Chapter 34 : Allies & Reflections, Part II
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Severus Snape rose from the narrow bed he was sharing. The angle of the sun indicated that several hours had passed. He dressed slowly, testing his body for any sharp pain. There was none; the Healers had done their job, even on the parts of him not in the worst condition.
Dressed, he stared into the mirror on the back of the door to check his appearance.
“What are you doing?” Candide asked, sitting up.
“I am going out.”
“Where?” she asked, gathering the duvet around her and scratching her head.
He looked at her in the mirror, rather than turning. “The Ministry.” He pulled the two wands out of his pocket. He couldn’t tell them apart without looking at them, a design flaw he would have to mention to the Weasley twins. He wondered if they would mind if he put a notch in the handle of one of them.
“You sure you’re fit to be up?”
“Yes. I’ve been much worse. Quite recently, in fact.” He fingered the wands further, the normal one wasn’t actually straight, he would have to remember to hold it so the tip pointed downward, not sideways. “I owe a few people, and I should pay them back. I’ve been given yet another chance to even out my debts and I intend to do that.”
She stumbled out of the bed, tripping over the covers bundled around her. “Where are you going, exactly?”
“To the Ministry, to help round up my former colleagues.” He slipped the normal wand into his right-hand pocket and the other in his breast pocket. In his reflection, they didn’t show.
“Severus, are you nuts? You just recovered from your last run-in with them. Why would you want to see them again so soon?”
“I’m feeling strangely fearless right now given how much I have survived.”
She propped her hands on her hips. “Oh really? So does that mean you’re not too chicken to agree to marry me?”
In the mirror, his brows went down very low before one went up in annoyance. “You have a one-track mind,” he criticized.
“And so do you, Mr. I-Can’t-Ever-Consider-Myself-Redeemed.”
After this exchange they stared at each other’s reflections. Unfortunately for Snape, the duvet wasn’t covering her very well, so he was weakening without his will. He turned around, which did not help his resolve. “Bloody hell,” he said with little feeling.
“You need help with Harry more than you ever have. Have you been reading the papers?”
“No, but I can imagine.”
“I don’t think you can, Severus. You wouldn’t believe what a few nutters are suggesting. They want to put him away now so he can’t become the next Voldemort.”
“I do not think it will come to that, but if they ever attempt to do so, I will exercise no restraint to prevent it. And I will take him away from here . . . very far away. Are you prepared for that?”
“I would be fine with that, Severus.”
He held his finger up. “One other thing. You do not understand him; stop assuming you do . . . it is annoying. But if you can manage that . . . fine.”
She blinked at him. “Did you just agree?”
“I have to go,” he said, and disappeared.
At the Ministry, he slipped in behind workers carrying sacks of concrete through the opening in the alleyway wall, which had inexplicably been changed to a barn door, presumably to make it appear more reasonable to the Muggle eye. The Muggles going by on the distant pavement paid no heed in any event. The workers dropped the bags with audible groans and moved to hover them instead. Snape offered to help, which was welcomed eagerly.
At the desk, the clerk was arguing with a little old man by shouting into the trumpet he held to his ear. When a barrier tried to stop them, to much grumbling, the construction worker in charge shouted to the clerk to cancel it for them, which he did with only a quick glance in their direction, during which Snape made a point of being behind the widest of the workers. As they moved on, he shook his head but accepted the oversight.
In the Auror’s offices he encountered an Auror slumped at a desk, head resting on his hand. He had assignment sheets spread out before him and was fingering one idly that had been crumpled up and flattened out again.
“And you would be?” Snape asked him sharply.
Rogan looked up. “Tristan Rogan, who the hell are you? You don’t have a badge.” He started to raise his wand, but Snape was faster, snagging it with a charm and catching it out of the air. This brought some alertness to the man, who made it to his feet with effort.
“Are you alone here?” Snape demanded. The man fumbled in his pocket, prompting Snape to take his small slate board away from him as well before pushing him aside to look over the assignments. The crumpled one was a Death Eater sighting. Snape raised his wand to point it at Rogan’s nose. It was almost unnecessary, since the man appeared on the verge of collapse.
Someone stopped in the doorway. “Arthur!” Rogan said. “Stop this man.”
“Severus?” Mr. Weasley prompted.
Snape didn’t lower his wand. “You left this 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?”
“Something not quite right about this one,” Snape said darkly. Rogan had taken another faltering step and now had his back up against the cubicle partition.
“Honestly, Arthur,” Rogan pleaded in disbelief.
“Severus, what are you doing?” Mr. Weasley asked more sharply.
Snape grabbed one of Rogan’s wrists and said, “Something you should have done rather a while ago, I should think.”
Rogan fought him, freeing his hand. He appeared terrified but with a wand hovering beside his cheek he did not attempt to go far. His knees were slowly giving out.
“It’s been a long while, hasn’t it?” Snape asked. “How many reprieves have you received?”
Rogan’s knees bent farther. He lost the last of the defiance he had mustered and his face fell into misery. He shook his head, looking as though he wished to explain but could not.
“Severus?” Mr. Weasley prompted in concern.
Snape took hold of Rogan’s wrist again. “Pull up his sleeve.”
Moving as though stunned, Mr. Weasley did so. Tell-tale blue electric lines crawled up down his arms to his fingertips. His head bent and he slid to the floor.
“That’s what Harry had,” Mr. Weasley said.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Snape demanded of the Auror. “Imbecile,” he snapped. “Someone would have helped you, but instead you were traitorous to everyone here.”
“I didn’t do that much of what they asked,” he argued, finding some fierceness in the midst of his collapse. “They said only another Death Eater could remove it. Last meeting they didn’t show.”
“Probably dead,” Snape stated pleasantly. “And as to the other: today is your lucky day, it seems.” To Mr. Weasley, he said, “Put him on the floor.”
“Why are you obeying him?” Rogan complained to Mr. Weasley in a bit of a whine while he was manhandled onto the warped wooden floor in the small space between the cubicles.
“Severus is a very old friend,” Mr. Weasley explained, standing to stretch once Rogan was flat on the floor and looked unable to rise even if released. “I need to sort through these assignments,” he said with some stress. “See what in Merlin’s name has been happening.” He turned to the doorway where Vineet had appeared silently, eyes keenly taking in the scene.
Snape crouched and tugged Rogan’s robe open, revealing a worn singlet underneath. “I need a second for the spell,” he said. “Vishnu, perhaps you could give me a hand.”
Vineet knelt where he was instructed to by a quick hand gesture. He mimicked Snape’s hold on Rogan’s other shoulder. “A Mutushorum, as powerful as you can cast, right on that spot.” Vineet nodded, prompting Snape to say, “No wonder Harry wanted you with him. On three, ready?”
When Rogan fell limp, Vineet said, “He is dead.”
“Just for a minute or so.” Snape tugged Rogan’s sleeve off of his arm and waved the overhead lamps dimmer to see better when the lines finally stopped. Vineet observed everything closely.
After Rogan was revived, Vineet asked, “What has happened to him?”
“He was being blackmailed. Kept alive just enough to make him useful longer. He is a fool,” Snape growled, standing up and stepping over the Auror as he struggled to sit up.
“I didn’t do that much,” Rogan insisted again, ducking.
“Where did you send Reggie?” Mr. Weasley asked, sounding as though he feared the answer.
Rogan sat back against one of the partitions and clumsily pulled his robes together. “Not where it says there,” he admitted quietly. “But Aaron, I sent him to Coventry, told him to wait in a pub there for instructions. I didn’t put him in harm’s way.”
“Who was blackmailing you?” Snape demanded. For a moment he reached down as though to grab the man by the hair, but he balled his hand into a fist instead and held it at his side.
“MacNair . . . and Lestrange.”
Mr. Weasley looked quickly through the logbook.
“I will go,” Snape said.
“Are you certain you are up to it?” Mr. Weasley asked.
Snape gave him a smile containing no pleasure. “Yes. Quite. But, you wouldn’t happen to have my wand?”
Mr. Weasley said, “Everything collected from Malfoy Manor is in the evidence archive. Locked away.” When Snape shook his head, Mr. Weasley added, “If it’s there, it will be returned when the investigation is closed.”
“Never mind,” Snape said, gesturing with the normal but bent one that he had.
Mr. Weasley said, “I’ll recall Shacklebolt and Harry and send them as well to follow you.”
“They will only get in the way,” Snape warned, thinking that some of the things Bellatrix was fond of arranging, he certainly did not want Harry to see.
“Vishnu is on probation but you aren’t official anyway. Do you want to take him?”
Snape considered the Indian. “His obedience notwithstanding, I will manage better alone. He could end up a hostage, I’m afraid.” To Rogan he demanded, “Did you send Rodgers to North Plaitton or St. Anthony on Abbotwy?”
“Plaitton” Rogan replied, surprised by Snape’s guess.
“How long before she said to send help after him?” he then asked, increasing Rogan’s surprise.
“Another hour from now,” Rogan replied, appearing damned even further by how much Snape knew.
Snape took a deep breath. “I’ll be back,” he said, and disappeared.
“A trap?” Mr. Weasley said sharply. “She was setting up a trap?”
“I guess,” Rogan muttered.
“And were you going to cooperate with that?”
“I wasn’t . . . I hadn’t figured what I was going to do. I thought Reggie wouldn’t have any trouble with her. I hinted to him . . .”
Mr. Weasley said, “Vishnu, take him down to one of the interrogation rooms and lock him in.” Vineet tugged the Auror to his feet. As Rogan was led past him, Mr. Weasley added angrily, “I wish I could put you up before the Wizengamot this evening, Tristan, rather than Harry. But for now I want you close at hand while we sort this out.”
Rogan lowered his head and allowed Vineet to lead him out of the room.
Snape stopped before a line of half-fallen trees bordering a collapsing canal. He cancelled the alarm spells he found there and proceeded cautiously through the nettles. Bellatrix could be viciously creative with her spells but she tended to be recklessly over-confident with setups that had worked previously. He crossed the trees and a gravel path that meandered to the rusty railroad bridge in the distance. Stacks of grim flats were visible beyond, their windows dark or missing. Ahead of him an old woolen mill stood, its decorative brickwork optimistically contrasting with its decrepit condition.
He circled carefully, peering in the broken-out windows. There was nothing on the ground floor that he could see except for graffiti. Opportunistic trees grew close against the side of the building inside the wrought iron fence. Their branches invaded the missing windows on the upper floors. Snape surveyed this situation before transforming into a snake and spiraling up one of them.
At the window, he hung from a branch and tasted the air with his tongue. Fresh human scent nearly overpowered him. He slipped inside and glided behind a large contraption that still held strands of thread from its many spindly arms draped like giant spider webs. He returned to human form and stepped out into the dusty sunlight.
At the other end of the narrow room, lay Rodgers. Snape approached slowly, wand out, turning around frequently to check behind him. The dust on the floor had been disturbed and then masked again with an reverse-chore charm, which hinted at where traps had been laid, although they could be false clues.
Rodgers had been left in one of Bellatrix’s invented tormenting positions. He rested on a large metal ball on which he had to balance his back or risk touching the cursed floor. He had not heard Snape approach, which was fine since Snape did not want to risk any movement that might spring the secondary traps surrounding them. Only Rodgers’ feet touched the floor on legs bent to give him the best balance. Given how much the Auror’s muscles quivered trying to maintain his position, it was possible Bellatrix had been absent for a while, leaving her victim to strain to survive until rescuers arrived, only to be taken down themselves by other ambushing spells. Without warning of the severity of the situation, even an experienced Auror could fall prey long enough for Bellatrix to descend and cause him or her grave difficulty.
Snape took a few steps to the side to enter Rodgers’ line of sight. To his credit, Rodgers’ didn’t move beyond his eyes, which grew furiously alarmed and hate-filled beyond the pain they already held.
“Show me what she did,” Snape whispered, holding the Auror’s gaze. When Rodgers’ appeared even more distrustful and shifted his gaze away, Snape hissed, “Do you wish to live or not?”
Rodgers’ eyes closed for a breath. He opened them again and brought them back to meet Snape’s but he appeared stubborn about it. Snape Legilimized him, watching in his memory as Bellatrix laid the traps just in front of where his feet now were.
Snape backed up a half step to gain a little space. He paced slowly to where he estimated the right hand side of the inferno trap to be and drew a spell line from the center of it, out to the plaster wall. Sparkles began draining from it. He did the same on the left. The cursed floor itself was more difficult. He crouched and placed the point of his wand on the half-rotted wood. Nothing happened. He raised it up and placed it down inches closer in.
As he repeated this with great care, Rodgers made a noise of impatience. Snape said, “Do not speak; you will set it off, as I am certain she warned you.”
He moved the wand point down on the next board over, looking for the start of the cursed floor. It could only be cancelled from the very edge of it. “Contrary to what you are probably assuming,” Snape went on conversationally, “I do not find enjoyment in your suffering . . . and I am hurrying.”
Finally, he found the edge. The curse made his borrowed wand smolder, which he did not care about. He spoke the cancellation, which was a long string of latin on the topic of quieting the spirit of lightning and the hunger for pain. He knew the cancellation because he had years ago seen her practicing and perfecting the spell.
The wand ceased to smoke. He lifted it and said, “It is all clear now.”
A long hesitation passed before Rodgers allowed himself to roll to the side. His hands were bound, which Snape assumed was why he did not try to rise immediately as the metal ball rolled away a few feet until it found a large knothole and rocked to a stop. Checking that they were still alone, Snape strode over to the Auror and crouched beside him. Rodgers was trying to hide his face, it appeared, by turning it toward the floor. Snape removed the simple binding charm from his wrists and Rodgers put his hands over his face. His chest heaved once.
“You had better be stronger than that if you are going to continue to train Harry,” Snape criticized. “Get up; we must leave quickly.”
Rodgers struggled shakily to his feet. As with most people, the moment of rescue generated the largest flood of distress, but Rodgers got a hold of himself quickly and looked around alertly. Snape handed him the normal wand and removed the other from his breast pocket. Rodgers held the burned wand at ready and studied Snape as though he were a mysterious new creature that may yet turn out to be poisonous. A bird twittered and took flight outside in the front. “Stay here,” Snape whispered. He slid soundlessly over behind the pillar closest to the stairwell, cast a spell at his feet, and waited.
Rodgers shook himself and held the wand behind him. Snape was impressed that he easily took up an attitude of victimhood, which would make him much better bait. Rodgers sidled over to the high window and looked out, judging the distance to the ground. Bellatrix came into view on the stairs and immediately raised her wand.
“Well, lookie at this. Came just in time, didn’t I?” she purred, flipping her cloak with a snap. The metal decorations edging her bodice glittered as she moved.
Rodgers glanced around him as though hoping for escape, then he backed up.
She glanced around as well, even cast a detection spell, but it didn’t find her former colleague who had charmed himself to avoid detection by just that spell. “However did you get out of that?” she asked, gesturing at the metal ball sitting alone.
“You aren’t as good as you think you are,” Rodgers sneered. He swayed slightly despite his emotion and looked about to be sick.
She raised her wand, but Rodgers was faster, hitting her with a Blasting Curse, which sent her binding charm at the leading on the window. It groaned and plaster rained from the wall above it. Rodgers was shaking with fatigue, though, and his next curse only grazed her. She would have hit home with a Crucio in return if Snape had not hit her from behind with another spell, knocking her flat. She rolled over and cast back at him, but he had the Weasley twins experimental wand in his hand and he blocked as well as struck out with a disarming spell. Her wand tumbled away. Rodgers hit her from the other side, making her curl over her midsection.
Rodgers approached her, face contorted in hatred.
“She almost certainly has another wand,” Snape stated just before Bellatrix pulled one from her boot and sent a spray of flame first at Rodgers before bringing it around to Snape who easily countered it. Rodgers patted his robe sleeves to stifle them smoldering.
The three of them fell still. “Give it up,” Rodgers said.
“If you don’t mind,” Snape said, “I’d like to take her down, personally.”
“You’d like to?” Rodgers snapped in disbelief. “I think I have first dibs.”
Bellatrix rolled her eyes and then unexpectedly somersaulted toward the nearest pillar. Both of them lashed out, but Rodgers’ prison box blocked Snape’s chain binding, so what ended up sitting on the floor was a chain-wrapped box. Snape made a gesture of concession, but Rodgers didn’t note it since he had fallen to his knees in exhaustion.
Snape stepped over to him and held out a hand to help him back up.
“Surprised you didn’t bring reinforcements if you weren’t here to help her,” Rodgers said as he accepted the assistance and then hung on for balance. Snape started for the stairs despite this, forcing Rodgers to struggle to stay upright and keep pace.
“I wanted to face her myself,” Snape said. “She was Voldemort’s most loyal servant.” After a few steps he gave in and put Rodgers arm over his shoulder to help him down the staircase with Bellatrix’s box hovered before them. The dueler’s wand did not work very well for hovering and the box kept striking the steps, which Rodgers didn’t comment on. “Also, I am accustomed to working alone and not worrying about anyone else.”
From beside the canal, Snape Apparated Rodgers to St. Mungo’s. Rodgers looked around the hospital cellar and snapped correctively, “The Ministry. Hell, I’ll take myself. No, give me that,” he said, gesturing at the prison box.
“I am quite certain that you require some care,” Snape pointed out.
“You should have just taken us to the Ministry,” Rodgers criticized.
“I thought you should suffer at someone’s hands, given that you did not trust me,” Snape said. “A Healer’s would do.”
Rodgers shot him a look of renewed dislike but it broke down and he laughed a bit. “Ministry,” he repeated. He was handling the box now and he disappeared. Snape followed just in time to slip through the doorway off the alleyway that, of the two of them, only Rodgers could open. At the desk, Rodgers berated the clerk until he gave Snape a badge and then led the way inside and down into the dungeon. In the damp, low-ceilinged corridor leading to the holding cells below Courtroom Ten, he turned over the box and signed some paperwork. His swaying was only noticeable to Snape.
As they headed back to the lifts, Snape said casually, “I usually find it is advisable to sit down before suffering the embarrassment of falling down.”
“I’m not going to fall down,” Rodgers insisted, but he clung to the gates of the lift after they latched and the cage rose with a shudder.
“Reggie,” Mr. Weasley said with feeling upon them stepping into the office. “Did you get her?” Mr. Weasley asked.
Rodgers nodded and dropped hard into the nearest chair. “She’s in the dungeon. Aaron all right? I didn’t see him.”
Mr. Weasley leaned close to look him over. “I sent Harry to fetch him. Tristan hadn’t actually sent him to meet you.”
Rodgers waved him away impatiently. “Tristan fall asleep instead of sending Aaron?”
“Worse than that; I’m afraid,” Mr. Weasley said. “He was having difficulty working entirely for our side.”
Rodgers stared at him. “What?” he breathed as though socked in the stomach.
“Rest a minute and you can go speak with him. Interrogation room one.”
Rodgers drooped, looking his most injured yet.
“Thank you, Severus,” Mr. Weasley said, upon turning to Snape.
Snape crossed his arms. “A sacrifice rescuing him . . . but I think I will live it down.” Mr. Weasley patted his arm in mock consolation on his way out.
“I won’t,” Rodgers muttered, resting his head in his hand.
After Mr. Weasley departed, Snape said in a low voice. “You can pay me back by treating Harry equitably while continuing to train him.”
Rodgers tenderly rubbed his neck. “I have no problem with keeping Harry on here. We desperately need him.”
“Then we are already even,” Snape stated.
Harry entered the wizard pub called the Dragon’s Deep just three blocks from where he they had apprehended the Carrows. Well, Harry assumed Shacklebolt would successfully track down Amycus. He had not yet reported to the Ministry before Harry was sent off again. Something serious was happening when he arrived but he was not given any details, as usual. In fact, he was hurried off almost unceremoniously.
Aaron sat in the corner, watching the Falmouth player, Gregor, and his friends court trouble in the other corner.
Harry sat down beside him at his small table. Aaron gaped at him. “Harry?” At Harry’s wide grin, he asked in distress, “Are you pretending to be me?”
“Yes,” Harry said, grinning. “Haven’t you checked your tablet? You’ve been called back.”
Aaron fumbled for his pocket with a strained expression. “Rats. Yes. Checked it about three-hundred times when I first arrived; then these guys showed up.”
Harry followed his gaze. Aaron’s targets were indeed skulking suspiciously.
“I was hoping to catch them doing something,” Aaron explained.
Harry closed his eyes a long breath. “They aren’t Death Eaters. Let’s go.” When Aaron hesitated, Harry said, “You know where to find them later . . . just have to look at the Quidditch match schedule.”
Aaron swigged the last of his ale and gave in. “True.”
Back at the Ministry, Harry jerked in surprise as he entered the office, “Severus!” He automatically gave his guardian a hug.
Snape pushed him away to look him over. “You are masquerading as the twin of Mr. Wickem?”
“Yeah,” Harry admitted.
Snape’s thumb grazed the center of Harry’s forehead where his scar was hidden.
Harry explained. “I wasn’t technically allowed out until after the Wizengamot hearing this evening. Well . . .” he hesitated, remembering what he had overheard on the street. “If they let me back on duty, that is.” He noticed his trainer slumped miserably nearby. “Are you all right, sir?”
Rodgers raised his head marginally. “Worst day of my life, but . . . I figure it can only get better from here.”
“We caught the Carrows . . .” He glanced around the office. “Well, I brought in one of them; Shacklebolt was fetching the other . . .”
Mr. Weasley came over and steered Harry out of the room by the shoulder. “Speaking of the meeting this evening . . . let’s get you some dinner and a moment of quiet before you face them, hm?” Snape followed them out and Harry allowed himself to be led to the tea room.
“Where’s Tonks?” he asked.
“Out on assignment,” Mr. Weasley explained.
“Are you sure you should be here, Severus?” Harry asked in concern. “Shouldn’t you be resting?”
“I will manage,” Snape stated loftily.
“Severus has been a life-saver today,” Mr. Weasley said. “Perhaps he can see to you while I handle assignments?”
Snape nodded and Mr. Weasley departed hurriedly, tossing, “You are still Mr. Wickem, you realize,” over his shoulder.
Harry had taken a bite of one of the stale sandwiches left from lunch. He removed the disguise spells as he chewed. Snape pointed at his forehead. “You will most likely wish to remind them of that one.”
Harry had forgotten to unhide his scar. He tapped his forehead with his wand and his old scar reappeared. He rubbed it and put his wand away. “Good to see you up, Severus.”
Snape nodded. “I wished to assist, if possible.”
“As long as you’re careful.” Harry finished the sandwich and crumpled up the paper wrapper. “I should be nervous about this hearing, shouldn’t I? Somehow I don’t care.”
“That is your prerogative, but I would strongly recommend, at the very least, pretending that you understand their concerns.”
“I heard a rumor . . . when I was in disguise . . . that they intended to arrest me at the meeting, and I still can’t make myself care.”
Snape straightened his cloak with a shrug. “You are standing in the department that would have to execute that order, and it does not seem as though they would willingly do so. Perhaps that is why you are dangerously sanguine.”
Harry popped the cap off of a jar of pumpkin juice. “I think I can do this,” he insisted between sips. “I just need to behave as Dumbledore would, so I don’t scare anybody. Powerful . . but harmless.” He stared into the empty bottom of the jar with its ring of pale orange liquid. “I could really use an ale.”
Snape took the jar and tossed it into the bin. “Later, when you are finished.”
Harry looked him over. “I’m really glad you’re all right, Severus,” he said with feeling. “I can get through a lot, knowing that.”
“Touching, I’m sure,” Snape said lightly enough not to insult. He glanced at the clock on the wall. “Perhaps you should head down early.”
Harry sat instead and crossed his arms. “No way. Last time I worked myself up until I was too nervous. I don’t like waiting outside that door. Tell me about this Darkness Test in case they decide to run it this meeting despite what Bones said.”
Ten minutes later, Shacklebolt and Tonks appeared. When Harry began asking about Carrow—partly to cover his fierce blush and to think about something appropriate—Shacklebolt waved him off. “We’re your escorts and we have to go right now.”
“Can Severus come?”
Tonks said, “Given that his injuries argue in your favor, and the Wizengamot requested the Healer’s report along with everything else . . . I don’t think you want them to see how well he is doing.”
“Good advice,” Shacklebolt concurred.
The hearing was held in the usual meeting room, which was brighter than Courtroom Ten and its tiered seats loomed less. Harry took the chair in the front middle of the floor. He rubbed the carved wooden armrests as he sat back. They were notched but also smoothed from years of nervous people sitting right were he was. Tonks and Shacklebolt flanked Harry and stood at attention, wands lowered, but in hand.
Harry took a deep breath and let his eyes trail over the faces peering down at him. Most wore glasses, most were white-haired. Their plum robes made them appear more festive than they ever could be.
Bones started things off. “Mr. Potter, you are here before us again, it seems.” She sounded as though this were a paperwork issue, which let Harry breathe more freely. She certainly was flipping through a thick stack of parchments before her as though looking for a particular one. “We have some questions for you regarding the events of the last few days.” She adjusted her monocle and peered at a long parchment before setting it down and letting it unfurl and hang far over the front edge of the table.
“Yes, Minister,” Harry said loudly, because the muttering in the upper tiers bothered him and he wanted to start off sounding cooperative. McGonagall’s gaze was one of the few actively friendly ones.
Bones said, “We have a broader issue of your disobeying your direct superiors, but that is an aside for the moment, amazingly enough.” Harry tried not to let his shoulders fall. “We have reviewed the Department of Magical Law Enforcement reports about the events at Malfoy Manor on June 14, but they are insufficient to determine what exactly we are to do with you, Harry.” She waited to see the result of that statement before continuing on. “We are most interested in learning more about the spell you utilized to render—and I don’t mean that as a pun—ten wanted Death Eaters into little more than bloodied robes and a stray shiny bone or two.”
“It wasn’t a spell, really,” Harry said.
She read from the parchment. “The official report states that you summoned creatures called Rakshasas to dispose of your enemies. I am not personally familiar with these, perhaps you can illuminate us.”
“I thought they were Shetani,” Harry said. “I hadn’t heard of the others before.”
“Shetani, Rakshasas, d’Jinn, Ifrit . . . from my burning the last drops of my lamp oil last night reading, I have concluded they must all be the same thing. Barring that doing so is in violation of Decree 84 regarding casting of un-approved spells, let alone Decree 13 forbidding conjuring of anything not of this Plane. Summoning such a creature requires rather lengthy preparation of a expert diagrammed node, the use of rather un-seemly sacrifices, long, obscure, and difficult incantations. Months of time would be expected to pass from start to finish. By the timeline in the report, you must have had ten minutes at most.”
Harry’s hands clenched the polished wood armrests. “When I get angry they come very easily, ma’am.”
“Just like that?” she asked doubtfully as the assemblage shifted, whispering to each other.
Harry shrugged. “Yeah.”
She gazed at him, deep in thought. Someone in an upper tier asked, “Can he summon them now, here?”
Bones relayed the question. “Can you, Harry?”
“You want a demonstration?” Harry asked in disbelief.
“No. Harry,” Bones said, sounding vaguely alarmed. “We are merely asking a point of information.”
“Oh,” Harry sat back again, even though the hard wood was hurting his spine. “Here at the Ministry, it feels like it would be harder to do it. Something about the protective spells.” The assembly let out a collective breath. He wasn’t sure how true this was anymore, given that was strong enough to slip into Hogwarts, but it felt true as he had said it, before he thought twice, so he left it at that.
“But outside the Ministry?” Ogden asked. “You could conjure these beasts at will?”
“I think so,” Harry admitted.
“Let’s play a little game, Harry,” Bones said. “It is Monday and you have been confined to the Weasley residence because you could potentially give away key plans to Voldemort through the connection you share. Your adoptive father has not been abducted . . .” Harry put himself back in time to that place, dearly wishing what she said had been true. “What are you doing instead of carrying out your own assault on Malfoy Manor?”
“I would have just kept trying to see where they were hiding out. When I found out, I would have told someone who could relay the message to the Auror’s office.”
“And if you had been ordered to remain where you were while others took care of things?”
“Voldemort is my responsibility,” Harry pointed out. “It would have been unwise of the Ministry to keep me away.”
Bones frowned. “Clearly you dispensed with him easily enough, but if you had been so ordered?”
“I don’t know what I would have done. I guess it depends on how bad I thought things would go without me.”
A few members took note of that. A grumbly old voice asked something from behind Bones. “Ah, yes. There has been some interest in what you did to reduce Voldemort to a Muggle, a spell no one, even in this wizened collective, has ever heard of.”
“I changed a spell into another spell.” Harry thought again, remembering that intense moment of knowledge, “No, that’s not quite true. I used a spell Voldemort knew, but I was very selective about what energy I took away. Instead of cutting his soul out, I cut out his magical power.”
The voice grumbled again. “Could you repeat the spell?” Bones asked. “On Mr. Malfoy, say?”
Harry froze in his chair. Beside him Shacklebolt shifted uneasily. “It isn’t a very good spell,” Harry explained. “I used the Crux Horridus spell and made it do what I wanted and that’s a terrible spell. I wouldn’t want to do the spell again. Not for that.”
“Do you like Mr. Malfoy, Harry?” Bones asked, sounding strangely level, the way Snape did when the question was a trap.
“No. He tortured my father nearly into madness,” Harry said, voice unsteady. “He keeps wanting Voldemort to come back. He’s tried to kill me many times. I don’t like him at all.”
More muttering came from the upper seats. “It would be a most appropriate punishment, don’t you think?” Bones asked.
“Yes, I suppose,” Harry said. He didn’t want to seem uncooperative, but his own aversion was winning out easily. He imagined Malfoy’s terror stricken face beneath him as he circled the wand to carve out his magic. He could most likely repeat the spell, but for Lucius Malfoy, it felt a worse act than simply killing him. And Harry wondered how he himself would feel afterward. Sick seemed most likely. “I . . . It’s just that the spell . . . it’s not a very good one to perform. Voldemort was different; he wasn’t whole. Lucius Malfoy is. Spells like that take a toll on the caster too.”
Bones was smiling faintly. “Of course they do, Harry.” She glanced meaningfully behind her. “And we will be certain to arrange appropriate punishment for Mr. Malfoy without resorting to such things.”
Harry let himself relax and take a deep breath in preparation for the next potentially trap-laden question.
“As to your disobeying orders . . .”
“I couldn’t sit still while my family was being tortured,” Harry said, interrupting. Tonks hand landed on his shoulder, presumably to quiet him.
“And if you had it to do over again?” Bones asked sternly.
“I’d disobey them sooner,” Harry stated, not wavering in holding her gaze. Tonk’s hand gripped tighter.
Bones broke the stare when she flipped through her parchments again. “The Healers support your argument that haste was justified, but there is still a disciplinary issue which I assume your department will handle. If they don’t, it may be re-addressed here at a later date.” She glanced at Shacklebolt as she said this. “As to the other rules violations . . . you must appreciate our concern, Harry, as to your fitness as an Auror.”
It was Harry who dropped his gaze this time. Gathering calm around him as best he could, he explained, “I . . . wouldn’t have done it if I’d had a choice . . . saw a choice.”
Bones sighed loudly. “Given that the prophecy is now dispensed with, we could make an exception for extraordinary fate-willed circumstances . . .”
Someone scoffed loudly in annoyance and several began to argue about Harry already being under investigation for dark magic.
“Dispensed with?” Harry heard himself echo, ignoring the other comments. The room quieted and many gazed at him with renewed concern, but Harry went on. “It hasn’t been dispensed with.” He swallowed, part of him thinking his speaking at all was not well thought out. “Merton is still out there. He’s the focus of the prophecy. They conjure allies they cannot control. That’s what the prophecy said.”
“Convenient,” An old wizard three down from Bones cackled. “Your previous investigator is dead and you are still too valuable to be disciplined for crossing the line yet again.”
“I’d hand off this prophecy if I could,” Harry said, sounding more angry than he wished. He straightened in his chair and tried be serene. How had Dumbledore managed it all those years?
“I’ll address your concerns in a moment, Murgatroid,” Bones said. “Harry, you don’t believe the prophecy has been fulfilled?”
“It doesn’t mention Voldemort, by any name, like all the others,” Harry pointed out. “He’s just part of the unleashed Dark Hordes.” This had been bothering Harry during the brief moments he could think about it and now he finally found his thoughts getting a chance work themselves out. “He didn’t set this in motion, Maurdant Merton did and we haven’t got him yet.”
Minister Bones now appeared alarmed and thoughtful. She stared at Harry. “Mr. Shacklebolt, what is the status of this other investigation?”
Shacklebolt’s deep voice said, “I think we will have to get you a report in the morning Madam Minister. We obviously have not had much time lately to follow up with our previous cases.”
In the corridor on the way back to the Auror’s offices, Shacklebolt said, “A little warning would have been nice, Harry.”
“I didn’t know they assumed the prophecy was finished. I didn’t know anyone did.”
“It’s all right, Harry,” Tonks said. “Witness that you are still free to return to the office. You did fine.”
Harry turned to her in the lift, wishing that they were alone with an overwhelming ache. “Thanks,” he said, thinking volumes more he couldn’t say, but he was going to have to get used to that.
As soon as they arrived in the offices, Tonks and Shacklebolt were immediately sent off on assignments. Harry was left to recite to Mr. Weasley and Snape how things had gone. “And they didn’t make a decision about me . . . said they had to debate it further and have the results of the Darkness Test,” he said, finishing. He swallowed a yawn. He had planned to take Tonks out this evening, but it was already late and she wasn’t available. “If you needed Tonks, why did she stay with me?” Harry asked his boss.
“Kingsley and Tonks had to remain and stand guard,” Mr. Weasley explained. “Otherwise they were going to use Courtroom Ten.”
“Oh,” Harry said, grateful, in that case.
A knock sounded on the door frame. Rogan stood there, guarded by Vineet and looking sulky. “He wishes to speak to you,” Vineet informed Mr. Weasley.
“My office then,” Mr. Weasley replied stiffly.
“What’s with Rogan?” Harry asked in alarm. Snape filled him in on what had happened.
“This department’s in trouble,” Harry said.
“I think that is to your benefit,” Snape pointed out.
“I would rather it not be,” Harry said. He rubbed his aching eyes. “Where are you staying?”
“With Candide again.”
Harry’s lips twitched. “Are you?” he asked with a hint of suggestion.
Snape’s brow rose. “Hmf,” he said, sounding dangerous.
“Maybe I’ll see if Hermione will put up with me another night.” He rubbed his head and sighed, “I wish they’d made a decision so I would know.” He glanced around the office. “I guess we’ve been left manning things here. Or I have. Why don’t you go get some rest?” Harry suggested, thinking that if Tonks returned he could stay the night with her. That thought brought him to new levels of nervous alertness. He took glance over the logbook and the assignment slips that were nearby. “Really, Severus, I can handle this.”
“If you insist.”
“I do,” Harry said, letting affection rule his voice. With a small bow Snape disappeared and Harry stared at the spot he had been in, thinking that had been much too easy.
Kerry Ann came in and did a double-take at Harry running things. “Are you allowed back on duty?”
“No,” Harry said. “Or, not sure yet.”
She laughed. “Honestly, they can’t keep you off duty. Things are getting worse here, even as mad as they were before.”
“You look chipper,” Harry observed.
“I slept like a rock.” She said and muttered something afterward.
“I got a nice massage; helped me sleep,” she repeated more clearly.
“Ambroise is still in town then?” Harry asked, crossing his arms and looking down his nose at her playfully.
She flushed. “He is . . . Wants to know how you are doing, actually,” she added quickly as though as a distraction. “He said to tell you the French Ministry Department of Magie Police would be happy to have you if they send you off from here.”
“Oh. Thanks,” Harry said, realizing there were more possibilities than he had considered before. He mulled things to himself and then asked, “Do they have an apprenticeship, because I need a little more training I think.”
“You’ll have to talk to him, or them; I didn’t ask.” She was smiling as she said this, but then soberly added, “I hope you get to stay, Harry.”
“Oh . . . or maybe we can both transfer to the French Magie Police,” she suggested, eyes bright.
“I could make that a condition of my acceptance,” Harry stated.
This caught her by surprise. “Would you do that, really?”
“Of course. I wouldn’t want to transfer alone.”
She chewed her lip. “What if I asked Ambroise to arrange for an offer for you. Just something you can wave before the Ministry.”
“That’s a great idea. Would he really do that?”
She waved her hand as though to dismiss him and rolled her eyes. “Ambroise worships you.”
Tonks returned and dropped into her chair, hair drooping over her eyes.
“You need a break,” Harry stated firmly.
She stared at her wand hand, which was shaking faintly. “Yeah. Have to finish the report for this call now though. Can never remember anything the next day.”
“I’ll help,” Harry said, sitting down close beside her to arrange quills, report forms and ink. “Talk, I’ll compose,” he said, not realizing how very gentle and protective he sounded.
Kerry Ann punched his shoulder. “Tone it down, Romeo.” Harry looked up at her in surprise, making her add, “Really, that was far too obvious.”
Harry put on a formal tone, put his shoulders back, and said, “I shall transcribe if you describe the events.”
Kerry Ann shook her head. “Still not there.”
“Really?” Harry verified in concern. “Uh oh.”
Harry wrote out Tonks’ report after a few restarts where she amended what she remembered due to being too frazzled to describe things well, or in any particular order. As she sat with her head in her hand pondering whether the witch had fired a spell before or after the door to the back had opened, Harry said, “You are too tired to be on duty at all.”
“Someone had to take the call, Harry.”
“I’d have been happy to take it instead,” he pointed out. “You need to rest.” He folded away her report in a file folder and put it on the corner of her desk. “Let me take you home,” he said, standing up. “Kerry Ann can take over.” The two woman shared a look, and Tonks Apparated herself and Harry away.
In her flat, she started to straighten up the piles of dishes and crisps wrappers. Harry took her wand away and forced her to sit on the couch. “Let me take care of everything. You rest.”
“Thanks, Harry,” she said, clearly touched.
“Least I can do.”
She fell into her bed ten minutes later, even as Harry was trying to find a place to store the huge strainer in the tiny kitchen. He went in a short while later and touched her shoulder.
“I’m really very tired, Harry,” she said.
“I noticed.” He didn’t leave her alone, though; he began rubbing between her shoulder blades, remembering what Kerry Ann had said. This generated lots of pleasing noises so he moved up to her shoulders. She was alarmingly fine-boned with much less muscle than himself. It made him worry acutely about her even though magic was mostly what she needed in the field. Once unleashed, this protective instinct only grew in him, even as he realized it was going to make things that much harder at the Ministry. Harry shucked his shirt and wrapped himself around her as she slept, no longer tired, but alert for any danger approaching. He monitored the shadows behind his eyes. They were in two groups now, but far away.
The next morning, Tonks had a much more business attitude. She showered and dressed quickly, giving him a peck on the cheek before saying, “Give it a half hour before you show up at the Ministry, especially this early.”
In Tonks’ absence, Harry sat at her small table, sipping weak tea from the bag’s third cup, wishing it were coffee. Tonks had not done any shopping for weeks, so it was lucky there was even that. He had too many things to think about, too many uncertainties. His mind eventually settled on worrying about Mrs. Longbottom. In the quiet light of morning, his actions felt reckless and he hoped he hadn’t made a huge mistake. But Snape was all right, so perhaps at least she was the same as before.
Harry put the dishes in a stack, Apparated to St. Mungo’s and made his way up to the closed ward, where he peered in the window. Mrs. Longbottom was lying down, which concerned Harry. A staff member was working inside on another patient. Harry waited by the door for this person to leave and slipped inside covered by an Obsfucation Charm. He did not bother to change his robes this time since he wasn’t staying long.
At the far bed, he bent over Mrs. Longbottom and tried to see if she was all right. There were new notes on the chart at the foot of the bed, but Harry could not decipher them. He went back to studying her sleeping, wondering if he should try to wake her up, just to end his worry. He did not hear the door open, the click was masked by the noise of another patient rocking in her bed.
Neville Longbottom froze in the doorway, wondering who this was leaning over his mother. He stepped over quickly and grabbed the figure’s arm to jerk him around.
“Neville,” Harry greeted him.
Neville stared at him, at his eyes. “Harry? What are you doing here?” he asked with less force than intended.
“I was just seeing how your mum was,” Harry said, glancing back down at her.
Neville said, “Oh.” He was befuddled, trying to put things together. Harry had an alien feel to him. His eyes made it seem as though he was seeing farther than anyone else and knew it. Neville swallowed hard and said, “Were you here before?”
Harry hesitated answering, but Alice Longbottom had woken and sat up mechanically. Harry didn’t have time to be relieved by this. She smiled at him and said, “James.”
“Er, no,” Harry said with a laugh. “I’m not James, I’m afraid.” She did not seem to understand this, just peered at him happily.
“‘Old friend’,” Neville quoted. He grabbed Harry’s arm again. “You were here before. What did you do?”
Harry was at a loss to explain. He gently peeled Neville’s fingers off his arm and said, “I wanted to see what caused, well . . . Severus was going to end up like your parents because of Voldemort and Malfoy torturing him, and I wanted to see more closely what the result was.” He stopped, gauging how that went over. Neville was not the brightest, but his alarm was making him smarter than normal.
“Did you do something,” he asked, “to make her talk?”
“Uh, I tried this thing I learned in Finland from the Shaman,” Harry explained. He wanted try to say what Dumbledore would, but faced with Neville’s strong ingrained reactions, he couldn’t think clearly what that might be. “I could see what was wrong, so I thought I could fix it. I did what I could,” he heard himself mimicking the Healers.
“You did this? You’re not a Healer, Harry.”
“I was very careful,” Harry insisted.
“So long,” Alice Longbottom said, interrupting. “No visit.”
“She still thinks you’re your father,” Neville said.
Harry turned to her. “Sorry, I would have come sooner if I’d known you remembered me,” he said graciously to her. He had no trouble pulling Dumbledore around him when talking to her. He tried to hold onto it when he turned back to Neville, who was vacillating between disturbed and wary. “I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone,” Harry said. “I just wanted to help Severus.” Neville didn’t react, so Harry added, “And it helped to see what the curse did. Once I thought I could help a bit, I couldn’t not.”
Neville’s face went through a series of small contortions as he bounced between considering that and glancing at his mother, who was gazing up with a face of childlike innocence. “Ask next time, okay?” Neville said, sounding uncertain.
“If you’d been here, I would have.”
“No one knows,” Neville pointed out in a whisper.
“I kind of prefer it that way,” Harry explained. “Things are mad enough already.”
Neville did not look up again, but sat down facing his mother to hold her hand. She patted his hand in return. Harry thought that the change in her was small, but any improvement would make a big difference to Neville. “Well . . . thanks, Harry.”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t do more.”
“Yeah,” Neville said, still sounding befuddled.
“Has your father been awake?”
Neville glanced over at the thin lump under the covers of the next bed. “Not in years.”
“I’m sorry, Neville,” Harry said, feeling clear in his voice.
Neville shrugged. Harry took his leave, feeling even more so as though he were intruding.
In the waiting area on his way out, Harry overheard someone asking at the desk for Severus Snape. Harry diverted in that direction and found Shazor Snape hounding the greetingwitch to tell him what room his son was in. Harry rescued the woman behind the desk and explained that Severus had been released.
“Has he?” Shazor asked in surprise. He had a two-day-old beard and an equally old newspaper clutched under his arm. He pulled the paper out as though to reference it, but tucked it away again. “Where is he now? I stopped by the house . . . but it was abandoned.” Like everyone else, he was staring at Harry keenly whenever he looked his way.
“Er, he’s staying with a friend,” Harry explained.
Shazor pulled out the newspaper for real this time. The flow of people went around them standing there in the way beside the desk. “We left for the countryside like many others when the trouble started. Gretta’s still there in fact. She, uh . . .” Shazor trailed off.
“Have you heard from Anita?” Harry asked, thinking of Snape’s mum.
“No,” Shazor replied as though disturbed by the very notion. “Nor would I, normally.” He crossed his arms and raised his chin. “If they have heard news of the recent troubles at her place, they’d be smugly snickering about it not being able to touch them.” He huffed. “But my son is all right, you say?”
“Yes, he’s fine,” Harry assured him. Harry considered that Severus himself should explain about Candide. “If I see him, I’ll tell him you were looking for him.”
At that moment, Severus Snape was eating breakfast across from the woman he now must reclassify in his mind as his fiancée. The domesticity of the scene kept trying to irk him but, given how many similar mornings he had already shared with Harry—with equal legal entanglement—there was no real justification for his ill-ease.
Candide departed in a rush after noticing the time, sparing him from a much-dreaded sappy departing scene. The resulting quiet felt too much so, however. His mind wandered back to the night before, to the nightmares that had dogged him. In them he had relived the terrible, pain-filled moments at Malfoy Manor before his defiance had kicked in, that and his faith in Harry. Brushing off nightmares was easier when no one else witnessed them. He couldn’t even be annoyed with Candide over that; her response had merely been to roll to the side and suggest that if he wished to talk, he should wake her. This was almost enough to make him feel annoyed at being too well understood. That would be preferable to the undone feeling he was currently experiencing. He would have to find something to occupy the day with other than these thoughts, that was for certain.
When a knock sounded on the door, he jumped slightly, and then rolled his eyes in annoyance at himself. McGonagall entered.
“Shall I expect a visit every day?” Snape asked, but it held no rancor, making it come out pretty much the opposite of how it was intended.
McGonagall stopped and smiled as though also understanding too much. She perched Fawkes on the empty kitchen towel rack and swung off her cloak. “I was early for a meeting I have with Amelia and thought I’d drop in again to see how you were and to discuss Filius’ funeral preparations.”
Snape gestured that she should take the one chair at the table while he himself moved to sit on the edge of the bed.
She peered at him and, rather than starting up the topics she just mentioned, asked, “Are you certain you are all right?”
“YES,” Snape replied, happy to snap at someone.
“Hm,” she muttered doubtfully, but she switched to discussing how they may arrange a funeral by Saturday—assuming she could convince Bones that the Floo Network could safely be brought back into operation.
“You need to find a replacement for him, as well,” Snape pointed out during a lull.
McGonagall huffed. “Let’s at least mourn him a bit before pushing him aside, Severus.”
Snape bowed slightly, not wanting to argue. “I was not trying to be crass.”
She straightened her robes. “No, I suppose not. I’m still a bit sensitive, perhaps.”
He stood. “I am going to see if Arthur requires assistance again today.”
He sensed her watching him move as he collected together his things. When he was prepared to depart he slid his narrow gaze her way. “What?” he asked sharply despite strong suspicion of the reason she watched him.
“I keep expecting you to relapse,” she admitted.
“I don’t intend to,” he pointed out.
She laughed lightly. “Did you will yourself out of the effects of the Crutiatus?”
Snape stared at the burned, borrowed wand in his hand. “No. Quite the opposite,” he admitted quietly. “I had given up, in fact.”
She swung her cloak back over her shoulders, saying, “Good thing Neville Longbottom didn’t give up on his mother; apparently she’s made a very small but meaningful recovery herself.”
Snape stared at her. “Did she?” He could not comprehend his colleague’s offhanded tone, given the sheer coincidence of what she was saying. “Did the visiting Healer look in on her as well, or something?”
McGonagall shook her head. “They are saying it’s spontaneous. It happens you know. I looked in on her myself, it’s a small thing really. She says a word or two now and then, but she’s not much more than a child.”
Snape’s previously unoccupied mind was churning rapidly now. “Hm,” was all he said.
Chapter 35 — Prisoners' Dilemma
"How do you feel?" Snape asked minutes later.
"A little strange."
"It is unfortunate that we do not know who your tester will be," Snape said. "Although, just as well Moody is not available," he uttered darkly.
"You've had this test before," Harry said. This realization came unexpectedly out of the fog of his thoughts.
"Yes," Snape admitted.
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