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Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)

Chapter Twenty-eight

THE RESTAURANT AT THE END OF THE HOLIDAYS

August 28


Harry flung another stone from his perch atop the cliff, and watched it leave a tiny crater in the sands below. The next stone sent bits of crushed shells and jetsam skittering. With two more stones, Harry found himself thinking of Ron - falling through the sky of his own will, like he'd been diving off a cliff into a teacup. The higher the fall, the greater the splat, he thought. Maybe I should just jump off my broom and land on bloody Voldemort - boom, SPLAT. He winced, and the remaining stones in his hand slipped loose and clattered down the cliffside. There was a clang! in the distance, which was entirely unlike a pop!, whizz!, bang! or other sudden sound associated with magic, and he knew that he hadn't made it. He squinted toward the tower, just in time to see Mr. Lovegood slam shut another of the various panels on his van. Before the next clang, he scrambled up the path of trampled grass. The Lovegoods had returned to the tower six days after first leaving. In the face of Dumbledore's decision to withdraw, take everyone with him and leave Harry to his own devices, their return had been at once unexpected yet predictable. Mr. Lovegood had shrugged it off, by insisting that they had simply finished their Quibbler business to the north and preferred not to make the return to Devon in a single day. Harry knew that St. Ebb had been out of their way, but had said nothing.

As Harry approached, Odd Lovegood looked up from the engine of his van, and waved brightly. “Good morning, Harry!”

Every door of the van was flung open, and Harry saw luggage inside. “Are you leaving, then?” he asked.

“Leaving…” Mr. Lovegood mumbled absently. “Oh! Oh, yes – leaving.” He looked blankly at Harry for a moment, and then his eyebrows shot up. “Goodness, me! Where were my manners? It’s fortunate that I’ve found them.” He stuck his hand out so rapidly that he nearly stumbled. “You’ve been a gracious host. Thank you.”

Harry awkwardly shook Mr. Lovegood’s hand. “Er… you really don't have to go…”

Mr. Lovegood rolled his eyes. “Say no more, Harry. Dumbledore's made a royal botch of things, you know. I imagine he learnt that from Croaker…” His face darkened for an instant, and then became the picture of joviality. “We’ve rarely seen eye to eye, the old man and me; in fact, I avoid being eye to eye with him.”

There’s Croaker again, Harry thought, and he made a mental note to follow up with Bill Weasley. “I don’t trust Dumbledore, not anymore,” Harry muttered bitterly.

Mr. Lovegood heard him. “Oh, you can trust him, Harry - don’t fret about that. You should disagree with him on a regular basis, of course. If a few people would have done that along the way, we'd be living in a far more interesting world.”

Harry goggled, and took several seconds to say slowly and hesitantly, “Right…”

Luna stepped through the black door, and deposited a small knapsack into the van. She caught Harry’s eye and smiled. “Good morning!”

“You don’t have to leave,” Harry said quickly.

“We do have to leave,” Luna returned. “We’re two days behind Daddy’s schedule. As it stands, he'll be pressed to get an issue out in time for the beginning of term. It really was good of you to let us stay here.”

“So, um, I haven’t scared you off?” Harry ventured.

Luna looked at him uncomprehendingly. “Scared us off? How would you go about doing that?”

Harry thrust his hands into his pockets. “I thought that after we went to Edinburgh, maybe you… I don’t know…”

Luna walked slowly around the van, until she stood too close to Harry. “Everything has turned out precisely as was intended,” she said plainly. “What could be frightening about that?”

“I swear I’m not asking you to go,” Harry insisted.

Luna smiled. “You never asked us to come at the outset. I have appreciated the rest and the company, twice.” She stood on her toes and kissed him on the cheek, then added casually, “I love you.”

Harry gasped and turned bright crimson; he fervently hoped that he wouldn’t faint.

Luna’s large eyes widened. “Are you all right, Harry? Are you choking?”

Mr. Lovegood peered around the side of the van. “Remember what I told you about young men, Moonshine?”

“I believe Harry is choking,” Luna reported.

“He’s in shock. It’ll pass,” Mr. Lovegood laughed. He looked to Harry. “She loves you, Harry. So do many of the people close to you, I’ll wager, and so do I. You should breathe now, I think.” Harry looked back at Mr. Lovegood in sheer panic.

“Help me with the tools, would you?” Mr. Lovegood asked. Harry blankly followed him. Mr. Lovegood began putting various things into three large metal cases. Having no idea what he was supposed to do, Harry just stood there and watched.

“Love has many facets, Harry,” Mr. Lovegood said without prompting. “Remember that.” He closed the first metal case, and held it out to Harry. Harry tried to take it with one hand and nearly dropped it before bringing both hands to bear. He lugged it around the side of the van and nearly lost his grip before wrangling it inside.

Mr. Lovegood easily managed the other two cases. “Yours was the heaviest of the three,” he laughed. “I’m three times your age – you have the back to spare.”

Harry leaned heavily against the van. “Why tools? Why not just magic?” he groaned.

Mr. Lovegood set the other two cases into their places. “There’s nothing magical about this van, nothing at all. As it was, it took a good three hours to negate the magical signature after Remus and I repaired the side panels.”

Harry flinched at Lupin’s name, but managed to let the anger flow away. Instead, he wondered aloud, “Why does it matter that the van’s completely Muggle?”

“It’s about stealth, Harry,” Mr. Lovegood said seriously. “Without magic, the heliopaths never know that you’re coming.”

Mr. Lovegood closed up the van, and Harry went around to the passenger side. Luna rolled down the window, and Harry leaned against the door. “You’re welcome back anytime,” he assured her.

“Thank you, Harry. We’re rarely invited back, you know,” Luna said. She seemed to drift away, but then snapped back and added, "Do you need a lift into the village, for your appointments?"

Harry shook his head. "It's a nice day; who knows how many we’ll have before fall sets in? I fancy a walk, actually."

Mr. Lovegood clambered behind the wheel. “We’ll be back again,” he said. “This would be a wonderful place to live – outstanding visibility.”

Harry barely had a chance to step back before the van pulled away and tore down the lane.

As soon as he entered the tower, Dobby was upon him. "Harry Potter missed breakfast," he frowned. Harry decided that a house-elf's frown was a very amusing sight, but stifled a grin.

"I'm heading into St. Ebb now," Harry said. "I shan't be back until late."

"Dobby worries about Harry Potter's comings and goings," Dobby returned in a near-whisper. "He wonders what sorts of wizards might be watching."

Harry rolled his eyes at Dobby’s fretting, but he was grateful that the house-elf had shown up, two days after everyone else had departed. If it hadn’t been for Dobby, Harry feared that he might have still been awash in flocks of ruddy owls and the heads of unsolicited saleswizards popping up in the fireplace. Dobby had even accompanied him when he’d slipped on the Black signet ring and made his way into the master’s study.

A familiar voice sneered through the door, “Mister Potter… you have come to claim what is yours?”

Harry thrust his hands into his pockets nervously. “I suppose I have, yes,” he said.

Phineas Nigellus’ dark laughter rang out. “You are a Gryffindor through and through – aren’t you, Mister Potter?” the voice mocked. “Did you think to ask what it is that you are claiming?”

Harry’s jaw tightened. I won’t be pushed by a bloody portrait, he thought. “I signed the will. I’m the heir to Sirius. Let’s finish this – open the door… or I’ll blast it open.”

After several seconds of silence, Phineas Nigellus said, “Spoken like the heir to the House of Black, Mister Potter.” There was an audible click! and the door’s handle turned of its own accord.

Harry leaned forward and attempted to peer into the room beyond, but saw nothing save a greyish blur. “Come, boy – the room will not bite you,” Phineas Nigellus mocked. Harry stepped forward into the grey void, as Dobby clung to his arm. A strong draft blew back his hair, and the void resolved into a room that was painfully familiar.

Harry walked to the centre of the large circular room, and ran his hand slowly along the edge of the claw-footed desk. He almost expected to see the Sorting Hat perched on the shelf behind the desk. The walls were covered with portraits, but Harry didn’t recognise most of the wizards and witches depicted; most were unmoving, which mildly surprised him. “It’s Dumbledore’s office… er… a fair copy, at any rate,” he observed.

Phineas Nigellus’ cool voice filled the room. “That earns a grade of Acceptable, Mister Potter. This is my office. I summered in this house during my tenure as Headmaster, and identical offices proved to be an eminently practical choice.”

As Harry turned to face the portrait, his eyes locked onto a familiar writhing visage – an aged woman in a black cap with taut yellowing skin. “Oh, no…” he groaned.

The woman’s mad eyes steadied and she whirled to face him. “Begone, you half-blooded freak! You have no right to enter this sanctum! You are a stain on this house!

Phineas Nigellus rolled his shrewd eyes. “Cease your odious caterwauling,” he said. “This is your son’s ward and heir, Harry Potter. Mister Potter, I doubt you have ever been properly introduced. This is Walburga Black, mother to Sirius Black and the most recent mistress of the House of Black.”

“I have no sons! Regulus is dead, and… the other…is dead to me! He was a pathetic blood-traitor, an embarrassment that surrounded himself with scum and half-breeds! There are no heirs in my line of the House of Black – it is left to the Malfoys or the Lestranges to carry on!” Mrs. Black howled.

Though Sirius was dead to you – though you burned his name from the House tapestry – you failed to disown him as a matter of law. Now that he is truly gone, the House of Black passes through him to his ward,” Phineas Nigellus intoned.

Mrs. Black stopped moving, and Harry realised that the most disturbing thing about her portrait at Grimmauld Place had not been the screaming but instead the constant roiling motion. “To that? My House passes to THAT?” she spat. “Then the House of Black is dead. Listen well, you… abomination! Just as I retained a faithful servant after my death, so shall the Dark Lord’s servants forever serve Him. You will never win. Even if He is somehow destroyed, you will never win! We shall triumph! The scum and filth will be rounded up, and purity will be restored!”

Harry walked toward the painting, fists clenched. “Sirius is dead your son is dead!

Mrs. Black’s lips froze into a thin line. “The person to whom you refer died in the year nineteen hundred and seventy-seven,” she snarled.

Then there’s no need for you to hang around, is there?” Harry seethed. He reached up, and firmly grabbed the frame around Mrs. Black’s portrait. Despite pulling as hard as he could, he was unable to budge the frame. “Accio Mrs. Black’s portrait!” he thundered. The frame shook against the wall and bits of plaster fell, but it remained in place and Mrs. Black indulged in cruel laughter.

Dobby glared at the cackling portrait, waggled his fingers and muttered something guttural and unaccountably dark. The portrait and a jagged portion of the wall to which it had been attached tumbled to the floor.

“Destroy me, but it changes nothing! You will never win! You are an abomination, and the Dark Lord shall rid us of you!” Mrs. Black shrieked.

Harry brandished his wand, and shouted “Iugulo!” over and over again until he rent the portrait and frame into pieces. “Incendio!” he cried, and the pile of oily canvas strips and slivers of wood burst into white-hot flames. When the flames died, only cinders remained. He snapped, “Scourgify!” until every trace of Mrs. Black’s portrait was scrubbed clean.

You continue to climb in my estimation, Mister Potter,” Phineas Nigellus said. “I have not heard the throat-slashing curse uttered for many a year; it was a rather dramatic choice.”

Harry’s blood ran cold, and he fell into thoughts of Luna and Bellatrix Lestrange, that led inevitably to Sirius. Dobby squeezed Harry’s hand, and then turned his glare on Phineas Nigellus. “Harry Potter is a great wizard and he is here to claim what is his,” he said tremulously.

Phineas Nigellus haughtily regarded Harry with shrewd heavy-lidded eyes. “An underfed half-blood and a freed house-elf… thus is the future of the House of Black,” the portrait sighed; its air of superiority reminded Harry of the Malfoys. “Very well. The House of Black lies at your feet… such as it is,” Phineas Nigellus went on. “I never held the belief that all those lacking purity of blood merited exclusion, let alone extermination. Headmaster Dumbledore correctly observes that such practices are self-destructive; if the current Dark Lord were successful, the wizarding world would eventually cease to exist. However, I do believe that careful husbandry of the remaining pure houses is in the best interests of all. Let me be clear, Mister Potter – to my mind, with the Black and Lestrange lines extinguished, the young Malfoy is the rightful heir to this House. Even the eldest Weasley son holds a more honest claim than do you. What Sirius has wrought is an artful dodge, to safeguard the assets of the House from the current Dark Lord and his minions. I respect his artistry; it was a shining example of his heritage. Moreover, I shall respect the legality of this dodge. Under the law, you are the master of the House of Black and I shall not prevent you from claiming what is yours –”

Which is…?” Harry snapped.

Phineas Nigellus coolly arched an eyebrow. “You will show me respect,” he demanded, and his voice owned the room. Harry nodded, but fixed a level stare on the portrait.

The portrait smiled, and Harry wished that it would stop. “You have an unexpected grasp of position,” Phineas Nigellus smirked. “This tower is yours. The lands upon which it is situated are yours. The ancestral castle and grounds are also yours –”

Er… Sirius ordered those sold, to replenish the Black Trust,” Harry said.

Phineas Nigellus scowled. “One cannot sell that which one does not own. The castle belongs to the master of the House of Black. Another may occupy it. It may even be paid for. It cannot be sold. The castle remains under your control, and it shall always remain under control of the master of this House. Now, if I might continue – without interruption… control of the House Trust is yours, as are any monies specifically assigned to you. Headmaster Dumbledore has explained your legal status to me, and I must therefore accept the custodial arrangements that have been put into place.” The portrait went silent, and Harry said nothing.

Speak!” Phineas Nigellus exhorted.

Harry smirked at the portrait. “I didn’t want to interrupt you. Is there anything else?”

The blood-curdling smile returned to Phineas Nigellus’ face. “Knowledge, boy – you lay claim to knowledge. In the bowels of this tower, you will find a collection of magical artefacts and artifices that once was the greatest in private hands. You will also find the balance of my library. A sampling was kept at the London manor, and the leavings can be found in the reading room above us. There are texts and scrolls in the main collection that have not been examined for ten centuries. In addition, you inherit the collective experience of those depicted in this room. Every known charm, curse or potion has been brewed, cast or defended against by at least one wizard present here. Perhaps ‘the power that He knows not’ may be found amongst the books, or perhaps from my brethren on these walls?”

Harry’s mind raced. He’d thought about the knowledge that ghosts held; he’d asked Nearly-Headless Nick about the Veil, after all. He hadn’t really considered the knowledge that might be held by portraits, despite being constantly surrounded by them at Hogwarts. His eyes traced across the rows of faces – some were regal, some were haughty, and a few were thoroughly frightening. Have they really seen everything? he wondered. Is the answer here?

Dobby tugged hard on Harry’s arm, until he bent down, and then whispered forcefully, “Dobby must speak to Harry Potter, but there are many ears within this room.”

Harry resisted the impulse to turn and look again at the portraits. Instead he recalled Dumbledore’s spell work at the birthday party, and casually flicked his wand until he could hear the faint echoes of their breathing inside the silent space. “All right, we’re alone,” he said quietly.

Dobby wonders if there are many copies of Headmaster Nigellus’ portrait?” the house-elf squeaked nervously.

Harry returned, “Three that I know of – Dumbledore’s office, Grimmauld Place, and now here. Why?”

Portraits always keep the secrets. Headmaster Dumbledore told me so, and he is a great wizard,” Dobby said. “Headmaster Nigellus spoke a secret, Harry Potter. He said… I cannot say, but it is a secret – Harry Potter’s secret.” Dobby pointed a long finger toward the wall. “That one is a Malfoy. Dobby knows that there is one copy…”

Harry paled. “He wouldn’t possibly… Dumbledore would obliterate him!” How did I miss that? he cursed himself. The silent space vanished abruptly, and he went round on Phineas Nigellus. “How is it that you could talk about ‘the power that He knows not’?” he demanded. “How is it that you know everything of Sirius’ will?”

Phineas Nigellus laughed. “Not certain about me, are you? Were you aware that Headmaster Dumbledore considered having me removed, early in his tenure? I believe that he is satisfied with the decision to leave me be. When a portrait receives information that originated from a person, even second-hand or third-hand, it may only reveal that information to a second person if the first person permits it. Even if the portraits in this room overhear us, none may share what we exchange unless you actively offer your permission to do so. As to the second question, there was much to be heard at Grimmauld Place over this summer – and still is.”

Harry struggled to make sense of Phineas Nigellus’ explanation. “But how… how do they know… I mean, if it’s really third-hand, then somehow portraits have to remain aware of who said what, and when… how?

Phineas stared at Harry as though he had just grown a second head. “Magic, of course! Surely you can’t be so daft?”

Harry turned to Dobby. “Is this what you meant, when you were talking about portraits and secrets?” Dobby nodded mutely.

The portrait’s face returned to a stony glare. “A measure of distrust is a wise thing to maintain, Mister Potter. I am not offended in the slightest that you distrust me. You’d do well to hold a measure in reserve for the house-elf, as well. How long has the toe-rag been free?”

Harry Potter made M-m-master Malfoy free me, three years ago,” Dobby said nervously.

Phineas Nigellus crooked an eyebrow. “Three years? Goodness, Mister Potter, I wonder if you recognise what you have on your hands.”

 

Phineas Nigellus hadn’t elaborated, and they had moved on quickly to other business, but Harry did wonder what he had meant. Nonetheless, Dobby had proven at every turn that he could be trusted. True, the house-elf didn’t always deliver what was intended, but Harry didn’t doubt for an instant that he meant well.

Harry informed Dobby that he planned to walk to St. Ebb. He figured that Death Eaters or other undesirables would probably be looking for the Bonnie or a broom. Dobby frowned again, and Harry very nearly laughed. "Dobby would prefer to pop Harry Potter to where he is going," he offered.

"Harry Potter could try popping there himself," Harry returned with a sly grin.

Dobby's big eyes grew bigger. "Harry Potter needs much more practice before popping beyond what he can see!"

"There's the little matter of secrecy, Dobby - I was joking," insisted Harry. He frowned slightly, and added, "And I didn't take half the tower with me."

Dobby crossed his bony arms, and agitatedly tapped his foot. Harry winced at the thought of his memorable ‘popping’ lesson.

 

You really think that I… erm… ‘popped’?” Harry asked.

Dobby nodded enthusiastically. “Harry Potter popped from the chair to Miss Granger – Dobby is certain of that.”

Harry wasn’t sure what to think. On the one hand, the possibility of understanding what had happened to him was enticing. On the other hand, the idea that he was performing house-elf magic was a bit disturbing. Looking for a simpler explanation, he asked, “Is popping the same thing as Apparation, then?”

Popping is better than Apparation, Harry Potter,” Dobby whispered, as though he were afraid of being overheard.

How’s that?” wondered Harry.

Dobby can pop the sundries and the bags from the greengrocer, and Dobby can pop anywhere,” the house-elf said proudly.

Can you tell me how it works?” Harry asked quickly.

Dobby shrugged. “Dobby just pops, like Harry Potter just pops.”

If I am, uh, ‘popping’, then I don’t know how or why I’m doing it,” Harry sighed.

Dobby wiped at his brow, and then squinted at the ceiling and tapped his foot. “Dobby thinks popping is like walking, only faster. Dobby walks across the room, but only takes one step, and pop!

Just like walking…” Harry shook his head. “Do you say anything in particular, or maybe do that finger-waggling thing?”

Dobby fidgeted from foot to foot, and lowered his head. “Words are for wizards, Harry Potter. House-elves just do things.”

So Harry tried to ‘step’ across the great hall in the way of a house-elf. He tried, and he tried, and then he tried some more. His brow wrinkled in concentration, and then confusion. He broke into a sweat with the strain of thinking about the other side of the room, and absolutely nothing happened. Dobby continued to fidget, as though he were ready to say something but instead held back.

When Harry kicked at the floor in frustration, Dobby stepped forward and took Harry’s hand. He pointed at the opposite corner of the room, and said, “We pop there, Harry Potter.” The walls swam, and Harry felt like he was being sucked across the room at the same time as he was being shoved from behind. It wasn’t at all like the Floo, where there was really nothing to see. Dobby was right, Harry realised – it was rather like walking very fast. As suddenly as they had started forward, they stopped, and Harry somersaulted into the wall.

Harry groaned, and gingerly moved one limb at a time. Dobby immediately started to bang his head against the floor, and Harry had to topple him in order to stop the punishment. The house-elf cried, “Dobby is a menace! Harry Potter could have popped into the wall!”

It’s all right, it’s all right!” Harry insisted. “I’m glad you did it. I… I felt what you did, and it makes sense now, I think.” He stood up, and gave the opposite wall of the hall a determined look. He closed his eyes, and thought hard about how the magic had felt, the way it had swirled around him and through him. A breeze rushed through the hall, as though the windows had been opened.

Dobby squealed, “No, Harry Potter! It is different to pop –” just as the hall began to contract. There was a powerful rush of air and a squelching sound, like a door being magically sealed. Harry reached the opposite wall in a flash; he barely had a chance to brace himself before he passed right through it. He screamed and abruptly came to a stop, ten feet outside the wall and fifteen feet above the courtyard. His shoulder issued a crack! as he landed, followed by a reprise of the squelching sound. Half the contents of the serving table, two tapestries, an Oriental rug and shards of glass from three windows fell on top of him.

There was a quiet pop! as Dobby appeared beside him. “Harry Potter does not listen! It is different to pop alone than with another,” he said crossly.

Ouch,” Harry managed.

Dobby looked at the pile of debris, and shook his head. “Harry Potter must like the cleaning and the repairing,” he muttered.

 

“It wasn’t half the tower,” Harry muttered.

Dobby continued to tap his foot. “There will be no popping by Harry Potter today,” he squeaked.

Harry winced. "I'm sorry, Dobby," he said earnestly. "Look, I appreciate everything you've done - I was going spare when you showed up. I'm not trying to make trouble for you, and I'm grateful that you're teaching me –"

Dobby's eyes watered. "Dobby is teaching the great Harry Potter... Dobby is beside himself, even though he can't be beside himself! Dobby was being wretched..." The house-elf eyed a doorframe suspiciously, and Harry put himself between Dobby and the door.

"No punishment," Harry said firmly. "I thought we had an understanding."

Dobby bowed his head. "Of course, Harry Potter."

Harry patted Dobby on the back, and sped out the door. Immediately, he took a page from Shacklebolt and silenced his footfalls. It wasn't something that would stand out to a Muggle, he figured, but it might make the difference in an encounter with a wizard. He disillusioned himself until he was well on the way to St. Ebb. Between a light Confundus charm, a glamour that lent his hair a brown cast, a wire-rimmed pair of spectacles different from his usual style, and unnaturally quiet feet, he managed to avoid a single wayward glance along the five miles of empty rural carriageways and teeming village lanes.

He ducked into an empty alley and ended the glamour. Back on the high street, he hesitated at a familiar door, but The Greek spotted him and gave a not-entirely-unfriendly wave. There was no choice now, not that there had really been a choice at all. Harry walked into L'Oiseau Chanteur cloaked in tattered confidence, and allowed himself to be led to the small table - a two-top, Harry recalled - set discreetly near the kitchen.

The Greek abruptly sat down across from Harry, who nearly dropped his serviette in shock. "You are not so good today," he said in a thick, heavily accented voice that sounded like hammers crushing rock.

"I'm fine, thank you," Harry responded evenly, though his left leg was jittering beneath the tablecloth.

"Shona, she is plenty mad, you know," The Greek offered casually. "Ready to chop everyone like, ehh, aubergine - but she starts with you."

"Erm, glad to know that in advance, I guess," Harry managed.

The Greek waved his hand dismissively. "All talk, Shona. Still... you see her with the big knife, you run outside, okay?" He laughed like a man to whom laughter did not come easily, and then clapped Harry on the shoulder as he rose.

Harry froze, and spluttered, "I'll... I’ll keep that in mind..."

"You want drink?" The Greek asked. "Not wine - you need clear head, you know, in case." He made a show of removing the sharpest knife from the place setting opposite Harry, and then broke into grinding laughter.

Harry squirmed, and squeaked, "Just water for me, thanks.”

"She comes after the noon tasting is done, yes? Your Mister Tonka, he come at one, and then your Professor Dimple come at three, and then the last one come... after that," The Greek rattled off. "Busy day for you."

Harry nodded. "Busy day," he repeated.

"I talk to you later, ehh," The Greek grunted, then snapped his fingers and pointed harshly at a busboy, who in turn scuttled to the table with a full pitcher of water and a glass.

Harry watched Shona through the entry to the kitchen, as she barked at the servers about the day's menu. He wondered what had possessed her to contact him, and what had possessed him to respond. The servers fanned out to their stations, the kitchen staff turned back to their six-burners and broilers and stockpots, and Shona strode purposefully toward Harry’s table. He couldn’t crawl beneath the table – not only was it too late, but the table was too small. She left behind her apron, the one with the belt and the loops that held a variety of very sharp things, and he took that as a hopeful sign.

Before Harry could finish thinking about what to say, Shona grabbed the chair opposite him, twirled it around, flopped onto the seat, leant forward against the chair’s back, and growled, “Yer a pain in the arse, the both of yeh… och, all three of yeh.”

If Moody had said that, or Tonks, Harry would have snapped back or at least have attempted a smart remark. With Shona, it was different; something about her brooked no disagreement. Instead, he simply said, “Hello, Shona.”

She took the pitcher of water from the table, filled the glass, and drank it down. When the glass was empty, she set it down firmly, and slowly let out an exasperated sigh. “Figured I’d corner yeh while he was still down and out. He’s curled up in the cottage.”

Harry’s eyebrows rose slowly, until he was fairly sure they would eventually reach the back of his head. “But he’s… I mean, he doesn’t have the, er, medicine that he used to take…”

“He won’t hurt me,” she said flatly.

Harry began to worry for Shona, and wondered if he still had it in him to worry about Lupin. “He wouldn’t mean to hurt you,” he returned.

“We’ve both been hurt enough. He won’t hurt me,” she repeated.

“What about Heather, then?” he demanded.

“She isn’t here,” Shona returned.

Harry let it drop. “Why did you want to see me?” he asked.

Shona fiddled with the tablecloth, and didn’t meet his eyes. It didn’t seem like something she would do, and Harry didn’t know what to make of it “Yeh need ta patch things up,” she said quickly. “This is killin’ him.”

I need to patch things up?” Harry barked, and Shona’s head snapped up. “I need to patch things up?” he repeated in a much quieter voice. “He knows where to find me. If he thinks I’ll come crawling to him and Dumbledore, then he doesn’t know me at all.”

“Remus doesn’t know yer here, and he’s in no shape ta know anythin’ today,” Shona shot back. “I’m sayin’ yeh need ta patch things up.”

Harry nearly shouted back at her, but her nervousness had startled him, and there was something even more disconcerting about the look on her face. He fidgeted a bit, then said, “I’m listening.”

She crossed her arms defensively and chewed on her lower lip, and waited until well after he became uncomfortable with the silence. “No point in getting’ all girly on yeh, but… here’s the thing. I know people,” she said. “Yer thinkin’ Shona’s a nasty bint, so how could she know people, but it’s the truth. Yeh cannae make a livin’ in this business if yeh cannae size people up –cooks, suppliers, patrons…” she stopped, and added with a smirk, “…effin’ critics… all of them, yeh know?”

The corners of Harry’s mouth flickered just a little. “Yeah, I know about critics,” he allowed, “and I don’t think you’re a, you know… a bint.”

Shona snorted, and went on, “Remus, he hasn’t changed much. He’d be the last ta say so, but he’s…” she stopped, and Harry waited for her to go on. “…he’s more of everything than he was, when I knew him. He was intense, now he’s more intense. He was loyal, now he’s more loyal. He was…” She suddenly grinned, and Harry was completely thrown off. “Well, that’s not yer business. He’s… he’s just more, but he’s the same person, right?”

She paused again, and Harry wondered whether to say something; he just couldn’t grasp where she was heading. “I’m not getting this,” he blurted out.

“When yeh want ta size up a person, yeh have ta get in his head,” she instructed. “With Remus… all his friends are dead and buried, he thought I was dead – and that he’d made it happen – and he dinnae know a thing about Heather. Then he shows up here and it all turns upside down fer him. How did yeh expect he’d feel?”

“I’d expect him to be happy, I guess,” Harry returned. “I’d expect he’d want you to be part of his life. I thought I was part of that, too.”

“I said yeh have ta get in his head,” chided Shona. “He lost damn near everythin’, and now some of it comes back. He’s scared – thinks that if he blinks, it’ll disappear.” She laughed, but it was hollow. “I ran away from livin’ fer ten years – gave up my own daughter over it – and he doesn’t think he deserves me. Heather’s shat on him fer a week, and he just took it; said she has every right ta do it. All that, and he’d stand up fer us just because of who we are, you know?”

“That I’d believe,” Harry muttered, because he’d seen it. He couldn’t escape thoughts of the morning after the club, when he’d walked into the row that had set everything else in motion.

Ron and Ginny sat on the stairs that led to the great hall. No one inside the hall had bothered to cast a silencing charm. Harry could hear Mrs. Weasley’s voice, raised to a pitch that could cut glass, interspersed with Lupin’s very unwelcome growl. Ginny was on the cusp of either screaming or spewing up, and Ron was clearly stricken. Harry pulled out his wand, quietly muttered ‘Everbero’, and flicked toward the sealed door three times.

The shouting inside the hall stopped. Someone inside – Harry couldn’t make out the voice for certain – shouted, “What in Merlin’s name was that?”

Mrs. Weasley – there was no mistaking her voice, Harry thought – said, “Neither Ron nor Ginny would bang loud enough to wake the dead unless... oh, good heavens!” There was a loud popping-squelching sound, and the door flew open.

Harry burst through, very nearly running down Mrs. Weasley, and demanded, “What’s going on here?”

Mrs. Weasley gasped. “Harry, dear – there you are! Is everyone all right? Tell me everyone’s all right! Ron and Ginny –”

Are just fine,” Harry snarled. “I didn’t expect to hear shouting in my home, or to be locked out of my hall, so I knocked.

Mrs. Weasley resorted to nervous shuffling, and Harry saw that Tonks was taking close notice of her own feet. Mr. Weasley offered earnestly, “Harry, we should have owled first – our apologies.”

Harry relented a bit. “That’s not necessary,” he said, but then added with some bitterness, “It seems this is becoming the new Headquarters.”

Let me look at you. Have you been eating properly?” Mrs. Weasley asked, and moved as if to embrace him. He sidestepped her, and her eyebrows beetled.

I’ve eaten very well,” he said, “better than Hogwarts, I think.” His eyes passed from the elder Weasleys to Bill, then Tonks, and finally to Remus Lupin. He rode out a wave of loathing, and then added flatly, “Shona’s a brilliant chef.”

Mrs. Weasley looked from Harry to Lupin and back to Harry again. “Arthur’s right, of course. We didn’t mean to intrude,” she said.

I’m becoming accustomed to uninvited guests,” Harry said coldly. “Besides, I’ve always been welcome at the Burrow, and your family is always welcome here. Are the apologies for the shouting, then, or are you just sorry that I walked in on it?”

Mrs. Weasley flushed. “I see that we are intruding,” she said sharply. “We’ll take this elsewhere.”

Harry barked at Lupin, “So, why are you here?”

Lupin’s face was redder than Harry could remember ever having seen it. “I came with the intention of talking to you about what happened last evening. I expected the possibility of a screaming row with you. I hadn’t considered the possibility of one with her.”

Harry watched Lupin shift from red to something more violet, and Mrs. Weasley glower unflinchingly, before he asked, “Will someone tell me what’s happened here?”

This is something that Molly and Remus need to work out, Harry. It might be best to let them alone – perhaps the rest of us should take our leave?” Mr. Weasley offered.

No,” Harry said firmly. “I won’t have this in my house. Settle it here and now, or everyone leaves.”

Agreed,” Lupin seethed.

Mrs. Weasley smiled indulgently at Harry, and it only served to irritate him. “Arthur is right, Harry. I’m sure that Ron and Ginny would love to talk to you –” she began.

Harry crossed his arms. “Sending me out with the children, are you?” Mrs. Weasley moved as if to scold him, then caught his eyes and stood stock still.

This is none of your affair, Harry,” Lupin warned.

When Lupin refused to say anything more, and it was clear that the elder Weasleys were not going to offer an explanation, Harry looked to Tonks. “Well? Spit it out!”

Tonks laughed nervously. “Not treading into the middle of this – sorry.”

Harry turned to Bill. “And you?”

Bill held his hands up. “This was supposed to be about the violin,” he insisted.

So what is it about now?” Harry shouted in exasperation. “Look, no one’s leaving this room until I know what all this is about!”

Mr. Weasley said, “Mostly it seems to be about obstinance,” and Mrs. Weasley shot him a wicked glare.

Lupin advanced on Harry. “Very well, since you insist upon forcing the issue... it appears that my daughter isn’t good enough to associate with Mrs. Weasley’s children – which is just as well,” he said bitterly.

I didn’t say that,” Mrs. Weasley protested.

Lupin edged forward on the balls of his feet, and Harry’s hand tightened around his wand. Harry mustered the calmest voice he could manage. “What did you say, then?” he asked.

She referred to Heather as a round-heeled trollop,” Lupin said through clenched teeth.

Mrs. Weasley looked away. “I apologise for that,” she said. “It was said in the heat of the moment, and it was uncalled for.”

Harry’s wand shook in his fist. “Uncalled for? I’d say so, for a start!” he snarled.

Some things cannot be wished away,” Lupin said dangerously, teeth still clenched.

Harry felt the anger flood into him, and he didn’t care. “You come into my home, and you say that about my friend?” His voice dropped, his eyes narrowed, and he spat, "Who in the hell do you think you are?”

Mrs. Weasley turned her ire on him. “Mind your language, Harry! Tell me, what kind of ‘friend’ would take up with both you and my poor Ron in a single day? What kind of ‘friend’ would corrupt my Ginny into life as a… a…minstrel! And she may not be a trollop, Remus, but I understand that she dresses as one!”

Mr. Weasley moved forward, and put her hand on her arm. “Molly, stop this,” he said. “There’s nothing to be gained, and a great deal to be lost.”

I suppose it’s perfectly acceptable amongst her sort to behave in that way,” Mrs. Weasley said emphatically, “but it’s not acceptable with respect to my family.”

Lupin stormed toward Mrs. Weasley, so quickly that Mr. Weasley jumped between them. “Heather is my daughter, and I will not tolerate your denigration of her,” he growled.

Harry felt the heat of anger rush into him. “Her sort is my sort,” he said quietly.

Lupin and Mrs. Weasley continued to bark at each other, as Harry boiled. “I said, her sort is my sort,” he interjected more forcefully, but the squabble continued apace.

Harry… um… are you all right? You… er… you look a bit off…” Tonks stammered. She slid her chair backward noticeably.

You’re a sight, Harry,” Mr. Weasley said with concern. “Perhaps you should sit for a moment.” He looked to his wife and added, “Perhaps we all should sit.”

Didn’t anyone hear me? I said, Heather’s sort is my sort!” Harry roared, and the windows rattled.

Mrs. Weasley’s eyes widened. “Oh, Harry! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that at all!”

Mr. Weasley insisted, “Let’s take a seat – everyone – and talk this through. We’ll handle this with dignity.”

As Mrs. Weasley edged toward a chair, Lupin glared at Mr. Weasley. “Your wife is holding my daughter responsible for your children’s behaviour. The only thing to be handled is an apology.”

Mrs. Weasley stood bolt upright. “Fancy yourself an expert on raising a child, do you?” she screeched. “Look me in the eye and tell me that your daughter behaved appropriately last night, and we’ll discuss apologies.”

Harry’s reserve ran out. He shouted, “HAS EVERYONE HERE GONE MAD?”

Mrs. Weasley’s jaw dropped, but Harry paid no mind. He bore down on her, his voice increasingly more powerful. “First, Heather didn’t take up with Ron. Second, she hasn’t taken up with me, either.” He jabbed his finger angrily at Lupin. “He’s going to see to that, I can assure you! Third, she invited Ginny to play with her bloody band last night – ONCE – so I’m lost as to how Ginny has been ruined somehow. Fourth, you’re all barking about the bloody violin! Have Professor Flitwick look over the damned thing! Sweet Merlin! Maybe being tossed out of the room like a stupid child isn’t so bad, if this is how you go on!”

Harry… let’s just sit, please?” Mr. Weasley asked plaintively.

Arthur’s right, Harry,” Lupin added quietly. “I’ve gone too far.”

Harry ignored both of them. He was burning, and he felt like the burning would stop if he just spoke his peace. He kept his eyes on Mrs. Weasley. “I expect this kind of rubbish from the Daily Sodding Prophet. To hear it from you… it’s like fourth year again. I don’t know what to think. I know you lost your home… you could have died, and… and most of your family along with you… all because you know me… because you’ve stood up for me, taken me in. So you can be angry with me. You should be angry with me, but don’t you… don’t you dare take this out on Heather! You don’t know her; you don’t know anything about her! For Merlin’s sake, she’s been drawn into all of this whether she likes it or not, and I know how that feels! I won’t let you do that to her. I won’t have it… do you hear me? I won’t have it! Hate me – hate ME, damn it!” He paced nervously, unaware that all the people in the room save Lupin were edging back.

Look at us!” Harry shouted. “We’re standing here, fighting over nothing, and Voldemort’s an arm’s length away – just waiting to kill everyone here! I’m no better – I’ve spent my summer running! I ran here, and there’s no running from him… from this. I’m tired of it! I’m tired of people being hurt. I’m tired of running! I’ve had enough! This needs to END!” All the windows in the great hall exploded as one. He fell to his knees, grabbed the edge of the table tightly to steady himself, and watched in horror as the wood smoked and crumbled in his grasp.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ron rush toward him from the open doorway. “Don’t!” he croaked. “Stay where you are!”

Just as at the Grangers’, Harry felt a hand on his back. “Nonsense,” Mr. Weasley said calmly. “You’d never hurt any of us. I know that, even if you don’t.” Mr. Weasley extended his other hand to help Harry up. Harry refused it, and remained kneeling.

Mrs. Weasley teetered between shock and concern. “What… can we do for you, Harry?” she asked, her hands trembling.

Just leave – all of you,” he said quietly.

Tonks was the only one who dared speak. “That’s the one thing we can’t do,” she returned.

Harry stood slowly. “I’m going for a walk. When I come back, I expect you’ll all be gone.”

Harry, it’s not safe –” Tonks began.

You’re right – it’s not safe,” Harry snapped, as he gestured at the burned table and scattered shards of glass. “Get out, all of you!

He stormed down the stairs, brushed past Ginny and shot out the black door.

 

“…tryin’ to protect Heather, right?” Shona looked at Harry expectantly, and he blinked hard.

He blushed faintly. “Erm… sorry?”

“I said, he’s not tryin’ ta hurt yeh, he’s tryin’ to protect Heather, that’s all,” Shona repeated. “He doesn’t know what ta do, and he’s drownin’ in it.”

“Didn’t even say goodbye to her,” Harry muttered.

Shona didn’t seem to hear. “He’s been tryin’ ta convince her that she should forget the whole thing. I mean, really forget it, you know? He tried the same with me.”

Harry gripped the edge of the table, and willed himself to feel cold. “W-what did she say? What did you say?”

“Calm yerself, Harry. I won’t have a scene here,” Shona said quietly but forcefully. She refilled the glass from the pitcher of water, and shoved it into his hands. Harry sipped at it between breaths. After several sips, he said, “Well?”

Shona smirked. “I told him it was hard ta know where his arse stopped and his head started. Good enough for yeh?” He pressed his serviette to his lips, to keep from spraying water. She added, “And Heather? She can look after herself. She says the old man’s worried about this thing she can do. I pressed Remus and he said the same. The other one – Snip, or Skip, or whatever he is – well, yeh’d be daft ta trust that one.” Harry buried his whole face in the serviette and shook with laughter.

“Not yer favourite?” she asked.

“No,” he blurted between chortles, “but you have him right in one.”

She studied him carefully and said nothing, for long after he settled himself. He found it unnerving. She was proving to be as up-and-down as Heather, and Harry hadn’t expected that.

Her voice was soft and quiet when she spoke again. “Things coulda been so different, you know. Even if everything had went to hell anyway, yeh could have been with…” She sighed, took the glass from him, and drained it. “Yeh’d have grown up with someone that cared for yeh. Heather woulda grown up right, not with that hag of a cousin – and that’s all on me, I know that. Yeh’d have had a sister of sorts, maybe.” Her eyes took on a far-off quality, and she finished with a whisper, “So different…”

“I’m sorry that it…” Harry started, but he trailed off. “I’m just sorry.”

“Tell him that, don’t tell me,” Shona said. “He needs yeh – and I think yeh need him, even if yeh don’t see it now.”

Harry hesitated, then said, “I can’t do that. I’m not sorry for what I said.”

Shona’s eyes widened. “Yeh have ta be sorry! Yeh can’t have meant –”

Harry stiffened. “He meant everything, all of it,” he insisted, “and I meant what I said as well.”

“I told you yeh have ta get inside his head, ta understand –” Shona started.

“How do you think I know he meant it all?” Harry asked coldly. “I didn’t even have to try, you know? He was wearing it like a bloody robe. I’m responsible for my parents’ deaths, and he loathes me for it… for… for getting Sirius… killed… he…” He stopped and squeezed the edge of the table, but tried to keep the icy-cold pitcher in his mind.

“Harry… yeh can’t carry this. It’ll eat yeh up – I know,” Shona offered.

“I can’t forgive him for that, not even if he’s right,” Harry said firmly.

“It was fear talkin’, and no more,” insisted Shona. “If yeh hadna… yeh know… had yer little moment with Heather, he wouldna –”

Harry released his grip on the table as he felt a wash of anger. “It wasn’t a little moment,” he shot back. “It was a lot more than that.”

Shona’s eyes narrowed. “Yeh knew her fer what – two weeks? Don’t make more of it than it was.”

Harry glared at her. “Knew her? Funny, I don’t think of Heather as being in my past.”

Shona pursed her lips. “Yeh’d better start.”

“You sound exactly like him,” sneered Harry. “If that’s how you feel, we’ve nothing to talk about.”

“Don’t yeh think it’s best ta stay away? Can’t yeh see that?” Shona retorted.

Harry took advantage of the days he’d had to replay his falling out with Lupin. “What if Remus had explained everything straight away, say two weeks after you met? Would you have run away? Would you have let him run away?”

“It was different,” Shona snarled.

“After just two weeks? How was it any different?” Harry demanded.

She shouted back, “Because we knew it was us – me and him – not some mad bit of…” and then suddenly stopped herself. She finished in a whisper, “…some mad bit of magic, makin’ us all bothered fer each other.”

“It wasn’t like that!” Harry shot back. Servers and patrons were looking at them, he realised, and he tried to force all the frustration back inside. “What about you?” he muttered with his eyes closed. “It’s not like you knew him for years. Why wasn’t that magic?”

Shona shook her head. “It was me and him, no question,” she said.

“Then why is it any different with me and Heather – because you’re her mum?” Harry blurted out.

Shona looked down at her hands. “Seven years, off and on, and I’ve seen Heather keep a head fer two things, and two things only – her music and herself,” she answered. “She’s mine and I’m proud of what she’s done, but she’s got no room fer yeh and that’s the truth of it.”

Harry shook his head. “I know her,” he insisted. “I saw everything. You’re wrong.”

“I won’t sit by and let her get herself killed fer want of a warm bed,” Shona snapped.

Harry burst into a coughing fit. “You… think that’s… what I… see in her?” he managed. “She's my friend.”

“I think she gets lonely, and she gets wrapped up for a month or so, and then there’s something else ta do – that’s what I think,” Shona said. “I like yeh – hope yeh know that – but she’s not right fer yeh and yer no good fer her, not now.”

Harry’s face burned crimson, and he fumbled for words. “Why does it matter that… that I forgive him, then – answer me that? He… he has you… you have both of them – looks like… it looks like everyone’s fine, doesn’t it?” He crossed his arms, and added forcefully, “He doesn’t need anything from me, and I won’t need anything from him in a year or two.”

“Yeh don’t have ta make it this way –” Shona started.

“How else am I supposed to make it?” Harry wondered aloud. He looked away, and sighed, “Tell him… tell him I’m sorry it has to be like this.”

Shona sat there quietly for a few moments, then glanced over her shoulder at the kitchen. A frown flashed across her face, and then she sighed before turning to Harry. “Do yer business, then,” she said. “Eat here when yeh want – I won’t stop yeh. Come see Remus when yeh want – I’ll point yeh to him. But listen to me, boy: stay away from Heather. I’m asking yeh now; go behind my back, and I won’t be askin’ the next time.” Harry resolutely kept his mouth closed. She stood, and added, “Yeh don’t have ta fear Remus on this. Get her crossed up with your business, and all the stick-wavin’ in the world won’t save yeh from me… and yer food’ll be out in a spiff.”

Harry felt like all the air had bled out of his lungs, but he succeeded in squeaking, “I didn’t order.”

“Yeh’ll get what I give yeh,” Shona snorted, and strode into her domain. What she gave him was a meal adventuresome by any standard, but Harry refused to be defeated. The servers gaped at him periodically, as if he were mad to keep eating.

The Greek, for his part, seemed to weigh Harry’s odds of survival with each glance. “How you doing? You quit yet?” he asked each time that he passed. “Slower than the knife, ehh,” he grunted another time, and then indulged a throaty laugh. At length, Harry ate every bite; his stomach gurgled, but he was victorious. By the time Ted Tonks entered the restaurant, plates were cleared, place settings replaced, and water glasses filled.

Mr. Tonks looked grim. He gave Harry a curt nod, and set his valise atop the table. Rummaging inside, he withdrew a small glittering box; he touched its sides in a pattern, eliciting a faint glow, and placed it next to the valise. Then, he tucked in and said flatly, “Good afternoon.” With a glance at the box, he added, “It seems best to assure our privacy.”

“Thank you for coming,” Harry said. “Erm… how are you?”

“Fine. How’s your jaw?” Mr. Tonks muttered as he reached down and rummaged through the valise.

Harry’s cheeks flushed. “It’s not sore anymore,” he mumbled.

“Dora visited last evening, and provided me with her version of recent events,” Mr. Tonks snapped. “I’m not sorry she walloped you, Harry,” Mr. Tonks frowned. “I presume that you were trying to make her shove off, but what you said to her was… it was… bringing Sirius into it was reprehensible.” Harry studied the carpeting, but nodded.

Mr. Tonks shoved a file folder toward Harry. “I’m glad you have the good sense not to offer excuses. When Dumbledore calls an end to this nonsense of his, I expect you’ll apologise to her – not because I say so, but because you wronged her and a sensible adult offers amends when he wrongs someone.” Harry began to speak up, but Mr. Tonks added, “Being wronged by someone, even for an extended period, doesn’t require or even justify that you respond in kind. I’ve told Dora this. I’ve also said the same to Remus. This applies to you as well, Harry, and I’d add Dumbledore to that list if he’d deign to listen.”

Harry sat back in his chair, and felt more than a bit off-balance. “How did you…?”

“Anticipate where you were headed? It’s part and parcel with my profession… and I’m good at it, as it happens,” Mr. Tonks answered with a smirk. “Good thing, given that I’m both disorganised and perfectly lacking in practical skills.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “Disorganised? But how…?”

“It’s all Andromeda,” Mr. Tonks admitted. “Without her, I couldn’t find my robes in the morning.” He took on a slightly wistful look and fell silent.

“Er… do you want to order?” Harry asked.

“Thank you, no,” Mr. Tonks returned. “The food’s lovely here, but I have to mind what I eat – the joys of mid-life, and all that. Shall we just press on with things?”

When Harry nodded, Mr. Tonks launched into an update on his progress with returning relief payments to the residents of St. Ebb. Well over half had gladly accepted the repayment with interest. A few had experienced serious hardships as a result of Diggle’s efforts, and Mr. Tonks was proceeding with settlements that befit the circumstances. A few chose to hold out, in hopes of more generous terms. Mr. Tonks pointed out that these had limited recourse, and advised distribution of cheques; he figured that some would simply cash the cheques on receipt, and that would be the end of it.

“What about the rest – the ones who don’t take the cheques?” Harry asked.

Mr. Tonks nodded, as he returned, “Two more, perhaps three, will continue to hedge; they’ll eventually take the cheques, I suspect. I see one or two choosing to set a solicitor after you. As you’re overpaying for my representation, I’ll set about having their claims quashed.”

“After Diggle, I don’t think I’m overpaying you,” Harry said.

Mr. Tonks laughed. “The fees from this work alone will exceed my net earnings from last year, Harry. You might be better served by simply taking a solicitor into your employ.”

Harry lit up. “You’d be interested in that?”

Mr. Tonks harrumphed for a moment, then recovered. “I prefer working on behalf of others to working for others, and it’s not healthy for a practice to rely on a single client. If you continue to require the lion’s share of my time, I’ll bring on additional associates.”

“Erm… how large is your business? Do I take up a lot of people?” Harry wondered.

Mr. Tonks turned very serious. “Our associates have no connection to your affairs. No one save Andromeda and me can access any documents, correspondence or other materials relating to you in any way. As far as others in my chambers are concerned, you don’t exist. You’re too important and you live at too much risk for any chances to be taken.” His expression lightened a bit, and he hastily added, “Besides, if anything happened to you and I was responsible for it, I’d be turned out of my own home.”

Harry opened the folder before him, and began to idly page through. “English… er, these are written in English, aren’t they?” he mumbled.

“Remus was rather insistent,” Mr. Tonks said delicately, as he settled back into his chair. “I held these until today, hoping that he’d come to his senses, but… he’s more or less foisted you upon me, Harry.”

Harry’s eyebrows beetled in confusion. “Foisted… what?”

Mr. Tonks pointed to the file folder. “You can read it all at your leisure, but I’ll sum up. Remus can’t surrender his responsibilities to the Black Trust, for a variety of reasons – for one, the arrangement was magically binding – but he’s not irrevocably obligated with regard to conservatorship. Frankly, there’s little to be done. The only area where you require approval is in the matter of entering into binding contracts, and that’s at issue in England only – not in Scotland. At any rate, he’s decided on an ordinary power of attorney, which –” He reached out and shook the edge of the folder lightly. Harry looked up, startled. “I’ll cut to the quick. Remus has authorised me to approve your dealings in his stead, for the next six months,” Mr. Tonks finished.

Harry dropped the sheaf of papers in his hand. “Six months… I… I see…”

“This is for the best, isn’t it?” Mr. Tonks offered.

Harry quickly looked up from his search for stray documents. “What is that supposed to mean?” he snapped.

“This does appear to be what you wanted,” Mr. Tonks explained casually. “You’ve systematically pushed away everyone directly connected to Dumbledore, after all.”

“Dumbledore did this. I didn’t do this,” insisted Harry. “He’s the one who appeared at my door, and said that it was time for me to take my place as an adult. He’s the one who took away the Or… the old crowd. He’s the one who ordered everyone to stay away.”

“I’m not holding Dumbledore blameless here,” Mr. Tonks said. “However, you’ve assumed that everyone simply jumps to his tune, haven’t you? Either that’s the case, or you’re pushing everyone away.”

“They all left,” Harry responded flatly.

“I didn’t leave because of Dumbledore; I left because you asked us to leave. The Lovegoods did the same,” returned Mr. Tonks. “Remus… well, Remus is managing to be piggish on his own. What about Bill Weasley? I understand he left behind a note of some kind?”

Harry wondered how on Earth Mr. Tonks knew about Bill’s note. “How did…? He told Tonks? But she might have talked to…”

Mr. Tonks frowned. “She didn’t. For one, she seems to fancy him – this week, at any rate. In fact, despite your behaviour toward her, Dora has a considerable appreciation for you.” He took off his reading spectacles, rubbed at them with the end of his tie, and added, “I suspect you don’t actually know her, or Bill for that matter.”

‘How would I have known anyone at all before this summer, other than the Weasleys or…?’ Harry hesitated and cleared his throat. ‘You haven’t found Hermione, have you? I nearly forgot to ask how that was coming.’

Mr. Tonks grimaced. ‘I was getting there. No, I haven’t been able to find out exactly where the Grangers have gone. I don’t believe Dora knows, by the way. However, I was told that Hermione Granger sent you a post –’

Harry sat up excitedly. ‘When? Where is it? I mean, I haven’t seen any…’ He stopped when Mr. Tonks winced.

‘Well… the thing is… taking everything into account… the post most likely arrived on the 24th…’ Mr. Tonks began tentatively.

Harry lowered his forehead until it rested on the tabletop. ‘I banished her post, didn’t I?’ he groaned.

‘Most likely, yes,’ Mr. Tonks nodded. ‘Now, Andromeda’s passed that along and I’m confident the young lady understands that –’

‘Hermione was told that I banished her post?’ Harry wailed. “Do you know what that sounds like?’

‘I daresay that Andromeda placed this bit of news in the proper context,’ Mr. Tonks chuckled. When Harry’s frown remained, he went on, ‘I only know what Dora has told me, Harry, but I presume you feel responsible for everything that happened at the Grangers’ home. You know… I’m Muggle-born, and I lived through the war with You-Know-Who –’

‘He has a name,’ Harry snapped.

‘Yes, he does,’ Mr. Tonks admitted, ‘and most of my clientele would soil themselves if I said that name in their presence. Fair enough – I lived through the war with Voldemort, and a second war looks ever more likely. Your friend is at grave risk by her own merits. She is Muggle-born, possibly the most notable Muggle-born of your generation thus far. True, that’s been enhanced by her association with you, but Dora tells me she’s no shrinking violet. The last time around, Voldemort went hard and fast after Muggle-borns. When he couldn’t get at students, he attacked their families. I know that your mother –’

Harry stiffened. ‘What about her?’

‘She was a very highly regarded student, very outspoken. I knew who she was, and I had little connection to Hogwarts by that time. You’ve not been told…?’ Mr. Tonks stopped. ‘I see,’ he continued quietly. ‘As I think about it, I doubt that it made the Daily Prophet. Bagnold was behaving very much as Fudge is behaving now, and there were cover-ups at every turn.’

‘They killed my mum’s… they killed my grandparents?’ Harry asked.

Mr. Tonks slowly nodded. ‘I don’t remember precisely when it happened, but I do recall that your mother was still a student. I only knew because Andromeda heard it from Sirius – she was still in touch with him during his school days, you see.’

The room swam before Harry’s eyes, and a terrible pain seared through his head. At some level he’d always suspected that Voldemort or his Death Eaters had killed his grandparents; there was no mention of them during his years with the Dursleys. It was very different to hear the words.

‘I’m sorry, Harry,’ Mr. Tonks whispered. ‘I was only trying to make the point that the Grangers may actually be safer by being close to you. I certainly didn’t intend to… I didn’t mean to be the bearer of bad tidings, truly.’

Harry couldn’t toss the table aside, couldn’t lay waste to the restaurant; he didn’t want to hurt Mr. Tonks, and he was determined to control the hate rather than let it control him. ‘It’s done,’ he said. ‘There’s nothing left, except for me to end this. I have to stop him.’

Mr. Tonks took in a sharp breath. ‘Is that why you’re seeking tutors? Are you seriously considering taking on… you mean to take on…?’ He stopped and decidedly lowered his voice. ‘You mean to take on Voldemort yourself? But that’s… that’s…’

‘Necessary,’ Harry returned flatly. ‘How are you coming with my list, then?’

‘Not well at all,’ Mr. Tonks said nervously. ‘Good gracious, Harry, if I’d understood what you were contemplating… I… I don’t know that I regret the lack of progress.’

Harry fidgeted, perched on the edge of his chair. ‘What do you mean, ‘not well’?’

Mr. Tonks took a sheet of paper from his valise, and it shook in his hand. He held it at arm’s length. ‘It’s like this… the Marquis deMaupassant is actually still alive – I had no idea – but quite ill at present… Vladimir Karensky’s whereabouts are unknown, and it seems he prefers that… Julia Cather’s husband declined on her behalf… Marcus Detheridge is otherwise engaged, and sends his regrets… Bret McCrary hexed four post owls, so I gave up on her – that gets expensive, you know… my contacts think Mad-Eye Moody might know where Klaus Adenauer is, but I can’t seem to locate Moody… Kanzan Yasutsuna is involved in some sort of major project, but offered his availability next year… David Narrandarrie thought that he shouldn’t teach you before springtime – for the life of me I don’t understand why; something about tests or quests or some such… and so it goes, on and on and on. I see three categories here: unable, unwilling and busy. I’m sorry, Harry, but I’ve struck out completely for this fall.’

‘Dumbledore will be thrilled,’ Harry deadpanned.

‘If he’s aware of what you have on your mind, then I can’t say as I’d fault him,’ Mr. Tonks chided him.

‘‘He’s probably behind it; he’s probably telling people to turn me away. He just wants control,” returned Harry, “that’s what he always wants.’

‘Why would he withdraw, then…? Ah, of course… control on his own terms.’ Mr. Tonks seemed to weigh the idea, then added, ‘It’s a concept based on observation, I’ll grant you that much.’

‘You, erm, don’t seem to like Dumbledore all that much…’ Harry ventured.

Mr. Tonks rummaged in his valise yet again. ‘Dumbledore’s a complicated man. He tends to bring out complicated emotions.’ He let a leather binder drop to the tabletop. ‘Things are rarely as they seem with him. I’ve known the man for nearly forty years, accounting for my school days, and all I know for certain is that I don’t know him.’ Two folders joined the binder. ‘I respect him more than anyone I’ve ever met. I firmly believe he seeks to do that which is good and right.’ He set a smattering of biros and pencils atop the folders. ‘I also believe he’s stubborn to a fault and more than a little self-righteous, considering that he was losing the war rather badly until… well, until you ended it. He’ll sacrifice people to the greater good, and I’ve made certain Dora sees that. I’ve come to believe that Dumbledore loves everyone, and no one in particular.’ He pulled a slim pair of spectacles from a case nestled within his suitcoat, and dangled them by one extended arm. ‘He’s been very near to the centre of the wizarding world since before I was born. I can’t begin to imagine what goes through the man’s mind, except…’ He slipped on the spectacles, which promptly slid to the end of his nose. ‘…I’d venture that he sees something of himself in you. I don’t know that, of course, but it’s the impression he left with me.’

‘I guess I should be glad he’s coming, then,” Harry sighed. “It looks like he’s my only alternative for a teacher, for one.’

Mr. Tonks pushed up his glasses. ‘He’s coming, is he? When did you speak with him?’

‘I didn’t speak to him – we exchanged posts,’ Harry answered. ‘He’ll be here in an hour or so.’

‘I see,’ said Mr. Tonks. He spoke slowly – carefully, Harry thought. ‘I’m pleased to hear that, not because I want a particular outcome, but because I think you need some resolution. I also suspect that learning from Dumbledore will benefit you far beyond any current objectives that you may have.’

‘What, after the war?’ Harry asked. ‘How do you mean?’

Mr. Tonks sighed. ‘Yes, following the war. Well, think on this – he is Albus Dumbledore, after all… a pupil and colleague of Nicholas Flamel, leading expert in several areas of magic, vanquisher of the last dark wizard, and as well connected as any wizard in the world.’ The corners of his mouth turned up slightly. ‘It’s fair to assume that you’d be his last student, Harry – the last person to receive his knowledge. Now combine that knowledge with his contacts, and your own reputation and merits… surely you can see the value.’

‘It’s hard for me to think that far ahead,’ Harry admitted.

They both fell silent for a time, while Mr. Tonks leafed through the folders atop his binder. He set a sheet of paper before Harry, covered by columns of numbers. ‘This is a balance sheet, that reflects the results of the repayments,’ he explained. ‘Do you recall when I told you about the trustee situation with the Potter Trust? I’ve initated a discussion with Fliptrask, the goblin at Gringotts in charge of these matters. He has determined that either new trustees must be appointed, or the trust must be dissolved. He was also willing to approve a one-time transfer from the trust into your personal account. I didn’t expect he’d do that.’

‘You were able to get the money I asked for, then? And the other things that I need?’ Harry wondered.

Mr. Tonks nodded slowly. ‘Fliptrask was apprehensive about the size of the exchange you requested. After Diggle’s misadventures… well, they’re a bit on edge. At any rate, it’s not in your best interests to annoy the goblins, so we struck an agreement. His staff arranged for a secondary Gringotts account, to hold the transferred Galleons from the Potter Trust. Rather than exchange it all at once, they’ve linked the account to a Muggle account with Lloyds. You can use up to 10,000 pounds per day, and Gringotts will automatically cover it. It’s easy for you to use, and Gringotts continues to generate fees – everyone’s satisfied this way.’

‘And… Fliptrask helps us get the Trust in order, because I’m doing something good for him,’ Harry thought out-loud.

‘You’re catching on to all this. Good show, Harry,’ Mr. Tonks grinned. He proceeded to give Harry a small supply of cheques and a Lloyds credit plate, and carefully explained how they were used and how transactions should be logged and so forth. Then he proferred a large sealed envelope. ‘I understand the need for the Muggle papers; in any case, Sirius set all of that in motion. He was determined that you be able to live free, as an adult, where you chose. Everything of importance is in the envelope; official copies, of course, with the originals safely put aside. We can go over it all at another time, if you like.” He hesitated. “It’s… very tempting to enquire why you wanted such a large amount of Muggle money… but… I prefer to give you the benefit of the doubt. Remember, no contracts in England unless I give the authorisation.’

Harry nodded solemnly, in acknowledgement of Mr. Tonks’ trust. ‘Er… should we do this regularly – meet, I mean?’ he asked.

‘We’ll have to do that, particularly as the trust arrangements are evaluated,’ Mr. Tonks agreed. As binders and folders and biros and finally the glittering box rained into the valise, he cleared his throat. ‘I have to ask this… er… how hard did Dora hit you, really?’

‘She knocked loose a tooth,’ Harry said ruefully. ‘Dobby had to fix it properly.’

‘That’s my girl,’ Mr. Tonks beamed. He stood, patted Harry on the shoulder, and added, ‘Contact me if you need anything. I’ll be in touch shortly.’

Harry was left alone with his water glass and his thoughts. He mulled over everything that Mr. Tonks had told him, but kept returning to the parts about Dumbledore. For once, someone hadn’t simply assumed that Dumbledore had a right to teach him, to control him. Mr. Tonks was swayed by Dumbledore’s abilities, and it was difficult to mount an opposing argument. Will he teach me what I need to know? Harry asked himself. He suspected Dumbledore didn’t really know how to kill Voldemort, but doubted that anyone did. I’ll let him teach me, then, but I won’t be a prisoner, he decided, I won’t let him lock me away – not anymore.

‘I won’t live in a cage… not like Sirius,’ he murmured. Not like Sirius. Everything that everyone had said about Sirius, everything that Hermione had said about guilt, everything that Sirius had said via the will – it all flowed back into Harry, and for the first time he knew that it was all true. Sirius did something foolhardy because he so badly wanted out of his cage; despite all the other mistakes – Dumbledore’s, Snape’s, his own – it really came down to that. ‘I understand, Padfoot – I understand,’ he added. A heaviness lifted from him, even as the loss struck him anew. He rubbed at his eyes, and blinked hard twice; the air around him had a faint shimmer to it, that was already fading.

Dumbledore was sitting quietly across from him. ‘It seemed inappropriate to disturb you,’ he said gently.

‘I’m fine. I was just… er, hello,” Harry stammered. He reached for his serviette, but Dumbledore extended a silken handkerchief instead. ‘I don’t need that,’ he insisted.

‘There is no shame in grief, unless you choose to feel ashamed,’ said Dumbledore. He let the handkerchief rest beside Harry’s elbow. ‘I should not have returned you to the Dursleys in June, Harry. Perhaps if I had simply done the right thing – sent you with the Weasleys, or perhaps allowed you to remain at Hogwarts –then you would have been able to properly grieve for Sirius.’

Harry’s teeth clenched. ‘If you hadn’t locked Sirius in that… that… that house, perhaps I wouldn’t have to grieve!’

Dumbledore sighed audibly. ‘What would you have had me do? There were very few –’

‘Send him away! One of his posts came by some sort of jungle bird – he surely wasn’t in Surrey. You should have just kept him there!’ Harry shot back.

‘That is precisely what I did – I sent him away,’ Dumbledore replied calmly. ‘He returned. I sent him away again, and he once again returned. It is hard to recognise that many things take place outside of our respective vantage points.’

Harry stared in disbelief. ‘You… you sent him away twice? But he never said…’

‘You undid him, Harry. He was never certain how much of himself to share, unsure whether to treat you as son or friend, torn between hovering over you and letting you fly free.’ Dumbledore smiled faintly, and added, ‘I have come to understand his dilemma, after a fashion.’

The Greek sidled up to the table, a menu lazily dangling from one hand. ‘You will order, then?’

Dumbledore smiled. ‘I am deeply stirred by the scents coming from the kitchen, but I have already taken the midday meal and it is too early for the evening repast.’

The Greek looked to Harry. ‘What did he say? Does he order or not?’

Harry grinned. ‘He’d like to see the dessert cart.’

‘Could have just said that,’ The Greek grunted.

Dumbledore laughed. ‘Are you attempting to create a diversion, Harry?’ he asked. ‘If so, I commend you on your choice.’

‘No diversion – not at all!’ Harry assured him. ‘I just remembered the lemon tart, and thought you might like it.’

‘Indeed – I recall it fondly from prior meals here. In fact, I obtained the recipe,’ Dumbledore recounted. ‘Sadly, the house-elves’ best attempts fall short.’ He shook his head. ‘It is a sign of true artistry when the sum exceeds the whole of its parts. Miss Malloch is an artist.’

Dumbledore fell silent, as if content to await dessert. Harry fidgeted, looked about, fidgeted some more, and then decided to attempt conversation. ‘Er… I imagine everything is in place for the beginning of term?’

‘Hm… what was that? Oh, yes,’ Dumbledore said absently. ‘Nearly everything is in place. Returning staff are all quite busy, owing to the changes in curriculum. I’ve had to leave some elements in play. There is one staff position yet to fill, and another that remains uncertain –’

One of the servers rolled a silver service cart to the table, festooned with an array of desserts. Dumbledore stopped in mid-sentence and turned his attention to the cart. ‘Ah, there is that lovely tart… oh, goodness, the mousse does look compelling… yes, a splendid diversion, indeed…’ He made one selection, and then added a second at Harry’s urging. Between forkfuls, he caught Harry’s eye. ‘Marcus Detheridge informed me that you attempted to secure his services. I was rather surprised, to say the least. In fact, I couldn’t fathom how you knew of him.’

‘I was trying to arrange tutors for the fall,’ Harry snapped. ‘Surely you knew that – I imagine that’s why he turned down the offer.’

‘I knew nothing of the kind,’ Dumbledore returned. ‘In one respect, I’m pleased to hear it. By withdrawing, I had hoped that you would either return of your own accord or be spurred on to action.’

Harry’s eyes narrowed. ‘No one was available, not one wizard. Quite a coincidence, isn’t it?’

‘You pursued several wizards, did you? That would be a wise course. Provide me with a list, and we shall see if it is in fact a coincidence,’ Dumbledore challenged.

As Harry quickly rattled off the names, Dumbledore’s eyebrows rose ever higher. ‘Well? How many did you hire away?’ he demanded.

‘That is an astonishing list,’ Dumbledore managed. Harry was quietly pleased to see him so obviously startled. ‘Alexandre deMaupassant is… he is a remarkable man. I imagine you were unaware that Professor Flitwick studied with him at one time. I daresay Filius could tutor you in most of his techniques, but without the bluster and bravado…’ The corners of his mouth twitched upward. ‘…though that is certainly part of Alex's appeal. As to Mister Karensky… he is dangerous, to say the least. I do understand why one might consider him – there is no one more able in his particular area of expertise – but I would require some convincing as to why he and his skills would be of use to you. Madam Cather is a brilliant spellcrafter, but rather averse to fieldwork; in fact, I believe that she may be agoraphobic. We have corresponded but have never met. In any case, I question whether spellcrafting would best employ your abilities. Miss McCrary is someone I have considered in the past for the Defence post; however, I am fairly certain that she is not welcome in Britain at this time. I imagine that she might kill Severus on sight, as well, and this would prove rather inconvenient…’

Harry sat up straight at that. After several seconds, he still had no idea whether or not Dumbledore was joking. The Headmaster continued, ‘Professor Adenauer would be a very able Potions tutor for you. You are aware, of course, that he is blind; he has managed to turn this to his advantage in very interesting ways. However, he is under contract to the United States magical government at the moment. Kanzan… you simply must meet Kanzan at some point, but he is quite often booked two to three years in advance. David Narrandarrie… yes, I would not have thought of him. His methods are considered unorthodox, as is often the case when people lack understanding. I suspect that some would call for my removal were I to offer him a regular post. Still… there might be value in learning of dreamtime…’

Dumbledore went on and on and on, and it became abundantly clear to Harry that he was acquainted with all wizards of any stature, and equally clear that he hadn’t conspired to steal them away. ‘That brings us to Marcus Detheridge. I have in fact offered him the Defence position for the coming year. He has not yet accepted, but I did not expect to see him again until tomorrow evening. Apparently he plans to accept, although it is not wise to make assumptions about Marcus – his time is not always his own.’

Harry lowered his eyes. ‘I shouldn’t have snapped at you,’ he said.

Dumbledore patted his hand. ‘You were seeking the services of some very powerful wizards and witches, Harry. It is not surprising that they were, by and large, otherwise engaged. On the whole, your inclinations were superlative. I must ask, who assisted you with the creation of this list?’

Harry frowned. ‘Well… you can ask.’

‘I see. I fear I shall have to add to the ranks of those who disregarded my request that you be left alone,’ Dumbledore said, and his eyes gave off the familiar twinkle that Harry found just a bit grating.

‘Did you just break into my mind?’ Harry asked indignantly.

‘Not at all. You hesitated to respond, which told me that a member of our, ahem, circle of friends was involved. I know that Bill Weasley has at least attempted to make contact with you. Miss Tonks is clearly unhappy with me. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the young Messrs. Weasley had sought you out –’

‘What, Fred and George? No, they haven’t,’ Harry said honestly.

Dumbledore raised a hand. ‘It is of no matter. None of those could have spawned your list, not in its entirety. Alastor could have done so, but he is away at present. Severus could have been responsible, but I cannot imagine that this is so. That would leave… Kingsley Shacklebolt, perhaps?’ His maddening twinkle grew brighter. ‘Your eyes betray you, Harry. Most would not have seen them flicker – perhaps not even Voldemort – but I have observed you rather closely for some time.’

Harry crossed his arms and pounced. ‘He was doing what he thought was right.’

‘Of that, I have no doubt,’ Dumbledore smiled. ‘Did he explain himself, offer justification for why he returned?’

‘He just showed up for the lesson, as we’d planned,’ Harry shrugged. ‘At first I figured that you’d sent him.’

‘Certainly not,’ Dumbledore assured him. ‘I truly intended that you be left alone, in keeping with your stated desire.’ His smile returned. ‘Does this mean that you have reached a rapprochement with Kingsley?’

Harry stared at Dumbledore blankly. ‘Sorry… a what?’

‘An understanding, Harry – I assume that you’ve reached an understanding,’ explained Dumbledore. ‘I realise that Kingsley began his engagement under duress.’

‘Well, he didn’t want to teach me, that’s for sure,’ agreed Harry. ‘We’re getting on now, more or less. Last summer, I didn’t know he was so… er…’

‘Unyielding? Difficult? Demanding?’ Dumbledore offered.

Harry grinned sheepishly. ‘Sure, all of those.’

Dumbledore frowned, but it failed to reach his eyes. ‘He thinks highly of you. If he did not, then he would never have overcome the anger from losing his post, and he certainly would not have disregarded my request.’

‘Request… it wasn’t an order that everyone stay away, then?’ Harry asked.

‘I rarely give orders,’ answered Dumbledore. ‘Orders often excuse their recipients of both responsibility and creativity. It was a request, and nothing more.’

‘People take your requests seriously,’ Harry observed.

Dumbledore grew quiet. ‘That is something hard-earned,' he said after a time.

‘I suppose they’ll all come back, if you change your mind?’ Harry ventured.

‘Some already have, as you well know. Others have acceded, but begrudgingly – they disagreed, but did not wish to publicly challenge my position.’ Dumbledore took another forkful of the tart. ‘Molly Weasley puts more of herself into a Howler than any witch I have ever known,’ he added casually.

Harry winced. ‘I’ve heard one of her Howlers before. What was she on about, exactly?’

‘My addled brain, amongst other subjects,’ laughed Dumbledore. ‘She was extraordinarily perturbed over the idea of leaving you alone in St. Ebb, atop what has been a very difficult summer for her. My ears were positively ringing.’

‘I, erm, suppose that I should be sorry,’ Harry offered.

‘Yet you are not, nor should you be,’ Dumbledore quickly returned. ‘I have explained to you my errors from last year, and have accepted responsibility with regard to Sirius’ death. However, I expected you to accept both my explanation and my regrets in a single sitting, as though you would simply move on without worries or grief. That was an unreasonable expectation on my part.’

‘I’ve done all right,’ Harry said firmly.

Dumbledore looked deeply into his eyes. ‘Have you really?’ Harry quickly turned away, and Dumbledore’s expression dimmed. ‘Would it have been easier or preferable to cope with your loss in the company of friends? I returned you to the Dursleys’ home; you surely would have chosen elsewhere.’

‘If it would have kept Hermione safe, or helped Ron get better, or protected the Burrow, I would have stayed there until the first of September,’ insisted Harry.

‘It would have made no difference,’ Dumbledore told him. ‘Miss Granger and her family were targets, on account of the events at the Ministry as well as her heritage. The Weasley family represents an obvious target for Death Eater activity – nearly as obvious as yourself. The value of the blood protection at Privet Drive may have waned on its own; it is unlikely that you considered it your home, and your aunt’s participation in the protection was… never whole-hearted.’

‘So you’re saying you should have left me with the Weasleys?’ Harry asked. ‘Is that it?’

Dumbledore toyed with his dessert fork, before he set it down on his empty plate. ‘I am saying that you should have stayed with me,’ he said quietly.

‘You don’t mean that,’ Harry blurted out.

‘I meant precisely what I said,’ insisted Dumbledore. ‘Had I foreseen the events of this summer, or honestly considered your status with regard to the Dursleys in its full dimension, I would have kept you at Hogwarts in my company…’

The raw emotion in the Headmaster’s eyes was almost painful for Harry to see – it was as though he could feel it. He debated a dozen different things to say, but couldn’t seem to get any of them to leave his mouth.

Dumbledore sighed heavily, and then asked, ‘What must I do to convince you to join me as an apprentice – to serve as a member of the Hogwarts staff?’

I would have done anything for that, a year ago – anything, Harry knew. But now… He shrugged. ‘I have nowhere else to go.’

‘I would prefer that you did not back into this role, but I will accept your reasoning and aspire to change it,’ Dumbledore said.

‘Where do I sign, then?’ Harry asked heavily.

‘Sign? There is nothing to sign,’ returned Dumbledore.

‘I found a book, in the tower. It was about apprenticeships, and –’ Harry began.

Dumbledore gently stopped him. ‘This is not the nineteenth century, Harry. I have no need of a servant, no desire to punish, and no ego with regard to our relationship. We will shake hands – that is enough. I will only ask three things of you.’

Here it comes, Harry thought. ‘All right,’ he said apprehensively.

Dumbledore folded his hands together. ‘First, I ask that you commit yourself to finding a means of self-control. I do not mean that you should push your emotions aside or deeply suppress them – rather, that you learn how to deal with them constructively. This is very important, and your magic will benefit as a result.’

Harry didn’t have an argument to offer; what Dumbledore asked made sense to him, even if it felt out of reach. ‘I’ll try,’ he offered.

Dumbledore nodded. ‘Second, I ask you to keep me informed. I will not approve of all your actions, but it is not necessary that I do so. You are deemed an adult now, and I wish for our relationship to be conducted as such. In return, I will seek to keep you better informed of events that affect you. We will take important steps to this end very soon.’

‘I don’t want to share everything with you,’ Harry said firmly

‘I ask you to keep me informed,’ Dumbledore repeated. ‘I do not want a detailed recounting of each day. I am certainly interested in your major decisions; they will help me better understand you. I am very interested in your safety – because I care about your well-being, not because of what you represent.’

‘I… can’t be sure you’ll always know everything you’d like to know,’ Harry responded carefully.

Dumbledore smiled. ‘That is true. I do not seek to be your parent, Harry, and I will not act as such. To reduce any temptation to that end, we will not practice Occlumency or Legilimency together – nor will you practice with Professor Snape. Keeping me informed is simply something I am asking of you. If you agree, then your actions rest upon your own conscience and upon the lives of those whom your decisions may affect.’

‘I’ll share anything that has to do with my learning, or anything you assign for me to do, or anything relating to Hogwarts,’ Harry promised.

Dumbledore looked at him curiously. ‘That is most cautious of you,’ he said. Third, I ask you to promise that on a single occasion of my choosing – and only the one occasion – you will do precisely as I request, without question.’

Harry stiffened. ‘Excuse me?’

‘I knew that this request would not sit well with you,” Dumbledore admitted. ‘I have my reasons for this, and it is something that I have asked of every apprentice who has ever chosen to work at my direction.’

Harry’s breathing quickened. He felt a creeping sense of dread work its way up from his feet into his stomach. ‘I… I can’t do that.’

Dumbledore's eyebrows arched. 'Harry... it would be best if you were to take a long, slow breath.’

Harry’s hands fluttered. ‘I can’t… I know what you’ll do. If you’d been at the Grangers’, you… you would have asked me to sit there. I would have had to just sit there, and… and I can’t do that.’

‘A long, slow breath, Harry – please. You’ll find it most helpful,’ Dumbledore said calmly. ‘I would never ask you to stand by and allow one of your friends to be killed, even if it were the wisest course of action. You would be unable to comply, and I know this. I will swear an oath to that effect, if you wish.’

Harry reeled, barely able to take any kind of breath at all. He stammered, ‘An oath… you… no, I won’t ask you to… I… you’d really do that?’

‘If it is required to secure your trust, yes,’ Dumbledore told him.

Harry took in a deep, rasping lungful of air, and let it out very slowly. His hands settled, and the dread descended. Why do you have to be right, Dumbledore? I don’t want you to be right! he raged inside. ‘You really wouldn’t…?’ he started.

‘Absolutely not,’ Dumbledore insisted. ‘If there is a price to be paid for the invocation of my request, it will be paid by me, and not by you or your friends.’

‘I accept,’ Harry blurted out before he could second-guess himself, and thrust forward his hand.

Dumbledore grasped his hand, and shook it firmly. There was no brilliant glow, no odd tingle, no feeling of dread or euphoria, no sense of anything magical – Harry only sensed the sweat coating his palm and a powerful sense of apprehension.

The rest was rather mundane – mostly Dumbledore ploughing through a series of dates and details. They didn’t agree on where Harry would live, so Harry pressed until it was understood that he would take up rooms in Hogsmeade pending a firmer agreement. He tried to conceal his satisfaction with the outcome – it didn’t matter much to him where they settled upon, provided that it was off the Hogwarts grounds. He would report to Hogwarts on the morning of the 31st, which left him two full days to make arrangements.

He took his own dessert when the cart came past again, and ate it very slowly. His last appointment of the day was the one he’d awaited the most. I get to have a life, he shouted inside, and I don’t care what the sodding prophecy says. Dumbledore won’t let me have a life, no matter what he says. He didn’t even want to let me off the grounds; I had to push him.

The Greek ambled toward his table, and Harry steeled himself – surely that meant his contact had arrived or was on the way. He watched and waited. The Greek was alone, and he began to worry that perhaps the meeting had fallen through. Everything Harry planned to do was based on two significant articles of faith – that Heather’s intentions hadn’t changed since she’d shoved the note in his hand at the club, and more importantly, that Heather’s contact could be trusted.

The Greek abruptly sat down. ‘Your meetings, they go well,’ he declared.

‘Well enough,’ Harry agreed.

‘You might want to do your, ehh, silence? Some things, better they’re quiet,’ The Greek murmured.

Harry sat bolt upright. ‘Do my… huh?’ His fingertips closed around his wand, beneath the tabletop.

‘I know what you are, I know who you are. Our, ehh, mutual friend… she does not know these things?’ asked The Greek. ‘My daughter, she talk to you on the telephone – this is the arrangement that, ehh, was made for you.’

‘That was your daughter? I thought she was… but Heather… my meeting is with you?’ Harry stammered.

‘Silence, do your silence,’ muttered The Greek.

Harry recovered himself enough to manage a silent space and a mild Confundus charm around the table. ‘How is Heather? Have you spoken with her?’ he asked rapidly.

The Greek held up one hand. ‘She talks with my daughter every day. I am just, ehh, middle man… but… there are things I can do for you that Heather, ehh, cannot know.’

Harry raised his arm just enough to expose an inch or two of his wand. ‘You know about me,’ he confirmed. ‘You’re one of us, then?’

‘No, no… no wizard,’ The Greek chuckled. ‘Not Greek, even – is just a name someone gave me when we first come to London. I am, ehh, what you call… squib.’

Harry kept his wand very consciously levelled at the man. ‘You have two minutes to convince me I shouldn’t use a memory charm and get out of here.’ He was inwardly pleased that his voice didn’t crack or waver.

‘My family was, how you say, displaced during the war,’ The Greek began. ‘We flee from Albania, end up in Greece, then Cyprus, then Egypt, then Spain. I get work there, find out later that boss knows I’m squib. Big company, so they move us to Paris, then to London. Man from the company arranges for me to come here, guess they have trouble finding right person… you know Preston?’

‘I know him,’ Harry said. He raised his wand above the tabletop. ‘Albania, you said? I haven’t had such good luck with Albania.’

‘Not many have good luck with Albania,’ The Greek said darkly. ‘Bad for wizards, worse for Muggles. One direction, werewolves and vampyres. Other direction, the Communists.’ His thick accent crushed ‘v’s into ‘w’s. Harry noticed that he snarled out the dark creatures, but positively spat out the government.

‘When did you leave?’ Harry demanded.

‘Seventeen years ago,’ The Greek returned. ‘Across the border in dead of night… my wife, two sons, and daughter.’

‘If you’re a squib, why didn’t your family get you out?’ Harry shot back.

The Greek’s face flushed. ‘You know what it is to be squib. There is your answer.’

‘I’m sorry,’ Harry offered.

The Greek sneered, ‘It is no matter, for none of them survived. They were great hunters, ehh, in long tradition of the region. Those years… not good years for dark hunters.’

Harry watched the man’s growing unease, and changed the subject. ‘What are you supposed to do, then? What did Heather ask for?’

‘Heather ask my daughter to arrange for portable computer and phone, and daughter call me,’ The Greek replied. ‘Good thing, because you make mobile phone go crazy. I call Preston, he set me up with people in London. I give you number and address for his people, and I give you number and the E-mail for Heather.’ He took out a scrap of paper and set it atop the table.

‘Why?’ Harry asked pointedly. ‘You know who I am, so you know what happens around me –’

Feh… everyone is target now,’ The Greek shrugged. ‘She like you. I do this for you, I make her happy and I make daughter happy. This makes wife happy, which makes me happy.’

Harry grinned. ‘Thank you,’ he said earnestly.

The Greek turned very serious; he clenched and unclenched his fists. ‘You keep her away from the dark ones, ehh? She is hurt, and you will pay.’

‘I’ll do everything I can manage, but I can’t promise…’ Harry returned.

The Greek planted his hand protectively atop the paper. ‘You will swear.’

Harry began to protest. ‘I can’t –’

‘You – will – swear. Heather give me job, find job for daughter. She is good girl…’ The Greek settled back into his chair a bit, his expression less menacing. ‘Sad girl… lonely girl. My daughter, she likes Heather very much, like sister. I do anything for family – family is everything.’

‘My family is gone,’ Harry said quietly. He looked into The Greek’s eyes, found something there that he could trust, and added firmly, ‘I swear it.’

The Greek extended a hand, and enveloped Harry in a bone-crushing handshake. When he let go, he sat back and crossed his arms. ‘Heather, she is not blood but she is family. You have family, Harry Potter; everyone has family.’ He nodded at the scrap of paper, and Harry swept it up gratefully.

‘Now I ask something of you,’ The Greek muttered.

Harry’s brow furrowed, and he waited to see what sort of shoe dropped. ‘Erm… go on…’

The Greek shifted uneasily in his chair. ‘The man Shona brings around – you know this man.’ It was a statement, not a question.

‘Yes,’ Harry admitted.

‘He is not, what you say… Muggle,’ The Greek reported. His upper lip curled. ‘He is dark creature, I think.’

Harry willed himself to remain calm, even as he scrambled for a response. ‘I know him well. He’s a former professor of mine, from Hogwarts. You know about Hogwarts, right?’

‘Of course I hear of Hogwarts – I am not stupid,’ snapped The Greek. ‘He is wizard, then… hmm. He is teacher no more, ehh?’ His eyes narrowed. ‘Why?’

Harry spoke slowly, carefully. ‘He was the professor for Defence Against the Dark Arts, but we have a different professor for Defence every year. He… he was a friend of my father and mother.’

The Greek seemed to search Harry’s face for something, and at last said, ‘He is family, then. You trust this man?’

Harry hesitated. He was trying to be truthful without revealing anything that he didn’t think The Greek should know, and it felt like every road with Lupin lead back to Heather. He settled on, ‘I've trusted him with my life.’

‘The dark is on him…’ The Greek murmured.

Harry raised his wand slightly, enough to be noticed. ‘But you said you’re a squib. How…?’

‘Not everything about being dark hunter comes from sticks,’ The Greek snarled, his big hand pointing squarely at the wand. ‘Even worthless squib sees the dark, smells the dark.’ He calmed again, and lowered his hand. ‘You say this man, he teach defences? He flirts with dark, then – this must be the smell.’

Harry nodded vigorously. He was angry with Lupin, furious even, but had no desire to endanger him. ‘He’s spent a lot of time around Dementors and –’

The Greek recoiled, and spat a string of something unintelligible. ‘Horrible things, terrible. We speak no more of this. You trust this man, I trust you – is enough for now.’ He formed his thumb and forefinger into the shape of a Muggle handgun, and added coldly, ‘The sticks, they do much, but they don’t stop a gun. If he hurts Shona, a bullet for him… silver, to be safe.’

‘He won’t hurt her,’ Harry said, and hoped that he was telling the truth.

The Greek barely nodded. ‘I will be watching,’ he said slowly.

Harry looked to the scrap of paper in his hand. ‘Thank you for this.’

‘Go,’ The Greek said. ‘Get your mobile phone and your E-mail.’ He shook his head, and added derisively, ‘Children and their toys… it is beyond me.’ He stood up to leave and seemed to bump squarely into something that wasn’t there. ‘What is this?’

‘Oh! Er, sorry,’ Harry said quickly. ‘I was just being sure that… never mind.’

The Greek smiled at him strangely, fiercely. ‘I read papers, now and then. The Dark One, he will come for you, yes? It is good you are powerful wizard.’ He leaned over toward Harry. ‘I ran from them, the last time. No running now. I stand and fight.’ He straightened himself, and added, ‘You be careful.’

Harry nodded – he understood that The Greek was referring to Heather more than him – and let the silent space fall away. He couldn’t imagine what the man would be able to do in terms of putting up a fight, if it ever came to that – The Greek knew Dementors were awful things, but could he even see them? Does he really have guns? Harry wondered. He looked at the scrap of paper, and considered once more the implications of doing as Heather had suggested in her note – of fashioning a secret life, one that had room for her in it. When his water glass was again emptied, he quietly slipped out the door.

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