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Chapter 13 — Guard Duty

Harry had Aaron trailing him as guard to an above-ground shop to get a pasty for lunch. The day was warm and breezy and the Muggle streets loud with cars and buses.

"Who's your guard tonight?" Aaron asked.

"Tonks is supposed to be, but they don't always say. They just gave me a list of passcodes to verify from whoever shows up next." He handed over a few Muggle coins and accepted the wrapped food, which immediately soaked grease and heat through the crinkly paper.

"Well, Tonks wouldn't be a bad deal."

Harry smiled crookedly. "No, she wouldn't."

They returned to the atrium and walked to a bench overlooking the fountain to eat. Hungrier than normal, Harry had already taken a few bites and Aaron, when he noticed, asked, "Not going to use the poison-revealing drops first?"

Harry carefully waved his lunch and said, "I just bought this from a Muggle shop where no one knows who I am. That's why I went there. The drops taste funny."

"Your choice, I suppose." Aaron groaned as he sat down and stretched his feet out before him. "We had a devil of a time looking for you."

"Sorry about that. If I disappear like that again, don't bother trying to find me. If I can't get back, I'm too far away to be found."

"Yeah, Latvia. It was not high on the list of places to search." With false thoughtfulness, he added, "I don't think it was on the list at all. So, what's it feel like to Apparate that far?"

"It hurts," Harry said. "Don't try it."

"What are you doing about this wizard, Aldaris?"

Harry tilted his pasty so the filling wouldn't ooze out. "Adding him to my Christmas list. I owe him one."

Aaron laughed.

During afternoon drills while facing his trainer for a demonstration, Harry asked how he could increase his spell power.

Rodgers scoffed. The others in the room turned their attention to them. "You aren't feeling lacking are you, Potter?" Rodgers teased.

"Well, sometimes," Harry said.

"Raw power is slow to increase. You're born with a certain amount and if you vigorously make use of it, some people anyhow, are lucky enough to get a little more of it."

Harry tapped his wand on his hand, impatient with that answer. "So, you're saying that there's nothing I can do."

"I didn't say that," Rodgers came back. "Step back and get ready with a Titan block." Rodgers also stepped back. "Part of what you think of as power is just focussed energy. The difference between this . . ." Here he sent Harry a Cutting Curse, but its beam wavered in the air, wide and ineffective. ". . . and this. Be ready for it." He repeated the spell, but the spell trail was almost invisibly thin. Harry's block sizzled and he was forced to jump out of the way and let the spell burn itself out on the wall behind him.

Harry stared at his trainer from where he kneeled in the corner. "Good thing you're on our side, sir," he said as he got to his feet. He tried not to feel frustrated with the thought that this was the second person in mere days who could take him down on raw power.

"Can you show us how to focus spells better?" Harry asked.

"We've already done exercises to improve that. But it doesn't help with all spells. I used the best example to demonstrate. Frankly, finesse is often more valuable and that you gain through repetition." With an amused tilt of the head he considered Harry before saying, "You don't look happy with my answer."

Harry, feeling unusually desperate about this, explained, "Well, what if we do meet a . . . bad wizard who can overpower us?"

"Outsmart them," Rodgers answered a tad mockingly. "Or bring a partner and corner them if you can't manage that. All kinds of options. Got someone in mind that we don't know about, Potter?"

"No," Harry answered honestly.

Rodgers dropped his suspicion and said, "We'll work on fine-tuning some powerful spells during drills. Everyone pick a partner."

Blackpool followed Harry home that evening and read Witch Weekly while Harry studied. She traded with Tonks at 11:00.

"Puffball Mushrooms," Tonks proclaimed when she arrived in the Floo.

"That right?" Blackpool asked Harry, wand unwavering.

Harry resisted laughing at her care. "Yes."

"I'll leave you to it then."

"Thanks," Harry said before she departed.

Candide, with a broad yawn, declared it time to go to sleep and Harry had to agree. Upstairs on the balcony, she bade them goodnight with a knowing smile, making Harry grateful Snape was away at school.

Harry slept with Tonks half overlapping him and was glad for the reassuringly pleasant feel of her when he awoke with a start from a dream involving hoards of demons rampaging out of control.

"Harry?"

"Yeah, just a dream," he mumbled, because the room was quiet and it was clearly not happening here and may not be happening anywhere.

In a fit of what felt like rare good fortune, Tonks was assigned most all night guard duty for the rest of the week, except for when she had the regular night shift at the Ministry. During those times, Harry had a different guard in the form of a small, stout wrinkly-faced woman from Control of Magical Creatures. Mr. Weasley had pulled Harry aside and informed him that the woman, Hornisham, was overdue for retirement and due to her fearless handling of calls, her department worried she may not survive to retirement, so they were happy to give her something else to do. Harry believed they might feel differently if they knew what kind of creatures Harry could conjure while he slept.

The first night with her sitting beside the cold hearth, knitting metal dragon-proof cord into a tunic, Harry did not sleep so well. But the second time, other than wishing for Tonks instead, he slept immediately, lulled off by the faint grinding and clicking sounds and the thought that, if necessary, the witch could don the tunic which might actually hold up to demon teeth. Harry's dreams remained murky, muddy and algae colored, like the lake water under Hogwarts castle. He always awoke feeling slightly less than well rested.

Friday, before Harry departed for field shadowing, Candide shooed Hornisham off, insisting she needed to talk to Harry alone. Candide had a letter in her hand, but she rolled it tightly into a tube and held it at her side when she noticed Harry eying it.

"How are you doing, Harry?" she asked bluntly.

"Fine."

"Training went all right this week?"

Harry stared at her, wondering at the redundancy; they had engaged in similar small talk all week.

"Fine. Still easier because of our newest apprentice, but Rodgers promises that the repetition won't last. Why the interview?" he returned bluntly.

"Severus wants to know if he should come home this weekend."

"He doesn't need to for me. If you want him home . . ."

She frowned. "Work is only getting busier. I'll be at the office at least some Saturday and Sunday, so he shouldn't bother on my account, I won't be here . . ."

"He shouldn't bother on mine, either," Harry said.

Candide moved her letter-laden hand, but did not need to reference it directly. "How are you sleeping?"

Harry did not want to reply, but he had to answer and he could not find the will to lie. "A few odd dreams but I'm sleeping all right."

Again, point-blank: "Voldemort? Is Voldemort in your dreams?"

"No."

This time she did raise the letter. While reading it, she said, "You need to go or you're going to be late."

Harry collected his guard from the hall where she was making faces at herself in the wood-framed mirror. Harry had to suppress a much-needed smile at the scene of this stout, middle-aged women arranging her face into various scary expressions.

"Ready to go?" the witch queried, unfazed at being interrupted.

"Yeah. Thanks for giving us a few minutes."

"No worries. Bugger for you losin' your privacy like this."

Harry was surprised by her understanding. "Well, you lose your nights," he said.

She waved one pudgy hand that was missing the ends of two fingers. "'Tis nothin'. It's jus' me cats at home anyhow."

Thinking of Mrs. Figg, Harry tried to make conversation, "How many cats do you have?"

The answer came after they arrived in the Atrium. "Twenty four . . . no . . . twenty . . ." She made a different kind of face and stared at the ceiling while pondering an answer.

"That's all right; I get the idea," Harry said quickly.

Up in the office, Harry waited for Shacklebolt to finish his report from his last assignment. He was speaking unusually fast to his quill, making it skip words and have to jump around filling in. Eventually, the nib broke and it fluttered to the floor.

"Ack," Shacklebolt uttered and pulled out a regular quill to finish by hand. Even writing fast, his handwriting was neater than the Autoquill's, which said a lot. To Harry, he said, "We have a call we should hit within the hour; that's why I'm hurrying."

Harry Side-Alonged to Mumbles-under-Tyne and followed Shacklebolt's lead in stashing his wand away in his sleeve before stepping out onto the pavement from the abandoned newspaper printers where they had arrived. Harry thought it a less-than-wise place to arrive given the looming old equipment filling the place and the hiding places it provided, but he assumed Shacklebolt was well aware of that, so he remained silent. Harry marked the doorway into the building in his memory. A sign with faded scroll letters outlined in still-bright gold paint read Mumbles Echo.

Harry remained mum as they walked with purpose, finally stepping down a narrow crooked alley that was much darker than it should have been in the noon-time sun. The entrance was between Mandragon's Haberdashery with unpromisingly faded wares in the window and a nail salon with so much neon tubing framing it one could not see inside. The salon might have had a name, but if it did, it was part of the Chinese lettering sharing space with the English.

Shacklebolt tapped with his wand on the keystone block of an archway spanning the alley twenty feet in. Beyond it a row of five shops sparkled into view. They entered the first shop. Inside, stacks of hats, large atop small, lined shelves and racks ranging from staid, closest to the door, to flashing Quidditch-themed ones lighting the far corner.

"Oy, what can I do you for?" a portly man with short mussed hair asked, making it seem the business of hats was a serious one with him. His eyes came around to Harry, standing off Shacklebolt's shoulder, and his attitude grew wary.

"We're from the Auror's office," Shacklebolt explained. "We had a report of some trouble . . . ?"

The man laughed lightly, his lips glistening with saliva. "My sister, she over-reacted. It's nothing. Ministry didna have ta send Aurors of all things," he complained, glancing at Harry and away again. "No one's been doing any dark magic around here abouts."

Shacklebolt stated helpfully, "You aren't the only ones having problems."

The shopkeeper laughed nervously. "So we are in good company for this thing we are not involved with?"

"Yes," Shacklebolt replied after a beat.

Harry watched the various signs the man gave off, the wet lips, the nervous movements of his feet that he was probably unaware of. "We don't need you here. Go take care of something important."

"This IS important," Shacklebolt said. "If it gets out of control, everyone suffers."

Harry Legilimized the man the next time his eyes grazed Harry's. All he caught was a flash of an argument with a woman.

"Is your sister here?" Shacklebolt asked eerily narrating the vision.

"She is. She's in back listening to her favorite on the wireless. I'm sure she'd rather not talk to you."

Harry considered piping in, but waited to see what Shacklebolt would do. The Auror said, "I'd rather hear that from her."

The man grumbled but fetched his sister, who gave off more signs of nerves than the brother, including laughing more. She gave Harry more chances to see her thoughts because she seemed fascinated with him standing there and kept staring. Harry had visions of nighttime visitors full of threats. No faces, just odd grey cloth masks over wrinkled black veils so even the eye holes gave nothing away. Shacklebolt eventually gave up getting her to admit there was a problem. Perhaps he even felt bad for making her so agitated.

As they departed, Shacklebolt insisted to the shopkeepers that he, or someone else, would return if called.

They then went to each of the other shops on the alley, interviewing clerks and owners alike; Shacklebolt was adamant about talking to everyone who was available. No one was any more helpful. Only the young woman working in the beauty salon, whom Harry knew from Hogwarts, seemed to have no idea at all why they were there. The rest were all wary and dodgy with their answers.

Back in the printers, Harry waited while Shacklebolt paced.

"Is it safe to talk here, sir?" Harry asked. When Shacklebolt nodded, Harry went on, "Can I ask what this is about?"

"It would seem a shakedown is in progress on Mandragon Alley and I was hoping for a little more cooperation . . . from anyone. Question I have now is, are we dealing with just one gang or do we have a copy-cat already."

Harry said, "The ones that came here wore odd masks, with cat-eye slits over the eyes and . . ." He gestured on his own face. ". . . over the nose and mouth. With a netting underneath so you couldn't see any part of their features."

Shacklebolt stared at Harry. After a long pause, he said, "I guess given that Severus taught you, I should expect you'd be that good at Legilimency. I saw you giving a few of them a good eyeing. I wasn't sure if that was just intimidation . . . which didn't seem like your style."

"I didn't mean to intimidate anyone," Harry said. "That probably wouldn't help."

Shacklebolt waved his hand, raising his pale palm to face Harry. "In fact, one tactic is to come across far tougher than the people they fear. Not the nicest thing to do, but it can work."

Shacklebolt straightened his cloak. Harry thought his chance for answers grew short. "Who are these people?"

"Don't know. Fudge believes they are foreigners, from Italy or Portugal where the government is either not effective at shutting them down or are worse yet, part of the problem."

"What do you think?" Harry asked.

"In an insular place like this, where the shopkeepers are English." He shook his head. "I think they'd cooperate with us if the perpetrators were foreign. Must be locals involved. The ideas and methods may be imported, but I bet the manpower isn't. Reggie took the last call of this nature and I thought maybe his glowing personality was part of the reason we didn't get any help."

Harry grinned.

Shacklebolt said, "Trouble is, if they're smart, their threats are far greater than the fee they are asking for in return for protection. But that will change, and then we might get some help, but someone will get hurt first, I'm afraid. Let's get back; there's probably ten other things we could be doing for someone willing to have help."

They spent the remainder of the shift trying to track down someone dealing in illicit cursed devices. This meant they snuck around sometimes very secure warehouses and interviewed people, mostly Muggles, which was time-consuming and involved making up lots of unlikely stories.

Harry's feet complained when he finally had a chance to get off them back in the office at 7:00 in the evening. Rodgers sauntered in and said, "So, how'd it go?" with an annoyingly knowing lilt.

"Same as you," Shacklebolt conceded. "Harry gets two gold stars for today. He's a better partner than you . . . and on top of that he complains less."

Rodgers crossed his arms. "Well, if you prefer a partner with a contract out on him . . ." He looked Harry over. "Waiting for your guard?"

Harry nodded. "I don't really need one," he said, not terribly hopeful that he would get free of the requirement, but feeling better to say that.

Tonks came in. "Ready?" she asked. "I'll take you home and wait for your other guard, unless Severus is there."

"No."

"Or unless you want to go to dinner at my parents."

Harry wondered at her saying that in front of not only Shacklebolt, but Harry's even stricter trainer. "I don't mind that."

"You're certain?" she asked doubtfully, straightening her robes which were not quite dress robes, but they glittered along the collar, matching her metallic silver hair. "No house elf at their place."

Harry could not imagine anyone not wanting to show off their parents. He nodded.

"And Candide's not expecting you?"

"She's working late."

Tonks tossed her head. "Well, come on, then."

The other two watched them leave. Harry kept his head down until he was well out the door. In the lift, Harry asked, "Why would you think I wouldn't want to go to your parents for dinner?"

Tonks puzzled the question, looked on the verge of explaining, but then shrugged.

They arrived in the Floo at the Tonks' house. Harry conked his head getting out when he caught sight of Andromeda. Rubbing the crown of his head, Harry peered at her with eyes squinted in pain. Tonks gave her mother a quick hug.

"I brought Harry along, I hope that's all right."

"Of course, dear," Andromeda said playfully. She held out her hand to Harry. "Nice to finally meet you, Harry. It's all right to call you 'Harry', right?"

Harry nodded and flinched at the stab this sent behind his right eye. At Andromeda's doubtful watching of him nursing his head, Harry said, "I thought you were your sister for just a moment."

Andromeda propped her hands on her hips accusingly. "Would you like some ice for that?"

"Yes, thank you."

To Tonks, as an aside, she asked, "Not as clumsy as you, I hope." The two of them went off. Harry looked around the ordinary room, at the fancy oil-lamps on wrought iron stands and the forest-colored furniture.

A sandy-haired man with a rotund gut came in the door, dragging muddy robe edges across the pale green carpet. Harry's presence distracted him from considering what to do about that. "Er, hello there. I don't think we've met," the man said.

Harry stepped up to him, hand out. "You must be Tonks' father . . . I mean, uh, Ted Tonks right?"

"'Dora's father, yes," Mr. Tonks said energetically, recognition brightening his eyes. "Very nice to meet you." His hands were dusty with earth as well, it turned out.

"Dora? Oh, yeah," Harry said.

"What can we do for you . . ." Mr. Tonks started to ask.

"Ted, the floor, honestly," Andromeda interrupted, returning. She handed Harry a hot water bottle full of ice and pulled out her wand to clean the carpet. "Perhaps you should change for dinner." She crossed her arms, wand bouncing. "Unless you want to stand there for the full treatment."

"No, I'll just go and change," he said. The trail he left as he departed was quickly Scourgified away.

Andromeda gave a long suffering sigh. "I'll just see to dinner."

Tonks sidled over to Harry, who was finding relief in the ice after the initial discomfort of it. "My dad doesn't know we're dating," she said in a low voice.

Harry lifted the ice out of his view. "You waited till now to the tell me?" He considered that as the ice crackled, heated by his head. "Same complaint as Severus?"

"No," she said, turning away.

"Er . . ." Harry decided that could lie for now. "What about your mum?"

"She likes you a lot," Tonks said, brushing her hand over the back of the nearby linen-draped couch.

Harry, voice low as well, said, "I didn't get the sense your dad disliked me."

Tonks started. "Oh, no, it's not that . . ." But Mr. Tonks returned, robes changed, hair slicked back.

"So, Harry, very nice to meet you close up. Certainly have seen you at a distance a few times and in the papers far more times than that. Come over and sit down." He gestured at the couch which he himself settled onto with a sigh of relief, belly covering part of his lap. He gave Harry a smile and reached for a box on the small table beside him. "Honeydukes?" he offered.

Harry accepted a chocolate covered wafer in the shape of a cauldron with a little loop of licorice for a handle.

Mr. Tonks went on, "Play any Quidditch these days? You're finished at Hogwarts right . . . or not?"

Harry had trouble swallowing.

"Oh, yes, of course you are," Mr. Tonks went on, slapping his leg. "'Dora's told us you're apprenticing in her department." Whimsically, he said, "They start you kids so young these days. It's a wonder . . . Did you finish school, or well no, you must have left early, right?"

Dinner broke the flow of conversation but it resumed on the same course when everyone settled in behind their plates of ravioli.

Right after Mr. Tonks chastised his wife for offering Harry mead "at his age," Harry finally said, "I've turned nineteen now . . . as of July."

Tonks was shading her eyes with her hand while eating. Across from her Andromeda was enjoying the confusion and did not look likely to help.

Harry went on, "I finished school years ago, well, over a year ago. Completed a pile of N.E.W.T.s and everything." Feeling defensive and hearing it in his voice, Harry took a deep breath and stopped talking.

"Really?" Mr. Tonks asked in confusion. "Hard to imagine you as anything but little Harry Potter." He held his hand out at seated shoulder height. Maybe taller than a house-elf, but not by much.

Harry shut his mouth, which was hanging open. "I've finished a whole year of the Auror Apprenticeship," he said after regrouping, working hard on a factual voice. Maintaining the conversation had resulted in his not eating much. He thought he had managed to get his point across, but Mr. Tonks said, "If you don't like that, you can skip ahead to dessert. We have chocolate ice cream."

Harry almost said yes, but his pride would not let him. "This is fine," he said, completely at a loss.

Back in Shrewsthorpe where Tonks waited for Harry's guard to report, Tonks said, "Sorry about that."

"Not your fault," Harry said. But then shook his head and held his hand out. "Little Harry Potter? Hello?"

Tonks laughed but it was mostly embarrassment.

Harry said, "No wonder you didn't want to go to dinner with your parents."

"See, I tried to explain to him when I told my mum, but he completely misunderstood when I said I wanted to spend more time with you off-duty. He thought . . . I don't know . . . that I was doing what the Order always did, you know, keeping a close eye on you now that Dumbledore was gone. Heck, then he so misunderstood, I feared he would start to understand. Do you understand?"

Harry laughed. "Yes, actually."

She shrugged, blush visible in the dim main hall light where only a few candles in the chandelier were lit. "You know, for a long time you were Little Harry Potter, this . . . child . . . with far too big of things to do. He can't get beyond that."

Harry admitted, "I sometimes have trouble looking at the old photographs from first and second year at Hogwarts. I worry about the lightning-scarred kid in the picture. I can't help it. So I sort of understand what your dad is thinking. It's getting harder to imagine those days, in fact. I know so much magic now . . . I wonder how the heck that kid is possibly going to survive without having a clue."

Tonks said, "You didn't get any mead at dinner . . . do you have any in the house? I could use another too."

Harry turned to go to the kitchen, but Tonks caught up to him. "I haven't cleared the house," Tonks said, arresting his progress. "Not to treat you like my dad was . . . but I have to treat you like my dad was for just two minutes while I check things out."

Harry stood in the center of the hall and watched her disappear down the stairs leading to the kitchen. She reappeared shortly after, saying, "Winky says it's all right." But she checked all the ground floor rooms anyhow. Harry continued to wait while she checked the first floor, finding strong comfort in basic duty, as he had since his return to his own world. Her attentive progress around the house represented something so utterly lacking in that other place that he found no will to be annoyed with it, even post-dinner with Mr. Tonks.

"Candide working late again?" Tonks asked after sticking her head in the bedroom.

"November is the end of the accounting year for most wizard businesses, so she's quite busy starting in September."

"I'm surprised Severus doesn't suggest she quit," Tonks said upon returning to stand beside Harry. Winky appeared with a tray and two tall ceramic cups of mead.

"I don't think she'd want to."

Cupping their drinks in both hands, they sat down and the house settled around them. "When's the baby expected?" Tonks asked between sips.

"Early March sometime. I forget the date."

"Severus ready to be a dad?" Like most people, she could not help grinning while asking this.

"He already is one," Harry pointed out.

"That's not the same." Tonks waved Harry off dismissively.

Harry felt a stab of annoyance and drank his mead with more purpose.

- 888 -


"Come on up here, Potter," Rodgers said the next Monday during training. While Harry obeyed, Rodgers announced, "Harry's comments about working on power made me realize I've grown too easy on you all."

Tridant made a noise halfway between a squeak and an erp.

Pretending not to hear, even though he grinned more, Rodgers went on, "So we are going to push you all a bit more every day and see if we can't squeeze a little more magic out of each of you over time."

When Harry took up a position across from him, wand out, Rodgers said to him, "All I heard about all weekend from Kingsley is how much he prefers partnering with you. Get ready with a Chrysanthemum . . ." He fired off a curse, which Harry blocked. "Got a little old, I'll admit." Then the same curse repeated with more behind it. Then again. Harry's wand began to vibrate when the curses hit his block.

"Shall I go back to making trouble during my shadowing?" Harry asked, trying to be cute.

Rodgers gave him a mocking grin and changed curses. Harry hit the wall.

"You all right?" Rodgers asked with an amused laugh as Harry righted himself.

Harry's head still hurt from striking it on the mantelpiece at the Tonks house, otherwise, he would not have any complaints. "Fine, sir."

"You need to put more focus in the front AND back of that block for a Gorgon Curse. Try again."

Harry did not complain as he sat down, even though his body did. He wanted to get better at handling someone with stronger magic than himself, and if getting beaten up a little every day like he used to was what it took, then so be it. Harry nursed his elbow, wishing for a little ice. Up at the front of the room Aaron managed four blocks in a row and then completely blew the same one on the next spell.

Rodgers said, "You have to concentrate, Wickem. You have it in you, you just don't always pull it out and use it."

Kerry Ann snickered. Rodgers directed his wand at her. "Don't laugh; you're next."

Tridant did well; he fared almost as well as Aaron, albeit on a limited set of attacks since he had not yet learned nearly as many attack-counter combinations as the rest of them.

"Getting better," Rodgers said when he finally released him. Tridant nearly lost his footing at the praise and had to put a hand on Vineet's desk.

Vineet was last and Rodgers went much easier on him for a few rounds. "Everyone else gives you a Counter workout every day, I think. Why don't you give me one. Everyone is having fun but me." He gestured with a come-hither of his hand that he was ready. "Hard as you want . . . you're like me, holding back all the time."

Vineet cast a Blasting Curse at him and Rodgers used a rubber shield that deflected it under him as he jumped over it awkwardly. He stood straight. "Holy Merlin. I guess I should worry less that your blocks aren't what they should be." He stretched his shoulders back. "Okay, something else this time. Mix it up a little."

Harry's week continued on in this rough vein, including getting called onto duty with Tonks late on Thursday night. They, and every on-duty Auror and available personnel from Reversal were called to the scene of what Harry at first thought was a building fire: Blue and yellow flames licked out of smashed windows. Powerful lights cast circular beams on the scene.

Harry slopped through the puddles surrounding the fire trucks, following behind Tonks. In their black robes, disguise spells were barely needed, but by the time they passed the second truck, Tonks appeared to be in a rubber coat, baggy trousers and bulky boots. Harry made similar but not nearly as convincing or easy changes to his clothes.

The fire personnel were sitting on the curb, comically interspersed with civilians, including a woman in a nightgown and nightcap, her little white dog asleep in her arms. Reversal had just finished going down the line, issuing Memory Charms to the lot of them.

Harry had at least ten questions begging to get answered. He kept silent and waited for instructions while Shacklebolt, Mr. Weasley, and other Ministry personnel talked. Shacklebolt said to Tonks, "Keep an eye on him," in reference to Harry. "Lot of confusion, anything could happen."

Tonks turned. "Come on, Harry."

Harry still felt a new seriousness to his duty, an impersonal seriousness that made it easy to say: "Should I go wait elsewhere? I don't want to be in the way."

She peered at him in the flashing, reflecting light, almost like that on a dance floor. "No, just stay close to me. Kingsley's just reminding me that guarding you is my priority right now."

They circled the building around to the far side and Tonks began laying down Muggle repelling barriers. Harry did not ask if he could help; if she wanted help, she would ask. He did keep an eye out through the dark trees and the dancing shadows beyond them on the surrounding buildings. Around the front, Reversal was canceling the spells that were causing the place to burn, brick and all. Clearly it was a magical fire, rather than the normal kind.

Beside him, Tonks said, "Get ready, as soon as the fire is just heat-based, they'll release the Befuddlement on the Muggle fire brigade and we'll have to get out of the way."

Harry again forced the questions down. He kept his wand up, eyes never resting anywhere for long. At Tonks' signal, they returned to the Ministry, their Apparition noise lost in the crack and pop of the fire.

Harry stood against the wall in the Auror's office. Reports were assembled, casual debriefings ensued. He took a seat at Rogan's empty desk and picked through the stack of Daily Prophets stashed on the overhead shelf. There wasn't much of interest to read about and after flipping through three issues, one after the other, it occurred to Harry that the sports pages had by far the best photographs. Harry watched Krum sailing around at an International Invitational match and read that article with more interest than the one about training gnomes to care for begonias that occupied the page before it. The next section on the stack had been folded in strange ways. Harry turned it over and found Fudge giving a press conference. Fudge's statements read like a bizarre litany of reverse Memory charms. Fudge claimed that the current Ministry was "acting too slowly to combat new trouble" and "falling back on old thinking despite it not working" and "not calling for help from our international partners in a time of need." Harry scoured the rest of that issue, but it was not made clear what exactly the "trouble" was purported to be. Harry had an idea what it could be, but oddly it was never really stated literally for the record.

At the end of the article, the author stated that when asked for comment on Fudge's comments, the Minister for Magic had nothing of substance to say on the topic. Other witches and wizards were interviewed and all agreed that something should be done, about whatever it was. Harry rapidly shook his head to clear it. The byline on the article was Mediastinus Delatio, whom Harry had not met, that he could remember.

Harry folded the paper back the way it had been and put it back with its fellows. He had field shadowing again the next day and considered that he better get used to this routine since, after his training was completed, every day of every week would be like this.

- 888 -


Friday after his field shadowing, Harry wanted to go out, but Tonks did not think it a good idea. She was tired from the double shift and lay down at Harry's insistence for an afternoon nap. Harry sat with Kali in his hands, trying to get a better sense for what his pet felt. He pulled one of her leathery wings out straight and let it go again, repeating this until he could catch the feel of that through his link with her. Her wings were marred by long, vivid scars from battling the demons at Malfoy Manor, but the old wounds did not bother her; he knew this because when he traced the bubbly lines he felt no distress from her.

"Shall we give it a try?" Harry asked her in a whisper, holding her up to stare closely at into her beady eyes. He carried her to the open window and commanded: "No pigeons."

With her wings pumping rapidly in the evening light, his pet resembled a violet puffball sailing over the garden wall. Sitting on his trunk, Harry closed his eyes and tried to see out of his pet's instead. She dived and swooped disconcertingly, lights and the twilight sky streaking diagonally one way and then the other. Harry had to grab hold of the solid window sill to keep his mind and dinner from rebelling. The distress grew and Harry lost contact with his pet. He used an Occlumency technique to clear his own emotions and imagined flying. This was relaxing but it did not bring his pet's direct experience back. Harry huffed and cupped his hands to the glass of the window to try to spot her, but she had flown out of sight.

The Chimrian would not fly far, Harry knew. She would hunt moths and night birds and return when she was satiated. On a whim Harry imagined being hungry and Kali came into his head and went away again like a passing cloud. Closing his eyes, he repeated this and found her more clearly this time and tried hard to hold onto her. When his vision of the streetlamps and passing car lights stabilized, he tried to steer her. She resisted, tugged side to side by scents drifting on the wind. Harry heard something unexpected: a woman's emotionally distressed voice raised high. He opened his eyes. Tonks lay soundly asleep on the bed and nothing stirred in the room. Harry held his breath and listened, but the occasional car out on the road was all he heard.

Realizing that Kali must have been the one who heard the voice, Harry closed his eyes again and searched for her. This took a few minutes, since she had been successful at hunting moths around a street light and was no longer as famished. Her vision swam in and out of Harry's mind's eye. When he heard the voice again, his instinct was strong enough to make Kali turn her head to tune into it better with her keen ears. She swerved in the direction of it on her own, picking up on Harry's curiosity.

Through her distorted, careening, fish-eye view Harry discerned the Peterson house with its tall glowing peaked windows. Harry thought he recognized the voices alternately yelling and he snapped back to his bedroom.

"Tonks!" Harry said, shaking her leg to wake her.

She sat halfway up with a jerk and grabbed up her wand while rubbing her eyes. "Yeah? What is it?"

"I think something is happening at the Peterson house. A fight or something with Mr. Peterson. We need to go over there." Harry was on his feet, straightening his robes and finding his shoes.

Tonks fell back onto the bed. "If it's a domestic, call the Muggle police."

Harry stared at her reposed form. "I don't want to leave this to the Muggles; Elizabeth and her mum are witches."

Tonks, groggy with fatigue, said, "You said the dad forbid magic over there, that makes it a Class Six household."

"Well . . ." Harry said, trying to find an argument because he had not expected this reaction.

"Call the Muggles in, Harry," she said, shifting her feet, making her boney knees more apparent.

"No," Harry said, now annoyed. "Elizabeth is my friend." Harry had found his shoes and he tugged them on hurriedly.

Tonks sat up. "You have to wait for me," she scolded.

"Hurry up, then," Harry scolded back.

Tonks, well practiced at jumping into duty, was up quickly. Harry Disapparated for the front steps of the Peterson house and listened, wishing for Kali's sensitive hearing, but his pet was off hunting again. He knocked on the door just as Tonks arrived behind him, wand out.

"You can hear the fight?" Tonks asked.

Harry shook his head. Tonks stashed her wand away. "Better pretend its a social call, then," she advised.

Harry put his wand away as the lights showing through the windows framing the door shifted to indicate closer ones had been switched on. The door clicked and Mrs. Peterson, more mousey than Harry imagined she could behave, cracked open the door and peered out at them.

"Hi," Harry said and, unable to concoct a neighborly reason for standing there, asked, "Everything all right?"

Somewhere inside the house a door slammed. Mrs. Peterson flinched backward. Mr. Peterson's voice filtered down the broad, white-carpeted stairs: "I know you've got one of those sinister things!" Pounding sounded and Mrs. Peterson partly closed the door, except her face was still blocking her from completely sealing it. The voice said, "And I told you I'd take it away if I caught you with another one!"

Harry reached out to push the door open farther, despite Rodger's voice in his memory telling him that barring clear danger to someone's life or limb, he should wait for an invitation. "Can we come in?" Harry asked. More banging sounded.

The door closed a little more. Harry, with a full Auror standing behind him, knew he was going to violate his training in Ministry rules and go in anyhow. He felt both light and heavy at the same time. Light with the knowledge of his imminent transgression against carefully drilled procedure and heavy with the notion that ongoing training would limit him from future transgression when he wished it would not.

He stopped the door with his foot. Mrs. Peterson hesitated. Tonks remained silent behind him.

"Open this door, young lady!" Filtered down with more pounding. "Ouch! What did you do to this door, you little witch! This is my house and I'll have none of that!"

Harry wished Elizabeth knew how to Apparate. A standstill fell briefly upon the house. Harry hoped that Mr. Peterson had given up, and perhaps he had, but just as Harry opened his mouth to ask again to be allowed inside, the sound came down of a door opening and banging against plaster.

"This what you want?" Elizabeth's nearly hysterical voice bounced down the stairwell.

"Don't you point that thing at me, young lady!"

Harry Disapparated for the upstairs corridor. Mr. Peterson had a tight hold on the wrist of his daughter's wand hand and was forcing her aim away, making the cords in Elizabeth's wrist stand out.

"Let me go!" Elizabeth shouted, voice strained. She pounded her father's arm with her free hand. A blast of hot sparks erupted from the wand and Mr. Peterson shoved Elizabeth away from him, hard enough to knock her down and make her cry out in surprise.

Harry jumped in between them as Tonks and Mrs. Peterson arrived. Harry left his wand in his pocket since he was dealing with a Muggle, but itched to have it in his hand.

"What are you doing in my house!" Mr. Peterson snarled, spittle flying from his angry mouth. He grabbed Harry by the front of his robes and jerked him forward, using his height and surprise to pull Harry onto his toes. Harry used a move he had learned from Vineet, and he swept his arm in an upward arc to break the man's grasp.

"Stop it," Harry ordered, catching his feet and settling into a low stance. Behind him he could hear Elizabeth rising with a single sob and her mother moved to help her. Harry did not trust the man in front of him enough to glance around. "What is your problem?" Harry asked him, furious.

"Get out of my house," Mr. Peterson ordered, low and nasty, head cocked forward, comb over flipped outward. "You have no right to be here."

"We'll leave as soon as we're certain everything will remain calm," Tonks informed the man with annoying calm.

"What are you supposed to be?" Mr. Peterson said to the pink-Mohawked Tonks. "You a double freak?"

"Leave her out of this," Harry said, stepping between the two of them now.

"This is all your doing." Mr. Peterson said, grabbing Harry again. Before Harry could react Mr. Peterson pushed him into the wall. Harry had been tossed against walls by spells all week, but this physical move triggered something new. He straightened himself slowly, keeping his back pressed flat. Across from him, Elizabeth nursed a bruise darkening her cheek. Her tragically unhappy, red-rimmed eyes peered at her father.

The white corridor darkened despite the copious, powerful electric lighting. Mrs. Peterson glanced up at the ceiling lamps in consternation. Harry remained pressed to the wall, breathing fast. He could feel things clambering at the interstice. It made his skin itch as they clawed at the barrier just beyond the walls, eager, hungry. They could smell Harry's fury and anger and they believed it meant a feeding was imminent. Harry imagined Mr. Peterson's horror should he unleash them and with effort, squashed the imagining. Blinking, Harry watched Tonks move in, hand held up to calm Mr. Peterson, other hand on her wand pocket.

Harry pushed himself away from the wall to stand straight, trying to bottle up all the anger. Too much had escaped already and Mr. Peterson, arguing insultingly with Tonks, deserved something. The creatures prowled and circled, impatient with a frantic hunger that made Harry breathe faster in fear.

Elizabeth disappeared into her room and reappeared with a trunk which, after a hissing argument with her mother, she hovered while biting her lip defiantly and rubbing her wrist. Harry went over to her, needing something concrete to distract himself.

"Can I take you to your friend's place?" Harry asked.

"You've never been there," Elizabeth said.

Impatient and a little rough, he grabbed her chin and pulled her gaze to his. "Just think of it."

Startled, she complied. To Tonks, Harry said, "I'll be right back."

Moments later, they stood in the entry hall of a quiet flat. They both breathed heavily in the stale air.

"She must be out," Elizabeth said shakily.

Jarred out of thoughts of hungry demons by her voice and the change of venue, Harry took over her trunk and set it inside. "Sit down, I'll wait with you," he said, despite what he had just said to Tonks.

She put her hands on his robe front. "You have to go right back," she insisted with surprising presence. Having her close was doing strange things to him, sending a flutter over his abdomen. She added firmly, "I don't want to get you into trouble. Go on." She let go and crouched beside her trunk and started plucking things out of it and setting them on the floor in neat piles. "Thanks," she said without looking back at him.

"You're going to be all right here?"

"Yeah, Diane will be fine with it. She kept insisting . . ." She trailed off and shook her head.

"I'll come back when I can; make sure everything is set," Harry said, thinking she was right, that he was going to be in trouble for leaving. "Owl . . . well, it's a little far . . . and you don't have an owl, anymore. Er, I'll come back first chance I get. I might have to bring my guard."

She looked up with a faint smile. "Thanks, Harry," she said wistfully.

Back in Shrewsthorpe, Harry arrived back in the upstairs hallway and found it empty. He found Tonks interviewing the Petersons downstairs by the front door. Mr. Peterson sent visual daggers Harry's way as he took up a spot beside the Auror. Tonks half-turned to Harry and he could hear her sigh between questions.

"That's all for now," Tonks said tiredly, flipping her notebook closed. "You'll be hearing from us with some follow-up paperwork, I'm sure."

On the way down the pavement, Tonks said, "They cooperated all right. They were grateful we hadn't called in the Muggle police." When Harry remained silent, striding rapidly beside her, Tonks added, "Not an Auror-level call. Usually Reversal handles these and refers it to the Wizard Family Council for followup."

Harry still kept silent. He was uncertain how angry he might get if he started talking. The creatures had retreated, but in addition to not wanting a fight with Tonks, he did not want to feel them prowling around again.

Tonks gave up on conversation and they were both silently grateful when she changed shifts with Hornisham. Harry thought they could work it out later, especially if they had not actually let a real argument get started.

After Tonks had gone, Harry quickly wrote out a note for Candide and told Hornisham that he needed to run an errand. Hornisham repacked the knitting she had pulled out and stood by the hearth to join him.

On the hill above Hogsmeade, in the waning evening light, Harry argued with his guard. "I really need to go speak to someone, alone."

Hornisham glared back, stubborn in the face of Harry's misplaced anger. "I don't care what you want. I'm on duty to see you come to no harm and that's what I aim to do."

"Look," Harry said. He stepped back and transformed into his animagus form, flapped twice and transformed back. "I'll fly up to the school like that. Will that be okay?"

She stared at him like a Third-Year on her first trip to Honeydukes. "A Mountain Gryffylis. Can I see that again?" she asked in dazed wonderment.

Harry dropped his anger and obliged. He tilted his cat-like head at her and shook himself before changing back.

"Yer one dangerous creature, aren't you?" she asked. "Well, I doubt anyone would bother you if'n yer like that. I'll wait over in the Hog's Head for you."

Once Harry took flight from Hogsmeade, he could not resist circling the lake and a taking a short, weaving flight over the Forbidden Forest. His Animagus form did not care that it was delaying, it just liked to feel the autumn breeze buffeting its fur.

The Defense office window was dark as was Hermione's window, so Harry flapped hard to reach the roof and landed on the slate, taking care not to knock any tiles loose with his claws. A steady breeze poured through the gap in the hills behind him. He pulled his wings tight to avoid catching it, but found he needed them for balance, and so he spread them again, but kept them angled and loose to not catch air and send him flying again.

With his animal eyes he watched the people walking on the street in Hogsmeade, alternating between orange and shadow as they moved from storefront to storefront. A mist moved in over the lake, radiant in the twilight.

Harry decided he should not wait any longer. He launched himself on newly fresh wings and dropped down to Lupin's lit window and transformed into himself with his toes just clinging to the outside sill.

Lupin answered his knock immediately. "Well, Harry," he said, putting his wand away. "Didn't expect to find you there. Wasn't certain whom to expect, really. Come on in."

A young student in Slytherin colors sat at the visitor's desk, eyes wide, mouth open. Harry said hello to the girl, but she did not respond.

"Do you know where Severus is?" Harry asked Lupin.

"He's in a meeting with Minerva. Rough board meeting yesterday, I hear. They're plotting something."

"The board, or Severus and Minerva?" Harry asked, honestly uncertain.

Lupin laughed. "Both, I expect. They've been at it almost two hours. I expect you could go on up. But, aren't you supposed to have a guard?"

"She's waiting in Hogsmeade for me. She agreed that in my Animagus form, in transit to the castle, I wasn't in any danger." Harry started to step away, but stopped to ask. "How are things with you?"

Lupin smiled, doubling the crinkling around his eyes. "Quite good, surprisingly."

Harry put his own concerns aside and enjoyed that answer. He almost asked how his cousin was, but held off in the presence of the student. "I'll stop by on my way out," Harry promised.

With a slightly lighter heart, Harry made his way to the Headmistress' Tower. Guessing the password required three minutes of racking his brains for types of tea and coffee. "Macchiato" finally worked and the gargoyles leapt aside. Harry stared at the turning staircase, lost in overlapping memory for several breaths. As bad as suspicion of him sometimes became, as bloodyminded and annoying as the Ministry could be, this place, with everything in order as it should be, acted like a balm on his nerves. Harry stepped onto the stairs and rode it to the top, looking forward to seeing McGonagall, even as reluctant as he was to explain to his guardian what had transpired that evening.

"Harry, what a pleasant surprise," McGonagall greeted him when the door swung open. Snape's eyes came up from the scroll before him, keen, as expected.

"Sorry to interrupt. I just wanted to talk to Severus for a few minutes."

"Of course, my boy, this meeting has gone on far too long already."

"Is there a problem with the board?" Harry asked Snape as his guardian rolled the scroll before him and tossed the tassels around it.

McGonagall answered. "Some pressure to make changes that we are not certain are in the best interests of the school. This sort of tug of war goes on all the time, but I feel this time, we are the rope rather than the mud puddle as we usually are." To Snape, she said, "You can go on. I'll finish composing this letter to Cornelius and run it by you in the morning before sending it off."

On the way to Snape's office, Harry asked, "What's Fudge want?"

"Power, so he does not feel as insignificant as he actually is," Snape replied.

"More specifically, I meant," Harry said. "He's been talking to the press like he's in charge of everything. I don't get it."

Snape waited until the clusters of students had finished greeting Harry and moved on. "What exactly is it that is unclear?"

"He's just head of the Department of Mysteries. I guess I don't understand why Minister Bones doesn't slap him down."

Snape unsealed his office door. "I expect because she is busy with real work. But I agree, she has probably missed her chance to do so without creating a stir while doing it."

"Did I say that?" Harry asked, confused.

"You implied it. I assumed intentionally," Snape said with a slight sneer as he waved the lamps up. "Sit down. I assume Fudge is not what is on your mind." He himself leaned back against his desk where he could tower over the visitor's chair.

Harry took a seat and rested his eyes on a crowded shelf behind the desk. "You wanted me to tell you what was going on with me."

"Yes, I did. What is going on?" When Harry hesitated, Snape asked, "Is this a complimentary status report or did something happen this evening?"

"Something happened."

Into the empty air that ensued while Harry formulated, Snape prompted, "But you are reluctant to say exactly what?"

"Yeah," Harry agreed.

Snape rubbed his hands together before propping them back on the desk edge behind him. "Does anything require fixing at this time?"

"What? No. Everything's all right right now." True, Harry reminded himself, things could be much worse.

"What happened?" Snape asked.

Harry tossed his head to the side, uneasily dipping into memory. "Elizabeth got into a row with her father . . . over magic, of course. I don't know how bad it would have got if we hadn't intervened, Tonks and I, that is. Mr. Peterson was as angry as I've ever seen my uncle Vernon. He wasn't rational. And . . . Tonks wasn't happy. Thought we should leave it to the Muggle police. I think she's jealous, partly." Harry sighed and rubbed his neck, more pained about everything. "Anyhow, the bad part was when I was trying to separate Mr. Peterson and Elizabeth. I mean, they were fighting. And I got angry. I mean, how could someone do that to their daughter. Well, not like Elizabeth wasn't part of it, but still."

Harry faded out, remembering the scene, Elizabeth's mussed hair and red, distressed face. The way she nursed her wrist.

"And?" Snape prompted.

"You know, I told you how I fed Voldemort, the other Voldemort, to the Raksashas." No response came to this. "Well, they seem to, er, expect that now. If I'm really angry at someone, that is."

Snape stood in stillness, arms crossed but relaxed. "Did you let them into this world?"

"No," Harry said. "No, nothing happened. I just didn't like the . . . feel of it. I had more control over them before, I thought. This time I was angry enough that I could feel the Dark Plane. It was too close, and the creatures . . . they expected to be fed. It felt awful, their hunger did." Harry rubbed his nose. "I don't know how to explain it. It's not like I had to do anything for them, but they were right there, not visible but really close by and they just expected."

Harry sighed again and slowed his breathing. "Maybe I'm over-reacting."

"No." Snape stepped casually around Harry to stand by the window. The one Harry had once repaired with glass beyond which demons swam. "You are not over-reacting." He sounded far away as he spoke and perhaps a little tired, which gave Harry a twinge because he had rendered Tonks into the same state. "I can only implore you to leave the Dark Plane alone, but I know you will not do so. The temptation of it is too strong, if only for the power it gives you to move at will, barrier or not, in utter silence."

He spun on his heel and faced Harry down. "Did you get the sense that the creatures were angry with you as a result of your resisting them?"

"No," Harry replied. "They don't get anything if I don't give it to them."

Sharply, critically, Snape said, "You treat them too lightly."

"I have to," Harry argued, to growing annoyance on Snape's side. "You don't seem able to understand that." Harry pointed at his own chest. "Either I have confidence that I control them or I lose myself to them, completely. That's how this works."

Silence fell. Harry broke it by more quietly pointing out, "I've tried to explain this before."

"You have. I remember. I just cannot accept that there is no middle ground where you can respect that these creatures are not tools to be toyed with by you, without consequence."

"I didn't have any choice but to use them against Voldemort," Harry said.

"You had a choice about whether to fight Voldemort," Snape pointed out.

"Did I?" Harry asked. "It didn't feel like it."



Next: Chapter 14

At the sound of claws on the window, Snape raised his head and waved the lamps in the room up. The noise turned out to be his owl, Franklin. Snape removed the small, unaddressed missive from the owl's leg. It contained just three short lines.

Harry is having nightmares.

He will not discuss them with me.

He knows I am sending you this owl.



Author's Notes
Yes, very long gap. Life has been too much lately. It isn't getting much saner soon either, but trust that the next chapter will appear eventually.

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