Chapter 78 — Date

Lupin wore a genuine soft smile as he took a seat opposite Harry. "I tried to follow the instructions about no gifts, but Pamela wouldn't let me."

"But there are so many Muggle things he lacks." 

Harry marveled at the lack of strain on Lupin's face. Except when he looked over at Pamela, that is. The old self-doubt etched the lines around his eyes deeper when he did.

"If Harry lacks for anything, it is because he neglects to ask for it," Snape said, seating himself at the head of the table. For the guests a fire burned in the hearth behind him.

Candide came in with a sleeping Arcadius hitched on her arm. She said, "As soon as I sit down to eat, he wakes up and wants to as well. I might as well just bring him now."

Pamela smiled brightly at this. She reached under the table and lifted Lupin's hand to the tabletop with hers. "I think we've set a date." She looked to Lupin. "Right?"

Candide lifted her empty glass and it filled a second later with sparkling wine. "To the bride and groom. When's the date?"

"Halloween," Lupin said.

"I wonder what everyone's favorite costume will be?" Snape asked.

"Severus," Candide said. "Sorry, he's short on sleep from Harry's party and Arcadius deciding to change his sleeping schedule last night after I had him at work all day.

Lupin shook his head. "That was a soft one coming from him. And on that topic . . ." 

Lupin turned to Harry, who was glad to discuss this. He wanted to inform Lupin that he had picked a person to cure this month. 

"We have a special case brought to our attention this full moon," Lupin said.

Harry felt Snape's eyes come over to him.

Lupin went on, "We have a young girl of seven."

Harry's heart sank. He was going to have to put Indigo off after promising her. Unless he could convince Snape to let him try two in one moon. Snape was already staring at him when Harry looked his way, as if Harry had already asked. Snape tipped his head to the side doubtfully.

Lupin added, "A Muggle."

"A Muggle werewolf?" Candide said.

"Must have received magical assistance in time," Snape said, sitting back with his glass of champagne.

Lupin nodded. "She did. Aberforth intervened. He was in Epping Forest visiting a friend. Just like his brother, he charged off with the girl to St. Mungo's. Left the parents in the lurch, even, so we need to coordinate with the Magical Reversal Squad to return the girl."

"She's not been returned to her parents?" Candide said.

"No," Lupin said. He glanced at Harry uncertainly before saying, "Aberforth's friend put a charm on the parents, not to make them forget, but to make them happy no matter what. So far, the Muggle authorities haven't got involved. Harry, if you'd prefer the Ministry be involved, I'd understand. The momentum of the situation was such that I simply have not notified them yet, although it is likely St. Mungo's will file some kind of report. Whether anyone at the Ministry will notice it . . ."

"Where is she?" Harry asked.

"Staying with Josephine. The girl still has Healer visits every other day."

"Speaking of which . . . " Snape said.

Lupin said, "Yes, you warned me a Healer by the name of Hedgepeth wanted to observe this full moon. Do you expect you can teach him to cure werewolves, Harry?" He sounded very hopeful.

Harry shrugged. 

"Not much precedent to go by," Snape said.

To Snape, Harry said, "I want to do two." When Snape did not respond, Harry added, "I promised."

"One before the full moon and one after, I presume," Snape said, sounding slightly miffed. "And only if you are fit enough at the time, but that will give you nine hours to recover."

"Thanks," Harry said.

"Harry's quite healthy now," Candide said, checking again to find Arcadius asleep under his wrap. "You've made a remarkable recovery, Harry."

"Had help," Harry said.

After the plates vanished, Harry shook the shiny red present from Pamela before tearing it open. Inside was a t-shirt that read Would you like to see some magic? with an exceptionally long eared rabbit sitting in a hat bearing a Muggle's idea of a pentagram device.

Pamela asked, "Have you ever done magic and pretended it was, you know, just magic, magic?" Her eyes moved around the room, picking out each of them.

Before Harry could compose a reply, Snape said, "Not intentionally."

Pamela said, "Oh, do tell."

Snape said, "It is embarrassing, you must understand, for a wizard to be caught doing magic by a Muggle."

"Even better." Lupin said. "Do tell."

"How about Harry open his other present, instead?" Snape pushed Harry's other present closer.

Harry looked down at the narrow box before him. It was long enough to hold a necktie, but was too heavy for one. Inside was a watch with the long chain hooked at one end of the box. 

"It's not silver. It's white gold," Candide said as Harry tugged the chain free of the hook on the box. 

"Thank you," Harry said, feeling overwhelmed.

Unlike his old one, this watch was classy and clean and the cover snapped into place and out again with a touch on the edge of it. On the back it had a faint starburst etched into the metal so it glowed rather than shined and in the middle it read Time is all you've got.

"It has a different saying every day," Candide said.

"Can I see?" Pamela asked, clasped hands at her chin.

Harry bundled the chain up and handed it across the table. 

"Nice." She looked up. "Who picked it out?"

"We're not saying," Snape said just as Candide pointed at Snape behind her hand.

After the guests had departed, Harry was relaxing on the couch trying to keep his pet from gnawing on the cover of the book Daring Feats. He should probably read something not in a leather binding. Snape was sitting across from him, also with a book, but Harry sensed he was watching him more than reading. Candide had gone to bed early with the baby, so the house was quiet. Harry had his new watch propped up beside him so he could keep checking the time on it. Its simple elegance appealed to him more each time he looked at it.

When Harry slapped the book closed to tug it away from his pet's jaws, Snape said, "She is hungry, it seems."

Harry shoved the book aside and lifted his pet to look at her. "Needs blood?"

"One would expect that if she wanted your blood, she would simply bite you to get it."

"She feels bite. The bite."

Snape rubbed the back of his neck as his face went thoughtful. "True. I suppose you could try, just in case."

Harry raised a brow, half teasing. "Blood magic?"

"I think your spirit could withstand a small bit." He bent his head back to his book. "Now, anyway."

Harry looked around for something to cut his finger with but all the sharp objects had long since been removed. 

"Are you looking for a knife?"

Harry nodded.

"You have a wand."

Harry tried to wave a penknife from the drawing room, but the desk drawer rattled and nothing appeared.

"Truly, you can cut yourself with a wand any number of ways."

"Oh." Harry held up his wand and his finger and thought of all the spells that would draw blood. He could think of four ways of cutting off his finger, one where it would be difficult to heal it again. "Only bad spells."

Snape put his book aside and came over to sit beside him. "Haven't you covered basic Mediwizardry?"

"We have. Healing."

Snape took Harry's finger between his own and waved a Pin-Prick Hex at it. One drop, then another appeared and Snape let go. "You saw me use that on Remus."

Harry held his dripping finger near Kali's nose. She sniffed interestedly, but licked with disinterest, leaving a smear behind.

"She doesn't seem hungry for blood, especially," Snape said. "She may simply be getting old."

Harry pulled Kali to his chest as if to protect her from Snape's proclamation.

"She's not going to live forever, Harry. And that spell should have worked for you to fetch a penknife. The closed drawer should not have been a barrier. Your wand, because it is a mismatch, lacks subtlety, even if it does not seem to lack for power in attacking spells. I wish you would get a new one."

Harry touched the watch beside him. "Can afford new wand?"

Snape shook his head. "Yes, we can afford a new wand. Are there other things you need that you are failing to ask for?"

Harry thought of the pile of presents that had been moved to his room and had not found a permanent storage place. "No."

Snape sat back and propped his hand on his chin while looking sideways at Harry.

"What?" Harry asked.

"I am just thinking."

"Hermione does that. Gets sad."

Snape's brows lowered. "Does she? That would be unexpectedly daft for her." He fell silent, staring at the foot of the other couch. "I am not sad in the least, if that is your concern."

"Good." Harry picked up his book again. "What are you?" Harry avoided looking at him, in the hopes that would encourage him to share.

"I am quite sanguine."

Kali turned in a circle and curled up in the folds of his jumper. Harry watched her fall asleep. "Getting old?" he asked looking at the dull blue fur around his pet's nose. A wave of childish vulnerability washed through Harry. She felt as dear to him in that moment as a true friend would have when he was still at the Dursleys. He could not imagine losing her.

"One can safely assume," Snape said. "Since she isn't a phoenix."

Harry rubbed his forehead, forcing some control over his emotions. Snape didn't say anything, but Harry knew he was observing everything. Kali swung her whiskers forward and back and lifted her head to look at him, blinking as if the light were too bright. The emotion drifted away as fast as it had come on and Harry felt silly.

Snape said, "For an attack, that was quite mild."

"Stop watching. Me."

Smiling, Snape stood and collected up his books. "Do you need anything?"

"No."

"I am going to bed then. If you change your mind, do let me know." He started to leave, then came back to stand beside the couch where he could rest a hand on Harry's shoulder. 

"Happy Birthday."

"Thanks," Harry said. "And thanks for present. The present."

"You are welcome." 

They looked at each other until Harry painstakingly said, "You're still watching me."

Snape squeezed his shoulder and left him alone.

- 888 -

Tuesday, as Harry left training and got in the lift, he was surprised to find it already contained Fred and George Weasley.

"Hello there."

"Yes, hello," the other said.

"See you later," Harry said to his fellow trainees. "What is it?" he asked the twins as the lift lurched downward.

"You have a rendezvous," Fred said.

"Do I?"

Fred ignored this. "That's such a great word, rendezvous, but it would be more fun if it were pronounced ron-dezz-voos don't you think?"

Harry pointed at Fred's glittering "F" and said, "With Indigo?"

George put his hand over his "G" and said, "Forge, we've been branded."

From the atrium, Harry was Apparated away to a muddy, shrubby area and his escorts released his arms. Fred put his wand away. "Good. No Muggles this time."

"This time?" Harry asked.

"Good. No Muggles. Not this time. Not ever." He led the way through the brush and up onto a pavement that wound through a grassy area. 

Harry saved his questions, rather pleased to have his routine broken in this manner. The sun was out and it was almost hot today as he followed behind the twins, who were walking arm in arm in step ahead of him.

They stopped at the first shop in a line of quaint half timbered ones at the edge of the park. 

"Have a seat, Harry. What flavor would you like?"

Harry looked from the stained wooden table to the pink, blue, and yellow carved sign. "You brought me to ice cream," he said brightly.

When Fred pulled the shop door open, he nearly ran over Indigo, who was coming out with a tall waxed paper cup with a long plastic spoon in it. 

"Have a seat, please," Fred said, gesturing behind him. "I'll be out as soon as I get Harry one of every flavor since he couldn't decide."

Harry held a finger up to tell him chocolate, then dropped his hand because Fred was already inside. "Hi," he said to Indigo.

"Hello, Harry." 

She slid onto the bench and Harry took the spot across from her, resisting using a Baby Eats Charm to clean up the table. George took the spot beside Harry. 

"It's good onya for bringing him, George." She turned to Harry. "I wanted to talk to you at your party, but couldn't." She dipped her head to poke at her treat. The spoon made a hollow gravel sound inside the cup.

"She wants to know for sure that she's on for the fourteenth," George said.

"You second. After moon sets," Harry cringed at his speech. Words were harder around her. "Fifteenth morning."

Her large eyes came up, full of stress. "Oh." She glanced around in a manner of someone trapped.

"George?" Harry tossed his head to urge him to go.

"Oh. Right, old chap. I'll help Gred."

Indigo shook her head, which made her hair sway. "I don't know how anyone got on without them being labeled." She glanced at the door to the shop. "They haven't hit on me at all. They're perfect gentlemen."

She was dodging the topic. Harry prompted her by saying, "Full moon."

She nodded and rubbed her face with her palm, another gesture Harry knew from interrogation training. "I have to change into that thing again."

"'Fraid so."

She pressed her lips tight and shook her head. The shop door jangled open and Fred emerged with two chocolate ice cream cones. He handed one to Harry and went back inside. Answering the call of the flood of saliva over his tongue, Harry rescued the drips threatening his fingers.

"What's wrong?" he asked between licks.

She laughed faintly. "You really like ice cream."

"Yup."

She tipped her cup up and drank from it. "Nothing's wrong. I'm not used to changing, is all. She'll be right." But the way she kept her eyes on something across the road indicated this was not entirely the truth. She looked distant and sad. "Getting cured this moon will be good. Me dad is going wobbly. I have to get home."

"What's wrong?" Harry asked again.

"I can barely face each day as the full moon approaches." She grabbed at his hand. "You don't know what it's like. I have no control." Her face fell and her lips rippled with grief. "And I think I bit someone last time."

"You did," Harry said. "Me."

Her face went blank. "You?"

Harry switched his cone to his other hand to pull back his sleeve. "My fault." He held his arm up to the light to show her the ripples. 

She grabbed his scarred arm. "I bit you?" Her head tilted, like a dog's might, as she examined his face. "It was you. Are you a werewolf too now?" This was asked in breathless horror.

Harry laughed and shook his head. "Healed arm. It's okay." His ice cream was melting over his fingers. He licked rapidly at it and bit off the top.

Her arms dropped to her lap and she stared at him, drained of emotion. Harry fell serious. "It's okay."

"I've been feeling awful. After what happened to me, to contaminate someone else . . ." She sat a long time then the light returned to her eyes and she picked up her cup again and ate off the spoon. "May I ask who is first this moon?"

"A little Muggle girl."

Indigo's eyes closed a long moment. "Yeah, I'll be right." She managed to cease frowning and returned to her treat.

Her spoon crunched around inside her cup for a bit. "I can't believe I bit Harry Potter."

- 888 -

 

"Really, Ginny. Don't want," Harry said, mightily struggling with words now that his second pint of beer was half gone.

"I never imagined being your friend could be so frustrating," She shuffled her stone mug around in the spilled pool of beer on the table. The Leaky Cauldron was quiet for a Wednesday. "Aaron, tell Harry he has to let me print something about him. Sometimes."

"Harry. I need a happy home life. Happy wife. Happy life. That's all I'm going to say."

Harry pulled out his watch. It was quite late given he had readings to do.

Aaron said, "Nice watch. New?"

"Birthday." He held it out for inspection as he slid off his stool.

Ginny took hold of his robe sleeve. "Harry, word is out. We are going to get scooped on you curing a Muggle. It's going to be miserable. It's going to get out anyway. Why not let me handle it in a way you have some oversight."

Harry flipped the watch closed and weighed it in his hand. "I'll think."

"Don't think too long."

Harry waved goodbye to the full table of boisterous chattering friends and Apparated away.

- 888 -

The scent of dinner drifted on the air of the empty dining room as Harry sorted his post.

"We didn't wait for you to eat," Snape said from the doorway.

"Sorry late. Arguing Ginny."

"Well, if you are hungry, I'm certain Winky will take care of you." Snape stepped away.

None of the letters appealed to him. Nor did the thought of his Auror books. Harry went through the envelopes again, flipping them over to check who had sent them. There was again nothing from Suze. Perhaps she expected him to invite her out. The vision of her waiting and disappointed sent a chill over his neck.

Harry marched to the drawing room and flipped through the packages of paper and parchment that filled a shelf in the drawing room. He found a soft grey rag-stock paper and pulled a sheet from the pack. Before he made it to the door of the drawing room, he thought maybe he should inform Snape what he was doing.

"Er. I'm inviting Suze. On date."

Snape didn't even look up. Just pulled his sleeve back and dipped his quill. "Fine."

Harry waited, thinking there must be more. 

"Do you need ink?" Snape asked.

"I have a Neverout."

Snape finally looked up. "What do you need?"

Harry shook his head in mystification and returned to the dining room. As he sat down at the table to pitifully scratch out an invitation, an owl came to the window, Suze's brown owl.

"Thank Merlin," Harry muttered as he tossed the few words he had written out into the hearth. 

The invitation was for Sunday night. She would meet him in Hogsmeade. Harry carefully wrote out, GR8, CU then, on the bottom and gave it back to the owl.

- 888 -

Friday evening, as Harry hurried to finish eating, Lupin arrived in the Floo.

"Sorry to interrupt your dinner."

Candide said, "We're eating early for Harry, who has to leave for his fieldwork soon. Would you like to take a seat?"

Harry used this as an excuse to pull out his new watch. He liked the way it clicked when it opened and closed.

"Thank you, but I'll just be a moment. I am hoping Harry is available next week to visit the Muggle girl staying with Josephine. Josephine thinks it will be easier for the girl if she gets to know you a little before the de-cursing."

Harry nodded. 

"Sometime midweek then? I'll have Josephine owl you." He rested a hand on Harry's arm. "Thank you, Harry. And sorry to disturb you."

In contrast to Lupin's deliberate movements, once he was gone, Harry jumped up in his wake and waved his cloak from the front hall.

"See, wand works," Harry said as he caught his cloak. 

Harry Disapparated as Snape said, "I suspect it wasn't in the cupboard."

At the Ministry, Harry found Rodgers and Kerry Ann in the office standing by the log book. 

"Ah, Potter. Half a minute late. Perhaps we should get you a watch."

Harry frowned. Rodgers knew perfectly well Harry had a brand new watch. 

Kerry Ann grinned and said, "You sound like a Muggle, sir, worrying about the time like that."

"Don't get on my bad side, Kalendula—you have a long night with me. As do you, Potter. Let's go."

They arrived in front of a mossy grey housing estate. Rodgers checked a note from his pocket and marched up to number eleven. "Just want to do some interviews," he said.

Without discussing it, Harry and Kerry Ann took up guard positions inside the door while Rodgers talked to the household, which consisted of three adults around thirty years of age, all magical. They didn't want to talk about something Rodgers believed they had seen. 

The woman kept staring at Harry, until Rodgers said, "I'm asking the questions, not him. If it'd get better answers, I'll bring him over here."

The woman moved her chair closer to the man next to her, eyes wide. "I've told you all I know. I wasn't even there that night," she blurted, clearly alarmed.

Harry worked very hard to keep his face neutral, hoping he looked like one of the guards at Buckingham Palace.

Back at the Ministry, Rodgers said, "Someone in Suffolk is dabbling in dark magic and I aim to find out who it is before they get any more creative. Unfortunately, I don't have enough to haul anyone in for a taste of truth serum." He turned to Harry. "Feel anything while we were there?"

Harry shook his head.

"Why does it always start with the goats . . ." Rodgers said as he pushed his desk chair aside to open one of the drawers. 

He was noting something in a file when a silver message came through the wall, fluttered and popped as if about to fade out, then zipped to float before Harry. Fortunately it was only two words, WWW and hurry.

"Sir?" Harry said. "I have to go."

"We're coming along," Kerry Ann said, jerking her hand away as the message vanished in a flash.

"Where are you going?" Rodgers asked.

"Trouble at the Wheezes," Kerry Ann said.

"Follow me. Four minutes?" Harry pleaded, holding up his hands at the two of them.

He Disapparated before getting a reply, then slipped into the Dark Plane to enter through the back stairs of the shop. Even before he cracked open the door, he could hear the argument.

"Why can't you bloody well listen? I can't go!" This was Indigo's voice.

"Why can't you bloody well listen, yer deaf sheila. Dad says to bring yer home with me today."

"Since when have you done anything father says?"

Harry shifted slowly to where he could see into the store, wand at his side. The twins had taken up positions at a right angle to the argument, where they could step in between. The shop door had the closed sign hanging in it and a dark fog obscured the windows.

Ned's gaze grew furious and he shook his wand at her. "Don't start with that with me."

Indigo set her shoulders. "I. Can't. Go."

"Bloody well, why not?"

She deflated a bit. "I don't particularly want to tell you." She slapped her hand on her chest. "Why can't anyone just trust me?"

"Because you're being a drongo." 

Ned's eyes came over to Harry and the aim of his wand followed. "Or is he the reason you don't want to leave?"

Harry stepped out when Indigo turned around. He badly wanted to raise his wand, so he slipped it into his pocket instead. 

Indigo's eyes flickered to watch him do this and she turned to her brother and said, "Put that wand down, you idiot."

"He the reason you're staying?" Ned demanded. "Is he?"

Indigo tossed her hands to the side. "Not exactly."

"What's that mean? Yes or no."

"Well, yes, I suppose. But it's not what you think."

The door to the shop rattled suddenly, shattering the glass. Whatever spell Ned had in mind tried to burst from his wand, but Harry Squelched it, and Ned flew backwards.

"Hang on," Fred said, running toward the door. The glass shards were shimmering on the floor like buzzing insects.

Indigo ran to her brother, who was flat out on the floor between the racks of chewing gum that blew bubbles in square and pyramid shapes and the Vanilla Fish Cards which had biographies of great sea monsters on them.

"Why did you do that?" she demanded of Harry, eyes full of betrayed accusation.

Harry held out his empty hands, finding no words. 

She glanced at his open hands in confusion and shifted to better protect her brother. "Leave him alone."

George stepped over beside her and hauled up on Ned's arm. "Now, now, Harry didn't do a thing. That was all Ned's doing."

Rodgers and Kerry Ann stepped in, wands out. They pocketed them after a glance around the shop. 

"You have rather a lot of unregistered magic on this place," Rodgers said.

Fred pleasantly replied, "How do you think we've stayed open all these years? Even with He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named running around."

"What happened?" Rodgers asked, pointedly turning to Harry for a reply.

Ned was getting up with help from George. "Oy, it's the Jacks," Ned blurted.

"Who are these two?" Rodgers asked.

Ned rubbed the back of his head. "I was just taking me sister home, Mr. Cop . . . Guv'nor."

Indigo took a step toward her brother, facing him down. "For the last time, I'm not going with you."

Ned reached for her and George intervened. "Why don't you head on home. We'll keep an eye on her."

"I'm not facing me dad empty-handed. He'll be as angry as a cut snake." He reached for Indigo again, but George stepped completely between them and he was considerably taller.

George smoothed Ned's jacket. "Why don't you trust your sister knows what she's doing, and by the time you return to our fair land she'll happily go home with you."

"She'll be married to this bloke by that time, I bet."

"Oh, I doubt that," Fred said.

Rodgers snorted. "We are here for Potter's girl troubles?"

Indigo gave Rodgers a look of distaste that turned to distrust as her eyes slid over to Harry.

Ned shook his clothes straight. "You Pommy Jacks don't get on much, do you?"

With acidic sweetness, Rodgers said, "If you are imminently departing the country, I don't care what you do." He looked between them. "Hand the young lady over here. I want a word with her."

Indigo's eyes went wide.

"Over here," Rodgers commanded. "And you . . ." He pointed at Ned. "Get out of my sight or I'll haul you in just because I'm having a boring, surprisingly bloodless evening. Especially for a Friday."

Indigo shuffled her feet sideways, hesitating. From her eyes, Harry could tell she was contemplating escape.

Rodgers must have seen this too because he said, "Young lass—or whatever you call yourself—it's not like Harry doesn't know who you are. Come over here."

She was only a few steps away, but she took them deliberately. Harry gave her credit for not looking to him as she approached the Auror.

Rodgers turned his attention back to Ned. "Get out." When Ned glanced at Indigo, Rodgers added, "Shall I translate that into Roo for you, or did you catch it the first time?"

Ned did a survey of the room and Disapparated.

"He's a hard one to get rid of," Rodgers said. "Or I'm losing my touch. Do I seem hardnosed to you?" He asked Indigo.

In a low voice she replied, "You seem exceptionally hardnosed."

"Don't sweet talk me." He pointed at Fred and George. "You staying with these two misfits?"

She nodded and held Rodgers' gaze. She still didn't look to Harry for help, which began to worry him.

"Why don't you want to go home? Something there you're afraid of?"

Indigo mumbled something.

"Louder, my dear. I haven't opted for a magical ear horn yet. My pension won't cover it for another year."

"I can't go back. They won't let me in."

"Who won't?"

"Ministry for Magical Immigration."

Rodgers pointed at Harry, "You in love with this lout?"

"I barely know him."

"You are still trying to sweet talk me. Why won't they let you in?"

Indigo dropped her head and bit her lips. Rodgers looked around himself. "Anyone?" When Kerry Ann gave an overzealous shrug, Rodgers said, "We're not leaving until someone tells me what is going on."

Harry said, "She's a werewolf."

Indigo finally looked at him, and it was to make it clear she was unhappy with his saying that.

Rodgers asked, "Did she get bit here?" When Harry shook his head, Rodgers frowned thoughtfully. "So, what is the plan for her?"

Harry looked to the twins and found them looking back at him for guidance. The three of them all looked to Indigo, who wasn't looking at anyone.

"What is this?" Rodgers roared. "Secrets of lovestruck Hogwarts First-Years? Does anyone have an answer? Kalendula?"

"I don't know, sir."

Rodgers ducked to get into Indigo's field of view. "Ms. Aussie Lass?" 

Indigo lifted her head. "I came to get cured."

"Oh, right," Rodgers said, fully annoyed now and showing it through sarcasm. "The Great Werewolf Cure of England."

"That's me, sir." Harry said, to draw Rodgers' attention from Indigo, who most likely didn't need any more of it.

Rodgers stared blankly at him. "You?"

Harry nodded.

Fred gave a wave to straighten a shelf of exploding gobstoppers. The wrappers rustled like a wave crashing. "Harry's the absolute bomb at curses."

Rodgers said, "You didn't keep it quiet enough if they're coming all the way from Australia . . ."

"I know," Harry said.

Rodgers took a deep breath. "And, you . . ." He gestured at Indigo. "Haven't told your family you are actually a controlled creature. Well, you better let these two look after you until Potter can set you to rights." He shuffled her off with a gesture of his fingers. "Go on then."

Indigo pushed her hair behind her ear and stepped away. She stopped before the counter where George put an arm around her chummily. 

Back at the Ministry, they walked in silence back to the office. Rodgers went up to the log book which was busily writing. 

"Well, well, Potter the curse magician. She didn't seem too pleased with you. What'd you do to the brother?"

"Nothing."

"Your usual nothing?"

Harry nodded.

Rodgers was in full interrogation mode. "When are you curing her? Why not get it over with tonight and send her home? Unless you are dragging this out for your own reasons."

Harry looked up from the message about a magical party attracting Muggle attention in York. "Only full moon."

"You can only cure them when they are werewolves? That adds quite a degree of excitement to it."

Rodgers took out a slip and jotted down the information from the log book. "Any other strange skills you are hiding from us?"

"Several," Harry said. Then said nothing more.

- 888 -

Suze was standing on the strip of cobblestone at the edge of the road in Hogsmeade wearing lightweight grey-blue robes. She was looking up at the carved figures on the roof of the post office, then she turned a slow pirouette, looking up and down the street. Her silvery hair fell down her back, unbound.

She stopped turning when she spotted Harry and rose up on tip toes as he approached.

"Evening," Harry said. He offered her an elbow as a few people slowed to watch.

"What would you like to do?" she asked, taking his elbow with graceful movements. Harry imagined she practiced that as part of dancing lessons. 

"Dinner." He nodded up the street.

When they stopped before the discreet sign for the Middle Inn, Suze said, "They'll have to let us in."

"Yes. I reserve," Harry said loftily.

"Wise of you," she said, carrying on what had become a game of austere commentary.

Despite the bright evening outside, the Middle Inn was dim and brassy. Harry indicated the table in the corner when the maitre d' gestured at one in the middle of the floor. It was early, and most of the tables were empty.

They settled into the corner table and Suze bent to the menu with eagerness. "I ate here once with my aunt. She met me in Hogsmeade one weekend during my fourth year. It was the best food I've ever had."

Harry passed on ordering wine, but the waiter brought glasses of champagne. Suze sipped hers and said, "Much better than the butterbeer champagne the Seventh-Years ferment in their trunks at school." She froze while putting her glass down. "You're not going to tell Professor Snape about that, are you?" She let go of the glass and sat up straighter. "Eh, go ahead and tell him. It's vile stuff anyway. It will save having to drink it for losing a bet."

They fell silent while little treats arrived on long rectangular plates.

"You doing dance?" Harry asked between nibbles.

"Oh, Merlin. Does it show?" She made a face. "It does show; doesn't it."

"You're graceful," Harry said, finding words easy this evening. 

"I think it will help my Seeker career too. So, yep, I let mum sign me up for the summer." She pushed her empty plate aside, running into the hand of the waiter who tried to get to it in time. "How is training? What'd you learn this week?"

"Relearning," Harry said, thinking that with the two younger apprentices they were repeating a lot.

Her face shifted at this, like she might feel sorry for him. "How much do you have to relearn after the, um, damage?"

"Oh," Harry said, laughing. "Nothing magic. Well, not true." He moved his hand in the air like casting a dome. "Barriers. Voldemort good at barriers."

She made a funny face. "You have to learn barriers because you only knew them because He-Who . . . Voldemort did?" She dropped her head and breathed in and out, giving away that she was nervous. "I didn't mean to mess up his name. My parents hate hearing his name."

"S'okay," Harry said with a smile to reinforce it. He cared much less about that than he used to. When he was younger it was as if he'd been trying to discover what was in him by forcing others to call to it. He wished he could express that because he longed to just then.

"Something wrong?" she asked after a long silence.

"No."

"Should I let you fall into that zone, or do you want me to barge in on it?" She buttered the steaming roll that arrived. "Because I can do either one. I don't care."

"Barge . . . " That was an odd word. "Barge in." Severus insists I not dwell, he wanted to say. 

"So you didn't lose any magic? That's really good."

"It is." He pointed at himself. "Auror wannabe and all."

The courses sailed on and off the table and port glasses were placed before each of them.

"What's this?" Suze asked, excited.

"Port," said the waiter who was waving a wand to return the table cloth to pristine. "The lady can judge it before the candle flame." He lifted her glass so she could look at it. "See the color: rust, earth, crystals of acid dregs. Wine that has come to ruin. Born originally of the blockades on the ports of France. Preserved with bad brandy so it could survive the trip—if survive isn't too kind a word for it." He placed her glass back before her and gave a little bow. "Enjoy."

Suze laughed and drank a swallow. "He's great."

When the glasses were empty and the other tables were full, Harry noticed too much attention came their way.

"Walk?" he asked.

"Oh, right." She stood and raised her chin. "Why, certainly, I meant to say."

The treetops cut a shadow across the village as they walked along High Street. He expected her to stop and peruse the windows, but she showed no interest, and soon they were out of the village. Over the rise, a lone chimney came into view on the right. Suze stepped off the path to survey the remains of the Shrieking Shack.

"Someone burnt it down."

Harry came aside her. "I did."

She nodded. "It needed it." 

They stood in silence, with Harry's thoughts growing diffuse, suffocating.

"Any particular reason why?" She shook her head. "I sound like the headmistress. Any particular reason why you thought it a good idea to make that student's toad grow twelve new legs?" She shook his arm. "Barging in."

"Why twelve new legs?" Harry asked because it was easier to repeat and he had nothing to say.

"I wanted to see what it would look like as a centipede."

Harry stared at the one remaining wall that stood up like blackened stalagmites. He said, "I wanted to . . . burn out. The past. The core." He remembered that moment with strange clarity. If something hadn't escaped from him, he'd have gone mad and blocked out the world. The fire was all he could let out. He had stood right here that night, aching to burn himself up.

Fingers slid around his right hand. "There's a great spot over here to view the castle."

Harry followed on half-numb feet. He was having an episode, but trusted it would end in just a few more seconds if he just kept walking.

The lake was striped with water frosted by the wind. The castle was perfectly reflected in the calm in between. From this vantage he could put the memories at a distance. He settled on his very first memory of Hogwarts and returned fully to himself.

"You're lucky," Harry said.

"I have this sinking feeling you are going to say it's because I'm going back to school."

"Won't say. Too many words."

She hit him on the arm, then retook his hand. "I am looking forward to Quidditch. Playing knock-around Quidditch at Bodmin Pitch isn't the same. Even if some of the people playing there are too serious to have fun at it." She looked up at him. "Hey, do you want to come this Tuesday? Anyone can. A few try to ruin it by yelling too much at the low skill players, but it's not bad. I'll even pick you for my team. I promise." Her mouth spread into a sly smile.

"Sure," Harry said. Visiting a new place sounded about as good as life could deliver just then.

The sun settled behind the hills and the wind picked up, tossing the grass around them. Orange and pink cloud outlines stood on the flat grey horizon.

"I wish I had my broomstick. What a nice night it is." She pulled her wand and aimed across the lake. "Think I could fetch one from here out of the dressing rooms? Some of the school rejects are probably still there."

She cast an Accio but it faded halfway across the water. 

Harry pushed her wand down and stepped back to get space. He transformed into his Animagus shape and lowered his great cat head to indicate she should climb on. 

"That is just awesome." She petted his neck. She smelled of the pear and rosemary dessert they'd had, and shampoo.

Harry gave an abbreviated barking roar and bumped her with his head, too hard, he feared at first. But she reacted instinctively, grabbing his ear and catching herself.

"I'm getting a ride?" 

She scrambled on his back and leaned forward. "Better to hold feathers or fur?" He could feel her trying various grips.

Harry shook his wings to say it didn't matter and tested his claw-hold on the turf. It was just right, a little damp, but growing well. He took a four step running start, just to be sure, and shoved off, tossing clods of earth behind him. 

He hadn't been flying in his Animagus body in a while, and his wing beats were awkward. They sailed out over the cold lake, which had less lift, and Harry dragged a paw, sending up a sheet of water. Suze gave a cry of delight at this.

Flight by wing would not work if you tried to beat it to death. He had to let every stroke finish and maximize the tail of the momentum before pulling up with his wings again, which made him descend temporarily. The lake fell away, and then the castle dropped away and slid beneath them. Patches of mist were growing around the walls and in the dips in the lawn. Harry banked and drifted downward on the air currents. The Headmistress' Tower was dark. Only a few windows held light. Harry turned hard to weave between the towers and over the bailey again. 

Light shined from Hagrid's hut which slid by below. The open doorway cast a triangular mark of light on the grass bordering his gardens. Hagrid himself was lumbering along at the edge of the forest, his pets at his side.

Harry pushed his wings back and dropped. Suze's heels dug into the ribs under his wings. With great flaps, Harry slowed to land and intended to kneel to let off his passenger, but she'd already slid to the ground.

"Harry. Well, look at yer!"

Harry returned to himself.

"And Ms. Zepher," Hagrid said. "What brings the two o' yer here?"

"Just out for a flight," Suze said. "Didn't mean to scare your hound," she said. 

Fang was cowering behind Hagrid, pressing his head against Hagrid's boot.

"All right, you. There's nothing ta be afraid of."

Fang whined and sniffed in their direction. Willy the Pranticore turned his half human face upward disdainfully. 

"I was just goin' ta the forest for some things for Professor Sprout. Things that bloom at dusk. If yer'd like to come along."

Willy gave a yawn that revealed his three rows of razor teeth and snapped his jaws. 

"Does what you're hunting have as many teeth as your pet?" Suze asked. 

"Nah," Hagrid said.

"That's a shame." She looked to Harry. "Do you want to go along?" She sounded hopeful.

"Love to," Harry said. 

"Marv'lous," Hagrid said, "I'll get more collection bags."

Hagrid returned to the edge of the forest and Harry swung the chainmail net he'd been given over his shoulder, trying not to wonder what they might be hunting.

The Forbidden Forest's underbrush thinned out and they had to pick their way around massive tree roots which loomed in the lantern light.

"Ah, this is wha' we're after." Hagrid stomped up to a blue-white flower not unlike a human hand, glowing the blue-white of moonlight. "But we wan' it jus' emerging. This one's too old."

"It's beautiful." Suze stood above it looking down. "I suppose it's a bad idea to pick it?"

"Yes," Hagrid said as he strode away. "They look like a hatching lizard egg jus' as they come outta the ground."

They walked a while, scaring bats, quieting owls, and sending larger things scurrying up the trees just beyond the lantern light.

"Harry, why don' you follow abou' a hun'red yards that way? Take Fang."

Harry lifted the lantern to look that way. The forest floor had great ripples in it here, like the bottom of the sea, making it hard to see the ground ahead.

"I'll go with Harry," Suze said.

"No, you'll stay with me an' Willy."

She gave Harry a wave as they split apart. "See you, Harry."

Harry could hear them talking as he slowed to check the shadows between the tree roots for anything egg shaped. Fang snuffled along, ranging ten feet to Harry's right.

"Been in the forest before?" Hagrid asked.

"A few times," Suze said. "First and second year, a lot, but after that Professor Snape got very strict. Now it isn't so interesting, so we don't sneak off anymore except to lure the First Years out here to scare them."

Harry picked up a long stick and used it to stir the deadfall, looking for emerging things of any kind. Not much grew here except the trees.

"So, you like bein' in Slytherin?"

"I'd go mad in any other House. Everyone in the others is so anxious about everything. If you want something, find a way to get it. Don't whinge."

"I don' know, some o' the Slytherins are champion whingers."

"That's because that's how they get their way. They don't really mean it."

Harry went another fifty feet before he realized their voices had stilled. He gripped his wand tighter and walked their way, silencing the path ahead of him. Their lantern was easy to see in the open forest, propped on a broad tree root. Fang snuffled the ground at Harry's feet, unconcerned.

"What's its name?" Suze whispered. She was hunched over, moving toward something, one slow motion step at a time.

Harry stopped behind a large tree, not wanting to startle whatever it was. He put his lantern down on a rock and came back to peer around the tree.

Suze raised her hand up and a silvery nose came into view, bumping her hand, then a whole horse-head and horn.

"I've never seen one before," Suze said reverently. "I thought they weren't really real."

The unicorn chewed at Suze's palm. "I don't have anything for you."

"I got . . ." Hagrid said, reaching into great pockets. "Got a sugar cube here somewhere . . . ah."

He dropped the sugar into Suze's palm and the unicorn crunched down on it. Willy gave a sad chittering yelp and crouched to lay his head on the ground, one eye peering upward jealously. The unicorn nuzzled each of Suze's hands, back and forth. She giggled and grabbed its nose. "All gone."

Harry's stomach felt a bit funny as he watched this. Fang gave a low woof. Harry put a hand around the dog's snout to silence him. The unicorn came to attention, staring at Harry.

"Come here, Harry," Suze whispered. When Harry shook his head, Suze repeated, "Come on."

Harry knew he would frighten the beast away, but she apparently did not. Harry turned to Fang and pointed at the ground in front of the hound. Fang went down on his belly, then rolled to the side, ears flopping over his eyes.

Shaking his head, Harry came out from behind the tree and made a gradual approach, certain the unicorn would dash away. Hagrid dropped another sugar cube into Suze's hand. She teased the unicorn with it, but the beast didn't so much as blink or twitch, instead it stared at Harry approaching.

"It's going to run," Harry said, stopping thirty feet away. "I'll stay here."

"Take this." She tossed the sugar cube underhanded in his direction. 

Harry caught it and held it as his side. The unicorn continued to stare. Sighing, Harry took a few more steps closer. The unicorn tilted its head. 

"Come on," Suze said. "It's not going to run."

"Unicorns only abide the innocent," Hagrid said.

"That true?" Suze asked. "Well, that's embarrassing."

The unicorn took a step in Harry's direction, a flowing motion that ended in a clap of hoof on dirt. It gave a shake of its mane and lowered its head. It took another step, then hopped forward directly into a charge at Harry.

Harry remained utterly still, watching the barreling approach, the bobbing head and lowered horn, feeling he needed to prove something. Tossing forest debris, the unicorn dodged to the side rather than spear him, whipping him with its lion tail as it passed.

"For a second there I thought you were in trouble," Suze said.

The unicorn bounded over a fallen log and stopped with a jolt to look back before striding away, shaking its mane.

Harry opened his hand. The sugar cube had vanished. "No trouble." 

"Aye, they can be a playful sort," Hagrid said. "Mus' like you, Harry. Otherwise it would've run the other way. Now where were we?"

Raising their lanterns they returned to the search. Suze found what indeed looked like a clutch of lizard eggs standing on end, poking out of the soil. Hagrid slipped on a pair of gauntlets and motioned for the two of them to step back.

"Hold open the sack and ge' ready."

He grabbed up the clutch and dirt sprayed everywhere as a mass of tentacle roots thrashed, grabbing at everything. Harry spread wide the bag and thrust it under the center of the mess. Where the roots scraped his arms, it stung fiercely.

"Aye, tha's a barb-root. The best," Hagrid proudly said. 

"Is the net going to hold it?" Suze asked.

"They don' like metal," Hagrid said as he dropped the plants in. And, indeed, as soon as they touched the bag, the plants gave off a hiss like air leaking and balled up their roots and went still.

"Le's hurry," Hagrid said. "Professor Sprout is waitin'."

Hagrid took off at such a rapid pace, Harry and Suze had to jog to keep up. Hagrid crossed a stream by stepping over it. Harry froze the surface with a wave and slid across on his trainers. He turned to catch Suze, who was directly behind him. She was easy to catch as small as she was.

"Thanks," she said, brushing herself off as they jogged again.

At the edge of the forest, Harry shouted goodnight to Hagrid, who turned to give a wave. "Visit anytime, 'Arry."

"Are we going to fly back to Hogsmeade?" Suze asked. 

Harry nodded and realized he still held the lantern. With a wave, he hovered it up to Hagrid's cabin. As it rose up the hillside it wavered up and down more than he wished, and at that distance, the best he could do was rest it on the ground, not hang it on one of the hooks on the hut's posts.

The lake was a sheet of glass now as night descended. Hogsmeade dripped rivulets of light into the depths of the water. Harry landed well outside the village where they would not be seen.

"That was the best time," she said as she slid off his back. 

"I planned all that," Harry said, flicking a small light from his wand to see by. He smiled, partly because it was so easy to speak.

"Yeah, I thought so," she said. "I'm going to Floo home from the Three Broomsticks, is that where you're headed?"

"Take you home?" Harry asked, thinking that was usually the routine of these things.

"Harry," she chastised. After a huff, she said, "You were doing so well too."

"I always ask," Harry said. Around them the crickets began chirping again and the stars were emerging overhead bright enough to see beyond the sphere of wand light.

She made a face. "Well, I'll believe that, since you don't seem to ever lie about anything."

"Sensitive," Harry said, trying not to smile as he said it.

She smiled cockeyed. "About that, yes. Everyone does that to me, assumes I'll get hurt or I'm scared or I can't do . . . whatever it is I want to do."

Harry nodded; he could certainly identify with that.

"And . . . I didn't tell my parents who I was out with. Are you going home in the Floo?"

Harry pointed at the ground where they stood. "Go from here."

"I wish my Animagus form could fly," she said, sounding wistful. "I had a great time. I'll see you on Tuesday if you make it to Quidditch." 

She started away. Harry plucked at her sleeve to draw her back. He moved his hand so the glow of his wand was hidden behind his leg. He only intended to give her a peck on the forehead, because he would have to bend down a long way to kiss her on the cheek, but she rose up on her toes to meet him on the lips.

"Harry, when you do stuff like that it reminds me you aren't a Slytherin, and that's a bad thing."

"What?" Harry said, thinking he wanted to taste her lips again, just to be sure of something he could not define.

"You were going to kiss me on the top of my head like my uncle would."

Harry knew if he apologized he would annoy her just like he did Snape when he apologized too much. He bent and kissed her again, instead, deeply, thoughts drifting away. He had to force himself to break it off. 

"You use Wheezes?"

She sounded a little dreamy. "Wheezes what?"

"On your lips. The Wheezes Lip-Locker Lip . . . potion." Harry gestured at his own lips.

"I have a bit of my mum's lipstick on. She would never shop at the Wheezes for anything."

"Oh," Harry said, expecting that had been the explanation. He felt a little undone to learn it was not. "Well . . . see you. Tuesday."

She smiled broadly. "I can't wait."

At home, Harry put his cloak away and stepped into the main hall.

"How was the date?" Candide asked. From the floor, Arcadius gave a squawk and crawled toward Harry's feet.

"Good," Harry said, suddenly worried there was lipstick on his face. He resisted checking with his fingers.

"Going out again?"

"I think."

Candide smiled. "That's good. She seems like a nice girl."

Harry glanced at Snape, who did not look up from his Potions journal. Harry wished he would look up so he could get some idea what was going on in his head.

Candide glanced between them and said, "Severus, don't you think she's nice?"

"Hm?" he raised his head. "Perhaps." He went back to his journal.

Candide shrugged at Harry and stood to fetch Arcadius, who was tugging on Harry's laces.

"No eating shoe laces, my dear," she said. 

Arcadius gave a different kind of squawk as he was lifted up and carried back to the foot of the couch. He again headed straight for Harry's muddy trainers and ran his tiny finger over the dirt.

"A spell would clean those off, Harry," Candide said with a chuckle.

Harry took them off to do so. Then set them back, shiny clean, on the floor near the baby, and was subjected to a cute little face of utter disappointment.



Next: Chapter 79

Snape nodded gravely and stood beside his desk, waiting.

"What are you doing about it?"

"Nothing, Mr. Zepher. What would you have me do?"

Mr. Zepher dropped his arms. "Harry's a bit old for my daughter don't you think?"

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