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Chapter 8 — Trials

Grey robes just brushed the stone floor as they should, perfectly tailored. Harry gave himself one last check in the mirror inside the wardrobe door and shut it, consciously neatening the room despite not expecting the visiting in-laws to look into it.

Downstairs, Candide moved frantically about, straightening fresh candles in the tallest ornate holders on the dining room table, adjusting the silver and the napkins. She turned to Harry with the attitude that he was next in line for inspection.

She stopped. "You look good. New robes?"

"Yep."

Sounding doubtful it could be true, she asked, "Did you pick those out yourself?"

Harry grinned in the face of the implied insult. "Yes, I did manage to pick them out myself."

She pushed her styled and extra wavy hair around. Harry figured the comment had its genesis in stress, so he said: "It's all right. Really, the shop clerk suggested them."

Candide glanced at the simple little clock up on the shelf that had been moved from her flat. It was merely a varnished block of wood with four brass ticks in the cardinal positions. "Why did Severus have to go to Hogwarts today of all days?" she asked, peeved.

Harry assumed Snape was continuing to stay out of the way. "I'm certain he'll return soon." Candide crossed her arms, eyes fixed on the clock, frown still apparent. Harry went on, "I think it will go all right tonight."

She patted Harry's arm and burst back into preparatory motion, this time re-attacking the main hall.

Snape arrived shortly after, pre-occupied as he wandered into the hall, reading from a bundle of pale, animal-hide scrolls with bright red and purple tassels. By standing on tip toe to get a glance, Harry decided they must be school board decrees. "That time again," Harry said.

Snape harmlessly crushed the bundle together and slipped it under his arm. "Yes. Minerva for the moment kindly reassigned my preparatory teaching and even Head of House duties, but failed, suspiciously enough, to find another deputy. His words came out clipped, having wrapped himself in disdain already for dinner, Harry figured. Candide minced over while this conversation went on and Snape took wary stock of the two of them. "What is it?" Snape asked, put on alert by what must have been the pensiveness they exuded over Candide's news.

"I, uh, went to see Grisley Teaberg today . . ." Candide opened.

"Why? No, don't tell me," he added quickly holding up his hand. "You fetched a beauty potion for your cousin . . . an excellent plan," he asserted, turning to stride away.

Harry swallowed a grin, but Candide propped her fists on her hips, eyes narrowing. "That's hardly what I did." Snape made a bored turn back to them, leading with his toes. Candide said, "I had her divine whether we're having a boy or girl."

Snape's carefully built dismissive wall appeared to hollow out, even though he did not actually move. "And?" he finally asked.

Candide made as if to speak, but then crossed her arms and, perhaps in retaliation for his crack about her cousin, tauntingly said, "Which do you think she said, boy or girl?"

Snape considered for just a second before replying, "As long as she didn't say 'neither' it doesn't much matter."

"Or one of each," Harry contributed, enjoying this game.

This drew Snape's increasingly undone gaze to him. "She did not say 'one of each,' did she?"

Harry laughed, unable to leave him hanging vulnerable like that for long. "No."

The movement of Snape's shoulders gave away real relief. "Well, which is it then?"

Candide relented. "A boy."

Unmoving, Snape took that in. "Ah." Harry watched him fail to react, outwardly anyhow. He turned slowly to look at the tall clock. "I best get ready," he said. He stepped away and this time Candide moved as though to catch up and grab hold. Harry, without thinking, took hold of her as she passed. A dispute felt imminent and it could not be a worse time for it.

When the door clicked closed upstairs, Harry released her. Eyes watery and fiery, she demanded quietly, "What's the matter with him?"

Harry felt around inside his head for something to say, certain he lacked the skill to sooth her but having no choice but to try. He hesitated simply telling her to leave it for later, because even if that did not backfire, it would poison the evening. "Severus didn't have a very happy childhood," Harry said, sort of to stall but understanding opened before him as he said it. "Maybe he's afraid it isn't going to be any different this time around."

Candide lost her battle-ready posture and asked, "Do you think he'd have preferred a girl?"

Seeing as it was a done thing, Harry preferred not to conjecture on that but he had to answer the question. "That might not have reminded him so much, possibly. But it'll be all right," Harry insisted. "Give him some time to get used to the idea."

She sighed loudly, which under any other circumstances would have concerned him. In this case it was the sound of giving in, at least for the moment.

"I thought he'd be happy," she said.

Harry thought that a strong word for Snape under any circumstance. Trying to lighten things, he said, "Not that he'd let anyone know if he was . . ."

She ducked her head for a grin that was half grimace. With another sigh, she patted his arm and said, "I don't think this would work without you."

Harry would rather like to think it would, but he could see her viewpoint. "Your parents will be here soon. Is everything ready?"

This properly distracted her utterly. She strode in a circle around the carefully arranged hall, even leaning back to scrutinize the chandelier, composed entirely of fresh candles, all glowing merrily. "I think we're ready," she said, sounding fatalistic.

Harry pondered the notion of bringing someone home for the two of them to scrutinize with thoughts of marriage. His initial instinct that they would be more forgiving and open than Candide's parents gave way to a more pessimistic vision of them asking awkward and pointed questions. These considerations made Harry more nervous for that evening.

Snape returned, taciturn and faintly glowering. They all sat down on the couches—Snape with a tumbler of something amber—and waited. When the knock came on the door and Harry stood, Snape arrested him with a sharply raised hand. "I instructed the elf to take care of the butlering."

A small pop indicated Winky had indeed gone to the door. The three of them stood as cloaks were shed in the narrow, dim entry hall. Three figures shuffled into the main hall and Harry was grateful to see Ruthie leading the way, knowing smile firmly in place on her substantial face. Candide's parents followed, trailing farther behind as the room widened out. Her father was a man going toward portly, but did not move like one as far along as he actually was. Her mother's greying hair was swept back in a style similar to Candide's but the grey streaks left one with the impression of a badger. This was reinforced by her distasteful expression as she took in the old house and its patchwork of recent repairs.

Harry fought a defensive acid rising in his chest and stepped forward with a friendly smile to follow behind the others' greetings.

"And Harry," Candide said, making introductions. "My mum and dad, Adalais Martyn and Farnsworth Breakstone, and of course you've met my sister."

Attitudes shifted instantly and Harry's hand was pumped excessively by Candide's father. "A pleasure, Mr. Potter, absolutely smashing to get to meet you . . ." He went on in this vein until realizing abruptly that he should stop. This was followed by a peck on the cheek by Adalais. Thus reassured that he could influence their opinions, Harry relaxed and took the liberty of suggesting they sit down and that Winky should fetch them drinks.

Harry taking charge eased the atmosphere until they were settled in and no good topics of conversation caught hold. Ruthie rescued them, by leaning her broadly round shoulders forward and asking Harry, "So, what is it like to be an Auror? Exciting I bet."

"Yes and no. We spend a lot of boring hours on patrol or stake-out between bouts of excitement."

No one joined in, certainly not the poker-stiff Adalais or slumping Farnsworth, so Ruthie said, "The papers have been covering the upcoming vampire trial. What do you think about the expensive solicitor Fueago hired?"

Harry knew nothing beyond that he would be pulled out of training for his testimony. Before he could explain this, Snape intervened with, "Harry prefers to remain ignorant of what gets printed about him."

Ruthie jerked in surprise. "Really. I'd love reading about myself . . . even bad things. Those would be the best fun." She laughed heartily and peered at Harry with amusement.

Harry could not judge if she was joking. The attempts at conversation were mercifully cut short by Winky, gold edged tea-towel glittering in the excessive candlelight of the chandelier, summoning them to dinner. As they made their way to the dining room, he overheard Adalais muttered something grudging about how nice it must be to have a house-elf to take care of everything.

Dinner slid by at a snail's pace with nearly all comments directed at Harry, who did not mind at first, but by the time the roast was cut into for second helpings he began to think more progress towards their accepting Snape would be more valuable. When a ripe opportunity presented itself in the form of Candide insisting to her mother that she had survived any bouts of morning sickness with a good potion, Harry jumped in. He said, "Severus is an expert brewer."

Candide's father wiped his mouth, folded his napkin and said, "You used to teach that, Candy tells us. I'd expect you to get good at it if you were teaching it." He sniffed, heavy cheeks shifting in layers as he considered the row of them across the table. "You teach Defense Against the Darker Arts now, correct?" His tone implied less small talk and more ground-work-laying. Harry began to see this not leading anywhere good and indeed, his instincts were correct. The man said, "You teach that from experience too, I suppose?"

"Of course," Snape answered easily, uncaringly, which unclenched Harry's chest. "I wouldn't be very good at it if I did not teach from experience. It is a serious and necessary subject, sadly neglected in the past as Harry can attest."

Harry took up this opening with the first thing he could think of. "That's true. It's so important now that Hogwarts has two professors on the subject, sharing the load."

Farnsworth straightened his silverware and said, "There was some controversy about that too in the papers this week, something about keeping a werewolf on around all those children. Or am I mis-remembering?"

Snape calmly refilled his own glass of wine. "No, that's correct, but he's rendered relatively harmless by regular potioning before and during the full moon."

"Well that's something anyhow," Farnsworth conceded without changing his challenging tone.

To Harry it seemed the strained discussion about Lupin and Hogwarts was actually a substitute for something else, a different topic or perhaps a duel.

Farnsworth went on while Adalais ate heartily, content with her husband's handling of things. Ruthie, the more likely candidate to eat while food was plentiful, had had the same potato poised on her fork for the last minute.

"Just doesn't seem worth the risk, does it? If I had a son or daughter there still, I couldn't possible approve it," Candide's father said and his wife nodded broadly in agreement. "I can't imagine allowing a dangerous creature like that around children. He could spread that evil easily, couldn't he?"

Harry cut Snape's reply off with, "He isn't a creature; he's a very kind man." He managed to pull his voice back from angry into the realm of calmly informative by the end, but his heart rate rose in response.

Snape did something unexpected; he reached beside him and gently laid a hand over Harry's arm, where it rested beside his knife, as if to silence him. Snape went on, the very model of control. "You have to forgive my adopted son, he is passionate at defending those he cares about."

Harry watched Farnsworth's eyes cautiously move back and forth between the two of them and realized that Snape's gentle assertion was actually a threat, and Harry had to slow his breathing to avoid giving away that he had grasped that. Ruthie's brows were at her hairline. She puckered her lips and ate her potato, which was the cue for the conversation to move to something else.

Things remained superficially congenial until the sherry was poured by Winky after the pudding plates glittered away. Winky bowed herself out with a quick backward shuffle clearly desiring to leave. Farnsworth, while peering through the dark red liquid in his glass at the nearest candle, said, "If we had a say in this, we'd put a stop to it."

Oddly, Harry felt relief upon hearing this, despite its bluntness. Snape swirled his own carefully observed sherry and did not reply. Candide colored but also held back. Harry suspected she had heard that at least once before.

Ruthie, finishing off her tumbler, said, "Good thing you can't then."

Farnsworth ignored her and accused Snape: "Figures someone with a background like yours would use the most despicable, old-fashioned form of coercion. Doesn't it?"

The tightening of the cords on the back of Snape's hand was the only outward sign of his self-control. He brushed the fingertips of his left hand over each other as he answered, "On that point you are grossly mistaken."

Adalais snorted faintly, prompting Candide to say with a blush clear even in the candlelight, "I'm certain I explained this, Mother."

Farnsworth did not remove his eyes from Snape. "Like I'd believe the likes of you," he said in a low voice perhaps propelled and bolstered by alcohol.

Harry would have spoken, but Snape's fingers brushed his forearm again before he could compose something. It was torture to sit quietly.

"Mother," Candide chastised, perhaps expecting an ally in this.

"Well, Dear," Adalais said in a voice pitched higher than normal, "We always expected you to do better than this—you of all people." Adalais glanced at Snape dismissively and straightened her crushed napkin back over her lap. "I mean, really, Dear," she added, flustered.

Candide dabbed quickly at one eye and bit her lip. Harry was ready to burst. Snape had tapped him yet again as though sensing this. Harry, taking his anger out on his guardian because it was the only direction allowed, asked, "Why don't you want me to say anything?"

"I simply don't," Snape said calmly. "You have already lost your temper."

"Oh, no I haven't," Harry countered, just barely in check. "I wouldn't be sitting here like this if I had, would I? I don't like sitting here quietly while the only family I've even known is roundly insulted."

Candide's parents stared at him. Harry tried to find another ounce of calm to apply to his nerves and he must have managed because he backed down, but assumed it was clear to others that he was struggling.

Ruthie piped up, "Well, like you said, 'nothing you can do about it'."

Farnsworth's face twisted as though the sherry beneath his nose had grown foul. "She's old enough to do as she pleases, but that still doesn't make it easy to turn her over to a supporter, former or not, of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. We read all the papers; have for years; years and years; we know what you are, even if she downplays it." He nodded in Candide's direction.

"Voldemort," Snape said just as Harry had opened his mouth to do so. "His name is Voldemort."

Candide's parents cringed and Ruthie had to hide a grin behind pretending to drink from her empty tumbler.

Adalais resumed addressing the daughter across from her. "People don't ever cease to be dark wizards, Candy-dear," she stated as fact. "Imagine if you told us you wanted to marry a . . . a vampire. Wouldn't you expect us to dissuade you?"

Candide, eyes bright, did not reply. She looked away, at the empty grate, char-coated and cold.

Silence reigned until Snape set down his empty tumbler and said, "Perhaps if we have run out of things people wish to get out in the open, we should declare this an evening."

Farnsworth tossed his napkin onto the table. "There's no legal recourse for us; I already checked. Even asked a solicitor for help requesting a dispensation directly from the Wizengamot."

Snape followed this immediately with, "But in the hearing you would be up against Harry Potter and I suspect that put an end to the idea." He smiled for the first time, but it did not reach his eyes.

"Daddy, you didn't," Candide complained and then huffed in annoyance.

Harry wondered if her father had considered going to the papers. Skeeter would certainly provide a willing ear. Harry did not ask about this, just in case.

Farnsworth said, "I can't in good conscience give you away."

Snape said, "Someone else will be happy to do so," at the exact same time Candide asked, "But you'll still come, right?"

"I insisted we go," Adalais said. "Wouldn't be proper to not go at all."

This finally was the last comment of any substance that evening. When the door finally closed and the three of them were standing alone in the hall, Harry said, "That could have gone worse, I suppose." Snape turned on his heel to face him. He was still calm, which Harry had to comment on. "You did well," Harry told him.

Dryly, he said, "With due respect to Candide, I decided they truly do not matter." Candide's gaze was fixed to the floor and it remained there until Snape said to her, "I do hope that's the end of it."

Candide nodded. Harry gave her a weak smile when she looked his way. "Thanks for trying Harry," she said.

To her he shrugged. To Snape Harry said, "Sorry I talked out of turn."

"Oh, do not apologize. I wished you to."

Harry lowered his brow and stared at him. "You were manipulating me?"

"I wished you to express your thoughts in a context that made it absolutely clear you spoke of your own will, which you did. It was useful that you are so predictable, but I must point out that you should work to eliminate such a bad habit that makes it easy for your enemies to entrap you."

"I can try," Harry said doubtfully. He huffed and said, "I have readings to do," before he strode up the stairs, intending to take Kali out of her cage, settle in with his books, and willfully ignore the realization that even when he tried to use his influence, he could not succeed at it properly.

An owl from Hermione distracted Harry from sorting through his books. The bird carried an invitation to a small luncheon she was having at the Leaky Cauldron before leaving for Hogwarts. Harry pulled out his small diary and made a note of it. At the bottom of the printed invitation she had added:

Harry, I should probably warn you that I invited Vishnu as well. We've owled on occasion, but I haven't seen him since your birthday and found I really have to or I might lose my mind. It should be safe enough since I'm leaving for ten months.


Harry tossed the invitation into the cold hearth to burn later, thinking Hermione may not want anyone seeing that note. He frowned, feeling for his friend and wondering how things were with his fellow. Harry should have found or created an opportunity to speak with him, but feeling partly responsible for his marriage difficulties made it even more awkward. Maybe he'd have a chance during the luncheon, or maybe that would be completely the wrong time to bring anything up.

- 888 -


Saturday, Harry took his bike out again, this time to meet Tonks, whom he had arranged to meet for dinner in Hogsmeade. Harry flew to the wizarding village, which gave him a rare chance to mull over things. The helmet, when he had to wear it until clear of Muggle habitation, rubbed painfully against the bump on his head, reminding him of the mystery of how he had ended up with it. He had flashes of crawling toward the warmth of the fire, but not exactly how he had become so cold in the first place. Also a mystery that dragged on his mind was why Belinda had been back, mostly, to her outgoing self when he had seen her on Diagon Alley.

This second mystery still gnawed at Harry's consciousness as he landed with a musical clang! of metal on the narrow road before the Three Broomsticks. Shoppers turned to stare at him before giggling and going on their way. The great chrome machinery of Sirius' motorbike did stand out in the age-tainted, wooden surroundings of the wizarding village.

Tonks stepped out of the pub and propped a hand on her skirted hip. "That explains why you wanted to meet here," she said, giving him a peck. Her hair stood tall and lemon yellow today.

Harry rolled the bike out of the way into the alley and tugged her farther between the buildings using the bike as a barrier to hug her properly. "Glad you could get away today," Harry said. He felt eyes upon them and pulled away with a glance at the empty light behind the buildings. He fought a temptation to send a curse that direction.

Inside, the two of them settled over mugs of butterbeer. Harry, wanting help working things out said, "Oddest thing. Belinda was nice to me the other day."

Tonks' dismay was most likely exaggerated, making Harry grin. "Sorry," he said. "It's just that something has been up with her."

"Harry, is there a witch in England you aren't trying to come to the aid of."

"Don't be silly," Harry said, trying not to laugh. "Not all of them. Just the ones exposed to the hazard that is Harry."

Tonks tipped her mug at him, slopping some onto the table where it smoked a bit as it mixed with the other stains on the wood. "I'll grant you that one."

"You don't have to be jealous. I prefer my dates to not need rescuing. Really."

She smiled with her eyes and Harry accepted that she believed him. Her eyes rolled though, when he said, "But about Belinda . . ."

"How about some other topic . . . how are the wedding plans going?"

"Oh, please," Harry groaned. "Some other topic."

A group of hags shuffled in, the mustiness of their robes making some customers sneeze. Madam Rosmerta stalked over. "The Hog's Head serves fare more to your liking I expect," she said to them. The five of them ignored her and with much loud adjusting of chairs, made themselves at home.

Tonks took everyone in with a practiced eye before turning back to Harry. "I hope things aren't going badly."

"Well, the in-laws could be happier . . ."

"They always could be happier."

"But I'm just tired of all the discussion about dress colors and flower selection and music and . . . ugh."

She laughed. "Blokes don't go in for that; it's true."

"And Severus is up to something. Won't say what it is."

Tonks finished her butterbeer in record time and stood to get another. "That sounds like him." She returned seconds later with a fresh drink, this time sitting back more relaxed. "You have to get to know him by guessing correctly," she asserted. "But you would know that. How's he coping with having one on the way?"

"I haven't asked him," Harry said. A group of youngsters flew by out on the street dressed all in the same color robes as though on their way to use the school Quidditch pitch.

"I'd be dying to ask him," Tonks said. "Just see his reaction. Imagine a junior Severus. Or juniorette."

"Junior," Harry said.

"It is now?" she asked, grinning. "Seeing himself grow up again. That will be a change for him. Most blokes love that part of it, but I don't know about him."

Something about the hunched hags in the window made Harry remember the other Snape, the ragged, beaten down Snape. To distract himself, he said, "I've never met your parents."

"Eh," she said, waving her hands weakly. After a pause she said, "If you really want to, we could all go out for dinner some night."

"I think I'd like that. Is there some reason you wouldn't want to?" Harry had to ask.

Tonks shrugged and glanced into her mug.

"What is it?" Harry asked.

Tonks shrugged again. "No, we can go out. Pick a date."

"Maybe after the wedding," Harry said. "You're coming to the wedding, right?"

"I received an invitation, in fact."

"Oh good, I just realized I'd assumed you'd go with me."

She laughed. "If I don't get called on duty in an emergency, of course."

Harry tried to keep his mind off concerns for Belinda and Elizabeth, but found it difficult. He kept clear of the topic in conversation as they sat, but he was distracted. Finally, he said, "Want to go for a ride?" to which Tonks after teasing him, agreed.

- 888 -


Sunday for Hermione's party six of them settled into a corner table that afforded some privacy due to the irrational architecture of the Leaky Cauldron. Harry pushed the present he had brought across the table, gathering a sharp look from his old friend.

"Harry, what's this?"

"If you can't figure that one out," Ginny said of the beribboned package resting before them all, "I think you should disqualify yourself from teaching."

Ron gave his sister a slap on the arm.

Beside Ron, Vineet appeared slightly less than completely serene. Harry observed him in profile and hoped that angle accentuated his unhappiness. Hermione would glance at him and then glance away. Lavender caught onto this and shot Ron a knowing look, which Ron gallantly ignored or simply did not notice.

Hermione opened her tall gift and found it contained a stack of one of each kind of stationary currently sold at Flourish and Blotts.

"You'll be doing a lot of owling, I think," Harry said.

Hermione dabbed at her right eye. "I think you're right. It's going to be long months without seeing you all."

Ron said, "What's to stop us from coming up to Hogsmeade for a pint?"

"Well, I'm going to be terribly busy and I know it isn't so far away, but I suspect everyone will have other things to do."

"Yeah, I hear they lock all new teachers in the keep for the first year," Harry said. "Only the bats for company."

Hermione laughed, but her eyes were still too bright. "I feel like I'm going very far away, I'm not sure why."

Lavender said, "We'll come up to see you. Don't get all dewy-eyed about it. It's not like you're going to Durmstrang, then you would be on your own."

Harry had a feeling he understood this, that the opportunities to see Vineet were going to be cut down to nil. Vineet had not spoken at all, so Harry had no clue about his thoughts, which were apparently a matter of deep attention for him.

"It's going to be so strange, but I'm dying to get started," Hermione said. "I realized the last month how dreadfully bored I've been. I think this will put a stop to that." She went on, words flowing freely. "Headmistress said that after a few years I could be Head of House, even, Sinistra only took on the duty because there was no one else. Wouldn't that be just grand?"

"You sound like a kid again," Ron said, slight disgust clear in his voice.

"Don't you remember our first year at Hogwarts?" she asked him.

"I remember Voldemort tried to kill Harry. And then the second year he tried again . . ."

"Ron, that's not going to happen this time. Harry took care of him once and for all. Didn't you Harry?"

Her need for reassurance surprised him. "Yes. He's nothing now," he insisted.

Hermione smiled and announced, "I think we need another round."

- 888 -


As expected, Arthur came to the training room door to fetch Harry. They were mid-practice of neutralizing curse spells frequently used for traps, like the Supergummy Curse, the Infinite Fall Hex, and the Brain Spin Hex. Harry immediately abandoned Aaron to Tridant and Kerry Ann, who were competing vigorously on trapping each other.

"You're next up in the dungeon. Courtroom Ten," Mr. Weasley said before turning to go back to his office.

The torches in the dungeon always seem to burn fainter and colder than in the rest of the Ministry, suppressed perhaps by the damp, thin air. The breeze of Harry's striding by made the tall flames spasm once before standing still again. The masked guard outside the door could have been related to a troll. He moved his ax aside and let Harry stand before the door and wait for it to be opened from the inside. All of these preparations made Harry wonder if the Ministry actually had brought the vampire from the French prison for the trial, even if Snape did not believe they would. Harry swallowed hard; he had put aside thoughts of any risk to his secrets from the trial and now those worries woke and came piling on again.

"Ah, Mr. Potter," the presiding elder of the Wizengamot said when Harry entered. The door boomed closed behind Harry as he strode across the floor. He was relieved to find the chair in the center empty, chains slack, but not as pleased to see that Tiberius Ogden was presiding. The old wizard squinted at his papers and said, "We have questions, for you. And when we are through, the solicitor for the accused will have an opportunity to ask you anything relevant as well." Here he gestured over to the side at the lowest seats which held a row of witches and wizards in fine black robes trimmed in velvet. The tallest one, a stately, greying dark-haired man, gave Harry a searching look with his transparent blue eyes.

Ogden went on, "Poyser DeBenedictus and his associates are here in the accused's stead, due to security considerations. We have already dispensed with the protests over this decision. Your fellow Auror apprentice, one Barbarella Blackpool, will be called to testify as well but based on the report, she is not as reliable a witness as you have been judged to be, Mr. Potter."

Harry nodded in agreement and squinted into the high torches in an effort to see the faces in the tiers above him. Only twelve seats were occupied and McGonagall's seat was not one of them. On the far side a handful of reporters sat on stools added along the floor. Skeeter had her head of shining ringlets down, bracelets flashing as she wrote. Someone loudly cleared their throat during the lull while Ogden flipped through his parchments.

"Yes, Cornelius, we will be moving along presently. Now, Mr. Potter, we have read the report you signed off on, so we need not re-cover all of the events, but some points must be established to the satisfaction of this committee if we are to determine whether we should incarcerate the accused and for how long."

He went on to ask for more details about the vampire's hold over the Muggle family, asking specifics that surprised Harry, such as did the girl ever open her eyes or did she speak to the vampire. Harry had to admit she only moaned, which he was uncomfortable describing, and this must have come through because he could see amusement on at least two faces as he struggled.

"All right then," Ogden went on. "After that, Fueago was reported to attack Ms. Blackpool. You described him as 'hungry' in your report."

"Objection," DeBenedictus said, standing up, which showed him to be even taller than Harry imagined. "The witness cannot know this to be true and it is conjecture only."

Harry waited for his opportunity to speak and drawing on Snape's fine example of calm from the dinner on Friday, he said, "Fueago had his mouth open wide and he sniffed the air like a dog might when trying to find a scent. He moved jerkily, frantically," Harry also added, feeling that safe from the solicitor's reach to cancel out what he said.

Ogden finished up with his questions, which Harry strained his memory to reply to accurately. DeBenedictus stood again more deliberately, unfolding like a lamppost might he moved so rigidly. He eyed Harry as though not happy to see him there. "Why don't you take a seat, Mr. Potter," he said flatly.

"That's all right, I'll stand."

The man's voice did not modulate at all as he spoke, pitched to be heard clearly by the full assemblage while still sounding conversational. "Too familiar with that chair, are you? Well, your choice then."

Harry forced more calm on himself, having learned that this was not just defensive, but also could be used offensively and would suffice for the moment. He waited for a question as though bored.

DeBenedictus circled once, considering the tiers above them, picking out and attending to each individual peering down. Without warning, he asked, "Have you ever dealt with a vampire before, Mr. Potter, in the course of your Ministry work?"

"No, sir," Harry responded politely.

"No," the solicitor agreed like a whip-crack. "And indeed the report indicates that you did not even know the proper procedures that should be followed, such as taking a mouth swab within fifteen minutes of a vampire's purported attack. Did you know that was in the manual your very department keeps on file?" He turned and gestured at one of the wizards seated with his colleagues. "I have with me as a supporting witness none other than Eldred Worple, foremost expert on vampires and he can attest to your manual being veracious on this point."

He fell into a lecture mode then, as though pretending to help Harry for the next time. "You see, there can be no admissible determination of whether the vampire intended to create another vampire during the bite, if no swab is, within a short period of time, obtained and sealed in a silver box for later testing."

Harry wanted to shrug. He nodded weakly instead.

The solicitor went on still sounding kindly informative. "If you are, as Elder Ogden indicated, the best witness the Ministry Department of Magical Law Enforcement intends to produce for this trial, I would not be sanguine about your success in these proceedings."

Despite his heart rate rising, Harry believed he managed to hide his agitation. He imagined his department's dismay if, because of his testimony, Fueago went free. Harry said, "He kept that Muggle family terrorized for over a year. He told me when I confronted him that he was older than the British Isles itself and therefore above or outside our laws."

"Is that an exact quote or are you interpreting?" the solicitor asked.

Harry cast his mind back to the darkened bedroom in Burnipsbie. "He laughed when I told him he was breaking the rules and he said 'what rules?'"

"And that means what?" The solicitor paced away. "Only that he found something funny and wanted more information."

"He was mocking the whole notion," Harry insisted.

The solicitor tossed his hand as though this was ridiculous. Harry longed to say, like you're doing now, but he held it in. More calmly, Harry said, "When I told him there were Ministry of Magic rules he had to follow he said, and quote, 'Do not insult me'."

"He just simply meant that it was insulting to imply that he did not know such basic rules."

Harry ground his teeth and took a deep breath. The solicitor beat him to speaking. "Really, Mr. Potter, your reputation notwithstanding, you are a mere trainee. You failed to follow the required procedures, understandable of course," he said with small solicitous bow, "given that you haven't learned them yet."

Harry found the man's ultra-friendly patronizing tone the most aggravating of all. As he lost control of the situation, Harry found control of himself slipping away as well. "He lied to the guards at the French prison." This was lame, but it was the one thing Harry could convey with certainty.

"How do you know? You do not speak French."

"He told me he did. When I asked him what he'd said."

The solicitor addressed the tiers now. "How do you know he did not lie then? And besides, lying to a foreign national, especially a Frenchman, isn't a crime in Britain."

Harry tried not to fall prey to the frantic thoughts circling in head. He was going to fail at this and that had been unthinkable when he had walked in. He grasped at something, "You spoke to the girl. She should have been a witness too."

An unexpectedly welcome voice came from above. "And she will be, when we settle which expert Healer to believe about her mental state."

The solicitor, perhaps sensing an increasing advantage, moved in for the kill. "Mr. Fueago complains in fact about your assault on his person and your repeated threats to cut out his heart."

Harry found the heat rising in his throat a comfort all of a sudden. It felt good to get truly, unabashedly angry about something worth getting offended about. "How can one possibly assault a vampire?" Harry asked. "Ask Worple there. He'll tell you they can disappear out of our world at will or turn into a mist and slip away. How does one assault something like that?" Harry felt hemmed in by his own need to hide the truth, so he stopped there. He needed a better tactic and quick.

Harry's turning and putting up a fight set DeBenedictus back a step. The sound of papers rustling more loudly in the tiers bolstered Harry, who did not give the solicitor a chance to reply. He laid the bait out and expected it would not be resisted. "What I saw in a Muggle house in Burnipsbie was a rogue vampire, a hungry dark creature . . ."

DeBenedictus raised his finger. "I objected to that already, Mr. Potter." He turned to the tiers, "I wish it to be stricken ag . . ."

"Why?" Harry asked sharply, too sharply. He needed more control.

DeBenedictus turned to him and Harry found his eyes and latched on. "Why?" Harry asked again, less excitedly.

"Perhaps you are more daft than expected, Mr. Potter, but you cannot know someone's motives if they are unspoken and sometimes not even if they are spoken . . ."

Harry cut him off. "I'm a Legilimens, Mr. DeBenedictus, I can indeed know a person's motives without he or she speaking them." He left off that this was not true of the Vampire.

DeBenedictus stopped, elevated finger slowly falling. It was Harry's turn and the man was stunned enough not to look away. "For example, I know you regret having to interview me of all people but are also thrilled at the possibility of besting me before this group." The man made the mistake of glancing for help at the reporters behind Harry before glancing back. Harry said, "You think Rita Skeeter should perhaps not wear such a short skirt and bright red tights to a serious official proceedings, but you think she does have nice legs."

Now DeBenedictus retreated two full steps. To the chair, he demanded, "Is he on the record as having this skill?"

Surprisingly bored sounding, Ogden waved at Fudge, who flipped through a stack of files in the trunk before him and handed one up to him. Ogden perused what must be Harry's file. While they waited, Harry, finding a patronizingly helpful tone himself, said to the solicitor, "It's the same skill your client would be using against you were the French not potioning him into oblivion. You do realize that, I assume?"

Ogden spoke. "Yes, it is listed on Mr. Potter's internal biographical form and on his application to the Aurors program." A pause ensued before Ogden said, "Are you finished with the questioning of this witness, Mr. DeBenedictus?"

The solicitor licked his lips and had trouble speaking. "Yes." and then again with a normal voice: "Yes. I'm through." He hurried back to his files. His assistants rose up to assist even though they did not appear to be needed.

Harry thought that for a man whose primary weapon was hairsplitting to support the subtle ruse of his logic, discovering he was utterly exposed could be rightfully upsetting. As the solicitor kept his back to him, Harry's initial burst of elation simmered down into plain relief that he had survived.

Ogden spoke to Harry. "Perhaps in the interest of the defense's mental state, you should retire from the room. If we have any more questions, you will be called back. Next witness."

Harry tried not to grin. He turned to go, catching Skeeter's eye. She lifted one red calf slightly as though teasing, then shot him a look of grudging respect. Harry strode by her, not giving any ground to her either.

Back in the training room when Rodgers asked how it went, Harry asked in return, "Are we getting instruction in how to handle testimony before the Wizengamot?"

Rodgers chuckled lightly. "You will indeed, but third year."

Harry dropped into a chair. "We need it."

Still smiling Rodgers asked, "Went that badly?"

Harry felt a bit hung out on his own. "I could have used some preparation, some coaching." His voice sounded a bit blameful, so he added, "Sir."

Rodgers held his notes to his chest and said, "First off, I thought you had enough experience to handle yourself well enough, and second, the case doesn't hinge on you, but on the girl's testimony and the lab examination of the family."

Harry was relieved to hear that. "Oh."

After a short stare at Harry, Rodgers asked, "DeBenedictus take you apart?"

"He tried," Harry conceded, still aggravated by his early performance and the fierce fighting back that losing so much ground necessitated.

Rodgers found this amusing and he continued smiling as he returned to an introduction of heat-seeking hexes.

- 888 -


Friday, Harry arrived home after the pubs closed and his fellows had begged off searching for other amusement. Hermione's party had inspired Harry to get the five of them to spend more time together outside the Ministry even at the risk of their fieldwork sharpness. He was glad he had because Tridant by the time they left the last place, he behaved less reserved and brightly said he would see them all on Monday.

The house hung in stillness. Harry almost simply walked up the stairs to his bedroom, but the dark hall made the candlelight from the dining room clearly apparent. He stepped down backwards and glanced inside, surprised to find Snape resting his head on the table, pillowed with his arm.

"Severus?" Harry prompted.

Snape raised his head and reached out as though to grab something, presumably the tipped-over decorative bottle, its surface of green beaded swirls plucking at the gutted candlelight.

"Did you drink all that?" Harry asked in concern.

Snape righted the bottle with noisy effort and glared at it accusingly.

"Severus?" Harry prompted again. He slipped the delicate bottle out of Snape's grasp and set it on the mantel out of harm's way. "Where's Candide?"

Snape waved in a way that indicated elsewhere. Aloud, Harry remembered, "Oh, that's right. It's her hens' night tonight, isn't it?"

Gesturing at his own chest, Snape said, "Flashing robes."

"They wore flashing robes?" Harry confirmed.

Snape nodded and gestured at his head. "Matching . . . flashing hats."

"That was enough to drive you to drink?" Harry asked doubtfully.

Snape's hair tossed as he shook his head. He laid his forehead on the back of his hands, flat on the table. "Didn't help," he muttered.

Harry pulled the head chair out and sat down at it with a sigh, hands clasped between his knees. A pile of post lay unattended on the sideboard beneath the window and towering over that were the parchments and white leather planning books Candide had been using for the wedding.

"What else is the matter?" he asked.

A long pause ensued. Harry tried to be patient.

"I'm not fit for this," came the reply that filtered up from the table.

"You've said that before," Harry said. "It's not any more convincing this time 'round."

Snape rotated his scraggly head. Harry patted him on the shoulder. "Come on. If it were me doing this, you'd give me hell for it."

"'S different."

"Oh, how so?"

Snape did not reply and in the silence a voice in the back of Harry's own head reminded him how very much damage a few unleashed demons could do. Snape for all his bluster and snide insults could not touch that.

Harry patted him harder, forcing himself out of his self-rumination with effort. "Come on now . . . what is it?" he asked more strictly.

Snape lifted his head. His eyes were red-rimmed and his face elongated as though melting. "How did I let it get to this?"

"Severus, you can't back out now," Harry insisted with firmness.

"No," Snape agreed. "The flowers are on their way to some Merlinforsaken glen somewhere or other."

Harry blinked at that. "How much sherry was left in that bottle?" When Snape held up his fingers, Harry said, "Two bottles? No wonder." Harry gripped Snape's wrist. "Everything's going to work out," Harry heard himself say. Those words worked to sound hollow, but Harry truly believed them.

Snape murmured "Hero of Wizardry says I should go through with it . . . it's not a farce." He passed a hand through his hair and sounded the headline reader as he said, "Former Death Eater, now upright citizen." He deflated after this pronouncement. "It's not going to work."

"What's not going to work?" Harry asked sternly.

Snape again did not reply.

Harry cajoled, "Come on. You're going to love being a dad. You'll have a little Slytherin around the house." A pause. "Well, I'm assuming he'll be a Slytherin," Harry said thoughtfully.

Snape's poorly focussed eyes slipped farther away. "What if he is not?" he asked with dread.

"No chance of that. Well, maybe Ravenclaw, like Candide, that'd be all right." Harry wanted to sooth him, but found honesty getting in the way.

"Ravenclaw . . . that would be all right. Smart enough to stay out of trouble. As long as he isn't a . . . Gryffindor."

"Well, thanks," Harry complained, stung.

The tired, black gaze slipped Harry's way, but it lacked the usual razor keenness. "You think you're still a Gryffindor?" Snape asked with slurred curiosity.

"Yeah."

"Hm," came the ambiguous reply that indicated only that this topic was of continuing interest. Snape gave up on it and scrubbed his eyes. "You don't have anything to drink, do you? Stashed somewhere perhaps? Winky refused to fetch more."

Harry laughed. "I'd have pulled it out for myself already if I did. You need your pink stuff, not more drink."

"I want to be drunk," Snape insisted. "Why does Candide get all the . . . fun?"

"I'll take you out if you want," Harry said. "I could get a crew together. McGonagall, for example, would pay to see you like this. She'd buy a few more rounds, surely."

Snape broke out laughing, a harsh, odd sound. He then returned his head to resting on his arm.

"Do you want to be found like this or do you want me to brew you up some pink stuff?"

"I don't care. I don't care about her bloody parents. I don't care about this."

"I don't believe you," Harry criticized. "Severus Snape and his all important dignity would care whether he were found snookered by his wife to be." Harry stood and propped his hands on his hips. "Are you playing for pity?"

Snape's head came up, eyes blaring. Harry had pushed too far.

"Sorry," Harry quickly said and reached for Snape's shoulder, but it was jerked out of reach. In making this sudden move, which tipped the chair onto two legs, Snape unbalanced himself and tumbled sideways onto the floor.

Harry came around to help him up, apologizing again.

"Leave it be, Potter," Snape said while pressing himself up with his hands, splayed wide and pale on the dark wooden floor.

It took the combination of his last name and the tone to make Harry back off and let Snape right himself rather than give him reason to escalate into real viciousness.

Snape sat back in the chair, even more hunched. "Leave me be," he said.

Harry leaned closer. "Please don't do this," he pleaded, getting no variance in Snape staring straight ahead. There was nothing for it. Harry said, "You're afraid it's going to be as bad for your son as it was for you? It isn't you know. But that's it, isn't it?"

"Merlin," Snape replied as though stunned.

Harry said to reassure him: "No, you're not really that transparent. That was a lucky guess."

This drew quite a glare from Snape.

"That very last wasn't a guess," Harry quickly explained. "I just know you that well at least."

He re-grabbed Snape's wrist, which he was allowed to do, and said, "It's going to be better this time. You'd do fine on your own, I know you would, but you don't even have to. We're both here to help you. You act like this is still just you. That's the biggest thing this adoption's taught me is that I don't have to go through anything alone. We're in this together and after Sunday it'll be all three of us. You think we'd let you mess up that badly?"

Snape tugged his arm free and rested his cheek on his arm again.

Harry gave up, assuming the alcohol was hopelessly in the way of reasoning. "We both love you, you know. If you haven't figured out yet how to deal with that, you better do so right quick." At the door, Harry added, "If you want something to sober up, give a shout; I'll be in the library."

Harry perused the crammed bookshelves, pulling out books based on their color, not really in the mood to read anything for long. He wanted to sleep but felt he should keep watch and he could do so from here.

When Candide returned, Harry could see her robes flickering all the way to the walls of the hall out of the corner of his eye.

"You waited up?" he heard her ask Snape.

Harry hurried that way and from the dining room door said, "No, he's drunk off his arse."

She gaped at Harry. "Severus is?"

Harry nodded. Snape had not moved. "Maybe he's passed out now," Harry said.

Candide prodded a shoulder with no response. "Maybe we should move him to the couch."

Harry pulled out his wand, but she stopped him with. "He hates being hovered."

So the two of them, with the addition of a Feather-light Charm, carried his dead weight to the hall where it fit in better on one of the long couches than at the table. Harry sat down with a sigh on the other couch and Candide sat directly beside. Stale pipe-smoke drifted off her, but no scent of alcohol.

"What happened?" Candide asked.

"I wasn't here," Harry said. "Hey, Severus!" Harry shouted and when there was only a twitch in response, he decided it was safe to talk. "He's doubting himself and once he got started I expect drink only made it worse."

"Severus doubting himself," she uttered as though trying out a string of foreign words.

"Oh, don't let him fool you," Harry said, figuring that Snape had given up any rights to retain the illusion of his posturing about the same time he lost consciousness. "He doubts himself all the time. That's the usual reason he gets angry, when he does. Well, people just annoy him to, but if he's really worked up, it's probably something in his own head."

She stared at Harry as she took that in and then looked back at Snape.

Harry asked, "How was your party?"

She smiled. "Oh, excellent . . . brill. We had a great time, Dublin has a very nice Magical Corridor along the river. Have you been there?"

Harry shook his head, trying to hide his amusement at her almost bubbly shift in demeanor.

She sighed again and clasped her hands together out straight. "Well, it's nice to know even he has a breaking point."

"He has lots," Harry said, standing up "Why do you think he works so hard to hide them? I'll be right back." Determined to right Snape so he they could all go to sleep, Harry collected the ingredients for his favorite potion, a foamy pink liquid that rendered one free of immediate and past effects due to over-consumption of alcohol.

Harry set up a burner on the floor to mix up one of the two key ingredients which they had run out of. He poured in a splash of ground cardamom, blue poppy seeds and horntail horn steeped in vodka. When this evaporated and left a sticky residue, he added bright blue powdered robin's egg and mountain goat milk. He stirred for a while, becalmed by having something concrete to do.

"Did Severus teach you how to brew?" Candide asked from where she reclined on the couch, one hand resting on her belly.

"Yeah," Harry admitted.

Minutes later it was finished and when poured into the Enchanted Mineral Water, it foamed a promising pink. Without preamble, Harry, bottle in hand, tugged Snape to a sitting position. His head lolled before it straightened up.

"Drink this," Harry commanded.

Snape at first seemed to want to resist, but he took the bottle and took a swig.

"It's hot," Snape observed. He rubbed his face. "Did you just brew that?"

"Yes."

He swung his legs to the side. "As long as you didn't poison me."

"Such confidence he has in me," Harry said, hovering the brewing setup back to the toilet.

In Harry's absence, Snape forced his tired eyes to focus on Candide, who had sat straight as well.

"Have a good evening?" he asked.

"Had a wonderful one. Looks like you did to."

Snape tried once to speak but then said, "Your sarcasm is not welcome right now."

She stood up and sat down beside him, arms enfolding him. "All right now?"

"Better," he admitted.

Harry stepped back in, saw them there, appeared to think he should sneak off but sat down opposite them instead. "You make a cute couple," Harry said.

"You did find more booze," Snape accused him. "Otherwise there would be absolutely no excuse for saying such preposterous thing."

Harry laughed. "Oh, come on. Relax a little." With his eyes he apologized for provoking him. He assumed the message was received because Snape suddenly looked away.

"Well," Candide announced. "I'm tuckered out. It was a long evening. Ready to sleep for real rather than just passing out?"

"If I must," Snape said, standing with her. He halted their departure long enough to turn and say. "Fine job on the brewing."

"Anytime," Harry replied.



Next chapter: 9
Harry was deeply involved in this book—actually a collection of notes compiled during a meeting of ISMS or International Society of Mage Studies—when Snape stepped in and jerked his head as though Harry should leave.

Harry closed the book and stood, taking it along.

Snape said, "Don't you have friends you should be out with?"

Harry scratched his jaw. "I suppose."

Brusquely, Snape said, "Candide will be home shortly and I have something I wish to discuss with her, alone."



Author notes chapter 9 is in rough shape so give me at least 10 days. I will soon add a progress bar to my website at darkirony dot com so you can check how things are progressing.

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