A/N: Your reviews are appreciated. This isn't the longest chapter, but I'd like to think we've moved things along plot-wise.

Chapter 9

By

Lord Silvere & Claihm Solais

Harry's first opportunity to attend a Hogwarts staff meeting arrived far sooner than he would have liked—or perhaps it was far too late. If the first staff meeting had come to pass earlier, he might have been able to avoid an awkward subject that would inevitably be brought up at the meeting Professor McGonagall had pointedly invited him to attend. Deliberately timing his arrival, Harry slipped into the teacher's lounge and sat down on a corner chair just as Professor Dumbledore stood to call the meeting to order.

"Let us begin," Dumbledore said, his blue eyes twinkling as his gaze passed over each staff member. It was as if the headmaster enjoyed nothing more than having a good staff meeting. Harry, on the other hand, was terribly intimidated by the other professors and dreading the attention that would come his way.

"I regret that we've been unable to meet prior to this time," Dumbledore continued. "As luck would have it, the post-holiday season has been busier for me than even the holiday season was. However, I'm sure that the lack of a staff meeting has been no impediment to your teaching."

A few of the teachers shifted a little in their seats as if agreeing. Harry wondered if perhaps they considered these meetings to be a little bit of a waste of time. He supposed that he would soon know for himself.

Dumbledore passed a small stack of parchment sheets to Professor McGonagall. "Mr. Filch has informed me that several new . . . humor producing products have been introduced to the public recently. He fears that certain students may have stocked up over the holidays. He naturally has added them to the list of banned items."

Harry took his copy of the list and barely glanced at it.

Dumbledore didn't seem to expect anyone to study Filch's list closely either. Almost immediately, he moved onto other items. The OWLs and NEWTs had been scheduled for the same days they were always administered, the prefects had been patrolling the halls and encountering only the usual problems, Professor Carmichael's dog had been fed a love potion—Potter, Black, et al. were probably responsible, and the Slytherins were seeming more unruly than usual—couldn't Professor Dewey get a handle on them? Harry wondered if this Dewey fellow was as biased for Slytherin as Snape was. He certainly looked like an unpleasant sort of person.

The next subject, unfortunately, applied to Harry.

"Normally, I would wait until the end of the meeting to do introductions, but I think it might be appropriate to formally introduce our Potions instructor, Harry Ashworth, to all of you," Dumbledore said. "I realize that we're long overdue in personally acquainting you with the rest of the staff, Mr. Ashworth, but would you nevertheless humor us by telling us a little about yourself?"

Harry suppressed a sigh, wondering if he was supposed to stand up. Doing so would make him feel even more like a student, so he opted to remain sitting and to keep his introduction short. "I'm Harry Ashworth. Basically, I'm from Australia. I recently arrived here and was fortunate enough to get hired to teach potions until Professor Slughorn is able to return. I'm rather impressed with the students and this school. I never thought that I'd have the opportunity to teach at Hogwarts." Seeing that he was already losing the interest of the staff, Harry concluded his remarks, hoping that he had not made too much of a fool of himself.

"Fascinating," Dumbledore said, looking as if he really meant it.

This was then followed by each of the staff introducing themselves at Dumbledore's prompting. They all said their name and some of them even mentioned what subject they taught. Harry sensed that they weren't really interested in making his acquaintance. Either they were anticipating that his tenure would be short or they thought him inconsequential or both.

"Our next topic of interest," Dumbledore said as soon as introductions had concluded, "is yesterday's incident in the first-year potion class."

Harry winced. This was the awkward subject he had not been looking forward to. He supposed that he would just have to get it over with quickly. "The first-year Hufflepuff Stebbins melted a cauldron," Harry stated succinctly.

The head of Hufflepuff house took offense at this. "Are you implying something, Mr. Ashworth?"

Once he thought about it, Harry realized he had been implying something, but he wasn't about to admit it. "Of course not, Ms. Carmichael," Harry said blandly, trying not to snigger at the thought of her love-potioned dog. "The Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors share that potion class. I was merely referring to the specific class in which the incident occurred."

Professor Carmichael didn't seem satisfied with Harry's response, but there wasn't much she could say.

Harry continued. "Normally, the melting of a cauldron isn't so serious, but Stebbins had been using the wrong ingredients and the spilled potion came into contact with his partner's potion ingredient kit. That kind of started a long chain reaction and things got pretty bad. Fortunately, Madam Pomfrey took care of everything."

Stupid Stebbins, Harry groused silently. One look at him and Professor Snape would hail Neville as a genius potions master.

The rest of the professors were not impressed. "Why didn't you do something to stop the situation from getting as bad as it did?" Professor Bennings asked.

Harry felt his ears begin to burn red. He had been hoping that this would not come up. "Err . . . it turns out that just the day before I had been practicing some spells, and my wand exploded. Apparently Wanda and Wandel's are not representative of England's better wandmakers. The bottom line is that I don't exactly have a wand with me these days. I haven't had a chance to get out and replace it yet."

Professor Dewey muttered something about hiring Muggles to teach at Hogwarts and Harry felt his ears burn redder.

"I see," Dumbledore said. He seemed to be amused. "Let us all remind ourselves that classroom safety is very important. A wand can be a very useful tool even when we're in situations that normally don't require them. I'm sure that you'll find a replacement wand soon, Mr. Ashworth. It might be better if you avoided certain wandmakers."

"Of course," Harry mumbled.

~!~!~!~!

"I'm not sure what Romulus Malfoy was thinking when he practically forced that Ashworth fellow on us," McGonagall commented to Dumbledore after Professor Binns had finally floated away, leaving her and the headmaster alone.

Professor Dumbledore smiled. "I would give a great deal to know what Mr. Malfoy was thinking, too. I'm sure that once Mr. Ashworth gets the hang of things, he will turn out to be a fine professor."

"He is generally well liked by the students," McGonagall admitted, "but it seems rather obvious to me that he doesn't have a clue as to what he's doing in that classroom!"

"Few of us did when we first started teaching," Dumbledore said, trying to be fair.

"I suppose," McGonagall muttered. "Someone had better keep an eye on him though. He might accidentally do something far worse."

Dumbledore smiled benignly. "Keeping an eye on Ashworth's . . . progress wouldn't hurt. Let me know if you notice anything interesting."

~!~!~!~!

Bellatrix peered over the top of a dueling manual and looked at Rodolphus Lestrange. He, Rabastan, Lucius Malfoy, and a select few other slugs were sitting in a dark corner of the Slytherin common room with a bottle of firewhiskey. Severus Snape sat not far away looking like he would enjoy nothing more than joining them. It was not to be his lot, however.

Rodolphus and his friends were laughing uproariously. Bellatrix was well aware of the subject of their laughter, as was every other student in the castle. It was only these fools who were doing the laughing though.

Bellatrix ground her teeth as Rodolphus began the story yet again. "And then they said 'why didn't you do something, Ashworth?' Do you know what he said then?" Guffaws ushered in the next line. "'I don't have a wand.'"

"What a pathetic excuse of a wizard he is," Lucius drawled.

Bellatrix shook her head. If you're going to drawl, drawl so you don't sound like a slack-jawed nincompoop! she thought.

"I've got an idea," one of Lestrange's cronies piped up. "Let's get some fake wands from the joke shop this weekend and send them to him with sympathy cards!"

More laughter.

Bellatrix practically threw the book the floor. Idiots! She nearly stalked away from the room angrily and even considered throwing some well-merited insults their way to take them down a peg or two, but she remembered that she was supposed to be prying information out of the Lestrange brothers. She steeled herself, stood, and sidled over to where Harry Ashworth's wizards of interest sat plotting ways to waste their time.

"Something tells me that Ashworth would catch on to what was happening by the second wand," Bellatrix announced.

They stopped and stared at her. It was Rodolphus who replied. "So, Bellatrix Black herself has deigned to favor us with her presence. I guess you would know how clever Ashworth might be. You certainly spend enough time with him, don't you?"

"That's what happens when you get detentions and screw up your homework," Bellatrix sneered at them. "I notice you've been spending plenty of time with McGonagall lately. Trying to make something happen there?"

Lestrange growled angrily and Bellatrix thought she might have even spotted a tinge of red near his neck. She didn't miss a beat and turned to Lucius. "I've seen you in Professor Dewey's classroom more than a few times." She hadn't, but the Malfoy moron certainly would be likely to kiss-up to his head of house. Lucius's eyes widened with shock, but he didn't have a chance to retort.

"We've missed your acidic personality," Rodolphus laughed—though it did sound slightly forced to Bellatrix.

Bellatrix sat down and prepared for boredom. She knew her luck well enough to realize that there was no way Lestrange was going to spill whatever it was Ashworth was looking for very soon. There was going to be plenty of talk that would make her tired all over first—several night's worth probably. Nevertheless, she stabbed in the dark. "Tell me about you grand schemes, Lestrange. Tell me you want to do something cleverer than a first-year-prank on a professor."

~!~!~!~!

It was Hogsmeade Weekend. For some reason, Harry was excited even though he technically had the ability to visit Hogsmeade any time he so wished. Harry had already bundled up in a winter cloak and was on his way to the village, passing Filch and the long line of students with permission slips in hand. Technically, their names were on the list, but Filch was so stingy that sometimes they had to wave the pieces of parchment their parents (or friends) had signed under his nose.

Harry absently wondered whether Bellatrix would be irritated with him for leaving the castle without her. It wasn't as if he had committed to go to Hogsmeade with her, but she had taken to sticking around him on a fairly regular basis. At least an hour of her daily homework was spent on the end of his desk while he graded papers and desperately tried to plan lessons. She didn't always say much, but her facial expressions were enough. She wanted to know about his future and she wanted to practice dueling. Fortunately she had been too busy for the latter and for the former, only resorting to trying to guilt-trip him. Harry didn't think Bellatrix would ever be able to successfully guilt-trip him—especially if she ever found out about the 'you killed my godfather' that was hanging over her. Would it ever be fair to try and guilt-trip her over something her future self had done? Harry shrugged and shelved the question. He had arrived at his primary destination.

According to an owl-dropping splattered business directory Harry had found in the owlery, Zimon's was the mostly likely place once might find a wand short of going to Diagon Alley—also the only place short of shelling out the better part of a month's pay for a wand. Harry supposed he would have to pay Ollivander a visit eventually, but for some reason, he just didn't feel like going all that distance so he could be dissected by Ollivander's mystical, gray eyes.

Harry entered Zimon's and eyed the bell that had announced his presence. It kind of looked like it might have been made from bone. Could bone even make a ringing noise? Apparently so—it had woken up the shopkeeper who was presumably Zimon. The place didn't look prosperous enough to have any employees.

"What are you in the market for, son?"

Great, Harry thought, he's marked me as a Hogwarts student. "I'm looking to browse through your collection of used wands," Harry announced, looking around to see if he might discover where to look before the man gave him directions. Used clothing, books, and other articles littered the shop. He supposed this must be the sort of place the Weasley family was accustomed to shopping at. Harry pushed the thought out. He didn't need to get all worked up about losing his friends from the future.

"Over there," the proprietor yawned, gesturing vaguely.

Harry nodded his thanks and made his way in the direction Zimon had pointed. On a shelf next to some expired potion ingredients he found a box of wands. Harry picked up the box and began rummaging through it. There were all sorts of wands and each had a price tag attached to one end. Eventually, he found two that seemed to feel right—a very pale one whose touch hinted at stickiness and a darker one that had probably been used by someone not used to washing their hands. Harry couldn't make up his mind about which to buy, so he ended up buying both of them for a few sickles, rationalizing to himself that it was only wise to have a spare on hand, at least until he could get to Diagon Alley and buy a proper wand.

With his new set of used wands, Harry wandered down the street to the Three Broomsticks. The visit to Hogsmeade had created in him a desire for some butterbeer. He stepped in from the cold, winter air to find the pub filled with Hogwarts students and the occasional adult. Most of the students were conversing , filling the room with a somewhat loud babble. Harry ordered at the bar and was able to find a small booth where he could sit in peace. He wasn't so sure that trying to sit down with any of the students would be a good idea.

For entertainment, he contented himself with trying to name as many of the students as possible. Technically, he had the vast majority of them in his classes. He ended up doing pretty well, some names came more easily. James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter were sitting at a table laughing merrily. Harry wondered how it could be that Peter had found himself betraying his parents in the future. It certainly seemed like his fellow Marauders were treating him well enough.

Harry wondered where his teenage mother was. Surely she wasn't the type to skip a Hogsmeade visit. He soon received the answer to his question when he overheard a girl talking in a booth not far from him, but out of eyesight.

"I bet I know who Lily fancies!" said one rather high-pitched girl.

"Who?" squealed another.

"It's Professor Ashworth, of course," said the first.

"You don't know that!" came Lily's voice.

"She's blushing!" squealed the second in an even more high-pitched voice.

Harry didn't know whether to laugh or go to the bathroom and throw up.

"Butterbeer too strong for the likes of you?"

Harry looked up and discovered Bellatrix standing above him, her arms folded. Apparently, she had found him. "Err . . . no, it's fine. I love butterbeer," Harry said.

"So what's bothering you?"

"Nothing," Harry lied. "I just need to get out of here. It's a little too crowded."

"I haven't even ordered anything yet," Bellatrix said.

"You don't have to leave," Harry said as he stood and prepared to abandon his booth.

With a frown, Bellatrix moved to follow him. "I'll just follow you," she said.

Harry felt kind of sheepish , but nevertheless, he made his way to the door with Bellatrix. "I was thinking you might have taken the opportunity to get in with Lestrange or something," Harry said casually.

"I did," Bellatrix said, "but Lestrange, his friends, and I only stayed together for a little bit. We kind of got separated."

"Oh," Harry said as they stepped out into the street. Apparently she had been trying to do something useful. He now felt kind of guilty. Last week, he had beaten the snot out of her, and then this week he had practically hustled her out of the Leaky Cauldron before she had been able to order anything. He supposed he owed her something. "Why don't we go somewhere else," Harry suggested. "There's got to be more than one pub in town."

"That would be nice," Bellatrix commented. She was looking toward the tea shop that Harry knew would in one future day be named after the infamous Madam Puddifoot.

"There?" he asked, wincing.

Bellatrix snickered. "Not unless you want to get fired for trying to romance a student."

Harry suddenly felt the probability of his being sick skyrocket. "Do you know a good place?"

"Sure," Bellatrix said. "I think there's something down this way." She nodded toward a side street and the two started walking in that direction. "There's another, smaller commercial center of town. If you're a student and want to sneak out of the castle for a visit to Hogsmeade, it's wiser to go there than to the other shops that know for sure that you're a student."

"Clever," Harry said, wondering why he had not sneaked out of the castle more often when he was a student.

Bellatrix seemed to read his mind. "Did you sneak out of the castle often when you were a student?"

"Not really," Harry said.

"I see."

They walked on for a bit in silence, Bellatrix hoping that Harry might talk more about his time at school without realizing that she was essentially interrogating him about his past. Unfortunately, Harry simply was not in a talkative mood at that moment and ultimately did not volunteer any new information.

"Here's a good place," Bellatrix announced, pointing to a small café. The café had a wooden sign hanging in front of the door. Painted on the sign was a wizard in blue. There didn't seem to be a name though. Bellatrix explained this. "Ownership of this place has passed through so many hands that no one ever bothers to name it anymore."

Harry nodded and the two of them walked in together. There were a few customers: a man drowsing at a table with a Daily Prophet, a few old ladies gossiping with each other, and a couple of wizards that looked like they might be having a small business meeting. The server eventually noticed them and gestured for Harry and Bellatrix to have a seat. She soon came over and asked what they would like to eat.

Harry wasn't sure what to say because no menu had been provided. Bellatrix noted Harry's hesitation and ordered soup and sandwiches for both of them. The server left, but returned with two glasses and a pitcher of water. After she left again, Bellatrix took it upon herself to push the conversation along. "Did you ever have a girlfriend, Ashworth?"

Harry shrugged uncomfortably, deliberating in his mind whether he wanted to answer the question. "Sort of," he finally admitted. His first thought was Cho—the wintery Hogsmeade weekend and the sighting of the tea shop had reminded him of his unfortunate outing with her. But then his thoughts turned to Ginny. He looked out the window to the street as he dwelled on Ginny and the rest of the Weasley family.

Bellatrix didn't say anything for a moment. After a little bit, she opted to prod Harry for more. "Sort of?"

"My best-mate's little sister," he admitted forlornly. "We started dating for a bit, but then things got busy. Eventually, she died . . . I guess. Perhaps we should have dated anyway. Some would have been better than none."

"I see," Bellatrix said quietly, turning to the pitcher to fill up her glass with some water. It was probably time to change the subject. "Maybe you could give me more details about what I'm looking for with regard to the Lestrange slugs."

Harry was happy to talk about something else. "I'm pretty sure that Lestrange is acquainted with or will be acquainted with certain persons of interest. Establishing that the connection exists and with whom it exists is important."

Bellatrix sighed. "Hogsmeade weekend is the perfect opportunity for the Lestranges to meet up with whoever you're interested in. I really did try to stay with them."

Harry shrugged. "We all do what we can."

"I'm sure that there will be more opportunities as time passes," Bellatrix said optimistically. "I'll just have to gain their trust a little bit more and maybe they'll start talking."

"They don't already trust you?" Harry asked.

Bellatrix shrugged. "I have the family name and a reputation as a sharp witch, but I can't say that I've ever really been with the in-crowd."

Harry frowned. Bellatrix's statement didn't seem to align with his impression of how things had worked with Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Bellatrix had practically been Voldemort's second-in-command. On the other hand, Harry couldn't particularly say that he was cognizant of the Death Eater social situation from the future. Though, the more he thought about it, Harry realized that there was a difference between evil Bellatrix and the rest of the Death Eaters. She was actually devoted, the others had other motivations for following Voldemort—everything from social pressures to hopes of cashing in on Voldemort's promises.

"Do you think I'm lying?" Bellatrix asked.

"No," Harry said quickly. "I was just trying to process that information."

"Process the information?" Bellatrix snickered. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing," Harry said.

There was silence during which the server arrived with a platter of sandwiches and two bowls of soup. Harry nodded graciously while Bellatrix picked up her spoon and began stirring slowly as she thought to herself. Eventually, she came to a conclusion. "You were trying to reconcile what I said about myself to what you know of me from the future."

"Well . . . ah, hem," Harry sounded, trying to think of something to say.

"What was your conclusion?"

Harry sighed. "What you said fits with what I remember."

"Oh."

"Yeah."

"Is that all?"

"Yes."

More silence.

"Did we know each other well?" Bellatrix asked.

Had Harry not been so emotionally tied to the war against the Death Eaters, he would have laughed. However, it was hard for him to summon any mirth over anything tied to that subject. "We were acquainted," Harry admitted.

"Well of course we must have been," Bellatrix mused. "After all, you inherited the Black estate somehow. You probably were acquainted with a lot of Blacks."

Harry shrugged. Depending on how one looked at it, the answer could be affirmative or negative.

"How did you obtain my hair ornament though? I must have trusted you a great deal to let you even touch it. Most people don't even know that it exists."

"Suffice it to say, you died and it fell into my hands—sort of." Harry stated. Technically, it had already been in his hands during the moments before her suicide.

Bellatrix gasped and her face paled. "I died? Are you saying that in less than twenty-five years I will, or rather, could have died?"

Harry wanted to say that her death had not come soon enough, but felt that it probably wasn't an appropriate thing to say. This Bellatrix had not yet done anything to merit his hate—at least, he didn't think so. "When I was taken to the past, you were dead," Harry said blandly.

"How did it happen?" Bellatrix demanded, her spoon lying forgotten in the soup.

"I'm sure it's irrelevant," Harry said.

"Not if knowing can prevent it from happening in this timeline," Bellatrix growled angrily.

Harry smiled. It's easy. Don't take your bloody hair ornament and shove it into your chest, he thought. He said something different, however. "The exact situation is unlikely to reoccur," Harry said.

"I want to know," Bellatrix said.

"I'm not going to tell you," Harry said. The expression on her face caused him to change his mind—slightly. "Perhaps I'll tell you another time. You've got lots of time before it even matters," Harry assured her. "It's a very simple thing to prevent."

Bellatrix stared at Harry coldly for several seconds before nodding. "All right, but I'm going to hold you to that."

"No problem," Harry said, smiling weakly.

He reached for his own spoon and began eating his soup. Bellatrix, however, seemed to have lost her appetite. Instead of eating, she was staring at Harry with a blank expression on her face.

"Are you my son?" she asked.

Harry began choking on his soup. "No," he sputtered.

"Are we related by blood?"

"Given that purebloods interbreed incessantly, I'm sure we're related somehow," Harry replied.

"You're a pureblood then?"

"Half-blood," Harry said.

"I see," Bellatrix said, her hand reaching toward a sandwich.

Silently, Harry hoped that she would take one, put it in her mouth, and stop talking. His wish was granted and Harry was blessed with silence. His eyes were drawn to the window and he began studying the shops and residences across the street, wondering if paying a visit to any of these shops he'd never seen before would be worth his while. As he watched, something caught his eye.

"Isn't that Lestrange and some of his cronies coming out of that alley?" Harry asked, craning his neck and squinting to get a better look.

Bellatrix was still chewing her sandwich, but she turned and looked in time to see their retreating back as they walked down the street. She nodded and swallowed. "So they ditched me to come to this part of town, eh?"

"Looks that way," Harry said. "I wonder if they were meeting someone."

"Maybe," Bellatrix said. "Whatever they did, they didn't want to be seen. Both the shop and that house have perfectly good front doors."

Harry nodded, studying the shop and house next to it. The house was well-kept, and the shop advertised itself as being an antique store. "Neither of those places appear to be . . . shady," he commented to Bellatrix.

"Probably nothing," she said dismissively.

Harry doubted it, but he didn't really have any better ideas as to what Lestrange and his buddies could have been up to. He allowed his thoughts to wander. Should he tell Bellatrix more about the future and himself? It probably wouldn't hurt. On the other hand, he didn't really want to. Did he need to though?

"Uh, Ashworth?"

"What?" Harry grunted.

"I think I figured out what Lestrange was doing." Bellatrix announced.

"What?"

Bellatrix gestured toward the antique shop. "He just set that place on fire."

Harry jerked his head toward the shop. Smoke was just beginning to pour from one of the windows and a hint of flame could be seen through the other. "Unbelievable," he growled. He jumped up and began striding toward the door. "I'd better do something."

"No," Bellatrix declared, "we'd better do something." She jumped up and carelessly flung some coins on their table before chasing Harry out into the street.

The smoke had gotten the attention of a few people and a small crowd was beginning to gather in front of the shop. "Are there any firefighters we can call?" Harry asked Bellatrix.

Bellatrix shook her head no. "Wizards and witches usually don't have fire problems like this. I'm sure someone is contacting the Ministry though."

"They'll be too late," Harry said urgently. "There might be someone in there or something I need to see that Lestrange wanted destroyed. I'm going in." He drew one of his newly acquired wands.

"What's that?" Bellatrix demanded.

"I picked it up at Zimon's," Harry said.

Bellatrix sighed and drew her wand. "I'll go with you."

Harry and Bellatrix trotted up to the front door of the shop. Seeing that it was an emergency and that it probably didn't matter too much, Harry opted to take down the door quickly. "Reducto!" The door exploded into splinters and Harry rushed in with Bellatrix on his heels.

Immediately, they began coughing. Smoke had filled the room and one of the walls was burning. Harry used his wand to shoot water at the nearest flames. Much to Harry's annoyance, the water seemed to have no effect on the fire.

"This isn't fiendfyre," Bellatrix said loudly, "but it's the next thing to it. Very Dark."

"Bugger," Harry managed to cough out while Bellatrix cast some charm that seemed to repel the smoke from them a little. He tried to think of a good way to counter fire made from Dark magic, but his mind was coming up dry.

Bellatrix had already considered the countering option and dismissed it. "There's no way you can overcome this," she said urgently. "You'd have to fight fire with fire and unleashing fiendfyre isn't going to help anybody. We've got to do what you want and get out!"

Bellatrix had given Harry an idea though. Harry had thought of Hermione's bluebell flames and was wondering how they might be able to play into the situation. He swept his wand to the wall adjoining the burning wall and shouted the incantation, hoping that he had remembered correctly. Blue fire shot from his wand and leapt onto the wall.

"Are you crazy?" Bellatrix screamed.

"Maybe," Harry shouted. "The bluebell flames are harmless to us. There's nothing to lose."

They watched for a brief moment as the Dark fire that was consuming the wall at an alarming pace met with the bluebell flames that Harry had conjured. Harry was relieved when he saw that the Dark fire didn't consume the surface that the bluebell flames were on.

"Good work," Bellatrix called. "Let's move!"

Harry nodded and moved through a doorway into a larger room. Behind him, Bellatrix was copying the spell and shooting bluebell flames everywhere that wasn't already on fire. Soon, even the floor was burning blue.

The larger room appeared to be the antique dealer's showroom. However, most of the antiques appeared to have been severely damaged or destroyed—the fire was worse in this room. Harry decided that Lestrange must have started the fire here.

"There's no one here," he called, after checking around. "Let's keep moving."

Harry and Bellatrix dashed through the rest of the room and found themselves in a small backroom with a staircase. Bellatrix poked her wand at the staircase and it began burning blue. They ran up the flaming staircase and found themselves in a hallway.

"Separate!" Bellatrix yelled as she ran down the hall and used her wand to destroy a door. She dashed in and Harry did likewise, finding his own door to break through.

He found an empty store room that was already on fire. He retreated and wished that he had not destroyed the door that could have prevented those flames from spreading into the hall. He wasted no time and was soon searching another room and then yet another. He had just searched his last when he heard Bellatrix shout.

He rushed toward where Bellatrix's voice had come from and found her in a room standing over an unconscious wizard.

"He's still alive," Bellatrix said. "Can you side-along Apparate him out of here?"

"Yeah," Harry said, trying to think of the last time he'd Apparated in tandem. It was funny how one could get distracted by such trivial things in the middle of an emergency.

"I'll see you outside," Bellatrix said. She turned and disappeared with a pop.

Harry grabbed the unconscious wizard and tried to force him into a convenient position. He waved his wand and in a pop, Harry found himself standing outside with the wizard in his grasp.

~!~!~!~!

Professor Dumbledore appeared with a pop slightly down the street from the burning shop. Several other pops echoed his and he spotted Ministry employees arriving and rushing toward the fire. He too walked in that direction, but not nearly as quickly. Alastor Moody had alerted him via the Floo that there was a fire in Hogsmeade. Dumbledore had opted to look into the incident. There had been too many such incidents lately.

What he saw, or rather, heard, as he approached the former antiques shop surprised him. It was Bellatrix Black.

"Pine? Pine! Nobody makes wands from pine!"

A voice that sounded like that of Harry Ashworth's mumbled something.

Dumbledore resisted the urge to laugh at the conversation. As he came closer, Ashworth and Black came into sight, as well as an unconscious wizard lying on the ground while being looked over by a mediwitch and some aurors.

"Look, Ashworth," Bellatrix said, "if this is about money, I'll pay for you to go to Ollivander and buy a decent wand!"

"It's not about money," Ashworth groused.

"Then what is it about?"

Dumbledore shook his head thoughtfully as he moved past the two and their ongoing discussion. He spotted Moody and moved quickly to the aged auror. "Alastor," Dumbledore said by way of greeting.

"Albus," Moody nodded. He gestured to the shop. "Basically we can see that someone deliberately set this place on fire. That sort of Dark magic doesn't happen accidentally, and even if it was an accident, it doesn't happen in such a precise way. Someone wanted this place to turn into a heap of ashes real fast. They probably wanted that guy dead as well."

"This is not good," Dumbledore said slowly. "I suppose Mr. Ashworth and Ms. Black are involved."

"Apparently they rushed into the shop and saved the guy."

"How extraordinary," Dumbledore said. "I hope no one can say that either of them might have set the fire in the first place."

From the expression on Moody's face, Dumbledore could see that the aged auror wished that it was the other way around. "All the witnesses agree that those two weren't in a position to start the fire themselves," Moody said. "I checked that theory out already."

"Yet the question as to why they rushed into a burning building remains, I suppose," Dumbledore said.

"Could be anything from heroism or criminal stupidity," Moody growled. "I'll give them one thing though—they did some neat spellwork in there. By the time that Dark fire burns out, there will still be portions of the shop standing."

"Not very much though," Dumbledore noted as he glanced at the flames consuming the outside walls of the shop.

"When you're dealing with that sort of fire, anything at all is impressive." Moody commented, giving a sidelong glance down the street at Harry and Bellatrix who were still discussing something in somewhat heated voices.

Dumbledore fought the urge to burst into laughter as he heard Bellatrix's reaction to whatever it was Ashworth had said.

"Bamboo?"

~!~!~!~!~!

One week later, Harry sat in his private apartments, slumped in an armchair.

"You're going to wrinkle your dress robes," Bellatrix reprimanded him.

"Like it matters," Harry mumbled. He picked up the Daily Prophet and looked at it aimlessly. In it was a follow up story on the antique shop fire in Hogsmeade the previous Saturday. The owner had recovered and somehow, though his shop was nearly all ashes, managed to come to the conclusion that nothing had been stolen by whomever it was that had attacked him. He had not seen the arsonist nor had Harry and Bellatrix told the Ministry anything they knew.

"I bet they're lying," Bellatrix said.

"Why would they lie?" Harry asked, wadding up the newspaper and throwing it into the fire. He didn't want to look at it again. "If something was stolen they'd be looking for it and making lots of noise, hoping to find whoever was responsible."

He turned and looked at Bellatrix. She stood immaculate in black dress robes. The robes accentuated her figure, and her hair had been done up. At the moment she was carefully examining the dinner table she had arranged to have brought to his apartments. For the third time, she was ensuring that each name card was in the right place. In the week leading up to the dinner with the future Death Eaters and other influential purebloods with slightly darker sympathies, they had often discussed the best way to arrange the seating—or rather, she had discussed and he had agreed with whatever she said. However, Bellatrix kept changing her mind about the seating arrangements.

"Yeah? Well, why did Rodolphus and his henchmen even bother? They didn't kill the guy and they didn't steal anything. Sounds like a waste of time." Bellatrix argued. "They must have done it for a reason."

"Maybe you can find out for us," Harry said.

"I'm working on it," Bellatrix replied primly, deftly picking up a few name cards and moving them to different locations.

Harry was thinking of what to say next when the flames in the fireplace changed to green and Orion Black stepped into the room.

Orion Black was not one to show surprise on his face, but Harry was willing to wager that his blank gaze at Bellatrix was him being surprised. It was short-lived however, he turned to Harry purposefully. "I need to speak with you alone."

"Err . . . right," Harry said, looking around. He had two options: ask Bellatrix to step out or invite Orion into the bedroom.

Bellatrix made the choice for him. "I'll be right back," she said, gliding to the door and disappearing into the hall.

Orion drew his wand and shut the door with a quick jab. "You were present when that shop burned down, weren't you?"

"Yes," Harry admitted. "How did you find out? I told the Ministry that I'd rather not have my name appear in any official reports."

"Don't worry about that," Orion said. "Do you know who is responsible for the fire?"

"I have a pretty good idea," Harry replied carefully, wondering just what sort of contacts Orion had in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.

"Would you care to share your thoughts?" Orion asked.

"It was a Hogwarts student," Harry admitted. "I'm pretty sure that this particular student can lead me to what we're looking for."

Orion paced back and forth across the room purposefully, deep in thought. "I've been hearing rumors, Ashworth. The thing that happened at the antique shop was more serious than most people know."

"Would you care to explain?"

"Not right now," Orion said, looking toward the door that Bellatrix had exited through. "You need to increase your efforts, Ashworth. I need to know exactly what is going on!" Orion declared. "You've got to dog this student until you can get information."

"I'm working on it," Harry said, trying to sound confident and competent.

Orion seemed to accept Harry's statement. He glanced at the dinner table that had been set for about a dozen people. "What's this about?"

"It's part of my . . . uh, investigation. I'm hoping to ingratiate myself with some of the suspect students."

"You've got Bella working with you." Orion said. To Harry it sounded like both an accusation and a question.

"She volunteered to handle some of the details," Harry admitted. "Her expertise is valuable."

"Whatever," Orion mumbled. "Just don't get her killed or something. Once you find out what's going on, I want to know immediately—even if it is the middle of the night."

"Right," said Harry.

Orion nodded and strode to the fireplace. He grabbed a pinch of Floo powder from the pot on the mantle and turned to Harry. "I'm serious about this, Ashworth. This isn't an idle curiosity for me anymore. There is something wrong in our world."