Author's Note: The preview from 72 did not make it in. I reworked the outline a bit and it thought it best to hold off. It triggers the final sequence of the story and I first thought that thread would play out over a bit of time, but upon further thought, it should be tighter in time. So I have to cover all the rest of the thread tying before we get to that.

Also, since it has been so long . . . When We Last Left Our Hero: Harry's trainer was giving him a difficult time about whether he deserved to be in the Aurors' program. Snape went to the Ministry to remind Rodgers of the agreement Snape believed they had regarding Harry's training. Harry went to Oxford to tell Elizabeth about Freelander's dinner invitation, encountering her obnoxious friend Colden in the process. In his frustration over Colden's insults, Harry insists on going to Hogwarts to attempt to cure Lupin, which he does.

Chapter 73 — Dueling Honor

"Harry!" Pamela burst through the door and knocked him back a step. "Thank you."

Harry patted his cousin's shoulders as her hands clung around his neck. "Ur welcome." He stooped to let her back to the ground, but she did not let go. Lupin glanced away when Harry turned his attention to him, but met his gaze a second later.

"She insisted we come as soon as it was reasonable. I hope seven on a Saturday is all right."

"Yes."

Pamela let go. "You don't know how happy you've made us. Well, me." She turned to Lupin. "I think us. It's tough to tell with Remus," she said, laughing.

"Glad to. Come in," Harry said. As they entered the main hall, he tried to explain the quiet house. "Sev . . . school." 

"Oh, no one else is home," Pamela said. "I was hoping to see the little one."

"Soon," Harry said and waved at the clock. He waited for Lupin to pass, seeking out the aversion that normally accompanied him, pleased to feel its absence.

Lupin dropped his gaze and kept it down as he took a seat. Pamela dropped beside him and took his hand, face bright and round with a permanent smile.

Winky crept in. "Winky is serving breakfast?"

Harry gave his guests a questioning expression. 

Lupin said, "It is odd not to be hungry and exhausted beyond reason the day after the full moon. But I don't want to press ourselves upon your hospitality, Harry, after everything else."

"Not," Harry said. "Yes, Winky."

Harry sat opposite them. Lupin looked away again. "Always welcome," Harry said. "You taught . . ." he began, thinking to remind Lupin about his spell tutoring but ran out of words. It was more awkward to attempt to relieve Lupin's awkwardness than to leave it be, so he gave up.

Pamela pounded their joined hands onto Lupin's leg. "I can't wait to get married."

After a long space, Harry asked Lupin, "Ready?"

A glimmer of animation ran behind Lupin's eyes, as if he was thinking of something mischievous. "I can be." He covered Pamela's hand with his own and held their hands still. "What I can't do is repay you."

"Stop. Even."

"It doesn't even out, Harry," Lupin insisted, showing some spirit with this assertion.

Happily, Pamela said what Harry wished to. "You're keeping score?" 

Lupin frowned. "Actually, I did want to ask—although perhaps I should ask Severus instead—when you can next perform the same feat." After a pause he added, "There are quite a few of us."

Pamela glanced between them, swallowing visibly. 

"Week," Harry said, then thinking of Snape, said, "Two."

Lupin nodded faintly. "I'm asking a lot, I know."

"Your friends," Harry said, as if that was all the explanation that was needed.

- 888 -

The Floo announced Snape's return Sunday night. Harry, already deep in his studies, made a point of appearing even more so.

"He won't let me read to him," Candide said in reply to Snape asking how they were.

Snape swept by Harry, tipping the book up to read the title, MoM Policy Changes for Q2 2000. "No matter. Harry might as well not know exactly what rules he is routinely violating."

Harry followed him into the drawing room, recalling the arguments he had prepared.

"Remus already talked to me," Snape said. "I have been dreading this eventuality." He put a stack of things in the drawer and closed it, motions calm. He finished organizing and leaned his knuckles on the desk to study Harry. "Like many things in this life, it is the inevitability of it, seen from a distance, that disturbs me. That I cannot change it, even knowing it approaches."

Harry waited, hoping he would amend his hard attitude, if given a chance.

Snape set his jaw instead. "You are my primary responsibility, Harry. The rest of the wizarding world can fall into a boiling cauldron for all I care."

Harry waited some more. 

Snape narrowed his gaze and shook his head. "Let's hope, at least, that the ensuing circus can hold off until next weekend when school finishes."

"Help people," Harry said. 

"Yes, I am certain you would like to help people." He wasn't quite mocking, just flat in his speech. "You could have a line-up of wizards out there waiting for curse cures of all sorts. You need a life of your own at some point, Harry. I am still determined to help you acquire one, no matter how difficult you make it."

He held up his fingers. "Small."

"It's a small thing. Is that what you are saying?" Snape's brow bunched up as he sat down. "If you insist."

- 888 -

Harry tugged the collar of his dress robes inward, then tugged the shoulders of them backwards, then tugged the collar inward again. Previously, they fit like he had been born into them, but now they seemed like someone else's, ill fitting and stodgy. 

All week at the Ministry he had listened for whispers around him, but had heard nothing. Remus had promised to keep the news to a small group of his fellow werewolves, but even Harry doubted that would work for long. Maybe Snape had infected him with his doubts, but Harry recoiled now from visions of the ensuing mob. 

Harry shrugged off his dress robes in favor of his Candide-purchased outfit.

"Have fun tonight, Harry," Candide said when he came downstairs in a rush.

Harry could not help frowning as he nodded. His handkerchief needed redressing in his breast pocket and he stopped to shake it out.

Candide hefted Arcadius and came over to help. "There's a spell for that."

"Got it," Harry said, fluffing the corners of the fabric so it stood up like a green tulip.

"You look great, Harry, but you don't seem happy. I'd expect you would be happy to see Elizabeth."

Snape stepped out of the drawing room and observed from a distance. "She is seeing someone else," he said.

"What?" Candide blurted. "You didn't mention that."

Harry shrugged when confronted in turn.

"Someone else at Oxford? A Muggle? Have you met him?"

Faced with so many questions, Harry said nothing.

Snape said, "Someone Harry strongly disapproves of, I think."

Harry stepped back as a signal that he was going to depart.

"Oh no," Candide said, "she isn't dating her father, is she?"

Harry blinked at her, face contorting in confusion. He did not feel like discussing it, and he was going to be late. With a last frown, he Disapparated.

- 888 -

Elizabeth came to the door of her flat with her hair done up, wearing a dress with old fashioned detailing, ruffles up the front as if it had an integrated apron of sorts. 

"No one's here," she said, backing up.

Harry stepped inside, closed the door, and offered her a bent elbow to Apparate her away.

A mist blew through the trees standing along the drive to the Freelander Estate, tossing Harry's cloak. He unhooked it and held it out for her to wear. When they began walking up the gravel, she said, "Are you not speaking again?"

Harry did not feel like struggling through a reply, nor could he decide whether to nod or shake his head. At the door, before he could reach the knocker, she said, "Or are you just not speaking to me?"

He could not decipher her tone, it was a complicated mix of hard and distraught and impatient and stalwart. Shrugging seemed like a mistake. The door opening saved him from standing there longer without doing anything.

Harry offered his elbow again and she frowned as she set her hands around it. The butler took Harry's cloak from her and led them inside. 

"This place is something else," Elizabeth whispered three large baroque rooms later.

"Harry," Ginny said as they entered the sitting room. She came straight at him, caught him above the elbows and drove him backward. Whispering harshly she said, "I can't believe you did something else I can't print. Are you trying to kill me?"

Aaron sauntered over, moving his drink in a circle so the ice cubes chimed. "She wants to tell the world how glorious you are. Frankly, it's a relief she can't."

Aaron's exaggerated mockery made Harry smile for the first time that evening.

"I can't believe you," Ginny said, shaking Harry's arms. "It's so wonderful what you did. You should get another medal."

Harry imagined that with a flinch, especially imagined how derisive his trainer and especially Belinda would act about such a thing. Wondering how they had learned so much, he glanced from one to the other of them, eyes sharp. Ginny released him. "Well, yeah, the twins found out and told me yesterday. Swore they didn't tell anyone else."

Harry took a deep breath and held it in.

"Is it true you're going to cure another one next week?"

When Harry stared at her, Aaron said, "He wants to know if you are asking as a reporter or not, I expect."

Ginny bit her lip. "I don't know. Sorry, Harry." She shook his arm again. "You're still amazing Harry. It's so wonderful for Professor Lupin."

Elizabeth remained where she had been, watching curiously. When Harry glanced that way, Ginny spun. "I'm sorry, Elizabeth. How are you?" She went to her. "Aaron, you are supposed to be making sure everyone has a drink." 

A servant slid over to offer a selection on a tray.

"It's like having an elf, only taller," Ginny said as she selected a tall pink one with a slice of pineapple and a flower on it.

Before small talk could get going, Freelander shuffled in, rubbing his hands. "Ah, good, we're all assembled. You must be Miss. Elizabeth. Well. Well. Come have a seat. We have some getting-acquainted time before dinner."

Freelander clasped his hands together and considered Elizabeth over the top of his knuckles. "Have you received your marks? How pink did you stain your carnation?"

Elizabeth smiled. "After so many essays, mods were long more than anything."

"Good. Good. But enough about your schooling young lady, how is your magical tutoring going—that's the real question."

"During term it's too busy to fit it in. But I'll arrange to start up again."

"Don't slacken too much; you are running out of time to learn it naturally, as only a young person can." 

After minutes of pleasant conversation, he stood. "I see that my man wishes to serve, shall we conduct ourselves to the table?"

Dinner passed slowly for Harry. He felt acutely the difference between his original envisioning of this evening and the actuality of it. It stung to imagine trying to speak, but even if he had wanted to speak, there was nothing he wished to say. Across from him, Ginny balled up a chunk of bread and tossed it at him. It landed in his soup. Aaron glanced down the table, but Freelander was speaking adamantly on the topic of managing a magical life in Muggle environs. Ginny's boss, Beatrice, shot Ginny a disapproving look. 

"Harry needs cheering up," Ginny explained.

"He has been terribly quiet," Freelander turned to say.

Harry turned his attention to his food.

Aaron said, "His speaking skills haven't really returned. Or, he's embarrassed by them, you could more accurately say." He picked up his broad-bowled wine glass and swung it in a circle. "Hard to imagine someone of Harry's magical caliber and fame being shy, but there you have it."

"That true, Mr. Potter; you still cannot speak?"

Harry tipped his head side to side. 

"Do you need to find some kind of specialist to help with that?"

Harry shook his head, face set.

"He can speak a little," Ginny insisted, glancing curiously at Harry. "He's getting much better, in fact."

"Well then, he'll share when he has something worth sharing, I expect," Freelander said, shifting back to let the waiter take his bowl. He turned back to Elizabeth. "About what I said earlier, it is critical you accelerate your magical tutoring. If you need help finding one, I'm certain Beatrice can assist. It is really very unfortunate when magical parents fail to take such instruction seriously. Muggle father or not." He shook his head while making a tut-tutting noise.

Elizabeth dropped her gaze to her empty place setting, which had just been set with a fish knife and delicate array of forks. Candide's words came back to Harry. It seemed impossible for someone to make such a mistake as replacing a negative influence in their life with someone equally negative, but now Harry wondered with a chill over the back of his neck if that was not what she had done. In which case, he was acting like an idiot, not a friend. 

Harry was glad to have a steaming plate to bend his reddening face over. 

The evening slowed even more as Harry cast his thoughts ahead to being alone with Elizabeth to take her home. When they were mingling again, Ginny pushed a drink into his hand and asked quietly, "What's going on, Harry?" At his shrug, she sarcastically said, "Right."

Much later, Freelander said, "Well, I see that Harry chose our first fellowship candidate very well," signaling that the evening was over.

As Elizabeth allowed the butler to put Harry's cloak on her shoulders, she repeated, "This place is really something."

Ginny glanced around, brow furrowed. "It grows on you after a while."

Aaron snorted and put an arm around her. "If she'd just agree to marry me, the whole place could be hers."

Ginny poked him hard in the ribs and he released her, clutching his side.

"I can't imagine living in a place like this," Elizabeth said after another glance around the high ceiling cast plasterwork.

"That's what she used to say," Aaron said, risking another poke to put his hands on Ginny's shoulders. "Haven't heard it lately—a good sign."

Before they could go, Aaron took Harry's hand and shook it, stepping close. "And I'll see you on Monday, right?" If he were Snape, Harry would have suspected him of Legilimency. 

Harry managed a smile and a nod.

"More readings together this week," Aaron promised as he let him go. 

It was dark in the abandoned brewery when they arrived. Sparse light filtered through the dirty glass arrays of the high windows. 

Harry stopped Elizabeth from walking away, then glanced around and after three failed tries, gave in and made himself remember how it felt with Voldemort helping, managed to transfigure a broken stool into an overstuffed couch.

With a wave of his illuminated wand, Harry suggested she sit. She smoothed the back of her dress and his borrowed cloak and did so, waiting with an uncertain edge in her gaze.

Despite having lots of time during dinner, Harry had not found his way through his emotions. He had overreacted to Colden's insults; that he had established, but not much else.

"You and . . . Colden . . . ?" Harry managed to ask, thinking he had best know the landscape before stepping into it.

"There's nothing serious going on with Colden, Harry." She exhaled after saying this and seemed to relax, or give up. "Look, Harry, I've only just started being on my own, and I don't fancy being tied down to anyone. Not right now." She gave him a small frown that might have been sympathetic. 

"Okay," Harry said, having no argument against that. "Don't like Colden."

"I got that sense. Somewhere around the time you hit him with a spell."

"He's not good. For you."

Her lips pursed, an expression that was accented by the wandlight. "You're not my dad, Harry."

Harry saw that the landscape had grown precarious. He stood and held out a hand to help her up. 

She accepted, her fingers long and warm. "I like you, Harry, but I have to figure out where I am with my life."

Harry nodded, seeing no use in saying more. He had avoided going to her flat in case Colden was waiting, now he hoped he was. "Colden at ur flat?"

Her face became stubborn. "He might be."

Harry forced his body into a casual pose and waved his wand, which made the light from it flicker. "Take off charm."

"Good idea, he's been a little strange. Stranger. Since."

Harry used an Alohomora on the giant lock on the loading door to let them out, feeling enlivened by his plan. Duplicitous behavior had been a feature of the self he had exorcised, but he felt alive now with the shape of it filling him.

At the door to the flat, Harry tapped Elizabeth's head with an Obsfucation Charm and put his finger to his lips when she started to ask why. Inside, a light was on in the small seating area. Colden, dressed in a faded, less metallic variant of the outfit he had on last time, stood up and tossed aside the television remote.

"Who're you?" 

The Fogging Charm Harry cast behind his back swept the room, washing around the gabled ceiling. Colden shook his head like a dog and Harry waved out a cancellation of the Memory Charm. Colden pinched the bridge of his nose to rub his eyes. Before he opened them again, the air had cleared.

"Should have skipped that last vodka flight last night." His posture shifted to hostile. "Oh, it's you. Where's Elizabeth? She's supposed to be with you. You're such a spacker, you didn't lose her, did you?"

Harry heard Elizabeth give a little chirp of surprise and exhale. She tugged on the back of Harry's sleeve.

Colden glanced at his watch, an oversized dull metal dial strapped on with chaotically woven black leather. He shook his head at Harry while making a disgusted face, dropped back on the couch, and grabbed up the remote just long enough to punch the red button. Wavy bars fluttered on the screen and multiplied to hundreds of tiny stripes before it shut off again with a buzzing hiss.

"This thing's broken now too? Everything in this place is for crap."

"Why you here?" Harry asked him, motioning to urge Elizabeth to remain quiet.

Colden breathed out through his nose. His lip lifted in an unattractive curl. "Did you see Elizabeth tonight, or not?" he demanded as though speaking to a child.

"Maybe." Harry held his expression as dull as possible.

Colden rolled his eyes and tried the remote again. "I'm not waiting here with a spaz so sod off."

Elizabeth's hands on Harry's arm grew fierce, like a tourniquet. 

"Certain. Ly," Harry said, stepping back slowly to give Elizabeth time to get out of the way. 

In the corridor, she hissed, "Take the spell off." Her outline flickered in and out. She had her wand in hand. 

"Hey," came Colden's voice and the sound of him standing. 

Harry was quick with the Obsfucation cancellation, and in the same motion, snagged Elizabeth's wand from her hand and held both of them out of sight.

Elizabeth leaned forward as she spoke. "You are unbelievably rude, Colden."

Colden scratched his cheek. "What's a matter, luv?"

Her face twisted with disbelief before she covered it with her hands. "Just get out of here."

Shoulders hunched, he stalked to the door. "Didn't know you were here," he said a bit whiny. 

"How could you be so rude to anyone, especially Harry?"

Colden held back on closing the door to the flat long enough to say, "Yup, he's special all right."

Elizabeth took the door and forced it closed. She turned with her arms crossed. "Darla always lets him in. Thinks she's doing me a favor or something." Her face scrunched up. "Sorry Harry, no wonder you were so cheesed last visit."

"Sorry," Harry said, wishing he had not reacted so badly last time. "Got angry." He handed her wand back.

Her eyes narrowed on him. "You are having a hard time talking, aren't you? I didn't get that from your letters."

"Not me writing," he admitted, looking at the floor.

"Oh."

They stood there in the corridor. The electric light overhead gradually came up brighter.

"The magical interference is fading," Elizabeth said staring up at it. "Magic makes the electrics worse every time I use it. I should save my magic practice for my tutor's house."

They both fell silent again until Harry made a move toward the door.

Elizabeth said, "Thanks for the escort. You have very nice friends."

Harry nodded, then said, "Ice cream. Sometime?"

"Yeah, Harry," she said lightly, voice laden by a pained lilt. "We can go out for ice cream sometime. I have a brutal reading list to attack, but I need to get out too." Her smile faded as she glanced toward the empty sitting area. "Sorry again about Colden."

"Not sorry for me. Not good for you."

Her face hardened and he suspected this was still too much, even after he had proved his point.

She leaned on the wall and tilted her head to rest it. "And you would be good for me?"

Unprepared for this question, Harry gave it consideration. He shrugged. "Not bad. At least."

Her face relaxed into a smile. "At least you're honest. That's unusual."

"I try." He again moved toward the door. "Oh. Er. Tutor?" he pointed at himself.

She lifted her head from the wall. "You are offering to be my magical tutor? You are good at teaching spells, but I don't think it's the best idea right now."

Harry schooled his disappointment and nodded. "I'll owl," he said. 

"You will?"

"Sorta," he admitted with a wince. "Take care."

Harry did not feel like going home. He walked through the pools of streetlight, taking the first turn that was less brightly lit. At the next intersection he again judged the streets for which would be less safe and went that way. No streets around here were especially dodgy, which disappointed him; he needed a distraction.

From a short alleyway, Harry took himself to Tonks' flat. 

Tonks looked up from where she sat reading a magazine and put her wand back in her pocket. Voices from a Wizard Wireless show drifted through the room.

"Come on in, Harry. Sit down. I finally got a night off."

Harry sat across from her on a chair he carried from the table. 

"You look a little down."

"'Lizbeth," Harry explained.

Tonks stared at him, rather a long time. "Harry, do you know that you are, precisely, following the pattern of every single boyfriend I've ever had?"

Harry drew in a long breath. "Sorry."

She shook her head and looked heavenward. "What is it with men?"

Harry sat back against the hard chair. He felt comfortable here and knew now that was why he had come.

"All men," she said to the ceiling.

"Good friend," Harry said, pointing at himself and sounding adamant.

"Yeah. Yeah," she said dismissively.

Harry wondered if he was failing to take others' feelings into account. He needed to take to heart Elizabeth's desire to stay out of a relationship, and apparently had clean forgotten that Tonks still wanted one. As far as he could tell, or feared, despite her engagement, Ginny still wanted one. 

"What is with life?" Harry asked.

Tonks pointed at him. "Don't dodge responsibility. This is a men thing."                  

Harry smiled, lulled by the familiarity of her company.

"You are still very cute." She sat back. "You know, I'm tempted to just marry Horace. He's reliable. He's tough. Really tough. I've met his mother and he has a stable job and all."

Harry knew she was baiting him. He smiled more. "I invited?"

She threw a pillow at him. Harry caught it and put it behind his head and pretended to rest on it.

Tonks propped her feet up on her beaten up coffee table. "So . . . what's up with Elizabeth?"

"Not want now," Harry said, wishing she had not brought the topic back up.

She looked at him from under her long pink eyelashes. "I don't know why not, Harry. She's mad."

This warmed him unexpectedly. "Thanks."

"You're free to stay the night with no strings attached."

Harry gave her a smile. "Not good idea."

"Of course it's not a good idea. I'd throw another pillow at you if I had one."

- 888 -

Tonks blushed and put her nose in a file when Harry stepped in for field work the next morning. Blackpool cleared her throat and Harry gave her an innocent shrug that shifted her suspicious brow to an amused one.

Blackpool tossed her short cloak over her shoulder and sat back in her office chair with a possessive air. "Who is Potter going out with today? According to the call notes it was a bit mad last night with all the Hogwarts inmates getting paroled for the summer. I'd take Potter out to help do more clean up from that. Check up on Reversal's work . . . make sure the Muggle world is intact . . . that sort of thing."

Tonks pushed to her feet and went to the log book. "St. Mungo's ended up with fifteen Hogwarts students? That's disappointingly high."

Harry remembered his own drunken revelry after finishing school and silently disagreed.

"Take Harry over to check on their status. Interview the kids. The two of you will be perfect for that. Don't let on that you are there officially. If the press gets on the story, by Monday, first thing, the Minister will be demanding a report from us. Might as well get a jump on it." She glanced between them. "Go on."

At St. Mungo's, Blackpool and Harry followed the Healer and the Healer's assistant through the wards at a discreet distance. The Healers stopped at a quarter of the beds, speaking low while looking over charts. There were indeed quite a number of Hogwarts students in the wards, separated from each other by other patients. All were asleep, the flesh around their eyes darkened as if bruised, mouths slack. When the one middle-aged witch in the second ward started at seeing Harry, he put his fingers to his lips and she nodded and put her finger to her lips as if shushing Harry in return.

The Healer moved on and the assistant remained, checking a bandage on the arm of a girl of about six. 

Blackpool lifted the chart from the foot of one bed where the occupant was rubbing her eyes and groaning. Harry blinked at the name, Juniper Ferro, a Sixth-Year Hufflepuff. He could barely recognize her now with her skin so mottled and sunken in.

Blackpool went to the side of the bed, "Juni, you awake?"

"Gods, no," the girl groaned.

Blackpool pulled over a chair and motioned for Harry to step out of view. Harry stood against the wall, arms crossed.

Speaking like girls chatting, Blackpool asked, "What'd you do last night?"

"Ugh."

"That good, eh? Where'd you go?"

Juniper rolled over and covered her head with her arm. "Just out."

The Healer's assistant looked up at them, eyes going over each of them with a professional's precision. 

Blackpool gave a girlish, teasing laugh. "What'd you drink, girl?"

"Don' wanna say."

"Visiting hours are not until eleven on Sundays," the Healer's assistant whispered. He had come to the foot of the bed and wore an immoveable expression.

"Just wanted to see how our friends were," Blackpool said.

"Were you with them last night?"

Blackpool put her hand to her chest. "Us? No."

"Visiting hours are at eleven," the man repeated, then stood waiting. 

He followed the two of them out. 

"Juni going to be all right?" Blackpool asked.

"We'll figure out how to neutralize whatever they had. In the meantime we're making them as comfortable as possible."

When they returned to the Ministry, Blackpool said to Tonks, "We could interview families in the meantime if you'll let us."

"Know any of them personally?" Tonks asked without looking up.

"Let me see the list."

Harry looked over Blackpool's shoulder as she perused the parchment. Beside them, the logbook scratched away. Not keen on sitting around for interviews he could not help with, Harry watched it spell out Magical Reversal Request Assist, Knightsbridge and tapped Blackpool on the shoulder.

"Harry doesn't feel like doing interviews," Blackpool said, copying out the information onto a slip with a wand wave.

"Can't imagine why not," Tonks said. "That slip better be something easy."

"Reversal needs help in Knightsbridge."

Tonks said, "On a Sunday, that should be fine."

Harry hurriedly slipped his wand in his sleeve as Blackpool took his wrist. They arrived on a street lined with narrow white houses. Muggles were gathering, moving their heads to see better, drawn by a voice that made the skin on Harry's neck prickle.

Vernon Dursley roared, "I know my rights and one of them is not to have to witness such nonsense."

Blackpool waved a fogging charm along the edge of the pavement. It hovered clear of the roadway like a pillowy wall. Harry made himself follow her toward where Peasegood and Sachs from Reversal were using hand motions in a vain attempt to calm Vernon. A small old wizard stood nearby, straightening his pointed hat and appearing perplexed.

"He came at me, he did," the man squeaked, fussing with his hat more vigorously as he spoke. "Out of the blue. I didn't say a thing to him. Haven't done magic all morning."

Vernon's small eyes latched onto Harry as he followed behind Blackpool. "Figures you'd be with this crowd of freaks."

Harry tried to ignore him. He followed Blackpool as she headed farther along the pavement to Obliviate a pair of Muggles in matching coats Peasegood gestured at. Harry put up a fogging barrier beyond the pair, boxing the scene into a cloudy corridor capped with blue sky.

"Listen, Mr. Dursley," Peasegood was saying, "You cannot assault an innocent wizard just because you do not like the looks of him."

"Innocent! Innocent!" Vernon made that apoplectic noise with his lips. Against his will, Harry looked back. Vernon did not notice him this time, seemed remarkably unconcerned about him. "There is no such thing as an innocent . . . person . . . of this sort. HE assaulted me. Just look at him. Look at those clothes and the cloak. There ought to be a law!"

"Potter." Blackpool poked Harry painfully on the arm. Harry found he was standing with his wand aimed at the ground, his shoulders hunched, doing nothing useful.

Peasegood was gesturing for them to approach. "Take over liaison, Blackpool. I'll finish the Obliviating."

Harry remained a few steps away, methodically forcing his eyes to circle, checking for breaks in the barriers. The herbal aftershave and sweat smell of Vernon Dursley made it hard to concentrate. The scent swirled around him, carrying a disjointed waking dream along with it. 

Peasegood returned. "We're set. Listen Mr. Dursley. We'll report you to the Muggle authorities next time. Do you understand me?"

Vernon puffed up his chest. "You think they won't see my side of things?"

"You think they won't assume you're a loon?" Peasegood retorted.

Vernon returned to flapping his lips. He recovered long enough to snarl at Harry, "Didn't need to ruin a Sunday seeing you, you no good excuse for a nephew."

Harry could not reply, he stared at Vernon instead, until his uncle turned to step away, swinging his broad body to check on Harry again every two steps. Harry had his wand in his hand still and considered twitching it, but it would be so much like his darker self, that he could not bear it.

"We're done here, Harry." Blackpool took Harry's arm and removed them back to the Ministry. 

"Well, that was fun," Blackpool said. "Want to help me write that one up, Harry?"

"What was it?" Tonks asked, now reading one of the department newsletters.

"Harry's uncle," Blackpool happily explained, "decided he didn't like the looks of one particularly harmless old wizard. Took his hat and crushed it underfoot and tried to give him a piece of his mind. Made quite a scene."

Tonks stared at Harry. "You okay?"

Harry gathered his wits and gave her a casual shrug, then rolled his eyes lightly as if in apology for his relatives. The gestures clashed with his emotions, but they worked. Tonks' lips cocked in a grin of shared knowledge and sympathy. Harry held firm to his acting until Tonks was called to the logbook.

"I'll take Harry out this time. You can cover the office while you do your write-up."

It was late afternoon by the time Harry returned home. He found Snape and Candide on the couch. Candide read a magazine while Snape occupied Arcadius with a series of brightly colored wooden shapes, each of which Arcadius tested for how well it fit in his mouth. 

Harry stopped in the doorway taking in the scene, feeling empty except for what felt like a hot stone he might have swallowed. 

"How was field work?" Candide asked.

Harry jerked to awareness and hated himself for feeling jealous. "'K," he said as he walked to the dining room to check his post. He came back in, flipping through his letters, trying to take an interest in any of them. 

"Simply okay?" Snape said.

Harry dropped the stack of envelopes on the side table. Maybe he should shower because he felt like the herbal sweat of Vernon was clinging to his skin. Harry did not see any gesture from Snape, but Candide stood and said, "I think I'll go see how Winky is doing with the summer curtains upstairs."

The stairs creaked, then the door closed on the bedroom. Harry could not unfix his gaze from how nicely Arcadius sat in the crux of Snape's arm. 

"If you are going to Occlude your mind, you are going to have to speak," Snape said. 

Harry did not feel like speaking. He wanted to bottle up and crush what was rising up inside of him. A deep breath cleared his head only a moment before it settled back into a fog.

Snape sounded like he was losing patience. "What happened today?"

Arcadius tossed the block away. Before it could hit the floor, it flew back to the box at Snape's feet. 

"Come here, Harry."

Piled together memories had hold of Harry, as did the burning hot stone in his gut. 

"Harry, I expect to be obeyed if you are living in this house."

This hard phrase seemed to come from within and without, from the air around him and from the past whispering up through him. Harry swam up through the surface of his waking dream and blinked at Snape in confusion.

Snape's voice was crisp. "Come. Here."

Harry's feet moved. He took the spot indicated, beside Snape. Arcadius was chewing on the corner of a purple oblong shape.

"What is going on in your head?"

Harry said the first thing that came to mind. "Arc . . . Arc . . . Archie's lucky." Even as the truth of this resonated through Harry, he regretted revealing it. He would feel better in a minute, he was certain, so it did not matter, really.

Snape picked the purple shape up and held it out for Arcadius. "I certainly hope so. But you have not told me what happened today."

Harry resisted for half a minute before saying, "Vern' started fight. Old wizard."

"Dursley did?"

Harry raised his gaze to Snape's dark one. "You block. Memory." It wasn't a question.

"I did. You sound disappointed."

Harry was. Vernon deserved a bit of extra fear in his miserable life.

An arm slipped around Harry's head and pulled his forehead down against the point of Snape's shoulder. Harry let his shoulders relax as he stared at the lightweight fabric of Snape's summer robes.

"I expected that you would have more time before you had to face any of your relatives."

"No luck," Harry said.

"I've noted, actually, that you have quite a bit of luck, in general."

Snape's hand relaxed and grabbed his hair only. "Did this happen at the end of shift?"

"Begin'."

"And the rest of your shift went how?"

"Good."

"Fine then." 

Harry was released. 

Snape looked him up and down. "You seem quite miserable. Would you like a baby?" He shifted Arcadius over to Harry's lap, then sat back in the corner of the couch where he could prop his chin on his hand and consider Harry square on.

"The past is in the past," Snape said after Arcadius had disposed of two more blocks. "It's the future you need to attend to. If that was a fit of sorts, they have grown quiet mild. Anything like that happen during your shift?" 

Harry shook his head and took more shapes out of the box and piled them in his lap. He was feeling badly about many things now, everyone he had hurt, which was a long list.

The scrutiny went on in silence for a while as Arcadius tossed each of the shapes aside.

"I have an idea," Snape said. "Why don't you challenge your trainer to a duel this week."

Harry's insides warmed at this. He found Arcadius a different toy and nodded eagerly.

"I thought that might cheer you up. It certainly cheers me." Snape rubbed his knuckles over his lips. "Suggest Hogwarts as a venue. That will make it more interesting for you."

"I will." Harry smiled. 

Snape's face relaxed. "That's better."

Both of their gazes fell to Arcadius, who squealed at the attention and batted at the yellow rubber ring Harry held out for him. 

"Are you really jealous of him?" Snape asked softly.

Harry took a deep breath. He was and he wasn't. He longed for the past to be different, but he also felt fiercely protective of preserving this childhood experience for Arcadius. There was no way to communicate that. "All good," Harry said, waving the ring where Arcadius could see it, turning his head around to peer at his dad the way he was.

Snape pushed at Harry's knee with his foot. "Let me know the minute it is not."

Harry had trouble replying around his pride. "I will," he finally said. He was feeling better and wished he had not revealed so much weakness when he had first arrived home.

"I will hold you to that as a promise, by the way."

Arcadius tossed the rubber ring to the floor, where it rolled lazily before toppling. Neither of them moved to fetch it. Arcadius gave a short cry of expectation and tossed his hands to his sides.

"We are becoming house elves," Snape said.

Candide returned just then and as she approached, she picked up the ring and handed it to Snape along with kissing him on the top of the head. Arcadius stopped his half-hearted fussing and waved an arm at the toy. 

Candide swept on through. "The sun is getting hot. I think we should join my brother on his beach holiday."

Harry's turned an eager gaze to Snape who appeared grim for a few seconds before smiling faintly. 

Candide fetched a magazine and swept back through. "One of these first weekends? What do you think?" She barely glanced at Harry, but as she took up the baby in her free arm she said, "Harry says yes."

- 888 -

Monday at training, Harry worked at writing on a scrap of paper as he listened to the discussion of advanced perimeter barriers for Muggle aversion. Carefully tracing out each letter reminded him that he needed to send an owl to Elizabeth. 

"Potter is taking notes?" Rodgers stopped the discussion to ask.

His fellows all turned in their seats and looked back at him. 

"He's getting better," Kerry Ann said in a tone that invited a fight.

Rodgers turned back to the chalkboard. "Well, he can't get worse."

After session, Harry followed Rodgers down the corridor, waving off his fellows, who seemed intent on accompanying him. Around the corner, halfway to the interrogation rooms, Rodgers turned with a patronizing air. Harry held out the note. 

"Wednesday, eh?" He pushed the scrap back at Harry. "I feel a bit like a heel accepting."

Harry grinned widely at him. Rodgers' eyes widened and he shook his head. "Wednesday at Hogwarts, then. Meanwhile, better get home to your readings, I expect they take you all night."

Harry willfully ignored this advice and went upstairs to see if Belinda was in the Minister of Magic's office.  She was just putting her things in her purse. She glanced up sharply, then glanced across the room, where two assistants were bent over a gilt-edged scroll. Her eyes indicated he should go away, but Harry wanted to talk to her. 

She stormed out into the corridor with a quick goodbye over her shoulder. Harry followed her down to the Atrium. Her heels clacking was the only conversation he got, but Harry felt very patient. She turned in the hearth to face him, face hard and thinned by stress. She tossed down the Floo Powder and spun away.

Harry stood a moment, hearing the footsteps around him slow as witches and wizards paused to look at him. He Apparated away without glancing around at them. 

He knocked on Belinda's door fifteen minutes later, carrying a bag of salty smelling take away Chinese food.

She tossed the door open and glared at him, unspeaking. Harry held the bag out. He would have simply handed it over and let her be, but the scent of liquor tickled his nose. 

"I didn't invite you in," she said as he stepped by her. 

He put the bag on the table and took the boxes out while trying to judge how much she had drunk. Not enough to impact her walking in the high heels she wore, but a lot for the short time since leaving work. There were no bottles in sight. Arms crossed, polished nails flicking, she watched him arranging things on the table.

"Hungry?" Harry asked. 

She did not reply, but her nails stopped flicking.

They stared at each other. Harry walked by her, looking in the cabinets for plates. He found the whiskey bottle in the cabinet under the sink and set the plates aside to dump it out. 

"What are you doing?" She made to reach for his arm, then backed up and paced two steps. "What gives you the right to come in here? You aren't bloody my Dark Lord anymore, you know. I'm not your puppet you can control."

Harry set the empty bottle down beside the sink and careful to keep the frustration this brought on from his voice, said, "Yes. But. You destroy you. Now."

Her lips moved, then she bit them. In her eyes he could see the kind of insults Colden favored battling to get out. 

"I know," Harry said again, sighing, referring to how idiotic he sounded. He assembled plates and a fork at the table for her. "Sit," he urged.

Her eyes had reddened and now her face scrunched to match. "Get out of my flat. Get out or I'll contact the Aurors' office."

Harry bowed his head and stepped away. At the door he turned back. "I'm sorry."

She had not relaxed her posture, nor moved toward the table. "Not as sorry as I am."

Beyond Belinda, the breeze blew the curtains into arcs that sailed side to side like wings. Harry stared at this a moment. "Not true," he said. Pinning his gaze back on her, he said, "But not believe. I know."

"I see why there are complaints that you are still in the program. I hear your trainer doesn't even want you."

Harry considered falling silent again. His silence was less damning of his state of recovery than his growing powers of speech. But he wanted her to understand. Her deep seated anger was clearly not helping her and he could think of nothing else to try but to demonstrate his new sincerity.

Harry said, "Lots. Make up for."

She raised her chin. "You do. You really do."

"I know." He put his hand on his chest and patted it, like he used to. "I was weak," he said. His now quiet voice came out a whisper and he rubbed one rippled arm without thinking. She glanced down at this gesture. In her eyes he saw her consider asserting that he should have died. 

"Maybe," Harry said. "Maybe better. I died."

She dropped her arms, alarmed at his speaking her thoughts.

"But lots make up for. Can't do dead."

Her attitude shifted, grew less combative. She would not meet his gaze. "I really want to be alone."

Harry went to the door. "Good night," he said. "Owl. Need anything."

She did not react to this, so Harry departed planning on checking in again on her, but not too soon.

- 888 -

Harry arrived home from training on Wednesday and found Snape alone in the drawing room, sitting opposite a stack of grade books. "Candide is off on a play date. Perhaps we should leave early for the duel so you can acclimate to the Defense classroom."

"Ack la . . ." Harry tried to repeat.

"I don't want the school's magic interfering with yours simply because you are no longer accustomed to it." He closed a large maroon book covered with silver stars and stood up. "The Floo Network has been disconnected from Hogwarts for the summer. Fetch the broomsticks, if you would."

Harry came around the desk and took Snape's arm.

Snape glanced down at his hold and, after a pause, said, "You propose to take me that mad way you travel?"

Harry nodded.

Snape's dubious expression faded. "If you are truly confident you can take me, I am a bit curious . . ." He pulled his wand and drew in a long breath. "All right. But Apparate us elsewhere, first."

Harry Apparated them to the sheep fields outside Shrewsthorpe. A collapsing stone wall ran a rambling course past them down the hillside. Everything was green, including the fresh wind rushing uphill. Snape shook himself free and stretched his shoulders twice before holding out his arm again. "All right. Do recall that Arcadius would prefer to grow up with a father."

"Hold on," Harry said, arranging a double grip of their arms. "Ready?"

"NO."

Harry smiled reassuringly and inverted himself. The long pull through the interstice dragged painfully on Harry's shoulder until it released suddenly. Snape gave a huff of discomfort as they steadied each other, scuffing the grey dirt into a small cloud.

Snape peered around them. "Well, this is a right awful place."

"It's not so bad," Harry said. Creatures were creeping toward them between the hillocks. Even though Snape pressed close, Harry took hold of his arm. "They smell you and are hungry. Don't step away."

"I don't intend to." His gaze finished circling a second time before it fixed on Harry. "Is your speech better all of a sudden?"

"It is," Harry admitted. It pained him to know words could flow so easily. "This place transcends language."

Snape stared at him before the clacking of limbs scuttering by drew his attention away. "That implies you are not really speaking. I wonder how much of this is real and not just the mind making what sense it can of something incomprehensible."

"You think too hard," Harry said. "It's just the underworld."

Snape smiled wryly at this. "Right. And I think I have experienced enough of it."

A spike-headed creature with a scorpion tail on a worm's body crept out from around a bundle of wire. Harry felt Snape shift against his arm, first as if to move in front of him, then as if to get behind him.

Harry held him steady. "It's all right."

"By the sound of it, he has rather a large number of friends with him."

Harry hesitated. "How do you know it's a he?"

Before Snape could reply, Harry relented and Apparated them to a spot opposite Hogwarts. It was quiet here.

"Awful lot of sameness in this miserable place," Snape said, relaxing his grip on Harry's arm. "But I must admit it is nice to hear you speaking."

Harry turned to him. In this light Snape's features appeared flat and pale, which took away their edge. 

"Thank you for helping me through everything." Harry said, feeling what he spoke too strongly, so he stopped even though he wanted to say more.

The sound of tiny feet approaching drew Snape's gaze. But this time he relaxed his posture and turned back to Harry. "My help was a matter of course, but you are welcome nevertheless."

The creatures drew closer. One angled its head into the air and snapped its jaws. Snape ignored it, saying, "Now, if I could protect you from yourself, I would call it a grand success all around."

Harry let his gaze slide away, to where the horizon should be. "Someday maybe I'll let you do that." 

A much larger clacking jaw made Harry give the closest creatures a sharp glance to send them backward. They squawked and struggled over each other to get away.

Harry was just preparing himself to pull Snape through to Hogwarts, when Snape said, "Who is that?"

Harry turned and found the boy standing a few hillocks away, watching them.

"That's the werewolf."

"Is it? You cured him and left him here?"

"He wanted to stay."

The boy's eyes moved between the two of them, expressionless. At his feet, the creatures shuffled with unusually quiet movements, respectful.

"And you let him." Snape said. 

"The above world is like hell for him. I wasn't going to force him to go."

Snape's brow lowered. "You know, the parenting manual Candide's mother just happened to leave behind at our house said that we should endeavor to be more involved in our children's lives. I think I shall make an exception for you."

When Snape continued to stare at the boy, Harry worried he might get ideas. "We have a duel to get to."

Snape's gaze came over to him. "And you have the power of speech to lose."

"Unfortunately, yes." As usual, Snape had hit his softest spot, intentionally.

Harry moved to double grip their arms again, but hesitated inverting himself. There were so many things he wanted to say that they all crowded in his head so that nothing came out. Visions of threatening his guardian, of knocking him down, pushed painful heat through Harry's chest. Snape returned his gaze levelly, studying his eyes. Harry pulled Snape into an embrace.

"You can speak; there is no excuse for resorting to a hug," Snape said into his ear.

Harry pulled him tighter. Snape swung his foot and a creature gave a squeak as it tumbled into its peers, making the pack scramble and hiss. Harry pushed Snape to arm's length so he could turn and stare the creatures down again.

Snape said, "It is my presence. Exhibiting confidence does not seem to be keeping the demons at bay."

Harry gave a tug on Snape's robes to get him to look him in the eye. "Seems to be working for you otherwise, actually."

Snape's face relaxed into wry pain. "We are going to be late."

Harry released his robes and took his arm, interlocking their grips. "I can speak, but I don't know how to tell you how grateful I am."

Snape's voice fell soft and dismissive. "Even when you Occlude your mind I can read that." 

In the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, the desks had been stacked against one wall and papers and broken quills lay scattered, rustling in the breeze from the open windows.

Minutes later, a knock came on the door. Snape waved it open and Rodgers and Mr. Weasley stepped in.

"Sorry we're late. We were waylaid. I brought Arthur as my second, but he is a bit chatty with Headmistress McGonagall." Gesturing at Snape he said to Harry, "Your choice of second leaves a bit to be desired."

Snape glided up to him. "The competition is free-spell, Reginald. I would pit my knowledge of the Dark Arts against yours anytime you like."

"Severus," Mr. Weasley said, sounding as if he were speaking to one of his older sons. "I have another appointment, so perhaps we should move along with sorting out this one-up-man-ship properly. Once and for all, I hope."

"Anytime either of you is ready," Rodgers said.

Harry took a position on the platform, back to back with his trainer. Snape stepped up to the nearest side and said, "The only thing that is forbidden are Forbidden Curses, that and any spell which has an effect that cannot be reversed at St. Mungo's. The match ends when one wizard possesses the other's wand or one wizard's wand is destroyed. Only one standard wand is allowed."

"You aren't refereeing, are you?" Rodgers asked Snape. "We'll call our own fouls."

Snape said, "It is a free-spell competition; there are no fouls."

With that, he stepped back and crossed his arms. Harry straightened his back and cleared his mind.

"Count of ten," Rodgers said and began pacing.

They spun at the same instant and Harry's Blasting Curse and Rodgers' Spiked Shield Charm piled into the center of the platform, canceling out. Harry, falling into the habit of drills, prepared his best Counter and sent Rodgers' next hex into the wall behind him where it shook the stones. He wove a Fire Curse out of the tail end of the cancellation for the Counter, thrilled with how crisply it came out. It roared across the room, setting the curtains alight, but Rodgers suffocated it with a Mist Cannon that Harry Blocked and again wove an attack out of the cancellation.

Back and forth they went, like drills, only far more violent and at the pace of the second hand of a watch. Harry could barely feel his legs or sense his feet on the floor for the magic pouring through him, for the adrenalin singing in his blood. 

He was forced to duck low for a Glass Shard Hex behind a reduced Bombardment Block when it wavered, and his next attack did not get off in time; he abandoned it, sizzling in the air, un-cast. Feeling the first desperation of the battle, Harry, from the shelter of his Block, cursed the entire platform with a Spirit Siphon.

The platform rippled and Rodgers' stumbled. Harry put his knees close together and pressed the curse away from himself. Rodgers fell to his knees and fired a Counter at the platform. He almost returned to standing, but the spell overcame the fading Counter and he teetered and sprawled out forward. Harry used a Whip Charm to grab at his wand, but it only dragged Rodgers a few inches across the platform as it retracted and snapped.

Harry bit his lower lip and frantically thought of what spell would lock a wand into a hand. Shaking badly, Rodgers raised his wand. Harry threw a Shield Charm over it, which forced Rodgers to cut short his cast or get blasted in the face. Because he needed to try something, Harry sent a Counter for a Sticking Charm at Rodgers' hand and the wand tumbled onto the platform where Harry's next Whip Charm snapped it up. Rodgers lowered his head to the platform, and pounded it there in an expression of disgust.

Snape's voice cut through Harry's exultation. "Harry. Over here."

Harry removed the curse on the platform and met Snape at the edge of it.

"What do you think you are doing?" Snape demanded. "Not only was that sloppy and unremarkable wand work, you are playing to your opponent's strengths, which is deadly."

Harry's jaw moved, but nothing came out. Behind him, the platform creaked as Rodgers pushed himself to his feet.

Snape's face narrowed in response to Harry's surprise. "I expected you to beat him soundly, not toy pointlessly with him. Did you eradicate every last ounce of your strategic abilities when you removed Voldemort? You are making me lose faith that you are indeed Auror material." He swung his arm to point at Rodgers. "Do it again. Best two out of three." 

When Harry tried to turn and see what his trainer was thinking, Snape tugged him down by his robes, then grabbed hold of the front of them to pull their faces close. "Stop. Holding. Back." He let go all of a sudden, tossing Harry upward.

Harry remained bent a second before standing and backing up to his previous starting position. He caught only a glimpse of Rodgers' stunned expression before they stood back to back again.

In and out Harry breathed, once, twice, before the count started, spoken by Rodgers with less force this time.

Feeling desperate, not to best his trainer, but to prove himself, Harry slipped away to the Dark Plane just as the count ended. He reappeared behind Rodgers while casting a Debilitating Hex. Rodgers fell, straight downward, his limbs folding into a heap. 

Harry picked Rodgers' wand up off the floor from where it had fallen.

"That's more like it," Snape said as Harry stood over his trainer, preparing to neutralize the hex. "Very good."

Rodgers reanimated in a rush and rolled to the side onto his knees. He shook his head when Harry held out his hand and got up on his own.

"Don't get into more trouble," Rodgers whispered, accepting his wand back.

Harry was dearly tempted to say he was sorry for playing dirty, but was unwilling to risk it in front of Snape.

"I shouldn't tempt fate by asking for best of five," Rodgers said while stretching his neck. "Also, I don't want to get Harry into more trouble with his father, here." He said it this time as an announcement. He turned to Snape. "Who is apparently harder on Harry than I am." As Rodgers walked past Harry, he muttered apologetically, "Didn't realize that."

Mr. Weasley said, "I'm curious how Harry did that. I tried to Apparate and the barriers are still up."

Snape said, "After Harry is a full Auror, maybe he will explain it."

Rodgers sniffled, then jerked his head violently as if trying to Apparate and failing. "Do it again, Potter."

Harry slipped away and reappeared outside the door, which he pushed open. He looked at them from the doorway.

"Interesting." His jaw moved side to side. "Fetch something from my vault at Gringotts."

"What number?" Harry asked.

Rodgers pulled his head back. "And he can talk too."

"Badly," Harry admitted. "It's 'barra. Sing."

Rodgers rubbed his mustache. "I see that. But have you been sneaking into vaults at Gringotts?"

"Don't answer that," Snape said, holding a hand out and snapping his fingers at Harry.

Rodgers headed for the door. "He's right. Don't answer that." At the door he turned and waited for Mr. Weasley, who was still looking Harry up and down. Rodgers gave a little a bow and with the corner of his lip twitching downward, said, "Well, Potter, you win. No more complaints from me on your presence in the program. And as far as I'm concerned you can return to normal field work. You can take a full Auror shift if you like, even."

"Don't rush him into danger," Snape complained, then glared at Harry when he expressed delight at this. "I will let you know when he is that ready."

"Well, Arthur," Rodgers said, taking Mr. Weasley by the shoulder. "We'll be seeing Harry on duty sometime in 2010."

The door started to close, but Mr. Weasley put his foot in the way and leaned back in to say, "My office, tomorrow morning, Harry." His brow waggled once and then the door closed.

Snape paced in a half circle around Harry, face grim.

"You are far too nice to be an Auror."

Harry chewed his lip as he tried to reply, then, badly wanting to speak again. He struggled to figure out how, and mostly due to his frustration finally managed to grab hold of the lip of the interstice to the Dark Plane. He pulled it upward over their heads. Snape glanced around sharply as the world dimmed.

Harry said, "I'm too nice, but you are going to do your best to beat that out of me, I expect."

Snape glanced around once more before turning to Harry and saying, "If you continue to pursue this career, yes. As you grow strong enough for it, yes." He stalked closer. "What are you doing?"

Holding his hardened expression, Harry replied, "Speaking to you." 

Snape straightened. "I see." He sniffed once. "Bringing that miserable place into this one just enough."

"Exactly," Harry replied. 

Snape leaned closer. "You play with demons, so it is amazing that I have to tell you to be stronger, but I do." He pointed at the door. "That man, your trainer, and I have one and only one thing in common: we do not want you unprepared. We disagree over where your preparation is lacking, but we do agree that it is."

Caught up in the determined caring emanating from Snape's unguarded thoughts, Harry did not reply. 

Snape turned and waved his hand. "If you are not going to speak, get rid of this thing; I don't like it."

Harry released the tension on the interstice and it sank back to the floor. The breeze shifted the papers at their feet.

With his back to Harry, Snape said, "Do not do that at the house, or anywhere near it or Arcadius."

"Yes, sir," Harry said.

Snape rubbed his brow and dropped his hand with a flutter of his robe sleeve. He turned back to Harry, face shifting. "You did well. I just wish you did not need so much encouragement to do your best. That is all." His face softened. "I was proud of you today, Harry. Do not imagine otherwise."

Harry dropped his gaze and shifted his shoe over the stone floor. 

Snape dropped his voice as he added, "But your trainer deserved worse."



Next Chapter 74

Gauzy curtains waved over Harry's bare feet as he lay on the bed closest to the window. He blinked in confusion at the light grey painted ceiling and white paneled walls. He must have slept some because a dream still sang through his mind. He rested his head back and closed his eyes, hoping to recapture it.

A smooth skinned woman with dark green eyes surrounded by a mass of blond streaked dark hair like the mane of a lion was leaning over him, smiling like one trying not to laugh. She was teasing him, leaning down as if for a kiss, then pulling away, giggling through her nose. Overhead was an expanse of blue sky and tree branches in full leaf, the warm ground beneath him, then the vision slipped away.

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