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Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)

Chapter Twenty-Two

OUT IN THE OPEN

August 19, 8:00 pm

Harry ran his hands through his hair, which only served to enhance its messiness. He was overwhelmed, despite Mr. Tonks’ best efforts – everything was complicated, and there was so much to digest. He wished he’d never come down from the garret.

“Let me see if I understand this,” Harry reviewed. “When Sirius’ will was approved, they restored his rights. When they restored his rights, he got custody of me… something of a problem, of course. They didn’t bother to change guardians because Dumbledore was already my wizarding guardian, and I was living with the Dursleys anyway –”

“ – and everyone with a say was too busy wrangling about the emancipation issue to pay any mind,” Lupin grumbled.

Harry pressed on. “Diggle took charge of the money because he was in charge of Sirius’ estate, and… was he my conservator, like Remus, or was that missed as well?”

“He was temporarily appointed as conservator, pending execution of Sirius’ will.” Mr. Tonks explained. “According to Amelia, it was the consensus that Dumbledore would not be awarded both guardianship and conservatorship. She said it was quite a tussle.”

“A tussle bought and paid for by Malfoy, no doubt,” spat Lupin. “He played this from the start. You’d almost think he knew in advance what Sirius had planned.”

“Dedalus would never have tipped Malfoy – of that I have no doubt at all,” Mr. Tonks insisted.

Harry returned them to the matter at hand. “So that’s why Diggle was able to use my money, and… and sell my name,” he concluded.

Mr. Tonks nodded. “That’s it, in a nutshell. No one at the Wizengamot was watching carefully, and Gringotts granted Dedalus full access based on the signed order. The share in the Daily Prophet was purchased with your funds, not from the Black Trust or Sirius’ accounts. Dedalus wanted to be sure that the share would belong to you, even if the other beneficiaries contested Sirius’ will. I’d have probably done the same, in his place. You could contest the licensing arrangement, of course – Dumbledore should have been the one giving permission, in theory – but MacLeish will drag his feet with the Wizengamot. Two years will expire long before you ever obtain a ruling. Keep this in mind, Harry – it’s a wizarding agreement, not a Muggle contract. Dedalus made a good choice there; I’m a bit surprised that MacLeish agreed to it. As for the rest… Vox is arguing that the Prophet coined the phrase ‘the Boy-Who-Lived’ in 1981. I wish them Godspeed with that argument; they’ll need it. They should prevail with ‘Bloody Harry’, though I can’t imagine why they’d want to protect that.”

Harry buried his face in his hands. “This can’t get any worse… or can it?”

Mr. Tonks patted Harry on the shoulder. “You still need to decide how to handle the relief payment issue. Perhaps we should take a detour, before pressing on? I think Dumbledore should be here for this.” Harry looked up, ready to pounce, but saw the smile on Mr. Tonks’ face and held back.

When Dumbledore was settled at the table, Mr. Tonks said, “Harry, I want to talk about how to gain your reinstatement at Hogwarts.”

“You’re kidding?” Lupin blurted.

Dumbledore leaned in, clearly interested. “What is it that you have in mind, Theodore?” he asked.

Mr. Tonks’ eyes flickered for a moment at the sound of his given name, but his smile remained. “I see two approaches,” he explained. First, we could take the bribery investigation public. One advantage to Vox owning the Prophet is that they’ll sink their teeth into any scandal that presents itself. If you don’t believe that, then spend a few days with some Australian wizards. The public outcry would do most of the work for us. They might even demand Fudge’s ouster –”

“There is a timeworn aphorism that says ‘be careful what you wish for; you might just get it’,” warned Dumbledore. “We should pay heed to this where the Minister is concerned. What is your second approach?”

Mr. Tonks held his voice down. “We possess more information in this matter than does the Ministry. That’s unlikely to change – this sort of thing isn’t exactly their cup of tea, after all. If used properly, the information provides us with valuable leverage over the Board of Governors, yes?”

Dumbledore frowned. “I will reserve my comments on both alternatives until Harry has had his say. Harry, is there anything you wish to contribute?”

Lupin eyed Mr. Tonks suspiciously. “Ted… that sounds a lot like blackmail,” he warned.

“I’m talking about using the information we possess to Harry’s best advantage,” Mr. Tonks returned.

“I’m inclined to the first approach,” Lupin admitted. “I’ve no love lost for Fudge, and I think the Board of Governors should be held accountable. The second approach rises and falls on the strength of the leverage. I can't imagine Amelia would go for it, either.”

“That's not required, is it?” Mr. Tonks observed.

Dumbledore sat impassively. “Do you have an opinion on the matter?” he prodded Harry.

Harry wondered aloud, “Could we really end up with someone worse than Fudge?”

Dumbledore answered the question with a question. “You surely have at least a passing familiarity with Muggle history, and – despite your OWL results – you have surely acquired some knowledge of the history of magic. You have also had some experience with the Ministry, for good and ill. Given what you know, what conclusion do you draw?”

Harry nodded solemnly. He said to Mr. Tonks, “I agree with Remus about the second choice; I can’t support that. Dumbledore’s right about Fudge,” continued Harry. “We shouldn’t risk it. I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but I’m all right now.”

“What do you mean by that?” Lupin asked anxiously.

Harry searched for the right words. “Everything’s changed. I… I haven’t really thought about it much… I’ve tried not to think about it, but… do you really think I could get what I need from sixth year classes?”

“I’m certain that the faculty could arrange all the supplemental training you need,” Mr. Tonks offered. “Everyone around you would cheerfully pitch in wherever useful. We were discussing that possibility on the drive up –”

Lupin cut in. “Don’t fret, Harry. Ted and Odd and I were in the front of the van, and there was an Imperturbable charm up from the start,” he promised.

“We each came at this from a different angle – no surprise in that – but we were all concerned about what you might be sacrificing by missing out on your last two years,” Mr. Tonks continued. “It’s not just about the classes; there are all the other aspects – friends, parties, Quidditch, and the like.”

Dumbledore asked Harry, “Do you harbour any fears or concerns about maintaining your friendships?”

Harry looked back at Dumbledore, and grew frustrated with himself. He wondered why should feel agreeable around Dumbledore, so much so that at times it took concerted effort to hold on to his anger. He checked the corners of his mind, but no one else was there. He didn’t want to answer Dumbledore’s question honestly – he didn’t want to be weak. A lie didn’t occur to him, so he was left with the truth.

“It’s best that I go on my own,” he said. “There are … things I need to learn, and I need to learn them now. I need to do things my own way… but I don’t think I can do this alone. I wish I could. I mean, I’ll probably fight alone in the end, but I still want my friends… if they’ll have me…”

Dumbledore smiled broadly, and his eyes nearly shone. “There is no reason for you to be sorry,” he said. “In an apprenticeship, you will have a measure of freedom, you will not be alone, and you will not be deprived of your friends. I wish that you could be afforded more than that. The steps necessary to reconcile even those basic requirements will pose a challenge, but we shall meet the challenge.” Harry nodded in acknowledgement – he wanted to trust, but the Headmaster hadn't earned it.

“Shall we tackle the question of the relief payments, then?” Mr. Tonks asked. “Your options are straightforward – it’s really a matter of degree.”

Harry rubbed at his bleary eyes. He wasn’t sleepy, just spent. “Let’s finish this,” he muttered.

Mr. Tonks glanced at one of his papers. “Right, then. Between July 21 and July 30, Dedalus took in just over eighteen million pounds of relief. I’ve asked that he provide fully updated… Harry? Are you all right? Do you need some water?” Harry closed his eyes and waited for the coughing fit to subside.

“What portion of the eighteen million pounds has already been expended, if I might ask?” asked Dumbledore.

Mr. Tonks consulted another paper. “Harry…?” he asked tentatively.

Harry smiled faintly when he realized that Mr. Tonks was awaiting permission to speak further in front of Dumbledore. He nodded, and Mr. Tonks continued, “About four million is still liquid. Nearly all the rest has been converted to Galleons, and disbursed in accordance with the will.”

Harry cleared his throat. “Do I have enough money to fix this?” he croaked.

Mr. Tonks laughed. “That’s hardly a problem. The Potter Trust could cover it from its Muggle liquid assets alone. If you set the Potter Trust aside, then you’ll run through all of Sirius’ remaining funds and the majority of your own vault as well,” he said.

“Why wouldn’t I use the Potter Trust?” Harry asked.

Mr. Tonks explained. “All of the appointed trustees are either dead or unavailable. That leaves the institutional trustee – I believe you’ve met Fliptrask? Everything will be according to the rules, and goblin rules are as complicated as rules can possibly be.”

Lupin asked, “What do you want to accomplish here, Harry? It’s obvious that you want to repay everyone. Do you have an end result in mind?” Mr. Tonks took out a bound pad of paper and a Muggle biro, and watched expectantly.

“When everything's over and done with, I'd like to live here without being hated,” Harry said. “If Diggle sent me a bill, I’d hate me.”

“Right,” said Mr. Tonks. He read aloud as he wrote. “No… villagers… with… torches… and… pitchforks… storming… the… tower.” He started to laugh and Harry weakly joined in. Lupin and Dumbledore looked on blankly.

Mr. Tonks waved his hand dismissively. “Never mind; it’s just a reference from the cinema. You’re probably talking about repayment plus some sort of interest, Harry. There's a long legacy to overcome, after all.”

“I don’t care about the money,” Harry sighed. “I want to be able to walk down the High Street and feel good about it.”

Mr. Tonks scribbled furiously on the pad of paper. “Well… this affair has probably left a number of people in a fairly bad way. If you return the actual relief payments, plus… ten percent, I think… and cover resulting incidentals – missed rents, repossessed property, that sort of thing… you should get the end result that you want.”

“You might also consider doing something for the village as a whole,” Dumbledore suggested.

Harry nodded readily. “I like that idea,” he said. “How would I go about doing it?”

Mr. Tonks tapped his biro against the table for a few moments, and then offered, “I can meet with the community council – without referring to you, of course – and explore the local needs. Do you have anything in mind?”

Harry shrugged. “I don’t know… a school, new roadways, whatever they think they need.”

Mr. Tonks eyebrows shot up. “You really want to make a splash, don’t you? Do you have a figure in mind?”

“What – how much to spend? I have no idea…” Harry pulled a number from the air. “Half a million pounds,” he said firmly.

Lupin sat up in his chair. “Harry!”

Harry blurted out seriously, “What, not enough? We could make it a million, I suppose –”

“Half a million is more than enough, Harry,” Mr. Tonks laughed. “This is about your new friend, isn’t it?”

Harry frowned. “It’s about having a home, and not wanting to screw it up,” he grumbled. “Heather has nothing to do with this… well, she told me what was happening, so she has something to do with it…”

“Harry, I have no problem with the fact that she’s a Muggle. In fact, I’ll give you credit for aiming high,” Mr. Tonks sniggered.

“What do you mean by that?” demanded Harry hoarsely.

“Would you like some water? You’re becoming terribly red,” Lupin jested.

“I was stunned when Dora told us who you were seeing,” Mr. Tonks explained eagerly.

Harry muttered, “I’m not seeing anyone,” but was roundly ignored.

Mr. Tonks ploughed on, “You take off to the country – Dora wouldn’t tell us where, but it didn’t take Andromeda long to guess – and end up running into Heather Magruder, the bad girl of classical music. What are the chances of that?”

Harry’s brow furrowed. “The bad… what?”

“That’s what the Times calls her – ‘the bad girl of classical music’,” Mr. Tonks told him. “She’s quite a lightning rod – people either love her or hate her… sorry, Harry, I should explain myself. We maintain a subscription at the Royal Opera House. The young lady drives the purists insane. She wears what she wants to wear, she sings off-program… she actually performed one aria backward – it was really quite clever, I thought. She sings pop songs, as well; she has a band with her, along with orchestra. Of course, there was the bit with mortally offending the Royal Family…” He laughed. “Andromeda and I find her refreshing; the couple with whom we attend absolutely despise her. I imagine that the two of you might share some things in common – the pressures of fame at an early age and such.”

Lupin mustered a parental tone. “How bad of a bad girl is she?”

Mr. Tonks snorted. “I can’t imagine – when would someone like that actually have the time to be bad? Of course, Vox has its hooks into her… she’s too young for Page Three, at least.” Harry choked, and Mr. Tonks and Lupin laughed hysterically.

After composing himself, Lupin turned serious. “MacLeish would have a field day if his people caught the two of you together, I suspect,” he warned. “You really should be cautious about that.”

“There’s nothing to see; we’re only friends,” Harry said. A dark thought tugged at the back of his mind - what if Heather had been put up to being his friend? - but he banished it.

“I’ll get started on a plan for settling things, then,” Mr. Tonks said as he began to collect his things. “It’ll take a few days to execute; we don’t want to exchange too many Galleons at once.”

Harry rose and shook his hand. “Thank you,” he said. “There's one more thing. You said you didn’t take your share from Sirius’ will. I want you to have it. I’ll even cover it myself, if that would be better.”

Mr. Tonks shook his head. “That’s very kind of you, but I don’t think –”

“He wanted you to have it,” insisted Harry; “Please take it.” Mr. Tonks sighed at him.

“Would you care for a meal, Harry?” Dumbledore asked. “You have had nothing to eat since this morning.”

Harry stopped for a moment. “I have food at… erm… in my room. Remus, would you come by later tonight?”

“I’d… I’d love to,” Lupin said. “How much later?”

“Late,” Harry returned. “Ron and I have some catching up to do.”

Harry lingered by the black door that led out of the walled courtyard. “Are you up for keeping a secret?” he asked Ron.

Ron crossed his arms. “I told you I can keep secrets,” he insisted.

“There are only three other people alive that know this one, including me,” Harry told him. “You’re about to become the fourth. I just have a feeling that you should be in on this.”

Ron eyed him suspiciously. “That doesn’t sound like you… sounds more like Trelawney.”

“Call it a hunch, then,” Harry frowned.

“Okay, you’ve got me,” Ron said casually. “What’s the big secret?”

Harry dug a scrap of parchment from his wallet. “Read this, and look that way,” he said, pointing toward the southernmost stack.

“This reminds me of getting into Grimmauld… well, would you look at that? Explains a lot, actually,” said Ron.

“What do you mean?” Harry asked.

“I wondered where you were staying,” Ron returned. “I mean, the tower is big and spotless and there's no sign of house-elves. You didn’t care what rooms anyone took, and I didn’t see any of your things inside.”

“I hadn’t even gone inside the tower until today,” Harry admitted.

“Who else knows about this – can you tell me that much?” Ron asked.

“Remus and Dumbledore,” Harry answered. “Remus has always known – Sirius told him. Dumbledore can see through the wards.”

Ron raised an eyebrow. “You’re joking, right?”

Harry shook his head. “No, I’m not. He looked right through them.”

“It is Dumbledore… I mean, everyone knows he’s powerful and all – but… bloody hell…” Ron whispered.

Harry gestured toward the bothy. “Shall we?” he offered.

“The beach is down there, too, isn’t it?” Ron asked hopefully.

Harry nodded. As they walked through the grass, which was increasingly trampled down, he asked, “So… how have the last two weeks been for you?”

“Harry,” Ron said smugly, “at last, it’s good to be me.”

Harry snorted. “A bit full of yourself, are you?”

“If I’d known what would come of saving Ginny’s life, I would have tossed her from a broom a long time ago,” Ron laughed.

“Okay, I knew you were going spare before, but…” Harry began.

Ron fished through his pockets. “I had to bring these – I figured you’d never believe me otherwise,” he said.

Harry fumbled with the loose clippings, and glanced at them as he walked. The largest was from Teen Witch Weekly. Beneath a fairly flattering close-up of Ron, the headline read: Ron Weasley Drops Into Teen Witches’ Hearts. Harry stifled a snort, and then moved to a snippet from the Daily Prophet:

Radical Ron’ mobbed on Diagon Alley

Reluctant hero Ron Weasley found himself surrounded by hundreds of well-wishers on Diagon Alley Wednesday afternoon. Weasley, whose death-defying leap to save his sister from a dangerous criminal struck a chord with witches and wizards everywhere, graciously greeted fans for over an hour before Dark Force Defence League security wizards escorted him to his destination.

Ron reached over and snatched one of the clippings. “This is the best bit,” he said proudly. It was an inset box from Teen Witch Weekly, rather like the ‘Harry’s Love Life’ item that had caused so much trouble.


The HOT TEN List: TWW’s rundown of the world’s hottest young wizards

Readers’ owls have been flying furiously this week, and the result is a surprising new HOT TEN list…

10. Oliver Wood. Puddlemere United’s new shining star is featured on the team poster. He's the darling of the Quidditch world this year, and we think that Wood is good in any position.

“Poor Oliver!” Harry cringed.

“It only gets better,” Ron chuckled. “Get a load of number eight.”

8. Gilderoy Lockhart. Both the wizard and his books remain popular. It gets harder every week to think of Lockhart in a list of young wizards but you keep voting for him, readers. It’s a little off when mother and daughter are keen on the same wizard, but who are we to judge? Rumour has it that Lockhart has been released from St. Mungo’s in London, where he has been recovering from injuries reputedly sustained in a nasty confrontation with a basilisk.

“I suppose it wouldn’t look as good if they said he was recovering from injuries sustained when he crossed his own students,” Harry fumed. “Do you think they really let that git loose?”

“Merlin, I hope not,” Ron said. “Keep going, then – it gets better still, mate.”

Harry turned the clipping over and immediately cringed.

3. Harry Potter. Powerful, brooding, daring, dangerous, and eyes to die for – the essence of Hot. He’s not exactly the one you bring home for the Mother test – not without good wards and a houseful of Hit Wizards – but frankly we don’t care. They say that Harry brings out the best in those around him. That must be true, because one of his mates has unexpectedly flown to #1…

2. Kirley Duke. It’s good to be the lead guitarist. The Weird Sisters have topped the WWN worldwide charts for five years, and darling Kirley has spent more than 100 consecutive weeks in the ‘Hot Ten’. Rumour has it that he’s moving on – say it isn’t so!

1. Ron Weasley. How can you not swoon for him? He’s mad enough to drop half a mile without a broom, but sweet enough to do it for his sister. Ron’s clearly as daring as his mate Harry, but we think he passes the Mother test. Too good to be true? We’d like to find out for ourselves…

“This is disturbing in… I don’t know, at least a dozen ways,” Harry said.

“Do you know how many owls I got in the last week, mate? Any idea?” Ron beamed. “Seven hundred! Girls sent me their knickers, for Merlin’s sake – their knickers!”

“That’s great, Ron… fantastic… erm, couldn’t be happier for you…” Harry stammered.

Ron closed his eyes and indulged in a fatuous smile. “I’ll be swimming in girls, all year long!”

Harry snorted, and then chuckled.

“What?” asked Ron.

Harry spluttered, and began to laugh.

What? What’s so funny about that?” Ron whined. “I finally get some attention of my own – because I did something that was effing noble – and you laugh?”

Harry struggled to calm himself. “I’m sorry, Ron… I’m… heh…I’m really sorry… ha… it’s just… heh-heh… you have to hear this music that Sirius… that Sirius…” He lost the battle, and cackled.

Ron snatched back his clippings and jammed them into his pockets. “Some friend you are!”

Harry gave Ron a friendly pat on the shoulder. “I said I was sorry,” he managed. “I’m happy for you. I hope you’re shagged by… I don’t know… by two girls a day!”

Ron nearly choked. “SHAGGED? By t-two a day…?” he asked nervously. “I don’t know… I mean, could a person actually survive that?”

Harry completely lost it and Ron threw up his hands; “Fine… laugh it up; go ahead – mock me if you want. This is going to be a smashing year, and you can’t spoil it,” he pouted.

Between fits of laughter, Harry began, “You won’t have to worry about me. Just wait until Hermione…” The laughter stopped. “You were going to tell me about her. Look, I know something happened – it's the details I don't have.”

Ron looked around nervously; he wouldn’t meet Harry’s eyes. “Her parents came for her the same morning that you left. First, she had a terrible row with her mum, and then… there’s no nice way to put it, Harry. She had a… oh, I don’t know; McGonagall gave some long name for it… I’d call it a breakdown.”

Harry snapped, “What do you mean, a ‘breakdown’?”

Ron sighed. “I mean things exploding, curling up in the corner, screaming if anyone touched her, babbling nonsense… she might have ended up at St. Mungo’s, except that Dumbledore insisted she wouldn’t be safe there.”

“So what happened? Was she taken to Hogwarts, then? Where is she?” Harry demanded, his voice rising with each word.

“She seemed better by the time they left – walking on her own, answering questions,” Ron said. “But the look in her eyes… Harry, something’s not right, not at all. I keep seeing her on her knees in front of HIM. And that scream… It just plays over and over in my mind. I… I really wonder, you know, what he did to her?”

“Where is she, Ron?” Harry repeated more forcefully.

“McGonagall made arrangements, and Dad took the three of them to catch a Muggle flying machine,” Ron told him. “Other than that, I’m in the dark.”

“When are they coming back?” Harry asked nervously. “Dumbledore said it would be at the start of term.”

“McGonagall was hoping for that – I swear that’s all I know, Harry,” Ron said helplessly.

Harry took deep calming breaths. All the feelings that flooded him two weeks earlier seemed to be coming back – all the anger and frustration, all the desire for vengeance, and other things that he didn’t choose to acknowledge. He felt the need to run but decided against it; instead he closed his eyes for a moment and then trudged onward. Ron followed, and Harry didn’t mind.


Harry let Ron lift the tone arm off the record album. As soon as he set it aside, Ron began to laugh; he didn’t stop until he was bright crimson. “That’s un-bloody-believable!” he spluttered. “You mean he…? And they…? I can’t believe that worked!”

Harry shook his head. “I don’t get it. Well, I mean, I get it… It’s just hard to imagine.”

Ron waved the Barry White album jacket madly, and tried to force his voice into a low rumble. “Baby, let me take all of my life to find you,” he purred, “but you can believe it’s gonna take the rest of my life to keep you.” Harry cackled, while Ron coughed from the strain.

“Puts Sirius in a different light, eh?” Harry blurted.

“Gods, yes!” Ron hooted. “I just can’t believe… Whitehorn actually said there were two at a time?”

Harry held up one hand solemnly. “I swear to you that he did.”

Ron traced his hand along the shelves of record albums. “No wonder Sirius went Muggle for a while,” he murmured.

“There was a lot more to it than that,” Harry pointed out. “You have to consider his parents. I’d say the portrait of Mrs. Black is spot on, if Sirius’ journal is true. Most of the family was signing up with Voldemort, as well. He had to get away from them.”

“So he set himself up a quarter-mile away from his parents – brilliant,” Ron said.

“Thumbing his nose at them, I suppose,” mused Harry.

Ron’s eyebrows rose. “What-ing his nose?”

“Sorry – Muggle expression,” Harry explained. “He moved in here to spite them, I think.”

“They didn’t know he was here; so, how was he spiting them?” Ron wondered. “Sounds to me like he enjoyed sneaking about.”

“Maybe a little of that, too,” Harry allowed. “It’s hard to tell from his journal. He’s all over the place.”

Ron flopped down on the settee. “So… what’s it like, being free?” he asked abruptly.

“How would I know?” Harry fumed. “I’ve minders around every corner.”

“Yeah, I suppose,” said Ron. He pointed at the milk crate full of record albums. “If you wanted to get another one of those music thingies –”

“Records,” Harry corrected.

“Right, whatever. If you wanted another one, what would you do?” Ron asked.

Harry shrugged. “I suppose I’d have to ride into Edinburgh,” he figured. “There isn’t a music shop in St. Ebb.”

“So you’d just hop on that… bloody thing of yours, and go? Without having to ask? Without having to tag along with an older brother… or have a younger sister tagging along with you?” Ron rolled his eyes. “Sounds like freedom to me.”

“Is that why Bill and Ginny came with you, then?” asked Harry.

Ron sighed. “Look, mate, I wasn’t planning a Weasley invasion – honestly! Mum was right cross with me over running off. Part of the reason she let me come here was that Bill was hot for it.” He chuckled, and added, “Between you and me, I think the real reason he came was to see Tonks.”

“What? But I… erm… I thought Bill was seeing Fleur Delacour, and Tonks was… uh…” Harry spluttered.

Ron managed a truly awful imitation of Fleur’s accent. “I zink zat Bill is finished vith ze French lessons,” he smirked. “I couldn’t have been happier. Mum got off of me and onto him.” He switched to a much better imitation of his mother. “ ‘Bill Weasley, even a veela can’t hold your attention! You need to cut that hair of yours and settle down! At this rate, I’ll be Albus Dumbledore’s age before I see a grandchild!’ ”

Harry winced. “How did Bill take it?”

Ron smiled broadly. “He actually blamed the Order – said he couldn’t settle down now; it would interfere with his duties.”

“What about Ginny?” asked Harry.

“Here’s the whole thing, see?” Ron said. “Professor Lupin dropped by Grimmauld Place early this morning, when I got my letter from you. Mum was going on about it, and he said that he was coming up here. He’d only stopped by to tell Dad something before he met up with Mr. Tonks. So, one thing led to another, and next I knew, Bill and me were in. We were going to Floo to someplace in Edinburgh, and Dad was going to arrange a Ministry car to meet us. When we went to get Mr. Tonks at the Leaky Cauldron, Luna and her dad were there and Ginny was with them; he was in London for something to do with the printing machine. Anyway, he insisted on driving us. He said that he and Luna were heading north anyway – somebody saw a something-horned something near somewhere, I suppose. Well, Ginny was furious that Luna was out of bed, let alone riding around the countryside. She was scary, like… like Mum, right? She told Mr. Lovegood that Luna wasn’t going anywhere for at least a day after we got here.”

“Nice of her to speak for me,” Harry said.

“Look, Harry, I – ” Ron began.

Harry waved his hand. “It’s all right,” he insisted. “If I’d known they were coming, I’d have invited them to stay. That’s a long trip; I know I was knackered after riding here.”

“That’s not where I was going,” Ron said, “but it was nice of you to speak for me.” Harry stuck out his tongue, and Ron went on, “I was going to say that I’m sorry I didn’t come with you in the first place. I’m sorry about a lot of things, mate.”

“Ron, you don’t have to –” Harry started.

“Best to get it all out now,” Ron said stiffly.

“Ron…” Harry began, and then stopped. He wanted to chide Ron for giving in to whatever the brains had revealed, for acting as though his fate was divined. He also knew that he had less authority to do that than anyone else on the face of the earth.

“Sometimes I haven’t liked you very much,” Ron said abruptly. “It all looked good from the outside, right? You were famous, you had money, you were Dumbledore’s favourite, you played Quidditch your first year – your first year… it all looked good to me. You were nice enough to let me along for the ride, so I kept my mouth shut… and I just went along. That’s when I started hearing it. ‘Who’s that?’ people would ask. ‘Oh, that’s, er, Harry Potter’s mate, isn’t it?’ ‘Yeah, um, what’s his name?’ It hurt, Harry. Times like that, I didn’t like you very much at all.” He shook his head and wrung his hands. “I guess I didn’t have a clue.”

Harry leaned nervously against the kitchen counter. He had been ready to snap back at Ron until the last. Instead, he watched and waited.

Ron leant his head against one hand, then nervously ran his hand across his face. “It’s there every minute,” he said. “What if it’s two years before… you know, before it happens? Part of me wants to nab your motorbike and just make it happen, right? Just make it happen.”

Harry edged to one of the armchairs but kept silent.

“You know why I won’t do it? Because I want it to mean something,” Ron said, his voice reduced to a ghostly whisper. “Because I want to mean something.”

Harry didn’t know what to say, but his mouth opened anyway. “Come on, mate, you mean something,” he said hoarsely. “You know? Weasley is our King, after all.”

For a moment Ron looked stung, and then his lip quivered, and then he roared with laughter – nervous laughter, almost manic, but laughter all the same. “Well… there is that,” Ron managed to splutter. Harry exhaled.

Ron drew a chessboard on a piece of paper, and they played Muggle chess with items from the kitchen and Sirius’ bric-a-brac. Harry had trouble remembering if the rubber Galleon was a bishop or a knight; it didn’t matter, of course. In the midst of trouncing Harry for the third time, Ron said abruptly, “So… are you going to tell me about her, or am I supposed to guess?”

Harry was about to take Ron’s Tube token with his saltshaker, but he dropped it and managed to scatter half the board.

“Shall we call that a draw?” Ron smirked. “Out with it, then.” He crossed his arms. “I know a bit already, but I’d really rather hear it from you.”

“There’s not much to tell,” Harry muttered. He thought for a moment and then identified the traitor: Tonks has a big mouth.

Ron stood up for a stretch. “Eating with the Muggles is just for fun?”

Harry put away the impromptu chess pieces so that Ron couldn’t see his clenched jaw. He thought of Tonks and of the Marquis de Maupassant’s nasty rope tricks, and the corners of his mouth turned up. “I like the food,” he said.

“Erm… so what does she look like?” Ron asked distantly.

Harry opened the cupboard. “She has dark hair, black I suppose, and… blue eyes… and she smiles a lot. It’s a nice smile.” He sighed. “I suppose I sound like a bit of a traitor, going on about –”

Ron went on as though Harry weren’t there. “Er… she’s not bad to watch from behind, either.”

Harry spun around. “What are you going on about…?”

Ron was peering out the window. “Looks like she’s headed down to your beach,” he said. He turned to Harry, and added, “With Ginny, no less! They’re laughing; that’s a good sign, right?”

Harry froze. “Does Ginny know that Heather’s a Muggle?” he asked nervously.

“Yeah, Tonks mentioned it,” Ron answered hesitantly.

“That’s a relief!” Harry said. “I had visions of Ginny telling her about Hogwarts, or something.”

Ron fidgeted. “You know, Ginny’s had two years of Muggle Studies. I’m sure she can manage a simple conversation.”

“Erm… from what Hermione’s told me about Muggle Studies…” Harry’s nervousness returned in full force. “Right, then… what do you call the stuff that Muggles run through wires, that makes the television and the appliances work?”

“Tellyfishing…? Um… oh, I know! It’s eckeltricity!” Ron said proudly.

Harry burst out the door of the bothy and quickly made for the beach, with Ron at his heels. Before they made the switchback, Harry heard the strains of Ginny’s violin. Ron slapped his forehead. Harry hung back for a while, and watched Ginny play. Heather nodded a lot and said things that Harry couldn’t quite make out. She looked up, spotted Harry, and waved. Ron bumped Harry from behind, and they made their way down the steep path.

Heather smiled at Harry. “Your friend’s good – damn good,” she said appreciatively.

“I didn’t expect to see you,” said Harry. “I figured Shona would have you locked up.”

“Och, she’s all bark,” Heather smirked. “I told her that I’d sing scales full-voice in the cottage if she didn’t back down, all day and all night. I can manage better than a hundred decibels, you know?”

“I met with the people I told you about,” Harry told her. “They’re making the arrangements to return all the payments, plus a bit extra. Apparently, it’ll take a few days to pull all the money together.”

Before he could react, she stepped forward and hugged him tightly. From the corner of his eye, Harry saw Ginny staring at them. He liked the hug but a sense of guilt tugged at him.

Ginny said cattily, “Don’t let us stand in the way of a good snogging.”

Heather released him and said to Ginny, “It’s not like that. Harry is…” She stopped and turned back to Harry. “I think you might actually understand me. I’ve never... well, I haven't had many friends at all, but never one like that.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Harry admitted.

Ginny cleared her throat and gestured toward Ron. “The fellow staring at you is my brother Ron. Say hello, Ron.” Ron did as he was asked, and his voice cracked. He started to cringe in embarrassment until Harry stepped in front of him.

Harry muttered under his breath, “How do you plan on getting… you know… twice a day, if you can’t even say ‘hello’?” Ron blushed furiously, but then regained his composure.

Harry turned around. “Sorry to interrupt you,” he said. “I imagine you’re here to sing?”

“I’ve been doing a lot of listening,” Heather said. “Ginny’s further proof of my pet theory, you know.”

Harry bristled inside, but betrayed nothing. “How is that?” he asked innocuously.

Heather explained. “She has near-perfect pitch, picks up songs by ear, and could probably scrape along in a studio orchestra. She tells me she first played the violin a year ago – one bloody year ago – and she's only been at it hard for a month. Oh, and I left out the best part – she plays a Stradivarius. Do you have the slightest idea what that violin is worth?”

“It belonged to my godfather,” Harry said. “It was in the Black family for something like 200 years.”

Heather’s lips thinned. She held out her hands and asked Ginny, “May I?” She showed the violin to Harry, and pointed out a number of features that he didn’t understand. She directed his attention to a particular spot on the back of the neck. “Look here; there are initials marked in the finish – N.P. Do you recognise those?”

Harry thought for a moment, and shook his head. “There was a P.N. in the Black family,” he said hesitantly. “N.P. isn’t familiar. Of course, I don’t know a lot of the family history. I mean, I’m not a Black; I’m a Potter, actually.”

Heather seemed to process the information for a moment. Then she returned to her original point. “This is the… let me think… the fourth Stradivarius I’ve seen. It looks in better condition than the other three. One of those was valued at better than a million pounds.” Ron began coughing. Heather gently returned the violin to Ginny.

“We were going to play ‘cat-and-mouse’, then?” Ginny asked Heather.

Heather nodded. “You get the idea, right? It’s really simple. I sing a phrase, and you repeat it. If you feel something different, just go with it. We’ll see what happens.”

The exchange quickly became very rich and very complex. Before long, they were singing and playing simultaneously – Ginny had no trouble following where Heather was leading.

Ron sat down on the sand and followed attentively. When they finished, he applauded loudly.

“We’ll have to do this again,” Heather said to Ginny. “I’m afraid to imagine how well you’ll play in a few months’ time. Who’s your teacher, anyway? It must be someone big.”

Harry frowned. “Actually, he’s rather small; she studies with Professor Flitwick at our school. It's amazing what that violin has let you do in a month. I’m sure Professor Flitwick will be very excited to see it, Ginny. I’m sure he’ll find it terribly interesting.”

Ginny glared at him; “Like hell he will,” she muttered. Turning to Heather, she said, “I’ll be down here every evening until we leave. I hope I get to see you again.” She slipped the violin into its case, and headed up the switchback without a look back.

“I’d better see to her,” Ron said. “Wouldn’t want her to do anything stupid, would we?” He took a deep breath, and strode toward Heather. “It was wonderful to meet you,” he said, extending a hand. “Erm… what can I say? You’re bloody brilliant! Oh, and thanks for putting up with Ginny.” He shook her hand, and said to Harry, “See you tomorrow, mate?”

“Are you sure?” Harry asked.

Ron nodded. “I’ll find you in the morning. ‘Bye, Harry… ‘bye, Heather.”

Heather waited until Ron was out of earshot, before she said, “He’s not subtle, is he?”

Harry laughed. “It’s just… it’s a long story – never mind.”

She shook her head. “Recently fallen to earth, the lot of you. I’m telling you, my theory is sound.”

Harry changed the subject. “How did you get here, anyway? I still have your bicycle.”

“I walked,” she said. She pointed to a backpack set near the bottom of the switchback. “Your helmet is in there, by the way. You left it behind last night. Um… I’m really sorry she yelled at you like that.”

“How much did you hear?” Harry asked.

“Enough,” Heather answered. “I figured she might lose it when she saw your motorbike. That’s why I thought you looked familiar. There’s this old picture of Shona’s, with her and three guys and another woman, and one of the guys is sitting on exactly the same motorbike that you ride – I mean exactly. I have to ask you… is it actually the same motorbike?”

Harry wasn’t surprised but he still fought back nervousness. He carefully considered what to say and settled on, “One of the people in the picture you saw was my godfather, Sirius Black. It was his bike, and he left it to me. It’s possible I know or know of everyone else in the picture.”

She paled a bit. “Sirius Black! I don’t understand… with everything that the Blacks stood for, and she… I mean, you should hear her… it doesn’t make sense.”

“Sirius was the black sheep in his family. Considering the rest of them, that meant he was a fine fellow,” Harry offered.

“You don’t have any more pictures, do you?” Heather asked hesitantly. “Shona lives like she didn’t exist until fifteen years ago – almost no pictures, no keepsakes, nothing.”

“I was looking through a stack last night in the bothy, after… well, after I went and cooled off,” said Harry.

“Do you mind if I see them?” she asked.

“Only if you mind coming inside,” he answered boldly.

“I don’t know… a young man on the prowl, with his own place… sounds dangerous,” she teased.

“I don’t bite,” he promised.

“What if I prefer that?” she asked.

“You can’t be… I… what the…?” he spluttered.

She rolled her eyes. “This is how I play. Get used to it.”

He shook his head. “Let’s just go inside.”

Heather lingered over Sirius’ record collection. When she saw her own compact disc, she jokingly offered to autograph it; she was quite surprised when he took her up on the offer. She laughed at the colour scheme, and made recommendations for changes – some serious and some definitely not.

She walked to the far end of the hall, and into the bedroom. “So, this is it,” she said. “The whole place is bigger than I would have guessed, much bigger than it looks from the outside.” She sat down on the bed and bounced up and down, as though she were testing the springs. “Nice,” she added. Then she stood bolt upright, and stopped in front of Hermione’s picture.

“Who is this?” she asked.

“That’s Hermione. She’s a school friend of mine,” Harry returned.

Heather turned to face him and raised an eyebrow. “You have a picture of an attractive girl hanging on your bedroom wall, and this is no school photo. Do you want to try again?”

“Her father took the picture. He gave it to me,” Harry explained.

“Uh-huh. You have a picture of an attractive girl hanging on your bedroom wall, given to you by that girl’s father. I’ll give you another chance, if you like,” Heather offered.

“Ron’s my closest mate, but Hermione’s been my best friend for five years,” Harry explained. “She’s very important to me. It’s… it’s complicated.”

Heather said, “I’ll say the same thing you said to me, Harry. Uncomplicate it for me.”

Harry fell silent for a long time. At length, Heather said to him, “You’re a fine piece of work, you know that? You seem like this friendly, funny person, like you’d do anything for anybody, but when I look in your eyes… there’s something different in there, something I can’t place. Explain that to me.”

“If I told you everything, you’d run screaming,” Harry told her.

“We’re both holding back. Tell me what you can,” she offered.

Harry thought through the explanation he’d concocted, and decided to risk it. “You remember that I told you my parents died? They’re dead, all right – they were murdered.”

Heather’s eyes widened. “Oh… God, Harry, I never imagined… I’m sorry.”

Harry continued, “They were in law enforcement, more or less. They had enemies. Those enemies murdered them, and they tried to kill me. I was a little over a year old. That’s how I got the scar on my forehead.”

She just gaped at him, and it dawned on him that his story was awful even when put into Muggle terms. She sat back down on the edge of the bed, and tugged on his arm until he sat next to her. “Why would anyone set out to murder a baby?” she asked, as tears formed in the corners of her eyes. “That’s horrible!”

“It… it was a sort of family thing. My parents put away a lot of nasty sorts, and they wanted to wipe out the whole family in return. Here’s the thing – they’re still after me. I’ve had my life threatened over and over, and I’ve been face to face with the man who killed my parents. He wants me dead. He wants to hurt me first, and he’s not above hurting people close to me,” Harry told her. “It’s dangerous to be around me, very dangerous.”

He pulled away, and looked at the picture of Hermione. “You wanted to know what you see in my eyes? The man who killed my parents was responsible for Sirius Black’s death in June. At the beginning of this month, he tried to kill Hermione and a number of other people, including Ginny and Ron.”

Heather pulled at his arm again. He resisted, and she continued to tug until he sat down again. She reached out and touched his face. Her eyes were terribly blue, bluer than the sky. “What did you do?” she asked him.

He froze for a moment. “Why did you ask that?”

“Your friends aren’t dead. What did you do?” Heather asked, her voice stronger.

“I had no choice,” Harry protested. “There was no choice. Either I sat there and watched them die, one by one, or…”

“You killed someone,” she whispered.

“It’s dangerous to be around me, Heather,” Harry said. “I’m dangerous.”

Heather began to blurt out questions. “Why did you have to defend your friends? Where were the police? You’re obviously well off; why wasn’t there security? It doesn’t make any sense. Why would that be left to a sixteen year old?”

“I was fifteen then,” Harry said flatly, “and you said I didn’t have to tell you everything.”

She sighed and nodded.

“You can leave if you want. I’d understand,” Harry offered.

“I wasn’t planning on leaving,” she said. “It’s a lot to take in… but I think I’ll stay. Um… you were going to show me some pictures, right?”

“Are you sure you want to see them?” Harry asked. “Shona must have her reasons… maybe she didn’t want you to know about Sirius?”

“Why would she do that? I know it would be hard for her to admit having known one of the Blacks. I suppose it would come down to how well she knew him… oh, God. Do you suppose…? No, that’s ridiculous. Of course not.” Heather said dismissively.

“What?” Harry asked.

No… definitely not. I can’t imagine it. He couldn’t have been…” She sagged and closed her eyes. “Could he have been, you know… my father?” .

Harry gasped. “I was thinking that she might have seen some pretty bad things happen. I hadn’t considered that… When were you born – 1979?”

Heather nodded. “June 17,” she said. “I know where you’re going. If you follow that back for nine months, it’s September of '78.”

“Shona would have known Sirius then,” Harry said quietly. In the quiet, he had an idea. “I’d better show you those pictures now.”

They moved to the living area. He grabbed the beach picture, where Shona sat to the side with Lupin, and sat down next to Heather. “Here she is,” he said.

Heather seized the picture. “Oh my God,” she said. “These are all of the people in Shona’s picture.”

Harry pointed. “That’s Sirius Black. The fellow picking sand from his hair is James Potter – my father.”

Heather peered at the picture, and then at Harry. “I can’t believe I never put that together from Shona’s picture. You certainly have his hair. Is the other woman your mum?”

Harry nodded. “Her name is Lily. She was called Lily Evans before they married. The man sitting beside Shona is Remus Lupin. He’s still alive. In fact, he’s staying in the tower.”

Heather brightened. “He would know, wouldn’t he? He would know what this Sirius Black was to Shona. I mean, I don’t know if I want to know, but… if he would know, then I have to ask him. Do you think he would talk to me?”

“I suppose he would,” Harry offered. “He’s supposed to come down here to see me, late tonight. If you stick around…”

“In that case, I’m definitely not leaving,” Heather resolved. She rose and began to thumb through Sirius’ records, one at a time. She managed to extract a stack of music that was familiar to her, and she played one after the other. She pored over the stacks of photographs. He noticed that she seemed drawn again and again to a few of the images, but she never asked about any of the other people there, or showed any sign that she recognized anyone other than Shona. She didn’t seem in the mood for conversation, and he was content to finish reading Sun Tzu’s Mastery of the Sword.

Lupin knocked at the door at a few minutes past eleven o’clock. “Hello, Harry,” he said as he entered. “I see you haven’t touched the décor…” He saw Heather and hesitated. “I didn’t know that you were having a guest.”

Heather rose and took his hand. “Heather Magruder. You must be Mr. Lupin?”

“I’ve heard your name. Harry mentioned me?” Lupin asked.

“Yes, he did. You might be able to answer a question for me – at least I hope so.” Heather clutched the photo tightly in her fingers.

Lupin’s brow furrowed. He took a seat in one of the armchairs, and Harry sat next to Heather on the settee. “I’m happy to assist Harry’s friends, when I can,” he offered. Harry picked up on the not-so-subtle emphasis. “What’s your question?”

Heather told him, “I think you may have known my… well, we’ll call her my mother. She gave birth to me, at any rate. I’m certain that she knew Sirius Black.”

Lupin’s eyes bugged. He cleared his throat several times. “Harry… water, please,” he managed.

After several sips of water, he again cleared his throat. “Uh… do you know where your mother went to school?”

“She must have attended locally,” Heather said. “She took her culinary training in France, but that was after I had been born.”

Lupin stroked his chin. “When would this have been?” he asked.

Heather nodded to Harry, who answered, “The summer and fall of 1978, we think.”

“Sirius knew quite a few people at that time,” Lupin said, clearly hesitating.

Heather handed him the picture. Lupin gasped audibly. “This brings back… fond memories,” he said quietly.

“That’s my mother, on the right, sitting next to you,” Heather said.

Lupin’s head snapped up. “Who are you?” he demanded.

Heather’s eyes widened, and she edged back toward Harry.

Lupin flung the photo aside. “I said, who are you? Harry, get away from her.”

“I… don’t… I don’t understand…” Heather managed.

“Remus, what in the hell is wrong with you?” Harry snapped.

Lupin flung open his blazer and whipped out his wand. “You have ten seconds to tell me who you are, or I’ll bind you and we’ll just wait for the Polyjuice to wear off,” he seethed.

Heather shrunk back until she was pressed against Harry, but she laughed nervously. “Um… Harry… what’s with the drumstick?” she asked.

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

“Harry, I told you to get away from her. Do as I say – NOW!” Lupin shouted.

Heather wedged herself between Harry and the back of the settee. “He’s a raving lunatic!” she shrieked.

Harry glared at Lupin. He tried to imagine any way to back gracefully out of the situation, and could think of nothing. “Heather… that first time on the beach, what did you say Shona would do to me… you know, over the thing that Diggle did?”

Heather looked to Lupin and then to Harry; her eyes were wild, both angry and afraid. “I said she’d set after you with her cleavers,” she snapped.

Harry said loudly, “I’m satisfied.”

“Shona…” Lupin whispered. “Not possible… it’s not…”

Harry slowly rose, and moved haltingly toward Lupin. When he was close enough to reach, he wrapped his hand around Lupin’s wand and tugged it free. He set it on the table, and returned to sit close to Heather. “Sit down, Remus,” he said.

Lupin’s breaths were ragged. “Harry… are you sure…?”

“Remus, this is my friend Heather. I’d swear that her mother’s the same person as the one in that picture. Shona saw Sirius’ bike last night, and she lost it,” Harry said. “It was rather like what you’re doing right now.”

“Not quite,” Heather said, her eyes fixed on Lupin’s wand.

“You have a different last name,” Lupin observed.

“I was raised by a cousin. I have her name,” Heather returned.

Harry said, “A different last name? Sorry, I just assumed…”

Heather said. “Shona’s last name is –”

She and Lupin finished at the same moment. “Malloch.”

Heather gaped at Lupin. “It is her in the picture – you did know her!”

Lupin sat bolt upright. “This is ridiculous! I don’t know what you’re playing at, young lady, but Shona Malloch could not possibly be your mother. When I knew her, she was certainly not pregnant. Unless you were born prior to… let me think… the latter part of 1977, there is no way that you could be her child.”

“I was born in June of 1979,” Heather said. “I’m missing something.”

Lupin snarled, “Shona died in 1978 – October 15, 1978! I’ll never forget that day, not as long as I walk this earth!” His eyes clouded over for a moment before they blazed at Harry. “I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing with me – the both of you – but it needs to stop NOW! I’m going to have to take measures –”

Harry snapped, “Remus, you’re not making any sense. I told you, I’ve met Shona! She lives in the bloody village! She runs L’Oiseau Chanteur – you know, the restaurant I’ve been eating at? I can assure you that she’s the same woman as the one in that picture. She’s Heather’s mother.”

“It’s impossible,” Lupin whispered. “She can’t be… I saw her fall… she was… she was pregnant?” He stared at Heather for several moments – his eyes more bright and alive than Harry had ever seen them – and then slumped forward in a dead faint. His head struck the table with a loud crack!

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