Harry wanted to accompany Lupin back to Headquarters, but Remus wouldn't hear of it. "You have one assignment in the Order, Harry, and that's to hone every skill you have. I'm all right; Adora will be home soon. Get back to Hogwarts."
Harry Disapparated just outside the front gates intending to make a hasty march to the basement kitchens. He'd made it halfway to the entrance when Hagrid's voice boomed at him from across the grounds. "All right, Harry?" he called, charging up from his hut with great strides that made the earth tremble.
"Alive, at least," Harry called back. "Starving. You?"
"Just finished seein' ter the thestrals. I could do with a little summat."
The doors to the Great Hall stood open despite the late hour. They found Ondossi at the head table whipping ice and butter together in a big bowl. "That looks good!" said Hagrid enthusiastically.
"Akutaq," she said, scooping some sugar into the bowl. "I spent my afternoon in Northpole. I brought back these berries. It won't be quite right without seal oil, but you do what you can. Want some?"
"No, thanks," said Harry immediately, but Hagrid grabbed the nearest spoon in anticipation. Harry had a feeling that Hagrid's already dreadful cooking would soon be taking a turn for the worse.
As soon as they sat down, their plates filled with food. The rush of warm, savory steam soundly reminded Harry that he'd skipped lunch. Ondossi stirred her bowl and chattered as Harry and Hagrid plowed through their suppers.
"I thought I'd better see if they needed me at home," she said, tasting the frothy butter and reaching for the sugar again. "Northpole got hit worse than Area 51. The capitol," she added as an aside. "Northpole's the largest Wizard city, but it's too remote to be the center of government. 'We don't make the rules, we just break 'em,' is our motto." She giggled. "Northpole's sort of the last refuge for people who don't like it anywhere else. Which is probably why the Dark Lord takes an interest in it; probably figures we're all a bunch of malcontents ready to sign up with him." She winked at Hagrid.
Hagrid bellowed with laughter. "Harry, yeh'll never find a surlier bunch of lunatic wizards as in Northport. Every one of 'em a stubborn loner, but give them an excuse to crack open a bottle or two and they run wild in the streets. But none of 'em looked ready to sign up wi' You-Know-Who."
Ondossi nodded. "Worse than cats. But he apparently doesn't understand that--he mistakes wanting to be left alone for wanting to belong. But he had his revenge today; burned down half the Institute and the WIF headquarters. He sent ten Death Eaters, but they only caught three."
"Tura!" Harry said loudly, "That reminds me! They could use your help at the Ministry?"
She glared up from her bowl, suddenly going from conversational to scathing. "They could, could they?" was all she said.
"They have a prisoner they're trying to question, you could really speed up the process--" Harry didn't get a chance to finish the sentence, as she slammed the spoon into the bowl so hard that a buttery hail clattered over all three of them.
"Not gonna happen. End of conversation." She dumped the pile of berries into the remainder of the cold butter, clanging the rim of the plate against the bowl.
Harry gaped at her briefly, then found his voice. "What's the matter with you? These are our people I'm talking about, from the Order. They--"
Once again, he was cut off in mid stride, this time when she raised the spoon as if to crack him over the head. Harry pushed back in his chair and even Hagrid set down his fork. "Easy there, Tura," chided Hagrid gently. She retracted the spoon a few inches, but continued to give Harry a venomous glare.
"Let me tell you a little bit about your Ministry," she said with cold contempt. "Do you know what happened when I first came here? At Dumbledore's request, you know, to teach at Hogwarts. They informed me that I needed a work permit to earn money doing magic in this country. The Dark Lord running loose and I need a Green Card to teach your citizens how to defend themselves. Nice. Being inflexible and obstructive--that's how bureaucracy creates the illusion that it has actual power. I ended up having to accept this position as a volunteer, without pay. Although it's nice to have food and a place to sleep and all--it's just the principle of the thing!"
Harry felt as though he should argue, but he hadn't been much impressed by the Ministry for some time. She seemed to have reached the end of her rant; she sat back and began folding the berries into the butter. He settled for one more cautious attempt at persuasion.
"Tura, listen, these are people from the Order, not the Ministry. Moody, and Kingsley Shacklebolt."
She set her jaw, but took a deep breath and answered him in a level voice. "Look, I don't even help the WIFs with interrogations. Why do you suppose that is, Harry?"
"I can't even begin to guess."
She laughed. "All right, hotshot. You know what it's like after you charge into an unwilling mind? That blank feeling? Where you can't seem to say anything but the truth? Feh!" She made a bitter face, probably the same one he would make if he ate some of that frozen butter. "You're compromised. They can ask you anything and you'll just sing like a bird."
"So what's wrong with that?" asked Harry irritably. "Unless you have something to hide..." he added.
She sneered. "Yes, that's it, something to hide. Not like you, I'm sure you'd love to share everything in your mind. In fact, let's do it right now!" Harry saw her focus shift from his face to somewhere behind his eyes, and he quickly dropped his head.
"You've made your point," he said sullenly.
She dropped the spoon lightly in her bowl and resumed stirring as though nothing had happened.
Hagrid reached over and put an enormous hand on her shoulder. "Tura, yer doin' it again, luv."
She looked at Hagrid in chagrin, and Harry found himself peering back and forth between the two of them, uncertain which one had confounded him the most. "What are you two going on about?" Hagrid gazed at the ceiling as though he'd never noticed it before.
"Hagrid did such a good job with Grawpy, I asked if he could maybe turn me into a human, too," said Ondossi meekly.
Hagrid frowned and poked her arm. "Enough o'that, silly girl. You're just a bit rough aroun' the edges, tha's all." He turned to face Harry. "Grawp was scared an' lonesome too, an' look how good he turned out!"
"Now I'm embarrassed," said Ondossi. She plopped a big scoop of the akutaq into a teacup and set it next to Hagrid, then picked up her bowl and started out of the Hall. She paused about halfway to the door and turned around. "Goodnight, gentlemen," she said, glancing at Hagrid almost pleadingly. She turned away after Hagrid winked approvingly, but not before Harry spotted a tear spilling from the corner of her eye.
Once again, it's Care of Magical Creatures, thought Harry fondly. If anyone could tame her feral bitterness, it was Hagrid.
After Harry and Hagrid finished dinner, they went up to the Gryffindor common room. Fawkes met them as they came in, gliding down from the boys' dormitories where he had obviously found a place to perch, but neither Ron nor Hermione were anywhere to be found. Hagrid flopped into a couch that groaned ominously, but he chuckled and put his feet up on a heavy table.
"Like I never lef' the place, in some ways," he said cheerfully. "This ol' couch was always me favorite, only one tha' never gave way the whole three years."
Harry smiled too. "It's hard to imagine you anywhere but that cabin, Hagrid."
"World's always changin', Harry. You haven' even seen it since I fixed it back up after the fire. Though it hasn't changed much, I guess, just everythin's so bright and shiny." Fawkes settled onto Hagrid's shoulder and began meticulously preening the groundskeeper's beard, picking up tufts of hair with his beak and polishing them from end to end with his yellow tongue. "Awww, lookatha', Harry, he use ter do that teh Dumbledore." Hagrid lovingly rumpled the small round feathers on Fawkes' head.
"Tura told me I should ask you about Fawkes," said Harry.
"Blimey, Harry, so much has happened, never even got aroun' ter tellin' yeh. You go firs' though, what was it like teh Bond with him?"
Harry described how he and Fawkes had soared over London until the rush of memories had precipitated the fall. "I don't even know what happened, really, I can barely remember it, just that everything in the world seemed wonderful, even though I was on fire and falling to my death. And then I was in the courtyard at Headquarters, without so much as a scratch--or a stitch of clothing, for that matter."
Hagrid chortled. "Yeah, I heard abou' tha' part. But tha's the way it's done, innit? Fawkes chose yeh, Harry, but he hadda give yeh a trial by fire. Not everyone they choose makes it, neither," he continued in a slightly subdued voice. "They're righ' careful about who they pick, but prolly every third one ends up, well, not makin' it."
"What? They die?" Harry gaped at Fawkes in surprise, unable to imagine this gentle bird a killer.
"Not so much dyin', really, though that happens too. But generally they just get sorta wiped clean, yeh see. Kinda like that great flamin' nitwit, wossname, Lockhart. But worse'n him. Can't speak, eat, walk--helpless as a bran' new baby. Gotta start all over from the very beginnin'." Hagrid gazed admiringly at the phoenix. Typical, thought Harry, the more dangerous, the more he loves them.
"But you come through right as rain, din'cha?" continued Hagrid enthusiastically. "An' now he's yer Familiar! He's part o' yeh, now, Harry, an' yer part o' him. He knows who you know, loves who you love, fears who you fear. He'll do anythin' he can ter protect yeh and help yeh, fer the rest o' yer life." He paused to beam at Fawkes once more. "Mind, you have ter take care o' him too! When his time comes, yeh know, jus' after he burns up, he's righ' near helpless--you hafta see to him til he's strong enough ter fly."
Harry recalled how Dumbledore had tenderly carried a tiny, bald Fawkes in his pocket, after they had confronted Voldemort at the Ministry of Magic. Fawkes had intercepted the Kedavra curse that had been meant for Dumbledore. It must have killed him, but of course, he was reborn from his own ashes. What a power Fawkes had, to cheat death repeatedly; Voldemort must be insanely jealous of the phoenix.
Harry was suddenly seared with guilt. "Hagrid! When we Bonded...Fawkes burned up, but I didn't care for him! I just left him out there somewhere...he might have been killed!" At this, Hagrid looked both pleased and abashed, an expression Harry had seen on his rugged face before--and every time some large, usually deadly, and nearly always illegal creature had been involved. "Hagrid?" he asked suspiciously. "What did you do?"
Hagrid's abashed portion expanded to nearly all the space available. "Aw, Harry...yer not mad, are yeh? 'Cause it wasn' really my fault, Tura foun' him in the courtyard there, said his mind was like a ligh'house. You were all wore out, an' I din't have time to explain how to care for him proper--we was headin' off firs' thing for America--an' he din' seem to mind a bit, he knows me, o' course, from Dumbledore..." Hagrid looked as though he was about to panic.
Harry grinned and shook his head. "Don't give it another thought, Hagrid. If you ever passed up a chance to play with any magical beast, I'd know the world was ending."
Fawkes stretched his long neck and warbled joyously, then plunged headfirst into Hagrid's vast beard, disappearing to the wings as if he'd dunked into a barrel of ink. Hagrid squawked and wriggled until the phoenix emerged with a biscuit in his beak. Fawkes cracked it and tossed one piece high in the air, gulping down the first half before catching and crunching up the second.
"Fergot I had that in me pocket," said Hagrid with delight. He watched wistfully as Fawkes spread his wings and launched himself with a lazy beat over to Harry's lap.
Harry felt a renewed sense of awe and wonder as he gazed at Fawkes. "I'm not sure it's a two-way connection, to tell the truth," Harry admitted guiltily. "He seems to understand everything that goes on, but I don't have any idea what he's up to."
"Aw, tha's nothin' ter fret over, Harry. Fawkes's been aroun' fer thousands o' years, he knows the drill. Yeh'll tune inter him soon enough. You saw him an' Dumbledore, they were like two gears inneh same machine."
Harry nodded; he had indeed seen the two of them work together smoothly and intuitively on more than one occasion. He marveled suddenly that it was as though he'd grown an extra limb, like a prehensile tail, that would forever watch his back.
"But he let Snape kill him," Harry said softly, his gaze unfocused.
Hagrid bowed his head sorrowfully, but peered up at Harry. "I dunno, Harry. He must'a been down ter his las' feather when it happened. All in the timin', Harry." Hagrid wiped his eyes fiercely, using the slipcover from the armrest of the couch.
They sat in silence for a while, until the portrait hole swung open and Hermione entered, dragging her feet in exhaustion. "Hullo, all," she said hoarsely, and flopped into a chair.
"You look terrible!" said Harry. "Have you eaten?"
"I did," she reassured them. "I've been helping Madam Pomfrey; they sent up dinner for the whole ward. Everyone said how glad they were to be here instead of St. Mungo's--apparently their food isn't very good."
"How was it down there?" Harry asked.
"It's not bad," she said sincerely. "Once the initial rush was over and we had a few seconds to breathe between crises, we did all right. Two Healers came up from St. Mungo's and took the most serious cases back to London; we got the rest of them tucked in without too much trouble. One fellow from International Cooperation was hit with a timed-delay spell; things had just quieted down when he turned bright purple and began to stretch out like a rubber band, but Madam Pomfrey jumped on it right away. He's almost normal size already."
"Seen Ron?" Harry asked, trying not to sound as worried as he felt.
"Ron went into the shop today," she replied with a concerned frown. "I didn't hear anything about Diagon Alley being attacked, did you?" Harry and Hagrid both shook their heads, and all three of them sighed with relief. "I'd imagine he'll stay with his family tonight--his poor mum must be beside herself."
"Hark," said Harry, "I saw Mr. Weasley at the Ministry--I didn't even think to ask if the family was okay. Though he'd have spoken up if anyone was, you know, hurt or...anything." Harry bit his lower lip, hoping that he was correct--Mr. Weasley could be pretty stoic, especially when times were hard.
As Harry happened to catch Fawkes's eye, he suddenly had a vision of the Weasley family around their big dinner table. It was dim and fleeting, but everyone was there except Bill--and judging by the glow in Fleur's eyes, Bill was the one from whom this vision had come. Harry snapped to and peered expectantly at Fawkes, who quivered and raised all of his non-flight feathers on end, then sneezed. He was so elegant and sleek under normal circumstances, but when he puffed up like that, he looked like a very fuzzy toy that had been forced to endure a trip through the laundry.
As Harry described what he'd just seen, Hagrid nodded thoughtfully. "He must'a forged a little bond there with Bill when he healed him at the weddin'. Makes sense--they don' just give up them tears any ol' time, yeh know."
After a relieved pause, Hermione spoke up again. "I saw Professor Ondossi just before I left the hospital wing. Madam Pomfrey gave her something called Dreamless Sleep so she wouldn't wake everyone again tonight. It was odd, too--she fussed and complained, didn't want to take it, but as soon as she saw the bottle, she turned right round and asked if she could keep the whole thing. Did you know she's a Potionist? She offered to help refill the apothecary."
"Yeah, she mentioned it," said Harry, wondering if seal oil would soon become a regular ingredient at the Hospital wing. "But why did she need to stop dreaming, out in the Shrieking Shack?"
"Well, that's just it--she's back in her office." Even though there was no one else present, Hermione leaned forward and lowered her voice confidentially. "Professor McGonagall called her out for moving there; I overheard them on the stairs earlier. She was quite angry, said that she wouldn't have students sneaking off the grounds and saying, 'But I was just visiting the professor'." Hermione gave Harry a pointed look.
"That's not why I took her to the Shack!" said Harry defensively, although it dawned on him that it would have made a convenient excuse for trips to Hogsmeade.
"I know, Harry. But McGonagall didn't; apparently she didn't even know you were involved. Ondossi didn't say a thing, not about you or the nightmare, she just said "My mistake." Then she turned her back on McGonagall and just walked away!"
"I bet tha' went over well," said Hagrid.
Hermione screwed up her face in grim agreement. "I thought Professor McGonagall might explode on the spot! But she just gave her The Glare, you know..." Harry and Hagrid both nodded vigorously. If looks could kill, McGonagall would be in Azkaban by now.
A twinge of guilt began to gnaw at Harry. "Ugh. School's not even in session yet and I get her in trouble. Maybe I better go talk to Professor McGonagall."
"I'll take care o' that," said Hagrid firmly. "It's still not yer place to go meddlin' in teachers' affairs."
"But it was my fault. I don't think I even told her it was off the grounds. We went through the tunnel, and you know the windows are all boarded up! She had no idea where she was."
Hagrid's eyes sparkled. "Oh, don' worry about it, Harry. I'll see ter it that you get the blame." He winked.
The conversation turned next to the attack on the Ministry, and Harry described everything he'd seen in the Floo Network Authority and Magical Law Enforcement. He left out the carnage in the Atrium, however, and gave a cursory account of meeting Lupin on Level Nine, only because he wanted to talk about the strange incident with the pear and the archway. "Could it have bounced out, you think? I know it went through, I watched it."
"Yeh sure it was the same pear, Harry?" asked Hagrid.
"There weren't any others, I'd put them all back in the sack. Besides, no one else was there to throw it, even if I did leave one behind."
Hermione leapt onto the issue with both hemispheres of her brain. "Harry, where exactly are you going with this?" she asked with a suspicious glare.
"Going? Nowhere. It happened, I told you about it, that's it."
She narrowed her eyes cynically. "Don't even try to sidestep this one. You're thinking about Sirius!"
Harry wrinkled his nose. "I'm supposed to be the mind reader, you know."
She smiled despite herself, but it didn't last long. "Well, spit it out, then, what's your theory?"
Harry sighed. "I don't know. I mean, we still don't know exactly what that thing is. It seems like a gateway to death, or the afterlife, but I'm not so sure anymore. I wonder if it's more like the Mirror of Erised. Remember how it showed something different for each person? Because you didn't hear the whispering, did you, Hermione?" She shook her head, and Harry continued "Ginny and Neville weren't quite as drawn to it as me or Luna. Maybe it's a gateway into your own...grief or something, like the Mirror showed you what you wanted most."
Hermione nodded, though Hagrid glanced between them with a deepening frown. "Regardless of what it is," she said pensively, "what do we make of the pear?"
Harry nodded too, enthusiastically. "Well, obviously, it's not a one-way door! The pear went in, the pear came out. Maybe..." He still wasn't ready to describe the laugh he'd heard; he'd grieved so painfully for Sirius, he couldn't let himself hope that his godfather could somehow be alive beyond that archway.
"Harry..." said Hermione, knitting her fingers together anxiously.
Harry waved his hand dismissively and continued. "Maybe the whole point is that only thoughts or feelings or souls, whatever, are supposed to go through that arch, that the pear got thrown back because it's too solid. Which makes me wonder if...maybe we can somehow get Sirius's body back." His voice fell. "We could at least give him a decent burial."
Hermione looked relieved. "Maybe he was too heavy to be...pushed back out. Not like the pear. I do remember seeing the curtain move--maybe it was hurling dust or even air back out of itself."
"Or maybe he could even still be alive," whispered Harry, unable to deny his hope any longer.
Hermione's concerned look snapped back on. "Harry, don't think about it. It's been more than a year...no food, no water...besides, if Sirius could throw a pear out at Lupin's head, don't you think he'd just step back through the archway?"
"How should I know!" snapped Harry. "Maybe he's trapped, but he had one arm free, for throwing. It could be a million different things! We don't know ONE single fact about that stupid arch, anything is possible!"
To Harry's surprise, Hermione raised her brows in a conciliatory way. "You're right," she finally admitted. "We don't know enough to rule out any possibility. That thing wouldn't be in the Department of Mysteries if it wasn't incredibly powerful. But Harry, you can't let yourself build up false hopes."
Harry bit the inside of his lip. "There's no such thing as 'false' hope, Hermione. Only hope. The false part is expecting everything to work out the way you hope it will."
"All right then," she said after a pause, "what shall we do?"
Hagrid sat up rapidly on the protesting couch. "Oh no yeh don'. I see where this is headin'. This is serious business, this--the Department o' Mysteries! You jus' said it wouldn' even be there if it weren' powerful, an' you two wanner go off an' play with it? Nothin' doin'!" He folded his arms in a conclusive fashion.
"Steady on, Hagrid, we're not going through the thing," said Hermione, giving Harry a pointed look to make sure he agreed to that stipulation. "We've already seen that a pear can go in and out of it safely. I doubt there's any harm in trying a few more objects, a rope, perhaps." She glanced upward, thinking. "Or some parchment and a quill. Or a wand..."
Harry's stomach suddenly felt like it was on an elevator that had snapped its cable. "Hermione...I know the perfect thing! The mirror!"
"The mirror," she repeated blankly.
"It was something Sirius gave me, he had a set of them. Sirius told me I could talk to him with it," said Harry in a gravelly voice. "I forgot I even had it, so I never got to try it before he..." He quickly brushed away a tear before it could spill onto his cheek. "I broke it a year ago, when I was upset."
"Do you still have the pieces?"
"I don't know but I think so, they're probably still in my trunk, I never really, erm, cleaned it out."
They were indeed there, at the bottom of the trunk in a layer of debris that was taking on an archaeologic quality. Hermione picked the shards up carefully and put them in Harry's palm, then shook all the loose dust and silt in the trunk on top of the pile. "I hope that's all of it," she said. "You do the repair, Harry--you broke it, so if you fix it, maybe that will help restore the charm. But it may not work, even if it can come back together."
Harry raised his wand. "Reparo," he said, with the proper flourish. The mirror reassembled in his hand, with only a few polygonal holes (with very sharp edges) here and there, and the silver a bit thin in spots.
Hermione smiled broadly. "Good work! Now where's the other one?"
Harry's shoulders sagged. "I haven't the foggiest idea."
"And it's a good thing, too!" said Hagrid, who had required more time to wriggle his way up the narrow stone staircase to the dormitory. "You two got no business performin' experiments with summat yeh know nothin' about!"
This was Hermione's territory, and Harry willingly let her run wild. "First of all," she said, her finger pointing firmly at Hagrid's face (calling to mind a mouse admonishing an elephant), "the ONLY way to learn about anything is through experimentation. Nothing gets discovered until it gets explored! Secondly, the Ministry kept that thing out in the middle of a big room, not encased in glass like the brains or the Time Loop. If it was inherently dangerous just to go near, it wouldn't be sitting out in the open without so much as a rail around it. Finally," she rallied up with indignation, "you can bet your pension that the Department of Mysteries has been experimenting with it, most likely to exploit it, or even develop it into a weapon! So if you think I'm going to let those ninnies give it the only go, well think again! And you," she said, turning to Harry, "you get to work on finding the other mirror!"
Hagrid looked for a moment as though he wished he had a large flyswatter, but he finally sighed with a noisy puff. Shaking his head, he rumbled, "An' ter think the both of yeh use' ter be so sweet..."
The next few weeks passed so quickly, Harry barely kept track of the time. Ron or Hermione, sometimes both, kept him company in the evenings; it was actually quite pleasant to spend the long summer twilight at Hogwarts. Lupin visited Harry nearly every night to check in on the lessons and bring news. "They've almost cleaned out the Ministry. What a mess," he'd sighed one week after the attacks. "It had to be done by hand, there were all sorts of little hexes hidden in the rubble that were set to go off under a Vanishing or Scourging. There was some talk about just sealing off the Atrium entirely, turn it into a tomb, but those poor blokes in the Floo Network needed the fireplaces.
"They've been going round the clock, they're still not sure exactly what happened to it. In some spots, it ended up being easier to just abandon the old spell infrastructure and build it up from scratch! That network's been accumulating for 800 years, since chimneys were first built in Britain--you can imagine what a tangled mess it's become!"
Lupin learned that the Ministries (or their local equivalents) in Berlin, Stockholm and Rome were damaged at least as badly as London's, but the Swiss Ministry in Zurich had been nearly unscathed. "We could do with a leaf or two from their book on self-defense. They were as unprepared for the surprise attack as anyone, but they already had a system in place to defend themselves. It was just a matter of setting it in motion. Sensible people, the Swiss. I hear their trains are never late, either."
When Harry asked if a new Minister of Magic had been appointed, Lupin said nothing at first, just raised his brows and shook his head. "Not for lack of trying, Harry, but suddenly no one wants it. Even the greediest ones that have been after it for years. I know how they feel. Who'd sign up just to be the next target, on top of having to put the entire ministry back together? I wish Dumbledore were here," he finally sighed miserably.
Harry patted his friend on the shoulder. "Me too. But we'll manage somehow."
Indeed, the Order was making progress with the giants at a quick pace. Voldemort's attacks on the Wizard governments had not involved giants, only other wizards, so it had proved the perfect time for the Order to send envoys to all the clans. Hagrid and Madame Maxime had numerous disadvantages when they had attempted diplomatic efforts in the past; they were outnumbered, outsized, and had little to offer but Dumbledore's name and a few small gifts. The Sasquatch giants, however, were making quite an impression on the bedraggled European giants.
"You should see Grawp in the field," Lupin said proudly in his chair before the fire. "Hagrid's done an incredible thing, teaching him English--he's the best translator we have. He said to tell you hello, 'Hermy,' by the way," he added with a wink. Hermione rolled her eyes, but she looked pleased nonetheless. "They've relocated over twenty giants already; it's always whole families at once, you know, they don't dare leave anyone behind."
"How do you move a giant across the sea?" asked Harry.
Lupin ducked his head with a guilty grin. "Well, we planned to use Apparition, but, well, with the Ministries down, it seemed a lot simpler to just make Portkeys. Besides, the American laws governing Portkeys aren't the same, and the Sasquatch giants are sort of like diplomats..."
Harry and Hermione both laughed. "I'm convinced," said Harry. "No need to explain it to me!"
Lupin explained that the newcomers were being taken to the most remote mountain ranges in the far north of the continent. "They can live alone just like they did at home, or if they choose, they can migrate back down to the warrens further south. I think the younger ones are already looking forward to this whole 'Bigfoot' business. Apparently the sport's as popular as Quidditch over there, even the wizards like to gamble on the championships."
"I hope we still have a Care of Magical Creatures professor when all this is over!" said Hermione.
Lupin laughed. "I just hope he leaves his spare Galleons at home when he goes on these trips."
Harry spent his days in Ondossi's office, in the slow process of learning Occlumency. Harry found himself grudgingly acknowledging that Snape just might have been genuinely trying to teach him, back in his fifth year. It was not a quick or easy process, despite working at it all day long.
"Your magic naturally wants to explore, acquire knowledge and power. Your intellect, however, can't process a hundred different minds at once. So you have to be disciplined, bring your magic under your control, choose when to use it and how far to go."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Right, yes, discipline, control...that's all most inspirational, but what does it mean? Which muscle do I flex?"
She snorted. "Why am I totally unsurprised that self-discipline is a mystery to you? Never mind," she chastised, with a dismissive wave. "Maybe we're going about this the wrong way. Let me think. I had to learn, because the alternative was to go stark raving nuts. Talk about motivation! Maybe that's what you lack, hotshot. A sense of how desperately you need to do this." She put her hand in her chin and stared at him thoughtfully.
Harry suddenly broke out in goosebumps from head to toe. "What exactly are you plotting over there?" he said uneasily.
She grinned malignantly and beckoned with her fingertips, and Harry felt his mind break open like an egg.
Images swam before and through him, orderless and disjointed. As with Fawkes, he could do nothing to control the process, he was forced into the role of passive observer. But Fawkes had drawn him into a flowing stream of knowledge as an introduction to his new Familar, while Tura was clearly determined to make him as miserable as possible.
The tunnels below the Northport Institute of Magical Studies. Cold cement and hot steel, both hard and unforgiving. A pile of rags to sleep on; Harry woke up on a hundred different "mornings" within a minute, hungry and aching each time. More images and thoughts began to add to Tura's. Harry realized that she was sending him through her own memories of the time before she'd learned Occlumency, when her mind was constantly bombarded by the thoughts of others. It was a mad cacophany of disorienting visions. People passing one another in the same hallway, transmitting their view from both directions. One person taking a chair as another stood up, the conflicting sensory data giving him nausea. Love, hate, anger, forgiveness, joy, sorrow, even the mundane boredom from the History of Magic class, all winding through him at once. It was enough to drive him mad.
"Yes," said Ondossi. Harry had fallen to the floor at some point, but she was leaning over in her chair to address him. "You understand, I'm not using either Legilimency or Occlumency? Well, a tiny bit, just enough to steer you into what I want you to see. But you're sending your magic into my mind Harry. And you know what? I'm not going to help you out anymore. Whether it takes a minute or an hour or even a day, you're going to have to withdraw from my mind on your own."
Harry only had time to raise his hand in protest before he fell off the cliff of reality again.
So that was what a rat tasted like. For heaven's sake, she didn't even skin them?! Harry registered the question but apparently it only served to show Tura that he wasn't fully immersed yet. He felt a hint of her approval, followed immediately by a slam of sensation that turned her memories into his with such realism that his identity was obliterated, forgotten.
It was bitterly cold, but Harry was clothed snugly in furs, and too excited to care. This was her first trip to the uiniq or "open lead," the end of the ice shelf that extended from the land. This was where icebergs were born, where seals and whales could surface for air--the northernmost point on Earth on which people could stand on "solid ground," though that ground was merely water, frozen for the moment. Warmth, wind, and currents could easily change that at any time, shearing off whole sections of ice that would leave the hunters stranded at sea.
In all but the most recent times, girls did not accompany the hunters to the uiniq, but neither did the ancient hunters use snowmachines to haul their gear across the ice. A team of dogs would have been much more authentic and silent, but they would also be slower, and though Harry hated to admit it, she preferred the smell of burning gasoline to unwashed dogs (particularly the end of the dogs nearest to the sled). Outsiders had brought both the snowmachines and the attitudes that had made it possible for her to be here, now, on a "mostly" traditional hunt. The fact that she had a dead-on aim with her harpoon had certainly helped.
The men often used guns, but Harry liked the harpoon. A gun could kill from far away, but a harpoon demanded skill, in order to get close enough to the animal to be in range. Many hunters would dress in white fur and attempt to sneak up on the seal under camoflage, but Harry preferred to approach openly by imitating another seal. It was another thing she did instinctively well; only years later would she realize that this was the earliest sign of her Legilimency, that she could read and soothe a seal into accepting her presence, despite the striker she was carrying.
It was a painful thing, though, to kill this seal, for even though the meat was a necessity, she had been in the animal's mind. It never knew what hit it, as they say, but it also had no wish to die; it was a beautiful, simple creature and the guilt Harry felt when its life suddenly broke drove her nearly to tears. Harry danced after the carcass had been hauled back to the camp on the stable ice, much longer than the normally prescribed time. Every footfall was an apology, every clap a word of thanks to the mother seal for the life of her baby. The dance lasted for hours, until Harry's limbs were shaking and rubbery, too painful for the grief of the seal to register.
I thought that would bore you enough to push out, came Ondossi's voice. No problem. I've got worse, boy.
Harry had been out tending someone's garden; she was much older now and it was mid-summer. She was uneasy; something bad had happened, and she'd spent most of the day keeping others' fear and dread out of her mind. It wasn't difficult, just tiring, and with the midnight sun shining, it was already hard to sleep--having to keep her dreams guarded from others' anxieties would make it even worse. Harry pushed open the door to her little shed, irritably noting that the tricky hinge had come loose again; she had to wrestle it shut, funny, she was sure it wasn't like that this morning--
Harry spun around in horror, having felt his presence before seeing the glowing red eyes in the shadows of the cabin.
"Do you know who I am?" Voldemort asked.
"I know." Hatred saturated her voice. He was sitting on her bed, her bed. It was bad enough that he would let himself into her home, but for him to settle right in as though he belonged was an insult beyond measure.
"You were only a baby the last time I saw you," said Voldemort quite casually. "You're the very image of your mother, you know." He stood up slowly; the cabin was so small there was no need to take even a single step in order for his long white fingers to reach her cheek, a gesture filled with menace, not tenderness. "But you have your father's eyes."
Harry was still holding the steel gardening trowel when she struck his icy hand away, but she didn't have enough leverage to break any bones. "How dare you?" Harry said, too angry to come up with something more original.
Voldemort pulled his hand in close to his chest briefly, and though his eyes flared with affront, his voice was calm when he spoke again. "You are the Legilimagus of this generation, 'Miss Ondossi.' I suspected as much the last time I came through this miserable part of the world. When you were far too young to remember."
"Oh, I remember," Harry said venomously. "I can unlock memories that you wouldn't expect. Perhaps I should demonstrate."
He laughed mirthlessly. "You threaten me, young lady? Perhaps I should kill you." Harry felt a pang of alarm; Voldemort did have his wand in hand. But she knew better; if he had meant her to die, this conversation would never have begun.
"You won't," Harry said dismissively. "I own something of great value. You're here to persuade, not murder."
Voldemort's inhuman face did not express many emotions, but he sighed in what was obviously annoyance. "Was that insight, my dear, or did you simply steal that knowledge from my mind?"
"Steal?" Harry said mockingly. "You're so transparent, I don't need to bother 'stealing.' Tell me what you want, old man, or I will 'steal it', just to get this over with."
"I don't think you will," said Voldemort shrewdly. "I think you'd do anything to avoid penetrating my unwilling mind. You understand that you can no more drive me mad than you could kill me." Voldemort began to smile, such as it was, a contemptuous facsimile of amusement.
Harry took a step backward, her heart beginning to race. "I understand, Riddle, that you will die seven painful deaths before you're finished, and for that I am absolutely delighted."
Voldemort struck Harry across the mouth with his fist. "You are trying my patience, Tura," he said, his eyes flaring like a coal before a bellows.
Stars flickered before Harry's eyes, but she held her ground. "You don't scare me, fool. Do you know every time you put your hand on me, you surrender more of your mind?" She turned her back on him and knelt beside her water bucket, rinsing the blood from her lip with a soft rag. When she regarded him again, he looked a little intimidated; apparently he didn't know that physical contact was as good as an invitation into his thoughts. "I know you don't dare kill me, or even torture me," Harry continued. "I'm too valuable to you alive. And I could make your little quest so easy, couldn't I? That's the doom of the Legilimagi, always being sought out by weak men who want a quick road to power. Pathetic!"
"We seem to have reached detente, then," said Voldemort in a low, silken voice. "Our weapons are too powerful to use against one another. Perhaps, dear girl, we can reach a compromise."
"Compromise?" sputtered Harry. "What the Sam Hill can you offer me for a compromise?"
Voldemort peered deeply at her. "How about the life of your 'angel'?"
Harry felt like her entire belly had just flipped inside out. "You're bluffing."
Voldemort chuckled indulgently. "In part, my love, only in part. I've learned that Dumbledore sent someone to you, Tura. I can learn more, if I put in the effort. I have historically concentrated on the UK, but I could easily turn my attention to Northport. There are only so many people I would have to question before someone recalls something." Voldemort's eyes glowed maliciously. "Or better yet, even you must drop your guard sometime."
Suddenly, Harry really needed to throw up. "What do you want, Tom?" she asked in a shaking whisper.
"I want many things, Tura. For now, I would settle for a truce."
"Truce? What are you talking about?" Harry turned back to the water bucket as a pretense to sit down; the cold rag helped ease her nausea and panic.
"One never knows what the future holds, Tura. You may yet decide to support me. That alone is worth preserving your life. But I won't have you working against me, throwing your lot in with Dumbledore. It's quite simple, really. I will leave you alone, you will leave me alone. You surrender nothing of value to Dumbledore, and I will continue in ignorant bliss of this man you love. We shall share a peaceful coexistence."
Harry put the rag on the back of her neck. "I see. As an alternative to mutual destruction. Very black-and-white, Tom."
"And you will stop using that name." Voldemort's voice turned into a hiss.
She stood again, unsteadily, but Harry knew she needed to look Voldemort in the eye. "All right, Lord Voldemort," Harry said with a sneer, "I could accept those terms. But tell me, why should I believe for one second that you intend to keep your end of the deal? You're not exactly known as a man of your word."
He smirked. "Shall we make an Unbreakable Vow?"
Harry scoffed. "Oh, that's nice. I can only make one Unbreakable Vow, while you would have to make what, seven? I think a pinkie-swear would bind you better than that."
Voldemort nodded. "The very nature of detente is one of guarded trust, is it not? Or perhaps guarded distrust would be a better description. With so much at stake, each of us would have to act in good faith, and expect the other not to be fool enough to break the standoff."
Harry folded her arms. She didn't trust Voldemort for an instant, but now that he had discovered her weak spot, she was desperate to protect it. Harry knew this was precisely the way Voldemort wanted it, too, but there didn't seem to be any way around it at the moment.
Harry steeled herself and lay down her terms in a cold, stern voice. "You will leave not so much as a token Death Eater in Northport. I know you have one in Hogwarts, but Albus isn't stupid enough to reveal my secrets to that one. You will make sure your little minions know nothing of me, or our connection; when they ask about the Legilimagus, you will tell them you're courting me personally and they are to give me a wide berth. I'll be checking them, listening for rumors. If I hear even a hint that you're investigating--"
"Do not complete that threat, Tura," Voldemort interrupted in a bored voice. "I will make it as you have asked. I care not what you or your paramour do, as long as you are no threat to me. You will keep your silence and you will not engage me or my people with your mind. You go on enjoying your poverty, your frostbite, your starvation; you've carved out a lovely little niche for yourself here. Perhaps someday you'll discover that this 'good man' of yours only tolerates your efforts to live as an animal in order to avail of your power. I'm sure he says whatever he must in order to convince you of his love." Only Voldemort could say that word with such spite.
He stepped directly in front of Harry. "And you, naive and lovestruck, undoubtedly fall for every ploy. When you understand how badly he's deceived you, you may welcome a chance to lend your power to an honest man." Voldemort put his icy hands on Harry's shoulders, his long white thumbs at the base of her throat. "I have no need to lie to you, Tura; to delude you with flattery and vacant promises. You know I want your power, and I know you must give it to me willingly. But I too have power, dear girl; I can give you everything you lack, just as you can complete me."
Harry realized in horror that Voldemort's voice had become soft and seductive, and he was leaning in close, much too close. There was nowhere to go; her back was against the wall already, and Voldemort was blocking the door.
"I will make you a queen, child, when you surrender yourself." And suddenly there was no distance between them, no air to breathe, and Harry felt Voldemort's thin, serpentine lips on her own--
--Harry leapt to his feet in Ondossi's dark office, spitting and clawing at invisible hands upon his throat.
"I thought that one might get you," Ondossi said in a strained tone.
Harry groaned miserably and covered his throbbing forehead; his scar felt as though it would split his skull in two.
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