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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 only equitable for you to do this, I cannot insist you do.”

Harry, determined by that to prove something, if only that he was bigger than this man, tapped the cane twice on the curved handle, spun it twice one way and then back the other. He bit his lip and hesitated just an instant, during which he pictured the tall young man from the photographs in the album—the one who truly deserved to be in his place. The cane handle rapped sharply twice on the hard floor.

Harry, tall and wearing his usual clothes and cloak, appeared with a faint whoosh. He stared at the cane in his hand and then glanced in surprise around the unexpected scene of the dining room. “What am I doing here?” he asked.

Sharply, Snape said, while pointing with his lean finger, “Put the cane in the sack.”

Harry scooped the evidence sack off the chair beside him and slid the cane into it. As he tugged on the drawstrings, he said, “I was out in the field . . .”

“That was three days ago,” Snape pointed out snidely.

Harry blinked and stared. “Three days? How could that be?” He gestured with the evidence sack. “Did this thing bring me home? But . . . three days?”

Snape angled his head and appeared more dismayed. “You are due back at the Ministry. I said I would send you.”

“But . . . what happened?” Harry demanded, gesturing with the wrapped cane.

Snape crossed his arms and said, “What did you think half a cane would do? Not exactly hiding its inherent purpose.”

Befuddled, Harry considered the long black sack in his hand and tried to come up with an answer. After a long pause in which his mouth twisted, he decided not to guess. “Er, I don’t know.”

Snape rolled his eyes. “It cut your age in half,” he stated.

“It what?!”

“Ms. Tonks was most disappointed in you, I believe,” Snape added and appeared to be tracking the impact that statement had on Harry.

Harry frowned but avoided flinching. “I’ve been . . . NINE for the last three days?”

“Yes,” Snape snidely replied. “And you are expected back at the Ministry, since it is not quite the end of the day on Monday.”

“Bloody . . . all right.” He rubbed his forehead where a headache teased and moved toward the hearth.

Snape held his hand up. “There is something I should warn you about though, before you go.”

Harry, mind already cast ahead to the Auror’s office and what he might face there, turned and dropped his hand from his head.

Snape said, “The Ministry has been informed of the prophecy.”

“Good,” Harry uttered in relief and at Snape’s surprised look, explained, “I was starting to think it would be for the better. What prompted it . . . my being a child?”

“Not precisely. There was little doubt you would return to normal quick enough. No, the impetus was Ms. Weasley remembering the beginning of it, which she recited as: Few will escape the blood and chaos of darkness bound, sought . . . etc.”

“Blood and chaos?” Harry echoed, distraught. “And few will escape. Wonderful. So who at the Ministry knows, or has it been published in the Prophet already?”

“The Prophet is so far unaware. Minerva and I informed Madam Bones, Arthur Weasley and Cornelius Fudge.”

“Fudge! Why’d you tell that waste of space?”

“As you are perhaps aware,” Snape began as though lecturing. “He is head of the department that records these things for safe keeping in case the person the prophecy pertains to is not known.”

Harry remembered the room full of shelves of glass prophecies. “Oh, right. So what did the Ministry think?”

“They are rather alarmed by the implication that the current minor difficulties they are having promise to elevate to such a level. I am not certain they believe it possible.”

“I’m not certain I believe it possible,” Harry said.

Snape made a shushing gesture. “Well, off with you. They will start to wonder what the difficulty is.” Harry took down the Floo powder but before he tossed it in, Snape said, “There is only an hour left in your day . . . do try not to get into trouble again already.”

Harry shot him a glowering look. “I will. Thank you.” Clutching the gritty powder, he turned and said forcefully, “I get through weeks of field shadowing without incident . . . getting complimented on my performance, even, and I mess up once, er . . . twice, and now you assume that is all I’m going to do.” He felt a bit hurt.

“It was a rather significant mistake caused by an affinity for Muggle habits.”

“That makes me better in the field normally, by the way,” Harry argued. “I don’t reach for my wand in the middle of a curry shop when I slop a bit on my shirt.”

Harry, having made his point, he thought, moved to toss the Floo powder in, but Snape interrupted yet again with: “Just one more thing . . . How did you know the cane would refuse to Apparate?”

Harry froze, and then glanced at the handful of Floo powder he clutched on one side and the evidence sack on the other. “I don’t know.” He hadn’t even considered Apparating. “Bloody . . . I have to go.” This time he did toss the powder onto the flames.

At the Ministry, Harry walked unmolested across the Atrium but when he reached the lift, the grins and winks began along with the thinly veiled teasing. “You sure grow fast, Harry,” Someone from Games commented when they stepped onto the lift behind him. Everyone, it seemed, felt the need to get a poke at him before he made it to the Auror’s office.

“Well, Mr. Potter,” Rodgers said when Harry stepped into the workout room after dropping the cane off with Shacklebolt. “You survived your little trip down memory lane, did you? Take a seat.”

Harry tried not to blush, but it didn’t work. His fellows were definitely enjoying his discomfort, although Kerry Ann tried to suppress her grin.

Rodgers went on: “We were just doing a quick review of incarceration procedure. Originally I was going to do one on field work procedure, but thought it best for us to wait for your glowing return.”

Harry glanced up at Kerry Ann beside him only reluctantly. “Poor Harry,” she whispered, teasing. Vineet turned around and gave him an oddly affectionate look. Aaron simply muttered, “At least it isn’t me in trouble this time.”

“Also, in case I need to remind those of you who don’t own a calendar on top of not owning a watch. We are fast approaching your next review exams. They will be scheduled for next week Tuesday. Potter, can you remain eighteen that long?”

When the mercifully short hour ended, Rodgers said, “Potter, stay after,” as the others were packing up their things. Harry had not brought his things so he stood, trying to figure out what to do with his hands, finally settling on picking lint off of his cloak.

The door closed on Kerry Ann, who gave Harry a sympathetic nod. Harry could hear them chatting happily as they headed down the corridor to the lifts. Rodgers appeared grim as he closed his notes and waved them into his leather satchel before sitting on the front edge of his small table.

“We have a problem, Potter,” he said, making his wand vibrate by flicking it with this thumb.

“I’m sorry sir, I . . . “

“You’re sorry to have been named in a prophecy?” Rodgers interjected. “Did you send away to be named in one through some service I’m not aware of?”

“Oh. No sir; didn’t realize that was the topic.”

Rodgers returned to flicking the end of his wand nervously. “This is the difficulty—even barring your recent spate of cock-ups—we don’t exactly wish to put you in the kind of harm’s way necessary to give you the opportunity to fulfill the prophecy. And we certainly would like you to do so as quickly as possible.”

“But . . .” Harry began. “The blood and chaos hasn’t occurred yet. The dark hordes haven’t . . . well I don’t think they’ve been released.” At Rodgers blank expression, Harry explained, “Those have to happen first.”

“Do they?” Rodgers blurted.

“I’m rather certain,” Harry reluctantly admitted.

Rodgers’ wand flicked rapidly. “As much as I hate to say this, I think I have to defer to you on this. Goodness knows I’d hate to stand in your way.”

Harry thought this must be a taunt. But when Harry found Rodgers’ eyes, they looked deadly serious.

“I don’t like this, Potter,” Rodgers said. “I’m not even going to pretend to like it. I can’t believe you are just standing there so casually . . . that you’ve known about this without letting on.”

Harry felt a little humbled. “I’m used to it, sir.” More lightly, Harry added, “And this one doesn’t mention my dying. It’s not so bad from that perspective.”

“Right.” Rodgers flicked his wand a few seconds more and stood straight. “Arthur wants a talk with you as well.” At the door he said, “There’s traditionally a lot of blood and chaos at the first Puddlemere United match. Why don’t we just invite Merton to it and you can dispatch him afterwards?”

Harry laughed and finding relief in his normally vitriolic trainer’s humor, said soberly, “If you wish to set it up, sir, I’m willing to do my part.”

Rodgers still didn’t open the door to the training room, just rested his hand on the latch. “I take that back. Let’s hope Merton doesn’t come to that match. Any combination of one of those weapons and a large crowd makes me very nervous.”

When Harry knocked on Mr. Weasley’s door, it opened by itself to reveal Arthur Weasley, comb-over skewed, closing his files and putting them in neat stack.

“Harry. Come in. Have a seat.” He sounded doleful, which affected Harry more than expected.

Harry sat in the guest chair and quickly shifted it out of the way as the door closed itself again.

“Most unfortunate, Harry,” Mr. Weasley said, folding his hands in his lap. “I thought we were past all this . . . prophecies, Voldemort, that sort of thing.”

“Apparently not,” Harry conceded, feeling stronger now in the face of Mr. Weasley’s overtly sad demeanor.

“I don’t want to hold you back from your destiny, Harry, when the time comes. But . . .” He held up a finger. “It isn’t here yet. And until it is, you are just another apprentice, one that is on probation, no less.”

“You’re playing Dumbledore this time ‘round?” Harry asked.

Mr. Weasley stared at him. “Far be it for me to even attempt it. How is Severus holding up? He was his usual clammed up self at the meeting Minerva arranged. Looked like he wanted nothing more than to toss Fudge from the room.”

Harry’s lips curled. “He was right angry with me just now over the cane incident. I must have been a regular delinquent to cope with at nine and a half.”

“What!?” Mr. Weasley blurted. “He tell you that?”

“No,” Harry replied, pushing back onto the desk the unopened paper airplanes that had taken flight into his lap. “But I heard it often enough from my relatives.”

Mr. Weasley stared at him some more. “Tonks told me Severus was practically doting on you.” Harry dropped his head and stared doubtfully back at Mr. Weasley, prompting him to add, “Honest. Took you out for ice creams, broom flights, etc.”

“The zoo?” Harry asked, almost mockingly dubious.

“I didn’t hear all the details. Only I’m quite certain you were not the monstrous burden you’ve implied. Tonks, when she returned after leaving the cane behind, joked that Severus may try to hide it and leave you as you were.”

“Not a chance,” Harry said disparagingly.

“Hm, well you would know better, I would assume. But back to our original topic: I want you to know that if you feel the time has come, Harry . . .” Here he wagged a finger at Harry. “And you think we are unaware . . . you can come to me and tell me that. In those words, exactly, ‘the time has come.’ Got that? I need to know when to give you leeway.” His finger waved more sharply with the next words. “But you aren’t getting it before then. And in the meantime very few people have been told. The general public isn’t to know until it is absolutely necessary.”

- 888 -

At home, Harry found a note from Snape on the table, which was a good thing because when he began opening his post and found people writing him about coming to his upcoming dinner party, he would otherwise have been rather confused. Hermione’s rambling letter made him shake his head at Snape simply allowing him, at nine years old, to send out invitations. Although, Harry had to admit, at that age he would have been quite thrilled to have friends to invite, let alone send post to.

Unlike the letter from Hermione, who did not know that his last letter had come from a rather different version of himself, the letter from Lupin was highly teasing in its tone. But he was more than willing to come to the party, was quite in need of a break from the castle, in fact.

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.

A bit embarrassed, Harry carefully tucked the ticket back exactly as it had been and stepped out of the drawing room—out of surroundings that carried too heavy a sense of his guardian.

Harry was deeply absorbed in reviewing when the fire crackled loudly. He glanced over and found Snape’s head floating there. “Wotcher,” Harry uttered in surprise.

“Thought I would just check to see that you were still remaining out of trouble.”

Harry set his quill down hard. “Thank you very much; I’m still not in trouble yet. Our one year reviews are early so they can assess the incoming applicants based on how well we do. So I’m too busy to get into trouble. Go away before I toss an extra log on you. Why are you there instead of coming through anyway?”

“I am at my own hearth which is warded to disallow transit. I am leery of leaving my house in Remus’ care for any longer and Minerva hinted at that as well, although he seems to have done surprisingly well.”

“Tell Minerva I’m very sorry I messed up.” Harry rested his cheek on his palm and gave Snape a long and tilted looking over. “Knees getting tired yet?” he asked innocently.

“Yes, in fact, they are. Do stay out of trouble.” Snape’s head disappeared and yellow flame closed in where his visage had floated.

- 888 -

Merton’s eyes were gleeful as he gingerly inspected a large elongated bulbous vessel. “Wonderful . . . absolutely wonderful . . . and only two days,” he whispered reverently.

Lockhart sat nearby with a glazed expression. He hadn’t spoken since the last spell had been executed on him. Merton leaned close into Lockhart’s face, causing the man and his wild blonde hair to lean away, which at least indicated he knew what was happening around him. Debjit would not have got so close; he hovered near the doorway. It was warm in their borrowed building now during most all the day, almost hot during the afternoons, so there was no reason to congregate in the small workroom.

Merton grinned in pleasure. “All my wonderful plans no longer need be on hold.” He set the vessel down on a heavy shelf and said, “We’ll see how long that one lasts and make several more to have a regular stock. Fill this shelf and we can announce to the Ministry that we have arrived.”

Svaha spoke something low to Debjit to urge him to move out of the doorway to allow her to carry in the tea. She placed a fresh cup before Lockhart and left the tray behind from which Merton poured his own after giving up admiring the first addition to his new collection.

Lockhart picked up the teacup and sat tracing its shape slowly and meticulously with his fingertips. Svaha ignored him and began sorting through the crate of freshly-fired ceramics to find the most symmetric one.

- 888 -

Harry knocked on Pamela’s door. The wind in Godric’s Hollow was brisk as it always seemed to be, forcing Harry to pull his cloak together with one hand while he waited.

Pamela opened the door, saying, “Harry! You can Apparate in directly, you know.”

“I’ve never been in your house,” Harry said as he stepped in. “I can’t unless I’ve seen it.”

She led him into the small sitting room and said, “I’ll be just a moment more,” before she stepped away, adjusting an earring.

Harry glanced around the room while he waited. A photograph of Patricia and her children was on a table beside the couch. Harry kept expecting it to move, but it refused, making Harry wonder if there were a charm to make a Muggle picture seem magical, if only temporarily.

“All right, how do I look?” Pamela asked, stepping out of the bedroom and presenting herself.

“You look like you,” Harry said.

“You’re a charmer, Harry,” Pamela teased.

“Did I say the wrong thing?” Harry asked, glad this didn’t come up so much anymore, although the reason it didn’t come up in itself wasn’t so wonderful.

She laughed gaily. “No, not at all.” She collected her handbag and stepped over to Harry. “I’m a little nervous . . . my first magical party.”

“It will be fine, just some friends of mine.” Harry took her arm. “Thanks for agreeing to come early.” A second later they were in the main hall.

Pamela stepped around the room, looking up and down. “Old place you have here.”

“It’s Severus’ really,” Harry explained. “Would you like something to drink?”

“He’s not coming, is he? You didn’t make it sound like he was in your invitation.”

“No,” Harry answered, not wanting to think too hard about how that invitation may have read. But Pamela didn’t say anything more about it and soon other guests began arriving, all eager to meet Harry’s distant cousin.

Hermione was explaining what the inside of the Ministry of Magic looked like when Winky stepped up and curtsied. Pamela started at her strange sight, fixating on her spotted and nearly bald head framed by her grotesque ears.

Hermione giggled before patting her arm. “House-elves are harmless,” she said.

“Yeah, it’s . . . yeah,” Pamela sheepishly said. “Everyone looks so . . . normal; I forgot where I was, I think.” She squinted at Winky and asked, “Is that a tea-towel?”

“Would mistress like something?” Winky asked with a bow of her head that made her ears flap.

“I’ll have a butterbeer,” Hermione said, and with a glance at Pamela said, “Bring two.”

Winky disappeared. Pamela, now wearing a determined expression, tapped Harry on the shoulder. “Harry, you make your elf wear a tea-towel?”

Harry spun and said, “She wants to wear a tea-towel.” To Pamela’s doubtful and chiding look, he said, “You are talking to the house-elf rights expert there, Hermione. She’ll back me up on that. Winky could wear whatever she wants; we don’t tell her what to wear, but the magic surrounding them doesn’t work if they wear actual clothing. And if they’re given any they are compelled to leave the household. It breaks the magical bond to their master.”

Hermione said reassuringly, “I know it seems a little disturbing. But Winky has it good here, compared to most elves. Go and talk to her, if you want. The kitchen is just down there.”

Hermione pointed and Pamela said, “No, I’ll trust you on that.”

Laughing, Hermione said, “She doesn’t bite, really. Many magical things do, but not Winky.”

Winky returned with their butterbeers and executed another curtsy but added a wink at Pamela before moving to ask the next people over what they might like.

Hermione nudged Pamela. “She likes you.”

An hour later, Harry finally successfully urged his guests to move to the dining room. Hermione had filled the main hall with couches and after that, no one wanted to move. Harry was going to have Pamela sit beside him, but she had already taken up a chair at the other end beside Neville and across from Lupin. Ron was the only one to bring a date, Lavender of all people.

“She came into the bank and when she saw me, insisted I escort her to her vault. I get a lot of that now,” Ron stated proudly. “It didn’t used to be my duty, but I do more and more of it and the Goblins don’t sneer anymore, just ring me to the floor if someone asks.”

Tonks arrived late with a bang! which echoed around the main hall before stepping into the dining room. “Hello, Harry, everyone, sorry I was tied up. Oh, and you saved me a seat, Harry, thanks.” She took the empty seat to Harry’s right, which he had originally saved for Pamela.

“‘Course,” Harry assured her, happy to pretend he had, he would have if he’d known she wouldn’t think it too forward.

After everyone settled in, Lupin said, “I received such a touching letter from Harry, did anyone else?”

Harry, who had just raised his mug to take a gulp, gave Lupin a sharp look over the rim of it.

“I thought . . .” Hermione began and then laughed lightly, “That maybe you were drunk when you wrote your letter to me. But the handwriting was so nice, so I wasn’t sure.”

Tonks was snorting into her own mug. “Poor Harry.”

“I was stinking drunk. Used a charm, or something, to hide it,” Harry quickly said.

Tonks asked, “You’d rather people thought that?”

“Yes,” Harry firmly stated. “And dinner should be arriving shortly.” Harry leaned to stare into the hall in the direction of the kitchen. “Any moment now.”

“You weren’t drunk?” Hermione queried in confusion.

“I heard what happened,” Neville said with a smirk. “Well, I heard something, but didn’t know it was true until now.”

No dinner arrived to distract Harry’s guests and now they were interrogating Neville who was greatly enjoying it.

“All right,” Harry announced, tossing down his napkin. “I was nine when I wrote you out the invitations. If the handwriting looked great, I have no idea why that was.”

Silence fell until Hermione queried, “Nine . . . years old?”

“Yes,” Harry breathed, exasperated. “I was nine years old when I invited you all here. I don’t remember, so it’s a bloody good thing a few of you wrote back or . . . well, Winky probably would have made dinner anyway.”

“He was an absolute doll,” Tonks said.

Harry rolled his eyes. “Please don’t.”

“But you were,” she insisted, teasing affectionately, and suddenly Harry thought maybe that didn’t pain him SO bad.

Dinner arrived then but it only delayed Harry’s having to tell the whole story.

“Are there photographs?” Hermione asked. “I would have liked to have seen Harry at that-” She stopped upon seeing Harry’s annoyed expression.

“What did Snape do?” Ron asked, glancing between Harry and Tonks.

“He did fine,” Tonks supplied. “Don’t you think, Remus? Remus came and baby-sat briefly I hear.”

The entire table, excepting Harry, who was staring into his pea soup, turned to Lupin with great interest. “Harry just wanted to know about his parents. Severus told him I’d be better suited to tell him about them.”

“Well, that’s the truth,” Hermione uttered. “But I want to be owled next time you cut your age in half, Harry.” She sounded thoroughly hurt.

“Why?” Harry asked in dismay. “And not if I have any say in it.”

“You don’t remember a thing?” Ron asked.

When Harry shook his head, Lupin asked with an innocent tone, “Not the broom flights, the ice creams, the zoo?”

Harry studied him an instant before asking, “Are you getting even with Severus over something?”

This made the whole table laugh and finally the topic changed over to the impending Quidditch season.

Down at the far end of the table from Harry, Pamela was taking a third long look at the guest across from her. He didn’t look terribly old, but he had prominent crinkles around his eyes when he laughed and a soft way of talking that made her think he was someone who tried to tread lightly on the people around him. He was by far the oldest male at the party and therefore the most interesting and Pamela had maneuvered to sit across from him particularly after eying him during drinks in the hall.

“So, Remus, you work at Hogwarts?” Pamela asked when a lull presented an opportunity.

The man’s grey-blue eyes came her way as he responded, “Yes, at the moment.”

“Oh, where do you usually work?” she asked to keep the conversation going.

He clearly grew uncomfortable, but replied, “Whatever comes along.”

Pamela wanted to say I know lots of people who get by like that but sensed that it would only add to the discomfort and it explained his patched clothing as more than some grunge fashion statement. “Is that where you met Harry?”

Lupin smiled broadly as though reminiscing. “No, I knew Harry when he was quite small. Met you once, in fact, in Godric’s Hollow, many, many years ago.”

“You’re an old friend of James and Lily’s then?” she asked.

Odd, he seemed to frown although he smiled more. “Very old friend,” he answered, voice even softer.

That undercurrent was interesting. “Very sad, what happened to them. We didn’t know what really happened until Harry happened to drop in one day. Well, my mum did, but she never told anyone.”

He took a sip of the amber liquid that he was drinking instead of mead. “That was good of her. She might have been Obliviated if she had.”

Pamela froze. “She might have been what?” she asked, uncertain if she wanted to hear the answer.

“Not as bad as it sounds. It’s a kind of memory charm to make people forget something that they shouldn’t know. It doesn’t actually make them forget, just blocks the memory from them so they cannot access it unless a more powerful wizard manages to cancel it. The Ministry needs to do it quite often to Muggles when there is trouble.”

“Good thing there isn’t trouble right now,” Pamela said.

Lupin tilted his head to the side. “There is always a little bit of trouble,” he said mildly and added a teasing smile as though to not worry her. “And what do you do?”

She tossed her head. “I’m a receptionist at a dentist’s in Chesley. It’s a bit of a drive but the people there are nice and they take a lot of holidays which means I get a lot of time off too, when I can go on holiday with my sister and her family.”

She wasn’t entirely sure he was listening, as his gaze frequently focused at a distance before coming back, but he said with a quirky smile, “Any sign of her children being magical?”

“No,” Pamela said a little forcefully. “And my sister can’t decide if she’s hopeful or terrified one of them might be.” She laughed. “Severus making one of them invisible the last visit didn’t help any.”

Lupin laughed as well and asked in clear disbelief, “He did what?”

- 888 -

Harry dutifully arrived for his field work the following evening. The shift was to run until four in the morning, so he had slept in as long as Kali would allow him to. Her frantic cage circling started eventually and he couldn’t get her to calm down even when he brought her back to sleep with him. That had worried Harry a bit, but he had checked several times throughout the day that the Dark Plane was closed off or at least quiet and all seemed well. He took care of everything around the house; Pamela had lost one of her gloves on the floor and he had sent Hedwig off with it; the post that looked important he bundled to send off to Hogwarts. Getting all this done left Harry looking forward to an open Sunday.

Harry stood inside the door to the Auror’s office, not wanting to interrupt Shacklebolt. Tonks stepped in wearing thigh-high white leather boots and a pink skirt that matched her floppy hair. “Ready to go?” she asked.

Harry kept himself very level and cool as he replied. “Sure.” He looked her up and down and gestured at himself. “Should I change?”

Tonks waved her wand at him and he suddenly wore black denims, chunky heeled black shoes and a black leather jacket. His hair felt odd too, off of his face and indeed it now swept back and felt slick. “What do I look like?” Harry asked.

“Rather amusing,” Shacklebolt contributed from across the room.

“You look great,” Tonks assured him, took his arm, and the Auror’s office disappeared. A cat screeched as they arrived in an alley between stone buildings and when they stepped out onto the pavement, Harry recognized where they were.

“York?” he asked.

“Yep, I want to talk to some people.” She took off down the pavement, and Harry, feeling exceptionally tall and slightly awkward in his shoes, followed. At a pub called the Friar’s Mistress, Tonks stopped and said, “Try to act like Harry Potter, all right?”

Harry watched her tug open the heavy battered door. “What does that mean?” he asked, but she was already inside and he didn’t get a reply. He stopped just long enough to read the small brass sign on the door that read No football colors inside. Tonks was halfway across the crowded room, but Harry easily tracked her pink hair. He squared his shoulders under the assumption that at the very least, she meant for him to appear confident. Nearly half the patrons were magical. Harry could feel this but it was confirmed by the wide-eyed expressions of most anyone who looked his way as he passed.

Tonks had hitched her hip on a bar stool when Harry caught up to her, so he stood beside her since there were no more open ones. She was speaking to the barman about the last time he had seen certain people and by the end of the conversation, Harry was thinking that he should start disguising himself when he went to the pub, given how much attention the barman apparently paid to everyone’s comings and goings.

Tonks pushed a mead over to Harry. “Have one so we don’t look like we just came in for questions. Put a drop of this in it.” She slipped him a tiny vial with skilled sleight of hand. Harry waited two sips before adding it, so it would look even less suspicious, not just because he thought he could use a drink with the prospect of eight hours of pub hopping with Tonks looming before him—especially Tonks in that outfit. He held his mug up before his mouth and peered down at her, suddenly wondering if she were teasing him intentionally. But no, she seemed utterly unaware of the effect her clothing had on anyone around her.

Harry sighed and set his mead down, less interested in drinking it now that its alcohol was neutralized. A nicely dressed woman Harry thought looked familiar from years ago at Hogwarts, but whose name he could not recall, sauntered slowly by, eyeing him before glancing at Tonks and then taking on a vaguely defeated air.

Tonks was scanning the room with a practiced eye. “Harry, do you recognize the man standing under the elk head by the wall?”

Harry did as he had been taught. He didn’t look over right away. He rubbed his eye, shifted his weight as though his legs were tired and used that as an excuse to turn his body enough to see. “No,” he said and then after a second glance said, “I take that back. He plays Beater for Falmouth. Not a nice bloke.” Harry recognized another Falcon with him. “The team captain is over there too.”

“Thanks,” Tonks said. “He looked familiar in a bad way and they have rather a compliment of brooding yet fawning companions.”

“Must have been in Slytherin,” Harry quipped, pleased that it made her laugh.

Tonks swirled her drink. “So, did Severus survive losing to Ginny at dueling?”

“You know, he seems to have, but it worries me in an odd way, as though he’s plotting something and that’s why he’s behaving so pleasantly about it.”

Tonks sipped her drink in silence. The crowd fell quiet as an exciting football play happened on the television. Finally she said, “I wouldn’t want to find out the hard way that Severus was plotting about me. Have you warned Ginny?”

“Huh?” Harry asked, looking back at her from the television hanging beside the door linking the two halves of the establishment. “No. She can take care of herself.”

“Against Severus?”

“Sure,” Harry answered absently as he watched a man trying hard to catch up to a long high kick before the whole play came to a stop with a groan as offsides was called. Harry observed, “The offsides rule seems intended to make certain that this game never gets very exciting.”

“You’re on duty, Harry.”

Harry drew his eyes away from the action and looked around. “Right. Sorry.”

“Let’s stand over there, see if we can overhear anything interesting.” Tonks led the way across the room, a few feet down from the mounted, glassy-eyed elk head.

They hung there in the crowd by the wall, chatting occasionally, but mostly listening as they pretended to drink. Tonks often had to stand close when people crossed the room and the crowd pressed in to make room. If someone had asked Harry whether he would have enjoyed pretending to be on a date with Tonks, he would have immediately answered yes. But standing there with their bodies brushing close when necessary, he was thinking that would have been mistaken. He moved to the side next time an opening appeared to do so, to give them more space.

“And who is this?” a voice nearby asked.

Harry turned and found himself facing Gregor, the Falmouth captain. The man’s flinty eyes went up and down his body and he said, “Didn’t know you were a poof, Potter.”

Harry, who didn’t feel quite himself in these clothes, still thought that a bit rich, but no responses seemed likely to keep him out of trouble. “What’s it to you?” he asked but as he did, Tonks had shifted in close, giving Gregor a sharp look.

“‘E’s got a bird,” One of the others said. “Or what certainly looks like a bird to me.”

Gregor turned to Tonks. “Wouldn’t you rather be with a real man, luv?” he asked her with thick insinuation.

Oh Merlin, Harry thought, let’s not start that. He rolled his eyes at Gregor mockingly.

A woman dressed all in demin who was hanging at the other edge of the group’s fringe said, “‘e’s goin’ to wipe the floor with you, Gregor.”

This immediately drew Gregor’s attention that way, where the woman’s unfortunate date looked to be pretending he wasn’t. “What did you say?”

“I’m only sayin’ it fer your own good.”

Harry wasn’t entirely displeased by the support, but it was only urging Gregor to higher levels of stupidity. He turned back to Tonks and him and said suavely, “Come on, luv. No one’s been disappointed by me yet. Got ‘em lining up.”

Harry was glad he hadn’t eaten yet this evening. But when Gregor added, “This bloke can’t even dress himself decently,” Harry gave Tonks a reinforcing look of see?

Tonks said innocently, “Go out with a man who can’t win a match without fixing the Bludgers?”

Gregor’s countenance shifted. His smile inverted and his eyes darkened. He even felt nasty at a level that unnerved Harry, who slipped his wand into his hand, which was easy since Tonks was right up against him, blocking the view. He waited for a signal though, reminding himself that he wasn’t in the lead here.

Gregor moved him into the lead by reaching for Tonks. Harry, without thought bodily moved into the way and the two of them ended up chest to chest with Harry’s wand jammed into Gregor’s solar plexus.

“Don’t be stupid,” Harry stated calmly. In truth, his heart was hammering away as though the episode was triggering some unexpected instinct in him.

“Gregor,” the man Harry recognized as the teammate, said, “drop it or you’ll be in front of the Wizengamot again a little too soon.”

“He should drop it,” Harry said “Or he’s going to end up in St. Mungo’s a little too soon.” Gregor and the other man started at that. Harry added, “Yes, that’s my wand.” and then more snarkily, “What did you think it was?”

A flash pan went off then, startling everyone.

“Well, well,” a familiar voice said. “What do we have here?” Skeeter wove her way through the crowd with expert ease.

Harry turned aside with an oath, which garnered a darkly amused glance from Gregor. The rest of the group faded and Harry realized that Tonks was gone. He didn’t glance around for her, realizing just in time that he shouldn’t.

Skeeter came right up to Harry. “Getting into a little tussle here, Harry?” she asked.

“No,” Harry replied, “just having a friendly little discussion about proposed changes in the Quidditch rules for this season.” Harry glanced at Gregor’s intent expression and added, “Rules that this man’s team necessitated, I believe.”

Skeeter leaned in. “You’re getting better at this, Harry . . . takes all the fun out of it. Perhaps I should have waited just thirty seconds more, but the two of you did look so darling, facing off like a pair of bucks in the springtime.”

“Please don’t talk like you write,” Harry falsely pleaded in disgust.

Skeeter had turned to Gregor, but she turned back, long fingers pressed into her chest as though insulted. “My column is the most read section of the Prophet, I’ll have you know. I can make or break many, many people, as Gregor here is well aware. Just because you are out of reach, now, Mr. Potter, doesn’t mean you will be forever. Do keep that in mind.”

She pointedly turned her back on Harry and began interviewing Gregor about what had been happening, the incident, as she began referring to it. Harry slipped out of the crowd and found Tonks, now dressed as a boarding school Muggle, complete with knee length pleated skirt and blue woolen crested jacket.

“Let’s go,” she whispered and they slipped easily out the back, while everyone was watching the interview.

“Sorry about that,” Harry said, trying not to think of what tomorrow’s paper was going to say.

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Tonks said, “except block my aim for a capping, which I was looking forward to, but that I’d’ve had to answer for.”

“What were you going to hit him with?” Harry asked, curious what might have worked in that close crowd.

“I was prepping a Boltage; it can be explained away as a Taser if there are Muggles about.”

They exited the back alley and walked a while through the cool night air. “There’s another pub I’d like to stop at,” Tonks said after a while.

“All right,” Harry said, trying not to sigh.

The second place had far fewer magical people in it and they were all clustered in the back where the hearth was burning to counteract the open door to the small courtyard. Laughter poured in from outside where the patrons had apparently been imbibing for a while.

They took a small table and Tonks surreptitiously touched her ear with her wand and sat in silence, looking at Harry, but listening in to the conversations beside them. Whenever loud laughter would start up, she would have to cover her ear with a wince. Harry, for his part, grew irked that his drinks all had the kick removed from them. He didn’t serve much purpose on this shadowing, really, and he had far too much time for his mind to wander where it shouldn’t.

As a distraction he watched the couples at the bar; the closest ones were literally hanging on one another. But a man in a far booth was sitting alone, brooding, and Harry realized that at this distance, he couldn’t tell if the man were magical or not. Of all the people in the room, he certainly seemed the most suspicious, although he may simply have had a bad day rather than be sitting there plotting. Harry thought that if the man looked up at him that Harry might try a little Legilimency on him.

Before he could, his attention was pulled back to his companion when she asked, “Ready for your one-year review?” in an ordinary, friendly, concerned voice, as though she had dropped the official, on-duty one all of a sudden.

“I think so,” Harry replied.

“While you were young, I kept thinking you’d get to skip it, despite everyone’s joking about bringing you in to see how you’d do anyway.” She peered at him and said, “You look much older now in comparison.”

Harry swallowed—nervous about what a nine-year-old version of himself might have said to her—and changed the subject. “Do I get Moody again?”

“It’s supposed to be random who you get,” Tonks pointed out. “But in your case, Moody insists.”

“I imagine he does,” Harry commented.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Tonks asked.

“Nothing,” Harry quickly said.

“You know something I don’t know?” she asked.

“Yes,” Harry replied, unable to lie.

She eyed Harry thoughtfully as she drank down half of her glass of ale in one go. “I thought he was up to something. Whose dirty work is he doing? Not Arthur’s.”

“I’m not supposed to know. You’ll have to guess . . . which isn’t particularly hard.” This topic was a good one, Harry thought. It was focusing his mind nicely off of her close proximity.

“Yeah, I can guess.” She frowned. “I hate it when they lose faith in you. They should know better by now.” She stated this with touching vehemence, reminding Harry about the prophecy. She hadn’t been mentioned by Mr. Weasley as one of the people who had been told. Harry felt inclined to simply tell her, but he wasn’t supposed to. This conundrum set his loyalties against one another which he deeply disliked.

The pub’s closing forced them back onto the street and Tonks said, “Let’s go to a wizard pub, then. I’m still hoping to run into some people.”

It had rained while they were inside and the roads were now black and quiet except that their footsteps slapped loudly now. Around the corner when they were alone, Tonks stopped and faced Harry, who was growing weary of the long night already.

“I get the sense this duty is getting to you,” she said.

Harry shook himself more alert and said, “It’s all right.”

“You just seemed bothered by pretending to be on a date.”

Harry dropped his gaze to his big black shoes. “I am a little,” he admitted because he desperately wanted to admit it.

“Sorry. Do you want to only shadow Kingsley or Tristan from now on?”

“No,” Harry answered immediately, not allowing himself to think about it. “I . . .” but he didn’t know what to say. He wasn’t exactly hiding his discomfort, but he hadn’t really wanted her to notice, or had he? “Let’s just go to this other place.”

She gave him a sad smile and with one glance back to see that he was certain of his answer, led the way.

Next: Chapter 22 -- Dueling Loyalties

Mr. Weasley said, "A phoenix-core wand leaves a distinctive feather pattern in the ash of the fire it starts. You might even see it in the carbon black in the wax of a candle you lit. Never noticed it, eh?"

Harry shook his head.

Mr. Weasley appeared disappointed.

Author Notes

I made up an eye color for Lupin. I was desperate.

Firing up the boiler on the angst train next chapter. Whoo whooooo! All aboard...

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