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Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)

Chapter Twenty-six


The evening meal was excruciating. Lupin’s offer for Harry and Luna to join his party of four turned at the last minute into an awkward party of eleven, shoehorned into the smaller of the two private dining rooms at L’Oiseau Chanteur. Odd Lovegood fretted openly about his daughter’s health, but didn’t chastise Harry for taking her from the tower – ‘Luna makes up her own mind’, Mr. Lovegood declared.

Once again, Ron was turned out like a younger, taller imitation of Bill, sans earring and ponytail. He followed Heather around like an owl delivering posts. Ginny had settled on a black dress. Luna wore a powder blue turtleneck, trousers and white trainers. Harry went for a grey silk sweater and black trousers. He had packed his jacket for the ride, and had been quite surprised when Luna brought out an ancient aviator jacket with all manner of patches stitched onto it. At the dining table, Harry sat next to Luna and near Lupin.

Dumbledore was disconcerted. Harry guessed that neither Lupin’s invitation nor Dumbledore’s attendance had been purely personal in nature. Lupin was terse and frowning, and Harry eventually realised that it was because of Heather’s outfit. Shona made no effort to mask her opinion; within earshot of the table, she asked Heather, “Anything I can do ta help yeh tart up a bit?”

Ted Tonks found the opportunity to fill in Harry on his progress. The funds for repaying the assessments were largely assembled, and Mr. Tonks had already met with more than two-dozen affected parties as well as two of the village councillors. Shona pulled Harry aside at one point and gruffly thanked him for returning the payments.

Harry thought that the food was fabulous. He was surprised how much he had missed his regular meals at the restaurant. Ron did a poor job of concealing his dislike of much of the meal; Heather was quietly but obviously displeased. For his part, Harry thought that Heather had no business spending time with someone who couldn’t appreciate Shona’s skill.

Heather was subdued throughout the meal; she spoke a bit to Ron and chatted with Ginny. She sat at the opposite end of the table from Lupin and Harry, and Harry had no doubt that was intentional. They made eye contact at one point, but she quickly glanced away and resumed her conversation with Ginny. Harry only heard one word amidst the din: ‘violin’.

Just when Harry decided that the situation had reached the height of discomfort, Odd Lovegood spirited him away to discuss the proper context for sexual intercourse in adolescent relationships. The more Harry insisted that nothing remotely like sexual intercourse had happened or was going to happen between he and Luna, the more calmly explicit Mr. Lovegood became. Harry wasn’t clear whether Mr. Lovegood was trying to threaten him or to make recommendations. When Harry returned to the table, it was several minutes before he could comfortably look up from his plate.

Unable to arrange a large enough vehicle, Bill had borrowed Mr. Lovegood’s van for the evening; clearly, Bill was not thrilled. Lupin interrogated Heather, Bill and Tonks about destinations and times, and took copious notes. Heather barely acknowledged him.

Harry piped up, “Luna and I are travelling separately, on the Bonnie.”

Mr. Lovegood cleared his throat. “Luna, are you certain about that?”

“I am quite certain,” Luna said. “I am looking forward to it.”

“Harry, we’ll need to discuss security matters first,” Tonks said firmly. Harry nodded in acknowledgement, though he really didn’t care to have the discussion at all. Ginny stared daggers, but Harry wasn’t sure if they were directed at him, at Luna, or the both of them.

Ron said to Luna, “You’ve hardly moved in two weeks. How you could possibly be up to this?”

“I walked nearly a mile today,” Luna said. “I walked down and up and down the stairs in the tower, and all the way to the cliffs and beyond. I did stop for a few moments on a rise that overlooks Harry’s beach. It must be wonderful to have a beach all to one’s self.” Ginny’s fork slipped from her hand. Bill and Tonks abruptly stopped their side conversation.

Ron’s ears reddened. “If you can’t be talked into staying behind, then you should ride in the van.”

“I immensely enjoyed riding on Harry’s motorbike, and I am looking forward to the rest of the ride,” Luna said. “In any case, we have our own plans in Edinburgh.”

Heather looked up from her plate. “What plans?”

“What if you get tired and slip off?” Ron asked.

“That seems unlikely,” Luna said. “I trust Harry. His actions have earned my trust, Ronald.” Heather watched Luna with narrowed eyes, Harry noticed.

“What have I done to you?” Ron asked anxiously. “All I’ve done is look after you for two weeks, and I’m treated like this?”

“Ginny has done most of the looking after. How am I treating you, exactly?” Luna asked. “I simply said that I enjoyed Harry’s motorbike, and that he has earned my trust. You’re rather defensive.”

All the adults at the table watched the exchange with great interest, Lupin in particular. Harry was surprised that neither Luna nor Ron seemed to take notice; he wished that they would.

“Ron’s right,” Heather said suddenly. “You should ride in the van, Luna. I can ride with Harry. I’ve ridden with him before, so I know what to expect.” What are you doing, Heather? Harry wondered.

Ron smiled, and it was obviously forced. “Mr. Lovegood said it himself – Luna makes up her own mind. If she’s set on riding with Harry, I suppose I shouldn’t stand in her way.”

“No… really, Ron. You were right in the first place. I’ll ride with Harry. The back of a motorbike is no place for someone weak,” Heather said.

Luna’s eyes could make her expressions difficult to read, but Harry was not in doubt. “Weakness is relative,” she said airily. “For example, I would be unable to run for even a quarter-mile at present. However, I could transfigure a person into a worm with only modest effort.”

“Luna, you’re being silly now,” Mr. Lovegood chastised her. “Perhaps you might be capable of transfiguring a person into another mammal, but certainly not into a worm. You’ll have to be past your N.E.W.T.s before you even think of trying something like that.” Harry watched Heather; she didn’t visibly react to either the thinly veiled threat or to the clarification.

Harry decided to intervene. “I have the directions,” he said. “We might meet you later. Luna, are you ready?”

Luna smiled serenely at Ron. “I’m ready for anything,” she said to Harry. “I’m so looking forward to seeing some of Edinburgh.” She stopped to kiss her father on the cheek, and then lightly took Harry’s hand as they walked out of the dining room. Ron’s stare was murderous; for her part, Heather regarded Harry with a faint smirk and shake of her head.

They slipped through the kitchen to the alley, where Harry could discreetly enlarge the Bonnie. Tonks followed closely behind. Shona intently watched Harry walk past her station, and Harry stared back. Her eyebrow rose ever so slightly.

Harry gently but firmly grasped Luna’s arm as they walked down the steeply sloping West Port. Luna kept staring up at the Castle Rock that loomed above them, a ghostly apparition that cut through the drizzle. Harry was sure she would catch her toe on a cobblestone and fall flat.

When she wasn’t looking up, Luna watched the walkers and diners along the sidewalks. She commented on the clothes and the hats and the hair. She picked out the couples that held hands and the men who were cads and the women who were looking for a change. She was a bit too loud and tended to point, but she made for an eccentric Muggle and not a conspicuous witch. She was funny, witty, occasionally catty, and not terribly loony as far as he could see. For a time, she made him forget the last three days. Nothing on Earth could make him forget the balance of the summer. He enjoyed himself nonetheless and was in no hurry to reconnect with the others.

The West Port opened wide into the Grassmarket, which teemed with people despite the turn in the weather. Harry had offered to transfigure an umbrella but Luna declined; she seemed to enjoy the rain. Motorcars were banned from the area by orange cones and harried traffic wardens, and people occupied every conceivable space. Long winding queues before several shop fronts surely led into restaurants, clubs and the like. Pressed by the crowd, Luna stopped abruptly and tried to blend into the stonework between two shops.

“Are you all right?” Harry asked.

“Yes,” Luna said hesitantly. “I do enjoy watching people, but this is rather overwhelming.”

Harry grinned. “Yeah, I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s great, isn’t it?”

Luna managed a shaky nod.

“You’ve travelled a fair bit, right?” Harry asked. “Crowds can’t be new to you.”

“They’re not, but we avoid larger cities,” Luna explained. “Daddy doesn’t care for the commotion. I… I think that I appreciate his logic.”

Harry held out his hand. “Maybe this will grow on you,” he ventured.

“You like it,” she observed. “All the people, the movement, the noise… you really like all of this. I am confused, Harry. You seemed to prefer solitude.”

“What, because I like being in St. Ebb?” he asked. Thinking for a moment, he added, “I like both, really. It would be fantastic to have a choice.” Most of the buildings that ringed the Grassmarket were old stone tenements, several stories high. Balconies jutted from the highest floor of a stone building opposite them; there were patio chairs on one, and revellers peering down from another. Harry asked excitedly, “Can you imagine having a flat here? You’d be a few steps from all of this.”

“I doubt it’s like this all the time,” Luna pointed out. “Besides, half the world would be a few steps from you.

“That wouldn’t matter,” Harry said. “I’m nobody here.”

“Can you teach me to appreciate this?” Luna asked. She took his outstretched hand.

Now Harry did the pointing. Luna seemed steadily less apprehensive, but clung tightly when the crowds grew close. There were dozens of buskers about. They walked past some jugglers. Harry looked closely, and did a double take; they were the same jugglers as in the Muggle market in London.

Harry easily jostled through the crowd, and Luna squeezed his hand until it was nearly numb.

“Oi, who wants to have a go?” one of the gaily clothed men called out.

Harry stepped up. “I took a turn in London a few weeks ago, but I’m game again,” he said.

The juggler pulled his blue top hat low. He looked Harry up and down, and his eyes fixed on Harry’s forehead. “Whitechapel Market, right? Yeah, I remember you. You’ve got the knack. Don’t worry, mate… we won’t make you look too bad. Can’t have that in front of your lady friend, can we?” The juggler winked. Harry was pleased that it was growing dark; surely no one saw him flush.

Harry turned to Luna. “You don’t mind, do you?”

“Do you require my permission?” she asked.

“I just… you know, the crowd…” Harry stammered.

“I am fine,” Luna said. She waved to the jugglers and called out sweetly, “Make this as difficult as possible, please.”

The other juggler, who wore a black beret, bowed grandly. “As you wish, good lady,” he said. A good share of the nearby crowd sniggered. Luna looked on distantly as though she had said nothing.

Harry frowned, and moved tentatively into the ring formed by the onlookers. Without warning, the jugglers flung four rubber balls into the air. Somehow, Harry managed to keep three in the air long enough to get his bearings and guide them into a smoothly flowing pattern.

“Not bad, not bad,” the top-hatted juggler said. “We’ll have to try harder.”

“Much harder,” his partner agreed. He tipped his beret jauntily, and reached into an open trunk. Harry nearly dropped the rubber balls when the juggler revealed what looked to be a cannon ball with holes in it.

The top-hatted juggler laughed heartily. “A little ten-pins, eh? Nah… we wouldn’t want to break any ickle fingers now, would we?” He whipped out two more rubber balls, and tossed them over Harry’s head. Harry managed to snare one of the two, whilst keeping the other three in motion.

“Four is good, four is cracking,” the juggler encouraged him. “Oi, Martin, put back the ball and fetch the pins.” Out came four bowling pins, deftly flipped one at a time to the juggler in the top hat. As Harry struggled to maintain the four balls in the air, the two jugglers began exchanging the bowling pins. Soon they had worked in two rubber balls, taken out two pins, and then added a whirling chef’s cleaver. Harry caught his four rubber balls one at a time, and watched in amazement; the pins were surely slick from the rain and mist, he figured. The two jugglers stopped, and the juggler in the beret gamely held out the cleaver for Harry. Harry took two quick steps back, and the crowd laughed.

“No? Well, you’re a good sport, and a fair juggler, kind sir,” the juggler said loudly. “In the spirit of friendship and good will, we will not make you eat fire.”

“Why not?” Harry asked.

Both jugglers gaped at him for a moment, and then laughed uproariously. Luna tugged hard at Harry’s arm.

“Keep the balls, my friend, as a token of our esteem,” the top-hatted juggler said. They encouraged applause for Harry, and Luna dragged him back into the crowd.

Harry stuffed the balls into the pockets of his jacket. “Luna, what are you…?”

Luna pulled Harry into a hug, which startled him. She thrust her mouth against his ear and whispered insistently, “You were planning to eat fire? Are you mad? You can’t cast a flame-freezing charm in the midst of a crowd of…” The beret-wearing juggler thrust a flaming torch into his mouth. Harry turned so that Luna was facing the action, and he felt her jaw drop.

“Neither can he,” Harry whispered back.

Luna pulled back, her eyes even wider than usual. “An excellent point,” she sing-songed. “I have to know how that is done.” They lingered there a while, but moved on when the jugglers showed no sign of stopping. As they weaved through the throngs of revellers, Luna again gripped him tightly. They passed beyond the Grassmarket and the crowds lightened but Luna never relinquished his hand.

They walked in silence past museums and through part of what proved to be a university campus. The area was still well trafficked, but even more appealing to Harry than the Grassmarket. He turned down a route marked as South Bridge, and spied a harried-looking woman attempting to tug a pram over a threshold and through an open door. He quickened his pace, and Luna followed without prompting.

“Mind if we pitch in?” he asked the woman.

She said, “I’ve done this a hundred times. You’d think…”

“It’s not a bother, ma’am,” Luna said. She held the door wide, and Harry reached down to free the wheels of the pram. The child inside was asleep, and he took care to set the pram gently down on the other side of the threshold. The woman muttered her appreciation and moved inside.

Harry turned back to the door. “It’s a café of some kind. Fancy a hot chocolate?” Luna smiled serenely and nodded. They were seated two tables away from the woman with the pram, who spread books and papers across the table and absently flipped her hair away from her face. Harry was reminded of Hermione setting up camp in the library at Hogwarts.

They waited in silence for the hot chocolate to come. After a sip, Harry said, “Luna, I’ve had a great time.”

Luna said, “As have I. You make for pleasant company.”

Harry took two more sips to calm himself, and then asked the question that had gnawed at the back of his mind all evening. “So… why don’t you tell me what you’re up to?”

Luna slowly swirled her hot chocolate. Each turn of the spoon launched another puff of steam. She was silent for a long while. “This has become so confusing. People are confusing,” she said at last, without taking her eyes off the spoon and the cup. “Perhaps I should stick to Snorkacks. One knows where one stands with a Snorkack, you know?”

Harry had no idea what Luna was going on about, but he wanted to understand. “No, I don’t know. Tell me?” he asked, in hopes of drawing her out.

“Snorkacks in the wild live to be about twenty, about the same as a Kneazle,” Luna said slowly. She steadfastly refused to look up from the swirling hot chocolate, which had surely cooled to lukewarm at best. “They reach maturity before the age of two. They have no mating rituals, no courtships. They simply mate for life. Snorkacks become intertwined at their very souls, and they are never wrong about their mate – never.”

Harry thought he was onto something. “It would be easier if people were like Snorkacks,” he offered.

Luna looked up from her cup brightly. “You understand,” she said.

Harry said, “Ron’s not the same person that he was, Luna. I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. I doubt he’ll ever be the way…” He trailed off as Luna’s face dimmed.

She said softly, “You don’t understand.”

“I’m trying,” Harry insisted. “This is about Ron, right? I mean, you’ve had a crush on him for ages – long before Hogwarts, I heard.”

“We were like Snorkacks, you know,” Luna said. Her voice became strained and her eyes actually seemed to grow bigger. “Ronald… Ronald couldn’t see it, of course, but I always knew he would. When I fell into his circle – your circle – it simply offered confirmation. Then everything grew dark. First, there was Umbridge, and then the Department of Mysteries, and he changed. You changed. Everything changed.”

“I’m having a hard go of it with Ron,” Harry admitted. “I’ve tried, but I just keep blowing up. I was hoping that we’d patch things up, you know, before the end of the summer. I thought… well, I hadn’t counted on a crowd.”

“I will not cost you your friendship with Ronald,” Luna said. “I can talk to Daddy. We can leave tomorrow. Perhaps you’ll still have the time to mend things? I never intended…”

“How are you responsible for this? This is between Ron and me,” Harry told her.

“Snorkacks don’t know for certain until they mate,” she said absently. “Perhaps that is the problem.”

“Luna, I’m really trying here,” Harry said. He tried hard to keep the exasperation out of his voice. “The Snorkack thing is throwing me off, right?”

“It’s so easy for Snorkacks,” Luna said, her gaze returned to the cup before her. “They’re never wrong… they never compete, they never interfere with another match.” She moved her spoon in idle circles, but steam no longer rose.

“Luna…” Harry began, with an edgy tone.

“I can leave tomorrow,” she said. “I should not intrude upon the fates of others.”

Harry reached for her shaking hands. “Luna, please… just tell me what you’re thinking, straight out. Set aside the Snorkacks, just for a bit?” He smiled and tried to catch her eye.

“I think I may have been wrong about Ronald. This afternoon, I was so…?”

“What… catty?” Harry teased.

“I was not the person I wish to be,” Luna frowned.

“I manage that quite a lot,” Harry said. “It’s not the end of the world.”

Luna continued as though Harry wasn’t there. “I drew you along with me, and you came willingly, and then everything was better, and this evening has been delightful, and… I don’t know what to believe anymore.” She abruptly snapped to attention, and stared at him with an intensity that made Harry instantly uncomfortable. “Our souls intersect; yours and mine – I’ve recognised that for some time. They can not be intertwined –” She stopped abruptly, with the air of someone who had said too much.

Harry felt heat rise from his neck up into his cheeks. He fought the impulse to quickly let go of her hands, and instead cleared his throat. “Erm… Luna, I… er… are you saying… oh, bugger! Are you saying that you fancy me?”

Luna gripped his hands tightly. “I am saying that I feel connected to you, and I can’t make sense of it. It scares me, but I am drawn to it. I know what is coming, and I’m not afraid.” She summoned the most serious expression Harry could ever imagine crossing her face, and repeated in a whisper, “I’m not afraid. Tell me what you need me to be.”

Harry had no idea what to say or do; she’d just placed herself in his hands, like a sacrifice. The room seemed suddenly warm. He wanted to wipe sweat from his brow but didn’t dare let go of her hands. Why is my chest pounding? he demanded of himself. It’s just Luna. She looked into his eyes expectantly, but he could see fear there. She apparently wasn’t afraid of everything swirling around him, even though she should have been. What is she afraid of, then? he wondered. It dawned on him that he hadn’t responded to Luna’s… to her what? What does she want from me?

“What if I don’t know what I need?” he asked. “I’m a bit thick about this sort of thing. Everyone knows that.” His voice cracked, and he cringed inside.

“Do they really?” she wondered aloud.

“I think it’s common knowledge,” Harry said. “You can ask around back at Hogwarts, I suppose.”

“I prefer to make up my own mind,” she said.

It occurred to Harry that it was much easier to battle a basilisk than to muck around with feelings – just swing the sword and, whatever you do, don’t look it in the eye. There was a rushing sound; Harry glanced around for the source.

“Do you hear that?” he asked nervously.

“I hear the rain, and a small child fussing. What do you hear?” she asked in return.

He heard whispers. They seemed to be all around him, just a bit too soft to make out. One of the whispers seemed to emerge from the rest, in a static haze that reminded him of a wizarding wireless warming up. The whisper became a voice – an achingly familiar voice.

You have to stop pushing people away.

Harry closed his eyes. He was instantly determined to shut it out. He focused on emptying his mind. For a moment, he wondered why his hands were his focal point; then he shut that thought out as well. For a few moments he was able to push the voice away, back into the whispers. It still sputtered at him in fits and starts.

you don’t want to be alone… cares for you… understands…

He couldn’t hold it off any longer. It was miserable – it was like standing before Snape in the dungeons, half-drowned in memories. The voice was around him, behind him, before him, inside him. There was no escape.

Give into it.

It wasn’t real, it couldn’t be real – he knew that. He knew it was Voldemort invading his mind, stronger than ever. Sirius was dead, and that was the end of it.

You-Know-Who isn’t taking your life away, lad. You’re throwing it away. I thought you had more sense.

“Use his name,” Harry snarled aloud.

Luna stroked the back of his right hand. “Harry…?”

As hard as it is to see people hurt, it’s ten times harder to go it alone. Damn it, Harry… think about the power you need… think…

“I won’t listen, I won’t! It’s not you… it was never you – it was just Voldemort in a cheap suit!” Harry insisted. He focused his mind as strongly as he could.

He felt Luna’s hand on his cheek; she brushed away something warm and wet. “Harry, open your eyes and look at me. You are sitting in a café, drinking hot chocolate. It is raining outside. We are most likely going to meet Ronald and Ginny and William and Miss Tonks at a club of some sort. Can you hear me? Do you hear what I am saying?” Her voice was even and steady, and he heard it clearly. He managed an unsteady nod and then opened his eyes.

A man in an apron stood next to the table with a look of concern. “Er… hate to barge in, but is there a problem here?”

Harry moved to speak, but Luna moved her fingers from his cheek and brushed back his wet bangs.

“Everything will be fine,” she said. “My friend has seen some terrible things, sir. It all rushes back to him at the most peculiar times.”

The man hesitated, and then looked at Harry sadly. “When my brother came back from war, he was in a bad way for the longest time. You saw someone killed, lad?”

Harry bristled when the man said ‘lad’, but managed to nod.

“Awful times we live in, awful times,” the man said. “You’re lucky, though. My brother had to go it alone, more or less. You’ve got your young lady friend to help you along.” Luna smiled and Harry attempted to smile back.

“Thank you for your concern,” Luna said. “I hope we weren’t a bother.”

“Not at all, miss,” the man said. “It’s my job to watch for strays.” He turned to Harry. “Sorry, but I have to ask… do you have a headache?”

A chill climbed up Harry’s back. “No, I don’t,” he said cautiously.

The man smiled. “Never forget that you have friends. There are always people looking out for you.” He winked, and briskly walked to the kitchen.

“What the…?” Harry blurted. Luna slid in her chair as Harry brushed past her hand, and dashed after the man. He blazed into the kitchen, to the startled shrieks of three cooks and a runner. There was no sign of the man in the apron.

Luna waited for him just outside the kitchen entrance. “He is gone, I presume?”

“Did you hear… what…?” Harry spluttered.

Luna shrugged. “Did you really think they would let you wander about a large city with me as your only line of defence?”

Harry scowled. “I figured there would be watchers. Please tell me you’re not in on it?”

Luna shook her head. “Certainly not. The Headmaster appears capable of smothering you without my help. I made a game of looking for them at first, but decided that I preferred talking to you.”

“We should go,” Harry said flatly. “I’m sure that fellow will have ratted me out to Tonks by now.”

“Is that how you see it?” Luna asked.

“I suppose I do,” Harry answered. He went to leave the café, and pulled hard at the door for several moments before Luna pushed it open. He stormed down the sidewalk. Luna grasped his hand and somehow managed to keep up.

After a few blocks, Luna tugged on Harry’s hand. “I can’t… I’m sorry, but… I just… too fast…” she panted.

Harry stopped. “I wasn’t thinking,” he said. “I’m good at that.” He spied a stone planter under an awning and led Luna there to sit and rest. She insisted that he sit as well, though there was barely room for the two of them. She shivered. Harry looked around carefully, before he took his saddlebags from his pocket and enlarged them. He dug inside, found Luna’s aviator jacket, and draped it around her shoulders.

“Why are there runes on your hand?” Luna asked him.

“Um… I’m sorry?” Harry managed.

“Three runes have been placed on the back of your right hand,” Luna observed. “I noticed them when you were distressed. Do they afford some kind of protection?”

“I wish I knew,” Harry said ruefully.

“What an interesting answer,” Luna sing-songed. “You haven’t enrolled in Ancient Runes, I’m sure. Few Gryffindors do.”

“And I suppose all Ravenclaws do?” Harry teased as he held out his hand.

“My father has tutored me in Runes,” Luna said absently. “Gebo… how unusual.”

Harry cleared his throat nervously. “I suppose I’m fated to be trampled by rampaging hippogriffs, or something?” he joked.

Luna stared at him blankly for a moment, and the resumed her examination of his hand. “This is not Divination… not that Divination is, of itself, flimsy or ridiculous. Professor Trelawney, however, is quite ridiculous; I completely agree with Hermione on that point.” She looked up again, animated this time. “Runic symbols are imbued with magic. They are tangible and quite serious. The acceptance of gebo by a wizard requires selflessness, which is rare. In combination with the other runes…” She tapped the back of his hand, and her face took on a look of concentration that appeared painful; then her eyes widened. “These are not for your protection. You are protecting –” She stopped in mid-sentence, and watched him expectantly.

Harry snatched his hand free. “Let’s change the subject.”

“Was Sirius Black talking to you?” she asked abruptly.

Harry wasn’t sure he could ever get used to Luna’s bolts from the blue; they were so hard to evade. “How did you guess…?”

“‘Voldemort in a cheap suit’, you said. I would have called it gaudy, instead of cheap,” she said.

“It wasn’t Sirius. It’s Voldemort – it has to be,” Harry growled. “I don’t know how he’s doing it, but has to be him. I’m so tired of this. I just want it to be over.”

Luna draped her arm around him. “Why does it have to be Voldemort – on account of the dream?” she asked.

He wanted to push her away, but he didn’t. “I’m so sorry for everything that happened,” he said.

“You have no reason to offer me an apology. I’ve stood with you twice, and I will stand with you again,” Luna said. “You said to the minder that you had no headache. I was told that you suffered terrible headaches last year, when Voldemort intruded in your mind.”

Harry frowned. She was right, of course, but he didn’t have to like it. “Who else could it have been?” he grumbled.

“Why couldn’t it have been Sirius Black?” Luna asked.

Harry stared at her dumbly. Part of him wanted to be angry with her for toying with him. Part of him wanted to laugh off the idea – even the Quibbler wouldn’t print this one, he thought. A small part of him wanted desperately to cling to the idea, to believe that Sirius had somehow spoken to him from beyond the veil.

“It can’t be him,” Harry whispered hoarsely. “He fell through the veil, Luna. I watched him… he fell through… it can’t be him.” He raised his voice, and it cracked with rising anger. “I can’t even have my memories of him. Voldemort won’t even leave me those.”

They sat there, side by side, staring straight ahead. Luna tightened her hold on him and he didn’t resist. “Harry… you heard the voices, the whispers,” she reminded him. “They’re all right there, just behind the veil. He risked everything for you. He must have loved you. Why couldn’t it have been him?”

Harry felt so unsettled that he nearly shook. He licked his dry lips, and asked nervously, “Have you ever heard… has your mother ever… you know, spoken to you?”

“If she had, would that make a difference to you?” Luna returned.

“I might not think I’m a complete lunatic!” Harry blurted.

“Then you’re not a complete lunatic,” Luna said. “You have considerable potential in that area, of course, but I expect it will go unrealised…” She stopped, and looked at him with a mix of curiosity and surprise.

“What? What did I say?” Harry asked.

“I nearly missed it. You used me as a reference standard for your sanity. I am flattered,” Luna said.

“Half the wizarding world thought I was a nutter last year,” Harry chuckled. “We make a good pair, I think.”

She turned and smiled at him. “Downside-up thinking seems to suit you,” she said.

“I suppose it does,” Harry admitted. “Just don’t point out any, erm… fezziwigs, right?”

Luna’s expression grew grave. “Oh… that’s quite unlikely. I dearly hope you never see one.”

Harry stifled a laugh. “Do you know what I need right now?” Harry asked.

Luna sat up straighter. “Tell me.”

“I need to get out of the rain,” Harry said. “We may as well find them, before they find us.”

“Do you think that Ronald will look for us, if we linger too long?” Luna asked.

Harry suppressed a smile. “Erm… I wasn’t thinking of Ron. No, I expect the minders are in full force now.” He stood, and extended his hand to her. “I’ll go more slowly this time – I promise.”

Within a block, Harry was certain that they were being closely followed. Probably just the bloody minders, he figured, but there’s no reason to take a chance. He guided Luna into an adjacent alleyway and cast quick silencing and befuddlement charms where the alley opened to the lane.

“What is it? Did you see something amiss?” Luna asked. She brandished her wand apprehensively.

“Do you trust my Charms?” he muttered.

She hesitated for a moment, but said, “I trust you.”

“With Glamour Charms, we might go unrecognised,” Harry suggested.

Luna asked, “Have you cast one before?”

“We had to cover a half-dozen basic glamours for the O.W.L.s,” Harry said. “I did reasonably well.”

“Are you certain that this is necessary?” Luna questioned.

“We’re being followed,” Harry returned sharply. “I didn’t manage to count them, but there are several.”

Luna looked at him strangely. “When I asked my housemates about the O.W.L.s, I was told that glamours were reserved for the N.E.W.T. examinations,” she said slowly.

“They said that, did they?” Harry fumed. “Your housemates were having you on, apparently.” He looked to his wand, reviewed the charm in his mind, felt a flutter of nervousness, and asked, “Shall we?”

“Try not to think of food while casting the charm,” Luna said earnestly. “I wouldn’t care to look like a parsnip.”

He focused his thoughts. He saw Luna with smaller eyes, longer and darker hair, and fuller features, and managed to cast the charm before his mind was filled with the image of Ron eating. Then he conjured a pocket mirror; it didn’t have a frame, but at least the edges weren’t sharp.

Luna’s disguised cheeks flushed. “I look like my mother,” she whispered.

“I… I didn’t know! I can change it, it’ll only take a moment,” Harry quickly offered.

She gazed into the mirror and smiled. “No, thank you,” she decided. “It’s your turn.”

Older, he thought, I want to look older – five years or so. Keep the hair the way it is, a little taller, brown eyes instead of green. He cast the charm.

“What do you think?” he asked hesitantly.

Luna looked at him very carefully, taking in every part of his face. “I think that no one will expect to see my mother walking with your father,” she concluded. “Shall we?”

The club they were seeking – the Cabaret Moliére – was a few blocks farther beyond the Uni. It was on one side of a close. Harry nearly failed to spot it at first – there was only a sign hung above a wrought-iron gate to mark its location; the long, snaking queue gave it away. The heavy gate barred a dark passage into the ground floor of one of the slender stone tenements that lined the close. Two hulking men hovered before the gate; they looked surly and bored. Harry’s eyed darted along the rooftops, and then swept the queue. The close was narrow, the rooftops were high, and his breathing was shallow and fast.

They held back from entering the close. Harry preferred to remain cloaked in shadow. Luna stood beside him. “Perhaps we should simply return to St. Ebb?” she offered.

“Like it or not, we’re surely expected,” Harry grumbled.

Luna leaned forward slightly, and looked at the crowd without blinking. “Ironic, isn’t it, that so many of them are dressed like wizards? It appears that we are fashionable.”

Harry scanned the queue again, and recognised that she was right. A number of people were wearing dark cloaks or long coats. There were even a few dresses and tunics that would have been inconspicuous in Hogsmeade. He continued to look for signs – people out of place, flickers of movement, any hints of magic.

“Your unease is palpable,” Luna observed.

“You’d think someone would have waited outside for us,” he said. “Something doesn’t feel right.”

Luna said nothing, but shifted into place behind him. He felt her shoulder graze against his back. There was a faint pop! and Harry whirled around, just as Luna jabbed her wand into the chest of a dark-robed figure.

Snape let out an audible gasp but quickly recovered. “My colleagues would approve of your vigilance, Miss Lovegood,” he sneered. “You, on the other hand, should not have turned to face me. She has your back, and I presume that you were to have hers. Disappointing, Potter. Predictable, but disappointing.”

“You Apparated alone into our immediate vicinity, which suggested that you were not a Death Eater,” Luna said. “If I had thought otherwise, you would no longer be standing, Professor.”

Snape’s lip curled into a crooked smile. “I award five points for your logic and your pluck,” he spat, “but I take five points for your unfortunate taste in friends.”

“It is good that you evened the score, Professor,” Luna said earnestly. “It would be unfair to reward or punish a student’s entire house while on holiday.”

Snape glared at her. “Potter’s cheek is already contaminating you – a great pity. I, unlike most of your peers, am able to gauge capacity without consideration for aesthetics. I do hope that your insistence on fraternizing with… Gryffindors – ” Snape grimaced, as though speaking the name of Harry’s house burned his tongue. “ – does not compromise your performance in my classroom. You would do well to limit yourself to Granger, Bell or the youngest Weasley. The rest are layabouts and buffoons.”

“What do you want, Snape?” Harry angrily demanded.

“What do I want?” Snape mocked. “At present… larger chambers, competent students and an umbrella. I stand before you with all my wants unfulfilled. My task this evening is simple, and an utter waste of my time and abilities. I am to escort you into a Muggle club, so that you may partake of loud music, consume questionable beverages, and writhe lasciviously. I intend to take my leave as quickly as possible. Do you have any more ridiculous questions, or are you tapped out for the evening, Potter?”

“They could have sent someone else. Why you?” Harry snapped.

“Your grasp of the obvious is a testament to your house,” Snape mocked. “It appears that I blend in with the riffraff this evening, despite wearing perfectly normal attire.” He shook his head. “You’re expected inside. Move.” Snape swept to the front of the line with a sneer and a swish of his cloak, oblivious to the grumbling behind him.

One of the revellers in the queue suddenly perked up and pointed. He was older and clad in biker leathers, and looked a bit out of place. “Bloody hell! It’s Alice bloody Cooper!” he shouted. Everyone within earshot turned his or her eyes on Snape, whose sneer twisted slowly into a snarl. Harry remembered the name and the face that went with it, from Sirius’ stacks of record albums; he scarcely stifled a snort.

“I don’t care if it’s effin’ Queen Maggie,” growled a large man behind the gawkers. “No jumpin’ the queue!” Harry could sense a cloud of frustration looming over the entire crowd. He gripped his wand tightly.

Luna took a step backward and pulled Harry with her, as Snape clenched and unclenched his fists. Suddenly, the Potions professor snapped at the queue, “Alice? Alice? I am not feminine in – the – slightest!” He turned quickly to the hulking bouncers, whipped his cloak extravagantly to one side, and shouted, “Well?” This time, Harry couldn't hold back the laughter.

One of the bouncers grunted something that sounded vaguely like ‘They’re with Heather’, and the other swung open the gate. Most of the front of the queue openly groused, but the man holding open the gate silenced them with one withering glance. Harry nearly bumped into Snape as they pressed forward into the entryway.

They made their way down a short flight of dimly lit stone steps, amidst the muffled echoes of drums and a wailing guitar. A third enormous man stood before a huge oaken doorway. He nodded at them, and opened the door wide. Harry winced for a moment at the assault of blaring music, but regained himself. He tugged at Luna’s hand. She hesitated until Snape glared at her, and then followed Harry inside.

Snape hissed something at Harry but it was lost in the din. For his part, Harry wasn’t sure he wanted to hear anything else that Snape had to say. Against his better judgment, he leant in and cupped his hand to his ear.

Snape scowled, and then moved still closer until his breath burned against Harry’s cheek. “I see your little pet is showing off. You should look into a sturdy kennel, Potter - she must be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, after all.”

Before Harry could react, Snape menacingly swished back his cloak and disappeared into the teeming crowd. Luna gave Harry a questioning look, and abruptly shrunk back. Harry figured that he must be wearing his double-Potions face, and tried to settle himself. He didn’t want to look at the stage; he didn’t want to take Snape’s bait. He looked, despite himself, and everything else receded.

Heather was standing back, while a man sang. He was tall, with thick longish hair, strong arms, and artfully torn denims. For an instant, the vision of a young Sirius rushed into Harry’s mind. He shook it off, but there was something vaguely familiar about the man. He stopped singing and Heather moved forward. She wielded a bright blue electric guitar like it was a weapon; her left hand squeezed it by the neck and her right arm worked like a windmill. The result was a punctuated explosion of sound. She jumped up and down, flung around, and did half a dozen other things incompatible with a short skirt – and it was plain that she didn’t care. She was powerful and she was angry. Harry immediately wondered what Ron had done.

Harry forced himself to look at the rest of the stage – anywhere else. There was a drummer, as well as another person with a host of drums and bells and blocks of wood and other things that Harry didn’t recognise. A large man with a topknot stood off to one side amidst a stack of keyboards. A small slender fellow wearing what Harry figured to be a bass stood stock-still next to the drummer. A woman with big blonde hair and little more than half a shirt stood before a microphone opposite the keyboard player. The male singer had a guitar, as well; he strummed it calmly by comparison to Heather.

Heather seemed to settle down and the song returned to a consistent pattern. The singer slung his guitar to one side, seized the microphone – stand and all – and began to wail something. ‘Teenage wasteland’ was all that Harry could catch amidst the blare and the echoes. There was someone else behind the blonde singer, hunched over, with headphones half-buried in long red hair. Harry stared intently until Luna began to tap insistently on the back of his shoulder.

“What?” Harry shouted over the song.

“Go – up – there,” Luna mouthed, and pointed to one side of the stage.

“Why?” Harry shouted.

Luna cupped her hand around the back of his head, and drew him in close. “We should find out why Ginny is sitting on the stage,” she shouted in his ear. “I believe that I see Bill, but I see no sign of Ronald. That may be an ill omen.”

Harry harrumphed. “Heather dumped him… or he dumped her – the twit! Tonks is probably trying to calm him down,” he concluded.

“We must locate him,” Luna insisted. “It is very crowded in here. None of us should be alone.”

Harry ducked and weaved through the crowd massed before the stage. Luna nearly tore his arm off in her attempt to remain close. They moved around to one side of the stage behind the speakers. It was still loud, but much easier to hear voices. The crowd parted for a moment and Harry nearly ploughed Bill to the floor.

“What the… Harry! We were beginning to wonder,” Bill said. “Er… where’s Snape?”

Harry frowned. “Don’t worry – he was exactly where our mutual friends wanted him to be.”

Bill rolled his eyes. “For goodness’ sake, Harry; you know you’re going to be watched. There’s no getting around it. Remus was in a panic wondering what had happened to you. He’s around here somewhere, and Kingsley as well. They’re trying to establish a perimeter or something.” He looked around the crowded space. “Not exactly the sort of place to manage that.”

“So… you heard about my little episode in the café, then?” Harry fumed. “I’m surprised Dumbledore isn’t here.”

“Haven’t seen him. Tonks asked Snape to wait outside for you – that’s all I know for certain,” Bill said. “Come to think of it, Tonks made certain Ron was out of the way before she… oi, what’s this about the café?”

“It’s not important,” Harry said quickly. “Where is Ron, then?”

Bill sighed. “He’s milling about. I’ve given up keeping an eye on him. Frankly, I should probably let up for a while.”

“What did he do now?” Harry asked.

“Very nice, especially coming from you,” Bill said with a scowl. He seemed to struggle for the words, and finally said, “I think he’s trying to be like me. Actually, he’s trying to be like his image of me, and that’s a bigger problem.”

Luna nudged Harry. It was indeed Ginny on the side of the stage. She doffed the headphones, leant over, and came up again with her violin and bow. Something was clipped to the body of the violin, connected to a wire that ran to a black box at Ginny’s waist. Her expression was so intense that Harry took in a sharp breath.

“It’s not enough to pick up the pieces Ron leaves behind – on top of that, I’ve got Ginny to look after,” Bill groused. “She won’t let me touch that damned violin, you know. It has to be cursed somehow. Look at her! She can’t set it aside for an hour without pining for it. Besides, Heather was right; it’s impossible to master a musical instrument so quickly.”

“Erm… Sirius did say it wasn’t cursed,” Harry said. His godfather’s name felt wrong in his mouth, and his hate for Voldemort grew.

Bill’s eyes flashed. “Sirius said a lot of things, and they weren’t all true,” he snapped. “Dash it all, I’m going to put a stop to this.” He took two steps toward the side of the stage, before Luna wandered idly into his path.

“It would be best not to trifle with Ginny just now,” she offered.

Bill glanced at his sister, who now stood beside the blonde singer and was rocking from side to side. He flinched. “Crikey! She does look like the kneazle just died, doesn’t she?”

“She’s terrified,” Luna said, “and she’ll take it out on the first person who gets close.”

Bill looked at Luna with what seemed to Harry like mild horror. After a moment, he sank. “Ginny’s changed,” he said. “Not just this summer, either; I hardly know her now.”

“How old was Ginny when you left home?” Luna asked.

Bill flushed. “Er… six? No… no, she was seven.”

“Quite a lot happens in a girl’s life between seven and fifteen,” Luna said dreamily. Bill stared at her, while Harry shrugged and turned his attention to the stage.

The singer stopped again, and he and Heather duelled one another with their guitars. He overpowered her, and Harry figured that she had let him win. Ginny stepped rigidly out onto the stage next to Heather. She raised the violin to her chin, held the bow expectantly, and watched Heather’s eyes. Heather’s gaze darted to the singer, and then to Ginny, and she nodded. The guitar quieted, and Ginny’s violin sang through the speakers. For a few notes, it seemed like everything else in the room came to a stop; as her pace quickened, the drummers and the bassist and then the guitars joined back in. Ginny kept playing a little faster, and a little faster, and a little faster still. The singer-guitarist began to grin, and then broke into a full-blown smile.

Ginny visibly relaxed and leant forward into her violin. Her head bobbed, and grim determination was replaced by something that Harry couldn’t quite name – not happiness, not joy, but something equally compelling. Within a few notes, Ginny bobbed and weaved along with Heather. Heather looked to the drummer, held up four fingers, and received a crisp nod in return. She nudged Ginny, showed the same four fingers, and Ginny nearly laughed. For their part, the crowd began to hoot its approval – this only seemed to spur Ginny and Heather on.

Heather nodded again, and the song moved into what Harry realised was a finale – after two weeks of immersion in Sirius’ records, Harry more or less understood the elemental rules of pop music. Ginny joined in with the rising frenzy of guitars and keyboards and drums. When it all ended on a single powerful note, the throng in front of the stage went berserk.

During the song, Ginny had looked as though she’d been doing this for her entire life. When the cheers erupted, Harry thought that for a few moments she faded back into the Ginny he remembered from his third and fourth year – wide-eyed, nervous, and somewhat uncomfortable in her own skin. Heather let her guitar slide onto a stand with an amplified clang, and gave Ginny an excited one-arm hug.

The singer bowed to Ginny and clapped. Heather sauntered to the microphone, and yelled enthusiastically to the crowd, “You can do better than that!” She grabbed Ginny’s hand, and pulled it up into the air like she was the victor of a duel. “Jean Prewett, everybody!” The applause erupted again, and Bill’s face quickly shot from normal to red to violent purple. “And our new mate Kirley McCormack on vocals and guitar!” The applause took on a decidedly female tone, Harry noticed.

Abruptly, Tonks was beside Bill. “I knew it! I told you it was Kirley –” She stopped in mid-sentence and gave Bill a concerned look. “Breathe,” she told him.

“She used Mum’s family name,” Bill snarled. “She had no right, damn it!”

Tonks wrapped an arm around Bill. “She was smart to use a different name,” she said quietly. “It might have been the only one that came to mind. What would you have preferred – Ginny Potter?” Harry briefly flashed crimson and Bill spluttered wordlessly, as Ginny came off the stage. Luna rushed to greet her.

Ginny hesitated, and then squinted. “Luna? You look so… different.”

Luna shrugged. “It’s just a glamour. Ginny, that was astounding – a tour-de-force!” she sing-songed.

Ginny tightly clutched her violin, and broke into a toothy grin. She gushed, “I - don’t – know – I – felt – a – bit – off – you – see – I – wasn’t – sure – about – the – tuning – and – I – mean – I – know – I – can – pick – up – almost – anything – by – ear – in – one – go – but – to – turn – around – and – play – it – in – front – of – people – isn’t – exactly – something – I – planned – to – do – and – then – Heather – gave – the – sign – to – stretch – it – and – I – almost – fainted – dead – away – can – you – imagine – living – that – one – down – and – thank – Merlin – everyone – was – patient – with – me – and – isn’t – the – drummer – just – gorgeous?” She gasped for air, blushed furiously, and then burst out laughing. Luna twittered about something that Harry couldn’t quite make out, and joined in the laughter far too loudly.

Heather strode toward them with a big smile. “Now there’s a debut to remember!” she boomed, and pulled Ginny into another one-armed hug.

The singer sidled up to them. “I’m learning the hard way that Heather is always right,” he said. He bowed extravagantly to Ginny and added, “It was an honour and pleasure, milady.”

Ginny giggled, but then turned serious. “The honour is mine,” she said. “I’m glad I had the chance to play with you.”

Tonks had an irrepressible smile on her face, as she squeezed between Ginny and the singer. “Wotcher, Kirley! I’m a big fan of your, um, other work,” she gushed.

McCormack’s eyes bulged. “I see… Miss…?”

“Tonks,” she returned brightly, “just Tonks.”

He nervously shook her hand. “Um… Kirley,” he said. “Of course, it seems you knew that already …”

Harry goggled, and understood why the man had looked vaguely familiar – it was Kirley Duke, the guitarist for the Weird Sisters. It appeared that he was using his mother’s family name, as well.

Bill stepped in to the fray. “Bill Weasley,” he said, and thrust forward his hand.

“Weasley…” McCormack said distantly. “Weasley! You’ve a brother by the name of Charlie?” Bill nodded, and smiled faintly.

McCormack turned to Ginny. “Then you must be… wellthis is a bit of a shock…” He moved close to Bill. Harry heard him mutter, “Does she know?” as he inclined his head toward Heather.

Harry was about to intervene, but Bill said quickly, “Er… she’s a friend of my sister, right? As it turns out, she has some of our kind in her extended family. She doesn’t ask, we don’t tell… but she knows.”

McCormack’s eyes widened. “I’ll be switched!” he said in a forced whisper. He turned to Harry. “And you are?”

Before Harry could speak, Tonks stammered, “This is… erm… a schoolmate of mine… uh… Podmore… James Podmore. Say, Jimmy, this is Kirley… er… McCormack.” Harry recognised what Tonks was trying to do, and didn’t reveal who he was. Instead he smirked knowingly and shook McCormack’s hand. “I’m a fan,” he lied, and then added, “So… erm… how did you fall in with her?” with a nod toward Heather.

“She works for Keith MacLeish – eh, surely you know about MacLeish,” McCormack said quietly. “My former band works for him as well through, shall we say, a different subsidiary. After I went on the outs with them, MacLeish offered me a solo contract on condition that I also work with Heather.” He smiled broadly. “MacLeish and his people think I’ll be able to cross over, you know, into Muggle music – I had no idea how many have done it.” He looked toward Heather, and added conspiratorially, “She’s sharp, and bloody creative, and her voice is ridiculous. She can sing almost anything and pull it off, which is the problem. MacLeish’s people don’t know what to do with her. She’s not been a lot of help in that department; it’s been a rocky start for me, I can tell you. Not one of them ever said anything about her knowing – you know what I mean?”

Heather sauntered over. “Getting saucy with Kirley, are you?” she teased Tonks. “Don’t feed his ego – guitarists take care of that on their own.” She gestured to Harry. “So, who’s your friend?” The moment that she took a good look at him, her jaw slackened.

“Erm… Jimmy Podmore,” Harry said quickly. “Tonks and me are old school chums.”

“But you’re… you can’t… Harry said…” Heather babbled.

Ginny followed Heather’s stare to Harry’s face. Her eyes widened for an instant, and then she cut in. “Would you excuse us?” she said to Harry sweetly, and led Heather by the arm toward the secluded sidestage.

McCormack shook his head, as Heather walked away. “She’s been in a right state tonight,” he sighed. “Skeet said she had a really bad day, or something.”

“It looks that way,” Tonks said idly. She motioned to Harry. “Say, Jimmy, some of my mates are dying to see you.” Harry took the hint, and Tonks led him circuitously to the sidestage.

As soon as he arrived, Heather shoved at him rudely. “You scared the life out of me!” she snapped. “It’s not like I expected to see your father!” Ginny was openly staring at him. Luna was wearing her own face now.

“It’s a glamour – a disguise,” Harry said. “We were in a hurry. I didn’t plan it, all right?”

“Why a disguise?” Heather asked.

Ginny started to speak up, but Luna answered, “Harry had an unusual experience while we were making our way here. We decided it would be best to alter our appearance.”

Heather looked to Luna suspiciously, and pursed her lips, but finally nodded in acceptance.

“Look, I’m sorry we took so long to get here…” Harry began. Heather immediately bristled, and he had no idea why.

Ginny cut in. “Where’s Ron?” she asked.

Heather rolled her eyes and said flippantly, “He’s off sampling the buffet.” She squinted, and then pointed to the back of the room. Harry followed her direction, and spotted Ron. He was leaning against the bar, in animated conversation with three young, flashy and incompletely dressed women.

Harry gaped at Ron and then at Heather. He wanted to shout at her – at both of them, really – but she had already moved on. She set about gathering the band to plan out the next set, her eyes wide and hands in constant motion.

“There you are, at last!” Lupin called out from behind Harry. Harry turned, and Lupin stopped in his tracks.

“It’s just a glamour,” Harry said quickly.

Lupin frowned. “Change it,” he demanded. “Now.”

Harry retreated to the corner, and angrily cancelled and recast the charm without concentrating. When he turned around, Tonks laughed nervously.

“That’s not funny, Harry,” Lupin said, his arms crossed, and then chuckled in spite of himself. “All right, it might be a bit funny.” Harry stared dumbly at them, and Lupin conjured a small mirror. The face of Severus Snape stared back at Harry, and he breathed in sharply.

“Don’t just stand there,” Tonks laughed. “Say something.”

Harry gazed into the mirror, and sneered, then curled his lip several times. “This is so wrong,” he said, and his voice cracked.

“That wasn’t very convincing,” teased Tonks.

Harry practiced an icy glare, and then cleared his throat. “Fifty points from Gryffindor, Mr. Lupin, simply for being you,” he snapped. When Tonks laughed, he whipped his head toward her, raised his nose, and sneered, “Miss Tonks, do you honestly believe that your pathetic conversation is more important than the subtle art of potions? Fifty points for disrupting my classroom, and a week of detentions.” Now Lupin laughed, and Tonks responded by sticking out her tongue.

Harry ploughed on. “Three thousand points from Gryffindor, Mr. Potter, for continually interfering in my opportunities to kiss the Headmaster’s – ” A hand came to rest on Harry’s shoulder. Lupin looked past Harry and clapped his hand over his mouth, while Tonks winced.

“Why, Severus, I believe you have lost your sense of proportionality,” Dumbledore said jovially. “You have never sought more than a thousand points from Mr. Potter at any one time.”

Harry turned on him. “A thousand points!” Dumbledore waggled his wand. The space around the four of them became hazy, and the noise of the club receded.

“I prefer to see you as yourself, Harry,” Dumbledore observed, and Snape’s face was gone with another waggle of the Headmaster’s wand.

“I’m responsible,” Lupin said. “I told Harry to change his glamour.”

“I am aware of that,” Dumbledore told him. “I imagine that you were shocked just now, Remus, but it was simply the result of an elementary concealment. Keep in mind that within a few years, Harry will look remarkably like the James Potter that you remember.”

“You didn’t intend it?” Lupin asked Harry.

“No! I just wanted to look older, and to hide my eyes,” Harry insisted.

Lupin regained himself. “You have the most amazing timing, Albus,” he observed.

“It is merely a coincidence,” Dumbledore said, “although it may appear that I defy coincidence from time to time. An improbable coincidence should always be closely evaluated. The appointment of a prominent wizarding musician to Miss Magruder’s troupe by a very prominent wizard is an example of such an improbability.”

Harry did a double take. “You know about that already?”

“I recognised young Mister Duke almost immediately,” explained Dumbledore. “Without facial hair, his appearance remains similar to that of his school days. The rest was easily surmised. We shall have to discuss Mister MacLeish prior to your meeting, Harry.”

Great – that way you can make more decisions for me, Harry thought. “That doesn’t explain why you’re here,” he said, and quickly added, “Nothing’s the matter.”

“One of our colleagues had a different impression,” Dumbledore responded impassively.

“He was wrong,” Harry said flatly.

“I wonder what Miss Lovegood would have to say?” Dumbledore mused aloud.

“She would say that I had Sirius on my mind,” Harry shot back, “not that it’s anyone else’s concern.”

“Your safety is paramount,” Dumbledore returned. “That is always my concern, and the concern of our mutual friends.”

Harry balled his fists. “Friends – you mean the ‘old crowd’? They’re your friends. They were my mum and dad’s friends. They’re not my friends; if they were, things would be different.”

“Your safety is paramount,” repeated Dumbledore calmly, “and you know very well why that is the case, as does our present company. You are at increasing risk in St. Ebb, and this venue is only acceptable because the crowding and confusion also works against our adversaries. Now – you say that thoughts of Sirius caused you enough distress to draw out our colleague?”

“I didn’t see Voldemort, I didn’t hear him… I didn’t even smell him. Are you satisfied?” Harry fumed.

Dumbledore asked, “Do you need to talk to someone with regard to Sirius’ passing, perhaps someone unbiased who might be able to help – ”

Harry felt the anger well up inside, and it exploded. “Where was that offer six weeks ago, when I was rotting at the Dursleys? ” he thundered.

Lupin frowned. “Harry, that’s enough,” he said.

Harry glared at Lupin, but continued to rail at Dumbledore. “Someone who can help… right… someone unbiased. That’s bloody likely! How stupid do you think I am? Anyone you’d send my way would be about the bloody Order, and duty, and stiff upper lips, and all that rot! No thank you!”

Lupin grabbed Harry’s wrist with unexpected strength. “Harry, I said that’s enough!”

Let go of me!” Harry shouted. “Who do you think you are – my father? You’re not even my godfather!” Before the words were out of his mouth, he felt a catch in his throat and a heaviness pressing down upon him.

Lupin was clearly stung but shot back, “You’re right, I’m not. I’m just one of the large number of people working more or less full-time to keep you alive, and Merlin knows, you don’t make it easy. When you’re ready to keep a civil tongue – and I might settle for having you act like a human being – then I’ll let go of you.”

“I told you to let go of me,” Harry said in a quiet and dangerous way. Lupin released Harry, with anger or frustration or something like that in his eyes.

Harry returned his full attention to Dumbledore. “I knew I was going to be watched tonight; Tonks was clear about that. If you want to watch from the shadows, that’s fine. If I so much as see anyone other than Tonks or Bill, I’ll hex them with everything I have.”

Dumbledore stood silently and watched Harry seethe for the better part of a minute, before he spoke. “May I ask you, Harry… would you treat Sirius this way, were he here?”

Harry’s voice shook. “If he were… if he were here, everything would be different.”

Dumbledore pressed him, “If Sirius were standing before you, would you shout at him for trying to protect you?”

Harry looked down and said sullenly, “No.”

“Did Remus merit the pain that you just caused him?” asked Dumbledore

“No,” Harry said, though the admission irritated him.

Dumbledore paused, until Harry met his eyes. “Do you need help?” he asked.

“I need you to teach me how to kill Voldemort,” Harry answered.

Dumbledore’s face fell. “In my office, after you returned from the Department of Mysteries, it was clear that you were distressed by the idea of killing –”

Harry cut in coldly, “ – and then I tore apart half a dozen Death Eaters. Seems a bit late for worries.”

“There is a darkness falling about you, Harry,” Dumbledore said. “Right now, I do not know how to lead you back into the light.”

“I don’t trust you, so now I’m dark – is that it?” Harry sneered.

“No, the problem is that you seem to have lost hope,” Dumbledore corrected him. “You see the world through a darkened lens, which is the first step into darkness itself.”

“The world is dark, so that’s what I see,” Harry returned. “I’ll bet you wish you could get back the old me – the one who worshipped you, because he didn’t know any better.”

Dumbledore frowned. “I am fallible – I have admitted this to you.”

“Fallible, eh? You don’t act like it,” Harry said. “Are we done?”

“For the moment,” Dumbledore sighed, and with a wave of his hand the surroundings returned to sharp relief and the din returned to Harry’s ears.

Lupin crossed his arms, and said, “I have an unexpected opportunity to hear Heather perform, and I plan to seize it. Do you have a problem with that?”

“Whatever,” Harry said dismissively as he walked away.

Tonks followed him closely. “Harry,” she said, “you don’t have to be like this.”

“Like what?” he snapped without looking her way.

“Like everyone’s out to get you,” she answered, “because they’re not.”

Harry stopped, looked her square in the eye, and shook his head. “You must be joking,” he sneered.

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