Chapter 7

Beads of sweat formed on his forehead, slowly making their warped paths down to his eyebrows. With an irritated motion, Harry swiped the back of his hand at them, brushing them away. Yet they appeared again, the sweltering heat of the room making for an uncomfortable working environment.

The work was delicate…it could not afford the slightest damage. When working with magical elements, a simple drop of sweat could ruin his work. Pausing, he moved away from the table to reach for his Master's wand. Waving it over his body, he felt a cool gel coat his skin and hair, leaving an uncomfortable sensation for a few seconds. Quickly, the gel evaporated into nothingness, leaving him clean and cool. Normally, he would simply have used a charm to blow a cool gust of air over his body, but that would introduce sweat, hair and skin fragments to the environment.

He stood in the room clad only in a pair of trousers, leaving nothing between his body and the volatile ingredients other than air. A falling fiber from his worn shirts, a strand of hair…it could introduce an element of danger to his work that he did not care to experience again.

The last time his potion had been ruined by a strand of hair had cost him valuable time and had caused him to be at the receiving end of his Master's ire. He grimaced, removing the net that held his hair down, and ran his hand through his hair. Replacing it, he smiled slightly, the comfort of the adjustment making all the difference. Professional Potions gear wasn't made for comfort, it was made for practicality. And while this did the job by holding his hair down, it left much to be desired in terms of comfort.

He got back to work. On the table to his right was his own wand, the subject of his experiments. In the last hour, he had carefully worked with it, mindful of the fact that damaging it could be potentially debilitating to his entire magical learning. He was comfortable with this wand, at ease with its idiosyncrasies. It was entirely suited to him, so damaging it was a folly that he could not afford. No other wand would match him as this one did…his Master's wand provided him with the bare minimum of use. With enough power, he could cast any spell he desired, but it sapped his energy far too quickly.

The cylindrical shaft of wood was eleven inches long, with a diameter of exactly five eighths of an inch. Along the smooth, polished shaft were 'trenches' that he had delicately cut. They were slight depressions that ran along the length of the wand, from the handle almost to the tip, one continuous, straight line. There were four 'trenches' cut into the wand, equally spaced. Next to the wand was a metal appliance that had a pen-like tip. The tip was a tiny ball, rounded, bearing the rough texture of sandpaper. With a pen, he had drawn the lines from the tip to the handle, making sure that his measurements were precise. Then, with the 'sanding ball', he gently scratched along the lines, leaving a curved depression. Now that the trenches were completed, he was waiting. A small pile of sawdust lay near the wand, waiting for the reinsertion.

On the adjoining table was his set-up. Beakers containing various fluids sat bubbling on tripod-stands, suspended above vibrant blue magical fires. Vials bearing obscure ingredients that were too small for beakers awaited their turn. These were just cursory, for the last few hours had already indicated which of the ingredients were suited to his magic.

The process was called 'customization', a process that most Wizards didn't bother with in modern times. The almost-generic wands that Ollivander sold were good enough for the purposes of most Wizards, leaving precious few who customized their wands. Ollivander's theory of 'the wand chooses the Wizard' was true, but the wands he sold weren't entirely engineered to match a Wizard. They simply had the main core and the wood. The process of customization added extra cores to the wand, allowing for a diverse application.

Ollivander's wands were created with one purpose…to fit a particular branch of magic. Harry's father's wand had been engineered towards Transfiguration, while his mother's wand had been more apt for use with Charms. With the core of James' wand, he was unable to reach his maximum potential in Charms, since his core wasn't particularly inclined towards that branch of Magic. Harry's core was a single Phoenix Feather, encased in a Holly shaft. The core was best used for powerful spellwork, and was one of the few cores that allowed for a Wizard to reach closer to his full potential in the various fields of magic. Phoenixes were intrinsically Magical beings, unlike Hippogriffs and other more common Magical Animals, and their feathers contributed an incredibly strong conduit for a Wizard to channel his magic through. His wand allowed him to cast more complex, powerful spells, but its temperamental nature often meant less finesse in the more precise applications such as Charms and Transfiguration.

Wand customization essentially introduced new cores to the wand that were compatible both with the wand and its user. This, of course, made things complicated, since the Holly casing, the specific Phoenix feather and Harry's own magic had to be in complete agreement with the new core for it to work properly. Through trial and error, using the chest of ingredients that he took from Gilmore Alley, Harry had narrowed down his search to four new cores. Once complete, the wand would still be black, but the trenches would now be filled with a shining blood-red substance, hard to the touch. He supposed it would look 'cool', but color really didn't matter. Dumbledore seemed perfectly happy with the yellow and pink streaks on his wand, while Voldemort's bore black and grey ones. Had it not been for the fact that Dumbledore would certainly have noticed the changes made to his wand, Harry would have customized it a long time ago. Of course, getting the necessary ingredients a few years ago would have been tougher without the Metamorphmagus skills that he had been able to use.

His wand would be less temperamental now that the Unicorn teeth were introduced, for the fiery temperament of the Phoenix feather would be counteracted by the stable, docile magic of the Unicorn tooth. He would be able to use powerful spells without expecting to receive the slight backlash of magic that made his wand somewhat unresponsive, which formerly reduced the power of his spells. The Dragon's Heartstring would increase his finesse and precision with Charms, the heartstring of another inherently Magical creature providing elements to his magic that were both peaceful and volatile. The third new core was the stinger of an adult Flobberworm, which would allow him to access his maximum potential with defensive magic, infusing his shields with more power and making them sturdier. The last core was the one that aided his attempts at Transfiguration…Harry was somewhat humbled by it, for it came from a rather docile, pointless creature: the Snidget. A Snidget resembled cartoon drawings of newly hatched chicks, a yellow, almost furry creature. Though it possessed a healthy amount of magic, it seemed to never use it. The claws of a Snidget, however, would allow him to reach his maximum potential in Transfiguration.

He checked his work again, for the last time. The trenches were smooth, the wood consistently thick. At no point was the inner, main core of the Phoenix feather visible, something that Harry was more than a little relieved about. It would have ruined his efforts, and would have ruined his wand.

Painstakingly, he began the customization, following Salazar's directions to the letter. The first to come was the Unicorn teeth. Having finished testing them for compatibility, they lay in a small bowl. He took a deep breath, and got down to work, slowly tuning out all distractions, using his Occlumency to help him focus. With a pestle, he carefully ground the teeth into dust, no mean task. They were hard, but far from brittle, and it took him well over an hour to reduce the four teeth to a fine silver dust. After using a glass rod to make sure that there were no pieces that remained uncrushed, he tipped the dust onto a sheet of metal that had been religiously sterilized, as had all the other items. There was no room for error, and as an amateur, he had to extremely precise to avoid making mistakes.

He rested his wand on the metal sheet, the first trench facing skyward and ready for the customization. Using a pair of sterilized tweezers, he gently lifted the dust, taking his time to fill the trench. It took ten minutes to do so as he painstakingly made sure to avoid spilling a single grain. Then, when he had used up all the Unicorn teeth, he began lifting some of the sawdust with the tweezers, sprinkling it on top of the silvery dust. Slowly but surely, the trench was filled, the silver dust covered by a tiny layer of Holly sawdust from the scratched-out trenches. When at last the trench was finished, he slowly stood back, careful to avoid striking the table as he rose. He wiped his face off and resumed work with a new determination. He extended his arms, hands suspended in the air a mere centimeter above the wand, palms facing down.

Eyes closed, he took a deep breath, and intoned the chant that would fuse the new core with his wand.

"Suo, redimio ex unus ut alius. Effluo profundus intus veneficus quod vultus a vinculum. Exsisto validus , polleo quod convenio effingo maioribus universus."

He watched, mesmerized, as the sawdust and the dust of the Unicorn teeth turned into a gelatinous, almost fluid substance. It roiled around dangerously for a few seconds, and he panicked, thinking something was wrong. But he sighed in relief a second later, for the motion stopped, and the liquid hardened instantly, leaving a slightly thick red streak that ran along the black wood of his wand. Stretching, he picked up the small dish with the Snidget's claws. He sterilized the metal sheet, the bowl, the pestle and the tweezers again, using Salazar's wand to clean it instantly. Picking up the pestle, he dropped the twelve tiny claws into the bowl, and began grinding them into a fine dust.

'Now to repeat the whole process another three times,' he groaned mentally, though he knew it was necessary.

Tired, he sat back. While not spent physically, the heat of the room, the intense concentration involved in his work and the monotonous work had certainly made him far from invigorated. Shaking his head vigorously, he let his hair loose, tossing it about. Immediately, he felt cooler, and slowly walked out of the room.

Approaching the portrait, he nodded at Salazar, saying "It's done, Master. No problems at all."

Salazar nodded contentedly. "Good. As you know, you won't be able to use it for the next eight hours or so, since the magic has not settled yet."

At Harry's nod, he continued, dryly saying "As it is, I doubt you have need for it right now. No Dark Lords to disembowel just yet, Heir." Harry grinned in response, running his hand through his hair. "Get yourself cleaned up…I should be thankful that I can't smell you."

Putting on an affronted look, Harry said in a pained voice "I'm hurt, Master. Surely I could help you out? There must be an enchantment somewhere that could let you smell me and luxuriate in my pleasant odor."

Salazar snorted, turning to head back into one of the innumerable rooms painted into the far background of his portrait. "Potter, if you attempt to do that, I'll make sure to find an enchantment that will let me disown you."

Harry goggled at him, noting the slight shaking of his Master's shoulders as he stalked away. "Did you just laugh? Gods above, it's a miracle!"

Salazar snorted again, though the sound was somewhat muted by the 'distance' between them. "Go and wash up, lad, this is no time to make unfounded accusations." He smirked over his shoulder at Harry's gobsmacked expression and entered one of the rooms.

"Merlin, he just cracked a joke," mumbled Harry as he walked away, somewhat stupefied. He had never heard his Master tell a joke, and his laughter was incredibly rare. "What's in that room, then?" he asked jokingly, knowing that he wouldn't get a response. Salazar had never told him exactly what the contents of his various rooms were. Harry supposed that a few nymphs or some sort of embarrassing magical creature were drawn in…after all, eternity without one of life's greatest joys would be somewhat bleak. He knew for sure that there was a wine cellar that never ran out of supplies…the portrait obviously had no need for food, but the wine was for enjoyment, not for sustenance.

He grinned as he walked towards the bathing room. The rooms of the Chamber of Secrets all bore very regal names…he supposed it had something to do with the idiot descendant who had created the large effigy of Slytherin's face. There were wooden plaques above each room that solemnly announced the 'title' of the room, such as 'The Bathing Room' and 'The Great Library'. When he had first entered this section of the Chamber, he had been taken aback by the opulence of the place…the silliest of things had been made ornate and regal. Of course, he had gotten rid of most of the adornments as soon as possible…they just didn't fit the mood of the Chamber. He supposed that the idiot descendant had turned the Chamber into a shrine dedicated to Salazar, something that Harry's Master was most assuredly disgruntled about. After all, the four hundred years that had passed on the outside since the Chamber was…gilded, so to speak, had been torturously longer for Salazar, thanks to the time-distortion. Harry was rather relieved to find that the cretin had not settled in as a ghost…the last thing he needed was a fanatical moron of a ghost to play sycophant and praise every word that Salazar spoke to him. It would hardly have been conducive to his learning.

He quickly stripped off and dove into the pool, surfacing to let out a shriek of surprise. The water was frigid, absolutely freezing cold. Shivering, he stumbled out of the water, collapsing onto the fluffy towel that he had transfigured all those years ago. With a quivering hand, he wandlessly cast a warming charm on the water, his teeth chattering enough to nearly ruin the incantation. Finally, he slipped back in, though it took a full minute for his shivers to entirely subside. For a while, he swam lengths in the pool, slowly feeling the burn in his muscles. After an hour, he emerged, skin slightly shriveled by the warm water. He took his time toweling off, having always hated rushing himself in this particular action. He always seemed to get slightly sweaty if he hurried himself after a warm bath…and there truly was no need for him to hurry.

He slipped on a pair of boxers and clothed himself in a simple white t-shirt and a pair of light blue jeans, tugging on his socks and boots with some difficulty. Leaving the room, he popped into the Potions lab for a minute to pick up his Master's wand and a wand-holster. It never hurt to be prepared…indeed, it was pure folly to venture into the Forbidden Forest without any means of protecting yourself. Unicorns, Thestrals and birds apart, there were far more insidious creatures that resided there, notably the Centaurs, the odd snake and the massive family of arachnids that Aragog was the head of. And while these were dangerous, there were Vampires, Vixens, Hags and the odd Cave-Troll that had also set up their quaint little abodes in the Forbidden Forest. Dumbledore's yearly warnings were no joke…the forest played host to some of the most dangerous creatures that the Magical World had to offer. Thinking twice, he strapped the sheath of one of his daggers onto his belt-loop, letting it hang by his side.

While Salazar's wand was powerful, Harry was unable to use it with the best of effects. At most, it allowed him to reach half of his maximum potential. While this didn't seem like much, Harry would still be able to cast a fair number of spells with it, and it would serve satisfactorily in the event of an attacking creature. Unless he was met by a Vampire, which was unlikely in this part of the Forest, he would be able to handle any other creature that attempted to harm him.

He knelt to do up the laces on his boots, setting his small communicating mirror on the ground in front of him. As he did, he saw the brief flash of light along the engraved name on the back, the name of a man who he increasingly resembled. Contrary to what Ron and Hermione believed, he had not forgotten about the mirror before going to the Ministry. He had attempted to contact Sirius through it, but his whispered calls while mounted on the back of the Thestral must have either been unintelligible to Sirius, or Sirius had simply left his mirror in the pocket of another pair of robes. Unfortunately, he had had to feign stupidity by admonishing himself for not using the mirror, for Ron and Hermione had no clue that he had been using it on a regular basis to communicate with Sirius. Had they known, it would have been mere days, as inconsequential as the information was, before Dumbledore was aware that Harry had a way to contact Sirius within a moment's notice. That could not be allowed, as far as Dumbledore was concerned, and it would unobtrusively go missing somehow, never to be seen again.

As he tied his laces tightly, he called out "Nymphadora Tonks." The reflective surface of the mirror swam as if a pebble had fallen into a vat of still water, rippling towards the circular edges. When it cleared, the surface was black, indicating that Tonks had her mirror inside the pocket of her robe.

A few seconds later, he heard a rustle of fabric as the mirror was drawn out of a pocket, and the view cleared, light finally drawing across it. A second later, Tonks' face filled the circular 'screen', and she smiled beautifully at him, drawing a smile onto his face too.

"Hi," he said stupidly, still grinning at her.

She blew him a kiss smilingly, making him blush. Inwardly he cursed, damning his shyness. He had had no problem being entirely intimate with her last night, but a simple gesture could make him blush. Earlier, he had no problem controlling his reactions to her jokes, but apparently the last night had changed things.

"Hiya Harry," she said, smiling at him.

"Are you alone?" he inquired, standing up as he finished tying his laces. She nodded, and he continued "Are you busy now, or are you coming by as planned?"

She frowned slightly, biting her lip. He found the action endearing, and smiled at her. "Yeah, I'm done over here. We'll talk when I get there, alright? There's a few things that I have to tell you, and I think we need to talk a bit about last night."

He sobered up instantly. "Okay," he agreed, "just apparate to the Shrieking Shack and walk Northeast for about a hundred yards until you're into the Forest. I'll meet you there, okay?"

She nodded, smiling again. "Alright. Bye," she said, closing the connection, but not before blowing him another kiss. He managed to stop himself from blushing this time.

Putting the mirror into his pocket, he strapped the holster onto his right arm as he walked. It took him a minute to reach his intended location, an exit situated in one of the many tunnels of the Chamber.

"Dissendium," he muttered, and with a creak that signified the rare use of the door, the large stone wall slid to the side, revealing a passage that sloped upwards for about thirty yards. Reaching the end of the passage, he climbed the short spiraling staircase that was reminiscent of the one that led to Dumbledore's office. The top of the staircase was blocked by the bottom of a truly massive boulder, and he tapped it with his knuckle, repeating "Dissendium." Fred and George would have had a field day if they had known that there was such an easy access to the Chamber.

Silently, the boulder rolled away from the hole that it covered, and Harry winced as a few pebbles and clumps of dirt rolled onto the stairs. He waved his hand to clear them, levitating them off the stairs and tossing them out into the woods nearby with a flick of his wrist. He climbed the last few stairs to leave, hissing "Close," to make the boulder roll back into place.

Softly whistling the tune to a song he had heard on Dudley's old radio, he walked towards the Shrieking Shack, a good half mile away. Tonks would have to wait for a few minutes, that was hardly an inconvenience for her. As he walked, despite the cheery, unconcerned disposition that he seemed to emote, he was aware, eyes calmly scrutinizing his environment, ready to move into action in case of an attack.

It was about ten minutes later that he saw Tonks. She was about twenty yards into the trees, sitting on the grass and leaning against a tree. She was whistling, tossing small berries towards a somewhat intimidated squirrel. The squirrel cocked its head to the side, staring at her inquisitively, and flinched when a berry landed near it. Haltingly, it approached the berry, looking towards Tonks to make sure that she was sitting still, and then grabbed it, sitting up on its hind legs to bring the berry to its mouth, gnawing at it experimentally.

Then it let out a shriek, dropping the berry in disgust, and scurried away, hopping its way up a nearby tree. Tonks scowled, muttering "Well screw you too."

Harry laughed, announcing his presence, making Tonks jump. "God," she said, moving towards him, "you could have announced yourself instead of sneaking up on me." But she wrapped her arms around his waist, smiling fondly at him.

He grinned down at her, kissing the tip of her nose. "Aw, what's the fun in that?"

She laughed, standing on her toes to kiss him. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into the air, forcing her to wrap her legs around his waist as he stood. Pulling away, she waggled her eyebrows at him playfully, smirking "Well, Harry, you certainly seem ready to play."

He grinned at her as her beautiful face hovered over his, her arms around his neck. "Wanna play doctor?" he asked, grinned as he waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

She laughed happily, though a slight blush crept onto her face. "Oh Doctor Harry," she said, affecting a pained voice, "I have this pain…." He cut her off, kissing her lovingly, enjoying the feel of her soft lips against his own. When they parted, breathless, she leaned her forehead against his, eyes still closed. "Oh yes," she breathed softly, "I think I feel a lot better already."

Reluctantly, he set her down, taking her right hand in his. "Come on," he said, though he leaned in to kiss her again, "we should get going."

They walked slowly back to the Chamber's forest entrance, and she removed her hand from his, instead wrapping it around his waist. He gave her a lopsided smile at the action, putting his arm around her shoulders and giving a slight squeeze.

"Y'know," she said, leaning her head on his shoulder as they walked, "I reckon you've got competition."

"Oh?" he inquired, looking sideways at her, "How so?"

She smirked, replying "Well, I got hit on today." She looked up at him, and was somewhat surprised to find herself pleased by the way his jaw tightened and his arm held her more possessively.

"Really?" he asked, though the pleasantness of the question seemed a tad forced. His smile seemed genuine enough, but still, there was something…off about it.

"Yep." She was milking it, feeling quite happy with how he was reacting. "It was Lupin," she said, setting her head back on his shoulder, leaning into his strong grip, "he tried to 'comfort' me after the crying scene."

She chanced a look at him again, and was once again pleased as she saw him swallow, the muscles on his neck standing taut. A second later, he looked fine, and she blinked in astonishment, wondering if she had imagined it.

"Interesting," he said, looking anything but interested, "What did he do?"

"Well," she said slowly, hugging him a little tighter, "he told me that he felt very sorry about what happened. He said, and I quote, 'Would you like to go get some tea and talk about it? I really like you, Tonks, and I don't like seeing you this way.'"

"Uh-huh," Harry said. He seemed cheerful enough, a slight smile on his face as he looked about at the lush, green forest.

Tonks decided to stop dragging things out, and said "Well, I told him that I wanted to be alone, but he wouldn't take no for an answer. He started getting a bit possessive, trying to convince me to be with him. I closed my eyes, since I had to make the tears flow again, and the next thing I know, he's trying to kiss me."

Here, she paused, but out of shock. Harry had stopped walking, and was staring straight ahead, his jaw tight, and his hands curled tightly into fists. "What?" he asked, looking at her. His cheerful disposition had evaporated, Tonks saw, and it was plainly obvious to Tonks that he had been faking it before.

Quickly, Tonks wrapped her arms around him, softly saying "Relax, Harry. Calm down." It took a few seconds, but she slowly felt the tension in his muscles relax. She shivered slightly, feeling aroused by the tightly coiled strength that she could feel in his muscles, her entire body being pressed against his.

He wrapped his arms around her gently, hugging her against him tightly. He bent his head down, nestling it against hers as she rested her chin on his shoulder, feeling her cheek against his. She smiled, and he felt her cheek move against his as she turned slightly. Turning, he was met with her beautiful face smiling at him, and he felt his heart go flip-flop. Smiling weakly, he whispered "Go on."

She nodded, continuing "Well, I pushed him away from me and told him to leave me alone. He tried to get all soft with me again, but I wouldn't have any. I told him frankly that he's fifteen years older than I am, and that I don't want a thing to do with him. He finally left, but said something along the lines of 'You'll eventually realize that we were meant for each other.' If the git wasn't so close to you, I'd have slapped him for coming on to me like that."

Harry scowled, growling out "I wish you had slapped the bastard." She raised an eyebrow at the uncharacteristic anger, and he shook his head, muttering "Let's just say that I'm not very fond of Lupin. He had an obligation to raise me, or at least visit every once in a while, but he didn't. Not once. For someone who practically sponged off my parents for three or four years after Hogwarts…" He trailed off, looking like he didn't particularly care to discuss it.

Tonks, understanding immediately, didn't press him. She understood exactly what he was saying. Lupin was as close to the Potters as Sirius was. The least of his obligations was to at least periodically check in on Harry, to make sure that someone who was practically a surrogate nephew was healthy and living well. The fact that he hadn't bothered to even send a letter to Harry in twelve years was something that Harry could be justly irritated about. After all, considering the way he grew up, a single visit from Lupin could have changed things for him. She wanted to hear more, as she had thought that the Potters had distanced themselves from Lupin, as they thought that he might have been the traitor, but this wasn't the time. According to Harry, however, Lupin had continued to be close to them even when they had been in hiding.

She kissed his cheek, and bit down on his earlobe, whispering "I never liked men with mustaches anyways." He laughed, gazing fondly at her. He kissed her gently, a warm peck on the lips.

"Come on," he said, "it's starting to get dark, so we should probably get inside. I'll cook dinner."

She shook her head as she walked with him, arm again around his waist, her head on his shoulder. "No need…I brought food with me. Dropped by the Leaky Cauldron on my way over and picked up two piping hot plates of Tom' Special."

Harry grinned. "Great."

They walked on in silence for a minute, having reached halfway to the Chamber. The sun was setting, and with the overcast sky, it made for a beautiful red glow through the white clouds in the distance, crowned by the sharp contrast provided by the murky, foreboding grey clouds that hovered above them, slowly making their way towards the sun. They were silent, walking peacefully as they gazed upon this wonder of nature.

Harry's attention was pulled away by the faint clatter of hooves, and he stiffened. Beside him, Tonks heard the noise too, and she tensed, prepared for anything. They edged towards the shade of a particularly large rock, attempting to move behind it.

They were unfortunately thwarted when the pace of the hooves grew faster, the noise getting closer. A few seconds later, it had roared to a crescendo, the sound deafening under the canopy of the trees, and a little over ten Centaurs exploded out of the foliage, thundering to a stop before them. Each bore a bow and a quiver of arrows, save for a few who also had pointed spears strapped to their backs with ropy vines.

The metal gleamed in the light, dangerously pointed at them. The group slowly fanned out in a semicircle, trapping them in the clearing. There were no trees to hide behind immediately, for an arrow would surely strike them before they could cover the distance. One emerged from the middle, holding his spear in both hands.

"Hello, Harry Potter," it began, deceptively calm, "I am Bane."

Harry nodded. "I know." Tonks didn't look at him, but she could feel the danger in his voice.

"Then, Harry Potter," the Centaur continued, his face twisting into a hateful glare, "you know that your life is forfeit once you enter our Forest."

Harry scoffed at their vanity. "Your forest, Centaur? Don't be ridiculous."

Bane laughed dismissively. "You humans are always so amusing with your foolish preconceptions. The Forbidden Forest is the domain of the Centaurs, Harry Potter, it has always been that way. The Forest belongs to us, and we are the ones who decide the fate of those that enter it."

Harry sneered at the uppity Centaur, not bothering to mask his dislike for the creature. He had nothing against Centaurs…indeed, he found Firenze to be extremely enlightened, a being of wisdom, albeit a confusing form of wisdom. Bane, on the other hand… "Having a pair of opposable thumbs doesn't make you superior to the other creatures in this Forest, Bane. I daresay Aragog and his tribe of Arachnids have disciplined you uppity horses more than a few times. Perhaps a Cave-Troll or a Vampire decided that Horse meat would be tasty."

Bane bristled in anger, as did the others. "Silence!" he commanded, glaring hatefully. "You are no longer a foal, and Magorian is not present to save you this time. Neither is the traitor Firenze present."

"Bane," Harry said calmly, looking unruffled, "is this really necessary? We are simply taking a stroll in the woods, not trying to establish control over this forest."

There was no need for a fight…why start a fight when you were grossly outnumbered? Apparating was impossible, for the Hogwarts anti-Transportation wards extended almost into Hogsmeade, thus prohibiting the use of Portkeys as well. Harry could have discreetly tried to use the Imperius charm, or attempted to possess Bane, but there was no guarantee of success. He wasn't receiving a single stray thought through Passive Legilimency, and his previous contact with Firenze earlier in the year had made it quite obvious that Centaurs were masters of their minds. While simply casting the Imperius would buy him a few seconds of confusion, there were more than ten other opponents on the field. Similarly, Confundus charms wouldn't work, and trying to magically cause a distraction would be useless, as the Centaur would surely dispatch two or three of his friends to investigate the disturbance rather than lose his concentration on Harry.

Bane laughed mockingly. "A stroll in the Forbidden Forest? Very unlikely, Harry Potter. Make no mistakes, human, you and your woman will die. I wanted to dispose of you one month ago when you foolishly tried to take advantage of the Centauri. Now, I will succeed."

"Very well," Harry tried, though he was inwardly losing his patience "we will leave. We will turn around and walk back to Hogsmeade, and will not enter the Forest again." There was an entrance to the Chamber near the lake, and while it was a long walk, it would eliminate the need for senseless violence.

Bane simply smirked at him, patronizingly waving his finger in a no-no gesture.

Harry sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. There was no other option. They were spoiling for a fight, and wouldn't take no for an answer. There were too many of them to try intimidation…even graphically butchering one would serve to do nothing more than incite even more anger into them. He could attempt to bargain, but Centaurs were almost ascetic in the simplicity of their lives. There was nothing that Harry could offer them that would allow them to escape unscathed. He opened his mouth to make a half-hearted attempt at soothing the Centaur's ego, but was stopped by Tonks.

Tonks blinked, putting her hand on Harry's to stop him, and stepped forward. "Did you just threaten me?" she inquired, her voice deceptively calm.

Bane smirked at her, and seeing him, a few of the other Centaurs smirked too. "Huh," muttered Tonks. "You see," she continued, "I am not a 'foal', as you so quaintly put it, horsy, I am what is known to you as an Auror. Now, if you make a single threatening move towards my companion or myself, I will not hesitate to kill you. You see, in the Magical World, which happens to be run by humans, it isn't a crime to murder a creature."

Bane blinked. "You dare to talk to us derogatively?" he roared, looking furious, "You dare to insinuate that you humans are superior to us?"

Tonks laughed in his face. "It isn't an insinuation, horse." Harry, beside her, saw one of the Centaurs twitch towards the back.

Immediately, he grabbed onto Tonks' hand, pulling her to the ground as an arrow shot through the air where they were standing. He crouched on the balls of his feet, the fingers of his left hand pressed against the ground between his knees. His right hand shot up, his wand instantly appearing in it.

Crouched, he snarled "Concrema!" A blast of steam, perfectly spherical, rocketed out of his wand, hitting the Centaur who fired the arrow in the face at high speed.

An instant later, there was a scream of pure pain from the Centaur as the skin on his face, his eyes, his hair and his unfortunately opened mouth were all scalded by a terrible heat. His skin virtually melted off his face, the face itself transforming into a melted glob of flesh, his burst eyes dangling out of his eye-sockets. With a loud thump, the Centaur fell sideways, hitting the ground hard. He was dead, there was no question about it…his face was an unrecognizable hunk of pus and flesh, the charred bone of his skull visible through the gaps left by the oozing skin. The Concrema curse, when underpowered, was used by Aurors to scald their opponents into submission, earning the victim light burns. The fallen Centaur, however, was the result of an overpowered curse, resulting in a ball of steam hot enough to melt metal. The Centaur never stood a chance.

Bane stared, shocked, at his fallen comrade. Turning, his face growing rapidly red, he screamed "Kill them! Kill both of them!" There was a flurry of action as eight of the Centaurs began firing arrows and throwing spears at the two humans. The air was ringing with the frustrated battle cries of the Centaurs as they viciously tried to hunt down the two humans. The other four held their ground, 'guarding' Bane. As far as Harry knew, Bane held no real position within the Centaur herd, so there was apparently a faction of Human-Hating Centaurs that now roamed the Forest like vigilantes.

In an almost coordinated move, Harry and Tonks both leapt sideways, conjuring identical shields to protect them from the incoming projectiles. Together, they jabbed their wands forward, incanting "Aegis!" With a tearing sound, a glowing silver shield appeared in front of each of them, the arrows striking and breaking against them.

Tonks immediately rolled sideways when she hit the ground, absorbing the impact, and rising explosively to slash her wand towards the nearest Centaur, who was busy stringing an arrow into his bow. As he watched in horror, she snarled "Inviscico!"

A pale blue beam shot out of her wand as she moved forwards, striking the Centaur above the heart. A gash nearly a foot across tore into his chest and ribs, impacting with enough force to carry forward, slashing through his lungs and out of his back, severing his spinal cord. With a wet sound, the upper portion of the Centaurs dissected body rolled forwards and off his torso, hanging on to the creature's body by a thick rope of flesh on his right.

She didn't pause to look, reversing the momentum of her hand to conjure another shield. As the shield sprang up around her in a timely fashion, a spear struck it, falling to the ground harmlessly. Tonks, allowing the shield to be the only barrier between herself and the Centaurs, sprinted across the grass to take refuge behind a tree. Fighting in the open would just get her killed.

As pleasant and happy-go-lucky as she was, Nymphadora Tonks knew when to dispose of her well-meaning intentions and take a fight seriously. Being an Auror, and that too a female one in a largely male-dominated profession, had taught her to be decisive and forceful when needed. When the going got rough, Nymphadora Tonks had made herself a reputation in the Auror forces for being unforgiving in her retaliation. She was peaceable at most times, but she would not back down from a fight, and always used the same mentality: 'If you hit them hard at first, they won't be there to irritate you later.' It was why Kingsley Shacklebolt had introduced her to the Order. If she was honest with herself, a good fight made her almost exultant…but it was something that she was somewhat ashamed of, and made a large effort in trying to be overly peaceable until disproportionately provoked.

This fight had to be lethal. Their opponents were hardly trying to knock them out…this was kill or be killed, and as the daughter of Andromeda Black Tonks, Tonks was more than slightly knowledgeable about the Dark Arts and the more destructive Light ones. Andromeda was disowned when she was twenty six…her upbringing, however, had closely acquainted her with the magic that most 'respectable' families used, especially those that took pride in their 'dark' reputation.

Harry, now thirty feet away, moved similarly, having rolled out of his leap to emerge under the nearest Centaur. With his dagger in his left hand, he jammed it upwards, stabbing the entire ten inch blade into the Centaur's stomach and dragging it viciously across, ignoring the loud scream of pain as the Centaur above him collapsed sideways, dying a terribly painful death. Simultaneously, with his other hand bearing the wand, he made a jagged slice in the air, muttering "Vivisectus Inflammare!"

An eight-foot vertical pillar of flaming green light emerged from his wand, tearing into another Centaur with force, striking it in the middle of the chest. With a loud explosion of flesh, it tore straight into its body, shredding organs, muscles and bones alike. It tore entirely through the human portion of its body, and through the equine portion, dissipating mere inches from the beast's rump. With its weight unstable, the Centaur seemed to split in two equal parts, opening like a grotesque, fleshy envelope, a bucketful of blood pouring out.

For an instant, it stood parted open, revealing the innards of the creature, and then flopped forward, caving in with a wet smack of flesh and blood until the only discernable feature of the being it used to be was the brown rear legs attached to the blood-smeared rump. Harry just moved on, immediately moving towards the nearest tree, pouring magic into his shield to keep it stable under the onslaught of arrows. Hiding under a Centaur had bought him some time, as the others were wary of accidentally injuring their comrade, but now he was at the receiving end of the anger of three other Centaurs, and in the open.

Tonks hissed as an arrow whizzed by, cutting her cheek and leaving a deep gash. Apparently, the Centaurs who were 'guarding' Bane weren't non-combatants at the moment. They were rapidly stringing arrows into their bows, nearly frothing at the mouth in hatred as they released them. Blood slowly began flowing from the cut, leaving a streak on her cheek. She moved along the circumference of the tree as a Centaur stormed towards her, using its spear like a jouster. As it shot past her, already wheeling sideways to make another run at her, she jabbed her wand towards it, snarling "Explodra!"

The Explosion curse struck the ground below the Centaur, causing a massive explosion to tear it apart and buffet the creature nearly twenty feet into the air, a rain of blood and dirt peppering the area. Her eyes widened as she noticed that a Centaur now had a clear shot at her. Smirking, it pulled back the bowstring on its bow, and Tonks found herself tripping over the thick roots of the tree, at an absolutely crucial time. She nearly laughed as the Centaur released the arrow, causing it to whizz through the air inches above her elbow. Ignoring her good luck for the time being, she drew a circle in the air with her wand, jerking it backwards as she muttered "Destructovis Invectus!"

A streak of white light blasted out of her wand with a bang, striking the Centaur in the chest even as it frantically tried to turn away from it. With a heave, the air was driven from its lungs as it was tossed off the ground like a rag doll. The last thing it did was scream in terror as the constriction in its chest did not stop there. With a disgusting squelch of wet meat, the Centaur imploded, its chest caving in, shortly followed by the rest of its body. A fine red and grey mist dotted the huge yellow-brown boulder behind it as the Centaur's body was spread over a thirty square yard area. Tonks immediately ducked behind the tree again, using the thick trunk as cover. While they were good, the Centaurs weren't good enough with bows to strike her hand squarely at a distance of twenty yards. She was able to peek out from behind the tree and aim inaccurate potshots at them.

With a rushed wave of his wand, Harry vanished the bow-string of the Centaur aiming at him, causing the creature to fumble when the resistance offered by the string suddenly disappeared. Without pause, Harry leapt forward, his dagger in his right hand now. With a vicious stab, he plunged the dagger into the Centaur's chest, an inch below its sternum, using his momentum as well as the firmly-lodged blade to heave himself off the ground, swinging in a wild arc in the air. With a thump, he landed on the creature's back, his boot-clad feet landing hard enough to knock the heavy Centaur over as it died, the tight grip of his hand on the dagger causing the blade to be wrenched sideways and out of the beast's body, tearing its chest wide open as it fell.

His landing was soft, padded by the Centaur's body, and he immediately leapt out of the way of a spear, nearly laughing as the spear eventually lodged into the fallen Centaur's lower body. As he moved, he switched his wand back to his right hand, flicking it upwards to silently cast an overpowered levitation charm. It worked magnificently, tossing the spear-wielding Centaur to rocket a few hundred feet into the air and back down to the rocky earth that welcomed it. With a scream of horror that grew louder as it fell earthwards, it was interrupted and silenced by the loud, fleshy thump caused by its body striking the ground. Rather than make an idiotic mistake like standing still to gaze at the horrorstruck Centaur 'flying', Harry used the time to make a wild dash towards the trees.

Tonks ducked behind the tree as an arrow whizzed past dangerously close, grimacing as she felt a slight gust of air brush against her face. Darting out from behind the cover with a shield already conjured, the two arrows that now approached were deflected. It would have been folly to conjure the shield after leaving the cover, as arrows certainly moved faster than she could cast a spell.

Reversing the movement of her wand, she slashed it the other way, snapping "Discerpo!" The piercing hex was slightly overpowered, causing a hole the size of a bludger to appear in the center of a Centaur's chest. With wide, shocked eyes, it looked down at the gaping hole, and then collapsed. Tonks simply darted behind the next tree, knowing that watching the Centaur die would be both foolish and sickening. She disillusioned herself, grinmacing at the uncomfortable sensation of a slick, wet substance flowing over her body and clothes. But it was of no use…their eyes were supernormal, and as soon as she tried to peek around the tree, a Centaur spotted her fluid, hazy form, immediately hissing in anger and stringing a new arrow. Still, being disillusioned was far better than being completely visible, and she made a dash for another tree, a much thicker, sturdier one than the one she was currently hiding behind.

A spear was thrown at her as she ran, and she dodged, but hissed in pain when the wooden handle drifted sideways due to the jagged throw, striking her on the arm. She stumbled, losing her balance, only to rise a second later, wand at the ready. A hissed "Waddiwassi!" sent the offending spear back at the Centaur who threw it, and in a vain attempt to fly up its nose, the spear literally tore the Centaur's head off, leaving a fleshy patch where its jaw used to be.

About half the Centaurs were down, the rest still screaming in anger, firing arrows at them with new vengeance. Harry moaned in pain as he was struck in the calf, the arrow tearing through his flesh as he tried to leap out of the way. Tonks screamed as an arrow struck her in the shoulder, making her body spin sideways as she fell. Unfortunately for her, she fell face-down, and with horror in her eyes, she realized what was about to happen. The shaft of the arrow was protruding straight out from her shoulder, and as she landed, the base struck the ground first, her weight falling onto the arrow. With a terrible scream of pain accompanying the motion, the arrow was driven through her shoulder and out of her back. She collapsed, crying in pain, her form wracked in agony. Unluckily for her, the wooden shaft was magically strengthened, and refused to simply snap under her weight, instead pushing further into her flesh and emerging from behind her.

Harry let loose another Concrema curse, but missed, stumbling because of the arrow lodged in his calf. He fell to his knees, raising his wand weakly as he bled. The Centaurs had wheeled about to face him, Tonks having slowly crawled towards him, tears on her cheeks because of the pain. He screamed in agony as one of them fired an arrow at his hand. He tried to move, but wasn't fast enough, and the arrow struck him on the thumb, striking it with enough force to nearly tear the appendage off. His wand was knocked out of his hand, falling to the ground a few feet away. Screaming in agony, he doubled over, tears leaking down his cheeks due to the pain. His left hand dropped the dagger to the ground in front of him as he cradled his torn right hand.

He looked up through wet eyes as he heard Bane laugh. The bastard Centaur had not fought, instead choosing to wait as his comrades tried to kill Harry, about four other Centaurs 'guarding' the overbearing horse where he stood. Bane took two steps forward, putting him at the head of his group. With a thrust, he stabbed the end of his spear into the mud before him, ready to draw it out if necessary.

"So, Human, how does it feel? You're about to die, and I will do the honors myself. Then, Harry Potter, I will kill your companion. I will break her, and I will kill her." He laughed again, sounding pleased with himself.

Slowly, the pain receded to a bearable level, Harry's Occlumency working hard to stave off the pressure that threatened to take him into blissful unconsciousness. It took him a minute to reign himself back under control, and he noticed that Bane was waiting for an answer from him.

Slowly he straightened himself out, closing his eyes. His face screwed up in concentration as he focused on his thumb. He wasn't good enough to heal this by himself…he would have to wait until Tonks could walk him through it properly. Slowly, he siphoned the magic away, steeling himself for the pain that was surely about to come. A second later, he screamed again, his face wracked with agony. The last bit of bone and flesh holding his thumb together tore apart, letting the thumb fall to the floor. Tears streaming from his eyes, he slowly healed the stub that was left, using his Metamorph skills as well as his wandless magic to cover the stump with skin even as he numbed the stump with his magic. Tonks, even through her pain, hissed in shock at the action, moving closer to him, laying her hand on his thigh.

Bane was staring at him. "You are a Metamorphmagus, are you, Harry Potter?" he sneered, having gleefully watched as the pain wracked Harry's body. Rather than end the fight by plunging his spear into Harry's body, the Centaur had chosen to lord his triumph over the humans, chosen to play stupid word-games as his enemies groveled before him.

He slowly blinked away the tears, looking up at Bane's smirking face. Harry cocked his head to the side, breathing deeply, and then hawked up a gob of red spit, spitting on the ground between them. He used the back of his left hand to wipe his mouth, looking up at Bane with a savage expression.

"Die," he spat eyes glaring hatefully at him. In one move, he dragged the palm of his right hand across the blade of his dagger, cutting deeply into his skin, and immediately raised his left hand to rub along his forearm, squeezing blood into the palm of his hand. In less than three seconds, a small pool of blood formed. As soon as the word left Harry's mouth, Bane snarled at him, his hand moving to grasp his spear tightly, tearing it out of the ground.

As Bane pulled the spear back in his hands, making to fling it at Harry's chest, Harry swung his hand back, and flung it forward, throwing the handful of blood into the air as he quickly chanted words in an arcane language, his voice booming in the woods even though he was whispering them.

"Teslen Abido Afirze!" he whispered, his voice building to a crescendo. Despite his savage snarl, Harry was afraid, more afraid than he had ever been before. What he was attempting was something that he had only studied, never attempted. To attempt something of this magnitude while within the Chamber would have been utter stupidity. That much was verified a second later.

The blood floated in the air, moving towards Bane and the other Centaurs. For Harry, everything slowed down to a crawl, and through wide eyes, he watched the result of his magic. Bane's mouth was contorted into a scream of anger, his lips slowly moving to form the hateful words that he yelled. Harry could not understand what Bane was saying, as the words were stretched to a ridiculous degree, sounding like an amorphous, unintelligible groan. He saw the muscles on Bane's arm flex as the Centaur flung the spear forward, the sharp metal tip moving inch-by-inch towards Harry. The Centaurs in the background seemed to move even slower, one slowly rising on its hind legs in its ire, the others swaying slightly as they moved at snail's pace. Beside him, Tonks' face was frozen in a look of surprise as her eyes stared at his outstretched hand. His face a few inches behind hers, he suddenly realized that he, too, was moving incredibly slow, the fingers of his hand slowly moving upwards, taut and outstretched, blood still staining them.

Then, everything sped back up, leaving him disoriented. As Bane's arm rushed forward to fling the spear, the handful of blood ignited. With a loud BOOM of noise, the small handful of blood burst into a swirling green and black flame, the size of a small house. With the force of a tidal wave, it struck Bane, and then the rest of the Centaurs, tossing the flying spear away like a rag-doll. There was an almighty explosion of magic, causing the horrified Centaurs to explode in a veritable mist of blood and organs, and the wave of magic plowed forth, tearing through the forest with all the tact of a rampaging rhino. Trees, rocks...they were all crushed by the force of the magic, exploding into splinters and tiny shards that were quickly reduced to dust. The wave rampaged forward for about thirty feet before it dissipated, leaving a smoldering clearing in front of Harry.

The ground was torn up, the trees and rocks reduced to dust, and a slight fog of smoke hung in the air, a pervading silence crowning the devastation. Above the clearing, through a gap in the overcast sky, Harry saw the sun shining down on them. Blankly, he stared at it, the beauty of the scene lost on him. The orange hue of the sun cast a similar glow on the clouds right around it, and through the humid air, Harry imagined he could see the individual rays beating down upon the clearing through the gap in the clouds. Then, the sun was swallowed by the billowing plumes of nearly-black clouds, and an ominous flash of lightning split the sky in half, tearing a jagged path across the horizon. As Harry closed his eyes, he heard the rumble of thunder, followed by the soft pitter-patter of the raindrops. Water trickled down his face, dotting his shirt with wet spots.

Harry blinked, remaining silent. He was spent, his bound magic causing the depletion to take a magnified toll on his body. He would be little above a squib for the next day or two, barely capable of the smallest of charms. Breathing heavily, he knelt, feeling the rain grow heavier, washing some of the dirt and blood off his body. Slowly, he got to his feet, moving towards Tonks. She was staring at him, utterly gobsmacked, her jaw hanging. He crouched next to her, still silent, examining her injury. The arrow was lodged into her shoulder, the metal tip having protruded out of the flesh by a few inches. Slowly, he put his palm out, facing the short part of the shaft that could be seen. With a whispered "Diffindo," a small bolt of red magic emerged from his hand, gently cutting through the wooden shaft. Tonks had expected to feel some pain, but the magic cut through the wood like a laser, simply sawing it off without causing the wooden shaft to move at all.

Taking a deep breath, she nodded at him, steeling herself for the pain. In a quick movement, Harry grasped the feathered end of the arrow's shaft, and pulled it out of her shoulder, causing her to scream in pain. Quickly, he cast a mild healing charm on the wound with his wand, following it up with a pain-dulling charm. This would have to do for now…the wound would require a Healing potion to finish the process. Breathing deeply, he repeated the process on his own wound, removing the arrow with a scream of pain, and doing his best in healing the wound. Slowly, he helped her to her feet, supporting her by wrapping his arm around her waist, leaning on her just as much as she leaned on him. For now, he was a squib…those simple charms had drained the last of his magic.

He retrieved his dagger, as well as her wand. Then, he silently led her away, returning to the Chamber.

Five minutes later, as the huge rock rolled away to reveal the opening to the Chamber of Secrets, Harry spoke for the first time since the fight.

"Blood Magic," he told a still shocked Tonks. "I think I just found the Power the Dark Lord knows not."

Later that night, they sat in silence, facing the crackling fire in the Chamber. Tonks had slowly walked Harry through the process of restoring his thumb, and though it had taken a good hour and a half, he had accomplished it. Luckily, the magic that was used for Metamorph transformations was separate from a Wizard's magic. Otherwise, his current state of Magical Exhaustion would have meant living without a thumb for a few days. They had taken healing potions, and after a few minutes of discomfort as their wounds knitted together, they were as good as new. Tonks had been gracious enough to cast cleaning charms on each of them, getting rid of the sweat, blood and grime that had stained their skin. Though the fight had been strenuous, and the lost blood had been taxing, neither felt tired. The plates of food languished on the table nearby, neither having felt the urge to eat. For the most part, they had remained silent for the past few hours, mulling over thoughts that threatened to break to the surface.

Harry was silent, his gaze lost amongst the glowing embers of the fire. His mind was tossing and turning, unable to discard the memory of the level of gore that he had been witness to and cause of. Through the violent images that attacked his mind, he sat silent, unwilling to let them overwhelm him. He wanted to take Tonks into his arms, to be comforted by her, but was reluctant. He had no way of knowing what she was experiencing, had no way of knowing what she was thinking about. He didn't want to touch her, didn't want to approach her, unwilling to make her recoil from him. Perhaps he was being unrealistic, perhaps he was being downright idiotic…but the last thing he wanted to do was scare her away. She had been as silent as him all evening, having seemed a little shocked after his display with the Centaurs. He sighed silently, trying to stop himself from looking at her now. Apart from everything else, he was also rattled about the fact that she had very nearly lost her life today, and while he wanted to comfort her, he didn't know how to even start doing that.

Tonks, a little more alive, and more used to the graphic deaths that they had seen, was watching him silently. Her face was creased with a small frown as she stared at him, compassion and love swimming in the beautiful depths of her eyes. It was obvious that he felt terrible…perhaps he thought that he had disgusted her, frightened her. She had been in a state of shock after seeing his magic in the Forest…it was only natural that she was stunned by the magnitude of such power. But she hadn't meant to be so disjointed, and it tore at her to see him sit there in silence, mournfully staring at the fire. Her eyes pressed shut, and she swallowed uncomfortably.

Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she made a decision. One that would go against what she believed in and what she wanted most desperately. This was something that would make or break their relationship…and she could only hope that her sacrifice would help them through it. She had to have faith, faith that things would work out. But for now, that had to be cast aside in favor of being with him. Now, she had to put aside this weight on her mind and comfort Harry. Ignoring the voice in her head that criticized her decision, she shook her head firmly, beating it down, and leaned over to Harry, placing her hand on his.

Harry looked up as Tonks gently took his hand in hers, an expression of relief crossing his face. She looked beautiful, the flickering lights of the fire throwing a myriad of colors across her skin. He pulled on her hand, and she rose, moving over to sit in his lap. He wrapped his arms around her, burying his head into the crook of her neck, inhaling her scent gratefully. Gently she hugged him to her body, kissing his cheek, then his eyes, his nose, and finally his lips.

He looked deep into her eyes, his soulful stare mirrored by her own. Her soft hands cupped his cheeks as she straddled him, her face hovering an inch above his.

"Can we talk tomorrow?" he asked, whispering his question even though they had all the privacy in the world. She saw the struggle in his eyes; she saw his need to be comforted. All his masks had fallen away, laying him bare to her. She kissed his lips gently, her warm breath playing across his face as she withdrew.

Nodding, she whispered "Make love to me, Harry." Her expressive, beautiful eyes stared into his, and he saw his own position mirrored in the beautiful violet depths of her eyes. He led her into the bedroom, casting a silencing charm on the door.

They came together that night in a meld of passion and understanding, their urgency exceeded only by their desire to sate the other's thirst for love. Their lovemaking was both gentle and excited, a sense of possessiveness after the battle making them reach at each other constantly to assure that the other was indeed alive and well. With climactic exclamations of pleasure, they came one after the other, slowly floating down from the heavens. Firmly ensconced in the arms of his lover, Harry slept peacefully that night, taking solace from the warmth that Tonks' soft body offered. Tonks slept calmly in her lover's arms, the sensation of warmth and security allowing her a contented smile, her lips pressed against his chest. Through the night, not once did they let go of each other.

Harry woke up in the early hours of the morning. With the time-distortion in the Chamber, what was four hours of sleep on the outside was some twelve hours to him. A bit surprised at having let go of Tonks, he blearily rolled over, looking to touch her again. He panicked as soon as he noticed that she wasn't there, and his mind immediately moved from one devastating scenario to another, conjuring vivid images of Tonks hating him. He woke up instantly, sitting upright in bed, hoping that she was somewhere in the Chamber. As he hurriedly slipped on a robe, he saw a sheet of paper stuck to the door of the room. Darting over, he ripped it off the door, quickly scanning the page.

Dear Harry,

I've gone to my apartment, so don't worry about me. I'll be back in the evening, and I'll call before I get there. I'll be in Diagon Alley this afternoon…I have to look for you.

Here, she drew a smiley face that was sticking its tongue out cheekily, and he smiled faintly, plowing on.

I'll give you a call before I come over…you can tell me then if you want to cook, or if I should pick up food again. Just in case, lets use that other exit that you mentioned, okay?

Another smiley face, and he smiled fondly, feeling reassured by the fact that she would come back to him.

I love you,


He smiled at the way she had signed off, his heart doing flip-flops at the sentiment. Still, he felt guilty, he felt like an utter bastard. While a simple word from Tonks could make his spirits rise, he was more than painfully aware of the fact that miles away, another woman languished alone. He loved Cho, there was no doubt about that. He loved her as much as he loved Tonks, and to have put her in this position was something that was tearing at his heart. He whispered a silent prayer, subconsciously falling into the habit that Petunia had lovingly taught Dudley as Harry had silently strained to hear from his cupboard.

'When you are feeling lost, when you are in despair, pray to God.'

And Harry prayed silently, his eyes closed, head inclined up towards the heavens. He hoped against hope that his relationship with Cho would not suffer. He hoped against hope that he would be able to love those that loved him, that he would be able to accept their love openly. For some reason, it worked…it left him with a hope that burned furiously. He believed that it could happen, that he would, someday, be able to love Cho and Tonks together, to be able to share a relationship with them that was fantastical in all ways. He whispered the prayer again.

Feeling lighter, he left the note next to the bed and left to get ready, preparing himself for a full day of work. There were potions to be made, and rituals to be planned for. He also needed to discuss the implications of the power of his Blood Magic with Salazar…there was no doubt in his mind that this was the Power he had been looking for. The spell, while intensely destructive, was not supposed to be that powerful. It should have caused only two-thirds of the destruction that it did, which was why he had used it. What scared him slightly was the fact that it was only the first time that he had used the spell…he was almost guaranteed to cast it with more power once he grew accustomed to using it. His previous forays into Blood Magic had been minuscule…Salazar had told him that there was no need to practice the more powerful magics until he had gone through his Maturation, for it would only cause him extra trouble in having to relearn his limits and control the amount of power he released. Of course, at that point, Harry had no idea that the Prophecy existed, and had felt no real rush to learn the spells anyways.

Now, it was obvious that the next week and a half would have to include a large emphasis on Blood Magic…he had a new advantage, and he was loath to do anything but squeeze it dry. He whistled a merry tune as he walked, wondering how to go through the next day. For some reason, he didn't want to sleep unless Tonks was with him. But with the time-distortion, the fifteen odd hours until he saw Tonks again would mean that he would have spent nearly two days awake. Grumbling, he knew that the time was necessary, and therefore he would have to sleep alone.

But there was one thing that he was certainly looking forward to…the expression on Salazar's face when he told the man what happened. Grinning, Harry decided to bathe later in favor of laughing first.

Eight hours later, Noon in England

Cho Chang was standing outside her home, watering the garden. This was a pet-project that she had taken on during the summer, a way of relieving her boredom. She wished that Harry was around, but knew that he was doing something important, whatever it was. A smile appeared on her face, accompanied by a rosy blush that made her look exquisite in the bright sunlight. She was engaged. Engaged!

She was still struggling to wrap her mind around it, and for the most part, had been entirely unable to stop grinning madly for the past day and a half. Knowing that she was alone in the house, and feeling a bit frisky, she grinned. Letting her hair loose, she waved her wand about merrily, dancing happily as streams of water from the tip of her wand splashed across the garden. She danced between the tomatoes and the turnips, laughing as her bare feet were dirtied by the mud. She twirled out of the reach of one of the magical plants, and it clicked in disappointment, making her grin even wider. She was truly happy, and it showed, her smile as bright as her eyes, cheeks dimpled beautifully.

She yelped in shock as someone cleared their throat audibly, nearly tripping, and immediately stopped dancing about, blushing brightly. She tried to see who the visitor was, but the glare of the sun was in her eyes, reflecting off the glass panels of the greenhouse. Realizing that she looked a bit stupid with her wand still gushing water, she hurriedly muttered "Finite."

She raised her free hand to shield her eyes from the glare, and looked closely, giving a slight smile as she recognized the visitor. Blushing slightly, she invited the visitor in, hurriedly wiping her feet on the mat.

"How are you, Tonks?" she asked graciously, smiling at seeing her friend and Housemate from years ago. While a few years had separated them, there was a Ravenclaw tradition of older students tutoring the younger ones, and it had, for centuries, facilitated a level of friendship between the different years that was unlike that in the other Houses.

Tonks nodded, looking pale and nervous. Cho frowned slightly, staring at her. As far as she knew, Tonks had been staying with Harry for a while, and was teaching him how to control his Metamorphmagus abilities. Her frown deepened…there was no need for Tonks to be here, unless…

The color drained from Cho's face. A tear rolled down her cheek, and she tried to smile bravely, wiping it away with an impatient swipe of her hand.

"So," she said, her voice faltering as sobs threatened to emerge, "you've fallen for Harry?"

Tonks' head rocketed up, her eyes wide. Weakly, she began to say something, but thought better of it, simply nodding jerkily.

Another tear emerged from Cho's eye, and she berated herself in vain for it. 'Dammit, Cho, stop it!" her mind cried, 'You knewthis would happen, so stop it!' But despite everything, despite knowing that this would happen, it did nothing to lessen the impact. She felt small, broken…she felt betrayed, even though she had told herself every night for months that she would be accepting. She had tried to force herself to accept what she knew was inevitable, but now, in the face of the moment, she was unable to.

The tears threatened to pour out, but she worked hard, using the Occlumency skills that Harry had taught her. 'Harry taught this to me…Harry did. How ironic…' She slowly managed to rein herself under control, but the side effect was that her voice sounded hollow and emotionless when she spoke.

"So," she asked, sounding almost mechanical, "is that what you came here to tell me? Does Harry know yet, or have you already been intimate with him?" It hurt to ask the last question, it hurt more than she could ever have imagined. The pain threatened to tear at her from within, and she was sure that as soon as Tonks was gone, she would be nothing more than a sobbing wreck.

Weakly, Tonks nodded, confirming what she suspected. In a dry, rough voice, Tonks whispered "He does love you. He…he loves you more than you can imagine."

Cho didn't have to hear the 'but' to understand what Tonks was saying. While the sentiment was somewhat uplifting, it did not detract from the pain at all.

She laughed harshly. "I know he does, and that's why it hurts." Tonks recoiled as if she had been slapped. A miniscule part of Cho's mind felt some pity for the other woman, felt some pity for the fact that she was in this position. She imagined that Harry had no idea that she was here. He, probably, was somewhat broken himself, possibly trying to understand how he should tell her. She had been voicing it for months…her great-great-great grandmother had been a seer, and ever since, the female descendants of the Chang family would make one true prediction in their lives. This was hers. It had simply stumbled out of her mouth one day while talking to him, and she had been horrified for weeks. She had tried to accept it, and had thought that she had. Obviously, she had been wrong.

And immediately, he had looked at her in utter disbelief. He had refused to say a thing, refused to accept it. When she asked why, he would not answer, but the reason was painfully obvious, and it only made her love him more. He simply couldn't handle the thought of betraying her, be it purposely or accidentally. While entirely prepared to betray someone who offended him in any way, in moral issues, he was strictly honest. He had not falsely told her that he loved her until he truly meant it. To some extent, he was wary of the prediction…he did not dismiss it, but to have it happen would break him. It always made him uncomfortable, having her in his arms, weeping softly as she whispered "I love you," only to know that there was someone else that he would love, too.

Softly, Tonks whispered "I'm sorry. It means nothing coming from me, but I'm sorry."

Cho shook her head, looking broken. "What can I do? I can accept it…I knew this would happen. I don't like it at all, but I can't leave him. I love him more than anything else in the world. If…if this has to happen," she whispered sadly, "it will. All I can do is hope that he will keep loving me."

Tonks looked down at the ground. They sat in silence for a minute, each drifting into their thoughts. Tonks took a deep breath, making Cho look back up. Unconsciously, her fingers rose to her face, and she felt the tears that had rolled down her cheeks. Blushing in embarrassment, she hurriedly wiped them away. Tonks reached into the pocket of her robes and withdrew two envelopes. She placed them on the table, and used the tips of her fingers to slide them across. Cho's breath hitched unconsciously as she remembered Harry perform the same action, while sitting in the same seat as Tonks.

She looked down, lifting the two letters off the table. One bore her name, the other Tonks', the handwriting feminine but somewhat messy. Cho looked up at Tonks, wondering why the Auror had given her a letter addressed to herself. Tonks smiled sadly, looking out of the window, her gaze blank.

"I wrote them," she said softly. "Don't open the one addressed to me. Your letter should tell you what to do with yours."

Cho raised an eyebrow, intrigued even though she had other things to think about. Her fingers gently removed the seal on the envelope addressed to her, and she removed the paper. Tonks was now staring at her, her gaze almost desperate. Cho's eyes fell to the paper, carefully reading through the words. With each sentence, her eyes grew wider and wider, her jaw dropping in absolute astonishment. Stunned, she read through the letter again, and then again, shaking her head in utter disbelief.

She slumped back in her chair, her hands dropping the letter as they rose to cradle her face. For nearly ten minutes, she sat there in complete silence, staring at the wall blankly, her eyebrows knitted in thought. Finally, she leaned forward, seeing Tonks staring at her in pure desperation now. There was nothing between them…every emotion was entirely bared. A tear rolled down Cho's cheek as she blinked.

Looking into Tonks' eyes, she paused for a minute. Then, blinking again, she nodded, another tear slipping down her cheeks.

Tonks deflated, releasing a sigh of relief. She stood, and walked outside with Cho in complete silence.

She turned to the younger woman, gazing at her sorrowfully.

"I'm so sorry," Tonks whispered. Then, she took a deep breath and pointed her wand at herself, a look of sadness on her face.



Please be so kind as to review, even with a single word, such as Outstanding/Exceeds Expectations/Acceptable/Poor/Dreadful…

Reviews are always nice to have, and it gives me an idea as to how my efforts are being received.

Now, I'm sorry to say it, but updates for Chimera and Incubus are going to become a bit slower. I'm taking a lot of hard classes this upcoming semester, and I won't have quite as much time to write. I will, however, do my utmost to try and update once a month. It's hard, but I will try. Thanks for all the reviews, and all the hits. Apparently, my promises about chapter length are useless, because this one is the largest Chimera chapter that I have written to date. :P

The list of people to be thanked for this chapter…this wasn't beta'd, per se, since my beta has seemingly gone on vacation, but I'm confident that the rest of these fine fellows have weeded out any errors.

Element, IP82: Thanks a lot for all your help. The two of you practically made this chapter what it is.

LT2000, CJCold: Thanks for your help, and all ideas/critiques that you have given. It is very much appreciated.