Harry licked his spoon and pushed the bowl of ice cream closer to Suze. In the August heat of Diagon Alley, the scoops had dwindled rapidly into pools.
"My house tonight?" Harry asked.
Shoppers jostled past, too busy to take notice of them. Suze's lips stretched thin as she stirred the melt and blobs into a cold paste. "Professor Snape will be there?"
"Yes. He goes tomorrow." Harry frowned and focused on her, on the way her eyebrows were brighter than her pale skin.
"Maybe . . . " She tapped her spoon on her chin before dipping it again. " . . . the tavern in Winchester again?"
Harry sat back and cocked his head. "You afraid of Severus?"
She blinked at him. "No. It's just . . ." She ducked back to the bowl, pulling it closer. "It's just weird."
Harry nodded and waited for an old wizard who felt his way along with his cane between the stones to pass beyond their table. "I have to home. Be home tonight. Sat . . . next day? Severus is gone."
"I'd like that. I'd like to see Arcadius. Has he got any more dangerous?"
Harry shook off his gloom and smiled at the eagerness in her question. "He likes mud."
"Don't all babies like mud?"
Harry considered his words. "Archie . . . conjures mud. To worship it." Distant bells chiming over the shop roofs made Harry take out his watch. It was 6:00 already.
"Time flies," Suze said wistfully, speaking Harry's thoughts.
"Sure you don't want . . . to visit?"
"I'll wait. I have to sort my stuff so I can pack it all in. And if I get all ready to go, maybe my mum will stop asking when I'm going to be ready to go." Suze glanced down the alley behind her in the direction of the Wheezes. "And I need to stock up on restricted things. You didn't hear me say that." He stood when she did. "I wish I didn't have to go to school." She grabbed his wrist, hesitated, then gave him a hug, saying, "Everyone's already seen us hugging."
"Goodbye," Harry said. He wanted to say he also wished she didn't have to go to school, but worried she may drop out if he did.
Suze gave him a wave before a pyramid of ale barrels on a cart crossed between them. "See you Saturday."
At home, Candide was striding about, putting her things down while carrying Arcadius. "I think it's going to have to be three days a week," she was saying. "Hi, Harry."
"Nanny?" Harry asked.
She paused to straighten Arcadius' hair and tweak his generous baby cheek. "No one likes the idea of caring for an EE as they call it, an Early Emerger."
Snape came to the doorway. "Technically, that isn't the correct designation."
She put Arcadius down on the floor where he immediately grabbed her shoe between his hands and began beating on it.
"We'll go out and make mud pies before dinner, Archie. Hold on." She returned her attention to Snape. "I don't want to explain his real designation for fear of scaring them away completely." She tapped her fingers together while watching the baby. "The Swarm Charm Creche was the only place with an opening and only Mondays and Tuesdays. Maybe mum will take him one day a week." When Snape raised a brow. Candide said, "I don't want to quit. They need me at the office." She bent to scoop Arcadius back up and headed for the back door. "Why don't you quit?" she called over her shoulder.
"I have an entire House of Slytherins to oversee."
He hadn't spoken that loudly, but from across the room, Candide asked, "Wasn't Remus doing just fine with that?"
"Hm." Snape went back to the stacks of papers and notebooks and open trunks perched on his desk.
Harry stood in the doorway to the drawing room watching Snape flip through folders before placing each into a trunk. Harry's chest tightened watching this.
"You have to go so early?" Harry asked.
Snape nodded. "There is far more preparation than I can complete just going for the day. At the moment I am just ferrying materials and arranging my office. I'll be back."
He lowered a stack of books into the trunk, followed by a rack of phials, followed by three long scrolls on rods. "You will see that this house is kept protected while I am at away for the school year?"
Without trying to, Harry's shoulders pulled back and he stood straighter. "Yes, sir."
A wry smile teased at Snape's lips when he looked up. "Sorry, that came out a bit stronger than intended." With a bouncing motion of his wand, he began emptying the lower drawer of the desk into yet another trunk on the floor.
Harry tapped his toe on the doorframe.
"Come and sit down," Snape said.
Harry sat hunched in the visitor's chair after moving the stack of textbooks off it.
Snape said, "I will be home every other weekend, but not in September. Only after things settle down."
Putting on a disinterested air, Harry nodded.
The trunk locks snapped closed and the trunks floated to the doorway to form a neat stack. With a satisfied huff, Snape sat down at his desk and held his wand out between his fingertips. "I am beginning to have confidence in your progress at your apprenticeship. Are you as well?"
Harry shrugged. "Feels same."
Snape's voice grew sharp. "Does it?"
While staring at the remaining small clock showing half past ten, Harry nodded.
"Ah." Snape's chair squeaked as he rocked back. He stared at Harry for rather a long while, while Harry stared at the things remaining on the shelves, wishing his emotions would calm.
Snape said, "It's unfortunate that you aren't a dark wizard any longer. I could use a proper demonstrator for my advanced class this year." When Harry gave him an incredulous look, Snape added, "Just checking that you are listening. You are rather quiet, even for you."
Harry finally looked at him, at the way his grey speckled hair was swept back for once. Next June felt forever away. Harry stood up and picked up the stopped clock. He turned it over and over in his hands. There was no opening in the wood and no way to wind it.
"Have you found a partner for chess?" Snape asked. When Harry shook his head, Snape said, "I expect you to do that. Just as I expect you to keep up with your readings, even if you must find a tutor."
Snape's voice had grown stern, which Harry knew was a ploy to make him feel better. He held out the clock with a questioning expression.
"The magic on it faded," Snape said. He stood and came around the desk. With his wand he drew circles around the clock. "Faded or was negated by Arcadius. I am hoping for the former." He put the clock back on the shelf and gave Harry a tweak on the arm. "I don't know what to say to you to make you feel better."
"Can I visit Suze?"
"Of course. Your presence at Hogwarts is welcome anytime, but the distraction would be preferably kept to the weekends, if you can manage it."
He felt less adrift just imagining that and how pleased she would be to hear it. "I can."
"Minerva will have no difficulty with your visiting, in that case."
Harry nodded, watching the baroque minute hand twitch every second before finally advancing a notch.
Snape's voice fell soft as he said, "I continue to be quite proud of you."
Harry dropped his gaze to the hearth where a stack of papers had been left on the grate to be burned.
"All packed?" came Candide's voice from the doorway with a forced chattiness. Arcadius crawled into the room, slapping his hands down as he went. As he approached the grate, which held not only loose stacks of paper but old coals that would easily re-combust, Snape and Candide both moved to grab him up but Candide got to him first. Both of them let out a sigh of relief. Snape petted Arcadius on the head while the baby squawked and arched his back. The papers in the hearth ignited with a whoosh that sent burning confetti into the room.
Candide stepped back to give Snape room to put a Smother Charm on half the room. He then used a Shrinking Curse to shove the charm into the chimney. The air glittered with little orange sparks as the spell faded.
Candide said, "Maybe not my mother . . ."
The corridors of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement were quiet when Harry reported for field work Friday evening. Tristan Rogan gave Harry a friendly hello from his desk beside the logbook. "Reggie is waiting for you in the file room."
Harry found his trainer sitting on the floor beside an open drawer that stretched all the way to the wall cabinets.
"Potter. Good. The wise wizards of the Wizengamot yesterday saw fit to grant us a Writ of Inquiry on that dark magic case." He stood with a stack of files and pushed the drawer closed with his foot as he passed. "So our Mr. Ransidd, will be getting a serious visit from us."
In the silent corridor he stopped and listened, then shook his head. "Well, this is the kind of night that will get crazy as soon as we relax, but maybe we can grab this bloke and leave him sweating in an interrogation room until we have time to talk to him. Tomorrow morning sometime."
He waved over his cloak, ran his eyes over Harry, and said, "Ready?"
Obscured by magic, they stood before the house where the wind scratched the overgrown shrubs against the windows. Cars roared by behind them. Harry rubbed his arms at the taintedness that prickled his skin.
"Worse than last time?" Rodgers asked.
Harry dropped his arms. "No."
"Looks like he isn't home. We could come back at the end of shift when he would be, but where would the fun be in that? You wait inside, which will be a good chance for you to practice stakeouts, and I'll make the rounds of his usual haunts, scare him out of his Friday festivities and back home where you can pick him up. After that, I'll meet you at the Ministry. Best of all, saves me the trouble of canceling all his awkward spellwork to get inside." He gestured at the house. "Work for you?"
"Reservations of any kind?" Rodgers asked, leaning into Harry's space.
"Good man." He stepped back and tossed his cloak aside as if preparing to depart, but paused and raised a finger. "I'm giving you the fun part of this, do note."
He waited for Harry to nod again before Disapparating, just as a car went by, close enough to the road edge to send gravel popping out from under its wheels.
Harry took two deep breaths before slipping away and inside the house. Headlights slid along the wall and across the smoke-stained curtains on the back window. A few objects had moved: the skulls were pressed closer together on the shelf to make room for another apparatus attached to a smoky globe encased in wire mesh.
Without stepping anywhere near the still-active Device, Harry examined the room again, pretending it was a chess board. He turned sideways to squeeze between the piano bench and the end tables that had been shoved together. He held his hand over each of the various candleholders until he found an uncursed one in the shape of a lady holding up an urn. With a wave he lit a candle from the box nearby, then went the long way around the couch to the empty corner between the curtain and the bedroom door. He waved out an Obsfucation Charm and held his wand at ready. The perpetrator would arrive and immediately look to the candle, which would put his back to Harry. He'd be in a Prisoner Box before he turned his head, now with spots in his eyes, to look around the rest of the room.
Harry sank back into the corner, ignoring the whispers that drifted up and faded, then drifted up again from the Device under the rug just a few feet in front of him.
Time passed. Harry shifted his weight from one foot to the other, lifting each to relieve them. Rodgers' words about practicing stakeouts grew more salient as the minutes ticked by. His thoughts drifted repeatedly to the long arched room and the narrow faced Potter he imagined pacing there, plotting. He wondered how their war had been won, exactly, that had left his counterpart in such a state. Harry's lips twitched replaying Fudge's fear, and he wished he hadn't stepped out of the Device. If stepping back in now would let him see the end of the scene, he would do so without hesitation. But it was a week later for that Harry as well. That Harry probably hadn't fallen farther behind on his readings in the meantime.
Harry bent his knees and stuck a toe out onto the corner of the rug. The whispering rose up louder like a chorus, hissing, drawn out words he strained to make sense of. He pulled his toe back and crossed his arms with his wand on the outside. It would not do for the owner to come home while Harry was distracted by visions in another Plane.
The single candle, which had been leaking a wax river over the shelf, began to sputter. Without moving, Harry waved for another to rise from the box, trying to hover both the lit stub and the new candle at the same time while rotating the new one into position. The spell made the stub shiver and wax spattered onto the floor. Harry's forearm muscles strained from the fine effort by the time he had them switched and the stub extinguished. With a sigh, he sank back into the corner, determined to stand perfectly still. He amused himself with thinking of the perfect going away present for Suze.
Harry's slate heated up in his pocket. He removed it and angled it into the candlelight. Rodgers had been called away but wanted Harry to remain in wait for their suspect. After scratching out an OK, Harry pulled out his watch. It was only half past nine. He tipped his head back into the corner and dropped his watch back into his pocket. The cursedness of the room made his bones throb.
A row of five cars went by, battering the curtains and the ceiling with Muggle light. Harry pushed away from the wall and shoved his toe under the rug to flip it aside. The Device had been the last of at least six attempts drawn in sequences of white, black, and then grey chalk, sometimes with the accompanying marks made by protractor, string, and straight-edge and other times drawn with coarse free strokes. In the candlelight the stack of Devices appeared to be drawn on layers of glass.
The whispering had faded and the outside noises of a neighbor's air conditioner and passing car engines dominated the room. Most likely, the target would not be returning for hours. Harry drew in his lips and rocked forward on his toes, drawn by the gravity of curiosity to step forward. He rocked back on his heels, thinking of the trouble he would be in if something went awry because he was otherwise engaged. The candle sputtered and stood tall again. It would buy him the second and a half he needed.
Stalking carefully about the room, touching his wand to the floor at intervals as regularly as he could manage in the clutter, Harry put down an Alarm Charm and tied it to the candle, which would melt and burst into a fireball if it were triggered.
Back beside the Device, he waited for a pedestrian to stride by on the road, took several cleansing breaths, and stepped forward, placing his feet carefully inside the central pentagram. The Device's maelstrom cleared when Harry pictured the long dungeon room. The counterpart Potter stood with arms spread wide, bending over a broad antique table with great dragon-claw feet. A map of London and surroundings lay spread before him, curled corners weighted with brass statues off the tops of Quidditch trophies. Magical areas had been outlined in red ink and between them golden lines seethed, smoked, then seethed again, showing the Floo Network.
Potter ran his hand through his hair, tugging at it in the back, a gesture Harry knew meant he was unhappy about something he couldn't easily change.
A figure approached and cleared his throat repeatedly. "I got an owl, said you wanted to see me?" When Potter turned suddenly, Seamus bowed his head and stepped back.
"How are things in Ireland?"
Seamus appeared relieved. "They're well enough."
"How long since the last mention of magical damage in the Muggle news?"
"Last week, I'm afraid. It keeps popping up."
Potter paced, staring at the ceiling. "Same reporter each time?"
Without removing his eyes from the ceiling, Potter said, "How are your Memory Charms?"
Seamus broke into a smile. "Me mum's are excellent. And it's been making her jumpy."
"Take care of it, then. But with precision. There can be no suspicion cast upon the circumstances of the spells."
"It's as good as done."
Potter had started to pace away. Seamus put a hand out to rest it on an end table. He was relaxing far too much.
Potter said, "Are there any English . . . still hiding in Ireland?"
Seamus' mouth grew wet, apparently, because he swallowed twice.
"I'll take that as a yes," Potter said, sounding calmer. They stared at each other. "Anyone I might be interested in?"
Seamus' looked around the room while he thought that over. Watching from a distance, Harry worried that he was about to lie and was dangerously pushing his luck. "I don't think so."
Potter slithered forward, feet not appearing to move under his long, dragging robes. Seamus' gaze grew fixed and entranced. Potter said, "I dislike uncertain answers." He tilted his head as he leaned close. "And yes, everything you have heard about me is true, and many, many things you have not heard."
The door opened and Ron stepped inside. He put his hands behind his back and waited two paces inside the room. "Didn't know you were busy. Should I come back?"
Potter retracted his head and waved for Ron to stay.
Seamus said, "I . . . I don't know everyone you might be interested in, sir."
Speaking slowly, Potter said, "I am interested in Ginny Weasley's whereabouts."
Seamus' shoulders fell. "Oh. I've not seen her."
"I just want to know she's all right," Potter said. "Pass on the word that I just want to talk to her."
Seamus swiped at the sweat dripping down his neck. "I'll pass that on. All kinds gather at the pubs these days now that it's safe. She might hear of it."
"She refused to understand," Potter said, partly in Ron's direction.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Seamus said.
Ron shifted his feet apart and stared at the floor.
"How'd it go, Ron?" Potter asked, still looking at Seamus.
"Lucius cooperates if you keep him frightened enough. He expects Skeeter to fall into his trap and then he will have her under his power. I told him he could use her for his own purposes as long as he clears it with me. Or us. Someone."
"That's perfect," Potter said, smiling now, which drew the tight skin of his face even tighter. "You can go, Seamus. Thank you for coming," he added without smiling.
Ron closed the door behind Seamus who repeatedly sent Ron questioning glances that were roundly ignored.
"Get me Snape," Potter said.
Still holding the door handle, Ron said with a laugh in his voice, "He said he wouldn't come unless I took your wand away."
"Which one?" Potter asked. He raised his arm. Two wands jutted from between the fingers of his fist.
Ron grinned. "I'll ask him that." He pulled his wand and departed with a long stride.
Potter stood still, staring at nothing. His chest rose and fell with a long breath. His eyes dilated into slits, then returned to normal. He opened his mouth and tasted the air with his tongue.
"Who are you?" he asked.
Harry felt himself sway. He opened his eyes and glanced around the house he was supposed to be staking out. It was exactly as it had been. Taking care not to disturb the chalk lines, he shuffled his feet farther apart for balance and sank back into the vision.
Potter's eyes were moving about, his tongue flicking. "I know you are here. Even though no one should be here. Who are you?"
Harry had no idea if he could be heard, but he replied, "I am you."
Potter's brow furrowed and he blinked rapidly. "At least that's an interesting answer. I thought you were some Charm Minister Fudge was wearing that he refused to acknowledge even after an hour of questioning. Unfortunate for him. But he needed a clearer demonstration of reality and now he thinks me insane, which is unexpectedly useful. So thank you for that."
The door opened and Ron came in, towing Snape by the wrist.
"Leave us," Potter said.
"Have fun," Ron said to Snape as he closed the door.
Potter began to pace. Harry watched Snape fall from wary into a watchful calm.
"I'm certain your potions are going fine," Potter said dismissively. He turned to study Snape up and down, then deliberately raised his wand to point at him. When Snape responded by standing straighter, chin raised ever so slightly, Potter said, "It's like you don't care whether you live or die." After a silence, Potter demanded, "Why is that? I don't understand you."
Snape's voice was slow and quiet. "I prefer it that way."
Potter's aim didn't waver. "What kind of torture would it take to get you to tell me? What if I use an Imperius Curse to force you to drink your personal truth serum blend and find out?"
"Don't hurt him," Harry said.
Potter lowered his wand and drew in his lips. "Did you hear that?"
Snape grew more alert. He shook his head, honestly confused.
Potter returned to pacing. "Arrange something, will you? Lethifold hunting in the Drunken Swamps, or better yet, vampire hunting in Romania. Something dangerous. I am bored out of my mind to the point of hearing voices." He raised a wand again, Voldemort's this time. "Tormenting Fudge only left me hungrier. Arrange some appropriate distraction for me or I will amuse myself with picking apart your hide. After I pick apart and consume your soul, bit by bit."
After a thoughtful hesitation, Snape bowed and backed out the door.
Finding his speech flowing easily, probably because of the Dark Plane, Harry said, "He's more useful as an ally."
"Now you sound like Ron. Get out of here."
Harry fell still and silent for a bit. "I thought I amused you?" he asked, trying to sound innocent.
"You are a weakness." Potter raised his hand, each finger a small snake. He curled his fingers and they all hissed. "Weaknesses do not amuse me."
Harry stepped out of the Device. The candle had barely burned down. Heart speeding up at the joy of getting away with his little diversion, he removed the Alarm Charm and resumed his place in the corner.
Long after he had exhausted thoughts of regret at what he had done in a similar state as that Harry, followed by regret at Hogwarts' school year starting, long after he had lost count three times on cars passing, the front door lock rattled. Harry hadn't heard any Apparition, so the suspect must have flown in, or came on foot, blocked by his own security.
The wizard who stepped inside was just taller than Harry with a doughy body and mussed hair. He moved with a bit of a stoop. From the tile area in front of the door, he stared at the lit candle, eyes glittering above saggy cheeks in need of a Shaving Potion.
Perhaps because he had waited so long already, Harry didn't move. He had his wand at ready, but not aimed. He expected that the Obsfucation Charm had worn off, something he hadn't thought of until now. The notion that he might be visible made him smile because it meant he could just wait and enjoy the anticipation.
Ransidd turned his head to scan the room, eyes passing by H
"Best you've got?" Harry asked, laughing.
Ransidd's eyes sought out a target, upper lip vibrating. Harry understood then why Rodgers often cajoled and harassed suspects so obnoxiously. It was a sort of on-the-spot dark wizard test that increased the number of charges to be filed later.
With a flick, Harry canceled the Obsfucation Charm.
"Harry Potter." The wizard blurted. "What are you doing in my house?"
"Taking you. In."
"The Ministry sent you?" The man's shoulders fell lax, and then his head fell, but it seemed forced. "Well all right. If that's the way it's got to be."
Harry snagged the man's wand with a Whip Charm, still hesitating on the Prisoner Box out of the same kind of curiosity that drove him to step into the Device to see the other Harry.
"Ready to go?" Harry asked, hoping to spur a negative reaction. Any negative reaction.
And he did. Ransidd's arm jerked, tossing silvery confetti into the air. Harry waved out an apprehending spell but it shattered against the floating bits. The wizard had grabbed up the contraption with the netted globe and fell to one knee before the Device. Almost lazily, Harry waved out a fine Web Curse and swept the air clear. Smoke rose from the intersections of the Device and the clawed arms of the apparatus dipped away into a vast distance beneath the floor. The wizard looked up at Harry in alarm, but Harry just waved for him to finish despite the cursedness battering at him.
"I'll wait," Harry said.
This clearly confused the man, but something jerked on the contraption and the netted globe filled with murky scarlet smoke. With a gleeful expression, Ransidd pulled the apparatus out of the floor, revealing a captured half tortoise, half hedgehog with four tentacles groping the air around its mouth.
"Ha!" Ransidd said, stretching his arms out to poke the captured creature in Harry's direction. The mouth tentacles snapped forward, reaching for Harry.
Harry tipped his head to the side and studied the creature. "Just one?"
The wizard frowned and Harry held up a hand to force the reaching tentacles to calm. The creature flapped its back feet against the apparatus holding it, and this distracted the wizard. Purely for effect, Harry held his palm upright before him, as though raising something up, and cracked wider the already open interstice. A mass of shiny, slippery limbs and claws and tentacles mushroomed out of the Device.
The wizard cried out and dropped the apparatus as he leapt back, screaming. Harry forced the creatures back through the floor. The globe on the apparatus shattered, and the tortoise-hedgehog scrambled free. Harry pushed this one home as well, leaving the floor clear. The wizard's feet still pumped uselessly at the floor where he had fallen, pressed up against the low front window sill.
"Ready to go?" Harry asked.
The man's eyes glanced around the shelves as if looking for another weapon.
"Oh please," Harry said. He pulled the Dark Plane up around them to say, "You don't know what you are playing with." The candle halo went black and Harry slipped in and out to cross the room, wand aimed.
When the man simply stared up at him, unblinking, Harry said, "Oh, your choice then." And waved him into a Prisoner Box, disappointed that the game was over already.
"Pick a row and a column and where would you place it?" Rodgers asked while he was helping Harry with his report, forcing Harry to evaluate the Degree of Dark Magical Usage based on the scale card he held. The battered card had handy little illustrated columns demonstrating degree of pain inflicted, damage to property, distortion of unnatural creatures transformed or conjured, and degree of Muggle baiting.
Harry pointed at the second to the last picture of Conjuration, which showed a snail shell with a zebra head sticking out of it. Harry thought it looked rather harmless.
"But only one?" Rodgers asked.
"That's what I said."
Rodgers put his hand to his head and laughed. "You're learning, Potter." He picked up the report. "Looks like an extra four charges. Which is useful as a good solicitor will usually get that many tossed out."
He put the report back down and repositioned the Autoquill to resume writing. "You were gentle taking him to Horace in the dungeon. The interrogation room's much more stressful. In there, they know something is going to happen to them. They just don't know when. The waiting is worse than the actual interrogation."
The next morning Harry's eyes didn't want to open fully when the sunlight invaded his room. But it was Snape's last day home, so Harry swung his feet off the bed and rocked to sit up.
Steaming breakfast plates were already on the table when Harry sat down. For once, Snape was holding Arcadius, who was clapping his hands and giggling at the noise of it.
"His hands aren't muddy again, are they?" Candide asked.
Snape peeled back the fingers of one slick-reddish baby hand and nodded.
Candide poured milk into her tea and said, "If he could light mud on fire, I think he'd be in heaven. How was your shift, Harry?"
"Arrest any dark wizards?" she asked.
Harry was just peppering his plate, but he paused. "How'd you know?" He glanced between them. "Just one," he added by way of reassurance.
"Anyone important?" Snape asked.
Snape handed Arcadius the toast off his plate. "Never mind then."
Breakfast filled Harry's attention until he remembered that this was the last day for a long while with all of them together. He put down his fork and sat back with his coffee. After his plate went cold it disappeared. He expected Snape to comment, but he did not.
Harry went to the main hall and settled in with his readings where he could help watch Arcadius track conjured mud in a limited area of the floor.
"I should just take him outside," Candide said standing over the baby. "Once he gets a little on his hands from someone's shoes it just doesn't stop."
Harry tried to read, but the trunk sitting open beside the drawing room door kept pulling his attention away.
"I believe that is everything." Snape came into the room and scooped Arcadius off the floor.
"He's going to miss you," Candide said.
Harry waited to pull his nose out of his book until he was addressed directly. Snape stopped right before his knees.
"You will keep an eye on things." It wasn't a question.
Harry put his book aside, stood up, and jammed his hands into his back pockets. He nodded, watching the baby smear dry mud on Snape's robes.
Snape put Arcadius over his shoulder and the full force of his gaze fell on Harry. "I will only be a half-hour owl flight away, Harry. Even closer for you."
"You'll be busy," Harry said.
"And you'll be difficult, so it simply will not work out." Arcadius was reaching toward the floor. Snape began patting him rapidly on the back. "I will drop in for an hour or so here and there, but I cannot tell ahead of time when that will be possible."
Harry turned away from Candide's sympathetic gaze. Harry said, "We'll see you. Say hello. To everyone."
Candide stepped up to Snape and added her patting to the squirming baby. "Everyone is going to miss you."
Snape said, "Can I have a moment alone with Candide, Harry?"
Harry picked up his book and Apparated for his room.
Snape said, "Anything at all concerns you about him, owl me," He struggled to hold Arcadius, who was bending far over to stretch toward the floor. "I realize that puts you at odds with him, instead of allowing you to be loyal, and that is unfortunate, but it is better that I stay informed."
She kissed him on the cheek and took Arcadius away, saying, "Harry understands that. We've been through this before."
"I didn't have Arcadius sixty seconds," Snape said.
"He wanted to get down."
Snape pointed at the struggling child. "He still wants to get down." But he sighed and pulled his wand to walk the trunk to the dining room hearth.
When he reached for the Floo Powder, Candide said, "Are you calling Harry back down to say goodbye?"
"I don't want to reward him for his moodiness."
Arcadius squawked and tried to reach over Candide's shoulder. "He's not ready for you to go."
Candide frowned. "Don't say it will be good for him."
"I wasn't going to say that. Tell him to come see me this evening in my office."
"He has a date. Suze is coming over."
At Snape's raised brow, Candide added, "She doesn't like to visit with you here."
Snape shook Floo Powder into the center of his hand and put the canister back on the mantel. "You are telling me my student who is otherwise afraid of nothing, turns out to be afraid of me?"
Candide made a thoughtful face. "It's not fear. It's intimidation."
"The difference is subtle. And I am not that intimidating."
She grinned. "Yes, you are."
Snape waved the trunk into position and Candide grabbed his robes to pull him into a hug. "Visit soon."
"I will. Just as soon as I get all of my intimidation prepared and in place for the new school year."
"Hello, Suze," Candide greeted Harry's guest as she stepped out of the Floo.
Suze pointed at Arcadius on Candide's arm. "Can I hold him?"
"He's mud-free at the moment, you certainly can."
"Good. I'm not really fond of mud," Suze said, accepting the baby, who immediately grabbed her ponytail.
"Need help?" Candide asked when Arcadius pulled hard, white hair tangled in his fingers.
"No, I'm good." Suze bounced into the main hall. "All the boys do that to me."
Harry stood to greet her. Suze added, "All the Slytherin boys, anyway. Hi, Harry."
"Ready for school?" Harry asked, glad to see her, but feeling raw about losing seemingly everyone to Hogwarts.
"Got all my shopping done." She stopped and peered at Harry while Arcadius tangled the fingers of his other hand in her hair too.
"Have a seat," Harry said, feeling awkward at home after so many dates in a neutral place.
She sat beside him on the couch and peered around the hall. "I like this house. Mum and dad like places a bit more Muggle. This place looks nice and old."
"The stone holds protective spells better," Candide said.
"You have a lot of protection, then?"
Candide waved over the newspaper while eyeing Arcadius in Suze's arms, as if the baby might notice what she was doing and put a stop to it. "We have issues with security at times, yes."
While they made small talk, Harry felt his face heating up, remembering the last battle here with Durumulna. The violence of the memory shook him. He had been worse than his snaky counterpart. Weaker.
Candide was making Suze explain all her courses and why she had chosen them.
Harry couldn't shake the Animagus memory of the blood and fear of that night, of chasing Ursie while running from Snape, who had kept risking everything for him. That Harry seemed to deserve the sacrifice more.
A hand closed over Harry's and he lifted his head like one waking up.
"Harry's a little tired from field work that went late into the night," Candide said, standing up. She came over and untangled Arcadius from Suze's hair. "I'm going to take the little one up and put him to bed. Good seeing you again, Suze."
As soon as the door closed upstairs, Suze lifted their joined hands shifted ov
"Maybe." He pulled her against her side. That other Harry would be laughing at him right now. He sorted through his emotions. "Don't know each other," he said.
"We've known each other years and years."
Harry smiled at her arguing tone. "Not close."
He felt her fall limp. "Oh."
"I like you." A rush of warmth rose up through him as he said this. He was more comfortable around her than with anyone else he knew, with the exception of maybe Ron.
Her head slid to the side, and he pulled her close again and petted her hair. That other Harry would take her upstairs without hesitation. As much as he envied his counterpart, he ignored the certainty of knowing this. Given her age, he felt it crucial to do things exactly right. In that way, it was true her age mattered.
"I was hoping we'd . . . get closer . . . before I had to go to school. Otherwise it will be forever."
The chandelier and all the lamps in the room were still lit. Harry raised his wand and picked them off one at a time until only two overhead remained, dripping warm light down upon the room.
She turned her head to peer up at him. "Changing your mind?"
"No." He slid down to hold her more comfortably.
She made a pleased noise. "This is good."
They fell still until she began playing with the buttons on his shirt. Not undoing them, just turning them in her fingers. "You're first person I've wanted to be with. I wasn't interested in anyone after that thing with Lucius Malfoy."
Harry remembered encountering her in the corridor at Hogwarts, disheveled and upset. He longed to return to that moment to do something more, like smack disguised Lucius across his pointy little face ten or twenty times. Harry's heart pumped harder at this longing. If he could wrap a snake hand around his face and strangle him, that would be good too.
"What happened? If say okay." He could barely think over his heart in his ears.
"I was stupid." Her tone of self-remonstration let his heart ease off. "Draco was everything in Slytherin. He never even noticed I existed. Except this one time when he ordered me to win at Quidditch." She rolled her eyes. "But he was flirting with me and being really insistent and charming in an obnoxious, power-mad Malfoy way. And everyone always did what he said. It was making everyone jealous, so I went along with him when he wanted to be alone. But he was an arse."
"I should . . ." but words fled before the confusion of Harry's emotions.
She waited before she said, "You should what?"
Harry moved his mouth without speaking.
She sat up a bit. "You all right?"
Harry nodded, smiling wryly. He was trying to say that he should have done more than talked to Snape about what happened. His concern for intruding seemed misplaced now. "He hurt?"
She peered at him with interest. "You can't talk when you're upset."
He shook his head. "We talk about you."
"If you insist." She put her head back down. "He didn't really hurt me. But I could feel his sweaty hands pawing me for a long time after. I tried to kick him in the knackers. Twice. That's when he let me go."
Her muscles were taut now, and her back rigid. Harry rubbed her back with the hand he had around her.
"Sorry," Harry said.
"Why are you apologizing?"
She snuggled up close, l
Potter slammed the open book on the desk closed. "Fat chance. And besides. Anyone knows that."
"I am Severus Snape's protégé."
Potter jerked his head back. "What?"
"Admit it. You would not have reached this point without him."
Potter snorted. "Perhaps. But that's true of many people, most of whom sacrificed much more. That bastard is too stubborn to die."
"He has a lot to teach you. If only you weren't too full of yourself to learn it."
"He won't teach me anything. He thinks I'm too dangerous as it is."
"Maybe you didn't ask nicely enough."
The tiara glittered as Potter lifted it up. His voice hissed out a question in Parselmouth.
Harry understood it through the Dark Plane, which was queerly exciting, but he said, "I am you without him. I do not speak the language of Darkness."
"If you are me, what is this?"
"It's a Crux Horridus. It means you will live forever."
Potter chewed on his lip and set the tiara carefully back on the blotter. "I can only live forever if I am part of him." He sounded defensive.
"But if you don't know death you will never live," Harry said. "Sorry. I don't mean to sound like Dumbledore."
"I was wondering if you were Dumbledore. Or some spell he left behind. Or his ghost." Potter scanned the room again.
"I really am you. Open your heart a bit and you'll see."
Potter blinked rapidly. "I'm not doing that badly. I'm still myself. And these things need to be done."
"Of course they do."
"Nothing happens if someone doesn't steer them to happen. Force them to happen."
"I know that. But remain true to yourself and don't forget you are Lily's son."
Potter sneered, "You are trying to make me weak. You are an enemy."
"I am envious of your strength, actually," Harry said, laughing. "I wish I were as strong as you are. I want to be you, not weaken you. But there is more than one kind of strength in the world." He paused while Potter considered that, expression dark. Harry said, "I'll take my envy and leave you alone now."
Potter cocked his head, making Harry worry he was thinking too hard, watching too carefully. He had to strike knowingly, directly at Potter's emotion to safely make an exit.
Harry said, "Don't forget to let me live, all right? I'm waiting to."
Harry stepped out of the Device, heart racing at the sense that the other Harry was trying to follow, trying to grab hold of him. He stood, listening to his breath, as he did what his counterpart usually did—checked the empty room over and over again.