3—Crucio Comparable Curses. This one didn’t resist, so he peeled it open and flipped through diagrams showing wand movements and drawings of a contorted man in extreme pain; the same baldheaded example victim over and over every time. Harry closed that one and put it on top of the previous one on the floor, which didn’t resist its companion. Tilting his head, Harry read a few more spines and found Horryfic Hexxes, Vocational Vexing, and War & Pieces: Torture Techniques of the Goblins.

Harry’s fingers had gone numb in the cold of the room, so he retreated, closing the door quietly because he was starting to get a sense that he shouldn’t have been in there to begin with. Voices sounded from the dining room and Harry could see the bottom half of another set of robes. He crept around the balcony and silently down the stairs. Snape was saying, “You must not tell anyone.”

A woman’s voice said, “Severus, of course I won’t, if I knew what—”

Harry had leaned into view, curious about the female voice. A plain-featured, brown-haired woman stood in mauve robes before the hearth. “Harry!?” she exclaimed in a tone of amused concern and immediately approached. “What happened to you?” She was laughing now.

“Picked up a powerfully charmed object for which the reversal is still being worked out,” Snape supplied.

“You are a darling,” the woman cooed, petting Harry’s hair back to his stunned annoyance. When she stopped, he pushed his hair back forward. She turned to Snape and asked doubtfully, “How have you been faring with him?”

Snape crossed his arms and raised himself up. “Well enough,” he replied crossly.

“You should have owled sooner,” she insisted and then to Harry’s complete surprise, picked him up and hitched him on her hip. “Wow, you are a wisp of a thing. How old are you?”

“A tad small for his age,” Snape confirmed.

Harry liked seeing the room from this height and he was quickly liking the woman despite her automatic domination. “Just two hours?” the woman asked Snape. “We’ll find something to do.”

“That is all I need I expect. I will owl if it is more. It is a rather difficult meeting Minerva arranged that cannot be put off.”

“Can we go to a film?” Harry asked, thinking of what he most often saw Dudley get to do but never did himself.

Snape answered before the woman. “No one can recognize him.”

The woman let Harry slide to the floor as she laughed. “Yep, that would cause quite an uproar, wouldn’t it? Sure you don’t want to play games here?”

“There are no games here,” Harry complained. “And no tellie.”

She laughed again. “We can go to the cinema if you like.” She was petting his hair again, but it didn’t annoy him so much this time. “Edinburgh? London? York? Where would you like to go?”

Harry blinked at her, that wasn’t an expected set of options.

Snape stepped closer. “Candide,” he said firmly, “Be very careful with him.”

“Severus, unlike you, I have two nephews, though not quite this old. He’s just a kid. And I’ll keep him among the Muggles, just in case.”

“And out of the Floo Network, if at all possible, in case of misdirection.”

“Well, that leaves out London, and there are too many wizarding folk in York. How about Manchester? That’s completely Muggle.”

“Can we really go to a film?”

She winked. “‘Course, that’s an excellent way to spend a Sunday afternoon, don’t you think?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Harry pointed out. “I’ve never been to one.”

“No?” Candide asked, sounding confused.

Snape stated dryly, “If you want to earn his undying affection, simply take him out for ice cream.”

Harry’s attention shifted quickly. “Can I really have ice cream again?” he asked, deeply absorbed in the notion.

“I will see you back here later,” Snape said, and headed for the dining room and the usual rush of air indicated he had departed.

Harry tugged his jumper down straight, thrilled at the notion of looking normal out in public for once. “I have my own room now,” he said to Candide, needing to share that with someone.

She led him to the front entrance and opened the wardrobe. “That’s great. Let’s get a cloak and some gloves. Did you have to share a room before?” She asked idly as she handed down the fur-lined gloves Harry had worn the day before. He slipped the gloves on and started to use his teeth to tighten the ties at the wrist. “Here, let me do that,” Candide said and Harry held out his hands. Without the ties the gloves would immediately flop off.

“I didn’t have a room at all before,” Harry explained.

Candide hooked his cloak on him as well, since the gloves made his hands almost useless. “Where did you sleep?” she asked curiously. “In the attic or something?”

“In the cupboard under the stairs,” Harry explained. “Having a room is much better.”

Candide gazed at him oddly. “What miserable people your aunt and uncle must be,” she asserted.

Harry, startled by how fiercely she said this, countered, “But they took me in when no one else would. There wasn’t anyone to care for me. Where would I have lived, I—?”

“That’s a lie,” Candide snapped, fiercer still. “All kinds of people would have taken you in. You’re famous after all.”

Harry stared at her in the oblique, shafted light from the window panes in the door. “What?”

Candide looked taken aback and swallowed hard. “Not sure why no one told you that,” she muttered. “But you are. Famous for sending off the dark wizard who tried to kill you as baby.” Harry rubbed his scar, prompting her to say, “Yes, that dark wizard. He and his followers were destroying anyone who stood in their way. It was a terrible time, and you put an end to it. Well, for a while anyway. Then you put a final end to it just two years ago. The anniversary was just last week, in fact.”

Harry gazed at her, trying to comprehend all that.

She smiled over her adamance. “Come on, let’s get to the Odeon and see what’s showing; I know a little closed up shop we can Apparate into, just off Curry Mile.”

When they returned, with Harry in an odd daze from both too much ice cream and the dramatic darkness of the cinema, Snape was already there.

“Meeting go all right?” Candide asked Snape. Harry took a seat opposite his new dad at the table. “You looked a bit grim before,” she said, apparently feeling further explanation was in order.

Speaking softly, Snape said, “I may need to tell you what is happening . . .” Here he glanced at Harry, slouched across from him. “But later.”

Harry was thinking about the film, remembering all of the motion and music as though it had become a part of him and still carried him along.

“We had fun. What’d you think of the film, Harry?” Candide asked.

Harry’s brow furrowed and he said after a pained pause, “He didn’t belong anywhere. He didn’t belong in the world he grew up in nor in the other world.”

“What did you take him to see?” Snape asked, sitting forward suddenly in concern.

“A Tarzan cartoon,” Candide replied with a shrug.

“Oh.” And then in a tone that implied Snape realized he was forgetting his manners said, “Thank you for looking after him.” He sat back again and pondered Harry. “Why don’t you stay for dinner?” he asked her without actually looking up.

Candide smiled the way Harry expected he had when ice cream was offered and moved around to the chair beside Harry. “Thanks. I’d love to.”

Small talk passed between the adults as they waited for dinner to appear. Harry looked between the two of them as they discussed some tournament and him, but not things he remembered doing. It was comfortable there at the table with the two of them, the fire, and with nothing expected of him, nor anyone rushing to criticize him at every opportunity.

Candide eventually asked as though teasing, “So, how long is he staying this way again? You’ll have to enroll him at Hogwarts soon.”

“The Ministry is searching literally everywhere for references to similar objects. Two staff in the Department of Mysteries have also accidentally halved their age, although they refuse to say who. So more staff have been called in and more care is being taken, which slows things significantly.” They both looked at Harry. Snape said, “They have the utmost confidence in reversing the Charm, so I expect soon.”

After dinner the adults returned to boring conversation, so Harry took himself to his room and, curious about Candide’s comments, looked through the Wizard Annual he had been reading for an entry on himself. There wasn’t one. But of course, he realized, this was the year that he was born. He picked up the next one by date and turned to “H” but there was only Habatious, Rudulph followed by Hartwick, Humphrey. His heart sank, mostly at the thought that she had been putting him on. She had sounded so serious, in a wholly adult way. Of course, Harry then thought, they are organized by last name. Harry flipped hurriedly to Potter and stared at the otherwise ordinary letters of his name in bold print at the very left hand edge of the column.

Potter, Harry — Born July 31, 1980; Son of Potter, James and Potter née Evans, Lily; Celebrated for the destruction of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named by some unknown luck or force. The Dark Lord appeared at the Potter residence the night of October the 31st of this year intent upon destroying a wizard and witch who had been working hard to cause the evil wizard’s own downfall. After dispatching Mr. and Mrs. Potter the Dark Lord turned his wand upon boy Potter with a Killing Curse only to apparently have it rebound upon himself. The infant was left with only a distinctive lightning bolt scar upon his forehead and was otherwise completely unharmed.

Harry read and reread the entry. No one knew him, he had always believed. But he had been wrong. Did his aunt and uncle know about this, Harry wondered. They never said or implied a thing, although they grew awfully upset at Harry’s questions so perhaps they did know.

Harry looked up “Killing Curse” in each of the Annuals but it wasn’t to be found. He then looked up “Dark Lord” which took two tries because he started under “L”.

Dark Lord AKA He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named; AKA You-Know-Who — See entry Volde___

Harry remembered that Mr. Weasley had said the evil wizard’s name was Voldemort. He wondered why he had so many nicknames. But he looked up the other entry.

Volde___ AKA He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named; AKA You-Know-Who; AKA Dark Lord — At seemingly the height of his power and influence Volde____ was defeated this year by a small child, whom he failed to kill. How exactly this was accomplished is uncertain, but the wizarding world will be celebrating this event for many years.

Harry quickly pulled the 1980 Annual back out again and looked up the same entry.

Volde___ AKA He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named; AKA You-Know-Who; AKA Dark Lord — This dark wizard and the shadowy organization of dark followers continues to plague the wizarding world. The pessimists who have warned that his power would only grow in the face of Ministry apathy were correct and this year we reaped the misfortune of not acting sooner to quell his power and corrupting influence. The number of missing, mysteriously dead, and Obliviated reached epidemic proportions and now it is unclear how the power of Volde___ and his devoted Death Eaters can be negated.

Harry quickly looked up Death Eater in the same edition. This time correctly looking under “D” the first go.

Death Eater — Loyal followers of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (See Volde___); Their numbers are considered to be growing, but could be as few as fifty or as many as a hundred and fifty. These true servants are Marked by the Dark Lord himself with the Dark Mark—a skull with a snake emerging from its mouth—upon their inner left arm. He can then summon these close followers at will and those that disobey are punished with great agony through this Mark.

The 1981 edition entry also reflected the change in Voldemort’s status:

Death Eater — Loyal followers of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (See Volde___); The Ministry of Magic continues its pursuit of the Death Eaters in the wake of their leader’s unexpected apparent demise. Many suspected Death Eaters claim to have been under an Imperio when they committed atrocities. Some have been given lenient sentences in return for cooperation in identifying and locating more powerful colleagues. Despite the Aurors best efforts, some are expected to disappear undetected.

Harry paged slowly forward in that volume, stopping at Diggle, Daedalus to read about his arrest for attracting Muggle attention to a wizarding celebration of Voldemort’s destruction, then Fernworth, Yolanda, arrested for illegal dragon breeding, then at Flume, Abrosius, for opening a chocolate shop and giving away two thousand pounds of chocolate to the first two-hundred customers. The thought made Harry’s mouth water.

The pictures that weren’t of Quidditch didn’t change enough to make them interesting for long. Harry stopped at Goyle, Benedict and read how he convinced the Wizengamot that he was falsely accused of being a Death Eater and released on the theory that he was too thick to be a threat and certainly Voldemort would have killed him in annoyance had he really been that close to the dark wizard. Harry gave the very unintelligent picture of Goyle a close look to see if he could judge whether the man was really evil. The image of Goyle scratched his head and looked about himself in confusion as he held a numbered placard before himself upside-down. Harry turned the page.

Snape awoke to an unusual noise. He peered at the glass dome of the monitor, but it was still, too still in fact as though it had nothing to grab hold of. The noise grew slightly louder and now definitely sounded like crying. Alarm cut through the remaining sleep clinging to his thoughts, and he rose, pausing only long enough to tug his dressing gown from the bed post.

On the balcony he spied Harry at the far dead end huddled against the spirals of wrought iron that held up the railing. At the sight of Snape his crying hesitated and he turned his head into the unyielding bars as though to hide.

“Harry what is the matter? Are you having a nightmare?” Snape stepped through the yellow light pouring from Harry’s room and back into the dimness beyond it and crouched before the boy. Harry definitely shrunk away from him this time, so Snape held off approaching any closer. He looked around, back at the room; the monitor should have gone off if Harry had been experiencing a nightmare. One of the Wizard Annuals lay in the doorway, open, face down.

Harry’s small voice brought his apparently unwelcome attention back that way. “You were one of them,” he accused in a voice that held barely enough strength to be audible.

Snape considered him before standing to pick up the book, the nearly complete set of which had been a Christmas present to Harry from the neighbor. He opened it to the page that formed the source of the folds caused by the book resting on its face after being dropped. Kabbage, Harriet, Kaputnik Kats, Karkarov, Igor . . . Snape glanced at the entry; it mentioned a rumor—a fairly accurate rumor—as to why Karkarov had been released into freedom after Moody’s long hunt for him. Methodically, Snape unfolded the creased pages and closed the thin, stiff-covered book. He considered the curled up Harry, who to his credit held his gaze.

“You killed my mum and dad,” Harry said, finding his voice.

“Hardly,” Snape returned. “Voldemort did that.”

“But you were helping him.”

Snape let the book swing at his side. “This is far too complicated to explain.”

Harry turned his head away as his face scrunched up in grief. Snape said, “You believe yourself betrayed, do you?” he asked coldly. He hadn’t meant to use that tone, but the man he had been the last few days, the last few years even, had fled him, leaving behind only the hard core of him. “I had forgotten how much your meddling got you into trouble at this age,” he added, feeling exasperated, but sounding annoyed.

Harry sniffled and didn’t look at him. Snape closed his eyes a long breath. That other version of him was here somewhere; he refused to believe it existed only as a reflection of Harry’s grace and expectation.

Calmly, finding his way through a double minefield, Snape said, “I did not kill your parents.”

Harry, sounding difficult, said, “You said you didn’t like my father.”

“True, and I would admit to appreciating a chance to get even with him, but I would not have killed him.”

A silence ensued, and through it Harry’s green eyes flickered in the dim light as he thought things over. Snape crouched again to get down to Harry’s level, at a distance he judged would not be threatening.

Harry rubbed his runny nose on his sleeve and said, “But you were one of Voldemort’s loyal followers. You were helping him.”

“I made a mistake,” Snape explained. “One I regretted and suffered with for twenty years. But this is all too complicated.”

“Adults always say that,” Harry snapped, sounding the most hurt yet.

Snape sighed silently and cracked open the book, found that it was too dark and rather than use a Lumos, which might alarm Harry if he had not seen it before, Accioed the oil lamp from inside the room and set it beside him. It had the downside, though, of also illuminating Harry’s tragic and tearstained face.

“Did you read Dumbledore’s entry?” Snape asked easily. Harry looked as though he didn’t want to respond, just to be difficult, but he eventually shook his head.

“‘Dumbledore comma Albus Percival Wulfric Brian,’” Snape began. “‘Organized a shadow organization known as the Order of the Phoenix to counter He-Who-Shall— Voldemort’s rise to power. Dumbledore politically fought the Ministry itself at times to get official action taken to counter the Dark Rise and is credited with rooting out Death Eaters from within the Ministry’s ranks. Upon the Dark Lord’s demise, he refused to accept a nomination to Minister of Magic and instead remains Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.’”

Snape held the book out to point at the picture of a smiling wizard stroking a long flowing white beard, and even though Harry looked beyond willing to listen, said, “This man—a very powerful wizard, one of the most powerful, in fact—was my mentor. I went to him when I realized my error and began assisting him from the inside of Voldemort’s organization.”

Harry didn’t respond and his hard expression with deeply furrowed brow didn’t relax. His eyes screamed hurt and anger.

Impatience and a deeper uncertainty took hold of Snape again and he said more sternly, “You believe yourself betrayed when you are not. You think your older self didn’t know I had been a Death Eater when he agreed to the adoption?”

Harry blinked rapidly. “He knew?” he asked, aghast.

“Of course he knew,” Snape closed the book with a snap. “Of course he knew,” he repeated, more relieved at getting through. “I don’t mean to sound like your aunt and uncle again, but it is very difficult to explain this in terms you will understand.” At least Harry’s fear had ebbed, but he still hung onto the iron bars, his chin resting on his extended arm. “Please return to your bed, Harry; it is cold here on the floor.”

Harry’s lips pursed and he considered moving; Snape could see it in his eyes when he glanced his way before turning his head awkwardly against his own arm again.

Snape’s feet were complaining about his crouching. He shifted to kneel on one knee, using the railing for balance. He looked down at the book before tossing it aside and sighing loudly. He said, “I didn’t mean for you to be hurt.” And at Harry’s suspicious expression, he firmly added, “Not that I was trying to hide anything from you. But there are things you have to have lived through to understand. Not that I would wish those events on you simply to bring you to understanding. Many were painfully devastating for you.” With a lighter tone and a wave of his hand, Snape said, “Makes this seem like nothing, really.”

Harry still didn’t move. Snape had decided that getting him back into his bed was his sole goal and that tomorrow, or at worst the day after, he would have his Harry back and this would all be canceled out.

“Do you wish me to owl Candide to come?” Snape had been grateful that Harry’s distress at his background was not on display to someone who so recently had accepted it herself, but now he found Harry’s care more critical. “She would return, I’m certain, even at this hour.”

Harry shook his head.

“You are certain?”

Another head shake was followed immediately by a confused nod. “I’m certain,” he muttered to clarify.

Snape sat back against the bars of the railing and to let his aching feet get a break. If Harry refused to move then he could not either. A long silence ensued broken only by Harry’s sniffling.

“I’m sorry, Harry,” Snape said. “I cannot possibly explain in a way that will remove the betrayal you are feeling, and I regret that it has broken into this little holiday you were having—a chance to experience a bit of the childhood you deserved to have had all along.”

Harry tugged at the edge of his oversized pyjama top and didn’t respond.

“All I can say is that as much as I disliked your father I did not wish him and your mother dead.”

Harry didn’t looked up, just continued to tug at the slightly worn blue and white striped flannel.

“But the past is the past and cannot be changed as much as one might wish otherwise. And in the present, which is the only thing we can control, I love you as much as I could if you were a son of my own.”

Harry’s hand froze before it dropped to the floor. He looked around at the dark hall, the lamp, seeming to avoid looking directly at Snape. Seeing his opportunity, Snape rose and said, “Back to bed, Harry,” in as normal a voice as possible.

Harry hesitated just a second before standing and, head low, slipped past Snape, went to his bed, and crawled completely under the duvet. Snape released a tight breath and returned to his own room, leaving the lamp behind on the balcony where it illuminated the pathway between them. He sat on the edge of his bed and stared out at the dark maroon planking and the traces of light edging the black iron bars supporting the railing.

Snape waited a long time, but there was no sound. The only reassurance in the room was the gentle wave of light in the glass dome of the monitor, indicating someone was within range of the other half of it. Still in his dressing gown, Snape lay down on his side and waited for the inevitable.

The glass dome vibrating resonantly against the night stand made Snape’s eyes snap open. When he made the balcony, he heard Harry’s half shout of distress, which seemed to peel his ribs open in the area around his heart.

Harry was in the throes of the worst nightmare Snape had ever witnessed. He made distressed, half spoken noises and his thin arms tossed fitfully, occasionally catching on the duvet and his head canted at an alarming angle when he did lie still. Kali fussed in her cage creating off-key music on the wire bars as she climbed in circles.

“Harry,” Snape said loudly, resorting to shaking him only when his name didn’t work.

Harry jarred awake with a quick inhale and after taking in his surroundings, rolled away from Snape and curled up.

“Any shadows?” Snape asked.

The delay was lengthy, but Harry finally shook his head.

“Will you tell me about your nightmare?” When Harry didn’t respond to this, Snape prodded, “Does it involve green light?”

Harry’s head jerked halfway back to looking at Snape.

Snape said, “Of course I know what your nightmares may be.”

Harry curled up and faced away from him again. Voice muffled by the duvet, he said, “Someone’s dying.”

“In your dream?”

Harry’s head nodded as indicated by the hair sticking out from under the cover.

Snape reassuringly said, “I would not let anyone harm you, Harry. You have nothing to fear.”

“You know a lot of bad magic,” Harry said a little peevishly.

“Yes,” Snape confirmed. “And I wouldn’t hesitate to use it to protect you.”

Harry didn’t respond except to adjust the edge of the duvet to make himself more comfortable.

“It is almost morning,” Snape said. “If you have another nightmare, perhaps you should just rise for the day. I have a potion I could give you, but it will make sleep too long at this point.”

To that, Harry didn’t respond at all. Snape finally took himself back to his own room and this time, tried to catch a few minutes of sleep.

Morning light was pouring into the room when Harry next awoke. His face was tacky with the residue of crying and he felt thirsty and shaky as though he were far too hungry. After dressing quickly in his own, oversized clothes, he tiptoed down to the last bedroom and peeked in. Snape lay sleeping in his dressing gown, half wrapped in the duvet. He looked to be out quite solidly; enough that Harry considered trying to flee the house. But he had no where to go. His cousin Dudley must be the size of his uncle now and Harry wouldn’t survive living with him for long, he was certain. And as emotionally confused as things were here, they were much better than anything he knew before. His aunt and uncle certainly never used the word love in reference to him although it flowed out easily enough where Dudley was concerned.

Downstairs in the dining room, the elf was laying on a fire in the hearth. She curtsied and said, “Good morning, Master Harry.”

Harry blinked at her and the stark reminder she provided, that he was no longer at the bottom of the household chain of obedience and chores. “Good morning,” Harry said.

“Master wish for breakfast now?”

Harry was famished. “Yup, thanks.”

The elf disappeared in a sparkle. Harry took a seat and stared at the wood of the table. He considered getting a book, but decided he had had enough of books for the time being. Looking around he spotted the burgeoning pile of letters addressed to him on the sideboard. He perused them a bit before getting an idea. He had seen his adopted father with bundles of letters in the drawing room and Harry wondered what was in them. They were stored in the bottom left drawers of his desk.

On silent bare feet, ears straining for any noise, Harry crept down to the drawing room. The room felt foreign to him, from the faint smoke residue of the lamps to the unfamiliar scent of its usual occupant. At the desk, he bit his lower lip as he tugged open the bottom drawer. Inside were several bundles, but one of them had his signature on the face at the bottom of a letter, visible around the black ribbon used as a tie. Harry snatched this up and very carefully closed the drawer again.

Back in the dining room his breakfast had arrived, complete with metal cover to keep it warm. Harry had to admit that this place did have certain concrete amenities, but the cut of betrayal from what he had learned last night still bled and he pushed the plate away despite the wondrous odor it filled the room with.

The first letter Harry unfolded talked about spells he had been learning and contained many words he didn’t know. He turned it over and scanned it. It was signed Yours, Harry. The words mocked Harry’s current pain. Biting both lips now he flipped each letter to the closing, stopping only when he found one that read Your loyal adopted son, Harry. For an instant Harry wanted nothing more than to throw them into the fire. But as a person who owned almost nothing and certainly wasn’t used to having stashes of letters from people who clearly cared about him, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Instead, he read the letter.

Halfway through it, without realizing, Harry pulled his plate closer, opened the lid and began nibbling on the toast. The realization that his new father wrestled with guilt over his past neutralized Harry’s pain marginally. His aunt and uncle certainly never felt guilty or apologized for anything and clearly their treatment of him deserved a bit of guilt.

Even though it was reluctant to lie flat, Harry placed the letter before him on the table and propped his chin in the backs of his pressed-flat hands. He could recognize his own voice in the letter even though it was pleading for Snape to give up his guilt or to make amends if he couldn’t do so.

Guilt doesn't pay anyone back or restore anyone to life, his older self had written. It made rational sense but Harry’s pain wasn’t amenable to the rational. He didn’t see any way he could forgive that much. Obviously his older self had lost track of his priorities. Moving quickly, Harry bundled the letters back up and snuck them quickly back to their previous spot.

When Snape came in later, Harry had to eat more of his breakfast as cover for keeping his head down, which he instinctively felt he needed to do to hide what he had been doing. He flipped through his own letters and with a jolt realized a few of them were missing and must have been bundled up with the others. One of his old ones to Snape was also mixed in this other pile. He casually shifted it to the bottom. All of the parchment was yellowed, even the new sheets, so it didn’t stand out. Fortunately, it was one of the Yours, Harry letters rather than those with more poignant closures.

Snape didn’t speak, even after his breakfast was finished. He opened the odd newspaper wide and read, giving Harry almost no attention. It wasn’t until he had finished the paper and had it refolded neatly that he pinned his eyes on Harry who fixed him with a difficult expression in return.

“I don’t suppose you would like to learn chess?” Snape asked.

Harry lifted one shoulder, giving no ground.

Snape sat back, arms crossed, and matched Harry’s expression. “I don’t anticipate this situation continuing much longer, but I will point out, just in case, that should you need anything, you must ask. Winky will anticipate your hunger and thirst but I am not skilled at anticipating what else you might require.”

“True that it doesn’t look like you get to the clothing shops often,” Harry commented. “Or the barber’s.”

Snape tilted his head and his eyes widened. “Haven’t heard much of that tongue, have we? To your credit, I guess, that you are able to overcome sappy gratitude so fast; keeps it from clouding your mind.”

Harry crossed his arms as well and pushed back on the table leg to rock his chair back, a shouting offense in the Dursley household. “At least I’m not an evil dark wizard,” he retorted.

“Not yet anyway,” Snape mildly replied.

Harry swallowed. “What does that mean?”

Airily, Snape replied, “Only that you recently learned how to cross into the underworld and can command the grotesque creatures—demons shall we say—that dwell there.”

Harry’s brow twisted up. “I don’t believe you.”

“You haven’t seen them invade a room when you have lost control. I have.”

Harry tried to take that in. He had no sense of the man lying. “So what’s your point?”

“My point,” Snape smoothly replied, “is that a lily-livered white wizard would have dumped you on the street long ago what with your channeling Voldemort’s emotions and plans—hence your nightmares of him killing—let alone your mage-like skills with the plane where demonic creatures reside.” Snape relaxed a bit smugly, Harry thought, and added, “Look at it this way: I can’t possibly hold any of that against you. And as to the former, I am intimately familiar, unfortunately, with Voldemort and truly understand what he has put you through. There is no one else who could.” He appeared to rethink that, “Well, there is that little friend of yours, Ginny, who may understand, given that Voldemort took her over and forced her to do all manner of vile things such as kill all the roosters and write messages in their blood and set a deadly Basilisk on her school chums, but you don’t give her much of a chance beyond friendship.”

Harry shook himself as he tried to take in that diatribe. Finally, he said, “You’re just like my aunt and uncle, trying to make me feel grateful you took me in. They were lying too.”

Harry scored with that one; he could plainly see the man’s shift in attitude away from smugness. “I do not mean to be like your aunt and uncle. What an appalling thought,” Snape added after sipping his coffee.

Harry couldn’t help his lips curling slightly upward.

“Well,” Snape said, sitting forward. “We need to get through the day. I can certainly owl Candide, who I am positive would be willing to take a day off to spend it with you.”

“She your girlfriend?” Harry asked.

“Yes,” Snape said, lips pursed.

“I don’t need her; she’s too clingy. She needs to have kids of her own, you know,” Harry pointed out, sounding authoritative.

“That’s none of your concern.”

“Right,” Harry taunted. “I’m just your first son. My opinion wouldn’t matter.”

Snape rolled his eyes and countered, “Your opinion has already been registered in the matter along the lines of I am chicken not to marry her, which may logically lead to your first point, of which your older self may have an interest, but certainly wouldn’t have any say.”

Harry put his chair down with a clunk. “Touchy,” he mocked.

Snape rubbed his forehead. “How about we go to the zoo?”

Harry froze and in a more amenable voice asked, “The zoo?”

Much later, upon their return, Harry shook his arm loose from Snape’s grip and strode back to the dining room. He had given too much ground on the trip despite what had felt like an inexhaustible reserve of stubbornness. He was also a bit peeved that he hadn’t got ice cream. Not that he had asked, but when they passed the ice cream vendor, Harry was certain his adoptive father would offer, but he hadn’t; he had simply glanced at the picture of the various chocolate covered delights and strode on. This had confused Harry and now he sat with his chin on his hand, looking glum.

Snape checked the post that had arrived in their absence and asked, “Something the matter?”

Harry wriggled a bit before responding. “I didn’t get ice cream.”

“You didn’t say you wanted any,” Snape replied smoothly.

“I always want it; you know that,” Harry retorted. “Dudley always gets ice cream when he’s upset, and toys,” he added sulkily.

Snape glared at him over the envelope held up before him. “And had I offered it, it would have seemed to you merely a sorry attempt to buy your emotions.” Snape leaned closer, almost menacingly. “I am not your aunt and uncle, nor will I ever be. You and I are a family for reasons of loyalty, caring, and mutual understanding, not bribery. Believe me that it is sadly ironic that I understand that and you do not.”

Harry frowned more and put his head down on his arm. He wanted the man as his father back again, but not really. These opposing feelings were splitting him down the middle, he could even feel the pull tugging on his insides.

“Harry,” Snape said, sounding caring, then apparently gave up with, “Never mind.”

“What?” Harry demanded.

Snape stacked the new post with the old and said, “You are making me fear that you, my old you, has merely decided that I am the best he could get for a family and forgives me everything solely based on that notion.”

Harry traced the deep wood grain of the table with his finger. “You’re better than the Dursleys,” he admitted.

Snape gazed down at him and said, “I think at one time I would have been pleased enough with that. Or perhaps not.” He picked up the post and struck the envelopes against his palm. “I did not adopt you to hurt you. Quite the opposite,” he added quietly before departing the room.

Next: Chapter 21 — Hearth and Home

Harry chuckled at himself as he put the day's post aside and started in on the older pile that his younger self had opened. Oddly, at the bottom of the pile, he found a letter he had sent to Snape almost half a year before. Harry looked it over and shrugged while dropping it on Snape’s desk in the drawing room. Before he stepped away, a colorful paper tucked into the blotter corner caught his eye. It had an icon of an ark on it and when he tugged it out, found that it was a ticket to the Chester Zoo, stamped just the day before.

Author Notes

Yes, Yes, I got Lily's hair color wrong. General space-out that I have a clear image in my head and I don't think to check the lexicon as a result and DARK RED? Heck, I don't remember even knowing that in order to forget and double heck! that puts her smack dab in the Black Family Tree doesn't it? I'll be obsessing on that notion for a few weeks...

And I'm glad Junior Harry comes across well. Just to clarify: Harry is not time travelling, the spell just makes an exact duplicate of a person at halfway to where they are now and plunks that down in place of them, warts and all. Strictly halving his age didn't seem any more powerful than the youth potion Lucius used in Resonance, so I consciously made it different from that more simple effect.

Chapter 21: Hearth and Home
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter 21 — Hearth and Home

Harry perused his photo album at the dining room table, expending many comments on the photographs of his parents. Snape was disappointingly unflappable, however, as he worked at meticulously writing out a small stack of highly decorated forms.

“I bet they were really happy together,” Harry opined, watching James reach under his and Lily’s linked arms to tickle her. She pulled away with a giggle.

Harry fell silent as this latest gibe failed to spur a negative reaction. His comments were making him sad so, instead, he asked, “Why didn’t you like my dad?”

Snape’s quill stopped arcing over the paper and he looked up. “He was my Dudley, you might say.”

Harry swallowed. Suspicious, he said, “But he wasn’t any bigger than you.”

Quill still frozen, Snape responded, “His magic was much stronger than mine, even though I worked very hard to improve mine to have a chance against him and his many friends.” He seemed to be trying to remain unflappable, but his jaw tightened revealingly, making his statement seem all the more true.

Harry frowned and turned back to the album, silent now.

A blast of green flame preceded Tonks’ arrival in the hearth. She brushed herself off while holding a large black velvet sack out of the way. She said, “Blasted thing refuses to Disapparate . . . hello Severus, Harry”

Snape stood slowly. “You have it?”

Her eyes flitted to Harry and back to Snape. “Yep.” She pulled a slip of parchment out of her pocket, after checking most all of her pockets twice. “The instructions are here.” When Snape took the slip to examine it, Tonks invited brightly, “Come here, Harry.”

Snape held up a hand. “Leave the object here. I’ll send Harry along.”

Befuddled, Tonks stared at him, but shrugged and handed over the long inky black velvet bundle. “See you in a bit, Harry.” With that and a wink at him, she Disapparated.

Snape laid the cane, still in its sack, on the table and studied the note awhile longer. It was a small note, so Harry assumed he was stalling, which was fine with Harry, who had found his gut was all knotted up.

Snape rubbed his chin and said, “Interesting impact this object has.” He lowered the note and looked Harry in the eye. “Simple principle: halving one’s age. One wouldn’t think much of that beyond the obvious power of youth by choice.” He lowered his head back to the parchment and re-met Harry’s gaze through the strands of his hair. “But it has left us with a dilemma.” Frowning, he set down Tonks’ note and carefully slid the velvet off the cane, finally laying the silver length of it down on the wood with his hand carefully protected. He tossed the velvet aside and after considering the cleaved cane, said softly, “I cannot by rights make you do this.”

Harry took that in. “You’d let me stay this way?” he asked. “Even though I hate you?”

Snape didn’t flinch as expected at those words, but his lips pursed harder. Harry
stood up to take a better look at the cane. The picture of his older self seemed to watch from the photograph along with his two friends. “I don’t belong here,” Harry said. “Don’t you want the other me back?”

“Of course I do. He is my son and you are not, or perhaps more accurately, you refuse to be.” Snape exhaled audibly. “But reversing the charm means that you cease to exist as you are.”

Harry gave him a disturbed look and picked up the cane to examine it closely. “All those complicated books in the room there . . . he understands those?”

“Yes. Most all of them.”

Harry thought aloud: “It wouldn’t be fair to him not to come back. He has all those friends and I don’t; they wouldn’t want me.” He reached for the note, despite the raw instinctive fear coursing through him. Tiny diagrams were drawn on the yellowed paper, showing cartoon hands doing things with the cane. Harry carefully put the note down on the edge of the table where he could see it and rested the cane upside-down on the stone floor as the first diagram indicated. He hesitated though. A glance at Snape showed him wearing a grim expression. “What’s wrong?” Harry demanded, beginning to feel numb as though the fear had taken him over, sucking his own will dry. “Don’t you want me-as-your-son back?”

Snape’s troubled expression didn’t flicker. “Of course. I need not make amends with him”

“I don’t know why not,” Harry commented. He turned from the black gaze and adjusted the note to see it better. His breath wouldn’t come freely, as though he faced stepping off a cliff.

Snape’s low, soft tone interrupted Harry’s thoughts. “It is a kind of death. That is why, although it is