Notes: Thanks to rosskpr for beta reading and giving good suggestions. She has been very patient with me. Thanks to my readers for their patience, too! To reward you for this patience, this time there will be TWO chapters (one of which is in two parts due to length) posted today!
Comments and questions are always welcome. I find they inspire me to write further, knowing someone else cares about the story.
On to the chapter - Continued...
May 15, 1998
Harry took the day off from the repairs at Hogwarts on Friday, travelling by Floo to the Burrow to meet up with Ron. The two of them had accompanied Arthur and Hermione through the Floo to the Ministry. Hermione continued on to her workplace, but Arthur took the time to guide them through the various ministry corridors, elevators, and departments to the Apparition Testing Centre, giving them news along the way.
Two employees at the Centre had failed their verity tests and were being held for further investigation. Delayed curses had been detected in three different locations within the office. The worst was an apparition blocker, which practically guaranteed a splinching. The thought of all the hopeful new adults, about to start on their lives of freedom, torn apart by that specific curse placed in an apparition testing centre, made Harry shudder. The gashes in Ron’s skin had taken months to heal, and still left scars.
The curses broken, and replacement testers found and qualified, the Apparition Testing Centre was again open for business, expecting a bit of a surge after several days of birthdays. They had neglected to take into account a full year’s worth of Muggleborn and half-blood witches and wizards who had not dared come in to be tested, lest they be arrested and their wands confiscated.
The Centre was crowded. It had only reopened the day before, but news had gotten out.
Harry and Ron had tried to blend in, and Harry was wearing a pointed wizard hat pulled over his eyes that he had borrowed from the Weasleys. Mrs Weasley thought it might have belonged to her great uncle. Regardless, it was certainly a bit out of fashion. At least it had no ruffles, like Ron’s dress robes for the Yule Ball. At any rate it was black. That suited Harry just fine.
But, even though his own face was covered, he had forgotten that Ron was now nearly as famous as he was. Ron’s flaming hair had not been hidden. When one witch had caught sight of Ron and figured out who his companion must be, she shouted “Harry Potter!”
Harry wanted to melt into the ground when the whole crowd started chanting “Harry! Harry!” as if he were a Quidditch star. He wondered how long it would be until he could safely walk in Diagon Alley, or the Ministry, or anywhere in Wizarding Britain. Volunteering at Hogwarts had led him into a false sense of security. The volunteers were all people who liked to do things, to be part of the solution, however belatedly.
“Harry Potter!” “Thank you!” Harry felt hands touching him as he walked past. One bold witch grabbed his arse. He spun to see who it was, but it could have been anyone. Come to think of it, it might even have been a bloke. The hand had been big.
He hadn’t even noticed one of the testing wizards shouting, until a Sonorus suddenly made the wizard quite loud. “Here now! What’s the ruckus? Oh, Mr Potter! You didn’t tell us you were coming!”
Harry thought in hindsight that might have been a good idea.
“Mr Potter, come this way. Let him through. Let him through.” Harry felt bad jumping the queue, but he thought it would be worse if he stayed. This way, at least the commotion would calm down.
It was some work getting past the crowd, but he did, and the office behind the door was blessedly empty.
“Mr Potter, Mr Weasley, if you would please fill out these forms?”
The parchment had blanks to fill in for name, birthday, location and trainer of the preparation class.
“Ron, what was the name of the wizard who taught our class?”
“I can’t remember. I was just going to write Hogwarts Apparition class. Do you remember when it was?”
“Excuse me, sir?” Ron asked, hesitantly.
The tester looked up at them.
“Erm, we took classes last spring, but with all that’s been going on, neither of us remember who it was that instructed the prep class. I’m sure my parents have a letter about it, but Harry’s not been in owl reach since then, and...”
“So the two of you just came in without any paperwork?”
They both nodded. Harry felt particularly unprepared, just then.
The tester stared at them for a few moments, then grinned. “You are by far not the first. Now, I should send you back for your class completion certificates... But how about we make a deal?” Harry started looking around the room for the exits. The one behind them led to the crowd. That should be safe, by some definitions of safe. The tester continued. “I’ll look them up for you in our files, if you’ll both let me take a picture with you. We’ll use the camera here... I just have to adjust the setting to include more than one person, and turn off the misery switch.”
The last brought Harry’s head up. “Misery switch?”
“You don’t think people look that awful on their Apparition License photographs by accident, do you?”
“Well, it’s actually a switch to make sure that the face is completely visible at all times. No leaving the frame, no hiding in shadows. But it also distorts the face a bit to get rid of the shadows, and ends up making everyone look like they’ve just had a nausea hex cast at them. Unfortunately, for your photos on your cards to be official, I have to leave the Misery Switch on for those. But I can look up your records so you won’t have to go home and come back another day. We’re not supposed to...”
“So, you just want to take our pictures?”
“Take a picture with all three of us. And then you could sign it, perhaps?”
Suddenly the tester’s voice was a bit diffident.
Harry looked at Ron, who looked at him with a bit of a pleading expression. Ron hadn’t had much experience with people asking for autographs. It seemed he was about to get it. Harry nodded, and the formerly stoic tester bounced over to the camera, made a few adjustments to some to some dials, and then flicked his wand a few times at it. It began to glow in response. The camera was a huge royal blue thing which stood about five feet off the floor, with a stack of parchment in a tray next to it. It looked like it was made of opaque glass. The wizard inspected it with great care, then extended his wand to indicate where they should stand. It was a bit obvious, as there was a glowing circle on the floor. They stepped into the circle, and the man made a few adjustments further, then zipped around the camera to stand just between them. The camera clicked, and with a touch of the man’s wand, an image appeared on the top piece of parchment.
“Do you want one too? To commemorate your apparition license?”
Ron nodded. “Yeah.” Harry suspected he wanted to commemorate being asked for his autograph. He grinned at the thought. With two more flicks of the wand, the second and third parchment acquired the appearance of a somewhat smug Ron, a delighted testing wizard, and Harry.
“We’ll let these sharpen just a bit. I’ll be right back.”
It was a bit longer than a “bit”, but the wizard eventually returned with two pieces of parchment. “These are copies of your Apparition preparation class completion certification. You should keep them with your records.”
Harry realized he still didn’t know where his trunk was, or any of his “records”’ which he usually just shoved into his trunk when he got them.
“Alright, then. Down to business.” The tester motioned them close and asked them to hold tight, then Apparated them to an open field. He waited until Harry and Ron got their bearings and the dizziness abated, clearly used to the effect of Side-Along-Apparition on people. “Mr Potter, if you would Apparate to the blue post over there?” Harry could see the post in the distance, and focussed on getting there. He spun on his heel, and he was there. Within a few moments, Ron was next to him, as was the examiner.
The examiner cast a spell, and a distortion appeared in the middle of the field, preventing him from seeing the other side.
“Now, Mr Potter, if you would Apparate back to where we started? Never fear, the block won’t interfere.”
That was more difficult, as he had to rely on his memory to get there, but he’d had plenty of opportunity to practice over the past year, however illegally. Focussing on imagining the place where they started, he remembered a small rock formation he had noticed. He turned and was there again.
Ron soon followed, but wound up chest to chest with Harry. Ron’s blue eyes widened, and he turned bright red, and backed away, practically stumbling on his feet in the process.
“You will want to remember to include a slight repelling charm so that if someone is where you want to be, you will be displaced sideways a bit. Unless you are Apparating to the edge of a cliff, which I do not recommend for many reasons.”
Harry remembered when he and Dumbledore Apparated to the caves where Voldemort had hidden the locket. Once again, he was made aware of the skill and power of the old wizard. He suddenly missed Dumbledore, despite everything. He wondered what he was doing with his “next great adventure.”
After a few more Apparitions, the tester had one final test: to Apparate by coordinates.
They did, Harry feeling a little nervous about that, as it was not something he’d done other than in the class at Hogwarts. It was also disconcerting that there was no way for him to know where he would end up and who would be there. That was probably true for Apparition in general, but he was still not sanguine about blind Apparition, any more than he was about travel by Portkey.
The destination, however, was an empty field. Harry landed in a muddy spot. He swiftly got out of the way, realizing they had been given the same coordinates and not sure how specific the coordinates would be. Harry wondered if it might be a wizarding skill, to Apparate to an absolute point rather than a general area, just as it seemed to be a skill to travel by Floo without falling down.
Ron landed in the same muddy spot. Okay. Apparition by coordinates was quite specific, then.
They Apparated back to the testing centre and got their picture taken again, this time with the Misery Switch on. Harry felt he probably looked like he had after Hermione hit him with the stinging hex. The tester offered to show them a back way out, but they opted to Apparate instead, with their shiny new licenses in their pockets.
Feeling adult and free, they wandered through Diagon Alley. The day was warm, with the occasional spring breeze. Harry felt a bit daft with the pointed wizarding hat, but was afraid they’d be mobbed as they had been at the Apparition Testing Centre. The wide, floppy brim shaded his eyes from the bright sun, and kept his face in shadow. Ron had given in to Harry’s entreaty, and transfigured one for himself out of a handkerchief. It was a bit ragged at the edges, and had trim that was the same Chudley Cannons orange as the handkerchief, but it gave them both some degree of anonymity as they meandered through the Alley. Harry was sure they both looked ridiculous, but it felt so good to be anonymous that he didn’t care.
Both boys were a bit wary of going into Gringotts after their bank heist, so they window shopped for the most part. Harry had enough galleons to treat them both to ice cream, but when they got there, Fortescue’s was still closed. A sign on the windows informed passersby that it was closed for repairs, and would reopen in a few weeks under the management of Gillian Fortescue. Ron thought it might be a nephew of Florean, but wasn’t sure.
Quality Quidditch Supplies was open, and the two eagerly scanned the store for anything new, but the newest broom was still the Firebolt. The clerk said that there may be a new broom in a few months, perhaps just in time for the beginning of school, as well as the new Quidditch season.
The memory of Harry’s Firebolt, falling away somewhere between Privet Drive and the Tonks’s house, twisted in Harry’s gut. He had it from Sirius. Sirius was gone, his mirror was broken, and the Firebolt was missing as well. He went over it in his thoughts, remembering just that moment when he could have reached out to catch it before it fell... He had caught Hedwig’s cage instead, and then she had been killed. He wouldn’t have done it differently, even if he had known the outcome at the time. He could not have lived with himself if he had reached past Hedwig for the Firebolt, even knowing it would not have made a difference. Ron must have seen something on his face as he stared at the Firebolt like some feebleminded idiot.
“Erm, Harry. We can go if you want.” Ron said. “We’ve seen this stuff before.”
Harry shook himself. No. Leaving would reinforce the memories, emphasizing the losses instead of the victories. He would not give Voldemort that.
“It’s okay, Ron. Look, there’s a new pair of chaser’s gloves, with cushioning charms.” He read the advertisement above the stand. “They’re guaranteed not to interfere with the player’s ability to catch and keep hold of the Quaffle.” Next to those was a seeker’s glove that was said to be spun with Acromantula silk for enhanced gripping.
“Better you than me, mate,” Ron said with a shiver, reading over Harry’s shoulder.
There was a wall dedicated to Quidditch players who had died in the war, with photographs and brief biographies. Another shelf had Quidditch magazines from the continent. Most were in some other language than English, so even Ron gave them no more than a cursory glance to see if there were any spectacular photographs.
“Did you hear about the invitation to return to Hogwarts next year?” Harry asked as they left the shop.
“Yeah. Mum is thrilled, but I dunno. Won’t it seem strange, being back, with all the rules as if we were kids?”
“I’m going back.”
Ron looked at him searchingly, then nodded. “Maybe I should too. It’s just—think of all that homework!”
Harry grinned in triumph as Ron’s eyes lit up, but then they dimmed a bit. “I was kinda thinking of helping out George. At the shop. He seemed so lost, right after the battle, but sometimes it’s like he doesn’t even know Fred is...”
Harry felt doused in cold water, his moment of victory lost. He sighed. “You’ll figure it out.”
They continued on to Flourish and Blotts, but after gazing in the window, they passed it by. Today was not a day to dither over books. Hermione was not there to make them.
Some other time, Harry would probably go in and see if there was anything on the Black family. The Black presence had retreated in his mind after he had left the estate, only rising into consciousness when he thought about it, but he still had this inner urge to learn about them. He needed to make some time to talk with Andromeda Tonks.
For today, he just wanted to enjoy being outside, with Ron, with no responsibilities, no great duty, nobody hunting him down except for an autograph.