The boy’s dormitory in the Gryffindor tower stood empty, as everyone else had decided to sleep at home. Harry, not having a home at the moment, decided he might as well stay as originally intended. He used a spell to put the bedding from the pile in the common room onto his old bed. He stripped to his t-shirt and dropped onto the mattress leadenly with Kali cradled against him. Either his own fatigue had caught up with him or hers did, because he was hard out immediately. He was so solidly asleep that he did not wake when Snape came up to check on him and he had to be shaken hard hours later when morning arrived.
“Harry,” Snape’s voice cut through his distorted dreams. A hand passed through his hair, turning his face upward. Harry blinked into the sunlight, forced to shade his eyes. As he sat up, Kali made a chirping noise and struggled inside her bindings.
Snape peered at her with a disturbed expression. “What an unfortunate creature.”
Harry scooped her up and stood to collect his robes. “I trust that Hagrid knows what’s best for her. What time is it?”
“Half past nine.”
The Great Hall was empty. Snape sat across from Harry and watched him eat breakfast. Harry pushed his watery scramble around his plate and said with some trepidation, “This doesn’t look like normal Hogwarts fare. What happened to the house-elves?”
Snape scratched his chin to stall and said, “There were only six in the castle last night. The rest are still on loan helping to clean up from the troubles. Had there been more about, I doubt they could have been overwhelmed.”
Harry put his fork down. “What happened?”
Snape crossed his arms. “The elves here are not tightly bonded to their servitude. It is difficult to bond them, even if the school wished to, since the spell works with an individual or a family. Were they bonded to the Headmaster that would create issues during succession.”
Harry began to see the possibilities. “The Death Eaters bonded the elves to themselves?”
“Dobby even?” Harry asked, feeling terrible for the elf as soon as he considered this. When Snape nodded, Harry asked, “Where are they now?”
“Two cannot be located. The other four are at the Ministry in the care of Control of Magical Creatures.”
Harry glanced at the clock. “I’m going to go see Dobby, then.”
“Wizengamot meeting is at 1:00, remember,” Snape sternly reminded him.
Harry nodded and lifted Kali up from resting in his lap. “Guess I’ll take her back to Hagrid for now.”
Snape held a hand out. “I will take her. Why don’t you get on your way; it is getting late in the morning and the Auror’s office may wish to give you further instructions given that thirty members of the press have been invited to the meeting.”
“Are you going to be there?” Harry asked.
“I was intending to, unless you would rather I not.” He rested Harry’s pet in the crook of his arm and placed his other hand over her to hold her there.
Harry felt dizzily uneasy and then secure as this transpired. “No, I’d prefer you be there.” Harry glanced at the doors to the hall, considering Apparating.
“Take the Floo,” Snape ordered him.
- 888 -
McGonagall approached Snape as he crouched on the floor, cleaning up his office. Burnt files littered the floor, some burnt not by spells but by the smashed potions that had also stained and etched the stones.
“Faring well enough, Severus?” she asked.
He stood with a stack of less-damaged papers in his hand. “I should have cleaned up last night; the potion ingredients would have done less damage if I had.” He set the stack down on the desk and spread them out.
“Did you see Poppy about your arm?” McGonagall asked, either remembering his burnt sleeve from the night before or seeing something in the way Snape moved.
“It is no matter. I’ll mix a bit of plaster for it if need be.”
“Severus, that’s ridiculous, go up and see Poppy now. Things have quieted down.” When Snape did not respond, but continued to sort out the salvageable files from the hopeless, she commanded, “Come along right now, then if you are going to be that way.”
Snape glared at her. “It is literally a scratch.”
“Now, Severus, or I will call Fawkes down here to haul you away.”
“The bird would regret that,” Snape threatened. They stared at each other before Snape gave in with a roll of his eyes.
In the hospital wing Snape took a seat where directed to. Pomfrey bustled out and upbraided Snape for waiting so long getting himself tended to. As Snape sat through having a burn plaster applied, his eyes narrowed as he took in the occupant of the bed across from him. Snape glanced meaningfully at Pomfrey and nodded in Lupin direction. Pomfrey simply shook her head. Snape then glanced at McGonagall, who whispered, “Maybe you could speak to him.”
“Me?” Snape mouthed.
“You have a better chance of shaking him out of it,” McGonagall said in an extremely low whisper. “He doesn’t expect anything from you.”
“No, I imagine he doesn’t,” Snape muttered inaudibly. He used this task as an excuse to shake himself free of Pomfrey before she was finished. He ignored the hospital witch’s tossed up hands and crossed to Lupin’s bedside.
Lupin lay curled up as though asleep but given the late hour, this seemed unlikely. At the sound of his name, he rolled onto his back and propped himself up slightly with the pillows. The change in him was still very subtle, having been arrested by the quick application of a wrap to draw the mutagen out of his bites. “What can I do for you?” Lupin dully asked.
Snape sat on the next bed over and clasped his hands together. He had no good conversation ideas and felt out of his depth with this task. He finally settled for the basic truth: “You are looking quite well, Remus.” Indeed, the slightly furred point to his ear would not be visible if he failed to cut his hair for a month and nails could be trimmed shorter to hide their slight points. The more subtle change of his shoulders hunching fractionally forward like a quadruped’s, would be harder to mask.
Lupin’s pursed lips appeared to restrain a counter argument. He didn’t speak.
Snape crossed his arms and said the next thing he thought of. “Not the best evening, facing one’s most reviled nemesis, whose encounter was almost fatal the last time.”
Lupin stared at Snape. “Avery come and see you?” he finally asked.
“Yes,” Snape replied casually. “Fortunately, I had a bit of warning that things were amiss. One you missed getting, unfortunately.”
Lupin looked him over. “You all right?” he asked. “I noticed you’ve got some bandaging there.” He seemed to be trying hard to pull himself out of his emotional morass using concern for someone else.
“It is minor,” Snape said dismissively.
Lupin scrubbed his face with one hand, a sign that he was slipping down again.
Snape said, “How is the damage to your office? I only ask because the Defense files have been rather badly damaged by both fire and potion as well as fiery potion.” Snape spoke with an edge of beaten down fatigue that he did not really feel but suspected may be effective.
Lupin rubbed his arm and glanced around the wing which was otherwise unoccupied. “I guess I could go,” he said. “Pomfrey hinted as much enough times during breakfast.”
Snape handed him his robes which were hanging behind the bed. Lupin was exhibiting the trait that Snape found most annoying above all others: self-pity. He steeled himself for a rather long remainder of the morning but a half hour later, Lupin had sufficiently engrossed himself into copying examination keys and lecture notes over to clean parchment that he didn’t speak much, although he still sighed too frequently, usually after studying his less than human hands.
“Does it really matter that much?” Snape finally asked after one such incidence.
“I like moving among Muggles. I’m going to have a hard time doing that now,” Lupin replied. “Muggles aren’t particularly fond of . . . creatures.”
Snape returned to his task of returning files to an unbroken drawer beside the door.
“Avery made a mess, didn’t he?” Lupin observed.
Snape surveyed the room. “It was my deflection block that did this damage,” he said, indicating the smashed cabinet from which the parchments had spilled. “I was not going to underestimate him this time, even though I hoped my first offense would be fatal to him.”
“They listed Avery as taken away in one piece. Why didn’t you just kill him?” Lupin asked. It was an unexpected question for him.
“Feeling a bit more the vigilante than usual, Remus?” At Lupin’s shrug Snape said, “I was most pleased that Harry had not taken that action last time, so I did not have it as an option, myself.”
Lupin squinted at a sheet of notes and diagrams demonstrating locking charms. “That doesn’t sound like you, Severus.”
Snape crossed his arms and leaned against his desk. “There was a time when I would have been satisfied with considering Harry’s virtuousness as my own redemption, but I do not find that valid anymore.”
Lupin put down the sheet he was holding and stared at Snape. “You feeling all right?”
- 888 -
In the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, Harry was directed to a cage in the massive back storeroom which held four tragic-looking house-elves, three of whom were passed out on the floor with open bottles of butterbeer near or still in their boney hands. Dobby crouched near the door of the cage, his nose pressed through the bars.
“Harry Potter, sir,” he squeaked when Harry approached.
Harry crouched down opposite him. “Mr. Diggory said you should be un-bonded very soon.”
The elf nodded without freeing his nose. “Dobby’s master is bad wiz-” the elf started to say and then felt compelled to slam his head against the bars. The bars were too close together for Harry to reach in and keep him from doing this.
“Dobby, just don’t talk about your master, all right?”
The elf fell still, but muttered, “Dobby bad elf; could not help Harry Potter.”
“I didn’t need any help. It’s all right. You’ll be all right. Have a butterbeer.”
Dobby blinked his big eyes and said, “After watching Winky drink butterbeers Dobby not want any.”
“Yeah, I suppose,” Harry said. “I’m sorry I can’t stay; I have to get upstairs.”
Dobby tugged on the bars. “Harry Potter is great wizard for visiting Dobby in the Clink.”
“Just hang in there, all right?”
Too soon, Harry found himself escorted into the large meeting hall of the Wizengamot. To his surprise, he was brought not to a seat in the front center of the floor, but to one along the wall, amid the reporters, who gazed at him with inquisitive wariness. Snape had been hovering near the rear of this pack, but stepped forward to stand just behind Harry’s right shoulder. Minister Bones was saying, “I now move us onto the main issue of this meeting, and that is making a determination on Mr. Harry Potter’s future in this organization.”
Harry swallowed. Tonks leaned close and said, “Minister thought you should hear all of the debate; that’s why she asked that you be brought in at the beginning.” Harry let his shoulders fall and tried to relax.
Bones went on: “Because Mr. Potter is an apprentice in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, investigations concerning him have been overseen by the Department of Mysteries.” Beside Harry, some of the more foreign journalists were taking note of this. “Cornelius Fudge will be leading the debate over Mr. Potter. So I will turn this over to him.”
Harry’s heart sank. Fudge, sporting his old self-important attitude of walking with his chest pushed out to compete with his belly and his hands hitched around his lapels, strutted down to the floor. Percy followed him, carrying his parchments, which he arranged neatly on a nearby podium. Fudge said, “First off, I would like to make clear to all present . . .” Here he bowed to the reporters, including explicitly to Rita Skeeter, who had appropriated a member’s seat on the end of the lowest tier. “. . . exactly what Mr. Potter’s rogue magic is capable of.” He turned to the door with a sweep of his arm and it opened. Tertius Ogden stepped in, walking backward to guide a heavy wooden chair that was being hovered in. Lockhart, still sporting the dull red eyes of Voldemort, was chained to the chair. His vicious eyes scanned the room as though lining up who he would make victims of first.
The reporters backed up against the wall, ignoring their earlier desire to keep some space between them, and a few of the elders gasped. The chair was lowered to the floor with a thud. Bones visibly gathered herself. “We would have used Courtroom Ten had we known you were bringing him in here.”
“But why?” Fudge asked with sarcasm. “He is harmless.” With a snap of his fingers the chains fell away. Ogden backed up a step to aim his wand at the prisoner, presumably in case he tried to leave the chair. The room was definitely on edge now. Voldemort, using Lockhart’s soft face, sneered at the assembled.
“If I may?” Fudge asked, still using his airy tone.
“If you may what?” Bones asked.
“If you must,” Bones said, sounding uncertain about what she was agreeing to.
Fudge pulled his wand out and handed it to the figure in the chair. One of the reporters ducked behind the others and some of the Wizengamot looked ready to leap up and run despite their advanced age. Voldemort clutched the wand in both cherishing hands, his face the picture of ecstasy. With a snap of his arm, he aimed it at Percy, who had taken a position beside Fudge, but now clearly wished he were elsewhere. Voldemort shouted a curse, but nothing happened. He shouted another to the same lack of result. Eyes wild, he moved his aim among the tiered seats, where many ducked. “Avada Kedavra!” he yelled repeatedly, but soon ended in a sob. Still clutching the wand as though it were a lifeline, Voldemort slipped off the front of the chair onto his knees. He sobbed heavily now, head bowed, shoulders shaking. The rest of the room was utterly still, not even the reporter’s quills moved.
Fudge stepped forward and easily snatched his wand from Voldemort’s beautiful hands, which in his distress had gone nearly limp.
“Unprecedented,” Fudge announced. “A threat to the very foundation of wizardom itself.”
“What?” Harry heard himself utter.
“No one,” Fudge went on, sounding more and more like a carnival sideshow announcer, “in the history of wizarding, has ever before, removed the most fundamental energies from another being, the very thing that makes them magical. Until now.” He turned to glare at Harry.
“You’d prefer I killed him?” Harry asked.
Fudge pointed his wand at him, although it felt less a threat and more like simply pointing. “You are not called as witness at this time, Mr. Potter.”
Voldemort had fallen into a heap, his head resting on his bent knee. Fudge stepped by him as though he were part of the furniture. Harry wished he would at least reach out and trip the man, but Voldemort had no will left to care about his surroundings.
“This is just one of many roguish spells Mr. Potter has demonstrated he is capable of. He has also . . .” Fudge began counting on his pudgy fingers. “Communed with the Dementors, admitting in fact that he negotiated with them. His Animagus form is a beast of unusually large and dangerous proportion. He has the power to SEE Voldemort’s servants when they are not present. He could see through Voldemort’s eyes when he chose to do so. He can call forth all manner of vile creatures from the very underworld . . . and these creatures remain at his command. Just yesterday he executed—on the very first try, I might add—a long and difficult spell left behind by Salazar Slytherin himself.” Fudge tossed his waistcoat back and paced once in front of Voldemort, who still had not moved. “Ladies and gentlemen of this fine committee,” Fudge said with a hand held up and out to them. “I submit to you that Harry Potter . . .” Fudge’s hand swung around to Harry. “ . . . is the new Dark Lord.”
Harry stared at the former Minister for Magic. The reporters stared at Harry, most holding off on describing the scene in their notebooks. Tertius Ogden hazarded a glance behind him to gauge Harry’s reaction. Harry remembered to breathe.
Fudge was approaching, so Harry sat up straighter. “No comment, Mr. Potter?” Fudge asked.
“You said it wasn’t my turn,” Harry pointed out, grateful that he wasn’t supposed to speak until he had figured out where to begin. He felt a bit dizzy as he tried to formulate a strategy for responding. He made the mistake of glancing over his shoulder at his guardian.
Fudge took this cue and leaned in Snape’s direction, hands on hips. “I won’t even start in on your choice of adoptive fathers, Mr. Potter: Death Eater and all.” He spun away. The reporters began scratching madly. “Need I say more?” he announced to the room.
Harry realized with a fast sinking heart that he had no power to protect Snape anymore; he could barely protect himself.
“Take him out of here,” Fudge gestured at the destroyed man on the floor.
Ogden and Percy hovered him out.
Bones, at least, seemed unimpressed with Fudge’s performance. Others around her were leaning forward, appearing disturbed and interested in hearing more. Bones said, “Mr. Fudge, we are well aware of Mr. Potter’s resumé, off of which you have left a long list of things, including his exemplary performance and dedication as an Auror’s apprentice, his fine leadership at the Demise of Voldemort Day festivities . . .” She glanced at the empty spot on the floor where Voldemort had just been removed and added more quietly, “Perhaps soon to be renamed.” She pulled her monocle out of her eye and polished it calmly. “As I see it, Cornelius, you are one of the few harboring the belief the Mr. Potter is a dark wizard and are merely using fear to compel others to your belief.” She ignored someone clearing his throat in the tiers behind her. “Let’s move on, shall we? You have insisted that we run a Darkness Test, so let’s do that then and put this to rest. And I expect everyone to honor the results, whatever they may be.” She glared pointedly at the former Minister.
Fudge gave a little bow and gestured—still with that annoying grandeur—that Harry should come forward. Almost pointedly, Harry was directed to the chair Voldemort had just vacated. It was a sturdy old thing with broad armrests freshly marred by the chains that had been around them. Ogden hustled up with a small trunk, setting it down on the floor and taking bottles out of it.
Fudge stood with his hands behind his back, flicking his wand rapidly. “Ever have a Darkness Test, Mr. Potter?”
“No, sir,” Harry honestly replied, glad that he could.
“It is believed that no dark wizard can pass this test. Not worried at all?”
“I’m not a dark wizard,” Harry said.
“You insult our intelligence, Mr. Potter,” Fudge muttered.
Harry held in all kinds of retorts, such as, not particularly difficult to do that. He sat quietly while Ogden hovered Harry’s wand before him. He stepped back and instructed Harry to take it up and use it. Harry did so and even held onto it, intentionally waiting for the instruction to let it go again, so as to not seem to have lied just moments before.
“You are not to touch the wand again during the test,” Ogden stated.
Harry assumed it was he who was going to run the test. He was mid-preparation for what kind of tester Ogden may be when Percy strode over and stood beside him, face set like a mask, wand in hand.
“Mr. Weasley will be administering the test for our department,” Ogden stated and stepped aside.
Harry waited, trying to adjust to this new development. The room rustled and fell quiet as though a play were about to begin. He glanced down at the wand hovering before him and told himself that he could do this, easily; certainly everyone had faith that he could.
“I’m prepared to begin,” Percy nasally pointed out.
“Go ahead then,” Fudge said.
Percy raised his wand and aimed it straight at Harry but, unlike Snape, he had no difficulty in striking out. A stripe of pain like the lash of a whip cut across Harry’s chest, making him gasp. The pain faded quickly, but before it could disappear completely, a second spell came at him. It was the third spell, a Blasting Curse that pushed him hard against the chair-back, that made Harry’s arm jerk in the direction of the wand hovering before him. It was instinctive. He arrested the motion before getting even close, but Percy had spotted the movement.
Percy sneered with pleasure. “Go on, Potter. You know you want to hit me back.” He cast a spell that doubled Harry over so that his forehead grazed his floating wand. Percy dropped his voice so that only Harry could hear. “Of course you want to hit me, I have Belinda now.” While Harry forced breath into his reluctant lungs, Percy went on. “Shall I tell you about what we did last weekend? She is always saying how much better I treat her you know. She’s such as willing young woman if you tell her all the nice things she wants to hear.”
This was not a line of assault Harry had prepared for. His face heated and his jaw clenched. And just as he filled his lungs finally, a Glove Hex materialized to redden his cheeks all the more from the slap of leather. Every ounce of Harry’s being longed to smash Percy back across the room with a Blasting Curse.
“Come on, Potter,” Percy mocked a little louder this time. “You are such a faker, playing at hero.” His voice dropped again, “But I hear you can’t live up to it in bed.”
Harry fists clenched and he began to doubt that with he could possibly hold out with his will further weakened given how very close he was to losing control clearheaded. If Percy had been within reach, Harry was certain he would simply throttle him.
The sixth spell was a Delirimens Curse that made Harry feel as though hundreds of insects were crawling all over him, biting him. Percy was maintaining the spell by turning the point of his wand in small figure eights, making it last as long as he could. Harry could not help scratching and clutching at his arms and back as his brain screamed at him to strike back to shut it off. Finally the spell faded and Harry bent forward, needing to catch his breath yet again. He was doubting himself for part two of the test and that was taking away some of his breath too.
Ogden approached with a piece of stained dissolving paper. Harry ate it, dreading what was coming. Seconds ticked by and Harry’s frantic worry melted away to a dull concern. Ogden leaned close and repeated slowly. “Remember, you cannot touch your wand.” Harry needed this slow instruction as his brain wanted to forget what was happening. As a litany, he repeated it to himself so as to not forget. “Don’t touch the wand. Don’t touch the wand.”
Again, Percy raised and aimed his wand, a peeved crease distorting his face, perhaps because he had not defeated Harry on the first round. The sting that arced across Harry’s chest felt simultaneously far away and sharply inescapable. “Ah!” Harry said and rubbed his collarbone, unable to hide the discomfort this time around. “I’m go—” Harry cut himself off. He had almost verbally threatened to kick Percy’s arse later, but better sense shut him up just in time. He scowled instead.
Harry was ready for the Blasting Curse, but still had a dangerously weak moment, during which it seemed completely sensible to grab for his wand and utterly insane to hold off on doing so. He forced his fingernails to bite into his palms instead. In the curse’s wake, he tried to catch his breath, but could not. He was suffocating, breathing heavily but not getting any air. His arms felt bound, even though they were not really. This confused him, which rattled his control. He had to be insane not to defend himself. What was wrong with him that was not blasting this sneering idiot out of his sight? He certainly deserved it. But Harry could not move his arms.
The Glove Hex weakened Harry all the more. He glared at Percy, who continued to drop insults supposedly passed on to him by Belinda. Harry was so focused on his hatred that his control of the interstice to the Dark Plane began to weaken. A musty chill wind floated under his robes. Harry dipped his head and drew on reserves of control he was previously unaware of. Releasing the creatures here would be the end of his current life, and that he feared far more than a mere childish insult or even a stinging slap across the face. The truth of this simple priority gave him much better control and he could even release his frantic grip on the armrests. Nothing else in the world mattered, only surviving this ordeal intact, and the ordeal would end very soon. He was almost there.
Harry raised his head and defiantly faced down the last of the six curses without even flinching. Percy’s lips twisted sourly when Ogden called the test to a halt. Harry wanted to glance away from his own knees over at his guardian, but could not transform the will to do so, into action; he was spent.
Wood-soled footsteps approached, but Harry didn’t lift his head. Fudge said, “I submit that we move onto the second proposed procedure.” Harry did raise his head upon hearing this. Fudge went on, “The proposal that Madam Bones refused to allow to come to a vote at the close of the last meeting of this august body.”
Bones said, “Cornelius, Mr. Potter passed the test. It was correctly administered, as we all witnessed. As you yourself stated, no dark wizard can pass this test. I move that we dismiss this issue. Everyone but you is satisfied.”
Fudge paced before the first tier of seats. “I don’t believe that is true. But if it is, you have no reason to hesitate to submit it to a vote.”
Bones tossed up her hands. “All right then. All in favor of executing Mr. Fudge’s previously defined second procedure.”
A number of hands went up. Harry hurriedly tried to count them, but there were too many. Nearby, Ogden crouched on the floor, arranging little bottles inside his small trunk. Fudge wore a crooked grin when he turned back to Harry. Madam Bones stated, “I wish to express that the current state of extreme mistrust, not only of this body but of the wizarding world at large is due in no small part to the inflammatory and one-sided nature of the articles published in our newspapers.” She didn’t glance at Skeeter as she said this, but many others did. “I have to wonder if you will ever be satisfied, those of you who voted in favor. You have all forgotten how much we owe Mr. Potter and you underestimate the risk involved in ostracizing him, whether he in reality be a good, bad, or medium-evil wizard.” She peered straight at Harry. “All right there, Mr. Potter?”
Harry nodded. He felt saddened more than anything else, even given that he still ached from the physical battering he had just received. The suspicion would never end and this realization depressed him. He found himself better understanding Snape: he too could never convince most people that he was not as they believed; it was simply too much for the average person to overcome. Harry leaned forward, arms wrapped around himself. He felt mummified and half-strangled.
Ogden approached with another dissolving paper, this time stained thoroughly. Arthur Weasley rapidly approached as well.
Mr. Weasley’s hand fell on Harry’s shoulder. “I think he may need a Healer.”
“Nonsense,” Ogden said, “He didn’t get hit that hard. I was standing close enough to see every spell effect. He said he was all right.”
“Harry?” Mr. Weasley prompted.
Harry looked up at his boss. “Nothing is going to change their minds,” he said grimly. “I want to get this over with. Then I want to go on a long holiday.”
Mr. Weasley patted his shoulder and retreated back to the side opposite the press. Harry glanced the other way and found his pensive guardian standing a few feet in front of the press, as though he had started to approach but then held off. Harry considered that he himself could slip away anytime, into the floor and far away, where ever he wished. He could go to Finland and never come back. But he did not want to do that. Too many people were relying on him and he would miss his friends.
Harry let Ogden put the torn and folded paper on his tongue. A cloud of indifference crowded out the world. Someone was speaking to him and a voice sounding very much like his own was replying. The mummified feeling intensified. Harry could not have moved his arms had he wished to. What bothered him most was that his wings were immobilized. He hoped he did not need to fly anywhere.
Fudge had been asking Harry a series of standard background questions, but now he asked, “Have you ever willfully injured another—not a criminal wanted by the Ministry—or attempted to do so?”
Harry nodded and in response to the question of who, replied, “Draco Malfoy and some other of the Slytherin Quidditch team.”
“Ah, the incident deemed serious enough to ban you from the sport, correct?”
“And other times that you hurt others?”
“I’m sure I tried to hit Malfoy and other Slytherins many times.”
“Any other people since you have left school?” Fudge asked, getting impatient. Harry shook his head and Fudge frowned. “Are you currently breaking or have you ever broken any Ministry rules?”
Harry’s ascent was interrupted by Bones, who said, “Cornelius that is a ridiculously general question. I broke a rule just an hour ago, carrying my cup of tea down here in the lift. Keep the questions specific, otherwise I shall call a halt to this.”
While Bones was speaking, Mr. Weasley had approached Harry and bent close to him. “Harry,” he asked in a whisper, “are you breaking any other rules besides the one involving fraternizing with a fellow Auror?”
Some recessed part of Harry’s willful mind groggily wondered that Mr. Weasley knew that. Harry shook his head.
“Not a single other rule?” Mr. Weasley asked more loudly.
Harry shook his head. Mr. Weasley straightened. “This is an administrative matter, Madam Minister; one that we are already aware of.” Mr. Weasley moved off with a dismissive attitude.
“Move on, Mr. Fudge,” Bones said. “And keep the questions specific to things you already have reasonable suspicion of or I will float a proposal that we subject you to the same treatment. I, for one, have questions still about the favors you gave to wizards such as Mr. Malfoy when you were in power.”
Fudge smiled weakly, looking to need cover for a case of nerves. “Of course, Madam,” he replied with false politeness. Fudge turned to Harry. “Do you regularly practice Dark Magic in order to perfect it?”
Harry again indicated “no” with a kind of lolling of his head from side to side, his will too weak to do more. He wished he could breathe. He wished he could move. “Dark Magic is horrible,” Harry slowly stated. “Dark things reach through to our Plane and feed upon it, sucking your soul away.”
Harry spoke this with such grave seriousness that Fudge stared mutely at him rather than continuing his interrogation. Percy approached and whispered something to him. Fudge started and asked, “Er, yes. Have you ever performed a surreptitious spell on someone that you later regretted?”
Harry nodded just as a small shudder passed through him. With his awkward pose of keeping his arms wrapped around himself, the shudder appeared very odd.
“Severus Snape,” Harry replied.
The room’s attention shifted. Snape, arms crossed, wiped the startled look off his face, took a half-step forward and said, “I waive my right to redress.”
Bones nodded and made a note. “Move on, Mr. Fudge,” she said casually.
“What?” Fudge blurted.
“You have no victim,” Bones gently informed him. “Therefore the line of questioning is dropped.” She sounded as though she were enjoying herself a just a trifle.
Fudge sputtered and stalked over the Snape. “You press me, Snape, and so help me, we’ll have a session just about you.”
Snape rose up so he stood over Fudge. “Go right ahead. I would prefer it to this. The Ministry itself gave me responsibility for Harry’s well-being and just in the last quarter hour, you have repeatedly caused him pain and have overdosed him with a powerful potion. You have caused him far more harm than he has ever inflicted upon any innocent party.”
Fudge spun away. The foreign reporters near Snape all stared at him as though keenly interested in dissecting him. Bones said, “Given that Mr. Potter practices no dark magic, harms no one, and is clearly suffering the worst effects of Veritaserum, I call a halt to this proceeding. Arthur if you will see to him while we discuss the results and take a vote. Also, the guards should see that the reporters are escorted to the Atrium.”
Snape made it to Harry at the same time as Mr. Weasley. “The antidote,” he snapped to Ogden. Snape tipped Harry’s head back and prepared to tip the bottle into his mouth. Harry’s uneasy eyes turned grateful upon recognizing him. “I’m sorry,” Harry said.
“Swallow this; we’ll discuss it later.”
Snape pocketed the empty bottle, guided Harry to his feet and, with Mr. Weasley assisting, led him out. In the corridor Harry said, “I want to hear the result,” and forced them all to a halt with a clumsy backing up of his feet. He shook the two of them off and leaned against the wall beside the heavy door just as it swung closed. The booming noise of it rattled his raw nerves. His legs were wobbly, however, and he still could not peel his arms away from his body. He slid to the clammy stone floor to rest.
Mr. Weasley said, “I think he needs a few more minutes to recover.”
Snape said, “He was overdosed; it will require a little longer than that.” When Harry weakly leaned his head back against the wall, Snape crouched beside him, dark robes flowing around his feet. He pushed Harry’s fringe back and rested a palm on his forehead. “All right?”
Harry nodded. “I’m sorry,” he repeated.
“What is he apologizing for?” Mr. Weasley asked, bending low.
“I actually do not know,” Snape replied. “But it is no matter.”
The heavy door opened and McGonagall stepped out. “How is he?”
“He will eventually be all right,” Snape stated darkly.
“You held up admirably, Harry,” McGonagall said.
“I almost failed. I almost struck back,” Harry admitted.
“So did I,” Snape breathed.
McGonagall allowed the door to finish closing and said. “I think Cornelius’ actions garnered quite a bit of sympathy for Harry, so the vote should not be a problem.”
Groggy and perhaps still under the influence of Veritaserum, Harry said, “That means I don’t have to go work for the French.”
“Were you going to?” Mr. Weasley asked in surprise.
Harry nodded, “I was going to take Tonks and Kerry Ann with me.”
Sharply, Mr. Weasley exclaimed, “You were going to raid my department?”
Snape waved Mr. Weasley to silence and asked Harry, “Even if the vote is in your favor, will it have been worth it?”
Harry dropped his gaze. “I still have things to do and I need the Ministry’s help with them. I don’t want to handle Merton alone, even if I thought I could.”
Mr. Weasley patted Harry’s knee. “Growing up a bit there, Harry,” he said.
Harry threw him a narrow, challenging look, but gave up on it quickly. He still couldn’t breathe freely and was still compelled to keep his arms wrapped around himself. Snape reached over and peeled Harry’s hand away from his side. His intensely curious gaze shifted quickly to knowing. “Let’s get you somewhere you can rest, Harry.”
“I want to hear the vote,” Harry countered.
“I insist,” Snape commanded. “Come.” He stood Harry up and put one of his oddly rigid arms over his shoulder to support him.
Mr. Weasley said. “I’ll go back in and owl you when the debate finishes and they finally call for a vote. You’ll be at Ms. Granger’s, correct?”
Harry nodded and Mr. Weasley slipped inside the heavy door just as Snape Apparated them away.
Hermione jumped up and helped guide Harry to the couch. Snape sat beside and again peeled Harry’s arm away from his abdomen. “Certain you are feeling all right?”
“I can’t really breathe,” Harry admitted.
Softly, Snape said, “Yes, of course,” as though expecting that. “Ms. Granger, would you do Harry the immense favor of fetching his pet from Hagrid’s cabin?”
“Uh, sure.” Hermione straightened from bending over Harry and took up her empty owl cage. “Need anything else from Hogwarts?”
“No, that will suffice,” Snape answered easily. He raised a knowing brow at Harry and said, “Your pet is bundled up, remember?”
Harry gaped at his guardian. He shifted his shoulders as though testing that theory and said, “Severus, that’s why I couldn’t strike back. I really wanted to.”
“And Percy would have deserved it,” Snape stated drolly.
“But, I didn’t mean to cheat,” Harry insisted, arms jerking as he fought the invisible sense of being bound.
“You did not cheat,” Snape insisted. “You simply had a bit of help from your friends.”
Harry sighed and leaned back. “I really wanted to strike back but I couldn’t move my arm. Maybe I could have stopped myself anyway, but Percy was saying things about Belinda.”
“Then I would propose that he was the one cheating.”
Harry fell silent, wondering how he would have fared without the extra help. Maybe he would have done all right. Harry kind of wished he knew for certain, though. He glanced at Snape, who was studying him closely. “You bailed me out, too. So did Mr. Weasley.”
“You deserve the help, Harry. Always.” Snape crossed his arms and lifted his chin. “The Ministry treated your capture of eleven more of Voldemort’s associates as just another day for you.”
Crookshanks sauntered over and bumped Harry’s shins. “They didn’t like how I did it.”
“They have no cause for complaint,” Snape insisted.
“They didn’t complain, just stared at me all worried-like. Like everyone always does.”
“Give them time to adjust. They do not know you as well as your friends, who trust you implicitly.”
“That will be forever,” Harry asserted. “I can Legilimize people just as well as you. I know what they’re thinking.” He crossed his arms for real now, feeling peeved just discussing this. “You haven’t asked me what I did to you,” he went on in a sullen manner.
“I assumed that we would discuss it when you were recovered.”
Hermione returned and handed over the cage. Within it, Kali was preening her wings fastidiously. “Was the Chimrian like that when you arrived?” Snape asked, sharply concerned.
“No. Hagrid unwrapped her before giving her to me. Said to keep her in the cage so she doesn’t use her wings.” Hermione plunked down beside Harry. “How was the vote?”
Harry complained, “I don’t know yet. Someone dragged me away before I could find out.”
Snape peered at Kali before setting the cage aside. “It was critical that no one find out exactly what was happening to you,” he pointed out.
Harry stretched his arms out straight. “I do feel better, except . . .” he trailed off and shook his head. “I am sorry.”
“Ms. Granger,” Snape said, “I fully realize that this is your flat, but would you mind terribly? There is something I need to discuss with Harry.”
“Oh. Sure. I’ll take Crookshanks for a walk. He hasn’t had one in ages.” The cat gave an unhappy squawk as he was hauled up under his front legs and toted to the door.
Snape said, “I do wish I had a home of my own to take you to. I feel a bit remiss that I do not.”
Harry shook his head. “Your faith in me is my home, really,” he said quietly.
“You cannot lose that,” Snape stated.
Harry did not speak; he was balancing between pained gratitude and the weight of too many concerns.
Snape folded his hands before him and respected Harry’s silence a minute before saying, “Given your predilection for letting guilt gnaw at you—a truer sign than any other that you are firmly stuck on the side of light,” he added almost disparagingly. “I thought I should give you a chance to get this out into the open.” When Harry still did not speak, Snape said, “If you are fearing my reaction, there is no need to. Anyone who can throw around old, forgotten spells of Salazar’s I tend to give extra consideration to, if only out of an interest for self-preservation.”
Harry could not help a small laugh escaping his lips. “I’m not sure what I did to you,” he admitted. He reluctantly met Snape’s gaze and looked away again.
“You are not certain what you did . . .” Snape tonelessly repeated.
Harry shrugged, pleased with having enough freedom of movement to do so. “See, when I pushed the Cruciatus curse out of you . . .” Harry stalled for a lack of words. He held his hands out before him and moved his fingers as he remembered the feel of sorting between Radiance and curse. “It’s hard to explain. I used the Staunching skill that Per showed me I had. Blood is very Radiant, you know; so is the core spirit of someone. That’s what the Crucio messes up. But since I can feel cursed things too, I just pushed the two apart until the curse was gone. And unraveled the damage at the same time, but that was the easy part.” He glanced at Snape and away again because he did not like to think of him that way: injured and surrounded by little hope.
Harry went on: “But I think I did more than I was trying to. I didn’t know what I was doing; I only tried to help because everyone was giving up and I . . . Anyway, you seem . . . different now.”
“Do I?” Snape asked challengingly, which Harry realized was the tone he had been dreading when he started explaining. “And you believe that was solely your doing?”
“Severus, you . . . you’re getting married, of all things. You and my trainer are almost friends. And you . . . couldn’t . . .” Harry stopped again. In a quieter voice he went on, “When I asked you to help me practice the Darkness Test, you couldn’t do it. You’ve never backed down before.”
Snape’s hands, no longer tightly folded, spasmed as though that comment had struck a nerve. Visibly, he recovered himself and more calmly said, “You do not think it was because of my experiences just before?” He paused to let that sink in. “Harry, I thought that I had cheated fate. Voldemort believed me to be his most loyal servant, safe to have living in the very den of his most powerful and reviled enemy, safe to share his concerns about the prophecy, which above all things, indicated that he was fallible. He did not dare share that knowledge with any other of his followers, nor did he take the knowledge away from me, which he could have easily. He needed to consult with me, trusted that I had only his interests in mind. But I was not his most loyal servant . . . I was his least loyal servant. Voldemort died in the Entrance Hall battle without ever learning that.
“But there I was, faced with his wrath after all those years of facing him down in person and fooling him, and after a year of being safely ensconced in the belief of succeeding, to the absolute end, in that treacherous role. Worse yet, he was being egged on by Malfoy, of all people, although that was not going to last long.” Snape sat back on the couch as well and tilted his head back to stare off into memory. “Voldemort’s personality was tenuous, but it was solidifying rapidly. I have no doubt that he would have returned to his former power given enough time. You took him down just in time, Harry; the task would only have grown more difficult.”
“I was mostly rescuing you,” Harry pointed out. “Not that I didn’t want to get rid of him. He was making me crazy and . . . evil.”
“You seem to have recovered from that well enough.” Snape put his elbow up on the back of the couch and rested his chin on his knuckles. “Assuming I have changed—which I am not admitting to—you believe that your unrefined spell . . . not these significant events . . . are to blame?”
Harry’s face twisted thoughtfully. “You aren’t usually influenced by events that much,” he pointed out.
Snape’s lips twitched into a smile. “As I prefer it to be.” He fell silent and studied Harry, who waited for what felt like a verdict of some kind. Snape said, “Why would it bother you so to believe you were responsible, given that these changes would be considered positive by any ordinary standard?”
With more than a hint of passion, Harry replied, “Because it wouldn’t be fair to you.” Snape’s doubtful expression made Harry hesitate, but he plowed on with: “You’re your own person. You’re allowed to be whomever you wish to be, Severus. I don’t have the right to . . . to just hit you with a spell and change you. I hate the thought that I might have, and I’m very sorry if I did.”
Snape stared at his charge with an expression Harry had not seen in a long time: uncertain and slightly surprised. Nearly a minute passed before Snape spoke again. “That has to be the single most considerate and benevolent thing anyone has ever said to me. I had never considered the power of that before, but . . . I believe, now that I think about it, that has been your attitude all along, has it not?”
Harry blinked at him. “What do you mean?”
Snape rested his chin on his knuckles and muttered, “See, you don’t even understand the question.” He sighed and smiled faintly. “Harry, do not concern yourself. I do not think it was your actions but my cheating fate and death yet again that effected a change . . . if indeed I have changed.” His eyes narrowed as he added, “But I appreciate your sentiment.”
“You wouldn’t have said that before; you know,” Harry pointed out.
Snape’s hand flung out from under his chin to whack Harry on the arm. “Stop that,” he commanded. He stood with purpose and turned to stare down at Harry. “You are looking for differences now and are seeing them where it is unwarranted.”
“I think your perception has changed and so you can’t tell you’ve changed,” Harry argued.
Snape spread his hands like a preacher might and replied smoothly, “Then it truly is no matter to me.”
“But I’m still sorry,” Harry argued.
“I heard you the previous . . . uncountable . . . times you have said that,” Snape retorted. “If you are truly going to be an evil wizard then you must stop apologizing so much . . . it ruins the effect.”
Harry smiled despite himself.
Snape went on, “Evil wizards do not apologize. They do not unconditionally accept those around them for who they are. They mock, taunt, abuse and manipulate those around them.” The two of them stared at each other. “Say it,” Snape commanded in a low voice. “I can see it in your eyes . . . you are not Occluding your mind well enough to hide it.”
Harry took a breath. “That’s how you used to be,” he said, with clear reluctance. He even drew in his lips to try to recapture the words.
“Then I apologize,” Snape said with a tiny bow of his head.
“You’ve already made up for it,” Harry said. “I’ve told you that before.” He stood as well, rubbing his collarbone which was still smarting from Percy’s spells. As he stared at Snape, he felt nothing of his past emotions, only affection. He still wasn’t Occluding his mind, and assumed Snape could see it.
Snape turned away as though uneasy with what he saw. As a distraction, Harry said, “So when’s the big day?”
“I don’t actually know,” Snape admitted, still facing away.
“Soon? A year from now?” Harry went on, finding this an excellent topic to recover from the previous one.
“I . . . don’t know,” Snape said. “You will have to ask her that.” He rotated back toward Harry. “You do not mind?”
“No, not at all.”
“Strangely, neither do I,” Snape muttered.
An owl appeared at the window. Harry fetched it inside, his heart speeding up despite not wanting to care so much about the outcome. The note had been dashed off hurriedly, but it said: Thirty-eight votes in your favor to thirteen against. Rogan is up next.
“I’m all right,” Harry said, unable to hold back a broad smile. “Maybe we should go out and celebrate.”
“Maybe you should owl your friends with the news and then rest because you are on duty first thing tomorrow.”
Disappointed, Harry lowered the note and said, “You’re sounding parental.”
Snape drew himself up and said, “I should think.”
Snape eventually departed and Harry fell back on the couch with a groan. More minor injuries were making themselves known. Harry rubbed a tender spot on his arm and tried not to sink into black hatred for Percy; he settled for strong annoyance, but it was a struggle to do so.
A knock came on the door and Tonks let herself in before Harry could lever himself onto his feet. His whole outlook changed upon seeing her. She dropped her cloak and wand at the table and came over to him. “How are you? Rodgers said you really got knocked around.” Her concerned tone made him feel vaguely melty.
“Rodgers said that?” Harry asked. “Percy’s treatment wasn’t that different from what Rodgers doles out in training some days.”
She sat beside him, close by, and brushed his hair back from his ear. Harry decided that the whole rest of the day really did not matter at all. “Don’t tell him that,” Tonks said. “He sounded like he felt pretty sorry for you.”
“Rodgers did?” Harry asked. “You’re certain were talking about the same person here?”
Tonks laughed and rested her head on his shoulder, filling his nostrils with the scent of her hair. Harry’s battered spirit inflated painlessly as he put his arms around her.
Minutes later, Harry pulled out of a kiss and said, “Hermione will back soon.”
“No, she won’t,” Tonks said, still working slowly at the buttons of Harry’s shirt. “I saw her down the block and asked if we could have an hour.”
“Tonks, this is her place,” Harry pointed out.
“She didn’t mind. Said she’d visit her parents, which she needed to do.”
“We can go to your place,” Harry said, but he quickly forgot that suggestion. Minutes later a larger concern jolted him to push her away. “I forgot to tell you,” Harry said. “Mr. Weasley knows about us.”
Tonks stared at him. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” Harry said. “I’m not sure how he found out.” Harry explained about Mr. Weasley bailing him out during his questioning.
“That was really nice of him,” Tonks said. She stroked Harry’s arm and fell thoughtful. “But, you know, I care less than I would have thought about what Arthur may think. Everything is really bolloxed up right now at the Ministry. Nothing good is happening. We’ve lost so many in the department . . .” She fell quiet and sad.
Harry tightened his arms around her slender shoulders. “I know what you mean.”
Tonks’ head again rested on Harry’s shoulder. “I hung onto that stupid plank door in that bloomin’ freezing water thinking what the hell was I worried about the darn rules all the time for? I promised myself I’d act out how I felt about you if I managed to get back, to survive. You’re not a kid at all anymore, Harry. No reason to . . .” She faded out. “But it’s the way I am. I need help breaking the rules.” Harry turned her over onto his lap, encompassing her. “We can deal with Arthur later,” she insisted breathily.
Next: Chapter 38
"Of course he does. So what do you mean he's altered?"
Snape sat back, which dangerously rocked the old chair he was in. "Greyback, the werewolf who bit Remus, enjoys being a werewolf. He has cultivated in himself anti-cycle Lyncontropic features. What that means," Snape explained, "is that he is partially werewolf all of the time. When he bit Remus again recently, he passed on some of that, although quick application of a toxin-wicking potion reduced the end effect considerably. Nevertheless he is behaving as badly as expected: wallowing in self-pity and refusing to go out or even consider visitors."
Author Notes: 2 weeks again, at least. I think we are down to three chapters remaining. Maybe two if they are long ones. I mean, long even for me.