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Chapter 28 — Battling Chaos

The instant Harry arrived in the wooded darkness, Snape took flight again, holding Candide. Harry had to kick Ron’s broom into its fastest speed to catch up. The unlit hills appeared flat and dangerous, as though one could crash into them without warning. The tiny square lights of the castle slid into view, floating disembodied against the mountains beyond. Harry followed when Snape spiraled down to land on a square of flat roof beside the hospital wing where a stone railing provided a safe landing place. A door led into the adjoining tower.

Harry followed down the half-flight of stairs and to the door to the hospital wing, surprised when Snape told him to stay outside in the corridor. Snape was only gone a minute before returning. “Candide all right?” Harry asked.

“She’ll be fine.” Snape trailed off and seemed to change course. “Thank you for seeing to her.”

“Sure,” Harry said distractedly, mind circling off onto other worries, such as what had happened to Tonks.

Snape pressed his fingers around Harry’s arm and steered him to the nearest tall window and its low ledge. “Sit.”

Harry glanced behind him in the dim corridor. “Severus, I really have to go.”

“Sit,” Snape repeated.

Harry gave in. There were too many things he wished were changed right now to fight too long over this small one.

“Look up at me,” Snape said. Harry did so. With a broad wave of his arm, Snape spelled the lamps in the corridor up higher. He said, “You have been rubbing your scar rather a lot of late.”

Harry did so just then, but stopped immediately. “It itches.”

“Just itches?” Snape repeated dubiously. His robes rustled as he put his wand away and propped a hand on his hip.

“Yeah, why?”

Snape hesitated, frowning, before saying, “This other personality you have been exhibiting. I am beginning to believe it is the Dark Lord’s.”

Harry’s face scrunched up in disbelief. “What? Severus, he’s dead.” After a pause, Harry’s eyes narrowed and more mockingly he said, “What, now you aren’t saying his name?”

Snape tipped his head away. “The reason the Aurors went to Azkaban this evening was to investigate reports that the Death Eater’s marks were darkening.”

Harry stared at him. Snape appeared frazzled, but completely, soberly serious. “What about yours?” Harry asked.

Snape shifted his sleeve and held his arm out. “But I do not believe mine is functional.”

Harry lifted his gaze from examining Snape’s forearm and pushed his shoulders back. “That’s good.” He then favored Snape with a relatively soft look. Still grabbing at denying hope, Harry said, “The prophecy didn’t mention Voldemort. My earlier prophecies all did. If he’s really back, why didn’t it?” Harry rubbed his hair back and forth. The edge of the stone was cutting into his legs, so he shifted forward. “Severus,” he nearly pleaded, “I would know.

“I believe you do know,” Snape stated. “It was you who hypothesized that it was he who attacked the Dursley house.”

Harry stared at the frayed and faded tapestry hanging across from him. “I wasn’t really serious, I don’t think. And Voldemort wouldn’t have left anyone alive.” That reasoning bolstered Harry.

“I cannot explain that part; I admit,” Snape said. “But your odd personality shifts become understandable if you are again tapping into the Dark Lord’s thoughts.”

Harry stared at the threads composing the tapestry’s weave. The greens of the trees were washed out but the reds were still dark. The figures in the image were all stilted, individual, separate. “I have been feeling sort of odd,” Harry admitted. “But . . .” Thinking over the last few weeks’ events, he asked, “Did Tom Riddle ever work for Borgin & Burkes?”

Snape’s robes fluttered as he changed his posture suddenly. “Yes.”

“Right,” Harry said, thinking that answer unfortunate.

“Why do you ask?”

Harry thought over his dream of the shop’s vault. “Just wondering . . . er, did Voldemort have a watch he liked?”

Snape seemed to think this a rather odd question, but he answered with a shrug. “He had one, yes.”

Harry blinked into the lamplight. “I wonder where his wand is.” He was feeling a rush of determination now, thinking that he should go track down Voldemort’s wand. Without meaning to, he had stood up. “Voldemort’s wand would have left the feather pattern in the ash at the Dursley’s old house.”

Snape’s voice dropped as he replied, “It would, indeed.”

Harry rubbed his hands together. “How can he be back though? And why is he so clumsy at everything?”

Snape crossed his arms and stepped around to face Harry. It was a subtly aggressive move, but Harry made himself not care. Snape stated, “If he released all of his followers from Azkaban, destroying it in the process, that would hardly constitute clumsiness.”

Thinking of the footprints—the odd footprints in the old Borgin & Burkes vault—Harry said, “Maybe he just doesn’t care if he leaves a trail.”

“That would be more plausible,” Snape agreed.

Harry turned to look down the corridor, thinking of routes to London. Snape took hold of his upper arm to draw him back. “I do not like letting you go if you have the Dark Lord influencing your thoughts.”

“His name is Voldemort,” Harry pointed out.

“Is?”

Harry looked away again, pained. “I killed him; he’s gone.”

Snape released him slowly. “He was very powerful, Harry . . . and disturbingly clever.”

“You don’t understand, though. I was released from him.” Harry gestured with his arms, wanting to be understood, to convince Snape that he must be mistaken. “That day down in the Entrance Hall, I was released. I had never felt like that before—completely myself.”

“And now?”

Harry’s shoulders drooped. “I don’t feel like myself anymore.” His eyes burned with frustration upon admitting that. “What’d that bloody prophecy say again?” Harry stiffened as he recounted the prophecy in his mind. “Hello . . . ‘Dark Hordes will be liberated’ . . . Severus, the prisoners of Azkaban ARE the dark hordes!”

“You sound . . . pleased about that,” Snape accused.

“Well . . . I mean, it’s not a good thing, at all, but . . . I didn’t release them. It wasn’t me. I thought it was going to be my fault, but it’s not. ‘Few will escape it’. Well, given the number of prisoners now running rampant, that seems likely.” They looked at each other a long moment. “I really have to go, Severus. I think the Auror’s office may actually give me something useful to do for once. Especially with . . .” He faded out, hurting horribly. He twisted the pain around and forced it to become determination. He looked Ron’s broom up and down as though judging its ability to speed him to the Ministry or at least beyond the school’s Apparition barrier.

Snape moved his hand to Harry’s shoulder. “I am sorry, Harry.”

These words only made the twisting agony worse. Harry pulled out of reach.

“Do be careful,” Snape said with quiet calm, as though trying to calm Harry.

“I will,” Harry said and strode back to the door behind the tapestry that led to the roof; a door that was not on his map. Before entering the dark stairwell again, he lifted the tapestry out of the way and peered back out at his guardian. “You be careful too,” he said with feeling, thinking that as angry as he had been with the man who had set in motion the events that had killed his parents, Harry still wished for him to be around.

Snape nodded and, after the tapestry swung back to hang straight, stepped back into the hospital wing and down to the last bed on the left where curtains had been set up to surround it. The two students in the wing appeared to have fallen back to sleep. Pomfrey was just finishing up when Snape quietly pulled a chair over beside the bed. The hospital witch tugged the covers up and poured out a half glass of calming draught, which Candide drank too eagerly.

Snape said, “I did warn you that you may be safer elsewhere.”

Candide gave him a look of vague disdain before resting her head back. “You did,” she said a little coldly, and Snape thought perhaps he had taken the wrong tack. He sighed, wishing Pomfrey would retreat out of earshot.

“She’ll be tip-top tomorrow, Professor,” Pomfrey said while finally lifting the tray of unraveled and bloodied bandages, bottles, and tools. Moments later she had disappeared into her office.

It required half a minute for Snape to find his way through his myriad troubling thoughts to say. “I am very grateful that you are all right.”

“Yeah,” she said lightly, “Harry would have been devastated if anything more serious had happened to someone he thought he was keeping an eye on.”

“I wasn’t thinking of that,” Snape said a little smartly. “But you are correct,” he conceded.

Candide relented, saying even more quietly, “Poor boy is probably still trying to rescue his mother.”

“I do hope he is past that,” Snape retorted. A long silent minute ticked by. Snape stood, straightening his chair with undo care. “I must assist in guarding the castle. We can speak about this more in the morning.”

“Be careful, Severus.”

“Yes,” he agreed, thinking that her existence in his life made things several times more complicated, although he found he could not bring himself to wish that trouble away. Surely if Arthur and Molly Weasley had coped all of these years, he certainly could.

- 888 -


Harry Apparated to Shrewsthorpe first, just to look things over. The last of the firemen were loading their equipment into the many cupboards lining the sides of their truck. With a hiss of the brakes the truck roared away and the street fell silent except for the trickling of puddles of water draining across the road onto the ground. A few neighbors gathered their families together and faded into the surroundings, except for one woman who stepped gingerly across the wet road.

“Harry, dear,” Elizabeth’s mother greeted him. She wore a grey robe and had her arms crossed around middle as though injured, but Harry assumed it was simply distress. “My husband didn’t want me coming down to look at what was happening until he was certain one of those awful marks wasn’t hovering over the place. I tried to explain to him that those days were long over . . .”

“Er,” Harry began. “They might not be,” he admitted quietly. “Azkaban’s been emptied and there were no shortage of Death Eaters here this evening.”

Her shiny eyes gaped at him, reflecting the distant street lights. His assertion appeared to have put her in a state of shock. “Oh,” she finally said, and Harry could sense her shift in attitude to one probably more in line with her husband’s, one that shunned magic due to the trouble it brought. She glanced up and down the street nervously. “Well, I best get back,” she said uneasily.

“Yeah,” Harry said, and watched her shuffle off, clearly wearing shoes too large for her; although perhaps not her husband’s, probably her daughter’s.

Someone called to Harry; it was Ron. He was carrying Hedwig’s cage with the owl in it. “Found her circling,” he explained. The bird put her foot up around the wires and chewed a bit as though to get to Harry.

“Thanks. Did you find Kali?”

“Yup, Fred took her to Hermione’s flat. Your house-elf refuses to leave. Maybe you can convince her to go back to Hogwarts.”

“She’s not bonded to me, so she may not listen.” Harry looked the dark bulk of the house over. It was still a house; although it had a blackened hole in the corner of the roof and many of the windows were broken. And there was the little issue of the very large hole in the front that Harry had escaped through. But surprisingly, it still resembled a house. The stone walls were untouched beyond Harry’s own damage and they never had stood quite straight. The scent of wet charred wood was a tad pervasive, arguing that things would require work to return them to normal.

“I’m going to take a look inside . . . make sure Winky is set.”

Harry used a spell to unlock the padlock that had been added to a board nailed across the door, which had been axed out of service otherwise. Inside, water covered the stone floor of the entryway, but the wood floor of the hall looked dryer and a faint swishing noise drew Harry inside all the way to where Winky stood, mopping.

“Master,” she squeaked in greeting.

“Are you going to be all right here?” Harry asked. He circled the hall looking into each of the rooms. The breeze blew in through the broken windows, lightening the scent of wet fire. The ceiling was scorched most in the library, where the shelves and the paper had provided good fuel. But someone had already taken away the undamaged books. This heartened Harry more than he would have expected it to.

“Winky wishes to do her duty,” Winky said, wringing out the mop into a wooden bucket.

Harry passed the steps down to the kitchen, which appeared undamaged, making him assume the foodstuffs were also undamaged, leaving Winky with supplies for a while. Harry looked around the broad boards making up the floor. If they dried quickly, perhaps the floor could be salvaged. Harry looked up. He could see the low clouds through the hole in the roof that ran up from where the balcony had burned, giving the fire a path up to the thick beam in the corner, which had suffered greatly. The place was damp and cold and smelt even more than usual of a hearth, but it was still standing. And Harry needed to hunt down the people who had done this.

Determination heated Harry’s midsection. “If you need anything, go to Hogwarts,” Harry said to Winky.

Winky may have nodded, or perhaps her head had just happened to bob more right then as she worked the long mop handle back and forth.

Outside, one of the twins had returned and was chatting with Ron.

“How are ya’, Harry?” he asked.

“All right, I guess. I need to get to the Ministry, though.”

“Come along with us then. Bringing you is a great excuse to go back.” He winked at Ron. “Use our Quidditch pitch as a destination and we’ll pick up George too. We’ve put a nasty barrier around the house itself.”

Harry took Ron’s arm and Apparated them both to the field beside the Burrow, which showed like an abstract beacon in the darkness. As they approached, a figure came out and shouted something that sounded like “goat-herder.” Fred shouted “sheep’s milk” back and the figure raced over.

“Want to help us escort Harry back to the Ministry?” Fred suggestively asked his twin.

George’s grin was visible even in the low light. “‘Course. Charlie’s arrived so Bill’s gone back to Gringott’s for a few hours. Goblins threatened to fire the two o’ you if you didn’t show up for emergency duty.” This last he said to Ron.

Ron appeared grim. “One of us should stay and help guard the Burrow.”

“You stay, Ron,” Fred said. “We’ll go with Harry. As annoyed as Dad was with us two insisting on helping, he seemed most concerned about you.”

“Yeah,” Ron huffed. “Seems to think you two could trick your way out of anything, but Little Ronnie doesn’t have a chance.” He gave Harry a half-hug, patting him hard on the back. “Come back when you get a chance. And message if you need any help.” The last came out with an un-Ron-like insistence.

Fred grabbed a broomstick from the shed and hovered it. Numb and almost uncaring, given the heart-emptying news he faced upon arrival, Harry followed reluctantly when the twins launched themselves.

Too soon, they were coming down in an alleyway near the telephone booth entrance. A crowd surrounded the booth, jostling and arguing. Fred leaned close and said, “The very far corner of the atrium was left outside the Apparition barrier. I’ll see if it’s clear.” He disappeared with a pop that drew heads from the crowd. Harry turned his head away, not wanting to be recognized.

“It’s clear,” George said.

“How do you know?” Harry asked.

“He didn’t come back. ‘Count to five’ is the family rule.” George disappeared and Harry followed.

Wands were aimed at them. Harry elbowed George aside and said, “It’s Harry Potter and company.” The wands lowered.

“He with you?” A burly man Harry didn’t recognize asked as he held Fred down under his boot.

“Yes.”

Fred was allowed to get up. “That’s a dumb rule,” Harry muttered.

“It’s always worked before,” George argued back.

Harry strode to the counter beside the gates and after some arguing they were through. The corridors were darkened for night and normally would be deserted, but tonight they were bustling. The three of them took the lift to two. In the Auror’s office it was busy but somber. Shacklebolt stood up as they entered. His right arm was bandaged and his face was scraped extensively on one side.

“Good to see you, Harry,” he said. “I see you have your own guards,” he added with a touch of lightness.

Beside Harry the twins shifted. “Where’s Dad?” George asked.

“In a meeting,” Shacklebolt replied.

“Who is missing?” Harry asked, not breaking the gaze he had locked on Shacklebolt’s deep brown one.

The twins shifted much more this time. Shacklebolt said, “I saw Mad-Eye go into the drink myself. So he’s listed as dead.” In his eyes Harry could see a storm-battered slab of wet rock where clutching sweeps of water, curling with angry foam, sucked the old Auror away, out of reach of tossed lifeline spells, out of reach of the light of a paltry Lumos charm. Shacklebolt went on. “Before that, Whitley and Tonks had gone up, but not reported in.”

Blackpool, hearing this conversation, came around from one of the farther desks. She appeared to have been crying. “Good to see you’re all right, Potter,” she said.

Harry nodded, dropping his gaze before letting it wander over the desk nearby where a stray hot pink scarf, stuffed into the corner where the desk met the cubicle wall, reminded Harry too forcefully of its former occupant. More people entered, another one with a sniffle. Kerry Ann gave Harry a hug before taking Tonks’ chair beside the door. Munz took the spare chair that usually floated between the three desks in this section. He dropped into it hard and rubbed his shoulder.

“No luck?” Shacklebolt asked.

“We got Vammerpile,” Munz said. “He was at home, smoking a pipe as though he didn’t imagine we’d bother looking for him. No sign . . . of Avery, though.” He glanced at Harry before finishing this sentence. “ Rogan took off to help Reversal in Regent’s Park. Said to tell you.”

“Can I get an assignment?” Harry asked, trying not to sound as though he were demanding one. He wanted to ask about Voldemort’s wand, but figured that he should ask Mr. Weasley.

Shacklebolt glanced at the log, which was busy scratching away without pause. “Arthur will be back presently. When he is, we can all go out as far as I’m concerned.” He gestured with his healthy arm as though not used to using it. “Pick an assignment, but make it an easy one if you really want it.” To Munz, he said, “Why don’t you take the alarm at the Apothecary’s. Came in just twenty minutes ago.” When Kerry Ann stood too, Shacklebolt said, “You can stay. You’re probably going out with Harry.”

Munz went from relaxing to rushing out without hesitation. Kerry Ann retook her seat. Fred said, “So what about us?”

Shacklebolt shrugged, but he looked stubborn, as though ready to deny them another assignment.

Harry looked over the logbook where the recording quill was filling in next Sunday’s pages already it was using so much space. The day names had been X-ed out violently enough that the nib had torn the parchment. “Do we have a list of who was in Azkaban?” Harry asked. Shacklebolt held out a scroll. A few names had already been marked off.

“Cross off Vammerpile too, will you please?” Shacklebolt said.

Harry borrowed a quill from Tonks’ desk drawer and did so. The list was dauntingly long. “How many?”

“Two-hundred and sixty-four,” Shacklebolt recited.

George whistled. Fred said, “We can take on a lot of them easily, you know. Some of those blokes who have been in the klink since the Dementor era can’t have much left of their own will.”

“That’s how Vammerpile was,” Kerry Ann said, dabbing her nose with a kerchief. “Didn’t have any sense of what to do with himself.” Blackpool sniffled too, inspired by seeing Kerry Ann do so.

“Half of them we aren’t terribly worried about,” Shacklebolt said stiffly. “And a quarter will probably flee the country, which makes them someone else’s problem, and at the moment, I’m not feeling too bad about that. Later I will, when it is possible to have the luxury. It’s the last quarter that we have to get. They’re marked with a star.”

Harry was scrolling backwards through the alphabetic list. His thumb stopped of its own accord on Rothschild. “I want this assignment,” Harry said.

Shacklebolt squinted at the name. “Take one off the log instead. We haven’t starred his because he isn’t dangerous without the assistance of magical devices.”

“Neither is Merton,” Harry retorted.

“Unlike Merton, we don’t expect Rothschild to have access to anything in the near future. His family, when notified of his escape, expressed strong assurances that they would not assist him”

Harry lowered the long parchment and turned to the log, waiting for the pen to pause before flipping back to the oldest of the unchecked notices. Break-ins, threats, fights, and reported sightings filled the lines. After the first page, the pen had begun writing smaller, so Harry had to lean closer to read it.

The pen jabbed at Harry’s hand to get him to let go of the pages. The book flipped forward and the quill began scratching out a disturbance on a Muggle road in London: Intercepted Muggle wireless report regarding strange fireworks erupting from the top of the Barbican Centre. Police are closing the roads and attempting to do crowd control . . . Harry read aloud as the pen scratched.

“Go on, the lot of you,” Shacklebolt said.

“Us too?” George asked eagerly.

With a wave of his bandaged arm, Shacklebolt said sharply, “All of you. You know an Oblivate, right?” he asked, looking between the twins.

“Yeah,” Fred replied as though reluctant to.

“Good,” Shacklebolt said, sitting back down with care. “You’re going to need it; Reversal is all tied up already but I’ll send them a message saying they are needed if anyone frees up.”

The four of them took up their brooms and Disapparated to the darkened Smithfield Market, which Harry and Kerry Ann were familiar with from field work. They strode to the doors with purpose, pausing only to dispense with the locks. Harry felt good, felt as though he were paying tribute to Tonks the only way he could . . . by putting everything out of the way and doing his job.

Out on the street, a car was burning as were the trees in the center of the roundabout. People were running in both directions but mostly away from the tallest building in the area, where lights and explosions were emanating. Harry grabbed one of the twins by the sleeve. “Approach on foot and Oblivate anyone who seems to have seen too much. Kerry Ann and I will fly up to the tower and take care of whoever is there.

When they arrived at the tower, they found not former prisoners of Azkaban, but instead drunken wizards taking advantage of the chaos to create more. Bound and with the more obnoxious of the two literally gagged, they Disapparated back to the market just before the Muggle police broke through the metal rooftop door. Harry watched over the prisoners while Kerry Ann went out into the mêlée to find the twins.

One of the wizards lying on the floor was laughing in an inebriated manner. “You really Harry Potter?”

Harry thought the man looked familiar but he couldn’t place him. He was probably an older brother of someone Harry had known at Hogwarts. “You really so stupid?” Harry returned rudely. He was in no mood for putting up with him. The wizard shut up and shifted on the floor as though to relieve the strain on his arms. Harry stared into the still darkness of the shuttered market. Squares of grey light came in the sparse windows, which also let in flashes of Muggle emergency lights. As time passed, Harry began thinking how very vulnerable the two prisoners at his feet were. He could do anything to them, and they would probably deserve it for making more trouble on top of the loads of it already happening.

Harry fingered his wand. He swallowed, feeling hungry for the feel of a Crucio, which he had never successfully cast in his life. Despite that, he could taste it in his mouth as though it were a familiar and expected reward. His mouth watered even and his heart rate picked up. It would feel good to torment these two, to make their screams join those of the passing sirens.

Harry shook himself. That wasn’t him; it was someone else. But Harry was hurting badly enough that he had a hard time caring that these alien thoughts were so black. It would be nice to make someone else hurt as badly as he did. He used his toe to shove the closest wizard onto his back. The man looked as though he had passed out. Harry was just imagining an amusingly jolting wake-up for him when Kerry Ann and the twins reappeared with a bang! of the market doors hitting the inside wall.

The twins took charge of the prisoners; seemed very pleased to do so. Harry was grateful they did, he was shaking too badly to hold his wand without dropping it. He had been mere seconds from striking out with a Forbidden Curse.

Back at the Ministry, Harry desperately fought to get a hold of himself and just managed to by the time they dropped the prisoners in the dungeon. The regular cells for those awaiting trial were filled, so the cellars and even Courtroom Ten had been converted into holding areas.

Back on their floor, they dropped into chairs in the tea room when Arthur insisted that Harry clearly looked in need of some. Harry clutched his teacup before him, letting it burn his fingers and palms. The pain of the heat and his willingness to accept it did wonders for clearing his head. He breathed slowly in and out while the others recounted what had happened for the record. Harry listened to his own breathing more than the story. He was reliving that hungry moment in the market in his own mind with no little alarm. He could clearly remember yearning for the soul cutting feel of a Forbidden Curse, as though he had wanted the tendrils from the Dark Plane to come. Harry imagined that this might complete a circuit of power within him. He would be undefeatable, he considered, if he let the darkness have him as a conduit.

Commotion in the corridor cut their report short. Vineet, Aaron, and Rogan were returning from an assignment in a celebratory mood. “Five at once,” Rogan announced, scooping up the list and slashing the names off with a flourish. He sobered quickly upon scanning the remaining list.

Aaron leaned against the wall, rubbing his neck as though he had pulled a muscle. Vineet stood quietly beside him, patient as always.

Mr. Weasley said, “Don’t relax anyone; it’s right back out with you.” He looked over a note parchment and the logbook, back and forth. “Harry you and Aaron take this one. Vishnu, you are taking a break; you are not supposed to be out at all. You can help me field memos.” He tore off a strip of the parchment and handed it to Aaron. “Tristan, you take my sons with you on this one. . .”

Harry collected Aaron with a glance, wishing he were with Vineet instead, whose presence in the past had seemed to anchor him. In the corridor, he stopped. “I need to ask Mr. Weasley something,” Harry told his fellow. Back inside the offices, Harry slowly approached, stalling. The others were departing on their mission, leaving Harry, Vineet, and Shacklebolt along with Harry’s boss. “Can I speak to you, sir?”

Mr. Weasley appeared surprised to still find Harry there. “Sure, Harry what is it?”

Harry hesitated, but then asked, “What happened to Voldemort’s wand after the Final Battle?”

In the doorway, Aaron dropped his wand and quickly bent to pick it up. Mr. Weasley did not look up from the prisoner list. He said, “It was put in the safekeeping of the Department of Mysteries.”

“And is it still there?” Harry asked.

A long pause opened up, during which no one in the room moved and perhaps they did not even breathe. “No,” Mr. Weasley responded. “It apparently has gone missing.” He spoke as though this ground had been covered in some capacity already.

“Missing . . .” Harry confirmed, trying not to sound mocking. “Is anything else . . . missing?

Mr. Weasley looked up finally, though only at the wall. “That’s a very good question, Harry. I think I’ll go ask.”

As Mr. Weasley stepped around him, Harry closed his eyes, trying to take in the facts that were lining up relentlessly around him. “He can’t be back,” Harry muttered.

“You would know, Harry,” Shacklebolt said quietly.

Harry dropped his head and closed his eyes again. His thoughts lately were clearly not all his own and minutes before he had been ready to use a Crucio on a helpless person. “Then I think he’s back,” Harry whispered and jumped when Shacklebolt’s uninjured hand banged flat against his desktop.

“Harry,” the Auror said sternly. “Why didn’t you say something? We would believe you.”

“I’m not certain, even now. But something IS wrong.” Harry was pleading, which made Shacklebolt back down and drop whatever he was winding up to say next. “Go on with your assignment,” the Auror said tiredly.

The call was for the Leaky Cauldron itself. When they arrived, it was exceedingly quiet. Harry tugged Aaron aside and said, “Look, I have to warn you. I’m not quite myself.”

Aaron turned to him from glancing around the deserted pub, wand out. “And?”

Harry lowered his voice even farther. “I may be partially Voldemort right now.” Harry hated to say that, but not saying it felt even worse. He released Aaron’s sleeve which he hadn’t realized he was clutching.

Aaron tugged his pastel purple silk sleeve down straight. “Thanks for the warning,” he responded uncertainly.

“What I mean is . . . if you see me doing something that . . . well, maybe I shouldn’t be, don’t assume I know what’s best,” Harry managed.

“If you are assigning me as your moral compass,” Aaron said, “you are really in trouble.”

“I am really in trouble,” Harry echoed, although he felt enormously relieved at having informed his fellow of the situation. They stared at each other while the strange stillness of the wizard pub grew increasingly oppressive. Harry confessed, “On the last assignment I nearly tortured the perpetrators before we brought them back.”

“These the hooligans who were setting off spells over Smithfield?” When Harry nodded, Aaron said, “See, I might not see a problem with knocking them around a bit before bringing them in.”

“Please, Aaron.”

“Yeah, all right. I’ll try to think like you and if you seem to not be thinking like you . . . well, I’ll let you know.”

“Thank you,” Harry said sincerely, enormously relieved.

They both turned and faced the empty pub. Chairs had been overturned and one table as well. No one was around.

“So if you have Voldemort partly in your head and you think he’s back, where is he right now?”

Harry hesitated. “I don’t know.” The sound of ale dripping from a pool of it on a table onto the floor marked the seconds before Harry added, “I don’t want to believe he’s back, so I haven’t tried to figure that out.”

“Works for me,” Aaron quipped. He then sighed and glanced around, wand lowered. “What the devil was this call about?”

They searched the room and found no one before going upstairs to search the guest rooms. In the last room on the end they found a little old witch who hadn’t wanted to leave. She seemed pleased to see them, repeatedly calling them “sweet young boys”. She told them that some bad wizards and witches had come and had robbed everyone in the place before sending everyone off. Apparently no one had come back.

“Not as dire as expected,” Harry said. Aaron took out a notepad and wrote down the descriptions the old woman gave. Even taking into account her poor eyesight, Harry didn’t think it was any of the Death Eaters. While Aaron and the old witch chatted and Aaron, with surprising skill, worked additional clues from the woman’s faltering memory, Harry closed his eyes and let himself drift. There were Death Eaters nearby all right. Not in the pub, but probably on Diagon Alley. A few scattered others were in the mid-field as though in the city. Most hovered at the periphery. Harry wondered exactly how many there were in total. There were too many in his head to count. Nineteen had survived the battle at Hogwarts, and two more had been arrested at Harry’s house shortly thereafter. And then there were Jugson and Avery as well. But some number had been incarcerated from before; the ones who hadn’t argued their way out after Voldemort’s first apparent downfall.

Aaron was standing up. He patted Harry on the shoulder. “Almost time for breakfast,” he said chummily. “I say we raid the kitchen downstairs.”

Harry thought his fellow had been joking, but down in the main room Aaron slipped behind the bar and searched around in the charmed cold-boxes under the beer taps. He pulled out four hard-boiled eggs and salt and pepper and set this all up with a questionably clean plate as though it were his place.

Harry cracked an egg and began peeling it as his stomach rumbled. “How are we ever going to catch all of these blokes?” he asked.

“It’s only been one night, Harry,” Aaron pointed out. “Most of them are pretty dim, it seems.”

“If they were really smart, they wouldn’t have got caught at all.” Harry bit into the egg after rubbing it in the salt sprinkled on the plate. The egg was cold and rubbery but tasty in his hungered state. “We were supposed to have our official ceremony to become second-years this week,” he said, thinking how disruptive this all was. “But they seem willing to send us out anyway, which is good.”

“They are treating Munz like a full Auror too,” Aaron observed.

“Too bad he isn’t here.” Harry closed his eyes again to verify that the shadows had not moved. “There are a couple of Death Eaters on Diagon Alley; I can feel them.”

Aaron dropped the egg he was peeling and looked behind him as though afraid he had been snuck up on. “Want to go get them when we are through here?” he asked sarcastically picking his egg up off the sticky bar and blowing on it.

“I think probably we should have a full Auror with us. We can come back with one.” This statement went against Harry’s basic instinct for action and he almost wondered if Voldemort weren’t somehow influencing him to delay.

“Eat up, then,” Aaron said, popping his second egg into his mouth after using a peeling spell on it. As he chewed he put everything away.

Harry pocketed his second egg and the two of them returned to the Ministry.

- 888 -


Morning sun generously poured in the tall windows, warming the Hogwarts hospital wing. Snape stepped down to where Candide was sitting up, eating breakfast. Aware that he had not done well the night before, and acutely aware of what he needed to say, Snape took her fork away and held her hand before speaking. This did indeed get her attention.

“You are looking well,” he said.

“I’m feeling fine.”

He stroked the dry warmth of her hand. “You must go away from here. Somewhere remote and Muggle.” Snape jerked his head to the side. “Do not think of it now. Pick a different place,” he snapped. “I want you to go and you must not return until I send for you.”

She didn’t speak, just pushed her floating breakfast tray to the side a little roughly.

Snape said, “I cannot let this touch you. This is my past rearing up and I do not want it to involve you.” She started to speak, to say something that sounded like denial, but he cut her off. “Every last one of my living enemies is free right now. Most, if not all, will be seeking revenge, as you have discovered. I don’t intend to let them succeed. If you were untouched before, you can manage it again. You are good in the Muggle world. Go far from here, today, this morning, and disappear into it.”

She kept her head bowed and shook it lightly.

Snape went on in a confessional tone, “I can get through this if I know you are safe. Do this for me.” He stood without looking right at her. She frowned but didn’t argue or shake her head again. After a hesitation he bent and kissed her on the top of the head and then departed.

In the Great Hall, McGonagall was calming the students who had risen early and had gathered there. “It is as the Prefects told you this morning, we are facing a calamitous event in the Wizarding World.” She spied Snape and shook off the students to lead him behind the head table. “The Hogwarts Express has been moved up to Wednesday from Friday.”

“The students are safer here,” Snape argued.

“I know that, and you know that, but all the parents remember is that this is the place the Death Eaters attacked in mass numbers last time. They want their loved ones close where they can keep an eye on them, personally, even if that eye is not nearly as trained in Defense as the staff here at Hogwarts.”

Suze and some other fourth- and fifth-year Slytherins were hovering before the head table and when they caught the pair’s attention, one asked, “Professor, what about our O.W.L.s?”

McGonagall answered, “We have scheduled the written in place of some of your yearly examinations for tomorrow. The practical examinations will have to wait until a later time, or they will simply be waived if it is not possible to administer them.” Several of the students appeared gleeful about this, but the rest frowned. McGonagall said, “I will make a formal announcement during breakfast. Go to your table.”

The students moved off. The teachers stood, watching the Hall fill. McGonagall said, “I would keep them all here, like Ms. Weasley, for an extra month if I could. Protect them all . . . why not?”

Snape didn’t reply. He was thinking that he would even sooner than expected be free to assist in protecting Harry full time.

McGonagall put her hand on her chair back and leaned hard upon it. “Difficult to imagine all of Azkaban emptied.” She shook her head. “If ever there was a time I appreciated having you as a Deputy it is now.”

Dryly, Snape said, “I hope I can live up to that. I expect that I am quite an added risk.”

“Given how you organized things last night with the staff—the guard shifts, the extra trip alarms—despite your own distressing events, I believe you already have lived up to it.”

Snape watched a hex exchange between a Ravenclaw and a Gryffindor. Ginny Weasley was already moving to yank the back of the Gryffindor boy’s robes. “They were all very obvious things to do.”

“That is what makes you so valuable. These things are not so obvious to the rest of us.” She pulled her chair out and took a seat, prompting the students gathered in the hall to do the same. “Things were quiet last night. Let’s hope they remain that way until Wednesday morning.”

- 888 -


They were rushing when they reached the Auror’s office, but there was already more of a commotion than they had expected to cause when they asked for someone to return to Diagon Alley with them. As he stepped into the Auror’s offices Harry came face to face with a very wet, but clearly very alive, Tonks wrapped in three grey blankets and sipping from a steaming mug.

Harry breathed her name almost inaudibly.

Aaron pinched Harry on the arm. “Just checking that she’s real,” he said with a wink.

Mr. Weasley looked up from mixing something from a variety of potion bottles that were arrayed on Shacklebolt’s desk. He stopped and traced Harry’s odd gaze to the occupant of the chair before him and cleared his throat. “Tonks here managed to find a door floating in the rough sea and fortunately the current pulled her close enough to shore for her to Apparate.” Tonks coughed as though accenting the story. Mr. Weasley went on, “We don’t think Whitley was as lucky.”

Tonks shook her head sadly, making water drip from her drooping Mohawk onto her nose. “I put a block up when I heard something shatter. I was airborne a long time before hitting water. It was a good thing we were in the guard tower and not the dungeon when everything exploded.”

“You should be at St. Mungo’s,” Harry said, stepping closer but not too close. He was trying not to give himself away, unaware that he already had. He took the seat beside her as she hacked roughly again.

Shacklebolt commented, “St. Mungo’s is a nightmare right now . . . utterly overwhelmed.”

“How about Madam Pomfrey at Hogwarts?” Harry suggested, desperately wanting her to get more help than was currently being provided.

“Harry, I’ll be all right,” Tonks said, shuffling her heavy wraps. “I just need another cup of tea.” She held her mug out with this statement, pointedly then out of the way of the potion Mr. Weasley tried to put in it. Shacklebolt moved to fill it from the teapot.

“Hey there,” Mr. Weasley said, “I can handle it.”

The sound of the log scratching something out drew Harry’s attention that way. He stepped over to give himself space to believe what was happening and to recover from feeling dizzy and so elated he couldn’t feel his feet properly. The log had nearly filled the pages it had been using, including overflowing along the margins in increasingly smaller printing. Tonks was speaking in answer to a question. “The prisoners were already gone as was half the prison. We’d gone up into the remaining tower so we could see the whole island to survey the damage.” She paused to cough for nearly half a minute. When she spoke again, her voice was scratchy and soft. “A few prisoners were on the edge of the far cliff. Some of the really old timers there wouldn’t have the sense to leave if a cruise ship pulled up and offered them froofy drinks with umbrellas in them.”

Harry returned slowly to standing before Tonks, wishing everyone in the room were absent except the two of them. He wanted to hold her with the same kind of yearning he had wanted to use a Crucio earlier.

She turned to gaze with angst at the log. “Bloody Merlin, Arthur, I have get out there and deal with some of those.” She tried to toss off the blankets, but everyone moved to hold her down. Harry didn’t move; he was feeling strange again, seeing everyone in the room in two starkly disparate ways as though desire were as dangerous as anger.

“So you didn’t see if their marks were really darkening?” Harry asked from inside his strange haze, unaware of how dreamy he sounded.

Tonks shook her head and sat through a drying charm on her hair administered by Fred. “They were gone already. We couldn’t even send a warning back. Everything at the prison had been disabled. What a time to lose two Aurors.” She hacked a few times and said into her hand, “I didn’t think we could ever lose Mad-Eye.”

Mr. Weasley said, “Kingsley tried to throw him a lifeline but missed and another big wave took him out of sight.”

“How did you get back?” Harry asked Shacklebolt.

“He had his own portkey and held onto it tightly,” Mr. Weasley explained with a meaningful glance a Tonks. “Usually portkeys deactivate when you arrive on the island and won’t bring you back unless reauthorized by two guards, but all the barriers were down by that time.”

“I can go out on a call,” Shacklebolt offered, straightening his spine as though to appear less injured.

Mr. Weasley glanced at the Auror’s bandaged arm, comparing it to Tonks’ bent head. “No, I’ll go out. You two manage things here. Harry . . .” He waved a hand before Harry’s face. “Harry? How did things go at the Cauldron?”

Aaron answered for them and handed over his notebook. Shacklebolt tore off the relevant pages and slid them into one of the folders stacked neatly on his desk. Aaron then added, “But, Harry . . . well . . . Harry sensed Death Eaters on Diagon Alley and we thought we should come back and get someone to help us out.”

The room turned to Harry, who found he was even more uncomfortable now with the notion that he had such a strong connection to Voldemort’s followers. Harry closed his eyes, rubbing the left one to remove the grit his long, sleepless night had deposited there. The two shadows were even closer this time. “They’re here at the Ministry now,” he announced, sore nerves jolted.

Mr. Weasley said, “Kingsley, go with them, I’ll send alarms to the other departments. Fetch Munz from the file room and message Rodgers and Blackpool who are out on a call.”

“They didn’t respond when we told them Tonks was back,” Shacklebolt pointed out, standing and tossing his cloak on one-handed. He then turned to Harry, “Lead the way, Champ,” he said. “Where are they?”

Harry tried to sense where the shadows were relative to himself. Down was all he could discern with certainty. “On one of the lower floors. I’m not sure exactly where.”

“After we scoop up these two, we should get a larger group together and take you hunting afield,” Shacklebolt suggested.

“Sure,” Harry said, but he was looking at Mr. Weasley’s unusually grim expression, wondering why he appeared so.

Everyone headed to the corridor except for Tonks. Mr. Weasley said, “Blackpool, stay here and hold things down with Tonks, just in case they get this far. I don’t want her unprotected.”

“It’s all right,” Tonks countered forcefully and with only one cough. “I can take care of myself.” She grabbed up her wand to demonstrate and required a moment to notice that she was holding it backwards. She peered bleary-eyed at it before turning it around. Blackpool took up a guard’s position just inside the door, wand out.

Mr. Weasley nodded his approval and they took the stairs down several levels, until Harry indicated they should try one. The corridors of the Department of Magical Transportation were busy with witches and wizards dashing about. Mr. Weasley gestured for the group to split up, with half entering the first door to the Floo Network Authority. People stopped what they were doing and turned to stare as the Aurors came through between the desks. Harry hovered in the corridor and closed his eyes. They shadows were still further down. He opened his eyes and found himself staring at Percy Weasley, standing in the doorway of the next set of offices. Percy had a hard, stoic expression rather than his usual pinched and sour one. He stepped inside the doorway, out of view.

Harry called to Mr. Weasley, and pointed at the floor when his boss looked his way. The group was recalled with practiced ease and they went down another level. Magical Games and Sports was eerily quiet in contrast. Mr. Weasley explained, “They’ve all been pulled to help with guard and Reversal duty.” Harry closed his eyes right away this time and again, after some struggling, pointed down. They were getting closer.

A scream accompanied the door to the main floor opening. The group of them rushed forth, pausing only to pick a direction. Everyone standing near the lifts was frozen looking down the corridor the other way, so the group of them ran that way, into the offices and storage areas used by Reception. The sound of shattering furniture accompanied another scream and shouts of alarm. A sense of cursedness washed through Harry, bringing him to a halt just inside the first doorway. A corridor stretched out ahead of them leading left and right at the end of it. A witch ran by, holding her hat on. The wall exploded just behind her.

“It’s one of Merton’s weapons,” Harry said, ducking.

“Blasted,” Mr. Weasley said, but he restrained Harry from joining the group moving carefully forward. “Where are the Death Eaters now?” he asked Harry close to his ear.

“What?” Harry asked in surprise. “Oh.” He closed his eyes but with the sounds of shattering things it was hard to concentrate, or not concentrate as the case actually was. “I can’t . . .” Harry began.

Mr. Weasley said, “I’m worried this is a diversion. Fred! George! Come with me, now!” To Harry he said, “Hold things down here while I check the Minister’s office. There’s no reason to attack Reception.” He took off for the lifts; Fred and George behind him, checking in confusion over their shoulder.

Released, Harry pushed his way to the front beside Shacklebolt just as the device cleared the corner of the corridor. One could tell it had by the arc of the spell running along the wall in their direction, sending the paneling into the air in a long string of flying boards. Harry had a block ready and between his and the Auror’s they barely got jolted. Another shot, and then another lashed out at them, the firing rate picking up as though the thing sensed that there were good targets ahead of it.

“Think we can just burn it out making it shoot at us?” Shacklebolt asked, “ . . . before it reaches the Atrium?”

They all backed up a step as the onslaught continued. The thing didn’t seem to be running low on spell energy. Shacklebolt said, “Aaron, go clear the Atrium. The alarm should have gone off by now, maybe it’s been disabled.” After Aaron dashed away, Shacklebolt said, “Munz, check that casualty.”

Harry risked a glance to the left into the office now directly beside them. Someone in pale blue robes was lying on the floor. “Dead,” Munz said. A second risky glance by Harry showed that the side wall of the office had been blown inward so forcefully that the debris was embedded in the wall opposite, leaving the floor mostly clear.

They took another step backwards and this time the next shot knocked them both onto their knees when another device came around the corner, joining its strike to the first’s. Shacklebolt shouted a warning, and Harry hoped it wasn’t for him to do anything other than pour additional power into his own block, because that was all he could handle. His arm vibrated violently as the attack went on. Just as it started to ease, a wall nearby shattered, sending wood paneling splinters in a shower against their combined blocks.

The dust settled slowly. Harry held up his wand with a quaky and leaden arm. Beside him, Shacklebolt was having trouble righting himself with his injured arm. Harry hauled him to his knees by his cloak and pulled them both backwards to gain a little space between them and the devices.

“Munz!” Shacklebolt shouted. There was no response. They both put another block up and the corridor wall where they had just been bubbled inward and disintegrated.

“There’s a third!” Harry shouted, estimating the angle of that shot to be impossible for the two they already knew about.

During a moment’s lull, Shacklebolt, on his knees with his bad arm tucked at his waist, shoved Harry with his shoulder. “See to Munz.”

“You need me to help block . . .”

“Harry, that’s an order,” Shacklebolt growled fiercely.

Harry put up a block and used the most recent hole to slip into the office to their left. It and the ones surrounding it were now almost combined into one large debris-dangled space. The air felt oily and slippery despite the dust. The magical window behind the desk had gone dark, and the dimness and haze obscured Harry’s vision. A shot went wide of Harry’s block as he tossed thin paneling boards aside with his toe to reveal the black robed figure lying just shy of the pale blue ones. Harry crouched, putting up a block as his last one failed. Debris from the floor pummeled it as a shot skirted nearby.

“Harry?” Shacklebolt shouted in question.

“Doesn’t look good,” Harry replied, considering the still face before him with its just barely slitted eyes. A gash was open across Munz’s chest, revealing bright red flesh and white edges of bone. Harry closed his eyes and felt for the radiance he knew must be leaking from him, thinking perhaps he could Staunch it. It was difficult to do while maintaining repeated blocks and with the sounds of further destruction echoing around him. But Harry caught the sense just long enough to feel the last of it leaking away and disappearing with a tiny pop. Harry swallowed and shifted his foot off of a board which was precariously lying across Munz’s arm. Seconds ago Munz was just fine and now he was gone. Harry tried to accept that without much success.

“Potter, get back out here or you are going to get pinched!” Shacklebolt’s voice sounded weary and much farther away.

“I can go through the other way!” Harry shouted and used his own blasting curse to knock a larger hole between the offices so he could exit close to the lifts and come around to where Shacklebolt and now Rodgers and Kerry Ann were holding up the entrance to the Reception area itself.

“Munz?” Rodgers demanded, sounding thoroughly angry.

Harry shook his head. Rodgers moved to the point position as the next attack wave shot out, shoving Shacklebolt backwards violently. “Get him to safety, Kalendula. Potter, stay with me.”

Harry joined his block to Rodgers’. When a break came, Rodgers asked, “Any sign of them slowing?”

“Not sure,” Harry said.

Mr. Weasley came up behind them just as they were forced to back up again. He ducked to be certain to be in their block. “Got one of the D.E.. They were attacking the Minister’s office all right. Lucky guess, I figured it was either that or the dungeons. Fred had to go to Mungo’s. How are we down here?”

“Lost Munz,” Rodgers stated grimly.

Mr. Weasley’s face fell into deep sadness, but at that moment a sound like a teapot shattering was accompanied by the appearance of orange ceramic littering the top of the wood debris.

“So, we can outlast them,” Rodgers said. “Arthur, give Harry a break will you, looks like his arm is about to fall off. But STAY CLOSE, Potter. Don’t want you getting picked off from the flank like Munz.”

Harry bent low behind the two of them, rubbing his throbbing, rubbery arm, which he didn’t imagine would ever feel normal again. The sense of cursedness had eased from just the one device disintegrating. “Fred all right?” he asked, badly needing to know.

“Yes, I think so,” Mr. Weasley replied during the next lull. The devices had slowed their advance, making Harry hopeful that they could be held here until they were spent. “Said he’d go home and help the others guard the Burrow when he was released. Seemed eager to get out of here, which is fine with me.” They blocked in silence a minute until Mr. Weasley added, “I think Bones offering to give them medals of valor sent them off, frankly.”

Harry grinned through his sadness as though the force of his amusement was amplified by their bad circumstances. A second device shattered of its own accord.

“One left, I think,” Rodgers commented. “I can see, Potter, why you tried a tar ball. Tempting as hell, but we don’t want the Ministry to go the way of Azkaban.”

“Is that what happened to Azkaban?” Harry asked in surprise.

“We think so,” Mr. Weasley replied. “We don’t know of anything else with enough power to destroy a whole island.” He switched places with Harry and shook his arm out while Harry did the now-easy duty of joint blocking just one device attacking. It was trained straight on them and didn’t even graze the wall anymore. “We figure they learned how effective they could be at blowing things up when that one took out the safehouse.”

“So, I showed them that,” Harry commented grimly.

“They’d have figured it out eventually,” Mr. Weasley assured them. “It’s not as though you were trying to aid in their researches.”

The third device shattered. The three of them stood in its wake, listening for anything else. Listening to the debris settle. Someone moaned.

“Injured . . . somewhere,” Mr. Weasley said, rushing forward. “Let’s get everyone out.”

Personnel from the other departments helped with clearing out so it only required an hour to fully search and hover out the bodies. Games, it turns out, had all kinds of spells for temporary structures, which were put to use propping up collapsing ceilings and walls. In the end they pulled out six bodies and three wounded.

Everyone had been cleared away and Harry sat across from the lifts as magical barrier tape was strung up to block off the offices. Unsafe - Alert -Cursed! - Mind the Tape was printed on it, endlessly repeating, in bright yellow on lime green. Harry rested his head back. He had been told to make sure no one went in while workers from Games strung the tape up. No one seemed to have any interest in going inside, so this was easy duty. But the tape needed to be strung thoroughly across all of the doorways and the holes in the walls facing the lifts, so it was going slowly, given the need to clear debris aside to make room to work.

A flash bulb went off and Harry blinked through the spots in his eyes to ponder the floating camera before him. He stood with more speed than he thought he was capable of given his state and took a swipe at the camera with a netting charm. The camera zipped out of reach before the charm reached it and Harry followed it around the corner to where the Daily Prophet photographer was reaching through the closed gates to catch it. The crowd gathered there stirred upon recognizing Harry.

“Mr. Potter!” Skeeter shouted from beside the photographer, who was hurriedly prising his camera through the bars and looked ready to run off.

Harry walked over, trying hard not to limp. He hadn’t even been aware that he needed to limp before walking this far. Given the expressions on everyone’s faces pressed to the bars, Harry figured himself to be a real sight. He rubbed his hair back to neaten it, only to find it was full of dust and bits of wood. His eye twitched a few times before he rubbed it.

Skeeter said, “Mr. Potter, just one question: Is He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named back?”

The gathered crowd gasped as one and a few people in the back, upon hearing this repeated in a wave of whispers, ran off. Their footsteps could be heard echoing as they headed for the back corner of the Atrium, which must still be open for Apparition.

Harry contemplated the bright purple polish on Skeeter’s nails, the sparkling hair clip holding her bun in place, her jangling bracelets. He wondered where she could find the time to put that all together given how insane everything was. Harry knew he shouldn’t say anything. Every face in the vicinity peered at him with a mixture of horror and fascination, hanging desperately on his answer.

Harry said, “If he were, it would be a moot point right now.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry caught sight of a grey cloak stepping up beside him. He turned. It wasn’t a cloak; it was Tonks, still wrapped in one of the Ministry-issue blankets, the ones with odd colors of scrap randomly woven through them.

“Ms. Tonks!” Skeeter said, even more excited and propping her notebook up through the gate so she could hold it more comfortably given how tightly the crowd behind her was now pressed in. Harry could easily take it away given that it was on his side of the bars. “Ms. Tonks, you were at Azkaban . . . do grace us with your story of what happened,” Skeeter invited, needing to find an angle where her jaw could also fit though the bars.

“It was destroyed,” Tonks stated as though speaking to an idiot.

“Yes, yes, but your harrowing tale of survival. My readers would so love to hear it. They are so desperate for news.”

Harry was thinking that he would so like to hear it too, but he tugged Tonks away. Skeeter’s last words were echoing ominously in his ears as they stepped up to the third lift in line—the first two’s cages were bent from the attack and wouldn’t move again until they were repaired. Behind them, the barrier taping had been completed and the other personnel were gone.

While the car moved upward, Harry asked, “Bones didn’t get hurt?” In his pocket he found the egg, undamaged. He knocked it on the gate to break it and started peeling it, famished at the thought of food.

“No. She’s pretty mean with a wand herself. Almost got the other attacker singlehandedly and would have if he or she hadn’t had a portkey.”

“What is it with the illicit portkeys?” Harry asked.

“Transportation is claiming that their detection equipment is apparently faulty.”

They stepped out at their level, Harry chewing. “Maybe it was sabotaged,” he suggested, thinking that he had a suspect in mind for that.

Mr. Weasley came around the corner. He gestured with a bandaged hand as he said, “Harry, you’ve been on duty for eighteen hours. Go take a break.”

“Eighteen? What time is it?”

“My boys said that Ms. Granger told them you could stay there when they dropped off your pet. Or you can go to the Burrow, but it isn’t exactly quiet there. I checked; Ms. Granger wisely lives in an unregistered magical flat, so you are probably safe there.”

Harry blinked. He couldn’t measure the worth of that logic right then, his mind outrightly refused to weigh it. “But, I should help hunt for Death Eaters . . .” Harry began.

“You should rest,” Mr. Weasley repeated kindly. “Only accidents and sloppiness happen in your state. Off with you.”

Harry turned to Tonks as though looking for support. This reminded him how very grateful he was that she was there. That warmth made it easier to give in. “Okay.”

“You know not to Disapparate straight there, right?” Tonks asked. “That can be traced.”

Harry nodded, his head lolling with exhaustion as he did so. He Disapparated to an alley a half mile away and had a pleasant evening walk. Less pleasant for the Muggles along the way, who thought he must be some kind of dazed accident victim, but pleasant enough for Harry, so that by the time he arrived at Hermione’s door and survived her extreme hug, he felt queerly hopeful about everything.

She prepped the couch into a bed in short order, heated him a bowl of tinned pasta, which he gobbled quickly, and retreated to her bedroom so he could sleep in peace while she read.

Harry started to lie down but sat back up and padded across to where Kali’s cage hung from a chain in the corner. She was asleep in the bottom of it, huddled in rags that Hermione must have provided because they were colorful and fuzzy, unlike any Harry had. A patch of bare skin showed through on Kali’s haunch; she was losing significant fur now.

In the darkness of the room with the Muggle traffic audible outside the heavily curtained window, Harry whispered to her, “If Voldemort is back, I’ll get rid of him quick enough, I promise.”


Author Notes: Well, I keep thinking I'll get back to weekly posting, but it hasn't happened yet. We may be on this schedule for the rest of the story...


Chapter 29
The hall held two large clusters of robed figures congregating and whispering. Draco had certainly heard that everyone had escaped, but he had not quite realized how many that really meant. At the top of the marble staircase four more figures stood in a tight circle, heads leaned inward. They fell still as Lucius approached, leading his son. Without turning more than a micron, their hooded attention zeroed in on him.

"So little Draco has decided to come out and play?" a voice taunted, the voice of Belletrix Lestrange.

Draco considered snapping back something along the lines of pointing out that she would have more friends, and a husband and a brother-in-law, if she hadn't killed them all. He remained silent, hoping he looked stubborn.


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