Boxing Day began with the usual knock before dawn. Not another word was said about keys or hearts, though Ondossi displayed several uncharacteristic bouts of shy smiles during their lesson. Harry's instincts had led him to be blunt and honest, and now they told to back away and let her percolate. Even Sirius's constant winks and quirked eyebrows couldn't sway him into pressing the matter.
She had him consciously loosen the boundaries of his magic, in order to feel its range. Harry had made such a habit of using Occlumency that it was difficult to stop. He shook his head and grimaced; he could show Snape a thing or two now.
When he finally let down the barriers in his mind, he was flooded with sensations, not just from Ondossi but from everyone in number twelve, Grimmauld Place, as well as their Muggle neighbors on either side. Harry immediately became seasick and nearly threw up into the troll leg umbrella stand, which Ondossi had hauled over with a twinkle in her eye.
"Terrible, isn't it?" she said after he had regained control of his wandering magic. "It's not nearly as bad in the wilderness. Maybe we should have tried it someplace more remote the first time."
"You think?" he croaked.
"I didn't expect you to have such a long reach just yet, hotshot. Your sphere of influence is growing in leaps and bounds, much faster than mine ever did. Maybe Feathers has something to do with it, I don't know." Fawkes, who had quietly taken up residence atop the Christmas tree a week earlier, stretched his wings and yawned enormously, clearly accepting no fault in the matter.
On New Year's Eve, Harry and Ondossi sat on the front porch and skimmed the thoughts of Muggles as they passed, honing the fine control of his magic. After a couple walked by on their way to a party, Harry glanced sidelong at Tura. He wondered if she'd ever worn a pretty dress in her entire life.
"Tell me about your 'angel,' Tura," he said, apropos of nothing.
"What do you want to know?"
If you're in love with him, not me,
Harry thought with an uncomfortable pang, but he said, "Just... things. You never talk about him, and I can't find him in your mind."
She formed a hard smile. "That's because I can still do whole circles of Occlumency around you," she said matter-of-factly. "Though I have to admit, you're getting better. It's getting harder to keep things buried."
Rolling his eyes, Harry noted, "Perhaps you don't need to anymore."
"I'll be the judge of that, sweet one." Seeing his sly grin, she clapped her hand over her mouth and said, "I mean hotshot.
" Both of them laughed, but Harry hadn't heard the answers he wanted. Blunt honesty,
he reminded himself, and took a deep breath.
"Can you blame me for asking, Tura? If you must
hold back from me, I'd like to know why."
She stared at him, grinding her jaw, then turned and gazed into the distance for some time. "It's been almost a year since he and I last spoke," she finally said. "The Dark Lord took him."
Startled, Harry sat up straight. "But your agreement! If Voldemort broke it a year ago, why didn't you--"
She slapped his leg to silence him. "Because he didn't break it! I made the wrong bargain, Harry!" She clenched her fists and pulled them against her chest. "The Dark Lord agreed not to look for
my friend. But there was nothing in the deal about leaving him alone if they crossed paths by accident! Which is exactly what happened."
"He was captured? And Voldemort didn't know who he was?"
Ondossi nodded, gritting her teeth. "Lord Voldemort caught me off guard that night. It must have been right after he was resurrected--I hadn't heard so much as a rumor
about him being back. I was shocked and scared, and I didn't think.
When he said he'd go away and let us be, I was so relieved. It didn't occur to me that anyone
with ties to Dumbledore might be on Voldemort's hit list."
"Was he murdered?" said Harry. There was no delicate way to ask such a question.
"I don't know. I don't KNOW!" She buried her face in her hands. "He was still alive this past summer, and that's the last I've heard of him. Either way, he's as good as gone. Even if I knew where the Dark Lord was hiding, I couldn't exactly waltz on in and say, 'Hey, old man, you know that prisoner in oubliette number eight? Hand him over.' The whole point was keeping him a secret, so Voldemort couldn't use him to coerce me." She began to cry, though her voice stayed steady. "I know he hasn't already broken under Legilimency, because if he had, the Dark Lord would be dangling him in front of my nose. Because I HAVE broken my
end of the bargain--helping you at Dumbledore's request. Shoot, I've even taken the DADA position he's wanted all these years. So he's either dead, or better off dead. There's no hope for my friend, Harry. None."
He draped his arm over her shoulder and rested his chin against the side of her head. A low, distant rumble of fireworks suggested that it was midnight, the start of a new year. "I'll work harder, Tura," he whispered. "It'll end soon, I swear it."
Magic was a force that grew at its own pace, however, as Harry was reminded a few days later. Ron came to stay at Headquarters after the New Year celebrations with his family, and he'd consented to let Shacklebolt alter some memories just to give Harry a chance to practice recovering them. Kingsley was not an official Obliviator for the Ministry, but he knew the spell well enough to make some simple changes. Unfortunately, they were beyond Harry's skill to solve.
"Have you been taking Occlumency lessons behind my back, mate?" he finally asked Ron in frustration.
"Excuse me, do I look like Hermione?" said Ron. "I've been slacking in fine form, I assure you! Merlin, Harry, even I can tell what he changed; you've just got to try harder."
"Spotting the change isn't the tricky part," Harry snapped defensively. "It's tracking back to the original that's hard."
Ondossi had shown him several times how she slowed down the thought, isolated the discontinuity, and coaxed the original pathway back together. Each step seemed intuitively obvious as he watched her perform it, but when he tried on his own, the memories slipped away from him like water through his fingers.
Shacklebolt even tried a very recent event, Obliviating Ron's memory of a meal half an hour before. Ron and Harry had eaten together and Harry naturally remembered it perfectly well; they hoped a fresh, familiar memory might be easier for Harry to recognize. But this, too, was to no avail, and Harry jumped off the couch in frustration when Ron innocently asked if they might break for lunch.
"That's enough!" said Ondossi sharply, and was echoed with a raucous grunt from Fawkes. She glared at the phoenix briefly. "See? Even Feathers can tell. You're not ready yet, Harry. Your magic isn't ready. It's just like everything else--when it's ready to do it, it'll work without effort. Until then, nada. Zip. A veritable Squib among Legilimagi. Eh?"
Harry pulled a very sour face, but she was right. When this magic came on, it was as natural as breathing, but this felt more like practicing Occlumency with Snape. "Well, then, let's just work on something else." He turned to Shacklebolt. "Might as well give him his lunch back."
Fawkes soared down and landed on his shoulder, and began rubbing Harry's head with his beak. Ondossi nodded. "I think your best friend there is trying to tell you it's time for a break. And I agree. It's one thing to cram for school, Harry, but you've been cramming on your innate magic lately. That's the fast track to burnout." Harry leaned on the ledge of the drawing-room window and sulked, staring out into the muddy street.
She turned to Ron. "Whaddya say we go back to Hogwarts? School starts in what, four days? Maybe you boys can play some Quidditch or something. I think some fresh air would do us all good."
Ron raised a hopeful brow at Harry. "I'm for it! I'm meeting Dad for dinner tonight, but after that... Maybe Hermione can come too; I can give her a Floo. What do you say, Harry?"
He sighed, abandoning the window and slumping back onto the couch. It would
be fun to get out on the pitch again, and their match against Ravenclaw was coming up soon. "I suppose it's not much use sitting around here staring at the Horcrux and not
doing Legilimency," he finally grumbled.
"That's the spirit!" beamed Ron.
Viktor Krum returned from Bulgaria early to resume his duties and help Ondossi Apparate to Hogsmeade. Hermione was already waiting in front of Honeydukes when they arrived, which brought a warm smile to Krum's face and a wistful one to Ron's. They returned straight to Hogwarts and found that quite a few people had stayed at the castle for the holidays, including Elias Ravenclaw. The prospects for Quidditch practice looked good!
When Ron Flooed home to assure his parents he'd arrived safely, Ginny loudly insisted that she be permitted to return and play Quidditch too. "They need me, Mum," they could hear her arguing with from the Burrow kitchen. "They've got a Seeker, a Keeper, and a Beater, but no Chasers! And besides, it's not fair!" In the end, Molly Weasley realized that if she didn't let Ginny go, she would spend the next three days wishing she had, and relented.
They spent the afternoon in one long practice, coached by Viktor while Hermione and Tura "watched" from the grandstands. Harry had bought Hermione a book of American spells, many of which had native peoples' influences, and the two of them slathered over it throughout the practice. After the bookworms ignored a particularly stunning sequence of moves that even made Viktor applaud, the lot of them put their brooms in a V-formation and buzzed over their heads, making the pages of the book flip wildly in their backdraft.
The rules about the dinner tables had been relaxed during the break, but their group still showed a smattering of colors. Elias naturally was served on Ravenclaw blue, despite his unsorted status, and Luna Lovegood had spent the holiday at Hogwarts as well (it being busy season at The Quibbler
). Ondossi sat in the green Slytherin chair, which seemed to suit Viktor best as well. Ron and Ginny wrestled an extra red chair away from the next table, resorting to a Holdfast spell when the thing kept slowly slinking back to its original spot.
The next morning, Harry-and-Viktor, Ron, and Hermione arrived at the pitch first and met Ondossi, looking like a Muggle spy in her dark glasses. Krum was in a jovial mood for some reason, and complained that the girls hadn't been involved enough in yesterday's practice. "Vat good is having audience ven they do not vatch?" he teased.
"I thought you played for the love of sport," countered Hermione. "Don't tell me you go up there just to show off."
"Showing off?" said Viktor, pulling her by the arm to the back of his broom. "Get on broom, and I teach you about showing off." She laughed and tugged away, but Krum held firm.
Luna drifted into the stadium at that point, and clapped her hands. "I'll show off! That sounds like great fun!" But instead of displacing Hermione, she ran over to Ron and promptly parked herself up against his back. "Mount up!" she laughed. Ron raised a speculative brow, then grinned and summoned his broom. Seconds later, the two of them were airborn, both howling with laughter as Ron struggled to level off.
Krum pointed at them and glowered at Hermione. "See? Luna is not afraid."
"Afraid!" squawked Hermione, making both Viktor and Harry cringe. "I can do anything you can do, you big poser!" She hopped lightly over the back of Krum's broom and slapped his shoulder as one might spur a horse. "Giddyap, flyboy!" she bellowed, nearly lurching off the back when Viktor complied. He did a quick, steep loop and returned to float at arm's length above Harry.
"High game, girl-on-broom?" he said, tossing his head toward Ondossi.
Tura backed away, waving her hands. "No. No. Absolutely not."
Hermione waved at her playfully. "Oh, come on, Professor." Her eyes sparkled as Krum grinned and set off on another loop.
Ondossi was turning pale watching Hermione and Krum laugh as his broom suddenly veered when she shifted her weight. "Don't you trust me?" Harry asked, pulling her wrist playfully.
She cleared her throat, but her voice was still gravelly. "Oh, I trust you, all right. That you'll go bonkers the minute you see that flappy bug thing."
"Of course I will! That's the game!" He leaped off the Firebolt so he could stand and face her properly. "You know what I mean, Tura. I won't let you fall off." He peered warmly into her eyes and placed his next words into her mind. Believe in me, Tura. Hold onto me and know that I'll protect you, and you just might have a bit of fun.
Both her jaw and gaze dropped, and she stared hard at the broomstick hovering steadfastly beside him. "Fun," she finally mumbled. "Flying's never been my idea of fun."
A snowball splattered against Harry's head, making both of them jump. Harry whirled to face the culprits, bobbing ten feet away on Krum's broom. Hermione, looking utterly scandalized, immediately began pummeling Krum, who laughed heartily and pitched the broomstick so that she was forced to grab his shoulders to stay on. "Move, you two! In the air!" he called. "Stalling von't save you." Krum scooped up some more snow and kicked off the ground in earnest, though the ascent was shallow and less graceful than his usual style.
Harry mounted his broom and turned back to Ondossi with an infectious grin. "I can't let him get away with that, now get on Besides, with your aim, we'll clobber them!"
"Harry..." she said pleadingly.
You can do it.
He chuckled. "Think of it as our next lesson. Except I'm the teacher for a change."
She scowled but her shoulders dropped in defeat. "You buck around like that Bulgarian maniac, and I'll chunder all over your back," she warned.
Harry lowered the end of the broom so she could step over it easily, and pulled her arms tight around his middle. "Don't close your eyes. Look at the horizon if you get queasy. Ready?"
"No," she sighed in glum resignation.
"Great! Here we go!" Harry kicked off the ground, already braced for her initial viselike grip.
They climbed quickly to Ron and Luna's altitude. The two of them were hovering and laughing uproariously over Merlin-only-knew what. Harry would have joined in, but he had no breath to spare until Ondossi eased off. "What?" he asked, trying to use his normal voice, but it came out a bit squeaky despite his efforts.
"She's tickling me!" Ron's face was red all the way out to his ears, and it seemed that his grin would soon reach them as well.
Luna let go of Ron's waist and began tickling him in earnest. "See, this
is tickling, Ron." The broom began to jump erratically in accordance with Ron's desperate thrashing, to the point that even Harry began to worry about their safety.
"STOP! Stop! You're going to kill us both!" howled Ron, who gave up controlling the broomstick in favor of grabbing both of Luna's hands and forcing them away from his ribs. "You really are Loony Luna, you know that?" he panted.
"I've always known that. You're just now catching on?" said Luna, with such cheerful confidence that all three of them caught their breath and regarded her fondly. Luna blinked and peered back at each of them in confusion. "What?"
"Nothing, nothing," mumbled Harry, as Ron cautiously brought her hands back in and set them firmly on his hipbones.
"Stay right there, silly, and don't touch my sides anymore!"
"All right, Ron, I'll do my best. I wasn't aware you were so ticklish, you know. You should have mentioned it earlier..."
Harry left them to discuss the logistics of remaining broom-bound. "I'm not ticklish," he reassured her over his shoulder.
"Good thing," Ondossi croaked, loosening her hold ever so slightly.
Harry flew to the middle of the pitch and began a wide, slow, spiraling climb. The top of Ondossi's head barely reached his shoulders, leaving him free to tip his own head back without butting her. He did so, letting the sharp winter air work its will on his untidy hair but closing his eyes to keep its sting away. It was a rare opportunity to fly "blind" on the Quidditch pitch, and he trusted that Viktor Krum had the good sense to avoid ramming into them. Harry didn't need to worry about Ron, as he could hear his best friend laughing and bickering rambunctiously with Luna far below.
When their voices were nothing but a faint drone, Harry leaned forward on the broomstick, leveling into a graceful curve. He opened his eyes and took in a view so bright and beautiful that he pulled the broom to a sharp halt. Ondossi let out a little yelp and Harry realized that her face was completely buried between his shoulder blades. "Tura, look at this. It's incredible!"
She shook her head, not raising it from his cloak; he heard a muffled, "Thanks, no." Harry responded by shaking his own head in exasperation. He took a deep breath and pushed
the image of the valley into her consciousness. Ondossi jerked in surprise, then finally, grudgingly, raised her head.
Harry smirked. "Told you." His words became a puff of steam and disappeared.
They sat for a moment in mid-air, watching smoke rise from the chimneys of Hogsmeade as the snowy rooftops glittered with tiny sparkles of all colors. A Muggle jet had left a contrail overhead, and it appeared to point straight down from the top of the sky at the Wizard village like an exclamation point. Harry impulsively placed Ondossi's hand over his heart and, for a brief moment, held it flat and warm against his chest.
"Do you trust me?" he asked quietly.
She hesitated, and Harry could feel her jaw tensing as she pressed against his shoulder. "I guess I must," she finally confessed. "I wouldn't have climbed on the broom in the first place if I didn't."
"Yes," he said, squeezing her fingers. "Ready to do some serious flying?"
Ondossi shuddered, but she held her head high and secured her grip around his middle once again. "I was born ready," she growled, making Harry laugh out loud. Bracing himself for another death grip, he leaned to the right and brought the Firebolt into a roll, sending them into an easy dive, slow and gentle by his standards.
He was pleased at how well she handled it. Even after they'd dropped 100 meters, she hadn't squeezed the air out of his chest, though her face was once again buried between his scapulae. "Tura, you really, really
ought to keep looking; you're going to be seasick if you don't."
"You do the flying and I'll look when I'm good and ready," she whimpered.
"It's not whether you're ready that I'm worried about, it's your breakfast! At least look at my back, if you can't watch the horizon." She snarled something unintelligible, but raised her head. "Good girl! We'll try some turns." He picked up a bit of speed and wove a few figures-of-eight, once again impressed by the Firebolt's handling with an added passenger. Ron and Luna were attempting similar maneuvers below them, the tail of the Cleansweep yawing sluggishly around every turn.
Harry had just realized that he hadn't seen Krum's broom in a while when Viktor and Hermione buzzed past them at high speed, barely an arm's length away. That proved too much for Ondossi, although he was pleased that she didn't react by crushing the wind out of him, but by attempting her old standby of climbing onto his head. Laughing, he kept the broom steady until she realized the futility of that effort and settled back down, pressing against him even more firmly than before. "Harry," she said, her voice high-pitched and squeaky, "we have got
to crush that so-and-so."
"That's more like it!" he said, and leaned forward to pick up speed.
Harry trailed Krum in a wide orbit of the stadium, contemplating the best way to exact revenge for both the snowball and the fly-by. As they swung about to face the castle, he noticed two more figures just entering the pitch. Ginny's red hair was unmistakable despite her little hat with a pompom on top. The other, standing atop two broomsticks like skis and gliding precariously about a yard over her head, could only be Elias Ravenclaw. Harry smirked at Krum's back and postponed his vengeance temporarily, diving down to greet the newcomers.
"What's all this, then?" called Elias cheerfully, half-leaping, half-falling from his brooms and sinking to mid-thigh in the snow.
"Ah, you know Viktor," said Harry. "He wanted to make the game a little more challenging."
"Doubles Quidditch!" said Elias with a wink, but as he took a step, he yelped and turned around. His boot remained stuck in the snowdrift. He twisted his hand in a graceful gesture and the boot hopped out of the hole with a spray of snow. Harry and Ginny both gasped at his effortless use of silent, wandless magic. Even though they'd seen him do such things many times, it was always impressive. And as usual, Elias shook his head modestly and gave them a dismissive wave as he reached for the boot. "Well, what d'ya say, lovely lady? Care to be a dead weight for me?"
Ginny's admiration immediately reconfigured to affront. "Dead weight! Here's a thought: You
get on the back, and we'll see who can really fly a broom around here!" She held her broom as though it was a mere cleaning implement and rapidly swept snow onto his stockinged foot.
Laughing, Harry recognized an impending snowball fight and climbed to a safer altitude. "You two come join us when you work out the details, eh?" he said, and rocketed over the stands before he remembered Ondossi was on board. He began to slow down, but realized with surprise that she wasn't gripping him for dear life. "All's well back there, Tura?" he asked.
"Yeah!" She sounded stunned by her own admission. Harry smiled and leaned further into the broom.
Hours later, the brilliant winter sun had all of them dazed and teary-eyed. Their fingers and toes were numb, their faces ached from the cold, and their hair had been whipped into impossible tangles by the wind. Every broomstick had wiped out into a snowbank at least once, and the Snitch was long forgotten in lieu of raids, parries, and assaults on one another with both snowballs and playful hexes. They were having the time of their lives, and not one of them wanted to stop. Hunger and thirst finally drove them to the ground.
Krum landed first, gliding to a gentle stop in the center of the pitch and leaping from his broomstick to offer his hand to Hermione like a proper gentleman. Elias, who had traded the pilot's seat with Ginny several times throughout the afternoon, made quite a show of doing the same, halting his broom right beside Krum's and making a sweeping bow to both ladies before helping Ginny dismount. Though she clearly needed no such help, she smirked and accepted his arm. Harry naturally put on a similar performance, but Ron disrupted the rhythm, skidding past the other brooms with a high-pitched whine coming from his Cleansweep. They came to such an abrupt halt that Luna launched over his head and vanished completely in a snowdrift. All of them broke into an alarmed run, but Luna's head popped out of the top of the drift like a groundhog, howling with laughter.
"Luna!" shouted Ron, his voice an unlikely mixture of concern and relief.
"I bet I'm the only girl
that's ever been thrown at snow!
" she squealed.
As the laughter subsided, Krum Summoned the neglected Snitch and Ron looked over his broomstick with a frown. "I guess we overworked it a bit," said Ron sheepishly.
"We can service it later," Harry said. "Right now I'm starving! I can't wait 'til dinner; let's go into Hogsmeade."
There was a chorus of enthusiastic agreement, and Ondossi's face lit up. "And I'm buying! HAH! I've never said that before in my whole life!" She patted down her robes for her wand and pointed it toward her sleeping platform. "Accio abbiteaq!"
she said, which turned all of their heads but Harry's; he'd heard her speak her native tongue enough to know this was an Inupiaq word. A small leather knapsack hurtled through the stands, literally, bringing some splintered wood along with it. "Oops," she gulped.
Keeping a straight face, Harry said, "Allow me," and cast a Reparo
charm as the others snickered behind their scarves.
A lengthy argument ensued as they walked to Hogsmeade as to where they should go, but Ondossi wouldn't hear of a trip to Honeyduke's. "You gussuks
and your candy--it's a wonder your teeth last more than ten years."
"Heavens above, it's like going out with Mum and Dad!" said Hermione, who then had to explain to Elias that her parents were dentists. The ladies communally decided on Madame Puddifoot's for hot tea and cake, though the boys grumbled about their preference for the Three Broomsticks all the way to the door.
Harry's memories of the tea shop were far from pleasant. He'd only been there with Cho Chang and every one of those visits had ended in disaster. He didn't realize until he stepped inside that there wasn't a single large table in the whole shop; they were all small, round affairs for two. The other fellows obviously had the same insight at the same time and glanced uncertainly at one another, but the girls didn't even stop chattering as each took a seat at one of four adjacent tables encrusted with frills and curlicues. Shrugging, each male dutifully followed his broom-mate and plopped in resignation onto a spindly chair.
Hot soup and tea focused everyone's attention to the bowls in front of them, and by the time the cake arrived, the cozy atmosphere of the place had taken its toll. Despite spending the day crushed together on broomsticks, there was a certain understated intimacy about bumping knees underneath a small table, and each pair settled into a quiet conversation. Harry watched Ondossi add lemon to her tea, twisting the little wedge to wring the juice from it. "You like sour things, don't you?" he asked.
"Mmm," she grunted. "I like fruit. No lemon trees in Barrow. Citrus was always expensive, so I didn't get to eat it very often. When I did, it seemed so exotic, you know--coming from a place where it was always sunny and warm." She giggled at some unknown memory, gazing into her teacup.
Harry nodded. "My aunt and uncle used to eat things that looked so good, but I was stuck with a bowl of cereal most of the time. Once in a while I'd get some scraps--there wasn't much left after Uncle Vernon and Dudley plowed through a meal."
Ondossi's eyes narrowed with contempt. "Rotten people."
Harry shrugged off her comment, not particularly eager to defend them. "There was one time they took me along to a posh restaurant. I don't know why; they usually left me at home, but maybe they couldn't get a babysitter. Anyway, I read every word on the menu, every description; it was like a dream come true, all those wonderful things. I literally drooled on the menu and didn't even realize it until I got to the bottom and found some drops on it. I was so scared that the restaurant people would be angry. I'm pretty sure now
that I worked some magic to dry it off, though that was before I even knew I was a wizard.
"I wanted one of everything, you can imagine, but when she came to take our order, Uncle Vernon just yanked the menu out of my hand and said, 'He'll have the soup du jour.' That was the cheapest thing you could order, of course. I nearly started crying, but I'd be sent out to wait in the car and have nothing! I remember telling myself that it came with bread, maybe I could fill up on bread, not leave hungry."
Harry sighed, gritting his teeth. "Well. When the server brought the soup, I reached for it, to help her set it down. I was on the far side of the table, you see, and she had to pass it over Uncle Vernon, which was quite a stretch. Just as I took hold of the rim, Dudley kicked me--hard, in the shin--and I jumped and upset the bowl, and soup went all down my front.
"Morgan le Fay, you'd have thought I'd dumped boiling lava straight onto my aunt and uncle! The manager came out to see what all the shrieking was about. But I got the shock of my life, because when Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia finally stopped for breath and I could hear the server, she was saying it was all her fault! She told everyone, even the manager, that she'd dropped it on me, and asked Aunt Petunia if she could take me to the lavatory and help me clean up. My aunt was more than happy to let someone else look after me while they
ate their steaks at a new, clean table.
"She led be back to the staff bathroom (I thought she was going to make me go in the ladies'
room, which would have been worse than death, I think) and helped me wash out my shirt with soap. She told me she'd be right back, and I should twist it really well to wring out all the water. It was soaked, and once I twisted it, it was soaked AND creased, but I did as she said.
"She came back with... Merlin, I can't even describe it! A whole tray of food, soup and salad and little cuts of meat. At first I thought, 'My goodness, I wonder if the customers know that she brings food into the bathroom before serving it,' but then she just took my shirt from me and said, 'Get going, or you won't finish your dinner before this is dry.' I just stared and stared--it was like my mind had disconnected from the shock. I had to ask if all that food was really for me. Then I started gobbling as fast as I could get my hands on it!
"They had a little electric dryer on the wall, instead of towels--you hold your hands underneath and it blows hot air onto them. She held my shirt under it while I ate. She talked to me, over the noise of the dryer. She said she'd seen the look in Dudley's eyes when I reached for the soup, and how he'd gloated after it spilled, and put two and two together. She said, 'I know what it's like to be the black sheep,' which I didn't understand at the time, but I looked it up in the dictionary that night. When the shirt was only a bit damp, she helped me put it back on and straighten it up, and took me back out to my aunt and uncle. I reckon she must have bought my dinner with her own money. I never even thanked her."
Harry looked up from the fork he'd been twirling on the table and found to his horror that Ondossi's face was tear-streaked; he had a flashback of Cho Chang and wondered if the tea shop was cursed. At least this time he knew
why she was crying, though he was just as lost about what he should do about it, here in full view. "Hey," he finally said, for lack of a better idea.
"Don't sweat it, Harry," she said, wiping her cheeks with her palms. "I'm just mad. How could anyone treat a sweet little boy like that? My people always made sure I was fed, just because I'm Inupiaq. You were blood,
her own nephew..."
Ondossi clamped her mouth shut and for an instant, her throat stretched and flattened. Alarmed, Harry took her wrists firmly, instinctively hoping that she couldn't morph into a cobra if her limbs couldn't retract. Just as suddenly, she snapped back to her normal appearance, averting her eyes sheepishly. "Sorry, sorry," she said. "Got a little carried away."
Harry smiled reassuringly. "It's all water under the bridge, Tura. No need to snake out on my account."
She peeked back up at him with an anxious giggle. "If I did, they'd never let me eat in here again, huh?"
Harry softened his grip and looked down at their hands upon the table. Her skin was the color of a pecan shell, reddish brown and ruddy, making his own hands appear quite pale in comparison. The rest of the shop vanished from his senses as he studied the many contrasts in the shape, size, and texture of her hands, first with his eyes, then with slow, deliberate tracings of his fingers. Harry gently turned her hands over and placed them on the tablecloth, running his fingertips across her palms, first the right, then the left.
It suddenly occurred to him that the "proper" moment to let go had come and gone some time ago, and he looked up at her with a pang of anxiety. Finding that she, too, was focused completely on their hands made him feel bolder. Returning his gaze to the tabletop, he gave in to the impulse to explore further, slipping his fingers between hers and stroking her with his thumbs. When her breath became shaky, he leaned forward, catching her eye as she looked up at the movement.
Neither had spoken any louder than the barest of whispers, but it was enough; she snapped out of her internal reverie as though a barrel of cold water had splashed over her. She snatched her hands away with an expression that bordered on horror and jammed them into her lap, looking determinedly away from him. Harry felt strangely calm in the face of this unexpected reaction, more curious than disappointed or spurned. He said nothing, did nothing, only folded his hands on the table and sat back in his chair. When she finally returned his gaze, he cocked his head and gave her his kindest smile.
"Well. That was intense," she said. Her voice was shaky, and she looked as though she would have Apparated anywhere but there, had she known how. Harry averted his eyes with a wan smile and let the moment pass.
He glanced around at the other tables, noting ruefully that once again, everyone else
in the shop was lost in an intimate conversation. Ondossi peeked around too, obviously desperate for a new topic. "Ron and Luna are really hitting it off," she observed quietly. "She's pretty much resigned herself to a cottage for one with lots of cats, because few people give her a second glance, especially boys. She's been disappointed so many times that she no longer has any expectation of finding friends, let alone someone to love her. But Ron liked riding around with her today. It made him curious about her. He's been trying to send her signals since they sat down, and she keeps ignoring them, refusing to believe that they have any meaning. But it's going to backfire on her, because she's become a puzzle to him now, and he's getting more and more determined to solve her."
Harry gaped at her, but she merely shifted in her seat and indicated Elias and Ginny with a toss of her head. "They're cute together. She'd never noticed him before today--he was just a teammate for Quidditch. She's been learning things about him all day long: he's from a big family with lots of brothers, he's neither proud nor ashamed of his famous name, he wants lots of kids and will make a great father. It's all caught her eye, and her eyes have been closed to everyone but you for a long time. She's been taking it all in, saying very little in return, but he likes that. He already knew about her dad being Minister, and her brothers being the hotshots on Diagon Alley with their store, and Bill the hero who defended Hogwarts from Greyback. He thinks it's charming that she has such famous relatives and doesn't drop names, or brag, or act snooty. His home isn't far from here, and he's trying to decide if he could make it there and back before dark, to pick up a belated Christmas present for her. They've got some traditional handmade family gift that he's itching to give her, kind of like Molly Weasley's sweaters."
She took a sip of tea and looked beyond their table to Hermione and Krum. "Hermy is in for a surprise later. Viktor has an engagement ring in his pocket. He made a lot of money for catching the bug at the World Cup match, even though his team didn't win. He spent almost half of it on the ring. It's a whopper--a huge clear diamond with no inclusions, on a titanium band. She has no idea that he's planning to propose." She smirked. "Poor guy's been trolling for her since he spent that year at Hogwarts, but he didn't quite know how to win her over. He did a very smart thing, going away and letting her grow up a little, without him. She missed him when he was gone, and then when he came back, she was flattered. It all adds up in her mind: that he's stable and secure, and yet not cloying or suffocating. She thought she'd have to choose between a career and a companion--that those were mutually exclusive. Viktor makes her feel like he'll still want her, even if she follows her ambitions. Silly girl--of course he will."
How she could pick up so much without glazing over was still beyond Harry, but he was in no mood for a Legilimency lesson. "Silly girl," he repeated. "What about this silly girl, this one here with me?"
She stared into her teacup as though it had spoken, not Harry. "No silly girls here. Just spooks."
"Tura." He reached across the table again and set his hand over hers on the teacup. She clenched her jaw and stood up, yanking her knapsack from the floor.
"I'll get the bill, gang," she said a bit too casually, and scooted to the counter. Harry smiled bitterly to himself and shook his head.
The walk back to Hogwarts proved very entertaining, with Harry feeling like quite the voyeur as he watched the three other couples. Krum's hand kept drifting toward a pocket in his robes, usually patting the surface briefly and dropping back to his side. Harry composed himself to read him during one such pass, having guessed (correctly) that the box containing the ring was in this pocket. As Krum made sure for the millionth time that it had not fallen out of his robe, Harry caught a clear memory of the ring nestled in its velvet lining and nearly whistled out loud. Tura was right; it was big enough to choke a dragon.
Harry knew Ron well enough that there was no need for Legilimency to see that he was intrigued. It was obvious in the narrowing of Ron's eyes, the calculated way he spoke. Ron looked the same way during a particularly good game of Wizard Chess, or that day over the pitch when the two of them vowed (albeit briefly) to depart and hunt down Voldemort on their own. That was Lavender Brown's problem all along,
Harry suddenly realized. She took all the unknowns out of the equation, and Ron got bored with her.
Harry took a closer look at Luna, recalling how she'd startled him many times with her offbeat but insightful remarks. She could keep Ron on his toes for years and years without even having to try.
It was harder to look at Ginny and Elias, for she was his first real love, and the thought of her drifting away sent a painful stab through his stomach. He set his jaw and listened as he walked behind them, and thought about what Tura had told him. "He has lots of brothers... he'll make a great father." That's obvious,
thought Harry. Elias was kind and sturdy, a perfect foil to Ginny's willfull temperament. Harry realized he could never go back to Ginny, even if Elias left the picture; she deserved someone... not necessarily better,
but definitely someone else.
Someone who knew how to live in a noisy, loving household, who wouldn't tire of it and long for solitude when the novelty wore off. Elias caught his eye while turning to speak to Ginny, and Harry remembered Ron's reluctant "if you must" glare, that first time he had snogged Ginny the previous year. Pulling metaphorically on his mental bootstraps, Harry met Elias's questioning glance with an approving nod and backed away.
For the remainder of the afternoon and dinner in the Great Hall, Harry did his best to relax and enjoy the evening, and not to think at all about Ondossi.
He bided his time, knowing that Viktor would do his best to whisk Hermione off after supper and ask the question that was now weighing on his mind like a lead ingot. Harry was tempted to reveal the secret after the two of them departed, but decided to let Hermione break the news. He was a bit curious to see whether Hermione would announce it right away, then laughed internally for automatically assuming that she would accept.
Luna, always off on her own plane of reality, eventually invited everyone to the Ravenclaw common room to see an article from the Quibbler, and since neither Ron, Ginny, nor Elias particularly wanted the evening to end, they enthusiastically accepted the opportunity to leave together. Harry followed them out to the double doors, but paused before stepping into the Entrance Hall. As he expected, Ondossi said goodnight and headed for the oak front doors instead of going upstairs with the group. Harry picked up his Firebolt and followed her.
"Hop on," he said, pushing open the door.
"I can climb."
"I know." He tipped his head at the broomstick. "And you should. But hop on anyway."
Ondossi closed her eyes and sighed, but she stepped over the broomstick. He settled in front of her and waited. She put her hands on his hips, but as soon as the broom came up underneath them, she scooted forward and wrapped her arms firmly around his middle. Smiling, Harry kicked off and sailed to her sleeping platform.
As they glided to a halt, he let go of the Firebolt, knowing it would hover a few inches above the planks for an easy dismount. Before Tura could dart away, he captured her hands and held her in place. When standing up straight, she came up a bit higher against his back than when they were leaning into the broomstick, and he let his head drop back to rest upon her forehead. The moon was up, nearly full, reflecting pale blue from the snow against the darkness of the Forbidden Forest. Both watched as nothing happened, and listened to the silence broken only by the peaceful rhythm of their breath.
She cleared her throat. "Yes?"
"If I let go of your hands and turn around, will you promise not to pull away?"
"Why the Sam Hill would I promise that?"
Harry laughed soundlessly. "Because if you won't promise, I won't let go. We'll be stuck here."
Her body shook as she, too, held back her laughter. "Think so? You're bound to get tired at some point."
Undaunted, Harry tried a different tack. Taking both of her hands into one of his with a tight grip, he tugged open his practice robes and untucked his shirt from his trousers with a quick yank. Grinning fiendishly at her stunned gasp, he laced his fingers between hers again and pulled her hands up under his shirt. They were cold against his warm belly, but he gritted his teeth and tightened his grip for the inevitable fight.
It wasn't long in coming. "What in... Harry Potter, you let go this instant!" Ondossi curled her fists; the tops of her fingers were even colder than her palms.
Harry shook his head, laughing aloud. "Nope, not 'til you promise. Come now, what's the matter? You touched me just like this, the very first day we met."
"Yeah, and I knocked you flat, too." She wrenched so hard with one elbow that she nearly pulled free.
"You caught me off guard," he teased. "Promise."
She struggled and tugged a bit more, but finally rested her cheek against his back and sighed. "Harry. Fine. I'll give you ten seconds, then I bolt."
She growled. "You're impossible.
"That's rich, coming from you."
With a final huff, she butted her forehead against his back. "Fine. Twenty seconds. One, Mississippi. Two, Mississippi..."
Harry dropped her wrists and turned to face her. He let his nose drag over her forehead as he came around, keeping a point of contact between them. She drew a rapid breath and stopped counting, but, true to her word, did not back away. Tura,
he said, not out loud but into her mind. He continued to lower his head, nuzzling the hollow of her eye, the rise of her cheekbone, the warmth of her lips.
For a moment, the rest of the world disappeared, but it was over far too quickly.
"Now, Harry!" she admonished, looking decidedly flustered. She stepped back from him, interestingly, rather than trying to shove him away, and Harry simply moved forward with his own impish grin. Glaring, she took another step and waggled her finger at him. "Behave yourself!"
"You know, you're going to run out of platform very soon," he warned wryly. "You might fall--and I'd have to catch you." Harry covered her protesting hand with his own and eased it to one side, making himself some room to step in close.
"Hey," she said, her voice growing stern but not particularly convincing. "I mean it, Harry. Bad idea."
Harry scoffed affectionately. "Don't be silly. Tura... hasn't this been a wonderful day? You seemed to enjoy my company, though I suppose I could be wrong." He entwined their fingers and laid his other hand on her shoulder. When this brought no resistance, he leaned down into another kiss, which was also cut far too short.
"Harry," Ondossi whispered, bowing her head.
He smiled and shook his head indulgently, undaunted by this halfhearted resistance. Having summoned enough courage to kiss her, he felt bold enough to try something else. Lifting her chin, Harry looked into her eyes and pushed past them into her thoughts. He didn't have to go deep to find what he was seeking, which was just as well, as she promptly slammed her mind closed.
"HEY! Foul!" she squawked earnestly, shoving his shoulder. Harry's smile only widened, and she shoved him again, pushing past him this time to return to the center of the platform. "That was SO totally not fair, scoping me out--not about that!
Harry shrugged unconcernedly. "You're right. I'll make it up to you. Here, you can do it right back to me."
She smiled, though she deliberately and unsuccessfully tried to hide it. "Pass. God, you're such a dork!"
Harry crossed the platform and put his hands on her waist. "Tura, why are you running? I know what I saw just now."
"Oh, don't get all smug! Maybe I think about all the guys that way."
Harry laughed out loud, as did Ondossi. "Somehow I don't think so," he said, raising her chin for another kiss. This one lasted long enough to make them both a little breathless before she abruptly pulled away.
There didn't seem to be any smile this time, which Harry confirmed when she lit the lamp beside her hammock. She sat down in it and folded her arms, staring at him without speaking.
Harry sighed. "Okay, I give up. Are you going to tell me why you're fighting this, or do I have to guess?"
"Harry..." she groaned, finally meeting his eyes. "Look," she said, then paused again. "You're right, okay? Everything you're thinking about here, about us... you're right. Right now there's nothing I'd rather do than fall asleep in your arms, and wake up beside you tomorrow morning."
Harry's breath caught in his throat and he took a step toward her. She raised her hands in a halt, shaking her head. "We can't
though, Harry. Will you, just this once, not argue with me? Please?"
"Tura." He didn't move any closer, but he took hold of her hands. "I don't understand."
"I know you don't! That's why I asked you to just accept it, just this once. Can't you do that?"
"No, I can't! Tura, this is ridiculous." He dropped his voice. "Look, if there's a reason we can't... be closer, I need to know it. Explain it to me."
Ondossi drew up her legs, pulling a thick fur pelt around her back, then sat in silence for a moment. "All right," she said. "You want reasons. How about this: Everybody I care about seems to end up dead. You can relate, no?"
That hit close to home. "Touche'," said Harry, squirming. "Though maybe we deserve each other. If nothing else, to keep all those other poor souls out there out of danger."
She laughed bitterly. "Maybe so," she said, twisting and tugging the net of her hammock. "All right, you don't like that one--how's this? You're a student. I'm a teacher. Even I
know there's rules about that."
Harry scoffed. "Please. Since when do you worry about rules?"
"Well, maybe it's about time I started!" she barked, nearly shouting.
He scrutinized her for a moment, his shoulders tensing. "I can't believe this. I'll tell you what: I'll quit school. Right now." He didn't feel too sure of himself as soon as the words were in the air, but Fred and George certainly had no regrets.
"You will not either," she said, exasperated. "It wouldn't matter anyway; I'd still be your teacher, hotshot."
"You don't say? Ah, yes, I forgot--you're supposed to teach me how to use Dark magic, how to murder.
Obviously no snogging allowed--that would be unethical.
Ondossi let go of the hammock with a noisy huff, but said nothing. She finally slouched and tucked her hands beneath the fur. "Touche', yourself," she grumbled, staring off to the side.
Harry grinned again. "Come on now. Stop being so silly." He leaned closer, but she waved him back with an irritated glower.
"Don't, Harry. I'm telling you, you're writing a check that you're not gonna wanna cash."
"There you go again. I don't even know what that means!"
Ondossi clenched her eyes shut and slouched even further. "It means I still have secrets, okay? Things you're not going to like when you find out. I don't... It's not fair to ramp things up between us without being honest. Not fair to either of us. But I can't. Be honest, that is." She looked utterly miserable.
Harry suddenly felt a bit lightheaded, and nearly laughed. "Uh, Tura? You've stopped making sense. First of all, I'd say things have ramped up already. And whatever your 'secrets,' they won't change who you are, or that I'm falling in love with you."
Both of them went wide-eyed at this admission, but Ondossi hardened immediately.
"Love?" She spat the word like a curse. "You're playing with fire, Harry James Potter! You don't love me. You don't even know me!" She pointed her chin defiantly. "You think you do, hotshot, but you don't. You don't even know my full name!"
Harry bristled; that much was true. "What difference does that make? I still know who you are inside."
"Who I am? Oh, that's nice. You don't know my mother, my father, my people. You know nothing about me but the little snips I've shown you, and believe me, they're not the whole picture. Far from it!"
Her words ripped through him like shards of glass; for an instant all he did was stare. "What's the matter with you?" he said, his eyes narrowing. "Look, I don't know what your game is, but I'm not playing it anymore. You want distance? You've got it." He stalked over to his Firebolt and picked it up, intending to launch without looking back, but he heard a strange sound and spun around. Her face was buried in her hands, and she was shaking hard enough to jiggle the whole hammock, making it creak; she was obviously sobbing.
Harry knew he should just push off, but this was all so bizarre, so ridiculous. The wild play of emotions had worn him down, but he cared about
this crazy witch, and hope still burned in his chest. "If it hurts you so much," he finally said softly, "why are you pushing me away?"
She tried to say something, but she was crying too hard to get the words out. He folded his arms and waited for her to catch her breath.
"It hurts because it's an illusion, Harry," she finally said, her voice raw. "I want to believe it. You want to believe it. But the sad truth is, I could shatter this so-called 'love' of yours with one word. That's what hurts. It's not your fault, or your problem. It just hurts." Her throat made a squeaky, breathy sound from holding back a sob. "Just go, Harry."
That stung. Harry dropped the broomstick and stamped angrily back to the hammock. "You think you know what I feel? Or that you can change it? Or that you can just dismiss me, for that matter? How dare you sit there and decide everything for both of us?"
"You wanna know why I get to decide? Because I know my secrets, Harry, and you don't! Meaning I know what's going on, and you don't! Plus, I know the limits of your tolerance."
"My... tolerance." His voice cracked. "Okay. You know what? You've just reached my tolerance,
Tura. If your secret is so bloody terrible, then I demand to know it. Now. Spit it out."
"Please go, Harry."
Clenching his teeth, he growled, "I'm not going anywhere." He put his hand below her chin and raised her head; her skin was cold and slippery with tears. "Not until I know what you're hiding from me."
Her voice broke too, high-pitched and fearful. "Please go."
"Say it, Tura, or I'll go into your mind and find it." Harry wasn't sure at all that he could do that, but he meant to try. At this point, he didn't care about the consequences.
Harry shook his head. "What?"
"My name. Tura Merope Ondossi."
Every hair on his body stood on end, and he was suddenly drenched in sweat. His ears began to ring and scintillations flashed at the edges of his vision; he was on the verge of passing out.
"I was named after my grandmother," she continued. "On my father's side. My parents weren't married, so my last name is Ondossi, like my mother. But she wanted to honor his family, too, even though they weren't Inupiat. So she gave me his mother's name." She closed her eyes and swallowed. "The other options were 'Gaunt' and 'Riddle,' and those are just lame."
Riddle's daughter. Harry stared at her, dumbstruck and breathless, repeating her confession in his mind in order to comprehend it. Riddle's daughter. Voldemort's
daughter. She was bound by blood to his mortal enemy, a bond so strong that even her superlative magic could not break it. Without thinking, he put his hand on her throat as if she might escape into darkness if he didn't restrain her. That's why you can't kill him,
he projected into her mind, too livid to speak. You owe him for bringing you to life.
"Yes," she rasped. He felt the vibration of her larynx all the way into his wrist, and for that reason alone it occurred to him that he was strangling her. Before he released her, however, he drew back his other hand and struck her with the full force of his fury.
Harry shoved her back into the hammock and spun away, grabbing his broomstick and launching into the night.