Chapter 13 : War Mage Silver

Publish Date: 31 July 2005

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, its characters, or anything associated with it. I'm not making any money from this story, and I don't intend to. I'm writing it purely for the satisfaction of it, and because several people warned me that there would be dire consequences if I didn't finish it. The resemblance of any character to an actual person is completely accidental. Please don't sue -- I don't own enough to make it worth your while.

Note: This is a Harry / Severus slash story -- and while their relationship is also accompanied by plot, action, and drama, if you seriously object to the slash element -- or to the particular pairing -- then don't read the story!


THE MIRROR OF MAYBE: Chapter 13
-- War Mage Silver --

It was an exhausted and frustrated Severus Snape who finally dragged himself back to his quarters. He was tired enough to collapse onto his bed fully clothed, but soon discovered that although his body was now free of the need for physical exertion, his mind refused to give up and rest. The Headmaster's desire to see him 'happy' with the War Mage was a source of astonishment and disbelief, tinged with a sense of betrayal and anger.

Albus had, in effect, refused to help him avoid Voldemort's orders. That only left Severus with two choices: he could try to think of a way around the problem by himself, or he could give in and take the man to bed.

The problem with the first option was that Severus knew he would be hard pressed to come up with a solution. He wasn't very good with people. In fact, when it came to other human beings, he was terrible. They frustrated him -- and by and large, he didn't like them. Albus, on the other hand, was astonishingly good with people. They inevitably did whatever he wanted them to, and half the time they even thought it was their own idea! That amazing ability to manipulate others was one of the things Severus admired about the canny old wizard -- perhaps because it was a skill he knew he would never possess himself.

But now it seemed that Albus was not going to use his considerable talent on Severus' behalf. He was on his own. Again. And this time he had both a War Mage and the Dark Lord urging him down the same path. //And,// he thought cynically, //let us not forget Albus standing in the background encouraging his bloody Dark Arts teacher!//

Frustrated, Severus rolled onto his back and pulled a pillow over his face. The soft cotton was almost like a damp cloth -- cool and soothing where it rested on his brow. He pressed the pillow closer, feeling the material brush against his eyelids. //Maybe,// he thought, //I could just suffocate myself and not have to worry about it.// But all too soon, the pillow warmed against his skin and became a source of irritation. He tossed it aside.

Kicking off his shoes and wishing he was already asleep, Severus recognised that he had no hope of coming up with a useful idea while he was so tired. Yet his whirling thoughts refused to leave it alone. With a perverse sense fascination, his mind inevitably turned towards the second option: give in, and take the War Mage to bed.

Well, really -- why did the idea seem so objectionable? It was just sex, after all. And of course, it was what three rather powerful wizards -- including the mage himself -- all wanted him to do. And yet...

And yet, Severus felt... trapped... by their plans for him -- as though he had nowhere to run. Which was silly, since he'd had nowhere to run for the last eighteen years. The Dark Mark tied him to Voldemort with no chance of escape, while his conscience tied him to Albus -- and you couldn't outrun your conscience.

//You'd think I'd be used to the feeling by now,// he mused quietly.

But for some reason this felt... different. Personal. Which was ridiculous, since the whole sorry situation was about as personal as you could get. Why on earth wouldn't it feel personal? //Probably,// Severus ruefully acknowledged, //because nobody's ever tried to manipulate my choice of lover before.// He'd taken that freedom for granted -- and even though he hadn't exercised that tiny bit of free will very often, he'd always just assumed it would be there.

And now it wasn't.

//How strange,// he thought, //to have envied others their freedom -- their ability to quit their job; to say what they think; to live wherever they want; or to just... pick up and go... And yet, I never appreciated the freedom I did have until it was taken away...//

But of course, Severus knew that nobody was really that free. People couldn't quit their jobs when they needed the money, and you'd have to be mad to express your opinion if the people around you were violently opposed to it. You could prove 'freedom-of-speech' was all rubbish simply by questioning whether Dark magic was really such a bad thing. Once Voldemort began his rise to power, all logical argument on that topic had flown out the window. People had been persecuted simply for suggesting that Dark magic might actually be beneficial in some circumstances. And as for just leaving -- nearly everyone he knew had obligations that tied them to their current location. Humans seemed to naturally acquire such ties -- be they friends, family, or professional interests. Even those who did travel around, usually had somewhere or someone to come home to.

But they still had the option of doing those things, if they were determined enough to follow through on it.

And he didn't.

But Severus had never thought to envy such a small thing as the right to choose his bed partner. It had never even occurred to him. And yet, Lucius Malfoy had apparently had that right taken away some sixteen years ago. Vaguely, Severus wondered what other 'rights' -- what other 'freedoms' -- he had unknowingly enjoyed that Lucius had not.

It was just one more reason for Malfoy to hate him.

//Now there's a depressing thought,// Severus reflected. //All those years when I could've been rubbing his nose in it -- wasted!// It was too late now, of course -- Lucius had discovered Voldemort's plans for Severus' future wedded bliss at the same time Severus had.

The thought of those plans -- and his future wife -- was not conducive to restful sleep. Forcing himself not to dwell on it, Severus rolled over and contemplated the War Mage instead. He was still resentful about being forced into a relationship with the man, but now that he recognised the cause of his anger, he would be able to deal with it. That is -- if he had to. There was still the remote possibility that he might think of a way out of it.

Maybe.

//But,// his traitorous thoughts asked, //if there's not, how will you deal with it?//

How indeed.

Did the mage already know about the Dark Mark on his arm? And if so, should he tell the Dark Arts instructor about Voldemort's orders? If he did that, then he would also have to reveal his role as a spy. Albus had implied a great deal of trust in the man, but it wasn't the Headmaster's life on the line if it turned out he was wrong.

And what if the War Mage didn't know? That could turn ugly very quickly.

Severus sighed. He briefly entertained the thought that he probably could use potions and spells to bind the man into complete devotion. After all, mage or not, he was still human.

//Unfortunately,// Severus winced, //Albus would skin me alive when he found out.// And he knew Albus would find out. After a while, it would be hard to miss -- no matter how subtle he was with the magical side effects.

So what did that leave?

It left him bloody tired and going 'round in circles.

In all honesty, he had no idea of what to do, and wasn't in any condition to think about it. The fact that he couldn't stop thinking about it was keeping him awake when he should've been asleep. If he didn't get at least some sleep, he was going to be in a truly foul mood tomorrow -- or rather, today -- and if he wasn't awake during class, his cretinous students would probably blow up the classroom. It was too much to hope that they might simply poison each other.

Strangely enough, it was the thought of his students that finally began to calm his overly-tired thoughts. Terrifying the little monsters, and deducting House points, helped to harden them against life's injustices. With any luck, by the time they graduated they would be at least partially immune to the tactics of fear and intimidation that they would inevitably encounter in the adult world -- and he wasn't just thinking about Death Eaters. If his students could learn to cope with him, then they had at least some chance of coping with others who tried the same thing.

And then too, terrifying his students was fun.

Although he was well aware that deriving pleasure from tormenting children was rather pathetic, Severus was completely unashamed of it. After all, it wasn't like the rest of his life was much better, and since it did serve a purpose, what did it matter if he enjoyed it at the same time?

Thinking about the effect his presence had on the younger students was both entertaining and comfortably familiar. Buoyed by more positive emotions, Severus gradually drifted away from consciousness. But half asleep and fading fast, his final thoughts once more pulled him back to the War Mage...

//Well...// his semi-conscious mind told him, //at least it's not like you'd have to pursue him. That would be adding insult to injury. If nothing else, he's made it quite plain that he's more than willing to pursue you...// It was an odd thought, and was immediately made even stranger by Severus' final wisp of awareness...

//Maybe I could even get my Potions book back...//

----oo00oo----

When Severus Snape arrived for breakfast the next morning, Harry silently scrutinized him for any telltale signs of the Cruciatus curse. At the time, he'd been relieved to see that the Potions Master was apparently all right. But now -- two days later -- he was beginning to wonder just what, exactly, Voldemort had said to him.

It was now just over a week since that very interesting Friday night when Harry had essentially propositioned the Potions Master. Up until the meeting with Voldemort, Sev's attitude and behaviour had been that of a man who -- while interested in the idea -- had nonetheless managed to come up with several reasons to talk himself out of it. That he hadn't formally declined Harry's offer was probably due to the fact that he hadn't figured out whether it would be better to say 'no' in private, or in public.

Harry knew that a private refusal would normally have been Sev's preferred choice -- reflecting the man's preference for keeping his personal life to himself. However, it was an established fact that no conversation with Ash had ever gone quite the way Severus Snape had intended it to. Therefore, a more public refusal -- where Sev probably thought Harry would be less inclined to argue -- might've been a better idea. Except that Severus really hated making a public spectacle of himself...

And so Harry had waited patiently, amused by Sev's indecision, and plotting his strategy for convincing the Potions Master to change his mind.

Then Sev had been summoned, and after that, everything changed.

Now the Potion Master's attitude was that of a man who was steadfastly refusing to commit himself to any course of action whatsoever. Severus no longer looked as though he was going to decline Harry's offer, but at the same time he wasn't giving out any indication that he was going to accept it either. Instead, he treated Harry almost as though their Friday night conversation had never happened. The only difference was that Sev very carefully avoided any opportunity for the two of them to talk privately. It was almost as though he was waiting for something -- or planning something.

Harry found all this particularly confusing. He had assumed Sev would spend a day or two thinking about the situation, and then tell him yes or no. 'Yes' would've been ideal. 'No' would've meant he had to convince the Potions Master to reconsider his decision. But this... this... dithering around! How was he supposed to deal with this? It wasn't typical Severus Snape behaviour -- which was why Harry was intensely curious to know what on earth Voldemort could've said to him.

Desperation eventually forced Harry to seek information from his only available sources: Draco Malfoy and Albus Dumbledore.

Interestingly, Draco was able to reveal that he'd been instructed to watch his Head-of-House and the DADA teacher for any signs of a developing friendship. At the word 'friendship', Draco had rolled his eyes, and then added, "You know, sometimes I think my father's forgotten every birthday I've had since I was ten. He seriously believes I still think the word 'gay' refers to some insufferably cheerful git who goes around telling everyone to have a nice day."

Harry welcomed Draco's information for two reasons. First of all, it meant that Harry now knew Voldemort had ordered Sev to start a relationship with him, and secondly, it was the first time he'd ever heard Draco being even mildly critical of his father. Hopefully, that small bit of censure meant the young man was finally starting to emerge from his father's shadow.

But other than that, it didn't do a thing to explain Sev's current behaviour. In point of fact, it only made the situation even more incomprehensible, since the Potions Master seemed to be teetering on the very edge of disobeying the Dark Lord -- which worried Harry more than a little.

Nervously, he waited a few more days in the hope that whatever Sev was doing would resolve itself without interference. When the situation was still unchanged three days after that, Harry decided it was time to approach the only person in whom Sev might have confided.

Unfortunately, visiting Albus Dumbledore was a bit like attending the Mad Hatter's tea party -- the only thing you were ever sure of was that tea would be involved in it somewhere. This was further complicated by the fact that Harry could not afford to let Albus know he could sense Sev being summoned by the Dark Lord. That little bit of information would only encourage the Headmaster to ask why he could sense it, which would then lead to all sorts of questions that Harry didn't even want Albus to think about, let alone ask.

So basically, Harry would have to stay well away from any topic that would lead Albus to suspect he knew about Sev's recent meeting with Voldemort. By extension, that also meant he couldn't ask about whatever the Dark Lord might've said to the Potions Master. Thus, Harry would have to keep the conversation focused on his potential relationship with Sev -- a relationship he knew Albus wanted to encourage -- and also upon Sev's recent strange behaviour. After that, Harry would just have to hope the Headmaster was willing to drop him a few hints about what was going on in the same way that he'd previously been willing to recommend restaurants and music.

//Although,// Harry reflected, //if Sev told him that Voldemort also wants the two of us together, Albus might not be so enthusiastic about it anymore.// It would be ironic if the Headmaster -- after giving him advice when he didn't want it -- was suddenly unwilling to offer advice when he did want it.

//Well,// Harry thought, //there's only one way to find out!//

And so, late on Friday night, Harry once more found himself standing outside Albus' door, muttering the name of some obscure muggle confectionary, and hoping that just for once a conversation with Albus would make sense while he was still in the middle of it, and not just in hindsight days, weeks, or months later.

But an hour or so after he entered, Harry knew his hopes had been in vain.

After admitting Harry to his office, Albus had begun by offering him a chair near the fire and a new blend of herbal tea that he'd recently acquired. The tea apparently had soothing properties, and Harry actually found it quite pleasant. Then, before Harry even had the chance to say 'thank-you', Albus was enquiring after his students. Harry replied that they were all fine, thank you very much.

"And yourself?" Albus asked. "How are you finding Hogwarts? Is teaching everything you thought it would be?"

At that moment, Harry realised that if he continued to let Albus control the conversation, he would probably spend the rest of the evening trying to avoid answering personal questions, and defending himself from Albus' curiosity. At this rate, he would never find out what he wanted to know!

It was definitely time to change the subject.

Harry easily made some vaguely agreeable reply, and then deliberately added: "But of course, the real pleasure has been in working with the other teachers. I had a lot of positive feedback on that sixth-year class Professor Sprout and I did together. In fact, the students were so enthusiastic that I was rather hoping to do another combined class -- with Potions this time. However, it seems that Professor Snape has been a bit... distracted... lately, and I just can't seem to pin him down on a time and place to work out the details."

Much to Harry's surprise, Albus seemed to welcome the turn of conversation. "Mmm," the Headmaster agreed while stroking his beard. "Severus has always set himself a very demanding schedule. Research, study, teaching... I don't know how he keeps up, really."

Harry frowned slightly. Surely Albus wasn't suggesting that Sev was avoiding him just because he was overworked!

The Headmaster's face took on a melancholy aspect. "It is my considered opinion," he said, "that Severus pushes himself to do far more than any man should. And I have occasionally wondered whether he is trying to make up for something -- perhaps even something that happened quite a long time ago." There was a reflective pause while Albus picked up his tea and sipped at it. Then, in a deceptively mild tone, he added, "If someone were to ask, I suppose I would say that whatever mistake he might have made, almost certainly occurred while he was still very young -- during his final year of school, in fact..." Albus' eyes flicked up to meet Harry's. "...at about the same time that Voldemort was coming into the peak of his power."

Harry quelled a momentary sense of panic. The Headmaster was obviously referring to that time in Sev's life when he'd willingly become a Death Eater and followed the Dark Lord. But Severus' connection to Voldemort -- and by extension Harry's connection to both of them -- was the last thing he wanted to talk about. Surely, Albus didn't suspect such a connection! Carefully, Harry tried to steer the conversation back towards the present.

"Youth and inexperience," he commented, "can only be cured with time. I'm quite sure Professor Snape is not the same man now that he was all those years ago. I'm more concerned with his present... dilemma. If he's having... difficulty... with something, then perhaps I could be of assistance."

But Albus' willingness to change topics had disappeared without a trace. The stubborn old wizard now seemed determined to keep the conversation where it was. "Some mistakes are not so easily left behind," the Headmaster replied. "But rather, they seem to follow us -- shading all our future choices. One might even say we can be... marked... by our past, for years to come."

Now Harry knew Albus suspected something. But suspicion wasn't the same as confirmation. And so, for the next hour, the two of them wrestled the conversation back and forth between them.

Albus kept dragging it back to the past, wanting to talk about the historical period that began with Sev's final year at Hogwarts and continued through until the Death Eater Trials that occurred after the Dark Lord's downfall. And yet, at no time did he ever mention that Sev had actually been involved with Voldemort. It was obvious to Harry that the Headmaster was trying to get 'Ash' to admit that he knew things about Severus Snape's past that the War Mage shouldn't be aware of.

For his part, Harry steadfastly avoided all of Albus' verbal traps and tried to steer the conversation back into the present. In desperation, he hinted that he might have propositioned the Potions Master, and had received no sign of a response, either for or against the idea. There was no way someone like Albus Dumbledore could possibly have missed what he was trying to say -- and yet the Headmaster simply ignored Harry's plight, and kept right on trying to turn the conversation back to Voldemort and the past.

All in all, it was an incredibly frustrated War Mage who finally gave up and bid Albus goodnight. The Headmaster then proceeded to confuse him completely by seeing him politely to the door and leaving him with the parting words: "Don't feel discouraged, my boy. Your problem -- like Severus' -- is not a difficult one. I'm sure that with a few hours sleep, and some reflection upon tonight's conversation, the question will come to you."

----oo00oo----

//What the hell was that all about?// Harry asked himself as he trudged off to his quarters. //What did he mean 'the question will come to you'? Surely, he meant the answer will...//

Then Harry realised.

Albus sometimes had a nasty habit of answering the question you should have asked, rather than the question you actually asked. The Headmaster had essentially just told him that he knew exactly what Harry wanted to know, and that the answer to his question wouldn't do him any good. So instead, the old wizard had spent the entire evening trying to give him an answer that would help him. It was now up to Harry to figure out what on earth the question was, so that the answer would make sense.

The problem with that, was that when Harry replayed the conversation in his mind, he couldn't pin down what Albus had been trying to tell him. Everything the old wizard had said was related to Sev's time as a Death Eater, and then as a spy. Yet Albus had been very careful not to mention that Sev had ever been a Death Eater. 'Ash' wouldn't know about that. But Harry was fairly certain that Albus suspected he did know. So what was it about Sev being a Death Eater that might help him? Or was he missing the point entirely?

//Bloody hell,// Harry thought as he massaged the bridge of his nose. //This is giving me a headache. What does Albus know? -- what am I supposed to know? -- what do we both suspect? How am I supposed to make sense of out of this mess?//

Ultimately, Harry decided that this was a prime example of why he was a mediocre spy at best, while someone like Severus -- who could keep the various roles he was expected to play completely separate and under control -- was a master of deception who'd managed to survive in one of the most paranoid and deadly courts in the world. Harry half suspected that if he could just forget he'd ever been 'Harry Potter', then 'Ash' would be able to figure out what was going on with very little difficulty. But as it was, all he could come up with was a confused tangle of ideas and information that made no sense whatsoever.

He suspected it would all become obvious to him at some stage in the future -- probably at the exact moment he no longer needed to know.

By the time Harry reached his rooms, he'd pretty much decided to take Albus' advice about getting a few hours sleep. He somehow doubted it would help, but at least it wouldn't hurt -- and it wasn't like the situation was so critical that it couldn't wait until tomorrow.

Harry's last thought before sleep claimed him was a wistful one...

//Sev would be able to figure this out...//

----oo00oo----

Saturday morning dawned overcast and miserable. By lunchtime, it had deteriorated to drizzling rain punctuated by occasional wind gusts. This meant that lunch in the dining hall was a fairly well populated affair. Usually, students would grab something from the tables, and dash off to Quidditch, or the Great Court, or even to Hogsmeade if they were sixth or seventh-years. But today, the students who hadn't taken food up to their dormitories were haphazardly scattered around the hall, eating, gossiping, playing board games, and otherwise just passing the time.

Finishing up his second sandwich, Harry noted that Ron and Hermione were both seated at the Gryffindor table. Ron was playing wizarding chess against Seamus, while Hermione was -- for once -- not immersed in a book. Instead, she seemed to be practicing some sort of charm on what looked like... a muggle wristwatch?

//What in Merlin's name is she doing?// he wondered.

After watching her for a few minutes, Harry realised that whatever Hermione was up to, was apparently not working. That in itself was astonishing since she usually succeeded at new things on the first or second try. Observing the thoughtful look on her face as she tried again and again, Harry's curiosity finally got the better of him, and he arose from the teacher's table, intent on going over there to find out what could possibly baffle such a brilliant student.

Just as he was crossing the open space between the high table and the student tables, the side door behind him slammed open. Training took over, and the world slowed to a crawl as Harry dropped into quick-time. Even as logic told him that there was unlikely to be any threat, the memory of Albus' fake Ked'rallirri caused him to begin a controlled drop to the floor. At the same time, he was also twisting his head and torso towards the unexpected noise.

What he saw shocked him.

Clad entirely in brown and forest green -- and running straight for him -- was a tall, exotic looking woman with delicately pointed ears, liquid silver eyes, and the War Mage insignia firmly fastened to the front of her cloak. But what caused him to instantly drop out of quick-time and straighten up again, was the incredibly beautiful smile and the open arms of welcome that accompanied her heart wrenchingly familiar face.

"Ash!" she cried as she threw herself on him.

Overwhelmed by the memories of his beloved circle-sister, Harry instinctively grabbed her low around the waist, and lifted her up off the floor to spin her around in joyful welcome. "Silver!" he laughed as he put her down and hugged her for all he was worth.

The familiar scent of earth and forest blossoms assailed Harry's senses. Happily, he opened up the first layer of his defensive spells -- not deactivating them, but simply inviting her to merge the outermost layer of her own magic with his. It was a gesture of trust and welcome between lovers within the circle -- or between those who had once been lovers.

She stiffened in his arms.

In shock Harry suddenly remembered that this Silver didn't know him. Hastily, and with a pang of loss and loneliness, Harry re-sealed his outer defensive spells, and released her. She took a half step back, but refused to let go of him entirely. In elven, she said, "~Ash -- I'm sorry for deceiving you, but when Ell'evisor told us about the Mirror -- and that you claimed to know me...~"

"~...You needed proof.~" Harry replied sadly. "~I understand. I-I'm sorry for the familiarity...~"

"~Don't be,~" Silver reassured him. "~For you, it was not a familiarity, but a cherished memory. I'm sorry I'm not the one you remember.~" And then she smiled impishly at him, "~But perhaps I might become that person? If you know me at all, then you know how curious I am -- especially when it comes to humans!~"

Harry could feel his face turning red. He remembered Silver's curiosity very well indeed. The first time they'd tumbled into bed together, she'd explored every inch of his body like he was the most fascinating thing she'd ever seen.

Silver laughed at his expression. "By the colour of that blush," she said in English, "you remember my curiosity only too well!" and then she finally let go of him in order to throw her cloak back over her shoulders -- thus exposing a very low-cut tunic and a very nice cleavage.

"Silver!" Harry cried in mock-outrage. "We're in public!"

"~Oh, pooh,~" she responded as she dropped back into Elven, "~Don't tell me you're another stodgy male mage! We have far too many of them in the circle as it is!~"

Harry began laughing helplessly. Nothing, it seemed, would ever change Silver. She was still a sugar-addicted hyperactive child in a woman's body -- and she had no sense of propriety at all! Without even looking, Harry knew that most of the male senior students were currently staring at her. A few were probably even drooling.

"~Then perhaps, my dear Silver,~" came a second voice, "~you should learn to appreciate the benefits of modesty and peaceful contemplation.~"

Harry turned to see a wrinkled old elf leaning on a wooden staff just inside the hall. He was dressed much the same as Silver, but bore it with an indefinable air of wisdom and dignity. He reminded Harry very strongly of Albus.

"~Blah, blah, blah...~" Silver retorted. "~This from the man who keeps telling us we have to work to our strengths!~"

An amused smile graced the ancient elf's face as he walked over to them. After his first few steps, a third person was also revealed -- it was Ell'evisor, who was no longer hidden from view behind the long, flowing cloak of the circle's most senior War Mage. Politely silent in the company of his elders, Ell'evisor trotted along behind the venerable old elf. The ancient one himself -- with an air of long-suffering patience -- looked sternly towards the unrepentant War Mage Silver. "~But if you simply ignore your weaknesses,~" he berated her, "~they will be used against you. You must --~"

"~-- acknowledge your flaws and work to minimise them!~" both Harry and Silver finished together.

The old elf blinked. Then he scowled. "~I am surrounded by children...~" he muttered.

"~And you love it, my most respected Course Guide,~" Harry cheekily told him.

"~Ah,~" he responded, "~So I was your Course Guide, was I?~"

"~Ly'haniir,~" Harry smiled, "~would you really have let someone else guide the first human to join the circle in generations?~"

"~Probably not,~" Ly'haniir acknowledged. "~And yet, I cannot remember being greeted as anyone's Course Guide so far today.~"

Knowing that he was about to be tested again, Harry happily took his position in front of the ancient elf, and made the deep bow of respect that acknowledged his debt to the other mage for all the education and training he had received. He also listened very carefully for the telltale sound of Ly'haniir's staff as it left the floor. Harry moved his head suddenly to the left as the gnarled end of the staff whistled through the air beside him. Then he moved his right foot just before the end of the staff smashed into the floor. As Harry straightened, he continued to shift and turn as the staff alternately poked and swished the air around him. As he ended the bow with the traditional words of greeting, Harry suddenly stopped moving and held perfectly still.

The solid length of wood flew through the air straight towards his face.

There was a universal gasp from the students in the hall as the tip of Ly'haniir's staff halted a hair's breadth above Harry's skin -- right between his eyes. The lesson of the staff was one of avoidance -- to remind a War Mage that not all battles should be fought. But the final blow was more complicated than that. It was an acknowledgement of the trust between teacher and student, as well as a reminder that some battles must not be avoided -- even if there was nothing you could do but stand there in silent protest.

The staff slowly made its way back to the floor.

"~I am honoured to be so well greeted,~" Ly'haniir nodded with approval.

There was a polite cough off to one side.

Harry and all three elves turned to see Professor Dumbledore, flanked by several staff members, watching them curiously. "Professor Ash," Albus smiled, "I do hope I'm not interrupting, but I would very much like to make the acquaintance of your most intriguing friends."

----oo00oo----

As the students watched their Dark Arts teacher and the Headmaster disappear from the hall -- followed by an entire entourage of strange elves and curious professors -- the whispered speculation about Professor Ash's guests suddenly swelled to a dull roar. Gossip and guesses abounded, and those who'd noticed the War Mage insignia on two of the strange elves quickly spread the news to everyone else. Some students ran off to their House common rooms -- intent on being the first ones to tell those who weren't present what was going on; while others dashed off to the owlery -- hurriedly composing letters to their parents and families.

Seamus, who was tired of losing at chess anyway, quickly abandoned Ron and their current game, in order to spread the news about the two new War Mages he'd seen at lunch, and the totally amazing way Professor Ash had stood perfectly still while some crazy old elf nearly brained him.

Ron himself was still processing the fact that the lady elf had greeted Professor Ash like a long-lost friend -- a really really... close... long-lost friend. "Hey Mione?" he whispered as he leaned over towards her. "If there are other War Mages who know Ash, doesn't that mean he can't be...?"

Hermione was still looking speculatively at the door through which everyone had exited. "Well..." she began slowly, "it's possible he met them over the summer. But it does look like they've been friends for a quite while, doesn't it?"

"More than just 'friends' with her, I reckon."

Hermione looked at him, and then rolled her eyes.

"What?" Ron asked indignantly. "I was just saying --"

"Something that's none of our business," she interrupted. "Honestly Ron, sometimes you're such a... a boy!" There were a couple of giggles from nearby, and Hermione realised she'd said that last part loud enough to be overheard by several of the other girls sitting at their table.

Ron snorted. "Yeah, well -- it's gotta be better than the alternative!" And then he ran for his life before Hermione or any of the others had a chance to hex him.

There were a few cries of feminine outrage, but he needn't have worried about Hermione. She merely rolled her eyes again, and then promptly ignored the rest of the world in favour of her latest project. Looking down at the digital watch in front of her, she noted that the rectangular display screen was still blank. Absently, she wondered whether she would have better luck activating the watch if she took out the dead battery.

"No," she murmured to herself, "if magic and electricity are at all related, then I should be able to make this work whether the battery is there or not." But of course she was only guessing about magic and electricity being related. She didn't actually know enough about how electricity worked to be sure that that was true. //I really need a book about this,// she reflected. But of course, there were no books in the library about electricity -- not even in the Muggle Studies section.

And there certainly wasn't anybody she could ask.

----oo00oo----

A few hours later, Harry finally managed to get Ly'haniir, Silver, and Ell'evisor out of Dumbledore's clutches and back to the privacy of his own rooms.

It was with some sense of relief that he shut the door behind them, and leaned heavily against the supporting wooden surface. Albus and Ly'haniir had hit it off far too well for Harry's peace of mind -- and that was even with Silver and himself acting as interpreters. Thankfully, nobody had mentioned the Mirror, and when Albus politely enquired after Harry Potter, Silver had simply reassured him that Harry was well and would undoubtedly turn out to be a formidable War Mage. None of the elves had even blinked at the question.

Running a hand through his hair, Harry pushed himself away from the door and followed his guests into the living room.

Ell'evisor -- having seen the room before -- was sitting comfortably in one of Harry's battered old chairs. Ly'haniir and Silver were curiously staring at all the strange human odds and ends scattered about the place. For once, Harry's guests didn't look twice at the elven lighting.

"~Can I offer anyone a drink that isn't tea?~" Harry asked.

"~I don't suppose you have Corella, do you?~" Ly'haniir asked.

"~I'd settle for 'mushed mellows',~" Silver added. "And just what is a 'mellow' by the way?"

Harry laughed. "~They're called 'marshmallows', and I have no idea what the name means.~"

Ell'evisor, who'd been as quiet as a mouse all afternoon, finally spoke up: "~War Mage Ash --~"

"In English, Ell'evisor!" Silver instructed him.

The young man looked embarrassed, but gave it his best shot. "Please War Mage, all have hot chocolate and marshmallows? Then all we be good."

Ell'evisor obviously knew he sounded like an idiot, but really, when you thought about the fact that Silver had only been teaching him for a couple of weeks, it was remarkable progress. Mind you, it had probably been two weeks of nothing but English day and night, so a certain amount of progress was only to be expected.

Normally, Ell'evisor would not have been included in Ly'haniir and Silver's visit. But where the teacher went, so too went the student. So when Ell'evisor had been assigned to Silver for training, and Silver had been chosen to accompany Ly'haniir to Hogwarts, the young mage-in-training had automatically been added to the mission. Harry could see that the young man was pleased to return, but also that he was still somewhat ashamed of his previous actions.

Out of consideration for Ly'haniir -- who couldn't speak a word of English -- Harry replied in elven. "~Hot chocolate is an excellent suggestion, Ell'evisor. I'll be right back with drinks for everyone,~" and with that, Harry departed for his small kitchen, leaving behind a young man who was both pleased that he'd managed to get his suggestion across, and also gratified that neither of the English-speaking Mages had laughed at his attempt.

A few minutes later, they were all comfortably seated, drinks in hand. Somehow Silver had managed to magic the marshmallow out of Harry's cup and into her own, but since Harry very deliberately didn't bring the whole packet out with him, he decided to let her subtle hint to go and get the rest of them, pass unnoticed.

Curious about something, Harry began the conversation with a question. "~Ly'haniir, why did the three of you appear in the dining hall before so many humans? And why were you so open with Albus about the circle's existence? Has the circle decided to make itself known to the wizarding world?~"

"~It seems to me,~" the ancient elf replied, "~that Albus Dumbledore was not greatly surprised about the circle's existence anyway.~"

Harry blushed at being so easily caught out. "~Yes... well, I ehm... sort of mentioned it... in passing... but only to Albus, and I know he wouldn't tell another without great need. What you three did today goes far beyond that.~"

"~Mmm, so it does,~" Ly'haniir agreed. "~But before I give you my reasons, would you tell us as much as you can about yourself and this 'Mirror' that Ell'evisor has reported?~" It was a delicately phrased request, reflecting the old mage's understanding of the fact that -- as with any issue that involved a War Mage -- there might well be things that it would be... unwise... to tell anybody.

Briefly, Harry outlined his life up until the moment he was pulled into the Mirror, and then he told them as much as he'd told Ell'evisor about how the Mirror worked and what it had done to him. He also gave them a brief description of what had happened during his time in the probability-generated Mirror world, but nothing very specific beyond 'We had a war with Voldemort. It sucked. I'm going to put a stop to it'.

It was at that point that both Ly'haniir and Silver began to look concerned.

The non-interference policy of the mage circle was well known to Harry, and he'd been expecting their arguments against his active participation. However he had three points on his side that very effectively silenced them on the topic. First, he reminded them that he was the only human War Mage, and as such, was also the one whose advice would traditionally carry the most weight when human matters were discussed in council. Second, he flat out stated that he was a full War Mage -- not a student -- and he could damn well act on his own authority whether they liked it or not. And third, Harry told them that within the Mirror of Maybe, Voldemort had somehow managed to become a mage, which definitely made him the circle's business. "~And not just any mage,~" Harry finished grimly, "~but a Soul Mage!~"

All three elves paled at that bit of information. Voldemort's acts during his last campaign were not entirely unknown within the circle. The idea of such a being with the power of a Soul Mage... It was unthinkable!

"~Soul Mages are the rarest of the rare,~" Ly'haniir said after some consideration. "~If this wizard does not have the ability now... Do you know how he came to hold such power?~"

Harry shook his head regretfully. "~No, that was never discovered...~"

"~Then perhaps,~" Silver suggested, "~he will not gain the ability at all here in the real world.~"

"~Is that truly a risk you're prepared to take?~" Harry demanded. "~In the Mirror there were those who thought that perhaps the time Voldemort spent as a disembodied spirit gave him a greater understanding of what a soul is. If that's the case, then he may already be walking the path towards this ability.~"

"~And yet we still have time,~" Ly'haniir broke in, "~or you, Ash, would not be settled here within these walls, involved with the teaching of children. You would have come to us immediately, instead of allowing us to come to you.~"

"~Yes,~" Harry admitted, "~I believe we have a few years yet before he reaches for this knowledge. No matter how he learned it -- or will learn it -- using Soul Magic is inherently dangerous for the one who wields it. For all his plans and power, Voldemort's first concern has always been for his own survival. There are other, safer, avenues to power that he is currently exploring.~"

"~Thank the Green Lord for that,~" Silver muttered.

"~And so,~" Ly'haniir finally sighed, "~it becomes obvious that the circle must become involved -- just as we knew it would.~"

Harry blinked. Ell'evisor blinked with him, but Silver was nodding her head in agreement. "~Excuse me,~" Harry said politely, "~but did you say... you knew the circle was going to be involved? You knew?! How did you know!?~"

"~Effie saw it,~" Ly'haniir said simply.

Harry was taken aback. "Oh," was all he could say. 'Effie' was the name of the circle's most powerful Sight Mage. It was an Ephemeral -- a being who existed in several dimensions at the same time. The name of their kind meant 'short-lived', but Effie had been part of the circle for as long as elven memory could recall.

Looking at an ephemeral was a bit like staring at solid fog, shot through with muted colours and strangely moving shapes. Most people couldn't look at Effie too long without starting to feel a bit... odd. Its presence was always accompanied by a vague sense of awe, which was perhaps why it had chosen such a silly name for itself. It was difficult to be in awe of someone who insisted on being called 'Effie'.

"~And then,~" Silver added, "~every Sight Mage in the damned circle shut up tighter than a goblin's money belt. Even the Healing Mages couldn't get anything out of them.~"

"~We can only hope,~" Ly'haniir said quietly, "~that this means there will be few casualties.~" Normally the Sight Mages would warn the Healers in plenty of time to prepare sufficient spells and magics whenever the circle was about to become involved in something nasty. "~But of course,~" the old mage continued, "~there is always the possibility that it's simply too soon for such warnings.~"

Much too soon for Harry's liking. In the Mirror, the Sight Mages hadn't become involved until sometime later. "Bugger," he said to himself. "I really hate it when Seers get involved."

"I'll second that," Silver replied sourly. Ly'haniir -- not understanding English -- looked at them curiously.

"~Sorry,~" Harry told him. "~Just bemoaning the inconsistent contributions of a certain group within the circle.~"

"~Not every mage is destined to study war,~" Ly'haniir offered mildly. "~And I do not recall being told much about the possible future you experienced either.~"

Harry flushed. He was hardly one to criticize the Sight Mages when he was withholding information for precisely the same reason. In order to manipulate the future, you had to be very careful about how much you revealed, and to whom you revealed it.

"~So then,~" Harry sighed, "~this is why you decided to expose the circle? Because Effie said you would become involved anyway?~"

"~We have not exposed the circle,~" Ly'haniir disagreed. "~We have only revealed two more War Mages, and a student whom they have already seen. The other groups within the circle remain unknown, as does the number of War Mages and our association with one another.~" Then the ancient elf grimaced. "~Believe me when I say this was not my preferred course of action. Sight Mage Effie, however, was adamant that if we chose to send someone, then they should not take the trouble to disguise or conceal themselves.~"

"~As you can understand,~" the old elf finished, "~there was no question about the need to contact an unknown human War Mage with knowledge of a possible future who was involving himself in human affairs.~"

"~And so here you are,~" Harry said wearily. After a moment of silence, he added: "~I really hope Effie knows what the hell it's doing...~"

Silver chuckled. "~I've had the same thought about you a few times this afternoon, too,~" she told him.

Harry laughed. "~Yes, I suppose you have. All I can tell you is that I'm doing my best to get all of us through this with as little bloodshed as possible.~"

"~Which brings us to the next question,~" Ly'haniir said. "~Are you going to require the assistance of your fellow War Mages?~"

"~Because if you are,~" Silver added, "~then we're most definitely going to have to hold an Acceptance for you.~"

An Acceptance ceremony was the way a student mage was graduated to the status of full mage. But more importantly for a War Mage, it also incorporated a secondary link that allowed each of them to know in precise and intimate detail exactly what every other War Mage in the circle was capable of. A side effect of this link was an awareness of the various personalities that made up the War Mage sub-circle. This awareness helped to further cement understanding and trust between the War Mages -- and incidentally helped to highlight any destructive traits or problems before a War Mage had the chance to become dangerous to themselves or to others.

A similar secondary link existed for each of the various types of mage within the circle, but for the War Mages -- whose very lives depended on their abilities and their trust in one another -- it was invaluable. So invaluable, in fact, that there was a lesser version of the Acceptance link that was performed regularly amongst the War Mages simply to update everyone's knowledge as to skill levels, and the various magics acquired since the last Acceptance.

If Harry wanted to work with other War Mages, then he was going to need to know what they could do, in the same way that they would need to know what he was capable of in return. Hence -- an Acceptance.

The problem was, an Acceptance would involve pretty much the whole circle, and took a lot of time and effort to organise. What's more, the War Mage version required an area the size of a Quidditch pitch, and was traditionally held at or near, the heart-home of the mage being Accepted. In Harry's case, that meant Hogwarts.

Harry looked at Silver and raised an eyebrow. "~If the wizarding world doesn't know about the circle yet, it certainly would after we held an Acceptance here!~"

After hearing a condensed version of Harry's life, Silver wasn't surprised that the school was Harry's heart-home. "~Hey,~" she reminded him, "~it's only tradition that says it has to be held at your heart-home! We could have it anywhere, really.~"

Harry felt a strange reluctance to agree with that sentiment. His Acceptance in the Mirror had been a rushed affair -- held in the field with only a few War Mages and two Healing Mages in attendance. Providing it didn't endanger his chances for successfully altering the future, Harry suddenly realised that he would really like to do the whole full-on, all-out ceremony. And he really wanted to do it at Hogwarts.

Silver must have read something of his desire in his face. "~Well,~" she said softly, "~the original question still stands: are you going to require the assistance of your fellow War Mages?~"

Harry considered it. "~No,~" he decided at last. "~Or at least... not for a long while yet.~" //And by then,// Harry silently hoped, //the circle might be general knowledge anyway, and it won't matter where we hold it.//

"~Be careful not to leave it too long,~" Ly'haniir warned him, "~or you may find yourself having to entrust your battles to another in the heat of the moment.~"

"~I will be very careful, Ly'haniir,~" Harry avowed.

After that, they spoke of other things. The elves were each trying to get to know War Mage Ash, while Harry was trying to figure out how closely these younger versions resembled his beloved friends. In Ly'haniir's case, there was very little difference, save that he had no memory of Harry's training. With Ell'evisor, the differences were quite marked. But with Silver, it was hard to pick. In some things she seemed exactly the same, while in others there was a huge discrepancy.

Silver herself was particularly interested in knowing how closely she resembled her Mirror-self. "~She obviously had my Name and appearance,~" Silver mused. "~Did she earn her Name the same way I earned mine?~"

"~I really have no idea,~" Harry said with some surprise, "~Although it was from then that her -- your -- fascination with humans began.~"

"~Yes,~" Silver persisted, "~but do you know what happened?~"

"~Um... let me see,~" Harry concentrated for a moment. "~As I recall, you -- she -- was living with the Dwarves. The circle knew she had mage potential, but she'd never tried anything but elven spells. They asked her what non-elven magic she thought she might like to attempt, and she chose the Dwarven magic for metal-shaping.~" Harry looked over at Silver with an amused twinkle in his eye. "~She also said she wasn't having much luck with it. Something about the height of the ceilings...?~"

Silver scowled. "~What ceilings!? -- All they have is oversized rabbit holes dug into the side of treeless mountains!~"

"~With an attitude like that,~" Ly'haniir said mildly, "~it's not surprising you were having trouble.~"

Silver stuck out her tongue at the ancient mage, and he promptly burst out laughing.

"~Silver!~" Harry laughed, "~What kind of example is that for Ell'evisor?~"

"~A perfectly good one,~" she replied haughtily. "~I'm teaching him to do exactly as I say -- not what I do. If he pokes his tongue out at me, he knows very well that I'll stick the end of it to his chin for two days.~"

This was too much for Ell'evisor, who'd been desperately trying not to snigger at his elders' antics. He finally gave up and laughed along with the rest of them. Eventually, he managed to ask: "~So, how did you gain the ability to manipulate metals, War Mage Silver?~" Ell'evisor knew she could, because he'd seen her do it.

"~He's telling the story,~" she replied, pointing to Ash.

"~Mm,~" Harry mused, "~Well, the Silver I knew said she just couldn't take it anymore and had to see the sky and open space again before she went crazy. So she sneaked up to the surface -- without her teacher's permission I might add -- and found herself a little way uphill from the edge of the local forest. Unfortunately -- having been underground for so long -- she didn't realise that it was the middle of the night!~"

"~Disobedient and careless,~" Ly'haniir nodded. "~That sounds like our Silver.~"

"~How would you like to be sporting that staff in an interesting new location?~" she retorted.

The corners of Ly'haniir's mouth were twitching with suppressed amusement. Baiting Silver was one of the old mage's favourite pastimes. Her refusal to treat him with the awe and courtesy that his age and abilities entitled him to, was a never-ending source of delight for him. It was also the attitude that made Silver so well known throughout the circle. However, judging by Ell'evisor's eyes -- which were now as huge as dinner plates -- it was probably the first time he'd actually witnessed their... unique... form of respect for one another.

Ly'haniir corrected himself: "~I meant, of course, a very young version of you, my dear. You are no doubt far too mature to display such behaviour now.~"

Harry quickly decided to finish the story, while Silver -- who hated 'stodgy' mages -- was trying to work out whether she'd been insulted again. "~So anyway,~" he continued, "~there she was -- standing on the side of a mountain looking at the stars, when suddenly a human comes running out of the trees. It turned out to be a witch whose husband was a werewolf, and guess what -- it was a full moon.~"

"~The woman was frantic. She'd been trying to bind him or stun him for hours, and she was nearing the end of her strength. She didn't want to kill him of course, because he was her husband and she loved him. But in his wolf form, he was too fast and too strong -- and because of that she hadn't managed to actually hit him with any of her spells. She'd only slowed him down.~"

"~It was just as she collapsed into Silver's arms that the wolf appeared.~"

Ell'evisor was riveted by the tale. It was a romantic tragedy in the making. If the husband killed his wife, he would be devastated the next morning, and yet the wife couldn't bring herself to kill her husband. And there was his teacher, still without her Mage Name, and right in the middle of it!

"~With an armful of exhausted witch, Silver couldn't make it back to the safety of the Dwarven halls before the wolf reached them, and none of the Elven spells she knew at the time were of any use.~"

"~But --~" Ell'evisor protested.

"~Remember,~" Harry told him, "~she was not then a mage, and certainly not a War Mage. She'd had little physical training, and only the basic lessons in magic that everyone receives. Also, she was very young -- too young to fly without the magic of the Elvenholme to draw on, and certainly not strong enough to do so with an armful of adult witch -- and as well, she was almost completely inexperienced...~"

Forgetting that this was supposed to be Harry's tale, Silver interjected: "~What Ash is so politely trying to say, youngster, is that I flat-out panicked.~"

"~You?!~" Ell'evisor exclaimed.

"~Yes,~" she confirmed. "~Me. Damned near wet myself, actually.~" Ell'evisor seemed to be having a hard time with the concept of Silver panicking. "~Mind you,~" she continued, "~it was probably the only thing that allowed all three of us to survive the situation.~" That was another shock for Ell'evisor to absorb. "~You see,~" she told him, "~when I panicked, my mind did the usual blank moment, and then instinctively turned to the one thing I'd been focused on day and night for three weeks solid: Dwarven magic. Only this time, instead of hating those pokey little holes they live in, I really, truly, and desperately wanted to be back inside them. At that moment, I loved those tunnels with everything I had, and then all the rest of it just sort of... fell into place.~"

"~Suddenly,~" Silver explained, "~I could understand why they lived inside mountains -- why they loved the hidden treasures in the earth so much. I could appreciate the beauty and the strength of their people and see in my mind's eye how that beauty and strength was reflected in their homes and their crafts. I remember thinking 'why didn't I see this before?' and wondering how I could've been so blind...~"

"~And then,~" she added, "~I opened my eyes and thought I was blind. Everything was dark, but when I looked up, I could still see the stars.~" Then Silver laughed. "~When I wished myself back into the tunnels, I accidentally created one of my own! Except that it went straight down! And up on top was this really confused werewolf, trying to decide whether he could get out again if he decided to jump in after us.~"

"~After that,~" Silver finished, "~the rest was easy. I simply called up a mass of silver from the earth below us, and bound him up in it. End of story.~"

"~Not quite,~" Harry added with a smirk. "~I seem to recall a bit more to it than that.~" Ell'evisor looked at Harry curiously. "~Young mage, your esteemed guide has failed to mention two things! First: that she and the witch spent the rest of the night in that hole because she couldn't figure out how she'd made it and therefore how to un-make it!~"

"~Hey,~" Silver protested, "~I was studying metal-shaping, not rock-shaping! It was instinct that first time!~"

"~And it took you how long to get the hang of rock-shaping after that?~" Silver mumbled something unintelligible, and Harry laughed again, "~The witch would have rescued them herself, except that she'd lost her wand in all the excitement. So the two of them spent the rest of the night huddled together at the bottom of a pit, gossiping.~"

Ell'evisor's eyes lit up with understanding. "~So that's why you like humans so much!~" he said to his current teacher. "~The witch is your human friend -- the one you visit sometimes!~"

"~Yes,~" Silver agreed with a smile. "Her name is Violet, and one of her grandchildren is named after me. She and her husband are both true friends.~"

"~The werewolf?~" Ell'evisor asked uncertainly. Silver nodded. The young mage then turned back to Harry. "~You said there were two things?~"

Harry smirked at Silver as she turned beet red, but didn't protest. "~Why yes, I believe I did. The second thing she failed to mention -- well, you can probably guess what it was, if you just ask yourself where all the silver she used to bind the werewolf came from."

Ell'evisor frowned. "~Where it came from? Well, from the earth I assume...~"

"~And silver is so plentiful, then, that you can just call up a huge mass of it to tie up werewolves?~"

"~Ehm... no, I suppose not.~" Ell'evisor thought about it for a while before finally surrendering. "~I give up,~" he said, "~Where did all the silver come from?~"

Still smirking at his fellow mage's embarrassment, Harry said, "~It came from the Dwarves. She sucked up everything made of silver in three family homes beneath her, as well as every last bit of silver in the master silversmith's workshop, which was underneath those homes. I understand that some folk were a trifle... upset... with her for a while after that.~"

Ell'evisor and Ly'haniir both snickered. Silver was looking anywhere except at the rest of them.

"~Can't you just see it?~" Harry chuckled. Then he pitched his voice to mimic a small child's. "~Mummy, mummy! The cutlery's running away!~" Ell'evisor and Ly'haniir burst into outright laughter. "~Oh, dearest,~" Harry said in a terrible imitation of a woman's voice, "~why is our wedding photo' on the floor -- and where's the picture frame gone?~"

Even Silver was laughing now, and after they'd all calmed down a bit she ended the tale by telling them: "~The master silversmith made me replace everything -- right down to a couple of decorative hairpins! It took me nearly a month! Of course, none of it would've happened if it weren't for my new human friend -- so after all that, what Name other than the human word for 'Silver' could I possibly have chosen?~"

----oo00oo----

Shortly thereafter, Ly'haniir suggested that it might be time to depart while there was still some daylight left.

"~Ash,~" he said as he drew himself to his feet, "~I think I can safely say that the circle will follow your lead in the matter of Voldemort and his followers. Please be careful, and remember that we will come if you call.~"

"~I'll remember,~" Harry said as he accompanied them to the door. When Ly'haniir and Ell'evisor stepped out into the hallway, Silver suddenly spun back to face him, and pressed her body close against his. "~I'm sure I could come back...~" she suggested.

Harry was severely tempted. Silver was a beautiful woman, his circle-sister, and a generous lover. He knew her well, and from the tightening in his groin, there was no doubt that his body remembered her equally well. He felt himself reacting to the warm presence pressed so ardently -- and skilfully -- against him. A slender and well-shaped leg slipped between his thighs.

But as wonderful as those memories were, Silver was not the one he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. She was too bright and too inconsistent for him. All it took was the memory of another pair of eyes -- like dark pools of the blackest ink -- for Harry to step back from Silver's curiosity and decline her offer.

"Dearheart," he said in English, "you flatter me -- but our time together is part of my past, not my present or my future. I hope you understand."

Silver pulled away and studied him for a moment. "Bugger," she said at length, "you're in love with someone."

Harry laughed. "Way to spoil the moment, woman! See if I try being soft and romantic with you again!"

"Not that I'm ever going to get a chance for that now!" she retorted.

"~Ahem,~" came a polite cough from the corridor. "~If you two are quite finished...?~"

Silver and Harry looked up to see Ly'haniir and Ell'evisor staring interestedly at them from the doorway. Harry went red, but Silver breezed unashamedly past them into the corridor. With Ly'haniir still chuckling to himself, Harry began to escort them down to the castle gates.

It was simply random chance that they happened to pass Severus Snape on their way through the castle.

Harry gave the Potions Master a slight bow of greeting and the cheerful acknowledgement of "Professor," as they passed one another. Harry knew Severus' sharp and thoughtful gaze would miss nothing about his companions -- most especially not their War Mage insignias. He could practically feel the other man's curiosity as Severus returned his greeting with the words "War Mage" and a slight nod in his direction. And then they were past one another -- headed in opposite directions.

It was the longest conversation he'd shared with Sev all week.

"~He's still watching us, you know,~" Ly'haniir said calmly.

"~Yes,~" Harry agreed. "~He would be.~"

"~Tall, dark and evil.~" Silver stated. "~How intriguing.~"

"~Don't even think it,~" Harry warned her sharply. "~And don't call him evil! He's not.~"

Silver stared at him for a moment. They walked together in silence until she softly stepped up to his shoulder. Tactfully, Ly'haniir and Ell'evisor fell behind a few paces. "~I'm sorry,~" she said quietly. "~That was rude of me.~"

After a short pause Harry replied, "~I shouldn't have snapped at you. I apologise. It's just that...~"

"~...that your Silver would never have been so flippant about someone she knew you loved.~"

Ruefully, Harry asked, "~Is it so obvious?~"

"~To me? Yes,~" she replied. "~But then, I'd say you and I were very close in that Mirror world of yours. You're not used to hiding things from me, are you?~"

"~No,~" Harry said. "~I guess not.~"

----oo00oo----

When they eventually arrived at the castle gates, Harry knew they'd attracted quite a crowd of onlookers. However, the miserable weather -- now a light drizzle of cold rain -- kept the gawkers mostly indoors, and gave the four mages at least the illusion of privacy. A simple water-repellent spell developed by the feathered Kyrii, and cast by Harry and Ly'haniir, kept the mages themselves completely dry.

They'd already said their final goodbyes, when Harry suddenly thought of something: "~Ly'haniir? Would you be able to send me a balance stone for one of my students?~"

"~A balance stone?~" Ly'haniir considered it. "~I don't see why not. Did you only want the one?~"

"~One's fine,~" Harry told him. "~Just don't send it by Fold.~"

Ly'haniir frowned. The spell that mapped two locations to the same point -- in effect 'folding' the physical world like a sheet of paper until two points of reality touched -- was the standard way mages of the circle delivered messages and small items to one another. The spell wasn't suitable for large objects or living things, but it was the standard spell Ly'haniir would've used to send Harry something like a balance stone.

"~Why is Folding unsuitable?~" Ly'haniir asked curiously.

"~Because this castle has a lot of very old and rather... unique... enchantments on it. No wizard can apparate within the school grounds, and as I'm sure you discovered this morning, Shifting is also impossible. Quite frankly, I have no idea how a Fold would interact with the spells that are active here. It's better not to risk it.~"

Ly'haniir stared off towards the school, trying to distinguish between the spells he could sense on and within the ancient stonework. But there were too many, and they were too interwoven for him to make sense of them without a long period of study. "~So,~" he agreed, "~no Folds. But then how am I to send you a balance stone?~"

Harry grinned. "~Use an owl.~"

"~An owl!?~" the old mage exclaimed. "~How is an owl supposed to carry a balance stone?~"

"~Make a small bag for the stone and tie the bag to one of the owl's feet,~" Harry explained. "~Then tell the owl to deliver it to War Mage Ash at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. The owl will do the rest.~"

"~Any particular type of owl?~" Ly'haniir asked sceptically.

"~No, any kind is fine,~" Harry replied.

"~You're sure about this?~" Ly'haniir asked. "~You really want me to send an owl...~"

Harry just smiled. "~Consider this the first step in your introduction to the wizarding world. Human magic-users send things by owl post.~"

And shortly thereafter, Harry was once again the only War Mage in the wizarding world.

----oo00oo----