Chapter 4 — Battle in Darkness


Friday night, Harry reported for his field shadowing. Ever since Mr. Weasley had learned about him and Tonks, Harry rarely got paired with her, and this evening was no exception. In the Aurors' office he found Blackpool sitting at Tonks' desk, waiting for him. Rogan and Shacklebolt were hard at work at their own desks, Shacklebolt with two open files hovering beside him to avoid cluttering his desk.

"Should we pick out an assignment?" Blackpool asked Harry. She seemed in better spirits than previous shifts so Harry eagerly assented.

Her face twisted amusingly as she fingered each assignment slip beside the log book. "Mysterious lights not over swamp, nah . . . domestic dispute elevated out of Obliviatorobliviator squad . . . hm, that one should have been closed by now . . ."

"It has been," Shacklebolt said from where he sat at his desk, battered quill in hand. "That is the closed pile."

Blackpool glanced up from the slip she had just picked up. "Oh, how did Repeat odd report intercepted from Muggle police in Burnipsbie turn out?" Harry glanced at the slip, wondering why she thought it interesting.

"I closed it, don't worry about it," Shacklebolt snapped, startling Blackpool and bringing Rogan's head up out of his own quill-work.

When Blackpool simply stared at him in surprise, he waved the slip out of her grasp to his own, and bundled it up in his palm before turning back to his research. Blackpool shrugged after a second and pulled out a slip from the pile on the other side of the log book.

"Probable magical trickster loose in Loch Ness . . . Oh boy."

"That one keeps floating to the top," Rogan said, grin clear in his voice. "No one seems to want it."

"We'll take it," Harry said, taking away the slip. "We'll need the brooms," he said grabbing up the two nicest ones propped beside the door and grabbing Blackpool by the arm to Disapparate to an empty overgrown field far from any significant city.

"I didn't want that one, Potter," Blackpool grumbled.

"Nor do I," Harry said, handing her a broom. "I want to see what is up in Burnipsbie."

"Oh. Did you get the road and number?"

Harry nodded, considering where he could closest Apparate into. "Er, except you're in charge," he said, sounding suddenly uncertain.

"Well, yeah, but I'd like to check that out too." She pulled out a pair of flying gloves and began pulling them on. "Not like Mr. Shacklebolt to lose his stiff calm like that. Odd."

"That's what I thought."

She propped her broom on its twigs and adjusted her grip on it as though to stretch out her gloves. "So, I can get us about ten miles off from Burnipsbie."

"Do you think we should go to Loch Ness first, as cover?"

"Let's go after. I don't think Shacklebolt will check up on us right away."

Harry worried otherwise, but she was in charge.

Blackpool said, "I like your suspicious way of thinking."

"I can't help it at this point."

Blackpool laughed and took hold of Harry's arm.

After a pleasant evening flight accompanied by the orange glory of the setting sun, they circled over the village of Burnipsbie, a stain of lights on the darkened earth as though the snaking necklace of the motorway had leaked into the rolling sheep fields.

They landed at the edge of the houses and Blackpool left her broom with Harry and walked into a pizza takeaway to ask for directions to Pollen Gate. With a jangle of the bell on the door, she soon came back out and around to the dark side of the building where Harry waited.

"Said the road is five over and that he hoped dearly that I did not want number sixty-four because everyone living there is right insane. 'Creepy' he said. They play rock-paper-scissors to see who gets stuck delivering there, and they order frequently."

"Hm," Harry said, hoping for more clues. "Did he say anything else?"

"They always order quadruple meat and spinach on their pizza. Apparently the steak house doesn't deliver."

They stood, each in their own thoughts, until a car pulled up in the last space on the end, illuminating their dark corner. Blackpool smoothly slipped the brooms behind her back, out of view.

"Well, let's go," she said soberly.

As they walked, Harry said, "Shacklebolt didn't seem to be under an Imperio, did he?"

Blackpool shook her head as she strode with purpose. "He seemed the opposite of far away and slow to me. His pupils weren't dilated."

They soon reached the correct street and stood by silent agreement behind two large tree trunks in the empty lot opposite. Sixty-four was the last house on the road. It stood forlorn, darker than the sky behind it, with only dim lights showing in a few windows as though candles were in use. The remaining windows were endlessly black. The shutters hung crooked and the slate roof had jagged rows of missing shingles like open wounds. Harry shivered.

"Magical household?" he asked of the candlelight as a swarm of swifts dodged by, seeming to avoid the house opposite in their dance.

"Wasn't color coded as such on the slip."

Silence fell again. "How about we come back during the day?" Harry proposed. "Say, around about noontime."

Blackpool laughed. "Some Aurors we are." She laughed more. Growing serious again, she said, "Kingsley got away unscathed. Let's get a closer look."

"Shacklebolt had something going on," Harry pointed out as they stepped onto the cracked Tarmac, Harry felt a wave of aversion and he instinctively grabbed for Blackpool. His ungainly grab came up with the shoulder of her sleeve, which slipped free of his grasp.

"What is it?" she whispered.

Harry waved for her to slide sideways, but there was no cover on either side of the house, just flat dry ground interspersed with ragged patches of dead grass, as though the occupants desired to see who approached. She gestured for them to go back to the relative security of the trees where they had started.

"Potter?" Blackpool prompted. "You're spooked and that can't be good."

"I feel the, uh, I feel evil when I get too close to that house."

"This your curse-nose going off?" she asked, wand held at read, aimed at the doorway across from them.

"Worse. It's like the underworld leaking through." He breathed in and it did smell too earthy. "Can you smell it?"

"Smells like the country to me."

"Would you be willing to let me approach the house alone? I get an early warning and know when to back off."

She rubbed her chin, considering him and the house alternately. Twilight was passing into real night, and now the sky glowed only from the city lights, miles off. A large black bird or a bat flapped around the chimneys before fluttering off.

"If you stay in view, sure. I can cover you from here. If you leave my sight, I'm coming after you," she threatened.

Harry jogged across the road and up beside the steps where he could peek in the front window. He rolled his wand in his fingers, wishing it were his new one. The aversion had eased somewhat, so Harry canceled the Obsfucation charm, waited for the cold fingers of it to subside, and knocked on the door.

A long, empty time passed. A car roared by on the crossing road, pulling the hum of the motorway closer. Harry was about to knock again when he heard movement inside, shifting back and forth behind the door as though the source of it rocked side to side, uncertain.

The door clicked and swung open, creaking of course. An alabaster face appeared in the opening, a young woman, expressionless except for her wide eyes.

"Hi," Harry said. "I, uh, I wonder if I could have a word with you?"

The person did not respond. The face glanced back behind itself, then again at Harry, long black hair swishing. Harry decided that he needed a bit of Legilimency here, and since the young woman was staring openly at him, he had lots of time. The resulting sense of terror nearly made him drop his wand. He gripped it tighter, eyes also wide now. Her face gave away none of the extreme battle going on inside her head. A battle of wills raged behind her grey eyes as though two personalities wanted to dominate fully and would not give ground for even the smallest action until utterly winning out. She continued to stare.

Harry pushed the door gently inward. This tore her gaze to the door, and she released it, hand frozen in space as though she still held the edge of it. She stood stock still in a two-story hall in a grey nightie with torn frills, wholly Muggle. Harry gave an okay sign behind his back, hoping in the dim light that Blackpool could read it.

A shrill voice grated on Harry's suppressed memories of the Dursley's as an older woman stalked into the hall. "What is this, Margaret?" she asked, eyes also wide as she glared down her nose at Harry. She was taller than him and wore a ragged but ancient dress with a hoop skirt. She pushed the outside door closed, concentrating the musty odor. The dim light sucked all the color out of her dress so, combined with her pale skin, she seemed a ghost.

Harry, having nothing to lose, said, "I'm an old friend of Maggie's from school."

"Margaret is not allowed visitors. You should go." She pointed a boney finger at the door she had just closed.

Thin fingers tugged on Harry's arm from Margaret's side. Thinking quickly, Harry said, "I just haven't seen Maggie around in so long . . ." That seemed a pretty safe bet. The old woman grew calculating. Harry Legilimized her too, wondering at her strangely increasing calm. He had rather a major struggle not to react to visions of someone mentally auditioning various means of killing him. The vision cycled from kitchen knives and stabbing to hatchets and blood to ropes and blue faces.

"Of course," the woman said calmly as the vision wound back to thoughts of long knives. "Why don't you take him up to your room, Margaret, dear."

Harry held his expression utterly flat, which was the best he could do, and assumed he looked just like the daughter. The woman turned away, dragging the ragged edge of her gown as she glided off, probably to the kitchen. The thin fingers tugged plaintively on Harry's arm again and he let himself be led to the far end of the hall. At the end, the stairwell wrapped around, heading upward back toward the door. Harry turned and stepped up and just before it went out of view, saw the door silently opening again.

Knowing that Blackpool followed, Harry held fast to his small wand and plodded up each step, senses fully alert. At the top another ghostly figure darted out of a side room. "Is it pizza?" a small boy frantically asked. Harry lowered his wand, sputtering faintly with the blasting curse he had nearly used.

"No," the sister simply answered. The first she had spoken.

The boy swallowed, looked about to cry, and ran back into his room.

Harry pushed down the thoughts of why Shacklebolt thought this sufficient to let alone because he could not spare the attention. He and Margaret stepped along a thick runner and halfway along went into a girl's bedroom. A candle shed welcome warm light around the high-ceilinged room. The curtains, canopy and various frills still powerfully exuded their quaintness, but they drooped, leeched of color by dust and time. The girl sat on the bed and clasped her hands between her knees. The battle still went on, Harry assumed. Even in the orange light, her skin stretched translucent and colorless over her features.

Harry, wand still firmly in hand, knelt before her. "Margaret?" he prompted gently. "What is going on?"

The battle raged harder and she shook her head. The door moved silently and Harry had to squint to see even a prismatic outline of the Obsfucated Blackpool taking a position beside the door.

Relaxing just faintly, Harry took one icy hand and wondered with a start of his already active nerves if she could be an Inferae. No, he could feel a pulse. He bit his lip to try another deeper round of Legilimency but Margaret looked away, at the window. Harry turned that way as well, and stood instinctively with a jerk of surprise. Previously, darkness and a few lights had shown outside but now dense glowing fog pressed tight to the glass.

Harry stepped back and raised his wand. He felt sleepy and violently shook his head. A strange sound of delight came from beside the door, presumably from Blackpool. Harry found himself bending to drop his wand on the floor, and this frightened him enough that he fell to his knees to take it up again while forcefully Occluding his mind. His thoughts cleared and the room stabilized. Something fleshy collapsed to the floor behind him and Margaret now lay back on the bed, tugging her nightie away from her neck as though suffering from heat stroke. One of her hands stretched out as though to greet someone at the window.

Harry, holding his mind Occluded, stepped back farther as the fog leaked in through the cracks in the old window and began to coalesce. The aversion returned, making him hunch to fight running. The glowing mist gathered densely, darkened and became a tall man in a cloak. He did not turn to look at Harry, but approached the bed and its hypnotized occupant. Before reaching the bed, he spun away and stalked toward the door, eliciting a groan of dismay from the vicinity of the bed.

The figure rotated its head, mouth wide as though tasting the air. The vampire's long teeth were quite apparent as it did this. Harry held his breath, wanting to see enough evidence so that there would no argument later that this vampire was fully rogue and had therefore lost its rights.

The man-creature pawed around on the floor in search of Blackpool, frantic as though hungry for what must smell far healthier than the other victim in the room. The candle flickered as though in a breeze, white teeth flashed as the vampire moved to bite down on what he had found by feel and Harry blasted him against the dresser in the far corner.

Vampires were indestructible, and what would have knocked out anyone else did not phase this man. He rose up inside his cloak and swelled even taller as his gaze burned red with anger. Harry felt his Occlusion slipping due to his own anger and the vampire's head tilted as though interested in Harry's ability to resist him.

"It's over," Harry said.

The man laughed. "Oh, is it? How quaint."

"You're coming with me. You've gone rogue and that's against the rules."

"The Rules," the vampire mocked. "Whose rules are we onto now? Do you know how old I am?"

"Old enough that you should have been dead long ago; I'll give you that," Harry said.

The man laughed again, more mocking. "You have no idea how to catch a vampire, let alone the king of vampires. Look at you."

It was true that Harry did not have the kind of trap he had once seen a coven use. "You have no power over me," Harry pointed out.

"True. That is rare, I'll grant you that."

Harry shot a binding curse at the man, but he flapped out of it as a bat. Harry put a prison box around him but he slithered out of it as a mist, laughing.

"Oh, such games used to amuse me no end. But you are a puny mortal wizard. A mere insect, existing for just a flicker of time."

Harry thought fiercely. "I'm still stronger than you," Harry mocked, hoping to delay him. "There are rules, Ministry of Magic rules, that you are required to follow as a controlled magical creature."

The man snorted, his smooth, ordinary face wrinkling in disgust. "I was around when your Isles were one continent connected to rest of Europe; that is how long I have been alive. Do not insult me." He did sound angry, which suited Harry just fine, since he needed to buy time and hoped that meant he would keep arguing.

The vampire flicked his cloak tightly around him as though thinking of departing. "This place has been drained of the life that does more than sustain me. I have delayed finding a new home too long. If I want to truly live, I need flesh fresher than this." He glanced covetously at the heap on the floor where Blackpool was reappearing as hazy arcs of black robe.

"You're not going anywhere," Harry said.

"Bah!" The vampire mocked. "Goodbye pathetic wizard," he said and dropped through the floor.

Harry felt the interstice to the Dark Plane crack open and close again. He followed, heart racing. He had a hold of the vampire by the wrist before he could stride more than two steps away across the greyness of the Dark Plane. The Vampire gaped at Harry. Around them creatures scuttled closer, curious.

It was Harry's turn to laugh. "I told you you weren't going anywhere."

Harry's quarry recovered from his surprise and scooped his hand toward himself. The disgusting creatures closed in, obeying the command. Harry faced the nearest ones down and they hesitated but others climbing over the first, snarling, clapping their jaws together. Their oily breath reeked of rot and death.

Harry Disapparated to the area of the Dark Plane opposite the Ministry, taking the Vampire with him. Temporarily, they left the creatures behind. Vampires could not Disapparate, so Harry hoped this one was disoriented. He did glance around in consternation before glaring at Harry, who tightened the grip on his arm and pulled his wand.

The vampire's eyes pulsed red at the sight of the wand and he fell, dragging Harry with him. Harry felt flattened, curled up, and towed through a row of cracks by his arm, but they arrived exactly where he wanted to be: in the Ministry dungeon. Seeming frantic, the vampire tried to shake his arm loose from Harry's grasp. Harry twisted the arm behind his quarry's back and threw him up against the damp stone wall. He pressed his wand into the back of his ribs, wishing dearly that it was his own wand so he did not have to make any empty threats.

"I suspect that if I carve your heart out, it will at least slow you down," he hissed into the man's ear. "It takes you three seconds to get to mist form; it only takes me half a one to spell a cutting curse."

"Hey, whatcha got?" Horace, the squat wizard who managed the dungeon, sauntered up and asked. "I didn't see you come in," he then said in alarm, glancing back in the direction of the heavy door and scratching his head.

"He slipped us in," Harry said, hoping that covered it.

"Oh, yeah, they're like that." He pulled a narrow, battered log book out of a belt pouch. "Name?"

The vampire didn't reply, so Harry pressed the wand harder into his flesh. It had to hurt. "Fueago."

"Last name, first name?"

"That is my name. It is as old as time you imbecile-"

"I need to get him somewhere secure," Harry interrupted to say.

"Oh, yeah." Horace drew a necklace out of his pouch and draped it over Harry's head. "Isle Mayfay has a facility for him." He used his wand to tap the fleur de lis charm on the necklace and the dungeon twisted away. Harry barely kept hold of his prisoner as they flew and rotated a long time, landing hard on what turned out to be a pier.

Waves slapped against the sides of the neat straight stones. A dark fog hung over the water, obscuring anything farther than ten feet off. Flood lights illuminated the scene from behind and Harry torqued his head around to look up at the fortress that was L'île de Cachot Méfait, the French wizard prison. He dragged the vampire to his feet and, maintaining his wand point between his ribs, pushed him in the direction of the great doors.

Salt crystals blossoming in the dips of the stone crunched underfoot as they went. Harry did not see a knocker so he was glad when the right-hand door turned open on a central pivot as they approached.

A Frenchman about Harry's height, and carrying a crystal-tipped pike, approached as they entered the vast entry hall. Harry said, "I have a prisoner," but the guard simply stared at him.

Fueago rattled off a long string of haute French that raised the guard's eyebrow. The guard began to study Harry with suspicion.

"What are you saying?" Harry demanded angrily, which only bolstered the narrowing gaze of the guard.

The vampire said, "You are a typically stupid Englishman. I told him I am bringing you into the prison, but you overpowered me outside."

Harry tightened his hold on the vampire and the guard set down his pike and put up his hands placatingly, at which point Harry realized that his only negotiating power at the moment was that he appeared to be holding someone hostage.

"I'm from the Ministry of Magic. I'm bringing this rogue vampire in . . ." But he was drowned out by a longer exchange of incomprehensible French.

"Shut up," Harry said to the vampire, and began dragging him farther inside. The guard thought this an acceptable direction, so, leaving his pike behind, he followed over the smooth stone. They passed over a narrow causeway where the sea slapped at the bottom of long trenches on either side. Beyond, the floor changed to black slate. The Vampire struggled with him at the most vulnerable point, so Harry shoved him to the stone, wand in the center of his back.

"I'll do it," Harry threatened. "You've certainly lived long enough for one man." In that instant, his curse sense went off and he ducked as a spell from the guard sizzled overhead. "What are you doing?" Harry yelled at the man.

The vampire, far stronger than expected, tossed Harry aside as though he were a doll and got to his feet. He pointed at Harry, who was occupied for a desperate breath with pulling his leg out of the waves and climbing to safety. The vampire continued to give the guard instructions in French. The pike leveled at Harry, who did not want to strike back, but had a counter in mind once he got his wand at ready. Running feet delayed the guard's actions. Harry, sensing that the vampire did not want to cross to the slate floor, leapt to grab his wrist and tossed him there, using all of his strength. Both of them tumbled onto the damp, slippery stone.

The lead man of the new guards, identifiable by the ribbons on his silver tunic, stepped in front of Fueago before he could crawl back to the brown stone causeway. Fueago began demanding things in French. The guard almost lifted a hand down to help him up and then glanced at Harry. "Ah, Harry Potter, what a pleasant surprise." He reacted quickly, pointing at the vampire, saying, "Is 'e with you?"

"My prisoner," Harry said, relieved enough his knees went vaguely wobbly.

The leader withdrew his hand and signaled for the guards just as the vampire changed into mist. Harry raised his wand but a barrier kept the mist on the black slate side of the causeway.

"Eet is all right," the guard assured Harry, and the mist, after shifting frantically back and forth, became a man again.

The vampire began arguing in French again while trying to step back over the line. Harry approached, helping to box him in.

"Eh, so you say," the head guard said mockingly, gesturing for him to be lead deeper into the prison.

Harry took the vampire's elbow when he hesitated moving, saying with a smirk, "You may be ancient, but I'm famous."

At the lift, which was just a solid stone platform with no sides, the guards took over management of the prisoner. The head guard did not stop talking to Harry the whole way, but Harry did not mind at all.

"I 'ave always wanted to meet you, Mr. Potter. The warden will be thrilled too, I know because he has your picture on his wall, right between Meester Paul-Marie Verlaine and Meester Zherri Lew-es. Perhaps you could sign it for him . . . if it is not so much trouble?"

"Of course," Harry assured him.

Down, down they went into the bowels of the rock. It was hot down here and Harry hoped they had not gone so deep that the core of the earth was making things warmer. They stopped finally and had to duck exiting the lift into a narrow corridor cut into the rock. In a small office where the tables, shelves and even the chairs were carved directly in the rock, Harry was instructed to sit at a desk.

"Just some papers-work and we will take care of this animal for you."

Parchments Harry could not read were placed before him. "Can you summarize these?"

"Oh, yes. This is the Assignment of Overseeing, which means that you cannot have 'eem back without some other papers signing. This is the Statement of Ill Deed, which you can fill in English, no? Since only another Englishman will need to read eet."

Harry began filling things in, finding it hard to cast his mind back to the horrors of the house. It occurred to him now with a jolt that he had left Blackpool behind, unconscious with the murderous lady of the house. He swallowed hard and wrote faster.

The vampire was slouched on rock chair in the corner, looking desolate and harmless. "I just remembered something I should have done," Harry said, handing the parchments back and standing up.

"There are a few more papers and the photograph for the warden . . ." the guard said.

"I'll come back," Harry insisted. "I really have to check on my partner." He fingered the portkey on the necklace, close to panic so much adrenaline flowed in his veins.

"I will activate it for you, but it will not work here. Up above, only." He pointed, sounding like he wished to calm Harry.

"Thanks."

On the lift ride up, Harry thought about the procedures that he had not had the opportunity to work within. He should have told the guard in the Ministry dungeon to inform the Auror's office. That's what he should have done. Miserable, Harry rode upward as floors and side tunnels came and went, sliding below their smooth quiet platform.

Beyond the causeway, the head guard said, "We can finish the papers-work, but the warden will be sorrowful to not have met you."

"I'll come back as soon as I can," Harry insisted. "I would like a tour."

The man brightened considerably, eyes glittering with pride. "I would be honored to give you one."

The portkey returned Harry to the Ministry Dungeon. Running, he passed Horace, who was back at his tiny desk, hunched over something small. Harry dropped the key beside an elaborate origami of a ball and chain that was in progress, and made his way to the atrium, from which he could Apparate away.

Harry arrived, wand out, back in the candlelit bedroom, which was empty. He scrambled down to the dark lower floor, where voices could be heard. He found Blackpool filling out interview sheets with the family around the kitchen table. The scent of pizza filled the air.

"You're all right," Harry breathed out, choking on the words in his relief.

"Yeah, Potter. I figured you must have been green enough to give chase to a vampire."

Harry's foremost concern was the older woman's demeanor and whether it had improved above murderous. The woman sat, arms crossed, looking cold and aloof, tea untouched. She just seemed aggrieved now.

Blackpool said to the woman, "You really should see a surgeon. Get a transfusion."

"We will handle things our way," the woman said.

Margaret sat, nibbling on a pizza crust, saying nothing. Her brother was sleeping on his arm draped over the table. Harry stepped closer and bent down to ask the girl, "You all right?" After a very long pause, she nodded. To Blackpool, Harry said, "We need the Obliviator squad."

"After the interviews."

"Or, we need them for the trial, don't we?"

"We'll never catch him, Harry."

"Who, the vampire?" The room jerked as though Harry had said the name Voldemort three years ago. "I dropped him at the prison just now. In fact, I need to go back and finish the paperwork."

Blackpool set the quill down as well as the crust of pizza in her other hand. "You captured that bastard? Single handed?"

"Yeah, why not? I didn't want him to get away."

"Harry, Vampires can slip through a crack in the floor, barrier or not. If you can't find their sleeping place and get them warded all to hell with garlic without so much as making a sound or giving yourself away to one of the creepy companion creatures guarding them, you can forget it."

"I dropped him at the French prison just now."

"You put him in prison?" Margaret's faint voice asked from the end of the table.

"Yes," Harry assured her, wanting badly to reach through her terror. "He won't be coming back."

Blackpool picked the quill back up and flicked it around. "Well, in that case, yes, we need them for the trial. Or at least one of them. The others we can wipe." She glanced around the three of them, sitting still as though simply waiting to be victims again. "We'll keep the girl, I think." Blackpool stared additionally at Harry. "You really got him?"

"Yes," Harry insisted, not insulted because she sounded truly amazed.

"Well, go and fetch Reggie, Tonks or Mr. Weasley. With the vamp gone we can more easily deal with the issue of Kingsley."

"I forgot about Kings- . . . Shacklebolt," Harry said, struggling to keep up with events. "I'll get someone."

Back at the Ministry, Harry found Shacklebolt at his desk, reviewing files and looking stern, but mostly himself. Harry had no idea how complete the psychic control of a vampire was. It had not been covered in their training, perhaps because it occurred only rarely. He gave Shacklebolt a nod and started to back out of the room.

"Find anything in Loch Ness?" Shacklebolt asked, eyes intent when they turned upon Harry.

"No," Harry said, and slipped away before a followup question could get asked.

Mr. Weasley sat in his office, dictating a letter to someone in the Goblin Liaison Office. He held up his hand until he finished the sentence and grabbed hold of the dictation quill, which twitched as Harry said, "I need to talk to you and we need someone at the scene." Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw Shacklebolt approaching, looking determined about his destination, which was clearly Harry. Harry slipped his wand into his hand in a way that the Auror could not see, but Mr. Weasley had full view of.

"Harry?" he questioned, sounding concerned.

Harry stepped back into the corridor and to the wall, needing the space to defend himself, if necessary.

"Harry, put that away," Mr. Weasley cautioned, sounding fatherly.

Harry faintly shook his head. Shacklebolt looked between them but Harry had his conveniently small wand completely inside his sleeve now. Harry was not certain what to do. There were code words for this situation, both Auror ones and Order ones, but Shacklebolt would know all of them. Pained, Harry quickly tried to think of something. In a battle of trust between him and Shacklebolt there was no question who would win and already, Mr. Weasley looked doubting of Harry's rightmindedness.

"Maybe I'll speak to you later, sir," Harry firmly said, hoping his boss would catch the hint.

Mr. Weasley stood and said, "If you need someone on-site, Rodgers will be returning shortly. That way Kingsley can cover the office."

"I thought you didn't find anything," Shacklebolt said, sounding gravely suspicious.

"Well, it's hard to explain," Harry hedged, wishing he were trusted more and having no good ideas for how to proceed. If he simply attacked Shacklebolt, he was going to end up fighting him and Mr. Weasley.

Footsteps approached and Rodgers came into view. Harry could not have been more pleased to see him. "Can I talk to you, sir?" Harry asked, not liking how pleading he sounded.

Rodgers pulled his head back in surprise, but he then gestured gamely back down the corridor.

In the training room, Harry frustratingly said, "I don't know the procedure for this. And I just found out how little Mr. Weasley trusts me still."

Annoyance overwhelmed Harry's temper before Rodgers dryly asked, "Is Arthur what you wish to discuss? I'm not certain there is a protocol for increased trust within a department of the Ministry."

Harry gave him a cock-eyed glance and said, "You sound like Severus, you know. No, that isn't what I wish to discuss. Shacklebolt is compromised and I don't know what the procedure is for that."

Rodgers grew serious and asked, "Compromised in what way?"

Harry explained about the vampire and Shacklebolt's behavior. "The vampire is in the French prison now, so he is no risk."

"You and Blackpool caught him by yourselves? Fueago is an old timer who comes in and out of the country but we've never been able to catch him."

Harry now realized that he had perhaps given too much away through his actions, but there had been no choice. "Yeah, we did. The family's in bad shape. Blackpool is still interviewing them, but after that we need an Obliviator squad."

Rodgers stepped toward the door. "Let's go take a look at the scene first to choose one to keep their memories for now."

"We did already."

Rodgers stopped and appeared more affectionate than Harry had ever seen. "You kids are coming along."

Rodgers' hand was on the door before Harry could remind him with: "Shacklebolt?" which he had to swallow because the Auror was behind the door when it opened. Harry raised his wand and the spells cancelled out between them, knocking Rodgers aside with the spell wash.

Shacklebolt's brown eyes were dark and unreadable as spells lashed out again and Harry had to resort to his best attenuated block, which did not quite hold with his badly matched wand. Pain sizzled over Harry's skin. Frantic that he could not defend himself, Harry squirmed when he felt a curse, nasty and rancid rising up as though from the floor, out of the earth itself. His mind flashed back two years to his torment by Crabbe and Goyle. He could smell the dark earth then too, along with the rot of leaves and twigs on the Forbidden Forest floor where he had writhed. Harry squashed this curse as he had done the one that day, by forcing it back down into the ground, where the only outlet it could find was the caster himself. Shacklebolt flickered and doubled over, but he recovered quickly, eyes blazing.

Rodgers pulled himself to his feet and shouted, "Kingsley, stop it!"

Footsteps approached in the corridor. The next curse, which had far less on it, Harry blocked normally, because it did not feel the same as the one he had squashed. His counter wavered worrisomely despite not having to withstand much. He tried to roll behind a desk for the next one; the desk was blasted aside, forcing Harry to cover his head with his arms. The room fell silent long enough for Harry to risk raising his eyes. Shacklebolt was in a binding curse on the floor with Rodgers bent over him, looking murderous which was normal hard anger for him.

"What the devil?" Mr. Weasley demanded. Other offices had emptied and come down to gawk.

Harry was working on sitting up when Rodgers asked, "Potter?"

"Yeah," Harry said, not sure whether to respond positively or negatively because he had not yet decided what exactly had hit him. Using a desk, Harry got to his feet while Rodgers explained the situation. Harry could only return a helpless look when Mr. Weasley turned an expression his way that implied Harry should have handled things differently.

Mr. Weasley instructed Rodgers, "Put him in interrogation until we can get an exorcist in here." He stalked off past a stunned Rogan, who slid inside to help.

Harry moved slowly until he could sit at the desk he was leaning on. He sat there, breathing, until he remembered that he had to get back to Burnipsbie. "Damn," he muttered, standing up and mustering the will to Apparate.

"What happened to you?" Blackpool asked when Harry stepped into the kitchen.

"Tangled with Shacklebolt."

"I'd have thought you could take him."

Harry gratefully took a seat at the table. "I will be able to tomorrow when I get my new wand. Stop me if I try."

"Excuses, excuses," she pleasantly said. "And the Obliviators?"

Harry stared at her, running recent conversations through his mind. "I'm not sure. I'll go check." It required great will to push himself to his feet, but he managed. "Things were a little crazy as you might imagine."

Later, at the debriefing when everything was straight and they all had returned to the Ministry, Harry felt sulky and used that as cover to give only scant details of his capturing the vampire. No one here knew he could slip into the Dark Plane and Snape had been adamant that he not let it be known.

When the comments came back around to marveling at Harry's feat, he said, "I need to return to the wizard prison. There's more paperwork. I told them I'd come back as soon as I could."

"Someone should go with you," Mr. Weasley said, glancing around. "I guess I will on my way home."

Harry held in his frown and stood slowly, still stiff from getting hit.

"Do you need a Healer, Harry?" Mr. Weasley asked solicitously, which set Harry off more.

He stubbornly replied, "No."

They fetched a prison portkey from the dungeon and arrived at the dark pier, surrounded by a now still ocean hugged by low, dense fog. Floodlights flicked on as they turned.

On the way to the doors, Harry wanted to say something along the lines of: "It's hard to function at the Ministry if no one trusts me." But he did not want to sound whiny, so he stewed instead. The guard escorted them inside without speaking and down into the core of the island. The warden's office erupted in a hearty welcome for Harry. It seemed the whole shift had awaited his return and perhaps others had come specially. The office was wall-to-wall with French prison guards all wearing smiles, some sheepish.

"Mr. Potter, please, please, 'ave a seat," the warden said. "Your papers are here, but you have been promised a tour, no?"

Harry, soothed by the fawning that Mr. Weasley had been forced to witness, said, "It's been a long day, I'm afraid. I think I will enjoy it more another time."

"Ah," the warden said in great dismay, hanging his head to the side. "Well, next time, then. I"m sure we will be seeing you often, no?" He rocked back in his own grand, leather swivel-chair and winked. He twirled his curled mustache while Harry finished the paperwork from earlier.

The warden spoke to Mr. Weasley instead while Harry wrote. "You are very lucky to 'ave this young man, eh?"

"Yes, yes, we are," Mr. Weasley said, dropping his hand on Harry's bent shoulder. "I'm not certain Harry is feeling so happy to have us, today."

Harry stared at the line where a translation had been added reading Place of Capture. He tried to hold his anger from draining away; he had been enjoying the just desserts of it, it turned out, and was not keen on losing it just yet. It leaked away nevertheless as Harry wrote out the village and address where he had first begun battling the vampire.

The warden was saying, "Brought thees monster in on 'ees own. Even we 'ave found records of this Fueago in our files going back eight-hundred years. We 'ave a medal in our Defense Division for such single-handed deeds. You 'ave one to give 'im, of course?"

"I don't need another medal," Harry said, turning the page over to fill in the Perpetrator Physiognomy section.

The guard let his mustache spring back to a spiral. "Ah, you are weighted down by too many already, I am sure."

Paperwork done, photo carefully lifted from a picture rail that ran along the ceiling and signed, they were led back to the lift by a guard who spoke no English. Harry sighed, his previous grudge building again as they rose up through the solid rock.

Mr. Weasley said, "I think it would be better if you said something, Harry."

"I wish you trusted me," Harry said, finding more sting in speaking than in stewing.

"We'll have to work on that," Mr. Weasley said amiably, forcing Harry to have to hold back on rolling his eyes.

It was three in the morning before Harry returned home. As he fell into bed, limbs stiff and painful, he wondered if he did indeed need a Healer. He stared into the darkness, thinking that he could wake Snape to take him to hospital. That sounded right awful, but lying there suffering was not terribly pleasant or rational either.

With a groan Harry rolled out of bed and, foregoing the dressing gown, padded down the corridor to knock on Snape's door.

"Sorry," Harry said when the door opened. "I hope you have a potion for . . . whatever it was I got hit with." He rubbed his forehead as he tried to remember.

"Are you hurt?" Snape asked.

"Well, not badly. I just want something so I can sleep."

Snape took Harry by the elbow and led him downstairs to the toilet where the potions were kept. The lamps in the small room stung Harry's eyes as he took a seat on the closed toilet.

"What did you get hit with?"

Harry was grateful that Snape was not angry at being woken. "Something Voltage class, I'm not exactly sure what."

"Not usually terribly harmful, just painful," Snape said. "Sure it was that?"

"Yeah. It had a lot on it. Came right through my counter. I cannot wait to get my wand tomorrow."

"That's a switch," Snape commented. "Who hit you?"

"Shacklebolt."

Snape peered at him over the top of a bottle. "What did you say to deserve that?"

"Long story. Suffice to say, no one trusts me."

Snape set the bottle down and pulled the step-stool over to sit upon it facing Harry. He considered his words before saying: "Trust is thin and fragile but requires great time and effort to construct, nevertheless."

"I know that. It's just hard to function without in the meantime."

"Drink this," Snape said, holding out a small glass of something rust colored.

Harry sipped the potion. "I'm sorry I had to wake you."

"Do not be," Snape stated firmly. "This is precisely the situation where I want you to do so. If I can TRUST that you will always do so I will quite frankly sleep better, which will far and away make up for any necessary interruptions."

Harry handed the glass back. "Thanks. I feel better already."

"You may have another half-dose in the morning if you need it."

"We don't have that potion at the Ministry. What is it?"

"Restricted," Snape said with a smirk.

"We have restricted potions, believe me," Harry pointed out with a grin.

"More restricted even than that," Snape insisted with a smug lift of his nose.

- 888 -


One benefit of Harry's difficult shift the night before was his resistance to having a wand identical to his old one had evaporated utterly. The chime of Ollivander's shop door rang a jolt of eager expectation through Harry; he wanted dearly to be properly armed again.

"I'll be with you directly!" a wavering elderly voice came from the far aisles of the shop's stock area.

Harry gazed around the work space in search of his wand and spied a long holly-wood wand on a rack above the workbench. The rack consisted of spaced pairs of brass lizard feet that gripped each wand. A fat poplar wand was held only by the points of the claws, making Harry wonder if the finish was drying on it.

"Ah, Mr. Potter," Ollivander intoned with clear affection. He had approached silently, startling Harry.

"Is that mine there?" Harry asked. "It looks long."

Ollivander gave each brass claw a flick of his finger and they opened with a spasm before stretching themselves as though to work out the kinks. Ollivander lifted the wand and held it out. "Fifteen and a half inches. That was the length of the feather you brought me to use."

Harry took hold of the wand and felt a rush of tingles through his arm. "It is long," he said, giving it a wave. The tip bent even more than the old one as it moved. "It's great, though," Harry breathed, giving it a try by making the window shade neatly retract. "It's just right." His vaguely aching joints made him regret not having it sooner.

Harry paid the balance and tried to find a pocket to fit the wand. "I need larger wand pockets," he said, dismayed.

Ollivander closed the till and placed his long hands on the counter between them to study Harry's problem. "Many wizards with wands of that size utilize a scabbard pocket, here, at the waist." He mimicked drawing a sword. "Or a pocket down the back." Here he lifted his age-stained hand over his head. "If you are adept at getting the wand to jump into your hand with a charm."

Harry practiced that motion and the other one. "One or the other will work, I'm sure." He stashed the wand in his sleeve, point caught in the hem like he often stored his old one. He could not bend is arm with it that way. "I'll have to do something." He flicked the wand back into his hand and caught it.

"Longer sleeves, perhaps," Ollivander suggested.

"Yeah," Harry said. "All of mine have grown a tad short, I think." But he liked the long wand. It exuded its own confidence as it swished through the air. Its weight made it feel stable and trustworthy, which overcame its inconvenience. "Thanks again," Harry said, slipping the wand back into his pocket and holding it in place with his hand.

Back at home, Harry showed off his wand. Held out over the worn, thickly revarnished dining room table, the wand gleamed with newness, unmarred by being dropped or bumped or other mishap.

"Very nice," Snape said, handing it back and returning to the brittle-paged tome open before him. It was all in hand-scrawled latin with no diagrams, so Harry could not make out the subject of it.

"It feels right," Harry said of his wand, but then tried to put it in his pocket, forgetting it would not fit. He set it out on the table as he sat down. "I'm not used to such a long wand." He picked the wand back up to fetch his books from the library. They zipped to him in record speed, slowing with exquisite control and resting flat without a sound.

"At least you are behaving like a wizard now," Snape observed dryly.

Harry feigned insult.

Snape said, "I'll be at Hogwarts tomorrow, now that you are properly armed. I have much to do there to prepare for the upcoming year." He turned a vellum page and leaned over the book, squinting at the small writing.

"What are you reading?" Harry asked, hoping Winky would bring a snack or tea or something if he sat there long enough.

"Something."

Harry frowned at him but did not press. His idle mind returned to what had happened the day before, with his blocking Shacklebolt's curse without using his wand. It felt like a tenuous way to block curses, but same as the last time it had happened, he was grateful it had worked.

Harry mused, "I wonder how Shacklebolt's exorcism went."

This raised Snape's nose out of his book. "What?"

"Oh, I didn't tell you . . ."

"NO . . . you did not," Snape said, laying a strip of linen in his book to mark his place and pushing it to the side.

Tea appeared. Harry took time pouring some out. He was reluctant to recount how he had nearly revealed his secret skills to the Ministry.

"What happened?" Snape asked, sounding determined not to be denied.

"There was a vampire preying on a Muggle family, and well, let me go back to the beginning." Harry explained how his evening went, trying to sound remorseful about needing the Dark Plane to catch the vampire. He tied his story up with: "But I avoided saying exactly how I caught him. Hopefully at the trial, Fueago won't mention it. He didn't know who I was, so maybe he won't think he can get back at me that way."

Snape said, "He will not be brought back for the trial. It will be judged too risky. Take that offered tour of the prison and you will see how he is being kept. I expect in addition to the special wards around his cell block, he will be potioned nonsensical. A rather miserable way to spend eternity."

Harry exhaled. "So I'm safe?"

"I expect. As long as you continue to tell your story judiciously."

"What will the Ministry do if they find out?"

"I honestly do not know. It would depend upon your standing at the time. Best not to establish exactly the hard way." Snape set his tea cup down and pulled his book back before him. After a minute, he put his hand down hard and sat straight to say sternly, "I understand that you needed to capture the vampire. But do try to be more careful." He again returned to his book only briefly, then asked, "Does this werewolf Alastor mentioned move in and out of the underworld at will?"

Harry shook his head. "No. I have to let him come into this world."

The Floo surged with verdant flame, heralding Candide's return. Snape said, "That is something anyway."

The topic was dropped after that.




Next Week: Chapter Five

"I know those," Hermione stated. "And the red boxes and the purple boxes get repeated in the Grand Grades book in Professor McGonagall's office?" She ran her fingers over the intervening black column lines. "How do I choose which are important enough? There will be a lot of assignments."

Snape said, "That is up to you. The purple, obviously are the cumulative examinations you are expected to hold periodically. Some, like Vector, place a weighted mean of the preceding grades in the red columns. Some, like myself, tweak the grades based on the student's house."

Hermione gaped at him. "Do you really?"



Author's Notes:
Life (mostly working on my house and an art project) may get in the way of five coming out next weekend, but I'll try. Otherwise, look on Wednesday.



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