Snape stared through the broken wall at the empty spot where, a heartbeat before, Harry had been battling with a gang member. The other wizard had scrambled over the rubble to get free of the house's Apparition barrier and then had unintentionally taken Harry with him.
Snape stepped over the remains of the wall, rehearsing the usual spell to follow. He stumbled and nearly fell, and remained bent, resting a hand on the stone pile. He dare not risk a dark magic spell with Arcadius nearby, nor anywhere near where he resided. The infant's magic harbored too many unknowns to take the risk.
Snape marched into the house and in response to Candide's query, snapped, "Take Arcadius and get to the Weasleys' or your parents', either one, just go!" on the way to the hearth in the dining room.
Kneeling on the dining room hearthstone, Snape argued his way through to the hearth in the Ministry Department of Magical Transportation. He squinted at the face that appeared in the fire. "Mr. Tridant?" he uttered, recognizing the young man with his pale hair cropped so short he appeared bald among the flames.
"Professor? Yes, I'm assigned here today. Not cleared for duty yet, unfortunately."
Snape cut off the next thing the young man was going to say. "Harry was just here, fighting with a member of Durumulna, but they Disapparated and he may need help. I need the destination of the last Apparition from immediately east of this house."
Tridant's head backed away, returning the logs to the maddeningly merry fire.
Tridant returned, looking down at something. "Near Puddletown. Noblehamm Manor." His face scrunched up and Snape, who balanced at the point of jumping up to depart, held off for just a breath. Tridant added, "Looks like the landing was ten feet below ground level, if that helps you."
Snape pushed to his feet and found Candide waiting in the doorway, Arcadius hastily bundled, baby supply sack hitched over an elbow. She Disapparated as soon as their eyes met. With no time to analyze her expression, he grabbed up a broomstick and Disapparated for Dorchester.
- 888 -
Harry aimed his wand down at Ursie, who grunted with each labored breath. The purple-hued tentacles had dragged him across the cellar floor and now he struggled uselessly against their grip.
"I can be reasonable," Ursie croaked.
"Seems too late for that, doesn't it?" Harry said, sounding bored. He savored leading Ursie along on such a familiar path. He felt express relief at giving in to instincts that could not fail and now a pleasant lethargy had settled over him.
Ursie tried to roll to the side, and the tentacles, which emerged from the floor just at Harry's feet, shuddered and rolled him back.
"Really, I'll do whatever you want," Ursie said between grunting gasps.
Harry paced leisurely around the cellar wall, laying an Apparition barrier. With a circular motion of his wand, he cranked back the Long Reach spell. If he gave the man a little freedom, then threatened to take it away again, that would tell him something about him.
With more energy than would be expected from such a soft-fleshed man, Ursie struggled free and fell as the tentacles whipped around to bundle up his ankles again.
"Not so fast," Harry said, wand steady and aimed between his captive's eyes.
Ursie draped his elbows over his bent knees and huffed in annoyance. "Why should I join up with you? The Ministry isn't going to catch The Boss."
"I don't care what the Ministry does," Harry said. "I have you and that's what we are discussing right now. You can leave under your own power. Or you can . . . not leave."
Ursie appeared to give in, somewhat. "What exactly do I have to do to keep the likes of you happy?"
"Commit to me, with a little spell," Harry said, trying to hold down the elation at the prospect of someone this strong under his will. He had to play this just right. Ursie had to be under his will before the spell, otherwise it would go horribly wrong again. He knew these things, had known them all along, but had ignored the knowledge, for reasons he could not understand now.
"I'm not convinced you are more than a punk wizard with a chip on his shoulder."
Harry let his anger seethe rather than lash out. "You have no idea the things I can do."
"I know your type, Potter." Ursie tried to kick the tentacles off, then gave up, breathing heavily. "You think you're the best ever, and maybe you're better than most, but that's not what makes a wizard worth following."
Harry relaxed the grip on his wand and tilted his head to listen.
Ursie rolled his eyes and shook his head. Again, Harry struck without thought. It was just a Blasting Curse, but it shattered the tentacled Long Reach spell and rolled Ursie over several times until he met the wall. He did not move right away, head resting on the hand he had put up for protection.
Harry suspected he was choosing not to move. "Look at me, or I'll try out something much worse that I've been itching to practice on someone."
Ursie raised his head. A cut on his brow bled onto his cheek and into one eye. He daubed it gingerly with his sleeve. His thoughts flickered to the Portkey still on his wrist and Harry laughed in a burst. "What . . . you're going to go back to the Boss' place, which is almost certainly swarming with Aurors?" In a lower voice, Harry asked, "You think you have secrets from me?"
Then a beat later Harry added: "You think you know me?"
Harry's instincts strained to lash out again, to prove he deserved obedience.
A rustle of robes came from the stairwell. Harry stepped to the side, to get both his captive and the stairs within the aim of his wand.
Snape stood there, poised mid-step, taking in the room. He almost spoke, but pursed his lips instead. Ursie shifted with a grunt to sit up with his back propped against the wall. Harry swung his wand back in his direction.
Snape glided down the last few steps and stopped ten feet in front of Harry. "I want you to leave him be, Harry. And let the Ministry take him away."
Harry studied Snape's face, thinking it had softened in the last year, that he was different. His instincts warned him to tread very carefully. He said, "I already said I don't want to. I don't appreciate needing to repeat myself."
Snape dipped his head. "See, that does not sound like you at all." More gently, he asked, "Can you hear yourself?"
"I'm stronger than you realize," Harry heard himself say. It felt like a plea, or a warning. He was getting notions, absolute notions, about Snape that his mind veered from only unwillingly.
Snape responded, "That is entirely possible. But irrelevant."
Harry tried again to be understood, feeling the connection the dark magic spell had made though his core, the way it had filled the last empty spaces. "You don't understand."
From the floor, Ursie said, "I understand punk wizards perfectly. Maybe I can help explain—"
Snape's wand lashed out and Ursie patted his hands against his slug-slime-sealed mouth.
"Shut up," Snape commanded. He started to turn away, then raised his wand again to hit Ursie with a Memory Charm and then a Fairy Dust Hex, which made him tilt along the wall until he rested on the floor, eyes shut.
Harry watched all this with raised brows.
"Harry," Snape said, voice tinged with unsorted emotion. He closed his eyes a long moment, in response to which, Harry lowered his wand to his side.
"Harry, the Ministry will be here any second." He held up a hand as if to forestall complaints. "I cannot undo that even if I wished to. You know the rules you are supposed to be following. Be ready with a story," he commanded, just before Rodgers and Kerry Ann came running down the stone staircase.
The Aurors crouched to examine Ursie and Snape stepped up before Harry, half-turned as if to track the Aurors' progress behind him. He was watching Harry and he was not hiding that he was doing so.
The Aurors finished switching Snape's incarceration spells for their own. In a moment they would haul the prisoner away. Harry could easily take all of them down and do what he wished with Ursie. His wand twitched, considering spells. Losing Ursie was not what irked him; he hated giving in, period. Giving in felt like defeat all over again, and it ground on his soul to do so.
Snape's steady gaze remained on Harry until Rodgers sent Kerry Ann off with the prisoner.
Rodgers rubbed his arm and came up beside Snape. "Well, Potter. We'll engrave another little broomstick on your locker at the Ministry for when you return." With a last glance between the two of them, he departed as well, shoulders bent with fatigue.
The dank cellar air drifted briefly around them as the door at the top of the stairs opened and closed. Harry said, "They didn't ask anything."
"No, they did not," Snape replied. "Perhaps they did not wish to hear the answers." Snape held out an arm in invitation. "Come. It is time to go home."
Harry hesitated. He could resist this; he could try to make up for being maneuvered into giving in. "I don't like interference," Harry said, making it clear he was angry. "You interfered."
"I am keeping your enemies at bay," Snape pointed out. "Notice they are gone now."
"I could handle them myself, Severus." He crossed his arms and stared Snape down, feeling his way better as they considered each other. "If I cannot be assured you are an ally, I don't want you interfering."
"Dumbledore is not around any longer, you will notice," Snape returned. "So, I can have no other loyalties."
Harry rolled his wand through his fingertips, pleased with its familiarity. "Dumbledore wasn't there for you at the beginning either, was he?" Harry watched how this played out on Snape's face. The twitching around the eyes was slight, but Harry's eyes had grown accustomed to the dark. "Or was he?" Harry added. "Everyone was a tool to him."
Snape lifted his chin as he breathed in and held it. "I believe he only took such action reluctantly."
"You think so?" Harry said, scoffing. "I don't."
"It is a moot question at this point. Certainly I would not stand here and defend him extensively." He gave a curt wave of his arm behind him. "Perhaps it would be more comfortable discussing this at home?"
Harry stepped closer to him. "Getting old and soft, Severus?" Then after a gap. "Feeling mortal?" His heart wavered as he demanded an answer to that. He was saying too much. He stepped suddenly away and said, "Yes, let's go home," and Apparated away.
"Where is Candide?" Harry asked as soon as Snape arrived.
"Visiting the Burrow, perhaps. She could not remain here alone."
Harry quipped, "That's what real servants are for, guarding things."
Snape did not rise to this bait, and replied, "I'll fetch her home and we can enjoy a quiet lunch."
- 888 -
Harry could not sleep. He stared at the grey wall of his bedroom, watching the four-squares cast by car headlamps sliding across the join between the wall and ceiling. Muggles and their machines. So very many of them. Why weren't there more wizards, he wondered. It seemed wrong for it to be this way. Wizards had so much power, why did they use it so poorly?
Ever wider awake, Harry slid out of bed and padded over to his wardrobe. His rampant fear of his vulnerability tried to make him rethink getting dressed, but he ignored it. Teeth clenched, he determinedly pulled on his thickest Weasley jumper and his winter cloak and, wand in hand, slipped away.
Not wanting to face any Muggles, Harry slipped out of the underworld into Hogsmeade. At this late hour, even the Hogs Head was dark. The only light came from the hearths burning in the upper rooms of the Three Broomsticks. Harry ran a detection spell to assure himself he was alone, then began walking along the rutted road. He felt better just getting out of his room. Something about the house had become a bother to him; it twisted his feelings in strange ways.
Harry stopped before Glad Rags and stared at the shadowy windows where magical mannequins moved from one pose to another, the colors they wore reduced by the starlight to shades of grey.
Winky. She was doing something to him. Eyes narrowed, thoughts revolving, Harry walked on. He stopped again before Honeydukes, which must have reopened for business given the new building and freshly painted sign. As he looked it over, part of the upper wall leading to the roof peak flickered in and out of existence. It had not been rebuilt, so much as recreated. He touched the beveled glass window in the door; it felt real enough.
With a series of sharp wand movements, Harry unsealed the door and pushed it open. When the bell tried to chime, he melted it with a Welding Charm, and stepped inside. Chocolate air wrapped around him as he moved to the counter at the front. Inside the glass case beneath the till sat foiled boxes with oversized golden bows that caught the weak light coming in through the front windows.
Harry uncursed the cabinet, cut a hole in the glass top and hovered the most extravagant box out the top of it. Colored jewels had been strung on wire and looped around with the golden bow. Harry dug his fingers in and tore open the corner of the box like a mouth and was chewing a caramel-filled sphere of ambrosia even before he made it back to the door.
With the box hitched under his arm, Harry continued down the road, licking his fingers. At the edge of the village he stood in the road and ate more chocolates. The next one, cherry, tasted like someone had distilled a quart of berries down into one mouthful. He licked his fingers again, and held that way when he felt someone magical approach.
Harry tugged his wand out with his left hand and turned. The figure, just stepping out from behind the last house on the road, stopped and waited. Harry thought he recognized the way the man stood, even in a heavy cloak. Still holding his wand, he wedged another chocolate out of the tear in the box.
"Want one?" Harry called out.
Vineet stepped into the road and quickened his pace. "Is it chocolate I am smelling?"
"Yeah, here." Harry tore the box into two halves hinged with the ribbon. The chocolates were arranged on a crystal platter with a spot shaped for each piece. He held it out. Vineet leaned in and after some deliberation, selected a heart shaped one.
"Coconut," he said sloppily.
"What are you doing out at this hour?" Harry asked.
"I was at the castle and I generally try to return to my flat when I am unlikely to be seen. May I have another?"
"Sure, I can steal another box, for you."
Vineet did not react to this news. "That should not be necessary."
Harry plucked one out for himself and started walking. Vineet fell in beside him, nibbling on the piece he held. Feeling elated and confident, Harry strode on with undirected purpose.
They crested the hill and the lake lay like a rocky-framed mirror before them, the lights of the castle glowing pinpricks. Harry stopped and stared at it, filled with memories: sneaking into the forest, flying in and crashing the Anglia, rescuing himself from the Dementors . . . brimming, radiant even, with the confidence that he would succeed with the Patronus spell if he just tried hard enough, because the man he had seen across the lake had done it already. If that man appeared now, Harry wondered what he would look like, what he would do. But nothing stirred on the shore line. The only movement was the reflection of the castle lights, floating and wavering.
Vineet stood unmoving until Harry shucked the past again and walked on.
Harry veered away from the path that led to the castle and trod over uneven ground, making movement his sole purpose. He felt unsettled and need to move, to do something. He stopped again and held the package out. "Want another?"
"I am quite satisfied."
Harry tossed the package aside; it chimed as it cracked against a rock.
Harry raised his head and stared at the sagging silhouette of the Shrieking Shack. The night sky showed through the upper window and a hole in the roof. Harry raised his wand. He was suddenly many places at once. He had dreamed once that he faced the Dursley house and as he peered at himself in the window he could see a fire burning around him, inside him. The fire had always been inside him, and the spell to send it forth was right now coursing along his arm and bursting through his fingertips.
With a whooph! the Shrieking Shack ignited. Flames raced downward and outlined each board of the siding, a flaming painting of a house. The crackle and roar grew louder as the tongue of fluttering flame stretched away from the roof, belching black smoke. If only he could destroy his memories as easily.
Vineet stepped closer to Harry and observed the conflagration from beside him. A board fell from the roof edge, scattering sparks when it struck the ground.
Sirius, Harry thought with a flash of ache, but then the unfairness of it made him bitter. Some memories were not worth reliving, ever.
Shouting drifted over the landscape from Hogsmeade. Vineet said, "Perhaps you should not remain here." He waved a charm at the discarded sweet package and with a rattling crumple, stashed it in his oversized cloak pocket. "I will clean up."
Harry's lips crooked. "Your loyalty still is to me?"
"Nothing has changed for me."
More shouting came from the village as half of the house collapsed inward, sending burning coals into the air and revealing even more flames embracing a blackened interior.
"Quickly, before you are seen."
Harry smiled and slipped away from the smoke, the roaring light, and the cloying scent of smashed chocolate.
- 888 -
Sunday, late morning, Harry slunk downstairs, tired despite sleeping in.
Upon seeing him, Snape placed Arcadius in his bouncing chair and stood. "I'll ask Winky for some breakfast for you. You look in need of it."
Harry did not protest this. He did not want to sit here with them, with the baby. Scratching his head to wake himself up, he wandered to the dining room and tugged the newspaper over.
The photograph on the front page showed a teetering chimney beside a smoldering black smudge on a field. The byline read Staff Reporter, whom Harry knew to be Ginny, usually.
Snape set a tray down before one of the chairs and leaned over Harry's shoulder.
Harry, thinking to deflect any suspicion, said, "Surprised it hadn't happened sooner."
"Albus himself put a fire-proof spell on it."
Harry unfolded the paper to lay the whole article out. A wizard wandered into the picture, noticed the camera, and scuttled out of it again.
"Maybe the spell faded," Harry suggested, sounding merely idly interested.
"Or backfired, even, as it weakened." Snape waved at the table as he departed the room. "Your breakfast is there."
- 888 -
Harry settled into the library and into plotting. Fudge was where he should start. He was weak. Flattery and the chance to draw off someone else's influence would turn him to anything. Maybe Harry should return to the Ministry that week, stop in at a few offices to see what those in power were doing, what they were thinking.
When a knock sounded on the door, Harry pulled the book in his hands up to a viewing angle. He had long ago let it fall over.
"Harry," Hermione said from the doorway. "Can I interrupt your reading? What are you reading?"
Harry glanced at the cover of the book. "Just something from the shelf."
She closed the door and held onto the latch behind her back. "I wonder if you'd do me a favor, Harry."
She avoided looking straight at him, so he could not glimpse what she was thinking. He put his book aside and stretched. He must have been in that same position a long time.
"Sure," he muttered.
"Come with me back to the castle."
Harry had a suspicion this was the same thing Ron had been on about, but this time he saw it as an opportunity to make a point.
"Sure, I'll meet you there. Too much of a bother to take the Floo."
"If you insist. I'll meet you in my office then?" She smiled at him with a wet-eyed hopefulness, touched his hand, and backed out the door.
Harry took his time and put the book away in its spot before going out into the main hall.
"Dinner's in a moment," Candide said, waving baby supplies back into a crate with the baby hitched on the other arm. "Did you ask Hermione to stay?"
"Didn't think of it. I'm going up to the castle for a bit. I'll be back." With that, Harry slipped away.
Snape stepped out of the drawing room. "Harry said he was going to the castle?"
Candide was making her way to the dining room. She said over her shoulder, "Yes he did. And I think Winky's putting dinner on."
Snape said, "I'll be back when I can."
"No," she blurted as he vanished, then growled. In the dining room the flames on the candelabra were the only thing moving. She sat down and played with Arcadius' hand. "Well, I guess we should get accustomed to your dad being gone. He's supposed to be at Hogwarts all the time anyway."
A moment later, the hearth rushed with green flame and Ginny Weasley stepped out of it.
"I was sent to keep you company," she said, then bent closer. "Hey, Arcadius. How are you?" She stood straight. "What does a gurgle mean?"
"I think it means he's happy to see you. Why don't you have some dinner. If you have a seat I think Winky will send it in."
"Brill, thanks. Aaron wants to get an elf, but I fear my parents' acute disappointment if we did." She settled in and a cast iron roaster heaped with meat and vegetables appeared, issuing up a veil of steam. Ginny served herself when invited to and asked, "So, where was Professor Snape off to in such a hurry?"
"I don't know. Hermione came and left again and then Harry went off. I assume it was related to that."
Ginny paused with her fork and knife poised. "Oh."
"Sounds like you might know."
Ginny chewed a bite of meat with a frown. "Hermione had this idea. I'm surprised it sent Professor Snape off on such a tear. It's no biggie."
Candide shrugged and shifted Arcadius to her other side.
Ginny ate with gusto then paused to ask, "Was Harry home last night?"
"I think so. Severus often checks on him, so he would know. Why do you ask?"
"Oh," Ginny said, pushing her stewed carrots around with her fork, lining them up. "Just curious."
- 888 -
Snape rapped upon Lupin's office door in a rapid burst. When the door swung open and Lupin leaned out, Snape hissed, "I need your assistance. Quickly."
They strode down the corridor, dodging a cluster of students, who meandered as they went, chatting.
Snape veered closer to Lupin and said, "This situation may be unexpectedly dangerous, I should mention. I regret dragging you into this without preliminaries, but you are the best option at the moment."
"I used to like a bit of danger," Lupin said amiably, as they arrived at the less-used staircase at the end of the wing.
Snape sped up his footsteps and asked, "Were you trying to live down a bit of guilt, Remus?"
Lupin opened his mouth, then closed it again. He sighed. "I don't actually know. But now I think I have something to lose, which is new."
Snape spun, holding the handrail to the stairs, considered followup comments, but gave up.
Two flights later, Lupin said, "May I ask what is happening?"
"Nothing. Yet. I wish to keep it that way." At the top of the last set of stairs, Snape paused and held up a hand while listening.
Lupin stepped up beside him, wand out at waist level. "What is the danger, exactly?"
Almost too quiet to hear, Snape replied, "Harry is the danger." He met Lupin's gaze and said, "Assume the worst, and please follow my lead in all things."
He started down the corridor, robes kicking up behind him.
- 888 -
Harry crossed his arms and unconsciously lifted his chin. He stood before Dumbledore's painting which rested on a carved oaken chair nearly as baroque as the painting's frame.
Ron stood beside the chair, face twisted. He glanced at Hermione yet again.
Dumbledore's aged visage spoke soothingly, "Harry, your friends are merely concerned."
"I don't know what about," Harry snipped. "And anyway, I don't know why it would matter to an old painting."
Dumbledore's eye's flashed with a mixture of vitality and coyness. "I am a bit more than an old painting."
Inside Harry, his instincts were only now calming from facing Dumbledore's image, and he longed to make up for the initial weakness. He started getting even by being as unflappable as possible.
"Harry, your friends are good friends. I am a good friend to you. There is more to life than simple power."
Harry's brow furrowed. "I know all that. You have some other point to make?"
"Only that one should not get in the way of the other, and if that happens it is time to reassess."
"Did you ever get around to doing that?" Harry lightly asked.
Dumbledore's brow arched and then a frown flickered over his face. "Harry have you really listened to what your friends are saying? Really listened?"
"Yes," Harry replied, sighing with forced boredom.
"I don't think you have . . ."
A rap came on the door. Hermione backed up to answer it.
"Ah," Snape said. "Sorry to interrupt; I was looking for Harry." He stepped into the room, eyes flickering to each face.
Harry tilted a shoulder. "I'm here."
"You are missing dinner."
Harry made a face. "You followed me to tell me that?"
Snape shifted his pose to relaxed, hands clasped behind his back. "That, and I was curious to hear this conversation."
"Ah, my dear Severus," Dumbledore said.
Snape stepped to the side. "I did not intend to be part of it, however."
"Harry," Dumbledore began again, voice low. "Your friends are part of your power, the most important part. They make life what it is. Do you doubt we are your friends . . . that I am your friend?"
"I have lots of memories that give me reasons to doubt that, yes."
"Love, my boy, it is more powerful than the other forces acting upon you . . . We all love you, Harry."
Out of the corner of his eye, Harry could see Hermione biting her lip and beyond her, Lupin glancing around mystified.
"If you cannot trust yourself, trust us," Dumbledore insisted. "Trust that we love you. Tell us what we need to do to gain your trust, if not."
Harry canted his head to better face the painting. The texture left by the paintbrush moved with the wrinkles on Dumbledore's face when he talked.
"This is what you did to him?" Harry asked. "You used his one weakness against him. You got him to give up the wand doing that, didn't you? You wore him down this way. Made him believe in you."
The figure in the painting stepped back from the frame and compulsively rubbed his beard.
Harry's elation rose at this. "You broke him, made him into something low and meaningless. And you did it using the one thing you claim is worth everything. You ruined him with it."
Harry stopped and watched Dumbledore's painted eyes narrow and jump around Harry's face, as if trying to see through a disguise.
Voice reduced to a whisper, Harry spoke, half thinking aloud. "You didn't kill him, did you? He's still there, isn't he? Just hidden away in that tower with one of your clever spells."
The painting's obvious surprise answered Harry, who lowered his hands to his sides, feeling joyful anticipation rise up through his core. Harry leaned toward the painting, jeering, "The chance to absolve oneself of past mistakes, past failure . . . to get revenge . . . that is what makes life worth living."
Harry breathed deep the bookish scent of Hermione's office. He was going to wipe the stain of defeat off his heart. He was going to hear Grindelwald's well-deserved screams. "Brilliant," Harry said with a smile, and slipped through the floor.
Hermione convulsively stepped forward into the spot Harry had vacated. "Where'd he go?" She glanced around those present, all silent with wide eyes. "Professor?" she finally demanded of the painting.
Dumbledore gave his beard one slow stroke. "I believe he has gone to free Grindelwald. Feels he has something he needs to level in that regard."
"Grindelwald?" Ron blurted, voice squeaking.
"Grindelwald?" Hermione echoed, hand rising to pull on her hair. She glanced around the room with fitful movements of her head. "What is happening here?!"
Snape stepped around her and stared down at the painting. "Where IS Grindelwald, Albus?"
- 888 -
Harry arrived at the foot of the hill leading to the ruined tower. The same weighty moss appeared to glue the pile of eroded stones together. Harry waved a cancellation spell that fizzled out, then another. Dumbledore had been fond of sui generis spells. No ordinary neutralizing spell would work . . . would reveal reality.
But damaging the object the spell was anchored to would weaken the spell. Just like the library wall in the house. Harry leaned back and surveyed the rough landscape. Brown rotting grass was giving way in patches to new green, interspersed with crooked clumps of trees and stone lines marking old walls.
Harry transformed into his Gryffylis form and leapt straight upward, which was not the easy way to take off. It required powerful flaps at the limits of his strength to gain altitude. As the tower sank below him, Harry's animal mind tried to see off into the mountains, tried to better scent the foreign soil and catalog the endless decay of forest into new life. Unlike defending the house when the Boss attacked, it had no interest in this fight.
With one last flap, Harry transformed back, wand already in hand. As he hung there, just as gravity took hold and whisked the air upward around him, he sliced the earth open with two strokes aimed along the rise toward the tower. The blissfully unrestrained spells sent dirt and boulders coursing ahead of deep gouges. Great flaps of sod ballooned open and fell away in a rumble like a derailing freight train.
Harry Apparated back to the ground and landed hard, falling to one knee, while rocks rained around him and dirt clumps tumbled and disintegrated in brown clouds. The tower, intact and silent, faded in beyond the destruction.
"Knock, knock," Harry whispered, then Apparated right to the roof of the tower, despite his instincts insisting he wait for his opponent to make the first move. Harry did not want his prey to escape, and he was enjoying ignoring this careful inclination in favor of action. Let him suffer through being ignored, Harry thought.
Harry flicked his wand and sent a narrow burning spell straight down through the honey-colored tiles. This was answered a moment later by the roof a few feet away blasting open. Harry slipped into the Dark Plane as a gut reaction, and arrived at the base of the tower, laughing, pleased his enemy was armed.
Harry called up, "Albus left you with some kind of wand, apparently! He died with the one that mattered though!"
Silence answered him. Harry stepped back and used the spells from Ravenclaw's book to remove the magic binding the tower together, then knocked loose a row of stones from the tower's base. His curse sense sent him back into the underworld just as he lowered his wand. He reappeared at the base of the hill. The ground smoldered where he had been standing.
From a distance, Harry sent a few more tower stones flying free with a narrow Blasting Curse. Immediately, he had to block a hex powerful enough to rattle his Chrysanthemum Block, less practiced a block than it used to be. As the spell thrummed around his shielding spell Harry felt both an exhilarating thrill and a spine poisoning fear. Harry wanted to drink more of the thrill. He waited for another spell to be thrown at him so he could battle that fear back again, prove he could beat it.
Harry's breathing calmed. Nothing happened. He used a Sonorus Charm on his throat. "Come out and fight, or I'll knock the tower down!"
Another hex sizzled his way. This one, Harry deflected, but it made his arms ache to do so. Even without the Elder Wand, Grindelwald was a formidable caster.
Harry slipped away then back in on the other side of the hill, knocked a few tower stones loose and leapt to another spot. He did this repeatedly, until he could hear the tower groaning in the wind.
A curse roared Harry's way. He braced himself and Countered it, arms trembling as the spell arced and crackled in a dome around him. It scattered away and ignited the brush around Harry with some unnatural fire that continued to zigzag and spread in fits before fizzling out. Harry didn't want to Squelch any curses yet. He wanted Grindelwald out where he could see him, see his face when he struck him down.
"Coward!" Harry shouted, voice echoing over the hillsides.
With a pop! Grindelwald appeared before Harry, some 20 yards ahead of him, a reasonable dueling distance. His neck hung bent and his violet robes were moth eaten and faded to pink, but his hair and beard flowed around him in luxurious waves of golden white.
"Who are you?" Grindelwald asked disdainfully.
"If you hadn't been defeated and locked up by your manipulative lover you wouldn't have to ask that," Harry retorted, lips relishing the words. Harry went on, "I was Dumbledore's last protégé, but that's not actually what I am famous for."
Grindelwald straightened slightly. "That would explain you knowing Albus so well." He flicked his wand, a polished splice of a broken staff that he must have fashioned himself. "What do you want? You certainly have no bone to pick with me."
"Oh, but I do," Harry insisted. "You just don't know it." He raised his wand.
- 888 -
Ron Apparated in and ran to the group standing in the middle of the main hall in Shrewsthorpe, holding a silvery pencil sharpener out before him. "I've got it. Took some explaining why I couldn't explain, but my dad gave in and helped get it in the end."
"Take a broomstick," Hermione said, shoving one into Ron's hand.
"I don't have a cloak . . ."
"Too bad," Ginny snapped, right before Snape activated the Portkey.
They arrived in a wide mountain valley with no habitation visible, just a rough landscape of mixed copses and fields. A pleasant breeze wafted by carrying the scent of glacial mountain air. The sound of an explosion and drifting dust drew their attention up the valley. Without speaking, they mounted and took flight.
When the dusty remains of a hilltop tower came into view, Snape signaled with his arm for a halt. In the open field at the foot of the hill, two figures were connected by alternately arcing spells.
Hermione veered up closer to Snape. "That's Harry," she said. "Is that Grindelwald? Harry's just come here and decided to take on Grindelwald?." Her voice wavered. "What is he doing?"
"Getting even," Snape said. "It's too complicated to explain."
Ron came up on Snape's other side. "Shouldn't we stop them?"
"Mr. Wickem," Snape called over his shoulder. "You are the only Auror here. Head off to the right, downspell of Harry, try to distract Grindelwald. Be very careful."
Aaron flew in close, bumping Ginny playfully. "Grindelwald you say? I may be an Auror, but that doesn't mean I'm not a coward."
Snape did not remove his eyes from the battle. "I'm aware you're a coward, Mr. Wickem, you're a Slytherin. But go on anyway."
"Well, all right. Wish me luck," he added to Ginny.
"Ms. Granger . . . Hermione," Snape frowned faintly. "Stay behind Ms. Weasley at all times. I'm going in. Hopefully Harry will see he has support rather than an interloper."
"What about me?" Ron asked.
"Do whatever you like. I don't care."
- 888 -
Harry was on his knees, but Grindelwald was bent double, teetering, beard tangled and singed. Harry lowered his wand and called out with a hoarse throat, "Next one you cast kills you. I promise you."
"What?" Grindelwald blurted. "Next one I send at you kills me?"
"Yes," Harry pledged. "Your death is your choice."
"I don't believe you."
Seconds passed. Harry made a point of holding his wand out even farther from ready. "Well, then go ahead. You don't know who I am, remember?"
Grindelwald's eyes flickered up behind Harry as if he saw something. Harry ignored this as a cheap feint.
Harry twitched his wand arm, but Grindelwald did not react. "Make it a good one," Harry taunted. "Something with a lot behind it."
Grindelwald jerked and aimed, but did not cast anything. "What are you famous for, by the way?"
"You should have asked that sooner. It's too late now. It's too late for everything. Certainly too late for you to get even with Albus, as much as he deserves it."
Grindelwald tossed his head and threw something nasty that sucked from the Dark Plane. Harry did not wait to see what it was, he closed down the spell's escape and it writhed and exploded, sending flashes of yellow light out through momentary rents in the fabric of the old wizard's body. Then he fell without resistance, limbs bouncing as they struck the ground.
Harry jumped up and went to stand over him. Grindelwald had known a Forbidden Curse no one else did, and now it was lost. Grindelwald lay still and unmarred despite the fireworks, but his radiance was leaking everywhere. Harry reached out a hand toward the body, as if offering him a hand up, drawing the essence to him. He could gather it and weave it, make a Horcrux. Cease to fear. The radiance seeping away curled back on itself, crowded closer, Harry could feel the distress of it surrounding him. It was a good distress, his instincts insisted. He just had to turn the wand on himself. . .
"Harry," Snape's voice interrupted his rehearsing the complicated spell, letting the Latin roll its unfamiliar shape over his tongue.
Harry, mind blanking with seething anger, raised his wand at Snape, who had just landed on a broomstick. Snape froze, broomstick held awkwardly, wand aimed at the ground.
"Get away," Harry snarled, so red hot his eyes were vibrating, making his vision funny and narrow. "Get away, now." Something told him two deaths would work even better.
"Harry?" From behind him came Ron's voice. It made Harry twitch in surprise. Strangely disbelieving, he turned his head. Ron hovered there on a broomstick, Hermione flying beside him, quaintly awkward to be riding alone. Above Harry, Ginny swooped in a tight circle, glancing around in alarm.
Harry's aim at Snape wavered.
"Behind ya, Mate," came Aaron's voice.
Harry lowered his wand. The Radiance was leaching into the ground around them, dissolving into the air. He let it go with painful reluctance.
Snape broke the silence by taking a step closer and peering down at Grindelwald's body. His movements were as studied as a snake charmer's. "What did he strike out with?" he asked.
The remains of Harry's anger still coursed through him, making his sinew twitch. He longed to strike Snape down just to make him hurt. "I don't know. Something deadly."