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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."

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