Categories > Books > Harry Potter > Echoes of Power, Part I: Anger

19. Inflection Points, Part 3 of 4

by moshpit 9 reviews

Chapter 19

Category: Harry Potter - Rating: R - Genres: Action/Adventure - Characters: Andromeda Tonks, Angelina Johnson, Arthur Weasley, Barty Crouch Jr., Bellatrix, Bill Weasley, Blaise Zabini, Cho, Colin Creevey, Crabbe, Dean Thomas, Dobby, Draco, Dudley, Dumbledore, Ernie, Fleur, Flitwick, Fred, Fudge, George, Gilderoy Lockhart, Gi - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2006-12-31 - Updated: 2007-01-01 - 11936 words


Chapter 19 : Inflection Points, Part 3

With a soft /pop!/, Harry and Cyril arrived on top of the Palais des Nations in Geneva. Immediately they were surrounded by a collection of Swiss Federated Aurors, a mixture of men and women who had their wands drawn and tightly focused on the new arrivals. One in particular had his hand resting on a lever by a staircase, prepared to instantly raise an alarm if necessary.

For a very long moment, no one moved as visual recognition took place. Most of the Swiss guards took a step back yet kept their wands trained on the arrivals, while one middle aged woman moved forward and extended her hand. Cyril said nothing as he gave her an identification badge which briefly glowed blue. Satisfied, she handed it back, and the guards moved back to surround the Portkey terminal while Cyril and Harry moved off to the staircase leading down into the building.

While the League of Nations had been an almost complete failure, it was a first effort secretly pushed by the International Confederation of Wizards to try to reduce the likelihood of another Great War. The Muggles may have felt that the rapid fire increase of hostilities started with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, but Dumbledore himself had demonstrated after the Second World War that it was Grindelwald's influence over the Kaiser that had fuelled the underlying arms race that had been the cause of that first bloody conflict.

Hoping to deal with the rapidly growing Muggle populace in a manner that would allow some modicum of oversight when situations became volatile, the ICW talked the early governments into forming of the League of Nations, and the Palais was chosen to house that august body.

With the failure of the League and the rise of the German Reich under Hitler, which was actually the revitalization and overhaul of Grindelwald's original plans for racial purity and the supremacy of select people, the ICW was more than happy to see the United Nations formed. When the Palais was converted to the focal point of all European UN activity, the ICW negotiated through their government contacts, under strictest secrecy, a set of chambers for their own use.

The end result was that the Palais des Nations became the most heavily Warded building in Europe. There was exactly one Portkey and Apparition capable point in a five mile radius from the building, and it was a small platform measuring five feet by five feet, located on the roof and under constant guard.

Moving down the staircase to the top floor, Harry saw Floppy shudder slightly before becoming a modest scarf about his shoulders. At the bottom of the staircase, they exited a Notice-Me-Not charmed door and walked slowly down the long hallway of the top floor. While they received a few curious glances from both Muggle and magical employees alike, their slightly unusual garb drew little notice as so many obscure nationalities were flowing through the building on a regular basis that even walking the length of the corridor starkers would have garnered little more than a raised eyebrow.

Reaching a completely normal door in a hallway of completely normal doors, Cyril pressed his hand over the small metal panel where a handle would have been. Unlike Muggle doors, this was not a lock-less door to gently push open, but a security plate that only a few could activate. The engraved nameplate on the door was a calligraphic /ICW/CIW - WM/MdG - Adjunct Meeting Room/. With a soft popping noise, the door opened, and Harry followed Cyril into the room, firmly shutting the door behind them.

Cyril paused to look at Harry. "I received a notice that Edgar is unable to join us, Harry. There has been an emergency session of the Manx Wizengamot, and he was required to be there, as was his partner Kenneth Manus."

Harry nodded politely, waiting for Cyril to tell him whatever else he needed to know before they went into the meeting area. They were standing in a small anteroom, looking at a magical escalator that would take them deep beneath the building.

"I also received a notice from Vencil. Now that you are an Apprentice, Harry, you have a voice to use during meetings, but if you are wise, you will let me guide you. I strongly suggest that you only answer direct questions from myself or the commander." Cyril then turned and stepped onto the platform, motioning for Harry to join him.

Harry, vaguely recalling this from his two prior visits to the ICW's War Mage Adjunct Meeting Room, followed Cyril docilely and tried to remember every detail of what he was seeing. As they both stood on the top of the platform, it began a rapid descent, spiralling rapidly around a central column in a manner reminiscent of the Headmaster's office staircase at Hogwarts.

Harry had been to Geneva for many solo meetings with various War Mages and associated groups, always under the escort of either Edgar, Remus, or Nicholas - and sometimes all three. The room they were descending toward, however, was only used for critical meetings, official edicts, and formal hearings into events.

When they reached the bottom, they were both standing on a stone block floor, clearly in the Palais' version of a dungeon although the ceiling was nearly thirty feet over their heads. A reinforced door loomed in front of them but stood open. There were several voices coming from inside, and the volume increased as Cyril and Harry approached the room.

As soon as Cyril crossed the threshold, silence fell like a wave across everyone behind the U-shaped table. There were supposed to be seven War Mages sitting in attendance, with three on either leg and one at the head of table where the legs joined. Kristian Vencil, the present commander of all War Mages, sat at the head. Where there should have been six other War Mages, instead there were two old men whose names Harry did not know. Each was seated on either side of Vencil.

In each of the other four positions, however, was a triad of wizards and witches clustered closely together. As Nicholas had explained it long before, when there were insufficient War Mages to sit on a committee meeting for any reason, three members of the ICW general body would be drafted to act as the voice of the missing person. Since the average witch or wizard lacked the heavy training in philosophy and magical theory that War Mages enjoyed, it was hoped that using three people would lead to a more reasoned substitute voice than a lone person that might be encumbered by personal bias or lack of experience. Oaths of secrecy protected the discussions, but members of the triad were not accorded full and equal status beyond voting rights. The odd number in the triad, as well as the odd number in the committee itself, assured no stalemates were possible when matters were voted upon.

Harry was quite surprised, since the last time Nicholas returned from a meeting he had only mentioned one triad being present, not four. With an abrupt flick of his wand, Vencil caused the heavy door to close behind Cyril and Harry. A second sharp gesture deposited two comfortable chairs in front of them, letting the Mentor and Apprentice sit and face the assembled committee.

"Cyril, Mr. Potter," Vencil's dry voice rasped out quite audibly, "thank you for coming. Officially, we are here to discuss the assignment of a permanent Mentor to Mr. Potter, as well as some disturbing events of the past few months, but there have been some . . . requests . . . for a hearing into Mr. Potter's recent actions." As he said this, it was quite clear he was glaring at the four triads of interlopers.

"At this moment, I have agreed to allow a somewhat informal inquiry to take place, time permitting. Before we begin, do either of you have any questions for me?"

Say 'No', Harry, Cyril's voice echoed in his head.

"No, thank you, sir," Harry offered as Cyril shook his head at the same time.

"Very well. Master Cyril Feiner has requested to become your full Mentor, Mr. Potter. This is something to be decided upon by myself alone, and I have no objections to his request. Do you?" Vencil radiated the air of a man having a casual chat over tea, completely unconcerned with anything going on about him.

Harry offered a slight smile before answering. "No, sir. I would be fortunate to continue my studies with Mentor Feiner."

"Excellent." Vencil leaned forward to make a note on a bit of parchment in front of him.

Reaching down to the floor by his chair, Vencil pulled a small bag up to his lap before setting a series of clear glass vials on the table in front of him. "In the official capacity of Apprentice or Full Mage, as per your oath to the War Mage Council, every major and minor conflict or otherwise important event is to be collected in duplicate memory format. Thus far, you have not been required to do so, as Nicholas Flamel has always offered his memories which included your perspective. You understand the procedures involved?"

Harry had to swallow a bit, realising what was coming. "Yes, sir."

Vencil leaned back and finished setting nearly a dozen vials on the table. "Take your time, Mr. Potter. We need complete and coherent memories. The list of memories you are to provide us with at this time are the following: the battle in Little Hangleton resulting in the rebirth of the one known as Lord Voldemort, the major discussions you have had with Albus Dumbledore regarding the man formerly known as Tom Riddle, and the battle that recently transpired in Little Hangleton outside the House of Gaunt."

With quite a bit of hesitation, Harry rose to his feet and walked into the open centre of the table, stopping before the commander. Slowly concentrating on the memories and sequences requested, Harry extracted copies of each memory and deposited them in the clear vials.

"Thank you, Mr. Potter," Vencil offered quietly when Harry finished. As he returned to his seat, he was aware of the intense scrutiny of every person sitting at the tables. Cyril remained impassive, watching events unfold as though he were mentally composing a shopping list for later.

The War Mage to the left of Vencil stepped away from the table and walked to a small alcove behind him. Pulling a large pensieve from a table concealed in the alcove, he carefully set it in front of the commander before returning to his own seat. "You may not be familiar with this, Mr. Potter. This is a projection pensieve. You will please note the additional runes on it. This is how we review those memories we officially collect."

Harry inclined his head, dreading the sequence of events he was about to witness. His eyes were glued to the first vial as Vencil deposited the memory into the pensieve before activating the projection. As the scene flickered into a greater than life-size image in mid-air, Harry watched his likeness slowly walking beside Nicholas, the old man's hand resting comfortably on Harry's shoulder.

"We will catch young Pettigrew, Harry," Nicholas said, "have no fears here. Since we both saw him go into this Muggle village, caution is the word."

Harry watched his memory-self nod at Nicholas and stow his wand into the hip holster. As the memory depicted the two of them walking down the lane toward the village, Harry closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on something else. On anything else. The replay of the conversation that afternoon was like a knife on the edge of his consciousness, peeling away his emotional control one word at a time.

By the time that memory-Harry was duelling with a reborn Voldemort in the projection, Cyril's hand was clasped on Harry's forearm in silent support. No words had been spoken verbally or mentally, but Harry knew that anyone could tell he was a borderline wreck just by looking at him. The anger he felt at the man called Riddle was immense, and Harry was fighting the urge to start smashing things just to be doing anything other than sitting so still.

As Harry realised he was beginning to literally shake with the pent up hostility he was repressing, he felt a cooling sensation of calm and peace rush over him. Opening his eyes, he saw Cyril had his wand leveled at Harry with a look of concentration on his face. "Calming and Refreshing charms, with a bit of Cheering," Cyril whispered quietly. "I put enough into them they should last you until dinner this evening."

Harry nodded his thanks as his emotional balance slowly spun back toward centre, no matter how the restoration was effected. When the memory stopped playing and retracted back into the pensieve, the meeting room was silent as Vencil returned the memory to the small vial. The expressions around the table were a mixture of shock, disgust, and fear.

"It would seem our best guesses fell rather short of the mark," Vencil stated calmly. "Voldemort really has moved very far down the road to immortality."

When no one had anything to add to the comment, Vencil began slowly working through the other memories that Harry had deposited. While it had felt like ages to Harry at the time, he was surprised the collected memory fragments barely represented three hours of real time to playback. In hindsight, he and Dumbledore did have a lot of conversations not directly related to Riddle and his history.

With the rest of the memories finished and the room still silent, Vencil again waved to the man beside him, who scooped up the vials and left the table. Harry was curious as the War Mage disappeared into a doorway behind Vencil's seat, but the far room was too well obstructed by the table and occupants for Harry to see into it.

When the man returned moments later and resumed his seat, Vencil cleared his throat to attract everyone's attention. "I find that at this time, Mr. Potter has been carrying out his primary directives appropriately and see no reason to change these directives. I open the floor for discussion."

One of the triad members immediately rapped sharply on the table. "Before the discussion, we ask the committee to look into the other questions of the day."

Each of the triads was nodding unanimously, while the three War Mages looked as though they were each smelling something unpleasant.

"I see no need to call for a vote, as it is clearly four to three. Mr. Potter, if you would please provide us with the following unofficial additional memories, we would be grateful for your efforts. We wish to see your conflict with Draco Malfoy on the Hogwarts Express, the battle against the students of Slytherin House at Hogwarts, and the confrontation you had with Madam Umbridge at Hogwarts."

As Harry moved again to deposit memories in the clear vials on the table, Cyril's voice rang through his head. Be very precise, Harry. Show not even a minute not asked for. Focus hard on when you want the memory to start and stop.

After Harry returned to his seat and the memories were projected into the room, the committee had a whole new set of expressions. Looks of annoyance, irritation, and perhaps even outrage were on the faces of the various triads, while the three old War Mages merely looked amused.

You must remain silent and impassive throughout this, Harry. They will try to provoke you. Do not react! Cyril's tone made it clear that if Harry did react, he would have a very unpleasant set of lessons when they returned to Hogwarts.

That calming charm was for more than one purpose, wasn't it? Harry asked slyly. The silence was all the answer he needed.

Once again, Vencil cleared his throat. "The floor is open."

Harry found himself horrified, amused, and insulted by the various comments made. He noted that none of three the War Mages said anything, but rather the collective twelve people making up the four triads were all over the map in their accusations and disparaging remarks. Harry was called everything from an attention-seeking glory hound to a danger to society, and his judgment was constantly called into question. Several people suggested he be reverted to Student status and forced to undergo anger counseling. One particularly brave witch suggested that he was far too young to have to face such situations, and that they should put him under protection while moving him to the Philippines for intensive private study for the foreseeable future.

While it was slowly becoming clear that some of the various triad members were concerned about his safety and his ability to cope with the stresses in his unusual life, the rest seemed bent on character assassinations and smearing everything with doubt and suspicion. Vencil let them discuss and argue amongst themselves for nearly thirty minutes before he apparently became bored with the entire situation.

Slapping the table with an open hand caused everyone to become silent and look at the commander. "I tire of this," Vencil announced in a cold tone. "Your concerns have been raised and discussed. I will concede that some minor problems may exist which shall be redressed. Tasking and Responsibility is my decision and mine alone, unless all six council votes will unanimously agree to overrule me into a specific set of goals."

Vencil waved off the looks of anger from many of the triad members as though they were of no consequence. "After the discussion, my decisions are as follows. First, Mr. Potter, your primary directives remain unchanged. You will continue to push on all fronts to find out everything you can about Lord Voldemort and his history as Tom Riddle. His downfall is your objective. However, you are to remain within the law at all times, and I further wish to remind you that you have special rights - if and only if your Mentor grants approval and oversees you - for handling reluctant information sources."

Harry nodded his head politely, comprehending that this amounted to zero change in his life so far, and might even be a hint to become more aggressive.

Vencil continued as if Harry had not responded at all. "Additionally, I must now direct you at a secondary level to move to lower profile operations. You are to stop making open conflicts when it is possible for you to do so. Your Mentor will have the rights to add to, or alter, your minor objectives as he deems fit, but any change in your primary instructions must come from this official committee in person. No other form of change is to be accepted. Is all of this clear?"

Harry wanted to smirk heavily, but kept his face calm as he nodded his head. "Yes, sir. It is very clear." He knew that, in essence, Vencil had just handed the entire situation as a big ribbon-wrapped gift to Cyril. Harry had no concerns that Cyril would disrupt the efforts to bring down Voldemort at any cost.

Vencil nodded once before briefly tapping the table with his wand. "Very well. This meeting is now concluded. Cyril, Mr. Potter, stay a moment please. I have some news to share with you."

As the various members filed out of the room, Cyril and Harry sat in unmoving silence with Vencil watching them. At last, when the door closed again, Vencil relaxed and slouched ever so slightly in his chair.

Cyril stood up and took the projection pensieve gently into his hands before walking it back to the alcove that normally contained it. "Do you think it's the appropriate time to do this?" The question was asked so casually that it set many alarms off in Harry's head.

"Mr. Potter," Vencil stated clearly, as though Cyril had said nothing at all. "I wish to show you something. Come with me, please."

The figure may have been slightly bent with age, and his hair had long since gone perfectly white, but Harry felt immense respect for the commander of the War Mages. He had read some of the man's history, and knew that his life had been a constant fight for justice and the rule of law around the world. While he had never acquired the reputation for magical combat that some others had, the one thing that was universally acknowledged was that when Vencil was involved, things would be resolved correctly the first time, every time.

Walking up beside Vencil, Harry followed him to the single large door behind the head of the table. The door was particularly plain looking and again had no handle. To Harry's eyes, however, it glowed with a vibrant aura different from the surrounding walls.

Vencil stood slightly to one side and motioned for Harry to stand before the door. "Mr. Potter, please touch your chain of status to the door with your left hand, and place your right hand upon the door itself."

Giving a look of curiosity that was soundly ignored by his elder, Harry did as instructed and was unsurprised when the door opened quietly on its own. Stepping into the room as Vencil put slight pressure on his back, Harry moved into a region of darkness in what felt to be a large open space. A few shelves nearby showed uniform cases densely packed together, with open lids and glass jars everywhere. The small amount of light coming in through the doorway was insufficient to see anything clearly.

When both Harry and Vencil were in the room, the latter closed the door behind them, triggering an automatic light to flood the chamber. While perhaps not as large as the Great Hall at Hogwarts, Harry would be hard pressed to decide by what very small fraction it failed to meet that volume.

It was crammed with aisle upon aisle of shelving, floor to overly high ceiling, with the shelves further lining the walls. On closer inspection, the cases were clearly made of leather, and filled with vials which contained the immediately recognisable faint glow and shimmering silver liquid of extracted memories.

"It is impressive, Harry, is it not?" Vencil's voice was laced with sarcasm. "A testament to a time long gone and to what happens when you make an oath without properly thinking of the consequences."

Harry stood looking at the hundreds, if not thousands, of large leather cases, each containing dozens upon dozens of small memory-filled vials. "This is really every conflict or major moment a War Mage has witnessed?"

"Unfortunately, Harry. Unfortunately. You could spend the rest of your natural life in here and never make a dent in viewing all of them. The knowledge has never been properly organized or indexed. It's just so much information. Your memories are over there somewhere." Vencil made a vague gesture to the far right corner of the room, where the dust was cleared away from a small set of shelves. "Cyril's and Nicholas' are there as well."

Vencil walked partly into an aisle before picking up a dusty vial from a nearby case. "You know what the limitations are of such memories?"

Harry gave a half-hearted shrug. "You can watch it, but that doesn't mean you understand it. You have to study the material in context and in depth just like a textbook in order to learn from it properly."

"Partially correct, Harry." Vencil returned the vial to the shelf and motioned Harry to follow him back through the chamber. "The real problem as I see it lies with the representation that these are all the past and not the present or even /the future/. What does that suggest to you?"

Harry paused to watch a swirling silver memory show distorted images of centaurs and creatures that looked like a cross between a goblin and a troll fighting each other. "Only that you may find answers to the problems of the past, but you can't find answers to the present problems here."

Vencil said nothing, but began moving forward again, taking Harry to the very back of the room. "Perhaps, Harry. You should think about it for a while." Harry was only momentarily surprised when Vencil clasped one hand on his shoulder before firmly guiding Harry through what appeared to be a solid wall of shelves, cases, and vials.

"Lumos!" Vencil's wand lit up the very small room Harry found himself in. "This, Harry, is the real reason you are here today. That meeting was merely a diversion, albeit an important one. You saw the wall we passed through?"

Harry nodded slowly while looking around at the few shelves with barely a hundred or so memory vials in the room. On a small table in the middle of the floor stood a very large pensieve with two vials next to it.

"When the time comes that this passes into your keeping, Harry, only you will know of this room and only you will be able to come in here. Those who sit in proxy do not have the right to know what lies within this room, although they are welcome to browse the main collection if they are so inclined." Vencil paused to fondle a few vials with an absent frown on his face.

"You should also know that nothing may be removed from this room. These vials," he pointed to two clearly isolated containers on the table by the pensieve, "hold the memories of how the protections on this room work. After you watch them, you will know how to let others in here if you so choose."

Harry began feeling rather uncomfortable with the sudden scrutiny of the wizened man next to him.

"Please understand this, Harry. There are only thirteen of us left at this point. We are all quite old. You are not. You are the only Apprentice we have, and there are no other Students. We will be dead long before you could possibly complete your training, and I firmly believe that the full ICW will disband the War Mages and release you from your pledges. That means neither that what we do should cease, nor that our knowledge should not be passed on. That other room is a great camouflage for this room, is it not?"

"Yes, it is."

"Turn around, Harry."

Harry turned to look back, and was amazed that there was a large archway with no door opening back into the main chamber. Stepping into the chamber proper once more, Harry then turned to face Vencil and saw the archway again. "Some type of Fidelius charm?" he asked hesitantly.

"The first version ever of the Fidelius, actually, yes. It's much more secure and unbearably more difficult to cast. And I have just made you the new Keeper of the room's location." Vencil came out to join Harry, and they began walking back toward the committee meeting room. "There are many secrets here, Harry. This large collection may even hold the answers to the mysteries of life. But the only things you truly need to learn, should we fail to teach you in time, are in the protected room."

Neither said anything as they finished their circuit of the disturbing hall of memories and moved back out to the committee room where Cyril sat patiently waiting for them.

"Now, Mr. Potter," Vencil said as he returned to his seat at the head of the table, "I wish to speak to your Mentor for a bit. If you would please take the Portkey he has prepared for you back to Hogwarts, I shall send Cyril along in a little while."

Harry nodded once before moving to Cyril. His Mentor was pointing out a Portkey on the table as though he expected the request and just nodded briefly to Harry's questioning look. With a last glance about the chamber and a brief goodbye to Vencil, Harry reached for the Portkey and felt the jerk behind his navel.

The return Portkey deposited Harry just outside the Hogwarts gates. With a sigh of resignation over the increasingly complex situation developing around him, Harry walked up the path toward the castle. On the bright side, nothing had really changed. Cyril would probably just tell him to carry on as he had been. On the negative side, it was clear that there were lines being drawn and he was being warned not to cross them without great need, otherwise the full ICW might let him hang rather than uphold their own rules.

It was curious to ponder what the reality of the committee was when compared to the stories Nicholas had told him. Before today, he had only been in front of them twice -- once when he had been sworn in as a student of the War Mages, and the other with Nicholas after the secret of the Diary was revealed. While Vencil was there both times, the other members had been different. The transition from Student to Apprentice was a private ceremony with Nicholas, who then notified the committee of the change in status.

While he was lacking any real evidence, Harry had a sinking sensation that the long arm of Voldemort was at work behind the committee. Nicholas had talked several times about how many War Mages remained, and the new number that Vencil had casually tossed out was a lot lower than Nicholas' figures. Either they were all dying of natural causes over a very short period, or else they were meeting accidents at a rate that defied mere happenstance.

Reliving the memories of the past summer even indirectly had been much harder to tolerate than he expected. He was certain Cyril would be talking to Remus and his father about it, but Harry hoped it would not require him going back into therapy. While he was not strictly opposed to therapy, it would be almost impossible to find someone he could talk to that knew of the magical world, someone he could trust, and someone to whom he could reveal even a fraction of the secrets he carried around with him. The cheering and calming charms that Cyril had placed on him would probably last until dinnertime, but Harry was a little anxious about what would happen when they started wearing off. Past experience suggested that, since the troubling emotions were curtailed abruptly, he might experience a mild relapse of sorts.

Opting to follow the path to edge of the lake, Harry noted how few students roamed the grounds on such a beautiful, if cloudy, autumn day. A few were walking around the lake on the far side from the castle, and there was a group playing or practicing Quidditch, but otherwise it was quiet. The idyllic scenery radiated peace and tranquility, and Harry would normally be content to just sit and admire the natural beauty of the area. Why more students were inside than out was a bit of a mystery, but perhaps they had homework and essays to complete. Mostly Harry had found the work assigned so far to be rather boring and tedious.

Would you like to talk about anything, Mr. Potter? Floppy's tone was tentative and quiet.

"Not really, Floppy. I'd rather think of other things right now."

As he stood there looking over the lake, Harry realised that there was little to be gained by brooding over the committee or the past, and that he needed to plan some pranks as payback for various people. If nothing else, pranking would be an excellent stress reliever and distraction from everything else souring at the moment. Believing there was no time like the present, Harry strolled to the side of the castle away from the small cemetery. It was a bit shadowy and rather cool with the lack of sunbeams that randomly broke through the clouds, but it was close to the castle yet obscure enough to leave him relatively isolated. An ideal spot to begin a bit of mischief.

Breaking off a few bits of a bush near the castle wall, Harry settled about ten paces away from it. Working through a series of charms and transfigurations, Harry slowly constructed a lattice style packing crate approximately three feet on each side. He was careful to make the bottom a solid piece, while no holes in the sides or top were bigger than an inch or so in any direction. Satisfied with his crate, Harry rose and returned to the side of the castle.

A quick examination of the ground around the two-level effect of the shrubbery revealed exactly what he wanted. Casually kneeling down, Harry thrust one hand into the small hole at the base of a particularly gnarled shrub and felt around until he came in contact with a garden gnome. In moments, he had pulled it out into the light, and it began squealing and trying to bite him. "Geroff me!" was the incessant phrase of the gnome as Harry walked back over to his crate.

Dropping the gnome into the crate, Harry took a moment to watch it look around before it methodically tried to climb up one side. Realising his mistake, it took only a second to cast a temporary frictionless charm on the inside walls of the box, leaving the gnome squealing and hopping mad on the floor inside.

"Now then, what ye got there, young Harry?" The booming voice could only belong to Hagrid, who was slowly walking toward him from around the far side of the castle.

Harry just waved and ignored the question, knowing that Hagrid would either come to see for himself or else would just pass on by. Concentrating for a minute, Harry thought of the series of charms and minor hexes he wanted to layer on top of the gnome. Casting a short-duration silencing spell first, Harry then began the slow process of building a complex prank on an unsuspecting delivery vehicle.

"Yer not hurtin' that l'il gnome, are yer?" Hagrid stood towering over the box, looking rather curious about what was going on.

"Hello, Hagrid." Harry had to smile up at the man. He was always rather friendly and seemed ready to talk about anything that crossed his fancy. "This little fellow is fine, the spells are all temporary, and he won't feel anything."

Hagrid rumbled some kind of vague sound before he looked down at Harry. "And what do ye be wantin' ter do with a gnome anyways?"

Harry gave Hagrid the best mischievous smile he could manage. "Trying to teach people some lessons in life."

Hagrid started laughing heartily. "Ye mean yer playin' a jape or two, eh?" While Harry simply nodded and wrapped up the first round of spell work, Hagrid just stood by and watched. "Reminds me o' ye dad, Harry. 'e were allus up ter summat an'all."

Harry put his wand away and watched the gnome walk around inside the crate for a moment. "So I've heard," Harry said quietly. "Remus and Sirius have told me stories about their years here."

Hagrid shook his head slowly. "Poor Sirius, I never could see 'im betrayin' James an' Lily like they all says. Dumbledore told me 'e were innocent an' with you, an' I be right glad e's got awa'. 'e were allus in trouble with some lass while 'e were here, so I reckon 'e's still up to 'is old tricks, eh?"

Harry looked up in surprise. "Really? Sirius was in trouble? He likes to tell it as though he was quite the ladies man."

Hagrid chuckled like a mountain shaking. "Popular? Well, p'raps. I reckon it'd be more sort o' notorious like. Did yer know I still got tha' l'il bike o' 'is?"

"The Triumph?" Harry was rather excited by this idea. "Does it still work?"

Hagrid paused to scratch at his beard. "I dunno, 'arry. s'pose it might, but it's jus' been sittin' in a crate fer ages na'."

"Sirius would love to have that motorcycle back, Hagrid. How would you feel about helping me fix it up, and we can give it back to him for Christmas?"

Hagrid beamed at Harry with such happiness Harry was momentarily worried the man might pick him up and hug him. Enough rumours of broken bones from an enthusiastic Hagrid had reached his ears that he knew that any overt act of affection would keep him in the Infirmary for another few days. "Good thinkin', 'arry. I'd like tha'."

"I've heard you were a good friend to my parents, Hagrid," Harry offered quietly.

"I like to reckon so, 'arry. They were right special folk, yer parents, grea' together, an' they always had a bit o' time ter spare fer me." Hagrid looked out over the grounds as he apparently lost himself in introspection. "Dumbledore took me on at 'Ogwarts when I 'ad a spot o' bother, 'e's a great man 'e is. Yer folks were jus' like that an'all, they didn' care nowt about what others thought o' me nor them. I watched ower 'em fer an age, an' when they finally got thesselves sorted I were right glad for 'em like."

"Well, I'm glad you have a good opinion of them, Hagrid. It seems like I'm not following in their footsteps in that manner."

"Tha's a right load o' tosh," Hagrid shot back with quite a bit of vehemence. "They 'Ogwarts pupils may not know nowt about ye, Harry, but the way ye work wi' Neville an' they Weasleys tells us owt about ye, clear as rain. Yer a right good lad inside an'all, I reckon."

Harry smiled wryly at Hagrid for his defense. "Maybe when it suits me, Hagrid."

Hagrid just laughed a bit. "How you doin' with tha' l'il lass, Ginny? She's a right decent sort too, like. Always nice with the critters an'all, she's got the magic touch, like."

Rolling his eyes, Harry just shook his head in amusement. "We had a spot of trouble, as it were. I think we'll be friends enough given some time, but life has been kind of hard to keep up with lately."

Hagrid clapped Harry on the back hard enough to send Harry sprawling on the ground by the crate. "Don' be a worrywart, 'arry, you'll sort it out. She be givin' you a proper tutorin' in the morn, or do I 'ave to check up on 'er?"

Climbing back to his feet, Harry had a sudden appreciation for the warnings he had received prior to coming to Hogwarts. He tenderly rubbed at his shoulder, hoping it lacked the damage sufficient to rate the ire of Madam Pomfrey. "We've just got started, really. She's starting with third year material and moving on, I think."

Hagrid just nodded his head. "That's prob'ly fer the best, 'arry. I tried ter introduce a couple o' lovely l'il lads when I first got teachin', but, well, it didn' go right really. She knows what she's on about, ye should trust 'er ter move things along alright."

Harry smiled up at Hagrid. "Oh, I'm sure she's got the pace all worked out in her head."

Hagrid beamed happily. "I got ter go grab some stuff for 'morrow's NEWT class, 'arry. Drop in next weekend an' we'll 'ave a look at tha' trike o' Sirius', right?"

"Great, Hagrid. Thanks!"

Hagrid looked once more into the crate at the angry gnome in the bottom. "I don't mind abou' a l'il jesting, 'arry, but don't hurt 'em, alright? I know they gets out o' hand round 'ere, but I pack 'em up as I can catch 'em every full moon an' drop 'em off deep in the Fores'. So no hurtin' 'em, right?"

"Sure thing, Hagrid. You don't mind if I send a few off on the prank, do you?"

Hagrid shook his head before turning to leave. Harry gave a half-wave as the large man strode off, his tone-deaf whistling loud enough to make Harry wince in pain until he was far enough away that the intensity lessened.

Harry was just wrapping up his complete set of charms and curses on the goblin when he heard a strange keening wail coming from near the castle. Looking up, he watched as a faded white form shot out of the solid wall by the main entrance and started heading more or less in Harry's general direction. As it came closer, Harry realised it was a poltergeist radiating a slight aura. Harry knew full well that ghosts had no aura.

The poltergeist, which Harry could only assume was the notorious Peeves he had been warned about, went screaming past him, gibbering about insatiable women and their wanton ways. Curious, Harry put down the crate and gnome he had just finished charming and stood up to get a good look around. A shimmering white figure was drifting across the lawn, in approximately the same path that Peeves flew past on, as a pretty blonde girl walked alongside.

When they drew close enough, Harry could tell the blonde was wearing a Ravenclaw badge, and the white form was the ghost of a young girl. Both were giggling like mad. The blonde suddenly noticed Harry and turned her bright, wide eyes on him.

"Hello, Harry Potter. That's a nice cage for Frimpkiks. Did you buy it?"

Harry paused for a moment to consider the question. "I'm sorry, you have me at a disadvantage. You are?"

"Oh! Oh! This is Myrtle, and I'm Luna." She smiled widely, and Harry had to admit she was rather pretty, although she would probably be beautiful if she did not have such a wide-eyed expression on her face. As it was, she looked like she had her finger stuck in a light socket.

"Ladies," he offered simply. "I'm sorry, Luna, but I made the crate for a little project with some gnomes."

"Hmmm. Celery would be more useful. Gnomes don't like to eat it." With casual ease, she stuffed her wand behind her ear and waved Myrtle off. The ghost waved back at Luna before following Peeves' flight.

Harry scratched at the back of his head briefly. This conversation was a decidedly different one from the norm. "Celery doesn't really have the strength I need for a cage."

"You have to ask it nicely, Harry Potter. Really, bananas just don't work like that."

"I see. Uh, maybe next time I'll try some celery." Harry was cautiously making sure his wand was pointed away from the girl, although his instincts were giving off mixed signals. Her aura was glowing with magical power, but it was flickering in crazy patterns that made it hard to gauge her emotional state.

Luna smiled with a level of compassion that Harry found unnerving. "She's just lonely, Harry Potter. Is that so wrong?"

"Ah," Harry temporized. "Myrtle is lonely?"

"There is that."

Harry sat down slowly on the grass, amused that Luna came over and sat in front of him. "So she thinks Peeves is lonely and is trying to befriend him?"

"No, no," Luna sighed. "Myrtle has decided that Peeves is going to be her love in this life. She just thinks he needs a little love and compassion, and then he'll straighten up. That's all any boy needs, really. I was saying that she's lonely, but she has no one to turn to. Why turn her away from affection?"

Harry coughed a couple of times. "From what I've been told, that doesn't seem too likely to help Peeves."

Luna smiled vaguely as she turned to watch the waves in the lake. "Peeves is Peeves. We all need a little mothering now and then, but acceptance can be so much more. I'm trying to be encouraging, but he just doesn't want to let anyone in. Sad, isn't it? Still, I'll try for the sake of my friend. And, of course, for the sake of Peeves."

She was clearly talking with multiple layers of meaning, and it was uncomfortable to think about. Harry could feel himself closing off to this conversation and was deciding how abruptly he wanted to end it before the blonde changed tracks on him.

"Do you always cavort with goblins, werewolves, and vampires?"

The question was innocent enough, and could have merely been a rephrasing from some of the nasty Prophet articles lately, but Harry could tell she was not asking a hypothetical question. He was quite concerned with how to handle such a direct question but was more concerned with how she clearly knew that there had been a goblin here recently. "What makes you ask?" Harry tried to keep his tone even, but he knew he was scant seconds away from stunning the girl and dragging her off to Cyril for questioning.

"I shan't tell, Harry Potter. Your business is your own. I was under the impression that they weren't allowed here, but you've shown that to be incorrect in all three ways. Or maybe that you know how to get around the rules. Will you bring a Snorkack here too? I would really like to see one."

"Er, Snorkack? I don't think I've learned about those yet."

Luna failed to react at all. She just kept looking at Harry with her disconcertingly protuberant eyes. "Professor Sprout doesn't like you. And she really doesn't like your Mentor."

Harry knew his face was becoming an open book of surprises delivered. "I've sort of realised that. You wouldn't happen to know why?"

Luna nodded her head quickly. "Of course. Even the church mice know."

Harry just sighed for a moment. "Would you tell me why she dislikes us?"

"Don't worry, I have decided that I'll like you. My friend wants me to." Luna smiled brightly at Harry for a moment. "You don't look like Stubby Boardman much, and I rather thought you would."


"Your Godfather of the lake. Stubby Boardman."

"Ah . . ." Harry was becoming quite alarmed. First the goblin and werewolf reference, and now some type of Sirius reference. If word got out that these characters were around, and specifically around Harry Potter, then he knew that the level of muck he was stuck in would get quite a bit deeper. "I don't know what you're talking about." Harry knew it sounded weak, but this girl had him completely baffled. Should he stun her and take her for interrogation, or try to carry on the charade? She clearly knew /something/, but he was starting to realise she was not firmly attached to the real world around her.

Luna just smiled mistily. Before she could say anything, however, Peeves came back wailing in misery as Myrtle chased after him, begging him to let her take away his pain and be a good girlfriend.

"I'll be off, Harry Potter. Do bring marmalade next time, it tastes much better with the right questions." With a smile and a wave, the blonde walked quickly after the disappearing ghost and poltergeist, back toward the main doors of the castle.

Bemused yet rather alarmed, Harry turned back to his crate and pondered the extremely odd conversation he had just experienced. He was certain that she was talking about something else the whole time, but what it was exactly left him confused and slightly worried. He was absently wondering if Remus or Cyril would be able to decipher it all if given the memory, when he heard someone coming across the lawn and looked over to see Ginny Weasley walking toward him. He sat still, unconsciously running a hand through his hair as he alternately watched Ginny's approach and the slow rippling of the waves on the lake. Taking a few breaths, Harry tried to get his mental balance back before the incoming walking paradox could discern his momentary confusion and exploit the weakness.

"Harry," Ginny interrupted his train of calming thoughts, "Luna told me I could find you out here."

"Oh? You know Luna?" Harry paused to consider the redhead briefly. She seemed more positive, more upbeat and calmer than he had seen her in a while. Harry slowly realised that the last time he had seen her like this was before the whole fiasco that led to St. Mungo's. Thinking back to his unusual conversation with the Ravenclaw, Harry grimaced slightly. "I found her most . . . interesting."

The expression on Harry's face was enough to get Ginny grinning at him. "She's an old friend. What's the matter? She didn't hurt your brain, did she?"

Harry shot her a wry look before he turned back to enchanting the prank he was building. Ginny kept trying to move around Harry to see inside the crate, but Harry strove to block her access every time she tried.

Finally giving in to the impromptu contest, Ginny leaned back to look at the crate from the side while rubbing on her arms absently. "What are you doing?"

"I'm working on an art project." Harry grinned, knowing how useless that answer was.

"Right. It looks like a box. Very creative." The mild sarcasm made him smile even more.

"Oh? You disbelieve me? Well . . . maybe I'm creating a joke."

"Really?" Ginny tried to lean over again, only to have Harry finally scoot over a little so she could see into the crate. One garden gnome was looking up at her from the inside, its mouth working soundlessly. "What have you done to that poor gnome?"

Harry smiled. "Well, I might have silenced it."


"So he stops talking, of course."

Ginny sighed. "They don't usually say much. Why was his talk bothering you?"

Harry unconsciously adopted a sly expression. "Ever heard of Tourette's Syndrome?" Ginny shook her head slowly. "Well, it's mostly a Muggle thing as far as I know. It's a bit of a brain disorder that sometimes causes people to swear uncontrollably, using some really vulgar language."

"Oookaaay," Ginny offered. "So why does that matter here?"

"Well," Harry temporized, "I may have infected this gnome with something that will make him act like that. It's not permanent, but he does say shockingly inappropriate things."

"Such as?"

"That would be telling, that would." Harry smirked. "Sorry, no can do."

Ginny frowned as she stared at Harry for a long moment. "It's nothing that hurts the gnome, is it?"

Harry shook his head. "No, it shouldn't even notice. As far as the gnome can tell, or any other gnome for that matter, it's just a substitution of certain phrases for other things. The gnome would intend to say 'Get off me', for example, but what you would hear, Miss Weasley, would make you . . . surprised. But other infected gnomes just hear 'Get off me' as if nothing was wrong. They just talk a bit more than usual. . . well, okay, maybe a lot more."

"Hmmmm." Ginny watched the gnome walk in circles inside the crate. "Why do you keep saying 'infected' when you talk about it?"

"That's the beauty of it," Harry offered. "It's viral, you know, like a sickness? Another gnome comes within a few feet, and it becomes infected too. So with just a few gnomes, I can send this crate off and be assured that the target has a garden full of obnoxious gnomes for a few days."

Ginny tapped her chin for a moment. "So why is there only one gnome here?"

"Oh, I was just finishing up the charms work. Now I need to catch more so this one can infect the others."

Ginny looked around. "I'm surprised you found one, actually. I've never seen them here at Hogwarts."

"Really?" Harry was astonished that she clearly lacked knowledge of gnomes. Perhaps Hagrid's curriculum overlooked the silly little creatures. "They're all over. Gnomes indirectly feed on the magic residue around wizards and witches, didn't you know that? And since most magical folk live around high areas of magic, the gnomes show up like . . . well . . . magic. They tend to drift a bit too, but mostly they follow the concentration of magic from place to place."

"Oh," said Ginny quietly. "That's not in any of the books I've read. Where did you learn that?"

Harry just shrugged absently, as he sat down and began charming the ground in front of him to radiate large amounts of magic. By creating a small ward buffer but designing it with a hole, it was sucking up ambient magical energy and slowly pouring it onto the ground. As the magical energy rolled away from the deliberately broken ward buffer, it looked like raw energy creeping toward the shrubberies at the base of the castle.

Within moments, gnomes started popping up and playing in the small stream of energy. Ginny was smiling as she watched the gnomes jump about. It only took a minute or two before some of them began walking back toward Harry, perceiving that the source was closer to the humans. They were cautious, but as Harry and Ginny made no moves to bother them, eventually almost a dozen were frolicking at their feet.

With a slow and careful movement, Harry conjured a large net over the playing gnomes and dropped it. As soon as they were trapped, they all started thrashing about until Harry stunned them all, one at a time. When they were all down, he cancelled the deformed ward buffer and shooed away the other gnomes that had starting coming closer to investigate what was going on. As they scurried off, Harry scooped up the captured gnomes and placed them all in the crate, Vanishing the net and watching them all for a moment.

Ginny leaned over and saw the lone conscious gnome poking and prodding the recent additions before it turned and shook a tiny fist at them. Smiling slightly, she gave Harry an amused glance as she buried her hands in her pockets. "I don't think your children are very happy with you, Harry."

Ignoring the barb, Harry cast an Imperturbable charm on the crate before he revived all the stunned gnomes. With one last twist, he removed the frictionless charm inside the crate, and swung the lid closed with a soft thud!

Flashing a tight smile at Ginny, Harry promptly began casting a series of charms on the crate. Occasionally he had to pause to shoo away a curious gnome, amused that they apparently failed to understand the danger when their comrades disappeared en masse.

"So, Harry," Ginny called, pacing around while Harry worked. "Why did you take the map off me?"

Harry shrugged and kept working. "At first, I didn't know what it was, but I don't like objects unfamiliar to me close to my person. Portkeys, cursed objects, all kinds of nastiness can catch you that way."

Ginny arched one eyebrow in apparent disbelief, shivering in the non-existent breeze. "You are a bit paranoid, aren't you?"

Harry rolled his eyes but ignored the question. She doesn't know the half of it, Floppy's voice sounded in his head.

Shut up, Floppy. Harry paused to stare at the sky for a moment. "What do you need the map so badly for, anyway? By now you know all the secret passageways and such. I can't imagine you need it just to pull a couple of random pranks."

Harry's question effectively silenced Ginny.

"I want to be able to avoid certain people," Ginny said after a moment. Harry was surprised that she had admitted something for the first time, even if it was rather non-specific.

"Oh? Too many blokes trying to get a date?"

"Oh, very funny, Mr. Dark Lord Potter." Shaking her head, she looked at Harry with pity. "Are you jealous?"

Harry knew he had walked into that one. "Of what? I don't like blokes like that."

Grinning as she flushed slightly, Harry turned away from her. Content that the crate was secure, a proper temporary living space, and silent from the outside, he began the pack of charms to carefully shrink the crate down, as well as lighten it. When it was finally set, Harry cast a quick charm to Summon a school owl down from the Owlery. As he waited for it to arrive, he conjured a bit of parchment and an envelope for it. When the owl arrived moments later to Ginny's open surprise, Harry carefully tied on the shrunken crate package but told the owl to wait a moment.

With as much casualness as he could muster, Harry pulled out a piece of parchment and asked Ginny if she would hold it for him while he charmed it to revert the crate and forcibly open it when it reached the recipient. "Will you tell me who you're pranking?"

"Sure, just let me finish this bit first, right? I need to get this done quickly, or else I'll have to start all over." Harry had no problems tossing out random misinformation. After all, it really would require starting over if he failed to finish the spells within a day or two.

She cautiously took the sheet from him, whereupon he quickly cast several spells on it, ignoring her wince as the spells flew toward her outstretched hands. When the sheet stopped glowing, he took it back from her and scribbled a quick note on the sheet, before folding it up into the envelope and writing a name on the outside. Harry was thoroughly careful to not allow Ginny to see the name or contents as he secured it to the miniature package. With the letter attached and some whispered instructions, the owl swept off into the sky, streaking in a somewhat southerly direction.

"So now will you tell me who you just pranked?"

Harry grinned. "Your mum."

"What?!" Ginny stared at Harry, incredulous. "You wanted me to hold that for some other reason, didn't you?"

Harry nodded happily. "Only your mum can touch that parchment now. And when she does, the crate will pop open, the gnomes will run all over the place, and rapidly infect all the other gnomes around your house. Don't worry, it wears off after a few days."

Growling slightly, Ginny leaned toward him. "And what if I hadn't been here?"

Harry waved the question away. "I was going to set off some explosions. I'm fairly certain that would lure your brothers out here in a heartbeat."

Ginny stared at him in consternation for a minute, then, flashing him a bright smile, she began laughing delightedly. "That's brilliant. I can't believe I just helped you prank her. I suppose I should be upset with you, but now I can't wait to see what she does to get back at you." She paused in her laughter, and Harry suddenly found himself at the business end of a wand. "But, Harry Potter, if she learns of my inadvertent help, you will not be happy. Clear?"

Harry joined her in laughing as he motioned her to head back into the castle. As they walked up the path toward the main entrance and Ginny put her wand away, Harry could just feel it in his bones that Mrs. Weasley would be thrilled to receive the latest volley in their little squabble.

"Harry, what will you do when you finally run into my mum?"

Harry grinned evilly. "I'll win her over, of course, with my amazing charm and good looks."

"Think much of yourself, do you?" Ginny shook her head at his statement. "You clearly haven't looked in a mirror lately, since only the blind could believe that statement."

"Awww," Harry complained, "tell me how you really feel."

"I'd really rather not, thanks all the same." Ginny pulled a face at him for a moment before she settled into a smirk.

"Fine," Harry sighed. "Climb all over my delicate sensibilities."

Ginny visibly steeled herself before giving Harry a direct look. "I want my map back," she said abruptly.

Chuckling, Harry just shook his head. "It's not yours to claim. It belongs to the creators. Filch swiped it from them one night but couldn't activate it, so he locked it up. I'd like to know how you got it, actually."

"I disagree. I think when they lost it and didn't get it back, it became fair game." Ginny grinned at Harry. "And I told you, Fred and George gave it to me. I don't know how they got it, other than they said they found it in Filch's cabinets."

"Hmmm," Harry said noncommittally. "Sounds like I need to ask the twins, then. Have you found where my room is?"

Ginny scowled and narrowed her eyes. "As a matter of fact, none of us can find it. I've had the twins and Hermione helping me. Neville offered to help as well, but he hasn't had the time yet to look."

Harry laughed lightly. "Well, if you find it, you know what you need to do to get the map back." Harry glanced over at the redhead and laughed again at her irritated expression. "Or, you could just be really nice to me, and I can ask them about making another."

Ginny's eyes narrowed even further. "You know who they are, then?"

"You read that note last night, you know the answer," was Harry's vague reply. "Don't pretend otherwise."

"So why did you sign it 'Howler' rather than Harry?"

Harry grinned without looking at her. "It's kind of a code, I suppose." Harry moved through the doors to the entrance hall but held the door a moment to let Ginny go past him.

Glancing down, Harry realised Ginny was still wearing shoes that were completely useless for training in. No substantial protection, light weight, little traction, they were the type of shoes people wore when their biggest concerns were what to have for dinner or what book to read. Mildly annoyed she was still wearing those shoes which he specifically told her to change, he subtly drew a quick pattern in the air and turned her shoes into large pink bunny slippers that squeaked on every other step.

"Harry!" Ginny's irritation was almost palpable as she stopped dead in the entrance hall, staring at her slippers. "What the hell was that for?!" She promptly tried to kick him, but Harry stepped out of the way and resumed walking toward the staircase.

"Didn't I tell you to wear better shoes than that?" Harry asked as she caught back up to him in his walk to the Hospital Wing. Since it would be getting dark soon, Harry wanted to talk to Remus before his friend had to go back to the Shrieking Shack again. He knew Sirius would arrange to be at the Shack as support, but he also knew that the matron would definitely not let Harry go as well to keep Remus company, despite any assurances of his own safety. "Those shoes are about as useful as slippers, so you might as well have slippers. At least those keep your feet warm. And that colour looks horrible on you, by the way. Never wear pink. Or red I suppose. Eugh."

Ginny flushed slightly before looking away from Harry. "I don't have anything better than these, Harry." Her voice was quiet, and it was obvious to Harry that she was incredibly uncomfortable with admitting this.

"Oh." Harry paused to reflect on the situation for a moment. "I'll take care of it, then," he offered while flicking his wand at her slippers and changing them back to her normal shoes. "You can't really transfigure or conjure something as good as what Muggles can make. It's too hard to wrap all the details into your mind when you do the spell work. I'll get someone to pick you up the proper stuff."

If anything, Ginny flushed even darker. "You don't need to do that," she said very quietly. "I'll manage."

Harry shook his head as they reached the corridor to the Infirmary. "No, you won't. You want training, I agreed to provide it, so get over it. You need this. And you'll accept it. If I need to call for your help, you're no good if you can't move right."

There was absolute silence between them as they continued to approach the Infirmary. "By the way, Harry, everyone knows redheads don't wear pink, burgundy or most shades of red, for that matter. Well, unless they are colour blind."

Chuckling, Harry walked through the doors to the Hospital Wing and left Ginny to follow along in an almost comfortable silence. Striding over to his friend's bed, Harry dropped heavily onto the foot of it. "She still keeping you here, Remus? Haven't escaped yet?"

Remus just smirked at Harry. "You escaped so well, Harry. I see you're back for the night like she asked."

Harry shrugged slightly. "As a nominal student here, I can't really escape forever. You, however, could just pack it in and leg it on out of here."

Remus smiled vaguely and looked over at Ginny. "I see you found the prodigal student, Ginny. Did you win your argument with Harry?"

Harry grinned while Ginny shot him a dark look. "No, he keeps saying he has to talk to the real owners of the map first."

Remus arched one eyebrow at Harry, but Harry just waved him off. "I'll talk to the two fellows, a Mr. Moony and a Mr. Padfoot, a bit later." Harry paused to wink at Remus while Ginny was pulling a chair over to sit in. "You're free from here as of tomorrow morning, right Remus?"

Remus nodded cautiously. "So Poppy has indicated. Why?"

"Good. Ginny needs a complete wardrobe for training. I've got that old set of armour that's really just too small for me, so she can have that, but she needs the works otherwise - boots, pants, all that." Harry shot a warning look at Ginny before she could do more than open her mouth. "Can you get that and send it to her here? Or just bring it to your lessons with her? Oh, I need a new set of armour for myself as well."

Remus shifted a bit before looking expectantly at Harry. He briefly glanced at Ginny and then rapidly returned his gaze to Harry.

What? Harry asked silently.

Well, Harry, a full wardrobe isn't terribly expensive . . . but are you sure you want to do this?

Harry could feel his eyebrows shooting up. Since when has money been an issue?

Remus actually managed to look mildly sheepish. Sirius and I have been managing your assets like you asked, Harry. With all the Business work going on, and the costs there . . . well, to put it simply, you're broke.

Really? Harry was uncertain how to feel about that news. He knew he had a place to live with his father, and he knew he would have food and clothing, so the fact that he was a bit insolvent did not bother him too much. Except for the consideration of his need for new armour, however, as that would not be cheap.

Until the next return deposits come in, yeah. That won't be until the thirtieth of September, though, when the quarter is over.

Harry frowned slightly. Damn. Now what?

Remus glanced at Ginny, who was watching the two of them with her eyes narrowed and looked about ready to either curse them or just tell them off for excluding her from the conversation. I'd offer to cover the costs, but you know I'm as broke as you are. Worse, actually. Sirius has some funds that we've been using to get by until the returns come in . . . I'll see if he can cover at least some of it.

Harry nodded. "All right, Remus. Boots for Ginny first, plus a couple of workout outfits, then armour for me if you can. When the funds come in at the end of the month, please get the rest."

Remus smiled slightly. "Okay. I suspect the armour will have to wait until next month, Harry. I need to get with Markus Prewitt to discuss this and --"

Ginny startled slightly and interrupted them. "Markus Prewitt?"

Harry raised an eyebrow at her.

Apparently ignoring him, Ginny rattled off a rapid-fire series of questions. "Kind of tall but heavy, unpleasant to be around, doesn't care too much for wizards, a squib? A weird red-brown hair colour? Has a show-off know-it-all squib daughter named Mafalda that's far too nosy?"

Remus nodded slowly.

"Huh. He's Mum's cousin, and we wondered where he'd got off to. He won't answer her letters anymore." Ginny frowned for a moment. "Can you tell me how to reach him?"

Leaning out of Ginny's sight, Harry shook his head vigorously. Remus just smirked a bit before looking back at Ginny. "You're not going to send him Howlers or something, are you?"

Ginny waved her hand airily at Remus before glaring at Harry. "No, but Mum might."

Remus grimaced slightly. "How about if we just pass along that your mum would like to exchange letters with him and take it from there? He's rather good as an accountant, you see, and I'd not like to lose his skills right now."

"Well, that's all right for now. I'll tell Mum to just ask you about it, then, shall I?" Harry started chuckling as Remus paled. "Don't worry, I'm sure she won't send you any exploding letters for at least a couple of weeks. And she saves her really good stuff for someone special to the family." Ginny's sidelong look at Harry was obvious to all of them.

Madam Pomfrey came out of her office and walked briskly up to the three of them, her shoes making a loud clicking across the hard floor. "Mr. Potter, welcome back. You need your rest. Remus, Minerva has asked for you, so I need to escort you to see her. Please come with me now. Miss Weasley, you may stay for dinner or go to the Great Hall, it's your choice. The elves will ask whoever is here what they want for dinner and bring it up. We should be back shortly."

As the matron escorted Remus out the door, she leaned back into the wing and looked pointedly at Harry. "And if Cyril isn't here by the time I get back, he's not going to be leaving my care any time soon, Mr. Potter. You might want to encourage him to return sooner rather than later."


Happy holidays, whatever form you might choose to celebrate if any. If not, well, Happy Weekend to you.

The Fidelius Charm is a bit of a dropped ball on JKR's part. She's set it up in canon such that it's so ambiguous and unclear on how major parts of it work, that it's subsequently hard to accurately say what is and isn't feasible or how it would behave under given conditions. I have constructed a model that "fits" what is definitely known from canon books, but is unable to answer all the troublesome problems. Rather than solve them all (something I think is actually not possible), I've carefully boxed in how my model works to avoid inconsistencies in how it is used in this story.

Thanks, as always, to my genius betas who have valiantly strived to make this story better. Immeasurable thanks to cwarbeck and Chreechree. Thanks also to Reg for his Brit-picking, Treecat for slang checking, and Sovran for a pre-publish sanity check.

/FicWad Readers:/

From here on out, everything after this will be all-new material. Again, due to the "validation" policy at SIYE, the chapters will be readable here first by a day or two. The next chapter, concluding the day of Inflection Points, is in late beta.

Sign up to rate and review this story