Harry came to awareness with the raised grain of the floor pressing against his face. Arcadius rested on the couch opposite, his fists just visible, fingers stretching and curling. The baby made a noise and a foot in a knit bootie kicked into view.
Despite the cold stabbing through his core, Harry relaxed against the floor, patiently waiting for the potion to take hold.
Footsteps scuffed across the floor, stopped, then strode more quickly.
"Harry," Snape said, sounding bizarrely wistful, especially since moments before his counterpart had threatened him with his wand.
Firm hands hauled Harry up and propped him up against the front of the couch.
Snape's harried face filled Harry's view. "Did you have potion left?"
At Harry's nod, Snape patted him down, sending crystals and sparkles across the dark fabric. He pulled out Harry's old wand and put it back.
"Did you not complete your mission?" Snape's voice fell weary.
Harry nodded, then shook his head, uncertain how to answer.
Snape methodically asked, "Did you obtain the wand?"
"The pair self-destructed, then, I assume."
Harry nodded again. Warmth was spreading through Harry's chest and into his arms. His toes prickled, returning to life. So much better to be warmed from the inside, he thought.
Snape's hand rested on his shoulder. "It is good to have you home."
Harry smiled as much as he could. Not half as happy as I am to be home, he thought. Although, he imagined that his relief could not compete with his counterpart's. In reflection, his mother's affection seemed less overbearing than it previously did.
Snape slipped his arms under Harry's and hauled him up to sit on the couch. Harry thought he could have stood on his own, but he accepted the help. Arcadius turned his head their way and gave a coo of excitement.
"He missed you," Snape said flatly. "As did every single one of your friends."
Snape sat on the edge of the couch facing Harry and experimentally touched his clothes to check for residual magic, then ran a Health Indificator. "Stunningly, you are in better condition than when you departed. Would you like a restorative in any event? I brewed one especially for your return."
At Harry's nod, Winky arrived with a bottle and a crystal tumbler on a serving tray.
Snape's expression became humorously wry as he handed over the serving of potion. "I realize I cannot measure up to your mother for—"
Harry struck him on the arm, harder than he intended. Snape straightened and considered him alertly.
Don't think that, Harry projected at him, filled in an instant with the same painful anger as when his mother expressed sympathy for him.
Rubbing his arm, Snape did not reply right away. "A sensitive topic," he said, still examining Harry.
Harry's emotions were too jumbled to communicate anything in particular. It pained him to have Snape making such a comparison. I'm good, Harry thought at him, repeating the assertion he had made in his mother's presence. It's all good. It's more than good.
He glanced at Arcadius, who was humming with his lips, then back at Snape. There was no place else he wished to be. Despite dealing in possibilities, he could not imagine remaining long anywhere but here.
Lips relaxing, Snape patted Harry on the arm and said, "Why don't you stay with us for a while, then?"
Harry felt his face flush, which chased out the last of the cold. He drank the tumbler of potion down and felt it filling him like fresh air. Snape set the tumbler back on the tray and tilted his head.
"I don't wish to exhaust you further by inquiring about that place I visited. Some other time when you are more communicative." They shared a long look. "Although, I am curious."
As Snape stood, Harry caught his arm. Really. Don't think that you don't measure up.
Snape let his arm relax in Harry's grip as he studied his gaze in return. "If it disturbs you so much I will not do so, even in jest."
Harry let go.
"Do you wish me to owl Ms. Granger, or do you wish to rest for a bit?"
Harry wanted to see his friends, so he made a gesture like a bird flapping.
"Perhaps we are overdue to teach you sign language," Snape said as he strode to the drawing room.
Hermione arrived at the same time as Candide returned from shopping. Harry was slow getting up, so Hermione sat beside him to give him a crushingly firm hug. Holding him at arm's length she demanded, "Did you get everything worked out?" When he nodded, she hugged him again.
"Where did you go?"
Harry waved his arms to indicate elsewhere. Kali flapped on his shoulder as he did this and climbed around his shoulder.
She waited as if expecting him to explain further. "Well, never mind. You're home now. I was worried sick about you."
Harry dropped his gaze. Snape's counterpart was right that it was easier when no one cared.
"I don't intend to be so glum. Sorry." She brightened. "I have news. Sit back; you look exhausted." She pushed her hair back and considered him. "Were you in a fight? You look like you were in a fight."
Harry waved something like a no with his hands, feeling that was less of a lie than shaking his head.
"Well, you need a good rest, that's for certain. You must have traveled a long way." She hitched her knee onto the couch and waited to see if he would respond. She finally went on. "But the news. You know Vishnu is trying to arrange a divorce, and Ginny has been looking at the calendar, thinking of setting a wedding date, but she hasn't told Aaron yet, she's just looking at the calendar. And dresses, I caught her looking at dresses. I think she's trying to get over the notion that she can afford to wear anything. Not to be crass."
Hermione went on, "I'm sure it'll take some getting used to and I think she needs to get straight with the idea before actually saying yes."
Ron arrived then and the conversation about marriages ended abruptly. Ron said, "DV Day is Saturday. Dad said the Minister wasn't certain you'd be ready. You look ready to me."
This prompted Hermione to glance disbelievingly at Ron. Harry chuckled silently and gave Ron a thumbs up.
More of Harry's friends arrived, enough that he did not have to participate in the conversation at all. By the time dinner was sparkling onto the table, they had started to trickle away again. Harry took a seat in the dining room, glancing at all the glowing faces, wishing that Elizabeth were among them.
Snape pulled up the chair across from Harry and steepled his fingers against his chin. "She was here looking for you while you were gone," he said.
Harry blinked at him. His jaw jerked as if to say "oh" but his mouth did not open.
Ron and Kerry Ann, the two closest guests, glanced at them, then returned to the topic of Quidditch.
Snape chased Harry's guests away after dinner, insisting that Harry needed to do his readings. Mr. Weasley arrived minutes after Ron departed. Before he even removed his hat, Snape said, "Harry does wish to return to training tomorrow. He is getting assistance with his readings. And he apologizes for his mercurial behavior and assures you that it will not happen in the future."
Mr. Weasley stared at Snape, hat held in mid-air. "Well." He looked over at Harry, who had stood to greet him. "If that's the case, then we are set here." He put his hat back on, adjusted it, and said, "Everything good, Harry? Minister still insists that we do anything for you."
Harry indicated that he was good.
After the Floo took Mr. Weasley away, Candide, Arcadius on her hip, swooped in to hand Snape one of Harry's books.
"Better get cracking," she said.
Snape flipped open the filing manual. "Yes. I see that. Come along, Harry."
Snape read chapter five for about ten minutes, while Harry forced his eyes to stay open. Candide put her hand out for the book. "Why don't I do this topic? You can do the death and dismemberment topics." She stood to hand Arcadius to Harry. "And you can hold him."
Harry reclined on the couch with his knees bent to give the baby a place to sit up, a position he seemed happier with. Harry marveled at the baby's eyes, how one could not distinguish between the iris and the pupil they were so black. Periodically, Arcadius would kick and wave his arms. He did not seem to care what color his eyes were.
At the end of the next section, Snape held a hand up to Candide. "Harry, close your eyes and repeat in your mind as much as you can of what she just read." After Harry did this, Snape said, "Read the highlights to him again to make certain he is catching them all."
"It's going to take forever to get through his stack of reading. Have you seen it all?" She pointed at a pile of books under the end table.
Snape waved his drink in from the dining room where he had left it and sat back, relaxed. "Harry has lots of time now."
Harry shuffled into the training room the next day with a sheepish bend to his back.
"Oh, look, Mr. Potter deems us worthy of his presence," Rodgers said, glancing up from his papers.
Based on their expressions, everyone else was glad to see him. Harry took the desk beside Tridant and behind Vineet, relishing the ordinary scratched top of the desk, the ordinary inkwell sunk into the top of it and the way the room smelled of people he knew.
"Well, can't exactly quiz Potter about his readings, can we?" Rodgers said. He stood tapping his foot. "True or false, Potter, the Reef Class of curse will be nullified by the application of a General Cancellation Charm?"
Harry knew this from one of the dark books he had been reading. Reef Curses grew stronger if you did not use exactly the right cancellation. Harry gave a thumbs down.
Rodgers turned to the blackboard. "Lucky guess," he sang out, but he started the review for the day.
Harry enjoyed drills. It made his mind both focus and drift off at the same time into a pleasant meditative haze. But Harry had missed a few spells and when they were added into the sequence, he got knocked into the wall.
Tridant, Harry's partner, hurried over to help him up. "Sorry."
Harry shook himself and stood up, tingling slightly.
"Oh, did you not learn that one, Potter? I think you must have been absent that day."
"I can show it to him," Tridant insisted at the same time as Kerry Ann.
"Please, not all at once," Rodgers complained, then ignored them and returned to writing up reports.
Twenty minutes later, Harry was reproducing the spell and the counter, just in time for them to be sent off.
Harry expected a parting shot from his trainer, but there was none. Rodgers hurried to the office as the rest of them went to the lifts.
"He was easy on you," Aaron said as the lift clanged downward.
Harry gave his fellow a grin. His trainer's attitude meant very little, actually.
That first day back became the pattern for the week. Harry fared well enough sitting through the review sessions. He very much enjoyed drills and his evenings were spent listening to someone reading to him. On Thursday, Aaron followed him home to perform this duty.
Harry wondered at Aaron's volunteering until late in the evening when his fellow suddenly closed the book around his finger and said, "What do you think. Will Ginny ever say 'yes'?"
"She still likes you, you know," Aaron added. "It's really quite miserable."
Harry gestured out an apology.
"Speaking of you, she's in quite a bind at the moment. Her boss expects her to interview you yet again and she doesn't want to. You're a hot topic, apparently, with your mysterious, dark ways." He wriggled his fingers the way Muggles thought spells were cast. "You might do her a favor and invite her over and give her enough to temporarily satisfy the paper's insatiable appetite for gossip."
Aaron tipped his nose back to Chapter 3 of Bindings and Conveyances for the Unwilling. Before reading again from the text, he added, "Fame is like living peacefully on a little island; you have to throw something into the volcano every now and then."
As Harry climbed the stairs to retire, it occurred to him that he had not received an owl from Elizabeth since the one on Tuesday, welcoming him home. She insisted she was too busy with school for socializing at the moment.
"Good night, Harry," Candide said from the doorway to their bedroom.
Harry drew himself up from his thoughts far enough to wave out a reply. Snape came to the doorway, eyes sharp. Harry stopped.
"Are you feeling sorry for yourself?" Snape asked.
Inside the room, Candide turned. Harry twitched a shoulder. He probably was.
"Obsessing is not healthful," Snape said.
Harry glared at him in disbelief, images of the depths of Snape's counterpart's all-consuming fixation fresh in his mind.
Snape took the door in hand and with a quick, "good night," closed it. Harry shook his head and went to his room.
Friday, Harry did not have training and he had not been given a field work assignment, something which had irked him on the day before at the Ministry, but he could not exactly make a case for himself.
Harry propped a Second-Year Hogwarts Herbal Guide in front of himself, trying to read it. Fortunately it had a lot of diagrams in it, so he could sometimes turn the page, even if he was understanding only half of the text, if that.
Snape swept into the room at mid-morning tea time and with a snap of his robes sat down across from Harry. "A word with you," he said, "if you can spare it."
Happily, Harry set his reading aside.
Nodding at the book, Snape asked, "How is that going?"
Harry frowned and glanced down and away.
"I only ask because Minerva has again sent me the same recommendation for a Healer whose reputation is such that she believes he can assist you." Snape waited before continuing. "You are perfectly free to decline. I continue to be more than pleased with your condition, but I notice your frustration is growing." Another pause. "I only bring this up now because I sense that you have healed, emotionally. Enough, at least, that exploring your options with a stranger will not bring you undue pain."
Snape knitted his fingers together. "I am far more concerned with your emotional condition than your literary one. So, this decision rests solely with you. This Healer is in Bath and, most likely due to your reputation, has made space in his schedule for you this afternoon, if you wish to take it."
Harry noticed that Candide had come out on the balcony. He had not heard Arcadius wake from his nap, but apparently he had.
Snape looked up at her. "What do you think . . . a trip to Bath for the day?"
"If we can go somewhere nice for dinner, I'm perfectly game." Encircling Arcadius' head with her fingers, she came downstairs. "That would mean a Muggle place. I've eaten at the Rotted Bucket on Lead Lined Lane and I don't particularly want to do so again." She made a face.
Candide sat down beside Harry. Arcadius made a musical fuss as she shifted him to her other side. "He napped badly, can you check him?"
As Harry accepted the baby, Snape said, "Candide, every little thing cannot possibly be caused by his magic."
Harry closed his eyes. Arcadius did have some magical strands binding him, wispy ones. He pulled them away and moved to hand him back.
"Hah," Candide said to Snape. "You can keep him for a while, if you like." She stood up and swung her arms. "I'm going to get ready to go." She looked at each of them. "We are going, right?"
Harry petted Arcadius' nap-dampened hair back a few times and nodded.
The wood paneled waiting room with its brass tacked leather chairs, tarnished wall lamps, the stenciled Healer H.W. Gillogly on the leaded glass, and Snape's oddly outdated, but newly starched clothes, made Harry feel like he had stepped into a Muggle Western film. Arcadius even wore a quilted blue bonnet.
The other patient who was waiting, a middle-aged wizard with a trim beard and corduroy robes, stared at Harry as if wondering whom to report him to. Harry tilted his head back and stared up at the tin ceiling. Thankfully the man was called in and the three of them were left alone.
"How are you doing down there, Harry?" Candide leaned forward to ask.
Harry waved that things were okay.
Snape turned the page of his Potions journal and said, "There are certain advantages to dark wizardry. We could have been rid of that man much sooner, for example."
Candide rapped on his arm with her knuckle.
"I was not suggesting anything; I was simply observing."
The Healer was a small man of indeterminate age with tiny wire-rim glasses and frizzy brown hair that swept back from his face and beyond his shoulders. He was most pleased to meet Harry. And he listened with rapt attention to Snape's nearly clinical explanation of Harry's difficulties.
The Healer interrupted with, "Yes, yes, go on," and folded and unfolded his glasses repeatedly throughout the long story.
Harry tried unsuccessfully to remain unaffected as Snape described his understanding of Harry's actions to rid himself of Voldemort.
Gillogly eagerly asked, "This was a sincere attempt at suicide?"
There was a pause while Harry realized he was being addressed. He did not know how to answer that. Certainly he had been sincere about being willing to die.
Everyone studied him. Snape said, "I think Harry would have preferred to live . . . but not as he was."
Harry nodded and returned his gaze to the polished wood of the desk. He was grateful that Snape had understood how hard this would be, even if he himself had not.
Harry compliantly sat through an examination of his scars.
The Healer held Harry's hand up close, took his glasses off, put them on again. "You have not had his fingers healed?" This was directed first at Harry, then with a glare, at Snape.
"We are here about his language skills, not his digitus annularis and minimus," Snape said.
"Yes, but a first year assistant Healer could repair this." He dropped Harry's hand in disgust and raised his wand. "Well, we will take a look at your mind then and leave the missing fingers for another time."
He wove a lengthy, complicated spell around Harry's head. Harry began to hear a buzzing that reminded him vaguely of the Elder Wands. When he tried to shake the sound out, he was chastised for moving.
The spell formed rotating spheres around his head that expanded and contracted, shifted colors, and buzzed up and down the scale. Eventually, they simply vanished. Harry rubbed his eyes, quite tired. A glance at the clock showed he had lost track of perhaps ten minutes.
Gillogly returned to his desk and with a few waves a retractable chart showing a rotating brain unwound from a stand in the corner. He clutched his wand in both hands and leaned his chin on it. "We have function decline in distinct areas of the frontal and temporal lobes, in a pattern I have never observed before. It was not brought about by trauma, and there is no magic currently acting upon the mind. No Memory Charms or Behaviorally Impactive Hexes, nothing of that sort. I would venture to guess that while magic is no longer present, that this was caused by magic."
The Healer fell silent watching Harry. Snape prompted him, "Can you remedy the damage?"
"Oh? Yes, of course."
Harry's heart gave a little leap.
"We have a standard technique we call Mind Softening . . ."
Harry's heart stuttered.
"It is a common, completely painless spell, used to remediate the effects of blunt force injury, or bleeding maladies of the mind, or even to reduce a severe emotional trauma, one where a Memory Charm is inappropriate. We use a spell, targeted to the affected areas . . . but given the widely involved areas in this instance, it will be quite a broad spell." He gestured on his own head as he talked, describing how the cells would be softened to remake themselves anew.
Snape held up a hand, profile fierce. "This must result in quite a bit of loss."
Gillogly swung in his chair back and forth and grew agitated as he spoke. "Yes, but he cannot talk. He cannot read. He has already lost a great deal. He can get all of that back. The other things, the personality change, they are acceptable in most cases."
"He has not lost anything," Snape countered. "He is quite whole."
Gillogly blinked at Snape as if he had changed languages on him. "I do not subscribe to that interpretation of the case."
Snape sat back and said, "What other treatment options are there, may we ask?"
The Healer combed his dense hair back with his fingers and grew thoughtful as he stared at Harry. "Despite the emotional trauma, he is not blocking, so hallucinogenic therapy will not help." He spoke as if he were listing things off.
Snape said, "I had already considered that."
Gillogly waved his pudgy hands. "The cells must be reconnected, which means they must be remade. And it is infeasible to change one cell at a time. Therefore you cannot remake without loss. It is not possible."
Snape leaned back in his chair and rested his knuckles against his mouth as he considered Harry.
Harry rapidly shook his head. Snape stood up.
"We appreciate your time, Healer Gillogly," Candide said.
Snape paused in departing to nod as if in agreement with this. Harry shook the Healer's hand.
"At least get his fingers fixed," Gillogly admonished as they went out the door.
They searched until they found a restaurant lit with candles.
"Thanks, I don't like electric lights," Candide said as they sat down. She tucked Arcadius into her lap, frozen by sleep.
Harry gave her a smile. He did not like them either.
Dinner did not involve much conversation. Mid-way through the main course, Snape said, "We can locate another Healer." To which Candide added too quickly, "There is a world full of them."
"The visit was harder than you thought it was going to be," Snape said. It was not a question. "Did we wait long enough?"
Harry looked up at him. In the reddish glow of the candles on the dark table cloth Snape appeared classically demonic, but all Harry saw was his perspicacious concern. Harry nodded and managed a smile.
At home the clock was chiming midnight. Harry went to his room and sat on the edge of his bed in the cooling air, thinking. His eyes fell on the stack of dark magic books piled neatly in the corner. Harry stood and sorted through them, heaving each onto a second stack by hand, despite their weight. All of the ones he had taken from Hogwarts were gone, presumably returned by Snape.
At the bottom of the pile, Harry found the strange book with the shifting text. He stood staring down at it for a long time, considering whether to open it. He instead took up each of the other books and returned them to the library in London, slipping inside the vault like he had so many times before. He went back and forth, carefully shelving each, until only the one book remained.
Harry lowered himself to sit cross-legged on the floor before the book. He sat unmoving, reluctant to open it but unwilling to simply return it.
If he had the courage to face Grindelwald again, he could certainly face a mere book. It was like the Mirror of Erised in reverse; it only articulated your greatest fears and weakness. It had no more power than that.
Harry lifted the cover and turned to the first page. The border showed a stone wall with dead ivy rattling against it, dried suckers like desiccated worms curled through the crumbling mortar. He made his eyes trace the border and let the letters organize themselves in the center of the page. But the words refused to cohere, and Harry did not know if that was simply his mind refusing to work or the book refusing him a message.
Harry closed the cover and shoved the book into the corner again and left it there to retreat to the warmth of his bed. He was still awake, watching the grey glow on the ceiling of his room, when the door creaked open. Harry reached over to turn up the lamp.
"Trouble sleeping?" Snape asked. He stepped up to the bed while Harry propped up his pillows behind his back.
"You were not having any trouble earlier in the week. Perhaps you were too exhausted to have difficulty. Would you like something?"
Harry shook his head. He did not know what was making him antsy, but he felt keyed up, as if before an important Quidditch match when he was a student.
Snape touched his knee through the blanket. He had spoken more and Harry had not heard him.
"You are capable still of going very far away into your thoughts," Snape said. "A habit of losing awareness of your surroundings is not a recommended trait for an Auror."
Harry grinned lightly. He could not disagree with that.
"I sense that your training went acceptably well this week?" His voice grew light, "I did not hear any complaints from you, at any rate." He exhaled and fell serious. "If you wish me to seek out alternative treatments, you must let me know. I will not do so otherwise. Doing so would equate to pressuring you and that I will not do. I am pleased enough with having you back. Something I thought quite unlikely." His speech stopped abruptly and he turned away from the lamp's glow.
He was at the door before he said, "You will let me know if you need anything . . ."
Harry watched the door snap closed. He would stay here for good, he promised himself. To do otherwise, was to take advantage of his family. At some point, he had begun to take them for granted, and that sickened him. Harry punched his pillow fluffier and settled onto it. He had done all he could, those other places would have to look after themselves.
Saturday, Ginny came for a visit. Harry had not owled her as Aaron had suggested, and he could see the strain in her eyes as she said hello.
"Hello, Ginny," Candide said, crossing from the stairs to the kitchen. To Harry she said, "I know I've been asking this a lot this week, but can you watch Arcadius for a bit?"
Ginny intercepted the baby being handed off and cuddled him until his muttered complaints about being held by a stranger grew to a short scream.
Harry took Arcadius, hitching him over his shoulder and patting him rapidly. Arcadius smacked his gums and quieted.
"I suppose I'm not much good with babies. I was the baby, that's the trouble." She watched the two of them a moment. "How are you doing Harry?"
Harry gave her his usual nod which was supposed to cover everything. He should have owled her, but he did not desire to give yet another interview just yet. Not while he was still thinking his life out for himself. Interviews had this bad habit of solidifying things, and he preferred to avoid that before he was ready.
Arcadius gave a yawn. Remembering Candide saying that the baby liked to hear a heartbeat, Harry shifted him to his arms and slouched down to let the baby use his chest as a pillow. Arcadius' eyes drifted closed and his tiny nose made an airy sound.
Ginny had not spoken for a while. She said, "Harry, that is just so adorable. Do you mind terribly if I fetch our photographer?"
Harry stared at her, surprised by the notion.
"I mean, you don't have to allow the use of the photograph if you don't want, but really, someone should take a picture. And if it's okay to use, you know, if Candide doesn't mind, then it would get Beatrice off my back for a bit." She appeared to check herself, then deflated a bit before saying, "I have to admit, Harry, the loss of personal consideration for my friends is the hardest thing about this job."
Her head jerked up when Harry took her hand. "I don't want to lose your friendship over a job." At his surprise, she added, "I'm getting a lot of pressure to write whatever I can about you. And I really could write a lot. Although it turns out your Hogwarts years aren't of much interest anymore. Everyone wants to know about how you were a dark wizard and really, how you might still be one, but pretending not."
At his expression of neutrality, she said, "I don't want to do a personal interview even if you don't mind doing one. It's not right." She let go of his hand after noticing his missing fingers. "Beatrice treats you as if you are public property. Everyone does, actually. Are you going to get that hand fixed?"
Harry pantomimed taking a picture and she jumped up and Disapparated. The sound made Arcadius fidget, but he fell back to sleep directly.
The photographer returned and took a dozen shots, then Disapparated again with a broad smile as if she had won something. Harry recognized her from Hufflepuff years ago, but could not remember her name.
Ginny said, "When they're developed, I'll bring the proofs back for Candide's approval. Or if not, you can just keep them." She stared at Arcadius sleeping. "He's so adorable. I think I need a kid of my own."
Harry touched the demure, seven stoned ring she wore.
Ginny lifted her hand and spun the ring around. "Yeah." She laughed lightly. Her voice fell. "You know what makes me hold back? The fuss it will cause. Can you imagine? Mrs. Wickem proposes to spend more money on a wedding than my dad has made in his lifetime." Her face grew distraught.
Harry mimicked talking with his hand. Ginny pondered this before saying, "You're asking me if I've talked to Aaron about that? He doesn't understand. Everything is supposed to be a fuss."
The conversation slowed and Ginny leaned back against the pillows to stare at the ceiling. Harry better supported Arcadius against his chest and reached for the book Practical Defensive Practices and held it out to her.
Her face lit up with amusement. "You want me to read to you?" She kicked back more comfortably and opened to the bookmark, wistfully saying, "I was going to do so much studying and ace the Auror's exam and now I never seem to have the time to read the final proofs on the paper I help put out. Let's see here. The Hexagraphic method of containment requires three participants. Two will take the lead with the initial temporary barrier spell and the third will use a Morphamage spell to modify the barriers. A typical sequence would go as follows . . ."
Harry let his eyes fall closed, then forced them open again, certain he would sleep if he left them that way. Arcadius, already a limp weight, fell more still yet from the droning voice.
The photographer returned in the middle of Chapter 10. Candide had joined them in the main hall and she was thrilled with the pictures, only one of which had Arcadius squinting at the flash. Ginny explained her difficulties with her boss.
Candide said, "Oh, my mum would be tickled to see Arcadius in the paper. Do you mind, Harry?" She held up the picture where Harry's eyes were hooded from looking down, his fingers resting lightly on Arcadius' tiny back.
Harry did not mind enough to say no.
Ginny collected the photographs back into a folder and said, "I think they'll be good PR for you Harry. Otherwise I wouldn't suggest printing it. I can't bear to use you unless you get something out of it too." The strain had returned to her eyes. Harry wanted to say something to relieve it, but she was soon gone.
The next visitor was Hermione who relayed the message that Snape needed to spend more time than expected at school.
"We are taking the Fifth through Seventh-Years to DV Day tomorrow and I'm chaperoning." She touched him on the arm and smiled. "I'm glad you're back for DV Day Harry. Actually, I'm just glad you're back!"
Harry wished he could tell her what he had really been doing, but that wasn't feasible.
"How is the apprenticeship?"
Harry indicated his happiness with that, but it felt a little forced. The visit to the Healer yesterday had increased his frustration.
She glanced at the clock. "I'm sorry, Harry, I have to get back to school. I'll find you on the picnic pitch tomorrow. Hopefully the weather will be good." And she was gone.
Harry tried to read his notes from his first month of his Auror Apprenticeship, but found it impossible. His usual difficulties were compounded by the hurried writing, which was extra jagged with the unfamiliarity of the words at the time he wrote them. His agitation from the night before crept in and made concentrating even more difficult. The room seemed to vibrate with anxious energy, or perhaps it was just his eyes, which he believed had tired fast from the effort of reading his own notes.
Harry closed his notebook and set it on the floor as he stretched out on the couch, intending just to rest his eyes until the buzzing faded from them.
"Severus! I can't wake Harry!" Candide shouted from the main hall. The scent of dinner permeated the house and Arcadius was crying, hitched on Candide's arm as she bent over the couch. She set the baby back in his bouncing chair and returned to Harry just as Snape arrived.
Snape shook Harry's closest arm, then both arms.
"Should I call a Healer?" Candide asked, poised already halfway to the dining room.
Harry heard this question and it made very little sense. A Healer was already there, several of them were. Fairy lights lit the ceiling of a St. Mungo's examination room. Harry had not understood what was coming and now he was helpless to stop it. Something horrible was happening and he could not cry out for it to stop or even move his arms to ward off the next wand wave.
Blindly, Harry reached out and bumped an arm, grabbed at the arm, violently shaking his head to indicate 'no'. He wanted the Healers to leave him alone; he thrashed inside his limp body as a tan wand sizzled with the next wave of spells to soften his memories.
"Don't call a Healer," Snape said. He pushed Harry over and sat beside him. "He is just having a nightmare and perhaps another of his episodes. I am not certain."
Harry opened his eyes. He was clutching Snape's wrists. No Healer, no Healer, was all he could manage to project through his terror. Somewhere deep inside himself, his will was slipping away, pouring out his fingertips, out the top of his head. He desperately clutched at it, but it drifted free and was gone and then an inner cry of helpless despair, and then nothing.
Harry opened his mouth and gulped at the air. He could not inhale at all, as if his chest had been flattened by a hard fall.
"Harry, you are dreaming." Snape insisted, pushing his captive arms forward to rest his hands on Harry's chest. "Everything is all right. Try breathing out before you breathe in."
Harry did so, releasing his lungs and huffing. Then he was blessedly free to breathe in. He sat up and curled himself against his legs.
"I thought you were past these attacks."
Harry shook his head and reached for his slate, but his hands were shaking. And he could not possibly compose the word counterpart. Shoulders slumping, he despaired of possibly communicating that he had experienced his counterpart being treated with the same spell he had just turned down. The thought of how close he had come made his heart begin to race all over again.
Arcadius was still crying. Candide picked him up, saying, "Sorry, Pumpkin. Things were a bit busy there for a minute."
Snape shifted over to sit beside Harry while the latter stared at the chalk dusted slate in his hands, trying to calm the panic of possibility. Snape hooked an arm around his shoulder and made him sit back with him. Harry put his feet down on the floor and watched his three good fingers shake, before pressing his hand flat on the slate to make them still.
Candide took a seat on the couch opposite.
"Is he still having those attacks?" she asked softly.
Harry shook his head, grateful for the solidity of the arm around him. He could no longer sense anything from his counterpart, but he feared being sucked back in without warning. He closed his eyes and hoped that the spells did so much that his counterpart ceased to remember what had happened. Then he felt additionally sad for wishing that, but it seemed the best possible outcome.
Snape's hand pushed Harry's head down against his shoulder. Harry took a deep breath, heart still fluttering uselessly. Snape was correct that he was whole. And just because he could not easily communicate, well, that would just have to suffice.
Candide lifted a still fussing Arcadius to her shoulder and patted his back. "Better not have another," she said, smiling weakly. When Snape raised his head in question, she added, "There's only two of us."
The fingers pressed harder against Harry's ear and temple. "Harry is no trouble."
Winky brought in a plate of sandwich triangles and held them up for Candide.
Snape said, "Why don't you go and eat. I am going to stay with Harry for a few more minutes."
Harry swallowed hard, trying to get over a panicky dread of experiencing someone else's terror without warning. Not that he did not deserve to, given his own role in bringing about the disaster. Oddly, this thought calmed him rather a lot.
"Going to be ready for tomorrow?" Snape asked casually. "It will be a long day."
Harry lifted his head against the pressure of Snape's hand. At the risk of remembering the terror too clearly, Harry tried to show him what he had experienced just now. He wanted Snape to understand that this was not his difficulty.
As Snape's eyes drilled into his own, Harry could feel the Legilimency drawing the memory out, and that felt too much like his counterpart losing his will, but Harry held his gaze despite the returning panic.
Harry then waited for a verdict, hoping enough had come across.
"I saw it. Emotion makes that spell far more effective." Snape's arm tightened around Harry's shoulder, pulling his head against his collarbone. After a time, he said, "I am certainly glad we declined the treatment."
Harry felt his hands shaking again. Snape tugged the slate from him and set it aside. "You would do better to concentrate on your own life."
Harry nodded. The scent of dinner was making his stomach rumble, but Snape had not released him. Harry closed his eyes and tried to make the memories slip into the past. Tomorrow was the picnic and dueling championship and the broom races. Visions of all that buoyed his spirits.
"You are very sweet there, should I get a camera?" Candide asked.
"NO," Snape responded. "What a thought."
Candide held out the evening edition of the Daily Prophet, folded to an inner page full of coverage about the next day's DV Day festivities. In the sidebar was the photograph of Harry holding Arcadius. Snape tugged it from her grasp and studied it. In the photo, Arcadius was slowly moving his fingers, but that was just about the only motion. It was almost a still photograph.
"I cannot keep a close enough eye on you two," Snape complained. To Harry, who was sitting straight, he said, "Quite recovered?"
His voice had gone brisk, which Harry found amusing. Harry pulled free and pushed to his feet.
Snape raised a finger at him. "I think lack of sleep contributed to the vulnerable state of mind that allowed you to see that other place. If you continue to have difficulty tonight, I'm going to Potion you into sleep."
Following along behind his guardian to the dining room, Harry expected that it would not matter. That Harry was no longer one he could recognize across the realms of possibility. It was possible, even, that he could no longer even locate that realm, should he wish to.
Candide stopped beside one of the Quidditch posts. The picnic basket she hovered swayed and started to drift on the breeze. "How about here?"
A cry came from overhead and four children on broomstick careened by overhead, throwing half rotted pumpkins at the hoops, which sent pumpkin mush showering down.
"Maybe not here," Candide said.
"We can put up an Marquee Barrier," Snape assured her.
They were early, but a hundred blankets had already been spread out on the Puddlemere Quidditch grounds. The stands had been cleared of banners on the south side, so the sun lit the new grass.
Candide knelt to unpack the basket. "You probably have duties, Harry. Why don't you eat early?"
Harry sat facing Arcadius' basket-weave travel bassinet and accepted a sandwich wrapped in checkered cloth. The baby's eyes were roaming everywhere and every time something moved, he waved his arms.
By the time Harry stood to seek out someone from the Ministry who might be able to tell him where he should be, the pitch was full of blankets and running children and circles of adults with mugs in their hands. Harry started off toward where staff from Games were installing a temporary platform for the dueling.
He paused to let three children run by, but they stopped before him instead. One of them held up a DV Day Programme, another a commemorative pointed hat made of white felt.
"Can you sign my hat, Mr. Potter?"
Harry worried that he looked so old that he deserved 'mister'.
Fortunately the boy with the Programme also had a never-out quill. Harry used a Znakpisatel Charm on the quill and signed everything presented to him. He took his time at it, lighthearted, despite his signature falling short of its usual dodgy quality. The boy even let him keep the quill.
As Harry crossed the pitch, meandering along the gap between the blankets, he watched as recognition turned to mixed feelings, but not as bad mixed feelings as he expected. A witch leaned over to say to her companion, "Did you see the paper yesterday? Quite the brother, I hear."
Harry kept himself from glancing at the pair again as he passed. Instead, he stopped to watch the workers erecting a dark curtain behind the dueling platform.
"Harry!" an ecstatic and familiar voice cried out. He turned just as Pamela collided with him and gave him a hug.
Harry looked beyond her shoulder to watch Lupin approach.
They shook hands and Lupin said, "Minerva has just arrived with the students, so I really must help the other teachers. Can you take your cousin around for the time being?"
Harry nodded and as Pamela released him, Harry took her hand.
"Good to see you, Harry," Lupin said before smiling lightly and striding away.
"This is just, wow," Pamela said, then ducked to avoid a pack of low flying model brooms with rats riding on them.
"Harry!" she said, but it was less addressing him than marveling in general.
Harry looked around himself at the crowd, the bursts of magic, the half sized brooms zipping in circles on a leash with toddlers on them. For an instant he saw it all through her eyes and felt a rush of bright happiness.
"How are you? Remus said you still couldn't talk . . ."
She was interrupted by a pair of young women who wanted their commemorative black mini cloaks autographed. Harry signed them on the grey fabric appliqué letters spelling 'DV'.
When they had wandered off, Pamela said, "You really are famous."
Harry held up the quill as if asking what she might like signed. She laughed and shook his sleeve. Harry took her hand again before weaving his way toward where he could see witches with clipboards, directing others.
As they crossed through the Ministry personnel, action stopped, and eyes tracked Pamela passing by, much less so Harry. Pamela leaned close to ask Harry, "What's up?"
Harry patted her hand. She did not realize how Muggle she looked. The gaggle around Bones parted and fell silent at their approach.
"Ah, Harry. Good to see you." She looked Pamela up and down and then hesitated with one of those fixed smiles. Her assistant leaned close to her ear and Bones was reanimated. "Ah, this must be your cousin." Bones held out her hand.
After another silence, Bones said, "I'm the Minister of Magic, Amelia Bones."
"I'm honored to meet you," Pamela said, sounding very honored.
Bones turned to another assistant. "We may have to change the program around, since Harry will not be doing much announcing. But we are getting things organized so don't go too far. Does your cousin have someone to keep an eye on her?"
"Severus and Candide are here, right?" Pamela asked. When Harry pointed at the nearer set of posts, she said, "I'll find them."
But Harry did not release her hand. He glanced around and Belinda lowered her clipboard and said, "I'll take her over."
Harry signed a thank you to her and relinquished Pamela's hand to Belinda's grip. Pamela held up their joined hands in question to Harry, but Harry simply gave her a little wave goodbye. He watched them cross the pitch, dodging an errant Quaffle, a Choking Smoke Bomb with fireworks, and two games of Exploding Snap.
Rodgers was drafted from security to assist Harry with the Dueling Tournament. The crowd was too busy with picnicking to notice them stepping up onto the completed platform.
Before he tapped his throat with a charm, Rodgers said to Harry, "You know, I think I might actually enjoy this tournament."
Arms raised, he called to the crowd, "Attention, the Second Annual Demise of Voldemort Day Dueling Tournament will now commence. The four champions are requested to report here at the platform immediately or face disqualification."
The Weasley twins approached the platform, then made a game of trying to bow each other up the steps.
"I'm going to pick at random, if you don't knock it off," Rodgers threatened. "And then I'm going to audit the ingredients at your shop for their legal status."
The twins' eyes went wide and one of them jumped straight and marched up the steps.
Slyvia Askunk followed the Weasley twin up onto the platform. Harry tried to give her an encouraging smile but she was staring at her feet.
An older wizard with neat grey hair and a wispy brown goatee strode proudly up the steps and spun on his toes to take his place in the line-up.
"We're missing one . . ." Harry held out the cards he had been given. Rodgers read off: "Livinius Quimby."
The man who had been standing in front of Candide at the London Regional lumbered up onto the platform wearing his sleeveless robes. He stretched his bulky shoulders and pondered upon the line up before moving to join it. He gave Harry an sharp nod, as if they were old comrades.
"My other wand is a wand," Rodgers read off the back of the man's robes. The man turned and grinned, showing off his sparse teeth.
Rodgers walked along behind the competitors as he introduced them. "Here are your regional champions. We have Slyvia Askunk, winner of the Devon and Cornwall Regional." A burst of cheering sounded from a corner of the pitch. "Livinius Quimby as the winner of the Wales and Midlands Regional." Some hooting sounded. "Monring Morgana, winner of the Newcastle Upon Tyne and All-Parts-North Regional. And lastly, Someone Weasley, as the winner of the London regional." Loud cheering broke across the crowd. Rodgers eyed the crowd suspiciously.
"The Goblet of Fire will choose the order of the pairings. We are using Alternate Format, same as last year." He glared at the competitors. "Do I need to read the rules?"
Everyone but Askunk was leaning a bit away from the Auror as they shook their heads.
Harry gestured to the staff from Games skulking at the foot of the platform. They lifted the goblet onto the platform edge and the black cloth was pulled from it, sending flames shooting ten feet into the air.
It burned merrily for a moment before spitting out two slips. Harry caught them before Rodgers could and walked back to the contestants with them. He was going to do this his way. He walked behind the competitors and tapped Askunk and Forge on their heads.
Rodgers crossed his arms. He must have removed the spell from his throat because his voice was normal as he said, "I'd like to see you try to run this. Go ahead." He stepped back.
Harry shot him a challenging look, then smiled. He had gained the Wand of Destiny and helped defeat both Voldemort and Grindelwald in this condition. He could certainly run a Dueling Tournament.
The competitors stood back to back in the center of the platform. Harry walked to the edge from which the Goblet had just been removed. With his fingers he counted to three, then gestured upward with his hands for the crowd to join him, then counted again. A few caught on that they should count aloud and others joined in. Harry then gestured for them to wait. He backed up to the curtain where he would judge from then pointed at the crowd with his counting fingers. Askunk and Forge began stepping in time to ten, when they turned, ignoring that much of the crowd kept counting from there.
Spells flew. A set of rings flew from Forge and it struck a blue ocean wave of energy coming from Askunk. Harry, who had been holding his wand at the ready, had to put up a block to stay on the platform as the spell wash scattered.
"Bigger platform next year," Rodgers said from beside him. His block had gone around both of them, as if he hadn't expected Harry to be fast enough.
Harry did not feel pandered to because of this. Even though he did not need the help this time, next time, he might.
Spells flew again, but they exploded closer to Askunk this time, and the wash penetrated nearly to the point of her wand.
Harry heard Askunk growl as she wound up a spell over her head. Forge waited, not taking advantage of this opening, curious to see the result, apparently. What emerged was a flock of little white birds that swooped and dived over to her opponent. Forge's first block repelled them but did not knock them down, and a few slipped through the next block. They grabbed hold of Forge's robes with beak and claw and started to lift him up. Forge tried several more Counters, but the birds were only temporarily detained from swarming him. His feet lifted up and he started to drift on his toes. From the crowd the Gred yelled. "It's your turn to attack!"
Forge's arm was lifted high, so he had to awkwardly aim his wand downward and he could not make any broad gestures.
"His foot is not flat down," Askunk complained to Harry. "By the rules he can't cast an attack."
"She's right," Rodgers said.
Harry nodded that he agreed.
Forge made a pained face and held his wand over his head pointing down. Treacle poured from his wand and the birds were swept up in it, leaving him wearing a thick cloak of bird-filled treacle. Forge's feet hit the platform and he cast a Columnar Curse. Askunk tried a Counter, but it shattered. She went to her hands and knees hard, but jumped back up immediately and raised her wand in time to Counter another Columnar properly. Two more attacks rained into the middle of the platform and exploded and then Rodgers called "time" to the dismay of the crowd.
"We need to save some wizard for later on, you know," he shouted because he had not repeated the Sonorus Charm. When Games had cleaned the platform, Harry fetched the next pair.
Morgana, who paired with Quimby, cast spells with a deep voice and an exotic, high brow accent. He dispatched Quimby with cold precision and the attitude of someone making tea.
"Who is this guy?" Rodgers asked in Harry's ear as Quimby crawled back up on the side of the platform to shake hands.
"Get the next two," Rodgers prompted when Harry paused to check if anything felt strange about Morgana.
Forge got lucky and drew the still discombobulated Quimby. He said, "That happened to me last year."
"Then we know who you are then," Rodgers retorted.
"Do you?" Forge asked as the crowd started the count.
Harry sensed that the Weasley twin drew the match out until the last moment when he used a Squid Ink Hex to blind his opponent, followed by a light Blasting Curse to knock him off the platform. Forge had to suffer a Super Static Curse as a result, and he complained to Rodgers, "If you hadn't banned our dueling wands, that wouldn't have happened."
"We're traditionalists. Tough it out. Next pair, Harry."
Askunk did well. She seemed to have less sensitivity to pain than the others and whenever she got knocked down, leapt right back up, growing more angry each time. But she lost the final match to Morgana, whose lips only twitched in the direction of a smile when his victory was announced. The trophy was as big and gaudy as it had been the year before. Morgana gave a little bow and hovered it off, until halted at the edge of the crowd by members of the press.
Rodgers rubbed his hands together. "Well, that was fun. Thank you for being incapacitated enough to open the opportunity up, Harry."
Harry caught Askunk at the corner of the platform before she could jump down. He turned her by the arm and then let go when she jerked in surprise. He wanted to tell her that she looked pretty good and that he hoped she was applying again to the Aurors' program. But he could not express anything. His shoulders sagged as he fetched about for a way to communicate all that.
"You look pathetic," Askunk said.
"Oh, a loyal member of your fan club," Rodgers said as he stepped up to them and grabbed hold of the post holding the curtain to jump down. "You did passably well, Askunk. Been studying for the written as much as you have been studying Counters?"
"Been trying to."
Rodgers rocked the pole as he hesitated. "I think Potter here wants to encourage you in your pursuits. That it, Potter?"
"Oh, well, thanks." Askunk said grumpily. "I wanted to win. I thought that would help get me in." She glanced between them and slouched off.
When she had merged with the crowd, Rodgers said, "People who need encouragement don't make very good Aurors. Something to keep in mind while recruiting."
As soon as Harry got off the platform, Belinda approached and said, "Minister wants you up in the stands to hand out awards for the broom races."
On the way, Harry signed a few more commemorative mini-cloaks. His renewed acceptance by the wizarding public seemed lost on Belinda, however. She walked on and only turned to wait when she was twenty feet away.
They passed through a gap in the banners covering the stands. It was dim underneath and they were alone. Harry took hold of her arm.
With an impatient tone, Belinda turned and said, "Yes?"
Again, Harry struggled several breaths before waving an arm helplessly.
"Has anyone told you you're pathetic?"
Harry straightened and nodded.
"Oh." She stared at him a bit. "I assume there is something you want to say but I think you're going to have to put it in a letter."
She started away, and Harry reached to turn her back again. He petted her arm twice; it was the only thing he could think to do.
"If this is an act, it's the saddest thing I've ever seen."
Harry huffed and gave up, and with a curt gesture, indicated that she should lead the way up the rickety stairs.
When they stepped out into the wind, the jousting competition was already underway. The crowd below ohed as the riders, holding lance and shield, or in one case a dustbin lid, flew at each other along a cable strung across the stands as a guide. Ministry staff were positioned around the stadium, ready with Tethering Charms to catch any unfortunates who might tumble off their broomstick. Generally the competitors careened away into the sky before regaining control of their brooms.
At the end of it, Harry handed out little trophies of a lance stuck into a sparkling hunk of rock. For first place, the lance was made of gold. The third place finisher was shipped to St. Mungo's before collecting his prize.
The antique broom races were a staid affair in comparison, especially the Brass Fittings and Cattails Class. Everyone in the VIP stands sat down and began chatting with each other during the heats.
The crowd quieted as the Obstacle Course was arranged by magically enlarging and bending the Quidditch hoops. The participants came up the stairs and lined up before the judges. Unlike the previous competition, which may have had a minimum age of 100 to participate, Harry knew many of these: Katie Bell and several famous Quidditch players, and Suze Zepher, who gave Harry a shy wave.
"No influencing the judges allowed," Minister Bones said. Harry expected she was not being terribly serious, but Suze put her hands at her sides and stared straight ahead after that.
Each of the competitors drew a number from a hat and went and took up the appropriate sack-covered broomstick.
The Head of Games and Sports used a Sonorus Charm and explained to the crowd, "We've brooms from makers all around the world here. The riders will be randomly assigned to a broomstick. Mr. Gregor, Captain of the Falmouth Falcons has drawn the Skodova 208, a fine racing model, just released this month."
Gregor must have agreed because he grinned as he carried it aside and launched himself into the wind on it.
"And, your name is? Ah, Ms. Bell has drawn a Cleansweep 64 Retro."
Katie appeared appalled by this, but she gamely launched on it and began steering in a figure eight, backing up, dropping a few feet, braking suddenly. Harry could see she was putting her game face on as well.
Last to draw was Suze. She picked up the remaining broomstick, which was the longest of all, about nearly three feet taller than her. The Head of Games said, "That's quite a lot of broomstick for someone your size."
Suze grabbed the wrapped broom closer as if the man might take it away. He laughed as did some of the crowd in the surrounding stands. "Go on then, open it. I believe it's the Zharkov ZIL, and yes it is. Watch yourself on that, it's quite a bit of broom for anyone to handle."
Suze had frozen pulling the cover off. Harry stepped forward and tugged it the rest of the way. She gave the broom an expert looking over then raised her eyes to Harry as if he might have been responsible. Harry gave her a smile and a second later she was in the air, launching right from where she stood. She had to settle back on the handle after stopping as if the broom had stopped without her. She locked her toes and knees tightly and backed up to do the same maneuvers as Katie.
The Head of Games removed the Sonorus and said to Bones. "She's going to fall off that. We should make a change."
Bones was reading the rules to herself with her lips moving. She gestured that he could do as he liked. Harry stepped right in his way as he turned and shook his head.
"You want to be responsible?" he accused Harry.
"It's on your head then." He resumed the Sonorus, and began explaining the rules to the crowd. Beyond his shoulder, Suze had flown in close and was hovering there, eyes curious. Harry gave her a thumbs up and she nodded and took off again, not overflying the broom this time when she stopped.
"The green ring is the starting line. You will follow the rings in sequence, crossing the pitch each time, and ending with the golden ring, which will be displayed only after every competitor has passed through the sixth ring. Competitors will wait for the starting gun here, over the VIP stands. Two early starts will result in disqualification. On your Ready!"
Harry held his fingers over his ears for the gun. The brooms took off in a blur of robes and commemorative mini cloaks, which must have been required wear since even Gregor had one. By the time they reached the starting ring, the field was already lengthening out with Gregor in the lead. One of the Harpies was close on his tail, and Gregor blocked her out just as they reached the far side of the pitch to pass through the second hoop, forcing her to circle around and rejoin the center of the pack. The third hoop was stretched way up high. Everyone's chins lifted to watch the long line of broomsticks stream up to it.
"Look at that Skodova," the Head of Games announced as Gregor made a jerking turn through the hoop. "Fewer safety features means a more exciting ride."
Harry looked over and saw that he was reading off a card from the manufacturer.
Suze, the smallest competitor in light grey robes, used the climb to gain several places and did a corkscrew maneuver to use the force of the turn to remain on her broom as she started downward again.
The brooms rushed by the VIP stands and curved around for the fourth hoop, then rushed full bore around the pitch to the fifth. Most of the competitors took a broad turn to keep their speed. Suze did not, and Harry flinched at seeing how hard she slammed into the broom handle making a tail end turn to again assure that she didn't get thrown.
"Notice the Russian Made ZIL also lacks all safety features. Not your grandmother's ride that one." He wasn't reading from a card this time.
Gregor still had the lead on the sixth hoop, which had been turned horizontal. He went downward through it while the rest of the pack behind him went upward. Suze completed the hoop, spun at the center of the pitch, and turned back. Gregor was already at the far end. Suze was betting on the rings on the opposite side, since she could not catch up. Katie Bell in the rear would be the last one through the sixth ring. Suze timed it so she was rushing by the original first hoop just as Katie broke the plane of the sixth. But that hoop remained the same color as did the green first hoop.
Heads swiveled and Suze took off upward like a shot. Another black comet rose from the far side. The high third ring had turned to gold. The rest of the field was far below. Harry could not see what happened, but as the two lead broomsticks came together, Suze's wobbled and broke from a straight line. She slipped down to the bristles and clung to them with her legs, arms stretched out along the handle, not slowing down. She pushed her legs straight and hung like an acrobat with her toes and fingers as the broom swerved back on course, then lay flat against it, steaming toward the ring.
The Head of Games held a pair of Omnioculars up to his face as he continued narrating to the crowd. "It's going to be close, witches and gentlemen."
The two figures crossed at the ring and flew apart again in long arcs like fireworks returning to the ground.
"And the Peloton also crosses through the finishing ring! We have a photo finish everyone, give me a moment."
He held the Omnioculars upward as he rolled the wheel back and forth with his fingers. Harry dearly wished he could ask if Gregor was disqualified.
"Looks like a tie."
The competitors had returned to hovering around the VIP stands. Suze held the broom with her knees and put her hands in the air and pumped her fists.
"First prize is your choice of the brand new broomsticks we have available. We shall do ladies first in that case. Ms. Zepher would you like to keep that fine racing broom."
Suze flew in closer. "No. It's not maneuverable enough."
"It's not . . . really?" The Head of Games blinked at her. "Well, is there another you'd like?"
Suze pointed at the one Gregor was riding.
"Oh, well, Mr. Gregor . . ."
"I want the one she's got," Gregor grumbled as if not paying attention.
The Head of Games clapped his hands together. "In that case we're all set!"
Suze landed on the second bench and held the broomstick out to Gregor, gaze filled with distrust. Gregor walked along the same bench and hesitantly held out the Skodova. Closer and closer the two broomstick handles were held to the other until, in an eyeblink, they each snatched the other's away and separated. Gregor took off again.
Suze was examining her new broomstick when Harry stepped up to her. He patted his chest and pointed at her chest and she said, "I'm fine. I'll get even with him later." She stroked the perfectly neat bristles and said, "It's good to have someone you need to get even with."
"Ms. Zepher, the press is waiting below," Bones said. "Our donor companies expect you to mingle a bit and tell their readers how you very much love their product. Off you go then."
Suze shrugged and stepped off the edge of the platform into a straight drop.
Harry took the stairs to return to their blanket, and sat in the open spot beside Pamela. On the way he had kept an eye out for Elizabeth with no luck. Like Pamela she would have stood out for her style of dress.
"You looked like you were having fun up there," Pamela said. "Too bad Remus couldn't compete at all."
After his frustrations with not communicating Harry longed to actually do something. He made a motion to Candide about eating. When she offered him food, he shook his head and indicated Pamela then gestured in the direction of the Hogwarts' students then motioned about eating again.
"Oh, you want to invite Pamela and Remus for dinner."
Snape said, "Next weekend, perhaps."
Harry glared at him. Snape repeated, "Next weekend. You are still recovering. There is no negotiation on this."
Harry dropped his head and plucked at the blanket, then made an apologizing gesture at his cousin.
She laughed lightly. "Harry if you need to rest you need to rest. Next weekend is fine."
Half a dozen children crept toward them with little steps, eyes full of question. Harry found his marker quill in his pocket and gestured for them to come over. Their faces lit up and they rushed him, handing him all sorts of things, including the picture from last night's Daily Prophet.
Pamela said, "Oh, that's adorable, Harry. Can I see that?"
"I have a copy," Candide said, opening her handbag.
Snape said, "What she means by that is she has twenty-five copies."
After the children had scampered off, Snape said, "Best idea Ms. Weasley ever had."
"Can I keep one?" Pamela asked. She leaned toward the real Arcadius, who was half asleep in his bassinet. "Aren't you the doll? Aren't you?"
Harry shot a meaningful look at Snape, to which Snape responded, "Next. Weekend."
Harry's friends approached: Ron, Lavender and Katie. Harry stood up and shot Snape a stubborn look, intending to go out with them, half-hoping for a fight if Snape said no.
Ron said, "We're going to the Leaky Cauldron. Would your cousin like to come?"
"Oh!" Pamela said, shading her eyes to look up at them. "I think I've had enough for the day. Remus is coming back to take me home as soon as the students have returned to Hogwarts."
"Don't be too late," Snape said to Harry.
Ron hooked an arm through Harry's. "We'll have the Master of Ceremonies home in good time, Professor."
At the pub, Harry stubbornly remained awake, slumped far back on a bench seat in the corner. The beer was making his mind swim even more tiredly than the event-filled day. Other friends joined them briefly then moved on. Witches and wizards wandered by, stopped to stare, then nodded or even shook his hand, like the old days.
"Fickle bunch," Katie muttered into her mug.
"You're not keeping your eyes open very well," Lavender said to Harry.
Harry sat straight, for a few minutes, but had to prop his head on his hand. His head dropped suddenly when Ron grabbed his arm out from under him.
Ron said, "Maybe time for you to go home?"
Harry stared at him, wounded that his friend was not siding with him.
"See, Hermione's not here, so I have to do her job."
Back at home, Ron saw Harry to the main hall. "Here he is, Professor."
"I see that, Mr. Weasley. Thank you. Just in time, it looks like."
Ron tapped his heels and, with a little bow, took his leave, making Harry wonder if his friend had been working for the Goblins a bit too long. Harry pushed his shoulders back, still wishing he could have cured Lupin this evening. He wanted to complain about being coddled, but had to settle for setting his teeth. He wandered over to stand beside the still daunting stack of his reading. He felt Candide's eyes pass over him before she turned to Snape. She made a noise like a sigh and retreated upstairs.
Harry raised his head and watched her go. When he had Snape's eye, Harry tossed his hand, trying to express his frustration. If he had not felt how awful brain softening was, he might be reconsidering it right then, just to argue.
"Tomorrow you should return to your running. You need to build up your strength. I will not have you risking your life to help Remus." He put down the post he was sorting and approached. "I realize you had a frustrating day. But you must also realize that you continue to be my responsibility and when you are in reach I take that responsibility seriously."
Harry let go of his difficult attitude, dropped on the couch and handed Snape a book to read to him. He did not make it even a chapter before sleep took him. He roused only briefly when a colorful, fuzzy blanket was laid over him.