Title: The Rending
Rating: PG-13 for mild violence and mild sexual reference
Note: This story was written Feb 2004. It contains some canonical errors and other plot issues, but cleaning them up threatened to do the story too much damage, so it is has been left as is, and you have been warned. Thanks to Glen and the regular betas for help with shaping this up for posting.
Harry leaned back in the hard wooden chair of his desk as Gepert read off the announcements in a dull monotone. The prematurely grey man was the opposite of the more gregarious Tonks, who sat in a seat by the door, waiting to take them to their afternoon training session.
At these times the routine of the Auror apprentices wasn't as different from school as Harry would have liked and, growing bored, his mind wandering back to the end of last school year. His side ached as he thought about it, reminding him that he really needed to find a healer who could help him. He crossed his arms and ran the fingers of his left hand over the ripples of scarred flesh beneath his robe. Some of the scarring had no sensation at all when he touched it, making his flesh feel dead.
Melizza Franks, one of the senior apprentices, turned around in her seat and graced him with a wide smile when Gepert mentioned pairing up for night-drills. She hadn't hid her instant liking of him and two months into his training, she was still at it.
Harry frowned to himself as he remembered putting off an invitation from Ginny two weeks ago. She had wanted to have one last big date before she returned to school and he had begged off. He had to be honest and admit that he had been pushing her away ever since they had started getting physical and it was harder to hide himself. Imagining the outpouring of sympathy he would receive should she see him, made him feel nauseous.
[“The Volsanu spell Harry,” Dumbledore's voice spoke in his mind. “It works like this.” Then a quick lesson in gouging, tearing destruction. His hands shook as he turned one of the wands around in his fist to aim it at himself. A mistake, wanting to live. He had to concentrate to tell which wand was his and which was Voldemort's.]
Tonks stepped forward. "One more," she said, pulling Harry from his reverie. "Harry, Headmistress McGonagall requests that you come and give a Defense against the Dark Arts demonstration for the students." She held up a parchment.
Harry stood and reached out to take it from her. "I'll answer it, thanks," he said. Darren, Rudy, and Melizza all turned and stared at him, reminding him again that he wasn't like them. The parchment went into the backpack he still used from school. The other trainees had nice dragonhide bags; Harry had to find the time to go buy something better than his patched old thing.
It was late when Harry made it back to his flat. The rooms were silent, with the street noise of London surrounding them like a blanket. Rudy and Darren had offered to split their place with him, but Harry had wanted to live alone for a while. The Weasleys had also wanted him to continue to stay with them as he had for the first month after school ended, but somehow that had been too homey and the thought of commuting in with Mr. Weasley every morning just too mundane.
Harry waved a frozen dinner to hot, set it on the table and gulped down half of it before nausea overcame him. He banished the remains and took out a sheet of parchment and began to compose a reply to McGonagall. The quill hovered over the paper as he tried to think of the right way to begin. It seemed insufficient just to write 'yes'. He scratched out the salutation: "Headmistress McGonagall, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry" and stopped.
["No!" Harry screamed at the top of his lungs and thrashed against them. "No! No!" They were tying him down. Snape grabbed his right arm as Harry tried to use it to pry McGonagall and Pomfrey off of his left. Spells flew at him and his limbs would no longer move, bound to the hospital bed. He passed out as he continued to thrash his head, futilely trying to avoid Dumbledore.]
Harry blinked against his burning eyes and found some stilted polite words that conveyed his acceptance of the invitation in a sufficiently roundabout manner. Hedwig waited on the sill. Harry had surrounded the narrow railed window with plants so she could sit outside in hiding and wait for him. She seemed to like watching the street scene below. Harry tied the message to her leg and gave her a stroke on the back.
His bed beckoned, but if he went to sleep now, he would sleep ten hours. He put on a jacket and went for a walk instead. The streets were nice and familiar now. Harry followed one of his usual routes down a quiet residential street to the end at one of the Muggle universities, now darkened. He turned at the fish and chips shop, which was dimly lit as the owners cleaned up, and walked around the long block to the right and came back down a commercial street of office buildings and small sandwich and coffee shops. Pulsing music throbbed out of a below-ground nightclub. Harry paused and watched people dancing in the cycling lights for a minute before moving on.
The sheer freedom of this hadn't worn off yet. The notion of a Voldemort-free world where he could go anywhere without concern still held him fixed. To stop appreciating it would mean ceasing to appreciate what it cost to obtain it.
[Oily dark clouds roiled just above the peaks of the Hogwarts towers. Harry clutched his broom with a damp hand and climbed the last few steps of the Astronomy tower and shuffled to the first windy openings to look down at the lawn. Blue lights crackled in the forest and the entire castle shivered; its stones grinding.
"Potter, get back to the dungeon!" Professor Snape yelled at him from his perch at the other end of the stone railing surrounding this level of the tower.
"No! He wants me," Harry shouted back over the wind whipping around them. "He's going to pull down the castle to get me--I should just go!"
Another burst of blue lightning enveloped the castle and Harry bent suddenly over the railing, drawn by some unseen force. As electric-blue lightning lit the tower, Snape lunged and gripped Harry's robe to haul him back inside. "You stupid boy!" Snape shouted over the wind and pointed his wand at him as though tempted to take him out himself.
The castle shivered again and the very foundation groaned beneath them. Harry felt the tower sway distressingly. "Get off me!" Harry shouted, fighting the hold on his robe with a sharp elbow. At that moment, a gust of wind, crackling with raw magical power, pulled Snape away. Harry ducked under his arm and mounted his broom. He waited just an instant for a lull in the wind and then launched himself outward. Something heavy grabbed him from behind as he cleared the railing and a gust of wind caught two cloaks as the broom stabilized in the open air.]
Back in his flat, Harry felt a little better, well enough to eat a snack before going to bed. He slept soundly without waking from dreams--another luxury he was also still getting accustomed to.
Two days later Harry took the Floo to Hogsmeade. It was midmorning and the stores were just opening. He walked slowly along the street, feeling a little strange in his robe; his nightly London walks were in jeans and a jumper. He passed the train station and headed onto the path along the lake.
The lake was completely still and reflected the castle in near perfection. Small white clouds soared across the sky. The castle looked solid and welcoming as it glowed in the sunshine.
The path veered toward the Forbidden Forest as it approached the gate. Harry peered into the trees, trying to see if anything were near the edge. London didn't harbor interesting creatures such as centaurs, thestrals, and unicorns. Harry had to make do with the occasional sighting of a punker festooned with tattoos and disturbing piercings.
Harry stopped as he spied a gap in the canopy of the otherwise dense trees. He hadn't realized before how close to the castle everything had happened. Once inside the Forbidden Forest, distance lost meaning, especially when you were fighting for your life.
["Give me your wand!" Harry whispered fiercely to his uninvited rider as they landed. "I can't beat him with mine." Harry's scar hurt so much he thought it must have turned to acid. He pressed his hand against it and blindly grabbed the wand Snape finally offered him after a very long hesitation. Snape shook his head, implying that he believed they were doomed anyway.
Silence fell. At least the attack on the castle had stopped as the Death Eaters turned their attention to hunting Harry instead. That made him feel he had at least accomplished something.
A spell struck Harry at that moment, spinning him around and tossing him to the ground. He jerked his head up and looked into the pale, snakelike face of Voldemort, red eyes peering down at him with cold determination. Snape, defenseless, backed off.
Voldemort's wand flared and Harry blocked and got thrown backward for his trouble. Other wand, Potter, Harry berated himself. He rose to his wobbly feet and held his own wand out. Voldemort sent an Avada Kedavra at him but Harry was ready with his own. The green blasts crashed between them and hovered there, filling the air with a sizzling whine. Both wizards fought to hold the ball of spell energy at bay. Harry had imagined this moment so many times, his hand didn't shake as he matched the Voldemort's power. He brought every good and happy thing he could think of to his mind in one big surge of emotion and the shower of clashing spells plowed toward the Dark Lord.
Seeing his advantage, Harry brought his borrowed wand around in his other hand with a primal wail and leveled the massive trees around them. They fell ponderously. Thinking dearly of his friends, Harry held Voldemort captive with the locked spells as a ancient behemoth of oak flattened the evil wizard. The ground shuddered in the wake of the falling giants; branches rained down. Harry gasped and fell to his knees to catch his breath.
"I can't believe you managed that, Potter," Snape said from behind him. "You almost make me believe in destiny."
Harry's scar still sizzled as badly as ever. "It isn't over," Harry breathed. He heard a gasp and turned to see Snape bent over, clutching his arm where the mark burned upon it.]
The transition from shade to light as a large cloud drifted overhead made Harry realize he was going to be late.
The Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom door was closed when Harry arrived at it. He knocked and opened it without waiting for an invitation. Professor Snape stood upon a long platform before a row of high windows. It appeared as though years five through seven Defense classes were all packed into the room, sitting on chairs and the floor. Everyone turned to look at Harry as he entered.
"Ah, Potter. Late as usual," Snape drawled.
Harry stepped over a few students to get to the front of the room. They didn't seem to mind, at all. As Harry stepped up onto the platform, Snape said, "I am certain you all know Mr. Potter, so we will dispense with the introductions."
Harry cleared his mind of memories and other concerns as the teacher gave an overview of counter-curses and blocking spells. Every eye in the room was on him rather than Snape. He found Ginny sitting on the floor near the center and smiled lightly at her.
"So, with that, let us try a demonstration, shall we?" Snape suggested. At Harry's nod, he announced, "A basic impediment counter-curse." As Snape pointed his wand and cast an impediment spell, Harry barely twitched his wand in response, but the spell bounced harmlessly away.
"A jelly-legs counter-curse," Snape stated. This spell had a little more behind it, forcing Harry to block it fully.
Snape lowered his wand. "I will demonstrate a diamond shield spell if Mr. Potter will indulge me," the Professor said.
Harry grinned at him. As he raised his wand, he laughed and said, "Professor, you don't know how long I've dreamed of his moment." He gave Snape two seconds to prepare then yelled, " Dirrentiala! " as he pointed his wand.
Snape's shield came up and the spell that otherwise would have pinned him to the wall smashed and bounced around the room, making the windows reverberate. The class held its breath until the professor and his former student lowered their wands again.
Snape turned to the students and spoke in a controlled manner. "You will notice a few things. One: Mr. Potter doesn't panic when faced with dueling. Although he does lose his attention, which is very poor form." Harry had turned to Ginny and winked. Snape threw a blasting curse at him, which Harry blocked without looking.
"Or a means of luring one's opponent to strike before they are ready," Harry said sweetly.
He noted that Snape still had his wand at ready. He brought his back up as well and with a sparkle of glee in his eye, pointed and said, " Homorphus! " Snape blocked it easily and without pausing returned, " Corpoplico! " which Harry also blocked.
Back and forth they went, the spells escalating in the level of damage they could cause, until Snape projected, " Stop ," into Harry's mind and they both slowly lowered their wands at the same time as though part of a ballet. The stillness of the room penetrated Harry's attention and he glanced around at the stunned faces.
"Had enough?" Snape asked. He seemed to have forgotten he was teaching.
"Never," Harry replied out loud and then Legilimensed, " You think you are getting off that easy? "
Snape raised his wand slowly and Harry matched it. The duel started up again. Snape started talking between rounds. "When a battle is equally matched, look for a weakness in your opponent," he said, his eyes darkening.
Another round of cast spells passed. They were both getting breathless from leaping around and fighting off chains and conjured creatures. "You are giving it away, Potter, by overcompensating," Snape sneered and cast a piercing charm at Harry's side.
Harry went down onto one knee. Pain had taken away the breath he had left. In his mind he heard, " Is that a new injury or an old one? " Harry held his wand pointed down and scrubbed his scar.
"Potter, answer me," Snape said aloud. The students' murmuring increased.
Harry put his hand on his knee in preparation for standing back up and answered aloud, "Old one," because it looked like Snape was going to throw another spell at him if he didn't answer. To the side Ginny was explaining that both of them could read minds.
"Ms. Weasley is correct in pointing out," Snape said, closely watching Harry as he straightened slowly, "that, just because you do not hear anything, does not mean there is not a conversation going on."
They stared at each other until Harry raised his wand again. Snape's right brow went up but he matched him. The door to the room opened and more students shuffled in, Professor Flitwick pushing his way eagerly to the front of them, apparently attracted by the noise of the duel.
" Ginny, give me a distraction ," Harry silently projected at her as he flipped his hair out of his eyes.
Ginny yelped and spun around where she sat on the floor. "Gregory! What are you doing?" she yelled. The boy started to protest.
Snape's eyes darted over to the students for just a fraction of a second and Harry threw a blasting curse at him in that instant, forcing Snape back.
"Easily distracted, aren't you, Professor?" Harry asked coolly.
Snape’s eyes narrowed to slits and a rapid-fire exchange of spells and blocks followed with both of them now working as hard as possible to unseat the other. Of the two, Harry was breathing harder, although he was having an awful lot of fun, especially considering he couldn't really get in trouble for it. His desire to return to Hogwarts bloomed at that notion--he could be doing this all the time.
At a pause in the spells, while Snape and Harry stood still with their wands pointed at each other, McGonagall's voice said, "My!" This acted as a kind of cue for the duel to restart.
" Ripdingio!" Snape yelled and Harry ducked. Stone chips scattered from the wall behind him. "Don't know a block for that one, Potter?" Snape asked snidely. "Good thing I gave you a warning, then," he sneered.
Harry realized that Snape had projected the spell incantation to him just before his old teacher cast it. He narrowed his eyes at Snape and projected, " I guess if I want your job, I'm going to have to take you out. "
Startled by that, Snape hesitated and Harry hit him with another Blasting Curse that forced Snape to step backward to stay up. Another three rounds of spelling flew between them before they paused again.
"Is this almost over?" McGonagall asked from the middle of the additional audience that had piled into the room.
Without lowering his wand Snape said, "As soon as Potter gives up, it will be." Harry bit his lip. Snape went on, "If pride were at issue, he should. The next spell is going to knock him flat."
With a frown Harry lowered his wand before tucking it away in an inside pocket. The room held its collective breath for an instant, and then broke out into wild applause. Harry stared at the students as they clapped--some over their heads--and cheered. He gave Snape a disbelieving look. Snape was giving him a studious one still, only now his arms were crossed.
The students made their way out after Snape said, "Essay on counter-curses due next class. Dismissed."
Ginny waved at Harry on her way out the door, eliciting a smile and nod. Eventually the room emptied except for the teachers. Harry gave in and lowered himself to the edge of the platform, trying to catch his breath without pulling on his scars, an impossible task.
"Did you injury him?" McGonagall asked Snape sharply. She came over to Harry and looked down at him.
"He was injured before," Snape stated. "He is still injured, perhaps would be more accurate."
"Potter, is that true?" the headmistress asked in shock. She pulled over a chair and sat before him. "Harry?"
Harry nodded reluctantly and fought a wince.
"You are unbelievably stubborn, Potter," Snape stated.
"Get him a potion for the pain, Severus," McGonagall said. Snape swept out of the room, pulling the door shut as he left.
Harry sighed. "The St. Mungo's Healer I saw to couldn't do anything. It isn't easy to fix."
"Find another one, then," McGonagall snapped at him.
Harry wanted to point out how busy he was, but knew that was a stupid thing to say to a school headmistress. He also wanted to gripe about how the Healer he had gone to had looked at him as though he were a science project waiting to be put on display.
"I can recommend a Healer, Potter, and I will ask around for others."
Harry nodded at that and tried to put on a grateful face. A minute later, the door opened and Snape reappeared. He brought a stone cup over and handed it to Harry, who sipped it cautiously at first but then took a gulp to get it down faster. "Thanks," Harry said and sat a little straighter as he could now manage this easily.
Snape stood beside the McGonagall and re-crossed his arms. "Don't be so stubborn, Potter. If I hadn't been able to exploit your injury . . . you would have beaten me," he admitted.
Harry looked up at him thoughtfully.
"Feeling better?" McGonagall asked.
Harry grinned into the cup. "I haven't felt this good in a long time," he said, thinking how much he had enjoyed the duel, had enjoyed casting rather dangerous spells at his most hated professor. He toasted Snape with the cup before finishing the rest of the potion.
Snape gave him a doubtful look. "Only feel alive when someone is trying to kill you, Mr. Potter?"
Harry met his gaze but didn't reply.
"Will you stay for lunch?" McGonagall asked. "It is only fifteen minutes 'til. You can wait in my office if you like."
Harry quickly replied, "No, I'll stay here." Uncertain whether Dumbledore's portrait had been completed, Harry played it safe. He wasn't ready for that yet. McGonagall nodded at both of them and strode briskly out of the room. Snape collected up his materials and flipped through the essays turned in by the fifth-years, for whom this was the normal class time.
Harry set the stone cup aside and stood up now with ease. He wandered around the room, which was in a bit of a shambles. At the windows he stopped and peered out at the trees bordering the mountains.
[" Accio wand ," Harry screamed, pointing with Snape's wand. Voldemort's wand tunneled out of the ground and flew to him. Harry clutched it tightly with his own and could feel that his fear was powering Voldemort back to strength even beneath tons and tons of ancient wood. He handed Snape his wand back just as several Death Eaters, unable to Apparate to this spot, began arriving at a run. Harry ran and leapt up onto the fallen tree. " Bow to me, Professor, or this isn't going to work! " Harry sent to Snape. He then Occluded his mind to cut off Voldemort and anyone else.
Snape went down to one knee but only after several Death Eaters surrounded him. They pointed their wands at Harry.
"What are you doing?" Harry snapped at them. He recognized the freckled hand on Snape's shoulder. "MacNair, let go of him and get over here!" Harry shouted.
The wands pointing at Harry wavered a little. All or nothing , Harry thought. He Legilimensed the mind of the Dark Lord beneath him. Rather than scream at the burning agony that shot through him, Harry lowered his eyes and let hatred flow out of them. Voldemort's thoughts were a jumble of pain and rage but Harry was starting to get a few clues. "This isn't precisely what I had in mind, but it will do. Especially since it lets me get at Albus Dumbledore."
Snape's head came up at that. A Death Eater struck Snape across the back of the head to make him lower it again.
"Bellatrix," Harry said in a Snape-like tone. A wave of nauseating images accompanied that name. Harry swallowed. "Bellatrix, dear, suffocating lover. Put your wand down and step away from him. He has been as loyal as any of you."
Harry started to feel Voldemort fighting back. Snaking tendrils penetrated Harry's mind. Taking both wands together, Harry fired a narrow burning spell through the tree beneath him. The Death Eaters jumped at that, including Bellatrix, who released Snape and went down on a knee as well. The tendrils receded.
The other Death Eaters still looked dubious. "You are all fools," Harry stated quietly, stalling for time as he tried to find the trigger for the mark in Voldemort's convoluted thoughts. He smiled a little. "Didn't I call you here?" he asked and pushed on the trigger. They all arched or writhed as their marks burned. Snape stared fearfully up at Harry as he clutched his arm. Harry could read his face; Snape thought he had lost.
" Professor, please back off and get them all with something. Anything. " Harry projected to him.]
"Lunch is undoubtedly about to be served," Snape commented.
Harry rubbed his longish hair back and nodded. His hair had never grown out before, but it did now and it was such a novel concept that he hadn't the sense to get it cut. Ginny's expressions of delight every time she saw it longer, didn't put him in a rush to find a barber either.
They walked in silence to the Entrance Hall and through the familiar large doors of the Great Hall. The lightly clouded sky shown down on everyone inside. As Harry followed Professor Snape past the Slytherin table, he glanced at their faces. A very young boy with almost Draco-like hair looked at Harry with a stunned expression. Harry smiled at him in return, making the boy's mouth fall into an 'O'. At the head table he took a seat between Snape and Sinistra, as McGonagall stood up. "We have a guest today, as some of you know."
Harry sighed and tried in vain to find a place to rest his eyes. He now understood why the teachers always just watched the headmistress or master when little speeches were going on.
McGonagall continued, "I don't think Mr. Potter needs any introduction. Suffice to say that many of us would not be here, possibly including this castle, if it were not for him." Harry stared at the ceiling a moment, in lieu of rolling his eyes. "So we are certainly honored to have him here. Let's eat," she said and clapped her hands once. Plates of food appeared and the clatter of silverware filled the room. Eventually all of the amazed gazes fixed on Harry turned to eating, and he relaxed a little.
"She's trying for Dumbledore, but not quite getting there," Harry commented.
"She is doing a very good job," Sinistra said. "This is not an easy place to run."
Harry stared at his plate without picking up his fork. The sight of the food made his stomach churn.
Snape cut into a chop then put his utensils down. "I couldn't help but notice that you avoided visiting the headmistress' office," he said.
Harry turned to him and felt a wave of honesty overcome him. "I'm not ready to face his portrait," he admitted.
After a pause in which Snape handed Harry a pitcher of pumpkin juice, he said, "It is less disturbing than I expected, I will say. Although your circumstances are somewhat different."
Harry poured himself some juice as a distraction from his embarrassment. "He saved your neck too though, I expect," Harry commented. That was a story Harry had never found out, how Snape had come over from the Death Eaters in the beginning.
"Indeed, something his portrait sees fit to remind me of most every time I encounter it," Snape said in a suffering voice.
Harry burst out laughing at that, and then found he couldn't stop. The head table and most of the school turned to him. McGonagall looked away and shook her head. "In the end that is all it takes," she commented to Sprout.
Harry sipped his juice to force himself to stop giggling. It worked, since it made him want to retch. He set the glass down and pushed his potatoes around on his plate. Quietly, Snape offered, "I can brew you something that will make it easier to eat."
"I wouldn't want you to go out of your way, sir," Harry quipped. He thought of the shaky training sessions where he felt his legs were going to give out. "But I wouldn't turn down anything either," he added, a little distressed. He had found it easier to admit weakness since the final battle, as if he had already proved he was stronger than everything, including himself.
He pushed his plate away and looked over the hall’s long tables of students. Ginny gave him a smile from the end of the Gryffindor table. He expected that she didn't usually sit there, too close to the head table to make trouble.
In the Entrance Hall after lunch, Harry said his goodbyes to the staff. "Come back again and see us anytime, Harry," McGonagall said gently. "Anytime." Harry shook her hand and blushed a little at her soft tone. She looked at something over his shoulder. "I think Ms. Weasley could use a little assistance," she commented and turned to go back to her duties.
Harry glanced around and saw Ginny waiting by the front doors with some other girls. They appeared to be arguing. Harry bowed slightly to the other staff and walked to the door. As he approached, he took in the gist of the conversation.
One of the girls was saying, "You are such a liar, you are not dating him."
Another laughed and pushed Ginny a little, "Get your head out of the clouds, girl."
Harry stopped beside them.
"Hey, Harry," Ginny said conversationally.
"Are you free Saturday?" Harry asked her. The other girls' eyes went wide.
She frowned. "Quidditch meeting and practice, Friday?"
Harry shook his head. "Late training. How about a Sunday picnic in Hogsmeade?"
Her eyes brightened. "Sure. Sounds great."
Harry grabbed her hand and squeezed it, then decided he could really make a point. He pulled her toward him and leaned down to kiss her on the lips, deeply, considering they had an audience. When he pulled away, he was pleased to see she was a little breathless.
"Later then," he said and headed down the castle steps. He turned back for one last wave as he crossed the lawn.
* * *
The afternoon consisted of a long session of spell training. Harry was already a little tired from the duel but managed to keep up. They weren't practicing on each other, fortunately, but on stone figures.
In the evening, Harry walked home in a daze of hunger and too much information, more than he could possibly learn in one day. He had to admit that the raw memorization of rules and spell theory that came with being an Auror seemed rougher for him than anything else.
Darkness had spread across the city by the time he reached his flat. He tried to eat a little and succeeded in at least easing the acid burn in his stomach. He pushed the dinner foil aside and put his head down on his arms. He cleared his mind and let himself drift in that protected space he previously used to block out Voldemort. For a moment he thought he had fallen asleep because someone was calling his name. He raised his head up and listened to the humming of the icebox. Someone was calling his name.
Harry pushed himself to his feet and went to the window. Melizza stood on the pavement outside his building. "Harry!" she called.
"What are you doing?" Harry asked in surprise, then decided it wasn't late enough for her to be annoying the neighbors yet.
"I want to see you. Can I come up?"
"Sure," Harry said, a little disgruntled. He realized that she probably didn't actually know to push the button by the door. He grinned at that thought and tapped his wand on the sill with a silent Alohamora to unlock the door at the street level.
She heard the lock click and stepped over to it. A few moments later she stood before the door to the apartment as he held it open. "Why don't you live in Fairyland instead of the middle of Muggleville?" she asked as she stepped inside. She lived in a wizard enclave not far from the Ministry, officially called Fairtown.
Harry shrugged. "I grew up as a Muggle--this seems normal to me." He didn't feel well, so he sat down at the table after banishing the rest of his meal.
"So I have a question," she said, standing in the middle of the narrow entryway that also served as the kitchen. "Don't you like me?"
Taken aback by her straightforward approach, he said levelly, "I like you fine."
"Are you dense then?"
"I just don't like you that much," Harry pointed out." I figured you'd realize that and give up, eventually."
She looked as though this was a new one. Harry gave her a dubious expression. She was beautiful enough that being turned down might be a new experience. Her glossy black hair fell in large waves around her shoulders and she leaned against the stove in very stylish Muggle clothes.
"Look, I'm going out with someone," Harry explained.
"Really?" she looked around the room.
"She's back at school."
"She is still at Hogwarts?" Melizza asked loudly. "Aye!"
"What does she have that I don't?" Melizza asked seriously.
Harry stared at her. Women with this kind of attitude were new to him. He sighed. "She understands me--which is saying a lot," he stated quietly.
"What's to understand? You're a guy.” Harry gave her a look and Melizza backpedalled a bit. "All right, so you beat You-Know-Who twice, but really you are just-"
"Three times," Harry interrupted. "Once as Tom Riddle after he had opened the Chamber of Secrets at Hogwarts."
"Harry, there isn't a Chamber-" she cut herself off at his expression of see-I-told-you-so. She visibly regrouped. "Okay, but that was five years ago, right? I remember that now. That was the year after I finished at Hogwarts."
She stared at him and finally pulled up a chair for herself. "You can't feel misunderstood about what happened three months ago. Everyone knows about that." She looked around the table, making Harry think she probably wanted tea. He stood up to make some. He filled the kettle, set it on a trivet, and pulled out his wand to heat it. With a spell he filled the tea ball from the canister above the stove and set that inside to steep. Without thinking he set this wand down beside the other on the table.
"You have two wands?" she asked, confused.
Harry leaned back in his chair, rocking up on two legs. "You claim to know what happened to me and you wonder why I have two wands," he prodded calmly.
She clearly didn't know why he had two wands. She picked up the longer one that was scorched along the side and tip and stared at it before setting it back down.
"Humor me," Harry said. "And tell me what you think happened."
She poured herself some tea and cradled the cup in her hands. "You had a duel with Voldemort and won, but you got badly injured during it, and it required extreme measures to save you." She said this and then her brow furrowed. "That does sound a little over-summarized," she commented. "It certainly wouldn't pass on a report to the Ministry." She sipped her tea and set it down before picking up and studying the scorched wand again.
"That’s Voldemort's," Harry said. She dropped it in surprise. Harry scooped it back up off the floor and placed the two wands together again on the table. "They are a set. They have always been. They both contain a tail feather from Fawkes, Albus Dumbledore's phoenix."
She stared at him as though glimpsing for the first time the dark depths of the situation.
"So, what happened?" she asked, honestly curious.
Harry leaned back and looked up at the cracked plaster of the ceiling. "Voldemort and I have always been a little close. He marked me. He took my blood to make himself human again. He invaded my mind many times." Harry shook his head. "In the end I had to invade his to pretend I was the Dark Lord to trick his followers. I was too much him at the end."
[A section of the tree vanished and Voldemort rose up in the gap like a broken doll, straightening his twisted, smashed body as though he were made of rubber and wire rather than flesh.
Harry held both wands together and threw spell after spell at the evil wizard, which harmlessly flew through his distorted form.]
"I couldn't beat him, even though I used both wands at once to fire every nasty spell I knew at him. They passed through him without touching him."
Melizza held her tea in her hands and stared at him.
"Dumbledore and some of the other teachers were there at that point. Dumbledore started giving me instructions in my head. Started explaining the Volsanu spell to me."
"That is a rending spell. No one has had a use for that since the Giant wars," she said.
"He told me to turn one of the wands around and use the spell on both Voldemort and myself at the same time," Harry said in an empty voice. At her gaping expression, he explained, "I had to cut Voldemort out of myself or he wasn't going to die. He was getting his power from me and would keep living no matter what else I did."
Harry poured himself a half cup of tea and sipped it. "He said it was going to hurt but that I could survive it. 'Hurt' isn't a word that covers it. Because of the agony, I couldn't keep going with the spell and Voldemort recovered and came at me again." He sighed. "I had to decide that I didn't want to live so I could push the spell up to full power."
[Harry fell to his knees and bent over the wands clenched in his fist. He heard someone scream and wondered if, somehow, the Death Eaters were breaking loose or if someone were screaming about him. He felt black hatred and gasped as Voldemort grabbed more strength from him in a surge. "No," Harry murmured, still feeding the spell. I am doing this so Hermione and Ron can live in a world without you , Harry thought with vicious affection and incanted the spell again. He transcended the pain this time as his mind broke free of the Dark Lord once and for all.
Voldemort dissolved into a cloud of black ash that drifted to the forest floor. Harry's heart pounded alarmingly hard. He listened to it in amazement as he breathed heavily, then became amazed at that too.
Dumbledore and the other teachers surrounded him, with the headmaster reaching out to support him. Harry looked up at him in elation. He had done it. "Professor," Harry said joyfully. Then his body gave out.]
Melizza poured herself more tea as the reverie captured him. Harry came back to himself and rubbed his scar. "What does it mean when you do that?" she asked. "You do it all the time during training sessions."
"It means I'm in pain," Harry replied factually. Her head snapped up. "Before, my scar hurt when Voldemort was near or thinking of something evil. I am so used to my scar hurting as my major source of pain that, when I hurt somewhere else, I rub it out of habit."
"You are in pain now?"
"I never healed completely," Harry said tiredly. A wave of relief washed through him at confessing. He hadn't told anyone at the Ministry that little fact, and he had lived in gnawing fear that someone from training was going to find out and kick him out.
Her eyes roved over his robe in distress before she swirled her teacup and stared into that to draw her eyes away. Harry reached up and unhooked his robe. Her eyes came up in surprise and morbid curiosity. He parted his robe and unbuttoned his shirt. Doing this felt like a right of passage he had to pass. Hiding it dishonored Dumbledore, after all. She caught her breath at the rippled and furrowed flesh of the right side of his chest that extended down to his abdomen.
"It is ten times better than it was after the battle," Harry said and let his shirt and robe fall loose. "It was a gaping hole then."
"Why don't you go to a Healer?" she asked gently, clearly confused.
"I have. They can't do anything. You have to understand that I remade myself with the rending spell and this is me now. Healers heal by returning you to your natural state so they can't help me. At least not any I have found." Harry hooked his robe closed without buttoning his shirt, then rubbed his neck. "I should get some sleep," he said.
She stood up. "Have you been hiding that because you are afraid of being released from your apprenticeship?" Harry stood as well and nodded reluctantly. She went on emphatically, "You are Harry Potter. Get real. They wouldn't do that if both your legs disappeared overnight." Harry grinned despite himself. "If you need backup talking to Tonks, I'll come with you."
"I can talk to Tonks," Harry said, confused.
"Really? She scares me," Melizza admitted. She stepped over to the door. "Well, good night, Harry. See you tomorrow."
"'Night," he said feeling lighter without the burden he just offloaded.
The door closed. Harry waved the teapot back to the shelf. Hedwig in her cage on top of the bureau fluffed herself and looked away from him. "Hey, I didn't invite her over," Harry said to the owl.
A tapping at the window brought Harry over there. He opened the sash and found a large tawny owl on the rail. It hopped inside to the sill. Hedwig fluttered in her cage and turned her back to them again. Harry shook his head and took the leather satchel off the owl's leg. It bit him as he did so.
"Hey!" Harry chastised the bird and then noticed there was a small bottle of potion in the satchel and a note. "Yeah, figures," Harry breathed and took the parcel over to the light by the table. The owl followed, scrambling for purchase on the plastic surface of the cheap table when it landed there.
Harry straightened his glasses and looked at the note. It had dosages on it and nothing else, although there was room for more. He picked up a wand and spoke, " Aparecium ," while tapping the paper. More words appeared.
Harry stared at them. He felt his hands go numb.
"I am sorry, Harry," the note said. And then beneath it: "It would not be ungrateful for you to seek other help."
[A shattered, half-numb and dazed Harry was carried back up the castle hospital wing. He was only dimly aware of them stripping him, although the ripple of horror from those present shot through his unguarded senses as his injuries were revealed. Pomfrey was trying to spell him but it wasn't having a sufficient impact. At the same time an argument was going on which ended suddenly, as though someone had switched off a loud television.
Pain was beginning to penetrate Harry's shocked mind and he began to feel frighteningly unwell all of a sudden. Pomfrey had a hand on his wrist. He focused on that as she watched him with a pensive expression in return. Dumbledore settled on the edge of the bed. Harry felt a wave of sadness; he had failed the old wizard in the end. After all of it, he had failed.
Dumbledore put his hand on Harry's cheek and bent down and kissed him on the forehead. He's saying goodbye, Harry thought with violent remorse. He had wanted to try life free of Voldemort for at least a little while.
Dumbledore's other hand took hold of Harry's head as well and with a jolt, Harry realized what the wizard was going to do. He screamed and shoved Dumbledore away with everything he had left.]
The owl bit Harry again, with a little less force this time.
"You want a reply?" Harry asked it in surprise. He didn't know Snape's owl's name. The owl blinked at him expectantly and tilted its head.
Harry took out a quill and inkwell and flipped the note over. He hesitated a minute, wondering whether he really understood the first part of the message. He shook his head and scratched out, "Apology accepted." Snape's years of torment and Harry's hatred of him for what happened to Sirius had released him in the aftermath of Voldemort’s destruction, but it wasn’t something he had ever expressed out loud or in a letter, and it tore down needed barriers to do so even now.
A tear splattered the fresh ink, washing it out into a dark-edged splotch. Harry wiped his eyes on the sleeve of his robe and pulled out a fresh sheet of parchment. A sever spell reduced it to four smaller sheets. Harry wrote out again: "Apology accepted." Then: "I realize that now," on the next line. He folded it and wrapped it around the owl's leg. The owl scrambled to the edge of the table to get a grip to launch itself across the room, and then glided smoothly out the still-open window.
"I wish it had been that easy to get rid of Snape too," Harry stated to no one. He picked up the spoiled note and carried it over to his trunk. He found the tin box that contained his mementos and dropped it in. "Apology accepted," it read as he closed the lid.
The potion sat on the table. Staring at it made Harry's stomach complain, even though he had ostensibly just eaten. He put two drops of it on his finger and licked them off. They were disgustingly bitter and made his tongue numb, which was probably why the instructions had said to dilute with water. Harry filled a glass from the tap and drank it down. By the time he put the glass back on the drainer, he was ravenously hungry.
He ate another frozen dinner and then, still hungry, made french toast out of a stale loaf of bread from the cupboard. As he sat with his stomach distended in front of an empty plate streaked with syrup, he thought, maybe one drop next time. He felt sleepy from eating, which hadn't happened for months.
His wands still lay on the table beside him. They weren't really a set, the scorched one was a lighter wood and Harry found it focused magic more narrowly than was useful for most things. Its taste of fire hadn't affected its magic at all.
[Harry awoke to a bright spring day in a completely silent hospital wing. Stiffness dragged at him as he sat up and looked over at Pomfrey standing out the window. The scent of burning sweet wood drifted through the room. Harry’s hand roved over his wound, now closed significantly but still oddly distorted. Pulling the bedcover with him to cover his nakedness, Harry stood up, his right side knotted up, and he forced himself not to gasp.
Pomfrey was at his side then. "Mr. Potter, it is so good to see you awake."
"What's happening?" Harry asked her. His last memories of struggling against every one of his teachers didn't bode well.
She led him to the closest window. The lawn held a large, thick crowd of witches and wizards in dress robes surrounding a tall gilded pyre. Harry rested his head on the leading of the window in despair. He stayed that way for a very long time, holding his eyes closed.
"I have to go down," Harry eventually said in an utterly empty voice.
Pomfrey led him back over to his bed and took his robe out of the cabinet beside the bed. She laid it out and tapped it with her wand, transfiguring it into a dress robe with silk edging and black embroidery around the neck and cuffs. Harry pulled out his underclothes from the cabinet as well and slipped them on with only a few serious twinges of his side. Pomfrey helped him with the robe, then led him out.
The flames had fully caught and the pyre burned nearly as high as the castle towers. Halfway across the lawn, the vast crowd began noticing them approaching. A soft murmuring rose and fell before the crowd returned to a stately attitude. Harry stopped before they reached the edge of the crowd; he couldn't stand the thought of being pressed in that mass of robed figures; at this point there was no chance of finding his friends among the thousands. Pomfrey stopped as well but didn't remove her hand from around his back, even though he was standing fine on his own.
Harry bowed his head and stood there, essentially apart from everyone, as the ceremony wound down. He didn't raise his head as the crowd moved away, many swishing robes and clomping feet passed him. Eventually, Hermione's voice broke through the many quiet conversations.
"Harry?" she prompted. He could hear the catch of tears in her voice. He looked up at her red splotched eyes and let her hug him, ignoring the stitch this caused in his side. Ron stood beside her; he looked as though he had stopped crying and was steadfastly refusing to start up again. The rest of the Weasleys hung back behind Ron until Harry turned his empty gaze to them. Mrs. Weasley came forward and hugged Harry as well.
"It is so good to see you up and about, young man," she said. She ran her hands through his hair and hugged him again. Ginny hugged him fiercely for just an instant right after. Harry waited the other Weasleys out. They each had some words for him. An occasional tear still streaked down Fred and George's cheeks, which took Harry by surprise.
"We should go up to the Hall," Mrs. Weasley said. Indeed, the lawn had nearly emptied out. The pyre still blazed fully, alone without its ring of mourners. Mr. Weasley turned suddenly and firmly chased off the photographers from the Prophet. They gave up and stalked off.
"I want to stay," Harry said. The flames had him entranced. The staggering absence Voldemort in his mind also had him entranced. He didn't feel at all like talking to people. They all frowned to themselves, but no one told him he couldn't.
"Do you want me to stay, Harry?" Hermione asked.
Harry shook his head and started to walk away from them, down beside the pyre footings. They hovered for a while before slowly making their way up to the castle, glancing back frequently to check on him. Beside the marble footings the heat was intense; it burned his face to look up at it. The stones at the top near the platform had already cracked from the heat. Harry backed up, sat in the grass, and stared at the flames licking the utterly clear sky.
Harry sat that way until the transfiguration spell on his robes wore off and the fire began to bank down.
A shadow fell beside him. Harry glanced up and found Professor Snape standing above him. "You gave us quite a fight, Potter," Snape stated evenly.
Harry frowned. In the end Dumbledore had again taken control of Harry's life.
"You would prefer to be there instead of him?" Snape asked, reading his face.
Harry shook his head slightly, then bowed it again. He wanted a third option. "Why did you let him do it?" Harry asked. He wanted to accuse Snape of something but that emotion didn't reach his voice. It came out instead as a plea.
"Dumbledore made his choice, just as you made yours. We were bound by loyalty to follow that."
Harry scowled up at him--he didn't sound at all like himself. Pulling his gaze from his teacher, Harry looked out at the forest. "At least Voldemort is gone."
Snape sighed audibly. "'At least.' Only you can get away with saying that, Mr. Potter." Another pause. "You should come up to the feast. If only to demonstrate to the wizarding world what Dumbledore died for."
Harry's confidence dropped out of him. "No," he said, turning away fast, which sent pain through the center of him.
Snape stepped away without another word, his black cloak billowing in the breeze. Harry felt his wand in the pocket of his robe and pulled it out. Both wands were in there, his and Voldemort's. With a surge of anger, Harry stood, staggered, and pitched them towards the pyre.
He must have screamed aloud, because Snape spun around and shouted, "Accio wands!" and caught them out of the air as they zipped to him. Snape strode deliberately back to Harry and pressed the wands, one now scorched black along the edge, into Harry's hand. He forcefully folded Harry's fingers around them. "I believe Dumbledore would want you to hold onto those. Yes, I am quite certain he would want you to keep them."
Harry turned eyes of pain to his teacher before realizing how much he was revealing. He jerked away suddenly and dropped hard back down on the grass.
"Do you need Pomfrey, Potter?" Snape asked stridently.
"No. Go away," Harry snapped. Tears had started racing down his cheeks and the last person in the world he wanted to see it was Snape. Like everyone else, Snape humored him and left him alone.]
Harry realized now that he should have asked Snape if Dumbledore had actually said something about the wands. His statement had been so odd. He picked them both up off the table and held them up in his left hand. A group of people went by on the street, talking loudly and laughing. The contrast between the utter evil he had finally defeated and the ordinary lives around him made him dizzy.
Dumbledore deserved to see this too, this ordinariness. Harry tilted his head back and cried again for the unfairness of that.
Chapter 1 -- Seeking Help
Harry left for the Auror's offices a little early the next morning. Once he had decided to talk to Tonks, he could not tolerate putting it off. He crossed through the Ministry Atrium, diverting when he saw Mr. Weasley waiting for a lift. Harry caught his attention as he approached.
"Harry, how are you?" Mr. Weasley asked loudly. The surrounding witches and wizards turned at that and stared at Harry. Harry tried his best to ignore it.
"I am doing all right," he replied. He took a few steps away from the crowd that didn't seem to have noticed that the lift had arrived. Mr. Weasley followed with a smiling glance at the surrounding people. Harry leaned a little closer and said, "I hope you don't mind if I take your daughter out this weekend."
Arthur Weasley chuckled. "Not at all, my dear boy. Not at all."
"What's that you have there?" Harry asked, indicating the Muggle-looking publication Mr. Weasley had gripped against his chest.
"Oh." Mr. Weasley blushed a little. "It is the Squib Directory. The latest edition was printed just last night," he explained and cleared his throat. He held it out for Harry to flip through. It resembled a thin Muggle yellow pages with headings like "Seamstresses" and "Travel Agents". As they entered the next empty lift, Harry handed it back with a little grin at Mr. Weasley's ongoing Muggle fascination. Mr. Weasley cleared his throat again and said, "Lots of useful people in here that understand Wizards." He clutched the publication against his chest again and announced, "Have to get to the office."
Harry gave Mr. Weasley a little wave before heading in the opposite direction off of the lift. He found Tonks in her office scribbling madly on a parchment. "Just a sec, Harry," she said and scrawled some more before quickly folding it over and tapping it into a paper airplane with the spell Flugapack . The paper airplane zipped off on its own, sailing over Harry's head and out the door. Tonks then looked around her desk as though not sure what to turn to next. She remembered Harry and looked up. "You need to talk to me?"
"Can it wait?" she asked with a regretful look.
He shrugged. "Sure."
She pointed at him. "Catch me at lunch, okay?" she said.
Harry nodded again and departed. He walked through the tunnel connector to the gym and watched Darren and Rudy practicing with some other Wizards. They were doing spell and dodge drills, their feet pounding the matted wooden floor loudly as the leapt around. Rudy paused and gestured for Harry to join them. Harry shook his head and sat down against the wall. If he didn't have to kill himself pretending anymore, he really didn't want to.
Melizza came in a few minutes later. She pulled off her robe to reveal a Muggle workout suit underneath. She stepped over to Harry. "Did you talk to Tonks?"
"I tried. She was too busy."
"Reports are due before noon today. Don't let her put you off after that," Melizza said.
Harry nodded and watched as she joined the drills. Her less restrictive outfit gave her an advantage that she didn't hesitate to use.
"Potter, why don't you partner Melizza?" Rudy asked him and gestured for him to join them.
"Leave him alone," Melizza said and, since she was senior, Rudy let it go.
"Is he hurt?" Darren asked. The other Ministry wizards exercising in the room stopped at that and looked over at Harry.
"Yes. I said leave him alone," Melizza insisted.
Harry rubbed the back of his neck and frowned.
* * *
They all sat down to lunch together. Harry took out a sealed Muggle container of pumpkin soup. He put a very small drop of potion on his finger, licked it off, then started eating to cover the bitter flavor. Everyone watched him do this, but no one said anything.
Tonks came in as they were finishing up and dropped into a chair. She looked exhausted. "You wanted to talk to me?" she asked Harry as she Accioed her lunch from the cabinet, as she caught it midair, she bumped Rudy on the elbow, making him drop his biscuit.
"Alone, if you don't mind," Harry said and ignored the glances this garnered.
"Oh, sorry. A little burned out from reports." She dug into her meat pie quickly. "Let me get a bite and we can go back to my office."
Tonks ate very fast. She used a cloth from her lunch bag to clean her lips and then used a Pack spell to send it all back to the cabinet. As she and Harry stood, Melizza did as well.
"You want me to come, Harry?" she asked.
"No, it's all right," he said and followed Tonks out. He couldn't get what she saw in Tonks that he didn't or vise versa.
Tonks shut the door to her office and took out two butterbeers from her stash under her desk and heated them with a spell. "Want one?" she asked. Harry shook his head. "What can I do for you, Harry? Sorry about not clueing in to your desire for privacy in there." She sat back and took a sip from her bottle.
"That’s all right; they should know anyway," Harry said. At her questioning look, he hesitated. "I should have said something at the very beginning and I apologize for that . . . but, I'm, well, I'm still injured from the fight with Voldemort."
Tonks paused with the butterbeer bottle pressed against her lips. She put it down without taking a second sip. "Badly?"
"Bad enough," Harry said. He hated saying that; it made a ton of pain and frustration surge into him.
"I've noticed you favoring your right side a few times, but I didn't think it might be that. May I ask why you are telling me now?"
"I had a duel with Professor Snape as part of the demonstration at Hogwarts yesterday. He went right for that weakness. I didn't realize until that happened how vulnerable I am. I thought I could make up for it. He doesn't even hate me anymore, I don't think, and he still went for it just to make the point."
Tonks sat back and considered him with a narrow, closed expression. Harry thought maybe he was seeing the Tonks everyone else did at that moment. Finally, she said, "I am a little disappointed that you didn't say anything, but I understand why you didn't. I'd be tempted to behave the same."
"I still feel disloyal even now," Harry confessed and tugged his hair back.
" Don't , Harry. Dumbledore never thought you were and he wouldn't think so now." She took a long swig from her bottle. "Loyalty is not something you have to worry about. Dumbledore told me once that Fawkes came to your aid when he wasn't around. That bird wouldn't have done that for just anyone." She flipped through her parchments in thought, knocking some on the floor. She hovered the fallen loose rolls back up to the desk with the ease of habit. "You saw a Healer when you first started?" she asked.
"I didn't like him and he couldn't do anything."
"I am surprised a note didn't make it into your file," she said, exasperated.
"Tonks, remember back then when I could do no wrong. I think that probably had something to do with it."
"Harry, you still can do no wrong," she commented dryly. Her eyes roved over him a moment. "Is this something visible--this thing that is still wrong with you?"
Harry reached for his robe clasp. He had been preparing for this moment since he had woken up this morning. "You want to see it?"
"If you are willing to show me. I'm kind of at a loss," she said, her eyes roaming over him.
Harry unhooked his robe and then started on his shirt buttons. "You know what I did to myself, right?" he asked before he opened his shirt.
Her brow was furrowed lower than he had ever seen it. "You used a rending spell," she said. He pulled his shirt and robe aside. "Oh, Harry," she breathed in sympathy and squinched her eyes up as she studied him. "What was that like before Dumbledore healed you?"
"I could stick my hand inside," Harry said and sniffled a little, seemingly still on the edge from yesterday.
Tonks stood up to came over and looked his wound over more closely. "Rendings can't be healed normally," she commented. "I don't know what you are going to do." She stood straight and considered him. "No more physical stuff, Harry, until we work something out. I don't want you making it worse, if that's possible. And no more dueling."
Harry nodded. "I had a good time, though. I hit Snape with a Gratalinden at one point. Wouldn't take that moment back for just about anything."
"You did!?" She laughed a little. "I didn't get any letter of complaint from Hogwarts so he must have managed to walk away from it."
"He had a pretty good block for it. I'll have to ask him what it was next chance I get."
"Did you win, then?" she asked.
Harry shook his head. "I conceded. I didn't have any choice because of this." He gestured at his side and then realized his shirt and robe were still open. He buttoned himself up quickly.
* * *
Harry followed the directions on McGonagall's note for where to find the Healer she recommended. He had taken the train an hour past the outskirts of London and walked to this grassy field. If the note hadn't been from McGonagall he would be suspecting a practical joke. He walked along the edge of the empty field until he felt a tingling pass over him. A dome-shaped stone cottage appeared in the tall grass; smoke poured out of the crooked chimney in an inviting way.
Harry rapped on the door. Vines covered the front of the cottage and he had to pull them aside to reach the wood. The door creaked open on its own. Harry put his head in and called, "Hullo?"
"Coming, coming," a voice from the back said. "Make yourself at home."
Harry stepped in and looked around. The place was packed with cauldrons and potion supplies, with the largest cauldron boiling on the fire on a moveable arm that looked like it might have belonged to someone at some point. Harry thought that this woman might personally be responsible for any number of fairy tales he heard growing up.
"Have a seat. Have a seat," a voice insisted. A very old and bent-over witch approaching from the back room. As she walked, she leaned heavily on a staff. Harry obeyed, although he had to share the chair with a bulky, spotted cat.
She stepped up to him and pulled his hair aside to look at his scar. "Hmmm," she said in a quavering elderly voice. "I thought my tea leaves had really lost it this morning, but I guess not." She leaned on her staff and looked at him, even with him sitting in a low chair they were almost eye-to-eye. "Well, Harry Potter, what can Drissela do for you?"
"Minerva McGonagall suggested I see you," Harry said, "for something no one can seem to help me with."
"Tell me then," she said after a long pause.
Harry geared up to tell his story yet again. "Do you know how I defeated Lord Voldemort? I mean, exactly how I did it?"
She put a gnarled finger under his chin and looked into his eyes with her swimming green ones. "I do now, go on."
Harry blinked a few times. She was very good at that; he didn't even feel it. "Dumbledore healed me, but not completely. I need to find someone who can."
"Not feeling ungrateful are you?" she said. She had wandered over to check the cauldron on the fire and then shuffled back to him. "Dumbledore was a great wizard."
"No," Harry whispered sadly. "But I want to be an Auror and I can't train like this," Harry explained. "I feel disloyal to not just accept what Dumbledore gave me. I did that for as long as I could, but I am not strong enough to even train for, let alone be , an Auror."
"You don't think it is time to step aside and let others handle the minor evils of the world, Harry Potter?" she asked, tilting her head at him as though she were a cat or an owl.
Harry dropped his gaze and thought about that. He had wanted to be an Auror as long as he knew there was such a thing. But was it just more of that need to be a hero? "I owe Dumbledore and the other Order members-"
"You what?" she snapped at him loudly, making him freeze in surprise. "You most certainly do not," she countered. "Unless the vision in your mind is untrue--and I would know if it were--you gave everything you had. You have nothing more to give than your life. Just because someone chose to give it back to you does not negate that."
No one had ever questioned his decision to become an Auror--it made Harry defensive. "I like studying Defense Against the Dark Arts, though," he tried to explain in a rush. "I’m good at it and there’s a lot to learn. I did all that stuff not knowing what I was doing. I feel like I could be good at it if I can make it through training."
She stood still, unblinking, unconvinced.
He frowned a little. "And I want to teach Defense at Hogwarts and it doesn't make sense to do that without some experience."
"Ah!" she shouted, startling him again. She touched the end of his nose with her rough finger. "Now that is loyalty to Dumbledore."
Harry breathed out, relieved that he had gotten past that.
"Let me see this injury," she said.
Harry stood up and, in what now felt like routine, unsealed his robe and shirt.
"My," she breathed. She was about eye level to his ribs as she moved closer and ran a finger over one of the grotesque folds of flesh at the edge of the scar. "And this is what dear Dumbledore left you with; it must have been much, much worse."
She rubbed her chin in thought and turned away to check her cauldron again. "You can button up again, lad," she said as she stirred the large pot of gurgling liquid.
Harry did so and sat back down. The cat stood up beside him, stretched, and moved into his lap without invitation.
"Carl," she admonished the cat when she turned back around. Harry stroked the cat on the head making it purr at him happily. Drissela stood thoughtfully, looking over Harry and the cat for about a minute. "I have to say something to you that I almost never need to. I cannot help you and I do not know who can."
Harry frowned and petted the cat some more.
"I can tell you what needs to be done," she said, which brought Harry's eyes up. "You need to be rended more, into something closer to normal. But no one I know has that skill. Should you find someone with that skill he or she is most likely a very dark witch or wizard and you should not put yourself in their care. One could not become skilled in the kind of detailed rending you need without a great deal of pain and destruction of animals and people during practice."
Harry froze at that and looked up at her in surprise.
"Harry Potter, what are you thinking of?" she asked suspiciously.
Harry stood and handed the cat to her. "I promise not to go near any dark wizards," Harry said to her. "Thank you for your time." He walked over to the door. "Do I owe you anything?" he asked, suddenly realizing that this was a consultation he was probably supposed to pay for.
She stood leaning on her staff, her cat now settling on her severely bent shoulder, giving him an unblinking look. "We all owe you, Harry Potter," she said.
Harry sighed. "Everyone seems to think that."
"Give them a year and they will either forget completely or forget what a big deal it was," she stated. The cat started washing its face despite the precarious perch.
"I can't wait," Harry stated emphatically and opened the door.
* * *
Back at the Ministry, Harry headed straight for Mr. Weasley's office. He was away from his desk, but Jenkins came over.
"Looking for Arthur?" he asked.
"Yes," Harry said. "Actually, looking for something he had the other day." Harry's eyes went over the desk until he saw the corner of the Squib Directory under a pile of other things. "This," Harry said, pulling it out.
Jenkins shrugged and went back to his desk. "I'll let him know you borrowed it."
"I'll leave it behind," Harry said. He flipped to "Surgeons" and wrote down the three listed there, circling the one that mentioned microsurgery. He put the directory back approximately where he found it and skipped off to find a phone.
The two Muggle phones in the Atrium had long queues, so Harry went out to the street, leaving his robe on a hook by the phone booth lift and going out in his usual white shirt and jeans. It required walking a few blocks, but he finally found one in working order. He pulled some Muggle coins out of his pocket and fed the phone and dialed. He made an appointment as early as he could, which was three weeks out. He didn't care about the time of day, knowing Tonks would let him out of whatever was going on. He didn't regularly abuse the privileges everyone seemed to heap on him, so he thought he could this once.
* * *
The three weeks until his appointment passed faster than Harry would have expected. His date with Ginny went well. They had simply sat on a hill overlooking the valley of Hogsmeade and ate the picnic Harry cobbled together. Ginny complained about NEWTs and the pressure of studying. Harry told her about visiting the witch and she had grimaced at his scar.
"I'm just glad you're alive, Harry," she had said and pulled him down over her. "I know that is selfish, but I don't care."
The had kissed for a long time after that.
* * *
Harry rode the underground to South Kensington on the afternoon of his appointment. He was starting to feel a little uneasy about this idea, a notion that didn't fade as he filled out the paperwork in the office as best he could. Questions like, 'When was your last visit to your regular physician?' left him feeling really outside of things. Harry put a question mark down for that and some other things and brought it back up. The woman at the desk didn't actually look at it, just clipped it to a chart with strange color blocks on the edge of it. The entire room behind her was full of these on long shelves, organized by color.
He sat down to wait across from a woman with a small, unruly toddler and a man who stared at the wall and sighed every minute or so as he leaned on his cane even though he was sitting. He was making Harry sigh too.
"Mr. Potter?" the nurse finally said. Harry followed her into the back. Lots of noises followed them down the corridor: phones ringing, the tapping of computer keys, people talking to one another in the rooms as they past. She stopped at a door and led the way in.
"Roll up your sleeve," she said and took out a blood pressure cuff. Harry sat still through that and the measuring of his pulse and something under his tongue. "Don't get to the doctors much I see," she commented when she turned back to his questionnaire, apparently looking at his question mark.
"No," Harry admitted.
"Step onto the scale," she said, backing away to give him room to stand up. He did so, she brought a bar down onto his head to check his height. "You are a thin one, aren't you?" she said as she made some notations. "So what are you here for?"
"Uh," Harry hesitated, he hadn't actually settled on a story. "I had this disease in the Amazon," he explained. "It left me really scarred." He undid his shirt and gave her a glimpse of it. Her eyes went wide and she made another notation in the chart.
"My goodness, I guess so. Follow me." She led him to a large office with leather furniture and an examining table set at an angle to the bookshelves lining the walls. "Mr. Brill will be with you momentarily." With that, she departed.
Harry sat in the visitor's chair and really started to think this was a bad idea. People didn't get into the Squib Directory accidentally did they? When he'd called to make the appointment, he kept thinking there would be some way to indicate that he wasn't a normal Muggle patient, but the opportunity never arose and he hadn't wanted to sound like a looney.
He tapped his fingers on the arm of the chair and waited with increasing trepidation. Eventually, he put himself into his blank mental space to force himself to relax. He was floating there when the sound of the door handle turning tugged him out of it.
The door swung open and Harry looked at the profile of a tall, middle-aged man who scowled at the top of the chart held in his hand. The nurse followed him in. Brill raised his eyes to Harry and he shifted to a look of shock that included a glance at his forehead scar. He stopped there, halfway to the desk.
"Mr. Brill?" the nurse prompted. "Sir?"
"Uh, Nurse. I'll take care of this one alone."
"Of course, sir," she replied.
The door closed. Brill pointed his thumb at the door and said quietly, "Can you spell that? There is no soundproofing in here."
"My wand is under the flap of my bag." Harry pointed at his backpack beside the door, feeling relieved to be back on his own terms.
Brill bent down and turned the flap up and pulled out the longer of the two wands. He hesitated handing the scorched thing over. Harry reached out more for it and the surgeon gave it over. Harry did a quick silencing spell on the wall and door and laid the wand on the desk. The room was noticeably quieter.
Brill folded his arms, holding the chart at his waist. "So what brings the Boy Who Lived to my office of all places?" he asked honestly.
"I need to be re-rended and wizards don't know how to do that. Well none that I would want to deal with, anyway."
Brill shook his head. "I don't know that means." He sat behind his desk and closed the chart. His eyes locked on Harry's forehead again. "I saw your name on the file and thought, 'There must be a lot of Harry Potter's in the world,' but you are The." At Harry's expression he said, "Sorry. Give me a moment to get over my surprise." He bit his lip a moment. "Re-rended,' you said. Can you explain what that means?"
"You know that wizard medicine is all spells and potions, right?"
"Yes, fascinating stuff. I do on very rare occasion arrange for a Healer for a patient. But I have to be careful as it can look like a miracle cure which attracts far too much attention."
"On the other hand the notion of cutting and stitches freaks them totally," Harry said.
"I know that too. It is hard to get a Healer to treat me like something other than a dark age monster," he commented without rancor.
Harry was starting to feel like he had come to the right place.
"Almost no one knows what I really did to get rid of Voldemort," Harry said and frowned at facing telling his story again from the beginning. "The short, very short version is that Voldemort was part of me at the end," Harry said and ignored the Surgeon's expression of dismay. "I had to cut him out of me and kill him at the same time. I had to actually fatally injure myself to pour enough magical power into the rending spell to get rid of him completely. Another wizard died trying to heal me, which is where I am now."
"That was the headmaster of your school, right? Famous wizard?"
"Dumbledore was his name," Harry said, still struck by the past tense. "I'm alive because of him, but I am still injured. Wizard medicine won't work because it returns a person to their normal state and rending remakes, so I am in my normal state. But I'm not right." Harry could hear a pleading in his voice now that he didn't like.
"Here," Harry said and pulled his shirt aside.
Brill leaned forward to see over the desk, fascinated. "Dear, me," he murmured then stood up. "Lie down here," he said, moving to stand beside the table behind the visitor's chair. Harry obeyed and laid back on the crinkly paper. He waited while skilled fingers examined his scars then traced his ribs and prodded his abdomen. "What did this look like originally, before it was healed?"
"It was just open," Harry explained. "I could put my hand into it."
Brill exhaled through his teeth and prodded Harry's abdomen again. "Does this hurt?"
"A little," Harry admitted.
Brill put his stethoscope to his ears and put it to Harry's chest. "Deep breaths," he commanded. "Sit up," he then said and repeated this on Harry's back. "Do you ever get a catch when you breath deeply?"
"I used to," Harry admitted.
"I am certain you have scarring in your lungs but lung capacity is something you can work on on your own, so I'm not going to bother with that."
"Can you help me?" Harry asked, trying not to be hopeful.
Brill moved the chart to the edge of the table and leaned his palm on it. "No offense to your headmaster who clearly gave it his all, but you are not put together quite right. The muscles and tendons in your abdomen are not connected properly, which is why you are weak. You are deathly thin, which makes me think you have a GI problem as well."
"I get nauseous when I eat." Brill nodded at that and Harry went on. "But I have a potion for that now that makes me hungry anyway, so I have been eating a lot better."
"You have been gaining weight?" Brill asked.
"Good thing you didn't come in before, I'd have put you on a feeding tube." To answer your question, "Yes, I can help you. I can't make you one hundred percent but I think eighty is definitely in range."
Harry relaxed in relief.
"But I will warn you that we are talking about several surgeries, a month or so apart. It is a long haul."
Harry rubbed his neck. "When can we start?"
Brill smiled lightly at that. "Well, first off, how did you explain this to my nurse? You can get dressed, by the way." He flipped through the chart and tossed his head side to side as he read. "Well, streptococcus pyogenes will be our diagnosis then. It would leave you pretty badly scarred, though not actually like this, but we will fudge it."
Brill looked at him again as Harry buttoned his shirt. "I will schedule the first procedure now so we can get a surgery room lined up. How fast are you gaining weight?"
"I gained two pounds each of the last three weeks."
Brill nodded. "Well if you can keep that up, I'll schedule for two months from now. This is elective surgery so we want to minimize every risk we can." He scribbled something illegible on a slip of paper. "I'm also sending you for an upper G.I. and an ultrasound so we know exactly what is on the agenda for repair. All right?"
Harry nodded and jumped down from the table and scooped up his wand. "Thank you, sir," Harry said and put out his hand to shake the Surgeon's. Brill shook his hand firmly with a very heartfelt smile. Harry used the wand to undo the spell on the door and wall.
"I wouldn't have thought that wand would still be working," Brill commented quietly.
Harry paused in heading to the door. He held it up to look at it. "It was Voldemort's. I tried to throw it into Dumbledore's funeral pyre but one of the teachers saw me and accioed it out again."
Brill stared at him. "You are using He-Who-. . . Voldemort's wand, right now? In my office?" he asked a little shrilly, though still with his voice low.
Harry nodded calmly and slipped it into his sack and hooked the flap down over it. He felt good, as though he were establishing some invisible perimeters around their relationship.
"I see you are going to take some getting used to," Brill commented. "But given who you are, that shouldn't be a surprise, hm?" He reached for the door and paused. "You did get You-Kn-, Voldemort completely out of you, right?" he asked stridently.
"Yes, sir," Harry said confidently.
Brill released a loud breath. "Good."
* * *
Harry filled Tonks in when he reported back to her office.
"You have to wait two months for this Muggle Healer to do anything?" she asked, confused. "I don't get that. Why make you wait?"
Harry sighed. "For one thing he is worried I am too thin for surgery. For another he has to reserve a special room for it. A sterile room with lots of expensive equipment." She clearly didn't get this. "It is just the way it works," Harry insisted.
Tonks shook her head in confusion and stood up. "Well, we have a group meeting to go over assignments and readings, so come along. I want to make sure everyone understands the situation. The other apprentices have been grumbling about you sitting out and cohesion is extremely important around here. When we get to practical training in the field you are all going to be relying on one another heavily and friction is unacceptable then."
Harry sat down with Tonks in the meeting room. Darren gave him a narrow look as Harry sat across from him.
Midway through the meeting, Darren let loose. "So let me get this straight. Harry is an Auror apprentice, but he doesn't have to do anything besides the readings and discussions? Why is he in the program at all?"
"Decisions about admittance are made by this office and a committee of Ministry officials. That isn't your affair," Tonks said to him.
"If he weren't Harry Potter, he wouldn't be here," Darren grumbled and refused to meet anyone's gaze.
Harry stared down at his hands, feeling the other apprentice's jibes hit home. He had gotten the feeling at the time he told the Ministry what he wanted that he could have asked them for literally anything.
"I don't mean to break up the cohesion," Harry said as he started to stand up. He could always spend a year getting into shape and come back next year with a fairer admittance test.
"Sit down, Harry," Tonks snapped at him. Harry obeyed. "Darren is the one out of line, here."
"I'm out of line?" Darren echoed sarcastically. "I trained for six months to get into physical shape for the Aurors test and he doesn't have to pass it. Does that sounds fair? How did he get injured, anyway?"
Tonks stared Darren down. Melizza responded for her. "He is still injured from fighting Voldemort."
"You have got to be kidding!" Darren exclaimed. "Dumbledore died for him and he is still injured?" he asked disbelievingly. "Potter botched the only spell he had to get right in his entire life and Dumbledore died for it?"
Harry looked up as white hot fury rose up in him like he hadn't felt since the final battle. This time it was purely his and it felt like an old friend. A few wizards stopped in the hallway at the loud voices and peered in.
Harry stood up, pulling Voldemort's wand smoothly out of his sleeve.
"Harry sit down and put that away!" Tonks admonished him. "We don't solve disagreements that way here." She swallowed as she saw the blackened edge of the wand. "And I wish you wouldn't bring that in here."
Harry slipped the wand away but he leaned over the table rather than return to sitting. "Botched the spell?" Harry asked Darren in a dangerous voice.
"Yes. And I am not the only one who thinks your ineptitude killed Albus Dumbledore. Most people liked him better than you."
"Darren, you are so out of line," Melizza said, glaring at him.
"No, let's hear him out. I want to see how deep he can dig this hole," Tonks said. "Go on Darren, show us more of how little you know about what happened."
Darren swallowed and looked between the two women.
"Botched the spell?" Harry asked again. His fury had focused into a beam of purpose now. "Do you know what a rending spell is supposed to do?" Harry asked him incredulously.
"Why the hell were you using a rending spell to kill He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named--are you stupid?" Darren asked him angrily.
Harry's breathing picked up and his fingers itched to hold his wand again. "I did it because that is what Dumbledore told me to do," Harry stated in a barely controlled voice. "You don't get it. I WAS Lord Voldemort at the end. I had to cut him out of myself to kill him." Harry pulled open his robe and unbuttoned his shirt and showed him.
Darren actually sat back at the sight. "Now imagine it a gaping hole after I finished off the Dark Lord and you know what the spell Dumbledore taught me can do. I executed it perfectly," Harry said in a dark voice.
Tonks rubbed her forehead. "Sit down, Harry."
Harry ignored her again. "I didn't want him to sacrifice himself for me," Harry went on in a quieter voice. He searched Darren's face for something like understanding. "Five teachers had to hold me down to tie me to the hospital bed before Dumbledore could get at me."
"That’s true," Tonks said, her eyes not very dry anymore. "The teachers talked for weeks about how you resisted Dumbledore. They were afraid you would injure yourself irretrievably the way you were thrashing against them. Do you remember doing that?" she asked curiously.
"Yes," Harry replied and swallowed hard. "Albus Dumbledore had control of my entire life, right up to the end of his," he stated tiredly. He then dropped into his chair as though he had deflated. Harry closed his eyes a moment to gain control. "I didn't want him to," he said again to no one in particular.
* * *
Eventually, Harry had to admit to liking this new routine of reduced training. It was easier to put on weight when he wasn't working out hard six days a week and he finally had time and energy to learn everything he needed to from their studies.
The other apprentices made up for Darren's sharp words whenever they had the opportunity. Harry, for his part, ignored Darren unless he had no other choice.
Harry made his followup visits to various Muggle medical places. He stood in front of a strange screen while he swallowed a thick liquid and a movie was taken of his insides. He lay passively while a gum-chewing woman ran a hot paddle over his abdomen after smearing him with a blue gel.
A week before his first surgery, Harry had another visit with Brill. He gave Melizza a wave and said he was leaving.
"Skiving out already today?" Darren accused.
"I have to see the Muggle surgeon," Harry answered evenly. "Having myself cut apart and sewn back together like a dress is my only option, so that is what I am doing," he explained to Darren's horrified expression. Harry had gotten a handle on Darren easily after the initial explosion. He was a pale comparison to Snape, after all, which Harry had put up with for seven years.
Harry sat in the consultation room again. Hung along one wall were framed prints showing anatomical diagrams of various parts of the body and what can go wrong. They made Harry feel like maybe he was lucky to have so little wrong with him.
Brill stepped in without his nurse. Harry pulled out his wand as the surgeon shut the door. At Brill's expression, Harry said, "My wand, today."
"I prefer that, if you don't mind," Brill said as he flipped through the now much thicker chart. "Well we have some G.I. work to do, but you've put on weight fine, my compliments to whoever brews your potions."
"Don't compliment him. He tormented me miserably for seven years," Harry said.
"You raided Voldemort's stock of potions as well as his wand, uh, case?" Brill asked, trying to make a joke.
"No," Harry said in a kind of accepting tone, "the potion was a peace offering from a former Death Eater."
Brill shook his head. "You do that just to shock me, don't you?"
"Everything I say is true," Harry pointed out.
"That just makes it worse." Brill crossed his arms and held the chart at his side. "How are you feeling, Harry?"
"Pretty good. I want to get better."
"You realize, it is going to get a little worse before it gets better," Brill stated.
Harry nodded. "I don't have any physical training anymore, so I can handle it. I just have a ton of studying."
"All right, consider it a go for next Tuesday, then. We are going to start by reconstructing the major muscles of your abdomen by borrowing a bit of muscle from your leg where you have plenty."
That sounded awful to Harry, but he nodded like it sounded great.
* * *
"Mr. Weasley?" Harry said, interrupting what looked like serious memo reading.
"Hello, my boy," Arthur said. He invited Harry to sit down beside him.
"I have a favor to ask you," Harry said in a quiet voice. Mr. Weasley put down the memo and gave Harry his full attention. "I am having Muggle surgery next Tuesday for what is left of my injuries from fighting Voldemort."
"Muggle-!" Mr. Weasley started to shout and then quietly said, "Muggle surgery? Whatever for, Harry? After my experience with switches I don't recommend it."
"Stitches," Harry corrected him. "No one else can help me," he explained. "I even went to see Drissela and even she didn't know who could."
"My goodness!" Arthur exclaimed. "All right then. You need something for this?"
"I need a place to stay afterward. They won't let me go home alone," Harry cringed at having to make this request, but had no choice.
Arthur's eyes brightened considerably at that. "Harry! You are always welcome at our home. You know that."
"I'm going to be a bit of a burden, I'm afraid-"
"Not at all! Think nothing of it, my boy. I'll tell the missus tonight. I know she will be tickled--don't worry about that." Arthur looked at Harry and couldn't resist patting the side of his face. "Harry, you can't ask too much of us--it isn't possible. All right?"
Harry dropped his gaze in embarrassment at Mr. Weasley's outpouring of affection.
* * *
The next Tuesday morning, Harry took a cab to the hospital. The cabby jabbered nonstop at him, which had the benefit of keeping him from worrying too much. He was hungry and thirsty as he walked up to the reception desk. The Nurse there apparently knew all about him from his nicely colored file. She took him in back and made him strip and put on a robe that seemed to be made of paper and someone else came in and stuck a very tiny needle into his hand, then, to Harry's alarm, taped it in place as though to leave it there for a long time. A tube connected to a sack of rather cold liquid was hooked up to this needle.
The small fleet of identically aqua-clad medical people moved on. The nurse saw his expression. "Don't worry, dear. Everything is going to be fine." Harry felt chilled by the tube and wished he had his wand to heat himself and the liquid up a little. "Lie back. That's a good dear." She pulled up the sides of the bed to make it a mini cradle. Harry shook his head and wondered again what he had gotten himself into.
Brill turned up. He always had the chart under his nose when he came into the room and today was no exception. "Mrs. Smith, give me a minute alone with Harry."
The woman nodded and went out. Brill stepped over to him and smiled lightly as though at a private joke. "For a man who has beaten Voldemort, you look unreasonably terrified."
Harry put his hand over his glasses and then, feeling the tether of the tube in his hand said, "What is this thing?"
"It is an intravenous line. It won't hurt you and they didn't actually have them in the dark ages." He grinned at his own joke. "It lets us keep your body fluids up as well as give you medicine very quickly. We are going to knock you out with something like a potion and you'll wake up when we are all finished. You won't feel a thing until later. We are going to do a lot of work on you, so you will have some discomfort but we will give you something for it until it is manageable."
Harry rested his head back on the rather unnaturally spongy pillow.
Brill went on. "I know this seems alien to you, Harry. But I promise to take the best Muggle care of you we can. No one else here knows who you are, but I do."
"I have been rather enjoying that," Harry admitted.
"Tired of celebrity?"
Harry watched the square blocks of light in the ceiling go by as they wheeled him down the corridor. The corner felt a little like a turn on a broom, making Harry miss flying and making him think about how much easier flying would be when this was all over.
In the surgery there were people everywhere and half of them seemed to be talking to him, telling him to move his arm, telling him he was going to be lifted to the next table. The room made him shiver. Something descended over his face, something clear that fogged as he breathed.
"Relax," the masked person above him said gently. Harry thought of blue-green Death Eaters and then thought of yelling for this all to stop. There were too many people involved to do anything that drastic and anyway, he had brought this on himself.
He lay in an agony of uncertainty as bleeps sounded and things were rearranged around him. He couldn't recognize anyone with the masks everyone had on. Another person leaned over him. "We are giving you medicine to make you sleep now." This person had a needle primed in their hand but he or she didn't prick Harry with it, which confused him. The world went black.
The bleeps woke Harry up. He thought he had been dreaming about someone talking to him and someone was. "That's a good lad," a Nurse was saying to him as he opened his eyes. He took a deep breath, which made the bleeps speed up, then they slowed down again as he exhaled. That was going to get annoying.
Brill was there then. Harry wondered for a moment if he had Apparated as he didn't see him arrive. "Hello, Harry. How are you feeling?"
Harry shook his head. He felt like he had drunk a random selection of Snape's potions.
"You are a talker, Harry," Brill said teasingly.
"What?" Harry asked.
Another nurse approached. "Hey, the boy who plays football while flying is awake," she said.
Harry stared at her in alarm.
"They are certain you must be the goalie as you are always trying to catch the ball to save the game," Brill said in the same easy-going voice.
Harry clenched his eyes closed and lay back. When the nurse departed he said, "Sorry."
"Flying dreams are normal, Harry. Don't worry about it. I had one wizard patient who fretted about the gnomes in his garden, which was fine until he talked about their plotting against him." He patted Harry's lower leg. "You were easy to explain away. Stick to the topic of Quidditch and we will be fine."
"I can put a charm on myself next time," Harry said.
"That might be a good idea. We have at least four more surgeries."
"I don't feel so bad," Harry said as he carefully patted the thick bandages over his chest.
"You have a lot of pain medication in you still. Keep that in mind before you get too confident. Now that you are awake we'll move you to a room and hopefully send you home in a few days."
Harry nodded tiredly. The next trip down the corridor made him more woozy than the last and he was glad when it stopped. They parked his bed in a large room with no other occupants and with two clanks, put down the sides. Harry dropped off to sleep as soon as he was alone again.
He woke up to the words, ". . . he is sleeping off the anesthesia. . ." Harry opened his eyes and blinked at the bright window. It looked as though it was still midday. Petunia Dursley stood in the room, her hands before her clenched around her white leather pocketbook.
"Aunt Petunia," Harry said and raised his head up. This pulled on a bunch of things that felt tied down strangely in his abdomen so he let his head fall back.
"You didn't tell us you were having surgery," she said evenly. "My sister wouldn't go near a normal doctor after she went off to that school."
"I wouldn't if I had any choice," Harry admitted. He realized that by not telling them, he had hurt her, but the notion of telling them hadn't even crossed his mind.
"Do you need anything, Harry?" she asked. "This must be expensive."
It was, actually. Enough that he noticed it when he had Gringotts convert Galleons from his account into pounds. "I'm all right," Harry said.
"Vernon will pay for it if you need it."
Harry looked at her. Vernon certainly could afford it unless they were buying sports cars every month for Dudley. "I'll manage. Thanks though." Harry felt a deep desire to break loose from them. They were part of a world that included Voldemort and his life wasn't anymore.
"You should come for Sunday dinner when you are up to it. Please."
Did she feel like she owed him too? Harry wondered. "When I can take a punch in the gut from Dudley, I'll do that. It will be four more surgeries from now, so about six months," Harry said evenly.
"You need that much done?" she asked quietly, confused. "You seemed fine."
"I’m limited in my training," Harry said. "I want to be an Auror. It wasn't going to kill me to stay that way but I didn't want to anymore."
She frowned at him and put her purse over her shoulder. Harry hoped that meant she was thinking of leaving. "Look," Harry said, "Voldemort is dead. Dumbledore is dead. There is nothing binding you anymore."
She stared at him a moment. As usual, he couldn't read her at all. "You are still my sister's son," she said and walked to the door. Vernon stepped into the doorway when she opened it.
"Harry," he said gruffly, grudgingly. To Petunia he said, "Is he letting us pay for this?"
She shook her head and stepped into the hallway. Brill came up at that moment and Vernon blocked the doorway with his substantial frame. "Who are you, sir?" Vernon challenged him.
Brill stared at the man and his mustache. "I am Harry's surgeon and you are?"
"My Uncle Vernon," Harry supplied from the bed.
"Ah," Brill said and held out his hand. Vernon shook it automatically and then huffed off with Petunia following behind. Brill pushed the door closed until it clicked. "If I remember my Harry Potter legend correctly, they raised you right?" Harry rolled his eyes at him as Brill stepped over. The surgeon pushed a button on the box tethered to the bed and raised the bed to a sitting position.
"Thanks," Harry said. "I didn't know it would do that."
Brill had that grin on his face again. "Still feeling okay?"
"It hurts more, but it is okay. It pulls strangely when I move."
"That is why you are taking it easy, to give things a chance to grow together."
"This is so slow," Harry said, trying not to let his real frustration out in his voice.
"Afraid so," Brill said. "Well if you need anything, just buzz the nurse." He pointed at the box.
"The nurse showed me that, but not the bed thing."
"It has icons on it, Harry," he held it up to show him.
Harry scowled at it. "Oh."
Brill chuckled a little and went to the door. Harry thought maybe he should start using Voldemort's wand around him again. Brill opened the door and found himself faced with a very redheaded girl who stared up at him wide-eyed.
"Is this Harry Potter's room?" she asked.
"Yes." Brill turned his head. "Someone to see you. A more welcome visitor I should think." He gestured a little gallantly for her to pass.
"Ginny!" Harry said as Brill closed the door behind him.
"Harry," she said in greeting and came over and gave him a pseudo-hug. "How are you doing?"
"Pretty good. I feel a bit like a christmas turkey all trussed up, but he said it went well."
"Does it hurt?"
"My leg does," Harry griped a bit and pulled the sheet aside. He sighed at the ugly black stitches around the nearly square wound in his leg.
"Harry, you weren't hurt there!"
"Spare parts," Harry commented.
She put her hands over her face in utter horror. "He did that to you?" she said, pointing at the door. She had her wand out instantly and started marching out. "Ginny! Come back here!" Harry yelled at her. "I swear I'll spell you if you don't."
Ginny stopped at the closed door and spun around on her toes and marched back. With a defensive face she slipped her wand back up her sleeve. "I can't believe you let him do that!" she said angrily.
"Ginny, calm down. This is the way it works." He grabbed the controls for the bed and pushed the icon that looked like it would lower it.
"Whoa," she said and stepped back. "They gave you a magic bed?"
Harry laughed. "It is a machine, Ginny. Here, sit here." He patted the bed beside him and after she hitched her hip on it, he put his arm around her waist. "It is nice to see you. Don't you have class?"
She grinned mischievously. "Funny thing happened this morning. Before breakfast started- You know McGonagall is always early for breakfast? Makes everyone feel late somehow. But it is a good chance to talk to her if you need to, so maybe that is why she does it. So I went up to the head table and mentioned that you had Muggle surgery today. I honestly was just telling her so that she knew. But the next thing I know she has given me a waiver for the day and sent me off to see how you are. And if I hadn't gotten lost from Diagon Ally where I Flooed in I'd have been here an hour ago."
"I was asleep until just a little while ago anyway."
"What did your Healer mean by 'more welcome guest?'" she asked.
"The Dursleys were just here," Harry said.
"But you are going home to my parents', right?" she asked.
"Oh, yeah," Harry said. "I honestly don't know how they found out. I didn't ask."
"You probably should have told them."
"I did write them down under next of kin on the hospital form. Maybe they got a call or something," Harry surmised. He looked at her with a grin. "So maybe before next weekend you can just happen to mention to McGonagall that taking care of me is wearing your mother out." Harry waved his finger at her. "But don't ask her if you can go, just mention it. Best way to ride on the Potter Express of Unearned Privileges."
"Harry, you so don't take advantage of people. In fact you go out of your way to avoid it," Ginny insisted.
"I feel like I wouldn't mind doing it in this case. I don't get to see you much."
"Oh, Harry," she breathed and kissed him on the forehead.
Harry closed his eyes with a pained expression.
"It's all right." He opened his eyes, but they were too bright. "I keep thinking it is going to fade, but something always brings things back."
"What are you talking about?" she asked, taking his hand.
"What you did just now is what Dumbledore did right before I knew what he was going to do. I was lying in a hospital bed then too." He sighed.
"I'm sorry," she said. After a long pause she asked, "Did you really fight off the teachers?"
"Yes," he said in an empty voice. "I was screaming at them too, I think." He shook his head. "But I couldn't stop him."
"If he hadn't, we would have lost you. I would have lost you," Ginny said in a wavering voice. Harry pulled her down against his left side. His eyes were really stinging now so he dabbed them with the sheet. "I'm sorry, Harry. I don't mean to make y- Let's talk about something else."
"I have a lot less control of my emotions now," Harry commented as he sniffled a little. "I don't know if it is just what happened or that I had some control from Voldemort. He certainly didn't feel anything like this and doing so was the only way to keep him out of my head."
"It was?" she asked, sitting up to look him in the face.
Harry dabbed his eyes with his fingers as he remembered the moment he decided he would die to give his friends a world free of Voldemort. "You're right, let's talk about something else. You must be starting Quidditch practice."
She stared at him a moment before recovering. "Yeah, just in time for the weather to get bad. What is up with that anyway?"
Harry laughed lightly. "The Slytherins aren't challenge enough."
"Are you coming to the games?" she asked.
"If I can at all manage it, yes. I'd love to. Owl me the schedule when you know it."
They talked for a long time. When Harry's dinner came, Ginny jumped up. "Wow, I have to get back!" she exclaimed.
"I kept thinking I should ask you when you needed to go, but I didn't," Harry confessed. She apparently didn't mind, and kissed him on the lips and ran out.
Chapter 2 -- Family
Harry used a drop of potion and ate part of his dinner and all of the fluorescent orange jelly. He should have told his aunt and uncle, he realized now as he stared at the demolished tray. They had reached out first and he was slapping it back down. He had let go of a lot of things over the last year, but he couldn't find his way past this one. He stared at the tray and considered banishing it to get rid of it, but then they would wonder where it had gone and he couldn't bear their confusion.
[Students in dress robes filed into the front rows of benches on the right side of the Great Hall. Harry found his place between Parvarti Patil and Stephen Pugmeir and leaned forward to tap on Hermione's shoulder two rows ahead of him. She smiled back at him and gave him an excited double thumbs up.
They remained standing as Harry glanced around the Hall filled with seventh-year students and their guests as well. The shuffling and raucous talking quieted as McGonagall stepped to the edge of the platform. She tapped her throat with her wand and said, "Welcome to you all to the certificate presentations for our seventh-years."
The students around Harry broke into wild applause. Harry leaned on the back of the bench in front of him, trying to mask the pain in his side. He didn't want anyone to see it. Not anyone.
"This is probably one of the most memorable classes ever to grace our school," she stated in an ambivalent tone. "And we hope that we are sending them on their way well prepared for their lives. Lives which are only just beginning."
She looked around the Hall, packed with parents and siblings lining the back wall. "In the spirit of our previous headmaster, I will leave it at that and we shall commence with the presentations."
McGonagall turned to Professor Sprout beside her, tapping her wand against her throat before speaking to her. Flitwick spelled a trunk from the back of the platform and opened it. He flicked his wand and a curled parchment with a yellow ribbon sprang up to him. "Hannah, Abbot," Flitwick read off the ribbon.
Hannah came forward at a stately pace while her friends and family in the rear cheered. She took the parchment and immediately had to switch it to her left hand to shake Flitwick's. She then moved down the line, shaking each Professor's in turn. The students cheered again as she put her fist in the air at the end and jumped over the steps down to the floor.
Flitwick took up another rolled parchment. "Marvin Ackerly," he announced.
The roll call continued. Harry cheered madly when Hermione went up to the platform. Some of the teachers even clapped for her as she took her scroll from Flitwick. Neville also got extra cheering from the DA members and from a lone grandmother sitting in the front row on the left side.
"Padma Patil," went up and then "Parvarti Patil." Harry's heart began hammering a bit, making him dizzy. He bit his lower lip. His classmates pounded him on the back as he turned to walk out of the row as Flitwick read off, "Harry Potter."
Harry got two steps from the end of the bench and froze. The entire Hall was cheering, rather loudly. Harry glanced around at the assemblage in surprise and then plowed toward Flitwick before he lost himself or his balance.
Flitwick handed him his scroll with a scarlet ribbon and then as Harry shook his hand, pulled Harry over the trunk into an awkward, one-armed hug. Harry took a moment to recover from that, hiding his weakness in an extended handshake with the Charms Professor.
He turned to the line of teachers and blinked at the vision of them all clapping. With another glance at the still-cheering audience, Harry made his way to Trelawney, who hugged him fiercely almost making him gasp, to Hagrid, who bear hugged him with surprising gentleness, then Sinistra, who shook Harry's hand genteelly before returning to clapping.
Harry made his way down the line to McGonagall near the end. She shook his hand and then bent forward and put her left arm around him. She put her head against his and said in his ear. "Harry, it is all worth it to see you through to this day. All of it."
Harry tried to smile at her as she released him, then bowed his head and stepped down the line. The combination of her earnest statement and the continuing cheering of the crowd was getting to him, making emotions swirl in him out of control.
He looked up and found himself faced with Snape. He took a half step back, making the room laugh in what sounded like a desperately needed release of tension. Harry realized that it looked as though he were afraid Snape was going to hug him too. Harry held out his hand and Snape took it with a searching sparkle in his dark eyes. "Thank you, sir," Harry said, automatically and started to walk past him. Snape didn't let go of his hand, though, forcing Harry to turn around and face him from the other side.
"For what, Harry?" Snape asked.
Harry blinked at him, at the sound of his first name. "For helping me." Harry paused as Snape bent toward him to hear better. Harry felt the maelstrom of emotion inside himself coalesce for a moment. "For making it possible to bear anyone, no matter how obnoxious they are," Harry stated, trying to sound serious but he couldn't help smiling mischievously. The crowd were shushing each other to hear better.
Snape stood straight and nodded, the odd look in his eyes didn't fade. "A skill worth having, Potter," he said, his voice pitched lower to make it still inaudible to everyone in the fast quieting room. Snape released his hand finally and Harry turned to the Gryffindor ghost who had floated to the end of the platform as a kind of honor guard. deMimsy-Porpington gave Harry a formal bow and gestured for him to exit down the steps.
Grateful that the crowd had quieted, Harry made his way across the front of the hall to the center aisle and waited for Trudy Rosenblum to be called so the group of them could file back in. Harry glanced up at Ron in the next row behind their open one. Ron gave him a glowing smile and then he and Dean Thomas started chanting, "Harry, Harry."
Harry shot both of them a look of dismay then cringed and pressed the cuff of his new dress robes over his glasses as all the students picked up the chant. I'm going to get you, Ron, Harry thought to himself.
Finally the chanting faded to some sporadic renewed clapping and Harry, with flushed face bowed filed into their row as Trudy was called up. Hermione turned bright eyes to Harry as he tried to duck down a little and smiled at him in affection.
"We made it, Harry," she breathed.
"Amazing isn't it?" Harry returned.
More amazing was who Harry found at the end of the Hall as they filed out. His head snapped up at the sight of not only his Aunt and Uncle but Dudley; the last outfitted in a nice suit that only served to make him look older and bulkier than he already was.
The students were piling up behind Harry, so he stepped out of the queue and over to his relatives.
"Well, boy," Vernon said gruffly, "you seem to have managed to complete your course of studies, with some kind of informal honors, no less."
Harry glanced at his aunt who looked a little more proud than appalled for once. Dudley looked like he wished he were just about anywhere else. "What is the point of this ceiling?" Dudley asked Harry. "Why not just knock the roof off? It'd be the same."
Harry looked up at the mostly cloudy ceiling. "Except it doesn't actually rain in here, Dudley."
"Speaking of which, where is the men's?" Dudley asked.
"I'll take you," Harry offered, rather than risk Dudley wandering alone around the castle. The students had finished filing out and now filled the adjoining hall. Harry led the way through the crowd and past the overflowing bathrooms off the Entrance Hall. They went up the main stairs and down a side corridor.
"It will be very sad to see you go, Potter," the Gryffindor ghost said as he followed them up.
"Yeah, I'll miss you too, Nick," Harry said without much enthusiasm.
"Is that really a ghost?" Dudley asked, stopped halfway up the stairs. "I thought it was a projection."
Nick looked affronted.
"That is a ghost, Dudley. Our house ghost. Come on, the bathrooms up here should be less crowded."
Dudley stopped again as a suit of armor saluted him. He followed Harry backward a few steps and watched in horrified amazement as a man in one of the paintings seemed to be chasing them from painting to painting. "This place is effing weird, Harry," Dudley commented as they reached the boy's bathroom.
Harry shrugged. "You get used to it."
Dudley went over to a stall and shut the door. "They really cheered you Harry. Freaked me out," Dudley said from inside the stall.
"Yeah," Harry said as he glanced at himself in the mirror. His new dress robes were really nice ones and they actually made him look respectable.
"You don't sound too happy about that. You didn't look it neither. Made everyone cheer harder I think," Dudley went on. "Never thought of trying that myself. What's the matter with you anyway?"
"It's too hard to explain," Harry said quietly.
The door to the room opened and Draco Malfoy strutted in. Crabbe and Goyle flanked the door as it closed behind them.
"Looky here, Harry Potter all alone," Malfoy sneered. "Without the Head of Slytherin here to protect him, like he had against Voldemort."
"Yeah, right, Malfoy. That the story you got from Snape? Even he wouldn't lie that badly." Harry said. A new kind of highly focussed anger forged itself inside of Harry. It was a clearer thinking kind of anger than he was used to with Voldemort confusing things. "I am sure he skipped the part where I had him bowing to me with that mark of his burning. But he can forgiven for jumping over that."
Goyle stepped forward and grabbed Harry's robes and jerked up hard with his beefy arm, only to be jerked backward himself and promptly laid out by a hard punch from Dudley. Crabbe made the mistake of launching himself at Harry's cousin. It only took one punch to put him out cold as well.
"Gee, I hope these aren't friends of yours, Harry," Dudley said, shaking his hand out. He moved smoothly around Malfoy to block the path to the door.
Malfoy swallowed hard and glanced at his companions' inert forms on the floor.
"Draco Malfoy, this is my cousin Dudley Dursley. Dudley this is Draco. His dad was a lieutenant of Voldemort's. A Death Eater. One of those who sent those Dementors after us that summer." Harry said this casually as though recounting a picnic they might have met at.
Dudley growled and grabbed Malfoy and lifted him up and pressed him against the wall, next to the first stall door. "I didn't like those dementorwhatsits," Dudley growled. Malfoy struggled a bit in a frantic way.
"Don't let him get to his wand," Harry pointed out calmly.
Dudley caught Malfoy's wand hand as it withdrew from his robe. He pulled the wand easily away and looked as though he was bracing it in his hand to break it in two.
"Uh, Dudley. Breaking someone's wand is really too cruel even for this slime ball." Harry pointed out.
Dudley tossed the wand away instead and tilted his large head closer to Malfoy’s as if considering what he might do with him. The door opened suddenly and Professor Snape stepped in and stopped. He crossed his arms and cleared his throat loudly.
Dudley cranked his head around at that and said, "Oh, Professor," in an extra casual way, apparently recognizing a teacher, even one in robes. He dropped Malfoy who barely held his feet as he hit the ground and had to lean back against the wall to catch his breath. "We were just having a bit of a chat here," Dudley went on in his same working-the-system voice.
Harry, who was leaning against one of the sinks, watched as Snape looked doubtfully at Dudley, his eyes flicking over the two others on the floor.
"Why do I get the feeling, Dudley, that you spent your entire school years explaining yourself to teachers?" Harry asked, a little amused.
Dudley shrugged. He seemed to be sizing Snape up now. Snape's look went very hard, making Dudley blink. "I think I remember you, Dudley. You were the one with the new bicycle, correct?"
"What?" Dudley exclaimed.
Harry's eyes went wide in fear. What was Snape dredging that up for? Harry and Malfoy actually looked at each other in confusion before looking away again quickly.
"And the temper tantrums. Of course," Snape said.
This did appear to be unhinging Dudley. "What's it to you?" Dudley asked Snape rudely when he recovered.
Snape backed off. "Just a point of information," he stated blandly. He turned to Harry. "Well, Potter. Looks like this monstrosity of a boy is now on your side, so I will leave you two." He turned to the door.
"Wait!" Malfoy shouted. Dudley's beefy hand had immediately clamped Malfoy back against the wall the instant Snape had turned to the door.
"Problem, Mr. Malfoy?" Snape asked as though his interruption had been unexpected. "You have completed school, Mr. Malfoy. Although technically speaking you are my responsibility until the Leaving Feast tomorrow, I don't at the moment feel that to be true," Snape stated. He clasped his hands together in front of himself, his fingers clenching and unclenching slowly. Dudley watched this with a worried expression.
"As well you can no longer hold your affiliation with the Dark Lord over my head as you have for the last three years, two months and twenty four days."
"Dark Lord?" Dudley asked Harry in a whisper.
"Voldemort," Harry supplied quietly.
Snape took a deep breath. "Yes. Voldemort," he said with a little effort.
Harry gaped at him in surprise and then turned to hide his smile.
"So, given that, Mr. Malfoy. What is it you expect me to do?" Snape went on. Malfoy looked apoplectic. "You are faced with a mere Muggle. You are a wizard. The world is full of Muggles, Mr. Malfoy; no one is going to protect you from all of them."
Dudley leaned around Snape and said to Harry, "Is that an insult?"
"Not to you," Harry said.
Dudley nodded his head as though he were cool with that.
Goyle groaned on the floor. Dudley let go of Malfoy. "You know I've kind of lost the spirit of this, what with him cutting you off at the knees and all." He indicated Snape as he said this. He stepped away, over Goyle and stopped at the door. "I'm not going to find my way back down," Dudley pointed out to Harry.
"Oh, yeah," Harry said, tearing his eyes away from Malfoy's destroyed ones. "I'll take you."
Dudley opened the door and gestured for Harry to lead. Harry stopped and stared at him. "I don't know what could be in the corridor," his cousin pointed out.
"Oh, of course," Harry said and stepped out ahead of him.
"You get in trouble with this teacher often, Harry?" Dudley asked as the door swung closed.
"All of the time," Harry stated darkly.
"Can't believe you survived it. You must have more in you than I thought."]
Harry leaned back in the hospital bed with a sigh. He wished he had his studies with him, but none of his books or parchments looked the least normal to Muggle eyes and the spells he tried to put on them to mask them as paperback novels didn't work out so well. He wished Ginny were still here.
He mulled over the pleasant thought of returning to Hogwarts as a teacher and drifted in that fantasy until he fell asleep.
* * *
Ginny got lost again on the way back to Diagon Alley and ran from Hogsmeade up to the castle. She stopped outside the Great Hall to catch her breath before opening the large door and slipping into dinner when it was almost over. Fortunately, other students were mingling at that point so she had a chance of sneaking in.
She sat down across from Colin and Margory and tried to stay low as she quickly served herself some food.
"Where have you been all day?" Colin asked her as though fascinated by the thought of such naughtiness.
"I had a waiver, but I got lost and I'm late," Ginny said, then started shoveling stew into herself quickly.
"Headmistress is looking at you," Margory pointed out.
"Dang," Ginny breathed out. She looked up at the head table with a sheepish expression. McGonagall gazed back at her and crooked her finger for her to come over.
Ginny swallowed hard and wiped her mouth and jumped up. "Wish me luck," she said to her friends. She stepped up to the front of the hall and hopped up onto the platform before McGonagall's seat. She winced as she saw the headmistress's expression and that most all of the teachers were still there and all were looking at her, including Snape from the end.
"Your report, Ms. Weasley?" McGonagall prompted.
"Oh, uh, yes." Ginny recovered. "Harry is doing okay," she said quietly then shook her head. "He needs at least four more surgeries."
"Goodness," McGonagall said and sat straighter.
"And he is covered in these stitches," she said in an even lower voice, making the surrounding teachers have to lean in a little. "Even his leg where they took out spare parts," she shuddered a little at that memory. Ginny glanced up at Snape as he stepped up behind the headmistress with his arms crossed, presumably so that he could hear.
"That does sound rather gruesome, Ms. Weasley. And he has several more of these?"
"Yes," Ginny admitted sadly.
"An interesting reason for missing classes, Headmistress," Snape commented.
"That is why it is at my discretion, Professor," McGonagall responded in a smiling voice.
Ginny glanced up at Snape again. She had missed DA Class today, as everyone now called it, mostly because it made Snape angry when they did, something they found out early in the term when Colin Creevey had commented within earshot of the professor that Harry had taught a DA Class for three years and Snape was only starting out.
"Well so, how are Mr. Potter's spirits?" McGonagall asked, drawing Ginny's attention back to her.
Ginny hesitated; she hadn't expected that question. "Uh, mostly okay, ma'am," she answered, dropping her gaze as she remembered Harry's distress.
McGonagall's hands clenched together tighter. "How long is he staying in hospital?"
"A few days, then he is going to my parents."
"Ah, well that is something anyway," McGonagall sounded relieved.
Ginny, remembering Harry's instructions cleared the way a little. "Yeah, he isn't supposed to do stuff for a while. Like moving." At McGonagall's doubtful expression, she tried to remember what Harry had said about what the surgeon had done. "Well, the parts of muscle they took out of his leg have to grow into their new places without any stress on them."
Ginny was pleased that even Snape looked appalled. McGonagall finally released the deep breath she took at that and said, "Well, we will just have to hope for the best and it is a good thing we sent someone with a strong stomach. I will write to Arthur and Molly and have them keep me posted."
Thinking this reduced her chances of going home for the weekend, Ginny replied evenly, "Yes, ma'am."
"Get back to your dinner, Ms. Weasley so the tables can be cleared."
Ginny nodded and jumped down from the platform. As she stepped over the bench at her table, Colin said, "How much trouble are you in?"
Ginny swallowed. "None, actually."
"Wow, you are good."
* * *
Mr. Weasley arrived at Harry's room precisely as he was being wheeled out in a chair to be discharged.
"Harry," Mr. Weasley said breathlessly. "I have a car downstairs when you are ready."
"Thanks, Mr. Weasley," Harry said. He was looking forward to getting out of here to somewhere he could do his readings if not have someone to talk to.
"I think we have met," Brill said as he held his hand out to Arthur.
Mr. Weasley took his hand and peered at him closely. "I'm not sure," he said.
"It was a picnic at your place before the Cup, 1984. My mother is Jezebel Nartha," Brill supplied.
"Of course I know Jezebel," Arthur said and shook Brill's hand again. "And you are Harry's, uh, surgeon?" he asked in the same tone most people would say "Voodoo witch doctor".
Brill smiled gamely. "Yes."
"Well, we are glad he is getting some help, anyway," Mr. Weasley said, struggling.
Harry laughed as the staff person behind the desk at the door handed him a clipboard with some papers to sign. "Mr. Weasley, just give it up," he teased him.
Arthur clenched his hands together. "Yes, I expect I should."
Brill continued to smile at him. "Don't worry, I have been through this with my mother every Sunday for the last thirty years."
"Well, it is good to know someone is keeping you in check," Mr. Weasley said offhandedly as Harry handed him the clipboard for his release signature. "Oh, I did it again."
The Ministry car took them on the long drive to the Burrow. Arthur got out quickly and opened the back door and leaned in to help Harry out.
"Mr. Weasley, I can walk a little, I'm just not supposed to do too much," Harry pointed out.
"All right," Arthur said and just offered Harry a hand. Mrs. Weasley came out on the porch and took the other side of Harry and they walked him in. Harry just gave in at that point. "Your trunk is in here along with your owl," Arthur said, leading Harry into the next room, which before had been a den of sorts. It was now a completely redecorated bedroom with dark blue walls and a four poster bed.
Harry stopped in the doorway. "You didn't do this for me, did you?" he asked with chagrin.
"Harry dear, of course we did. We had five bedrooms of furniture going unused we just spelled on some paint. Not a big deal really," Molly insisted. "And this way you don't need to use those terrible stairs, which makes me feel a lot better, frankly."
Harry walked over beside his trunk and sat down on the bed. The trip had left him feeling a bit sick. "I think I need a nap from the drive," he said.
"Of course. Just call if you need anything," Mrs. Weasley said and closed the door.
Harry glanced around the room which made him feel over-cared for. He stripped off his street clothes, which were binding around his bandages uncomfortably and slipped on a fresh robe instead. He leaned back, stared up at the inside of the bed drape, and fell off to sleep without effort.
Harry woke up to someone pushing the hair out of his eyes. Mrs. Weasley was leaning over him. "Do you want some lunch, dear?" she asked him. Harry nodded and sat up, winced and held still a moment to catch his breath. "Are you all right, Harry?" she asked him in concern.
"Yeah, I just moved too fast," Harry said. He rose to standing with much more care and followed her to the kitchen where he gratefully sat back down again.
"Sandwiches all right?" Mrs. Weasley asked him. Harry nodded and took his potion out of his pocket. He did his usual routine with the drops and then swigged down the pumpkin juice in front of him. "What is that for?" she asked.
Harry glanced at each of them. "It is a potion Professor Snape gave me, helps me eat more. Otherwise I feel sort of sick when I eat."
"Is this surgeon going to take care of that?"
"I think so. He told me what was wrong from this test they did. Things that were wrong, actually. There is just too much to fix at once. I'll ask him about it again next time I see him." Harry put together a sandwich in a hurry as that now-familiar surge of hunger hit him.
As Harry devoured his sandwich, Mr. Weasley commented, "It seems to work."
Harry nodded in agreement between bites. When he had finished two sandwiches he sat back and held his stomach. Harry's plate was hovered over to the sink. "Thank you for lunch, Mrs. Weasley," Harry said and tried not to groan.
"Harry, you can call me 'Molly,'" she pointed out.
Harry blinked at her.
"Same goes for me, Harry," Mr. Weasley said, folding over the Daily Prophet that was in front of him. "You don't have to be so formal."
Harry didn't respond, he chest felt strangely tight. Mrs. Weasley stood up to spell the dishes to start washing in the sink. She patted Harry's shoulder as she passed him.
Mr. Weasley departed for work and Harry grabbed the paper Arthur had been reading as he drank a cup of tea. The Prophet was full of ordinary articles about things and most of it blurred in Harry's mind as he read, but it made for a good excuse to stay in the kitchen.
Harry was napping when Mr. Weasley returned. Their whispering voices woke him. Mr. Weasley: "How is he doing?" "Fine, except he seems so quiet." "Suggesting he call you 'Molly' seemed to make him uneasy earlier." Harry rolled onto his side with a grimace and tried not to listen. Mrs. Weasley: "Well, the poor dear does have a history of losing parental figures, doesn't he?" Harry sighed. "Maybe we should . . ." and their voices went out of range.
He frowned to himself and wondered if that had been what had tightened his chest at lunch. Keeping them at a distance did make him feel much more comfortable.
Tonks came for dinner the next night, surprising Harry as he sat on his bed and studied. She leaned in his doorway. "Well, I see you are serious about keeping up, anyway."
"Hey, Tonks," Harry said in greeting, happy to see her.
She stepped over to him. "Can I see what they did?"
"It is all bandaged over," Harry said. "To keep it clean. This is where they took out spare parts though," he said and pulled up his robe to show the strange square stitched cut on his leg.
"Spare parts?" Tonks echoed in horror.
Harry smiled at getting to her and shrugged. "They have to take them from somewhere."
"The Ministry Healer could fix that," she pointed out and sat on the bed beside him.
"I plan to have him do that." Harry closed up his books and set his parchment crib notes away.
They gossiped until dinner and through it. Tonks was in a rush to get back to her office so she Apparated out right after finishing her plate.
Harry spent the next week either in the quiet of his room or the kitchen. He was supposed to go into Brill's office the next day and he wondered how he was going to do that. He had to remember to ask Mr. Weasley that evening. As Mrs. Weasley watched her bread dough knead itself, a post owl arrived. She opened the message.
"Harry, your surgeon says that his mother is willing to Apparate him here tomorrow, so you do not need to go into London."
"I was wondering what I was going to do about that," Harry said, making a note on a parchment he was compiling on unusual curses.
"Late afternoon, he says. After his other appointments." She set the message in a rack of messages. The rack spun around and the messages filed themselves in some order that apparently made sense to the Weasleys. Harry doubted he could get the rack to cough up the note again.
Chapter 3 -- Old Wounds
Early the next evening a bang! sounded in the garden and Mr. Weasley's voice could be heard from near his work shed full of random Muggle appliances. "Jezebel, I haven't seen you in such a long time." Harry stood on tiptoe to look out the small kitchen window. Jezebel was much shorter than Brill with a large mane of brown hair, she was just unhooking her arm from her son's to shake Arthur's hand.
Mr. Weasley led them into the house. Brill said hello to Harry and Mrs. Weasley. He carried a black bag like the kind Harry only thought appeared in cartoons. He came over to Harry standing by the kitchen sink. "How are you doing?"
Jezebel came over and shook Harry's hand. Her face was more lined than Harry expected from her hairstyle. "I've always wanted to meet you, dear. When Gilbert told me you'd come to his office, I thought he was pulling my broom. Took days for him to convince me."
Harry didn't have a response for her beyond, "Nice to meet you, ma'am."
Brill said, "Well, Harry, lets take a look and see, then. Is this your room?"
Harry nodded and followed him slowly. Brill had Harry sit down on the bed and he pulled out one of those cuffs and proceeded to check Harry's pressure after he put the thermometer under his tongue. The Weasley's and Jezebel stood in the doorway to the bedroom, looking on with bemused interest. The thermometer beeped and Brill looked at it before tossing it back into his bag. He then unhooked the cuff. "Looks okay," he said and took Harry's wrist and stared at his watch for a few seconds.
"It has been ten days, we can take most of the stitches out," Brill commented as he put the cuff away.
Mr. Weasley made a small noise of distress and looked away. Harry rolled his eyes.
"Mother, can you close the door?" Brill asked.
Jezebel did so and Harry grabbed up one of his wands off the side table and spelled the wall silent with a little impatience. He then looked at the wand as he saw which one it was. "Sorry," he murmured.
"May I ask why you keep it around so close at hand?" Brill asked.
"I was experimenting with them both, trying to find the differences," Harry explained. At Brill's expression, he went on, "They have the same core, tail feathers of the same phoenix. I'm glad you closed the door," Harry went on quickly to change the subject. "Mr. Weasley had a bad experience with stitches once at St. Mungo's and the thought bothers him a lot."
Brill was spreading out a green paper sheet with a plastic back and taking metal instruments out. "Who gave him stitches? I've never heard of a wizard Healer using them, ever." He rubbed his hands with something strong smelling and put on gloves that made his hands look like they were dead.
"They were desperate. He was attacked by a . . . giant snake . . . and the poison was keeping the wounds from closing," Harry explained slowly, awkwardly.
"Take off your robe," Brill said. "Sounds like that memory bothers you," he commented, focussing on his preparations.
Harry unhooked his robe. "It bothers me because I was the snake," he said as he pulled his robe off. He hadn't put anything on this morning but his boxers because it meant nothing rubbed on his bandages.
Brill stared at him. "Do you turn into a snake often?" he asked in an alarmed voice.
"I've never turned into a snake. I was the snake because Voldemort was the snake. Or actually had taken over the mind of his pet snake to attack Mr. Weasley who was guarding something Voldemort wanted. I used to wake up to those kinds of visions all the time."
Brill shook his head. "I think I've got a handle on you, Harry, and then you come out with that kind of thing. Lie back." Using his gloved hands, he checked the stitches on Harry's abdomen. "You aren't healing very fast," he commented.
"I don't know how to do that."
"You don't have to, your body knows how. I'm going to leave these in for another few days. He moved to Harry's leg. "These can come out." He took out things that looked like scissors, but were more like pliers and then a very small pair of scissors. He clipped one of the of the middle black threads and pulled on an end knot. Harry was amazed to see it was one long thread. When all were out, he dabbed the scar again with a strong-smelling liquid and set things aside.
"The slow healing of this other site has me concerned, Harry. Are you getting enough vitamin C?"
"Uh, fruit, right? Maybe not."
"Well, I'll leave some instructions with Mrs. Weasley about what to feed you. And I want you to get some more sunshine. And I think we need to have a little talk."
"Uh, oh," Harry murmured. "About what?" He pulled his robe back together and hooked it as he sat up.
"Didn't it hurt to do that?" Brill asked of Harry's movement.
"You have to try a few Crucio curses to know what real pain is," he said. "Or be taken over by Voldemort and wish for death because you are sure you cannot stand another second of the agony." Harry shrugged. "This seems like nothing."
"You haven't been taking the painkillers, either, I suspect."
"No, they were reacting with the potion I take to eat and making it hard to eat like before." Harry handed him the little brown bottle out of the drawer of his night stand.
Brill sniffed it. "And we have no idea what is in that." He looked at Harry as he put the potion back away. "I am not the right person to be treating you for this but I think your emotional state is interfering with your healing. I don't have anyone to send you to with whom you can be completely open."
"I have no desire to tell this story again," Harry said stiffly.
Brill frowned. "That is symptomatic, I'm afraid." At Harry's narrow-eyed look, Brill went on. "Do you find also that you have a hard time controlling negative emotions?"
Harry nodded and looked away.
Brill took a deep breath and asked, "Have you been violent lately?"
"I tried to go after one of the other apprentices after he said something completely absurd. Intentionally with Voldemort's wand. But the senior apprentice and the Auror trainer stopped me."
"They had to restrain you?"
"No, they just yelled at me."
"Well, that isn't so bad. What did he say that set you off?"
Harry hesitated. "He accused me of botching the spell to kill Voldemort and causing Dumbledore's death." Harry sighed and looked down at his hands.
"Even I would have attacked him for that, Harry," Brill said. "I would classify that as normal temper. But I suspect it set you off because you couldn't deny it to yourself. That you still feel guilty."
Harry didn't look up. "I wish it hadn't happened the way it did," he admitted.
"Do you think it was your fault it worked out this way?"
"Not really. But I still feel disloyal for doing this," Harry said emptily. "I only did what Dumbledore told me to do. Getting rid of Voldemort was my only goal."
Brill thought for a long moment. "Loyalty is a very interesting word, Harry. Why do you use that word?"
"Dumbledore did," Harry said. "I don't think anyone outside the Order of the Phoenix knows how bad things were in the last few years. They had their own count of the deaths, the threats and blackmail. It was much higher than the Prophet ''s. Loyalty to Dumbledore held a lot of people together to fight Voldemort who didn't otherwise have any kind of cohesion."
"You were part of this organization?"
"Only at the very end. That always bothered me, frankly. I escaped from Voldemort four times before they'd let me in. They were trying to protect me but it didn't work." Harry said this in a flat tone.
"You sound like a soldier who has come back from war, Harry," Brill observed as he rubbed his chin in thought.
"We were fighting a war," Harry said, as though it were obvious.
A knock sounded on the door. At Harry's invitation the door opened to reveal Jezebel. "How is it going?" she asked.
"We are talking," Brill stated with a slightly hard edge. "We need more time."
"Sorry for the interruption," she said with honest regret and closed the door.
Brill put his hand on Harry's good leg. "I have to tell you that when you showed up in my office I was starting to feel that things had gotten far too routine. That I knew how to handle everything that came in my door. You have put me completely out of my depth in so many ways. You don't know how much research I did before your surgery the other day and how much I am still doing to prep for the next. But when I talk to you I think that I am not working on the right part of you.
"I have worked with soldiers in the past, though. Ones that have come back from assignments in the world's trouble spots. Places no one around them have heard of, let alone realize the government sent them off to do service in. You remind me very much of them."
Brill took a deep breath. "I'm going to delay your next surgery." At Harry's deeply disappointed expression he went on, "You need to be healed more fully before we do it and that isn't going to happen until some of these other things are worked out. This is more important, Harry," Brill stated in a hard tone, gratified when those words brought a focus to Harry's eyes that was lacking a moment before.
"Let's take it one thing at a time." Brill said. "Let's start with this notion of disloyalty. All right?"
"All right, Harry?"
"All right, sir," Harry said.
"Has anyone else told you are being disloyal. Anyone whose opinion is worth listening to?" Brill asked with a forceful, factual tone.
"No. They say the opposite," Harry admitted.
"So you think they are mistaken?"
"I think they don't understand."
"That they don't understand what?"
Harry's eyes darted around the opposite wall of the room. "I don't know."
"That is an okay answer, Harry. I want you to try a little exercise for me." Brill hesitated. "Wizards believe that when people die the go beyond the veil."
"That's what happened to Sirius," Harry said in a sad voice.
"I'm sorry, Harry. I don't know who that is," Brill said.
"Sirius Black, my godfather," Harry explained.
"Sirius Black, the escapee from Azkaban?" Brill asked, uncertain and worried sounding.
"Yes. He was in Azkaban because he was framed. He broke out to try to save me from Peter Pettigrew who was trying to bring Voldemort back to power. He fell through the veil. Bellatrix Lestrange hit him with a spell and he fell backward through it."
Brill blinked at him. "You've seen the actual veil?" he asked incredulous.
"Yeah, it's-" Harry started to explain.
"No, that is all right. I don't really want to know where it is." Brill rubbed his forehead. "Goodness, Harry, you did it to me again," he commented. After a minute he pulled himself together and continued, "I don't think wizards believe that people beyond can see the living, at least I hope they can't see us."
"Why is that?" Harry asked honestly.
Brill replied earnestly, "Because the living need and deserve to live their own lives, not carry out the unfinished tasks of the dead. Especially since that usually means carrying out their revenge rather than completing their creations."
Harry considered this and said, "Since this is my first chance to live my own life, I'd like to think that too. They probably can't see us any better than we can see them--they are just shadows and vague voices."
Brill absorbed that a long, strained moment before he went on, "I want you to pretend that Dumbledore can see you right now, even though we agree he probably can't. Close your eyes and picture him where he is right now, just make up some surrounding for him that seems appropriate."
Harry closed his eyes and chewed his lip as he did this.
After a pause, Brill asked, "What is he thinking?"
A tear slipped from one of Harry's closed eyes. "He is sorry he didn't do a better job."
"Oh, dear," Brill breathed. "You haven't let yourself grieve at all." He interlocked his hands and put the back of his fingers to his mouth as he continued to watch Harry.
"He thinks I'm silly for worrying about this. That I should be having more fun in this new Voldemort-free world." Harry took a deep breath and reined his sadness in. He looked at Brill. "I thought he was safe. I thought he was too powerful to die," Harry commented sadly.
Brill responded, "Powerful wizards can live to be alarmingly old. All of them in the end choose when to die. You don't have the right to take that privilege away from him."
Harry's brow furrowed at that. "I hadn't thought of it that way," he admitted. "But I doubt he would have picked that date and time otherwise."
"No, he probably would have waited. But imagine how he would be feeling now if hadn't made that decision and was remembering having let you go when he didn't have to. You of all people should understand that willingness to sacrifice."
Harry sniffed a little. "I think he would feel pretty miserable."
"I don't think he would have considered it a life worth continuing," Brill said quietly.
"You didn't even know him," Harry pointed out.
"I know him by knowing what he did." Brill unclenched his hands and patted Harry's leg. "Feeling a little better?"
Harry sniffed again and said stubbornly, "Maybe. I have to think about it."
"I'll get my mother to bring me back in four days to take the rest of your stitches out. If you want to talk again, we can do that. One topic at a time though; I think that is all I can handle." He stood and rubbed the back of his neck
"You're good at this," Harry said.
Brill exhaled in relief. "I'm glad you feel so. I am working beyond my skills, I think." He moved to the door.
Harry looked up at him with eyes that were a little less strained. He moved to the edge of the bed and stood up.
Brill watched him do this. "Harry, since your pain tolerance is high, I want you to be extra careful not to overdo it."
"I'm trying to be," Harry said. "I feel it pulling even if I can just ignore the pain."
"Ready for me to open the door."
"Yeah," Harry said extra casually.
They went out and over to the kitchen. The Weasleys and Jezebel were sitting around the table having tea and biscuits. "Ready to go?" Jezebel asked.
They made arrangements to return, Brill gave Molly instructions, and with a round of goodbyes, Harry was alone with the Weasleys. He sat down and poured himself some tea. He sniffled a little before he drank it, then frowned at himself.
"You had a long talk," Mr. Weasley said.
"Yep," Harry admitted. He turned the teacup in his hands and looked into it. He had to admit that if he had been Dumbledore, he would have done the same stupid thing. Harry frowned at that.
Mr. Weasley sat down to Harry's right. "Anything we can do for you, Harry?" he asked gently.
Harry shook his head. Damn, he did feel a little better and didn't even feel guilty about it.
* * *
Harry found himself with no desire to return to his empty apartment, even when he could have gotten by on his own. He and the Weasley parents had fallen into a comfortable routine that didn't feel anywhere near as restrictive as Harry imagined it would.
He had his second surgery. Microsurgery this time to connect up a lot of smaller things. Brill had tried to explain how complicated the muscles of the abdomen were. Harry didn't have much luck picking it up.
Ginny got a waiver to come see him again in hospital. Harry really wished she were out of school as she left, again right as his dinner arrived. It was most of the way through the term and Christmas break would give them a lot more time, he reminded himself.
A week after his second surgery and feeling very cooped up, Harry tried to return to his daily walk around the Burrow garden. He found it was too soon though and returned to sit under the overhang by the mudroom and enjoy the fresh air and the scene, which was spotted with wet snow.
". . . I worry about him, which is really an odd thing . . ." Harry heard Mr. Weasley say between droplets of melting ice hitting the stones below the eves.
"Dumbledore was always around to protect him, you know, even though he never gave any indication he was doing it," Mrs. Weasley's voice commented. A chopping knife sounded. Harry strained to hear more, a little confused.
He couldn't hear all of Mr. Weasley's response, just, " . . . something we could do. I've been thinking about it all week."
Mrs. Weasley: ". . .make a show of things." Harry tilted his head to listen harder. "Pride goeth before a fall," she commented. "What really bothers me is that they are pretenders who wouldn't take action when it really needed to be taken."
Harry Silenced the door and slipped inside the mudroom.
Mr. Weasley was folding up the paper. Harry heard him toss it aside. "Certainly don't hide what they're doing," he commented. "I don't want to stand aside and do nothing. Just have to figure out what is best."
"Do you owl McGonagall?"
"She can't not know. But, she has a very full plate herself and I'm not sure how well she knows him when it comes down to that."
Harry was pretty certain they weren't talking about him. He was monstrously curious who was the topic of discussion. He opened and closed the outer door loudly and took off his boots before walking in. The conversation stopped.
"How was the walk?" Mr. Weasley asked.
"The air's a little cold," Harry said. "But it felt good." He sat down at the table and poured out some tea for himself before looking around for the paper.
"Here it is," Mr. Weasley said casually, picking it up off the chair by the wall and handing it to Harry who thanked him and proceeded to peruse it. The debate about Sirius' innocence was mentioned offhandedly in one article which caught his attention.
Remembering what Hermione always said about the Prophet , Harry tried to read between the lines to what the real message was that the paper wanted to get across without seeming to. One article mentioned the questioning of a suspected affiliate of the Death Eaters who had been rounded up by the active citizenry ever vigilant against yet another rise of that dreaded group . That stood out to Harry as having far too much opinion in it, and it matched Mrs. Weasley's comments.
Harry glanced over a few more articles to make a show of it then refolded it and put it aside.
"What would you like for dinner, young man?"
"Spaghetti sounds good," Harry said.
"You're on," she said and gave him a smile.
Harry thought he could have started calling them by their first names at this point. But the problem now was that it would carry far too much symbolism and he still couldn't cope with that. Brill and he had gone over that. That, being Harry's desire to keep these two clearly caring adults at long arms length. They had gotten to him anyway, first names or not, it really didn't matter at this point.
The next day, just before Mr. Weasley left for work, Arthur said. "Harry, can I get a favor from you. Are you feeling up to a little socializing?"
Mrs. Weasley didn't turn around from painting a chair over papers spread on the floor. "Don't get Harry involved in this, Arthur."
"I can't think of any other way, and I refuse to sit still."
Harry looked curiously at him. This sounded like the same mystery topic. "What is it?" Harry asked.
Mrs. Weasley sighed and turned around. Her wand had flecks of paint on it from the backsplash of the painting spell. She and Arthur shared a look. "There are some wizards making trouble, Harry," Mrs. Weasley explained.
"Vigilantes," Mr. Weasley added darkly. "Now that things are calm and there is no risk-" he cut himself off. "They see themselves as some kind of protectors of the post-Voldemort peace, but they don't know what really happened so it is starting to turn into a . . . a . . . what do Muggles call it?"
"A witch hunt?" Harry suggested.
Grimly, Mr. Weasley nodded. "Yes, that. There were no official lists of Death Eaters, you know. But they have been digging, have been getting permission from the Ministry to question the surviving DE."
Harry pushed his oatmeal away. "You’re talking about Professor Snape, right?"
Mr. Weasley turned his chair to the side and leaned over his hands toward Harry. "I don't know what you think of Professor Snape," he prompted.
"He's an obnoxious git," Harry said with a huff. "But Dumbledore trusted him," he said in what still felt like a litany. "And he gave me his wand."
"During the final battle, you mean?" Mr. Weasley asked.
"Yes. I needed another one since Voldemort's and mine canceled each other out. It left him defenseless." He bit his lip, "I trust him even if I don't like him."
"You are going to be late for work, Arthur," Mrs. Weasley pointed out.
"You do know what Dumbledore told all of us, teachers included, near the end?" Mr. Weasley asked Harry, ignoring his wife. At Harry's shake of his head, Arthur went on, "He told us that this was your destiny and to help you if you asked for it but to stay out of your way."
"So you are saying Snape was just obeying Dumbledore?" Harry asked.
"I am saying it was certainly part of it. You can help with this, but I want to know where you stand given all the facts," Arthur said. "I happen to think that Severus Snape doesn't deserve what he would get if this group got a hold of him. The Ministry is stonewalling them because they know that is what Dumbledore would have wanted, but that is only making the Lights, as the call themselves, more angry. They want everyone hauled in and questioned, usually after they've had a go at them, themselves."
"What are you thinking of doing?" Harry asked him.
"I was thinking of inviting him over for dinner and making a point of it casually around the Ministry. Everyone knows you are staying here."
Harry laughed wryly and put his hands on his head. "Sorry, my gut reaction is going to be the wrong one--give me a minute. You are talking about someone I despised and hated for seven years." Harry shook his head. "You really think having him over would make a difference?" he asked in doubt.
"The Lights are an obsessed bunch, Harry. They have been accosting anyone who has ever had any association with even a family member of a Death Eater. Professor Snape is much too tempting of a target since they are certain he actually was one. And I know it would help because Madam Edgecombe commented to me once, when she was pressuring me for information, that if you hadn't smiled at Professor Snape at the certificate ceremony she would have him already."
"Edgecombe? The one who watched the Floo Network for Umbridge?" Harry asked incredulous.
Mr. Weasley sighed and stood up with a glance at the clock. "The previously fooled make for the most dangerous vigilantes, Harry, because they are trying to prove something to the world, and to themselves. So what do you think? I can send an owl to him from the Ministry."
Harry bit his lip. "I think you should message McGonagall first and tell her what you are planning. If she agrees, she can work on Snape for you, because I don't think he'll come otherwise."
Mr. Weasley tipped his hat at him. "Good idea. I'll do that. Have a good day, Harry." He picked up his briefcase and went over to the fireplace to Floo out.
After Mr. Weasley departed, Harry sat in thought as Mrs. Weasley returned to her refinishing. She set the chair out in the mudroom when she was done. As she washed and dried her hands, she studied the other clock, the one with all of the faces of the Weasley family on it. Harry squinted at it. It showed Ron and Charlie at home as well as Mrs. Weasley, presumably at Charlie's home in Romania. Harry wondered idly if his face were on it, what it would say for him.
"You don't mind if I call you 'Molly'?" Harry asked her.
She bit her lip and hung the towel up with more attention than normal. "Not at all, Harry. But do whatever you are comfortable with." She looked at him with a soft expression. "You are like a son to us."
Harry gazed at her in return. "That is only because you have so many, an extra doesn't stand out," he said, teasing.
"With your hair, you definitely stand out around here," she pointed out. "And on that topic, when are you going to cut it?"
Harry ran his hands through it. It was getting long and curlier but it was starting to brush his shoulders which distracted him sometimes.
"If I were you, I'd get it done before dinner with Professor Snape or he is going to think you are mimicking his hairstyle," she said.
"Yah!," Harry exclaimed and put his hands over his head. "Good point. Ginny likes it, but too bad."
Around mid-afternoon a post owl arrived. Mrs. Weasley read the message before handing it to Harry. It was a note back from Headmistress McGonagall forwarded to the house by Mr. Weasley. It read simply: "Probably a good idea." Pages of implication were in those words. Mrs. Weasley crossed her arms and considered Harry. "Why don't you invite Professor Snape over."
"How about somewhere more public," Harry said strategically. He reached over to the post rack for a sheet of parchment and a never-out quill. He waved his books to his room and laid out the parchment. "Ginny keeps talking about some new place in Hogsmeade, the Two Candlesticks or something." Harry looked up at her. Determination made his mind clear nicely. "On a Friday when it's busy. This Friday."
"Are you up to that, Harry?" Mrs. Weasley asked in concern.
"I can be. Don't worry about it. I need to do Christmas shopping anyway." He poised the quill and thought a moment.
"Write it honestly, Harry," Molly said. She started to make tea.
"What do you mean?"
She seemed to be making tea entirely by hand. "Write it as though you are really, honestly inviting him out. So when it is intercepted, it has the desired effect then too."
"They are intercepting his post?" Harry asked in disbelief.
"Yes. And I'll take the Floo into London to post it from there so we don't use Hedwig, since we don't want her getting injured. The post owls are a little tougher I think."
Harry stared at her, at the memories this mentality brought back. "Is this ever going to end?" Harry asked.
"It will eventually," she assured him, watching the teapot steam as it steeped.
Harry blinked at the blank parchment. This was going to be a real test of how far he had come, he could see that now. He thought over the years of unfair grading and vicious comments and then remembered that moment Snape had held up his wand for him. Harry hadn't felt much at the time because his head had felt like it had split open, but now he felt like maybe they were even.
He scrolled out the salutation and stopped in thought again. "I could tell him I need his advice about teaching," Harry said.
"Harry, are you really thinking of that?" Molly asked with a pleased tone. She set the tea down on the table and placed a gnome cozy over it.
"Yes. But I want his job," Harry grinned mischievously.
"Well, don't mention that."
"He already knows. I used it to distract him during our duel at Hogwarts."
"So everyone knows, then."
"No, I used Legilimency to say it into his mind." At her expression he said, "Snape was assigned to teach me Occlumency by Dumbledore. I picked up the Legilimency just from having my mind attacked over and over. Merlin, that was awful," Harry commented as he remembered. "It was useful in the end though. I had to tell him to back off and hit the Death Eaters with something; he was frozen in place." Harry took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. "There must be a human in him somewhere, I never imagined he'd look that terrified."
Molly leaned over her elbows toward him. "I'm sorry, Harry, I'm not following you."
Harry put his glasses back on and considered her. "I'm talking about when I was pretending to have been taken over by Voldemort to trick the Death Eaters. We had to get rid of them, I couldn't fight all of them and Voldemort at the same time. The ruse didn't work until I found the trigger in Voldemort's mind to make their marks burn. Even Snape was convinced, though. That was the problem."
Harry straightened the parchment. "Anyway," he said, dismissing the topic. He started to write and speak aloud at the same time. "I hope you are enjoying your new teaching assignment." He stopped writing and commented, "Ginny thinks he is doing okay, and she hates him as much as I do." He started again. "I was hoping to get a chance to talk to you about my possibly teaching in the future. I have yet to choose a concentration in my Auror studies. . ." He stopped again. "Too mundane?" Harry asked her.
"Maybe too detailed for the third line." She sipped her tea and stared at the letter upside-down from her side of the table.
Harry obliterated the last line. "This is hard," he said, resting his forehead on his palm.
"But good for you," she said over her tea cup.
Harry raised his eyes to her. "You aren't channeling Dumbledore, are you Mrs. We- Molly?"
She grinned at him. "Were I so lucky, I wouldn't tell you," she said with a glitter in her eyes.
Harry looked over what little there was of the letter and shook his head. "He is the nastiest person I have every met. And I include Voldemort in that ranking." At her look he went on, "Voldemort just wanted to kill me after some short torture. Snape was more of the keep-him-alive-and-torment-him-forever crowd."
She turned her teacup in her hands. "You do know why he disliked you, right?"
"Disliked," Harry echoed with a laugh. "There is a word that barely gets to it. And yes, I know why," he said the last with a harder voice. "Because I was too much like someone I didn't even really know let alone try to emulate consciously." He tapped his fingers on the parchment.
"What would you say to your old teacher if he were in front of you right now?" she suggested.
"What was that block you used against the Gratalinden?" Harry said without hesitation.
"Put down something about that, then."
Harry put the quill back down. "I'm sorry I haven't been in shape to help with another demonstration for your class. I really enjoyed the chance to visit the school again." He stopped writing and said playfully, "And to throw potentially fatal curses at you."
Molly covered her mouth to hide her laugh.
"As soon as I am released for physical training I would be more than happy to visit again." Harry's eyes positively glowed at the notion. "There are a few blocks I want to ask you about first, though."
"Hey," Harry said, "there is probably still a big chip in the wall of the classroom from something I had to duck under since I didn't know what it was. Just being prudent."
"Sounds like he has warmed up to you about as much as you have to him," she observed sagely.
I'm sorry, Harry. Harry lifted the quill off the surface as he remembered the only note he had ever received from Snape. "Sorry for what?" Harry asked aloud with annoyance.
"Nothing." He put the quill back on the parchment. "In exchange for some careers advice, I will make reservations at the Two Candlesticks for this Friday if you can make it. Eight o'clock." Harry was ready to have this letter done. "Please owl me back at the Weasley household. Sincerely, Harry Potter." He signed his name with a tiny flourish.
"Lot of power in that name, Harry," Molly commented.
"Sort of going unused at the moment," Harry said as he folded the letter. Odd emotions were swirling in him, ones he couldn't identify. Once it was folded down owl-sized, he handed it to her.
"Makes it even more powerful," she said as she took it from him. "Thank you, Harry."
"Makes me feel like the Order is still operating."
Chapter 4 -- Dinner with the Enemy
Harry Floo early into Hogsmeade. He wore one of his nicer robes with a new cloak over it for warmth. Shop clerks gaped at him when he walked in, which he ignored. He bought a nice quill and stationery for Hermione, elbow-length fireproof gloves for Ron, a luxuriously soft grey scarf and mittens for Ginny, and a maroon dragonhide bag for himself since he was on a roll and he could put everything else in it. He stood in the street with the new bag over his shoulder. It was about ten minutes too early to go to the restaurant.
As he watched the bundled up shoppers going from one glowing shop to the next, he shook his head. He was seriously considering buying Snape something. Deciding that was too much, and wondering with some fear who he might be channeling to even think of that, he walked slowly down the street from window to window to kill time.
He stepped into the Two Candlesticks and looked around for the Weasleys. "Your cloak over there, sir," the pretentious host said as he indicated a side room. A woman at the door to the room took his cloak. As he turned around, Snape was right behind him. He looked Harry up and down. "You are looking better, Potter," he commented as he handed his cloak over as well after putting his black leather gloves in the pocket.
"Thank you, sir. Your potion really works," Harry said.
The cloak lady had stepped away and let the door close. "It is more than that," Snape stated blandly. Harry looked up at him in question. Snape visibly hesitated before quietly explaining, "You have lost most of that haunted expression you had."
Harry took a deep breath and released it. "Oh, that. Yeah, I probably have." They stepped back to the podium where the host had been but now had disappeared. "My Muggle surgeon has been working on my head as well," Harry said, sounding a little annoyed.
The host returned after a delay. "Well, the rest of your party is not here, but I will seat you."
Snape's expression made it clear this was news. Harry shrugged. "Molly and Arthur wanted to come."
They sat down and made small talk about Hogwarts while they waited. It took almost five minutes for the surprised glances of the other diners to fade, mostly because it took each person in the restaurant three to firmly take in the situation. Harry drank his butterbeer. "I get the feeling they are late on purpose."
"Or just late," Snape commented without rancor. "Before they get here, I must get something off my chest," Snape said. At Harry's concerned look, Snape went on, "Your girlfriend is the single most difficult student I have."
Harry put down his butterbeer and laughed. Many glances came their way at that. "Can't pin that on me, I didn't tell her to be that way."
"Your inspiration is sufficient, I believe. She did not used to be so egotistical. She was much more like the previous Weasleys, a little sniveling and overly creative, but mostly controllable."
"Ah. You are seeing a Ginny who has come to terms with things too. Compliment her once and she'll shut right up," Harry suggested and took a large gulp of butterbeer. "She ever get anything right enough for you to manage that?"
"She does fine. All of your former students do fine, Harry."
Harry paused at hearing his first name again. "I was just trying to keep them alive," he finally said a little bleakly.
Snape was saved from responding by the arrival of the Molly and Arthur. Greetings went around and everyone took their seats. Arthur leaned over to Harry and said quietly, "If this gets to be too much for you, let me know."
At Snape's questioning look, Molly leaned over to him and explained. "He had his second surgery just over a week ago. He isn't supposed to be doing much."
Harry stared into his almost empty butterbeer. "I'm fine," he insisted.
"How many stitches did they use on you this time?" Arthur asked with grim fascination.
Harry shook his head. "They used a microscope to put most of them in, so I think they are too small to count. But hundreds."
The waiter came and took their orders and poured out the wine. When they were alone again, Arthur leaned closer in and said to Snape, "I read what Skeeter wrote this morning, and-"
"Rita Skeeter?" Harry interrupted him. "She is part of this?"
"She doesn't always have her byline on it, but I am certain she does most of articles on this," Arthur said.
Harry glanced around the room and reached down to his bag to pull out his wand. With another glance around them he tapped it on the table and whispered " Accedafacio ." Nothing happened.
Snape's brow shot up at this. "You are looking for Animagi?"
"Yeah. You might check to see if Rita has registered as one yet."
"Skeeter is an Animagus?" Arthur asked in alarm. "What form does she take?"
"She is a very small colorful beetle with antenna that look a lot like her glasses."
"You must have seen her up close," Molly commented.
"Oh yeah." Harry laughed and gestured to the waiter to bring him another butterbeer. "Got a good chance to look at her while she was trapped in a jar Hermione had put an unbreakable charm on." Harry looked up at the ceiling as he remembered. "She must have finally put holes in the lid," he mulled out loud. He glanced at Snape who was actually smiling faintly.
"Is that why she stopped writing about you?" Molly asked in amazement.
"Something like that."
"Well, we will definitely check the registry," Arthur said.
The appetizers arrived. Harry took out the small potion bottle and put a drop on his finger and licked it off.
Snape watched this with bemusement. "A little unpleasant like that, isn't it?"
Harry looked at him and gulped down half of his fresh butterbeer, then shrugged.
"As long as it works, I suppose," Snape commented.
"It works too well," Harry said.
Snape looked at him for a long moment. "Does it still?"
Harry was gulping the little fried rolls from his appetizer. "Yes," he admitted.
Snape still hadn't started in on his plate. "That potion works by merely reflecting into hunger, your body's need for sustenance. If you were not malnourished, it would have no effect on you."
"Did you talk to Mr. Brill about that?" Arthur asked Harry.
"Yes, he said he would move up that part of the surgery if he could find someone he trusted to do it. Stomachs aren't his area," Harry explained. "He wanted to do the other reconstruction first so there were fewer questions when he had to find someone."
"Well, Harry Potter. What a surprise," a familiar voice said from behind him. Rita Skeeter glanced around the table with a crooked expression.
"Hello, Ms. Skeeter," Harry said evenly.
"Can I get a quote from you since we are such old friends. You haven't given a single interview to anyone since that nasty battle. You trusted me to do the last one," she pointed out.
"Depends on the topic and you were blackmailed into the last one, if you will recall," Harry said as he looked at Arthur for some kind of sign.
"Such a nasty word that. How is Ms. Granger?"
"Haven't seen her, but her letters indicate she is enjoying law school. You can quote me on that if you like."
"What I would like to quote you on is your choice of dinner companion," she said evenly, glaring at Snape.
Harry looked around the table, pretending to be confused by the question. "My best friend's parents and a former teacher?"
"Not just any former teacher, Harry. But one with a particularly interesting history with the Death Eaters," she said with her voice low. Her hand clenched the back of Harry's chair, hard.
"That is true," Harry said, making Arthur's gaze waver a little. "I distinctly remember him singlehandly capturing eleven Death Eaters so I could concentrate on defeating Voldemort." Harry was really happy with how smoothly this came out, like the story had moved into history without too much emotional entanglements remaining. "Let's see, it was a fogging spell followed by a rather substantial netting/binding curse of some kind. I have to confess I was a little distracted at that moment. Professor Snape almost certainly remembers if you would like to ask him." Harry looked up at her, daring her to find a response.
Her fingers fidgeted on her purse a moment. This was news Harry was handing her. No one had said what happened in that detail. "Eleven?" she asked quietly.
"I'd give you a list but I was unconscious when they were unmasked. Lestrange and MacNair are the only two I can recognize with their masks on," Harry went on conversationally. "The list of those captured that day is public knowledge though."
Her eyes finally flicked down to Harry from Snape. Harry kept his gaze level as though he were waiting for another question. Touch him and you'll deeply regret it, Harry projected at her, not certain if he could get through. She blinked rapidly at that moment, making him expect that he had, if only the emotion of it.
She swung her purse to the side and pasted on a smile. "Well, I'll leave you to your meal." She strode away towards the door, stopping to greet someone at another table momentarily before departing.
Their dinners arrived. Arthur let out a breath in relief. As he picked up his silverware he said, "Maybe repeat that Animagi spell in a few minutes."
"I will," Harry said with a grin.
After their plates were cleared, Harry started fading fast. He rubbed his forehead to wake himself up.
"We should get you home, Harry," Arthur said.
Harry forced himself to sit straight. "After coffee," he insisted.
Arthur didn't look like he wanted to give in. "All right. But immediately after." He gestured for the waiter and put in the order.
Harry turned to Professor Snape. "I did want to ask you what that block was to the Gratalinden," he said.
"It was a Flectere Charm. Not really a block--it modulates the incoming spell. Not generally useful, but it works against that."
"Hm," Harry said. "Haven't learned that one."
Coffees arrived a minute later. Snape sipped his and said to Harry, "So how many years do I have before I get challenged by you in a duel to the death?"
Harry laughed, especially as he glimpsed Arthur's expression. "Several, at least," Harry insisted. He looked at Arthur's still confused face. "I want his job," Harry explained.
"Ah," Arthur said, relaxing. "I didn't know that."
"I haven't really told anyone," Harry commented.
"Except Professor Snape," Arthur said.
"Well, I thought a warning was only fair," Harry said with a smile. Then he shook his head. "Tack another half year on for this slow Muggle healing and then another two that Drissela said it would take for my body to remember its new form so I could be healed by wizard medicine again." Harry sighed in frustration and examined his left hand closely.
"So rather a long time then," Snape commented.
"It will come up sooner than you think. I'm counting on that, anyway," Harry said.
* * *
"Hm," Mr. Weasley said as he read the Prophet the next morning. "This is different," he said. "A Ministry spokeswitch states that the current vindictive climate against witches and wizards with only a vague association to Voldemort's old organization needs to stop. The number of false claims is tying up, blah, blah, blah. Ah here: those who assisted in Voldemort's demise should be considered to have atoned for their earlier mistakes." He glanced over his paper at Harry with a meaningful look then folded it up. "It won't put a stop to it, but it does help and it is much more than I thought could be accomplished with one dinner invitation."
He toasted Harry with his teacup. "Thank you, Harry, for your assistance."
Harry shrugged. "He’s still an obnoxious git."
* * *
Jezebel brought Mr. Brill the next day. "You are doing much better this time, Harry," he said as he examined his work. He removed the black stitches and considered Harry. "Anything you want to talk about today?"
"No, I'm all right."
"Nothing has been on your mind?" Brill asked as he put his things away.
"I've been dealing with my total hatred for one of my old teachers, but that seems to be going all right."
"You had some kind of confrontation recently with this old teacher? This must be Professor Snape, right? The one you feel mistreated you as a student."
"Yeah. But it wasn't so much a confrontation as dinner out with him and the Weasleys. And he wasn't a total git."
Brill sat back and took that in. "But he was supposed to be."
"He always was before. I don't know what is up with him," Harry griped.
"So why do you suspect he treated you so badly before?" Brill asked.
"I know why. He hated my dad and apparently I am exactly the same as him."
"Any particular reason why he hated him ?"
Harry sighed and picked at his fingernails. "My dad made his life miserable when they were in school together."
"You know this because he told you?"
"No, because I looked in the pensieve. It is a thing that holds memories," Harry explained at Brill's questioning look. "The memory I found wasn't a very good one."
"Must have been a pretty bad one to hold onto that hatred for twenty odd years," Brill commented. "But at dinner, he wasn't cruel to you."
"No, the dumb git was almost normal."
"So, why the dinner?"
"It was Mr. Weasley's idea. There has been a group of wizard vigilantes going after associates of Voldemort's organization. Most of these people didn't actually do anything but they get harassed and if these people, they call themselves the Lights of Walpurgis, can manage it, they have the Ministry haul them in for questioning. The Lights are after Professor Snape because he used to be Death Eater."
"You made a public show of support for him and you wonder why he wasn't cruel to you?" Brill looked very doubtful.
"I always thought being cruel was part of his personality. You wouldn't believe the things he's said to me in the past."
"What did he say at dinner?"
Harry frowned. "He said I looked like I was feeling better."
Brill laughed lightly. "You can't stand to like him, can you? Why go out on a limb for him then?"
"Because it is the right thing to do. These people from the Lights, they didn't do anything when it was really dangerous to, only now when they can bully people safely. And they don't know what really happened: that I couldn't have defeated Voldemort without him." Harry gazed at Brill to see what he thought.
"Weren't the Death Eaters drawn to Voldemort when he called them, or something like that?" Brill asked. "How did he handle that?"
"Yes. They have a mark on their arm that Voldemort gave them. It turns black and burns if he called them and they resisted."
"So, your defeating Voldemort frees him from that bondage, right? And now you are trying to save him from the other side as well. Why would you expect him to continue to hate you?" Brill paused and with a furrowed brow asked, "Or more importantly perhaps, why do you want to continue hating him?" Brill paused again. "Does this feel like loyalty to your father, maybe?"
"No," Harry said. "I am pretty sure it isn't that."
"You don't seem to have a problem admitting that you needed help against Voldemort, so I can't imagine this is pride; which is the next thing that comes to mind. You would honestly prefer it if he continued to be mean to you?" Brill asked.
"He is supposed to. Why is he changing now of all times?"
"You wanted him to change sooner. This is too late?" Brill suggested.
"No. I don't know," Harry said, tiring of this topic.
"We can drop it, though I am getting curious now. What is the opposite of mean, Harry. What is he being instead?"
"I don't know, grateful I guess."
"Anything wrong with that?"
"Everyone else already is, he doesn't have to bother," Harry complained.
"Ah, okay," Brill said knowingly. "I understand now."
"Care to fill me in?" Harry asked facetiously.
"You don't think what you did is worth all the attention and gratitude you have been getting."
"No, of course not. Would you?"
"I can't give you an honest answer to that, because I too am grateful to you Harry. People like to have heroes. You just have to try to forgive us all for that."
"Merlin, I hope Snape doesn't think that."
"Judging by what you said. It sounds like that was probably too far to come."
"Good," Harry said emphatically.
Brill smiled at him. "If all you have left is a desire to be humble and left alone in a world that wants to do you honor, I think you are probably all set."
"I want you to fix my stomach," Harry said. "You have my potion brewer worried."
"Why is that?" Brill asked then said, "Same bloke, right?" When Harry nodded, Brill observed, "Interesting how you have compartmentalized that."
"Snape said that the potion makes me hungry because my body is malnourished and if I weren't it would stop working. But it still makes me ravenously hungry when I take it."
"That is very interesting, Harry. All right. We can move that up. I might have found someone while talking to my mother's acquaintances. Someone, skilled enough whose brother-in-law was a wizard, until he died mysteriously about a year and a half ago."
"That happened a lot," Harry commented. "Hopefully it won't happen anymore."
* * *
Over the next few days the Weasleys congregated at the Burrow for Christmas. Hermione managed to show up just long enough to exchange gifts. Harry marveled at how different she seemed: distracted by inner concerns and with much shorter hair. She gave him a careful hug but she didn't ask her usual probing questions about how things were really going. Harry found he missed that because he wouldn't have minded talking to her. She was gone within the hour to join her parents in Portugal.
Ron had something approaching a tan from working outside helping Charlie with the dragons. He talked nonstop about training, temperament and breeding, with only a few corrections from Charlie. Finally he stopped and said, "So how is Auror training going?"
"I am reduced to just studying until I am healed," Harry said. He normally would have said this in a frustrated voice, but other emotions were getting in the way at that moment.
"Harry, can you help me with the trays?" Molly asked from the kitchen.
Harry stepped over to her, conversations buzzing around him. She pulled him beside her with her arm and said close to his ear, "Everyone goes through this, Harry. Everyone. These friends are the best you will ever have in your life, but it isn't going to be like it was ever again."
Harry nodded and took up a tray. He didn't like being so transparent, but then again, Molly had seen more kids leave school and move on than most people. He set the tray down on the low table in the center of the room. No one seemed to notice except Ginny who stopped arguing with Ron long enough to give him a nice smile. Harry sat down on the floor beside them and joined their conversation.
Deciding that he couldn't stand the memory of his Aunt's disappointed face, Harry arranged to go to dinner at their house on Boxing Day. As he was thinking of getting dressed, he said to Ginny, "You wouldn't be willing to come and give me some moral support, would you?"
"If you want me to come. I was afraid you were too embarrassed by them to invite me," she explained.
"They are very embarrassing, but I would like some backup."
"Sure, let me tell Mum."
Harry went to his room and changed into something decently Muggle then waited in the kitchen for Ginny to come down from getting ready. It took her quite a while but she looked very nice in a flowery blouse buttoned all the way up and a calf-length, dark skirt. She tossed on a cloak and gave Harry a smile at his expression. "We'll Floo to Diagon Ally and then take a cab," Harry explained to her as he put a cloak on too.
They made it with just five minutes to spare. Harry used the doorbell, making Ginny tilt her head in surprise at the song playing. Dudley opened the door and looked them both over. "Mum! Harry's brought a babe."
"A what?" Ginny asked Harry.
"Uh, it's kind of a compliment," Harry replied as he stalked past Dudley into the house. They left their cloaks in the front hall closet and stepped down the hallway.
Aunt Petunia, still in her apron, came out and said hello, paying quite close attention to Ginny while Harry introduced her. His Aunt Petunia finally managed a smile for them. "Have a seat in the living room with Vernon," she said and returned to the kitchen.
Harry repeated introductions there. "You met at that, uh, school?" Vernon asked Ginny.
"Yes, sir," Ginny said in a sweet friendly voice. Harry hoped she could maintain that through dinner.
Harry had set a wrapped package down on the coffee table. "Who is that for?" Dudley asked.
"It is for you, Dudley," Harry stated evenly. He had been just waiting for that.
"Really?" Dudley said doubtfully and picked it up. It was wrapped in silver and black paper. "Better not be magical," his cousin said threateningly.
"It isn't," Harry said.
Dudley unwrapped the box and lifted out the black gloves inside. He looked impressed as he slipped them on. Harry had lied, they had a little magic in them to make them conform perfectly to the wearer's hands. Harry figured he wouldn't get in trouble for that if anyone found out. "Nice," Dudley said, admiring them on himself.
"Dragonhide," Harry commented.
Dudley's eyes went wide with a kind of fanatical look. "Dragon?" he asked intensely.
Harry shrugged as though it wasn't a big deal. Ginny spotted Petunia setting the table and jumped up to help. Harry was thinking his inviting her along was one of his better ideas to date.
Vernon cleared his throat and took his eyes off his son's fascination with his new gloves. "We have something for you, Harry."
Harry tried not to think too negatively about that notion as his uncle pulled out a box remarkably similar in shape to the one Harry had just given Dudley, though with just a ribbon and no wrapping. Harry tried to read his uncle's face before slipping the ribbon off and opening the box. He snapped it closed again and tried to control his expression. Inside the box was a check for ten thousand pounds.
Vernon didn't say anything. Dudley, who was jamming his fingers together to push his new gloves on snugly, broke the silence. "They think those surgeries of yours are going to break you," he stated. As though reading Harry's thoughts, he went on. "I don't care if they give it to you. I have my own business now."
The trouble was Harry couldn't really turn it down and it was killing him to realize that. The surgeries were monumentally expensive and though his godfather probably had meant to leave him his estate, he hadn't formalized a will. Two years ago when Harry realized what a battle was going to be involved, he had simply let it go, torn between what he was sure was Sirius' real intent and the petty greediness of the far-flung relatives, illegitimate and otherwise.
"Thanks," Harry finally managed to say to his uncle. His pain came out in his voice, making Vernon nod his head knowingly, only increasing Harry's agony.
Chapter 5 -- Judging the Past
Harry woke up from surgery again in what was starting to feel routine. Brandon Smythe the other surgeon stood beside the bed this time. Harry tried to take a deep breath and found it much more painful than expected.
"You are going to have that pain for a week or so," Smythe said in his rapid speech. "It will gradually fade. Your stomach had the strangest polyp filling it. We also took some kinks out of your small intestine. You have a lot of spare of that, so no worries about that. I don't see any reason for you to not just be fine after this." He gave Harry a quick smile. "Any questions?"
Harry shook his head. "Thanks," he managed. After the surgeon left, he tried valiantly for a deep breath that wouldn't quite come.
Ginny had just returned to school so she didn't come for a visit, even though Harry had three nights in hospital. Molly and Arthur stayed for a few hours but he knew they had things to do, so after he commented a fourth time that he would rather sleep, they took the hint. Arthur had brought Harry a few Muggle novels, yellowed as though they had been stored in the sun. He read a little of one but found it too predictable and silly.
Finally he did decide to just sleep. But, very unusually, he woke up in the middle of the night. Harry blinked at the figure beside the bed and squinted. "Hello?" Harry said.
"I wanted to talk to you, Harry," the figure said. It was Smythe, only he was speaking much slower now.
Harry flicked on the light and picked up his glasses off the side table. "What about?" Harry asked, trying to work out if this was normal surgeon behavior and Brill just happened to never stop by at two in the morning.
"About the Dark Lord."
"Oh," Harry said a little frustrated. "What do you want to know?"
"How did you cut him out of yourself?" Smythe asked.
Harry looked at him. His face was half in shadow from the small reading light and his voice just wasn't the same. Harry was waking up really fast now. "With a rending spell," Harry said, mostly to stall. He reached over into the drawer of the night stand.
"Looking for this?" Smythe asked, holding Harry's wand up. He had been holding it behind his back.
"Yes," Harry said. He had only brought the one and now regretted it.
"Which one is it?" Smythe asked slowly.
"Mine. Voldemort's isn't here." Smythe wasn't a wizard so the wand wasn't a weapon for him. Harry stalled to think some more. "Why do you want to know this?"
Smythe paused. "I want to know if there is any of the Dark Lord left in you," he finally said with some strain.
He's under an Imperius Curse, Harry thought with a jolt. What the hell?
"Who sent you here?" Harry asked.
Smythe's hand shot out and struck Harry across the face, slamming him back against the pillow. Harry stuck out his hand and said, " Accio wand !" His wand zipped to him, startling Smythe. Harry held his hand over his smarting mouth and aimed the wand. He cast a binding charm and a sleeping charm, then hovered the man over to the chair and thought for a moment.
"Damn," Harry muttered to himself. The wizard controlling him might not be far away. Harry picked up the bedside phone and called the Auror's Muggle number. A nice but tired-sounding witch answered. "This is Harry Potter, I need Nymphadora Tonks right away, it is level two," he said and hung up the phone. It probably wasn't but at the moment he felt like it was mostly because it had suddenly gotten much harder to breath and he imagined his scar was actually tingling, just slightly.
Harry used his wand to pull the curtain in front of his captive without leaving his bed. He then paged the nurse with his white box since he didn't know Brill's number.
She came right down. "What do you need?"
"I need to see Mr. Brill," Harry said, covering his mouth with his arm a little. "It is really very important."
She hesitated, then nodded and went out. Harry in his three visits had never asked for anything except double jelly.
After about five minutes, Harry heard many shuffling footsteps in the corridor. The door opened and Tonks looked in at Harry sitting with his wand ready. "Level two?" she asked as though seeing if he would change his mind. Moody stepped in behind her as well as Melizza.
"There," Harry gestured, making the curtain shift aside. "Imperius Curse."
Tonks crouched in front of his prisoner and ran a few spells on him. "Well, lets see if we can find your master, then, shall we?" she said.
"What happened?" Melizza asked as she came over to Harry. "Did he hit you?"
"He had my wand and he moves faster than he looks like he can," Harry said, trying to explain.
"Silly, I wasn't accusing you of being too slow, just trying to be sympathetic," she said.
"Oh, yeah. He hit me," Harry said.
The door opened again with Brill and a nurse in tow. Moody stepped in with his wand out. "Only the nurse!" Harry said sharply to Moody.
Brill stopped short. The nurse behind him took on a happy, drifting expression as Moody spelled her. "Harry, what is going on?" Brill asked him. He was in his street clothes without his usual white coat. As Harry pointed over beside the door, Brill turned and looked at Tonks working on Smythe. "What happened?" he asked. He turned back to Harry and noticed his bleeding lip. He approached closer. "Did you get hurt?"
Brill turned Harry's chin to the light to look at his cut lip. "Turn the overhead light on," Brill told Moody, spending only a moment taking in the Auror's strange appearance. "Harry what happened?" Brill asked again.
"One floor down," Tonks said sharply to Moody. With a bang Moody Disapparated.
Brill turned around to watch that, then turned back to his patient. "Harry?" he prompted.
"Smythe came in here. Woke me up and started asking about whether I'd really wiped Voldemort out of me. I broke rule three and he hit me."
"Rule three?" Brill asked sharply.
Tonks stood up and came over to them. "Rule three is don't interrogate a person under the Imperius Curse. You all right, Harry?"
Harry dropped his gaze, a little embarrassed by the disruption.
"Almost level two, but not quite," Tonks admonished him.
Harry gave her an apologetic look and then sighed. A bang sounded in the room and Moody returned with a bent-over man, clearly uncomfortable in the pose a spell had put him in with his hands forced up behind his back.
"This him?" Tonks asked.
"What, you think I went down and grabbed the fish and chips counter guy across the street?" Moody asked her sarcastically. "He has a mark," he said. He pulled one of the wizard's arms around and tapped the underside of it with his wand. It flared red for a moment in the shape of the Mark before fading quickly.
"Well, well, a bonafide Death Eater." Tonks said to the wizard in a singsong voice. "You were too foolish to stay put, weren't you?" She pulled the man's head up by his hair. "Let me give you a word of advice: Voldemort is gone!" she shouted suddenly then laughed a little. She looked their second prisoner over then looked up at Harry. "We'll take these two with us," she said. "Moody," she said with a tilt of her head at Smythe.
Moody went over to the man still bound and unable to move in the visitor's chair. He lifted him by the elbow and Disapparated with a boom! Tonks waved and did the same.
Harry sighed in relief and Brill turned to him. "Harry I had no idea. I am so sorry. I watched him operate on you-"
Harry held up his hand to forestall Brill's outpouring. "It is all right. He wasn't under the Imperio after the surgery, he seemed normal then, so it's all right." He felt very tired so he leaned back against the pillow and touched the newly swollen part of his face with the back of his hand.
Brill shook his head and pulled the visitor's chair over to sit in it. A knock sounded on the door and the nurse checked that she wasn't needed. Brill assured her that everything was under control. After the door closed, Harry said, "Maybe I shouldn't have disturbed your sleep. I just thought you should know. I need your direct number, by the way."
"I am glad you had them call me. I found him; it is my responsibility if he comes after you." Brill took out his card and scribbled on the back of it.
Harry laughed lightly. "Everyone comes after me. It is the way I've lived for seven years. Don't take it personally."
Brill smiled and shook his head as he handed the card over. "Harry, you never give it up, do you? Everything is not your fault. I should have checked his background better."
"I should have asked you what the circumstances were around his brother-in-law's death. I am sure Tonks is going to want to talk to you, you can tell her."
"Tonks is the woman with the purple hair?"
"My trainer, yes," Harry said.
Brill put his hand to his forehead. "What an odd group, Harry."
"Mad-Eye would be my favorite, except for Barty Crouch," Harry said.
"Mad-Eye? Is that his name?" Brill asked with genuine amusement.
"It's his nickname. He has a magical artificial eye," Harry said.
"Who is Barty Crouch?"
"He was the son of the Minister for International Cooperation and a Death Eater. He escaped from Azkaban when his mother begged to change places with him before she died. He took Moody's identity as a teacher at Hogwarts and set me up to be delivered to Voldemort so he could work out a spell to give himself a full human body. When I escaped Voldemort, carrying Cedric's dead body, Barty in the guise of Moody, dragged me to his office and tried to kill me. I try to like Moody, but it is hard to get past that."
Brill blinked at him then rubbed his forehead. "Harry, I am not even going to try to talk you through that." He patted Harry's shoulder, then gripped it hard. "I am amazed, utterly, that you have made it through all this as well-adjusted as you have." He glanced around the room. "Do you want me to stay for a while?"
"If you don't mind," Harry said and closed his eyes. For being this tired, sleep was a long way away.
"I really don't mind," Brill said. "It is the least I can do."
After a long silence Brill asked, "Who was Cedric?"
* * *
Two weekends later, Harry made his way from his apartment to Hogwarts for a Quidditch match. He sat in the visitor's stand one down from the Gryffindor students, trying not to wish he were still with them. They looked younger than he remembered as they rose as one to cheer the teams stepping out onto the pitch. The match was against Ravenclaw. Harry watched the teams as they circled to warm up before the start. He watched Ginny as she flew in formation with the other two Chasers. She scanned the stands and caught sight of him right away and waved. This made Harry's heart ache to think that she had probably been doing that every game, hoping he would be there. On the next loop, she passed closer and blew him a kiss. The wizards and witches in the stands around Harry gazed his way as he blushed.
As the game went on, Harry decided that Ginny was tougher than he imagined. She powered her way up the pitch, passing and body blocking without hesitation despite her smaller size. She scored three times that game; each time Harry yelled himself hoarse in celebration. After the game, which Gryffindor won, Harry raced down to the grass and watched the scarlet clad players celebrate amongst themselves before Ginny noticed him standing there. She ran over and hugged him roughly.
"I'm so glad you could make it," she breathed as she grasped him.
"You are really good, Ginny," Harry said.
"What, you thought I suddenly sucked at this?" she asked him facetiously. "Are you staying through dinner? Please?" she asked him. "McGonagall would let you, I am sure."
"If I don't have to sit at the head table," Harry said.
"Come with me, then. Say hello to everyone." She led him by the hand back over to the team where they stood near their changing room. They all greeted him warmly and lamented his departure to the chagrin of the current Seeker. Harry patted her on the head and teased her, even though he didn't know her personally. She blushed and ducked her head, suddenly finding the grass very interesting.
"Maybe I'll go say hello to McGonagall, then," Harry said as he gestured back up to the castle. They all said goodbye to him as though he were their current teammate and headed for the changing rooms.
Up in the Entrance Hall, Harry didn't find the headmistress, but he did find Percy Weasley. Harry said hello, which turned out to be a mistake. In his annoying nasal voice, Percy said, "I hear you are hunting Death Eaters again, Potter."
Harry faced Percy and caught sight of Snape, stopping and looking their way at that comment as he headed to the main stairs.
"No, Percy. They just keep coming after me. Foolish, really," Harry commented dryly. "I need to find the headmistress," Harry said to him to cut him off and stepped over to Snape. "Looks like you may lose the cup again this year, Professor," Harry said. Snape had started walking so Harry followed beside to hear his retort.
"There is plenty of Quidditch left, Potter. As well as demerits to be handed out." Snape said the last with a certain pleasure. After they reached the stairs, Snape said, "Couldn't help but overhear. So whom did you capture?"
"Someone by the name of Rodrick," Harry said casually, not caring. He started down a separate corridor to go toward the main staircases. Snape's pace faltered. Harry stopped and watched him walking more swiftly away. Harry's brain went into overdrive. He sprinted down that way and halted his old teacher in the middle of the corridor.
Harry searched Snape's face for a moment, trying to guess what would have caused the other's distress. "You didn't recruit him, did you?" Harry asked, taking a stab.
Snape didn't reply, just met his gaze with a cold one.
"Damn," Harry muttered and walked quickly back along the corridor, which only left him with a little stabbing pain in his side. He slowed down for the staircases and eventually reached the gargoyles but he didn't know the password. It occurred to him that there must be some other way to signal the Head of the School. He patted the nearest gargoyle on the head. It snapped at him in a slow, stone-like way.
"I need to see McGonagall," he stated to it. It leapt out of the way, revealing the turning stairs. Harry rolled his eyes at the ease of that and walked up as it moved.
The Headmistress sat at her desk, her cloak from the match still draped over her chair. Harry noticed that she wore neutral colors now to the game, not Gryffindor's. She looked up as he entered.
"Mr. Potter, what can I do for you?"
"There is a small problem," Harry said. At her expression, he went on. "Two weeks ago Tonks captured a Death Eater who had put one of my surgeons under an Imperio."
"This wasn't before your surgery, was it?" she asked in alarm. Several portraits opened their eyes at her tone.
"No, right after. Someone by the name of Rodrick. Trouble is Professor Snape recruited him and it won't take long for the Ministry interrogators to figure that out."
"You just saw Professor Snape?" she asked.
"He was heading toward the Defense classroom."
She took out her wand and sent a message down to him. Harry watched the silver bird zip through the floor. As they waited, McGonagall asked, "How many more of these surgeries do you have left?"
"Glad to hear that. You seem to be doing well."
Harry nodded. "It is slow, but it does eventually work."
A minute later, the door to the office opened. Snape's eyes darted between them before he took up a cross-armed pose and faced the headmistress. "You wished to see me?"
"Is what Potter told me true?" she asked him grimly, her lips pursed. At Snape's nod, she leaned back in her chair with a frown. "I think something preemptive is called for. I think you should hand yourself over for questioning." At his expression she added pessimistically, "Better than being dragged down to the Ministry wrapped up in a binding curse, I should think."
Snape frowned but didn't reply.
McGonagall looked to Harry. "After he does this, the Council for Enforcement will undoubtedly hold a hearing. Do you think you could manage to find this hearing?" she asked him sternly.
"Sure," Harry replied.
Snape huffed and stared at the ceiling. "That is your plan?" he asked mockingly.
"You have an alternative?" she asked him impatiently. "You must be somewhat tired of being a prisoner in this castle," she said dismissively.
On his way out, Harry found Ginny in the Entrance Hall, waiting for him. "I really have to go. Something has come up." She frowned at him in disappointment but let him give her a hug. Her hair was wet from showering after the match and she smelled of lilac soap. "You are over halfway through the year. Unless you decide to go to Romania too, we'll have much more time together then."
"See you then," she said and with a slumped back, stepped into the Great Hall.
Harry ignored the curious gazes that followed him out.
* * *
Two days later, Harry, parchment and quill in hand for show, stepped into Courtroom Ten. A quick glance at the chair gave him some relief, the chains hung slack rather than binding. Snape sat defiantly watching him enter. When Harry had seen the location of the hearing, he had imagined the worst.
"This is a closed meeting, Mr. Potter," Amelia Bones stated from the first row of seats.
Harry sat down separate from the others, about halfway to the far end in the second row. There were only eight others present. "This is a investigative hearing classified as informational," Harry pointed out. "Those are open to the Auror's office, including apprentices." He said this in a politely factual voice, then arranged his parchment on the very worn wood in front of him. He would have needed a blotter to actually write since the wood was so uneven.
Madam Bones stared at Harry a long moment, as though realizing for the first time that other plots were in effect. "Let's get started, then." She gave the background of the hearing for the transcriber including a list of those present. "For the record, even though it is considered a given by most present, check him for a mark, Steffen."
An Auror seated at the end beside the door stood up and came beside Snape with his wand out. With a dark glance at him Snape uncrossed his arms. Steffen pulled Snape's left sleeve up roughly and tapped with the incantation, Signaflargre . The small audience shifted nervously as the dark mark seared to red before fading again. Harry stared down at his parchment and kept his thoughts together.
"Record that the mark is demonstrated," Madam Bones said. Addressing Snape, she continued, "Ronald Rodrick states under serum that you recruited him to Voldemort's organization. Is this true?"
Snape rubbed his chin. "Yes," he answered evenly.
Madam Bones put out her hand to her assistant. "Take us off the record a moment. You have put us in a very difficult position, Severus."
Snape raised a brow at her. "You are discussing something that happened twenty years ago. I cannot change that now, even a time-turner does not go back that far. Yes, I recruited him, I would not have not joined myself had I not been willing to draw others in."
"Put us back on," Bones said to the man beside her.
Harry rubbed his forehead and tried to think of what Dumbledore would be doing right now. He felt like Snape was in the mood to take himself down.
"Why did you join the Death Eaters?" Bones asked him.
"Because they had power," Snape said without hesitation. "I found the notion of never being walked on again highly appealing."
Harry looked away to study the candles and soot-stained wall to his left. When he had himself under control he turned back to look at Snape. What the hell are you doing? Harry sent to him. Snape's eyes flickered up to Harry. They had already lost the seething emotion they had had a moment before. Harry wasn't sure whether that was a good sign.
The door opened again, bringing everyone to a halt. Darren stepped in with a glowering posture. He sat down in the second row on the side near the door. "I am allowed here, right?" he asked in a hard voice.
"We have already established that for Mr. Potter, yes."
At that, Darren leaned down the row and shot Harry a look. "And how did you find this otherwise hidden meeting, Potter?" he asked.
Harry gave him a confused look. "It is listed on the schedule in the Atrium." Which was true; it just wasn't on any of the other ones.
"Let's continue," Madam Bones stated. "Mr. Snape, How many did you kill while you were a member?"
"I have never killed anyone," Snape stated.
"Surely you were given some assignment. Did you torture anyone?"
Harry tried to keep the memory of Neville's parents out of his mind, not quite successfully. Hearing Darren shifting uncomfortably at the other end didn't help.
"I do not have a count."
"Did you permanently damage anyone?"
"Of course not, I am very good at it."
Harry rolled his eyes and resisted pounding his forehead in frustration.
Darren interrupted. "Is the Ministry finally going to stop protecting this monster?" he asked in a harsh voice. Snape crossed his arms and glared at Darren, making Harry think that maybe he hadn't actually given up.
Madam Bones tapped her assistant and the transcriber sat back and shook his hand out. "Mr. Whithers," Bones said to Darren, "The Ministry has been acting on Albus Dumbledore's wishes, which are actually in writing, would you like to see the letter?" Her other assistant pulled out a parchment which Bones held up for him. This appeared to be news to everyone, including Snape.
Darren declined to take it and instead crossed his arms and matched Snape's gaze. "Dumbledore is dead. That letter doesn't matter," he said darkly.
"I agree," Harry said from the other side, bringing every gaze in the room around to him.
"Shall I put us back on the record, Mr. Potter?" Bones asked. She looked as though she had been waiting for him to chime in.
Harry nodded. He wasn't sure where he was going to go with this, just that it was important to get Snape off on his own merits if it were going to be permanent. "I am not going to pretend to know what Dumbledore intended with everything he did," Harry began.
"Good, I was afraid you were going to tell us," Darren snapped at him. Harry expected Madam Bones to ask him to shut up, but she simply stared at the young man. Embolden by this, Darren added with a sneer, "I assumed you believed you were his replacement."
Harry gaped at the other apprentice. "No one could replace Albus Dumbledore," Harry asserted, trying hard not to have it come out with anything other than factual statement. In reality he longed to throttle Darren. The committee members also looked at Darren dangerously.
"Mr. Whithers," Madam Bones said, holding up her hand to stop the argument. "Since dear Dumbledore was given a choice between himself and Mr. Potter, and Mr. Potter is the one here with us, I am willing to extend to him the assumption that he is Dumbledore's representative."
Harry now stared at her in disbelief, until Snape's projected thought interrupted him. Now I see where that haunted look comes from, Potter.
Harry clenched his left hand into a fist. "What I meant was, since Dumbledore isn't here to tell us what he intended when he helped Professor Snape break from the Death Eaters, that doesn't hold up well as a reason to let him go now."
"Wasn't it because he needed a spy?" One of the other wizards asked.
"It is more complicated than that," Harry said, then swallowed hard. "He knew I was going to need him in the end."
"Get real," Darren mocked him.
Harry tore his eyes from Snape and leaned forward to stare down the narrow table. "Why, in 1938, did a Hogwarts Transfiguration Professor have his pet phoenix give two, and only two, tail feathers to be made into wands and sold at Ollivander's Wand shop so that Tom Riddle would end up with one of them and I with the other?"
The courtroom fell completely silent. Harry waited a moment and then said, "That is what I mean by not trying to guess what Dumbledore intended. I remind everyone again that I couldn't have defeated Voldemort without Professor Snape. I think that evens everything out, Dumbledore notwithstanding."
"Convenient that you ended up with both wands in the end," Darren said, sounding like a man playing a stronger hand than he expected to have. "You really like that other wand; don't you, Potter?" The whole room shuffled around to stare at Harry. Darren went on. "I'm sure he has it handy--he did when he threatened me with it the other day." Darren had a Draco-like smile on his face now.
"Is that true, Mr. Potter?" Madam Bones asked him with a distasteful look of dread. "You have that other wand? You use it?"
Harry reached into his robe pocket and pulled them both out, careful to hold them by the points, harmlessly. "Do you really want to dredge up that conversation here, Darren? In front of this group?" Harry asked calmly although he was shaking inside. The committee was looking at him with faces ranging from fascination to horror. "As I recall, that conversation included your assertion that Albus Dumbledore was dead because I, quote, botched the only spell I had to get right in my life."
Every head immediately turned back to Darren. Harry couldn't see their expressions but Darren's went a little white. Snape's gaze came over to Harry with a confident angled brow. Harry went on, "I apologize for pulling my wand on you at that time. I lost myself for a moment." As Harry spoke, no one turned back to him, they continued to glare at Darren.
"What? I'm not allowed to miss Dumbledore?" he snapped at them. "Harry Potter had some kind of lock on that?"
"Goodness," Madam Bones said in a huff. "By no means, Mr. Whithers. We all miss dear Dumbledore. But your statement to Mr. Potter is so twisted from the truth that it boggles the mind. The fact that Mr. Potter limited himself to merely threatening you is a credit to him. Had it been me you would have become a small reptile by the end of it." She continued to glare at him. "You have been straightened out on the facts at this point, correct?" she asked him sharply.
Darren frowned. "Yes," he mumbled.
Madam Bones glared at Darren some more. "May I suggest young man that if you have entered the Auror's program on a crusade that you will find yourself either ostracized or dead and that perhaps a different career path would be in order."
The transcribers pen scritched all that out. Harry marveled at how this hearing had transformed into one about Darren. Darren seemed to realize this too; he stood up and stalked out.
Harry stared at the two wands he still had out, points against the table in front of him. He came to himself and put them back in his pocket.
Madam Bones glanced over the transcription. "So, Mr. Potter it is your belief that Severus Snape has atoned for his earlier mistakes?"
"Yes," Harry said simply.
"You would trust him with your life?" she said, watching the transcriber put that down.
"I already have," Harry commented.
Madam Bones leaned back. "Well, I agree with you that he has atoned, but this is not a trial, just a hearing. We have no function here except to recommend and I don't see any reason to recommend any further action on this by the Department of Enforcement or the Minister's Office. You are free to go, Professor Snape."
Snape stood up slowly and with a last glance at Harry, strode quickly out. The room emptied except for Harry and Madam Bones. "Rather clever of you, Potter, making sure that Whithers showed up believing he had been kept away."
"I didn't," Harry said. "That was an accident. He wasn't supposed to know where it was at all."
"It worked out rather well, though. I let Darren speak because I assumed you had set him up. Dropping a hint to Darren is something Dumbledore would have done to provide a platform for his own arguments. You might consider it for next time." She gave him a smile.
Harry put his things together.
"Everything all right, Harry?" she asked him in a conversational way.
"I don't want to be Dumbledore's representative--being Harry Potter is hard enough," he commented, rolling his still blank parchment up tight.
"Fair enough," she said kindly and led the way out of the courtroom.
Chapter 6 -- The Lights
"Last one," Brill said to Harry a few weeks later as he lay in the surgery prep area. "Barring any complications as usual." He patted Harry's lower leg and left to get ready.
The routine rolled out: the visit from Ginny, the ride in the Ministry car to the Burrow. Harry sat down to tea with the Weasleys when he arrived, forcing himself to not give in to the exhaustion that seemed to plague him at this point every time.
"Amelia Bones was impressed with you, Harry. She told me a sketchy version of the hearing," Mr. Weasley commented when the conversation about Harry's prognosis had worn down.
Harry shrugged. "He still doesn't leave the castle, I don't think."
"No, convincing the Ministry to leave him alone solved only part of the problem." Arthur frowned. "From what I hear, it might have made things worse." He then backpedalled. "Not that you didn't do all you could."
Harry took a painful deep breath. "You'd think the Lights would get bored at some point."
"I think some of them have, which unfortunately reduces some of the moderating influences on the group."
* * *
Six days later, Harry felt impatient enough to move back to his apartment. He wanted to go to the Auror's office as often as possible. Being absent was starting to make him uneasy.
Tonks had a little impromptu, Get Well party for Harry with a small cake for his first day back from his last surgery. Harry blushed and accepted the knife to cut for everyone. Darren glowered at him and didn't take any. Harry didn't feel like a confrontation, even though he knew one was going to be necessary as some point and waiting was only going to make it worse.
Harry couldn't avoid him completely. Darren caught up to Harry outside the gym that afternoon. "Don't think I don't know what you are really doing," he said.
Harry stared back at him blankly. "What am I really doing, Darren?"
"You are assembling your own followers and starting with Snape."
Harry laughed. "Get a grip," he said and walked away.
* * *
In his absence from training Harry seemed to have run out of supplies, his locker looked pretty paltry on quills and parchment and because of the shape of his bag, he needed to get a quill case to keep them from crushing when he threw other things into the bag in a hurry.
Harry braced himself and headed out to Diagon Ally that evening on the way home. Everyone in the Leaky Cauldron said hello to him as he went through. Harry responded in kind, feeling comfortable with the level of attention where everyone said their greetings then returned to their conversations.
He walked down the wizard street, going in a few shops to pick things up. He wandered back up the street and then stopped as he spied Knockturn Alley between two used cauldron shops. Harry, feeling like he needed to stretch his wings a bit, hoisted his bag around his neck instead of just over his shoulder and headed that way. He walked all the way to the end of the dodgy alley, glancing at each shop. Eyes followed him as he went, but no one said a thing to him or moved to get in his way like they had the first time he had accidentally ended up down here.
Harry spotted a store full of used dragonhide and other unusual leather goods. A large satchel had a sign that said, 'gianthide'. Harry controlled his shudder with some effort. As he turned from that shop's outdoor display he stopped short. Professor Snape was talking with a man in front of Fumaton's Potions Supply. The shopkeeper went inside and Snape stood and waited, staring down at the various bins arrayed outside.
Harry stepped over to him, pausing only when he thought he saw someone small like a child or a house-elf, dodge behind the display of the store beside Fumaton's. Harry shook it off as paranoia and said hello to Snape.
"Well, Potter, what brings you here?" Snape asked him.
Harry shrugged. "Just looking around." He looked over the bin of sparrow hearts and raven beaks. "Frankly, just seeing if anyone bothered me if I walked down here."
"Of course they wouldn't," Snape asserted snidely. "They can probably smell that burnt wand of yours from two doors down." Snape picked up a flattened, freeze-dried frog and examined it before dropping it back into its basket.
"As I recall, sir, you are the one who suggested I keep it," Harry commented. In the window of the store a row of jars containing cow hearts beat slowly, each in their own rhythm.
"I did not expect you would show it off. Perhaps just put it in your trunk as a keepsake," Snape said in a dark voice.
"Why? It is the same as mine."
Snape looked up at him. "You are starting to worry me as well, Potter."
Harry blinked at him. "Really?"
"Have any thoughts of revenge, of feeling superior to the rest of wizardry?"
"No," Harry said in disbelief.
Snape stepped over to glance inside the shop and then stepped back out. Clearly he was waiting for the shopkeeper. "Keep it that way," he commanded.
Harry caught sight of the small figure again and as he turned his head, the large basket of flattened frogs toppled off its barrel at them and then Harry was in free-fall. He landed with a groan, tangled in the basket and Snape's legs. Both of them had their wands out instantly. Snape said, ' Lumos ' and stood up. They were in a large, deep earthen pit with square sides. The pit was empty except for them, the basket, and a scattering of flat frogs. Harry moved to kneel on the damp packed earth, his side was on fire and he didn't dare move.
"Potter?" Snape said to him.
"Where are we?" Harry managed
"We are in a bear pit, I believe." Snape cast a very light blasting curse at the wall and it bounced back and hit his upraised arm with amplified force. "Definitely a bear pit."
"I don't know what that is," Harry said. He looked straight up at the square of dwindling light coming in from above. It made him dizzy to do so, so he looked back down at his hand on the black earth.
"Potter, are you unable to get up?" Snape asked him.
"I'm afraid to," Harry admitted. The thought that he might have torn out something Brill just put him made him furiously despairing. "Professor, if it comes to it, don't let anyone use a healing spell on me. I'll revert back to how I was with all the damage from the rending."
Harry took a few breaths and willed the pain to ease. "So that basket was a portkey and now we are trapped somewhere."
"The trap sprung and now they don't come to see what it has caught? What a bunch of morons," Harry commented and put one foot up and pushed off his knee to stand up. Snape put a hand under his arm to help him. Harry couldn't bear to risk the tugging pain it would require to stand straight, so he stood hunched over, leaning on the packed earth behind him. He adjusted his bag to a more comfortable position against his side where it felt like protection for his side. "You've tangled with this group before?"
"Twice before. This is by far their most serious attempt to capture me."
Harry slipped his wand into his sleeve and pulled out the other one. He could feel Snape's eyes on him. "I lied when I said they were the same. This one focuses better, especially when I am really angry." Harry leaned harder back against the cool wall of earth behind him and tried to stay alert.
With a series of loud bangs! a group of white robed, masked figures Apparated in.
"Oh, isn't that cute," Harry sneered at them. "Although I suppose light blue would have been a more obnoxious color."
The wands aiming at them in general, moved to Snape. "Step out of the way, Potter," a voice said.
"Or what?" Harry asked angrily. The voice was familiar, Harry stalled as he tried to place it. "If you are going after him, you better take me out first, since I will come after you later if you leave me the chance. Alden." Harry finally recognized the voice as a colleague of Mr. Weasley's.
The lead hooded figure's head snapped to Harry at that. Harry went on, "What do you have to hide, anyway?"
"Most of us have family we want to protect."
Harry scoffed with extra sarcasm and pushed himself forward off the wall. "And where were you when the rest of us were losing our families?" Harry snarled in a dark tone.
"Don't do anything stupid, Potter," Snape commented and reached out to grab Harry's wand hand. Harry jerked his hand out of reach. His waving wand initiated a barrage of spells. Snape threw up a block but they both were blown backward from sheer overwhelm. Snape barely kept his feet. Harry collapsed.
"What did you hit Potter for?" One of the robed figures yelled at the others.
Please tell me you are faking this, Potter , Snape Legilimens to him. He didn't get a response. He dropped down beside Potter's prone form just as one of the Lights did. "I'm a healer," she said and started to roll Harry over.
"No!" Snape shouted and put his hand up to keep her away. "Don't touch him." The other figures grabbed Snape and forced him back. He watched in horror as she got set with her wand. "He has just spent six months being re-rended by a Muggle surgeon. You do that, you will return him to the way he was after defeating Voldemort. Half-dead!" She hesitated and glanced at the others for guidance.
"He had surgery just nine days ago. Open his shirt and look. The fall into the pit has probably left him bleeding internally." Snape shook off his now uncertain captors and crouched beside her, she didn't move, still uncertain. "He has to be taken to his Muggle Healer," Snape hissed and looked up a the figures surrounding him. "Take off the Disapparation charm so I can get him to help." They didn't move. Snape sneered at them, "Are you going to stand here until he has bled to death? That would make a nice headline in the Daily Prophet ."
Alden waved his wand in the air with a snarl. Snape touched Harry with a Feather-Light charm and lifted him from the ground.
"Where are you taking him?" Alden asked him in furious near madness at letting Snape go.
"To the Apothecary for a blood replenishment potion to buy a little time to find this Muggle." Snape Disapparated and appeared inside the very familiar shop. The shopkeeper stared at Snape and his burden, letting a powder he was pouring into a sieve overflow. "A blood replenishment dose and hurry, Jiggers," Snape snapped at him as he rested Harry's limp form on the counter.
White robed figures were Apparating out on the street. Snape ignored them.
The man moved fast, bringing back the whole box. Snape flipped open a dose with his thumb and dribbled it between Harry's lips. In this light they looked blueish. Snape hoped it was just the light. "Some kind of smelling salts," Snape then said, pocketing a few extra doses of the blood replenisher. Jiggers handed over a tin of salts, already opened. A few waves under Harry's nose and he jerked his head to get away from the stench.
"Potter, listen to me. I need to know how to contact your Muggle Healer," Snape said to him, patting him lightly on the cheek to keep him coherent. Harry gave him a phone number.
"There is a telephone down in the Leaky Cauldron if you are trying to reach a Muggle," Jiggers said, he glanced with disdain at the other white-clad figures standing in the doorway to his shop.
Snape Apparated directly down the street. The patrons of the Leaky Cauldron came to a stop as Snape and his burden arrived with a bang! . "Where is the telephone?" Snape asked Tom. The barman indicated a small wooden cupboard on the side wall. He came around the bar in a hurry as Snape placed Harry on the side bench below the cupboard. Tom swung the door open to reveal a shockingly pink Muggle phone and handed Professor Snape the receiver. Snape pressed the buttons corresponding to the numbers and accidentally pressed two at once.
"Press the lever down for a few seconds and then let it up and start again," Harry said calmly but with pain in his voice. With a grimace Snape did so, focusing much more on the bizarre task this time. The others began arriving, carrying their white robes over their arms or with their hoods removed. The other patrons began muttering.
A voice sounded in the phone. "Is this Mr. Brill?" Snape asked. After a pause he went on, "This is one of Harry Potter's professors. Harry has been injured in a fall and I need to get him to you, quickly." Snape listened for a long moment. To Harry, Snape said, "Do you know the alleyway between the car park and the dust bins at the hospital?" Harry nodded and grinned lightly at the way Snape said 'car park' as though it were a town he had never heard of. "All right," Snape said into the phone and then clearly didn't know how to hang it up again. Tom took it from him and did so.
Snape leaned down beside Harry. "He needs eight minutes to get there before we arrive." Snape put his hands on either side of Harry's head. "Before you fade out again, think of that location." After a moment Snape whispered, " Legilimens ," and released him. Then he pulled Harry's satchel off his shoulder and handed it to Tom.
"What happened to him?" Tom demanded of Snape as he wrapped the dragonhide bag up with its straps and held it against his side. He stood in a wide stance with his bar towel over the tie on his robe
Snape glanced at the seven assembled members of the Light. "They happened to him," Snape commented darkly. Every eye in the room turned to the Lights, who shifted closer together nervously. Snape turned back to Harry and gave him another dose of the potion. "Stay with me, Potter," he said.
"I'm trying to, Professor," Harry said with effort.
Snape lifted his wrist to check his pulse. It was thready. He glanced at the clock which showed four minutes to go.
One of the Light members stepped over. She was a pretty blond whose hair was probably normally styled a little better. "I don't understand why you don't just take him to St. Mungo's. Surely they would know how to treat him."
Harry shook his head emphatically. Tom stepped between the woman and Harry. "You don't know what this boy had been through, have you?" he challenged her. Harry wondered how Tom knew or whether he was just guessing.
The other bar patrons were moving in to surround the clustered members of the Light. Harry closed his eyes, not wanting to watch this. "Don't sleep, Harry," Snape said sharply and rapped him on the shoulder. When Harry opened his eyes he noticed that the bar crowd had backed off and now watched the clock with Snape.
"Time to go, Potter. Feather-light, " he finally said and lifted Harry off the bench. They Disapparated yet again and with a bang! arrived in the shadowy alley between two large concrete structures. Snape stepped back into the shadow of some kind of external metal ladder that hung off the ground. Footsteps could be heard coming from the open area ahead of them. A figure stopped at the opening to the alley.
"Is that him?" Snape asked Harry in a whisper and didn't receive a response. Snape decided he had to risk it. He could always use a memory charm on whomever it was, if it wasn't Brill. He stepped out into the distressingly odd orange light. The man came over immediately and looked Harry over before glancing at Snape.
"How far did he fall?" He grasped Harry's wrist.
"About twelve feet, but he landed partially on me."
"Let's get that robe off, since it will look strange," Brill said, unhooking Harry's robe with ease and lifting Harry out of it. "He doesn't weigh anything!" he said in surprise.
"He has a Feather-Light charm on him," Snape supplied, pulling Harry's robe free of his arms and bundling it up.
"Oh. Handy one that." Brill started to turn, then assured Snape, "I'll take care of him."
Snape watched him step around the corner of the building, easily carrying Harry.
Brill stepped into the casualty area.
"Who is this?" The admissions nurse asked.
"A patient of mine who called me from around the corner. Said he had suffered a fall. He just lost consciousness--I suspect internal bleeding."
"Take him in here," she said and walked over to a curtained area where he could put Harry down on a gurney. Personnel swarmed in and Brill stood back while they worked.
The head resident finally stepped over to Brill. "Looks like he is bleeding from somewhere in his abdomen. We'll take him into surgery right away. You can assist if you want in case it is some of your work that tore loose."
* * *
When Harry opened his eyes much later, he said, "I am really tired of this."
"You have to be a little more careful," Brill commented to him. "You ruptured your spleen when you fell."
"You might say I was pushed, but it is a long story I don't feel like going into now."
"The fellow who dropped you off was certainly a sunny one."
"That was Snape," Harry said.
"He seemed rather concerned about you."
"If I were a pessimist I would say it was because I am keeping his enemies at bay," Harry commented. "Or that like all of the teachers, he can't stand to see Dumbledore's sacrifice go to waste."
"Goodness, Harry. You are rather sunny yourself."
"Sorry, I had a bad evening."
"Well you are doing well, but we are going to keep you in the ICU for the night."
Brill turned to leave, then stopped. "Was it the light, or are Snape's eyes really black?"
"It wasn't the light."
"He really was a Death Eater?" Brill asked quietly.
Brill shook his head. "Never thought I would meet one in a dark alley and live to tell about it. I have to check in on some other patients and then I'll come back." He shut the door behind him.
Brill returned less than an hour later. "You have a visitor if you are up for it," he said. At Harry's shrug, Brill leaned out the door and waved someone in from beyond the windows in the wall. It was Snape.
"Professor," Harry said in greeting. Snape was wearing an approximation of a Muggle outfit. He looked like he might have been highly fashionable in 1800. His shirt didn't have any buttons, just silver things like cufflinks down the front and on the wide, folded back sleeves. He set his cloak aside and stepped over to the bed. His gaze moved around the room and the very complicated equipment set up around Harry. Harry pushed the bed control to sit up a little straighter. The room seemed to startle Snape more as he studied it a second time.
"What is this?" Snape asked of the green display high on the wall with a spiky line.
"Heart," Harry said.
"It is a measure of the electrical signals from the heart," Brill clarified. He reached down and traced the leads under Harry's thin gown and showed Snape where one was adhered. Harry flushed a little, feeling like a demonstration model.
"What did you do to repair him?" Snape asked curiously.
"Well, he ruptured his spleen in the fall and was bleeding from it. It is a mechanical repair, essentially. We cut him open to look for the bleed and sew up whatever is bleeding." Brill lifted Harry's gown to show the long incision on the left side of Harry's abdomen. Staples had been used to close it up.
Snape stepped back at the sight and bumped into a chair behind him and almost lost his balance. Harry grinned as the color drained from his former teacher's face.
"You created this large injury to get at the other one?" Professor Snape asked, appalled.
"This one isn't life-threatening--the other one was," Brill insisted and plowed on, ignoring Snape's expression. He lifted the other side of the robe where the other stitches were still in. "You did tear something loose here," he said to Harry. "See the blue. We'll wait six weeks and see if it's worth going back in after. I had them make that other incision away from this site. Mostly so that you can have it repaired more easily by a wizard healer, although I didn't say that, obviously."
Harry pulled his stiff gown back down and the blankets up higher. He wanted to cross he arms but also didn't want them resting on his abdomen. He interlocked his hands over his head instead.
In amazement, Snape said, "I was entirely certain that Ms. Weasley had been exaggerating your . . . treatment. But I see now that she was actually playing it down for believability."
Harry and Brill shrugged at each other.
"This does not bother you, Potter, being treated thusly?" Snape asked with an earnestness that sounded foreign to his voice.
"No. What else could I do?" Harry asked him honestly. He watched as another cloaked figure walked past beyond the glass. "It's McGonagall," Harry said.
Brill stepped over to the door and opened it. McGonagall swooped in and looked at Snape. "Why did I not expect to find you here? What was I thinking?" She looked at Harry. "How are you?" she asked him gently.
"I'm all right," Harry replied.
"That is good because you are both in serious trouble," she said in a hard tone. She unhooked her cloak and tossed it over the end of the bed and stood considering them with crossed arms. "The Minister of Magic himself contacted me in a huff regarding a rather extensive fight at the Leaky Cauldron," she said. "At least twenty people have been sent to St. Mungo's for treatment."
Harry gaped at her, wide-eyed. "That happened after we left," Harry insisted. Professor Snape just crossed his arms and gazed at McGonagall with a closed expression. "Although the mood seemed a little tense as we departed," Harry remembered.
McGonagall stepped up to Snape and measured him with her eyes. "What happened, Potter?" she asked him without removing her eyes from her Professor.
"I was wandering up Knockturn Alley and-"
"You what?" McGonagall asked him sharply.
Harry shirked a little. "I was just looking around. No one bothered me," Harry insisted. "I saw Professor Snape by the potions supply and went over to talk to him."
"And?" McGonagall prompted him, staring over her glasses at him.
"That's it. Someone tossed a portkey at us and we got dropped into some kind of pit."
McGonagall pursed her lips and directed her gaze back at Snape. "And it was I who urged you to get out of the castle, as I recall," she said with a tone of regret and shook her head.
"Potter, show the Headmistress what it took to repair the damage caused by our little mishap," Professor Snape said evenly.
Harry did cross his arms carefully now. "I don't really feel like it," he said. "I've been shown off enough for one day."
"Headmistress, do you know what staples are, the little bits of metal Muggles use to hold sheafs of paper together?"
"Yes," she answered cautiously.
"Potter is currently being held together by them. Rather a lot of them," Snape explained slowly.
"Is that true, Potter?"
Harry groaned and rubbed his eye under his glasses.
"Maybe you shouldn't show her," Brill commented.
"Not if you would like to continue living," Harry said quietly.
McGonagall puffed up. "Really, I think I can control myself."
"Ginny couldn't. I showed her just the little area on my leg and she tried to storm after him with her wand out." Harry saw McGonagall's face. "Oh," he said. "I think she was only joking." He put his hand on his forehead and suppressed his panic at nearly getting Ginny into detention.
"She can be a rather impetuous child," McGonagall commented.
"We are talking about the red-haired girl who comes to visit you?" Brill asked. "She seemed very nice." Professor Snape and Headmistress McGonagall gave him a look.
"Aren't visiting hours over very soon?" Harry asked hopefully.
Snape reached into his pocket and took out Harry's wands. "Before I forget," he commented and set them on the side table. "They were in your robe, which was rather muddy, so I did not bring it back."
"I must report to Fudge," McGonagall commented. "I will pretend for the moment not to have found you, " she said to Snape.
"He didn't do anything either," Harry protested.
"Let me see this injury, Potter and I will be on my way."
Harry exhaled hard and regretted it. "It is only the surgery scar anyway. The parts that were fixed are on the inside."
"Mr. Potter," she said in a hard tone.
Harry wanted to protest that he wasn't a student anymore but instead moved the blanket down a little. "Keep your wand in your pocket," Harry said to her, garnering an even more disapproving look. Harry pulled up his gown to reveal the staples.
Her eyes went wide and she cupped her hand over her mouth. "Oh, dear me!" she said in horror. Harry started to pull the robe back down as he rolled his eyes in annoyance. "Wait," she leaned forward. "This is the other re-rending?" she asked, studying the network of stitches and new scars over his right side. "Your last one?"
"It was supposed to be," Harry said in frustration.
"And it might not be now?" she asked him closely.
"I tore some stuff out in the fall."
She turned to Snape. "The portkey had a significant drop?" At his nod, she said to herself, "Well that is one serious violation there. That will be useful." She put her cloak back on. "And I will have to apologize to Ms. Weasley for believing her story to be an exaggeration when clearly it was not. Good evening to you all." She strode back out.
"It is the end of visiting hours," Brill said hesitantly to Snape.
Snape, sensing the other man's uncertainty, gave him a searching look. Brill blinked at him and tried to smile but it came out twisted. Snape tilted his head a little and continued to consider Brill as though he might a first-year.
"Knock it off," Harry said, although in a less than serious tone.
Professor Snape turned his gaze to Harry for a long moment. "Well, Potter I will leave you alone with this protégé of Dr. Frankenstein." He picked up his cloak and gave Harry a meaningful look. At the door he said with slow enunciation, "Happy sewing."
"Goodness," Brill breathed when Snape was gone.
"He must be feeling better--that is much more like him," Harry said in an upbeat tone.
Brill looked over the monitors and made a few notes on the chart as he shook his head. "I did have a question for you," Brill said as he hung the chart back up. "Wizards can only Apparate somewhere they have been before, correct?" At Harry's nod, he went on. "So how did Professor Snape know how to bring you here?"
"He took the location from my mind," Harry said casually.
Brill stared at him, unblinking. "What?" He gripped the bed rail hard. "He can read minds?"
Harry considered him a long moment. "So can I. I learned it from him."
"I don't believe you."
"Have I ever lied to you?" Harry asked him, a little hurt.
"Not that I know of. Well, what am I thinking of right now?" Brill asked him dubiously.
Harry sighed and picked up his wand. "Okay then. Just once. Focus on whatever it is." Harry aimed the wand and gave the incantation. "Oranges," Harry stated. "Oranges? That's the best you can come up with?"
"You really can read minds," Brill stated, stunned. He pointed down the hallway outside. "And that black-eyed, ex-Death Eater can too?"
"Hey, you had him for seven minutes. Try him for seven years. Try having Occlumency lessons from him where he spends hours pounding his way into your mind, dredging up every little embarrassing and frightening thing you have ever had happen to you. In the end, making you so tired that Voldemort just waltzes into your mind the minute you try to sleep."
"I'm sorry it came up," Brill said. "I know what my nightmares are going to consist of this evening."
"Don't give him that much credit," Harry chastised him. "He was just doing his little power thing--Ignore it. If you give him an inch he can squash you whenever he choses, stand your ground and he can't. He'll find the right buttons to push if you give him too many hints about what they are, so don't give him any." Harry paused in thought. "Listen to me," he commented, disbelieving himself.
* * *
"Today, we are going to cover some more unusual spells for damaging objects," Snape said from the front of the classroom, his eyes passing over every student to make certain they were all paying careful attention. "Who can tell me from today's reading what the Battusus spell does?" Professor Snape couldn't help but notice Ginny’s cocky expression at that question.
"It, uh, it hits something from the inside," he answered with a wince.
Professor Snape stalked across the platform and pulled over a rolling stand from which a heavy metal ball hung suspended. He swung back to the class. "Ms. Weasley, who invented the Battusus Spell?" he asked.
She gave him a startled expression. "Was that in the reading, sir?"
Snape gave her a probing look. "It was in the footnote," he stated.
"Oh," she said, disappointed. "I don't know, sir."
"Does anyone read more carefully than Ms. Weasley? Not that that would be difficult." Two Ravenclaws raised their hands. He called on Cara Carriage and received a correct answer.
"Shall we try again. What is this device, Weasley?" Professor Snape asked her pointedly.
"That definitely wasn't in the reading," she stated and at Snape's expression added a belated, "Sir."
"Wasn't it?" he said questioningly.
The Ravenclaw hands went up again.
"Carriage?" Snape prompted.
"A Spell Bell, Professor," she said.
Ginny deflated a little at that and dropped her gaze. Snape hmf ed at her and went on with the lecture. "The Battusus is useful for entirely closed objects. One can cause a strike on the inside of the object while leaving the outside untouched. Can anyone tell me what this spell might be useful for?"
Several students raised their hands. Professor Snape called on one of the Slytherins. "For smashing your sister's birthday presents without damaging the wrapping?" the boy suggested.
Snape raised a brow at him. "It would probably work for that." He glanced over the class. "Looks like that has happened to Ms. Weasley at some point in the past," he jibbed her way. Her gaze snapped up at that and took on a narrow furious expression. She flushed as the Slytherins laughed behind their hands.
"The spell works thusly," Snape said and cast it at the bell. It made a loud tink! as the spell hit it. "Who would like to try it first?" Only two hands went up: Carriage's and Ginny's. "Ms. Weasley, you really want to try for three failures in one class period?"
Ginny held her expression steady at determined, yet pissed off, and didn't respond, just held her hand in the air.
Professor Snape gestured with his arm for her to come up. "Don't say I didn't warn you Ms. Weasley." She took up the position where Snape had just stood and faced the Bell. "What, no threats of reprisal?" he asked her factually.
"What?" she blurted, distracted from thinking about the spell. "What do you mean, Professor?" Her eyes were calculating now.
"Truly you are not that dim, Weasley," Snape said in a low voice with a suggestive look.
She frowned and narrowed her eyes again. "I can take care of myself, thank you, sir," she said stiffly. She turned to face the Bell and with a grimace before he could again interrupt shouted, " Battusus! "
A screeching clang sounded followed by a long gonging. Ginny stared at the Bell and the gaping hole where the inside of the thick metal had exploded outward. "Oops," Ginny said quietly.
"Wow," Colin and a few other students breathed out.
Ginny recovered fast. "Sorry, sir," she said casually. "You didn't say it was only two inches thick and only made of cast iron.
Snape's eyes slid from the Bell to her. "Sit down, Ms. Weasley." She held herself straight as she stepped down. "And nicely done," Snape added.
She spun around at that with a questioning expression but again recovered quickly. "Thank you, sir."
Ginny waited until everyone else had left before approaching Snape who was examining the torn edge of the Bell. He eyed her as she approached. "You should try to keep your emotions and your spells separate, Ms. Weasley."
"Sorry, sir. Uh, do I have pay for that, sir?"
"Goodness no, there are twenty-five more of them in the attic," Snape said dismissively. She didn't hide her relief. "Doesn't that boyfriend of yours buy you what you need Ms. Weasley?" Snape asked her.
"Harry?" she asked, a little surprised. "I suppose he would if weren't broke." At Snape's raised brow, she pointed out, "Those Muggle surgeries are very expensive."
Snape crossed away from her to collect his parchments. "Didn't Black leave his estate to him?"
"Oh, don't even mention that," she said, still feeling exasperation even two years later.
Snape raised his eyes to her without lifting his head. "Sirius didn't leave a will, did he?" Snape asked and shook his head. "He always was irresponsible."
"Don't ever say that in front of Harry. Please. Sir." she pleaded.
He rolled a random array of parchments together. "So how is Mr. Potter getting by?"
Ginny hesitated. "I am just thinking, sir, that if he finds out I told you any of this, he is going have a fit." She sighed. "He is getting money from his Muggle aunt and uncle."
"Potter's pride can probably handle the hit," Snape commented, dismissing the topic.
Chapter 7 -- Facts of Life
"Hey, Harry!" Ginny said as she caught sight of him on the Saturday of the next Hogsmeade weekend. She jogged over and put down the basket she carried and gave him a hug.
"Ginny, there is snow on the ground. Is that a picnic?" Harry asked.
"Sure, why not?" She hooked her arm through Harry's and led him between two shops and up the hill to their usual spot. Set the basket down and took out her wand and said " Nixdessicaro!" as she swept the wand in a circle before them. The snow puffed into steam revealing a wide circle of grass beneath.
"Nice spell," Harry said. "And you weren't even angry when you incanted it," he added, teasing.
She tossed him an end of the blanket to spread out and then plunked down on the red and white checked wool. "Oh, I have to tell you what happened in Snape's class," she said as she began taking food out of the basket. Sandwiches and pies followed by half a roast chicken were spread out.
"Ginny, are you a little hungry?"
She laughed as she saw how much food there was. "Dobby put it together. He insisted after I went down for supplies. She started to reach into the basket. "Well, that probably is enough." She gave him a plate and napkin.
"So what happened in DA?"
Ginny laughed. "You do know we still call it that?" As Harry shook his head, she laughed again. "Snape really hates it when we do, so of course it really stuck." She opened a sandwich and added more chicken breast to it, cut roughly from the half. "Snape took out this Spell Bell thing. He was really in top form, just wouldn't stop picking on me."
"He what?" Harry asked dangerously.
"Yeah, but I got him in the end," she said quickly. "He actually conceded." She licked her fingers clean of chicken juice. "You know, in thinking about it later, I realized his whole stupid cruelty routine was just to see if he could push me into using you against him." She shook her head and popped open a butterbeer before handing it to him. Harry was listening very closely to her story. "Well, so after getting two questions I couldn't answer and the accompanying snide remarks, I volunteered to try the Battusus spell on the Spell Bell, since we already covered it in real DA. " She laughed through a fizzy sip of butterbeer. "I was so angry, and you know I really try not to be in that class so I don't put anyone in the hospital wing and have to explain myself, anyway, I blew a hole in the bell."
"You are talking about those cast iron things, right?" Harry held his sandwich, untouched.
"Merlin, Ginny, you have to be more careful."
"Look who's talking. So after that happened he told me to sit down and then he said, 'Nicely done'. Can you imagine. Think I actually scared him?"
"No. He probably just didn't want you to be insufferable about it later." Harry finally took a bite of his now squished sandwich.
"I wouldn't have been insufferable," Ginny insisted.
Harry gave her a doubtful look.
After the picnic was packed away they leaned back on the cooling grass and wrapped up in the blanket. No one could see them from the road from here. Harry wrapped her up tight in his arms.
"So how are you doing after the pub brawl I heard you started?" she asked.
"I didn't start a pub brawl. I was barely conscious. Where did you hear about that?"
"Only from every student at Hogwarts. Gregory Dedalus and Yosef Alden were both really angry because both of their parents ended up in St. Mungo's."
"Point out to them that their parents really shouldn't be running around at night in white robes and masked hoods then, because that’s what they were doing."
"That has already been pointed out to them. By people other than myself."
Harry sighed and shifted to better press their two bodies together. "The worst of it is, I think I owe Snape now. Ugh."
"Why are you keeping score?" she asked. "Harry, you are ahead of everyone forever on all accounts, don't sweat it with Snape. Unless he saved your life or something, I wouldn't even count it."
"Uh . . ." Harry started.
"He didn't, really?" she asked in a whine. "Uh, that means I owe him too. Don't tell me that. What the hell happened?"
"I saw him outside the potions supply and went over to talk to him and someone threw a portkey at us and we got dumped into something he called a bear pit."
"A spelled earthen cellar where anything you cast comes back at you amplified," she said. At Harry's look she added, "Snape covered them second week of the year."
"Well, there you go. Good thing you have a qualified teacher now. So back to the story. I was injured in the portdrop and I passed out eventually. Snape Apparated me to the Leaky Cauldron and then to Brill. I had asked him to make sure no one tried any wizard healing on me and I think he had to fend off a number of Healers. No, wait, we Apparated to the Apothecary first. He kept forcing blood replenisher on me." He shook his head. "It's a little hazy."
"Sorry, Harry. Think you have to count that one."
"Yeah, but if the Lights hadn't been after him it wouldn't have happened at all," Harry griped. "Let's talk about something else," he suggested and replenished the warming spell around them.
"Hm . . ." she murmured and kissed him deeply.
"Or not," Harry said when he had the chance.
"Harry, do you . . .?" she sighed. "I don't know to ask this."
He pushed her hair back from her face. "Do I what?"
"Um . . ." she hesitated with a grimace.
"Ginny, I just confessed that Snape saved my life. You think I have any pride left you need to worry about right now? Ask me anything," he insisted.
"Well, you see, the other Gryffindor girls they all say, well. No forget I started like that. That isn't really what I want to say. Harry do you really like me?"
Harry leaned up on his elbow. "Ginny, I like you tons. What's wrong?"
She put her head on her forehead and whined a little, "I'm doing such a bad job with this. Maybe we should just forget it for today."
"Not a chance. You are driving me nuts."
She pulled him over more on top and said. "Over midterm break, can I visit your place in London?"
"Of course," Harry answered automatically. "There is a bunch of stuff to see that I never get around to."
She shook her head slightly. "You know I actually like that you are so dense. It is cute on you."
Harry's brow furrowed.
She sighed. "Harry, I want to do things with you that involve staying in. When no one else is around."
Harry's eyes glazed for a second. "Oh."
* * *
"Tonks," Harry said as he stepped into her office and closed the door. He was a little breathless and preferred to blame the fast walk that pained his side a bit. "I need your advice."
"Have a seat, Harry." She set the stack of memos aside and crossed her hands before herself. "You look like you are having some kind of crisis," she said. "Is Darren at it again?"
"No, this is a personal crisis," Harry said. "I . . ." he hesitated. "I don't have anyone to talk to about this. See, it's like this, uh, Ginny . . ." he faded out, looking for words.
Tonks put her hand on her cheek and looked him over a very long searching moment. "Is this about sex?"
"Yes," Harry answered uncertainly.
She put her head back against the chairback. "Harry, I don't want to put you off but, I'm technically your boss and I can't talk to you about this."
"I could quit," Harry suggested hopefully.
"Harry," she admonished him. She took a deep breath and thought a moment. "Listen, I'll have Melizza talk to you. She is much better at these things than I am and pretty easy going. I'll go find her right now." She stood up and sorted through her papers a moment.
"How are you going to ask Melizza to do that since you are her boss as well?" Harry asked.
Tonks gave him a look. "Good point. You can go ask her to talk to you."
"I didn't mean that," Harry said quickly.
Tonks grinned at him and stepped out. "Don't wait for me. I haven't figured out how I am going to handle this."
Harry got up and went to the reading room and lounge. Darren was there, but instead of leaving, Harry dropped a casual hello at him and pulled out the file of notes from the last sessions he had missed. He was only on the second parchment when Melizza walked in.
"Harry, you look like a man who could use a beer and I don't mean the butter kind," she said in a chummy tone. Darren gave her a disbelieving look.
"Yeah, that sounds good," Harry said and followed her out.
They found a very quiet pub a few blocks down from the Ministry and took the corner booth away from the bar where the regulars were perched in front of a rugby match.
Melizza ordered a stout for herself and an ale for Harry. They sat in silence until the beers arrived. Then Melizza sat forward. "Who's the lucky girl, Harry?"
"Ginny," Harry said as though that were obvious.
She sipped her beer and rubbed her mouth on her cloak. The pub was cold enough to make the cloaks rather comfortable.
"Harry, I need to ask you some really personal questions if I am going to be of much use to you. Is that all right?"
"If I don't want to answer, I'll just tell you," Harry said and took a long gulp of ale and then burped softly.
"Okay," Melizza breathed out. "Which of you suggested this?"
Harry blinked a moment. "She did."
"All right and this is a tough one: has Ginny done this before?"
Harry's face went thoughtful in a disturbing way. "I don't think so. I didn't ask."
Melizza waved her hand. "Just as well, it might have been a bad question. But you know her pretty well, right?"
"We've always told each other things we can't seem to tell other people," Harry said thoughtfully.
"Good. Sounds like a good relationship, Harry." She took another sip and sat back in the booth and considered him. "I am going to think about this as a kind of coaching. And since both you and I have played Quidditch, we both know there is only maybe three things you actually can remember come gametime. So I am trying to figure out what those three things should be in this case."
She stared at him over her stout. "You are such a sweetie, Harry."
"Me?" he asked, a little insulted.
"Yes. You are out trying to figure out how best to handle this and you went straight to a woman to ask. Most guys would have just tried to muddle through which is why first times are rarely anything but a bad memory." She sat forward suddenly. "Okay I thought of coaching point number one: getting the first time out of the way is your primary goal."
"What!" Harry asked loudly then had to look around the pub sheepishly. "You can't be serious."
"I am, I'm afraid. You, and she, have nothing but the wrong impression about the whole thing and it is clouding your expectations a lot."
Harry scowled at her and drank his ale a bit sulkily. "I am really looking forward to it. Are you trying to ruin it?"
She brightened. "Not at all. Just lower your expectations a little and you will be fine, if you go in with just a little knowledge." She sat upright at that and reached into her robe for a parchment. "Don't open this here. But it is the basics. And don't give me that look because I don't think you’re stupid. Coaching tip two: make sure she enjoys it as much as you do. And that is harder than it sounds for the first ten times, let alone the first. That parchment is from my personal archives, you can keep it."
Harry slipped the parchment into his pocket with a fierce blush. "What is three?" he asked a little surly.
"Let me think about that a minute." She sipped her beer in silence. "Drink up," she ordered him.
"That isn't three, is it?"
"Actually, it might be three and a half: A little alcohol. Not more than a glass, though. Isn't a bad idea. It helps you relax and you are definitely going to need that. Oh. That is three: Take your time. REALLY take your time." She smiled to herself and sipped her beer.
"That's it?" Harry asked uncertainly.
"Yes," she said a little sharply. "Who knows more about this: you or me?"
"Hm," Harry breathed. "All right. Thanks for helping me," he said with a touch of sadness.
She gave him a sympathetic look. "Harry don't feel like you are missing a dad at this moment, because dads really stink at this. REALLY stink at this. Just imagine talking about this with Mr. Weasley?"
Harry set his beer down hard and leaned forward. "Melizza. That is Ginny's father," he said in a factual horror.
"Oh. That is a bad example then." She said, startled, then sipped her beer to recover. "Well imagine having tried to talk to Dumbledore about it then."
Harry, if anything looked even more appalled. "Melizza, where did you come up with that? I can't even fathom it!"
"That's just it. It would be the same with your dad. Kids can't imagine their parents having sex any more than parents can imagine their kids. It is the worst possible combination for any really good advice to get passed. Believe me. I have never, ever been out with a guy whose dad was of any help except in producing phobias they have to get over." She thought a moment. "Although mums might be worse for that."
She shook herself. "You remember the three, right?"
"Yeah," Harry said. "You're sure about them?"
"Very. Trust me and take a look at the parchment when you are somewhere no one will see you blushing. Although you blush very nicely." She finished off her beer. "So when is gametime?"
"Not until term break."
"Oh, good. You have lots of time to prepare then." She slugged him on the shoulder. "And she asked you. You couldn't do better than that. Coaching tip one, Harry, this is just an educational experience you need to get through. It will be like your first time on a broom: shaky but thinking it was fun and hopeful for improvement."
Harry lowered his brow at her. "Melizza. After my first time a broom they made me the youngest Seeker in a hundred years."
Melizza blinked at him. "That's right. Well, then. I expect you will do just fine." She started to stand up and Harry, even though his ale was only half gone moved to follow. "Oh," she said suddenly and pulled Harry back into the booth. "Where is Ginny getting her advice?"
Melizza tapped her finger on the table and thought a moment. "Drink up, Harry," she said to stall. "Owl her and tell her to talk to her mother," she said.
Harry spit out his gulp of beer and then coughed. "What did you just say two minutes ago?" Harry asked her sharply.
"Mothers and daughters aren't necessarily the same." She glanced at the clock. "We need to get back, but this is important." She leaned closer to him. "This is the problem: Ginny's girlfriends probably think they know what they are doing but they don't. And, that isn't good. Don't be dense, Harry."
He frowned at her and insisted, "I know what you're on about."
"We have to get back. But you have some time, so just signal me that you want a beer and we can talk again, okay?"
* * *
Frinkel Rubesten sat at his stately cherry wood desk mulling over a difficult contract. He made a neat note on the margin in orange temporary ink with a raven quill and adjusted his glasses. When a knock sounded on the door he rolled the contract up and put it in one of the hundreds of slots that lined the wall behind the desk. "Come in," he said. The door opened to reveal a robed figure with a distinctive nose. "Hello, Severus. I received your owl. What can I do for you?"
Snape strode in and sat down in the creaky leather visitor's chair. "Did you get a chance to review the issue I mentioned?" Snape asked without preamble.
Rubesten took off his glasses and rubbed them with his kerchief. "Yes, I did. It is a little knotted up and not completely settled by any measure. May I ask what your interest is in this?" the solicitor asked carefully.
Snape spoke slowly. "I do not want anyone to know I am involved in this. That is paramount to anything else," he said stridently. "Go on with what you found out."
Rubesten put his spectacles back on and peered at Snape. "I must admit I am a little uneasy about getting too involved in this knowing your past history with the deceased."
"You don't trust me Frinkel?" He made a tsk ing noise with his tongue. "And we go so far back, too."
"Not that far back," Rubesten stated frankly. "Well, what is happening is this: The Black Estate has not been settled except for a few easy things. The Executor, whom I have only middling respect for anyway, has been unable to resolve the bulk of it, like the real property and the scattered and varied investments. Tracking them down alone, must have been a chore, as things were not very well organized due to long neglect and Gringotts is never very helpful in these situations even when it doesn't cost them anything--just on principle."
"So most of the estate is unsettled then?" Snape asked him.
Rubesten frowned. "Severus, what are you plotting?"
Snape raised his eyebrow at him.
Rubesten went on, "I really need to know before I can do anything for you."
Snape ignored him. "Do you know the Executor well enough to ask him a question in confidence?"
The solicitor swallowed hard. "Yes."
Snape squared his shoulders. "Ask what he needs to settle the estate properly as the deceased intended it to be--if he weren't a useless dunderhead who couldn't think past his next dog biscuit."
"And then what?"
"We will help him obtain what he needs." Snape stood up.
"I don't like this, Severus. What is 'settled properly' by your definition?"
"The same as the Executor's I expect, unless he is completely dense. I would even submit to you that the delay in settlement is due to the Executor not wishing it to be doled out to those currently clamoring for it." Snape stepped to the door. "Just owl the Executor in confidence and let me know the response and DON'T mention me."
* * *
Harry led Ginny along the street by the hand to his apartment. She and her parents had met Harry at the Victoria and Albert and spent the morning there. Arthur had only been a little bit of an embarrassment, mostly by marveling at the electric eyes that protected some of the works.
"Lunch at my place is okay, right?" Harry asked.
"Sounds great, Harry," she replied and squeezed his hand tightly. He led the way up the two flights to his flat. She looked around the tiny place and greeted Hedwig, who hooted at her softly in return.
"She likes you," Harry commented. He took her cloak and hung it up beside his. Immediately he launched into making lunch while she wandered around the place, stopping to gaze out the window. After taking in the street scene, she sat down on the worn-out couch and watched Harry. "That is the same spell my mum uses to boil water," she said.
"Where do you think I learned it?" Harry returned. He had made sauce the night before and poured it out in an old pan to reheat it. "Molly kept showing me all of these spells and charms. At the time I thought she was just making conversation, but they are wicked useful as it turns out. No one has ever shown me that stuff before."
"I don't think she even showed Ron. He was never interested."
"He's sad then," Harry commented as he poured the pasta tubes into the water.
"Do you miss Ron and Hermione?" she asked.
"When I have time to think about it," Harry said. "I wonder sometimes how quickly we all flew to different lives. Sometimes I feel like I am the only one still stuck in my old one."
Ginny stood up and came over. "Harry, you aren't stuck. You choose to keep studying and training rather than take a job. So what? Hermione's doing the same thing. Ron too for that matter, although less formally."
Harry took the sauce off the burner and cancelled the self-stirring spoon. "Snape treating you better?" Harry asked as he spelled the water out of the pasta pot into the sink and the pasta onto the plates.
"He has calmed down a little," she said. "And he refuses to let me demonstrate anything and always partners me with Colin, because I think of all the students, he wouldn't mind losing him." Harry laughed as he handed her a plate and spooned sauce onto it. Ginny went on, "I did finally get up the guts to thank him for saving your life."
"Any you bothered, why?" Harry said.
"I thought if it were anyone else I would have. He just gave me this look like don't remind me when I did."
They both took a seat. Harry jumped up as he remembered something. He went to the cupboard and took out a bottle of red wine Tom had forced on him when Harry went down to the Cauldron to ask him what he recommended. He saw the candle there too, which he also was forgetting. He took out two juice glasses and opened the wine with the spell Tom had showed him and brought the glasses and the candle over.
Ginny spelled the candle lit with a silly smile and took the juice glass and held it up to chink it with Harry's. Harry was getting a little befuddled and it took him a moment to realize why Ginny was holding her glass so.
"I think I love you, Harry Potter," Ginny said with a tease in her voice as their glasses clicked together.
"What?" Harry said suddenly, then had to catch his glass as it slipped from his hand.
Ginny giggled and took a sip of wine. "Yum, I thought I hated wine."
Harry wanded the slopped burgundy liquid away and topped off his glass before he sat down. He suddenly didn't feel very hungry but made a show of eating.
"Nice sauce. Definitely not mum's," Ginny commented.
"I found a recipe in an old cookbook the previous tenant left in the cabinet."
Harry finally realized ten minutes later than Ginny wasn't eating much either. He took a deep breath and stood up to clear the plates. He took a long time cleaning up by hand until his hands weren't shaking anymore.
As he turned to offer Ginny more wine, he found her directly behind him. She rocked up on her toes and kissed him. His arms went around her out of habit. The kiss deepened and Harry ran his hands over her much narrower frame with some abandon. When the kiss broke off Ginny was breathless and Harry found his hands were shaking again. Melizza's coaching point one was suddenly seeming like the key one: he was suddenly less excited and eager than scared to death.
He took Ginny by the hand and led her to the small bedroom. They had a lot of time before they were expected to meet Molly and Arthur for dinner. Harry tried not to think ahead to that meeting, he and Ginny were ostensibly going to art galleries and shopping.
They sat on the bed and Harry looked at her. "This is more difficult than I imagined it would be."
" You think it is difficult?" she snapped, startling him. "You don't know what it is like hearing yet again that you were almost killed," she said earnestly.
"Oh," Harry said, relieved. "I don't try to get into those situations."
She shook her head. "It makes it so hard to risk any emotion on you."
Harry blinked at her. "I hadn't thought about it that way."
She looked down at their joined hands. "Yes, you have. I've been watching you let my parents in. You were almost cold to them at the beginning. I figured if you could take that kind of risk then I could. It isn't like the Order is still operating."
"Not really," Harry commented. Her statements had knocked him back a bit.
"What do you mean, 'not really'?" she asked him carefully.
"Huh?" Harry said. "Oh, it felt like it was a bit when your dad arranged to make a little statement about the Lights and get the Prophet off of Snape's back. I sent Snape a letter knowing the owl would get intercepted. It brought it all back. But that really didn't lead to what happened on Knockturn Alley," Harry insisted when she saw her face. "That was just bad luck."
"Positive. The two events were months apart. And the Lights were pissing me off too. Only taking action when the risk had gotten so low. Acting like they had a clue." He put his finger on her lips to stop her from asking anything more. "It's over. They are disbanded and some still in St. Mungo's for that matter." He pulled her back and reclined with her against him on the pillows piled at the head of the bed. "I promise to be more careful," he said.
"Thank you. You'll make a great careful Auror."
Harry chuckled. "I have about four years before I can do anything at all unless when my re-rending has taken hold, I finish the physical training in record time."
She sighed against him, relaxing at that. Harry let her lay like that for a while before slowly rolling them both over to kiss her neck. When he started unbuttoning her blouse with a mostly steady hand she untucked his shirt and put her hands on his bare skin.
* * *
Ginny checked herself in the mirror again for the third time before they headed out to meet her parents.
"You look fine. Like yourself I mean," Harry said. He wasn't exactly relishing what was undoubtedly going to be the longest dinner of his life.
"Yeah," she said and came out and put her cloak on. "I'm sure Mum didn't tell Dad anything. She's not that dumb." At Harry's face she said, "Mum really likes you, as in really likes you. Don't sweat it."
Harry bolstered himself with a deep breath and took his cloak down. Not going would be worse than going, really. He opened the door and gestured for Ginny to go through. She stopped before him and kissed him lightly. "That was nice, you know. Margory kept saying it really wasn't much fun and then kept asking what was wrong with you."
Harry's brow furrowed. "I did a little research. You really talk about these things?" He shut the door behind then and waved a spell at it.
"You don't even know where your key is, do you?"
Harry blushed a little. "No. I lost track of it."
"You always told your friends things. Ron said you always told Hermione and him what was going on, even though it was awful things about Voldemort." Out on the street, she pressed up against him again. "I don't think I am going to be able to wait until the summer."
Harry held her around the ribs. "We'll think of something," he said, a little stunned himself by the notion of that kind of delay.
* * *
Snape knocked and entered Rubesten's office without waiting for an invitation. "Right on time, as usual," Rubesten said in a not quite welcoming voice as he unrolled another parchment and set it atop the others in front of him.
When Snape had settled in the visitor's chair, Rubesten started in. "For beginners, I got a response within an hour of owling the Executor, so I will give you credit for realizing his desire to obtain assistance in this matter. He didn't even seem curious as to why I was interested, which struck me also. You haven't been working this from more than one side, have you?"
Snape gave him an even expression. "I came to you because I am intent on remaining as sidelined as possible. I have no other involvement in this other than through you."
"I have a general list of what is needed," he handed it over. "Short of a will, which I expect even you could not produce at this time, the needed documentation is rather extensive."
"This is doable," Snape said and handed it back.
Rubesten frowned. "The only issue for me is what you are getting out of this, Severus, because in all honesty I don't trust you." Snape stared at his solicitor long enough to make the man decide his papers needed reorganizing in front of him. "I think you should know who the Executor intends to have receive the settlement," Rubesten plowed on.
"He told you that easily?" Snape asked.
"After some discussion, yes."
Snape mocked quaintly, "And you didn't want to be involved, either."
"He believes Black intended Harry Potter of all people to receive it," Rubesten said, pulling a parchment of random notes out of his pile. He frowned at the sheet.
"That was my assumption, Frinkel," Snape stated.
Rubesten's startled gaze met Snape's over the parchment. "But why?"
"Why what?" Snape asked. "Why Potter, or why do I care?"
"Why Potter is easy: he was Sirius' godson. Statements supporting that would be easy to come by."
Rubesten set the parchment down. "Why is this still unsettled then? There is more than adequate precedent for that."
Snape sighed. "I expect Potter was overwhelmed by the process, and as per usual, feeling guilty. I believe the Executor will find him more coherent now. Why do I care? I do not like to have debts unpaid." Snape stood up and pulled the list toward him again for another glance before stepping away. "Tell the Executor that he will be contacted by various people to provide statements. He should contact Potter again himself."
Snape took hold of the door handle. "Good day, Frinkel. You should have trusted me," Snape said softly as he closed the door.
Chapter 8 -- A Settlement
Two weeks after Ginny's visit, Harry sat in his apartment, staring out at the street with Hedwig beside him, hunkered down beside the planters now full of dead or hibernating plants. He was feeling more sorry for himself than he expected at her absence. They had managed to spend three more days of her break together. Now he was thinking that the extensive time together was only making it more difficult now.
An owl landed on the railing. Harry thought at first that it must be a Hogwart's owl, although it looked far too noble and pampered. Harry took the note from its claw and it took flight again immediately. As he carried the letter to the table for light, he could feel the wax seal on it and his curiosity peaked. He opened it and stared at it. It was from Yesour, the Executor of Sirius' estate. In stilted formal language it requested he come in to give another statement. In a fit of pain Harry wanded the letter away in a flash of flame.
* * *
Rubesten knocked on the door to Harry Potter's apartment. He probably shouldn't have spelled open the downstairs door, but the name hadn't been changed on the buzzer, leaving him uncertain about whether an unannounced guest would be allowed up. Potter opened the door within a few seconds. He stood, holding the door, dressed as a casual Muggle in faded jeans and an oversized, homemade jumper.
Frinkel remembered himself. "My name is Frinkel Rubesten of Portney, Galloway, & Rubesten. May I have a word with you?"
Potter shrugged and stepped back from the door. Rubesten stepped in, his eyes instantly taking in the small apartment and its sparse, worn furnishings. Of all the scenes Rubesten had expected when he had embarked on this errand, this wasn't one that had entered into possibility. He hadn't imagined Harry Potter, many-time wizard hero, living alone with few possessions in a Muggle flat. In his mind he had had a vision of stylish wizard lodgings with a constant flow of friends and a Potter with a lot more swagger. This young man appeared a little worn down by the world as he stood at a Muggle stove with a teapot in his hand.
"I assume you want tea," Potter said. "What can I do for you?"
Rubesten stood beside the flimsy plastic table and set his briefcase on it. He hadn't needed that many documents, just the moral support it provided.
"Have a seat," Potter offered and turned around with the tea.
"Thank you," Rubesten said honestly. He was feeling oddly humbled but didn't want to examine that now. "You have not answered Yesour's request for an interview," he stated bluntly as he took the offered cup.
Potter sat down and chewed his lip a moment. "Who did you say you were with?" he asked.
Rubesten didn't hesitate even though he could feel the suspicion in the young man. "Portney, Galloway, & Rubesten."
"And they have what to do with this?" Potter prompted.
Well, he wouldn't be stupid, would he? Rubesten thought to himself. He sighed aloud. "Let's just say that there are other interested parties."
"For example," Rubesten said in a tone of letting go of a confidence, "people who would not like the Lestrange's to come into anything not their due." Potter rubbed his hair back, revealing his scar completely, although Rubesten took it as a nervous gesture, not a point being made to him. "It is a given that Black intended his estate to go you. There are just formalities to be attended to."
"It was a mess," Potter stated. "And I don't really want it."
"It has been straightened out. And why not?" Rubesten asked, feeling his way along a little better now.
"Because I didn't care about his wealth, just that he wanted me to live with him."
Rubesten felt the usual words flowing out of him. "Then surely he would have wanted to take care of your needs--the ones possible for the deceased to take care of. I hope you do not take it as a slight that Black did not prepare a will. It is very common; no one wants to believe that they will not be around to take care of things personally." The words sounded hollow to Rubesten, but they appeared to be hitting Potter hard. The young man slipped his fingers under his glasses to press his fingertips to his eyes.
"I. . . I don't mean to-" Rubesten started to say in alarm.
Potter waved him off. "It isn't you." He took a deep calming breath and reached behind him into the drawer for a box of Honeydukes chocolates. He bit into one in the way only a true addict would. "It's just that I still miss Sirius."
"I can imagine," Rubesten said in his standard voice of concern. In actuality, he couldn't in the least imagine. He should have done more research, he was now realizing: requested copies of the other statements in preparation. He had thought his part in this was over so he hadn't spent anymore time on the matter, but now he was remembering that Black had caused Potter's parents' death although there had been rumors to the contrary. He shook his head and tried to focus on his mission.
Potter was talking again. "Also I'm not used to these emotions. Voldemort wouldn't let me feel much of them for the last few years."
Rubesten froze at that and reached for a chocolate. Potter pushed the box his way.
"Relax," Potter said as though finding his horror humorous. "Voldemort is gone."
The chocolate was quite good. Rubesten hadn't had one in years even though he could smell them being made from his office every day. Trying to pick up where he left off, Rubesten said, "This apartment must be expensive."
"It is," Harry admitted.
"Your girlfriend must like nice presents too."
"Actually, she doesn't seem to," Harry said, biting into his third chocolate.
"Don't let her go then. My missus rather does and it can really put a strain on things." Rubesten wondered why he had said that. He had never told anyone that. "Look, I'm not being totally forthright with you."
Potter interrupted, "I do realize that. Although you are good, you don't have a Death Eater's ability to hide that you are lying." He topped up both of their teacups.
Rubesten wondered if the young man were dropping him a clue that he knew whom his client was or did he just casually throw words like that around. "And you of all people deserve better. But I have other obligations I cannot break. Suffice to say: the settlement is essentially finished, it just needs you to formalize it by answering a few questions."
Potter didn't respond, just stood up and went to a side table by the ratty couch. He came over with a framed photo of himself, a red-haired boy, a girl, and a rather shaggy black dog. The red-haired boy was waving and the dog's tail wagged furiously as he nuzzled against Potter's side, receiving a pet on the neck in return. "It is the only picture I have of us. My friend's mother took it."
Rubesten blinked at the photo in confusion.
"Sirius was an Animagus. He's the dog," Potter explained. "He couldn't go out in public as himself, for obvious reasons."
"Ah," Rubesten said, thinking that Severus' biscuit comment now made some sense. "Take that with you to your meeting." Potter gave him a look that implied he hadn't decided. "Even you have to agree, that is what your godfather would have wanted," Rubesten ruthlessly pointed out and handed the photo back.
"All right. I'll contact him in the morning."
Rubesten reached into his briefcase for a parchment and quill. "How about sending a message right now?"
Potter sighed and took the pro-offered quill. "I don't have the original letter," he said.
Rubesten reached again into this briefcase and pulled out a copy of it. Potter gave him a suspicious look but accepted it and copied over the salutation. He kept it short, said he was available anytime on Wednesday and signed it. The solicitor watched as the young man folded the letter and took it to the window where a snowy-white owl sat out on the sill. Rubesten stood and prepared to depart.
"I do not think that is the decision you will regret in the future," Rubesten said. He held out his hand. "I am very honored to have met you, Mr. Potter," he said in real honesty.
Potter took his hand and shook it. "Tell your client to come personally next time," Harry said.
Rubesten froze. "You know who my client is?" he asked in surprise.
Potter shrugged. "No. It is just that people who hide behind masks make me nervous."
"Oh. Well, I can understand that. And I will strongly suggest it should it come up in the future." He departed. On the creaky stairs down to the front door he tried to shake his unease. If the rest of wizardry knew how Harry Potter was living . . . He frowned and shook off the notion of telling anyone. He was sure it would result in some kind of community outpouring and he certainly wouldn't want that aimed at him if he were in Potter's position. Well, that was the point of all this manipulation of the settlement, now wasn't it?
* * *
Harry wasn't looking forward to his appointment at the Executor's. Tonks had to remind him that he had said he had to leave for an appointment in the late afternoon before Harry would get himself moving.
"Everything all right, Harry?" Tonks asked him as he put his things in his satchel.
"Yeah. Just some stuff I've been putting off."
"If you need anything you just have to ask," Tonks pointed out.
Harry nodded and slung his bag over his shoulder.
The Executor looked older than Harry remembered him to be. He was a thin man with a straggly beard that barely reached his chest, bald on top with a ring of straggly hair around the edges that reached past his shoulders. He moved nervously as well, which Harry only remembered after he had accepted a seat and the man bustled around quickly to take out a few thick roles of parchment.
"Thank you for giving me your time, Mr. Potter," he said distractedly. He activated an automatic quill and a long blank parchment. Harry hoped this meeting wasn't going to be that long. Finally, when everything was set, he addressed Harry. "Did Sirius Black ever tell you he intended to leave his estate to you?"
"No," Harry answered honestly. Yesour didn't seem upset by the answer.
"Did you ever stay with Mr. Black at his house in Grimmauld Place?"
"Yes. For about a month before school started one summer and over Christmas."
"And you were planning to stay with him over the next summer break?" Yesour asked, his eyes scanning his notes.
Yesour did look up at that a little sharply. "Why not?"
"I couldn't. I would have loved to and I think Sirius certainly would have liked the company, but Dumbledore had spelled my mother's sister's house so that Voldemort couldn't harm me while I was staying there. I had to go back there."
"Oh. Protecting you would have been of paramount importance, I suppose." He flipped through some other parchments. "Did Mr. Black buy you any expensive presents?"
"A Firebolt. Said it was my cumulative presents he had missed."
"And how would you describe your relationship with Mr. Black?"
"He was always ready to help me if I needed him. He worried about me so much I sometimes didn't want to tell him what was going on in case he tried to come to my rescue. In the end that is what killed him." Harry hurried on before that could make him waver, "He was always visiting me and my friends but in the form of a dog." Harry took out the photograph. The Executor took it and looked at it a moment before handing it back.
This process was making Harry feel miserable again, as though it harshly cheapened everything by reducing it to Galleons and deeds.
"To your knowledge, did Mr. Black have any illegitimate offspring or other godchildren?"
"No," Harry said. "Unless he managed to from Azkaban."
The Executor stopped the quill and rolled up the new parchment along with a stack of similar ones bearing thick wax seals. Harry tried to get a glimpse of them as he thought he saw Lupin's name on the top one. Yesour put these away in a cloth parchment tube and took out two boxes, one large and one small.
He pushed the large one at Harry. "These are the deeds and investment certificates. And these," he pushed over the smaller one, "are the Gringott's keys to the various vaults."
Harry gaped at him.
"Once I finally got a little cooperation from them there turned out to be more of them held by various long dead family members then even I had imagined. That is what happens when people die unexpectedly." He stared at Harry's surprised face. "It is all settled, young man. And I must say you have to be one of the most honest inheritors I have ever met."
Yesour stood up and took out an old satchel. "I'll take you to Grimmauld Place so you can sign off on everything."
Harry stood up, still stunned. Yesour put the boxes into another bag and handed it to Harry. He stepped over to the fireplace and took a pinch of Floo power from a persian slipper on the mantle. "Number Twelve Grimmauld Place," he said and nodded that Harry should follow. After Yesour had spun away Harry repeated what the older man had done.
The first thing Harry thought was that they must have landed in the wrong place and he was glad Yesour had made the same landing. But the Executor was busy laying out things on the glass dining room table and talking about the settlement of the property as though nothing were amiss. Harry glanced out into the hall and tried to get his bearings. The carpets were gone, the painting of Sirius' mother was gone, and the floor was now freshly refinished, gleaming old hickory. The walls were cream colored, freshly painted and the wall sconces now modern square ones that threw light all the way to the high ceiling. The front door was even different, full of beveled glass panes.
"This place has really changed," Harry said.
Yesour looked up from the documents he was sorting. "It was prepped for sale," he said quickly.
"Wow," Harry breathed. "It isn't the same at all."
Yesour held out some documents for him to sign. Harry took them, marveling at the massive single sheet of glass that made up the new tabletop. He put his signature where indicated on several copies and then took the offered copy. He marveled again at the bright room he stood in.
"Take a look around, it is completely renovated on all floors," the Executor said briskly.
Harry set his things down on the table and wandered up to the first floor. He glanced into the library and recessed lighting came on as though detecting him. In the sitting room beside the library there was a gaudy chintz loveseat and flowered curtains. Harry shook his head at the contrast from the ultramodern library and stairwell. He was about to step out to the first bedroom on this floor when a box on the seat caught his eye. Harry stepped over to it and lifted the cover from it. Inside it on top were some quills, a few scrolls with notes and doodles on them, and an address book. It looked as though someone had dumped the contents of a desk into it.
Harry, now sweating a little, reached into the box and lifted out one of the scrolls. It was definitely Sirius' handwriting. Notes about groceries and todo lists that mixed Order business and solving curses around the house. Harry smiled fondly at the scrawled notes and dropped the parchments aside marveling at how much more meaning they had now then they every had for their owner.
His hand lifted out the next object on automatic. It was the other two-way mirror. Harry stared at its marred surface, the silvering degraded so badly that he couldn't even make out his own reflection. A teardrop hit the glass and pooled at the edge of the frame. Grief overwhelmed him in a great surge. Harry was only dimly aware of Yesour hovering in the doorway for a moment before quietly departing.
* * *
Fingers stroking his hair back woke Harry with a start. He was curled on the loveseat, stiff in the neck. The mirror was taken from his hands and put aside. Harry glanced up in surprise at Headmistress McGonagall seated on the edge of the small couch. A sniffle gave Harry away and he bowed his head in embarrassment.
She put her hand on his back. "It's all right, Harry. You certainly have the right to a little grief, or a lot of it if you are so inclined."
Harry shifted his feet to the floor and leaned forward. "It feels like I just lost him three days ago, not three years."
"You have been through too much, Mr. Potter. That makes old things come back afresh sometimes." She took her hand away and laced her fingers in front of herself.
"That and I'm still not used to it."
"Used to what?" McGonagall asked.
Harry looked at her. She hadn't removed her green traveling cloak and she considered him over her small glasses. "Used to feeling this kind of thing," Harry explained. At her questioning look, he went on, "Didn't Dumbledore tell anyone, anything?" She shook her head slightly. "Voldemort couldn't stand this kind of emotion; he lost control of me when I felt like this. So for the last few years, he tried to suppress it in me."
"Potter, are you quite serious?"
Harry nodded and then shrugged. "It doesn't matter anymore, but I do need to get a grip; I can see that." He looked at her. "I'm sorry you were interrupted for this. Did Yesour contact you?"
"Why you?" Harry wondered aloud. He picked up the mirror and looked at it sadly before setting it into the box.
"I think Yesour remembered me from the affidavit I gave him. What is that?" she asked, regarding the mirror.
Harry shook his head. "I don't want to talk about it." If Harry had remembered and opened his present, Sirius might still be alive. Harry could have found out he was still at home and not a prisoner of Voldemort. He stood up. "I don't want to take up any more of your time, Professor."
She stood up beside him. "Harry, don't concern yourself. I consider this an investment in a future teacher. Come, I could use some tea and I think you could use a little company" She led the way down to the kitchen.
Harry hadn't been in the kitchen yet. Everything had been replaced here as well and someone had even installed a Muggle stove and refrigerator although they were styled from the art deco era. McGonagall found the tea and teapot and filled and heated it with her wand.
"Professor Snape must have told you that," Harry commented from his seat at the table. It was a nice new one with a blond wood top and chairs that didn't rock precariously.
"He did," she smiled a little as she admitted this. "I think it is making him work harder already." Harry accepted a filled teacup and sipped at it. She looked around the room at the ceiling and the floor. "Place looks better."
"It does," Harry agreed with a confused tone. The distance between him and the past felt right again now.
"Are you going to stay here?" McGonagall asked conversationally.
Harry stared out the door into the hallway. "Yeah, I think so. It is a lot nicer than my other place."
Harry missed seeing McGonagall purse her lips to limit her smile.
Chapter 9 -- Past and Present
Tonks sat down beside Harry during their lunch break. "Did you make it to your appointment on time?"
"Yes, thanks for getting me going yesterday," Harry said as he pulled a chicken pie out of his lunch sack. "I had to meet with the Executor of the Black estate."
The other apprentices looked up sharply at this. "Didn't feel like dealing with that again?" Tonks asked him.
"Not really, but it is settled now," Harry said quietly.
Tonks grabbed him by the shoulder. "Hey! Congratulations. Are you moving, then?"
Harry hesitated. "The place is actually livable now; It is really startling how much it has been renovated. I think I'll give it a try."
"Party at Harry's place!" Melizza burst out.
Harry grinned at her. "That isn't a bad idea. Tonks, maybe you could teach me how to write up invitations."
Darren scoffed at him. "What's the matter, Potter, don't know how to spell?"
"In a manner of speaking," Harry said, keeping his cool. "Dumbledore charmed the place so no one could find it without reading a personal invitation from him. I have no idea how to create an invitation that breaches that charm."
"Wow!" Melizza said. "You are talking about the old headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix! You inherited the Black place? You're inviting me, right?"
"I'll invite everyone as soon as I figure out how," Harry said, not looking up at Darren, instead digging into his pie.
Tonks said, "I'll show you this afternoon, Harry. Although I warn you, it is a tricky spell. If you want me to help make up invites, I can do some this evening and you can add the date."
* * *
Harry opened the wide bevel glass door for the first time when the bell rang. "Ginny!" he said and waved her in. "I can't believe McGonagall let you leave school during revisions."
"Let me leave," she said thoughtfully. "Let's examine that phrase." Harry stopped in the hallway and looked at her. "Harry, chucked out the door, is more like it."
"Are you making that much trouble?" Harry asked in concern.
Ginny stopped short this time. "Maybe, actually. I think her getting called down here to talk to you last week is really the reason."
"Oh, Merlin. How many people know about that?" Harry hung up her cloak.
"Just myself and the headmistress, I'm pretty sure. I refused to leave until she explained herself," Ginny went on evenly.
"Ginny, you are not enduring yourself to her, are you?"
Ginny stepped into the dining room and whistled at the new furniture. "You know. I'm not so sure about that. The last time I refused to let something go, she seemed amused and finally told me I reminded her of herself at my age. Nice place, Harry. You think my parents would let me live here after graduation?"
"You could even have your own room, or five of your own rooms."
"We only have two hours, let's get ready for this party and dream about that later," Ginny said. "I'll go to Diagon Alley for supplies, what do we need?"
They made a list in the kitchen. Harry handed her a sackful of Galleons that made her hand almost too heavy to lift. "You want me to come?" Harry asked.
"No, I'll get the shopkeeper to help me. Why don't you start putting things out from what you've already bought? I'll be back in a Floo-flash."
Later, they surveyed the dining room. "Looks good," Ginny commented. Crates of beer and butterbeer stood next to barrels of ice. The table was spread with all sorts of snacks. The doorbell rang. "And just in time." As they went to the door, Ginny said, "I think we need to setup an upstairs party area as well for the adults."
"Fred, George!" Harry said in welcome.
"Oy, but which is which?" one of the two identically dressed twins said. "Or can the great wizard Potter not tell?"
"Get in here," Harry insisted.
"Looks great, Harry," they both said, admiring the hallway.
Ginny was on the first landing. "Let's setup another party in here for the boring adults you invited," she called down, pointing at the sitting room.
Harry froze. "Do you mind doing that?" They looked at each other a long moment.
"Sure, Harry. I don't mind," she said a little too gently.
"We'll help!" the twins said and charged down to the kitchen. Whispering broke out in there. Harry followed and found them playing with the refrigerator door to see if the light really went off when you closed the door. "Wow, all the modern conveniences, eh, Harry?"
"Uh, sure," Harry managed as he still hadn't gotten used to the great white jukebox-like monstrosity that was the icebox. Harry lowered his eyes as he watched the twins move around the kitchen. A nagging feeling that had been building all week with regard to this place was trying to speak to him more strongly at that moment. McGonagall had shown far too much knowledge of this room as well, he now realized, then shook his head at his own suspicious nature.
The dining room was filling up with guests. Friends from school along with the apprentice Aurors mingled together creating a nice din of conversation. Ginny stepped up to Harry. "What kind of music do you have for the stereo?" she asked.
"The what?" he asked her and watched as her face blanched a little. One of the twins said, "Uh oh."
Harry grabbed her by the arm and dragged her out of the room. The doorbell rang. "Fred or George can you get that?" Harry yelled as he hauled Ginny up the stairs to one of the bedrooms. Harry closed the door a little hard behind them. "All right, spill it," Harry insisted.
Ginny frowned. "Don't get upset, Harry. Everyone wanted to do this. Needed to do this, really. You don't know how hard it has been for everyone to watch you struggle to adapt to a real life."
Harry sat down on the bed. "Everyone?" he asked a little bleakly.
Out on the front steps Brill stepped back from the door. "Rather nice way to stay anonymous," he commented to Jezebel about the sudden appearance of the facade.
The door opened and a flushed, red haired man with shiny jacket upon which dragons flew over the surface opened it slightly. "Just a sec." He shoved someone aside and opened it more fully. "Oh dear, only a Muggle would have that expression," George commented.
Brill stared at an identical man behind the other with snakes popping out of his chest, out of every available opening in his shirt.
"Caught us mid-demonstration, you did. Let me just give him the antidote." George popped a candy into Fred's mouth and the snakes shrank into his shirt.
"The Weasley twins, I presume?" Jezebel said.
They both bowed together. "At your service, madam."
"And where is Harry?" Brill asked, still not recovered.
"Ah," Fred said. "Interrogating Ginny who let slip something that Harry should have figured out on his own. But I digress. Please come in." He bowed again to invite them in.
Jezebel patted her son on the back. "Those two are going to be the worst of the bunch, so if you can get past them, you will do just fine."
At the door to the dining room, Fred said to his brother, "Maybe we should just check on them?"
"No need, bro. Ginny can take care of herself. Really wound up, even Harry couldn't take her on."
"What is wrong?" Brill asked them and accepted a beer from Fred.
"Ah well. Harry just found out that this place was redone just for him by all of his old teachers and old friends of his parents. Why he hadn't figured it out on his own after a week is a little odd. Every room in the house has someone's signature on it and it is not that hard to spot. But, Harry has a hard time taking anything from anyone, so he is a little miffed that Ginny knew and didn't tell him."
"Someone did each room?" Harry asked Ginny as he lay back on the bed and stared up at the canopy.
"Yes," she said patiently. "Look around you."
Harry did so. The room seemed a little fussy but not too bad. Harry got up and opened the cupboard and jumped back as the bar for the clothes lowered down and out so he could easily reach anything that might be hanging on it. He then stood in the window and the curtains opened for him and closed again as he stepped away. "Flitwick," Harry stated. The charms were just a little too sensible and tuned to a short person.
"How long has this been going on?" Harry asked her.
"About a month."
"And who sent Rubesten, the solicitor, after me when I ignored the Executor's request?"
Ginny looked puzzled. "I didn't know you had. This guy didn't tell you?"
"Told me his client wanted to remain anonymous."
A knock sounded on the bedroom door. Harry opened it. "Hello, Mr. Brill," Harry said.
"Nice house, Harry," he commented.
"Just discussing that," Harry said, a in a low voice.
"I was just trying to explain to Harry," Ginny said in a tight voice, "that it isn't about him."
"Huh?" Harry uttered.
"You wouldn't believe how crazed everyone got about this project. They needed to create something after all the destruction. Don't you get it? It just happened to be your house. Just accept it or you will hurt all of them terribly."
Harry blinked at her and then sighed. He missed the wink that Ginny shot at Brill or the half-smile she got back. Harry turned to the surgeon. "You weren't sneaking around involved in this, were you?"
Brill shook his head. "First I've heard of it. You should get a beer, Harry; I think you need one."
"Yeah, good idea," Harry went out and stopped in front of the doorway across the hall. There was a barrel full of iced beers just inside. He hesitated a moment and then stepped in a grabbed one. "Who's is this?" Harry asked. "This room grates on me." Ginny stepped up behind him and took out a beer as well. "It will be detention if McGonagall sees you with that when she gets here," Harry pointed out. Ginny swigged half of it down.
Brill stepped into the room and looked around. "Someone with very poor taste in matching fabrics," he commented.
"This room might not have worked out as they intended it," Ginny said. "It is the Dumbledore room; it holds everyone's impression of him. "They couldn't quite bring themselves to make it quite gaudy enough, I don't think."
"Yeah," Harry said. "The rug should be bright yellow, not fuschia." Ginny whipped out her wand and spelled the rug to a color no dandelion could even aspire to. Brill stepped off it, despite himself. "And the loveseat more green to really clash." Ginny took care of that too. "That's better," Harry said. The room was depressing him more now. "I'm going downstairs. It's too hard to stay in here."
"I'll come with you," Ginny said quickly and followed.
In the doorway to the room, they encountered Headmistress McGonagall. "Redecorating already I see." She patted Harry on the arm. "That looks much more authentically Albus, I must admit. Ah and Mr. Brill, how nice to meet you again." They shook hands genteelly.
"Lupin!" Harry said and hugged the wizard following behind McGonagall.
"Hey, Harry. Good to see you doing so well."
Harry held him at arms length. Lupin looked pale and drawn, his worn robes a little looser than Harry remembered. "Come and stay sometime. I'd love the company."
Lupin tweaked Harry's chin. "I didn't mean financially, Harry," he teased.
"Still, anytime. I have things I still want to ask you," Harry said pleadingly.
"All right, Harry," Lupin conceded clearly touched.
Lupin and McGonagall stepped into the sitting room as Brill followed Ginny and Harry downstairs. "It was just a full moon, right?" Ginny asked Harry. "I hope he doesn't look that way all the time now."
"That man, Lupin, did seem a little unhealthy," Brill commented.
"He is an old classmate and friend of my father's," Harry said. "And my godfather's."
Ginny grinned into her beer bottle which had rematerialized after their encounter with the Headmistress. "And sworn enemy of Professor Snape."
"If you only knew why, Ginny. You wouldn't say that with such relish," Harry admonished her.
"Oh, do tell, Harry," she said, sounding a little tipsy already.
"Maybe later," Harry said. The other partygoers had found the stereo and CD's had been procured from somewhere. The music blasted out a moment before the volume was turned down to a loud, but tolerable level. Harry leaned over to Brill who looked doubtful about the thumping music. "Why don't you go talk to Lupin. I bet no one has tried Muggle medicine on anyone with his condition in a hundred years or so."
"What is his condition?" Brill asked. "I overheard your comment about the moon."
Harry and Ginny shared a glance. "He's a werewolf," Harry said just loud enough for Brill to hear.
Brill's eyes went very wide and then slid into thoughtful. "That must be some kind of genetic mutation, right?"
"That's the spirit," Harry said and gave him a jab on the arm.
Brill turned toward the hallway and then turned back. "Anyone else I should know about?"
Ginny shrugged. "No one who isn't wearing their difference in plain sight. I doubt Firenze will show up, although Headmistress invited all the teachers. Hagrid is supposed to come though. But Mr. Brill, if you can't spot a centaur or a half-giant on your own, we really can't help you." She gave him a crooked smile and finished her beer.
In the hallway Arthur and Molly greeted Brill as Ginny and Harry went over to inspect the stereo.
"You have so left wizarddom, Harry," Hermione's voice came from behind them. Harry turned and gave her a tight hug. "Uf," she said before he released her. "Harry, this place looks great! How did you manage it?"
Harry glanced towards the hallway before saying, "Don't get me started on that."
Ginny stepped into their conversation holding a fresh beer. "The teachers and the Order members did it without getting permission from His Highness here who couldn't even take it upon himself to answer the Executor without prodding from some mysterious solicitor."
Hermione gave him a disapproving look. "I think Sirius would be thrilled to see you here having a good time, Harry. What solicitor?"
Harry frowned in thought. "Someone from Portney, Galloway, & Rubesten," he said.
"And Rubesten came, right?" she asked with an odd sparkle in her eye. "I wrote a research paper where that name came up from about fifteen years ago. Amazing Harry, you have gotten under just everyone's skin, haven't you?" She opened a butterbeer for herself and grabbed a handful of snacks. Harry followed her along the table, curious despite himself. "Would not have believed it," she muttered between munches.
"Are you going to spill, or just make me crazy?"
"Rubesten said his client insisted on remaining anonymous?" Hermione asked.
"Yes. Don't tell me you have to watch out for other people's attorney-client privilege," Harry griped.
"The earlier matter is public record, just not easy to find out without an exhaustive search. Some minor property dispute." She shrugged. "Interesting only because it crossed Muggle and Wizard property law. Rubesten represented Severus Snape in the case," she finally relented.
Harry shook his head.
"Maybe he thought he owed you," Hermione pointed out.
Harry bit into a spicy sausage stick and then had to swig his beer to put out the heat in his mouth. "Don't know why," Harry commented. "He saved my life just a few months ago."
Hermione looked shocked. "Harry, what happened?"
"Remember that big pub fight at the Leaky Cauldron?" Ginny interrupted and then giggled. "Harry and Snape started that."
"We. Did. Not." Harry stated. "It started after we left. You're right, you sound just like McGonagall."
"Whoa, I have really been missing things," Hermione said.
"Well, come and visit more," Harry said. "I have plenty of space now. You can even stay in the Flitwick suite if you like." Harry waved his arm in the general direction of upstairs.
"What?" Hermione asked him in confusion.
Harry took her shoulder. "Thank you for not understanding that," he said honestly. "It shrinks the conspiracy down a little."
"Harry, how many of those have you had?" Hermione pointed at his beer. Ginny giggled again.
"Just this one. Clearly I need to catch up to my girlfriend though--she is having a much better time. Go up and check in with the Order reunion in the Dumbledore room." He spun her around and gave her a light push. She looked more confused but obeyed.
Harry glanced over the table and the room. "Uh, Ginny. Does this room look larger to you?"
"Huh, you finally noticed," she said. "Oy, Fred, George, he just caught on!"
The twins capered over. "Do you like it?" one of them asked.
"You spelled the room to expand?" Harry asked.
"Yup. After Snape said it couldn't be done given the exterior protective spells. Took us over a week to manage it."
Harry measured the room with his eyes. "It is very neat," he acknowledged. "Thanks."
"Anytime, lil' bro," one of them said, and clapped him on the shoulder.
"Ms. Granger," McGonagall said when Hermione stepped into the gaudily decorated sitting room. The older witch put her arm around her and led her in farther. It was much more sedate up here than downstairs. She made the rounds of the room, even meeting Harry's surgeon involved in a deep conversation with Lupin. When she looped back around, Snape had arrived and stood talking to the headmistress. Suppressing a grin, she stepped over to them.
"Why, Ms. Granger," Snape said with a bit of a sneer. "I had almost managed to forget you."
"Really, Professor?" Hermione asked politely. "I didn't think you'd forget any student who scored an 'O' on their Potions NEWT." She glanced at McGonagall's suppressed smile and decided she'd handled that okay.
"So what trouble are you getting yourself into, now?" Snape asked, sounding a little bored.
"I decided to study Law so I can open my own practice doing Muggle relations."
"Hm," was Professor Snape's response.
Hermione continued sweetly, "In fact, just before Christmas I finished a research paper on obscure Muggle/Wizard property law." Snape froze, garnering a look of surprise from McGonagall. "Fascinating subject," Hermione added insistently.
Snape shifted to cross his arms and stare down his nose at her. "I can't imagine it would be," he said darkly.
"Lots of digging around in old archives. But I got an A plus on the paper, which is the highest Muggle grade available." Snape's glare hadn't eased at all. Hermione went on, trying hard not to grin, "You would be surprised how fast this topic comes up at a party."
Snape's eyes lowered farther. "You are implying, I presume, that it already has."
Hermione did grin now. "Oh yes," she said with some satisfaction. At Snape's snarl, she said to the Headmistress, "I should go back downstairs now. As in, right now ." She made a quick exit wishing she could stay and hear McGonagall's next question to Professor Snape.
Long after midnight the party wound down a little. Harry finally turned the stereo down so the handful of people in the now normal-sized room, didn't have to speak loudly. As the other party from upstairs spilled down into the dining room led by McGonagall, Ginny spun around with her beer and turned back around with it in the guise of a butterbeer.
"Oh, don't think I didn't see that, young lady," McGonagall said to her.
"What, Professor?" Ginny prompted, too innocently.
McGonagall, her own eyes a little red-rimmed, pulled out her wand and tapped the bottle. It changed into a candlestick. McGonagall stood straight and eyed it. Ginny leaned over to Harry, "I had been hoping for a chance to show off this spell before term ended."
Fred and George slunk over. "You've invented an un-reversible transfiguration charm?" one of them said. "Fred look at that!"
"George, you mean," Ginny admonished them.
"Hey, how is it Mum can't tell us apart and you always could?"
"I'm not telling. It is too easy for you to fix," Ginny insisted. The twins gaped at each other. She turned again to Harry and found Professor Snape examining the candlestick in her hands. "Actually it isn't the least bit easy for them to change, but that should make them properly crazy for a few months," she whispered to Harry and Snape.
"Care to try again, ma'am," Ginny asked sweetly as she tapped the candlestick with her wand and it turned back into a butterbeer bottle.
McGonagall stood with her hands on her hips. "Set it over here," she said, pointing at the table with her wand. Ginny did so. When McGonagall next tried to reverse the transfiguration the bottle turned into a rabbit.
The twins leaned over the rabbit, prodding it. It took a small hop and twitched its short whiskers. "Wow, can we license this from you? We tried for years to come up with something as, uh, teacher distracting as this."
McGonagall studied the rabbit a moment before Ginny spelled it back into a butterbeer bottle with a cocky smile.
"How long will the charm last?" Fred asked.
"Long enough for them to grow bored with it," Ginny said slyly.
Snape spelled the bottle and it didn't change. After a moment of thought he tried again and it transformed into a jack-in-the-box.
The other twin put his hand to his chest and said proudly, "I'd like to announce that we, as Ginny's forever harassing older brothers, are personally responsible for our sister's great feat of magic."
"Yeah, right," Ginny scoffed. "And what if I said I learned it all from Tom Riddle."
"Ginny!" Harry said a little shocked. The rest of the room stared at her as well.
"Better than giving them credit," she said stridently and turned the toy back to a butterbeer bottle.
Harry stepped over to the butterbeer and spelled it back into a Heineken beer bottle.
"How did you do that so easily?" she asked him.
Harry stalked back over to her. "Because I no more believed you had invented an unreversible transfiguration charm then I believe you are the Heir of Slytherin. I just guessed what the shortcut would be: an illusion charm with a spell block.
"Who is Tom Riddle?" Brill asked Jezebel. The entire room turned to look at him. "Uh, I feel like I just said 'Voldemort' in polite company."
"You did," Hagrid supplied from beside him. "Was 'is name before he changed it."
"And you had it easy," Harry said to Ginny. "Someone starts petrifying students and scrawling threats in blood on the wall and everyone blames Harry," he said theatrically, circling her. He leaned closer, "Not cute little Ginny."
Ginny crossed her arms and frowned at the audience of teachers and Harry's few remaining friends. "I'm sure I apologized for that. As though you weren't equally guilty of not telling anyone that Voldemort was taking you over."
"And who ended up fatally mauled by a basilisk?" Harry went on.
"Hm," Ginny fretted.
"Don't they make a cute couple," Melizza said fondly.
"Disgustingly so," Professor Snape commented, still standing beside the table.
Harry's eyes zeroed in on his former professor. He stepped over and picked up the beer beside Snape and finished it. He then frowned and gestured at his former teacher with the empty bottle as he spoke, "Tomorrow morning I am going to think of I what I should say now and really regret not saying it. Damn."
With derision, Snape said, "You could always owl me."
"Nah, wouldn't be the same," Harry said. "And I probably can't train Hedwig to bite on command by tomorrow morning, I'm sure." Harry turned and walked back over to Ginny.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Snape asked him.
McGonagall intervened. "Your owl does bite rather hard, Severus. I have been meaning to tell you that." She pushed her professor towards the door. "We should all be going. As we have schedules and exams to prepare." She turned back to Harry. "Thank you for the invitation, Harry. If you don't mind I think this would be a rather nice regular event before the end of term." She looked Ginny up and down with a calculating expression.
Harry grabbed Ginny around the shoulder. "You can leave her with me. She doesn't have to come back."
"As tempting as that offer is, Potter. . ." She sighed. "I am afraid I am already at odds with the former headmasters enough at this point."
"I'm not that bad, am I, Headmistress?" Ginny asked, a little dismayed. McGonagall gave her a look of disbelief before turning away. "Oh, I guess I am," Ginny breathed.
"You could tone it down, but what would be the point?" One of the twins said, sidling up beside her. "You are the last of a great line."
"You are just trying to cheer me up, aren't you, George ?" McGonagall asked.
"Oh, drat," he said.
"Look at the time," Hermione said, gazing at her wristwatch.
"Stay the night. We'll have a nice Sunday brunch tomorrow," Harry said.
"Are you sure? I don't want to be in the way," Hermione said.
"Are you kidding there are . . ." Harry waved his hand over his head as he counted to himself, then gave up. "Uh, actually the number of rooms on the second floor changes every day or so. There is lots of space. Just pick a room."
"Goodnight, Harry," McGonagall said from the doorway with her cloak now over her shoulders. The Weasley twins were also bundling up to leave.
"Goodnight, Headmistress. Professors." Harry said. He looked around at Ginny and Melizza. "You are welcome to stay as well," he pointed out.
Ginny stuck her head out into the hallway and listened. "Did my parent's leave?"
"Only about three hours ago," Melizza said.
"Really? They didn't say goodbye?" Ginny said. "Huh." She shrugged. "I'll stay then. This will be fun."
Brill and Jezebel stepped to the doorway. Brill said, "We'll be heading out as well. It was an interesting evening--I can say that."
Harry stepped over to him. "Do you have a few minutes? I wanted to ask you something."
He shrugged. "This is just like being on call, but far more entertaining."
"Up here in the library," Harry said and led the way up the stairs, then had to think about which direction to turn. "This way." In the library, he pulled a book down. "Out, out," he waved to his friends and then closed the door. Harry flipped through a book to the bookmark and then pointed out the relevant paragraph to Brill. "Read that and tell me what you think."
Brill squinted at the page. "Goodness, what writing."
Jezebel grinned along with Harry. "Wizards don't believe in spelling," Harry supplied. "Or consistent spelling, I guess. You consider yourself lucky if the same word on the same page is spelled the same."
Brill read the section, flipped the page and read some more and then reread it. He put his hand flat on the open page and looked up at Harry with a searching gaze. "You are going to ask me if I can remove one of these, right?" At Harry's nod Brill went on carefully after a sigh. "Well, it sounds like a tattoo since it is embedded in the epidermal layer. Instead of dye, it is some kind of magic. . . force." He shut the book and stood up. "Harry, this repeated payback thing you to are doing is a little odd."
"Can you do it?"
"Does fire destroy magic?"
"Yes," Harry and Jezebel said together.
"Then the Q-switched ruby laser we use for discoloration and tattoo removal would probably do it." Brill stared hard at Harry. "You are assuming a few things: one, that I want to deal with a black-eyed former Death Eater, and two that I think it is legitimate to remove a dark mark from a former Death Eater, making he or she harder to spot."
Harry shrugged extra-casually and put the book back on the shelf. "I was mostly curious."
They said their goodbyes and Harry made sure everyone had found a room. Ginny immediately traipsed back into his. "You can stay, but I’m going to sleep . . . it’s 5:00 in the morning," Harry told her.
As they were drifting off, Ginny said, "Harry will you throw me an end of school party here?"
"Sure, sounds like fun," Harry said sleepily from the other side of the wide bed.
They all managed to congregate in the kitchen around eleven. Harry pulled together a brunch, grateful he was used to getting by with a splitting headache. Brunch made everyone feel a lot better.
"You have a very loyal boyfriend there, Ginny," Melizza was saying as Harry made another round of toast. Harry gave her a look but didn't interrupt. "For two months at the start of his training, I tried to come on to him, but he completely blew me off."
"Did you?" Ginny asked with narrowed eyes.
"Hey," Melizza put her hands up. "He is clearly all yours."
"This is what you get having three women over for breakfast, Harry," Hermione pointed out. She was the only chipper one. "Next the discussion will move to clothes."
"Speaking of which," Ginny said to Melizza. "Where did you get that robe?"
Melizza looked down at her own robe. It had ribbed embroidery down the front and it wasn't black but a dark, dark green. "There is a little place around the alley from Madam Maulkin's that brings odd lots in from Paris and Italy. I'll take you there if you want." Ginny's eyes went a little hungry at that and then faded. "You seem to be into retro, which works on you. It never does on me."
Ginny breathed out and poured herself some more coffee. "It isn't retro," she admitted, "It is an old one of my mum's"
Harry dove in. "So the problem isn't that you don't want me to buy you robes--it's that you don't want to go shopping with me. I can understand that. Maybe Melizza will take you shopping." Harry stood up. "I'll be right back."
"I'd love to go out. Do you want to do that today?" Melizza asked Ginny as Harry departed.
Harry returned a moment later with a small box that rattled. "Okay, Ginny. Who do you want?" He opened the box and fingered through the keys. "No. No. Ah!" Harry pulled out a key and held it up for her.
"Harry, that whole box is Gringott's keys?!" Hermione said in shock.
"Yeah," Harry admitted. He turned back to Ginny with an evil grin. "Bellatrix Lestrange," he said.
Ginny gaped and took the key. "Have you lost it, Harry? She's still alive in Azkaban."
"Decree seven seven four point one nine," Hermione said. "All former direct associates of Voldemort forfeit their ill-gotten wealth if they have been sentenced to life imprisonment." She looked down at the key. "Unbelievable. Why do you have it?"
Harry flipped through the box. "I have everyone: Araminta, Alphard, Regulus. . ."
"Narcissa?" Melizza asked.
"No, the Malfoy's don't have an account at Gringott's," Harry said factually.
"Darn," Hermione and Ginny said together.
"So this is the deal, Ginny. I have no idea what is in that vault, for all I know it is one giant horrific dark-wizard deathtrap."
"Oh, can I come?" Melizza asked eagerly.
"You two can go to the vault and then go shopping. Keep what you find. You could send Neville half of it if you were so inclined though I suspect he wouldn't want it anymore than I wanted the prize from the Tri-Wizard Tournament."
"You aren't coming?" Ginny asked.
"You have to earn it. Otherwise you are going to get all sulky. Frankly, the vault could be empty." Harry buttered himself a cold piece of toast just for something to do.
Ginny twisted her mouth as she thought. "Okay, you're on."
Melizza swigged her coffee and stood up. "I'm ready. Let's go."
Ginny laughed and picked up her peanut butter toast and followed Melizza out. In short order they had departed via the fireplace.
Hermione looked over at her friend. "How are you doing, Harry?"
Harry put his hands behind his head and stretched. "I’m doing better. I keep thinking about how far I've come and how messed up I was before and then a month later I think the same thing."
"And Auror training is going how?"
"Slow. Although I am now ahead of everyone on facts and theory. Hopefully I can get into physical and spell training sooner than two years from now. Drissela said she'd try a little experiment on me in a year to see if it is okay then. Even that sounds like a disgustingly long time."
"It will go faster than you think. This last year sure has." She put the plates aside and spelled the crumbs off the table. "But I know how you feel, I have two years left as well. Then I have to be a slave for some firm for a few more." Hermione poured herself some more coffee. "Are you sure we shouldn't have gone with them?" Hermione asked, sounding a little concerned. "There could be anything in that vault."
Harry gave Hermione a doubtful face. "You haven't seen Ginny wield a wand lately."
"She is that good?"
"More that she has more brute force than you ever expect. You put up a block and you and your offensive spell get blown backwards. I think it is from growing up with six rather dangerous older brothers, even if she denies it."
"I sure as heck hope it wasn't Riddle," Hermione said in renewed shock.
Harry chuckled. "She just wants to be taken seriously, so she comes off a bit strong. She isn't like that around me."
"Yeah, I noticed that. Is this moving toward something permanent?"
"Oh, lay off, please," Harry said. "I can't even think about it. I don't want to think about it until I'm through with training."
"Does she know that?"
"Hm," Harry said. "Maybe Ginny and I should talk about it."
"I'd recommend that," Hermione said, sounding like it was a sore point.
Harry frowned with her. "Guess I don't need to ask what happened with Ron."
"I have to apologize to you, Harry. The stuff with Ron made me leave a lot sooner than I really wanted to. You needed both of us and we didn't want to be around each other so we both left you alone."
"I wouldn't have been the best of company."
"That shouldn't have mattered. So few knew what had happened. I feel really bad about that now. I kept imagining you were too busy to dwell on things."
"I tried to be. Going back to Hogwarts for a Defense Against the Dark Arts demonstration brought it all back again. That and Snape just couldn't resist exploiting my injury, which it turns out, no one knew I still had. He just saw the weakness without knowing what it was from. Made me realize I had to get that taken care of."
"Bit of a bastard, isn't he?" Hermione commented.
Harry shook his head. "Yes. But I'm beginning to like him." At Hermione's suprised look, he went on, "He is never guilty of that simpering hero worship I get from too many people. And in his own twisted way, he does try."
"Hero worship is something he would never be guilty of," Hermione strongly agreed. "Things haven't returned to normal yet?"
"I hang out in Muggle London. I honestly don't know how things are."
"How about at the Ministry . . . at the Auror offices there?"
"Oh, well. If I am in the Atrium sometimes no one notices when the lifts arrive. Kind of pathetic."
"Try showing up more often so people get used to you."
"That sounds awful," Harry said with a grimace, making Hermione laugh.
She stared into her coffee cup. "I'm realizing how much I miss you, Harry," she said, a little choked up. "You willing to rent me a room for the summer? I'll look for an internship in London for the summer holiday."
"Of course you can have a room, Hermione. It'd be great to have you around again."
"On that note, I should get going back. I have papers to finish for tomorrow."
"Ms. Granger, I am disappointed. You are only one day ahead on your assignments?" Harry said in a Professor-like voice.
Hermione hit him playfully across the top of his head. "Law school is rough, Harry. Every exam I feel like I am taking NEWTs again." She stepped into the hallway. "I have to change Floo Networks twice to get to Edinburgh, which will take a few hours with the lines on a Sunday." She hugged Harry firmly. "Do try to stay out of trouble. At least until I can come back."
Harry nodded and watched her depart, holding his sad expression at bay with a smile. Just a few weeks and maybe Hermione and maybe Ginny would be here. The thought made him feel frighteningly hopeful. He wandered back into the kitchen and did the dishes by hand before settling into his studies.
Hours later, laughter brought Harry's gaze up as he sat on the lounger in the library. "Harry, you still here?" a voice called from below.
"Up here!" Harry shouted back and put his books aside and stepped out to the railing and looked down to the ground floor. Ginny stood in the hallway, flushed with excitement and surrounded by a rather a large number of shopping bags.
"We've created a monster, Harry," Melizza said as she came into view.
Harry came down the stairs. "No trouble at the vault?"
"None, if you can believe it," Melizza said. "Uh, except with the Goblins who gave us a long set of questions about why we had that key. But in the end they have to let us in. That's their policy."
Ginny was rummaging in one of the bags. She pulled out a black velvet dress robe with glowing silver and red threads running through it. "What do you think?"
"Lovely," Harry said.
"We did take a box of strange stuff to Dad at the Ministry after a one of the necklaces tried to choke Melizza," Ginny explained.
"That was probably the funniest moment of the day," Melizza said. She then imitated Ginny, "Uh, Dad. I have this box of cursed, dark-wizard stuff. Where do I take it?" She paused for effect. "Where did I get it? Uh, it used to belong to Bellatrix but it is mine now. But if it's illegal stuff, don't tell anyone that."
Harry laughed and surveyed the boxes. "There must have been a few Galleons in there."
"A few. I didn't actually count," Ginny said.
"You have to get back to Hogwarts, Ginny. If you need a spare trunk for that stuff, I can lend you one," Harry said.
"No, I'll just combine it into two bags," Ginny insisted and started repacking things. Melizza gave Harry a smile of success as all of the clothes, quills, makeup, and miscellaneous things were pulled out and restowed. She picked up each bulging bag in a hand. "Think I can take the Floo with these?"
Melizza looked her over. "I've managed more, so you are probably okay."
"Great." She stepped into the dining room.
Harry followed her over and they kissed. "Talk to your parents about renting a room here."
"Good way to phrase it, Harry. I'll do that." She took a handful of Floo powder from the tin on the mantle and kissed him on the cheek before tossing it in and announcing Hogsmeade.
When she had spun away, Harry turned to Melizza. "Thanks for doing that. I really appreciate it. Working around her pride has always been tough."
"I had a good time and I got an outfit out of it as well." She held up the shopping bag she had in her hands. "But I have to get going. I'll see you in the morning."
After she too had spun away, Harry wandered around the house at random. He stopped in the doorway of a dark green sitting room on the second floor that hadn't been there yesterday, he was certain. It had appeared between the end room, decorated in rough wood paneling with furs tossed over the chairs and a large flagon sitting on the table beside a water jug, and an airy room with gauzy curtains and wind chimes that apparently didn't need real wind. Harry shook his head, went back downstairs, and settled back in the library. This place was much too big to live in alone.