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Chapter 34 — Guilty Conscience

Professor Snape strode along in a shuffling cluster of other shoppers bundled heavily against the cold. At the door sporting three overlapping, gold edged Ws, he stopped to pull his scarf down, which sent his next breath in a blinding cloud against his face. The door chime clanged dully, the sound made by a bell that has been smashed and reformed too many times.

Five Slytherin students stood bent conspiratorially over an overflowing barrel of Bagshot Bombs: every color of the rainbow and then some! They went silent at Snape's approach and fell away, hands slipping casually behind their backs. Their faces tried for neutral, but their eyes remained revealingly wide. One whispered hoarsely to another, "Is this a bust?"

The Weasley twin restocking the nearby rack glanced up at the students curiously; then his eyes alighted on Snape. His mouth formed an "O" before he bit his lips, and systematically set the precariously stacked crates aside. He recovered his self-assured attitude and slid over to Snape to smoothly ask, "Something I can do for you, Professor?"

Snape glanced around and found Ginny paging through a ragged stack of papers in the cramped area behind the till. He announced, "Just taking the opportunity to survey exactly what you intend to unleash upon our unsuspecting school in the new year."

His narrow-eyed glare at the students brought them up straight. The students shoved their full little hands into other barrels, onto shelves, dropping everything they held. They then shuffled sideways by him and out, their small bodies barely forcing the door open enough to make it chime.

The twin beside Snape sighed. "Good thing you weren't hanging around ruining the Christmas shopping season." He tiredly looked Snape up and down. "You joining the shakedown operation? I admit we did not foresee this particular kind of blackmail threat."

Voice low, Snape said, "I need a word with Ms. Weasley."

Ginny, who had been listening in, put a broken brick chunk on each crinkled stack before her and started to lift the hinged counter to come out.

Snape restrained her with a gesture. "In private. We'll use your back staircase." With one last glance at the empty shop and the passing, disinterested shoppers out on the alley, Snape slipped by the other curious twin and gestured for Ginny to open the door in the far wall.

Ginny went up a step to make room and flicked a Lumos out of her wand as Snape pulled the door shut. The staircase was colder than expected. Snape shrugged his cloak fully around himself and pulled out his wand to put several privacy spells on the door, one of which caused someone on the other side to shout, "Ow!" and stumble into something that fell with a cascade of noise. Snape's next spell blocked out that noise too.

By the light of her wand, Ginny's face appeared gaunt and uncertain, but she stood with her shoulders firmly back, determined.

"I'll be quick," Snape said. He reached into his pocket for a ribbon-tied bundle of letters and handed them over to her. When she began to examine them, bringing the tip of her wand close, he said, "Do not untie them; they are quite particularly arranged."

She moved her wand high to the side where it could provide more general light.

Snape said, "I want you to visit my house this evening, ostensibly to keep Candide company. Bring this packet of letters with you, stored in a way that the lump of them is not visible. I'm certain your brothers can assist you with a pocket spell for that. When I give you this signal . . ." Here he scratched his right temple. "I will excuse myself to go to the drawing room. You will follow, saying that you wish to discuss something with me in private."

The light of her wand dimmed as she slipped the letters away in her inner robe pocket. She remained dutifully quiet while Snape went on.

"I want you to say exactly the following to me: I don't know what to do. I was given some things to hide, but I don't know if I can keep them safe." He stared at her. "Can you remember all this?"

Ginny's intent eyes blinked rapidly. "Yeah . . ." she said, sounding intrigued.

Snape went on. "You must be precise in your words. I want you to clearly hesitate as you say all this, by the way. Pace and fidget and such. I want you to tell me that someone wishes you to hide these letters for her, but you have no good place to do that. I will ask you why she does not simply destroy them, and you are to reply that she wants to have them as mementos. They are important to her, even though they are very dangerous. Still following?"

Ginny nodded, taking out the packet again to examine it, turning it this way and that. The addresses were bundled inward, so nothing showed.

"Good. You will then ask me to hide them for you. I will resist the idea as an annoying inconvenience-"

"Sounds like you," Ginny quipped while pondering the parchment, which appeared blue-grey by the light of the wand.

"Yes . . ." Snape growled, but let it slide. "But I will give in. I will put them in my desk drawer with the promise that I will take them elsewhere later that evening."

A breeze whispered through the bowels of the ramshackle building, taking their breath off in rapidly dissipating wisps. Snape said, "If I do not give you the signal tonight, you are to visit each night, until I do." He paused. "I assume you can manage all this?"

She slipped the bundle away again. "Yep. This is nothing. I worried you were going to ask me to harm someone."

"Oh, I am asking you to harm someone . . . or, more accurately, asking you to help someone to do harm to themself."

"As long as they deserve it. Anyone I know?" she asked knowingly.

Snape could see in her eyes that her suspicion was spot on. "No questions. Just do as you are told."

- 888 -


- 888 -



Snape stared out the window of Grimmauld Place. Bare tree branches swayed silently in and out of the streetlights across the square, distant skeletal hands waving. He had the room to himself as Lupin had been sent out on a mission. He stared blankly out at the night in an effort to keep from wondering what had happened to Harry. It was not working. And there were no other useful distractions remaining; the potions were completed and every one of them and the leftover ingredients were meticulously organized behind him on freshly dusted shelves.

He had spent many evenings in the dungeon of Hogwarts meditating just like this, first on whether the Dark Lord was truly dead and then later on worrying what the machinations between his two masters would next demand of him. This involuntary return to a helpless past mode of existence was not welcome.

At the moment, the only thing he felt truly grateful for was the loss of his Mark. Were it not for that, his life would be a constant, grinding misery. Sitting in this place, perched on a crooked stool before a wind-leeching window, looking out over the sleeping, battered city, he felt for the first time that he may actually have earned the loss of his Mark. That made him feel slightly better, in a way that bought him no additional future hope, just more satisfaction with the past.

A soft knock came on the door and Ginny entered, slipping inside after a last glance back at the balcony and stairs.

"It's late," she said after groping for words.

"Does Lupin need rescuing again?" Snape asked derisively. He had no idea what mission the man had gone out on, and half hoped for an excuse for action as little as he wished more difficulty on his previous nemesis.

Ginny shook her head. "No, he's not due back for a while." She stepped further in, glancing around. "I just wondered, well, if you needed anything."

Snape pondered that. So easy to sound rude with, "Such as?"

They had grown immune to his rough side, unfortunately. She ignored his tone and remained kind sounding. "Well, that old wizard, you know. If something bad has happened. I was just thinking . . . do you want help looking for him . . . that wizard Harry calls your boyfriend?"

"Harry should not call him that," Snape stated while trying to figure out her motivation. Was she truly simply being nice? "Why the offer?"

She shrugged awkwardly with her hands anchored in her back pockets. "We think he could help. Too. I'll admit."

"He undoubtedly could. But apparently he has insurmountable difficulties of his own to navigate at the moment."

She touched the book of potion notes on the counter beside the neatly lined up cold cauldrons. "Where is he? I mean, do you know where he is?"

This conversation was not helping Snape's state of mind; helplessness was leeching into him along with the cold draft from the window. "In a sense," he said, sounding dismayed even to himself. "But I cannot follow. Not without more knowledge." Not without the book, which he had not been able to locate.

Her red brow furrowed. She was not as silly as she acted even scant years before, as indicated by puzzling that answer rather than coming back with another question.

"Well," she said, sounding more nervous. "Just thought I'd ask."

"Does Harry know you are asking?" Snape inquired, wanting the upper hand again.

She smiled nervously, coyly. "He's planning on coming and asking you, himself."

He considered her standing there in jeans and a blouse, clean, but worn to threads around the cuffs and collar. "Why don't you have the sword?"

"What do you mean? Carry it around the house?"

"Yes. Given the age of this place, there is undoubtedly a scabbard or a dozen stashed somewhere."

She stared at him. "There is one in the decorative set over the hearth in the sitting room."

Speaking frankly, he said, "The sword is a powerful magical object with properties no one has fully documented. It has a habit of disappearing. You should keep it on your person."

She smiled like he had thought of a quaint game that sounded fun to play. "Okay."

When she opened the door Harry was standing there, poised to knock. "Oh."

"Just asking Mr. Snape something about the sword," Ginny quickly said, and slipped away.

Her light footsteps pattered down the stairs and faded out. Harry shut the door and wandered to the window. Despite clearly having a mission there in the room, he said nothing, so Snape said, "At the risk of sounding the spy trolling for information, how are things with the diadem progressing?"

"Hermione is off looking up information tonight."

"Ah, sneaking into the London Magical Library is she? I hope you gave her the cloak."

Harry frowned wryly. "That obvious?"

"Even in your reflection I can see that in your thoughts. As ghastly as the idea sounds to me, I am willing to give you more lessons in Occlumency."

Harry's mouth worked. "Maybe we could try that."

Snape saw his next thoughts too. "Then the dreams would ease."

Harry quickly looked away from the window. "Sometimes the dreams are helpful." He flipped open the potion manual and notes. "The potions you brewed us worked well. The Insentience Draught is really good to use on guards. They don't even realize later that anything happened."

Snape paced the shelves once and stood with his hands clasped behind him. "Depending upon what other restricted ingredients we can procure and how much, there are many other potions and some rather clever delivery mechanisms."

Speaking jokingly, Harry said, "Can we knock out the Ministry for a day?"

Snape stepped over to join him again by the window, glad the young man was opening up. "With enough material, we could give them a good nap."

This brought Harry's chin up to face him. "I'll keep that in mind." He sighed and looked down again; this time he straightened the cauldrons, rubbing his finger over the rainbow edge to the tarnish on a brass one.

The flash came before the noise, like a dream where the mind has to catch up and justify an errant vision. The sound approached as the shifting of countless stone blocks. It came up through the floor, cracking the plaster. They both froze in place and stared out the window, blinking through spotted vision at the flickering red rising up between the roofs, perhaps five streets away. Harry grabbed hold of the window sill and leaned closer to the glass. Smoke poured up, billowing as if trapped in a giant sack before catching on the wind and drifting, limned by the burgeoning fire. Another flash came, farther away and to the left. This rumble delayed and muted by distance.

Footsteps pounded on the stairs and shouting could be heard both within and without. Snape leaned close to the window also, trying to see what Voldemort's guards outside on the square were doing. But the power flickered to the street lamps and went out.

By the light of the oil lamp beside the cauldrons, Harry rested his head on the window, face scrunched up in pain. His hair pressed into the fresh fug as he rocked his head back and forth.

Footsteps pounded closer to the room and Harry suddenly backed into the corner beside the door hinge waving "no" at Snape. The door opened and Neville breathlessly asked, "Seen Harry?"

Snape shook his head and the door snapped closed again and the footsteps stumbled off.

Harry had sunk back into the corner between the door and the book shelves as if he wished to be swallowed up. "Go ahead and say it," he muttered, voice wavering. "I haven't done what I was supposed to. If I had, none of this would be happening. All those people would be alive, instead of dead."

"Potter," Snape said, stepping closer, wanting to lift the burden, or at least the heaviest sense of it. He stopped. There was so little he could do here.

Harry pressed himself back harder, hunched over with his hands on his head, breath coming in heaves: the picture of agony. Snape could not remain where he was. He stepped closer and reached out to brush Harry's arm, just a feather-light touch. "Potter," he said, more firmly, succor clear in his voice.

This vastly unexpected gesture shocked Harry out of his self-inflicted pain, as hoped. Harry, hand cupped over his nose and mouth, peered at him.

Snape, working to keep his tone level, said, "You're making progress, Potter. Don't give in to despair now, of all times."

Harry rubbed one eye and lowered his hand. He glanced out the window where sirens sang out and flickered in concert with the smoky glow. Strained and low, he said, "Sometimes I can't imagine how he thought I could possibly do this."

A knock sounded on the door and Harry quickly swept both eyes and straightened his shoulders. The door opened and Hermione rushed in, arms around books that looked too big to hold let alone carry.

Harry drew out of himself. "You all right?" he asked her sharply.

"Yeah. Fine." She put the books down on the bed. "With all the commotion I decided to bring things back to read."

"Good idea." He glanced at the top book. "Great Wands of History," he read out.

"Yeah, sorry. I got distracted a bit with wondering why Lucius or Draco would want Dumbledore's wand." She quickly scooped the books back up. "But I'll do some reading and let you handle other things." She glanced out the window and said sadly, "Doesn't look good; does it?"

Harry shook his head, face long.

She exhaled hard. "Hang in there, Harry," she said gently. "Things really will get better." And with that she hefted the load of books in her arms and tottered out under their weight.

- 888 -


- 888 -



Tonks let Rogan go on ahead as they circled the building to which they had been called. Like the surrounding Muggle office blocks, the windows of this one gleamed deep black from their decorative stone surrounds. Night reversed the shadows on the carved decorations making the color-washed world of London appear in negative.

Tonks shuffled along in the disguise of a night watchman. Laughter drew her attention across the wide boulevard, where two leggy women in skirts far too insubstantial for the season stumbled along, aided by one man in a suit, tie askew. They stumbled when they saw Tonks there.

"Aw, not a bobby," the man slurred, urging his friends along while they all laughed.

When the echo of high heels clattering faded around the bend, a voice made Tonks stop.

"Not exactly a bobby."

Tonks stopped. Wedged at the uneven bevelled edge of a building stood a shadow in a cloak, only discernible once he spoke.

"Severus."

At the end of the pavement, Rogan had stopped. Tonks swung her nightstick, the signal that he should go on.

Tired, Tonks said, "Did you make this call?"

"Yes."

Tonks rolled her eyes into the cold clinging air. "We're pretty busy, you know. We have another kidnapping to deal with. We would've ignored this call, but it was strange enough we thought it could be related."

Snape ignored her complaints. "This is important. I need to know what information about Moody's murder was never released to the public." A faint breeze lifted the corners of his cloak, merging his form with the oscillating shadow of the tree growing beside the nearest streetlamp.

Tonks breathed out heavily, adding to the mist. "He was hit from the front first, not in the back as we told the press. It was definitely someone he knew since his wand wasn't actually in his hand as we said. Mad Eye was wearing a leather cloak, not a woolen one. A heavy thing I don't think he could have carried if his leg hadn't been fixed.

"You adjusted quite a few details."

She huffed. "Yeah, we get a lot of crazies confessing to this kind of thing, or trying to turn in a brother in law, so that makes it easy to sort them out."

Tonks could not see Snape's face, so his voice floated out, disembodied. She shifted from foot to foot, hoping Rogan kept going around rather than come back. Snape asked, "Anything else? What spell was used?"

"We don't know for certain. He had burn marks on his clothes, in a large star pattern, almost. Strange."

"Excellent," the deep voice breathed with pleasure, sending a chill down Tonks' spine. "Give me two more days and I will be ready. Unless you receive a message from me otherwise, I will drop him where you picked him up. I want you to arrange for Fudge to be involved in the arrest."

"You aren't asking a lot or anything," Tonks snipped. "Fudge?"

"You'll manage something; I have every confidence."

"That all?" she asked, annoyed and eager to go.

"Yes. Your unhesitant cooperation is refreshing."

Tonks stared at her feet. Her shadow showed her hair had drooped without her knowing it. Stressed, she said, "The French Prison warden sent a message; he suggests moving Harry to a more secure area. Says he cannot guarantee he can hold him otherwise."

When there was no response, Tonks looked up, but the dark figure was gone. After a quick glance around, she hurried on to catch up to her partner to convince him there was nothing here worth bothering about.

- 888 -



Arthur Weasley shuffled down the corridor of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, head bent over the stack of letters he had collected. They were all letters from Harry sent to various people around the Ministry, or Weasley family members. He shuffled each letter to the back of the pile, examining the addresses, pausing at the ones written straighter than the others.

At the corner, he ran headlong into Tonks and the letters scattered.

"Sorry, Arthur." Both of them bent to scoop up the envelopes. Tonks straightened while staring at what she held. "What's this? Harry's?"

"Yes."

She held out what she had retrieved. "Are you monitoring his post?"

"Not exactly," Mr. Weasley said, bunching the letters together again. He flipped through the pile and held an envelope up for her. "Look like Harry's writing?" When Tonks nodded, he held up another, where the lines were straight. "This?"

Tonks nodded again. Mr. Weasley said, "Written a bit too neat for someone without a desk to write on."

"What are you saying?" Tonks asked, hackles raised.

Mr. Weasley put his finger to his lips. "Not a word. I have to do some more investigating." And with that he shuffled into the Aurors' office, Tonks close on his heels.

Mr. Weasley went straight to the senior Auror. "Kingsley, a call went out before Christmas for translators to help the censors at the French wizard prison. Do you happen to know who volunteered?"

Shacklebolt put up his hands in surrender. Arthur turned to Tonks and got a similar shrug. Kingsley said, "Maybe try the Foreign Liaison office in IMC?"

Mr. Weasley snapped his fingers. "Brilliant. Of course." He stashed the letters into his pocket and strode away.

Shacklebolt turned curiously to Tonks, who had dropped into her chair, legs splayed and lifeless. "I can't take much more of this," she said.

"Maybe you should arrange a breakout for Harry," he teased gently. "It would give you something to do."

"Maybe I will," she said, sounding defiant.

Shacklebolt smirked faintly. "Don't tell me the details if you do. I might have to ruin it for you."

"Oh, I won't," Tonks said, feeling slightly better for joking about it.

- 888 -



Down on the fifth floor of the Ministry, Mr. Weasley smiled sweetly at the receptionist, an ancient wizard whose curly beard hid all but his eyes and nose. "Who would I speak to about a French translation?"

The wizard reached under his desk and pulled out a form and pushed it across the desk. It was an official Document Language Alteration Request Form. Mr. Weasley pushed it back. "I just want a minute of this person's time."

The wizard pushed the form back at Mr. Weasley. If he had an expression on his face it was buried in his beard.

"No, you don't understand," Mr. Weasley said. "I don't want something translated, I just want speak to the translator."

The wizard peered dubiously at him. "In what language?"

"English," Mr. Weasley replied after a beat, a little baffled. "It's the only one I know."

The man pointed his thumb back over his broad, rounded shoulder. "You'll be wanting Mrs. Wraithwright, then. Office's on the right."

Mr. Weasley found a portly witch in faded pink robes, surrounded by shelves full of dictionaries and style manuals. She greeted him with a broad smile and went back to penning something with a peacock quill. "Hello, and what can I do for you?"

Mr. Weasley shut the door to the office and slipped up to the desk. "I'm wondering if you happen to know who has been assisting the French prison with translating Harry Potter's post?"

"You mean L'île de Cachot Méfait?" she asked lilting heavily, but let him off by smiling again and not waiting for a reply. "I have been helping. As has another staff member."

"Someone from this office?"

She shook her broad head. "No, no, someone from the Department of Which We Don't Speak."

Mr. Weasley stood straighter. "Do you know who?"

"Yes, of course. I frequently see him there."

"At the prison?" Mr. Weasley said. "I thought Magical Law Enforcement had the only two keys."

She spoke soothingly. "I'm certain you do. They send an escort for us." Leaning in conspiratorially, she said, "One of these days I'm going to talk the guard into a quick diversion to a Parisian café for lunch. You'll see." Smiling to herself, she sat up and said, "Yes, he's a bit brusque, young Percy is. Could use a tad more personality, but as long as he keeps quiet so I can work without unneeded distraction-"

"Percy? Where did he learn French?" Mr. Weasley blurted.

Chuckling, Wraithwright said, "Why don't you have a seat? Your feet might not hurt, but mine do just imagining standing that long. Name's Wilimina, by the way. Call me Winnie."

"Arthur. Pleased to meet you." Mr. Weasley tugged a chair over and sat upon it, thoughts moving through his head too quickly to amount to anything. They settled into an official groove and he said, "I'd like to ask you not to discuss our conversation with Percy, if you would. It's sort of important that he not know we talked."

"If you wish. As to your question, Percy told me he learned his French because he had an eye on a girl at school one year. Took a correspondence course, aided by some memory sweets his brothers cooked up." She crossed her broad arms and clearly enjoying herself added, "I asked him if it worked out with girl and he finally admitted he never got the nerve to talk to her even once. Just as well, his pronunciation leaves, shall we say, a bit to be desired."

Mr. Weasley slipped fully into professional mode. "When you and Percy are at the prison, are you given access to any areas beyond your work area?"

"We can go to the tea room, of course, whenever we like. Percy does insist on fetching the tea. Someone taught him his manners, I must say, to a fault, perhaps, even."

He narrowed his question. "If you wanted to go into the areas where the prisoners were housed, would you be able to do that?"

"I've not had the notion to try," she exclaimed. "The very thought. All manner of humanity and beyond in that place."

- 888 -



"I'm going to teach you a very nice spell," Snape said, bending over the foreign wizard sitting on the floor. The morning's doping left the man slow and passive, safe to hand a wand to. Because Snape need not concern himself with damaging other memories, he could employ rather brutal, identity-weakening potions. Normally this sort of reprogramming required delicacy and a great deal of time to wear down resistance.

With typical slow movements, the man examined the wand he held, fascinated by it.

"The incantation is Stellifera. It has a rather nasty result if used with enough force, so I think you will like it."

Crouching and taking the man's pliant hand, Snape repeated the motion several times while whispering the incantation in his ear. Using an accent he had adapted to match his victim's, Snape said soothingly, "You've been using violence to paper over the guilt of that first uncontrolled act, trying to overcome it by making it part of you. You've failed at that . . . it's only become worse. But you no longer need pretend. You will be purified from that old act very soon. You wish to be, don't you?"

The man nodded sadly, eyes fixed on the floor as though too ashamed to even look up. When first brought there, his hair had been shiny and would have bounced as he nodded, but now it lay around his face, dull and flat.

Snape lifted the wand out of the man's fingers. When he reached shakily for it, Snape said, "You may have it back presently. Very soon, in fact. But first a bit of sleep, so you remember the spell."

He did not actually put the man to sleep; he put him under hypnosis. On top of the psycho-tropic potions, this resulted in a dreamy, drool-inducing state.

Snape waited ten minutes before rapping the man on the shoulder to rouse him. He put a Lumos Charm on his wand and moved it before the man's sagging eyelids to hold his attention. In the manner of a soporific chant, he said, "Remember, the guilt will wash clean away the moment you confess what you did to someone in high authority. The higher the authority the purer you will become. Nothing will matter after that. You will be serene and safe from your own conscience."

Snape waited again for that to worm its way in, biting his jaw to keep from rushing. One last test, and everything would be ready. The man's eyes blinked slowly, but erratically, almost a code. Careful to keep all eagerness out of his voice, Snape chanted on. "When you come face to face with this authority figure, what will you do?"

The man swallowed, reluctantly, which was fine, as it would add to the realism. "I'll tell them what I did."

"And what did you do?"

"I killed the Auror."

"Why?"

"Because I was told to."

"By whom?"

The man struggled for an answer, finally stressfully admitting, "I don't know."

No Durumulna foot soldier ever knew the answer to that, which made this all so very easy. Snape slipped the man's wand into his hand and said, "And you did it with the spell you learned just for this job."

The man nodded sagely and thought it all over. Snape, with the aid of a hallucinatory potion, had given the man his own imaginings of the scene of Moody's death using a pensieve. Only in snippets, though, and only disjointed. He had then led the man to perform walkthroughs of the event to smooth over the edges of the fake memories, to connect them to the man's muscle memory.

Snape hovered the ratty old blanket into the air against the blackened hearth and said, "Why don't you show me the spell you used?"

Moving dreamlike, which gave the spell very little force, the man curved and swished the wand. He skipped speaking the incantation, but it did not matter; a ripple like a heat wave emitted from the wand and when it encountered the blanket it bunched up on itself and flared white hot, leaving behind a star pattern burned into the fabric.

"Hm," Snape mused softly. "Silent even. No wonder they hired you for the job."

- 888 -



Mr. Weasley sat at his dining room table, wearing his index finger raw rubbing the chipped edge of the tea cup he held.

"Something the matter, Arthur?" Mrs. Weasley asked. When she did not receive a reply, she looked up from her embroidery.

"I don't know yet," Mr. Weasley replied. "Not for certain, at any rate."

He sat awhile longer, trying to overcome base instinct to think only the best of his son. Rather than thinking, he should be taking action to find out the answer—treat it like any other investigation. He noted that Molly had her wand in hand for her needlework, mostly for undoing parts of it. She worked at adding a pattern of daffodils to the tablecloth . . . while it was on the table. It was pretty much the only thing left in the house unadorned.

He stood. "I'll return in a bit."

"It's getting late. Are you off to the office?"

"I just need some fresh air," he reassured her, not wanting to give anything away, lest they be monitored somehow. Harry's warnings about Legilimency made it easier to be extra careful.

Moments later Mr. Weasley knocked upon the heavy door to Aaron's flat. The young man uncharacteristically stuttered upon seeing him, "M- Mr. Weasley, sir." But he recovered his usual gallant style and bowed him in.

"Dad?" Ginny said in surprise, standing up from the couch where she had been reading Aaron's Auror books.

Mr. Weasley cut off her questions, by taking her shoulders. "No time. Do me a favor and go keep your mum company. Both of you, if you would, Aaron, my boy. I have something I need to do and I may be out a while." When she tried to interrupt, he ignored her and said, "Don't say I sent you. Pretend you went spur of the moment."

Aaron sidled over. "We can say we came to see you, even."

Mr. Weasley pointed at him. "Good thought. And whatever you do, do not let Molly give you any of Harry's letters to read. Well, gotta run." With that he Disapparated.

"What-?" Ginny began, but she was asking the empty air. "What in Merlin's name is that about?"

"Let's go see your mum," Aaron eagerly said. He scooped up her books and tossed them in his satchel before heading to the cupboard for their cloaks.

"Why are you in such a hurry?" Ginny complained lightly. "You want to get grilled by my mother about how we are getting on? As if I want to talk to her, anyway." She huffed.

Aaron hooked her cloak around her neck and attractively bit his lip while hooking it. "I'll admit, I'd like to get it out of the way. Not so much that I'm looking forward to it, exactly." He patted her shoulders. "Come along. Duty calls."

She stretched her shoulders back. "Yep, I suppose it does. Are your assignments always this mysterious?"

He grinned as he said, "Do they treat us like mushrooms all the time . . . you are asking? Absolutely."

Molly Weasley was thrilled enough to see them that she asked no difficult questions at all and in return Ginny held her tongue about Harry. Her mother hooked her arms through one each of theirs and led them to the table. "So good to see you both. Have a seat."

The two of them joined her around the daffodils blooming along the edge of the cloth piled up on the table top.

"Found something else to decorate, I see," Ginny said. "Flowers are good."

Aaron bent down and blinked in alarm at the bright yellow and green congregation already crowding his side of the table.

"A bit nicer than gnomes," Ginny added firmly, mostly to keep Aaron's commentary in line.

He nodded sideways in agreement with that.

Mrs. Weasley grinned at them in turn. "I have a surprise for you. Something I'm working on. Just practicing on mine first." From a bag at her feet she pulled out a brand new shimmering tablecloth and with frantic movements to contain the slippery fabric, lined up the edge along above she was working. "Nice fabric, don't you think? I'm going to use the shiny thread to match. I'm sure it will look lovely at Aaron's place."

Ginny swallowed. "Er . . ."

"You know," Aaron said, jumping up to look at things from her angle. "Do you have thread with, er, more muted colors?"

"Muted? Why on earth would one use that?" But she dug around in her basket as she spoke.

Aaron's jaw worked a second before he recovered. "It would go better with the existing décor." He reached around her and slid the cloth over. "Here, put a single daffodil. But in, ah, these shades of green." He rummaged through her collection. "And this yellow."

"That's grey."

"No, that's got a tinge of yellow. And put a vertical bar of a warm grey. Like this one. Here." He held up a spool of thread to show her.

"A grey bar?" Mrs. Weasley repeated, mystified.

"Yes, beside the flower, extending up and down." He drew with his finger on the fabric as he spoke, as though seeing it already. "One here and just one other on the other corner. I have some tall square vases and the combination will be divine."

"Sounds quite plain," Mrs. Weasley said. "But if that's what you like."

Aaron make an okay shape with his fingers. "Minimalist, is the word you are looking for. Minimalist."

"Ahhhh..." she said, picking up the grey thread for the needle, and winking at him.

As Aaron settled back beside her, Ginny grinned and mouthed, "Good job." Remembering herself, she sat up and said, "So, where is Dad?"

"Went for a walk, or a little broom flight or something. Wanted some air." She sounded down. "Don't know why."

"Huh," Ginny said, sounding mystified, which expressed how she felt. This felt too much like Harry sending her to guard Candide. Who did her dad think could get through the Burrow's protective charms anyway?

At the French Wizard prison, Mr. Weasley found that the night warden did not speak enough English to answer his questions about the translators. The best he could communicate, with lots of sign language, was that he wished to speak with Harry.

The guard, who made rather a lot of noise when he walked, fetched Harry to the break room area at the end of the cell block. Harry crossed his arms upon seeing Mr. Weasley there, and blinked in the lamplight like one woken up moments ago.

"Sir," Harry said after a sniffle.

Mr. Weasley turned to the guard. "If we may speak alone?" But the guard simply stared at him.

Harry said, "We are alone . . . he doesn't speak English."

"Ah. Yes." He stepped closer. Harry appeared gaunt on top of poorly slept. "Are they feeding you all right?"

"Is that what you came to ask in the middle of the night?"

Mr. Weasley held up his hands to ward off his anger. "No. But I'm asking anyway, after getting a look at you."

Harry shrugged. "I'm not always hungry. Believe me, they regularly try to stuff me full of fancy French food."

"Well, good, at least you aren't being abused."

- 888 -



Harry resisted answering Mr. Weasley just to be difficult. This whole situation felt, if not abusive, then at least lacking in consideration of his rights. But honesty won out, and he said, "No. Not for the most part. One guard here doesn't particularly like me, but the warden said he wouldn't assign him to me anymore."

Mr. Weasley contemplated him. "In that case, you are being treated extremely well given how these places are normally run. But as you implied with your biting question, that is not why I am here. I'm here because someone has been sending poetic letters in your name. Molly even received one."

"Poetic letters?" Harry echoed, sleepy mind slow to comprehend, but it snapped in place. "From the poets here?" Mr. Weasley nodded, and Harry added, "Well, it wasn't me."

"I know that, Harry. They are being sent to your biggest allies, to mute their complaint about your situation." Mr. Weasley began to pace. "So I asked around and discovered that one of the two translators that come here every few days to help censor your post, is my son, Percy."

Harry felt heat course through his arms and neck. A cell door rattled, but he pulled back on his anger and it stopped.

Mr. Weasley paced back the other way. "I'm trying to understand what is happening here."

"No, you aren't," Harry heard himself say. That energy had filled him again, and it gave him clarity and no desire to withhold his thoughts. "You aren't trying to understand; you are unwilling to suspect him of anything. You always think the best of people until it is too late." From the back of Harry's mind came the wry notion that Mr. Weasley gave him exactly the same benefit.

Mr. Weasley did not reply right away. "Do you have anything besides suspicion, Harry?"

"Do you?" Harry returned immediately.

"I'm close," Mr. Weasley admitted.

"You won't find any proof if you don't want to find it," Harry calmly pointed out, feeling victory in that small cruelty. The shadows hummed in the air, but apparently only he could feel it, based on Mr. Weasley's lack of reaction. It was as if Harry stood at the center of a circle of power, and could draw on it at will, if only he wished to. If he kept it narrowly focused he remained in control; more than that and it would overtake him.

Mr. Weasley must be sensing something because he was watching him now, with curiosity and wariness. Harry remained silent and saw in Mr. Weasley's eyes that his thoughts returned to worrying about Percy and how to approach him. Harry said, "It would be foolish to confront him directly, since it would tip your hand."

Mr. Weasley turned abruptly on his toes and resumed pacing. "I believe I better understand Ginny's concerns about you," he said without looking up. "I would move you, Harry, to the dungeon at the Ministry, if I did not fear it would constitute the perfect trap for someone wishing to do you harm. Many, many people have access to the dungeon.

"You needn't to worry about me," Harry said mockingly. He did not mean to but the power hungered to be on top.

Mr. Weasley finally met Harry's gaze, because he forgot not to. "That's not true. You remain my responsibility, in more ways than one."

"I'm tired of being everyone's responsibility," Harry snapped. "You, the warden, Severus. . . I can take care of myself."

Mr. Weasley frowned and let that go. "If Percy is involved, then we-"

"If Percy is responsible, you mean."

"Involved. Then we are much closer to getting you out."

"Because the investigation is at a dead end otherwise," Harry supplied, mocking again. "I won't wait in this place forever."

"It's not even been two weeks," Mr. Weasley countered, finding some sharpness.

Harry sighed lightly. "It may feel like it to you. It feels like months to me."

"I know, Harry. And I am sorry for that. It was all supposed to be straight by now."

He did sound sorry, which sucked the thickest darkness out of Harry. But thinking of Snape, trapped in that miserable world made him say, "Another week is all I will stay."

Mr. Weasley glanced around, assessing the walls. "I'm not certain what you think you are going to do, but your timeline is duly noted."

"Fine," Harry said, crossing his arms. "Just so you're informed."

Mr. Weasley exhaled and swung his arms once. "On another topic. My daughter is rather cross with me for not bringing her here to see you. You sent her a letter that sent her on a mission of sorts." When Harry did not reply, he went on. "Can I take her a message from you. Something that might perhaps get me off her Worst Dad in the World list?"

Harry felt for the shadows around him. He could no longer discern where he ended and they began. "Tell her to be careful. Do her readings."

Mr. Weasley complained, "She's going to think I made that up."

Harry smiled faintly and felt like himself again in a rush. "Tell her she needn't panic but just stay alert."

"That will have to do, I suppose," Mr. Weasley tiredly said. "I believe the warden is looking out for you, above and beyond what we expected, but if there is anything you need, do let us know. I wish you would be more patient with us, Harry."

"You don't know how hard it has been to stay here even this long," Harry said. "You don't understand much of anything."

Mr. Weasley put his hat back on out of his pocket, covering the uncombed hair flying away off the top of his head. "I don't think you've kept us well informed."

Harry, fully charged again, stated clearly, as though he were the one in charge, "The things I did tell you, you refused to believe. You would not believe any of the rest."

- 888 -



Despite it not being her shift, Tonks sat in the Aurors' office, pretending to work on paperwork, when in reality, she frantically schemed how to arrange things that evening per Snape's demands.

There was a meeting that afternoon with the Minister and the department heads, and she intended to wheedle her way into it. Odds were that Fudge, who could not leave his nose out of anything, would also have worked out an invitation. It was her only chance.

Shacklebolt sat at a nearby desk, plucking lint from his robes as he dictated to his quill. Tonks waited for a break in his transcription to ask, "You're going to the meeting today, right?"

Shacklebolt rolled his eyes and grumbled. "Yes, I suppose."

"You sound thrilled."

"Waste of time," he muttered.

Tonks shrugged, and hunched over in his direction, hands clasped before her. "I could go to it instead so you could work. I haven't been feeling terribly useful lately." It was easy to sound strained. She did feel useless, in more ways than they knew.

"If Arthur will have you along, that'd be just grand with me." He shook his head. "He just wants someone to help back him up and take notes."

Tonks sat considering how to approach Mr. Weasley when the man wandered in. Shacklebolt grabbed up his quill off the parchment and said stiffly, "Take Tonks with you. I have too much to do to waste time in a meeting."

Mr. Weasley said, "Well, if I had any delusions about being in charge, Harry and now you, are doing well at convincing me otherwise."

Shacklebolt stood and canceled his quill before dropping it on his desk. "Sorry, Arthur. Just a bit stretched thin."

Mr. Weasley regained his warmth. "I'll take Tonks along, Kingsley, don't interrupt what you are doing."

Tonks followed him out. He walked to the stairs instead of the lift. On the way, he said, "I saw Harry last night."

Tonks was watching her light blue boots walk along the floor, but this brought her attention up. "You did?"

"Yes. He seemed all right. But . . . not quite himself."

"He shouldn't be there, Arthur. It's not good for him."

They had reached the next floor, so the conversation stopped. Tonks and Mr. Weasley slipped by the group gathered around the Minister's doorway, making goodbyes. Inside the Minister's office, Fudge and Percy, as well as the head of International Magical Cooperation were waiting.

Tonks took the seat beside Mr. Weasley and sat quietly, hoping she could pull this off without raising suspicion. Bones swept into the room and opened the meeting with her usual grand manners, intended to draw everyone present to her way of thinking.

"All right then, reports from the last week, if you will." Parchments were pushed her way, which she redirected to an assistant. "Summarize if you will."

Mr. Weasley began by explaining that earlier outreach efforts were paying off in increased tips of suspicious activities. Fudge scoffed through most of his summary. He concluded with: "We're still waiting on assistance from our colleagues in Portugal."

Bones said, "Even though that is a lead in for a report from IMC, I sense you would like to go next Cornelius."

Fudge leaned forward, elbow out on the table, and said to Mr. Weasley. "You neglected to mention that your crime activity statistics slipped again this week, all but your precious anonymous tips, most of which will amount to nothing."

He went on in this vein, until Tonks, tired of it and seeing her chance, interrupted his red-faced diatribe. "If you think this is so easy, why don't you try patrol for a night or two."

Mr. Weasley put a hand on her arm. "It's all right, Tonks."

This was going to be the best chance of arranging what Snape wanted, and like Shacklebolt she had stress as an excuse for losing control. She shook his hand off. "It's not all right. We're supposed to be working together, but all Fudge ever does is blame, not help. If he wants to help he can do a few rounds of patrol." She sat back and crossed her arms.

Mr. Weasley too must have tired of Fudge, because rather than get short tempered with her as Tonks expected, he wryly said, "I'm not sure which of you I could possibly convince to partner with him."

"I'll take him out," Tonks angrily said, "if it will shut him up."

The table fell silent. "Ridiculous," Fudge scoffed. "I have far more important things to be doing." To demonstrate this, he began rearranging the many notes before him.

Bones said, "I think it's a wonderful idea."

"What?" Fudge blurted, turning redder.

"I think we all lack appreciation for the difficult job the Aurors' office does." She waved to her assistant to take a note. "I think several department heads would benefit from tagging along on patrol for an evening."

Tonks glanced at Mr. Weasley's alarmed face. "We don't have to make a project out of this," she said.

"Nonsense," Bones countered. "It's a great idea."

Tonks sat back again and in a mode of apology to her boss muttered. "I didn't mean to have a great idea. Really, I didn't."

But Tonks had arranged what she needed to, and that evening Fudge stood before the log book, getting a tour of it from Rogan.

Tonks took small satisfaction from Fudge asking, "All these calls are just yesterday's?"

Rogan turned out to be a natural at the task he had been given. "Oh, that was a quiet day," he said dismissively.

A Magical Disturbance call came in from Wiltshire, and everyone turned to Tonks questioningly. "Want that one?" Rogan asked. "Shouldn't be a tough one."

Tonks had to wait for the call from Scunthorpe that she felt confident Snape would arrange. She fingered the slip. "It's probably just the local coven, disturbing the Muggles by racing modified broomsticks again. I don't think Mr. Fudge would get much out of that."

Rogan, trying not to smile, said, "Unless Durumulna decides to weasel in on the established bookmakers, no, probably not."

Fudge took the slip. "They may decide to do just that."

"Least of our problems if they do," Rogan said, taking a seat and putting his hands behind his head. Sounding lazy, he said, "Pass it on to Reversal. Probably their purview anyway."

Tonks would have pointed out that he wasn't making a great impression, were he not inadvertently helping her. She sat down to wait again, pulling out an old report and pretending to look diligent. Rogan followed her example and did the same. Fudge prowled the room, finally settling on the task of auditing their temporary filing practices, something Shacklebolt had been harping on for a while, so everyone left him to it, on the condition he not complain aloud, but take down notes about his concerns.

Finally, the call arrived. "Aye," Rogan muttered as he read the slip. "Not again."

Tonks joined him at the log book, half on instinct, and Fudge naturally followed.

"What is it?" Fudge asked.

Tonks replied, "A warehouse Durumulna had been using." She glanced at Rogan. He would be easy to convince. "I could take this one," she said, sounding vaguely reluctant. "At least it has some connection to the organization most of interest to Mr. Fudge." She passed the slip over and held her breath. This was going well, and she feared mucking it up.

Fudge rocked back on his heels, which made his belly more pronounced. "I've found this evening to be nothing but a waste of time, so I will take any call, just for a change of scenery."

Tonks took up her cloak. "Probably nothing, but it's a familiar locale, so we can case it quickly if it's a false alarm."

The long, low roof of the warehouse stood quietly in the late evening light that brightened the sky in a way so as to render everything else darker by comparison. Tonks crept alongside a rack holding square metal rods and nearly tripped when she tread upon something fleshy that gave a squeak of complaint. She regained her footing and held up a hand to stop Fudge from stepping on it also.

A Lumos Charm revealed a dog, curled tightly upon itself, mouth closed with a curse.

"That's telling," Fudge whispered.

"We'll free it when we're through," Tonks said. "We don't want it barking either."

At the door to the warehouse, Tonks knocked off the lock, distracted and assuming somehow that their prey would be an easy catch. She assumed wrong. A spell sizzled just over their heads as the door swung open. Without thinking, Tonks shoved Fudge back out the door and dived for cover between the racks inside. She sent a shower of movement inhibiting spells through the gaps and things fell silent.

Tonks quelled her breathing. She might have him, or she might not. Snape did a good job to leave this much fight in the man, she thought. She was just about to send out a Doppelgänger when Fudge pulled on the door from the outside, which brought on another barrage of spells. It instinctively felt like covering fire. Tonks ducked down and slipped through the rods on the lowest rack, just as a Blasting Curse sparkled from behind her, along the row.

Tonks rolled, and despite painful scuffing on her hands, knees and shoulder, slipped again through the next rack and got to her feet. There were two of them, apparently. A spell shot out low, knocking her legs out from under her. Tonks threw a Grappling Charm upwards, which found purchase on the open framed ceiling, and whispered the reeling trigger. She flew upward, just as the racks smashed together.

Tonks canceled the grapple and surveyed the scene from her perch on a crossbeam. A figure moved below, too thin to be Fudge. She struck it straight down with a heavy Net Charm and jumped onto the closet rack, but the pipes on it had been upset by the collision moments before, and they began to roll en masse off one side. Tonks threw herself to the other side and grabbed hold as they rolled under her. "Look out!" she shouted, having no idea where Fudge was.

The deafening crash died out only after long seconds of echo and reverberation.

"Mr. Fudge?" Tonks called, climbing in a panic down the end of the rack. Being well practiced at upsetting things had probably saved her life.

"Over here." He sounded strained.

She bent to check the figure under the net and found him out cold. It was not the man she expected to find. With a wave the net became a Mummification Curse that she hovered behind her. Banging sounded on the nearby the door as well as shouting. The door must have been magically barred because it shook against the loose latch without yielding.

Tonks stepped quickly over the piles of pipe to where Fudge stood over another figure. There was no time. The other door was wide open and it would not take long for the Muggles to go around.

"We have to go. Ministry. Now," Tonks said, grabbing hold of her charge.

She arrived in the Atrium, in the only area they could Apparate into. She counted to three, prepared to return, but Fudge appeared just as she began to hover her prisoner over where he could not Apparate away again without help or breaking his bonds. Relief flooded her bruised limbs upon seeing Snape's "project" hanging from Fudge's fat-fingered grip.

Curious onlookers gathered. Fudge, hand grasping his prisoner's cloak instead, said, "You need a better area to Apparate into."

"We've been saying that a long time," Tonks smartly pointed out, while pushing her way through the small throng. "We'd happily use the large cupboard off the dungeon. But someone accused us of a power grab by virtue of controlling office space, or some such nonsense."

They were ushered through the gates by the receptionist.

"Ah," Fudge said.

At the lifts, Tonks couldn't resist saying, "That was you, wasn't it?"

Fudge hemmed a bit. "I'd have to check my notes to be certain."

Tonks bit down on a smile and roughly shoved her prisoner into the corner of the lift cage. She observed Fudge's prisoner was also having a difficult time with breathing given Fudge's grip. "Not a bad haul," Tonks said.

Fudge said, "You seemed rather blasé in how you approached that facility."

That had been a mistake, from many angles; one undoubtedly brought on by exhaustion. "We've been there many times where it's come to naught," she explained.

He nodded, accepting that to her relief.

They assigned each of the prisoners to an interrogation room and Tonks went to wash up and get some bruise salve out of her desk.

Mr. Weasley sauntered in. "What is this Fudge is saying about a good catch?"

Tonks looked up from dabbing gel on her elbow. She smarted everywhere. "We found two Durumulna members at the warehouse in Scunthorpe. And on that topic, Reversal should make sure the scene is clear. There is a dog to uncurse if not some memory charms to be distributed."

"So you failed, then?" Mr. Weasley asked. At her confused gaze, he explained, lightly teasing, "You are giving Cornelius the impression that what we do is easy."

Tonks sat down to treat her skinned knee with a spell and some gel. "Given the fight they put up, I hope he didn't get that impression."

Shacklebolt came in. "Fudge wants to interrogate his prisoner."

Mr. Weasley straightened from helping Tonks to say, "That's our responsibility. Put a stop to it."

Tonks held in her reaction. Shacklebolt crossed his arms and said, "Perhaps that should come from someone of his rank."

Mr. Weasley stalked off. Tonks, hoping to stall him, put her gel down and followed him, limping faintly.

"He's more on our side at the moment," she said, speaking rapidly. "Maybe don't rub him the wrong way?"

"Cornelius has no right way to be rubbed," Mr. Weasley stated and opened the door to the interrogation room.

The prisoner sat in the corner, legs pulled up to his chest as a bulwark against the tirade Fudge was putting out.

"You are despicable, you know that? Living off other people's labors like you deserve it. Threatening people, ruining their livelihoods when they resist you," Fudge said, pointing directly in the man's face. "When I was Minister of Magic, this sort of thing did not happen, I'll tell you."

Mildly, Mr. Weasley said, "Yes, we just had Voldemort to contend with."

In a small voice, the prisoner asked, "You were Minister of Magic?"

Fudge straightened proudly and pushed his girth out before him. "I certainly was. For seven years. Some of the best years Wizarding Britain has ever had."

Tonks held her tongue with effort. Mr. Weasley said, "I would appreciate you leaving the interrogation to us, Cornelius."

"He's my prisoner," Fudge countered. "By all rights I can simply take him down the Department of Mysteries."

Tonks could not hold back. "Why in the world would you want to do that?"

Fudge blustered. "I am just saying." He rubbed his hands together and lorded over the prisoner. "This department seems to capture all kinds but not to get much out of them."

Mr. Weasley said, "That's because they don't know much, or have you not been reading our memos?"

Fudge ignored this. "Get a transcribing quill and we'll see what we can do, eh?"

Mr. Weasley slipped by Tonks, saying, "Keep an eye on him, would you?"

Tonks' heart rate was about double normal. She gratefully sat on the stool Fudge was ignoring and held her wand out at ready. Watching Fudge rant, she wondered with no small amazement at Snape's scheming. He must have known that once the former Minister had their plant in his hands, he would not let him go, walking merrily into the trap they had set.

Mr. Weasley returned with an Autoquill and a roll of parchment. He set the Autoquill going and gave the date and time and those present. He then gestured at Fudge to continue.

Fudge bowed faintly and turned to the perpetrator. "So, young man, happy with what you have wrought?"

Mr. Weasley rolled his eyes and Tonks put her hand to her forehead in dismay. Fudge cleared his throat and tried again. "Why were you there in that place? That place where we found you?"

"I was hiding," the man said, as though speaking to an idiot.

"Now we are getting somewhere," Fudge said, clasping his hands before him. "How long have you been this country?" When the man did not reply, Fudge kicked the bottom of his sole with his toe. "Well, perhaps some Veritaserum will get us somewhere."

Mr. Weasley said, "It won't. He doesn't know the answer to that. He knows very little, Cornelius, believe me."

Tonks began to fear that Fudge would so bungle this that the confession Snape presumably had him ready to give, would never come out, but she absolutely did not want to raise even a hair of suspicion by seeming to manipulate what was happening. She grasped for another option. "We have a standard procedure we follow," she began, thinking of the list of normal questions and that one would likely trigger something.

Fudge turned on her, his temper flaring. "Maybe your standard procedures are the problem. It's time for something creative around here."

Mr. Weasley calmly said, "They serve us quite well, but go ahead as you were if you wish. But I'll have to ask you to not to strike the prisoner again."

"I didn't strike him," Fudge said, flabbergasted.

"You did. And if you do it again I will throw you out of here."

Fudge rose up and said, "You think they'd treat you equally well? I read the report of what they did to that apprentice of yours."

Mr. Weasley replied, "Precisely why I refuse to stoop to their level. I consider us to be better than them." He let that sit and said, "This is my department Cornelius. I'll have you removed if I see fit to, and I will keep the prisoner."

The Autoquill finished writing all that out during the lull. Tonks said, "Should we restart that?"

Mr. Weasley waved her off. "No. Leave it." He moved to stand in the corner opposite Tonks, leaning heavily on the wall, head drooped with exhaustion. Tonks stared at him, waiting for him to look her way. When he did, she gave him a proud smile. He barely acknowledged it and looked away, down at the prisoner in the adjacent corner, mind and focus elsewhere.

Fudge leaned close to the man, making a point of not touching him. "So, you were hiding, were you? Hiding from what?"

The man struggled, in an odd way, Tonks thought. He did not hesitate, exactly, more that he could not put his thoughts together. He wanted to confess, she thought with a chill, but Fudge was not setting it up right.

Finally, the man repeated, "Hiding."

Fudge stood. "Where do they get these blokes? They're not smart enough to lace their boots."

Mr. Weasley, from his corner, said, "If you'd lost as much of your memories as this one has, you would have about as much to say. We imagine they are perpetrating crimes against us, but they also do grievous injury to their own."

Tonks frowned, feeling guilty about what was almost certainly more injury caused to this one . . . with her assistance.

"What is your role in Durumulna?" Fudge asked the man.

Tonks did not think he would answer, but the man said, "I do what I'm told."

"Ah." Fudge paced, and muttered, "We could use a few of you around here."

Tonks rolled her eyes again, and glanced at Mr. Weasley, expecting commiseration, but found him lost in thought and looking saddened.

"And what were you told to do lately? Anything you remember?"

The man's jaw moved, then stopped. Fudge went on, cajoling. "Come one, we haven't all day. We have things to do. Cleaning up the mess you people have made, for one thing."

Fudge was about to launch into another question, when the man softly said, "I didn't want to kill him."

Everyone froze, Tonks with her heart racing again, and Mr. Weasley rising back to awareness of his immediate surroundings.

The man on the floor swallowed hard. "I didn't mean . . . I didn't want to." He seemed confused, and shook his head like a dog would after running headlong into something.

"Who?" Fudge prompted, fortunately losing his overbearing mode.

"The Auror," the man replied, then shuddered faintly as though struck by something invisible. "I was told to," he added, sounding almost eager to speak.

Tonks swallowed too, and sat on her hands to keep them from shaking. She felt nauseated and faintly dizzy.

Fudge needed time to recover, but he finally asked, "You killed which Auror?"

"The one . . . " The man had to think about that, and Tonks held her breath, fearing that he did not have an answer supplied by his programming. After much apparent digging through his memories the man replied, "The one with the machine eye."

Mr. Weasley pushed out of the corner, shifting quickly into action. He re-read the transcript and looked up at Tonks. She drew on his innocent excitement, and let her limbs relax.

Fudge said, "Alastor Moody?" Turned to glance between Tonks and Mr. Weasley, looking for help.

Mr. Weasley whispered, "Ask him what spell."

"What spell did you use, you, you worthless ruffian?"

The man raised his wandless hand and ran through a spell. "Stellifera," he said. "I learned it . . . just for the job." He sounded far away, happy almost. It gave Tonks the quivers.

"Heard of it?" Mr. Weasley asked her. When Tonks shook her head, he said, "Go look it up."

Tonks rushed down to the Aurors' office and thumbed through the Compleat Encyclopædia of Spells, hand shaking too badly to find the right page.

Shacklebolt came up behind her and took the book away. He kindly asked, "What are you looking for?"

"Stellifera." She should tell him the prisoner confessed, but could not bring herself to do it.

Looking at her, Shacklebolt closed the book on his thumb at the right page and said, "Stay here. I'll go down."

She held her hands out for the book. "No, I'll go."

He opened the book for her and gently handed it over. "There in the right column." Tonks hoped that soon, their extra consideration would not be needed.

She took the book and rushed back, hoping she felt better about all this when she had Harry safely home, but feared she may not.

Mr. Weasley read the spell description. "As the name indicates, leaves a distinctive star-shaped marking of burns." He levered the heavy book closed and again looked at Tonks, as though needing confirmation.

"Can I go get Harry?" She pleaded, desperate to leave, to escape, to reach the ends before guilt about the means overwhelmed her.

He glanced at the transcript one more time then looked at Fudge, who put up his hands in surrender.

Mr. Weasley said, "Let's go and get him. I expect they'll let us straighten out our part of the paperwork later."


Author Note: I've started using double breaks (- 888 -) to denote jumps between universes. Been doing that for a few chapters, but I thought I'd point it out.


Next: Chapter 35

As they rose in the lift, the air grew colder and fresher. Harry tipped his head back and breathed deeply. The shadows grew distant and he instinctively grabbed for them, pulling them along. The lift stopped, throwing them up onto their toes, and Harry lost his grip on them and his package.

He picked it up slowly, stalling to see if he could recapture that fortifying sense of power. Tonks, thinking he needed help, picked it up for him and hooked it under her own arm while taking his. Something was going on behind her eyes, something easy to use. But she turned to lead him off before he could delve into it.

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