Please see chapter one for notes
Though blinded – temporarily, he hoped – Harry climbed to his feet. "Lilith? Gabrielle?" he called over the screams around them, "are you okay?" Belatedly, he added, "Mrs Figg?"
Gabrielle replied in French; her wand touched his hand, and his sight returned. Around them, witches and wizards were crumpled on the ground, some sobbing, some moaning in pain and fear. Blood was pouring from noses and ears, and Harry realised that his own face was slick. He wiped the blood from his nose, cast a protective charm over Gabrielle, and looked around.
They had been standing within a few metres of the centre of the attack, which had thrown them several feet away. The atmosphere was still bright, charged with magic, small green particles hanging in the air. They were like miniature fireworks, very painful to the skin. Harry's lunch churned in his stomach, but he forced himself to keep moving.
"Coerceo Curse," he remembered Alastor Moody telling him in the horrible hours after the attack on Hogsmeade. "Sucks all the magic out of an area, and then returns it explosively. Just like a Muggle bomb."
Someone clutched his arm, dragging him back to the present. "Please," the witch moaned, "it's not You-Know-Who back, is it? Not again."
"Not again," Harry promised grimly.
There was nothing left in the centre of the blast area, just an empty space that made Harry's skin crawl. The air felt dead here, and he was careful not to enter the perfect circle that the curse had created.
Around him, Aurors, medics and journalists were Apparating.
"Harry!" Ron called, "you okay?"
"Yeah. Vision's a bit strange, and my sinuses are going to explode."
"Mr Potter!" cried a journalist, "did you have any warning of the attack? Is that why you were in Diagon Alley?"
"Of course not! I was having lunch with an old friend." Harry glanced behind him, where Gabrielle was helping with the wounded.
"Ah. And what is your relationship with Mrs Malfoy?"
"They're just good friends," drawled a cool voice. The journalist flinched under Draco Malfoy's icy stare. Malfoy sneered at Harry. "Go off and find a real story, O'Connor. Potter's not news – he just has this knack of appearing at the scene of a disaster."
The journalist made herself scarce.
"And what are you doing here, Malfoy?" asked Harry. Ron placed a restraining hand on his arm.
"Making sure that my wife is all right. You understand, I'm sure. Not that you did a particularly good job with—"
Harry was ready to draw his wand and curse Malfoy into the ground, when Ron said, "Harry. Mrs Figg – over there."
They made their way across the ruined Alley. Ron dropped to his knees beside Mrs Figg, taking her hand and looking pale. The indomitable old woman was unconscious, and she looked every minute of her eighty-seven years.
A couple of feet away from Mrs Figg, Lilith Borgin lay, staring at Harry through a curtain of bloody hair. Her lips moved, but no sound came out.
"Medic!" Harry called, "we've got two more wounded over here!"
The medics were all busy, but Gabrielle came over. Malfoy watched her work, an oddly tender expression on his face.
"Mrs Figg is too badly hurt," said Gabrielle, "I don't know what to do."
"Out of the way," ordered a mediwitch, pushing past Ron and Harry. "I need to get this one to St Mungo's. Alverson—" she waved at a colleague—"get that girl to hospital. Courceo Shock. Nasty case."
Harry was swaying on his feet as the doctors took Lilith and Mrs Figg away. Gabrielle was in Draco's arms, smearing blood all over his expensive robes as she silently wept. Harry looked away.
"Harry," said Ron softly, "you should get to hospital, too. You look pretty bad."
"The blood? It's just my nose."
"Yeah, and about thirty Courceo Burns. Go. We can take it from here." When Harry hesitated, Ron added, "for God's sake, go. Unless you think that a few new curse scars would help track down whoever did this."
Malfoy softly snorted as he Disapparated.
"Fine," Harry said. "And thanks. For not letting me stir anything up with Malfoy."
"I'm just getting dull in my old age. Now go, Harry, for God's sake—"
By virtue of his identity, and the rather shocking amount of blood on his face and clothes, Harry was treated quickly, and then dismissed to lurk in the halls. In the confusion of the emergency room, he was unable to find Lilith, and he was wondering what to do next when he heard a familiar voice.
"If you're here about Professor – I mean Mrs Figg, she's still unconscious," said Neville, adjusting his neat business robes, which had evidently been charmed to conceal bloodstains.
"And Lilith? The girl with her?"
"When will she wake up?"
"A couple of hours, probably. She wasn't badly hurt."
"And Mrs Figg?"
"Her injuries were a little more severe. She'll be in here for a couple of weeks. I wouldn't normally be dealing with emergencies. Technically, I'm still an apprentice medi-wizard, Muggle degrees not counting for much around here," Neville continued as they moved down the corridor, "but there were so many casualties … I haven't seen anything like this for years."
"It was pretty ugly on the scene, too. And look, if you could make sure there are guards around Mrs Figg and Lilith, I'd appreciate it."
Neville frowned. "I don't have that kind of authority, Harry. Is that a request as a witness, an Auror, or as the Boy Who Lived?"
"All at once. They were closest to the centre of the blast, and Arabella's made a lot of enemies."
Neville's mouth tightened as he asked, "What about the Snape girl?"
Harry shrugged. "Instinct." He felt a wave of anger as he recalled her broken, bleeding body in the centre of the carnage. She was an innocent, a bystander, a victim. She was as much a victim of the war as Harry's parents, or Neville's. The thought that someone might seek revenge for her parents' sins through her was sickening.
"Listen," he said, "is there any place I can wait around for Lilith to wake up?"
"May I offer you the hospitality of our refectory? The house elves make the worst food in Britain, but there's a startling array of caffeinated drinks and energizing potions."
Harry suddenly had a better idea. "How are your parents these days?"
Neville grinned properly for the first time. "Pretty good. They've recovered most of their adult memories, and are looking at a permanent discharge some time in the next few months."
Harry whistled. "You've done amazing work, Neville."
"I don't know … I wish I could have done it faster, or sooner…"
"Nah. If the wizarding world gave out Orders of Merlin for medical magic, you'd definitely be up for something. Come to think of it, I might propose it to Hermione. She'd approve of an award for research."
"Yeah, but she'd win it herself. So, you want to visit my parents?"
"Will that be okay?"
"They'd love it," said Neville confidently.
Frank Longbottom had once been a large, powerful man, but thirty years of hospitalisation had left him pale and puffy. He was lying on top of a comfortable-looking bed, wearing neat hospital robes and examining a book.
Harry had seen the Longbottoms several times, both before and after Neville and his colleagues had finally begun to heal them. This was the first time that Frank had looked up at him with recognition in his eyes.
"James – no, that's impossible, isn't it." His voice was very soft, and a touch uncertain.
"Yes, James and Lily's little boy … I think you've seen me before?"
"A couple of times." Harry took a seat beside the bed as Frank sat up. "It's good to finally meet you properly, sir."
"Frank, please." He indicated the book in his lap; it was The Voldemort Years, one of the more reputable books on the subject. "They tell me you're an Auror, now."
"I am, yeah. Since I was about twenty-two."
Frank smiled. "I joined the College straight out of school … Voldemort was rising, and I wanted to help – wanted to be one of the elites."
"That's … admirable," said Harry, although he wasn't sure if that was the response Frank wanted, if he wanted a response at all.
"That was pride, Harry. Sheer, damnable pride." Frank shook his head. "I paid the price for it, in the end … I just wish that they'd left my Janet alone."
"I don't think you can hold yourself responsible—"
"You must have been taught by Snape, like Neville," said Frank suddenly.
"Er – yeah, I was." Harry grinned. "We used to compete for lowest marks in Potions, before—" Harry floundered a bit – "you know, the Memory Charms were broken. Neville melted more cauldrons, but Snape hated me more."
"I knew him, at school. Snape. And the Lestranges … Rosier. Wilkes. And your parents, and their friends. They were younger than me, but I knew them."
"I know. Sirius told me."
"When I was an Auror … I don't have all of my memories back, you know, but some things are so clear … I've remembered them for years. We were given a lot of latitude, we Aurors."
"I know." Harry had a nasty suspicion that he knew where this was going, and he desperately wished that he'd braved the bad food in the refectory, or volunteered to clean bedpans, or simply moved to China as soon as school was over.
"We captured Snape … ooh, eight months before Voldemort fell. We knew he was a Death Eater; he never even bothered to deny it. But we needed names, so we … he spent four days in Azkaban, and everyday, my Coterie visited him. We formed the Circle, and we took turns … we took turns…" He stopped, swallowing.
"I understand," Harry said.
"No, I don't think you do. It was allowed, you see, because sacrifices had to be made … I felt a bit of a hero, really, giving up my soul for the benefit of society. Snape … was not the first.
"He lasted the first day, but by the second, he was telling us … all sorts of things. That he was working for Dumbledore, and he'd already given the names, and there were other forces at work … he said that Dumbledore had a plan.
"We thought he was lying.
"By the third day, he was giving us names, but he kept telling us to ask Dumbledore. Me … it was me he was talking to. He knew me, after all.
"And by the fourth day, he wasn't even coherent."
"What happened, sir?"
"He was so consistent … my Coterie disagreed, but I kept wondering – if it was a lie, surely he would have changed his tune by now.
"And if it was the truth…" Frank shuddered. "I went to see Dumbledore. And I'd barely had a chance to say, 'We captured Severus Snape, and he keeps telling us to speak to you…' Did you ever see Dumbledore when he was angry, Harry? Really angry?"
"I'll never forget it. He said nothing … nothing at all. Just picked up his wand, stood up, and gestured for me to follow him. I followed him down to the school gates, and we Apparated to the docks, where the boats to Azkaban left. He stood at the prow of the boat, in the wind and the rain … I was cold, and I wanted to go inside, but I was scared to leave his side.
"We were both soaking when we reached Azkaban, and cold. His robes were ruined. He walked through the corridors in silence, and I followed him … there were Dementors all around us.
"He threw Snape's cell door open … I've never found out how; those locks are supposed to be unbreakable. But then, Dumbledore was more powerful than Voldemort in those days. He walked into Snape's cell, and knelt down beside him – Snape was barely twenty-one, you know – and hugged the greasy brat like a son.
"I've never forgotten that. Not in thirty years."
Harry licked his dry lips. "You did the right thing in the end, sir."
"Small consolation." Frank smiled grimly. "The Lestranges knew about it, of course. That's … that's why they chose me." He touched Harry's arm. "I've never told anyone this, Harry. Not even Janet. Or Neville…"
"I won't tell anyone, sir."
Frank settled back on his pillows, visibly exhausted. "I suppose everyone tells you that you're like your dad."
"Well, it's true. But there's something of your mother about you, too. You could tell Lily anything."
Personally, Harry suspected it had more to do with his fame, and people's desire to get close to it by sharing their private lives with him.
Ginny, now, she had been someone you could confide in: reserved, non-judgemental, trustworthy.
Perhaps something of that gift had rubbed off on him. He could think of worse heirlooms. Harry's throat was tight as he said, "Thank you, sir."
Harry escaped from Frank as quickly as possible, feeling sick to his stomach. Aren't we the great hero, Potter? You follow in the footsteps of petty torturers. What a fine heritage, what a fine way to repay your parents' sacrifice.
He was pleased to see a guard outside Lilith's room, a young man wearing Magical Law Enforcement robes. He jumped to attention when he saw Harry.
"Sir," he said, beaming. "This area is secure. Sir."
"Good work," Harry murmured. "Is there a doctor around?"
"Down there, Sir."
The doctor was a man of middle years. He wore a Muggle-style lab coat over his robes; it contrasted oddly with his bright orange wizard's hat.
"Mr Potter," he said, speaking softly and rapidly, "am I to understand that you are taking responsibility for the young woman in Ward Three?"
"Um … sure, why not? Until you get a hold of her father, anyway."
"Yes, Doctor Longbottom explained who she was. But Professor Snape cannot be reached, sir."
"Can't be reached? What, can't you owl him? He was supposed to be back on Friday."
"The owl we sent circled the hospital and then returned. We contacted Professor Vector, since she is his Deputy, but she said that he left the Conference in France on Monday, and that he would be returning to England late."
"And he's made himself un-findable?" Aside from his daughter, Snape had no family that Harry knew of. But the Death Eaters had been closer than family, and the Ministry had always suspected that more than a few were keeping a low profile in Europe. And it would be just like Snape to go hunting, instead of calling out the cavalry. "Look, I have an idea where Snape is. The second he's contactable, I'll make sure he hears of this. Until then, yeah, I'll take responsibility for Lilith."
"Thank you, sir. Her injuries were not severe – we will release her tomorrow morning. Mrs Figg, I fear, will remain with us for at least a fortnight."
"Will she recover?"
"She is an Auror, Mr Potter, or at least, she was. We have seen a great deal of Mrs Figg over the years." With a very small flicker of humour, the doctor said, "I predict that she will be making unreasonable demands of her doctors and herself within ten days."
"I'm glad to hear that." And he was, he realised, despite his ambiguous relationship with the old woman. "Can I see her?"
"What about Lilith?"
"Miss Borgin will be unconscious for several hours. But you may sit with her, if you wish."
Harry returned to the darkened room, telling the young guard to grab something to eat. He ignored the hospital chairs and conjured something more comfortable, glad of the peace.
The attack had been deliberate and targeted, he decided. But not necessarily planned in advance; the Coerceo Curse needed only an hour of preparation before it could be fatal. Such things depended on the strength of the caster, of course. Harry mentally ticked off a list of witches and wizards who could have cast the curse at that strength on a moment's notice. Himself, definitely. Possibly Sirius, Hermione, Snape. The Minister of Magic. Tenebreas Lux. Draco Malfoy, perhaps.
His mind paused at that; Malfoy had appeared on the scene rather quickly. He certainly hated Harry, and had no love for Arabella or Snape. But no, this wasn't Malfoy's style. He dealt in shadows and subtleties. And he hadn't been associated with a direct attack since the Fall of Voldemort. Harry suspected that he'd arranged certain other incidents over the years, but he had no proof, nothing more solid than a schoolboy grudge, festered and swollen.
But no, the attack probably hadn't been impulsive. Someone had seen him – or Lilith, or Arabella – on the street, and gambled that they'd still be present when the Curse was ready to be completed.
I hope Enid remembers to have someone check the vantage points.
Lord, he was tired. And angry, and sore. He leaned back and watched Lilith sleep. Her face was open and relaxed, framed by messy black hair. She looked like a sculpture, the work of an eccentric, but highly skilled artist. The prominence of her nose normally cancelled the effect of her long, full mouth, but now Harry was free to stare.
She was not beautiful, he decided, but she was compelling. One day, perhaps, she would be extraordinary, with a grace and power that made mere prettiness seem tawdry and artificial. Now that she was still, masking her adolescent clumsiness, he could see the woman she would become.
Someone should show her the records of her mother. Teach her how to walk and hold herself.
It was a stupid thought. Eugenia was the last person Lilith should choose as a role model. Better that she follow in her father's footsteps.
Harry shook his head. She was only fifteen. She had plenty of time to achieve maturity. And he had no right to assess her as if she were a woman grown.
Bit early for a mid-life crisis, Potter.
Something stirred at the doorway. Harry looked up, thinking that the guard had returned, but there was no one there. He rose from his chair to check the corridor, which was completely deserted. There was a whisper of air in the ward, a rustle of paper and the swish of an Invisibility Cloak. Harry grabbed his wand, but the intruder Disapparated with a pop, leaving a piece of parchment on his chair.
Not everything is about you, Potter,
the note read, Severus Snape has many enemies and one daughter.
You complete the equation.
to be continued