"Just when you need to save the world, there's a world for you to save," said Ginger.
"Yeah," said Victor. "Lucky old us."
(Moving Pictures, by Terry Pratchett)
Harry Evans' game of 'anywhere but here' wasn't working, even though he had a very specific 'anywhere' in mind. He could no longer tune out Uncle Vernon and that was never good news. His mother's tight lips showed she was having the same problem, but while she could possibly get away with making her views known, Harry couldn't.
He might have spoken up had he thought it would get him sent home to Godric's Hollow, but unfortunately that was unlikely. It was only day two of a week-long holiday in Torquay, and he was here for the duration. Lily might say sometimes that Harry was getting to be a grown-up, but that didn't yet translate into allowing him to stay at home alone.
He tried. He really had tried.
Aunt Petunia, prompted by who knew what vestige of familial affection, had invited Harry and Lily to go on holiday with them every year since he was very small. Every year, faced with the prospect of his Aunt, his Uncle and his cousin Dudley for a whole week in a seaside town with little money - and therefore nothing to do and nowhere much to go - Harry tried to get his mother to make an excuse and turn them down.
It never worked. No matter how much he said he didn't mind not going anywhere, that Ron didn't have holidays either, that he couldn't see the point and even that he couldn't stand the Dursleys, she accepted. He had only realised very recently that it was probably her guilt at having so little to give him that made her accept, and that she really believed she was doing it for his sake. That made him whinge somewhat less, but it couldn't make the holidays fun.
And it couldn't get any lower than this. Harry looked around the dingy hotel dining room again as if hoping for inspiration, and caught the eye of the waiter, who came over. "More tea?"
Harry nodded, "Thanks."
This turned out to have been a bad move; it drew Uncle Vernon's attention. "What are you going to do with your day, then, eh?"
"I'm not sure, Uncle," Harry thought desperately. "I thought I might go and see the...the museum." He was sure he'd seen mention of a museum in one of the leaflets he'd picked up, and it didn't sound as if it would be too expensive.
Apparently Uncle Vernon couldn't find anything wrong with that plan because he grunted and went back to his copy of the Daily Mail.
"That sounds as if it could be interesting," Lily said. "I might join you."
Aunt Petunia frowned but didn't offer to come as well, and Harry knew there was no chance of Dudley showing interest in anything like a museum. He would spend his day playing video games in one of the arcades. He'd been doing this all day every day during every holiday since he was about twelve and he certainly didn't want Harry's company. The only difficulty was getting him to return to the hotel at night.
"Your Uncle Vernon doesn't get any better, does he?" Lily said, as they wandered round the museum.
"No, not really," agreed Harry.
"It's kind of them to ask us, though," she went on. She sounded to Harry as if she was trying to convince herself as much as him.
"Yes." Harry stared absently at a photo of a young girl in a particularly absurd example of the frilly bathing dresses of the Victorian era. "Dudley told me they went skiing in Austria at Christmas. I think he was trying to make me jealous, but I told him I had just as much fun at school." Lily looked stricken and Harry immediately felt a bit guilty. "I'm sorry you had to work," he added. "I would much rather have been at home with you."
"Well, it can't be helped. The Ministry were very busy around then, and the Minister insisted I go with him to the meeting. I just wasn't going to be there to meet you from the Hogwarts Express and..."
"I know, Mum. Really. I had a great time."
She frowned at him, but accepted his word, and they strolled on, looking at the exhibits. "A wizarding museum would better," she said, this time looking at a photo of a young man holding an early and rather Heath-Robinson-looking bicycle. "But this is quite well done."
"I suppose so," said Harry.
Without warning, she hugged him to her side. "It is good to have my boy back!"
"It's good to be back with you, Mum." And it was, even if the Dursleys were here as well. Harry knew, though, that however good it was to see his mother again, he couldn't put it off. They turned a few more corners in the museum, and finally he said, "Mum...I've something to tell you."
"Have you decided what you're going to do when you leave school?"
"I'm going to be staying in Hogsmeade."
"I'm not sure yet."
"In that case why do you have to stay...Harry, what are you trying to tell me?"
"I've met someone."
There was a curious silence while Lily took this in. "Go on."
"You know last year I told you that I liked men?"
"I remember. I said then that I didn't mind as long as you were happy. Who is he?"
"His name's Snape. Severus Snape. He owns the Apothecary in Hogsmeade. He's a bit older than me and...Mum?" Harry could not interpret his mother's expression and stopped before he got in any deeper.
After a moment, she said, "Severus Snape is not just 'a bit' older than you, Harry."
"Do you know him?" Harry was surprised; Severus had never mentioned knowing Harry's mother.
"I was at school with him," she said. Then, "Not only was I at school with him, your father was as well."
Harry hadn't ever met his father. At least, he was told he'd seen his father when he'd been a small child, but had no memory of it. He asked, "Why bring him up?"
"I...I'm sure he'll be interested to know what your plans are."
"Why? He's never shown any interest before." Harry tried hard to keep the bitterness out of his voice.
"I'm not sure that's entirely his doing."
"I know you're trying to be fair, Mum. But really, he hasn't given a Knut to help you in sixteen years," Harry tactfully left out the fact that he'd got her pregnant and then married someone else, "and he's never paid the slightest attention to me - not even a birthday present - so if he has the slightest intention of coming the heavy parent over anything I do I'm going to greet him with exactly what he deserves: a punch in the mouth."
"I mean it, Mum." He sighed; he hated to see her upset. "I know you think that Bella's behind his ignoring me. But he must be pretty wet if he has to have his wife's permission for everything."
Lily smiled, "From what I remember of Bella Black, she's probably pretty difficult and anyone who had to live with her would do his level best to make sure he didn't upset her. For instance, I'd imagine she'd be very upset if she found her husband was having contact with his Mudblood ex-girlfriend and his illegitimate son."
Harry wasn't taken in by the smile, but knew he it would be best to leave it there. "You could be right," he said.
Dinner in the hotel had been a rather silent affair. Possibly in an attempt to enliven it, the waiter dropped the soup in Uncle Vernon's lap, and the hotel manager hit the waiter on the head with a tray. Harry and Dudley found this mildly amusing - at least, they exchanged surreptitious grins - but neither of them dared break the gloom that hung around their table.
When the bar closed and Uncle Vernon finally decided to go to bed, Harry and his mother were able to escape to their room at last. Another discomfort of the holiday to add to the many was that Harry had to share a bedroom with Lily, though thankfully not a bed. Harry was rather surprised when, as soon as they were alone, his mother collapsed into giggles.
He smiled at her, and waited for an explanation. When none was forthcoming he said, "So? What is it?"
"It's Vernon...well...both of them, really." Lily started to giggle again.
"Petunia's furious. She was waiting to see me so she'd have someone to unload it all on to. Vernon...well, he's been seeing another woman."
"Uncle Vernon?" Harry was stunned. He couldn't imagine any woman, however desperate, having an affair with Uncle Vernon.
"She was a temporary secretary who came in when his usual one was off work with a bad back. It started then and he's been seeing her on and off for a couple of years. Don't laugh yet, Harry, it gets worse. It seems this woman's had a baby and she says it's Vernon's." Lily lowered her voice. "I think Petunia would even put up with that - for Dudley's sake, she says - but the girl's made a claim for child support."
Harry considered. "Yes, I can see that would give Aunt Petunia the collywobbles. I know she's your sister and everything, Mum, but she's awfully fond of money."
"Exactly. I love Petunia dearly, but I know what she's like. And of course she really is quite upset about the idea of Uncle Vernon going out and finding someone else." Lily giggled again. "I know he's not most people's idea of the perfect mate, but like the man said, 'At least it makes two people miserable instead of four.'"
"Assuming the new woman doesn't feel the same way," suggested Harry. It occurred to him that most people would be completely unable to understand his fascination for Severus.
"Oh, dear, yes." It seemed Lily hadn't thought of that. "That would be a complication."
"And what if Uncle Vernon prefers the new woman?"
"That would be a nightmare. We'd have Petunia throwing herself about and striking attitudes all over the place."
"You think she'd want to stay with us?"
"I think it quite possible. And if we're really unlucky she'll bring Dudley."
It was Harry's mother's turn to see him, Ron and Ginny off at King's Cross on September 1st. She was lucky to be able to get the time off at all, and only managed it by doing some swift swapping of hours with a colleague.
Harry was grateful; he always preferred being able to say goodbye to his mother properly, and giving her a last hug in the living room of the cottage never felt right.
The second person he saw on Platform nine and three quarters was his half brother. They didn't speak. They never did; Harry had been excited when, just before the start of his fifth year at school he'd found that he was to be joined by his half brother and half sister, Caligula and Messalina Potter. That had lasted until he'd accompanied Hermione to check on Crookshanks; her cat had wandered off down the train. They'd heard him yowling before they'd seen him and had found Messalina Potter subjecting him to a stinging hex. Harry had never been quite able to forget the gleeful look on her face, or Caligula's laughter. He had as little to do with the twins as he could.
On the platform, Caligula gave Lily a slow look up and down as if she were a tramp off the streets. Harry scowled at him, and Caligula moved off.
"Well then, Harry," Lily straightened his collar. "Have a lovely term. And remember what I said, won't you?"
"I'll remember, Mum."
"Send me an owl as soon as you get there, just to let me know you're safe."
"Yes, Mum." Harry and Ron exchanged a glance. They'd gone through this already with Molly Weasley.
"Look after yourself, all of you."
"Yes, Mum," said Harry.
"Of course, Auntie Lily," said, Ron and Ginny obediently.
"On with you now." Lily smiled at them all and gave Harry a last hug, and a swift kiss before he could pull back.
"So," said Ron, when he, Harry and Hermione were alone. "What did she say to you that you have to remember?" his expression was facetious.
"I told her about...about Severus and me."
Hermione looked stunned, "What did she say?"
"She's not completely happy about it. Well, I didn't think she would be. She thinks he's too old for me " he was at school with her and...and my father. Apparently, they didn't get on too well."
"Her and your father?" Ron's face creased in puzzlement. "How did...?"
"No," Harry said. "My father and Severus."
"What's that got to do with you?" Ron asked.
"That's what I told her."
"I mean, the 'too old for you' thing I can see, though too ugly for you would be nearer the mark..."
"Well, he is. But that your Dad didn't like him about a hundred years ago, I mean, why is that your problem?"
Harry grinned. He knew he could rely on his friends.
Hermione left them for the Ravenclaw table as soon as they arrived at the school. Harry saw her squidge in between Luna Lovegood and Terry Boot. He also noticed that Ron chose a place on the Gryffindor table where could see her and smiled to himself.
As a seventh year, Harry was able to go into Hogsmeade on any weekend he chose " seventh years were, after all, legal adults in the wizarding world. In theory anyway. September 1st was on a Thursday that year, so it was only two days later when he wandered down to the Apothecary in the High Street.
The bell called Severus out from the back of the shop and his face relaxed from suspicion to as much of a smile as he ever gave. "Oh, it's you," he said.
Harry slid under the counter to pop up on the other side.
"I'd have opened it," said Severus.
"But it wouldn't have been as much fun." Harry slid his arms around Severus's waist. "Did you miss me?"
Severus removed Harry's arms as if he were taking off a jacket. "Did I have time to? You wrote to me every other day."
"Once a week."
"Well, sometimes. I missed you." Harry resumed his interrupted hug. "I brought you a present, even."
"Oh, yes?" Severus kissed Harry's forehead swiftly. "Come through to the back."
"I don't care if people do see us."
"But I do." Severus led the way through the door at the back of the shop. "I'm disliked enough in this village without making it worse."
"I know that. But once a rumour starts it may not make a difference."
"And you have your living to earn." Harry sat down on the worn sofa. "You and my Mum have a lot in common, you know."
Severus quirked an eyebrow at him; he put the kettle on the range and sat down beside Harry. "You said something about a present?"
Harry produced a brown paper bag from the book bag at his feet. "Here."
Severus poked inside and produced a shocking pink stick, a jar of marmalade and a mortar and pestle. He waved the pink stick, a horrified look on his face, "What's this?"
"Rock." Seeing Severus's expression, Harry went on. "It's a Muggle sweet. It's minty and lasts a long time. Look - it's got Torquay down the middle. Mum made the marmalade."
"Does she know you've given it to me?"
"Not exactly," admitted Harry. "But she knows I'm not that keen on marmalade and gave it to me anyway."
"You told her about us?"
"Harry, I won't see you behind your mother's back, I..."
Harry broke in, "I know that. She hasn't said I can't see you. She wouldn't do that." He looked into Severus's face. "My word on it. You can owl her if you like."
Harry smiled. "You wouldn't be you if you just took my word for it."
Two weekends later, Harry returned to the Apothecary. This time he had to wait while Severus served an elderly witch who didn't seem to like him very much; Harry was rather taken with the juxtaposition of the stuffed vulture on her hat and the added decoration of bobbing cherries. He wondered which had come first, the vulture or the cherries.
Severus looked pale, paler even than usual. "Are you ill?" Harry asked, as soon as the witch had gone, the bell was still tinkling behind her. He couldn't think of any reason other than illness for him to look like that.
"So what's wrong?"
"I received this," Severus handed Harry a letter. "It's from your father. He forbids me from having anything further to do with you."
"What?" Harry shouted in disbelief. "The bloody cheek! That bastard, I..."
"He's never done anything, not a single thing, for either Mum or me. So it's a bit much for him to come over all sentimental about me now."
"Harry, I don't think you're being quite fair."
"Fair? He got Mum pregnant and then dumped her. How fair is that?"
"I don't think he had a choice. Look, come through to the back." Severus raised the counter for Harry to walk through.
Severus went through to the kitchen, it seemed as if he were in a hurry - but if he were, surely he would just send Harry away? Harry noticed, too, that the room was different; he could hardly miss it, gone was the pile of Potions magazines and most of the cups and saucers from the dresser. The sofa had been cleaned, and the table had distinct signs that a 'Reparo' spell had been used on it in the not too distant past. Why on earth had Severus, of all people, suddenly taken to domestic cleanliness?
When they were finally sitting down with cups of tea, Severus continued, "Your mother will have told you, I expect, that she and I were at school together."
"She mentioned it. And that my father is the same age."
"Exactly." Severus took a sip of his tea. "I...I told you that your father and I didn't get on particularly well. His friends would tell you that I envied him and that's partly true. I didn't, however, envy him his parents; it was obvious from the start that the Potters expected their son to make a good marriage with someone from his own social station. I was vaguely friendly with your mother and with her friend, Remus Lupin."
"Yes. That's how I know as much as I do. Remus was very worried when your father started seeing your mother, as was I. But we neither of us could do very much about it. It didn't help, either, that both of us were convinced that your father...well, I thought he loved your mother, and had he been able to do would have married her in a minute. His parents made it very clear that wasn't going to happen. They had arranged for him to marry Bella Black and were not going to stand for any nonsense about love."
"That makes him a spineless bastard rather than an abusive dickhead, but I don't see how it affects us," said Harry, after a moment.
Severus sighed as though reluctant to speak, but finally said, "The other problem is that your father saved my life. He has never asked for anything in return - until now."
"That's what the letter means when he talks about the debt between you? I thought he was talking about money."
"James would never lend me money." Severus seemed amused by the idea.
They had both started together and both broke off. Severus said, "I know you must dislike your father and you can't see why he's interfering in your life, but," he swallowed, and started again, "I have to do as he asks. I can't see you again. Not like this. You can come into the shop, of course, but it's best that you don't come alone." He sounded as if the words cost him his livelihood.
"But I love you," Harry swallowed.
Severus turned away, as if he didn't want Harry to see his face. "I feel strongly about you, too."
Harry's misery and fury hadn't settled down even after Christmas. He relieved his feelings by writing a long, angry letter to his father. That there was no reply only served to make his rage the greater.
He wasn't really over it when, one Monday during the third week in January he arrived in Potions to discover Severus in the classroom.
Severus looked the class up and down. He said, "Professor Digitalis has been taken ill. It appears she's going to be away for some time - probably for the rest of the year. Professor Dumbledore has therefore asked me to step in."
"Who's minding the shop?" Hermione had put up her hand.
"Not that it's any of your business, Miss...?"
"Granger, sir," she supplied.
"Miss Granger. But a cousin of mine has taken over."
Harry had wondered the same thing, but hadn't dared ask. He also suspected that this was a lie. He had no idea why Severus would lie about such a thing.
After two weeks' of Severus's Potions lessons, Harry came to the conclusion that, much as he still loved him, Severus was actually a better shopkeeper than he was a Potions master. Had Harry not already had an affinity for the subject he would have been put off it for life. As it was, he simply hoped that whatever was wrong with Professor Digitalis she'd get over it quickly. It didn't help that Harry was still smarting from Severus's rejection of him.
With his NEWTs drawing closer, he had to pay some attention to his future. He knew his mother would not be able to keep him for long, and it was therefore imperative that he find some kind of job as soon as he left.
He'd been aware, on the edges of his consciousness, that the election of the new Minister for Magic was drawing closer, but it only really came home to him when he started to leaf through the Daily Prophet on a daily basis looking for job advertisements.
There were only three candidates for the job - Cornelius Fudge, Bartemius Crouch and Lord Voldemort. The Daily Prophet was entirely on the side of Lord Voldemort. Harry didn't much like the look of any of them, and had no idea which of them he was going to vote for. To add to his problems there were very few jobs he could apply for; most of them wanted experience, the very thing Harry didn't have. He sighed.
"Having a rough time?" Hermione joined him at his table.
"I didn't know you read the paper."
"Looking for a job," said Harry.
"Oh." Hermione produced her Potions text from her bag and unrolled a scroll of parchment. Harry scowled at the book. It was the same one Professor Digitalis had used, but Severus had soured his temper. Hermione followed his glance. "It'll all sort itself out, you know. And he couldn't have had anything to do you while you were underage, anyway."
"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" Harry knew he sounded rather short with her.
"No," said Hermione. "I was at the shop this morning," she added, irrelevantly. "The cousin's put up a big 'Vote Crouch' poster on the door. I half thought for a moment that he wasn't going to serve me, but he did in the end."
"Why wouldn't he serve you?" asked Harry.
"Well, that's what Crouch and Voldemort are against, isn't it? Mudbloods like me?"
"Language, Miss Granger," came the acid voice of Madam Pince from somewhere behind them.
"I suppose so," said Harry, ignoring the librarian. "That would include wizards like me...and Mum too, wouldn't it?"
"Probably. I'd forgotten your mother was Muggle-born."
Harry lapsed into silence, and Hermione got on with her Potions essay.
"Could I have a word with you, Professor?" Harry hung back after their next Potions lesson.
Severus frowned, but he didn't refuse. Harry waited until the students had all filed out. "I wanted to ask you something."
"The reason you...didn't want to see me any more," Harry started. There was silence while Severus waited. "Was it really because of what my father said, or because I'm Muggle-born?"
Severus looked surprised, and annoyed. "Harry. It was entirely because of your father's letter."
"There is a poster of Crouch on the shop door." Harry had been to Hogsmeade and checked.
Severus flinched, "I told you when Granger asked, the shop is being run by my cousin. He's entitled to do what he pleases with the windows."
"Then my mother had nothing to do with your decision?"
"Nothing. If that's everything, I think you should leave. Now."
Harry turned on his heel and left, making sure he slammed the door behind him.
The next odd thing also happened in the library. He was sitting beside the window in the Restricted Section; from there he was able to see the quadrangle below very clearly. Severus came out of a door at the far end, and suddenly he stopped, looked around, and then grasped his left forearm with his right hand. At that moment, Dumbledore came out of another door.
Seeing Severus - indeed he could hardly miss him - Dumbledore crossed the quad and put a hand on Severus's shoulder. They exchanged a few words and Severus almost ran out. Harry couldn't see but assumed he'd gone down the passage that led from the quadrangle out into the grounds. Dumbledore watched him go, Harry was too far away to see his expression clearly, but it seemed to him that Dumbledore looked concerned. Dumbledore looked up and saw Harry, at which point Harry returned to his neglected essay.
Harry had prefect duty that night. He and Hermione and a Hufflepuff prefect, Ernie MacMillan, had the job of patrolling the entrance hall for miscreants. Though why anyone should want to be there when they could be in a nice warm common room Harry had no idea. It seemed that Malfoy agreed, for though he was down for this duty he did not turn up.
Harry told Hermione what he'd seen from the library window. "Whatever it was," he finished, "Severus looked as if he was in pain."
"You've never noticed a scar or anything like that on Severus's arm?" Hermione had discussed Severus with Harry often enough to use his first name as Harry did.
"I know you and Ron don't believe me, but I've never...done anything with Severus which would involve him showing me his bare arms."
"He wouldn't," Harry said. "He said I was too young and we'd have to wait until I left school. At least."
"Maybe he's ill," suggested Hermione.
"Maybe." But something in Harry felt that was unlikely. "Surely if he was ill Dumbledore would have sent him to the hospital wing, not out into the grounds?"
Hermione's brow creased. "I suppose so. Which reminds me...kind of...Dumbledore's not looking so well himself, is he?"
Harry had been wondering if he was the only one who'd noticed that.
"Hey! Harry! Harry!" Hermione came over from the Ravenclaw table to where Harry and Ron were having breakfast. Ron immediately went bright red; Hermione's presence always did that to him.
"What?" Harry looked at the copy of the Daily Prophet she was waving.
"Your father's made a speech."
Harry felt, and must have looked, less than impressed with this news. It wasn't as if making speeches was something James Potter did rarely - he was only too often on the front page of the paper.
Hermione rapped him over the head with the folded paper. "It's brilliant, honestly. He calls Voldemort a lot of very rude things, and very true things, too."
"'Danger to the wizarding world', 'miserable wretch', 'morally bankrupt' and that's just for starters. His wife doesn't look too happy about it." She handed Harry the paper and sat down next to him.
Harry read down the article. Hermione was right, the picture showed his father standing at some kind of podium addressing an unseen audience. Bellatrix, standing beside him, looked as if she'd swallowed a whole lemon. As Harry looked up he saw the expression on Bella's face reflected on those of Caligula and Messalina over at the Slytherin table.
Harry didn't quite know what to say. On the one hand his opinion of his father had not changed - how dare he keep Severus and Harry apart? - but on the other hand he was rather pleased that someone had had the guts to speak out. He wondered what his mother would say when he owled her.
The election was drawing closer, and Harry was getting more desperate about his future.
He didn't want to work at the Ministry, he felt that much as he loved her, working at the same place as his mother was going to become tired very quickly. Nor had he changed his mind about being with Severus, no matter what his father, or Severus, thought about it.
He simply could not see a future that did not involve Severus in some way and that meant finding a job in Hogsmeade.
Harry's weekly letter from his mother arrived as usual on Thursday, brought by a rather bedraggled, clearly borrowed, Ministry owl. Harry sent it away with leftovers from his kippers, hoping that nobody from the Slytherin table had realised it was borrowed - though that was unlikely, after all. Except to the eye of love, one brown barn owl looked pretty much like another.
Not a long letter this time, I'm afraid. I have an unexpected visitor.
Your Aunt Petunia arrived yesterday. It seems she and Vernon had an argument. After what we found out in Torquay you can imagine what it was about - and she has decided she can no longer remain. The long and short of it is that she's left him.
I understand from her that we can expect both she and Dudley to be with us at Christmas. We have heard nothing from Vernon and I can only imagine he's 'living it up' without Petunia breathing down his neck.
To make matters worse, the Minister wants me to accompany him on a visit to Cameroon starting on the 26th of December and I will be preparing for that right up until Christmas Day. I don't expect that I shall be able to meet you and it will be disappointing for both of us for you to see hardly anything of me. If you do come home obviously you will not be alone because Petunia and Dudley will be here, but don't feel you have to.
Chin up, my dearest, and let me know what you decide to do.
Two years running he wouldn't be able to go home for Christmas. Harry sighed deeply.
"Bad news?" said Ron.
"Just somewhat." Harry picked up his book bag.
"Your mother's not ill?"
"No. Nothing like that. It's just that I won't be able to go home for the holidays."
"And my awful Aunt Petunia has left her horrible husband and wished herself on Mum for an indefinite stay."
"Ouch, not good. And we have double Potions this morning," said Ron. "I wonder if Professor Digitalis is better?"
When they arrived in the dungeon classroom there was still no sign of her; Severus was at the head of the classroom sorting through the contents of a box on the desk and barely looked up when the class entered. Harry suppressed his disappointment as best he could.
Break found Harry sitting on the low stone wall that surrounded the quadrangle with Ron, when Hermione joined them.
"How was he?" she asked.
"Bad mood," said Ron, after sliding a glance at Harry.
"And then some," said Harry. He missed Severus - his Severus and not this 'teacher' persona he seemed to have taken on - so much that it was almost a physical ache. They'd never been able to see as much of each other as he would have liked, but this was worse.
"Wonder when Professor Digitalis is coming back. Has anyone heard what she's got? Must be pretty serious."
"She's not in the hospital wing," broke in Hermione. "I was there only yesterday when that absolute oaf Malfoy tripped poor Luna Lovegood and she fell down those stairs by the statue of the Empress Livia." Seeing their blank expressions she went on, "You know the one, it's at the top of the stairs which lead to the East Tower opposite that statue of Augustus - they argue in Latin all day, you must have..."
"Hermione, do you mean she's been taken to St Mungo's?"
"No, because I asked. Madam Pomfrey told me that nobody's been moved from the school to the hospital all year."
Harry and Ron both stared at her, stunned at her barefaced cheek. "Hermione..." Harry started.
"I didn't ask like that, of course," said Hermione. "I commented, in passing, that hospital transfer must be difficult and need a special kind of Floo. And she said yes, it was a bit complicated because patients who are moved are nearly always very ill indeed, but luckily it hadn't had to be done from Hogwarts for at least eighteen months."
There was a long pause while the three of them thought about this. Then Ron said, "So, where is Professor Digitalis?"
"She could be in her rooms," suggested Harry.
"Alone?" Hermione sounded sceptical.
"She'd have visitors," said Harry.
Ron looked puzzled, "Such as?"
"Well, the teachers might..."
"Nobody's mentioned it. And you're pretty friendly with the staff, you'd think someone would suggest we send her flowers or chocolates or something..." Harry trailed off. "Do either of you know where her rooms are?"
Ron and Hermione shook their heads.
"Then it's lucky that I do," said Harry. "She once had me carry seven boxes of books from the Potions classroom to her door. What I suggest is this..."
"It's normally Hermione who comes up with cockeyed plans," said Ron as they crept out of the Gryffindor common room late that evening. "Hecate knows what trouble we'll get into - and you're a prefect which will make it fifty times worse when you're caught breaking into a teacher's private rooms."
"You don't have to come along if you don't want to."
"Of course I do. Who's going to keep you out of trouble if I'm not with you?"
Harry didn't dignify that with an answer.
At the junction of the corridor of Claude the Unclean and Hereward the Wary they met Hermione. She was already tapping her food and hissed, "What took you so long?" at them as they approached.
"Filch," said Harry. "We only just got away before being seen by Mrs Norris."
"I still think you're over-reacting," said Ron. "What can he do to you two, you're prefects."
"Lots," said Hermione. "And we're not on duty tonight, which he knows perfectly well."
"Come on then." Harry was anxious to get this over with, though he wasn't saying as much to the other two.
Professor Digitalis' rooms were at the far end of the second floor; Harry, Hermione and Ron found the door without too much trouble. Having done so, they looked at each other rather uncertainly. "What do we do now?" whispered Hermione, over the Latin susurration of the arguing statues.
Harry was impressed, the only other person he knew who could hiss a phrase containing no sibilants was Severus. He knocked lightly and said, "Professor?" in the loudest voice he dared use. The statues stopped arguing and looked at him. "Professor Digitalis?" said Harry, a little louder. "Can we come in?"
There was no answer, and Hermione and Ron looked at him. "Well," said Hermione, "I suppose we had to give it a go in case she was there. Can't just go stamping in."
Ron seized the door handle and turned it. He pushed hard, then almost fell through the door - it was open and had been all along.
The other two followed Ron inside, and he closed the door behind them. "Lumos!" he said and a wavering light filled the narrow corridor that led parallel to the passage outside. The light grew as Harry and Hermione also lit their wands.
Ahead of them Harry could see doors leading off to the left - none of them showed a light.
"Perhaps she's asleep," said Ron. He didn't sound too happy, and indeed Harry himself felt like a burglar. Or, how he imagined a burglar might feel.
The first door led to a tidy living room of impressive size. It appeared that Hogwarts did its professors well in the matter of living accommodation. There were two sofas at right angles to a large open fireplace, now only dead ashes, and various other bookcases, chairs and a large empty desk. Harry had a look at the titles of the books; many of them were familiar either from his studies or from his visits to Severus's private rooms behind the shop in Hogsmeade.
The next room was some kind of private study, and Professor Digitalis had set up a cauldron in one corner. There was now a very nasty black mess in the bottom of this, and Harry, with six years of magical education behind him, didn't investigate it too closely. Again, there were shelves of books, some of them familiar but most not. A slightly untidy bathroom followed.
The last room was Professor Digitalis' bedroom. This held a four-poster bed with crimson hangings, an old fashioned dressing table and three wardrobes, one of them crammed with books. But there was no sign of Professor Digitalis.
"Could she have gone home to her family?" asked Hermione in hardly more than a whisper.
"I don't think so," said Harry. "She once told me that she didn't have a family to speak of."
"When was that?" asked Ron, just as quiet.
"You remember when she spent three weeks away from Hogwarts just before our OWLs?" said Harry. They nodded. "When she came back I asked if she was feeling better and she told me she hadn't been ill, she'd been sorting out the estate of an aunt who'd recently died. She said then that her aunt had been her only remaining relative. And then she asked me to keep it to myself. Which I have, until now."
Harry had decided to stay at Hogwarts over Christmas when he'd first received his mother's letter; he'd thought about it very carefully since then, but he couldn't face three weeks looking at Aunt Petunia and Dudley day after day. He'd have endured it if his mother hadn't had to work, but without her it was too dreadful to contemplate.
That left him at school with the teachers and a few other students. Hermione and Ron were both going home; Ron would have invited him to The Burrow, but they were expecting both Charlie and Bill, Charlie's wife, Bill's girlfriend and Percy's fiancée. There just wouldn't be room unless he wanted to sleep in the broomshed. He wouldn't have minded, but obviously Auntie Molly did.
Harry watched the other students leave, his heart heavy - heavier than it had been last year when at least he'd had Ron's company. The seventh year boys' dormitory would seem very empty with just him in it. He looked around at the other three beds, and wondered what he should do. There was his pile of holiday homework, but he had three weeks in which to tackle that.
Harry's walk took him to the edge of the Forbidden Forest, and to Hagrid's hut. He'd been friends with Hagrid from his very first day at Hogwarts; his mother had been a great favourite of Hagrid's, and Harry took a jar of home-made jam to him at the start of every term.
"Oh, there yeh are, Harry. I was wonderin'. Hermione and Ron gone?"
"Yes, they took the train." Harry looked at his watch. "They should be nearly halfway home by now."
"Fancy some tea?"
"That would be great, ta."
Hagrid waited until they were both served with tea and indigestible chocolate buns, before he said, "Gettin' on all right wi' Snape?"
"All right, I suppose." Harry toyed with his bun, then said, "Oh, all right, not very well. I'd hoped that when he was a teacher it might help, but it hasn't. He's horrible to everyone - he's almost putting me off Potions he's so bad and I liked Potions. I hate to think what he's doing to the others. He was so much better when he had the shop in Hogsmeade. I almost wish I didn't love him."
"Don't think too bad of him, Harry," said Hagrid. "I can't say much, but there are things going on that you don't understand."
"Is this to do with Professor Digitalis having disappeared?" Harry had blurted out the question before he really thought about it.
Hagrid dropped his cup with a crash, and tea slopped everywhere. "What do you know about that?"
"Not much," admitted Harry, wishing it were more. "Just that she's gone, and she doesn't seem to be anywhere we can find, and that owls sent to her just come back."
"Don't say anything to the others about it. It's none of your business anyway."
"It is when it's putting my NEWTs at risk," Harry said, he was irritated with Severus over this, and knew it showed. Then he shrugged, "The only people who've guessed apart from me are Ron and Hermione. At least, as far as I know. Do you know what's happened to her, Hagrid?"
"No. And nor does anyone else, so there's no point asking around, neither."
"But they are looking for her?"
"'Course they are! Don't you worry about that. Come on, drink your tea, and that bun's all turned to crumbs. Here, have another."
Harry took a second bun.
Harry had imagined that Severus had gone home to his family; he hadn't seen him about the school. He was therefore surprised to see him at dinner on Christmas day - where had he been for all the other meals? He took one of the seats next to Severus, and smiled at him. His smile was not returned, if anything Severus's expression tightened.
"Since we are so few," said Dumbledore, "it made no sense to keep to the House tables."
Harry looked around. Other than himself and Severus he could see Professors Flitwick, Sprout, Sinistra, McGonagall and Vector. The only students he could see were a Ravenclaw second year, a Hufflepuff third year and two Slytherin fifth years. The thirteenth chair at the table was empty, but just as the soup was served Hagrid came through the doors and everyone budged up to allow him to join them.
On Harry's other side was one of the Slytherin fifth years, but he didn't seem to have much to say for himself. Or not to Harry; by the time they were helping themselves to chipolatas and gravy he had struck up a chatty conversation with the Slytherin on his other side.
Severus concentrated quietly on his meal, though from time to time his eyes slid towards Harry as though he would have liked to speak but couldn't find the words. Harry was left half wishing he'd gone home, even with Aunt Petunia and Dudley there. But then, he imagined that whatever Severus might have to say to him would be best without an audience of eleven other people, one of them his Headmaster.
Suddenly, the doors at the end of the Great Hall crashed open and a man staggered in.
"Remus Lupin!" Dumbledore jumped to his feet, the movement belying his age, followed by Hagrid and Professor McGonagall.
It took Harry a moment to realise what the Headmaster had said, but then he followed him down the Hall. "Uncle Remus!" said Harry, as they approached. "What's happened?"
Dumbledore shot him a warning look, though why Harry did not know. It was surely no secret that Remus Lupin was a friend of his mother's. "Minerva," said Dumbledore. "Fetch Madam Pomfrey - you know where she is." Then he turned to Remus, "Don't move. You're safe now."
"What's happened to him?" Harry asked. To his untutored eye, Remus just looked a bloody mess.
"Harry!" Remus' eyes found his. "Your mother. Carola... Augusta...in danger. Voldemort." His eyes closed again, and he slumped back.
Dumbledore knelt beside Remus and felt his neck. He seemed satisfied for the moment, for he sat back a little. He said, "Severus. Take Harry to my office and both of you wait for me. I'll be along as soon as I can. You others..." his gaze took in the other students, whose faces wore looks of mingled curiosity and horror, "go to your dormitories and stay there. I'll have food sent up to you."
"But..." Harry started.
"Harry, go. You cannot help Remus by staying here."
Harry looked around, but Severus stepped forward. "Come on, Harry," he said, sounding more like the Severus that Harry knew and loved than he had at any time since he'd come to teach at Hogwarts. "We should go."
There was nothing for it but to follow Severus out of the Hall and up to the third floor. "Mint imperials," Severus gave the password and the gargoyle stepped aside.
Harry hadn't been in Dumbledore's office very often before; had he not been so worried he'd have been much more interested in Dumbledore's collection of Dark detectors and informational devices than he was. Instead he moved to one of the squashy armchairs and sat down. Severus followed him and sat in a nearby chair.
For a long time neither spoke, then Harry said, "You know something about this, don't you?"
"Some, yes. But it would be better coming from the Headmaster."
"Better for who?"
"'For whom'," said Severus and Harry frowned at him. "Everyone."
"You, you mean," said Harry.
Severus pushed his hair back with his right hand; it was a sign Harry that knew meant he wasn't sure what to say. Finally, Severus said, "Not just me. I'm not the only one involved here."
"Then you are involved."
"Is this the real reason why you won't see me any more?" Harry was aware he sounded like a whining child.
Severus sighed. "Harry, please. The real reason is the one I have given you - your father's letter. There are others, but..."
Harry broke in, "What's happened to my mother?"
"I have... I don't know. I have suspicions, but we had best wait for the Headmaster who will have more news."
Harry shot him a look of disbelief, "You won't tell me anything..."
Severus sighed. "Giving you my unformed suspicions would only make things worse. Trust me. Harry, please. I have little more information than you."
It was not as long as it seemed, but it was still a very long time before the Headmaster arrived. Rather than moving to sit behind his desk, the Headmaster sat down on a third armchair. Harry noticed that Severus looked as startled as he felt at this, and his heart sank still further.
The Headmaster conjured a coffee table, and then a tray with tea, biscuits, three cups, and very curiously, a pork chop. Despite this, Harry was impressed; he'd started to learn conjuring last year and knew how difficult a skill it was to master. Even so he sat impatiently as the Headmaster poured tea for them all.
"Harry," said Dumbledore at last. "I have some bad news for you."
Harry went cold. "Is she...dead?" If his worst fear was confirmed, better have it over with quickly before he screamed and emptied the teapot over the Headmaster's head.
"We don't know, Harry." Dumbledore put his cup down. "She is missing."
"Like Professor Digitalis," said Harry.
The Headmaster's gaze was piercing. "How did you know about that?"
"We worked it out." Harry caught the Headmaster's glance at Severus and said, "Me, Ron and Hermione. That's why Severus is teaching, isn't it?"
"It is true that we needed a Potions teacher urgently."
Harry's brain was working overtime. "But that's not the only reason, is it? What does it have to do with my mother? How is Uncle Remus?"
"Remus has been taken to St Mungo's," said the Headmaster. He glanced again at Severus, and then said, "We have reason to believe that your mother, like Professor Digitalis, has been kidnapped."
"But why?" said Harry. "Mum hasn't got any money, only her Ministry wage."
"There are things other than money," said the Headmaster.
Harry was impatient with the Headmaster's evasion, "Such as?"
The Headmaster exchanged yet another glance with Severus, "Harry, your father..."
"What's he got to do with it?" said Harry. "Hasn't he caused enough trouble?"
The Headmaster sighed, "Harry, I will speak frankly. You know that your father is one of the most outspoken critics of certain elements in the wizarding world." Harry nodded; he could hardly have missed it. "It has come to the attention of those elements that recently, your father and mother have...ah...re-established contact. I believe the catalyst was your mother's concern over your relationship with Severus." The Headmaster stopped to pour more tea. "We do not know if Bellatrix Potter had discovered their... liaison, but it appears that your father's enemies have, and that they have decided to take advantage of it to attempt to secure your father's co-operation."
Harry was sceptical, "In that case, why haven't they kidnapped Bella?"
The Headmaster looked even more uncomfortable, "We think that they have realised that would have no effect on your father's actions."
Harry considered that, then put it aside mentally to think about later. "Oh. So what happens now? Is someone going to rescue my Mum, then?"
The Headmaster smiled, magisterially. "The story is not over, Harry. This is where things become complicated. The other reason for Severus coming to Hogwarts is that...certain people...want him here."
Harry was sure there must have been an expression of blank astonishment on his face. "What people?" he said. He turned to Severus, "You can't mean you're a supporter of people like Crouch and Voldemort?"
Severus shifted in his seat. "Not exactly."
"Then what, exactly?" Harry stood up, needing the distance and movement, "Do you agree with them in principle or something?"
"No!" said Severus. "I don't agree with them at all...not any more."
"Then what's the point of you being here?"
"Harry, sit please," said the Headmaster. He patted the arm of the chair where Harry had been sitting and Harry unwillingly resumed his seat. The Headmaster glanced at Severus and continued, "Severus agreed to help us as much as he can, including coming here to Hogwarts."
All this was irrelevant to Harry who said, "Are they going to rescue my mother? Are you?"
"Of course we will provide as much information as we can. Not that that's much," said the Headmaster with a smile.
Harry wasn't reassured; he knew that the Headmaster was not telling the whole truth and he resented it.
Again the Headmaster glanced at Severus. He said, "Precipitate action is unwise, especially in these cases. It would be the surest way to get her killed. You realise we're only telling you as much as we have to prevent you from doing anything that would endanger your mother, your father or yourself."
Harry nodded, it seemed expected of him, but doubts still assailed him. "What about Professor Digitalis? Do you know what has happened to her?"
"I do," said the Headmaster. "We do not expect her to return."
"She's dead, isn't she?"
"I'm sorry, Harry. I can't go into any further details." The Headmaster smiled, "Now, what I suggest is that you go up to the hospital wing and ask Madam Pomfrey for a calming draft."
"I'm fine, really." Harry gritted his teeth, it would be unacceptable to yell at the Headmaster, but that smile made him want to hit him with the table.
"No, Harry. Even if you don't feel you need one, I want you to go to the hospital wing. I don't want you in Gryffindor Tower alone. Severus, please escort him and ensure he gets there safely."
As soon as the other students returned from their Christmas break, Harry realised that Messalina and Caligula Potter knew something. He didn't know what it was, but there was definitely something. And he didn't like it one bit. They looked entirely too self-satisfied. The curious thing was that whatever it was that made Messalina and Caligula look so gleeful, they were not sharing it with the other Slytherins - Draco Malfoy looked particularly resentful.
Of course, Harry immediately confided all he could in Hermione and Ron; there was no way he'd willingly leave them out of a secret this large, especially as he had a strong idea that the three of them had had the right idea about Professor Digitalis. The problem was that they had no idea what to do with the information they had.
Harry therefore used what concentration he had left after worrying about his mother on a problem he could deal with: his career. He read the newspaper every day, hoping for something that he could reasonably apply for, but by the end of January he'd found nothing, and though he had several months still to go to the end of the school year, he was concerned. He had to stay in Hogsmeade to be near Severus.
There was no news, either, about his mother and though Harry did try to have confidence in the Headmaster and the Ministry's Aurors, he was feeling more and more desperate. However often he asked for a meeting with the Headmaster, the answer was the same - Harry was seventeen and he could help best by allowing those older and wiser than him to do their jobs. Though Dumbledore always said that he understood Harry's worries and shared them, that was precious little comfort.
From time to time he was aware of Severus's attention on him. He looked concerned, though he said nothing to Harry. Not that Harry imagined there was anything Severus could do even if he were prepared to - if he paid too much attention to Harry Evans it would undermine his position as a teacher. Harry did notice, one morning in early February, that Severus was rather more polite to Messalina and Caligula than he would have expected.
Professor McGonagall was suffering no such handicap. Harry felt that if she sighed over him once more he was going to dot her one with the largest piece of masonry he could find.
The news of Lily Evans' disappearance did not seem to have made the pages of the Daily Prophet. The news in the paper was dominated by the upcoming election. There were daily appearances and speeches reported from one, two or all three candidates and the election also dominated the letters column. Harry could not help but notice that after the speech he'd made before Christmas James Potter was conspicuously silent, the only mention he saw was a letter from an Augusta Longbottom of Pendle, Lancashire saying that James Potter 'had the measure of them all' and that it was 'a waste of time voting'. He could only suppose that his father's silence had something to do with his mother's disappearance. When he asked the Headmaster to confirm this deduction, he merely smiled in that way Harry was beginning to find infuriating.
What Harry wanted more than anything was to be out doing something to find his mother. He knew perfectly well that without more information he had no chance of doing anything. And that was how the Headmaster wanted it.
Then, one morning as he sat in the Restricted Section of the library, looking out into the quadrangle below an idea occurred to him...what about Aunt Petunia? Presumably she had been there when it had happened. He pulled parchment towards him and dipped his quill into the ink.
Harry spent the next few days metaphorically on the edge of his seat. He was disappointed that Hermione was not as hopeful as he was that they would receive any useful reply. As she said, "They use the Obliviate spell on Muggles who see too much. If anyone has, it's going to be your Aunt Petunia."
Despite this, Harry refused to be downhearted; he had an idea that even the Ministry of Magic would baulk at removing someone's memory of their own sister's kidnap. If nothing else, surely it would raise too many questions should she rediscover it later. Still, Hermione's comment worried him.
Harry returned to his studies. He was increasingly frustrated by Potions; Harry still loved Severus, but even he had to admit that as a Potions teacher he lacked something. Ability to teach, mostly. It wasn't that he had no talent at Potions, there was nobody like Severus in Europe - he was second to none - and though it was said that the African potions maker, Abelware Kujore, could outbrew anyone, they wouldn't say that in Severus's hearing.
Severus could probably, in Harry's opinion, have coped with an apprentice - someone older whose ability at the subject was already proven and their enthusiasm unquestioned. Faced with twenty-five students for seven hours a day Severus - and Severus's temper - did not hold up well.
The worry about his mother never left Harry; he was sleeping badly and his studies suffered as a result. The teachers said nothing, there wasn't much they could say, and he gathered that Dumbledore had told them if not the truth, something sufficient to prevent them from questioning him about his falling performance. He refused to think about what would happen if his mother did not return.
He was at breakfast with Ron when an owl landed in front of his plate, and tied to its leg was an oblong envelope rather than the usual scroll. He didn't have an owl treat on him, but luckily Hermione did.
"Don't you wish you had your own owl?" Ron said, as they watched her fly off up the main hall and out of a window.
"It would be useful," he admitted.
"But there's no point whining?" he said. "My mum says that all the time."
Harry opened his letter.
I am still at your mother's house, they have told me not to worry, but little else. Dudley, of course, is spared the problems and grief because he is at school. It is proving difficult to get Vernon to continue to pay the fees, but it is dear Dudley's last year at Smeltings and it would be a pity to lose him his chance of attending a really good university.
Your mother's disappearance has of course been a dreadful shock to both of us, and to you as well, I'm sure.
She came home late on Christmas Eve, and we had dinner immediately - Dudley was hungry because it had been a long day for him.
Just after we had finished, there was a knock at the door and your mother answered it. I heard the door pushed back against the chain - you know your mother always kept the chain on - and then your mother cried out. I didn't hear all the words but one phrase stood out, "What have you done to James?" I rushed out into the hall, followed by Dudley - he's always been so brave!
The door was fully open, your mother must have taken the chain off, though I'm sure I don't know why. I just caught sight of a couple of people in silly long robes, one of them turned back and he had no face. I wouldn't let Dudley go after them.
I didn't know what to do so I called the police. They weren't much help.
Then, next day, your father appeared at the door. He warned Dudley and me to say nothing more, though of course that wouldn't apply to you. You've a right to know what happened. He also said that he'd take care of it.
I never liked James and if this is his idea of 'taking care of it' he's not hurrying. It has now been nearly five weeks and there has been nothing, no news at all. Nor is there any sign of the police making any progress. I am beginning to believe that dear Lily may never return.
Ron said, "She doesn't exactly sugar-coat things, does she?"
"No," said Harry. "I wonder why she took this long to write to me."
"Maybe it didn't occur to her," said Ron. "Strikes me that alleviating other people's concerns isn't all that important to her. Selfish old bat."
"What do you mean?" Harry said. He sounded a little vague because he was re-reading Aunt Petunia's letter.
"Well," said Ron, "it sounds to me that any moment now she's going to ask which of your mother's ornaments she can have - with her eye on the valuable ones."
"Ron!" said Hermione, who had come over from the Ravenclaw table and who was now reading the letter. "You're so cynical."
"Just realistic," said Ron. "Aren't I, Harry?"
"Hm?" Harry looked up. "Yes, of course you are."
He thought it over. It seemed to him that his only option now was a visit to his father. Harry had no idea where his father lived other than it was in Buckinghamshire. That cut it down somewhat, but not a great deal. There were, of course, people at Hogwarts who knew, but the first ones that occurred to him were Caligula and Messalina Potter and Professor Sinistra, the Head of Slytherin House. Asking them was unlikely to work - it would earn him nothing more than a superior giggle from Messalina, a sneer from Caligula and a censorious glare from Professor Sinistra. That evening at dinner he was exercising his mind over the problem when he looked up and caught Professor McGonagall's eye. Then he remembered: his father's address would very probably be on his own school records. It wasn't as if his parentage was a secret, after all. Not discussed, but not a secret. But would McGonagall tell him? Harry decided it was worth a try.
He slept on it, and then next morning after breakfast he made his way up the Great Hall to where Professor McGonagall sat, reading the newspaper and spooning up her porridge.
He stood in front of her for a few moments before she realised he was there. Before he collected his thoughts to speak, she asked, "What do you want, Evans?"
She'd asked him to meet her in her office at the start of morning break. He accepted the tea and biscuits she offered, knowing that would at least give him some time to persuade her. "I need my father's address," he said. Then he wondered if that had been too blunt.
Professor McGonagall didn't look surprised - far from it, and Harry realised she'd been half expecting something along those lines. She said, "You haven't had much contact with your father, have you, Evans?"
"None, Professor. Well, none to speak of."
"He was a student of mine," she said.
"Yes," said Harry. "Mum told me."
McGonagall's eyes softened, "Have a ginger newt to go with your tea." She pushed the tin over to Harry, and he took a biscuit, which wriggled for a moment then was still in his hand. "I was - am - very fond of your mother. She deserved better."
"Yes," said Harry, feeling this to be rather inadequate - though it accorded with his own thoughts.
They sipped their tea in silence for a few moments, then Harry said, "I wrote to my father just before Christmas but he hasn't answered. I didn't have a proper address so I'm worried that the owl didn't deliver it."
"Did the letter come back?" Professor McGonagall gave him one of her more piercing looks.
Harry did his best not to squirm, "No. Or, at least, not yet."
She looked as though she were thinking something over, then said, "Very well, Mr Evans. I want your word that if your father asks you not to write to him you must accede to his wishes."
"Of course, Professor."
Writing to his father was not at all what Harry had in mind. Predictably, Hermione looked horrified when he confided his plan to her and Ron. She said, "But Olney's miles! It'll take you days."
"Hermione!" said Ron. "I don't think Harry's going to walk, do you? Did we spend half last year learning to Apparate for nothing?"
Her mouth set into a stubborn line, Hermione said, "Even so, it's against the rules. We're not supposed to leave the school grounds or Hogsmeade. And what are you going to wear?"
"Wear?" Harry looked at her in surprise. As if he was worried about fashion now.
"You can't go to some Muggle village in your school robes. People will say things, ask questions."
"I was wearing Muggle clothes to get to the Hogwarts Express," said Harry, seeing what she meant. "They're in my trunk. I'll change in the toilets at the Three Broomsticks."
"I really don't like this idea, Harry."
"Neither do I," put in Ron. "I think Hermione's right for once."
"And if you are going," said Hermione, with a sharp glare at Ron - clearly the 'for once' crack had hit home. "I think Ron should go with you."
"What?" said Ron.
"I'll be fine," said Harry. "He's my father. He may not have had anything to do with me, but I don't think he's going to do me any harm. Honestly."
"You shouldn't go alone," Hermione repeated. "I don't think you should go at all, I think you're demented and will probably be expelled, but if you must go someone should go with you."
"Why not you?" said Ron.
Harry said, "And get him expelled as well?"
"Don't be silly," said Hermione. "I insist someone goes with you. And if you're not back by midnight on Saturday I'm telling Professor Flitwick."
"But..." Harry started, but he was interrupted.
"Listen to me, Harry Evans. I think this is a silly idea, but if you must do it let's do it sensibly."
Seeing he had no choice, Harry said, "All right, then. Ron come with me, and if we're not back on time, you can tell McGonagall."
"But Professor Flitwick..."
"McGonagall or Severus," said Harry. "Nobody else."
Apparating somewhere you didn't know was possible but risky, and Harry and Ron discovered that the only maps they could find in the Hogwarts library of the area in which Harry's father lived were old. Very old in some cases, Harry thought as he sneezed over a 17th century map showing parish boundaries. "Fine pair of twerps we'd look if we landed in the middle of a river," he muttered.
Hermione took the map out of his hand with an irritated expression, and the movement released more dust. "Or right in the middle of a new Tesco, which is what I'm worried about." She cast a light cleaning spell to remove the dust - and other things - and refolded the map.
"Do you think it's worth writing to your father?" said Ron. He had been coming up with ways of avoiding going since the plan had been voiced.
"He didn't answer my other letter," Harry said.
"Well, you were raging at him," Hermione pointed out. Then she added, "Sort of. And you didn't have a proper address."
"That's never made a difference to owls before. And if he didn't answer me then, how likely is it now? I'm about to ask a lot of intrusive questions about the whereabouts of my kidnapped mother."
Hermione thought about that. Then she said, "How about Apparating to somewhere you do know and travelling from there? I'm sure Olney at least is on a railway line. You could go to Kings Cross and start from there."
"It would be time consuming," said Harry.
"But not nearly as risky as an Apparition to somewhere you've never been using these," she indicated the dusty old maps, "as a guide."
Reluctantly, Harry and Ron admitted she had a point.
The first thing that happened on their arrival at King's Cross was that Harry nearly had his legs cut off by some fool with an overloaded luggage trolley. "Look where you're going," growled the man. Harry didn't respond, he felt the man should take his own advice before chastising passers by - though in their case he could hardly be blamed as they'd arrived through the barrier without warning.
"Where now?" Ron asked, looking around. He never spent much time in the Muggle side of King's Cross station.
"We'll have to ask," said Harry.
Ron looked as though he'd rather be chewed by a pack of rabid wolverines than ask questions of Muggles, but he followed Harry readily enough.
"Not from here," the young lady under the 'information' sign said. She consulted a screen, "You want St Pancras."
"Is that far?" Harry asked.
She gave him a curious glance, "No, love. Out of this station, cross the road and into the one next door. Can't miss it."
"Thanks," Harry said. But she'd already turned away to answer a question from a Japanese lady whose luggage looked to be larger than she was.
"We only need to get there once." Harry consoled Ron after they'd negotiated Muggle ticket purchasing. "After this we'll know where we're Apparating to and it'll be much easier."
"Wish we could have come by broom," said Ron, who still wasn't looking happy. "A lot less trouble."
"It would take too long - I mean Scotland to London can't be done in the time we've got, even if we both had a Firebolt and travelled at top speed. And the best we can muster between us is that old Shooting Star of yours. We'd get as far as Glasgow on that before we had to turn back."
The journey took them just over an hour - Harry had the impression that the little local train stopped at every lamp post and crisp packet on the way and he was in the middle of a theory that the driver was doubling as a milkman when he suddenly noticed they'd reached their destination and had to get out quickly. Had the train not had a young mother struggling with a pram on it they'd have been taken on to the next stop.
Olney proved to be a very small town indeed - overgrown village about covered it. Harry knew the village his father lived in, Threpston-cum-Lestley, was to the north, but they couldn't see a signpost anywhere. It also looked, depressingly, as if they'd have to walk. If Olney possessed any kind of bus service to the outlying villages it was conspicuous by its absence.
By now heartily sick of asking questions of strangers, Harry led the way into an estate agent's on Olney's High Street. The person behind the nearest computer looked at them superciliously - it was perfectly clear that he didn't imagine for a moment that either Harry or Ron cold afford so much as a brick of the very expensive properties in the window.
Severus had always said he found Harry charming, and Harry hoped he was right. "I wonder if you can help?" he said. "We're looking for a house called Morris Court? It's in Threpston-cum-Lestley."
The young man, his name tag read 'Jeremy Downey', looked them up and down, his expression distinctly disbelieving, "It's three miles from here," he said.
Harry did not want to see Ron's expression on learning that. "Can you give us directions?"
The young man could do slightly better than that; he handed them a map of the local area including the town of Olney and all the local villages.
"Three miles," said Ron.
"You didn't have to come," Harry pointed out. He wasn't looking forward to a three mile tramp along unfamiliar roads in the February chill any more than Ron was.
Other than a young woman struggling to control a roan mare which had ideas about where she wished to go that were not shared by her rider, they saw no-one. It was, after all, a raw, freezing Saturday - and it seemed that the people in those parts had decided to toast their toes at home rather than walk or drive around the lanes.
They were rather wary, too, of the young estate agent's claim that they 'couldn't miss' Morris Court. But in that he proved as good as his word - there were only about seven houses of any size in Threpston-cum-Lestley and all of those were on Main Road. This wasn't actually a road at all, it turned into a large roughly circular 'square' almost as soon as one entered the village.
"That's it," said Ron, unnecessarily, pointing at a large Georgian house sandwiched between The Vicarage and a row of cottages.
As they got closer, Harry found that the row of cottages had been converted into one, and was for sale. The estate agent dealing with the sale was the one whose shop they'd been into in Olney - no wonder he could give clear directions.
What he really wanted at that moment was a chance to take stock before stumping up to knock on the door. But unless he wanted to repair to the pub - and he wasn't at all sanguine about passing himself off as over eighteen - there wasn't anywhere they could go. This was not the type of village which would have a teashop.
"Having second thoughts?" asked Ron. "We could just Apparate back to Hogsmeade."
"No! No it's not that... Now I'm here I don't know what to say."
"Ask to see your Dad and take it from there," suggested Ron. "Chances are he won't want to see you anyway."
"Aren't you cheerful, then?" said Harry, a little resentful. He squared his shoulders, walked up the path allowing the iron gate to clang behind him and then knocked on the door. They waited for a few moments, and then Harry knocked again. The door opened to reveal a rather pretty blonde woman in a maid's outfit.
Harry had lived for most of his life in a Muggle village and knew perfectly well that maids simply didn't dress like that any more. He couldn't help staring her, he was sure his expression must be one of total astonishment. He pulled himself together after a moment and said, "I'd like to speak to Mr Potter, please." He seriously hoped that the wobble in his voice was audible only to him.
The maid's brow creased as if he'd asked her to calculate the circumference of a circle without knowing the value of pi. The silence lengthened and then she said, "I'll see if he's available. You had better come in and wait." Harry sincerely hoped that the feeling he had, akin to that of a mouth closing as the door shut behind them, was simply an illusion. The maid left them alone in the hall.
They looked around, Harry and Ron caught each other's glance; the hall was pleasant but not large - certainly not to anyone who had attended Hogwarts. The wait stretched; suddenly the door at the end of the hall opened and a woman came out. Harry recognised her as his father's wife, Bellatrix. It suddenly occurred to him that this perhaps wasn't such a good idea - but it was too late to back out now. He was also very aware that he and Ron had had a longish journey by Muggle train and a strenuous walk through damp country lanes, neither of which had done anything to improve their appearance.
Bellatrix gave the impression of looking down on Harry from a great height. This had to be an illusion because she wasn't very much taller than he was and he wondered how she did it. She said, "I understood from Megan that you would like to speak to my husband?"
"That's right," said Harry. "I'm Harry Evans and this is my friend, Ron Weasley."
Bellatrix's expression became even more censorious, but she said, "I've heard of you, of course. What made you come here I cannot imagine."
"There are matters I need to talk to...Mr Potter about." Harry almost said, 'my father' but felt that the reminder would probably have been unwelcome in the circumstances.
"What matters?" she asked.
"They're private," said Harry.
"My husband and I have no secrets from each other," said Bellatrix.
Harry wasn't sure how to take that and therefore said nothing.
At that moment a door opened at the end of the hallway and a man entered, "Bella? Who...? Oh."
Harry's first thought on seeing his father for the first time was that he'd expected him to be taller. He didn't know what to say; he'd waited for this, planned it even, but now it was happening he wasn't sure he was at all equal to it.
Bellatrix broke the silence, "Mr Evans and Mr Weasley weren't staying long."
James Potter ignored her. He said, "Perhaps Megan could bring some tea to the study?"
"I'll ask her," said Bellatrix. She turned away and went back through the door.
"This way." James led them from through into a study. At least, Harry had an initially confused impression of books and a desk, but then James led them to a couple of chairs and a sofa by a small fire.
After a moment's silence during which they all sat and looked at each other, James said, "It's Lily, isn't it? The reason why you came to see me."
"Yes," said Harry. "And Professor Digitalis, of course," he added as an afterthought.
"Professor...? Oh, yes. Carola."
"Aunt Petunia told me that you went to see her after...after it happened. You asked her to keep quiet about it. Does that mean that you know who has her?"
"Petunia wasn't supposed to tell anyone..."
"But I'm Lily's son!" said Harry. "My Aunt had to tell me what happened. Do you know where Mum is?"
"If I knew where she was I'd have rescued her by now!" James was annoyed.
"But do you know who's holding her?"
"If I knew who I'd know where," said James.
"Does the same person have Professor Digitalis?" asked Harry.
"As far as we know."
Harry had not missed the 'we'. "So you are not working alone."
James looked annoyed as if he hadn't expected to be caught out. "I can't tell you that."
"But you are doing something?"
"Yes," said James, after a pause. "But I cannot tell you what."
Ron suddenly broke in, "What proof do you have that either Professor Digitalis or Auntie Lily are still alive?"
Harry was grateful; he had been trying to think of a way of asking this.
"There are...ways," said James.
At that moment Megan came in with a tray, which she placed on the coffee table in front of the fire. James poured coffee for the three of them from a pot and Harry and Ron exchanged glances. Being used to instant coffee from a jar and made in the mug they'd rarely seen a coffee pot and it seemed odd. Harry and Ron both added milk to their cups; James took his black, which made Ron grimace in horror. Harry smiled to himself.
It was obvious they were going to get little out of James and the conversation turned to more general matters. At the end of it Harry didn't like his father much; he seemed like a pretentious bastard in Harry's opinion - but at least he now had some experience of him on which to base that opinion.
Harry looked back at Morris Court as they were leaving, he was sure that just for a moment, he'd seen the figure of a man standing in an upstairs window - or had it been Bella? Harry could not be sure.
"Come on," said Ron. "We'll have to get well out of the village."
Harry yawned. "Coming," he said.
Ron sat on the damp stile leading between the churchyard and the recreation ground. "I'll have to rest for a bit before we try to apparate to Hogsmeade. I'm exhausted."
Harry sat beside him, he was glad to stop, he hadn't quite liked to admit how tired he was. "Yeah," he said.
Ron blinked, it looked to Harry as if he were doing it in slow motion. "But why?" he said. "I mean, any journey is hard work but not like this..." Ron yawned this time. "Not this hard."
"No." Harry frowned. "I suppose not." He leaned back against the stile to stop the world from spinning. "It's a long way to Hogwarts and we don't want to splinch ourselves."
"Definitely not," said Ron, just before he fell sideways onto the damp grass.
Waking was like pulling himself up from the bottom of a deep well with his fingernails. Harry could see a dirty ceiling, not immediately familiar and his first thought had been that they had both been inordinately stupid. He realised this even before he was properly awake. He heard Ron's deep and heartfelt groan and started - he hadn't expected there be to be anyone else there.
"Ron?" Harry coughed to clear his throat then tried again, "Ron?"
"What?" said Ron. His voice too was rough.
"Just checking it's you," said Harry.
"Where are we?"
"No idea, I was hoping you might know."
"How would I?" Ron sounded a little testy, and Harry smiled.
Harry felt down to his jeans, with a sinking heart, "I don't suppose you have your wand?"
"No. And there are anti-Apparition wards on this place. Wherever it is."
Harry sat up slowly, his head throbbed with pain and even this small movement made him feel sick. He held the nausea back with an effort, the last thing they needed right now was vomit all over the floor.
Looking round Harry revised his opinion; he thought that vomit might improve the décor because the room they were in was small and outstandingly dingy. There were two iron bedsteads each with a dirty mattress. The window had a metal cover of some sort. The walls were grey painted brick and what light there was came from a faded sphere near the ceiling. Harry looked at this curiously; it did not look to be an electric light and yet in the wizarding world they usually relied on oil lamps and torches.
"They have them..." Ron coughed, "at St Mungo's." He'd been following Harry's gaze. "I saw them that time Bill got on the wrong side of that expanding curse and we had to visit him. Nine feet tall, he was, before the Healers sorted him out."
"I remember," said Harry. At least, he remembered Ron mentioning it.
Moving yet more carefully, Harry stood and shuffled over to the window. He had been right, the shutters were fastened from the outside and they didn't budge when pushed. Putting his eye to the crack - and it was the merest crack - all Harry could see was a painted brick wall on the other side of some kind of narrow corridor. He thought there might be daylight but he was at the wrong angle to be quite certain.
The door was also metal; it didn't move when pushed or kicked, either, and Harry surmised it also was locked from the outside. He returned to sit dispiritedly on the bed.
"What shall we do?" asked Ron.
"How about an invigorating game of 'I spy'," said Harry. "I'll go first...I spy with my little eye, something beginning with 'b'."
"Bed!" said Ron, entering into the spirit of the thing. "I spy..."
"I can't see anything beginning with a 'p' in here," said Harry.
"Yes you can."
"I can't," said Harry, who was already bored with the game.
"Pipe!" said Ron, triumphant.
"Yes...look up there."
Ron was right, running from left to right across the back of the room there was a metal pipe about two inches in diameter. "Pity neither of us know Morse code," said Harry.
"It's a Muggle thing; I saw it on television in the hotel room last time we went on holiday. They use it to send messages by tapping."
Harry demonstrated on the end of his bed with the heel of his hand.
"What did that mean, then?"
"No idea. Nothing, probably. I don't know Morse code."
Ron frowned, then jumped up. "Let's have a go, anyway. At least we might find out something." He pulled his bed towards the back wall, climbed on it, pulled a shoe off and started to tap the pipes.
"You have to stop and listen sometimes," said Harry, amused by Ron's enthusiasm.
Ron did so. To his astonishment, he was answered by a faint, distant noise - someone responding. "At least we're not alone," he said.
"Doesn't get us very far," said Harry. "And have you noticed? No loo, just that bucket. I suppose it's too much to expect that we'd be kidnapped by someone thoughtful."
Time wore on, though they had no way to mark its passing other than by an increase in their thirst, hunger and need to use the lavatory. Finally, there came a noise at the door, and both stood back, not knowing what to expect.
The door opened to reveal a man holding a wand. They both backed away when he gestured with it, and a house-elf followed him in. It was carrying a tray and an empty bucket. The house-elf put down the tray and the bucket, picked up the bucket in the corner and sidled out again behind the man. The door closed - Harry and Ron hadn't seen either man or elf touch it - and they heard the noise of the lock clicking home.
"What is it?" Harry asked. Ron was inspecting the contents of the tray.
"Porridge," said Ron. "No sugar or milk that I can see."
"Still," said Harry. "It's food." He pulled a bowl towards him.
"Harry! It might be poisoned!"
"It might. But I think if they wanted to kill us they would have already done so. All that time we were unconscious, it would have been so simple."
Ron thought this over then picked up the other bowl and the horn spoon that came with it and dug in. "I think they made this with water," he said, after a few moments.
"I wonder if Hermione's told Professor McGonagall yet," said Harry. He was trying to keep his mind off the food.
"Hope so," said Ron. "I wouldn't like to think that we were alone in being scared out of our minds."
"And I wonder if anyone's told my father," said Harry, his tone grim. "Assuming it wasn't him who arranged it."
Ron looked up, startled. "You don't seriously think so, do you?"
"As far as I can work out it was either him or Bellatrix. My money's on Bella, but we can't rule him out. After all, it was James my Mum mentioned when she opened the door to them."
"And who's the squinty, ratty-looking bloke with the wand?"
"No idea," said Harry. "Could be anyone." Having finished the porridge, he went over and checked the door again. He had no expectations that it would open but he gave it a good shove anyway. He was right, it didn't move. "How are we going to get out?" he asked.
"No idea," said Ron. He was lying back on his bed, watching. "There are two of them, even if one is a house-elf."
"How much use would a house-elf be?" said Harry.
Ron didn't answer; he seemed to have grasped the meaning of 'rhetorical question' and left Harry to his thoughts.
They woke next day only slightly refreshed. Or, at least, they assumed it to be next day - there was precious little light to go by, even when Harry put his eye to the crack in the window.
They could hear that the weather had changed, the wind howled outside and a puddle of water crept beneath the door. "Let's hope that doesn't get too deep," said Ron, looking down at it.
"And have you noticed the cold?" said Harry, as if either of them could have missed it.
"I've been thinking," said Ron. "There's two of us and two of them..."
Once they had a plan the time seemed to pass even more slowly. Harry found it hard to maintain his concentration; he was listening for feet outside the door. Ron seemed to be seemed to be as bad, he paced the room restlessly avoiding the puddle which grew steadily as they watched.
At last they heard what they had been waiting for and moved to their agreed positions.
The door opened slowly and they saw the wand first. Not seeing Harry or Ron, the man hesitated, but the house-elf slipped past him with the tray and the bucket and he followed. Harry and Ron moved quickly, Ron the taller and stronger to tackle the man and Harry to overpower the house-elf.
Neither task proved as easy as they had hoped, this kind of thing was far harder than their Defence Against the Dark Arts lessons had made it seem. Harry was doing his best to help Ron, but the house-elf kept kicking him in the shins and its horny little feet were harder than they had any right to be.
At last Ron wrested the man's wand out of his hand - which had been his aim all along, and he pointed it at him with a desperate, "Petrificus Totalus!" yelled at the top of his lungs. The man fell nose down in a puddle of water.
Together they tied up the house-elf and then Ron turned the man over, feeling that there would be a massive amount of trouble to follow if even their captor drowned. The man's small watery eyes flicked from side to side, meaning Ron's spell hadn't been as effective as they had hoped, and, if a petrified person could be said to have an expression this man was panicking.
"Come on!" said Ron.
Harry spared man and elf a last glance and followed Ron out of the room.
They were immediately freezing; the corridor they had been able to see dimly through the cracks in the window blinds had no roof. They were in a concrete-lined dip, open to the elements. Harry shivered. "This way," he said.
"No," said Ron. "What about the other people?" He indicated with the wand. There was another door behind them. "Alohomora!" he tried, with little expectation of success. He was right, the door stayed locked.
"Give me a go," said Harry.
Somewhat reluctantly Ron handed over the wand. "Adaperio!" said Harry. Finally Harry said, "Explaxo!" For a moment he thought that this hadn't worked, either, but then the door fell from its hinges outwards and crashed to the floor sounding like the end of the world had come.
They looked inside, wary of what they might find. "Hello?" called Harry, uncertainly. Surely nobody could have missed that racket?
There was no answer, and the room was dark. "Lumos!" said Harry and the wand-tip lighted, though with some reluctance. Harry remembered that he often had difficulties with other people's wands.
He inched forward, into the room and looked around. For a moment he thought the thing on the bed as a heap of rags, but then it resolved itself into a person. Or, as he moved closer, what had been a person.
Carola Digitalis's face was pale, and now Harry knew why that colour was called dead white. He did not have to touch her to know that she wasn't breathing and there was a smell of putrefaction he knew that he would never mistake for anything else.
Harry swallowed his fear, and turned away to face Ron, whose face was almost as white as that of the corpse. Harry said, "We have to find my Mum."
There were no other doors off this passageway, but a flight of steps led upwards. Harry climbed up, trying not to make too much noise. As soon as he could he looked out, but could make little enough of what he could see - concrete discs rising a few feet above the surrounding grass, and here and there metal bars.
There was nothing for it but to go up. Even once they were out of the stone corridor affair there was no-one around. Harry led the way to the nearest set of bars and, as he had suspected, another flight of stairs led down to another stone corridor.
"How many of these are there?" said Ron.
"I can see three," said Harry, quietly.
This one held two barred areas like old-fashioned cells, but these were empty - at least of people. Someone had been using them to store supplies. Harry and Ron didn't examine these too closely; they had a feeling they were short of time.
The next stone corridor looked initially the same as the original, but the puddles weren't as deep. Harry took a deep breath and the wand at the first lock. Again cast Explaxo and again the door crashed outwards. This time Harry heard a movement inside. He pushed the door open.
"Mum?" he called.
"Harry?" Lily almost knocked him over, "It's you! What the hell are you doing here? I was expecting... Never mind who I was expecting, you're here! I...need help with her." Lily showed them inside the cell, there was another witch, unconscious and almost skeletally thin.
Lily hugged Harry again and again until he said, "Mum! I can't breathe!"
"How are we going to get out of here?" said Ron. "Especially with her...who is she, anyway?"
"Ron!" Lily turned to him, "You too! How... What are you both doing here?" She took breath at last, and said, "Her name's Augusta Longbottom - she wrote a letter to the paper and..."
"Never mind that now." Harry had no wish to start investigating irrelevant matters now, or to have to give explanations about why or how he'd left the school. "Where are our wands?"
"You haven't found where Wormtail and Dobby have been living?" said Lily.
"Wormtail?" said Ron.
"Dobby?" said Harry, at the same moment.
"The man and the house-elf," said Lily. "The man's name's really Peter Pettigrew..."
"Come on," said Harry. "Tell me later."
Harry led the way to the room next to Lily's cell - they had to leave Augusta Longbottom where she lay. As soon as they were inside, he could see what she meant; Wormtail had had to prepare food somewhere. Harry thought that had he realised Wormtail's slender grasp on kitchen hygiene he'd have reconsidered eating anything he'd cooked.
"Look around for our wands," said Lily, though this instruction was hardly necessary. "Here," she held out her hand for Wormtail's wand, "Accio!" Nothing happened. She tried again, and again nothing happened. "They must be well hidden," she said.
"Or locked up," said Harry. "What shall we do?"
"We'll have to get away from here," said Ron. "Only thing I can think of is that we Apparate - one of us Apparates - to somewhere we're reasonably safe and that one brings help. Do you know where we are?" he asked Lily.
She shrugged, "As far as I can tell, we're on an island off the coast of Northumberland."
"What makes you think that, Auntie Lily?" said Ron.
Lily pointed at the wall. "That map."
"Oh, right," said Ron.
In the end, Harry took the wand and Apparated. It was possible of course, to Apparate to the wrong destination, but Harry was sure nothing he had done had caused this. He had no idea where he was.
"Young Mr Evans, I presume?" A high, cold voice was behind him.
Harry turned around. He recognised Voldemort immediately from the many times he'd seen him pictured in the Daily Prophet. "Where am I?" he asked. It seemed his most pressing problem.
"You are my guest," said Voldemort.
That was an answer, of sorts, Harry thought. "Thank you," he said, not meaning it. "But I'd like to leave now. I have an appointment elsewhere." Voldemort smiled and Harry's blood ran cold - every hair on the back of his head seemed to be standing up, a most curious sensation.
"I think not, Mr Evans. You have been most...inventive...in getting this far and Wormtail will suffer for it. But this is as far as you go."
"I didn't imagine," said Harry, "that you would want the world to know that you kidnapped the friends and family of your political opponents to prevent them from speaking out." He knew he had to keep talking. "I'm surprised that you thought you could get away with it for so long..."
"Silence! I do not care to hear the prattle of a child..."
"Or the arguments of your opponents," came a new voice from behind Voldemort.
Voldemort turned. "Potter!" he spat. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to talk to you about Lily," said James. He moved forward into the light.
"Ah, yes. Your pet Mudblood," said Voldemort.
Harry felt his jaw tighten, but James smiled. "Yes, that Lily. Where is she?"
"Well hidden..." said Voldemort.
"They're off the coast of Northumberland," said Harry.
"Ah," said James. "Foolish of me. The abandoned World War I gun emplacement on that estate you bought. Set up for limited Apparition, I expect. Very clever."
James appeared to be coming closer - at least Voldemort was backing in Harry's direction. Harry moved sideways, then around, closer to James. He desperately wished he knew what the plan was, or even if there was one.
"Too clever for you," said Voldemort, a moment before he disappeared.
James turned to Harry. "Well done," he said. "You kept your head in a tight spot. Do you think you can Apparate back there?"
"Won't Voldemort be there?" said Harry. He didn't want to admit to not wanting to meet him again.
"I sincerely hope not. Take these two wands to your mother and your friend. When they Apparate back here, I'll see you and... Ron is it? back to Hogwarts."
Harry found this highly unsatisfactory, but wasn't in a position to argue - the most important thing was to get Ron, his mother and the unconscious witch away from that awful place.
Once back at school things didn't improve. Seventh year though he was he had broken bounds, probably as no Hogwarts student ever had before, and there wasn't a trace of a twinkle in the Headmaster's eye. The best he could say was that Severus looked relieved.
Hermione's eyes were distinctly red. Harry wasn't quite sure what to make of that, she'd done exactly as she said she would - the moment Harry and Ron had failed to reappear she'd gone straight to Professor Flitwick. He didn't feel she had anything for which to blame herself.
Lily and the unconscious witch had been taken to the hospital wing at the school rather than moved to St Mungo's; Harry didn't dare ask why. He didn't expect to have much to do with her, but the Headmaster proved merciful - he was to serve detention with Madam Pomfrey rather than with Filch.
He and Ron had come through their adventure largely unscathed - so far.
With his mother back, there was only one remaining serious problem as far as Harry was concerned. Severus. Or rather, the fact that he saw Severus so rarely and usually in a classroom setting, and that Severus generally ignored him.
Nor did his mother show any immediate sign of leaving even after he overheard Madam Pomfrey say that she was recovered. He knew from the conversations they'd been able to have after he'd finished cleaning bedpans that she'd written to Petunia and received a somewhat grudging reply. Harry was convinced that Hermione had been right about Petunia's desire for Lily's few bits of things.
Harry also noticed that his father was more often at the school than he thought reasonable for a man who surely had other things to do. He resented it, and was annoyed when one day, coming out of the sluice for more bedpans, he saw his father sitting on his mother's bed holding her hand. He scowled, but neither of them saw him.
After two weeks back at school, he was beginning to settle back down to his lessons; his NEWTs were coming up in June, as if he could forget with Hermione around, and he knew he'd have to support himself once he left school - there was no-one to do it for him.
Harry had little to do with Caligula and Messalina Potter and though he saw them walking with their father in the grounds from time to time they never, to his knowledge, went near Lily.
He was therefore curious when he saw them one day outside the hospital wing as he approached for yet another detention. He hung back, so that they didn't see him watching. The door was slightly open and they were peering in through the crack. Harry could hear Caligula whispering, "I can only see that old bag in the other bed. Move! I said, 'move', fuckface!"
And Messalina, "Whose fault is that?" A pause. Messalina again, "My owl should be there by now, and Mummy will be so cross."
Caligula said, "Gross! He's kissing her! Evans's Mudblood mother! Oh, that is really gross! Tongues!"
"Shut up!" said Messalina. "They'll hear us."
Harry had heard enough; he stepped forward from behind a gargoyle and stood behind them, looking down. "Report to Professor Sinistra at once and tell her that I've assigned you each five hundred lines," he said. He didn't often use his powers as a prefect, but took particular pleasure in doing so now.
Messalina and Caligula tumbled away from the door and both looked up at him from the floor. They picked themselves up and dusted themselves down. As they did this, Caligula said, "I don't have to do what you say!"
"I think you will find that you do," said Harry. "Off you go, now." He smiled to himself as he watched them go...all that time he'd spent with Severus had paid off.
As soon as his detention was over, Harry went to the ward see his mother - and for once he was not angry to see James Potter by her bed. To an extent he shared Caligula and Messalina's view of the situation - his parents were sharing a look which could only be described as 'hopelessly soppy'. He hoped that he didn't look too much like that when he looked at Severus, but he rather suspected he did.
"I've some rather bad news for you," he said.
Reluctantly, James and Lily turned their attention from each other on to him, "What's that, Harry dear?" His mother held her arms out to him and he gave her a kiss on the forehead. He didn't offer his father a handshake.
"You were seen," he said. With his father on it, there was no room for him on his mother's bed, so he sat down in the chair beside it. "Caligula and Messalina."
He was sure his father went several shades paler, and Lily's hand flew to her mouth. "Oh, no!" she said.
Madam Pomfrey came out of her office, "Are you upsetting my patient, Mr Evans?"
"It's not his fault," said James. "He needed to talk to her."
"I can't allow it," said Madam Pomfrey, "she's only just recovering from..."
At that moment the door slammed open and they all turned. Bellatrix Potter stood in the doorway, holding her wand, and so furious Harry was sure he could see sparks in her hair. Behind her stood Voldemort, a strange, almost serpentine, smile on his face.
Madam Pomfrey recovered first, "Get out of here! I can't have you..."
"Petrificus Totalus!" shouted Bellatrix, and Madam Pomfrey fell to the floor, still and silent.
James stood up, holding his hands out to his wife in a gesture of acknowledgment. "Bella," he said. "I know this is going to be hard for you but..."
"No, Bella!" Voldemort's voice, sharp as a knife.
She turned to him, "Why not...you see how cruelly I have been betrayed, you see..."
"Yes, Bella. I do see." Voldemort was moving up the ward, his walk graceful and as serpentine as his smile. "I have been expecting this."
James smiled, showing all his teeth in a predatory look. "A prediction is only valid if you make it in advance. No amount of 'just as I predicted' after the event will cut it, I'm afraid."
"You..." Bellatrix raised her wand a second time, but again she was cut short - a whip-crack of green light, and she was splayed out on the floor. Harry turned to see Severus at the doorway, wand raised. The Headmaster was standing behind him.
"This is a school!" said Dumbledore as entered the hospital wing.
Voldemort turned to face Snape, indifferent to Dumbledore's words. "Severus."
"Indeed." Snape kept his wand raised, as if duelling.
Voldemort raised his wand in response. "I did not give you permission! Avada..."
Voldemort did not finish his spell. Harry realised what was about to happen and started to speak before him, the words of the killing curse on his tongue as if he used the spell every day. Voldemort fell to the ground, thrashed for a few moments and then lay still. The old witch, Augusta Longbottom, was the first to move; she stood over him and spat, wetly, onto the still body.
"We thought it was over," said Lily after a moment. "All those years ago..."
"He killed my grandson," said Augusta Longbottom, after a moment's silence. "Took him from his mother's arms. Poor thing, she's never been the same since."
Harry looked at both his parents, then turned away from them. They had each other. "Severus?" he said, uncertain.
Severus moved forward towards him, pointedly ignoring James. Harry stood in the circle of his arms. "There will be a future for us," said Severus. "I promise."