Chapter 75 — Scars

Harry draped a large towel around himself like a cloak and padded down the creaky white steps and across the breezeway to the long sunroom. 

"Going down to the sea?" Candide's sister-in-law asked. "It's a bit nippy."

Harry gave her a smile in lieu of a reply and bent over Arcadius, who was sitting—just a supported by a hand—on Candide's lap. The baby's magic showed no signs of trouble, so Harry headed for the double doors at the end of the room.

Out on the lawn the children were running about. The two older ones were playing catch or some kind of ball tag that involved strategic avoidance of harm to Allie, the youngest. Allie gave a playful scream as the ball bounced by her and turned suddenly, running into Harry's legs. Harry caught her up as they collided and righted her on her little yellow sandals.

"There you go," Harry said. 

She breathed heavily while she laughed and pushed his arms away, prepared to run again. Her breathing stopped as she stared at his arm. "It's a ouchie?" she asked.

Harry tossed the towel over his arms again. "Not now."

The other two children came over. "Mum'll hex us if Allie's got an ouchie," Maximillian said. 

Allie pointed her toddler finger. "He's got ouchie."

"Just a scar," Harry insisted, rubbing his hand over his rippled arm under the towel. "It's healed."

Maximillian punched the ball once and handed it to his sister, Dorothy. He said, "Can I see?" with great eagerness. "You must have loads of scars from fighting He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named."

"Maybe later," Harry said. "Swim now." He felt relaxed talking to the children. "Going swimming," he corrected himself after his ears heard the awkwardness.

Harry sat on a dry patch of sand and squinted at the water which shifted from steel to blue when the sky did. The water did not look so inviting close up, but an old man in swimming trunks and a t-shirt came swimming ashore and waded out of the surf with heavy steps. He nodded at Harry and took up a towel draped over a rock. Back bent, the man walked off scrubbing his face and neck dry. 

Harry tossed aside his towel and went in all in a rush. He came up sputtering and was clapped on the head by a wave. Harry curled low to let the bubbling surf pass over him then hung in the water passively, letting it burn his muscles numb, like the cold InBetween. Surfacing, he tossed the water from his hair and rode the next wave all the way to the rocky shingle that tumbled loudly just where the surf broke. 

Harry sat wrapped in his towel, shivering despite a fortuitous slice of sunlight. He didn't have his wand even if he had wanted to use it. Gingerly, he patted his arms dry. He had dried them that way since he'd eradicated Voldemort; he didn't even think about it anymore. The chill and sun outlined the old wounds in pink and white and the slight ripples were still numb from the water. Harry dabbed them again, even though they were dry. The worst of them burned as they warmed as if they were fresh again and he was having to Staunch them or die. The beach, the rush of the waves tossing the shingle distorted into a rush of clacking limbs.

Harry's instinct was to gather his knees close and hug them. Instead, he stretched each leg out and lay back on the gravelly sand, embracing the vulnerability to the world despite how his heart throbbed in revolt. 

The metallic underbellies of the clouds slid by. The sunlight warmed his drying skin, which eventually revived his muscles. He sat up, feeling as if he'd just woken up. He wished his body and mind would find some kind of peace with each other. He wished memory were not such a trap.

The lawn was silent when Harry returned to the house. Avoiding the sunroom, he went straight upstairs and put on long sleeves and linen trousers. 

Snape was the only one still in the house. He stood before a crooked shelf of moldy books with an open one in his hand. "They went for ice cream," he said. "Candide promised to bring some for you."

Harry's stomach rumbled at the thought. 

Snape's gaze went over Harry's wet hair. "How was the water?"

"Cold," Harry said, laughing at the memory of going in only because the old man had done so so casually.

Snape reached into his pocket. "There is a letter for you from Remus." He handed it over and turned back to the book he held, a 1930 Encyclopedia of Household Charms. 

Harry unfolded the letter, intending to hold it out to be read. But the salutation, his name, stood out on the parchment, and the next few words leapt out, one at a time: Your efforts last night were . . .  The next word he had to sort out letter by letter because the sloped figures were too hard to read packed together like they were. Appreciated. Hope you enjoy your holiday and that you don't feel you have . . .  Harry paused again, piecing the word together, then the sentence together into a full thought after several tries. Disappointed anyone. I wouldn't worry except Severus tells me you are keen on helping.

Harry lowered the parchment. Snape turned suddenly, clapping the book closed. "Need me to read that to you?" 

Harry pulled his attention from the letter to Snape's knowing tone. His brow furrowed. "No. I got it."

"Quite a change from your efforts on the last letter from Remus."

Harry lifted the letter again; the writing shifted from tangled lines to words and back again. "Easier."

Snape took the letter and folded it away while examining Harry's eyes. "When's the last time you had an episode?"

Harry slouched and put a hand on the bookshelf, which threatened to upset it sideways, as it wasn't built very well. "At the beach."

"Oh." Snape appeared to reconsider something. "The chess set is available if you'd like to play a game before the children return and draft the figures for toy soldiers."

Harry sat across from Snape at the inlaid table. He lost in seven moves. He rubbed the bridge of his nose while Snape reset the pieces. "I'm not Auror material," Harry said.

"Nonsense. Ever see Kingsley play a game of chess? He is atrocious at it."

When Harry failed to make a third move when it came time to decide on one of the power pieces, Snape said, "Do you want to be a Healer instead?"

Harry leaned his head back on the wicker edge of the chair and contemplated spending his days at St. Mungo's where the other Healers were so difficult to suss out and the walls were tainted with leaked radiance. The Healers did not seem like his kind of colleagues, unlike his friends in the Auror program. Lost in these thoughts, he muttered, "Not particularly." 

Harry started, hearing himself. 

He sat forward, listening, but he wasn't talking anymore so there was nothing to listen to. He looked up at Snape, but just then the door burst open and the children came running in. Snape raised a knowing brow at him and stood up to help.

Candide took a sack from the oldest child and handed it to Snape as she came in. 

"Ice cream for Harry," Snape said, setting the sack down on the chess board, scattering the pieces.

Harry watched Snape walk back to take Arcadius from Candide's arm. He acted like he expected Harry to speak better. How did he always keep one step ahead like that?

The ice cream packaging was growing ice crystals. Harry waved a spoon in from the kitchen for himself and pried the package open. 

Dorothy was chasing her brother, but she came to a stop beside the chessboard. "Harry gets all that and all we got was one little tiny scoop?"

"Want more?" Harry asked.

Maxmillian came up beside his sister. "I want to see your scars."

"Maxi," his mother said. "That is very rude."

"He said he'd show them to me later. And it's later."

Harry rolled up his left sleeve, which was the less affected arm. 

"Wow. Look at that. They sparkle," Maxmillian said, leaning close and holding out a finger, but not touching. 

Dorothy spun away, shoulders high, and marched to her father.

Maxmillian said to Harry, "Ignore her. They're really great."

The seams around a few of the wounds had taken on a stretched texture from the sun and looked especially gruesome.

"A Healer could take care of it," Candide said, also bending close. "Harry's just too busy to bother."

"Saving the world is a full time job," Candide's brother said as he lit a long pipe and kicked back with his feet up. 

Snape sat down across from Harry with Arcadius secure in the crook of his arm, and took up the spoon from Harry's hand. He dipped into the softening ice cream at the edge and took a bite. "Harry got one scar in his first battle with Voldemort and a hundred in his last." 

Arcadius tried to grab the spoon as it passed.

"Fitting," Snape added. 

He took another bite and Harry glared at him while holding his hand out for the spoon.

- 888 -

Harry woke to the soft sigh and tap of the window closing. A blurred shadow crossed in front of the glowing curtains and over to the basket hanging between the two single beds in the corner. The attic room warmed quickly with the window sealed. Harry pushed the heavy covers off his neck. 

A pinprick of wandlight illuminated the basket in the corner as Snape continued to hover there. With the night insects and the faint surf blocked out, a disconcerting quiet descended on the room, amplifying Harry's breathing and the whisper of the covers shifting, rousing him more from his muted dreams. If Snape were not already checking Arcadius, Harry would have risen to do so. 

The wandlight went out and Harry closed his eyes, breathing faintly so he could not hear himself. He had drifted under the surface of sleep when he sensed something draw near by the way the silence changed shape at his right ear.  A weight pressed lightly on his shoulder, then lifted.

Harry opened his eyes and watched the shadow retreat through the murky light and, with a soundless toss of the covers, reposed in the corner bed.

The room felt warm, the silence enveloping.  Harry stared at the blue-ish glow of the ambient gloom on the white ceiling, waiting in dread but, for once, the emptiness from being torn in two didn't sting him. Harry exhaled fully, eyes moistening in relief. His chest loosened, opening to the possibilities of the future.

When he closed his eyes again, the bed seemed to rock like a gentle wave, an echo of swimming that afternoon. He relaxed into the vertigo and the silence. He could not be washed under; he could not fail, because he would always be caught from below if he did.

- 888 -

Back at home, Harry rose on Monday morning with new energy and hurried through breakfast and into the Floo. When he arrived in the training room, Aaron was asking, "How many are you letting in this year?"

Rodgers set a stack of mixed files down beside the book they were reading from, which was festooned with battered bookmarks. "Probably one."

"Is that enough to restaff, really?" Aaron asked.

Rodgers stopped what he was doing and stared Aaron down. "The real question you need to ask is how many of you do we expect to lose before you reach full Auror."

"I suppose I am asking that," Aaron said, sounding flippant now. "How many of us are expected to be offed?"

Rodgers returned to his stack of files. "I'm not going to tell you the official numbers."

"High, then," Kerry Ann said.

"If you follow procedure, fewer of you will leave the program early, involuntarily. On that note, let's get started."

Harry correctly answered the yes/no questions that came his way. Rodgers was calling on each of them in turn today.

"We're going to practice fenestration manipulation today, an esoteric but invaluable set of spells for stake outs." 

Harry was happy to be outside for spell practice in the afternoon. Two days at the seaside had made the Ministry dim and suffocating. They moved doors and windows around on a litter-strewn, abandoned estate for two hours until Rodgers called a halt during Harry's turn.

"Transfiguration is not Potter's strong point, I'm reminded." Rodgers mussed his mustache while staring at Harry. "You aren't saying the incantations aloud—and really I don't want any of you speaking them aloud, although most of you are—so I don't know whether the spells are too long for you to remember."

Harry shrugged, feeling awkward in the face of what seemed to be honest concern. He felt he was doing better this round, even if the top of the door he had shifted from one wall to the other had ended up upside down. If it didn't have windows at the top, no one would have known.

"Why don't the three of you practice on your own while I show Vishnu and Kalendula some advanced spells?" He leaned close to Harry as he passed. "Manage better soon or you are going to be a First Year again with Askunk."

Tridant must have overheard this because he dropped his gaze when Harry turned his way. Harry sighed through his nose and canceled his previous attempt to focus on a fresh try at setting the corner nodes for the spell. 

- 888 -

Mid-week after training, Harry sat with his reading propped on his knees, using a quill to mark off phrases so he could better pull together each sentence. No one else was home, even Winky was out on errands. Harry's pet had draped herself over the back of the couch to sleep. Her fur glistened a deep sea blue in the afternoon light from the windows.

The Floo sounded and Snape strode through the hall with an air of distracted purpose that made Harry forget theories of reshaping cupolas and bell towers.

Snape stopped in the doorway to the drawing room as if remembering something, then gestured for Harry to come. He was at the window when Harry reached the desk. Snape turned and checked the room for eavesdropping then snapped the door shut with a flick of his wand. His predatory posture and his actions tethered Harry to a place where old flashes of memory pummeled him. He barely breathed as he waited.

"I have to tell you something," Snape said. "I am not certain how to handle this, quite honestly. I almost went to McGonagall first, but there is insufficient time to work out the best approach from the Hogwarts side of things. So I am going to tell you what happened so that you can relieve difficulties on your end, quickly, and I can spend time being circumspect on my end." His eyes moved between each of Harry's while Harry waited, trying to follow.

Snape set his shoulders and faced Harry. "The students at St. Mungo's are suffering from Heyryde poisoning."

"What's that?"

"It is a rare compound. It is a byproduct of brewing the Trefoil-based precursor Typodine Herroot with Dingyu instead of Polyfoot. They are closely related so the brewing is successful, otherwise. Heyryde converts quickly into an undetectable state in contact with iron and copper, i.e. in the human body."

Harry watched him instead of responding, wondering how Snape knew about the poisoning.

"More importantly," Snape said, reading his thoughts, "Is coming up with a reason you would know, so you can tell the Ministry."

"Protecting?" Harry asked after thinking a bit.

"No one yet. Because I am not certain what happened. All I have is supposition." Shoulders falling relaxed, he took a few steps toward the bookshelf lining the wall. "Hogwarts is older than the Ministry of Magic, Harry. She prefers to get by on her own rules, if possible." Possibly in response to Harry's frown, Snape added, "If Minerva wishes to get the Ministry involved, she may do so at a later time."

Harry pulled out a blank parchment from the case on the corner of the desk and dipped one of the quills. He pulled over a chair and began painstakingly scratching out the words Typodine Herroot and the formula for it, crossing out the Polyfoot and writing in the alternative plus the poison. Snape stepped up beside him and directed him to add more precursors and ingredients across the top. Harry's brain was buzzing by the time he was finished with tracing all the letters in all their strange combinations.

"What's it make?"

"A psychotropic potion by the name of Fantasy Freewheel."

Harry did not write that down; he pulled the parchment closer. "Brewed at Hogwarts?"

"Yes." 

Snape waited. Harry sensed a test, and it felt like he was about to lose at another game of chess. 

"Why Dingyu?" Harry asked.

Snape tugged the parchment away with his long fingers. "It is not a typical ingredient for a Potions cabinet. It serves no purpose that Polyfoot cannot. And Polyfoot does so without the risk of poisonous byproducts. In my mind, the situation comes down to intent. Intent in procurement and labeling." He pushed the parchment back. "But let me handle that side of things. Go into the Ministry and take care of this. As best you can."

Harry stood and rolled the sheet "I thought up," Harry said, tapping it on his hand. "Believe?"

"That is going to be your explanation?"

"I'm Harry Potter." He waggled his brows.

"It's as good a story as any. I am not sanguine about your ability to lie, but do go on. Curing the students is of utmost importance whatever the origin of the information."

Harry Disapparated for the Ministry, still considering what he was going to say. Fortunately, he found Tonks in the Aurors' office. She was trying to use a Pack Charm to put away the files on her desk, but they refused to all fit in the drawer so the spell made a sad squeaky sound and nothing moved.

"Harry," she said in greeting. "Forget something?"

"Talk." He tilted his head at the door, wishing that had been a sentence.

"I was on my way out anyway." She pushed the remaining files to the corner and placed a shoe on them from under the desk.

In the corridor, Harry held out the parchment for her. She read it over as she walked. "Looks like Freewheel. What's Dingyu?"

"Like Poly. Foot." Harry said, stumbling over the sounds. He was trying to think ahead to her next question, to have a lie ready, and that made it unexpectedly hard to speak.

"But it taints the final potion with Heyryde, and that's a poison, you say?"

The lift arrived. She turned to Harry. "St. Mungo's I guess. Did you come up with this?"

Harry wanted to answer, but could not, at least not to her. He wondered if he were facing, say, Lucius Malfoy, if he would have as much trouble. 

Tonks went on, "I can see you wrote this out yourself. Otherwise I would have assumed Severus."

"I. Did." Harry said, wishing he did not flush so much from this opportunistic misdirection of the truth. "It. I did it."

"Nothing like a holiday at the seaside to clear the mind. Cracking work, Harry. Let's just hope it's right."

They found Healer Sternau in his office also getting ready to depart for the day. "You again," he said. "We don't know anything new."

"We do. We have a lead this time," Tonks said.

Sternau put down his satchel and appeared interested. Tonks started to hand over the parchment, then pulled it back. "We think it's Heyryde, from a bad brewing of Freewheel."

Sternau's satchel fell off his chair when he let go of it to reach for a book on a high shelf. The satchel jumped back to the cupboard in the corner before hitting the floor.

"We can't test for Heyryde directly, but we can brew up a neutralizer and try it." He read over the page in silence and shoved the book back away, making it thud hollowly on the wall behind. "Haven't anything else to try."

Tonks followed the Healer out the door, and Harry followed her. Sternau stepped into the brewing room and said nothing when they joined him inside. He lit a burner under an empty cauldron and handed Tonks a chlorite crystal and a grinding stone. 

Harry leaned on the closed door and watched them brew.  A second burner flared high, flashing copies of the flames over the rows of bottles on the wall. Harry straightened, suddenly understanding what Snape was referring to. 

"Go," Harry said. "Got to go."

Tonks looked up from stirring a cauldron. "No problem, Harry. Come back and see if it worked."

Sternau was bending over a cutting board. "It will require about an hour to determine if we are correct."

Harry gave Tonks a wave and slipped away for Hogwarts. 

Sternau turned. "Where'd he go?"

"What's this "we"?" Tonks asked.

Sternau bent toward an instruction sheet that hovered in front of the shelf. "You don't think we've been working on this as a team?"

"I did before the second time you nearly threw us out when we wanted to question students, yes, but not after." 

Sternau looked up, actually looking at her this time. "You were interfering with treatment."

"So were you, turns out." But then she smiled broadly and her Mohawk grew long and pink. 

- 888 -

Harry arrived in the dungeon corridor, outside the Potions classroom. The musty familiarity wrapped around him, returning him to a multitude of alternative pasts. Greer's raised voice leaked out through the cracked-open office door. Harry peeked inside but did not see anyone. Even though it was open, he checked the door for alarms before stepping inside. The voice became clearer, emanating from the inner suite. 

"Are you even still a professor here? You have been around so little of late, perhaps that title doesn't apply any longer. You have no inkling of what has been happening."

"We are not discussing me," came Snape's low voice.

"It is you who is doing the discussing, so I believe you are part of the topic, Professor."

Harry stepped to the desk and moved his head side to side, but he could not see anything inside the suite.

Greer went on, "You, of all people, have come here to question me?"

"My questions are valid and you know it, given this bottle of Dingyu from your cabinet."

"What of it?"

"It is labeled rather curiously; don't you think? Dingyu with Polyfoot in parentheses below that. Why would it be so labeled except as a trap for an unsuspecting brewer?"

Harry's focus on the walls of potions relaxed, sending them into a fuzzy haze.

"My Potions cabinets are locked, always, especially my personal ones."

"Locked insufficiently, I suspect."

"Well, you broke into them, I see. But what sort of measure is that?"

"I was doing stock for Madame Pomfrey who, for some reason, prefers to deal with me, rather than you."

"I don't appreciate what you are insinuating, Snape."

"That you knew the students were illicitly brewing psychotropic potions and not only purchased, but left this in the cabinet for them to find and use."

"The level of Dingyu never decreased in that jar, I'll have you know."

The door creaked as if opening. Harry ducked behind the desk, hoping the things piled on it were tall enough to hide him. He was much larger than he had been when he was regularly in this room. Familiar footsteps came in, scuffing on the rough stone floor.

"Then you don't mind if I check the potency of it, in case filler was added?"

"I don't care what you choose to waste your time on, Snape." Something moved around inside the suite. "But your standing to question my motives is shaky, indeed."

Harry put his fingers down on the floor to better balance in a crouch.

Based on her voice, Greer must have come to the doorway. "Death Eater that you are, what possible right do you have to question anyone else's actions?"

"That is irrelevant."

She scoffed. "No, it is not. A handful of miscreant students break into a teacher's locked cabinet to steal ingredients for a party potion and you come down here all high and mighty making accusations as if you are somehow morally superior enough to do that. Well, you aren't. I know very well what you are, how you are attracted to the dark. I wasn't here before the battle with Voldemort when you were consorting with him, but I watched you take that evil, Parseltongued boy under your wing."

"If you are referring to Harry, you are very much out of line." 

Harry's neck prickled from the warning notes in Snape's tone, even though it wasn't directed at him.

"I was right about him," Greer snarled. "Admit it. I was mocked by the staff here and even the former headmaster, but . . . I. Was. Right. Only someone addicted to the Dark Arts would bring home a Parseltongue to raise as their own. Someone who missed polishing the boots of the Dark Lord so badly he wanted another to shape for his own."

Harry bit his lip, considering possible actions, remembering his past fury at her and his desire to wall her in alive. He had lost that all-consuming hatred, but her words and his lack of magical options to retaliate ground hard on his spirit. 

Snape's voice broke into Harry's fingering of his wand. "You have no idea what that young man has been through, what he has suffered on behalf of the rest of us. He did not ask to have a piece of the Dark Lord in his soul. That was thrust upon him." Snape fell silent. Harry imagined his face, pained, but all anyone else would see would be the hard glare. Harry put his wand away and rocked back on his heels, arms hooked around his shins.

Snape sounded calmer. "Harry is not the topic; your actions are. Why did you even procure Dingyu for your private cabinet?"

"Bah!" Greer said. Female footsteps approached. "Get out of here, Snape, crawl back to the dark little family you've assembled."

Harry slipped through the floor and returned in the doorway to the suite, behind her. He had no plans. He only had anger propelling him to move.

Greer was in Snape's face saying, "Leave be those of us who give the Dark Arts a properly wide berth."

Snape's eyes flickered to Harry and away again. He shook his head, which Harry knew was a message for him. 

Snape stepped backward to the desk and Greer followed, standing on tip-toe to stay close. Snape said, "When Harry returns from St. Mungo's with word on the students, and if it confirms my suspicions . . . Minerva will undoubtedly question you, given the circumstances. The Ministry will mostly likely also do so. If neither of them take any action, I think you should worry about every object you may encounter, especially ones composed of materials agreeable to curses."

"Is that a threat?"

"By no means," Snape said, mouth twitching as he spoke. "It is the usual good advice to follow in a place such as this, with such old magic lying about to catch the unsuspecting." He stepped to the doorway, and Harry had to duck to the side as Greer turned. Snape stopped at the door. "So rarely are curses labeled properly."

Harry slipped away before Snape closed the door. He was in the corridor before Snape released the door handle on the other side.

Snape gestured for them to walk. "I did not expect to see you so soon," he said in a low voice at the staircase up.

Harry tried to speak, but could not; anger had his voice. He gestured behind him, meaninglessly, which only boosted his frustration.

"So, you heard all of that."

Harry nodded. His feelings were a snarl with no purpose, and therefore no outlet for relief. He wanted to  throw a curse at something. He clenched and unclenched his hand, started to reach for his wand and stopped and let his arm fall.

Snape took hold of his upper arm, tone laden with concern. "You cannot talk?"

Harry exhaled slowly, believing he could speak, but not having any idea what to say. He stood mute.

"It is too soon for things to be resolved at the hospital, so why don't we go home." He tossed his head up the stairs. "Walk with me to Hogsmeade if you would. I think you need it."

The grass of the lawn had paled to a less verdant green and the wind blew dry despite the glittering lake. Snape kept a hard pace that made Harry want to jog instead of walk, making Harry suspect he had buried his anger.

At the gate to Hogsmeade, Snape slowed and turned. "Feeling better?"

Harry met his gaze, his emotions had unknotted, but they still pulled in too many directions. He nodded.

Snape hesitated, then gestured for Harry to lead the way into town. 

Back at home, Harry sank into a chair in the dining room and tilted his head back. He felt empty with inaction. Snape's hand clamped down on his shoulder. "I will get even with her. Do not worry. She will fear every esoteric object in the castle before I am through."

Kali called from her cage up in Harry's room.

"Shall I let her out?" Snape asked.

Harry nodded, mostly because it was easier, but partly because he was afraid to try to talk and fail.

Seconds later, Snape handed his pet to him. "Her opinion is meaningless," he said dismissively.

Kali crawled around Harry's neck twice making an unusual chattering noise. 

Snape pulled out the chair on the end and put a hand around Harry's wrist. "Are you all right?" Then after a beat. "Answer me aloud, if you would."

Harry thought about that. He remembered better than ever what it felt like to have no outlet to speech, to feel cut off from expression. He thought about something else, about Tonks at St. Mungo's following the Healer around until he yelled at her. "Yes," Harry said in a small hoarse voice.

Snape's hand tightened on his arm and released him. "I know you cannot easily leave it be, but I will take care of it."

An hour later, Harry Apparated to St. Mungo's and found Tonks and Mr. Weasley in the largest of the wards, conferring with the Healer.

"Here's Harry," Tonks said in bright welcome.

Mr. Weasley held out his hand. "Harry, I hear we have you to thank. You or Severus, that is."

For a moment, Harry feared his voice had fled again. "Just. An idea."

Mr. Weasley released his hand. "They are recovering, but they are as tight-lipped as ever. Any idea where they got the wrong ingredient?"

Harry couldn't shake his head, but it didn't matter as Mr. Weasley moved on to: "We need to figure out where they got all of the ingredients. Presumably they all weren't laying around at Hogwarts given the problems they were having all year."

He stepped away to pace along the beds, slowing at each one with a Hogwarts student. Ferro's mother paused in her knitting to look up at him. "Arthur, thank you so much."

Her daughter's eyes were still sunken in but she was propped up in a more comfortable position and her color was better.

Mr. Weasley put his hands on her shoulders and leaned down. "It's not me you need to thank, but Harry." 

Harry accepted the woman's gratitude knowing he would pass it on later.

- 888 -

"Harry is our resident expert on psychotropics, I hear," Rodgers said first thing the following day. "He's hiding all kinds of skills from us." He straightened from his books and said, "By the way, Askunk has agreed to join us this week, so I hope you will all welcome her properly, and by that I mean, by not putting poisonous squid beaks in her shoes . . . because you did that last time. Try to think of something new. . ." He gazed over each of them. "Getting crowded in here."

"Also, I'm going to turn more of your regular sessions over to Blackpool so we can move a few stale investigations along. No poisonous squid beaks for her either, if you would. And here are your field work schedules." He handed out slips of paper. "Potter, you are with me Saturday night. I hope you didn't have a hot date."

"Harry's not seeing anyone," Kerry Ann said conversationally. Then sounded alarmed as she asked, "Are you?"

Harry blinked at her.

"Harry can't chat up girls very well right now," Aaron said. 

"The letters to the paper this morning from female Hogwarts students were right fawning," Tridant said. "He could have his pick of them." He sounded like he was truly trying to be helpful.

"A bit young," Kerry Ann said. 

"No they aren't," Tridant insisted.

Kerry Ann gave him a disturbed glare. "Who are you dating?"

Tridant opened his mouth, but Rodgers said, "Stop! Why don't you push the desks aside and we'll throw spells at each other instead of words."

- 888 -

At an early Saturday dinner, Candide kept pushing additional servings at Harry.

"You need to keep your strength up. Saturday nights are tough out there."

Snape's plate was gone and he held an ordinary ink stone beside a glass of wine, flipping it over in his fingers. He rose out of his thoughts at this and looked at Harry. "You will be careful."

Harry nodded solemnly.

"What sort of duty does your trainer have scheduled for you this evening?" Snape asked.

"Don't know." Harry lifted his chin in the direction of the ink grinder. "What's that?"

Snape ran his finger over the rough center of the stone, picking up a fine black dust. "An experiment in delayed curses." For a bit, Harry thought he would not say more, but then he fell into lecture mode. "One puts a curse on an object, then applies a careful layer of Counters, not for cancellation, but for neutralization, so they must be meticulously paired to match. The Counters gradually fail, so an object, well used and believed safe, will grow to be unpredictable and damaging."

Candide looked between them when they both fell silent. "Do I want to know what we're discussing?"

"No," they both said together, then Harry smiled and stood to go.

Snape said, "Don't let Rodgers put you in harm's way, Harry. You have every right to refuse him if you think his orders unsafe for you."

"Does Harry think anything is unsafe for him?" Candide asked.

Snape sat back and considered Harry. "Well, that is a separate question."

"Anything you think," Harry said, pointing at him. "Unsafe," he added, unable to string all that together in one go.

"If you can manage that, I would appreciate it."

Harry nodded, leaving off explaining that he had been using Snape's judgment a lot lately. 

The Ministry sat in weekend stillness until he reached the corridors of Magical Law Enforcement. Rodgers sat in the tearoom eating a curled old crumpet with a thick layer of butter on it.

"Right on time. Let's go." He stuffed the rest in his mouth and held his hand out as if to take Harry's arm. 

Harry pulled his wand and flicked it into his sleeve before offering his arm up.

They arrived in a sticky alley scented with spilled beer. A drunken song was emanating from a lit door studded with metal spikes.

Rodgers said, "We'll start with a tour of pubs frequented by post-match fans."

They stepped inside and the crowd near the door quieted, turning their broad bodies to look at them. Harry copied his trainer in checking positions of hands in case anyone went for a wand, then going over the crowd again, checking faces.

A man leaning far back on his stool bumped into Rodgers when he swung his arm, laughing with beer induced hardiness.

"Up!"

"Waytch yourself there, Basil," a woman all in light green sitting beside him said. She leaned toward the man and whispered, "It's the Ahurors."

"It's the whaaat?"

"How'd the match go today? Did you win?" Rodgers asked the woman as the remainder of the pub quieted and turned, and mugs were put down on tables.

She revealed a missing front tooth as she grinned. "Of course we won. We were playing the Cannons!"

And the whole pub grew rowdy again.

"I sure hope you're harassing the Falcons tonight," another woman with a worn scarlet hat said. "They're a bunch of thugs."

Rodgers gave a small bow. "We are making our way there next. And I would not describe our little visit as harassment."

She started to turn away, then looked at Harry. "You've got Potter with you." This was a statement.

Harry looked to Rodgers, then realized he should be continuing to check the room while his trainer was occupied.

"That's why I don't expect any trouble," Rodgers said.

The witch slapped him on the arm. "Because you know he won't be off making his own?" She and the table chuckled. When Harry turned back their way, they quieted.

The bartender loudly set a mug overflowing with foam onto the bar. "Want one, Auror?"

"Name's Reggie. But no. Thank you."

He gestured with the mug. "How about the lad?"

Rodgers answered for him. "No."

Back in the alley, Rodgers tossed his cloak straight. "Lots of pubs yet. Going to be awfully thirsty by the end of the night. Maybe we'll get lucky and we'll get called to the scene of something critical. Tonks is out on a date with some Healer bloke, so we're first line backup this evening. Until then we have to stick to the plod."

He turned to Harry with a thoughtful expression while Harry wondered what had happened in the brewing room at St. Mungo's after he left.

"Tonks warned me having you along was going to be different. I'm starting to see what she means." He quietly added, "Maybe we can take a break and move some doors around for practice."

A reply was expected of Harry. Distractedly, he said, "Yes, sir."

* * *
"Da da da," Arcadius babbled as Candide carried him around the main hall early Monday morning, Fetching her files and workbooks into a pile and then into her satchel.

She walked up to Snape, saying, "Winky has the milk, I'm sure she'll bring it as soon as he gets hungry, and be certain he gets a nap before lunch." She handed him over.  "Bye bye, Snookums," Candide said, putting her face close to the baby's.

Snape put the baby over his shoulder and patted him. Candide went to the dining room and a moment later the rush of the Floo sounded.

"Ma ma ma," Arcadius said as Snape carried him to the couch. 

Harry looked down from the balcony, woken by the morning noises. It was early. He slipped on his dressing gown and took up the book on fenestration he had fallen asleep studying. He sat sideways on his largest trunk, trying out window expansion spells. 

"MA!" came from the doorway. Snape strode in with the baby on his arm. Harry lowered the book.

"Morning," Harry said.

"We should have Charmed your door so as not to wake you." He approached bearing Arcadius who was holding a fistful of robe. "Did you resize the window?"

The window gave a squeak and shrunk a bit just then. Harry nodded and looked over the gesture instructions again. 

"You continue to need a better wand."

Harry looked along the comfortably familiar carved handle. "Honors Dumble."

Snape shifted the baby to his other arm. "It does no such thing. Those wands were pawns." He seemed to want to add more but instead sat on the trunk.

Harry said, "It beat Rodgers."

"You defeated your trainer, not the wand." He raised Arcadius up a bit since he was pounding on Harry's knee with his teething toy. "Why are you resisting?"

Harry was resisting, with his entire being. "Don't want . . ." The words escaped him. He flipped through some others that might work. "Don't want. New fate."

"I've noticed that emotion affects your speech. Anger especially."

Harry nodded. He closed the book and set it beside him. Once more, he was plucked at by the sense that any moment now he'd get his footing again and everything would seem straight and easy.

"Since I am alone for the day with Candide off at her conference, I wonder if you wouldn't do me the favor of fetching this book." He pulled a scrap of paper from his pocket and held it out, it read LWL-IBZ-892033. "It may be in the vault, I don't know."

Harry knew the Wizard Library in London wouldn't be open for another hour, and he also knew, from his many illicit forays, that the staff arrived half an hour before opening. He stood, tightened the tie on his dressing gown, and Disapparated for the sheep fields outside the village so he could use the Dark Plane to get straight inside.

Harry paced along the tall shelves, checking labels, then paced back, not finding IBZ. He walked to the main reading room. The book was shelved under the glass floor, in a corner. He had to move a reading stand to swing open the thick glass door covering it.

Sneezing from the dust raised when he pulled up the book, Harry put everything back as it was and went to the front desk. For all the books he had taken, he had never actually signed any out. He found a clipboard with a stack of cards, filled out his name and address and slid it into the Out slot on the desk, clipped to the card from the book, like the others were. 

The brass locks on the large doors rattled, scraped by metal keys on the other side. Harry hurriedly hefted the book and slipped away.

Snape had taken a seat in the main hall. Harry put the book down beside him and went up to change for training. 

Snape was reading, in the same spot, with a stack of other books at his feet, when Harry returned home. Arcadius was creeping around the floor, occasionally trying to balance sitting up, but falling or folding over. Harry picked him up and sat beside Snape to look over his shoulder.

The words in this book were long and interspersed with Russian and Greek and something Harry did not recognize. 

"Ma ma ma," Arcadius said, dropping his toy and trying to grab the book. When Harry moved him out of reach he cried in complaint and folded himself against Harry's hold.

Snape picked up one of the fat books at his feet and flipped through it, revealing it to be a dictionary. 

"Well," Snape said. He paged backward in the borrowed book, treating the paper with great care. "Does this seem familiar?"

The page had a drawing of a supine man mummified in something fuzzy that was painted with white to make it brighter than the page.

"This author calls it cocooning. A skilled mage can use it to heal, even from significant injury. A young person cannot control it and it must be removed whenever it forms. And it forms frequently in youth, triggered by growth, which is not unlike the natural energy of healing. Uncontrolled, it stifles, then sensing injury, grows stronger in response." He shook his head and went back to the page he had been on, glancing at Arcadius growing upset at being restrained from reaching the turning pages.

"He seems happy on the floor," Snape said.

Harry set Arcadius down and he started creeping to the toys piled a few feet away.

"Did you stop and get a new wand on the way home?" Snape asked, in a tone that knew the answer.

Harry didn't bother responding.

Snape looked up a Russian word and read a while before saying. "Speaking of which, you never told me what happened in that other place. I wondered if your language skills were good enough to manage it. I am quite curious."

Harry thought back, wondering if that other Snape had found some mutual understanding with the other Candide or with the other Harry.

"You were not gone nearly as long as I feared you would be, so I assume my counterpart gave you some assistance. You had informed me that you did not treat him well when he was here, so I feared you would have some difficulty gaining his confidence."

Harry shook his head. "He had killed Voldie."

There was a gap. "My counterpart had?"

Harry nodded.  "But Harry was trouble."

"Well, we gave him all three Hallows and he was still harboring the Dark Lord, so no great surprise. Our interference did not somehow break the prophecy, did it?"

Harry pointed at his chest. "I finished it. I killed the last Crux."

"I see." He turned the page and brushed off the dust. "And what did you do about Harry?" He asked this with a hint of trepidation.

"Sword." Harry pantomimed stabbing himself in the heart. "Cut into him. Just enough." Harry scratched his head. "But. Couldn't hold two Crux. I couldn't." With hand motions, he tried to indicate the chaos of that terrible moment when they were all sealed in with the unleashed double Horcrux. "Sev saved us."

"I'm pleased to hear he was helpful. Perhaps a better retelling can wait. The memories seem to be upsetting the composition."

Harry sighed and nodded. He hadn't thought about that place in a while. The other Snape had been as helpful as his own guardian had been, especially in a crisis. But that Snape's raw wounds made him seem unsympathetic at best. Harry wondered if his guardian was really healed or just better at hiding it because of the calm world around him.

Snape put a bookmark on the page and closed the book, balancing it atop the stack of dictionaries. He went to Arcadius and sat on the floor beside him. Arcadius crept clumsily toward him, then fell against Snape's leg. 

"Ba!" Arcadius said, unperturbed by his tumbling.

"Careful. Fewer injuries will mean fewer bouts with that cocooning energy." Snape scooped him up and inspected him before balancing him on his thigh so he could try sitting up with scant support.

Harry sat back and watched them together, a smile on his lips.

Without looking up, Snape said, "You have reading to do, I believe."

Harry groaned and reached for his books. 

"Do you need help?"

"Yes," Harry said, knowing it the only hope for catching up.

"Hand one over then."

Slouched down with his chin on his chest, Harry listened to a chapter on tracking, one he had read the year before but had been assigned again.

"What do you want for your birthday?" Snape asked without pause, making Harry momentarily believe the author had included this as a tactic for entrapping quarry. 

Harry smiled at the sight of Snape sitting cross legged on the floor with Arcadius periodically falling against his knees.

"Nothing," Harry replied.

"All the things in this world and you want for none of them?" 

Harry's amused contentment must have been revealed by his gaze, because Snape's brow furrowed and he ducked to reading again.

At the introduction to the third chapter the alarm spell sizzled. Harry was on his feet and at the door before Snape could pick up Arcadius to put him in his carry basket.

A witch stood by the front gate, peering down at it in consternation, hand raised as if considering touching it again. Footsteps came up behind Harry, who turned and said, "I'll see to this."

Snape remained in the doorway, face stern. The witch looked up, revealing that despite the bandanna she had around her head, she was quite young, teenaged. And cursed; Harry could feel it from where he stood.

"You're Harry Potter," she said.

Behind Harry, Snape leaned on the door, arms crossed.

"Yes," Harry said. 

"I don't mean to intrude . . ." she began, revealing an Australian accent. "I've come a long way and . . ." She glanced at Snape.

Harry waved the protective spell off the gate and stepped over to open it, despite the aversion. 

"Thank you." She smiled uneasily and Harry recognized her. Her blonde streaked, dark brown hair was visible from behind, confirming Harry's memory. 

"Seat," Harry said, then bit his lip. He waved the stone bench in the corner of the garden clear of curled leaves and waited for her to sit down. She put her woven satchel down on the ground and took a seat.

Snape raised a brow. Harry mouthed "I'll see to it," at him and he stepped back and let the door close.

"Thank you for taking the time . . ." she said. "I didn't expect. Well, I'd hoped I'd have a fair go." She smiled warily, but it reached her eyes anyway. "I heard you could cure . . . werewolves." Her voice dropped low at the last word.

Harry nodded.

Her gaze grew hopeful through what appeared to be heavy fatigue. 

"There's a. Queue," Harry said, risking speaking.

She sat back. "Of course there would be. I didn't think about that." She glanced around the garden, which was a rampant affair with tenacious flowers here and there poking through the dominating ivy. Harry wished he'd taken the time to do something with it.

Harry wanted to ask her if she was Australian, just to get her to talk more, but he didn't dare risk it. Fortunately, she seemed too tired to move on just yet. He felt lightheaded with possibility, now very aware of how that other universe's Snape must have felt, knowing it could work out when the other person did not.

"I'm really being much too forward, I know. But I had to try. Me brother, Ned, is an exporter. And he had to make a delivery on Diagon Alley. I expect you know the place, the Wizard Wheezes? They claim to know you, Ned told me."

Harry nodded. 

"I tagged along with him this trip, when I heard what you could do."

Harry closed his eyes a moment, imagining the rumor traveling so far, so fast.

"But of course there's a queue. I don't have much time . . . " She sounded strained. "Well, maybe I do."

"Only full moon," Harry said, carefully putting forth each word. "For the cure."

She studied him this time and Harry wished he had not said anything more. He stood up and she followed, hurriedly picking up her satchel and swinging it over her head.

"How does someone get on the queue?" She seemed to be on the verge of something asking this. Harry had a vision from her gaze of a suntanned man in a nice suit, smiling, then in a t-shirt, playing some ball sport. He then got a vision of himself, as unbearably solemn and stately.

"I'll check," Harry said, after too long a pause.

"I'm asking for meself," she said, clearly having to force the words out.

"I know."

This seemed to relieve some of the strain. She ducked her head and said 'g'bye' while heading for the gate. She turned one last time at the road and said 'g'bye' again.

Harry gave her a wave. 

Inside, Snape watched him resume his seat. He said, "I prefer to handle the visitors."

"I wanted to." Harry picked up another of his assigned readings, thinking he'd try reading some himself.

"Who was that?"

"Sister of. Supplier. To twins."

"A smuggler, you mean." When Harry looked up, Snape explained, "Nothing gets out of Australia legally. Nothing of interest to the Weasley twins, that is."

- 888 -

The household rose early again the next morning. Candide came down to breakfast with a yawning Arcadius, saying, "Yesterday was good practice for my returning to work next week."

"I assume you had fun," Snape said. "Nothing like an entire room full of accountants to really . . ."

She handed him Arcadius, who was starting to fuss.

"I notice you potion brewers never get together," she said, collecting the post from the sideboard and taking a seat. "I suspect it's because you'd all poison each other and the association would be forced to dissolve."

Harry glanced up at Snape. "How's Hogwarts?" he asked.

Snape served himself bacon before replying. "I will abstain from comment on that."

Candide dropped the newspaper and looked between them. "I really don't want to know what that is about." Then a moment later she forcefully said, "I was only gone one day."

Mouth full, Harry gave her an innocent shrug, then he glanced at the clock and thought he might have time to stop in at St. Mungo's before training. 

- 888 -

"Hop up here, Mr. Potter," Shankwell said while using a glowing spell on his hands. "You picked a quiet morning to come in, at least. Now, what do we have?"

Harry pulled up the sleeve on his right arm. Shankwell's face twitched. He lifted Harry's arm. "Look at that. What did that?"

"Animals," Harry said. This was mostly true, so it came out all right.

Shankwell gave Harry's face the kind of attention he had been giving his arm. "You work at the Ministry so I assume you turned them over to Control of Magical Creatures, right?"

"Not . . ." Harry wanted to say "possible" but under the strain of concocting a convincing lie, words were fleeing him. "Can't."

"You can't turn them over to Control of Magical Creatures . . . for some reason?" He sounded vaguely mocking.

Harry wished the Healer would move on to his actual treatment and ignore how it happened. He had not expected him to be more than idly curious. "Can't tell."

"You cannot tell me about the creatures? Can you tell me where they are?"

"Hard to."

"Did you injure your tongue too?"

With a sigh, Harry tapped his finger on his temple.

"You injured your head. That would explain letting a hungry pack of baby tigers maul your arm." He stood straight. "But you didn't come in for me examine your head?"

"No."

Shankwell's face seemed to change into stone. "Tell me what you did yesterday."

Harry felt heat rising in his face. "Training. Auror training." When Shankwell gestured for more, Harry drew in a breath and said, "Breakfast. Dinner."

"How about in full sentence form?"

Harry knew he was getting better, so he knew the anger rising within him was going to be badly misdirected if he let it escape, but the battle to control his temper only degraded his language more, which made him yet more frustrated.

"I had training. Yesterday."

"But you don't want me to look at your head?"

"Been done. So, no."

Shankwell shook his head and lifted a pair of glasses from around his neck. The edge of the lenses gave off a hazy blue glow that left streaks in the air. He shoved Harry's sleeve up higher, finding more rippling flesh criss-crossed with embedded grit.

"How extensive is this?"

Harry considered trying to insist it was just that one arm. He waved vaguely over the rest of him.

Shankwell released Harry and tugged his special glasses off. "You are like this all over?"

Harry tried to out-wait the desire for an answer. Shankwell's brows jumped up expectantly. 

Harry felt his stubbornness melt. "Yes."

"What were these animals?" Before Harry could answer, Shankwell turned to the potions cabinet and rubbed the back of his neck while tipping his head side to side. "How did they overcome you? Did you lose your wand?"

The word "yes" was right there; all he had to do was say it. Instead, Harry did not say anything. Trouble was, Shankwell was far more skilled at dealing with reluctant storytellers than Harry was at dodging telling stories.

"You had your wand." He came closer again. "Does the Ministry know this happened?"

"Yes."

Shankwell's gaze moved between each of Harry's eyes. "I suppose I believe you on that. For the moment. Give me your arm again."

Harry's arm was strapped to a floating plank. Moving with smooth efficiency Shankwell lined up bottles and bowls. He dipped cotton balls in one liquid after another, rubbing each on fiercely enough to raise redness where Harry's flesh wasn't hooked together just right. Then the Healer pulled his wand.

Three expert cuts and mends and pastings on Harry's shoulder later, Shankwell said, "Looks like a mink bite, this one does. The last looked like a turtle." He raised his eyes to Harry. "Am I getting closer?"

Harry shook his head, even though in a twisted way, the guesses were correct. As Shankwell moved to the next scar down, a smoothly healed indentation, Harry said, "Basilisk."

"This one is a Basilisk bite? And you survived that? Looks much older."

Shankwell continued working. Harry ignored the little nips of pain when the wand worked deep.

"Did you conjure these animals yourself and then you did not defend yourself at all? It certainly looks like you didn't." Shankwell did not look up right away after asking this, but Harry knew he would. 

When he did, Harry just stared back.

"If you were being stupid or trying to get hurt, you certainly succeeded." Shankwell did not bother looking up this time. "Nothing to say in your own defense?"

"No." Or, not easily, Harry thought.

Long minutes of brutally efficient treatment later, Harry's robe sleeve was bunched up around his shoulder and Shankwell was tossing stained cotton balls into a bowl and stacking things away. Even marred by silver paste and orange stains his arm looked much better.

"Thanks," Harry said, moving to unroll his sleeve.

"Let the poultice set before doing that." He put the treatment remains in something like a dumb waiter and closed the shutters on it. "Where do you live?"

"Shrews . . ." Harry hesitated, wondering why the man asked.

"Shrewsville? Shrews on the Moor?"

Frustrated that this man rattled him, Harry shook his head and carefully stated, "Thorpe."

"Stay here. You need to let that set anyway."

Harry grew bored enough while waiting to practice his reading on the box the cotton balls came in. Someone had far too much time to think of uses for cotton balls. And too much imagination. 

When the door opened, Harry's mind was struggling with letter shapes he suspected were not English. He set the box down hard when Snape followed Shankwell into the room. Snape passed his usual sharp gaze at all four corners of the room before putting his hands at his sides and giving his attention to the Healer.

"I need someone who can answer a few questions, and that is going to be you, Professor." The Healer crossed his arms and stood off the head of the table, putting Harry between him and Snape.

When Snape tossed his hands in invitation, Shankwell said, "What happened to him? He wouldn't tell me what kind of animal attacked him."

"You would not believe the answer."

Shankwell took on an oddly friendly tone as he said, "You won't leave until I get it."

"Do you remember the massacre at Malfoy Manor? Around the same time that events rendered me in need of your . . . care."

Shankwell's arms loosened. "Yes."

"Those creatures attacked Harry."

Shankwell appeared to consider this. He tipped his head toward Harry and away again. "Some kind of demon, he himself conjured?"

Snape waited a beat. "Your point?"

Shankwell put his hand on the table beside Harry. "My point, Professor, is that I am uncomfortable with leaving it be when I know a patient has intentionally harmed himself."

"Harry came here with a very specific request . . ."


"I don't care what he came here for. You'd be astounded by the things people come in for that are hardly their chief difficulty. I am obligated to treat the whole wizard, Professor. And this wizard has a lot of untreated things going on. Shall I list them?"

"No. I am quite aware."

Shankwell knocked his knuckles on the table. "I am also obligated to report this to the WFC."

"Harry is very nearly twenty. Whatsoever for?"

"His age doesn't matter," Shankwell said, rising to Snape's derisive tone. "His mental competence determines his status."

Snape pulled back on his attack, an abrupt attitude shift that made Harry glance between them in alarm. 

Shankwell went on. "His age doesn't matter if he cannot attend to his affairs."

Ignoring his disappointment at Snape's lack of retort, Harry said, "I can. Attend." Harry clenched his jaw against the anger and alarm, which would only decay his speech.

"Or read. You signed the wrong line on your form and checked off the wrong boxes." He held up the form Harry had filled out upon arriving. His childish signature stood out baldly from the printed form.

"I read. I. Can. Read."

Shankwell held up the cotton ball box. "Read this then."

Harry eagerly reached for it, given that he had been practicing.

"Cease this," Snape said, hissing as he spoke.

Shankwell set the box down, then picked it up again and put it away. This disappointed Harry.

"Harry came here to have some scars removed because he dislikes scaring little children, but if you must make this into a complicated—"

Shankwell rested his hand on the table again, casual. "I have no choice."

"Fine. I am his guardian, you are not arguing that point, correct? I am confident in his ability to look after his affairs, but you are not. Correct?"

"Basically."

"The Wizard Family Council is of what possible use in this?"

"He could be assigned to someone who looks after him better."

Snape rose up in his robes. "You do not know what kind of an eye I keep on him." He paused while Harry nodded violently. "You, and any council at the Ministry cannot possibly have a proper conception of what Harry has been through. Yes, he let the demons harm him, but he did so with good reason, and with Voldemort gone, he has no reason to attempt suicide again. Correct?" He turned to Harry.

Harry nodded, sagely this time. "Yes." Memories clawed at him, but he steadfastly refused to dwell on them, lest they send him into an episode. He made himself breathe evenly.

Snape said, "Since then, you have not thought again about ending your life?"

"No." That moment in the Dark Plane, when Harry considered letting go of the Staunching, ending the pain, had been his real dance with suicide. But he had been selfish and had not done it. He wanted to have a brother, see him grow up. Be there for his friends. "Want to live." This did not come out steady. That instant of battle had returned, had snaked up through his chest and wound around his neck from the inside. He struggled not to show it.

Snape rubbed the bridge of his nose. "He has bad memories. Thank you for forcing him to relive them."

Harry pulled his will together and slowly said, "I'm okay. I'm still an Auror app— trainee. I don't want . . ." Visions of the press standing along the wall in the Wizard Family Council room, noting everything, shut Harry's voice down.

"The wizard family council," Snape finished for him. Turning to the Healer, Snape calmed said, "I understand your concern, but the council cannot do anything except make Harry's life utter misery."

Shankwell gazed back at him while drawing in his lips.

The door opened and a staff member in light green said, "Healer, you are needed downstairs. Something complicated's come into the waiting room."

"I'll be right there."

He moved toward the door but paused. "You're coming in for more treatments, right?"

Harry nodded.

"We'll talk more then."

The door closed.

Harry sat on the examining table, tense and with his face hot. He had walked into this room so confidently, but Shankwell had picked him apart with ease. 

He turned his mind away from that and held up his arm. "Much better," he said. Then he glanced up, worried he might be criticizing Snape's work.

Snape smiled lightly. "No offense taken." He held out a hand to help Harry hop down. He tilted his head in the direction of Shankwell's exit. "I should have foreseen this, perhaps. I am loath to say it, but if more people obsessively followed your story in the papers this would not have been an issue."

Harry glanced at the clock. He was late for training. "Thanks Sev'rus," he said, preparing to Disapparate.

"There, you are improving already. By next week, you will be able to say my name." He gave Harry a small smile. "I will see you at home. Have a good day at training."



Next: Chapter 76
"I'll handle him," Harry said, looking forward to it. It would be good for him too.

Snape exhaled. "He refers us to the Wizard Family Council, I will poison him."

"Slow or fast?"

Snape's face relaxed. "I have not yet decided." He moved the knight out. "I'm pleased to see that plotting chess moves does not degrade your speech."

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