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Chapter 2 — Yielding

Harry tried to convince Ron to join them in flying home, but Ron, while staring with discernible consternation at a photograph of an aeroplane in one of the travel magazines in their room, said, "I'd havta figure out how to use the telephone and everything to make arrangements. Doesn't seem worth it."

"I'll see you back home then," Harry said, stuffing the last of his expanded possessions back into his trunk.

"Yeah. I should do a bit of gift shopping before I go," Ron said, sounding relieved that Harry had let the suggestion drop.

Harry hefted his trunk and slapped Ron on the arm. "Later then."

Snape behaved better on the flight home since he was not so mystified by everything and he withheld further commentary on how enthralled Mr. Filch would be with the torturous seating. This time, he was only really curious about the silvery material composing the miniature pretzels' packaging. This generated the only very strange glance they received from the stewardess, when Snape refused to give up the empty package for rubbish because he was still examining it. Harry and Candide kept their noses in their respective reading and their smiles sucked between their teeth until this mini confrontation ended.

Snape glowered at the blue-uniformed staff for a while afterward. Harry leaned over and whispered, "No hexing."

"I was not considering it," Snape countered. He crossed his arms and huffed. "Even though there is no magical jurisdiction up here, eight miles in the air." He closed his eyes then as though staggered by the thought.

Harry laughed. "Should have brought a broomstick as backup."

"That would not help." Snape glanced across at the white oval of window. "You'd freeze to death before you had a chance to even attempt a warming charm."

Without looking up from the magazine propped on her tray, Candide asked, "Can we drop this topic? Some of us are closer to the window of frozen perpetual drop here."

"I'll switch seats with you," Harry said. "I like looking out the window."

She timidly glanced out while biting her lip. "You're on."

- 888 -

Harry returned to training with mixed emotions. He was simultaneously sad to be no longer relaxing but glad to be losing his boredom.

He arrived early on his first day back. The quiet atrium was almost completely repaired. The paintings and their gilt frames were brighter for the cleaning they had received and the gates sparkled, but the grand ceiling, while cleaned of the black streaks of spell burn, had yet to have the gold leaf reapplied in the gaps. What felt most normal was the echoing sound of the Ministry staff and visitors chatting amiably as they crossed paths in the vast open space.

In the corridor leading to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Harry encountered a new face on an unusually tall body, standing uneasily outside the training room door.

"Tridant," Harry said, more a statement than a greeting.

"Mr. Potter," The blonde man said deferentially.

"Sheesh, call me Harry."

"I don't prefer Trevor, particularly; if you don't mind."

Harry shook his head, opened the door to the empty training room and led the way in. "This your first day?"

"Yup," Tridant replied, taking in the room. He walked over to the training dummy and gave it a push, making it swing on its hook. His obnoxious attitude was missing, but Harry expected it would reappear presently.

Harry left Tridant alone to check if Tonks was about. He could not find her and did not feel like deciphering the log in Shacklebolt's presence to try to figure out where she was.

By the time Harry returned to the training room, Kerry Ann had arrived. She gave Harry a friendly welcome-home hug.

"Did you see that Tri-D starts training with us today," she said.

The pained annoyance Tridant turned on Kerry Ann boded poorly for his new demure attitude. "Please don't call me that."

"Sure," she replied, but her eyes sparkled. "How's the arm, Harry?"

"Good." Harry waved his arm. "All healed."

Tridant asked quietly, "Is that the injury you received at the award ceremony that you're talking about?" As he was asking this, Vineet and Aaron came in and rather than take their seats, joined them in standing around.

"Yeah," Harry confirmed. "I messed it up more changing into my Animagus form so it took a long time to heal."

"Did you get the award?" Tridant asked.

"Minister gave it to me after the battle was over."

Tridant turned to the others. "How many medals get doled out every year?"

"Hoping for one already?" Kerry Ann teased, but Tridant just shrugged cockily. She said, "Harry's the only one with medals I think. I'm sure he'd let you polish them . . . if you asked nicely."

Harry moved to a desk and unpacked his books. A fifth desk had been added to the room, upsetting the symmetry. "Medals don't matter."

"How could they not matter?" Tridant asked, disbelieving.

"Staying alive is all that matters," Harry stated with authority.

Tridant stepped closer, head low to better be at Harry's eye level. "It doesn't matter to you whether people recognize what you've done or not?"

"I prefer to be left alone," Harry said.

"No wonder your press is so rotten awful," Tridant commented, taking a desk for himself. He barely fit his tall, burly self into it.

Rodgers came in then, distracted as usual. "I assume you've all introduced yourselves. Mr. Tridant is going to be mixed in with you for training purposes because Merlin knows we can't spare anyone to train him separate. On that note, we'll have your belated advancement ceremony tomorrow afternoon so we don't have five Firsters." He bent over his papers and muttered, "I think I would die if we did."

The anticipation in the room was palpable the first time Tridant was called up for a demonstration. Harry rubbed his nose, trying to hide a smile that kept tugging at his mouth. But Rodgers disappointed them all by being relatively gentle with the first round of spells he used to test Tridant's basic counters. Harry frowned then, thinking that Snape and his trainer had changed an almost disappointing amount.

"All right, then. Your Titan, let's try that one again," Rodgers said, stepping back to the wall for more room, which in general would give his opponent more time to react.

Tridant landed on his rear this time when the spell poured out at him, and in response to his stunned expression, Rodgers said, "I don't use the same power every drill, Tridant. Stand up and do it again."

Like a Great Dane, who has tripped over his overlarge paws, Tridant stood and shook himself out before raising his wand. He was rattled still from the last fall and did no better with the next spell.

"Take a seat . . . at a desk this time," Rodgers said, gesturing with his wand. "Kerry Ann."

Kerry Ann stood and took on the exact same spell. Her block threw the spell around the room, knocking a book off Tridant's desk. He reached too late to catch it and had to scoop it off the floor. He still appeared stunned as though wondering whether he perhaps was in over his head.

"Modulate those, Kalendula," Rodgers snapped to Kerry Ann's sly expression. "Again."

They were paired up for drills, Rodgers taking the new apprentice. Harry was hoping for a chance at him, but by the time drills were done Tridant seemed befuddled by the long string of corrections and criticisms only rarely interspersed with praise.

As they broke for lunch, Harry hung back after everyone else left to say to Tridant, "You're lucky he's going easy on you."

Tridant stared at Harry. "This is easy?"

"You haven't been sent to the Ministry Healer yet, have you?" Harry pointed out.

"You have?"

"I can't count how many times," Harry said, truly enjoying himself and starting to understand why the program selected apprentices for their seriously oversized attitudes. By the time they were reshaped and could hold their own they had also learned to deal easily with defeat and rough treatment. Harry was tempted to tell Tridant that things would get better, but he did not quite like him enough yet. "Come on, lunch time," he said instead.

In the afternoon Harry was very pleased he could answer all the questions sent his way regarding the readings, especially since Rodgers had gone into some kind of intense examination mode due to Tridant's presence.

"Did your readings while sunning on the Dalmatian Coast. Amazing," Rodgers observed, after Harry recited or passably recreated the policy for interdepartmental magical equipment loans.

Harry's mood continued to rise, given that his evening entailed moving the rest of his things from Hermione's flat and the Burrow back to his house. And to top it all off, he could use his arm as much as he liked while doing so.

Hermione helped Harry convey trunks of stuff through the Floo network and then hover them up the stairs. Ron was working late, which did not seem to disappoint Hermione any. On one such trip, they encountered Snape in the main hall, hovering a new pair of couches onto the rug placed in the far half of the hall, near the small windows.

"Those look nice there," Hermione said, letting the trunk she herded clunk to the floor by the steps where she abandoned it. She went over to examine the new furniture.

The couches were black suede. Even the throw pillows were black. "More places to sit will be good for the party," Hermione observed, sounding approving.

"The invitee list is long, then, am I to presume?" Snape asked.

"Harry's not to know," Hermione informed him. "He's just to show up, not to worry about anything."

Harry said, "I live here, showing up isn't a problem."

She gave him a knowing smile and went back to ferrying the trunk to the first floor.

"She's up to something," Harry said, running his hand over the soft fabric of a cushion. "Wow."

"You are sufficiently skilled to already know what she is planning," Snape pointed out in a low tone.

"I don't do that," Harry said. "It's cheating."

"Surprising you are still alive," Snape stated airily. "How is your arm, by the way?"

Harry ran it through a range of motion with no pain, just extra tickling sensitivity where the flesh was new. "Great." Just sitting down on one of the couches and not moving a muscle seemed highly appealing. "I need to unpack," he said reluctantly. "I was hoping to stay the night in my own bed for once. Where's Candide?"

"Dinner with her parents," Snape said, domestically adjusting cushions as a distraction, which made Harry have to swallow yet another smile that day.

"You're not there?" Harry prodded.

Snape's shoulders curled and his head angled to the side, but he did not seem angry, just disturbed. Hermione came back down the stairs just then and, being the very intelligent person she was, took in the scene and said, "I'll meet you back at the Burrow, Harry," and disappeared.

"What's wrong?" Harry asked Snape. He wanted this marriage thing to work out, so he was not going to sit idle if warning signs began appearing.

In a disgusted voice, Snape mocked, "Dinner with the parents."

"So? She's been through dinner with your dad."

"My father has far lower expectations."

Harry, thinking of Snape's intensely critical father, said, "Are you joking?"

"I think he is more easily satisfied in matters such as this," Snape restated.

Harry gave in to the siren call of the couch before him and dropped onto it. It absorbed him with a sigh. "Uh oh," Harry muttered, but returned to the topic at hand. "Are you afraid they're not going to accept you, or something?"

A hard tone appeared. "They have no choice."

"So then, what does it matter? Go have dinner and get it over with." He stared at Snape, who was clearly unconvinced. "Severus," Harry criticized.

"I don't like caring," Snape hissed.

"Caring about . . .?" Harry prompted.

"About what people think," Snape clarified, getting angry with Harry now it seemed.

Harry's neck was getting sore. "Sit down," he suggested. "I'm tired of looking up at you. And clearly you need to relax."

Snape looked like he might resist, but moved slowly to sit on the edge of the other couch, set at a right angle to the one Harry sat on. Unfortunately for him, the couch did not allow for uptight sitters and he fell backward into it.

Harry laughed from his fully slouched and comfortable posture. "You shouldn't have bought charmed couches."

Snape fought for a more upright sitting position. "I didn't. They are Muggle furniture, through and through."

Harry closed his eyes, drifted a minute, and said, "If I didn't know better, I'd suspect you of not only caring what they think but fearing they are going to reject you outright." There was no response, so Harry, still staring at the darkness behind his eyelids, added, "But I know better, so that can't be it." Harry tilted his chin to his chest and looked over at his adoptive father, reclining awkwardly with his hand propped under his chin. Quietly, Harry said, "To hell with them, Severus, if they don't accept you."

Snape came back with, "Watch your language," but it lacked force.

"I think you should just get it over with," Harry said after a pause. "Do you want me to go with you?"

Snape shook his head. "I should not use you as a shield, or a distraction, for that matter."

"Do they know about me?"

"Yes, of course."

Harry waited for more, and finally had to ask. "Am I helping? Or . . .?"

Snape snorted lightly. "Your presence in this family does help I am told, yes."

Harry felt more relieved to hear that than he wished to be. With a great heave, Harry pushed himself to sit forward, hands clasped between his knees. The couch felt unstable if one sat on just the edge, as though it might let you slip to the floor without warning. "Let me know, Severus, what you think will help. I'll do whatever you ask."

Snape did not reply so Harry, thinking he was feeling awkward, changed the topic. "We're at last having our advancement ceremony tomorrow. If you wanted to come."

"I most certainly wish to attend," Snape stated.

"It's at 2:00, but I don't think it will be really formal or anything. It's being held in the Aurors' office."

"I shall be there."

"No bells on though, I suppose," Harry teased, trying to lighten the mood.

"I never wear bells," Snape stated with finality. He rocked forward and made it to his feet on the second attempt. "Let's finish moving back in, shall we?" He stretched his neck as though he had strained it and added, "And perhaps return these couches . . ."

- 888 -

The next afternoon in the changing room, Harry donned his Auror dress robes, which felt a little tight across the shoulders. They looked fine in the full length mirror, so he ignored the constricted feeling they gave him. He transferred his borrowed wand to the wand pocket of the robes and joined his fellows in the Aurors' office.

Kerry Ann appeared flushed with excitement as they allowed themselves to be lined up in the narrow space between the cubicles. Aaron by contrast was more subdued, unusually matching Vineet's attitude. They had an impromptu moment of silence for Munz who would have been made a full Auror that day. Kerry Ann lost her bubbly attitude after this and stopped sending bright glances over at Ambroise beside her mother. The Minister was not attending, so Belinda had come bearing the box of new adornments.

Tridant stood off to the side with the other visitors while Mr. Weasley went down the row of them, Belinda on his heel holding the box and seeming distracted. Mr. Weasley shook each of them by the hand and added a chain to their shoulder, starting with Blackpool, who now had two gold and one silver.

While Harry waited his turn he glanced over at Snape and Candide standing in the doorway and for a moment he felt dizzy with the alternative endings to the close calls that could have left either or both of them dead. A deep breath later, he felt less fragile but not as strong as he wished. He was distracted by Mr. Weasley adding a second gold chain to his left shoulder.

"Good job, Harry. Knew you could do it," he said, shaking Harry's hand vigorously.

Harry fingered the chains, finding that they meant more than expected. Even though they were just a symbol, they provided solid evidence that the last year was over and therefore could be put behind him. Mr. Weasley finished up with Aaron, gave then all one last round of accolades and then chided everyone to return to work. Snape approached, clearing the doorway.

"Loads to be proud of, Harry," Candide said when they reached his side and the tide of people had washed the other way.

Harry wanted to repeat what he had said the day before, that being alive was all that mattered. But he could not say it again now; their pride in him did matter.

"Shall we have a celebratory dinner somewhere nice tonight?" Candide suggested.

Harry had to hold himself from glancing at Tonks, with whom he was planning to have precisely that. "Er," Harry hemmed.

Snape said, "I think Harry's birthday will have to do for the celebratory dinner."

"Oh," Candide said, clearly not understanding.

The room had nearly emptied. Only Tonks hung back, fiddling with papers on her desk. "I have to get back to my training," Harry said to dismiss them. "Thanks for coming, even though it was short."

Snape nodded in acknowledgment. He shot a last level glance at Tonks before turning and departing. Candide squeezed Harry's arm and followed.

When they were alone, Tonks said, "You could have gone out with them tonight instead."

"I'd rather go out with you," Harry said quietly, stepping closer.

She held a hand up. "Rodgers is about to come hunting for you, I'm certain."

Harry dearly wanted to wrap her up in his arms, something he had not had a chance to do in a week and a half. He sighed and departed for the training room, thinking the evening could not come fast enough.

Indeed, their dinner out was delayed because Tonks was late returning from an assignment. After having too much time on his hands during holiday, Harry found himself impatient with things not happening exactly when he wanted them to. He loitered in the corridor after the other apprentices had left for the day, hoping Tonks would make an appearance. When this failed, and various passing people glanced up at him questioningly, Harry decided to give Belinda a visit. Her mood during their advancement ceremony had declined again, in contrast to most everyone else's around the Ministry.

Before Shacklebolt could pass by a third time with a raised thick eyebrow, Harry headed for the stairwell to go up a level. He reminded himself that Tonks would be a while finishing reports, if she did return before he did.

Belinda sat at her desk, scowling at a sheaf of parchments in her hand. The outer office was a hive of activity; a meeting was going on around the low table and workers were repairing shelves in the corner, so books, crystal balls and gifts from foreign dignitaries were stacked on the floor along the walls.

"Hi," Harry said.

"Hallo," Belinda said dully, making Harry believe that she was upset with him about something, although he had no idea what it might be.

"I, er, didn't get a chance to talk during the ceremony earlier and I realized, well, that we hadn't in a while."

She set the stack of parchments before her and smoothed them, not meeting his gaze. "Congratulations," she said, almost out of the blue.

Harry's awkwardness increased. He could not ask her what the problem was here in the office. "Do you want to go out for coffee sometime? You can sometimes get out for lunch, right?"

"Not a good idea," she said.

"Oh." Harry fidgeted and turned sharply when a nasal voice said, "Problem Potter?" Harry turned to face Percy Weasley, who had one boney elbow propped outward, fist on hip.

"No," Harry replied easily, glad he now understood why Belinda had been giving him such chilly responses. "Just came up to chat."

"It's a bit busy here," Percy pointed out as though Harry were ten years old. A drilling spell from the dismantled corner loudly accented the accusation that Harry may be in the way.

Harry shrugged and said goodbye extra sweetly to Belinda as he departed. The corridor was blissfully peaceful in contrast. Harry shrugged inside his robes, feeling like he needed a shower after simply talking to Percy.

Late in the evening, Tonks and Harry finally made it to a small Muggle restaurant in the West End. It was so dark inside, Harry at first thought it was closed for the night. But it was not and they were seated at a candlelit table beside a mirrored wall that reflected myriad, cascading candlelit tables and orange-hued faces from the mirror on the opposing wall.

Harry appreciated the darkness as he took hold of Tonks' hand across the table. "I missed you," he said.

Tonks replied, "It felt like more than eight days. More like eighty days. You look gorgeous with that bronzed skin. Makes me jealous."

In the flickering darkness, her usual tall pink hair appeared orangish, or perhaps she had changed it to orange. She wore a form-fitting knitted top that made Harry wish they could just skip dinner and go straight to her flat.

"Next time you and I should go."

She teased, "I didn't have an injury serious enough to keep me from working, unlike some people."

Harry said, "You seem more relaxed, or is it just me assuming you are because I am?"

"No, things quieted down nicely. We've caught up with the worst of the escapees from Azkaban. The Ministry's getting cleaned up." She shrugged. "Let's not talk about the Ministry."

Harry fished in his head for another topic while the warm hum of conversation and the clink of silver surrounded them. "You're coming to my birthday party, right?"

"Late. I'm on duty until 9:00."

Harry frowned. "Which means you probably won't make it until 11:00, at the earliest."

"I'll make it eventually, Harry. I promise." She gave him a smile to seal it.

At her flat, they curled around each other on the couch and Harry silently agreed that it felt like it had been eighty days since they last were together. Despite believing he would take it slow and relish things, it did not work out that way, and too soon they were threaded around each other, spent.

Harry was half asleep, in spite of not being entirely comfortable, when Tonks stirred and said, "I could use a cup of herb tea."

Harry unwound himself to let her rise, then pulled random articles of clothing back on as she made tea.

"Want some?" she asked, standing just outside the kitchen holding a teapot, wearing only an unbuttoned shirt.

"Sure," Harry said, thinking that she could skip the tea and just stand there for a while and that would be fine too.

From the kitchen, she asked, "How's it feel to be a Second-Year?"

"I thought we weren't going to talk about the Ministry."

"I'm not; I'm talking about you." She brought the teapot out and two tea cups, which she proceeded to dry with the loose corner of her shirt.

"It's nice to be reminded I'm making progress." Harry held out a cup for her to fill, then had to move his fingers to the lip when the thin china grew scalding hot.

Tonks said, "Minister Bones held a little meeting with a few people from the department to talk about how we can work on your image."

Harry growled.

"Don't make noises like that while I'm holding a hot cup of tea," she said. "I have a hard enough time with that, normally."

Harry smiled, but then heard himself say, "You're very cold at the Ministry." He may not have said it had he thought ahead.

She stared at her hands cradling her cup. "I have to be, Harry. You should be too, but you keep slipping up."

"I just . . . think it'd be nice to behave, well, normally."

"If we are in a bad spot—which happens not infrequently as Aurors—neither you nor I can take personal feelings into account. It's deadly if we do."

"The Longbottoms managed it. Since they were married before they were Aurors, they could behave normally." Harry was not certain why he continued to argue this, but he needed to get it out in the open more than he needed to be rational.

"Harry, look where they are now. Ask Shacklebolt what happened to them sometime."

"I know what happened to them; Bellatrix happened to them."

"Yeah, but how'd she catch them? They messed up, Harry." She topped up her cup and folded her feet under herself.

"Bellatrix thought Voldemort could be still alive. Turns out she was right. I wonder if she knew about the horcruxes."

"I don't want to talk about it. It was way before my time, so I may not have the story straight." But despite her assertion, she added, "'Course, Reggie messed up with Bellatrix too."

Harry pulled the knitted blanket from the back of the couch over the both of them and leaned closer to her. "What exactly happened with Rodgers?"

"He walked into a trap. But he was at his limit already. At some point after that many hours on duty you are on automatic and can't think suspiciously enough."

"What did Severus have to do with it?"

"He came to the rescue. You didn't hear that?"

"I don't think Rodgers wanted me to know that," Harry said, grinning. "No wonder they're no longer at each other's throat." He took her tea cup away and set it on the floor so she would not spill it when he aggressively moved to kiss the hollow above her collarbone.

- 888 -

Saturday arrived and with it Harry's birthday. Harry slept in till 9:00 a.m. because he had been out field shadowing until 1:00 a.m. the night before. He had shadowed Blackpool, who could now officially take him around, although that had not stopped them being assigned together before when the office was too busy to avoid it.

Most of the evening, Blackpool seemed to have other things on her mind, but at one point she asked Harry to help her reinforce a spell barrier around a wizard bulletin board in Blossom Square that had suffered during the riots. Harry at the best of times found large barriers difficult, but his borrowed wand made it impossible to sustain the right magic to complete the spell. He could only apologize for not being able to do this minor duty. Her pragmatic words of, "Just get a new wand, Potter," still echoed in his head this morning.

Harry snarfed breakfast while Snape and Candide read the newspaper, having long since eaten.

"Off somewhere?" Snape asked, when Harry stood not five minutes after sitting down.

"I have to go to Ollivanders," Harry explained. "The Ministry wand I've been using isn't working well enough for me."

"Do you have sufficient gold for a new one?"

"I think so. I can go to my vault if I don't."

Snape's distracted attention narrowed down at that. "Let me know if you do need anything."

Harry swung his cloak on and prepared to use the Floo. "I need a wand that doesn't have a history."

Snape stood at that and intercepted Harry as he was putting the canister of Floo powder back on the mantelpiece, crystals of powder dribbled out between the fingers of his over-full left hand. "Fighting fate is rarely successful."

"Thanks, Sybill," Harry breathed before tossing in the powder.

- 888 -

Harry took a deep breath and turned the latch of Ollivander's shop door. Bells jingled above his head. A lean shadow crawled across the back wall and the old wizard came into view.

"Ah, Mr. Potter, what can I do for you?"

Glancing around the tightly packed boxes surrounding them, Harry said, "I lost my wand and I need a new one."

Harry could not read Ollivander's piercing, pale-eyed gaze. The older wizard clasped his hands together and fell thoughtful while peering around his stock. "We tried quite a few wands last time, Mr. Potter. But . . . there are a few new ones you could try . . ." He trailed off accommodatingly.

"I've been using this one," Harry said, holding up the borrowed wand from his department.

Ollivander cursorily examined it, asking, "How does it work for you?"

"It works. Mostly. Doesn't do everything quite the way I'm used to."

Ollivander rewove his fingers together. "Lost the old, you say?"

"Fighting Merton, yes. It might have shown up . . . that's why I waited to get a new one. I wasn't certain if it was destroyed or not." This excuse sounded good, even to Harry, who knew he had put it off because he feared fate would repeat itself yet again with a replica of the old one.

They had reached an impasse; Ollivander broke it by turning to fetch his ladder and some wands from his stock.

"This is an unusual one," Ollivander said, shaking open a long narrow box much the same as the others. He held up a long white wand with a spiral pattern of grain. "Unicorn horn with fairy wing tendon."

Harry took hold of the wand. It felt different, all right. "The Unicorn is still alive?" he asked, knowing the answer, but asking nevertheless. He really was musing on how the wand would behave after the Unicorn had died.

"I would expect."

Harry tried a few spells. The hover came out strangely. The book floating before him visibly vibrated.

"That wand is looking for someone," Ollivander said, almost confessing. "I don't know whom. Does not like charms as well as hexes, in my practice with it at least."

Harry handed it back and another box was lifted off a healthy pile of two dozen still to go. "Coral tipped Palissandre," Ollivander announced as he held out a pastel pink wand streaked with brown. "The core is harpy feather."

This wand did nothing when Harry waved it. He handed it back.

"As expected," the shopkeeper said. "I made that one for the mer-boy the Hogwarts headmistress tells me is getting a letter just about now."

"One of the mer people is attending Hogwarts?" Harry asked in surprise. "How is he going to breathe?"

"A water charm of some kind, I'm sure. Or a diving bell full of water if all else fails."

He handed Harry another wand. "Sandlewood with Mngwa whisker."

Half an hour later, Ollivander informed Harry that he had exhausted his stock of new wand materials since Harry had last shopped there. "The rosewood and glass Cherufe hair performed the best, I believe," Ollivander helpfully said.

"Not good enough. Charms didn't work at all," Harry admitted. He dropped his head and let his eyes flow over the piles of open boxes on the counter. Ollivander began meticulously putting each wand away in its proper box and stacking them in a basket for restocking. Harry did not want to give in, but there seemed no choice. "If I bring you a feather from Fawkes, can you make me another like my old one?" Harry heard himself ask.

Ollivander nodded.

"I'll do that, then," Harry informed him, feeling dispirited. "I should fetch one now while I have the time."

Harry Disapparated to Tonks' flat, which he knew was empty, and dropped through the Dark Plane to arrive behind Hagrid's hut. Snape did not want Harry traveling though the Dark Plane, especially on so casual an errand, but Harry was feeling disgruntled and unwilling to obey even good advice as a result.

Hagrid was tending his vegetable plot, thinning the small pumpkins down by picking out those that were not of his preferred shape. "That one'll never do," he said, tossing a donut-shaped, beach ball sized pumpkin beyond the garden fence as though it were a trifle. "Oh, hello Harry. Didn't see ya there."

"Can I borrow Fawkes for a minute?" Harry asked. "I need a tail feather from him for a new wand."

Harry almost half-hoped Hagrid would forbid him to have one for some obscure exotic animal care reason. But Hagrid just stood straight, rubbing his great broad back, and said, "We'll, let's see what we can do fer yeh."

Fawkes flapped his wings when they entered. He was in full feather, Harry observed and could not avoid the eerie sense of coincidence. "He looks good," Harry said.

"Aye. He's about to start a month of molting then comes the flames and ashes, and then we start again." He turned to Harry conspiratorially. "That's when I have to move his perch outside or risk losing my thatch." He turned to the bird. "Harry here needs a tail feather. You're going to lose those two you have in a week or three anyhow and by then they'll be ragged as the weeds I dredged out o' the lake last week."

The bird tilted its head to look at Hagrid better and shuffled along its perch away from him. Harry approached and stroked the bird's head and wing. "Believe me, I don't really want to take your lovely feather but I don't have any choice."

Fawkes stepped up onto Harry's hand and pecked at his robes but it did not seem aggressive, more conversational. Hagrid said, "That's all right then." And gave a snapping tug on the longest of Fawkes' tail feathers. He startled Harry and the bird equally when Fawkes gave an ear-splitting squawk! and fluttered once around the cabin before flapping back to the perch and fussing with his remaining good feather.

"Thanks Fawkes," Harry said. The bird ignored him.

Hagrid wrapped the feather in a soft deer hide and handed it to Harry. "There you are."

"Thanks Hagrid. I don't know if I could have . . . yanked it out like that."

"Ach, nothing to it. He was going to burn it to ash shortly enough."

Harry returned to Ollivander's via the Floo in Hogsmeade, uncertain if passing through the Dark Plane may harm the feather's magic. He presented the whole bundle to the old wizard craftsman and put down an eight Galleon deposit.

"I'll push your wand to the top of the list, given your position, the poor match you have with your current wand, and your history of attractiveness to those with evil intent. It should be finished in a week. Call again next Saturday."

"Thank you, sir," Harry said, giving the old wizard a small bow because just saying goodbye seemed insufficient.

Harry was still melancholy when he returned home. The house had been decorated in his absence and now black, maroon and green streamers lined the center hall and a pile of presents had been started on a table in the corner. The house was quiet, and Harry stood still there in the center of the big room, captured by his own thoughts.

Snape stepped up beside him, quietly, but not so silent that Harry did not lack all awareness that he was there. Harry shook himself and returned to the here and now.

"How did it go?" Snape asked.

"I fetched Ollivander a feather from Fawkes to use to make another." Try as he might, Harry could not make his voice come out other than annoyed.

Sounding as though he wished to tread carefully, Snape asked, "What is wrong with having a wand that works properly for you?"

"Nothing's wrong with that," Harry said. "It's just that . . . that wand had a role to play and if that wand is always destined to be mine, then the role is also."

"I don't believe I ever expected to have to say this to you, but I believe you are over-analyzing the situation."

Harry plunked himself down on one of the couches and let himself sink backwards. "I don't want to fight Voldemort any longer."

Snape stepped around until he faced Harry, expression narrowed with disbelief. "I do not know what makes you fear that you will need to. He is safely, and helplessly I might add, ensconced within the French wizard prison. I cannot imagine he will be going anywhere anytime soon."

"True," Harry admitted.

"It is time to focus on your training-"

Harry interrupted with, "It is time to focus on my birthday."

"Yes, well, for today," Snape conceded.

Harry got to his feet and surveyed the tables that had been set up. An empty punch bowl and haphazard stacks of crystal cups sat around it. "Hermione's been busy already."

"I believe she won't be returning until 4:00 or so," Snape informed Harry, sounding cryptic.

"You know something I don't," Harry suggested.

Snape gave a haughty lift of his nose and stepped away.

"Ach," Harry said, resting his head back. "At least I don't feel followed around all the time anymore."

This re-attracted Snape's attention before he could reach the stairs. Harry went on: "Maybe Mad Eye's found something better to do."

"Maybe he decided on a holiday as well," Snape suggested.

"Maybe he's just getting more careful," Harry said, sitting forward. He ran the detection spell for the house, but it fizzled. Harry slapped his own forehead and groaned.

"Good thing you gave in on the wand," Snape said, snapping his wand out and running the spell himself. A thin trail of blue glitter flickered over the walls and then faded, indicated the house was secure. Snape turned and headed up the stairs saying, "Unless you are looking for an exercise in humility, I would recommend declining any invitations to duel at your party tomorrow."

Next Week: Chapter Three - Nineteen Years

Snape shook his head decisively and crouched to add drops of something blue to the glass just until it turned glittery inside as though the liquid had frozen over all of a sudden.

"What are you making?"

"Something of my own concocting."

"I've never seen it before."

"You have. I concocted it for you when you were in the Dark Lord's grips and dared not sleep."

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