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Chapter 40 : Wounded Future
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As they weaved their way through the crowded and shifting waiting room, Harry began to feel quite unwell, and was looking forward to lying down. The world melted into a blur while Snape spoke to the greetingwitch and lifted Harrys arm for her inspection.
Rita Skeeter approached, parting the fog of Harrys mind. Well, she snorted, dont tell me you were injured too?
Harry simply stared at her, unable to comprehend her meaning. He still held his arm out of his torn robe sleeve. Skeeter lifted it with quick confidence and probably meant to rub at one of the black marks, but her thumb broke through into crackling black flesh. A noise of distress escaped Harry as, at her prodding, the pain leapt the gap of his shock. The two of them stared at each other in surprise. Snape pushed himself between them and made a motion as though to go for his wand, but he was hampered by holding Harry up.
Harry was quickly led away, aware only of the daggers seemingly stabbing his arm, not the daggers Snape sent Skeeters way with his eyes. After a tormenting journey down corridors and up the lift, they eventually arrived at Shankwells treatment room. Rodgers was sitting on the table, but he leapt down when he saw Harry and helped lead him over to take his place.
What happened, Potter?
Harry could not find a response, but Snape said, Delayed reaction. He moved to the potions cabinet in the corner and pushed bottles around until he found what he was looking for. He poured a dose into a small crystal tumbler from on top of the cabinet and brought it to Harry.
Dont you think the Healer . . . Rodgers began.
Snape explained in unusually rapid speech. It cannot wait.
Harry drank down the tumbler held up to his mouth and soon nothing at all mattered. His arm still hurt, sort of, but it seemed very unimportant.
Healer Shankwell returned moments later and he easily shifted to working on his new patient.
Did you give him something? Shankwell asked as he charmed a tankard of salt water so it would flow more slowly.
I gave him a swallow of Miseringuish, Snape stated as though very uninterested in arguing. From your cabinet, there.
Harry lay unmoving, uncaring, as the charred burns were cleaned and salved and wrappings put on them. Snape stood beside the table, assisting as needed since the Healer was alone. Rodgers stood at the head of the table, watching.
Harry spoke but no one could understand him. The Healer leaned very close and then relayed his message, He says he is glad you two are not fighting.
After that, Harry was out cold. He awoke in a large, dark ward. The floating fairy lights hovered close to the ceiling against the wall, over each bed, only emitting a faint glow. Their slight movements made Harry feel as though he were under water, staring up at buoys floating on the surface.
Hey, Harry, Tonks whispered from close-by.
Harrys chest tightened at the sound of her voice. How long have you been here? he asked.
Since midnight, she said with a smile that he could read in the dim shape of her round cheek. The midnight shift, remember? Severus didnt want you left unguarded.
Harry moved to sit up, sending a stab of pain through his arm. He ignored it and adjusted his pillow to lean back against it. He studied his arm, which was wrapped in white bandage from the tips of his fingers to his shoulder. I dont even know when I got hit, he said.
That happens, she assured him. Healer came by an hour ago. Said you were going to be healing for a while.
Great, Harry breathed sarcastically. At least my wand hand is all right, he said, stretching his right hand out and then clenching it to check that it was working properly. How long do I have to stay here?
Well, you need a lot more treatments, they said, every few hours. They did two while you were sleeping.
Whispering, because the patient on the next bed had snorted in his sleep and rolled over, Harry said, Tonks, I have things I need to do. She nodded in understanding, and he added, dropping his voice more, I have to get this bloke. He sighed in frustration and rested his head on the wooden headboard.
There are chunks missing from your arm, Harry, and a chunk out of your side. She sounded distressed now as she spoke, making Harry relent a little. She leaned over and gave him a kiss, which really made him relent. Does it hurt . . . your arm?
A little, but its all right, he assured her. What time does Severus come back? he asked, leaning forward, hoping for another kiss.
Seven. A few more hours.
Harry lifted the covers. You could join me . . .
No . . . really. He glanced around the room. Everyones asleep.
You should be too, she said, sitting back and crossing her arms.
He reached a hand out to rub her knee. We could Apparate away . . .
Go to sleep, she whispered. Next time I am not taking the midnight shift.
Harry gave her a mock frown and gave up on teasing her. Unfortunately, his merriment was the only thing keeping the weight of the attack, the prophecy, and his frustration at bay, so his frown grew into a real one.
Come on, Harry, keep your chin up, she coaxed. When Harry did not react, she added, Hey, look on the bright side, only one patient insisted on being moved when you were brought into the ward.
Harry gave her a very dark look.
I thought that was good. Look, there are twenty-some people in here. She waved her arm along the row behind her.
Harry tipped his head back, making it clunk audibly against the headboard, and returned to staring at the fairy lights.
Defensively, Tonks muttered, I thought that was good, just one. Oh, and Ron left a note for you. Your friends all stopped by, but the staff would only let them in two at a time.
Harry unfolded the note and squinted at it in the low light before shaking a Lumos from his wand to see better.
Bit of excitement, Harry. Just like old times. Hope you got that medal in the end. Terrible to get cheated out of it, since you definitely earned it. Just receiving it, you earned it, funny enough. Wont be able to stop by again until evening tomorrow—have extended duty at the bank due to a rise in the new security appraisal the Goblins are using here now.
Harry finished the letter and refolded it, grateful his friends were all there to help and that none of them had been hurt.
Early in the morning, Harry was roused from his half-sleep by his fellow visiting. Aaron took a chair from across the room and sat close beside Harry. He glanced at Tonks and said, How ya doin? Lucky youre here. Rodgers seemed eager to talk to you this morning.
He could have talked to me yesterday, Harry said, remembering his trainer here at the hospital at some point.
He tried. Said you were doped out of your gourd. Aaron watched the doorway. I expect hell be here shortly.
Thats fine; Ill talk to him. He glanced at Tonks, who shrugged.
Rodgers did arrive five minutes later, carrying a notebook and looking serious. He started in with a question, How did you know the illusions would distract the devices?
Harry replied, I didnt know. I didnt even know what the disk was. They stared at each other. Harry went on, I saw the aim of one of those things follow a witch who ran toward the back curtain and then successfully drew its fire onto myself. But I couldnt draw both of them to just shoot at me. I had to try something else.
Harry gets very lucky with his guesses, Tonks pointed out from where she leaned against the wall after giving up her chair.
Rodgers frowned thoughtfully.
Whats wrong? Harry asked.
We dont want it to look too pat; as though you may have been involved.
What? Harry asked weakly.
Were being precautionary here, Potter. Ministry has to tell this story with the right explanations attached is all. I need to understand them to explain them to the Minister. His gaze grew sharper. I am not accusing you of anything, he pointed out sharply.
Sorry, sir, Harry said, dropping his gaze.
Rodgers flatly said, It does help that youre injured. I dont normally say that, believe me. He flipped through his notebook. Well, well see when the papers come out this morning. Minister hoped to steer the stories this morning, but you were unconscious until after they went to press. Well see how it goes.
Harrys memory teased at him. I saw Skeeter yesterday, here.
Howd it go? Did you talk to her? Rodgers asked.
Harry used his good arm to scratch his head. Across from him a man with four eyes was getting two of them examined while gesturing to the Healer with hands of ten fingers each. Harry shook himself and tried to remember better. I dont think it went so well. I . . . dont think she believed I was hurt.
Rodgers slapped his notebook closed and stood. Yup, doesnt surprise me. He nodded to Tonks and departed.
Tonks retook her chair. You dont remember what Skeeter said?
Something sarcastic about my really being hurt. Harry hesitated, eyes darting over the far wall as he tried to piece together spotty memories. Um, I think Severus tried to pull his wand on her. I dont remember too much.
Aaron and Tonks shared a look of alarm, which Harry did not see as he settled back onto his stack of pillows. I didnt get any dinner. Do you think breakfast is coming soon? he plaintively asked.
Harry was finishing breakfast when Snape appeared, newspaper rolled under his arm.
Is that the Prophet? Aaron asked.
Snape lay the paper out across Harrys debris-strewn breakfast tray. The headline read: More Chaos within Ministrys Own Spell-Protected Building. And below, the articles only mention of Harry was that his unorthodox thinking had probably saved quite a few lives.
Hm, Harry muttered.
Thats excellent, Tonks said, sounding very relieved.
Why would anyone think I was involved? Harry asked, annoyed.
You knew the attack was coming before anyone else did, Tonks replied.
I could feel it; thats why I knew that, Harry pointed out.
We all know that Harry, but Curse-Nose is pretty rare.
Curse-Nose? Harry echoed.
Yeah, Aaron said. My great aunt could smell curses.
I dont smell them, Harry pointed out smartly, finding annoyance coming on quickly. I feel them.
Aaron shrugged. Same thing: you know about them before anyone else does.
Healer Shankwell approached then, guiding a floating tray of tins. Time to renew the Thewsolve.
Tonks and Aaron departed, leaving Snape at Harrys bedside across from the Healer. He suspiciously eyed the other occupants of the ward a good three rounds until he was satisfied they were harmless, and Harry was glad to have him there, so he did not have to think about anything.
When can I go home? Harry asked when the last of the fresh bandage was being tied into a bow under his armpit.
Shankwell appeared doubtful. A while yet. When Harry groaned, the Healer asked, Tired of us already?
If you really feel up to departing, you can return every six hours for treatment. But only if you feel confident enough to Apparate. We cant have you missing any appointments.
Harry glanced around the ward, at the curious faces who looked away when he looked their way. Yeah, Im good, he said with forced confidence.
After Harry signed out, Snape took him to Hermiones flat. Harry said, I cant wait till the house is fixed. Hermione stepped out of her room as he said this. No offense, Hermione.
None taken. She gave him a long hug. I came to see you twice yesterday, but you probably dont remember.
Harry shook his head and tried not to lean on her. I think I need to sit down
Hermione cleared off the couch while Snape went off to fetch a few potions. Harry fell asleep but was startled awake a short time later by Snape touching him on the arm.
It was a little early to depart the hospital, I think, he said calmly. He poured out a small glass of something. Arm bothering you?
Harry nodded and struggled to sit up. Snape helped haul him up by his good arm and handed him the glass. After drinking it, Harry leaned his head forward onto his palm, which was propped on his leg.
Harry? Snape prompted in concern.
I cant take care of the prophecy like this.
Snapes hand brushed Harrys head. It may still work out for the best.
Whats with the optimism? Harry accusingly asked. He cocked his head to the side to look up at him. I count on you to worry about every last little thing in order to guard against it. Dont get all everything-will-work-out on me.
You are young; you lack understanding in how these things work, Harry. And I rarely have seen you fail.
Harry rolled his eyes and sat back, struggling to come up with an argument when it was clear Snape intended to forcefully instill Harry with faith in himself, even at the cost of his own usual pessimistic viewpoint. Crookshanks leapt up on the corner of the armrest and stared at them. Really, Severus, I think you havent been watching closely enough. I failed yesterday to stop the ceremony. I should have known it would attract Merton.
I do hope you are not nursing yet a new source of guilt.
They were there for me, Harry said, forgetting himself and gesturing painfully with his injured arm.
They were there because the Minister of Magic asked them to be.
Yeah, but because of me. They would not have been there if it had not been for me.
In the end, everyone takes their own risks in life, Harry.
Harry wanted to argue more, but he was too exhausted to. He closed his eyes but opened them again immediately. Are you sure youre you?
Snapes left brow rose dangerously. I will try not to take that as an insult.
Yeah, well, youre different, Harry griped as he lay down onto his side to get comfortable for a real nap. Its confusing. After another pause, Harry challenged, If you thought I wasnt ready to leave hospital, whyd you let me?
I did not want to have to potion you again, just in case, Snape explained. Harry turned his head up to look at him and he clarified. I was afraid that extreme pain may cause you to open the interstice to the Dark Plane. That is why I gave you such a heavy overdose.
Harry lay his head back down, muttering, Now thats the Severus I know.
Snape woke Harry six hours later. He found his robes and helped him into them.
Do not use your left arm, Snape chastised him.
Yes, Dad, Harry breathed.
Snapes razor sharp tone continued. Do you not remember the Healers instructions?
Harry allowed his cloak to be swung over his shoulders for him, despite his dislike of needing so much help. Its hard to remember to follow them. It doesnt hurt so much anymore.
Well, that is something. Lets go.
They waited in the corridor outside of Shankwells treatment room. People passed by, many gave Harry sympathetic glances. When the corridor was empty briefly, Harry said, Well, thats a change.
Best public relations move you could have made, really, Snape dryly observed. Had you not been injured, I fear what we would be dealing with right this moment.
Harry shook his head in disgust and leaned harder against the wall.
Shankwell re-salved the deep grooves that had just started to fill in with new muscle and then re-bandaged them. The Healer said, You have to keep that arm out of service. Looks like you havent been.
All I did was sleep, Harry argued.
Back at Hermiones flat, Harry stared down at Crookshanks looking up at him and said, I should go see what I can do at the Ministry.
You will stay here and rest, Snape countered.
How can I do that? Were too shorthanded. He went over to Kalis cage to let her out. She hobbled up his right arm to his shoulder, clearly favoring a leg. Shes hurt.
Of course she is hurt, Snape said. You are hurt.
Harry plucked her off of his shoulder, to hold her up for inspection. Snape loudly said, Uh, uh. Not with that hand.
Harry transfered her to his right hand and pressed his left against his side with the intent of leaving it there. His pet spread her wings and flapped for balance. Her wings are all right. He carried her to the couch and sat down. Severus, I cant just sit here for six hours at a time, he complained.
Snape scooped up a stack of four books from the floor before the bookshelf and dropped them on the couch beside Harry. Those are yours, are they not? At Harrys nod, he went on, You must have readings to do.
Im about a week behind, Harry admitted, aborting using his left hand to lift the top book. After juggling his pet around, he could use his right hand to open the book and prop it on his legs. He read a few lines and asked, You arent going to stay all day; are you? Harry did not at all want to be baby sat that long.
I was considering it.
Harry returned to his book, saying, Candides all right and everything?
She is fine. She believes she is growing accustomed to the unexpected.
Hermione returned, arms full of grocery sacks. How are you Harry? Professor. Thought we should have some food around for once, she breathlessly explained. Some owls arrived too, Harry. Did you see them?
Harry moved to stand, but Snape beat him to it. Really, Severus, Im perfectly able to fetch my own post, Harry complained, but he accepted the letters and held one up, resisting using both hands to open it. The return address indicated it was from Suze. Harry tried holding the envelope between his knees and prying at the gummed flap with his right hand. That sort of worked. Snape stood, arms crossed, watching him, which did not help. More rebellion worked its way to the surface of Harrys mood. I can get by, Severus. Really. I can make it on my own to my evening appointment.
Snape, unaffected, bowed his head and swung around to look at Hermione meaningfully before Disapparating.
Ill make some lunch, Hermione said, to break the long silence that followed.
Ill help, Harry said, levering himself to his feet, while holding his left hand tight to his side.
Youll not, Hermione countered.
I can help with a wand, Harry pointed out smartly, not in the mood to be babied by anyone.
Use it to open your post, then. I can cook.
Before dinner, Harry took himself to St. Mungos for his next appointment, making a point of maneuvering into his cloak without help. Part of him wondered at his stubbornness about accepting assistance, but he quickly shook off that introspection.
During his visit with the Healer, he received an earful for continuing to use his left hand. Before Harry was allowed to depart, he had to accept having his arm put in a canvas sling. As Harry waited for the lift on the way out, he repeatedly adjusted his collar to get the itchy strap off of his neck. A familiar voice greeted him when the lift doors opened.
Harry! It was Elizabeth, his neighbor, using crutches with difficulty, her foot in a large Muggle cast.
Harry stepped back and guided her out from the front, while her mother helped from behind. Harry let the lift doors close without him. Elizabeths mother greeted Harry and said she would go check in directly with the Healer.
What happened? Harry asked Elizabeth.
She shrugged with her crutches and then tucked them back under her arms. I got stepped on when the crowd in the Atrium got crazy.
You were there? Harry asked in surprise. I didnt see you.
It was crowded, and we were near the back. I talked my mum into it at the last minute.
Harry rather than release her, moved his hand up to grasp her arm. Im glad you werent hurt worse, he said, feeling an awful weight pressing down on him.
It not much really. She lifted her casted foot easily. Just two little bones. Dad insisted on going to the Muggle surgeons, but after seeing me hobbling around for a day, Mum insisted on getting it taken care of properly. She laughed then. Mum brought the x-rays and the greetingwitch downstairs couldnt believe what they were.
Harry grinned too; thought about recalling the lift; thought about leading her down to the Healer and decided on that, since her mother had not yet returned. He found himself unexpectedly drawn to Elizabeth. She did not have any makeup on and her abundant brown hair was bundled loosely on the back of her head, so she looked far more approachable. Come on. Ill take you down to your mum, Harry heard himself say while offering a hand for balance.
As they walked, Elizabeth commented about how unfortunate everything seemed to be lately in the wizarding world, but noted that Harrys house appeared to be getting repaired. The slate for the roof had been delivered last time I walked by, and the hole in the wall is half re-stoned.
Harry made noises of ascent but in reality was wondering where these feelings were coming from and then feeling bad because he was feeling them for someone other than Tonks.
They arrived in the alcove where Elizabeths mother waited. Harry left his friend off there, with what turned out to be a curt goodbye. Harry then violated both the advice of his Healer and his adoptive father and Apparated to the alleyway beside the temporary Ministry entrance.
Harry was greeted warmly by all he encountered on the way to the Aurors office. When he arrived, Rodgers said, You arent cleared for duty already, are you? He sounded hopeful that Harry might reply in the affirmative, but Harry shook his head.
Tonks was at her desk. Harry approached and when she looked up at him in question, was relieved to find far more warm feelings for her than the strange tingle he had been getting with Elizabeth.
You arent supposed to be here, Tonks said, sounding official, which put a dent in Harrys feelings even though he knew that it should not.
I wanted see how . . . things were, Harry explained. In reality he thought he had to prove to himself he was not somehow cheating on Tonks. I cant stay long. I cant let Severus catch me here. In fact, the thought of that gave Harry serious worries.
How are you healing? Shacklebolt asked as he came in. He set something down and started to leave again but waited for Harrys reply.
You missed the announcement this morning, Rodgers said to Harry after a pause. We have the partial N.E.W.T. results back for the applicants who were waiting on them.
How did Ginny do?
Askunk? Harry then asked.
Rodgers tilted his head. A little better than Ms. Weasley. Her second round of testing had been delayed. We are probably going to cancel it, invite them both to apply next year. Weasley wont have to redo the second round, but her written scores need to rise.
It was Harrys turn to frown. He had urged Askunk to apply. Mr. Weasley will be happy to hear that. Is Aaron around?
Hes out on a call.
Harry stood between the door and Tonks chair, thinking, for several minutes. I need to go, he said. He had another letter to write, it seemed.
Harry had to use a sticking charm to get his parchment to lay still on the table so he could write with one hand. But he replied to Suze, who wanted to be sure he was really all right from the incident in the Atrium. And he tried to write a letter to Askunk, but found himself struggling. He finally explained his dilemma to Hermione.
Harry said, She has a real chip on her shoulder about not getting a fair chance to be an Auror because she sorted into Slytherin.
Thats ridiculous, Hermione said, setting a heaping plate of meatballs on the table beside large bowl of noodles that was already steaming there. She seemed to have cooked for six people even though there were only two of them eating.
I told her that. And Aarons been writing to her with advice. Harry stared at his nearly blank letter. Maybe I should just go talk to her.
Really? Hermione asked. You think you need to do that?
Harry scrunched the letter into a ball with his right hand and tossed it into the rubbish bin. This is how we make enemies. We offend people, even if we arent trying to. Maybe its worth going out of your way sometimes to avoid it.
Hermione pushed the plate of chops in Harrys direction and sat down across from him.
As Harry ate, he kept glancing around the room. I keep expecting Severus to just show up, checking on me.
I doubt hell do that. You made it pretty clear you didnt want him around.
Harry stared at her. I didnt. I just didnt want to be babied, thats all. He should be taking care of Candide anyway, with a kid on the way and all.
Hermiones bite of mashed potatoes sprayed far enough that Harry jumped back, jarring his arm.
With exaggerated calm, she asked, Did I hear you right?
Yup, Harry said. Dont pass it around. I expect he plans to not do that himself.
Hermione laughed. Boy or girl?
I have no idea.
The following day passed slowly in forced idleness. The flat was empty except for Harry and three pets, who stared at him far too much. Harry closed the book he had been half-reading and took his cloak down off the rack. He arranged the cloak so it fell to cover his sling and Disapparated to Diagon Alley.
The alley was quieter than expected, given how warm the day was. Nearly every window was open and more noise floated into the alley from within the buildings than from without. Harry strode toward the Post Office, gathering long looks and turned heads as he went. He mostly ignored everyone, but he did warmly greet the woman exiting the Post Office, who probably had not intended to hold the door for him, but did so by virtue of having frozen in place.
Harry wandered along the long counter to where the battered Wizard Register sat chained. Harry flipped open the heavily creased pages and scanned the As. He noted Askunks address, confusingly written as Nosehill, Wembley, but Harry had grown used to translating old Wizard locations into new. The book groaned as he closed it, and seemed to wilt in relief at getting a break from holding itself together.
Half an hour later, after much walking and a bit of hunting for house numbers, Harry used the dragon-shaped knocker on the door of a low house with ubiquitous dark brown paint over the siding, trim, and door.
An unusually long time passed, but Sylvia Askunk opened the door and propped her hand on her hip. She had grown since Harry had last seen her standing up, she may even be taller than him, but three stone lighter for certain.
What dya want? she asked flatly.
Harry had not really planned out what he was going to say. He said, Just wanted to tell you I was . . . well, sorry you didnt get into the program this year.
Yeah, well, I didnt expect to, she muttered. She glanced inside before pulling the door closed behind her and stepping out onto the stoop. She stood crookedly, long arms crossed, red hair blowing in the breeze.
You werent that far from getting in. You should re-apply next year, Harry pointed out.
What, go through all that again?
You didnt even get to the worst of it, Harry said.
Little Ginny Weasley did, Askunk commented.
Ginnys application got deferred as well, you know. She didnt get accepted either.
This broke Askunks annoyed expression, although it did not alter her difficult tone. Really? Darling Gryffindor daughter of the department head didnt get accepted?
Harry found the edge of his patience. Look, he said firmly. Your attitude isnt doing anything except hurting yourself. No one is up against you but you, and the sooner you realize that the sooner youll get what you want. She stared at him as though surprised by his outburst. Harry went on. You did well, just not quite good enough. Look at Aaron. He wanted to be an Auror badly enough that he worked at it for five years. This was just your first try. And honestly it doesnt matter what you decide you want to do; this attitude of yours is going to get in the way. It would get in the way of scooping ice creams at Fortescues just as much as becoming an Auror.
Harry backed up a step. He had not meant to come out with such a diatribe and worried that he had done more harm than good. Dropping his gaze, he scuffed his foot on the walk and said, Well, I should go . . .
His starting to turn was interrupted by her saying, You came here on duty just to yell at me?
No, Harry insisted, gesturing more widely. I just wanted to say that I thought you were good enough to get in, but the requirements are really strict. And Im not on duty; Im not allowed until my arm heals. His arm, which was starting to ache from his moving it around as he talked. He pushed his cloak aside to show her his sling. Which reminds me that I should really go.
This time, his departure was halted by her grudgingly saying, Hope your arm gets better.
Hey, maybe if I win next years dueling tournament.
That couldnt hurt, but its the books you need to spend more time with. I know its boring sometimes, but to be an Auror, you need to be a walking law book and a walking filing manual and on top of that, memorize hundreds of evidence collection protocols and . . . He made the mistake of waving his arms again.
She apparently ignored what he said. Are they going to hold the dueling tournament again next year, given that Voldemort isnt really demised?
Harry had not thought of that. Temporarily befuddled, he said, I dont know. Ill definitely push to keep the tournament. The picnic can go.
She seemed to have relented somewhat. Dont like picnics?
Not in my honor. Ordinary picnics are fine.
Harry returned to the Leaky Cauldron to use the Floo to get to Hogwarts, figuring if he was going to ignore the health of his arm to talk to a Slytherin he barely knew, he should also console Ginny.
Harry encountered McGonagall in the Entrance Hall. Ah, Harry, well timed. Ms. Weasley is in the tower, shouting down her father just this minute.
As Harry approached the Fat Lady, he picked up the gist of the conversation drifting out of the tower. Mr. Weasley was unwisely sticking to the argument that this was for the best. Harrys entrance instantly quieted things. Ginny turned her red face away and stalked to the stairs leading to the girls dormitory.
Want me to talk to her, sir? Harry asked his boss.
Mr. Weasley straightened his errant hair. Yes, please, he said. And then you go straight home to rest, like you should be, he added before exiting, sounding as though Harry were one of his own children.
Ginny turned after they were alone. Hows the arm? she asked.
Getting better. Hows the ego?
She rolled her eyes and sat heavily on the armrest of a ragged overstuffed chair. Not good. Dad said they accepted that doofus, Tridant.
Really? I hadnt heard that.
He was such a weenie, giving everyone pointless advice they didnt want. Yick.
Harry chuckled. Well beat that out of him. At her doubtful expression, Harry said, Really. Rodgers is good at that. It happens to everyone. Im kind of looking forward to seeing it happen to Tridant, in fact. He grinned faintly.
Whatd they have to beat out of you? Ginny asked.
Nothing, as far as I know, but they tried hard to anyway.
Really? Ginny cringed as she asked.
Really. You have to be molded to fit into the team. Most people who are really good dont want to be part of a team; they want to go it alone. And by the way, you did really well on everything but the written. Retake it next year. Work your tail off studying in between.
She huffed and said, I thought if I passed the second part I was in.
They gave you a chance to take the second part based on your performance during the battles. But that didnt mean you were in for certain.
She frowned. Now I have to figure out what Im going to do with myself.
I thought you wanted to work for the twins?
I dont know, she moodily said.
It would keep you on your toes. Keep your instinct for survival well tuned . . . Harry teasingly pointed out.
Ginny laughed, but it faded. I dont think they want me working for them, really. She stared at Harry thoughtfully. Maybe I just wont give them a choice.
Thats the spirit.
At Harrys next appointment, Shankwell threatened to check him back into the hospital ward.
Do I have to dip that arm in solid plaster of paris to force you to give it a rest? He facetiously asked Harry.
I dont use it, really, Harry insisted. His arm was currently resting on a floating platform while Thewsolve was reapplied to the gouges which each time were a little less deep.
Shankwell dabbed his fingers into the salve and spread it onto the next untreated spot. Its going to scar, he threatened. When Harry failed to respond to this, he added, Its not going to heal as strong as it was. This is a nasty curse you were hit with and I can tell by the pattern that it leaked through a modulated block. Youre lucky to be alive and youre taking healing very casually. He went back to smearing salve. Though I havent seen a boy your age who does care properly, he grumbled, let alone one playing Auror.
Im not just playing Auror, Harry retorted, stung.
Are you a full Auror already then? Shankwell shot back. He looked poorly slept, which probably explained his short temper, but Harrys temper was even shorter.
No. Are you really a Healer then?
Shankwells left brow rose and he stared at Harry in clear offense. Excuse me?
If you were a real Healer I wouldnt have had to heal my father myself, Harry said, anger taking his caution with it.
Shankwell continued to stare at him, though with more of a keen expression than an offended one. Harry dropped his head and said. Sorry. He glanced at his arm. Are we almost done? he asked in a much more conciliatory tone.
Shankwell finished spreading on salve and wrapped Harrys arm in fresh bandage. We may not be done. Wed like to know what you did. He set his work tray aside and stood before Harry looking rather immovable.
Harry said, I didnt want to lose him, as though that explained everything. To Harry it did.
We certainly understand that, he conceded without conceding in general. Silence fell, Shankwell asked, The spontaneous partial recovery of Mrs. Longbottom have something to do with this?
Harry replied, I needed someone to practice on.
Shankwells head tilted violently as though appalled.
I didnt hurt her, Harry insisted.
You left her in an odd state, dont you think?
Theres nothing left to do. Thats all there is of her now. Harry made the mistake of gesturing with both hands as he spoke. Its all fused together. I unwove what I could.
Shankwell grabbed Harrys left hand and snapped, Stop using that. He roughly handed Harry the sling. Youre done. As Harry stood up, Shankwell with hot anger said, Dont ever touch a patient in this hospital again without permission.
I just wanted to keep my father around, Harry argued. I—
Youre finished. Get out, Shankwell repeated, voice hard.
Harry stared at him before collecting the sling and its straps into a ball and stuffing it into his pocket. This sudden shift in Shankwells attitude had startled Harry. He almost tried to make his excuse again that he had not hurt anyone, but held back, not wanting to inspire more anger. He put his head down and said, Thank you, on his way out.
That night, Harry woke from a bad dream just before the alarm went off to remind him of his next treatment. Hermione came to her door and blinked into the lamplight.
Is something wrong? she asked in confusion.
Just my six-hour alarm, Harry said.
Hermione scrubbed at her eyes and sleepily said, I thought I heard something else.
She must have heard him struggling in his dream. I have to go, Harry said, finding his robes, which he simply slipped on over his pyjamas.
Do you want me to go with you? Hermione asked, sounding more alert.
At St. Mungos, Harry hoped Shankwell had relented a little, but it was hard to tell though his hard-nosed attitude. Harry submitted to treatment in silence. He had been very careful with his arm so there was no reason to reprimand him for that again. At the door, Harry glanced back and wondered if the man ever slept. Harry politely thanked him and departed. As an Auror, Harry was certain to need him again. Harry shuffled down the corridor with his bare feet rubbing inside his shoes, since he had not taken the time to put on socks.
Harry stopped and thought about just leaving from where he stood. It was considered rude to Disapparate from the general areas of the hospital, but the corridor was very quiet right now. Harry waited for the lift anyway, as though wanting to more closely follow the rules. His confrontation with Shankwell gnawed at him fiercely. The Healer was not exactly out of bounds with his anger, either. Harry perhaps should have tried to work with them instead of on his own, but at the time things had felt too overwhelmingly urgent to stop and explain something that he could barely explain even now.
Harry sighed and shook a bit of his disquiet off as he rode in the empty lift. He would repeat what he did again, if he had it to do over. And everything had worked out for the best, even if it did anger some people . . . who were perhaps justified in their anger.
The lift came to a halt at the ground floor, but Harry did not move to open the gate. He was thinking that he was justifying accepting two distinct sets of rules: the set everyone else had and the Harry set. This did not feel like a good precedent, especially for someone who was most likely harboring a piece of Voldemort.
Harry continued to turn this over in his head as he returned home, walking from a block away to avoid waking Hermione. It continued to circle his thoughts while he moved carefully around the flat, getting undressed, slipping his sling back on and settling in to sleep. Lying back, he stared at the spots from the streetlights shining on the ceiling. They had always had two sets of rules, he and his friends. Now that Harry could quote from memory a good quarter of the Ministry of Magics rules, could he have an acceptable excuse for keeping another set on the side?
Harry slept restlessly, waking repeatedly from a dream where he was trying to help someone who kept running away. It was a disjointed dream composed of seemingly unrelated snippets like the witch he was chasing turning into a Snitch, and finding himself wearing skis, unable to move because he was on grass.
Harry? Hermoines voice roused him from pleading with someone who insisted on walking out onto the High Street in Hogsmeade despite Harry being certain that hungry bears lurked there. Harry was lying on his injured arm and it throbbed in response to this. He rolled over onto his back carefully because he knew it would hurt more initially when he got off of it, and it did.
Hermione moved across the room in the darkness.
What are you doing? Harry asked when he could see her silhouette opening Hedwigs cage.
She finished pulling Hedwig out and taking her to the window before replying. Owling Professor Snape.
Why? Harrys tired brain asked.
Because youre having a nightmare, she replied, sounding stubborn.
Harry sat up, careful to use only his right arm to do it. It wasnt a bad nightmare or anything. Dont bother.
In a quieter voice, she said, He said to.
Sharply, Harry said, Hermione, Im fine. Dont disturb Severus in the middle of the night. I dont need him. When she slid the sash up, Harry grew angry. Hermione!
Hermione waved the oil lamp up that sat beside Harrys bedside. In the low light she looked five years older. She held Hedwig on one forearm and held her wand in the other hand. Do you remember what you said to me? she asked as though not expecting an answer, and indeed she did not wait for one. You said never let your guard down. Dont you remember that?
Yeah, Harry breathed, anger gone, replaced by a darker brooding.
Hermione let Hedwig out the window. She closed the sash and stepped to the kitchen. Besides, she said more brightly, you may be my oldest friend but hes a potential colleague.
So youre taking the job?
I dont know. Maybe I am since Im trusting him over you.
Harry rapidly shook his head and then rubbed his face, wondering if he was still dreaming; he didnt feel terribly awake.
Ten minutes later, Snape Apparated in. Hermione immediately took her herbal tea to her room and closed the door. Harry sat with his jaw propped on his hand. Im fine, he said.
That is good, Snape said, pulling a chair over from the table. How is the arm?
Slowly getting better, Harry said. I get to return to light duty tomorrow.
Snape clasped his hands in his lap and sat watching Harry a while before saying, And your dream?
Nothing important, Harry muttered, setting his chin on his knees. Didnt need to bother you, he added.
It isnt a bother, Snape stated easily, almost sounding like Dumbledore.
Harry looked at him. We need a secret word so I know that youre you.
What is in your dream? Snape repeated, ignoring Harrys comment.
Stupid stuff. Everyones afraid of me, even people Im trying to save from something. He straightened the duvet and leaned forward again, half hugging his knees. I dont want people to be afraid of me.
Stop doing terribly frightful things then.
I didnt this time, Harry pointed out.
Indeed, and look how much better the response was. In fact you did the opposite, you received an injury which proves that you are vulnerable.
I wasnt trying to get hurt, Harry said. Healer said it looked like a curse bled through my modulated block.
That certainly would explain the pattern. It must have been an awfully powerful strike, in that case.
Unbidden, the chaotic scene from the Atrium played through Harrys mind again. Harry set his forehead down on his knees. I have to get to Merton, he said, stressed.
A lot of people I knew were in that Atrium, Harry said. Elizabeth got hurt. Did you know that?
Just broke her foot. I saw her at St. Mungos getting it healed. The scene played selectively again through Harrys minds eye. What does he want? Why does he want to hurt so many people? I dont understand. If I dont understand, how can I stop him?
At the risk of sounding like my former mentor again, I will say that I think you need to wait for your time to come. I have observed that you instinctively know when it has arrived.
I want it over with now. I dont want anything else bad to happen.
Snape stood and rested a hand on Harrys flannel pyjamaed shoulder. Do be careful, Harry.
Yup. Always, Harry acknowledged. Snape departed and afterward Harry considered that he had not babied him at all; he had, in fact, done nothing more than prompt him to share his concerns and provide just the right kind of support. Harry relaxed as he sat hugging his knees, feeling comfort in being so well understood.
Harry rose before Hermione did and fixed breakfast one-handed. Hermione apparently had not slept well either, because she did not comment on this, just accepted her plate, ate, and rushed off to work, still dreary eyed.
By the time Harry put the dishes in the sink, after chasing Kali away from finishing Hermiones breakfast, he was late for his next treatment. He vacillated between not wanting to go and hoping Shankwell was there so Harry could talk to him. Harry took his time getting dressed, having to shoo Kali off his shoulder three times.
Shankwell was indeed still on duty, fortunately still straightening up from what must have been a complicated previous patient. Harry sat down and propped his arm up to have the bandages cut as usual. He wished that he had stashed his pet in his pocket, if only for moral support. Harry hesitated until the round-nosed scissors were snipping along his arm to say: I didnt mean to cause trouble.
We like things to happen for a reason around here, Shankwell said as he tossed the old dressing into the rubbish.
They did happen for a reason, Harry pointed out, not understanding.
The hard tone returned, A reason we understand.
Is magic a reason? Harry asked. His wounds were doing much better, but the texture of the new flesh was different, softer and bubbly.
Of course it is, Shankwell replied, opening the tin of Thewsolve.
Muggles dont think so, Harry observed. They mean that events have no explanation if they say they happen by magic.
Shankwell stopped what he was doing. That would be silly.
Harry just shrugged.
As Shankwell finished with the salve, he said in a manner of criticism, Youre an unknown entity, Mr. Potter.
I dont mean to be, Harry honestly said, even as a voice inside his head was saying, You dont know the half of it.
A fresh bandage was being rewound around Harrys arm. So, what did you do that a trained and experience Healer could not? Shankwell asked with that difficult tone. Harry began to detect, perhaps not jealousy, but at least suspicious resentment. It made Harry feel better to recognize it.
I have curse-nose, Harry explained. I just un-wove the tangles the curse had caused.
Hedgepeth and Versa can do that well enough, Shankwell pointed out as he started a new wheel of white bandage just above Harrys elbow.
You have to Staunch the curses heat at the same time, though, or the tangles will just come back.
Shankwell fell silent until he was finished and had tied the bandage in a petite bow under Harrys arm. Ive heard of Staunching, for bleeding. You know how to do that?
Yes. A shaman in Finland showed me.
Shankwell seemed upbeat now, eager. Can you teach someone else?
I cant teach it, exactly, Harry said. Or, I mean, you cant learn it. You either are a Stauncher or not. Thats what the Shaman said. He spends his time going around looking for children who can, so I expect he knows.
What a strange skill, Shankwell commented, sounding like a Muggle discussing Potions.
Its not, Harry argued, wanting to be understood rather than resented. He assumed he was finished and stood up. Its just Radiance. Everything alive is Radiant. You leave Radiance behind on metal things you carry with you frequently. You have two quills in your pocket and I can tell that the birds that gave them are both still alive. They still resonate with life. Shankwells expression was a little overwhelmed and Harry could not tell if he was going to be understood if he kept going, but went on anyway. Blood is just very Radiant stuff and all a Stauncher does is pack it tightly with cold to stop it escaping. Versa should be able to do it, I expect.
Shankwell thought in silence before saying, She has a strange fondness for examining other peoples jewelry. He seemed to wake up to the state of things and began putting the tray of tools away. Can you teach her?
You mean, can I show her that she already knows how to do it? Harry clarified.
Thats really how it works? Shankwell asked doubtfully.
Its old magic, Harry said. Not wand magic, like youre used to. I Staunched Vishnus wounds while I was sitting in the corner over there when we came in after the pub explosion.
So, Versa wouldnt even have to touch the patient?
She doesnt even have to be in the same city, Harry said.
Shankwells eyes grew wide with interest at this. His entire mood was now one of excitement and curiosity, making Harry very glad that he had explained better. Perhaps that was the key: eliminating the unknown so people ceased to fear. Harrys own excitement at that realization dampened when he considered that such a conversation about letting in demons from the underworld would not go over nearly as well as healing peoples injury.
Harry said, The entire training I got from the shaman was just what I said, to pack cold around where the Radiance is leaking. Harry thought aloud further, Healer Versa must feel it leaking out all the time. It would be maddening to not be able to stop it.
Shankwell tilted his head. She does have a tendency to get rather emotional, he stated wryly.
If you want me to show her, I can. Ill certainly be back in six hours, he added, gesturing at his arm.
Harrys first day returning to duty, he owled Hermione at work, saying he was going to dinner with Tonks and to not expect him. That evening, instead of going home, Hermione walked along the sunny path of Greenwich park. She found herself there without much of a good reason for it. She was drawn against her better judgment to approach Vineets flat, but could not take the final step of visiting. What would have made the most sense—speaking to Harry about why his fellow had been so melancholy—she resisted doing due to Harrys utter dislike of gossip, not to mention his disapproval of Hermiones interest.
So there Hermione was, strolling the lovely rolling park with no particular purpose, not a situation she often found herself in. The pavement forked and she turned toward the shadier route only to stop short at the sight of Vineet walking towards her. The two of them hesitated before Hermione said hello. Vineet gave his signature small bow of his head. Without verbally agreeing to, they began strolling along together. Hermione glanced frequently at her companion and decided that his mood had not improved from last time.
They reached the top of a steep section of path and Hermione stopped to rest in the shade, sitting crosslegged on the grass. Vineet lowered himself down a respectful distance away; the distance a stranger might sit if shade were scarce enough to warrant sharing this particular trees shadow.
It was Vineet who spoke first. I have heard that you were offered the job of teaching Charms at Hogwarts.
Yes, Hermione said.
Are you accepting this offer? Vineet asked.
Im still thinking about it, Hermione replied. Silence descended beyond the rustle of the leaves above them and the distant shouts of children chasing each other about. Hermione eventually went on: Its a big change. And after another gap: Im not sure I can fill Professor Flitwicks shoes.
Vineet plucked at the grass. You would have to make it your own . . . your teaching. Leave the shoes of others alone.
That simple, yet deep, statement reminded Hermione of her attraction with a surge. Yes, definitely, she said as neutrally as possible.
You were born to Muggles, that makes you more qualified, given the large number of Muggle-born children requiring training in Britain.
Hermione considered him at the same time as she mulled over that observation. He seemed to simply wish to talk, about anything, which felt slightly desperate and made Hermiones heart twist. I hadnt thought of it that way. Not so many Muggle-born where you come from?
Vineet shook his head. Your parents must have been accepting of this fact of your magic.
Surprisingly so, Hermione replied, thinking back many years now. Thank God they didnt realize how dangerous most of my years at Hogwarts were. They didnt get the wizard newspapers. She plucked at the grass too. That made me tougher, I think, not being able to tell them. That meant I couldnt lean on them at all.
Vineet, the usually quiet man, continued with his questions. When did you learn that you were magical?
When I received my letter—the one from Hogwarts—so when I was eleven. I had my whole future planned out before that moment. Serves me right. How about you?
I am told I always knew although others did not. My mother told me repeatedly for as long as I could remember. She was so certain, she gave me the dachnam of Vishnu, which implies great power.
Yeah, Id say, Hermione concurred. But you didnt think you had much power until recently.
Vineet nodded soberly. His gaze had shifted from melancholy to intense, which was a kind of improvement. He said, My mother never gave up insisting that I could achieve greatness, despite this. It was maddening.
She was that certain? Hermione asked, trying not to find humor in his observation. He was not an easily shaken personality.
Near Baripada, a hundred years ago, lived a hermit who was quite revered. He foresaw a great warrior being born from a woman who gave birth to a tiger cub.
Hermione gave him a dubious expression. And?
That is how I was born.
Hermione stared at him. You were born in your Animagus form? she exclaimed, nearly toppling over backward into the grass in shock at the thought. Lucky your mum didnt die of a heart attack. Wow . . . Hermione contemplated that while staring down at the ribbon of river visible over the trees. The breeze felt chilling as she stiffened and sat straight. Wait a minute . . . you were born into a prophecy?
Vineet stared back. Yes, you could describe it in this way.
Vishnu, dont you know what that means? His curious and confused expression answered for him. Hermione hurriedly rocked herself to her feet. Come on, we have to find Harry.
Vineet caught up to her at the path while she glanced around for a good place to Apparate from. What is this? he asked.
Just come along. I cant believe this, she frantically said. They slipped through the shrubs onto a deserted stretch of grass that did not seem to encounter the cutter as often as the other areas. Harrys out with Tonks for dinner, they probably went to one of the places near Tonks flat. She Apparated them both to an alleyway near there and they checked the two pubs along that road, finding their quarry in the back of the second one.
Hey, Hermione, Harry said in bright greeting, then glancing between the two of them after he spotted Vineet.
We need to talk, Hermione insisted.
Get a pint and join us, Tonks suggested, sliding over on the bench to make room.
Hermione was too agitated to wait in line at the bar. She took a draught of Harrys mug instead. Harry, you arent going to believe this.
Hermione patted his shoulder, almost consolingly. Vishnu, tell Harry what you told me.
Which part? Vineet asked.
The tiger cub part . . . the hermit part, Hermione insisted. But she did not wait for him, she said, Vishnu was born in his Animagus form. Did you know that? she asked Harry.
You were born a tiger cub? Harry asked, straining to understand.
Vineet nodded. Tonks nearly spit out her beer. She appraised him in a new manner and said, Hate to be your mum.
Thats not all, Hermione said. A hermit from a neighboring village foretold of it, though, a hundred years before.
Harry understood the significance before Tonks did. You arent thinking . . . ?
I am not understanding . . . Vineet said, sounding kindly hopeful for an explanation.
Harry said, dropping his voice, You havent heard the whole prophecy relating to Merton, have you? When Vineet leaned closer, Harry said, It ends with only the one born into prophecy is equal to stopping the fountain of evil at its source. Vineet stared at him, so Harry said, Thats why everyone thinks the prophecy is mine.
But you are not the only one meeting this criterion, Vineet said.
Apparently not, Harry concurred, feeling a giddiness almost like the first time he had been on a broomstick. He turned to Tonks, Were you born into a prophecy?
Tonks shook her head, making her Mohawk sway. No.
You? Harry then asked Hermione.
Maybe we should have taken a survey around the Ministry, Tonks commented.
Vineet said, You are saying that the prophecy we are currently trying to complete may be mine, not yours? I do not wish to impinge . . .
Harry picked up his mug and gestured with it before sipping. Oh, you can have it, he insisted.
Vineet glanced at Hermione and then at Tonks. Tonks said, I dont know if you can just give it away, Harry.
It was just given to me . . . Harry began and then had to drop his voice because the pub was growing more crowded. It was just given to me without any consideration. Why cant I give it away? He sipped his beer. Id like to give away at least the possibility of it not being mine. Indeed just that thought lifted the weight off of him. We need another round to celebrate, Harry insisted.
Ill get them . . . you cant carry many with your arm like that, Hermione said, sliding off the bench.
Thanks, Harry said, and slid over into her spot to better face Vineet. You know what you are getting here, dont you? he seriously asked. Youve been hinting that you think that having a prophecy is a good thing . . . some kind of life purpose or something. Harry faded out and they simply stared at each other. Vineet appeared a bit on the stunned side. I feel cruel giving this to you. I dont think you understand.
Vineet shook his blue-black head. I came here believing in a purpose. I cannot shirk if it rears up, even if it is you telling me I should.
Tonks studied the two of them. I never gave it a second thought, Harry, that it might not be yours.
Is there a ceremony of some kind where it is assigned to you? Vineet asked.
Harry laughed. No. Everyone just assumes.
Tonks said, Maybe we should take him down to the prophecy room to see it.
I dont think it was recorded. Ginny never mentioned it.
Critical, Tonks said, They are supposed to ALL be. You never know what might happen.
May I hear the whole prophecy? Vineet politely asked just as Hermione returned with full mugs for each of them.
Harry quoted, Few will escape the blood and chaos of darkness bound, sought, and released. They do not understand what they have wrought. They conjure allies they cannot control and poisonous dark hordes will be liberated to rend the land. Only the one born into prophecy is equal to stopping the fountain of evil at its source.
Youre certain thats how it goes? Tonks asked. At Harrys nod, she said, We should take you down to the Department of Mysteries and record it.
Why dont we just complete it instead? Harry asked. Its almost over.
I expect McGonagall recorded it, Hermione pointed out.
After combining his two beers into one nearly overflowing one, Harry said to Vineet, So, we can go listen to the official version, if you wish.
I trust that you have it correctly, Vineet stated solemnly. I should send a letter to Nandi, explaining. Perhaps . . . He trailed off. Hermione did not look up from her mug.
Tonks pulled out her pocket watch. I have do some errands I have to do with this my first evening off in about forever. Harry, take Vishnu in and explain to Mr. Weasley if you can find him or Reggie or Kinglsey if you cant.
Harry nodded. Tonks awkwardly stepped over Vineet to depart before the Indian could stand to let her out. Her shoe clapped hard against the floor and a nearby patron helped catch her and said to her departing form, The 80s ended, you know.
Vineet still appeared befuddled. Do you really think it is my time? he asked Harry.
I dont know, but I can say for certain that I dont know what Im supposed to do to end all this. I hope you have a better idea.
Vineet fell thoughtful and did not reply. He pushed the remainder of his beer aside.
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