Chapter 41 — New Paths

At the Ministry, Harry and Vineet located Shacklebolt and Mr. Weasley in the tea room, discussing something in low tones. They fell quiet upon their entrance. Harry had forced Vineet to lead the way in, but then the Indian stood silently.

"Er . . ." Harry began. "We just discovered something." He looked between the three of them, wishing Vineet appeared less like he was six miles inside himself. "Vishnu was also born into a prophecy."

Brows lowered. Mr. Weasley scratched his thin hair and stuffed the small parchment roll into his pocket. "Were you?" he asked Vineet. "Hm," he muttered, sounding unconvinced. "We'll see, I suppose." He looked back and forth between them, leaving Harry with the impression that he preferred to still consider it Harry's prophecy. Not that Harry didn't appreciate the implication of confidence, but he wanted to assume Mr. Weasley was wrong.

Harry's introspective fellow apprentice accompanied him up to the Atrium, where he bowed and Disapparated away. As Harry approached the hearths, he turned in a circle, looking up at the charred gold leaf, the darkened and cracked magical windows, and the new damage to the just recently repaired fountain, which was dry again, awaiting yet another patch. The scene left him aching and unhopeful.

On Diagon Alley he took the stairs two at a time up to the rooms above the Apothecary. Inside Candide's flat, the scene of Snape sitting on the bed across a small table from Candide, playing cards, brought a curl to Harry's lips.

"Good to see you smiling," Snape said. "Come in," he invited.

Harry approached and sat on the bed beside Snape, since not only was there not another chair, there was not space for one. "You won't believe this," Harry said with clear anticipation of telling. Giddiness had filled him again.

Snape stared at him before saying, "Hard to imagine what could make you so buoyant, so quickly." He put down an eight of diamonds and Candide shook herself away from Harry's storytelling and drew from the deck.

Harry said, "The prophecy might not be mine."

Snape reacted less than expected. Same as Mr. Weasley, he became contemplative. "What leads you to believe that?"

"Vishnu was born into prophecy as well." Harry added, "And he believes he's here for a reason. He wants the prophecy, even." When Snape made a thoughtful noise in response, Harry said, "You sound like Mr. Weasley. Don't you think it's possible?"

"Most certainly," Snape conceded. "The prophecy does not mention you by name."

"It doesn't mention Voldemort, either," Harry pointed out, noticing Candide flinch ever so slightly.

Snape drew a card. "I do hope it is true for your sake. For the rest of our sake, I am more trusting of you, however." He gestured at the stove where a large black cauldron sat with dried stew dripped down the side of it. "Did you eat dinner with all of this excitement?"

"Yes," Harry assured him. "I went out with Tonks."

Snape started to put down the three of clubs, but his gaze came over to Harry instead. "Not on a date, I assume. . ."

Harry started to bite his lip, then stopped himself. It had not been formally called one, but Harry had certainly thought of it as a date. "Maybe," he hedged. It amazed him how fast Snape's gaze could go from neutral to laser-sharp. Harry defensively said, "You're the one who gave her the 'midnight shift'."

Snape retorted, voice as cutting as his gaze, "Because I wished to have someone there I and you both trusted. It was not license for anything else."

Harry held his breath in trepidation about what may come next. He did not know what he would do if Snape outrightly forbid him to continue with their relationship.

Snape turned back to his hand and changed what he was going to discard. "You disappoint me Harry; we discussed this."

Harry dropped his head, searching for rational arguments that would work with this man. They were in short supply, so he did not speak. Candide gave him a reassuringly sympathetic look. Snape followed this look back to Harry and said with some regret, "I did not intend to remove the only smile you've had for a month." He reached out a hesitant hand that clenched and unclenched once as it approached, but when it grabbed Harry's shoulder it was firm. "I am going to assume that you are old enough to make your own mistakes in this area. And this is a mistake, Harry, which you will undoubtedly discover on your own."

"Optimistic as always," Candide teased. "Are you going to lay down a card?"

"It is your turn."

"Is it?"

Snape turned back to Harry. "I am disappointed in Ms. Tonks, as well."

The card game played out for a while. Harry wanted to say some things but not in front of anyone but Snape. Finally, he decided that since they were all a family, he should just say what was on his mind. "I don't otherwise really have anything for myself," he said, hoping to be understood.

"A future is not enough for you all of a sudden?" Snape sharply asked.

Harry frowned. Snape glanced his way and then looked to regret his tone. He said, "Try as I might I cannot protect you from dark wizards and certainly not from prophecy, but I thought I could protect you from yourself with a bit of guidance." He paused to study his hand to see if he should keep the card he had drawn. He tossed it down instead. "So be it if you wish to step into such a difficulty." He pointed a finger at Harry's nose. "See to it that you don't come to harm as a result."

"I came to harm getting a medal," Harry pointed out, gesturing with his slinged elbow. Softly, in dire need of confirmation, he said, "As long as you're not forbidding me to see her or anything."

"That would not succeed; I suspect—your temper and your stubbornness being what they are."

"You would know," Harry pointed out, with no rancor.

"Yes, I would," Snape said with a hint of an understanding smile. "I am here as always to catch you when you fall."

"That's rather poetic for you," Candide supplied.

"You really think I'm making that big of a mistake?" Harry asked.

"Yes. If only because it clouds your judgement, which is perhaps your weakest quality." Snape laid down his hand, indicating that he had won. With a slap, Candide folded her hand into a small stack.

Harry said, "Glad you have such confidence in me."

Snape sat back while Candide shuffled the deck. "I have enormous confidence in you, just not in the manner you are thinking. I have complete confidence that you will always do what you think is right. But like the time when the log was changed and you headed straight into a trap, your judgement about what is "right" is not always reliable."

Harry sighed. "Mr. Weasley pointed that out too."

Snape accepted the new hand he was dealt. "Be careful, Harry. That is all I ask."

"Did you want to be dealt into this hand?" Candide asked, holding the deck out.

"No," Harry replied. "I should go. Make it an early night."

At Hermione's apartment, Harry found his friend cross-legged on the floor, organizing the books that had migrated from the shelves to stacks all around the flat.

"So what do you think . . . take the Charms position?" she asked without even turning around.

"I think you should." Harry tossed his cloak off onto a chair back, but then picked it up and put it on a hook instead.

"I'm starting to think I should too," Hermione said. "Getting away from London would be good for me." She moved about with purpose, putting every last book in place and then shuffling some of them around into better places.

"You're still hopeful about getting a chance with Vishnu, aren't you?" Harry asked. She did not reply, just kept examining book spines and reorganizing. Harry went on, "I don't ask that to be cruel. I'm trying to be a friend."

"He wants to patch things up with his wife," Hermione stated in a queerly flat voice.

"Of course he does," Harry said. "He always wants to do the right thing." It was not until those words were out that Harry heard them as an echo of Snape's observation about himself. Harry thought Vineet a much better fit for that description.

She pulled a tassled bookmark out of reach of Crookshanks' claws and stuffed it into the closest book. "Yes, of course he does. That's what I like the best about him, that he wants to do the right thing. What horrible quandary" She laughed painfully. "It can never work; can it?"

Harry sat down on the floor beside her. "We need to get you out meeting more people."

She gave him the sad smile of someone who really did not want to do that, who would only find that frustrating and disappointing. "Sure," she said unconvincingly.

"Aaron, my other fellow apprentice, is available. Don't you like him?"

Hermione laughed, truly amused. "He's like the Great Gatsby, Harry. Not my type. Cute though. Fun probably. But not my type."

Harry looked over the shelves surrounding them. "True. He hates books."

- 888 -

The next day, they had an abbreviated morning training session, during which Harry was forced to sit out drills, despite protesting that his blocks would hold just fine. He sat in the corner, re-reading a chapter in a Muggle book on evidence collection that Hermione had bought him. Rodgers thought the book a bit silly given that it did not assume one had a wand to use. Harry thought that not having a wand made the investigator think a bit harder about what mattered.

After lunch the uncovered assignments began to pile up and they were sent out on duty, even Harry, who was sent out with Blackpool again on yet another Mugglebaiting call. Someone had charmed the traffic signals to go green in all directions and the maintenance crew could not seem to fix them, bollixing up rather a large section of London. Harry's job was to set up a distraction, while Blackpool performed the necessary spell neutralization. In one case Harry made the horn on a bus stick for a minute, doubly loud, which made people turn and cover their ears. In another he caused a lorry to drop its delivery ramp, which caused quite a clamor and made everyone jump. In all cases he had to also fog the plastic covers of the surveillance cameras which were constantly recording the scene and wondered if the perpetrators had done the same.

As they walked away from their third site, Harry said, "Someone else is going to check the police video?"

"The CCTV?" she asked. "I doubt the Muggles will check it. They'll just assume their technology is broken. But Reversal usually does that, when needed."

"You don't think the wizards who did it will be on the videos?" Harry asked.

"Only if they are extremely stupid," she said derisively. "The kind of blokes that play with things more complicated than sewers, tend to cover their tracks."

"I wish Merton was stupid enough to get caught," Harry muttered. They walked along the pavement to check the next signal, which had a crew working at it, but from a distance seemed to be functioning. Harry was unable to fully adjust his thinking to not having responsibility for Merton. Worry still gnawed at him while he walked along with nothing else to think about. Harry considered that if the prophecy were really Vineet's, then his fellow must have some special quality that Harry did not.

Harry scuffed his shoe as he came to a sudden stop. Blackpool turned and looked questioningly back at him.

"I just thought of something," Harry said. Muggles flowed by on the pavement, ignoring them.

"About Muggle traffic signals?"

"No. About Merton."

Blackpool's attitude changed instantly. "What about him?"

Harry rubbed his head, mussing his hair. "What was the name?" he asked rhetorically. "There was a name that was oddly familiar. It was an Indian name." He dropped his arm, feeling a rush toward abandoning their current task. "Do you think we're done here?"

She glanced back at the signal they had been approaching. It was red, currently. "If you think you know something about Merton, we are very done."

They hurried into the back of a busy dress shop and piled into the small changing room to Disapparate before anyone could ask what they were up to. At the Ministry, Harry walked with purpose, struggling with his memories from when his magic had gone black. In the file room, he stared at the imposingly large cabinets. He could not go through them all in hopes of jarring his memory.

"Rogan," Harry breathed. "Where's Rogan?"

Blackpool frowned at the sound of the disgraced Auror's name. "Writing memos for Mr. Weasley."

Harry swept back out and down the corridor to a desk propped against the wall at the very end beyond Mr. Weasley's door.

"Rogan," Harry said, "do you remember, when I was helping you with the filing . . . there was a file I asked about. I said, 'why is this one in here?' Do you remember that? Do you remember the name on the file?" Harry's desperation was coming through in his voice.

Rogan let the parchment before him roll up and it and a few others fell to the floor, but he aborted stooping to pick them up. "What's going on?"

"I think the name is important," Harry said. I recognized it when I had Voldemort in my head, he thought, but did not want to remind everyone of that.

Rogan rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Harry prompted eagerly, "Do you remember the name?"

Rogan frowned. "Traincar or something. Hang on." He stood and rubbed his neck as though he had been sitting in the undersized desk too long.

"Traincar?" Blackpool doubtfully prompted.

"It started with a "T"" Harry agreed.

Rogan led the way down to the file room. "You aren't allowed in there," Blackpool pointed out, sounding petulant.

Rogan held his hand out as though to invite her to lead the way. Annoyed, he said, "With you two keeping an eye on me, I don't think it will be a problem."

"Let him go in," Harry snapped at the senior apprentice.

Rogan went to first long drawer labelled Taalicksonson Teaberg. He scanned the thickly pressed tabs, ignoring the very thick, multipart file for Grisley that filled the end of the drawer, and closed it. Going to Teacakepot Thickneck he stopped halfway down and pulled out a very slim file with only a few sheets of ordinary paper in it.

"This is it."

Harry grabbed the file from him and opened it up. It was the same one all right.

Blackpool read over Harry's shoulder, "Debjit Thanakar. Why is he important?"

"I remember the name . . ." Harry said, feeling lightheaded as though isolated from the world. "I remember it from when I was seeing out of Voldemort's eyes. I think he heard the name. I think he may be with Merton. I think that may be why this is Vishnu's prophecy and not mine."

"That's a lot of 'thinks'," Rogan commented. "And we interrogated Voldemort . . . well as much as we were allowed to given he is now a Muggle."

"There's an address in Kennington," Harry said, feeling right about what he was thinking.

"Maybe we should go have a look," Blackpool said.

"You should find Arthur," Rogan said, pushing the long file drawer closed the rest of the way.

"We should find Vishnu," Harry said.

Mr. Weasley was just coming up in the lift when they closed the door to the file room. Rogan snuck quickly back to the desk down the side corridor. Harry checked the Auror's office as they passed, finding only Shacklebolt there.

"Tonks is still out," Shacklebolt informed him without prompting.

"With Vishnu?" Harry asked, to which Shacklebolt nodded in confirmation.

Harry tried to explain to Mr. Weasley about the name. His pessimism equalled Rogan's. "You only think you remember this name because Voldemort knew it."

Harry sighed. "I don't know why I know the name," he admitted. "But we should check the address. We don't have any other leads."

"We still don't," Shacklebolt observed dryly.

"No harm in checking," Mr. Weasley admitted. "Why don't you two go?"

"Vishnu has to come along," Harry said.

Mr. Weasley looked him over and then glanced over the log. "He'll be back eventually. Are you that certain, Harry?"

"Remember when you told me to tell you when I think the time has come?"

Mr. Weasley actually appeared slightly amused. "Yes, but you also told me yesterday that you don't think the prophecy is yours."

Harry nearly snarled in frustration.

Mr. Weasley relented. "Why don't you and Blackpool scope out the neighborhood only, ask around the shops and neighbors if anyone has seen him, and we'll send Tonks and Vishnu along when they return. I don't wish to recall them unless it is an emergency."

Blackpool grabbed down the new wanted poster from the board and started out, but Mr. Weasley said, "If you are planning on showing a picture around, you cannot use that one."

Blackpool pulled out her wand and hit the wizard picture with a Stupifying spell, freezing Merton's face with his mouth half open and twisted. "Good enough," Mr. Weasley said.

They Apparated behind a chain link fence overgrown with shrubs that bordered a red-brick estate. Harry, having left his robes behind to appear an ordinary Muggle, un-tucked his shirt to better hide his wand in his back pocket. Blackpool, slipped hers inside her white, buttoned sleeve with the point caught in her palm. She folded the parchment wanted poster so that only the photograph in the center was visible.

They walked the four blocks surrounding the address, asking shopkeepers and anyone loitering on the pavements if they had seen the person in the photograph . . . no one had.

The address was just in the next block when Blackpool called a halt because they had completed a full circuit. She peered down the street on tiptoe, chin high as she studied the distant upper floor windows.

Harry feared she was going to suggest some kind of full-on assault, but before she could decide on anything, Tonks and Vineet approached from behind.

"Any leads?" Tonks asked.

Harry shook his head. Tonks appeared tired as she let her gaze follow along the same course as Blackpool's. "Well, let's find out who's there, shall we?" she said. But then she immediately walked off in the opposite direction.

The rest of them followed curiously. Tonks turned in at a corner chips shop and ordered three boxes of take-away. She gave the shop boy rather a thorough looking over as she waited for the order, raising Harry's hackles.

Tonks was all business as she carried the white-bagged styrofoam boxes out of the shop and down the street to the correct building. Inside, with business-like efficiency, she assumed the logoed polo shirt and pimply-faced appearance of one of the chips shop's employees. Quietly, she said, "Stay out of sight, but not too far out of sight. Understood?"

They all nodded and Tonks led the way up the stairs. All but Tonks waited just before the bend leading to the last flight of steps. Tonks crept along the corridor, lit poorly by one bare bulb whose socket hung on stiff wires from a hole in the ceiling. She went to the end, examining each door before returning to the closest door and using a spell to knock something off of it. She kicked the thing that had fallen to the side and knocked loudly, making the rest of them jump. A rather long time passed and Tonks knocked again. "Fisherydoo Chips orda'!" she shouted and remarkably, as though it were a spell, the door opened. There was no question what Tonks was carrying, the odor of overused, fish-spoiled oil drifted even to the stairs where the three of them huddled. Harry wished he could see who had come to the door.

"Yer orda'," Tonks said in the blunt tone of an hourly customer service worker while pushing the box through the doorway. The response was unintelligible. "Yer sure? Twelve D it says on the slip. Your "D" fell off." She kicked the thing on the floor. "Oh, tha's a "B" ain' it?" Tonks began to step away, but was called up short by something from inside. Harry's rigid fingers slipped on his sweat-damp wand. "I can' give the order to ya' if'n isna yours," Tonks stated derisively. "I'd havta fetch another an' all . . . I'll jus' take it down ta' yer neighbors." More discussion from inside and the door closed. Harry breathed out in relief.

Tonks pulled her wand, but she only used it to Banish the now very wrinkled and oil-soaked sack. She stepped down to them and started through them.

"Is he there?" Harry whispered.

"Yes," Tonks replied as she started down the next flight of steps. "Let's wait for back-up."

Harry glanced back, but began to follow, saying, "Someone should stand guard, right? What if . . ." But he was cut off by Blackpool dashing up the stairs in the other direction. Harry caught a corner of her robe, but it pulled free of his grasp. He and Vineet followed first—Harry shucking his sling as he ran—but by the time they had reached the landing, Blackpool had already blasted the door open.

No one shouted; no one said anything; they simply piled in behind her as she dashed inside. Harry's blood warmed to the chase, preferring this to waiting. Inside, others were shouting. Movement came from the rooms off to the right, but Blackpool ran around the corner to the left. Harry followed that way, and found her holding a wand on someone who certainly resembled the photograph on the wanted poster. Blackpool was yelling at him, seeming unaware of his fumbling in his pocket with just his fingertips, as though wishing his movements to go unnoticed. Pounding footsteps indicated that Tonks and Vineet had gone the other way into the unexpectedly large flat.

"So help me, I'll blast you one if you don't hold still," Blackpool threatened. "Put your hands up!"

Harry moved without thought since Merton looked to be un-interested in obeying. His shaking hand had unhooked the buttoned pocket on his waistcoat. "Don't!" Harry shouted at Blackpool, panicked that she may do something rash. He put himself between the two of them. "He's a Muggle."

Blackpool stared at him uncomprehendingly. "What? But he's reaching for his-"

Harry turned and yanked Merton's hand out of his pocket. A locket was knocked free, striking the wall before clattering to the dusty floor. Merton dove for it and Harry tried to hold onto him, but some force repelled his hand. Harry leapt for the locket as well, his reaction time beating out the older man. Harry clenched his hand around the locket, rolled to his feet and shouted. "Get his jewelry off of him. It must be charmed."

Blackpool used a Summoning charm so forceful that it jerked Merton's arms toward her because of his many bracelets and tore holes where items had been stashed in his pockets. He stepped back, glancing around for escape and rubbing his wrist. Blackpool struck him with a binding charm and he toppled to the floor, striking the wall.

Deciding this was in hand, Harry ran through the flat, dodging spilled crates of random junk, some of which sent prickles of disgust through him. In the farthest room he found a standoff. A middle-aged Indian couple were standing before a large smashed out window, ready to leap upon a broomstick. The man, whom Harry assumed to be Debjit, was aiming spells at Vineet, who was getting blocking assistance from Tonks, pressed up beside him. They were not shooting back, and at first Harry wondered why not. But then he saw the net sack of ceramic weapons that were slung to the broomstick. Striking them with the wrong spell would take out the entire block surrounding them.

The man sneered at Harry and lifted the broom handle, causing it to leap out into the air above the road outside. The three of them ran to the window but then cautiously glanced out, fearing a curse may be aimed back at them. But they need not have worried, their quarry was fast becoming a bird-sized speck hovering over the buildings beyond.

Tonks was glancing around for another broomstick. Harry said, "Vishnu and I will follow them. Blackpool has Merton back near the kitchen."

"She does?" Tonks eagerly asked.

"Yeah, but I don't think that's who we really need to get," Harry quickly said. "Vishnu, jump on . . . I'll take us."

Harry transformed into his Animagus shape and flapped his wings to break the startled gaze he was receiving from his fellow.

"Go on," Tonks urged, tossing an Obsfucation charm at the two of them before running out of the room.

Harry hopped carefully up onto the large smashed window frame—three legged because his front left leg complained fiercely when he leaned upon it. His wings bumped the sides of the frame and Harry hoped he could really get both of them into the air, rather than plummeting to the pavement below. With a powerful shove from his rear legs that crumbled the wall behind him, he jumped into open space and beat mightily. They dipped but Harry quickly regained altitude and leaned his head forward, focusing his keen cat-sight on the fleck of black in the distant sky.

They gained at the chase as the city slid by beneath them. Harry, at the beginning, felt that his burdened range may be too short, but he slowed the pace of his flapping and coasted more between to conserve his strength and now he felt he could fly forever like this. Harry hoped that the Obsfucation charm was holding out, or this particular flying incident was not going to compare at all to the Ford Anglia one, and this time Harry had to write a formal report explaining it.

The dense city gave way to a web of round-edged, planned neighborhoods which melted into pastures, fields and grudging clumps of forest. They flew over the motorway and a wide sand quarry, where Harry finally caught up enough for Vineet to spell a warning shot in the broom's direction. In Harry's mind it seemed better to fight them out here where they could not hold an entire city block hostage, and clearly Vineet thought the same. The figures on the broomstick glanced back at them after the red spell sizzled by them. The broom's flight path faltered badly as though the person steering had been badly startled. Harry swooped over them, reaching down with his good right front leg to snatch at them, but they ducked out of the way, careening dangerously close to a grey, crenelated tower attached to a church.

The broomstick veered right and dropped sharply downward beyond the town, toward a field of swaying barley. Harry had to spiral in behind them, unwilling to risk his wings' braking ability with so much weight. As they neared, the man was struggling to pull one of the orange ceramic things out of the sack. The woman fired a spell at them, which Harry could only attempt to dodge, and was certain they were doomed, but Vineet met the spell with an identical one and the force of both exploded harmlessly in the air between them. His feet on the ground, Harry stood straight and transformed back into himself. He reached for his wand but did not find it in any of his pockets. He glanced around on the ground while stepping to better get behind Vineet for protection.

Another pair of matched spells exploded and then another, the forces equally matched.

"How do you know what she is going to use, or are you just getting lucky?" Harry asked from behind.

"She is following the standard training sequence that I learned in India."

"You know each other?" Harry asked.

"No. Do you know how many people there are in India?" Vineet asked somewhat sharply as another blast was cancelled out.

The man, Debjit, had spelled and released one of the vessels at the woman's command. It disappeared as it floated upward.

"Shit," Harry said. "And I lost my wand."

Debjit reached down to fetch another from the sack. Muggle emergency sirens floated into hearing. "Cover me," Harry whispered, and just as another pair of spells arced between his fellow and the woman, Harry dashed headlong at the man. The woman broke off the attack on Vineet and aimed her wand at Harry just as Harry grabbed the front of Debjit's jacket, making him drop the sack with a worrisome clatter. The next instant they were elsewhere when Debjit Disapparated.

Harry's momentum knocked them both to the gritty floor. His quarry tried to throw Harry off, painfully straining Harry's injured left arm, so without much thought he punched the man with his good hand. Debjit's head hit the hard floor and he tried roll away, but then fell still.

Harry shook his stunned knuckles and looked around the empty dark stone room with its tiny unframed openings which let in the sunlight and a drift of birdsong. He had no idea where they were. The doorway leading in behind him was only half-height. There was no time to be contemplating what this old place was, nor how complicated his eventual report was growing, so he grabbed both Debjit's wand and his wrist in his right hand and Apparated them back.

The battle was still equally matched when Harry arrived. The woman's wide eyes took in Harry's arrival, but her spells did not falter. The ground now had long burn marks that still smoldered. Harry felt that awful, familiar aversion and with an instant of fumbling raised Debjit's wand for a block. They were both knocked back hard, tangling Harry's limbs in the unconscious man's.

The woman shouted, "No!" and reached out a hand in their direction.

"You shouldn't have let the thing loose then!" Harry shouted at her. He dragged Debjit by the arm as he approached Vineet who, given the numerous burn marks at his feet, must have been dodging rather well.

"Shoot down the thing if you can," Vineet said to Harry. He sounded unusually harried.

Harry glanced around, trying to sense where it had gone since the last blast it had emitted. "It will just explode, then," Harry pointed out.

"Out here in the open that will not be so serious."

Harry pondered the gold-trimmed wand he held out to the sky as he tried to track by feel the deadly thing hovering nearby. He sensed it to the right of where it had been, just as it was about to fire. Harry sent a Blasting curse in that direction and then shouting, "Down!" ducked and spelled a block he hoped would protect him and the man he had rendered unconscious.

The bright sky was blotted out by a yellow flash, but Harry's block held easily.

"Go," Vineet said, standing straight, wand out. "I will finish this."

"What?" Harry blurted. He peered across at the woman; her long hair had fallen out of its braid and floated behind her, disarrayed. She looked like a Muggle vision of a witch now. Her eyes had fallen empty. "Why are you doing this?" Harry yelled to her.

"I like seeing things upset. It is too quiet here. No one here appreciates the peace."

"Right," Harry shouted back. "You haven't been here long, have you?"

"The people appreciate what they have lost now," she stated as though making an announcement. "They are learning."

"Great," Harry muttered. "That's why you were helping Merton?" Harry shouted back. He could see people gathering at the side of the distant road, but at least the police had not yet arrived.

She lifted the sack of weapons closer to herself. "Merton simply wished to destroy British wizardry," the woman replied, "because as a Squib he could not truly belong to it. He is a simple man with no sense of subtlety. But you were an unexpected arrival," she said to Harry. "Flattering to be chased down by the likes of Garuda. It implies we have made trouble even the gods took note of."

"What's she talking about?" Harry asked his fellow.

Vineet did not reply, instead saying to Harry, "Go. One shot will take her out completely. When she goes the knowledge of those things will go with her."

"I'm not leaving you here if you are going to do that," Harry argued.

Impatiently, Vineet said, "This is my destiny, not yours."

"But you don't have to die for it," Harry snarled. He stepped closer and grabbed hold of Vineet's shirt. "Trust me . . . she isn't worth dying over."

"What she knows changes everything. The way a Muggle machine gun changed wars. It makes killing impersonal."

Speaking fast, Harry said, "I admit she's been a lot of trouble. But we can get her without losing you."

Vineet glanced at Harry just for an instant and a shot arced out, which Harry tried to block, but it had rather a lot on it. Harry had to pick himself up from where he had been tossed, ignoring Vineet's pleas to depart.

"No!" Harry shouted.

The woman was removing another vessel from the sack, slowly as though gauging what their reaction was going to be.

"We are running out of time," Vineet said.

Harry felt the earth beneath his feet. It seemed radiant itself, or perhaps it was just the young grains bowing in the wind that gave forth that impression. "She only has five of them, just hit one of them and duck into my block. But duck low, I don't want to need a large block.

Vineet appeared pained, but did not dare glance at Harry again. Harry cajoled, "Come on, you were willing to die a minute ago . . ."

"But not if it means risking you as well-"

The woman was tapping the vessel with her wand and Harry felt a surge of distaste. "Now!" Harry shouted, jerking Vineet down beside him, confident that his strength and dexterity would let him aim properly even when unexpectedly tugged on.

Harry timed it just right. The flare of Vineet's cutting curse just began to ebb when Harry waved a Titan block around them. The world outside their dome of safety ignited blindingly. Harry felt the ground pressing into his knees and, thinking of Snape's lecture about contact with the ground being what a wizard pushed against for a hover charm, imagined himself rooted there in the earth as he poured more power into the block.

The flare died down along with the tail end of a rush of wind. Harry stood straight, or tried to, his left arm complained with a bone-deep ache when he moved. Debjit's foot had been outside the block and was now a black stump. "That's going to hurt," Harry commented as he stepped over the man and down the lip of the crater that had appeared. Where they had been huddled was merely an island now in a sea of upturned earth. There wasn't much left of the woman, but Harry found a boot and a few feet away a glittering ring, which implied that she could not have Apparated away.

- 888 -

"What do you mean 'he's a Muggle?'" Rodgers demanded of Tonks as he and Blackpool looked over Merton, who was sitting on the floor, alternately cringing and sending sour looks up at them.

"That's what Harry said," Tonks explained.

Rodgers peered perplexedly down at the man who had been their number one target for at least half of a year. "Are you really?" he asked.

"Never mind that," Tonks said, tugging on Rodgers' arm. "We have to catch up to Harry and Vishnu."

Aaron arrived with a bang! and a message. "There're Muggle calls coming in from Surrey, in Bletchingly. Loud explosions and such."

"Fetch some broomsticks, quickly" Rodgers ordered him.

- 888 -

The smoke and dust were drifting away finally, clearing the view to the road. Harry could not see figures there anymore, although they had been far enough away to remain safe. A figure rose up and stepped over the fence, but immediately fell. Harry started that way, concerned, but was halted by a formation of ten broomsticks sweeping in. Three peeled off and circled wide, knocking the other approaching Muggles unconscious as well.

Mr. Weasley landed beside Harry. "We have to hurry. The tree we toppled to block the road can be bypassed easily enough." He gestured to some wizards from Reversal and directed them to the deepest part of the crater.

Tonks landed and, tossing her broom aside, gave Harry a tight hug that made him flinch, since it pressed on his arm. Mr. Weasley turned from where he gave instructions to two wizards hovering a large rusty and crystalline rock and studied the two of them. Vineet moved to assist with cleaning up the remains.

"Do you need St. Mungo's?" Tonks asked.

Harry had zero interest in that, so he said, "No." But he pulled his sleeve up to look and found that his arm now had brightly colored fur and, farther up, feathers in even stripes as though his injuries had transformed and not transformed back. "Maybe I do," he admitted. The furred spots were quite sensitive and when his sleeve caught on them, extremely painful as if that flesh really did not belong there. "Yeah, I suppose so. But I need to find my wand."

"You lost your wand?" Tonks asked, sounding shocked.

Harry looked around them, even though it was hopeless that it would be at his feet surrounded by such destruction.

"We'll find it. But right now I'll take you in." She shouted to Mr. Weasley, "I'm taking Harry to hospital!"

Mr. Weasley waved them off, but said, "Be careful!"

The wizards from Reversal were arranging their rock rather carefully as though concerned about its artistic appearance. Harry pulled out of Tonk's grasp to continue watching as others used a wind charm and a firetorch charm to add some detail around the rock. The rock began to sizzle as it heated up.

When Harry pulled out of Tonks' grasp a second time, she said, "Meteorites make for another good explanation for Muggles. Gas leaks. Meteorites," she recited as the scene of destruction disappeared and the waiting room at the wizard hospital appeared instead.

"Take a seat, Harry," Tonks said, indicating the bench closest to the greetingwitch's desk.

Harry obeyed, glancing around the quiet half-filled room before dropping his head to stare at his own shoes, which were spattered with wet mud. He felt chilled and wished he still had his cloak.

"Tonks," Harry said, sitting straight.

Tonks turned from where she waited for an old wizard to finish explaining something long and complicated. Harry said, "Can you find Severus?"

"When I get you in to see Shankwell . . ."

"I mean now," Harry insisted, feeling this was extremely important all of a sudden. "He's going to hear half of what happened and he'll be worried."

"Harry-" Tonks began, but she was now at the front of the queue. To the greetingwitch she said bluntly, "Harry here needs to see Shankwell, is he available?"

The middle-aged witch in coarse, dark brown robes leaned back to check an indecipherable chart on the wall. "He's with someone, but its been a while, so I 'spect he'll be free soon."

Tonks turned back to Harry, "You can hold out, right?"

Harry nodded. If he held completely still, it did not hurt really that much. When Tonks sat down beside him, Harry said, "Can you fetch Severus?"

Tonks scanned the room. Most people who had taken an interest in Harry's arrival had returned to their Witch Weeklys and Better Burrows and Broomsticks. "If you want me to leave you alone here . . . You don't even have your wand," she criticized.

"I'm fine. This one works well enough," Harry said of the borrowed one in his pocket. "Can you go look for mine at the scene in Kennington?"

Tonks stood but halted and peered down at him. "Which is it? Severus or the wand?" she teased.

"Severus first," Harry said.

Tonks Disapparated and Harry sat, feeling more glum than expected once he was alone. His wait was short, fortunately, and Harry walked carefully down the corridor so as to not jar his arm further.

Shankwell, was using a cleansing charm on his hands when Harry stepped in. "Ah, you again. You're late you know. The Thewsolve really cannot be delay-"

Harry lifted his sleeve and the healer shut up abruptly at the sight. He recovered and said, "Sit on the table, then." He began organizing his tray, saying, "You are trying hard for a chance to get chained to one of our worn but comfortable ward beds, you know."

Harry swallowed hard. He wanted to assure the man that he would behave this time, but found he would not believe himself if their situations were reversed.

"Did you warn me about the Animagus interaction?" Harry sheepishly asked.

"Doesn't come up, usually. What is your form anyway?" he asked, peering curiously at the bright scarlet tufts sticking out of Harry's arm.

Harry glanced around. "It won't fit in here for me to show you."

"It won't fit in here . . ." Shankwell slowly echoed. "Never mind. I don't need to see it." He moved to put some bottles of potion together, sending puffs of grey and purple smoke into the air as he worked. Harry hoped Snape arrived soon.

A knock sounded on the door soon after and Harry's wish came true. Snape stepped in and said, "Ms. Tonks did not exaggerate for once."

"Why, what did she say?" Harry asked, ready to defend her.

"She said you were not really injured."

Harry grimaced at his arm. "Well, no. Not really."

Snape peered at the Healer as he worked and then grew more interested, leading Harry to ask, "What?"

"Bit of painkiller with that, I expect?" Snape asked the Healer.

"It's mixed in, in fact." Shankwell moved in close with a large bowl of purplish grey goo.

Harry, alarmed, said, "What's this?"

"Flesheating poultice. We have start again with growing back your real arm again."

"You can't just fix this?" Harry asked, trying not to grimace.

"That is just fixing it. Unless you wish to stay like that. By the way you are moving, I expect it hurts."

Harry stared at his odd arm. Despite his assurances to Lupin that it did not matter if he appeared more werewolf-like all of the time, Harry had no desire to appear more Gryffylis-like all of the time. "All right, then." He closed his eyes as the stuff was glopped on and then loosely wrapped.

"We'll let that work for a few minutes," Shankwell said in a tone that implied things were looking up, despite Harry's immediate prospects.

Harry looked up at his guardian. "I hope you weren't worried."

"Worried? No, certainly not," Snape stated, clearly sarcastic.

"I sent Tonks to tell you what had happened."

"Interesting use of a Ministry Auror during a time of crisis."

"It's not a crisis anymore," Harry insisted. His arm felt very odd, making him shudder.

"Does that hurt?" Snape asked.

"Feels really strange," Harry said. Indeed, he almost could believe he was feeling his own Radiance diminishing as his arm did. He set himself to ignore the queasiness the feeling brought on, figuring it would end soon enough. "But it's fine," he insisted. And then changing the topic as a distraction, said, "Everything's taken care of. We have Merton and everything."

Snape bowed his head in appreciation of that.

Harry said, "Did you hear that Merton's a Muggle?"

"I did not hear that," Snape replied, clearly disbelieving and perhaps questioning Harry's mental wellness.

Harry said, "Yeah, turns out he's a Squib who pretended to be a wizard. He was covered in charmed jewelry. Must have needed them to get by in the Wizarding world."

Snape considered that and said, "A Squib, truly. Not simply very weak on magic?"

"Really. But he decided to destroy it all because he really couldn't join in, I suppose."

"Did his parents die recently?" Snape asked.

Harry shrugged and then regretted it, his left arm felt far too light and he did not want to think about that. "Don't know, why?"

"Because he would have been cut off from wizardom at that point. I have seen that happen to other middle-aged Squibs and the occasional Muggle spouse. Difficult adjustments are required for some people to lose access to magical power, even if only through a family member."

"I hadn't thought of that."

Shankwell returned and unwound the loose bandage. Harry was very glad his arm had gone numb, because the gaps of missing flesh were even larger than before. Harry stared straight ahead at the wall as his arm was washed and yet again spread with Thewsolve.

"Six hours," Shankwell said as he finished the last few loops of bandage. "Not a minute more." He hooked the sling around Harry's head and for good measure, tied Harry's wrist around his waist so that he truly could not use his arm.

"Do you ever leave St. Mungo's?" Harry asked, a little annoyed with getting bundled up so.

"My wife swears I don't," Shankwell responded. "When it's busy, we can't. Plain and simple."

"Gets that way in the Auror's office too," Harry commiserated.

Shankwell rubbed his hands off on a rag, saying, "We still need to have you in to spend some time explaining Staunching to Healer Versa."

"I'll have more time now," Harry said.

"She won't do it while you're injured. Doesn't want to strain you."

Harry tried not to feel insulted or at least underestimated. He jumped down off of the table. "It's not a problem, really."

"Five hours and fifty-five minutes," he stated firmly. "We'll be seeing you."

They finished Harry's paperwork and Harry said, "I need to go into the Ministry," to cut off what he was certain to be Snape's suggestion that he rest.

"I will take you, then. Go on," Snape gestured toward the waiting room.

Harry came very close to insisting that he could go it alone, but he instead said, "I'm fine, really," and left it at that.

The Ministry was closed again to all but staff, but Snape still had his Evanescent Deputy badge in his pocket and they allowed them both inside. The Atrium was quiet. Harry found the sight less depressing now that he knew that when it was fixed up again, it would remain that way for a while.

At the lifts, Belinda was just coming down. "Minister wants to see you, Harry."

"How did you know I was coming?"

"I didn't. I'm running the Minister's errands." She headed off toward the gate and disappeared.

In the lift, Harry stared at the levers. "Minister's office or Auror's office?" he pondered, feeling slightly dull-witted after a day so crowded with action.

Snape said in the mode of offering important advice, "Always appease the highest ranked first."

Harry selected the highest floor on the panel and snapped the door closed with his good arm, grateful that his injured one was so confined, because he had tried to use it just then.

Vineet and Mr. Weasley were already in the outer area of the Minister's office suite. Mr. Weasley stepped over and asked Harry pointedly if he were all right.

"Yeah, fine, sir. I'm barred from duty though, until this really does heal."

Mr. Weasley patted him on his good arm. "I think we can arrange that now without difficulty."

Minister Bones marched in from the corridor, trailed by one of the Muggle officials Harry had seen before. Bones was assuring him that everything was under control, but he was not easily convinced.

Upon seeing Harry there, the man stopped and derisively asked, "It worked out in the end, this mad scheme of assigning a great task to such a young man?"

Bones said tiredly, as though having already repeated herself, "We did not 'assign' it. A prophecy did so."

Harry patted his chest with his hand and said, "It wasn't me. It was him." He pointed at Vineet.

Vineet calmly said. "I do believe it was you."

Harry started in surprise. "It was definitely you," he insisted.

"I beg to differ-" Vineet began.

Mr. Weasley stepped in and said to the Muggle in the fine suit, "No matter; you have the perpetrator. It is taken care of."

The man shook his head and took a step toward the door. "At least your meteor was convincing," he muttered before departing.

Mr. Weasley appeared about as relieved as Harry could remember seeing him. For that matter, so did Minister Bones, who said almost happily, "We've got some cleaning up to do. No slacking now."

"What did you mean, Mr. Weasley, that they have the perpetrator?"

Minister Bones replied, "He wasn't magical, so we gave Mr. Merton over to the Muggles to prosecute. He certainly cannot be sent to the French wizard prison."

Harry stared at her. "You didn't . . . do the same with Voldemort, did you?'

Bones laughed, genuinely amused. "Of course not. He fits in just fine at a wizard prison, magical or not."

Harry frowned with his brows, trying to sort that out.

Bones, who had no trouble rationalizing that discrepancy, moved on by saying dismissively to Harry. "Press conference in an hour."

"What about Vishnu?" Harry asked.

Bones evaluated Vineet where he stood beside Mr. Weasley. "You really think he fulfilled the prophecy, not you?"

Harry hesitated starting another argument with his fellow apprentice, so he simply nodded.

"It is simpler to explain it as yours, Harry," Bones stated. "Reassures the public."

Harry bristled at what felt like a slight to his friend. "What reassures them?"

"That the same old heroes are still hard at work, fulfilling their role in keeping the peace."

Harry resisted rolling his eyes. "It wasn't really me, though." He glanced around for support on this. "I couldn't have countered the witch we were fighting. I didn't even have a wand."

"Do you have it back, now?" the minister asked.

"No." Harry pulled from his pocket the colorful blue and green painted wand with gold decoration that he had taken from Debjit. "I'm using one I took from the witch's husband."

"We'll need that for evidence," Mr. Weasley pointed out.

Harry moved to hand it over, but Mr. Weasley said, "Keep it for now. I certainly don't want you going about with no wand at all."

Harry slipped the wand back into his jeans pocket.

The minister said, "I want both of you down in the Atrium on the hour for the press conference then. But I don't want any arguing in front of the press over who is responsible for what. We'll just call it a team effort and leave it at that."

Down in the Auror's office while they waited for the clock to swing around, Vineet stepped close to Harry and said, "You saved my life again. I am becoming too far indebted to you."

"Hey, no prophecy is worth losing your life over," Harry insisted.

"That is easier for you to say," Vineet countered.

Harry grinned at him. "Yep. Easy for me."

Vineet said, "I am still not understanding why you wished to give the prophecy away."

"Even the chance that the next one might not be mine makes me happy," Harry pointed out.

"I wish to have purpose," Vineet stated after a pause.

Harry thought that he did not need a purpose that badly. He was, in fact, looking forward to living without purpose for at least a week while he healed. Although, there was all of that reading he needed to do.

Rodgers stepped in with a box containing all of the ceramic debris from the scene. He nodded at the two of them, glanced at Snape, and departed again.

Harry asked, "What did the witch mean when she said she was flattered to be chased by Garuda?"

Vineet took a deep breath and replied, "She meant she thought there was great purpose."

"That's not an answer," Harry criticized.

Snape wandered over to them from the log book, where he was almost certainly listening in. "Prophecy is not something anyone should wish to be associated with," he stated and, for an instant, Harry could see—in Snape's bent cloaked shoulders, in his distant gaze—what a toll the last twenty years had taken on him.

"Yes, let's hope there aren't any more," Harry said, pained.

Snape's gaze pulled back around to him and he said, "Not that I expect that to keep you out of trouble, by any means."

Tonks laughed from the doorway. "In trouble again already, Harry?"

Snape swung away and Harry could see him biting back on what he certainly would like to say to her. Harry was grateful that he resisted.

"Did you find my wand?" Harry asked in a hopeful tone.

Tonks shook her head. "That's what took so long. I took a broomstick over what must have been your route, casting Accios the whole way, and . . . nothing. If you dropped it at the scene when you transformed back to yourself, it's truly gone. Otherwise, if you dropped it on the way, a Muggle must have picked it up."

"I'll have to get another one made. Fawkes will give me a tail feather, don't you think?" Harry asked his guardian.

Snape replied, "I understand that you are the only one who has any control over him, so I expect you would know."

Thinking aloud, Harry said, "Or maybe I'll just go down to Ollivander's shop and see if he's got something else."

This garnered close scrutiny from Snape. "Truly hoping for that much change in your life?"

Harry shrugged with just his right shoulder. "Maybe," he replied stubbornly. "I don't know."

He sat down to use the remaining time to write owls to his friends, so they would also know for certain that everything was all right.

Down in the Atrium for the press conference, Vineet stood demurely by while everyone asked Harry questions. The podium had been magically shortened so that—as the Minister explained to Harry in a whisper—the photographs would all include Harry's bandaged arm.

As usual, Skeeter was the toughest questioner, doubting everything Harry told them. She clearly still did not trust him. Harry made certain to be extra patient while he replied to her, which seemed to properly annoy her by the end of it. Unlike the others, she cared less how the Ministry could be having so much trouble with a non-Magical person and wondered why Harry was always so involved in every dark plot that was afoot.

Finally, the Minister stepped in. "Mr. Potter is supposed to be resting, and we are neglecting our duty to him keeping him here so long. So that is all for today. Arthur Weasley will handle any remaining questions. He has been cleared to release an inventory of the charmed devices on Mr. Merton's person, for those interested in that. Suffice to say we will be adjusting our Ministry building and event barriers to prevent in the future such objects from allowing a Muggle or Squib to pass as magical."

She led Harry away to where Snape waited beside the gate. Harry was starting to feel as though he needed either a good meal or a good nap. Without comment, Snape took hold of his unhurt arm and they Apparated to Candide's flat.

Candide turned from where she stood at a small range with only two burners. She hesitated hugging him after seeing the sling, instead, patting him on the arm. "Good to see you're all right, Harry."

"Have a seat," Snape invited, referring to the neatly made bed beside the small table.

Candide gestured to the domed, wooden box on the shelf behind her. "They carried the press conference on Wizard Wireless. You sounded good. You didn't give Rita Skeeter any openings and I think she ended up sounding the monster."

"She doesn't trust me," Harry said, accepting a plate of pork chops, reconstituted mashed potatoes, and tinned French beans. He eyed it hungrily, not caring that the food was not at house-elf level. As Snape settled at the nearest corner of the table and Candide across the table, their plates having to overlap because the table was so small, Harry did not care if dinners never were back to house-elf standards, or the house ever any bigger. If he had to fight as hard as he had been for even this level of normalcy, he would do it willingly, for as long as it took.

Candide said, "This is your plate, Harry," and handed him one where the chop was already cut into bite-size pieces.

Harry stared down at his new plate with a bit of chagrin. But he did not know a spell to cut up food and he really could not have managed on his own, given how leathery the chop looked.

Perhaps because he had not started eating, Snape asked, "Everything all right, Harry?"

"Yeah," Harry said. Being mothered had brought forth an annoying twinge, but that was all there was to it. No gaping well of pain was revealed. Harry stuck his fork in the nearest tough piece and asked, "I could use a food chopping spell, though, for next time."

"Scriborgo," Snape said, gesturing with his index finger to show the wand movement.

"Thanks," Harry said.

After the meal, Harry stood, saying, "I should get to Hermione's. Her owl said a lot of friends had called and were waiting."

"Be careful, as always," Snape said.

"Thanks for dinner," Harry said to Candide.

"Not much of one," she said, wiping her hands and stacking plates without standing up.

"It was lovely," Harry said, meaning it.

At Hermione's flat, the room was crowded with old friends from Hogwarts and nearly every Weasley. People insisted on making room for Harry on the couch, which he accepted after some urging.

"I'm all right, really," Harry insisted for the hundredth time, even though his arm was throbbing from all of the welcomes that were not so careful.

Hermione came over and handed Harry's pet to him. "Kali is just dying to see you. I thought she'd tear that cage one by the time you came home."

Kali climbed around Harry's neck and then investigated and curled up inside his sling. "Hey," Harry said before Hermione could step away. "Who's Garuda?"

"Wasn't that the Weird Sisters' first drummer?" Lavender suggested from where she sat on the floor between Ron's knees.

"Want a beer, Harry?" one of the twins offered.

"Only one that isn't open yet, if it's you giving it to me," Harry said, half-serious.

The room erupted in laughter and the twin put his hand to his breast, behaving highly offended.

Hermione had gone to a shelf and to pull out a tall book which she held out to Harry. "Garuda's a giant man-bird who helps the God Vishnu. Flies him around on his back and such."

Harry stared at her, not noticing that an unopened bottle of beer was being offered to him. "You're making that up," he accused.

Hermione laughed. "Why would I make that up?" She flipped through the book's shiny pages, and held it out open to a reproduction of a very old painting showing a man riding on the back of bird-headed man with bright red wings.

"He's eating a snake," Ron observed. "Yick."

"I knew it was his prophecy," Harry said, feeling chilled all of a sudden. A beer knocked against his shoulder and he accepted it eagerly. "I'm going to need another, soon after this one," he said to the twin.

The twin bowed and stepped away, iridescent cloak sweeping across the heads of those sitting on the floor. Harry closed the book and handed it to Ron, who had his hands out for it. "It's over and I'm putting it out of my head."

The evening grew late, and the few remaining guests sat around the table at the border to the kitchen. A figure Apparated into their midst.

"Professor," Hermione said, standing.

"I received an owl from St. Mungo's. Harry is overdue for his appointment."

"Oh, drat," Hermione said, pulling her wand out and approaching the couch. "He fell asleep, so I put a Bubble of Quiet charm around him. He didn't say he needed to go in, but I should have thought of that." She waved the charm away, but Harry did not stir from where he lay, half reclined on a pile of pillows, thoroughly out.

Snape leaned close as Hermione said, "He had a few beers and fell asleep like that." She snapped her fingers. Snape used his toe to push a large book aside from the foot of the couch. Its cover featured a photograph of a burnished statue with twelve arms and six heads. Hermione picked up the book to put it away.

"What is that?" Snape asked.

Hermione held the book up for him to see the cover, saying, "Karttikeya, God of war," before stashing it away in its place.

Snape disregarded the book and reached to shake Harry by the shoulder. Harry's sling moved before he did and his pet stuck her head curiously out to look at Snape. Harry sat up and Kali climbed with a limp up to his shoulder. Hermione scooped her up and took her to her cage. "Enough of that for today," she said.

Snape said, "You are late for your appointment."

Harry rubbed his hair back, trying to flatten it. "I fell asleep." He then rubbed his eyes, urging them to stay open.

"Shall I see if it is possible to bring the Healer here?"

"No, I'll manage." Harry sniffled and pushed himself to his feet.

Harry let himself be Apparated again. As they walked down the quiet 2 a.m. corridors of the wizard hospital, Harry asked, "Can we go on holiday? If we can afford it, that is," he quickly added, thinking that the demands on Snape's finances had become more complicated of late.

"I think that is an acceptable notion. Where would you like to go?"

"I don't know," Harry said, thinking the possibilities too broad to narrow at this time of night.

"Spain? Egypt? Canary Islands?" Snape asked. They had reached Shankwell's treatment room.

"Anywhere would be fine," Harry insisted. "We could go to Finland. You could meet Per. It's nice this time of year," Harry assured him.

"You sound as if you know that firsthand," Snape stated keenly.

Harry hesitated. "What if I did?"

Snape shook his head and opened the door to the room that had grown almost loathsome in its familiarity to discomfort and stress.

Shankwell was not in, but a young wizard who was covering his duties was waiting. He did not realize Harry was late, or did not care; he simply went about the business of cleaning and re-salving Harry's arm. Harry was grateful that he did not have to get yelled at.

They were on their way back out. Snape stopped at the end of the quiet corridor to say, "I expect we can move back home before your birthday." The floating fairy lights congregated above them, circling. They did a poor job of lighting given the dark panelling on the walls.

"I'd like that," Harry replied, adjusting the neck strap of his sling. "So, I can have a big party?"

Snape nodded as though feeling doting. Somewhere in the distance a door closed.

Harry said, "I'm looking forward to it." Snape turned to head down to the lifts, but Harry restrained him by touching his arm. "Thanks for . . . taking care of things, as usual." He moved his bandaged elbow to indicate that he meant bringing him here to the wizard hospital.

"I cannot do otherwise," Snape stated.

As they stared at each other, Harry thought that if this were his real father standing before him, he would be taking him for granted right now. He could not do that with this man. It was impossible. They had far too much history.

"Well, thanks anyway," Harry awkwardly said, wanting to express more, but unable to. He was feeling good, better than he had a very long while. He was certain that if he waved out a spell right now it would not contain any darkness, and he could not imagine needing to worry that it may do so again. Forgiving the distant past had been the right thing to do; it had freed him and his future. He recoiled inside at the thought of where he would be this moment if he had not found the strength for that path.

Harry had struggled long enough, trying to find words, that Snape softly asked, "Ready to go?"

"Yep," Harry said, heading down to the lifts. "I'm going to be really tired of this place by the end of this."

When they reached the waiting area, Snape Apparated them away. Back at the flat, only Hermione remained, wrapped in a dressing gown and drinking tea at the table.

"How'd it go?" she asked.

"Good," Harry said. He skipped returning to the couch and joined her at the table. Without asking, she poured him a cup of chamomile.

"Shall I return at 8:00 for you?" Snape asked Harry.

"I'll see that he wakes up," Hermione assured him.

"I can get there on my own," Harry said. "You don't have to come."

Before Snape could depart after nodding, Hermione asked, "Do you think Headmistress McGonagall will be at Hogwarts tomorrow?"

"I suspect not," Snape replied. "Not this far into summer, usually."

"Do you have her home address?" Hermione asked.

Snape nodded and found a quill and paper on a pile beside the couch and brought them back to write at the table. "Any particular reason you wish to correspond?" he asked, sounding highly knowing.

"Yes. I'm going to inform her that I'm accepting the Charms position." She sounded nervous as she spoke, as though a first- or second-year student again.

Snape wrote out and handed the slip of paper over with a nod that could have been a bow.

Harry said, "That will make you Professor Granger, you know."

Hermione stared at the address and said, "Yes, I suppose it would," with a smile. She looked back at Snape and asked, "You're all right with that, correct?"

"Of course," Snape said, but then added, "Meaningless wand waving, anyway."

Hermione laughed lightly. "So, it doesn't matter who's teaching Charms, you are saying?"

"I suppose that isn't quite true. I would prefer the students be challenged by other teachers so when they bring their tiny minds back 'round to my class, they are cannot feign surprise at needing to work. In my experience, those who find subjects too easy when they are in school, make their subjects the most challenging for students when they become teachers."

Harry turned back to his friend to see her reaction. Hermione seemed keenly interested in this conversation. "So you expect I'm going to be too hard on the students?"

"By no means." Snape leaned forward over the table conspiratorially. "There is no such thing." He made his good-byes and Disapparated.

Hermione said, "Oh dear," in his wake.

Harry grinned as he sipped his tea. "You'll do fine."

"And how about you?"

"My arm will get better and I can return to training. Maybe I can even catch up on my reading in the meantime." He glanced over at the forlorn pile that seemed to have grown just since yesterday, or maybe some of the guests had rearranged things.

Hermione sighed. "I'm excited about teaching."

"I'm excited about moving back into my house."

She put her hand over his and squeezed it. "That'll be great for you, Harry." She glanced around. "I won't need this flat anymore. That will save some pounds. I can find a place just for the summer. On a lake somewhere. That will be nice." She appeared dreamy as she held her tea cup out before her lips.

Harry pulled the Indian wand out of his back pocket and placed it on the table before him.

Hermione said, "Is your wand going to show up?"

"I don't know," Harry said, fingering the one before him. He felt a bit lost without his original one, but also felt that perhaps losing it was a good sign. "Maybe if I don't have it the prophecies will stop."

Hermione shook her head rapidly in confusion. "How's that?"

"There are lots of things I'd like to start over again, although most of them bother me less than they used to. But getting out from under fate would be the one I'm keenest on right now."

"So you aren't just going to get a new feather from Fawkes?"

Harry held up the wand before him as though checking it for true. "I'm going to see what Ollivander has first. I'm hoping I find something there."

She cradled her cup more firmly and observed. "That's a big change, Harry."

"These eyes are big change. I still startle myself when I look in the mirror. I'm not the same person Dumbledore arranged that wand for. I don't want to be that person anymore."

Hermione fell silent, but finally said, "It's reassuring when you say it that way. I was afraid you were rejecting what . . . well, what Dumbledore did for you."

"No," Harry said. "I can't do that. But I want a new path now."

She held up her teacup as though for a toast. "Well, I'm finding a new one too. Cheers."

"Cheers," Harry echoed.

- End -

Yes, this is the end of this story. I left some plotlines to pick up in the next story, Resolution. You can find it by clicking on my username or going to story id 3470741. I'd like to thank everyone who's read Revolution and Resonance, feed me back, and recced it to your friends. It is much appreciated. I learned a lot writing this and having readers makes me up the priority of this practice writing. I also owe my betas a tonne of thanks: Ally in England, Audrey in NYC, Bettina in Finland, Jane in Mich, Nana in Switzerland, Steve fellow Upstater, Verdenia in SanFran. As well as Amy for tolerating my silly last-minute grammar questions that I'm too embarrassed to ask anyone but a best friend. There are two older hp stories of mine posted on my website at darkirony dot com if you want an fix at the expense of recently acquired skill. They are Reconciliation and Rending (yes, there was an odd time when I thought all my stories should start with "R")

I'm hoping everyone will accept the main premise of Resolution, but since you all willingly accepted Harry as master of the underworld, I'm feeling pretty confident on the acceptance front. You all have changed so much since I first started posting Resonance. It really freed me up, I have to say.