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A/N: Now betaed.

For those who don't remember well the previous chapters, I've made a synopsis of the story; it's not very long to read and will make this chapter clearer, I hope. The link is my home page in my profile.

Apologises for the -looks it up- 6 month gap between this chapter and the last... It was supposed to be longer (the chapter, not the wait), but when I saw the wordcount I basically said 'fuck it'. 

Hope you'll enjoy it.


Chapter Seventeen: The Inheritance

Harry tiptoed into the room, careful not to make any noise. Aurors were usually good at being quiet, and additionally Harry was helped by his abnormally sharp night vision, which spared him twice the inconvenience of impaling his thigh on the bedside table’s sharp corner. Daphne’s steady breathing filled the silence, a familiar, friendly sound that made the tiny bedroom feel like a home. Harry sat on the bed, quickly removing his clothes before fishing pyjama bottoms from under his pillow. Despite his worries, he couldn’t hold back a contented sigh as he slid under the sheets. The day had been long.

Daphne moved beside him, and it appeared she hadn’t been asleep, after all. She had not felt the need to wear her pyjamas either. Harry’s concerns and fatigue were quickly relegated to a back corner of his mind, and he soon found out that Daphne had, too, plenty of energy to spare. As always, she smelled of apricots.

Half an hour later, a lethargic silence lay over the darkened bedroom like a thick, warm blanket. Harry stared up at the ceiling, Daphne’s head heavy on his shoulder, her hair sticking to his sweat-slick skin.

It was the third night in the second week of his stay in the Isiame city, and Harry was lying low.

During Auror training, ‘lying low’ had always sounded to him like a break from action. Ironically enough, he had never felt so overwhelmed with work since the end of his apprenticeship.

Every day started before the sun rose, when the cold was so biting it felt solid. He and other Isiames would make their shivering, stumbling way through the snow that had piled up in the street during the night and glowed blue under the fading starlight. Once out of the city, a long climb took them to a windswept plateau, the only spot in the mountain where they were allowed to let loose their uncontrolled talents. They had usually just caught their breath when Sao joined them to start the tutoring.

She was a demanding teacher, and they were all exhausted by the time they made their way back to the city. Daphne wasn’t part of their group, and as a result she and Harry didn’t see much of each other during the day; yet he was still staying at her house in the evenings. It was supposed to be temporary, but neither of them seemed in a hurry to find him a new house. Or indeed, a bed of his own.

Harry yawned. He was nearly stupid with tiredness; his sluggish brain worked in slow motion and his thoughts kept fraying away like undone knitting. However something nagged at him from the back of his mind, akin to a splinter in his foot — dim and vague, but annoying as hell, and succeeding perfectly in keeping him awake.

He frowned at the ceiling and sat up, gently taking his arm from under Daphne’s cheek. The cool air hit his bare back and shoulders and his head seemed to clear a little. After a while, he spoke up.

“You know what bothers me most about it all?”

A deep sigh answered him before Daphne’s voice, thick with sleep, rose from the heap of crumpled sheets and blankets behind him. “No, what?”

“Sao.” Harry frowned down at his clasped hands. “Either the woman’s unstable, or there’s a great deal I haven’t figured out yet.”

Daphne made a soft sound and turned over on her stomach, folding her arms under the pillow. “Why are you saying that?” she mumbled.

“All this talk about how they’ve been waiting for me,” said Harry. He shook his head, trying to shake off more of the drowsiness that fogged his brain. “Waiting for me to do what? Rebuild the Isiame nation?”

“Mmh. She told me you had something… Something royal. I think.”

“The Royal Family’s eyes,” Harry supplied.

“Yeah… That, and you’re really powerful or something. Can’t blame them for seeing it as a sign.”

Harry snorted. “Right, let’s talk about my so-called power. The only times I did something significant with it I killed two people and nearly smothered another.” He licked his lips. They felt dry and chapped.

There was another rustling of sheets beside him and Daphne’s hand came to rest lightly on his shoulder, running over his skin in slow, lazy circles. “In my opinion that’s all the more a reason to try to control it,” she pointed out. “Sao’s teaching you how, isn’t she?”

“Yeah, she is,” Harry sighed. “The first time, I thought she was going to start drooling in eagerness.”

Daphne’s breath exploded in quiet laughter. “Come on, she didn’t drool.

“It was a near thing.”

Daphne laughed again, her fingers now playing with the hair on the back of Harry’s neck, and he leant his head back into her hand with a sigh. The half-smile that had started to tug at his lips at Daphne’s reaction vanished as he recalled the old Isiame’s fervent face, her deep-set hazel eyes glittering with something like fanaticism. His feeling of unease grew sharper, fighting against the lazy contentment born from Daphne’s touch.

Uncrossing his legs, he slid them out from under the sheet and swung them over the edge of the bed, one hand self-consciously pulling the blanket up over his thighs and waist. The stone floor was cold enough to make his toes curl reflexively as he leant out of the bed and reached for his glasses on the bedside table. It was odd to feel all those little discomforts again. It made him feel more alive, more a part of this world than he’d felt in years — but it was also annoyingly distracting. Harry narrowed his eyes, focusing on acknowledging the sensation before pushing it out of his mind again.

And to think he needed to concentrate in order to do something a toddler could do without thinking; obviously, being back in the physical world took some getting used to. Although admittedly it wasn’t so bad as it had been on the first days.

Daphne emitted a groan of protest as Harry’s motion put him beyond her easy reach. “I don’t get it. Why are you torturing yourself over that?”

“It’s bothering me.” Harry rubbed at his face with one hand, the skin around his eyes stiff with the effort of keeping them open, before he slid his glasses on. “Something’s off.

“She says you’ve got power, she wants to teach you how to use it. What could possibly be off about that?”

“The whole leader thing she keeps hinting at,” he insisted. “I don’t like it. What am I expected to do, convince the Ministry to give them Hogwarts?”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Daphne propping herself up on one elbow. “Or rather, give it back. Hogwarts was an Isiame land to begin with, remember? It would only be fair if it were returned to them. Hell, there’s even an entire forest of Isiame spirits in the valley.”

“And there’s an entire castle of living wizards right beside it.”

“Who cares?” she said hotly. “They stole the land; they have no right to be there. What? You still believe the propaganda about the all-wise and benevolent founders after what we’ve seen? Harry, they massacred an entire people.”

“I know all that, but…” Harry shook his head again, struggling to find the right words. “Hogwarts… has been a magical school for over a millennium. Generations of kids went there, loved it and helped build it. For many of them it was their first contact with the magical world. For several, it was like a home. Three years ago, they fought and died to keep it whole.”

“It doesn’t make it any fairer,” Daphne countered, her tone hard. “The land belongs to the Isiames. I don’t see why I should care about those poor kids’ broken hearts over losing their precious school, if it wasn’t theirs to begin with.” She paused for a second. “And I don’t see why you should, either.”

“I’m attached to it.”

“But… What the hell, Harry. Hogwarts would still be your land, as well as mine, as well as any other Isiame’s. You’re not a wizard. Those people are nothing to you. Even though you saved their arses several times over, most of them still think you’re a madman who should be locked away. Why do you care?

Harry licked his lips. He thought of Robards, who had never missed an opportunity to belittle him all through his apprenticeship; of Hermione, locked into her Department and studying him as if he was a freak; of the Weasleys, nice to him for old times’ sake but keeping him at arm’s length; of the furtive glances he had received, and the gossip he had heard.

He thought of Ron and Luna.

Of Chloe Greengrass.

Of Sao’s hungry eyes.

“It sounds awfully convenient,” he suddenly murmured. “My best friends, a witch and a wizard, get shot. The entire wizarding world suspects me. And the sweet caring older sister sends me right into the arms of a pretty Isiame girl…”

Silence greeted his words — not the sleepy calm of earlier, but a sudden tightening of air between him and Daphne, crackling with tension.

“What did you just say?” Daphne finally breathed out.

Harry shook his head. “Just…thinking out loud.” There was a pregnant pause before he spoke again. “I need to talk to someone.”

He bent forward and felt around the stone floor until his fingers brushed against the coarse material of his jeans. The belt buckle chinked as he snatched them up and started sliding them on.

“Harry, wait.”

The mattress dipped behind him as Daphne rolled over and rose to her knees, holding the sheet to her front. She clenched a hand around his right elbow, and he paused in the act of rising to pull his trousers up over his hips to cast at her a questioning look. She looked alarmed.

“What — what was that? About a sister?” she stammered.

“I’ll explain later,” Harry said. He drew his arm back, but she held fast.

He frowned at her. “I’m going to need my arm, Daphne.”

“No. Don’t do that again. Don’t leave me to drive myself crazy with questions I don’t have answers for. Talk to me. Tell me what’s going on.”

“Look, there’s no point in worrying you with that for the moment. I need to set a few things straight—”

“No!” She moved closer to him, until her other hand came to rest on his shoulder. He could feel her breath on the side of his face, the sheet that covered her chest pressed against his back. “Harry — I helped you figuring things out, didn’t I? And we went through many things together…didn’t we?”

“We did,” Harry said, a little puzzled, and rather impatient to end the conversation. “What are you getting at?”

Her lips brushed against his earlobe as she spoke. “I don’t want to be just a clue.”

Harry blinked.

“What?” he said in one breath.

“I don’t want to be a clue in your investigation. An element of the riddle. Or the cumbersome sidekick who’s too stupid to actually help you out, and who’s easily shut up with a quick shag.”

“I didn’t—”

“Maybe you didn’t mean it to come out that way.” Her voice was very quiet, barely over a whisper. “But that’s what it felt like. You drag me along, give me orders, drop me off somewhere without explaining anything to me—”


“After the Trees’ Song, there was a moment where we were talking, and I thought you were finally seeing me as something more than an inconvenience. More than just…luggage. And now you’re doing it again. You’re going to leave me here again.”

Her hands slid from his arm, from his shoulder, and the warmth of her breath vanished as she let herself fall back and away from him. Harry sat there with his jeans half-on, stunned and struggling to process what had just happened. His first reaction was impatience at how she had interpreted his actions — there hadn’t been any time for more socialising, he had only done what was necessary under the circumstances — but then a curious feeling settled in, something slow and quiet but most unpleasant, a twisting sensation in his stomach that he hadn’t experienced in a long time. It felt suspiciously like guilt.

His face heated up and he let out a frustrated sigh. Daphne hadn’t always been a treat. She had yelled at him, mocked him, gone against him at almost every opportunity, and had even held him at wand point… And yet, she had been the one in need, the one lost in the dark, the one he was supposed to help and protect — and for the past days, she had also helped him, and been the first woman whose touch he had experienced since his teenage years.

And most of the time, he had acted exactly as she had described. Damnit.

He leant backwards, twisting his upper body towards her and resting his forearm on the sheets behind him to support his weight, and turned his head to look at her. She sat in the middle of the bed with her knees brought up to her chest, her arms around her legs, her blond head a clear spot in the obscurity that drowned the room. Harry swallowed. He had important things to do — but if he left her now, he wasn’t sure he would be able to look at her in the face the following morning.

And Daphne Greengrass had become someone he wanted to see, talk to, and touch. If he found himself unable to do so, he would miss her. A lot.

“Look,” he started, then fell silent. Truth be told, he had absolutely no idea what he could tell her.

Seconds went by, and turned into minutes. Harry’s malaise grew until he had to fight the urge to squirm. Daphne said nothing.

He finally settled for, “I’m sorry.”

It came out hoarse and strained. He cleared his throat and tried again. “I mean, I’m not much used to — well, for the past years I’ve pretty much acted solo. All the time. I didn’t really have a partner to talk to, I didn’t have friends I trusted enough, and, well… as far as relationships go…”

His voice trailed away, and he couldn’t work up the nerve to go on. His life over the past three years had been horribly lonely — the kind of loneliness that gnawed at the heart like an old, purulent wound, the dull pain a bearable but constant background. He didn’t feel comfortable exposing his weaknesses and his wounds to anyone. There was something indecent about the idea.

So he shut up. He turned on his stomach and dipped his head, resting his forehead on Daphne’s arm, and stayed that way for a few moments.

Then he said again, in a very low voice, “I’m sorry. I don’t consider you as luggage at all. I’m glad you’re here.”

Daphne moved her arm from under his forehead and raked her fingers through his hair, in a slow, purposeful caress. “Don’t leave me tonight.”

Harry heaved a sigh. “I want to ask Eunice about some things. I think…I feel there’s something she’s not telling me. As if she had her own schedule. I need to confront her about a couple of coincidences—”

“It’ll be time for that tomorrow, Harry.” Daphne’s voice got deeper, quieter. Harry found himself listening to the rhythm of her words more than to the meaning of them, and it was strangely appeasing. “Right now, you need sleep… You’re exhausted…”

All of sudden, Harry’s eyelids dropped as if they were made of lead, and it became inhumanly difficult to lift them back up. Daphne’s voice was still all around him, soft, pleasant, whispering, and his limbs felt heavier, warm drowsiness clouded his mind again, and although he dimly felt there was something imperative he needed to do, something that he couldn’t quite recall, it had all become of secondary importance. He raised a hand to rub at his eyes, clear his mind a little, but his fingers met the hideously cold and hard glass of his spectacles — such sensations had no place in all the warmth and softness. He tore them off his face, and his eyes fluttered shut at last.

Daphne rose to her knees again, letting him drop heavily to the bed, and bent over him to push his jeans off his legs. He had just enough senses left to slide his body back under the sheets — then his head was pillowed by Daphne’s stomach, his arms curling around her — and then he smoothly glided into sleep.


He woke up to an empty bed and a pounding headache.

He rolled onto his back with a groan of discomfort, eyes tightly shut against the dim morning light that poured into the room from between the drawn curtains. The room was completely silent, and he was pretty sure he was alone, but just to be certain he started rummaging in the dishevelled blankets with a hesitant hand; the spot he had been occupying ten seconds ago was still warm, but anywhere else, the sheets were almost uncomfortably cool. Daphne had left hours ago.

He cracked an eye open and squinted at the blur of greys that filled his vision. The migraine pulsed from the back of his skull, disturbingly similar to the headache he had got from the Song of the Trees ten days before, although on a mercifully smaller scale. He sat up with cautious motions, careful not to worsen the pain, and groped around for his glasses.

He frowned. They weren’t in the sheets, where he thought he had dropped them the night before. They weren’t on the bedside table either, and when, losing his patience, he resolved to Summon them and brushed his fingers against the stone floor in search for his wand, he couldn’t find it either. The floor was completely bare. Even his clothes were gone.

A switch went off inside of him. He slowly sat back on the bed, the annoyance and growing panic abruptly vanishing to be replaced by an eerie, cold kind of calmness. His migraine had receded to a feeble ache over his eyes, leaving his thoughts and memories crystal clear.

It wasn’t a coincidence if the headache felt the same as in the Forest. It was a fair bet Daphne’s singing was something similar to the Song of the Trees, albeit less potent. She had put him to sleep. Again.

Then she had fled with his glasses, wand, and clothes. He had been played like a child.

Harry lay back on the bed and stared unseeingly at the ceiling, as deaf to the roaring whirlwind of emotions inside him as if they belonged to another person. He did not move at all, save for his hands, which clenched and unclenched spasmodically on the sheets.

She should have been more thorough.

Five minutes later, a white wolf trotted along the street of the Isiame city, indifferent to the awed stares that followed him. The sky was of a blind white, the snow dazzling. The inhabitants of the city were busy getting rid of the snow that had accumulated on the narrow paths, as it had the day before; Harry noted as he passed that they used fire to melt it before directing the water towards the drainpipes that cascaded down the mountain. He tore his eyes from the view and picked up speed.

He could not believe that transforming had been so easy, while it was still more than a week before the next full moon. The Isiames’ presence made it smoother, of course: from the moment he had stepped inside the city, he had felt, in the back of his mind, what Sao had often talked about — the longing to be part of the pack. It had been disturbingly easy to let this longing take possession of him. The difficulty, when he had opened his eyes again to find himself transformed, had been to remember what needed to be done.

He was in control now, though. He had an idea where Daphne might have run off to; she had probably wanted to question Eunice or Sao, who both lived in the large house in the middle of the city. If he was wrong, he would have to think of something else.

He reached his destination within minutes. He ran lightly over the steps that climbed towards the porch, pushed the door open with his snout and entered the house. The main hall was empty, but smells lingered there, several of them. He thought he caught the faintest whiff of apricot.

Following his sense of smell, Harry explored the house, silent as a ghost. The high-ceilinged corridors were deserted; most of the glass balls that had been full of dancing flames were now extinguished. It was simple to find the only room still inhabited by living beings — he located it on the second floor, on the eastern side.

Just as he bounded up a staircase, however, something else caught his attention — he couldn’t tell if it was a sound, a smell or just instinct, but at this instant he was sure someone else was in the house, a long way under him, deep in the insides of the mountain. The fur on his back bristled. He froze on the top of the stairs, all his senses alert.

The feeling didn’t come back. All was silent and cold down there.

He averted his gaze and set off again, aiming for the only lit room along the corridor; he could see shadows dancing on the curtain hanging in the doorframe, cast there by flickering flames. However he had lost the calm sense of purpose that had filled him ever since he had transformed, and in spite of himself, kept his ears strained to catch sounds coming from lower floors.

“…know who he was talking about?” came Daphne’s urgent voice. Harry’s attention snapped back to the present. He slowed down to a halt behind the curtain, as Eunice’s troubled voice answered.

“My dear, I cannot be sure… From what you told me, he probably meant your own sister had arranged your encounter… But she is a witch, we are sure of that. We checked when we discovered your own true nature, years ago, when you failed your Apparition tests in a most suspicious way.”

“That’s the point! Why would my sister be associated with you? Wizards don’t want anything to do with Isiames! Couldn’t it be just a coincidence?”

There was a rustling of clothes, and the slow thudding sounds of pacing feet. “I’m afraid I agree with Mr. Potter here. It does sound very convenient.”


“When you have lived as long as I have, Daphne, you know interference when you see it…” A hint of anger sharpened the old Isiame’s voice and the pacing stopped. “I need to talk to Sao, I think. Meanwhile, maybe you should give his clothes back to Mr. Potter. I doubt he will appreciate the situation much.”

“I…” In his mind’s eye, Harry clearly saw Daphne squirming on the spot, uncomfortable and resenting it. “Well, on my way down I’ll ask Brandon to give them back to him in an hour. I need a little time to figure things out. He’s infuriating — won’t tell me anything — but I need to know. He’ll get hurt, and stupidly, if he keeps trying to do everything on his own.”

“I’m afraid that is not an option, my dear. He’s waiting just outside the room.”

There were a few seconds of shocked silence, on both sides of the curtain. Harry was the first to recover and started forward once more; the hanging cloth slid off his shoulders with a sighing sound as he crossed the threshold.

He found himself in a small bedroom, lit by a single glass ball hanging near the ceiling. The furniture was sparse: a narrow bed, a single chair on which Daphne now sat, her eyes wide and her mouth gaping, and a desk; but the walls were entirely painted in an immense fresco of rolling hills and skies at different times of the day and year, dotted here and there with figures — men, women and animals — meticulously and perfectly depicted. The effect was startling. It was hard to believe they were still inside a mountain.

“Hello, Mr. Potter,” said Eunice with a gracious smile. The old woman stood by the desk, her tall frame stooped over her staff. “It is a pleasure to see you, but unfortunately my duties call me elsewhere; forgive me if I leave you in the care of Miss Greengrass for the time being. I think you need to talk anyway.”

The Isiame nodded to him, then to a still petrified Daphne, before she calmly walked out of the room. The thudding sound of her staff faded in the distance.

Harry turned his Wolf’s eyes on Daphne. She swallowed audibly.

“Potter?” she tentatively said. “That… is that really you?”

Harry concentrated — it was much harder now, so much harder to give up his animal form than to accept it — and in moments he stood on his two feet again; his vision blurred instantly, and the cold crashed on his bare shoulders like a tidal wave.

“Care to give me my wand and clothes back?” he asked, doing his best to prevent the chattering of his teeth.

Daphne didn’t even protest. She let a bundle of clothes fall from her arms to the floor, and Harry quickly got dressed.

“Didn’t know you were an Animagus,” she said dully.

“I’m not.” He weighted his wand in his hand, before whirling about and pointing it at her. “Don’t ever do that again.”

He was surprised to hear how cold he sounded — he had not realised himself how much she had angered him. In fact, his fury, momentarily forgotten in the thrill of his transformation, was now causing his knuckles to turn white around his wand; and even to him his reaction seemed quite disproportionate to the little trick she had played on him.

Daphne flinched and looked away from him, but there was defiance in her voice when she answered. “I just meant to—”

“I don’t care what you meant!”

Harry’s voice exploded in the tiny room and sent echoes bouncing wildly in the corridor beyond the curtain. Daphne started and paled, visibly scared. Harry found that his other hand was clenched into a fist at his side; blood pounded against his temples. He didn’t even try to lower his voice.

“I don’t care what went through your head, Greengrass. Never do that again. Never manoeuvre me like that again. You use that Song on me one more time, and I’ll make sure you lose the ability to sing or talk at all.”

He stared at her. From white her face had gone scarlet; she did not say anything but looked down, her arms crossed over her chest in a defensive stance. Her hair fell, obscuring her expression. She looked defeated and scared, and Harry spun around and left before he said or did something stupid.

He strode through the mountain, still burning with the fury that had exploded inside him at the sight of Daphne — the very same Daphne who had made him feel ashamed the previous day, complaining of his lack of trust. The irony of the situation would have made him laugh if he wasn’t feeling like blasting the whole mountain apart. He remembered the way she had cowered while he screamed at her; his teeth ground together audibly. He had completely lost his self-control.

He hated that her little stunt of this morning should affect him so much. She was supposed to be a witness, a clue, a liability; what she had done — what he had let her do — was nothing but a slip from his part and a small contretemps. It was not supposed to make him fly off the handle like a novice.

Harry soon reached the bottom of the main staircase to find himself in the hall, with its forest of carved pillars and its two chimneys drawing on the floor a shadow show. He was so absorbed in his thoughts that he hardly paid attention to his surroundings, and as a result, when Eunice’s voice called his name from between two nearby pillars, he jumped and automatically reached for his wand.

“What?” he snapped, annoyed at being caught — yet again — unawares. After a second or two of thinking, he drew his wand anyway and kept it ready at his side.

The old Isiame noticed his move but made no comment at all. She took a few steps towards him, before halting and calling over her shoulder, “Sao — I wish you to be present.”

There was a shuffling of feet and the second Isiame came into view, as suddenly as though she had taken off an invisibility cloak — but Harry then realised that she had merely been hidden by the irregular pattern of shadows cast by the stone pillars.

“It won’t be necessary, my lady,” said Sao. “I have understood my lesson.”

“Have you really?” said Eunice scathingly. “You told me the same thing many times, and I was foolish enough to believe you. It won’t happen again. I do not think you care that my rank commands your obedience, but I know you will care if the last Knight’s son knows of some of your doings.”

Harry’s first impulse had been to say he wanted nothing to do with Isiames’ internal politics, but the intonation of Eunice’s last words froze the answer on his lips. A dull malaise twisted his stomach. He had a feeling he would not like what he was about to hear.

Eunice had struck true. Sao’s wizened face had turned paper-white, and she seemed to shrivel and stoop under her superior and Harry’s gazes. But when she lifted her head again, her eyes glinted as hard as agates. “My lady will do as she pleases,” she said. “I regret nothing.”

“I thought not.”

“Excuse me,” Harry interrupted. “What’s going on?”

Eunice’s deep blue eyes came to rest thoughtfully on him.

“I do not like wizards much, Mr. Potter, for reasons you will easily understand. However, I do not wish them harm. I am among those who think Isiames should have gone into hiding when wizards first attacked them. That is still what I wish, that Isiames could have their own civilisation beside the wizards’. I do not want anything to do with them. I do not consort with them, and I forbade anyone to do so.

“Yet, it seems Sao here always thought all means were good as long as we got what we wanted. Several times, she had contacts with wizards or witches, and put in peril our secrets in order to reach her goals.”

“Our goals,” Sao murmured. “My lady.”

Harry and Eunice both ignored her. “You mean she’s got a hand in this?” asked Harry. “That she told Chloe Greengrass to send me to her sister?”

“She has admitted as much to me. But she did not limit herself to this. If I understood her correctly, she altered the young witch’s will enough to turn her into her personal spy. That is apparently how she learnt about your Wolf form, and about you using your full power to kill a man. So she was able to tell me about it.”

Harry frowned. “But Chloe Greengrass never knew about my—” He broke off as realisation dawned on him. Chloe Greengrass did not know about his Wolf form or Malfoy’s death, but her boyfriend did.

Lance, you stupid drunkard…

Even as Harry struggled to wrap his mind around the consequences of Eunice’s revelations, the Isiame softly went on, “And I’m starting to suspect who sent the archers after your three friends, nearly a year ago.”

It was like a physical blow: in a split second, the images of Healer Parletoo, Luna and Ron’s white faces and empty eyes flashed through his mind, bringing with them the guilt and helplessness that had eaten at him when they had been found with arrows sticking out of their backs. As soon as they had come, however, they were washed away by a fresh wave of blind fury. Before he knew it, his wand was pointed at Sao’s face.

“Is that true?” he said.

The old woman stared unblinkingly at him.

“Is that true?” Harry bellowed, and once again, a cacophony of distorted echoes answered him.

Sao lowered her grey head.

“For the cause, it is sometimes necessary to make sacrifices,” she intoned. “I am sorry I caused you distress.”

“Distress,” Harry repeated, his mouth twisted in a snarl. “I should kill you.”

Sao did not answer, and Harry’s eyes narrowed as they focused on her stooped silhouette, on the gnarled hand gripping the staff. Would she try her magic against his? He did not care much if she did. A Killing Curse was worth all the Isiame magic in the world.

“I think I’m going to,” he added.

“I think not,” Eunice cut in. “Sao’s actions were inconsiderate and distasteful, but she does not deserve death.”

“My friends aren’t much more than dead because of her!” shouted Harry.

“Sao,” said Eunice. “The wizards’ state. Is it permanent?”

Sao looked from her superior to Harry, then said in a low, defiant voice, “I only did it to preserve our secrets, which you all are so concerned about. Wizards must not want to remember us. I always protect my tracks, Lady Eunice, that I swear.”

“By poisoning your sources?”

“Someone with power could reverse it, my Lady. They won’t be damaged.”

“Good. That’s all I wanted to know.” Eunice turned cool blue eyes on Harry. “The magic will be reversed, on the condition that you will not reveal anything to the wizard healers. You have my word.”

Harry slightly lowered his wand, his gaze still locked to Sao’s.

“You said you only did it to protect your secrets,” he said. “But I think it was a very good way to break my last ties with the wizarding world, make me wish I were an Isiame. Wasn’t it?”

Sao and Eunice both looked taken aback.

“Wish you were an Isiame?” repeated Eunice. “But you are one. Besides, didn’t wizards cut you from their society themselves, treating you like a foe rather than like their saviour?”

Harry pressed his lips tightly together, unconvinced. The idea that he had spent most of the last ten days following the instructions of the woman who had sent archers after Ron and Luna drove him insane. He felt he should have known, somehow, that he should have guessed what she had done — he had never liked her, but had never suspected she could resort to such measures.

He also realised it was the first time in weeks that he spared a thought for Ron and Luna. Shame mingled with his confusion and anger.

Then he thought of Lance and Chloe Greengrass. He needed to do something about them, and fast.

“If you’ll excuse me,” he said, “there’s someone I need to meet. But don’t think it’s over,” he added for Sao’s benefit.

He turned his back on them and hurried for the door. As he walked out of the house then down the path, towards the other side of the mountain where the Elemental Gate had been built, he fingered in his pocket an empty cigar box Robards had given him at the end of their last meeting.


Robards’ Portkey released him and fell to the floor with a loud clatter of metal on stone. The abrupt halt caused Harry to stagger a little; he quickly regained his balance, looked round, and the shockingly familiar sight that met his eyes nearly made him lose his footing again.

The first snow of the year blanketed the ground, clinging to the small gardens and the roofs of low houses that lined up along the street, where the snow had already been turned to grey mud. The ground he stood on had been cleared, and the stone slabs glistened wetly, reflecting the light pouring from the multiple square panes of frosted glass of the two windows behind him. The Portkey had taken him to the threshold of the Three Broomsticks, in Hogsmeade.

But it was not the Hogsmeade in ruins in the wake of the war, or the Hogsmeade haunted by mad werewolves: it was the village of old, peopled with a crowd of black-cloaked students, calling happily to each other and enjoying a rare weekend out of the school grounds.

It seemed Professor McGonagall had managed to reinstitute Hogsmeade weekends. Harry marvelled at the Headmistress’s nerve.

A couple of teenage girls nearly bumped into him as they hurried inside the bar, and Harry, remembering what he had come for, shook himself and entered after them. The bar was crowded by the same laughing and chattering throng he had known during his own excursions to Hogsmeade, years before, and he needed a couple of minutes before spotting Robards’ massive silhouette — he was crammed behind a table on a chair that strained under his weight. Harry hid a smirk and quickly made his way to his Head of Office. The whole place felt stuffed and hot, although outside of the Isiame city, he could not really feel anything; but the growing sensations of nausea and claustrophobia were real enough. He was glad to reach the quieter, cooler corner Robards had elected for their meeting.

“The Three Broomsticks, sir?” he said as he pulled a chair back to sit opposite his superior. “Not quite…what I’d expected.”

Robards snorted. “I hope not. An Auror who behaves as expected is a poor one indeed. Besides, nothing’s a better cover than a crowd of brats. Does the waitress know you or something?”

“Madam Rosmerta? She must remember me from—”

“Nah, not the barmaid with the huge tits. Girl around twenty, dark hair, pointed chin, average height?”

“Oh.” Harry shifted in his seat, a little uncomfortable. Robards smirked, his piggy eyes on him, and Harry forced himself to sit still and talk in a businesslike voice. “That would be Romilda Vane, sir. She left Hogwarts a couple of years after I did. Why are you asking?”

“Been stealing glances at you.” Robards took a long cigar out of his pocket and stuck it in the corner of his mouth, looking half-amused and half-annoyed. “If I knew you had a girlfriend or ex-girlfriend working here, I’d have chosen a different place for our meeting. That’s the kind of stuff that ruins a cover just fine, you know.”

“No worse than smoking a cigar that asphyxiates half the room, sir,” Harry replied through gritted teeth. His right hand was trembling a little. Something very much like withdrawal grated on his nerves; his body reacted badly to the loss of his sense of touch.

Robards snorted again, coughing out a cloud of smoke that made Harry’s eyes water. “Well, finally. I was starting to wonder if you’d ever behave like James Potter’s son. The number of times that lad told me to go to hell, when all you’ve ever done is press your lips together and say ‘yes sir’ in that constipated voice of yours… Man, the woman who raised you must’ve been tight-arsed.”

Harry’s eyes widened behind his glasses, and for a second he was distracted from his growing annoyance and his torturing need to go back to the Isiame city. “Excuse me?”

“Obviously, your father didn’t have girlfriends,” said Robards. “Since he got married right out of Hogwarts. But yeah, he had a big problem with authority. Not stupid, and competent, but couldn’t keep his damn mouth shut. Got his arse kicked a few times over it.” He thoughtfully pulled on his cigar. “I liked him quite a bit. If he had been given the time to learn some self-control, he would’ve made a damn fine Auror.”

“But he went into hiding,” Harry completed. “Look, I need—”

“Nah, he was kicked out. A pity. We were at war, he was one of the best fighters, nearly at your level; those kinds of apprentices aren’t chucked out unless they’ve committed an actual crime, and to my knowledge he never… well, there was talk of a duel, with some guy who had looked at Mrs Potter a little too closely, but it’s common as hell. Maybe the guy got badly hurt and had enough connections to get back at Potter. That story is really—”

“Sir,” Harry impatiently cut in. “This is fascinating, but I’m in a hurry.”

Robards raised his eyebrows at him from behind a haze of blue smoke. “In a hurry,” he repeated in a frosty tone, clearly hurt at being interrupted in the middle of his reminiscence. “Fine. Your report?”

Harry turned his glass between his fingers, and as he did so, became aware of the film of sweat that shone on the back of his hands. He pulled them back and hid them under the table, clasping them together on his lap to stop their trembling. Robards’ stare was burning a hole in his forehead. He had to refrain from clearing his throat — it would only have made matters worse.

“Daphne Greengrass.” He paused, grimacing. The mixture of contradictory emotions the name evoked lay heavy in his stomach like a badly digested meal. “The girl is tied to the entire mystery. I don’t know exactly how, but she seems to be related to those ancient creatures I mentioned at our meeting at Lance Colman’s; maybe through a distant ancestor, or something the creatures did to her. If you recall, she was chosen to accommodate me for my cover-mission in Frog End, a couple of weeks ago.”

Robards’ brows knit in confusion. “A bit much to be a coincid — ah. Chloe Greengrass.” He reached out to crush the end of his cigar on Rosmerta’s polished tabletop. “Damnit, I liked that girl. Quiet and competent. But obviously she’s been playing some little game I don’t like. Probably working with the Unspeakables… Ah, that’s disgusting. Way to ruin my day. But fine, I’ll have her watched.”

Harry nodded his approbation. “Daph — the younger Greengrass isn’t aware that I guessed about her sister. I’d like to keep it that way.” He thought of mentioning Lance and decided against it. He had trouble believing Lance would have wished him harm — he had been imprudent, most likely. Either way, Harry wanted to check himself before he turned him in to Robards.

“Sounds good,” Robards was saying. “I’ll make sure she doesn’t suspect anything.”

“I’ll also need a break to visit my friends in St. Mungo’s, sir,” Harry added.

Robards’ thick face twisted into a scowl. “Half an hour today,” he grumbled.

“Thank you. The Greengrass woman and I are in a safe location. I’m not sure whether she’s completely innocent or has her own agenda, and even though she wants to stay close to me for protection, I need to leave her from time to time — as I’m doing now.” Harry leant back in his chair, his eyes locked to the empty glass sitting on the table. “I need something to watch her while I’m away.”

He liked the way his voice sounded — brittle and dry as an autumn leaf. No emotion. Not even a hint of resentment.

Robards nodded as he puffed out a fresh cloud of fragrant bluish smoke. The smoke hung in the air between them, then started swirling under the Head Auror’s pensive gaze, going faster and faster until all Harry could see was a small whirlwind of opaque blue fog.

“Enough,” said Robards. “Clear.”

His wand was suddenly in his hand, even though Harry never saw him draw it, and it moved, the tip of it level with the tabletop. The whirlwind shattered, the smoke crumbling away in cotton-like little fragments, to reveal — a robe button.

It was just a plain, grey button sitting there on the tabletop, dull and small and absolutely uninteresting. Harry looked at it with a frown, then cast Robards an enquiring glance. Robards jerked his head towards it.

“A grass. You need to charm it sewn in place of one of Greengrass’ buttons, and it will take the aspect of the normal button; at the same time, it’ll record anything Greengrass says and does. The Aurors’ password and a simple revealing charm are enough to replay all of her actions. You need to have access to her clothes, though.”

“That won’t be a problem.” Not a line in Harry’s face moved, even when Robards studied him with narrowed eyes.

“Well, good,” said Robards. “Is that all you needed to tell me?”

“Yes sir.”

“Fine. I’ll be off.” Robards lifted his considerable weight off the chair, which groaned and creaked as if in relief, and adjusted the cloak on his broad shoulders. “Maybe take the time to talk to that girlfriend or ex-girlfriend of yours,” he said as he absently checked his pocket watch. “As a diversion.”

Harry opened his mouth to reply, but Robards had turned on his heel and vanished into thin air. Inside the Three Broomsticks, despite the anti-Apparition charms.

Harry glared at his empty glass. He hated it when his Head of Office went out of his way to remind him how much he still had to learn.

Caution commanded that he didn’t linger in the bar for too long, and his raw nerves and trembling hands made him long for the peace found at the Isiame city, however Harry remained sitting. For the first time in weeks, he was short of ideas. He would talk to Lance, Obliviate him if necessary, then see Ron and Luna at St Mungo’s, then place the grass on Daphne’s clothes — then what? What was he still looking for?

The mystery of his identity was seemingly solved, yet he was unsatisfied. Pieces were missing from the jigsaw. He felt detached from other Isiames, as he did from other wizards. Sao had assured him it was a temporary impression but he wasn’t feeling too inclined to believe anything the old Isiame said now. His origins still felt murky, impure, even. His mother had been the last knight of Isiames, the guardian of their secret domain; but most of all, she had been a witch, a witch who had married a wizard.

Speaking of which, what part had James played in all this? Had he been aware of what his wife was? As he evoked the memory of his father, Harry was suddenly reminded of the Trees’ memory in which he had seen teenage James Potter pick up Pallas’ fallen sword. How could he have forgotten it, how could he have failed to wonder what that scene had meant? Had James been chosen to be a wizards’ defender of some sort, the way Lily had been the Isiames’ knight?

Harry absentmindedly rubbed at the old scar on his forehead. That notion made him deeply uncomfortable: if his theory turned out to be accurate, his parents had found themselves to be rivals, worse, mortal enemies. Yet they had got married, and had both died trying to save him…

And how much all this clashed with Robards’ tale, that of a rash young wizard duelling another for looking at his wife too closely! Compared to what Harry had uncovered about his parents, this bit sounded so ridiculously — mundane.

Harry lost himself in thoughts of his father. What had Pallas’ sword done? The more he thought about it, the more intrigued he was, even though it seemed to have little to do with his current problems. Rosalyn’s sword had disappeared; had Pallas’ gone missing as well? Now that would be a funny coincidence…

But how could he know?


Harry’s hand blurred as it dove inside his pocket and drew his wand out, as though it was animate with its own life — and he needed a couple of seconds to realise he was jamming his wand in the stomach of a very shocked Romilda Vane.

Harry blinked. “Er, sorry about that,” he said, hastily dropping his wand. “I’m a bit nervous lately.”

“So I see,” said Romilda shakily with a brave attempt at a smile. “I just wanted to ask if you wished to drink anything else?”

He was about to decline politely when Robards’ advice came back to him. Perhaps talking to her wasn’t such a bad idea after all; he needed to take his mind off business for a while. “Sure,” he said. “If you join me.”

Her eyebrows rose and a small smile tugged at her lips in what looked like pleasant surprise.

“Oh, well… I suppose I could,” she said in a tone that was already an assent. “I’ll ask Rosmerta if I can take a break. What do you want to drink?”

Harry ordered a Butterbeer — he had already had a Firewhisky and needed his wits about him — and watched her make her way through the throng of customers to the bar, where she leant forward to whisper in Rosmerta’s ear. She had a nice silhouette, he noticed; taller than Daphne, and not as slight, but slim and healthy. A few Hogwarts students shot surreptitious glances at her, some of them openly ogling her legs which were bare under the knees.

Harry suddenly realised he was doing the exact same thing and straightened up in his chair, snorting a little at his own behaviour. A minute later Romilda was back, two tankards balanced adroitly on her tray.

“Here you go,” she said, placing one before him. “So, where’ve you been? I haven’t seen you since we met at the grounds’ entrance.” She gave a barely perceptible pause. “You were with a…a witness, is that it? A blonde.”

A picture of Daphne’s golden hair spilled over his chest flashed before Harry’s eyes. He tightened his jaw and forced her out of his mind.

“Yes, I dropped her off to a safe place,” he said. “Been travelling since then. I see Hogsmeade weekends have started up again?”

He gestured at the crowd of joyously chattering students.

Romilda beamed. “Oh, yeah. The Ministry set up a kind of ward around the village to keep the werewolves out — the only problem is that it keeps us in, too, but it’s not as if we want to take a walk on full moons. Anyway, McGonagall convinced the mayor to ask that Hogwarts visits be allowed again. Since the mayor won’t leave Hogsmeade, I’m arranging things with McGonagall instead. She wanted me specifically.” She laughed. “She said I was the only one who wasn’t stupid with fright yet in the entire village.”

“That’s great,” said Harry with complete sincerity. “It’s awesome to see the village like this again.”

“I know. McGonagall knows how to get what she wants.” She took a sip of her Butterbeer, her eyes unfocused and turned towards the north window, behind which, Harry knew, one could see the castle in the distance. “She asked me about you. She was worried.”

Harry shrugged. “I’ll pay her a visit eventually; I don’t have the time today, I’m afraid.”

Romilda suddenly laughed a little, causing him to lift an enquiring eyebrow. “Sorry,” she giggled. “I just remembered… The Headmasters’ portraits asked after you too, although they all pretended really hard that they didn’t care. Even that black one in the corner, the creepy one with all the tree roots around his neck.”

Harry had started to smile as he remembered the portraits’ theatrical manners and their poor aptitude at faking sleep, but then her last words rang into his head, silencing all other thoughts. The black one in a corner — another unpleasantly vivid image filled Harry’s mind: that of a livid face and long dirty hair, and pale blue eyes bulging out of their sockets as the Trees strangled their prey.

“Is there something wrong?” asked Romilda, apparently thrown off by his abrupt change of expression.

“No, just…thinking.” Harry frowned. “You do mean the portrait in the top left corner, right? The one with the Chevalier de Pallas?”

“I don’t know what he was called… The others called him Eric.”

Eric. The sycamores of the southern edge were planted by unfortunate Eric de Pallas’ successor… He felt as though it had been years since he had read that line in Headmasters of Hogwarts.

“Yeah, that’s the one. What did he say exactly?”

“Just asked me if you were well,” said Romilda with a shrug. “When I said I didn’t know, that I hadn’t seen you in a while, he looked sad and muttered something like ‘such a young lad…’ It almost got me worried for a moment, but then other portraits started bellowing that Eric was, er, ‘gaga.’ Dumbledore told me to say hello to you from him. And that was it.”

“Mmh. Romilda,” Harry brusquely said, coming to a decision, “can you do me a favour, please?”

“Name it,” she said at once.

“I’d like you to go to Hogwarts as soon as possible and talk to McGonagall. Tell her I’m fine, then ask if you can talk to the portraits. Alone.”

Romilda nodded, her eyes fixed intensely on his, her brow furrowed.

“Then,” Harry went on, “say hello to Dumbledore from me, and ask Pallas what became of his sword.”


“Yes.” Harry licked his lips. “It’s very important. Ask him what would happen to anyone who found it, and where it is now. As soon as you have the answer, owl it to me — here, you’ll write this on the envelope.”

And grabbing her hand with his own, he waved his wand over her palm. After a second, Romilda’s eyes widened.

“What’s that?” she asked, staring down at the unblemished skin of her palm.

“My reference number,” said Harry. “No one can see it but you. Write my name on the envelope, then write that number, and send the owl away. Do you understand?”

She nodded, drawing her hand back and cupping it in her other palm, apparently unable to detach her eyes from it. “Yes, I’ll do exactly that.”

“Good. Thank you so much.” Harry grinned at her, excitation bubbling in his stomach; that was his best chance. He suddenly rose from his seat, causing her to look up in alarm. “Now I really must go,” he said by way of explanation. “Got a lot of things to do this afternoon — I’ll hear from you soon, I hope.”

“As soon as I can go to the castle. Also, Harry…”

He paused in the act of fastening his cloak on his shoulders. “Yeah?”

“When this investigation is over, I’ll ask you on a proper date,” Romilda said with a small smile. “Unless, of course, you have other witnesses to take care of.”

He blinked and tried to think of something to say in return, but she had already got up, picked up her tray and their two tankards, and passed him on the way to the bar.

He stared after her. She really had nice legs.