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Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)

Author Notes:

YoR was originally written in 2003.  It is OotP-compliant, but I'm borrowing some elements from HBP in this re-write.  For the record, and before I'm asked by readers for whom YoR is a fresh read, two things come to mind:

  • 1. Ron gravitating to Lavender Brown comes from the original YoR, not from HBP; the same applies to Hermione's eruption of cattiness as a result.
  • 2. The sunrise/sunset metaphor with the painting was also from the very first drafts in August, 2003.  It was not an homage to Bob and Alyx's Sunrise/Sunset fics, although I certainly don't mind it being taken that way.

Mike [FP]

Chapter Eleven

August 2

    Harry pored over each of the books that Hermione had selected for him, and then he tore through the shelves looking for more.  He took laborious notes, complete with sketches and diagrams.  He studied and practiced and practiced and studied until his hand was sore from gripping his quill and his eyes burned with fatigue.  He stumbled up to his room, fell face down onto his bed, and then dragged himself up with the sun.

His book binge began because he was unwilling to be humiliated by Shacklebolt, but it was spurred on by fascination.  The books that Hermione had set out for him weren’t textbooks – they were practical manuals for the art and science of war.  MacLachlan had trained Aurors a few decades earlier, and Harry wondered if he might have trained Mad-Eye Moody.  Chronicles of the Goblin Wars by von Lichtenstein described everything from military campaigns to brutal hand-to-hand combat. 

Scandalous Tactics for Duelling was Harry’s hands-down favourite, however.  The Marquis de Maupassant was witty, direct, and utterly reprehensible.  The book reminded him in a way of Devlin Whitehorn’s manual for the Bonneville; it was written as much for the Marquis’ enjoyment as for the reader.  It was clear that de Maupassant had held no respect for the codes that governed wizards’ duels and felt that any reader should share his opinion. 

Lupin appeared at the door, pale and bleary-eyed, at around half past seven.  “Harry, I consider myself a patient man, but what – is – causing – all – that – banging?” he bellowed.

Harry winced.  “I’m sorry, Remus,” he said.  “I didn’t think about the fact that they were hitting the floor.  They didn’t, at first.”

“What are ‘they’?  What in the devil are you talking about?” Lupin demanded.

Harry flicked his wand, and a silver ball the size of a large grapefruit appeared in mid-air. It fell to the floor with a clank! before it dissipated.  “Cannon shot,” he burbled.  “I was reading von Lichtenstein’s book about the Goblin Wars: the part where he discusses a shortage of cannon shot.  It really grabbed me; magical cannons – who would have thought?  Anyway, he talked about the problems with conjuring more shot – you know, making it sufficiently dense and smooth, making it last long enough to impact the target, that sort of thing?  I’ve laboured a bit with transfiguration and I’ve never managed effective conjuring before, but this just made sense to me somehow.”

“You’ve been dropping cannon shot on my ceiling since seven o’clock!” Lupin fumed.  “In future, please wait until nine o’clock to begin a siege!”  With that, he stomped off.

Harry switched from conjuring cannon shot to lengths of rope – the Marquis described more than two dozen questionable ways to use rope against an opponent, in graphic and sometimes side-splitting detail.  He experimented with two of them and was ready to move on to a third when he heard Dobby offer greetings at the front door.  Shacklebolt swept in, followed by Tonks and Hermione. 

Harry hadn’t expected to see two of the three.  “Good morning, Tonks,” Harry said; he added uneasily, “Good morning, Hermione.”

Hermione’s reply was terse.  “Good morning, Harry.  I’ve come to use the library, as we discussed yesterday,” she said.  She looked tired, he thought, and he wondered if the three Grangers had talked well into the night.

“Of course; have at it,” Harry offered.  “I left a bit of a mess, I’m afraid.  I was going through the stack of books that you left for me.”

Hermione began to reply but Shacklebolt ordered, “Tonks, go to the library with Miss Granger – now.  Potter has his first lesson to learn.”

Tonks glared at him.  “I’m sure that Dumbledore wouldn’t mind if you took this slowly,” she said.

“Dumbledore made his feelings abundantly clear,” Shacklebolt said flatly.  “Go.”  Hermione stood hesitantly until Tonks nudged her toward the stairs.  Harry gripped the tip of his wand between the fingers of his right hand; the body of the wand ran up his sleeve.

As soon as Hermione and Tonks were out of sight, Shacklebolt told Harry, “It’s time for your first lesson.  It’s essential, and I expect you’ll remember it well.  Everbero!”

A red beam of light shot toward Harry, who managed to shout 'Contego!’ in time to partially block the spell.  The remaining energy struck him in the shoulder like the hardest punch he could imagine.  He flew backward and slammed against the foot of the stairs.

Harry muttered, "Creo rope", jabbed his wand toward Shacklebolt, and then shouted, "Evincio!"; a newly conjured rope wound and tightened around the auror’s legs.  Shacklebolt toppled and barely missed Harry with a stunning spell.  Harry forced himself up the stairs against the painful protests of his shoulder.

He nearly crashed into Lupin, who snarled, “More cannon shot, is it?  What will it take to make you stop?”  A flash of light shot up the stairs, and punched a hole in the ceiling plaster.

Lupin instantly produced his wand, and conjured a small mirror.  He eased the mirror around the edge of the stairwell, which drew another red flash.  “Kingsley, what in Merlin’s name are you doing?” he shouted.

“Back off, Lupin,” Shacklebolt warned; “Don’t interfere with Potter’s training.”

“I’ll damn well interfere if you’re going to destroy the house!” Lupin yelled.  “Shacklebolt!  Shacklebolt – answer me!”  Lupin sniffed the air and spun around just as Shacklebolt appeared. 

“Petrificus totalus,” Shacklebolt muttered, and Lupin’s stunning spell missed by inches.  “There’s my answer,” he added.  Lupin immediately began rocking back and forth on the floor as he tried to counter the spell.

Shacklebolt slowly moved toward the drawing room.  “Let’s see… if I were an arrogant whelp, where would I be hiding?” he wondered aloud.  Harry had Disillusioned himself and had cast silencing charms all around to mask his laboured breathing.  He stood perfectly still as Shacklebolt entered the drawing room and passed within a foot of him.

Shacklebolt looked around the room.  “He’s taken the O.W.L.s so he could have vanished himself, but that wouldn’t be the wisest choice inside these wards,” he lectured.  “I’m fairly certain that he knows the Disillusionment charm.  Any worthy teenager would think to silence the floorboards… there’s one thing I’m betting you didn’t hide, Potter.”  He said "Lumos!", and pointed his wand along the wall where Harry stood. 

Harry realised too late that although Disillusioned, he still cast a shadow in bright light.  Shacklebolt snarled, “Percutio!”  The ex-Auror blasted a Galleon-sized hole in the wall with each flick of his wrist; sharp bits of plaster sprayed everywhere.  Harry dove for the doorway, and bounced against the floor with a noisy squeak.  Shacklebolt said, "Finite incantatum," and Harry knew he was again visible.  He scrambled awkwardly for the stairs.

“The floor squeaked, Potter.  Obviously you’ve never snuck into a young lady’s house,” Shacklebolt said.  He strode onto the stairs and added menacingly, “I’m coming for you.  Show me something, schoolboy.”

Harry stood back from the open stairwell, and waited.  Tonks called down from above, “Kingsley, he’s not an Auror-in-training.  He hasn’t even studied N.E.W.T.-level spells, to speak of.  Dumbledore would never approve of this.”

“Dumbledore said I could select my own methods.  I’ll let up after this lesson,” Shacklebolt called from below, “if he proves worthy of it.”

Tonks came down the steps and crept toward Harry.  The floor didn’t squeak when she walked, he noticed.  She whispered, “You’re bleeding.  Just give up and end this; I’ll train you up, if it comes to that.” 

Harry followed her gaze and touched his own face.  He felt blood and pinpoint cuts from the flying plaster.  His cloak was tattered where the first spell had struck him and his back was tightening.  Harry shook his head from side to side by way of response; he locked his gaze on the stairs. 

Tonks said, “What is it with men?  I hope you have something planned, then.”  She tiptoed back to the ascending stairs.  Harry heard Hermione engage Tonks in a stream of angry whispers that he couldn’t make out.  In the midst of that, he heard a tap from the descending stairs.  When he muttered ‘Finite incantatum’, the top of Shacklebolt’s head came into view through the gaps in the railing. 

Harry madly flicked his wand toward the space above the open stairs and called out over and over, "Creo cannon shot!"  Silver balls appeared in mid-air above Shacklebolt’s head like popcorn popping, and the stairwell echoed with the sound of wooden stairs splintering.  Shacklebolt ran up instead of down, which Harry hadn’t expected.  He managed to bat away a half-dozen balls, but one struck him on the side of the head and another slammed into his shoulder as he fell forward. 

Harry said, “Accio wand,” and Shacklebolt’s wand flew into his hand.

Tonks demanded, “Kingsley, put a stop to this, now!”  She started down the stairs again. 

Shacklebolt whipped a second wand from his cloak, and quickly called out, "Expelliarmus!  Accio glasses!  Aduro cloak!"  Harry moved to one side but his glasses flew off and the bottom of his cloak burst into flames.  He recalled the extinguishing spell that the dragon keepers used during the Triwizard Tournament, and put out the fire before anything save the ruined cloak was burned.  He couldn’t see anything clearly, including his wand, but he could make out that Shacklebolt had clambered to his feet and that Tonks was nearby.  Shacklebolt ground his foot against the floor and there was a crunching sound.  So much for my glasses, Harry thought. 

Hermione forcefully whispered from the ascending stairs, “Get up here!”

“My wand…” Harry muttered as he groped along the floor. 

“It fell down the stairs.  He’s gone mad!  Get up here now, before he really hurts you!” Hermione insisted.

Tonks shouted, “Enough of this!”  She exchanged a flurry of spells with Shacklebolt, punctuated by muttering and snarling that Harry couldn’t follow.  Harry tried to stand but his back seized up.  He felt an invisible hand grasp his and found himself sliding along the floor toward the nearest bedroom.  Once inside, the door closed. 

“Colloportus!” called Hermione’s voice just before she reappeared.  The door squelched tightly shut.  “This must qualify as self-defence,” she explained. 

Explosions rattled outside, and they heard Shacklebolt’s muffled voice.  “Hello, Lupin – nicely done.  I apologise for the next bit in advance,” he said.  More bangs and reports followed, and then Tonks cried out.  After more booms and crunches, Lupin bellowed something like “Aaargh!”  The door to the bedroom rattled and shook. 

“You didn’t get the pieces of my glasses, did you?” Harry asked quietly.

“I was otherwise occupied,” Hermione snapped.

“This door is well sealed, Miss Granger,” Shacklebolt called from the hallway.  “Perhaps I should be training you instead?  I’ll admit that the metal balls were creative, Potter; you’ll have to pay for that.”  The door blew off its hinges; it barely missed Hermione and smashed a tall, ornate side table into pieces.

Shacklebolt was standing in the doorway.  “Somnio!” he shouted.  Hermione yawned and slid gently to the floor before she had a chance to raise her wand. 

Shacklebolt held Tonks by the collar with his free hand.  She struggled in his grasp; her wrists and ankles were bound.  “What in the hell are you playing at?” she shouted.

Shacklebolt’s eyes blazed at Harry.  “Do you understand your first lesson, Potter?  Do you?  Death Eaters don’t duel like a bunch of pureblood pansies at a society party.  Death Eaters attack first, and they kill.  If you’d understood that in June, we’d all be a lot happier now – wouldn’t we?  Wouldn’t we?”

Harry stood and squinted at Shacklebolt.  “What do you want from me – another apology?” he demanded.  “I’m sorry!  I got Sirius killed, right?  Ron is probably going mad because of me!  Tonks and Hermione were badly hurt.  Do you think I could feel any worse?  I get it!  Put a stop to this and let Tonks go.”

Shacklebolt said, “You’re quite good at getting other people to sacrifice themselves on your behalf.  I think we’ll move on to your second lesson.  I am You-Know-Who and you are Harry Potter.  It seems I’ve got your little friend here, Potter.  She’s defenceless and so are you.  What do you think I’m going to do… don’t try it, Lupin – you know that I can drop you where you stand.”

“End this, Kingsley.  End it now,” Lupin said in a strangled voice.

Shacklebolt went on.  “I’m Voldemort, Potter!  What do you think I’m going to do to your friend?  She’s just Mudblood filth in my eyes –”

“Kingsley!  Don’t use that word!” Tonks shouted, as she continued to struggle.

“Out with it, Potter!  What do you think I’m going to do with a trifle like Granger?  Hand her off to my minions, perhaps?  Maybe I’ll just kill her slowly while you watch.”  Harry stiffened at the mention of Hermione’s name.  It’s a game, he reminded himself, a nasty one, but a game all the same.  He won’t hurt Tonks; he’s just angry with me.  He took slow breaths, but the room still closed in on him – it was stifling.

“Kingsley, you’re going to make Harry angry.  I don’t recommend that,” Lupin warned.

“Aw, does baby Potter have a little control problem?” Shacklebolt mocked, affecting a voice that was too much like Bellatrix Lestrange for Harry to stomach.  Harry wiped sweat from his brow.  He thought, there has to be an option - think! 

“It’s not a little problem,” Tonks said, her wrists moving back and forth in quick bursts.  “I take it that you didn’t hear about his aunt and uncle’s cellar?”

“What are you going to do now, Potter – swear at me?  You don’t have many alternatives from which to choose,” Shacklebolt sneered.  Harry wiped away more sweat.  Try as he might, he couldn’t squint hard enough to make out Shacklebolt’s face – just the shape of his head and the golden glint of his earring.

“Kingsley, I’ll give the next lesson,” Tonks said.  She pulled her wrists apart, rammed her elbow into Shacklebolt’s stomach, and stomped hard on his foot.  “Never make assumptions about the damsel in

distress!” she shouted.  Shacklebolt nearly lost hold of his wand but he managed to gasp out ‘Expuli’ and Tonks slammed hard into the wall. 

Shacklebolt turned his attention to Hermione, who was sound asleep. “Aha!  The real damsel!” he said.

Harry dove across the bed, falling into the remnants of the shattered side table.  He groped along the floor, in the hope that Hermione’s wand might be loose.  He felt a long wooden cylinder roll beneath his hand, grasped it tightly, and sprang to his feet.

“What do you think you’re going to do with that?” Shacklebolt laughed.  Hermione slowly slid across the floor toward him.  The sweat dripped into Harry’s eyes and it stung.  He blinked hard and saw the glint of gold again.  It was suddenly very clear what he needed to do. 

“Accio earring!” he hissed.

Shacklebolt screamed as the hoop tore through his earlobe and flew toward Harry’s outstretched hand.  Instead of running away, Harry charged him.  He shoved Shacklebolt – who was shrieking and clutching at his ear – hard into the wall opposite the doorway. 

Shacklebolt instinctively crouched, and Harry did precisely as Dudley had instructed him: he pounded at his opponent’s abdomen with crisp, hard blows.  He swung upward and connected firmly with the auror’s jaw, whose head snapped back.  With one more blow, Shacklebolt lay sprawled on the floor of the corridor.

“Expelliarmus!” Harry shouted, and Shacklebolt’s wand shot down the hallway.  “The lesson’s over,” he spat.

Lupin sat propped against the wall a few feet away.  “Pray that you’re never near me during a full moon, Shacklebolt,” he croaked.

“Good show, Harry – serves him right.  I just want to know how you pulled it off,” Tonks called out from the bedroom.  “Are you taking after Moody, hiding wand cores inside everything?”

“Wand cores?  What are you on about?”  Harry asked.  He looked around in confusion.  With effort, the wooden cylinder in his hand came into focus: it was a broken table leg.  He dropped it as though it had stung him. 

“Potter,” Shacklebolt murmured, “you should have used plural from the beginning.”

“Wha –?” Harry began. 

There was yet another wand in Shacklebolt’s hand; he muttered ‘Percussum’ and swept his wand from one side to the other.  Harry felt like a giant open hand slapped him across the face, and fell hard onto his sore shoulder.

“You should have said ‘Accio wands’, not ‘Accio wand’,” Shacklebolt said as he crawled toward Harry.  “Never walk away from an opponent unless or until you are dead certain he’s finished.”  He leaned in, his face inches from Harry’s, and snarled, “Your last lesson for today is this, Potter – the lesson is over when I say so.”

Shacklebolt collected his earring from the floor and slowly rose.  “You will diagram this entire sequence of events, every element of it.  For each element, you will prepare an analysis.  You will summarize by writing two feet on how you would defeat me, given the same circumstances,” he ordered.  “We will review your work tomorrow at eight, and we train at nine.”

Lupin rose to his feet behind Shacklebolt, and jabbed the tip of his wand hard against the former auror’s neck.  “Going somewhere?”

“Apparently not,” Shacklebolt murmured.

“You have a good deal of repairing ahead of you, followed by a great deal of explaining.  If I decide to let you live, then you will explain yourself to Albus; tomorrow will be up to him, won’t it?” growled Lupin.

Harry wiped blood from the corner of his mouth.  “I believe that’s up to me,” he said firmly.

Hermione came out of the bedroom.  She became aware of her surroundings as though coming out of a fog, and Tonks steadied her.  “Harry!” she cried; “Look what he did to you.”  She gently placed her hand on his face and he flinched at the pain.  Then, she turned and stared down Shacklebolt.

“You should be very glad that I’m underage!” Hermione raged.  “What kind of a teacher are you?”

“Want to hex me, do you?  Keep in mind that I used a sleeping spell when I could have stunned you, or worse,” Shacklebolt said.  Lupin pulled back slightly but kept his wand pointed at Shacklebolt’s head.

Tonks shouted, “I thought we were going to be cleaning Harry off the walls, for Merlin’s sake!”

“I held my own,” Harry insisted.  He said to Shacklebolt, “Tomorrow morning, then,” which drew a curt nod.

Hermione gaped at Harry.  “Please tell me you’re joking!”

Lupin added sternly, “You should discuss this with Dumbledore before committing to anything.”

“I’ve made my decision,” said Harry.

“Look at what Mr. Shacklebolt has done to Harry Potter’s house!” Dobby squeaked from the stairs.  He slowly walked down the hallway, looking from side to side, and then up and down.  “Plaster… paint… wallpaper… trim… doors… terrible!” he fumed.

“I’ve ordered Kingsley to begin making repairs,” Lupin explained to Dobby.

Dobby stopped in front of Harry.  He looked at Harry’s face and cloak and began to shake.  “That – will – not – be – necessary,” the house-elf blustered.  “Dobby will make the repairs.  Dobby can repair faster and better.”  He immediately reached toward Harry’s face.                         

“Would everyone please stop touching my face?” Harry asked.  “It hurts!”

“Harry Potter will stop moving, please,” Dobby said.  “Dobby will begin the repairs with Harry Potter.”  In a few moments, Harry’s face no longer stung. 

“I didn’t know that house-elves could heal,” Lupin said, impressed.

Tonks said, “Well-treated house-elves can manage basic healing if they’re asked, but I’ve never seen it done without prompting… I’ve never seen house-elves do much of anything without prompting, beyond cleaning and the like.”

Hermione said smugly, “You obviously haven’t seen free house-elves, then,” and then proceeded to give a brief primer on house-elf liberation.  Tonks buried her face in her hands, Shacklebolt was clearly puzzled, Lupin smiled and shook his head, and Dobby rolled his enormous eyes.

Dobby then turned his attention to Shacklebolt.  “May Dobby escort Mr. Shacklebolt to the door?” he squeaked menacingly.

“That won’t be necessary,” Shacklebolt said.

“It would be best that you leave,” Lupin said.

“There are supposed to be three Order members near Miss Granger at all times,” Shacklebolt noted.

“You weren’t exactly on protective duty this morning,” Tonks snapped, “nor was I, thanks to your idea of a lesson.” 

“I’d say Harry would be more useful in a pinch than Mundungus Fletcher or Diggle,” Lupin added.  “With Tonks and me, that makes three.  Good-bye, Kingsley.  Sadly, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“I really do think –” Shacklebolt started.

“Dobby, please show Mr. Shacklebolt out,” Hermione said in a tone that brooked no argument.

“Does Harry Potter have instructions for Dobby if Mr. Shacklebolt should resist?” Dobby asked Harry; the grin on his face was quite like Winky’s murderous expression when she had spoken of Kreacher.

Harry blurted out, “Be sure that you don’t kill him, please.”

Shacklebolt began walking backward toward the stairs.  “Easy, now,” he said to Dobby.  “House-elves can’t kill…”  He held his wand out slightly in a defensive posture.  Dobby reached out a hand, waggled his fingers, and Shacklebolt’s remaining wand flew to him; he neatly snapped it in half and tossed the pieces aside.

Shacklebolt stopped halfway down the flight of stairs, and said, “You don’t have to turn me out.  Clearly, you don’t –” 

Dobby raced down the stairs and exclaimed repeatedly, “You are resisting, sir!” 

Shacklebolt called out, “Tomorrow morning, Potter!  Be prepared!”  Harry heard the thump-squeak-thump-squeak of a person racing down the stairs, and then a loud pop! that was quickly followed by the slamming of the front door.

“I don’t think I’m prepared for free house-elves,” Tonks muttered.

“I’m entirely unprepared for Shacklebolt to return to this house,” Lupin said firmly, arms tightly crossed.

“I agree,” Hermione added.  “Harry, he could have killed you.”

“I thought that my intentions about tomorrow were clear,” Harry said.

“Training-by-ambush seems completely out of bounds to me,” Lupin observed.

Tonks shrugged.  “That’s how it’s done, Remus.  By Auror School standards, Kingsley was fairly controlled.  I just thought he was over the top given Harry’s inexperience – no offence intended, of course.”

“That was consistent with Auror training?” Hermione asked incredulously.

“More or less,” Tonks answered.  “He’s cross with Harry, and that sort of bias would ordinarily be forbidden in practicals.  Still… on the main, I would have to say that combat training is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

“He didn’t treat me like a child,” Harry said.

“Definitely not,” Tonks agreed.  “He treated you the way that he treats trainees.  Believe me, I know.  Kingsley was my combat tactics trainer, and he can be a nasty, filthy, hard-nosed son of a…”

Lupin cut her off.  “Tonks!”

“You think I’m off? I see the evidence in our midst,” Tonks chuckled, gesturing toward Harry.  Lupin frowned.

Hermione looked Harry up and down, and sighed.  “Are you sure about this?  You look like… let’s just say that you’ve looked better.”

“You know what I’m up against,” Harry said.  Hermione suddenly looked out of sorts, and Harry felt… something.  He looked at the back of his hand and quickly added, “That is, you’ve seen everything I’ve faced over the last five years.  I need real training, not the school work at Hogwarts.”  Hermione relaxed, and he resolved to force Dumbledore to explain the safeguard – he was the ‘Bearer’ after all, whatever that meant.

“Steady there, Harry,” Tonks said.  “You’re really whipped without those glasses, eh?”

“Just wondering what’s left of them,” Harry mumbled.

Hermione dashed in front of him, and gathered up some fragments.  “I’m not sure that these can be repaired,” she said.  “The right lens has been ground practically to dust.”

“Let me have a go at them,” Lupin said.  He crouched down to peer at the remains of Harry’s glasses.  Instead of attempting to repair them all at once, he reconstructed one portion at a time.  “Here, give them a try,” he said, holding out the mended glasses.

Harry gripped his glasses by the hinges, and slowly slid them on.  He backed them away twice, blinking furiously, before he settled the frames on his face.  “Thank you for the effort, Remus, but they’re not right.  Everything looks curved.”

Lupin frowned.  “You’ll need new ones, then.  I suppose it’s been quite some time since you’ve had your eyes properly looked after, anyway.  Backup pairs would be in order, I’d say – three or four of them, perhaps.”

“An Unbreakable Charm would be a good precaution as well,” Tonks added.

Hermione shook her head.  “How many times have I suggested that?” she chided him.

Harry just smiled.  “I’m going upstairs for a bit,” he announced. 

When he nearly missed the first step, Hermione said, “I’ll go with you.”

Harry took off his glasses.  “Better off without them for the moment, I think.  I’ll be fine now.”

Hermione began, “Are you sure?  I mean, I –”

Harry waved her off.  “I’ll be fine.  I’m going to tidy myself up a bit.  Meet you in the library, then?”

“Where else would I be?” she said.  Harry wished that he could match her expression to her strained tone, but it was enough that he could find the steps.

In the bathroom, Harry peered into the mirror from a few inches away.  Half his face was dotted with spatters of blood.  Although the nicks and cuts were gone, his cheek was reddened and there was certain to be some kind of bruise later from Shacklebolt’s slapping spell at the end.  He slipped off his charred cloak and dropped it in a heap, and his sweat-soaked shirt quickly joined the cloak.  He filled the washbasin, found a cloth, and began dabbing at his face.

“You really are a sight,” Lupin said from the doorway to the bathroom.

Harry jabbed the cloth hard against his cheek.  “Ouch!  Damn it, you startled me!” he cried out.

“Language, Harry,” Lupin scolded.  “I just thought that someone should look in on you.”

Harry turned his attention back to removing the blood spatters from his face.  “Surprised it wasn’t Hermione,” he muttered.

“She seems peeved with you,” Lupin observed.  “Tonks is with her.” 

“Peeved with me?” Harry protested.  “Who was using whom yesterday?”

Lupin shrugged.  “Why don’t you tell me?”

Harry set the cloth atop the washbasin, and glared at Lupin – or in the direction of Lupin’s blurry image, at any rate.  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You wouldn’t have minded what she did, if it had taken place on your terms,” Lupin said.

Harry shook his head, and returned to his task.  “That’s ridiculous,” he insisted.

Lupin began, “I saw the way that she looked at you last evening, when you were asleep.  She –”

Harry stopped him.  “When I was … you saw me asleep?  Where – in my bed?”

“No, leant across the sofa,” Lupin explained.  “It’s a wonder that you didn’t fall to the floor.”

“Then why did…?  I’m confused,” Harry admitted.

“Hermione awoke and fetched me around three o’clock.  She couldn’t rouse you and didn’t want to leave you like that.  I floated you into bed, and returned to my room,” Lupin said.

“And Hermione…?” Harry asked.

“Went to the guestroom, I imagine,” Lupin answered.  “She’s a remarkable young woman, but surely you know that.”  Harry smiled strangely.

“You’re amused by that?” Lupin asked.  “After what she did for you, you could at least acknowledge –”

Harry shook his head.  “No, no, I agree with you.  I just… I thought that I remembered last evening a bit differently.”

Lupin crossed his arms.  “Do you care to explain yourself?”

“I mistook a dream for something else; no need for panic,” Harry assured him.

“You’re dreaming about her, then?” Lupin asked, his right eyebrow rising slightly.

Harry snorted.  “It’s not like that, for goodness’ sake!”

“Judging by the colour of your face, I’d venture that it’s slightly like that,” Lupin smirked. 

Harry examined his red cheeks in the mirror.  “That’s from Shacklebolt,” he determined.

“Are you angry with her, then – about yesterday?” Lupin asked.

Harry brushed past Lupin and walked across the corridor to his bedroom in search of fresh clothing.  “Are you baiting me?” he asked Lupin absently.

“I’m simply trying to ascertain your feelings,” Lupin answered dispassionately.  “Tonks thinks… erm, I think that you seem rather… I don’t know, confused?”

Harry found another of the boxing singlets that he’d set aside when Dobby had turned out his old clothes.  “I’m not confused in the slightest,” he insisted.  “I know exactly how I feel.”

“And…?” Lupin said expectantly.

Harry passed in front of Lupin and re-entered the bathroom.  “That’s my business,” he said, suppressing a smile.  “What’s with Tonks, by the way?” he added, feigning innocence.

“Excuse me?” Lupin said in a low voice.

“‘Tonks is with Hermione.’ ‘Tonks thinks this.’ ‘Tonks thinks that.’  What’s with Tonks, then?” Harry asked.  He couldn’t allow himself to look at Lupin for fear that he’d laugh, but he angled to one side in hopes of catching some of Lupin’s expression in the mirror.

“There’s nothing whatever with Tonks,” Lupin said hastily.  “I believe we were talking about you.”

“You were talking about me,” Harry corrected him.  “I’m talking about you.  Tonks is definitely on your mind.”  He kept his back to Lupin.  One snort escaped him, and he quickly clapped his hand over his mouth.

“Who’s baiting whom here?” Lupin chuckled.

Harry turned around, and burst out laughing.  “You win,” he snorted.

A broad smile spread across Lupin’s face.  “Let’s call it a draw,” he said.  Harry did enjoy making Lupin smile.  It was relatively rare, and Harry thought that a smile took ten years off the man.  At the same time, those smiles made Harry feel a tinge of something deep inside that he simply couldn’t name.  When Lupin smiled, Harry began to feel serious – for whatever reason.

“I’m sorry that I disturbed you this morning,” Harry offered.

Lupin scowled a little, and then softened.  “I’m on edge – you’re not responsible for that.  It’s just that… dash it all, Harry, no more secrets.  I’m not well, not at all.  I’ve had to discontinue the Wolfsbane potion.  The last two full moons have been… well, they’ve been the worst I’ve known in a very long time.”

Harry’s heart sank.  “Why did you have to stop the potion…?”  He stopped abruptly.  Five years’ worth of suspicion and enmity welled up inside of him.  “Snape,” he added venomously.  “This was his doing, wasn’t it?”

Lupin held his hands up to pre-empt Harry.  “No, Harry – it’s quite the contrary.  If anything, the fact that I tolerated the potion for this long is a testament to his skills.  We’ve learned that few of my kind can take it for an extended period.  Snape gave me several good years; in fact, he holds out some hope that I may be able to resume it in time.  Despite what you think of him – despite what he thinks of me, for that matter – I choose to be grateful.”

“The room downstairs… you needed extra reinforcement,” Harry realised. 

Lupin nodded sadly.  “Tonks helped me to prepare it.  She’s been a great comfort to me the last few weeks, though it’s hard for me to imagine her motives.”

“Why?” Harry asked.

Lupin sighed.  “You see past my nature,” he said, “and that’s also a great comfort – but Tonks has… she has seen me.”  He shuddered.  “She knows everything now, the full horror of it.”

Harry said gently, “I suppose that she sees past your nature as well.”

Lupin tensed.  “Perhaps she does… or perhaps she’s simply naïve.  Sweet Merlin, she’s scarcely past her school days.  She shouldn’t be messing about with anyone fifteen years older than she is, let alone…”  He sighed.  “I keep explaining to her that she’s been toying with something terribly dangerous… she could be killed – or much worse.”

Harry stepped forward and rested his hand on Lupin’s arm.  “Dumbledore trusted you to teach, and I’m sure that he still does.  Hermione… I think that she respects you more than any other professor that she’s had.  I choose to be here with you, and nothing that you could do would change my mind.”

“I’ve succumbed to Sirius’ choice in that matter, but that doesn’t mean I concurred,” Lupin growled.  “I don’t want anyone else hurt because of me.”

Harry shrugged.  “We’ve all made our choices.  You may as well accept that.”

Lupin’s sad, gentle eyes bored into Harry.  He said haltingly, “You mean well, Harry, I truly believe that… but… you’re actually telling me that I should accept the willingness of others to risk injury on my behalf?  You must surely sense the irony in that.”

Harry’s first impulse was to insist that their situations were different, that the nature of the danger surrounding Harry was more unmanageable.  He knew that wasn’t true, of course – especially now that Lupin could no longer rely on the one measure of control that had been available to him. 

Instead, Harry simply asked, “Feeling helpless is horrible, isn’t it?”

Lupin nodded, his eyes closed.  “Of all the things that we could possibly share in common, you and I – why does it have to be that?”

Harry finished cleaning his face, and fussed with his hair to little avail.  They retired to the library, which he had decided was the most comfortable room in the house, and started a magical fire; it was too warm for the real thing.  He was so tired – tired from the reading, tired from the day’s lesson, tired from all the changes – just tired.  Seated on the sofa and without his glasses, it was very easy to lose himself in the green flickering flames.

Lupin browsed through several books before he broke the silence.  “I’m not certain how to bring this up, so I’ll just spit it out.  I do intend to take on fully my responsibilities toward you and the Black Trust, and to that end I’ve been studying the finances.  I’ve stumbled across a few things that concern me.  For example, it turns out that Diggle was appointed as the Black trustee nearly five years ago.  He also held power of attorney over your personal accounts from July 19th until your birthday.”

Harry’s attention flickered with the flames.  “Uh-huh… five years ago… my accounts,” he muttered.

“I’ve also found a number of transactions that make no sense to me, mostly in June and July of this year,” Lupin continued.  “Most are from the Trust account, but some are from your personal accounts.  One is quite large… astoundingly large, actually.  It appears to be a transfer of some type, rather than an expense.  Frankly, Harry, I’m rather lost in the details.  Madam Bones and I have agreed that Ted Tonks should have a go at it, unless you have strong feelings otherwise.”

“Uh-huh, Tonks,” Harry muttered.  “She’s fine… whatever you want.”

Lupin took on an impish expression when Harry said ‘she’.  “By the way, Harry… I thought you should know that Tonks is carrying our love child.  It’s a Labrador retriever, and we’ve decided to call him Fudge.  I trust you’ll turn up at the christening, then?”

“Uh-huh… christening,” Harry muttered.  “Fudge is nice… Fudge?  Wha…?”  He sat up and stared at Lupin with glassy eyes.

“Just checking whether you were nodding off,” Lupin laughed.  “Did you hear a word that I said?”

“I certainly did.  Fudge is a terrible name, and I can’t believe you’d pick a dog without me,” Harry complained absently.

Lupin snorted.  “Rest for a while,” he said.  “We’ll talk later.”  Harry saw the flicker of green flames and then nothing at all . . . . . .  

He blinked hard, and his eyes watered.  The green flickering was still before him, but sideways.  The shadows in the room were all wrong… Lupin had been blathering something about dogs, and then… he sat up slowly.  Someone sat quietly in one of the armchairs.  He didn’t need his glasses to make out who it was.

“How do you feel?” Hermione asked.

Harry thought for a moment.  “Rested,” he replied, and added with a smirk, “You know, if you keep spending your days in my house, people may begin to talk.”

“It’s a little late to worry about that,” Hermione observed.  “Tonks told me that I’d received over fifty Howlers by this morning, courtesy of the subscribers to Teen Witch Weekly.”

“The Creevey brothers are going to wish I wasn’t coming back to Hogwarts… what were they thinking?” Harry fumed.

“The Creeveys?  Oh, I suppose that does makes sense,” Hermione decided.  “I imagine that they did mean well.”

“I wonder if everyone on that stupid list is getting the same treatment?” Harry mused.  “I certainly hope not.”  He added hastily, “Not that I want you to get the worst of it… you know what I meant, right?”

“I understand you,” Hermione said.  “I doubt the Howlers are evenly distributed.  After all, this isn’t my first time down this road.”

Harry cringed, recalling the treatment Hermione received when Rita Skeeter had first linked the two of them.  “Obviously, they didn’t spend much time putting that list together.  They certainly could have spared some of the grief; it wouldn’t have taken much research to cut it in half, or better.”

“The girls remaining on the list would probably have received more Howlers,” Hermione said flatly.

“I suppose that makes sense.  That would have been terrible for you,” Harry said.  “Fifty is quite enough, I’d say – I can’t imagine several times that.  I mean, who has to screen all of those posts –”

“What did you say?” Hermione asked quietly.

“I said that fifty Howlers are enough.  I would have felt terrible if you’d received hundreds of them, or thousands.  As it is, I think that Fred and George should arrange for the replies.”  Harry sniggered at the thought.

“Who would have remained on the list?” Hermione asked.

“I’m sorry?”

“You said it wouldn’t have taken much research to cut it down – who would have remained on the list?” Hermione asked again.

“Are you feeling anxious about something?” Harry asked.

“What…?  I’m not anxious.  Whatever would make you think that?” Hermione spluttered.

“Your hands are folded in your lap, and you’re drumming with your fingers,” observed Harry.  “You do that when you’re anxious, you know, and… and you just feel anxious.”

She grasped the armrests of her chair.  “I’m not anxious, not in the slightest.  It was a simple question, and I would be satisfied with a simple answer.  Besides, I have a special responsibility in this area – you do remember what I promised Sirius?”

Harry grimaced as her meaning dawned on him.  “You’re actually following through with it?  There’s no need, you know.  Sirius was cooped up in this house far too long, if you ask me.  What was he thinking, making you responsible for that?”

“I think it was inspired,” Hermione said proudly.  “I know you as well as anyone does, and you’re too thick to take care of the job yourself.”

Harry playfully growled at her.  “Answer your own question, then – you’re the genius here, after all,” he said.  “Start with the easy ones.  Daphne Greengrass?  Please!”

“She has certain… assets that at least a few of our housemates seem to favour,” Hermione grumbled.

“You mean the ones that she lets halfway out of her top on Hogsmeade weekends?” Harry asked.  “Putting those on the positive side of the ledger –”

Hermione’s eyes grew wide.  “Harry!”

“You were the one being catty,” Harry noted.  “Let’s examine the negatives, then – she’s a Slytherin; she acts like she’s queen of Hogwarts; and her family are probably Death Eaters.  Off the list!”

“Good,” Hermione said grimly.  “No tarts allowed.”

“Don’t hold back on my account!” Harry chuckled.  “Now, who else was on that list…?  Lisa Turpin?  I don’t think so.”

“I don’t know – she seems nice enough, if a bit quiet,” Hermione offered.

“Quiet?  The bloody library’s loud by comparison!  Have you ever listened to her when she does talk?  I’ll bet she aspires to be Madam Pince,” Harry complained.

“You know, a lot of people might say that about me,” Hermione said.

Harry’s brow furrowed.  “Why – because you like books?  They don’t know you, then.  You are very well-read and rather fun.  From what I’ve seen, Lisa Turpin is bookish and boring.”

“You think that I’m fun?” Hermione asked, with a note of surprise in her voice.

Harry said, “Sure… well, at least when you’re not riding me about my studies… or turning in my Firebolt… or chiding me for one decision or another… did I mention the Firebolt?”  He grinned at her.

“So I’m conditionally fun; how charming,” Hermione deadpanned.  “What about Gretchen Hargrove?”

“She kissed me on the cheek in Gringotts the other day – can you believe that?  I scarcely know her; I didn’t even recognise her at the time,” Harry told her.

“Right - she’s the one who was in the Prophet.  A researcher might leave her on the list for that alone,” Hermione surmised.

“Not if the researcher had bothered to ask me about it,” Harry said. 

“You said you scarcely know her,” Hermione said, “but you have an opinion?”

Harry nodded.  “A pale imitation of Ginny,” he said.

Hermione’s eyebrows rose.  “Now who’s the catty one?” she asked.  “I wouldn’t have thought you paid such close attention to the girls at school, honestly.  Do you boys have these sorts of conversations up in the dormitory?”

“What, rating the girls?  Not in our room at least,” Harry answered.  “Dean goes on about football when he’s not drawing, Seamus has never really been tight with any of us but Dean, and Neville was too timid to even think of chatting up a girl until this spring.”

“‘Chatting up’?  Who are you, and what have you done with Harry Potter?” Hermione laughed.

“That’s what it’s called, right?” said Harry.

Hermione rolled her eyes, and asked, “And what about Ron?”

“Did I talk about girls with Ron?”  Harry thought for a moment.  “No… we really didn’t.  Around the time of the Yule Ball, I suppose we talked a bit – not many other times, though.”

“You’ve no one to talk with about this sort of thing, then?” Hermione asked.

Harry said, “It hasn’t been an issue.  It’s not as though I have a dating history, or a little black book like Sirius.”

Hermione’s cheeks coloured.  “A little black book?  Are you joking?”

“Devlin Whitehorn said that Sirius used to have a woman on each arm most of the time when he was just out of school,” Harry said.

Hermione shook her head.  “Why any self-respecting woman would subject herself to that treatment…?  Were they foolish or just desperate?”

Harry shrugged.  “Dunno… I couldn’t be like he was.  Who’s left on the list, then?”

Hermione said, “Let’s see; Ginny, Luna… me… oh, and Cho Chang.”

“We can dispense with Cho,” Harry said quickly.

“You did go out with her,” Hermione noted, “and there was a kiss involved.”

Harry snorted.  “It hardly counted.  I broke off from her to meet you at the Three Broomsticks, remember?  Besides, we both know I was just a stand-in for… you know… anyway, I couldn’t see it then but I do now.”  He couldn’t bring himself to say Cedric’s name, even after more than a year.

“You had quite a crush on her,” Hermione said distantly; “You were attracted to her.” 

“I had this idea of who she was,” Harry explained, “but it didn’t match with the real thing.  She’s definitely off the list, and that leaves you and Ginny and Luna.  See, I told you that the list could easily be cut.”

“You’re going to make this task very difficult for me, aren’t you?” Hermione sighed.

Harry began, “Which task…?  Oh, no, are we back to the ‘true love’ business?  Look, I told you that don’t have to – ”

“I promised him,” Hermione said, “and just because the parchment is gone doesn’t change the fact.  You certainly won’t manage it.  You’ll never think about it, and if something happens…” She stopped, and seemed to gather herself.  “I’m doing this for you, and that decision is final.  The challenge will be in determining what you want, because you obviously have no idea.”

“Oh, thank you very much!  Of course I know what I want!” Harry huffed.

“You haven’t a clue, Harry,” Hermione insisted.  “You wouldn’t know love if it snuck up from behind and bit you, so I’ll have to ensure that it’s made simple for you.”

“This should be charming,” Harry moaned; “I can see it now – you’ll have some kind of scoring system, with rankings and averages and all the information ever… what?”

Hermione was crimson.  “What’s wrong with a scoring system?” she snapped.  “It’s an excellent approach to ensure unbiased and accurate results.”

Harry buried his face in his hands.  “You’ve already started it, haven’t you?” he muttered.

“There’s not a lot to do, trapped in one’s own house,” she complained.  “I ran out of schoolwork weeks ago.  At least I have some useful reading now.”  I know a bit about being trapped in the summer, Harry thought, but he remained silent.

Hermione stood up.  “We should go downstairs.  Tonks and Professor… erm,  Remus are taking me home after lunch.  He’s anxious to get your glasses replaced.”

“What’s the hurry?  Why don’t you come with us?” Harry asked.

Hermione frowned.  “No more trips to public places – it’s one of Professor Dumbledore’s new restrictions, I’m afraid.  I did agree, you know.”

“Sorry,” Harry said.  “It would have been fun to take you to Flourish and Blotts, now that you have a book allowance to spend.”

Hermione gaped at him.  “Fun to take me to a book store?”  She put her hand to his forehead.  “Are you feeling all right?”

“I guess you’re rubbing off on me,” Harry grinned.

“Speaking of books,” Hermione told him, “I’ve left another stack for you in the library.  If you insist on continuing with Shacklebolt, then you have some heavy reading to do.”

Harry nodded in agreement.  He said, “The books you picked out yesterday were dead useful.  I used three or four things straight away.”

“You read all of them?” Hermione asked incredulously.

“Great stuff – I couldn’t put them down,” Harry admitted.

Hermione beamed.  “I am rubbing off on you.”

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