On Tuesday after training, Harry asked Kerry Ann if she would accompany him to visit the Muggle girl, thinking she would seem more approachable than he. Kerry Ann's eyes lit up, and she asked Harry for every detail on the way to the lifts. Harry was grateful when they arrived, as he had run out of information before they even left the Ministry.
Josephine answered the knock on the door and stepped back to let them in. Every flat surface in the sitting room had a tall painted statue on it of people doing something: dancing or just posing. The effect was of constant motion swimming out of stillness. A vague taintedness hovered in the still air along with the movement.
"Come in, please. We just got back from St. Mungo's and haven't settled in yet." She bent to turn up the lamps on each end of the couch, which threw light on a dark haired girl standing in the doorway to the next room, shoulders hunched. "This is Natalie."
Natalie looked at each of them twice and her shoulders relaxed. Kerry Ann slipped in ahead of Harry and bent before the girl. "Hi, Natalie. We're friends of Josephine's. We just came to say hello today."
"Hi," Natalie said.
Josephine said to Harry, "Have a seat. I'll get us all some tea. She's not really shy. Just give her a minute."
Harry moved the chair by the wall closer to the coffee table and sat down slowly, like dealing with one of Hagrid's creatures, making no sudden moves. Kerry Ann guided the girl to the couch.
"I'm okay," the girl said, sounding annoyed with them as she pushed back and got comfortable.
Kerry Ann gave Harry a wink.
"You got hurt there," Kerry Ann said, indicating her bandaged arm.
Natalie hugged her arm to her stomach then let it down again. "There was a big dog. It was really angry." She looked between them with bright eyes. "And now I can't see my mum anymore."
"You will soon," Kerry Ann said.
"Jo said adults don't know about magic. But she's an adult."
Josephine returned with a tray of teacups and biscuits. "I might not have explained things clearly enough." She seemed to want to say more, but started pouring out tea instead.
"We wanted you to meet Harry," Kerry Ann said. "He's going cure you on the full moon."
The girl looked at him. "Does Harry talk?"
Kerry Ann covered her mouth to wipe away a laugh. "Not as much as he used to. He likes questions with short answers. Maybe you can ask him something."
"Are you magical?"
"Yes," Harry said.
To Kerry Ann, she said. "You're right. He can talk."
Josephine said, "I explained a little to her, but she's not heard exactly what happens at the full moon."
"What IS going to happen?" Natalie asked.
"Nothing is going to happen," Josephine said. "Just Harry curing you."
Natalie's brows knitted. "Something would happen, right? The doctors said something would." She bit her lips, face growing more concerned.
"Why not be honest. With her?" Harry asked.
Josephine took up a tea cup in both hands. "Seems unnecessary to frighten her."
"Unknown is frightening," Harry said. "More frightening. I know." He pointed at his own chest, then thought he should relax.
Kerry Ann took Natalie's hand and glanced at Josephine for permission. At Josephine's one shouldered shrug, Kerry Ann said, "If Harry didn't cure you, you'd turn into an angry dog like the one that bit you."
Natalie shook her head. "That's not what the doctors said. That's not what they said at all." The two of them had a staring contest. "They said I would die."
"Um . . . " At Josephine's nod, Kerry Ann added, "Josephine agrees with that. That's right. You're not magical." She spoke slowly. "You would die trying to turn into a dog. Most likely you wouldn't be strong enough to handle the curse awakening. It's not going to happen though. So don't worry about it."
Natalie rescued her hand from Kerry Ann and sat back with her small arms crossed. "I wouldn't mind being a dog."
Josephine said, "I want to make sure she knows Harry very well. So I hope you can stay a while."
Kerry Ann sat back beside Natalie. "Ask Harry another yes or no question. About anything."
"Do you have a girlfriend?"
The indignant Natalie said, "What kind of answer is that?"
Kerry Ann replied, "Harry has about seven girls who want to be, I think. He just has to choose between them."
"Not seven," Harry said.
"Shall we count them?" Kerry Ann offered.
Harry said, "No."
"Are you one?" Natalie asked Kerry Ann.
Kerry Ann said, "No."
Natalie lifted her elbows and crossed her arms again. "I don't believe you."
- 888 -
Harry propped the handle of his Firebolt on his foot and Apparated for the Bodmin Quidditch pitch. He was a bit late, and only a handful of people were still on the ground putting on gear. A small figure on a long black broom swooped down, white ponytail flying.
"Hey Harry. If you want to play Chaser there is still a spot on the black team." Someone else shouted from above, and with an unseen tweak of her broom handle, Suze rushed back up to playing height.
Harry secured his gloves better and mounted his broomstick. As he sailed upward, Suze approached and the others gathered around. Suze made introductions for the players Harry didn't know.
"I told Harry he could play Chaser," she informed the others.
"Little rusty," Harry warned them.
"We play to win," Wereporridge said derisively, glancing back and forth between Harry and Suze and frowning.
"So do I," Harry said, pleased that came out so naturally. It must be the fresh air and the feeling of floating free on a broomstick.
Harry soon realized that his flying for field work was not keeping him in real flying shape. He felt reckless on his first barrel-roll pass to Wereporridge, who was making a rising run in front of the goal posts. The shot missed, but Wereporridge pointed at himself as if to say it was his fault.
It didn't matter since Suze caught the Snitch ten minutes into the match.
"Maybe you should tie one hand behind your back like last week," one of the blue team said.
Suze tossed the Snitch free over her shoulder and shrugged while smiling broadly. The golden ball zipped off out of sight.
"Two out of three catches?" said a middle-aged man in a blue cloak riding a very nice custom broomstick.
Harry was finally feeling comfortable maneuvering at the full capability of his broomstick when Suze caught the Snitch again. However, the insides of his thighs were not happy about his increasingly aggressive flying.
"Let's take the Snitch out," The middle-aged man suggested.
Suze shrugged and pocketed the Snitch. "I'll coach," she said amiably. "We'll just run set plays. One per side then break again to huddle." The blue team sailed to the other end of the pitch and Suze proceeded to diagram plays on her palm. "Harry, you've taken only two shots." She waited as if for an answer as to why.
Harry didn't actually know why, and thought that pondering it would be unnecessarily distracting right now.
Suze went on, "Werey, and Marks, you run a spear up the middle and Harry, come in from the right at four o'clock and feint a broken three-fork play, then double back. One of you get him the Quaffle between the middle and right rings, okay? Then run a pincer because they'll give the Quaffle to Boris after the score."
They ran this play and Harry had such an open shot at the right ring he felt bad tossing the Quaffle through. He joined the pincer maneuver barreling down on the middle-aged player, but only Harry's broomstick was fast enough. He got jostled into the path of a Bludger, and couldn't roll to absorb it because there wasn't space to, and he took a breath-sucking hit to the ribs. After this, Harry happily shot at every ring, open or not.
After an hour of running plays, they paused yet again to huddle. Both teams gathered in their ends and Suze diagramed a play almost too complicated to follow. Wereporridge shook his head. Harry said, "Fake double not work. Won't follow. They won't." He pointed at the other team, gritting his teeth in frustration at his inability to communicate. He had been holding back on making suggestions for exactly that reason.
Suze stared at him, not understanding. A long silence followed while the others glanced at Harry and away or stared at the ends of their broomsticks.
Suze brightened. "Oh, you mean like the double reverse serpent play we tried where they never fell for the first reverse and we got clobbered? Right."
Harry sighed in relief and Suze gave them a simpler play.
"This is for the match guys," she said, pumping her fist once in encouragement and returning to hovering over the stands.
Simple or not, the play broke when Marks took a Bludger to the shin. A blue team Chaser caught the Quaffle on a scoop dive and tossed it backwards to the Keeper so they could set up their play. As soon as he saw the middle-aged player come in from the right to accept the Quaffle on a shuttle pass from the Keeper and the other Chasers come through on rising crossing routes, Harry knew what they were going to run. All afternoon he had been reacting, following predetermined routes, making the best of his better broomstick. But this time, the bruising from the Bludgers, the soreness in his hands and forearms, even the light mist coming in on a freshening wind combined to unlock something in his mind and he just knew.
Without consciously doing so, he was steering to the lower left of the pitch, below the blue Beater on that side. The Beater dropped, trying to pinch him against the ground out of the play. He heard Suze shouting a warning, which Harry heeded on his own schedule, after the heavy-set Beater was too low to recover. Harry violently backed up and rose fast enough he hit his chin on the broom handle. The black Beaters adjusted to the attack, falling for the feint of the right and center blue Chasers. Before the opposing Chasers veered back to their new formation, Harry was only a few feet from intercepting them, sailing at the top speed of his broom. When it was passed, the Quaffle landed in Harry's arms, which he had formed into a basket for the catch, pinching the broomstick between his knees to steer. He didn't feel any soreness, anywhere, only the way his speed sucked the air from his lungs. Only one Beater had a shot at him and that was hurried and flew wide. Harry rolled, feinted twice to clear the Keeper from the center ring, and tossed the Quaffle through with an almost lazy throw.
As soon as Harry landed, Suze was upon him. He picked her up to take the strain off his neck where she was hanging and gave her a hug as the others landed to celebrate. Suze said something as Harry put her back on the ground, but he didn't hear it. He bent to listen and she said, "Glad you came, Harry." She smiled slyly. "I don't think we would have won without you." She hit him on the arm chummily.
"Glad to help," Harry said, feeling they were playing a kind of game. He wanted to kiss her, but her eyes gave away a desire for distance. Wereporridge was standing nearby, staring. Suze glanced his way with a flat smile and Harry let her go.
"You're a good coach," Harry said to her.
"Why thank you. Tell that to Furner, the Slytherin Captain, won't you?"
"I shall. I'm sure I'll be seeing him soon. I'm sure," Harry said with a bow that made her giggle.
They chatted in the same formally chummy vein, complimenting each other while the other players stepped in and mingled, complaining or congratulating. Evening was getting on and Harry's stomach noticed he was missing dinner. He had heavy thoughts of his readings and declined the invitation to a pub.
"See you, Harry," Suze said and Disapparated with her friends.
Harry turned to get some space to depart and found himself facing Wereporridge, who wore a sour expression like only a Slytherin could. He pounded his broomstick handle on the ground a few times and lumbered off and Disapparated, mid-step.
- 888 -
Thursday during training, Harry received another silver message. They were doing weightlifting and physical drills and Harry stepped aside to let Kerry Ann take his place practicing holds on Vineet.
"Shall we put in a special log book just for Potter's lady troubles?" Rodgers asked as Harry read the message. "There are channels for summoning Aurors. Your friends do realize that, right?"
It was just past eleven o'clock. The message simply read: fiancé is here. There was no indication of urgency. Harry tossed the note aside and it dissolved before it hit the floor. The twins could handle things until lunch.
Harry took over doing bench presses. He hadn't adjusted the weight after Tridant used it, and it sank to his bruised ribcage before he caught it and held his breath to raise it. In another Plane, he and Indigo were together. And while that recommendation of her had enormous appeal, he really needed to let it go; it was clouding his thoughts and mixing up his motives and he really couldn't afford that.
Harry Disapparated as soon as Aaron stood up to go to lunch. He Apparated into the upstairs corridor of the Leaky Cauldron, intending to arrive at the twins' shop by normal means. The shop was open and the windows clear of fog. Indigo was sitting behind the counter on a stool and a sandy haired man with a warm tan was leaning on the other side of it, watching her. He turned when one of the twins said, "Harry's here."
Luke Pegus stood straight as Harry approached, eyes full of respect. "You really do have Harry Potter coming," he said to no one in particular.
Harry came up to the counter. Indigo hadn't raised her eyes, just sat with a licorice dragon crawling around in her hands.
"Harry and Fred and George are looking after me. I'm not on my own here," Indigo said with a gentle levelness that made Harry understand how his counterpart might fall for her. "Let me take care of what I need to."
After a long time, Luke said, "Mr. Potter's here now. What is it you need to get straight? I have to take you home."
Indigo raised her eyes to Luke. They were hard as glass, and Luke pushed off the counter. Harry heard him swallow hard.
Indigo said, "You don't trust me any more than my brother does. I'm glad I learned that now."
Luke sighed melodically and stared at the ceiling. He looked at each of them, then in a low voice said, "Why don't you trust me enough to tell me what is going on?" He let that hang and then turned and walked out. The shop door jingled as it fell closed.
"He'll be back. Thanks for coming," Indigo said to Harry, dropping her gaze as if a little shy. "Sorry I yelled at you. Fred and George explained how your magic works. I thought you had hit Ned with something and given who you are . . . well, that would be like picking on someone too weak to fight back."
Harry stood there, leaning on the counter, considering that he could take her to lunch, probably swing her feelings away from Luke at least a little bit. He nodded, like a bow, and stepped back.
"Training," he said. "Have to go. Message if need." After taking in the twins with a glance, he returned to the Ministry.
- 888 -
Friday morning after his run, Harry fetched the chess set from the drawing room and hovered it beside the couch. It vibrated a bit, so he brought a side table over instead. Snape watched all this but did not comment, just set his journals aside.
Harry moved a different pawn forward than usual, the one before the rook. He didn't have a plan, just wanted to see if his mind would come up with one if he started out differently.
Harry lost but not as badly as he usually did. He slowly reset the pieces, and lost again, but he was seeing why this time, several moves before it happened. He set up for a third game and moved the pawn before the queen.
Snape didn't make a move, just sat watching Harry.
"Game," Harry said, then realized he was talking sloppily out of laziness and because he knew he would be understood. "We're playing a game. Not . . . . analyzing Harry."
Snape sat back. "I am always analyzing Harry. You are doing much better."
Harry waited as patiently as possible for Snape to make a move before prompting, "You aren't going. To play?"
Snape waited longer, studying him, and Harry knew Snape would win at that so he gave a huff of frustration.
Snape said, "I am curious what brought this on."
Harry sat stubbornly for a while, staring at the chess board. "Quidditch." He adjusted the queen's pawn more to the center of its space and tried again. "Your move."
Snape sat forward. "Interesting. When are you playing next?"
Harry wouldn't mind seeing Suze again. "Tuesday."
"A better therapy than Muggle films."
- 888 -
Josephine's flat was lit by a pair of hanging oil lamps. She bowed them inside with a whispered greeting that reminded Harry of a funeral. Natalie sat on the couch fiddling with her fingers.
"How are you?" Harry asked as he crouched before her. The tables had been cleared away and the rug on the floor was wide open.
"I feel really weird," Natalie said, then took a deep breath. She looked up at Snape taking a position by the door. "Who's that?" she asked sharply.
"My dad," Harry said.
"Oh," Natalie said, relaxing.
Harry took the girl's hand, the curse felt like it floated around her rather than inside her. Perhaps that was the case for the first time, before tissues had ever been transformed. "Time?"
"Twenty six minutes until moonrise," Snape said.
Natalie watched Snape for a bit, then leaned forward to whisper in Harry's ear, "Your dad is scary looking."
Smiling faintly, Harry rose to sit on the couch beside her. The curse felt so loose he was tempted to try pushing it free right away. He should have touched her on the previous visit, he may have noticed that earlier.
Josephine sat on a chair pulled close to the couch, her knees almost touching Natalie's shins where they extended off the cushion.
"Harry has to touch you to cure you. It's all right. I'm here. And I'll be here as long as I can."
"I like Harry," Natalie said simply.
Harry put a hand on her abdomen, under the oversized shirt she wore, apparently one of Josephine's. Having two hands on her made it even clearer how loose the curse was. Harry closed his eyes and pushed it aside, like pushing a shadow away. It fluttered and weakened. This wasn't at all like the others. He held it aside that way until it shrank down to only the barest fetidness. Then pushed it farther and held it there where it was clear of the girl. It wavered and vanished. Harry waited, Squelching just a bit, just in case it tried to regenerate. Many breaths later, there was no feeling of cursedness, and he withdrew his hands.
"That didn't hurt at all," Natalie said.
"I don't think it's over, dear."
"It is," Harry said. He stroked Natalie on the head, just to be certain, but there was nothing. No curse, and no magic.
"You are certain?" Snape asked.
"Much easier," Harry said. "Not part of her."
Snape raised his chin. "Of course. She hasn't transformed so it would not be."
"Maybe cure last week."
"You really think you are finished?" Josephine asked. She took up both of Natalie's hands and stroked the backs of them with her thumbs.
"We will remain until the moon rises to be certain," Snape said, pulling a chair over beside Harry.
Natalie looked Snape up and down, glanced at Harry and settled back with her eyes closed.
Harry ached to find Indigo earlier, knowing everything was settled here. But he remained. Hedgepeth was going to meet them on the moor just after moonset. The peak of the full moon was just at moonset, so the cure should be easier than average too. As the minutes ticked by, Josephine became more fidgety.
"You have another to cure tonight?" she asked.
"Ah. I best go." She put her hand on Natalie's arm. "I have to go. You'll be all right here with Harry. When the people from the Ministry come, they'll take you home." She stood and took up her cloak and wrapped it around herself, taking longer than necessary. "Maybe I can get on the list, after all. Quite inconvenient . . ."
"Goodbye Natalie, it was meeting you. I hope we see each other again sometime."
The moonrise came and went. Natalie gave Harry a hug around the neck.
A knock sounded and the Family Services Witch who had interviewed Harry for his adoption came in, leaving other black-robed figures in the corridor outside the flat. "Oh, Mr. Potter. Good to see you. And your father too. You are all looking well. And this must be Natalie."
Natalie jumped down off the couch. "I get to see my mum now?"
The Ministry Witch said, "Your parents won't remember you were ever gone. You have to remember not to say anything, all right? This is a secret."
Natalie put her finger to her lips and said, "Secret shhhhhhh."
"She won't remember a thing," Snape said as they arrived home to an empty house. Candide was away at her sister's for the night.
"Maybe will," Harry said, hanging up his cloak, then taking it back down to bring to his room, since he would be going out again soon. "Reversal don't wipe children."
"Probably just as well." Snape kept his own cloak over his arm. "I will wake you in a few hours after you have rested some."
This wasn't a suggestion.
At the top of the stairs, Harry started for his room, then turned with a grin. "You are scary looking."
"I'm not trying to be liked, Potter." He stopped before closing the door to the bedroom. "Good night."
- 888 -
Harry Apparated Snape to the ruin on the moor where he had encountered Indigo the previous full moon. They were a bit early, so they both had their wands out and turned back to back to check for danger. The landscape was silent except for the wind scratching the underbrush on stone. Harry kept his wand at ready and stepped in a circle. The sound of Apparition came from a short way away, but no one approached.
Snape put out a tracer spell and the ground lit up just over the rise. If it was Hedgepeth, he should have found them by the light of their wands already. Harry stepped that way, but was restrained by Snape.
"Who is it?" Snape called out, but there was no reply.
Another figure Apparated in and the large form of Healer Hedgepeth stumbled over the uneven ground to stand nearby.
"Did you Apparate twice?" Snape asked him.
"Get your wand out," Snape told him.
"And what will I do with it?" Hedgepeth asked.
"Harry," Snape said, nodding with his head in the direction of the earlier Apparition.
Harry slipped away and slipped back. Someone was crouching in a low spot in the rocks and brush. Harry disarmed Luke and put a hand on his shoulder.
"She doesn't want. You. To. Know," Harry said.
Luke jerked and scrambled back over the rocks before coming back to his senses. "I worried she'd need help when she changed back." He got to his feet and brushed himself off like one used to getting back up. "What are the lot of you doing here?"
"Curing?" He sounded dumbfounded. "Really?"
"Yes. She doesn't want you to know." It felt very important to Harry that Luke understand this.
"I'll stay hidden."
"She'll smell you."
"I want to be here. Why didn't she trust me?"
"I want to be here. I'm supposed to be her husband in another year or two. Whenever her parents decide we're not children anymore."
Harry sighed. "Stand still." He waved a series of scent-masking charms over and around Luke. "Stay," he said, pointing, then walked away.
"The boyfriend, I presume?" Snape asked.
"Unfortunate luck for you."
"It's all right."
They stood waiting, looking over a landscape too grey to see any detail of.
Hedgepeth said, "It's cloudy to boot. She'll change back slowly."
A growl came out of the night, then there was silence again, then a small yip, then a long silence. Harry realized that if she did change back, she would hardly want to fetch up her clothes with the three of them standing guard over them. He picked up her bundle of things and walked toward where the last noise had come from.
"Indigo," Harry called into the darkness. "Here." He tossed the bundle as far as he could onto an area of bare rock, then backed up, wand out, feeling his way over the uneven ground with his heels.
Minutes later, a figure approached, fell to its knees and started to get up again. The three of them moved as one to help her. Hedgepeth had brought lanterns, and he lit these and hovered them in a circle. Indigo sat on an expanse of stone, hugging her knees, wearing an oversized jumper and leggings. She hadn't bothered to put on her shoes which were lying on their sides nearby.
"I don't want to go through that again," she said. "Even with the Wolfsbane, it's horrible. Worse, almost, because you know."
Harry sat beside her and hurrying, put one hand around her wrist and the other on her back, inside her jumper. Her skin was feverishly warm. She jumped at his touch then sank lax again.
This was more like Harry had expected; the curse had a full hold of her tissues. He worked systematically, until Hedgepeth said, "Care to tell me what you are doing?"
"Pushing curse away," Harry said a little sharply.
Snape gestured, and Hedgepeth fell silent, but bent close and reached out and touched Indigo occasionally.
Indigo's core and limbs were clear of curse and Harry was at the limit of his strength, preparing to put his last ounce of will into forcing the sphere of cure out as far as he could in hopes the curse would snap free. He took a deep breath then another, dearly wanting to succeed after all the effort already. A hand touched his wrist, a soft one, not Snape's, and he felt annoyed by the interference. His magic wavered, and he made a noise of frustration, trying to fight both the curse and Hedgepeth. A finger touched the center of his forehead and suddenly the curse broke loose so forcefully, Harry nearly toppled in surprise.
When he sat up, Hedgepeth was smiling. "Looked like you needed a little help there. Rather brute force magical work, and that can be draining."
Harry gripped Indigo's arm. There was no cursedness now. She was staring blankly at her hands, breathing heavily. The grey clouds were taking on form, as was the landscape, which stretched off into a coarse valley beyond their little ring of lanterns.
Snape helped Harry to his feet where he rocked precariously. Hedgepeth waved a Indificator at Harry's chest. Harry gestured at Indigo, still sitting on the ground. "She . . . what are you doing?"
"You look the more desperate patient, honestly." But he turned away and attended to the young woman instead, saying, "Really very nice work. Always good to cure something new. And this has been especially"
Indigo turned her gaze up to Harry. "I am really myself again? Not just better from the full moon?"
Hedgepeth said, "Amazing enough, my dear, yes you are."
Worried that Luke would not continue to hide, Harry hurried them away for the Wheezes.
"How's the girl?" Fred asked when they arrived.
"Quite recovered," Hedgepeth announced gallantly. Then proceeded to lead Indigo to Fred. "Let her sleep as long as she wishes, but wake her regularly for snacks and liquids. All right?"
"Sure thing, Doc," Fred said.
"Doc, please," Hedgepeth complained. He turned and headed straight at Harry, who was tempted to Apparate away. "Same goes for the lad, but since he insists he's all right, I'd like to interview him."
Snape, who was still holding Harry by the elbow, said, "If he is willing, you may. He has certainly been in worse shape than this and still filled out Ministry reports."
The front door jingled and then someone knocked hard on the glass. George had been moving to help Indigo, but he went to the door instead after a moment of comical indecision.
Luke came inside, glancing at everyone there in turn. "Indigo," he said.
"She needs to rest," Fred said. "Healer's orders. She had a little, er, encounter with, er, something in our lab. Really sorry about that."
Indigo ducked her head and they went through the rear door to the staircase up. George delayed following, locking eyes with Luke before pulling the door closed.
Harry pulled loose from Snape's hold and stepped up to Luke. "She didn't want. You to know."
Despite Harry's stumbled speech, Luke's gaze of respect didn't waver. "I can honor that. I can honor a lot of things. She can go home now?"
Harry fleetingly thought of the ghostly kiss from that other place and swallowed hard. "Yes." He felt deathly tired then, like he had not slept in a week. The room swayed.
Snape's hand grabbed the point of his elbow again, which stabilized the room. Luke bowed at Harry and stepped back out of the store. The door crackled with magic and the locks slid into place. Beyond the glass, Diagon Alley was empty.
"You are letting him put himself at risk, you know." Hedgepeth grabbed Harry's other elbow with a seriousness that startled Harry. "Where is home?"
"We'll have to take the Floo from the Leaky Cauldron. It is too far for me to take both of you," Snape said.
As he was settled on the couch and examined with magical efficiency, Harry wished Snape had told the Healer to come back later in the day. But Harry behaved and did not shove the wand aside, even though he dearly wanted to.
Snape stood nearby, waiting. "Do you require anything?" It took Harry a moment to realize he was talking to Hedgepeth.
"No, I'd let him recover without assistance unless his heart loses rhythm or he becomes dizzy again." After this he stood straight and stretched his back.
Snape gestured that the Healer should sit beside Harry on the couch. Winky came in with a tray full of mugs of tea and biscuits.
While Harry ate one biscuit after another, Hedgepeth questioned him in great detail about how he went about the cure, even making a few suggestions.
Hedgepeth was leaning forward, elbows on his knees as he spoke. "This envelope method, you are certain that a more systematic cleansing failed? For what reason?"
Harry nodded between sips of tea. The dark windows were growing lighter and he had training in a few hours. That thought made him more exhausted than he had felt all evening. "Curse holds on too strong."
"Ah, because it is strongest at the core of the body. At the fingertips and toes it has only a weak hold. But you believe you must do every limb and digit simultaneously. I'm not sure that is true, even with the brute force as this sort of cure seems to require. Unlike, say, curing a Cruciatus cure, which is detail work and too subject to interference for wizards to work together. I think this cure could benefit from some educated fine tuning, as well. I would like to assist you again next full moon and try a few experiments."
Harry dropped his gaze to think about that.
"Come now, Mr. Potter, your patients cannot complain, given their circumstances." He stood after a minute of silence. "I'll leave you to the care of your guardian, who seems most attentive. A most illuminating night. I'd like to think you picked the wrong occupation, not that we in the Healer community are slipping." And with that he was gone.
Harry gave an audible sigh.
"He insists you not be allowed to cure anyone alone, and I agree. It is too much risk."
"Easier with him," Harry agreed, despite not wanting to agree.
"You have a few hours to rest before training. And, in light of your nocturnal duties, I am tempted to contact Arthur to get you a morning off."
Harry's body tingled in relief at this thought, but the ribbing from his trainer would not be worth it. "No. I'll be right," he said, and smiled at his phrasing.
- 888 -
Harry dragged himself through training. But Rodgers withheld comment until Harry returned from break with a magically expanded mug of coffee.
"Long night, Potter?" he asked airily.
"Not too bad."
"How many werewolves did you tussle with?" Rodgers asked.
"Only two? You must be out of practice." He returned to writing on the board.
Harry's fellow apprentices gave him glances of commiseration.
At lunch Harry took himself to the Wheezes. He should not have, but he could not resist saying goodbye, if there was still a chance to. Indigo and Luke were touring the store, picking out things for their friends back home. She spotted Harry when he stepped inside and tapped Luke on the arm.
"It's Harry again."
"Feeling right?" Harry asked her.
She flushed and pushed her hair back. "Yes, now I am. I shouldn't have been poking around things in the lab." She glanced back at Luke as she said this, as if to gauge how her lie was working.
Luke gave her a small smile. "She's always getting into things."
Indigo stepped forward to give Harry a quick hug that felt superficial except for the way her hands were painfully gripping his arms. "I'll write you. If you don't mind?"
Harry smiled and nodded, thinking that it might be better if she didn't. The way her hair fell back in a mane was quite lovely, but it would be better to not think of that. They finished their shopping and packed up to depart. Harry stood by Fred at the counter. He was still wearing his glittering "F".
After more hugs for the twins the visitors departed. Harry poked the "F" until Fred looked down at it.
"You know; it's been bloody convenient 'aving these. We'll probably try them for a while longer. Maybe sell them even. But only in "F" And "G". No other letters."
George came over. "Or they'd have to explode or something. Maybe on your birthday they'd sing to you."
Fred said, "Maybe whenever a great aunt pinched your cheek too hard they'd explode. That'd be bloody useful."
When their flood of ideas slowed, Harry said to George, "You told."
Fred punched his brother on the arm. George said, "He was an okay bloke. I took pity on him." Still holding his arm, he slid behind the counter. "Too bad he liked sheilas."
- 888 -
After training, Harry went home, even though it was Tuesday. He puttered around the house, reading the envelopes of his post, considering doing readings or playing a game of chess, all things which would help him put a certain Aussie out of his head. He dropped on the couch, wondering if he would ever feel like he had his life under his own control.
"That was quite a sigh," Candide said.
Harry jumped back up and said, "Quidditch night."
Harry was late to the pitch and the first game was already underway. He sat at the edge of the stands, a few rows in front of the small group of spectators. Suze gave him a wave when she passed close by in her hunt for the Snitch. The weather was fine this evening, clear and warm.
The game ended and Suze landed on the rail in front of Harry. "You came. Want to play?"
Harry did not relish kicking someone else out in order to join. He shook his head.
"I'll sit out then." She waved to someone and shouted. The other Seeker waved happily and continued hunting for the Snitch even though the next game hadn't started.
"I think Holywood needs glasses," she said of the opposing Seeker as she sat down beside Harry. After looking Harry up and down, she said, "Did you get hit with a spell at Auror training today?"
He shook his head, although that wasn't exactly true. He'd been hit with a hundred spells that day, most of them Countered, but not all. Leaning close to her ear, he said, "Curing werewolves. Late night."
She blinked at him. "You cure werewolves?" She shook her head, smiling. "I really hate just believing things you say." She laughed, then turned serious. "You don't look fit to play, you know."
"Wanted to see. You." Which was true, but it felt a bit dissembling knowing he partly needed her as a distraction.
Her shoulders dropped. "I can't believe I have to go back to school in two weeks. I should drop out."
"Figures you'd say that." She shouted an instruction at the Beaters about shot angles that would result in cross pass to the other Beater on the same team. One of them flew in close and she repeated it.
Suze made Harry play the next game. Harry found energy returning to his limbs compliments of the changes in acceleration and he had a pretty good game.
"You have revising to do, right?" Suze asked after the last match of the night. Wereporridge was busy putting equipment away and had his back to them.
Harry stepped closer to Suze and nodded.
"Maybe we can do something during the week. I'll owl you. I have to look at my dance calendar. I have recital practice."
Harry tried hard not to compare her pale skin and narrow fierceness to Indigo's warm glow. It felt unfair to Suze in a way that made him feel ill. "Dance?" Harry said, needing to say something.
Suze's face hardened. "Do NOT come to my recital. I will stuff you into a toad skin and feed you to a cat if you do. I mean it."
Harry grinned and gave in to the wave of affection for her spunk, bent to give her a kiss.
"You are so not a Slytherin," Suze said. "That is the completely the wrong response." She huffed as though disgusted with him, but couldn't keep the smile from her lips. "I'll most definitely definitely owl you."
"I'll be waiting." Harry smiled again at how easily his words flowed around her.
- 888 -
The large post owl flew straight in on a warm August breeze, burdened with a thick roll. Candide fished a coin from her pocket and the owl left her with the latest Witch Weekly, tied with stained twine. Arcadius didn't seem interested in having the article entitled Safe Glues for Wart Hair Enhancements read aloud, so she paged forward, looking for something more exciting. She flipped by the middle section of celebrity photographs and froze, fingers stiff in surprise. She flipped back and hefted Arcadius into her arms and took the magazine to the drawing room.
Candide stopped in the doorway to think things through. Snape had been easygoing about Harry dating Suze. But there was the idea of it, and there was the reality of it.
"What is it?" Snape looked up to ask.
Candide pondered simply letting it go. Snape would never pick up a Witch Weekly, even under the influence of an Imperius Curse.
Snape bent back to his writing. "Whenever you decide."
"Maybe you should see this." When he pulled his notebook aside, she laid the magazine out, open to the of patchwork of small pictures of famous witches and wizards around Europe stepping out of pubs or Quidditch matches, usually squinting into the flash and looking surprised followed by posing with impatient smirks on their faces. The picture of Harry was different. It was larger than the others and Harry was unaware of the camera as he stood on the oval of a Quidditch pitch, hugging Suze in celebration, then bending to give her a kiss while she appeared to lecture him about something with a sly grin. The photograph was a montage based on the change in light and clothing, which implied a great deal even though the magazine probably expected it to look as if it was all one sequence.
Snape said, "Being discreet requires thinking suspiciously, which is utterly beyond him right now."
"Should I show it to Harry?"
"I am certain someone will," Snape said.
"Well, it won't be me." Candide picked up the magazine and this time let Arcadius tear at the pages at will.
- 888 -
Harry was doing his readings, stubbornly on his own, when the door knocker sounded.
"Let the elf answer it," Snape said when Harry moved to get to his feet.
Harry contemplated disobeying, but contemplated so long Winky led Elizabeth into the main hall before he could make a decision.
"Hi, Harry," she said. "Can we talk?"
Harry shrugged and led her to the library and pulled the doors closed.
"I saw the picture," she said. When Harry blinked at her, not understanding, her brow furrowed like Rodgers' did when he was losing patience. She pulled a magazine out of her handbag and held it up. "This."
Harry held his hand out for it, but she found the page and held it open instead. Harry's first reaction was amazement at how different he and Suze were in height. His second was to wonder what Suze thought. Elizabeth closed the magazine and stuffed it away.
"That picture," Harry said.
"Yes, that picture." She clung to her handbag straps with both hands. "I guess I thought . . . you'd wait for me."
"Oh." Harry had never even considered it.
"How old is she?" She took the magazine out again. "She looks like she's twelve. Aren't you in trouble?"
"Being small is better?"
She put the magazine away again. "I've only been to one Quidditch match. Ever." She sounded down.
Harry reached out and squeezed her arm. He hadn't intended to hurt her, hadn't even thought he might. She smiled reluctantly.
"I should go, I suppose."
"Have readings," Harry said, wondering if he should offer her tea. But he had such a difficult time speaking to her and he was growing confused again, like his body was being pulled in multiple directions.
"You have two more years of your Apprenticeship?" At his nod, she said, "Maybe when I'm done with school and have settled on what I'm doing with my life, maybe we can get together."
Harry could barely plan out his next week, let alone that far ahead. He nodded since there was no real reason to say no.
He followed her pleasant scent across the hall, followed by two pairs of curious eyes. Elizabeth made her goodbyes and Harry saw her out.
When he resumed his seat on the couch, Candide said, "Were you just trying to make her jealous? Was that it?"
"What?" Harry blurted.
"No, you weren't," Candide said. "Of course you weren't."
"It worked, however," Snape said, sounding amused.
"Do you still like her?" Candide asked, garnering a sharp look from Snape.
Harry looked over her face as he thought about this with some stress. "Yes. But no."
Snape sounded stern as he said, "Let Harry work this out on his own."
Candide gave a shrug and sent Harry a sympathetic frown when Snape's attention returned to his reading.
- 888 -
Mid-morning the next day, while Harry was at the Ministry, the front door knocker was again answered by Winky. With some trepidation, she led a man into the main hall who, rather than remove his cloak, was shouldering it on straighter, and pulling at the cuffs on his shirt. "Professor Snape."
With a smooth motion, Snape stood. "Mr. Zepher."
"I'd have a word with you," Mr. Zepher said stiffly, then nodded at Candide.
"In the drawing room, then," Snape said, leading the way there.
When he went to take a step, Mr. Zepher jerked in surprise. Arcadius had crawled over to his feet and was climbing his trouser leg.
"Ga ga ga."
"Oh. What a cute one you are," he said.
Hiding a grin, Candide came over and scooped up the baby.
Snape was standing at the door to the drawing room. Mr. Zepher was smiling at the baby. He said, "I'd best go to my . . . discussion."
Candide nodded, still badly masking her grin.
Snape shut the door to the drawing room and gestured at a chair, which Mr. Zepher waved off.
Mr. Zepher said, "Suze tells me you are Harry's guardian."
"I am that."
"I assume you've seen this," Mr. Zepher said, holding up a much-folded magazine.
Snape nodded gravely and stood beside his desk, waiting.
"What are you doing about it?"
"Nothing, Mr. Zepher. What would you have me do?"
Mr. Zepher dropped his arms. "Harry's a bit old for my daughter don't you think?"
Snape looked the man up and down. He was the typical forty-year old wizard parent, soft in body, middling in mind. Snape had only seen him at Hogwarts' Quidditch matches, trying to feign an interest in his daughter's playing. He had only once owled Snape with regard to academics and that was in the first month of Suze's first year, when he wrote to express a small hope that somehow the girl would learn something despite her desires otherwise. The tone of the letter had communicated that hope was in short supply.
"I am not concerned," Snape said. "Harry is entirely trustworthy and your daughter more than capable of attending to her best interests."
"She's only sixteen, and her judgment is rarely the best under normal circumstances, let alone as besotted as she is." Mr. Zepher's face grew grim and he breathed out as he said, "Perhaps I am expecting too much from you."
Snape considered getting angry in return, then dismissed the idea. "In contrast to you, Mr. Zepher, both of these young people are my responsibility. Do recall that I have responsibility for your daughter nine and a half months of the year and Harry, twelve."
Mr. Zepher looked away. Snape went to his desk and dug through the pile of post. He pulled out a small sheet of paper and held it out.
"That is a note I received from Harry last week informing me he would be home late from his training."
Mr. Zepher's brow twisted at he looked the note over. "It looks like a child wrote this." He read it over again, tracing it more closely, most likely to imagine the slow care the writer apparently needed to form the letters. "Suze said he was hurt in a magical accident."
"Not exactly true, but close enough."
Mr. Zepher held the note out. "Is he so hurt as this?"
"His magic isn't. His personality is intact . . ." Snape hesitated after saying that. It was true, up to a point. "He is improving. But he is not, perhaps, the twenty-year-old man you imagine. He is incapable of hurting anyone. And I am, frankly, relieved he is seeking companionship with someone whose motives are as straightforward as Suze's. The others in his purview have complex needs full of emotional traps for someone like Harry, who cannot possibly navigate them." He stopped speaking and put his hands at his sides. "I have said more than I should about something that is personal to Harry and not really your concern. I don't know how to convince you there is nothing to be concerned about. In any case, Suze will be seventeen, shortly."
"Seventeen," Mr. Zepher said, shaking his head in wonder. "What am I going to do with her?"
"You need do nothing but get out of her way. She is quite capable of making a go of things on her own."
"Professional Quidditch player?" He sounded mocking.
Snape felt his face harden. "My House has generated quite a number of them. But even failing that, she will do fine. Suze does not try, she does."
Into the silence, Snape added, "I see why you fail to understand her. You keep analyzing things."
"I don't think I need to be lectured about who my own daughter is."
Snape relaxed and bowed a nod. "Fine. In two weeks send her to me and it will cease to be your problem."
Mr. Zepher's arms fell slack again. He seemed to be searching for words.
Snape said, "Harry is no threat to Suze. Of any kind. Leave the two of them undisturbed these last two weeks before she returns to school. To fight it will mean losing the trust of your daughter while gaining yourself nothing."
- 888 -
"I think I found the bloke," Rodgers said when Harry reported to field work that Friday. "I've been waiting two days to have you as a partner. So let's go."
He took Harry's arm as Harry took out his wand. Rodgers held off on Apparating to say, "I like your attitude, Potter. You assume I'm taking you straight into the fray."
Rodgers paused. "No."
"Oh." Harry lowered his wand and held it at his side.
They arrived in a village of low houses pressed close together with front gardens that sloped toward the houses as if someone had raised the roads over time.
"Feel anything?" Rodgers asked.
Harry thought the breeze felt unusually chilled, but he didn't feel anything else.
Rodgers waved some Illusion Charms around the two of them and they walked, stepping off the road whenever a car came by, because the cars did not veer around them.
Harry began to feel something and slowed. Rodgers turned and watched him expectantly. They were opposite a house surrounded by untrimmed shrubs. Harry walked farther along and turned when the cursed feeling eased.
"You confirmed it. Good. Can you get inside without tipping off the owner? My source says he's gone Friday nights."
Harry stepped closer to the house. The garden was full of magical barriers. There wasn't that much distance between the road and the front windows.
"Need light. To see inside."
Rodgers waited for a break in the traffic, then with a look of great concentration, waved out Black Curtain Barriers and Muggle Eye Repelling and then a Floodlight Charm. Harry blinked in the light, but he got a view of a ratty couch and what appeared to be a piano bench being used as a shelf to hold magical objects. He nodded and the light went dark as suddenly as it had appeared.
Rodgers said, "What we need to generate is a BMAI, a Black Magic Accoutrement Inventory. We can take that to the Wizengamot for further investigative rights. This bloke has no record, so we have to handle this exactly right. I want a list of everything dark in the place, got it?"
Harry nodded but Rodgers didn't seem satisfied. With some strain, he asked, "You can remember what you see, or do you need to make notes?" He felt around his pockets as if looking for a quill.
"I can remember," Harry said, feeling a pang of disappointment at his trainer's assumptions.
"Go on then. I'll give you half an hour before I come in for rescue. Send out a signal if you are in trouble."
"Half hour?" Harry asked in surprise.
"In case you need to do any cursebreaking. I don't want you rushing, Potter. Go on. I'll be on guard. If the owner comes home, he won't be getting by me."
Harry slipped inside. The stain of dark curses immediately flowed through his abdomen, making him feel sick to his stomach. The place was disorganized, on top of former neatness. Skulls of all kinds, painted or stained with blood were stacked willy-nilly on top of inlaid boxes with rusty hinges, the smooth egg shapes of bone china bowls, and books with brown-edged pages. The higher shelf held lamps full of liquid that did not appear to be oil, and a clawed metal apparatuses for grabbing . . . something, out of somewhere.
Harry made himself breathe deeply, then counted as he scanned the shelves, then the tables, then the floor. He took a few steps to the left and the sense of cursedness rose up like a wave, ruffling his hair by raising it off his neck in surprise.
"Cornelius, why do you think I keep you around?"
Harry stopped still and cold at the voice. There wasn't anything particularly strange nearby. He had, in fact, moved away from the fullest table of objects.
"Mr. Potter, I don't think your influence extends anywhere near as far as you think."
Harry looked around, there was nothing but a rug on the floor here. Not even the usual clutter. He breathed low, listening.
Knocking sounded. "What is it?"
"Message, Lord Potter."
There was a pause.
On a hunch, Harry pushed the rug aside with his toe to reveal a Device, drawn in chalk and redrawn over and over in black and grey and white, as if by someone frantically impatient. It was Active, though, and the wizard who made it, apparently didn't know that or did not chose to treat it as if he knew that. Harry let out his breath in a rush of relief at understanding the voices. Then he shifted his feet just enough to stand right in the middle of the Device. And closed his eyes.
Rainbows of scenes flew by upward. Harry focused on the voices he had just heard and torches came into focus, and deeply arched ceilings all in stone. It was a long room with a door in the long wall and heavy wooden furniture, a whole house's worth, arranged from one end to the other in a series of rooms. He saw himself, only with a thinner, more angular face. He stood in rich robes, head high, facing a messenger in high boots. Nearby stood Cornelius Fudge, who was in one of his usual brown suits, chubby hands clasped before him.
Potter handed the note back to the messenger. "Tell him to expect a visit. And if he isn't going to be there to receive visitors, tell him he should leave the country." The man bowed and hurried out.
Fudge said, "You talk big, Potter. But I have never seen you at the Wizengamot, for example."
Potter stepped closer. "They do what I say without my bothering to waste my time being there. Just last week, they changed the rules regarding allowed residual spells on magical objects and next week they will change the rules regarding the Necessary Magical Knowledge of Muggle Leadership."
"But . . . but why? What purpose does that serve?"
Potter paced around Fudge with motions that were unnaturally fluid. His gaze did not remain on Fudge, it peered around the room, at the corners, especially, as if distracted by some odd sound. He returned his gaze to his visitor. "I want us to disappear again, Fudge. During the war, far too much was revealed."
Fudge began to sweat. "But it is necessary. Didn't you notice that word there in the edict? Necessary."
Potter's face moved a lot as he spoke, carefully enunciating. "That is a political word, Fudge. Words are not power. Power is."
"I won't stand for it. I am the Minister and I will arrange to speak to whatever Muggle authorities I feel are necessary."
Potter stopped and turned to face him. His head appeared to swivel too far on his neck when he did this. "You insist on rubbing elbows, you mean. Kowtowing to Muggles like the little political whore you are."
Fudge tossed his hand down, fist balled. "I will not stand for such insult."
He started to turn away, and Potter snatched hold of the front of his suit and dragged him back. Fudge reached for his wand, but it flew free and clattered on the floor. Fudge's face grew red and his neck swelled over the top of his high collar.
Potter's voice fell silky. "Those Muggles, even the Prime Minister, don't have anywhere near the power I do, Fudge. You should prostrate yourself to the real power." There was a long pause, where Fudge let out a squeak of panic. Potter said, "Either that or get out of the way."
Fudge's voice had grown small. "I . . . I . . . I won't stand for this."
Potter's voice had a laugh in it, as if that was the best thing Fudge could have said. "You won't?"
He leaned closer and Fudge tried to pull his head back, eyes popping in fear. Potter opened his mouth and stuck out his tongue, but it wasn't a tongue, it was a snake, and it too opened its mouth and hissed, tongue extended, teeth bared.
Harry stepped out of the Device, nearly tripping on the folded over rug. His heart was running at twice normal speed. He flipped the rug out straight, double checked the counts of the skulls and black candles, glanced into the bedroom, which was clear of black magic, as expected; no one, no matter how incompetent could possibly sleep in the same room as this stuff.
Correction, no one in this Plane could. That other Harry could probably sleep just fine.
"Got everything?" Rodgers asked when Harry reappeared.
Back at the Ministry, Rodgers set up an Autoquill and parchment for Harry to use, then pulled a chair over for himself. "What's he got in there? You look a little spooked and I didn't expect that. At all."
Harry said, "Just thinking."
"Well, stop thinking and start doing." He pointed at the parchment.
Harry nodded and, alternating between speaking and writing, wrote out the inventory of the living room.
"You're certain he left an Active Device in the middle of the living room and went out for the evening?" Rodgers asked when Harry listed that.
"An idiot of epic extent, then. I love that kind." Rodgers smiled enough to be clear around his mustache. "Just wait, he'll get all blubbery when we corner him, then he'll try to sic demons on us. I know his kind." He held up the inventory sheet and said with great relish, "And I can't wait until he meets you."