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"Hey! How'd it go with Bighead Boy?" asked Ron, looking up brightly from a Wizard Chess match against a third-year student.

Harry had nearly forgotten about the errand which he'd originally left Hogwarts to attend. "Oh, he's... fine. Nice new office. Yeah."

Ron ignored the pawn turning his rook into a tiny pile of rubble, while Hermione, sitting at a nearby table before a lengthy parchment, allowed a huge blob of ink fall onto her essay. Ron immediately told his opponent to shove off and yanked Harry into the nearest chair.

It took over an hour to relate all the days' events. When he finished, Hermione leaned into the center of their cluster of chairs and spoke in an urgent whisper. "Harry, do you know what this means? 'The Dark Lord will mark him as his equal.' It wasn't just a physical mark, Harry! He made you into a Horcrux!"

"Whoa, there!" Harry and Ron both said at the same time. "That's a bit of a jump, don't you think?" added Ron. "Okay, he left some sigil or something, but that doesn't mean it was a--"

"Shhh!" hissed Harry, lest they be overheard by the entire Gryffindor House.

"It's not a jump, Ron!" insisted Hermione in a quiet growl. "Think about it! He marked Harry 'as his equal.' His equal. A Horcrux IS his equal--it's him! That's about as equal as one can get!"

"But why would he do that, if he was just going to kill Harry anyway?" argued Ron, while Harry nodded vigorously.

"Well, he probably didn't intend to make Harry the Horcrux. You know how he loves drama--he probably wanted to use that murder as the final step of the Horcrux spell. Use Harry's death to put himself one step closer to immortality."

Harry sat up straighter. "That would be just his style," he noted, frowning.

"Exactly," said Hermione. "He probably had the spell all ready to cast, he was just waiting to split his soul that last time before he sealed it up in... well, in whatever he was going to use. But when it backfired, somehow the spell was unleashed into you, and you became his equal!"

"But Sirius saved me!" gasped Harry. "He and Ron's mum, and that Lady, whatever she is. I'm not 'his equal' anymore!"

Everyone's jaw fell at that pronouncement, even Harry's. The four of them stared at one another, gaping like a school of hungry koi.

"No," squeaked Hermione at last. "No, it doesn't matter. The prophecy only said he 'marked' you, and that's just what he did. It didn't say anything about the mark staying permanently."

Harry smirked with a bitter sigh. "I suppose I can't throw off being the 'Chosen One' as easy as that. Still, it must mean something--"

Ron bolted upright in his chair. "I'll tell you what it means! Only Sirius and those witches from the Sisterhood know anything about what happened, and none of them realized they'd destroyed a Horcrux. Harry, I reckon Voldemort thinks you're still his Horcrux and he's been playing you all along!"


Now it was Ron's turn to demand quiet. "Think about it! All the chances he's had to kill you, Harry. You were helpless in the graveyard that night after the Tournament--he could have had it all over and done with. He had a clear shot at you and he let it go--for what? Sure, he said he wanted to show off in front of his little toadies, but that was just talk! He couldn't kill you because you were his Horcrux!"

"Oh, now that's just too much!" said Harry, wrinkling his nose. "He and all the Death Eaters fired at me when I broke away. And besides, he tried to kill me loads of times before that, and after that, too! Look at that night in the Ministry! He used me as a shield--he even tried to taunt Dumbledore into killing us both!"

"All right, all right," said Ron. "Maybe I'm a bit off. But think about the attack on the Astronomy Tower. That time told his crew to take you alive, remember? Sn--HE even reminded everyone not to hurt you! It just means that Voldemort didn't catch on to you carrying the Horcrux until last year. He didn't have the whole prophecy, after all--maybe he hadn't heard about marking you 'as his equal.' Or maybe it just took him a while to put the pieces together. He made you dream about the night your parents died, back when he was using Legilimency on you. He probably didn't figure out the Horcrux part until he had a chance to look at your dream and really give it some thought."

Viktor drummed his fingers once on the tabletop, a simple, silent gesture that nonetheless brought all their voices to a halt. "The Dark Lord is not a foolish man," he said quietly and calmly. "He did not rise to power by repeating mistakes. Vonce ven you were helpless at his mercy, Harry, he let you go. That almost cost him his life. He knows he cannot play games vith you."

Harry nodded, recalling he'd once said the same thing to Lupin. "He's right. Voldemort wouldn't spare me just to haul me in for another duel. He wants me alive for some other reason." He fell silent.

"It does make sense, that he'd forego killing you until he could get his soul back," said Hermione reluctantly. "But that's all based on the assumption that he doesn't know Sirius destroyed it!"

"And we're going to keep it that way!" said Ron with obvious glee. "Let him think Harry's his last back-up plan--won't he be in for a surprise!"

Harry stared out the window for a long moment. "It's not that simple, though. Someone knows. Whoever tampered with Sirius and Hagrid knows the whole story of that night. They may not know about all the other Horcruxes, but you can bet they recognized what Voldemort set in me. They know it was destroyed, and they did their best to make sure no one ELSE would ever find out. They slammed Sirius into Azkaban to rot where no one would learn the truth from him, and even then, they put that barrier in his mind to keep it hidden."

Ron raised his brows. "Right. Someone in the Ministry not only knows that Voldemort was using Horcruxes to become immortal, but also knows that he's one Hork short of a full set. Interesting," continued Ron thoughtfully. "If that's really why Voldemort spared you last time, it means they've kept it from him. They must know it's valuable information; why not sell it, or offer it up to curry his favor?"

"They will," grumbled Harry. "If they're ever in real trouble, they'll take it straight to him." He slammed his fist onto the arm of his chair, turning heads around the room, but he kept his voice low. "All the more reason we need to find this traitor, and soon."

In no mood to do Friday's Transfiguration homework, Harry went upstairs and threw himself on his bed. Krum followed, as usual, but instead of lurking quietly on the edge of the room, he sat on Harry's trunk and smiled at him empathetically. Harry sighed, gazing up at the ceiling. "I'm really growing tired of all this mess, you know?"

Viktor shrugged. "I read today in Prophet that Chudley Cannons Seeker is retiring in two years. Perhaps I apply for position, eh, Harry?"

Harry pushed up onto his elbow. "Are you kidding? A World Cup player on the Cannons? Ron would go spare!" He narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Don't tell him I said so, but aren't they a bit out of your league?"

Krum shrugged again. "Ah, this year, I get out of shape. Too much to do for Order of Phoenix to practice. Besides, Vrasta Vultures have new Seeker vith smart agent. His salary costs team far less than I do. I think they vill be happy to sign me off."

"They'd be crazy," said Harry firmly.

"Perhaps. Vat about you, Harry? Maybe you try out for Cannons vonce mess is over?"

For a moment, Harry couldn't speak--that was possibly the most flattering thing anyone had ever said to him. "Me? You're having me on! You can fly circles around me with one hand behind your back. I'm no pro!"

Another shrug. "No vun starts out as pro. Great players are made from good players vith training. You are good player, Harry." He nodded solemnly. "Something to think about for future."

What future? thought Harry, but kept that thought to himself.

Harry awoke the following Saturday to a clear, golden dawn and anxious ramblings from Ron. "Blimey, Harry, dunno how you can sleep in on a day like this." It was only hours before their first Quidditch match of the season.

Harry tossed his pillow at the back of Ron's head. "Because I play better when I've had some rest." Harry glanced at the alarm clock. "Mother of Merlin, Ron, breakfast won't even be served for another twenty minutes!"

Despite two successful seasons as Keeper, Ron hadn't quite overcome the pre-game jitters. He was pacing nervously between their beds. "It wouldn't hurt to go in right when they open the Great Hall, you know; we could clear out in time to do a little warm up before the game."

Harry stared at him. "A little? The game's not till eleven!"

Neville Longbottom groaned sleepily from his bed and threw his pillow at Harry. "Now see what you've done?" he hissed at Ron, though he fluffed the pillow once or twice and put it under his own head. "I swear, mate, you're sleeping in the common room before the next match."

In the end, Harry was hauled out of bed against his will by both Ron and Neville (who wanted his pillow back) and forced to troop down to breakfast early. The usual crowd of younger students was waiting in a noisy huddle before the doors of the Great Hall, though they fell into an awed silence as Harry and Ron approached. The appearance of any seventh-year this early on a Saturday was a novelty.

They finished and headed out to the pitch before anyone else on the team had even shown up for breakfast. It was a wonderful day to fly, though. A thick frost was melting at the warm touch of the sun, leaving white shadows in the shady areas of the pitch. Before long, people began meandering into the stands and setting out pillows and blankets, clearly intent on enjoying the crisp fall morning before the match even started.

Harry noticed Lupin as he circled the stadium, and zipped over for a quick hello. He noticed a telltale shimmer in the next seat. "Sirius?" he whispered excitedly.

"Wouldn't miss it," said Sirius's disembodied voice.

Lupin grinned. "I thought we'd come early and settle in--can't be pushing past rows of seats under a Disillusionment spell!"

"I can get you my cloak if you'd rather," said Harry, looking at Lupin though speaking to Sirius. "How are you?"

"Still no magic," said Sirius quietly. "But getting some sleep has put me in a better mood."

"Maybe you can explain how that works to Ron sometime," said Harry cryptically. Krum, who had joined them for their pre-game laps, soared to a graceful landing beside Lupin. "Mind where you sit," said Harry with a wink. Krum furrowed his brow in confusion until Sirius either kicked him or stepped on him with a small thud and a mischievous snort.

An hour later, the Gryffindor team emerged from the changing room to a stadium so packed that poor Professor Flitwick was frantically Charming the grandstands taller, to make enough seats for all. Ron grinned at him nervously. "Right good crowd today. I see the Order's got its own box," he noted, pointing across the pitch. Harry could make out Tonks's brilliant red hair next to Shacklebolt's shining bald head, but only because the seat in front of them was conspicuously empty.

Harry climbed in a rapid spiral as soon as Madam Hooch blew her whistle to start the match, orienting himself to the new height of the bleachers. He'd lost a good five meters of sky to the colors and movement of the crowd, which meant the Snitch would have even more camoflage than usual. Unbeknownst to Harry, however, one of the Slytherin Beaters had followed him up from their goalpost area and was quietly trailing him.

He leveled off above the stands and began his usual wide arc, scanning for the Snitch and keeping tabs on the other Seeker. There seemed to be some early excitement over the Quaffle, but he had learned not to be distracted by the Chasers' activities and ignored them, focusing on his hunt for the Snitch. He was oblivious to the fact that the Beater behind him attracted a Bludger and smashed it straight for him from close range.

Harry had just enough time to hear the smack of the oppenent's bat and realize he was probably in big trouble when there was a second fierce cracking sound and his broom lurched. The crowd fell silent, then screamed, then erupted into cheers.

Fighting to stay level, Harry turned around to see what had happened, and found Elias Ravenclaw dangling from the back of his Firebolt with one hand, the other clutching a broken bat, and an enormous grin in between. "Aye! That pat the branks on him!" he shouted joyously, as Madam Hooch's whistle signalled a time out above the roar of the crowd.

Elias had been following the entire cat-and-mouse game out of the corner of his eye, and had shot straight up at the Slytherin flier and Harry as soon as the Bludger veered toward them. When the iron ball was batted toward Harry, Elias was already on an intercept course, but moving a hair too slowly. Recognizing that he was a split second behind the offending Bludger, he had launched himself from his broomstick, just in time to smack the ball away from Harry and catch hold of the back of the Firebolt.

Harry gathered all this from the fact that the Slytherin Beater was doubled over on his own broom with a Bludger parked in his midsection, while Elias's Nimbus was drifting obediently back to earth to await a rider. Elias dropped the broken bat and gripped the Firebolt with his other hand. "Can you get us daen like this, Harry, or should I maybe hand-over further to the front?"

Harry laughed. "Just hold on tight, and don't break any more twigs!" He pushed himself to the other end of the broomstick to balance the weight as best he could and descended beside the Nimbus. Harry didn't stick around after Elias dropped from the back of the Firebolt, as Madam Hooch was barreling toward them with a murderous look. Only when he'd reached a safe altitude did he look down and confirm that Elias was receiving a detailed description of what would happen if he tried something that dangerous again.

Harry grinned, imagining the impish Scot bowing his head contritely as he received the tongue lashing, all of which would go in one ear and out the other. He used the time to shift his weight on the Firebolt; he would have to tune it up later. The tail of this broom was not intended for use as a passenger device, and it was handling a bit funny.

As soon as Madam Hooch blew the whistle to restart the game, Ginny tossed the Quaffle through the Slytherin goal so casually that the announcer didn't even notice right away that she'd scored.

Two hours later, Elias Ravenclaw broke the House record for number of fouls committed in a single game, which prompted Fred and George to lead a standing ovation. The crowd loved his outrageous style to the point of forgiving the hundred or so points earned by Slytherin on penalty shots. Harry, however, was having a terrible game; he had not so much as seen the Snitch. He was beginning to wonder if Madam Hooch had accidentally locked it in the equipment case instead of releasing it.

Both teams were losing their edge from sheer exhaustion and Gryffindor was ten points behind when Harry finally spotted a flash of gold out of the corner of his eye. The Snitch was hovering by one of the Gryffindor grandstands, its golden wings blending in with the flags and scarves of the spectators. It zoomed up as though it knew it had been spotted and Harry gave chase.

The Slytherin Seeker, who had been orbiting the pitch at a higher altitude, noticed Harry's maneuverings and immediately turned onto an intersecting path. Harry swore angrily at himself for tipping off his opponent; he was still closer, but the Snitch was climbing fast toward the other Seeker. But then Harry realized the Slytherin Seeker was looking at him, not the Snitch. He hadn't spotted it yet! Harry tipped the Firebolt up to make a steeper climb. Sure enough, his opponent adjusted his course as well; now they were both shooting for a point well above the Snitch's current trajectory.

Harry streamlined himself against the Firebolt for every ounce of speed. The other Seeker was still above him and to the left, frantically whipping his head around trying to spot the Snitch, but he was looking too high, along the path of Harry's broom. Steady on, now; stay with me a few more seconds, he thought, just a few more...

When the other Seeker's expression went from frantic confusion to a chilled smile, Harry knew the ruse was up. If only it were Malfoy on that broom! He knew how to rattle Malfoy's cage, knew just what sort of trash-talk would throw him off for that critical few seconds. He never thought the day would come that he'd miss the little ferret. But here it was, and he was about to lose the first match to a novice Seeker--

--and just then, the Snitch halted in midair and the game was back on.

There was no time to waste. They were roughly equidistant from the Snitch and neither was heading straight for it. Harry had been aiming above it for some time and was shooting along that course like an arrow. But at that speed with the damaged tail, he couldn't rely on an accurate course correction--and if he slowed down, there was no way he'd beat the other Seeker!

With a savage howl, Harry crossed his ankles around the broomstick and rolled off. The race to the Snitch was so close that when he caught it, his wrist bounced off the front of the Slytherin's broom. It hurt like mad and he was quite sure it was broken, but Harry didn't care. He just let the Firebolt glide to a stop, holding the Snitch triumphantly in his hand. Golden wings beat between his fingers as he hung like an overgrown bat from the broomstick, waiting for Elias or Ginny or someone to come up and flip him back upright. He didn't have to wait long.

Grawp was guarding the entrance to Gryffindor Tower, his enormous head plugging the portrait hole as he lay on his side in the corridor. "Hooray for Team!" said the giant with a smile almost as wide as Harry was tall, and he rolled over onto his belly so they could enter.

An impossible number of people were crammed inside the common room, making an incredible but cheery din. Apparantly everyone was too excited to wait for the team to be released from the hospital wing before beginning the post-match celebration. Fred and George were sitting atop a stack of butterbeer crates, passing out bottles left and right. "And there he is!" howled one of the twins, jumping down from his perch to pour a bottle over Harry's head.

"And what about this one?" yelled the other redhead as Elias poked curiously through the portrait hole. "Cor, mate, I don't know who you are, but you are one bloody great Beater!" The crowd echoed that sentiment as Elias, too, was doused in butterbeer.

Harry spotted the Fat Lady's portrait hanging on a nail over the hearth in the common room. Someone had put up a picture of a full case of Butterbeer right next to her. Though she seemed pleased at being included in the festivities, she kept glancing down with a nervous start every time a timber snapped in the fireplace.

Hours later, when the carousers rumbled en masse down the marble staircase to dinner, Harry slipped back to a quiet nook by the window. Glancing about one more time, he pointed his wand and whispered, "Finite Incantatem." Sirius Black popped neatly into view.

"We'll use this instead," said Harry, offering up the shimmering folds of his Invisibility cloak. "We can both sit under it and talk."

Sirius tented it over himself obediently, but when they were both settled in, his smile faded. "It really was a great game, Harry," he said with an apologetic shrug.

"Hey. I'm glad you came. Even if you couldn't celebrate with everybody else." Harry pulled something tiny from his robe and set it on the flagstones between them, then muttered a spell. With a little puff of silver smoke, a crate of Butterbeer and a bowl of nuts appeared in its place. "Fred taught me that one," Harry chuckled. "He calls it the 'Party in a Pocket' Charm."

Sirius snickered as Harry smoothed the edges of the cape around them one last time. "A wizard after my own heart." They clinked their bottles and took a long draught.

Harry dug into the bowl of nuts, but Sirius only sat and watched him. "What?" said Harry.

"Ah, I was just thinking... You've grown up. Again. I keep missing it. I think this was my last shot at it, too. Some godfather I've been, huh?" Sirius took another long swig from the bottle and continued bitterly. "First prison, then exile, then dreamland. And now you're... Good grief, Harry, you're a grown man now, with a phoenix familiar, and a Legilimagus on top of that!" He winced and shook his head.

"I'm just Harry."

Sirius cracked a wry smile on one side of his mouth. "Don't mind me. I'm only feeling guilty. You were supposed to be my son, and here you've gone and left the nest already. That little trip we took down Memory Lane made me realize how far you've come."

Harry shrugged uncomfortably. "Not really. Fawkes came to me, and the magic just sort of happened, and that was that. And I couldn't much help getting older, time does have a way of passing."

"S'truth," said Sirius and clinked their bottles again.

Harry cocked his head thoughtfully. "You know, now that you're here, I want to introduce you to someone. In the Order, of course. Come on, get up. You wear the cloak; I'll lead."

Sirius looked quite puzzled. "Here at Hogwarts?" Harry nodded, scanning the room for his Firebolt. "But I already know everyone in... Oh. No." Sirius sat back down, vanishing under the cloak.

Harry yanked it from him with a quick snap, knowing that once Sirius got away, he'd have a devil of a time finding him with the cloak on. "Oh, yes! Come on. You've only met her once and that wasn't under the best of circumstances."

Sirius glanced around furtively, though he knew full well the common room was empty; even the Fat Lady had abandoned her frame and gone off to giggle drunkenly with her friend Violet. "Give that back!" he hissed.

Harry permitted him to snatch it from his hand, but kept a grip on one corner. "You have to promise, though, to come and see her. I took one poke through your memory and you're sleeping again--and Tura's so much better at it. You have to, Sirius. Trust me."

Sirius glowered, but Harry gave him his most winsome smile. With a loud sniff, Sirius grumbled, "Looks like I haven't much choice, if I want to make it out of the castle without starting a riot. Fine, I'll go talk to her, but let me think about the other, all right?" He tossed the cloak over himself with a practiced ease, and Harry Summoned his Firebolt from the far corner of the common room.

As they launched from the stone steps outside the Main Door, Sirius asked, "Where's your bodyguard, anyway?"

"Dinner. I promised him I'd behave while you're here."

"And he believed you? Merlin's ghost, I've got to talk some sense into that one."

It was a chilly ride to Tura's sleeping porch under the grandstands. There was only a small lamp hanging over a rafter, illuminating scattered books and other belongings all over her platform. She sat in the midst of it with her wand, making small bursts of blue sparks over various objects. She called to him as he glided in for a landing.

"Hey, sweetie pie! Watch out, it's a mess. That nitwit Flitwick didn't know I was living up here; he Charmed all my stuff into a gi-nocerous disaster. Look at these leaves--they were all sorted in their own little envelopes and now they've just sort of congealed into one big sheet of leafy, papery..." Tura threw up her hands, unable to find the right word for the amalgam of paper and leaves. "Half my books won't open anymore, and I don't even want to LOOK at the hammock. The nice seal pelt I sleep on became part of the rope, so now the whole thing's just a big furry net.

"Oh, but Harry!" She leapt to her feet and threw her arms around him. "You were wonderful today! Did you see me? I was sitting up on the hillside with Grawp. He doesn't fit in the stadium very well. Elias was so wild--the guy's a Quidditch gorilla! That was SO MUCH better than that first game. I had so much fun!" She jumped up and down a few times.

"You've been drinking coffee, haven't you?" said Harry.

"How'd you know?" She flounced back to the center of the platform and picked up the nearest object, some hybrid of a book and a leather boot. "Geez Louise, can you believe this; I think there's a bit of my pajama sack in there, too. Pull up a wand, Harry."

"Tura," he said, laughing, and dragging the still-cloaked Sirius reluctantly into the light, "I'd like to introduce you to someone."

"Huh?" She glanced at him curiously. Harry tugged at the cloak to reveal his godfather. He wasn't scowling, per se, but he was obviously less than thrilled.

"Tura Ondossi, this is Sirius Black. You've met him once before."

"Of course. How could I forget? Black," she said with a cool nod.

"Ondossi." Magic or no, there was a frankly canine growl in his voice.

"Okay, that could have gone better," said Harry sharply. "Should we try again? Sirius, this is Tura, my teacher and my friend. Tura, this is Sirius, my godfather. And seeing as I'm rather fond of both of you, I wonder if you might at least try to get along? To humor me, if nothing else?" His surly glare was met by two equal helpings of subdued reluctance.

Thin-lipped, Sirius extended his hand after a brief silence. Tura gave it a single lightning-fast shake and both pulled back as though they'd touched something slimy.

Harry figured he'd better take what he could get. "All right then. I'll get to work on this disaster, while you two chat a moment." He took Tura's spot in the center of the platform but kept a careful eye on them. Merlin only knew what sort of row they'd get into if he left them solely to their own devices. One didn't remove the damping rods from two nuclear piles without caution.

Tura folded her arms. "So. You see the game?"

"I was there, yes."

"Your heart nearly fall out when he did that upside down thing?"

Sirius snickered a bit. "Nah. Harry's a good flier. That Elias, though; what a lunatic." She nodded wryly. They faced one another silently for a moment, then he sighed and cleared his throat. "How do you like the UK?"

"Don't go there. Testy topic."

Shaking his head, Harry piped up, "Try the weather."

"Argh!" snapped Sirius, palming his forehead. "All right, look. I admit that I judged you rather hastily the last time we met."

Tura gnawed on the inside of her lip. "Yeah. Well. It's a little more complicated than that. Your reputation has preceeded you, Black. I've heard for years about a vicious murderer, and frankly, all I've seen of you so far has fit that bill." She glanced down abashedly. "Except of course that Harry loves you so much."

Sirius coughed again. "He's, uh, quite fond of you as well," he mumbled somewhat grudgingly.

"I also noticed that the portrait at your house seems to hate you as much as it hates me."

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend, I suppose," said Sirius with a wan smile.

"So they say." She twisted her wand through her fingertips a few times.

"Well, well! I feel better already," said Harry, but he was glad at heart. At least they weren't at each others' throats.

Harry and Tura spent the next hour separating her things back into their original components while Sirius offered advice. Each time his godfather suggested a spell, he glared at Harry in an unmistakeable plea not to bring up the topic of Legilimency. In the end, Hagrid came by with news that people were returning to Headquarters, and Sirius obligingly escaped with his thoughts unplumbed.

"I ought to clobber you for that," Tura muttered a few minutes after Sirius departed.

"Oh, shut it," protested Harry, examining an improbable superposition of her furry parka with a box of old Muggle photographs. A little girl with a gapped-tooth smile was tiled around the edge of every hem. "I didn't just bring him here to make you both miserable, you know. He needs your help."

"My help?"

Between Quidditch practice and homework, there had been no time to tell Tura about the foray into Sirius's mind. He described what happened at Percy's office and afterward. "I could feel this sort of resistance from the memory right about the time he Apparated into Little Hangleton proper. Well, not really resistant, so much as... slippery. And just at the part I really needed to see, I lost contact."

"He Occluded you?" she squawked indignantly.

"No, no, nothing like that. Like I said, the memory was getting... well, slippery. Elusive. I'd been following it for so long that I could follow its path in his mind, but if I looked away, I'd lose it." It was very hard to describe, and he didn't seem to be doing a good job of it; Tura looked utterly baffled. "Then it threw me out. Sirius said I flew across the room, but I don't remember."

"Harry... That's bad! Something threw you out of his mind? What can DO that?"

"I was rather hoping you'd know."

She shook her head slowly. "Nope. Not many spells can interfere with Legilimency. Period. Occlumency can, obviously, but that's not a spell so much as an act of will--it's on the spot, in response to an invading presence, not left in some poor chump's brain like a mine, just waiting to go off if anyone snoops around! Whoever rigged it up was using some major Dark magic, you can bank on that."

Another Death Eater in the Ministry, then. Harry's palms began to ache; he was clenching his fists. "Great. Sirius can't do magic AND he has a Dark spell implanted in his brain."

Tura snorted. "Another excellent reason not to snoop around in there. That boy's messed up, Harry. He needs more help than you or I can give him right now. It sounds like Molly Weasley and the Sisterhood need to take a whack at him. Do the same thing to him that they did to you."

That wouldn't be possible until the Order was ready to reveal Sirius. Which they couldn't do until Percy cleared his name... which Percy couldn't do until he identified the traitor in the Ministry and found all the missing records... and the only way to do that was to remove the block from Sirius's memories. Harry put his hands on the sides of his head and let out a loud, primal yell.

"Ditto," said Tura, and handed him the coat.

It turned out that the photo of the girl was merely the top one of a stack, each of which had to be removed separately from the coat. But it was good work, for it required enough of his concentration to take his mind off this latest frustration. When he'd finished the sleeves and hood, Harry stretched his back with a . "Well, at least the evening wasn't entirely wasted," he said. "It's about time you two started getting along."

Tura made a wry face. "Oh, sez you! Why do we have to get along anyway? You don't make a fuss about Mad-Eye Moody disliking me."

"True. But it isn't as though he and I are close." Harry paused, then continued playfully, "He never calls me 'sweetie pie,' for example."

"That was just a slip!" she sputtered. "I was caffeinated at the time! And I din't know you had company!"

She was funny when she was rattled. Harry laughed, setting aside his wand and impulsively taking her hands. "It's all right, Tura." He held her gaze, sandwiching her hands flat between his own, marveling at how small they were compared to his own. "It's all right," he repeated softly. "It was nice."

Tura drew a quick breath and pulled her hands away, picking up the half-repaired parka. "This is me, when I was six years old," she rattled, pointing to the pictures. "My first trip to Anchorage, with my afatkuq. He went to some council of the regional elders, something about whaling rights or oil pipelines, you know; the usual.

"That was the first time I'd left the tundra. I'd never seen trees before. Nothing bigger than scrub grows on the tundra. Permafrost. The roots can't dig in deep enough for big trees."

She leaned back against a wooden piling and gazed off in the distance. "I'd heard of them, but I hadn't realized how big they would be. Or that they would make noise. When the wind goes through them. They creak and whisper. Scared me to death! Even to this day, when I run into a boggart, they turn into a tree. I just leave them like that; you can almost hear the gears grinding in their little brains when they realize they can't exactly chase after me as a thirty-foot fir."

Harry was grinding a few gears himself. "You're afraid of trees."

She glowered. "Hey, I was little. They were big. And no decent plant has any business whispering like that!" She emphasized her point by bouncing a rolled-up sock off his head.

Harry set back to work on the parka, and when he finished it, tackled the furry hammock. That proved tricky, and before he finished, the seal pelt had shed a fair amount of hair, which swirled into dust-mice on the platform with the autumn wind. It was still thick and cozy to the touch, though, and Tura was pleased with the results.

"Eh, these guys have such dense fur, a few missing hairs don't matter a bit." She waved dismissively at the layer of loose hairs on the floor. "Never miss them. Besides, this is great! I thought it would take all night to fix my things, and here it's just a little after bedtime and we're done!" She beamed happily and thanked him.

Bedtime, Harry thought. Clearly that was his cue to leave. He held out a reluctant hand for his Firebolt. It sprang up with its usual efficiency, and he had no more excuses to stick around. Tura had already put her wand away and had her candle snuffer in hand to extinguish the lamp.

Feeling both bold and foolish, Harry quickly put one hand on her chin and kissed the corner of her mouth. "Good night, Tura," he whispered, then launched back to the castle before she could say a word.

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