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

20. Inflection Points, Part 4 of 4

by moshpit 5 reviews

Chapter 20

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: 2007-01-16 - Updated: 2007-01-17 - 12168 words


Chapter 20 : Inflection Points, Part 4

Cyril breezed into the Infirmary while Harry was sitting with Ginny at the table in the back. Harry had been rehashing what Hermione had determined about words, thoughts, and magic but found himself highly amused that Ginny seemed to find these truths self-evident. It was less than amusing to her, however, when she was unable to manage the light spell without words.

Harry had dissuaded her from trying to switch the words to something meaningless yet, telling her it would be much simpler if she learned to do it silently first. She had managed to set the table on fire once and later to coat Madam Pomfrey's door in bubbles, which was impressive in and of itself, but she was determined to get the light spell working before Hermione did.

"Cyril." Harry nodded as his Mentor came in. "Madam Pomfrey was threatening you with an extended visit and some special treatment if you didn't return soon." Ginny ignored them beyond a quick 'hello' to Cyril, focusing on her magic and the wand in her hand.

Cyril raised an equally amused eyebrow before dropping down next to Harry. "I have sent a note to Professor McGonagall, asking her to let us know when she has some spare time available. We both need to speak with her at some length tonight."

Harry was curious to know why but chose not to ask yet. It was clear that Cyril had no desire to discuss it more than once, so he just let it go for the moment. "I need to get back to my room. I want to give Ginny the first volume of the /Theory of Magic/. Do you mind?"

Cyril's amused expression, if anything, became more pronounced. "I'll let Poppy know."

Harry gave up guessing what his Mentor was up to and rose quickly, tapping Ginny on the shoulder to get her attention. As she stood to follow him, Harry called back over his shoulder. "If the house elves show up, I'll be having dinner here. Ginny said she'd be eating with the rest of the school."

Cyril nodded acknowledgement but turned to a book he withdrew from his robes. Harry was curious to know what it was about, but just glancing at the title revealed that it was written in a language with which he was unfamiliar. Shrugging, Harry led Ginny out of the Infirmary and off toward Gryffindor Tower.

"Does this mean I get to know where your room is?" Ginny's voice carried a hint of humour, even though she was still flicking her wand repeatedly trying to make it light up.

Harry chuckled audibly. "Sure, you can even watch me go in." He knew that she would be really challenged by the disappearing trick that the Fidelius conveyed to people that lacked knowledge of the secret, but this could be a new form of entertainment. Given her statement that she had the twins and Hermione helping her look, he wondered if they might find some way of bypassing the charm through sheer stubbornness.

Harry had to pause for a moment as a goose popped out of Ginny's wand, waddled three steps in front of them, and disappeared in a puff of feathers. As soon as the feathers hit the floor, they vanished. Harry was unable to resist the temptation. "Hey Ginny, can you teach me that one?"

Ginny frowned at him but kept working.

When they arrived outside the door to the Gryffindor common room and stopped, Ginny looked around in apparent surprise. "Er, Harry, I thought we were going to your room."

Harry smirked. "We aren't, but I am. Watch!" Harry casually entered through the portrait in front of the suite of rooms he shared with Cyril, whispering the password as quietly as he could manage. Harry started laughing as he heard her muffled expletives when he vanished through the painting. Finding /The Theory of Magic, Volume I: Core Understanding/, Harry picked up the thick tome and carried it back into the corridor.

Ginny jumped slightly when he rematerialized directly in front of her. "So now you know where my room is, right?" His face ached from the massive smirk, but the narrowed eyes and assorted tics indicative of a mild temper from the redhead were ample compensation for his mild discomfort. Casually extending the thick text toward her, he waited until she grasped it with one hand before pulling his wand out.

Ginny visibly froze in place when he pointed the wand at her. "Right, I'm going to charm this so only you and I know what it is. If anyone else looks at it, it will just look like a book that they abhor the idea of even opening, let alone reading. I'll also put on a mild repellent to discourage people from asking about it. Hold still." Ginny flinched when he cast the spells, but the book only glowed for a moment.

"Read that. Try to get through the first chapter by tomorrow." Harry paused to run his hand through his hair again, while Ginny gawked at the size of the book in her hands. "What else, what else. Oh, if you find any spelling or grammatical mistakes, tell Remus. He's the editor, and he should have picked them up. And, no, you're not allowed to talk about anything you learn from that book. So no academic chats with Hermione, alright? What else . . . Hmmm."

As Harry stood there thinking and Ginny was slowly thumbing through the book, a voice called out from the opening into Gryffindor Tower. "Harry!" Neville smiled at him and stepped out fully. "I thought I heard someone out here." He looked at Ginny briefly before glancing at the book in her hands. When he saw the title, he flushed slightly and took a step back. "Er, hi Ginny."

Ginny glanced at Neville and saw how his eyes were locked on the book in her hands. Shooting Harry a wry look, she turned back to Neville. "Hello, Neville. Weren't you going to spend some time helping Ron with Herbology this afternoon?"

Neville finally tore his eyes away from the book, and Harry was suddenly very curious to know what book Neville was so terrified of reading. Based on his expressions, he was certain it had to be something he himself would find rather interesting.

"Er, yes, we had planned to. He's late. That's why I was looking in the corridor when I heard voices." Neville breathed a sigh of obvious relief when Ginny put the book behind her back. "Er, you haven't seen him, have you Ginny?"

Ginny gave him a smile but shook her head. Harry knew his wolf-smile, as Neville dubbed it, had emerged while regarding the pair of them. "Well, Ginny, I do need to be off to the Infirmary before Madam Pomfrey has my head. Since you're so eager to read that book, why don't you keep Neville company while he waits?"

After moving swiftly away, Harry laughed quietly to himself all the way back to the Hospital Wing as he replayed Neville's stuttering exclamations of how he was just fine waiting by himself, and no, Ginny really did not need to keep him company. Pausing to reflect on the current state of his games in progress, Harry was feeling that he was pleasantly ahead in the contest with Ginny, somewhat ahead of the twins, and held a slight lead over the sneaky, yet under-rated, Mrs. Weasley.

As he entered the Infirmary, a house-elf was busy setting out two trays of dinner while Cyril was writing on a sheet of parchment. When Cyril looked up to see Harry, he just waved him over to the table and went back to writing. As Harry sat down, Cyril spoke while continuing to write.

"Minerva has asked us to wait for her in the Headmaster's Office as soon as we finish supper. She also has news to share with us and will be along as quickly as she is able." Harry ate his dinner in silence as Cyril wrapped up his writing and consumed his own meal. Feeling that the silence was a precursor to something ominous, Harry found himself somewhat anxious to start the meeting with McGonagall and had no difficulty rapidly consuming the early dinner.

After they both had eaten their fill, Cyril tacked the parchment to Madam Pomfrey's door, and they quickly left for the meeting. When the staircases refused to align properly, leaving them at the base of the first staircase to the main corridors of the castle, Harry wished fervently that he knew how Crowley controlled the staircases. That was yet another question to ask Remus, and he mentally added it to the list he maintained when he had a moment to sit and reflect on his many issues and questions.

Harry paused as he and Cyril stood waiting on the staircases in the entrance hallway of the castle. The school dinner would be starting in another ten or fifteen minutes, so there would soon be students streaming toward them. Glancing around, he noted absently that the Great Hall doors were closed, but the main entrance doors were open. Harry could discern that someone was moving just outside of his vision, a rippling shadow across the threshold in the rapidly fading daylight. The back-and-forth movement was unusual, as it suggested impatient waiting rather than someone out just to enjoy the evening or otherwise engaged in normal activities. Harry unconsciously took a half-dozen steps toward the doors but failed to see whoever was outside.

Cyril moved to stand beside Harry, regarding the front doors as Harry did, but said nothing. Faintly, they could hear some voices calling from outside, although the words were unintelligible.

As Harry and Cyril stood and faced the doors, five men walked into the entrance hall. Leading the group were the unmistakable forms of Lucius and Draco Malfoy, with the caretaker Filch shambling along just behind them, and two Aurors bringing up the rear by a few paces. Cyril immediately moved in front of Harry, blocking a direct view from any of them.

The new arrivals stopped cold when they saw Cyril standing there. Lucius looked as though he wanted to strike Cyril dead but managed to adopt a condescending look of casual superiority as he noted Harry just behind the old War Mage.

"Well, well, if it isn't Master Feiner and his young puppy." Lucius paused for a moment. "If you would step aside, we have business here."

Cyril made no effort to move but continued to regard them before breaking his silence. "That is most interesting. I understood that the younger Master Malfoy was banned from this institution."

Something intangible flashed across Lucius' eyes for a moment before he settled into his usual sneer. "The Wizengamot has found Draco innocent of all charges, and I have a decree from the Board of Governors and the Wizengamot reinstating him as a student here. I am here to see him properly returned to the rolls and to secure pledges for his continued safety."

Harry knew his eyebrows were climbing toward his hairline, but he was curious just how well informed the Malfoys were with regards to the changes that had transpired during Draco's absence. Cyril took two steps forward, hand extended in silent demand for evidence of such a decree, and inadvertently revealed Harry fully to the others.

The pair of Aurors at the back jerked slightly at seeing Harry and rushed forward, wands drawn, to take a protective stance between Harry and the Malfoys. As soon as the two men began moving, Harry and Cyril both had their respective wands out and reflexively moved in random patterns to present difficult targets.

The Aurors did not have their wands aimed specifically at Harry but rather in his general direction, while he kept shifting back and forth among them at random to avoid being predictable. Harry found it odd that they were clearly prepared to die defending the Malfoys from Harry when he had done nothing to warrant their reaction, and Cyril had a much more capable reputation than Harry did.

When Cyril apparently realised that both Aurors were ignoring him in favour of exclusively focusing on Harry, he moved back in front of Harry. As soon as Cyril stepped in front of Harry and gestured for him to become still, Harry glanced around his Mentor to see the Aurors slowly lowering the wands while keeping a wary eye on Cyril. Harry was baffled at this unusual behaviour.

Cyril, seeming to be of the same mind, extended his left hand while keeping his wand loosely held in the right. "The decrees you mentioned, Mr. Malfoy?"

Eyes flashing, Lucius handed two rolls of parchment to one Auror, who promptly drew a bead on Cyril with his wand. The Auror's wand never deviated as he slowly approached and held out the parchments. After Cyril took a brief second to glance at the seals, he handed them back. Making quite a show of stowing his wand, Cyril motioned for Harry to likewise put away his own wands.

With the pair of them having moved to a non-threatening stance, Harry was surprised to see the Aurors did not likewise stow their wands away. Rather, they held them loosely in their grasp, the tips aimed at the floor. It was a stance he knew from years of dueling, a stance that meant they were prepared for instant action.

"Very well, Mr. Malfoy. I will escort you to either the Head of Slytherin House or the Deputy Headmistress. Which would you prefer?" Cyril's tone was casual, but Harry could hear the overtones of warning in it.

Draco ground his teeth together audibly while glowering at Harry. Lucius laid a restraining hand on his son's arm, never taking his eyes from Cyril. "I will see the Headmaster, not some . . . weak-willed proxy."

"Ah," Cyril said with a hint of amusement. "For medical reasons, that is unfortunately not possible. Therefore, will you see your son's Head of House, or the Deputy Headmistress? There are no other choices."

Lucius clearly put more effort into restraining his son while his other hand, holding his walking cane, twitched ever so slightly. "Very well. I will talk to McGonagall . . . for now."

As Cyril nodded and turned, he made a vague gesture for Harry to go elsewhere while his Mentor dealt with the unfolding situation. Harry stood by the side of the hallway as the group began moving toward the staircases, all of them casting looks his way. It was amusing to note the open hostility, nervousness, and anger on the faces. And that was what struck him the most. There was not one friendly face amongst the five of them.

Something clicked in the back of his mind.

Filch was scowling at him, hands thrust in robe pockets, looking for all the world like he wanted to take Harry someplace quiet and torture him into insanity for hours, if not weeks. The expression was so foreign compared to how Filch had been treating him just two nights ago that it took him a moment to realise that Filch looked different. In fact, it was quite appalling just how different he looked.

"Mentor Feiner, I just remembered, Nicholas left a message for you earlier while you were out." Harry's mind was racing, trusting Cyril to listen to what he was saying mentally rather than verbally. That is not Filch!

"Oh?" Cyril's paused and regarded Harry politely, turning so that he was facing the five arrivals as well as his Apprentice. How do you know?

"He left a package for you. He said it requires some special handling and that you would know what to do about opening it safely." Harry was becoming acutely aware that the three people in front of them could actually be anyone at all, and that left the same question about the two Aurors that had been acting so skittishly. The Filch I've been doing detention with is a squib with hardly any aura. That man is a full wizard, his aura shows it.

"Why don't you run and get it, while I escort these gentlemen to see the Deputy Headmistress?" Cyril's tone shifted not a whit, although Harry could discern the focus of power on the man's hands. Little sparks were starting to radiate to Harry's vision, a sure sign of hidden stress. We are at a disadvantage. I dare not let them out of my sight if they are false, so I will play along. We need more wands. Do we know where any of the faculty are?

Harry feigned surprise. "Now, sir?" Not a clue.

Cyril nodded his head patiently. "Now, please, Apprentice." You will not follow us, but run ahead. Use the blind nook just before the corridor to the gargoyle. You target our Mr. Filch, then Draco, then the tall Auror. I'll take Lucius, the shorter Auror with glasses, and then support you as needed. Stun only unless otherwise necessary. You must avoid student injury unless everything goes sour.

"Yes Sir. I'll meet you back outside the Headmaster's office when you're finished." Harry quickly broke into a light jog, his back itching with the latent feeling as though someone wanted to kill him. His brisk pace rapidly left the people in the entrance hall behind. As he loped up the stairs and through the corridors, the feeling of malice disappeared. The few early students heading for dinner startled and flattened themselves against the walls as he passed. Most had expressions of fear on their face as he went by, but Harry had no time to care about such trivialities at the moment.

As he reached the corridor that had the nook to hide in, he glanced around the bend and saw a few students including the Weasley twins loitering in the corridor. Not wanting to take the time to explain anything, he focused his thoughts tightly on where they were standing. Fred! George! Get the hell-"

Both of the Weasley twins started glowing blue, and Harry's frustration level immediately went up a notch. "RAPE! MIND RAPE!" Fred dropped whatever he had been holding, and it started rapidly scuttling across the floor while George jumped nearly a foot in the air before spinning around.

- out of here! Clear the -

Those Occlumency Shield rings were clearly a double-edged sword. "SOMEONE IS RAPING"

- corridor and don't let anyone -

Wincing at the volume and hoping that there was sufficient distance that the sound would not carry back to the advancing Malfoy party, Harry was resigned that his own pet project wares were screaming at him. "MY MIND! BUGGER"

- down this way! Get back toward -


- the tower! Move!


Fred was scrambling to catch something with far too many legs for comfort, and the other students were scampering out of its path. As George started to open his mouth, clearly intent on arguing or having some kind of discussion, Harry focused again. Shut up and move if you want to live!

Thankfully, the second burst of Legilimency was short enough to slide under the ring's window for activating either the glowing effect or the screams of protest.

Fred and George started hustling the others abruptly down the hallway and back toward Gryffindor Tower amidst a chorus of questions and complaints, while Harry Disillusioned himself and moved back into the nook.

Cyril and the others would never have a clear line of sight into the tight spot as they approached him, but Harry would have a perfect view of their backs as they rounded the corner and approached the Headmaster's office. The crazy old castle architecture typically had little spots like this where passages intersected at odd angles.

After another few minutes, Harry could hear the tread of feet coming down the corridor and loosely held both wands at the ready. Aurors were trained to react quickly, and even though he would be silently casting, Harry knew at least one of them would probably manage to cast a spell.

As they came abreast of Harry's hiding spot, Harry spied Lucius and the fake Filch in the lead, Draco right behind them, and the two Aurors trailing with Cyril immediately behind the Aurors, much to Harry's surprise. Somehow, his Mentor had managed to get in the rear of the party. Just as they were starting to move down the hallway, the Auror with glasses glanced at the nook Harry was hiding in and his face went pale at the same instant as his hand flicked his wand up, and he started shouting frantically.

Harry's silent Stupefy! dropped him before he could more than partially whine, but the entire motion had been sufficient to draw the attention of the others. Harry knew his Disillusionment charm would be shimmering since he was moving too quickly for it to compensate. The second Auror was moving between Draco and Harry just as Cyril dropped him.

Since the plan was already shot to hell, Harry fired a well aimed Stupefy! at Draco, who was diving to one side, and a wild off-hand Stupefy! at Filch, who was dropping to the floor as though the attack was expected.

Lucius apparently cast something at Cyril, clearly prepared for an attack while at the school. Cyril's Stunner impacted on Lucius but was deflected by a shield spell, answering the question of Lucius' first spell. Draco was hit mid-dive and fell unconscious to the ground, while Filch was reaching for a wand on his left arm.

As Harry moved in a diving roll out of the possible trap the nook could become, Lucius' wand flared brightly and a wide swath of purple shot toward him. It all but destroyed an arc of blocks in the wall, leaving a few random holes opening into an empty classroom and several hallway paintings screeching.

While Cyril's second attack was another Stunner aimed at Lucius, Harry came out of his roll in a tangent to Filch's orientation. The fake caretaker was in mid-cast when Harry launched a Stunner with his right wand followed a split second later by a boosted shield from his left.

Lucius lashed out at Cyril with his walking cane as he twisted sideways, letting Cyril's Stunner shoot past and leave a scorch mark across the wall. Vague shouts could be heard from the far end of the corridor where the students were presumably clustered, but they were of no import.

Cyril moved closer to Lucius, flicking his wand in a sharp downward motion to immobilize the arm with the walking cane. Harry's shield glowed brightly before dissolving as the curse from Filch burned it off, his own Stunner missing the caretaker by a hair and hitting the gargoyle near the Headmaster's office, turning its face black. As Filch rolled lengthwise to the left, he shot off another curse, causing Harry to jump into another sideways roll to avoid it.

Sirius' voice popped in Harry's head, an echo of their conversation by the lake, the idea that you should have done one of your charm tricks in battle. He knew that the longer the battle continued, the greater the chance of serious injury or death. It was evident that both of their opponents were adept with non-verbal magic.

The split second of reflection cost him as Cyril went down to a vibrant purple curse from Lucius, and Filch scrambled to his feet beside the Death Eater. Now it was two-on-one, and Cyril had ordered him to avoid anything beyond a simple Stunner if at all possible. Harry knew the other two would start reviving Draco and the Aurors if he gave them half a chance, so Cyril's instructions were no longer viable.

Harry rose out of his sideways roll into a slanting run, firing off twin Bubblehead Charms at the same time since neither required any particularly good aim, nor would a shield stop either from activating. Both of his opponents were in the middle of casting something he was certain would make everything more unpleasant when the shimmering dome appeared in the corridor, enclosing both men and quite a bit of empty space. The two charms were so close together they looked like just a single sphere.

With a snapping and twisting wrist motion from both hands, Harry collapsed both bubbles to just barely the size of the two men inside, crushing the interior to somewhat less than one-third of their original volume. Lucius managed to get his curse off right as the dome began collapsing, which shattered the first bubble, but the second bubble held. Inside the sphere, within fractions of a second of it shrinking, both men clearly began screaming and dropped toward the ground, their arms moving to wrap around their heads. Harry was thankful the bubblehead prevented their sounds from actually being heard beyond a faint buzzing around the dome. Instead of hitting the floor as they fell in agony, both men were laying along the bottom curve of the bubble, firmly trapped inside as they thrashed about.

By the time the reduced sphere had been in place almost one second, Harry released the charm and let it dissipate. The wails of agony from the two men now lying on the corridor floor were nearly inhuman in volume. Having previously been the recipient of a high-pressure shock to his own eardrums, Harry knew the sudden increase to almost ten times standard atmospheric pressure on their bodies was more than enough to render them temporarily non-threatening. The pressure waves from the forced reduction of the sphere and subsequent release caused discomfort to Harry's own ears, but the greater volume of air in the corridor could absorb the rapid displacements.

His old standby, the Bubblehead Charm, had proven its worth once again. Harry knew that if he had kept the high pressure for even a second longer, the release of the charm would have been fatal to the prostrate men as their lungs would have shredded under rapid expansion and their blood filled with nitrogen bubbles. As it was, they were utterly debilitated but probably had sustained no permanent damage from the event. Their joints, however, might ache for a while.

Harry stunned both of them in rapid succession and paused to survey the suddenly silent scene, his heart thumping heavily with the adrenaline still flowing like mad. With a deep sigh, Harry wiped the sweat from his brow as he looked around.

The wall behind him would need repairs and the gargoyle some cleaning, but on the whole it could have been a lot worse. Draco was unconscious. Trace amounts of blood leaked out the ears, noses, and eyes of Lucius and Filch, and obvious bruises were beginning to form under their skin. The stunned Aurors were otherwise unharmed, but Cyril needed immediate medical aid.

Dropping to his feet beside his Mentor, Harry released his Disillusionment charm and checked for a pulse. It was erratic, and his breathing was laboured, but Cyril was still alive. Madam Pomfrey would probably give both of them a stern talking to, but she would need to treat not only Cyril but also Lucius and the fake Filch before that could happen.

The sound of running feet from the stairwell behind him led him to stand in front of Cyril, both wands drawn and aimed down the corridor. Harry noted absently that his hands had a slight tremor as the adrenaline was beginning to wear off. As a preventative measure, Harry flicked two giant shields into place, one in front of him and one between Cyril and the five downed opponents.

When McGonagall came around the corner in a dead run, followed closely by Flitwick, Sprout, and Vector, Harry sighed and released the shields. Seeing the bodies all over the corridor, Harry was certain the faculty would have flashbacks to a week ago when there were other bodies all over the same corridor, and he knew this would be a tight story to get out before McGonagall could pierce him with some magic. At least this time there was minimal blood on the ground.

Sliding his wands back into his holsters, he tried his best to ignore the expressions of the recent arrivals. "We need Madam Pomfrey, immediately!" Harry managed to keep his voice relatively calm but was having a hard time controlling the volume. McGonagall stood still for a moment before firing a silvery amorphous spell that disappeared through one wall, while the other three began checking on the downed wizards.

"Potter! Explain! Now!" McGonagall's voice was like ice, and her facial expression was something he had seen only hours ago as she swept into the Infirmary to confront Fudge and his associates. At that time, she had been clearly disapproving, and Harry had been tickled to see hardened Aurors flinch at her gaze.

Finding himself on the other side of the coin, Harry found he too was unable to avoid flinching at the woman's piercing gaze. As quickly as he could, he sketched out how the Aurors were acting odd, the reason why Lucius and Draco were there, and then coupled it all to the sudden realisation that the man on the ground was not Argus Filch. Harry then recounted Cyril's instructions, given their lack of available support. He briefly explained their complete lack of faith that any of these people were who they claimed to be, and concluded that they probably needed to send for a squad of known Aurors to investigate.

After hearing the explanation, Flitwick was busy casting a series of charms on each body. "This is neither Draco Malfoy nor Argus Filch. Both of these people are Polyjuiced. The others are not under any glamour or Polyjuice Potion, nor are they Metamorphmagi. I checked for human Transfiguration, but that failed as well. There may be other means of falsification, but I'm unaware of them."

McGonagall nodded her acceptance and regarded the two identified as under Polyjuice for a moment. After a long minute of scrutiny, Harry watched her cast another silvery shape from her wand which rapidly disappeared through a different wall. McGonagall then seemed content to stand with the other faculty and Harry waiting for the mediwitch to arrive.

Harry stood next to her, staring at Filch and wondering who it could be. The man's left arm was out to one side, the hand open and empty. The right arm was by his hip, the gloved hand open and mere inches from the wand he had been using.

"Professor?" Harry was unsure if she would be willing to talk with him at the moment.

"Yes, Mr. Potter?"

"I feel a bit uncomfortable asking this, but I'm trying to remember something the Headmaster said to me last week in St. Mungo's. He said that one of his staff members tried to pick up my sword and lost their hand in doing so."

The entire faculty was suddenly staring at Harry closely. McGonagall was looking paler than she had been seconds ago. "Yes, you are correct in your memory. It was Mr. Filch. Go on."

"So why hasn't he been out for my blood during detentions?"

McGonagall sighed slightly. "The Headmaster placed a very weak Confundus charm on Mr. Filch so he would not be able to remember the students involved in the event, even if he was later informed of whom they were. You may not repeat this, Mr. Potter."

"All right." Harry paused before thinking of how to phrase what he really wanted to ask. "The real question, Professor, is why, when I've spent all that time with him, he's had both his hands . . . I haven't seen a prosthetic or scars or anything during my detentions. It never occurred to me, since so many other things have happened since then."

Silence was the only answer. Finally, McGonagall stirred slightly before kneeling and pulling the glove back from the false Filch's right hand. Flesh with no scars was revealed. "An excellent question, Mr. Potter. I fear this is more complicated than any of us appreciate."

As she stood up, the faculty members were now shifting somewhat nervously from foot to foot. Harry could feel the frequent glances his way, and he became increasingly uncomfortable just standing there.

Reflecting again on how it all happened rather quickly, Harry realised that he needed to pay closer attention to whom he used Legilimency with, and that he would have to talk to Remus about Ginny's training. The growing laundry list of discussion items was becoming too large to keep track of, making Harry think about carrying a pen and paper on him at all times just to write the questions down.

"Er, Professor McGonagall," Harry said quietly. "Just so you know, I told Fred and George Weasley to block anyone from coming this way. Someone ought to let them know when they can get out of the tower corridor safely again, and go to dinner."

"Hmm." McGonagall was quiet for a moment, as they all heard another set of running footsteps. "Five points to Gryffindor, Mr. Potter. You did at least one thing right. I will later decide how many to remove for what you did not do right."

Madam Pomfrey came flying down the hall as though propelled, and Harry was sad to see her face pale dramatically as she rushed toward the people on the ground. As soon as Harry pointed to Cyril, she altered her course slightly and dropped to her knees beside him. Quickly casting a few diagnostic spells, she looked up unhappily. "Do you know what he was hit with?"

Harry shook his head. "Something vividly bright and luridly purple."

The mediwitch clucked under her tongue for a moment before turning to McGonagall. "He must go to St. Mungo's. He needs immediate treatment." McGonagall nodded slightly, at which point Madam Pomfrey pulled out a chain of blank keys from her pocket. Snapping one off, she put on top of Cyril's chest and tapped it with her wand, causing him to disappear with a soft pop!

She then moved over to the others. A quick set of diagnostic spells led her to the bodies of Filch and Lucius, where she spent some time using her wand. As she was finishing what healing she could effect, a collection of running feet could be heard coming down the hallway.

The unmistakable form of Kingsley Shacklebolt came around the corner, closely followed by six other Aurors all in a flat out run. Each one had a sheen of sweat on their faces, but their breathing was steady, indicating they were all in rather good condition physically.

As Kingsley came to a halt in front of McGonagall, the other Aurors fanned out and collected every wand they could find from the bodies, searching each one for additional weapons or wands. One of them even took Lucius' walking cane and placed it to the side with the other objects gathered.

"All right, what's going on?" Harry was once again amused to hear the towering black man talking in a voice that just sounded odd. It was lighter than his frame would suggest it might be and had an odd, almost rhythmic, quality to it.

At McGonagall's gesture to explain, Harry gave a quick accounting of what transpired since he and Cyril had noticed the odd behaviour of someone outside the doors. When he finished describing everything, Kingsley just nodded briefly. "Right. Madam Pomfrey, are any of these in need of urgent medical care?"

The mediwitch shook her head. "No. But these two," she said with a gesture toward Lucius and Filch, "need to see someone soon. There will be scarring of their ear drums if they aren't treated within a couple of hours. They do need a bit more work, but are stable for now. I have already sent Cyril Feiner to St. Mungo's directly by emergency Portkey."

Apparently making a snap decision, Kingsley motioned over two of the Aurors. "Right, you two, gather up all the evidence. We'll sort this out back at the office. Let's just take this lot down to the cells." Kingsley paused to conjure a length of rope and to direct it to securely bind the five bodies. "One of you pick up the duty Healer when we get back."

Kinglsey looked over and pointed at another two. "You two, sweep the castle. Find out what you can. You're looking for Filch and that lovely cat of his." Looking at the last pair, Kingsley shot them a wry smile. "You two get the fun part. Debrief the faculty here, Madam Pomfrey, the paintings, and Mr. Potter. Then pop over to St. Mungo's and get Master Feiner's statement. Clear?"

Kinglsey paused for any questions, of which there were none. With that, Kingsley raised an eyebrow at McGonagall who tapped the conjured rope with her wand, clearly saying "Portus!" Within a few seconds, the two Aurors tagged to follow him gathered up all the evidence and each took a firm grip on the conjured rope. Kingsley gave a quick nod of thanks to McGonagall, and then the eight of them disappeared with a loud crack! when he tapped the rope with his wand.

The two Aurors assigned for search duty exchanged a look before turning to McGonagall. "We'll start in the dungeons and work our way up. If we run into a locked door or something we can't get past, we'll have a painting catch you up."

As the two of them headed back the way they came, Madam Pomfrey came over and scanned Harry for a moment with her wand, casting a series of diagnostic charms Harry was becoming all too familiar with. "Well, Mr. Potter, I see you've got some minor bruising but are otherwise unharmed. Return to the Infirmary, please. I'll tell the Aurors they can find you there."

Harry leaned around to look at the Aurors, wanting to say something, but the one nearest him just waved him off. "We'll find you, no worries." The woman had a voice he recognised, but he opted not to say anything presently and instead simply followed instructions.

Harry turned to leave when McGonagall's voice called out behind him. "Mr. Potter, before you go, please inform the people of Gryffindor Tower that it's now safe to leave for dinner, if you will."

Smiling slightly, Harry trudged up the corridor and headed back toward the tower. When he rounded the second corridor away from the Headmaster's door, however, he was torn between disapproval and humour at what he saw. The Weasley twins were standing with their wands drawn, apparently threatening bodily harm on the various students sitting on the floor, waiting to find out what was going on and why they were held from dinner. Ginny was pacing back and forth just behind them, facing toward Harry, that first volume of Remus' work in her hands.

When she saw him come around the corner, Harry found himself facing a woman that appeared to be one step away from full on anger. "Harry!" Her voice was relatively quiet, but laced with irritation. "What the bloody hell is going on?!"

"Oh, the usual. You're all free to go on to dinner now. The trouble's over." Harry strived for a calm and casual voice calculated to infuriate her and amuse the twins. As most of the Gryffindors got to their feet and tromped past, shooting suspicious looks at Harry, the twins and Ginny came over to stand near him. Harry found himself facing three identical looks, something he would loosely translate as "talk-or-else," as the last of the Gryffindors streamed past. Harry noticed in passing that neither Ron nor Hermione were in the crowd.

"Hey, it's me, right? What's my average day?" Harry paused to let them reflect on the question. "A few Polyjuiced Death Eaters, a pair of possessed Aurors, nasty lethal spells, broken walls, upset gargoyles . . . you know, the /usual/."

All three were looking at him with disbelief before Fred just shook his head. "If this is your idea of average, Harry, remind me not to be around when you feel the need to do something exciting."

Harry caught a wink from George behind Ginny's back. "Right, so has all the blood been cleaned up yet?" George's voice was loud and boisterous, but Ginny went slightly pale at his words.

Harry shrugged impassively. "By the time you get there, yeah, it should be. I'm just letting you know it's safe to go to dinner, find a companion and a broom cupboard, whatever tickles your fancy. Cheers!"

Harry nonchalantly turned away and started to walk back to the infirmary, chuckling as he knew just how irritating that had to be for Ginny. She really seemed to dislike not knowing what was going on, and since her personality was reverting back to what it had been before everything went to hell, it was fun to irritate her again. And Floppy said happiness had nothing to do with tormenting others, but what did that silly hat know?

Ginny caught up to Harry before he made it to the Headmaster's staircase. "You're being serious, aren't you?"

Harry shot her a look of tolerance. "Absolutely."

Ginny just shook her head as she fell into step with him. "Including that this is normal?"

The small laugh that came out was unavoidable. "Well, no, not really. It seems these things just happen. Today wasn't too bad. You should have been there yesterday. That was rough."


Harry was surprised by the question. Staring at her for a moment, he thought that the simplest thing was to forcibly remind her. "The reason we're all in the Infirmary? Yesterday? Hello?"

Ginny sighed and put her head down, walking in silence beside Harry. As they came to the spot where the two Aurors were talking to the faculty, Madam Pomfrey shot him an imperious look with her finger pointing to the Infirmary section of the castle. Nodding with a slight smile, Harry just kept trudging along, wondering what Ginny really wanted. Her gaze remained on the broken wall as they passed the others in silence.

As they crossed through to the entrance hall, Harry paused for a moment. "Aren't you going to dinner?"

Ginny looked up and seemed surprised they were already near the Great Hall. Shaking her head, she nudged Harry on toward the stairs for the Infirmary as she walked along with him, the thick book held to her chest. "I'll just ask Madam Pomfrey to call a house-elf, or maybe I'll nick something from the kitchens later."

Harry remained silent as they waited for the stairs to line up properly. "You know, I really hate not having my broom while trying to get around this stupid castle."

Ginny smiled. "Rumour has it that all the Quidditch teams are going to start using your method tomorrow. I imagine it won't be long before flying is simply banned inside the castle."

As the stairs finally began to align properly, Harry sighed dramatically. "That's a pity. Indoors Quidditch would be a lot of fun. You could use a bookbag for a Quaffle, and a classroom door for goals."

Ginny started laughing. "Imagine the places that a Snitch could hide. That would be fun." As Harry and Ginny reached the corridor to the hospital wing, a voice called out behind them, making the pair stop.

"Harry!" The lead Auror collecting statements came bounding up the staircase three steps at a time, racing toward the pair standing just past the top of the staircase. Right as the Auror made it to the top of the steps, her right foot caught on the top one, and she went down in a rolling pile of limbs and bowled over Harry as Ginny hastily jumped to the side.

"Ugh! Tonks!" Harry shoved her off of him. "Was that strictly necessary?"

Tonks just staggered back to her feet and grinned wickedly. "Aww, Harry, you know how much I miss you being under me!"

Rolling his eyes at her, Harry looked over her shoulder at the other Auror now reaching the top of the stairs in a rather more sedate and controlled manner. Tonks, looking back over her shoulder and still grinning like a fool, apparently noticed the object of his scrutiny and waved her partner over.

"Harry, meet Christine Pasteur. She's the partner that got stuck with me after the reshuffle this past summer." Tonks grimaced at Harry as he raised an eyebrow. "Yeah, I know, you've been asking me to drop by, but it's just been one thing after another. Moody being recalled didn't help at all."

Harry held out his hand and was pleased when the tall woman shook it firmly without a hint of hesitation. She was cut of the same mold as Sirius, tall with striking shoulder-length dark hair, but she had vivid blue eyes. As an Auror, she was required to be in shape, yet during their brief handshake her lithe arm conveyed that she worked hard to keep not only in shape, but physically strong. "Nice to meet you, Auror Pasteur." He kept his voice calm and neutral, unsure of how trusted she was in Tonks' opinion.

"Likewise, Mr. Potter."

Tonks shot her two hands out and grabbed both of their clasped hands, exaggeratedly moving them in a caricature of a business deal. "Harry, Christine, Christine, Harry. Relax with each other. Oh, and neither of you likes nicknames."

Harry and Christine shot each other an amused look before they pulled back from Tonks. As Harry motioned to Ginny with one hand, he wondered how much he trusted talking to Tonks in front of Ginny, let alone the unknown Christine. "Ginny, meet Tonks, and her partner Christine. Ladies, Ginny Weasley. She's sort of . . . eh, studying with me, I guess."

Tonks looked Ginny up and down in such an aggressive manner that it made the redhead blush slightly. "And what exactly are you studying with my Harry?" Harry was amused at the clear challenge in Tonks' voice, but let it slide. He was reasonably certain that Ginny could hold her own in this situation.

Ginny's eyes narrowed slightly as her flush darkened, indicating that her embarrassment was rapidly turning into irritation. "Well, your Harry has been trying to assure me he knows how to treat a lady/. Personally, I think he's in dire need of /remedial lessons before I could possibly accept him."

Tonks glowered back for a moment before she lost it and started laughing. "You'll do just fine, Ginny." Shaking her head, she pushed Harry in front of her and waved him onward as the four finished the remainder of the trip to Madam Pomfrey's domain.

Tonks lagged behind to walk with Ginny, clearly ignoring Harry's gesture for Tonks to walk beside him. Harry was curious to know what had kept Tonks from visiting for the past couple of months. Christine stepped up to walk beside him, a look of faint amusement on her face, but she seemed content to remain silent.

Tonks, however, felt no such compulsions. "Remedial lessons. Ha! Ginny, you don't know the half of it. Harry's had, what, two dates, both of which were complete disasters." Tonks started giggling like mad for a moment. "He came back from the second one covered in fizzy drink, this sticky Muggle thing, looking like he tried to swim in a soup pot!"

Harry glanced back to see a bewildered expression on Ginny's face. Harry was unable to stop the irritation from lacing his words. "Tonks! Would you like me to tell embarrassing stories about you?!"

Tonks kept giggling but shot a challenging look at Harry. "Do your worst. Just remember, I know all about your sordid past."

Harry frowned. He knew Tonks, and there was no way she was going to pass up a new opportunity to embarrass him. Privately, he suspected that she had landed herself in so many mortifying moments through her clumsiness and metamorphing skills that she had become completely immune to humiliation. He only knew one way to get past her mental armour, and even then all he could get was colour-changing hair or the like. Doing his best to ignore the sudden stereo giggles and whispered conversation behind him, Harry led the quartet up to the Infirmary. As he pulled open the door, though, he thought he could see a look of commiseration on Christine's face as she followed him into the room.

"Remus!" Tonks left a very flushed Ginny standing in the doorway as she ran into the room and promptly attached herself to the werewolf's face in a rather loud and quite messy kiss. It was clear that the feelings were reciprocated when Remus bodily dragged her into the bed next to him during the reunion.

"Tonks, you're going to force Madam Pomfrey to keep him here longer if you don't let him breathe soon," Harry called out to her as Christine and Ginny gathered somewhat awkwardly at the foot of Remus' bed. Harry dropped down into the chair between Remus' bed and his own, amused at the antics of the Auror.

Breaking off the exuberant kiss with nary a hint of embarrassment, Tonks took a firm grip of Remus' hand and situated herself more comfortably on the bed next to him, snuggling into his side. "That's why you have a nose, Harry, to keep breathing when your mouth is busy trying to tell someone you missed them."

Harry raised one eyebrow in disbelief. "Oh? I don't seem to recall you needing your nose when you told me that just now. All you needed were your hands all over my bum while you were on top of me shouting my name."

Remus looked momentarily surprised before he settled into a grin. "She tripped and landed on top of you again, did she now?"

Harry just waved the question off. "One of these days, I'm going to shock the pair of you, and then I'll make pictures. Just you wait."

Tonks adopted a sly look as she closed her eyes. "Sure, Harry, sure. You keep saying that, but it's been two years now. Face it. You're too predictable."

Drumming his fingers on the armrest, Harry glared at Remus since Tonks was keeping her eyes closed. "So aside from missing your beau, why are you here again?"

Tonks leaned up and whispered briefly in Remus' ear. After a second, Remus nodded and looked at Harry. Tonks has some news from Edgar. There's been a change of plans. Do you want Ginny to know?

Harry continued idly drumming his fingers. How sensitive is it?

Remus shrugged. Sighing, Harry focused on Tonks and prepared to talk to her directly. She could always hear him, but for some reason his voice was either so quiet that she never fully understood him, or it was like sticking your head into a speaker at full volume. Resolving the why and wherefore behind this problem was another item on his laundry list for Remus conversations, but it would have to wait for another day. Tonks. If it's particularly sensitive, no. Otherwise, yes.

Tonks groaned and buried her head into Remus' shoulder, shaking slightly. Harry sighed briefly, it had clearly been one of the cases of too-loud rather than too-quiet. "Sorry, Tonks."

"Dammit, Harry!" Tonks sat up and rubbed at her temples for a second. "I told you to stop doing that!"

As Christine and Ginny looked on in puzzlement, Tonks scowled at him threateningly. Harry was unfazed by it, having seen her truly angry as opposed to mildly annoyed. "Next time, be more explicit, and I won't have to."

Ginny suddenly had a look of comprehension on her face as Christine started tapping her chin with one long finger. Christine finally voiced her suspicions directly. "You all use Legilimency that freely?" Harry was unsure what her facial expression was, but he thought it might almost be disapproval.

Remus chuckled slightly at Christine before pointing at Harry. "The more time you spend around him, the more you'll have to do it. So blame him."

"That's an invasion of privacy and against the law." There was little room for negotiation based on her tone.

"Not completely," Harry replied calmly. "To be perfectly accurate, between consenting adults, it's perfectly legal. And if a guardian has approved, it's also legal for minors. Needless to say, we all have approval for it. Ginny doesn't, but she's asked her parents for permission to learn the skills with a private adult tutor."

Tonks waved her hand to draw Christine's attention. "Don't argue the law with Harry, you'll lose. I still owe him from the last argument." Sitting up again, she drew her wand and secured the room from eavesdroppers.

"Right, the Wizengamot is still in an emergency meeting that started at noon. Word is that Fudge came back in a right state after his trip here this morning to see Dumbledore, and he's getting a bit paranoid." She looked directly at Harry. "You bringing Edgar here was a mistake, Harry. They're going to put in laws banning Dark creatures from Hogwarts and the grounds around it. They won't trust the Wards anymore."

Harry frowned for a moment. "What about Remus?"

Tonks shot an apologetic look at her boyfriend before touching his face gently with one hand. "He'll be banned too. Violation is straight to Azkaban for a minimum one-year sentence."

"Why would Remus be banned?" Ginny was clearly surprised by the comment.

Harry looked at Remus, making it clear the decision was solely his own. Remus in turn sighed before hugging Tonks and looking back at Ginny. "Werewolf."

Ginny just stared with wide eyes for the longest time, while Christine appeared unsurprised by the comment. Finally regaining external control, Ginny smiled sadly at Remus. "I'm sorry, Remus. You don't deserve that."

Remus visibly relaxed when Ginny failed to become accusatory. "Thanks, Ginny. Don't worry, we'll work something out for your Occlumency and Legilimency lessons once your parents agree to it."

Harry wanted to laugh, knowing that no one would be approaching Mr. and Mrs. Weasley about the topic, but in front of Christine they would have to put on a bit of a show.

"Hey Tonks." Harry decided to change the topic. "What's the deal with Kingsley's voice?"

Tonks looked confused. "What do you mean?"

Christine smiled vaguely. "It's such a nice voice, isn't it?"

Remus started laughing while Tonks shot a speculative look at her partner. Harry coughed slightly, getting Tonks' attention again. "It sounds off, that's all. Kind of . . . melodic, I guess."

While Christine hummed for a second, a sly smile appeared on Tonks' face. "His mother's from Jamaica, so you're hearing a bit of her lilt."

"Oh." Harry paused to scratch the back of his head. "That would do it, I suppose. Did you two know the Aurors that were with Lucius Malfoy?"

Ginny flinched slightly at the Malfoy name but otherwise remained steady. While Tonks and Christine exchanged a long look, Harry Summoned the chair across the aisle from himself and had it slide to a halt beside Ginny. A second Summoning Charm brought one for Christine. Both ladies sank into the chairs without a comment, although Ginny mimed a short bout of applause at Harry.

"Yeah, I did," Tonks said quietly. "I doubt they were possessed or under the influence of something. They were two of The Snits."

Harry paused to rub at his ears. "I'm sorry. Did you say Snits?"

Tonks grinned a bit at him. "Yeah. That's what we call them. You know Moody was called back?"

Harry and Remus both nodded, their expressions curious. Ginny looked slightly confused.

"Well, Fudge wanted him to first make sure the overall Auror corps was up to snuff on the tough ones like Imperius and such. So Moody called everyone through one at a time. He's not a Dark Lord, but he's right strong willed, so when he casts that curse on you it's hard to resist. If you can't stalemate it or throw off his curse, you have to go through a 'refresher course' with Moody on basic Auror training."

Christine snorted in her efforts to cover up a laugh. Tonks rolled her eyes a bit before she started laughing too. "You should see it. Most of them are the younger kids, only out of training for a year or two. They get so puffed up by the personal training of the legendary Mad-Eye Moody. It's like they are miniature Moody titches running around. Kingsley started calling them Moody's Baby Snits, and it just kind of stuck as The Snits."

Harry and Remus were grinning openly, while Ginny was only looking a little less confused. "Constant Vigilance!" Remus yelled, making Ginny jump and glare at him.

Harry looked back at Tonks for a second and tried to fight down his manic grin. "So why do you suppose they were so edgy with me?"

Tonks regarded him sympathetically before glancing at Ginny and then back at Harry. "Moody's been ranting a bit about you and the Daily Prophet articles. He's saying 'Constant Vigilance' means not only being suspicious of unknown bad guys, but also the so-called good guys too. He keeps drilling them on the 'trust no one' and 'keep your wand handy' philosophy." Tonks shrugged after a second. "We've got a pool running on how long before they all carry their own hip flasks."

Sighing, Tonks climbed out of Remus' bed with evident reluctance, before walking over to Harry and giving him a crushing hug. "We've got to get going. Give me that memory of the fight in the corridor so we can pop over to St. Mungo's, yeah?"

Remus sat up a bit straighter hearing about the fight for the first time, his eyes narrowing as he stared at Harry. Harry, for his part, just grinned at Tonks as he took the glass vial from her hand and dropped the memory into it.

"What fight?" Remus asked quietly. Harry waved the question off as though it would be explained later.

Tonks again gave Ginny a quick look before turning her attention back to Harry. "How'd you know that wasn't Filch, Harry?"

Harry glanced sharply at Tonks. He was aware that she knew fully well how he probably detected that, but Christine and Ginny were not, as yet, privy to that information since no one had discussed it with him. Harry adopted a blank expression. "You'll have to get that information from Cyril, Tonks. I can't reveal that to you."

Tonks, nodding her acceptance for what he was really saying, pocketed the memory and stepped over beside Christine. Before she could say anything, Madam Pomfrey returned to the room, quickly heading over toward Remus.

Tonks shot a smile at the mediwitch before she grabbed Remus' toes through the blankets to get his attention off of Harry. "Remus, you need to get out of here before that decree is made final. From what we heard, that sounds like it will be tonight. I'll see you where eagles fly tomorrow, alright? Oh, and Padfoot sends his regards, and he'll be waiting for you later."

Madam Pomfrey stepped up to Remus' bed and nodded as well. "She's quite right, Remus. Minerva was explaining what's going on to me. We need to get you out of here, so let's get you where you need to be now."

With a polite nod to everyone, Christine followed Tonks out of the Infirmary and left the three of them with Madam Pomfrey.

The matron paused to glance at Harry and Ginny for a moment. "Mr. Potter, you know you need to stay here tonight. Miss Weasley, is there anything you need, or are you just visiting?"

Ginny hesitantly smiled at the woman. "Ah, I'd like to eat dinner here if possible. That way I can talk to Harry before you close the Infirmary at eight."

Madam Pomfrey nodded briefly before calling out for a house-elf. "Emma!" A small elf appeared at her feet. "Please bring another dinner tray for Miss Weasley, as well as a full tea and dessert tray for Mr. Potter and Miss Weasley and myself." The small elf smiled quickly and disappeared.

Remus shot Harry a look of displeasure at not knowing whatever had transpired earlier, but Madam Pomfrey hurried him out of the Infirmary before he could press the matter.

When it was just the two of them in the Infirmary, Ginny looked at Harry for a moment before wrinkling her nose. "Is this still a typical day?"

Harry was too busy grinning about Tonks' explanation of The Snits to really think about the question much. "Plots, intrigue, fights, moronic Wizengamot decrees, and pranks? Yeah, seems about right."

The reappearance of the house-elf by the big table in the back of the Infirmary to drop off Ginny's dinner tray made Harry look up and think about what might be coming for dessert. Seconds later, a full tea service was laid out, along with what he was sure amounted to bread pudding and treacle tart.

Motioning Ginny to the back of the room, Harry dropped down and poured them both some tea while Ginny put the Theory of Magic tome on the table and sat in front of the dinner tray.

Harry noticed that Ginny was still watching him. "This is what you do for fun?"

Shrugging slightly and unable to fully lose the grin, Harry helped himself to some treacle tart. "Fun is relative. Would you rather be running around the lake? This beats doing homework to me. Now, why did you really follow me up here?"

Ginny apparently ignored the question as she quietly ate part of her dinner. "Did you know Parvati and Lavender think you're behind Trelawney becoming Head of Slytherin?"

Harry smiled vaguely. "And I should care what they think because . . .?"

Ginny ate a little more before reacting. "I think most people realise you're why Snape has had his downfall. Those two, among others, are really unhappy that Trelawney is the new Head of Slytherin. They practically worship the ground she walks on and would do anything for the dippy old fraud."

"Mmmm." Harry kept his vague smile on, wondering if there would be some way he could learn to act a little like the odd Ravenclaw girl Luna he had met earlier in the day. "I still don't see why I should care what they think."

Ginny shrugged absently. "I just thought you should know. Not everyone that dislikes you does so because of your violence or dark rituals, or whatever ignorant rubbish that the Prophet publishes daily."

Her casual observation made Harry laugh for a moment. "Right. Two vapid types are going to plot my death in the hopes that they can get the Divination teacher to themselves again."

Ginny arched one eyebrow at him but said nothing as she finished her dinner. Harry noted that she only ate about three quarters of it, but sampled equally from everything on the tray. Catching his look, she flushed slightly. "All that running left me starving. I ate a big snack in the kitchens earlier."

Harry waved the comment off. "Your body is still figuring things out. Don't eat too much, but you should eat more for the next couple of weeks when you find yourself hungry until you know how much you really need."

Ginny just nodded quietly. "Thank you for agreeing to teach and train me, Harry. I know you don't particularly want to."

"Want to, eh?" Harry grunted noncommittally. "Want is awfully close to wish. There are things that need to be done, and things that would be nice if they happened. I never depend on the second, but try to take care of the first."

"Still, thank you for agreeing."

Harry sat sipping his tea and regarding the redhead for a long moment. "You're welcome, Ginny." Deciding it was time to shift gears, he glanced at his watch for a second. "You realise September is rapidly rolling along, and you're no closer to winning our bet?"

Ginny's mouth fell open for a second before a glint came into her eye. "And you think I'm incapable, Mr. Potter?"

Harry smirked. "I haven't been overly impressed with your payback plans as yet, Miss Weasley."

Just as Ginny appeared ready to launch a major retort, the Infirmary doors banged open. McGonagall, Pomfrey, and the two Aurors came in, floating the recognisable body of Filch between them.

"Miss Weasley," Madam Pomfrey called out, "I'm sorry, but I must ask you to leave. If you're still hungry, dinner is still on in the Great Hall. Mr. Potter, to your bed when you finish, please."

Ginny shot Harry a look he was hard-pressed to not laugh at. "This is only just the beginning, Mr. Potter. You'll be begging for my mercy soon."

Harry winked at her and waved merrily as she hefted the heavy book to her chest and marched out of the room. Harry found himself the focus of McGonagall's gaze as the redhead stormed out, nearly slamming the doors in her irritation. As the Aurors and Madam Pomfrey surrounded Filch, who was now lying on one of the beds, McGonagall came to sit opposite Harry with a gentle sigh.

"Do you lack for opponents, Mr. Potter?"

Her tone was hard to identify, but Harry suspected it was closest to simply exhausted. "Not at all, Professor. I was just enjoying winding up her temper a bit." Harry poured the stern professor a cup of tea without prompting.

McGonagall accepted the tea with a nod, before watching him over her glasses. "Be careful when you play with fire, Mr. Potter. Now, let me inform you of what we found, so you may tell Cyril when he returns tomorrow. Poppy tells me you will be released in the morning, but Cyril will probably spend the rest of the week here."

When Harry nodded his understanding while helping himself to some bread pudding, and McGonagall placed the half-empty cup down on the table. "Mr. Filch was found unconscious in the wardrobe of his office. His cat, Mrs. Norris, was hiding in the office and was quite frantic. Poppy tells me he has had several powerful Confundus charms placed upon him over a matter of months and has had a few Obliviate spells placed on him as well. His current condition is quite serious."

Harry paused to consider the implications of tampering for so long. "That would push it back to last year, and the Tri-Wizard Tournament, correct?" At McGonagall's nod, Harry let his eyes go unfocused as he drifted through memories for a moment. "What else, Professor?"

"I received a message from Kingsley. Lucius was, indeed, Lucius. Draco in reality was Mr. Crabbe, senior. Filch was Mr. Goyle, senior. Unlike their children, the fathers are actually quite intelligent. We actually suspect some brain damage with the children, perhaps from some childhood punishment that got out of hand, but we have not been able to prove anything." McGonagall paused to drink the rest of her tea. "Mr. Goyle, when the Polyjuice ran out, was missing his right hand. Kingsley is looking into whether he was the one outside of the Headmaster's office last week."

Harry nodded as more pieces of the puzzle were falling onto the table before him. "So how did Filch get out of St. Mungo's last week?"

McGonagall stood and drew her robes about her. "Auror Tonks is looking into that question. She sent me a brief notice that he apparently left without being checked out, almost immediately after regaining consciousness. That in itself tells us a great deal. When I know more, I shall inform you or Cyril. Good night, Mr. Potter."

Harry smiled tightly. "Good night, Professor. For what it's worth, I'm very sorry to be the cause of so many problems."

The professor stared at him for a moment before nodding slightly. As she left the Infirmary, Harry went back to his bed, glancing over at the two Aurors sitting in chairs across the way. Madam Pomfrey was working diligently over the body of Filch, and Harry could hear a mewling sound outside the Infirmary doors . . . most likely Mrs. Norris.

Drawing the curtains around his bed, Harry pulled his notebooks to himself from the bedside table. If he would be spending another night here, he thought he might finish some work before falling asleep. Harry paused for a second to open the window, knowing that he would be hearing from at least one person sometime tonight.

Harry was still writing when, at nearly 10 o'clock, an owl swept into the Infirmary and imperiously held out a leg for Harry. He took the scroll and thanked the owl, which promptly flew out of the window. Unrolling the parchment, Harry read the short note.


Due to the change in status, which I have been told you are aware of, I am unable to discuss this in person. We shall discuss this fully tomorrow eve. In the meantime, get a copy of the Prophet in the morning. There is a major announcement in there.

In other news, your aims regarding Lucius have been wildly successful, especially considering the fiasco he was involved with tonight. I have been notified by our contacts that he has reached the point at which you desired to place him.

On the other hand, while we did achieve many successes in the Emergency Session thanks to all the work ahead of time, we have taken a few setbacks as well. Do your best to keep your head down. I'll have full copies of the laws for you to read tomorrow.

As a bit of warning, your father is most anxious to speak to you. He has not intimated why.

Good luck on the morrow.


As Harry conceded the notion of completing any further work and prepared himself for bed, he was left wondering what exactly the Prophet would have to say tomorrow. It was always full of lies and the usual Ministry Propaganda.

Pausing with his pyjamas on, Harry saw the mirror that Cyril insisted he look at every night by the head of his bed. Sighing, he stood before it, his usual efforts to meet his own gaze failing once more.

Tonight, as he reflected on what happened during the turbulent day, all he could see clearly was the scar above his eyes.


First, an announcement. I wrote a Challenge Entry for the December 2006 SIYE contest titled "Pratfall," but SIYE declined to allow it to be posted due to the mature theme. You can find it on other sites, with the best version at ... It's a parody of fanfic in general, and many stories in specific.

Alright, with Echoes my betas frequently tell me I'm too subtle with my plot. I admit, I like little details that fold together and tie back to make big pictures more vivid and imagination catching. There are more things already out there for you to wonder about, and even more are coming.

Four chapters for just Sunday . . . that was a long day, wasn't it? Don't worry, most days won't be like that one for poor Harry. And that means, most days won't require four chapters to get through. Some people have noticed that "there be a lot of words here" for so few days. I could always wrap it up in a sentence or three, but would it still be worth reading?

Christine Pasteur as a character has been seen in one form or another elsewhere, most notably by the author of MOOving stories. This will be a new spin on an original character.

For the canon police, two tidbits. First, Book 5 refers to it as "St Mungo's" whereas the other books use "St. Mungo's" as Chreechree observes. She also points out that Book 5 has far more references than the others put together. I prefer to use the common format, and thus it is "St. Mungo's" in this story. Second, JKR has on her website notes that the Weasley cousin who is a squib and accountant has a daughter that was meant to be a Slytherin. She was replaced character-wise for the plot with the lovely Rita Skeeter. My choice to bring in the daughter by the right name and personality, but to leave her as non-magical, is to explain why she hasn't been seen at Hogwarts previously.

Thanks, as always, to my genius betas who have valiantly strived to make this story better, despite my crafty attempts to make it incomprehensible. 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.

And yes, I know I promised no long A/Ns. It just happens that way sometimes, and I have to eat my own words.

Finally, the delay as always was caused by Real Life. My beta team is also impacted by life, and the delays are not always of my making. Thanks for your patience.

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