Harry woke at midnight and lay in his transfigured bed listening to the cars rumble by outside the window of Hermiones flat. Confusing flickers of dreams chased around in his head as he stared at a small light glowing in the kitchen above the stove. He lay still after waking, connecting together what he could of the dreams. Some of them contained flashes of horrified faces, faces which seemed to be terrified primarily by recognition. Closing his eyes, Harry tried to imagine where Voldemort—if he was indeed back—may be right now. But Harry was deeply reluctant to borrow that alternative perspective at that moment, when one of his best friends was sleeping unaware in the next room. And she was asleep; the slice of light that had showed from under her door earlier was now absent.
A faint scratching at the window drew Harry from his inward search for clues. He opened the sash and Franklin hopped inside with a letter clutched in one clawed foot. Harry took the envelope, which was addressed simply Harry, presumably for security in case it was intercepted, and switched on the lamp in the corner farthest from Hermiones bedroom to read it. The hand was neat and flourished more than usual, as though Snape had actually took care in writing it out, even though it would be surprising if he had found the time to take such care.
The front page of the Prophet this evening was both distressing and heartening. Distressing to see such rampant destruction, but heartening to see that you are whole and mostly unharmed despite events that surely must have surrounded you.
Harry remembered the hovered camera and glanced around for a copy of the evening edition. If Hermione had bought one, she had tossed it away already. Harry thought that he should try harder to keep track of what was getting printed.
The students are taking their examinations at this moment—one day early. Tomorrow, the fifth- and seventh-years will be given abbreviated O.W.L. and N.E.W.T written exams. It is public knowledge, so it is possible for me to put it in an open letter to you: the Hogwarts Express is now scheduled for Wednesday. After we have deposited our charges with their families I intend to offer my assistance to Arthur in re-apprehending my former associates.
Harry frowned and sat on the floor in the circle of light below the lamp to finish reading the letter as it was longer than expected. He instinctively did not want Snape helping. He much preferred him to remain out of harms way, such as at Hogwarts. Harry ached just at the possibility of the revenge people like Malfoy and Avery would seek to exact upon him given the opportunity.
Harry would have to send a letter back that night to be certain of receiving a reply sometime the next day. Franklin sat, fluffed and resting on top of Kalis cage. The cage swung slowly back and forth on its chain, casting a domed, barred shadow along the wall. Snapes owl would probably prefer to rest then take a return trip so soon, but could probably be convinced to go right away.
I expect that exhortations to be exceptionally careful are unnecessary at this juncture, but I feel obliged to make them in any event. Please, do be careful, Harry. As dearly as many wish revenge upon me, it is insignificant compared to what must certainly be wished upon you. Do not be over-confident and by all means do not take independent action without warrant as you have been wont to do in the past.
I should perhaps temper the previous sentence by adding that you demonstrated judicious care Sunday last, to my great personal relief. You are learning, which is also a relief. There is an end to this, Harry, do keep it in sight, even as things appear their dimmest. Houses can be rebuilt and you and I seem to know how to build lives where little existed before, so we certainly can do so again.
I am sounding vaguely like Albus, I believe, so perhaps it is time to close this letter.
Smiling faintly, Harry slowly folded the parchment. He didnt feel disappointed or angry with Snape right then. He felt worried, daunted by the tasks before him, a little alone, and very much himself. Pushing himself to his feet, he considered that forgiveness was not exactly one of Voldemorts strong points.
Harry really needed to return to the Ministry. He had rested for nearly six hours and felt remarkably alert and only moderately bruised, but he took the time to pen a letter back to his adoptive father.
I am of course being careful, but Ill admit Im not worried about myself, but instead about you. I am surrounded by Aurors most all of the time but you have only your fellow teachers to fall back on. They may be mean with a red ink pen and an annoying curse or two, but they are not Aurors. So, it is you who should be ultra-vigilant.
We captured a fair number of those who escaped already, so it is seeming more promising than it did a day ago. Even the house appeared more promising when I stopped by on the way to London. Reparable, like many things. But only after everything is safe again. Ill see that it is, I promise. Im feeling more myself tonight and things are clearer. I think I may be getting the hang of these prophecies.
Harry went to the window to let Franklin out with his reply and another owl hopped into the room clutching a hastily folded note addressed to Hermione. When Harry tried to take it, the owl nipped him. Harry knocked on her door. Moments later, clad in a fuzzy peach dressing gown, Hermione stood in the doorway squinting up at Harry.
Owl for you, Harry said, gesturing at the bird circling the room.
Yawning, Hermione opened the letter. Before she read it, she glanced at Harrys dressed state. Going already?
Yeah, Im pretty well rested, so I should go. We lost three Aurors, he pointed out sadly.
She gave him a hug and then stepped back while rubbing one eye to read her missive. They want me at the office as well. Theyve had someone break in and rummage for files.
Why would someone do that? Harry asked while locating his cloak amongst the other things of his piled beside his trunk.
Lots of files of evidence from old criminal cases, she pointed out. Well, we both are on duty, it seems.
Be careful, Harry sternly told her.
Whenever am I not? she asked sleepily.
Harry started to answer but hesitated, thinking. Im sure there was a time. Let me think about that one. She had gone back into her room and pushed the door partly closed while she dressed. Harry said, Go to the Burrow if you are done at the office and Im not back, okay?
Sounding as though she was pulling a jumper over her head, she replied in a muffled voice, Harry, really . . .
Hermione, I dont want to be worrying about you, too.
Dressed in attire so casual that it would have resulted in her demotion had she shown up that way during the day, she stepped out and said, Ill do it to make you feel better, all right?
She sounded patronizing, but Harry replied sincerely, Thank you.
At the Ministry, things were no less busy than they had been when Harry left. The damage to the reception area was the same, except the dust had settled, leaving the gaping holes even blacker than before. The lift before him clanged to a stop and the door unlatched but the gate wouldnt open without having serious muscle applied to it. Harry tugged it closed again and watched the damaged and debris-ridden area disappear as the lift rose through next floor up.
- 888 -
Draco, the unusually emotional voice repeated.
Draco Malfoy sat in the grand drawing room in the lone overstuffed chair, one that the Ministry had not bothered to take when they confiscated the households possessions. He didnt look over at the speaker right away, preferring instead to stare at the candle burning on the small table beside him. He wanted to remain unmoved, but was failing. He had heard them enter—not stealthily and not in the way of an invasion, more the way one would if one owned a place. Draco hadnt budged from his seat; not when he heard his mother going into hostess mode; not even to try to better overhear the low murmured conversations. The Ministry had come poking around just hours before and Draco had assured them that he would curse anyone escaped from Azkaban if they had the gall to show up. Now that they had, he felt far more like getting blasted drunk than cursing anyone.
You are home, Draco finally conceded.
Better than that, his father breathed, sounding much more himself then, as though anticipating something wonderfully miserable for someone he disliked. Come, Draco, you must see.
A run of prickles traversed Dracos breast bone, but he haughtily stood and strode over, doing his best to appear bored and dubious that any errand could be worth his time.
His father looked him up and down. Youve grown, he said, returning to his more emotional tone. I have missed much. But not anymore. Come.
The hall held two large clusters of robed figures, congregating and whispering. Draco had certainly heard that everyone had escaped, but he had not quite realized how many that really meant. He hoped Pansy had the sense to stay in bed and out of the way. At the top of the marble staircase four more figures stood in a tight circle, heads leaned inward. They fell still as Lucius approached, leading his son. Without turning more than a micron, their hooded, group attention zeroed in on him.
So, little Draco has decided to come out and play with dads nice friends? a voice taunted, the voice of Bellatrix Lestrange.
Draco considered snapping back something along the lines of pointing out that she would have more friends, and a husband, and a brother-in-law, if she hadnt killed them all. He remained silent, hoping he looked too stubborn to taunt further.
Lucius swept him past this group and to the last room on the end of the first floor corridor, which led to a keeping room—a long room that ran the length of the house, front to back. Many of the things in here had also been left behind by the Ministry, but they consisted mainly of aggressively posed animal trophies both magical and non- and paintings where the varnish had discolored to the point where the scenes were no longer decipherable.
A fire was burning unseasonably in the hearth at the far end of the room and someone with long pointed ears was bending over a chair before the fire. Greybacks presence didnt startle Draco, but he stutter-stepped when he spotted a large snake coiled up in the woven wood carrier, which appeared to have been lined with someones very expensive cloak.
Draco had no difficulty remembering every single time he had bragged about and supported Voldemorts purpose, but at this moment, he wished for nothing more than to be elsewhere, to wake up from what surely must be a nightmare. Voldemort brought only chaos and difficulty. It was much better, he had decided, to simply sneer at those you thought little of and enjoy your wealth in some decent peace, rather than gamble everything on an idea the world would see fit to fight you on at every step until you had nothing left.
Lucius was pushing on Dracos back, leaving him no choice but to approach. A few feet shy of the arm of the chair, he was shoved to his knees.
- 888 -
Ah, Harry, Mr. Weasley greeted him when he stepped into the Auror offices. Grief and strain had etched more lines into his face than normal and he had contracted the jitters while Harry had rested, indicating that he had been taking Pepper-Up, or something similar, to stay alert.
Maybe you need to rest, Mr. Weasley, Harry suggested. At her desk, Tonks nodded vigorously without turning around.
Mr. Weasley ignored this, saying, Minister wants to see you, Harry. Why dont you go on up?
At one in the morning? Despite his surprise, Harry shrugged. All right.
Harry used the staircase and emerged down the corridor from the lifts. A tall, balding man stood before the door to the Ministers office suite. Harry pegged him for a Muggle immediately. The man turned as Harry approached and gave Harry a close inspection.
Mr. Potter, Bones greeted Harry. Mr. Tivers, this is Harry Potter. Harry, Mr. Tivers works with the Muggle Prime Minister.
The man showed no interest in shaking hands, making Harry glad he had not offered to. Derisively, the man asked, This is your hope, Madam Minister? The one chosen to eliminate the difficulties you are currently facing?
Prophecies are tricky things, Mr. Tivers, Bones said in a much less diplomatic tone. You dont fully understand how magic plays out in events. Perhaps you cannot ever understand with your background.
I understand when I see an entire system of governance relying on a . . . mere boy, or young man if we wish to be generous.
Harrys eyes narrowed. This close, he could detect the mans Muggleness like a tasteless paste on his tongue. He tried not to wish him away in a permanent manner on the assumption that he would never have wished that in the past, no matter how rude the man was.
Bones stood her small frame straighter. If you wish to assist, Mr. Tivers, in apprehending our law-breakers, by all means do so.
Tivers lip pulled into a sneer. We have lost quite a number of police already, Madam. You know quite well that we must rely on you to take care of things.
Then let us get back to it, shall we? she asked lightly which only made it stronger. Mr. Potter, this way.
Harry glanced back before they stepped out of sight. The man, Tivers, was furious, which made his rough complexion all the more creased. He appeared to glance around for a chance to vent his anger. For just an instant, Harry caught a glimpse of faint tread-like tendrils reaching up towards the man.
Harry stopped and Bones turned to see why. Tivers gaze snapped suspiciously to Harry, who said, Ive handled worse, sir. With less help. Harry truly wished to reassure the man, to calm his anger, which was running high enough to damage him, apparently. It worked, partly; the man shook his head in defeated disgust and stalked off.
The office suite was empty, so Bones sat down on the couch in the reception area of the office. She did this heavily as though bodily exhausted. Give me a little faith, Harry, I am in need of some.
Harry, who had been idly expecting a pep talk to be delivered at him, found himself trying to create one instead. The truth would not suffice; informing her that he had Voldemort in his head giving him a new perspective on things would not bring her any optimism. He tried instead to project calm confidence. He sat on the couch opposite and clasped his hands over his midsection. I can find all of the Death Eaters, Minister, he stated and then felt compelled to qualify that with, I can sense them . . . where they are.
Arthur said that you gave the warning about the attack.
Yes, maam, Harry admitted, still calm, still in control.
With her elbow propped unceremoniously on the armrest beside her, she rubbed her eyes. I thought I was inheriting a relatively easy job from Cornelius. Now I find myself appalled that I understand some of his poorest decisions.
I think Voldemort is back, maam, Harry stated.
She closed her eyes a long, pained moment. Arthur relayed that already, but it is still difficult to hear. It would be one thing if he were back and had NO followers available, rather than ALL of them.
You have no guards, Harry pointed out, glancing at the open doorway with its burn marks from the recent battle that took place here.
Cant afford them, given the need for personnel outside. Im half-hoping someone does show up again so I can take them out personally. She had her wand in her hand in an eye-blink, pulled from her long, folded-over sleeve. She wore a nice, but outdated, robe today, rather than her usual polyester.
A knock sounded on the door frame, and a man Harry didnt recognize bowed his head and stepped in. This man was a wizard, which Harry could tell even though he also wore an even fancier Muggle suit than the last visitor. His black hair was slicked back with something shiny and just the curls on the top front stood up, lending his otherwise dapper appearance a cartoonish edge.
Excuse, me, the man said in heavily accented English, I am looking for zee Minister for Magic . . .
Thats me, Bones said, pushing herself to her feet. Harrys mind boggled at the lack of security.
Ah, good, the man said, relieved. My name is Rémy Roumaine. I have been sent by my government in response to your communique of . . . Here the man consulted a letter. June zee fourteenth. His eyes found Harry and he froze. Is zat Arry Potter? The man stepped in, seeming to mince despite his grace. Mister Potter, I am most onored, most onored. He held out his hand. Harry stood and accepted it, thinking this man cant be real, but sensing no ill will in him.
The man went on, My daughter will be boiling with jealousy when I inform er I have met you, he said. He glanced back at the Minister. Ah, but I am forgetting, he said while hitting himself on the forehead. He rummaged in his fancy small pockets and pulled out a scroll, sealed with red wax. My government, of course, offers its assist-anze. This is the official communique and documents.
Bones expression changed, making Harry assume that she had figured out what this was all about. She said in clear relief, Your help is most welcome. She pulled a seal out of her breast pocket, fixed with a chain like a pocket watch might have. She whispered something to it and pressed it to the seal on the scroll. The wax flashed away and the parchment unravelled.
Harry wasnt told to leave, so he stood quietly, curious. Bones read the missive. Hows your French, Harry? she asked, sounding serious.
I dont have any.
I can trans-late, the man eagerly said. Pointing at various places on the scroll, he said, We are offering the use of L'île de Cachot Méfait until the time at which you can replace your own Az-ka-ban. He paused to give Harry a grin, which reminded Harry that people used to do that to him all of the time, but at some point had stopped, for the most part. The man went on, It is oh-est of île Jersey, well protected and warded. Cachot Méfait is the rare Channel Island that belongs to us. Here the man winked as though this was a good joke.
Bones said, Mr. Roumaine, come in and have a seat. You have my heartfelt gratitude, I must say. Harry has a few minutes, I believe, before he must return to his duties. She waved her wand and the teapot in the corner emptied and refilled itself and immediately began steaming.
Roumaine did seem most pleased to be seated across from Harry. You must be quite bizzy, Mr. Potter, correct?
Yes, Harry admitted. He was thinking that now that he was invited to stay that he really should get going. What is this île de . . .? he asked, figuring he might as well ask.
It is our wizard prison. It was constructed in 1789, so it is . . . He waved his arm fancifully. Ovair-sized.
Harry accepted a cup of tea and sipped it gratefully. He was not used to this kind of schedule and the tea reminded him that he was supposed be alert despite the position of the hands on the clock. So you are going to let us use it for our prisoners?
That is the offer, yes. Thank you for the tea, he said to Madam Bones. Ah, yes! But here are the portkeys. Just two. You can get more there if you fill in some papers-work. He handed over two golden bracelets, each with a charm in the shape of a fleur de lis.
Bones appeared quite relieved. This was much more of a pep talk than Harry could have managed. Go and fetch Arthur, will you, Harry?
She handed him the portkeys as he passed her. And keep those safe.
Harry stopped and stared at the glittering jewelry in his hand. Yes, maam, Harry said, calming his heart at the notion of such responsibility, especially given that the dark wizard who had probably released the last batch of prisoners had a tendency to knock around inside Harrys head. Harry exhaled hard when he reached the corridor and fairly ran down the stairs.
Mr. Weasley wasnt in his office. Harry found him in the tea room, talking to Shacklebolt, Rodgers, and Kerry Ann, all of whoms postures were sagging. Madam Bones needs to see you, Mr. Weasley. Said to keep these safe. Harry held out the charms.
Everyone stared at them in puzzlement. May I ask what they are? Mr. Weasley asked.
Portkeys to the île de Cachot Médait, Harry attempted, poorly.
Rodgers reacted strongest. Really?
A representative from the French Ministry of Magic brought them. At this, Harry stopped. He had left Madam Bones alone with a complete stranger. He really did need a longer break, it seemed, to get his better judgment back in working order.
Mr. Weasley departed quickly—leaving one portkey with Rodgers—which relieved Harrys immediate worries.
Kerry Ann was grinning, peering at the charm Rodgers held up. Ambriose came through. I asked if he knew anyone he could owl to expedite getting us help.
Rodgers turned his sharp gaze on her. So, we have you to thank for this, Ms. Kalendula?
I try. She grinned more although it had a grim edge, and then frowned. Rats, this means I owe Ambroise a bottle of Burgundy.
Has he gone back to France? Harry asked, finding it an amazing luxury to bother wondering about such trifles.
No, hes helping keep an eye on the house. After what happened to you, he insisted. She shook her head. The guy is unreal. Too perfect.
I thought you liked him? Harry chided.
Id like him better if I knew what was wrong with him.
Hows that? Rodgers prompted as he tucked the chain into his pocket after securing it to his watch fob.
Something must be wrong with him and until I know what it is . . . its going to make me crazy.
Harry thought she looked forgivably cute as she said this, but Rodgers said, Ms. Kalendula, you are reminding me why my first two marriages turned out so poorly. While Kerry Ann frowned comically, he added, Potter, you look ready for an assignment, lets get you one.
Harry and Rogan were assigned to hunt for Death Eaters in London. This involved Apparating somewhere and trying to sense if any were nearby. Only three seemed to be in the immediate locale. They picked one to narrow in on and Apparated repeatedly and walked back and forth along St. Leonards Road in an attempt to get a fix. In the end they narrowed the possibilities down to a few blocks, but Harry could not discern anything more specific.
Sorry, sir, Harry said as they stood on a boarded up corner with Rogan peering up at the dark windows of the nearest building.
Thats all right, Potter. Rogan said easily. He sounded tired as well, and reluctant to face anything serious.
Harry used an Alohomora on the nearest street-level door and stepped inside. He was too frustrated to stand still. Inside was a quiet corridor and staircase. Harry closed his eyes and drifted. He was not in the right building.
It helps when they are thinking about me, Harry pointed out as he slipped back out past Rogan, who was leaning jauntily against the door jamb. Then I see them much more clearly. They must have something else on their mind. Most all of them are farther away now. This both relieved and worried Harry. He would prefer to know what they were up to. How many of them are there out? Harry asked. I cant quite count them.
Harry glanced up at the building. If we pulled the files, we could find what address correlates nearby to one of them.
I suspect Arthur will send us out on a more urgent call instead. Lets go; I need some excitement to wake up.
They Disapparated back to the Ministry. Vineet was assigned the task of looking through the files and Harry was sent back out with Rogan to investigate an owl that had come from a witch complaining that her son-in-law, who was supposed to be in prison, thank you very much, was living in her cellar.
This turned out to be an easy call, with nasty language getting thrown at them rather than spells. The paperwork was dispensed with quickly, and in the Ministry dungeon it was quieter since prisoners were already being ferried to the French prison.
The door to courtroom ten swung closed and latched. Rogan rubbed his head and swayed a little.
Maybe you should take a break, Harry suggested.
Good idea, Rogan said. I think Arthur set up some beds in the training room, in fact.
Back in the empty Aurors office, Harry watched the log being written out. It wasnt writing quite as fast as before, but it still didnt pause much. Mr. Weasley stepped in with his sons in tow. Dad, come on, everything is fine at the Burrow. Bill and Charlie are keeping an eye on things, one of the twins pleaded. Harry nodded hello to Ron, whom he was glad to see.
The other twin said, Told you we should have made Ron stay home. Dad wont let him go out.
Ron rolled his eyes. Much excitement? he asked Harry.
Too much. Its getting better though.
Mr. Weasley handed Harry a slip of parchment. This ones yours.
Harry looked down at the writing, which went: Neighbors report strange goings-on in Terrance residence, Appledown.
Youve been there, correct? Mr. Weasley asked.
Yes, Harry said, thinking of his date with Tara. Harry glanced at the three Weasley brothers arrayed around their father. Can I take them?
Go ahead. No one will be freed up for a while. Do you want Vishnu as well?
Harry was tempted, but said, No, hes still recovering and maybe he can find that Death Eater.
As they assembled to depart, Mr. Weasley said, Ill send someone as backup as soon as possible.
I can take care of it, sir, Harry said with confidence, thinking that he had waited a long time for a chance to get even again. His memory of Snape getting even for him, by giving the little git a poisonous bite to the leg, left a small grin on Harrys face as they Apparated into Appledown. Harry brought Ron first before both of them went back for the other two, once Ron knew where to go.
Because of the noise they had to arrive a quarter mile away. The street lamps provided ample light for their walk, even with most of the houses dark. Thoughts of revenge were giving Harry that hungry feeling again. The twins started to cross the road, but Harry tugged on Rons arm to hold him on the pavement.
They can scope it out; I need to talk to you.
Ron turned his attention to Harry, and in the cone of light from the street lamp, Harry noticed for the first time ever that Ron needed a shave. It made his friend seem years older than he had just moments before.
Harry quickly said, Its like this: I have Voldemort in my head again.
Big surprise, you always did, Ron pointed out jokingly.
This is serious, Harry said, not wanting to argue about this.
I am being serious, Ron retorted, still not really sounding it. You were a hazard for years. Why do you think Dumbledore kept you in the dark all the time?
Harry stared at Rons half-lit face, reexamining old, nearly extinct memories from an adult perspective. This feels worse, Harry said. I want to torture people now. I want revenge. Ive even been strategizing like him.
Maybe youre more like him now, Ron pointed out. You were a kid before.
Harry fell into stillness, thinking over Rons straightforward point of view. Only the leaves rustled overhead. The twins were waiting at the end of the block. They looked to be checking for wards. I hadnt thought of it that way, Harry said. I just dont want to hurt anybody.
Well make sure you dont, Harry, Ron said reassuringly, taking Harry by the arm this time to steer him into the road.
Relieved to have people around who understood his situation with such ease, Harry led the way to where the twins stood, speaking in whispers. One of them had an extendable eyeball in, the eyeball end, he tossed repeatedly in his hand.
Doesnt that make you dizzy? Ron asked in disbelief.
Nope, came the reply.
Makes me dizzy watching you, Ron complained. Lets go, he said in disgust. Oh, Harry should lead, since he can actually arrest people.
Can I? Harry asked.
Cant you? Ron asked in surprise. Well, dont tell the escapees that, he said stridently. Behind them, the twins sniggered.
At the Terrance house, Harry called for a halt. The windows were all dark as were those of both neighbors.
Should we knock on the neighbors door and ask for more information? Ron asked.
Harry shook his head. He gestured for the eyeballed twin to circle around. Good luck, Feorge, the other one said.
The three of them waited. Harry closed his eyes to check that no Death Eaters were close by.
Wake up, Ron nudged him.
I am, Harry insisted. He then blinked. The sky had grown lighter just as they were standing there. Jeez, morning already.
Their scout returned, looking sober. Back room, far corner.
How can you tell? Ron asked.
Unless the Terrances favor sharing a room and sleeping on the floor . . . seems somethings up.
Anger filled Harry before he could get it in check. He gripped his wand tighter and considered the silent house. Lay down some barriers so they cant get away, Harry ordered. The twins jumped to this task without hesitation. Ron remained beside Harry and handled anchoring the newly forming barrier to the pavement.
Youre better at this than I am, Harry said to him.
We do these all of the time at the bank. I do them in my sleep and sometimes cant leave my room in the morning. Harry nearly broke out laughing. Yeah, Ron huffed in a whisper, you would think that was funny.
Now what? Ron asked when the twins returned.
Go to the back, Harry said to one of the twins. Block anyone from leaving that way. I plan to send them running if I can, he added with a certain satisfaction. Ill take the other two of you in with me. Fred, I want you to head down the main hallway to-
Thats me. You assigned me to the back, Fred pointed out.
Harry waved him off. George: hallway. There is a servants staircase to the left at the end.
Youve been here before, I take it?
Ex-girlfriend, Ron supplied.
Oh, Fred said, this is going to be fun.
If I whistle I need a distraction in a hurry, Harry said.
Youve come to the right place, George said, patting his bulging left pocket with tender care. Fred ran off for the back of the house.
Good. Ready? Harry put his wand in his teeth and took each of their arms. He zeroed in hard on the sitting room as he remembered it, not wanting to have an Apparition accident given that he was taking two other people with him, which was not recommended. George and Ron tapped their wands against each others as though for luck and Harry scrunched them all down.
They arrived with a very loud pop!, loud enough that the vase on the mantelpiece vibrated in the wake of it. At first there was no reaction and Harry hurriedly took the opportunity to direct Ron to crouch across the main corridor, in the dining room doorway. That way they could cover each other no matter who went first. Pounding footsteps vibrated overhead as they got themselves set. Whoever approached, he wasnt taking the invasion lightly. A ball of orange light rolled down the stairs, sizzling the runner until it met the front door where it exploded.
Harry could see Rons wide eyes across the hall from him, could see him considering that perhaps he was in over his head. But he looked at Harry expectantly, waiting for instructions. Harry, keeping his body well behind the door frame, reached out with his wand in his left hand and cast a respectable blasting curse at the movement he detected at the top of the stairs.
Oof! someone muttered up above.
Cover me, Harry ordered Ron, and fixating perhaps too much on the vision of Tara kept prisoner, made a headlong dash up the stairs. He got hit with something at the top and it was a good thing he had been low and fast, otherwise he would have blown backward all the way to the ground floor. Harry rolled into the nearest doorway. Spells were exchanged. Harry strained his trembling neck around and saw that Ron was lying flat on the stairs with just his wand hand lying on the landing and his head peaking over the top riser.
Everything fell quiet. Ron lifted his head higher with care. Harry twisted painfully and put his wand in a position to cover him. A figure lay in the corridor.
Kenny, you moron, someone hissed from the a few doorways down. A head appeared and both Ron and Harry hit it simultaneously, knocking the person into the far side of the door frame where he fell to the floor.
A womans voice could be heard then. Ive got a wand on them. Unless you want them fried I suggest you leave nice and quiet like.
Harrys eyes narrowed and he pushed himself to his knees on tingling arms. How many are there? Ron whispered in annoyance. Harry shook his head.
You hear me? the voice, quivering with anger demanded.
Rick? Harry shouted, figuring him to not be doing the dirty work if he could help it.
Potter, a low, fierce voice came back. The man who sent me to Azkaban, he said in a kind of chant. He sounded much changed.
Harry stood up in the center of the corridor holding his wand before him. Hoping to get even? Harry asked. The tingling pain from getting hit was making Harrys mind swim, he felt like someone else. Wouldnt you like revenge? he asked with an almost sensual tone.
Harry? Ron whispered in concern from where he kneeled on the staircase.
Harry ignored his friend. Come on, Ricky Rothy. Im waiting for you. Just standing here, he taunted. Youll regret not taking revenge, he added in a low tone. The dark corridor, which was indeed long, seemed to stretch forever ahead of Harry. Somewhere ahead of him a rival was going to appear; Harry willed it to be so. He had a Crucio ready; it made his fingers tingle in anticipation where they touched the warm wood of his wand. Below him, whiplike tendrils were seeking him like blind tentacles. An instant from now, Harry would be invincible. Nothing would be able to touch him.
A figure stepped out of the doorway two rooms down. Harry raised his wand. A sharp whistle sounded. What happened after that was a little difficult for Harry to follow because he was knocked down bodily from behind and the corridor lit up with streamers and colorful flashing lights as though they had suddenly Apparated into the center of a very crazy nightclub.
Harry raised his head. Ron had his foot on him, holding him down. Harry shoved it aside and sat up. The corridor was now decorated for a party, by someone with very garish taste. A row of sparkling mirror balls spun just below the corridor ceiling. Ron stood in the doorway, glancing into the corridor with care.
Got im, one of the twins said. Tried to Apparate away, poor devil. Despite his words, the Weasley brother did not sound the least sympathetic.
What about the woman in the room? Harry asked, voice hoarse. He tried to step by Ron, but Ron grabbed his cloak.
Try anything serious and Im taking that wand away from you, Ron snapped.
Harry stared at him in surprise. Lit only by the street light leaking in from the window, Ron appeared twice his age with the stern expression he had.
The other twin bounded up the servants staircase. One of them said, Someone appears to have knocked the old witch over the head with a spittoon.
Harry turned away from Ron and, holding his wand pointed at the floor, approached the bedroom. One of the twins was helping Tara to her feet, even though she didnt look quite ready to stand. Her mother insisted on taking the chair before the dresser. Mr. Terrance, curled on the floor, wasnt moving.
Dad . . . check my dad, Tara said in great distress.
Harry stood in the doorway, feeling disconnected and fearful that he might start reconnecting with things the wrong way again. Someone lit an oil lamp and they all blinked at the brightness. The Weasleys were helping Mr. Terrance sit up. He had a deep cut over his eye.
Take him to the Muggle casualty, one of the twins was saying. Mungos is overloaded.
Mr. Terrance nodded and Mrs. Terrance shakily went to fetch her handbag.
Harry? Tara prompted after her dad waved her off. She stood up and came over to him. You all right? she asked.
Yeah, Harry said, shaken out of his strange state by the twisted nature of her asking that of him. Just had a long night, but you must have too. Your neighbors reported something.
The Muggle police came to the door but Rick and his companion escapees threatened us if we made any noise. Thats when dad got hit over the head, in fact.
Harry looked her over. Are you all right?
Yeah, they just wanted a place to hide out. Rick was obnoxious to us all, but really not any more than normal. She looked herself over as though checking her outfit. I should drive dad; I think Mums in too much of a state. Not like Im not . . . She tossed her hands a bit girlishly and, with a stained frown, departed. Harry watched her step downstairs.
Dont Apparate until weve removed the barriers, Ron said to Mr. Terrance. Better go tell the others, he said in alarm and rushed downstairs as well.
Harry himself should have thought of that. Perhaps he wasnt fit to be out here. Perhaps he should be in the file room with Vineet.
Harry joined Ron by the door where he watched Tara pulling the car around to the front of the house. How did you know? Harry asked his friend. He felt sick and trembling remembering that moment.
Ron turned to him after checking up and down the street. Your voice sounded really odd, Harry. You didnt sound at all like yourself.
I wasnt, Harry whispered. Tara left the car running and got out of it, moving jerkily as though intensely nervous. Inside the house, the twins were hovering Mr. Terrance down the stairs. They paused at the open door.
Clear? one of the twins asked. Ron nodded and they sailed the casualty out.
When the others were well away, Harry said, I have to kill Voldemort soon, before I lose myself to him.
Killing him quick would make everyone happy, Harry. We can throw another big party, he promised.
Be serious, Ron.
I cant be for long, he pointed out as he pulled the front door closed behind them. Im a Weasley.
Back inside the house, the streamers lining the first floor corridor like crazed spider-webs rustled in the breeze of the spinning mirror balls.
- 888 -
Breakfast at Malfoy Manor was a sparse affair as the larder had already been well-raided. MacNair was arguing with Lucius over just that and whether it was safe to send one of the house-elves for supplies.
Iony is my most loyal elf, Lucius insisted angrily. She will be no problem.
I can go with her . . . if you like, Draco suggested, tossing down his stale slice of hard bread that even the mice had not bothered to eat. He tried to sound annoyed and as though it was troublesome to even offer.
No, his father said slowly. You will stay here. The elf can go. He turned to his wife. Narcissa, order Iony to visit no fewer than six different shops to collect what we need in small quantities. No sense bringing on suspicions unnecessarily.
Draco sat back with his arms crossed. Pansy had argued but agreed to stay in their bedroom and Draco himself had laid down a barrier on the rooms door. Even he couldnt get back in without Pansy releasing the spell.
MacNair stalked off. Lucius took the chair beside Dracos with exceptional slowness as though he wished to avoid disturbing a poisonous snake on the seat of it.
I wish to speak with you, Draco, but it is difficult to be alone with such a crowd at the manor. Lord knows great-grandfather believed he had built this place large enough for any party . . . He stared at his nails and then interlocked his hands with great care. Sternly, he said, The issue is this: I wish for you to express your loyalty more strongly with our Lord.
With that . . . thing? Draco uttered.
His fathers head tilted and a more dangerous look entered his eyes. That . . . is the Dark Lord, my master, that you are . . . degrading so thoughtlessly, Draco. He has asked about you this morning and I want you to speak to him. Remind him of things, shall we say, such as his previous intention to give you a mark.
Draco resisted letting his arms twitch as though to avoid having them shackled; he didnt want to reveal that much to his father.
I bet he doesnt remember, Draco said.
He will if you remind him, Lucius stated, sounding confident and therefore much less angry. He had simply been waiting for you to deserve it.
I mean, Draco stated with clear enunciation, I doubt he remembers how to give anyone a mark.
This one got through to his father at the level he had hoped the previous insult would. His father appeared wary. Lucius pursed his lips and glanced at the high double doors to the dining room as though hearing someone approach. In a lower voice he said, We have been offered a third chance to recover our past glory and to return wizardom to its rightful place in peoples minds: one of fear. He clenched his hand into a fist and held it up before himself.
Im all for that, father, Draco said with a tired attitude. He needed to distract his father. But you need a leader. What you have is a figurehead . . . at best.
Lucius sat straight. His jaw worked a moment. A very wise observation, son. His jaw worked some more and he stared off through the nearest wall. Very wise, he whispered, eyes narrowing, lips curling.
- 888 -
Back at the Ministry, an owl had delivered a letter from Snape. Harry sat down with a tart and coffee in the tearoom to read it. As he unsealed the envelope, he wished his guardian was there beside him right then, wished it dearly. Harry needed someone to keep a much more suspicious eye on him. Ron had been sent away to the Burrow again, despite his loud protestations and Harrys assurances that he had performed just fine. Something about the burn holes in Rons cloak and his singed hair had changed Mr. Weasleys mind about letting him assist at the Ministry.
Keep an eye on Harry, then, Ron had said sharply to his father.
Mr. Weasley had looked Harrys untouched self over and said, We always do, Ron.
No, I mean really keep an eye on him, Ron had insisted before departing. He gave Harry a last meaningful glare before departing, shoulders slumped. He had left it up to Harry to better explain things to Mr. Weasley, which Harry was reluctant to do; he was tired of explaining. He wanted Snape nearby, who didnt need to have anything explained to him.
Things have been quiet here, which leads me to believe one of two things: either they are planning more carefully than expected, or they have bigger plans that require more organization—plans that are bigger than merely attacking this school. I am tempted to believe the latter, but we are prepared here for anything, certainly well enough prepared for only one more night.
The students are eager to return home where they assume they will not be prisoners. A strict curfew does seem to have a disproportionate effect on their little states of mind.
Your previous message was more optimistic than expected. I do hope your control is truly as good as you have implied.
Harry thought over his previous message; it seemed ages since he had sent it, rather than simply late the previous night. Harry took up a pen, dipped it, and poised it over the parchment before him. He didnt want to overly concern Snape. Tomorrow evening when the Hogwarts Express arrived, Harry could tell him what he needed to know. As badly as Harry wished for him to be here, he did not want to risk drawing him away from his Hogwarts duties.
People here are looking out for me in many ways, Harry wrote as a roundabout way of explaining. Do not concern yourself with me right now. Ill see you soon enough.
Harry sealed the letter, feeling as though he had forgiven Snape more than he realized before, but he was fearful of examining that too closely lest he trigger one of his states if that horrid sense of disloyalty took hold of him. Forcing himself to feel nothing, Harry posted his letter with one of the department owls and stepped into the Aurors office.
Shacklebolt was perusing the list of escapees. Harry read the list over his shoulder. It contained rather a large number of cross-outs, narrowing the remaining names, which highlighted the fact that they had been far less successful at finding the Death Eaters.
Did anyone check Malfoy Manor? Harry asked.
Last night. Did so myself. Deadly quiet. Just Malfoy Jr. in all his sneering glory and his little mum and wife. Even let me speak to the house-elves alone.
Hm, Harry said, thinking that had seemed a likely place for the Death Eaters to congregate.
Go wake Rogan and take this call, Shacklebolt said, jotting down the information and handing it to Harry.
Harry spent the day helping with easy assignments until a message came in that Vineet had uncovered the address of one of the Death Eaters cousins in the area of Poplar where Harry had sensed a shadow earlier. Out on the pavement before the address—two buildings away from where they had given up searching the last time—Rogan yawned, rubbed his eyes and said, Go on in, Potter. Ill watch the door.
Harry stared at the Auror. Are you sure, sir?
I apparently didnt get enough of a nap, Rogan said with a little laugh. Youre better off without me as a drag. Go on. Its just Treddleson, an old-timer. Shouldnt give you much trouble. Isnt even hanging around with the others.
Harry considered that and shrugged. Ill be right back, then, he said, not certain how to argue with the Auror assigned to order him around. Rogan had always given Harry rather more leeway than the others, and the man clearly was worn thin.
Harry stepped inside. The electric lights were out—were missing their bulbs, in fact. A rat scurried away down the unfurnished corridor that led to the stairs. After he checked that the shadow in his mind was indeed very close, Harry concentrated on keeping control of himself. He absolutely could not lose control with no one here to bail him out.
Silencing the stairs before him, Harry made it to the second floor where the address indicated flat 13. Harry rolled his eyes at that as he pondered the door. There wasnt any sound. There were procedures for these sorts of things, and Harry thought he should probably use them. Stretching his neck, he took up a position to the right of the door and holding his wand over his shoulder, fired an unlocking charm followed by a blasting curse. The door swung open and smacked against the wall. Nothing moved after that. No sound of Apparition came, either. Harry had been pondering using the spell Snape had written down for him, should he need it. He hadnt been keen on using it, given its properties, especially not to track someone so minor.
Long seconds passed. Harry put up a block and slipped around the door, wand held before him. He put his back to the wall where it would support his block. A large man in a tattered and stained vest stood on the far side of the room with his beefy hands on his hips.
Right mess ya made. Coulda knocked.
Harry risked a long blink to look around for shadows. The man before him didnt seem to be what he saw in his head. Where is he?
The cousin nodded his head behind him. Not much left of im, ya know.
Harry pushed away from the wall. Im sure, he said, thinking about Sirius state when he had escaped. Harry stepped around the man while keeping his wand aimed at him.
Hell be honored its yous come pick im up.
Right, Harry added, checking the first room, which was empty, pretty much of everything, including furniture. In the only other room sat a late middle-aged man who appeared to be repairing a split wand by winding sewing thread tightly around it. He didnt look up when Harry appeared in the doorway.
Lets go, Harry said.
Didna think anyoned bother with me . . . for a while at lees. He held up his wand and Harry stiffened, considering spells. But Treddleson quickly dropped the wand, saying, Itll prolly jus blow up on me. With a groan he pushed to his feet. He was a large man like his cousin, although his heavy flesh hung loosely around him as though he had been deflated.
Arry Potter hisself; look a that, he marveled while looking Harry up and down.
Lets go, Harry repeated, gesturing at the door with his free hand.
Don even wanna see my mark? Be certain ya got yerself the right man?
No, Im certain, Harry said confidently—too confidently, since it allowed that other self to leach in. He knew it had begun to invade, given the sense of absolute power he began to feel on top of ordinary confidence.
Treddleson turned and considered Harry. You know too much. Jus like that snake o his, Ill wager.
Some more rational part of Harrys mind shook the alien part loose upon hearing that.
Never cared for that beast, Treddleson muttered as he lumbered out the door ahead of Harry. Gave me the willies the way e knew erything she did. They way e guarded her, like e guarded that broken watch. Both of em a chain around is neck. Where ya takin me anyway?
Youll see, Harry said, thinking of Kali, thinking of the Borgin & Burkes vault, thinking of too many things all at once so that by the time Rogan took charge of the prisoner, Harry was very grateful the man hadnt taken advantage of his distracted state.
Back at the Ministry, Harry jotted out a report as a means of obtaining a brief respite from duty. He found that official phrasing could hide and consolidate rather a lot of facts. Potential phrases were floating ready in his head from the hundreds of old files he had read last week. Suspect found at address of blood relative. No magical boundaries were encountered. Suspect offered little to no resistance to arrest. Harry filled in the rest of the form quickly and pushed it aside. His eyes were heavy and his stomach empty. He rested his head on his arm for just a moment to gather enough strength to check the tearoom for a snack.
Someone shook Harry by the shoulder, waking him. Go take a break, Potter. Shacklebolt said. Theres an open bed in the training room.
Harry stood shakily and nodded. Shacklebolt sat down in his place. That was another reason he wanted Harry off: Harry had borrowed his desk. In the training room, he was surprised to find Rogan asleep in one of the other beds, but he disregarded it and crawled into the farthest bed from the door and promptly dropped off.
A fire crackled despite the warmth of the room. Harry looked around in confusion, trying to remember where he was. He felt as though he had repeatedly needed to do this, to his extreme annoyance. In a basket near his feet, sitting half across the hearthstone, Nagini lay, tightly coiled. This sight gave him immense relief. He tapped into her alert and straightforward mind to anchor himself. His followers were nearby, he sensed. This too put his mind at ease.
This confused Harry, who did not think that the presence of twenty-odd Death Eaters should be any kind of reassurance. Dizziness washed through him. A dual vision of seeing a low view of the fire, presumably out of Naginis eyes and seeing Nagini on the floor below him, made him feel sick. He wanted to let go of either or both visions, but he was fettered to them and, like a snared bird, fluttered madly and helplessly in his mind to get away.
Someone leaned close. Someone else snarled in a victorious tone. Harry twisted violently; he was being shaken by the shoulder and again suffered dual distressing visions. Greyback? Harry uttered, trying to cope with seeing the half-transformed werewolf so close that Harry could count each of his crooked and broken canine whiskers.
No, just Kingsley, Shacklebolt said, further warping Harrys reality. The Auror turned his head and said to someone else, Tristan, fetch Arthur. He turned back to Harry and shook him again as Harry continued to writhe, trying to free himself.
Let me go, Harry pleaded, brushing away at the air.
Harry, its Kingsley, the Auror insisted. Moments later another figure sat on the bed. Thinks Im Greyback. Bad nightmare, but it isnt letting him go.
Mr. Weasley leaned close. Harry? he queried in concern, brushing Harrys damp fringe back. This gesture did more for Harry than any struggle could and his viewpoint shrunk to his own with a glimmer of a second. Whats happening to you? Mr. Weasley asked.
Im seeing out of his eyes, Harry explained, falling lax since physical struggle was only fatiguing him. Let me go, damn you, Harry growled, angry enough his eyes began to water. Anger was a mistake: Greyback came sharply back into focus. Harry could hear him speaking: Master, would you like some dinner or some brandy? he asked, sounding as though he may force the second upon him. The scent of stew rose up and Harrys stomach growled. Oddly, his hunger seemed to be what prompted the hand that wasnt his own to reach out for the bowl.
Harry, Mr. Weasley prompted, sounding stern and a bit frantic. What would Severus be doing right now?
Harry concentrated hard to get beyond the vision crowding his mind so that he could dredge up the answer to that. Hed tell me to Occlude my mind.
Mr. Weasley grabbed Harrys shoulders with renewed ferocity. Harry, Occlude your mind, he ordered. Now.
Isn so easy, Harry slurred. He was losing strength; Naginis view of the world was overlaying his vision again. But Snapes sharp voice came back to him, almost as though he were right there: You know how, Potter. True, Harry murmured. You taught me.
Thinking about Snapes many lessons, feeling the swirl of confusing and conflicting emotions his adoptive father generated in him, brought Harry back wholly to the Ministry. He sat up and bent halfway over. No one moved.
All right, there, Harry? Mr. Weasley tentatively asked. When Harry nodded, Shacklebolt said, You were seeing out of Voldemorts eyes? Where was he?
Harry thought back to the vision, carefully though, not wishing to truly return. Small room. Dark. Ugly. Dark paintings on the walls. He shook his head. I dont know where he was. Greyback was there and Nagini, thats all I know.
Mr. Weasley stood and gestured at Shacklebolt, but Harry didnt catch it. Harry swung his feet to the floor but remained on the bed, waiting for his strength to return. Shacklebolt said, Just rest a minute, Harry. Bad nightmare or whatever, you dont need to get up right away.
Harry nodded. Presently, Mr. Weasley returned, carrying Harrys cloak. He gestured for Harry to stand and with little will of his own, Harry did so. His cloak was hooked around his neck. To the Burrow with you, Harry. Kingsley, you take him. Perhaps collect Ms. Granger to help keep an eye on him.
Harry looked between the two of them, feeling wounded. I just need a little rest . . . he began to argue.
You are being relieved of duty, Harry, Mr. Weasley said gently. When Harrys face fell, he added, You were correct that Nagini is missing, so this was not just a nightmare. We cannot have you around where He-Who-Shall . . . Voldemort, may overhear something, or worse yet, make you do something regrettable.
Im fine. I just lost control while I was sleeping, Harry argued. His gaze caught Rogans alarmed one from where he sat on the far bed, wand out. Shacklebolt and Mr. Weasley shared a look that made Harry wonder if they were suspecting even worse of him. All right, Harry conceded. Youll get Hermione? Harry confirmed, finding hope in that notion.
Yes, Shacklebolt assured him.
Im fine, really, Harry said again. Indeed, he was feeling very much himself now. He felt his wand in his pocket and just for a show of his state of mind, held it out, handle-first, to Shacklebolt.
I dont need it, Harry. You can keep it. He took Harrys wrist after putting a sticky charm on his hand as though he were a suspect, and a moment later they were in the field behind the Burrow.
Low cloud cover filtered the late evening light, making the way hard to discern. As they picked their way through the uneven tufts of long dead grass from the previous autumn, figures approached and demanded they identify themselves.
Its Kingsley and Harry.
One figure of three approached closer, a Lumos making his wand glow. It was Bill. Sure enough. You all right, Harry?
He needs some rest and little watching over. Arthur sent him here.
Bills attitude grew very gracious. Course. Come along.
Harry was installed in Rons bedroom in a second bed moved in just for him. Neville, who had been sitting at the kitchen table with Mrs. Weasley and his grandmother, joined the parade escorting Harry, all of whom put the rickety staircase to its worst test in years.
Harry wished for nothing more than to be left alone. He sat down on the bed and tried to think of poignant emotional things that would keep Voldemort at bay. Ron shooed everyone out except Shacklebolt, who said, Hes having too much difficulty with a certain Dark Wizard. Im going to fetch Ms. Granger to help keep an eye on him.
Ah, Ron said, rather non-commitally.
Harry said, I want her here.
Ron capitulated quickly. Course, Harry. Sorry. What about Professor Snape?
Hes helping escort the Hogwarts Express tomorrow, Harry said, by way of dissuading them from considering him. He wanted him near so badly that he felt an aversion to his actual presence. One part of Harry couldnt bear to disappoint him. Another still felt the sting of the truth of his betrayal. Yet another was scared to death that he may get angry at Snape for some reason and channel Voldemorts expected fury at him.
Ill see if I can get Transportation to give me a portkey to fetch him, Shacklebolt said, and Harry felt distinct relief that the decision had been taken away from him. Get a little rest, Harry. I think that will help you more than anything.
Harry lay back and watched Ron take out a set of pyjamas, which he set down across Harrys shin, saying, Guess I should feel better now that they wont let you help either.
You are helping, Ron. Keep me together long enough to finish this damn prophecy off, please.
Ron frowned and his brow furrowed severely. Get into those and get some sleep, Harry. Its nine already. Whens the last time you slept?
Midnight. I woke up at midnight. Harry sat up and began shucking his clothing in exchange for the worn and exceedingly soft sleepwear of Rons. They were tight around the hips and shoulders but not excessively long in the arms and legs as Harry had expected. Dressed, he dropped sideways onto the pillow with a huff. I cant take care of the prophecy from the Burrow, he complained, setting his glasses on the corner of the desk. Your dad said hed give me the leeway I needed to do so. Looks like hes changed his mind.
Go to sleep, Harry, Ron said flatly from where he had taken a seat at his small desk.
Author's Notes: Too much prepping for 2 months of summer travel . . . couldn't quite get this in under the wire.