Chapter 5 -- Personal Peril

Sunday, Harry headed to the Burrow for lunch. When he arrived on the lawn, Ginny and Ron were dodging about on broomstick, playing catch with a Quaffle. The sun sliced through the dense clouds in bursts of yellow beams as though teasing about coming out for real.

Upon seeing Harry, Ron gestured at the shed where Harry could find a broomstick. Mrs. Weasley shouted from the door that they should instead all come inside. On the way to the door, Ron nudged Harry in the ribs and said, "Ginny wanted to invite Aaron."

Ginny shot a deadly glance at her brother.

Harry asked, "You didn't, though?"

Ron replied for his sister, "She couldn't get the nerve up to owl him."

They stepped into the cozy and worn Weasley household. They plonked themselves down upon the ragged orange and green couches where the twins sat, unusually subdued.

Harry gazed around the rough, abused decor and wondered what Aaron would think of it. His thoughts were paralleled by Ginny asking, "So, would he have accepted an invitation?"

"I don't know. He grew up in decent wealth . . ." Harry trailed off, trying to take care.

"Oh," Ginny said. "He was dressed nice. Not many men dress nice . . . unless they're gay."

Harry said, "I shouldn't speak. I don't know if he'd care." The others were engaged in their own conversation, so he felt free to say, "It's possible that you'd care more than he would."

Ginny chewed her nail and glanced at her brothers' red heads all clustered together, talking low. She said, "You think he'd go out on a date with me?"

"I think Aaron would go on a date with anyone."

Ginny laughed. "Well, that's promising . . . and not so promising. I guess I should try. What kind of women does he like?"

"He likes to have fun, as far as I can tell."

"He sounds perfect." She stared off into the distance. "For a while . . ."

Other Weasleys arrived and the room grew louder. Harry glanced up each time, dreading to find Percy, but did not have the displeasure.

"Looking for someone?" Ginny asked.

Harry leaned forward and so did she. More privately, Harry said, "I'm kind of hoping Percy isn't coming."

"Mum didn't say he was and she usually makes a big fat deal out of it. Like we're all so much better off all together, even if that means tolerating him."

"Well," Harry thought better, "he IS family."

"Don't remind me."

She started to pull back. But Harry motioned her forward again. "Is he still dating Belinda? I thought maybe they'd broken it off."

"Thinking of hitching back up with her?" Ginny asked.

"No, just seemed like she was happier around the time I had heard that."

"I think they're still an item," she said consolingly.

Harry replayed the scene in the Minister's office. "Yeah. Seems likely." Harry reclined again, thinking back on the little coincidences with Percy at the Ministry, like his reviewing the Department of Magical Transportation's procedures just before the Floo network started always dropping him in the wrong place. Worst yet, around the time they stopped detecting illicit portkeys. Harry mulled over these old suspicions until Ginny handed him one of the two butterbeers she had gone and fetched.

He gestured for her to sit beside him. "What's Percy doing these days?"

She swallowed a mouthful of beverage. "The usual. Whatever Fudge tells him to. Sometimes I fantasize he might order him to drain the Thames or something impossible like that so we won't see him for a long time."

Even though she clearly disliked her brother, Harry found it hard to express his worst suspicions to her. "Maybe I'll stop in to see Belinda more often," Harry said. "Percy was there last time I did."

Ginny chuckled. "That would right irk him. He was so proud he had your former girlfriend. Paraded her around the Burrow here so bad the first time she didn't want to come back."

They sat down to a heaping meal at a long, crowded table. Harry passed along a plate of jacket potatoes brimming with butter to Ron and glanced at his boss, Mr. Weasley. He was the one Harry really should talk to about Percy. But Mr. Weasley, not two minutes later, raised his fork and said, "Well, unfortunate that we couldn't all be together this Sunday."

"Yeah, too bad," one of the twins muttered in a passable imitation of regret.

The Weasley parents bobbed their heads in sad agreement. Harry sighed and accepted a giant bowl of green peas.

A ruckus broke out at the end of the table, and Bill appeared dismayed by something. "You two just don't know when to give it up," he said.

"What?" Fred asked.

Bill held up his bread knife, which was welded to his spoon.

"Oh, right, that looks like something WE'D do," George offered. "Try your sister."

Ginny had held her face innocent, but now she grinned. Bill stood up and used his long arms to trade utensils with her. "You can have them."

Ginny pulled out her wand, but was interrupted by her mother scolding, "I do hope you haven't ruined that knife and spoon, dear."

"No, mum," Ginny insisted calmly. She waved a complicated spell at the utensil pair and a burning orange beam separated the two. She used her robe sleeve to hold onto the spoon without burning her fingers while she cleaned up the edge.

"Can you show me that spell?" Harry asked.

She demonstrated again to take the flash off the knife handle. Harry tried it a few times and managed to shorten his own butter knife by an inch. The cut off tip burned away to ash as it fell to the table.

"Okay, that I can't fix for you," Ginny said.

"That's all right, Harry dear," Mrs. Weasley said. "They're old anyway."

Harry shrugged at Ginny, who rolled her eyes. He awkwardly stretched his arms apart to work the spell until he at least cleaned up the foreshortened round end.

"That your new wand?" Ginny asked.

"Yup. It works great. I don't know if it's just the time without it, but it responds more naturally than I expect it to. Like it know what I'm thinking."

"It's a long one."

"It is. I'm still getting used to that. As you probably noticed." He spread his arms exaggeratedly to make the point, making Ginny and many others laugh.

"You, of all people, should have a good wand, Harry," Fred said.

"That's what Ollivander said when he put it on rush order."

"We love that guy," George said.

Fred followed with, "Yeah, we've never played any kind of prank on him . . . we must really love him."

- 888 -


When Harry came home from the Burrow, Harry faced the stack of his books still sitting out on the table where he had left them earlier in the hopes that he would get to them after breakfast. He settled in and propped the top one open before him. Again, Sunday early evening was upon him and his reading list had not shortened since Friday. It was as though a hex had been applied to it.

Dulcet voices filtered down from upstairs, distracting him. Halfway through the second chapter of a book entitled Paranormal Prankster Pop Psychology, footsteps trouped down the stairs and the voices grew clearer.

"Let's see the swatches in better light."

"You're right, the light isn't any better down here."

Harry's brow knotted up slightly. He stood and slipped silently to the doorway where he peeked around to observe the figures hunched around one of the small windows, discussing the merits of beads versus sequins. The couches were strewn with stretches of fabric in various shades of off white and what appeared to be tiaras. Harry rubbed his eyes but they still resembled tiaras.

Harry decided with a growing sense of bemusement that this was some kind of ritual wedding preparation so he ducked fully back into the dining room. Candide saying, "Harry will be home soon, so we should straighten things up a bit," slowed him returning to the table. As if he would care. He could not imagine she believed him orderly. He shook his head.

"Who's this?" a voice asked.

A third voice, sounding like Candide with a bad cold, said knowingly, "Candide is inheriting a son, didn't she tell you?"

"Ruthie, really, not exactly," Candide said, speaking to her sister, Harry now knew from the name.

The second voice was shrill as it said, "He's expecting you to take care of his brat?"

Harry ducked his head, face scrunched in amusement. He stayed put, near the doorway, wanting to hear how Candide handled that.

"Hardly. He's nineteen."

"Worse! Still at home at that age? Must be a regular dosser."

Fabric rustled as though being gathered together with care to keep it flat. "You should tell her who it is," Ruthie said with a grin in her voice.

"Your mum said his father couldn't seem to find the time to pay a call."

"Severus works very hard," Candide said with patience.

"I had a year of Potions with him at Hogwarts," the grating voice said. "I quickly decided I'd stick to using cauldrons strictly for cooking. You remember him, don't you, Ruthie? Used to slither around the dungeon during class. We thought he must hang himself up like a vampire bat in some dark corner to sleep at night."

Harry, who very well knew how evil a vampire was, bristled at this.

"Karol, if you don't want to be in the wedding, you don't-"

"NO, NO, I love weddings. It's men I can't stand."

Harry scratched the back of his head, thinking he may have missed his opportunity for an unembarrassing entrance, from Candide's perspective anyhow. If he were Dudley, he could pretend to have been wearing headphones of some kind all this time. Instead, Harry Disapparated to a spot two feet from where he stood, hoping it made only one noise, given the short distance. He sat at the table and pulled the teapot over, and made other noises with his books.

Footsteps shuffled over and Candide said, "Hello, Harry."

Harry lifted his head as though surprised. A second figure and then a third came into view. Ruthie was a heavyset, rougher skinned version of Candide. She wore glowing red lipstick and her eyelashes were unnaturally long. The other woman, in contrast, had a sunken-cheeked face and a sour mouth, and at the moment, it hung open.

"This is my sister, Ruthie," Candide said, indicating the wide-robed figure on her right.

Harry stood to shake hands. Ruthie had a glint in her eye as though thrilled to meet him.

"And this is Karolyn, a childhood friend, and also a third cousin."

Harry nodded at her because she did not have the sense to lift her hand. He did not bother Legilimizing her, because he would rather not know. He retook his seat where his books provided a wall to bunker behind. Ruthie placed her beefy hands on the table and leaned toward him. She moved like someone accustomed to using her size to seem immovable or unstoppable, depending.

"You didn't come to meet mum and dad at The Dinner."

Harry found he instinctively wanted to be careful what he said to her. "I didn't want to be in the way."

This answer struck her as odd and funny, or so her face indicated. "'In the way?' That wouldn't be a problem."

"You, uh . . ." Karolyn began. She turned to Candide. "You, uh, live with Harry Potter?"

Candide laughed and said, "Well, yes."

"Don't, uh . . ." She glanced painfully at Harry. "Don't, uh, bad things tend to happen . . ."

Ruthie broke in, laughing too. "Didn't you see all the new repairs to the house there?"

Candide fell serious. "Sometimes bad things happen. But they're handled well." She shifted her arms uncomfortably, indicating to Harry that recent events had not let her go yet, even if she hid it most of the time.

Ruthie put her hand upon her generous breast and said, "Oh, you have a knight in shining armor. How sweet."

Candide looked straight at Harry and said, "I have two, actually." She glanced around. "Let's leave Harry to his studies. Come on." As they re-entered the hall with last glances back, Candide said, "Taffeta, silk, velvet, lace, hell, felt even; it really doesn't matter."

Later, after her companions disappeared in the Floo, Candide sat down across from Harry, clutching her hands momentarily. "Sorry 'bout that."

"It's all right," he assured her.

"My cousin is a little . . . uptight. But she loves weddings, knows all the latest . . . styles. What's in. What's out." Candide sounded regretful. Harry remained silent. She went on, "So much to do to get ready. You don't know."

Harry flicked his quill around in his fingers. "No, fortunately I don't know."

Candide put her hands in her lap and sat vaguely hunched. "I always wanted to get married. It always looked like so much fun . . . get to be the center of attention for a day . . . everything just the way you want it." She slumped a little more. "Now I just want the day to come and be over with."

Harry's lips twitched impishly as he said, "You want to just wave a magic wand and make it so, you mean?"

She refused to be baited, sounding stressed as she said, "You have a spell that conjures a florist, a hairdresser, a jewelry, a candlemaker, a cupbearer, a dressmaker, a decorator, a makeup artist, a Supreme Mugwort . . . and a string quartet?"

"Nope. I would conjure them all for you if I could, though."

She relented. "I appreciate that."

Harry rubbed his stomach which complained faintly of being empty. "What time did Severus say he'd be back from Hogwarts?"

Candide jumped up. "Oh, I forgot. He told me to owl when we were through." She rushed to the other room for a pen and parchment.

Harry muttered to himself, "Smart man."

- 888 -


Monday first thing at training, Rodgers appeared and told Harry that he was wanted in the office. Harry mused about what he may be in trouble for until he found a contrite Shacklebolt speaking with Mr. Weasley, who appeared chipper, especially in comparison to the man beside him.

"Harry," Mr. Weasley said after the Auror remained quiet, "Kingsley wishes to apologize." He stepped closer to Harry and leaned down as though sharing something confidential. "You realize that the hold a vampire has over his victim is stronger than an Imperio in some ways because it does not require the master to stay in the vicinity of or remain aware of the person they are controlling?"

"Er, we haven't covered it yet, but I understand." Harry remembered tossing his wand down before Occluding his mind. It gave him shivers, even here where he was safe. "I can imagine it, sir. Fueago put a fog around the house and I lost Blackpool to him and almost lost myself."

Mr. Weasley patted him on the back. "It's fortunate for us that you didn't. Severus' lessons held you in good stead."

"That and lots of experience with Voldemort," Harry agreed. At this, Shacklebolt raised his head slightly. "It's all right, sir," he reassured the Auror.

"I really was trying to get at you, Potter." He rubbed his upper arm, ash still marked the back of his hands and his forehead, as though the exorcism had just ended that morning and he had not gathered the sense to wipe it off. "I remember doing that, but I couldn't stop myself." He sounded truly horrified.

Upbeat, Harry said, "Now that I have the right wand, it would be all right."

"It would not be all right," Shacklebolt insisted. "I tried to throw an Imperius Curse at you-"

"You what?" Mr. Weasley blurted.

Still clutching his arm, Shacklebolt gestured clumsily at Harry. "He blocked it somehow. I don't know how." Harry was not accustomed to seeing him so uncertain and just wished he would return to himself and stop worrying so.

"I just squashed it," Harry said. "Since I couldn't block it."

Shacklebolt stared at him, taking that in. He said. "But you're all right now?" he asked, oddly needing reassurance.

Harry still ached in various random places, but he said, "Yeah. 'S Fine."

"Well, Harry, back to your training," Mr. Weasley said. He steered Harry out with a hand on his shoulder. "I'm glad that's taken care of," he confessed. "Kingsley will be a few days returning to his old self. Feels rather guilty, I think."

They had arrived at the training room. "Sorry I delayed Harry," Mr. Weasley told Rodgers. Harry's fellows were already well into their drills. Rodgers gestured for Harry to take over opposite Tridant. Their newest member had a much shorter sequence, which Harry was happy to stick to while he grew accustomed to the nuanced responsiveness of his new wand. Tridant seemed less defeated today. Harry figured he was sick of constant advice, so he kept quiet as they exchanged spells and counters, back and forth.

At lunchtime, Harry headed up to the Minister's office. Belinda was sneaking bites of a sandwich out of the bottom drawer of her desk. She gave him a dull hello without meeting his eyes.

Harry glanced around, frowning to find Percy glaring at him from where the workmen were affixing the hand-carved flowery edges to the new shelves in the corner. The room smelled pervasively of shellac.

"I was going to see if you wanted to go out for lunch," Harry said sweetly to Belinda. "But I see you're already eating."

She jerked strangely as he spoke, making Harry turn to see if Percy had made some kind of move.

"I can't go to lunch," she said dully.

Harry noticed that her robes were not as neatly pressed as expected. Percy and his obnoxious ways may be making her depressed and that made Harry's skin prickle. He leaned closer, feeling that he really should talk to her alone. "Coffee later?" Someone, most likely Percy, stepped up beside him and Harry's skin prickled more, his robes felt dank against his flesh as though in dire need of being washed.

Harry stood straight and spun on Percy. The feeling faded slightly; Harry now was merely nauseated by the sourest Weasley's presence.

"You have no business up here, Potter," Percy said, spitting faintly on Harry's name.

Harry wiped his cheek. "I have business wherever I want to have it." He tried to Legilimize Percy, who was glaring at him as though inviting him to do so, but Harry received no impressions. "What business do you have here?" he asked, hoping to jar some impression loose. His temper was getting the better of him, so Harry asked mockingly, "Messing up another department, are you? Why is that every time you are assigned somewhere, strange things start happening? You know, like the Portkey detection going all haywire around the time the Ministry is getting attacked by devices coming in as illicit Portkeys."

Percy's hard gaze did not waver. "The Portkey detection has always been hit and miss. I didn't have anything to do with that." More mocking, he went on, "They can't seem to ever fix it properly; it just didn't matter so much before. I was assigned there for a review BECAUSE they were incompetent." He turned to check on the workmen behind him. When he turned back he stood on his toes, leaning over Harry. Nasally, he said, "Get lost, Potter, what do you want, anyway?"

Harry, who beat Percy for physical bulk, but not height, stood his ground. "I want to talk to Belinda, what's it to you?"

Percy's face grew ugly. "You're an idiot; it's everything to me. Get lost or I'll call security."

Harry propped his hands on his hips. "Oh, I'd like to see that."

Smugly, Percy said, "Have you forgotten how many times this year we've needed to call security because you were in here?"

Percy found the mark with that one. Harry backed off and with a sweet goodbye to Belinda, departed, feeling ill tempered.

Tonks did not return before Harry's stomach growled for dinner, so Harry remained out of sorts as he headed home. In the dining room Candide sat alone, reading the papers.

Harry took a seat, stomach rumbling. Plates appeared, but just two of them.

"Where's Severus?"

"He's started working on something today."

"He's at Hogwarts?"

"No, upstairs. But he insisted he not be bothered."

Harry ignored this and headed up.

The door to the spare room used for storage was closed but a whiff of something metallic and hot emanated from under it. Harry knocked and waited, not wanting to barge in and disturb anything fragile.

The door opened just six inches. "I am working on something," Snape said dismissively. "And you are interrupting."

"Oh. I was just . . . wondering why you weren't at dinner."

"I'm at a critical juncture, then I can let it steep. I will eat later."

The door closed with a click.

Downstairs, Candide asked, "Does he throw himself this completely into his work often?"

"Occasionally." Harry tried not to display his befuddlement and Candide returned to reading that oddly peach-colored Muggle newspaper.

Harry sighed and tried to answer his post. He found himself not in the mood for correspondence and tossed it aside, half-unopened. His books did not hold his attention well either. When the door-knocker sounded, Harry's heart leapt at the distraction.

Outside, Elizabeth stood in the gathering gloom of the garden. "Hope you don't mind if I call. I owled from my instructor's house, but didn't get a reply before my lesson ended."

"Oh, sorry. I didn't open my post yet. I don't mind at all, come in."

"We didn't get a chance to talk at your party. There were so many people and I couldn't stay long." She removed her cloak and fastidiously straightened it before handing it to Harry to hang up.

"How are your studies?" Harry asked.

She laughed. "I have a long break, so I've been learning new pieces on the piano mostly." In the hall she said, "The repairs are marvelous, by the way. I didn't get a chance to tell you that."

She seemed a tad nervous as he sat her down across from Candide and poured her some tea. Elizabeth sniffed the tea cup dubiously, sleeves pulled down, halfway covering her hands.

Harry supplied, "Oh, that smell is not the tea. Severus is brewing something."

"Oh, my mum used to do that. Now my dad says it's ridiculous to stink a nice house up when the chemists is just around the corner." This statement led to a fade out of her expression.

Harry was just thinking that this was the second time today he needed to be alone to talk to someone. Candide folded her newspapers and set them aside. Harry thought she was going to leave, but she topped up her teacup.

"Your dad isn't magical?" Candide asked in a highly conversational tone.

"No," Elizabeth shook her head. She wiggled her hands so they stayed inside her sleeves which were stretched taught where they emerged from her pullover.

Harry remembered her father quite clearly as he nearly threw him out of the house after a small tiff sparked solely by Harry's presence. Harry had been interested in Elizabeth before then and after had put her off in deference to not causing trouble.

Candide went on, "Did your dad know your mum was a witch before they married?"

"Yes, of course," Elizabeth laughed lightly, but it faded quickly. "You know, I should probably go. I was on my way home from my lesson. It ended early, and-"

"You don't need to go just yet," Candide said. "Have some more tea."

Elizabeth accepted the cup and drank from it as though the task require a great deal of concentration. "I'm glad I came to your party the other night," she stated out of the blue, almost like a pledge.

Harry's brow furrowed. "I should have another smaller one so I can actually talk to people."

Candide teased, "You would have had more time had you not stood in the corner all night with Ms. Tonks."

Harry blushed. Elizabeth ducked her head. "I really should go." She sounded breathless now and would not be convinced to stay longer. Harry helped her on with her cloak and said goodbye. She glanced back and waved before fading into the wet night.

"Huh," Harry uttered as he sat back down across from Candide.

"You have that skill Severus does to see into people's heads. Didn't you use it?"

Harry shook his head. "Think I should have? I don't like to unless I'm in danger."

Candide unfolded the next unread newspaper and said, "People have odd ways of asking for help."

"Are you referring to Elizabeth?" Harry asked sharply

"Yes." Candide turned the large page and flattened the section with a snap before folding it backwards to read the bottom portion. "Just a sense I had . . ."

"You thought she was asking for help?" Harry asked, mystified.

She tilted her head. "Maybe she's not getting on with her father, or maybe she just had a bad piano lesson. I don't know her well enough to know."

"She was a little off."

"Then it probably isn't the lesson."

Harry pushed his teaspoon around. "Think I should go over to her house?"

"Have you met her family?"

"Yeah, her father hates me."

"That probably would not make things better in that case. Really, truly hates you?" she prompted doubtfully.

"Well, said I wasn't fit for his daughter. Threw me out."

"Really?" Candide tried to swallow a grin. "A whole wizarding world full of fathers who would dream of having you dating their daughter and you find the single one who wouldn't."

"You know; they think that until I actually show up for the date," Harry said, thinking of Tara's parents. "Then they start to have second and third thoughts. And verify that we aren't planning on marriage."

"No wonder you're dating an Auror. Have you met Tonks' parents?"

Harry puzzled that. "No, I haven't. I assume that means we're not planning on marriage."

"Not soon, in any event," Candide commented. "Tonks and you get along well?"

Harry considered that question. "I can be myself around her. I don't have to worry about anything. She can take care of herself." Harry's insides twinged happily thinking of her.

Candide said, "Unlike the rest of us, who are all damsels in distress waiting to happen?"

"I didn't say that," Harry insisted. "It just lets me relax. She tells me what she thinks. Everyone else I've dated is always holding something back." He then added, "And she's cute."

"Well, that's all that matters," Candide stated, still teasing. "And she can look like most anyone, right?"

Harry shrugged. "I like her as herself."

Candide, sly grin in place, said, "Do you even know what that is?"

"Yes, of course," Harry insisted. "I think."

"You've never asked her to look a certain way? Or implied that you prefer one hair color over another?"

Candide seemed to be leading somewhere, but Harry could not see where. "No."

"That may be why she likes you too. I expect she gets a lot of that."

"She's a metamorphmagus, why would she care? It's so easy for her to change."

Candide paused before she said, "But that doesn't mean she wants to."

Harry frowned, not considering that likely. "She used to joke around with us all the time. Making her nose big, making herself old."

"I think that supports my point," Candide said.

"How?"

"She was removing it as an issue by making fun of it." She waved her hand dismissively as desserts arrived in a sparkle. "But it's no matter. More a matter seems to be that you aren't supposed to be dating her."

Harry rubbed his head, mussing his hair more. "No. We're breaking Ministry rules."

"And getting away with it because you're Harry Potter."

Harry stared off into the dim main hall. "Something I swore I wouldn't ever let them do."

"Your own moral code is always the first to go," Candide quipped. Harry stared at her, prompting her to add, "I didn't mean that so seriously. Besides, if anyone deserves to break the rules, it's you."

"That doesn't help." He flipped through one of his books, not reading it. "What do you think I should do about Elizabeth?"

"Take her out somewhere and get her to talk. Use that creepy skill you learned from Severus on her."

"That's cold."

She buried her nose in the paper again. "Depends on what's going on."

Snape finally came downstairs, trailing an aura of metallic acridity.

"What are you working on?" Harry asked as a full plate materialized before his guardian.

"Something," Snape replied rudely.

Harry and Candide shrugged at each other.

- 888 -


Harry did not have a good idea what to do about Elizabeth until Thursday. When he came home from training he found his friend Hermione at the table across from Snape, who sat far back in his chair, cross-armed, hair half concealing his face.

"Hi, Harry," his friend greeted him brightly. She turned the page of a large grid-lined book in front of her. "So, names along here, in order. Marks here . . ." Harry leaned over her shoulder to peer at the blank grade book.

Snape said, "And you need a Fixitive charm. And an Fouralarm if you truly wish it to be permanent."

"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?"

Snape gave her a challenging look in return.

From her position bent over the grade book, Hermione said, "Harry, yell at him for me."

Harry laughed instead. "I've heard him say that he works hard to reduce his advanced class to just Slytherins and Ravenclaws. That must be how he does it."

Hermione shook her head disbelievingly. Harry took the seat beside her and opened his post. The one he had sent to Elizabeth was in the pile as though Hedwig had brought it back undelivered.

Hermione said, "I'll be out of the way shortly. McGonagall sent me a box-load of stuff and suggested I get Professor Snape to answer any questions."

Airily, Snape said, "And here I thought she and I were getting along better."

Hermione leaned closer to Harry, "I'm not taking him seriously. Is that the best course?"

"Yes. Especially since it'll make him nuts." Harry gave his guardian a smile to buffer that. To Hermione, Harry said, "Can you do me a favor before you go?"

"Sure, Harry."

"When you're done. Don't rush."

"I don't have much time to get ready for first term." She sounded panicky. "I put in my notice at work so I can have the next few weeks, full time." She pulled out a battered booklet entitled Rulers & Rules and flipped to the first note she had taped inside. "Now, about this policy on reasonable detention . . . I happen to remember you violated it on at least ten occasions that I know of."

They both waited for Snape's reaction, which was not forthcoming. "And your point is?" he finally prompted easily.

Hermione went on, "So, does that mean I can violate it? Or is it only Heads of House or only YOU?"

Later, Harry led his friend out the door. The evening was warm and comfortable and he wondered why he did not find more time for walks. He stopped suddenly, thinking that Kali would like to come out as well. He could feel her claustrophobia and her desire for fresh air and open space. "Just a second," Harry said, going to fetch her.

They resumed their walk down to the train station, Kali flapping along beside and around them while Harry explained. "You remember Elizabeth, right? Something is . . . I don't know how to say it . . . well, suffice to say, I'd like to talk to her, but her father wouldn't let me if he sees me, I expect. I'm wondering if you can lure her out to a coffee shop or to a pub so I can chat with her."

Hermione puzzled this. "Sure, Harry."

Kali flitted by. Harry urged her to fly to the approaching white house, thinking to make her look in the windows.

"Where's she going?" Hermione asked in concern. Kali had been sticking close until then.

"I'm sending her ahead to scout. I'm trying to use her as a mobile extendible eye." Harry stopped and closed his eyes but he could only get disconnected, fleeting impressions from his pet. Last time she had been in pain when he saw through her eyes. Without that strong sensation, she was difficult to locate in his mind. He shook his head, giving up.

"Not working?"

"It has before, but it's hard. I should practice that; it'd be useful." He urged Kali back to him and stopped on the pavement behind the large shrubs bordering the Peterson house. "I'll wait here."

"If I'm talking loudly when I return, the father's with me."

"Got it. Thanks."

Harry listened to her shoes clunk up the drive. The porch projected her voice faintly to the street as she spoke with someone at the door. Harry held Kali facing that way and tried to hear through her more sensitive ears. Sometimes he could manage, but it faded in and out.

" . . . yes, Hermione. I'm a friend from Oxford . . . I'm studying law there . . . yes. Just happen to have taken the train into town. I'm staying with a friend and remembered that Elizabeth lives here. "

Things went on in this vein, like an interrogation.

"We're in Magdalen together."

Harry grinned in affection for his old friend. She could bluff anything because she knew enough about any topic to do so and remembered everything anyone ever told her.

"Well, when she comes in tonight, please tell her I stopped by."

Hermione came back down the walk.

"He's a tough customer," she muttered.

"You got Mr. Peterson?"

"I assume."

They reached Harry's house a short, silent walk later.

"Something about Mr. Peterson I don't like. Oh, hello, Candide," Hermione said, when they were greeted at the door.

Harry explained, "We were just trying to wade through the Mr. Peterson moat to see Elizabeth."

"Did you?"

"He said she wasn't home."

"Was he lying?" Candide asked, something Harry had not considered.

Hermione thought that over. "I'm not sure. Sometimes I can tell, but not with that guy. He's the same no matter what he is talking about."

- 888 -


Saturday afternoon, Harry had field shadowing again. He stashed his new wand in his newly extended pocket, glad to have it. In the office he found Rogan waiting for him.

"Well, Potter, ready to go?"

"Yes."

Rogan's step was lighter than usual as they strolled the East End on patrol. Harry wondered at his change in mood.

"Nice day, isn't it?" Harry asked, wondering if the weather explained it.

"What? Oh, yes."

Harry decided that he needed to understand things better, so he dived in with, "This is the first time in a long while that they've let you do routine patrol, isn't it?"

Rogan frowned, which his rounded face did not allow to be to grim. "Yup. They'll let me out with a full Auror or you."

"Or me?" Harry asked. "They have a lot of faith in me, don't they? In some ways."

"Things were better this week," Rogan said. "Kingsley's lost his superior attitude." With mock dreaminess, he added, "Wonder why?" Minutes later he said, "At least I didn't attack a trainee while compromised."

Harry now understood why Rogan felt better. "He did seem less smug this week."

"I'm lucky we're shorthanded. I'd still be on full probation, writing endless memos, otherwise."

They returned in the wee hours after a long and uneventful shift. The lamps in the Auror's offices were at half wick, bathing everything in misleading warm light. Harry sat down on the bench to remove each of his shoes and rubbed his feet.

Rogan gave him a grin as Harry sat there with his socks exposed. "Need new shoes?"

"They are new; that's the problem." Fortunately there was a salve at home for just this situation, so Harry reluctantly slipped his lace-ups back on and skipped tying them when his feet protested the very thought.

Buried in distracted thoughts of future relief, Harry grabbed up his cloak and turned to go. Instinct made him drop the cloak, mid-swing to put it on, when a wave of aversion struck. If his wand had been shorter and had not been sticking inches out of his pocket, he would not have drawn it in time.

Harry managed half a rubber block before something dark exploded, filling his vision with four-foot hairy razor points. Rogan dived off the side of the bench, having drawn his wand immediately after Harry did. He threw a blasting curse that tossed the dissipating rubber block and the giant spiked object into the corner where it began to deflate with a musical squeaking sound. Fresh gouges in the wall haloed it.

Harry stared at his cloak, draped over something the size of a beach ball with a hundred spikes stuck through it. The spines tipped slowly flat to the floor as the ball lost volume.

"What is that?" Harry asked after taking a breath.

Rogan stood up and stepped over beside him to watch the thing in the corner, wand aimed at it. "I've never seen anything like it." He jerked to look Harry up and down. "Did you get cut?"

"I don't think so," Harry dully said.

"I don't want to hear "think" Potter. It could be poison tipped."

Harry gestured at it. "Something that big and nasty would not need to be poisoned as well, would it?"

"Go fetch Tonks or whoever is on duty." Rogan kept his gaze and his wand on the thing as Harry obeyed.

Half a minute later, Tonks was saying, "Something jumped out of your cloak? A regulated creature?"

Harry led the way into the changing room and gestured.

"Merlin the White, what the heck is that? She leaned her long neck out to better examine it without stepping closer. "Better get Mysteries up here." She dashed off, saying behind her. "Cover the office, Rogan. Harry can guard that thing."

Rogan dashed out the door in the other direction from the one Tonks had taken. Harry held his wand out but doubted he would need it again; the thing sat sunken, unmoving. Harry's right shin stung and when he shook it, his trouser leg stuck to his skin. Harry backed up to the wall, so he could put enough distance between himself and the spiked thing to lift his robe and check his leg. His black trousers made it hard to see how bloody it really was, but there was a rent in the fabric. Harry awkwardly covered the wound with his left hand, then remembered he could Staunch it. He stood straight and imagined his leg packed to the knee with snow. The pain faded to a dull throb. He waited.

The door opened and Harry gestured with his blood-smeared hand that Mr. Weasley should keep to the left. The department head's red brow furrowed as he came over to Harry, while keeping his gaze fixed in the corner.

"Tristan sent me an owl by Floo saying something had attacked the changing room. What is that?"

"Don't know."

"Where'd it come from?"

"It was in my cloak."

This made Mr. Weasley turn his head to Harry. "You hurt?" He grabbed up Harry's wrist to better see his bloodied hand.

"I got cut on the shin. I dropped the cloak but didn't quite get out of the way of it." Harry played that half a second over in his mind. "Rogan blasted it into the corner before my block failed."

"Is it poisonous?" Mr. Weasley sharply asked.

"I don't know," Harry admitted.

Led by Tonks, a crew came in from Mysteries, wearing padded robes and masks, so Harry could not recognize them. They hovered the thing into a massive solid titanium trunk and hovered that off.

Harry said to Mr. Weasley and Tonks, "All I know is I'm glad I have my new wand." Without it, the spikes would have been through him instead of his cloak. "Drat," Harry breathed. "That was my new cloak."

Mr. Weasley patted Harry on the arm and went to the wall where several of the spikes had broken off in the panelling. He used a hankie to pry the longest one free. "Tonks, take this to the potions room and check it for poison." He turned to Harry. "Come along, Harry. We have to keep a watch on you until we know you're clear."

Harry sat on a stool in the corner of what was actually a glorified cupboard. It was as though someone had put a shrinking charm on Snape's old office, leaving only six feet of floor space to stand in. The shelves were deeper than the open floor was wide.

Harry moved to heal the wound on his leg, but Tonks said, "We need a photo of it." She called out into the corridor for Rogan.

Harry rolled his eyes, but sat quietly through what he knew was a required evidence procedure. Rogan worked quickly, then departed, noisily winding the evidence camera film up.

Propping his heel on a shelf and stretching his back and neck, Harry could just get a good look at the wound. It was dark with rapidly clotting blood but it otherwise appeared normal. He pulled out his wand.

Tonks, both hands holding bottles of irritating liquids, scrubbed at her nose on her sleeve. "Why don't you let me do that. You're liable to leave a scar if you don't aim the spell properly."

"Because you're busy. Another scar isn't going to matter," Harry said, bristling at being babied.

"I don't want your lovely leg scarred," she insisted, voice taking on a sexy tone.

Mr. Weasley choose that moment to step into the doorway. "Am I interrupting?"

"No, of course not. No sign of poison so far," Tonks said, putting drops of something milky onto a glass dish and touching it with the end of the spike. "You're a wiz at healing spells, Arthur. Take care of Harry will you?"

Mr. Weasley crouched beside Harry and peeled his soaked trouser leg up farther. He frowned. "Good thing it didn't get more of you, Harry. Dangerous thing."

"Yeah," Harry had to agree. He held tight to his next thought by biting his lip. That thing seemed like something the twins might have invented. Harry decided he could check into that himself.

Mr. Weasley cast several spells at his leg, then he spit into his hankie and rubbed Harry's leg briskly to remove the dried blood. "Looks good. It would have been deeper, but it hit bone."

"Spoken like a man with six sons," Tonks teased.

Even Harry smiled at that.

Some time later, with Mr. Weasley assisting because Tonks spilled the second to last bottle of Prismatic Revelation, Tonks declared, "I don't see any sign of poison."

Harry figured it must be around 3:00 in the morning because his eyelids felt made of lead. "Can I go?"

"Why don't you escort him, Tonks?"

"I don't need an escort," Harry sharply insisted, before thinking better that it would be Tonks and that would actually be quite to his advantage. "Sorry," he said to her. "I'm all right though. It was just a scratch."

Tonks put a stopper in the last open bottle and said, sounding fully professional, "It was just someone trying to kill you, Harry."

Harry frowned and huffed since it was difficult to argue otherwise.

At Harry's house in Shrewsthorpe, Harry pleaded with Tonks not to wake Snape.

"Really, it's all right," Harry whispered. "I woke him up last weekend too after shift."

"Why?"

"I got hit kind of hard by Shacklebolt and couldn't sleep," Harry admitted, kicking himself for that slip-up. He went on, "I don't need anything. It's a scratch and it's healed."

"It's a higher alert level . . . for your protection," Tonks argued, also whispering.

"This house is already warded to the maximum it could be," Harry countered.

The sound of a throat clearing floated in through the door to the dining room. Snape stepped in, holding Kali. "She was making a bit of a racket an hour ago."

"Sorry," Harry said. "Didn't mean to wake you."

As he passed them, Snape inspected each of them before letting Kali crawl onto Harry's shoulder. Harry petted her head which she rested it on his collar, tired. "I need to get to sleep," Harry said.

"Bad shift?" Snape asked.

"No exactly," Tonks replied for him. "Someone slipped something deadly into Harry's cupboard."

"I lost another cloak," Harry said. "This must be a record."

"The cloak is no matter," Snape chided him, crossing his arms and confronting Tonks. "What was this thing?"

"We don't know. We sent it down to the Department of Mysteries."

"Where you will be lucky to hear anything of it again," Snape finished for her.

Harry said, "It was cursed. I felt it in time before putting the cloak on."

"So it must have been slipped into the cupboard. You're certain it wasn't in the cloak when you bought it?" Tonks asked.

"I didn't feel it before."

"It could have been masked, though," Tonks suggested.

"That does not fool Harry," Snape provided.

"Okay . . ." Tonks mused, hair shifting to brown. "Our traitor is still skulking around, apparently."

Harry held his tongue on his suspicions for the moment. If it was Percy, Harry felt a bit like handling it himself.

Tonks departed after breaking her work mode long enough to give Harry a hug.

"I'm tired," Harry said, to cut off whatever Snape opened his mouth to say.

"I was going to suggest that you rest. But more importantly, I wished to know if that is your blood on your hand . . ."

"Yeah, I need to clean up." He headed for the toilet, forcing Kali to hang on tightly as he broke into stride, calling over his shoulder, "It's all healed, don't worry about it."

The door to the toilet closed in the distance and Snape said to the empty hall, "No, of course I shan't worry."




Next Week: Chapter Six

Tonks strode into the changing room as Harry's fellows departed. As though speaking for his hollow stomach, she said, "I have half an hour before my shift if you want to find an early bite."

"Sounds great," Harry said, weighing the sack in his hand before slipping it into his pocket. "I need to go Diagon Alley anyway. I told Elizabeth I'd buy her a new wand."

By unstated agreement, they Apparated into the Leaky Cauldron. On the way through the wall in back, Tonks asked, "Why doesn't Elizabeth get her own wand?"



Author's Notes
Sorry didn't get this up at a decent hour. 10 hour drive took up most of my productive day.

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