Chapter 20 — Twenty Years Later, Part 1

Harry, supporting his overfilled stomach, retreated to the couches and dropped on one with a groan.

"You did eat too much," Candide pointed out, sending an accusing glance at Snape.

Snape waved his hand in a manner that replied no matter.

Candide began ferrying the gifts from the table. "You should open your presents."

Snape sat beside Harry and said, "Perhaps we should return this one, before opening the others."

"Oh," she sang in disappointment. "Well, let's get a photo of you two, first." She strode into the drawing room and returned presently, holding a large black camera. With a clack she slid a holder of film into the back of it and said, "Okay, smile."

Snape subtly tugged Harry closer. Harry glanced up at him and the flash went off.

Harry rubbed his eyes, the light had filled the room and made his eyes water. Candide loaded another slate of film. "Hang on," she said, hovering the camera with her wand. "I want to be in the next one."

She sat on Harry's other side and flicked her wand at her side and the flash went off again. Harry peered through floating spots now. When Candide plucked the camera out of the air, Harry said, "More magic!"

"If you wish," Snape lazily said, and he hovered the cane down over the balcony. It came to rest on the floor at their feet where it rolled a few inches before coming to a halt.

"Are you ready to return to nineteen?" Snape asked.

"Maybe. I'm having fun. I don't usually get to have fun. Or have photographs taken. Can I see it?"

"The photograph has to go to the chemists," Candide said. "It doesn't come out right away."

"Oh," Harry said, disappointed. "I've never seen a picture of myself before."

She said, "Oh, there's your album upstairs." With a wave of her wand, she brought it along the same path as the cane.

Harry's face brightened upon opening it to the first page. "Is that . . . who's that?" he asked, not wanting to dare believe.

"Your parents," Snape replied neutrally, but he leaned in to give a tour of the photos. "Your parents many friends; they had no shortage," he added dryly. "Yourself at school."

"That's a different school."

"Yes, one you appreciated more than your previous one, I should think."

They sat like that until the album had been fully paged through, including the numerous loose photographs stuck in the back, and Harry blinked, disoriented by everything he had seen and all his questions which had received insufficient answers. "I think it's time to return you to that young man there in that last photographs," Snape said, setting the album gently aside. "Take up the cane if you will."

Harry bit his lip and unfolded the paper tied to the cane. With a last glance at each of them, he worked up some courage and followed the instructions. He grew taller in a small rush of wind.

Harry, at nineteen, glanced between the two of them. Candide spoke first. "Good present," she said. "I had fun. Severus had fun too, but he is going to pretend he didn't."

Harry set the cane on the floor in case it may decide to reassert its magic because he held it too long. "Am I in trouble?" he asked his guardian.

"No," Snape replied softly. "I AM a bit concerned that you decided that was an appropriate thing to do. Up to and including borrowing that from what must have been the Ministry Magic Artefacts Archive. . ."

"It was still in the work area," Harry glibly replied with a small smile. He waved the velvet sack down from his room and began the difficult task of hovering the cane into its narrow confines without touching it. "But I should return it right away."

"Do you think it'd be missed so soon?" Candide asked. "I think it'd be fun to see it on someone else I know." Her sly grin stretched her face.

Harry ceased hovering the cane into the sack and grabbed hold if it through the velvet with the curved handle still sticking out. He gave his overly serious adoptive father a looking over. "That's an excellent idea," Harry said, also grinning.

Snape's gaze bounced between them, disbelieving. He crossed his arms. "Surely, you have lost your minds."

Candide stepped over and tugged on his sleeve. "Oh, come now, Severus; it would only be for a few minutes. I'd so much like to meet your older, I mean, younger self."

"It isn't my fault you don't remember me," he sniped at her.

"I was buried in books from day one. I've told you that. I certainly wouldn't have paid any attention to a grouchy Slytherin five years ahead of me," she teased. "Come on. You're so secretive, and that only makes it more alluring."

"You truly do not know what you are asking for," Snape argued, growing angry. "I was not what most would define as 'good company' twenty years ago; it is unbelievable that you would seriously suggest that I do this." He gestured at the cane with his upper hand without uncrossing his arms.

Harry lifted the cane closer to his reach. "So, get on with it, then," he urged.

Snape turned his dismay Harry's way. "Why in Merlin's name . . .?"

"I'm curious too," Harry said. "I think it's a brilliant idea. Don't you want to be twenty again?"

"NO."

"Well, we want you to be, come on," Harry cajoled. "Just for a few minutes. We promise to be nice to you."

Candide nodded in support of this, showing her broad teeth, she smiled so widely.

"It is not you I am worried about," Snape insisted, but he sounded worn down. "Merlin . . . you will regret this." He held his wand out in Harry's direction. "Take my wand."

"You don't need to do that. I could use a good duel," Harry continued to tease, pocketing the wand. "Sure yours won't just come with you? I had my old clothes on."

"As powerful as this device is, I do not expect it can regenerate a magical item from the past." He huffed and stared at each of them before shoving to his feet. "You truly will regret this," he repeated, angry again. "I am only doing this to prove it to you."

Good natured with anticipation, Candide said, "We'll take any reason."

Snape behaved even more uncertain when he turned to her. Harry interpreted this effortlessly and said, "Really, Severus, isn't it you who told me you can't run away from your past?"

"That would not have been me," Snape stated in a low voice.

"Oh. Maybe it was Dumbledore then." Harry held the cane out invitingly, face overtly pleading, which rendered it years younger.

Snape gestured and commanded of Candide. "Stand back."

Candide moved over, putting Harry between them.

"Much better," Snape said. He reached for the cane. "Fools, both of you," he snarled lightly before a small woosh replaced him with a different version in exactly the same pose.

No one spoke.

A much younger Snape, sallow skinned and thinner, glanced away from Candide and glared at Harry. He noticed the cane he held, still half inside the sack. Candide took hold of Harry's robe sleeve, not so much in alarm as in overwhelming amusement.

"Put it down on the floor," Harry suggested.

Snape did so, slowly, eyes taking in the room without leaving Harry for more than a second at a time. He wandered sideways around the hall in this manner. His robes were reminiscent of Lupin's, patched and faded at the seams. His sulky posture gave him a pronounced vulturish attitude as he took in the details around him.

He stopped in the dining room, the most inviting room in the house, Harry and Candide quietly shuffled in behind. "What is this place, and who are you . . . some Potter cousin?" His eyes narrowed, but Harry had his mind Occluded.

"Something like that," Harry replied. "As to where you are, this is your house."

On his younger face, Snape's brows twisted more starkly in confusion. His eyes danced over the items on the mantelpiece, picking out two for special attention. He did the same on the back wall where decorative bottles lined a high shelf. Harry suspected they were things Snape had owned long enough to recognize them.

"My house," Snape stated. He stalked by Harry, moving faster than expected, while still glancing back to keep tabs on Harry. While he circled the hall again, he felt in his pockets and bit his lip, presumably not finding his wand. He ranged farther, stopping in the library to stare at the shelves, shoulders falling as he grew distracted by the plenty arrayed before him. Harry and Candide stood in the doorway and watched him scan the collection.

Snape finally drew himself from the multitude of books to stare at the two of them again, still generating a glare for Harry. Winky appeared in a sparkle.

"Master is wishing for tea," the elf said, bowed, and left a laden tray behind on the writing desk.

Snape stared down at the tray and his lips moved silently repeating the word "master". Given how thin he was, Harry expected him to take up a currant scone from the pile provided, but he did not.

He looked over at the two of them. "I don't understand this."

Candide slipped in and helped herself to a scone, brushing crumbs off her belly after each bite.

Harry said, "You are twenty years out of time."

There was no appreciable reaction to this. After a glance around the room again, Snape turned to Candide. "Who are you?"

Candide was chewing, so Harry supplied, "This is your wife."

The overly expressive eyebrows came into play again. Snape looked Candide over, especially her clearly pregnant belly. No one spoke, letting him take that in. Candide grinned at him, enjoying this.

"How did I get here?" Snape asked slowly with strange care.

"We didn't use a Time-Turner if that's what you're asking. You can't damage anything."

Snape's attention redirected to Harry. "Twenty years," he repeated. "You cannot be James Potter's brother, in that case."

"I'm his son," Harry said, getting an odd stab from having to provide that information to this man.

This produced no change in Snape's expression. He slipped by Harry and circled the hall as though hunting for something, hands checking his pockets again. "So, where is your father?" Snape asked.

Something clicked decisively inside of Harry. "He's dead."

Again no change in expression occurred in their guest. "Why am I here?"

Candide wandered over by the couches to where Snape's circle would take him. She sent a sympathetic frown at Harry. Snape came up short and stared at her, bordering on undone.

"We just wanted to meet you," she said. "And to wish you a happy birthday. It would be your birthday today, even for you."

He clearly did not find this a valid answer, but his scowl faded as he read her eyes.

"Severus?" she prodded with some feeling.

It was subtle, but Harry caught it. Snape rubbed the front of his left arm. Harry, still closer to the library than the two of them, announced, "Your mark shouldn't be bothering you."

Snape's clear shift from borderline amazement to be faced with Candide to glaring suspicion of him pleased Harry. Somewhere deep inside of him, it irked him to see this Snape believing he deserved a family. The two of them locked gazes.

"Harry?" Candide queried, confused.

"You didn't ask what happened to James," Harry said, approaching them without meaning to.

"I don't care," Snape returned. "Good riddance to him."

"Uh oh," Candide breathed. She stepped between them, but Snape stepped smoothly out from behind her.

"Are you trying to protect him?" Harry asked her, feeling something brackish rising up in his core. "He's nothing but . . ." a Death Eater, Harry held back on finishing but it felt true in a way that could not be denied.

"Harry," Candide said more sharply. "You know who he's going to become."

Harry stepped closer, instinctively thinking he should get Candide out of the way, or at least get between them. Snape stood his ground as Harry came close, but it appeared to require some resolve to do so.

"It's a wonder what Dumbledore saw in him. He doesn't know what he's done," Harry said, feeling angry and like he needed to empty his stomach of a foul meal.

Snape rubbed his arm again, and Harry, without warning grabbed hold of Snape's left wrist. He could feel the taint of the mark under his hand, calling to something deep within him. Harry heard himself say, "He's just Voldemort's servant, nothing more. Just an empty vessel for dark magic." Surprising vehemence powered these words out, holding Snape from struggling despite flinching at the Name.

Candide touched Harry's arm. "Harry, don't hurt him."

"I'm not hurting him," Harry said, even though his grip was quite firm. "He just can't stand to hear his master's true name." Candide let go and took a step back. Harry said to Snape, but not in a reassuring tone, "I took care of your master. He can't bother anyone now that he's a helpless Muggle."

The smug doubt that flickered over Snape's face, made heat flare into flame inside Harry. He put his thumb over the Mark and felt for the foul energy of it, lying dormant. It sang to something inside himself, which made his anger and frustration go white hot. Snape jerked his arm as his mark burned, freeing himself. Now he stared at Harry with open alarm, bent over his clutched forearm, all of which fed satisfaction into Harry.

"Harry!" Candide snapped, stepping into his face. "Back. Off."

Harry, before he could re-assess what he was doing or regain any control of his runaway pain, let slip, "You aren't my mother. Ask him what's happened . . . what's going to happen to my mother. It was his fault."

His statements, which he knew could sting, found their mark. Snape's alarm ratcheted up as he glanced between the two of them.

"Harry," Candide said firmly, teeth clenched, gaze blazing. "Sit down."

Harry glanced at the empty floor behind him.

"Yes, right there," she demanded furiously.

Harry had never seen her in this full on angry mode, and never imagined it would be he who put her there. This jarred him out of angry into stunned. He sat down on the cool wood floor, fingers finding knot holes in the wide boards, which he grabbed hold of with his fingertips. He avoided both their gazes.

"Sorry about him," Candide said. "He-"

"What is he referring to?" Snape asked warily, interrupting her.

"Something that happened a very long time ago." Harry could hear by her modulating voice that she was looking back at Harry frequently as she spoke. "We should switch you back to your normal self now, I think. You're setting him off, which I didn't expect."

"Switch me back . . .?"

She hovered the cane from the floor. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw her catch it awkwardly with the felt-covered end. "Switch you for your forty-year old self."

"Forty?" Snape sputtered, dismayed in a whole new way.

"Come now, it's not that bad," she teased. "You have this house, this family . . ."

He must have been Legilimizing her or she had gestured to take Harry in. "Including him?" he gasped.

"Thank you very much," Harry said, lifting his head. Their glares battled.

"Let's not start that again," Candide insisted.

Snape looked away first, down at her feet. Part of Harry wanted to recognize how very lonely he must be to obey her but residual anger and the awakened spirit of something that only wanted hate battled back at that understanding. He watched Candide walk Snape through the cane's instructions.

Their Snape reappeared and blinked at them. He found Harry on the floor and asked in surprise, "What are you doing there?"

Harry did not feel like explaining. Candide said, "He was being just a bit difficult, so I told him to sit there."

Snape paused in slipping the cane away. "Harry was?" he asked. His surprise boosted Harry's embarrassment. They stared at each other with vastly different emotions than moments before: Harry with confused regret and relief that he had control again, Snape with with curious disbelief. Snape tugged the drawstrings on the velvet sack tight and tossed it aside. To Candide, he said, "Give me a few minutes alone with Harry."

Candide patted Snape on the shoulder with a "welcome back" and went upstairs.

"Can I get up now?" Harry asked, trying not to sound annoyed.

Snape gestured that it did not matter to him. "Have a seat somewhere more comfortable."

Harry rose with ease and dropped on the couch opposite the one where the cane lay. He fixed his eyes on the black-as-night, supple fabric sack and waited.

Snape waited too, but finally asked, "What happened?"

Harry filled his lungs with a breath then let it out in a rush. "I got annoyed with him . . . you . . . him."

"Yes, but why?" Snape asked in a tone of seeking facts. Harry marveled how very different Snape seemed, standing there in new robes, posture neutral, face concerned. Harry's anger had disappeared just as quickly as Snape had changed, which worried Harry as much as it let him relax. He felt like a puppet with a string pulled by someone else, someone he did not trust.

Harry did not know what to say that would recover his pride. Needing to say something, and getting more upset as he went along the path of these thoughts, Harry explained, "He didn't know what he was going to do. He didn't care what he was going to do."

"Ah," Snape uttered.

"'Ah', what?" Harry snapped. "What's this 'ah' stuff. Like you could possibly know what the problem is . . ."

Snape displayed only amusement at Harry's exasperation.

With less force and some contrition Harry asked, "What?"

"You cannot alter the past," Snape stated.

Harry clenched his hands together and pressed them between his knees. "I know that."

"Yes, but faced with a version of me from November of 1979, you were facing the future, not the past." He sat down beside Harry, slowly as if concerned Harry may object. He spoke deliberately as he went on, "Since I am quite certain you have forgiven me for that mistake, I think your anger was at your helplessness to change things . . . things which at that instant, for that me, were still to happen."

Harry thought about that. "Maybe," he uttered grudgingly and sighed.

"Are you angry with me now?"

Of all the conflicting things Harry felt right then, including pain at himself for losing control and a hint of fear at the enmity that had risen within him so willingly powered by something he could not control, he could not list anger at Snape among them. "No."

"Hm," Snape uttered. "I expected my younger self to make trouble, not you." He studied Harry as he thought things over, adding, "Interesting test."

"I think I failed it," Harry said, trying to lighten the mood. He regretted most making Snape's mark burn. Why had he done that? He did not like to think of himself as being that cruel.

"Harry?" Snape prompted after a long wait.

"I'm glad you don't have a mark anymore," Harry said, moving one shoulder in a spasmodic circle. "The feel of it wasn't very nice."

"You sense it directly now?"

"When I touched him, yes." The memory made it even more relieving to sit brushing shoulders with his guardian and receive no tainted sense. "I was . . ." Harry started to say more of what happened, but decided he would rather not.

"You what?"

Why had he been so cruel? "I wasn't very nice to him is all."

Snape leaned away as if to get a more general look at Harry. "I feel safe assuming he was not banking on kindness, believe me."

He responded to Candide, though, Harry thought with a twinge.

Candide returned on quiet feet. "How is it going?" She tossed the sacked cane aside and sat across from them.

Snape touched Harry's shoulder. "Everything is all right," Snape said. "And you?"

"Oh, fine. It was nice to see that you. Harry surprised me, is all."

Snape said with gentle ease, "You had yet to meet Harry in his colors of full temper."

Harry rolled his eyes. He thought they were past the worst until Candide said, "I had never seen a Dark Mark before."

Snape's brow nearly obscured his eyes, it dipped so low. To Harry he said, "You did what?"

"I don't know why I did that," Harry said, thoughts far away.

Candide's face contorted in sympathy. "That was the worst, when Harry made that awful snake tattoo appear, just by grabbing your arm."

Harry held his breath. Snape's hand slid off his back and clasped together with his other. His knuckles went white.

"Without a wand? I did not realize you knew how to do that."

Harry shrugged.

"Harry?" Snape was going to insist.

"I figured out I could do that—when I went to rescue one of the alternate yous."

A thoughtful pause ensued. "Anything else new you are capable of that I should know about?"

Harry leaned back to consider that.

Candide said, "What does it say that he has to think so hard about the answer?"

Snape said to Harry, "I repeat that I would like to hear about such things in a timely manner."

"I'll try to do better about keeping you informed," Harry said quietly.

Candide slapped her lap before standing. She said, "But please, don't discuss it in front of Rita Skeeter . . ."

Both of them looked down at their hands.

That night, Harry received the expected visit from his guardian. He had, in fact, stayed up reading in anticipation of it. The cane, in its sack, stood propped against the wall beside the night stand. Snape's eyes took it in as he sat on the bed. "You can return that without trouble?"

Harry wanted to snoop around the Department of Mysteries after returning it, so he was waiting until the middle of the night. "Yes," he replied.

"Do be careful when you do so." When Harry glanced up at this, his thoughts were snagged. Snape asked, "What do you think you will find there?" with his old kind of cold calm.

"I wanted to look around Moody's desk. If he has one."

"Why would they assign him one, he is dead . . . officially."

"Well then, Percy's desk. I just want to look around."

Snape reached over for the black-clad cane and held it out. "Do it now, so I know you returned safely without having to find out in the morning."

"It will be safer later," Harry insisted.

Snape set the cane back. "At five then? I want to know you succeeded and do not require rescue."

"Rescue? From the Department of Mysteries?" Harry blurted, chuckling enough to let his book slide off his knees. He laid it face down beside him and hitched his arms around his knees. He did not want an argument and really it was fine if Snape was up waiting for him. "All right."

Harry figured Snape would say more, but he did not. He looked Harry over briefly, stood up, and with a "good night", departed the room.

Harry woke from a groggy dream about playing Quidditch on flying carpets instead of broomsticks to find Snape shaking him by the shoulder. The darkened room reeled while Harry took his bearings. "Is it five?" Harry mumbled.

"Yes," came the familiar warm voice out of the darkness before the lamp flared. When Harry leaned over to grab up the cane, Snape asked drolly, "Perhaps you want to not be caught in your pyjamas?"

Limbs groggy, Harry tossed back the covers and fished some well-used robes out of the bottom of his wardrobe and tossed them on. Snape followed him over and held out the long sack that in the dim light could have been a rent in the fabric of the room.

"Thanks," Harry said. He blinked vigorously to clear his vision, swept his hair back again and slipped away.

The Department of Mysteries sat in silence as expected. Harry slid the cane back where he had found it: at the bottom of the deeply piled shelving over a work table. He then hunted around for Percy's desk. After circling the two likely work rooms twice, eliminating desks sporting photographs unlikely to be Percy's or discarded envelopes addressed to others in the nearest bin, Harry decided the decisively neat one in the far corner of the second room must be it. He squatted and checked the floor and found two stray red hairs, supporting this. The desk radiated curse sickliness, making Harry hesitate to use a spell to pull open the drawers. He may have to be satisfied with what he could see without moving anything or try out his curse negation and risk setting off an alarm. He wanted to step away more than anything, not get closer and certainly not touch it.

Harry stood on tiptoe to peer onto the shelf over the desk and nearly leapt into the air in startlement when a voice said, "Find anything?"

Harry patted his chest and turned to face Moody. Calmly he replied, "No."

The old Auror stood with his arms folded, shoulders cocked with swagger. Behind his scars it was hard to tell if he were angry or delighted at his catch.

"What are you doing here?" Moody asked.

"Looking around," Harry replied. He had no right to be here, but he found it easy to pretend he did.

Moody's glass eye roved over the desk behind Harry. "I wouldn't touch that desk if I were you."

"I figured that out. What's he got to hide?"

"His excuse is that his mates don't like him very much and were fond of leaving him little surprises until he resorted to some decent protection."

Harry stepped back and pondered the desk. "What is it that is so blasted cursed?"

Moody sauntered closer. "An amulet. In the top drawer there. I've never seen the likes. It came in on one of the sweeps of Knockturn Alley's less reputable establishments."

"They let him keep it?"

Moody shrugged. "People that work here like to mess with things like that. Otherwise they'd've found other lines o' work."

They gazed at each other. Moody with sleepy eyes that hid his expression. "Go on home, Potter. Isn't it past your bedtime?"

Harry, despite being grateful to get off without trouble, extended his welcome by saying, "You haven't been following me."

Moody strolled away. "Been busy."

"You told Fudge you were following me."

"I did no such thing. What makes you say that?"

Harry did not want to answer that because it would prove he had been sneaking into the Department of Mysteries regularly. In the room beyond, the glow of the lamps brightened, indicating someone else had arrived.

Quietly, Moody said, "I know you can jump in and out of here without a hitch. It's sufficient for the moment that you know that I know you can." This sounded vaguely threatening. "I see from the papers that your adoptive father has let the veil fall from his eyes as well. Good."

Harry bit down his reply. A desk drawer opened and closed in the next room.

"You're right I have to go," Harry whispered. "Bedtime and all." And fell through the floor.

Back in Harry's bedroom, Snape stood before the window, hands clasped behind his back.

"It's all set," Harry said. He tossed his robes onto the floor and plonked back onto his bed with a groan at the early hour.

"No additional trouble?"

"Less than expected."

"Good."

Snape departed at lunchtime the following day, allowing Harry to invite Tonks over to replace him. Pink hair standing straight, Tonks greeted Candide first upon arriving, before giving Harry a peck. The extra attention Candide garnered continued to grow in proportion to her belly size.

Tonks sloppily saluting Snape that he was relieved, grinning at her own antics even as she toppled an empty water glass on her back-swing.

"I'll trust you are in good hands," Snape stated dryly before disappearing in the Floo. He dropped fewer hints about disapproving of them each time Tonks visited, giving Harry some relief from his previous relentless disapproval.

The afternoon passed in idle conversation, until Harry insisted that Candide put down her work and join them in a card game. Candide put up a fight, but at the end of the first game, insisted they play a second. Perhaps this was because she lost, but any reason was a good one.

Harry held his hand up close since Tonks' eyes had wandered too much the previous game and he did not want her to win two in a row. "Any progress on convincing Mr. Weasley to remove my guard?" Harry asked.

Tonks shook her head, while Candide tsked Harry.

Harry argued, "I'm so very tired of this, and nothing has happened."

"That couldn't be because you've had a guard?" Candide pointed out, accentuating her sharp tongue by snapping the corner of the card down as she played.

Harry still had no good counter argument to that, and he wished he did. He tapped his fingers on his cards and sighed. "If Dumbledore had treated me this way, we'd still have Voldemort around, you know," he complained.

Tonks patted him on the shoulder sympathetically.

After the second game, Candide insisted she must return to sorting through the disarrayed files from her client for the next day's work.

"Look at this!" she exclaimed, pulling out the first slip from the file. "They are trying to expense Honeydukes purchases. We told them last year that wouldn't fly, even if they got a Healer's note saying it was medically required." She put that slip aside and with a hand propped on her forehead, peered at the next crumpled and reflattened strip on the pile.

"Maybe we'll leave you to it, then," Harry said, standing up and thinking ahead to having some much needed time alone with Tonks. "It's almost over, right?" he asked. "November is."

Candide's squint remained fixed on her work."One way or another, yup. Except those few who risk swallowing Opix Auctoritatis potion before filing for an otherwise impossible extension."

"What potion?" Harry asked.

"Influence potion," Tonks provided. "Should be banned."

"Why?" Harry asked.

"Because it can be dangerous if it gives you too much influence over yourself. You know, delusions of grandeur, thinking you can fly without a broomstick, or that you can convince Goblins to show you where the gold is hidden. Stuff like that."

Candide curiously asked, "Why wouldn't that work?"

"Goblins are immune to it," Tonks provided. "As are dragons." She turned to Harry. "Rodgers hasn't covered potions on the Proposed to be Banned List with you?"

"He covered banned ones. There were enough of those already," Harry insisted.

Tonks gave Candide a pat on the shoulder and wandered into the main hall where she sat down on the couch. She picked up Harry's photo album and began flipping through it.

Harry sat close to smell the vaguely peppermint scent of her while peering over her shoulder. She held the album open to an old photo of the Order, finger tracing along figures. The photo had been taken in the dining room at Grimmauld Place. Sirius caught them looking and hid a large parchment behind his back with a sly smile, making Harry's heart twinge. Moody reached over to take it away, and Sirius relinquished the partly crunched roll and stuffed it away inside his jacket.

"Let's go up to my room," Harry said, torn between sleepiness from his early morning foray and wanting to get closer to her. She made a noise that probably agreed with the former.

Up on his bed, Harry opened the album again to the same picture. His parents stood off to one side, heads leaned in close to discuss something in private. Harry prodded their feet but they just high stepped in place and ignored him.

"I want to see my parents," Harry said, mind latching onto an idea that felt so elegantly easy it made his mouth water.

Tonks sat down beside him, hands clasped together and stretched out before her. "Of course you do."

Harry looked away from the album. "No, I really mean it," he said, excitement budding.

"Harry, please don't talk like that," Tonks pleaded, sounding sad.

Harry closed the album and stared at her. "What's wrong?"

She struggled for words and quietly said, "Please. Let's just talk about something else."

Harry, who wanted time to think over his idea, silently agreed, even though he wanted to grill her about what bothered her so. He pulled her back on the bed and lay beside her, staring up at the ceiling.

She was slithering closer, but Harry's mind was flitting off elsewhere. "Do you ever see Belinda around the Ministry?"

Tonks shot him a disgusted look and climbed on top of him. "What kind of question is that, Moodkiller?"

"I worry about her, is all," Harry said, struggling to find connections in his memory, and wishing dearly he could prove to someone that Percy needed to be watched, or questioned, or exiled, or something.

From her position lording over him, she grabbed the edges of his robe front and shook them. "Harry, all the world and all the witches in the world are not your problem. Your long-dead parents are certainly not your problem. You have enough to deal with already."

"Will you go talk to Belinda this week?" Harry asked. "See if she'll talk to you."

"Grrrr," Tonks said, rolling off him, but kept one hand fastened to his robe.

Harry rolled to the side to look at her. "Promise her you won't tell anyone what she tells you. Maybe that will help. Well, except me."

Tonks' pink brows dove close to her eyes. "You are very frustrating, Harry. All right, fine. I'll try to talk to her. Take her out for coffee or something. Can we drop this topic now?" she demanded.

The next morning they went into the Ministry together. There was something comfortable about doing so that made him think marriage, as a general idea anyhow, wasn't such an bad notion.

Harry took his seat in the training room beside Aaron and wished he had arrived early enough to talk to his fellow, but his dark mood showed on his face.

"When's your mum coming back, exactly?" Harry asked, attracting the attention of everyone else, keen as they were to learn what had sunk their normally irreverent, smiling fellow into glumness.

"Tomorrow, maybe. I tried to send her an express owl, but she's most likely on the Baden Baden to Paris section of the Magiekech Express, because it came back undelivered. That would get her in late tomorrow."

Kerry Ann asked, "Something going on with your mum?"

Aaron faintly shook his head. "It's nothing. Just something I need to talk to her about," he replied dismissively, confirming Harry's suspicion that he did not want anyone to know.

During drills he returned almost to normal, and Harry switched with Tridant to be Aaron's drill partner. Aaron said, "Oh good, someone I can pound on a bit more." And indeed, he put more behind his attacks than normal, with many flying wild and wide as his emotions scattered his magic.

Harry felt the curses as they flew and bounced around him, but still could not figure out how he could possibly influence them without lifting his wand against them.

Rodgers returned and shouted, "Hey there! What is this, playtime? Let's work on something serious instead. Get out your books again." They lowered their wands and pulled their desks back into position.

- 888 -


Tuesday, Tonks waylaid Harry in the corridor and gestured that they should slip into the file room.

Tonks began, "So, I dragged your former girlfriend out for coffee this afternoon, so you owe me." She poked him painfully in the ribs.

Harry rubbed the spot and said, "Thanks. Let me know how I can make it up to you."

"Nice dinner out."

"Anytime," Harry burst out. "Tell me when you have time."

"Yeah, I know," she grumbled. "Back to Miss Ex-Harry's-Girlfriend-"

"Why are you calling her that?"

"Don't interrupt me." Tonks slid away to pace between the notice board where the filing rules hung in boldface cracked and yellowed glory and the first cabinet on the row. "She's definitely hiding something and had no interest in saying what it was. If she'd been an ordinary witch I'd have been tempted to slip her something to loosen her tongue, and I'm not convinced that's a bad idea even if she is Bones' receptionist." Her mouth twisted thoughtfully. "I got the sense she thought she should say. More annoyingly."

"Did she say why she wouldn't say?" Harry asked, not wanting to divulge Belinda's fear that she might lose her job if Belinda herself had not.

"She said she's had Skeeter jump out of nowhere on her several times in the last few weeks, asking questions. Said she's afraid she's listening in." Tonks picked at her nails, making a clicking noise that sounded loud in the quiet room. "I insisted I could remedy that for a conversation but she wouldn't budge."

"I can understand her fear," Harry muttered.

Tonks propped her hands on her hips and said, "I hate to say this, believe me, but I think you should take her out and chat her up a bit. I'm suspicious now." When Harry did not comment, she went on, "Consider it your weekend fieldwork if you want."

"I couldn't do that," Harry said, finding the thought distasteful.

Tonks stepped closer until their fronts touched. "Harry, the distance between your private life and feelings and your life as an Auror is like the distance between us right now. None."

"If I decide to make her talk it will be because I care what may be going on. Honestly she's much happier than she used to be back when she was dating Percy."

Tonks leaned in tighter and said, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave."

"It's not like that," Harry said.

Tonks back away and said, "She broke up with you, right?"

Exasperated on several fronts, Harry said, "I was having problems with the Dark Plane. I couldn't control it then. What's that got to do with anything?"

"Nothing I suppose." She stepped back and fluffed her hair back up. "I'm not your guard this evening but I could arrange to be tomorrow."

"Uh, I should probably get Aaron assigned, if possible."

She propped a hand on one angled hip and teased, "Do I have to worry you're hoping to date him as well?"

"Not a chance," Harry returned. "It's our regular night to help Ginny with her drills, and readings so she can get into the program next year."

"That's nice of you, Harry, to do that. She'd do well, I think, and we need some more women around here." She glanced at the door as if she heard something. "Speaking of which, they will notice I'm missing soon."

Harry did get Aaron assigned as a guard the next day after training. Aaron packed his books up slowly, distracted and fussy about how they were arranged in his designer bag.

"Let's go to my place, if you don't mind. Candide won't be back for a while, right?" Aaron said, and despite the question phrasing, was really making a demand.

Harry shrugged to indicate that was all right with him. "And Ginny can keep Candide company if she gets there before us. Women seem to have no problem doing that."

At Aaron's fancy flat, he noisily sorted through the liquor cabinet, before sighing and letting his arms rest limp at his sides where he crouched.

"Did you talk to your mum?" Harry asked, feeling the answer must be yes.

Aaron did not move, holding the pose of a young bird with useless wings as he replied. "Yes."

"I suppose I don't need to ask what she said," Harry ventured.

Aaron snagged the front bottle without looking at the label and stood straight. He set it down on the glass-topped, stainless steel cabinet, but did not reach for any of the glittering array of crystal tumblers. He leaned on his hands on the cabinet instead and fell still.

"I'm sorry about this," Harry said, feeling he should say something. His words rang true inside him.

"I liked my dad," Aaron said with no preamble.

"Of course you did," Harry said with a spark of defensiveness.

"All this time though . . ." Aaron pushed away from the cabinet without pouring himself a drink. He paced, long neck bent ungainly. He stopped, framed by one of the tall windows full of diffuse afternoon light. "I don't know who I am," he complained.

"I don't think that's changed," Harry said when Aaron had paced back in his direction.

But Aaron gave no sign he heard him. He stared off somewhere or sometime else. Pangs plucked at Harry's chest but he made no further attempts at soothing his friend because his own heart was churning and he could no longer see past that.

Harry fished around for something to say. "What did your mum say? Did you ask her to . . . I don't know, explain?" When Aaron did not answer, Harry said. "Sorry, maybe I shouldn't have asked that."

"No, it's all right. Let's go to your place; I feel like hitting something with spells some more."

Ginny arrived while they were working out the fine points of the Loaded Orb spell they had learned that day. The glowing orbs that erupted when the spell was executed properly could be filled with all manner of things, like smoke or mist. Rodgers promised that they could be filled also with fire or blinding light, but he was waiting to show them how to do that until later. That did not stop Harry and Aaron from trying to work out how.

"Did you check your copious library for a book on the topic?" Ginny asked after observing them producing endless streams of harmlessly popping orbs.

Harry dropped his arm. "I didn't think of that." His friends followed him into the library where the extra books from upstairs were now stacked on the floor, waiting to be properly organized or sorted out to be disposed of.

"Gosh, what's this?" Ginny blurted, reaching down for a book with a rail-thin, cloaked figure on the cover sporting a bowler standing with feet widely spaced and grinning maliciously. The title in metallic red that could only be discerned by tilting the book repeatedly in the lamplight, read Vile Virtuosity.

"Watch out," Harry warned too late. The book let out a maniacal laugh when she picked it up, and sighed in deep satisfaction as she flipped it open. "Some are worse than that."

Ginny shot him a look of disbelief at the very notion.

"Oh excellent," Aaron chirped upon picking up Grotesque Grades, oddly by the corner. He held it up that way until it ceased flapping like a bat and fell limp. "I had a copy of this once."

"Severus is sorting through his old things to clear out the rooms upstairs."

"Are you getting pushed aside by the new arrival?" Ginny asked with telling innocence.

"Yes, but it's all right," Harry said, taking up a book too, but one off the shorter "keep" stack. "Is it just me, or is there way more dark magic than good?" he asked.

Aaron said, "There is certainly more interesting dark magic than good. That's why I was so happy to be in Slytherin."

Ginny stared at him. "Maybe I should have been in Slytherin."

"What?" Harry blurted. But after reassessing the way she pondered Aaron, he decided to not pursue it further. Instead, he found a spot on a high shelf for the book he held. That was another thing that had to happen: books that might fight back had to be moved out of reach. The three of them settled into perusing the grim volumes littering the room, while Harry tried to reorganize the books, grateful to have Aaron thoroughly distracted by anything enough to forget he should be moping.

- 888 -


Harry waited until Friday to again broach his plans with Tonks. He had no duties until Saturday evening and she finished up a night shift and paperwork well before lunchtime. It took him a while to get the topic in because as soon as they were alone and the room was sealed against eavesdroppers, she uncharacteristically brought up the subject of Belinda.

"Did you get a chance to talk to her?" Tonks had asked as soon as she dropped into a chair at her rickety old table.

Harry sat across from her and heated his mug of tap water before hunting around for a less-overused-than-average teabag from those scattered around. "I stopped by Bones' office twice yesterday and once this morning, but she was too busy to talk," Harry explained. "They're having some major meeting with officials from the French Ministry of Magic so the office was full of people both times. She seemed all right, though. Happy enough."

"She wasn't before?"

"No. Percy was always hanging around and would get in my way if I tried to talk to her. She didn't seem to know how to tell him to get lost."

"Well, if they were dating, why would she?"

"Maybe, but if, say, Ginny wanted to talk with me and you were there, I'd just ask you if I could have a few minutes alone with her. There's something wrong if you can't do that." At her raised brow, he replied, "Come on, Ginny has her eye on Aaron, no worries about her."

Tonks grinned and her eyes glittered. "Does she now? I can see the appeal of all that money. Someone might as well be enjoying it."

"I don't think it's that," Harry said. "You think it's that?"

"I think it probably doesn't hurt."

"Enough office gossip," Harry said, shifting his chair to a spot where it would not rock so much. "I want to do something but I need your help to do it."

At first she appeared interested, but her face darkened. "This isn't the find-your-parents thing again, is it?" she tentatively asked.

Harry bit his lip. There was a thicket here that he was going to have to sort out and he feared it may leave a few marks before he broke through. "Yes," he answered, going for straightforward. "Remember how I told you I can go to other places where events have played out differently? Well, I realized that there is probably a place where my parents weren't killed by Voldemort, where they would be still alive."

Watching her face, Harry decided she still did not believe him. She said, "But how old would they be? Would they want to see you?"

"They'd be the same age they'd be now if they'd lived. I can't travel through time. It'd be exactly the same date as today. As to seeing me. I'd put on a disguise. Too much to explain otherwise."

She gazed at him in a way that made him vaguely uncomfortable. He said, "I get the sense you think I'm a bit off my rocker here."

"I don't know what I think. I like that I don't sense that you're hiding anything," she stated with vague glumness.

"I suppose it sounds a little hard to believe."

"A little?"

Harry frowned, rubbed grit from his eye, and sighed silently. "I don't know how to convince you. I can't just jump off and retrieve something to prove it to you. It's harder than that."

She interlaced her fingers and leaned forward to peer at him openly. "You believe you can go to other places that are like the real world, but different?"

Harry shrugged. "Yes. I did it accidentally twice, and once intentionally. I just have to imagine that place and I can go there. Like Apparition, but to another reality." Before she could express the doubt on her face, he went on. "You don't have to believe me, if you trust that I can stay out of trouble and will let me go off for a few hours. I promise I'll be back on time. If I can't find my parents, I won't try again." He was pleading by the end. He loathed to hear it, but with his normal guard schedule it would be nigh impossible for weeks to try, and once he had thought of it, he could not get the idea to leave him alone.

She sat straight, resisting, based on her face. "That's what you are going to go . . . try to do: find your parents? Nothing dangerous?"

Harry brightened. "Exactly. Nothing dangerous."

Her brow went up again, doubtful and perhaps accusing. "It never seems to work out that way, Harry." She gazed at him longer. "You're going to sneak off and try anyway, aren't you?"

Harry gazed with overdone innocence at the floor and then the wall to the left, making her snort.

"I clearly like you too much, Harry," she said, smirking. "If you don't come back, though, what the hell am I going to do? If you are not delusional, there is no way to go looking for you." Her expression hardened. "Maybe you shouldn't go."

"Tell everyone you took a nap—which you need after the night shift—and I went off without telling you." Harry made his eyes sad. "Please, really, you admitted I don't need a guard."

"Harry you need something more than a guard. I don't know what it would be called." She huffed and crossed her lean arms, tossed her head and said, "I get the sense Severus is giving up on you. I wouldn't have believed it, except you behave like he has."

Oddly, this hit Harry's midsection harder than her disbelief. "I'm not a child," he said, but this was not the issue, he realized after hearing it. He jumped ahead to assuming she would give in, in the hopes it would help her do so. "I need a little help when I return. The space between the Planes is absolute zero or something. Colder than you can imagine. I need warming up when I return."

She gazed at him, trying not to smile. "Oh, now I'm getting some kind of come-on from you?"

Harry laughed. "Like a warmed blanket."

"Oh, blanket. Right."

"I'll also need a disguise. Can I look through your wardrobe?"

"Oh, I don't know. That may be going too far." She grimaced through a smile and stood reluctantly, like one doing something they expect to regret later. "You'd look right awful in pink."


Author notes: Thanks as always for the feedback. Some of you I will reply to on my lj after we get a little farther along. This story is very different from the others in what I'm trying to accomplish and I'll try to explain that in hopes that it will better help me manage it.


Next: Chapter 21 - Twenty Years Later, Part 2

A wadded up sweet wrapper was tossed hard at Ginny by Fred, jolting Harry before anyone could notice how enamored he had become.

"Another butterbeer?" Ginny asked Harry beside her, nearly snarling. "My brother can get his own."

"Yes, please, my dear," Harry said, struggling to sound old and uncaring.

Ginny fetched the fresh bottles by hand. Upon returning, she glanced surreptitiously at the new arrivals, eyes nearly hidden by her hair. But Harry was well-practiced in interpreting glances through a veil of hair. He leaned close and whispered, "You are undoubtedly too good for him."


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