Chapter 28 — Deceptive Devices
Harry woke to the discomfort of his head lolling on an uneven surface while he fought to draw in a much needed breath. His hands fumbled for the wand in his pocket, scattering what felt like gritty ash and sticky damp shards over his robe-front. He had difficulty pulling his wand out, as though it had burrowed down too deep into his pocket. Spasmodically brushing off his cold-clumsy hands, Harry finally gained a grip on his wand and used it to warm the floor beside him. He used a spell strong enough that the heat seeped over to him without him having to move.
Eventually, with many preparatory deep breaths of rotted air, Harry sat up and peered around the decrepit hall. If this was not the right place, it was at least an equally miserable place. The oversized, candle-lined pentagram in the center of the floor, as creepy as it was, reassured him that this was the right place. Harry brushed his hand off again and froze as he spotted red flecked chips of bone amongst the fine ash clinging to his hand—the Hat Rabbit. Harry looked around the floor and then back at the destruction evidenced on his hands. The animal had not in the least survived passing in between. The paw Harry had held was the most intact part of it, but its frozen-into-dust remains spoke plaintively of the unforgiving harshness between the Planes. Harry could not even blame the rabbit's demise on its lack of magic, because it had been a magical creature.
Harry sighed and cleaned himself off with a spell before standing creakily to inspect the pentagram, which represented his next best hope. The Device exuded a distinctly Snape-like precision. Question now was, where was his Snape? Harry circled the unlit shape, an angled forest of warped candles glowing faintly with the light leaking in the partly boarded windows. As he came around to the hearth side of the room again, a translucent form wafted out of the kitchen door.
"Harry Potter . . ." Tidgy said, the ghostly sound seeping right into Harry's bones.
"Tidgy," Harry said in surprise.
"I is having a message for Harry Potter."
"Oh, do you?" Harry could barely believe this luck. "Good."
"Master says you will find him at your godfather's house, Harry Potter."
"Oh, thank Merlin," Harry said, letting relief carry away the worst strain from recent events. "Thank you, Tidgy."
The elf gave a long sniffling whine, like a gas leak, and dabbed at a transparent tear. "Everyone is thanking Tidgy."
"Well, you deserve it. And please keep an eye on the house, eh?"
Harry donned his usual disguise and Apparated for Grimmauld Place's porch, wondering exactly what he was going to find behind the dark old door. Delaying finding his adoptive father, just to find out the details of recent events here was not something he could withstand; so there he stood, unprepared.
Neville Longbottom opened the door, peaking through the crack with his wand tip sticking through. "Who are you?"
"I'm an old friend of Dumbledore's . . ." Harry began in his plodding old manner, barely managing to hold it through his impatience.
Neville interrupted, "Well, you'd have to be to get this far." But he failed to open the door wider.
Harry said, "I'm looking for someone I believe is visiting here: Severus Snape. Is he here?"
The door clicked closed. When it next opened, Hermione was there, a harried, permanently-stuck-in-examination-revisions Hermione. "Who are you?"
"Aaron Totten is my name. I was made to understand that Severus Snape is here, and I need to see him. I'm an old friend of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore's."
Hermione's narrowed eyes peered at him, judging him. "What do you want with Mr. Snape?" Her head disappeared and the sound of harsh whispering leaked outside. A piece of " . . . but I don't want to leave an old man just standing out there in the cold . . . well, but he has to have been given an invite at some point, right?"
The door opened wider. Hermione said, "Come on in, but you'll have to excuse our assigning you an escort. Standard procedure."
"What is?" Neville asked in confusion, and Hermione elbowed him.
Harry put on a kindly attitude. "It's no trouble my dear. I understand." He dearly, painfully, ached to point out that they should be checking for a disguise, but decided it best to not do so.
Hermione led Harry upstairs to where an aura of brewing hung in the still air like a curtain. She opened a bedroom door and led the way inside, saying, "Mr. Snape, someone is here to see you—an Aaron Totten."
Snape turned and looked up from the notes in his hand. Harry knew instantly he had the right man; there was a firmness, a stability, beneath the depths of this Snape's gaze where the other possessed only frantic strategy and suspicion.
"Harr-on," Snape said in surprise, correcting mid-word. Hermione closed the door behind her with just a quick mutter about leaving them alone to talk.
Hermione slipped away quickly because she had just surreptitiously made sure the twins' crystal ball was well positioned on the stand by the door and that was a much better way to eavesdrop than hanging around, obviously in the way. Down in the dining room, Neville had already pulled out the other half of the pair of connected crystals and placed it on the table, and was forcing Ron to be quiet as he asked too many questions about what was happening. Lavender crept out to fetch Harry and Ginny, who were in the kitchen.
Hermione doused the lamps and knelt on a chair to lean close to the sphere to hear. Ron reached more easily with his long neck. Back in Lupin's room, disguised Harry said, "Took me too long to find you."
Snape, over his surprise, calmly stated, "I left a message."
"That worked fine. But it took me too long to figure out you were gone."
The two of them stood stock still for a breath with Harry washed limp by relief. He crossed over to Snape and gave him a firm hug he was so grateful to be standing before him.
Down in the dining room, Ron covered his eyes and said, "Make me un-see that!"
Hermione hit him on the arm and whispered harshly, "Quiet! Sometimes the crystal balls go two-way."
Snape snorted a faint laugh and said with false sternness, "You disappoint me. I thought an hour, at most."
Harry released him to pace, disgusted with himself. "Yeah. Things were a little mad at home last weekend."
"How is . . . your fellow doing?" Snape asked. He made a motion to scratch his neck below his left ear, one of several Auror signals that indicated they were being monitored.
"Better. He's not the one I'm worried about right now. It's you."
Snape did not respond immediately. "I am doing all right."
Harry glared back. "I don't like the sound of that. You need to come home."
Snape turned to tend to a cauldron that was frothing hard, mimicking the rushing sound of a small waterfall. "Severus," Harry said in a threatening tone.
"Yes, I agree. But it is not easy."
Harry had to admit that he was not sure how to make it work out, but the spell must be repeatable. "You can't be resisting coming home. You don't belong here. It's too dangerous."
Snape waited for Harry to meet his gaze. "I realize it means going back on things I've said to you, but there are tasks only I can do here."
"I don't care," Harry snapped, heating quickly. "You have responsibilities at home, if I'm not mistaken."
Snape's brow rose in surprise. "Sensitive topic, I see."
Harry bit his lip. Snape cut in with, "Is my colleague behaving himself?"
Harry paced again. The room smelled of potions and sour sweat and it keyed him up more. "Well enough. I made a point about him doing so. I don't think he could have misunderstood."
"Are you behaving yourself?"
Harry studied the colorful stains running down the shelves in a pattern that implied there had been a serious accident recently. "Of course," Harry said in his best false voice. A bit of blackmail felt good.
Down in the dining room, Hermione asked no one in particular, "Who is this wizard? How did he know Dumbledore and how does he know Mr. Snape?"
Ron, whinging faintly and backing away from the crowd around the crystal, said, "Sounds like they live together. What a thought."
Ginny said, "That would explain why he's not married."
Harry said, "It would? Like being a hopeless, evil, bat-like git isn't sufficient reason?"
Hermione shrugged as if to concede that point. "I guess everyone has at least one person who cares about them. Sounds like Totten cares. 'Though he's awfully old for . . . well."
Ron ducked his head into his long, boney arms. "Aaaarg, stop it!"
Harry leaned into the space Ron made. "I just want to know if he's yet another enemy we need to worry about."
Hermione whispered, "Doesn't . . . seem like it. He wants to take Mr. Snape away, doesn't he? Well, except that might not help."
"It would help me," Harry muttered stubbornly.
Back in the bedroom, Snape methodically stirred a grey, gruel-like potion and sprinkled in some long dried twigs that were immediately swallowed up. He said, "You'll have to locate something for me to be able to leave. I'm a bit of a prisoner here."
"The half-burned book. I know."
Snape turned to him sharply, despite his hands staying busy. "You must have made quite an impression on my colleague."
"I tried to. It wasn't difficult."
Snape bent over to sniff the cauldron before turning down the heat on it. "I don't like you doing that."
"I don't like you being here. You don't owe this place anything."
Snape hesitated replying. "I would have agreed until I got here. Now it is not so clear."
Harry rolled his eyes, and huffed in frustration. "I'll find the book and figure out how to get you back. Are you going to be all right?" he asked, placing a hand on Snape's arm and gripping it. He hated leaving him here. "I can take you somewhere safer."
Snape studied him closely. "You have not been following the news, have you? No place in Europe is safe. I do not think even you can travel easily farther than that."
Harry's hand slipped off his arm, trying to take that in. "It's like last time, with Grindelwald."
"Where has this bloke been?" Hermione blurted in the darkness. "Living in a cave?"
Snape said, "By the time it is finished, it may be worse."
"All the more reason to leave," Harry said.
With no rancor, Snape pointed out, "You are quite a fickle person in this regard, aren't you?"
Harry's only reply was a thoughtful frown. "You have other responsibilities, as I said. You aren't trying to avoid them, are you?"
Snape shook his head slowly, but with less conviction than Harry would like. "But once one is steeped in a place like this, it becomes difficult to remember there is another, more real one . . . waiting."
"Well, it is waiting," Harry criticized. "Don't forget that."
"I can't," Snape stated, strangely flat. "I killed Dumbledore for a reason, remember?"
Harry stared at him, realizing after a beat that this was a message regarding his counterpart. "Yeah," he muttered doubtfully, trying to digest that.
"Not for reasons anyone can understand here," Snape went on, eyes intense. Harry got the sense that Snape was asking him to find the answer.
Harry swallowed. "Then, I really have to go, but I'll return as soon as I can." He gave Snape another quick hug and departed.
When he made the bend in the corridor, Harry saw himself waiting at the bottom of the stairs. His counterpart stood with head cocked suspiciously, but his attitude appeared patient, as though he would wait all day there.
Harry stroked his beard to reassure himself it was intact and started down, slowly, pretending to be pained. "Hello, there, young man," Harry rumbled, trying to sound less like himself and more like a doting old uncle.
Hard as granite, slippery as glass, the other asked, "Who are you?"
"Not your concern," Harry replied. "No threat to you, I assure you. Just looking after my family."
This caught the other by surprise and his suspicion relaxed, making him appear far more vulnerable. "Oh."
"Times like these, we have to all stick together right?"
The other nodded vaguely, mind diverted elsewhere, an unshielded mind from which Harry caught a jumbled scene of helpless paralysis on the ramparts of Hogwarts, hated Death Eaters arriving, then Dumbledore, blasted off the tower in a wash of green, but it was too jumbled and fraught with disbelieving panic to piece together.
Harry said sympathetically, "He wouldn't have left the task to you if you could not do it."
The other's head snapped up sharply. Harry winked at him. "You need to learn some Occlusion. Perhaps while Severus is here."
The other went from wary to disgusted. Prompting Harry to add firmly, "There is no sacrifice too great at this stage."
Hermione slipped into the hallway, apparently to listen in better, or provide moral support. She had her wand out but her arms wrapped around herself.
The other Harry asked, "How do you know Dumbledore?"
"I knew him my whole life," Harry replied. "But never as well as I should have. He always kept something back. Obviously he did that to you too."
The other said smartly, "That doesn't answer the question."
Kindly, Harry said, "I'm not going to answer the question. It's irrelevant to you." He stood there longer, wanting to say more. The vacillations in his counterpart's emotions spoke of far too much stress and long-term damage, and Harry could see why Snape hesitated leaving. "Just keep in mind the things Albus told you."
Spoiled sounding now, the other said, "Been so long . . . it's hard to remember."
Harry had turned to go, but now turned back. Finding annoyance worming its way in, he said, "He told you what your greatest weapon was, did he not?"
The other backed off in renewed wariness, and Harry tried not to grin. "Maybe I knew Albus too well, after all. Just keep it in mind."
- 888 -
Harry did as he said he needed to, and hurried home. He woke up before his hearth, which Winky had started early for the cloudy afternoon. Harry lay there with the fire burning dangerously close to his hair, listening to the crackle of the fresh wood turning to ash.
Kali called from her cage, and Harry found the strength to strain his weary limbs and get up to fetch her out. He paced around the room, holding her in one hand and petting her with the other, remembering the Hat Rabbit with some regret. With a deep sigh, he stroked his pet one last time before raising her to his shoulder so he could free his hands to write a letter.
Harry had to go down to the drawing room to find clean parchment. Snape's desk felt violated, but Harry found everything in the usual place. He tugged out a sheet of the best, creamy-white parchment, opened an ink bottle and began:
I hope you are not getting too comfortable there at our illustrious and quiet school, and that you are behaving as your colleagues expect, rather than as you wish to. I am going to assign a few of your students the task of keeping an eye on you. I expect you to ignore their activities if you discover them, which I'm certain you will, given that they are mere children and you an evil wizard's associate. If I hear any negative reports, trust that I will not be pleased.
Harry read through what he had written. It sounded like the words of someone who expected to be in charge. One part of him wanted to go straight there and threaten him again, it squirmed at mere letter writing. Harry suppressed that instinct, and dipped the quill again.
I have one question for you and I expect an honest and prompt answer. What did you do vis-à-vis Dumbledore?
Harry triple-underlined the word "prompt", pulled over a candle to work through making the letter for Snape's eye's only, and sent it off with Hedwig. He then composed three more letters for his old friends there including the only Slytherin he trusted fully enough: Suze. He made up a poor excuse for the task that family life seemed to be taking a toll on his adoptive father and he wanted to know that Snape was not taking that out on the students. Harry did not like that excuse, but it was the best he could think of, and anyone with an already doubtful view of the difficult Hogwarts professor, would be quick to believe it. Harry did not send the same letter to Hermione, in this case his overly sharp friend would be too difficult to assuage once her suspicions were arroused. Harry would have to hope she was too tied up with teaching to notice a shift in Snape's behavior.
Harry went to his training the next day, distracted and with his readings only partly absorbed. The workout and drills gave him a much-needed distraction from his problems until lunch when he meant to head to the Minister's office to see Belinda.
Aaron waylaid Harry before he reached the stairs. He took one of Harry's arms, like he needed the support more than to stop Harry. "I need to talk to you. Do you have plans this evening?"
"I don't have plans," Harry said. "Stop over after training, won't you?"
Aaron immediately brightened. "Great. Cheers." Hands in his pockets, he sauntered off down the corridor.
Harry headed up to the top floor and found to his dismay that the Minister's outer office contained Fudge and quite a number of other important people gathered in clusters, talking. Harry did not see Belinda in the crowd to catch her eye, so he retreated—to his stomach's delight—it was not pleased about the prospect of missing lunch.
Harry opened his reading as he ate the meat pie Winky had prepared for him. Mr. Weasley told him he would prefer Harry not buy anything, even from a Muggle shop in the area. Harry bit into the middle of the pie, surprised to find his heating spell had not made it all the way through. He definitely needed to clear up some of the distractions in his life, especially if his magic was going to suffer for it.
At home that evening, Harry took a seat with his books beside Candide. An owl arrived, one of the plain brown ones Hogwarts kept so many of. Harry put the letter away in the back of his book rather than risk Candide even seeing who it was from. If it had an Eye's Only charm on it, it would burn up before he could read it.
Something about his actions or his attitude caused her to ask, "Everything all right, Harry?"
Harry held the book Monsters Too Small To See open in his lap and gave her his attention. How to answer that?
"Things have been better," he admitted.
Taken aback, she patted his arm and prompted, "Really?" in disbelief. "What's troubling you?"
She sounded like the question really mattered, so Harry worked harder on a good answer. She brushed his rampant hair back. "I'd suggest a hair cut, but I realize short hair isn't the norm in this household."
Harry peered back at her open gaze, discovering for the first time that such a gesture, unlike Mrs. Weasley's in years past, did not bother him. He wondered now why it would do so.
Mouth curled in amusement, she said to his silence, "You're much too thoughtful for someone your age."
"I wouldn't be if I had a choice," he pointed out, smiling too without trying.
She put her book down. It was a soft-covered pale green book of rule changes for the new accounting year. "Maybe you are looking for trouble now?"
Harry emphatically shook his head. "No. If only that were true." He sat back and sighed. Part of him wanted to tell her that her husband was an impostor, but another more careful and strategic part held back. Harry may not be able to switch his guardian back, or his Snape may be killed before that could be managed. This fear kept Harry silent by itself. He cast his mind ahead, trying to accept that outcome because he knew from past experience he must plan for every possible eventuality, no matter how grave. In that case, Harry thought with grim determination, he would stay in this house and make sure this interloper took over and assured that Snape's son did not want for a father.
"Hm," Candide muttered. "You are definitely far away, somewhere."
"Sorry," Harry said, feeling vaguely depressed. "I have a lot to think about." He excused himself to go and read the letter in his room. His stuff had been packed away in trunks in preparation for moving to the other, more distant bedroom, something he had resisted doing until Snape was truly back, preferring to stay closer to their room.
The letter read:
If you were not so straightforward in your small-minded thinking, you would realize that it is perfectly in my interests to behave predictably. But, that said, I refuse to restrain from getting Slytherin House in order or retaking my class from a soft-minded interloper.
As to your last question, I cannot earn your understanding in this. Suffice to say, with little consolation, that he was dying anyway, and he commanded me to do as I did. Though you may not believe it of me, I did not wish to and I argued against it. The old wizard died of sentimentality for a lost cause and forced me to be the vehicle for it. That is all I wish to say on the matter.
Harry destroyed the letter and felt a wave of relief that he did not have a truly evil version of his adoptive father on his hands, assuming what the man said was true. It felt like the truth, which bought Harry a little more time to work things out. But to fix things, Harry really needed the book printed with purple ink. There must be a copy in this Plane as well as the other one.
Harry went back down to the main hall and said, "I have to go to Hogwarts to look for something. Aaron is supposed to come over; I'll go to Hogwarts while he's here to keep you company."
"I need company?"
"I want you left alone as little as possible." He said this in a tone of finality, feeling like the old-man version of himself. She did not debate further, just tilted her head noncommittally, opened her rule book again and went back to taking notes in it while Harry returned to his reading.
A quick double knock sounded on the door. As expected, Harry found Aaron waiting in the garden, his impecably embroidered, shiny, unwrinkled cloak draped fully around himself in the chilling air.
"'Ello, Harry," he said breathily, before striding in at Harry's gesture of invitation. Aaron greeted Candide and took a seat opposite her, head hanging a bit low.
"Can I get you something?" Harry asked.
"Yeah, I could really use a . . . never mind." He waved his hand. "I better not."
Harry resumed his seat beside Candide. "What's going on?"
"I need to talk to someone."
Harry glanced at Candide quickly and asked Aaron, "Do you want to move to the drawing room?"
Candide uncurled her feet out from under her saying, "I can go upstairs."
Aaron waved dismissively again. "No, it's all right. Please stay. It's your house, after all." He scrubbed his hair, then smoothed it carefully, managing to make it look even better through this process. He clasped his hands between his knees and announced, "I uh, I asked Ginny to marry me."
"What!" Harry blurted, glad he had not fetched a drink for himself because he would have spilled it right then. "You did?"
Aaron sighed loudly. "I did."
Harry could not find any words. Candide eagerly asked, "What did she say?"
Soberly, Aaron replied. "She said she had to think about it."
"I would say," Harry managed. "What . . . what made you ask her?" he sputtered.
Aaron's brow twisted to perplexed. "What do you mean?"
"I mean . . ." Harry paused, regrouping. "I don't know. Just seems sudden."
Aaron pointed at him. "That's what she said."
"Well, it is, isn't it?" Harry returned.
Aaron shrugged his boney shoulders. "I don't know. I've never done this before."
They both turned to Candide, who glanced between them before laughing lightly. "Don't look at me."
"You're the only married one here," Harry pointed out.
"That does not make me an expert," she replied while marking her spot and setting her her book aside on the end-table. She clasped her hands over her knee and said, "If it feels right. Time isn't the issue. You can know someone for years and still not know everything about them. Until you see them in the right circumstances, some part of their personality may never come out."
You are about to learn a lot about Severus, Harry grimly thought.
Candide went on, speaking to Aaron. "If she didn't say "no", outright, you're still okay."
Aaron bleakly peered at the metal-railed staircase off to his right, eyes tracing up it to the balcony. A knock sounded on the door, and everyone stared at everyone else until Harry jumped up.
Ginny stood at the door, bundled haphazardly in her rough woolen cloak. "Can I talk to you, Harry?"
"Er, of course. Come on in."
Harry expected to find Aaron in the hall, but he was absent. Candide pointed surreptitiously toward the drawing room door, which was open just a crack.
"Want anything?" Harry asked Ginny while he tried to decide whether to reveal that Aaron was already here.
Ginny shook her head, gaze lost far beyond the stone walls surrounding them.
Harry tried for a normal voice, "So, what's going on?"
Ginny pulled her cloak tighter. "Uh, Aaron asked me to marry him."
"Did he?" Candide asked, not sounding very authentic, but Ginny failed to notice.
"Em . . . what did you say?" Harry asked.
Winky arrived in a sparkle bearing a cup of cocoa. Ginny accepted it and sipped it between sighs. "I told him I didn't know." Then a moment later. "Crazy." She shrugged off her cloak and fell back, slouching nearly horizontal with her fine-boned hands out before her, clutching the steaming mug.
Candide reassured her, "You can't make that sort of decision quickly."
"I really do like him and all," Ginny said.
Harry could see movement through the crack in the drawing room door and he disliked the deception of letting Aaron overhear. Fortunately, Candide seemed content to run the conversation.
"And he has money; that should make the decision easier."
Harry spun his head to look at her, wondering at her bluntness.
Ginny replied, "It doesn't really; it makes it harder. The money is . . . like a third person you have to get to know and figure out if you can live with. No, it would be easier to decide if he were poor. He thought he was, briefly, when he believed you'd used all his money to ransom him. Said he was glad he wasn't, otherwise he couldn't ask me." She shook her head again. "Crazy."
"And you would decide what in the case of his being poor?" Candide went on, like an interview.
Like watching Beater practice, Harry turned back to Ginny.
"Oh, I don't know. I just know it'd be easier." She bit her nails for second before dropping her hands to her lap. "I just hope he gives me some time to think about it."
"I'm certain he will," Harry said, loudly enough to carry across the hall. Harry stood. "I have to go Hogwarts, care to go along?"
Ginny stood as well, but because her head hung low, she did not see the shifting of the light through the drawing room door. "No, I should get home. I told mum I'd help with cooking more."
"She doesn't even have that many to cook for," Harry said.
"Yeah," Ginny said. "I'm getting the idea lately she thinks she's done enough cooking for a lifetime, and I need to learn better."
Candide from her relaxed seat said, "Not if you marry Aaron, you won't."
Ginny pondered that a second before saying, "All the more reason to learn. I don't want to rely on someone for literally everything."
Harry suppressed a smile and with a thanks, Ginny Disapparated. Aaron immediately slunk out of the drawing room with a guilty curve to his back. Harry did not have the heart to give his friend trouble, so he said, "You were saying?"
"Maybe it was a little sudden," he said, rubbing the back of his neck. With a sigh, he let his arm fall.
"Want to have a seat?" Harry asked, worried his friend was slipping into a funk.
"I don't want to take up any more of your time," Aaron politely replied.
"It's not a problem," Harry insisted.
Aaron appeared unconvinced. Candide said, "Have a seat. You can do Harry a favor. He needs to run an errand and wants me to have company."
Brightening slightly, Aaron said, "Cheers then. Thanks." He sat back and propped his hands daintily in his lap. "I could use the company too. Since my troubles with the date I picked up at my favorite club, I haven't much for going out."
Harry shot Candide a grateful look, fetched his cloak, and Apparated away as the conversation moved to Candide asking, "What does you mum say about your choice?" and Aaron flinching with a mumbled answer about him not informing her yet.
Harry landed on the railroad bridge, still shaking his head. Maybe Candide could sort Aaron out; Harry certainly had no chance at it.
With the wind tugging and ballooning his cloak, Harry peered along the mist-lit valley emerging from below the trestle at his feet. He needed to think things through before rushing into Hogwarts. He did not want Snape to know he was there so he should head directly to the library to speak with Madam Pince to inquire about the book. Harry had another book by the same anonymous author, but it was short and contained only theories, not any facts and certainly not instructions for a device to travel between worlds.
After settling his mind and drawing his uplifted cloak close around him, Harry slipped into the Dark Plane and directly into the Restricted Section of the library. The tall shelves towered over Harry as he stood and listened to see if his arrival had been noticed. Students whispered as they worked at the tables, vellum pages shushed as they slid over one another, a binding slapped closed and footsteps sounded far on the other side of the room. Harry peered up and down the nearby shelves. He had already once before checked all of these books for help with the Dark Plane, he doubted he would have missed the one Snape described. Harry slipped out of the row and through the gate, casually, as if he had every reason to be there and just had been hanging around for a while.
Madam Pince sat at her desk, holding her bifocals at just the right angle to read the tiny print on the verso of the book she held open. Whispers of surprise followed Harry across the room as the students noticed him. The room fell silent and attentive as he reached the desk.
"Uh, ah, Mr. Potter," Pince whispered in surprise. "What can I do for you?"
"I have question for you. Can we talk in your office?"
"Ah, yes, of course." She gave the library's student occupants a critical eyeing before retreating and inviting Harry into her office with a kind bow.
Inside the high-ceilinged, heavily shelved room, Harry said, "I'm looking for a special book. It's a thick one."
"Well, I do hope you have more description than that," she said scornfully. "You sound like a patron at the Wizard Public Library in London, I have to say."
"It has purple ink," Harry helpfully added.
Madam Pince's attitude changed. She gave Harry a piercing gaze. "Professor Snape was just looking around for a similar book early Sunday night. I'd forgotten my reading glasses and found him skulking around in the Restricted Section as though he weren't a professor here, or something, and free to come in any time."
Harry kept his face level. "Did he find the book?"
"Not that I know of. If he'd given me an author, I could have helped him. I sent him off and told him not to disturb the books any more than necessary. At midnight, of all times." She scoffed. She took a seat at her desk and adjusted her glasses. "So, purple ink, you say. Do you have the author's name?"
Harry shook his head. "How many thick, purple ink books could there be?" he asked, trying to stay hopeful. He imagined himself traveling endlessly from Plane to Plane, asking this of every single Madame Pince, and felt queasy in his stomach.
She removed her glasses and glanced around the rough wooden shelves sagging beside her under the weight of wide, shiny leather volumes. Harry took the cue and also glanced around, wishing Snape had not been able to Occlude his thoughts so that Harry could have glimpsed a vision of the book. When Harry's eyes came back to the desk, Madame Pince quickly shut the book she had out. It was bound like any other, in leather with marbled paper inside the cover, but the writing indicated it was being used like a notebook.
At Harry's curious attention, she said shyly, "Just a little story I've been working on." She put the book away in a drawer and shut it rather loudly for a librarian. "But you were saying . . .?"
Harry thought more and said, "Dumbledore maybe owned the book at one point. Did Severus mention that?"
Madame Pince raised a brow. "No, he did not." She slid her chair back to get to her feet again. "Let's check the Bereft Book room, then. Many of Professor Dumbledore's books ended up there," she said, reaching to open the corner book case that turned out to be a shelf-covered door, where the shelves were screwed directly into the stout, Hogwarts wood. The door did not open far before the shelves struck each other. Harry squeezed in behind the librarian, forced to duck to keep his shoulder getting stabbed by the wall shelf.
Sparse light filtered in through a window blocked by stacks of trunks. A long narrow desk occupied the other wall, with narrow drawers and shelves of materials like leather hides, large marbled paper sheets, threads on spools and heavy needles. A book lay open with its pages sewn together in bundles but not glued into a binding.
"Dumbledore's books needed repair?" Harry asked. "I guess they were probably all very old."
Pince waved her wand to shift the stack of trunks, saying, "Many of them needed repair because of some accident he had in his office." She popped open a trunk and used a spell to make the books hover in a nice display orientation, waved them back and went to the next. "He never would say what happened. It was just at the end of the school year a few years back." The trunks thunked together as she shifted them and popped the next open.
Harry's chest tightened. That had been him that had damaged the contents of the headmaster's office.
Pince saying brightly, "Ah, here it tis," broke Harry from his guilty revere. The books were flying back into the trunk . . . all but one, or . . . half of one. Pince reverently held out, with both hands, the limply bound, but still heavy, partial book. The flopping binding showed how very long the book had been before half the pages had been burned away. The border pages had scorched edges but the rest were bright and undamaged even by smoke, indicating spell damage rather than real fire.
Harry thumbed the pages, daunted by the small print and obscure diagrams contained within. "Thanks," he said, trying to sound bright. "Can I keep it?"
Pince perched her glasses farther down her nose and took the book back for examination. "If you want it. Bit of an odd duck, that author. Not sure why Professor Dumbledore kept it around at all."
Harry thanked her and said, "Please don't tell Severus I found it. I, er, want to surprise him with it as a present."
She waved him off as they exited the Bereft Book room, indicating that she cared little either way. Harry was so pleased to have the book, he nearly absentmindedly slipped into the Dark Plane from her office. He tripped over his feet when he turned for the door instead with a jerk of his limbs.
"Careful there, young man," she said in her patron-correcting voice.
"Yes, I will be," Harry said, adding to himself: as soon as I get everything set to rights.
Out in the corridor where the beveled glass wall to the library threw star-shaped bright shards of light into the shadows, Harry waited until the echoing voices and footsteps receded before slipping away.
Harry brought two more lamps into his bedroom to better read the tiny print of the book. At first he was dismayed by the missing the first half of the book but after straining to read just a page, he decided it was just as well to be spared the pain of having to make it through so very many pages.
Hours later, eyes heavy and his Auror books untouched, Harry considered what to do with the book. If he kept it here at home, it could easily be found. The same if he took it to any likely hiding place. Harry considered hiding it in his locker at the Ministry, but Snape may find his Evanescent Deputy badge and look even there, and he certainly had the stealth to get away with it. Harry stretched as he stood and took himself to the place Snape was least likely to expect Harry to hide it.
Stone-frames surrounded glistening black glass windows and the dip worn in the center of the corridor floor showed more obvious in the light of the low burning wall lamps. Hogwarts castle was the best place to hide the book. Harry stepped over to where the hump-backed statue of Grunhilda stood and put the book inside her. He could easily slip back to fetch the book for reading when he needed to and, in between, feel secure that Snape would never find it.
- 888 -
Tired from a tedious, late night, not to mention daunted by the task of absorbing so much obscure knowledge to rescue his adoptive father, Harry left the breakfast table immediately after Candide left for work. Foggy-headed, Harry had trouble pulling out his wand for his turn at drills.
Rodgers did not fail to note his clumsiness. "Your power isn't much either, Potter," he criticized. "Try again and leave your distractions at the training room door."
Harry did, but he could not even come up with anger to meet his trainer's mocking tone, let alone a better attacking spell.
"Potter hopes he won't be facing anything tougher than a five-year-old with a licorice wand. Sit down; Aaron, let's give you an easy chance to shine while topping that sad effort."
Sighing, Harry sat down, quickly slipping off into his greater problems while the drone of mixed grudging praise and advice was heaped on his fellow apprentice in his stead.
Anxious to take care of something after a long day of harassment from his trainer, Harry headed immediately off to see Belinda. At the Minister's office, Harry was informed that the staff had been allowed to go home early because they had to work late the previous evening. Not believing his break in luck, Harry stepped back into the corridor and around to the stairwell to slip away to right before the door to Belinda's flat.
As soon as he arrived, Harry pulled his wand, believing he heard something in the direction of the stairwell. He waited, tense and listening, before waving a tracer spell that direction. The spell, no brighter than a sun-ray glinting on a dust mote, wove a spiral path through the air and disappeared down the stairs. Harry waited, but it did not return, indicating it had found nothing.
Harry relaxed and knocked on the door but received no answer. He knocked again, louder, before deciding she must be out. He knocked on the neighboring doors, thinking to interview them the way they did on Auror duty, but those doors remained silent and closed as well.
Dismayed, Harry headed away directly for home, thinking it best not to be seen leaving Belinda's flat through the front door, not fancying having a picture of that show up beside Skeeter's gossip column. Harry arrived directly in his own room and had to pull his wand again in the face of finding Snape digging through the bottom trunk from the pile beside the window.
Composing himself, Harry asked, "Looking for something?"
Snape twitched in surprise, but turned with calculating calm. Their eyes locked. Harry wanted to get angry, but that dark instinct spilled out amusement instead at his servant's predictability.
"You don't need the book unless you are planning on going home voluntarily," Harry stated, finding power in simply locating the Mark in his mind, even as he held off on using it.
Snape glanced over Harry's face, thinking. Harry could not pick up his thoughts, so he took a guess. "You aren't going off somewhere far away to hide, either."
Snape raised a brow, recovering some of his obnoxiousness, indicating Harry had guessed wrong. "You think not?" he mocked.
Still the picture of calm, restrained power, Harry said, "You are going to stay here and take care of your wife and your counterpart's other affairs until I can arrange to send you home and get him back."
"Hm," Snape muttered, appearing to consider his options as he analyzed Harry additionally. He was going to test those boundaries, Harry could feel like a vibrating tug on an invisible leash and he wondered, given how clear that was, how Voldemort could have been fooled for so long.
Harry stepped closer and noted Snape consciously standing his ground. "If you try to leave . . . I will hunt you down, and drag you back here." At the derisive doubt that flickered over the black eyes, Harry added, "You can't hide from me. I can find you anywhere." He pushed on the Mark as he said this, making Snape contort with a jerk before overcoming the pain and standing firm, defiant. Part of him felt sympathy for this man, but another felt only annoyance and insult at his machinations.
"You are not capable of working out the spell," Snape snarled faintly.
"Then why are you looking for the book?" Harry asked brightly.
Snape breathed faster than before, gathering himself for something. He said, "I do not like leaving anything to chance."
"There is no chance you are not going home," Harry snapped. After a breath he added more calmly as a test: "Aren't you happy enough here for the moment?"
Snape lost his defiance and fell thoughtful. "This place is acceptable. Although you are an unexpected addition to it." He stared at Harry, gauging his reaction. "Since I prefer to remain alive, I certainly would prefer to not go back. No reason to lie about that."
"That's not under your control," Harry pointed out, and waited to see if Snape had given in.
Without Harry pushing on it, Snape rubbed his forearm. "Nothing ever is, it seems," he observed softly, making Harry's sympathetic sense win out.
"Go back to Hogwarts," Harry said, moving to let his pet out, who had been watching their exchange between bouts of grooming her fur. "And behave yourself."
"I suspect that is what my counterpart would be saying about now," Snape stated slyly.
Harry lifted Kali to his shoulder, trying to shake a twinge of confusing affection. "Don't pretend to be something you're not," Harry said stiffly, jerking his fingers out of reach of his pet's jaws, which had nipped at him.
Snape peered at Kali as though understanding she was projecting Harry's mood and said, "You must realize, I rarely ever have the opportunity to do otherwise." With a last glance at Harry, he swished out of the room, leaving Harry to disentangle from his pet, who was now aggressively chewing on his hair.
Tonks arrived after her shift, and Harry felt compelled to slip the book away when he rose to give her a perfunctory kiss. Mostly he hid the book because he did not have the energy to explain why he was reading the strange old half-burned thing. He needed to take out his Auror books for an hour anyway, or risk looking the fool again tomorrow at training.
Tonks read over Harry's shoulder for a while before curling up at his back to sleep. The meaning of what he was reading began to tip-toe out of reach, and Harry tried another book before giving that one up as well with a sharp closing of the hard cover. Tonks stirred and said, "What's the matter?"
"Nothing," Harry muttered, his concerns rushing back in.
"Yeah, sounds like it," Tonks returned.
Not wanting to discuss Snape and knowing discussions about Belinda made her jealous, Harry propped himself up on a pillow and kept his mouth pressed closed.
With a faint huff, Tonks burrowed under the duvet and went back to sleep. After a time, lulled by the sound of her breathing, Harry did the same.
Harry woke in the middle of the night. He stared at the fuzzy grey ceiling for a while before slipping on his glasses and staring some more at the details of the white plaster bisected by dark, rough-cut timbers. When he closed his eyes and drifted with difficult-to-achieve calm, he could see the shadow of the impostor Snape floating in the midfield of his mind. The other Death Eaters were a distant knot of darkness that he had to strain to sense. He wished he could feel none of them.
Worried about his adoptive father, Harry rolled over gingerly to turn up the lamp and pull out the clunky book. The complicated words and abstract ideas made more sense on a second reading in the unchallenging stillness of the night, and that gave Harry hope. He had no choice but to understand the book before he could move on. His guardian would be able to help him some with it, but given the difficulty of talking at Grimmauld Place and how unsafe it was for Snape to leave, Harry needed to be down to just a few questions to have a chance at getting as much as possible resolved at the next visit, which Harry intended for the next weekend. He was placing a lot of faith, he knew, on being able to activate the existing Device. If that proved impossible, Harry dreaded imagining how long it may be before he could swap them to their proper places. Long before it came to that, Harry imagined he would break down and force the impostor to teach him how to do it, by dire threat if necessary. Sick feeling at the notion of losing himself to that mentality for the time required, Harry doubled his efforts at understanding the complicated Pinhole-Bridging spell diagram on the page open before him. He knew instinctively how this worked—he could do it by himself—so he certainly should be able to understand this crazy old author and his drawings.
- 888 -
To his relief, Harry did passably well at training the next day, implying that his mind was adapting to the rigors of studying, even short on sleep.
The door to the Minister's office was closed and when Harry knocked, the cleaning witch explained that the Minister had taken her staff out to a ribbon cutting at a new broom manufactory. Harry thanked the witch and the delicately carved door closed with a click. Harry stared at the stern faces peaking out from corners of squares defined by ivy. That dark instinct inside him told him to slip into her flat to investigate. When he resisted that invasive idea, the instinct pointed out that his enemies cared little about such niceties.
Deciding that it would be acceptable to take a peek since he had been invited in before and he only had her best interest at heart, he slipped into the Dark Plane and directly to her flat. He circled the main room, poking carefully into things after checking for spells, making satisfying use of his training. In the kitchen stacks of unclean dishes stood in piles that indicated either guests or long-term neglect. Harry considered skipping searching there, but heard Rodgers chastising him for sloppiness, so he stepped in and checked around and under things, finding little of interest. Despite the unwashed dishes, the floor was sparkling clean. The full sink gave off the odor of garlic-spiced food. Harry circled slowly around by the dusty-screened television, installed, he knew, at the Minister's insistence that her staff all keep abreast of Muggle events and opinions. The bookshelves were also faintly dusty in back. Harry pulled out every book, looking for anything hidden behind or inside before returning the dust with a spell.
When he finished the large shelf he began to feel silly for what he was doing and wished he had some idea what to look for. If Durumulna were troubling Belinda, what evidence would their be of that? The dishes in the sink were the strangest thing so far that he'd found, and that wasn't very specific. Harry gave up on thinking and let habit take over and returned to his methodical searching, wondering if he could hold onto that mode through a survey of her bedroom.
Following his trainer's absent voice urging him on, Harry crouched low, head to the floor, to see if anything interesting had fallen under the couch. As he did this, the lock clicked. Harry snapped straight and stepped into the nearby bathroom, caught momentarily by the sight of the men's shaving kit on the shelf above the sink. A glance through the crack at the door's edge, showed Belinda setting down her handbag and slipping her wand away. Harry slipped out of the bathroom and into the building corridor where he waited a count of fifty before knocking.
Belinda answered his knock promptly and expressed surprise at seeing him there.
"Hi," Harry said, expecting her to start where she left off on Diagon Alley the previous weekend.
Instead of asking for his help, she seemed vaguely annoyed. She said, "What are you doing here?" while glancing both ways along the corridor.
"I thought you wanted to talk."
Her brow lowered. "I did, but I got it straight now. It's okay."
"Really?" Harry blurted.
She glanced both ways again. "Yeah, really. Things are okay now."
Harry mimicked her glance. "Who are you expecting?"
"No one. Just didn't, er, notice you approach the door. You know, the alarm spells didn't go off."
Harry did not like this. She did not have alarm spells before. "Can I come in?"
At first, he was certain she would say no, but she stepped back and waved for him to enter.
When she turned, Harry wasted no time. "Look, I want to know what's going on."
His pushiness hardened her. "Nothing is going on."
"You were trying to hide from what I expect were Durumulna members just the other day on Diagon."
"Wouldn't you try to hide from them?"
Harry Legilimized her, and found nothing deceptive about this sentiment. "You worked everything out since then . . . the troubles you were having?"
She looked away. "Yes. It's fine."
She sounded honest, but Harry wished he could prove it.
"It's fine," she repeated. "And really, I'd rather not have you seen here. You aren't the only person in the world who can help people out, you know."
"Who's helping you?" Harry asked, intending to not leave until he knew at least this much. He dearly hoped she did not say "Percy".
"Why do you need to know?"
Harry fought a wave of frustration. He was starting to find keen appeal in using Veritaserum more judiciously, or one of several other tongue-loosening potions. That darker side of him reared up and mocked him as well for being too weak to simply force out the answers he wanted. He had an expert servant at his beck and call, free to help, how could he let her avoid explaining?
Harry took a step back, distracted by the notions he was having. Snape had become a tool in his mind, rather than an enemy, in just that instant, and the switch disconcerted him. Harry really needed his guardian back—the one who did not feel like a pawn to be moved around a personal chess board at his whim, then maybe these notions would lack such strength.
"Please tell me who's helping you, so I know you're in good hands."
She glanced around and said softly. "Alastor Moody." At his stare, she went on. "He comes by an evening or two a week to check on me. Has for a while, now."
Harry did relax at that. He dropped his hand from rubbing his head and straightened, bringing himself back to examining her. The flat's indirect light made her eyes appear poorly slept and her cheeks hollowed by strain. Through it, her eyes revealed worry for him overlaid with guilt and murky thoughts centered on someone insisting she do something, or face some undesirable outcome. She turned her head and Harry released a deep breath.
"If you are in too deep, you can ask for more help," Harry insisted. "Before you are cornered into doing something you may regret. Something that would threaten Bones for example."
Eyes on the floor, she mumbled, "I would never let anyone talk me into doing something that would put her at risk."
"I'd expect not." Harry needed some space to sort out his conflicting instincts, but he stayed put to gauge her better.
She repeated, "I don't want anyone to see you here."
"Like whom?" Harry asked, thinking he could corner her himself.
"Anyone. Skeeter, even Alastor."
Harry sighed. She had him there.
At home Tonks and Candide were both waiting at the table with a bowl of crisps between them, reduced to a few crumbs. Harry was glad to see Tonks, especially since it meant Candide was not alone while he was taking far too much time nosing around. Dinner sparkled in the moment he sat down.
"Didn't know you'd be late," Candide said.
"I, er, had some shopping to do," Harry said, thinking that an excellent excuse for his absence, given Christmas' fast approach, and the fact that it would be rude for them to ask more, in case the presents were for one of them.
"At least you try, Harry," Tonks said with a wink. "Blokes don't generally shop well."
Not wanting to get her expectations up too high, given that he could not foresee time to shop at all, he said, "I may not manage anything too fancy, but I do try." As he ate, he wondered with some dismay what in the world the impostor Snape may try to get for the two of them. That imagining made the luscious scented beef and gravy on his plate nearly inedible. It simply could not be allowed to come to that.
- 888 -
The next day at training, Harry barely registered the questions his trainer aimed their way.
"Potter, you're acting as lovesick as Wickem here. I can't handle two of you living on cloud nine. Snap out of it. The Minister is due down here for a surprise inspection with some of the Wizengamot and I intend to impress them with our sharp skills, not our tendency to have our collective thoughts wandering off."
Vineet raised his hand and asked, "If it is a surprise inspection, how is it you are knowing about it ahead of time?"
Rodgers propped his fists on his hips and raised a depreciating brow. "If they did not at least give us a hint, they may be sadly disappointed in the outcome, which they do not wish to be."
"I am grasping this meaning," Vineet replied. "I think."
They broke for lunch and Harry went to his locker to collect what Winky had prepared for him. He was reminded about how unwise a hiding place this would have been for the purple-inked book by the presence there of Percy and Fudge's other two assistants. Harry did not want Percy to see him execute the protective spell negation on his locker, so he waited while his fellows opened theirs and filed out of the room, all but Aaron, who glanced between Harry and Percy as though expecting something to happen.
"No place else to wait?" Harry stated pointedly to the trio.
The other two assistants: one a man with a neck even longer than Percy's and the other a short-haired woman with a square head that would have fit better on a bulky body rather than her lithe, flowing one, made a move to leave. Percy sneered at them. "Oh yes, let's do whatever Boy Wonder wishes of us."
"It is our changing room," Aaron pointed out, plucking at his workout suit. "We would like to do some changing before lunch; we've been working hard this morning."
"Come on, Pers," the man said, heading for the door.
Harry whispered, "Purse?"
Percy took a step forward. "No, I'd like a word with Boy Lightning Bolt here." His companions rolled their eyes and the woman left, leaving the man hanging in the doorway uncertainly. Percy leaned close enough for Harry to note he had already had lunch, something with pickled onions. He said to Harry, "You're not going to fool them forever, you know. When they see what you really are, it'll be all over with." He gave Harry a small shove, and Harry tried for his wand but missed, as he had been lately, as though his fingers were still clumsy from the cold in-between or something. Percy swung his arm just as Harry got hold of it and his wand clattered to the floor and Percy kicked it out of reach under the bench before diving to make a grab for it. He stood swarthily and dangled it before Harry.
"Too bad this isn't Hogwarts. The things I could do to you. . ." Percy mocked.
Harry restrained his temper and held onto his dignity by not reaching for it. Aaron had his wand against Percy's temple less than a second later, complete with arm lock.
"You mean like the things we did to you, Percy?" Aaron mocked. "You remember Slytherin House, don't you?" He did not relinquish his hold until Percy gave over Harry's wand, even though he still had a hold of Harry's robe-front. Fudge's other assistant had approached but did not intervene.
Percy managed a smirk for Harry's fellow as he tossed his hair straight. "Yeah. You think you're everything too. Got everything you want, compliments of mummy."
Aaron required an unusual extra two beats to retort, "Compliments of your mummy, actually."
Percy's eyes turned dark. He pointed a long finger at Aaron. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Harry did not like the turn this was taking. He stepped between them, even though Percy's hold tried to keep him away. Harry said, "Percy, I'm going to use the most painful martial arts move I know on you if you don't let go of me and get the hell out of here. I will gladly go on a year's probation with your father just to put you in St. Mungo's with at least three things broken."
Percy said to Aaron, "If this has something to do with my sister. . ." he faded out and turned back to Harry, red in the face. "As for you . . ." He relinquished Harry with an ineffective toss of his wiry hands. "Some of us know what you really are. Remember that." He stalked off and his colleague followed with an apologetic glance back at them.
After lunch the official contingent poured into the training room. Pinned to the Minister's hip, Mr. Weasley was assuring Bones of the improvements in their department. Bones spoke over him, saying, "I was reminded the other day of how I had not arranged a surprise inspection since taking office, unlike the frequent ones arranged by my predecessor." She said this with a nod to Fudge, who gave her a simpering smile as he slid along the wall for a good observation spot, followed by his assistants.
Harry ignored them all and focused instead on what he had been told the demonstration would entail. His mind would churn out of control otherwise.
When the entourage had settled in, Rodgers announced, "We have been working of late on spell power. Vishnu, come up here for a demonstration."
A shuffle sounded from the wall and Fudge said, "No, let's see your star . . . Mr. Potter."
Rodgers took affront at this. "All of our apprentices shine. We don't allow stars here. At least I don't."
The apprentices nodded in agreement with this assessment. Pleased by this, as indicated by a crooked smirk, Rodgers relented and stepped back. "Potter, you and Vishnu."
Harry's spells had not been up to his usual level, so he approached the front of the room with dismay. Vineet exhibited the best control Harry had ever seen, and Harry held onto his blocks with only a little vibration of his wand. On attack he blotted out all other concerns and struck out, full force, surprising the room with the fireworks. The two of them traded off for Kerry Ann and Tridant, who did their best to appear to nearly kill each other, further impressing the visitors.
Soon enough, they were left to their training as Bones' contingent filed out with a rumble of commentary from those trying to convince the Minister of their view of how things looked.
The door snapped closed and Harry's shoulders fell in relief. He was apparently still too sensitive to having to prove himself to Fudge after all this time because the demonstration had left him agitated. Vineet slid over to him as they took their seats. Harry said, "You were trying to make me look good by holding back."
"I do not mind doing this," Vineet said, sounding fully at peace with the notion.
"I mind you doing it," Harry complained.
"Let's try to get something meaningful accomplished," Rodgers announced, louder than necessary. "And go over the readings for today."
Harry fetched the purple-inked book on the way home and curled up on the couch with it, determined to read it until he slept that night. Worry about his guardian kept his attention on the pages for many hours, and through painstakingly copying out the diagrams onto parchments to take with him that weekend. Harry ached to make another visit. This visit, he planned leave early in the morning, so as to have to time to help out a while if that would help keep Snape safe.
"Good to see you working on your books so religiously," Candide said when they curled back up with their respective work after dinner.
Harry nodded faintly. "I have to be prepared."
"Severus wanted me to keep an eye on your studies, but I don't know why he always insists that. You get to it fine on your own."
Harry nodded faintly again, wanting this ruse over with so badly it made his eyes hot.
author's note: I've started a new mailing list of people who want to be notified only when the entire story is finished (in addition to the one for chapter notices, which you can also sign up for). you can get on it by sending a message to darkirony at gmail (.) com
I'm on the road. Depending on how exciting Latvia is next week ;-) we'll see if we can get the chapter posting down to 10 days.
Next: Chapter 29 -- Descent
"I'll just drop my bag in my locker," Harry half asked, wanting to follow procedure to secure his lunch from tampering.
Mr. Weasley nodded and then led the way down to the tea room. Harry forced himself to exhale, wondering if somehow Percy's threats were already coming to fruition. The chair's metal feet squeaked gratingly across the floor when Harry pulled it out to sit. Mr. Weasley did not sit; he leaned on the back of the opposite chair.
"What did you do this last Tuesday, Harry? After you left training."