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Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)

Chapter Twenty-nine

BRING ME THE HEAD OF AUNTIE AGONY

August 29

Harry reduced his sixth sheet of parchment to confetti, and tossed it into the air. A few bits fell gently into the bin beside the desk, where the previous five sheets lay crumpled. He incinerated the rest, one tiny piece at a time.

“Mister Potter, is it your intention to slowly deplete the world’s supply of parchment?” Phineas Nigellus sneered from his place upon the wall.

“I’m trying to write a post, thank you very much,” Harry snapped without looking up from his latest attempt.

“Organize your thoughts, prepare a brief outline, and then write the post,” the portrait proclaimed. “This is hardly difficult work, Mister Potter; you are old enough that the requisite skills should lay within your grasp. For what purpose do you write, then – the extension of credit, the collection of debt, or the general discharge of responsibilities?”

“The… what?” Harry asked absently. “It’s just a post to a friend.”

The portrait sharply arched an eyebrow. “You waste parchment on simple posts? That is the purpose of paper. Parchment is for contracts, Mister Potter; parchment is for the conveyance of orders. It is for the keeping of official records, and it is for the casting of runes. It is not for the passing of schoolboy notes, nor is it for simple correspondence!”

“But… everyone uses parchment for posts,” Harry returned. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a wizard use paper for anything… well, some of us who live with Muggles use it. Er, does Dumbledore use paper?”

“Headmaster Dumbledore rarely, if ever, writes anything unofficial,” Phineas Nigellus sniffed. “I shall have to speak to him of this foolishness… parchment for simple posts, indeed! The only sort of personal posts for which parchment is suitable are those involving matters of the heart…” The portrait stopped abruptly and its eyes narrowed. “Mister Potter, you’re not trying to write that sort of post, are you?”

Harry whirled about. “I said it was a post to a friend! Hermione sent me a post, and I banished it with the rest of them, and she probably thinks that either I hate her or I’ve gone stark raving. I just want… she needs to know I’m sorry, that’s all.”

Phineas Nigellus tapped his chin with one finger, and pursed his lips. “Hermione… Hermione… Ah, that would be Miss, eh, Grantham? No… Grolier? No, that isn’t… Granger? Yes, of course, Miss Granger – Professor McGonagall’s favourite. One of your regular partners in mischief, is she not?”

“That’s right,” Harry sighed.

The portrait peered down his nose at Harry. “I am relieved to know that you only see Miss Granger as a friend and accomplice. Professor McGonagall speaks highly of the young lady’s intellectual prowess, as does the Headmaster, but a man of your station must always maintain a strategic eye when considering relationships and the inevitable entanglement of marriage.”

Harry’s hand twitched and he nearly toppled the bottle of ink with his quill. “M-marriage? Who said anything about marriage?”

“Always keep the difference between romance and marriage firmly fixed in your mind, Mister Potter,” Phineas Nigellus exhorted.

“Pardon?” Harry muttered.

“Your eventual marriage must advance the fortunes and position of your House – tradition demands it,” the portrait droned on. “This limits your alternatives, of course, but any desires you might harbour for romance or other needs can be satisfied via other avenues, as may be required.”

“Other… avenues….” Harry stopped to take in fully what the portrait was saying, and then spluttered, “Are you telling me… sweet Merlin, are you telling me I should… should shag on the side?” His face exploded in crimson. “Is that what you mean? I’m supposed to marry someone I don’t like, and then cheat?”

Phineas Nigellus shrugged his shoulders casually. “That is the way of things.”

The way of things?” Harry shouted. His seventh sheet of parchment burst into flames.

The portrait droned on as though nothing had happened, even as Harry moved to contain the fire. “The young lady is likely to be named Head Girl in her final year; which surely comes as no surprise to you. As such, she will become an acceptable bride for a lower-born personage of noble blood – someone of a family willing to entertain the prospect of relations with a Muggle-born, of course.” The portrait’s jaw tightened and its lips curled. “Given that you are of mixed descent, she would have been a suitable partner for you. However, due to Sirius’ fait d’accompli, you must marry as though you belong in your present station.”

“I’m going to pretend you never said that, Phineas,” Harry growled.

“You are the scion of a Noble House… two Noble Houses, in fact, although both lie in tatters. You simply cannot indulge in a public liaison with anyone considered unmarriageable – you no longer have that luxury,” the portrait sneered. “The Daughters of the Goblin Wars maintained a debutante registry in my day; you would do well to obtain their list, as soon as possible.”

Harry crumpled up an eighth sheet of parchment, doused it in ink, and threw it squarely at the portrait. He ignored the string of invective that followed, and set about cleaning his quill and sealing up the remaining ink. “If I need this sort of advice, I’ll take it from someone who hasn’t been dead for a hundred years,” he fumed. “I’m writing the bloody post elsewhere!”

Phineas Nigellus made a futile attempt to wipe at the smear of ink. “I am only looking after the best interests of my House,” he insisted. “Your personal interests are of little concern to me; if you were not Master of this House, you could court a lonely hippogriff and I would give my blessing.”

Harry flung the door open. “There’s a dark wizard trying to kill me and everyone I’ve ever cared about, and I’m supposed to worry about marriage prospects? This is unbelievable.”

Phineas Nigellus shook his head balefully and strolled out of view, but not before calling out, “Dark wizards come and go, but tradition remains.”

As Harry stepped into the corridor, Dobby nearly toppled him. “Harry Potter, sir, Mister Shacklebolt will be an hour later than planned,” the house-elf said with obvious distaste.

“Perfect,” Harry said gamely. “Perhaps I’ll manage to finish this post.”

Dobby peeked around Harry into the study, and then broke into a toothy grin. “What happened to the portrait of Headmaster Nigellus, Harry Potter? Such a terrible stain! Dobby is happy to remove the stain.”

Phineas Nigellus abruptly returned to his frame. “You will not allow that deranged creature to gaze upon my portrait, let alone come in any sort of contact!” he shrieked, and shook his pointed finger vigorously. “I would far prefer to see the world through a permanent haze of India black, than to entrust my existence to… to… to that!

“Dobby knows how to clean the portraits,” the house-elf insisted, even as his grin widened and revealed more teeth. “Dobby would never use an excess of turpentine, and Dobby would never apply the cleansing paste with a stiff brush.”

“This once, I agree with the toe-rag.” The portrait fixed both Harry and Dobby with a glare that could have stripped paint. “Never,” he added in a low, dangerous voice.

Harry shrugged. “Suit yourself,” he said lazily and closed the door. Dobby skipped down the spiral steps ahead of Harry; he whistled a bizarre tune that Harry figured for something from the Wizarding Wireless.

Upon entering the great hall, Harry set his remaining parchment, quill and ink down on the repaired dining table. “You enjoyed that, didn’t you?” he asked incredulously.

Dobby lowered his head, but snapped, “It insults Dobby, Harry Potter – it insults Dobby at every turn. It reminds Dobby of… of…” The house-elf raised his hand toward his ear, as if to pull at it, then stopped and sighed. “It reminds Dobby of those who he once served,” he concluded.

“Leave the study aside, Dobby. I’ll clean up after myself,” Harry offered.

“The ceiling is very high and the air is still, Harry Potter, sir,” Dobby observed. “That room is prone to dust and grime… and many things need a good scrubbing in the study, Harry Potter, many things.”

“I’ve never seen you like this before,” Harry said. “Wizards have treated you far worse – not that anyone should ever do that, of course. Why is it…?”

“Even bound house-elves will not shrink back from portraits, Harry Potter,” Dobby sniffed. “They is just paint, they is not real wizards – though Dobby sees many with a wizard’s tongue, even at Hogwarts. A house-elf, he can not destroy portraits – he would have to punish his-self – but… there are other ways.” The house-elf looked up and his wicked grin returned.

“Dobby! Are you a prankster?” Harry chuckled.

“Madam Pickering’s portrait, in Ravenclaw House, it would screech at all the house-elves. Madam Pickering, she was a proper witch, Dobby thinks; the portrait would say terrible things to the students if they nuzzle in the commons. Even the Head Elf, he would hiss at Madam Pickering. The elves…” Dobby failed to stifle a high-pitched giggle and then went on, “…they take Madam Pickering, they silence it, and they hang it in a broom closet for the year.”

Harry’s jaw dropped. “Er… which broom closet?”

“A broom closet with much comings and goings, Harry Potter!” Dobby squealed, and then quite literally rolled on the floor in hysterics.

Harry laughed and shook his head. “Remind me to stay on your good side!”

The house-elf quickly sobered and hopped to his feet. “Harry Potter is always on Dobby’s good side… even when he forgot his socks and… and he killed the dark wizards and saved Miss Granger. Even when Harry Potter forgot his socks, he was still a good and great wizard.”

“What is it with the socks, Dobby?” Harry asked. “I want to know – I really do.”

Dobby’s big eyes grew even wider. “Harry Potter does not know about house-elf’s socks? This is not something that the great Harry Potter has been told?”

“Add it to the list,” Harry fumed. “What about the socks, then?”

The house-elf flitted around the room with surprising speed, looking out every window and through every door and under every piece of furniture, before he stopped directly in front of Harry. “House-elf’s socks are ancient magic, Harry Potter, sir,” he whispered. “The magic is in the making – this is what one house-elf tells another since the beginning. When socks are freely made and freely given, house-elf’s socks protect.”

Harry found himself looking around nervously, despite his best efforts. “Protect… against what?” he asked quietly.

“Protect against the dark, Harry Potter,” Dobby whispered in return. “Headmaster Dumbledore has many, many socks. Harry Potter has socks from Dobby, but not so many.” He sighed. “Dobby does not know if Dobby’s socks still protect, now that Dobby is free.”

“That’s why you always wanted me to wear socks,” Harry breathed. “You were protecting me.”

“Dobby would do anything to protect Harry Potter,” the house-elf squeaked firmly. “The house-elves, they know what Harry Potter is. Even if Dobby’s socks do not protect, Harry Potter will have proper socks – many, many socks.”

“Thank you, Dobby,” Harry said. “That really does mean quite a lot to me.”

Dobby clapped his hands. “Does Harry Potter need anything for writing of his post?”

Harry’s eyes opened wide. “The post… I, er, yes… need to finish that up. I think I’m ready now.” He sat at the end of the long table, opened his inkbottle, carefully dipped his quill, and faced another blank sheet.

“Dobby wonders if Harry Potter is writing a very, very important post?” the house-elf asked in a loud whisper.

The quill came to a stop less than an inch above the pristine parchment. “Yes, it’s important,” Harry grunted. “Do you mind?”

“Dobby will fetch a beverage and fruit, as it appears Harry Potter will be writing until Mister Shacklebolt comes,” Dobby offered, and scampered off toward the kitchen.

Harry groaned, and dripped blobs of ink on the ninth sheet of parchment. Soon, it was a paper aeroplane, soaring amidst the rafters. He grimaced at the diminishing stack, and snatched up another sheet.

Dear Hermione,

He lifted the quill, and frowned at the parchment. Wrong, he thought. It looked like the sort of greeting for a post from someone pretending to know someone else, he decided. The parchment easily crumpled in his hands, replaced by a clean sheet.

Dearest Hermione,

Harry stopped again. That greeting conjured up images of one of Aunt Petunia’s ghastly romances on the telly; the ones that had tempted him to ask to go into the cupboard on occasion. Some half-dressed ponce would spout poetry and sweep up the fair maiden, and… “Gah,” Harry grunted, and another sheet of parchment met a violent end.

Hermione,

Harry held back the quill, and looked at the word for a moment. Direct… to the point… good enough, he decided.

How are you?

“Oh, that’s just daft!” he shouted, and shredded the parchment.


“Hello, Potter,” Shacklebolt boomed. “The elf says you’re having trouble writing a post.” He looked to the mounting pile of parchment balls at Harry’s feet, and smirked. “I see the elf was correct.”

Harry tossed down his quill. “Thank Merlin! You’re here at last.”

Shacklebolt shook his head. “Harry Potter… only known survivor of the Killing Curse, as well as multiple confrontations with the Dark Lord Voldemort… hero to the wizarding world… is undone by a simple post.” His smirk deepened. “You must be writing to a young lady.”

“Does that mean we’ve started?” Harry snorted, as he sealed up his inkbottle. “It won’t work, by the way, trying to rattle me like that. I’m onto your game.”

“Your face gives you away – unmistakeably Gryffindor red,” Shacklebolt mocked.

Harry stood lightly, and unholstered his wand. “You’ll find I did my reading last night,” he warned.

“I wonder who it could be? Surely not the young Weasley chit? The whole of Britain knows you’re finished with her,” Shacklebolt said casually. He moved into an easy stance, but Harry knew better.

“Nice try, Kingsley,” Harry shot back, “and she was the one finished with me.”

“Do tell? I shall have to tell Molly that there’s still hope,” Shacklebolt said. Harry froze for an instant, and narrowly avoided a conjunctivitis curse.

“Not bothering to clear the furniture today, then?” Harry grunted.

“It’ll leave the elf some work,” Shacklebolt sneered. “Lovegood’s daughter, perhaps? I heard that the two of you were becoming fast friends. How fast was it, I wonder?”

Harry conjured ropes to wrap around his trainer, bull-rushed him, and seized his wand as he summoned any additional wands that may have been hidden. Instead of wands, however, two wicked-looking daggers raced toward him until he cancelled the summoning. In the process, he fell backward over the table and lost hold of Shacklebolt’s wand.

“How did you do that?” Harry panted.

“Falsified wand signatures,” Shacklebolt returned, his wand firmly in his grasp. “It’s counter-intuitive; after all, you generally want to hide a wand. Of course, when you know your opponent has developed a penchant for emptying pockets…”

“Charming,” Harry deadpanned. He set five chairs in rapid motion, which drew Shacklebolt’s attention just long enough to provide a diversion.

Shacklebolt deftly stepped backward. “I told you never to converge objects toward an opponent’s present position, Potter. They’re too easy to dodge –” He stopped in mid-sentence as one of the chandeliers landed atop his head.

“Oh, really?” Harry smirked.

“You… like dropping thu… things on my… head… don’t you?” Shacklebolt managed.

Harry cast one of the field healing charms that Shacklebolt had taught him. “Only because you leave yourself open for that… and because it’s a big, shiny target,” he mocked.

Shacklebolt grunted. He conjured a mirror, and glanced at the crown of his head. “Not bad, Potter. Not bad at all.” He waved his hand, and the mirror disappeared from it. “Risky strategy, though. If I’d moved forward, you’d have missed and I would have had a clear shot.”

Harry grinned, and muttered, “Now.” One by one, the five remaining chandeliers fell to the floor.

“I see. No wand work was required, then. You set up the room in advance – how devious,” Shacklebolt said. After a few moments, his calculated scowl broke into a satisfied smile. “We’ll make something of you yet, assuming that you avoid excessive distraction. So… it’s neither Weasley nor Lovegood, eh?”

Harry frowned. “You’re not going to let up, are you?” He extended a hand to Shacklebolt.

“Hmm… no,” Shacklebolt chuckled, as he clambered to his feet. He looked at Harry carefully, and his eyes began to narrow. “It wouldn’t be Lupin’s daughter, would it? Harry… don’t. That would be a profoundly bad idea. It’s not just that you’d have your head turned away – seriously, I am willing to live with a certain amount of that, with you being sixteen and all. It’s that you’d have to pay attention to the girl, protect the girl, hide it all from the father, and lie to the entire Order.”

Harry bristled. “Where do you get off –?”

Shacklebolt cut him off. “Yes, yes, I know you wouldn’t give a tinker’s damn about lying to the Order because Dumbledore lied to you first, and so on, and so on, and so on. You need allies, Potter, and the Order is the only hand you’ve been dealt. Get over it. Lying could get my friends killed; in fact, it could get you killed. Now, you aren’t really so foolish as to be writing to that girl…?”

Harry glared fiercely, partly in anger and partly in hopes of masking his shock. His mind raced, before he spat, “Yes, of course, I’m writing Heather a post on parchment with a quill, to be delivered by owl!”

Shacklebolt raised his hands defensively. “All right, all right! I felt the need to ask; there was something about the look on your face…”

Harry was still breathing fast. “You just wait!” he fumed. “You just wait until I do a bit of research on you – then we’ll see if you think that baiting me is so fun.”

Shacklebolt laughed. “You’re going to do research? Your school reputation precedes you, Potter. I know for a fact that Granger does all the research; you and the Weasley boy are just along for the ride… hold on there…” His smirk returned. “It’s a post to Granger, isn’t it?”

“So what?” Harry shot back. “I’m trying to write a post to a friend – what’s the fuss? I managed to banish a post she sent to me, like a bloody fool, and I want her to know that I didn’t mean it. See? That’s not even very interesting!”

“The elf doesn’t see it that way – he’s ready to marry you off to Granger, I think. You might want to speak up, before flowers are ordered,” Shacklebolt taunted him.

“Dobby takes everything to an extreme,” Harry sighed. “He likes Hermione, and I agree with him on that.”

“If it’s just a post to a friend, then why are you having such a time of it?” asked Shacklebolt.

Harry felt his stomach sinking, and he couldn’t seem to stop it. “You were there,” he said quietly. “You saw everything. There’s your answer.”

Shacklebolt summoned two chairs, and motioned for Harry to sit. “It’s just as raw as the day it happened, isn’t it?”

Harry leaned forward, elbows on knees and chin on hands. “I can’t shake it off,” he whispered.

“Do you dream about it?” Shacklebolt asked.

“Not… exactly,” Harry allowed. “I’m accustomed to bad dreams.”

“I know of the connection through the scar,” Shacklebolt confided. “Has he been in your head recently?”

“Not since… everything happened… no,” Harry stammered.

Shacklebolt dabbed sweat from his brow. “Harry… I didn’t see everything. We arrived seconds before you broke free. I was focused on coming up with some sort of rescue solution, and I imagine there’s quite a lot that escaped me. At minimum, I saw things very differently than you did. I’ll be honest… what you did was more than a little frightening.” Harry sat up stiffly, and Shacklebolt put his hand on Harry’s arm. “It wasn’t the violence – I think most of us would have gladly killed every last one of them. It was the power, Harry… it was the power.”

Harry’s posture relaxed, but he tensed even more inside. “The… power?”

Shacklebolt roughly patted Harry’s arm, and then sat back heavily in his chair. “I’ve debated about what to say and what not to say, regarding that day. I was impressed, I was bewildered, and yes, I was frightened. Hogwarts students don’t do that sort of thing. Fully qualified wizards don’t, either. A Hit Wizard might come closest to pulling off something like that, but certainly not without a wand. You crossed a room instantly, through several powerful wards. You threw Pettigrew the length of the dining table, by the neck and with one hand. You tore men to ribbons with your bare hands. It took three of us to pick the one out of the wall –”

“I was there,” Harry whispered. “You don’t need to repeat it all.”

“Early on, I told you that you fight fear with knowledge. Do you recall that?” When Harry nodded despite obvious reluctance, Shacklebolt pressed on. “It’s time that we review the events of that day. I know that you have a pensieve, but I’ll borrow one from Dumbledore if I must.”

“I can’t forget that… I don’t want to forget,” Harry blurted out. “I don’t!”

“Then you’ll want to use yours – it’s a Solicitor’s Pensieve, isn’t it? They copy a memory or an experience in exacting detail, usually far sharper detail than conscious awareness allows, but the original remains intact,” explained Shacklebolt.

“I don’t want to… I don’t want to do this,” Harry insisted.

“If you were an Auror under my charge, I’d have arranged for some assistance long ago, and I’d require this,” Shacklebolt fired back. “It’s been more than three weeks, and it’s still raw. If you’re not having nightmares yet, then you soon will be. Trust me… I know a bit about how this works. Own it now – analyze it, understand it, and share the burden. That’s what an Auror does. All this about lone heroes… stuff and nonsense. If you carry this burden as you’re carrying it now, you’ll break before long.”

Harry tried to take in a breath, and it came in heaves. He sat on his hands, so that they wouldn’t shake. “Don’t make me,” he said.

“I can’t make you do anything,” Shacklebolt admitted. “You’re too headstrong for that. I’m asking you to do this. What happened… it’s not something you’ll ever be rid of, but you can set it aside.”

“I’ll have to fetch the pensieve,” Harry mumbled.

“It must be in your secret place, then,” Shacklebolt observed. “I know you have a place – just can’t seem to find it.”

“Meet me on the beach,” said Harry. “I’m suffocating in here.”

He walked slowly to the bothy, his head swimming as at the end of a brutal workout. It took him a while to locate the pensieve. He spent a while longer on his knees in the water closet waiting to be sick, but it never came.

Shacklebolt was waiting for him, throwing stones into the surf. Harry forced himself down the switchback one step at a time. Shacklebolt never turned, never acknowledged any awareness of his presence until Harry was just steps away. “Second thoughts?” he boomed.

Harry nearly dropped the pensieve. “I think I have this down,” he said quickly, “but I’ve only tried it once.”

Shacklebolt held the pensieve carefully. He turned it in his hands, and appeared to read the tight rows of runes. “It’s largely the same procedure as with a traditional pensieve. I’m guessing you’re familiar with that?”

Harry nodded and took out his wand. “Focus on the memory,” he muttered, “focus…” As soon as he placed the tip of his wand at his temple, it began to shake violently. He felt something bubbling through him, not just in his head but all the way down to his toes. It wasn’t until he set the tip of his wand into the open pensieve that he saw the strands – still silver but with reddish cast. It didn’t swirl as Harry expected; it boiled.

Shacklebolt carefully took up the pensieve again and continued to read. “Perhaps you should try this again. I don’t think –”

“I’m not doing that again” Harry said flatly.

“There’s more here than I believe you intended,” Shacklebolt warned him.

“You were there,” Harry said. “Let’s just do this.”

“I can view it alone first, if you prefer,” Shacklebolt offered.

Harry shook his head. His voice wavered. “Now, or not at all.”

Shacklebolt handed the pensieve to Harry. “Hold it firmly,” he ordered, and then he quickly entered the memory. Harry took a deep breath and joined him.

He was looking through his own eyes, at a heavily cloaked Voldemort. He was bound, in the Grangers’ front room. He could feel everything that he’d felt the first time, but it was all much sharper than he recalled. There was no control – he couldn’t turn to look for Shacklebolt, and guessed that Shacklebolt was seeing exactly what he was seeing. It was an altogether different experience than with Dumbledore’s pensieve.

The front room smelled differently than he recalled. He didn’t listen closely to what Voldemort was telling him; he’d heard it the first time, after all. There were two smells, he decided. The first was what Harry figured evil would smell like, if it had a smell to it. The second was cologne, musky and rather too strong. The odour triggered something – enough for Harry to know that he’d smelled that cologne before. He couldn’t place it; perhaps it was Mr. Granger, he thought. The muffled sensation of Voldemort’s Cruciatus curse made him forget about the scent.

He saw Voldemort’s hands, which were a puzzle. First, he didn’t recall seeing them at the time. Second, and far more importantly, they didn’t belong to Voldemort. The skin on the hands was perfectly pink. They were clean, soft hands; hands unaccustomed to hard labour. They weren’t full and piggish, but there was something about their softness that brought to mind his Uncle Vernon.

Voldemort was guiding him down the hall, calling out to his servant Mulciber. He could see into the dining room from the corner of his eye, something else that he didn’t recall from the actual event. Mulciber planted his fist in Hermione’s stomach, and she doubled over in her chair; then he slapped her hard enough to make her straighten up. Harry felt a surge of rage that didn’t come from the pensieve, and then a far stronger surge that did. He felt himself drop into his own armchair. Lucius Malfoy slapped Mr. Granger, and Mr. Weasley tossed an insult at Malfoy.

Harry felt a hand press against his shoulder that he didn’t remember from before. Shacklebolt’s distant, watery voice seemed to flow from within, rather than coming through his ears.

Arthur Weasley just rose in my estimation.

Just then, Voldemort tore into Hermione’s mind, and everything felt aflame. The hand moved to Harry’s upper arm and gripped tightly.

Merlin! How could anyone do that? Monstrous!

The heat subsided. There was something about hearing Shacklebolt speak out, something that gave Harry the strength to keep watching. Voldemort remarked that Hermione could be a formidable ally in his plans. Harry gasped – he definitely didn’t recall that. Shacklebolt gave a hazy harrumph.

Ridiculous – I hope she paid him no mind.

Hermione shouted back, and Shacklebolt grunted in assent. Then Voldemort gave his challenge for Harry to save the balance of the room by giving up Hermione. Mr. Weasley urged everyone to resist.

Bravo, Arthur! That was spot-on… absolutely right.

Voldemort had Wormtail seek the guarded secret within Hermione, and her screams filled Harry.

This is where I came in. Remember, Harry – it’s only a memory. I know that it’s difficult...

Shacklebolt commended Harry for looking about the room and seeking a way out of the situation. Harry felt the ropes falling away. Hermione was shoved to her knees, and he was able to place the look on her face. At the time, he’d thought it was strength, and then maybe resolve. There was resolve there, to be sure. She’d prepared herself to die, in order to protect him. Never again, he said to himself. I’ll never let you do that for me again.

His last thoughts before popping across the dining room – ending with his decision to save her at everyone else’s expense – replayed in his mind. He saw Ron from the corner of his eye. He wanted to look away, but all he could do was to watch what he’d already seen. In a trice, he was across the table and choking the life out of Wormtail.

The rest was a surreal blur. Harry tried his best to keep from becoming caught up in it, to focus on the little things. Malfoy dashed toward Hermione, and Harry wanted to reach out and throw him the length of the table – but it was over and done, and all he could do was watch. Tonks overturned the table for cover, and Voldemort cursed Dobby – something else Harry had missed or forgotten. Wormtail flew along the table and crashed into the far wall; then Harry lunged toward Mulciber, and the first punches flew. It was all dodgy – he moved like he was chasing a Snitch, while the Death Eaters barely budged. He thought of the punch that Hermione took, the one he hadn’t seen the first time, and some small part of him was glad that Mulciber had been his first victim. There was a pulsing sound, like water sloshing in a drum, that grew louder and louder. The blood and the bits of bone and gristle stood in sharp relief courtesy of the pensieve, and Harry fought the urge to spew up. What he saw was incomprehensible, even in the face of five years of magic. He’d torn at the Death Eaters as though they were paper. He was betrayed by his thoughts played back to him – it had begun as defence, but it had quickly turned to retribution. Wormtail was gone, reduced to a rat. Malfoy somehow flowed into a duct and disappeared. Voldemort was gone from view, but he insisted that Harry embrace the violence and the rage. As soon as he heard that, Harry returned to himself.

What was that hissing sound? Do you recall hearing it before, Harry?

He stiffened at Shacklebolt’s questions. Voldemort must have spoken to me in Parseltongue, he figured. All he could see was a filmy haze, but this time there was no confusion about the source. Hermione saw him and flinched, and he called for her. It was a shout, a piercing and rage-filled shout – not at all the way he remembered it. He recalled sounding distant… and then he understood. I couldn’t hear myself, he thought, not until Dobby healed me. She folded against her father. He’d only seen the fear in her eyes at the time; now, he also saw pain and fatigue and shock and something horrible that he couldn’t place. He looked down at the blood on his hands, then dropped to his knees and spewed up.

Harry felt Shacklebolt’s hand on his back. They were no longer in the pensieve. Shacklebolt helped him up, and brushed sand from Harry’s hands. “Harry! Can you hear me? Do you know where you are?”

“B-beach,” Harry managed. The wind coming off the water was terribly cold, he thought.

“Good, that’s good… stay focused! Look at my hand – count the fingers aloud,” Shacklebolt ordered. He sounded so far away, even though Harry knew that he was within arm’s reach.

“Four,” Harry muttered.

“Try it again,” Shacklebolt said urgently.

Harry managed a weak chuckle. “Four f-fingers… one thumb.”

Shacklebolt let out a low, rumbling laugh. “You’ll be all right.”

Then Harry felt something entirely unexpected. At first he thought it was from the breeze, but it was too solid, too insistent. Did he just ruffle my hair? It struck him as something that Sirius might have done, and he shivered.

“I have questions, Harry… so many questions,” Shacklebolt said quietly, “but they’ll keep. Back to the tower with you, for now… Mobilicorpus.”

Harry tried to relax. The breeze was strong, but no longer cold. That didn’t reassure him. For the first time in nearly four weeks, his scar was prickling.


He woke to warmth and soft sheets. It took him a few moments to recognise the surroundings; he was in the master’s chamber, in the tower. His shoes were on the floor, his wand was within easy reach, and it appeared as though his clothes had been transfigured into pyjamas. Light still streamed into the high windows, so he hadn’t slept away the whole day – unless it had been a day and a half.

The door was open, and he could hear snatches of conversation from the corridor. It was easier to lie there with his eyes closed and listen, than to lift his head a second time.

“…no good at this. You should go in there. It’s a chance to fix whatever it is that’s broken – you should seize it,” Shacklebolt muttered.

“He’s resting comfortably and I’m glad for that, believe me, but… look, Kingsley, he’s not my ward and I’m not his guardian. I’m the last person he’d want to see now. Better that you call Ted Tonks in the future, or even Dumbledore.” Without a doubt, Remus Lupin was standing just outside Harry’s door.

“You’re practically his godfather,” Shacklebolt insisted, “and I thought that Black’s will did leave you as a guardian of sorts.”

“Harry has a godfather,” Lupin snapped. “I’ve nothing more than a financial responsibility, and I’ve signed that over to Ted. Things were said… both of us said hurtful things, horrible things. I can’t give him what he needs, not right now.”

“What he needs is a family,” Shacklebolt whispered fiercely. “He needs people to pull together around him. He sees you as family, Lupin. To walk away from him is betrayal, pure and simple!”

There was a lengthy silence, before Lupin asked in a dangerous voice, “What did you see in that pensieve?”

“It was everything from the Grangers’ house, from when he first saw Voldemort until the dust began to settle,” Shacklebolt explained. “It wasn’t just sight and sound, Lupin. He put everything into it… everything.”

After a second long pause, Lupin said simply, “I see.”

“If you truly saw, then you’d be in that room right now,” Shacklebolt returned. “You took the same oath that I did, when you joined the Order. Tell me, how does that square with what you’re going on about?”

“He doesn’t need me. The Order doesn’t need me,” Lupin insisted. “Eighteen years, Kingsley… I lost eighteen years. If… if Harry could have James and Lily back… what do you think he’d give in return? What? Tell me.”

“If this is about the woman and your daughter, it’s not the same –” Shacklebolt began.

“You’re right, it’s not the same! James and Lily are gone forever, but somehow – through the grace of whatever god might be out there – somehow, I have Shona back. She knows what I am, and she doesn’t care! You can’t begin to imagine what that means. As for Heather… the fact that she even exists is almost too much to take in…” Lupin paused, and then added with a snarl, “I’ll do my level best to see them protected from Voldemort. If that means pushing Harry away for the time being, then I’ll have to live with that.”

Shacklebolt descended into a near-whisper, and Harry had to still himself in order to hear. “Lower your voice, Lupin, unless you want him to wake. Harry’s a smart boy. He doesn’t want your daughter hurt. Look at what happened to Miss Granger – he can’t even manage to write her a simple post, he’s so tied in knots over it.”

“Yes, look at what happened to Hermione – that’s precisely my point,” Lupin growled. Then there was a deep sigh. “There’s no easy road for him, is there?”

“Go in there,” Shacklebolt said.

Harry heard footsteps on stone, growing more distant. He waited to see Lupin’s head peer through the doorway.

“I can't – if I do, I'll lose my resolve. I’m sorry,” Lupin’s voice echoed back, and the footsteps faded to nothingness.

Harry buried his face in the pillows, and breathed slowly and regularly. He brought his hands beneath his chest, to hide his fists. There was the scrape of chair legs on flagstone, followed by a settling creak. He stayed as still as he could.

“How much of that did you hear?” Shacklebolt asked.

Breathe easily, Harry thought. When you’re asleep, it’s just in and out, in and out.

“Hmm. Well, best that you’re asleep. It would have been… very hard to hear that,” Shacklebolt said.

Just hold still, and he’ll go away, Harry told himself.

Shacklebolt continued to address Harry’s back. “Do you know what worries me the most about you? There doesn’t seem to be anything left to keep you from breaking. Last year, I figure it was Black and Miss Granger and the Weasleys. Black’s gone, you’ve pushed away the Weasleys, and Miss Granger’s fortunate to be alive. You’ve made amends with Dumbledore, but I’m not buying into that; your face still tightens when you hear his name. I don’t know what passed between you and Lupin, but it must have been terribly ugly to provoke him so. What are you playing at? Do you want it to be just you and Voldemort, I wonder? I hope not, because that’s hopelessly naïve. All you’ll manage to arrange is you versus Voldemort and his full supply of minions.”

Harry’s fists tightened beneath him. He forced them open, and they clenched again. His head throbbed and his stomach churned. Open, closed, open, closed – he let them form a rhythm, to ward away the pain.

Shacklebolt’s chair creaked loudly, and he went on, “I think you believe that you can push everyone away. It’s sad to watch – you’ve poured so much energy into something so completely futile. Do you think that you can get rid of me so easily? I suspected that you were the Defender of the Light before, and now I know it. I’m sure you know what that means; if you haven’t already been briefed, I’m sure that you and your friends have pieced it together. I was in the right when I placed you before Dumbledore and the Order. Understand this … I will die to defend your life if I must, and I will kill without the slightest hesitation to clear your path. You will succeed if I have to drag you to the bitter end and point your wand for you. I’m far from the only person who feels this way… despite your best efforts.”

Chair legs dragged across flagstone a second time, and footsteps plodded toward the door. Harry kept breathing regularly, in and out, in and out. Shacklebolt stopped at the door. “By the way, Potter, that has to be the worst imitation of sleep I’ve ever seen. The elf says we’ll be eating at six o’clock.”

“I wanted to say something, before,” Harry whispered.

Shacklebolt drew closer again. “I’m sorry?”

Harry cleared his throat. “I wanted to say something… when he was here. I couldn’t do it.”

“Why not?” Shacklebolt asked.

Harry took a long time to find an answer. “I won’t beg,” he said. “I won’t put my head down and act grateful for every little morsel.” His jaw tightened. “If he doesn’t need me, then I don’t need him.”

Shacklebolt sat down on the edge of the bed. “You’re old enough to know that life is rarely that simple.”

Harry opened his mouth to speak, ready to rail against Lupin for giving up on him as soon as it was inconvenient, but stopped himself. Shacklebolt’s face was drawn, and his eyes were too wide. “Are you all right?” Harry asked.

Shacklebolt pulled a wry smile. “You do know how to fill a pensieve.”

“It was hard to see everything happening again,” Harry said.

“Yes, I expect that it was,” Shacklebolt agreed.

Harry closed his eyes and tried to push away thoughts of Lupin, but that left thoughts of Voldemort and of fate. “I wanted to give into it, you know,” he admitted, eyes still shut. “I wanted to tear them apart.”

“Understandable,” Shacklebolt said. “You were motivated.”

Harry’s eyes snapped open. “You heard what I was… thinking…?”

Shacklebolt nodded, and resolutely fixed his eyes on the floor. “When I asked you to weigh whether Miss Granger was an asset or a liability to you… if I’d seen your memories before… clearly she’s much more than a school friend to you… and the Weasley boy, as well… no one should ever be asked to forsake one’s family.”

“When I looked at her afterward, it just –” Harry tried to explain.

Shacklebolt stopped him. “Your emotions didn’t match against the scene before you. Did you see things differently, this time?”

“Yes,” Harry said quickly. “What do you think he did to her?”

Shacklebolt sighed. “I can’t even begin to imagine.”

Harry’s scar twinged, and his fist clenched beneath him. “I can,” he said.

Shacklebolt turned to face him. “You won’t like this, but I think that you should share those memories with Dumbledore.”

Harry jerked back, and the headboard rattled. “What?

“Do you want him to recognise that you’re no longer a schoolboy?” Shacklebolt asked. “If you want him to truly understand, then share this with him. Trust me when I say that will answer questions and relieve doubts.”

“What sort of doubts?” Harry shot back.

“All that power, and you regretted using it,” Shacklebolt explained. “Voldemort urged you on, and you stopped. You saved Miss Granger at some risk to the others in the room, but it wasn’t an easy choice for you to make. Harry, you’re not as out of control and undisciplined as some would make you out to be.”

“Er… thanks, I think,” Harry returned.

Shacklebolt stood. “I’ll leave you to your post, then.”

Harry managed a lopsided grin. “Are you sure? Don’t leave on my account.”

“Just put to paper whatever’s in your head,” Shacklebolt suggested. “Then cut down the result until it bleeds.” He hesitated, then added, “I’ve been around Aurors and Reversal Squad sorts who’ve… experienced sticky situations along the lines of Miss Granger –”

“Excuse me? ‘Sticky situations’?” Harry snapped.

Shacklebolt let out a long, slow breath, and sat down again. “It’s not easy for anyone to be assaulted, Harry, and mental assaults are much worse than the physical kind. I’ve known Aurors and others who’ve been mentally assaulted. It can be a difficult road back. I’ve seen people completely devastated by the experience, and of course there’s little support –”

“A difficult time when she returns…” Harry mumbled.

Shacklebolt stiffened. “It’s not fair, but it’s likely,” he agreed. “In fact, if it were to get out that Voldemort had done that to her, her professional and social prospects would be ruined.”

Harry’s eyes bulged. “What?

“Think about what the Ministry and the press did to you last year,” Shacklebolt snapped. “As bad as it was, it would have been worse if you weren’t Harry Potter. You receive deference not granted to others, even when people have doubts. Miss Granger would not receive the same treatment. The fact that she is Muggle-born would only make matters worse.” Shacklebolt’s expression intensified, and Harry slid backward in the bed despite himself. “I am ashamed to admit that… but it is the truth. I will speak to Dumbledore. I will not have you distracted, nor will I see Miss Granger persecuted over something that can be suppressed… what?

“Er… you’re a bit scary right now,” Harry blurted out. “It’s a good sort of scary, I think, but… erm… yes, scary.”

Shacklebolt glared at him with wide eyes for a few moments, and then something seemed to drain out of him. “Based upon what I saw… I might say the same about you,” he said.

Harry swung his legs off the side of the bed. He summoned his wand, and returned his clothing to its normal state. “Finish our training for today, then?” he asked.

Shacklebolt shook his head. “Neither of us is in the proper frame of mind. I’ll return tomorrow. Take my advice – share this with Dumbledore.”

Harry stiffened, and said nothing. As soon as Shacklebolt stepped out the door, he called out, “Dobby?”

“Yes, Harry Potter?” Dobby squeaked from behind Harry’s head.

Gah!” Harry hopped to his feet.

Shacklebolt stood in the doorway again, wand drawn and frowning. “Blasted elf,” he grunted.

“Dobby is so sorry, Harry Potter!” the house-elf moaned. He scanned the room frantically, and his eyes lit as he spotted the table lamp.

Harry darted into Dobby’s path. “How many times do I have to say it? No punishments! No knocking yourself senseless, no ironing your hands, no jumping under the Knight Bus, no hanging yourself by the feet over a pit of hungry demons…”

Dobby’s shamed expression gave way to a pout. “Now Harry Potter is just playing with Dobby,” he fumed, hands on hips. “No house-elf would provoke demons. Dobby would cut off his toes first.”

“Dobby!” Harry snapped.

The house-elf shrugged. “Dobby is just talking about toes. Toes grow back.”

“Wha – ?” Harry’s finger still jabbed at Dobby, but words escaped him. He shook his head, and went on, “I just wanted to tell you that I won’t be having dinner at six o’clock. I’d like some sandwiches and juice in the study, and then I don’t want to be disturbed for the rest of the evening.”

Shacklebolt indulged a faint smile from the doorway. “Yes, you’ve a post to finish, after all.”

“I have business with Phineas,” Harry said flatly.

Shacklebolt’s brow furrowed. “Harry… that thing is no ordinary portrait; it knows too much. You take care with anything that it tells you.”

Harry ignored him. “I’ll be several hours; we have a lot of ground to cover. You’re welcome to stay the night, if you like.”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” Shacklebolt said. “I’ve no reports of Death Eater activity in the area, but better to err on the side of safety for the present.”

Dobby shuffled from one foot to the other. “Harry Potter… the… portrait will not like it if I should enter…”

Perfect, Harry thought. “Why don’t you bring me the food now, then? I’ll take it at the door.”

A few minutes later, Harry was ensconced in the study with Phineas Nigellus and a plate of food that he didn’t intend to eat. “Phineas, if I wanted to leave this room undetected –” he began.

“You would be served well by learning effective methods of stealth,” Phineas sniffed. “A schoolboy repertoire is inadequate for a person such as yourself.”

“I was hoping to slip out now,” Harry said anxiously.

Phineas shook his head gravely. “Children… always seeking the easy road, always wanting today what they ought not have for years hence…”

“Phineas…” Harry warned.

The portrait sighed. “Very well. Take out your wand… holding it in the proper position, Mister Potter – hand entirely on the lower third of the shaft and tip slightly elevated… and tap gently upon the following stones in precise order…” Harry went through the motions, which were reminiscent of entering Diagon Alley. The stones beneath Phineas reorganized themselves to reveal the landing of a narrow spiralling stair that descended into inky darkness.

“Will I be able to return here this way?” Harry asked.

“I believe that you are sufficiently intelligent to work out the return for yourself. The signet ring is the key, of course,” Phineas returned.

Harry peered down into the nothingness, quietly called out “Lumos”, and began his descent. “I take it that you wish the elf to believe that you are still present in the study?” Phineas called after him.

“Can you manage that?” Harry called back.

“If I cannot deceive a house-elf, then I suggest that you immerse me in pitch and light me afire,” Phineas sneered.

The stones above returned to their normal positions, and the only light that remained was the flickering glow from Harry’s wand. He followed the steps through what seemed like a hundred twists, until they exited into a rough-hewn tunnel of some kind. I just knew Phineas would have an escape plan, Harry thought.

There were sconces for magical torches every so often, but all were empty. Other than the general sense that he was walking slightly downhill, he had no sense of where he was. Phineas wouldn’t have sent me into any sort of trap, he told himself. As he continued to walk, he watched the rock around him with much greater care.

He saw a faint glow ahead. The tunnel veered to the right, and the glow became much brighter. He could see hazy rocks, and he could hear the crashing of surf. He slowed his pace, and came to a stop. The tip of his wand pressed against something – it was as though the haze were solid. The surface seemed to give like a dense spider web at first, and he shuddered. Then it began to part, like a spongy curtain… like a veil, he thought. With a deep breath, he passed through it.

From the other side, it looked like a wall of rock. He pressed his wand against it. At first, it didn’t yield. He saw a quick ruby-red flash, and the curtain gave against the pressure. It took him a few moments to recognise that the light had come from the red stone of the Black signet ring.

He was surrounded by craggy rocks on two sides, and the curtain on the third. There was sand beneath his feet, and he knew where he was. He enlarged the Bonnie, clambered onto the seat, rendered both he and the motorbike invisible, and drifted quietly out from behind the rocks and onto the beach. The tunnel emptied onto the far north end, not far from the northern stack. He made a wide turn southward over the sea, making sure to pass well beyond the tower before crossing the shoreline. A good ten miles down the carriageway, he landed off to one side and became visible again.

Harry turned the slip of paper from the Greek in his hands. “Teller Bros. Electronics Emporium, 26 Duck Lane, Westminster, W1F 9SR” was scrawled at the top in an untidy hand, along with a telephone number. Below that, Harry had added road directions obtained by calling the number – A40 to Wardour Street, and so forth. He stepped off the Bonnie, shrunk it to fit in his pocket, and breathed slowly until his mind cleared.

“Sorry, Dobby,” he muttered, and then popped.


After dangling from a tree in the North York Moors, and bouncing off a clock tower in Cambridge, a bruised and slightly dazed Harry found himself within riding distance of his destination.

The neighbourhood wasn’t the sparkling sort. Harry figured it for a place where the denizens of Grimmauld Place and the like would go to market. There were bars on many of the streetside windows. Despite that, the front doors of the tenements were wide open. The sidewalks were busy, busier than the streets, and quite a lot of people seemed to go in and out of the buildings.

Duck Lane was a dingy close, and Teller Brothers Electronics Emporium was wedged into the lowest floor of one of the nondescript tenements. Harry swung into a tight alleyway between two buildings, and disappeared just as he made the turn. He strolled back out of the alleyway with the Bonnie in his pocket and his glamour from Cabaret Moliere in place. The entrance to Teller Brothers was inside the landing of the tenement, which was plastered with a number of placards. It wasn’t until he read ‘busty young model, second floor’ that he understood what they were for, and he promptly broke into a furious blush. He pushed against the door nervously, recognised that it needed to be pulled open – which only intensified his blush – and scurried into the shop.

The shop was crammed to the ceiling with all manner of cases and crates and widgets that Harry had never seen before and couldn’t identify. A broad-shouldered, broad-faced man with a thick mop of sandy hair was hefting a box of something or another. The opening door had rung a clanging bell of some kind, but the man seemed to barely take it in. “Afternoon, guv. The ladies are up the stairs,” he grunted.

“Erm… I saw the signs… uh… figured that out, thanks,” Harry spluttered. “I’m looking for Teller, actually.”

The man set down the large box as though it were a trifle. “I’m Teller,” he announced. “We’re closing in a few, so what would you be wanting?”

Harry looked at him for a moment, puzzled. “You… er… the thing is, you don’t sound like… it’s just that I called… you know, on the telephone…”

“Ah. You’re looking for Teller,” the man said knowingly. He picked up the box again, set it on the counter at the back of the shop, and bellowed, “Teller! There’s a bloke out front looking for you.”

Shuttered half-doors behind the counter banged open. “Cripes! No need to shout!” The man who ploughed through the doors was taller and much thinner than the first Teller, but had the same sandy hair. He peered at Harry. “Yeah, I’m Teller. What do you want?”

Harry reeled, but managed to respond, “I called for directions, last night. Burke Preston said that I –”

The second Teller paled slightly. “Good Gawd, man! You didn’t throw out that bone on the phone, did you? Well… I certainly can’t help you. You need to see Teller. Follow me.” He slammed back through the half-doors without waiting to see if Harry would in fact follow.

Harry let his wand slip down into his fingertips, and trailed the second Teller at a respectable distance. They wound through a labyrinthine backroom, to a retractable metal ladder that led to a hatch in the high ceiling. Teller jumped up, grasped the lowest rung, and brought the ladder to earth.

“You’re joking,” Harry said flatly.

Teller shrugged. “Teller’s up there.”

Harry crossed his arms. “I’m not climbing head first into an unfamiliar room. Teller will be down here, or I’ll be leaving.” He worked his jaw for a moment, and impetuously added, “Burke Preston will not be pleased.”

A flicker of something played across the second Teller’s face, and then he nodded and ascended the ladder. The man who followed him back down was young, much younger than the other two Tellers. He had the telltale sandy hair, but was short and wiry and had sharp features. He stood there facing Harry for several long moments, hands on hips, and then said to the second Teller without looking away, “Everything’s in hand. Leave us, would you?”

As soon as they were alone, Teller put his hands palms out. “Take my wands, both of them,” he said.

Accio wands,” Harry whispered. As soon as he pocketed the two wands that flew at him, he added, “Accio potions… accio talismans… accio knives.” Nothing else was forthcoming.

Teller flashed an impish grin. “You need to learn a right proper Pickpocketing Charm, friend.”

“You gave those up too easily,” Harry said warily.

Teller nodded appreciately. “Wards upon wards in here. We’re both in check, I think. Everything you’re here for is up the ladder. I’ll go first. Any funny business, and I figure it’s bad for my health – even without spells. Good enough for you?”

Harry stopped and waved one of his hands, looking for any of the sensations he’d come to associate with wards. He tried to take on Shacklebolt’s easy cadence, and hoped his voice wouldn’t crack. “Either you have amazing wards, or you’re bluffing,” he said. “Start climbing.”

His wand was in full view now, and Teller stood there, staring at it. “That’s… um… a distinctive wand you’ve got there,” Teller said haltingly. “Holly, is it? Not many of those around.”

“Are we doing this, or not?” Harry snapped.

“Right… right… up the ladder, then,” Teller muttered, and scrambled up the rungs, Harry close on his heels.

The room above was ringed with open metal racks, crammed with all manner of equipment. There were cords everywhere – thick black ones, slender white ones, loose ones, connected ones. In the centre of the room, near the hatch, sat a long work table with three stools.

Harry gave a slight shudder – a familiar one. “There’s a magic dampening ward in here, isn’t there?” he asked.

Teller’s eyebrows shot up. “You… you’d better be on the up and up,” he spluttered.

“How would you know?” Harry asked. “I mean, you don’t know who I am.”

“I know Preston sent you,” Teller answered. “You’re carrying a piece of paper, right? It has the address and particulars on it.”

Harry quickly took out the piece of paper. “What did you do to it?”

Teller waved his hands defensively. “Nothing to fret about! Just a very narrow Recognition Charm… I’m rather good at those.”

Harry dropped the paper onto the worktable as though it were on fire. “Let’s… er… let’s just get on with this, right?”

Teller sat on one of the stools. Harry noticed that he was careful to keep his hands in view. “Preston said you were to get the best, and nothing but the best. I don’t know who you are… er… not really… and I really don’t want to know. Why don’t I get you set up, so you can go about your business, I can get my wands back, Preston can pay me, and we can all be happy?”

Harry nodded. “I guess I’m here for a mobile telephone and a computer.”

Teller cracked his knuckles. “Ah, not just any mobile… not just any computer… these, friend, are works of art.”

Harry shrugged. “As long as they work.”

Teller’s eyes narrowed. “As long as they… hey! Are you trying to insult my craftsmanship?” He hopped off the stool, and rummaged through one of the open shelves until he found a black case the size of a small shoe. “This baby will work everywhere in England that lies within reach of a tower. No worries about magical interference. It’ll stand up to any spell… well, I’ve never tested it with an Unforgivable, of course.” He waved his hand across the case. “Dragon hide, just to be safe.” Inside the case was a perfectly normal looking mobile telephone – the same model as Harry had used at Cabaret Moliere. “I have a charger and a dozen extra batteries around here… somewhere… if there’s any part that’ll fail over a burst of magic, it’ll be the battery…” He emerged from a different shelf triumphant, and sat a box before Harry with a flourish.

“It won’t work at Hogwarts,” Harry said.

Teller looked almost angry for a moment. “I wouldn’t know about that,” he said. The anger seemed to pass. “They work in Hogsmeade, I can tell you. Preston’s boss… I figure you know who that is, right?… he had a tower placed a few miles to the south.”

Harry brightened. “Really? That’ll be useful.”

Teller stopped, studied Harry for a few moments, then gave a small shake of the head, and returned to the shelves. He brought a black briefcase to the table. “Now, this… well, it was just cool before, but I’ve made it brilliant if I do say so.” He opened the case, and withdrew a black machine that opened like a clamshell. “This is an Apple PowerBook Duo 2300c… more or less. I’ve squeezed in as much RAM as it will hold, and set you up with the largest hard drive Apple makes. It’s running OS 7.5, and you’ll want it upgraded to OS 8 as soon as that reaches market…” His impish grin returned. “You haven’t the faintest idea what I’ve just said, have you?”

“Not a word, no,” Harry admitted.

Teller laughed. “Well… long night ahead, then.”

It wasn’t quite as long as all that. Harry was motivated, and the basics of operating the mobile and the computer weren’t difficult; they were simply complicated. He approached the whole thing like he was mastering the intricacies of brewing a potion, and that seemed to work for him. After less than two hours, Teller announced that he was satisfied Harry wouldn’t destroy either machine through simple use. Harry shook Teller’s hand, and began to pack up the PowerBook under his watchful eye.

Teller asked quietly and casually, “I can’t help but ask, friend, so here it is. Have you really… you know… seen him?”

Harry fought to remain calm. He continued to pack the various cords into the case, even as he took in the room with his eyes. “Him? Who is ‘him? I’m not sure what you mean,” he said evenly.

Him,” Teller repeated, “the one whose name I’m not about to say aloud.”

“I’m going to have to Obliviate you – you know that, right?” Harry said.

Teller nodded uneasily. “It wouldn’t be the first, probably won’t be the last.”

Harry carefully fitted the computer into the soft padding. “Yeah, I’ve seen him,” he said.

Teller looked at Harry with haunted eyes. Harry could only recall seeing eyes like that on one other person, and he nearly knocked the computer case off the table. “The Muggle world’s a good place to hide,” Teller said. “His kind, they… they screech on and on about mudbloods and Muggles and purity and that rot. They don’t understand the regular world, they… they think it’s evil, or beneath ‘em, or something. Maybe you can use that.”

“How do you know that?” Harry whispered. His wand was in his hand, dampening wards or not.

Teller slowly reached up, and stretched the neck of his T-shirt downward. There were runes tattooed on his chest, familiar ones, though not so many as Sirius had. “I was seventeen. I was tweaking Muggle electronics – more or less what I’m doing for you. I wasn’t Muggle baiting, I wasn’t even selling nothin’. We’ll make an example of you, they said, make sure none of your friends get any ideas. Four months, I spent there… may as well have been four hundred years. I learned about fear there…” He trailed off, and let his shirt snap back up. “The Ministry is shite, but the Death Eaters and… you know…” He twirled his index finger in a lazy circle next to his temple. “Crazy, the lot.”

“How did you fall into this, then?” Harry asked. “Seems a bit, I don’t know… risky?”

Teller laughed loudly. “Sorry… you’re taking me to task about risk? You? Serious case of the pot calling the cauldron black, right?”

Harry smiled faintly, though still very much on guard. “Fair enough.”

“The Ministry could grind me like a flobberworm – already has. Keith MacLeish can walk into Fudge’s office with a ruddy mobile, and no one will say a word. I’m an employee. He and Preston say I’m safe, and I believe them,” Teller explained.

“You’ve met MacLeish, then?” Harry asked.

Teller nodded enthusiastically. “He’s a great man, MacLeish. He believes in second chances, and he’s good to you if you’re good to him. People… they just don’t see that about him.”

Harry thought for a moment, and then closed the computer case. “Guess we should go downstairs for this, with the wards and all?”

“Shop’s closed,” Teller said. “You can do it behind the counter.” They descended the ladder quickly and silently, and Teller crouched down just past the half-doors.

Harry considered his options. “I may need your help again,” he said. “How do you feel about that?”

“I’ll do what I can,” Teller offered. “I suppose you’ll need all the help you can get before it’s all over, eh?”

Harry extended his right hand and shook Teller’s hand. “My name is James Black. Feel free to call me Jim, if you like. I’m just a friend of Preston’s. Obliviate.” He made a silent entreaty to Merlin, in hopes that he had cast the spell properly.

Teller’s eyes glazed for an instant, before he shook his head roughly. “Wha…?”

Harry pulled him to his feet. “Are you all right?”

“Sure, I’m… yes, I’m all right,” Teller decided. “If you need anything else, Mr. Black… uh… sorry… Jim, be sure to call or stop in during shop hours.”

Harry suppressed the impulse to smile widely. “I’m grateful, Teller.” He held up the computer case, and succumbed to the impulse. “It’s a real work of art,” he added. Then he rushed onward, hoping to squeeze in another stop before returning to the tower.


By the time Harry made it to Ottery St. Catchpole, after nearly embedding himself in a lorrie at Marsdon and tipping two cows outside of Bristol, the sun was reduced to an orange glimmer in the western sky. He missed the entry to the Weasley’s property twice, and went down the wrong drive once, before he was certain that he was riding between the right sort of hedgerows.

The Burrow was gone. The family Quidditch pitch was still marked, and Mr. Weasley’s shed still stood – albeit precariously – but the house itself was reduced to three irregular piles of rubble. A familiar pair of shabby two-man tents were pitched behind the shed. A familiar pair of red-haired men stood atop one of the piles. Harry let the Bonnie drop to the ground. He sat there, and watched, and slowly began to shake.

Bill Weasley triumphantly raised something oblong. “Mum!” he shouted. “Mum, come quickly!”

Mrs. Weasley slowly clambered from one of the tents. “What did you find? What? What is it?”

Bill bounded down from the rubble in three hops. “It’s the clock, Mum! We found it… I told you it would hold up…” The excitement drained from his voice as she drew closer.

“It’s not working,” Mrs. Weasley sniffed.

Mr. Weasley clambered down more cautiously. “But it’s whole, Molly – it’s intact. I’m sure we can make it right.”

“It’s not working,” she repeated. “Look.”

Bill frowned. “What? You and Dad are ‘at home’… Ginny and Ron and me, we’re all ‘at home’… Fred and George are ‘at work’… Charlie looks to be ‘in danger’, but that’s more or less a constant, right?”

“It says that Harry is ‘at home’,” Mrs. Weasley said, “and that Hermione is ‘in transit’. It’s not working… it’s not right… n-nothing is right…”

“It’ll just take time,” Mr. Weasley said.

Harry couldn’t move; he could barely breathe. He wanted to know why Ron, Ginny and Bill had come to St. Ebb at all, given the state of things; he wanted to know why Ron hadn’t told him just how bad things really were, or Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, or Dumbledore, or someone. He couldn’t keep his hands from shaking anymore. “I did this,” he groaned.

He didn’t realise he’d said it aloud, until Bill’s head whipped around. “Merlin’s ghost!” Bill shouted. “Harry? Is that you?”

Harry tried to move the motorbike, or render it invisible, or something – anything at all. His hands wouldn’t obey. All he could do was sit there and await an onslaught of Weasleys.

Improbably, Mrs. Weasley arrived first. Harry steadied himself for one of her crushing hugs, and was not disappointed. He waited for her to tear into him for riding unaccompanied across the country, or for failing to first send a post, or for being late for dinner, or whatever might have been on her mind. It never came. She just held onto him and wept, and he didn’t try to push away. Mr. Weasley’s hand came to rest on Harry’s shoulder, which instantly reminded Harry of his outburst in the tower.

“Told you the clock would hold up, Mum,” Bill said in a strained voice.

“I’m… I’m on your clock,” Harry choked out.

Mrs. Weasley drew back hesitantly. “I hope you don’t mind, Harry,” she said. “It just seemed right for both you and Hermione to be there, with us.”

“Of course I don’t mind,” Harry insisted. He looked at the hand with his face on it, set to ‘at home’. The picture of him looked to be a year old or more. “Maybe we could find a newer photograph?”

Mrs. Weasley began, “I’d like that…” Her smile quickly faded away. “Harry! What’s happened to you?” Mr. Weasley peered at Harry, and his eyebrows rose.

Bill kept smiling. “It’s the same glamour as you used the other night, isn’t it?”

“Glamour?” Harry asked absently. “Oh! The glamour!” He took out his wand, and quickly cancelled the spell.

Mrs. Weasley relaxed. “That’s more like it! I’m not sure about that hair – Bill, what are you smirking at? – but at least you look like yourself. You can look in your twenties when you reach your twenties.”

“Bloody hell! How did you get here?” Ron shouted from the vicinity of the tents.

Ronald! Language!” Mrs. Weasley snapped.

“I walked, mate – how else?” Harry smirked.

He felt another crush from behind, as Ginny piled into him. “Merlin, it’s good to see you,” she said. “Are you all right?”

“Breathe… need to breathe…” Harry moaned.

“Likely story,” Ginny shot back. “I mean it, Harry… are you all right?”

Harry sat upright, and Ginny let him go. He swung his leg over the Bonnie, took off the saddlebags, and reduced the bike, before he looked Ginny squarely in the eye. “No,” he said. “I doubt any of us are all right. I’m glad to be here, though.”

Mr. Weasley took Harry’s hand and clasped it tightly. “That’s good enough,” he said, and pulled Harry into the sort of embrace he’d seen between fathers and sons. When he let go, his eyes turned to the rubble. “It’s a sight, isn’t it?”

Harry’s first impulse was to apologise for everything – for the loss of the Weasley’s home, for the attack at the Grangers’, for sending everyone packing from the Black tower. He resisted that, and held himself in check by staring at the remains of the Burrow. When he felt in control, he turned to the elder Weasleys and asked, “What can I do?”

Mrs. Weasley looked to the burnt orange sky. “We’re finished for the day, Harry. You must be knackered from such a long ride, anyway.”

“It’s… been a long day, yes,” Harry said carefully.

Mrs. Weasley was practically beaming. “Let’s go inside, shall we?” It looked to be the same three-room flat that the Weasleys had borrowed for the Quidditch World Cup two years prior, although the crochet covers were absent and the furniture was more closely matched than he recalled.

The five Weasleys crowded around the kitchen table intended for four, but left a space for Harry. They chatted for a while about nothing in particular; he didn’t bring up the events at the Grangers’, and they didn’t bring up the last day at the tower.

“Why is it still down?” Harry asked abruptly. “I mean, I don’t know anything about how wizards actually build a house, but it has been almost a month.”

Bill let his forehead drop to the tabletop, and gently rapped it against the wood. Mr. Weasley let out a snort, and punched Bill’s upper arm.

“Nothing will stay up, mate,” Ron said. “Dad and Bill haven’t been able to make two planks hold together.”

“I’m completely baffled,” Bill admitted. “Dumbledore’s had some Unspeakables and other expert sorts take a look. Even Odd Lovegood’s tramped around the place.”

“If he claims that he’s never seen anything like it, then you know it’s time to fret,” Mr. Weasley said, and Harry suspected that he was only half-joking.

Harry’s eyes widened. “You surely can’t stay out here in these? I mean, they’re nice and all, but what about water, or the wintertime, or…?”

“If we don’t soon find a reason for what’s happening here, then we’ll have to let rooms for the winter,” Mrs. Weasley sighed. “It’s been many a year since we’ve been boarders, but we’ll manage. There are always vacancies along Diagon Alley.”

“I know what the Burrow meant… er… means. Means!” Harry said. “I’m so sorry this happened.”

Ginny reached out and grasped his hand. “It’s not your fault,” she said.

“I know it’s not,” Harry agreed. Ginny let go his hand with a start. “That doesn’t mean I can’t be sorry it’s happened,” he added.

Mrs. Weasley sagged in her chair. “Thank you, Harry,” she whispered.

Harry broke the silence several minutes later. “Would you mind if I took a walk? I’d just like to move around a bit.”

Mrs. Weasley looked uneasy. “It’s dark now. There’s no way to be sure –”

“I’ll go with him,” Ron offered.

She harrumphed, “You? You’re more of a danger than he is!” but joined in the laughter immediately.

Harry made a show of taking out his wand. “We won’t be long. Bill can watch from the flap, right?” Bill nodded, and Harry didn’t await any further sort of permission.

A broad scorched area matched the footprint of the house that once stood there; the piles were situated around it. The ground felt wrong somehow, almost tainted. Harry couldn’t think of another way to describe the sensation; it wasn’t like a ward or any other kind of spell that he could recall.

“They aren’t going to solve this, are they?” Ron asked.

Harry shrugged weakly. “If Dumbledore doesn’t know what happened, and the Unspeakables don’t know what happened, then who would?”

“The wankers responsible for it, do you suppose?” Ron snapped. He sighed, and added quietly, “At least we have some money. We could have lost everything, with no way to replace it.”

“I’d never have let that happen,” Harry said. “I’d never have left you in the lurch.” Ron’s jaw tightened but he said nothing.

Ron’s jaw tightened, but he said, “I’m not going to pick a fight over money, Harry. I’m tired of picking fights, you know?”

Harry paced around the roughly stacked debris. Very little of the remains were recognisable. He thought that he spotted part of Ron’s Chudley Cannons poster. “What do you think your parents would say if I gave them the tower, you know, for as long as they want to use it?” he asked quietly.

Ron’s jaw dropped, and he blurted out, “Are you serious?”

Harry laughed. “No, but I don’t think he’d mind.”

Ron winced. “All right, I deserved that one.”

“I do mean it, though,” Harry said. “I mean, what am I going to do with the place? It’s bloody enormous, and it’ll need someone to look after it over the winter anyway, and…”

Ron snorted. “You don’t have to sell me on the idea. My mum… three weeks in a tent is a long time, I figure. She might actually go for it.”

“And your dad?” Harry asked.

“He’d jump at it, I think – well, as much as he jumps at anything,” Ron decided.

Harry nodded. “I’m going to make the offer, then.”

Ron stopped him. “Why? I mean, you were dead set on getting everyone to leave before.”

“Someone reminded me yesterday that family is important. For me, that means all of you,” Harry returned.

Ron laughed a bit too loudly. “You’re listening to people now? What’s next, then – sending letters to Auntie Agony?”

Harry snorted. “I’ve had my fill of advice, thank you very much.”

“Maybe she knows how to snuff V-Voldemort, eh?” Ron teased. “‘Dear Auntie Agony: I have this persistent problem with a Dark Lord. Everywhere I go, he seems to follow. He just won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. What should I do?’ Signed… what, Harry in Hades?”

Harry snorted again, then began to laugh. “She’d probably have me send him an assortment from Honeydukes,” he managed. They laughed a while longer, and then fell into a companionable silence as they walked the length of the Quidditch pitch.

Ron stopped at the far end of the pitch, and gazed at the waning moon. “The clock says Hermione’s ‘in transit’,” he said. “That must be good news, right?”

“I hope so,” Harry said glumly.

“What, you think it’s not good news?” Ron asked quickly.

Harry stammered, “No, no, it’s just… look, after everyone left, I was getting all these posts, more than I knew how to handle… so I started banishing all of them… I didn’t bother to check…”

Ron’s eyes widened. “She sent you a post?”

Harry nodded.

“And you banished it?” Ron’s eyes were positively bulging.

Harry buried his face in his hands, and nodded again. “I’ve been trying to write a post all day… you know, a reply, an apology, whatever. I suppose it’s too late now.”

“It might be,” Ron said. “I suppose ‘in transit’ could mean a few different things. I’d get it written and get it sent, mate. You don’t want to face the wrath of Hermione, right? I mean… I said I’d watch your back, but…”

Harry shoved him. “Prat.”

Ron held up his hands in surrender. “What? She’s scary.”

“She’s not scary,” Harry said. “I just hope she’s all right.”

Ron nodded. “She’ll be all right. She’s a strong one… and scary. Definitely scary.”

Harry began to trudge toward the tents. “Ron, I don’t have a schedule from Dumbledore yet. It’s a good bet I won’t be in classes with you, and I don’t know which courses you’ve subscribed, but… watch out for her, right?”

“I can do that,” Ron said, “ but who’s going to watch out for you, mate?”

Harry shrugged. “Does it matter?”

Ron stepped into his path. “It matters to me, and you know it matters to her.”

“Does it?” Harry asked.

“Damn straight,” Ron snapped. “We watch out for each other, then, like always.” He moved out of Harry’s way. “Right, then. I want to watch you try and give a castle to Mum and Dad. This should be cracking.”

“It’s a tower house,” Harry corrected him.

“Yeah, whatever,” Ron said. “Cracking, either way.”


Hermione,

I’d ask how you are, except that would probably be the dumbest question I’ve ever asked. That’s saying something, coming from me.

It’s been a very eventful month. I’ve spent most of it in the place where I was heading when we last saw each other. I’ve met some interesting people, and lost some other people from my life. There were a few serious upsets this month. During the last, I started banishing my posts so I wouldn’t be buried in owls. I found out later that I banished a post from you, and I didn't mean to do that. Most of what I wanted to tell you is best said in person, anyway.

I’ve been worried about you ever since I found out what happened. I hope that you’re feeling better.

Dumbledore and I haven’t gotten on very well since you left, but he’s made arrangements for my schooling beginning in a few days and I’ve accepted. I won’t be seeing as much of you or Ron as I’d like, but I’ll do my best. I’ll see you the first week of September, if not before.

Love, from

Harry

 

Harry carefully sealed the envelope and secured it to Hedwig, who disappeared into the darkness. He picked up the smaller dragon hide case, unzipped it, and turned the mobile telephone in his hands. It was a very clear, rather cool night – clearly the summer was coming to an end. He climbed out the garret window, and scrambled onto the roof. Shacklebolt called out something loudly that he couldn’t quite make out, but then waved in recognition. He waved back, then sat with his back against a crenellation and watched the stars for a while.

He turned the mobile again, and touched a number. The display lit up in the darkness. He didn’t need the parchment, because Teller had stored the number that Harry wanted inside the telephone. All he had to do was press the number 9, and then the little button marked ‘send’. If he pushed that button, he knew that he’d be acting against the advice of nearly everyone in his life. When he pushed it, there was an audible beep. He held the mobile to his hear. There was ringing, then a clicking sound, and then a voice.

Harry’s throat was impossibly dry. “Heather? It’s Harry. Are you alone?”

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