Introduction to the Sequel

This is the sequel to Resonance, which I'd recommend reading before reading this. In very quick summary though: (SPOILER ALERT for Resonance) Harry defeated Voldemort at the end of sixth year and, while he was stuck at Hogwarts over the summer, he and Snape came to an expected understanding. This understanding was helped by an episode in chapter 2 where Snape has to get Harry through a bad night after he has been maltreated by Crabbe and Goyle seniors. This understanding, through Dumbledore's prodding, becomes an offer of adoption. Many amusing scenes follow where various parties learn of this odd adoption, including Harry's friends, whom Harry hesitates a bit in telling. Harry gets through his seventh year with a parent around as a teacher, gets to visit the continent, applies for and is accepted into an Auror's apprenticeship with the Ministry and begins his training. Through this, Harry dates a number of people, but his heart is still stuck on Tonks, whom he is not allowed to date because she is now his boss. Not every loose end of Death Eater evil was tied up, and revenge found its way into Hogwarts and Snape is almost killed by one of his former associates. Harry sees all of this in his mind (in this AU he can see the Death Eaters as shadows) and comes to the rescue. In the end Snape not only gets far more than even with James Potter while beyond the veil, he even comes to feel guilty about it. Harry no longer sees Snape as a Death Eater shadow, so Snape in his risking becoming a ghost to return to Harry has actually, finally, redeemed himself.

This storyline is clearly now AU with the advent of book 6. The most glaring canon problems are: Madam Bones is not only alive and well, but is Minister of Magic. Snape's parents are both magical, but probably not much more adept at parenting than in actual canon. Snape lives in much nicer digs, although still old and a bit crumbly. Dumbledore is dead, but not offed by Snape, obviously. Harry likes Ginny, but not in that way, although she has made it clear she likes him. Ollivander is still around. I invented an Apparition which isn't totally off base, but given the lack of detail in book 6 regarding this I'm going to stick with mine, since it doesn't clash horribly. Some book 6 things are going to weasel their way into Revolution but their plot origin may be different from the original.

Chapter 1 - Year's End
By her side stood a tall, thin man, clad in black. His face was turned from us, but the instant we saw it we all recognized the Count -- in every way, even to the scar on his forehead.
-- Bram Stoker, Dracula
A single lamp upon a lone table lit the stone floor, providing a flickering yellow light. Frost framed the nearby window panes in a bristling white that glittered warm in the flame's glow. Harry exhaled loudly and flipped ahead a few pages in the small, worn spell book he held before him. With a flick of his wand he tried the spell again to no effect. His scarred brow furrowed as he held the rough paper closer to his nose, just in case he was reading the incantation incorrectly or missing an arrow on the gesture diagram. Uttering a noise of impatience, he lowered the book and gazed at his efforts so far. The Christmas tree standing before him looked pretty plain with just blue lights hovering in it and nothing else. But the tree itself was a nice full one with an attractive aquamarine tinge to its outer needles. He had picked it up at a neighbor of the Burrow just that morning after the all-night party Ron had hosted. This party was on top of the late evening the night before, when he and his fellow Auror apprentices had celebrated reaching their sixth-month review.

Harry rubbed his neck and his tender right shoulder as he carefully reread—from the beginning—the chapter on fairy lights, frustrated and determined all the more by the apparent utter simplicity of the spells he was attempting. He winced. His shoulder was even sorer today than it had been immediately after his six-month review testing. At first, he had been pleased to be assigned to Mad-Eye Moody for his spell examination, but the old Auror had apparently seen more confidence in Harry than he liked and had proceeded to put Harry on his backside with an Alibappa spell that they had not learned, and in fact one Harry suspected none of the other full Aurors knew either given their puzzled expressions. As Harry had picked himself up off the floor and caught his breath, Moody had looked about as pleased as Harry had ever seen him.

It was a subsequent chain binding curse that had bruised his shoulder. Harry had been required not to counter it, but to cancel it once it had captured him. He had accomplished this in record time, but neglected to point out to his trainer, who gave Harry a rare grunt of approval, that he had no choice given how little he could breathe with the spell so tight.

Harry soothed his pride with determined and almost dark expectations about his one-year review. He couldn't find a reference to the two difficult spells Moody had used, but he had sent a letter off to Penelope, a former girlfriend who lived in Switzerland, asking if she would check the archives where she worked. He was confident that she would find a source for them. Harry just had to work out a way of making sure Moody was his spell examiner next time as well.

Scratching his head, Harry decided to give the remaining fairy lights a go later. He put the book down on his stack of presents, noticing the one from Ginny on the top. This reminded him that he needed to work out how to convince her to trade brooms with him. If he just wrapped up his own broom, that would cause confusion. Instead, he sat down in the drawing room and began writing a charmed letter that would only let you open the second half of it after you had agreed to the first half. He wrote out: An unconventional present idea, but you must agree to it before you will be able to read the remainder of this letter.

Harry was just chuckling to himself, knowing how very batty that would make any Weasley, especially Ginny, when the doorknocker sounded. Harry set the parchments aside and quickly closed the ink bottle before answering the door.

"Elizabeth," Harry greeted his neighbor, who was still recognizable although extensively bundled up and half-swallowed by the early evening dimness.

"Hope it's all right to call?" she asked, sounding uncertain, but also smiling brightly with winter-flushed cheeks. She unwrapped her scarf, leaving her long brown hair to fall around her.

"Of course," Harry insisted.

In the main hall she handed over a large box of unevenly shaped biscuits. "My mum made me bake these for you."

"Thanks," Harry said and made a show of opening the box. The scent from inside was hard to place. He plucked one out and gamely took a bite, chewing thoughtfully. "Delicious," he said, hoping he didn't sound uncertain. "What's in them?"

"Ginger, carrot, pumpkin and courgette."

Harry ceased chewing and peered at the bitten edge of the biscuit in his fingers. He resumed chewing and even managed to swallow. "In that case they are really quite good," he honestly said.

"They're from a 1960 issue of Witch Weekly my mum keeps around for the holiday recipes. Those won that year's recipe contest, the theme of which was . . . " Here she frowned at the ceiling as though trying to remember precisely. "Treats from things found rotting in the cellar." She failed to notice Harry had stopped chewing again and went on with, "Mum makes them every year. It wouldn't be Christmas without them."

Harry was fairly certain that she was not joking. "There are a lot of them here . . . you wouldn't mind if I take them into the Ministry, would you?"

"No, not at all," she replied easily, to Harry's great relief.

Her biscuit mission complete, Elizabeth clasped her hands, looked around the hall, spotted the tree and immediately headed that way. "You're decorating," she said happily. "My mum did our tree while I was visiting my aunt, so I didn't get to help." She picked up the book Harry had left open. "Do you want help?"

Harry, knowing Elizabeth wasn't particularly adept at magic, shrugged in reply.

Elizabeth went on, "I love decorating trees. Can I borrow your wand?"

Surprised and curious how she would fare, Harry pulled his wand from his pocket. Elizabeth studied it for just a short hesitation and Harry expected that she was pondering what most people did: that it was the very wand that killed Voldemort. If it were, she recovered much quicker than most, and with a glance at the book incanted, "Feelichtrote," while tapping one of the branches. A lovely red light sprouted into existence in that spot; the very charm Harry had given up on earlier.

"Do that again," Harry said.

With a smile she obliged. She was pronouncing it differently than Harry expected, with gruff noises in the middle of the word. She added four more and said, "Enough red. How about yellow?" She flipped forward a page in the book and added copious yellow fairy lights to the tree, even reaching around the back with her long arms.

Harry took the book away while she was busy. "You're pronouncing all of these strangely," he commented as he looked over the spells. She grabbed the book back and flipped to the front and pointed out the cover page. Translated from Der Magische Tannenbaum, it read.

"Christmas trees are German, Harry," she informed him in a teasing voice. "So, all the spells are German. How did you manage the blue?"

Feeling taken down a notch on top of his Auror testing, even though she sounded strictly amused, he said, "I'm not sure. Took a lot of tries."

She brightened more as she gently paged through the battered pages of the book. "Zapfen are my favorite. Do you want to get a pitcher of water?"

A glance at the book showed an illustration of an icicle-laden tree. Harry fetched a pitcher from the kitchen. "You pour," Elizabeth suggested. She selected a branch with no fairy lights and drew a circle around it with the wand. A puff of frozen air hovered around the branch. Harry poured a thin stream of water into the vapor and it hardened into spear of ice fixed firmly onto the branch. The fairy lights beyond glittered pleasantly in it. They did a whole tree and three pitcher's worth, until the branches were beginning to sag.

"How long do they last?" Harry asked, taking the book up to read about them.

"A few weeks. Ours have never melted before we canceled the charms. Take it outside before you do."

They both stepped back and admired their handiwork. "Thanks," Harry gratefully said. He suspected that he might not have managed before Snape's arrival tomorrow without her help.

"Goodness, but you have a lot of presents," she said, noticing that the tall stacks were all his.

Harry shrugged. The Floo flared, startling Harry because he had lost track of the time. "Oh, that's my dinner date."

"Oops," Elizabeth uttered. "I've been keeping you too busy."

Harry brushed his hair back repeatedly with his hand during the walk to the dining room to greet Belinda. She gave him a quick kiss and hug before allowing him to lead her into the hall, where he could sense her stiffen through the hand he was still holding. "This is my neighbor, Elizabeth," Harry said, doing introductions.

Elizabeth gave a dainty handshake to Belinda and said with casual aplomb, "Sorry to be in the way. I spotted this lovely tree in the Snape window and thought I'd stop in for a quick hello. I'll just be going, if you'll excuse me. Nice meeting you, Belinda. Have a nice holiday, Harry." With that and some quick rebundling, she was gone. Harry, until that very smooth lie, had never considered that she might have sorted into anything but Ravenclaw had she gone to Hogwarts.

Turning to his date, Harry said, "It's good to see you. You finally escaped the Minister."

With a look of great annoyance she shook her head. "It was close. Almost ended up scheduled to trail along to some big party at a Lord's manor. But I've got five days off. Not sure what I'm going to do with myself."

"Bones is going to Lord Freelander's party?" Harry asked, remembering that Fudge had been absent.

Belinda stopped and looked at Harry in mild surprise. "Yes. You know of it?"

"Went last year, but I turned it down this time 'round."

"We could have both gone," Belinda said in clear disappointment.

Harry took up the box of biscuits from the chair and led the way back into the dining room where the house-elf, Winky, had set the table with candles and nice china. Belinda sniffed curiously, making Harry think quickly for an explanation for the odd biscuits. Until she asked eagerly, "Are those Rotting in the Cellar biscuits? My mum made those when I was a kid."

Harry held the box open for her. She nibbled quickly through one, humming happily, and Harry experienced that displaced-from-the-magical-world feeling that he hadn't had since he was a third-year at Hogwarts. "Want a butterbeer to wash those down?" Harry asked pleasantly when she took another. He hoped she accepted; it would make him feel better.

When they had finished dinner, Duck bones littered the plates and the candles had burned down to stubs. Harry sat back, feeling sleepy, not even caring that Belinda was eating yet another biscuit. His bum was sore, though, from Moody putting him forcibly on the floor. "Should we move somewhere more comfortable?" Harry suggested, trying not to frown at the memory of his review testing.

Belinda sat up straighter. "Sure," she replied in a warm tone that caught Harry, who was thinking only of getting out of the hard straight-backed chair he was in, a bit by surprise. Scratching his ear, he led the way to the library, where they sat on the lounger, which wasn't really a couch, but as close as it got. Harry, relaxing, leaned back and put one foot up.

"You aren't going to sleep, are you?" Belinda asked, sounding startled.

Harry opened his eyes, which he had not meant to close. "No," he denied, but after two long nights of parties in a row, it was a welcome idea.

With a doubtful, teasing smile, she leaned in closer and gave him a kiss. Harry winced as her shoulder bumped his when he tried to put his arms around her. "What's that?" she asked.

"Um," Harry hedged, and gingerly touched his shoulder. "My Auror review. I got knocked around by Mad-Eye. A bit hard, really," he complained mildly, feeling now that the old Auror had been unnecessarily rough in making his point.

"Aw, did you get bruised?" She sounded almost sympathetic.

"Yes," Harry breathed and opened the top buttons to pull the collar wide and reveal what he knew was an impressive, chain-imprinted bruise that wrapped around his right shoulder.

Belinda did gasp and said, "That looks terrible," before leaning over and giving the bruise a light kiss.

"I don't think that is going to help," Harry commented, thinking that was perhaps a bit much. He wrapped her cashmere clad self up, ignoring the pain this time. She was pleasantly soft against him.

"No other bruises?" Belinda asked in a sly manner.

"None that I am telling you about," Harry insisted.

- 888 -

Severus Snape stepped into his dining room from the hearth. One stub of candle flickered on the table, only feebly lighting the dark-paneled room. A hint of unfamiliar perfume hung in the air. He placed his small trunk on the floor, moved into the hall, and followed the lamplight toward the library, glancing in surprise at the gloriously glowing Christmas tree near the front windows. In the library he found Harry fast asleep on the lounger, his head tucked down into the crook of his arm, a telltale smear of red lipstick on his collar.

Quietly calling Harry's name did not rouse him. Smiling faintly, Snape plucked Harry's glasses from the table and hovered him off the lounger and carefully up the stairs. As Harry floated onto the bed, Snape wondered in mild concern at his ultra-deep sleep. He wondered with more alarm at the very distinct blue and green bruised imprint of a chain around Harry's chest and shoulder that was revealed when the hover spell was canceled and his shirt fell aside.

"Harry," Snape prodded loudly this time, while patting one limp arm well below the bruises.

Harry, hearing the stern, familiar voice, snapped awake, wondering groggily what he was in trouble for this time. "Huh?" Harry glanced around, surprised to find himself in his room and unable to piece the evening together quite properly as a result. Rubbing his eyes and sitting up slightly, he said welcomingly, "You're home early."

"Minerva dismissed the staff the evening before she originally planned to." Snape crossed his arms. "I think, frankly, she was tired of us all. You should owl if you have a ladyfriend over so I'll know not to drop in unexpectedly." Glancing at Harry's shoulder, he added in a disturbed manner, "Perhaps, though, you could use some closer monitoring."

"I could?" Harry uttered doubtfully, thinking that the evening had turned out rather tame, what with his falling asleep repeatedly and all. In retrospect he kind of wished it had ended more interestingly.

Pointing as the bruises, Snape sternly demanded, "What is this?"

Harry squinted at his shoulder. "That was Mad-Eye," he complained, and then looked around for his glasses, which Snape handed to him out of his pocket. Harry sat up to put them on and explained, "I drew Moody for my six-month review testing."

"Ah," Snape uttered in relief. "And how did that go? Besides the injuries, that is."

Harry frowned, thinking of his results letter which was downstairs stashed with the other post. "All right, I guess. I got a 94 on my written examination, and 65 is passing," he added more brightly. "Most of the questions were pretty easy, I thought."

Harry was glad to see Snape, especially since he was looking very much his normal self, healed completely. Despite wanting to chat a bit, Harry yawned widely, followed by a sleepy nod of his head.

Snape said, "We'll discuss it in the morning. Do you want something for the pain?"

Harry was already setting his glasses aside, intent on curling right back up. "No, it's fine."

In the doorway Snape turned. "The tree is rather impressive," he said.

"Oh yeah," Harry murmured, voice muffled by his pillow. "Merry Christmas."

- 888 -

The next morning Harry sleepily arrived for breakfast with Kali, his bat-like violet pet, on his shoulder. He did not sense the mood shift in his guardian right away, even though Kali was strangely restless. Plates arrived and Harry happily buttered his toast and squashed his roasted tomato out over it. He was relishing having this quiet normalcy which he came so close to losing for good. It wasn't until he started on his coffee that he noticed Snape had Harry's six-month results beside his plate on top of the Prophet.

Harry's glance at it was a cue to start, apparently, and Snape intoned darkly, "Your results are far less than impressive."

Harry grabbed up the handwritten parchment, wondering if the scores had changed magically overnight. "I did well enough. On the written, especially."

"Your score was third, behind two of your colleagues."

"You don't know the competition," Harry insisted, thinking of the two bookworms, Kerry Ann and Vineet who always knew all the details of the readings, every day.

Sharply, Snape asked, "You are happy with third?"

Harry's face twisted faintly. Some part of his score was due to joining Ron one evening two days before the exam, even though Harry had originally promised himself that he was going to go straight home every night and revise for the whole week before. "No, I guess not," he conceded.

Snape wasn't finished, however. "And you scored a 6 out of a possible 10 on your spell testing."

Defensive now in response to Snape's unexpectedly hard anger, Harry countered in kind, "Moody was really rough on me. Didn't you see the bruises?" Kali, picking up Harry's mood, stood up on his shoulder and circled his neck, pricking him with her claws. Harry picked her up and put her in his lap.

"He is presumably at liberty to test you however he sees fit, correct?"

Harry again was forced to concede, which ground painfully on his ego. "Yes. For the examination he had to do three predetermined spells and two of his own choosing. I can't find either of the two in any of the books you have here."

In his well-seasoned sneer Snape asked, "Is 6 a passing score?"

Kali stiffened and hissed faintly, head darting side-to-side to peer along the edge of the floor beside the hearth. Harry, with enormous effort, squashed the anger burgeoning in him. It tore at his pride to do so, but Kali's reaction and her bristling alarm propelled him to. In a much quieter voice, that he hoped masked his sudden worry, Harry said, "Rodgers declared it a passing score because of the degree of difficulty involved." He petted Kali until she calmed, hoping Snape didn't suspect he had that poor of control over his lapses into the Dark Plane. "I scored 20 out of 20 on my field work evaluation," he stated in a flat voice, not risking any emotion, but needing to point that out. His voice came out sounding defeated. "I'll do better next time; I have six months to prepare," he promised.

"I certainly hope so," Snape said, and returned to reading the newspaper. Harry set the results aside and tried to eat a bit more of his scramble, which didn't hold much appeal now. The remainder of breakfast passed in silence.

Snape stood eventually and at the door turned back and returned to stand beside Harry, where he almost placed his hand on his shoulder and instead settled for placing it on his head. In a vaguely conciliatory tone, he said, "I do not mean to spoil the holiday, but I demand the best from you because I see no other way to ensure your safety."

Harry, despite insisting to himself a moment ago that he wasn't going to argue, said, "But I am doing much better than the score on my examination shows. I'm doing really well on spells, in fact."

Snape's hand pressed down very hard on the top of his head. "You have apparently grown dangerously overconfident, Harry," Snape chastised darkly. "And I am grateful to Alastor for demonstrating that to you so clearly." His hand eased up and he said more gently, "Come, let's see what we can add to the tree."

Doubtful, Harry said, "You're going to decorate the tree?" He leapt up and followed his guardian to the main hall. Snape went into the drawing room and returned with a box showing pictures of spherical ornaments on the side in a variety of bright colors. "Candide sent these." When he opened the box, however, the cardboard tray inside contained only clear globes with hooks attached at the top.

Snape removed one and with a quick tap of his wand it filled with smoke which began glowing dark blue with rotating swirls. He handed it to Harry, who hooked it on a branch with care.

"Where'd you learn that charm?" Harry asked.

Snape paused, one hand holding a clear ornament, wand poised over it. "I did have a tree as a child."

"Oh," Harry uttered, trying with little luck to accept the notion of Snape of all people having had a more normal childhood than himself. Snape handed him another blue globe. "Is that the only color you can do?" Harry asked, hearing in his voice that he was still smarting from the earlier chastisement over his review scores.

"Yes," Snape confirmed, "each person creates one that reflects who they are. So a large family, such as your friends the Weasleys, would have a rather colorful tree. When I was younger, the joke was that the One-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's Christmas tree would be all black ornaments." He handed Harry another blue one. The box held eight, so Harry expected he would be given the other half to do himself. He hung this one higher up, trying to spread them out evenly. They added something the tree had been lacking and it was starting to look quite nice.

Snape colored the forth one and hung it himself before handing a clear one to Harry. When Harry turned it around in his hand to examine the glass and the way it reflected in the light, as well as the gold cap that held the hook, Snape said, "You merely have to tap it with your wand. A child can do it, even a non-magical one."

Harry cradled the glass in his hand and just touched it with the point of his wand. Smoke bloomed inside of it, which began to glow white from the core but only for an instant before the globe filled in jet black, suffocating the light. For a time, Harry stared at it dumbly. Snape scratched his chin and looked Harry over with chagrin.

"I don't want it to be black," Harry said in dismay. In the next instant the glass globe shattered, even though Harry was certain he had not squeezed it at all. He jerked his hand aside and the glass slivers crackled as they settled onto the floor.

Snape reached for Harry's hand. "Did you cut yourself?" he asked in concern.

Harry pulled his hand farther out of reach. "No," he snapped and reached for the box of ornaments. "Give me another one," he said, determined.

Snape grasped Harry's wrist as he held the new clear globe up. "Harry," he said, gaze intent. "It will be the same." It sounded like a promise. This globe shattered before Harry could even change it, leaving two large curves of clear glass resting in his palm and glass shards on his sleeve and Snape's. Snape calmly shook his arm off, sending more glass to the floor.

Snape shook out his robe front and picked up another clear ornament but didn't hold it out. "I shouldn't have told you that joke." He sighed and then firmly said, "Harry, I do not care if there are black ornaments on the tree."

Harry accepted the clear globe when Snape held it out. Feeling annoyed, he uttered, "I thought I was something more than Voldemort's puppet now." He spoke this in carefully banked anger, shaken by the violence of the accidentally shattered globes.

"You are," Snape insisted, as though Harry were a little dim.

Harry stared at the hollow of glass. "I don't want it to be black," he said again. Willing it to be otherwise, he tapped it with his wand. The light this time had a bright green tinge before it filled in black just the same. Snape quickly lifted it from his grasp and hung it up. Harry dreaded seeing it there all holiday but frowned and didn't complain farther. Snape held out the last clear one and Harry changed it too, and then repeated the tap again when Snape removed one of the blue ones from the tree and held it out as well to be changed over.

Harry didn't want to look at the tree, just stared down at the presents. Snape picked up the small book Harry had been using and paged through its index. "We need to capture an electric frost sprite for the top," he informed Harry casually, as though nothing were amiss. When Harry didn't respond, Snape demanded, "If I had not told you that silly story, which even I cannot verify, what would you be thinking right now?"

Harry was staring at one of the black ornaments. Unlike the blue ones, it perfectly reflected his distorted face back at him. He shrugged. Snape waited for more response before lifting Harry's chin to force him to look at him. Snape's eyes were full of something that Harry had not seen before; they had an aching in them, but it disappeared in the next moment and Snape was just studying him intently.

Chin released, Harry looked back down and sighed. So what if his ornaments were black? Pink would be worse. He half listened to Snape reading aloud about possible means of trapping sprites, including using colored cake frosting as bait inside a glass woven cage, and wondered what was in the present from Ginny.

At lunch, Snape seemed keen to make up a bit for his earlier stridency. He kept Harry talking about his last two weeks of training much longer than normal. "And we finally managed a Muggle-proof barrier, all four of us." Harry said. "We managed with three a week before. I was starting to spell barriers in my sleep I was so terribly sick of working on them. Does it matter how similar the wizards are who are trying to produce a barrier spells? It seems that way."

"That is a common perception, yes," Snape replied. "Barriers are not easy in any event even barring the need for multiple witches or wizards for large ones."

"And I talked Rodgers into starting on triage and wound closing spells earlier than he planned," Harry said, his voice dipping at the end as that now-familiar straining in his chest gripped him, leaving him as breathless as two weeks ago when he had found Snape lifeless in a pool of blood.

Perhaps as a distraction, Snape asked, "I did not hear, nor did Minerva, that there were any leads on locating Mr. Lockhart."

Harry frowned and put his sandwich down on his plate. He swigged the remainder of his butterbeer before saying, "From what I've heard—and believe me, it isn't much considering that I am there every day—they don't know where to look. Apparently he used one of his best Memory Charms on Nott, because Nott, who should know where he is, has a lot of holes in his memory even under their best truth serum." Harry watched Winky set another butterbeer on the table for him and considered that he heard less than he probably would if they trusted him to not run off and start investigating on his own, although he couldn't entirely assure even himself that he wouldn't.

"That is worrisome," Snape murmured. "He was in no condition to be taking independent action . . . I believe."

Harry shook his head that he agreed. He tried to imagine where Lockhart might be, but the former Hogwarts teacher had never been a Death Eater, so Harry would have no better luck finding him than finding anyone else, although he wished he could just zero in on him where ever he might be, the way one zeroed in on an Apparition destination. "The Ministry printed more wanted posters. Hopefully someone will report seeing him." But, Harry thought, no one has so far and most witches and wizards knew who he was at one point, so they would have remembered if they had.

- 888 -

Christmas morning arrived and Harry, in a dressing gown over his pyjamas and sitting cross-legged on the floor, began sorting through the stacks of presents. Snape stepped out of the drawing room, holding a cup of tea, and observed him as he worked at this. As Harry rearranged the piles, he knocked one of the black ornaments onto the large bow bedecking the present from Ginny. With a frown he hooked it back up on a higher branch and then attempted to ignore it again.

In a dry tone Snape said, "So very many presents for a dark wizard to receive."

Harry rolled his eyes and didn't let himself be baited. Instead, he plucked a label that read H. Potter off one of the larger boxes and pushed it toward Snape. Snape's brow lowered and he shook his head at hiding his present in Harry's own pile. "I didn't want you to guess," Harry explained. Even though he had repacked the present from the Muggle packaging, it still rattled distinctively.

Snape hefted the unexpectedly heavy box and hovered a chair in from the drawing room to sit in while unwrapping. Harry paused in his sorting to watch. Snape revealed the plain white box and shook it curiously before opening the lid and pulling out one of the squarish glass containers with wire-clamped glass lids.

"Polly recommended those when I asked her. I was going to get you a decorative potion bottle but these seemed much more useful." The widow of Harry's second cousin was frequently canning when Harry visited.

"Much more useful," Snape agreed, plucking at the replaceable seal on one of them. "I think the wire may accept an additional protective hex as well without impacting the ingredients. Thank you, Harry. Open yours."

Harry dug through to find the one from Snape. "Too small to be a broom," Harry commented to the two foot square box. He shook it lightly, and it thunked strangely. However, when he opened the box he found nine smaller boxes inside it, arranged in rows. "What's this?" Harry asked, amused.

Snape responded, "Each of the staff wished to give you something."

"Oh," Harry said, and swallowed hard, remembering disquieting random pieces of what had happened. He had to distract himself to make it stop. He picked out the box labeled Hagrid and opened it. Inside was a new pair of rabbit-lined gloves.

Snape said, "When he inquired what you needed, I told him you had nearly worn out your previous pair. The resulting sniffles were a bit much, but he was clearly touched by your use of his gift."

Harry opened the rest, one at a time. McGonagall has given him a rare old storybook that read one of a hundred stories aloud to you. Trelawney had given him boots to match the gloves from Hagrid. Madam Hooch, a gift coin to the Quidditch Supply Catalog. Snape himself had given him a small pewter dragon lamp that stood straight and spread its wings when you lit the wick and curled up as though sleeping when you blew it out. Harry left it lit on the only table in the main hall. Its emerald eyes glittered and seemed to follow him as he went back to the pile of presents.

As Harry opened the gold Astral Compass from Sinistra, he said, "They must be happy to have you around still." He had attempted it as a tease, but it didn't come out right. Instead it cut straight through his own chest. Grateful that he was facing away from his guardian, he pretended that he needed to sort through the remaining packages to choose which to open next. Ginny's was right in front of him, he managed to gather through the haze of meaninglessness that had enveloped him. He had been curious about the rather sizable box and focused fiercely on the previously established emotion attached to it to drag himself back to the here and now. He was desperate for Snape not to see him struggling, because any outward sympathy from that quarter would render him helpless, he was certain.

Breathing slow and deep, Harry opened the box before him only to blink at yet another gift inside of it. "What is it with this year?" he asked, managing a convincingly light laugh. The box inside was wrapped in brown paper with the Tri-W logo stamped on it. Written upon it were the words: Do not open in the presence of Hogwarts staff, Ministry officials, or flammable pets. Harry resealed the lid and risked a glance over at Snape, who sat with his hands intertwined in his lap, appearing amused. Harry couldn't tell if he had been able to read the writing. "I'll open that one later." He pushed a box from Anita, Snape's mother, over to Snape, figuring that should keep him distracted for a while.

- 888 -

On Boxing Day Harry had promised to go to Belinda's parents' for dinner. It was the same night that Snape's father Shazor and his second wife Gretta were visiting, from which Harry was glad to have an excuse to leave early. Gretta was in good holiday spirits but her husband was his usual difficult self and ignored his wife's good-natured attempts to get him onto better topics.

"Well, your position is quite secure, it seems," Shazor rattled on as they stood in the drawing room, "what with Bones' announcement that all of the Death Eaters are put away for good."

Harry was pleased to see that Snape remained utterly unfazed by this. "Yes, quite secure, I think," Snape agreed easily, removing the sting from the words. With a glitter in his eye, added with grinding amiability, "And Harry's influence with the Ministry was boosted as well, should it ever be needed."

Harry exhaled and thought, I couldn't get Sirius off. But he put on a cocky expression when Shazor turned his way.

Finally, it was time to depart for his date, but Gretta insisted on giving him some final primping, which he barely stood still for even though he didn't really mind another set of eyes making sure he was acceptable for parental judgment. Gretta said, "Too bad you have to take the Floo, dear, it always makes a nice white shirt a little dingy with ash."

Harry, feeling the cockiness from earlier in the evening come to the fore, said, "No, I'll Apparate. It's only to London." Everyone turned at that and before he could lose his certainty, he scrunched himself down very small and the drawing room was gone.

Harry was very grateful that he had practiced localized steering with as much care as Snape had forced in their lessons. The trouble with getting to London wasn't the distance for Harry's power, it was finding his way to the place he had fixed in his mind. At a great distance, no matter how clear your mental vision, your destination was actually foggy and wavered unpredictably. Once you got close, it became easier, but by that time you were already expanding and the split second with which you could make any adjustment too short to recover from any serious error.

Harry's feet hit the ground with a resounding slap! when he fell the four inches he had Apparated above it. Exhaling loudly, he considered that that was much preferable to the alternative, which would have involved having his feet back near the border with Scotland and the rest of him here in London. Thinking that had perhaps been too risky at the same time as grinning to himself for succeeding, Harry stepped out of the alleyway, used an Alohomora on the outside door, and after a quick dash up the stairs, rang the bell at the door to Belinda's flat.

Belinda was a little slow in answering and when she opened it, it became clear why: she was simultaneously removing rollers from her hair and putting in earrings. But she greeted him warmly. "Come on in . . . I'll be ready in a mo. You look nice." Harry felt unexpected relief at that. Aaron, an always dapper fellow Auror apprentice, would think Harry a nutter for worrying that Belinda's parents could possibly be less than pleased with him, but apparently Harry could not shake the possibility.

When she was finally ready, a bit late by Harry's reckoning, she took his hand and Apparated them both into a small living room. A thickly bearded, nearly bald man with shoulder-length brown hair growing out the sides of his head looked up sharply at their arrival. Big band music played loudly elsewhere in the house. The man set his pipe aside and stood to greet them. He bore little resemblance to Belinda, but he greeted her warmly and then held out his hand to Harry. "And this must be Mr. Potter," he said graciously.

"My father," Belinda introduced the man, took Harry's cloak, and then urged him to take a seat in one of the overstuffed armchairs before heading off to greet her mother.

Harry clasped his hands together and settled back; Mr. Belluna did as well, clamping the tip of his pipe back in his mouth. Talking through his teeth, he said, "Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Potter, I'm sure."

Harry, who had been surveying the sphinx heads carved in plaster below the mantel, turned back to his host. He had not imagined that he would be left alone to deal with Belinda's father quite so quickly. "Thank you, sir."

"How is your apprenticeship progressing?" the man then asked after a series of puffs on his pipe.

"Fine, sir. We're learning a lot."

"And getting some field work in as well," he said with an odd twinkle in his hazel eyes. He had the appearance of a well-groomed hermit, which made Harry relax rather than wonder at the questions.

"Some, yes. We aren't allowed to do much, though."

"You missed the last dinner, I believe, due to your needing time to recuperate after a bout of field work?" he asked this with deceptive innocence, seeming almost amused.

Harry sat up a little straighter, remembering taking care of Snape after the attack the previous occasion he had been invited to dinner here. "Well, that doesn't technically count as field work for my apprenticeship."

"No?" Mr. Belluna queried, seeming disappointed. He puffed more on his pipe.

"So, what do you do, Mr. Belluna?" Harry asked, more alert.

Amiably, Mr. Belluna replied, "I am a watchmaker. I have a little shop in Greenwich."

Harry was saved from further questions by Belinda returning with her mother, who was just stashing her wand into the pocket of her frilly white apron. "Harry! So good to finally meet you," she exclaimed while giving his hand a dainty shake. "My! Well, please make yourself at home. Dinner will be on in just a moment."

Harry and Belinda's father settled at the dining room table instead, and Belinda, to Harry's consternation, disappeared again. Harry sat straight and considered the man beside him on the end of the table.

Mr. Belluna asked, "So, your training is three years, correct?" The man seemed to be working up a profile on Harry, the way the Aurors did when interviewing a witness for the first time.

"Yes, sir."

Clutching his pipe again between his teeth, Mr. Belluna asked, "And you are progressing well, I presume? Belinda said you just had a six month examination."

"Well enough, sir."

Belinda thankfully reappeared before more questions came Harry's way. Had the man been anyone other than his girlfriend's father Harry would have been more assertive, but with the constraint that he needed to make the man like him, he felt hobbled from defending himself. Belinda gave him a positively glowing smile; she seemed quite happy to finally have this dinner. Harry returned the smile, happy enough to make her so.

That was until she asked brightly, "So Daddy, do you like Harry?"

"How can one not?" her father asked airily. "Have you set a date yet?"

"A date for what?" Harry asked in true confusion. Belinda looked as though she may have swallowed a skrewt.

Mr. Belluna sat back and puffed his pipe. "In that case my opinion is of limited consequence," he stated easily.

Belinda's mother returned and, as she sat across from Harry, he found himself facing Belinda's older image, even down to the dimple on her right cheek when she smiled. She was full of much less challenging conversation and the rest of the meal passed quickly.

Late in the evening, they Apparated back to Belinda's flat. "Well, thank you for coming," she said, and then added with some shyness, "I have a present for you." She retrieved a sizable package from the floor beside the couch and presented it with aplomb. Harry opened it and held up a dark green cardigan with yellow edging.

"Thanks," Harry said and laid it back in the box before reaching into his cloak pocket.

Belinda was explaining her gift. "I had a real hard time picking out a color. I finally decided on a color Professor Snape could stand to see you in."

"Yeah, he'll like that color," Harry assured her. "This is for you." He held out the slim box that another Auror apprentice, Kerry Ann, had helped him pick out, or to be more honest, had picked out for him. Upon seeing the thin silver chain with three pearls, Belinda let out a little whine of exclamation. She thanked him a bit more than Harry thought it deserved, but he didn't at all mind the resulting attention.

When he returned home late, he found Snape at the dining room table, nose in a letter. In his hand he clutched a small glass stained with the liqueur that was open on the table before him. With a stab of emotion Harry wished then that he had stayed; Belinda's parent's could have waited yet again. Harry swung his cloak off, sat across from his guardian, and simply asked, "Are you all right?"

Snape looked up with some surprise. "Yes, quite."

"How did the rest of the visit go?" Harry asked carefully.

"As well as one involving an overbearing and vengeful parent could go. And how was your dinner?" Still sounding flatly snide, he added, "Are the Bellunas already planning for a new son-in-law?"

"How did you know that?" Harry asked.

After a sharp look Snape's lips curled slightly and his shoulders fell back. "Ah, and here I thought I had experienced the worse evening." He hovered another stout glass over. "Here, have a swallow."

- 888 -

The next afternoon, Sunday, they Apparated to the front stoop of Polly Evans' small but rambling house. The door opened a second later. "I thought I heard something," Mrs. Evans greeted them. "Come in. Come in. Merry Christmas."

Snape shut the door behind them, blocking out the cold, although they had brought a roomful of it in with them. The stove and its boiling pots quickly negated it. Harry handed over the pot of turkey Winky had prepared. In the sitting room Patricia's children, Briar and Basel, were playing with plastic toys, presumably presents that year. Briar was making a small horse gallop along the worn edge of the coffee table. Mrs. Evans' daughters, Pamela and Patricia, stood to greet them warmly. "Did you have a good trip?" Patricia asked. Harry almost pointed out that the trip was quite short before realizing that the question was for her husband's benefit.

"Yes, thanks." Harry reached into his pockets and took out the presents he had brought for the youngsters. He had kept wanting to shop for something at Tri-W but that was right out, and instead from a Muggle shop he had bought very unmagical toy cars that went forward very fast after you dragged them backward a bit. Harry had bought an extra one and left it on Mr. Weasley's desk, knowing he would be delighted because they were a clever enough machine that they felt sort of magical. And since it didn't require a battery he expected that it wouldn't break the moment it was brought home to the Burrow. The children were tearing into the wrapping with relish.

"Uh, oh, Harry is playing uncle and spoiling you two," Pamela chided. The children ignored her in favor of car noises.

At dinner, Pamela sat across from Harry beside Snape on the end. The children were in the middle, forming a wall of noise that Pamela was taking advantage of to ask questions, mostly of Snape. "Maybe while Greg is taking a nap after dinner, we can see some spells?" she suggested hopefully, glancing to the opposite corner of the table where Patricia's husband sat, cutting up Basel's turkey while the boy squirmed impatiently. "Good turkey by the way; which of you cooks?" she asked teasingly.

Snape gazed at her momentarily before looking into his whiskey glass and dryly replying, "The elf cooks."

Pamela nearly dropped her fork. "An elf?" she whispered. "An actual elf? You have an elf as a cook?"

Harry opened his mouth to explain, but Snape beat him to it. "She is more of a general servant," he stated uncaringly. "Bound into servitude by a sort of enslavement spell."

Pamela stared at Snape; Harry wondered why he was intentionally shocking her so. "It's hard to explain," Harry hedged. "But it's not as bad as he is making it sound." He then tried to explain about Winky and why it was better that she have a household, but he couldn't even manage to explain about her previous employer without simply generating more alarm.

"This elf sounds evil," Pamela whispered.

Harry said, "No, not at all. I'm just not explaining well. Maybe some other time when it is easier. You should come visit and see her."

Previous invitations had been met with a better reception. "Uh, if you think it would be all right. . . sure."

Harry wondered that Snape appeared smug. He served himself seconds while searching for another topic. Snape said, "Perhaps you should tell your cousin about meeting Prime Minister Daire."

"Really?" Pamela exclaimed, bringing the table's attention to her.

Greg asked, "Did he visit the MI5 office where you apprentice?"

"Uh, yeah," Harry replied, finding his way through the version of his job Greg had been told. Harry told the table a heavily edited version of events.

"Well, that's good he's happy with you blokes. That isn't always true."

"He seemed happy enough," Harry confirmed.

"Is he really so cute in person?" Pamela asked.

"I . . . guess so," Harry hedged.

When the table's attention focused instead on the children—who had removed themselves from the table to play a game involving tossing colorful sacks of beans into a target—Snape crossed his arms and stated, "The real story is much more entertaining."

"Oh, let's hear it." Pamela leaned forward eagerly to listen.

"Uh. . ." Harry uttered, figuring out where to start. "So, Daire came, mostly like I said, to check up on how the Ministry of Magic is doing in fighting dark magic. So our trainer has myself and an Indian apprentice, Vineet, do a demonstration. Says he wants it loud and colorful. Oh, and Daire has two assistants with him who are about as terrified as you could imagine. And after the demonstration starts, they are basically hiding behind the Prime Minister." Harry paused while Pamela snorted into her glass of milk.

"So we are doing as he says, but Vineet is putting too much power in his spells and I'm trying hard not to hit him back too hard. He isn't as good at blocking and countering, you see, and I don't want to knock him down in front of all those people. So, Daire notices this difference and comments to our Minister that he thought I wasn't so great as he thought."

"Oooh," Pamela uttered with relish. "So you proved him wrong?"

"I tried. I disarmed Vineet with a new spell we had just learned. It makes a whip appear that wraps around the other person's wand and jerks it out of their hand. But it made Vineet a bit angry and he, well, he transformed into a tiger and came at me."

Excitedly curious, she asked, "Can you transform into a tiger too?"

"No . . . my Animagus form, as we call it, is a . . . resembles a eight-foot griffin, except with a cat's head." She stared in silence at him. Harry went on, "So, I transformed into that. Imagine, there's the Prime Minister, the Minister of Magic, all their staff, and this big white tiger and an even bigger bright red gryffylis tussling in the middle of the room."

While Pamela giggled, Snape sat back and said, "The rumors generated by those events were almost unmatched. The wizard newspaper the Daily Prophet suppositioned that Minister Bones had set magical animals loose on Daire with the intent of rescuing him herself."

Harry chuckled then. "I didn't read that."

"No, rumor has it Bones put a halt to the print run of that edition and insisted they change it. Ms. Skeeter replaced it with a one-column piece asserting that the Ministry should order Witch Weekly to allow Muggle politicians to compete for their annual best smile award."

"You can't mess with Skeeter," Harry commented as he accepted a large slice of apple pie.

"She has left you alone for a while," Snape pointed out.

"Who is this?" Pamela asked.

"A reporter for the Daily Prophet. She's been the bane of my existence since I was a fourth-year."

"The press harasses you?" Pamela asked, a twinkle in her eye.

"Even the American press," Harry insisted.

Pamela propped her chin on her hands and gazed at him intently. "You really are famous, then?"

"Uh, only among the wizarding community." Harry replied at the same time as Snape said, "Quite."

By the time they returned home it was almost dinner time although Harry couldn't imagine eating again. "Was that all right?" Harry asked, still uncertain why Snape had gone out of his way to shock Pamela, and worried it had been sheer boredom expressing itself.

Snape hung his cloak over his arm. "It was fine. Phenomenally normal relatives you have there. Congratulations, Potter."

Harry, plotting out the rest of his free evening, said, "Yeah, they are, aren't they? So, my friends are getting together at the Burrow, do you mind if I go?"

"No, please do," Snape replied, but Harry had a sense that he had expected him to be staying.

"What time will you be returning?" Snape asked from the drawing room when Harry came back down from getting ready.

Harry, rather than resist having to say, was glad to, due to previous times that something bad had befallen him and he had wished Snape had known his precise schedule. "11:00 I think. Will you still be up?"

"I may be out, actually," Snape replied.

Harry grinned, "Well, in that case: what time will you be back?"

Snape matched his smile with a wry one. "Midnight, most likely."

Harry fetched his broom and took the Floo to the Burrow because of his previous close call Apparating all the way to London. The endless teasing that would result from getting Splinched in front of the Weasley clan made the ash on his clothes seem very minor.

Harry arrived into a noisy living room and quickly stepped out of the hearth that returned to blazing hot as the Floo powder dissipated. He had to step over Charlie reclining on the floor, his wife draped over him, using him as a mattress. Harry greeted everyone on the way to butterbeers, floating in a pan of hot water with rocks in the bottom of it.

Ginny appeared at his side as he took a swig. Harry held out his broom to her.

"You sure?" she asked.

Harry nodded. "Yeah. 'Course. I rarely use it what with Sirius' bike and flying on my own."

"I can fly on my own too," Ginny pointed out, referring to her Animagus form, which was a red-tail hawk.

"Not during the Slytherin-Gryffindor match, you can't," Harry pointed out.

"Oh, that's what this is about. You have a bet with Professor Snape or something?"

Harry's denial was interrupted by Hermione coming up and giving Harry a holiday hug. "Have a good Christmas, Harry?"

"Yup. Except tree decorating was a bit annoying . . ."

Ginny took hold of Harry's broom and with a smile sneaked off. Hermione continued levelly, "How are your fellow apprentices doing?"

"Good," Harry replied, watching across the room as Neville was showing some no-heat fire spell to someone Harry didn't recognize. The young stranger had an awed expression as he watched Neville's spell, which made Harry smile. He responded to Hermione's ongoing questions with only half an ear.

"And how is your Indian friend faring with his spell power?"

The twins were putting a headband sporting glowing horns on Ron, who apparently was having a mental lapse on having been their brother his whole life. "He still can't counter well."

"Does he need more help?" Hermione asked. "I've been reading up on that a bit."

Harry shrugged. "He might." He was watching Ron's eye's glaze and the whites begin glowing like a jack-o-lantern so he missed Hermione biting her lip at the effort to sound merely conversational.

Ginny returned with her secondhand Cleansweep Seven. "You're sure?" she asked again, voice tinged with pain.

"Yes, Ginny," Harry insisted, taking her broom. Ginny for her part gave Harry's Firebolt an inspection which involved trailing her hands on it a bit reverently. Harry explained to Hermione that for his Christmas present to Ginny he was trading brooms with her until the end of the school year.

"That's very nice of you, Harry," Hermione said. "Are you having a party soon?" she then asked, sounding a little out of the blue.

"I could," Harry replied with a shrug, still watching Ginny testing the heft and checking the true of her loaner broom.

Harry returned just before 11:00, just after the Twins insisted on quizzing Ginny on her future N.E.W.T.s despite not having taken them themselves. Their potential questions included things like: How often do giant spiders not eat their young and how do they chose which? and if you curse an object and then die, how much of the curse still remains? When Charlie joined in with detailed questions about Dragon breeding and Ginny's blushing was matching her hair, Harry took his leave, partly to save her further public embarrassment. But once he had noticed the time, he really needed to head home.

"You don't still have a curfew, do you?" Fred had asked in horror, when Harry made his goodbyes.

"No, but I said 11:00," Harry explained.

George shook his head sadly, "An obedient Harry, where did we go wrong?"

"Goodnight all," Harry said with a little wave before tossing powder onto the coals of the hearth.

Harry was surprised to find Headmistress McGonagall sitting across from Snape at the dining room table, a tall, tanned, brown and grey-haired man Harry didn't know sitting beside her. McGonagall greeted him warmly. "Harry, how are you? You haven't met my husband, Richard, have you?" Harry shook hands with the man, certain he was a Muggle without knowing for certain how he knew that. McGonagall was explaining, "Richard researches birds on the Savannah."

"Honored to meet you, Mr. Potter," Richard intoned. "I've heard rather a lot about you."

Harry took a seat across from him. "I hope some of it was good."

Richard grinned. "Most of it, actually."

"Your visit at the Burrow went all right?" Snape asked.

"Yeah, it was fun. Ginny still gets the worst of her brothers though."

McGonagall put her glass to her lips. "I expect she can handle them by now."

"Maybe if it were only three of them at a time. She was a little overwhelmed, I think." Harry noticed Richard watching him curiously.

The conversation moved to school matters and Harry finally turned to Richard and gave him a sharp look. "Sorry," Richard said. "Never met a legend before."

"And you still haven't," Harry snipped, feeling ungenerous this late in the day. He felt that queasy slipperiness of the Dark Plane then and quickly bottled his annoyance back up.

"Harry," Snape chastised at the same time as Richard was by McGonagall. Harry pushed his chair back and stood. It had been a long day.

"No need to go, Harry," McGonagall said in concern.

"It's all right. I. . ." He almost said he had an early morning the next day, but he didn't have training. "I'm a little tired. Long day. Goodnight. Nice to have met you." In the hall, the tree still glowed brightly, reminding Harry of much poorer Christmases. He shouldn't let one gawking Muggle ruin his mood.

In his room Kali was clamoring frantically inside her cage. Harry let her out saying, "Maybe you're the reason I'm ornery." He sat down with his pet curled on his leg and answered letters that he had put off until holiday, somehow thinking the holiday would be less busy than normal times.

A half-hour later a light rap preceded Snape opening the door. "Everything all right?"

"Yeah," Harry insisted.

"Minerva was concerned that Richard may have offended you."

"No, not really," Harry insisted, thinking he should have behaved better. "I'm surprised she married a Muggle, though," Harry observed without looking up from a letter to Suze, thanking her for the Snitch-shaped tea cozy and offering her some advice in preparing for the upcoming match against Ravenclaw.

Snape had not moved from the doorway, and at the end of a sentence, Harry looked up at him. "How did you know that?" Snape asked. "Very few have met Richard, and fewer are aware he isn't magical."

Kali raised her head and cocked it curiously at Snape. "I don't know," Harry muttered. "He just didn't feel magical." Harry dipped his quill in the inkwell, but held it over the blotter instead of continuing his letter. "You are going to tell me this is some extraordinarily rare skill, telling wizards from Muggles?" Even Harry had to admit, he had never heard of it, but he still fixed Snape with a stubborn glare.

"No. Not extremely rare, but unusual at least."

"Can you do it?" Harry challenged. Then reading Snape's expression added, "Without Legilimency . . ."

"No." Then after a pause where Harry resumed writing with the quill, Snape continued, "It is a useful skill, Harry; why are you being difficult?"

Harry shrugged, still scratching away at some Seeker training suggestions.

In a harder tone Snape said, "I expect an answer."

Harry put the quill down. "It takes some getting used to, I guess. I never noticed I could do that before. I couldn't tell Tara wasn't a witch, for example."

"A new skill then, perhaps."

"Or a lucky guess," Harry countered.

Snape began pulling the door closed. "Let me know which when you determine it."