The bond that once protected Harry is now killing him by inches. Can it be stopped and who will be able to shoulder the burden?
Looking up through his hanging fringe, Harry saw Hermione and Ginny staring at him with similar dumbstruck expressions on their faces. He supposed he could understand- normally his clothes were ill-fitting and shabby, if not downright rubbish, and the leather trousers and fitted grey t-shirt were decidedly not shabby. The outfit allowed more of his body to show than was displayed when he wore his Quidditch uniform.
What disturbed him were the looks from the rest of the women at the kitchen table. He had walked into the kitchen to get something to drink- and maybe a spatula to help pry me out of the damned cowhide tights!- and found what seemed to be a hen party.
Fleur was staring at him coquettishly through lowered eyelashes, a rosy tinge to her cheeks. A tiny pink sliver of tongue peeked out to slowly wet her lips as she met his eyes for one charged moment and smiled. Incredibly, Harry felt the blush on his face ratchet up another shade of red. Looks like that he could deal with. Seeing the same smile on McGonagall, Vector and Pomfrey's faces made him queasy. The odd gleam in their eyes caused tendrils of ice to creep through his limbs, stealing his strength. He felt... like prey.
"Er... hullo." he mumbled morosely as he shuffled over to a seat.
"Mister Potter," The Deputy Headmistress began in her normal lecturing-a-naughty-student tone, "are those trousers-" and here she dropped her voice to a whisper that was almost reverent, "leather?"
A new crimson blush broke out over Harry's cheeks, replacing the one that just begun to fade as he nodded. "'S Tonks' idea." he muttered in a gravelly voice.
Smiles were shared between the older ladies and the junior Auror as she entered the kitchen behind him. Hermione and Ginny, however, continued to stare at him as if they could see his arse through the table if they just concentrated enough. Harry quickly tried to head off any more talk about his arse or its coverings before someone else could make a comment.
"So... why are you all here today? I thought Professor Dumbledore said he'd contact you today, but we'd start with everything tomorrow."
"I did, Harry." Dumbledore's comment occurred at the same time as the gentle whoosh of displaced air from his portkey. "However, everyone involved decided to use today to prepare the room to examine you in, rather than waste the day tomorrow."
Harry nodded in response, thankful that he could meet someone's gaze without fearing what he'd see there, even if there was a surfeit of twinkling in the old wizard's eyes. "Will you need me for any of the work today, Professor?"
The older man smiled kindly at the dark-haired teenager. "No, we shouldn't, Harry. However, if you have a spare moment I would like to speak with you while the rest head upstairs to assist Filius." Dumbledore threw a pointed look at Professor McGonagall, who tore her attention away from a low-voiced conversation with the women clustered around the end of the table long enough to nod and begin to herd everyone out of the room.
After the ladies had departed, the aged Headmaster turned a charming, amusement-filled smile on Harry. "You know Harry, in my younger days, I too owned a pair of leather trousers." The powerful mage smiled benignly as the younger wizard buried his head in his hands with a strangled groan. "Now, I would like to ask you about the unhealthy interest that all of the women in the room paid you when you walked in. Can I assume you noticed it?"
The green-eyed boy scrubbed his eyes behind the glasses and looked up at the robe-clad man pleadingly. "Please tell me that the rest of this conversation isn't going to involve birds and bees."
Dumbledore's brow gained a new wrinkle for a moment as he parsed that sentence, and then the room was filled with the Headmaster's laughter. "No, Harry. I will not cause you undue mental distress by doing anything like that." He paused to wipe a tear of laughter from his eyes before continuing. "I was just asking if you noticed how women who are normally much more reserved- like Professor McGonagall- were acting much differently than normal." After Harry's emphatic nod, he continued. "I believe that this is a side-effect of the problems with the ward we both experienced yesterday. I will give you a book that will give more detail on what I am trying to explain, but I will couch it in general terms for you now."
"I am a wizard of some skill and power, and being male and old, my magical aura has taken on a male... polarization. Only a slight one, but nevertheless it is there. You are young, male, and a wizard of great power and not a small amount of skill." The elder warlock nodded his head at Harry's embarrassment at the praise. "However, you have not been using magic for long enough, or- the storm at Privet Drive notwithstanding- in quantity enough to polarize your aura even slightly. However, your magical aura is very powerfully male. When we had our..." the Headmaster of Hogwarts looked faintly chagrined, "misunderstanding, you unconsciously tapped a bit of your magic and caused our auras to come in to contact. The effect of two powerful male auras interacting can be likened to mashing two powerful positively charged magnets together. Instead of flying across the room away from each other though, we experienced adverse physical reactions."
Harry could see why Dumbledore had been a popular professor- despite knowing nothing about magical aura polarization he thought he had a decent grasp of what the wizard was talking about. "Does that also explain the weird stuff I saw? Like my mu.." he trailed off and shut his eyes tightly for a moment. In a much rougher voice he asked, "I've been getting shakes in my hands since the end of school, and I've lost track of an hour or two. But I was shaking really bad during the.... whatever it was that happened at the Dursley's, and again in the Hospital Wing. I can keep it from getting too bad if I calm myself down in most cases. Is that tied in to all this too?"
Dumbledore placed a hand under Harry's arm and lifted it, watching the slight quiver of the younger man's fingers with a worried frown, and after a moment of contemplation placed his gnarled but palsy-free hand over the boy's own. "No Harry, what happened there is not tied directly to a clash of our magical auras. We should have simply felt ill, or perhaps blacked out temporarily. Now that you bring that up, it is possible that what happened is the cause of the polarization. That is part of what I have gathered the other professors here to determine."
Releasing Harry's hand, Dumbledore smoothed his robes and continued. "I do not know how your aura became so masculine, and I would not know it even now without having experienced it in the full flush of your anger. Tomorrow's testing will determine the real reasons behind it, and I will not worry you- or myself- with needless speculation." Lowering his voice, the Headmaster turned his eye to the door to ensure it was closed, and leaned in closer to Harry. "Until we find a way to neutralize some of the... potency of the masculinity in your aura, you will find that witches- especially those who are older, powerful, or skilled- will subconsciously pick up on the male polarization rather like a pheromone. Thus the question about the interest that the women in the room showed you when you walked in."
The Boy-Who-Lived gaped at the older wizard. After what seemed like a minute of stunned silence he leaned forward and whispered hoarsely. "Do you mean to tell me that all of this- weirdness- caused them to look at me like a piece of meat? Please tell me this is just a big joke."
That damned twinkle was back in Dumbledore's eyes at full force. "I am sorry, Harry, but you are essentially correct. Please know that it is not a conscious decision to be affected on their part. There is a charm I will ask them to cast that will dampen the effects, however. I will ask all the women to cast it." Dumbledore smiled benignly as he walked to the door. "I'll leave you in peace for the rest of the night, Harry."
"Wait, Professor- you've talked about age, power and skill. Does that mean that Ginny and Hermione are really that powerful?"
Dumbledore stopped and turned slightly, drawing his half-moon glasses down the slope of his nose a bit. "Actually Harry, I think that would have more to do with your choice in trousers."
Harry trudged up the stairs, hurtling at the speed of a common ground sloth, not a teenager who had only spent the morning shopping. As he reached the landing on the second floor he had to lean against the banister for support while he yawned hugely. He turned sleepy green eyes on the flight of stairs to the third floor as Tonks, Hermione and Ginny made their way down. The lively conversation between the three stopped abruptly as the two Hogwarts students caught sight of him.
"Wotcher, Harry." Tonks' smile lacked the edge of lasciviousness that all of the womens' had earlier. The younger girls, walking slightly behind her, still sported the too-wide eyes that reminded him both of Luna Lovegood and a pair of russet and brown owls at the same time. The thought brought a little smile to his face that he covered with another yawn.
"Hey Tonks, Hermione, Ginny. I'm gonna put my things away and catch a nap until dinner." He paused in thought for a second, and turned to the red-haired girl who was gaping at him. "Are your mum and Ron around anywhere, Ginny?"
The youngest Weasley started suddenly as her brain started working. Her eyes roamed down his body before her mouth decided to take over. "Ron's... uh, in trouble, and mum's... at the Burrow, punishing him."
Harry frowned as he blinked sleepily. "What'd the git do?"
Ginny looked over at Hermione. "He, uh..."
"Harry, you know how Ron is when Viktor comes up in conversation. He was just... more expressive than usual." The bushy-haired witch looked a bit flustered, but some of the wildness in her eyes had left.
"Oh." Harry sighed, and paused as it morphed into another jaw-cracking yawn. "Okay, I need to catch that nap now. Tonks wore me out earlier." Smiling crookedly at the blushing girls and the chortling Auror, he made his way to the room.
Just as Harry opened the door and set foot inside, he was startled by a screech and attacked by a white blur.
"Hedwig! My God girl, are you alright?"
Harry dropped his bag unceremoniously to the floor as the snowy owl flapped around his head before landing on his shoulder and nipping at his ear. The wizard ran his hands through Hedwig's chest feathers as he scrabbled through his trunk for owl treats. "My God girl, things have been so crazy, I knew I had forgotten something important!" The owl hooted at him as if to argue the description of merely "important". "I guess coming back from hunting to a destroyed house was scary, huh?"
"I'm going to catch a nap, Hedwig. All this running around has wiped me out, and it's only noon! D'you want out, or are you sleeping yourself?" He smiled as the owl flapped over to the headboard and perched expectantly. "Sounds like a plan to me too." he mumbled, peeling off the tight leather trousers, before dumping the things on the floor and sliding beneath the sheets.
Dinner began as a much more sedate affair than Harry's arrival had been. Harry wasn't sure whether that could be attributed to whatever shielding charm Dumbledore had taught to the professors, the baggy cargo pants he wore, or simply because of Snape's presence at the dinner table- the man was the best mood killer known to Wizard or Mugglekind. Harry had no idea why the Order's spy had attended supper, but ever since the Potions professor had walked through the door, Harry had felt himself on guard and uneasy. Luckily, Professor Flitwick seemed more than happy to fill in all of the long silences.
"... so we have layered the charms in the room to allow us to magnify the magical readings if necessary. Now, because of the constant fluctuation of some magical aural signatures, I believe that something needs to be devised to allow capture and playback of those readings. At the moment, I hypothesize that taking the basic idea of the Flame-Freezing charm..."
"And why would anyone be worried with reading his aura? Obviously Mister Potter had simply decided that he wanted attention and threw a tantrum; I see no reason to give him any more attention lest he try it again."
The kitchen had unsurprisingly gone silent, and Harry's irritation at Snape's mere presence had quickly escalated as the Potions professor spoke. By the end of the Snape's comments, Harry had grabbed the table edge firmly to quell the tremble of his arms. The greasy git was annoying at the best of times in class, but today for some reason even sharing the same air with the Order's spy was causing his hackles to rise. Reopening his closed eyes and letting out a breath, Harry looked up and made the mistake of looking at the sneer on the bastard's greasy face. Even without the use of Legilimency he could feel the hatred radiate from the man's form. He felt something primal rise within him and a rush of power sing through his body even as the palsy grew and he levered himself to his feet.
"Severus," Harry intoned, "are you really so stupid to continue to psychoanalyze me when you have not taken the time to understand me? To make judgments about what has happened to me? To assume I'm a spoiled attention-seeking fool like Lockhart? You would think that a Legilimens of any skill who had been assigned to teach me would know what my motivations are after being in my head for the past year."
Ignoring the confused looks of everyone except Dumbledore, Harry continued in a low growl.
"But no, rather than looking around in my head at my childhood- or, God forbid, teaching me Occlumency like you were supposed to- you just busted in and raped my mind, leaving me with no defenses so that Voldemort could do anything he wanted to me. And despite the fact that you know that what you did lead to this, you still need to throw your two knuts in. Don't talk to me about wanting attention and throwing tantrums, child. Pull your greasy head out of your ass and be silent, Snape."
The tics had become so pronounced and painful as Harry's anger built that he was sure the smirk he wore looked more like the rictus grin of a tortured man, but the barbs flew true and the older man shot to his feet and snarled his fury as his wand slid into his hand. Harry took one shuddering breath and set his mind apart from his spasming body as he had read, and then locked eyes with Snape.
The Slytherin Head's mental probe smashed through Harry's shields with effortless force. Arrogant and useless, just like a Potter, Snape's thought carried through to Harry's mind just as the green-eyed wizard brought his second set of mental shields around to hold the elder man's mind within a walled-off portion of his own.
Mentalism: A Definitive Guide had helped Harry understand much about Occlumency that Snape had neglected to inform him. One interesting tidbit was that even a neophyte Occlumens could replay memories at will. The second interesting thing was that mental shields worked both ways- if it kept something out, it would also keep something in.
Now let's look at how spoiled my childhood was, Snivellus, Harry projected. As Harry replayed especially painful memories of his childhood, he felt the push that he now assumed was a male aura against his own, then a second, and a third moments later, bringing with it a high, piercing noise that set his brain rattling in his head. He could feel the Potions professor's mind thrash wildly against the bonds holding him within Harry's own mind even as he fed the older man memories of spiders crawling over him in the cupboard. As Harry ran Snape through a childhood of mental abuse, he was sure that only seconds had actually passed in the real world. A tonal increase in the background noise heralded a building resistance to the use of his magic along with the queasy feeling of the other male auras as they interfered.
Now you bastard, let's finish this, Harry thought at the trapped mind. Rather than the memories of the mental abuses he had suffered at the Dursleys, Harry gave him a smorgasbord of the physical abuse they had inflicted on him.
Just as the memory of Dudley had reared back with the fireplace poker, Harry heard a "No, stop!" and felt an increase in the resistance- the memory slowed and stopped as a suffocating sensation distracted him enough to bring the outside world back into focus.
"-the hell is that noise?"
No, dammit! Harry raged, and gathered his anger around him like a shield before forcing the smothering presence out, shunting the pain aside and reinforcing the memory that Snape was living. With an odd surge, Dudley's poker swung forward and Snape-as-Harry threw up a hand to protect his face. Harry heard two muffled snaps of breaking bone and two howls of pain, the older, deeper voice providing a horrible counterpoint to the young Harry's screams in his mind.
Dispensing with the formalities of having Snape live the memories one at a time, the young wizard dumped the rest of his abuse on Snape at once, and with the same odd surge and a hoarse scream he released his grip on the greasy man's mind and felt it snap back.
Harry's own mind snapped back to life as he collapsed bonelessly into his chair and watched with detached interest as the table stared at Snape's unconscious form laying half in his pudding. The Order's spy had an obviously broken arm and burned hand, and the green-eyed wizard was sure that a few of the cracked ribs Dudley so loved to inflict on him were hidden under his clothing.
As one, the wizards and witches around the table turned to regard the boy sitting at the end of the table. Drained as he was, Harry still noticed that as the women matched gazes with him their pupils dilated and they each took a deep breath as their cheeks colored.
"H-Harry." Dumbledore was pale and drawn, though noticeably better off than after the previous day's confrontation. "What in Merlin's name caused you to react like that?"
Harry took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment. "The only reason I can give you is that I felt for a moment like I was being challenged for dominance, and I could not back down." Levering himself forward with a pained grunt, he picked up a glass of pumpkin juice with both shaking hands and swallowed greedily. "I also felt something fighting me, like it was trying to keep me from using magic, but it felt like it was trying to smother me. Was that something that you cast?"
Flitwick piped up with, "I tried a charm which attempted to nullify the polarization problem, but as I was only partially successful, I doubt that it was me you sensed."
The young man bobbed his head slowly as Madame Pomfrey and Fleur began to tend to the still form of Severus Snape. "I also heard someone yelling 'stop', but I shouldn't have been able to hear anything at that point. How was I able to hear whoever said that?"
Dumbledore exchanged a glance with Professor Flitwick. "Actually Harry, the whole thing happened so quickly I don't believe that anyone said stop. There were exclamations of surprise, perhaps, but not stop."
Harry looked blankly at the wizened man "So...."
"Perhaps you could tell me exactly how you were able to cause Severus' arm to break from a failed Legilimency attack. It is supposed to be impossible for such a defense to be possible."
Harry colored slightly as he refused to meet the older man's gaze. "Well, really he didn't fail in his attack, really, um..." Raising his eyes, he met Tonks' gaze as she smiled at him encouragingly. He sighed and raised still-shaky hands to rub behind his glasses. "Alright, have you read Mentalism by Corvington?" At the elder's nod he continued, "In Chapter Eleven, there is a discussion of 'fall-back defenses' that you can erect if you know someone has breached your Occlumency shields. One of the ideas is using painful or humiliating memories as a kind of offensive measure.
Also, I was re-reading Chapter Two when the nature of the shields are discussed- the most basic of shields keeps you from getting in or out- but they are more powerful internally than externally- they are what allow you block memories completely rather than only suppress them. Well, while I was crafting my mental defenses I created my regular shields, then a second set of much weaker shields that any decent Legilimens could break through. Finally, I created a layered curtain on the basic shields- since I would have the person in my own mind, the basic shield was much stronger at keeping them in, and laid them on top of the weak shields- they would come down and collar anyone who intruded. Honestly, I was hoping not to have to test them, but I assumed if anyone did it, it would have been Voldemort." Harry paused for the slight flinch that flittered around most of the table.
"So once Snape broke through the easy shields, the noose dropped over his Legimency projection, trapping him in my mind- but also trapping him against strong shields in both directions without the ability to retreat and regroup. If you can imagine the defenses making a bowl-shape, you can see how I was able to project memories onto him without his being able to escape."
Dumbledore met his gaze with a look Harry couldn't quite place. "Harry, if what you did can be reproduced by other wizards, you will have invented perhaps the most powerful type of Occlumency defense known." He ran a hand through his beard absently as the mediwitches fussed over the unconscious professor. "And possibly a very dangerous one. Now, there have been defenses that approximate what you have done, but they lacked the way to trap a mind and force them to be affected by memories, not to mention other things that could happen if you have a trapped mind at your mercy."
Harry had begun massaging his temples to try and manage the headache that Snape's mental thrashings had caused. He was so focused on his pounding head and Dumbledore's enthusiastic, if oddly timed, discussion that he didn't even start at the second pair of warm hands that began soothing the ache in his head.
"Well Professor, I'd like to say that it was hard, but really, the more I read, the more it made sense." Harry gave a rueful smile. "Haven't finished the book though, so I might've missed the part where they tell you that it's impossib-oooh."
The table froze as Harry trailed off into an almost-feline purr, and all eyes (save the still-unconscious Snape) turned to him. Harry himself had frozen for a moment as his mind caught up to his mouth, then tilted his head back until he came eye-to-eye with Tonks, who winked and crinkled her nose at him.
"Cor, Harry. Thought it'd help, but I didn't think it'd help that much."
The seated wizard felt his cheeks flame red even as he gave her a lopsided smirk. Seconds later he hooded his eyes and sucked in a breath as Tonks' fingers dug in to a tense spot on his neck. "Ahhh, yeah." he rumbled quietly.
Someone near the end of the table huffed indignantly and Harry colored a shade darker as he heard Dumbledore ask a question about Snape, only to receive a curt reply from Fleur. Tonks' gaze never left his own, and there was still a warm smile on her face.
Breaking eye contact as something clattered, Harry watched as Severus Snape emerged from his food dripping and groggy. Throwing off the attentions of Madame Pomfrey and Fleur, Snape's head wobbled as if lacking a spine, but the beady-eyed gaze finally settled on Harry. He stared owlishly for a moment, then struggled to his feet and pointed with his good arm.
"Imposter! I am Harry Potter!"
Harry dimly felt like this should be hilariously funny, but he decided that he was simply too tired to care. Shaking his head gently, he murmured, "No, you're Severus Snape."
The Head of Slytherin House grabbed a fistful of hair and pulled it in front of his eyes and blew out an explosive breath. The man's shoulders slumped as the burst of energy he displayed disappeared. In a very small voice he asked to be escorted to a room and was helped out by Madame Pomfrey.
As soon as the two figures had left the room, Fleur was attending to Harry. Brushing Tonks away she began a scan of his well-being using wand and hands. She murmured to herself quietly in French for a moment before announcing that he should "be in 'is bed, immÃ©diatement!" The pronouncement almost caused a stampede before Fleur whisked him out of the kitchen and up the stairs so quickly that Harry believed she apparated. It was only after being ushered into a room that he noticed where she had taken him.
"Fleur, this isn't my room. This is- was- Sirius' room." Harry swallowed thickly and blinked away a sheen of tears from seeing the careless rumple of the sheets and all the little signs that Sirius had been living there.
"But 'arry, Seigneur Black made you 'is 'eir, non? Where will you sleep ozerwise?"
"I am sleeping in the room I shared with Ron, not here." Harry damned himself for the stilted way he spoke as much as for the small tremble in his voice.
"But 'ar-ee, I'm zhure zat Seigneur Black would 'ave wanted you to take ze room- 'arry!"
Harry ignored the cry of the French witch as he ran a hand across the bed, silent tears falling down his face. He looked up at her and she paused with a hand outstretched toward him. "Sirius was my godfather, he was my family, he was... I don't know if I there's a word for how much he meant to me. I know he's gone, I know we only got to know each other for a short time, but he's still all the real family I've ever had. Looking at all this stuff just makes me think of how little time we had, and how much I wanted to sit in here and have us talk and.." he trailed off as Fleur bridged the gap between them and took the slightly-shorter boy into her arms as she settled on the bed.
"God, Fleur, he was all the hope I had of a real life. Not the Dursleys, not wizarding pictures of my parents to move and smile and break my heart, but a real flesh-and-blood godfather who loved me and thought of me as family. How could the one thing I've wanted my entire life be the one thing that gets taken from me so soon?" Harry's voice was muffled against her shoulder, but despite the dampness that soaked through her robes, he made no noise other than his speech.
"'arry dear, I'm zo zorry. I didn't think 'ow much your godfather meant to you. I- no 'arry, 'ush- I was theeking wit' my- eh, I wazent theeking right. What I did was selfish. I wanted you alone, and I 'urt you," the blonde witch whispered.
Raising his head, Harry removed his glasses and wiped his eyes with the tail of his shirt. Before replacing them, Harry looked up to meet her eyes with his own viridian orbs and gave Fleur a soft, sad smile. "I'm sorry, I know that Sirius is gone, but I can't seem to convince myself that I won't see him bounding through the door one day." Sliding his frames back into their place on his nose, he cocked his head at the witch's look. "I'm sorry Fleur, I didn't mean-"
"Mon Dieu, 'arry, don't apologize. You can talk wit' me anytime you need." Blushing demurely, the quarter-veela cupped her hands around the back of Harry's head and pulled him forward, planting a lingering kiss on his cheek, right at the edge of his lips. As she moved back he could see Fleur's more professional persona come to the fore. "Come, you do need your rest, so let uz get you into bed downstairs, d'accord?"
"Thanks, but I think I'll spend a few minutes in here remembering Sirius. You're right, Sirius would probably want me to use his room, but for now I just want to sit in here and remember him." Seeing her incredulous look, the raven-haired boy gave another sad smile and offered his hand to assist Fleur to her feet. "Maybe this way I can finally be at peace with what happened and can move on like he'd want me to." As the mediwitch-in-training began to open her mouth, Harry placed his finger across it. "Trust me, Fleur. Even though I'm tired I won't collapse, and I need to start getting over this if I'm going to be here for the rest of the summer. I can't break down every time I see something that reminds me of Sirius. That's no way to live." He guided her to the door, but paused as he opened it. "Will you be here tomorrow when they start the testing?"
The formerly-haughty part-veela sported a maiden's blush on her cheeks as she smiled at him. "Oui. Madame Pomfrey an' I are going to be 'ere for medical support." Her smiled turned a bit feral as she added, "Not zat you seem to need ze 'elp. Monsieur Snape, on ze ozer 'and..." The birdlike sharpness of her face relaxed once again, and she opened the door. "I will see you in the morning, 'arry. Be well, d'accord?"
Nodding, Harry closed the door and rested his head against the cool wood. What in the hell was that? Thinking with her what?, wanting to get me alone? She must've not cast whatever spell that Professor Dumbledore taught them. Puffing out a breath, he crossed over to the bed and sat down. "If you were here you'd never let me live this down, would you? This'd give you joking material for years, I'm sure." After a pause, Harry blinked his eyes slowly and lay down while dangling his legs off the side of the bed. I miss you Sirius, but I can't be like this forever.
He wasn't sure if he rested for a minute or an hour, but after a time he levered himself up and began looking at all of the things that remained in the bedroom. One slim armoire of a plain, dark wood caught his attention simply by the lack of ornamentation. Harry opened the simple latch and parted the doors, shivering slightly at the rush of cool air that escaped from it. He furrowed his brow when the light hit the contents and couldn't help but look closer. That closer look caused him to laugh. Leave it to Sirius to have something like this in his room.
Instead of a clothes closet, Harry had opened a Wizarding wine cabinet- although rather than normal sized bottles, they were all miniature. Picking one at random, he pulled it out only to fumble and almost drop it as it expanded to a more standard size after being removed.
"Good God, is this firewiskey? Hrm, label says it's almost three hundred years old!"
"That'll put a fire in the soul, Harry."
Harry spun towards the voice, almost dropping the bottle yet again. "Ah! Tonks, God, don't do that!"
The crimson-tressed Auror smirked at him. "Oh, so I sneak pretty well for someone who barely passed the stealth exams at the Academy?"
Smirking, Harry relaxed and stuck his tongue out at her. "Maybe, but don't bet on it."
Tonks plucked the bottle from the boy's hands and looked it over with a low whistle. "I generally stick to butterbeer myself, but I've picked up a bit from Kingsley- he's a real connoisseur. If this is what I think it is, he'd probably offer his soul for a glass. It's supposed to be magical."
"Erm, maybe I'm being a Muggle here Tonks, but firewiskey's magical anyhow- I don't think any normal liquor makes you snort fire and blow smoke."
The woman let her hair shift into a flame pattern of reds and oranges as she gave a braying laugh. "No, a really good firewiskey is pretty powerful stuff. I've heard that the best sets your soul on fire- in a good way, though."
Harry hrmphed. "I don't need to be trying any of that out at the moment- I was just curious as to what was in the closet." He took a half-step back so Tonks could look. "I wonder if all of the bottles are like this." Sliding the original bottle back, he smiled as it shrunk to fit. "So what brings you up here?"
"I couldn't find you and wanted to see if your virtue had survived that damned veela."
The dark haired boy rubbed his eyes behind his glasses. "My virtue? What am I, a fair maiden? All Fleur and I did was talk. No big deal."
Harry watched as the fiery locks of Tonks' hair gained a slight green tinge. "When she left with Pomfrey she had a smile that I didn't like the looks of on her face."
"Um, Tonks? Are you sure this isn't brought on by the whole aura polarization thing? I mean, Fleur was acting weird and all, but I'm sure I can handle myself until the professors figure out what's going on with me."
"I hope you're right, Harry." She paused a moment as if weighing her words, then spoke again. "Have you decided what you're going to do about Sirius' will and the Black family name?"
Harry cocked an eyebrow at the apparent non sequitur, as well as the fact that Tonks ignored the first question. "I'm going to do it. Dunno what the name'll be, but I will not refuse what Sirius has asked of me and given me. The will reading should probably be done soon as possible as well. No reason to put it off just because I've been weepy anymore."
"Oh, Harry." For once since entering the room, he wasn't the one with tears glistening in his eyes. The fire-haired Auror sniffled and ground a toe into the floorboards until Harry spread his arms uncertainly, then threw herself at him. "Maybe we should both get out of here before we get any more maudlin." Neither of them could stifle a bit of a chuckle at that, though one was a bit wet. The metamorphmagus shrunk a bit to fit under Harry's arm, and they began making their way back to the second floor in comfortable silence.
Harry had just spied the door to his room when a girlish giggle echoed from behind the door that Hermione and Ginny shared. He would have passed by without comment, but a shriek of laughter caused Tonks to veer off and put her ear against the door. Shrugging, Harry followed suit.
"'-ister Potter, are those leather?' The woman could be his grandmother, but she was eyeing him like prime beef!"
"You have to admit he did look very... un-Harrylike in those trousers, though."
"Well, of course I noticed- and so did every witch in the room! That wannabe-mediwitch obviously wanted to play doctor with him. Ooh, that little French-"
"Whoa, calm down. Look, even Madame Pomfrey looked like she was about to perform surgery to get those things off him."
Harry buried his head in his hands and the girls broke down in a fit of giggles interspersed with a round of bad impersonations of the female professors. He could hear and see Tonks muffle a laugh against her fist from slightly below him. Just as he was about to turn away, though, the room got quiet.
"Do you think we should come clean to Harry about Ron before he finds out?"
"Merlin, I don't know what I was thinking about when I told Harry that Ron was in trouble."
"Don't worry Ginny. Harry has enough on his mind; we don't want to make it worse. He'll be caught up in all of the experimentation that the professors are doing, and we can drop information about it like we just found out ourselves. Besides, you said that Ron should be fine in a week or two, right?"
"Wha-!" Harry blurted. At the sudden silence, he clapped a hand over his mouth. Grabbing Tonks, he rushed down to his door and hustled them both inside before quickly- but silently- shutting it behind them.
"What'd they mean about Ron, Tonks?" the green-eyed boy growled harshly into her ear.
"I don't know, Harry. I spent most of the day with you, and they didn't talk about anything except your trousers when I was around."
Frowning, Harry gave a rumbling growl that caused the still-shortened woman to stiffen. "I need to know how my best mate's really doing. I could sneak out and Floo over to the Burrow-"
"I can do it, Harry. I have to head back to my flat anyhow, so I can pop in and see how he's doing."
Harry let out a breath and crushed the metamorphagus in an embrace. "Thanks a million Tonks. 'm glad I can trust you."
The junior Auror made no reply other than a muffled squeak.
Tonks had to leave shortly thereafter, but not before Harry had dispatched Hedwig to the Burrow to carry the message back from Tonks. While he was waiting for the return flight of the snowy owl, however, he fell into a troubled sleep.
This is a (slightly) edited version of the original Chapter 3. Most of the meat of the story has stayed the same, but after writing Chapter 4, I wanted to correct things that seemed badly-written the first time.