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Chapter 9 — Fortune Favors

Harry stretched his arms as he strode through the house; they were stiff from a real workout instead of field shadowing. Rodgers had decided suddenly that they were all softening up too much and had set aside Saturday afternoon for weights and some Eastern Arts, demonstrated by Vineet. Harry's elbow twinged, reminding him that he had discovered the hard way that morning that Tridant also had a bit of background in this. He and Vineet, for the rest of the session, had circled each other as though sizing one another up in a new way. Harry grinned at the memory of it as he opened his post.

Under a large brochure declaring Ragnarth's Roustabout — Dangerous pet training is easier than you think! and more affordable than you might imagine! he found a package from Hermione. It contained a stack of books she had found on the new book carousel at Flourish and Blotts during one last round of book buying before school started. The note spellotaped to the stack indicated she feared he may not be able to do without them. Chuckling at his friend's ongoing proclivity for educating him, Harry picked up the top one, a thin book with a title of constantly fading and regenerating ink. It read Spell Dissipation: Current Thinking.

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."

"I can go out," Harry said amiably. His thoughts immediately leapt to doing more remote vision practice with Kali. He slipped by Snape, saying, "I'll be back later. I can go to the Burrow for dinner; Ron always tells me his mum expects him to invite me."

Snape gestured dismissively that that was acceptable. Harry kept his curiosity in check as he put his things together and collected his pet from her cage. She bit him because he woke her up and he threatened her with sending her to Ragnarth. Either she understood him or simply caught his disapproval, because she rubbed the injured spot with the side of her head. Harry stuffed her into his pocket, where she curled up and most likely went back to sleep.

Before he departed, Harry stepped to the doorway of his room to catch a glimpse of the hall. He spent a breath studying Snape's self-absorbed pose as he stood before the couches, then Disapparated before Snape could chance to look up at him.

Ron was not home yet from Gringotts but Ginny sat at the long table with Weasley Wizard Weezes boxes stacked before her. Her hunched and involved scribbling on a large sheet of parchment, hair veiling her task, drew Harry that way, unable to stomach even more curiosity.

Ginny looked up at his approach. "Hi, Harry." She went back to carefully darkening the lines around a giant label reading Galloping Galoshes. The Gs sprouted little running feet sticking out the bottom.

"How are things at the Twins' shop?"

Vexed, she said, "They won't let me help with anything dangerous, so I've been redoing the packaging. There's a lot of neat stuff that gets overlooked and the peak Hogwarts shopping season is upon us. You wouldn't believe how disorganized those two are. Verity used to straighten up, but she gave up doing that like a year ago."

Making conversation, Harry asked, "How do the new students look? Have you seen any of them come into the shop?"

"They look small," she said, making Harry laugh. "And their squeaky voices get on my nerves. And I think I could sort them as well as the hat, if not better."

"I'll let McGonagall know, in case the hat finally gives up."

Ginny raised her head again, eyes shining. "THAT'D be fun. I could sit in a big gold chair at the front and point at each tiny student. YOU, you're a Hufflepuff. Your shoes aren't tied, they're knotted, and you're holding your wand backwards. YOU, come on, those glasses could ignite a forest fire, RAVENCLAW!" She laughed. "Ah, a girl can dream."

Mrs. Weasley came in, and fussed over Harry before fetching him milk and a snack even though dinner was imminent.

Quietly, Ginny said, "Gosh, Mum is out of control where you're concerned."

Harry nibbled on a broken bit of shortbread and said, "You get special treatment too."

"That's because I'm the only girl," she stated as fact.

"It's a good thing," Harry said, thinking aloud.

Ginny erased some stray lines from inside her letters and reached for a bottle of brown ink. "Why?"

Not quite there, because he was seeing a vision of some other place, like this one but in critical ways, different, Harry said, "Because you'd be the seventh son."

"I always thought that be fun," Ginny said.

Harry's skin chilled as though an arctic breeze had slipped through his robes. "Maybe it doesn't matter," he said. He wasn't sure what he was seeing, it was more a sense, an alternative alignment of things that composed a reasonable whole of their own.

Ginny set the pen down. "Maybe what doesn't matter? Harry you are getting all Trelawney on me here. I don't like it."

Harry dropped his gaze from the arched window over the door, but the sense persisted. "Maybe it doesn't matter that you aren't a boy, I mean," Harry felt he should responsibly explain, just in case it might matter some day.

"You think I'm a sorcerer then?" she half-teased, clearly wanting to lighten the subject.

Harry who had heard that word from Snape in reference to himself, just shrugged.
She waved a hand around, "Whoosh, look, a palace in place of the Burrow. Up, nope. Guess I'm not." She picked up her quill again and returned to carefully outlining the letters.

"Do you want the running feet to move?" Harry asked as she inked over the pencil lines, complete with little jagged treads on the boots.

She sat back. "I'd love the running feet to move. You know how to do that?"

Harry smiled and slid the drawing over to himself, careful not to upset the row of ink bottles. "I spent a summer trying to remake the Marauders' Map. 'Course I can make the feet move."

- 888 -

Back in Shrewsthorpe, Snape approached Candide as she sorted through the pile of parchments on the sideboard, unrolling each in search of something.

"Oh, hi," she said, vaguely startled by his silent approach. She picked up and waved a pink envelope. "My old chum from accounting school finally replied. She's been living in Paris, or so I thought, but the reply came from Cape Town." She laughed. "No wonder it took so . . . "

Snape took the fluttering letter from her and placed it near a pile of similarly sliced open envelopes, then took the current parchment away as well. "I have something I wish to show you," he stated.

This grabbed her full attention. "What is it?"

His reply was to lead the way to the hall where he gestured that she should sit. He removed something from his pocket and handed it to her.

"It's a rock wrapped with wire?" She queried, holding up a jet-black rock bundled twice around the middle with metal cord.

Snape tapped the rock and the cord fell away. Candide caught half the rock as it split and a ring that fell out of the middle.

"Hey!" she said, surprised. She scooped up the other half of the rock as it tried to roll loudly away under the couch. "Look at that, a golden ring!"

Snape sat beside and took the rock halves away and then the ring as well, so he could hold it up by the prongs of the empty setting. "This is no ordinary ring formed as the earth was. I made it." His eyes positively gleamed as he placed the ring back in her palm.

"You made the ring?" she confirmed.

"I made the gold," Snape corrected, voice low.

Candide stared at the ring while pushing it around her palm with a fingertip. "How does one make gold?"

"Out of lead. It is a base-metal transformation," Snape replied, clearly enjoying the explanation.

She stared at him. "You've been doing alchemy."

Snape reached into his pocket again and pulled forth a small deep red stone, a bit large for a ring, but with a spell, the prongs of the fitting were convinced to take hold of it. As though explaining to a student, he said, "There was only sufficient ingredients left by my old mentor for a small stone. Easily enough to make the ring and . . ." He held the ring to the light. "Thirty years of elixir. Perhaps forty if one is stingy."

Her face shifted, eyes widening. "You made a Philosopher's Stone?" She accepted the ring as he held it out and also held it up to the lamp. "How . . . I didn't know there really was such a thing!"

Dryly, he said, "How else could I make gold?" He sat back casually and breathed out as though boring of the topic. "I imagined such a stone to be far more symbolic than a mere diamond, which is nearly worthless in comparison, and I have observed over the last month that burning time and money on pointless symbolic things was the purpose of the marriage ceremony. If not, it has no purpose."

She shot him a playfully dismayed look and slipped the ring on. "Stone's a . . . bit big, isn't it?"

"Once you decide to use it for elixir it won't be." He sat forward and lifted her hand to hold the ring out before them both. "But I recommend waiting until you are no longer pregnant. I have no idea what the effects might be. At best you would simply remain so longer. The consequences could be unpredictable, though."

She pulled the ring close and closed her hand over it. "No, I'd definitely wait." She held her hand out again. The stone was uneven but deep, so it caught the light and magnified it. "It's lovely though."

He held out his hand. "I'll keep it for now if you wish. Bad luck, isn't it, wearing the ring ahead of time?"

"That's the dress," she corrected, grinning. But with a vigorous tug and twist she pulled the ring off. "Fits perfectly."

"I measured. Of course," Snape intoned.

"You're a devil, you know that," she accused with affection.

"Slytherin, but why mince words?" he asked while fingering the ring thoughtfully.

She rocked sideways to bump shoulders. "Are you ready for this? I mean, you've been working day and night on the ring."

"I will never be ready, so it is no matter."

"As long as you're sober when they make you sign the certificate, so it's legal."

Snape slipped the ring away in a pocket and tapped it with a Nonobscondus Charm. "You said you did not want a binding spell. Is that still true?" his tone was too even as he asked this.

"I don't want one. I didn't think you would."

"I don't. It is a terrible ongoing coercion."

She grabbed her knee and rocked back beside him. "Some find it romantic, that total commitment."

"They deserve each other, then," Snape uttered. "And the hell the spell will put them through before one of them goes mad or they find a wizard powerful enough to cancel it, if that is possible."

Candide smiled into her sleeve. "If you even wondered why I didn't ask your opinion on flowers, now you know."

"I don't mind flowers," Snape corrected.

This caught her. "You don't?"

"Not at all," he replied. "They are composed of wonderfully useful potion ingredients."

This brought on a real laugh. "You should let that sense of humor out more. Usually you only use it for sarcasm."

He put an arm around her and she fit well nestled there. "It would ruin my reputation if I did that."

- 888 -

Harry did not need to move from his spot at the Weasley kitchen table; dinner and the Weasley family gathered around, except the twins and Charlie, who could not make it. Ron sat beside Harry and immediately began critiquing his sister's drawing, which Ginny put a stop to by pointing out that Harry had helped with it. When Harry looked over from Ron it was to find Molly insisting that Percy sit across from him. Percy had a distant, hard expression that lacked the normal pinching or smugness, making Harry wonder if he wasn't Moody again. Percy tore his eyes from Harry and watched Mr. Weasley enter and sit down after giving Molly a hug.

When he looked back at Harry, Harry boldly said to him, "Not yourself today again, are you?"

After a moment's consideration of the meaning of this, Percy's eyes flickered to a more normal alarm before shifting away, back to Mr. Weasley, making Harry believe it really was Percy and that he understood that Harry knew Moody had impersonated him for his Darkness Test. At least, Harry hoped he understood that.

"He comes to dinner a lot," Ginny whispered in Harry's ear with more than a hint of annoyance.

Harry wished he knew who had taught Percy to Occlude his mind. Harry, feigning a friendly tone, asked him, "How are things in the Department of Mysteries?"

Slightly mocking, Percy replied, "Mysterious. What else would they be?"

Beside Harry, Ron laughed as though this were a real joke. "Mysterious," he echoed and laughed more.

"Get any special training for that?" Harry asked.

"Quite a bit," came the flat reply. They were staring each other down now, both holding their thoughts obscured. Harry decided the game was stupid and turned to Ron to ask about his day. When the dishes were being passed and Molly asked Arthur how his day was, Harry noticed Percy set down the gravy without serving himself any and turn his attention that way. Harry realized with a jolt that he and Percy could both pry into the minds of anyone at the table, but that perhaps of the two of them, only Harry was scrupulous enough not to do it.

When Percy tore his gaze from the head of the table and picked the gravy back up and passed it without taking any, despite being about do so before, Harry asked innocently, "Learn anything?"

Percy spent an inordinate time finding a reply, which attracted the attention of most of those seated at their area of the table. "Research . . . is what we do," he said, quoting from something, most likely. "And the Mysteries, like Enforcement, offers considerable training."

Harry took his uneasy response to mean that he did not like getting caught out. For his part, Harry wondered how he was going to warn Mr. Weasley without getting pinched between his boss' strong loyalty to his family and his less strong loyalty to Harry.

Harry had not worked out how to handle this by the time he begged off that he had to go home because the next day was full of helping set up for the wedding on Monday.

It was Ginny who asked, "Why Monday?"

Harry, about to depart, felt the need to defend Candide on this point. "It's auspicious, according to the constellations, both their horoscopes," he explained. In his mind's eye he saw all the astronomical charts and plots that Candide had worked out in one of those white leather books.

"She had a joint chart made up? Those are pricey."

"She did it herself," Harry said. "Said it was just like accounting, only with parabolas, or something. Took her ages to work it all out. And the glen of her choice was free that day. For a weekend, they'd have had to wait until the kid was in Hogwarts, or so she said."

Ginny laughed. "Maybe I should rent a place now and find a boyfriend later then."

From the kitchen, Molly loudly encouraged, "Good idea, dear."

Ginny put her hand over her face.

"Well, you better get going," Ron said suddenly from where he hunched over the chess board across from Bill. When Harry waited, curious, he explained in a whisper, "Mum's got you pegged for Ginny, you know."

Ginny stuffed her hands violently into crossed mode and glared at her brother, a blush topping off the effect. "Ron . . ." she threatened.

Rescuing her, Harry said, "That's all right, Severus does too," to which Ginny gaped, "Really?"

"I really have to go now," Harry said.

Ginny pulled her artwork closer and said, "I have to finish this so I can get back to working on that sorcerer bit."

"What?" Ron and Bill both asked in unison.

"Harry said I could be a sorcerer."

The two Weasley sons turned to Harry with dismay. "What?" Bill asked Harry.

Harry shrugged. "Got to go. Really."

At home, Harry found Candide and Snape playing cards on a the stained spare door from upstairs, hovered expertly between the couches.

"Not too early, am I?" Harry asked, feeling vaguely left out even though his evening had been full of company.

"Not at all," Candide said brightly. "Show him what you made, Severus, or has he already seen it?"

Snape's hair fell forward as he fished in his pocket after touching it with his wand. "He has not." Snape held out a ring with a rather gaudily large stone.

Harry accepted it and stared at it, recognizing the color and the unusually curved faces of the asymmetrical facets. "It's a Philosopher's Stone," Harry breathed, stunned.

"Severus made it," Candide declared proudly.

Harry lifted his eyes to peer at Snape over the ring. "You did? I didn't know you knew how."

Snape held his hand out for the ring and Harry relinquished it. "It isn't so much the knowledge, which can be pieced together by anyone diligent enough, as well as practiced with deciphering the coded writing of the arcane, paranoid mind, the real sticking point is the extraordinary ingredients required. I was left just enough by Albus, it turns out." He studied the ring. "Much cheaper to make gold than to buy it. Back in the times when Galleons were more than dipped in gold it would have been easy to obtain sufficient metal.

Harry nodded vaguely. The stone made him uneasy and he was not hiding it well.

"Does it bother you?" Snape asked bluntly.

Harry tipped one shoulder. "Just bad memories," he replied, not wanting to dampen their enthusiasm, or Snape's pride. "Voldemort can't make use of it anymore."

Snape said, "It isn't a large enough stone to raise the dead. I think that is why Albus felt secure in keeping the ingredients."

Harry said, "Maybe he worried he would need to stay alive a little longer, so he kept them just in case."

Candide folded her cards together and set them down. "Is that how he lived so long?"

Snape nodded. "With judicious use of it and a little luck, you too could live to be a hundred and sixty."

Candide pulled her head back in surprise, but took the ring and examined it. "If I got rid of all the mirrors in the house, maybe. Otherwise no. Men look much better at that age than women. Women turn into white prunes . . . men turn into sages." She held the ring out to Snape. "You should use it; you're older than me. That way I can catch up." As he accepted it, she changed her mind. "Or Harry should use it. Wizardom needs him around longer than you or I."

Snape held the ring up for Harry again, but Harry did not take it. "No, keep it. It's probably the most valuable ring in the world."

Candide held out her hand, fingers splayed. "You'll have to charm it on for me . . . so it can't come off."

Snape shook his head. "In that case a thief would have to kill you for it and that would hardly be worth it."

"There are lots of theft-repelling charms," Harry offered.

Snape nodded. "We will manage something," he promised Candide.

- 888 -

Swaying decorations and the clashing scents of flowers spiraled in Harry's head Sunday night as he slipped fitfully into sleep. The continuously rotating streamers and the bright columns of the three-foot, white candles shifted into the dark, smoke marred walls and torches of Courtroom Ten. He was trying to explain something to the Wizengamot, trying to convince them of something, but he was doing a very poor job of it. The members' shadowed faces peered down at him from tier upon tier rising up until they tilted so the parchments before them must slide forward onto the center floor, but somehow did not.

Harry scanned for a familiar face, but found when he peered closely, each face was that of Umbridge, frog-like smile stretched unnaturally long and sinister. Grey dirt covered the floor and discolored the bottom edge of Harry's new robes. Shaking them raised clouds of choking dust. In the center of the floor, half buried in a saw-grass hillock, rose the chair and chained into it was Snape, glaring defiantly straight ahead. Beside the chair, Candide, in her tulip-like wedding dress, tugged uselessly at the chains, glancing about frequently to check if anyone noticed her doing this.

Harry struggled to find something convincing to say. Vernon Dursley approached, as tall as DeBenedictus but not any thinner, so he seemed akin to Hagrid. Dust clouds stirred around his menacing footsteps as he approached. Harry's feet tried to back off, but he forced them to remain in place by reminding himself that he'd been willing to sacrifice himself to Voldemort previously, so he should be willing to do the same to Mr. Dursley.

Dursley ranted about freaks and evil magic. From the chair, Snape hissed at him, snake-like, revealing long, sharp teeth.

Harry woke at this. Kali was hissing from her cage. Disoriented, Harry sat up and pushed the chaos of the dream down. The musty draft in the room drifted off and Kali settled back into her rag pile.

Harry dropped back onto his pillow, thinking he should not have eaten quite so many of the fire-biscuits while hanging decorations. He stared at the grey ceiling. In the dimness the patching was not apparent; the room appeared unmarred.

Harry's eyelids refused to stay open and he was sucked unwillingly back into the dream, where the troll-cousin guard approached, sparks scattering off the ax he dragged behind him. He released the chains on the chair and with a heave of his great arm, shoved Snape in Harry's direction.

Harry helped right his guardian, but found as he did so, not his Snape, but the one from the other dream, the bedraggled and defeated Snape with eyes of hazardous black ice. Harry glanced around the courtroom for help but everyone was departing. Only McGonagall turned to him and when she spoke it revealed pointed ivory teeth. Harry grabbed hold of Snape's robes and tugged him to the door, wanting only to escape, but as soon as he stepped into the corridor they Disapparated away.

Harry stared down at the trodden trash lining the road where they had arrived, and with dread glanced up to find he stood before the house in Weaver's End. Snape had hold of his wrist and Candide's and now pulled them toward the house.

"You're home now too, I suppose," he said with vague disgust.

Harry tried to resist, to pull back against the force applied to his arm. The door to the house opened and Pettigrew, wearing an oversized tea towel, stood there. He reached out a hand and the pound notes he clutched caught the breeze and fluttered away to mix with the rubbish.

Harry woke to scrambling in his pyjama pockets for a wand. Even after it was clear he lay in his own room, he took up his wand from under the pillow and held it, just to feel the warm hum of it against his fingertips. He sighed into the darkness, a noise accompanied by Kali climbing inside her cage.

Fully awake, Harry slipped out of his warm, welcome bed and over to his pets. As quietly as possible, he released them for company. The metallic sounds of turning Kali's cage latch rang starkly in the dark bedroom, making him pause to listen for footsteps before moving to the next cage.

Cuddled between his hand and his breast, he carried Kali to the window and sat on the trunk beneath it to stare out at the streetlamp, which barely illuminated even the full width of the small road outside. A handful of bright stars glittered beyond the black branches of the stout trees across the road. Kali circled twice, brushing her soft body fur on his hand, before settling in so her only movement was the nearly imperceptible expansion and contraction of her breathing.

Her contentedness drew him in, but he felt compelled to remain alert. In his sleepy mind he needed to remain on guard to prevent that other place from encroaching upon this one, tonight of all nights. Harry rested his sweat-slippery wand on the windowsill so he would not drop it if he fell asleep; it barely fit there lengthwise. He gripped his pet with both hands, and stared out at the paltry pool of light on the tarmac beyond the crumbling garden wall.

Snape, unable to sleep for his own reasons, peered some time later through the doorway of Harry's room. A form huddled at the window, snowy owl perched on its shoulder. Orange-glowing fug haloed Harry's nose where it rested against the window pane. He looked small again, communing with his pets in this inexplicable vigil before the cold and breath-clouded window. Wanting time to understand, Snape did not immediately wake him. Careful not to disturb Harry, he leaned close to the window. Other than the empty circle of lit road and the two wan lights on the station platform, nothing was visible outside. The scene gave a sense that the world ended beyond that, no path in or out except via the starlit sky.

Snape straightened and held out three fingers for the owl, who tilted her head curiously but stepped onto them and accepted a ride back to the top of her cage. He waved one of the bedside lamps up and examined Harry from this new vantage point, wondering again why he sat in such an uncomfortable position when his bed was a mere seven feet away. Propped there, neck bent too far to the side and down, mouth parted, he did not appear even remotely powerful. As he stepped forward to lay a hand on Harry's shoulder, he fixed that much-needed notion firmly: this was first and foremost just a young man.

"Harry," Snape prompted.

Harry's head lifted and he blinked at the window in confusion. Snape had a hold of his thoughts and saw many similar vigils: summer nights away from Hogwarts waiting for owls, waiting for his friends, waiting for any hoped-for improvement in his situation. This past receded in a blink, and Harry shivered.

"Why are you out of bed?" Snape asked, not unkindly.

Harry's thoughts were Occluded then, so the only hint to an unobscured answer was in his brow curling worriedly.

"I had a bad dream." Harry stood then with the easy unfolding only the young can exhibit. He stopped after a second thought to grab up his wand, taking care to hold Kali against his chest.

"Do you wish to talk about it?" Snape asked.

Harry passed him on the way to the bed, where he slipped his wand inside the bottom of the pillowcase before settling in with his back against the headboard. "I don't want to bother you with it, tonight of all nights."

Snape stood beside the bed, considering before saying: "You are no less important than you were."

"I know that. But you have a big day tomorrow." Harry shivered and shrugged the duvet up to his shoulders.

Snape laid a hand on his face. "You are a little cold, but I expect that is from the window."

"It was an ordinary dream," Harry insisted.

"Not a nightmare?" Snape suggested.

"Well, maybe. But it's no matter."

Snape said, "I wish you would tell me," but it lacked command.

Harry lifted Kali out of the covers and placed her on the duvet to pet her. She stretched her membranous wings and shook the fur of her body out straight before sniffing the air in Snape's direction with her tiny black nose.

Harry said dismissively, "It's just stuff that's been happening."

"No Weaver's End in that case?"

Harry did not reply.

More firmly, Snape said, "I will allow you such an exception this evening, but not the morrow and not after."

"Fair enough," Harry said. "Good luck tomorrow," he added at Snape's retreat.

"Luck cannot favor me," Snape said.

"I don't believe that," Harry said.

A small, knowing smile transformed Snape's lips. "Remind me sometime to tell you about the Felix Felicis potion and a foolhardy brewer who made the mistake of misusing it."

- 888 -

Harry attended his training in the morning and was given the afternoon off, which he did not think he needed due to a full previous day of helping setup for the wedding, but his afternoon was full of last minute changes to the decorations, like swapping the gold bows for silvery green, and rearranging the placesettings in the dinner tent.

"Thanks, Harry," Candide said with real feeling when he announced things completed. Ruthie gave him a wink, which she did frequently. Candide pulled a watch from her pocket and stared at it the way one may the photo of a sworn enemy. She seemed to remember something and from another pocket, pulled out a charm on a thin chain and held it out to Harry. "Make sure Severus puts that in his pocket."

Harry held the tiny figure up to the bright ceiling. It was a terrier worked in pewter. "What's this?"

"It symbolizes loyalty," Candide said, already absorbed in a long, long list written on narrow parchment.

Pattering on the broad, white tent indicated that the intermittent light rain had chosen to return again.

"That's supposed to be good luck, right?" Candide asked Harry.

"Of course," Harry assured her, knowing no such thing.

"I told her that it was already," Carolyn complained. "She didn't believe me."

"She knows Harry wouldn't lie," Ruthie said, throwing in another wink, which made Harry wish he had simply said he did not know. This made him wonder what is was about weddings that led one to make up nice answers that were not necessarily true as often as he found himself doing.

Candide pulled a rolled parchment from the cluster in her hand and held it out. "Harry, can you mix this together . . . put some in bowls on each table?"

Harry peered at the list, seeing oak moss, larkspur, and carnation oil in a glance. "This is a potion?"

She tapped his arm with the parchment bundle. "You're as bad as Severus. It's a potpourri. The supplies are in the boxes under the table. Bad luck to mix them ahead of time, evil spirits can get into it. Or just pixies, which would be worse. And here are your boutonnieres, make sure Severus gets the rose."

The pattering on the tent grew louder as Harry cleared a table to work at. Rather than risk misplacing the boutonnieres in the midst of all the other boxes of flowers, he pinned both on himself.

"Speaking of luck," Ruthie teased. "Only an accountant would chose a Monday to get married. The guests can better get blotto on a Friday or Saturday, you know."

Sounding like she held her nose, Carolyn countered, "Monday for wealth, Tuesday for health . . . Friday for crosses, Saturday for no luck at all."

Ruthie opined, "You operate on a very short week."

"Wednesday is the best," Carolyn said, "but Candy hates my pointing that out. She'll need the wealth Those who in July to wed, must labor for their daily bread."

Harry resisted shaking his head as he poured white angel wings into little spherical bowls, spilling some because the opening in the top was too small. He pulled his wand to spell them where they belonged, but Candide said, "Dusting the table with petals is fine. Do it to all of them."

The wind played with the clear plastic tent walls, snapping them inward and outward successively. Inside, however, barely a breeze passed through. Shrugging, Harry better spread the spill out to make it look intentional.

Candide disappeared, maids in tow, and Harry turned to find Lupin, in fine robes with a strangely Muggle cut to them, Pamela beside him. They peered about at the decorations. "I expected green," Lupin said, rocking back with his hands in his pockets to stare up at the streamers running to the tent peak. "But I expected more snakes."

Harry placed the last bowl on the last table and adjusted the spilled petals with a practiced flick of his fingers. "Snakes were right out," Harry said, laughing. "Talk about bad luck."

Lupin sniffed the bowl on the nearest table. "Never thought I'd see this day."

Harry preferred not to address such notions after the previous night's dreams. "It's good you could come," he said instead.

"Oh, I wouldn't miss this for . . . all the flower petals in Holland," he finished fancifully.

Others wandered in, shaking raindrops from their dress robes. Harry wandered over to Elizabeth and her mother. Elizabeth said quietly, "I convinced mum that since you're neighbors, we really should come. Not sure we can stay for the party."

"That's all right," Harry assured her, glad to see her.

Elizabeth examined the table-crowded tent and said, "Guess the other tent is for the ceremony."

"Yeah, come on. I should see that everything is set there."

Guests were slowly filling the white beribboned folding chairs. Harry returned McGonagall's dignified wave from a cluster of Hogwart's teachers. Hagrid sat off to the side on one of the trunks the tents had been packed in.

"Hullo, Harry!" he shouted, voice shaking the raindrops in a noisy rush from the tent roof.

"Hi, Hagrid," Harry returned.

When he turned, Harry found himself faced with Shazor and Gretta. Shazor appeared to be sizing up Candide's side of guests. Harry withstood what was certain to be too many firm handshakes that evening and found them seats before the teachers.

When the guests were all seated, including Hermione, who a bit shyly joined the teachers, Harry stood at the back, just outside the main part of the tent, under an overhand with a large flap that allowed in the mist of the rain. Lupin saw him there and slipped out of his row to join him, Pamela ducking to follow.

"Bride is always late," Pamela opined.

"How about the groom?" Harry countered.

Lupin glanced around. "Where's Severus?"

Harry shrugged. "I think he'll show," he offered, finding certainty in that based almost entirely on the ring. He had not seen Snape all afternoon, partly this was necessity so the bride and groom could avoid an unfortuitous meeting, but Harry would feel better if he had glimpsed Snape at least once.

The assembled inside were chatting quietly, showing no restlessness. Harry felt he floated above the trampled grass, or perhaps it was just the way the light came through the tent equally from all sides as though the world itself were aglow. Outside, the quaint glen surrounded them, unobserved.

An Apparition pop! made them both turn to the tent flap but it was not Snape, it was a charcoal smeared little wizard in a smashed top hat, carrying a telescoping bottle-brush broomstick.

"I'm not late, am I?" the man asked, sounding very concerned.

Harry was about to ask who he was, in that instant wondering if the man thought somehow that he was the groom.

Lupin said, "No, just in time. Go on in."

The man half danced his way inside with a little skip and jump and stood at the back. Harry could see his shadow on the rear of the tent, broom standing up beside him like a furry umbrella.

"What was that?" Harry sidled over to Lupin to ask.

He rocked up on his toes. "The chimney sweep, of course. Now we can start."

"Right. Just need a groom."

"You're the best man, you know. If Severus doesn't show you have to take his place."

"I don't believe you," Harry said, despite believing pretty much all the other silly things he had heard the last two days, including the part about the shoe shaped cake that Candide was supposed to get symbolically hit over the head with.

Lupin just grinned.

"Tonks wouldn't like that," Harry said, which caused the Auror to appear from inside.

"Wouldn't like what?" she asked, hooking her arm through Harry's. She wore knee-length pink robes that were longer in the back than front.

Harry raised his eyes from her exposed legs with some effort. "If I had to marry the bride in Severus' stead."

"Oh, that's not true. You're really here to help fight off the bride's family."

"That I'm well aware of," Harry stated tiredly.

"Besides, there is no bride," Tonks pointed out.

"She's around somewhere, getting ready. Severus we're less certain about."

A voice said, "pssst!" from the tent flap. It was Ruthie. "Harry, got a Sickle on you?"

Harry fished in his pocket, but shook his head because he only had a very precise number of Galleons. Lupin held out one. Ruthie pointed and said, "Give it to Harry, then Harry put it in your pocket and take it out again."

Having no good reason to argue the wisdom of that, Harry did so, then walked over and held it out.

"Got anything blue?"

"No," Harry replied. He could see that she stood under a very large pearlescent umbrella, one that would work well for Hagrid. Rain poured off the back edge of it in a waterfall.

"She'll have to use my shoelace then. Don't know why she doesn't want to." She shuffled off in her iridescent blue-green gown to the smaller tent beside the enchanted spring that made the glen such an attractive spot for weddings. At the moment the rain was causing the rock pool to overflow. Harry wondered as she disappeared into the seemingly wardrobe-sized tent whether he should have mentioned that they lacked a groom.

Harry walked back to the inner tent flap and watched Tonks retake her seat beside Shacklebolt. He stared across the heads of the assembled, some leaning together to whisper, others staring at the decorations. The Supreme Mugwump—a worrisomely aged wizard with a silver beard and silver-flecked red hair—sat serenely at the front acting accustomed to this sort of delay. As long as he didn't fall asleep, Harry thought.

When he turned back, the tent flapped opened and Snape appeared, brow surly and dripping water off his hair and the end of his nose.

Lupin strode over and tugged him off to the side, out of view of the guests who were peering back over their shoulders. With quick motions he dried Snape, straightened his robes, and pinned his cloak diagonally across his back, revealing the shiny blue lining. "That's more like it," he admonished.

Snape simply stared at his old enemy and Harry thought that even without Legilimency, Harry could read his thoughts and they were somewhere along the lines of how did it come to this? Snape peered over at Harry and his expression did not change.

"Ready?" Harry asked, as though everything were right on schedule and perfectly expected.

Snape nodded, just once, as if afraid his head might disobey and start swinging side to side instead. Harry unpinned the dill and yellow rose boutonniere from his own robes and pinned it on Snape. He straightened his own white chrysanthemum and lily and took Snape's arm the way he might McGonagall's. Snape arrested his leading him inside and gestured sharply to Lupin, who came closer. "Make certain the shoe-cake melts in the rain, won't you?"

Lupin said, "Consider it mush."

"Thank you," Snape said, seeming like that notion bolstered him.

Harry attempted again to lead him in, and this time he allowed it. The crowd quieted as they made their way. Harry sat him in the front row, alone. He bent to his ear and whispered, "Do make it look less like you're facing the guillotine." To which, Snape relaxed marginally. Harry left him sitting there, and thought things better move ahead without delay from this point.

On the other side, Candide's uncle and father had both stood. Harry thought they were having an nonvocal argument about whether her uncle should give her away as planned, but in the end Farnsworth, Candide's father, gestured for Harry to lead the way back down the aisle. Harry glanced at him following in curiosity.

At the rear, he said, "Changed my mind," quite gruffly.

"All right," Harry said, still in the mode of taking things as they came. The world, through a veil of too little sleep, felt tenuously balanced and he feared tipping it either direction by trying. Fortunately, letting it run along on its own was working out.

The massive umbrella stuck itself halfway through the back flap and Candide appeared, holding her dress up out of the fat droplets clinging to the battered grass.

"We set?" she asked.

Harry nodded and she bit her lip nervously. He was glad he had not worried her about Snape's late appearance. They could all now pretend he had been here all along. Candide bent awkwardly to reach under her broad dress, female hands of support instinctively coming in on each side. She pulled off her shoe and shook it to get the sickle to slide to the heel before putting it back on. To her sister she asked, "How do I look?"

Ruthie pinched her cheek in reply.

"Wish I could see myself," Candide muttered. "After all this effort for luck, this better be the luckiest wedding in history." She sighed and smoothed her dress and shook out the row of lace handkerchiefs sown at the hem. "Go on, Harry. Wave at the musicians to start."

Lupin waggled his eyebrows at Harry and they slipped in together. Harry went all the way to the front and gestured at the quintet and they gamely started sawing at their instruments, transforming the air of the tent into sound.

Harry remembered the trinket as he took up a position beside Snape. He slipped it out and handed it to him. Snape did not put it in his pocket, but held it in his hand and stared down at it, which meant Harry could no longer see his expression through his hair.

Harry glanced over the crowd and found Anita near the back on the end of a row, eyes disconcertingly distant even though they focused on the two of them standing there.

The music changed pace and Harry walked back to meet Ruthie and Carolyn and lead them in to the left as he had been told. The necessity of this and their bright dresses had been explained as a way of confusing evil spirits about whom the bride may be. Harry's suggestion about simply charming the bride against any hexes was not welcomed quite the way he expected.

These preparatory thoughts continued running through his mind as he resumed his place beside Snape. They represented the necessary momentum that would continue to drive events on the proper course, which seemed the only hope.

Everyone stood, including the Mugwump, to greet the bride, who kissed her father on the cheek, further reddening his over-stressed face. The Mugwump smiled serenely at the couple when they arranged themselves and faced him. He pulled out a gold-tipped wand and charmed them both with a tap on the head. Harry could not hear the spell, but he hoped it was something akin to a Mutushorum that would prevent either of them from bolting.

The Mugwump's face was as wizened as tree bark and his hands as quaky as leaves, but his voice carried authority as he addressed the guests and the couple and went on at some length about the point of it all. Harry found his shoulders unclenching with relief. No one spoke up when asked if they knew of any binding spells that should prevent this marriage, even though the Mugwump keenly demanded: "Anyone, anyone?" He then muttered something about preventing exploding grooms before moving on to the vows.

Candide had no trouble with this part, beyond a sniffle or two. Snape on the other hand seemed to require an application of great willpower to repeat what he was told to say. The Mugwump slowed down even, to make sure Snape was following, which only prolonged the agony. Harry closed his eyes. It's not a spell, he thought at Snape. It's just words, promises. They're only as important as you make them. But then it occurred to Harry that maybe Snape was making them very important, hence the pain. Dumbledore's past words floated through his thoughts, saying that Snape took nothing for granted. This certainly would all be easier if you did take it all for granted, he considered of the vows. Have, hold, faithfulness, partnership, friendship, forever . . . there were quite a number of words in there, most all of them a kind of binding.

Harry rubbed his hands together; his fingers were cold. He raised his head when the couple turned to face each other as indicated by the shuffling of a large dress. Snape appeared to have recovered himself partly as he took the ring from the Mugwump, who had charmed it with a few spells to prevent loss, especially through a drain, and to deter theft. As Snape slipped it on Candide's finger, the Mugwump seemed then to recognize the stone because his face left its serene state and entered one of surprise and perhaps covetousness.

That particular ring meant more than forever, Harry considered, and it meant more than the words in any event, and this let him relax completely as the Mugwump pronounced them married.

A pause ensued after the guests shuffled in place in preparation for departing.

"Go on then," the Mugwump prodded. He was bent over more now, perhaps having tired of holding himself up straight against old age. "Why some of you young people have to be told to kiss flummoxes me."

Snape stared at Candide, thinking of the waiting crowd, Harry suspected. He shucked his pinned cloak free and raised it betwixt them and the rest of the room, hiding their heads as he bent in. Harry ducked to fight an urge to burst out laughing.

After they straightened, it was clear that Candide was also laughing. The Mugwump gestured over his head with a swishing motion. "Off with you now."

Yellow flower petals and sweetmeats rained down from tent ceiling in a line to cover the white runner leading out. After a brief adjustment on how their arms should be linked, the two of them strode out, Candide ducking, hand shielding her head.

Harry caught up with them at the rear, where Ruthie's massive umbrella was put to use getting them all to the next tent, which from the outside was only as large as a beach hut.

Ruthie let Lupin take the umbrella to ferry others through the rain. Snape still had Candide's arm linked through his as he stared at the tent full of empty tables. Harry pulled out his wand and one-by-one ignited the rows of tall candles lining the walls and the smaller ones on the tables. The space took on an honestly romantic glow.

Harry joined his guardian and Candide where they stood waiting by the tent flap to greet the guests. "How're you doing, Severus?" he asked.

"The worst is over," Snape stated.

There was not time to address Candide's bemused expression before Shazor and Gretta appeared. Shazor was perfunctory, but Gretta gave hugs down the line. The bride's father, despite changing his mind about giving her away, bowed rather than shake hands with Snape, although he did so with Harry. The teachers came through next. McGonagall greeted them all with grace, but her crooked smile hinted at words too pointed for the moment. It was Trelawney who first requested one of the handkerchiefs off the dress hem to "carry off some good fortune." A few others, mostly children, did this as well, as did the Mugwump himself, who stashed it neatly in his breast pocket and fluffed the points where they stuck out. Harry needed nudging to be reminded he had to pay. He fished the brand new white leather drawstring purse containing fifteen Galleons out of his pocket and caught up with the curve-backed Mugwump where he stood off to the side, hat in his hand, deciding where to sit.

"Ah, young man," he said wistfully, weighing the purse before putting it away with a spell that did not involve going to his pocket. Harry believed that closed the conversation and started to turn, to make his way back to the greeting line when the old wizard said, "I remember you from Albus' funeral, but we did not get a chance to be introduced."

Harry said some words about that as he remembered that day without really wanting to.

The Mugwump looked him over and said, "Ah, like all young people, you have things to be doing. Go on then."

Most of the guests were inside or had made their goodbyes—like Elizabeth and her mother—when Anita slipped in with the last group. She and Snape greeted each other perfunctorily before she introduced herself to Candide. Candide insisted that she stay for the party, which she agreed to do and then headed for a seat without another word. Harry hoped all this self-control continued even after the many cases of prosecco stacked in the corners began to flow.

Harry took his seat between Snape and Shazor at the long narrow head table after everyone else had situated themselves at the round tables. The caterer's elves then did their magic and bowls of sugared almonds appeared as well as bread. One might have thought the wedding was fifteen hours rather than fifteen minutes the way the guests tore into these tokens.

Candide leaned over and asked in concern, "What happened to the shoe cake? I just remembered we skipped breaking that over my head."

"It got wet," Harry said.

"Oh. All right. Shame. It's good luck."

Harry leaned over farther. "Do you really believe that much in luck?" he asked in concern. The obsessive preparations had maxxed out his tolerance for irrational behavior.

"Do you really believe in prophecies?" she returned.

Harry opened his mouth and closed it again. Snape said, "She's got you there."

Prosecco was poured for all but the wedding couple, who instead jointly poured mead into a beaten up old chalice that sported the selective gleam indicative of a recent desperate polishing. Candide took a small sip from this while the guests all started in on their own drinks. Snape followed by more than making up for her dainty helping.

Harry had his crystal goblet, which he was certain he had not emptied so far, topped up by a passing elf and then resisted drinking more of it immediately. When the crowd settled down, he stood, which finished quieting everyone except for some chairs squeaking when rotated for a better view.

"Thank you all for coming," Harry said.

"Wouldn't have missed it," Mr. Weasley's voice floated over the assembled crowd.

The crowd chuckled faintly in agreement. Harry said, "I was warned I had to say something and I've made a lot of speeches before, some I've even written ahead of time, but this one feels more important than the others and I did not figure out quite what I wanted to say until now." More eyes in the room turned and fixed on him as he spoke and the interest level rose. "This is really big day," he said, unwillingly remembering that he himself had been the first major roadblock to the two of them being together.

"Some people just have families . . . and some of us have to put them together." He glanced at Candide and worried that he was overwhelming her already given the shine on her eyes. The pattering rain above faded, allowing him to speak closer to normal.

"We're stronger as a unit than as individuals. But we have to give up something to be a unit and that's what today's about, pledging that the unit will be more important in the future."

He glanced at Snape, who was fixated on the chalice set halfway between him and Candide.

"Most of you who know Severus from before are probably pretty surprised to be here right now."

While the crowd laughed lightly, Snape made a motion, but it was just to smooth his eyebrow.

"But I'm not actually surprised. Well, I probably was at first, but not after I thought it over." In his mind, Harry considered that if Snape could keep Voldemort happy, that he ought to be able to keep anyone happy, should he chose to. "He's very good at this father thing, so I'm certain he can manage the husband one too, if he has a mind to succeed at it." To Candide, he added, "Don't worry, he wouldn't get into this unless he intended to take it seriously. I don't see anything but a successful future for both of you together and it is wonderful that you're brave enough to give it a go."

Harry had let his glass fall almost back to the table. He raised it again. "So, a toast to the triumph of hope over . . . better sense."

"Hear, hear," various guests uttered and silence fell as everyone drank.

A knife clanged on a plate as McGonagall stood up two tables away. "If I may add a few words?"

Harry waved that she certainly could and resumed his seat. Under his breath and behind his hand, Snape uttered, "Why did you tell her 'yes'?"

Harry chuckled. "It'll all be over soon."

Snape drank another sip of mead as McGonagall began. "It was a lovely ceremony. I am quite happy for Severus as well as pleasantly surprised that he has found someone compatible."

Harry leaned closer to better hear Snape say, "I must be slipping. Usually I know what she's getting even for."

Harry said, "You are slipping, but we like you better that way."

This generated a sharp glance. McGonagall went on, cutting off the follow-on glare.

"I've known Severus for, oh, upwards of twenty-six years, first as a student and then as a sometimes adversarial colleague. We've been through some very difficult times and I'll second Harry's contention that we are stronger as a unit because it was the unit of many of you here, bound to Albus Dumbledore, that is the only reason so many can be here today to enjoy this lovely party."

She turned her dark green robed self to better address the room rather than the head table. "Severus doesn't always think the best of people, which can make him a little difficult to get along with, but there is no one you would rather have guarding your back." She turned again and raised her glass, which glittered in the now dominating candlelight. "I wish the three of you prosperity. I wish you peace, for what it's worth, but knowing two of you as I do, I'm not sure my wishes are going to have any effect. I believe Ms. Breakstone had a proper preview of what she has got herself into before coming today. She is presumably ready for a life of adventure and she is in good hands. So I wish her, especially, but all three of you, the best of luck."

"I can top that," Ruthie said while glasses were being refilled. She stood on Candide's other side, sizing them all up while the guests adjusted. Candide dropped her head and shook it faintly. Snape handed her the mead cup from which she took another very small sip.

Ruthie took in the room next with her skilled eye, gauging the audience. "My sister, Candy. Always did everything just right. Perfectly. Perfect grades. Perfectly neat room. Mum and dad's favorite. Used to drive me bonko when we were kids. Years and years of this never living up to my sister." She indicated Snape with a movement of her glass. "I don't know where you found this one, but you've more than made up for everything." Ruthie leaned down and asked, "Where did you find him, anyway?"

Candide had to clear her throat to be heard. "Hogsmeade."

"Hog's Head?" Ruthie echoed loudly, to a few chuckles.

"HogsMEADE," Candide repeated.

Ruthie shrugged as if there was little difference or she did not believe her. "Well, I like this bloke, but others are needing more time to get to know him. We'll get there, I'm sure," she said amiably. "He's trouble, I can tell, but Candy needs balancing out for the rest of our sake. Between the two of them we've got one tolerable person here."

Ruthie leaned on the table with one broad hand, straining it, judging by the creaks. "You know how you are supposed to tell embarrassing anecdotes about one or the other of the couple when you do these toasts?" she asked the assembled. "Well, trouble is, Candy doesn't have any to tell. I would know, I've been her sister her whole life. Marrying this bloke is the only mortifying thing she's ever done and you all already know about it . . . because you're here. Takes the fun out of telling it to you."

Harry and Candide turned at the same time to check that Snape was still all right. Ruthie, with a crooked grin turned too.

Snape said, "Clearly, you don't know me very well."

Harry grinned at the implied threat.

Ruthie returned, "We have loads of time now to get to know each other. You have a house-elf . . . we, or I will at least, be over every Sunday." This generated more laughs.

"I look forward to it," Snape said easily, eyes keen.

Ruthie laughed the most of all. "If anyone had told me I'd inherit a brother-in-law who teaches dark magic . . . 'scuse me, Defense against dark magic and that I'd inherit Harry Potter as a nephew . . . pshew, I think I'd have suggested they seriously consider having themselves measured up for the proverbial tight white robes that buckle in the back." She raised her glass which triggered Harry to release the breath he held. "But welcome to our family. It's a very boring family where nothing much happens, and I'm very grateful for your livening it up."

With that, conversations broke out at every table and the food appeared. Everyone tucked into their plates and the conversation noise rose and fell pleasantly. Harry kept tabs on the bride and groom but they behaved as though this was just another ordinary dinner, as did most of the guests.

Long after the tables had been pushed aside and the makeshift wooden floor thinned out of eager dancers. Candide returned to the head table.

"All right, I've danced with every other male; it's your turn now."

Snape, who was sitting back from the table, hand on a goblet, said, "You danced with Hagrid?"

Candide propped her hands on her hips, an action accentuated by her dress rustling. "Yes. How could you have missed that? He is easy to dance with, I'll admit . . . you put both feet on one of his and he does the dancing."

"You have not danced with Harry, here."

Candide stared at Harry. "Oh, you're right. Come on, Harry."

Harry, who had just sat back down after dancing with Anita a second time, pushed himself back to his feet.

Over beside the quintet, Harry asked her, "Glad now that it's almost over?"

"No, now I'm not."

Harry kept one eye on the head table where Shazor and Farnsworth were smoking cigars and chatting with the groom. "Everyone behaved themselves," Harry commented as they circled.

"Yes, they did. Hey, you're not a bad dancer."

"Hm?" Harry asked, watching as Farnsworth grew animated discussing something.

"I said, your girlfriend is lucky you are such a good dancer."

Harry glanced over at Tonks who had only danced with him once on the theory that flaunting themselves in front of both Shacklebolt and Mr. Weasley was not a good idea.

"You're very distracted," she said, more concerned than criticizing.

"I feel like I should keep an eye on things," he explained, finally turning to her. Her eye makeup had spread, heavily accenting her eyes. Her spell-fixed hair was still exactly the same.

She said, "Your little speech was nice. I think that was the right way to explain it to Severus."

"Was it that obvious I was talking to him?" Harry asked as they passed Hermione and Hagrid with a shuffle of steps to avoid serious injury.

"I don't think so. It was fine."

The song ended and Harry took her be-ringed hand and led her back to the head table. "All yours," he announced.

Snape, after a brief hesitation, stood and wove his way through the blue smoke of his neighbors to come around the table. A tango started up. When the two of them reached the raised interlocked platform, Snape waved the musicians to a halt and asked for something slow. The bride and groom proceeded to, not so much dance as, turn slowly in one corner of the dance floor.

A green robe cut into Harry's vision and McGonagall and Hagrid took up seats nearby, Hagrid on the trunk which he dragged over for that purpose. From where Harry sat above him, he could see two broken ivory combs stuck in his wiry hair. The three of them stared across the room at Snape and Candide dancing.

Hagrid said, "Aye, Dumbledore'd've like ter seen this."

McGonagall nodded sagely.

Hermione came over, empty goblet in hand, which she set down on the table beside some others abandoned there. "I should go," she said, slightly slurred. "Lots of arranging things for the term . . . Oh, hello Headmistress."

"Hermione," McGonagall greeted her, wearing that sly smile again.

Harry stood and saw his friend out. Hermione gave him a long hug before she Apparated away. Tonks was behind him when he turned back to the tent, Shacklebolt at her side. "We have to go too. Call."

Harry shook her hand with a professional air, feeling a little neglected by her rule for the evening and wanting to make a point. She frowned and they disappeared as well. Harry remained standing in the crystal starlight. The tent fabric glowed richly with candlelight as though with the size charming, the light concentrated as it escaped to the outside.

Footsteps made Harry turn and he was surprised to find Moody standing there, wearing dress robes, his hair slicked back. Harry wondered how long he had been around and how else he had been disguised if he had been around. A mustache would not have sufficed given his distinctive posture.

"Enjoying the party?" Harry asked with no friendliness.

"The whole rest of the Order was invited," Moody pointed out. "It was a good chance to listen in on what everyone is doing."

Harry decided to simply ignore him and moved to re-enter the tent. Moody halted him with: "I want to know what you think you're up to."

Harry rotated back slowly. "I'm at a wedding . . . a very important one that I don't feel like wasting time talking to you during."

Moody's magical eye examined Harry. "Someone's been tracking me, I've figured out," he said. "And I don't like it. Reminds me of the old days a bit too much."

Inside, the music changed tunes, picking up the pace slightly which made it merge better with the bubbling water of the spring. "If you think it's me . . . believe me, I've had enough of you. I would hardly seek out more of you." Harry started to walk away and stopped long enough to say. "Only a handful of people know you're alive. How hard could it be to figure out who it is?"

Moody grunted. "My figuring exactly, so that's why I'm here, asking you. I thought you the most likely to manage it without my catching you at it, seeing as how you have certain, shall we say, skills in this area."

"Well, it's not me," Harry said with feeling and slipped back inside the tent.

Harry's annoyed mood eased the moment he stepped inside the flickering, candlelit space. He slid back along the head table to the chair beside Candide's. Snape wasn't at the table; he appeared to be dancing with McGonagall. Harry squinted across the tent at this, stunned.

"She insisted on getting a turn," Candide said, sounding amused.

"Amazing," Harry uttered. He pushed aside a few stray goblets and a scattering of colorful dried fruit from the cake and put his chin down on his hand to watch the dance floor without having to hold up his head.

Candide scooted her chair closer and put an arm around him. "Thanks for letting me in, Harry."

Acute embarrassment made him wince. He had to lift his head to talk. "Sorry about that."

"What? Oh, that's not what I meant." She laughed lightly. "I meant the way you two had such a language of your own. I needed some translation and eventually got it."

"Oh," Harry uttered, partly relieved by her explanation. His eyes were getting as heavy as his head. The caterer's elves had not been around for the last hour, which was a shame as Harry could use that coffee now that he had turned down earlier with the cake. Candide's parents were dancing as well as Ruthie and Hagrid and Trelawney with an elderly member of the Order. Anita sat in the corner talking to Professor Sinistra, who nodded frequently as Anita gestured. Shazor and Gretta occupied a table about as far away as possible, near the door flaps. Harry considered that if this evening could work out, then pretty much anything could.

Candide's arm still rested reassuringly over Harry's back. She did not seem so much a mother, he mused, as an extension of his adoptive father. Or, if Ruthie's contention that the two of them formed a different whole was correct, she completed Snape, which was a comfortable thought.

The warm honeycomb atmosphere exuded by the candles overlaid the wet fresh leafiness of the glen. The air and the rhythmic music lulled Harry's eyes closed. He tugged off his glasses, intending just to rest his eyes a minute by pressing them against his arm.

He must have dozed because he woke with a small jerk when hands came down on his shoulders. A voice, Snape's, somewhere behind his left ear said, "It IS late."

Harry sat straight and rubbed his eyes. The music still played but there were just two couples on the dance floor and the tables had cleared further. Snape pressed Harry's hair back, giving it a tug as though to be sure he had his attention.

"You did not have so much to drink, did you?" he asked.

"No," Harry said, wiping his glasses before replacing him. "And look who's talking."

Snape's hand came down again on his shoulder, but he did not have a response. Across the room, Harry became aware of a stereo vision of Anita on one side and Shazor on the other, both watching them with expressions that were difficult to decode. Harry pretended not to notice. Unexpectedly, Snape brushed his hair back again, making Harry wonder if he was making some kind of point. If so, Harry was glad for it.

Anita approached as did McGonagall with Richard and the remaining teachers in tow. McGonagall said, "I believe it is time for us all to do as Harry is trying to, as lovely as the evening has been."

Anita, hands clasped before her almost placatingly, said, "Perhaps time to take your wife and son home, Severus. It IS nearly 2:00."

Harry did not want to come down in support of the critical side of her twisted, half-acknowledging statement, nevertheless silently agreed due to his training the next day. "Who's cleaning up?" Harry asked.

"The caterer's elves will return at dawn," Candide supplied.

The musicians ended the song and began to pack up their music stands and instruments. After the teachers moved on, Shazor and Gretta approached as well as Candide's parents, Anita stepped aside but did not retreat. Ruthie rocked on her toes behind them all. The tension level rose. Harry would have stood, but Snape's hand was still firmly on his shoulder.

Gretta broke the silence with, "Lovely wedding, my dear," she said to Candide. Other similar murmurs were offered and the group, with last good wishes, moved on out of the tent, leaving the three of them there with just the musicians who were stacking their large instrument boxes in a considerably small trunk, which had been hovered beside their platform.

"They all behaved well," Harry said. A thought then occurred to his tired brain. He asked Snape, "You didn't potion the prosecco or something?"

Vaguely insulted sounding, Snape said, "No."

Harry stood finally. "Not that I care . . ." And at that late moment he certainly did not. "I just wondered if we could expect them to behave next time."

Snape said, "Unlikely" at the same instant Candide said, "I doubt it."

Eyes heavy, Harry peered back and forth between them. He felt dizzily pleased with the day. Eyes smiling at Snape he said, "Shall we go home?"

Snape bowed in place of a nod and Candide jumped over beside him, saying, "I have to side-along. It's bad luck for the bride to Apparate herself to her new house." With much movement of the ever resilient dress, she tugged off her left shoe, dumped the sickle onto the table and tossed the shoe aside. "Okay, all good."

They both stared at here. Harry said, "Well, we wouldn't want to break the streak we have going today."

Snape took her arm with accentuated formality and the three of them Disapparated.

A/N: Sorry, got to get to sleep to get on a plane for home tomorrow. No time even for a preview. I'll add one when I get home.

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