Harry took up the album for Hermione and slipped into the Dark Plane. He paused while the grit settled around his trainers and looked around. He did not see the boy, even though he strained his eyes as far as he could through the flat grey light.
He arrived in the less-used stairwell at the end of corridor leading to Hermione's office. Distant youthful voices drifted up the staircase, but otherwise the castle was still. Imminent examinations had forced the entire school into revisions.
Harry's knock was answered by Hermione, who put her head out the door before opening it wide. "Oh, Harry. Come in."
Vineet sat in the window sill with his legs tucked under him. When he moved to unfold himself and stand, Harry waved that he should stay.
Not wanting to interrupt for long, Harry opened his satchel. He had intended to say something, but feared "I brought you something" was going to come out mangled. He mutely held out the album instead, ignoring Snape's accusation replaying in his head.
"What's this?" She walked as she untied the box, then untied the album inside the box.
"Look at all these." She dropped the stiff pages from one cover to the other and back. "Are you giving these to me?"
Harry nodded, took a deep breath intending to say "gift", then exhaled without saying anything. Vineet's brows went up. He knew Harry could speak, but he had honored Harry's desire to not tell any others, even Hermione.
"Look, it's all of us in the Three Broomsticks after Quidditch, you and Ron look so funny in your uniforms, like they are too big for you." She held the book up to show Vineet.
Vineet tipped his head away and held it there, looking like a statue.
"And Care of Magical Creatures when the Pink Puffaluffas had bred and Hagrid didn't realize it." She laughed. "I didn't know anyone had even taken pictures. Hagrid was actually worse at organizing his classes than he is now," she said, turning to Vineet as if that was a shared joke.
Her face shifted to neutral and she closed the album. "Thanks, Harry." She put it back in the box. When Harry glanced between the two of them, Hermione smiled reassuringly and dropped her gaze. "Vishnu thinks he missed out on too much." She put her hand on the box. "I told him it was mostly miserable, like battles we should not have been in. Voldemort taking over Ginny. Voldemort taking over you. But it wasn't all that, was it?"
Harry did not respond; he was watching Vineet and getting an idea. He patted Hermione on the shoulder and slipped away.
"I don't know how he does that," Hermione said. "Vishnu, you didn't miss that much. I wish you didn't feel the way you do."
"I lack much of you," he said, then looked away again.
Harry slipped into Snape's office. The curtains were drawn and the air felt closed in. He went to the shelf and stood on his toes to take the Pensieve down. He checked that it was empty, drawing in his lips at the sight of the chip in the edge of it, damage it had received around the time Snape had found the old memory from Dumbledore. Harry held the Pensieve in one arm, stronger at this from holding Arcadius, and ran his finger over the chip and the tiny crack that led from it.
The world was full of circumstances that no one asked to be faced with. Snape had unintentionally destroyed his parents; Harry had unintentionally destroyed his parents' world. As he walked the heavy thing back to Hermione's office rather than risk pulling it through the interstice, he hoped Snape was not reminded of that every time he saw the Pensieve sitting there.
Harry set it on Hermione's desk and took out his wand.
"What are you doing?" Hermione asked.
Harry pulled forth the three best memories he had of his friend: decoding Snape's Potion puzzle when they were First-Years, slapping Draco Malfoy, and . . . he almost gave away the memory of outsmarting Time.
Instead of thinking up a replacement, Harry held up the wand near Hermione's temple and said, "Ur fav mem'ry."
She grabbed his hand, "Harry!"
Doggedly, he repeated, "Your fav."
"Oh." She closed her eyes. "There."
Harry pulled the glowing strand free and fed it into the Pensieve with the others. Then he gestured for Vineet to come over.
As Vineet approached, Hermione grabbed Harry by the hand and dragged him to the corner by the bookshelves. "You can talk!"
Harry ignored her surprise. "What mem'ry?"
Her face stretched into a grin. "Surprising everyone by showing up at the ball with Victor."
Vineet stood beside the Pensieve watching them.
"They're for you to see," Hermione said. "I don't know what Harry put in. I might have to take a turn after you." She laughed, face flushing.
Vineet checked both of their gazes then leaned into the glowing fluid.
Hermione grabbed up Harry's sleeve and shook it. She whispered, "I can't believe you are talking. I'm so happy for you."
Harry held up his fingers to indicate something small.
"You sound great to me." Voice still low, she said, "The Dark Plane doesn't bother you . . . to visit?"
Harry shook his head. "Not 'more." It was hard to talk to her; the sounds jumbled and piled together as they formed. He sighed and considered giving up for now.
"You sound unhappy."
Harry waved a hand. "Hard. ‘Barrass'd."
She took hold of his arm again. "Harry, how can you be embarrassed, after everything that's happened?" She sounded honestly shocked.
Harry peered at her, surprised that she did not understand. Vineet stood straight.
"My turn," Hermione said. "That all right, Harry?"
"I missed even more than I thought," Vineet said.
Hermione lifted her head. "You didn't. Maybe we can keep the Pensieve for a while?"
"Sev," Harry said.
"From his office?" Hermione asked. When Harry nodded she said, "I can return it to him. I'd like to keep it for a while. So I can bore Vishnu with endless hours in the library and the Common Room until he gives up feeling left out."
Hermione dipped her head into the glow and Harry strode over to Vineet. He gestured at Hermione and said, "Ur perfect for Herm . . ." Harry closed his eyes and made the sounds come through in his memory. "My-on-ee. Perfect."
Vineet's gaze grew pained as he considered Harry.
Worried his fellow was pitying him, Harry said, "I'm okay. Keep her happy." Harry wanted to add ten things onto that, but could not.
Voice pitched low, Vineet said, "I shall endeavor to do so."
Hermione stood again, smiling wistfully. "Have a seat, Harry. I've got a secret stash of butterbeers, let's have a round before I get back to setting exams. Let's make some better memories so those old ones don't matter so much."
"Potter. Readings?" Rodgers stated emphatically as they put their things away at the end of the day. It was true Harry had not answered a single question correctly.
"Leave off Harry, sir," Kerry Ann said.
Rodgers narrowed his eyes at her. "How is this your concern, Kalendula?"
"Because we're supposed to be a team. You always say that, anyway."
Harry thought she should back off on the mocking tone a bit. Aaron apparently thought so too. He physically spun Kerry Ann to face Harry and said, "I'll help Harry with his readings tonight. I'm alone until the evening edition goes to print, anyway." He put a hand to his breast. "Imagine, Aaron Wickem, widower to a newspaper."
"He's not being fair to Harry," Kerry Ann said, trying to turn toward their instructor, but was restrained by the way Aaron held her shoulders.
"Fairness has nothing to do with being an Auror." Rodgers scoffed and let the door bang closed behind him.
Aaron pulled Kerry Ann's full head of hair downward. "What do you think you are doing? He can't touch Harry. Don't put yourself in harm's way like that."
Kerry Ann brushed her hair back when she was released. "It's not fair."
Harry suspected she was not referring to his treatment by their trainer.
"For once, I'll get my readings done as well," Aaron said as he settled onto a couch in Shrewsthorpe after politely seeing Snape out of his own house. "Ginny told me you were saying a few words."
He waited for a reply before cracking open the book he held.
"Yeah," Harry said.
"Oh good, she wasn't having me on. Fine." He sniffled. "Chapter fourteen, Tissue Types and Hex Effectiveness, the Flight or Fight Response Personified in Magic." Aaron tipped his head back and remained that way. To the ceiling, he said, "I cannot believe this is how I am to spend my evening."
"Sounds fascinating," Candide said as she came down the stairs.
"Ah, the lady of the house." Aaron stood, and bowed, waiting until she sat down. "Always a pleasure. How is the little one?"
Candide held Arcadius out for Harry and took a seat. "You're stalling, I believe. You are supposed to be reading chapter 14."
Aaron sat back and held the book up again. "Got me, you mad dominatrix, you." He cleared his throat and began reading the way Harry expected he sounded reading to Arcadius.
Half a chapter in, Arcadius grew fussy. Harry adjusted the baby on his lap so he could pull a large stuffed sabertooth closer and tease him with it. He tried to listen, but he was thinking ahead to seeing Elizabeth to tell her about the invitation, and trying to find his way through the feelings that sprang up. Sending her an owl seemed a wasted opportunity.
The sabertooth roared and its oversized eyes flashed and Arcadius gave a screech of baby joy.
"Shall I take him? I think you aren't paying attention."
"She's a taskmaster," Aaron said from behind the book. "A perfect fit for old Snape, that's for sure."
"I'm simply trying to ensure we make the most of your sacrifice."
Aaron lowered the book. "Well, I suppose I can scrounge up some gratitude for that." He raised the book again. "This is not the part of Auroring I enjoy, that's for certain. This is, in fact, why we are assigned partners. One simply goes out on assignment with someone who already knows all these things."
An hour after dinner, Candide was reading to both of them. Aaron kept checking the clock, waiting for a message from Ginny indicating that she was leaving the paper to go home.
"All right, summarize the key concepts in that section. Harry?"
Harry took a deep breath and forced his mind to recover the concepts he had just heard. It had only been a few minutes. "Visceral . . ." He closed his eyes and found the word "susceptible" impossible. "blunt force."
"Very good, Visceral tissue is susceptible to blunt force, so what classes of spells would that be?"
Harry closed his eyes again.
Aaron quipped, "This is where the evil wizard says, 'Why's he closing his eyes? Must be a trick. I'd better get out of here while I can.'"
With an annoyed smirk, Harry opened his eyes again.
"Aaron can finish summarizing for you, in that case."
The Floo sounded and Snape stepped in, toting a small trunk. "Still at it?"
"I'm not certain which of them is farther behind," Candide said quietly.
Snape put down his trunk and circled around Aaron, eyeing him. Aaron stared elsewhere, saying, "They let me advance in the program."
"Perhaps a mistake on their part," Snape said. He stopped where he could eye everyone in the room.
Aaron said, "Rodgers doesn't ever complain. About me, that is. Harry on the other hand . . ."
Snape's gaze swung his way, then swung to Harry. "I think it is about time I had a chat with this man." Harry jerked forward to stand up, but Snape stuck a finger out in his direction. "You will stay put."
Harry remained seated, but on the edge of the cushion, watching Snape stride back out of the room. He felt out of breath.
After the Floo flared, Harry turned to Candide for help.
"I trust Severus to deal with this."
"You do?" Aaron blurted. He sat back again and feigned relaxing. "Well, of course. Charm and charisma are two of his better qualities. And tact. Charm, charisma, and tact are three of Professor Snape's better qualities."
Harry stood up.
"Harry," Candide said, "do what you want, but I can't see how you will avoid making the situation worse. Better to keep it between Severus and your trainer. Besides, this chapter has two more sections and then we are finished for the night."
Snape hooked the Evanescent Deputy badge he had snagged from a box on the mantelpiece onto his robes as he strode across the Ministry Atrium.
The Aurors' office contained Rodgers and Shacklebolt, who had moved their chairs to the center of the room to confer on something. From the doorway, Snape cleared his throat.
"Well, look at that, evil just wanders in if you wait long enough," Rodgers said.
Shacklebolt rolled his eyes as he closed the file he held.
Snape said, "A word with you, Rodgers."
Rodgers pushed his robe sleeves up and remained sitting. "Whatever you want to say, you can say it here."
Snape stopped before him. "Afraid to be alone with me?"
"You're an underhanded bastard, Snape, but no, I am hardly afraid of what you might do. I just want a witness to what transpires."
Snape tugged out his wand and held it out to Shacklebolt, who took it after a hesitation.
"A word with you, alone, Rodgers."
Rodgers sighed through his nose and pushed out of his chair. "Tea room, then? Or do you want to use one of the interrogation rooms. I'm sure you are more familiar with those."
Snape stared him down. "Your choice."
Shacklebolt set Snape's wand on his desk and said, "Maybe you two should have a witness."
"Someone has to man the office," Rodgers said out of the side of his mouth.
Snape followed him to the tea room. As soon as the door closed, Snape tugged on Rodgers' sleeve to make him face him.
"We had an agreement, Rodgers."
"What?" His gaze flickered over Snape's in confusion.
"When I rescued you from Bellatrix's little trap, you lamented owing me and I informed you that as long as you trained Harry, we would be even." Snape released him and straightened, calming. "Do you recall that, or shall I detail the state I found you in to refresh your memory?"
Rodgers ran his fingers through his hair, tugging as he did this. "No, you don't have to remind me. You thought that was an agreement, did you?"
"I certainly did. And I intend to hold you to it. I'll also remind you that I expressed concern at that time that you might not be strong enough to train him. A concern I still have."
They stood nose to nose until Rodgers made a distressed face and shook his head. "Fine then. I will hold up my end, but I will have my say as well."
Snape crossed his arms and stared down his nose. "Go ahead. I shall duly note whatever you wish."
"Potter is not fit to be in this program. He is a danger to himself being here. How he arranged for field work, I cannot imagine. If you are insisting he stay, it is on your head."
Snape sensed no deception in Rodgers, only annoyance.
Rodgers went on. "Given how protective you are of him, why are you so insistent he remain? I'd have thought you would prefer he convalesce until such time, if it ever arrives, that he is actually fit enough." Rodgers gestured at the wall. "It was only last week he wasn't getting winded doing drills." He stepped right up to Snape. "I have enough trouble keeping these kids safe when they are performing at their best. So, if you want to hold me to this promise, you can take responsibility for Harry. But that still leaves me worrying about one of the others having to make up for a deficient fellow apprentice in the field. If something like that happens, that's on me, Snape."
After a quiet space, Snape said, "Finished?"
Rodgers' shoulders settled lower. "Yes."
Snape leaned closer and lowered his voice. "You don't know a quarter of what Harry can do."
"That is so."
"I've been his trainer for two years and he can do things I don't know about?"
"I insisted he hide his powers from the Ministry. The potential for the Ministry to decide he was much too much of a hazard to keep alive was too great. That concern has been considerably reduced of late."
Rodgers did not respond right away. He fitfully combed his mustache with his fingers. "You're a paranoid one."
"It's kept me alive for two decades. And you are a right one to talk."
Rodgers was the one to look away. He stretched his neck. "And these powers of Harry's?"
"You will see them in due time."
The door opened and Tonks strode in. "Kingsley said the two of you were in here and I imagined the worst."
"He's trying to convince me Harry has powers we don't know about."
Tonks' pink eyebrows shot up. "Is he? Feeling safer now, Severus?" She turned back to Rodgers. "Harry can do some things he's never shown you."
Rodgers crossed his arms. "Besides block curses as they generate? I've seen that."
"Oh yeah, besides that." She propped her hands on her hips. "If you decide to remove Harry from the program, he wants a chance to duel you first."
Rodgers laughed. "Does he?"
"No holds barred," Tonks stated flatly. Then after a beat, she added, "I don't think you'd stand a chance, Reggie."
Rodgers pulled his head back. "I'd love to see that. If he beats me in a no-rules duel, I'll welcome him in whether he ever learns to read and write, let alone talk."
"He's in whether you two duel or not," Snape said easily.
At Tonks' expression of surprise, Rodgers cleared his throat. "Snape and I had a prior agreement."
Tonks said, "For a man with a prior agreement, you certainly managed to get the apprentices siding entirely with Harry, against you."
"I'm not here to be liked." He paced to the door and after glancing at each of them, said, "Tell Harry he can have his duel, whenever he likes." And with that, he tugged the door closed behind him.
At home, Snape casually tugged off his gloves and put each in a pocket while Harry and Candide watched. He unhooked his cloak and shrugged it free of his shoulders.
"How'd it go?" Candide finally asked.
"What? Oh. It went just fine."
The two of them said nothing, just blinked at him.
Snape looked to Harry. "If your trainer gives you any more trouble, you will let me know." He tossed his cloak over his arm. "Oh, and by the way, he is willing to duel you whenever you like, but it isn't necessary, so why don't you wait until there is absolutely no chance he will beat you at it."
Snape went to the drawing room and Candide asked the empty air, "What happened?"
Harry shrugged and followed. Snape was standing at his desk, sorting through parchments from his trunk.
"Your Slytherin friend departed, I assume. Did you finish your readings for tonight?"
"Yes." Harry wanted to wonder aloud how training was going to go the next day, but settled on, "Okay?"
Snape dropped the parchment he held. It sailed to the desk with a gentle rustle. "Your trainer is a bully who happens to be working on the side of good, probably because it gives him more reliable allies and lets him avoid questioning his actions when his conscience does decide to prick him. I am quite familiar with his type. He is easily handled."
Snape smile faintly at Harry. "Trust me a bit, if you would."
Feeling chagrined, Harry smiled back. "Thanks."
"You are quite welcome." His voice caught Harry at the doorway. "Oh, and whenever you are ready for a duel, let me know; I am quite looking forward to it."
Harry turned back and smiled broadly. "Sure."
"Give me a few minutes to organize my things and I'll join you."
"Good too," Harry said.
"Potter did his readings," Rodgers stated the next morning after Harry correctly answered a second question. Their trainer appeared poised to say more, but backed down and turned to ask Aaron about tendon shriveling hexes instead.
"I suppose it's you and me again tonight," Aaron whispered after he survived the next three questions. "Maybe I should have given you a ring instead of Ginny."
Kerry Ann's giggling got her into trouble and she was spell demonstration dummy for the rest of the morning.
Friday, after his field work, Harry made his way to Oxford to tell Elizabeth about the invitation to Freelander's for dinner. He had put it off all week, going for an extra long run every morning to work on his words.
He bit his lip as he rang the bell at her flat. A young woman with a face of flattened features and lots of pink clips in her black hair came to the door.
"Are you Harry?" she asked, when Harry managed, with some tumbled sounds, to ask for Elizabeth. "She's told me all about you, how you arranged to find her funds and everything." She leaned on the door like it was an old friend. "She's not here. She's over at St. Cross using the music room. You know where that is?"
Harry followed the directions and took the stairwell all the way to the top. As he set his hand on the door latch he could hear slow, patient notes. Harry put a Silencing Spell on the door and cracked it open. The stone-framed windows looked out over the spires of Oxford. Harry dragged his attention from this to Elizabeth, bent over the piano, playing along with a little CD player. The tinny notes of the orchestra barely complemented the piano's rich tones which emerged like spring buds stretching as winter's chill departed.
Harry slipped sideways to be more at her back, sitting in a white chair that sat alone against a flat white wall. Her profile had a keen stillness to it when she played, as if everything else in the world had vanished.
The patient notes of the piano grew light and playful but with an undercurrent of melancholy. Harry sat transfixed until jarred by rambling runs of notes interspersed with a march that grew in volume as Elizabeth pounded the keys with her hands held in precise fixed spreads as they moved up and down.
The tinny orchestra questioned and the piano answered, back and forth. Spurts of notes burst from under Elizabeth's fingers, almost discordant, but alternating with playful runs. Harry barely breathed, willing her to go on, although it seemed to be a marathon to continue like this for long.
The CD player took over with grand horns and Elizabeth waited with her hands poised. She joined in, running alongside the orchestra, or running away; it was not clear which. Mournful violins were interspersed with the piano, which wandered its own way, seeming to play a different song.
Harry wondered at the long-dead artist, how he had sent this missive of feeling forward in time. Elizabeth had taken on a huge responsibility to carry the message further, by reanimating it.
The violin and piano lingered together a long time before rising up like rays of sunlight and bursting out in impossible sequences of notes. Elizabeth jerked her head to the side when it seemed she had missed a few, she stopped mid sequence and sat poised to come in again, fingers hammering with precision. The violins and piano answered each other through a dramatic run of chords, hands stretching and shifting up and down, her face a study in stone.
The artist must have been mad to have released this message to the world. He must have been a masochist. Did he expect future pianists to do justice to it? To try at all? Harry rested his head back against the wall, thinking that he may not know Elizabeth really at all. At this moment, she was someone new entirely. Did he seem that way to people, too?
Perhaps he had prejudged her; he certainly had not seen her as someone who would try to
make such a thing new again, alone in a high room with such a view of past glory outside the windows. It wasn't possible to do it justice but she was trying, nevertheless.
Elizabeth's fingers stumbled, but she drove on with the spirit of the piece. Maybe that was what mattered. The occasional broken runs, the toss of the head and the wince, they did not matter. With faithfulness to the spirit alone, the artist's vision was renewed. If Harry could not understand this will to recreate, maybe he did not understand her at all.
Echoing Harry's uncertainty, the music also could not settle on a mood; it went along rambling and happy amid drama and melancholy. Harry hoped he had not made the same mistake in prejudging her that he disliked so keenly when it happened to him.
The piece fell into dappled notes and streaming runs of the fingers, thumb dragged over the keys, pounding chords accompanied by triumphant horns. Elizabeth began to shake her head more often, falling behind the relentless CD. Just like that, she stopped and with a shake of her head, punched the button on the player and the sound stopped.
While stretching her fingers she caught sight of Harry and started. "Oh, Harry! For a second I thought you might be someone else." She hurriedly packed up her music while glancing at her watch. "I'm not late to meet you, am I?"
"'S okay," Harry said, approaching.
Her face brightened. "You're talking. Harry. That's great. Of course, your letters were fine." She looked around the room. "We should go. I'm not supposed to be here, but Friday afternoons are usually empty. I put on an Ignore Me Charm the first two times I had to get around the Accommodation Officer, but I haven't had to do that in a while." She laughed lightly. "I'm probably not supposed to be using one of those for something like this; am I?"
She stood and collected up her things. "My mum used them all the time. Her favorite bit of magic."
She held her music to her chest. "It's good to see you. You look better than I thought you would from your letters. I'm glad you got over all that Voldemort stuff and sorting out your head."
"Me too. What was?" He pointed at the music.
"Liszt. Concerto number two. It's too hard for me though." She smiled with relish as she said this.
Harry kept his side of the conversation to simple answers as they went down the stairs. Elizabeth stopped on a landing and tilted her head to listen. She held out her hand. "Bit far to walk."
They landed amid the dusty workings of a defunct brewery. "Flat's just down the road."
"I like my flat a lot," she said as they walked. "It looks down on a little pub garden. My flatmate doesn't like the noise, but I like the reminder that there are people nearby, having fun."
Harry breathed in the air drifting along the street, it even smelled far removed from everything: London, magic . . . reality.
"I've been wondering since your owl what you wanted to see me about."
Harry took out the letter and handed it to her. She stopped on the pavement and opened it. "Oh, look. I'm glad to get a chance to prove I'm worth the trouble." She gave him a broad smile and held the letter out.
"You can. K-k-keep. It," Harry said, entirely forgetting to try for only a word or two.
She peered at him and put it in her handbag. "All right," she said with a weak smile.
Harry felt his mood sinking, weighted down by that revelation.
When she opened the door of the flat a handsome man in his mid-twenties sauntered out of the sitting area and leaned on the doorframe. He wore black, but not like a wizard wore it. He wore it tight and in a random mixture of textures and sparkling bits of metal. And his eyebrows and ears were full of silver piercings, which glittered against his pale skin.
"Hi, luv, this the bloke?"
"This is Harry. Yes. How'd you get in?"
"Darla was on 'er way out."
"Oh," Elizabeth said, seeming to take her time putting her music away in the crooked shelving that narrowed the corridor nearly in half.
Harry was realizing this was not Darla's boyfriend as he had first assumed. "Whozis?" Harry resisted biting his lip. "This?" His heart had sped up, which maddened him.
Still fussing with her music sheets, Elizabeth said, "This is Colden. Sorry, Colden, Harry. Colden." She added with false brightness, "Harry came to invite me to Lord Freelander's for dinner. I think he wants to check up on me."
Colden leaned even more on the doorframe, tilting his head as if to get a new vantage point. His features were too soft for his sense of fashion. "Harry, here or Lord Freemoney."
"Don't call him that."
Colden looked Harry up and down distastefully a second time and asked, "Are we going to The Coven tonight, luv?"
Harry started at this, certain he was not magical. He worried Elizabeth was breaking even more rules. "You. Go. Where?"
"It's an ordinary club," Elizabeth said. "I was going to spend the afternoon with Harry. I said that." She marched between them and into the apartment. Her posture did not invite anyone to follow.
"So, what's your story?" Colden asked Harry as he played with a zipper on his sleeve.
Still looking for some emotional footing, and appalled at hearing himself, Harry did not reply. He listened to Elizabeth moving around in her bedroom, feeling hollow.
"She's on about you all the time, but never will say anything in particular." He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his sleeve pocket and waved his other pale, bony hand. "She made you sound so mysterious. Well, I thought it was all mysterious. Didn't realize she just didn't want to say you were a windowlicker. Makes sense coming all this way just to hand over a letter."
Harry stared at him. Elizabeth came back. "Sorry, Harry. Let's go down to a cafe, okay?"
Harry was like stone when she took his arm.
"What's wrong?" She looked between them, expressing concern. She petted Harry's arm. "We just go to clubs and things. It's not serious or anything. Come on."
Harry felt for the handle of his wand in his pocket and let her turn him toward the door.
"Have fun," Colden said, tapping a cigarette on his hand. "Have a nice time chatting."
Harry spun with a Mutoshorum already half cast, then without breaking the wand's motion, hit him with a Memory Charm. The cigarette tumbled to the rug.
Harry Apparated them both back to the defunct brewery, breathing heavily. He put his wand away and peeled her fingers from his arm while stepping back.
"You didn't want him to know you were there?" she asked, confused.
Harry did not reply. He felt heavy, like the dusty copper boilers and the sagging piping surrounding them.
Badly needing distance to think, he held a hand up when she tried to step closer. He shook his head.
"Do you want to go to a pub instead? You look like you could use a drink."
Harry shook his head and made a hand motion for her to cease. He drew in a long breath and held it. Somewhere inside him there was stability, rational thought, but he could not find it.
He opened his mouth to say he needed to go, but closed it again without speaking. He made the same ceasing gesture again and stepped back again.
"Are you going?"
Harry nodded, relieved she had caught on.
"Are you going to escort me to Freelander's next week? I don't know where he is."
"You'll come that night, a little before?" She sounded sad.
Harry nodded again and gave a half hearted wave before he Disapparated.
At home, Harry leaned on the dining room table, letting the quiet familiarity of the place wrap him up.
Minutes later Snape's robes rustled in the doorway.
"Everything all right?"
Harry pushed straight, not wanting to appear as broken down as he felt.
Harry tossed his hands. "She's. Dating. Som'ne. Else."
Snape pulled back. "Oh."
Harry wanted to blame Snape for making him wait, which gave someone else room to push in, but really that wasn't the entire explanation. She didn't like him as much as he liked her, that was the explanation.
"I'm surprised to hear that," Snape said. "And regretful."
Rather than stumble over more words, Harry went by him into the main hall, looking for a distraction. He could sense that Snape had followed and felt him watching him flip through the stacks of books.
"Are you going to be all right?"
Harry shrugged, then realized that was childish and turned and nodded.
"I do regret this turn, Harry."
Harry managed a small smile of understanding.
Snape said, "I need to go to Hogwarts to take over my house from Remus as he will shortly be indisposed. I will be gone for the night and probably the next few days." He watched Harry. "You are truly all right?"
"Yes," Harry said, mostly moving his lips his voice came out so faint.
"If you need me, you know where to find me. I'd prefer you interrupt me than do anything rash." He waited half a minute before stepping to the drawing room.
After a moment, Harry strode that way and came right up to Snape as he arranged parchments in a small trunk.
"Remus," Harry said.
Snape stared at him before resuming his sorting. "You are going to resolve your emotional upheaval that way, are you?"
Harry remained in place.
"My vow still stands. If you require reanimation it will be the last time I allow it."
Harry continued to fix his gaze on him.
The trunk snapped closed, Snape took up a scrap of parchment to jot out a note. He drew Franklin onto his arm and swept from the room saying, "In that case, I will instruct Candide to remain at her sister's for the night."
Harry took up the trunk and followed him, handing it over after the owl was coaxed into the Floo Network.
Snape called, "Winky, bring Master Harry a snack."
After Harry had eaten three slices of marmalade on toast, Snape said, "Ready?"
"Are you refraining from speaking again?" Snape cocked his head. "What else happened this evening?"
"Nothin'," Harry said, determined to shake off the mockery.
"I do not believe you." But he held out the tin.
At Hogwarts, Snape rapped on Lupin's door and opened it without waiting for a response.
Lupin looked up from where he sat in the pool of light from a tall lamp. "Oh good, I was hoping for some help this evening, Severus. Minerva warned me she had you monopolized. Oh. Harry. Good evening to you."
"I will fetch Minerva," Snape said.
Harry stepped inside alone. The desk held disordered stacks of files and draft examinations.
Lupin bent back to his task. "His other duties notwithstanding, Severus will have to take over tomorrow."
Harry circled around behind him and held his hand out over Lupin's back, not touching. The cursedness hovered in palpable waves above him, drawn up by the gravity of the moon's imminent rising. Harry pulled his hand back when Lupin glanced at the clock. Lupin turned a sad smile at Harry before bending over his quill again.
With a knock, Snape returned. McGonagall remained near the door, her eyes bright and interested. Harry assumed Snape had informed her what was to happen. Snape pulled a chair into the center of the floor and said to McGonagall. "If you would transfigure this into a love seat or fainting couch, or the like."
Without waiting for a response, Snape stepped up to the desk. "Remus, I made a promise to Harry I don't intend to break, which means you must humor me a few minutes so that I may fulfill it." He gestured behind him. "If you would come over here."
Lupin looked to McGonagall before dropping his quill on the blotter. "You are the one who will have to finish setting the examination, Severus, so I would be quite grateful for a break at your discretion."
With good humor, Lupin sat upon the gold leafed settee and put his hands on his knees. Harry stood before him. Remembering the werewolf in the Dark Plane, he gestured at his own robes and Snape said, "Harry wants you to loosen your robes and I assume, your shirt and tie."
This brought a raised brow, but Lupin tugged his tie off and tossed it onto his desk. As he unbuttoned his shirt he said, "Going to lose them in an hour anyway."
Harry sat beside him, relaxing, letting the aversion flow through him, narrowing his thoughts as if for Occlumency. McGonagall stepped around to the desk chair and Snape took a few steps backward.
Lupin's voice was soft. "Harry?"
Lupin glanced at the others when Harry did not rise out of his meditation. It felt good to willfully ignore Elizabeth and her noxious friend. The rest of the day had slipped from his worries and only the prospect of helping Lupin filled him now. He felt free, despite the challenge.
Without looking at him, Harry took Lupin by the shoulder and steered him to sit back into the corner of the settee. He could find him by feel, the curse was rising so fiercely. Lupin resisted at first then with a crooked smile, gave in.
"Please cooperate, Remus," Snape said.
Lupin tossed his hands, clearly thinking them all mad. Harry placed his hand on Lupin's bare collar bone, feeling the curse like stinging nettle reaching the marrow of his finger bones. In an hour Lupin would transform. Remembering the feel of fur fading under his fingers when he cured the werewolf in the Dark Plane, Harry wondered if it would work better to wait. But he could try now while Snape would definitely help him, and if he failed, again later with any help he could arrange.
Harry shifted his hands to Lupin's ribs, finding what seemed to be the core of the curse. Lupin's skin was warm from his robes.
"What is Harry doing?" Lupin asked.
Snape said, "A few minutes more, Remus."
McGonagall sounded curt. "Humor them, as Severus suggests, Remus."
Harry closed his eyes and ignored everything except the curse and what he sensed of it through his fingers. He pushed some of the surface curse aside to better feel the shape of the deeper curse. Perhaps he should cure the surface one first and then the inner one. With that notion, Harry pushed the surface curse further away from the core, which was not too difficult, but it would only go so far. It began to draw back in, as if tied to the deeper curse by elastic.
Harry let the surface curse creep inward until it no longer fought him, then he reached in deeper to clear the inner curse as well, just at the core of Lupin's radiance.
Lupin gasped and laid a hand over one of Harry's.
"Don't interfere, whatever you do." This was McGonagall.
Harry pushed the surface curse farther, then the inner, then the surface, inch by inch. At first, it was tedious more than difficult. But by the time the curse was only in Lupin's extremities, Harry was breathing harshly. By degrees the curse was losing its grip, but the sphere of pressure Harry had to maintain was growing unmanageably large, given the tenacity of the combined curses.
Harry's sweaty hand slipped and the curse snapped back. Like a Quidditch Keeper, Harry had to catch it and keep it away from Lupin's core. Given that the smallest infected area would recontaminate his entire body, every last shred of sinew and skin had to be cleared, all at once, a task that felt near impossible as Harry sat hunched beside him, strength fading.
If Harry had not been leaning on Lupin, he would have lost all sense of up and down. He was almost clear: the curse was feathery, fighting at Lupin's fingers and toes, and his ears, oddly enough. But this last push was always the hardest.
Harry pressed his hands into Lupin's ribs hard enough to deform them. Lupin reached for Harry's arm, then jerked away. Harry heard him gasp and move his arms. He imagined Lupin was staring at his hands.
"Don't move," Snape whispered.
Harry drew in a deep breath and shoved. It would have to be enough, he would have nothing left it if failed.
The paired curses tattered and contorted, then broke into wisps and dissipated. The world spiraled in and Harry folded.
"What does he need?" This was McGonagall. "I can fetch Pomfrey."
Fingers were on his neck and Harry's arms were tangled in someone else's warm limbs.
"Nothing, it seems. His heart is still beating. If you can stand, Remus, would you mind freeing up the couch?"
"Here, Remus," McGonagall said and bodies shifted around Harry.
Harry fought being laid back. He opened his eyes only to have them filled with the colors of a Health Indificator. Harry pushed himself to sit up, then had to grab Snape's arm to overcome a wave of dizziness. Snape lowered himself to sit close beside him, steadying him.
"Don't you dare get up," Snape said in his ear.
Lupin was leaning against his desk with his shirt hanging lose, staring at his hands. "Harry cured my non-cycle lyncanthropy?"
Snape said, "I expect Harry cured all of your Lyncanthropy."
Harry tried to rock to his feet despite being held back. He wanted to feel if Lupin was completely clear, but he could not break Snape's hold, so he gave up and he reached out a hand instead.
Snape said, "Remus if you would come closer."
Lupin stepped forward uncertainly and lowered his hands into Harry's.
There was nothing. He felt perfectly ordinary. Harry grinned broadly.
Lupin stared back before turning to Snape. Voice barely audible, he said, "He cured it all?"
Lupin's gaze moved over Harry's face. "That's not possible. There is no cure."
Snape pressed Harry back against the settee. "Stay," he commanded. "Or I will ground you for a week." Then he stood and steered Lupin to the desk chair.
"There's no cure," Lupin repeated.
"There appears to be one now," McGonagall said. She was giving Harry thoughtful consideration from where she leaned against the side of Lupin's desk.
"Harry cannot do this often, unless he gets much stronger." To Lupin, he said, "Where is the bottle of Wolfsbane?"
Lupin dazedly reached, but McGonagall was first to pull a stone bottle from the bottom desk drawer. Snape took up a pen knife and wrapped his own hand around Lupin's to prick his finger. Blood spattered onto a clean sheet of parchment. With an expert movement, Snape flipped the potion bottle side to side while holding the stopper, then lifted the stopper and shook a single drop from it onto the spattering of blood.
Nothing happened. McGonagall leaned over the desk and adjusted her glasses to better peer at it.
"You are cured," Snape said curtly.
Lupin stared at the stained parchment before turning to Harry.
Snape stoppered the bottle and set it aside. "Harry has a way with curses."
Lupin gaped at Snape as he returned to Harry, then closed his mouth and stared at his hands and Harry, alternately. "I can't believe it."
"Wait approximately thirty five minutes, in that case." Snape tugged his robes up and sat beside Harry.
Harry couldn't interpret his guardian's expression at all. It seemed both distant and keen, as if he were seeing something far away by studying the details of Harry's face.
He put his hand on Harry's shoulder and tugged him to sit back beside him. "You are resting, remember."
Harry let his head tip back against the couch, finding a niche for it between the swirls of decorative upholstery. At the desk, Lupin wrapped the flaps of his shirt around himself with his arms and held them that way. He pinned a pained gaze on the stained parchment still before him.
"How is it possible?" he whispered.
McGonagall patted him on the shoulder. "I am expecting a visit from the Head Girl and Boy before curfew, so I must return to my office. I'm very happy for you Remus, and very grateful to you, Harry. And Severus, for allowing this, I suspect against your instincts." She smiled at them all.
Snape said, "I wish to keep this quiet. As long as possible."
"Understood, Severus. And good night. And thank you." At the door, she said, "Come up and see me, Remus, before you retire."
Lupin peered after her and did not respond until the door closed. "I'll try."
Harry's heart still fluttered, out of step with his breathing. Relaxing to give his heart a break, he tried to keep his mind in place, to not dwell on Elizabeth. The anticipation of Lupin's complete belief was only half holding him in the present.
Lupin stood and went to the window, where he propped his hands on the sill and leaned toward the glass.
"Twenty-seven minutes," Snape said.
Harry leaned forward to stand, and Snape pulled him back and put an arm around him to hold him in place.
Lupin turned at looked at them, staring dazedly, especially at Snape. "We've all become someone else."
Lupin sounded so lost, Harry broke his silence. "'S okay."
"And Harry is talking," Lupin said.
"Bit," Harry said, voice rough.
Snape pulled Harry's head down against his shoulder. When Lupin continued to stare, Snape said, "I had the advantage of being un-cursed well before you, Remus. It isn't as bad as you might think."
Harry closed his eyes, transported back to St. Mungo's and the frantic desperation of healing his guardian.
"Sorry, Harry. I forgot." Snape said.
But in the wake of sending Voldemort to the Dark Plane, Harry must have been mostly himself, because the re-emerging emotion did not strangle him, or maybe it was the reassuring solidity beside him. He straightened as much as he was allowed to, acting recovered. Lupin resumed his seat and picked up an examination paper and set it back down again.
It was Snape, long minutes later, who waved down the lamp, letting the silvery blue light into the room. Lupin gasped, raising his arm to shrink from it. Ever so slowly, he stood, barely visible in the poor light. Harry sat forward, wanting to help him, but knowing he needed to come to terms with this new reality on his own.
A shadow moved to block the moonlight strengthening in the window. Lupin stood there, shirt open, arms lax at his sides.
"It can't be."
Harry moved to stand and was restrained. "I will," Snape said, pushing to his feet.
"You must be convinced by now," Snape said as he joined Lupin at the window.
Lupin spun away from the window and stumbled toward the desk. The lamp came up suddenly and Snape stood in the light holding his wand aimed at it. He put his wand away and remained near Lupin.
Lupin crept to the lamp, bent over his hands. He held that way a long time.
"I don't know how to thank you, Harry."
"Pamela," Harry said.
Lupin looked up sharply at Snape. "You knew all along." He deflated and leaned on the desk. "She's expecting me half past four, at moonset." He glanced at his hands again. "Maybe I'll go a little earlier. If you will be here. At least she'll be getting a visit from a man instead of a creature." He bit his lip and looked up at Harry through the pool of light from the single lamp. "I owe you so much, Harry."
Harry reached out and tugged on Snape's sleeve to get his attention and thought something at him, something about how pleased he imagined his father and Sirius would be if they knew.
"You wish me to say that?" Snape asked.
Harry frowned at him, feigning insult. He hated how he was going to sound. "Dad. My dad. Seer . . . Happy."
With a huff, Snape cut in. "What Harry is trying to say. Is. He is happy just knowing how pleased he imagines Black and Potter would be if they knew."
Lupin's brow furrowed. "Harry didn't completely de-curse you, did he?"
Snape tapped Harry on the shoulder and gestured sharply for him to stand. "Why don't you get on your way, Remus. I will finish the examinations. And Harry can go home and rest."
Harry stood and came around the desk and gave Lupin a hug, pleased by the pure feel of him.
"Your odd behavior makes much more sense now, Harry." He pinched Harry's arm. "It's good to have you back, too."
Lupin arrived with a pop! in the darkness of Pamela's sitting room, making her jerk awake where she lay on the couch.
"Remus," she mumbled and reached for the light. "I must have overslept."
The light flickered and went out when she turned the switch. "Nothing works right after you Apparate in, anymore." She and a bundle of covers shifted off the couch. "Here, sit down. I'll make you something to eat."
"It's fine," he said, reaching to turn the light off when the bulb started to glow and sizzle.
He sat beside her, hands on his knees.
She sniffled and rubbed her face. "You must be hungry, aren't you?"
"I'm fine at the moment."
She gave a huff. "You really hate being taken care of. Still. I don't know why. I don't mind doing it."
The streetlight was shining through the house, making her profile just visible. He reached up and pushed her hair back from her face. She smelled flat. He might miss having attenuated senses, at least at moments like this.
She leaned into the attention and he put an arm around her.
She sniffled again and yawned. "Sorry, I feel like I just fell asleep, or something."
He turned his nose so that it pressed into her hair. It let him smell her fully.
"Pamela," he said, voice low in the quiet house. "You wish . . . for something more?" His heart rate increased as he spoke. He was not going to let Severus Snape be right; he would not acknowledge having hidden behind his condition, if he could at all help it.
She lowered her head more so they fit together better. "I do." She sounded unhopeful.
She raised her head, but in the low light, there was no possibility she could see him clearly. "Because you aren't like anyone I've ever met. And I love you for it."
"I don't care about that. I've never cared. You care enough for the whole world, Remus."
"The world cares. My world cares, especially."
Her arm snaked behind his back and pulled tight.
"I don't care about the risks. I want to have little wizard children. Lots of them." She sounded oddly like a child as she said this.
After a long pause, she said, "Don't you?"
"I've never considered it long. I did not like growing up very much."
She made a sad noise, then rubbed her eyes, but possibly because she was tired. "I wish I could change the past for you Remus. Or just be there for you."
"Don't. I had friends. Very good friends."
"But they're all dead now."
"They were there when I needed them most. I can't honor their memory more than to remember that friendship. And I seem to have traded my old enemies in for new friends."
Snape tricking him into promising that he would marry Pamela if he were not a werewolf brought back nearly forgotten waves of memories, of James and Sirius cajoling and tricking him into living a real life.
He returned to this life, here, now. "But I don't want you to pity the childhood me anymore than I want you to pity the current me." He stiffened as he said this and she responded to this by sitting upright.
"I really should get you something to eat before you collapse and sleep for days."
He pulled her close again, this time with both arms. It startled him how much fear a wide open future could reveal. "I want to ask you something first."
Her voice was muffled by his robes. "If you insist."
He remembered the moment he made the promise to Snape. The promise had something stronger than magic behind it, and he felt more bolstered by friendship than he had since James had died. He did not have to be alone.
"Will you marry me?"
She jerked in his arms. "Remus. Really?"
"I really would not say it if I did not mean it. I don't know why you would agree to it, however."
"That's because you have issues."
"Not being human is a significant issue."
She struck him on the arm. "You are the sweetest man I've ever met. You have a funny way of defining human."
"Being a werewolf makes one a controlled magical creature. That's the term."
She sounded angry. "That's because wizards are inhuman."
"Yet you want to have lots of little ones around," he said this carefully. He didn't really want an argument on this point, but he could not let the contradiction lie.
"Any kids I raise would respect everyone. Like the friends you went to school with. Like Harry's father."
"James did not respect everyone, I'm afraid. But that's a different story." He leaned over and reached for the chain on the lamp. "Are you saying yes by the way?"
She sat up with her hand pressed to his chest. "To marrying you? Of course, you nut."
He pulled the chain on the light.
"Can I make you something to eat now?"
"I don't need anything. Look at the clock."
Pamela blinked in the light and turned to find the clock on the end table. "Eleven thirty?"
"You are tired because you haven't slept." He pushed to his feet. "Do you have any champagne or shall I fetch some?"
She stared at the clock. The second hand ticked five clicks. "I don't get it. Isn't it the full moon tonight?"
"It is." He held out his hands, palms up. "I'm no longer a werewolf."
She blinked at him, still squinting in the light. "But I . . . I thought nothing could be done."
"That's what I thought. You can blame your cousin, Harry, for my mistake. He cured me before I could transform this evening." Lupin tried very hard to say that levelly, casually, but it did not work. His voice faltered.
She rushed to her feet and took hold of his arms. "Remus! Harry cured you?"
Lupin nodded, not trusting his voice. "I could not bear to be a husband to anyone the way I was."
Her hands rocked his arms via the grip on his sleeves and she sounded ready to cry. "I really didn't care, Remus. But how did Harry do that?"
"He can manipulate dark magic, directly. I suspect he can do a lot of other things as well. Severus has been very secretive about Harry's magic, but now that Harry is completely free of Voldemort . . . he's letting him use it more. At least, that's my impression." He gently pulled himself free of her grasp.
"But, really, I must go fetch some champagne."