Apparating somewhere you didn't know was possible but risky, and Harry and Ron discovered that the only maps they could find in the Hogwarts library of the area in which Harry's father lived were old. Very old in some cases, Harry thought as he sneezed over a 17th century map showing parish boundaries. "Fine pair of twerps we'd look if we landed in the middle of a river," he muttered.
Hermione took the map out of his hand with an irritated expression, and the movement released more dust. "Or right in the middle of a new Tesco, which is what I'm worried about." She cast a light cleaning spell to remove the dust - and other things - and refolded the map.
"Do you think it's worth writing to your father?" said Ron. He had been coming up with ways of avoiding going since the plan had been voiced.
"He didn't answer my other letter," Harry said.
"Well, you were raging at him," Hermione pointed out. Then she added, "Sort of. And you didn't have a proper address."
"That's never made a difference to owls before. And if he didn't answer me then, how likely is it now? I'm about to ask a lot of intrusive questions about the whereabouts of my kidnapped mother."
Hermione thought about that. Then she said, "How about Apparating to somewhere you do know and travelling from there? I'm sure Olney at least is on a railway line. You could go to Kings Cross and start from there."
"It would be time consuming," said Harry.
"But not nearly as risky as an Apparition to somewhere you've never been using these," she indicated the dusty old maps, "as a guide."
Reluctantly, Harry and Ron admitted she had a point.
The first thing that happened on their arrival at King's Cross was that Harry nearly had his legs cut off by some fool with an overloaded luggage trolley. "Look where you're going," growled the man. Harry didn't respond, he felt the man should take his own advice before chastising passers by - though in their case he could hardly be blamed as they'd arrived through the barrier without warning.
"Where now?" Ron asked, looking around. He never spent much time in the Muggle side of King's Cross station.
"We'll have to ask," said Harry.
Ron looked as though he'd rather be chewed by a pack of rabid wolverines than ask questions of Muggles, but he followed Harry readily enough.
"Not from here," the young lady under the 'information' sign said. She consulted a screen, "You want St Pancras."
"Is that far?" Harry asked.
She gave him a curious glance, "No, love. Out of this station, cross the road and into the one next door. Can't miss it."
"Thanks," Harry said. But she'd already turned away to answer a question from a Japanese lady whose luggage looked to be larger than she was.
"We only need to get there once." Harry consoled Ron after they'd negotiated Muggle ticket purchasing. "After this we'll know where we're Apparating to and it'll be much easier."
"Wish we could have come by broom," said Ron, who still wasn't looking happy. "A lot less trouble."
"It would take too long - I mean Scotland to London can't be done in the time we've got, even if we both had a Firebolt and travelled at top speed. And the best we can muster between us is that old Shooting Star of yours. We'd get as far as Glasgow on that before we had to turn back."
The journey took them just over an hour - Harry had the impression that the little local train stopped at every lamp post and crisp packet on the way and he was in the middle of a theory that the driver was doubling as a milkman when he suddenly noticed they'd reached their destination and had to get out quickly. Had the train not had a young mother struggling with a pram on it they'd have been taken on to the next stop.
Olney proved to be a very small town indeed - overgrown village about covered it. Harry knew the village his father lived in, Threpston-cum-Lestley, was to the north, but they couldn't see a signpost anywhere. It also looked, depressingly, as if they'd have to walk. If Olney possessed any kind of bus service to the outlying villages it was conspicuous by its absence.
By now heartily sick of asking questions of strangers, Harry led the way into an estate agent's on Olney's High Street. The person behind the nearest computer looked at them superciliously - it was perfectly clear that he didn't imagine for a moment that either Harry or Ron cold afford so much as a brick of the very expensive properties in the window.
Severus had always said he found Harry charming, and Harry hoped he was right. "I wonder if you can help?" he said. "We're looking for a house called Morris Court? It's in Threpston-cum-Lestley."
The young man, his name tag read 'Jeremy Downey', looked them up and down, his expression distinctly disbelieving, "It's three miles from here," he said.
Harry did not want to see Ron's expression on learning that. "Can you give us directions?"
The young man could do slightly better than that; he handed them a map of the local area including the town of Olney and all the local villages.
"Three miles," said Ron.
"You didn't have to come," Harry pointed out. He wasn't looking forward to a three mile tramp along unfamiliar roads in the February chill any more than Ron was.
Other than a young woman struggling to control a roan mare which had ideas about where she wished to go that were not shared by her rider, they saw no-one. It was, after all, a raw, freezing Saturday - and it seemed that the people in those parts had decided to toast their toes at home rather than walk or drive around the lanes.
They were rather wary, too, of the young estate agent's claim that they 'couldn't miss' Morris Court. But in that he proved as good as his word - there were only about seven houses of any size in Threpston-cum-Lestley and all of those were on Main Road. This wasn't actually a road at all, it turned into a large roughly circular 'square' almost as soon as one entered the village.
"That's it," said Ron, unnecessarily, pointing at a large Georgian house sandwiched between The Vicarage and a row of cottages.
As they got closer, Harry found that the row of cottages had been converted into one, and was for sale. The estate agent dealing with the sale was the one whose shop they'd been into in Olney - no wonder he could give clear directions.
What he really wanted at that moment was a chance to take stock before stumping up to knock on the door. But unless he wanted to repair to the pub - and he wasn't at all sanguine about passing himself off as over eighteen - there wasn't anywhere they could go. This was not the type of village which would have a teashop.
"Having second thoughts?" asked Ron. "We could just Apparate back to Hogsmeade."
"No! No it's not that... Now I'm here I don't know what to say."
"Ask to see your Dad and take it from there," suggested Ron. "Chances are he won't want to see you anyway."
"Aren't you cheerful, then?" said Harry, a little resentful. He squared his shoulders, walked up the path allowing the iron gate to clang behind him and then knocked on the door. They waited for a few moments, and then Harry knocked again. The door opened to reveal a rather pretty blonde woman in a maid's outfit.
Harry had lived for most of his life in a Muggle village and knew perfectly well that maids simply didn't dress like that any more. He couldn't help staring her, he was sure his expression must be one of total astonishment. He pulled himself together after a moment and said, "I'd like to speak to Mr Potter, please." He seriously hoped that the wobble in his voice was audible only to him.
The maid's brow creased as if he'd asked her to calculate the circumference of a circle without knowing the value of pi. The silence lengthened and then she said, "I'll see if he's available. You had better come in and wait." Harry sincerely hoped that the feeling he had, akin to that of a mouth closing as the door shut behind them, was simply an illusion. The maid left them alone in the hall.
They looked around, Harry and Ron caught each other's glance; the hall was pleasant but not large - certainly not to anyone who had attended Hogwarts. The wait stretched; suddenly the door at the end of the hall opened and a woman came out. Harry recognised her as his father's wife, Bellatrix. It suddenly occurred to him that this perhaps wasn't such a good idea - but it was too late to back out now. He was also very aware that he and Ron had had a longish journey by Muggle train and a strenuous walk through damp country lanes, neither of which had done anything to improve their appearance.
Bellatrix gave the impression of looking down on Harry from a great height. This had to be an illusion because she wasn't very much taller than he was and he wondered how she did it. She said, "I understood from Megan that you would like to speak to my husband?"
"That's right," said Harry. "I'm Harry Evans and this is my friend, Ron Weasley."
Bellatrix's expression became even more censorious, but she said, "I've heard of you, of course. What made you come here I cannot imagine."
"There are matters I need to talk to...Mr Potter about." Harry almost said, 'my father' but felt that the reminder would probably have been unwelcome in the circumstances.
"What matters?" she asked.
"They're private," said Harry.
"My husband and I have no secrets from each other," said Bellatrix.
Harry wasn't sure how to take that and therefore said nothing.
At that moment a door opened at the end of the hallway and a man entered, "Bella? Who...? Oh."
Harry's first thought on seeing his father for the first time was that he'd expected him to be taller. He didn't know what to say; he'd waited for this, planned it even, but now it was happening he wasn't sure he was at all equal to it.
Bellatrix broke the silence, "Mr Evans and Mr Weasley weren't staying long."
James Potter ignored her. He said, "Perhaps Megan could bring some tea to the study?"
"I'll ask her," said Bellatrix. She turned away and went back through the door.
"This way." James led them from through into a study. At least, Harry had an initially confused impression of books and a desk, but then James led them to a couple of chairs and a sofa by a small fire.
After a moment's silence during which they all sat and looked at each other, James said, "It's Lily, isn't it? The reason why you came to see me."
"Yes," said Harry. "And Professor Digitalis, of course," he added as an afterthought.
"Professor...? Oh, yes. Carola."
"Aunt Petunia told me that you went to see her after...after it happened. You asked her to keep quiet about it. Does that mean that you know who has her?"
"Petunia wasn't supposed to tell anyone..."
"But I'm Lily's son!" said Harry. "My Aunt had to tell me what happened. Do you know where Mum is?"
"If I knew where she was I'd have rescued her by now!" James was annoyed.
"But do you know who's holding her?"
"If I knew who I'd know where," said James.
"Does the same person have Professor Digitalis?" asked Harry.
"As far as we know."
Harry had not missed the 'we'. "So you are not working alone."
James looked annoyed as if he hadn't expected to be caught out. "I can't tell you that."
"But you are doing something?"
"Yes," said James, after a pause. "But I cannot tell you what."
Ron suddenly broke in, "What proof do you have that either Professor Digitalis or Auntie Lily are still alive?"
Harry was grateful; he had been trying to think of a way of asking this.
"There are...ways," said James.
At that moment Megan came in with a tray, which she placed on the coffee table in front of the fire. James poured coffee for the three of them from a pot and Harry and Ron exchanged glances. Being used to instant coffee from a jar and made in the mug they'd rarely seen a coffee pot and it seemed odd. Harry and Ron both added milk to their cups; James took his black, which made Ron grimace in horror. Harry smiled to himself.
It was obvious they were going to get little out of James and the conversation turned to more general matters. At the end of it Harry didn't like his father much; he seemed like a pretentious bastard in Harry's opinion - but at least he now had some experience of him on which to base that opinion.
Harry looked back at Morris Court as they were leaving, he was sure that just for a moment, he'd seen the figure of a man standing in an upstairs window - or had it been Bella? Harry could not be sure.
"Come on," said Ron. "We'll have to get well out of the village."
Harry yawned. "Coming," he said.
Ron sat on the damp stile leading between the churchyard and the recreation ground. "I'll have to rest for a bit before we try to apparate to Hogsmeade. I'm exhausted."
Harry sat beside him, he was glad to stop, he hadn't quite liked to admit how tired he was. "Yeah," he said.
Ron blinked, it looked to Harry as if he were doing it in slow motion. "But why?" he said. "I mean, any journey is hard work but not like this..." Ron yawned this time. "Not this hard."
"No." Harry frowned. "I suppose not." He leaned back against the stile to stop the world from spinning. "It's a long way to Hogwarts and we don't want to splinch ourselves."
"Definitely not," said Ron, just before he fell sideways onto the damp grass.
Waking was like pulling himself up from the bottom of a deep well with his fingernails. Harry could see a dirty ceiling, not immediately familiar and his first thought had been that they had both been inordinately stupid. He realised this even before he was properly awake. He heard Ron's deep and heartfelt groan and started - he hadn't expected there be to be anyone else there.
"Ron?" Harry coughed to clear his throat then tried again, "Ron?"
"What?" said Ron. His voice too was rough.
"Just checking it's you," said Harry.
"Where are we?"
"No idea, I was hoping you might know."
"How would I?" Ron sounded a little testy, and Harry smiled.
Harry felt down to his jeans, with a sinking heart, "I don't suppose you have your wand?"
"No. And there are anti-Apparition wards on this place. Wherever it is."
Harry sat up slowly, his head throbbed with pain and even this small movement made him feel sick. He held the nausea back with an effort, the last thing they needed right now was vomit all over the floor.
Looking round Harry revised his opinion; he thought that vomit might improve the décor because the room they were in was small and outstandingly dingy. There were two iron bedsteads each with a dirty mattress. The window had a metal cover of some sort. The walls were grey painted brick and what light there was came from a faded sphere near the ceiling. Harry looked at this curiously; it did not look to be an electric light and yet in the wizarding world they usually relied on oil lamps and torches.
"They have them..." Ron coughed, "at St Mungo's." He'd been following Harry's gaze. "I saw them that time Bill got on the wrong side of that expanding curse and we had to visit him. Nine feet tall, he was, before the Healers sorted him out."
"I remember," said Harry. At least, he remembered Ron mentioning it.
Moving yet more carefully, Harry stood and shuffled over to the window. He had been right, the shutters were fastened from the outside and they didn't budge when pushed. Putting his eye to the crack - and it was the merest crack - all Harry could see was a painted brick wall on the other side of some kind of narrow corridor. He thought there might be daylight but he was at the wrong angle to be quite certain.
The door was also metal; it didn't move when pushed or kicked, either, and Harry surmised it also was locked from the outside. He returned to sit dispiritedly on the bed.
"What shall we do?" asked Ron.
"How about an invigorating game of 'I spy'," said Harry. "I'll go first...I spy with my little eye, something beginning with 'b'."
"Bed!" said Ron, entering into the spirit of the thing. "I spy..."
"I can't see anything beginning with a 'p' in here," said Harry.
"Yes you can."
"I can't," said Harry, who was already bored with the game.
"Pipe!" said Ron, triumphant.
"Yes...look up there."
Ron was right, running from left to right across the back of the room there was a metal pipe about two inches in diameter. "Pity neither of us know Morse code," said Harry.
"It's a Muggle thing; I saw it on television in the hotel room last time we went on holiday. They use it to send messages by tapping."
Harry demonstrated on the end of his bed with the heel of his hand.
"What did that mean, then?"
"No idea. Nothing, probably. I don't know Morse code."
Ron frowned, then jumped up. "Let's have a go, anyway. At least we might find out something." He pulled his bed towards the back wall, climbed on it, pulled a shoe off and started to tap the pipes.
"You have to stop and listen sometimes," said Harry, amused by Ron's enthusiasm.
Ron did so. To his astonishment, he was answered by a faint, distant noise - someone responding. "At least we're not alone," he said.
"Doesn't get us very far," said Harry. "And have you noticed? No loo, just that bucket. I suppose it's too much to expect that we'd be kidnapped by someone thoughtful."
Time wore on, though they had no way to mark its passing other than by an increase in their thirst, hunger and need to use the lavatory. Finally, there came a noise at the door, and both stood back, not knowing what to expect.
The door opened to reveal a man holding a wand. They both backed away when he gestured with it, and a house-elf followed him in. It was carrying a tray and an empty bucket. The house-elf put down the tray and the bucket, picked up the bucket in the corner and sidled out again behind the man. The door closed - Harry and Ron hadn't seen either man or elf touch it - and they heard the noise of the lock clicking home.
"What is it?" Harry asked. Ron was inspecting the contents of the tray.
"Porridge," said Ron. "No sugar or milk that I can see."
"Still," said Harry. "It's food." He pulled a bowl towards him.
"Harry! It might be poisoned!"
"It might. But I think if they wanted to kill us they would have already done so. All that time we were unconscious, it would have been so simple."
Ron thought this over then picked up the other bowl and the horn spoon that came with it and dug in. "I think they made this with water," he said, after a few moments.
"I wonder if Hermione's told Professor McGonagall yet," said Harry. He was trying to keep his mind off the food.
"Hope so," said Ron. "I wouldn't like to think that we were alone in being scared out of our minds."
"And I wonder if anyone's told my father," said Harry, his tone grim. "Assuming it wasn't him who arranged it."
Ron looked up, startled. "You don't seriously think so, do you?"
"As far as I can work out it was either him or Bellatrix. My money's on Bella, but we can't rule him out. After all, it was James my Mum mentioned when she opened the door to them."
"And who's the squinty, ratty-looking bloke with the wand?"
"No idea," said Harry. "Could be anyone." Having finished the porridge, he went over and checked the door again. He had no expectations that it would open but he gave it a good shove anyway. He was right, it didn't move. "How are we going to get out?" he asked.
"No idea," said Ron. He was lying back on his bed, watching. "There are two of them, even if one is a house-elf."
"How much use would a house-elf be?" said Harry.
Ron didn't answer; he seemed to have grasped the meaning of 'rhetorical question' and left Harry to his thoughts.
They woke next day only slightly refreshed. Or, at least, they assumed it to be next day - there was precious little light to go by, even when Harry put his eye to the crack in the window.
They could hear that the weather had changed, the wind howled outside and a puddle of water crept beneath the door. "Let's hope that doesn't get too deep," said Ron, looking down at it.
"And have you noticed the cold?" said Harry, as if either of them could have missed it.
"I've been thinking," said Ron. "There's two of us and two of them..."
Once they had a plan the time seemed to pass even more slowly. Harry found it hard to maintain his concentration; he was listening for feet outside the door. Ron seemed to be seemed to be as bad, he paced the room restlessly avoiding the puddle which grew steadily as they watched.
At last they heard what they had been waiting for and moved to their agreed positions.
The door opened slowly and they saw the wand first. Not seeing Harry or Ron, the man hesitated, but the house-elf slipped past him with the tray and the bucket and he followed. Harry and Ron moved quickly, Ron the taller and stronger to tackle the man and Harry to overpower the house-elf.
Neither task proved as easy as they had hoped, this kind of thing was far harder than their Defence Against the Dark Arts lessons had made it seem. Harry was doing his best to help Ron, but the house-elf kept kicking him in the shins and its horny little feet were harder than they had any right to be.
At last Ron wrested the man's wand out of his hand - which had been his aim all along, and he pointed it at him with a desperate, "Petrificus Totalus!" yelled at the top of his lungs. The man fell nose down in a puddle of water.
Together they tied up the house-elf and then Ron turned the man over, feeling that there would be a massive amount of trouble to follow if even their captor drowned. The man's small watery eyes flicked from side to side, meaning Ron's spell hadn't been as effective as they had hoped, and, if a petrified person could be said to have an expression this man was panicking.
"Come on!" said Ron.
Harry spared man and elf a last glance and followed Ron out of the room.
They were immediately freezing; the corridor they had been able to see dimly through the cracks in the window blinds had no roof. They were in a concrete-lined dip, open to the elements. Harry shivered. "This way," he said.
"No," said Ron. "What about the other people?" He indicated with the wand. There was another door behind them. "Alohomora!" he tried, with little expectation of success. He was right, the door stayed locked.
"Give me a go," said Harry.
Somewhat reluctantly Ron handed over the wand. "Adaperio!" said Harry. Finally Harry said, "Explaxo!" For a moment he thought that this hadn't worked, either, but then the door fell from its hinges outwards and crashed to the floor sounding like the end of the world had come.
They looked inside, wary of what they might find. "Hello?" called Harry, uncertainly. Surely nobody could have missed that racket?
There was no answer, and the room was dark. "Lumos!" said Harry and the wand-tip lighted, though with some reluctance. Harry remembered that he often had difficulties with other people's wands.
He inched forward, into the room and looked around. For a moment he thought the thing on the bed as a heap of rags, but then it resolved itself into a person. Or, as he moved closer, what had been a person.
Carola Digitalis's face was pale, and now Harry knew why that colour was called dead white. He did not have to touch her to know that she wasn't breathing and there was a smell of putrefaction he knew that he would never mistake for anything else.
Harry swallowed his fear, and turned away to face Ron, whose face was almost as white as that of the corpse. Harry said, "We have to find my Mum."
There were no other doors off this passageway, but a flight of steps led upwards. Harry climbed up, trying not to make too much noise. As soon as he could he looked out, but could make little enough of what he could see - concrete discs rising a few feet above the surrounding grass, and here and there metal bars.
There was nothing for it but to go up. Even once they were out of the stone corridor affair there was no-one around. Harry led the way to the nearest set of bars and, as he had suspected, another flight of stairs led down to another stone corridor.
"How many of these are there?" said Ron.
"I can see three," said Harry, quietly.
This one held two barred areas like old-fashioned cells, but these were empty - at least of people. Someone had been using them to store supplies. Harry and Ron didn't examine these too closely; they had a feeling they were short of time.
The next stone corridor looked initially the same as the original, but the puddles weren't as deep. Harry took a deep breath and the wand at the first lock. Again cast Explaxo and again the door crashed outwards. This time Harry heard a movement inside. He pushed the door open.
"Mum?" he called.
"Harry?" Lily almost knocked him over, "It's you! What the hell are you doing here? I was expecting... Never mind who I was expecting, you're here! I...need help with her." Lily showed them inside the cell, there was another witch, unconscious and almost skeletally thin.
Lily hugged Harry again and again until he said, "Mum! I can't breathe!"
"How are we going to get out of here?" said Ron. "Especially with her...who is she, anyway?"
"Ron!" Lily turned to him, "You too! How... What are you both doing here?" She took breath at last, and said, "Her name's Augusta Longbottom - she wrote a letter to the paper and..."
"Never mind that now." Harry had no wish to start investigating irrelevant matters now, or to have to give explanations about why or how he'd left the school. "Where are our wands?"
"You haven't found where Wormtail and Dobby have been living?" said Lily.
"Wormtail?" said Ron.
"Dobby?" said Harry, at the same moment.
"The man and the house-elf," said Lily. "The man's name's really Peter Pettigrew..."
"Come on," said Harry. "Tell me later."
Harry led the way to the room next to Lily's cell - they had to leave Augusta Longbottom where she lay. As soon as they were inside, he could see what she meant; Wormtail had had to prepare food somewhere. Harry thought that had he realised Wormtail's slender grasp on kitchen hygiene he'd have reconsidered eating anything he'd cooked.
"Look around for our wands," said Lily, though this instruction was hardly necessary. "Here," she held out her hand for Wormtail's wand, "Accio!" Nothing happened. She tried again, and again nothing happened. "They must be well hidden," she said.
"Or locked up," said Harry. "What shall we do?"
"We'll have to get away from here," said Ron. "Only thing I can think of is that we Apparate - one of us Apparates - to somewhere we're reasonably safe and that one brings help. Do you know where we are?" he asked Lily.
She shrugged, "As far as I can tell, we're on an island off the coast of Northumberland."
"What makes you think that, Auntie Lily?" said Ron.
Lily pointed at the wall. "That map."
"Oh, right," said Ron.
In the end, Harry took the wand and Apparated. It was possible of course, to Apparate to the wrong destination, but Harry was sure nothing he had done had caused this. He had no idea where he was.
"Young Mr Evans, I presume?" A high, cold voice was behind him.
Harry turned around. He recognised Voldemort immediately from the many times he'd seen him pictured in the Daily Prophet. "Where am I?" he asked. It seemed his most pressing problem.
"You are my guest," said Voldemort.
That was an answer, of sorts, Harry thought. "Thank you," he said, not meaning it. "But I'd like to leave now. I have an appointment elsewhere." Voldemort smiled and Harry's blood ran cold - every hair on the back of his head seemed to be standing up, a most curious sensation.
"I think not, Mr Evans. You have been most...inventive...in getting this far and Wormtail will suffer for it. But this is as far as you go."
"I didn't imagine," said Harry, "that you would want the world to know that you kidnapped the friends and family of your political opponents to prevent them from speaking out." He knew he had to keep talking. "I'm surprised that you thought you could get away with it for so long..."
"Silence! I do not care to hear the prattle of a child..."
"Or the arguments of your opponents," came a new voice from behind Voldemort.
Voldemort turned. "Potter!" he spat. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to talk to you about Lily," said James. He moved forward into the light.
"Ah, yes. Your pet Mudblood," said Voldemort.
Harry felt his jaw tighten, but James smiled. "Yes, that Lily. Where is she?"
"Well hidden..." said Voldemort.
"They're off the coast of Northumberland," said Harry.
"Ah," said James. "Foolish of me. The abandoned World War I gun emplacement on that estate you bought. Set up for limited Apparition, I expect. Very clever."
James appeared to be coming closer - at least Voldemort was backing in Harry's direction. Harry moved sideways, then around, closer to James. He desperately wished he knew what the plan was, or even if there was one.
"Too clever for you," said Voldemort, a moment before he disappeared.
James turned to Harry. "Well done," he said. "You kept your head in a tight spot. Do you think you can Apparate back there?"
"Won't Voldemort be there?" said Harry. He didn't want to admit to not wanting to meet him again.
"I sincerely hope not. Take these two wands to your mother and your friend. When they Apparate back here, I'll see you and... Ron is it? back to Hogwarts."
Harry found this highly unsatisfactory, but wasn't in a position to argue - the most important thing was to get Ron, his mother and the unconscious witch away from that awful place.
Once back at school things didn't improve. Seventh year though he was he had broken bounds, probably as no Hogwarts student ever had before, and there wasn't a trace of a twinkle in the Headmaster's eye. The best he could say was that Severus looked relieved.
Hermione's eyes were distinctly red. Harry wasn't quite sure what to make of that, she'd done exactly as she said she would - the moment Harry and Ron had failed to reappear she'd gone straight to Professor Flitwick. He didn't feel she had anything for which to blame herself.
Lily and the unconscious witch had been taken to the hospital wing at the school rather than moved to St Mungo's; Harry didn't dare ask why. He didn't expect to have much to do with her, but the Headmaster proved merciful - he was to serve detention with Madam Pomfrey rather than with Filch.
He and Ron had come through their adventure largely unscathed - so far.
With his mother back, there was only one remaining serious problem as far as Harry was concerned. Severus. Or rather, the fact that he saw Severus so rarely and usually in a classroom setting, and that Severus generally ignored him.
Nor did his mother show any immediate sign of leaving even after he overheard Madam Pomfrey say that she was recovered. He knew from the conversations they'd been able to have after he'd finished cleaning bedpans that she'd written to Petunia and received a somewhat grudging reply. Harry was convinced that Hermione had been right about Petunia's desire for Lily's few bits of things.
Harry also noticed that his father was more often at the school than he thought reasonable for a man who surely had other things to do. He resented it, and was annoyed when one day, coming out of the sluice for more bedpans, he saw his father sitting on his mother's bed holding her hand. He scowled, but neither of them saw him.
After two weeks back at school, he was beginning to settle back down to his lessons; his NEWTs were coming up in June, as if he could forget with Hermione around, and he knew he'd have to support himself once he left school - there was no-one to do it for him.
Harry had little to do with Caligula and Messalina Potter and though he saw them walking with their father in the grounds from time to time they never, to his knowledge, went near Lily.
He was therefore curious when he saw them one day outside the hospital wing as he approached for yet another detention. He hung back, so that they didn't see him watching. The door was slightly open and they were peering in through the crack. Harry could hear Caligula whispering, "I can only see that old bag in the other bed. Move! I said, 'move', fuckface!"
And Messalina, "Whose fault is that?" A pause. Messalina again, "My owl should be there by now, and Mummy will be so cross."
Caligula said, "Gross! He's kissing her! Evans's Mudblood mother! Oh, that is really gross! Tongues!"
"Shut up!" said Messalina. "They'll hear us."
Harry had heard enough; he stepped forward from behind a gargoyle and stood behind them, looking down. "Report to Professor Sinistra at once and tell her that I've assigned you each five hundred lines," he said. He didn't often use his powers as a prefect, but took particular pleasure in doing so now.
Messalina and Caligula tumbled away from the door and both looked up at him from the floor. They picked themselves up and dusted themselves down. As they did this, Caligula said, "I don't have to do what you say!"
"I think you will find that you do," said Harry. "Off you go, now." He smiled to himself as he watched them go...all that time he'd spent with Severus had paid off.
As soon as his detention was over, Harry went to the ward see his mother - and for once he was not angry to see James Potter by her bed. To an extent he shared Caligula and Messalina's view of the situation - his parents were sharing a look which could only be described as 'hopelessly soppy'. He hoped that he didn't look too much like that when he looked at Severus, but he rather suspected he did.
"I've some rather bad news for you," he said.
Reluctantly, James and Lily turned their attention from each other on to him, "What's that, Harry dear?" His mother held her arms out to him and he gave her a kiss on the forehead. He didn't offer his father a handshake.
"You were seen," he said. With his father on it, there was no room for him on his mother's bed, so he sat down in the chair beside it. "Caligula and Messalina."
He was sure his father went several shades paler, and Lily's hand flew to her mouth. "Oh, no!" she said.
Madam Pomfrey came out of her office, "Are you upsetting my patient, Mr Evans?"
"It's not his fault," said James. "He needed to talk to her."
"I can't allow it," said Madam Pomfrey, "she's only just recovering from..."
At that moment the door slammed open and they all turned. Bellatrix Potter stood in the doorway, holding her wand, and so furious Harry was sure he could see sparks in her hair. Behind her stood Voldemort, a strange, almost serpentine, smile on his face.
Madam Pomfrey recovered first, "Get out of here! I can't have you..."
"Petrificus Totalus!" shouted Bellatrix, and Madam Pomfrey fell to the floor, still and silent.
James stood up, holding his hands out to his wife in a gesture of acknowledgment. "Bella," he said. "I know this is going to be hard for you but..."
"No, Bella!" Voldemort's voice, sharp as a knife.
She turned to him, "Why not...you see how cruelly I have been betrayed, you see..."
"Yes, Bella. I do see." Voldemort was moving up the ward, his walk graceful and as serpentine as his smile. "I have been expecting this."
James smiled, showing all his teeth in a predatory look. "A prediction is only valid if you make it in advance. No amount of 'just as I predicted' after the event will cut it, I'm afraid."
"You..." Bellatrix raised her wand a second time, but again she was cut short - a whip-crack of green light, and she was splayed out on the floor. Harry turned to see Severus at the doorway, wand raised. The Headmaster was standing behind him.
"This is a school!" said Dumbledore as entered the hospital wing.
Voldemort turned to face Snape, indifferent to Dumbledore's words. "Severus."
"Indeed." Snape kept his wand raised, as if duelling.
Voldemort raised his wand in response. "I did not give you permission! Avada..."
Voldemort did not finish his spell. Harry realised what was about to happen and started to speak before him, the words of the killing curse on his tongue as if he used the spell every day. Voldemort fell to the ground, thrashed for a few moments and then lay still. The old witch, Augusta Longbottom, was the first to move; she stood over him and spat, wetly, onto the still body.
"We thought it was over," said Lily after a moment. "All those years ago..."
"He killed my grandson," said Augusta Longbottom, after a moment's silence. "Took him from his mother's arms. Poor thing, she's never been the same since."
Harry looked at both his parents, then turned away from them. They had each other. "Severus?" he said, uncertain.
Severus moved forward towards him, pointedly ignoring James. Harry stood in the circle of his arms. "There will be a future for us," said Severus. "I promise."