"Severus," Candide called from the main hall.
Snape hurried in to find Candide putting her bags down.
"You did not get the owl I sent? I sent it to your mother's."
She placed Arcadius into his arms, which he could not resist accepting, and picked up the bags again. "I went to my friend Jillian's."
Snape hitched the baby on one arm and put up his other hand to halt her progress toward the stairs. "You cannot remain here. I sent you an owl instructing you to remain with your parents."
"What's going on? Is Harry here?"
Snape's voice dropped. "Not yet." He went over to the couch and sat down with the baby in his lap and scrawled something on the corner of a Potions Monthly cover. "Take this and go," Snape said, tearing off the corner and pressing it into Candide's hand.
"What is this?"
"It is the name of a Hedgewitch who can help Arcadius if he gets into difficulty."
She read the slip. "Oh, Gliwice, I know her."
Snape blinked. "You know her?"
"Well, my mum and dad knew her when they were children."
Snape stood, smoothly scooping Arcadius back into Candide's arms and hovering a trunk in from behind the door of the drawing room. "Even better. Here are your things; you need to go."
"You packed for me?" Candide asked, half laughing nervously while following behind. "For how long am I going?"
The trunk settled to the floor beside the hearth and Snape took hold of her free arm. "I realize I made promises to you, but I have much older ones I must honor. And at the moment, it has become too dangerous to attend to both at the same time."
"Promises . . ." she began with a growl, but then her face eased back from growing more vexed. "You think Harry's that dangerous?"
Snape did not reply immediately, he stood listening for any sign of Harry's return. "I know he is. You must go. Go to your mother's; I think that would be best."
"For how long? Severus . . . Mother will think we are on the rocks or something."
"That is no matter."
"It is to me."
Arcadius gave a squawk. Candide shifted him to her shoulder and patted his back so that he emitted a vocal thrumming sound. Candide went on. "Do you even remember what this week is?"
"Yes, of course I do." He reached into his pocket and pulled out an oval box wrapped in silver with green ribbon.
She accepted it when he held it out and said, "You were just waiting for me to ask, weren't you?"
He arched a brow and her lips twitched upward while her expression tried to remain unhappy. She pocketed the box and returned to patting a fussing Arcadius.
Snape's voice fell lower. "You must go. I will not argue over this."
She turned away and touched the trunk with her toe. "It was getting rather mad around here," she commented.
He assumed she was trying to open up a new line of argument. "I'll help you with the trunk. But we must hurry. Harry's friends took him out to a pub, but he did not seem amenable to remaining with them long."
- 888 -
Harry returned home, trailing the scent of cheap Muggle tobacco, glad for the silence of the house and the escape from the need to placate his friends. He paced the main hall. The muscles in his torso were agitated and he could not bear to remain still. He had gladly shrugged off his friends, but now wished for a distraction. The room was warmer today as spring got on, and he rapidly grew damp under his robes from the movement.
Snape came to the library doorway and said, "I'll assume from your present activity that you are not injured."
Harry turned and stared at Snape. The man showed no sign of having been threatened just an hour before.
"I'm fine," Harry said, ignoring the chorus of little aches and numb spots where his blocks had not served him perfectly. Tomorrow at the Ministry he could work on that for hours at a time, a welcomingly mind-numbing notion.
If he stood there longer he might try to prove something to Snape and the thought made his stomach twist, even as he hungered to punish him for interfering at such a critical moment. "It's been a long day. I'm going to bed," Harry said.
- 888 -
Ginny arrived at the Prophet offices the earliest yet and stood in the shelter of the alcove to the rear door. Looking about her while covering a yawn, she grasped the oversized golden handle. The security spell prickled more in the morning, as if the door had stored up magic overnight. Inside the gilt foyer, she reached back to shut the door, thinking ahead to check any notebooks left lying around for anything she might prefer be lost, when the door came to a stop, inches from closing.
Ginny looked back and found Skeeter's curls wavering through the frosted glass above a pink, body-sized blob, and blocking the door, a pink pump. Ginny pulled her wand and yanked open the door.
"What do you want?" Ginny demanded.
Skeeter shuffled her handbag back onto her shoulder and smiled in a way that made Ginny tighten her grip on her wand. "Well, my dear, that depends on what you have to offer."
Ginny exhaled. Dryden, the security guard, a wizard whose bottom half was awkwardly twice as large as his upper half, sauntered over, fingering the wand in his breast pocket.
"You will want to send him away," Skeeter softly said. "Really. You can throw me out later, if you so choose. I'll go quietly."
Rolling her eyes, Ginny backed up and let the other woman in. "It's all right, Dryden. I'll take care of this."
"Yes, madame." He wobbled off, resuming the attitude of a pacing monk.
Ginny stepped into the lift and let it rise to just short of the top floor. She flicked the lever to halt it and lowered her wand to point at Skeeter's midsection.
Skeeter laughed. "That won't stop me, dearie."
"Oh, it's been Animagus and Apparition proofed. So, yes it will. I have a lot of friends in the Aurors' office, as you might imagine, to help with such things. You think I wasn't expecting you to come?"
Skeeter tipped her head as if she conceded a bit of respect for this. "In that case I will make my pitch here. No matter." She tugged the silvery lapels of her suit straight and said, "I know Potter was behind the fire in Hogsmeade. I have firsthand accounts. I know the Ministry is protecting him, I have a firsthand account of that too. All of this would just be politics—it was just an empty firetrap anyway—if it weren't for that other recent incident, actually made public, in Eastern Europe." She paused, measuring eyes roaming up and down Ginny. "He is being hailed as a hero for that attack, I'm not sure why. Probably something to do with your newspaper framing it that way."
"It was Grindelwald," Ginny pointed out.
"It was an old man, long past his magical prime."
"It was Grindelwald." Ginny repeated.
Skeeter straightened. "No matter. He was a rival. This paper almost implied as much in that little retrospective on World War II in yesterday's Late Late Edition."
Ginny said, "So, fine, why don't you take all this and discuss it on your little wireless show? Publish it in the Quibbler. Whatever."
Skeeter smirked, leaving Ginny with the impression that she was playing right into Skeeter's plans. "I could do that. I wanted to come by and ask you a few things before I do." Skeeter went on after a gap. "I wanted to ask you what he would have to do that you would no longer desire to protect him. And I wanted to say that I could be silent, for a price."
Ginny blinked at her, realized she had let her wand drop and aimed it again, right at the third pink button of Skeeter's jacket. "You're willing to be silent?" she mocked.
"I'm not a fool, Ms. Weasley." Skeeter purred. "I have information, which in my world, is currency. How I choose to spend it is my affair. You are doing the same every time you bury a story, like you have been, or simply aspects of it, when I am quite certain you know better." She flicked something out from under a long nail and added in a lower voice. "And frankly, it's getting risky to spend this currency with the public directly."
This last was added in a different, frank tone, and it made Ginny's heart skip around before regaining a normal rhythm. She swallowed. "What do you want?"
"I want my job back."
"You're assuming I can give that to you," Ginny said, mostly to stall so she could recover her mental balance.
Skeeter waved a manicured hand dismissively. "You are the fiancée of the son of the man who holds every purse string in this place."
Ginny studied the golden filigree decorating the corners of the lift. The shine had chipped off in places, leaving a green stain behind. Like most things, it was all for show.
"So you will keep quiet," Ginny said. "You will only write what I tell you to, at least on certain topics . . ."
"You're the assistant editor, aren't you? Don't you know what your job is yet?" Skeeter rolled her eyes this time as though pleading heavenward.
Ginny said, "I need time to consider your offer."
"By tonight at midnight."
"No way. Tomorrow at midnight." Ginny felt a rush of heat energizing her brain and added, "And the cost of negotiating at all is that you accept a Memory Charm at the conclusion of the negotiation, that is, if your offer is not accepted. Agree to that and we seal it here with a spell, or I simply hit you with one now."
Skeeter backed up a step, glancing down at the wand, which up till then she had pointedly ignored. "If that's how it must be," she said, flustered and straining to sound angry.
Ginny raised her hand. "Give me your right pinky then. A girls' agreement will suffice for me." At Skeeter's laughably doubtful expression, Ginny said, "I'm really good at this spell. Cross me and you will end up with toad toes."
- 888 -
"Glad you're here, Potter," Rodgers said from where he stood outside the door to the training room. The whole place felt so familiar, Harry could imagine he had never left. He had been thinking ahead to drills as he rode up in the lift and was caught off guard by his trainer's officious tone.
Rodgers went on: "We need a full debriefing with you on yesterday evening's activities. The Romanians are asking some interesting questions and we'd like to not sound like halfwits when we give them answers."
Kerry Ann had come to the doorway, brightly pleased. "Hey, Harry," she said at the first opening in the conversation.
Aaron sidled up behind Harry and crossed his arms, making his cufflinks wink in the light. "Did you debrief Dumbledore's painting?" he asked Rodgers.
"Yes, spent much of my evening with it, in fact. I need to know what Harry has to add to that, and more importantly, why he decided to fly off and handle things alone rather than acting in a circumspect and Auror-like manner and informing the Ministry." He turned and strode away. "Come along, Potter."
Harry followed, biting his lip. Rodgers was baiting him to get a reaction and Harry would not give him one.
Inside the Auror offices, Rodgers said to Tonks. "Can you get the apprentices settled into their drills for me? I have a feeling they will gossip half the morning without some parental interference."
"Harry," Tonks said in surprise at seeing him when she stood up. "You back for training?" Her puffed up hair pulsed pink on the ends as she asked this.
"Maybe," Harry said. "Rodgers thinks I'm not good enough, so perhaps not."
Rodgers' chair groaned as he settled into it and pushed away from the desk using his feet. "I didn't say that, Potter, and you know it. Sit down."
Harry pulled Tonks' chair around the corner and sat on the warm seat. Rodgers did not begin. He glanced up at the doorway where Tonks still waited. "Something else?"
"No," Tonks breathed and stepped away.
Rodgers did not take out a quill or parchment. He sat back in his office chair and laced his hands together over his abdomen. "So, tell me what happened yesterday." When Harry hesitated, Rodgers added, "In your words. I have Wickem's and Dumbledore's, such as they are. He's a nostalgic old bird and probably better at hiding things and misdirection than anyone I've ever interviewed, alive or oil painting. Keeps making the conversation about you, instead of him, something I'll have to remember because it certainly works well."
He waited, studying Harry in a way that made Harry's instincts put Rodgers high on a list of people who needed to be monitored. Rodgers said, "Let's start with the part where you and your friends have a chat with an old Hogwarts headmaster painting, for whatever reason."
Harry wondered at his phrasing and said, "Dumbledore's painting wanted to talk to me."
"I've never understood him. You'd have to ask him."
"Did. No luck." He returned to waiting, like he had all the time in the world and the log book in the corner was not scratching out things in need of attention.
"My friends think I'm starting to understand power," Harry said, watching carefully for a reaction.
Rodgers' face rippled with faint amusement. "I could see why that would concern them. You've hardly done that in the past." He tugged the top file on his desk closer but left it closed, making the Autoquills in the holder rustle. "So old Albus Percival Great Scott Dumbledore calls you in for a chat . . ."
Harry moved Rodgers to an enemies to be neutralized list. "He did. And I realized how he had managed to defeat Grindelwald."
Rodgers' brows went up. "And that was?"
"He smothered him. Used his love for Dumbledore against him." Made him into nothing, Harry almost added.
Rodgers shook his head. "How did you know he was still alive?" He sounded normal now, curious and a bit impressed.
"I learned about the tower . . . from looking into Dumbledore's Pensieve . . . when I was a student. Mostly I guessed. I don't know how I guessed, really. Knowing him too well, maybe. I knew that he couldn't have killed him outright." He was too weak, Harry also held back on saying.
"So you decided to rectify that oversight, then?"
"I didn't kill him. I blocked his own curse so it blew out through him and that killed him."
Speaking with great deliberation, Rodgers said, "You went . . . alone . . . to confront Gellert Grindelwald, the wizard that in a one-on-one matchup could have made Voldemort seem like a second class dueler. He didn't have Death Eaters to hide behind, you know. He was the real deal."
"I wanted to prove I could," Harry answered, bristling inwardly.
"I wanted to do it my way."
Rodgers sat forward and pointed at Harry's chest. "That's the part that will have to stop if you are going to come back to this program. Do you understand me? I catch you running out on your peers to act alone, I will come down on you hard. You will be out of it again before your wand gets back into your pocket."
Harry made his lips move without the influence of his annoyance. "Yes, sir." He could hear he sounded like Draco Malfoy, saying the right words just for show. Draco had known a lot of things Harry could not understand the value of before. Harry should have been paying more attention when he'd had the chance.
"You sound so convincing, Potter." Rodgers stood up. "We'll see how you do. For now, I'll chalk it up to post-battle high."
- 888 -
At home, Harry set his books down on the dining room table and walked away from them, having little interest in Typical Courtroom Cross-Examination Techniques.
Snape stepped into the main hall and studied him before asking, "How was your training?"
"Fine," Harry rubbed his arms, which were sore from drills. He had tried to visit the Minister's office during lunch but she had been out for the day. He was considering slipping into the Department of Mysteries for a chat with Fudge before it got any later in the day, but it would arouse less suspicion to wait a few days, even as impatient as he was.
He wanted to talk his ideas over with someone, but held back on discussing them with Snape. He was feeling positive about his plans for the immediate future and did not want anyone telling him he should feel otherwise.
"I don't need anything from you," Harry said.
Snape tilted his head sideways, nodding the way Vineet did, and returned to his desk, inspiring Kali to crawl around in her cage in the corner of the drawing room. Harry did not want to see her, wished she did not exist. As a distraction from the noise and because he hoped to see it confirm his new mood, he waved the strange book down from his room and settled cross-legged on the floor to open it. He was too involved in paging through it to notice Snape stepping up behind him.
Harry saw Snape's robes ripple out of the corner of his eye. Rather than protest his bothering him, Harry turned the book to the side and looked over his shoulder, asking, "What does it say for you?"
Snape kept his eyes on Harry too long before stepping closer and looking down at the book. Harry paged gradually forward, stopping at a border of an ancient battlefield full of corroded, broken armor and pockmarked bones. Dry leaves fluttered through, caught on the heaped wreckage, but never settled and covered it.
Harry watched Snape's face, watched his eyes narrow as he studied the page, eyes tracing the border. He grew very still then, statuesque, before turning back to Harry, face neutral.
"What does it say?" Harry prompted.
"It says something with regard to wars never really ending, soldiers never really escaping the battlefield. Does it say something different to you?"
Harry tugged the heavy book closer again and hunched over the page. Only dishonorable cowards desert the field of battle. They will know no glory and certainly no immortality. Failed heroes suffer the greatest kind of death the moment they retreat as cowards. Harry shut the book and stood up, leaving it on the floor.
Purely as a diversion, and just now noticing her absence, Harry asked, "Where's Candide?"
"Staying with her family. She was a getting a little annoyed with the repeated emergency de-campings." Snape hovered the abandoned book to the end table, which was clear for the first time since the baby had arrived. He spoke casually as he paged through the book. "I am hopeful that the Boss will be captured soon."
Harry wanted to trust him, but he sounded too rational, too pat. Harry's instincts prodded him with the belief that Snape lied the most when he gave the least impression of doing so. But that meant she had left out of fear instead of inconvenience, and try as Harry might, he could not imagine it was the Boss she had run from. Harry's instincts pushed him aside from the obvious thought burgeoning behind that one, so that he hung suspended.
Arms hanging numb at his sides, chest hollowing out, Harry watched Snape turn each page of the book, pausing to study the borders. The clock ticked in the house, which should not be silent enough to hear it. Harry could almost recreate sadness at being feared, but it did not last. Fear was part of power.
Snape paused, page corner held in his lean fingers, eyes searching out the words that Harry knew sometimes did not come. The clock ticking seemed louder. He felt vulnerable in a way he never had before, in a way that his new instincts could not combat.
Only cowards desert. Only cowards.
Harry had not run in fear from this world's Grindelwald, but he had been certain of victory. They had battled only because Harry had chosen to toy with the old wizard because he deserved it. Snape and Harry's friends, even his friends with little fighting skill, had flown toward a battle with Grindelwald, of all wizards. Harry had shown no bravery in this, but his friends had.
Harry rocked on his heels. Things had changed. He used to be like his friends. But such behavior was foolhardy. One should never enter a fight one was not guaranteed to win and to do so was to risk everything, the world itself. But Harry could remember risking everything, without hesitation, many times. He had been scared, sure, but mostly of failure itself, of what that would mean for his friends.
Snape raised his gaze from the book, and rather than meet his eyes, Harry turned his head to stare at a weaving hanging on the wall. Candide had hung that there, had changed this place. Harry was seeing his memories as two worlds, and he was finding it hard to breathe. He was peripherally aware of Snape straightening, turning to fully face him, concern etching lines across his brow.
Harry did not have to be a coward. That was a choice. He used to have choices. He too could fly toward the battle instead of running away from it. It was not even honor or heroism, it was to make things right. That was all that mattered, or used to. He could remember that. It wasn't all fear before. That hapless child tossed up on waves of fate, stalked by an endless series of Grims, wielded a power he now lacked: power over himself.
Shaking from the effort of directing his will, Harry slipped into the underworld. He must have given something away, some preliminary movement because Snape's voice followed him out.
"Harry . . ."
Harry stared at the grey earth, at the twisted metal and jagged sawgrass, replaying that voice. It was too fraught, too committed, and it left him further unseated with horribly mixed memories. The creatures gathered, snapping and drooling. Before they could reach him, Harry Apparated and fell away for elsewhere, needing to prove something, if at all possible.
- 888 -
- 888 -
Harry awoke with his arm resting on the hearthstone of the Hog's Head. He preferred not to worry what anyone thought of his strange behavior, making the scummy pub the best choice. This time there was no one around to care. The logs were reduced to cleaved hunks of ash-dusted wood, but the hearth still radiated faint warmth. Rather than spell the stone beneath him warmer, Harry remained still, painfully cold, staring up at the dusty cobwebs linking the chimney stones to the peeling plaster ceiling.
He wished he were colder still, numb through.
Keys jangled at the lock and the proprietor stomped in through the door and came to a stop.
"I thought I cleared this place out last night," he growled.
"Guess you didn't," Harry replied, sitting up and rubbing his neck. He paused, staring at the greasy old figure leaning on a staff. With his glasses and blue eyes, Harry thought he was Dumbledore for a second.
The figure stared back at him with a similar expression, then muttered, "I'm not getting involved," and hobbled over to move things around behind the bar. "'Nough trouble as it is."
A figure wearing a full length cloak with a deep hood slinked in the front door. He waited at the bar for his pewter mug of ale and took it to a table in the corner, ignoring Harry's attention.
Harry had not brought a cloak. He stood, stretched his neck and pulled out his wand. He gave the wizard warning by approaching with it in view. He blocked the forthcoming hex and put a Mutoshorum on the man while he tugged his cloak free of his neck. Beneath his hood he had a narrow face and a neatly trimmed goatee. Harry did not recognize him. The man fell to the floor when his cloak pulled free and flopped flat on his back beside his chair.
"Hey now. None of that in here," the proprietor complained.
Harry felt the curse before it arrived and deflected it to the wall, where it scattered chunks of plaster, revealing the lathe behind it. He kept his wand steady, aimed at the barman, still puzzling over his blue eyes, how his glasses sat on his vein-stained nose with such tantalizing familiarity. The barman stared back, but kept his wand at an angle, not really aimed.
Harry tossed and caught the cloak so it draped over his arm and backed warily to the door before remembering he could slip away.
He arrived in the Leaky Cauldron with his new cloak hood pulled forward to shade his face. The Hog's Head owner's eyes still haunted him. He was the same wizard as in his Plane; why had Harry not noticed the similarity before?
The patrons of the pub were standing in two clusters, talking and gesturing. Harry stepped sideways to slip between two arguing patrons and glance at the newspapers spread out on the table.
Godric's Hollow Attack! Beneath the headline, the photograph showed a smoking shell of a house with Aurors and Ministry wizards stepping around it. Harry physically lifted a small old witch aside to get right up to the table.
Are any wizards safe if the magic protecting the Potters has failed? read the first line. Harry's vision tunneled down. He leaned on the table for balance. Behind him a wizard loudly proclaimed that Muggles had done it, and others shouted him down as a nutter. Another insisted his cousin had seen a Dark Mark sent up, but another said that was balderdash. If Harry had been able to exercise his will he would have screamed for them all to shut up.
The newspaper was pulled away. Harry put his other hand down on the sticky tabletop and clung to the solidity of it, still not seeing properly. He was supposed to be flying toward the battle, even as chaotic as that battle had now become. After sucking in a deep breath of hearth-scented cloaks, stale spilled ale, and pipe tobacco, he Disapparated for Godric's Hollow.
The scent of wet charcoal led him along in the right direction. A handful of witches and wizards were walking along the road ahead of him, stopping to gawk and to retell their own version of events. Harry stopped on the pavement before the blackened spires and chimney and stared. His will drained away again and he floated helpless, surprised he didn't waver and topple, since he could not feel his limbs.
The gawkers moved on, leaving him blissfully alone. His appropriated cloak was weighing him down, he tugged it off his head, tried to unhook it, but his fingers weren't working properly. He was flying into the battle, he reminded himself, but instead he stood there, remembering green flashes, remembering the flames devouring the Shrieking Shack, and falling farther into his confused senses.
"Harry!" A voice came from behind him. "Where have you been? Everyone's been looking everywhere for you."
Harry turned at his name, at Ginny's familiar voice. She came to a scuffing stop.
"Oh," she uttered. Her arms swam in the air to keep her balance, and she became wary. "It's you."
"I saw the papers," Harry said. "It's just like what happened before." He cleared his throat. "Where are the Potters?" he asked.
"I don't know, Harry," she replied, hands out in front of her like she wished to calm him.
"Where are the Potters?" he repeated, more demanding. He needed to know like he needed to breathe. Things had gone out of control and it was his fault. And he could not fix things anymore. He had lost that. He was trying to recapture it, and if he could not, he was nothing.
They stared at each other, a furrow dividing Ginny's brows. She suspected him; he could read it in her expression. Suspected him of what, though? He shrank from imagining. He closed his mouth without asking again, withering from an internal heat that could not escape.
"They're not dead, are they?" he uttered. It couldn't be true. He tried again to unhook his cloak and stood clutching the edges of it, head bowed. How had it all gotten so out of control?
Ginny stepped forward out of the road and onto the grass. "Harry," she said, full of concern now. "You lost your parents. I remember you said that's why you came in the first place. I'm sorry."
She had stopped a few paces away. Neither spoke while the breeze carried the wet smoke away and flapped the edges of Harry's stolen cloak. Ginny started to speak, twice, but held back, eyes searching his face. When Harry looked up at her the next time, she appeared changed, face set.
"Can you stay here, Harry, and wait for me?" Her face shifted again, forced kindly. Behind it, her thoughts were shuttered and protected. "I'll see what I can do. Okay? You'll wait here?"
Harry's instincts tried to tell him she was tricking him, laying a trap. He willfully ignored this warning. "I just need to know if they're alive." He was pleading, from deep within himself, communicating through a narrow tunnel to the surface.
"Yes, Harry, they are. But stay here, okay?"
And she was gone. He puzzled her last, calculating look, wishing her Occlumency were not working so well.
More figures approached along the road, pointing at the wreckage of the house. Muggles. Harry pulled his hood forward and paced away, treading through the yellow blooms growing under a massive ash tree at the corner of the yard, bare branches tipped with cloven-foot buds.
Harry needed to find Grindelwald, needed to fly into battle against him, but it would not succeed; he knew it would not. Whatever he had possessed before, luck or fate, or some kind of magical blessing from the past, had abandoned him. Flying into battle would accomplish exactly nothing. And he would be destroyed in the process. That realization caused icy, paralyzing fear to trickle into his chest.
Harry stared down at the yellow blossoms, each one a starburst. His feet had vanished under the deep green heart-shaped leaves.
"Harry?" Ginny's voice came again.
Harry reached for his wand, hiding it in his sleeve, certain he faced a trap.
But Ginny approached alone. "Good. You're still here," she said, coming along the pavement.
The Muggles turned and watched them. Harry considered a Befuddling Hex, but held back, wanting to keep his wand free.
"I arranged a meeting," she said and held out her hand. Her eyes bore mixed emotion, but nothing deeper escaped.
Their hands closed around each other before Harry was even aware of raising his. Her hands were warm, but her fingertips chilly. She glanced over her shoulder at the Muggles and lifted her wand, sending fog out of it that swooped around them, masking them from sight.
They arrived in a fog too and Ginny shook out her wand. "Sorry, I haven't quite worked that one out yet," she said, laughing at herself. She released his hand and stepped back.
The fog thinned and drifted, revealing them to be in a broad glade, somewhere the leaves were already beginning to open.
"Harry?" Lily queried, green eyes full of motherly alarm and hope. Her unbound hair lifted in the wind as she stepped toward Harry.
"It's not Harry, exactly," Ginny insisted.
Lily rocked up on her toes and stopped. "I don't understand this."
Harry, drinking her in, felt nothing. She was not so much beautiful as . . . perfect. Harry's heart thudded within an empty cavity. He wanted to fall to his knees before her and remain that way.
Ginny said, "I didn't have enough time to explain properly, as if I could, anyway. It's not your Harry. It's someone else. Another Harry, from another place."
Lily's gaze narrowed, studying Harry's eyes as if they were a clue to be decoded. She rubbed her forehead and tilted her head like one thinking hard. All the forces fighting inside Harry had reached a stalemate. Except his eyes grew wet.
"Harry, what happened to you?" Lily asked, her voice a caress that cast back so many years it nearly cut Harry in two.
Ginny said again, "I'm telling you this is a different Harry. I know it's weird, but it's true. He just wanted to see that you were okay, you and Mr. Potter. But Mr. Potter is off helping with something," Ginny explained to Harry.
Lily straightened and studied Harry with an acuity that made him believe she was smarter even than Hermione. "A different Harry?" She glanced at Ginny. "But still Harry? A Harry?" She turned back to him when Ginny did not reply, merely stood with her lips pursed. "That really the case?"
Harry found the means to nod faintly. He had very little say in what was going on with his body. As badly as he needed to see her, he felt gutted and exposed, and fearful of what he might reveal if he stood there longer.
"His mum and dad died when he was a babe," Ginny supplied.
"His mum, you, died. That's what he said, anyway. When he saw the house he freaked out and needed to see you." She huffed. "It's impossible to explain this."
Lily shook her head and waved Ginny off, then stood studying Harry, thinking.
A roar began, built in volume, and a trio of slate grey fighter jets emerged over the trees and with a deafening rush disappeared over the opposite short horizon. The women watched them pass overhead, arms hanging suspended. Lily closed her eyes a long moment.
"That's bad, isn't it? We have to do something," Ginny said. "Harry has to do something." At Harry's questioning glare, she said, "You're the only one who can defeat him."
Harry, fear reaching out to grip him, snapped, "No one can defeat him. He has Dumbledore's old wand. He's undefeatable."
"What is this?" Lily asked.
Her keenly projected intelligence soothed Harry's riled nerves. He explained, "Grindelwald has Dumbledore's old wand. He killed him for it a few months ago."
Lily slowly said, "Dumbledore's been dead for a long time. Unless we are speaking of a different Dumbledore, the same way I am speaking to a different Harry."
Harry shook his head, impatient to be understood. He had to remind himself to suck in a breath and let it out again. "No. He only pretended to be dead. He did this so he could spend all his time with Grindelwald, pacifying him, I suppose. Dumbledore had taken that wand from him to defeat him at the end of the Great War. It's the Wand of Destiny; it cannot be defeated."
Ginny stepped closer. "How did Dumbledore get it away from him, then? And how did he get it back?"
Harry explained, "They were lovers; that might have had something to do with it." Ginny's thin brows went up under her fringe. Harry joked, "Certainly, I can't use that method to win." His instincts urged him to go. Only death awaited him here, defeat and death. Harry shook his head harder. "No," he uttered, trembling with the effort at remaining in place.
Harry lifted his gaze to his mother, who wore an expression of quizzical concern. She asked Ginny, "You really think he can do something?"
Ginny nodded. "He's very powerful."
Lily's face filled with sad sympathy, making Harry lean toward her. She said, "There is an enemy fleet assembling off the Frisian Islands. Bombs are falling on Kent and Suffolk and Grindelwald is believed to be there assisting in the destruction. They are trying to destroy the ports. That's where James and the others went, to try to help fight."
Ginny, voice small but sure, said, "Harry, you have to do something."
Harry battered down the fear choking him. He pictured Grindelwald, what he was doing now. Jealous anger made him close his eyes. He could do something. He could show his mother what he really was.
Harry let his shoulders fall back and, finding his ever-present hunger, sent out a vibrating song. The air quivered and popped as hooded figures began arriving. Ginny let out a sound of surprise and someone plucked at Harry's sleeve before letting go again. Harry kept calling them, and more arrived while some resisted. Harry pulled harder, punishing those resisting. A scattering more arrived.
Harry opened his eyes to study the three loose rings of figures surrounding them, shifting anxiously. The wind moved their cloaks in waves. Ginny bit her lip and minced away from the nearest Death Eaters to take hold of Lily's hand. Lily had her wand out, and pulled Ginny so they were back to back.
A few shadows still resisted. With a snarl, Harry sent searing punishment out along the shadowy tendrils. The figures surrounding them doubled up or fell to their knees, a few dropped their wands in favor of gripping their arms. More pops sounded in a chorus and the rings filled in more.
Harry stared at Lily's unmoving and stunned face. She and Ginny were pressed together, wands wavering around various targets. Harry counted to ten before sending the song out again—punishment then reward. He reached to the extremes of his mind and lured the others to him as well, those who would have to travel day and night to reach him. He gave them no choice. They were his servants; no one else would use them.
Harry let his shoulders fall slack. He could do anything at that moment. Touch every corner of the magical world. But all he wanted to do was make his mother understand.
"This is what is left of me," Harry said. She turned her head to him, wand still aimed elsewhere. "I'm becoming Him," he added.
Her expression did not change; it remained fixed with surprise, and it pained him.
Off to Harry's right, a figure raised its wand. While turning, Harry sent out punishment, making the Death Eater fall to the ground. "Try that again, Bellatrix, and next time I will simply kill you. I am not the pushover your previous master was." Harry breathed heavily, anger narrowing his vision. "Stand up."
The cloaked figure shakily pushed to her feet and teetered. The other figures stood tense, waiting.
"You disgust me," Harry said, turning to address them all. "Helping our enemies. You may be wizards who don't believe Muggles deserve any rights, but you're still British." He continued turning, taking them all in. Their postures were hunched, heads down or turned aside. They remained unmoving. Harry took them in one at a time, making them wait more, breathed in their obedience, growing high on it. "What are you thinking, helping an outsider destroy us?"
Another set of jet fighters roared by, out of sight, too low to see beyond the hills. "You! On this side of me." Harry gestured on his left, "You will go to London, see that anything launched from the east does not reach the city. I don't care how you do it."
A noise of disgust came from someone. Harry strode forward to the broad figure in the first row, the one emanating cursedness. He grabbed up a fistful of robe and jerked, making Greyback's hood fall back from his roughly bearded face, a beard that extended to just below his eyes. Greyback snarled and stinking breath huffed from between his long teeth. Harry didn't just reach for his Mark, he twisted it. Greyback plummeted to his knees.
"I own you, Greyback. You have no other master but me."
Greyback snarled louder, and Harry twisted more, making the others nearby in the circle moan. It sounded like the wind through a bare forest with a storm approaching.
"Say I'm your master," Harry sneered. "Say it or I will . . . Make. You. Into. Nothing."
Greyback howled in complaint, his sharp fingernails gouging the earth.
"Say it," Harry insisted, twisting.
" . . . master . . ." Greyback muttered.
"I didn't quite hear that." Harry stepped back, taking in the circled figures. "Try again."
"Master," Greyback whimpered, saliva dripping from his incisors. He choked out a sob at being released from punishment and remained curled around his knees, face pressing into the ground.
Harry swept an arm across half the circle. "I catch any of you aiding the usurper and I will deal with you so harshly you will wish for your parents to never been born."
"But . . . master," a voice said.
Everything fell still as Harry turned. He took a step forward, and tried his memory of body shape and voice. "Jugson . . . you always were a simpering idiot. Yes? You were saying?"
"He'll kill us, master. Have pity . . ."
Harry raised a brow. "Pity?" he spat. "He has to find you to kill you. I don't. I can make you wish for death as you cower, trying to hide from me. Do keep that in mind."
Harry waved at the first set he had given instructions to. "You! Go! What are you waiting for?" With a rush of pops, that section of the field stood empty. Harry rotated on his toes, scrutinizing each of the smaller remaining figures, looking for familiar ones.
"Wormtail!" Harry shouted, spinning to pin the aim of his wand on a hunched figure that rocked side to side. "Come here."
Wormtail dropped to his knees at the edge of the inner circle and crawled the rest of the way.
Harry's wand hand vibrated he was so angry. The women shuffled around as a unit to get clear.
"Master?" Pettigrew queried, rubbing his face spasmodically over his clasped hands.
"Peter?" Lily blurted.
"Didn't know he was a traitor, did you?" Harry asked. "He's the reason my parents are dead."
Confusion flickered over Pettigrew's face. "Wormtail doesn't understand, Master Harry."
"You," Harry said. "And you five," he said, including Bellatrix in his gesture. "Get yourselves to Felixstowe, on broomstick. Do everything you can to slow the bombardment. I don't care if you have to throw yourselves at the ships." He had to shout, "Go!" at them, to get them all off.
Harry took a deep breath and turned to Lily. "What else needs protecting?" When her brow furrowed doubtfully, Harry said, "If they fail, I will make them pay."
She thought, then said, "We're worried about attacks on Sizewell, since they are attacking that coast. Hopefully the Muggles have taken it off line, but there is still danger, given the materials there."
Harry looked at the hundred or so remaining Death Eaters. He sent off ten to protect the nuclear power plant, and in groups of ten sent the rest off on various missions, each time with a painful reminder that he was to be feared beyond anything they may fear of Grindelwald. He kept one familiar figure in the inner circle clear of the assignments and eventually he was the only one left.
The four of them stood in the trodden, brown grass. Snape angled his hooded head partly in their direction. Lily's chin lifted when she saw him. She still clutched Ginny's hand, and she used it to push the two of them apart as she lowered her wand. Ginny's mouth pursed, indicating she too recognized who remained.
Snape's hooded head turned all the way to Lily now, revealing a glimpse of his mask. They remained in that tableau until Snape's head turned back to Harry.
"Go on," Harry said. "Go home."
The last figure vanished with a pop.
Harry did not want to meet Lily's eyes. With his sense of the shadows muted by distance, he felt empty.
"You only sent six to Felixstowe," Ginny said.
"Because it's suicide," Harry said, "if Grindelwald is really there." Thoughts of death pinned Harry in place again, made the air thin.
Lily said, "I'm going to tell the Ministry what is happening, or . . . at least tell them that the Death Eaters have turned on their leader and should be helping us. Is that all right with you?"
Harry shrugged. Nothing here really mattered. Her graceful wrist flicked out a message and it sprinted away in a silent rush of silver.
Harry leaned his head back, feeling lightheaded from forgetting to breathe. He drew in a long lungful and let it out again. His instincts thrashed against any notion of facing down Grindelwald. He snapped his head back straight as the women stepped closer to him.
Ginny glanced at Lily before saying, "We'll come with you to fight Grindelwald in Felixstowe. We have to do whatever we can." She held out a pale hand turned outward as if to lead him off by it for a walk. "Come on. There's no time to lose."
Harry stared at her, eyes stinging. "No," he said, arguing with himself.
Strained now, she said, "Remember when you tried to explain to me that the time would come for the prophecy. That I would just know. Well it seems like it's now." She stopped to swallow, pronouncing things like one too fatalistic to stop and think. "We have to go."
Lily stepped forward and took Harry's hand on the other side. Only from the feel of her warm fingers did he realize how very chilled his own skin must be. Harry's instincts would not let him step forward, would not let him raise his other hand to Ginny. Fear of the end of everything paralyzed him, and burgeoning self-loathing wasn't enough to overcome it.
A gust came up just then and one else heard him. Lily reached for Ginny's hand and the field disappeared. The sound of their Apparition was lost in the fluttering scream of sirens and the whine of a rocket tearing overhead. The ground shook as it landed a few streets behind them. Dust floated in a band of haze just above the abandoned and overturned cars cluttering the street. Acrid smoke burned Harry's eyes.
Ginny began chanting, "Oh Merlin. Oh Merlin." Lily jerked them both under the overhang of a building. Somewhere within it a child's cry was partly muted before starting up again. Lily slid to the edge of the wall and looked out down the street. Harry wanted to grab for her, but his arm only jerked. He hated himself for that tiny failure and gave out a cry of dismay.
The others spun on him. "Harry?"
Trembling, Harry said, "You should go."
Lily stood before him, whole, lithely moving on her toes. He could not bear to see her in danger; it risked making him scream. Fear for her tore away his paralysis. He grabbed her by the shoulders. "Please go. I'll take care of this. You have a son. Just go . . ." But he was losing the battle again, even as he spoke. There was nothing more he could do here. It was hopeless.
A nearby shadow ripped apart in his mind, making him lean on Lily for support. Harry hung on, waiting for that instant when the life force was sucked away into somewhere else. It came and went, leaving him gasping. One Death Eater down.
A whine made the three of them duck as a shell landed close by, rattling the building above them and sending plaster down upon them. Jets and helicopters roared overhead. Harry grabbed Lily by the shoulders again. She had dust and chips in her hair. "Go. Now. I would die if something—"
Another explosion, and another shadow slipped away. Harry coughed in the increasing dust. "Please," he begged. If he could only do one thing, it should be to get them away. "Both of you."
Lily appeared convinced, according to her eyes. Ginny tugged on Harry's sleeve. "What are you going to do?" she shouted over the sound of a rocket whistling overhead.
"I don't know. There is nothing that can be done. But you cannot stay. I don't belong here and it doesn't matter about me. GO."
Ginny took Lily's hand again, and Lily touched Harry on the upper arm. "Of course you matter, Harry," Lily said.
Harry drank her solidity in again, overwhelmed by her acceptance of what he was.
Ginny leaned close to Lily's ear to say, "He can call the Death Eaters to himself if he needs help, remember?"
"I don't really want to leave him with that as his only option," Lily said. She stepped closer. Tears and sweat streaked the dust on her face. She took his face in her hands. "Harry, no son of mine would become Voldemort, no matter what he can do with his old followers."
A whistling approached, deafening. Harry shouted, "GO!" and pushed Lily away. She and Ginny Disapparated even as they stumbled. Harry himself slipped away just as the blast bubble tossed him aside. He landed in the hard dirt of the Dark Plane with grit driven into his skin and the wind knocked out of him.
While he coughed and tried to draw breath, Harry nurtured his anger, anger at Grindelwald destroying his country, taking his servants. His anger kept the creatures at bay. They circled him at a few paces, snapping and snarling, but did not come right up to him. They were nothing compared to the bombardment going on just on the other side of the Interstice. Harry closed his eyes. He did not want to return. He could not return; it would be death to do so.
A creature stepped on his hand. He could smell their putrid breath, feel the breeze of their movement. He Apparated away, and stumbled before regaining his feet. The creatures were approaching again already. He didn't want to die, leaving him helpless against them.
His instincts pushed him to retreat home, but he refused to do that. The creatures approached at a gallop, hordes of them kicking up the fine dust. Harry waited until the very last instant, and slipped back into Felixstowe, into the main port proper, which he knew from field work. The sky was full of smoky streaks and tracers.
Limbs quaking, he jogged toward the water across the tarmac between the high stacks of containers sitting like a silent city. The tall T-shaped cranes were leaning into the water or bent over half-sunken cargo ships. Harry stepped up on a piling at the quay, squinted at the top of a stack of cargo containers on the nearest ship, and Apparated for it. A low missile scorched a line overhead and into the port behind him, bending the roof of a warehouse over with a horrible protest of metal and sending smoke billowing. Fighters roared by, outbound and half a minute later on the horizon flashes of white-yellow and billows of smoke appeared. Rumbles followed seconds later. Harry pretended it was a television program to keep his will from giving out. The scent of burning made the ruse hard to keep up. He could imagine in the past relishing the heat of battle, but now it seemed like suicidal insanity.
Harry fell to his knees rather than give in to his heart-weakening fear. He was going to do something. He waited for the whine of incoming fire, then sent up a block, as broad as he could manage. He did not expect much, but two explosions buffeted the air above the end of the pier. He repeated this, and with more confidence to put behind it, the spell worked even better. Elated, which let him breathe just a little more deeply, Harry stood on his rubbery legs, and set his feet more securely against the raised edge of the shipping container, and prepared for the next missile strike.
But, what came at him instead was a curse, so forceful, Harry instinctively slipped away for the Dark Plane without a flicker of thought. He stood in the dimness breathing in and out, wondering what had happened behind him. Curiosity overcoming his fear, he slipped back in quayside. The stack of containers he had been standing on had been melted away and the contents were burning. Harry held his wand up near his nose, pressing his fists into his face. He and his instincts battled as the sun passed behind a cloud, relieving his eyes from the glare.
"Death is just death," Harry screamed into the uncaring air hovering over the water.
This time, Harry did not get any warning. Something grabbed up his limbs and tangled them around each other then around him, knocking him to the hot tarmac. A purple flash followed, gem-like facets swarmed his head and he could no longer see.
Frantically tossing his head, Harry rolled, scraping the fingers that were trying to puncture his gut they clung so hard to his sides. His own arms were clutched around his middle so tight he could not draw in air. He still held his wand. The spell made it impossible to let go of it, had he wanted to.
Harry rolled to a stop on his front, the loud huffing of his short breaths the only sound that reached his ears. His choice was here or the Dark Plane, helpless and blind. A rumbling vibration in the tarmac indicated an explosion nearby. Huffing, vision failing from lack of air, terrified that another more deadly spell strike was aimed at his back, Harry frantically rolled again.
His vision sunk into black. With the last of his strength, Harry smashed his head into the tarmac, cracking the crystalline prison around his head, and letting in light and a slice of blissfully fresh air. Harry lay still, gasping in tiny breaths of life. His arms had gone numb, but he could feel his wand pressing along his ribs. He muttered, "Reducio, Rennervate, Resigno, Oblitteratus," all to no effect.
Imagining Grindelwald landing nearby to finish him, Harry thrashed onto his side so he could see more of the quay through the crack in the crystal prison. The splintered gap revealed only the burning ship and the sky. He could not sense any other wizards close by either, but Grindelwald must be in spell range. Although spell range for the Wand of Destiny may be much farther than Harry was used to.
It was hopeless. He could not do anything to change what was happening. If he wanted to live, he should not be here. Harry let his crystal incased head rest on the hard ground, giving him a close-up view of the black encased tiny pebbles constituting the tarmac. Fear kicked him again with the terror that any moment a deadly spell would envelop him. He had to survive because the alternative was unthinkable.
Harry closed his eyes, willing himself to find a way to safety, to live. A vision from one of those illicitly borrowed books floated into view, as clear as the pebbly surface in front of his nose.
"Retextadaugeo!" And Harry was free. And the instant he spread his limbs to tear at the thing on his head, the acid pain struck him like before. Grindelwald was indeed close by and was toying with him. Harry gave a snarling cry and Disapparated.
Harry woke to the wail of sirens in the ruins of the building where Lily and Ginny had brought him in. The ceiling was cracked open like a smashed eggshell, the edges of the hole trailing cables and slabs of broken concrete. The glitter remains of the gem charm had fallen down into the rubble. Harry shifted himself carefully to a better position. He had been draped painfully over a tilted concrete slab.
Harry sat up and rubbed first at his midsection, then gingerly at his dust encrusted eyes. A whistle sailed overhead and exploded, somewhere. Harry straightened from clutching his head in his arms for protection. Dust fell from above as the building shook. A chunk of concrete hanging from a cable began to sway as the building's remains rocked.
It was hopeless. This Grindelwald was going to have this world, and there was nothing Harry could do about it. Wasting his life would not change anything. He would lose the future which tantalized with so much potential. This failure, this loss of heroism, would not burn so if he would only give in and reach for something more, for immortality, for power.
At that understanding, the clutching inside Harry's chest eased; he had reached harmony within himself, with a wash of relief so strong it made him bow his head and close his eyes.
Author Notes: Sorry about the incongruous Polish name popping up again. Need it for continuity. (And I still like the sound of it . . .) Also, I couldn't pick a preview.