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Chapter 49 — Restless Renegade

Feet half-numb and legs unsteady, Harry slipped from the Dark Plane into the far corner of the warehouse, where a wide pillar and a wall formed a protected area. Mr. Weasley and Rodgers were crouched beside the pillar, ducked low. They did not sense Harry arriving under his cloak. Smoke and the scent of spell-cooked air drifted by. Harry's instincts resisted moving at first. They complained bitterly about danger and lack of allies with each step.

Harry put one foot in front of the other, wand out, and walked around the wall, away from the others, to look out. The catwalk cloth was aflame in places, sending down grey snow edged in glowing orange.

Harry backed up and ran a quick check. His barriers were still holding, which made him bite his lip out of pride. Checking that his cloak well covered his feet still, Harry ducked and scuttled to the next pillar. Rusting rods within the concrete had cracked off the corners. The stained surface plucked at his cloak when he pressed back against it and looked over his shoulder, trying to catalog spell trails to identify who was where. 

A black clad figure swooped down from the rafters on broomstick, eliciting a burst of spells from Harry's left where Rogers and Mr. Weasley crouched. The flyer fell, and vanished just as it hit the ground, a doppelgänger, which meant it was a distraction. Harry moved without thought, knowing in his energized body that the direction of danger had just shifted 180 degrees. He slid around the pillar just as the wall to his right blew in, with more noise than movement, since his old barrier spells fought the force of the spell explosion. 

Someone cried out but it was unnaturally cut short. The barrage of spells from within the warehouse ratcheted up, as if twice as many people were suddenly there, but had been sitting idle. Bricks rattled to the floor where the wall sank inward and dust ballooned outward, dust that would reveal an invisible figure. 

Overpowering fear propelled Harry away from the burgeoning dust cloud and into the center of the warehouse. Spells sizzled overhead. One struck beside him, blackening the floor in an arc. Harry jerked back toward the site of the explosion, the closest shelter. He ducked to his knees and pinned his cloak around his wrist with his other hand to reinforce the barrier spell on that wall. The spells came so easily, even in the heat of panic, that it startled him. A figure fluttered into view through the broken opening, pawed against the barrier in a few places, then ran on. 

Spells continued to crackle around him, Harry pushed to his feet and headed for some stacks of abandoned pallets, knocked askew by the blast, but still high enough to hide behind. A splayed out figure was pinned beneath the stack. Harry began to crouch, stood again, and backed up to the wall to carefully hover the pile straight. A few complicated waves glued the piles together, which would provide better protection.

Harry crouched again and patted Tridant on the shoulder. He groaned and turned his head to face Harry. His close-cut, wheat-colored hair had rivulets of red coursing through it. Harry glanced around, but no one approached. Tridant should not have been alone here, Harry considered, given that he was only a first year. The battle beyond the grey wood of the splintered pallets faded. Shouting echoed, followed by another burst of spells, then just a few sparse sizzles criss-crossed the air. 

Tridant's radiance leaked away into the dusty, uncaring vastness around them. The loss of it gave Harry a shiver where he was raw from losing his servant. He rubbed a hand over the blood-slick, stiff hair. Tridant opened his eyes. He stared up at Harry without surprise or even recognition. Like Death himself might be greeted, Harry thought with a rush of trembling heat through his limbs.

Harry brushed Tridant's unusually short hair back again. That instinctive fear of moments before slipped from Harry, making him breathe out in a relieved rush. He felt placated, pleased beyond measure to have death in his hands. He had control over one death, therefore he had control over all death. 

Tridant's head tilted back and he made a choked off sound of surprised pain. Harry stroked his head again, pleased to dip his hand in the sticky-slick radiant blood. He bent over more, wanting to get as close as possible to approaching death. 

Tridant blinked in confusion and jerked his arm upward. Only then did Harry realize that the blank-eyed gaze he was receiving was due to the cloak still over his head. 

Movement behind Harry brought his attention and his wand around. Vineet, spread-fingered hand before him, was stepping through the damaged wall the way First Years would step through the Gryffindor portrait hole. Vineet came up short, tracing what must be Harry's disembodied hand to the edge of the cloak.

Harry tugged his cloak back, and Vineet met his eyes.

Harry's quick instincts borrowed skillfully from his own thoughts of moments before. "Why was he left alone?"

Vineet's gaze dropped away. He crouched beside Harry and ran a health Indificator.  He bent to gather Tridant against himself. "Provide us cover," he said to Harry. 

Harry tossed his cloak back over his head, leaving his arm free, and stepped back to the wall where he could better see through the pile. A moment later, the pair Disapparated away. 

Harry bit his lip, feeling hardened and cheated. He slipped along the wall away from where he knew the Aurors to be, looking for someone to take that out on.

Another explosion burst from up near the roof peak, making the metal girders creak.  A spell sizzled in the wake of this, then nothing. Harry found Mr. Weasley and Rodgers on this end now, holding their wands on a pair of prisoners. Two bodies lay unceremoniously nearby. Harry pulled off his cloak again and Rodgers, who had snapped his wand over, aimed it away again with a shake of his head.

"Potter."

"Have you seen the others?" Mr. Weasley asked Harry.

Casually, Harry said, "Vishnu took Tridant away. To St. Mungo's I presume."

The large doors on the end rattled open just far enough for staff from the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad to slip inside. 

Harry walked behind the prisoners, close enough to be taunting. Aaron's date snarled at him. Harry ignored her in favor of checking the bodies. The first was Slowdraw, which Harry could only tell by his hair style and clothing. His face was transforming, even as Harry watched, back to his actual appearance. He was younger than Harry had thought, maybe sixteen, with freckles and a puffy scar that bisected his eyebrow. Harry wondered if the lightning bolt Mark still showed on his arm. 

Harry was bending down to reach for one languidly flopped arm when Mr. Weasley called over, "That was one of the ones you were working with, right?"

Harry nodded, and when Mr. Weasley asked if he recognized the other, Harry moved on to check the other one. This man was probably mid thirties with a three day old beard. Harry shook his head. 

Tonks arrived at a run, Aaron on her heels. "Sorry, we chased Ma Dame and her bodyguard down, but they gave us the slip by the docks by setting an old barge full of fuel oil aflame."

"That was a problem, why?" Rodgers asked, sounding his usual unsympathetic self.

Tonks opened her mouth, but Aaron said, "It was a problem because she and her bodyguard had just run inside it."

Tonks, breathing heavily, said, "We couldn't exactly trace where they went from there, and Transportation has no record, so we're not sure if they had a vanishing cabinet or what they used."

Mr. Weasley gestured for Tonks to take over his guard duty, saying, "Let's hope that was an expensive escape setup we made them burn . . . and that they don't have any to spare."

Tonks said, "Speaking of sparing . . . if you can spare me here, I should return to the docks. They could use a hand."

Mr. Weasley nodded to her, and with only a cursory glance at Harry, she jogged back toward the door.

Aaron strode toward Harry but pulled to a stop upon seeing his Halloween date kneeling nearby, hands bound behind her. Her outfit glittered freshly despite her skirmish-worn hair and face. Ripples worked along Aaron's jaw, and his body had to lead in tearing his head away, but he managed after several half steps. 

"Harry," he said in greeting. "Good to see you."

"Thanks," Harry said.

Mr. Weasley clapped his hands. "Let's clear out. Rodgers, why don't you take one, and I can take the other. Let's get these two to the Ministry dungeon where they belong."

In a concerted move, they closed in and used magic to force the prisoners along toward the door. Rodgers said with a smirk, "Let's hope their compatriots are watching."

Aaron and Harry followed and Aaron asked. "What about the dead?"

Rodgers turned without pausing, "We can leave them for Reversal."

"Ha ha," A nearby witch said, mid-repair on a bent roof beam. "You always do."

Rodgers' prisoner was forced to turn with him and stumble sideways because of the Rod and Tether Charm locked on him. The Auror tossed back, "I have it on good authority that half your department budget comes from illicit body part sales, Madame Clay."

"Come along, Reggie," Mr. Weasley called from the door. To the crew left behind he said, "Thank you, as always."

The witch, Clay, muttered, "One polite bloke in all of Magical Law Enforcement." She caught sight of Harry just then. Her face went through the transitions Harry was growing accustomed to: bright pleasure upon recognition, followed by rapid blinking memories of his recent past, followed by ambivalent suspicion and vague thrill at getting to evaluate him first hand, in the flesh.

Harry nodded to her in greeting, expression neutral as he ignored the instincts that urged him to insist on groveling respect, from everyone.

No one stopped Harry from following along behind. In the dungeon, the dank air wrapped around them, smothering the dust and sweat of the fight. Their footsteps shuffled louder as the ceiling dipped lower. 

"You've got two open cells, right?" Mr. Weasley asked Horace, the dungeon keeper.

Horace grunted something indecipherable. Light footsteps padded down the stone staircase behind them. Kerry Ann ducked below the spider-webbed ceiling to call out, "Mr. Weasley, Mr. Rodgers, Madame Bones wants someone to Floo Call her at home. Sometime yesterday, she said."

As they headed for the stairs, Rodgers nudged Mr. Weasley. "We could stop by Mysteries for a Time Turner and do just that," he said with a broad smile.

Kerry Ann's voice echoed and faded as they trooped off. "She seemed to expect that she would have been informed of this operation ahead of time . . ."

Horace jangled his ring of keys and opened a door for the first prisoner, an effeminate young man with a slick tuft of black hair standing straight off his head. 

Horace said, "Ya can share a cell. Either that or ya git one o' the damp ones at the end."

The prisoner jerked away as he was pushed toward the door and Aaron and Harry moved together to draw their wands and back up the Dungeon Master. Harry waved Aaron back. "Keep an eye on the other one," he said, pointing. Harry waved an additional Tether Charm at her, which bowed her neck down farther. Just as well, Aaron's pose held standoffish distaste rather than watchfulness.

The other prisoner glowered at them before slouching to duck inside the cell. If he received another shove, he would strike his head. He stopped just inside to ponder his new companion until Horace gave him another push, which caused him to shuffle around to the side wall, giving the cell's current occupant a wide berth. Harry stepped into the doorway behind Horace to better study the familiar figure perched there on the bench.

Debjit, Merton's assistant, was much reduced. His paunch was gone and his face had been stretched thin. He sat slackly with his gaze distant. His body jerked faintly, then did so again.

"Still got the hiccups, eh?" Horace said to the unresponsive man. "Here, I made ya this." Horace held out a colorful origami snake. 

Debjit raised his upturned hand like a beggar and Horace draped the articulated paper construct over his palm. Debjit's eyes fixed on it, unwavering.

"What is the matter with him?" The prisoner asked, pointing with his sharp chin. "Am I going to end up like that?"

Horace propped his beefy hands on the coarse fabric robes stretching over his hips. "Only if ya make trouble for me!" he growled. "Har har har!" he rumbled to the man's worried expression. "Eh, he came in this way," he admitted, dismissing Debjit with a wave of his hand.

Horace switched wand hands and gave a complicated wave that released the binding on the new prisoner's hands. Pale coral nail polish flashed as he moved his fingers to stretch them. Harry held back while Horace trundled out the cell, wondering if the prisoner was actually a very skinny woman, rather than a man.

Horace gestured from the doorway and Harry exited. The door closed behind him with a resounding and too-familiar boom. Moving in and out of the cells reminded Harry acutely of the French Wizard Prison, and disturbingly of suffocating confinement mixed with the taste of liberating power.

"Next!" Horace called out, even though the distance to where Aaron stood on guard was short.

"Women always alone," Horace grumbled to himself, grabbing up Aaron's date by her hood when she refused to move. She glared suspiciously at Horace, which he ignored.

Harry considered pointing out that the last likely female prisoner had not been put away following that rule, but then decided Debjit was harmless and remained silent.

Horace efficiently opened a cell and tossed the prisoner in without turning his back on her or even getting within kicking distance. Before Horace could close the door, Harry said, "We want to talk to her a minute."

"We do?" Aaron asked, voice faint. He paused in thought before adding, "Yeah, I suppose I'd like to say a few things to her."

Horace shrugged and gestured that they could enter the cell. He closed the door on them and his leather-shod feet scuffed off into the distance.

Aaron stood with his bony shoulders protruding forward along with his chin, glaring at the woman leaning into the wall corner, hands still bound.  Harry's insides trilled at Aaron's wounded anger, the way his tongue wet his lips repeatedly, making them a deeper red.

"Come on," Harry said to his friend. "Don't you want to get even?" 

Aaron's eyes constricted to slits before he turned to examine Harry instead. "You're really suggesting that?" he asked, voice adrift. 

"Why not?" Harry asked, voice low, insides warming. "It'd make you feel better."

Aaron read his face. The woman had not moved throughout this except to slide further into the corner until her left shoulder was pinned there. Aaron licked his lips again. His wand flicked back and forth in his fingertips once. "You aren't really you, are you?" he asked Harry.

Voice lower, almost husky, Harry replied, "This has nothing to do with me."

Aaron's eyes diverted back to the prisoner, who held her chin up defiantly, but moments into the stare down, began chewing her bottom lip.

Aaron drooped bodily. "I remember what you said to me when we were hunting Death Eaters after Azkaban was destroyed. You told me not to trust you if you didn't seem like yourself." He turned to the door, which was closed still. It did not budge when he pushed on it. His shoulders shifted forward in his robes and he said to the door, "I'm going to hate myself either way. Might as well not have everyone else hating me too."

Aaron pounded on the door with the flat of his palm, which barely made a sound on the heavy wood.  The prisoner shifted in her corner to better fix Harry with her storm-grey eyes. Harry considered her in return until Horace's footsteps approached and the door opened. 

"Finished?" Horace rumbled.

"Almost," Aaron breathed out as he ducked out the door. "Almost."

Harry slid out behind him and followed him upstairs, light on his feet, as if he did not want to be heard moving about.

Mr. Weasley greeted him in the corridor outside the Auror's office, "Harry. Glad you could join us. We can use all the help we can get. And that was a good catch, the Minister is happy . . . about that at least. She said to tell you thank you for your assistance." Mr. Weasley put an arm behind Harry's shoulder, which Harry had to resist shrugging off. 

"Rodgers. Tearoom," Mr. Weasley said past Harry's head.

Rodgers put down the parchments he held and, observing Harry as he walked, joined them. 

In the tearoom, which smelled of day-old pumpkin juice and stale bread, Mr. Weasley pulled out a chair for Harry, who ignored it in favor of leaning against the wall near the head of the table. Mr. Weasley took the chair and laid out a parchment before himself and proceeded to carefully fold it in half. 

Rodgers hesitated when he saw that Harry was standing, but he took the chair beside Mr. Weasley and offered him a quill when his colleague could not find one in his pockets.

Mr. Weasley spoke first to the man sitting beside him. "What do you think, Reggie?"

"I think the Wasps don't stand a chance against the Cannons given their Beaters are to the last one just coming off the wounded list."

Mr. Weasley shook his head.

"That wasn't the topic you wanted? You need to be specific."

With his patented patience, Mr. Weasley folded his parchment again, into quarters. "About today's operations . . ."

"Oh." Rodgers glanced at the snack cart, in lieu of pointedly looking at Harry, or so Harry suspected. "I think Ma Dame was fooled and did not realize the Ministry was involved, which means we kept the lid on things this time." Now he did glance at Harry. "Possibly because we didn't know much until the last minute and therefore had little opportunity for a leak."

Mr. Weasley bunched the quill in his fingers and shifted his parchment around on the rough tabletop. Speaking stiltedly, he asked, "I'm trying to decide if Percy knew Ma Dame would attack."

Rodgers sat back and considered that while stretching his shoulders with a grimace. "Hm. They attacked after he departed, which could mean anything. Could mean Ma Dame didn't want him caught in the crossfire with no warning. Did you get the sense that he was hurrying out? You talked to him, not I."

Mr. Weasley fell still. "Yes, I did talk to him. I threw him out. I didn't get the sense he was hurrying. Either way, they waited until he was out of the way to attack." His tone faded into philosophical. "Maybe they could only trace him returning. There are all kinds of possibilities."

Rodgers' brows angled. He waited for Mr. Weasley to say more, but when only silence followed, he said, "And the leaks? The altered logbook?"

Mr. Weasley's face elongated. "He may be the source. We don't know for certain, do we?"

Rodgers' face hardened. "And the attempts to take out Harry? The thing in his locker? The poison here in this room?"

Harry shifted his hands on the wall and pressed back against them. He hung suspended, waiting for an answer. Mr. Weasley looked over toward Harry, eyes earnest. "What do you think, Harry?"

His instincts told him to stay silent, to seek out Percy himself. That he had not done so ealier was pitifully weak. "I think it was him, but I can't prove it." Nor do you need to, his gut scoffed.

Mr. Weasley sat back, thoughtfully cocking his head at the ceiling. "And he was selling Harry's old wand."

"So you said. But you did not see it," Rodgers pointed out.

Mr. Weasley glanced from him to Harry. "I believe Harry on this." He tossed his head lightly to the side. "But I do wish I'd seen it. It means my son is in deeper than I thought possible." He gave Harry a gentle, wry smile. "And to believe that with more than one's head, but with one's heart, it helps to be faced with incontrovertible proof."

Rodgers shifted uncomfortably and patted his hand on the table. "You coming back, Potter?" he asked too loudly for the small room.

Harry shook his head. "I like having the freedom to do what I want."

Rodgers asked wryly, "Are you going to leave Percy for us?"

Mr. Weasley froze at his question, mid jotting down a note. Harry replied, "If you aren't too slow about it. Maybe."

Sternly, Mr. Weasley said, "Leave him for us, Harry." When Harry did not reply, Mr. Weasley turned the folded parchment over with his pale fingers and made an aborted movement as if to jot down another note. "What if we invite you to the meeting we are going to lure him to for the arrest?"

Rodgers jerked his head back in surprise. Mr. Weasley said, "I don't see why not. We need to give the Minister a full report anyway, and Fudge should be there, and Fudge should bring his assistant. And there will be questions for Harry." He stood up and dangled the note from his fingertips. "I'm sorry about everything, Harry. You tried to warn me."

The muscles in Harry's neck tightened. His instincts screamed for him to ignore this, especially the honest tone.

"I deserve your silence, I suppose," Mr. Weasley said, shuffling back to straighten his chair and then the one Rodgers had vacated. 

Harry said, "This went on a lot longer because you were weak."

Mr. Weasley's jaw worked behind thin lips. He straightened Rodgers chair more before recovering. "We would like you back, Harry," he said, sounding short of breath and pained.

Harry pleasantly dwelled on that and exactly how little they understood.

Rodgers again proved that he required more careful watching when he said, "Maybe Harry can help us from inside Durumulna, since his apparent connections are paying off."

"I can't do much," Harry said.

"Why not?" Rodgers challenged him.

"Because they don't trust me," Harry replied.

Rodgers laughed. "I can see that would be a problem for you."

"It's a problem all around," Harry added quietly.

As the lift clunked and began dropping downward, Harry wondered about Slowdraw's body, wondered again about the Mark he had given him and whether it was still visible. Snape had lost his when he died, but he may have lost it leaving the veil, not entering it. He should be thorough, and certain. 

Bodies were generally taken to the St. Mongo's Morgue, in the lowest dungeon under the hospital proper. Harry had twice been there during field shadowing and could easily slip in to check the body. Harry pushed the lever to halt the lift between floors. It was Sunday so the Ministry corridor before him stood empty except for a small brown mouse nosing along the edge of the wall. Harry flipped his invisibility cloak over his head and slipped away, knowing it would be better to leave an exit trail from the Ministry, but too impatient to make his way to the Atrium to do so. Ordinary wizards left that way.

The morgue was housed in a narrow arched hall, lit at the moment by a single candle in a holder beside the door. Harry blinked the spots out from his eyes and made his way to the registration clipboard that hung on the side of the stone receiving table in the center of the room. In the pleasant stillness the rasping of the pages as Harry turned them scraped deafeningly. No bodies had been checked in yet that day.

Harry slipped away to the warehouse. Reversal was still at work, putting the finishing touches on an old coal burner that had been positioned where it could be blamed for some extensive spell damage. The bodies were not here either.

Harry sighed. He could not ask without risk, and wished he had more experience to know where the bodies would be just now. Watching Reversal disassemble his project gave him little joy. He slipped back to the morgue and considered waiting, but found he lacked the patience. The blessed quiet grew cursed. He should have servants for this sort of thing.

Restless, Harry went out on the Muggle street rather than go home. The wind picked up his cloak as a red double decker roared past. The noise and motion of it matched his mood. He wished the city were busier but it was Sunday. He felt unfinished. Tridant had been stripped away from him. Aaron had denied him. 

Harry strolled in a random direction, head hunched. Rain had turned the streets and pavements and walls a ubiquitous grey to match the clouds. But he liked the sound of his crisp footsteps, so he did not mind the weather, at least until his face grew brittle from the cold. 

He stopped, with no idea where he was, and backtracked to a set of gated steps leading to a below-ground flat. He neatly stepped over the barrier to stand under the shelter of the steps leading upward, beside a bicycle and a neglected planter with brown stalks draping out of it. White decorative bars framed dark windows with no movement behind them. He used a Heating Charm on himself and put his wand away, but hesitated continuing on with his senseless walk. He sniffed the cold air and tipped his head back. Magic felt distant here, making him wonder if he had impulsively walked as far as he possibly could from it in the crowded city.

The cold of the pavement soaked through his shoes. Rather than layer on another Heating Charm, Harry slipped away for Belinda's flat, wand drawn in case Percy was there. 

Percy wasn't there, but a figure sat on the floor against the wall beside the television stand, arms wrapped around his head, rocking and crying. Harry recognized Hummer's faded robes and relaxed faintly.

Belinda came out of her bedroom and stopped upon seeing Harry there. She gestured at Hummer. "He's been muttering something about you. But I can't make sense of it. What the hell happened?"

"Ma Dame attacked a little operation I had set up. I told the two of them to stay away, but they didn't."

Hummer raised his red-rimmed eyes to Harry, mouth sticky with crying. "But he wouldn't. He insisted we had to go back to help you. I couldn't stop him. I couldn't let him go alone and I couldn't stop him." His face crumpled he sank down. With fitful arm movements he finally reburied his face in his arms. "What did you want from him?" his sing-song, crying voice filtered out.

"He's taking it hard," Belinda said. She had a steaming cup of water in one hand. She tossed a lemon slice into it. Harry thought she would offer it to Hummer, but she wrapped one arm around herself and sipped from it.

"Seen Percy?" Harry asked.

"No," Belinda replied, sounding insulted. "Why?"

"Just wondering," Harry said.

Hummer's sobbing paused while he mumbled, "It's your fault!"

"I wasn't even there," Harry said, ignoring a niggling voice in his head that agreed. "He should have listened to me. I didn't want him dead." Indeed he still felt raw and disjointed, and utterly lacking for servants. 

Harry stared at Hummer's curled body, wondering if he could figure out what he had done wrong the last time with the flesh Protean Charm. His memory of it fluttered in and out like sun dapples shifting on a forest floor, partly his own memories and partly something else interfering. Should he have let go more during the spell? Had he poured himself too much into it, or not enough?

Hummer bumped the leg of the television table while gaping in alarm at Harry's face. Gathering himself forward to a crouch he Disapparated.

Belinda sighed. "Silence. Finally."

Lips cocked, Harry turned to her. The soft parts of her face had shrunken with stress and poor eating, and her hair hung limper than it used to. 

Harry reached up and brushed an errant piece of her hair back. "You're not even a Metamorphmagus," he said.

She snorted lightly. "No. I'd look better than this if I were."

"No, you wouldn't," Harry said. "You'd look worse."

Her brows angled doubtfully. "You teasing me again?"

"What do you mean?" Harry asked, dropping his arm. 

Her eyes fell away. "I'd suggest going out, but I got an owl about an early morning emergency meeting the Minister called. You wouldn't know what it's about, would you?"

"I'm not involved with the Ministry much, as you know." 

Losing his mind in deafening music and throbbing lights sounded pretty good to Harry. "Why don't we go out for a little while. That sounds good."

She touched her hair. "I look like hell. You buying me dinner?"

Harry hesitated just long enough to make it sound like an unwilling concession. "If you want."

At the club, Harry led the way to the center of the floor where the music beat at the air and the surrounding dancers were mere oscillating shadows pulsing in the moving lights, empty Muggle shadows, no threat but also no promise, no seduction of power. The beating music and surging lights crushed every germinating thought before it could take hold, a blessed relief.

At first, Belinda abandoned herself to dancing as much as Harry did, free of everything, but she tired quickly and stumbled on her heels. Harry caught her by the arm and swung her around to his feet to heft her back up. "I need another drink," she shouted in his ear, sounding like tinnitus over the pounding din. 

With an arm around her, Harry helped her to the bar, where she leaned her unseasonably bare arms out on the brushed metal, and rested her head on them. Her feminine waistcoat-like top sparkled with sequins, but this close the threads showed, ruining the effect.

The young woman tending the bar tossed her chin to ask what they wanted, sending a dubious glance at Belinda. Harry leaned down to Belinda's ear to say, "I think you need dinner, rather than another drink."

When she did not respond he put his hands around her sides and pulled her back out of the three-deep crowd. She let his arm take her weight as he led her away, making an interested buzzing rise up through Harry's core. "Come on," he said, even though she could not hear him.

Regretfully, he stepped across the corner of the dance floor and into a black painted back corridor. At the end hung a hovering green exit sign with a running figure on it. Harry leaned a hand on the wall and leaned close to Belinda, pretending to snog while another couple walked past. The thrum of the music came through the wall to tickle the skin of his palm. Under the cover of their close bodies, he pulled out his wand and the moment they were alone, ran a Blurring Barrier and Disapparated them both to Belinda's flat from behind it.

Harry kept hold of Belinda and ran a quick check with his wand before steering her to a chair.

"I thought you were buying me dinner," she complained, before flopping back and remaining that way.

"I'll get some takeaway," Harry said. 

When he returned and she was biting into a bread wrapped kebab without getting the alfoil completely out of the way of her teeth, Harry said, "Are you eating enough?"

She chewed and gestured with a piece of donnar that had fallen out. "Maybe not." She gnawed the meat down before taking another sizable bite. "Most evenings beer is enough."

Harry's instincts pulled him directly in two. His desire to make sure she was all right warred with another that wanted her weak, and easy to use.

Between bites, she said, "You're giving me another one of those looks. Like my dressmaker does when it's time for the proms and she's wondering how heavy my purse is."

Harry turned his attention to his pile of quickly cooling chips and nibbled on one of them.

"So, what's with you and Tonks?" she asked.

Heavy doors closed in Harry's mind. "Nothing is with us." 

His tone must have dissuaded her from asking more because she dropped the topic.

Belinda swept the remains into the bin and swigged down the last of her glass of beer. Harry pushed his untouched one in her direction. He bodily intercepted her as she leaned over to pick it up and arrested her arm before it could reach the glass. She still wore the short-waisted top and tight fitting trousers from earlier and that made it easy to touch the chilled flesh at her waist.

She turned suddenly in his grip, but it was to his advantage, letting him pull her close. She smelled of spicy meat and perfume that did not match her personality.

"So, are you staying the night, then?" she asked, trying for cheeky, but too tired to make it all the way there.

"I don't have to stay that long," Harry said, matching her shallowness and feeling deeply amused with himself. He still felt stunted and incomplete from earlier. This one he was not going to let turn out that way.

The bedroom air had grown cold with night by the time Harry maneuvered the bedcovers to slip out without disturbing Belinda, who slept wildly spread out on the bed. The warm draft rising out of the faintly pinging radiator failed to compete with the large old window that knocked in the frame when the wind blew hard enough. He dressed quickly and hunted around for his socks. 

Harry was crouching to reach under the bed, when Belinda said, "Going, eh?"

Harry did not feel like conversation. He stiffly said, "I can't sleep."

She rolled away from him, muttering, "Less complicated if you go. So that's fine."

He wanted to say something about her owling him if Percy bothered her, if anyone bothered her, but he couldn't make his mouth work. His bare feet grew cold as he squatted there on the floor warring with himself. 

With some strategy he could make his mouth work, so he said, "He had you under an Imperio didn't he? Moody was protecting you and watching him, and that's why Percy killed him?"

The lump of covers held still a second before she turned suddenly. Then she had to sit up to locate him so low, down beside the bed. Harry tugged on his socks and felt around for his shoes while she worked on a response.

"You don't have to answer. It's clear enough," he said, pushing to his feet. He stood looking down at her. "You should have gone to the Minister immediately after Moody got you released from the curse. You'd have had a chance then. Now you're stuck."

She gathered the sheet better around her front. "You don't think I know that? Why do you think I'm stuck with these goons crying in my sitting room? When Percy followed Ma Dame in the split, it wasn't really safe for him here anymore. At least I got a break from him." Her voice wavered as she said this.

Harry tried to imagine being stuck under an Imperio like that, and said, "Percy never seemed very imaginative, at least."

"True, he always seemed to be doing things because it was the only way to get what he thought he deserved, but always got cheated out of, but that's small consolation, believe me." She sniffled. "And these days you aren't much better."

"Is that why you slept with me?" Harry mocked with no kindness.

She huffed and flipped onto the bed with her back to him.

Harry found his cloak and hooked it around his neck. It was cold and stiff from the room's chilly air. He needed something, something to ease how small his mind felt. The shadows teased, wavering in the distance, less substantial than the headlamps flashing up from the street onto the gauzy curtains. Close in, the shadows were far from insubstantial, they let him reach out far beyond himself.

Harry slipped away into the Dark Plane, surprised for a moment by the brighter ubiquitous grey light there that was never night or day. He imagined the quay extending off the French Wizard Prison and Apparated to its opposite as far from the tower as possible, and inverted himself.

Waves glowing fathomless blue with starlight slapped and sloshed over the quay. Harry arrived far enough away from the tower that the lights remained doused. And the impossibly black tower pointed upward against the star-strewn sky. The milkyway spilled overhead, close enough to touch, making Harry dizzy for an instant with the notion that he could travel all the way out there, if he only knew any place among them intimately enough.

A tall wave smacked the black stone and foamed around Harry's shoes while it plowed to the other edge. Despite the low light, Harry closed his eyes and reached inward. The shadows danced slightly closer, wavered oddly as if sensing him there, but were still too far away to touch, to draw upon without limit. 

Harry opened his eyes again. The quay stretched away from him like a spaceship plying through seething matter. He thought he might feel satisfied enough by getting this close, but it only cracked open his hunger more. 

He could get closer; he could knock on the door this moment. But that would not be strategic. His instincts recoiled, as they feared being trapped. He was on amusingly good terms with the warden and should request an invitation. That would put him on stronger footing. Even though he could, right now, walk inside and sink into the depths below the water until he was close enough to tap the shadows, breathe in their willingness, he should not do it. He may, by some unforeseen accident, be unable to leave again, and that would be unacceptable. Despite his powers, this place could hold him, and was therefore to be dreaded.

Successive waves beat at the quay, lulling him. The stars winked and wheeled relentlessly overhead. He should go home. Thoughts of home lulled him more, giving him a twinge near his heart. But first he should again check Slowdraw's body. The task dragged at his spirit, but his instincts left him no choice.

As if fulfilling a duty, Harry slipped again into the morgue. The hall appeared the same, other than the single candle having burned down to a blobby stub, but the clipboard had two new entries, both labeled Anonymous. Harry squinted at the drawer numbers in the dim light and began combing the walls for the indicated plaques. He found Slowdraw under 631, conveniently at knee level. Harry crouched down and twitched a glow out of his wand to see by. He tried to fish Slowdraw's arm out of the canvas bag, but his flesh had turned cold and waxy and his joints were frozen. Harry shuffled around to the other side and, working by feel, slipping his hand inside the canvas along one corded arm. His fingertips prickled painfully when he reached the sinews of the body's wrist. The prickles stirred something deep inside him. The curse was still there, but fainter than expected, but that meant the Mark was still there, most likely visible. He sensed it was fading with no life to hold onto, but best to remove it now, just in case the body was examined soon.

Harry exhaled and pressed his fingers flat against the unyielding flesh to push the curse out. It left willingly, Harry imagined he could sense it drifting in the air before it dissipated. Remembering how ash had emerged the previous times, he tried to brush off the hard flesh, just in case.

Before completely resealing the waxed canvas, Harry took a longer look at the young man, a teenager really. His skin had grown translucent with death, but he still appeared too attractive to have become caught up in such crude things as blackmail and smuggling. Why had he left home? Did he not have a home? Had his pride been his downfall?

Harry resealed the canvas and shoved the drawer home with his trainer. He stood straight and brushed his hands off on his robes. Home called to him now, stronger than the shadows did and with relief, he slipped away for his own hall.

Two candles burned in the chandelier overhead, and the diluted light barely reached the corners of the room, leaving him floating in a hazy orange sphere containing a dark couch and a cold brass floor lamp.

"There you are," came Snape's rich low voice from the balcony upstairs. 

Harry shook himself and turned. Snape's dark-robed form wavered at the railing, barely visible, but his eyes glittered in the candlelight. 

"I was at Belinda's," Harry said.

"That's fine," Snape said easily. "But you are still my son, and I still worry where you are."

Harry smiled faintly, thinking that quaint. "You don't have to worry something might happen to me."

Snape's voice came back smooth as chocolate. "I cannot do otherwise."

Harry thought this a game of sorts, one that amused him. "But really," he returned.

"I still have more experience in these things than you do," Snape explained, with no hint of patronage. "In any event, I assume you will wish to sleep in?"

"I have a meeting early in the morning . . . at the Ministry."

"Do you?" Snape said, not masking his surprise.

"Yes."

"Fine then," Snape said dotingly.

- 888 -


Mr. Weasley tapped a yawning Rodgers on the shoulder and handed him a brown packet. The rest of the office was quiet, aside from the occasional Autoquill twitching in its holder.

Rodgers gave a trembling stretch of his arms and asked, "Minister's meeting isn't this early, is it?" Seeing the packet, he asked, "What's this?"

"Report on the two killed in the battle yesterday."

Rodgers raised a brow. "That was fast."

"New person, I think. I don't recognize the handwriting on the report."

Rodgers slid the report out. "Knowing Mungo's, that efficient attitude won't last long."  He flipped through the pages, glancing up at Mr. Weasley, who remained beside his desk, restless hands caught in his pockets. "Something in this?" Rodgers asked.

"You tell me," Mr. Weasley quietly replied.

With a squeak of his chair, Rodgers rocked back and flipped through each page, past notes on a diagram of a human body, backward, then forward. He tapped the ends of the disparately sized sheets on the desk top to straighten them before laying them flat. He shrugged.

"Nothing strange?" Mr. Weasley asked. 

Rodgers, with a face of annoyance paged forward and shook his head. "Various injuries, some imperishable curses. Standard fare for a battle."

Mr. Weasley collected the sheets up and slipped them back away.

"What am I missing?" Rodgers asked.

Brow trembling faintly, Mr. Weasley looped the packet closed. "I'm not sure why I am thinking what I am thinking."

Rodgers pulled his report form back to the front center of his work area and bent to it. "What are you thinking?"

"I think I'll keep that to myself for now. And, uh, retain some constant vigilance until I can decide one way or the other."

"Suit yourself," Rodgers said without looking up.

Mr. Weasley did not depart, he stood holding the report. 

"You look like one of the dead was discovered to be your best friend. Is there something else?"

Mr. Weasley snorted weakly. "No, I suppose not. I need to finish prep for this morning's meeting, in fact."

Rodgers lost his annoyance. "Really, Arthur, what is it?"

"You are the most suspiciously minded person in this department, so probably nothing."

Rodgers nodded. "You are just full of compliments this morning."

Tonks shuffled in the door, rubbing her eyes. "You are here bright and early."

Rodgers shoved his work to the corner of his desk and turned his chair in her direction. "I'm itching for another fight. No offense to you, Arthur, I'm hoping Percy puts one up."

Mr. Weasley's face fell more. Without responding he stepped out of the office. Tonks trailed a hand over his arm as he passed, getting no response. She did not move until a door opened and closed in the distance.

"I feel terrible for him." 

"Out of that many kids, odds are one of them will go bad."

"You are such a negative person, Reggie," Tonks said, sitting on the edge of her desk to wait.

"Thank you. And I might add, you should put together some believable looking paperwork to at least pretend you are at this meeting for some reason other than nabbing Arthur's son."

Her bloodshot eyes fluttered. "Good idea," she said with a broad exhale and dropped with a squeak into her desk chair.

- 888 -


"Arthur," Minister Bones began crisply, "I believe I asked to be kept abreast of significant law enforcement operations in the planning stages. I am determined to manage public relations better than . . ." She glanced at the door, through which Fudge was expected to appear. "Significantly better than past administrations, but I cannot do that if I am in a constant state of damage control."

Harry watched Mr. Weasley's face as he replied to this. He had stood across from his former boss specifically so he could do this. 

"Minister, we did not have much warning. Harry arranged this trap, as I mentioned."

Bones lifted her knitted stubby fingers to touch her chin. "Mr. Potter, I must say it is good to see you. And while we appreciate you working to damage Durumulna, it would be better if you would work with us."

"You have too many leaks to make a safe partner," Harry stated, knowing it would gain him the upper hand. 

"We are working on that, believe you me," Bones said. "I could not help but notice the extra barriers the Aurors decided to lay down before the meeting. Greater attention to this sort of thing cannot hurt our efforts."

The door latch interrupted her, and Fudge scooted inside, paunchy body encased in a crisp tan suit. He released the door and Tertius Ogden followed him in, carrying his papers. Everyone from the Auror's office stood rigid, until the drifting door was caught and opened again by a lanky redhead, who bowed a ruddy-faced Belinda inside. She swung her file-burdened arms awkwardly to avoid bumping into Percy while getting past him.

"Ah, here we are." Bones invited them in, giving a wave of her hand. 

Harry's mouth watered as he watched Mr. Weasley's lips pull taut over his clamped mouth. 

Bones took up Fudge's arm, drawing him to the rough circle of chairs pulled to the center of her office. "I was just saying that I insist upon being kept informed of law enforcement doings ahead of time. I know your office in particular likes to keep things close to the chest, Cornelius."

Fudge puffed his midsection and gruffly said, "I have no intention of risking more leaks, which I am certain are coming from Law Enforcement, if not from the Auror's office itself. All the trouble has been there, not in my department." He put a genteel hand to his chest. 

"You're certain all the trouble has been with us?" Rodgers asked dryly. He stood before the chair he was about to sit in, arms folded. "I'm not so sure."

Fudge grew gruff. "What? Log books changed. Dangerous devices, poison even, left lying about?"

Mr. Weasley had taken a series of slow half steps and now stood before Percy, who stood just off Fudge's elbow. Behind his back he waggled his index finger once. Tonks casually dropped her wand into her hand while brushing her Mohawk back. Rodgers, without otherwise moving, suddenly had his out as well, but pointed backward where Percy could not see it. Ogden glanced his way sharply, before peddling backwards and muttering about picking out a chair.

Percy, after staring off pretending to not notice his father said, "Arthur," in an unenthusiastic greeting. His eyes flickered down and back up, appearing to check that neither Harry nor his father had wands out. Percy stood straighter and raised his chin just so, posing. 

Fudge turned around, and Mr. Weasley addressed his comment to him. "Cornelius, the trouble is, in fact, that you refuse to recognize the problems in your own department."

Fudge scoffed. "Such as?"

"You have people on your staff with some unhealthy habits."

Percy's brow lowered derisively at this strange accusation, just a second before recognition widened his eyes, and sent surprise and alarm across his thin face in rapid succession. Percy jerked backward while grasping for his breast pocket. Wands snapped out straight, but Mr. Weasley cut off any spells by throwing a punch at Percy's jaw that leveled him.

Fudge gave a cry of surprise. Percy rolled and grabbed his face with a noise of pain, still trying for his pocket. 

Mr. Weasley tossed a spell that pinned Percy's wrists to the floor. Lording over him, he said, "That was for Harry."

Percy ceased his thrashing to send a glare at his father. 

"What is this, now?" Bones cried.

Mr. Weasley turned to her. "My son seems to have been working for others as well as us. He seems to have been . . ."

Mr. Weasley was interrupted by Percy throwing a bent leg forward and stomping his left foot hard on the floor. Harry felt a surge of curse and drew his wand. Rodgers sent a Prison Box spell at Percy, but it flared out in a dome shape before reaching him. 

Percy rolled to his hands and feet, freed from the Bondage Charm. He threw himself in the direction of the door at a run. Harry waved a Bulkhead Barrier at the wall, again brightly pleased at the ease of casting a spell that usually gave him trouble.

Percy's protective barrier met Harry's barrier and exploded. The Aurors leapt to surround him, Rodger's prison box beating out the rest of them.

Harry turned to face Mr. Weasley and caught sight of Belinda behind him. She stood gaping at Percy in wide-eyed stillness, alarm in the angles of her shoulders and head.

"Take him down to the dungeon," Mr. Weasley said. He glanced away and cleared his throat as the Aurors did this.

"I'll see you at the next meeting of the Wizengamot, Weasley," Fudge grumbled before stalking off, ignoring his other assistant, Ogden, as he passed him.

Bones took a seat in one of her guest chairs. "Well, Arthur, I assume you, of all people, would be quite certain about this."

Mr. Weasley's shoulders fell additionally. Bones went on. "Well, give me the Wizard Annual Summary of your report, and we can cut this meeting short. Belinda, set up an Autoquill, will you?" After a second, when Belinda failed to move. "Belinda?"

"Yes, Madame Bones," she whispered, moving trance-like to set down her files and set up a long parchment scroll.

Harry gave very short answers to the questions that came his way after Mr. Weasley finished his explanation. He nicely left out that Harry had not informed him ahead of time that Percy was coming to make the exchange.

"I've been trying to piece together Moody's death," Harry explained when questions of why came along.

"I thought we had Mr. Moody's killer?" Bones said, perking up and glancing between Harry and Mr. Weasley.

"I think he must have had help," Harry said. 

When Bones turned to Mr. Weasley for confirmation, he nodded.  "Most likely. Like most low level Durumulna members we cannot get much from interrogation."

Behind Bones, Belinda winced. From here Harry could see her rapid breathing, and she glanced fretfully at the closed office door with regularity.

When the meeting adjourned, she frantically arranged the Minister's things and followed Harry out the door. He had been dallying, expecting that. With a distracted word to Minister Bones that she would return after breakfast, Belinda Apparated them both to her flat. She did not release Harry's sleeves, and instead began to shake them. 

"Harry, you have to help me! Why didn't you tell me they were going to arrest Percy? What am I going to do?"

Harry grabbed her hand on his sleeve, and her jostling movements stilled, but she did not let go. Her face was a study in desperate panic. 

"Harry, he's going to give me away! Any minute now, they're going to be giving him Veritaserum."

Power bubbled up through Harry, warm and encouraging. "I'll take care of him for you," he promised, or someone promised, he had no idea how he might do that, but felt gloriously confident. 

Her whole body reacted, going limp to hang on his sleeves.

"But you have to do something for me," Harry added, loving the sound of those words.

"What?" she asked, eager, not in the least suspicious. Harry smiled faintly, feeling he drank in pure oxygen. Harry detached her arm from his robe and held her hand while stroking her forearm with the other.

"Harry," she said abruptly. "Can you take care of Percy first and then I'll sleep with you?"

Harry continued stroking her satiny skin, imaging the contours there binding her to him, making him more than whole. He could make it work this time, if he could make her willing just long enough to finish. "That's not what I want."

She sniffled and stood more on her own, but still crooked with release of panic. "I don't understand what you want me to do."

"I want you to become sort of . . . part of me, magically."

She shook her head in confusion. He could see her thoughts flickering to notions of marriage and dismissing them.

Harry struggled to find words that sounded appealing. His instincts were drifting, leaving him alone with his longing for a servant. His recent wound felt newly abraded, worse than ever. Harry's face hardened and he said, "I want you to be . . . like a partner . . . If you do this, I'll protect you always. I'll have no choice but to protect you," he added. Inside him, there was confusion about this. Not if it's done right, drifted tantalizingly in his thoughts. 

"I'm going to do this my way," Harry said aloud.

"Do what?" Belinda asked, now tensing with new alertness.

Harry regathered his thoughts and met her eyes. "I'll help you. I'll take care of Percy. I'll lie for you and make sure the Ministry never knows what happened. But you have have to do this thing for me."

Her eyes fell closed a long blink. "I don't know what you want, Harry."

"I want to put a spell on you, so I always know where you are," Harry said, trying to sound bright, as if it were nothing, really, but this was nearly impossible with his blood singing with longing the way it was.

"A charm of sorts?" She relaxed again.

"It's more of a curse. Here on the arm," Harry said, touching his own forearm this time. Tingles and heat rose through him as he said this, making his chest heavy.

Belinda jerked out of his grip and backed up, her expression traveling from dismay to horror. "Harry, you must be funning me here," she snapped at him. "And I don't like it."

Harry slowly shook his head. 

Belinda insisted, "This can't be real. You want to do some kind of . . . Death Eater Mark, or something? Have you gone starkers?"

Harry watched her intently, determined not to miss a single sign. "No."

"Harry, that was what flipping He-Who-Could-Not-Be-Named did. Are you listening to yourself?"

Harry projected calm. "I am. You have to understand, in prison I got to like having the Death Eaters nearby. I don't like being without them. I figure I can either go back there, which would not be fun, or make more here. But you have to be willing, or it won't work."

Her anger had bolstered her, but now she gaped at him, arms limp and dangling. She took another step back and fell against the wall, knees bent. "I don't believe this," she rasped.

Harry could not bear to be so close to obtaining a willing servant yet fall short. It plucked at his midsection. "Since you have to be willing, I won't do it if you aren't. But I'm not sure I want to risk taking care of Percy for you, otherwise. There is a lot of risk."

He had pushed too far, he saw. Her eyes showed her weighing her options and finding both equally undesirable. "Maybe I'll just confess. Percy's interrogations will back up my claims of an Imperio."

Harry stepped closer. "And then what?"

She rubbed her arm while staring off at the window. Harry's instinct trilled at this positive sign. 

"I don't know," she answered. "I could find something."

Speaking softly, Harry said, "So much easier not to go through any of it . . . To just keep what you have." His voice moved to a caress. "You have a lot to lose."

She swallowed hard and looked him up and down. "How about you take care of Percy, and we discuss the curse thing more? I don't even know if it hurts."

"A little." He was right before her now, and he lifted a hand to brush her hair back, it fell limply back into place.

"Can you take if off again?" she demanded, hurt and angry now in equal measure, another good sign.

"Yes, of course."

"You aren't lying to me?" she demanded.

"No. I promise I can do that."

"Well . . . " Her face struggled. "Take care of Percy . . . and . . ." She waved an arm to try to urge him off.

Harry stalled to torment her. "Any ideas how to do that without risking suspicion?" he dryly asked.

She bowed her head and pounded her hand on the wall behind her. "I don't know. A Memory Charm won't hold long against the Aurors." She ducked under his arm to pace. "It might work for a bit, though, till we can think of something better."

"I'm not sure I can hide that I did it," he patiently explained, needling her. "And if you want me to just kill him, I need to make it look like an accident."

"I don't want you to just kill him," she snarled. "Why would you even suggest that?"

"Because it solves your troubles permanently." And it would make her an accessory, his instincts supplied, caught even deeper. Harry, however, balked at the idea of outright murder, but gave no outward indication of that.

"Why can't he just randomly forget?" she asked, tossing her hands in the air. "Like that . . . that Merton witness. Do you remember that? The Aurors never figured that out. Why can't that happen to Percy?" 

Harry thought back, curiously following her trail of memory, recently refreshed. "Yeah, he came back from St. Mungo's like that after getting injured in the final battle to take him and his wife down."

She jumped to put her hands together as if in prayer. "Maybe you can put Percy in St. Mungo's to buy time?"

Harry stroked his chin thoughtfully. "Maybe. I just saw Debjit and he certainly did not look like he'd be doing much talking, even now."

She squared her shoulders. "Make Percy like him. If you can make Percy like him, I'll . . . I'll do whatever you want. But you have to promise to remove it if I tell you to."

"Of course," Harry assured her, insides squirming happily, not certain if he lied or not. 

He turned toward the door, mind churning with renewed vigor, flying in all directions.

"Aren't you going? You have to hurry," she insisted plaintively.

He held up a finger in her direction. "I'm thinking. I'm thinking that Percy had my wand, which means he may have had some kind of involvement with Debjit." Harry's mind whirled, plotting out on a virtual chess board with an alien ease. "Maybe. We had leaks, like the fixed logbook, back when we were fighting Merton. And if Percy was the one who shut up Debjit . . ."

Belinda grabbed Harry's sleeve again. "You could go interrogate Percy. Before the others do. Go!"

"I'm going," Harry said patronizingly. "But I think I'll take a look at Debjit first." He enjoyed her strained expression a second before departing.

Harry, invisibility cloak stuffed in his robe sleeve, slipped inside the Ministry Dungeon cell housing Debjit. The anonymous Durumulna member blinked at him in surprise. Harry held his finger to his lips. Upon seeing the Durumulna prisoner twice, he was certain now she was simply a very bony young women. She chewed a knuckle and watched him listen at the small window in the door. He could hear male voices chatting low near the entrance to the dungeon: Mr. Weasley and Shacklebolt. If Mr. Weasley was there, they had not yet begun any interrogation, as they would almost certainly move Percy upstairs for that. 

Harry strained to listen, pressing his ear right between the bars. Footsteps sounded coming down the stone steps and Rodger's voice mumbled out, blurred by echoing. Harry caught something about Fudge, an emergency, and Wizengamot. And the voices receded.

Harry snorted at his luck. He had plotted ideas for a major diversion to get to Percy in case he was already on his way to interrogation. His instinct felt a little let down at the cancellation of near-term destruction. He shook it off and approached Debjit, who sat hiccuping faintly, a line of drool glistening down from the corner of his mouth.

"Percy isn't that smart," Harry whispered. "He uses other people's stuff. No wonder he and Merton got on so well."

Harry approached with confidence and tugged Debjit's head back by his hair. He gave a fish-like gulp and his pure brown eyes widened, but he did not fight back. Harry raised his wand and considered and discarded spells in his mind, finally settling on a Snagging Snake Charm. A thin, three headed adder emerged from Harry's wand and danced and corkscrewed down into Debjit's throat. 

Across the cell, the other prisoner was backing up on her bench to the far corner, hands splayed out to hold herself that way.

The serpentine coils of the snake jerked taut, and Harry tugged on his wand. Debjit choked and broke Harry's grip on his hair, but the charm had pulled free, and clutched in the teeth of two of the snake heads, hung a scratched and hazy, but still gently spinning, Misplacement Gimcracker, like the one that had addled Ron at Harry's party.

Harry tugged the dry heaving Debjit to sit up. The other prisoner came close, holding the cell's metal cup filled with water. Harry stepped back and watched her offer it to her fellow prisoner. Debjit sputtered but then drank more fiercely. The scene derailed Harry's narrow minded sense of mission. He blinked as though waking up. 

Harry peered at the snake heads waving off the end of his wand, only one of them holding the Gimcracker now, the other two tasting the air. He waved the spell away and picked up the Gimcracker using the hem of his cloak. He wiped it dry and pocketed it, still feeling woozy. 

Percy, he had to get to Percy. Thinking of Percy and how he was about to get even with him, in a perfectly fair manner, made Harry smile. Debjit refused a second glass of water and sat back to stare at the ceiling. He did not appear recovered, really, which was good, as the coincidence would not go unnoticed.

Harry held a finger up to his lips when the other prisoner looked his way. She shrugged, not caring, and resumed her seat on the side bench.

Harry flipped his invisibility cloak over his head and slipped away underneath it. He re-entered the dungeon just outside Percy's door to check the situation. He was not alone, Tonks was there, ranting at him.

"You don't know what you've done, do you?" she shouted at him. "What'd you get out of it, anyway? A girlfriend? Some measly boost to your ego? Do you have any idea what a mess things are with Harry because of you?"

Percy's nasal voice came drifting out, "Harry Potter, Harry Potter, it's always about Harry Potter. Do you know how sick to death I am of that name?"

"You have no idea," Tonks seethed. Harry could tell from the sound she was speaking through clenched teeth. "I'm blaming you for all of it."

"What, 'cuz you lost your little loverboy . . ." Percy taunted.

"I swear Percy, if Arthur hadn't already decked you . . ." She made a sound of animal disgust and the door snapped unlocked and swung open. "I have to get out of here before I do something I'll regret."

Tonks slammed the door closed again and stalked off. 

Harry slipped inside and must have made a rustling sound because Percy glanced up from where he sat on the stone bench, hands shackled with glittering iron rings that connected to the wall. 

Harry waited a moment, and slipped off the cloak. Percy's long neck jerked backward in surprise, but he found bravado quickly enough. He snorted and said, "What do you want, Potter?"

After a delay, Harry replied, "Not much." He fished out the Misplacement Gimcracker from his pocket and dangled it before a stunned Percy. "Not much, at all, really."



Next Chapter: 50

Snape drew himself up. "I did warn you of the responsibilities of being a member of this household."

"You neglected to mention that the world may be at stake."

Snape crossed his legs and casually said, "Did I?"



Author's Note: Poetry classes seem to be paying out a bit. I'm finding word selection a little easier and more effective. I hope it shows in this chapter.

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