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Chapter 22: Excursion
All Was Well
“Why do you have to be eleven?”
“… we lost to them once last year, but we’ll probably beat you all the time WHEN YOU’RE IN SLYTHERIN!”
“JAMES, ENOUGH!” cried Ginny.
“What was that, Lily?” called Harry.
“Why do you have to be eleven!?”
The trip to the station was proving to be yet another pleasant family drive, complete with shouting matches and back seat scuffles.
“You have to be eleven because that’s the rule,” Harry explained, for what felt like the thousandth time.
“But, why?” whined Lily.
“Because, according to Hogwarts, that’s when you’re mature enough.” Ginny explained, her exasperation showing.
“But I am mature! I’m nine!”
“Please, Harry,” pleaded Ginny, while simultaneously buttering a piece of toast for Lily and mussing Albus’ hair with her free hand in an attempt to make his fringe lie flat. “My article was due yesterday. I could curse Glenda Harkin for quitting like that! With a month ‘til finals season! The English side’s decimated - Summerby’s not up to scratch, nowhere near where he should be by now to take over for Harkin. Harkin’s a machine – we were in with a chance for the world cup this year-” Ginny realised she was rambling and calmly put down the butter knife she had been flailing around while she spoke. “It’s really put me out.”
“No, I understand.” Harry assured her. Lily sat beside him at the kitchen table, her feet in his lap while he did up her bootlaces. “It’s fine, he can come to work with me. We can’t lump him on your mum when he’s sick like this, she’s already got enough on her plate.”
“Hmm…” Ginny agreed distractedly, dropping the toast in front of Lily, flicking her wand at Albus’ dirty plates, sending them flying into the sink and planting a brief kiss on the boy’s head. With one foot on the stairs, she called to Harry, “I’ve really got to get to started. James is upstairs, dressed and ready. You don’t mind dropping them…?” she asked, with such an anguished look on her face, Harry felt compelled to stand up to kiss her goodbye and assure her everything was under control. She promptly raced up to her office, an audible thud as she shut the door reaching the ears of Harry, Albus and Lily all the way down in the kitchen.
“Alright then, we best be off.” Harry informed the healthier two of his three children. “We’ll go as soon as James is ready.”
Marching upstairs, courteously tiptoeing past Ginny’s office, Harry came to James’ room on the fourth floor. After the obligatory knock, he cracked the door to find James fully dressed, lying on the bed.
“Ready to go?” Harry asked as he approached. On closer inspection, James appeared quite pale. His little brown eyes - Ginny’s eyes - looked dolefully up at Harry as he nodded.
“Let me have look, then.”
James opened his mouth wide. Inside, his throat was red and the tonsils clearly inflamed. Harry always felt a little hopeless in situations like these, when his kids would cough through the night or vomit or ooze mucous like it was going out of fashion. Give him battle wounds in the field any day – he was an old hand at counter curses and antidotes these days. It was the common cold that really put the fear of God in him.
Harry cocked an eyebrow at his sick son. “Does this mean some peace and quiet for this poor old house for a bit?”
“It doesn’t hurt to talk.” James insisted throatily, but grinning.
Ten minutes later, the four of them found themselves stepping out of the Burrow’s fireplace.
Molly spotted them from the kitchen and bustled over to greet them, assaulting them with kisses. “Good morning, good morning!”
Albus and Lily raced past her at the earliest opportunity to meet Rose and Hugo in the kitchen. All five children had come to the Burrow for lessons with Molly since the age of five. With Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione all working full-time, it made for a perfect solution to have Molly, who had single-handedly educated seven children until the age of eleven, teach the children reading, writing and arithmetic. Arthur helped out sometimes too, but he was wise enough to leave it to the expert most of the time.
Molly spotted James’ ailment within seconds. “James, sweetheart, you look pale.”
“He’s not well, Molly. Throat infection.” Harry informed her.
“Easily fixed!” She exclaimed, “You dear, lie down there on the couch. I’ve got just the thing to sort you out,” before disappearing into the kitchen.
“That’s fine.” Harry called out to her, “Gin’s got a story to do. I was going to take him into work with me. I don’t want him to be a bother here.”
“No bother!” Molly protested as she reappeared, spoon and vial in hand. “Now, open wide – uh huh – that should help with the inflammation, but he needs to rest…”
James spluttered, making a face. “I- I should go with Dad.” He croaked.
“Nonsense, dear. You’ll do fine here, napping on the couch. Just a nice, quiet day.”
James grimaced dubiously. “Nana, when am I ever nice and quiet?”
Harry laughed, “He’s right, Molly. It’s probably best if I take him off your hands. He’ll be a nuisance here, I’m sure.”
James nodded solemnly in agreement.
“Alright then, if you insist.” She surrendered, though it obviously pained her; sick children were even more fun to coddle than healthy ones.
Arms laden with vials of medicinal concoctions, Harry and James managed to edge their way into the fireplace. With a quick goodbye to the others, they stepped into the green flames and flooed over to the Ministry’s atrium.
Marching through the atrium, James traipsed close beside Harry.
“I was just wondering…” James croaked. “Maybe you can give me a tour? Maybe at lunch time, when you’re not busy…”
“You’ve been here before, haven’t you? Lots of times.”
“Yeah,” the little boy agreed in his throaty little voice, looking up to his father with big, pleading eyes. “But not everywhere. I’ve never seen the Department of Mysteries…”
That made Harry’s ears prick up. If he didn’t look so thoroughly unwell, Harry might have considered that there was something suspect about James wanting to see the Department of Mysteries of all places.
“We’ll see what we can do.”
Arriving on the second floor, Harry pushed open the great wooden doors to Auror Headquarters. James had to jog to keep up as Harry was bombarded with dozens of Aurors, secretaries and clerks, all thrusting parchment or maps or photographs into the hands of their fearless leader and spouting information about appointment times or raid dates. Harry placed a careful hand on James’ shoulder, keeping him close as he steered him into his office at the end of the chamber.
“That’s mad, dad.” James whispered, awestruck, falling into one of the chairs that faced Harry’s desk.
“You’re not wrong,” Harry replied with a grin. “Hey, why don’t we set you up a cot? You’re supposed to be resting, remember?” With a flick of his wand, Harry conjured up an army cot not dissimilar to the one he had occupied when staying at the Burrow as a teenager. With another swish, he had the cot up against the wall adjacent to his desk where he could keep a close eye on the boy.
Harry’s day carried on in the usual fashion, full of meetings, report reading and frequent interruptions from Ron, who took it upon himself to keep James thoroughly occupied with a number of trips to the Ministry cafeteria in search of snacks. The pair of them had together demolished the Auror department’s biscuit supply before the clock had struck ten. James was kept entertained in the mean time with his copy of Seeker Weekly and the strenuous task of sending paper plane memos to any and all family members who worked within the Ministry.
As lunchtime approached, James appeared from his makeshift cot at the edge of Harry’s desk.
“Yes?” Harry asked with a lopsided grin, not looking up from his paperwork.
Harry’s grin widened; James obviously wanted something – he was known in the past to have punched Albus in the belly for daring to use the word ‘mummy’.
“Can we maybe go for a tour now?”
Harry checked his watch before looking up at his son. The doe-eyes had returned. Harry cocked an eyebrow, sceptical. “Why the sudden interest in my work?”
“No reason.” James very quickly replied, shuffling ever so slightly where he stood. He gave a small cough, a reminder of his ailment, as if this proved the innocent nature of his request.
“Alright then,” Harry surrendered, rising from his desk chair and pulling on his robes over his shirt and tie. James grinned at this, perhaps a little too enthusiastically – and noting this, immediately distinguished all signs of excitement in his face, adding another throaty cough for good measure.
A minute later, after informing his secretary Beatrice of his short absence, Harry led a beaming James down the second floor corridor.
“So what exactly is it you want to see?”
“Oh, nothing in particular…” James replied coolly, decidedly nonchalant.
Harry studied him, grinning as they ambled down the hall. “Well, this level is Magical Law Enforcement…” he explained, gesturing to the busy hallway. “Aunt Hermione works down here, should we go and say hello?”
James gave a noncommittal shrug, which Harry chose to ignore, instead leading his son through an archway marked ‘Wizengamot Administration Services’
Hermione greeted her visitors warmly, giving her begrudging nephew a kiss on the head on hearing of his illness. Harry was wise enough to keep their visit brief and Hermione was soon bidding them a friendly goodbye as she ushered a disgruntled looking goblin into her office.
“So, where to now?”
“Um… I don’t know. Where do you want to go?”
“Didn’t you mention wanting to see the Department of Mysteries?”
“Oh, did I? I can’t remember.” Replied James, doing a rather spectacular job at maintaining disinterest. Harry considered as they walked through the busy hallway how James would be quite suited to the stage – but despite his master skills of manipulation, acting would probably require some level of discipline. Perhaps a career in the theatre wasn’t in James’ future…
Stepping into the lift, Harry nodded warmly to a number of familiar faces. As they descended lower and lower into the depths of the Ministry, James’ impressive mask of indifference began to slip with every passing level.
“Now you know I won’t be able to show you much. The Department of Mysteries is a very secretive place and there’s lots of security. In fact, I don’t know if I can show you anything. It’s a bit spooky, so you’ll have to stick close. Promise?”
“Promise,” James vowed solemnly, fighting off the grin that taunted his lips.
“Level nine, Department of Mysteries,” came a cool female voice as the golden lift doors slip open.
The Department of Mysteries hadn’t changed much since Harry had last been there. He had only returned twice since that fateful day during his fifth year on Auror business early on in his career, before he was made Head of the Auror Office. It wasn’t much of a sight to see, now that he came to think of it. At the end of the corridor they stood in was the door that led to the Entrance Chamber, where they would be met by the disorienting reality of twelve handleless doors. They had no special permission to enter any Department sub-division and consequently no authorization to make it through any of the doors.
Just as Harry was about to explain the situation to his mesmerized son, the door leading to the Entrance Chamber swung open. Harry could barely believe his eyes when he instantly recognised the figure that now marched towards them.
Author's Note: TO BE CONTINUED! OKAY, sorry for crazy delay - writer's block, busyness etc. Sorry for the little emo moment in last chapter's AN, I really wasn't fishing for compliments, I was just seriously frus-to-the-trated. Thanks to all of you who were so incredibly kind with your reviews. So the little transitional now-to-then in this chapter might not seem so obvious now but it will with the next, I promise. Who's behind the door? Is Jamesikins for reals? What is the go with his weird DoM obsession? All this and more in the next chapter! Three to go!