Harry stared numbly at the Chudley Cannons calendar, which Ron had affixed to the wall next to Padfoot. "This is a bloody disaster," he said, more to himself than Ron. "I'm completely, utterly fucked."

"Because of all the parties you have to go to? Don't tell me you don't have enough robes!"

"Very funny," said Harry, pausing to consider whether he had enough robes, and realising with dismay that he did. "I have plans nearly every night until New Year's. And yes, even Christmas."

"Can't you cancel something?" asked Ron. "No one expects you to accept every invitation."

"No, of course not. In fact, loads of people have told me just that, when what they really is mean I should turn down some other invitation, but very definitely accept theirs."

Ron studied the calendar, which helped them keep track of the other's whereabouts. "At least a quarter of these families are Dark," he said. "Is that really what you want to be doing?"

"Only the Baxters and Yawtons are Dark," Harry argued. "Well, also the Parkinsons, but they don't count, since I'll just be upstairs with Pansy." Ron's eyes shot open, and Harry said, "Not what you're thinking. Or at least I hope not—she claims she's having a private party upstairs for the younger set. But I should probably double-check."

"Will Fiona be there? I can't really see her and Pansy hitting it off."

"Neither can I. And no, she's only going to a few events. Including Slughorn's Christmas party—please tell me Janet is going."

"She is, and I think she has something planned, which makes me nervous."

"What about Ginny?" asked Harry. "She was in the Slug Club back in school."

"The Harpies' Christmas party is the same night, which is fortunate, since she and Wendy would just egg Janet on."

"What about George, then? Surely he's famous enough."

"Slughorn never taught him, remember? And for some reason, Snape's portrait didn't invite him to his Christmas party."

"Imagine that. How are things at the shop anyway? Busy, I hope?"

"It's mayhem," said Ron. "I've been working the till more than I'd like, but I can't complain, since Lee and George work harder than anyone. Actually, that reminds me—Andrew Gilstrap was there yesterday."

"What? You mean, to buy stuff?"

"Yeah—during your first broadcast, you apparently provided so much taunting material that Lee ordered Gilstrap to do all his Christmas shopping there, in thanks."

"Did he buy much?" asked Harry. "Not that it's any of my business, of course."

"Decent amount. I was hoping he'd look in on Walburga, maybe have a cuppa. But George said the one time he tried, it went poorly."

"Oh?"

"Yeah, it turns out she won't slag you without a pure-blood present. Black family loyalty, I guess."

Harry glanced down at his ring, which he no longer hid while at home. "You'd think I'd have got used to it by now. But no, it's still horrible."

"Small price to pay for a telepathic bond, though, eh?"

"You're not joking—if it weren't for that, I'd have to watch my back every second. I'm tempted to train Lodie as well, but Kreacher would have a fit if he found out. Also, I don't know whether it's possible for a house-elf to bond with more than one person that way, and I'd like my wife to also be protected, when the time comes."

Ron raised his eyebrows. "Your wife? Is there something you haven't told me?"

"Nothing you don't already know. Although I'm not sure Fiona would be willing to have house-elves at all. She's given me a free pass, but otherwise she doesn't really approve of them."

"Easy for her to say, with a house that maintains itself,' Ron scoffed. 'But you've seen what happens to magical houses if you don't stay on top of things."

Harry nodded, recalling their first summer at Grimmauld Place. "Yeah, well, I'd move into her place anyway, because of Matthew. Rob's parents are still worried he'll decide I'm his new dad or something."

"Do you think that's likely?"

"It's hard to picture, but Fiona thinks it could happen. She says he doesn't talk about Rob as much as he used to, and that he's more into Quidditch than before. Now that he understands the strategy better, he plays with that toy all the time, even on his own. And he wants me to teach him how to fly on a real broom—well, junior broom. Fiona says not till he's bigger, but his cousin started flying last summer and he's only a year older."

"Are you ready for that?" asked Ron. "Being a dad, that is."

Harry grimaced. "I don't know, kind of? Not for real, certainly, and I don't want to replace Rob. But maybe like what I have with Teddy, or will do when he's older. Fiona and I are hoping they'll bond, since they're both only children. And even if she and I don't last, Andromeda could still be the go-between."

"I guess that's all right," said Ron uncertainly. "Just be careful—he's already lost one dad."

Harry didn't like the implication he and Fiona would split up, but he was used to hearing it. "I am being careful," he said, glancing at Padfoot. "Anyway, I need to change for tonight's party—see you at Slughorn's thing tomorrow, if not sooner."

He and Simon had visited the National Gallery that afternoon, freeing him up for the Greengrass soirée that night. He was going alone, since neither Fiona nor Hermione were interested, but Narcissa would be there. It would be too great a scandal if they arrived together or—worse yet—left together, but people were used to seeing them dance. In fact, Harry had become a sought-after partner amongst witches of a certain age, and Narcissa was urging him to cultivate the ones with a Wizengamot vote.

"That seems conniving," he told her that night when she pointed one out. "And besides, didn't she sign that letter from the lords?"

"Yes, but that's because she's friends with Olivia Wynter, whose husband organised the whole thing."

Davina's mum, thought Harry. "Are they here?" he asked, looking around.

"I should think so. The Wynters and the Greengrasses are closely allied—as much as neutrals ally with anyone. Although Lucius found Wynter particularly frustrating, since he's a hair's breadth away from being Dark, but he was never a reliable vote."

"I'm glad to hear it," said Harry. "I assume they didn't see eye to eye about wizarding traditions?"

"Yes, Wynter thought Lucius was too radical. Which he was, of course." Lowering her voice, she said, "Let's dance. There's something I need to tell you, and we're less likely to be overheard."

They waited for the next song to begin, then Harry led her to the dance floor and took her into his arms. As always, people were watching, but no one expressed surprise or disapproval. "So, what is it?" he asked.

"Lucius. I told him everything."

"Everything?" Harry gasped, recalling their shared bout of sobs on the drawing room floor. "Surely not–"

"No, not that. But he knows I consider you family, and that I think you've been good for Draco. I also told him I'm close with Andromeda again, and how fond I am of Teddy."

"How did that go over?"

"I don't know—he hasn't replied yet. But I warned Draco, in case Lucius writes to him."

"Did you reveal anything about Draco?" asked Harry, thinking of all his nights away from the Manor.

"No, that's his own affair, if you'll pardon the double meaning. Lucius knows about your alliance, but he thinks Draco is just manipulating you. Which he encourages, of course."

Harry led Narcissa around the ballroom with practised ease, and he was confident no one could hear them. "How do you expect he'll react?"

"I honestly don't know. It's possible I won't hear anything, at least not for a while; if he just rants and raves, the guards won't send it. Or perhaps he's sulking, in which case he won't write at all. So I mightn't know anything until Wednesday, when I visit again."

"And what about Draco? Was he upset?"

"Yes, but everything about Lucius upsets him. And he's mostly worried about me."

"Does he think he'll retaliate somehow?"

With an amused sniff, she said, "If that were possible, I doubt you'd be standing right now."

"Right, good point. But he could still hurt your feelings, or play on your guilt."

"That's true. And that's what he'll most likely do, if he still deserves to be called a Slytherin." Sighing, she said, "He probably thinks you've infected me with Light magic."

This time Harry laughed. "It would serve him right. And who knows, maybe I have done. All that dancing, you know."

"Don't even joke about it," said Narcissa with plain irritation. "I'm armed to the teeth with Dark magic right now—it's the only way I can get through a public function."

He was already holding her, and it would be inappropriate to give her a hug, but he bathed her in compassion. "I'm glad you're here tonight, and those other parties as well," he said. "I get tired of wearing a public face the whole time, and with you I can relax."

"Don't get too comfortable," she said. "You should really cultivate Maisie. Look, she's just finishing her drink."

Lady Amortentia Ladue, who apparently went by "Maisie," was old but not decrepit, and clearly spry enough to dance. Like Daphne's mum, she was a female head of house, and her husband had taken her name. But he was a retiring sort who preferred to stay home, which meant Narcissa was often seated with her.

"Do you think she'll co-sponsor my goblin initiative?"

"Unlikely. It would look as if she'd succumbed to your wiles, which would make her look weak. But you should still win her over, since you'll need her support for the full chamber vote."

Narcissa gave him a few more tips, and when the song ended Harry approached her. "Madam Ladue," he said, bowing. "Will you do me the honour to dance with me?"

"Mr Potter-Black," she said, as though she'd expected him. "Yes, both for my own enjoyment and to impress my granddaughter. She's fourteen and has a dizzying crush on you."

"Oh dear, that's a bit young," said Harry, escorting her to the dance floor.

"It is, thank Merlin—I'd be far more concerned if she were of age. Although if you're still available in three years, I'll consider it." Their conversation remained light, but it was hard to talk while dancing, so he proposed they continue over drinks. "Yes, but somewhere private," she said. "No, not like that—I'm antique. But I have a favour to ask."

They found a place to sit down, and she cast a charm for privacy. "Davina Wynter," she declared. "I'm sorry, Hampton. I knew her when she was a girl and still think of her that way."

Harry had a hunch where this was going. "Yes, what about her?"

"I know you've met her father, Romulus Wynter. Made rather an enemy of him, in fact. Which reminds me, I'm sorry about that letter—I should never have let him talk me into signing it."

"That's quite all right," said Harry, amused. "Go on."

"He's a stubborn old fool, and so is Davina, to be quite honest. Each one thinks the other should apologise, and as a result it's been decades since they spoke."

"Er, I'm pretty sure she writes to her parents every year. And I know she's apologised more than once."

"That may be what she thinks, but Romulus certainly doesn't. And Olivia—her mother—is caught in the middle."

"Caught in the middle? Why can't she just contact Davina herself?"

Madam Ladue scowled. "It's her marriage bond. There's a reason no one uses that particular ritual anymore—it's more like a house-elf bond!"

"A house-elf bond!" exclaimed Harry. "In a marriage? That should be illegal!"

"It's not as bad as that, since she still has autonomy. And don't blame Romulus—his father insisted, on account of his own wife's disloyalty. But it means Olivia can't go behind his back, and that her opinions will largely align with his own."

Harry was still gobsmacked. "Why on earth did she agree to that? Or did they Imperius her?"

"It was considered romantic, believe it or not. It guarantees his fidelity as well, and by all accounts it produces a happy marriage." Harry looked skeptical, and she said, "I know—it's utter foolishness, but they were in love, and he was to be her lord and master."

"And I bollocksed up the lordship," said Harry. "Fine, he was forced by his father. But doesn't he care that he's basically enslaved her?"

"It's that bloody bond," said Madam Ladue. "They've been married for seventy years, and it just gets stronger. I don't think they even realise how much it affects them."

"Does Davina know?" Harry found it hard to believe she'd sever ties with her parents if her mum had no say in the matter.

"She may know in theory, but remember, she's never seen her parents disagree about anything major. And she probably thinks she apologised properly, and that he's the one who's stubborn."

Harry was torn between loyalty towards Davina and disappointment. To be fair, she freely admitted she had a temper, and that she was equally to blame for the family rift, but he'd have thought a Light master would be better at making amends.

"Er, right," he said uncomfortably. "What exactly are you asking me to do? And why haven't you asked her yourself? She's not hard to find."

"No, but I don't think she'll like what I'm suggesting: she needs to do a better job apologising."

"They made her give up her first love, just because he was Muggle-born!" protested Harry. "And then they didn't acknowledge their own grandchildren, simply because they weren't magical!"

"I know, and I'm not defending that. But Romulus won't admit he's done anything wrong until Davina does first. Meanwhile, Olivia clearly longs for grandchildren, based on how she acts when I mention my own. Someone needs to take the first step, and Romulus is too proud."

"And Olivia can't, because of the bond," said Harry. "You haven't tried convincing him yourself?"

"You've met him," she said with disdain. "It can't be done. And yes, I've tried."

"But why do you think I'll be able to convince her? She's my teacher, and I'm only nineteen."

"Because you could sell umbrellas to a merman. Don't deny it."

He took a deep breath. "I appreciate your faith in me, Madam Ladue."

"Oh, for Merlin's sake, call me Maisie. I like to think I've aged better than my given name—did you know Love Potions used to be considered romantic?"

Harry danced with multiple witches that night, none of them near his own age, so it was a relief to finally talk to Daphne. She'd spent much of the evening at her parents' side, and he'd noticed her dancing with various wizards. But he knew her well enough to suspect she wasn't having a very good time.

"How are you doing?" he asked, in as private a setting as propriety allowed.

"Do you want the polite answer or the honest one?"

"Let's hear them both. You're my etiquette tutor, after all."

She tilted her chin slightly upwards. "It's been a perfectly stellar evening. I've danced with several highly suitable wizards, and I believe I've conducted myself properly for a witch of my station."

"Right. And what's the real answer?"

"I'm bored stiff," she said, looking more sad than petulant. "Why on earth did I let you introduce me to Phil Routledge?"

"I thought you didn't like him," said Harry, puzzled. After their date the previous week, she'd owled Harry to say Phil seemed nice but was "out of the question." And Phil said she was pretty but obviously not interested.

"I liked him just fine. But really, what's the point? We clearly have no future together."

"Did you discuss that?"

"Of course not! But can you really picture him here?"

"Six months ago I couldn't have pictured myself here," said Harry. "And he obviously made an impression, if you wish you'd never met him."

Daphne sighed. "He did. We met for ice cream, but now I'm wishing I'd had something to drink, to bolster my courage. I'm no Gryffindor, although I suspect he is."

"Ice cream? Whose idea was that?"

"Mine. We went to Fortescue's shop. I wanted to show I wasn't ashamed to be seen with him."

"I'm sure he loved that," said Harry dryly. "Which meant your behaviour was even more proper than usual, so no one would get the wrong idea, right?"

Daphne looked embarrassed. "It probably was. But what should I have done instead?"

Knowing Phil would appreciate the suggestion, he said, "You should have let him take you slumming. You should have dressed a little too formally and gone to a Muggle restaurant—not too posh. You'd try unfamiliar foods and they'd be too spicy and your eyes would water. Then you'd go to a noisy pub and you'd have to stand too close just to talk. He'd put a hand on your waist, because he knows what he's doing, and you'd like it instead of going all rigid. And someone would accidentally spill beer on your front, and you wouldn't be able to dry it because of Secrecy, and–"

"Point taken," she said, her cheeks flushed. "Although surely I'd cast a drying charm in the loo."

"Maybe, but where's the fun in that?"

Daphne swatted him, and Harry laughed, drawing onlookers. "You're a terrible influence," she said haughtily. "I'm going to tell Narcissa Malfoy on you."

"She already knows. And she's also noticed how much happier Draco is these days."

Her face lit with interest. "He is! And he won't tell me who she is—it's some trollop, right? From one of the other schools?"

"My lips are sealed. But for now I'm taking the credit, and I will do until it all ends in tears. Which it will. But you and Phil are different, and I hope you'll give him another chance."

"But won't we just ... end in tears?" She glanced at her parents, a handsome couple on the other side of the room.

"That's up to you. I mean, yeah, it mightn't work out, but right now the biggest obstacle is your fear he wouldn't fit in."

"But what about his parents? They couldn't come to a party like this."

"Because they're Muggles?"

"Yes. And what about his other relations, who can't even know about magic? My entire family would have to lie just to meet them. It's too much to ask."

"It is a lot to ask," said Harry. "But it's also a lot to ask for you to marry someone you're not excited about just because he fits in. Who were those wizards anyway?"

She seemed to deflate. "They were nice. They're mostly older, and one already has a child from a previous marriage, so he doesn't need his own heir. But he's nearly forty."

Daphne looked like she wanted to cry, and Harry took her hand. "Shall I write to Phil and suggest a do-over?"

She nodded, then said, "But spicy food is fine. I've eaten at Padma's house, and it doesn't bother me at all."

He wrote to Phil that night before bed, and by the next afternoon he heard back from Daphne. "We're trying again tomorrow, this time at a Muggle restaurant, as you suggested," she wrote. "And I'm wearing a dark top, just in case."

That evening, Harry met Ron in the reception hall, the latter wearing very stylish dress robes and holding a boxed corsage. "She'd better like this," said Ron, indicating the box.

"Trust me, she will. Nice robes, by the way."

Ron's ears turned pink. "Cheers—same with yours. Do you have the map?"

"Yes, and the Cloak," said Harry, patting his pouch. "We'll give them the full Hogwarts experience. Minus the mortal peril, of course."

The fireplace flared green and out stepped Fiona. "Oh, look at you both!" she exclaimed. "Ron, you look terribly smart. I'd almost say you've outdone Harry, but that's impossible."

Harry stared in admiration. She'd allowed him to take her shopping, and this was one of the dresses they'd bought. "Fiona, you'll be the most glamorous person there," he declared, then drew her in for a kiss. "Hogwarts won't know what hit it."

"I'm wearing this as a favour to you, my love. Ron, promise me I won't be overdressed."

"No clue," said Ron. "I've never been to one of these before. I wasn't invited when we were in school, and Hermione and I skipped it last year, since Harry and Ginny didn't go."

"Harry, you turned down a chance to dress up?" said Fiona. "That doesn't sound like you."

"That was Auror Harry," said Ron. "Night and day."

"Right, of course." She peered at the fireplace and said, "Are we waiting for Janet?"

"No, go ahead," said Ron. "She warned me she might be late—I'll see you there."

Harry let Fiona travel first to Slughorn's office, then followed half a minute later. The journey was long and tortuous, and he emerged to find her beset by Slughorn himself. "You're every bit as lovely as your photograph, Miss Dunning," he fawned, kissing her hand. "But I shouldn't be surprised, considering whom you ensnared. And look, here he is now! Harry, m'boy!"

"Professor Slughorn," said Harry, clearing the ashes from his robes.

"I only wish I'd taught you more than one year," he said fondly. "Miss Dunning, he was a remarkably talented potioneer. Harry, I hope you still practise!"

"Er, not really," he said, not wanting to remind him he'd cheated during sixth year. He'd confessed twice before, and both times Slughorn waved it off, insisting great brewers were born, not made, and that no mere margin notes could explain his talent. "But Fiona's quite a brewer," said Harry. "She makes all their household potions from scratch, and she even grows a lot of the herbs."

"Yes, the domestic arts—just what you want in a partner," said Slughorn, not noticing her appalled expression. "Which school did you attend anyway, Miss Dunning?"

"It's Mrs Dunning," said Harry, just as Fiona said, "Blockhurst."

"Oh, that's one of the good ones," said Slughorn. "And, if memory serves, your late husband was an Unspeakable—was he not? Then you must know Lysandra Knox, who'll be here later. She also works for the DOM, although don't tell anyone I told you, ha ha."

Fiona looked stricken, and Harry intervened. "Thank you, professor. If you'll excuse us, I'm dying to try the hors d'oeuvres. I remember how good they were last time."

"Splendid! And please, help yourself. You know how I feel about hospitality! But don't disappear on me—there's heaps of people I want you to meet."

"Right," said Harry, taking Fiona's hand. He led her towards an alcove in the magically expanded study, festooned with sashes of colour like an enormous tent, and she leaned against the wall.

"Oh my god, he's as bad as you said!"

"I know—are you all right?" asked Harry.

"Yes, I'm just reeling. I didn't know another Unspeakable would be here, although perhaps I should have expected it."

"Do you know her?"

Fiona nodded. "Yes, that's Mistral. She's the next youngest after Rob. But don't call her that—code names are secret. The only reason I can repeat it is because Rob is dead."

"Should we avoid her?"

"No, that's all right. She came to the funeral, such as it was, and she also sent me a very kind letter. I suppose it'll be nice to interact with her under better circumstances."

They stepped out from the alcove and began to mingle. The crowd was dotted with familiar faces, mainly from Pratt's and the Ministry, but Fiona seemed more interested in the students. "So, this is the cream of Hogwarts," she said dryly.

"Maybe, maybe not. Slughorn goes for people with important parents, which generally includes a few wankers," he said, thinking of Cormac McLaggen. "I don't think many Muggleborns make the cut, except Hermione. And my mum, I guess."

"Let's find out," said Fiona, approaching a pair of students. "Hi, I'm Fiona and this is Harry. What are your names?"

Thus began Fiona's mission to meet as many students as possible, which they discovered was much more fun than talking with the other notables. They learnt Slughorn still favoured students with highly-placed relatives within the Ministry, and also those who excelled in Potions.

Hermione and Ryan joined them, which drew out the students with Muggle parents, and when Ron and Janet turned up, the talk turned to Quidditch. "We listened to the match all night in the Gryffindor common room," said a student. "Everyone there roots for the Cannons, since Harry's one of ours."

"No, he's a Slytherin," said a witch. "You can have the war hero, but we get the Quidditch star."

"He played Quidditch for Gryffindor," argued the first student, and Ron weighed in as well. A heated debate arose, which embarrassed Harry, and he tried not to listen.

"Gryffindor can have him," said a plummy voice, off to his left. Harry turned and saw a young wizard with smooth blond hair and an oddly familiar face. It took Harry a moment to place him, and his throat clenched.

The wizard shot him an insolent gaze, then whispered to the witch at his side. Fiona noticed Harry's unease. "Are you all right?" she asked quietly.

"I think that's Lydia's brother," he whispered back. "Stay here."

Harry walked the short distance and said, "Jacob Travers, I presume?"

"That's right. How good of you to grace us with your presence, Potter. I'm told Slughorn nearly wet himself when you said you were coming."

Travers was impeccably dressed and as good-looking as Harry would have expected. And also as hostile, he thought with dismay.

"I'm sorry if I've made you uncomfortable by coming here tonight," said Harry sincerely.

"Oh, this is nothing to how you made my parents feel last summer. Although at least my surname has a new reason to be infamous." His expression was more Esme than Lydia, thanks to his Dark Arts sneer, and he said, "'Oi, Travers! How many times do you think Potter fucked your sister? She lived with him for what, ten days? That's sixty times, right? Oh, wait, there was the "Everything but the pelvis" phase, so that probably lowers the count. Although it sounds like she kept him happy then too.'"

All of this was too quiet to be overheard. "Look, mate, I'm sorry," said Harry, but Travers cut him off.

"Excuse me, Miss Dunning!" he called. "Yes, over here, with your boyfriend!" Fiona reluctantly approached, and Travers, no longer quiet, said, "You know he'll cheat on you, right? He cheated on my sister, after all."

People were watching, and Fiona took Harry's hand. "Thanks, I'm not worried," she said, leading him away.

"You should be," called Travers. "It was a French prostitute, wasn't it? I didn't catch all the details, but that bit was hard to miss."

Travers's friend finally stopped him and dragged him back to the bar. "Brilliant, more alcohol—just what he needs," muttered Fiona. "But Harry, are you all right?"

"I'm fine," he sighed. Ron, Janet, Hermione, and Ryan surrounded him. "I'm more worried about Lydia—she never wanted that to be public."

"Is it now," said Janet. "Do you need another drink?"

Harry looked at Fiona and asked, "What do you want? That can't have been fun for you."

"No, it wasn't. But maybe we should walk around, see a bit of Hogwarts."

"Good idea." Addressing the others, he said, "Will you come?"

"No, Ryan and I should stay here," said Hermione. "A lot of people have questions about Light magic, and I'm more approachable than you are."

"I could stand a tour of your deathtrap school," said Janet. "But let's top off our drinks, maybe grab some more food. Meet you at the door."

Harry and Fiona got more wine, and she revealed an impermeable compartment within her handbag, which they discreetly stocked with hors d'oeuvres. "You can dress me up, but I'll still be a mum," she said, smiling.

Jacob Travers was still glowering as they walked to the door and, worse yet, Barnabas Cuffe caught Harry's eye. "You never disappoint, do you, Potter?" said the editor of the Daily Prophet.

"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Harry, knowing exactly what he meant.

"Don't play dumb—you're a Slytherin now. Do you want to comment, or shall I just run the story as is? And killing it isn't an option—everyone heard."

Harry cast a privacy charm, not caring who saw. "What do you want?"

"The details. What happened?"

"That's no one's business!" he snapped.

"It is if you cheated Veritaserum. You told the public you'd never slept with a prostitute, remember? And if you lied about that, you lied about everything else."

Harry chuckled, and he felt his obnoxious Seeker persona resurface. "Oh, I see why you're confused. What I said on the air was that I'd never paid for sex, which is still true. But perhaps you weren't aware that filles de joie don't always charge." Cuffe scowled, and Harry said, "Yes, I cheated on Lydia during my first visit to Pratt's, which was also my sole visit to the Boudoir. I assume you know what it's like there."

Cuffe didn't reply, and Harry said, "I should note that this was after I took Veritaserum on the radio. Anyway, I felt awful when I realised what I'd done, and I confessed to Lydia straight away. She was furious—understandably—and that's how it ended. We agreed to keep it private, for her sake more than mine, but Jacob just bollocksed that up."

"Yes, that'll be a fun detail to include. It's a shame we don't have his photograph."

Harry sighed heavily. "Can you leave Fiona out of it?"

"Absolutely not," said Cuffe. "He was talking to her."

"I don't care if you mention me," said Fiona, "but I'll have you know Harry told me about it ages ago. He's never cheated on anyone since, and I'm certain he won't cheat on me. The real person hurt here tonight was Lydia, and I'm sorry you consider it your duty to embarrass her."

"Any excuse to run her picture," said Cuffe, casually examining his fingernails. "Potter, should we use a photo with you or with Marcus Waite? By the way, is that why you made him your proxy?"

"Of course not!" blurted Harry. "He's highly qualified, and he's done a brilliant job so far!" Fiona squeezed his arm, which he took as a hint to calm down. "Yes, there was drama, and it was definitely my fault. But this is all in the past and we're on good terms now."

"All right, I can work with that. Picture of you two, then?" said Cuffe, addressing them both. They looked at each other uncertainly, and Cuffe said, "It's either that, or you and Miss Travers snogging. Take your pick."

"Fine," huffed Fiona. "But if you mention my son, I'll curse you. Got it?"

Cuffe seemed satisfied, and they went to the door, where Ron and Janet were waiting. "What was that?" asked Ron.

"Let's get out of here," muttered Harry. They exited the room, and he and Fiona explained what had happened.

"That utter twat!" cried Janet. "And there's nothing you can do?"

Harry looked at Fiona, who shook her head. "Not that I can think of," she said. "And the Prophet has gone far too easy on him lately, thanks mostly to Rita. But at least we were able to explain—Jacob's rant on its own would be far worse."

"I just feel bad for Lydia," said Harry. "And you. Do you suppose we should warn her?"

Both witches nodded. "Yeah," said Janet, "that'll put the blame on her idiot brother, where it belongs. Do you need paper?"

"No, I have some," said Harry, handing Fiona his wine and reaching into his pouch. "Oh, here's the Marauder's Map. Ron, can you show it to them?"

Ron activated the map, drawing laughs from the two witches, and Harry wrote a quick note to Lydia. He apologised but made it clear whose fault it was, and he summarised the exchange with Cuffe. After showing it to Fiona, he rolled it up and had Kreacher deliver it. "Are you done?" asked Ron. "We thought we'd start with the Slytherin common room, since we're already down here."

"Very funny," said Harry, taking his glass back from Fiona. They began their tour, pointing out Myrtle's old bathroom and other locations of note. Some students still roamed the corridors, and they used the map to avoid Filch.

"They make a Squib clean your school?" exclaimed Fiona. "That's horrible!"

"That's Hogwarts," said Ron. "Should we show them Tom Riddle's award for special services to the school?"

"No, that's all right," said Fiona. "But let's see that room you can turn into anything."

Unfortunately, the Room of Requirement was inaccessible. "Someone must be in there," said Harry. "That's the problem, now that everyone knows about it."

"There's probably a party going on," said Ron, placing his ear against the wall. "For all the Slug Club rejects."

Sure enough, a door appeared, and Ron jumped to avoid a collision. It swung open, and loud music poured out.

"Oi, come in, we're just leaving," said a young wizard, escorting a witch out with him. "Blimey, it's Harry Potter! And Ron Weasley!" They stared for a moment, then he shrugged and said, "Oh well, can't stay!" They hurried off, and it was clear what the pair had in mind.

He left the door open, which they took as an invitation. "It's like a nightclub!" exclaimed Janet as they entered. "God, why didn't North Squiffing have one of these? Suddenly a Basilisk doesn't seem so bad!"

A rotating disco ball shot beams of light through the otherwise moonlit room, with a tangle of students below. There was dancing, but it looked more like Harry's parties than a chaperoned Yule Ball, and the air smelt of beer. "Why'd those two bother leaving?" shouted Ron, looking around. "This is a bleeding orgy!"

They cast charms to protect their hearing and wandered amongst the crowd. "Was Hogwarts like this when you were here?" asked Fiona. "If so, how on earth did you remain a virgin so long?"

"Don't look at me!" said Ron. "It was Harry who had the pole up his arse."

"There was a prophecy!" he cried, but the others just laughed.

"You've made up for lost time," said Fiona affectionately. They joined the frenzy and danced until someone recognised them, which wasn't long. A throng of students greeted Harry and Ron, some of whom they remembered from the D.A.

"Oh my god, Harry!" cried Romilda Vane, throwing her arms around him. "What are you doing here?"

"I was showing Fiona around," he said, extricating himself from her full-contact hug.

Romilda gasped. "Fiona Dunning!" she said, awestruck. "You're Harry's true love! You're why Helena had to dump him—I was there, you know."

Fiona looked mystified. "And you are?" she prompted, extending a hand, only to be crushed into a hug as well.

"I'm Romilda, but I feel like I know you already, even though you've never been on the radio. You will go on the radio, right?"

"I hadn't planned on it–"

"No, you must! Everyone wants to know more about you! After all, you're a tragic heroine, which is exactly what Harry needs."

Harry tensed, but Fiona didn't look upset. "I don't know about that, but I'm awfully fond of him."

"Oh my god, look at that dress!" said Romilda, backing away. "Is this a special occasion?"

"We're here for Slughorn's party," said Harry. "Ron and Janet are here too, somewhere."

"Good old Janet! I heard so much about her. And Darren—how is he?"

Harry knew better than to tell her Darren was single and depressed. "He's all right. And you? How are you doing?"

She launched into a monologue about parties and N.E.W.T.s, and how one was interfering with the other. "How are we supposed to get an education with exams always looming? We missed so much during the war, and now they expect us to study all the time! Can't you talk to McGonagall or something?"

"Er, I'm really not the best example where education is concerned."

"But that's why it has to be you! Look how successful you are, and you never even sat your N.E.W.T.s!"

"She has a point," said Fiona, stifling a grin.

"See, listen to her!" said Romilda. "Fiona, you're so wise! I hope I can be like you one day. Did Harry buy you that dress?"

"Actually, yes."

"I knew it! He has exquisite taste! Harry, have you bought her jewellery yet? I could help you pick something out—Darren knows how to reach me."

"Cheers, I'll keep that in mind." Unsure how to escape, he scanned the room and luckily spotted Dennis Creevey. "There's Dennis—I really should go."

Romilda hugged Fiona again and said, "If you ever need someone to talk to, or you want to know more about Harry, just find me. I had a front row seat to all his struggles, so I'm sure I could shed some light."

They tore themselves away and made a beeline for Dennis. "Harry! I heard you were here—how are you?"

"I'm well," said Harry, inwardly wincing at his resemblance to Colin. He introduced Fiona and they chatted a few minutes.

"I'm glad you turned up," said Dennis. "Not just for the obvious reasons, but you've been on my mind."

"Oh?" Harry couldn't think of Colin without feeling responsible for his death. He knew there was little he could have done to prevent it—he'd needed the time to find and destroy the diadem—but he still grasped for ways he could have done better.

"Yeah, I've been wanting to thank you," said Dennis. "I mean, look at this place! When I got to Hogwarts, we had a Death Eater teaching Defence, and after that we had Umbridge, and then Snape. I know he turned out all right, but blimey, you could have fooled me!" Dennis pushed back his hair, which was damp from dancing. "But now it's fantastic! It's everything I hoped magic school would be back when Colin first got his letter. I only wish he could have seen this."

"So do I," said Harry, overwhelmed. "I still feel sick about it."

"What for?" asked Dennis, clearly puzzled. "You're the whole reason we won."

"No, I'm not. And I feel awful about Colin, like maybe I could have prevented it somehow ..."

Something flickered in Dennis, and for a moment Harry saw only grief. Ugh, I shouldn't have said it, he thought, and if he was hoping for absolution, none came. Say something! he urged himself, but his mind was blank.

"Harry, you can't fix everything," said Fiona. "And Dennis, I know how you feel. My husband Rob would have loved this world. And honestly, I don't know if his death helped bring it about, or if it was just another waste. But without people like Rob and Colin, there's no way we'd be here—not a chance."

Dennis bit his lips and nodded. "Cheers, yeah." His expression returned to normal, and he said, "Do you need anything while you're here? There's plenty of beer—gotta love Aberforth—and probably some Firewhisky floating around."

"No, thanks," said Harry. "But maybe the Gryffindor password? I'd like to show Fiona the common room."

"Woollen jumper," said Dennis brightly, no trace of sorrow. "And I'm glad you found us—nice to meet you, Fiona."

"Lovely to meet you, Dennis," she said, and she hugged him goodbye. Harry did the same, realising how lame a handshake would be, and they found Ron and Janet again.

"Do you want to stay here, or visit Gryffindor Tower? I got the password."

"Gryffindor Tower!" cried Janet, clapping her hands. "Do you think we can see your old room?"

"Probably not, but let's go." They found their way to the exit, then cancelled the charms on their hearing. Using the map to evade notice, they arrived at the Fat Lady's portrait.

"My word, if it isn't Harry Potter!" she exclaimed. "And Ronald Weasley! What a pleasant surprise!"

"How are you?" asked Harry, who was never sure whether she expected conversation or just the password.

"I'm well, thanks for asking. But I heard about the drama tonight at Professor Slughorn's party! Fiona, my dear, do be cautious. After all, once a cheater, always a cheater!"

"Oi, I'm right here!" cried Harry.

"It's nothing personal," said the portrait. "Between your youth and the Light magic, I'm sure it can't be helped. And maybe you'll grow out of it—who knows?"

"I'm really not worried," said Fiona. "He told me all about it, early in our relationship, and I know it won't happen again."

"My dear, they all say that, and Harry in particular is very persuasive. Again, it's nothing personal, but do protect that heart of yours," she said, rapidly patting her breast.

"Woollen jumper," said Harry flatly, and the portrait swung open. The room was full, mostly with younger kids, and within moments everyone was staring. Brilliant, he thought. "Er, hi ... is it all right if we have a look around?"

Awestruck nods, and Harry felt terribly overdressed as they wandered about. "Should we show them the dormitory?" whispered Ron. "I'm sure no one would stop us."

"No, this is fine," said Janet, and Fiona nodded.

"Cheers," said Ron to the still-silent room. "Happy Christmas."

There was an awkward chorus of replies, and the four of them slipped through the portrait hole again. The Fat Lady was gone, presumably to gossip, and they advanced to the main staircase, munching on pilfered snacks. "Back to Slughorn's party?" asked Harry.

"Do we have to?" said Janet, looking at Ron. "I don't think we'll top that rave in the Room of Requirement."

"Fiona and I should go back," said Harry, "but don't stay on our behalf."

"We need to go there anyway, to use the Floo," said Ron. "Would it be rude to breeze right through, maybe grab a bottle of wine on the way out?"

"I'm one step ahead of you, Weasley," said Janet, patting her handbag. "And I think it's time for my surprise."

Ron paled, clearly afraid of what she might unleash. "Er, what kind of surprise?" he said, shifting into a stance Harry recognised from Auror training. Ron's thumb curled, ready to deploy his wand, but Janet wasn't watching.

"I know how much you admired the twins' exit from Hogwarts," she said, reaching into her bag. She pulled out a pair of broomsticks and handed him one. "Come on, while the getting's good."

Ron's fear melted into delight. "Lindhurst, you are brilliant," he said, throwing a leg over his broom. "Hogsmeade?"

"Lead the way, loverboy," she growled, and in a shot they were off. A gangly prefect ran after them, and several students screamed. But Ron's loud whoop drowned them out, and Janet cried, "North Squiffing forever! Long live the Squiff!" The students shouted their rebuttals, both for Hogwarts and their houses, and a grinning Harry called, "Go Slytherin."

Loud footsteps came from above, and Harry reflexively pulled out his Invisibility Cloak. "Quick, I think it's Filch," he said to Fiona, covering them both. Their feet were visible, but it was better than no protection at all, and he carefully guided her down the stairs. Filch shouted behind them and the students dispersed, just as Ron and Janet escaped through the main entrance.

They reached the ground floor, safely away from Filch, and Harry pulled off the Cloak. "We should be clear," he said. "This way to the dungeons."

"Is that the Great Hall?" asked Fiona, craning her neck.

"Er, yeah. Do you want to see it?"

"If that's all right."

They entered hand in hand, and she looked up at the enchanted ceiling. "Did they build it back the same?" she asked as they walked.

"Yeah, pretty much."

"Is it weird for you, being down here?"

"Only a little. Remember I ate all my meals here."

They paused at a commemorative plaque, which listed all those who'd died—human and non-human alike. Harry's eyes paused on the usual names, and he was grateful Fiona didn't break the silence. He'd seen the plaque before, but it was still wrenching to see Bellatrix Black Lestrange listed right above Nymphadora Tonks Lupin, knowing the aunt had killed her own niece. And farther down was Tom Marvolo Riddle, with no hint he'd started it all.

They resumed their silent stroll and, without meaning to, Harry led Fiona to the spot where he'd faced Voldemort. The stones had been broken then, but now they were smooth and whole. His feet looked different too, clad in polished boots with a silver buckle. I look like a bloody Death Eater, he thought.

"It was here," he said. "I pulled off my Cloak, and we were circling. No one on our side died during the second Battle, because my sacrifice was protecting them. And Voldemort thought he'd won, because he had the Elder Wand, but he was wrong. I tried explaining, but he couldn't hear it—he couldn't believe he'd failed."

Harry glanced at the window, bright with moonlight. "Dawn was breaking, and the sun was in my eyes, but it didn't matter. I just aimed forwards, and when our spells collided, I caught his wand. My wand. And that was it."

He looked down at the spot where Voldemort had fallen. "After that was just hugs and tears and exhaustion ... such a long day. Thanks for what you said to Dennis, by the way."

"I'm glad I could help," said Fiona. "Unexpected benefit of a dead husband."

Harry turned to face her. "God, I wish I could have saved him, for you and for Matthew. And yet ..."

"I know," she said, a tear rolling down her cheek. "I'd never have met you, or you'd just be Owen's world-famous teammate, and we'd be two more faces for you to remember. I'd have another kid by now, most likely, and I'd still be the old Fiona."

"I don't know who I'd be. Dating someone else, I suppose, or still sleeping around." He touched her jawline, collecting a fallen tear. "But I know it's not wrong to be happy—Sirius taught me that."

They kissed in the moonlit hall, and it felt to Harry like an offering to those they'd lost. We're living, he thought, his hands tracing the smooth fabric of her gown.

"What did that girl call me?" said Fiona when they pulled apart. "Your tragic heroine?"

"Sorry about that—Romilda talks without thinking."

"No, I liked it. It somehow ennobles what I've been through."

"Huh, well done Romilda," said Harry, smiling. "Should I ask her to help me pick out jewellery? I may or may not already have bought your Christmas gift."

"Don't you dare!" she laughed. He had, in fact, bought her jewellery, but from a Muggle boutique and probably not showy enough for Romilda. "And no, I won't owl her for a front-row perspective on what you've been through. I'd rather hear it from you—or not hear it, if that's what you prefer."

They were interrupted by sharp footsteps and turned to see Professor McGonagall. "Harry!" she exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"

His body tensed, and he had to remind himself he wasn't in trouble. "Slughorn's Christmas party. But I wanted to show Fiona the castle, and we wound up here."

If Minerva noticed where they were standing, she didn't comment. Instead she introduced herself to Fiona, and they walked together to the entrance hall. "The castle wards informed me that two people flew down the main staircase and out the front door. Given that you're still here, may I assume it wasn't you?"

"That is correct," said Harry, suppressing a grin.

"And yet they weren't students," said Minerva, studying him. "The wards say everyone is present and accounted for, which narrows it down to Horace's guests. Does that jog your memory?"

"That all depends ... how much trouble would they be in?"

"Honestly, none at all—though I'll give Horace a piece of my mind for not keeping track of his guests. I'd rather not ward his study against escape when he hosts parties, but in the future I may have to."

Chuckling, Harry said, "As it happens, I do know who culprits were. In fact, you can probably guess one of their surnames."

Minerva clutched her forehead. "I should have known. Which one was it, Ron or Ginny?"

"Ron—and his girlfriend, Janet. Her idea."

"Well, I hope they enjoyed it, because I'll probably have to confiscate any number of brooms over the next several months, from students paying homage. And you and I both know it'll mostly be Gryffindors."

"Don't look at me, I'm a Slytherin," he said, drawing another glare.

"And yet with each passing day, you remind me more and more of your father," she said archly. "But it's good to see you, and I'm sure Horace is thrilled you came. And Fiona, you have all my admiration for taming Harry. A Potter needs a strong hand, apparently."

"That's my impression," she said, and after chatting a little longer they parted ways at the staircase.

"Ready for round two?" Harry asked, as they descended to the dungeons.

"I think so," said Fiona. "It's been such a quiet evening so far."

Slughorn's party was still in full swing, and there was fortunately no sign of Jacob Travers. "He left not long after you did," Hermione told them. "And so did Barnabas Cuffe, I'm afraid. Did you warn Lydia, or shall I?"

"Mischief managed," said Harry dully. "But maybe write to her anyway, in case she wants a firsthand account."

Hermione asked where they'd gone, and Fiona described their tour of Hogwarts. The two witches continued talking, and Harry decided to pay his respects to Slughorn, whom he'd barely spoken to that night. Their host was momentarily unattended, so he approached him and said, "Thanks again for inviting us. I've enjoyed meeting some of the students."

"Not all of them, I suspect," said Slughorn. "I'm terribly sorry about Travers—I should have warned you."

"I should have realised he'd be here," said Harry, knowing Slughorn could never resist the heir to the wealthiest house in Britain.

"Yes, he's a clever lad, and I'm trying to reach out to students from Dark families. I'm afraid I let them to their own devices too much in the past, as you know."

He looked genuinely remorseful, and Harry's heart stirred for the old professor. "I suppose you're my Head of House now," he said fondly.

"Indeed I am!" said Slughorn, perking up. "You probably don't need careers advice, but I'd be glad to share whatever wisdom I've accumulated over the decades." With a conspiratorial wink, he added, "Or perhaps I can tempt you with some 80-year-old port—a gift from Spinetta Musgrave."

"Thank you, no," said Harry. "I'm rather a lightweight."

Slughorn chuckled and said, "Moderation is a skill I lack. But I'll follow your lead—I've indulged more than enough for one evening."

Lowering his voice, Harry said, "Actually, I have a question, if you don't mind. What's your take on the Dark Arts? Obviously I'll never practise them, but I've learnt over the last few months that they're not strictly evil, as I'd been led to believe."

"No, they aren't. They're very useful, in fact, for taming the adolescent mind. There's a lot to be said for channeling strong emotions into something more productive." He glanced about, then cast a privacy charm. "I probably shouldn't admit this, but I used to teach them. Privately, and only to Slytherins—not curses, mind you, but the underlying technique."

Harry nodded soberly, and Slughorn looked embarrassed. "You have to understand, they were learning it anyway," he continued. "From tutors, for example—that wasn't so bad, but the students were teaching each other, and that's where the problem lay. Children can be vicious, as I'm sure you're aware, and without proper guidance it's often the worst impulses that dominate."

"So you tried to steer them to something less harmful?"

"That's right. Ambition, for example, or pride in their achievements. I realise how that must sound to a Light wizard, but for them it was a step in the right direction." He paused, then said, "I never taught Tom Riddle. Frankly, I didn't think he needed it—to all appearances, he'd already mastered his emotions."

"I don't doubt it," said Harry. "But what made you stop?"

The old professor took a deep breath. "I'm a good teacher," he said. "An effective one, that is. And I realised that some of my pupils might have never got anywhere with Dark magic if I hadn't intervened. They might have managed a few curses, but they'd never have recast their entire personality around a single trait. I have nothing against ambition, for example. In fact, I encourage it, as evidenced by this party. But when ambition gets magnified beyond all scale, it becomes something else."

Harry nodded again. "Yes, I can see that. And thank you for trusting me enough to talk about this."

"I'm very fond of you, Harry, and not just because of your mum. And I think you're seeing that Light and Dark magic aren't so different—not where focus is concerned."

"That's exactly it," said Harry. "In fact, my teacher has warned me about pride. She hasn't said I would slip into Dark magic, but I can almost imagine it happening. I'm sure Voldemort used pride, at least sometimes."

"He was an exceptional young man," Slughorn sighed. "There was probably no way to keep him from the Dark Arts, but perhaps he'd have gathered fewer followers if there'd been an alternative."

"Oh? How do you mean?"

"Tom was very charismatic, you know. I see it often, where students who are unsure of themselves gravitate to those who are more confident. Here Tom was poor and, to all appearances, Muggle-born, yet he gained followers from the greatest houses of Britain. Why?" Slughorn gestured for emphasis. "Because he had something they lacked."

"And they hoped it would rub off on them," said Harry.

"Exactly. If he'd only wanted riches, or conventional power, I'm sure he'd have succeeded. He could have sold umbrellas to a merman—much like yourself."

"That's what I'm trying to do with Light magic, honestly. Although I'm at a disadvantage, since it's not as accessible as Dark magic."

"No, but you've proven it's real. And you've also shown it's not incompatible with worldly success." He chuckled and said, "I'm truly delighted you were Sorted into Slytherin. Jacob Travers notwithstanding, many of my students feel more connected to you than before. Might I persuade you to visit sometime?"

"Like, the common room?" said Harry, startled. "I can't see that going well, given how Jacob Travers reacted. And surely there are students with family in Azkaban."

"That's all true, but perhaps you could come for a tour. Our prefects could show you around, share some of our legends. I realise it's not the same as if you'd been Slytherin from the start, but better late than never, eh?"

Can I bring Draco? thought Harry. "Er, yeah, maybe?" he said. "If you really think it might help."

"I believe it would," said Slughorn. "And it'll be good preparation if any of your children get Sorted into Slytherin. After all, you're a Black now."

"So I am," said Harry, and they finished talking soon after. He scanned the room for Fiona and saw her with a sandy-haired witch of about forty, so he walked over.

"Ah, here he is," said Fiona. "Lysandra, this is Harry. Harry, this is Lysandra Knox." In a lower voice, she added, "She and Rob worked together."

"Oh, I see!" he said, and they exchanged greetings. The two witches had obviously been talking about Rob, and Fiona looked slightly emotional, so she excused herself to the loo.

"But I'm sure Harry has questions," said Fiona, "so I'll leave you to it. Lysandra, thanks again."

When Fiona was gone, Lysandra said, "She's not subtle, is she?"

"No, but I'm not either," said Harry. "Which means I might as well ask you about Rob—is there anything I should know in particular?"

"He was brilliant, as you're undoubtedly aware. And he was doggedly curious. Stubborn really, all in the pursuit of knowledge."

Harry was unsure what else to ask, since she was bound to secrecy. "Is there anything you can tell me about how he died? Fiona knows so little."

"I'm not allowed to say. Honestly, I don't know much—all we got were new safety protocols, to prevent it from happening again. I'm sure there's a lot more, but that's definitely above my pay grade."

"Would it help Fiona to know?"

"I have no idea. It wouldn't change anything, certainly, although it might answer a question or two. And who knows, maybe it'll be declassified someday."

Harry sighed. "I sometimes forget how secret the DOM is, considering my mates and I waltzed right in."

"Breaches are rare, and yours was exceptional," said Lysandra. "The Death Eaters deliberately neutralised all the normal safeguards that night, to trap you." Harry grimaced, and she added, "Although they ended up tightening security even more, during the year they ran the Ministry. As you know, there are things inside those walls–"

She stopped short, then rolled her eyes. "Damn. I was hoping your prior knowledge would give me some leeway, but it seems my oath doesn't care."

"Was the Ministry afraid we might come back?"

"Yes, or someone in league with you. And everyone without the Mark was a suspect. Frankly, I was lucky to keep my job that year—Rob too."

Harry winced. "Are you sure about that?"

"Oh dear, you're right. How embarrassing." After a pause, she said, "He'd done a tremendous job hiding his sympathies. His surname was the perfect cover, since the Dunnings are famously apolitical. And Fiona's a pure-blood as well."

"Would it be impolite to ask why you weren't under suspicion?"

She let out a hollow laugh. "House Slytherin. We're not all blood purists, as you're well aware. But in that climate, people mostly assumed we were, and I've long known the value of maintaining common ground."

There's common ground and there's collaboration, he thought, furrowing his brow. She clearly noticed and said, "I know that sounds unhelpful, but someone needed to hinder them within the DOM. It would have been worse if I hadn't been there."

"Forgive me, I shouldn't assume."

"No. And I really can't say more." With a meaningful look, she said, "But you know everyone, or at least everyone knows you. Try pulling on a string or two, if you're really curious."

He was, in fact, curious, but cautious as well. "Call me paranoid, but this sounds like a trap. It's happened before, you know."

She laughed. "It really isn't. Rob was my friend, for one thing, and I'm happy for you and Fiona. I could prove it by taking Veritaserum, but I'd rather not, since it's quite unpleasant when you're bound by oaths as I am. But they did a full investigation after the war, to find out who they could still trust and, once again, I made the cut."

Back at Grimmauld Place, he told Fiona about their exchange. "Classic DOM," she said, rolling her eyes. "Honestly, they're a bunch of nerds, obsessed with weird magic. And they get off on all the mystery, since it makes up for not being able to talk about any of it."

Fiona was obviously in a good mood, and Harry didn't want to ruin it. But he was still uneasy. "Did Rob and Lysandra often work together?" he asked.

"Please, call her Mistral—that's how I think of her. And yes, sometimes. But he mostly worked alone, as far as I know."

"So, you don't think she was ... involved?"

"In his death? No. He may well have been murdered, but the post-war interrogations never identified anyone. And I'm told they were thorough."

"Do you want me to pull some strings?" he asked. "It sounds like I might get a few more answers."

"If you like, but there probably aren't any. And do you really want to go back there?"

Harry paused, not having considered it. He'd imagined a private conversation with Kingsley or some other official in a heavily-warded chamber, like the one where he'd recounted his own war crimes. But returning to the Department of Mysteries, where Sirius had died ...

"No, you're right," he said. "I don't know what I was thinking. Going back to Hogwarts is one thing, but the DOM is another story."

"So it is." They were silent a moment, until she tugged his hand and said, "Come on, the sooner we go to sleep, the sooner we'll see tomorrow's Prophet."

Harry groaned, remembering Jacob Travers and Barnabas Cuffe. But then he smiled, realising what she meant. "Are you suggesting we stay up as late as possible?"

"Well spotted! Ten points to Gryffindor!"

"Slytherin," he retorted, and he realised he actually meant it.