Author's Disclaimer: HP – Still not mine.

Author's Note: So, no more promises from me on when stuff gets done. The gods laugh at my goals. But I'm still plugging through ATLB, as always.

As of this weekend, I'll be starting book 6, so by the time I post the next chapter, you will no longer need to shelter me. Thank you so much to everyone who has respected my wishes to remain spoiler-free. It has been greatly appreciated, and I eagerly look forward to diving head-first into book 6 with clear eyes and an open heart.

All That's Left Behind

Chapter 10 – You Break It, You Buy It

He awoke to the faintest buzzing sound, but opening his eyes to investigate felt like entirely too much effort. His mouth felt like it was full of cotton balls, and his ears were ringing.

"Harry Potter? It's time for breakfast. Time to wake up," the buzzing shifted into the gentle murmur of Dobby's voice right beside his face. Harry peeled one eye open and smiled weakly at the little elf.

"What time izzit?" Harry blearily asked. More than anything, he just wanted to sleep, but knew he still had a ruse to keep up with. He had no idea how he'd managed to get away with it so far, but knew he couldn't let his fatigue get the better of him now.

"Harry Potter must be at the kitchen table before everyone else, so no one sees how Harry Potter got there," Dobby said, and Harry already knew. With his face still mostly buried in the pillow, he nodded and tried to put his arms underneath his chest to push himself up, but didn't succeed. He still shook too much. What did he expect, though? Silverware last night had nearly been too heavy.

Wiry hands came from behind to wrap around the front of Harry's shoulders and flip him partially over as Dobby dragged him off the bed, his legs pulling the sheets uselessly behind him. He felt like a limp noodle as his arms flopped pathetically in an attempt to help. He was improving… Right?

"Let Dobby help Harry Potter get dressed, then we get some more potions and food in Harry Potter. Growing wizards must take care to eat right," the house-elf said, and Harry realized the last part could just as easily have been said by Mrs. Weasley. He closed his eyes briefly and refused to let his thoughts get away from him, but unfortunately, her face came vividly into view in all its uncomfortable and guilt-ridden glory. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Dobby froze.

"Is Harry Potter doing all right?" Dobby whispered, almost fearfully.

"I'm good, Dobby. It's okay. I just remembered something," he said, and gently patted the hand still firmly wrapped around his shoulders.

It still astonished Harry how strong the house-elf was. He maneuvered Harry's limbs easily as he changed his clothes, making Harry feel a bit like a puppet with its strings cut. He'd given up pride yesterday, though. There was no way he'd be able to even try to fool the others without Dobby's help. He could barely fool himself into thinking he'd done the right thing. Whether he had or not was now immaterial, though.

"Well, aren't you up early! Good morning, Harry," Tonks said as she/he plopped down in the seat across from Harry in the kitchen.

"Uh," Harry said, his mouth hanging open, then snapped it shut again. A cup of hot tea appeared in front of Tonks, who grabbed it up with both hands and eagerly gulped.

"I'm glad to see you're back to your normal early bird habits," Tonks observed, not noticing that Harry had yet to say a word, though not for lack of trying.

"Um," Harry said, and eagerly turned his head towards Kingsley as a distraction, who was wearing a red satin plaid wrap-robe and black trousers underneath. It was the brightest thing he'd ever seen the Auror wear, and Harry couldn't decide if he liked it because it partially made Shacklebolt look vaguely like a pimp or in spite of it. I must be tired, Harry realized with distinct amusement.

"Tonks, you're scaring the boy," Kingsley rumbled as he sat beside her and smiled a toothy grin at Harry, which seemed unnaturally bright against his dark chocolate skin. His teeth were perfect. Perhaps a little too perfect, but Harry wasn't about to ask.

"What?" Tonks asked, distracted and looking like there'd been no pause between rolling out of bed and arriving in the kitchen.

"You have a bigger adam's apple than he does," Kingsley observed, and Harry snorted, nearly spitting tea out of the cup.

"Oh dear. Sorry, lad," she/he murmured as her/his features shifted into the feminine ones he was more familiar with. She also blushed brightly, and he idly wondered if that was something she could control if she wanted to as well. What Ron wouldn't do to control blushes, Harry thought with amusement.

"Moody'd have your hide," Kingsley said and grabbed up the cup of coffee that appeared on the setting before him.

"Well, he's a bit of a worry-wart," Tonks commented, then exclaimed, "Ah! Perfect!" brightly as breakfast appeared in front of them. Eggs, bacon and pancakes in equal proportions for all.

Harry eyed his plate nervously, both annoyed and amused that Dobby had insured there would be no way to disguise if he didn't eat as much as he normally did, then tucked in.

"I for one wouldn't want you to get stuck with that face," Kingsley volunteered after taking a bite of bacon.

"That's a myth! A myth!" Tonks cried with such emphasis that Harry nearly dropped his fork in surprise. She was definitely a bit mercurial this morning. "I've been a metamorphmagus long enough that my body's completely acclimatized to the magic. That could," Tonks emphasized the last word with air quotes, "happen – theoretically- with a rookie, but show me an actual case where it has and I'll eat my hat."

A baritone rumbling brought Harry's attention back to Kingsley, who was chuckling heartily. It softened his face, nearly making him look like someone else entirely, and Harry couldn't help but smile with him. It was the most relaxed he'd ever seen the man.

"Easy, Tonks. I'm just spinning you up," he said with his palms raised and took a hearty forkful of eggs.

"Well, pimp daddy, I wouldn't be throwing too many stones from my glass house if I were you," she said indignantly, and that just made the Auror laugh harder.

Harry laughed as well, amazed that even now he could. Even with Sirius gone and his life in complete flux. This was what he was fighting for. Good people, going on in spite of everything. He held that thought close to him, yet one more reminder of why not giving up was so important – only this time, his mind would recollect it all in perfect detail. Finally, a perk. He was all for that.

Nearly half an hour later, Harry was surprised to see he'd eaten a good portion of everything. Tonks got up from the table and reached across, tousling Harry's hair affectionately. Harry mock-swatted at her, then paused at the faint frown lines between her eyes.

"What?" Harry asked breathlessly.

"You're a little pale this morning. Are you feeling okay?" she asked. Harry felt his heart immediately begin to hammer against his chest and he had to fight the urge to swallow nervously.

"Fine. Why?" he asked and smiled, concentrating on looking as innocent and puzzled as he knew how to do – a trick he'd certainly had a lot of practice with at the Dursleys' – not that it ever did much good. Tonks put the back of her hand to his forehead, then flipped it and put her fingertips against his skin. He nearly jumped at the contact.

"What's the verdict?" Kingsley asked as he too began to scrutinize Harry.

"No fever," she said and bit the side of her cheek absently.

"I stayed up a bit late reading," Harry offered, trying to sound helpful. "And I don't think I've seen daylight in weeks." Kingsley snorted and pushed in his chair, apparently satisfied at Harry's response.

"I let it slide this time, Potter," Tonks said teasingly, her own concerns evidently eased, "But Granger's coming by a bit later, and I'll instruct her to keep a close eye on you. We wouldn't want any funny business," she said, and in that moment morphed her face to look like Moody. Harry did swallow heavily then, and knew he was a bit wild eyed as Tonks waved at his plate and began to head for the stairs. She'd even managed to make one eye go in all directions. "Finish up. You're a growing boy, and you really need to eat more," she said and smiled. It would have been more reassuring if it weren't still partially Moody's face morphing back into her own.

"I didn't know you could do that," Kingsley murmured as they both headed upstairs.

"It took a lot of practice to get the eye right," she said mischievously.

"Does Mad Eye know you can do that?" he asked.

"I may be an Auror, but I don't have a death wish," were her parting words before the door closed behind her, leaving Harry at the table alone. He sat there for a good forty-five minutes before Dobby finally appeared.

He'd nibbled on the remainder of his food and was beginning to regret it as he listlessly flipped through yet another forbidden Black book. His mind might be recording things, but he was still exhausted, and knew he'd need a good long nap to prepare for Hermione's arrival. He wouldn't be able to fool her nearly as easily.

"Harry?" a feminine voice whispered in his ear. Something tickled his cheek, so absently he swatted at it. The back of his hand contacted with something that didn't in the least feel like Buckbeak.

"Hey!" the voice exclaimed, and Harry opened his eyes. Hermione was sitting beside him with a hand held against her cheek, her expression pretty evenly divided between irritation and surprise.

"Whoops. Sorry about that," Harry said bemusedly and pushed himself up. The couple of hours he'd napped were obviously just what he'd needed. His arms barely even trembled as he sat up. Finally. Progress.

"Hardly," she said with a shake of her head and a subtle roll of her eyes, then quirked her lip and gave him a firm hug. "I was glad to get your letter." Harry absently patted her arm as it snaked around his neck and partially choked him.

"I'm sorry it took so long to write," he squeaked, making her immediately let go of him and blush slightly.

"I'll just let you breathe now," she said apologetically, and bumped her shoulder against his as she settled in beside him.

"I appreciate that," Harry replied and smiled. Here we go. Already he could see Hermione scrutinizing him, and the more she looked, the more she evidently didn't like what she saw.

"Merlin, Harry. Are you feeling okay?" she asked after a moment, and Harry nodded.

"I do that, too," he said, scrambling for something to distract her. Hermione frowned.

"What are you talking about?" she questioned, puzzled.

"Your parents must think it odd when you say that. Merlin, that is," he observed, and oddly, Hermione giggled.

"I've got them saying it now. Their patients must think they're losing their minds."

"And yet Ron says bloody all the time."

"Ah, but I can easily picture Mr. Weasley coming home one day with a list of Muggle curse words to share with his family," Hermione said with a conspiratorial smirk, reaching out to pat the top of Buckbeak's head.

The hippogriff had settled on the floor beside the bed, and kept flopping his neck to the side and laying the side of his beak on the comforter cover near Harry's knee.

"Tonks says you spend a lot of time up here," she prompted as she focused on scratching underneath one of Buckbeak's cheekbones.

"I know he's lonely, and watch where his eyes go once you stop scratching him," Harry said. Dutifully, Hermione pulled her hand away. The hippogriff watched her for a moment, waiting to see if she'd start petting him again, then sighed heavily and turned to stare at the door.

"Does he do that all the time?" she asked, her voice sad. "You don't think he's waiting for S…?"

"No," Harry cut in before she could finish her sentence. "Next time when you come in, pay attention to where he's looking. I know it's supposed to be all about respect and courtesy with hippogriffs, but I think Buckbeak's more interested in what's beyond the door than us anymore."

"Is he ever let outside?" Hermione whispered, clearly stricken. Harry shook his head.

"And if he doesn't get a chance to fly soon, he might not ever be able to again," he said, and proceeded to repeat what Remus had told him.

"Oh no! Harry, we can't let that happen!" Hermione said, horrified. It still made him burn with anger every time he thought of what Kreacher had done to the hippogriff, and what the warped house-elf had clearly intended it to symbolize.

"I know," Harry said after a hesitation. He knew she cared deeply about Buckbeak, but he couldn't help the lingering resentment over her defense of Kreacher. She caught sight of his expression, and her lip began to tremble.

"I owe you an apology," she said quietly.

"For what?" Harry asked, unwilling to make it easy for her. She might have good intentions, but sometimes her zeal for a cause left her overlooking the obvious.

"I'm not sorry for feeling bad for what his life must have been like, Harry, but I am sorry for putting my pity for him above my friendship to you."

"I'm sorry. That was an apology?" Harry asked, surprised at how quickly his hackles rose at her statement. "So, what…? You think it was okay for him to talk to Sirius the way he did? That Sirius deserved what happened to him because of the part he possibly could have played with how that evil little house-elf was treated?"

"Harry…" Hermione protested, but he would hear none of it.

"Let me get this straight… Because what you're saying is that it's okay if someone does something evil if they've had a traumatized past? That it justifies things?" he demanded.

"Of course not," Hermione objected, eyes wide with surprise at Harry's angry tone.

"You can't be naïve enough to think Dobby had it any easier in the Malfoy home, Hermione, and he's the most noble house-elf I've ever had the privilege to meet. Just because Kreacher had it bad doesn't excuse anything he's done!"

"I'm sorry, Harry. I didn't mean to upset you, and I promise that I wasn't trying to make excuses," Hermione said. It had sure sounded like it to him. He had to consciously take several deep breaths to calm himself. He hadn't meant to let his temper get away from him, but he was still worn down, and didn't seem to have his normal threshold of patience with Hermione's idiosyncrasies.

"Are you okay? Because you're not looking too healthy right now, and judging by your reaction to what I said, you seem a bit…" here she paused, reluctant to continue, although it didn't stop her, "Short tempered."

"What do you want me to say, Hermione?" Harry snapped, reacting automatically. Sometimes the best defense was a good offense, anyway. "That I'm fine? Sirius is dead. The very thing I set about trying to stop from happening is ultimately what I caused. How am I doing? I'm thrilled I'm not doing worse," he replied with candor.

Even as he defended himself, though, part of him did have to wonder just how well he was doing. Was the course he'd chosen for himself a rational one? He certainly hoped so. It certainly seemed logical at the time. Hermione scooted slightly away from him on the bed, her face screwed up in an expression he didn't recognize.

"Okay. That's good. Thank you, Harry," she said after a pause, as if trying to regroup.

"For what?"

"For being honest," she said, and it made him want to groan in frustration. He adored Hermione, he really did, but sometimes it seemed like her intellect could get in the way of… pretty much everything else.

"Do you have any idea how trite that sounds?" Harry asked abruptly. Thank Merlin Hermione at least had the decency to look embarrassed. "Why don't you quit trying to be my psychiatrist and go back to being my friend?"

Hermione's lip trembled for a moment, but then she took a deep breath and let it out, trying to force her lips into a smile. "I deserved that," she said ruefully, after a pause.

"I really need your help," Harry said earnestly and absently patted the hippogriff's head. "I know if Sirius were alive he'd be heartbroken if he found out Buckbeack could never fly again."

Harry had never felt as hopeful as the day they'd saved both Sirius and the hippogriff's life. Anything was possible back then, and oh, how he'd longed to fly away with them. Abruptly Hermione stood up and headed for the door.

"Where are you going?" he asked, surprised.

"I brought those Ministry legal books you asked for. I'll be right back. Between the two of us I'm sure we can hatch a plan to get Beaky out of here," she said, and shut the door quickly behind her.

Harry heaved a huge sigh of relief and flopped back on the bed, startling Buckbeak, who stood up quickly and looked around attentively.

"Sorry, guy. It's just me," Harry soothed, and had to smother a laugh. Suddenly, inspiration hit. "Dobby?" Harry asked.

"Yes, Harry Potter, sir?" Dobby asked, instantly at his side. He had a dish towel in his hand and was wringing it rather tightly.

"Are you okay?" he asked the house-elf. The house-elf's eyes filled with tears that began to slide down his face, but oddly his expression was… almost peaceful.

"Dobby heard what Harry Potter thinks of him," he said softly. Harry smiled gently.

"That's all right, isn't it? It doesn't bother you, does it?" Harry asked quietly. Dobby shook his head in sharp rapid jerks.

"Dobby knew Harry Potter saved the Wizarding world from evil as a baby, but Dobby realizes now that that was just a story. The real thing is so much better. Harry Potter doesn't just save the world, he saves disloyal house-elves who get Harry Potter hurt," he said gently.

"Well, I couldn't just leave you with him, now could I?" Harry tried weakly to joke. He was beginning to feel a bit watery-eyed himself.

"Dobby would have died eventually at Master Malfoy's command," the house-elf said without emotion. At the word 'eventually', Harry shivered. "Life-debts carry a great deal of weight in Harry Potter's world. But life isn't as precious to Dobby as freedom is, and Harry Potter has given Dobby that as well. Such gifts, so freely given, can never be repaid, and for that, Dobby is thankful," he said cryptically.

Harry frowned and realized he had no idea what to say to that, so he was vaguely relieved to hear Hermione's quick steps rapidly climbing the stairs to return to the room. Harry smiled apologetically and leaned forward so he could talk in a near whisper.

"Can you bring dinner here tonight for Hermione and I? That way we don't have to worry about smuggling me in to the kitchen."

"Certainly, Harry Potter, but only if you promise to clean your plate," Dobby said, and Harry had to smile.

"You drive a hard bargain," he said warmly, and for a second he thought Dobby might have blushed before he disappeared.

He only had to make it until tonight. Then, the most obvious traces of the spell would no longer be blatant to anyone who cared to look. He'd managed to deflect the majority of Hermione's scrutiny – he still was not sure how he managed to do that, and was beginning to feel positively Slytherin, which wasn't necessarily a good thing, but who was he to judge any longer?

Dobby brought dinner quite early, which puzzled Harry until he realized they'd skipped lunch. He knew his luck was beginning to run out because as the day progressed Hermione kept glancing his way with more and more concerned looks. His glamour spell was fading, and if he appeared even a fraction as ill as he still felt, he knew it couldn't be good.

Not that he wasn't improving minute by minute. He was finally starting to get a handle on how to manage the memory flashes so they didn't completely override everything else, which was of considerable relief. It would have been horribly ironic and just his luck if he'd gone to the trouble of having an amazing memory that ultimately ended up incapacitating him every time he tried to utilize it.

Sighing, he reached out and grabbed another book from the pile that Hermione had scattered on the bed around them. He'd encountered another drawback to the spell that was proving decidedly annoying and was trying to figure out a way to incorporate ways around it.

Even in the Wizarding world, it appeared one couldn't escape legalese. Even after rereading the same things multiple times, he realized he had absolutely no clue what it meant – just that he could repeat it verbatim.

"So…" he began.

"Shhhh," Hermione interrupted without looking up from the book she was reading, waving a hand. "Almost done." Harry waited while she read, watching as her eyes skipped across the page so fast it almost looked like it should have caused her a headache. Absently, Harry grabbed a roll from the basket beside the dinner tray and buttered it. He loved whipped butter.

"Are you done yet?" Harry asked after a second, and had to suppress a slight grin. He was beginning to see what Ron might get out of pushing Hermione's buttons. Keeping her distracted and slightly defensive seemed to also be keeping the focus off of him, so he was happy to keep it up. Not to mention it was oddly amusing.

"Not yet, Harry," she said with irritation.

Harry nibbled on the roll and tapped his finger against his teacup idly. Her right eyebrow was beginning to twitch slightly.

"Ooooooh," Hermione said in exasperation, and slammed the book closed. "You are being such a pain," she said, then paused, scrutinizing Harry's face.

"What?" Harry asked innocently.

"You're enjoying this!" she asked, and oddly her mouth began to quirk.

"What? Me? No!" Harry protested through his mouthful of food.

"If I find out you've been getting pointers from Ron, looking pathetic won't save you from my wrath," she said and tossed the book to the side with a groan.

He suspected that she was getting as annoyed with the Ministry verbiage as he was. She was normally much gentler with books. She reached across for a roll, only lathering it with jam instead of butter, and took a healthy bite.

"I wouldn't do that," Harry protested with an innocent face, causing Hermione to snort.

"I'll bet. So, what have you found so far?" she asked between mouthfuls.

"That there really need to be translator spells for legalese," Harry replied without a pause. Hermione nearly choked on her roll for a moment, then got a speculative look on her face.

"You probably could…" she said.

"Maybe there's already one?" Harry suggested. Hermione shook her head.

"No, I wrote a research paper on how translator spells work once, and I'm sure I would remember seeing mention of something like that," she said. "They're for word re-application and not designed for when someone's being deliberately obtuse."

"Well, I don't know about you, but I'm beginning to feel a bit daunted. I thought if we could find legal rulings that might be applicable to Buckbeak that we'd be fine. I'm beginning to see that for each case settled a specific way, there's an equal and opposite case that holds just as much weight," Harry said with a faint grimace. "Which means we'd be at the mercy of whoever's hearing our appeal…"

"Which means we've been wasting our time," Hermione agreed.

"Yeah, that's what I'm starting to think as well."

"As long as Fudge and his cronies are in charge, there's no way Buckbeak's going to get any sort of retrial or appeal," Hermione said, her lip curling with distaste as she said Fudge's name.

"Hey, that's okay, Hermione. I really didn't expect to find anything, but felt like I had to try," Harry tried to reassure his friend. Her eyes were beginning to glisten suspiciously as she moved the basket of rolls further away from the hippogriff's roving beak.

Harry had almost fed Buckbeak some of his chicken, but Dobby's sudden appearance behind Hermione's back stopped him. The little house-elf's eyes were narrowed in disapproval, and Harry found himself blushing. Hermione frowned when she noticed his expression, and turned to look over her shoulder, but by then, Dobby was gone. Harry had guiltily cleaned his plate after that.

"So… You want to try to smuggle him out of London? Get Charlie in on it again?" Hermione asked, referring to their previous encounter with helping Hagrid find a home for his baby dragon.

"Ron already asked him," Harry said. "Charlie's found a herd in Spain that's in need of…" here he paused.

"Of what?" Hermione asked.

"Stallions," Harry replied, slightly mortified.

"Go Buckbeak," Hermione said with an approving nod. Harry had to hide his face.

"Please, Hermione. There are some things we just shouldn't talk about. This is one of them," he said, horrified.

"What? My grandfather's best friend used to work at Chelsthelm Stallion Stud. When we visited them, sometimes my granddad could get us free tickets to the races," she said with a soft smile. Harry knew he was looking at her like she'd grown a third eye.

"What? I do have a life outside of reading, you know," she scolded in response to his expression. Harry raised both his hands defensively.

"I never said a thing," he said. Hermione wrinkled her nose at him, and he smiled a little in response.

"So, Charlie's got someplace where Buckbeak will be happy. Now all we have to do is find a way to get him there," she said, getting back to business.

"Except that with the Ministry being in London and there being no way for the Minister to continue to deny Voldemort's back, there were a whole array of additional detector spells added in June. Spells designed specifically to alert officials if unlicensed magical creatures are flying about," Harry said.

"Really?" Hermione asked in surprise. Harry nodded.

"As of several months ago. I read about it last week. Fudge put them in place at the beginning of the holidays," he explained.

"Only because the worthless snivel is afraid something might go after him," she said angrily.

"Ah, but you see, that doesn't make sense, does it?" Harry said with a raised eyebrow.

"What do you mean?"

"If someone's going to attack the Ministry by air, wouldn't it make more sense to do it by broomstick? Hippogriffs and other magical creatures are notoriously hard to control, after all. They could get spooked and throw their rider in a duel," he explained.

"That does sound more practical," she agreed, frowning.

"So, other than sensors for bigger magical creatures like dragons, why put something more detailed in place?" Harry prompted. Hermione paled.

"Because Voldemort knows Buckbeak's stuck at Black Manor?" she asked, suddenly anxious.

"It makes sense to me."

"But that means Fudge…?" Hermione began to ask, but then let her sentence fade. Harry shrugged.

"I don't know. Even with Lucius Malfoy in Azkaban, there still could be a lot of other Death Eaters at the Ministry who might have influence with Fudge," Harry said, resigned. As far as he was concerned, Fudge was evil. Whether he was aligned with Voldemort or not really didn't influence Harry's opinion of the man.

He leaned back against the pillows piled against the bed frame with a sigh. He was definitely losing steam fast. He took another sip of tea and looked at Hermione from underneath lowered lashes. His luck was beginning to run out.

"So, can someone get a permit to bring a magical animal into the city?" Harry asked.

"I think so," Hermione said with a frown, and reached halfway across the bed to grab a reference text buried beneath several others. Immediately she started riffling through the pages with a small frown line between her brows.

"If we could find some reason to get a permit to bring animals into the city, maybe we could figure out a sneaky way to exchange them and get Buckbeak out. Once he's outside the city limits, Charlie shouldn't have any problems getting him out of the country," Harry said, speculatively.

"Yes!" Hermione exclaimed, making Harry startle. "Sorry," she said contritely. "It says we can."

"So all we need is an excuse to bring magical animals into the city," Harry said, regrouping.

"What would it be for?" Hermione asked.

"I don't know. Is there a Wizarding zoo? Something like that?"

"There is, but I don't think there's anyone we could influence to help us with requesting licenses," Hermione replied.

"True. Okay. So who else could use magical creatures? An animal hospital?"

"I doubt they have to request licenses, but it's still probably monitored," Hermione said.

"That makes sense. So what we need is an excuse for magical creatures to be brought in… Maybe some sort of premier? Or a parade?" Harry asked.

"Or a grand opening?" Hermione said with a slow, spreading grin.

"From two lads with a vested interest in thwarting Fudge at every turn," Harry said, nodding with approval and grinning widely himself.

"Perfect. It's perfect. So how could we do this?" Hermione asked.

"If you transfigured something smaller into a hippogriff, would it register with the sensors? Or would they be able to tell that it wasn't really a larger magical creature?"

"It might, but even if it doesn't, I think it'd be easy enough to spell it to register. After all, the Ministry probably doesn't expect someone to want an animal to show up on the sensors – only to not appear," Hermione supplied.

"Right. Perfect. And we've got McGonagall, who's ace at transfiguration. All we'd need to do is find a way to have the animals brought in through a flight path that takes them directly overhead, and it should be able to work," Harry said, finally feeling like they'd finally accomplished something.

"It could work!" Hermione agreed, and was about to say something else but broke off her sentence when the door opened and Remus slowly walked in. He automatically bowed to Buckbeak, who lowered his own head politely before returning his attention to cleaning his feathers, which he'd started to do in the past half hour.

"Remus!" Harry said with a smile that immediately began to falter. His former professor definitely looked fragile. His face was newly scarred and pale, but that wasn't what caused Harry's face to fall. It was the look in his eyes.

"Merlin, Harry, are you alright? What's wrong?" Remus asked, immediately rushing to Harry's side. Hermione looked ashamed for not pushing the topic herself.

"He ate most of his dinner," she volunteered. His former professor gently put a hand to Harry's forehead, checking for a temperature, and frowned.

"I'm fine, professor. I've just had a hard time sleeping," he protested lamely. He couldn't think of what else might explain how he guessed he must look. "How are you doing? Was it any better this time?" he asked, trying to deflect some of Remus' attention.

"I know it doesn't look like it, but it was," Remus said gently, and put the palm of his hand to the side of Harry's cheek tenderly. Was he checking his temperature? Because that gesture was awfully… gentle. It was nice.

"I'm glad," Harry replied, and realized that even if it meant discovery, he was really relieved to have Remus back. He'd missed the man's company, even with Tonks and Kingsley still there.

"I'm going to firecall for Poppy to come by later, Harry," he said, and glanced at the books strewn over the bed.

"What are you doing? We can get that. I'm feeling fine," Harry protested, as Remus began to gather the books up. Hermione immediately stood up to help him.

"You don't look fine, and I'd rather hear it from a professional," he said with a wink. Harry smiled weakly.

It hadn't occurred to him how quickly Remus would realize that something was off. He probably should have known better. Hopefully Madam Pomfrey was busy, so it would take a while, but realistically, he knew that wouldn't happen. She'd most likely be there within the hour.

"Do you think you could try to get some sleep?" Remus asked. Harry nodded, then realized there was no way he was ready yet to even try to walk. Though he was feeling better, he was still a long way from fine.

"Could I stay here?" Harry asked, not having to work to look pathetic.

"Of course you can," Remus said with a warm smile, and grabbed a quilt folded up in the corner to lie over his legs. Thankfully Harry was already leaning against pillows, so he didn't have to move at all. Was this all luck, or was Dobby just that good at anticipating things?

"Get some rest," he said, patting Harry's shoulder affectionately.

Hermione leaned over, the books clutched tightly against her chest and whispered, "I'll talk to the twins tonight." Harry nodded. It really was a good plan.

"Dobby?" Remus called out, and abruptly the dinner dishes disappeared from the bed. "Never mind," the werewolf said with a rueful smile.

"He's just that good," Harry said, and meant it in more ways than one.

"Sleep, Harry," Remus said. Hermione waved as she took a handful of books she'd set aside and scampered out of the room. "Nox," Remus whispered, and Harry was left in the dark with Buckbeak. He closed his eyes and prayed for fireplaces to get busy signals.