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Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)

Chapter Twenty-seven

IF MUSIC BE THE FOOD OF LOVE

With one turn and three steps, he found himself in the midst of a row between Bill and a brightly flushed Ginny. The fun just doesn't end, does it? he thought.

“A family meeting, about poor little Ginny? Oh, that sounds just cracking!” Ginny set her jaw, levelled her expression, and added, “Mum should be up for it – I’m sure she’s been too busy to tread on anyone’s dreams lately.”

“Ginny! That’s uncalled for!” Bill snapped.

“How would you know? As soon as you finished Hogwarts, you left,” Ginny hissed.

Bill looked ready to explode; it was very different than the controlled fury Harry remembered from the row at the Grangers’ house. “You’d be surprised what I know,” he seethed. “Unlike you, I remember Uncle Fabian and Uncle Gideon. I’ll tell you what I know, Ginny – I know that the name Prewett isn’t something to be used for your silly games!”

Ginny’s voice was painfully shrill. “You’re not Dad – stop acting like it!” She briskly brushed past Bill and joined the musicians, huddling next to Heather.

Tonks clamped her hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Aw,” she said, “Ginny’s taking after ickle Harrykins. Isn’t that grand?” Harry let out a low growl.

She moved to Bill. “Don’t be cross with Ginny. Heather set this up specifically.”

“You make Ginny sound like the shrinking violet here,” Bill said. “She’s hardly that! She’s… I don’t know what she is anymore. I don’t like my baby sister shading the truth, and I don’t like that damn violin – not a bit! And the name… if Mum had been here tonight, she would’ve either exploded or fainted dead away!” The loud ruffle of a cloak interrupted him.

Snape’s voice dripped with false sincerity. “My goodness, Mister Weasley. Your sister possesses a formidable talent – very formidable, indeed.” He summoned a crooked and vaguely frightening smile. “I take it that she is playing the Black Stradivarius?”

Harry noticed that Tonks shrunk back slightly. “I thought you were leaving,” he growled at Snape.

Before Snape could respond, Bill stepped in the way. “Stay out of our family affairs, Snape,” he said coldly.

“You may wish to offer me an invitation, though I reserve the right to decline,” Snape sneered. “Tell me… are the initials ‘N.P.’ carved into the finish? As I remember it, they were found somewhere on the back side.” Harry froze.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Bill snarled.

“Ah, another whiff of your family’s infamous temper. I certainly don’t see enough of that,” Snape said. “Tell your parents, Weasley. Tell them, or I may be forced to suffer through a conversation with your father. Despite what you or others may think, I do harbour concern for my students’ personal safety.” He turned to Tonks. “I shall remain for a time. This little outing of yours may yet become a spectacle.”

“Whatever you like, Severus,” Tonks said with a wave of her hand.

Snape pulled two wads from the folds of his cloak that looked like crumpled Extendable Ears. “I will give your brothers their due, Weasley,” he said. “At least they prove useful, from time to time.” He pushed the wads tightly into his ears and stalked off.

“What was that git going on about?” Bill grumbled. “How would I know if there were any initials carved in the damn thing? She won’t let me within ten feet of it!”

“He’s right,” Harry said. “I saw them.”

Bill paled, and spluttered, “He… he can’t know anything about this! I will not be beholden to Snape!”

“‘N.P.’ is written on it? How intriguing… it is old enough, after all…” Luna said in a ghostly voice.

Tonks raised an eyebrow. “What are you going on about? Well? Spit it out, then – no quibbling!” She chuckled. “Get it? No quibbling?” She reached out and playfully slapped Luna on the shoulder. For her part, Luna just continued to stare vacantly.

Tonks harrumphed, “Come on! I’ve been waiting to use that! Not a laugh, not a snort – not even a grin?”

Bill groaned at Tonks. He asked Luna, “What are you thinking? If you can tell me anything useful…?”

“I have a trivia question for you,” Luna declared.

Bill squinted at her. “A what?”

“A trivia question,” Luna repeated. “My dad prints trivia questions in the Quibbler, you know. We love trivia, the both of us. A few weeks ago, he asked me to name five of our kind who are or were renowned for playing the violin.”

“Renowned… you mean, um, known in broader circles?” Bill asked.

Luna nodded. “Aptly put,” she said.

Bill hesitated, and then shook his head. “I didn’t know there were five. I suppose that fiddler for The Weird Sisters wouldn’t count… uh… what’s his name…?”

Tonks frowned. “Merton Graves plays the cello, for goodness’ sake – the cello.”

Bill laughed. “Should have known you’d have that on the tip of your tongue, Tonks. Fine then; let me think on it… er… Miroslav Kryzkowski?”

Luna brightened. “You have one of five. Only a few readers thought of Kryzkowski.”

“Perlmutter… can’t remember his first name off the top,” Bill added.

“Last names are acceptable. You have two of five,” Luna said.

Bill scratched his head. “Well… there’s Paganini, of course, but you can’t really count him. I mean, most think he was some kind of demon – ” He stopped, and his eyebrows shot up.

Luna nodded enthusiastically. “Niccolo Paganini… ‘N.P.’ I’m impressed that you’ve named three of five; our readers averaged two – ”

“I knew it!” Bill shrieked. “I knew it was cursed! That tears it… mmpffh!”

Tonks smiled a false smile, and clapped her hand firmly over Bill’s mouth. “I think we’re going to have to cut you off, luv… how many pints have you had, anyway?” she said loudly and gaily, then added in an insistent mutter, “Ixnay on the urse-kay!” Bill cowed his head.

Luna chattered on as though nothing had been said. “Did you know that Paganini collected Stradivari’s instruments? He had several violins, a viola and a cello at various times. Some think that the Guarneri was actually his favourite – they call it ‘il Cannone’ – but according to …”

Harry said, “I think Bill’s heard enough, don’t you?”

“But Paganini’s history is fascinating,” Luna insisted. “The idea that he was a dark creature is rubbish. Can you imagine falling for such a…?” She seemed at last to take notice of Bill’s colour, blinked suddenly – Harry wouldn’t have noticed, except that Luna rarely blinked – and stopped.

Bill clenched his jaw. “I intend to take that violin, permanently seal it in its case, and take it as far away as possible.” Tonks looked Bill in the eyes. He tried to shirk her gaze, but couldn’t. Harry tried not to smile – it was obvious even to him that Bill was done for.

“Has it hurt her?” Tonks asked.

“She’s bloody well obsessed with it – does that count?” Bill retorted.

Tonks groaned. “Has she hurt anyone else with it?” she asked.

“No, of course not,” he snapped.

Her voice turned soft. “Have you felt anything in its presence?” she asked him.

“Other than irritation?” he quipped.

“You know what I mean,” she said firmly.

Bill scowled. He huffed. He squirmed. At length, he said, “No,” as though he were uttering an Unforgivable curse.

Tonks flashed a smile of victory. “Then there’s nothing to concern yourself with tonight. I want to dance with you, and that requires music for dancing.” She looked askance at some of the revellers, and let her eyes take in the low expanse of the vault. “I’d say that the only thing we’re likely to hear in this club is music to break kneecaps by.”

Bill feigned horror. “Why, Miss Tonks, are you saying that you’re too old for this sort of thing?”

Tonks crossed her arms. “Certainly not. What about you?”

“Er… right, then,” Bill said. “I’ll try to find out what else they’re planning to play. I will not start a row with Ginny… don’t you waggle your finger at me… but I’m not letting this alone. First thing tomorrow, do you hear?”

Tonks rolled her eyes. “Yes, dad!” she teased. Bill threw up his hands, and stiffly strode toward Heather.

She turned on Harry, who managed to say, “Erm… that was interesting.”

“I am impressed by your management skills,” Luna said. “Perhaps you can offer lessons?”

Tonks worried her lower lip. “I went too far, didn’t I? I’m forever doing that.”

“Did you know that Professor Flitwick could easily have been an answer to the trivia question, if he had wished it?” Luna said.

Tonks cocked her head and stared at Luna. “I’m sorry… what?”

Harry chuckled. “This one doesn’t travel in straight lines, Tonks,” he advised.

Luna smiled. “Thank you, Harry. You’re filled with compliments this evening,” she said. She turned her attention back to Tonks. “I was just saying that Professor Flitwick could have been an answer to the trivia question, if he had wished it. He is a gifted musician. He has a cabinet in his office where he keeps a very rare violin – a Villiers, I believe he told me – and a guitar and several different types of woodwinds. I imagine that he knows quite a lot about Paganini, quite a lot indeed.”

Tonks beamed. “That’s brilliant!” she exclaimed. “I mean, it’s natural to think of Defence professors first when curses are a possibility, but Flitwick would be the perfect person to ask for help!”

Harry had thought of Flitwick as well, back on the beach when Heather heard Ginny play for the first time. He understood what Luna was driving at, though – Flitwick would be ideal because he was a musician as well as a charms expert. Something else tickled at the back of his mind.

“Luna… I’ve been in Professor Flitwick’s office several times, and he hasn’t opened any cabinets for me,” Harry observed.

“I assist the Professor from time to time. On occasion, I review first-years’ papers and projects. For the most part, I handle correspondence and such,” she said.

Thoughts of missing property and misleading study hints pushed into Harry’s mind. “Then why doesn’t he do anything about your housemates?” he demanded.

“I’ve never asked him to do anything,” Luna said calmly.

“Why should he wait to be asked? He’s your Head of House, for goodness’ sake!” Harry snapped.

“Your reaction marks you as a Gryffindor,” Luna said. “Professor Flitwick would do absolutely anything to help anyone if asked.” Though her voice never faltered or rose, Harry felt her emphasis on ‘if asked’.

“And if not asked…?” Harry began.

“Then he would assume a person’s competence to deal with the situation at hand as she or he saw fit,” Luna finished.

Tonks’ brow furrowed. “What’s the problem with your housemates, exactly?” she asked Luna.

Luna sighed. “It would take some time to answer your question in the proper context.”

“I’m a patient woman when I need to be,” Tonks said. “Harry, make yourself useful. Go talk to Ron, and make Bill happy. If Bill’s happy, then it’s more likely that I’ll be happy. If I’m happy, then you’re more likely to survive your dance lessons.” She smiled wickedly and ushered Luna off. Harry realised that he was beaten, just as surely as Bill before him, and he unwillingly trundled toward the bar.

Ron caught Harry’s eye and cautiously watched him approach. He said nothing until Harry was within arm’s reach. “So… you had a nice ride, then?” he asked.

“Sure, a nice ride,” Harry said. He stopped, but just couldn’t let it go at that. “Luna is good company,” he added. “We walked all over the city. It was brilliant.”

Ron frowned. “She’s still recovering! What were you thinking, walking her all over the place?”

“What do you care?” Harry snapped. “I thought you were on a date.”

Hah,” Ron snorted, “that was put to rest in about five minutes. She spent the whole bloody ride talking about music, thinking about music, and scheming to play music. She and Ginny were on and on and on and on… cripes, it’s all that either of them could talk about! I mean, going on the whole time about one thing – and not an especially interesting thing at that – can you imagine?”

Harry said, “I can imagine,” and began to hum the Chudley Cannons’ fight song.

Ron’s ears reddened. “I do not… that’s unfair; it’s not like I… it’s not the same – not at all!” he spluttered. Harry laughed at his distress, which did nothing whatever to relieve it.

One of the tall, lightly clad women at the bar returned her attention to Ron, and then looked Harry up and down. He didn’t care for it at all. “So, Ronnie… are you going to stand there, or are you going to make introductions?” she asked.

Harry mouthed ‘Ronnie?’ and Ron rolled his eyes. “Mary, Harry. Harry, Mary,” he rolled off absently.

She didn’t look like a Mary to Harry; he expected something more exotic, or at least more forward. ‘Mary’ wears a buttoned jumper, he thought, not… well, whatever that is. He managed a smile, and said, “Charmed.”

She extended her hand. He wasn’t about to kiss it, and she left it in an awkward position for a handshake; somehow he managed to grasp and wiggle it about in a not-entirely-uncomfortable fashion. She prattled on about a hundred things that were meaningless or unimportant to him. ‘Charmed’, indeed, he thought; why couldn’t it be a silencing charm? He tried looking at her in hopes that it would change his mood; there was, after all, quite a lot of her to look at. It didn’t work. Instead, he became acutely aware that there were a number of girls he’d rather see in a balaclava and heavy woollens than the one before him in gauzy bits of whatever.

Harry had to get away. “Ron, look… I’m really sorry… but…” he managed.

Ron sighed. “I’m sorry as well, mate. We keep letting the birds get in the way this summer, eh?”

“In the way?” Mary huffed.

Ron smiled at her indulgently. “Oh, no - not you, luv,” he said in a silky voice that was almost entirely unlike his own. “Harry’s my best mate and we have a few things to settle, that’s all.”

She pressed close to Ron and nuzzled his cheek. Harry thought that the top of Ron’s head was going to shoot violently into the air. “You’d better hurry, then,” she said to Ron in a voice calculated to make his toes curl. “Make your peace, hand him off to Julia, and come back to me. After all, I’m sure you’d much rather –” She leant in even closer, whispered something into his ear, and then backed away with a carnivorous grin.

Ron’s eyes flickered. “Well… well,” he said, “I… that sounds very interesting, but hardly a first-night-out sort of… er, tell me… is that actually possible?” He didn’t blush as much as Harry would have expected.

“You’re cute,” she said. “I like that… quite a lot.” She blew Ron a kiss, winked at Harry, then turned and began to walk away; even Harry found himself momentarily taken in by the sight. “You’ll never know if it’s possible, unless you hurry along,” she purred without looking back.

Ron moved to one side, putting Mary behind him and Harry before him. He whispered too forcefully, “She’s eighteen – can you believe it? I was asking around. The one with the darker hair – Julia – she’s watching you, isn’t she? Don’t stare, for Merlin’s sake!”

“Ron…” Harry began.

“She wants to put the make on you – can’t you tell?” Ron said eagerly. “This could still end up one hell of a night!”

Harry struggled to make sense of Ron. “Have you been drinking?” he asked.

“Only one… or three… I don’t know. Seems like pretty weak stuff, though,” Ron said. “Look… I mean, don’t look, but look… live a little, mate… you know, while you can. If you don’t get yourself snogged soon, you’re going to burst into little bitty itty bits that just… explode all over the room – BOOM, splat!.” He nervously brushed back his bangs. “It’s just bloody snogging, you know…” The leggy, lightly dressed girls waiting at the end of the bar sniggered at that. “…no rings or ministers involved. ‘Course, it could be more than a snog, but that’s up to you, I expect.”

“Ron…” Harry warned. He wished that Ron would lower his voice.

“I’m serious!” Ron said.

Harry couldn’t help but snigger himself. Yeah… you’re Sirius, all right, he thought.

“What?” Ron demanded.

“Never mind,” Harry said. How do I put this? he agonised. “I… um… appreciate… what you’re trying to do. It’s passing strange, considering how the day has gone… but I do appreciate it. It’s just not… it’s not…”

“What? They don’t do it for you? You must be joking!” Ron said, exasperated.

Harry harrumphed. “Ron, this is Harry here – you know, Harry? Best mate for five years, and all that? Can you see me losing myself with someone I don’t know? Gods, I couldn’t take that kind of risk even if I wanted to!”

Ron gaped at him for a while. He seemed strangely deflated, but after a long while he slowly nodded. “I don’t know what I was… I’m sorry again, I suppose. I just…” He steeled himself, and said quietly and firmly, “I’m not going out without having a damn good time first. You shouldn’t either. Life’s too short. Merlin knows, it’s too… it’s too short… it’s just so short, you know…” He bit his lip, and looked at the floor.

Harry fidgeted. He said quietly, “Madam Bones said… and Lupin, he said… there are people, you know, who can help you deal with this sort of –”

Ron glared at him. “Off the top, I can think of two people who have to live knowing how they’re going to die. Funny, both of them are standing right here,” he growled. He took a deep breath, and his voice softened. “Besides… if I talk to any of that lot, then it’s a one-way ticket to Lockhart’s old bed at St. Mungo’s.”

Harry couldn’t deny that. He struggled for something else, some way to make Ron understand without snapping or criticising or blaming. “Maybe… maybe you need to find someone who wants to be with you and doesn’t care what might come next,” Harry offered.

That’s what I’m trying to do,” Ron huffed.

“I mean, someone who understands the, uh, circumstances. Don’t you want more than this?” Harry asked, with a dismissive wave toward the bar.

“Well, that’s a bloody long list, isn’t it?” Ron sneered. “Let’s think… someone who dropped me cold; a known nutter; and Lavender Brown. Two real choices, and I’d have to be barmy for one of them!”

Harry winced. “Don’t call Luna a nutter… and keep it down, would you? You’re making a scene.”

I am not,” Ron said petulantly.

“A bit more of this, and people will think I’m the one to do… well, whatever Myrtle over there wants to do to you,” Harry quipped.

Ron covered his mouth. “You… did you say Myrtle…?” Ron chuckled. “I suppose… I suppose that there might be moaning involved…” He clapped his hand over his mouth again and just shook, until he managed to spit out, “…and trust me, you’ll never be doing that to anyone. Gods, what an image!” He laughed loudly. “Get me an Obliviator, quickly! Oh, that hurts!”

“Shut it – now – or we’ll really need one,” Harry forced out while maintaining an even smile.

Ron fixed Harry with a glassy-eyed stare for a moment, and then nodded; Harry hoped that he was snapping out of whatever state he was in.

Harry glanced around casually, to see if anyone was paying attention. No one was staring at them, but someone was staring pointedly at Heather. He looked to Ron, flicked his head ever so slightly to one side, and used his eyes to guide Ron’s attention. Ron raised an eyebrow slightly, and stood up straighter. Harry knew that they shared the same observation and concern. There was nothing magical about the exchange, but it was something reserved to the closest of friends.

The woman was not old, but might not have been all that young – it was very hard to tell. She had short dark hair that clung to her head, intense eyes, and a sleek figure held in a ready posture. She knows how to fight, Harry thought. She wore a dark leather duster over closely fitted dark clothing. Her look wasn’t all that different from some in the crowd, but she stuck out to Harry like a wizard roaming the High Street.

“What’s she holding?” Ron whispered?

“I think it’s a mobile telephone,” Harry said. “My uncle carries one from time to time, but it’s quite a bit larger.”

“Where does the wire go, then?” Ron asked. “Fellytones hook to the wall with a wire – even I know that.”

“I said it’s mobile,” Harry groaned. “It travels with you – no wires. It’s… it’s sort of a two-way wireless, I suppose.”

“Ah,” said Ron. “You may be right. She’s jabbing on the number thingies and putting it to her face.”

“Ears?” Harry asked.

Ron fished in his pockets. Luna came up beside Harry and stood closer than was customary; it didn’t bother him. She looked him in the eyes, and turned to follow his gaze.

“She’s one of us, of course,” Luna said matter-of-factly. “I thought I might be of some help – you know, just in case.”

Ron smiled slightly. “Er, how can you tell?”

“When she moves, her clothing doesn’t move,” she said.

Ron’s brow furrowed. “I don’t get it.”

“Observe,” Luna said. She lifted her own arm to her face. The sleeve of her shirt pulled taut, and the way it draped across her body subtly changed. She lowered her arm, and nodded at the mysterious woman. As the woman talked on the mobile phone, she moved her arm. Neither the duster nor her clothing changed position – not a shift, not a wrinkle. Luna grinned, and added, “Not the sort of thing you might find in an ordinary shopping district.”

“I’ll be switched,” Ron whispered.

“Either her clothing is charmed, or made of a certain very special hide, or both,” Luna sing-songed. “A large coat made of that hide would be terribly expensive, I should think. I’d much prefer a Demiguise coat, although I suppose that it would be quite easy to lose. Of course, I’d want the Demiguise to be done with its pelt first. I abhore hunting… do you abhore hunting, Ronald…?”

Ron gaped at her, and Harry smiled. “Good eye, Luna,” he said. “You might want to fetch Tonks. Ron and I are going to have a listen.”

“Yeah… fetch Tonks, would you?” Ron said quietly. “Here, Harry… take one.” He shoved an Extendable Ear into Harry’s hand.

Harry smoothly made his way to one side of the woman, and Ron sidled up opposite him. Soon, they could clearly hear her.

“…no, she hasn’t sung anything… Julian, I will not… look, I owe you, but I certainly don’t owe you… Julian… this is ridiculous. Burke is going to pop a seam when he finds…” The woman scowled, and held the mobile phone away from her ear a few inches. Despite that, Harry noticed that her eyes followed a very disciplined pattern back and forth across the stage area. “Here’s the situation,” she snapped. “I will watch her. I will let you know if she sings – on the stage, in the loo, whatever. I can detain her for a short time, if necessary… I most certainly will not do that to her. There are very explicit guidelines where she is concerned… frankly, it’s none of your affair… no… no, it’s not. I suggest you keep your pointy beak in the clear; you might not like what you find. Wha… if you weren’t so intent on screwing Burke, not to mention… oh, that’s too much information; I really don’t want to… uh-huh… right… well… then that’s your cross to bear, isn’t it…? No. No, I will not. I have explicit… once more, stay clear of it. Mr. MacLeish’s instructions aren’t yours to question, unless you care very little for your employment… Julian, if you poke beneath that rock, then you must care very little for your health. Wha… no… well, I wouldn’t exactly wait around to cash your bonus cheque, then… well… that would be your problem; no worries for me. Why…? He trusts me… he trusts me, and I’m not about to cock that up. I’m on the rotation to supervise Nicola, for Chrissake… WHAT… what did you say? You insufferable… why? Why? Of all the… because I owe you, you wanker, and when this is done, I won’t owe you. If you ever assert that I owe you anything – ever – again, there won’t be enough left of you to feed a herring. Get your scrawny arse in here now, so I can be done with you. Five minutes, and I walk. Set me off, and you know that I’ll be dialling Burke straight away.” She angrily stabbed at one of the buttons on the phone, and thrust it deep into one of the duster’s pockets.

Harry reeled in the Ear and nonchalantly moved on. Ron waited a moment and then followed. It would have been discreet, except that the gaggle of girls was trying to remain within earshot. The woman glanced at the brazen girls for an instant and a flicker of disgust played across her face. Ten points to your house, whomever you are, Harry thought.

“What did you make of that?” Ron muttered.

“Julian is Heather’s minder, more or less. Burke has something to do with her as well – he manages the money, I think. It sounds to me like those two may be having a falling-out. Did you get the impression that this Julian is trying to catch Heather singing? I can’t figure why,” Harry said.

“She said she could ‘detain’ Heather. I’ve heard enough,” Ron said menacingly, his head inclining slightly toward the woman. “What do you think – give her a chance to explain herself, or just come out swinging?”

You won’t be doing anything; it’s not worth risking a letter from the Ministry. She doesn’t want to be here, and she’s just watching for now. I know what this Julian character looks like, and I can certainly handle him,” Harry said. “Let’s just point her out to Tonks, and watch for… Ron, what are you…? Ron!”

Ron walked slowly past the woman; he never stopped. Harry clearly heard him, though. “Don’t even think about doing anything to Heather,” he said. “There are Aurors watching you.”

“I’ve only seen the one that the girl with the large eyes is bringing toward us. You’re not one, and I think that the same is true for your dark-haired friend,” the woman said quietly and evenly. “Keep her from singing on stage, and nothing will happen.” She never made a move toward Ron or toward a wand.

Harry had the sense that Ron had just set something in motion that would have been better kept still. He took a deep breath, and decided to intervene. He slowly sidled up beside her, and faced the stage. “You’re not from England… Australia, maybe?” Harry said.

“I’m a bit old for you,” she said. “Is there a reason you’re taking up my time?”

“You don’t have any idea who I am, do you?” he said.

“No, and I can’t imagine that it matters,” she said. “Come back when you’re grown up; perhaps we’ll have something to talk about then.”

“Heather’s very important to me,” he said. “It might be best if you just walked away.”

She turned to look at him, clearly annoyed. “Stay clear of this, boy,” she warned.

Harry waved his wand inside his sleeve, and cancelled the glamour. He deliberately tossed back his fringe, which left his scar in stark relief. The woman’s expression never wavered but she said slowly, “Well… that adds an interesting wrinkle to the situation.”

“You don’t want to make me angry,” he said in a low voice.

“No, not if I value my job,” she said. “Mr. MacLeish would have my head on a platter if I laid a finger on you. So… what’s next?”

“Why does Julian want to catch Heather singing?” he asked.

She smiled slightly, apparently impressed. “You’re fully informed, aren’t you? Very well… he’s trying to trigger penalties in her contract.”

She seemed to assume that he knew more than he did, probably because he had used Julian’s first name. He decided to exploit that. “Burke wouldn’t agree with this?” he asked.

“Certainly not, and he would be right to disagree. Julian’s an arse and a poor strategist. Burke would like to have a position next summer. Julian seems to think that his best chance for that lies in blackmail,” she said.

Harry reacted instinctively. “I don’t care for the sound of that,” he said. “Call Burke, straight away.”

“No,” she said.

“What do you mean, ‘no’?” he snarled.

The woman crossed her arms, and leaned more heavily back against the edge of the bar. “Call him yourself. I’ll just stand here until Julian shows up, and then he’s on his own.”

“I have no way of calling him,” Harry said. “It’s not as though I have a mobile telephone. How do you make it work, anyway? Shouldn’t – you know – shouldn’t there be interference, or something?”

The slight smile returned. “You simply need the right sort of phone. Mr. MacLeish may be able to help you with that. You do have a meeting with him next month, correct?”

“How did you…?” Harry began.

“Nicola has been prattling on non-stop for the last two weeks,” she said. “Here.” She held out the mobile phone. “Press ‘8’ and then ‘Dial’. I have nothing to do with this, of course.”

Harry dialled the phone, and awkwardly held it to his ear. Ron stood back, watching with a raised eyebrow.

A voice grumbled, “Burke Preston here.”

Harry cleared his throat. “Mr. Preston, we haven’t been formally introduced. My name is Harry Potter, and –”

There was a brief fit of coughing on the other end. “What can I do for you, Mr. Potter… and how did you get this number?”

So, you’re one of us as well, Harry thought. This just gets stranger. “I’m borrowing a mobile at the moment,” he said; the woman frowned. “I wanted to let you know that your friend Julian seems intent on stirring up trouble tonight. I’m at a club in Edinburgh, called Cabaret Moliére –”

“I know the place,” Preston said quickly.

“Heather is here,” Harry said. “So are her band mates, and Julian will be here presently.”

There was silence for a few moments. “I see,” Preston finally said. “How is it that you know Heather, may I ask?”

“I’m Mr. MacLeish’s neighbour,” Harry admitted. “We’ve met before, on the beach. Erm… I wasn’t exactly hospitable.”

Preston spluttered, “Well… that’s… well, I missed that completely… oh – that’s rich! Heather was with you at the time, wasn’t she?”

Harry didn’t answer him. “I think Julian’s out to hurt her. I just thought you should know. I can handle him, of course, but… er… I might be a little…”

“Rough?” Preston asked. “He’d most likely deserve it. Still, Julian is, shall we say, not completely acquainted with our ways – do you understand? It might be best if I handle him instead. I’ll be there in… oh… two minutes?”

“Right, then. Er, thank you?” Harry said tentatively.

“It was good of you to call,” Preston said. “I’m most grateful.” Harry heard a click, then a buzzing sound, and then nothing. He handed the mobile phone back to the woman without a word.

Moments later, as the musicians prepared to take the stage, a familiar looking man with long blond hair sliced through the room. It hadn’t fully struck Harry on the beach, but Julian reminded him a bit of Lucius Malfoy. He didn’t need to hear a word; he could see the man tear into Heather from the moment he reached her. Harry was halfway to the stage before he realised that he was in motion. He was nearly within reach of Heather and Julian before he recognised that both Ron and the mysterious woman were just steps behind, with Luna and Tonks close at their heels. The woman was a wild card, and Harry let his wand drop inside his sleeve until he cradled the end in his fingertips.

“You have no respect for your talent, no respect for your management, no respect for the label, and no respect for the opportunities you’ve been handed!” Julian shrieked.

“Handed? Everything I’ve gotten, I’ve earned!” Heather shouted back.

Julian jabbed his finger toward her. “See? There you are – a complete lack of respect for your talent. What are you thinking, screaming like that? You shouldn’t be screaming, you shouldn’t be subjecting your ears to this caterwauling, you shouldn’t be putting in late nights… no respect, none whatever!”

“Isn’t there a new boy waiting for you somewhere, Julian? Someone fresh? Or have you decided to settle down, maybe stick it out for a week at a time?” Heather sneered.

“No respect for your management, and no respect whatever for your contract,” Julian snapped. “Your contract – ”

“Enjoy the ride, Julian – it’s over in ten months,” Heather growled.

Julian allowed a Cheshire grin to spread across his face. “Your contract has so many interesting elements,” he said, “like the behaviour clauses, or the self-renewal triggers. It’s a beautiful document, perfectly designed for you. You’ll be fortunate to be free of it when you’re fifty.”

“I could tie you up in the courts forever,” she said, “and don’t you forget it. Nearly everyone admits the thing is unenforceable.”

“Yes,” he said, “and you’d be prohibited from performing or recording during the whole process. So… go ahead. Sing your brains out. Play in public with your little friends. Prance around in leather and minis, hang about in clubs, consort with questionable men… live it up.” He smiled an entirely false smile, and added sweetly, “We’ll own you.”

“Hullo, Julian,” called a cross-sounding voice from behind Harry. “We really need to reach a firm understanding in regard to roles.”

Julian stiffened, and then grumbled, “Fancy seeing you here, Burke.” He stared down the mysterious woman, who simply shrugged in return. “I believe it’s my responsibility to make sure that Heather understands what she can and cannot do.”

He proceeded to light into Heather again, this time with a tangent having to do with the sacking of her former guitarist, but she ignored him. Harry saw her try to make eye contact with Burke, who conspicuously avoided it. Does he know what she can do? Harry wondered.

Heather’s eyes flashed malice. “I don’t know what to say to you anymore, Julian. I think I’ve said it all before, but you don’t get it. We have a set to play.”

Julian crossed his arms. “Go ahead – it’s your never-ending contract, not mine.”

Burke cleared his throat. “Julian, the next time you allow the word ‘contract’ to pass between your lips, there may be another sacking involved. Are we clear?”

Julian glared at him. “Clauses were included in the document because she won’t listen to reason. I used to catch her busking, even after the second record – out on a freezing street corner, straining her vocal cords!”

Burke ignored him, and looked instead to Heather. “You have reason to be upset, and you may direct it at me. You know full well that I approved your guitarist’s dismissal, and not Julian, but it was at Mr. MacLeish’s personal request. He had Mr. McCormack in mind for you, and I have found that there is no value in arguing with him when he sets his mind. It’s true that we’re under pressure regarding recording and touring costs, but I’ve convinced the label to forego any force reductions until after the tour when we can evaluate actual revenues and expenditures. If you were working regularly, we would have discussed this. As it stands, you’ve made yourself rather difficult to reach this month.”

Heather exhaled slowly. “Thank you for being straight with me,” she said before she returned her attention to Julian. “As for you, I hope you enjoy the set. Maybe I’ll howl a little AC/DC, just for you.”

You – wouldn’t – dare,” Julian hissed. “Burke, put a stop to this!”

“I’ll wager she wouldn’t be doing this if you hadn’t provoked her,” Preston said calmly. “Now you get to reap what you’ve sown.”

“Like hell…” Julian began.

Preston smiled, revealing unusually sharp-looking teeth. “Before I forget, I have an introduction to make. Julian Sumner, this is Harry Potter. You might remember Harry, from our walk on the beach.”

Julian’s brow furrowed, “I don’t… oh! You’re the neighbour. Er, what are you doing here, may I ask?”

Harry was quite prepared to threaten Julian, but Preston stepped in. “As it turns out, Harry is a friend of Heather’s. He’s also a business partner of Mr. MacLeish.”

Something seemed to slowly register for Julian. He paled slightly, and said, “Business… partner…?”

Harry summoned a wicked grin. “Yes – business partner,” he confirmed.

Preston’s smile grew even wider. “Unless you have a strong desire to manage church choirs in the Philippines, I suggest that you calm yourself and refrain from baiting Heather for the remainder of the evening.” Julian spluttered, but said nothing. Harry mouthed ‘Thank you’, and Preston nodded.

Heather whispered in Harry’s ear before she moved to the stage, “I don’t know how you did it, but thank you. Listen – I have something for you.” She fished in her pocket, but McCormack tugged at her arm. She mouthed ‘later’ and let herself be drawn to the stage. Once there, she slipped on a headset with a microphone attached. There was a loud wail of feedback, that was mercifully replaced by her voice.

“Er… hello out there. In case you don’t know, I’m Heather Magruder,” she said, provoking a healthy round of applause. “My mates had a few sets planned for you tonight, and I’m joining in. No opera or anything like that, I promise you – although we might toss in a ballad or two.” The crowd hooted its approval. Harry tried to manoeuvre toward the centre of the stage, but it was becoming difficult; he wondered if they’d let in the entire queue.

She smiled. “My mates tend to like the old noisy stuff, and this is their gig. If you don’t like it, then plug your ears or move on!” She nodded to the drummer, who rhythmically clapped his sticks together four times before the band erupted.

Harry recognised some of the music – a Jimi Hendrix song here, Rolling Stones there. McCormack and the keyboardist did most of the singing, and Heather seemed content to take her frustrations out on her guitar. Harry settled in at the centre of the stage; the rush of the crowd pressed him against the edge of the riser from time to time, but he was where he wanted to be.

She sang one strange song that Harry thought was about Alice and the looking glass. The lyrics mentioned Alice at any rate; and the Mad Hatter and the Red Queen and dormice; and a hookah-smoking caterpillar for that matter. Harry had no idea what a hookah was, but something about the song made him conclude that it was probably a bad thing. Julian stood frozen at the side of the stage. When he looked as if he might rush up onto the stage, the woman with the mobile phone was there to stop him. When he looked as if he might prefer to leave, Burke Preston cut him off. Harry found a certain satisfaction in the man’s distress.

At the end of the strange song, Heather handed her guitar to the backup singer and slowly walked to the middle of the stage, directly in front of Harry. She nodded at someone unseen, and the lights dimmed until only Heather and the keyboard player were lit in a foggy glow.

She slipped into Shona’s cadence for a moment. “Some of yeh asked fer this one. Some of yeh know it. If yeh don’t, then it’s not fer yeh.” Harry heard Julian whimper, “Don’t do it!”

There was barely any music at all, just a few quiet chords that echoed behind her voice. This was at last the voice that Harry associated with Heather. He didn’t understand the words, and quickly realized that they weren’t English words at all. They were heavy and guttural, and Harry thought that they would sound rather like an auto accident coming from anyone else’s mouth. As soon as she began, a few people whooped in apparent recognition – otherwise, the room went silent.

When she was finished, about half the crowd erupted into wild applause, and many of the rest clapped tepidly. He looked about and spotted a few people who looked rather like Wimbourne fans singled out amidst the Puddlemere United side at a league match – uncomfortable and angry, but too cowed by the opposition to say anything.

The rather large man to Harry’s left had hooted and clapped madly. He turned a grin on Harry, nudged him with his elbow, and bellowed, “Ain’t she somethin’?”

Harry nodded enthusiastically. “She is,” he said. “I wish I understood the words.”

“Shame that yeh don’ know yer heritage,” the man said. He closed his eyes and recited, “Cuil-lodair, is Briseadh na h-Eaglaise, is briseadh nan tacannan - lamhachas-laidir da thrian de ar coms; 's e seoltachd tha dhith oirnn. Nuair a theirgeas a'chruaidh air faobhar na speala caith bhuat a' chlach-liomhaidh; chan eil agad ach iarann bog mur eil de chruas nad innleachd na ni sgathadh.

“Is caith bhuat briathran mine oir chan bhuat briathran agad; tha Tuatha De Danann fon talamh, 's nuair a ruigeas tu Tir a' Gheallaidh, mura bi thu air t'aire coinnichidh Sasannach riut is plion air, a dh'innse dhut gun tug Dia, brathair athar, coir dha anns an fhearann.”

“Oh…” Harry said, because he could think of nothing else to say.

The man still sported a mad grin. “It’s na’ the words, it’s the meanin’. She’s tellin’ Queen Maggie where ta go.” Harry recalled Dumbledore’s mention of Heather singing in Gaelic to the Queen; it had sounded controversial, and now he had an inkling why that might be the case.

Julian looked ready to be tossed in a kerbside bin. For that matter, Preston appeared positively ruffled. Both he and the mysterious woman nervously watched the crowd.

Heather retrieved her guitar. “I thought we’d throw in something brand spanking new,” she said. “We wrote this one on the road, and it’s never been heard outside a bus or a hotel room. Kirley’s only played it once, so we’ll forgive him. What’d’ya think – that sound all right to you wankers?” There was a loud roar. “I’ll take that as ‘yes’. It doesn’t have a name, really. The working title is ‘My Manager is a Flaming Pile of Shite’. Hope you like it.” Harry was fairly sure that Julian was going to have a stroke on the spot and that his remains would then spontaneously burst into flames, which suited Harry fine.

Heather let her guitar rest loose, and bobbed from side to side while her band mates played a few bars. Then she joined in.

All I see, it’s not for me. What I want, you have not got…”

Her voice was much lower than before, and sounded breathy and forced. Julian gripped the edge of the stage, and moaned, “What – are – you – doing? Stop doing that to your voice!

Tried to use the things you sold me, no matter what the cost… tried to go the way you told me, but each time I got lost… the stairs didn’t lead me anywhere –”

Her face contorted into a snarl, and her guitar exploded to life. She glared at Julian more intensely with each powerful chord, as she continued to sing.

I’m takin’ the fire escape, up to the roof… don’t care if it’s not the way you find the truth… time to make this climb, to rise above…”

Abruptly, she let the guitar fall though she continued singing.

“…this room, and all of you… who say I should do like you would… tried to live the life you sold me, no matter what the cost… tried to walk the way you told me, but each time I got lost… the stairs didn’t lead me anywhere…”

The room exploded in power chords and thumping bass and pounding drums.

I’m takin’ the fire escape, up to the roof… don’t care if it’s not the way you find the truth…and when I get up that high, I don’t know what I’ll find… but I’d rather look at the sky, than wonder why I let you take my time… time to make this climb, to rise above…”

McCormack broke into a solo over Heather’s power chords. Julian looked as if he wanted to bang his head against the stage. Harry was inclined to help with the banging, if the opportunity arose, but he was quite happy watching Heather.

Her intensity took him aback. The song struck a chord deep within him, too. We have more in common than I really knew, he thought. His place in front of the stage left him at an awkward angle, looking up at her. She was no more conscious of her skirt than before, and he was acutely aware of how long and bare her legs were. She caught his eye, and unexpectedly flashed a trace of a smile. He looked deeply into her eyes. I wish I knew what you were thinking right now, he thought, but he wasn’t sure that he would want to share what was on his mind. Her eyes flickered, his head swam, and he felt a sickening tug like falling into a Floo.

He felt a wave of joy – it felt familiar, like he felt when he flew alone high above the Quidditch pitch… there was some anger – a strong desire to take his guitar off and dash it over Julian’s head… there was a kind of sadness and regret, a sense that nothing would ever be the same… there was a powerful feeling of loneliness and a knowledge that no one understood, not really… and there was a strong sense that he could be undone by green eyes if he were to let it happen… and he had to look at those eyes, but he couldn’t screw up the song, not when he was sticking it to that effin’ wanker, not when he could see that Julian wanted to crawl under the stage… anger, dark anger… stay away… stay at bay… not right now…

Harry shook his head, and tried in vain to clear his mind. He could see her before him, and he could see himself as well. Somehow he had performed Legilimency on her, and he was horrified. He needed to get out of her mind but couldn’t seem to withdraw. He tried to end it, and something stood in his way. He felt something – it was like an animal growling and pouncing – and he realised that he couldn’t withdraw because she wasn’t letting him.

Her eyes tore at him and he felt the tug again. His mind flooded with memories… flirting at L’Oiseau Chanteur… running on the beach… hiding Heather from Julian and Burke… telling her about his past, at least as much as he could tell a Muggle… the feel of her hands on his back, comforting him… the sense that they shared things in common, things that he had never shared with anyone else before… Heather sitting on the edge of his bed… the smell of her hair… watching her walk from behind and feeling guilty about it… how she looked in that bloody skirt, standing there in the library – she turned his head, even when she was furious with him… how he had wanted to strangle Ron… he could still see Heather in front of him, on the stage, still playing her guitar… he pushed back as hard as he could, and she grew clearer and his memories grew fainter.

She shook her head clear, returned to the power chords, and began to sing again.

I’m takin’ the fire escape, up to the roof…”

Pushing back didn’t work like it should have. Instead of being freed, he was flooded with memories and thoughts that weren’t his – being hustled out to stand on a blustery street corner and sing for meagre coins… having her few toys taken from her because she wasn’t good enough, because she didn’t bring in enough… moving to Madame Hartmann’s cottage… travelling constantly… loneliness, in the midst of a crowded room… excruciating highs and lows... Julian being a bastard, but telling the truth – no one really did care about her, just the voice…

Don’t care if it’s not the way you find the truth…”

…always a step ahead the darkness, holding it at bay, holding the Wolf at bay, but sometimes letting it out, enjoying it when she snapped at Julian or Madame Hartmann or anyone else foolish enough to tamper with the Wolf… seeing a motorbike race by, outside of St. Ebb… bantering with a nice, attractive – boy? man? He was right on that cusp, but who was he?… sneaking onto the Black’s property and sitting on the beach… those green eyes, the ones that were hard to avoid… friends were harder to come by than lovers, though...

And when I get up that high, I don’t know what I’ll find…”

… wondering how the Wolf can be real – it can’t be real… betrayal – just when she was beginning to feel something special with Shona, the world turned upside down again – lies – who was this man, this Lupin? – fear – how can I be one of them? – sorrow – nothing ever works out in the end… loneliness, crushing loneliness… Ron reaches out to her, decent and kind and helpful in the moment; at least he doesn’t like her for the voice – that’s refreshing…

But I’d rather look at the sky, than wonder why I let you take my time…”

…he felt like he was shoved backward. She had a snarl on her face as she sang, and the torrent subsided for a moment before his own memories began to flow out of him… a scream and a green flash… a flying motorbike in the night… a cupboard with locks… hand-me-down clothes… his first ride on the Hogwarts Express, and the first boat ride to the castle… Fluffy, and McGonagall’s giant chess game… Voldemort, in the back of Quirrell’s head… Ginny and Riddle’s diary and the basilisk and Hermione in the Hospital Wing… Sirius and Lupin and Ron and Hermione in the Shrieking Shack… his patronus, and Sirius racing off on Buckbeak… dodging the Hungarian Horntail… Cedric – poor Cedric… the ghostly shades of his parents emerging from the wand… Umbridge and the blood quill… Voldemort, always in his mind – scar burning, and burning, and burning… becoming the snake… is this madness?… have to save Sirius… it’s a trap… Bellatrix… the veil… running, always running… Fliptrask’s office… riding the Bonnie to the Burrow… the safeguarding charm… Sirius in a cheap suit… Hermione in a bathrobe… dinner at the Grangers’… the Death Eater attack… he’s going to kill her – have to stop Wormtail… noise, light, heat, swinging, flailing, blood… nightmares… dismissal… poor Luna…

Stop! Stop! he screamed, but there was no one to hear it. Somewhere deep inside his mind, it dawned on him that she wouldn’t have any idea how to withdraw, that perhaps she was accidentally pulling him back in…

…she knew that the Wolf was real, not just a shade in her mind – the Wolf was in her mind and in her soul – the Wolf was real, and there was nowhere to run anymore – she couldn’t bear it, but she knew that she would… she wouldn’t be broken, not by Auntie Fiona, not by Julian or Keith MacLeish, and certainly not by the Wolf, and anyone in the way could just sod off… …wanting to take that damn picture off his wall and smash it to bits… wanting to kiss and be kissed… wanting… needing… help…

He screamed inside his head again, but it wasn’t a scream for release. It was pain, his pain and her pain. He needed to hold her, to help her bear it. She had a vacant half-mad look in her eyes, as if she was pushing through a wall of exhaustion in order to finish the song. He couldn’t move. He wondered just how much she’d actually taken in, and how much of it made any sense to her. He wondered what would happen if he kissed her. He wondered if she knew what he was thinking in that instant. Her voice sounded strained and tired.

Time to make this climb, to rise above… time to make this climb, to rise above.”

The song ended on a single powerful note, at the exact moment that the last word died. She breathed hard, her chest rising and falling heavily, and he wanted to feel guilty because he was watching her chest, but he couldn’t summon any guilt. Wanting… wanting… he could understand that. He could understand all of it, really – the monster inside, barely contained, barely held at bay – the betrayal, the lies, and the fear; the loneliness, and the wanting.

Her guitar clattered to the stage and she stood there, eyes locked with Harry. The drums began to pound, and some kind of music began to play – Harry didn’t know what it was, and he didn’t much care. She absently slipped off the headset, her eyes never moving away from his, and stepped toward the edge of the stage. Harry had the presence of mind to step forward and stop her from simply walking off the edge. He reached up, placed his hands at her waist, and lowered her to the floor.

“What… I… was that…?” she babbled.

“Uh-huh,” he said.

Her hands shook. “I… I’m so ashamed, I… you saw everything that…?”

He said faintly, “Uh-huh. Did you?”

She nodded, and asked in a throaty whisper, “How do you… how do you go on?”

“No choice, really,” he said. “Anyone gets in the way, I tell them to sod off.”

She smiled but it quickly faded. Her eyes were haunted, he thought. She placed her hand to his cheek. “I want… I want…”

“Uh-huh,” he said. He realised that he was breathing as hard as she was. He was nearly dizzy from the warmth of the room. He knew that they were still connected somehow. He didn’t understand why or how, and he didn’t care.

She brought her hand around the side of his head, buried her fingers in his hair, and pulled him to her. The kiss was electric; he was sure that his hair was standing on end, and that his feet had been reduced to cinders. Ron had it right – BOOM, splat! He thought he had known magic before, and now knew that he hadn’t – this was magic. She loosened her grip on his hair, and pulled back just enough to look into his eyes. He felt himself pulling and being pulled all at the same time. It was all feelings without thoughts this time, bounding and rebounding from her to him to her to him… wanting… longing… hunger… white-hot… sweating… burning…

He drew her to him with one arm behind her back, his other hand roaming freely, and they began to devour one another. He was dimly aware that her clothing fit like a second skin, and that he desperately needed to feel the skin beneath – and he frantically pushed back with everything he had. Dementors… Snape in a dress… dancing with Ron… he summoned everything and anything to help with the push, but it was so hard. He was a human Patronus, impervious to all things unhappy and disturbing. Why did I ever want to be alone? he wondered. I was a stupid arse! They stood there and embraced and kissed for ten minutes, or a day, or a hundred years – there was no measuring and no knowing, only feeling.

A voice intruded. “Potter!”

Snape in a dress, he thought, reciting naked in McGonagall’s class – wait, that one’s not mine… that’s Hermione’s…

Hermione! In a trice, the hunger and the longing subsided just enough for him to push back. Now, it was just a kiss – a terribly pleasant kiss to be sure, but only that.

“Snap out of it, boy!”

Harry broke off the kiss and shrieked, “Gah! Snape in a dress!

WHAT?” Snape thundered.

Harry stammered, “I mean… Snape… uh, you see, I was just trying to, um, find a way to push back, and… uh…”

“Push back? Push back against what? Potter, what have you done?” Snape demanded.

“Do what?” Harry snapped. “What are you talking about?”

Heather looked past Harry, and said “Oh – my – God…” There was no music anymore. Harry spun around and surveyed the room. Most of the people in the room were in various stages of snogging.

“What the… how…?” Harry managed.

Heather swallowed hard. “We did this?”

“You must be responsible for this, Potter,” Snape said with disdain. “You should establish a dedicated fund at the Ministry, to cover the Obliviation costs associated with your pathetic lack of control.”

Heather whispered. “I couldn’t stop it…”

Harry felt a protective pang pull at him. He reached out to her, and she let herself be held. “We both wanted it,” he said.

“Did we?” she asked.

Snape arched an eyebrow. “Explain, Potter – now.”

“She’s a Legilimens,” Harry snapped. “Don’t tell me you hadn’t figured that out?”

Snape arched an eyebrow. “She is a Squib who may possess some latent abilities in that area – nothing more. You managed this disaster entirely on your own; it has ‘Potter’ written all over it.” He withdrew his wand. “I’m happy to demonstrate.” Harry let go of Heather and lifted his hands defensively.

Snape whispered, “Legilimens,” but Harry felt nothing.

Heather squeezed her eyes shut, and her hands twitched. “No… no… please…”

“Stop it! You’re hurting her!” Harry shouted.

Snape showed signs of strain. “I am not hurting her, Potter,” he gasped. “She is… not defending… she is… resisting her own defence against me… I can not imagine… why…” Heather’s eyes snapped open, dark and fierce. Snape screamed and dropped his wand.

“I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m so sorry,” Heather said quickly, with the voice of a scared child.

Snape nursed his wand hand. There were four jagged tears across the palm, and blood dripped down Snape’s wrist and onto the sleeve of his robe. “You have nothing to be sorry about,” Snape told her. “Potter, that was Occlumency.”

Heather’s voice shook. “Did you… did you see it?”

“I did,” Snape said. “Have you seen that manifestation previously?” When she paled, he added, “I take that as affirmative.”

“You didn’t have to do that,” Harry snapped. “She’s a wild talent – Dumbledore said so himself.”

“Perhaps if you had shared that, I might have been spared injury,” Snape sneered.

“Hello… sir…” Heather mumbled.

“Good evening, Miss Magruder,” said Dumbledore. “This is quite a sight, is it not?” He turned to Snape. “May I tend to your hand, Severus? Quickly, please – we must make haste.”

Snape scowled but presented his hand. Dumbledore didn’t bother to take out his wand; he grasped Snape’s hand as though he were about to shake it, and muttered something. The rough tears were reduced to faint white lines. “Thank you, Headmaster,” Snape whispered.

“Are you frightened, Miss Magruder?” Dumbledore asked.

Heather’s eyes were sad and tired, and Harry thought he could see Lupin in her. “Twenty-four hours ago, I thought I was a regular person and I honestly wondered if Harry was an alien… but this… I don’t know… it’s…” She trailed off. Harry put his arm around her; she bridled, but then seemed to relax slightly.

“Given the circumstances, you are handling yourself admirably,” Dumbledore assured her.

It was clear that Heather had very little reserve left. She looked around the room, in a rising panic. “How did all of this happen?” she asked.

“I’d like to know that myself,” Harry added.

Dumbledore explained, “Very little is known about the effects that two legilimens may have upon one another. Not many wizards possess the ability, and male legilimens outnumber females by at least three-to-one.” He smiled faintly. “There are few opportunities for study.”

“Did we do this to the room, to the entire city – what?” Heather asked nervously.

Snape said, “I briefly looked outside the door. It appears to be a line-of-sight phenomenon.”

Heather asked Snape, “So you don’t know anything about this? You’ve never been with someone else who can do this whatever-you-call-it?” Snape frowned but said nothing.

“How do we get them all to stop?” Harry wondered.

“A diffuse Enervate charm should be sufficient,” said Dumbledore.

“An… Enervate charm?” Heather said, confused.

Dumbledore put on his Kindly Headmaster face, as Harry was beginning to sarcastically think of it. “The charm lends energy and wakefulness to the recipient. I carefully probed a few individuals. They are not caught up in any meaningful way. The Enervate charm will get their attention, and they shall manage the rest on their own.”

Snape glared at Harry and added, “Rather like an opportunistic healing potion – which is something that you should have known for your O.W.L.s, of course.”

Harry smirked at Snape. “Why are you not, you know… snogging with the rest of them?” he asked.

“I was able to break free of the effect after a short time – as would any wizard worth his salt,” Snape sneered. Harry caught Snape’s furtive glance at the mysterious woman with the mobile phone, who sat on the steps at the far end of the stage and was apparently asleep. He smirked and Snape summoned a haughty glare.

Dumbledore took Heather’s hand – it was far too compassionate a gesture, Harry thought, and it left him a bit nauseous. “Miss Magruder, you require intensive instruction with regard to your ability, as soon as possible,” he intoned. “You have manifested a very powerful and immensely dangerous talent. I shall take responsibility for your training, with Professor Snape’s assistance.”

Not a chance in hell!” Harry snapped.

Heather reached for his hand and squeezed it. “Not now,” she said quietly.

Snape cut in. “You should not speak about your ability or what has happened here,” he said. “Who is presently aware of it, outside of present company?”

“Remus and Shona,” Heather mumbled.

Snape bristled. “It is unwise for a Muggle to know of this, but I suppose that cannot be helped.”

“Ron doesn’t know?” Harry asked.

“We didn’t talk about it,” Heather said flatly.

“If she leaves immediately, we can avoid futher questions,” Snape pointed out to Dumbledore, “particularly from the Ministry personnel that are undoubtedly on their way.”

Dumbledore nodded. “I am surprised that they have not already arrived.” He returned to the Kindly Headmaster expression, as his attention shifted back to Heather. “It is best that the magical authorities remain unaware of your talent. I will escort you to Hogwarts. We will sort out the situation there, as soon as possible.”

“Potter, you can take care of the rest of the Weasley brood,” Snape ordered. “Mind that you avoid bringing around any of the Muggles. The Ministry will doubtless bring a horde of Obliviators. I must depart before they arrive.”

“Mr. Snape?” Heather said.

“What?” Snape asked impatiently.

“You said this was a line-of-sight thing, right? It shouldn’t happen through walls, then? So if I were ever in a similar situation…” Heather asked nervously.

“There’s no risk of that,” Lupin snarled. “Step away from him.” Heather clutched Harry’s arm.

“Remus, this is not the time –” Dumbledore began.

Lupin forcefully cut him off. “I’m not a schoolboy – don’t presume to lecture me,” he snapped.

Dumbledore tried again. “Remus, you’re making a grave –”

Don’t,” Remus barked, and then he turned on Harry. “I asked you, and you said you’d stay away. I asked you. When you decided to come with Luna, I assumed that you would respect that request to a reasonable extent.” He waved his hand toward the bar. “Now that she’s cuddled up with Ron Weasley, the real scenario is obvious enough. You planned this, didn’t you?”

Harry’s eyebrows shot up. “This? How on Earth could I have planned this?

Lupin slowly began to shift from red to purple. “Don’t play with me. You planned to come here and ingratiate yourself with my daughter, when I expressly asked you – and you agreed – to do no such thing.”

Heather’s jaw tightened at the word ‘daughter’. “When I told you to sod off,” she said stridently, “I meant it.”

“The best thing for you would be to wake up tomorrow with a crushing headache and no memory of the last two weeks,” Lupin snapped at her.

Snape stood back with his arms crossed and a smug look on his face, while Dumbledore tried again to intercede. “Remus, the young lady is seventeen,” he pointed out. “She does have rights in this situation.”

“She has the rights of a Squib, which is to say almost none. If she is here when the Obliviators come, they will remove any memories relating to magic,” Lupin said. He was almost manic, and Harry found himself a little frightened. “All I have to do is keep her here, and the problem will be solved.”

“That is hardly the best –” Dumbledore started.

It’s precisely what’s best for her,” Lupin shouted. “It’s not best for me, and it’s not best for Harry, but we’re well accustomed to loss – we’ll get over it!”

“She will eventually injure someone with that talent of hers, Lupin,” Snape said. “You should have seen what she did to my hand. It was shockingly reminiscent of a werewolf attack.”

Lupin whirled around in a fighting posture. “Shut your foul mouth,” he snarled.

The corners of Snape’s mouth twisted upward. “Does the beast wish a duel?”

Lupin pushed up his sleeves. “No,” he said, “I’d rather remind you what a werewolf attack is really like.”

“Stop it! Just stop it!” Heather cried.

Accio wands!” Harry barked, and Snape and Lupin’s wands flew to him.

Dumbledore smiled approvingly, and held out his hand for the wands just as a frowning Amelia Bones appeared with a pop! She quickly surveyed the room, and smiled faintly.

“I really don’t want to know,” Madam Bones said. “Albus, you have no more than two minutes to resolve whatever requires resolution. After that, you’re going to have as few Aurors as possible, Cornelius Fudge, and a good-sized gaggle of reporters all bearing down on you.” She stared through her monocle at Harry, and added, “I suppose it should be expected that you’re here.”

“It’s nice to see you, too, ma’am,” Harry said, with the barest trace of a smile.

“I need to move as many as eight people from here to another location in Scotland with some haste. Only two of those are licensed to Apparate, and I am not certain it would be advisable in any case,” Dumbledore said.

“I have no knowledge of any capacity that you may or may not possess to create untraceable portkeys,” Madam Bones said flatly, and then abruptly Disapparated. Dumbledore barely managed to hand Snape his wand before the Potions Master was gone.

Dumbledore turned to Harry. “You will take this portkey, and use it to remove yourself, Miss Lovegood and Mister Weasley. Miss Magruder will be accompanying Professor Snape and myself.” He quickly made a portkey from a beverage napkin, thrust it into Harry’s hand, and pointed toward the bar.

“Like he she will,” Lupin growled. “She comes with you and me, Albus – not Snape.”

Heather abruptly flung herself at Harry. “Harry, what if they… look, I’m really scared…” she said awkwardly. Something about it seemed wrong, he thought – forced somehow. She mouthed ‘something for you’, and shoved a bit of paper into his hand.

“You can come with us,” Harry insisted.

“The portkey is specific, Harry. She can not,” Dumbledore said. He held out his hand to Heather.

Harry glared at Lupin, and spat, “If you do anything to her, anything at all, you’ll regret it.” Then he began to step over and around people, to make his way across the room.

Ron was sitting on the floor, his back against a barstool. Luna sat on his lap. Their lips were locked together, her hand was tracing across his chest, and they were completely unaware of the rest of the world. “If he hurts you, Luna, I’ll hurt him worse,” Harry said aloud. He spoke the incantation and flicked his wand.

Ron broke off the kiss. “What… I don’t… I was hungry, and then I… Luna!

“That was… unexpected,” Luna said. “Tell me, where did you learn to kiss? Your instructors were clearly of very high quality.”

“Instructors? What are you on about?” Ron said, and he shook his head.

“That was a joke, Ronald,” she said, “an attempt a humour. Did you like it? Was I funny?”

“I suppose… ” Ron said. He blinked rapidly several times, and then looked up. “Harry! What the…?” He looked around and his jaw dropped. “Crikey - what happened?”

“Erm… it’s a long story…” Harry trailed off, uncertain what he should say. He settled for helping Ron and Luna to their feet.

Luna turned to Ron. “I am sorry that you felt compelled to kiss me.”

Ron straightened his hair by running his fingers through it. “Er, it’s all right,” he said absently. Luna stood up straight, her eyes wider than usual.

“There’s no time to explain,” Harry said, and held out the napkin. “Just take it, both of you.” As soon as Ron and Luna touched it, Harry felt the familiar tug and the three of them were gone.

A moment later, he fell to the floor in the Black tower’s Great Hall. Bill, Tonks and Ginny were already there; Bill and Ginny were arguing, and Tonks looked dazed.

“Looks like we have the time for a long story,” Ron said to Harry.

“I’m not in the mood,” snapped Harry.

Ron looked around the room. “Say… where’s Heather?”

“Being taken as far from me as Remus can arrange,” Harry returned.

Tonks’ eyes widened. “Harry… I saw what the two of you…” She stopped, cleared her throat, and continued awkwardly, “What I mean is, it was obvious that you were… um… are you all right?”

“No, I’m not,” Harry said flatly. He brushed himself off, and walked to the stairs without a word.

It was a clear, cool night. He thought about sitting on the beach. Then he thought about running off. He decided on returning to the bothy, for the moment. As he neared the cliff, he shouted, “Shacklebolt, don’t even think of jumping me!” There was no answer, and no rustling grass or other cues. He reached the bothy unmolested.

He couldn’t put Heather out of his mind, couldn’t silence all the memories. After an hour or two, it became apparent that Dumbledore would not be making an appearance. He listened to music, thought quite a lot about Heather’s lips and the feel of her in his arms, stared at Hermione's picture, and cursed loudly at the sodding prophecy and all those responsible for it. He rolled the crumped scrap of paper from Heather around the top of his bureau, and decided that he couldn’t look at it, not yet. Eventually he flopped onto the bed and drifted into an unsettled sleep.

Songs and poems referenced (by order of appearance):

Townshend, P. (1971). Baba O’Riley. On The Who: Who’s Next. London: MCA Records.

Chaquico, C., & Slick, G. (1967). White rabbit. On Jefferson Airplane: Surrealistic Pillow. Los Angeles, CA: RCA Records.

MacThomais, R. (1979?). Cruaidh. In Gairm: the Gaelic literary magazine, volume/issue unknown.

Goldman, M., Stanton, P., Wink. C., et al. [vocalist: Tracy Bonham]. (2003). Up to the roof. On Blue Man Group: Complex. New York: Lava Records.

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