Chapter 3. Happy New Year? (Dec. 31, 1997 — Jan. 1, 1998)
"All right, everyone, listen up!" Blaise Zabini waved to attract the attention of a small but boisterous crowd bouncing vigorously on the Hogwarts pitch trying to keep warm. "Operating on the theory that if everyone was happy and comfortable you might stand still and shut your traps for a few minutes, let's see if we can arrange a warming charm or two." He scanned the faces for a moment and settled his gaze on Harry. "I realize that Potter over here is a man of almost no discernible talents, but rumour has it he's good with thermals. Harry — while I continue to make an arse of myself up here for another couple minutes, can you please cast charms on our brooms, on the seats in rows 4 and 5, and on Colin's little daguerrotype thingy?"
"You m-mean camera?" Colin piped up in a shivery voice.
"Ha, I knew it!" Zabini puffed triumphantly. "Wait 'til I tell Professor Burbage that she got it wrong!" He glanced around at the bemused audience, and shrugged sheepishly. "Sorry, a bit distractible today. Anyway, moving right along to this key milestone in Quidditch history! As some of the more gifted intellects among you have now grasped from the huge banner behind me, this is the dedication and inaugural practice of the phenomenon which a dear friend of mine has dubbed, 'The Great Zabini Flying Circus! '"
Fred scowled. "Whenever are you going to learn to keep your catchy little phrases to yourself, sister dearest?" he grumbled, elbowing Ginny.
Ginny winced. "I swear — I intended it as a pejorative!"
"Uh huh." George nodded. "The road to Hell is paved with intended pejoratives."
"Really?" Luna piped up. "Father says that Muspelheimer cement is best suited to hot climates. One would have thought that..."
"Ahem!" Zabini' boomed over his amplifying charm. He scowled at the chatty foursome. "The sooner our loquacious gathering buttons down their flappy lips, the sooner we'll all proceed to our nice warm brooms or seats and get down to the business of having fun!"
Luna smiled placidly. "Every time he gets tetchy like this," she whispered to Ginny, "I imagine him wearing nothing but a really long feather boa."
Ginny coughed violently. "Sorry," she sputtered, "carry on please. I'll..." she managed a hurried, somewhat laboured breath, "be right back..."
As she hurried toward to lockers, Zabini glared at her for a moment before continuing. "For those people just arriving now..." He gazed in bemused consternation at a group of uninvited Hufflepuffs who had just arrived. "We will have warm seats available in just a moment." He cleared his throat. "Given the historical nature of this occasion, I would like to call upon Mr. Harry James Potter, Order of Merlin First Class, to issue the club dedication."
"Me??" Harry looked up in surprise as he finished the warming charm on the final seat in row 5. "Why me? You're the one whose name is plastered over everything!"
Zabini shrugged. "According to reputation, another one of your sparse competencies is public speaking. You're also known to be fairly concise." he added pointedly.
"Okay, okay." Harry rolled his eyes and made his way back down to the pitch. "Seats are warmed — everyone grab one and I'll try to be brief."
"Daffy, you can be the official chronicler for today, okay?" Zabini signaled to Daphne Greengrass, who had been talking with her twin first year siblings. "We'll borrow your memory of the speech later and stash it in a pensieve for posterity, so please try to pay attention to Potter. Can you do that?"
"I always pay extremely close attention to Harry," Daphne replied sweetly. "And sometimes I even listen to what he's saying..."
Harry raised an eyebrow, but made no comment. Reaching the podium, he picked up a scroll with some of Zabini's rough notes, composed himself for a moment, and began as follows:
"Esteemed witches, gentlewizards, and future generations... the sport of Quidditch that we all love so dearly has remained mired in ancient, outdated customs of centuries past, ever failing to heed the changing times and attend to the innovative spirit of our modern sporting public. Yet every once in a great while, there comes along an idea that is so fresh and compelling that the entire wizarding world must stand and take notice..."
The small crowd stared in rapt attention; Daphne's mouth had fallen open in raw adulation as Harry's eyes flickered in the light of the moody Highland sky.
Smiling, Harry paused to accommodate another batch of late arrivals attempting to discreetly file into rows 6 through 8. A buzz of hushes and shushes swept through the group. Raising an eyebrow at what he considered to be rather unwarranted obeisance, a tiny smirk flickered across his face for the barest instant as he forged ahead.
"Well, if you're expecting anything grand like that, then obviously you've come to the wrong dedication."
A buzz of titters and utterances swept across the audience, but Harry maintained a straight face.
"No indeed! For today we have assembled before you a bunch of rank amateurs, out on a whimsical lark, intent on uncourageously dabbling on the unfashionable fringes of the sport of champions..."
"Okay, who put the bloody 'Evening at the Improvs' reject up there?!" Zabini interrupted with a growl as everyone started laughing. Despite his tone, however, he couldn't prevent his face from sliding into a grin as wide as most of the rest of those in the audience.
"But seriously," Harry continued, adopting a more conversational demeanour. "I would like to thank Blaise Zabini for having assembled a collection of decent amateur Quidditch players who are willing to take on this bold experiment of forming a touring exhibition team. I think we will all appreciate the chance to experience some challenging competition and I hope that some spectators enjoy the brand of unconventional play that I expect this squad to bring to its matches. Personally, however, my most profound gratification in all of this springs from some important things that we're collectively planning to achieve off the pitch. First and foremost, our squad has unanimously decided to contribute all net Flying Circus proceeds from every match, interview honorarium and endorsement to the Safe Homes and People program!"
"Woohoooo!" came Daphne's enthusiastic cry, rising above the clapping and whistling.
"Next, I would like to thank Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes for donating team uniforms, as well as all of our day-to-day surprises... I mean supplies!" Harry's smirk added to a rustle of snickers.
"Dub dub double-U!!" came Ginny's voice, adding to the cheers as she returned from the lockers and climbed to row 4.
"Let's all give a big round of applause for everyone who came out on this frigid day to cheer us on," Harry continued, his eyes sweeping the continually-growing contingent. "Especially Charlie Weasley, Fleur Delacour, Bill Weasley, Luna Lovegood, Francesca Greengrass, Jonathon Lyon and Edgar Greengrass, each of whom will bravely mount their brooms this afternoon to spar with us in this, our inaugural squad practice!"
Harry stood silent for a moment, smiling as the audience cheered enthusiastically, then raised his hands for silence. "Finally, although most of you probably already know the names and the faces, Blaise requires me for the sake of the pensieve record, to introduce the members of the 1998 Great Zabini Flying Circus!"
Raucous applause burst from the still-growing crowd, producing a pulse of noise loud enough to summon denizens of Hogsmeade to their rattling windows and doors, from which they gazed curiously at Hogwarts, wondering what mischief might be afoot at a school that was normally so quiet over the winter holidays. Harry cast a loud sonorus to compete with the vibrant cheers that continued all throughout the introductions.
"Playing Keeper... formerly of Ravenclaw House, and shamelessly poached from the Kilkenny Skylarks of the Class B Leinster League... Grant Page!!"
"Our Beater contingent... formerly of Gryffindor House... inseparable as always... Fred and George Weasley!!"
Lee Jordan chose that moment to ignite a furious round of purple and orange flares. Harry coughed, but smiled, as smoke swept past the podium then gradually cleared.
"Playing Chaser... formerly of Gryffindor House... Ginny Weasley!!!" Harry grinned from ear to ear, applauding vigorously with the excited audience as Ginny descended to join Grant, Fred and George beside the podium.
"Playing Chaser and serving as assistant captain... current resident of Hufflepuff House... Keith Summerby!!"
"Playing Chaser and serving as captain... senior Prefect of Slytherin House... Blaise Zabini!!"
As Zabini made his way to the podium, George abruptly stepped forward and raised his wand. The cheering crowd collectively gasped as a lightning-white flash sparked out and struck Zabini straight in the forehead. He blinked... raised his hand tentatively to his head as a small cloud of fog dissipated to reveal... the most atrocious artichoke hairdo to grace Hogwarts since the 1970's.
Harry doubled over in laughter. So did George... which made it all the easier for Zabini to put him in a headlock. Fortunately, after a brief tussle that produced little more than raucous shouts and cheers, both emerged with flushed faces and wide grins.
Zabini elbowed Harry out of the way at the podium and cast his own sonorus. "Now, I understand that Quidditch fans are not generally known for scholastic aptitude..." he began to a spirited round of jeers. "But, based on statistical interpolation, I'm estimating that there are still at least two people up there in the crowd who bothered to learn elementary numerals. And those people may have noticed that we've only announced six players..."
He paused for a long moment until the crowd fell silent. "Well, how right you are! " he called and turned to walk away from the podium. "That's all folks! Everyone have a safe and happy New Years celebration!"
After a moment of stunned silence, a staccato of confused shouts erupted and degenerated into a swell of chaotic protest. But rather quickly, inspired by persistent concerted shouts by Jonathon Lyon and the Greengrass twins, the cacophony morphed into a hypnotic mass-mantra, chanting "SEEEE-KER! SEEEE-KER! SEEEE-KER!"
Zabini halted his retreat, turned to face the audience and recast his sonorus louder than ever. "Okay, okay! Calm down you gaggle of bleeding fanatics!" He paused until the decibel level dropped a bit. "My sincerest apologies everybody — it's just that, well, I didn't want to disappoint you, because, er..." His face dropped and he looked dejectedly at his feet. "I'm afraid we couldn't get our top choice for Seeker."
The din collapsed instantly. Astonished faces stared from the despondent Zabini, to a grimly stoic Harry Potter and, en masse, three hundred stunned onlookers exchanged bewildered glances.
"Yes," Zabini confirmed, shuffling awkwardly, "I'm afraid to say that due to his exhaustive prior commitments and a spate of minor injuries, we will not be able to showcase the spectacular grace and agility of..." He sighed heavily. "Everyone's favourite Seeker phenom, Rubeus Hagrid..."
You could hear a pin drop for the better part of a second as confused onlookers put two and two together. From somewhere in row 8 came the unmistakable sound of a Laura Madley giggle. Then the dam broke — an uproarious pandemonium swept over Zabini as he tried to introduce the real Seeker. After several fruitless attempts to shout, he just shrugged, and lifted Harry's right hand in the air.
And with seven huge grins plastered onto their faces, The Great Zabini Flying Circus took to the skies.
"Enough everybody!" Harry swept his arm across the battalion of flashes and dict-o-quills. "We're nearly two hours later for supper and I'm surrounded by Weasleys. You must realize that this is a potentially lethal combination."
"Matthäus Gottschalk, Die Beschwörung," interjected the young man with a thin Bohemian Goatee. "Herr. Potter, if you'll be competing in amateur venues, how do you expect to be protected against dangerous fugitive criminals such as Frau Lestrange?"
Harry blinked slightly, surprised to note that Bellatrix rumours were already circulating. He cleared his throat. "Well, we're still working on the logistics Matthäus. Part of that answer is likely to remain confidential for practical reasons, but hopefully we'll be set to release a general overview of security plans before the Skegness match." Harry took a deep breath. "Everyone, that's all — we really must go. Good night, and happy new year!"
With that, Harry, Ginny, George and Fred smiled and waved one last time to the unexpected press contingent, then briskly exited through the main Hogwarts gates and Disapparated. Landing in the dark orchard above the Burrow, they instinctively reached out and grappled for one another. Arms locked into a huddle that stabilized everyone on the uneven ground. In their mutual exhaustion, they sagged forward into an impromptu group-hug.
"Blimey Harry," George groaned. "This might well be the wildest imbroglio you've ever roped us into."
"And that is saying quite a bit," Fred added with a grin.
"Imbroglio? Yeah, I suppose that about sums it up." Harry chuckled wearily. "Listen, though. It this proves completely unmanageable, then let's promise ourselves that we'll just find some way to end it gracefully."
"Sure, we'll create a plausible excuse to back out," Ginny chimed as the four broke apart and began walking down to the Burrow. "Anyone for a simulated Scrofungulus epidemic?"
Fred somehow managed to groan and chortle at the same time. "Ugh, yes that ought to secure our freedom. But Harry, I think you should suggest to Captain Coiffure that we'll need a team meeting after Skegness so that we can all decide whether this is really worth doing?"
George hummed his accord. "Yes, that would be a good time-frame for re-evaluating things, wouldn't it? By then we'll have a few weeks and a match under our belt. Who knows — it may actually be working out okay."
"Agreed." Harry nodded. "We'll give him one match and see how everyone feels."
"Provided Mum hasn't already killed us all first." Ginny sighed. "I can't believe we're so late."
"You can't believe?? My disgruntled stomach doesn't require any convincing," George grumbled.
"Yes, it was a fine idea to send Bill, Charlie and Fleur back here at six o'clock to let everyone know we'd be late," Fred said, picking up the pace, "but if those three ate the whole roast..."
Ginny laughed. "If Bill, Charlie and Fleur ate the whole roast, then Ron has probably already been indicted for aggravated assault. Don't worry, I'm sure Mum made plenty."
The door burst open in front of them. "Come in! Come in!" Molly waved eagerly. "We set aside warm plates for you in the kitchen — you can either have a sit-down out at the table, or else bring the plates into the living room to mingle."
Ginny flashed her mother a grateful smile and pulled her into a half-embrace as they entered. A wave of warm air washed over them as they were immediately confronted by a party already well in progress. Arthur hurried over to them and helped Ginny with her cloak. "We all listened to you on the Wireless," he exclaimed breathlessly. "They cut away from the 'Wizarding Year in the Review' programme to capture some of the interviews. I had no idea this was going to be such a... um... happening?"
"Believe me, that makes at least two of us." Harry quirked his brow wryly. "I'm very sorry we're so tardy!"
Arthur chuckled. "Everyone I work for in the Ministry has a chaotic schedule, Harry. I never expect any of them to show up on time for anything anymore. So just because you're younger than they are certainly doesn't mean that you're any less important... or any more likely to be punctual." He winked and cuffed Harry on the shoulder. "In any case, as long as you keep visiting us regularly and bringing my favourite daughter along, I'll cut you a bit of slack."
Ginny steered Harry and the twins toward the kitchen, where the foursome was immediately confronted by Hermione and Ron, who both rose from the table.
"Well, hello there!" Ginny smiled genially, covering for Harry who seemed to be approaching the couple with the caution one might exercise with many of Hagrid's pets. Ron, too, appeared quite awkward, however he didn't seem angry or combative, which Ginny definitely took to be a positive sign.
"Oh, hello and hello!" Hermione's response to Ginny and Harry's arrival seemed caught half way between amicable and over-eager. "Wonderful to see the two of you! Happy new year!"
Apparently overlooking the twins, Hermione bustled to the counter to grab a couple of the plates that Molly had set aside, and placed them squarely on the table at the places where Ginny and Harry customarily sat at family gatherings. "Ron and I are catching our breath out here where it's quiet — won't you join us while you finish your meal?"
"So kind of you to offer, Hermione dearest," Fred replied knavishly, sliding into Ginny's seat. "I'm sure that brother George will also be availing himself of your gracious hospitality."
"Absolutely!" George swept up Hermione's scandalized hand to his lips, before taking Harry's seat and immediately commencing to dig into the plate of food.
"Say Hermione." Fred couldn't disguise a wicked grin, "Would you mind very much if Ginny and Harry were to join us too? I expect that they may be quite hungry, and it would be inconsiderate to deny them our gracious company on a special occasion like this."
Hermione blinked, chewing her lower lip in consternation... but then recovered. "Yes, thank you very much for being so thoughtful." She glared daggers at the smirking twins. "I think Ron and I would very much like the chance to catch up with Ginny and Harry... as well !" Turning brusquely back to the counter, she retrieved the final two plates, and clunked them down forcefully at the twins' usual seats. "Harry, Ginny, sit! Ron and I wanted to speak with you before things got too lively."
Stifling their amusement, Harry and Ginny both sat obediently at their newly assigned seats. Harry looked from Ron to Hermione as they settled into adjacent chairs. "Okay, so I'm sensing that perhaps there's something in particular that you'd like to discuss?"
Hermione cast several privacy spells in a tight sphere around the four of them. Fred and George immediately pulled their plates and chairs closer to invade the ring of privacy. "So nice to share quality companionship and intimate conversation with friends and family over the holidays, isn't it Fred?" George mused.
"Absolutely!" Fred sighed contentedly. "Such a cozy little gathering, just the six of us dear confidantes."
Hermione rolled her eyes in defeat. Averting her gaze from the twins and focusing her attention pointedly onto Harry, she got straight to the point. "Harry, neither Ron nor I really know what the Imperius curse feels like, and I assume that among the four... er, well, six... of us you probably have the most experience with it. Could you describe the sensation?"
Harry nodded thoughtfully as he sliced a bite of the roast beef. "Yes, well... I guess that unless you have a very strong natural resistance to the curse, you could probably say it's a frighteningly pleasant sensation. You feel as though nothing in the world is your fault; you believe that you have no choice but to engage in your assigned task, and that task seems to be the most natural and obvious thing in the world for you to be doing."
Hermione shivered. "That's atrocious!"
Harry nodded. "Yes, that's actually a fairly good word to describe it."
The table fell silent. Hermione frowned and looked to Ron. "But it doesn't sound right, does it Ron?"
Ron nodded blankly. "No, that wasn't what I felt."
"Wait! What's the context here?" Putting her utensils down, Ginny scrutinised Hermione and Ron. "What made you wonder if you were Imperiused? The so-called Escrick feint attempt?"
Ron nodded abashedly and turned to Harry. "Listen mate, I'd apologize for letting you down and being a stupid berk in front of those kids, but..." He stared blankly at Harry for a moment, struggling to articulate. "But that wasn't me."
Harry met his stare with a puzzled look. "Er, okay. Can you give a bit more detail regarding precisely how it wasn't you?"
"That's the problem." Ron glanced fretfully around at the others. "I don't know how describe it. About the best that I can say is that if you asked me that morning if I would ever attempt the Escrick, I'd laugh and say you're daft. I never have any business trying a stunt like that. Sitting here right now, I know it was bloody ridiculous. But standing out in that meadow, I felt damned certain I could do it and — here's the strange part — I was still every bit as convinced the day after that. I had it completely rooted in my skull that if someone hadn't interfered with my flying I would have had no problem with the maneuver. It was only on the third day that I started to say, 'Ron you bloody git — what the Hell were you thinking?!'"
"Doesn't sound like you were confunded — the charm wouldn't have lasted that long," Ginny shook her head. "A charmed object might have done it, but only if you had remained in constant close proximity to the object. Is there anything you would have kept right on your person for 48 hours or so, Ron?"
Ron shook his head.
"Did you forget to change out of your Chudley Cannons boxers, Ronniekins?" George inquired innocently, drawing a scowl from Ron.
Hermione shook her head. "Those boxers went missing from the lockers during the Ravenclaw match, so I..."
"Blimey!" Fred choked on a mouthful of turnip. "I can't say what's more disturbing, Ronnie-kins — your enlisting Granger to administer your pants, or letting groupies nick them?
"Oi!!" Harry waved frantically to cut off George's inevitable rejoinder before things got too chaotic. "Spare our virgin ears, yeah? Orange shorts or not, Confundus charms aren't a likely answer. That sort of magic produces diversions more than impulsions; they can deflect you from understanding something or from doing things that way you planned, but the standard spell shouldn't be enough to make you do anything truly outrageous."
Ginny nodded. "Yes, otherwise the spell would have been banned just like Imperius."
I have a question, Ron." Harry stroked his chin thoughtfully.
"Go ahead mate." Ron nodded, his flushed face still grateful for any discussion that didn't involve his underwear.
"When you and your broom, er, went your separate ways..." Harry fixed Ron with penetrating eyes. "Did you fall off the broom or did you... well... throw it away?"
Ron stared at Harry. Initially appalled at the implication, Ron's expression gradually went diffuse. Finally, he exhaled deeply. "You know, that's a damned good question, Harry."
With glittering magical confetti still in their hair from a midnight explosion (courtesy of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes), Harry and Ginny made their way toward the back door, intent on an early and quiet escape. Stepping out into the cold, still evening air, they met Andromeda who apparently had just opted for the same plan. She smiled at the pair and chatted casually with Ginny as the three of them strolled together along the dimly lit path toward the Apparition point. Harry tuned out the conversation and dropped a few steps behind the two women, surreptitiously studying Andromeda, observing her features and mannerisms as illuminated in the distant lamplight emanating from the Burrow.
Although he would never admit it to Andromeda, Harry considered her to be a benchmark of sorts. She was a glimpse as to what Bellatrix could possibly look like without all darkness, hatred and mania. Indeed, if Andromeda's older sibling was ever to deliberately try to appear as something less horrendous than a vile, psychotic slag, they might well be almost twins.
Harry hated to compare two people as morally distant as the formerly 'Black' sisters (even just thinking about Bellatrix made him shiver, and he was quite certain that Andromeda would be far from thrilled if she knew she was being likened to her sister) but he had to admit that there was a practical and compelling reason for it. To Harry's knowledge, Bellatrix had never dabbled much in disguises, obviously preferring intimidation over subterfuge, but... what if she decided to try? With nearly all of her habitual allies and support network on the run or in hiding, wouldn't it make sense to operate in stealth? So, then, what would happen if Bellatrix decided to take on a new persona — act more conventionally, forego the medusa hairstyle, apply glamor charms over her skeletal eyes and emerge more freely into the world as a semi-normal looking, respectable, and possibly even marginally attractive witch in her late forties?
If Bellatrix was ever to attempt such a ploy, Harry's first line of defense, of course, still lay in an assumption that he would be able to pinpoint her magical signature, regardless of what she might look like physically. For most of the past year, he had been able to reliably distinguish the magical essence of adversaries and friends alike, but he wasn't about to let himself become complacent. The fact that Ginny had recently proven herself capable of eluding his instinctive aura detection had been a valuable wake-up call, reminding him that he needed backup skills. A second aptitude that he hoped to be able to call upon would be his deep-seated sensitivity toward innate depravity and the taint of black magic, but some premonition (or paranoia) was driving him to find even a third level of security.
Ryan Jenkins (a compulsive scholar on all things Muggle) had reminded him of the basic criminology concept of character profiling — a strategy that might indeed help him to recognize his enemy not by what she looked or sounded like, not by what her magic felt like, but by all the subtle mannerisms, ticks, speech inflections and personal habits that truly defined her. The witch might be able to go to great length to make herself look different, but deep down she would still be Bellatrix Black, wealthy Slytherin pureblood, defined by her decades of upbringing, culture and attitude. Surely those would mark her as distinctly as any physical or magical feature.
Harry had spent time in his pensieve studying some personal recollections of Bellatrix, as well as a fair number that the Auror Department had archived from their post-battle interrogations from late September. Unfortunately all of those memories were of Bellatrix acting in her unabashedly demented and evil public persona. Hence arose his reluctant decision to use Andromeda as a proxy for how a subdued, hypothetically 'civilized Bellatrix' might appear. Just in case.
Truth be told, however, this was not the only reason why Harry was furtively observing Mrs. Tonks this evening. His mind kept drifting back to a nagging curiosity about Teri, and to Draco's disturbing assertion that the girl was actually a Lestrange. Despite his rational conversation with Ginny, Harry kept subconsciously throwing all sound logic to the wind and asking himself one of the most appalling questions he could imagine — was this poor girl Bellatrix's daughter?
After his many near-airtight conscious counterarguments had failed to dispel this morbid train of subconscious thought, Harry had finally decided to surrender and try a different tack. He had let himself assume that maybe it wasn't utterly impossible. Perhaps there was some (admittedly unknown and perhaps unknowable) way that an obscure act of magic or happenstance had enabled the incarcerated Bellatrix to conceive and deliver a girl of Teri's age. If so, how might that child look and behave? What special traits and powers could she have? Would there be any distinguishing physical characteristics to tie mother and daughter together? Fundamentally, what he was asking himself right now, in the near darkness of this moonless new year's night, was whether there was any compelling evidence that Teri physically or behaviourally could be taken for Andromeda's niece?
Superficially, there were several arguable points of similarity. Teri shared with the Black sisters a tendency toward slender height and an almost ghostly pale complexion. Like Teri, both Bellatrix and Andromeda had sported jet black hair in their youth (although both elder women were greying now), but the girl's hair was much more lustrous and fine than that any of the Blacks that Harry had met or seen images of. Beyond that, the features grew even more divergent. As Harry observed Andromeda's mannerisms and features in the faint glimmers filtering back from the lamp-lit Burrow, he saw little to convincingly relate her to Teri.
Oddly, though, the more Harry absorbed and pondered, the more he began to believe that the girl actually did remind him of someone he knew... or at least someone he had once met or seen. Her appearance seemed to stir distant and vaguely favourable associations. But of whom?? For the life of him, Harry could not place the source of the strange, wistful, ephemeral affinity that he felt when he revisited his memories of the girl standing in the chilly meadow that Saturday afternoon... the shape of her face... the flickers of her eyes... the brisk wind tossing her dark hair...
By the time Ginny and Andromeda had reached the orchard, they had lost the nearly all of the Burrow's distant radiance, so Harry was forced to shelve his visual observations for the time being, without having achieved any firm conviction one way or another. He shrugged to himself and returned to the world of human interactions.
"... but Tonks and Remus didn't make an appearance this evening," Ginny was saying. "Did they have other plans?"
"Hmmm, actually no. Not that I'm aware of. Nymphadora definitely told me yesterday that they planned to make it over tonight. It's probably nothing major, but..." Andromeda's woman's voice trailed off on a slightly worried note.
"It could be that one of them wasn't feeling well or something." Harry ran a hand through his hair. "In that case, it wouldn't be helpful to disturb them in the middle of the night. But if you like, I could drop by Grimmauld Place mid-morning tomorrow and make sure everything is okay. I wanted to catch up with Remus on his Hogwarts preparations, anyway."
"Oh good!" Andromeda released a taut breath. "It would be wonderful if you could do that Harry!"
"No problem!" Harry assured her.
"Oh, and Harry?"
"I was wondering..." Andromeda's tone was thoughtful; almost a bit shy. "The children really only started to get to know you over the holidays but you made a very favorable impression very quickly..."
"Harry has a way of doing that!" Ginny grinned proudly. "Especially with children!"
"That really is true, isn't it?" Andromeda said with a smile. "Anyway, I know that you'll be frightfully busy with school starting up soon, but several of the youngsters were asking about you, and..."
"Absolutely, Andromeda!" Harry broke in preemptively. "I should be able to visit them again on Saturday after supper for a couple hours if that works for you."
"My! I must say that was far simpler than I was expecting." Andromeda grasped Harry's hand and squeezed it firmly. "You are a very kind young man — thank you Harry!"
"You're welcome," Harry replied. "In turn, I'd like to thank you again for taking such fine care of the manor and everyone in it."
"Oh, it's my pleasure." Andromeda couldn't help but hang her head abashedly for a moment, before quickly straightening again. "Oh, but speaking of which, I really must be getting back. I do hope that Ted and Cissy were able to manage everything tonight without any difficulties. Happy new year Harry! Happy new year Ginny!"
"Happy new year!" they called amicably in return, and each Disapparated to their respective destinations.
Harry and Ginny arrived at their usual spot — a small clearing within a tight thicket of trees at the far end of a fairly empty car park on the outskirts of a Muggle neighbourhood near Maidstone. They had chosen the site several months ago for caution and discretion, back at a time when they neither expected, nor particularly wanted, visitors. Life had obviously changed a lot since their complete re-entry into magical society, and a noisy Apparition by the twins outside their house had necessitated Obliviating several Muggles, and alerted had Harry and Ginny to possible security issues associated with even a relatively small number of magical guests appearing in the neighbourhood from time to time. Given their natural caution, they had found this convenient thicket, erected notice-me-not charms about it, and now used it exclusively. This meant they now had a bit of a walk to contend with each time they traveled to and from the property, but that was a small price to pay for peace of mind.
Holding hands, they strolled quickly and silently for several hundred meters along Magpie Lane, to a stretch that would seem to Muggles to be an undeveloped wooded space between two fairly upscale modern residences. For Harry, Ginny and a few of their very closest friends, however, there was a neat, narrow drive curving about a hundred feet up through well-maintained shrubs, opening into a pleasant (if somewhat small) yard and their own small but attractive house. Indeed, most of the wizarding elite would likely be amazed if they ever discovered that Harry Potter lived in such a modest, middle class abode but, as far as he and Ginny were concerned, there was no reason for any of the bourgeois to ever find out. Magpie Lane was their happy little sanctuary. Perhaps some day a growing family might prompt a change in venue, but right now they couldn't imagine it any other way.
About half way up the drive, Harry's hand loosened itself from Ginny's grasp, and crept around her waist. They halted their brisk walk, and Harry looked deeply into Ginny's eyes and reached to touch her cheek. "Happy new year, my irreplaceable treasure!"
She gazed up at him with that shy smile that drove him wild. He pulled her in, and crushed his lips to hers. She opened her mouth to his, and the heat of her soul infused him, then...
Crackle... rustle... groan...
In the barest instant they whipped around, flanking each other back-to-back as per training and instinct. They rapidly, systematically scanned their surroundings for anything out of place; any additional sound or magical signature that could help them identify the source of the noise.
"Underbrush to the left; thirty feet up the drive." His voice a bare whisper, Harry began moving silently up the slope. "Stay here and cover me."
Ginny nodded as Harry Disillusioned himself and moved cautiously but swiftly up around a bend. In the dim illumination of their porch-light, Harry spied two twitching legs sticking out of the underbrush. He cast an immobilization spell on the body as a precaution and moved in quickly for inspection. "Remus?!" Harry's eyes widened in astonishment as he dropped his Disillusionment charm.
Lupin's eyes flickered. "Harry!" he gasped. "Thank Merlin it'sh you! I spl-spl-splinched myshelf."
"What the??" Harry released the restraint to better examine his friend's battered body. His gaze lingered, concernedly, on a nasty dark stain on Lupin's lower right leg. "Remus, are there Death Eaters around? Were you attacked?"
Lupin chortled unevenly. "No e-eaties, but er, yesh, attacked. Att-attacked by Ogdens."
Harry swore out loud in a bewildered mix of relief and annoyance. "Ginny," Harry called out, no longer feeling any need for stealth. "It's Lupin — he splinched himself. Do you have any dittany with you?"
Frowning in puzzlement, Ginny withdrew her miniaturized storage trunk as she walked up. "Yes, I restocked everything on Boxing Day." She withdrew a small bottle. As Harry finished cutting away the lower part of Lupin's trouser leg, Ginny knelt beside their friend and studied the wound. "Thank Merlin it's below the knee. Two inches higher and he'd be hobbled for days." She applied a few drops at strategic points on the wound. "That will get the healing started, and we can re-treat it tomorrow morning. For now, let's get him to the house."
Several minutes later, Harry was lowering Lupin onto their chesterfield while Ginny went to get their guest room ready. Lupin's head lolled to the side, but his eyes opened partially, trying to focus. Harry pondered him for a moment then went to the pantry to retrieve some anti-depressant / anti-intoxicant potion he'd made some time ago. He poured the standard three ounce dose into a glass and returned to the living room. With his free hand, he grasped Lupin by his tremulous chin, straightened the man's head and tilted it back. He squeezed his friend's cheeks with thumb and index finger to pry the jaws apart a bit and administered an ounce. Lupin swallowed instinctively.
The effect was so instantaneous, it caught even Harry by surprise. Lupin's eyes sprang open and his body spasmed for an instant before relaxing again. "Heavens Harry!" Lupin exclaimed. "What a bloody wretch I am!"
Harry stared for a moment at the unexpectedly quick recovery, then shook himself. "What on Earth did you do to get into this mess, Remus? And where's Tonks?"
Lupin looked mortified. "Tonks? She must still be at Grimmauld Place I guess?" Uncertainty crept more profoundly into each subsequent word.
"If you're lucky, maybe she's still there, Remus! With you in this shape, you ought to be hoping she hasn't found someplace better to go. Don't you imagine she's had a wonderful New Years Eve celebration?" Harry's words had quite a bit more venom than he'd intended, so he took a deep breath. "Sorry. Can you tell me what happened?"
"One drink, Harry!" Lupin's face was plaintive and confused. "I poured one single drink before leaving for the Burrow. It was to..." He paused and winced painfully. "It was to honour Sirius..."
Harry looked down at a face whose every strained wrinkle seemed to beg forgiveness, if not necessarily understanding. With a hint of confusion on own his brow, Harry glanced down at the two ounces remaining in the glass of restorative draught and nodded to himself. The average Firewhisky bender would have required the whole dose to counteract, so Lupin's rapid response to the antidote corroborated the 'one drink' claim.
Harry looked away, exhaling slowly. "Pretty strange, wouldn't you say Remus? A single drink stringing you out like that?"
Lupin shrugged sheepishly. "Yes, it does sound foolish, doesn't it?"
Harry didn't reply. He frowned and then called out, "Gin', can you take care of Remus from this point and get him to bed? I should go to Grimmauld to see if I can find Tonks."
Ginny peeked back into the living room, giving Harry an inquiring glance. She gazed at Lupin, who was watching the pair alertly, but with misery lining his face. Ginny nodded. "Okay. Please be careful, Harry."
Harry gave her a half smile. "I will, thanks!" He stoppered his flask of potion and stepped back out into the winter night.
In the darkness, Ginny felt a gentle kiss on her cheek, and breathed the scent that was Harry. He settled into bed behind her.
"Is Tonks okay?" she asked, her voice cracking a bit from sleep.
Harry nodded. "She's all right I guess. She was upset and a bit confused, but it was late so we didn't talk much. I figured she wouldn't want to spend the night alone at Grimmauld, and I didn't know if she'd be ready to see Remus again here at breakfast, so I brought her to Dolwyddelan and left her with Andromeda."
Silently, Ginny reached for Harry's hand and squeezed it firmly. Harry leaned in and kissed her bare shoulder before settling back and sighing discontentedly. "None of this makes any sense..."
Ginny nodded. "Don't worry — we'll figure this out..." She paused to correct herself. "I mean, we'll help them figure this out. Everyone will be okay."
Harry kissed her neck and then settled himself into his pillow. Within a minute his breathing subsided to the slow rhythm of sleep.
Wondering whether her slip of words was pure misstatement, or whether it contained any ironic foreshadowing, Ginny stared off into the darkness for a while longer. Forcing her eyes closed, she eventually drifted off again... into a restless dream in which she and Harry were watching as a huge mechanical clock elaborately tolled off the final bells to midnight. At the stroke of twelve, a monstrous rook in a dark witch's robe burst through the upper window, croaking the word, 'Cuckoo! ' Then all of their friends pranced through a side door, raucously yelling 'Happy new year!' from behind grotesque masks.
With a smile that disguised his weariness, Harry accepted the tray of tea and crumpets from Kreacher. Determined to project a positive attitude, he whistled (a bit off-key) as he walked down the third floor corridor of the old manor, and tapped lightly on Room 12. "Room service!" he called out.
He heard some frantic rustling within the room, and something loud and clattery fell to the floor. A few curse words ensued... and then he was met by the face of Nymphadora Tonks. Her scowl vanished, replaced by the warm, grateful smile. "Wotcher Harry!" Her ebullience belied a pale, washed out complexion and plain dark brown hair. She noticed Harry's puzzled glance, paused for a moment to concentrate, and her tresses changed to a pleasing shade of mauve.
Harry grinned. "Does the lady care to take her morning tea in the library?"
"Only if it's with you, luv!" With a bounce in her step, Tonks grabbed he shawl, and the two of them wandered several doors down to enter a large room, where they blinked for a moment in the brilliant morning sun. Harry set the tray down on a large study table, and they took seats facing each other.
"Are you okay this morning?" Harry asked as he took a sip of tea.
Tonks nodded. "Yes, I think so. How's the Wolfie doing?"
Harry toyed with his spoon. "He wasn't up yet when I left. I assume he'll be fine though. He was already coming around last night before we put him to bed." He glanced up to meet her eye. "Tonks, do you have any idea how he could have gotten so messed up?"
"I'm not quite certain, to be honest." Tonks nibbled a crumpet thoughtfully. "We were getting ready to leave for the Burrow, and he hauled out that damn bottle again. Blimey Harry, he's been tugging that quart around with him all holiday season, talking about Sirius." She put the crumpet down and turned instead to the tea. "Supposedly it's the very last of Doggy's old liquor stash. Anyway, we're just about out the door and Remus gets misty-eyed and starts mumbling about New Years Eve with Sirius two years ago, and how we needed to drink to his health. I looked at the bottle and saw that it was down to the final couple of shots, so I said to Hell with it. I figured, okay, this is obviously important to him, and it's a holiday, so let's put to rest auld lang syne." She stared deeply into her cup and swirled it around pensively.
"So what happened?" Harry prodded gently.
Tonks frowned a long time before answering. "Well... we went bottoms up then everything immediately went all queer..." She paused again, struggling to find the right words. "My head scrambled, but I swear it couldn't have been any longer than ten... twenty seconds tops. I didn't even have time to fall down..."
Harry stared at her in bewilderment. "All that excitement on a single shot of Firewhisky?"
She nodded. "And the same amount completely bollixed Wolfie. When my head cleared, he was staggering about, yelling incoherently, looking at me like I was waving murtlap tentacles at him and then, er... well, things got messy..."
"Messy?" Harry cringed inadvertently.
Tonks blanched as she began her recollection. "He picked up one of the really ugly Black family vases and, next thing I know, I'm ducking my head just as this chunk of neoclassical plaster vomit goes whizzing past. I fired off a stupefy without even realizing it, but suddenly he's got his shield up — pretty bloody impressive for a staggering drunk — and the next second he's gone. Disapparated."
Harry ran a hand through his hair. "Wow!"
Tonks nodded, taking a sip of tea.
Harry sat back for a while and gazed thoughtfully at the wall of books. "Has anything else strange happened recently with Remus, other than this one seemingly psychotic episode and his strange fixation with the bottle?"
"I asked myself that," Tonks answered, "and I haven't been able to think of anything noteworthy."
Harry pursed his lips. "Do you still have the bottle itself or the glasses to test for poison or potion residue?"
"One step ahead of you guv." She smiled. "I was pretty confuddled by things last night, but I did think to sweep the broken bottle and the glasses into a magical containment box just in case."
"Great." Despite the note of relief in his tone, Harry frowned to himself. "There has to be some explanation. Remus would never do anything daft like that if he was anywhere near his right mind. We all know he can handle his liquor, so something else must have been messing with him. Anyway, I..."
Harry stopped and gazed over Tonk's shoulder toward a slight noise at the library door. Teri walked in, carrying several books. The girl glanced over, surprised to see the room occupied. "Mr. Harry!" she exclaimed, with an eagerness that Harry had never heard in her voice before. "I was really hoping to talk to you! Would you be able to...?"
Tonks glanced over her shoulder at the girl, recognizing Teri from her questions at the law enforcement presentation Tonks had made in October. "Hey Kidders," she waved cheerfully. "How're you...? Doing??"
Teri had frozen abruptly at the sight of Tonks; the girl's eyes went wide in unexplained shock. Without warning or explanation, Teri dropped her books, turned and rushed from the room.
"Blimey Harry!" Tonks gasped, with a horrified expression on her face. "What's the bleeding problem with me?! Am I really such a scary munter?"
Baffled, Harry shook his head. "No, absolutely not!" he assured her with complete conviction. He and Tonks locked eyes; Harry reached across the table and took his friend's hand in a gesture of companionable consolation. As he projected warmth and empathy toward her, Harry found himself yet again analytically contemplating a woman for clues to a strange conundrum. Tonks, he knew, would never really be a 'top totty', but her cheerful energy, endearing honesty and kind face always emanated a pleasant, unassuming attractiveness that had completely sewn up Lupin's heart and made her a genial favourite with most of her acquaintances. She was brim full of courage; she had a fierce intensity that could certainly intimidate and often even terrorize dark criminals... but Harry was unable to imagine her ever inadvertently frightening anyone else.
Harry took a deep breath and cleared his mind. "Auror Tonks, there's something rotten in the state of Denmark."
She nodded in avid, wide-eyed agreement. "Yes, and maybe Britain too?" She smiled lamely.
Harry stood up, pulling the collar of his cloak closed. "I have some loose threads rattling that I need to tug at. I'd like to brainstorm with you more about this, but I don't want to distract you or send us barking up the wrong tree until I've done a little more thinking on my own first. Can you give me a few days to dig around and ponder a few questions?"
She nodded again. "Sure, Harry. In the mean time, I'll run diagnostics on the bottle and glass shards. Is there anything else you can think of that I should check into?"
Harry thought for a moment then shook his head. "I'm sure you're busy with work, Tonks. I don't want to go running off at the mouth, telling you what to do."
Tonks shook her head. "Harry, if I'm reading your eyebrows right, then I'm guessing that you think that what happened last night involved dark magic. If so, then last night was a dark magic attack on an Auror, if you get my drift? That constitutes an incident that the Auror Department is going to take very seriously. This is not a case of you distracting me from my work. Nah mate, this could very well become my work."
Frowning pensively, Harry nodded but said nothing.
"But listen..." Tonks squeezed his hand before draining her tea and standing up. "What I want more than anything is to put an end to this bloody nonsense. If Harry Potter is going to tell me that the best way to crank up the investigation is to give him a few days of peace to figure a few things out before any DMLE brouhaha begins, then, yeah, I reckon I'd listen to him."
Harry smiled. "Good — we've got a deal Tonks. I do promise to bring you up to speed and let you move this into official channels as soon as I see whether I can spot an easy pattern. I definitely don't want to shut..." Harry paused and stared his friend in the eye for a moment.
"What is it?" she asked.
Harry frowned. "Do you have any Occlumency skills, Tonks?"
Tonks shrugged self-consciously. "I took the standard Auror course, but I'm afraid I still kind of stink at it."
Harry nodded thoughtfully. "I think it may be time to try again."
Tonks gave her friend a calculating look and nodded slowly. Part of that nod involved a tacit willingness to take Harry's suggestion without question, but another part came from a small glimmer of understanding that was beginning to tickle the back of her mind.
As Harry walked up the drive at Magpie Lane, he spotted a familiar mane of red hair, gleaming in the bright winter-morning sun. Wrapped in an old Weasley Christmas jumper and a thick royal blue scarf, Ginny was making her way around the outside of the house, casting the usual array of basic weatherproofing wards. Harry breathed a deep, bittersweet sigh. Part of him was happy because that was the way he always felt whenever he saw Ginny, yet another part was wistful because the spells she was casting reminded him that, once again, they were about to pull up stakes and head north for another school term.
He rustled his way through some dead leaves as he approached, drawing her attention. She turned and smiled warmly. He grinned at the sight of her rosy cheeks and the little puffs of her breath drifting off into the cold air.
"G'morning beautiful!" he said casually as he pulled her sideways into a half-hug. "Is Remus already up and away?"
"Yes he is." She nodded, her hair tickling his cheek. "I hung onto him long enough to feed him a good breakfast, but he was in a solemn mood. I expect he's gone off to find some solitude for a while. I'm sorry — I know you wanted to talk to him a bit about the Hogwarts paperwork."
Harry shrugged. "I doubt this morning would have been a great time for that anyway. I'll track him down this evening at the castle."
"The castle..." Ginny sighed.
Harry smiled wistfully at her. "You feel the same way as I do, don't you?"
Ginny nodded. "Yes. This is our home now, Harry! I hate to keep leaving it."
"We're not going to keep leaving it for much longer." Harry pulled back with a small smile. "Come June, I'm resigning from Hogwarts."
"Are you sure?" she asked, biting her lower lip uncertainly.
He nodded. "I think so. Have you ever noticed how none of the Hogwarts faculty are paired up? It's a terrible place for any couple to be, especially a young couple. Accommodations are lousy; there's minimal privacy, ridiculous schedules, and most meals are shared with hundreds of students." He squeezed Ginny's shoulder, pulling her closer. "Besides, the things that I teach have fallen way down on the school priority list now that the war is over. There's no way the school can continue to support two DADA positions, and I'm worried that if I push McGonagall to sustain my faculty line, she might have to squeeze Caldwell out. So..." he grinned broadly, gazing at their pretty little house. "I'd ay my dear fiancée and I should start dreaming up our next great life adventure, don't you think?"
The kiss on his cheek was all the answer he needed.
"Come on," he said, "I'll help you with the wards and then we can finish packing."
For a while they worked in silence, each choosing alternating vertical strips of the exterior to bolster, and leap-frogging their way around the house. Standing side by side in a patch of sunshine on the southwest corner of the house, though, Ginny decided to speak her mind. "It's a good point you made about Hogwarts being a difficult place for young couples, Harry. So what do you think about Remus starting up there, though?"
Harry sighed. "That thought had obviously occurred to me. But it might be the least of his worries right now."
Ginny nodded somberly. "I thought you might say that. As I mentioned, he wasn't in the mood to talk much this morning so I'm still in the dark about what happened last night. Did you make any headway with Tonks?"
"Perhaps." Harry nodded tepidly. "What she described doesn't make much sense. Basically things were going along okay... not great perhaps, but no major complaints... then suddenly, inexplicably the situation went utterly haywire."
"Kind of like the incident with Ron?" Ginny suggested.
"Yes, a similar level of sudden irrationality as with Ron." Harry ran a hand through his hair. "Without warning, Remus seems to have gone berserk with fear, and started throwing things at Tonks. Despite his panic and delirium, he managed to Disapparate before she could subdue him. It all seemingly happened right after he and Tonks both took a shot of Firewhisky; Tonks said that a single shot threw her into momentary confusion too, so she's going to have DMLE Magical Diagnostics and Forensics run some poison, potion and charm scans on the remnants of the bottle and glass."
"Wow — how patently bizarre!" Ginny chewed her lip. "But Firewhisky, Harry? Do you suppose there's any parallel with Ted Nott?"
Harry stared at her. "I hadn't thought of that."
"No, it's not an obvious connection," Ginny continued. "With Nott, the natural assumption, even for us, was that he's erratic and disturbed because of what he's been through the past while. But once you see someone rock-solid like Remus get hit by something strange and unknown, you have to ask whether it's part of a trend and wonder whether anyone else has experienced something similar."
"That's an excellent thought, Gin'." Harry began to pace. "When I spoke to Nott before Christmas, I was so set in my mind on letting him know that I forgave him. It never even occurred to me to consider the possibility that I might be forgiving him for something that wasn't even his fault. Maybe I should ask him a few delicate questions about what he really experienced that night."
"But it would leave Ron out of the common thread if we focus on the Firewhisky business though," Ginny admitted as she tucked a loose lock of hair behind her ear. "He hadn't gone any where near a drink before coming to Dolwyddelan."
"That's true." Harry stopped and gazed absently off into the trees. "But I still like that we're thinking a bit more creatively now. Suppose Nott's and Remus's cases are related, but maybe in some other way? Suppose Firewhisky is not the common link?"
"Ah!" Ginny mused. "So what could be some other possible common threads? And can we think of something that ties in Ron too?"
"Maybe something to do with weakness or distraction, or..." Harry paused in deliberation, "Or maybe some seed of irrationality that the magic could somehow seek out and amplify?" He began strolling around the property line, with Ginny following.
Pausing to banish a fallen branch, Harry straightened up and nodded to himself. "I think one can argue easily enough that Ron's frustration was making him behave irrationally. Ted Nott was quite drunk, which of course wouldn't lend itself to sound judgment. Remus can't have been too inebriated, but this holiday season seems to have been unusually difficult for him. I would have thought that the job offer from McGonagall and the engagement to Tonks should have him sky high but he's often drifting off toward some unresolved anxieties... residual sadness from the war; some regret over Sirius, I suppose."
Ginny nodded. "That could be. It seems very subtle and unsensational though — you're basically claiming that maybe there's some magic afoot that is messing with people who are prone to being messed with. I get the feeling that more than half the Auror Department would call that theory completely dotty?"
"Yes," Harry admitted, "but I'm still going with it because you might even be able to use the premise to extend to the eerie and unsettling experiences that Tonks and I had. "
"True." Unconsciously, Ginny took his hand. "You did say that Tonks felt momentarily disoriented around the time that Remus lost it, and you yourself felt strange just before Ron went kamikaze?"
Harry nodded. "We both noticed something strange, but perhaps we either weren't as distracted as Remus or Ron, or else we unconsciously blocked it. Whatever it is.
"So, when you were speaking to Tonks this morning, was she able to give you any other interesting details that you might be able to mine for correlations?" Ginny inquired.
"No, she didn't really say anything else about the incident, but..."
"But?" Ginny pursued.
"Well something happened while we were talking." Harry ran his hand through his hair again. Unable to concentrate on the warding spells, he tucked his wand back in his cloak and faced Ginny. "It was strange... and I don't think it's going to make it any easier to anchor any correlations."
Ginny shrugged. "Well, let's try anyway."
"Okay, Tonks and I were in the library; she had finished her recap of last night's misadventure and we were about to wrap up the conversation when Teri walked in and..."
"Oh dear..." Ginny groaned.
"Yes... oh dear..." Harry sighed. "Teri came in wanting to talk to me but when she noticed Tonks in there. Tonks gave her a friendly greeting, but it was like someone dumped a bucket of ice down the girl's back. Teri raced out of there like Tonks was a Lethifold or something. Before leaving the house I knocked on Teri's bedroom door to see if she was okay, but nobody answered."
"Teri got spooked seeing Tonks??" Ginny raised an incredulous eyebrow.
"Yes, it's pretty hard to figure why." Harry thrust his hands in his cloak pockets. "After Remus going bonkers on her last night, poor Tonks was on the verge of getting a complex; like she's some kind of snake-bit jinx."
"So, let me get this straight," Ginny began pacing a slow loop around Harry. "Teri rattles you, then drives Ron around the bend, but is petrified of Tonks who loves yet frightens Remus?"
Harry gave her a bewildered smirk.
Ginny frowned grimly. "Do you get the feeling that somebody with a really sick sense of humour is getting vicious, dangerous giggles out of all of this, and until we figure out the punch-line, the giggling is going to get nastier?"
"Yes," Harry agreed.
Raising her wand to cast another ward spell, Ginny shook her head in irritation. "Any idea what we do next?"
"Well, we need to start thinking about whether it's possible the problems might be arising from some variant of a confundus spell. Would you be willing to start thrashing your way through the library back at the castle tomorrow?"
"Beyond that, I should see if Nott is willing to talk to me about his unpleasant experiences, and..." Harry trailed off on a note distinctly lacking enthusiasm.
"And?" Ginny prompted after a moment.
"I've put this off as long as I could." Harry shrugged unhappily. "But I think it's time to pay a visit to somebody who has a reputation for being, er... very annoying."