Nymphadora Tonks kept her face very neutral as she strode with confident steps through the Ministry, escorting Prince Hunter Daire to his meeting with Minister Bones. Silent, confident, and professional were exactly what she wanted to project, no matter how excited she was to actually have this duty. "If you will follow me, Your Highness," she said, stepping into the lift to take them to the minister's office.
"Thank you," the man replied softly stepping into the lift with her, his tail lolling back and forth lazily.
When the lift doors closed, the prince broke his silence, "You would be my cousin Harry's friend, Tonks?" She noted that he did not use her hated given-name.
"I am," she said quietly.
"Good. He needs friends," he said enigmatically. "Especially now."
Falling back on her professionalism, she said nothing else as the lift took them to the Minister's office and the doors opened. Stepping out first, she made sure that the lobby was cleared and then escorted the man past the rather shocked secretary and directly into Minister Bones' inner office. There they found Minister Bones sitting quietly with of all people, Delores Umbridge. There was an air of tension in the room. At the sight of the hated woman, Tonks felt her hair shift from its normal pink to a deep angry red.
Rising, the minister said, "This is an unexpected visit, Your Highness."
"Really?" Prince Hunter asked. "I would have assumed that you would have been informed of the incident at the school this past Saturday."
"I have," she said. "But why would that bring you here?"
"I understand that there is some issue over Harry and Miss Granger actually killing Greyback?" Hunter said.
"I see," Amelia said with a wan smile. "I've received my report from the aurors who investigated, and see no need to push the issue any further. Greyback was a monster, and he was attempting to attack Elder Warlock Greengrass' granddaughter. Mister Potter and his friends were perfectly within their rights to kill him."
"Hem hem," Umbridge said.
"I appreciate that, Minister," Prince Daire went right on with his business completely ignoring the call for attention. "Harry was concerned about it reflecting badly on his friends."
"No need for that," the minister said. "The matter has already been closed." She looked to Tonks and added, "Other more pressing issues are of concern to this office than the death of one werewolf terrorist."
"Hem hem," Umbridge repeated.
At this second interruption, Daire turned to her and said, "I was under the impression that Wizards and Witches in Britain had been taught better manners." He looked her up and down critically and then added, "And to dress more professionally."
"I'm sorry for the interruption, Your Highness. This is very junior Undersecretary Delores Umbridge. Ms. Umbridge, this is His Royal Highness Hunter Daire of the Courts Immortal." It was clear that Minister Bones was not pleased with the interruption.
"Your cousin is Harry Potter?" she asked with a voice that dripped of honey. "I was unaware that Mr. Potter had any relatives of a non-human nature."
"My cousin's mother was fae, and my mother's sister. Is this an issue?" he asked.
"It's just that we have some very strict rules about magical creatures, here at the ministry," she said sweetly.
As if to emphasize her faux pas, one of the prince's black cat's ears rotated toward her. Then his eyes seemed to stare deep into the short toady woman's soul. He frowned, "Be careful what laws you push, Very Junior Undersecretary, for you may find yourself ruled by them yourself. You seem to be well on your way to become a hag."
"How dare you!" she protested.
Without changing his tone, he looked her up and down. "There's a deep darkness in your soul, madam, a dark evil that lurks there. I believe you once told my nephew that ou hated children. I can see it now with my othersight. It's growing. The charm you wear about your neck emanates the same darkness that comes from the Dark Lord and his mark." He paused as he continued to study her with some sight beyond sight. Then he added, "And since you have evidently never been touched by man, that means you are well on your way to becoming a hag. I would say within a few more decades the darkness will consume you. Too bad the centaurs didn't relieve you of that problem while you were in their care. Of course, I can't blame them. They are after all noble beings with great magic, and impeccable taste. It would possibly have spared you that fate. Do you perhaps know a troll? You might be able to convince one to help you out."
Umbridge's face boiled like a lobster in a pot at the casual comments. Her hand twitched at her side. Tonks stepped forward between the Prince and the unpleasant woman. "Please, Delores. Give me an excuse."
As if nothing had happened, Prince Daire turned again to the Minister and said, "If that is your ruling, then I believe our business is concluded."
"Uh, Your Highness," Bones interjected.
"I'm glad that we've reached an understanding here. However, my government, both the Wizengamot and Her Majesty's government has asked me to inquire about the possibility of Feyhold establishing an embassy here in London?"
"You want to invite in more crea...!" Tonks didn't hesitate.
"Pertrifcus Totalus!" she said reducing the woman to frozen state.
Daire nodded to her and smiled saying, "A young woman of quick wit and action." Turning back to the minister, he said, "Watch this one, she will go far. That is if she doesn't get herself killed first." Then, nodding his head toward Umbridge, he said, "I'm sure you can understand our reticence about such matters when even in your own government there are those who do not treat those who are not mortal with the respect they demand for themselves. Feyhold was founded to escape such attitudes."
"My deepest apologies, Your Highness," Bones said giving Tonks a sidelong glance. "I'm unsure as to why Undersecretary Umbridge was even here. But you can trust that this issue will be addressed."
Prince Daire simply nodded and said, "In that case, I will leave you to your work. I'm sure I can find my own way out." He turned to Tonks and said, "Thank you again for your assistance, Ms. Tonks. It's most appreciated." Smiling over to Umbridge, he added, "And were I you, I'd see to that locket. I'm unsure if she's being influenced by Voldemort, or if she's naturally unpleasant, but it does contain a darkness, a soul-shard if you would. I believe the shard is from the Dark Lord himself."
"I will see to it, Your Highness," Tonks told him. "I have the perfect person in mind."
"I'm sure you do," Daire replied and left the room.
A palpable tension drained from the minister's office when Daire had left the room. When it was clear that the man was out of ear shot, Minister Bones sighed and said, "Take that locket to Dumbledore and have him look at it. But first I want you to get a couple of aurors up here and escort Undersecretary Umbridge to a nice quiet office with a locked door and minus her wand. She and I are going to have a discussion about the behavior I expect from this office."
"Yes, ma'am," Tonks said with a smile. Reaching over, she removed the locket from Umbridge who stood stock-still, her face still red even through the effects of the spell. Dropping it into her vest pocket, she left to get the aurors. Finishing with that, she apparated to Hogsmead and made her way toward Hogwarts.
Arriving, she made a beeline to the headmaster's office where she found Dumbledore deep in conversation with Severus. "Headmaster, Severus," she said nodding to both men as she entered the room.
"Nymphadora," Dumbledore acknowledged her as she entered the room.
"Tonks," Severus at least had the decency not to use that hated name.
"To what do we owe this pleasant surprise?" the headmaster asked.
"Minister Bones sent me with something we confiscated from Delores Umbridge. Prince Daire said that he believed it contained a soul-shard from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."
"Really?" Severus asked. "And how did he come to this conclusion?"
"How should I know? I'm not fae."
"Othersight, most probably," the professor said. "Some fae can literally see magic as it flows and pools."
"I sort of got that impression myself," she replied taking the locket from her pocket. "Umbridge claims that the locket is a family heirloom of the Selwyn family. But if you ask me, that "S" looks an awful lot like Salazar Slytherin's sigil."
Dumbledore took the locket and studied it. "You have a good eye, Nymphadora."
"I've asked you not to call me that," she said through gritted teeth.
Taking out his wand, Dumbledore waved it over the locket and studied it carefully. Then looking up to Severus, he said, "I believe that this confirms our suspicion. We don't really need Harry to get that information from Horace."
"It would still be useful to have firm confirmation," Severus countered, his voice soft and flat.
"Exactly how did you come by this, Nimph..., uh 'Dora?" Dumbledore asked.
"For some reason Umbridge managed to invite herself into a meeting between Daire and Bones about Harry killing Greyback. She was quite rude, and Daire put her in her place rather quickly. When she became abusive, I petrified her. Bones told me to bring the locket to you. She can't officially take sides, but she can divert certain items to you for study."
"Tell her I'm most appreciative."
Tonks nodded and asked, "How's Hermione?"
"She's taking a few days off to spend with her parents after what has happened."
"I can imagine," Tonks said.
"And Harry?" she asked.
"Quiet," he told her.
"I can't blame him really," she replied.
"Nor can I," Dumbledore said absently as he studied the locket.
Feeling that she'd been dismissed, she turned to leave the room with a nod to Fawkes. "Well, I'd better get back to the ministry."
"Thank you for your efforts, 'Dora." Dumbledore mumbled to her as she left.
Monday morning, Harry settled into his classes, keeping out a weather eye for Hermione, but she didn't show up. At lunch, he checked with Madam Ponfrey, only to find that she'd returned to her parents for a few days for some personal healing time. Harry couldn't blame them, or her. He just wished he'd been able to see her before she'd left.
However, he didn't have a lot of time as his cousin insisted that he be present in his conversation with Professor Dumbledore about the incident with Greyback. Deciding to use it the most productively as he could, he made a beeline for the library, and to the restricted section. This was a time when he wished the wizarding world was organized more like the muggles. A computer database right now would be quite helpful in finding the subjects he wanted. But as he'd once read, if wishes were horses, even poor men would ride. So, with a grim determination, he began to dig through the card catalog.
Within an hour, he had a large stack of books and was pouring through them. He had discovered something called a horcrux, but could find little information on it. It would seem that most of the books referenced in the ones he was reading had disappeared from the library, and he daren't ask Madam Pince. She wouldn't understand.
It was well into his lunch period when his stomach began to growl. But the idea of leaving off the chase, combined with the thought of the bland food at the Great Hall, was not enough to tempt him away from his search. "Man, I'm hungry."
"Harry Potter sir wants Dobby to get him something from the kitchen?" Dobby suddenly appeared with a pop.
Harry shook his head and said, "No. I don't think I can handle sawdust today, Dobby. What I really would like is something from Muriashome. But that's not something I'm likely to get anytime soon."
"Dobby will be right back!" the brownie said, and with another 'pop' he disappeared.
"But you can't appar..." but the brownie was already gone. "...inside Hogwarts."
Harry returned to his search shaking his head. He was deep in a paragraph that had to have been written at the height of the Regency Period for its wordiness and convoluted sentence structure when Dobby suddenly reappeared with a large pewter tray.
"Dobby didn't know what Harry Potter wanted so he brought sandwiches."
Harry looked at the tray stacked high with roast beef sandwiches, a fresh pickle and some strawberries, and a large cold goblet of what smelled like apple juice.
"I didn't know you could do that," Harry said.
"Hogwarts magic does not affect elf-magic!" Dobby said. "If it did, we couldn't do our jobs!"
"Well, thanks, Dobby. I appreciate it." Then he took a huge bite of the roast beef sandwich and felt his taste buds nearly explode with delight as he could finally taste the nuances of the bread, the spiciness of the mustard, and a hint of cayenne pepper. Quickly he wolfed down the food as he continued to piece together what a horcrux was and what it took to make one. The latter nearly put him off his lunch, but not much could come between a teenage boy and his appetite.
"Food is not generally allowed in the library," Madam Pince said coming around the corner.
"I'm sorry, Madam Pince. I didn't want to leave the research. Dobby was kind enough to get me some food."
Looking at the pile of books and then at Harry, she said, "This kind of research is usually Miss Granger's wheelhouse, Mr. Potter. What gives?"
"I need information for myself, Madam Pince, and I can't always count on someone else to be able to get it for me."
"A wise attitude," she said eyeing the single strawberry left on the plate. Before Harry could protest, she popped it into her mouth, and said, "Carry on."
She got a half a step before she winked out of reality.
"Dobby!" Harry nearly shouted. "Take the tray and food back to Muriashome before someone else does that! I am so stupid!"
"Yes, Harrry Potter, sir!"
"Pop!" Dobby disappeared as Harry began to thin the veil between this reality and fairy. It was something he hadn't had a lot practice doing and it took him several moments to manage to pass through the veil.
The library on the other side was a vast airy structure with long rows of bookshelves that reached high into a cloudless sky. Sunlight streamed between the stacks and fairies and pixies glided through the air carrying pens and parchment. In the distance, he could make out a slight young woman dressed not unlike Madam Pince wandering through the stacks looking entirely entranced.
Running to catch up with her, he found the woman although to be wearing the same severe dress as Madam Pince, the same witch's hat, and even the same cameo at her throat, was much younger, much more attractive. "Madam Pince?" Harry asked.
"Irma," the woman said with a pleasant smile that turned her vulture like countenance into something much more pleasant. Looking around, she asked, "Where am I?"
"The library, Madam Pince. On the fairy side of the veil."
"Oh dear. How did that happen?"
"It's my fault, I shouldn't have been eating in the library."
"No, you shouldn't have," the young woman almost giggled as she grew considerably younger. "But I'll forgive you this time." Then she quickly began to fan herself. "Oh dear, I'm suddenly very hot."
Harry bit his tongue and didn't comment on how true what she said was. "Madam Pince, I need to get you out of fairy before you turn into a baby!"
"A baby?! Don't be silly."
"Please, Ma'am. Take my hand."
She smiled at him coquettishly. "If you've insist. It's been some time since a handsome young man held my hand." She took his hand in her dainty grip.
Before she could pull away, Harry thinned the veil again and stepped through, pulling a much younger Madam Pince through after him. Much to his surprise, the older woman now had the very shapely figure of a woman in her mid-twenties. "Oh dear. I'd better get you to Madam Pomfrey."
"Poppy? Why on earth for? I feel fine."
"Yes, ma'am," Harry said. "But fairy has unexpected effects on mortals. I'm sorry."
"Whatever for?" she demanded.
"Let's get you to the infirmary and I can explain."
Five minutes later, Madam Pomfrey was staring in amazement at Madam Pince. "If this is the effect going to fairy has on one, I think I'll book a trip myself," the older nurse said. She noted that Madam Pince was flirting outrageously with Harry, even going so far as to pinch his bum at one point.
Harry shook his head and said, "It depends on a lot of things. Depending on how you get there, which direction you face, and what you're doing, it can just as easily have the opposite effect. You could end up an old hag."
Madam Pomfrey nodded her head and said, "Oh dear."
"Exactly. Is there anything you can do for her?" Harry asked.
"Besides sober her up, I'm not sure that she would want me to do anything," Madam Pomfrey said. "Just what did she drink to get this tipsy?"
"She ate a single strawberry from my tray."
"From your tray?" Madam Pomfrey demanded. "What tray?"
"Dobby brought me some lunch from home. It was fae food."
Madam Pomfrey nodded, and guided the now rather spry librarian to a bed and got her to lay back. After a quick spell to get her to sleep she stood and looked at Harry and said, "You can't bring any more of that food to Hogwarts. If one of the students were to eat some, the results could be disastrous!"
"I know," Harry said, his mind feeling every ounce of the contrition in his voice.
She nodded again and said, "Go ahead. I'll take care of her."
"Thank you," Harry said as he headed back to the library to gather his notes.