Chapter 69 — Broken Silence

Thursday, after a hard week of training, Harry stepped inside the Aurors' office and waited there, by the door. A minute passed before anyone noticed him. 

Eventually Shacklebolt glanced up from the file he had open. "What's Harry need?" he asked the busy room.

Rogan and Rodgers rolled their chairs along the floor and peered around the partitions. Harry pulled out his slate, and wrote out field work which he had perfected the night before. With a squeak of his chair, Rodgers stood and sauntered over.

"Potter wants field work," he announced. "How's that supposed to work, exactly?"

Rogan said, "I don't think you can keep him from his duties if he's been allowed into the department. Can you?"

Rodgers made a face and stared at Harry's feet. "I didn't let him in. Arthur did."

"And the Minister." This came from Shacklebolt, who was holding his quill by both ends and twirling it over his lips as he watched things unfold.

Harry briefly considered slipping in and out and snagging Rodgers' wand away from him. But Snape's warning about showing off that skill held him back. He felt his face hardening out of growing frustration. He held the slate up closer to Rodgers' nose, but his trainer ignored it.

Shacklebolt said, "I believe Tristan is correct. If his handicap doesn't keep him out of the program, it cannot keep him from his duties. You have to accommodate him."

Rodgers scratched the back of his neck then looked up at Harry. "I haven't seen a Healer's Release for you, it now occurs to me. I need one that specifically states that you are fit for a full twelve hour shift of Auror patrol. Got that?"

Harry's recent experience with Healers made him wince. It was almost like Rodgers knew that would be the most difficult thing for him to obtain.

"He has you there, Harry," Shacklebolt said, turning back to his files.

With one last glare, Rodgers went back to his desk.

Harry glanced at his slate before stashing it in his pocket, then stared at his missing fingers as he Disapparated for home.

- 888 -

"Harry, are you going to be home tomorrow?" Candide asked as Harry was sorting through his post in the dining room.

With a frown Harry nodded.

"Because Severus needs to go to Hogwarts."

Snape came up behind her as she said this. He said, "It is a full moon tonight and Remus needs assistance with classes. That is, if he is to be free to come for dinner Saturday."

Harry raised his chin, suggesting that Remus come that very evening.

Snape said, "I notice you have been running every morning. How is that progressing?"

Not that well, Harry had to admit. He grew winded quickly and walked more than ran.

Snape stepped closer, half raising a hand as if to take Harry's arm, but holding back. "I know I promised this weekend, but it would be easier all around to wait until school is out."

Because he was still peeved about field work, Harry resisted giving in on this.

"Harry?" Snape prompted. He dropped his hand. "The circumspect, I dare say even, mature thing to do is to wait. You are certainly not ready to make an attempt tonight and after that there will be an entire month before you need to save Remus from yet another transformation. There is no reason to rush it this weekend."

Harry sent him a challenging glare. He was ready. All he needed was will power.

Snape's mouth pursed. "You are as stubborn as ever." He spun to leave the room, pausing to say, "If I have to revive your heart again, I will not allow you to cure another werewolf after Remus."

Candide stepped back for Snape to stride out. On her hip, Arcadius was blowing raspberries and making a humming noise.  "Ba," he said as Snape passed.

"Severus!" Candide said. "Did you hear that?" When Snape strode back, she said, "He said 'ba', did you hear him?"

Arcadius had returned to humming raspberries. "Really, he did." She put a finger on Snape and said, "Da da. Da da."

Arcadius ducked and rolled his head over her side, ignoring this.

"Ma ma," she pointed at herself. Despite ten repetitions, Arcadius remained uninterested.

Harry retreated to his pile of books, determined to read the next day's assignment. He worried at a single page for more than half an hour. 

Snape, carrying Arcadius, swept into the room and, holding out his hand for the book, said, "Shall I rescue you from your own stubbornness?"

Arcadius began fussing halfway through the first page. 

"Why don't you amuse him while I read?" He handed over the baby and fetched a dozen toys.

Harry propped Arcadius up on his knees and waved a toy before him while he listened. Once Arcadius had grabbed hold, his grip was strong, but his catching was not very good. Harry picked out a stuffed canary and held it out of reach, then just in reach, and then pulled it back out of reach.

Snape ceased reading. "You are NOT training him to be a Seeker."

Harry grinned and again pulled the canary out of reach. But Arcadius did not understand that he was being teased. Just the colors moving seemed to be keeping him amused.

"Close your eyes and review the key points of that chapter," Snape said, "If you have been listening at all, that is."

Candide came in and kissed Snape on top of the head. "You're just jealous that Arcadius is better behaved with Harry."

"Very Slytherin of him, in that case," Snape opined.

"Oh dear."

Harry gestured for Snape to read more. Snape began reviewing the previous chapter, but Harry recognized it and gestured again. Snape relented and flipped to the next chapter. "I have learned more of the minutiae of Ministry operations than I ever feared had been committed to parchment."

Candide brought a stuffed squid over and teased Arcadius with it, pretending that it was eating his round belly. She said, "And you haven't even been reading the Filing Manuals."

- 888 -

Friday morning, Harry, in his workout suit, was met at the door by Candide. She pulled the pram out of the cupboard and said, "Would you like some company?"

Harry shrugged, then wondered if Snape had already left for Hogwarts.

"Yes, Severus is gone already."

Harry held the door open for her, chagrined at almost leaving her home alone. He needed to pay more attention to what was happening around him, but could not seem to manage it. Arcadius ceased to cry and watched the world go by, undisturbed by the bumps and the rough gravel.

Candide walked while Harry jogged a few hundred feet in each direction. The sun was obscured but the wind was warm and smelled of the drying of long-wet earth. 

"You're winded already," Candide observed after Harry returned from running hard to the end of the short road.

Harry walked alongside while he caught his breath. Every day he felt stronger than the last, but far short of how he should feel.

"Ba, ba, ba," Arcadius said around his fingers, which were tethered to his mouth with saliva.

"Ba?" Candide replied as if this may be a major pronouncement.

Harry did not want her to see him winded again so he stuck beside her, stretching his arms over his head. His mind was elsewhere when Candide said, "Harry, I'd like to talk about Remus this weekend."

"Ba," Arcadius pronounced.

"Ba?" Candide echoed. She stopped the pram to bend over and check the baby's nest of blankets before starting off again.

Harry pulled his thoughts away from training and his banning from fieldwork. Her hands were gripping the pram handle tighter than necessary so, after a car had rolled past, he made it clear that she had his full attention.

Her hands worked at the handle while her gaze went far away. Finally, as if blurting it out, she said, "I don't think you realize how badly you hurt Severus when you insist on acting risky."

She slowed and Harry realized it was because he had. The pram wheels stopped chirping.

"You'd expect being an Auror-in-training would generate plenty of worry by itself, but . . . you aren't here to see . . . well of course you aren't." She took a breath. "When you are off to one of these places, especially this time, you don't see how miserable Severus gets. He gets angry when he's worried. Have you noticed that?"

Harry nodded and swallowed against his dry throat, easily remembering Snape from his earlier years at school.

Her shoulders relaxed and she leaned on the pram, making the suspension sag. "His patience gets short. As if he can't channel his worry as worry like a normal person." She smiled, "He keeps his anger in check with us and redirects it at the world. I'm truly not trying to complain to you about him, I'm just trying to get you to understand the impact you have, which, despite knowing Severus better than I do, you seem to be unaware of." 

"He didn't ask me to speak to you or anything," she said when they reached the end of the road where the brush had been brutally trimmed tight to a tangled wire fence.

Harry nodded that he understood.

When they turned back the wind was behind them, and it grew quite pleasant. Harry had begun to notice that remaining quiet was an invitation for others to share a lot more and this was true with Candide as well. She said, "Severus believes you have this headstrong habit from when you were younger and thought you were on your own and, that because this habit was the reason you survived, you are reluctant to give it up."

Even though he was no longer winded, Harry drew in a full lungful of air and let it out again in a trickle.

When they reached the house again, she said in a low voice. "I hope I'm not out of line . . ."

Sunk into his own thoughts, Harry shook his head and put the pram away after she lifted Arcadius from it.

- 888 -

Early evening, Harry was still deep in thought, staring at his readings, when Candide came into the library, holding Arcadius in the curve of her arm.

"Severus should be home soon and I'm desperate for a long bath, do you mind terribly, Harry? He's having an exceptionally fussy day, I'm afraid. Usually a bit of fresh air puts him right with a nap. He must be teething. Are you up to a half hour or so?"

Harry stood and took Arcadius from her arms and patted his back as he walked. The baby quieted a little, but his humming was loud and unhappy. Harry checked that Arcadius' magic was clear, then carried him around the whole first floor of the house, then around again to the drawing room where he seemed quietest, next to the window where he could look out. It was raining hard, and water had formed a rippled film over the panes so there was only a smeared view of green on the trees and the grey of the road. 

"Ba!" Arcadius said, waving one arm.

"Ba?" Harry echoed, teasing without forethought. His breath caught in his throat and his heart sped up. He tried to repeat it, but his mind was as before, stuck shut as if the channel from his head to his lips did not exist and never had.

He adjusted his grip on Arcadius, holding him higher and closer since he was trying to lean toward the window. He had one tiny hand out, closing and opening his fingers as his eyes stared out, unfocused.

Harry waited for the baby to say something again, yearning to test if he could echo him again, even as stupid as he would sound doing so.

A rustle of robes indicated that someone was coming up behind them. Harry turned to find Snape approaching. He had not even heard the Floo over the rain slapping the window.

Snape jerked and stepped back. "What's this?"

Harry looked down. Water was streaking over the window on the inside, nearly indistinguishable from that running over the outside. It pooled along the crosspieces and trickled to the floor, darkening the wood.

"Ba," Arcadius said. Harry clenched his jaw closed, just in case.

Snape steered Harry back a few steps and cleaned up the spreading puddle with a wave. He then considered the baby. "I did not think he was a Firestarter. Too young, for one thing. Not emotionally involved in his actions, for another."

"Distract him, will you?" Snape handed Harry a colorful wooden bird and Harry waved it before Arcadius as he stepped away. 

The baby gave an unhappy cry.

"Enough rain for today, I think." Snape said, giving another wave of his wand to dry things out. "They are Charmed to resist leaking, no less. He's like you. Barrier or not, it does not matter."

Harry waited in the doorway, holding an apology in his gaze. Snape seemed startled to see this. "I did not mean to imply you were somehow at fault. Truly." His face relaxed. "Nothing would be more tragic than raising an ordinary child."

Harry followed Snape to the library and watched him searching through books. In his arms, Arcadius returned to his fussing hum.

Mid-flip through an exceptionally dusty volume, Snape stopped and frowned.  "I think the one I need is at Hogwarts." He shoved that book away and stared beyond the shelf. From the bath, Candide called out asking how Arcadius was.

Snape crouched to pull out another book, the small, fat 'Stonishing 'Cyclopedia of Singular Magic. He carried it to the library door while paging through it and called back, "He is quite fine. Harry is amusing him." He rapped the page with his knuckle, making a hollow sound like a drum, and added in a normal voice, "He is also apparently an Elementalist."

Harry raised his eyebrows in question. 

Snape sighed, "When I know what that entails I will let you know." He closed the book with a snap. "Firestarters are exclusively teenagers with excessive angst distorting the expression of their magic."

Harry shook his head in agreement, Arcadius seemed quite happy to start fires.

"I did not think his magic could fall under that categorization, but I lacked any other." He knocked his hand against the book and said, "I suppose I will have to learn a bit more before I decide if I am relieved or not."

- 888 -

Saturday evening, Harry went to fetch his cousin for dinner. When Harry arrived in her sitting room, Lupin stirred on the couch, rubbing his face up and down and curling his neck in a weak attempt at sitting up. The curse emanating from him seeped into the very room mixing with a musky scent.

Steeling himself, Harry held out a hand to help him up. Lupin put on a weak smile and accepted. The skin of his hand was coarse, like a paw pad on a dog, and it made the bones of Harry's arm ache. The curse must be stronger so soon after the full moon.

"Hullo, Harry," Pamela said. "Thanks for the invitation." She considered Lupin. "Are you really up for this?"

"It will be a break for you from taking endless care of me," Remus mumbled. "And you've talked of little else. I hate to disappoint."

Harry gestured, pointing back and forth. Pamela said, "Are you asking if you should come back for Remus? Remus, do you want Harry to fetch you too?"

Lupin shook his shaggy head, which he tried to comb with his fingers. "No, I can make it. Just let me arrange to be a bit more presentable." He shambled off toward the bathroom.

As their guests settled onto the couches back in Shrewsthorpe, Lupin said, "Hermione sends her regards, as does Minerva. . ." His mouth twitched. "Who is personally covering Slytherin House for the both of us." 

Harry held off finding a seat and turned to Snape in sharp question, wondering if he was being coddled still and that Snape should be attending to his duties. But his questioning glance was roundly ignored.

"It will do her good," Snape said, leaning on the side of the couch.

Lupin laughed lightly. "You're still upset that she blames Slytherin for the rampant betting on Quidditch this year."

Snape's jaw tightening was his only answer. Lupin went on, "Well, she'll see soon enough, next weekend with Slytherin idle."

"Are Slytherins ever idle?" Candide asked.

"They sometimes appear to be," Snape stated quietly. "They are not, however, much interested in rigging Quidditch matches, more simply in winning them."

Lupin said, "Which oftentimes could be construed as rigging. But even I agree, their motives are purely egotistical, not monetary. But aside from outright cheating, which the staff are always on guard against, the only definite way of influencing a match is to throw it. More specifically, for the Keeper or the Seeker to throw it."

Candide said, "Are students really willing to do that? House pride always struck me as all encompassing."

Snape gave a twitch of his shoulders and looked away, striking Harry as trying to hide something.

Lupin said, "Minerva would agree with you, which is why little has been done to prevent it. And House pride is not shared equally by all."

Pamela said, "You said that Professor McGonagall told you she hoped that by treating it as unimportant, others would as well."

Lupin replied, "Yes, but that's not likely to succeed. There is a serious lack of things for wizards to wager on in general, apparently."

Winky appeared and began handing out beverages off a silver tray. As it passed him, Lupin put up an arm for protection and shrunk back.

"Wood and ceramic everything this evening, Winky," Snape criticized. 

Winky held the tray before her like a shield. "Winky good elf," she squeaked. 

"Then she will do as she is told." 

Winky sparkled away and Harry strode into the aura of cursedness to sit beside Lupin. He sandwiched his old teacher's vaguely clawed hand between his own two.

Lupin turned to Harry, but Harry refused to meet his eyes. Instead he concentrated on the curse burning into his hands. He pushed at it, just experimentally, to feel it respond. 

"It's all right, Harry," Lupin said. "I'm not offended by your elf."

Ignoring this, Harry pushed harder at the curse and felt the skin of Lupin's palm smoothing. He could chase the curse from Lupin's palm but it simply flowed into his fingers instead. With some effort he chased the curse from both, making his nails smooth out, but Lupin's hand still felt tainted, despite the surface changes.

Lupin gripped Harry's hand, showing unexpected strength. "Harry? It's all right, really." Lupin looked to Snape for help, apparently not sensing what was happening to his hand.

Snape was standing beside the couch opposite, eyes fixed on Harry. 

"Harry worries about you too, Remus," Pamela said.

Harry released the pressure and felt the curse flow back into place. Lupin pulled his hand free and looked at it, but it had already reverted. Laughing mirthlessly as he held up his pointed fingers, he said, "Can't trim them fast enough in the first days of the waxing gibbous."

Harry understood in a rush. There were two curses on Lupin, not one. And Harry was in not in any condition to help him right then. He patted Lupin's arm and stood up. 

Snape interrupted the restarting conversation about Hogwarts' upcoming Quidditch match with: "I expect Winky is ready to put dinner on."

As the others moved to the dining room, Snape tugged on Harry's arm with a painful grip. His grip loosened just as quickly, putting Harry in the mind of his conversation with Candide the day before.

"You will be trying again, I assume?" His low voice was taut.

"No," Harry said, barely pushing enough air through his throat to be heard.

Snape's brows angled up. Softly, he asked, "Have you been holding back on us?"

Harry could not repeat the word "no", even though he could feel exactly how his mouth had moved a moment before. He gave up and shook his head.

Snape turned him by the arm to direct him to the dining room, hooking their arms together to lead him along. "We'll discuss it later."

A large dinner rendered Lupin quite groggy; when he moved his hands, his fingers trembled.

Pamela took his hand and said, "I think Remus should be getting home. Not to run off or anything."

"They understand," Lupin said.

Harry stood and came around the table, intending to Side-Along Lupin rather than letting him go alone. Lupin did not resist Harry taking his arm to take him away.

In Pamela's sitting room, Harry pulled Lupin into an embrace. He had spent half a lifetime feeling badly for his father's last living friend and it was painful to know he had the power to help him, but could not.

Lupin patted Harry's back, then unhooked his arms and held them out to the sides. "That's quite a leave-taking." He looked Harry over in the light of a low electric lamp on the end table. "You aren't quite yourself, I think."

Harry freed his arms and grabbed up Lupin's hand. He patted the back of it, promising him. 

"I'm glad someone of Severus' capacity is there looking out for you. I think you need it."

Harry's shoulders fell at being roundly misunderstood yet again. He patted Lupin on the shoulder in a chummy manner just as Snape arrived with Pamela.

"You're keeping an eye on Harry, right?" Lupin asked, sounding concerned over his weakness.

Snape glanced between the two of them and said, "Yes, quite." He stepped back as if to depart. "But he did a better job of taking care of himself this evening than usual." With that, he Disapparated.

Snape corralled Harry as soon as he returned home. "Sit down."

Candide glanced up sharply from where she sat on the end of the couch, nursing Arcadius. "Is Harry in trouble?"

Snape had begun to pace, but this brought him up short. "No.

"Just wanted to be certain. He sat quietly through the evening and I couldn't imagine what he might have done wrong."

Harry sensed that Snape wanted to argue with her, but he paced away, rubbing his chin instead. Eventually, he said, "You held back." 

Harry held up two fingers. 

Said Snape, "I don't know what that means. Tell me what it means."

Harry tried to show him, but Snape stood watching him with a bland expression, avoiding Legilimency. 

"Tell me," Snape repeated.

Harry tossed his hands. He had no pathway for speech that he could find. He pulled out his slate, but it immediately slipped from his fingers, snagged. Snape set it down on the couch arm beside him and put his wand away. 

"Tell me."


"This is not your affair, Candide."

She disengaged Arcadius and held him upright against her shoulder to pat his back. "It is. I beg to differ." 

"Two what?" Snape asked Harry.

Harry thought about the word "curse," felt the shape of it, tried to let it flow out of him.

"You are moving your mouth a bit; are you aware of that? You have been doing that more of late, I have noticed."

Harry shook his head; he had not realized that.

"Two what?" Snape queried yet again.

Candide wrapped Arcadius up and stepped up to Snape. "If you are going to torment Harry, I'm going upstairs. I do hope you have more consideration for this son," she said.

Appearing surprised, Snape watched her go. His shoulders shifted as if he sighed. He turned back to Harry. "Perhaps I have made it too easy on you, letting you communicate so much non-verbally. Two. What?"

Many minutes later, Harry still could not oblige him. It did not work to force the words out. They came on their own or not at all. He tossed his hands helplessly yet again, only losing patience with himself, not with Snape, whose stubborn insistence he appreciated.

The stand-off ended when Candide returned.

"Severus, have you heard the expression blood from a stone?"

"Yes, and there is a potion for that. As well as half a dozen spells." He held out his hands as she passed, expecting to burp Arcadius as he usually did, but Candide kept going. 

"You know," she said, "this is my business whether we are discussing precedent for when Arcadius is older or not."

Snape turned from Harry and followed her instead, reaching to take Arcadius. "Discipline will not be lax."

"I don't expect it to be." She turned away. "Harry did what you wanted this evening. Why are you behaving this way?"

"I don't know why he did it."

"You could find out like this," she said, trying to snap her fingers while holding a baby. Arcadius began to fuss.

Harry stood up and held his hands out.

"Here you go. He still needs a little burping I think." She draped a cloth over his shoulder and Harry stepped away with Arcadius, leaving them to argue.

"You can be very moody, you know that, Severus?"

With an expression that had narrowed, Snape was about to respond to this when Arcadius said, "Ba."

Snape turned and looked at the two of them, gaze keen. "Ah," he said. He came around to face Harry, who had turned to let the baby watch them over his shoulder.

Voice conciliatory, Snape asked gently, "Two what?"

Harry met his gaze and imagined Lupin getting bitten a second time, attacked in his office.

"Two curses. Of course. And that would be too much in your current state, I assume."

Harry nodded. For now, he would have added, if he could have. He gathered up the baby and his burping cloth in one hand and handed Arcadius over to him. 

Snape did not get a chance to settle the baby on his shoulder before Candide came through and lifted him skillfully away again. "We aren't through with this discussion." 

But despite her words, she shuffled off to the dining room.

Harry said, "Trouble."

Snape patted him on the arm, pursed lips twisted into a small smile.

- 888 -

Through the closed door of his room, Harry heard conversation in a tone he could not ignore. He tossed on his dressing gown, fetched up his pet, who was also fitful in her cage which she had not been out of all day, and went out onto the balcony to listen better.

Candide was saying, "I'm simply not keen on imagining you making things so difficult for Arcadius."

After a long gap, Snape said, "I do not think that is what this is truly about."

"Why don't you believe that? You tell me he has this aberrant . . . elemental-like magic and that you want his magic to be disciplined as early as possible and after watching you with Harry this evening I don't like that idea."

At the sound of his name, Harry made his way around the balcony, using one hand to hold Kali down onto his shoulder so he did not get pricked as her claws had not been attended to. He stopped at the bedroom, and slowly pushed the door open wider.

Candide wore a dressing gown and night clothes, but Snape was still in his day robes. "It isn't a matter of want, but of necessity." He looked ready to say more but looked up at Harry and his pet.

"Was I too difficult with you, Harry?" Snape asked, bringing Candide's gaze up as well. She appeared strained and uncertain as she rocked the hanging basket which held a peacefully sleeping Arcadius.

Harry shook his head after attempting to reply aloud. 

Snape went on, again directed at Candide. "For some reason you are conflating my recognition of necessity with a desire for overbearing strictness. That is why I believe this is actually about something else."

Candide did not reply right away, simply pushed the basket in a deliberate, small swing. "I just cannot bear the thought," she said.

Snape stood with his arms at his sides, his tone also moderating. "His nature is not going to change simply because you wish it so. It will, in fact, be easier for him to learn early. Essential, even, for his survival."

Quietly, Candide said, "That's such a cruel thing to say."

Snape lightly tossed his hands and turned away. After a beat he turned back, looking vaguely defeated. "We will have Harry here to help."

Candide looked up at Harry. "Doesn't Harry want to start a life of his own sometime?"

Harry patted his chest in a promise because he could not have expressed himself better any other way.

Snape wryly observed, "Harry is always keen to sacrifice himself for something."

"It's not," Harry slurred, a sacrifice he wanted to add, wishing he could make the words snap out properly. He sounded drunken, which lost the effect.

"Harry," Candide said in surprise. She glanced at Snape, who crossed his arms.

"Why did you assume I was being stubborn with Harry earlier without cause?"

Candide closed her eyes. "Sorry, Severus."

"I was not looking for an apology," Snape gently pointed out. "I am looking for a partnership in assuring Arcadius is trained to control his magic as young as we can possibly manage it. If we are not steadfastly of one mind about it, we will fail at it. But it is a concern for another day, at least a year from now, perhaps two."

"Harry, you are really going to stay that long?" Candide asked, sounding disbelieving.

"Harry will be steeped in his Auror training and his lady of choice in her studies at least that long."

Harry wanted to say "yes" but found that a "y" sound was surprisingly hard to push out of one's mouth. He patted his chest again and after firmly meeting each of the gazes, moved to leave them alone.

But Snape followed him back to his room and closed the door while Harry went to put his pet back in her cage. She resisted, so he petted her thickly regrowing fur until she grew sleepy enough to put away.

"I did not intend for you to make such a significant pledge."

Harry wanted to repeat "it's not," but could not and came close to swearing aloud instead. Loath to let his personal frustration interfere with the conversation, he gave up on talking and simply faced Snape and let his emotions out through his eyes. He felt relieved, more than anything. Pledging to remain let him enjoy this family longer without second guessing his choices. And really, he was only now starting to live his own life.

Snape dropped his gaze, shifting his shoulders as if emotionally uncomfortable.  He seemed to cast about for something to say before settling on, "If you have any difficulty sleeping, fetch me."

Harry nodded, then, thinking of potions and sleep and his pet, basically a whole raft of things other than speaking, he let slip, "Okay."

Again this seemed to amuse his guardian. When Snape put his hand on the door, Harry reused that word before he lost it, asking, "Okay?"

"Yes. It will be. Good night, Harry."

- 888 -

Monday, Harry left early for training and stopped in the Ministry Healer's office. The stressed out witch who often was left to run the office alone was sitting in a state of calm for once, flipping thought a manual that lay open on a torn brown wrapping. When she looked up in question at Harry, he held up his hand to show her his missing fingers.

"Oh. Sure. Sit down here and put your hand on the examination table."

She pushed herself around on a rolling stool to collect a row of things: a stinky poultice, some bright pink tincture, a handful of potion bottles, including the distinctively shaped Skele-gro. Her lips crooked as she looked over the nubs of his fingers, pinching each almost painfully several times.

"Okay," she said, as if they had decided upon something together. She carefully unwrapped a small package and popped it in her mouth and began chewing. The scent of mint filled the room; it was gum.

Harry's fingers were Charmed, steeped in tincture, smeared with poultice, Charmed again, wrapped with linen, smeared again with a different poultice on top of that, then finally left to dry before being bandaged yet again. He departed the room with a pocketful of different potions and a time schedule of when to take them almost too convoluted to follow. In the lift Harry read it over, tempted to hide it from his guardian when he got home.

When he walked into the training room, Rodgers was already doing review. 

"You're late, Potter."

Harry held up his bandaged hand.

"Well, isn't that dandy, my favorite kind of Auror Apprentice is the kind that can't even hold a wand. Sit down." 

Harry did so, taking out his wand and weighing it in his left hand, thinking he could do drills off-handed all day, as they sometimes did for a few rounds just for practice. As he listened with his book open in front of him, Harry ducked his head and studied the wand as it lay in his lap, the handle was chipped and worn. The point was even chipped, he noticed, which left a light colored mark on it.

"I would ask Potter to name the three most common Muggle baiting curses that are applied to money or restaurant utensils, but we don't have all day. Kalendula?"

Harry thought that perhaps he would keep silent at the Ministry for as long as possible, a few weeks maybe.

Next: Chapter 70

Harry sat in the end chair with his back to the dark but still warm hearth. While he waited, he laid his head on his pyjama-clad arm and let his neck go slack. The house was silent; no cars went by; not even the wind brushed the rafters. It made the house feel like it hung in limbo.

Harry closed his eyes and noticed that the clock in the hall still ticked.

The candelabra came up bright without warning. Snape sat down opposite Harry's injured hand and unrolled a towel full of things from the bathroom. He misted the wrappings with water then examined Harry's hand again, all business. Harry's chest began to ache. He wished he had not needed to disturb his guardian in the middle of the night like this.