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SIYE Time:12:34 on 26th September 2017


Trix
By GHL

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Category: Alternate Universe
Characters:Draco Malfoy, Harry/Ginny, Hermione Granger, Luna Lovegood, Neville Longbottom, Nymphadora Tonks, Remus Lupin, Ron Weasley
Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Humor
Warnings: Death, Mental Abuse, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Negative Alcohol Use, Violence/Physical Abuse
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 123
Summary:

"But now old friends are acting strange..." - Joni Mitchell.

Voldemort is dead; Harry and Ginny are in love and living the dream. What's not to like, right? Then, a sudden rash of strange incidents piques Harry's anxiety. After years of war, are people just having difficulty adjusting to peace? Or is someone out there playing dirty 'trix'?

The story is set three months after the end of 'The Prevailing Counterpoint', and builds on characters and events elaborated therein. TPC is probably not required reading if you accept that Dumbledore and Snape are dead; that Lupin, Tonks and Fred are alive, and that Slytherins are fundamentally neurotic.


Hitcount: Story Total: 27892; Chapter Total: 153
Awards: View Trophy Room




Author's Notes:

Huge plaudits to Dawn M who was certainly not the reason for any delay in posting this chapter. Unfortunately the window of opportunity that brought a few chapters has narrowed again for a while, but I do at least have a little start on 18.

Anyway, comments welcome and appreciated as always!





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Chapter 17. Strafe and Secure (April 11-12, 1998)

Harry’s frown of concentration had gotten a bit tense.

Immediately after he had resolved exactly how he would counter his infuriating opponent on the next Snitch sighting, the equally frustrating golden target had bailed on them. Gone was the constant teasing it had exhibited in the match’s first hour — the Snitch had vanished just before the last time-out and had stayed away.

However, to confuse matters, the match as a whole had changed since the time-out. The Flying Circus had pulled well back from the brink of surreal disaster, and was now actually trending toward an entertaining parity. Indeed, in the occasional glance Harry had made down toward the main action, he had seen the squad begin to rediscover itself as the ‘Quidditch machine’ that thousands of fans had grown to admire.

The rejuvenation had started with the twins, who had lived up to their promise to make amends and focus. Their rebirth had given Page enough extra defence to permit him to really show what a stellar Keeper he could be. Ginny and Summerby were finding ways to score. There was no longer an imminent risk of falling behind by more than one hundred and fifty points. This rebirth was almost enough to make Harry wonder whether he might spend one their precious time-outs to ask Ginny whether her earlier directive on the Snitch still applied.

In particular, he wondered whether he should really still pull out all stops to end the match, even if that meant playing the Snitch into Timalice’s hands?

Then again, nothing had truly changed. Logic still told him that a temporary revival by The Flying Circus did not alter the fact that Zabini and the twins were sick and dehydrated, and the danger of someone getting hurt was worsening by the minute. So Harry recommitted himself to the promise. He would end this. Soon. Whenever that blasted Snitch might ever deign to-

Oh? Speak of the devil...

Spying a sudden tantalising flicker on the easternmost fringe of the mid-pitch area, Harry spun toward it, boldly and without hesitation. He was just about to hit full acceleration when…

Bloody hell!

Stalled out, straight in his path, was Timalice. The opposing seeker’s grin — oddly babyish yet menacing — projected straight at Harry. Again.

Harry weighed his options. His various initial tactics (either veering off in attempts to vie for the advantage in a dash for the Snitch, or attempting to duck around the small Haitian) had failed because Timalice had invariably gotten in his way, displaying a remarkable knack for agility and blithe mischief. In fact, drastic measures might be in order.

A confrontation, perhaps…?

Even by Seeker standards, Harry was non-confrontational. Never yet in any Quidditch match had he been flagged for any infractions, let alone something aggressive like the Blatching foul he was now considering. But never before had he felt quite as much dire urgency and utter exasperation.

To hell with the ponce’s pointless trickery!!

Taking a sharp breath, he powered straight, unflinchingly, at his opponent. Ignoring a strange, almost painful vibration assaulting his ears and skin, Harry caught the Seeker’s attention with a steely glare.

Timalice winked, holding his ground.

Harry merely gritted his teeth and squeezed out the final ounce of acceleration that his broom could offer. As he blasted toward inevitable collision, he had no bloody idea what would happen. Would Timalice sidestep? Would Harry knock him off, and be forced to catch the little bugger? Would he earn his career’s first intentional foul and be waved off the Snitch?

Screw it!

The match had gone on too long, so Harry was ready to accept…

Tangling?!

What the…??

Two Seekers had suddenly become one. Four limbs and two brooms hurtled off like a whirling dervish, heading in a direction that was not entirely oblique to the Snitch. Struggling to decouple himself from the Haitian Seeker, Harry found himself locked in a ghastly aerial dance with an opponent whose diminutive appearance had apparently masked rippling, sinewy limbs and a shockingly tough and gritty visage. Unable to break free, Harry strained to steer their shared course back into a line with the Snitch that was still wafting along obliviously. Timalice, however, fought him ferociously, and managed to push them ever further afield.

Harry dug deep into his will and pulled. His opponent counterbalanced. Perspiration pouring down his brow, Harry glared at Timalice and saw the Seeker leering at him with wide, protruding eyes. Harry scorched him with anger, unclenching his teeth to shout, “Catch the damned Snitch!”

“Who catch, Majiseyen Blan?” Timalice’s lips curled into a sneer. “Me or you?”

“One of us — I don’t bloody care! We’re here to seek it, not hide from it!”

Timalice’s eyes narrowed to thin, menacing slits. His voice issued, oddly reedy and sibilant, in spite of the exertion. “Why so hasty? Let’s play a bit longer.”

Suddenly Timalice shoved Harry hard on the chest, and the two Seekers burst apart. Oblivious to the pain in his ribs, Harry whipped around, shot his broom forward to where the…

… to where the Snitch no longer was.

The roar of the crowd, stoked from the abrogated Snitch chase and clamouring for a foul (which was not called), finally dragged Ron’s attention back to the Quidditch match.

Dragged??

It was extraordinary for Ron to attend a Quidditch match but not watch it. Yet, after biting his tongue to stop the earlier foul rants (which he knew were embarrassing his girlfriend), he had eventually given up spectating, given up taking notes, and mostly just hid his head.

A bit too soon, apparently.

Blinking in the hazy sunlight, he looked up in time to catch Harry glowering at his opponent with an expression closer to rage than Ron could ever recall having seen from his mate. Surprised to see 'passion' in the midst of such a debacle, Ron reminded himself that the match was still not technically over, and that he had been invited here specifically to watch (and analyse) the match — a service whose value tends to sag when one spends long stretches of time staring at the inside of one’s hands.

With a sigh, he resolved to get back to work. He pledged to do something useful… but what? It seemed fruitless to dwell on The Flying Circus’s mistakes, most of which he knew were attributable to unusual circumstances (the sauna-like air, the incessant swarms of bugs, and that persistent legacy of Spirit Rum) that were probably best off just forgotten.

Then inspiration struck. Contrary to the usual negativity with which he often confronted the world around him, today, in the face of complete misery, he would look for positives.

Ron scanned back through his recollections and began making notes.

1) Page — pretty sharp, after shaky start.

2) Ginny — defensive skills grown by leaps and bounds all season. Amazingly effective on Linto.

3) Summerby / Ginny — good passing display. Too bad it’s not producing many scor-

Huhhh???

His scroll and quill suddenly forgotten, Ron gawked at the score board. He squinted and twisted his head about in various ways, but could not make his eyes stop seeing a score (170 to 100) that completely defied all his assumptions. He turned his scrunched-up face to Hermione. “Hey 'Mione. Circus has scored the last s-… sixty points??”

Shaking her head, Hermione quirked a tiny smile. “Seventy to nothing, since the last time-out.”

“Huhhh??!” Ron returned his focus to the sky, watching Fred and George push the Marasse twins back up the pitch while the three Chasers (now gloriously free of Bludgers, in stark contrast to all the plays Ron had seen earlier) raced off in the other direction toward the Haitian goal. Yes, the three Chasers raced, for even Zabini seemed to have pulled his stockings up for the first time all match, flying hard at any Haitian Chaser who seemed to be posing a defensive obstacle.

Using the extra space, Summerby wove in and around the remaining opponents with a flair that looked almost Ginny-like, while Ginny herself had streaked in from the corner to pluck Summerby’s rifle pass and… SCORE!

“AIIIIHHHH!!” Ron leaped in the air, arms pumping wildly, earning a broad grin from Hermione. “The gits are finally showing some life after all!”

Ryan took a momentary break from his crowd scanning security detail to frown analytically. “I suppose, Ronald. It is a relief to see them playing with heart, but today’s conditions are horrible for them, and I really don’t see how they can sustain this-”

“You’ve got to BELIEVE, Slytherin!” Ron grabbed the younger boy’s shoulders. “You’ve just got to b-”

He was cut off by the terrible sound of a thousand throats gasping.

Releasing Ryan, Ron turned to stare in the direction everyone else was, toward the far end of the pitch. He squinted to make out what looked… looked a bit like… his brother? Except that… Well, why would he be all splayed forward like that, barely hanging onto his broom? And what were those dark stains that looked like… blood?

Pushing away from Ryan, Ron’s voice came as little more than a croak.

“Fred?”

Ginny felt it before she heard it. She heard it before she saw it.

She knew.

Ice flooding through Ginny’s chest told her that a brother was hurt; that it might be serious, and that family was more dear to her than any Haitian offensive she was supposed to be defending.

One part of Ginny’s brain was instinctively signaling for a time-out, but the other part had no faith in the officials to spot the emergency in time. Thus, she veered hard right, letting Linto blow past her with the Quaffle. She had just given her opponent a clear path toward the goal but, far more crucially, it afforded her the room to blast her way back up the pitch to her brothers, where George was now making a horrible keening sound, desperately grappling with his limp, bloodied twin.

In a moment, Ginny was there, cradling Fred’s pale spattered face, desperately reaching down his neck to feel for…

Merlin, thank you!!

Fred still had a pulse.

Willing her hand steady, Ginny magically closed the jagged gash running just above Fred’s swollen right cheek. She took a deep breath and turned her closed eyes skyward. “What happened?”

Still wrenched in anguish, unable to find the words, George pointed at his hands, both bare and empty. His ever-present Beater’s bat was nowhere to be seen.

Ginny opened her eyes to stare at him. “You dropped your bat?”

George shook his head, his trembling mouth failing to articulate. He rubbed his hands desperately on his cloak, then finally assembled a word.

“Sweat.”

Ginny groaned.

George buried his face into the valley formed between Ginny’s shoulder and Fred’s sloping back. His voice was too muffled to be heard properly, but Ginny knew that he was trying to tell her that his bat had slipped out of his hands… at the worst possible time… in the worst possible direction.

Right toward Fred’s head.

Harry and Summerby joined the three Weasleys, threading arms into the huddle to help steer everyone down toward the Healer’s tent.

“He okay?” One of the Marasse twins hovered anxiously to the side as they landed on the pitch.

“I think so.” Ginny transferred weight from her broom to her legs, still sensing the slackness in her brother’s limbs. “The Healer should be able to patch him up, but I think he’s done for the day.”

Christelle Loraj, a tall young woman with tightly woven hair, stood waiting for them, holding aside the flap to the Healer’s tent. Her eyes flickered from Ginny to Fred. “He’s out for the rest, yes?”

Ginny nodded.

Loraj stepped back to let them in, saying, “If you want, we lend you Jacques, our backup Beater. To finish the match?”

“No. Me. I’ll play.”

Ginny glanced up in surprise to see Ron hurrying over. He was wrestling with a spare Flying Circus cloak that was a size too small for him. Still too preoccupied to figure out what Ron was trying to say, Ginny finished helping Harry and Summerby as they lowered Fred onto a stretcher. Finally, she and Harry straightened up to face Ron.

“First question...” Harry scratched his chin, then glanced toward George who was standing off to the side, looking a bit lost. “Do we still even finish, or should we forfeit?”

“I’d kind of prefer trying to finish, yeah?” Page entered the tent with Zabini. “But admittedly, I’m not the one facing most of the Bludgers you’ll likely see if Thing Two has problems adjusting to a new partner. What do you say, George?”

Startled at the sound of his name, George looked around wildly. “I, uhhh...” His eyes alighted on his younger brother for a moment, chewed his lip, then shrugged. “I guess we can try it. Ronnie’s beaten the occasional Bludger in the Paddock.”

“Okay...” Loraj’s gaze drifted from George to Ron to Harry to Ginny. “So we play on?”

“Yes.” Ginny nodded to her Chaser opponent. “Thank you for offering your Beater, but we’ll finish with what we have.”

Smiling neutrally, Loraj nodded and left.

“Okay brother.” Ginny picked up Fred’s bat, which had been retrieved by one of the maintenance staff. She handed it to Ron, her face deathly serious. “This match is hardly like bobbing about on a lazy paddock afternoon, but don’t panic. Just keep your eyes peeled, try your best and-”

“Ahem.” Zabini raised his hand grumpily from the back. “This is your absentee captain speaking.”

Ron swung about to face his least-favourite Flying Circus member. His jaw tensed.

“Thanks for stepping up, Rooster.” Zabini gave Ron a cursory nod, but focused on Ginny and Harry. “For what it’s worth, I approve the sub. Frankly, I wouldn’t expect any of Hogwarts’ best Beaters to be much use against those big Marasse blokes, so I’m hardly one to whine if Bludgers start showering down again.”

Ginny, Summerby and Page all blinked.

Zabini straightened himself to address the whole group. “The thing about winners is that they always adapt, and that’s what we need to do. Chasers and Seeker — take extra care at the start of each play to see where the metal is, because things are going to get pretty hairy up there. But there’s no point wasting all your energy fussing over Bludgers, so I nominate myself to be the designated Bludger-watcher. I’ll keep blocking on both offensive and defensive sets, but don’t bother passing me the Quaffle because I’ll be busy watching your backs. If you hear me yell duck, you bloody well duck, all right?”

A bit taken aback by the unexpected wisdom and sacrifice, the others bowed their heads unquestioningly.

“I’ll do my best, but frankly, what we really need...” Zabini reached out to tap Harry on the chest. “… is for this to be over. Get your act together up there before we’re all down here getting our skulls patched. Got it?”

“Understood.” Harry broke away and began to make for the tent’s exit. “I’ll finish it.”

“Win or lose,” Ginny added.

Zabini stared at her. For a moment it seemed as if he might protest. But instead he nodded, and turned to follow Harry out of the tent.

“Well Oenomaus, that may have been the nail in the coffin. The Flying Circus has shown a lot of heart today, but they’ve been ducking Bludgers left and right since Fred Weasley’s departure, and Haiti has just poured on the shots like a hail storm. This latest score by Loraj makes the score 280 to 120, so, just like that, we find the match out of Harry Potter territory.”

“Jovenel have played nasty tricks pon yuh Seeka Potter all match — it very strange even fi him.”

“You think so? I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I was going to commend all of the Haitian squad for playing an exceptionally clean and skilled match today, except for Timalice whose conduct, I can only say, has been exceptionally unsportsmanlike.”

“Unsporting? Yea. Filthy, inna fact. Jovenel nuh acting like Jovenel todeh. Often him strange but funny; todeh him strange an nuh funny. Bad juju.”

“Well, strange things do happen in Quidditch sometimes. For all the officials try to keep magic out of the action, it’s not always possible to prevent it completely.”

“Nuh prevent todeh, nuh. Bad juju.”

“Well, I’ll be sure to keep my eyes on the Seekers the next time they interact, but for the moment let’s focus on The Flying Circus Chasers who, once again, are looking to conjure up some of that magic they’d begun to brew before the injury to-”

“No. Yuh move yuh eyes upward, Spaniard. Dis time di Snitch wi be catch.”

When the Snitch finally reappeared about thirty feet to the right of the Haiti goals, Harry broke for it immediately.

For once, Timalice was not in his path. It occurred to Harry that, with a 160 point lead, the Haitian Seeker might finally permit a fair chase for the golden sphere, especially if it happened before Ginny and Summerby had a chance to cross mid-pitch on their latest offensive.

Harry was just hastening his acceleration, when an angry, high-pitched whine flooded his ears again. Timalice had pulled nearly even with him, taking a position about ten feet to his side in the race toward the Snitch.

Despite the wind roaring past his ears and the eerie magical buzz, Harry somehow found himself hearing his opponent’s rasping, reedy voice.

If you take the Snitch now, you will lose.”

Harry ignored the provocation. He knew the score, but he knew more than anything that it was high time to end the match. Over the past while, since the moment they’d taken to the skies after Fred’s injury, he’d had a growing feeling of unease — a sense that this match was distracting him from something much more important than exhibition Quidditch. And Timalice’s inexplicable magical antics had done nothing to dissuade him of this conviction.

Off in the distance, the drums had fallen away completely, but in their place the odd buzzing swelled to agitate every cell and pore of Harry’s body.

Then that voice rose again. “Look down! Give her time and your bel famn will be scoring. Take Snitch and you waste her chance. She will be so ANGRY!”

Harry cast the briefest of glances at Timalice — the Seeker’s agitated face was oddly contorted; suddenly far more grizzled than the odd child-like visage Harry recalled seeing earlier. Something in that weird and unsettling image roiled Harry’s stomach, assaulting his senses. The world blurred for a moment; Harry’s grip on the broom felt suddenly spongy and numb; he began to tip to the right…

“Aiiii!!”

A stab of adrenal lightning burst from somewhere deep within Harry’s core, bolting him upright. Heart racing in sudden alarm, his eyes shot open, scouring the sky for danger; looking past the meddlesome Timalice, past the hazy Haitian horizon, toward… home...

Something’s wrong!

Pushing the fear away, Harry surged forward on his broom. Concentrating, he reached deep into himself to find that last reservoir of will and power to thrust his broom past any manufacturer limit. Knowing Timalice’s desperate (insane?) compulsion to constantly prolong the match, Harry lurched hard to the right, racing out into the clear.

One arm thrust hard out to the side, braced to repel any final interference, he closed the final hundred feet in an eye-blinking instant...

And finally, finally, wrapped his fingers around the Snitch.

Yet, even that wasn’t quite the end of it. Something out of the corner of Harry’s eye told him that matters here were still not quite settled. Barely even realising he’d raised a shield, Harry heard the hard static smack of a stunner deflect from it. Enraged, Harry whirled about to see Timalice raise his hand to attempt another hex.

Caught by something between anger and self-preservation, Harry blasted his shield outwards, knocking the Haitian Seeker into a tight spin as the second hex fired harmlessly off into the haze.

Timalice didn’t attempt a third. His momentum gone, the diminutive Seeker careened dazedly for a moment, then pulled to a halt, holding his head in confusion.

Choice words on his lips, Harry turned to confront him, but somehow, above an uproarious crowd roar and drums, he heard Ginny calling to him. Lurching around to locate the voice, he saw her — one hand waving urgently; the other pointing down to a corner of the pitch where Pierre Langlois stood beckoning to them.

Oh crap. Something really IS wrong...

Harry banked his broom hard to the right and sped toward Ginny; following her down to the pitch, landing in front of their government minder.

“Drop everything and follow,” Langlois ordered by way of greeting. He turned on his heels and strode toward an officials’ tent, speaking as Harry and Ginny fell in step. “Your government has scheduled an urgent return Portkey. Apparently you are required at home.”

“What is it?” Harry ripped away his outer cloak to run faster. “What’s happened?!”

Ginny could do no more than shrug.

“I was not told precisely.” Langlois reached his hands, implying they should side-along Apparate. “I only know that your friend Lupin believes you will consider this extremely serious.”

The whirling vortex deposited Harry and Ginny in the bright, sterile International Portkey room at the Ministry of Magic, from which they’d departed Britain less than 48 utterly manic hours earlier. Harry’s bleary eyes had barely stopped wavering when they settle on a very serious face he knew well — Susan Bones.

“Motherly Merlin! About time!” The student reached out to grab their hands. “Right this way — we have a direct Floo connection.”

Harry teetered slightly, and wondered just how much more wild transit he could take? The combination of side-along Apparating, making an international Portkey connection and a Floo trip all in the space of less than ten minutes immediately after a wild Quidditch match and a night of very little sleep seemed to settle in his stomach with all the soothing subtlety of a school of hungry Shrakes. Ginny’s perspiration level (not all of which was from their just-ended Quidditch match) suggested she might be wondering the same thing. Nonetheless, they allowed themselves to be dragged along by the seventh-year Hufflepuff.

“What’s going on?” Ginny asked, fighting to catch her breath as they sped up a narrow Ministry staircase.

“Dolwyddelan perimeter is under attack.” Susan led them into a closet marked ‘Direct Secured Connections Only’, and gestured at a small hearth. “Just run straight through, saying, ‘Dolwyddelan Study’. The powder comes down automatically.”

Harry nodded, followed the simple instruction and, nearly instantaneously, found himself careening straight into the old study where he had spent many Saturday mornings instructing Teri. His foot caught on the edge of the carpet, and he tumbled down onto the soft surface, with Ginny crashing down immediately behind him.

“Tsk tsk.” Susan likely had a snippy remark at the ready, but she opted to merely shake her head. “Get up. We’ll go on foot from here.”

Harry and Ginny picked themselves off the floor and hurried out the back door. A few seconds out into the early Welsh evening was all they need to get a rough initial impression of the situation — loud spellfire and the occasional bright flash rising up from behind a row of shrubs. Instinctively appraising both the location and severity of the threat, Harry and Ginny burst into a sprint, leaving Susan gasping in arrears as they raced toward the southeast fringe of the property. Scrambling down some loose scree, they found Lupin, the three members of the Tonks family, plus Jack Trowers, Lucia Blevins and Laura Madley all standing, wands raised in a makeshift shield against an unknown number of attackers who were bombarding the ward-line with percussive and incendiary spells. Several of the tall pines on the far side of the stream were blazing, but there didn’t appear to be any damage to the Dolwyddelan property.

Concentration etched on his brow, Lupin gave Harry and Ginny a glance. “How kind of you to join us.”

Harry ignored the bitterness, staring instead into the scrubby woodlands. “Any idea who’s out there?”

“Or how many?” Ginny joined them. “The spells are spaced two to four seconds apart, so there can’t be very many attackers.”

“Ginners! Harry!” Nymphadora Tonks flashed an adrenalised grin. “We’re assuming Death Eaters by the spell selection. “If I was to guess, I’d say they’re trying to focus their attacks on that grove over there.” She traced a finger up a steep slope rising from one of the gulches bordering the property. You estimated ‘five’ enemies, Lu?”

“Right.” Lucia Blevins nodded. “I’ve been tracing the hex trails back, and they’re all originating from...” She extended her left index finger out along the terrain… “There… there… there, there, or… there.”

Harry scanned the perimeter. “Have they compromised the wards at all?”

“Not yet.” Lucia shook her head. “We have literally thousands of little spell-diffuser wards cast around the outer perimeter — any one of them isn’t powerful enough to stop a good hex, but they’re tricky to find and, in such number, the stones tend to deflect and weaken all magic coming from outside.”

Laura Madley nodded enthusiastically. “We devised them to scramble mind magic, but they’ve been blinding on the regular stuff! The attacks never hit what they’re aiming at; a lot of spells just bounce around until they fizzle.”

“So, nobody’s gotten hurt, right?” Ginny looked hopefully around at the seven defenders.

“I think not.” Andromeda glanced around at her colleagues. “The children are all safe and accounted for. Everyone had gathered in the library to listen to your match, so nobody was out and about.”

“Eh!” Ted Tonks grunted suddenly. “What about young Teddy? I saw him step out the door and never come back. What was that all about?”

“Ted Nott?” Andromeda’s face creased. “He wasn’t much interested in the Quidditch broadcast, so he asked to be excused from his service. That was around… When was it, Ted?”

“Nigh on an hour ago.” Ted Tonks frowned. “That would have been about twenty minutes before the attack started.”

“He would have headed back to Hogwarts via the Apparition point.” Concentrating, Andromeda’s voice dropped to a bare murmur. “He’d have headed north, and ought not have run into any of this kerfuffle.”

“Spells have stopped!” Lucia pointed south. “Nothing in the past minute.”

“I wonder if they gave up?” Lupin scanned the distant undergrowth with his superior eyesight. “Could be a trick, but maybe they finally got knackered and left.”

Everyone stood in breathless silence for a long moment.

Nothing happened.

They stood still for a while longer, and things remained perfectly silent, but for a whisper of wind. Finally, Andromeda and Ted Tonks broke the stillness to cast Aguamenti spells to extinguish the burning trees.

Lupin scratched his beard thoughtfully. “While we were talking earlier, I thought I may have heard a few faint Disapparition pops in the background. They may try again later, but I’m almost certain the attack is over for now.”

“Another odd failure.” Harry chewed his lip.

Ginny nodded. “Testing us again?”

“Probably.” Harry nodded. “Well we still have a bit of time before sundown and I’d like to take a look around to see if the attackers left anything. Gin’, you with me?”

Lupin grabbed Harry’s arm. “You two need backup in case our visitors return. Dora and I are coming with you.”

“Fine with me.” Ginny smiled. “Maybe the rest of you can head back to the manor to make sure everything’s okay there? Oh, except maybe...” She turned to the three students. “Lucia, could you return to Slytherin House to see if Ted Nott made it back safely?”

“The three of us were going to head back right after the match,” Jack Trowers answered, then paused to examine Harry and Ginny — both still in Flying Circus uniform. “Assuming it’s over, I mean?”

“Yeah, it’s over.” Ginny gave a half smile. “We lost by ten points.”

Harry shrugged at the ensuing chorus of groans. “It was a bleeding nightmare; I’m just grateful we all survived.”

“Can you chat later?” Lupin took a step southward down into the gully. “Given what just happened here, I’d rather we finish our little look-about here before we lose the light.”

“We’ll fill you in over breakfast.” Ginny waved at their departing friends, then turned to follow Lupin and Tonks into the gully. “Okay, let’s… Oi...” She froze and stared down among the cobbles and twisted scrub. “Uh, Harry?”

“I know, Gin’.” Harry ran a hand through his hair. “This is the exact same place you found me back in January when Lestrange hit me with that mind attack.”

“Creepy way for Bitchy to welcome us back home, yeah?” Ginny vanished a twig that had the temerity to snag her Quidditch robes, then glared into the distance where Lupin and Tonks were about to disappear into the bushes. “What’s with those two? I thought they wanted us to all stay together?”

Harry shrugged. “Remus likely had a bead on one of the spots where the spells were originating; he’s probably heading straight for it. But no matter, I memorised a couple spots that Lucia and Tonks pointed out, so we can just head for those and...” He trailed off, and closed his eyes.

“What is it?” Ginny closed her eyes, and trained her ears.

After a moment of near silence, during which the distant rustles of Lupin and Tonks faded toward nothing, Harry and Ginny suddenly both whirled and pointed. “There!”

They rushed down the gully, across the lively little stream and clambered up into a rowan thicket on the far side. Entering into the deepening shade, they could just barely make out a leg, but within seconds, they could tell that it was attached to… “Nott?!”

A voice groaned as the body stirred. “H-harry? Ginny?”

They helped Ted Nott to a sitting position. Ginny did a quick scan to check for injuries, while Harry supported the student, gauging his coherence.

“Do you think you can stand?” Harry picked up Nott’s rucksack from where it lay in the leaves, then threaded his arm under the student’s shoulder. “We’d like to get you back to the manor before dark and the wards are too dense here to Apparate.”

Nott nodded. By the time they’d all gotten to their feet and made their way down from the edge of the rowans and into the gulley, they spotted Tonks emerging from a thicket upstream, waving at them. “We lost you, guvs! Wolfie sent me to...” She stared at Nott. “Oho! What’s the story with this bloke?”

“We haven’t had time to ask yet,” Ginny admitted. “Ted?”

“I, er, don’t really know.” Ted attempted a shrug, although it didn’t come off as much since his arms were draped over Harry and Ginny. “Andromeda let me off early, and I was heading down to the Apparition point. Then things got… a bit confused.”

“Confused?” Tonks scratched her head. “As in the ‘wandered off and missed your target by a half mile in the opposite direction’ type of confused?”

Nott stared at her for a moment, then nodded sheepishly. “Yeah, basically. I set off down the hill toward the village but I...” He gazed about himself. “I obviously never made it.”

“No, you didn’t.” Harry bit his lip. “You somehow wandered up here and I’m guessing the attack sprang up around you?”

“The what??” Nott stared at him.

Ginny’s eyes widened. “You don’t recall anything of the attack?”

“What attack?!”

“Hoo doggie!” Tonks whistled. “Reckon you’re in for a few headaches here as we try to sort through what happened to you, Nottie-boy.”

“Happened to me?” Nott’s legs stopped moving, halfway through the stream. He freed his arms from Harry and Ginny, and tugged at his hair. “What the hell did I do? What attack? Am I in trouble again?!”

“No.” Ginny touched his forearm. “We’ll check your wand later to see if you actually did anything magical, but I’d rather doubt you were in any shape to participate in either the attack or the defence.”

Harry nodded. “As far as your other questions go, nobody wants you to be in trouble for anything, but my sketchiest guess right now is that something nasty happened to somehow break through your mental defences, and it’s possible that in your compromised state, you were somehow being drawn in by the Death Eaters attempting to break through the ward line.”

“Right.” Ginny nodded. “It’s probably not a coincidence that we found you here within a hundred feet of the nearest attackers. So whereas no, I don’t expect you should get in trouble for this, it’s probably reasonable to expect a lot of questions. We really need to sort out what happened, and assess what sort of continuing risk you and other people are facing.”

“Right. But this is bizarre.” Harry shook his head as he once again got Nott moving forward, out of the stream. “I mean, yes, I shouldn’t be too surprised that Lestrange and her thugs would try something while we were away, and that they had another new trick to play with mind magic, but... you’re hardly the victim I’d have pegged them to target. My money was on, well, Tracey Davis.”

“Tracey??” Nott stared for a long moment. “Oh, er, yes. Right.”

“Huh?” Ginny raised an eyebrow. “What’s wrong with Tracey? Is she okay?”

“Eh, well, she’s fine I guess.” Nott studiously avoided Ginny’s penetrating stare. “It’s just that she kind of, you know...” His voice dropped to a nondescript mumble. “She, er, just started dating me.”

It was Harry’s turn to stare.

“There were some trampled bushes,” Lupin explained. “From footprint study, it seemed there were five, maybe six, intruders, but nobody left any other physical evidence, and they all seem to have cast trace scrambling spells before they left, so identification will be a challenge.”

Andromeda raised an eyebrow. “More prudent than the average Death Eaters.” She paused to sip her tea. “So we’re unlikely to get much further right now without some help from young Theodore?”

“Yes, basically.” Harry nodded, kneading his temples wearily. “Ginny’s taken him straight to the Hospital Wing and we’ll let him rest in peace tonight before starting in on him tomorrow. Someone will examine his wand, and I think we’ll try a stroll through the pensieve.”

“I’ll be interested to hear if you learn… well, anything really.” Ted Tonks kneaded his knuckles. “I’d pay dearly to know why they broke off when they did. And I’m just as curious to see how close they may have come to hammering through.”

“Not too close,” his daughter answered, putting down her cup. “Harry, you may want to send your ward team out to recharge the defences around there, but they’re still quite strong.”

“Right. And regarding the sudden disengagement...” Lupin tapped the table pensively. “My only theory is that they were able to sense Harry’s return.”

“How?” Andromeda gave Lupin a sharp glance that, for the briefest moment flickered to her daughter at Lupin’s side.

Nobody said anything.

Finally Andromeda rose stiffly to her feet. “Yes, well, whatever it is that you’re not at liberty to tell us — I’m sure I would find it a bit unsettling. But now, if you’ll excuse me, I ought to go check on the children. Some of them were a bit shaken up by this little incident.”

“Oh, poor them!” Harry’s face fell. “They all seemed to be finally starting to feel truly safe here, then this happens. Do you mind if I join you, Andy?”

“Not at all!” She gave him a half smile. “This way — they’re with Cissy in the library.”

Harry had not even made his full way through the library door when one of the children leapt to her feet, trembling. “Mr. Potter!”

Harry blinked at the slight ten year old. “Er, yes, Amelie?”

The girl’s eyes darted around the room, as if looking for a place to hide. Finding none, she deflated and hung her head. “Mr. Potter, my mother and I didn’t mean to lead the bad wizards to your house. We were only hoping for a-a quiet place to stay.”

“Oh, no no no.” Harry suddenly felt very weary. “This attack isn’t your fault, Amelie; they probably don’t even know that you’re here. And nor should anyone else in this room feel like they’re to blame. The only thing we’re guilty of is wanting a quiet place to live, yeah? And we all have every right to that. It’s just that… that...”

“It’s just that there are still monsters out there.” Andromeda closed the door firmly. “There are still monsters out there who want to hurt us, but those monsters are starting to get scared now too, because we’re getting stronger and they’re not. In fact, I think they’ll all eventually just go away and leave us alone, as long as we do the right things. Does anyone what we can do that they'll find most discouraging?”

“Ev… erv...” Svengard Rowle began speaking before remembering to raise his hand. “Everda ke-keverda?”

Andromeda’s eyebrow caught the fringe of her greying hair. “No Svengard. We’ll never scare away the monsters with unforgiveables, because unforgiveables will turn us into monsters. Troy, how do you think we can dissuade them?”

Troy Mulciber straightened. “We must all be brave, Miss Dromeda. We must be good and considerate to each other, and we must stand together. If all of us always defend each other, the evil wizards and witches will never defeat us.”

"Very good." Andromeda nodded. “Now children, will we all stand up for Amelie and protect her if she needs protection? Will we talk to an adult if ever we are afraid for ourselves or for any of us?”

“Yes, Miss Dromeda.”

Coming at a moment when he himself was utterly exhausted, Harry smiled in relief at Andromeda’s masterful improvisation. In his relief, he projected a look of reassurance to Amelie who, although no longer near panic, still appeared somewhat anxious. He smiled. “Miss Dromeda is perfectly correct, Amelie. We must never blame ourselves, and we are all here to help each other. And I think it’s also fair that we can all hope to not be stuck here in Wales for terribly much longer either. Now, on that note, let’s maybe try something. Why don’t we all share with each other one place in the world that we’d most like to visit or return to as soon as we’re able.”

Angst and tears all vanished amidst a lively discussion. Several of the children spoke of their homes, while the suggestion of Fortescue’s received loud applause. Harry found himself working his way through the gabbling crowd toward the only two children who remained fairly quiet — Troy and Teri.

Harry sized up the eldest among the boys. “So what’s your chosen place, Troy?”

The boy gazed out the north window into the night. He sighed. “Hogwarts, Mister Harry.”

“Oh, of course.” Harry threw a comforting arm around him. “Well, I can’t promise anything, but deep down I somehow feel that all of this mess will be sorted before, uh… before it comes time for this year’s Sorting Hat song.” He grinned.

Troy studied him for a long moment, then grinned back. “You think so?”

Harry nodded. “I do! And I know for certain that an owl will somehow find her way to Dolwyddelan to get your first Hogwarts letter to you in plenty of time for school. With any luck, you’ll not even be terribly rushed with your Diagon Alley shopping, yeah?”

Troy’s grin grew broader. He thanked Harry and slipped back into his more normal persona, rejoining the rest of the children in their lively discussions, and leaving Harry to focus on a girl who’d been on his mind a bit. As usual.

“Are you okay, Teri?” His eyes flickered about her still, pale face.

Projecting a blandness that Harry recognised from the girl’s increasingly successful Occlumency practice, she shrugged. “You lost the match, Mister Harry.”

“True.” Harry gave her a small smile. “But that was at least partly intentional. One reason was that we had all agreed that we should end the match before anyone else got hurt, but it was also because I could feel that something was wrong back home.” He smiled. “And, of course, it may have had something to do with me figuring that there were better places to be than up above a sticky, steamy Quidditch pitch, spitting out nasty little insects.”

Teri smirked slightly.

Glancing around at a room of children whose merriment now gave little indication of any earlier anxiety, Harry turned obliquely away from her. “You know, Teri...” Speaking in a low, measured tone, he continued a train of thought that had begun to dawn on him. “We all make decisions from time to time based on a hunch. We may not understand why we choose what we do, but we know the decision is right.”

“Know?” Teri pursed her lips. “Like a seer?”

“Heh.” Harry smiled. “I think we’re both aware of just how pathetic I am with Divination — the future is a big murky cloud to me; every day is a new surprise, and I get blind-sided all the time. But one thing I’ve generally learned to see well is the people I care about. I’m convinced, for example, that if Ginny really needed my help, I would know it. Even if I was hundreds of miles away with no real means of communication, I very much believe I’d still know.”

Teri nodded agreeably, but Harry caught her eye and continued. “I’m pretty sure, Teri, that I would also know if you needed me.”

The girl processed the statement, betraying no real emotion.

Harry attempted to recapture her eye. “Did you somehow call out to me? Last night perhaps? Or sometime today?”

“No.” Teri shook her head. “That might have distracted you from your match.”

Harry frowned. The answer, although perfectly reasonable, was not the one he’d been expecting. Now that the wild day had finally settled, Harry had to admit that Teri’s appearance (wounded and near death) in his bizarre Vodoun dream had deeply rattled him. Yet, perhaps that image had not been a call for help. And perhaps it had not been her anxiety that had led him to bring the match to a hasty close earlier today.

No. Harry’s world was unquestionably fraught with stressed and fearful friends but not everyone was suffering through the tumult. Rather, it seemed that one girl whose stress and fears had (at times) felt nearly overpowering, was now acquiring the poise to stand with confidence and security.

Harry couldn’t be absolutely certain of that, of course. He knew that Teri’s Occlumency was strong enough to hide things from him, but he also doubted that she had either the will or the skill to hide any strong fears from him. Thus, the evidence all seemingly pointed to Teri having benefited tremendously from her lessons and her life within the nurturing Dolwyddelan household. As a result, Harry found himself believing that she may well be largely immune to the panic and anxieties of her peers; confident in the manor's defences whose magic she likely understood far better than virtually any other pre-Hogwarts child.

“So, Teri...” Both heartened and intrigued, Harry opted to press for confirmation. “That seems to suggest that you were okay through all of this? The Death Eaters didn’t bother you? Basically, everything is fine?”

Teri thought about it for a moment. “Well, it’s not fine that you lost today, Mister Harry, but I’m glad you at least caught the Snitch before that rotten Timalice.” She raised a playful eyebrow, then went serious. “But yes, I wasn’t too worried about the Death Eaters. I can feel those wards, you know? I can feel how strong they are, and I don’t think anyone will ever break into here that way.”

“Okay then.” Harry grinned. “If the only problem is our lousy Quidditch performance, maybe you need to take me out to the meadow tomorrow for a half hour and tell me what we need to improve on?”

“Only half an hour?” She smirked. “Do you honestly think I can talk that fast?”

Harry burst out laughing. “Okay, we’ll make it 45 minutes. But seriously though, Teri — no problems? You haven’t been feeling threatened lately by, uh…” He lowered his voice to the barest whisper. “The bitch?”

Teri’s smile faded from her face. “Things are mostly okay.”

“Mostly?”

“Well, there’s one little problem.” Teri frowned. “But maybe it doesn’t really matter anymore, because I, uhhh… Er, well I...”

“Yes?” Harry raised an eyebrow. “What happened?”

“Well, it may not make much difference because I seem to feel fine without it, but...” Teri chewed her lip for a moment. “I misplaced that old green jumper sometime this morning, and I haven’t been able to find it.”

“Too much! Too much!” Lupin shook his head. “How is it that weeks trudge by with no progress in the case, then all of a sudden we’re swamped with bizarre developments!”

“See?” Harry quirked an eyebrow; his face immersed in a coffee mug. “I told you it was a good thing for us to go away for a couple of days.”

Lupin’s mouth fell open. Agape, he was slowly recovering use of his jaw to marshal some sort of reply, when the DADA classroom door opened, revealing Hermione and Ryan.

Hermione blinked and checked her watch. “It’s… it’s five to eleven? And everyone’s already here?”

“Come on, It’s not as if I’m always late for this meeting.” Harry rolled his eyes. “Besides, my internal clock is still scrambled from getting hauled over six time zones in twenty minutes yesterday, so who’s to say whether I’m early or really really late. And finally, this is Sunday, not Saturday, which means I didn’t have to wheedle myself away from Little Miss Twenty-Questions in order to get here.”

Ginny grinned. “Harry’s heading to Dolwyddelan this afternoon, so he’ll be late for our evening Quidditch meeting instead.”

“Ah. That’s only fair.” Hermione took a seat at the table and laid a basket atop it. She withdrew the cloth to release the warming scent of currants and dried cherries. “Happy Easter, everyone. This is my grandmother’s recipe for Easter biscuits.”

“Bravo ‘Mione!” Ginny took a deep breath of the heady vapours, then gazed curiously at her friend. “I didn’t know that you baked?”

“I, uh… don’t.” Hermione thrust her face studiously into her portfolio. “So, did anyone compile today’s agenda?”

Ryan scanned the various inquiring faces gradually shifting from Hermione to him. He shook his head. “Don’t look at me — I didn’t bake them either. That dotty little house elf came at us this morning during breakfast frantic for ideas on something special to serve in honour of Harry Potter’s return. He was rather persistent.”

Hermione sagged a bit. Her face still half-obscured, she sighed. “I made him swear that he would set aside half of the batch for himself and his friends in the kitchen.”

“Very thoughtful of you to help out Dobby like that, ‘Mione.” Ginny smiled brightly enough to earn a slightly skeptical peek from Hermione.

“Absolutely!” Harry smiled as well. “House elves love to do good deeds; you probably brightened his entire week.”

“Quite likely.” Lupin nodded. “I often wish humans were more like that.”

“I suppose…? So?” Hermione stared at him for a long moment.

“Either way, your gram’s recipe is… mmmph...” Tonks wiped a few crumbs from her lips. “Ace! Happy Easter, Granger!”

“Thank you.” Hermione offered a slight smile. “But back to my question — can someone please run through the agenda for me?”

“Sure.” Tonks pulled out a parchment. “Me — tox report, vis a vis Harry and Ginny’s strange dreams. Wolfie — observations from the Wales attack. Jenkins — Ted Nott wand report. H and G — Pensieve findings. Oh, and Granger, did you and Jenkins learn anything fun about Vodoun on your Caribbean vacation?”

“Vacation?” Hermione’s eyebrow shot up into her bushy fringe. “You really don’t get out enough, do you Tonks?”

Tonks sniggered to herself, but Ryan shook his head seriously. “Sorry, but Hermione and I have compared notes and both concluded that we both learned a lot less about Haitian Vodoun there than we thought we did. We compiled a few scrolls of miscellaneous notes in our handwriting, but they don’t make a lot of sense. It almost seems like we were hit with some sort of mild...”

“Obliviate. Of course.” Ginny sighed deeply. “Sorry, but in all the fuss we forgot to warn you that they do memory charms at the Port of Entry. They do it to suppress the export of magical secrets.”

“What? How vile!” Hermione glared witheringly around at the others. “Did they do that to everyone?”

“Not quite.” Harry unconsciously sank an inch deeper into his chair. “Presumably they did everyone, except for Ginny and myself.”

Ginny nodded. “We were breaking their machines, so they exempted us. And on the way back, it wouldn’t have mattered because Langlois got us emergency diplomatic clearances to speed us through.”

“You-you lucky little...” Hermione sputtered for a moment, then exhaled. “Well, I suppose if anyone was to come away with their full memories intact, it’s probably best it was you. Those dreams of yours sounded fascinating.”

Harry shrugged. “More on those later. First, I’d like to hear if your trip to the library in Gonaves yielded anything? The charms were supposed to affect magical knowledge, but you were both looking at a lot of more general subjects too, right?

“Yes. And I suppose we did come away with a bit of information.” Ryan frowned thoughtfully. “First thing Friday morning, we read up quite a bit on Haiti’s simmering dark conflict — mostly to figure out problem areas to avoid.”

“Exactly.” Hermione nodded. “Daphne seemed to have neglected to mention that there’s been low level civil unrest for some time. During the past decade, however, those tensions have grown quite a bit. We happened upon an old Houngan near the library, and were able to engage him in a nice chat. He warned us that the paths of the Loa have become greatly divided and that the harmonious circle of the Vodoun — his words not mine — has been strained and twisted by rivalries among the ever fractious Bokors.”

Ryan leaned forward intensely. “The old fellow warned of an uprising far greater than those of the past.”

“Past uprisings?” Harry’s coffee cup paused half way to his mouth. He put it down. “How did Daphne miss something as important as that?”

“I’m sure Daphne did cursory research on the place...” The corner of Hermione’s mouth quirked. “But she likely didn’t know the right sources to check.”

“The right sources?” Lupin raised his eyebrow. “And what would those be…?”

“Muggle media reports.” Ryan pulled some newspapers from his rucksack and spread them on the table. “None of our wizarding media ever publish much about Haiti, perhaps because the DdV maintains pretty strict controls on foreign journalists, but the bigger Muggle papers tend to report on occasional problems there.”

“Problems.” Hermione nodded vigourously. “Primarily natural disasters, to be precise. Consider August, 1946. No mention whatsoever in the Daily Prophet, but the archives in Haiti reported a huge battle provoked by former Grindelwald lieutenants exiled to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It produced horrific destruction and hundreds of fatalities. Now look at what the Muggles say.” She pointed to an August 6th, 1946, London Times news brief, entitled:

Caribbean Earthquake Devastation Worse Than Feared

Ryan’s finger darted around toward other headlines detailing hurricanes and other disasters. “Each of these reports coincides pretty well with some sort of magical battle or atrocity reported in the Gonaves Library but are all ignored by British magical papers.”

“Merlin knows just how dangerous things really are there now.” Hermione wrung her hands. “According to the old news clippings we found in Gonaves, the DdV government is on high alert due to the recent death of the Supreme Chief of the Haitian O B — a powerful dark wizard who had, for many decades, tried to preserve a detente with the light magic Vodoun community. Unfortunately, in January 1996 he was murdered by an acolyte whom the newspaper called the ‘Silver Stranger’.”

“January, 1996?” Harry tapped his forehead. “That date rings a bell. Did something happen here around then?”

“Something piqued me about the date too, Harry, so we checked.” Hermione smiled. “While some of you were moping about the showers, complaining about scrambled time zones, Ryan and I were in the library reviewing old Daily Prophet headlines, and found that the date coincided pretty closely with the infamous Azkaban breakout.”

Harry winced. “That’s an unpleasant coincidence...”

“Silver Stranger?” Ginny tapped her lips. “Any idea where that nickname came from? It was pretty obvious where the Red Bokor got his name, but I hadn’t heard that one.”

“Well, if you’ll pardon some extrapolations...” Ryan pursed his lips. “The acolyte was supposedly unusually old for a Bokor apprentice, hence the ‘silver’. And he was reputedly foreign, so I suppose that made him a ‘stranger’.”

“Stranger!” Ginny’s eyes widened, turning to Harry. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“It’s a long shot, but...” Harry ran a hand through his hair and he exhaled hard, whistling slightly. “Roland Lestrange?”

“The thought also crossed my mind.” Hermione sat in expressionless thought. “It’s not a perfect fit with the testimony that the elder Nott gave you, though.”

“True.” Ginny nodded. “Nott implied that Lestrange lived near Shotley for at least several years prior to the Azkaban breakout. However, Nott also said that there were long stretches without any sightings.”

“So, it might still be Lestrange.” Harry frowned. “It would have to be a more complicated story though — shuttling back and forth between one master in Haiti and another in England. Until he killed off one of them…?”

“Then promptly delivered a huge plum to his other master?” Ginny rapped the table. “Harry, do you suppose that Lestrange studied O B in Haiti with the intention of using it to support Riddle? Then, in early ‘96 something precipitated him having to bump off his teacher, the Supreme Chief of the O B in Haiti, after which he returned home to pull off the Azkaban break?”

Harry shrugged. “Maybe he was waiting to learn some perfect bit of advanced magic to pull off the task.”

“It’s all speculation, but it tentatively fits what we know.” Tonks’ hair shifted through a range of colours as she processed the hypothesis. “If so, the gambit backfired on Strangey. Nott’s deposition seemed to imply that one of Rodolphus’s and Rastaban’s first acts upon their escape from prison was to murder old daddy.”

“Perhaps. Yet, I wonder if...” Harry’s sentence trailed off; his gaze drifted toward the open window and remained there.

Ginny watched Harry for a long moment, then reached for another biscuit. “So, speaking of exotic O B magic — Tonks, you’d mentioned a tox report?”

“Ah yes.” Tonks retrieved her parchment. “Harry; Ginny — I had my lab do a snap check on your blood samples, and they found traces of substances found in the Datura melons indigenous to Haiti.”

Harry raised an inquiring eyebrow, and Tonks continued. “The melons are deliriants — rare, controlled but prized potions ingredients known among some of the most skilled Potions Masters at the Ministry.”

“Deliriant?” Ginny chewed her lip. “So, do you think the dreams Harry and I had were just elaborate hallucinations?”

“Perhaps, and perhaps not.” Lupin shook his head. “Under the right circumstances, Datura essences can elicit legitimate episodes of clairvoyance, even in people without demonstrable second sight.”

Harry laughed out loud. “So, you reckon that more poor sods could survive Trelawney’s class just by doing drugs?"

Lupin scowled. “Harry, anyone who starts using Datura too often is going to have a lot more in common with Trelawney than just Divination.”

Harry let the smirk fade from his face. “Well, in case our bizarre dreaming has any telepathic value to it, we can recount a bit of it, but even after trying to refresh the imagery in the Pensieve, our recollections are quite garbled.”

“Sad but true.” Ginny steepled her fingers. “But let’s try anyway.”

“You first, Gin’?”

Ginny nodded. “One bit that stuck with me, but may be purely spurious, was a sequence of Luna Lovegood quotes — some we’ve heard before; others were new material yet still spoken in her voice.

Harry nodded. “Most of the quotes were path-related, so perhaps they were admonitions to watch our step on the mystical ‘path’ that we were walking, but I can’t see anything more illuminating in them. Ginny has one unusual quote though.’

Ginny shrugged. “The odd one out is, ‘Sometimes the rooster makes a bad decision better.’”

“One simple-minded interpretation could involve ’Rooster’ being Blaise’s pet name for Ron.” Harry pursed his lips. “And Ron did indeed come on to play the last twenty minutes of our match yesterday. I don’t see what bad decision that might conceivably have compensated for, but I can’t exactly rule it out.”

“A Quidditch nickname seems rather inconsequential.” Hermione shook her head. “I realise that your match there was the official reason we all went to Haiti, but it hardly seems like something for your Vodoun path to dwell upon.”

“I agree, ‘Mione, but what else would a rooster refer to?” Ginny rocked back on her chair expressionlessly. “They scare Basilisks? They’re a universal symbol of dawn?”

“Probably a lot of other things too. We can keep pondering it, I guess.” Harry shrugged.

“I’m not prepared to completely write off a Quidditch explanation.” Ginny wrinkled her nose in thought. “There was an inordinate amount of Quidditch imagery in my visions — endless hard practices, interspersed with debilitating, painful emptiness.”

Tonks raised an eyebrow. “You’ve been cranking full tilt on the sport all winter and spring, Ginners. Maybe you might all do well with a little break from it before psyching yourselves up for Portugal.”

“Maybe...” Ginny frowned.

“Any other recollections from the Vodoun path?” Lupin asked. “Non-Quidditch, this time?”

Harry nodded. “One of my few vivid vignettes was seeing Teri wounded — blood gushing from her hand. I have a possible explanation for it, though.”

“Lorraine?” Ginny asked.

“Yes.” Harry paused to stir his coffee. “Lorraine was the daughter of our assigned government attach ; one of her hands had been grievously wounded by the Red Bokor. After desperately trying in my dream to heal Teri’s cut, I woke up back in the waking world holding Lorraine’s.”

“Having healed it perfectly.” Ginny gave Harry a small smile and laid her fingers on his hand.

“Like sleep walking, perhaps?” Harry shrugged. “Caught half way between sleep and waking, maybe I somehow semi-consciously perceived the dark wound in Lorraine’s hand, and conflated it with a vision of Teri?”

Ginny closed her eyes. “One thing Harry and I both recall, albeit vaguely, was a sense of near-panic over people we know losing things. That part proved to be a little prescient, yeah?”

Harry nodded. “Teri lost the old jumper that used to give her magical protection."

Tonks gave him an alarmed look, but Harry shook his head. “Fortunately, it may not matter at all. Teri’s Occlumency seems to have strengthened greatly in the last while. She made it through the attack last night without any ill effect, and her aura seemed perfectly pure.”

“Are you telling us…?” Hermione chewed her lip as she skimmed a page full of notes. “Are you saying that you were up half the night on some mystical journey that earned you nothing?”

“Not nothing. That part with the Red Bokor was definitely consequential.” Harry leaned forward; an intense look in his eyes. “I also don’t believe it was a dream. Those images came back vividly in the Pensieve, and Ginny and I agree on all of the details.”

Ginny nodded. “And Langlois told us his daughter had sensed the confrontation and, given the circumstances, it seems logical that the girl would be sensitised to the Bokor.”

“Interesting...” Lupin stroked his beard. “And do you suppose this ties to the Lestrange affair in any way?”

“Perhaps. Perhaps not.” Harry shrugged. “The Bokor clearly knew us well enough in a creepy way, and seemed at least partially adversarial, yet...”

“Yet, he was playing with us.” Ginny’s eyes flashed. “I mean, yes, he played rough, and he might have killed us had we been less prepared, but that hardly seemed to have been his primary goal.”

“And you assume his goal was?” Tonks inquired.

“Got me there!” Harry laughed wryly. “It’s been a while since I’ve experienced something, or someone, quite so inexplicable.”

Ginny nodded.

“Huh.” Tonks wrinkled her nose in thought. “So, no other interesting images?”

“Not really.” Ginny nibbled the last of her biscuit. “We tried working through the entire dream sequence in the Pensieve, but at most points the imagery was too dim and foggy, in the way that dreams fade soon after waking.”

“I’m not surprised.” Lupin nodded. “A Pensieve can often retrieve more of a dream than a mind acting alone, but the after-effects of the drug itself can obscure a lot. But speaking of a Pensieve, were you able to learn anything from Nott?”

“Very little there either.” Harry exhaled, and finished his coffee. “His memories were even mistier than ours. We saw him walk much of the way down to the Apparition point, then suddenly turn about and head southwards, skirting the manor by a fair bit, working his way toward the gully. The closer he got to the stream, the blurrier the images got and finally up in the rowan thicket, he collapsed to the ground and rolled to his side. Then things went dark.”

“There was one last little detail, though.” Ginny gazed out the window unseeingly as she sought to describe the memory. “It seemed as though his eyes flickered open for a second or two; he was gazing blearily at his fallen ruck sack, lying in the leaves. There was an odd motion.”

Harry nodded. “The sack appeared to move. Or someone moved it.”

“I wonder if someone put something in it?” Ginny bit her lip. “Took something out, maybe?”

Harry shrugged. "It could also have just been settling on its own."

Tonks frowned. “You checked the sack for dark objects?”

“We went through it piece by piece with Ted.” Harry consulted his notes. “Nothing added, and we accounted for everything Ted recalled having in there.”

“Disappointing.” Lupin sighed. “Clearly something strange happened to Nott, but we have no idea what.”

Harry and Ginny nodded solemnly.

Tonks turned to Ryan and Hermione. “Did you learn anything from his wand?”

Ryan shook his head. “Last spell involved some mid-afternoon maintenance work. He didn’t attempt any magic at all during his walk. He cast no spells during the attack.”

“Pox.” Lupin’s frown deepened. “If anything, after all of this frantic flailing about, we seem even further from the truth than we were before.”

“No, I don’t agree.” Harry shook his head. “I think we’re edging closer to a breakthrough… but I’m not sure what’s about to break, or where it’s going through.”

The table fell silent for a long moment, until Hermione collected the empty Easter basket, and scanned the subdued crowd. “So, what's next? We're running out of action items.”

Ginny pursed her lips. “I’d say we think, yeah? Think about what was said today, and what was not said today. Maybe we can all gather here next weekend with fresh questions to bandy about?”

The others nodded quietly as they rose from the table.

Harry remained seated, rubbing the bridge of his nose in consternation. Feeling like the one thing he couldn’t remember was the one thing he most needed to grasp.

Mist pouring… rising up… swirling?

The images were still blurred as if by time, distraction and fatigue. Yet in the moment that Harry raised his hand to vanish the leftover coffee service, his eyes fluttered; a staccato of half-formed glimmers raced past.

Window, dark and cracked. Frame, tall, narrow. Carvings, like interwoven vines.

Or serpents?

Harry blinked and stared. And before his eyes, he saw... cups, saucers and spoons, all still waiting to be cleared away.

Harry was actually not late returning from Dolwyddelan, after all. Still, he was running as he made the final way through the mist, and up the front steps of the castle.

“Hello stranger!” Ginny stepped out from behind a pillar to greet him. “What’s the rush? You’re early.”

Harry grinned as he skidded to a halt. “Sorry, force of habit.”

“Too much energy, yeah?” She smiled. “So, how’s your little friend?”

“Fine.” Harry shrugged, taking Ginny’s hand. “Still fine, I should say — she has the same equanimity she had yesterday. I suppose she’s sort of subdued, but she focused well on her lessons and clearly made progress while I was gone.”

“And her aura?”

“You’re sharp as always.” Harry winked. “And so was the aura — no oscillation at all. By the looks of it, I’d say the protections around her are stronger than ever.”

“Oh?” Ginny’s eyes narrowed. “Even though the wards were damaged, and she misplaced that old jumper?”

“Oddly enough, yes.” Harry nodded. “I suppose she truly could have turned a corner in her Occlumency, and she’s able to fight off the attacks cleanly and effortlessly, or…”

“Or the attacks have stopped.” Ginny frowned. “For whatever reason.”

“Right. One or the other, and I’m not sure which.”

As they began to mount the Great Stairway, Harry’s thoughts turned to the Quidditch meeting to come. “Ugh. I wonder how the rest of the Circus is doing after the loss?”

“I’ve no idea.” Ginny’s shoulders bobbed. “I actually haven’t crossed paths with any of them since rushing off the pitch yesterday. I… I hope they’ll be all right. Everyone has gotten so used to winning...”

“Well, this ought to be a good test of how serious they are.” Harry lowered his voice as they reached the sixth floor landing. “Is the bird still a lark, even after it has stopped singing sweetly?”

“I have no idea what you just said, but it sounds beautifully deep.” Ginny winked at him. “I am honoured to merely witness your wisdom, o’ sage elder Potter.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Oh stop it.”

“Stop what?” Zabini’s grumbling voice rasped out to them from the Interhouse Commons. “Your turn to kvetch at me, Potter?”

Ginny scowled at her captain as she entered the commons. “Stop whinging and be a leader, Blaise.”

“I’m no leader.” Zabini hung his head. “Not bloody much of a Quidditch player either. Probably tossed my last chance to get drafted into the league.”

“Nah.” Grant Page shook his head from his seat over by the hearth. “Sure you looked like a rank amateur yesterday, but hey — by Premier League standards, most draftees come in as rank amateurs.”

“Exactly!” Ginny cuffed Zabini hard in the shoulder as she crossed over to her seat. “Besides, there weren’t even any scouts on hand in Haiti to see your stumbles, so the only mark on you is a wireless broadcast saying you were piss-eyed for the match and played poorly. That’s not exactly unheard of. Just ask Alasdair Maddock from Montrose, yeah?”

“I agree.” Harry took a seat at the table. “I think the big test will be how you respond now. As I recall, Maddock may have cratered against Tutshill, but then he turned about and scored 270 in the Ballycastle match. That silenced most of the fans who were shrieking for him to be sacked.”

“Well, temporarily...” Page rolled his eyes. “Maddock being Maddock, and all.”

“Er, temporarily, yes.” Harry shrugged. “But I’d reckon it all comes down to your next match. Sink down further and, yes, the scouts may turn away, but if you come back fierce and determined, then they may overlook the isolated cock-up and say you’ve got pluck.”

Frowning, Zabini rubbed his chin.

Picking a sandwich from the tray on the table, Ginny smiled at him. “With that in mind, if you promise to work your tail off this coming month, I can help you make your next match a real eye-catcher for the scouts.”

“How so?” Zabini raised an eyebrow.

“Hey, she could!” Summerby blinked. “Ginny’s passes were really crisp yesterday. Er, not that you would have noticed much.”

“Whuhh? You’d do that, Red??” Stunned by the suggestion, Zabini completely missed Summerby’s quiet zinger. “You'd do that for, uh, me?

“As long as you work for it.” Ginny eyed him analytically. “I don’t think anyone’s prepared to throw the match trying to pad your scoring, but I’ve been meaning to show more of a passing game before the camps, so if you sharpen your shot selection, I think I can help get you some open looks on goal.”

“That’s...” Ron stared at the three Chasers for a long moment, then slowly nodded to himself. “That might actually work. Five Galleons says that Portugal is completely geared to stopping Ginny’s shot. It could really bollix their plans if she keeps dishing off to Zabini.”

“Thank you, Ron.” Ginny smiled. “Maybe you can participate in a few of our Chaser strategy sessions? We meet Tuesdays.”

“I suppose.” Ron shrugged. “I can make this week since we’re still on Easter break, and can start more regularly a couple weeks after that, once Gryffindor’s Quidditch season is over.”

Zabini opened his mouth. Somehow Harry could tell that he was dying to say something about Gryffindor’s Quidditch season having been basically ‘over’ back in September, but the Slytherin was still stunned with gratitude, so he forced a smile. “Thanks Roost. I appreciate it.”

“Er, yes.” Ron’s cheek twitched awkwardly. “Well, will you try to remember that when I read back my performance notes from yesterday?”

Harry laughed. “Not to demean your hard work, Ron, but I’m wondering if the smartest thing we can do to prepare for the next match is to basically forget about the last one?”

Page gazed around the room thoughtfully for a moment… then chuckled. “Yeah, let’s bag it.”

“Huh?” Zabini glanced from Page to Harry. “You don’t want to learn from, uh…?”

“What’s to learn, Zabs? You need a long analysis on how you and the ‘Things’ can’t handle your liquor?” Page smirked. “From what I saw, Red and Summs had things pretty well figured out by the end of the match and would have bailed us, if not for the Bludger storm. And, oi! Harry Bloody Potter finally learned to rough up an opponent! How do you top that, eh? Before next practice, maybe Roost can talk me through some of my own f’upps in goal but, beyond that, I vote we just say ‘screw it’.”

Everyone stared for a long moment. Then a few quiet nods came. A few more.

“There is a motion on the table.” Daphne squinted through her glasses at the assembled squad for a moment, then nodded succinctly. All those in favor of, uhh, ‘screwing it’?”

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