Warning: The next several chapters take an extremely dark turn. If you are not okay with torture and violence I highly suggest skipping the two chapters following this one. (This chapter is okay but the ones after are most definitely not, so I wanted to give advance warning.) If you'd like to skip those please feel free to PM me and I can send you a quick 'summary' of what you missed without the gore.
There is significantly more M-rated language in the next few chapters.
This is a rated M story for a reason.
That being said, you have been warned.
Same deal as last chapter – if there are reviews I will post the next chapter quickly (it is already written).
"It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die, than to find those who are willing to endure pain with patience."
~ Julius Caesar
Chapter 67 ~ A One-Eyed Pirate, a Pile of Pink Hair, & a Snarky Fowl
February 1st, 1997
"It was the only way, Nymphadora."
Tonks sat on the snake statue and scowled. "You tore him in half."
"In all fairness," Albus stated serenely, smiling at her in bemusement, "Fawkes had the honor. I lack the surgical precision."
Tonks' hair had gone bright, steam-engine red, literal steam practically coming out of her ears. The second she'd heard Harry sounding incoherent and had heard a thump both her and Moody had barreled up the stairwell, just to be greeted by something straight out of a goth noir novel.
Harry had been laying in a pool of his own blood, twitching, Fawkes standing on top of him with his head plunged low into a gaping, messy wound.
Tonks had nearly fallen backwards, down the spiral stairs in shock.
Dumbledore had merely waved his wand, a barrier that they couldn't penetrate raising between the stairs and the loft, informing them that Fawkes still had work to do, but they could join them in a moment, provided they put away their wands and permitted an explanation.
Both she and Moody had done their very best to murder Albus Dumbledore on the spot, timelines be damned.
Regrettably his shields were surprisingly good. By the time their combined efforts had broken it down Fawkes' tears had quite literally healed the gaping hole in Harry's chest, only a small scar left in their place. A quick scourgify had cleaned up the blood and other…chunkier components of flesh.
Fawkes had merely fixed them with a blood-covered, beedy eyed look, before clacking his beak and disappearing in a flash.
Apparently it'd all been done to heal Harry's heart. Somehow the two phoenixes had communicated the problem to one another, the latter somehow communicating it to Dumbledore, and all three had gotten on board with that insane plan.
Now they sat far beneath the castle, in their new quarters for the duration of their stay, Harry resting comfortably in bed with a thick, fluffy comforter pulled up to his nose while Dobby fussed over him.
"Well," Mad Eye growled, "that's one hell of a way to drive home a lesson. Doubt the wizard will drink anything without checking for poison or potions in it again."
Dumbledore smiled maddeningly. "The secondary lesson is a small benefit," he agreed, turning back to appraise her. "Harry's heart has been repaired Nymphadora, and it was painless for him. I would say that today was, as you youths call it, a win."
Tonks sent the strongest wizard of the entire epoch a withering glare, arms crossed over her ample chest and hissed, "Not good enough Albus, and stop calling me by that infernal name."
Water dripped from the fanged statue she currently sat, sulking on, falling to land in one of the two, stretching black pools of water.
Fawkes Jr., or Fawkes the second, Harry's version of Fawkes, the one that hadn't torn a hole in his chest cavity – Tonks hadn't even known phoenixes could even do that – nuzzled up against the side of Dumbledore's face.
Dumbledore's version of Fawkes had used its phoenix tears to heal Fawkes Jr. as well, the two magical birds apparently, finally whole again.
According to Dumbledore, in addition to training, that was another fringe reason for why he'd summoned them back through space and time. He'd known that with his death, with Fawkes already bonding to Harry, that the phoenix would be quite literally torn in two. To heal and become whole once more, Fawkes the second would need the fresh tears of the original Fawkes to be well again – for both of them to be well again – but given the original Fawkes would be in bad shape as well that wouldn't happen.
So now Harry's version of Fawkes had been healed by the original version, and later on Harry's now whole version of Fawkes would seek out and find Dumbledore's sick version of the same bird to heal him and quite possibly get Dumbledore back, because, you know, time travel.
Tonks shot the phoenix an irritated look on general principle and contemplated having chicken for dinner.
"Now Nymphadora," Dumbledore stated, not unkindly as he reached up an absent minded hand to pet Harry's version, "it is hardly Fawkes' fault. He was merely following my directives. If you are going to give such an evil eye to anyone, send it to me. It has, after all, been some time since I have received a 'dressing down.'" With the final two words the Headmaster made air quotes, Tonks blinking and not sure if she'd seen that correctly.
Moody guffawed, the sound echoing in the cavernous Chamber of Secrets. The sound made Tonks physically shudder.
"This," she hissed, looking around, "is not natural."
"Keep hissing like that," Mad Eye retorted, "and you'll start sounding like one of his snakes."
The Auror shot him a suddenly red-eyed look, before turning her ire on the Headmaster. "Remind me to say no the next time you invite me to tea."
Albus Dumbledore laughed quietly, the original Fawkes appearing out of nowhere to land on his opposite arm.
Tonks jerked away from them so quickly she fell right off the statue of the basilisk and into the watery depths with a splash.
February 1st, 1997
Harry jerked up, bolt upright, with perhaps the loudest cuss he'd ever unleashed.
Had Hermione been within a half mile vicinity she would have hexed him silent and told him to think about what he'd done, before forcing him to write a three meter essay on the subject.
Right now Harry Potter didn't give a damn about niceties in verbiage. Blood and screeching and Tonks' voice shouting through Moody's loud growls all mixed within his muddled memory, right alongside Dumbledore's all-too-calm apology. Flaming phoenix feathers and a too-hot beak were also featured heavily in the living nightmare.
Sweat-soaked sheets clung to him, his hand clutching at his chest-
To his surprise it was intact.
Harry grabbed at his chest a few more times before deeming it solid enough, grabbing his wand and all but launching himself up onto his knees to aim it at someone. The mattress bounced beneath him, Harry ready to fire off a hex at the bastard if he was anywhere near him.
It occurred to Harry as he knelt there that not only was he dressed in clean, dry clothes, but that he was also in a comfortable looking bed devoid of blood.
He also couldn't help but notice that he was definitely not dead.
Nothing here looked silvery white, and a smokeless fire burned pleasantly nearby. His green eyes quickly scanned for danger, but there was none to be found. He appeared to be in less of a room and more of a bookshelf-lined tunnel, and given the utter and complete absence of Dumbledore, a rampaging phoenix, and a set of sleeping-drought-laced tea cups it was downright homey looking.
Hell, on a small table next to the bed and blankets he now sat entangled in sat a tray of what looked suspiciously like chocolate chip muffins and steaming hot cocoa. Harry blinked at it and prodded it suspiciously with his wand, as if expecting it to attack and tear a hole through his stomach. It'd make for a nice change-up compared to his chest.
Harry jerked around so fast that he tumbled as un-gracefully as possible off the bed and onto the hard, stone ground. He backpedaled on his ass, back colliding with the wall of the tunnel, wand leveled at the beak and feathers now staring down at him.
Fawkes was sitting on the bed he'd just been sleeping on.
Fawkes that had just torn a hole clean through his chest cavity as the world had slowly grown black.
Fawkes, who was blinking at him like he was an imbecile, wore an expression that could only be described as, 'Really human?'
It took Harry an honest thirty seconds to realize that he'd actually heard that: in his fucking head.
Harry leveled his wand on the bird as if it were Bellatrix Lestrange in animagus form. "Did you just talk?" he demanded.
To his horror, the bird actually rolled its black eyes. Maybe he'd been wrong. Maybe this wasn't a rampaging bird; maybe it was just Hermione in disguise. That had to be it; she'd gotten fed up with he and Ron slacking and had become a magical animagus out of spite.
Harry tensely waited, not sure what he was expecting, but Fawkes didn't talk again. Instead the phoenix-
Harry made a choking sound and desperately tried to remember what hex could take out a phoenix. They were notoriously hard to kill after all. He seemed to recollect Hagrid mentioning that in one of the innumerable Care of Magical Creatures classes that he clearly should have paid better attention to.
As if sensing his thoughts the bird's feathered frill stood straight up on its head, its ample and full feathers fluffing out as if angered, its eyes narrowing in a glare. 'I'm not that Fawkes you blithering imbecile.'
Now Harry knew he was hallucinating. He'd just heard the phoenix again, and it sounded like a combination of Snape and a pissed off Kaylens.
To add insult to injury the back of his head gave a sharp throb where it'd been bashed against the tunnel wall in his misguided effort to put as much distance between himself and the bird as possible.
Harry scrambled to his feet, wand carefully leveled on the bird. He opened his mouth to say something, thought better of it, then shot a swift look down the tunnel. There was another bed, not far down off, and what looked suspiciously like doilies on another end table.
There was the slow dawning horror that Harry may have died and woken up in a new form of hell that had stolen some of Madame Puddifoot's décor.
The other, perhaps more frightening thing, was that the tunnel looked less like a tunnel and more like an oversized pipe.
One perfectly large enough for a basilisk to slide through.
"Bleeding hell," he muttered, glancing back at Fawkes. The phoenix just blinked at him, expression seeming torn between exasperation and annoyance, if that degree of anthropomorphic-thinking was evenpossible.
Then again he had just heard Fawkes talk.
Harry's hand slid up to his chest, tapping it as if to ensure that no internal organs were escaping – he reckoned that'd be a bit problematic for his life expectancy and he really didn't want to deal with a pissed off Kaylens again – and turned his attention fully onto the bird.
"You talked," he stated simply. "How?"
The phoenix hopped up onto a pillow that would put those found at a five star hotel to shame, Harry realizing from the mint on his pillow that he'd apparently had a turn down service, and got comfortable. 'I do pay attention.'
Then he blinked again.
He tapped his chest one more time for good measure, just to be sure he wasn't hallucinating from blood loss. "Er…"
Fawkes rustled his feathers contentedly.
Finally Harry managed an extremely coherent, "Pay attention to what?"
'Potion's people,' came the instant, incredibly specific reply. 'They had nicknames for you.'
It occurred to Harry with slow dawning horror that Fawkes had apparently learned English from Kalliandra, Black and Snape of all people.
Not only that, but he thought Snape's insults were nicknames.
No wonder he sounded like them in a sarcastic mood.
It also occurred to Harry that the phoenix had spent more time around those frequenting the potion's lab then his actual friends. Assuming he wasn't dead and that this wasn't all some post-death, oxygen-deprived-neuron-firing trip.
He'd have to make sure he made more time for Ron and Hermione, war or not, when he got back.
With a groan he leaned heavily against the wall, filed that disturbing thought to the back of his mind, and stared at the phoenix like it were a viper. "You tore my chest open."
Fawkes fixed him with a look so annoyed it was a marvel Harry didn't burst into flames on the spot. The phoenix uttered nothing, and instead just shook his head in a decidedly human-like gesture to indicate no.
Somewhere farther down in the tunnel Harry could hear dripping and distant voices drifting down. It occurred to Harry that this must be his Fawkes, but his Fawkes had been spawned from the Fawkes that had just eviscerated his chest cavity. "Uh huh…" he said skeptically, something that sounded distinctly like Tonks echoing down the corridor.
Harry looked between the source and the bird. Fawkes looked better. In fact, all traces of baldness were well and truly gone, and the phoenix, while still small, appeared to have grown a smidgeon. Now he was the size of an adult duck, as opposed to an oversized crow.
There was still the matter of Dumbledore having sicked the original Fawkes on him though.
Harry's jaw instantly set, and he glanced down the hall, hearing an amused voice in his head: 'Go.'
Harry did exactly that, leaving the temporary source of his insanity behind and stalking down the tunnel. Given everything he'd just heard – or perhaps hallucinated – his head should probably hurt. It didn't.
Come to think of it, his chest should probably hurt too, but it didn't.
Still rubbing his sternum out of sheer suspicion, Harry Potter stormed out the tunnel's mouth and into the Chamber of Secrets.
The Chamber of fucking Secrets.
He didn't so much as blink.
Really, at this point in his life nothing surprised him.
Hell, Voldemort could show up in a ball gown and tap dance while proclaiming his love for all things Muggle and that wouldn't even do it. He'd just assume that the sadist they all called Dumbledore had finally cracked, imperius-ed the bastard, and started having some fun with unforgivables.
Standing in the cavernous chamber, Harry instantly caught sight of Moody, Tonks and Dumbledore directly beneath the behemoth-like basilisk sculpture. Tonks – her hair currently fire-engine-red in presumable anger – was pulling herself out of one the glossy black pools of water, shaking her head out like a dog, while Moody full on smirked.
Dumbledore looked to be mildly amused.
"WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?" he demanded.
Tonks froze, on all fours, her wet hair dripping onto the ground. Moody glanced up with a considering glare, while Dumbledore smiled kindly.
"Why hello Harry. I was wondering when you would awaken. Tell me, did you have a good rest?"
Perhaps it was the fact that he'd recently traveled back in time. Perhaps it was the fact that a phoenix had torn a hole through his torso, on Dumbledore's orders. Perhaps it was the fact that he'd just woken up and heard Fawkes talking in his head. Perhaps it was the knowledge that he was a horcrux, that Voldemort had tried to kill him one too many times, or that he'd woken up to find himself in one of his least favorite places.
Or perhaps it was the fact that the tea Dumbledore had served hadn't been quite up to snuff.
Whatever it was, Harry Potter snarled and stormed towards the Headmaster. "What the fuck, Dumbledore? You tore me in HALF!"
The Supreme Mugwump looked entirely unconcerned that he had an angered, almost seventeen year old storming towards him with his wand out. "Ah yes, grizzly business, Harry, but rather necessary, I am afraid."
Tonks spat up water like a fountain.
Harry came to a halt three meters in front of the wizard and levelled his wand at his nose. "Talk," he bit. "Now."
Was it his imagination or did Dumbledore just let out a chortle? Apparently homicide attempts on chosen ones and dunking Aurors in ponds of questionable sanitation was what he did in his spare time, when he wasn't manipulating the masses.
Harry had let out a half snarl when he was rudely interrupted.
"Look everyone," Tonks said conversationally, "Harry's awake." She sounded like she was enjoying this.
Harry shot her a suspicious, sideways look, but didn't lower his wand from the Headmaster's face, which he was still debating on whether or not to rearrange or outright separate from his head. "Everyone has precisely five seconds to explain why the hell-"
Moody let out a tisk. "Potter, I'm disappointed. Auror training rule number four – disarm your opponent before you ask questions." He gestured with an old wand that looked suspiciously like it'd been carved from tree bark with a dull knife. "Any one of us could have hexed you stupid by now."
For a second Harry considered that.
Then with a growl he wandlessly tore the wand out of Moody's hand, Tonks' flying to join it, Harry snagging them in his free grip. Dumbledore's wand had remained right where it was though, Harry's mental tug at it doing quite literally nothing.
For the moment Harry decided to ignore that, making a mental note to find out what enchantment was on it to prevent disarming, before he turned a vexed look on the grizzled ex-Auror. "There, happy?" he demanded.
Mad Eye looked impressed. "Wandless nonverbal? Well, that's skipping a few steps."
Tonks flopped onto the ground, ringing out her hair. "You took my wand, Harry." She looked quite put out and held out her hand in silent request.
Harry's grip tightened around both their wands, before he banished them wandlessly back to their owners, returning his attention back to Dumbledore. "Well?" he demanded tersely.
Dumbledore just stood there, looking rather pleased with himself. "You were in need of medical attention, Harry, and cardiac injuries are to be taken quite serious. Given the nature of it, the only definite way of ascertaining full healing would be to place the phoenix tears directly on the wound." He removed his half-moon spectacles, calmly polishing them on his robes. "I do apologize for the deception but given time was of the essence…"
Harry swore. "And you couldn't have just used a damn needle to inject it or something?"
Dumbledore immediately frowned, it clear he hadn't thought of something so asininely Muggle. Harry mentally cursed wizards.
"You know I was healing fine," he told churlishly. "Kaylens had me covered." And he had been feeling better. He'd been less winded. He'd been less out of sorts. Hell, he was still shocked he'd agreed with Snape on not using the stored phoenix tears they'd found back in his office in favor of being patient.
Next time screw patience.
Moody tapped his peg leg on the ground. "Your girl, Potter, is off spreading the cure. Can't have you covered if she's gone."
Tonks grinned and elbowed Moody. "Shoulda had Kally-kins sleeping with him at the Dursleys."
The old Auror growled. "Bet that woulda gone over well with his relatives." He shot Tonks a look. "Trying to make it harder for the boy than it already is?"
Tonks sniggered. "Harder you say…well I doubt he'd complain about-"
Harry snarled at them both.
"Ah, so you and Miss Kaylens sound to be on more reasonable terms," Dumbledore observed idly, as if he weren't still looking down the length of the wand of his favorite student. "That's quite heartening, to know that all the time you're presently spending sitting on the hospital wing floor is going to pay off." His eyes sparkled merrily. "I believe they are calling it a sit in."
Harry blinked. "Doesn't anyone," he bit irately, "have anything better to do, than discuss my dating life?"
"Well of course, Harry, but nothing nearly so entertaining."
Harry about cursed Dumbledore there and then.
For a moment everyone in the Chamber of Secrets was silent, and it was only then that Harry noticed it: the chamber was clean. The scattered bones of carrion that the basilisk had once fed on were gone. The slimy residue on various surfaces looked to have been scrubbed clean, surfaces sparkling as if having been prepped for some ceremonial ritual – a dark part of Harry's brain couldn't help but jump to the terrifying notion of human sacrifice. Several smokeless fires had been set up for warmth. Two dozen more torches appeared to have been added to the walls in various places, and most disturbingly the ceiling appeared to have been enchanted like the Great Hall's, so it now reflected the semi-overcast day with gentle snow flaking down.
There were also more of those cursed doilies.
Something out-of-place occurred to Harry, his gaze turning like icy lasers onto the Headmaster. "How the hell did you know I was in need of healing anyway? We'd just showed up in your office and it wasn't like I was levitated in on a stretcher."
Dumbledore raised both eyebrows, as if it ought to be obvious. "Why Harry, Fawkes told me the moment you arrived."
Harry stared down the length of his alder wood wand and gaped. He gaped like a goldfish. "Fawkes," he finally croaked, "told you?" Well hell, if Dumbledore heard talking birds then maybe he wasn't completely cracking up.
"Indeed, Harry. For a phoenix, your Fawkes is quite chatty it seems."
Harry about choked all over again, his wand lowering only slightly. "So…you can hear him too?"
Moody leaned over towards Tonks, whispering, "Dark magic's afoot. They're hearing things. Time for an exorcis-"
Tonks casually kicked out Moody's peg leg, sending him tumbling into the murky waters.
Harry's lips twitched in a slight smirk, but he was too pissed off to take his attention fully off Dumble-meddler. "Explain," he added, "please." The last word came out through gritted teeth.
The Headmaster looked non-flummoxed, merely putting his glasses back on his nose. With as much time as he spent cleaning them Harry would have thought the man was the most careless glasses owner in existence. "Those with a phoenix bond Harry can, in times of great stress, hear their bond mate."
He said it like it was the most simple, logical thing in the world. For a second Harry almost wished Hermione was there to throw him into St. Mungo's Janus Thickery Ward. He could clearly do with a long lay down.
"Oh," he grunted, "of course."
Dumbledore just smiled benignly. "You are not going crazy Harry. The bond you and Fawkes are forming is perfectly natural. Though admittedly when he appeared and communicated your ordeal to his previous incarnation I was a bit…surprised to discover that you'd sustained so grievous an injury whilst horcrux hunting-"
"It was a busy weekend," he bit.
Tonks snorted, while Moody splashed around, apparently scuffling with what looked suspiciously like a grindylow.
"-and that it had not yet been healed." Dumbledore eyed him with concern. "Though it sounded like the bond you shared with Kalliandra, Fawkes, and your own magic were all naturally healing you."
Harry hesitated, his wand lowering just a tad more. "That was the gist of it, yeah." The sudden image of Fawkes tearing into him flashed violently within his head, Harry scowling. "So if you knew that why'd you sick Fawkes senior on me?"
"Such healing takes considerable time Harry. We have far too much work to do here, in this borrowed time, shall we say, to waste it on trivial matters like healing. I thought it best to take the direct approach. Besides…" he smiled, "it appears you can do wandless magic again unaided. Your bond is near completion."
It occurred to Harry that he had done wandless magic, but the slight euphoria he suddenly had at that prospect wasn't enough to make him drop his guard. He cast a wary look around the chamber, the clouds overhead this deep in the castle almost unnerving. "Speaking of, where is Fawkes the Savage?"
Something trilled abruptly behind him, Harry spinning around and leveling his wand at the phoenix, before directing his wand between it and its master, unable to decide where to point it.
To his utmost irritation Dumbledore chuckled, and the larger version of Fawkes just looked mildly amused.
Right. Obviously no one was planning on killing him right then. He racked his mind for everything he knew about phoenix tears, which was surprisingly little. He did harbor a rather hazy memory of Dumbledore talking about tears needing to be directly on the wound though.
That would go a long way to explaining why Fawkes had torn him a literal new one.
Funny how things like that had never been covered in class.
Slowly he lowered his wand, shoulders remaining tensed.
Fawkes tapped his claws on the ground, snorting.
"Laugh it up," he muttered dourly towards the bird that would eventually spawn his own caustic version. "I'd like to see you in a good mood after that."
Then, to Harry's utmost horror, Dumbledore's Fawkes rolled its eyes in a gesture eerily similar to his own.
Tonks grinned defiantly. "Hey Alastor, ten galleons on Harry if those two throw down again."
Moody let out a shout of assent despite his ongoing, one-legged grindylow battle.
Harry shot her a dour look, to which she just beamed innocently. "Wotcher Harry," she said with so much guile it was a wonder she didn't morph into a Slytherin there and then. Her voice turned sing song, as if trying to feel him out. "What'd you do with your bird? He still alive?"
He rapidly added Tonks to the list of people he was going to hex. "Left him in bed," he grunted. "Apparently all that mental bonding made him inherit my lazy streak."
Tonks snorted, then pouted. "You didn't bring the chocolate muffins Dobby left. I wanted to snag some of that."
Instantly Harry remembered the tea and muffins alongside the bed.
And Harry remembered exactly how Dumbledore had rendered him defenseless, his wand jerking up to aim at the man again. "What in the hell did you dose me with?"
"Nothing more than a bit of anesthesia potion to numb any pain and some calming and sleeping droughts," he responded kindly. "Though I can see the calming drought has evidently worn off." His lips twitched at his own joke.
"Potter! None of this would have happened if you'd maintained constant vigilance! You should have been checking your food and drink for potential poisons," Moody threw out from where he'd finished wrangling the grindylow. It now lay out on the walkway between the two pools of water, hog-tied and attempting to chomp at Moody's foot. "Everyone calls the old man crazy when he drinks from a flask! Well I'm not the one who had a bird clawing through my chest cavity searching for Australia!"
With cold horror Harry realized Moody had an excellent point.
"Moody," he heard himself asking, signing himself up for a life of solitude and paranoia, "where can I get a flask like yours?"
Moody looked like Christmas had come early.
"Merlin help me, there'll be two of them now." Tonks shot an annoyed look towards Dumbledore, as if the idea of a Moody-clone was more vile a prospect than wedding old snake eyes. "You couldn't have been more subtle could you have? Instead you had to go and make him all…" She gestured madly in Moody's direction. "Like him!"
A squelchy thunk indicted Moody kicking the grindylow unconscious. "Pfft, you could use a little bit more vigilance yourself, Nymphadora. You're an Auror. You must start checking your food for poisons or you'll never live long enough to give Remus little wolf pups by-"
Harry blacked out the rest of that statement.
"I know how to check for poison you peg-legged pirate!"
"Pirate!? I've never pillaged anyone!"
"And the women of the world wept."
Albus Dumbledore stood off to the side and chuckled.
Harry racked his mind for poison detection spells and came up empty.
He honestly didn't know a single way to check for those.
Fawkes shot him a smirk, lifting a single gleaming claw as if enjoying screwing with him.
Harry took a step back, shot a stinging hex towards the ground near the bird's feet, and ignored the indignant screech.
Dumbledore, again, chuckled.
Harry pretended the old man was not there, his eyes shooting towards Tonks and Moody, voice taking on a wild tone. "Teach me the spells. Now." Hermione had once motivated him to learn summoning charms by threatening him with a dragon. Now he was going to learn to check for poisons, because having one's chest cavity torn into by a crazed bird prone to lighting itself on flipping fire was one hell of a motivator.
Tonks and Moody stopped arguing long enough to look at him. Tonks frowned thoughtfully, while Moody grinned so widely Harry saw his back teeth.
"Poison detection! Atta boy, Potter! We'll do that before the next meal."
The way Moody was looking at the grindylow made Harry extremely concerned about what that next meal would be. He choked down a gag. "And until then?" He lowered his wand only marginally.
Moody grinned sinisterly. "We train."
A loud clap broke the silence. "Excellent!" All eyes turned towards Dumbledore, the man smiling. "If ever there were a place where those who wished to remain unseen could train, loudly, in secret," he stated conversationally, "this would be it. And you are already taking to it, Harry." He cast a twinkling look in his direction. "Speaking of, I do hope that you approve of the changes. I was a bit reluctant at first to set up your training here given past events, however needs must when Tom drives..." Casting a look around at the several doilies randomly scattered about on the ground while two more remained impaled on the serpent statue's fangs, the Headmaster added, "I'm rather afraid that when I said 'make it habitable' that Dobby took some liberties...though one must admit it is far more homey."
"Yeah," Tonks snorted, "looks a bit like Puddifoots met Voldemort's love lair."
Harry and Moody both gave a spasmodic shudder. The last thing he wanted to think about was whether or not Voldemort had been 'reborn' anatomically correct.
Then he realized that the remnants of the basilisk were gone.
Harry shot a questioning look at Dumbledore.
"Harvested," the Headmaster responded, "by Severus for use in our future endeavors." His blue eyes sparkled meaningfully. "Though I believe I have only recently updated you on what those endeavors are."
Harry's mood instantly darkened, grimacing. "Yeah…yeah you did." He'd told him alright. Horcruxes. Harry distinctly remembered that discussion in the Headmaster's office, right before he'd tried to break up with Kaylens because of fear for her safety.
Somehow that'd wound up with he and her back in his dorm…doing things.
His mood improved somewhat at the memory.
It instantly soured when he remembered he wasn't going to get to so much as touch her for half a sodding year.
Dumbledore, oblivious to his pupil's dirty thoughts, waved a hand. "Hardly the time to be thinking on such dour things, Harry." Harry snorted, the Headmaster pressing, "Getting settled in would perhaps be a better start to your time here." His blue eyes twinkled like starlight there, in the bowels of the castle, where no sunlight ought to have infiltrated.
Only that was no longer the case. Right now a cloudy, gray winter day sent dull light beating down into the chamber, it far less dark and drab than it had previously been.
Yeah, Dobby had definitely taken that 'make it homey' directive and run with it.
Moody's peg leg thunked, echoing loudly in the cavernous chamber as he looked at the doily-decorated basilisk statue. "So, you killed that as a second year, eh Potter?" The magical eye swiveled in his direction. "We'll make an Auror out of you yet."
Harry couldn't help but eye the spot where Ginny had laid dying, life slowly draining from her and into the diary, he dying as well from the basilisk's venom before Fawkes had rescued him. "Yeah well," he muttered darkly, "have to survive Voldemort first."
Moody's one good eye narrowed. "Pessimistic talk like that Potter and I'll have you doing thirty laps." He pointed at the water, ordering, "Go."
Harry blinked, wondering if he were serious.
Tonks had hopped up onto the tail of the snake statue, her legs dangling from it as she answered his unvoiced question. "He's totally serious, Harry. Better do what he says or he gets a bit…" she grinned, "moody."
Moody snarled at her.
Harry eyed the water as if uncertain he trusted it. "Er…"
The grindylow, to lend further confidence to the situation, broke through the muzzle Moody had conjured and latched onto Moody's peg leg. The sound of teeth gnashing against wood and pulverizing it into splinters echoed through the castle's plumbing.
Moody appeared to not even notice. "Magical combat, practical defense, stealth and concealment, tracking, poison detection, creative interrogation…" Moody was rambling off a list of things he'd need to be trained on, whilst Tonks leaned back and cackled loudly.
It dawned on Harry that he was trapped like a rat down here, with these people and a possible grindylow infestation, for the next six months.
With a curse he finally lowered his wand completely, sending a last, suspicious look towards Fawkes senior. "You know what? I don't even care," he told. "I feel better than I have in weeks. Let's just get started." If he was ever going to kill Voldemort, if he was ever going to have a life with Kaylens, if Hermione and Ron and Luna and Neville and Ginny were ever going to be truly free, he had to be better than the Death Eaters they'd face.
Otherwise they were all doomed, just by their mere association with him.
Everyone had stopped talking, cackling, and trilling.
A loud clap broke that silence. "Good Potter. Eagerness. That's ideal in a student." He sent a withering look towards Tonks.
"I was eager," she said calmly. "Drills at two a.m. where you fake my own mother and father's deaths do not exactly instill one with an excitable work ethic."
It took Harry a few seconds to realize that Tonks was serious, and that Moody had actually done that to her.
"I only did that to see how you'd respond under emotional duress," he snarled. "I had to ensure you wouldn't get all girly on me."
Moody ignored her, distracted by the chamber's far wall. He let out an approving growl as he stalked over to it, an array of knives and other assorted weaponry hanging from it. "Albus this'll do. This'll do nicely." A gnarled hand reached out, stroking a short knife's blade reverently.
Then he spun around on his stump, grinning malevolently. "Laps Potter!" he barked. "Then if you survive whatever else is living in there, pick your weapon, and be quick about it! I attack you in five."
Harry couldn't help it; he actually snorted.
Tonks, leaning back on the serpent statue, hooted in laughter.
Later on – like five minutes later on, just after Harry had been attacked by the gindylow still inhabiting the pool and barely managed to drag himself out of it like some type of primordial fish dragging itself onto land for the first time - he found out exactly how serious Moody had been about that attacking thing.
The axe nearly took off his head, Moody wielding it like a crazed Viking pillaging a new village, whilst Tonks calmly called encouraging things like, "Good luck, Harry! Don't lose your head!"
It was going to be a long six months.
March 1st, 1997
An entire month passed rather quickly.
Deep within the castle, far below where the few remaining students trained and partook in the classes still running, old piping dripped. Its steady melody echoed within the Chamber of Secrets, the sound only broken by a strange grunting and huffing. Oddly, the grunting and huffing was also rhythmic.
Nymphadora Tonks was actually quite comfortable, but she would be, as she was not the source of the grunting and huffing. No. The pink-haired witch was instead relaxing, sitting cross-legged, with her delicate, pink-nailed hands splayed out to both sides, resting on her bent knees. Her yoga position looked, truth-be-told, impossibly serene. In fact, she almost appeared to be meditating.
Only three minor details gave away the fact that she was, indeed, not meditating.
First, she was grinning evilly and snickering. Granted, the slightly bubbly Auror did this frequently, and according to Remus occasionally in her sleep, so that didn't necessarily negate that she was relaxed.
Second – and perhaps most telling – she was moving. She sat cross legged in her yoga pose, only she appeared to be rising up and down, up and down, as if being levitated by a particularly strong, basic, first-year magical spell. Only no one had wands in hand, so it clearly wasn't a spell.
The third and last clue that gave it away was where she was sitting, and that was directly on Harry Potter. The Auror's present position in life was on his back, where she counted loudly and gleefully as the aforementioned wizard did push-ups.
It'd occurred to Mad Eye that Harry was a bit behind in the department of physical prowess, being a bit scrawny for his age. Tonks wasn't so sure about that, given even she had to admit that Quidditch had been good to the boy.
Regadless, the ex-Auror had stubbornly insisted they get him into a regular physical fitness regimen whilst forcing daily nutritional potions down his gullet, so as to counteract all the damage those 'malnourshing Muggle oafs, who believed in locking young wizards away for slothful months at a time' had done.
Tonks had to admit that for once Mad Eye's ramblings hadn't been entirely 'mad.' Harry had been locked away for at least three months every year, unable to exactly run around, fly, or get anything remotely resembling exercise each and every single time he went home for the summer. Factor that into eleven full years of poor nutrition and it was little wonder the boy hadn't filled out to his full capacity and had been small for his age.
Now, genetics had made up for the height issue. He'd hit a growth spurt the summer prior and now was on the high end of normal height for his age group. However, as toned as Quidditch could get a player, he wasn't particularly 'bulky.'
Bulky was good.
Bulky was strong.
Strong allowed someone to tackle Death Eaters – something she knew for a fact the wizard was prone to doing when the more senior members of the Order were not looking – without becoming mincemeat.
Plus Harry had to be able to outlast the Death Eaters in a wand fight, and that meant increasing endurance.
And so Moody's training regimen began. He had Harry doing laps in the pools and running the tunnels every morning, doing weight training – his response to Harry's excellent point about 'isn't this why we have magic?' had been met with a resounding 'do you think the laws of physic care about magic when you're disarmed and pinned underneath a three hundred pound werewolf boy!? - working on hand-to-hand combat and grappling in case of disbarment, and to Tonks surprise, meditating.
During one of her more Remus-missing-bleak moods Moody had crabbily pointed out that she could do with some meditating herself, so that was how she found herself sitting atop Harry, adding a bit of extra weight to his morning routine.
"Ninety one, ninety two," she counted out cheerfully.
"Pretending to be a human metronome does not constitute meditating," Moody snarled at her.
Screw him. She was helping Harry by keeping count. "Sure it does!" she clipped, persisting, "Ninety five, ninety- wait…what number was I on?" She paused, Harry not ceasing in his up and down movement even if it did feel like his whole body and arms were flat out shaking at this point, before declaring "You made me lose count, Mad Eye. We'll have to start over. One-"
Harry collapsed, face-first onto the ground, and let out a defeated groan.
She frowned with concern and leaned over to inspect his face. It was oddly pale with a serious flush to it. "Alright there, Harry?" she asked cheekily, picking up a strand of his unruly hair to peer at his eyes. They were half-lidded, as if he lacked the strength to fully keep them open anymore. "You know Moody, he may actually have had a heart attack this time. He's looking peevish."
"You don't even know what that word actually means," Moody growled.
"Got me there," she admitted, "but it sounded so good." Dropping his fringe back on his face she plucked at the back of his sweat-soaked shirt. "Seriously though Harry, you're giving me a smelly bath here. You're literally drenching me. I'm going to have to change into new pants after thi-"
Tonks did not get to finish that sentence, because with a sudden move not evidenced by his previous, dramatic display of exhaustion he'd launched her off his back and thrown her to the side.
She hit the ground with an inelegant oooff and rolled. That stone floor smarted and Tonks mentally added that to her ever-growing mental tally of 'reasons why Voldemort was a sadist.' Only he would create a dungeon-like lair in a castle for kids that had floor that hit back when fallen upon.
Hearing a distinct snicker she shoved herself up on her hands and shot Harry a sidelong, malevolent look. "Oh you're going to pay for that one, Harry."
Harry, who had rolled over onto his back, let out a wheezing cough. "Doubt it," he croaked.
With a maniacal grin she launched herself at him, landing firmly on top of the Chosen One in an attempt to pin him, only he'd clearly been expecting it.
She figured that part out when he'd jerked his legs back, the arse somersaulting backwards at the same time as he forcibly launched her over his head. She had about a full second of hang time before striking the ground, her Auror training just barely kicking in in time and reminding her that tucking and rolling when the ground was rapidly approaching one's skull was a great idea.
Tonks slid on her arse for about a meter before rolling to a stop. She'd already jerked around, fully preparing for the next round-
A body flew at her, on her and bashing her backwards. The metamorphmagus had just enough time to jerk up one of her knees, bashing him in the side, but unfortunately it wasn't hard enough to hear that rib-breaking crack she was looking for. Instead Harry just let out a pained oomph.
She frowned in disappointment.
The first few times they'd tussled like this she'd gotten Harry with that move, and they'd discovered that Madame Pomfrey's bone healing broths still worked quick wonders.
Right now she couldn't afford to be distracted by that. Mad Eye Moody's eighth rule of Auror training was to never get distracted mid-tussle, unless you wanted to lose a limb, your head, or perhaps your genitals – phrased in apparent order of importance. And right now Harry's genitals were practically in her face, the wizard having thrown his hips over her shoulders to prevent her from trying that same backwards-launching move on him. Even the side-launching move wouldn't work in this position.
Harry pointedly crossed his arms and waited for her to counter this, using his bodyweight to trap her. Hell, both her arms were pinned flat by his shins. Fortunately for her, Tonks had a plan.
She grinned up at him, as if having her shoulders pinned by someone else's hips were a daily occurrence. "Mmm, Harry, you know I'm seeing why Kally's such a satisfied witch." She cast a pointed look at his very close crotch. "Though I didn't realize you and I were quite that close or that she was the sort who was willing to share…but if you're really going to just stick it there…"
She made a quick puckering motion with her lips, internally smirking as Harry physically appeared to balk.
Mad Eye's eleventh rule of Auror training: if you know what will rile up your opponent, use it. Distraction will almost always work in your favor.
The subtle recoil Harry had suddenly done – Tonks did have to admire the lad's loyalty to his lady, even when she wasn't right there – shifted just enough weight off her shoulders for Tonks to jerk a shoulder up and roll to the side, throwing her leg and hip over at the same time to ensure all her weight – including that weight in her shapely caboose region – worked together to simultaneously throw Harry Potter off her.
A second later she'd switched positions with him, now sitting on his chest, grinning evilly. She wasted no time in morphing her body to increase in just enough raw mass to outweigh him.
She also did not miss the uncomfortably annoyed looked he shot her.
"Well then," she said, feigning surprise, "I didn't think you were interested in me like that, but if you're really offering Harry it has been a long month…"
Harry made such an angry sound that she honestly had no idea how she wound up on her back again. All she knew was that she'd seen a leg fly out of the corner of her eye and then her head had started ringing. While she lay there, Harry standing over there and having summoned his wand to point it directly at her throat, she made a mental note to herself that not only was he the Boy-Who-Lived, but that he was surprisingly flexible.
Then again so was she.
With a leg lift worthy of a New York City Rockette she'd kicked Harry's wand out of his hand and used her other to scissor kick his knees out from beneath him.
A second later she'd pinned him, having deftly caught his wand, using a quick sticking charm at his arms and legs to prevent him from doing anything other than bucking his torso or head in an attempt to dislodge her.
Every so often Tonks managed a non-clumsy maneuver that reminded her precisely how she'd survived Auror training.
Twirling his wand in her hand as innocently as possible, she gave Harry a wide grin. His snarling reaction to her last set of comments had given her a rather evil idea, and she didn't feel at all guilty about enacting it.
As it was they'd already been there a month and were running out of time. While fitness, dueling, and grappling training were going well, metamorphmagus training was not, and they only had two more months before Dumbledore got himself blown up, and only five more before they merged with their original timeline. Harry needed to make progress on the metamorphmagus front.
Tonks suspected that Harry was so good at suppressing anything that would make him stand out or appear different that, even when trying to within an inch of giving himself a stroke, he couldn't force himself to make any type of physical morph. She would know, she'd watched his entire face turn red with the effort many times now.
Hell, their last session had resulted with him angrily, wandlessly breaking every torch off the mountings in the entire Chamber of Secrets. It'd taken Moody over an hour of reparo charms to fix the damage done from Harry's frustration.
Her and Moody had discussed tactics after that, and figured they just needed to find the right type of motivation for him.
But she now had it, and couldn't believe she hadn't thought of it before.
"Hey Moody," she casually called, "why don't you go upstairs and bring Kalliandra down here? It's time for another morphing lesson. Since Harry keeps failing those maybe she can motivate him to finally-"
Harry about choked. "You can't bring her down here, Tonks. She-"
"Doesn't know you're here. Yeah, yeah," she dismissed, giving his wand another twirl for effect. "Don't worry we'll obliviate her once we're done with her." She shot Moody a wink, letting him in on the fact that his was part of a new, half-cocked plan she'd just come up with.
Harry, who wasn't privy to that information, sputtered at her. "You are not obliviating my girlfriend!"
She smirked. "Course we're not. You are."
He might have growled.
Then Harry abruptly tried to buck her off with his hips. Tonks just grabbed a hold of either side of those hips and grinned. "Well give me a warning next time mister," she said salaciously. "Then I can at least yell yeehaw. If I were six years younger…"
She definitely wasn't imagining it now; Harry was definitely growling at her.
At least her lewd commentary about hip bucking had succeeded in getting him to stop trying to throw her off in that particular manner. Now he just appeared to be mentally trying to unstick himself with wandless, non-verbal magic.
"You know, Harry," she said, ignoring that he was clearly planning a retaliatory attack, both of them clearly hearing Mad Eye's peg leg thunking away, "I'd think you'd want to see Kally. You haven't seen her in over a month-"
"Three months," he corrected, looking somewhat strained at the thought.
Internally she did a celebratory dance, giving him a pout. "See? Just think of the stress relief. Then again…" she gave him a contrived shrewd look. "Maybe you don't want her to come down here. Maybe you don't want her to come down because you're enjoying yourself right now. Is that it?" She tilted her head, hair sweeping to veil half her face, Tonks smirking at how red he'd suddenly gotten. One could always count on Harry Potter being uncomfortable with new situations around girls.
"Well you know you could have just said something Harry. Since we're all alone down here, with Moody gone and all, and you're lonely, and I'm lonely...we're not that far apart in age and I mean Merlin knows how long it's been since I've seen Remus…he had to run off to Voldemort's wolves about a month before we left to come back here and only made that tiny proof-of-life appearance to come see you…"
Harry blinked at her in slight horror. "Er…" He seemed to compose himself, suddenly telling, "Tonks, that sure as hell isn't what I mean-"
She hit him with a silencing charm then waggled her finger in front of his nose. "Ah, ah, ah Harry," she said in uncanny impersonation of her insane aunt. "You know it's not polite to interrupt people, particularly one's trying to seduce you. Now…" She shifted on top of Harry, making herself quite comfortable as she leaned very close to his face. "I want you to morph, Harry. I want you to shorten your hair and change it to blonde. I want you to do that in the next thirty seconds, otherwise, given all these positively masculine changes you've gone through, after having been cooped up with just you and me and Moody for so long, I might just have to snog you after all this grappling. And if you don't practice morphing with me well, there's not anything else to really do down here other than snog you, now is there? Might as well make out a bit while we're alone…"
Harry went completely tense beneath her, his eyes hard, unamused. He knew exactly what she was doing and wasn't having any of it.
Tonks beamed in response. "You know," she continued casually, squirming on him just enough to elicit a reaction in any other normal red-blooded male, "it really would be a shame if Moody got Kally down here in time to see us snogging." She tisked. "Young witch like that, it could really damage your relationship."
Slowly, with stealth-like speed, she increased the size of her breasts subtly, just enough to make them pop just a bit over the low angle of her shirt. Moody was no doubt watching from the shadows, out of Harry's line of sight, and had probably had to hex himself with a silencing charm so Harry wouldn't overhear his laughter.
Speaking of…Harry had clenched his gaze and started mouthing words that looked suspiciously like countercharms to her sticking jinx on his appendages. Just to be sure she quickly conjured chains to pin those down too, his jade eyes snapping angrily open.
Once again she waggled her finger in front of his nose. Merlin, Morgana and Rowena Ravenclaw Harry was going to kill her when he got loose, but really it was for his own good.
"Now Harry," she pouted, "trying to escape just isn't very nice. I might have to shorten it from thirty seconds down to twenty. Remus told you I liked bad boys didn't he?" Flickering her eyes towards the chains and licking her lips, she murmured, "And bondage."
With a smirk Tonks leaned down close to his lips, only for Harry to jerk his head away.
Her response was to blow into his ear, Harry shuddering in a not pleasant way, which she completely and totally ignored. "Eighteen seconds, Harry," she whispered salaciously. He tried to bury his face against the dirty floor. Ha! As if that would stop her from making good on that snogging threat! Teenagers were so cute.
Another quick flick of his wand – it responding rather well in her hands – sent his face jerking up to allow her easy access, his eyes widening in horror at the looming prospect of snogging her. Had she not been purposely screwing with him she'd have hexed him for the inadvertent insult – really she was a metamorph and it was most men's dream to make out with a metamorphmagus as they could become literally any fantasy - but Harry wasn't just any man and was one of the good ones, who was far too noble for that kind of thinking.
The only kind of thinking Harry was capable of was wanting to be loyal to his girlfriend, and she was banking on that coming through for her.
"Fifteen seconds Harry," she demurred, once again getting close to his lips, so close she almost accidentally brushed his with her own.
Unbidden, a memory from one of Moody's interrogation trainings popped into her mind. Another Auror named Dawlish had tricked her into flat out kissing him, using his tongue to slip her a fake-poison capsule.
She'd heard about that botched seduction-interrogation attempt for days.
She made a mental note to debrief Harry about various interrogation techniques, to get what you wanted out of someone – in this case to get a morph out of him – once they were finished. For now…
Feeling the hard, angry breaths coming out of his mouth made her almost feel bad about what she was doing to him – almost.
Burying her mouth against the side of his face, purposely giving his ear a playful lick to drive in the point that she was serious, she added, "Only way to stop it Harry is to shorten your hair and make it blonde." She drug a hand up and threaded it through his unruly hair, letting out a moan as if she really enjoyed the sensation. "I really don't like blondes Harry. Or men with short hair. So….if you don't do what I'm asking, I can only assume that you actually want to snog me…"
Still silencing charmed, still unable to argue with her or use wandless, verbal magic, Harry clenched his gaze and clenched his lips together, as if hoping to seal them off and make them unkissable. Merlin the way he was trying to stay loyal was positively adorable. Tonks nearly busted up but summoned her role playing training – and no she did not mean the dirty kind - and instead whispered, "Ten seconds, Harry."
Slowly, very slowly Tonks began to slide her hand down Harry's far more fit chest, the now of age wizard having filled out slightly from Moody's training regimens. Well…she might love Remus but she could appreciate that Harry had definitely gotten more fit, so that was certainly helpful in pulling this off…
She grinned wickedly.
"Maybe…since you clearly want it Harry, we should do more than snog. Maybe a little of…" She let her lips dart back to his ear, whispering something so dirty her own mother would have slapped and obliviated a year from her life just for uttering it aloud, before cooing the final countdown, "Seven, six, five…"
Despite the silencing charm on him Harry somehow broke through it, letting out a whining, angered sound like a charging manticore. Tonks would have to ask how he'd done that later, rubbing her chest against his as she got very close to his mouth, "four, three…"
Tonks saw the shift only because she was looking for it.
Harry's hair didn't fully change, but it did lighten about two shades. It was no longer black, but now a shade of medium brown, and it hadn't become short per say, but it had shortened about a half centimeter.
Pausing her count on two she wet her lips, pulling away from Harry ever so slightly. Then she drug her fingers along the side of his face. "Mmm, Harry, you know you're still not quite there, but…since you caught my interest and changed a little why don't I give you another twenty seconds?"
She caught the surprised look in his gaze, the wizard clearly having been unaware he'd accomplished any sort of change.
She smirked at him. "Now do that again Harry, or you know my rule..."
He glared up at her, the surprised glint disappearing and getting replaced with annoyance. "You're the devil Tonks."
"Ohhh role play. Would you like me to grow horns too?"
Harry groaned and began repeatedly trying to bang the back of his head against the ground in an apparent attempt to render himself unconscious. Tonks merely conjured a pillow to put a stop to that type of nonsense.
And so Tonks forced Harry to morph. It took the better part of an hour, threatening him with infidelity that Kally might personally witness to get him to fully shift his hair to a blonde buzz cut, but he managed it.
Only then did Tonks get off him, releasing him from the chains and sticking charms, Moody letting out a riotous laugh from the shadows.
Harry shot up like he'd been physically scalded, hair blonde and short, a hand flying to the top of his head to check, as if he didn't quite believe it himself.
His surprise gave her a few seconds of a head start.
Unfortunately, Harry noticed her hasty retreat, annoyance flashing in his gaze. "You tried to snog me!"
Tonks took a step back, away from Harry, grinning ear-to-ear at his new look. "Would it help if I said it was for your own good?"
Fortunately Mad Eye chose that moment to remove his disillusionment charm, appearing Kally-less, to all parties involved. "Nice work there, Dora. And here I thought you were going to have to full on snog the lad to bring on a morph. If only so he could turn into a rhino and buck you off."
Harry made a choking sound.
"One," she said, holding up a finger, "I'm not entirely sure you know what a rhino actually is. And two," Tonks continued, seizing upon the opportunity to further retreat, "you and me both, Moody. Imagine having to explain that one to Remus."
With a flick of Harry's wrist a force slammed into Tonks' stomach, knocking her back on her rear, Harry's wand jerking out of her hand and flying back to him.
The typically calm teenager looked flabbergasted. "You mean I'm going to have to explain this to Lupin!? Seriously, Tonks?!"
She shot him a wounded look from her sprawled out spot on the ground, rubbing her pained rear end. "What happens in the Chamber of Secrets, stays in the Chamber of Secrets," she wisecracked. "I won't tell if you won't." Then she winked, just for good measure.
Tonks ignored this. Hell, she had to admit – she was impressed! Harry haddisarmed her…wandlessly!
Unfortunately Harry still seemed less than impressed at her flippant response to her casual come-on's for the good of dark-wizard-fighting-training. In fact, he appeared to be snarling as he gave an irritated flick of his wrist, this time wand in hand, duct tape slamming over her mouth and preventing her from saying anything further.
"Not," Harry told dangerously, "funny, Tonks." He spat her name like it was milk that had gone bad in the fridge.
Around the duct tape she grinned and made a helpless, 'I can't respond to you' gesture, as if she were totally used to facing down powerful and pissed off adolescents.
Harry snarled and took a menacing step closer to her, Tonks beginning to feel a slight edge of panic, when Moody cut in. "Clumsy as hell, Potter, but bet you'd never have believed she excelled in the seduction interrogation tactics section of class."
Harry paused mid-step in his quest to kill her, shooting an irritated look over at Mad Eye. "The Ministry actually teaches people that?"
"Auror rule number thirty eight, Potter," Moody affirmed, "manipulate your opponent into doing your bidding by any means necessary. You're a metamorphmagus. Not a very strong one, from the looks of it, but you've got some natural ability, and that'll help you against Voldemort. So," tapping the side of his head with a gnarled hand and stalking forward, out of the shadows, he growled, "you better perfect that. I've authorized Tonks to help you do so using any means necessary and since your girl Kalliandra seemed to be your only weak spot…"
Harry sputtered. "Kaylens is not a weak spot-"
Moody scoffed caustically. "Any witch who has ever let a wizard see her shirtless automatically becomes their weak spot, Potter. Sexual tensions complicate everything. It's a tool Aurors use sparingly, but when used it is effective. Case and point," he finished, gesturing over at her.
Tonks did her best to give Harry an angelic, 'please forgive me for doing what Moody said to do' look, and hoped the boy wasn't quite adept enough at legilimency to realize it'd actually been her idea.
Underhanded tactics or not though, they did get results, and Harry was standing there with blonde hair.
He looked ridiculous.
Moody's attention had turned critically to her, gutturally telling, "Your chest no longer seems to fit in your shirt, Nymphadora. Perhaps you could ease the boy's tension by fixing that?"
"I am not tense because of that!" Harry protested.
"Sure you're not," Moody growled.
Tonks grinned evilly around the magical duct tape, not even trying to take it off, and batted her eyes at Moody while shrinking her breasts.
She shrunk them down to the size of peanuts.
"Honestly woman!" Mad Eye snarled. "That'll be for Lupin to deal with." He turned back to Harry abruptly, intercepting him before the wizard could stalk over and commit Tonks-a-cide. "Potter," he snarled, "lengthen that mop of yours you call hair and change it red. Now. You get any more blocks on this and I'll confound you into thinking Nymphadora is the hottest thing you've ever laid eyes on and make sure I bring Miss Kaylens down to witness it before obliviating her into forgetting your actual name."
Harry had outright tried to hex Moody for that one.
The ensuing duel had Tonks seeking shelter behind that blasted serpent statue, but she watched with increasing glee as she noticed Harry actually holding his own against the Auror.
At least he was until she threw a wandless tripping jinx at him – for zest - Harry face planting and getting stunned by Moody.
With an irritated flick of his wand Moody undid the duct tape charm on Tonks' mouth, returning her wand to her, coming to a stop over where Harry lay completely and totally unconscious.
Shoulder-length, long hair, similar to how Bill Weasley's had been, lay sprawled around his head.
"We'll make an Auror out of him yet," Moody said confidently.
"You know," she quipped, twirling her wand between her fingers, "I think I may put this little memory in a pensieve and give it to Kally for Christmas. It's kind of sweet, how determined he was to not let me snog him."
Moody's one eye swiveled in her direction. "Ah yes," he stated, as if she were a prehistoric slug, "and if the girl doesn't enjoy it and gets pissed, then you'll have both Potter and a Reach after you, whilst Lupin goes after Harry. What is your grand plan then?"
Moody groaned quietly, suddenly remembering why he had originally retired.
March 1st, 1997
"I really don't like this."
Harry snorted in unsympathetic fashion. "Should have thought of that before threatening to screw with my relationship with Kaylens," he drawled at her. "You practically volunteered yourself right then and there for all kinds of target practice."
Tonks scowled and crossed her arms in an indignant huff, mumbling about Boys-Who-Couldn't-Take-Jokes.
Harry ignored her with steadied practice and turned his attention back to Dumbledore. He, Tonks, Moody and the Headmaster were gathered in the central chamber, Dumbledore having conjured oddly comfortable armchairs for everyone out of tiny chunks of rubble – he and Moody's duel may have gotten a bit out of hand and several chunks of dungeon wall now appeared to be missing – so they could all face one another at the same eye level.
Eye contact was vital.
"So…that's it then?" he questioned the Headmaster, dubious. "I just think really hard about a fake memory and try to implant it? There's nothing else to it?"
Dumbledore sucked on a lemon drop, his phoenix perched casually on his shoulder and overshadowing the wizard's head. "Indeed Harry, that's…how is it the young people are saying it? That's how the cookie crumbles?"
Harry frowned. "I don't think you're using that phrase right."
"Ah," Dumbledore commented, popping in another lemon drop and widening his eyes, "then the cookie has indeed…crumbled."
Tonks groaned loudly then suddenly sat forward, gesturing at him. "I changed my mind. Erase the past thirty seconds from my memory, Harry. Trick me into thinking I'm in Bermuda with Remus, sunbathing on a beach somewhere rather than in a dark, dank basement listening to Albus' bad puns."
Harry once again frowned. "And I'm not sure you know what puns are."
The metamorphmagus waved a hand dismissively. "Like it matters. Now come on, Harry. Give me what ya got!"
He sighed, tugging his seat directly in front of Tonks, looking her dead in the eye. The pink haired witch grinned mischievously, her eyes slitting into vertical pupils and turning electric purple. "You know," he muttered sourly, grabbing her abruptly by the chin to force her to hold still, "I'm a lot less likely to scramble your brains if you stop moving."
In response she just waggled her eyebrows at him, Harry groaning inwardly. He'd been meeting with Dumbledore weekly to work on Occlumency and Legilimency, and now he'd been tasked with implanting a fake memory into a volunteer's head.
Naturally, given the stunt Tonks had pulled that morning with threatening to snog him, Harry had volunteered her as the subject. He had just the perfect false memory in mind for her.
Payback was a bitch.
"Remember Harry," Dumbledore said kindly, "the best way to make a lie believable, is to engrain a sand of truth within it."
Harry's lips curled back into an uncharacteristic, velociraptor-like grin. "Oh I've got just the thing," he promised, watching Tonks' eyebrow waggling pause for only a second.
"Don't mess up one of my only competent Auror's head, Potter," Moody growled from behind.
Harry simply shot him a look. Tonks, however, outright cooed, "Aw Moody! You big ole softie you! I knew you cared!"
Harry clenched his fingers around her mouth in a misguided attempt to shut her up.
It didn't work, given she promptly bit him. Harry jerked his hand away and shook off her slobber.
A low, rumbling sound, rather like a growl erupted behind him. Harry could only assume it was Moody rapidly turning into some kind of dangerous animal. Never, in a thousand years, would it have occurred to him that it was an actual laugh.
Tonks appeared unperturbed. "Aw look at him, Harry. He's so cute when he gets angry. Hey Moody, can we make friendship bracelets after this? You know, since you care about my noggin' and all."
"Changed my mind, Potter," Mad Eye snarled. "Scramble her brains. Maybe I'll finally get some peace when she forgets who I am."
Harry clenched his gaze shut and contemplated hexing both of them. "Will both of you just please shut up?" Being trapped in a dungeon with both of them for over a month hadn't exactly boded well for his tolerance for either.
He might ordinarily like Moody and Tonks, but this much confinement had him seriously fantasizing about hexing one or both of them into smoores and roasting them over an open fire.
Tonks puckered her lips up and made smoochy faces at the most feared Auror of the last three centuries, and Harry abruptly decided to screw preparatory concentration and to just do it.
He viciously jerked her face up to look at him, shoving his wand against the center of her forehead, hard. "Legilimency," was hissed before Tonks could protest the manhandling.
Instantly Harry realized that Tonks' brain ought to have come with a warning label.
It him like a damn tsunami.
A chaotic swirl of events, happenings, thoughts. It was like looking through a child's kaleidoscope, only the pink and blue haired child was giggling sadistically and spinning it at impossible speeds. Tonks seemed like 'just' the kind of child to do exactly that.
Colors raced past, only tiny pieces of coherency recognized amidst the churning vortex of memories. A large eye suddenly appeared, it changing from blue to brown, then changing shapes from round to almond, before blinking and disappearing.
A sing-song voice could be heard in the distance, someone shouting, "NYMPHADORA! YOU PUT THAT BAT DOWN RIGHT NOW! IT COULD BE RABID!" The phantom giggling within Tonks' mind only increased in response, Harry's head pounding as he attempted to remain oriented within the mess.
Harry stood in the eye of a hurricane, with a storm of memories spinning around him.
A grinning clown with multi-color hair suddenly emerged from the swirl, beaming at him, then shifting into a teenage Tonks, who merrily appeared to be drinking a butterbeer, speaking to a teenage boy who had emerged. She was assuring the boy that 'creepy clowns' were totally acceptable costumes and 'no' she was not going as some voluptuous Muggle he liked.
What the boy said next had even Harry wanting to hex him, only the memory Tonks beat him to it, before the memories swirled away, the disturbing sound of Tonks' crying heard.
"They always want me to –change- mum! They never like me for me!"
His heart lurched, dropping. Adromeda Tonks could be heard comforting her daughter, even if he could not see the memory, telling her boys who wanted her to change her appearance for them would never be worth her time.
Harry could hear Tonks sniffling.
Then everything again changed, the Ministry of Magic atrium suddenly surrounding him, a far less grizzled-looking Mad Eye standing in front of him, ordering Tonks to drop and give him twenty for tripping over a ferret on their last case.
Harry reckoned this was what going mad must feel like. Hell, he'd be lucky if he wasn't institutionalized. Suddenly he had a wave of empathy for Neville's parents.
Breathing slower, he attempted to concentrate.
"Something recent," he muttered to himself, uncertain if he said it aloud or within the privacy of his own head. "A recent memory, Tonks. Come on…"
There was a thunderous explosion.
The cascade of colors stopped shifting, picnic tables suddenly surrounding him, Harry standing in the middle of a nightmare. In front of him lay a young boy, blood spurting rhythmically out of his punctured carotid as the child gurgled, whilst spell fire, distant screaming, could be heard in the distance.
Strangely he also heard what sounded like monkeys.
Harry jerked back, taking several steps and walking right through another child. This one was a young girl, the blonde crying and clutching her arm as blood dripped between her fingers. Behind her lay the twisted metal bars of what had once been an exhibit of lemurs, several clearly dead, while one injured one tugged at his dead 'friend' pathetically.
Harry's heart about broke.
He could hear children crying, screaming in the distance. The ones nearby were far too quiet for comfort, Harry's eyes taking in the scene. Presents with pink and red wrapping paper lay scattered across the ground, a birthday cake splattered across the side of a building labeled 'primates.'
It looked like a bomb had gone off.
Then, from beneath the chaos, he saw a gray-haired Tonks emerging, gingerly shoving herself up, speaking far too calmly to a boy near her. "Magic trick…" Blood trickled down her brow.
Only then did Harry realize that he was looking at the first of the Dublin-attacks.
Once again everything shifted, Tonks and the terrible scene disappearing behind a fog of memory. He now heard a familiar voice – Lupin – whispering some incredibly scarring things as if to a lover, followed by what sounded suspiciously like a spank and howl that had absolutely nothing to do with the full moon.
Harry was pretty positive he was traumatized for life.
Amidst all this Harry knew he needed to concentrate. He really should have done so before barreling headlong into Tonks' terrifying brain. Given they'd met, he shouldn't have been shocked to discover that it wasn't exactly well organized. Hell, the memories swirling around him seemed to jump from memory-to-memory, topic-to-topic, a butterfly flying out of one side of the vortex before changing into a house elf with wings that bitch slapped him on the way past.
Grunting he rubbed at his jaw, before taking a deep breath.
Then, thinking of what Dumbledore had said, Harry concentrated very hard on the false memory he'd conjured within his mind.
"Use your imagination, Harry. Whatever you imagine, fixate on it. Fixate hard enough upon it that it becomes almost real…"
Hearing Dumbledore's words in his mind helped
Lowering his breathing, he pictured the Chamber of Secrets. He pictured he, Tonks and Moody snagging food together. They sat, cross-legged on the stone floor beneath the towering basilisk statute, on a frighteningly pink blanket conjured by Dobby, doilies everywhere. The house elf unfortunately thought that Madame Pudifoots was the epitome of style, all because he'd taken Cho on one-sodding-date there.
Mentally cursing pretty Ravenclaws, Harry focused on the lunch they'd actually eaten that very afternoon. The smell of roasted chicken penetrated his nostrils, as did that of the cobbler they'd had afterwards.
Then Harry pictured something that hadn't happened; he pictured himself with a bottle of liquid lust potion in hand, his green eyes darting to Tonks' cobbler while she was otherwise distracted, gesticulating wildly to Moody about something-or-other.
She didn't even notice him dump the potion quickly over it, the clear drops disappearing in the apple-mess. Blindly Tonks speared some with her fork, still gesturing at the ceiling as she took a blind bite of it.
The vortex of memory continued to swirl around him, but Harry focused. He imagined himself and Moody leaving Tonks alone, presumably to continue with their stealth and concealment training – which Tonks was no help with whatsoever. The young Auror was none the wiser to the fact that she was the subject of a stealth mission Moody had given him. It had been a test to see if he could drug an Auror.
They'd picked a lust potion for their own amusement.
They'd timed it so that Severus Snape was coming down with a delivery of potions right then.
Harry could still hear children screaming in the background of Tonks' mind, the sound horrific, but he persisted in imagining the unthinkable: Tonks getting up with a sly smile and stalking Snape. Given that she'd used some of those same tactics on him that very morning he had a whole repertoire of moves she might use fresh at hand.
The potion's master never saw it coming.
Harry might have thrown up a little in his mouth, trying to picture Tonks exuberantly snogging Snape, but really, it was more than worth the revenge.
He kept it at PG-13 levels, right until he imagined Snape – more mouth vomit – snogging her back, the two stumbling backwards into one of the tunnels-
He stopped there, leaving Tonks' imagination to fill in the blanks, before he imagined them all meeting to see Dumbledore right after that.
If it worked, then as far as Tonks was concerned she'd just snogged and possibly slept with Snape.
Harry jerked out of her mind and snapped back into reality with a resounding snap, like a rubber band, finding himself sitting in that comfortable chair Dumbledore had conjured, feeling slightly disoriented. Judging from the acrid taste in his mouth he really may have been swallowing back bile at the idea of Snape getting down with anyone.
Tonks blinked at him blearily, looking pale.
Harry smirked at her like a shark.
The Auror blinked once, twice…
Then she threw her hands over her mouth, shrieking. "Mother of Morgana! Remus!" She launched herself out of the chair, knocking it over backwards, shrieking as she started practically clawing at herself. "Oh no, no, no, no, no, no! No. No. The slime…I'll never get it OFF!"
Relief slithered through him at her reaction, and Harry leaned back in his oversized chair to smugly fold his hands behind his head. "Problem?" he questioned her casually.
Both Dumbledore and Moody shot him a look as Tonks promptly began trying to claw off her own skin, before bolting for the water and splashing herself with it, muttering, "Screw it!" and tossing herself bodily in.
Despite the gurgling sounds, Harry was distinctly certain that he heard the phrases 'forever unclean,' 'kill you Harry,' 'wolfy,' and 'castrate the slimy bastard.'
Harry really hoped Tonks actually got ahold of Snape and did that to him before Dumbledore fixed her memory.
"Harry," Dumbledore stated, sounding rather calm for someone witnessing a fellow Order member having a nervous breakdown whilst attempting to drown themselves, "perhaps if you shared what exact memory you implanted…?"
Harry dropped his hands down from behind his head. "We're working on stealth and checking food and drink for poisons, so I just imagined Moody assigning me the task of slipping her a lust potion during lunch today, to see if I could do it." He smirked viciously.
Dumbledore inclined an eyebrow. "And?"
"Snape may have been coming down to restock the potions' supplies." He made a mock tisk. "Terrible timing."
Dumbledore wearily closed his eyes, raising a weathered hand to rub the bridge of his nose. "Dare I ask…"
He smirked viciously. "She snogged him. Anything else I left up to her imagination."
Tonks shrieked angrily from the water, blasting a grindylow away from her – the infestation continued – before she apparently rethought the approach and lunged after it, demanding that it drown her.
A raucous, booming laugh echoed within the chamber, Mad Eye laughing. "Potter, you're a vindictive bastard."
"She threatened to snog me to get me to morph. In my book that's messing with my relationship," he replied steadily. "She's lucky I didn't implant her and Snape having kids."
Dumbledore let out a sigh, standing up as the grindylows organized themselves, dunking Tonks beneath the murky depths. "If you will excuse me, Harry, Alastor, I believe I have a pink-haired Auror to fix." He paused, adding, "I dare say our experiment was a success Harry. Your training in legilimency has come far."
With that and a hasty, "Accio Tonks!" a female-sized body flew out of the water, Tonks landing on the ground and sputtering up water, Dumbledore quickly immobilizing her and levitating her to his eye level, looking deep into her eyes as they both went into a trance-like state.
Moody, still chuckling to himself, growled, "Nice touches, Potter. Truth with lies. The old man is right – it is the best way to fool your enemy into thinking you're speaking the truth."
His Fawkes picked that moment to fly over and land on the chair's arm. The phoenix shot him a look as if torn between disapproval and humor. Harry scratched him beneath the beak. "Oh yeah? So what Auror rule is that?"
Harry outright snorted.
"Though that is a good idea, Potter. What do you say at dinner you try to slip her something?" Moody raised his eyebrows in a sinister fashion. "Ought to be a good test of your abilities given the female half of Snonks will be on high alert, so if you can slip a potion past her when she's most paranoid, you ought to easily be able to do away with a Death Eater."
Then blinked again.
Moody had reached all new levels of evil.
"Snonks?" he repeated, smirking. "Hell, in that case, let's actually invite Snape down then." Snape had not once come down to the Chamber of Secrets to restock or resupply anything. As far as Harry knew, the asshole wasn't even aware they were down there, and he wanted to keep it that way.
But that's what obliviation spells were for.
Moody rubbed his hands together evilly, just as Tonks jerked away from Dumbledore, still sputtering, turning an outright glare onto him.
Harry lifted a hand and gave her a casual wave. "Wotcher Snonks."
Tonks' face turned bright red.
Moody guffawed, and kept guffawing, even when Tonks' hex reduced the chair he was sitting in to a pile of ash.
March 14th, 1997
"OW!" Tonks shot McGonagall a wounded look, rubbing at her arm while the Transfiguration Professor crouched alongside her, glaring. "What'd you do that for?"
"If you cannot concentrate whilst in pain, Nymphadora how do you ever expect to focus during the transformative process?" her former professor clipped, abruptly rising in a swirl of cloak.
Tonks shot Harry and Mad Eye a 'can you believe this?' look, only neither seemed to notice. Nope. Both wizards were steadfastly ignoring her, sitting cross legged on the ground, hands on their knees in meditative poses, looking completely relaxed.
McGonagall approached them, Tonks grinning gleefully because she knew what the witch was up to. She'd snuck up on Tonks while she was meditating, concentrating on her animagus form like a good little Auror, only to burn her arm with the tip of her wand like a sorceress obsessed with S&M.
To that vein, the tip of Minerva's wand gleamed a hot, iron red, the witch shoving it against Harry's upper arm.
The only sign Harry made to indicate that he was quite literally being scalded was a slight grimace, but for all intents and purposes he didn't move.
Her mouth fell open. "Harry how the hell-"
The Boy-Who-Apparently-Didn't-Feel-Pain-Like-A-Mere-Mortal cracked his gaze for a half second, sending her a smirk.
Then he winked.
Tonks couldn't help it: she pouted.
Harry ignored this and went right back to meditating. Moody was being scalded now, only unlike Harry who had remained silent Mad Eye was groaning as if finding it pleasurable, taunting, "That all you got ole gal? You can give it to me better than that."
Tonks now found herself frowning, even Harry cracking his gaze to send a concerned look towards where Minerva McGonagall had her over-heated wand's end shoved up against the side of Moody's neck like a cigarette lighter.
For all the world Moody looked like he was enjoying it, McGonagall frowning.
Tonks shot Harry a curious look. "Does that sound dirty to you?"
Simultaneously they both shuddered.
It was going to be a long, long training.
McGongall's cat-like hearing somehow overheard the conversation, turning a critical eye on them both. "You are both idiots," she told primly.
Then she turned back to Moody and scalded him again, only this time wearing a disturbing smile.
Tonks threw up a little in her mouth.
Author's Note: Thank you to those who reviewed as I greatly appreciated the time you took. Since I logged on to find constructive and non-flame reviews you get a new chapter. This IS an in-between chapter.
Thornclaw18, Lady Evangeline otter, Stelex, animelover, Andrew Claire, Mike, TheLastFedaykin, FadingAntigone, genrdp, ReadingStuffff, AndySerri, DuckedHard, kaziumk, Guest, Guest, rcmac52, dimak, lord damon markloff darling and msanniethorpe – you are all awesome.
I'll be doing the same thing moving forward – I'll post new chapters once there are some reviews (constructive are always welcome – I appreciate those just as much as positive ones so long as they aren't out-of-line flames hating all things OC story wise without any substance – you are allowed to not like the story or chapter, that I don't mind, but I do mine flames because there is a difference).
So anyway, that'll be my ongoing compromise rather than abandoning posting completely due to the spineless guest trolls OC stories seem to get.
I have the next couple of chapters written so if there are reviews, there won't be delays.
That being said, I will be in various parts of the Grand Canyon area as part of various survey teams for a bit doing (to be blunt) some fairly extreme things so…for the next month my 'days' to log on and post those chapters will be extremely limited since we are surveying virgin caves (these are uncharted cave systems where no other people have set foot and at times require 1000+ foot rappels to reach) in extremely remote and often cold areas. I'm medical support so typically one of the first in and the very last out. When we do supply runs I'll happily check to see if I should post though while I have internet access.
On an aside, I had someone PM me asking about caving and another person PM asking about EMS careers, so if anyone else is interested in caving or EMS or learning about how to get into those, you're always welcome to PM and I'll happily provide you some information on either/or, or both.
Onto review replies (I am replying to all logged in reviews via PM today before we head out, unless they had a specific group question, and all guest ones here):
Mike – Thanks Mike! I'm glad that you're digging the meatmorphmagus angle. I've actually never been a huge fan of that angle for Harry, but the books set it up way too well to skip over I think.
Andrew Claire – Thanks Andrew Claire. I'm sorry to hear that you've experienced the same on YouTube. I hope that you at least have some positivity coming in to balance them out? (That's honestly my biggest issue – the flames don't bother me so much as the absence of things even remotely positive to counter them. When there are both it's not a bother, but when there aren't it's one big 'why bother to subject myself to this?' you know?) To answer your questions, another horcrux is coming up soon (like real soon). As for the Deathly Hallows, I actually won't be using that plot line in this story. I feel like the Deathly Hallows were a bit of a 'last minute' type of plot point for the series (a good one, but last minute) and not really 'there' until books 6 and 7. Since there wasn't a set up for them in books 1-5 this story will go in a completely different direction. The only reason I kept the horcruxes was due to them being so well set up in 1-5 already (with Harry's scar, the diary, Nagini, etc.
FadingAntigone – You are so nice! Thank you for taking the time to go back on that last chapter. And honestly these in-between chapters are always difficult. Action scenes require no thought, whereas these really do (typically they require a lot of jogging or climbing to figure out ideas for them). I'm glad the characters seem fairly fleshed out though (I'd be really worried if they weren't 700,000+ words in lol). No need to hide though – Harry obviously won't be dying anytime soon (I make no promises in either direction as to later on as that spoils surprises) but I reserve the right to torture him mercilessly in the interim. I will say I laughed out loud at the Alfred Hitchcock reference as his are some of the first movies I remember ever seeing (I found a historical movie section while left unsurprised for several hours in my impressionable youth…explains a lot). Thank you for the review.
Guest – You are completely right – there are definitely far better (and more sanitary) places for open heart surgery. However, Dumbledore (being Dumbledore) wanted to involve no one and didn't consider Muggle options (like a surgical needle putting in the phoenix drops). Needless to say he once again made a decision without considering other options or others (as he at times has the tendency to do). Given he has a phoenix bond himself and knows how far it can be pushed though, he wasn't particularly concerned about it. I'm so glad you enjoyed seeing Kally have a lighthearted moment though. I actually debated cutting that but decided at the last minute to keep it. I have to agree with you that I never really saw Harry as a metamorphmagus (it doesn't seem fitting to be honest), but I always thought the books quite frankly set him up as one, even though they never followed through with that plot line so figured I'd run with it.
Guest – There were definitely a few clues regarding time travel coming into play earlier, but they'll be more obvious in the next chapter (mainly the timing of certain characters not running into one another for several days at a time, even though they occupy the same house). Busy schedules or not, it would be fairly difficult for the few students left at the school to not run into one another for at least a few minutes in their common rooms or at meals each day.