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Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)

Chapter Twenty-three


“I’m pressing down, right?” Harry snapped.

“It might work, if you’d stop fidgeting!” Heather shot back.

Harry eased out of the way. “Fine! You do it, then!”

Heather cradled Lupin’s head, and pressed the bloodstained towel firmly. “I wish he’d move, or something,” she said. “I don’t like this.”

“Neither do I,” Harry admitted. No healing charm, he thought, not inside these wards. I can’t even get at my wand, he thought, she’s practically sitting on the box.

“Then do something about it,” Heather said nervously. “You have, um, things you can use for this… right?”

Harry kept his voice even by force of will. “What are you talking about?”

“You’re all part of it, aren’t you? Your friends, that professor of yours… somehow the Blacks were part of it… dear Lord, you’ve been here for hundreds of years, haven’t you?” Heather rambled. Her hand shook, and fresh blood seeped through the towel.

Harry replaced her hand with his, but let her continue to support Lupin’s head. “Erm… you’re not making much sense,” Harry offered. “Look, we need to get help…” But how? he wondered.

“He’s part of it, too… and so was Sirius Black… oh, my God…” She paled, and nearly lost her grip on Lupin.

“For Merl… oh, damn it! Would you just set his head against the floor?” Harry shrieked.

She did as she was told, and held her hands up as though they belonged to someone else. “I’m half-alien,” she whispered.

“You’re… what?” Harry blurted.

She put her hands out, as if to ward him off. “Please… I’ll do whatever you say…I just… you’re right, we have to help him,” she stammered. “Just don’t… don’t zap me, or whatever you do.” She stared at him with wide eyes. “You… you wouldn’t hurt me… would you, Harry? I can see that, when I look at you. You wouldn’t hurt me.”

Heather’s babbling finally cut through Harry’s rising panic, and he fought off hysterical laughter. “You think I’m an alien,” he confirmed. “You think Remus is an alien. You…” He felt more blood through the towel. “Look… born in England, Heather, I swear – to human beings. There’s an explanation for all of this –” And I don’t know if I want to be the one to give it, he thought. “ – but right now, we need to help Remus. I need you to run to the tower, as fast as you can. I need you to bring Professor Dumbledore… erm… you know, Albus? If you get to Ron first, give him this and tell him to use his best judgment. Understand?” He fished the parchment scrap with the bothy’s location out of his pocket, and roughly pressed it into her hand. When Heather hesitated, he added more loudly, “Do you understand?

She nodded furiously. “I’ll get your professor if he’s there, or else Ron,” she repeated.

Go!” Harry snapped.

“Don’t let him die, Harry,” she said quickly, then flung open the front door and dashed off into the night.

Harry tried to remember anything that might help – elementary healing charms that he’d heard Madam Pomfrey use, household herbs for a poultice, anything at all. He was reduced to pressing harder against Lupin’s forehead.

He heard Heather shout something, clearly in a panic, and then he heard Tonks cry out very clearly, “Cor blimey! Where did you come from?”

Harry suddenly couldn’t breathe. He hadn’t thought about his minders, and he certainly hadn’t considered what they might think if someone unknown to them appeared from nowhere. He wanted to rush out after Heather, but couldn’t possibly move his hand.

“Remus, you have to help me here,” Harry urged him. “Just open your eyes, all right? I need you to open your eyes.” Lupin didn’t so much as stir, but it did seem as though the bleeding had stopped. Harry kept telling Lupin to awaken, and willing him to be all right.

Tonks burst into the bothy, Heather close on her heels. “Remus!” she cried out. Before Harry knew what was happening, she had edged him out of the way and replaced his hand on the towel with her own.

“She took the paper from me, and then… pop, she was just gone, and then pop, she was back… and your professor was with her,” Heather explained frantically. “He said he… oh God, I need to sit down…”

Tonks flicked her wand with increasing frustration. “I don’t understand,” she said. “I can’t seem to do a thing.”

“The bothy isn’t just hidden,” Harry said. “There’s, erm, another ward in place. You won’t be able to use that in here.”

“Can we carry him far enough?” Tonks asked. “In my Emergency Healer training, they were very clear about not moving someone with a head injury.

“You can help him, can't you?” Heather asked desperately.

“Would you go and wait on Professor Dumbledore, please?” Tonks snapped.

“Right... wait on the... right...” said Heather; she drifted back out the door. A few moments later, Lupin's eyes fluttered and he said something that sounded like erk.

“You're not supposed to scare me like that!” shouted Tonks.

“Mrmble,” Lupin said.

“And what in the world were you doing revealing us to a Muggle?” Tonks demanded. “Now the Professor will have to Obliviate her -”

Harry's brow shot up. “He wouldn't dare! Remus is her father!”

Tonks released the towel for a moment and fresh blood flowed. “Her father… is it… is it true?” she breathed.

Lupin cleared his throat and managed, “I’m fine, really – thank you for enquiring.” His voice was groggy and his eyes were slightly crossed. “It’s nothing that a dozen flagons of Firewhisky couldn’t dull, honestly.”

“Er, sorry, just curious,” Tonks said sheepishly. “I wouldn’t say that you’re fine, though. You have a concussion – no doubt about that.”

“Ordinarily, I’d recover spontaneously from a minor scratch of this sort. The wards must have interfered somehow,” Lupin groused. “Did one of you send her off?”

“I did,” Tonks said. “We needed to concentrate on you.”

Lupin struggled to sit straighter in the chair, but ended up slumped. “She says she’s Shona Malloch’s daughter, but that’s simply not possible.” He cleared his throat nervously.

“Shona Malloch… wait a minute…” Tonks scratched her head. “She’s the chef at that restaurant Harry fancies. I took a look at her particulars.”

“I saw her fall off a cliff. I thought she was dead. We all did,” Lupin said unevenly. “I can’t even fathom this.”

Harry said, “I thought that werewolves couldn't have children.” When the room went unnaturally silent, he looked around and added, “What? We all know Remus is a werewolf.” Tonks glared at him.

“It’s not an impossibility,” Lupin said nervously, “but it’s incredibly unlikely. There’s a greatly reduced likelihood of conception, high risk of stillbirth… and then there are issues of heredity, which are very murky.”

“So, you could be a father… but could you be her father?” Harry asked. When Tonks grunted at him, he added testily, “Look, the question’s already been put.”

Lupin sighed. “Shona and I were together from the end of ’77 until… well, until I thought she had died,” he recalled. “Could I be that girl’s father? If Shona’s really alive, then it’s possible.” He stopped, and added, “It was a different time – things were different then… er, what I mean to say is… people were different about these sorts of… surely you know…”

“It was a very different time, indeed,” Dumbledore said from the doorway. “I came as quickly as I could. May I have a look at you, Remus?”

Lupin eyed Dumbledore warily. “How much did you hear?”

“Enough, my friend,” Dumbledore said. As he prodded Lupin’s forehead, he asked Harry, “Is Miss Magruder’s mother aware of her presence here? The current circumstances could pose a problem, given your rather pointed exchange last evening.”

Lupin sat up with a start. “She can’t come here. Albus, you have to do something. You can’t let her come here – OUCH!”

“Sit still, please. I will not even ask how you managed to injure yourself. So… what would you have me do, Remus? The proverbial cat is out of the bag.” Dumbledore said.

“She should be made to forget all of this,” Remus said flatly.

“She is seventeen years old, and possibly the daughter of a wizard,” Dumbledore said. “Until her paternity is proven otherwise, I will not alter her memory. In any case, I doubt that she would give consent.”

“Harry, does she honestly think I’m her father?” Remus asked hoarsely.

“She suspected Sirius before,” Harry returned, “but she’s surely changed her mind.”

Remus cleared his throat. “But I didn’t say anything that would make her… oh, dear… I did say something foolish – didn’t I?”

Harry smirked at him. “Does ‘she was pregnant’ count?” he asked innocently. “Of course, the fainting might have drawn more attention to it.” Tonks sniggered, and Remus flung his face into his hands.

“Were you really that subtle, Remus?” Dumbledore asked.

Lupin looked up from his hands. “I’ll have none of your twinkling,” he fumed. “This is not a good thing.”

“By all accounts, Miss Magruder is a highly accomplished young woman,” Dumbledore said. “This is a very complicated matter, to be sure, but I choose to disagree with you as to its goodness.”

Lupin scowled. “Let’s assume that all of this is true – that Shona is alive and the mother of this girl. If she’s alive, then she chose to disappear. Now, why do you suppose she might do that… perhaps it was because she discovered that she was pregnant by a werewolf?”

Dumbledore said, “I admit that my recollection is not as sharp on this matter as I would like, but I recall that you had cultivated a meaningful relationship with this woman. Your despair over the matter was deep and prolonged…”

“…and long buried,” Lupin finished. “I don’t know if I can bear this.”

Dumbledore rose. “You have little choice but to answer Miss Magruder’s questions, in some fashion. Once asked and answered, it is a certainty that she will either speak to her mother directly, or insist that the two of you be brought together. The occasion will be as joyful or as painful as you choose it to be.”

Heather appeared at the door. Ron was behind her, positioned in a way that kept her from running away. “Don’t hurt me… please… I… I won’t tell… I swear.” She inclined her head toward Ron. “He pointed his stick at me, and I… I just couldn’t stay awake. It was that quick… you… you won’t let them…?”

Harry rushed over and took her hands. “No one’s going to hurt you. Everything’s better now – look.”

Ron started, “But Harry, she can't -”

“Remus might be her father... or Sirius,” said Harry.

“Her father... uh... right, then...” Ron trailed off and moved clear of Heather.

Heather slowly turned until she was staring at Lupin. He smiled faintly, and offered, “Perhaps we should try this again?”

Her eyes seemed hazy at first, but quickly sharpened. She shrank to one side, which caused her to bump against Harry. He moved his hands to support her. She flinched, and his spirits fell.

“But he’s… and before he was… and there was blood everywhere… but now…” she spluttered. Harry steeled himself, and put an arm around her; this time she didn’t flinch. Instead, she turned, and clutched at his arm.

“I’m back to my theory again, Harry,” she said nervously.

Harry closed his eyes tightly. “Heather, I swear that we’re not –” he began.

“You have a theory on something, my dear?” Dumbledore asked.

She cut him off. “It only took a few days to see that Harry had recently fallen to earth. I can run through all the reasons, if you like. I revised my theory to include Ron and Ginny, of course; if anything, they’re even more recent arrivals,” she explained.

Ron and Tonks stared at one another. “Erm… arrivals?” Ron asked.

Tonks muttered, “Oh, this should be cracking.”

“Heather, I said we’re not –” Harry began again.

“It’s obvious, really. I mean, I’m… I’m not afraid. If you were going to do me in, you’d have done it a long time ago… at least, I think so…” Heather said hesitantly.

Dumbledore said calmly, “I am afraid that you have lost me.”

“You’re all from another planet!” Heather blurted out. “Harry denied it, of course, but he’s surely supposed to do that. I mean, some of you have probably been here for a very long time, but Harry has these big gaps – sorry, but you should have done more revisions on music and books and cinema – and when Ginny said she’d only been playing the violin for a month… I mean, I know she wasn’t lying to me, and that’s just spooky. It’s impossible – you all know that, right? Mr. Lupin was bleeding everywhere, and now he’s sitting there right as rain…” She looked to Lupin and her eyes widened even more. “Shona saw you in your alien form, didn’t she? That’s why she’s been on the run, isn’t it? What do you all look like, I wonder…?” Lupin paled and noticeably squirmed in his chair, and Harry wondered if perhaps Shona had in fact seen Lupin in a different form.

Ron tried to stifle a snort, but couldn’t stop it in time. Tonks squeaked, “I’m sorry,” and began to laugh uncontrollably. Even Dumbledore shook his head and chuckled. Harry didn’t find any of it particularly amusing, and he was tired of deception.

“What’s so funny? I… I was serious, you know,” Heather insisted.

Tonks dabbed at her eyes. “We’re sorry. It’s an interesting idea…” She broke into laughter again.

“Aliens…” Ron gibbered between snorts and howls.

“Well… glad to have amused everyone,” Heather sulked. Harry led her gently to the settee.

Lupin said, “There are trillions of solar systems out there. It stands to reason that some of them harbour life of some kind. You’re talking about a long trip, though. I doubt we’ve been paid a visit; I certainly haven’t seen any aliens myself.”

“It was silly, I suppose,” Heather muttered, “but there has to be an explanation…”

Tonks reached out and took Heather’s hand. “We didn’t mean to make fun, really,” she said, still chuckling. She took a deep breath, and calmed herself. “You’ve seen some things that must be hard to understand. I suppose we might seem like aliens to you.”

Lupin spoke up quickly. “You had other questions. Would you like those answered first? The issue of what we are will require a very lengthy explanation.”

Heather hesitated for a moment, and then drew herself up. “Are you putting me off?” she asked.

Lupin sighed. “No. It’s far too late for that.”

“Fine, then. Was Sirius Black my father?” Heather blurted out.

Harry thought Lupin seemed almost relieved by the question. “I highly doubt that. He spent most of the summer of ’77 in Shona’s company, in case you didn’t know that.” Lupin laughed. “He thought that I didn’t know; he thought I didn’t know a lot of things. By the time Shona befriended me, Sirius was something more like a mad younger brother to her. I can’t imagine that they would ever have taken up again.”

Heather nodded thoughtfully. “Fair enough. Are you my father?”

Lupin rubbed at his face nervously. “I think your mother would have to answer that question,” he said.

“Is it possible, then?” she asked.

“Many things are possible,” Lupin evaded.

“How specific do I have to be?” Heather asked. “Did you have sex with my mother in September of 1978?”

Tonks had been leaning against one of the shelves of record albums; she abruptly lost her balance and dropped in a heap. Lupin broke into a coughing fit, and Harry and Ron sniggered at both of them.

“That’s about as specific as you can get,” Ron laughed.

“Are you always this forward?” Lupin managed between coughs.

“Most of the time,” Heather said.

Lupin settled himself. “You’re terribly self-assured for a seventeen-year-old.”

Heather’s expression hardened. “I learned to take care of myself a long time ago. No one was there for me, no one at all. My bonnie Auntie Fiona thought I should be set adrift until she saw pounds to be made. She lived off my busking, and she took everything from my first recording deal. Shona… I love Shona, but she’s on edge all the time and she works seven days a week and she’s all guilty about leaving me with Fiona.” Her brow furrowed. “I just can’t understand her sometimes. She’s so rough and tumble, you know, but then…” She collected herself, and then went on, “Look, here’s the thing. I’ve had a rough go now and then, but I’ve come out all right. What happened that made her change everything? Can you answer that? I mean, she ran – for ten years… and she’s still so… I don’t know… jumpy? And today…” She turned to Harry, and gripped his arm again. “I’ve never seen her like this. I was half tempted to see if the chemist would give me anything, you know, to settle her.”

“There may be very good reasons why she chose to disappear.” Lupin hesitated, and then added, “I think it’s time for a private conversation, if you don’t mind… Heather.” He said her name delicately, as though he were afraid it might break.

“I’d prefer that Harry stayed,” said Heather.

Lupin’s sad eyes pleaded with Harry. “This is difficult enough. I can’t… Harry, I just can’t. Do you understand?”

“Are you sure it’s all right for me to…?” Heather asked Harry quietly.

Lupin managed a wry smile. He held out his wand to Harry. “Take it with you,” he said. He opened his hands for Heather. “I swear upon all that is holy that I will not harm you.”

Dumbledore let his hand rest on Lupin’s shoulder. “Would you like me to stay?”

“When we are finished, perhaps you could help me to explain the big picture?” Lupin offered. “Some of what I have to say is purely between she and I.”

“The hour grows late, but I will wait for you,” Dumbledore said. “I shall sit on the beach, and listen to the sea.”

“Harry…?” Heather said. She was nervous – Harry could feel it clearly – but at least the fear was gone from her eyes.

He stopped at the door. “Remus is right; this is between the two of you. I’ll wait outside.”

Tonks closely scrutinised Harry. She cocked her head and raised her eyebrows. Harry shrugged. She frowned. No words were required.

Harry’s feet dangled loosely over the edge of the cliff. He tossed another rock. “This is taking a bloody long time,” he said.

“He’s measuring every last word, you know,” Tonks pointed out. “She doesn’t know what he is, or what we are. He has to work around all of that. It’s not as though the rest is exactly simple, either.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “The way you said that… it makes me wonder if you know more of the story than you’re letting on.”

“Not much more than you already know. He told me a bit about a lost love; never said her name, though. He was falling apart after, you know, after Sirius died… and then the Wolfsbane Potion stopped working. He was driving himself into the grave, Harry; I just stood in his way. I heard a few things, and… I saw more than enough,” Tonks explained.

Harry said, “I’m glad you were there for him, especially last month. You weren’t in a good way, yourself.”

“It’s been a hard summer for everyone,” said Tonks.

“It’s none of my business, of course, but do you… erm, do you have a thing for Remus?” Harry asked.

Tonks said, “We were there for each other, and that was the end of it. Remus is definitely not the kind of man whom a woman would have a ‘thing’ for. He’s an all-or-nothing type – like someone else I know.”

“Harry? Are you still out here?” Heather called.

He hopped to his feet, and rushed to her. “Well?” he called back.

She said nothing. When he drew close, he saw that her eyes were damp. “What happened?” he asked.

“He honestly believed that she was dead, all this time,” she said quietly. “I feel badly for him.” She waved to Tonks, who waved back. “Your minders are nice enough. Walk with me?” Neither spoke as they made their way to the beach. Harry saw Dumbledore, seated below, and he stopped at the top of the switchback

Harry asked, “What did he tell you? I mean, if it’s private, I understand…”

Heather said, “He and Shona were together for several months. He obviously cared for her. He told me that he has a disease, an incurable one – I assume you know about that – and then he asked a lot of questions. I think he was worried that I might have inherited it, which is funny, since he never actually admitted that he’s my father.” She hesitated for a moment, and then added, “I think he’s a good man.”

Harry nodded in agreement. “He’s been good for me this summer,” he said.

Heather said, “I wish I knew why he felt he needed to lie to me. I could tell it really hurt him.”

Harry stopped walking. “I’m sorry?”

Heather stood beside him. “I spot lies, Harry. I always know… well, almost always. I can’t explain it. It’s a professional hazard, I suppose.”

Harry swallowed hard. “Erm… when I was talking about my family… my parents…?”

Heather snorted. “Anyone would have known you weren’t telling the whole truth. I mean, you admitted that you were leaving things out.”

“So why is spotting lies a professional hazard?” Harry asked.

“The music business is all about lies. Record companies lie to managers about profits… managers lie to performers about percentages… guitarists show up drunk and tell you they ate bad fish… reviewers tell you they love you, and write about how horrid you are… the paparazzi are the only honest ones – you know exactly what they’re out for,” Heather said, her voice growing more bitter with every word. Everybody says they love you, but they really love what you can do for them.”

“You might not believe this, but that sounds familiar to me. Is there anyone you can trust?” he wondered.

“My boys are all right,” she said. “They’ve been along for the ride for the last three years. I got them the gig, and they watch my back. We click. When this is all finished, they’ll be the only ones who stick around.”

“Your… boys?” he asked.

“The band,” she explained. “They travel with me. Three of us go all the way back to busking. Brucie and Skeet used to play on the opposite corner. I started singing with them, which steamed Meg to no end until she saw we brought in more together than apart.” She added bitterly, “Julian’s been trying to sack them. I think Burke has been pushing him; for Vox, it’s all about lowering the overhead. The last time it came up, I said I’d deliver an album of children’s nursery rhymes. Julian backed off, for now.”

Harry said, “Those are the two blokes I scared off the beach, right?”

Heather nodded. “It’s been good to get away from them, from all of the rubbish…” She looked at him strangely, and then smiled faintly. “You know… what you just did, that was quite a trick.”

Harry said, “What? I didn’t do anything.”

“The way you led me away from the point I was making… you really threw me off,” Heather said. “I shouldn’t be surprised. You do that – you throw me off.”

Harry protested, “What are you talking about? How do I throw you off?”

Heather rolled her eyes. “Let’s see… I can’t tell for certain when or even whether you’re lying to me… I let you steer conversations… I flirted with you when you were a complete stranger – I am a flirt, but this hasn’t been like me. Then there’s all this born-yesterday alien business.” Harry snorted, and she playfully patted his arm before she went on, “You didn’t even know who I was, but now you do, and I really don’t think it makes a difference to you… although I’m not completely sure about that, because you’re hard for me to read. You really throw me off, Harry.” She began to walk down the switchback, and added, “I think I like that.”

“Dumbledore’s down there,” Harry warned.

“Professor Dumbledore, isn’t it?” Heather chided.

“Not really… not anymore,” Harry said.

“I know he’s down there. I’m going to fetch him. Remus couldn’t bring himself to answer the big question alone,” Heather said.

Remus, is it?” Harry teased.

Heather stopped for a moment, and then slowly nodded. “Yeah, it’s Remus. Like I told you, I think he’s a good man.” As they descended, she abruptly asked, “Why don’t you just put me out of my misery?”

Harry came to a halt. “I’m sorry?”

“They’re going to tell me anyway, and I’d really rather that it came from you,” Heather said quietly. She looked into his eyes, and asked, “What are you?”

He looked away, and scanned the beach. The tide was low again, and he saw the glint of exposed rocks in the light of the half-moon. Heather tugged at Harry’s arm, to reel him back in.

He felt nervous and oddly embarrassed. “Do you believe in magic?” he asked her.

“You mean like Gandalf and Frodo and all that? You’re a bit too tall for a hobbit,” she teased.

“That would be ‘no’?” Harry asked.

Heather laughed loudly – a bit too loudly, Harry thought. “Right, next you’ll be telling me that those sticks are magic wands...” she howled. Her laughter quickly fell to a nervous chuckle, and then stopped entirely. She began walking again, faster and faster; by the time they reached the beach, she was nearly running from him.

“Heather… wait…” Harry called out.

“Are you mad? How do you expect me to believe…? You must be mad!” she snapped without looking back. “You should have stopped with aliens – I could have believed that!”

“Explain it, then!” Harry shouted back, exasperated. “We’re not bloody aliens, that’s for certain!” He thought he saw Dumbledore heading toward them, but the beach was mostly cloaked in dark shadows. Heather broke into a run.

“Slow down!” Harry insisted. “It’s too dark – you could hurt yourself!”

“You’re barking mad!” she hollered, without slowing.

Lumos!” Harry boomed, and the beach lit up. Dumbledore was indeed heading in his direction, from the rocks. Heather whirled in shock. She was at the water’s edge, and her foot caught in the wet sand. Before she could stumble into the surf, and before he gave the slightest thought, Harry reached toward her and said, “Accio Heather!” She flew twenty feet into his grasp, and slammed him to the sand in the process.

“A simple levitation charm would have sufficed,” Dumbledore said calmly. He reached out his hand to help Heather up.

“I… I flew through the air…” Heather said, in a daze. “I… flew. I felt it – it was like being pulled…”

“Yes, you did indeed fly through the air,” Dumbledore said. “Harry summoned you.”

She stammered, “He… didn’t have a stick… um, I mean, a m-magic w-w-w–”

“No, he did not use his wand. Harry is something of a rule breaker, you may recall,” Dumbledore said with a grin. “His rather overpowering attempt to light the beach has surely attracted –”

The beach came alive in a symphony of pops! Bill, Odd Lovegood, Ted Tonks, Shacklebolt, and Snape whirled about, wands drawn. Heather reeled as she looked from one to the next.

“Settle yourselves, boys,” Tonks called from atop the cliff. In another instant, she stood amongst them. “If there were a genuine emergency, I would have taken care of it by now.” Bill was the first to put away his wand, followed quickly by Tonks’ father and Mr. Lovegood. Shacklebolt looked to Dumbledore before following suit.

Snape continued to brandish his wand. “Headmaster, I have substantial experience with targeted memory charms. Shall I…?”

“I wouldn’t go there, if I were you,” Tonks said, “unless you fancy ending up like the last bunch of Death Eaters who crossed Harry.” She inclined her head toward Harry, who had quickly moved between Snape and Heather.

“From out of nowhere… I don’t know if could ever get used to that,” Heather muttered.

“There will be no memory charming,” Dumbledore said firmly.

“But… Headmaster… she – is – a – Muggle,” Snape managed in clipped tones.

“Miss Magruder is not a Muggle, Severus, and there will be no memory charms performed upon her,” Dumbledore returned.

“Not a Muggle… I don’t understand… sir,” Snape said carefully. Harry didn’t like the way Snape said ‘sir’ – it had the sibilance of Parseltongue. Shacklebolt immediately turned his eyes to Heather; his expression was both calculated and calculating, Harry thought.

Dumbledore arched an eyebrow. “There is no need for you to understand,” he said to Snape, with virtually no tone at all.

Ron picked his way across the beach, followed closely by Ginny. “I should have known it was just Harry,” he called out. He moved casually, but his breathing gave him away – he had obviously run from the tower.

Ginny made straight for Heather. “Are you all right?” she asked.

“Other than being half-blinded and pulled through the air, and then seeing this lot just appear from nothing? Sure, I’m all right,” Heather snapped. Her eyes bore into Dumbledore. “It’s really magic?”

Dumbledore stared back at her for several seconds, and then gave a faint smile. “Yes, Miss Magruder, you have witnessed magic at work.”

Heather gaped like a fish out of water. Ginny took her by the arm. “It might be a good idea to sit,” she suggested.

“An excellent idea, Miss Weasley,” Dumbledore chimed in. He quickly brought his wand to bear, and a dozen outdoor chairs appeared in a cosy circle. Then, he marked off an area of sand, and transfigured it into wood for a fire at the centre of the circle. “There, that should be much better.”

“Ginny… I… don’t know…” Heather stammered, and clutched at Ginny’s hands.

“Let’s just sit,” Ginny said. “Everything will be fine. We’re all people here. Other than magic, there isn’t a lick of difference.”

“That is a matter of opinion,” Shacklebolt murmured.

Ginny glared at him. “That isn’t helping,” she snapped.

Snape raised his chin and one eyebrow, in a classic expression of Slytherin superiority, and then slowly released a vaguely chilling smile. “Goodness, Miss Weasley… that merits ten points to Gryffindor,” he said smoothly.

“Go to hell, if you haven’t yet taken up residence,” rumbled Shacklebolt.

“The way is paved with good intentions, Kingsley, lest you were unaware,” Snape sneered. “Where have your good intentions gotten you, I wonder? Demoted to life as a minder? That must be positively humiliating.”

“No matter how far I may fall, Snape, it is comforting to know that I shall always be able to look down at you,” Shacklebolt growled.

“Gentlemen, we are not here to bicker,” Dumbledore chided. Snape slipped into his customary dour expression.

“Tell me, Snape, do you practice that before a mirror?” Bill taunted.

Snape crossed his arms. “How like a Gryffindor to cast one last spell after the duel has ended.”

Ron cut in. “Um… Professor Dumbledore, why is there an extra chair?”

“Ah, for Remus, of course,” Dumbledore replied with a twinkle in his eye. “I should fetch him. He has no business descending that path in his present condition, and he certainly should not Apparate. Miss Magruder does not need to witness her first splinching this evening.”

Ron paled slightly. “Erm… neither do I,” he said. His voice cracked, which sent the men in the circle into laughter, excepting Snape.

Dumbledore turned to Heather. “Would you excuse me for a moment?” he asked. Heather nodded with more vigour than necessary. She shrank back in her chair when Dumbledore Disapparated. Ginny struggled to engage her in conversation, and Ron quickly turned to Harry.

“What were you trying to do, anyway?” Ron muttered. “I’ll bet people saw that light in London.”

“It’s really dark down here. I lost sight of her, and I thought she was running straight into the sea,” Harry explained.

Dumbledore abruptly reappeared, with his arms around Lupin. Snape immediately jumped up from his chair, as if to help Dumbledore sit. Dumbledore kept him at bay with a friendly wave. “It is good to perform an assisted Apparation from time to time, in order to remember how the magic feels,” he said. “I am fine, Severus.”

Lupin smirked, “I take it that the early sunrise was your doing?” Harry took a sudden interest in his own shoes. Lupin grinned, and took the empty chair between Harry and Tonks. He reached out and ruffled Harry’s hair; Harry cringed, Tonks rolled her eyes, Snape looked as though he had bitten on something sour, and Heather chuckled despite it all. Harry quickly turned, prepared to scowl, but she looked as though a weight had been lifted. The scowl deflated into a sigh over Lupin’s gesture.

Bantering continued here and there, until Dumbledore’s pensive silence drew them all in. Dumbledore sat for a while, listening to the surf, until even Snape appeared expectant. He smoothed his robes, and then directed his gaze to the sky. “This is the sort of night that reminds one of the grandeur of magic, and of its limitations,” Dumbledore said to the stars. Then he let his eyes wander around the circle, taking in each seated there in turn. “For despite the measured accomplishments and the untapped potential of the magic that is practiced amongst us, there is a magic that lies beyond our reach. It is the magic that binds the universe together, that sets forth the laws governing time and space and nature, that brings us here, and that ultimately calls us home. It is so much greater than us that we can merely afford it the proper sort of awe.”

Harry heard a barely suppressed snort. He scanned the circle without moving his head, though he knew there was no need. He stopped at Snape’s imperious expression, and summoned as withering a look as he could muster. It merely moved Snape to smirk.

Dumbledore let his eyes rest on Heather. “It is ironic that those who possess the broadest ability to manipulate the forces of nature are also those least likely to recognize the grandeur that surrounds them, or to believe in anything save themselves or their own abilities,” he said. Harry was pleased to see the smirk evaporate from Snape’s face.

“You have seen magic every day of your life, Miss Magruder, as have we all,” Dumbledore told Heather. “In fact, you yourself engage in a very ancient magic, the mysteries of which continue to elude our scholars. Music can manipulate the hearts and minds of men as powerfully as the most powerful charm, and as subtly as the most carefully crafted potion. I have heard a reproduction of your voice, courtesy of Harry’s splendid silver discs. You are a most skilled practitioner, indeed.” He settled back into his chair, his fingers forming a steeple beneath his chin. “And so, you sit amongst practitioners of a different magic. I imagine that you have questions. Ask them, and we will do our level best to answer.”

Heather hesitated for a few moments, then recovered herself and began to fire off questions. Many were quite mundane questions about how wizards lived, and how their lives differed from non-magical folk. She asked whether Tonks’ cosmetics were magical, which led to a demonstration of metamorphing that startled her into silence for a solid minute. She asked about the need for secrecy, but seemed to quickly recognise the rationale behind it.

Some of her questions took Harry by surprise. At one point, she abruptly asked, “How long do you live?” After a series of curious looks spread around the circle, she added, “You can make things fly through the air, you can make chairs appear from nowhere, you can just pop from one place to the next… it’s hard to imagine that you ever get sick, or hurt too badly to fix up. You, um, you do die eventually… right?”

Dumbledore pursed his lips. “That is a most interesting question,” he said. “I am curious as to why you might ask it, but let us set that aside. Tell me – how old would you guess me to be?”

Heather hesitated for a moment, and then offered, “Seventy… no, seventy-five. It’s the skin on your neck, you see.”

There was some smirking around the circle, and Dumbledore smiled. “Wizards generally live longer than non-magical people, but we are certainly not immortal. That does not bar some of us from chasing immortality, but those are on a fool’s errand. There is some variation amongst us, but it is not at all uncommon for a wizard to reach the age of one hundred. I am longer lived than most. I was born in Kent in the Year of our Lord eighteen hundred and forty.” Heather gasped, and Dumbledore’s smile grew wider. He continued, “It is difficult to guess how much longer I might live. The oldest wizard in Britain is roughly thirty years older than I, and the oldest witch is twenty years older still. Both remain quite active; in fact, both work for the Ministry of Magic. The oldest wizard whom I know is nearly one hundred years my senior.”

Heather faced Harry, but didn’t meet his eyes. “When I’m old, you and your friends will be middle-aged,” she said quietly. He didn’t know how to respond, and opted for silence.

Later, she asked Dumbledore for a definition of magic, and the question captured Harry’s attention. He couldn’t recall hearing a simple definition offered even once during his five years of studies. After five minutes, he understood why. None of the fully qualified wizards seated in the circle offered the same definition, and there was surprisingly little agreement amongst them.

Dumbledore’s explanation was a single sentence, which set off much of the fray: “Magic is the art and science of causing change by the selective application of will.” He offered no qualification, and simply allowed the arguments to run their course. Harry was sure that Dumbledore had been looking at him when he spoke the sentence, and it was the only morsel from the debate that stuck with him.

After a long while, fatigue began to creep up on Harry, and the number of people in the circle diminished one by one. Eventually, their number was reduced to six: Dumbledore, Lupin, Snape and Ron, in addition to Heather and himself. It was Snape’s continuous observation of Heather that kept Harry awake. The staring was so obvious and so cold that Harry began to plot a series of hexes.

The fire waned, and Heather sat forward in her chair. “So… I guess you should explain why I’m not one of you,” she said heavily. All went silent except the ebb and flow of the sea. After a long pause, she added, “Ron and Ginny and Bill are all related. I’m guessing this runs in families. Does it skip generations, or something?”

Lupin sighed heavily. “I think this is something that should be discussed in the presence of your mother,” he said.

“You’d be referring to Shona?” Heather snapped. “She carried me for nine months. That doesn’t make her my mother, anymore than your bit makes you my father.”

Snape chortled under his breath. Heather glared at him. “As for you, Mister…?”

“Snape,” he said smoothly. “Professor Severus Snape. I am an associate of Professor Dumbledore.”

“As for you, Mister Snape, I’ve had quite enough of your staring,” she seethed. Snape faintly smiled in response.

“You rightly observe that magical ability is an inherited trait,” Dumbledore said.

“Albus, I don’t think –” Lupin started.

“Remus, the young lady asked a question, and we did agree to answer questions,” Dumbledore chided him. “Some of the more delicate nuances can be tabled until later, if you wish.”

“Go on,” Heather urged Dumbledore.

“Remus is a wizard. The majority of offspring between wizards or witches and Muggles manifest magical ability. Some do not,” Dumbledore explained. “It is possible for the offspring of two non-magical people – two Muggles – to manifest magical abilities; Harry’s friend Miss Granger is such a person. Some in our world believe that Muggle-born wizards and witches must inevitably have persons in their heritage with latent ability. Blood ties and purity are complicated and inflammatory issues in the wizarding world. The pureblooded – those with no apparent Muggle ancestry – often look down on those with Muggle relations, even if they are several generations past. Harry’s mother was a Muggle-born witch; he is therefore considered a half-blood. If you were a witch, you would also be considered a half-blood –”

Heather rolled her eyes. “But I’m not, of course.”

“It is possible, but unlikely,” Dumbledore said. “If you possessed sufficient magical ability to be trained as a witch, then you should have appeared in our registry at Hogwarts at some point prior to your eleventh birthday.”

Snape said, “I believe it is more than a possibility. The young lady is hiding something.”

Heather bristled. “You weren’t just staring, were you? What were you doing? I felt something, something I didn’t like very much.”

Harry sat forward in his chair, suddenly very much awake. “Were you mucking around in her mind, Snape?” he hissed.

Dumbledore looked as if he was about to correct Harry, but instead he turned to Snape. “You are falling into a pattern of considerable impoliteness, where Legilimency is concerned. You shall correct this pattern, or it shall be corrected for you,” he warned. “Is that clear, Severus?”

Snape looked down, but somehow managed to look haughty doing it. “Yes, Headmaster,” he said, with the air of a schoolboy caught pranking, “but she is hiding something. The very fact that she is capable of hiding it from me suggests that she is not a Muggle.”

“It is not an either-or proposition,” Dumbledore said mysteriously. He turned his attention to Heather. “If you were a witch, you would almost certainly know by the age of seventeen. I doubt that you could easily conceal accidental use of magical powers. Tell me, Miss Magruder, are you a witch?”

Heather lowered her head. “Stop that!” she said.

“What is it that you wish me to stop?” Dumbledore asked calmly.

“Whatever it was that you were doing,” she snapped. “I felt something again… something strange.”

“I did nothing,” Dumbledore insisted.

Heather looked at him intently. “You’re lying,” she said.

“I did nothing,” Dumbledore repeated.

Heather said nothing for a moment, then insisted, “I… still think you’re lying. I’m sorry, but I just know.”

Dumbledore recovered the customary twinkle in his eye. “How very curious,” he remarked. “Remus, I believe she should be properly evaluated.”

Lupin’s lips grew very thin. “This is neither the time nor the place. Her mother has a right to exercise a say in this, and I’ll see that honoured, even though it shall require a meeting – a meeting that is not likely to be pleasant,” he said. “In the meantime, young lady, you have no business being out in the dead of night, and it would be best if you would refrain from further contact with Harry while this is all sorted out.”

Heather’s eyes narrowed. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“I want you to stay away from Harry for the time being,” Lupin said firmly. “It’s not safe, for either of you.”

“I see,” Heather said matter-of-factly. “And I should listen to you because…?”

“Because you lack a grasp of the situation in which you presently find yourself,” Lupin said firmly. “I daresay that your mother would prefer I keep you from getting yourself hurt, or worse.”

“We’re finished here,” Heather said coldly, and stood.

Harry gauged Lupin’s expression for a moment, and then stood with her. “Would you like to go home?” he asked her.

“I’ll get there on my own,” she said flatly.

Harry followed her up the switchback to the top of cliff anyway, to be certain she didn’t fall in the dark if nothing else.

She stopped near the top, turned, and bore down on him with an icy stare. “Are you sorry you didn’t tell me before?”

Harry couldn’t meet her eyes. “I wish you didn’t have to know.”

“Don’t look away from me,” she snapped. “Are you sorry?”

“If I had told you, would you have believed me?” Harry asked. Heather’s downcast expression gave a clear answer.

“This isn’t easy for me,” Harry said. “I should have never come back to L’Oiseau Chanteur, after I met you. I kept coming back anyway. Now it’s all fallen apart. I’m sorry I’ve dragged you into this.”

“I believe you,” she said.

“Remus is right. You should stay away from me. You should stay away from him, as well. You should run away from here, and forget you ever met any of us,” Harry said bitterly.

“Remus can sod off,” Heather spat. “I have enough minders of my own. I don’t need another.”

Harry felt a pang of anger. “Hold on here… I’m the one saying you should stay away. What, I can’t think for myself – is that it?”

“I’m not having this conversation right now,” Heather fumed. “I’ve had enough for one day.”

“Fine,” Harry snapped. “Walk five miles in the dark, then. If you come to your senses, then I’ll give you a lift.”

“There’s a brilliant idea,” she sneered, “seeing as the last ride home ended so well.”

“Then we’ll find you a room for the night!” Harry barked in exasperation. He brushed past her, and stomped to the top of the cliffs.

A few moments later, he felt a hand on his shoulder. “I don’t want to fight,” she said. “It’s just… you have to admit that it’s been one hell of a day.”

“I just wanted to get away from it for a while,” Harry sighed. “Just a month, one month.”

“Um… Harry? Were you expecting anyone?” Heather asked.

Harry’s brow furrowed. “What, at this hour?”

Heather pointed into the distance. “Those lights… I think they’re on your lane, not on the roadway.”

Harry squinted into the distance. “I can’t tell – they’re moving fast, though.”

Grass crunched behind them. Harry whirled around.

“Easy, Harry,” Bill Weasley said. “I was just watching that motorcar coming up the drive. I don’t think it’s slowing down.”

Harry felt for his wand. He slipped it into his sleeve, and started briskly toward the tower.

“Do you think dashing toward a speeding motorcar is wise?” Bill asked after him. Harry paid no mind, and Heather ran to keep up.

“Is it going to ram the bloody wall?” Harry wondered aloud, and he sped up to a fast jog.

Heather ran along beside him. The motorcar veered around the side of the wall, and bore down on Odd Lovegood’s van. She stopped abruptly, and shouted, “What in the hell is she doing?”

The silver car tore along the side of Mr. Lovegood’s van. The sound of grinding metal made the hair on Harry’s neck stand at attention. The motorcar fishtailed, and spun until it caught the wall; the boot crumpled deeply from the impact. The front left quarter was mangled from the first impact, and the van was creased along its entire length.

Heather ran toward the car, through stirred-up clouds of dust and dirt. “You’re a lunatic!” she hollered.

The driver’s door flung open. “I knew yeh’d be here… what’d I tell yeh? Stay away from him, I say! What’da yeh do? Straight here! I dinnae think I gave birth to a tart!” Shona bellowed.

Heather forcefully grabbed Shona’s arm. “Look at what you did to that van! What were you thinking?”

Shona pulled her arm free and pushed Heather back. She waved her hand dismissively at the van. “So? They wiggle their fingers and poof! Fixed!” She laughed too hard, then coughed and gagged.

Heather began, “You knew…?” but then her nose wrinkled. “God, you smell like a pub! You’re pissed!”

Shona stumbled away from Heather. “Don’t yeh be judgin’ me!” she moaned. “I’m nah here ta listen, I’m here ta howl at the moon!” She laughed again, a dark and bitter laugh.

“Yeh couldn’t leave me alone, could yeh!” Shona shrieked at the tower. “Yer dead, an yeh couldn’t leave it! The boy’s not yours, is he, Black? I stared at that effin’ picture all effin’ day! I should-a ripped it up – years ago! I should-a… should-a… ripped it up…” She dropped to her knees. “He’s Jimmy’s boy, isn’t he? I should-a seen it, but I dinnae want to see it. I dinnae want any of this!” She struggled to her feet. Heather tried to help her, but Shona flailed at her.

“I’m not here ta talk ta you!” she boomed, and knocked Heather off her feet. She rushed at the wall, and pounded against the stone with the sides of her balled fists. “Yer all dead, aren’t yeh? All of yeh! Why?

The black door in the wall opened slightly. Bill called out, “Stay inside!” He said to Harry, “We should put a stop to this. She’s going to hurt herself, or someone else.”

Bill levelled his wand, but Harry quickly shoved it aside; “Too late,” he said.

Ginny stood beside Shona. “Can we help you? Are you hurt?” she asked gently.

Shona pointed, and her hand shook. “L-Lily? Oh my God… LILY!” Before Ginny could react, Shona attempted to wrap her in a desperate hug. She succeeded partly, but slid downward until she was huddled at Ginny’s feet.

“I cannae believe it – yeh’ve not changed! M-magic!” Shona cried.

Harry muttered to Bill, “Get Remus, for Merlin’s sake!”

“I’m on it,” Bill said, and then disappeared.

Harry closed in very slowly, afraid of startling Shona if she were to look his way. Ginny caught his eye; she looked concerned, but no afraid. She carefully knelt. “Do… do you think I’m Lily Potter?” Ginny asked.

Shona slowly lifted her head. “Lily… Potter? Och, of course… Lily – Potter… should-a known… so yer who?”

Ginny said, “I’m a friend of Harry’s from school. Harry’s mum… she isn’t here. She’s, erm… she’s dead.”

“Of course she’s dead,” Shona slurred, “Lily’s dead, so Jimmy’s surely dead…” She laughed strangely. “Sirius Black is DEAD. Remus is… dead… Remus… can’t think about… no…” She swatted at the stone wall. “Yer all dead! Well… good riddance! Yeh ruined my effin’ life!” She stopped pounding, and began to cry. “Why dinnae yeh just tell me the truth, Remus? Why?” she whispered hoarsely.

“Are you talking about Remus Lupin?” Ginny asked gently. “He isn’t dead.”

Shona froze. “D-don’t yeh toy with me,” she warned. “I saw… I watched them, whatever they were… they killed him… they HATED him…” She stared at Ginny. Her eyes were bloodshot and brimmed with tears. “He couldna help it… no one would choose… it’s just how he was… wasn’t it? I wake up screaming sometimes… it’s always there… in the dark… they chained him, they beat him…an they killed him. I’ve played it over and over… he was tryin’ ta get at them, and they threw me in the way. He dinnae mean ta scratch me up.”

Ginny asked nervously, “Um… scratched you up? You mean that Professor Lupin… scratched you?”

Shona didn’t seem to hear her. “I forgave him, yeh know? Sat right on that beach down there, four, five years ago now. Climbed the stack, fer old times. He should-a told me. I suppose he dinnae trust me… I dunno.”

Heather carefully approached. “Ginny’s right. Remus Lupin isn’t dead. I was talking to him a few minutes ago.”

Shona laughed hoarsely. “An yeh thought I was pissed! Was the boy tryin’ ta drink his way inta yer breeks, then? Naw, I suppose not – Jimmy wasn’t like that. Black, though, there was a hound… the pure shite that poured from his mouth…”

Ron was outside now, standing in his nightclothes next to Dumbledore, who had appeared silently. Mr. Lovegood gaped at his crumpled van; Mr. Tonks had his hand clamped firmly over Mr. Lovegood’s mouth, which muffled the moaning.

Harry said, “Remus is alive, Shona. He thought you were dead.”

Shona stared at him for a moment, and then cackled, “Oh, that’s rich… that’s a corker, boy!”

Lupin emerged from the darkness. “I saw you fall,” his shaky voice called out.

Shona recoiled. “Trick! It’s a trick!” she snarled at Harry. “Stop it! Even Black wouldna done this!”

“It’s no trick,” Lupin said. His voice still shook. “They didn’t kill me. For quite some time, people thought that I might have killed you.”

Shona stumbled to her feet. “Cheap effin’ wine… should-a known better.” She edged toward Lupin. “You aren’t here,” she said, jabbing her finger unsteadily toward him, “an I’ll prove it.” She ducked her head like a bull, and charged straight into Lupin, who barely had time to react. He managed to save them both from falling flat, but struck the side of his head against the ground.

“Was that really necessary?” Lupin grumbled. Harry wasn’t sure who wobbled more, as Lupin and Shona dragged each other to their feet.

It IS you!” Shona shrieked. “Yeh son-of-a-bitch!” She pounded on him just as she had pounded on the stone wall. Lupin managed to bring his arms up to afford some protection, but stood there and took the pummelling. She stopped pounding on him, and he cautiously lowered his arms. She swung at him again, and missed, then pressed into him and beat against his chest with her fists, her wails piercing the still night. Harry gaped at them, and Heather looked to be in shock.

Shona released Lupin, and snarled, “I’m so angry with yeh, I can’t see straight!” She grabbed him roughly by the hair and devoured his mouth.

When she let up, Lupin gasped for air. “You can’t see straight because you’ve been drinking petrol!” he choked. “It’s time for you to sober up, and… and then we have a lot to discuss.” He looked to Harry, with desperation in his eyes. “Harry… would you be put out if I borrowed… you know? I think a bit of distance would be for the best.”

Harry nodded, unable to summon a single word.

Harry was beginning to read Dumbledore, in small ways. Some were obvious – a twinkling eye was generally good but sometimes a bit mischievous; an arched eyebrow said that something was amiss; and he was sometimes snappish when very tired. Some were less obvious, like the different ways that he showed impatience.

Dumbledore stood at the massive range in the first-floor kitchen. He had put a stockpot of water on a burner, with the avowed intention of making mass amounts of hot chocolate. Heather had questioned hot chocolate on a relatively warm night but she relented. Dumbledore clearly understood how to use the gas burners, but kept fiddling with the height of the flames.

At the kitchen table, Bill and Heather were swapping impressions of various countries. Tonks looked on serenely, disinterested and exhausted. Ginny sat next to Heather and eagerly took in each new bit of information. Ron struggled to keep his eyes open.

Harry excused himself to the range. “Muggles have a saying about watching pots,” he said quietly to Dumbledore. “Aunt Petunia used to say it.”

Dumbledore laughed softly. “‘A watched pot never boils’ is what you recall. This is an instance where an aphorism proves itself true, I fear.”

“That’s quite a lot of water to heat,” Harry said, with his back turned to the kitchen table. “A Muggle flame could take half an hour to raise a boil.”

Dumbledore fiddled with the flame height again. “I do hope that Remus is faring well. I perfectly understand his insistence on handling the matter alone and in his own fashion, and he is a master of delicacy when he applies himself…”

“However…?” Harry ventured.

Dumbledore smiled faintly. “If you have learned nothing else this summer, you must surely know that affairs of the heart are complicated and not without pain.”

Mr. Lovegood clapped Harry on the shoulder. “Learning about love, are we?” he said in normal voice. “Well, that’s an honest pursuit at your age? My Luna’s certainly prepossessed with it –”

Harry quickly cut in, before Mr. Lovegood could provide any details. He reckoned that Ron might prove the cognivores wrong by dying right there in the kitchen, were Mr. Lovegood to bring up Luna’s dear ‘Ronald’. “I get it,” he said to Dumbledore. “Love hurts.”

“Love also heals,” Dumbledore returned. “Love is beautiful, passionate, glorious, jealous, spiteful… it is anticipation and release… it is tender, and sometimes savage… and yes, there are times when it hurts, Harry – when it is so painful that one can scarcely breathe.”

“Why bother, then?” Harry groused. “Why choose to hurt, or be hurt? It always ends badly, anyway…”

Dumbledore arched an eyebrow. “Explain yourself, Harry.”

Mr. Lovegood said, “Dumbledore, I believe I’m suited to handle this. Allow me.” Dumbledore’s face froze. That must be bad, Harry noted to himself.

Mr. Lovegood took no notice. “You’ve been surrounded by death, obviously. I understand something of what that’s like. I could see the Thestrals, you know, when I was a student. Is that why you believe love ends badly – because people die?”

Harry felt jumbled inside. It was like Mr. Lovegood had turned up the flame beneath him, and now he was about to boil over. “I can’t talk about this,” he said. “I just can’t.”

Mr. Lovegood’s voice rose, and Harry was acutely aware that every eye in the room was upon them. “You’re wrong, Harry. Everyone dies, sooner or later. Is it better to die unloved and unloving? I don’t mean romance; I’m talking about love. There are important differences between the two.” He sighed. “I lost my wife nine years ago. I have had a drunken phase, a second-guessing phase, and a self-destructive phase… I was sacked, I abandoned our friends, and I blamed everyone around me for what happened to her… Luna suffered for it, and I regret that terribly. There’s one thing I never did. I never regretted for a second that I loved her, or that she loved me – not for one second. What we had… it’s enough to carry me for the rest of my life. Is that a bad end? I don’t believe so. If I hadn’t had Gaia, I wouldn’t have Luna, and I would have nothing.”

“I believe your question was ‘why bother?’” Mr. Lovegood said. “Have you ever met anyone who didn’t bother? Think about that, and you might find your own answer.” He yawned loudly. “I’m knackered. I think that there may be fezziwigs nesting in your Great Hall. It will surely take most of the day to lure them outdoors. Nasty things, fezziwigs.” He ambled toward the hallway.

“Sir? I’m sorry about your van. I’ll make good on it, I promise,” Heather offered.

Mr. Lovegood shrugged. “No one was hurt. It’s just a thing. Things aren’t all that important.” He turned to Harry. “The Beatles were right about love, you know.”

Dumbledore frowned. “I fail to see what insects have to do with the question at hand.”

Mr. Lovegood shook his head. “Dumbledore, only you could miss an entire decade. Good night, all.” His voice echoed in loud off-key song from the hallway. “All you need is love, all you need is love; all you need is love, all you need is love; all you need is love, love; love is all you need!”

Bill piped up, “Sir… um, the Beatles were…”

Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled. “I know very well who the Beatles were. Mister Lovegood is simply too much. Fezziwigs… good heavens.”

“Um… what’s a fezziwig?” Heather asked.

“Precisely,” laughed Dumbledore.

Ron laughed. “We sure know where Luna gets it!” Ginny smacked Ron’s arm.

Harry cleared his throat. “I’m off to see how Remus is getting along.”

“You should not interfere. It is, after all, a private matter,” Dumbledore said.

“I just want to be sure they haven’t destroyed… erm… anything important,” Harry said, barely catching himself. “Heather?”

“I’m too tired,” she said. “I can stand the suspense until morning… er, I mean later this morning. Is there, you know, anywhere that I can catch some sleep? Perhaps there’s a spare bed in the spaceship?” She grinned, and even Harry laughed this time.

“Harry’s bedchamber is vacant, I believe,” Dumbledore said.

Harry said, “Take it. I’ve never even seen it.”

“I’ll show you upstairs,” Ginny offered.

As she passed, Heather muttered to Harry, “So… a bedchamber. Sounds inviting. How big is the bed, I wonder?”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Tease,” he muttered.

At the foot of the stairs, she turned to Harry. “Thank you,” she said.

“For what?” he asked. “For mucking up your life? I mean, it hasn’t been a banner day.”

“For Remus,” she said, “even if he isn’t what I imagined.”

He said, “I thought you said he didn’t tell you…?”

Heather smiled a tired smile before heading up the stairs. “I just know,” she said.

As Harry drew close to the bothy, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He quietly Disillusioned himself, and silenced the crunching grass beneath his feet. Someone was there, he was certain. He could almost feel them. He reacted just as he felt a breath on the back of his hair, but too late. An invisible arm wrapped around his neck. Harry flailed around, trying to grab anything that he could. Just as the pressure on his neck made him light-headed, he was flung forward. As he fell, he angled his wand arm backward, and muttered, “Everbero.” He heard a satisfying thud, just before he made his own thud against the hard ground.

As Harry tried to stand, his wand wouldn’t budge. In the same instant, he realised that his invisible attacker was probably standing on it. He whipped around and toppled his attacker. When he reached for his wand, it flew away from him. He saw a body-sized swath of rippling grass, and dove. His attacker let out a guttural oomph! but countered with a slapping spell. By the time he recovered, Harry had been pounced upon.

“Give up yet, Potter?” an invisible voice barked.

Harry wrestled with his attacker. He felt a smooth head, and all became clear. He barked out the warming charm, and Shacklebolt howled. Once free, Harry dove for his wand. He waved away the illusion that concealed his attacker, and called out, “Stupefy!” Shacklebolt countered with a shield.

“Shame on me for forgetting that you don’t always need a wand,” Shacklebolt said. “Not bad, Potter, but I think the holiday has softened you.”

Harry stood slowly, maintaining his wand at the ready. “Any other surprises?” he snapped.

“If I told you, then they wouldn’t be surprises,” Shacklebolt smirked, and lowered his wand.

Harry remained wary. “I just came to see if Remus was still alive.”

Shacklebolt arched an eyebrow. “I haven’t seen him since I left the beach. I understand that there was quite a ruckus earlier. Did he go for a walk?” Harry stopped for a moment before he realised that Shacklebolt was staring directly at the bothy but didn’t see it.

“I thought he had. I guess not,” Harry said. “You have the watch tonight, then?”

Shacklebolt nodded. “Dumbledore asked me to take it in his stead.”

Harry nodded. He hesitated, not sure what to say next. “Well… guess I’ll be going back.”

“Your training resumes today,” Shacklebolt said. “Since you have decided that nights are not for sleeping, we’ll use the afternoons. Have you been reading?”

“No,” said Harry.

“I noticed that some of the library from Grimmauld Place is duplicated here,” Shacklebolt said. “Take a pass through the titles, and find something worthwhile. We’ll begin with the assignment I gave you.”

Harry said, “Assignment…?”

“Conveniently forgotten, I see,” Shacklebolt said. “I asked you to review your experiences with wandless magic, and document both the circumstances and the state of your emotions. Since you obviously have written nothing, an oral presentation will suffice. We’ll also review the incident at the Grangers’.”

“Is that necessary?” Harry grumbled.

Shacklebolt nodded slowly. “I expected you’d resist that. It’s important to consider what happened, and why it happened. We will both benefit. I will be better able to evaluate your needs, and you will gain some perspective.”

“Fine, then,” Harry snarled. He turned toward the tower.

“Harry…” Shacklebolt said.

Harry turned, surprised at hearing his first name.

Shacklebolt looked uneasy. He cleared his throat. “I know why it’s so important to train you. Dumbledore didn’t say anything to me; it wasn’t necessary. After what has happened, after what I’ve seen, it’s painfully obvious who and what you are. At the tower, when I expressed my concerns about consorting with Muggles… Harry, my job is to give you the best chance of surviving what lies ahead. I didn’t mean to suggest that you wall yourself off from everyone. I just think you need to be selective. You need to think carefully about how the people in your life can help you do what must be done.”

Harry was too tired to retort. “Tomorrow, then,” he said.

“Tomorrow,” Shacklebolt confirmed. “One o’clock. The Great Hall in the tower should be an excellent space for our purposes.”

Harry walked toward the tower without looking back. All was quiet. He flopped onto the plush couch in one corner of the Great Hall, and settled in. His sleep was unsettled, a jumble of shouting and singing and spaceships and a dark sky with brilliant stars and a sun-dappled whitewashed building on a high hill that overlooked an azure sea.

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