Chapter 6 — Rabbit Hole
Sunday, Harry woke and while still in bed, penned a quick letter, careful not to get any droplets of ink on the bedding as he brought the quill from the inkwell to the parchment and back again. Still in his pyjamas, he sat on the trunk under his bedroom window and released Hedwig after giving her very specific instructions to deliver his missive directly to Elizabeth's room. The letter invited her out to the pub that afternoon and suggested that she not tell her father whom she was to meet.
When Hedwig returned while Harry buttoned his shirt, bearing the same unopened letter, he frowned at his owl. "What happened, you couldn't find her?" he asked. It wasn't terribly early, so she should be awake.
Harry tugged on his right sock while Hedwig flapped up to sit on his wardrobe. He padded over, pulled Kali from her cage and stared at her tiny fox-like face haloed by her purple body fur. She sniffed the air, then chewed on his finger. The prickly pain gave him a fleeting impression of a salty, poultry taste that must be from her. He let her out the window and urged her to fly to the Peterson house. She flew to the roof of the train station instead, where the pigeons made slow, chubby prey.
Harry willed her back through his window, which was not easy, mid-stalk like she was with her wings arched high and back. He held her up before his face again. "You aren't cooperating," he criticized her. He pulled on his slippers and took the rejected letter downstairs where he found Candide in the drawing room, glossy magazines spread out before her, pages filled with all manner of brides, posed against a ubiquitous brown background as though standing inside a giant, well-lit paper sack. Clearly the back of the dress was considered more critical than the front, given the prevalence of that angle.
"Would you do me a favor?" Harry asked her. "I mean, if you're not busy."
"Sure, if you do me one." She turned a ten pound, three-inch thick magazine across the desk in his direction. "Do you like this dress?"
Harry stared at the picture. The dress was form-fitting, except for the oversized sleeves, and it had scroll-like beadwork sewn into the waist and down the back in a point. The overall shape was reminiscent of an upside-down tulip, down to the texture. But, to a first approximation, it was a dress.
"It's nice," Harry said, trying to sound like he meant it.
"You don't think it's too princess gown?"
"You know, like Cinderella, or Snow White. Don't you know Snow White?"
"Wasn't she poisoned by a witch?" Harry asked, wondering how they had wandered into this topic out of dresses.
"She married Prince Charming; that's the key point," Candide supplied. "Oh, that's right, I took you to your first film when you were young. 'Course you haven't seen Snow White." She pulled the magazine back. "How could I forget?"
Harry stood, holding Kali, who sniffed with interest at the perfumes that permeated the magazine pile. He really had lost track of the conversation. "Oh," he said, remembering suddenly that he had indeed briefly rendered himself half his normal age. "What'd we see?"
Harry felt a bit left out by this revelation. "Did I like it?"
"Um." She tapped her finger on a page bearing an adorable furry mutt carrying a flower basket and sporting a pink ribbon on the top of its head. "You seemed disturbed by it, honestly."
Harry mulled that, while Candide flipped through twenty pages. She stopped at a dress worn by a woman clearly well along in her pregnancy. It lacked the sparkly effects most the others had and the fabric hue was reminiscent of old parchment rather than a fancy tablecloth like the others. "Good thing we're getting married soon enough not to need THAT dress," she commented. She flipped back to the dress marked with a folded over strip of spellotape.
Harry said, "I was wondering if you could go talk to Elizabeth."
"Not that I'd mind doing so, but she walks by here everyday, doesn't she?"
"That's right," Harry said. "She has lessons. I forgot. Maybe that's why Hedwig didn't find her." Harry leaned over Candide's shoulder to examine the page again, saying, "Maybe the puffy sleeves make it look like Snow White."
Greatly alarmed, Candide asked, "You don't like the puffy sleeves?"
With immense care, as though he had disturbed a nest of asps or perhaps a sleeping horntail, Harry levelly and calmly said, "I didn't say that. I just suggested . . . that's perhaps where the . . . look of it gets its . . . well, Snow White . . . thing." Harry decided that he should not express an opinion if he could help it. "I like them all, really."
He did not expect this to pass muster, but Candide turned a pained eye back to the magazine and flipped idly through the pages she had just gone through a moment before. "They're all very nice. Well, there are few I don't like at all, but, yeah, they are mostly quite nice."
Harry closed his eyes in a moment's relief before excusing himself, saying he needed to do his readings right then so they were finished before Lupin and Harry's cousin arrived for dinner, even though it was only morning. Snape was not in the library or the dining room, and Harry caught a caustic scent in the air, which implied he was bunkered inside the spare room, brewing. Harry hoped he did not come out until the gown shopping was put away for the day.
Harry took his books outside into the front garden to read, the better to see his friend walk by. The burst of summer growth had pushed the ivy over the bench, so Harry had to urge it behind and sweep the dead leaves away with his hand before settling in. The sun was just reaching the ragged top edge of the wall beside him, so soon he would be out of the shade and the morning chill clinging to the surrounding stone would pass. Harry blew on his fingers and found the place where he had left off on the manual of evidence collection.
Two chapters in, reading grew tedious and Harry's mind drifted to the back garden of the house where Sirius' bike had sat idle for months. Once he had this vision in his head, he could not leave it be, even after he told himself he would read one more section before even going to take a look at the motorbike.
Giving in, Harry closed the books, and tossed them onto a table in the library on his way through to the back garden. Repeated trimming spells were required to remove the tangled dead and green ivy, but after that, the cover pulled away easily. The bike underneath gleamed as brightly as it did when Hagrid had delivered it; more so, because of the sunlight.
Harry, more easily than the last time he had maneuvered it, rolled it away from the wall into the small open space. The bike felt closer to the right size as he mounted it, his arms less splayed ungainly wide while holding the handlebars. Harry kicked the bike to life and it roared appreciatively.
Harry heard a shout and looked around and up to find Snape at the window of the spare room. Harry spun the Roar knob down till it fell silent.
"A bit of warning next time before you start up that infernal thing," Snape demanded.
Harry waved. "Forgot how loud it was," he admitted.
"That is not possible to forget," Snape said. "And if you are going far, do be careful."
"How's the brewing going?" Harry asked to end the conversation.
And indeed, Snape hmfed and pulled his head back inside. Grinning, Harry flew the bike as low as possible over the back wall and rode it along the rutted field path bordering the gardens and out to the road. In the daylight, he decided to just keep it on the ground. He adjusted the Roar knob up again to make a reasonable noise and cruised off to the right to search the streets in that direction for Elizabeth's piano teacher.
Harry cruised slowly along rows of well-kept old houses. He was about to turn back onto the main road, when he heard a shout. With effort, he turned the bike around on the narrow tarmac and stopped before a grey house dominated by a large bay window. Elizabeth stood on the porch chatting with an attractive brown-haired woman in smart clothes. She waved, said goodbye to her teacher and came jogging, despite her heels, over to greet Harry.
"I wasn't sure where your teacher's house was," Harry admitted.
Elizabeth was looking over the bike, but she jerked her head to look at him as she said, "You were looking for me?"
"Yeah, let's get an ice cream. Hop on."
She laughed. "You have a helmet for me? You aren't even wearing one."
"Oh," Harry said. "There's a pair in the pannier; hang on." Harry put on the brake, flipped down the stand and swung off, finding his legs already complaining about being stretched by the wide seat. From the closer pannier, he produced a pair of sparkly white helmets. Harry suspected they were magical, given their leather interiors and handmade look. He gave the smaller one to her.
"Do you even have a license?" she asked as she used her colored fingernails and teeth to tighten the stiff strap. "Or a number plate?"
"No," Harry said. "I mostly fly on it anyhow, and the Muggles don't have a license for that."
She got on behind Harry and scooted close, still adjusting her chin strap. "Well, they do, but not for motorbikes, that's for certain."
When she put her arms around him, Harry released the brake and gently accelerated to the main road and waited for an unusual string of traffic to clear.
"Do you know where you're going?" she asked as he turned left.
"No," Harry shouted because he did not want to turn his head far. "I only know my way around from in the air."
They rode for a while on the main road as it wound through field and forest. Sunlight played on the rutted roadway, filtering through the trees. Two villages over, they stopped before a small shop with a cracked giant plastic ice cream cone out front.
As usual, the great bike attracted everyone's attention. Harry, not wanting to embarrassingly deflect questions he could not answer, urged Elizabeth quickly to a bright pink table and went to the window to order.
Seated at the table, Harry took two bites of his treat and said, "So, how are you?"
Her mood shifted instantly, face darkening.
Using clues from Candide, Harry said, "Everything all right at home?"
She swallowed the large bite she had in her mouth and licked her lips before replying. "My dad has always been . . . has always sort of disliked magic. Well, maybe he didn't always dislike it, but when I was young he started dissuading my mum from using it. Except at Christmas and sometimes at the lake camp when the place really needed a good cleaning, or we wanted a fire, but otherwise, I always had the impression he didn't like it." She faded out, expression pinned on the cars driving by. "He's become a lot stricter about it. He gets angry immediately when the topic comes up, and ever since what happened at your place, my mum doesn't argue with him any longer. Takes his side."
She frowned and spooned up the liquid pooling around the mound in her bowl. "I've been difficult too; doing more magic, even when I'm not good at it, just to irk him more."
"I understand," Harry said. "The aunt and uncle I lived with for seventeen years despised magic. I think because they feared it."
"I don't think my dad fears it. I just think he hates losing . . ." She faded out.
Harry at first thought she would not answer. "Losing control. He likes to be in charge. Really likes to be in charge. Since I've been away at school, I can't take it anymore. When I was his little girl, I didn't mind so much, for some reason."
Harry thought he understood that too. Snape could be terribly strict as well, but Harry took it to mean that he cared, and Harry surprisingly found he preferred to please him as not, although he had been slipping on that. He pondered that during the subsequent silence. Snape's admission that he had not even attempted to enforce any rules about his dating or the Dark Plane meant that something fundamental had changed between them.
Elizabeth had faded out, and did not notice that Harry had as well. Harry returned to the present and said, "You have to put up with your dad for a while longer."
Her face fell sadder. "Yep. We had a real row the other night. I just couldn't take his silly rules anymore." Her voice dropped, "He took my wand when I threatened to use it. I think he burned it."
Falling into Auror interview mode, Harry asked factually, "What happened to instigate that?"
The tone worked; she said, "He threatened to slap me for something I said. I probably deserved it. But I pulled my wand on him." She laughed dully. "Like I could do anything to him. Like I know any dangerous spells."
"No one deserves to be slapped for mere words," Harry stated, disliking immensely that she had said that. "Do you have friends you can stay with?"
"I could go visit some friends from school."
"Why don't you do that? Getting some space would help a lot."
"Space is what made me realize what a domineering control freak he is. It would give me an opportunity to get a new wand. But my mum . . . well, she'd be unhappy if I did."
They chatted for a while longer, until Harry's uncompleted studies began to nag at him. He said, "I have to get home. We have friends coming for dinner and I have readings to finish." They stood and Harry cleaned up their spots. "I can get you another wand. What kind did you have before?"
"Would you do that? I had birch and unicorn before."
"I'll take you to Ollivanders if you want. Or I can pick you up a wand since that combination sounds easy. Whichever you prefer."
She glanced at her watch. "I need to get home too. Maybe you can fetch one for me." She reached into her clutch and handed him several twenty-pound notes while sheepishly explaining: "Wands are expensive. I don't have any Galleons . . ."
Harry pocketed the money, pulled out the helmets and slipped his on. "I'll fetch you one tomorrow when Ollivanders is open."
She laughed. "Thanks, Harry."
He swung his leg over the bike. "No problem. Hop on."
- 888 -
When visitors' voices sounded from the dining room, Harry put down his books and eagerly went to greet them. The sconces had been extinguished and tall candles lit the table. Candide urged Lupin and Pamela to choose seats. Lupin appeared far healthier than last time he had visited; in fact he seemed to be bordering on chubby, which softened the canine edge to his visage.
They greeted Harry, who, despite not finishing his readings, decided to join them that instant.
"Severus still locked away?" Candide asked Harry.
"I think so."
"What's this?" Lupin asked.
"Severus is working on something," Harry explained. "He won't say what it is, but he spends hours brewing upstairs."
Lupin shook his head. "He's always had an odd, anti-social side." When Pamela swatted him lightly on the arm, he added, "I take that back. As long as he brews Wolfsbane for me, he can be as odd as he likes."
Butterbeers appeared and they fell into warm conversation.
Pamela immediately brought up the one topic Harry hoped they would avoid, at least until later. "How is the wedding coming?"
Candide groaned. "It's coming along. I was hoping for help from my cousin, but her tastes and mine are completely different. And she seems to think it's insulting to allow there to be a budget for such a thing. But I did pick out a dress."
"Did you?" Pamela asked with relish.
"Do you want to see the advert for it?"
The two of them leapt up and departed. Harry sipped his butterbeer and enjoyed the silence.
"How are things with you, Harry?" Lupin asked. He sounded solicitous, which made Harry think he was doing fairly well himself.
"Pretty good," Harry said. "Skeeter has been mostly ignoring me. Training is going well."
He smiled and asked, "No dark wizards haunting you?"
Harry frowned, thinking of the strange thing in his cloak. "Something odd happened the other day, but it might have just been a prank that went poorly. I'm going to investigate tomorrow with the twins. See if they know anything."
Despite Harry's assurances, Lupin's heavy brow lowered and remained there. "Don't make any assumptions Harry. Don't hesitate to let us know if you need the Order revitalized again."
Harry laughed lightly. "I don't need the Order," he said dismissively, feeling Lupin still thought him a child.
"I don't like to see that overconfidence, Harry."
"You sound like Mad-Eye," Harry criticized between sips of butterbeer. "He always says that right before he bowls me over with a spell I don't know."
"You talk like he's still alive," Lupin said quietly.
Harry headed for safety. "No one ever found his body," he pointed out. "Maybe I'll go prod Severus. Do you mind if I leave you alone?"
A fresh butterbeer sparkled in to replace Lupin's empty one. "Not at all. The service here is wonderful."
Harry dashed upstairs and in passing glanced into Snape's bedroom where piles of thick, square magazines had been hastily spread out.
"Your mum said what?" Pamela was saying. Candide glanced up at Harry in apparent consternation at being overheard and he accidentally saw in her eyes a vision of her mum arguing that she should call off the wedding.
"I was just seeing if I can drag Severus from his brewing," Harry said.
"Good idea," Candide said, sounding as pat as he did.
Harry walked around and slipped inside the storage room without knocking. The setup inside was unlike any he had ever seen. Intricate glass tubes connected glass bottles and cauldrons in a three-dimensional rack that filled the center of the room. Portable fires hovered under the suspended bottles propelling swirling liquids through the tubes. Crystal bowls full of colorful grains were lined up on the old door, again propped up as a worktable.
"What are you making?" Harry asked.
Snape sat bent over a stone board, using an obsidian knife to split a pile of course grains. He did not reply.
Harry said, "I take it you're going to be a little while longer?"
Harry took a deep breath. "I don't mean to be difficult, but it is probably not the best time to dive into an obsessive brewing session, especially so secretively."
Snape continued to split miniscule grains and push them aside into an indentation in the granite board. His hair hid his face except for his intent brow. Moldy books, heavily bookmarked, sat open nearby in a tall stack, their pages so yellowed they had gone all the way to rust colored.
Harry said, "I didn't realize Candide's mother was trying to stop the wedding."
This brought the glassy black blade to a halt. Snape stretched his neck back and said, "Did Candide tell you that?"
"Not directly." At Snape's sharp look, Harry added, "I didn't mean to pry. It was an accident. Emotion makes it much easier to read people, doesn't it?"
"Very much so. Emotion is a weakness for nearly everyone," Snape said, returning to his chopping. "I will be ten minutes more."
"Invite her parents over," Harry said. "I can work on them a bit."
Harry expected him to decline, but from out the veil of hair came: "Suggest it to Candide."
Harry joined the women as they returned downstairs. Candide was saying, "Headmistress has insisted that Severus delay starting at Hogwarts for a week. Most kind of her."
Pamela resumed her seat and took up Lupin's hand. "Remus doesn't mind at all covering for a while."
Lupin said, "Minerva has gone far out of her way to defend my being at Hogwarts. It's the least I can do."
Harry waited until the conversation about the wedding wore down before he suggested to Candide, "Why don't you have your parents over for dinner here."
"If they'll come," Lupin joked a little tipsily, making Harry wonder if butterbeer had the same effect on a werewolf that it did on an elf.
Candide said, "I expect they'll come. I'll see if Severus minds."
Snape stepped in just then and brusquely asked, "Minds what?"
Candide reached out a hand in his direction and said, "Minds if I invite my parents over for another pre-wedding getting-to-know-each-other?"
Snape sat stiffly and said, "I believe I could survive that." He glanced at Harry and let the topic drop.
Harry stared into his glass and asked, "What about your mum?"
"She'll get an invitation," Snape dryly pointed out.
Lupin broke into laughter. Snape explained, "We are NOT going through this taxing and fraught process with yet another meddlesome party."
Candide had a faint smile as she gamely assured those present: "She's on the invite list."
Lupin continued to chuckle. Snape said, "It was her choice to take herself away from the world. We simply are catering to that."
- 888 -
During lunchtime at the Ministry, Harry rushed about trying to get his errands all finished. At Gringotts, the queue for the exchange—headed by a gaggle of foreign witches, straw-like hair standing in all directions as they hunched over a sack from which they counted out individual triangular copper coins—was too long to make it through in several lunch hours, let alone one, so Harry instead asked the floor Goblin to fetch Ron to take him to his vault.
Ron gamely did so, chatting all the while about the Cannons as the mine car rolled and surged over the sparsely braced, randomly coursing, splitting, and recombining rails. Ron controlled their transport with flicks of his foot on the levers as though it required almost no attention despite the breakneck pace.
With his pocket weighted down with enough gold for yet another wand, Harry stepped back out into the bustling Diagon Alley. Ron followed, also blinking rapidly to ward off the brightness of daylight. Harry weaved through the shoppers and paused outside the window of Weasley Wizard Wheezes. Beyond the rain-streaked glass, stacks of brightly colored boxes, some with thick brass straps holding them closed, sat beneath mobiles replicating various Quidditch teams. The tiny figures at the farthest orbit of each set swerved and strained at their wires in an attempt to get at the opposing-colored players.
"I need to ask your brothers something," Harry said.
A set of bells chimed out the Lyke Wake Dirge when Harry pushed the door open. Ron elbowed him, saying, "You have a pocket full of gold. You just can't resist."
Harry did not bother to correct him on this mistaken point. In the back of the cluttered shop Harry found one of the twins stocking things behind the counter. When Harry leaned over the stained and burned surface and gestured, George crawled closer, forcing Harry to crouch too in order to speak with him in confidence. George peered at Harry around Verity's pink robes. She gave George a playful kick as she gave change to a customer.
Before Harry could formulate his question, the George whispered, "How's Ron doing?"
"Oh, er, seems fine."
"Good. Mum's been giving us hell, I'll tell you. You'd think we'd never done anything to him before or something." He sighed. "What'dya need?"
"I wanted to know if you ever sold or . . . made anything like a giant black inflatable spiked ball."
George placed the brown-paper wrapped boxes onto the counter and stood. Harry gratefully followed suit. "You're looking for one?"
Harry waited for the young customer, who was giving him a silly grin, to slowly wander off before continuing with, "No, I saw one and guessed it was your handiwork."
George pondered that, finally asking, "We in trouble?" He sounded surprisingly serious for a Weasley twin.
"No, I'm trying to track something down is all. This is just me asking." Harry was glad he could be honest about that; it reinforced his asking around on his own.
George relaxed. "We had something . . ." He moved to the dimmest corner of the shop, shaded by tall full racks from the light of the windows, and began searching through the lowest shelves. "Hey, Verity?" he shouted, then thought better and went over to her to whisper to her privately.
He returned and continued to pull the lowest front items off and stack them on the floor, revealing different, older boxes packed behind, thoroughly haphazard. He pulled out a box and handed it up to Harry and returned to searching. "That's the Giant Birds of Prey Pack. We had a Giant Ocean-Bottom Pack too, but I don't see it now." Harry stared at the crudely painted pictures of raptors, vultures, and even a pterodactyl on the box lid. George went on, "They were right popular for theme parties for a while there. Then like all great ideas, they became passé like that." He snapped his fingers.
Harry turned the box over. A warning had been inked in red along the margin as an afterthought: Stand far back from minibirds before using expansion spell. And on the other margin: For best results expand only in very very large room with high ceiling. The "verys" were triple underlined.
"There was a sea urchin in the Ocean Pack?" When George nodded, Harry asked, "How big did it get?"
George held his arms out wide. "Originally, it would roll around the party following the fish as they "swam" but too many people complained of torn robes and rugs and drapery, so we left them stupid and static instead." He started putting the newer boxes back in front of the older faded ones. "Which is no fun, really. I spent a lot of time getting the rolling just right. It was tough, it actually had to walk on its spikes. Which sounds simple, but really isn't." He shook his head sadly. "We now have to only come up with things that seem dangerous, but really aren't. That's tough." He craned his neck like a periscope to check that Ron was nowhere near. "Even then people do dumb stuff with things we think are completely safe."
Harry tried to hand the box back, but he was waved off. "Give it to Ginny if you don't want it. She begged me for a set, but at the time, we couldn't make them fast enough."
Harry tucked the box under his arm. As George squeezed by Harry in the narrow aisle, he said, "Oh, and realize that they are only aloft for about an hour, in case you decide to make your house-elf ride one. Had trouble with that once." He scooped the boxes back off the counter and ducked out of sight.
Harry searched the narrow aisles and found Ron selecting colorful sweets from a wall-full of bins. He held a struggling licorice tarantula between his fingers and he gazed at it suspiciously. "Ah," Ron said accusingly, gesturing with the spider at the box under Harry's arm. "Knew you couldn't resist." He dropped the spider back in the bin and wiped his fingers on his trousers. Peering into the paper sack he held, he said, "Guess that will make lunch."
Harry panicked, having forgotten the time. He pulled out his watch and found it was only three minutes until his training resumed. "I've got to run. See you later," he said, patting his friend on the arm to be certain he heard before he Disapparated.
Running, Harry just had time to stash the box of Giant Birds and his spare gold in his locker, seal it with the best spell he knew, and skid into the training room, out of breath. Rodgers gave him a depreciating look, but withheld comment.
Harry's stomach growled through the afternoon and by the time they were finished, he was keenly focused on getting home for a snack. But he needed to go back to Diagon Alley for a wand. He left the Giant Birds Pack balanced awkwardly beside his spare jacket and pulled out the sack of gold.
Tonks strode into the changing room as Harry's fellows departed. As though speaking for his hollow stomach, she said, "I have half an hour before my shift if you want to find an early bite."
"Sounds great," Harry said, weighing the sack in his hand before slipping it into his pocket. "I need to go Diagon Alley anyway. I told Elizabeth I'd buy her a new wand."
By unstated agreement, they Apparated into the Leaky Cauldron. On the way through the wall in back, Tonks asked, "Why doesn't Elizabeth get her own wand?"
"It's a long story," Harry said, thinking stressfully of his friend stuck at home with an overbearing Muggle father. "Her father burned her old one. He's getting difficult about magic." The alley was sparser with shoppers than lunchtime so Harry's sigh was quite audible. Elizabeth's situation disproportionately irritated him, so he was not paying attention to what he said. "It'd be good if she moved out, from what I could get out of her. I took her for a ride on my bike; other than her lessons, I wonder if she's been allowed out."
"You what?" Tonks asked. Harry heard the warning tone this time and realized belatedly that he should have heard it in her previous question too. They were stopped before Ollivanders, but Harry did not reach for the door handle.
His hesitation did not help. Tonks said, "You've never taken me for a ride on Sirius' old motorbike."
It was odd. Tonks, when angry, normally put her hands on her hips and cocked her head. She did not do that now; her arms hung slack, head craning forward. Harry sensed a crumbling cliff edge before him and had no idea how to avoid skidding over it. "We can go anytime you like," he stated. He held off on adding anything about her never having the time, certain it would compound the looming confrontation.
Now, she more familiarly propped her hands on her hips, and let her body kink into a zig-zag topped in spikes of pink. "So, what else did you do?"
Harry could not help it. He knew better, but did not have time to analyze his own quick anger. "Tonks, this is stupid," he said of her getting upset.
"Oh, right . . . silly me."
"It is silly. You sound like it matters if I take a friend out for ice creams."
Tonks colored slightly. Harry was not sure, but her hair appeared to edge more to the red too. "When she's . . . a cute . . . thing in distress, of course it matters."
Harry felt dropped in the middle of a maze and had to stop and try to take stock of his position. Passing shoppers slowed at Tonks' tone and Harry tried not to care what they heard, nor fear that Skeeter may appear any second, quill already blazing.
"Look," Harry said, thinking he'd feel more certain about how to handle a vampire than a jealous girlfriend, "I need to get a wand real quick and then we can get some dinner."
"I don't think I really have time for both of those," she snipped and Disapparated.
Harry swore, garnering disapproving looks from a pair of approaching witches burdened with packages. He took a deep breath and stubbornly continued his errand rather than chase Tonks immediately.
Inside the store, the quiet clashed with his disturbed emotions and klaxon-loud thoughts. Ollivander wandered to the front, hands clasped before him as though to exude calm.
Harry said, "Good day again. I need a birch wand with a unicorn hair core . . . for a friend."
Ollivander turned away with a small bow, pausing to ask, "Do you know what length, perchance?"
Thinking it should be easy to hide, Harry said, "Shortest you have, please."
Ollivander waved his sliding ladder over and climbed it to fetch a small grey box which he returned to Harry. Inside it was an eight-inch wand, looking petite and innocuous. Harry began counting out the same thirty Galleons his own wand had cost. Ollivander waved off the last ten.
"Tell your friend if the wand does not fit, it can be exchanged."
Harry's thoughts were already flying ahead. He reined them back in and said, "Thanks, I will."
Ollivander froze him in place by asking, "And you are how, Mr. Potter?" He sounded more than conversational. He sounded as though he felt it a duty to keep track of Harry.
Harry pulled his attention completely back to the dusty old shop where he stood. "In a hurry I'm afraid, otherwise, quite well."
This even-headed, though rushed, answer, drew a reassured smile from Ollivander, who nodded him out.
Pocketing the small, bright blond wand, Harry stepped out of the shop and Disapparated for the Ministry before he could be overrun by an teetering cart stacked with noisy animal cages.
At the Ministry, Harry slipped into the office and not finding Tonks, proceeded to check the rest of the Department. He located her in the break room, nibbling on a stale Danish and looking dangerously peeved. Her lips pursed when her gaze came up to Harry's.
Harry realized that he should have prepared what to say because he found he only wanted to repeat himself. "I don't know what's wrong," Harry said.
This apparently deserved a dubious raised pink eyebrow. Harry worked very hard to not get angry again. Rogan's voice interrupted, calling down the corridor: "Call's come in!"
Tonks dropped the pastry heel on the table and slipped by Harry without touching him, which wasn't easy given that he was blocking the doorway. Harry followed her down to the offices where she picked her teeth with a long pinky nail while reading a slip. "Yeah, I'll take it. Call Kingsley in too." She Disapparated.
Harry picked up the slip because it was only Rogan manning the office and Harry expected he would not criticize him for doing so. Harry knew where Upminster was and knew the most likely Apparition area Tonks would use. He carefully set the slip back on the pile. He should not go. He would be in the way. It would be best to wait till later to talk. Harry knew all of these things, but he Disapparated anyhow.
Harry arrived in the shadow of a windmill. Tonks was there but it took Harry a moment to recognize her in the disguise of a pensioner wearing a long grey cardigan. She clearly expected Harry to be someone else.
"What are you doing here?" she whispered.
Harry ducked slightly like she was and glanced around for danger. "I wanted to talk to you."
"Not now," she hissed, clearly disturbed.
Harry plowed on because he had just then put his finger on the problem, "I don't understand why you don't trust me."
Tonks had her wand out already; she angled it at Harry. "I'm seconds from hitting you with a Mummy Curse and sending you back to the Ministry. Get out of here."
She truly sounded like she meant it. A low bang! sounded nearby. Tonks ducked under a strut to glance around the side of the windmill. "Kingsley's coming," she whispered, but Harry was gone. Tonks glance around. She'd only heard one Apparition noise and wondered if Harry had pulled an invisibility cloak over his head. Shacklebolt's approach, in the khaki guise of a parks worker, aborted Tonks' wondering about Harry's quiet exit.
Harry sighed into the grey gloom of the Dark Plane. Something scuffled over the ground in the distance and then silence permeated the dank, earthy air. Harry felt intermittently empty and annoyed. He wished to not care at all because there was no chance for an argument to hash things out, so he might as well ignore it. But the will to do so was not sufficient to make it happen.
Delaying returning to the world of sunshine, Harry strolled in a random direction. He walked hunched, hands in pockets, thoughts far away. He wondered what time Tonks would return from the assignment, then told himself not to care. Did she really trust him so little to display such jealousy? It was true that she had also behaved badly when she learned about him dating Belinda. Perhaps he should have seen this coming.
Harry's thoughts circled on in this vein as he trod on the fine grey dust. He perhaps should have been more attentive to where he was going, but he felt more secure here than most anywhere else. So, he was quite startled when a loop of rusted wire caught his ankle and he tripped. Clumsily, he tried to tug his hands free of his robe pockets to stop himself from crashing down into the mass of abrasive metal looming before him. He could not catch himself in time and he would painfully, if not fatally, be entangled. Instinctively, he fell through the ground short of striking it.
In that instant, Harry's body was flattened and pressed as though to squeeze it through the crack between the great unyielding doors of Hogwarts castle. A blast of absolute zero grazed him at the narrowest point of his passage, but he was helpless to reverse course. The excruciating crushing and drawing out as though he were mere clay made him certain this was the end. But the deadly pressure released just as the cold began to numb him and he was ejected out of the ground on the other side, only dimly aware of tumbling into tall, saw-edged grass before he lost consciousness.
Harry rose to consciousness slowly, chilled to the core, but with the sunlight blessedly warming his flesh because of his dark robe. A cord in his neck screamed when he moved his face away from the sun. Ants were crawling up his nose and thick grass stems stabbed him behind the ear.
When he could, Harry rose up and stood on cold-creaky limbs and looked about. Half fallen trees lined a dip where a creek ran. He stumbled over hidden ruts in the grass, too weak to catch himself without severe straining that only increased his misery. Half decayed, bleached, and sagging wood houses came into view through the ragged forest, matching the half-dead and bleached trees surrounding them. A whiff of curse attracted his gaze to one house in particular. It was the only house with smoke coming out of the chimney. A spell masked the smoke, making it visible only if one looked beyond it at just the right angle.
Harry stretched his neck side to side, pulled his shoulders back and took out his wand. He felt vaguely confident he could reverse his accidental arrival but did not want to face the Dark Plane again until he was strong and clearheaded. While he recuperated and finished warming his bones, he moved to satisfy his curiosity about where he had ended up.
The occupied house was spelled in layered and subtle ways. Harry stepped in an ungainly manner over and around the cursed zones on the ground—laid out in an invisible maze—until he finally reached the door. Like at the house where the Vampire had taken over, Harry simply knocked, wand at his side, obscured by his robe sleeve. The man who jerked open the door startled Harry severely, but he hid it quickly. Snape gazed with equal alarm back at Harry. Harry blinked and felt a chill permeating him again, but this time from the ice in Snape's eyes. Snape's hair was astoundingly disheveled and his eyes showed wrinkles at the corners that Harry had not noticed before.
Snape gazed intensely at Harry and harshly whispered, Potter . . . But his eyes then took in Harrys own with close scrutiny, then narrowed in further confusion as though they were unexpected.
Harry, for lack of anything else to say, said, Hello, Severus, and stood on tip-toe to peer inquisitively beyond at the small room. It was full of books, which gave Harry some reassurance.
What the devil are you doing here? Snape demanded in a low voice.
Good question, Harry answered amiably despite his racing brain. Im not sure. Snape had stepped back as though to verify something in the room. Harry used the opening to stride inside. He felt and heard, rather than saw, Snapes jerk of surprise as he passed. The small room was clearly well lived in but in need of a good cleaning. Maybe the cold had addled his brains, but they refused to piece things together.
Harry finished his short circuit and looked about himself. It felt Snape-like in every way except wholly unfamiliar. Where was he? Harry wondered. What was Snape doing here, and what had transpired to change him so?
What happened to your eyes? Snape asked warily, voice demanding an answer.
Harry laughed lightly in a kind of weird relief that this could not be the man he knew. Gamely, he answered honestly, Playing with too-powerful magicks. Or . . . I am told that's what caused it." He again considered Snape, who was holding his wand just shy of ready. Harry continued to expect that at any moment this was going to make some sense.
Snape said slowly, Must have been . . . rather powerful. Your Occlumency certainly has improved. He sounded disappointed and annoyed.
Harry grinned to himself, finding light amusement in that compliment. Cant get by without it. You dont need your wand, he said, holding his hands up, empty, wand caught on his sleeve hem, easy to retrieve.
Snape lowered his wand only an inch. You will forgive me given that the last three times we have met, you have tried to kill me.
Oh, Harry said, glomming fully onto the notion that if there were an unfamiliar Snape that there was an unfamiliar Harry Potter as well. He scratched behind his ear and pondered that, but felt only additional unease. He gave the room closer scrutiny in hopes of a clue.
You should not be here, Snape hissed.
Harry was examining a trinket on a crude shelf without touching it, it was a locket that looked vaguely familiar. That I know, believe me. I should have just left, but I was curious. He moved on to study a shelf packed so tight with books that they were stuffed in on top and curled to fit in every available gap. Harry asked, So satisfy my curiosity: why are you here rather than Shrewsthorpe?
There was a palpably uncomfortable gap before Snape retorted, What?
Harry shrugged. I mean, this isnt really much of a holiday cottage. Whats wrong with your house?
Snape sounded oddly disturbed as he cautiously answered, It is much easier to layer barriers here than in the middle of an occupied village. How did you get through them by the way?
Harry ignored the question. A creaking bookshelf swinging inward drew his attention that way and Harry flicked his wand into his hand as Peter Pettigrew came into view, ducking low to see into the ground floor from a hidden staircase. Poisonous anger filled Harry. Get out of my sight, Harry snarled, aiming his wand and gripping it as though to crush the wood of it. Go! he insisted when Pettigrew merely froze in shock. Or Ill finish the job I stupidly stopped Sirius from doing and it will be long and excruciating as befitting a bloody traitor like you! Harrys anger surprised himself and Pettigrew, apparently sensing his unbalancing of Harry, retreated back up the stairs with a squeak of fear.
The hidden door swung closed with a thud. Harry lowered his wand and paced, thinking fiercely. Where is this where Pettigrew is still alive? Reluctantly, he closed his eyes on the current sight of the ghostly etched glass of the potion bottles crammed tight on the shelf before him and let himself drift. The dark stain of evil that reached its fingers under his lowered guard made him jerk. Voldemort. Great effing Merlin, Harry thought. Its him. Not a pale shadow of him, but full force, followers free, will-not-die him. Harry opened his eyes and turned to his unexpected host, who was giving him a penetrating stare in return. Well, Harry breathed, sounding stunned.
Problem? Snape sneered.
Pretend I know nothing and catch me up with whats been happening.
Snape managed to appear even more annoyed, which was no small trick. Were you Obliviated, Potter? Or knocked silly?
In a sense, Harry said, recovering his earlier amiable manner mostly because it alarmed this Snape so thoroughly and he was willing to grasp for any shield under the circumstances.
You truly wish me to fill you in? Snape asked, disgust lining his words.
Yeah, what is happening with Voldemort? Harry asked and heard Snape flinch since it rustled his robes.
DO NOT use his name in my presence. If you are foolish enough to use it around your little friends, that is your own stupidity. But. Not. Here. He looked as though he wanted to raise his wand but instead it vibrated at his side.
Harry shrugged and asked calmly, All right, what is happening with the Dark Lord?
Suffice to say he is gaining in power, nearly unchecked at this point. It is unclear how he will be brought down given how much he has survived to date.
Harry considered that. Havent all the Horcruxes been found? he asked, thinking that might explain things. Perhaps they were more powerful here.
Snapes head drifted downwards as though he might collapse before he turned and paced the very short distance to the grimy window. That explains enormous amounts, he whispered. Bloody hell.
Harry considered that his Snape hadnt known that either. Why arent you at Hogwarts? he asked.
Snape turned such a disbelieving glare on him before raising his wand; although he didnt appear to have a spell prepared. What the devil are you on about, Potter? You are at least aware Dumbledore is dead, correct? he mocked. You were certainly there when he died.
Yeah, Harry retorted, losing his calm. He went when he wanted to go. Whats that got to do with it?
Snape nearly dropped his wand his hand fell so fast. Youve finally figured that out? he snidely asked.
Harry was thinking that perhaps he did not have it figured out at all. He held in a response. Instead he asked another question, Why is Wormtail here with you? This really bothered him, more than mysterious differences about Dumbledore and almost more than Voldemort himself.
I was assigned to look after him, an assignment that has lasted far too long. Lasts any longer and Ill kill him myself.
Harry laughed, which brought Snapes wand up to his point at his throat. Who are you? he demanded, voice low, head tilted predatorily.
Calmly, lifting his chin to keep the wand from hurting the soft flesh of his throat when he talked, Harry replied, Harry Potter isnt the answer youre looking for, I assume.
Harrys scar throbbed and then seared. He closed his eyes to avoid giving this away and found seven more shadows hovering very, very close. Were you expecting company? Harry asked.
Not you, certainly, Snape replied smoothly, greasily.
No, I mean other Death Eaters. Seven of them, besides the two of you, just arrived in the village.
Snapes alarm was clear, even as it bounced between Harry's strange knowledge and the prospect that he was correct. Snape paced the floor, tossing a barrier status spell in each direction. A knock sounded on the door. Harry backed into the corner beside the door, wand at ready.
Who is it? Snape asked.
Bella, Severus dear.
Harry gagged at the honey-covered tone. The door was opened with the queer fake gallantry Snape employed when he truly disliked the visitor. And to what do I owe this visit? he asked with impressive casualness as he moved to the far side of the room. Tea?
No, I think not. She held her wand up, aimed at him.
Snape turned from the tea set and considered her. And this is for? he asked with an innocent lilt.
Being a traitor, Severus, she said with disturbed pleasure. Our Lord has gifted me with the honor of making you pay dearly.
Dont be ridiculous. The Dark Lord would never- But his words were cut off as he grabbed his arm as though his mark burned. He recovered his composure with effort, clearly suffering. He did not release his arm but clung to it as though it were deadwood and he a drowning man.
Bellatrix spoke before him. I just finished with Mungdungus, Severus. He was a weak soul, so not equal to my skills." She purred, "You are.
Snape was suddenly on his knees and Harry at first believed Bellatrix had hit him with something but she said, We altered your barriers, Severus. You arent going anywhere except your own personal hell.
Harry, scar searing as he had never remembered it doing, leapt across the room just as the door, rickety as it was, dissolved in a sparkling spell and a whoosh. Harry jumped a low table and landed in a crouch at Snapes side. Snape was just putting his foot flat to stand again. Harry took him by the wrist, looked over his shoulder into the red, fiery eyes of Voldemort—who in that instant stood fixed by surprise in the doorway—and dropped both of them through the floor. If the vampire had not dragged Harry along through the interstice, Harry would not have been prepared for how much force it took to pull another along. He may have tragically let go, assuming he would have killed his companion on the way.
Harry did not have a destination in mind so when they landed in the grey dirt of the underworld, he paused to regroup. Instantly, creatures scrambled over the rough ground in their direction. Harry still had Snapes wrist in hand and Snape, who looked about himself in consternation, did not seem to notice.
Where is this? he asked quietly, forced to shirk away from the snapping maw of a half giant ant, half weasel.
You wouldnt believe me if I told you, Harry said. I just have to figure out where we are go-
He was interrupted by the old werewolf charging at them from around a large hillock. Harry leaned toward the monster and stared him down, making him bay and grovel between snarls. Snape tried to retreat the other way, tugging on Harrys grip. Harry turned and snarled in his direction, Dont fight me! Theyll eat you alive.
Snape froze and glared at Harry before glancing around them at the myriad distorted creatures clambering over one another, salivating at him. He stopped resisting with a fatalistic drop of his shoulders. Harry thought of where he could take them and Apparated them both to another spot inside the Dark Plane before dropping them both through the ground and, after a long struggle for Harry to get his companion through, into the green-meadowed sunlight. Harry released his hold on Snape and immediately closed his eyes. He was relieved this time to find Voldemort and many, many shadows hovering in the middle distance of his mind. That meant he had not mistakenly transported this Snape back to where Harry himself belonged.
Snape was shaking his robes out. This is an improvement. Where are we now? he asked in a tone that conveyed an almost subservient attitude.
The reserve about twenty miles north of Shrewsthorpe, Harry explained. He had settled on arriving in the area the witches used because it was open and he didnt want to arrive into a trap, and given the witches regular use of devices here, he expected it connected well to the Dark Plane. He looked the worn Snape up and down. His hair was indescribably filthy, and his face were sunken as though from long term stress and poor eating.
We should get you some dinner, Harry suggested, eliciting a look of disbelief. It didnt fade right away, so Harry added, And I can try to explain.
While Snape stared into the distance as though plotting, Harry considered that unlike a time turner, he could not damage things here; he had not moved through time, only through possibility. Somewhere in the past there had been a forking of events and this place was the alternative outcome. He hoped to Merlin that he COULD get home again.
I know an Inn in Wolverbury. It is just a little north, Snape said. And when Harry willingly offered an arm, Snape shook his head and grasped it. They arrived between a tall old car grill and a brick wall. A rusty abandoned car faced them down, tilted on its broken suspension. They walked around it and inside where only one customer sat hunched at the bar. The barman gave them a narrow-eyed look, especially Snape.
Which oya is payin? he asked doubtfully.
Harry reached into his robe pocket and held up the twenty pound notes, which spurred the man to gesture at a table. He and Snape sat to face each other beside a cracked and taped stained glass window.
Beers? the barman shouted. Harry shook his head, but Snape gestured that he would have one.
What do you want to eat? Harry asked. Im buying.
Snape shook his head lightly and appeared to consider Disapparating. When the drink was plunked onto the bar, Harry picked it up and ordered a plowmans platter. With another distasteful glance at the two of them, the barman stalked into the back without a word.
Snape sucked down the top quarter of his beer as though it were the elixir of life. Harry began, Im not in the right place.
I was beginning to suspect that, Snape said. You are too gently confident, for one thing, rather than obnoxiously heedless, and you have rather unexpected powers. He turned his mug around once, leaving wet rings on the rough wood of the table. So, where do you belong?
Somewhere else, Harry stated vaguely.
Somewhere where you do not try to kill me on sight, Snape said with forced pleasantness.
Correct, Harry said. Banging from the kitchen gave him a chance to think. Im not sure what to do. Just go home . . . Ive interfered already. But I dont think it matters. At Snapes odd expression, Harry quickly amended with: Well, it matters that I saved your life, but you may have managed to get away on your own if I hadnt been distracting you.
Snape rubbed his forearm and flinched as though suffering a strong stab of pain on top of unending agony. Harry felt badly for him but did not express this, knowing it would not be accepted.
It wasnt until the platter was empty that Snape spoke again. That place you took us to get us out of Weavers End . . . I have read about such a place. Perrodrick, an insane wizard in the six hundreds, claimed there was a magical pathway to the underworld.
The Dark Plane, Harry clarified. Ive never taken anyone through it before. Got dragged through it myself recently. But I didnt see any choice but to try. It was risky. I'm glad you came through all right.
Snidely, Snape asked, Do you go there often?
"It gets me under barriers, as you saw."
Snape's brows rose at the possibilities of that. He sipped at the last inch of his beer as though to drag it out. "Dark Lord gone where you come from?"
"Not exactly. But neutralized."
"Are you the one who did the neutralizing?"
Snape fell thoughtful and brushed his hair back, which was hopeless given its condition. "And you are one of the Horcruxes?"
"Yes. That's why the Dark Lord is still around. I can't bring myself to really finish the job."
Snape snorted lightly and tilted his beer to better examine it. "Understandable."
He looked utterly worn down and on the verge of self-destruction. Harry pulled out and pushed the folded stack of pounds over to him. "Take it."
Snape left it in the middle of the table. "It only delays the inevitable. Everything is doom."
"No," Harry snapped sharply. "You of all people cannot give up. Not after all this time."
Snape rubbed his eyes and held his fingers pressed over his face. "I believe I am hallucinating you."
Harry jerked one of Snape's hands down when they remained for more than a minute. "I can tell you what needs to happen. Believe me, I know."
Snape put his hands down flat on the table and stared at Harry. "Go ahead. Hallucination or not, this may be helpful."
"You have to get your Harry Potter to forgive you. Volde- The Dark Lord owns him until you do."
Snape's face twisted downward into a kind of mad tragic humor. "Impossible."
"No, it's not," Harry insisted. "You're the key to all of this and all you've been doing is hiding out."
Snape grew angry, which gave Harry hope. "That is not 'all I have been doing'. I have been passing messages in secret to the Order through the one person who still trusted me."
Snape nodded grimly.
Harry pushed the money closer to him. "Take it. I'd give you more if I had it."
Snape raised a slim, almost skeletal hand and did so. "And as for you . . . you are just going to pop on home?" he sarcastically asked.
Harry grew uncertain. "I'm going to give it a good try. It was an accident coming here, one I'll have to reverse." Harry stood, prepared to depart if only to relieve his own chest-clenching fear about whether he was trapped here. He said firmly, "He's capable of forgiving you. You just have to be patient."
"That is the one thing I possess zero of with him."
"Try, Severus," Harry heard himself pleading, caring even though he did not wish to. "It's the only way."
When Harry moved to leave, Snape restrained him with a claw-like grip on his arm. "Prove you are not a hallucination by telling me what magic changed your eyes so."
Harry relaxed his arm against the bones crushing it. "I turned the Dark Lord into a Muggle. I carved his magic out of him so he'd be harmless."
Snape's grip did not ease. "I don't think the Potter I know can do that."
"He'll think of something else," Harry assured him. "He's clever under pressure." Snape's grip released suddenly and he turned back to his empty mug as though expecting Harry to depart. Harry added in a low voice, "If he feels hatred when he faces the Dark Lord, he is doomed."
Snape's gaze did not come back to him, so Harry departed.
Back in the Dark Plane, Harry walked a bit, paying far more attention than before to what was around him. When he was back to the familiar area opposing his house, he stopped, certain if he inverted he would not find home. He did so anyway and indeed he arrived in a dusty grim house where the smashed windows were boarded up and the burned balcony had not been repaired but had been left to rot and dangle halfway to the ground floor. The hall floor rug underfoot had been chewed by mice down to a ragged triangle. Harry's eyes adjusted to the darkness and he let them follow up the stairs and around to where his room was, or would be if he were in another place.
Harry had to get to that other place or die trying.
Returning to the even mustier Dark Plane, Harry rehearsed what had happened last time. He had a gut feeling that it was not the interaction with the metal, but the falling sideways that had done it.
Harry dropped his shoulders and bolstered himself. The house was below him, above him. His house. It was there, waiting. The thought of never returning brought his heart rate up and keened his senses nearly to overload.
Harry chewed his lip and remembered long ago when Snape had tested him by standing him in an active pentagram device. It was dark magic because it thinned the barrier between the living world and the underworld. Harry had envisioned a hundred successive floors and ground in that spot. Snape had suggested that Harry was seeing temporally, but Harry now realized it was dimensionally. If he could see it that easily, he should be able to find his way. This thought calmed him considerably.
Harry stepped back and looked around himself. Dragging his foot in the grey dust, he drew a pentagram as tall as himself and then stood staring at it. The grass on a nearby hillock rustled as something crawled by. There was no howling in the distance. A deathly silence ruled after the furtive creature moved on.
Harry had to get home but he had no knowledge of pentagrams and the magic surrounding them. If he could activate this one, maybe it would be easier, he thought, but he knew nothing about how to do that. It made him recognize the gaping hole in his knowledge, one he had preferred until this moment.
"Some dark wizard hunter I am," Harry wryly muttered. "I don't even know how the most basic dark wizardry works."
He stepped into the center of the dry pentagram but felt no vibration of power. He imagined what he had felt that day in the storage room and tried to impose it on this one. He closed his eyes and imagined home. He imagined the opposite of the house he had just visited: one bright with light, freshly redecorated, with voices, movement, and grave concern for him should he never return. Home.
With that place, that plane, firmly fixed in his mind, Harry toppled sideways and at the last second fell through ground.
The excruciating slip between planes was the same as last time. Harry was flattened between icy walls that crushed absolute cold into his body. He was folded and mangled until he was certain the life had been wrung from heart and his bones reduced to rubble.
Harry landed hard on a freshly polished wood floor, shaking violently with cold. Adrenalin propelled his unwilling limbs to seek heat. It was a grey rainy day here and the crackle of a fire drew him like a moth to the drawing room. Scrambling clumsily on senseless hands and knees, Harry approached the salvation of the fire, and fell, striking his head on the andiron inside the hearth.
NEXT: Chapter 7
Harry raised his head and found Snape's concerned gaze. "What happened?" Harry asked him.
"That's what I was going to ask you," Snape said, sounding angry with a hint of distraught.
"Oh," Harry said, again restrained from rubbing the bump on his head and this time the Healer added an admonishing slap on the hand. Harry insisted upon sitting up and no one stopped him from doing so. The drawing room was not the location he thought he should be in, but that did not mean he knew where he expected to be.
Author's Notes Most likely ten days again before chapter 7. Life is crazy.