Author's Note: O Evil Harry, how long shall you be gracing our presence?
Given that the feedback to reader traffic ratio typically runs about %2, and given how many pleas for the return of old Harry I got after last chapter, I'm estimating there are quite a few angsty readers out there. And I really do appreciate everyone hanging in there for this whole humungous story, so for those of you not enjoying the current situation, please read the note at the bottom before continuing. Thanks!
---Chapter 50 -- Vaults
Harry returned to Belinda's flat by Apparating directly in. She sat on her couch staring at the darkened television screen, an open bottle of scotch on the floor beside her foot.
"You didn't even bother to get a glass?" Harry asked, hanging his invisibility cloak inside his normal cloak over a chair back.
She turned red-stained eyes at him before looking away again and crossing her arms.
Harry said, "I took care of Percy . . . the same way he took care of the Indian prisoner. But it may arouse suspicion. Actually I expect it will arouse suspicion, so I'll have to follow up when I see how everyone reacts."
She did not move or respond. Harry strolled over and lowered himself beside her on the couch.
Her lips drew in between her teeth. Harry grasped the cold fingers of her closer hand, capturing it as it twitched away.
"You said you can't do it if I'm not willing," she said, still staring straight ahead.
Harry leaned in so he was beside her ear when he said, "That's right." He pulled her hair away from her neck to nuzzle it. "But you will be."
"You think so?" she challenged, tilting her head away, perhaps to ignore him, perhaps to give him better access to the crux of her neck.
Harry backed off to caress her cheeks. They were dry today. They used to always be soft and well-cared for. "You'd prefer to go through this alone?"
"No, of course not," she said.
"If you let me put this curse on you, we can help each other," Harry said soothingly.
"We can help each other anyway, can't we?"
Harry found her lips with his own, drawing them into a pucker by sucking on them. "Not as easily," he said, pretending to be distracted by the affection, in reality he had never felt so calculating.
Her lips softened making them easier to kiss, and he slipped a hand behind her neck to hold her steady. He pause to say, "Do this for me, Belinda."
He could feel her head shake. "It's just like Percy," she said, strained. "I'd have to worry about the Ministry finding out.
"You still have to do that anyway," Harry said. "This way, there would be a purpose to it," he added, fishing for appealing aspects. "You wouldn't just be a victim like before. You'd be part of something larger."
"Larger? What, the Harry Potter fan club?"
Harry pulled back. "Is there still one of those?" he asked, spirit rising at the prospect of blind willingness.
"I'm sure there is," she stated with disdain, making Harry smile. "You think that's funny."
"I think your attitude is funny."
"How could any woman compete with that?" she asked. "All that fawning. I can't compete with that."
Taking his time, Harry stroked the backs of her knuckles. "You'd be the only one."
This tactic did not seem especially promising to Harry, but she asked, "Really?" in a way that fed a ball of heat in his midsection. But then she looked away again and said, "I don't understand, exactly, in the prison you got used to the Death Eaters? What does that mean?"
"Because the Dark Lord left part of himself behind inside me, I can sense them. They make me greater than I could ever be as just one wizard."
She turned back, face fixed in a thoughtful arrangement. "How?"
Harry could not come up with words. "Maybe it's just a sense I get, an illusion, and not real, but I feel like I can touch everything when I have them near. I can't explain it."
"No, I think I know what you mean. I wanted to be part of something larger than myself too. I thought the Ministry would be it, but now it doesn't seem like it's ever going to be."
Harry gently took up her left hand between his own. "Why don't you become part of me for a little while. See if that works out better. I'd be really . . . grateful . . ." Harry swallowed hard after forcing that word out. "I really would."
She snorted and gave an empty laugh. "Men always say they'll be grateful."
Harry grew a little sharp. "I don't think you understand how much this would mean to me."
She became sharp in return. "Are you becoming the next Voldemort?"
Becoming? Harry thought. "No," he answered. "I just feel like I could be so much more. But I'm not, and it bothers me. It's awful really."
She huffed. "I shouldn't have promised you. I panicked."
"Not if you weren't going to stand by it," Harry casually remarked. He stood up and strolled slowly to where his cloak hung.
"Are you going?" she asked with an edge Harry hoped was desperation.
"If you aren't willing, yes. I need to get some sleep. I'm exhausted."
She closed her eyes. Her voice wavered when she spoke. "You promise you'll help me?"
"If you let me do this, you will be like a partner. I would do anything for you," Harry lied, finding the words like finding the right key for a lock.
He walked back over to her, slowly, posture relaxed and non-threatening. He sat beside her and waited for her to speak. Her rapid breathing spoke volumes and he willingly drank up her fear.
"Will it hurt?" She rubbed her arm, face distressed, but in the next instant hopeful. "Do you have to do my arm? How about my ankle, instead? I never go bare legged anymore."
Harry had not considered that. And the practical nature of the question kicked him out of his deeply instinctive mode. He sat startled, staring at her.
She stared back, face slowly breaking down. Leading with her arms, she fell against him, voice breaking. "Harry, I don't know what to do. This is all so terrible."
He held her up and patted her on the back, fleetingly feeling a matching despair that shrank away out of his grasp until he patted her in a fixed rhythm merely out of habit.
She muttered into his robes, "This isn't going to make it any better. Why do you want me to do this?"
Words came without thinking of them. "This will make you something more. Right now you are a lone enemy within the Ministry. You could be much more. And I'd always be there, even when I'm not."
Gradually she calmed. Then she pushed away to hold her arm out, "Just do it," she whimpered. "Er, not there."
Something new rose up through Harry, starting in his thighs and up his back, a trembling potential that both weakened his muscles and made him larger than himself.
Harry dazedly tugged her fashionable loafer off and slipped her lace edged sock down below her pointed angle bone. The skin on her ankle was soft. He stroked it, distracted by how different this felt from doing this to Slowdraw. This was going to work--he knew in his gut--and that belief made it easy to give himself over to the knowledge which was not his. The mechanics of the spell from the strange book was only part of what he needed to know to make it work, he understood that now.
Harry held fast to her ankle, taut fingers rimmed by her whitening skin as he drew the mark. Belinda hissed inward at the pain, an intoxicating sound.
Harry came back to himself and pulled his motionless wand away from her flesh. He had blacked out. The Mark even now was fading from puffy red, but he did not remember drawing it. He released her foot and she folded herself to grab it up and began rocking back and forth muttering small complaints.
Harry closed his eyes. There was a shadow close by, but it was strangely translucent, as if it were cast on a sheet of glass in sunlight. But it was close enough.
Belinda sniffled, and peeled away the hand she had clamped over her ankle to look at it. Against the screaming complaint of his instincts, Harry bent and kissed the fresh scar, then higher up on her calf. Harry still hungered in so many ways it made him too impatient to hold back and reflect on why that may be.
* * *
In the main hall, Harry found Snape and Candide sitting as they usually were now, on opposite couches, with the baby and work and reading alternately beside each of them.
Harry kept his head down. "Yeah," he muttered, "Hi". He should have simply slipped directly into his own room, he realized, except that was not the norm, and something urged him to retain the norm as much as possible.
"Everything all right, Harry?" Snape asked.
"Just tired." He made the staircase, which was good, since it excused his watchfulness of his own feet.
An owl waited at Harry's bedroom window, fluffed against the cold wind. It handed him a letter from Elizabeth and tried to wait for a reply. Harry shooed it off firmly and closed the window before tossing the letter with her other ones, also unopened. He did not want to correspond with her, for reasons he could not have articulated if someone had asked. And it annoyed him that she continued to write without getting a reply. He picked up the other post, newsletters and such, and tossed it into the hearth to burn, unread.
Feeling sour, despite getting his way, despite the comforting shadow nearby, Harry fell onto his bed. He drifted into sleep immediately, but his pet, Kali, woke him twice in quick succession by running around inside her cage in little bursts.
Harry rose up on half-numb limbs and set her outside the door, on the balcony.
Harry's bedroom door snapped closed. From below, Snape could see the cage. He waved it over the railing and steadied the stand beside the couch as it landed. Kali dived under her rags and burrowed around under them, leaving a lumpy trace. She raised her head and chirped at Snape.
"Aren't you going to take her out?" Candide asked.
"Not around the infant," Snape explained. "I think she is close enough to me as is to calm down."
Kali yawned then clapped her tiny jaws closed with a snapping sound.
Candide gazed at Harry's pet as she tossed rags around with her head, bedding down. She quietly said, "Harry is starting to worry me."
Snape put his student essays aside, set his quill in the ink bottle resting on a tea tray and sat back. He studied Kali, who rubbed the side of her head on a rag before curling up with a sigh. He held up his hand to forestall further conversation from Candide.
When Kali's black pinhead eyes flicked closed and remained that way, Snape clasped his hands and said, "I understand your concern. But I hope you will remain unconcerned about him."
Candide's head twitched to the side. "I didn't quite catch that." Her hand hovered over the baby sleeping beside her, bundled firmly in a sack decorated to look like a high collared cloak.
Snape watched Kali sleep before saying, "I do not believe you are at any risk. Nor Arcadius."
Candide needed two attempts to speak. Her voice was hardly audible. "I hate to think anything bad of him, but . . . he's not himself. That's the trouble. Something seems very wrong."
"Something is very wrong," Snape agreed. When this drew a piercing glance, he added, "But I still don't believe there is any risk. Not to you. And certainly not to him." He waved at the baby.
"I wish I felt that confident. It hurts me to worry about Harry at all," she whispered sadly. "But with him . . ." She laid a hand on the baby's arm.
"How about this? If Harry is capable of harming Arcadius, then everything is doomed."
Candide raised her gaze and stared.
Snape drew himself up. "I did warn you of the responsibilities of being a member of this household."
"You neglected to mention that the world may be at stake."
Snape crossed his legs and casually said, "Did I?"
Candide's mouth hardened. Snape peered at Kali before continuing. "It is imperative that he continue to receive our trust in him. I cannot stress that enough. I realize it goes against your instincts, noble and instinctive as they are, but everything rides upon it. I will not let Harry down."
She glanced up at Harry's door. "What is he becoming?"
"He has already become it, I think. He ceases to recognize the changes in himself, now. That is new. And telling."
Candide blinked hard, eyes shining. "Severus, what are we going to do? What are you saying?"
Snape rubbed his fingers over his mouth. "The one thing we are not going to do is let him lose our faith in him. He needs allies he can trust absolutely. That is imperative. I will follow him rather a long way into darkness to keep his faith. Without that I cannot retrieve him, ever."
She sighed, and returned to unfolding and more neatly folding things into a baby carrier. "What has he been up to?"
"I do not know everything, precisely. He has ceased confiding in me."
"Then he already doesn't trust you, Severus," she said harshly.
"It is not that. His guilt holds him back. Were he to confide in me, it would trigger backlash inside him and the darkness holding him does not want to risk that. I consider it a positive sign that he is holding things in. For the moment."
Candide's face fell. "Is this what you did for He-Who- Voldemort?"
Snape laughed in a quick burst. "Voldemort was beyond hope. So no." He leaned his head back. "Harry is the stronger; he has never been otherwise, no matter how dire things appear. At some point, a line will be crossed that will set off a battle between their personalities. I intend to be there to help Harry through that, which means I must remain by his side. Or I should say, I must convince Harry to allow me to remain by his side. Harry needs strength and right now that can only come from our belief in him."
Candide touched Arcadius' fuzzy-clad arm. "That's true for all children, isn't it?"
* * *
Harry lifted his head and sniffed the air. The scent of roasting chicken wafted by his pillow. It was just after five; he had slept all day, and his muscles complained about his activity schedule when he pushed up out of bed.
Downstairs, Candide was reading aloud from a book on her lap with Arcadius hitched into the arc of her arm.
"Under the completion of earnings process test, the seller must have limited remaining obligation to the customer, such as partial shipment of orders. Likewise, if the seller is a manufacturer of magical accessories, such as broomsticks and promises an extensive warranty, then they cannot book the revenue unless they can reasonably estimate . . . Good evening, Harry."
"Is he enjoying that?" Harry asked, stopping before them.
"He doesn't care what I read." She bent down to bump noses with the baby. "Might as well get a little work done. Don't you think?" The last was in a childish voice, so Harry assumed it was not a question for him.
Beyond Candide's bent head, Harry could see Snape working at the desk in the drawing room. He glanced up, nodded, and went back to his task.
"You're awake just in time for dinner," Candide observed.
This prompted Harry to scrub the grit out of his eyes. "Yeah." Despite just getting up, the other couch looked inviting. He dropped onto it.
Candide said, "This is the kind of schedule someone your age tends to have when they have no obligations."
This comment made Harry remember that he wanted to owl the French Prison warden. He waved his never-out parchment pad down from his room along with a never-out quill, and settled into a very kind letter, knowing politeness was a necessary and powerful distraction from his real purpose.
Letter finished and in his pocket to await his owl, Harry watched Arcadius grabbing at Candide's hair. It pinned Harry in place to watch something like a smile press the baby's rounded cheeks out even rounder.
"How about a toy instead of the hair?" Candide asked in breathless baby talk. She untangled baby fingers and waved before him a teething ring sporting animated tiger stripes, but he gave a sound of complaint and waved an arm beyond it, bumping it aside.
Snape glided into the room. "Can I have a word, Harry?"
Harry stood and scratched his stiff hair around on his head while he approached. Inside him, something screamed that he was going to be taken advantage of while he was weak.
"No, I'm not," Harry muttered.
Snape turned on the way to his chair, but did not comment. He must be getting accustomed to Harry speaking thoughts aloud.
Harry stood before the desk, not wanting to sit.
"Arthur sent me a letter," Snape said. "He wishes to speak with me in person. And as well he is hoping that we will attend the Sunday Weasley dinner."
"What are you going to say?" Harry asked.
"I am inclined to be agreeable. The Weasley family would like to see Arcadius."
Harry shrugged. "That's fine," he said, because his instincts were saying exactly the opposite and he was feeling pushed around by them.
"Why don't you have a seat, Harry?" Snape suggested, gesturing.
"I'd rather stand."
Snape steepled his long fingers. "You helped Arthur capture Percy. You did not mention that."
"Doesn't seem like much worth mentioning," Harry complained.
"Doesn't it?" When Harry shook his head, Snape asked, "May I ask what you now plan to do?"
"Take down the rest of them." This was not a plan Harry had had even seconds before replying.
Snape did not move. "May I ask for what reason?" When Harry did not reply, Snape suggested, "Is it because you do not have anything else to do?"
The reason bubbled up inside Harry: his instincts believed that Ma Dames' underlings would make lovely potential servants. But he did not want to say that. "Probably," Harry answered.
Snape touched the letter on his desk. "You really have no interest in returning to the Auror's program?" After a hesitation, Snape added, "It would put you inside, you know."
Harry shifted his weight to his other foot, and pocketed his hands. "I know."
Voice quieter, Snape said, "The Ministry is your biggest threat, Harry. You need to keep track of their actions."
"I can do that without being there."
"Not as well," Snape corrected.
Harry dropped his gaze to the floor and thought of his servant in the Minister's office. It was true that the Minister was not kept abreast of the kind of details Harry needed, let alone her receptionist.
"Any other plans?" Snape asked into the silence.
Harry answered before he could risk thinking twice. "I want to visit Lockhart."
"May I accompany you on that errand?" Snape asked.
With a soft rustle of his robes, Snape sat away from the desk. "May I ask why?"
"Because you would be going just to keep an eye on me. You would have other interests in mind." Snape's chin raised with a twitch, and Harry said, "Is my bluntness surprising you? Why shouldn't I tell you that. You are playing several games at once. You always are."
Snape relaxed. "Of course I am. That does not alter my loyalty to you, however."
"Why would you want to see Lockhart again," Harry asked, "after what he put you through? How many Crutiatus Curses did he use on you? Could you even count them?"
Snape slowly spread his hands. "I yield the upper hand. It was only a suggestion."
"No, it wasn't," Harry said. "You wanted to gather information."
"Of course I do. I am not very useful to you if I am not continuously doing so."
Harry felt angry, at no one and nothing in particular, which only aggravated him more. He wanted Snape to do something so he could argue with him further, but Snape's words were slippery. "Anything else?" Harry prompted.
"No," Snape gently replied, standing and coming around the desk. "I think dinner will be shortly, anyhow." He touched Harry's arm. "I think your temper will improve with a good meal."
"I don't always remember to eat," Harry said, mostly to say anything at all.
Snape grasped Harry at the elbow. "I'm surprised you managed to forget how dear food is to you after your years at the Dursleys."
"You didn't yield the upper hand at all," Harry lightly complained.
A small smile played on Snape's lips, making Harry's heart ease. He wanted to ask Snape what he should do. He wanted to ask why it seemed his life was never his own.
His eyes must have given something away, because Snape said, "I am willing to offer you more guidance, but am loathe to risk your trust should that guidance strike you as interference."
Harry floundered until his instincts settled neatly on believing that Snape was always trustworthy, until he was not.
* * *
Aaron Wickem pulled Vineet aside when everyone else got up for lunch. Kerry Ann glanced back and hesitated in the doorway, but a nod from Aaron sent her off.
Aaron said, "I've invited Harry out for drinks tonight. I'm hoping you can join us."
Vineet, whose posture was normally quite good, straightened more. "Of course," he dutifully stated.
Aaron's shoulders fell. "I'm glad to see you are ahead of me in my thinking. Ginny was as well, funny enough. I'm not generally the last to know things."
Vineet shook his head. "There are others as well."
"Your ladyfriend, Hermione? Harry's old friend?" Aaron guessed. "I don't know if that's good news or not." Aaron ducked his head and ran his finger though his hair and dropped his arm lax with a sigh. "He scared me the other day and I've been thinking since then." He rolled his head around on his neck like one short on sleep. "I've decided I don't think I can fight Harry."
"Are you going to join him then?" Vineet asked levelly.
Aaron laughed. "No." His face twitched then sagged. "Does that leave me dead then? Is that how this works?"
Vineet's voice was barely audible. "Did Harry threaten you?"
"No. Not really. He mostly threatened to tear down how I see myself." Aaron began to pace. "Maybe I should go see him. Assure him I'll stay out of his way."
"You can tell him tonight, correct? I would be interested to see his reaction. Perhaps you can say this in apparent jest."
Aaron stared at him. "I can never tell when you are joking, you know. Don't be cruel to me like that." When he did not get a response he shook himself. "Are you going to back me up if I tell him that?"
"Of course. I am on the side of good."
Aaron faintly shook his head. "I don't know what side that is, though, so maybe I won't risk it."
The door opened and Kerry Ann slipped inside, closing the door after glancing out behind her. "My ears are tingling. I'm missing something here, I know."
"We are having drinks with Harry this evening, if you would care to join us?" Vineet said.
"Oh, I can't tonight. Catch me next time. This is part of Mr. Weasley's plan to get Harry back in the program, right?"
After a strange pause, Vineet replied, "Yes."
* * *
Rodgers stood before the file room door, awkwardly flipping through the stack of paperwork in the basket he held as though looking for something. He paused as Mr. Weasley approached. "I know you need to get back to the apprentices, but I need a moment."
"I have them doing drills. I was just assembling the report on Prisoner 56, Mr. Wickem's abductress, but I needed some desk space," he said, gesturing at the file basket.
Mr. Weasley held up a hand in understanding. "I saw the interrogation transcript. I don't think we are going to get much more out of her, even though she has more memories than our average catch. Ma Dame is somewhere in London, which is somewhat helpful, but not a surprise."
"I would like to try again to get more details on the spells protecting her. I'm willing to run a session of my own, if I may, before Ma Dame decides to change residences and we have nothing at all on her whereabouts again."
Mr. Weasley glanced down the long corridor and satisfied with something, leaned on the door frame to the file room. "I think given her extensive protective spell work, it's less likely she will move. Think of it like building a grand house, you don't want to move into a shack and start again."
Rodgers looked up from his files. "I hadn't thought of that. Heartening thought. We'll also get more after the Wizengamot lets us get to Percy," he added gently.
"Let's hope," Mr. Weasley said. "He ignored me when I went down to visit him this morning. I don't think he is going to cooperate on his own like I hoped he would. Things would go easier for him if he did. He doesn't seem interested in hearing about that."
Rodgers rolled his eyes, and reached for the door latch, but was stopped by Mr. Weasley's hand.
Mr. Weasley dropped his voice low. "The real reason I came to find you Reggie is Tonks is on her way up to the Atrium to bring Severus down here, and I'm going to meet with him in my office. The code word is Camomile."
Rodgers dropped his hand off the door latch. "Wait a moment. . . you're expecting a Memory Charm?"
"I don't know," Mr. Weasley said.
"Why don't you just take his wand off of him before the meeting?"
"Just remember the code word."
Rodgers tipped his head in disbelief and exhaled in disgust. "Arthur, eh, never mind. I never trusted the bloke anyway, so fine. But if you forget the code word, I'm going after the man. I don't care who his political allies are."
"That's what I like about you, Reggie," Mr. Weasley said, patting him on the arm, but not sounding particularly happy.
"Do you want me to meet with him? You'll have to tell me what I'm talking to him about, but it would be safer that way."
"No," he said managing a smile. "I should do this."
The lift bell sounded from down the long corridor, prompting Rodgers to tug open the file room door. "Good luck," he sang sarcastically.
Severus paused for a beat outside the training room door as he walked by, listening to the distinctive foot pounding and magical explosions that accompanied spell drills.
"Harry should be in there," Mr. Weasley said.
"I did mention it to him yesterday."
"And what did he say?"
Snape reached him and, mostly lying, replied, "I think he needs more time to forgive you and the Ministry."
Mr. Weasley tilted his head back the other way. "Come on down to my office. This won't take long."
"Close the door behind you." Mr. Weasley said, pulling his desk chair out and setting it back against the far wall to give Snape room for his knees.
"May I ask, given that most of the Ministry is magically enlarged space, why your office is so small?"
This distracted Mr. Weasley, who set down the file he held to draw invisible boxes with his hands. "They tell me this is the seam between two different eras of enlargement, so it can't be touched without redoing the whole top set of floors."
"Ah," Snape said, accepting his chair with dignified movements. "That is at least a believable excuse."
Mr. Weasley laughed lightly, but sobered immediately. "I want you to take a look at this." He handed over a file.
Snape turned it upright and found St. Mungo's Coroner's seal on the face of it. He glanced up in question and opened it at the nod he received. Inside was an autopsy report, filled out in an almost legible hand.
"Their insistence upon dark red ink has always made me wonder," Snape commented as he flipped forward. "Who is the deceased?"
"I'm hoping to get your opinion, in general, then discuss any relevant details."
Snape gazed at Mr. Weasley longer this time, hoping for a clue behind his eyes. But he was letting his mind drift, strangely enough, as he sat back in his office chair with his head back against the wall.
Snape paused on the page diagramming the injuries and hesitated, just an instant, while noticing the odd shaped injury on the victim's left forearm. He turned the page with what he thought was normal movements, but Mr. Weasley said, "Caught my eye, too, although I hate myself for what it put me in mind of."
Snape flipped to the cover page of the file. "It says this person was anonymous."
"It was a Durumulna lackey that Harry was working with. He got caught in the crossfire between a competing branch of the gang and the Ministry."
Snape read the cover page line by line this time. Time of death: Approximately Twelve-Thirty (Noon) Sunday March the Fifth of the year Two-Thousand. Snape was properly schooled this time to not react, even when he recognized that time as being precisely when Harry collapsed onto the floor of the main hall at home. Snape flipped forward again, only pretending to read the rest.
Snape said, "I know what you are thinking, but I have a difficult time agreeing. Can I see this curse injury for myself?"
Mr. Weasley shook his head. "I asked the Forensic Occultologist to look at it again, but she said it was gone."
"Is she certain it was there at all?" Snape asked, sounding critical.
"You mean, is it just an accidental mark on the anatomically correct diagram? Except for the accompanying curse analysis, marked notation "d", it might have been." He held out his hand for the report.
Snape released the brown folder, not really feeling his arm as it dropped back to his lap. He had thought himself more than sufficiently strong to face Arthur Weasley, the entire Ministry even, but just as he had caught Harry at a vulnerable moment for a useful discussion yesterday, so too had he been caught.
Mr. Weasley made a noise, then cleared his throat. "I was thinking I might get an honest answer out of you, but now I realize that's unlikely."
Snape let his brows go up. "What do you wish me to say. The notion is absurd. The anonymous boy could have cursed himself that way as a sort of gang sign. There are all sorts of possibilities." That neat explanation as a diversion for the Ministry bolstered him, even as unlikely as he knew it to be. "Harry is not happy with his situation, I will grant you that. I will not grant you that he has become the next Dark Lord. You are taking over for Mad Eye, I see."
"If Harry did go dark, it would be at least partly our fault," Mr. Weasley said.
Snape whispered, "No one is at fault in such a thing, except the person in question."
Mr. Weasley rocked in his chair faintly. "I know you insisted that returning to the Auror's program was Harry's decision, but I want him back in here."
"You are a bit of a mystery, Arthur," Snape said. "You show me this report because of its implication that Harry gave the deceased a sort of Dark Mark, yet you want him as an Auror."
Mr. Weasley rubbed his nose. "I don't know what I think about the curse on this dead lad. I do know I want Harry working on our side."
"You want to keep an eye on him, you mean."
"I want to do that, and to make things up to him." Mr. Weasley went on, "Are you willing to help get him back to us?"
Snape nodded. "I was angry with you, myself, last time we discussed this. But it would be for the best. He is not occupying his time very effectively."
"Other than tricking members of Durumulna, what is he doing?"
Snape wanted to seem cooperative and so answered this honestly. "Reading old books of spells."
"Grimoires? That sort of thing?"
"Everything. He reads to stave off boredom, I believe. I never seen him actually trying the spells. Reminds me a bit of myself at his age."
Mr. Weasley sat forward with a squeak of his chair. "That is not reassuring, Severus."
* * *
"Here, keep him on a towel. These leak-proof nappies are not at all leak-proof." Candide set Arcadius between them on the couch.
Harry turned his head to line his face up with Arcadius'. "I can't wait till we can teach you to steer a broomstick," Harry said to him in a bright tone he could not help but adopt. "We're going to do all kinds of things."
The rush of the Floo Network sounded from the dining room and Snape entered. He came over to peer down at Arcadius, moving to douse the nearby lamp, which was lit despite the bright day.
"So, what'd Mr. Weasley have to say?" Harry asked.
"He wants you back in the Auror's program. And I agreed that you should return but re-iterated that it is your choice. But I did promise to try to convince you of the wisdom of returning." He reached down and played with Arcadius' hands as he talked. He then lifted the baby up and sat down, holding him.
"You're going to want the towel," Harry said.
"This is a new box of nappies, is it not? Same problem as the last box?" He slipped the towel under the baby. "You'd think modern magic could accomplish such an ordinary thing, at the very least." Speaking to the baby, Snape said, "Are you having a good day, Arcadius?"
"He doesn't do much," Harry said in good humor. "But he does a lot of it."
Arcadius gave a grand yawn that brought his hands to roll around by his nose and reddened his face.
Snape asked, "Don't you miss learning new spells, Harry?"
"I learn a few on my own."
"Not nearly so many, and not without help and practice to get them perfected." He straightened Arcadius' twisted outfit. "Don't you miss your friends in your cohort?"
"A bit," Harry admitted. "I'm meeting some of them at the pub tonight. You have new reasons for wanting me to return to training?"
"I have the same reasons as before, as well as believing that some kind of regular schedule of sleep is a good thing."
Harry picked up a stuffed animal out of the rolling box of them and held it up for the baby, who had no interest in it. "If they want me back, they can't suspect much, I would think," Harry offhandedly said, standing up toss the animal back away and to sort through the books on the nearby end table.
"One would hope," Snape replied neutrally, sounding properly distracted.
In reality, Snape's nerves had pulled taut, unexpectedly fragile. He held a helpless life in his hands and his parental instinct screamed at him to run, to take Candide and fly off to as remote a place as possible. Reality and its horrors were settling into his mind, gnawing at him. He had been so confident that he knew what he faced, but Harry's accusations of the other day were right on the mark; he had conflicting interests that grew more difficult to resolve as each day, each hour even, rolled onward. He had believed previously, years ago, that his responsibilities could not be more conflicted, but he had been sadly mistaken.
Snape hefted Arcadius up better in the crook of his arm. The jostling woke him, but he drifted off again, limbs falling open like a blossom as he fell asleep.
Loyalty may be the death of him, but no one could ever rightly accuse him of being otherwise. He had to hope to Merlin that he was correct about the last bastions of Harry's personality. Certainly whenever he watched Harry with Arcadius, or even Candide, he felt reassured on this point. His own position was less certain. Both parts of Harry well identified Snape as treasonous in the past, and could decide that again.
Harry returned with his nose in a book and sat down on the end of the same couch again, one foot hitched under his dangling leg. Snape's chest loosened upon seeing the title of a book on standard blocking. Harry glanced up sharply at Snape's attention to his reading.
Snape said, "If you need help drilling to return to form, let me know."
"Not in here, please," Candide said.
"We'll go to Hogwarts. Perhaps the lawn," Snape assured her.
Harry was thinking he could also slip away and drill with the other Ginny for a day. That would give him a chance to bask in the shadows there too, he thought with a sigh.
"Missing Hogwarts?" Snape asked.
"No," Harry replied, puzzlement in his voice. He glanced down at Arcadius in Snape's arms. The baby was focusing his black-colored eyes much better today, finding things in the room with ease. "He really looks like you."
Snape angled his elbow to hold Arcadius upright, facing Harry. The baby made a gurgling sound that could have been delight. "That will not get him on well, unfortunately," he said, wryly humorous.
"We'll make sure he knows enough hexes before going to school that it won't matter," Harry said. When he turned to Snape to see how he would react to this, Harry found Snape's gaze had drifted off. Harry frowned lightly and waited for him to look his way. "Really, Severus," Harry said as though making a pledge.
Snape seemed surprised by his tone. He rocked the baby a few times until he ceased cooing each time. Then turned back to Harry, eyes inscrutable.
"I can't wait till we can teach him some spells," Harry said. "And to ride a broomstick. All the things wizard boys should get to do."
Snape and Candide shared a look. Snape said, "That's a long way off, I think."
"I hope so," Candide said. "Don't bring home any aging canes if you find them, okay? I like him this way."
* * *
As Harry was preparing to go out for the evening, he received a letter postmarked from the French Wizard Prison. He pocketed it to read later.
At the pub, he found his friends sitting around a high shelf ringing the central pillar of the room.
Aaron slipped off his stool to drag one closer for him. "Have a seat, Harry. Good to see you."
Harry was delving into his friend's eyes. "Is it?"
Aaron tried to laugh, but it came out false. "And people say I'm a goof. Have a seat."
"Hey, Harry," Ginny said, giving him an uncertain smile. Beside her, Ron set his beer down to give him a wave.
"Ron," Harry said, finding himself assessing his friends in new ways each time he saw them. It was illuminating, but it also felt emptying. Harry shook off assessing what kind of servant Ron might make, but it was not easy to do.
Aaron asked, "How goes the lay-about life these days?"
"I didn't arrange for enough action for you last weekend?" Harry asked. His memories of holding death seeped back into him. "How is Tridant, by the way?"
"Recovering, in hospital," Aaron said.
"Bit of a goof up there," Harry said, eyes shifting over to Vineet.
Vineet did not reply, and gave no hints to his reaction. Aaron leaned in as if to pull Harry's attention away from his fellow trainee. "Miscommunication. Vishnu was coming to take Tridant away from the scene when things got hot, but he had not stayed put. He's hoping you'll come see him in hospital, actually. He doesn't remember you there."
"Harry was under an invisibility cloak," Vineet stated.
Harry returned his piercing gaze and asked, "How are things with Hermione?"
"Well enough," Vineet replied levelly.
While Ginny fetched a round for everyone, Harry found himself unable to resist grasping for the upper hand. "Going to make an honest witch out of her? Make her a second wife?"
Vineet replied, "I do not expect you to understand these things, but Hermione would not make a good second wife."
Muggles in suits flowed around them, chatting loudly before settling in at an already full table in the corner.
Harry accepted his drink and toasted the table with it before taking a sip. "I can't imagine she makes a better mistress."
Ginny coughed into her beer and glanced at Ron, who was blushing. "What's the discussion about?"
"Hermione," Aaron said. He put an arm around Ginny, pulling her off balance. "About how, unlike us more chivalrous fellows, Vishnu won't make Hermione an offer of marriage."
"Oh," Ginny said, staring into her beer. "I expect Hermione is intelligent enough to know what she wants."
Aaron bent closer. "And what about you? Can we give you an I.Q. boosting potion and get an answer, maybe?"
Ginny punched him lightly in the ribs. Grinning, Aaron let go and rubbed his side, announcing, "Fortunately, I like the feisty ones." But in between his antics, Harry felt Aaron's unusually keen gaze considering him.
Ron leaned closer to Ginny and said, "Next time, hit him harder."
Harry forgot about the letter in his pocket until he was taking his robes off at home later that night. The evening has passed quickly in a kind of haze. In retrospect he felt alarmed at how disarmed he had allowed himself to become by the end of it. Vowing that would not happen in the future, he tore open the letter.
As expected, it contained, in unfathomably flowery language, an invitation for a tour, that Saturday. Harry slipped the letter away back in the envelope and set it in a vertical slot in his roll top desk to bring with him to show the guards if they questioned him. His hands rubbed over one another in the cold air of his room, itching to be there, to see what was left of of Lockhart, to feel the shadows. He closed his eyes. The one close shadow slowly corkscrewed and contorted in the nearfield of his mind. The feel of it settled his riled nerves.
Harry opened his eyes on the abstract weaving hung on the outer stone wall of his room. He had been staring at it a lot lately. He would have to occupy himself better to pass the time before his visit to the prison. It was late in the evening on a weekday, and that meant the dungeon would be quiet. Harry pulled his invisibility cloak out of his wardrobe and tossed it over his head before slipping away.
* * *
When Snape came a few minutes later to check on Harry, he found the room empty, the bed still made. It was well after midnight. Snape pulled his wand out of his pocket and checked the floor for alarm spells. There were none, so he walked a circuit of the room, looking for things of interest. The only new thing was a letter from the French Prison warden. Snape used a Retrospective Charm to return it to its previous position. He considered that Harry's tour host could most likely handle himself, and there were more immediate concerns, such as where Harry was right now. Snape left the room with the intent to return later.
* * *
In the Ministry dungeon, Harry urged the single fairy light up brighter and used the same three headed snake to remove the Gimcracker from Percy. Percy's fit of choked coughing finally subsided, and Harry aimed his wand between his eyes.
"Where is Ma Dame?" Harry asked.
Percy blinked at him, then glanced around the cell as if seeing it for the first time.
"I'm not very patient, Percy," Harry said. "I'm going to burn a hole through your head on the count of five. One. T-"
Percy put up his hands. "I don't know what you are talking about. Where am I?"
Harry jerked his wand to his side. "You are in the Ministry dungeon. Where does it look like you are?"
Percy gave the room another look. "Oh." He rubbed his head, then noticed Harry glaring at him. He gave Harry a pained frown after another coughing fit. "What do you want?"
Harry raised his wand again. "Hard to imagine you killed Mad Eye. You don't seem to have the guts for it."
Percy's mouth puckered like he wanted to retort, but he held it in. Harry went on, "I bet you were surprised when the Ministry put someone else away for it."
A flicker of movement went over Percy's brow. Harry said, "Was Mad Eye getting too close to the truth? He let you get away with an Imperio on Belinda for some reason."
Percy laughed through his nose. "He felt bad for dad. I begged him to leave it be. Said I was sorry, that I just wanted a date." He laughed breathily again. "What about you, Potter. Old Crazy Eye thought you were the worst thing since Grindelwald."
Harry shifted his wand to sight down it better. "At least he was right about something."
Harry waited for that to sink in. "Amusing that since you offed him, Moody isn't here to protect you."
Percy's eyes flicked to the door.
"Try it. I soundproofed everything. I want to know where Ma Dame is."
"And if I don't tell you?" Percy mocked weakly. "You don't know anything, Potter. And you don't scare me. You're just like the rest of them here. All talk."
Harry liked watching Percy sweat in the cold dungeon air off the end of his wand. He let him do so a long moment before saying, "You were helping Merton before this. You gave him Voldemort's old wand from the Department of Mysteries collection, didn't you? What was the problem? The Ministry didn't respect your lame contribution enough so you had to betray it to feel better than it. I'm right, aren't I?"
Percy's angular face hardened.
Harry smiled faintly. "You do so love joining things. If Voldemort were here, would you join him too?" Harry jerked his chin and held his wand tighter and narrowing his eyes. Softly, invitingly, he said, "Come on, Percy, wouldn't you love to be a Death Eater?"
Percy leapt up at him, and Harry jerked a spell out of his wand without even thinking, a Mutushorum that dropped Percy like a sack of rocks onto the floor. He flopped lifeless, limbs tangled.
Harry rolled his eyes and just in case of a trick, stood on the far side of the cell before canceling the Paralysis Charm and hovering the cell's pitcher to slowly dump water on Percy's face.
Minutes ticked by. The glittering water ran between the stones of the floor, darkening the mortar. Percy finally shivered awake. Harry stood over him, positioning his foot to step on Percy's left hand, just hard enough to hold it in place, left forearm exposed to the aim of his wand. "If you don't tell me where Ma Dame is, I'm going to make you a slave to cursed pain, Percy. Then you will tell me anyway, as well as come whenever I beckon you. Your choice."
Percy's eyes now held real fear. He could not talk, paused to try to catch his breath, then finally grunted out, "Ma Dame lives on the top floor of a building on Battle Bridge. But you aren't going to get in without getting killed, so I'm happy for you to try."
Harry smiled. "You understand so little, Percy. But given you believe that, you should have no trouble telling me her real name."
Percy thought about this while Harry leaned harder on his fingers with the toe of his shoe. "Margarite Zacundo," he gasped.
"You must have been a favorite, Percy, to learn that and not get your memories wiped."
Percy finally caught his breath, and his chest rose and fell fully beneath his stained white shirt. "They couldn't risk it or I wouldn't be useful in my job here."
Harry pulled the Gimcracker back out of his pocket and tossed it in the air once. Percy jerked at the sight of it.
"You deserve this thing," Harry said with pleasure. "You really do. Open up," he taunted.
* * *
At home, Harry looked through the wizard annuals with no luck. He had better luck with the ordinary directory. There was indeed an M. Zacundo living in Suite 1 of 21 Battle Bridge Approach. That would be very close to the Daily Prophet building, Harry thought. Unless he wanted to make the newspapers for a week afterward with full photographic spreads he was going to have to handle this stealthily. His new instincts rumbled happily at the prospect of careful plotting and slow destruction of an enemy, whereas his natural instincts itched to simply fly over there right now and attack. To assuage that frustration, he found an old map of the area, rolled it up tightly, and took it up to his room.
In his room, Harry penned a letter to Ron using one of their Hogwarts-era ink-hiding charms. What is the vault number of Margarite Zacundo? And please tell no one I asked. --Your friend, Harry.
Harry smiled happily to himself as he gave the note to Hedwig, and he was still smiling as he settled onto his pillow and closed his eyes. Harry's smile vanished when he heard someone at the door to his room. He just barely held off on a spell upon hearing Snape's voice. "I did not intend to disturb you."
Harry slapped his wand down on the nightstand. "You should knock, Severus."
Snape stepped over to the bed. "I wanted to know how you were sleeping. Knocking would defeat that purpose."
"I'm sleeping just fine. Or I was about to . . ."
"How was your evening with your friends?"
"Good," Harry replied, putting a difficult edge in his voice.
Snape's eyes drifted to the curled map that lay on the nightstand. "Do you need help with any plans?"
Harry crossed his arms. "This is a lot of questions, Severus."
Snape clasped his hand behind his back, "I do have more experience in these things. And you cannot fault me for being concerned about your continued well being."
Harry relented, partly from Snape's gentle tone, which eerily shifted his voice from dryly cold to rumbling warm. "I guess not."
"If you need anything, do let me know." After a hesitation where he waited for a reply, Snape departed, pulling the door closed with a soft click.
* * *
The next day while they sat at the table surrounded by the remains of lunch, an owl arrived for Harry. The note was composed of ordinary ink, but it was encoded. We're meeting at 1:35 Tuesday, the 21st of this month. Harry scratched his chin. If the first and last numbers were the same, he was to add a one to each of the remaining numbers. That would make the reply vault number 463. An awfully low number, so of potentially extreme security.
Harry tossed the note into the hearth and put his other post aside on the mantle as he stood up. He went to the upstairs room, emptied a small trunk into which he stashed his invisibility cloak and brought it back down.
Trunk lightly in hand while he stood before the hearth, Harry said, "I have an errand to run."
"Okay, Harry," Candide said from where she sat back from the table, nursing.
Snape more sternly said, "Do be careful."
"Always," Harry said, and slipped away from where he stood.
Candide peaked under her wrap at Arcadius. "You didn't want to ask where he was going with an empty trunk and no cloak in the middle of winter?" When Snape simply sat, rubbing his fingers over his chin, she added, "Aren't you curious?"
"Yes. That I am."
* * *
The echoing plonk of dripping water greeted Harry when he arrived in the subterranean warren of Gringott's Bank. He arrived outside his own vault, the lowest vault number he had ever visited. Some tunnels had extra security, Harry well knew from Ron's stories: Dragons, Rock Leeches, poisonous rat legions and worse that Ron refused to detail.
Curious to look around almost as much as to find the right vault, Harry strode over the uneven ground between the tracks to the next intersection in the tunnels. There were no vaults here, just connecting corridors. With no concern about getting lost, Harry took a right turn and walked along the tracks down this rougher corridor, assuming a lower number would be in an older area. The ground dipped away in a slope and his footsteps sent a cascade of small rocks down ahead of him. Harry stopped and listened for an alarm. Satisfied the noise had gone unnoticed, Harry ducked and continued on into air that grew more stagnant.
The tunnel branched and the one on the left dipped lower than the other and the one yellow light hanging from the ceiling fizzled on and off. A faint breath of clearer air drifted out of one of them. About to choose at random, Harry stopped and turned at a pounding noise that grew gradually louder. A shadow came along the crossing corridor behind him, shrank as if passing a light, then another shadow appeared from the floor and a troll's tatty head came into view over the rise in the tunnel. The pounding stopped when the troll came to a halt. The creature adjusted his grip on his stone bat while twisting his oversized features in a parody of thoughtful expression.
Harry straightened under his cloak as the troll sniffed the air, turning this way and that, massive nostrils distending. Just as Harry considered departing, a vibration came up through his feet, growing to shaking. The troll shuffled off back to the previous side corridor and Harry saw why. A mine cart was approaching over the rise he had just come over. The rail switch at Harry's feet magically clacked over to the left. Harry jumped forward to kick it back the other way, standing on the handle, which jumped under his foot. The cart with a goblin and a frail old wizard rattled by down the right hand corridor and with a shower of sparks, screeched to a halt.
With a repeating squeak of a bad wheel, it backed up past the switch and Harry stepped off the handle and got into position. While the goblin driver leaned out to squint at the errant switch, Harry grabbed hold of the back of the cart, and stepped up on the battered metal rail along the bottom edge.
They picked up speed down the hill and rounded a corner and Harry strained to hold on to the vibrating cart lip with his slippery cloak under his grip. His small trunk knocked against the side of the cart, but no one noticed. Fortunately for Harry, perhaps because of the age of the customer, the cart went nowhere near as fast as they tended to when he was taken to his own vault.
The cart hit a straightaway, and vaults flew by. Harry moved his head rapidly back and forth, checking numbers. They were in the six hundreds. Another set of hills. Harry glanced down, concerned that his cloak was flapping up, revealing his feet. More vaults, again in the six hundreds. They reached a complicated intersection and the cart halted fast enough that Harry slammed forward against the corner of it, making his eyes sting with the pain. He stepped off, gradually letting go of the rim so as to not make the cart tilt.
Rubbing his bruised sternum, Harry stepped aside for a cart passing on another track, then watched his previous ride jump away and accelerate down another narrow tunnel.
Intending to check the numbers down each of the five connecting paths, Harry started down the first on the left, found some eight hundreds and backed up to try the second one, only to leap back as the rocky floor shifted under his feet like quicksand. He peddled backward madly until he was forced to jump up and balance on the tracks, which were now arcing out into empty space. The ground sank away in a shower of stones, leaving nothing but open darkness. Harry slid his trainers inches at a time until he reached a bend in the tracks and could see ahead around the corner to where there was ground again. He used the Dark Plane to jump ahead, arms outstretched for balance. He walked along the track like a tightrope walker, listening for approaching carts until he arrived at a steep hill upward with a staircase beside the track. The first landing led to a vault door with a hammered metal plaque that read #492.
Harry carefully stepped off the wear-polished metal that was bruising the soles of his feet and found that the smoothly hewn stone held his weight. He made his way upward, rubbing his chilled arms, alert, wand in hand until he came to the correct vault number. It was an ordinary key entry vault with a cursed lock that made him wince when he bent down to peer through the key hole. It was dark within, so Harry sent a small sprite through the keyhole. One eye clenched closed, he watched it dodge and turn until he had a good enough image of the interior to slip inside.
A sizable trunk balanced on a small stool in the center of the vault. Harry circled it, stopping in the corner to examine a pile of rusted disks. Harry shoved one with his foot and it left a red ring on the stone floor. Grinning, Harry removed all the curses from the trunk before hovering it open to reveal mounds of gold coins, and a handful of iron disks. He certainly had the right vault.
Harry transferred the gold to his own trunk, hovered the rusted coins from the corner into the existing trunk, and carefully re-established the curses on it. Humming faintly, Harry checked for anything interesting on the shelves. In a velvet box he found a bristling amethyst necklace with no spells upon it, and wedged it into his pocket, box and all. Nothing else caught his interest, so, hefting his heavy trunk with both hands, he slipped away, smiling because he was thoroughly happy for the first time in a very long while.
In the safety of the Dark Plane, Harry considered his options. He had thought to take the gold home, but that would raise the curiosity of his guardian, which Harry was loath to do. His instinct needled him about this weakness, but he ignored it in favor of a better idea.
Harry took himself to Aaron's flat and set the trunk on the floor beside the couch. The stylish place, warm despite the cold weather blowing the bare trees beyond the tall windows, stood quiet. Wanting to take his trunk back with him, Harry looked around for something to transfer the gold into. He circled the open room, stopping to examine a black, wooden rolling cabinet that would have once housed a heavy wizard radio, but now had a small device and two square speakers on top of it.
Harry crouched to see how much weight the lower drawers might hold when his curse sense fluttered. Harry brought his wand around and found himself aiming along another wand pointed at him.
"It's you," Aaron said, lowering his wand.
"Yeah." Harry went back to his task. "You have a spare trunk? I thought you'd be at training right now."
"I was, but my invasion alarm went off."
Harry stood and glanced around the peaceful flat. "It's a good one. I didn't notice it."
"The twins sold it to me. I honestly doubted it would work." Aaron studied Harry's face. "May I ask what you are doing?"
Harry gestured at his small trunk over by the couch. "I brought you something."
Aaron switched his wand to his other hand and went over to open the trunk. "Just what I need: more gold," he said with playfully false enthusiasm. "You're storing the fruits of your criminal labors in my house now? That makes me an accessory to the theft you know."
"It's your gold," Harry said, watching for a reaction, wanting to enjoy the control this revelation would bring about.
"It is. Or, it's Lord Freelander's gold, at any rate, which is pretty much the same as yours. I took it from Ma Dame's vault. Maybe I should have left more of the slugs in the pile. There were quite a few, so I'm quite certain it's what remains of your ransom money."
Aaron's posture shifted to one of relaxation as he stared down into the glowing pile that far out-shined the worn gilding on the little trunk's metal bands.
"Oh. Cheers then." He shook himself. "Let me get something to put it in.
He returned promptly with a rolling piece of metal sided luggage and, with both of them working at it, the gold was soon transferred. The coins made the dull noise only gold can make as it piled up and shifted. "Look at it all. Works better to ignore the rules, doesn't it?" Aaron wistfully said.
Harry latched his empty little trunk and picked it up. "It's possible I'll want to borrow a bit of that gold if I need it. So I may be back," Harry warned him.
Aaron shrugged. "Certainly. Have at it."
Harry turned to go, and Aaron said, "Sorry for doubting you, Harry. It won't happen again."
Harry restricted his smile to just a slight curl in his lips. "See that it doesn't," he said, leaving open whether he was jesting with this comment, or not.
"Note at the Bottom": SPOILER ALERT (minor, but just in case) Firstly, I rarely write unhappy endings. If I do, it's generally a short story. Secondly, (insert sad face here) I'm having a lot of fun writing this Harry (many more sad faces repeated). Thirdly . . . let's see . . . oh yeah, I truly believe the ending of the story as I've planned it balances out everything else. So much so, that the readers who are enjoying Evil Harry along with me will probably want to puke their guts up due to saccharine overload by the time it's all over. Hm, I'm missing something . . . oh yeah . . . How many more chapters? I don't mind this question, but I suck stinking Bludgers at answering it. It's embarrassing. Really. I'm going to go with fifteen. My estimates are awful (always too short, so I'm guessing longer to try to make up for that . . . don't hold me to it). REAL SPOILER ALERT. Lastly, how many more chapters of Evil Harry? Again, I suck at this . . . Five maybe? (Yes, I know. Am I asking you, or telling you. . . Sometimes things in my outline just zip, disappear, and sometimes some little note turns into five page, I really can't predict, even after all this writing.) I mention the total Evil Harry Time because if you would like to drop out now, and come back in later . . . which is totally cool . . . I can flag the return chapter with an Author Note at the top. I'll just do that. I think that's easier, and it will take a load off my mind of worrying about tormenting people. We all dearly care about True Harry and the people around him; that's why we're all hanging out here. I do recognize that. At the same time, my secondary purpose here is I'm practicing writing and this plot arc started around chapter six (heck chapter two, possibly) of Resonance and I'm feeling pretty heck-bent on seeing it through to the end. It would make me nuts to cheat it of its rightful momentum at this point. Just FYI, there will be some Evil Harry in the re-entrance chapter, since it will be a transitional chapter. Oh, and one more thing, this chapter only has one hard to take scene at the very beginning, then it gets more satisfying, should you care to plow through that to the "better" parts.