Chapter 33 : Allies & Reflections, Part 1
| ||Rating: 15+||Chapter Reviews: 33|
Change Background: Change Font color:
“Remus, I didn’t expect to find you here,” McGonagall said from the doorway of the Defense Against the Dark Arts office.
“I stopped by the Burrow and heard that Severus was not well. I stopped by St. Mungo’s in search of Harry, but didn’t find him.”
“He was instructed by Amelia to hold a press conference. You must have missed him.”
“Severus is seriously hurt. It doesn’t look good,” Lupin said, sorting folders with more purpose than the upcoming long summer break called for.
“So you thought you would come and do his work?” McGonagall queried, simply trying to understand.
“I needed to do something meaningful. That and I had a bad moment during the riots last night. Someone recognized me for a werewolf and I found myself in a duel of sorts with several angry wizards.” He shuddered. “I find the notion of this defensive castle quite reassuring right now.”
“Harry could use your support,” McGonagall said.
Remus raised his head. “Hm.” He stood and closed the files that were open. “I have a better idea.”
He fetched a broom out of the cupboard and said, “I’ll see you later,” before departing out of the window.
Lupin Apparated when it was possible to and then strolled into Godric’s Hollow using his broomstick as a walking stick. Pamela only worked part-time so she may be home, although he wasn’t certain until she opened the door to his knock and immediately gave him a hug.
“If I knew I’d get such a reception, I’d have come sooner,” he said as he stepped inside.
“Why haven’t you?” she criticized.
“If you only knew,” he said, waving away her invitation to sit. “I need you to come cheer Harry up a bit. Severus is in hospital-”
“Severus is? What happened? Your letters said something bad was happening and then that you shouldn’t write anymore since someone could intercept the owls and that was risky.”
“That was true. Voldemort’s followers all escaped and then it turned out Voldemort was back, so I didn’t want you put at risk. But now Harry is in a bad way with all of this. He rescued Severus, but perhaps too late. I was thinking you may be able to provide some support.”
She jumped up and fumbled for her handbag. “Let’s go.”
He took hold of her hand and led her out to a copse of trees where he hovered the broomstick and helped her on it.
“Well, this is romantic,” she said. “Never flown on one of these. I’ve flown on KLM, but this is really different.”
“Apparition can be traced,” he explained.
“Things sound bad, Remus,” she said as he got on behind her and put his arms around her.
“They are, though hopefully they’re improving.” He leaned forward and the broom shot through the trees and up the hillside.
A few miles away he landed, took hold of her arm, and the next moment they were in the field beside the Burrow. Inside the house, Pamela was greeted warmly.
“Why don’t you stay and I’ll fetch Harry from St. Mungo’s?” Lupin offered.
“I want to come along,” she said, stepping out of the ring of redheads surrounding her.
“They’ll let her in with you,” Bill said when Lupin made doubtful noises. “Things are crazy over there.”
“Well, come along then,” Lupin said. “We’ll give it a try.” He took her to the closest alleyway to the hospital, since taking her in directly would set off an alarm.
At the old shop window he waited for the pavement to clear of others. “This doesn’t look much like a hospital,” Pamela said.
He stepped closer to her to say, “It’s hidden. The road has to clear.”
She stepped closer as well so that they were touching. “I guess I can wait,” she said.
“It’s good to see you,” he admitted.
“You need support too,” she suggested, reading his tone correctly.
“I didn’t have a good day yesterday either. But nothing like Harry’s so I can’t complain.”
“What happened to you?” she asked, sounding as though it mattered to her.
The road was empty now, but he explained instead of turning to the mannequins, “Wizardom rioted yesterday, on top of everything else.”
“Is that why the wizard hospital is inside a closed shop?” she asked.
“No, it always is,” he said. “But angry people will do anything and a former student from Hogwarts recognized me as a werewolf. It was one of the worst moments I’ve had in a while. This was after a harrowing train ride where we couldn’t prevent Severus from being abducted by Death Eaters.”
Her gaze widened in alarm. She glanced around. “Can we go in now?”
Lupin turned to the mannequin inside the glass. “We are here to see a patient, Severus Snape.”
The mannequin looked from one to the other of them before tilting its head and pointing at Pamela. “She has an exemption through Harry Potter, as his cousin,” he explained. The dummy’s head straightened and it moved its finger for them to come closer.
“Close your eyes,” Lupin said and led her through the glass.
It took a while to find the treatment room where Snape had been left alone. The assistant who was finally convinced to lead them there closed the door on his way out. Pamela moved beside the still form on the table and said, “Oh, this is terrible . . . but where is Harry?”
“I don’t know. I doubt he’s gone far, though.” He sniffed at the empty potion bottle left sitting on the floor beside the bed. “Hm, sleeping potion and something else,” he observed.
Pamela straightened from leaning over Snape and asked, “Sleeping potion?” She then stared up at the fairy lights in surprise because they were congregating to help her see better.
Lupin explained, “After what happened to him, he would be in a great deal of pain if he was awake.”
“Aren’t they treating him? Should we take him to a normal hospital?” she demanded.
“Pamela, a Muggle doctor would not understand that he’s been cursed and that the curse is continuing to exact its toll upon him. Yes, they are treating him. Everything is being done that can be.”
Her shoulders fell. “Where is . . . Candide, his girlfriend?”
“No one knows. He sent her away when the trouble started. I don’t even think he knows where she is.”
“Remus, this is terrible. Harry can’t lose another parent.”
Lupin scrubbed his hands together. “There is nothing else anyone can do.”
Harry, at that moment, was striding across Ward 49, approaching the far beds on the left. Mr. Longbottom was curled up under a blanket, with only the top of his mussed hair sticking out. Mrs. Longbottom was in her usual spot, holding her stuffed lion, although it was rather in need of replacement at this point. She didn’t offer it to Harry as she had the previous time he had seen her, when he and Tonks were investigating Lockhart’s disappearance. Perhaps she could not see him because an Obsfucation Charm still clung to him from slipping in behind one of the staff. He had also transformed his robes to lime green to make himself harder to spot as a stranger.
Harry shook his head; if only he had known then how much trouble Lockhart was going to turn out to be. But it wasn’t him, exactly, it was Merton. Harry stood in the quiet ward, thinking idly. He was thinking that things felt unfinished beyond Snape’s injury, and that notion loomed menacingly over him . . . until he put it aside and concentrated only on what was in front of him.
Harry had come to this ward to see the Longbottoms, who threatened to represent Snape’s future as well. Harry couldn’t imagine it, even as he stood there clearly witnessing it. He ached the strongest yet for Neville all those years, and felt nothing but panic at the notion that he too may be making visits here to someone who barely recognized him. He stepped closer to Alice Longbottom, feeling for the curse. There didn’t seem to be one. Perhaps it had faded over this much time. That carried a small reassurance with it.
Harry reached around to touch the top of her spine, where the Healer did on Snape. She didn’t move, seemed uninterested even. Harry let his focus fade and felt with startling clarity exactly what the trouble was. The radiance of her was hopelessly knotted and tangled. This explained a lot of the Healer talk that had passed between Hedgepeth and Versa about unwinding and unweaving. He could trace the tangle of her as though it were visible, as long as he didn’t concentrate too hard, in which case he could only feel the bones of her spine. He relaxed until he could see again, and gave the smallest tug to loosen the least-tangled of the knots. Something similar to a curse rose from this action like heat. Harry Staunched the heat with the same cold he was taught to use for bleeding. The knot relaxed with one less twist in it. Harry stood, listening to his own breathing for over a minute, before trying another.
Time passed; Harry had no idea how much. He had no sense either if anyone else had come into the ward since he had arrived. Surely the Obsfucation Charm had worn off even if his paltry disguise had not. There was nothing beneath his fingers left to unknot that had not become part of a solid mass, which seemed very unwise to touch. He ran his fingers up and down making sure all of the heat was gone and all of the easy tangles had been unwound. Mrs. Longbottom swayed under Harry’s hand and, frightened, Harry lowered her to her bed and leaned close, ready to call for an alarm with the large button on the wall. But she seemed only to be sleeping, he discovered with profound relief.
Harry turned and lowered the blanket slightly on Mr. Longbottom. He could feel nothing when he touched him. He truly needed to be awake, just as the Healer had insisted with Snape, and awake was not a state Mr. Longbottom ever seemed to be in. Harry pulled the blanket back over Longbottom’s head and could see his own hand shaking. He needed to eat, desperately. Danishes sounded wonderful, and this made him smile crookedly.
In the corridor, he was startled to encounter his cousin Pamela. “Harry!” she exclaimed and gave him a long hug.
“What are you- Oh, Remus. Hello,” he said to his former teacher.
“How are you, Harry?” Pamela asked firmly as though expecting him to lie.
“In need of dinner,” Harry said. “Shall we get some?” He was keen on eating really well and coming right back to the hospital.
“I’ll cook. Take us to my place,” she insisted, glancing between them.
Remus took them to the field outside the town adjacent to Godric’s Hollow. “I’ll come back for you, Harry,” he suggested, but Harry transformed into a Gryffylis and tossed his head to say that he would follow. Pamela would have fallen over backward at the sight of him had Lupin not caught her. “He is a vision, isn’t he?” he asked, amused.
Pamela found her feet and stepped forward, clearly intrigued. “What is that?”
“Harry. Showing off,” Lupin suggested, teasing.
“You sound jealous,” Pamela returned gently. She raised up her hand and Harry bent his head down to get a rub on the short fur atop his nose. “Wow, what big eyes you have,” she said.
“Better to eat you with,” Lupin drawled.
“No, he’s beautiful,” Pamela argued. “Eat you with . . . sheesh.” She rolled her eyes.
Lupin looked Harry over with a more discerning eye. “Maybe I can manage an Obsfucation Charm strong enough to cover you,” he said, and held out his wand for Harry to bow his head low again to have the charm applied.
As they flew, Pamela pointed out things along the way, excited this time to be flying. “I had a boyfriend once with a motorbike. I thought that was the tops.”
Harry veered away from them around a patch of small trees, thinking that he would have to loan Lupin his motorbike for next time.
Pamela said, “Sometimes I can see Harry, and sometimes I can’t.”
“That’s because you know he is there,” Lupin explained. “Otherwise you wouldn’t see him at all.”
The copse near her house again covered their landing. Harry returned to himself and staggered.
“Are you all right, Harry?” Lupin asked. “You look like I do after transforming.”
“I’m all right,” Harry insisted. “A little short on food and sleep.” He was thinking that Versa’s collapses were not so overdone.
Harry crashed onto the couch and they let him sleep while they cooked. Harry woke to soft conversation and rubbed his eyes. The scent of tomato sauce filled the small house. He longed to rush back to St. Mungo’s but had to eat, he knew. He listened to the two of them making dinner with a small smile before he went into the dining room and leaned on the door jamb to the kitchen.
“Well, have a good sleep?” Pamela asked. She then stopped, holding a steaming bowl of sauce before her. “What happened to your eyes? I thought they looked strange earlier, but I thought it was just the funny lights at that magic hospital.”
Harry frowned and looked down. “It’s a long story,” he said.
“Strange. I didn’t know eyes could change like that,” she said, carrying the bowl past him to the table. “Have a seat.” When they were all seated, she asked Lupin, “Did you know that could happen?” He nodded soberly. “What causes it?”
Harry had insight at that moment into Snape’s difficulty with her curiosity.
“Harry performed magic too powerful for him,” Lupin explained.
“It wasn’t too powerful for me,” Harry argued.
“I don’t think it would have done that to your eyes if it hadn’t been,” Lupin said.
“What did you do?” Pamela asked while passing the serving spoons to Lupin.
“I turned Voldemort into a Muggle.”
“Good idea,” she said after a pause. “Then you can just put him in any jail, right?”
“Then he can’t come back from the dead again, was more my thinking,” Harry said while pouring sauce onto his pasta.
“He has a habit of doing that?”
“Yes,” Harry replied disgustedly.
Everyone else started eating, but Pamela asked, “Is Severus going to be all right?”
Lupin frowned and moved as though he wished she had not asked that. Harry said, “I hope so.”
After a filling meal where Harry ate thirds for the first time since he was a first-year at school and was trying to keep up with Ron at dinner, he Apparated back to St. Mungo’s from a spot miles and miles away from the village. He was grateful for Lupin’s care that no one learn that wizard activity was happening in the village again. It looked as though Lupin might spend more of the evening there as well, which made Harry feel light-hearted despite everything else.
Back in the treatment room, Hedgepeth was working on Snape again, but he did not look as self-possessed as before. His hair had fallen out of its pompadour and had been flattened on one side as though slept on. He gestured for Harry to take over from Shankwell the task of keeping Snape awake. Hedgepeth gave up soon after, drooping and with the rings below his eyes even more pronounced. He didn’t look at Harry before he departed. Shankwell moved to give Snape more potion, but Harry intercepted him saying, “I want to talk to him a little.”
Shankwell nodded with some sadness and departed. Harry set the potion down beside the wall where no one would see it should they come in. He added a sticking charm to the latch to make it open only with effort. He then bent over his guardian. “Severus, wake up,” Harry said, yet again. Snape was barely aware of what was happening. Heart pounding rapidly, Harry reached around to the back of his neck and instinctively jerked his hand away. The tangle was still forming like a living thing, cursed and miserable. Harry breathed in and out a few times and unfocused his eyes again. He Staunched the curse, slowly and gradually, just in case he could do damage working too hard on such a critical spot. Snape relaxed so much he slipped into sleep and Harry had to shake him awake quite violently.
Harry Staunched more until the curse eased and stopped growing. He then began unwinding and unravelling with immense patience, remembering bending for hours over the small band he had been taught to weave in Finland. This was both harder and easier than with Alice Longbottom. On her, the curse had long since dissipated, but with Snape it would start up again as soon as Harry eased off. But here all of the raveling could come apart again; none of it was fused. Harry unwound everything with great care over nearly an hour. He pushed the curse away out of the radiance so it wouldn’t re-tangle. This was the most difficult task; the curse was slippery, it felt as though he were trying to push oil down under a layer of water. Harry Staunched the heat of the curse and then pushed the curse itself away. Everything remained as it should for a few moments but the curse began to seep in again as simmering vile heat. Harry cooled it and pushed it away again. Finally, after repeating this until he was shaking, the winding and tangling didn’t begin again.
Harry let go. He let Snape fall asleep. He watched him breathing, certain he was dreaming. The lights in the room appeared to have changed color his eyes were so tired. He rubbed them and fetched the potion from the floor, put it in his pocket, and stepped out.
It was night time. The corridor had been dimmed. Harry swayed, threatening to collapse. He Disapparated for Hermione’s flat. He must have passed out when he arrived because the next thing he knew Hermione was bending over him with a water spritzing charm.
“Harry, are you all right?” she asked frantically. She was wearing a pink dressing gown and fuzzy pink slippers and seemed like a dream as well, albeit an alcohol-induced one.
“Yeah.” He pushed himself to sit up. The electric lights were on and they stung his eyes.
“You had a bottle of sleeping potion in your pocket, but it broke. Doesn’t look like you need it though,” she commented, sweeping the broken glass away with her wand. “Here, take off your robe so I can clean it properly and so you don’t get cut.”
Harry stood and clumsily did so.
“Did you get hit with something?” she asked. “Do you need a Healer?”
“I’m fine, really,” Harry said, feeling better than he had in a long while, considering his state. He felt hopeful, which was sustenance for his starved spirit. “I just need some sleep. Do you mind?”
She waved her couch into a bed and gestured for him to help himself to it. “Thanks,” he said, flopping down. She moved about turning off the lights. “Did you see the evening papers?” Harry asked.
“Yeah,” she replied.
“Were they any better than the morning papers?”
“A bit.” The last light went off.
“Hmf,” Harry said, rolling over to pillow his head on his arm. Crookshanks jumped up on the bed and sniffed his face. “You don’t think I’m an evil wizard, do you?” he asked, letting it sound vaguely playful to cover.
She scoffed from the doorway to her bedroom. “No. I think you lack restraint. But that’s always been the case.”
“Okay,” Harry said, deciding that he really didn’t want to get into it, even though he himself had brought it up.
Hermione woke him while cooking breakfast seemingly moments later. Harry shakily made it to the table where he downed all the toast. “Have you been eating?” Hermione asked.
“Not enough, I guess.”
She put more toast on. “You’re a wreck, Harry. I hate to ask, but really want to know if Professor Snape is doing any better. How is he?”
“I don’t know. I hope better. They sent a Healer from Liverpool to look him over.” Harry felt this fib flow out of him without effort. He felt defensive, even about this, even with such an old friend. Until he saw Severus healthy he couldn’t bear to assume he really was and he couldn’t admit to his very practical friend what reckless thing he had just tried.
“I hope he gets better, Harry,” she said.
“Thanks,” Harry said. “And thanks for breakfast, I have to go. Be careful still,” he admonished before disappearing.
Snape woke slowly and found Shankwell bending over him. He had been moved back to the ward and the noise of people eating breakfast sounded too normal. He stared up at the healer in a strange daze. It required long moments to figure out what was wrong, and what was wrong was that the pain was gone. It had become part of his core, his entire reality, and now he floundered without it.
When he lifted his head, Shankwell said, “Are you feeling better?” with some surprise.
“Yes,” Snape replied. “Considerably.”
McGonagall stepped in at that moment. “Severus, you are awake,” she said, pleased.
“Yes,” he replied again, unable to come up with more. He sat up with determination, done with lying down for now. He ached everywhere from inactivity.
Shankwell stared at him in surprise. “You are that much better?”
“Yes.” Snape stared at McGonagall. “I am talking like a parrot, however.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“Let me fetch Hedgepeth,” Shankwell said, raising his wand to send a message.
“I am deathly tired of that man,” Snape grumbled.
McGonagall took hold of Snape’s arm. “Are you really feeling better?”
“Yes,” he replied with annoyance. “Why do you keep asking? There have been a tag-team of Healers tormenting me for the last day. Lucky I’m still sane enough to complain about it, I suppose.”
Hedgepeth came in and stared at Snape. “You are feeling better,” he said. It wasn’t a question, so Snape didn’t answer it.
The man stepped around and put his hand on the back of his neck, which made Snape stiffen but he held still for it. “Well,” Hedgepeth said, “That is remarkable.” At Snape’s odd look he quickly added, “But very good. Wasn’t sure how many more rounds we could manage, quite honestly.” He stepped back a few feet and put his hands on his hips, looking vaguely confused.
Snape decided he finally had the luxury of ignoring him. He moved his legs as a test before swinging them to the side. “I am getting out of here,” he grumbled.
“Severus, are you certain?” McGonagall asked in alarm.
“Yes. I cannot take it here any longer,” he said, standing up. Shankwell pulled the curtain so he could get dressed, which he did, clumsily enough that he was grateful no one could see. He was straightening his collar when Harry appeared. His face upon finding him upright cancelled out rather a lot of the previous day’s misery. Harry’s face expressed pure joy and then he bit his lip as though forcing even more of it down.
“You’re all right,” Harry said.
Snape pulled his spine straighter than it really wished to be. “Yes. That’s why I am leaving. Going home.”
“Where are you going to go?” Harry asked.
“Ah,” Snape said as he tossed his former hospital gown aside. “I had forgotten. Perhaps Candide’s flat.”
“You may return to the castle,” McGonagall offered.
“I just got out of the castle for the year.”
“You still have enemies abroad, Severus,” McGonagall warned.
“And they won’t find me if they don’t know where I am.”
“Anything I can do for you?” McGonagall asked.
“Check me out of this place if you would,” Snape said, and held his hand out for Harry to grasp. Harry did so, but didn’t know where to Apparate away to. He took Snape to the stairwell of the accounting firm where Candide worked. The offices were dark either because they were closed or because it was too early for them to have opened. Snape Apparated them the rest of the way, although he sat heavily on the bed when they arrived.
“Severus, are you certain that you should have left like that?” Harry asked in alarm.
Bent over with his hand propping up his head, Snape replied, “I’ve been horizontal too long is all. I am fine.”
“You look like you need to be again,” Harry pointed out.
Snape glanced around the room. It really was terribly small, even as bedsits go. Harry asked, “What are you looking for?”
“Something to eat.”
Harry made a quick search of the cupboards. “I’ll run down to the Cauldron for some soup; all right? If you haven’t eaten for a while you shouldn’t have anything heavy.”
“Yes, Mother,” Snape said quietly.
“Keep that up and I’ll bring your mother here,” Harry threatened, but he smiled afterward. “I’m very glad you’re better, Severus.”
With a regretful twitch of his lips, Snape said, “I’m sorry I gave up.”
“You didn’t really. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here,” Harry pointed out. They stared at each other until Harry said, “I’ll fetch the soup.”
Harry Apparated down to the end of Knockturn Alley, and then tried to make sure that no one followed him as he walked to the Leaky Cauldron. Perhaps it was his extra paranoia, but he felt uneasy, as though someone did follow. The few early morning denizens of Knockturn watched him warily and he watched them back the same. Finally, he strode out into the sunlight of Diagon, turning repeatedly to check the corner leading to Knockturn, but no one came out before he reached the end. In the Cauldron, things were relatively normal and the guests were breakfasting. Tom slapped his hand on the bar upon recognizing him.
“Harry, Harry,” he said in warm greeting. “What can we do for you?”
“Soup. I need take-away.”
Tom rubbed his head. “I can put a bit of last-night’s on the fire for you.”
“Just put it in a cauldron and I’ll heat it myself.” He waited while Tom ladled soup out. A family by the hearth was watching him as though he were part of routine in a circus, one perhaps involving fire and long sharp knives. “Have a nice breakfast,” Harry said to them upon departing, pretending that he couldn’t see the fascinated worry in them.
Harry half expected Snape to be unconscious when he arrived, but he was still sitting up, looking thoughtful. Harry heated the soup with a charm and put it in a bowl.
“You have your wand back,” Snape observed as he accepted the soup.
“Yeah, the Weasleys gave it back after Voldemort was taken care of.” This still stung. He turned the single chair backwards and sat close to Snape, resting his chin on the chair back. “I’m really glad you’re better.”
“You said that,” Snape pointed out.
“It’s still true.”
A bird twittered outside on the sill. Snape finished the soup and handed the bowl over to Harry who asked if he wanted seconds. Snape shook his head. Harry rinsed the bowl and watched his guardian rubbing the back of his neck. Harry ached to check if he was really all right, but that would lead to long explanations.
“The Wizengamot are meeting this evening to decide what to do with me,” Harry said, mostly to distract himself. “But you’re all right, so I don’t care what happens.”
Snape stood and stepped over to him. His robes smelt of the freshening charm that the hospital also used on the linens. “Do try to care before you walk into the meeting, if you could.”
“I’ll try,” Harry said. He glanced around. “Maybe I should fetch the chess set in the meantime.”
“The Ministry does not expect you?” Snape asked in disbelief. “You must have duties.”
“I want to keep an eye on you. You don’t even have a wand, do you?” Harry asked.
“Perhaps I will go procure another one from Mr. Ollivander,” Snape said. “Were you truly intending to babysit?” he asked sharply.
“I was thinking about it, yeah,” Harry said.
“Given your skills at detecting Death Eaters, you are much better employed doing that.” Harry closed his eyes a moment, prompting Snape to ask, “Any on Diagon Alley?”
Harry shook his head.
“Well, that is something. Must be in confusion.”
“No one is certain who survived,” Harry pointed out.
“I am. Would you like a list?” he asked.
“Very much so,” Harry said.
Snape’s gaze grew distant. “Bellatrix was absent when the attack started so I suspect she is still around. Greyback leapt out of the window and Avery had been sent away on a task. MacNair is dead for certain.” Snape went on with the list.
“You’re certain Bellatrix escaped?” Harry asked and then remembered. “Oh, yeah, Voldemort insulted her, didn’t he?” he said, thinking aloud. Snape’s narrow look of surprise made Harry say, “I thought you knew I was seeing everything. I thought that was why you distracted Voldemort by using his real name.” When Snape shook his head, Harry added, “Well, that explains why you didn’t announce where you were so I would know. It wasn’t until I saw Pansy that I knew. Thanks for the distraction, even it if was an accident. I needed it.”
Snape clenched and rubbed his hands together still deep in thought. “Draco and Pansy survived, I assume?” Snape asked.
“People at the Ministry said they did.”
Snape sat back down on the bed and stared at the wall. “And you have returned to yourself, it seems.”
Harry exhaled, tossing the tea towel he held about as he gestured broadly. “I still have part of Voldemort in me, and I don’t want it.”
“I don’t think you have any choice.”
“I can do the spell again,” Harry insisted. Snape’s eyes rose in a very dark look. Harry added, “I don’t want him in me. I don’t want him coming back.”
“He isn’t dead, how can he come back?” Snape retorted.
“I did the spell once, why don’t you think I can do it again?”
Snape rubbed his forehead as though he were fighting a serious headache. “Harry, you performed the spell on someone who was not whole to begin with, a human menagerie of sorts. That is not the same.”
Harry appeared merely stubborn. Snape said, “If I find you are attempting such a spell, Harry, I will take your wand away and toss you into the lower Hogwarts dungeon for a very long time.”
“You can’t,” Harry retorted, feeling acid pleasure at saying that. “I can Apparate anywhere. Even inside of Hogwarts.” When Snape simply stared at him, Harry said, “Want me to prove it? What would you like from your office?”
“A book,” Snape said, gesturing at the small shelf above the hearth where a pile of Witch Weekly was stacked. “There isn’t anything here to read.”
Harry disappeared. There was no sound; he simply vanished. He reappeared the same way ten seconds later. It was as though Snape had blinked, rather than Harry exiting, except he held out the latest issue of Potions Review, still in its envelope which had Snape’s address on it at Hogwarts. Snape straightened and tilted his head back. “How did you do that?”
“I slip into the Dark Plane, Apparate there, and slip out again.” Harry was glad to tell someone this; he felt unburdened by doing so.
Snape turned the rough grey envelope over to examine it. “Do not let anyone know that you can do that, Harry. Does anyone know already?” he asked, sounding deeply concerned.
Snape thought that over. “That may be all right. I may use a memory charm on him though, just in case.” He tore open the envelope and banished the wrapping with a toss of his hand.
“You have to teach me how to do that,” Harry said.
“Allow me to cling to one spell that you do not know,” Snape said gruffly. He set the potions journal aside and said, “Harry, if you attempt the Crux Horridus you will put us all at risk.”
“How so?” Harry asked, still sounding difficult. “Seems like not doing it is the real risk.”
“You must kill someone first, of course or, even if you had a convenient accidental death to utilize for it, you are casually discussing cleaving your soul. You would damage yourself and not know it. You would become the very menace you most fear.” Snape rubbed his hair back and added, “And given your skills, it would be end of wizardom, I believe.”
Harry stared at him, judging his seriousness. He swallowed hard. “So, I’m just stuck with it?”
“You feel whole, correct?” When Harry nodded, Snape added, “Then you are whole, I believe, and you are stuck.” After long seconds, Snape added, “And you promised.”
Harry nodded reluctantly, frowning.
Silence descended until Snape said, “Perhaps you will heat me a bit more of that soup.”
Harry jumped to do that, solicitously handing over a steaming bowl a minute later.
“You are turning into a house-elf again,” Snape criticized, but his eyes held affection. When Harry bit his lip as he turned away, Snape added, “Sorry, you are worn too thin, I see.”
“I thought I was going to lose you when I need you the most,” Harry said, not looking up from bending over the kitchen sink where he had started the dishes with almost an obsessive attitude.
“You should be capable of getting by without me,” Snape said slowly, holding off on eating.
Harry wiped his cheek on the edge of his sleeve with a jerking motion, surprised it had become wet.
“Harry,” Snape said painfully. He set the bowl on the small shelf above the bed and came over to where Harry was putting things away. He tugged on Harry’s arm to get him to stop what he was doing and turn toward him.
“You should read the papers before thinking I don’t need you anymore. What’s a Darkness Test, anyway?”
Snape’s eyes narrowed. “They intend to run one on you?”
“So Minister Bones has warned me. Minerva made her put it off until the next regular meeting of the Wizengamot.”
“There will be time to prepare you, then,” Snape stated confidently. “Keep your soul whole and you will do fine.”
A knock sounded on the door. Harry ran a peep-hole spell and opened the door for McGonagall. She greeted them both. “Still feeling all right, Severus?” she inquired. Fawkes flapped to the coat rack and fluffed himself.
He nodded. “I can keep an eye on Severus if you wish to check in with the Ministry, Harry,” McGonagall said. She sounded as though she wished to speak to Snape alone or wished to rescue Harry’s career, or perhaps some of both.
Harry hung the tea towel back up and Disapparated for the upstairs of the Leaky Cauldron, and then from there to the Ministry alleyway, just to make it harder for him to be traced. Things were reassuringly busier inside the Ministry. He even had to wait in queue at the temporary reception desk.
Back in Candide’s flat, McGonagall said, “I would like Pomfrey to take a look at you, Severus.”
“For what reason?” he demanded, crossing his arms.
“Neither Healer at St. Mungo’s who treated you seems to believe that they did so successfully.”
“They must have, I am here and feeling quite well.”
“I’m wondering if you have slipped into insanity in such a way as to not be recognizable as such.”
“Oh, well, thank you,” he said, truly insulted.
“It will only require a few minutes, Severus.” She stepped to the door and opened it again. The Hogwarts Healerwitch stood in the corridor.
Snape sat when instructed and waited impatiently through an examination. While putting her things away in her black bag, Pomfrey said, “He seems to be quite all right. Underfed as usual and lacking in proper exercise.”
“No sign of a curse disorder?” McGonagall asked.
“Not more than usual,” came the reply, which made Snape roll his eyes.
“If you both don’t mind,” Snape said stiffly, “I would like to get some quiet rest for once, which is surprisingly difficult in hospital.”
“I told Harry I would keep an eye on you,” McGonagall said, shrugging off her cloak and hanging it over the chair. Pomfrey made her departure, leaving them alone to glare at each other.
With a huff Snape reclined on the bed, arms still crossed. “You wouldn’t by chance have an extra wand on you, would you?” he asked.
“You didn’t get yours back?”
“Perhaps the Ministry has it. Perhaps Draco has found it. I don’t know. I’m not actually certain who took it from me since I was unconscious at the time.” He re-crossed his arms to put the other on top. “I feel quite naked without it,” he admitted.
“Ollivander’s should re-open this week. He cleared out his shop during the riots but promised to reopen as soon as he could.”
Snape rolled his eyes again and shook his head at his poor luck.
“Ah,” McGonagall said, standing suddenly. “Will you be all right alone for two minutes?”
“Yes,” Snape stated forcefully. McGonagall smiled, prompting Snape to ask, “What?” with equal force.
“It is very good to see you in such typical spirits, Severus,” she said, which deflated his annoyance before it could become anger. “I will be right back.” She closed the door. Snape watched it sparkle momentarily from the impervious spell she put on it from the other side.
She was absent slightly longer than two minutes, which gave him time to peruse the Potions journal Harry had brought him. He wasn’t reading though, so much as thinking about how Harry had fetched it.
After she shrugged off her cloak, McGonagall held out two wands. “Try the red one first.”
“Where did you get these?”
“Try it first and I will tell you.”
Snape waved a hover charm at the stack of magazines on the mantelpiece. They hovered well enough, but the charm required two waves to be cancelled out. “Better than nothing, I suppose,” he said, studying the poor workmanship of the wood.
“You are not using it properly,” she said pleasantly. She placed an unlit lamp on the mantelpiece beside the magazines and incanted: “Wingardifacis Leviosa.” The magazines hovered and the lamp lit. She handed the wand back. Snape stared at her strangely. “It is the 3W Mark 2 Ultimate Duelers Wand. Lets you cast two spells at once. Still experimental, however. No guarantees.”
Snape accepted it back and gave it a more positive appraisal. “The trick, I assume is in the incantation in order to avoid hovering the lamp and igniting the magazines, not that there would be any great loss in that.”
Handing over the second one, she said, “You may have that one and here is a normal one that the twins do not believe they have damaged yet while experimenting on it. The first one is supposed to allow for simultaneous block and attack during a duel. The twins are apparently keen to outfit all duelers with them in next year’s tournament to raise the excitement level.”
“And their sales level, I would assume,” Snape added dryly. “I will have to thank them . . . unless they did not realize the wands were for me.”
“No, they did,” McGonagall assured him. When Snape hmmed she said, “The Weasleys are nothing if not forgiving.”
He glared at her, holding off on trying another spell. “What? You think I was too hard on them.”
“Yes. I do.”
Snape shook his head and stared down the length of the wand while aiming it. “Troublemakers, all of them. Except Percy, that is.” He snuffed the lamp and made the top Witch Weekly hover up and open to the first page with a Hands-free Reader’s Charm. “Hm,” he said. “Damn creative of them, though.”
McGonagall grinned and took the other seat in the room.
“Now I truly do not need sitting,” Snape pointed out.
“I promised Harry,” McGonagall repeated.
Snape experimented with the wand a while longer before turning to the journal and trying to ignore his colleague. His head nodded shortly after and the wand slipped from his hand. McGonagall picked it up from the rug and set it on the shelf close by.
McGonagall went to the mantelpiece and took down the top magazine, realizing that even though it was months old, she hadn’t had time to read her own copy. The first article discussed hair color, highlighting, and what it implied about a witch’s personality. The author insisted that those who were still clinging to the old style of warts on the nose, could trade that in for green highlights as long as they were of sufficiently disturbing green. Her reading of this escapist pointlessness was interrupted by the latch turning. She pleased herself with how rapidly she was up with her wand out, but it was only the flat’s owner.
“Headmistress . . .” Candide began before noticing that she was being shushed. “Severus!” she exclaimed, waking Snape anyway.
“Candide?” He sat up and looked around to get his bearings. “I am quite certain I didn’t send for you yet,” he criticized, rubbing his head.
She propped her hands on her hips. “Good to see that you are better than the newspapers made you out to be,” she said with feeling. When this didn’t reduce his annoyed glare, she said, “One: I couldn’t figure out how you were going to send for me when you didn’t know where I was-” “I have ways,” Snape muttered. She went on, talking over him, “And two: it seemed unlikely that you would manage to do so from the ward for the incurably insane.” At his derisive look, she pulled out a newspaper from her large handbag and held it out. It had been folded all sorts of ways to put an inner article on top. He waved it off. “It says that the Healers expected you to be moved, permanently, to the closed ward by tomorrow.”
Snape scratched his ear, accepted the paper, but set it aside, unread.
Candide said, “So, I thought I should come. I tried not to read the papers, but it became too hard to not seek out any information and there were a lot of other magic folk half-hiding the way I was so it was harder to get away than I thought.”
McGonagall put her cloak back on. “Perhaps I will leave you two alone.” She exited, wearing a small smile.
Candide picked up the journal and newspaper from the bed to set them aside, and sat on the edge close to Snape. “You aren’t really unhappy to see me, are you?” He shook his head, and she bent forward to kiss him.
“What was that for?” he asked, but the rancor was absent from his voice.
“That is usually its own reward,” he commented. He leaned back into a reclining position and closed his eyes.
“Are you certain you’re all right?” Candide asked in concern.
Without opening his eyes, Snape said, “If another person asks me that I am going to start throwing curses around.”
“Sorry,” she said affectionately. “Didn’t realize anyone else cared enough to ask.”
Snape canted one eye open to glare at her but she only smiled mischievously and kissed him again.
Neville Longbottom was let into Ward 49 with very little notice, given how familiar all the staff were with his presence. His parents were as they usually were: his father sleeping and his mother sitting up, staring into the distance beyond the far wall. His mother held out a stick of chewing gum to him.
“Thanks,” Neville said. Usually it was only the wrapper that he received. “Sure you don’t want it?”
She shook her head. Well, it was barely a shake, more of a sideways nod, but it was a response that made him freeze in surprise. He often spoke to her, but usually received only pointless reactions in return that he couldn’t help but string together into something that made sense. Neville put the stick of gum in his pocket. “Uh . . .” he said, not certain what to say next. “Oh, yeah, Voldemort is gone again. Well, sort of. Harry did something quite startling this time. I thought I should come and tell you though that everything was all right again.”
There was no reaction to this and his heart raced. Maybe it had just been a coincidence. “Maybe the staff already mentioned it,” he muttered.
“My old friend came,” she said. Her voice was scratchy, unused to speech. Neville nearly fainted.
“What? Who?” Neville leaned on the bed and glanced around, but there were no staff just then, the hospital was still very short-handed. He moved closer, half sitting. “Did you just say something?” he finally asked, thinking he must have imagined it.
“So long,” she said, sounding wistful.
“So long since what? I’m sorry I couldn’t visit the last few days. It’s been madness. You’ve been lucky to be in here where it’s quiet.”
After a long pause, she said, “Old friend.”
Neville tugged on his hair with both hands and then made himself relax. It was almost more maddening to have her communicating about things he did not understand than not communicating at all. He said, “Wait here. I’m going to go get the Healer.”
He returned minutes later with Healer Strout. “She was talking,” he was explaining. “Well, sort of. I’m not sure what she was talking about though. Did someone come visit her?”
The Healer shook her head and examined Alice Longbottom. “She seems about the same. Maybe a little more reactive to stimulus.”
“Say something, Mum,” Neville urged.
Healer Strout appeared dubious, but Mrs. Longbottom said, “Nice lady,” while patting the Healer’s arm.
“Well, that is quite extraordinary, especially given how long it has been.” The Healer bent over the chart which rarely got more than small status tick marks on it. “I’ll order a full assessment to see how she is doing.” She hung the chart back up and said, “Talk to your son, he’s waited a long time to speak to you.” She then strode out.
Neville sat across from his mother and said, “Do you remember me?”
Without really looking at him, she patted his arm too and said, “Nice boy.”
“Well, that’s something, I guess,” Neville said quietly. He glanced at his father, but he hadn’t moved. Neville sighed and patted his mother’s hand in return.
Harry made it to the front of the queue at the Ministry temporary reception desk. “Potter, right?” the clerk asked. It was the usual man, not the young one who had been there previously. “You’re on the roster addendum, go on.” He waved Harry off. This lightened Harry’s mood until he reached the atrium where workers were repairing the fountain, pouring concrete into a magical form. The man running the mixer stared at him in surprise when Harry stopped to watch them work. He elbowed his companion and this man also stared at him, gaze shifting to suspicious. Harry turned and stepped away, encountering a woman hovering stacks of boxes from the dungeons. The boxes were stained as though they had been wet recently. She stepped to the side quickly to let him pass. He wanted to stop and demand to know what she thought he was going to do, but he knew what she had been reading and his attention would only make it worse. What could he say to fix that kind of fear? Even before everything happened, the press had been telling people that he had gone dark and now his defeat of Voldemort could believably be merely his elimination of a rival. It didn’t calm most people down to think that, even if things were much better now.
Harry tried not to let his shoulders slump as he waited for the next lift. Three of them were functional now and banging from below indicated that others were being repaired.
The Auror’s office was empty except for Tonks, who sat at her desk, writing out a report by bending far over it as though badly nearsighted. Harry suddenly feared her reaction to him would be the same as everyone else’s.
“Hi,” Harry said quietly.
Tonks glanced up. “Hey, Harry,” she said casually.
Harry’s heart did a strange little dance of relief.
“Ready for the Wizengamot this evening?” she asked, as though it were merely a Quidditch match he may be playing in, not yet another determination on his future.
“I think so,” he replied. He felt as though she had just handed him his future already by treating him as she always did. She kept writing. He liked the way her shoulder arched into her neck the way she sat with her black robes hanging loose behind her, pulled down by the weight of the hood.
She stood and Harry failed to get out of her way even knowing that she would be heading for the file room. “Harry?” she asked in a dubious voice as though thinking him clumsy or distracted.
He was indeed incredibly distracted because he had his hands on her arms and the scent of her was so strong.
She seemed to read his thoughts. “Harry . . .” she began chastisingly. But he kissed her before she could say more. A breath later she was kissing him back and when footsteps sounded in the corridor, approaching, Harry Apparated them away.
“Harry,” she scolded lightly again upon looking around his bedroom. Harry hadn’t thought carefully before coming here. The room was unexpectedly cool, damp, and breezy. A blue tarp fluttered over the hole in the roof, making Harry wonder who had taken care of that. The room had been emptied of everything except the bed and the wardrobe, which had its own tarp protecting it. Tonks wasn’t angry, more resigned to his actions and reluctantly tolerant, which gave Harry a rush.
“They’re going to kick me out anyway,” Harry said, stepping close again. All he cared about at that instant was that she didn’t care what he had done and thought of him exactly as she had before. Her hair cycled to light brown, something he rarely saw short of a disguise.
She tried to cross her arms but he stopped her. “They don’t want to kick you out, Harry. Not everyone, anyway. They didn’t leave you any choice about what you did.”
Harry kissed her again and pushed her back onto the bare mattress of the bed, laying across her. He lifted his head and waited for her to say something. Her eyes dodged away before coming back to his.
“This makes things so much more complicated,” she warned.
He ran his fingers through her hair. She still had two small scars at the edge of her hairline from the explosion at Azkaban. He traced those lightly and then kissed them.
“You’re not listening to me and you are making this very difficult,” she said.
“I don’t care,” Harry repeated, and it was the absolute truth.
“You’ve looked so lost lately,” she said, brushing his hair back, even though gravity pulled it forward again. “You look like you’ve found yourself now, though.” she said.
“I have,” he said, bending to kiss her long neck.
She slapped him on the arm once and then put her arms around him. “Oh, hell,” she muttered.
Harry had fallen asleep in a tangle of his cloak and came to awareness only gradually. Tonks was warm and pleasing against him.
“I need to get back to the Ministry,” she said. “I didn’t technically sign out.”
“You’ve been there non-stop for days. Don’t you deserve a break?” he asked.
“Yes. I certainly needed a nap . . . and other things . . . but there is always a call that isn’t going to get handled if I leave.”
He studied her eyes which were violet right then. He felt on hold. He badly needed to know if this was just another one-time.
“What’s wrong, Harry?” she asked.
“Can I take you out to dinner tonight?” he asked. “Come over to your place afterward?”
“Well,” she said, “they can’t afford to fire us as far as I can tell. You have to face the Wizengamot this evening and here you are breaking even more rules.” She sat up and scratched her head. She was amazingly beautiful as she moved to pick up her clothes. “Your timing could be a little better.”
“I needed you,” Harry said even though his pride railed at that statement.
Her shoulders fell and she gave him a look of sympathy. “I noticed,” she said.
“Everyone is scared to death of me,” Harry said, needing understanding more than his pride for another round.
“That sucks, but they’ll get over it. And if they don’t . . . too bad for them.” She stood to slip on her robe. Her hair straightened up and she looked herself again. “I’ll go back first. You should wait a while before following.” She looked down at herself and shook her robes out. “Might as well not invite disaster right away.”
Harry grinned. She studied his eyes with something different than everyone else did, as though she wanted to understand. “Later, Harry,” she said and then departed.
Harry dressed and hooked on his cloak. The scent of smoke had faded. The house had aired out at least, with all of the broken windows and open holes in the roof. He needed to arrange to get it repaired. He didn’t know where to hire wizards like the ones working in the Ministry today. Not that he wished to invite them over to give an estimate, particularly. Maybe they should hire Muggle workers instead.
He grew bored within a minute of standing in his room to delay departing and took himself to Hagrid’s cottage to check on his pet. Fang the Boarhound and Willy the Pranticore were sitting against opposite walls—Fang on the bed, using Hagrid’s huge pillow as a shield, Willy below the window. They were eyeing each other with low regard. Kali lay curled in a homemade cage hanging from the ceiling. She raised her head when he touched the cage and then stood up, moving each leg carefully. The cage was too small for her to stretch her wings fully so he lifted her out. She flapped and stretched on his hand, wings marred by the black lines of tar and the tiny white threads that bound the membranes back together.
“Maybe you shouldn’t fly for a while,” he said to her. “Maybe that’s why Hagrid put you in that smaller cage. Looks like he made it just for you, in fact.”
She tilted her head at him as though listening. Fuzzy violet fur had already begun to cover her bare spots. He shifted her to his sleeve because she was pricking him with the one claw remaining on her injured front paw. She must be overcompensating and could not avoid doing so.
“If I had a home to take you back to, I’d do so, but I think you should stay here and let Hagrid keep looking after you. Hedwig’s at the Burrow, but I think it is better here for you. All right?” He held her up to the open cage door to see if she was willing to go back inside and she was. He took that as her answer and re-twisted the wire holding the cage door closed. He wanted her with him but had to wait. He would come back in a few days and check on her again.
Outside on the lawn, he peered up at the high castle wall. He could just see the tip of Gryffindor tower behind the Headmistress’ tower. He Apparated up there to look for Ginny. The common room was empty, the hearth cold. He still had not used up the full half-hour he needed to. He asked the Fat Lady when she had last seen Ginny.
The portrait primped herself hurriedly before replying, “She’s assigned to the kitchen today.”
“Perfect,” Harry said, thinking that he needed lunch anyway.
He was leary of Apparating again within the castle, because he could not risk getting caught doing so. He took the stairs instead, which reminded him of how few staircases were in his life now. By the time he got all the way to the area below the Entrance Hall, he wondered now how he and Ron could have decided so many times that a late-night snack was worth so much effort. He tickled the pear and tugged on the handle. Only a few house-elves were present, but a much taller figure sat among them, casting spells to the elves’ delight.
Ginny looked up from the very large spoon she was repairing with a welding charm. “Harry!” The spoon clattered to the table as she jumped up. “How are you? I sent you about a twenty owls, but didn’t hear anything back. I’ve been going nuts!”
“Sorry,” Harry said.
She stepped close, looking defeated. “Gosh it’s good to see you,” she said. “Thank Merlin you’re all right.”
“I don’t have much time for a visit, I’m afraid.”
“No one does,” she complained. “Headmistress is trying to get Bones to turn the Floo Network back on. Until then I don’t expect too many visitors. The papers arrive here only a day late, and I swear the teachers told Peeves to hide them from me when the headlines are too awful. How is Professor Snape?” She asked this last with clear reluctance.
“He’s fine now,” Harry said.
“Is he? Harry that’s wonderful.” She gave him the hug then that she seemed to be resisting moments before.
“I’m glad you’re here, Ginny. One fewer person to worry about.” He took up a scone from a bowl on the next table and nibbled on it.
“Yeah,” she uttered, shoulders falling. She went back to the bench where the elves waited, examining random broken metal cookware that waited to be repaired. “So everyone says. From the papers, it didn’t seem like you needed any help anyway. Good job though.” She sounded down even about that.
“You’re learning to weld?” Harry asked, changing the topic.
She tossed her arms. “I’m learning all kinds of useless things.”
“That’s not useless,” Harry argued. When she shrugged, appearing more stubborn, Harry asked, “Where’s Dobby?”
“The elves have been helping clean up Hogsmeade after the riots. McGonagall loaned them out. I couldn’t get myself loaned out as well.” She stared at the broken cauldron hook laying before her. “I can’t believe I have another month of this. It’s maddening being here when everything is happening out there.”
“I know,” Harry said, thinking that she was not at all accustomed to being alone, unlike himself, and that must make it harder. “I can come visit more often,” he said.
“When they open the Floo Network. Otherwise it’s a hassle,” she said grimly. Being alone had clearly already taken a toll on her mood.
“Not for me,” Harry said, thinking that if they were alone, he would show her what he could do. “I’ll come. Kali is here and needs visits too. I’ll try to owl, but I don’t really have a home address for owls to easily find me and the Ministry is too chaotic for personal stuff.”
She smile faintly. “Thanks, Harry. Glad you’re all right. Glad you got rid of Voldemort.” The elves around her cringed and one covered its ears. Ginny rolled her eyes. “See what I have for company? Sorry I couldn’t help you. McGonagall assigned Professor Lupin and Professor Greer to guard me the whole rest of the trip on the Express.” She shook her head. “They’re bad enough as teachers when their attention is spread over a whole class . . .” She put two rusted-out hooks on top of each other and made one new one out of them with a spell that sent sparks up to the cauldrons hanging like bunches of fruit above the table. “You probably have to go,” she said sadly as the new hook glowed red-hot. She hovered it to a cauldron full of water, sending billows of steam to the high ceiling.
“I do,” Harry said, sounding distracted, “but I’ve never seen these spells before.”
At the Ministry, Harry walked around the long way to Mr. Weasley’s office rather than stop at the Auror’s office. Mr. Weasley’s desk had disappeared under tilting piles and rolls of parchment. Paper airplanes were scattered in the corners of the floor, unfolded just enough to read them.
“Harry,” he said when he glanced up.
“Can I get an assignment, sir?” Harry asked. Mr. Weasley rubbed his chin while he thought. Harry added, “I’ve been added back to the roster, I noticed.”
“You have,” he confirmed, not looking up from the memo he was reading. “But I think we should wait until after the Wizengamot meeting this evening.” Harry rubbed his hair back and tapped his toe on the floor, trying to think of an argument. Mr. Weasley asked, “How are you, Harry? I heard Severus is doing better.”
“I’m all right now, Mr. Weasley,” Harry assured him. “It’s nice to be all alone in my head again.”
“I can imagine,” Mr. Weasley said with a tilt of his head. “You did well at the press conference.” He picked up a battered quill to add a reply to the bottom of the memo he had opened. He had to write awkwardly high, on top of the stack just before him on the desk, and then he had to hunt for his inkwell, which had been buried. “Hopefully we can manage to resume your training regime soon as well. Losing Munz was quite a blow,” he said sadly. “On top of Whitley and Moody.”
Harry, who clearly remembered that moment, sighed and thought even more that he should return to his duties. After a minute, he asked, “Can I go out in disguise? I can disguise myself as Aaron or something . . . No one will know as long as I don’t get assigned to the same call as him.”
Mr. Weasley finally looked up. “It’s those eyes you need to disguise,” he said. “Well, ask Shacklebolt if he will take you out under those circumstances. We certainly are short-handed.”
Harry’s face broke into a smile. “Thank you, sir.”
Mr. Weasley grinned in response. “Good to see a smile around here for a change.”
Harry stopped in the toilet and put on a disguise, beginning with changing his eyes to an ordinary looking brown. This did change his appearance rather radically. He hid his lightning scar with a charm that took three tries because it was actually an anti-wrinkle charm. He paused and dropped his wand hand to his side; his father was staring back at him now. “You think you had troubles,” Harry said to his altered reflection.
He quickly finished his face and hair, leaving his body unaltered because he and Aaron were only slightly different in build. Down in the Auror’s office, Tonks did a double-take. “What’s with this?”
“Mr. Weasley said I MAY be able to go out on an assignment if I disguise myself.”
She smiled and stood up to examine his work more closely, making all kinds of tingles race through his body at her nearness. “You need to change your voice too,” she said.
Harry tapped his throat with a voice-deepening charm. “Better?” he asked. He was dearly looking forward to this evening. He felt alive twice over standing there with her so close. “Where’s Kingsley?” he asked. “I have to get his permission.”
The record quill scratching furiously reminded him that he could just check for himself. “He should be around,” Tonks said as Harry bent over the logbook, which at least now didn’t overflow from one day into the next, even if the pages were dense.
Shacklebolt appeared right then. “Tonks take this assignment, will you? Take Aaron there since he’s back. Where’s Reggie?”
“That’s not Aaron . . . it’s Harry,” Tonks explained to Harry’s dismay because he was about to get exactly the partner he wanted.
Shacklebolt turned and stared at Harry. “So it is.” He then appeared dubious.
Harry said, “Can I go out like this? Mr. Weasley said I could if you would take me.”
“Me?” Shacklebolt asked with a touch of dismay. Harry’s elation dropped significantly. “Your determination is appreciated, Harry, but are you even-”
“I’m on the roster,” Harry stated, guessing what what was going to be asked. Shacklebolt’s attitude made Harry realize how dearly he needed to return to normal. His mood was swinging sharply downward now. There was still Tonks that evening, he reminded himself.
“Arthur said that, eh?” Shacklebolt said, perusing the logbook. He frowned, “Since you aren’t Aaron, you don’t know where Reggie is. Hmf.” He picked up the slate tablet and scratched something on it and then waited. Nothing happened so he set it down again. “All right, Potter, I’ll take you with me to look for Reggie and Aaron since they aren’t checking in. Tonks, wake Tristan to take over the office and take this other call.” He swung his cloak on and took Harry’s wrist while holding his wand up with the other. Harry did the same and they Apparated away.
Harry had to rush to follow out of the abandoned shop where they had arrived, hiding his wand inside the edge of his cloak as Shacklebolt did ahead of him. They passed through a crowd on the pavement, not entirely Muggle, Harry realized. He turned his head backwards to look over a group of three men in their late twenties, standing beneath a kabab house sign and wearing slightly less fashionable clothes than the others around them. One of them turned to him but didn’t react, which was a strange change for Harry.
Shackebolt stopped at the corner and looked each way, scanning the people out in the nice weather. “There were three wizards back there,” Harry said.
“Where?” Shacklebolt asked.
“Under the Lebanese restaurant sign.”
“How do you know?” Shacklebolt asked, sounding doubtful.
“I can just tell,” Harry insisted. “Really.”
Shacklebolt considered this and him before walking back to the group. He used a subtle repelling charm to get the others nearby to decide to move away. The three men looked Shacklebolt’s cloaked self up and down and then glanced at Harry.
“Have you seen anything strange happening around here?” the Auror asked.
“Someone Apparated in over that way,” one of them said quietly. Harry felt very uneasy to be overlooked and unrecognized. He glanced around them, including up at the surrounding windows.
“That was us,” Shacklebolt informed them.
The others shrugged that they had nothing to offer. The first one said, “You an Auror?”
Shacklebolt nodded, he also was looking around and looking frustrated already even though their search had just begun.
“Sweet,” one of the wizards said.
“Stay here . . . Aaron, and keep an eye on the road.” Shacklebolt stepped down two doorways, used an unlock charm and went inside. It wasn’t the nicest area of town, and Harry was not even certain what city they were in.
“And you?” someone asked Harry.
“I’m in training to be,” Harry explained, scanning the people walking on the pavements and the cars driving by.
“That means you’re in training with Harry Potter, doesn’t it?” the first asked. “Creepy,” another said.
Harry tried to concentrate on keeping watch while he tried to imagine what Aaron would say in his place. “Potter’s okay,” he said, feeling awkward.
“My uncle says they’re going to arrest him tonight at the Wizengamot meeting,” one of the men said. “Everyone’s been talking about it.”
Harry unclenched his teeth, swallowed a sigh, and scanned the road as though he was too busy at that to really care. “Who’s your uncle?” he asked with a casualness that made him quite pleased.
“Ogden. He works at the Ministry in a job he can’t talk about. Very important job. He always knows what’s going on before anyone else does.”
Harry felt as though he was floating beside his own body. “So, you are telling me this so I can warn Harry?” Harry asked with a mocking tone.
“Are you going to?” the man asked, stunned by that notion.
Harry looked up at the building Shacklebolt had entered, wishing the Auror had told him how long to wait before following, wishing he knew more precisely what the assignment was. “He’s a good friend of mine,” Harry said. “We’re all trainees together.”
One of the men said, “They say he’s worse than Voldemort. He killed all those Death Eaters with a spell no one knows.”
Harry shrugged. “So?” he asked snidely and there was no immediate reply.
To Harry’s relief, Shacklebolt returned and gestured for him to follow. He looked concerned. When they were away from the others, he said, “False call it looks like.”
“Again?” Harry asked sharply. “Merton again?” he added in a whisper.
“I don’t know,” Shacklebolt said grimly. “Let’s check the empty buildings in the next few blocks. Something really has the hair on my neck going mad around here.”
“I know what you mean.”
Inside the foyer of the fourth building, Harry closed his eyes and quickly tugged on Shacklebolt’s cloak to restrain him from mounting the stairs.
“D.E. nearby,” he whispered.
“How many?” Shacklebolt asked. Harry held up two fingers and then nodded toward the door, it felt like the shadows were behind him a block or two away. Outside, Harry stopped again and closed his eyes before leading the way around the corner where a news shop’s racks blocked the way. He didn’t mind hunting Death Eaters, but wished that he was incapable of it.
“I’ll go around back, you go in the front,” Shacklebolt ordered when Harry gestured at a narrow, dilapidated building that felt likely.
Harry waited a count of sixty before using an unlock spell on the front door whose only labeling was a series of half-peeled house music stickers. Inside it was much nicer than expected, with sparkling marble floors that were probably house-elf cleaned. He slipped off his shoes to walk silently. The mirror ahead on the right felt cursed; Harry ducked under it and glanced into the first room, which was empty. He turned to go up the stairs but someone came barreling out of the room he had just checked and would have run into Harry if he had not had his wand up and in the way.
“Pickley!” the rotund man shouted and a house-elf appeared between them, knocking Harry with a gust of wind when he raised his hand. This gave the man cover to draw his wand. They exchanged spells once before the house-elf knocked Harry back again into the cursed mirror. Arms reached out of it and began straightening his robes the way an impatient schoolmarm might.
Harry didn’t want to take his wand off of his opponent to strike at the mirror behind him but the mirror had many more arms than he did and he couldn’t shake it off. One of mirror-arms grabbed his wand hand in a vice-like grip that prevented him from aiming, except at the ceiling. The feeling of aversion at the contact made him cringe. He hoped Shacklebolt came along very soon.
The short, round wizard cockily strode forward as someone appeared at the top of the landing. “What is all this, Amycus?” the woman grumbled.
“Someone has invaded our house.”
“Oh, the Carrows,” Harry said, recognizing the name.
“You come calling and you do not know upon whom?” the man asked in disbelief.
“Well . . . that happens,” Harry said to stall. He wasn’t certain with this cursed thing holding onto him if he could successfully drop into the Dark Plane or not, let alone Disapparate.
At the top of the stairs, something or someone silently jerked Alecto backwards into a doorway. Harry avoided staring, instead distracting his captor with a mocking, “You don’t know who I am either.”
“Some busybody from the Ministry of Magic, presumably. Blasted inconvenient to have to move again. Rather like this place.” He waved his wand and the hall and corridor were suddenly bare of their fine plaster decorations and marble surfaces, cobwebs hung everywhere. Everything had been an illusion. The elf cowered, backing into the grey and dreary shabby room behind him as though allergic to peeling paint and dust.
“Nicely done,” Harry said. Shacklebolt was creeping down the stairs, wand aimed.
The wizard grinned sloppily. “Generous of you to say. So, who are you?”
Harry’s face grew serious. “Your master’s destroyer,” he stated, knocking his head back hard enough to smash the mirror, which released his wand hand.
Amycus turned to run, collided hard with Shacklebolt, and they both disappeared with a bang!. Harry stood, staring at the spot, wondering if he should attempt the spell to follow. He thought he should check on the other one, which was a good thing because the elf was trying to free his mistress from the binding holding her in a robe-covered lump. She was unconscious so hadn’t taken advantage of the loosening on her bonds. The elf raised its long-fingered hands to strike out and Harry said, “Don’t you dare,” while cracking open the Dark Plane so the elf could feel it.
Pickley screeched horribly and scrambled away to cower again. Harry closed the gateway, rolled Alecto over, grabbed her wrist only to realize that he was still in his socks. This took the rush out of his success at apprehending another Death Eater. More so, he Apparated her to the alleyway leading to the Ministry. He had some difficulty hovering her wide body in while the gateway was open and needed three tries, for which he was glad there were no witnesses, but then he remembered: he did not look like Harry Potter, so it did not matter. As he chuckled to himself he thought that perhaps he should spend more time disguised as his fellow trainee.
Chapter 34 -- Allies & Reflections, Part II
Snape didn't lower his wand. "You left his man in charge in here?" he asked, sounding doubtful.
Rogan took a step backward and Snape followed, keeping close.
"Severus, really, whatever are you doing holding a wand on one of my Aurors?"
Previous Chapter Next Chapter