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"But why my room?" Ron wailed into the fireplace.

"Don't you start it, Ronald Bilius," came the voice of his mother. "It's bad enough having a few dozen houseguests all of a sudden, without having someone who isn't even here complaining about the sleeping arrangements. Draco needs peace and quiet so he can recover from his burns, and your room is the most remote. He's still wrapped in bandages, for Merlin's sake; it's not like he's going to be pulling your old toys off the shelf and breaking them!"

"But Mum! He's Malfoy! Malfoy the ferret boy! I don't want him sleeping in my bed!"

Mrs. Weasley's head poked further into the Floo. "Not another word! If you'd care to come home and add on an extra room for him, you're certainly free to do so! Otherwise, Ron, I suggest you get used to it!" With a shower of sparks, she disappeared, and Ron sat back in his chair before the common room hearth.

"How do you like that?" he groused. "Betrayed by my own mum. She could've put him in Percy's old room, it's quiet enough."

"Brilliant, Ron," said Hermione. "Put a burn victim in a room used for storage by Fred and George. I can just see it now: Malfoy fumbling blindly for a glass of water, putting his hand into a box of trick wands or punching telescopes. Next thing you know, he needs another week to recover from his new injuries. Besides, Percy's room is big enough for four people, and the Order needs the space."

"Maybe you should volunteer your bedroom for Ferret Boy." Ron growled.

Hermione looked as though she wished she, too, could simply disappear in a burst of flames, but she settled for rolling her eyes and giving Ron the cold shoulder. Offended, Ron turned to Harry-and-Viktor for support.

"Don't look at me," said Harry. "My old bedroom was demolished, remember?" He grinned weakly. "Come on, Ron, it's not so bad. He can't even see anything for the bandages; what's the harm?"

"I just don't like him laying there gloating that my mattress is lumpier, or my pillow is flatter, than the ones at the Manor."

"He's been sleeping on the ground since June," said Harry a little crossly. "He probably thinks it's the best bed he's ever slept in."

Ron glowered, but finally relented. "One smart remark about the Cannons and he's a dead man."

Malfoy had been injured worse than Harry had first realized. Although his clothing had kept the phoenix fire from destroying most of his skin, the heat had penetrated nonetheless and left him covered with lesser burns and blisters. Being magical in origin, these resisted treatment; he had to endure them until they healed. Draco didn't complain, however, once he learned that Fawkes's flames had obliterated the Dark Mark from his throat.

Lupin, too, remained in the Hospital Wing for several days. The cobra venom had damaged his eyes and Madam Pomfrey had to apply compresses around the clock until they could heal completely. Sirius, on the other hand, refused to stay in bed once Harry had awoken, and kept morphing back and forth between his human and canine forms just because he could. Madam Pomfrey, who still hadn't quite absorbed the shock of finding Sirius Black alive, in her infirmary, and welcomed by the Order, scolded him relentlessly whenever she caught him being Snuffles.

"Stop running around before you knock things over!" "You're shedding all over my nice, clean beds!" "If you jump up there again, you're going outside!" Sirius would wait until she was barely out of sight before transforming again and chasing his tail in pure joy. It made Lupin laugh to see his friend so happy, and that alone was enough reason for Sirius to keep at it.

Harry found that Tura's advice had been spot on: after a few experimental attempts, he was able to use Occlumency to mask his own grief and catapult himself into an eerily numb, depersonalized state that was nonetheless quite able to eat, study, and otherwise function. He returned to classes and began catching up on the mountain of homework that accumulated in his absence, though he spent his study time not in the common room, but at a makeshift desk in the hospital wing.

He told the others that he wanted to keep Remus and Sirius company, but it was no secret that he was there mainly to look after Ondossi. She woke up later on the same day as he, but was weak and groggy from both her injuries and the magical remedies to treat them. Hagrid had stitched up the long wound in the snake with unicorn hair, which had allowed her to morph safely back into human form. Nonetheless, it barely held together and she required all manner of potions to close the wound, grow and strengthen the skin and fascia, and fight the inevitable infections that had set in. Harry sat with his books and parchment beside Remus's bed, absently scratching Snuffles behind the ears and eyeing Tura whenever she moved or made a sound.

When Lupin finally recovered to Madam Pomfrey's satisfaction, Harry and Sirius helped him Floo back to the kitchen of Grimmauld Place. The drawing-room chimney was still under construction. There hadn't been any masons in the Order, so some had to be recruited. It took a few days before they found a family of "blood traitor" wizards in India who did all sorts of construction work.

Harry and Sirius took a quick tour of the damages in Headquarters after tucking Lupin into a chair with a warm blanket and a stack of parchments almost as tall as Harry's pile of backlogged homework. Remus recalled little of that night, but Sirius had no such difficulty and regaled Harry with tales of the destruction. "Reem bit that in half," he said, pointing to a spot in a third-floor bedroom that once contained a large throw pillow. "He'd chased me around the room a dozen times and I was getting tired of leaping over the bed--tallest one in the house, you know--so I tossed it at him. He caught it and gave it a good throttling. Feathers flying everywhere! Then they stuck to his fur, it being all wet from the cobra venom. That really set him off. The venom stung his tongue so he couldn't lick them away, and he ended up rolling for twenty minutes on the rug before they were all off. Gave me a bit of a rest, though; that was when I slunk off and found Ondossi and put her on top of the portrait."

"Why didn't you just get out?" said Harry.

"You don't think I tried?" he answered with a hint of reproach. "It was hard enough getting her down the steps with no hands; her lungs and things kept poking out if I jostled her too much. I'd just made it to the entry hall when Reem stopped thrashing about upstairs. I reckoned he'd be bounding down any second. I couldn't risk it; to do any magic, I'd need to morph back into a man, and if Moony caught up to us..."

Wincing, Harry squeezed his eyes shut. "Understood."

Sirius slowed his pace and began steering Harry toward a door to the courtyard. "Talking of Miss Ondossi..." He let his words hang there in the atmosphere as he opened the door and motioned for Harry to join him outside.

It was cold but sunny, and each of them pulled their arms in tight against their bodies and stepped out from under the eaves. Harry sighed, a long, drawn out exhalation. Sirius had obviously figured out the main problem already, and Harry had no desire to share the ugly details.

Sirius closed his eyes and faced the sun, smiling at the bit of warmth. "In Azkaban, I think I missed the sun most of all," he said simply. "Well, except for you and Remus," he amended, turning back to Harry. He smiled kindly but said no more, letting the silence pry at Harry and work its awkward effects.

"I still don't want to talk about it," Harry said, but it sounded hollow even to his own ears. Sirius only nodded and continued to gaze at the thin layer of snow in the courtyard. Harry studied a drop of water poised on the tip of a branch, glistening in the winter sun and gradually widening until it fell into a tiny crater in the snow beneath. "It... didn't work out," he finally confessed.

Sirius looked completely unsurprised and replied without turning his head. "I asked her why you were so depressed, you know. The morning after Draco was captured, in the drawing room. She wouldn't tell me anything. But I could see it in her eyes, blank as they may be. She's as unhappy as you are. Which makes me wonder if perhaps it was supposed to work out after all..." His voice trailed off, leaving Harry the uncomfortable opportunity of silence once again.

Harry had been able to use Occlumency to get through his schoolwork, but discussing her with his godfather brought all the grief back out in full. "Siri..." His voice cracked.

Sirius immediately turned to Harry and pulled him in tight, letting the wave of anguish roll through him and past him. Once again Harry cried, gripping his godfather like the mast of a tall ship in a storm as sobs wracked his body. Sirius did nothing, said nothing, just held onto Harry until the pain was spent and he caught his breath once again. He loosened his grip when Harry finally raised his head, but remained silent, waiting.

"I did it, Sirius," Harry began. "It's my fault. We spent the whole day together, it was wonderful; she trusted me. But she said we couldn't go on because she had a secret that she didn't dare tell me. It wouldn't be fair, since she couldn't be honest. I made her tell it, and it was a shock, but it wasn't anything so terrible once I had a chance to think it through. But in the heat of the moment... Oh, Siri!" He had to stop; the shame was nearly overwhelming.

Sirius rested his cheek against the top of Harry's head. "Lost your temper, then? Said something you really regret?"

Every muscle in Harry's face and neck pulled taut. "Worse," he forced through gritted teeth. He knew he had to continue or he'd never have enough nerve again to confess it. "I struck her down," he blurted, bracing himself for Merlin-only-knew what reaction.

It was nothing short of astounding that Sirius seemed to take this completely in stride. He simply nodded again, slowly and thoughtfully, then began to talk in a calm, kindly voice. "Ah, I see. Not exactly a point of pride; I understand. But it happens, Harry, it happens; I've done it a few times myself."

Harry stiffened, not with disdain or judgment, but pure shock. "You have?" he squeaked.

Sirius leaned back to look him in the face. "It's true, Harry; it's just part of being a wizard. Sometimes your magic escapes you. It's embarassing, but it's nothing to be ashamed of. Happens to all of us! Don't tell me she's holding it against you--"

"NO, Sirius, that's not it at all!" Harry cut in. "I struck her. With... with my fist. I hit her. I knocked her cold, and just left her there in the snow..."

Now it was Sirius's turn to stiffen, but though Harry braced miserably for rejection, his godfather didn't withdraw, not even in the slightest. Sirius had to clear his throat several times, however, before he could speak.

"Well. That is... unlike you," he finally stammered. "Is that why Moody had to substitute--"

"Yeah." He didn't want Sirius to go through the details aloud.

"Right-o, then," said Sirius gamely. "Back to her secret... even though you know it, do you still care--"

"Yeah."

"But she's afraid of you, because--"

"Yeah."

It was amazing how much could be conveyed, both ways, with so few words. Sirius understood all the nuances, right down to the shame of discussing it. He patted Harry's back with the fingertips of one hand, the base of his palm continuing to hold him close. "All right, lad. All right," he said to the beat of his comforting pats. "All right, lad."

Whether it was the relief of confessing or Sirius's unconditional support, Harry didn't know, but courage began bolstering within him for the first time in weeks. "How can I set things right?" he finally whispered.

The patting halted briefly, then continued. "Don't know, Harry. You're in a tight spot, I'm afraid." Sirius sighed. "Accidental magic is one thing, but when it comes to ladies, hitting crosses a line. I'll tell you what, though, Harry, if she'd just taken that and come back for more, I'd be hounding you to move on. The fact she's got self-respect enough to put her foot down is good... at least for her sake. But as for you...

"I've landed in the doghouse with a few witches in my time," Sirius continued. "Never for getting rough, but, heh-heh, there are definitely other ways to provoke a nice girl. Dating her and her best friend at the same time, for example; a good way to gain two enemies at once, that one. Never underestimate how much girls talk amongst themselves, Harry, even the quiet ones--and they listen like hawks!"

Sirius came to an abrupt halt, clenching the muscles of his belly. He chuckled nervously and straightened up. "Enough of that, I think; another time, over a bottle of Old Ogden's, perhaps. What can you do? There's really nothing for it but to apologize profusely and then let your actions convince her of your true intent."

"Do you think she'll forgive me?" Harry asked plaintively.

The cords in his godfather's throat became taut as he made a wry face. "Merlin only knows, lad. She might never trust you again, though I suppose of all people, she's the best to judge your sincerity. Give her time, Harry. She must know you regret what you've done--anyone can see it. You have to remind her now that you're a good man."

Harry's stomach turned over. I'm not a good man, he thought, but kept it to himself.

Sirius shipped him to McGonagall's office through the Floo, where he met up with Krum and headed back to the hospital wing. He parked behind his makeshift desk and wrote his way through half of a 15-inch essay on Long-Term Charms when he felt the peculiar uneasiness of being watched. Viktor was tallying Quidditch statistics under a lamp near the main door, so he turned to Ondossi. She was awake and gazing at him. "Hello, falling star," she said quietly.

His heart leapt into his throat, but he made no sudden moves. He set aside his ink and quill, then the board he'd set across the arms of his chair. He wiped his palms on his robe in a nervous gesture. "Tura."

"Remus?" she asked, frowning.

"He's fine. They all are--Sirius and Malfoy too."

She nodded with relief, which suddenly turned to shock. "I bit you! The venom... how?"

"Shh," he said, waving his hand to indicate this was of no consequence. "We still haven't figured that out. It seems that Fawkes, um, sent for someone, somehow, we don't know who he was, but he had some brilliant magic. His name was Peredhil."

"I don't know him. But somehow the name seems familiar."

Harry smiled. "I thought so too." He paused a moment. "You came for me."

Tura looked away with a cynical frown. "Someone had to."

"You did."

She pursed her lips, but there was no anger, just consternation. As much as he wanted to know her thoughts, Harry sat quietly and watched the expressions play over her face. She glanced at him a few times, seemingly trying to speak but unable to find the right words. Harry did nothing, said nothing; he would wait forever if need be.

A tentative hand stretched out from under her blanket. Biting his lip to hold back yet more tears, he held up his palm in offering and brought it just to the tips of her fingers. The contact lasted only seconds, but it was enough, a delicate reminder of graveyards and Forbidden Forests and tea shops. Harry could feel it in his bones: there was still a wide gulf between them, but the first step was taken.




Ondossi still remained in the Hospital Wing, and Lupin himself came to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts. Moody had been sent to negotiate with a group of vampires on the continent. "Fundamentally Slytherin types, vampires," commented Lupin after their first class, as he, Harry-and-Viktor, Ron, and Hermione sauntered down to lunch. "They've been watching both sides closely for some time, deciding who's most likely to win, for one thing, and also which one will give them a better deal. Refused to rush in and declare allegiance, unlike the werewolves." A note of defeat clouded his last word. "It seems they approved of the outcome with the giants, and it won them over. They insisted on meeting with Arthur Weasley and Alastor; they want to parlez with the Ministry more so than the Order. Apparently one of their "terms of allegiance" is to be taken off the list of 'magical creatures' and be recognized as sentient beings in their own right."

"Imagine that," said Hermione sarcastically. "Why, next thing you know, house-elves will want the same privilege."

The boys painfully stifled the urge to roll their eyes, but Lupin turned to address her with a bright smile. "I think all these centuries of brainwashing will take a bit longer to wear off, but when they're ready, Hermione, I think you'll be on that committee."

"Oh!" she said, halting briefly in the corridor as she stared, wide-eyed, after Lupin. When she recovered and dashed to catch up to the group, she beamed as though she'd just won 500 points for Gryffindor.

Lupin came into the Hospital Wing that evening with a hangdog expression, apparently wanting to apologize properly to Ondossi. She cut him off before he said a word, however. "Don't be silly. A wolf's gotta do what a wolf's gotta do. However," she chastened, "I'd like to know why you're not taking Wolfsbane." She waggled a reprimanding finger.

Lupin hung his head meekly. "Simply put, there's no one left in the UK that can make it. Greyback either murdered or frightened away the few Potions Masters that were supplying it; Severus Snape was the last one actually brewing the stuff the past two years." His fists clenched, an uncharacteristic gesture. "I gather that, while he was making it for me, he actually had a full-scale production going on the side... Anyway, Professor Slughorn never quite mastered it, and no one on the continent will set foot here, for fear Greyback will target them."

Ondossi stared at him, brow furrowed in disbelief, throughout his explanation. "Well, that's the lamest thing I ever heard," she said. "Buncha cowards! Well, you should have said something, alpha-boy; I can brew Wolfsbane. Heaven knows I just drip with spare time," she added with a surly scowl, but her face quickly softened. "But I don't mind, Remus. You shouldn't have to become something you despise every month." She squeezed his hand.

Lupin was taken aback. "I didn't know you were a Potions Master," he said.

"You never asked. Besides, I'm not; it's just a hobby. An Inupiaq thing," she said, giving Harry a conspiratorial smirk.

Two days later, Ondossi showed up for supper in the Great Hall and announced that Madam Pomfrey had finally released her. Lupin's face lit up with relief when he spotted her, and he leapt to his feet and ushered her into the private room behind the staff table. To Harry's surprise, Lupin stopped in the doorway and beckoned to him to come join them.

"I need to get back to Headquarters now that you're on your feet," Lupin said briskly to Ondossi, as she scratched the ears of the house-elf who brought her a plate of food. "But before I go, I want to know what you learned from Draco Malfoy."

Ondossi winced as she sat down to her dinner, but she hid it immediately and turned to Harry. "You haven't told them yet?" she asked, pressing her hands against her sides as though holding her belly together.

"Told them what?" he sputtered, wondering uneasily if she was truly fit enough to be out of the Hospital Wing. "That Draco and Snape went on the run, taking weird Portkeys and Muggle transportation for two days until Draco had no earthly idea where they were? After which they finally Apparated to the middle of absolutely nowhere and proceeded to hike for a week to Voldemort's hideaway? There's nothing to tell!"

Ondossi shook her head impatiently. "Harry, Harry, Harry. You need to pay more attention!" She turned to Lupin. "I'm with him on the first part; the first few days they went literally all over the world. And there's definitely something strange about the Portkeys they're using; they feel more like being popped like popcorn than squeezed through the old space-time continuum." She glanced at Harry, who raised a thumb in agreement with her description.

"But once they got down to business with the hike... Harry, you're the Auror Wanna-Be, you tell me: Surely you noticed things about their surroundings?"

Harry stared a moment, than spread his hands as though perhaps the gods might smile upon him and drop the answer into them. "It was utterly, utterly barren. I never saw another living person, or a road, or even a piece of litter!"

"Okay, that was good. Except for the 'barren' part. Tundra or desert are barren. The land you saw was forest. Right?"

"Yeah," he said. "But barren as in devoid of people."

"Not the same thing," she countered. "Forests go a long way toward hiding people, houses, roads--both the sights and the sounds. You could walk right through someone's backyard and not even realize it. But the population was sparse--I never heard any airplanes buzzing overhead, or mechanical sounds. So we know he's hiding in the wilderness, not a city. What else?" She stopped talking and took a bite of her dinner.

"The mosquitoes were outrageous," Harry finally managed.

Tura laughed. "Agreed. Think, Harry. What did you notice about the sun?"

Harry frowned. "The sun? What about it? It was there... what more can be said?"

"Just this: Didn't you notice they made camp before sunset every day and got moving after sunrise--yet they hiked a long time?"

Both Harry and Lupin sat bolt upright. "They were in the far north!"

"Bing," she said, tapping her nose. "They can't be much further south than 60 degrees latitude. But they also can't be north of the Arctic Circle, because they're in the taiga. Forest, not tundra. The longitude will be the tricky part, as usual."

Lupin stood up and began to pace before the fireplace. "It's premature to say so, but I don't think he's in North America. No offense, Miss Ondossi, but Voldemort seems to distinctly favor this side of the Atlantic."

"None taken," she said. "Besides, I agree--the trees weren't right. The larches weren't... larchy enough."

"I'll have to mention that in my summary," Lupin drawled, winking at Harry. "Now all we have to do is search the whole of Siberia."

"Don't forget Finland, too," Ondossi said with a wry face. "But first let me call on Mr. Malfoy again. I want to take a good look at the flora and fauna. We might be able to narrow it down if he spotted any indigenous species."

Harry's stomach tightened uncomfortably and he really wanted to protest this plan, but he couldn't come up with a single logical reason. "Maybe take Neville with you when you go," he suggested, hoping he didn't sound as jealous as he felt. "He's just crackers about plants."

She gazed at him with a crinkled brow for a moment, then nodded. "Neville Longbottom," she said thoughtfully. "I might just do that."

Lupin and Ondossi left soon afterward, however, and Harry heard nothing more about the matter until the weekend. A school owl similiar to Ron's Pigwidgeon in both size and temperment brought him a note from Ondossi, inviting him, Ron, and Hermione to meet her on Saturday after the Slytherin / Ravenclaw Quidditch match. They broke off from the crowd heading out of the stadium and trooped through the slushy snow to Hagrid's cabin.

Hagrid welcomed them in and took their cloaks with his usual jovial bustling. Tura, Sirius, and Lupin were already inside, dwarfed by Hagrid's enormous chairs. Armed with a cup of burnt tea the size of a Quaffle, Harry climbed up to sit beside Sirius; the chairs were easily wide enough to share comfortably. He clenched his jaw as Ondossi absentmindedly extended a hand to Viktor Krum and pulled him up, then felt particularly foolish when Viktor promptly boosted Hermione up to settle in between them.

Tura ignored the jostling, her fingers laced anxiously in her lap. "I went a couple rounds with Draco Malfoy," she began bluntly when the room was quiet again. "He saw a lot of things. I think I know where to go."

"Talk to us," said Sirius, leaning forward and gripping the huge armrest.

"The Enisei River cuts north through Siberia and divides it into a European side and an Asian side. Draco spotted whole herds of musk deer--they live on the Asian side, the east side. There were also some Siberian robins; they're blue on top, white on the bottom, very distinctive. They're also East Side dwellers. And the only crows I saw were the regular black kind, not the hooded crows of Europe."

She set her jaw and scooted to the edge of the chair. "I went home this morning and talked to some people about the land Draco saw. At home, there are people who've traveled--gone west across the Bering Strait to trade with the Chuchki and Yupik. The Russians don't like people coming from 'our country' into 'their country,' as if we haven't been doing it for thousands of years. So we can't use sleds on the ice anymore. Now we only go by boat, in the summertime--and if there's an early winter, people can get stuck there until spring.

"I talked to some traders who have spent time over there. The lowlands in the Far East have bogs and marshes. But traders who've gone further inland say the land changes after the Lena River. The land becomes more dry, mostly forest and rivers instead of bogs. That was the kind of land that Draco went through.

"When I looked in their minds, I didn't see any places I recognized from Draco's journey, but it looked right. We'll find the Dark Lord somewhere in Evenk country, in central Siberia."

Lupin gazed at her thoughtfully, but Sirius folded his arms and leaned forward. "You sound rather confident for someone who didn't see a single landmark," he drawled suspiciously.

Ondossi's voice dropped into a growl. "Draco spent over a week walking through those forests. I saw enough."

Harry predicted an approaching battle and rested a hand on his godfather's elbow. "She perceives the, ah, landscape differently than we do, Sirius," he said, unsure of how to explain what he meant. His forays into Tura's thoughts had illuminated a whole new culture, in which the terrain, sun, and stars mattered more than maps and directions, when it came to finding one's way around. He glanced at Tura, who looked both surprised and flattered. See? he projected. I HAVE been paying attention.

"Assuming you're correct, Professor," said Lupin, "we're still talking about hundreds of square miles to search, correct?"

"Thousands," she corrected. "But it's not all that bad. Draco was forced to hike through the wilderness for over a week, because the Dark Lord had wards against Apparation. I'm guessing they hiked at least seventy miles as the broomstick flies. So if we assume that his camp is at the center of those wards--"

Hermione, who had been staring with increasing interest at Ondossi, finished the thought. "We're looking for a circle more than a hundred miles across where no one can Apparate!" Tura nodded, while Viktor gently tried to pry his hand from Hermione's grip, as she was crushing it in her excitement.

Sirius sat back in the chair with a feral grin. "Now that's more like it. A target that size we can manage! Though we'll have to be cautious; he'll probably know if we encounter his wards. We'll have to send out scouts to detect the magic, rather than just Apparate around until we bounce off."

Lupin snorted. "If we bounce, and not simply incinerate."

Hagrid had been taking in the conversation with wide-eyed wonder, and he jumped up from his chair and made the floor tremble. "Well, tha' settles it, then! Les' get started!" He was clearly ready to be in Siberia before sunset.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa there, big fella," Tura said warmly. "Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it, remember? No one's ever won a war by crossing the Russian steppes in wintertime, magic or no!"

Not to mention the Horcruxes, thought Harry. He sighed and sank back in the chair, though the seat was so large, he nearly laid out flat before reaching the backrest. "But we can't just sit around; we have to do something!" he grumbled.

"We will, Harry, we will," said Remus firmly. "We'll set some teams out to search for the warded space, map out the terrain, and so on. Tura's right; if we truly have to march upon Voldemort's fortress, we'll have to wait until spring. But the hunt will start tonight!"

There was a fleeting moment of silence, then Hagrid's hut erupted in cheers.

Seconds later, however, Harry began to fidget and wring his hands. "It's too soon," he finally declared out of the blue, interrupting Lupin as he and Sirius conferred about the scouting teams. Everyone swung their heads to look at him.

"Finding Voldemort," Harry explained. "We're not ready. And not because we don't have all the Horcruxes, either. There's someone in the Ministry who's been helping him from the very beginning. Someone very good at hiding their tracks. Once Voldemort's gone they'll never be caught, you can count on it!"

Hermione frowned. "If they don't simply take his place!" she agreed. "Whoever it is, he's already got one up on Voldemort, knowing that Harry's not an Horcrux."

Ron, who had been staring at the floor for much of the conversation, looked up with a stern expression. "Then maybe it's time to flush him out."

Now all the heads swung toward Ron, bearing dubious looks. "No, I'm serious!" he said. "I'm with Harry; this one in the Ministry's as bad as You-Kn--Voldemort! We can't let him slip away. I reckon he's been sitting and waiting for the final battle. He knows that if Harry wins, Voldemort will really be dead, because Harry's not his Horcrux anymore. That means he can rally all those Death Eaters he freed from Azkaban, plus pull any other strings he's set in the Ministry, Gringotts, wherever. Whoever he is, he's high up enough to create all sorts of chaos once he knows Voldemort's out of the way--giving him a perfect chance to take over.

"And even if Voldemort beats Harry, the traitor can still take advantage," continued Ron. "He knows Voldemort wants to recover that bit of his soul from Harry before killing him. But Voldemort doesn't know, of course, that the soul was destroyed already. What better time for the traitor to strike at Voldemort, when he's all heady with victory but hasn't yet discovered that he's mortal again?"

Hagrid crossed his eyes. "Tha' was clear as mud."

"The point is, the traitor's no dummy," said Sirius. "And he hasn't been helping Voldemort all these years out of a generous nature. He has plans, that one. Ron's right; he never told his master that Harry's Horcrux was destroyed. He's setting Voldemort up to become mortal again without realizing it, so that he can make his move."

At that point, Ondossi threw her hands in the air. "What difference does it make? You think he's the only one after the throne? You can bet there's traitors in high places the whole world over, each one planning and scheming and biding their time. And they'll all just keep on sleazing after the Dark Lord's dead. So what if this one gets away too?"

"Because this one betrayed my parents," snarled Harry, as Sirius, beside him, growled, "This one put me in Azkaban." The two of them looked at one another, then turned to face the group with unshaking solidarity. This one had messed with the wrong wizards.



The next few weeks passed at a crawl. Harry watched every morning for an owl from Headquarters, and waited beside the Gryffindor fireplace long after midnight every night, awaiting news about the search for Voldemort's camp. His nerves were frayed, knowing that at any day his time would come. He would set out with the rest of the Order to march to the final showdown. Once again he found it impossible to focus on his classes, spending most of his time alone in the Room of Requirement reading about defensive spells or practicing them with Viktor.

Harry became more and more proficient at projecting words into others' minds, until it became as effortless as talking. He still required eye contact to read the thoughts of others, which vexed him to no end. As the spring holidays approached, he lingered after Ondossi's class and asked very politely if they might work on Legilimency lessons while school was out.

Tura gnawed on her lower lip before answering. "Of course," she finally said, though she sounded far less certain than the words implied. "That's what I'm here for, after all. Of course."

She was still afraid of him. Taking a half-step backward, Harry lowered his eyes and said quietly, "We could use the classroom on the first floor, right next to the Great Hall." There'll be plenty of people around to protect you.

She studied him a moment, still worrying her lip. "That'll be fine. Right after breakfast Saturday morning?"

"I'll be there, Professor. Thank you." Harry turned on his heel, forcing himself not to sprint out of the room. Sirius's words rang in his head: Let your actions remind her that you're a good man.

That Saturday, he arrived at the Great Hall as soon as it opened for breakfast, and when Ondossi finished her meal, he walked down the center of the room and asked rather loudly if she was ready for lessons. She furrowed her brows in surprise, glancing beyond him at the many curious faces. Understanding dawned in her eyes and she nodded at him slowly. "Let's go, falling star," she said drily, and rose to take his arm, letting him escort her from the Great Hall like a colleague.

With Viktor perched outside the classroom door in his usual fashion, Harry sat crosslegged on the floor across from Tura. They had always sat this way, it being convenient for eye contact and for falling over from numbness. He recalled their previous summer, the two of them spending countless hours together in the empty dungeon. That was before I became a monster, he thought miserably. He wondered how he'd failed to notice during all that time that their knees were almost touching, or that he was close enough to hear her breath.

"What will we work on today, Harry?" she asked.

"I don't know," he said truthfully. "I'm doing well with projecting my thoughts, but nothing new has happened lately."

"We worked on projection at Christmas time," she said, frowning. Harry shrugged and nodded. "And you haven't noticed any new magic since then?"

"None," he replied, somewhat startled to realize that over three months had passed since the last time his magic expanded. Tura looked somewhat alarmed by the news, but to Harry, it seemed quite appropriate. "I've, uh, been rather down lately," he noted.

Tura stared at him. "You have, haven't you?"

"No blame intended," he added hastily.

As she continued to stare, her features softened and her eyes grew misty. "This is silly," she finally said. "You can't be this upset on account of... me. I mean... Geez, Harry, if things hadn't gone sour between us, you'd probably be sick of me by now!"

Harry shook his head slowly. "You've been in my mind, Tura," he finally said. "You know that's not true."

She hunched awkwardly. "Not lately I haven't," she corrected, but her tone was glum and she began to squirm a little.

Using his most delicate trace of Legilimency, Harry looked within her and responded to her hidden thoughts. "Yes you are," he said aloud.

She froze and and eyed him suspiciously. "What did you say?"

He felt a small surge of pride; this was the first time he'd ever touched her mind without her notice. "I said yes, you are worth it."

Her arms fell into her lap, nearly accompanied by her jaw. She cleared her throat. "Well, even with nothing new, you've certainly improved."

She was dodging behind the professor-student screen, and Harry wasn't going to let her. "Why do you do this, Tura?" he asked, carefully keeping his voice calm and gentle. "Why do you insist that I don't really love you?"

That broke the surface. Tura stared at a joint in the flagstone floor for some time. "I never told you why my father murdered my mother," she began. "He wanted a boy. A spare. In case he was ever murdered. He had only the one Horcrux at that point, the diary. He figured that if he had a son, he could take the soul out of the diary and put it in a fresh new body that would be almost as good as his original. Or he could have a nice young, healthy body hidden away on the tundra, for when the one he had got too old.

"I've heard stories from my people, about how he courted my mom like a perfect gentleman. They knew about the wizards and their city, but there hadn't been a known sorcerer among the Inupiat in generations. So they didn't know anything about him being evil--they weren't into wizard politics. And he was handsome and charismatic, with many years of practice at manipulating people."

She sighed, but continued to speak to the floor. "But he fed my mom potions to destroy my soul, Harry. He wanted me to be born as an empty vessel that he could pour his own soul into whenever he wanted. My mom took the first one and knew something was wrong. She got scared. She and the afatkuq worked together with the Earth to make the other potions disappear, but look like she took them. Defying Voldemort right to his face--my mother was a brave woman.

"Well. He came back two years after I was born, expecting to find a little boy, the spitting image of himself but without a mind of its own. Instead there was a feisty little girl. He lashed out at my mom, but I still don't know why he spared me. Maybe it was beneath him to waste a Kedavra on a baby, or he figured I'd never survive alone anway, I don't know."

"Perhaps he thought to make you his queen someday," Harry added hesitantly.

Tura looked up at him, wide-eyed. "Mother of Merlin! You think he..." Her hand flew to her mouth. "Oh, now that's just nasty!" They stared at each other a moment, each one feeling a bit queasy. Tura cleared her throat. "Well, I suppose that's one way to keep it in the family," she muttered weakly.

Harry shook his head with a humorless smile. "Ten years later, he stood over my mother's body and cast the Kedavra at me. He didn't want to make the same mistake twice, you think?"

She, too, smiled grimly. "Taught him a thing or two, didn't we?"

It was strange, recognizing this terrible experience that they held in common, and Harry instinctively reached for her hands. He stopped himself short of touching her, as alarm flickered through her eyes. He raised both hands, palms forward in surrender, and sat back contritely. "I'm sorry. Sorry."

She steeled herself with an angry sniff. "For Pete's sake, Harry. I just told you: my father used Dark magic to steal the color from my eyes before I was even born. Who knows what else in me was destroyed? I'm damaged goods."

"Don't say that!" Harry barked, barely remembering to keep his hands at his sides. "For all your talk, what about this?" He shoved his hair back to reveal the scar on his forhead. "He left a mark on me as well, Tura. Am I 'damaged goods,' then? Am I?"

For a moment she simply gaped at him. "Of course not," she finally stammered.

"You sound so sure," he said reprovingly. "But he made me an Horcrux, without even being fully prepared. If you're damaged goods, then I must be as well."

"It's not a contest, you big dork," she said sourly, peering once again at the floor.

Harry smirked. "Of course not. It's bloody ridiculous, is what it is." He straightened his spine, studying her intently. A witch of awesome magic, slumping on the floor like a forlorn waif. He understood for the first time that beneath the tough exterior, she felt broken and unclean inside. He extended his hand very slowly, placing one fingertip under her chin to raise her eyes to his. You're not damaged, Tura. You're whole. Aloud, he said, "Don't let him steal your life away. He doesn't deserve that much power."

When her tears began to spill, Harry gathered her in his arms and held on very loosely until they were spent.

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