At the Ministry, Harry was allowed to man the office and keep track of assignments which he found good to bury himself in. He even took on the annoying task of straightening out the assignment slips with the log for the last few days. This reminded him that it had been tampered with at one point, to lie about where Tonks was. Harry wondered if Rogan had done that, but it was before the Death Eaters were loose. He could not have been blackmailed before then, could he?
Around noon, Rodgers came in with a tray. “Can you bring Tristan some lunch? I’m not sure I can resist smacking him around if I do.” At Harry’s surprised expression, his trainer amended. “Not really,” although he did not sound as though he meant it.
Harry accepted the tray. “Sure,” he said.
Harry unlocked the interrogation room, which had been converted into a cell with the addition of a cot and a charmed chamber pot. Rogan lay on the cot, arm and chin drooped over the edge. He did not look up at Harry as he entered. Harry, uncertain how dangerous to assume the Auror may be, set the tray on the floor. “Lunch,” he announced. His own stomach growling at the thought.
Rogan shrugged. Harry asked, “Did you modify the logbook?”
“No,” Rogan replied. “That’s a hassle. I told Arthur that already. The logbook’s correct.”
“Well, except for the time I saw it had written out that Tonks was out on a call in the Docklands, when she wasn’t. That message disappeared.”
Rogan sat up slowly, twisting his neck to stretch it. “If you’re asking if I did that, the answer is ‘no’.” Rogan’s eyes had narrowed as though he were thinking. He looked concerned now, making Harry feel he was not as bad as his actions.
“What are they going to do with you?” Harry asked, feeling an odd bit of kinship with the man.
“I don’t know,” Rogan replied. “Wizengamot meets Sunday. Don’t know if they’ll put me on the agenda or not.”
“I already am,” Harry admitted. “Need anything else besides lunch?”
Rogan’s mood had definitely improved since Harry had entered. The Auror stooped to pull the tray closer to the cot as though interested in its contents. “No,” he replied.
When he returned to the Auror’s office, Snape was standing by the logbook, peering over it.
“Severus,” Harry said in bright welcome. “They let you keep that badge?” he asked, hoping to distract his guardian from asking where he had spent the night. The badge had printed on it: Evanescent Deputy.
“Yes, apparently. Thought I could assist again today. Minerva is meeting with Madam Bones to argue that the Floo Network should be restored. She wishes to hold Filius’ funeral at Hogwarts, but it will difficult to attend if people can not arrive by Floo.”
Harry dropped his gaze, remembering the Charms professor and trying with difficulty to imagine him gone. “I’d like to go, when you find out where it will be.”
“I am certain it will be announced widely . . . when the time and place are set.” Snape’s voice sounded regretful enough that it gave Harry pause.
“Your father was looking for you, by the way,” Harry said, intentionally to jolt his guardian out of the unusual demeanor he had fallen into.
“Was he?” Snape asked dryly, recovering a more normal tone.
“I told him I’d tell you,” Harry said, dispensing with that duty. “Are you sure you’re up to field work?”
“Yes,” Snape replied more forcefully, but he patted Harry’s arm as though thinking he needed reassurance.
“I just don’t want you to get hurt again,” Harry began explaining, but Rodgers came in, so he let it drop.
“Oh . . . Snape,” Rodgers greeted him with obvious mixed feelings.
Harry jumped to arrange his trainer’s files and made sure the assignment slip from his call was accounted for. Rodgers stopped what he was doing and said, “Good to have you around, Potter.”
Harry stopped as well, unseated by this unexpected statement of support. “Thank you, sir,” he responded sincerely.
Rodgers gave a little laugh. “You’re all right, really.”
Tonks and Kerry Ann entered, the later combing her hair with her fingers as though she were mildly frazzled. Harry busied himself with the logbook, searching out the entry that corresponded to the assignment slip in his hand, even though he had already found it moments ago. He didn’t have to distract himself long, Rodgers sent Tonks back off to join Blackpool on a stake-out. He settled into his desk, saying, “Have a report due to the Wizengamot this morning. Remind me to yell at Kingsley for not saying that we’d get it to them next week sometime.” He pulled open the drawer and took out an inkwell. “If there’s an emergency, Ms. Kalendula, would you mind going out with your former professor there? We should keep Harry in until the Long Beards make a decision on him.”
Kerry Ann shrugged and gamely said, “As long as I don’t have an exam afterward, no problem.”
“Potter, fetch these files for me,” Rodgers instructed Harry while holding out a slip of parchment with a list of names on it.
Harry took it and headed out, missing the rare look of understanding that passed between his guardian and his trainer.
That evening, Tonks was out in the field when Harry decided he needed a break, especially since he had been given nothing more to do, which was somehow more wearing than having too much work. Blackpool seemed alert; although, she still had moments when her face fell into terrible sadness before getting distracted out of it. Harry said good evening to her with some delicate feeling, trying to communicate that he understood. She simply nodded and waved him off. “You’ll be all right here alone?” he verified.
“Yeah, yeah. You aren’t even supposed to be here.”
He took himself to Hermione’s flat. Hermione was cooking, or more precisely, there was a pot on the stove with a self-stirring spoon circling in it and lovely scents filled the flat. She greeted him in surprise.
“Do you mind if I stay yet again?” Harry asked.
“‘Course not. You always can.” She did a quick double-take at the newspapers spread on the table and moved to expunge them.
Harry stopped her before her wand could complete its spell gesture. “That’s all right. I need to read them.”
“You sure?” she asked doubtfully, still holding her wand poised.
Harry nodded and sat on the couch, pulling the papers closer to chose between them. They all looked equally hazardous. One had a headline about Harry’s upcoming Darkness Test. Another entitled: You Were Warned, claimed to recount his entire long history of poor behavior that led unequivocally to his current state.
Harry sighed, drawing Hermione over from the kitchen. “Sorry,” she offered.
She fidgeted with the wooden spoon in her hand. “I’ve been feeling awful about not being on your side enough either. I just . . . well . . . I’m sorry about that too.”
“You’re on my side, now,” Harry pointed out. “You trust me enough to sleep in the same flat with me, Dark Wizard Extraordinaire.”
“Course,” she said.
“That’s all that matters. You think most of Skeeter’s readers would?”
She frowned rather than reply. Harry slid down to rest his head on the back of the couch. Exhaustion had caught up with him again. “I need a holiday,” he said out of the blue.
“We all do.”
After dinner she kept watching the time. “I have a date for drinks tonight.”
“You do?” Harry asked in surprise.
“Cousin of someone I work with. Muggle.”
Harry thought this sounded like a good thing even though her tone sounded defeatist and perhaps even stubborn.
She added, “I didn’t want to start with something as major as dinner out, so I suggested a drink after dinner. And I do need a break, if only for an evening.”
“So, how long will you be out?”
She shrugged. “Probably just an hour or two.”
“Where is he taking you?”
“Just some . . . hey, what are you, my mum now?”
“I . . . just . . .” Harry straightened, defensive. “I was just thinking that you should be careful.”
“Harry, he’s a Muggle, if he tried anything, I’d kick is arse.”
“I don’t mean that,” Harry said. “People might guess that you are with me, sort of, and, well, I don’t want you put at risk because of that. Lots of people still want to get at me.”
“More than usual,” she pointed out. She stood and went into her bedroom. “I’ll take my chances.”
Harry thought that he did not want her to, but she was intelligent enough to make her own choices, and Harry considered that he could probably get her out of most any jam, now.
She put on clothes flashier than he would have expected her to wear and departed. As she pulled the door closed, she appeared annoyed with her errand, making Harry believe she was still pining for his follow apprentice.
Harry moved to clean up. Crookshanks repeatedly slipped between his legs as he moved around, despite his lifting the cat aside gently with his foot each time. “What is it?” he finally asked the animal. Crookshanks meowed. “Oh,” Harry said, “your dish is empty. If you didn’t feed so much of it to the mice, it wouldn’t be. Hermione’s going to end up with rats in this place if you keep it up.”
Harry dug out the cat food box from the fridge where it was kept to keep the too-clever pet from getting into it. He poured out a bit and pushed the dish out of the way of his walking around. He did most of the clean-up by hand because he needed something concrete to do. Under the toppled box of bread crumbs on the counter, he found the ground meat used in the sauce. It had been out long enough to get tainted with a dark edge. Harry stared at it. He set it aside and rushed to finish the dishes and wash down the table.
The package of ground meat rested on a blue foam plate which was then wrapped with cellophane. He folded it over itself to better carry it and dropped into the Dark Plane.
The grey world with its grey sky felt very familiar now. The odd noises that greeted his arrival didn’t faze him at all. He began walking, looking about for the werewolf. He walked awhile, honestly enjoying the queer stillness of this place where he need not worry about running into Rita Skeeter or anyone else whose reaction he would have to brush off. Harry remembered that last time he had found the werewolf near the inversion spot for Hogwarts. Harry Apparated there and began circling. A double set of footfalls approached and the familiar, mangy and injured creature came into view, half crawling, half walking on all fours.
“I brought you something,” Harry said. He unwrapped the package under the animal’s watchful gaze and set it down before stepping away.
The werewolf approached suspiciously, sniffing. It put a half-paw, half-hand on the package to steady it and gobbled down the raw meat as though famished. It then sniffed out and ate every bit that had escaped, grey dirt and all. After licking its jaw it raised its nose to Harry and stared at him.
“That’s all I brought,” Harry said. The werewolf continued to stare at him. Harry wanted to leave, so he stepped backwards rather than turn his back, in case his treat be viewed as just an appetizer. This attitude of worry about his safety brought many other creatures near, all sounding hungry. Harry halted, growled lightly, and simply Apparated away without much thought to where he should go. He arrived in an abandoned area of landscape with more than its share of twisted metal and drooping tufts of saw-edged grass. He walked a little, just looking around and regaining the sense of superiority that kept the evil creatures here at bay.
Just as he was thinking of heading back to Hermione’s flat, something caught his eye. Lying at the base of a tall hillock was a flat drum and beside it a fork of polished antler. Harry picked these up and grew concerned. “Per?” he shouted, his voice absorbed rather than echoing back at him. Harry took the objects and, concentrating hard on the lake shore in Finland, Apparated and slipped back into the sunlight.
The contrast between where he arrived and his memory of that place could not have been greater. The sun hung high in the sky, even this late. The lake rested in blue stillness except for a fish jumping. The hills were green and dotted with yellow and orange flowers as well as the ubiquitous grey exposed stones. But most stark was the buoying warmth that now wrapped softly around him as he stood there taking everything in.
Most of the huts had tendrils of smoke rising from the cages on top of them. Harry walked along and knocked at the one he remembered staying in last time. There was no response. The door to the next one opened and a man Harry didn’t recognize peered out before emerging. Harry said, “Per Hossa?”
The man reached for a walking stick and walked away in the other direction. Harry, with a stuttering start, followed.
Up on the ridge over looking the lake and the hills on the other side, sat Per, smoking a pipe. As soon as he was in view the first man walked away, never speaking a word. Harry approached Per, glad to see him safe and sound.
Per finally noticed Harry’s approach and turned his startled gaze to the drum he carried. Harry held it out to him. Per stood slowly and accepted it. He seemed vaguely befuddled.
“Hi,” Harry said. “Found that. Thought you might have dropped it.” This was a lot of words, Harry knew. And in a language Per knew very little of, but Harry couldn’t help speaking them all.
Per took a seat again on a large flat rock and struck the drum lightly at about the pace of a heartbeat. Harry, uncertain if he should stay or leave, fidgeted with his hands in his pockets. Finally, he decided to sit down, but he kept having to remind himself to just sit quietly, which he had lost the instinct for. Per refilled his pipe and lit it without a match with an ease Harry had not seen previously. Harry smiled lightly in lieu of commenting.
After a long wait, twenty minutes perhaps by Harry’s internal clock, Per said in awkward English, “You are in trouble.”
“Me? Oh, in Britain, you mean. I’ll manage.”
Another long pause ended with, “Confidence is power.”
“Yeah,” Harry agreed.
“Someone came here.” Per pointed at the ground at his feet with his pipe stem and made a circle with his fingers and held it before his eye. “Look for you. Many questions.”
“For me?” Harry thought of Moody. “After I left? What’d you tell him?”
Per’s face took on a gruff appearance and he waved his hand as though to ward something off. “No English. No English.” Per than laughed.
Harry laughed as well, and his vision blurred strangely the way it did when Per pulled a pocket of the Dark Plane around them. Harry wondered how he did that. This time when Per spoke it came out clearly. “You now hunt dark wizards in herds?”
Harry chuckled. “It’s faster that way.”
Per tapped his pipe on a rock to empty it. Minutes past and then: “As long as you are not starting your own herd.”
Harry shook his head vehemently. “I’m just trying to make sure everyone survives.” He remembered Snape’s insistence that Harry seek out Per’s advice if he himself was incapacitated. Harry would not mind getting the Shaman’s advice, but feared it would take a whole day and a night to do it. Thinking he should get back, Harry stood, but was interrupted by Per saying, “You brought my drum to me.”
“You didn’t mean to leave it there, did you?” Harry asked, only now considering this.
“I did not need it anymore.”
“Oh, sorry. I can drop it back off on my way home. Didn’t realize it was so easy to come for a visit.”
“Must be a long walk.”
“No, I Apparated . . . within the Plane.”
Per raised a surprised brow but didn’t speak about that further. “I keep the drum,” he said, tucking it under his arm.
“It used you to return to me. I should not question that.” Then Per said, “Sit,” as though uncomfortable that such quick follow-ups were necessary.
Harry did so and Per began beating the drum again. He pulled a ring from his pocket and handed it to Harry who, when signaled to by a head nod, dropped it to bounce on the drum. They both watched it migrate around and finally stall over a stick figure drawing of a woman.
Per gave Harry a dubious look. “You hunt woman,” he said.
“Sort of,” Harry said.
“Easy life,” Per said, setting the drum aside.
“You mean, that’s all I have to do?” Harry doubted this but found an aching hope in him that it could be true.
Per nodded and began to meditatively refill his pipe.
“There are still a lot of Death Eaters out there and another dark wizard I have to catch.”
“Last time the ring kept landing on the demon and I did have to hunt demons,” Harry said and Per nodded. “Woman certainly sounds better,” Harry added, hope finding traction in him.
Per sagely nodded yet again.
The next day, Snape stepped into the Auror’s office and gestured for Harry to follow him out. Harry asked for permission from his trainer, who waved him dismissively out. It had been on the quiet side that morning, but that was certain to change by evening, given that it was a Friday.
In the corridor, Snape said, “Let’s go to the house; I have a few things to discuss with you.”
Harry took his guardian’s wrist and took them both to the main hall of the house in Shrewsthorpe. The house was cool and drafty. Snape paced down toward the kitchen and Winky came up to meet him, rubbing her hands together a little nervously.
“Men will be coming next week to begin repairs. You will stay out of sight at all times.”
Winky bowed. “Master wish tea?”
“Yes, please, if there is some.”
“You hired someone already to fix the house?” Harry asked. He himself had not managed to get past thinking about it needing to be done.
“Yes,” Snape replied while pacing the length of the hall to examine the walls and ceiling.
“Do you know who put the tarps up?”
“The insurance company, I assume,” Snape said dismissively.
“We have insurance?” Harry asked in surprise. “Wizards have insurance?”
“Certainly,” Snape replied. “Through Misfortuna Mutual, a Gringott’s holding.” He paced to the drawing room and went to his desk and began taking stock of the drawers, talking as he did so. “When I filed the claims paperwork, which listed this residence as being yours as well, they issued me gold on the spot . . . expeditiously enough.”
There wasn’t any damage in the drawing room so nothing had been removed. Harry hovered in the doorway, observing. Snape said, “Just seeing what should be stored for the duration in case of curious Muggle fingers.” Finally, he closed the drawer he was searching through and looked up at Harry. “Sit down,” he ordered, in an unexpectedly stern tone.
Harry hesitated just long enough to recover from his surprise. He sat in one of the straight-backed chairs after turning it to face the desk. Snape watched him do this, his face relaxing oddly, as though he were pleased by something. Harry was too busy wondering if somehow Snape had found out about his getting serious with Tonks to pay much heed to this. He waited patiently for Snape to say more, managing not to fidget.
“I learned something interesting yesterday,” Snape began. “It seems Alice Longbottom experienced a sudden although minor recovery, strangely around the same time as my own.”
Harry pulled his new calm persona around himself and replied, “I heard that too.” He was Occluding his mind, so when Snape’s eyes bore into his, they got nothing.
Snape straightened the blotter on his desk with his long fingers. More quietly, he said, “I don’t remember much from my time in St. Mungo’s. The mind has many survival responses to pain. One of them is poor recall.” He stared at Harry additionally. “But I do recall your presence.”
“They made me keep you awake . . . which I didn’t like doing.” Harry spoke as though confessing. The memories were still too raw to easily go over them.
“I ignored the Healers, I think. That is why they assigned you that task.” Almost inaudibly, Snape added, “Harder to ignore you.” He sat in his chair with deliberately slow movements and leaned back, hands steepled before him. He resumed staring at Harry, who felt a squirm pass through him with some serious fight to get out.
“What do you want me to say?” Harry asked, before more drawn-out moments could distance him additionally from the truth. A loud car went by out on the road beyond the heavily curtained window, the thrumming beat of its radio distorting as it passed.
“Why are you hiding?” Snape asked softly.
Harry shrugged, but realized quickly that that wasn’t going to suffice. “There’s already too much . . . I don’t know . . . concern about me. I want to go back to when people stopped noticing me so much.”
Snape gave him a doubtful look. “Sometime before you were born, you are saying . . .”
“No, just before they would look as though they wanted to run away in fear.”
“You should not have become an Auror, then.”
“I don’t think that’s the primary problem,” Harry argued. “Things happen to me or around me and I have to take care of them no matter what. It’s hard to make people understand that.”
Snape said, “It is impossible to make people understand. Do not waste your energy on the attempt.” He pressed his steepled fingers to his lips thoughtfully. “So I owe you my life twice over this time,” he commented.
“How can you owe me anything, Severus?” Harry asked, exasperated. “I need you around.”
Winky appeared with the tea at that moment, bowed, and vanished again. There was only one cup. “Did you want some?” Snape asked.
Harry shook his head. “What I do want is for you to run me through this Darkness Test. Can you do that? You said there were six spells . . . do you know them all?”
“Yes.” Snape sipped his tea, stood and went to a small trunk in the corner of the room. He crouched and began searching through the bottles within it, hair obscuring his face. “If I don’t have everything we need, you may have to fetch it for me . . . ah, here.” He pulled out two small corked vials and pocketed them before re-latching the trunk and putting a Muggle repelling charm on it.
He passed Harry with his swooping stride. “In the hall, perhaps. Bring the chair.”
Harry stood and did as instructed. He placed the chair where indicated and sat upon it. Snape moved a few steps away and said, “As I explained before, this is a test of core disposition. That makes it very difficult to fool . . . unlike other methods of detecting dark wizardry. Some claim to have apparati that will detect dark magic’s taint, even years after it has been used. Dumbledore had several, in fact, all of wildly dubious accuracy. The Sorting Hat is far more effective than any of them, but it works more along the principals of the test the Wizengamot intends to give you.”
“Yeah, but the Sorting Hat-”
Snape cut him off. “I agree with Minerva: you will not fail this test; it plays straight to your strengths.”
“I still want to know what’s coming,” Harry argued. “I can’t fail it; I don’t know what will happen to me if I do.”
“Nothing permanent will happen to you, I assure you,” Snape uttered in the manner of a promise.
Harry sighed and sat on his hands because he didn’t want to wave them around. “I don’t necessarily feel like moving to Australia.”
“South America is also a possibility . . .” Snape offered with a lightness that implied he was trying to be humorous. “Better than being incarcerated.”
“Pitcairn Island would probably take me,” Harry tossed out.
Snape approached. “Give me your wand.” Harry pulled his hand free long enough to hold his wand out. When he moved to sit on his hand again, Snape said, “You will not be allowed to do the test that way.”
“Not by any means.” Snape put a sticking hover charm on the wand and released it to float before Harry. He strode away again with purpose to his movements. “You will be asked to verify . . . stop sitting on your hands . . . that you can retrieve the wand and cast a spell with it. Do that now.”
Harry stretched his shoulders, took up the wand up in his hand and cast a Lumos with it.
“Release it to hover again where it is within easy reach.” Snape began pacing, almost agitated, making his robes swing when he turned sharply at the mirror under the staircase. He began to sound like a lecture. “The test most likely will have two parts: the series of six spells that will be cast at you will be done once approximately as you are now. Given your sometimes annoying penchant for self-sacrifice, I do not think you will have any difficulty with that. The second set will be much harder. Who is running the test on you?”
“I don’t know. They didn’t tell me. I’d expect Moody . . . if he were around to do it.”
“As would I,” Snape muttered. “Hm, perhaps I should have asked Minerva. If the tester dislikes you, that will make it all the more difficult.”
“I imagine,” Harry said. “You said I can’t defend myself.”
“Correct,” Snape replied with an overdone roll of his tongue.
Harry looked down at his wand hovering in the air, bobbing just a little from side to side as though impatient. Harry argued, “This test just shows if you’re a looney or not and can take pain.”
“The first part certainly does. Anyone with sufficient discipline can pass the first part.”
Harry swallowed. “So, what happens in the second part?”
Snape approached while reaching into his pocket. He held up a small violet glass vial. “You will be given a forty-nine percent dose of Veritaserum.”
“Forty-nine percent? Why forty-nine?”
“Enough to weaken you and reduce subterfuge but not enough to eliminate your will entirely. If the dosage eliminates your will, then the test is for nought.”
Harry scratched his head. “Why not just give me a full dose and ask me if I’m a dark wizard?”
Snape propped his fists upon his hips as though seeing an advantage at Harry’s question. Harry had a flashback to the many, many times when he lost house-points just moments after such a gesture. “That is trickier than you realize,” Snape explained. “Everyone’s viewpoint on good and evil is different from everyone else’s.” At Harry’s dubious expression, Snape went on, holding out the small vial. “If you gave Lucius Malfoy this serum and asked him if he were doing wrong by plotting to eliminate Muggle-born wizards, what would his truly honest response be?”
“‘No’,” Harry conceded.
“But,” Snape said with the most energy that he had shown since the battle, “if you were to put him in the position you are in and strike him repeatedly with borderline-injurious spells . . . especially if you yourself or someone he despised did that . . . what would be his response?”
“He’d strike back.”
“Odds on, yes. Especially with a half-dose of serum making it nearly impossible to hide that he yearns to . . . maybe even without it.” Snape approached then and uncorked the vial. “You will be given this by some means that eliminates the possibility that you have not actually swallowed it. This will be accompolished either by putting it on dissolving paper that you must eat or simply dropping it into your mouth. Tip your head back.”
Snape counted out thirteen drops as they fell onto Harry’s tongue and re-corked the vial. Harry sucked the oily liquid off of his tongue. He felt woozy after the first swallow.
Snape paced away again. “Good for you to experience what a half-dose feels like. In a hundred and fifty seconds it will take effect as fully as it will ever do so.”
Snape stood waiting with wand in hand, silhouetted by the excess light coming in through the damaged wall behind him.
“How do you feel?” he 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.
“Moody?” Harry queried with difficulty. It was as though he was not supposed to be curious about anything but could be if he worked hard enough at it.
“Yes,” Snape repeated. He was standing more stiffly now, shoulders squared against the light. “Dumbledore did not think it necessary, but Moody insisted anyway . . . in secret. What he did not realize is that I had inured myself to Veritaserum so a half dose was more like an eighth for me.”
“Would you have passed it anyway?” Harry asked.
Snape shifted, tugging his wide sleeves straight. “I do not know. I like to think so. Like you, I was not taking any chances.” He tossed his hair back in an unusual gesture and raised his wand. “Remember, do not reach for your wand.”
Harry nodded. He felt as though he were watching a dream from a half-awake state. He waited.
Snape lowered his wand and tipped his head back to stare at the ceiling. “I think I have grown too weak to be of use to you.”
“Wha- why?” Harry asked.
Snape shook his head and tossed his wand-burdened hand to the side. “I cannot do this.”
Harry stared at him, requiring a bit of serious thought to remember what it was exactly that they were doing. He stood, pushing his wand aside and leaving it to hover beside the chair. Snape shook his head again with more disgust as Harry approached. “It is too much . . .” Snape began, but trailed off. “Ridiculous to be so weak,” he insisted to no one in particular.
“You aren’t weak, Severus,” Harry argued.
Snape stared at Harry and then beyond him, at the empty chair. “I cannot even make myself do it if I remember that it is for your own good,” he uttered in disdain. Snape continued to stare beyond Harry. He spoke only when Harry prompted him with his name. “I don’t recognize myself,” Snape said.
“Maybe it’s too much like what happened to you,” Harry suggested. He might have censored that if he had possessed the ability.
Snape frowned in reply. His posture had shifted. His shoulders were now slumped and he looked reduced and beaten down a bit. Harry gave him a hug.
Snape said dryly, “Clearly, I need to give you the antidote.” He freed his arm to fetch the other vial from his pocket. “Drink a sip of this,” he said, holding it up before Harry, who was resting his head on his shoulder. Snape sounded amused rather than commanding.
Harry put his fingers around the tiny bottle that was almost too small to grip reliably. “You aren’t weak, though, Severus. You know that’s the truth.” He sipped the potion, mostly because he wanted to feel like himself again without the cottony veil of the potion obscuring his senses and willpower.
Harry straightened as the recovery potion washed through him and handed the vial back.
“I am sorry,” Snape muttered. He frowned and tossed his head in self-recrimination.
“It’s all right, Severus,” Harry insisted. “I’d rather you not be the kind of person who could hurt someone, even if you thought it for the right reasons. And like you said, I don’t hate you, so it wouldn’t be the same anyway.”
Snape nodded, but his head remained bowed. “True,” he conceded. He handed Harry his wand, and carried the chair back to the undamaged drawing room.
“I’m glad I know now what a half dose of Veritaserum feels like,” Harry said, sounding upbeat. “I think I could tell a lie with just that much.”
“You most likely could,” Snape responded. “More difficult is to moderate your temper when it has been riled by something.” He held up a finger. “Remember that,” he commanded, recovering some of his earlier sternness.
“Yeah . . . keep my temper.”
“Be prepared for the worse possible tester you can imagine.”
Snape began hovering the contents of his desk drawers into a trunk. “That is the worst you can imagine?”
“I’m assuming they wouldn’t allow Malfoy . . . or Bellatrix to run it,” Harry pointed out. He watched Snape as he packed things up. He still seemed reduced and his shoulders curled too far forward. This was the first time ever that he had failed to do what needed to be done, no matter how distasteful. Harry was having second thoughts about whether that was as acceptable as he had insisted just moments before. “We need a holiday,” Harry said. This was instead of asking Snape if he wanted to try again, which he had almost done, but did not want to reveal his doubts or risk facing Snape’s new weakness again. Harry’s guts went icy; what if he had somehow changed his guardian when he suppressed the curse? That would not be terribly far-fetched given that he had wielded magic he had little practice with, to solve a condition he only loosely understood.
Into this cold fear, Snape said, “There is something else I should inform you of . . .”
“Yes?” Harry prompted, making himself breathe levelly. He could not imagine what was coming next and hoped it was something typically Snape-ish to ease his concerns.
“I have agreed to marry Candide.”
Snape did not look up from the papers he was examining, but he commented, “That is a most unusually befuddled expression you are wearing.”
“That’s . . . that’s great. I was . . . just wondering if you were all right,” Harry managed to say.
Snape put the papers down with a sharp rustle. “I have been yelling at people who ask me that, especially repeatedly.”
Harry dropped the issue. Snape was alive, as sane as ever, and well enough. Harry certainly could not reverse what he had done; if indeed he had changed something fundamental about his guardian.
- 888 -
Harry rang the bell at Vineet’s flat in Greenwich. The Indian wasn’t supposed to be on duty that day, but most of the Aurors wished to attend Professor Flitwick’s funeral and Harry had been sent to ask him if he was willing to cover. Harry had an ulterior motive as well: he had not had a good chance to talk to his fellow trainee since events at Malfoy Manor. Vineet had not held back on anything he had told Mr. Weasley, but Harry had not expected him to, either. It would have hinted at his thinking, at least, if he had.
The door opened and Vineet stood holding it. Behind him stood Nandi, who began to ask who it was. Her expression shifted upon seeing Harry there.
“What is he doing here?” Nandi asked sharply.
Harry closed his mouth around the greeting he as going to give. He glanced between the two of them. Nandi appeared challenging, Vineet tense.
“Sorry,” Harry said, “didn’t mean to intrude.”
Vineet opened the door wider. “You are not intruding,” he intoned.
Harry clearly saw the invitation of the door, but did not feel he should cross the threshold. “I was just sent to see if you were willing to fill in this afternoon . . . during the funeral.”
“A funeral?” Nandi interjected. “For all those wizards you killed?”
Harry sensed that responding was not going to get him anywhere given the mocking tone, but the silence was worse. “For Professor Flitwick,” Harry said.
“Aren’t they holding funerals for the others?” she asked, sounding coy.
Harry hadn’t considered that. “I suppose,” he replied. “They were Death Eaters. They killed Professor Flitwick, in fact,” Harry pointed out, finding his bearings, and a sharper edge for his voice. He glanced at Vineet, who seemed suspended there, holding the door. “Perhaps I should go,” Harry said, truly apologizing. “I’m sorry to have disturbed you both.”
Vineet bowed his head and Harry departed. Harry was still distressed by the encounter when he reached the Auror’s offices.
“I don’t think Vishnu’s available,” Harry said to his boss.
“That’s why he followed you here?” Mr. Weasley asked, amused.
Harry turned and found Vineet standing behind him. “Oh.”
“I would be happy to watch the office, if needed,” he said to Mr. Weasley. “Please give my regards to Headmistress McGonagall and the other teachers when you go.”
“Thank you, young man,” Mr. Weasley said, and patted the Indian on the shoulder on his way out.
Vineet turned and said to Harry, “You are using my usual name now.” His eyes were as intense as Harry had ever seen them.
“Well . . . you said that’s what you preferred.” Harry shrugged. “And after you helped me . . .” Truth was, Harry was not entirely certain why he had changed how he addressed his friend. It just felt entirely appropriate to do so, especially given that he had previously been using his formal name mostly as a way to get under the inscrutable man’s skin.
Vineet exhaled hard—Harry could see it in his chest—and turned to sit at Rogan’s desk. Like many mysteriously minor things, this seemed to have much more meaning for his friend than Harry could understand.
“I’m sorry about the scene with Nandi,” Harry said. “I didn’t realize . . . I wouldn’t have come, if I’d known.”
Vineet froze when Harry brought this topic up, his hand poised, hovering, over a closed file folder. After a space, he said, “She is angry with me for not stopping you.”
“I’m glad you didn’t,” Harry said, trying not to experience latent panic at how badly things could have gone in that case.
“She knows now that I fully had the magical power to do so. I told her I unconditionally assisted you,” Vineet said, strangely level. “She does not understand.”
“It’s hard for people to understand if they aren’t there,” Harry said. “You don’t regret helping me, do you?”
“I am here in England because of you. Because of your story, which showed me that fate is something to be faced full on, even if one is dwarfed by it.”
Harry ran his hand over the cubicle partition. “That isn’t actually an answer.”
Vineet still sat facing a closed file folder, but now his hand was clenched. The paperclips, which had started inching toward his hand, backed to the rear edge of the desk. “I entered into your service intending not to regret doing so.”
“Well, that’s closer to an answer,” Harry said. “I do very much appreciate what you did. All I wanted to do was rescue my father, and I only saw one way to do that.”
“A noble cause,” Vineet stated, and finally opened the cover of the file.
- 888 -
Harry entered the Great Hall and stepped to the front where the teachers were gathered. The noise generated by awareness of his entrance passed like a wave through the assembled, quieting them before shifting them to whispering. Professor McGonagall’s broad smile of greeting, despite her red-ringed eyes, pushed most all of it away.
“Lots of people here already,” Harry observed.
“They are celebrating being able to travel by Floo again, I think,” she said, putting a green-clad arm around him. “And how are you?” she asked directly in his ear. “Ready for tomorrow?”
“Yes,” Harry replied. Snape was speaking with Hagrid and Firenze, and Harry caught his eye as he said this.
McGonagall said, “We have a seat here for you, with the teachers. Filius would be most honored to have you sit with us. Took a liking to you from the start . . . because you were so small, I believe.” She winked.
Harry found a smile, partly in remembering how thrilled he was to be at this school, especially in the very beginning. McGonagall patted his back and turned to Professor Sprout. Snape approached.
“Ignoring the crowd is best, I think,” he said.
Harry shook out his dress robes and pulled a piece of lint off his sleeve as he responded, “What crowd?” He did seem to be the center of attention of many who were pointing and standing on tip toe.
“Precisely,” Snape intoned teasingly.
As he brushed down his robes, Harry felt something in his pocket and pulled out a thick disk, slightly larger than a Galleon. Dusty memories fluttered to life and he remembered that the last time he had worn these robes, one of the twins had tried to bribe him by slipping him something that he had had to stash quickly away. Harry peered at the grey, waxy disk and tried to read the writing scratched into the surface. Monster Mush, it appeared to say, although the fancy cursive was difficult to read. Mystified, Harry slipped it back into his pocket.
Snape’s gaze shifted from eying the crowd to looking over the coffin at the very front of the room. It was white and propped up on two gold-painted Corinthian columns. A Ravenclaw banner covered the middle third of it. Somberly, Snape gestured that Harry should chose a seat, since McGonagall was mounting the dais to begin.
As Harry sat listening, he considered how many funerals he had missed. This one would have to stand in for some of the others, especially the ones for his colleagues: Munz, Whitley, and Moody. McGonagall, voice a bit weak, spoke of Flitwick’s background as a champion dueler and how in his first years he frequently challenged the other staff and even some of the students to duel. She spoke of his dedication and patience with teaching, which grew out of that desire to groom students for an art that was no longer practiced, leaving charms the only safe outlet for his dueling passion. Harry, who remembered the Charms professor only with affection, wished he had known half of these things about him while he was alive.
Harry followed the flow of the eulogy for a while but found himself remembering Nandi’s accusations. There are no perfect answers, he thought, wishing he had thought to say that to her at the time. Someone a few rows back was sniffling. McGonagall began to recite from a poem, and Harry pulled himself back to the present.
The thoughtless World to majesty may bow,
Exalt the brave, and idolise success;
But more to Innocence their safety owe
Than Power and Genius e'er conspired to bless.
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike the inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flattery soothe the dull cold ear of Death?
And thou, who, mindful of the unhonoured Dead,
Dost in these notes their artless tale relate,
By night and lonely contemplation led
To linger in the lonely walks of Fate,
The headmistress sat down into the contemplative silence. Hagrid stood and shuffled over beside the podium, which he dwarfed and did not bother to stand behind. As he blew his nose in prelude to speaking, Harry glanced at his guardian beside him; he was somber and looked equally far away as Harry had been. On his other side, Lupin appeared more openly grim.
Several more teachers stood to speak in turn, including Flitwick’s granddaughter, who was about the same stature as her older relative. The Great Hall grew warm with the crowd and the intermittent summer sun. People fanned themselves with their hats or copies of the Daily Prophet. Antigone Flitwick finished and took her seat and the ceremony drew to a quiet close.
Ginny found Harry as soon as the crowd began filing out. “You’ll stay for a while, right?” she asked, sounding terribly hopeful. “Neville said he would, and Ron, and some others.”
“Sure,” Harry said. He was not technically allowed on duty, anyway. “Let me just tell Shacklebolt in case . . . they are expecting something of me.” Harry made this offhanded statement because he had spotted Skeeter within hearing range. Her chin went up and her lips pursed. Harry looked away, trying to project serenity.
Five of them stayed late, keeping Ginny company and having an impromptu party in the Gryffindor common room. Harry lit a small fire despite the heat because he found the common room lacked something without it, especially once the sky darkened. He sat on the rug with his back resting against the side of an overstuffed chair and watched the flames, trying to decide whether he had actually changed Snape somehow when he had healed him. Certainly Snape had changed significantly before then, but something felt different about him now. It was as though he had been filled in and had his sharpest edges rounded off. Snape had done the impossible and agreed to marry his girlfriend on top of making peace with Rodgers—a story Harry could not get out of either one of them. Harry wondered now if he had somehow healed more than the damage from the recent Cruciatus curses, that he had also healed the damage from Snape’s early use of dark magic. This thought eased his heart, as that would not constitute too much intrusion into his guardian’s life.
Ginny’s sharp laugh and voice cut into Harry’s thoughts: “You guess food; I guess they’re off snogging somewhere.”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “Ron’s not much of a snogger. It’s definitely the kitchens that have him.”
“What’s this?” Harry asked.
Ginny replied, “Ron and Lavender aren’t back from getting extra bedding so you guys can stay the night.”
Harry glanced around the common room. The curtains were blowing steadily as the high tower caught the night breeze. He vaguely remembered Ron departing . . . but that was rather a long time ago. “They’re still gone?” he asked.
The three of them fell silent. “You looked like you were lost in the Forbidden Forest there, Harry,” Hermione said. Neville’s eyes were wide and round as he stared worrisomely at him. He had not spoken to Harry all evening except in direct response to a question.
Harry stood. His bum was sore from the hard floor. “I was just thinking about things.”
“Figured that,” Ginny teased. “That’s why we didn’t want to disturb you.”
“Why didn’t you just ask Dobby to bring more bedding?” Harry asked.
“Dobby only answers to you, Harry,” Ginny pointed out. “I’ve tried to get him to answer to me regularly, but he doesn’t like to. He gets grumpy and then I get only oat porridge for breakfast.”
“Dobby!” Harry shouted into the cooling air of the tower. There was no response. Harry called again. The hairs on his arms began to prickle. He considered Apparating to the kitchens, but decided against showing all three of them that he could do that. “Hermione, want to come with me to look for them?”
Ginny moved to stand as well. Harry waved her back. “Stay here. Get your broom out in case you need to get out the window.”
Ginny put her hands on her hips. “I can fly, Harry, I don’t need a broom. And the teachers took it away anyway.”
“You can’t carry Neville as a bird,” he pointed out. “They took your broomstick . . . my broomstick?”
Harry shook his head. “We’ll be back. We’ll silver message if we find them.”
Ginny’s voice called them back, “You know, the twins are hanging out in the castle tonight too. They didn’t want anyone to know. Have something they’ve been dying to do for years and only now have the stuff for it.”
“We’ll watch for them too,” Harry said.
Hermione was still talkative in the corridor. “Ron’s probably helping the twins,” she said cheerfully. At the staircases, Harry held up his hand for silence. “Harry?” she prompted, sounding worried.
“I may just be overly jumpy, but something doesn’t feel right.” He started down. At the next landing he stopped, thinking he should just Apparate. The paintings all watched him curiously, so he sped up instead. The castle stretched on much larger than expected in the quiet darkness. At the third floor, Harry considered walking around and down to Snape’s office to see if he was there. Some of the teachers had decided to stay late after the funeral as well, although the castle was so quiet now, it felt as though no one was there at all.
They were only halfway to the kitchens at this point. Harry urged Hermione off the third floor landing and into the nearest classroom. “Stay here. And please don’t tell anyone what I’m about to do.”
Her mouth had opened on a question, but Harry was gone. He arrived in the long, main kitchen, which was deserted. The hearths were cold, a small knife lay abandoned on the floor beneath one of the long tables where someone had been chopping carrots. Harry wondered if the elves had all been sent off to assist elsewhere. But surely some of them were needed today. Ron certainly would not have found this particular kitchen to be much of a lure. The only food in the room was the unwashed carrots and a leg of what looked to be bison, hanging to age in the corner.
Harry returned to his friend, who gaped at him in shock. “Wow. How the hell did you do that? You don’t even make a sound.” She sounded jealous.
“You really don’t want to know,” Harry said, scenting the musty air of the Dark Plane clinging to his clothing when he arrived. “Unlike regular Apparition, I don’t know if I can take anyone with me. I’ve never tried that before. I’m kind of afraid to try. But Severus said to not tell anyone I could do that.”
“Yeah, I can imagine,” she cryptically agreed.
“There’s no one in the kitchens. So, which cupboard was Ron’s favorite snogging one?” Harry teased, moving to the door.
Hermione rolled her eyes.
Back in the Gryffindor common room, Ginny quickly grew tired of waiting. She paced to the portrait hole. “Think something’s going on?” she asked Neville.
“Harry said to stay here,” Neville pointed out.
“Harry’s not my keeper,” Ginny retorted. “If I’m going to be a prisoner in this place, I’m going to be a prisoner of more than Gryffindor Tower.”
Neville just frowned at her.
“Coming with me?” she asked, pushing the portrait aside.
Neville shook his head.
Author’s Notes: The excerpts of poetry are from Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (various versions)