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Chasing The Inevitable by killthatrat
Chapter 38: Chapter 38 The Finer Details
Harry took comfort in his solitude, perched high on the roof top of Florence Fortescues’ abandoned ice cream shop, looking down at Diagon Alley and remaining completely unseen. On occasion a witch or wizard looked toward the sky, but no one saw him sitting cross legged beneath his invisibility cloak, quill and parchment on his lap already full of notes. Across the small alley atop of Madam Malkin’s sat Ron, whose disillusionment charm allowed him to blend perfectly with the cloudy sky. He too held a quill and parchment, although Harry couldn’t actually see him, and was perfectly positioned to look down into the alleyway that served as a delivery route and employee entrance for Gringotts bank.
It was cold and wet this evening, and light was fading fast as the time on Harry’s watch inched closer and closer to six pm. He was impatiently anticipating Hermione’s return from the bank, where she had spent the last fortnight in the bank under various disguises. For a moment Harry felt a little unsettled, knowing that Hermione usually left the bank by this time, but reassured himself. This wasn’t the first time that she had hung back, just for an extra look around. The map she was slowly constructing grew larger and larger with every day that her explorations continued, and Harry knew she was probably still looking around. There was plenty of surveillance to do on the inside of the bank also. Hermione’s notes were impeccable, detailing not only meetings and lunch breaks, but the Goblin meetings and various gossip she came across. Perhaps the three of them knew as much about particular employees as they did about each other, but they knew it would pay off in the long run.
There could be no mistakes this time, no unexpected hitches, no last minute meetings with Australians to be conducted at five in the morning. If things went badly for them this time, not only would they be trapped by Ministry employees, Death Eaters would be all over them in minutes, especially if they heard of Draco Malfoy’s presence. Harry shook his head, not wanting to dwell on this. If things seemed certain when they discussed their surveillance that evening, they would be breaking in the next afternoon.
Something in the alley caught his attention, and as he looked down he noted the last of the bank tellers leaving at the end of the day. Focusing on their faces in the fading light Harry ticked their names to confirm that they had left, focusing his attention back on the alleyway. The minutes ticked by, and a half dozen or so more of the bank tellers left, their day’s work completed. In the hidden alleyway, out of sight of the alley’s shoppers, they showed their identification to the security guards, who checked them well and signed their names off on a clipboard. The front doors to the bank had been closed on time at five o’clock, the Goblins finishing work and being replaced by the security guards.
Harry checked his watch impatiently, shivering with cold and wondering how much longer Hermione would be. Harry immediately regretted his moment of impatience, knowing that Hermione was risking her safety by going into the bank day in day out, posing as a Ministry Inspector. After days spent forging paperwork and creating new identities, Hermione had managed to infiltrate almost every office in Gringotts, learning all that she could about the routine and the staff, and more importantly the new role of the Goblins. It hadn’t taken Hermione long to determine that the Goblins no longer directly served the public, and were now only employed to operate the underground carts. Apparently it was a mutual agreement made at the beginning of the war, though Harry seriously doubted that the Goblins were as willing as the new management made them out to be.
It wasn’t until six thirty that Hermione finally exited the bank, showing her identification and having her name crossed off the employees and visitors list. It still unnerved him to see her in disguise, her hair short and blonde, her high heels clacking against the stone road as she made her way out of the hidden service alley and into Diagon Alley, where she walked briskly. Harry stood up on the roof to watch as she headed for the brick wall, breathing a daily sigh of relief when she passed through it safely.
With Hermione safe now, Harry found the spot on the roof that was hidden from sight, slipping off the Invisibility cloak and carefully climbing over the edge, fearlessly slipping into the open window on the first floor. Completely abandoned, the parlour had yet to be filled by another shop, and so far had proven to be quite safe for Harry to come and go. Wasting no time he passed through the upstairs living area, slipping the cloak back on as he reached the ground floor and slipped out the back door. Unseen, Harry carefully meandered through the remaining shoppers who had come in at the last minute, and quickly made his way to the brick wall where he stood and waited for Ron. On time as usual, Ron’s somewhat invisible form appeared next to Harry, and he silently moved closer to the rippling bricks and threw the cloak over Ron.
“Hey, mate,” Ron whispered, adjusting the cloak before removing the disillusionment charm. They had found out the hard way that neglecting to remove this charm only caused problems and bruises. “You go alright today?”
“It’s freezing up there,” Harry whispered back in reply. “Hermione doesn’t know how good she’s got it.”
Ron snickered as they patiently stood in wait, slipping into position as a wizard approached the brick wall, tapping the required brick and opening it. Following him closely Harry recalled the odd occasion when they had nearly run into a witch or wizard they had followed through the brick wall, remembering one horrifying occasion when he had stepped on the long hem of a witch’s robes. Today they followed without problem, edging their way through the dingy Leaky Cauldron and following the man out onto the street. The security guards in the pub gave them no hassles, and when they finally stepped out onto Charing Cross road they breathed in the sweet smell of another successful day of surveillance. They set off at a quick pace, keeping the invisibility cloak on as they walked down the street, heading towards their usual alleyway where they met up at the end of each day. It began raining again as they walked, and though the cloak kept out most of it, their sneakers and jeans soon became wet from the occasional puddle, and by the time they reached the alleyway where Hermione awaited them, they were nearly ready to apparate without her.
“Don’t you two whinge and grumble,” Hermione instructed them when they removed the cloak, revealing their dishevelled appearance. “You’re not the ones who wore high heels all day long.”
“Let’s just go,” Harry said patiently, and moments later they apparated to the back yard of Privet Drive.
They rushed to get inside away from the chilly winds, and they each breathed a sigh of relief when they encountered the warmth inside. Harry took great delight in the muck that they brought in on their shoes, and willingly traipsed it through the house as he wandered into the dining room, checking that the penseive and sword were still there.
“Your turn to wake up Malfoy,” Ron declared as he traipsed up the staircase, following Hermione to get changed.
He had gone before Harry could respond, and so he grumbled to himself as he followed his friends upstairs, sulking a little as he entered the bathroom and looked over Malfoy, who lay unconscious in the same position they had left him that morning. Harry flicked his wand and awoke Malfoy, whose eyes blinked slowly as he came round. Waiting patiently, Harry watched as Malfoy focused his eyes on him and glared, squirming uncomfortably as he sat up.
“I’ll bring you something to eat,” Harry murmured, turning away.
“Where have you been?” Malfoy asked. “Your shoes and jeans are wet.”
“Outside,” Harry answered quickly, pulling the door halfway closed and marching down to the spare room to get changed. He felt slightly unnerved. In the two weeks that they had been leaving Malfoy unconscious to go to Diagon Alley, he had never once spoken as though he knew they had left. Perhaps up until now he had assumed they were taking out their frustrations on him. Cursing his keen perception, Harry changed quickly, bumping into Hermione in the hallway, who had also changed.
“Everything’s going according to plan,” she grinned, brandishing a fistful or parchment at him.
“Shut up,” Harry instructed her, pushing her down the hallway and towards the stair case. “Tell us downstairs.”
“Right, sorry,” she chuckled, and Harry had to wonder when he had last seen her this excited. A glimmer of hope bloomed inside him, and all of a sudden he too was excited to hear what she had to say. Malfoy’s rumbling stomach could wait.
“Alright, so what is it?” he demanded as they entered the kitchen, where Ron was already waiting.
“Everything is going to work out perfectly!” she declared, though still conscious to keep her voice relatively low now that Malfoy was awake. “Martine has been offered the job!”
Harry and Ron breathed a sigh of relief, sharing a brief laugh as the three of them sat down.
“Bloody hell, how’d you manage that?” Ron asked, looking at her in awe.
“I filed the necessary paperwork…and forged a few things as well,” she explained, spreading out some sheets of parchment on the table.
Ron took the closest one, and began to read aloud. “To Martine Mills. We at Gringotts are pleased to inform you that your application for employment as a Gringotts bank teller has been successful. We invite you to join us for the purpose of an orientation session, to be conducted in Meeting Room 14, on Monday the 6th April, at two o’clock. At this time you will receive your employee starter kit and information, employee identification and vault access passes. Please bring with you, your birth certificate, proof of address, and your wand. We look forward to seeing you, sincerely Phillip Davies, head of employment, Gringotts bank.”
“So you passed the interview?” Harry asked in awe. “I mean, Martine Mills passed the interview?”
“Yes, I did,” she said proudly. “I thought I was going to mess up, I really did! But they completely bought it!”
“And then you…” Ron pestered.
“And then I changed back into the Ministry Inspector, and used my influence to have her employed. I had to intercept the letter when they went to post it, the Muggles at her given address wouldn’t appreciate the owl.”
Harry and Ron shook their heads in awe, glancing at each other with a grin. “Alright, Hermione,” Harry said with a smile. “We concede that this whole plan and idea is completely yours…we are mere henchmen.”
“Thank you,” she smirked. “It’s about time you two admitted that.”
“It also means, that if this goes belly up, we’re blaming you,” Ron added.
“It won’t go belly up, my plan is perfect. How did you go with surveillance?”
“Everything was as expected,” Harry answered, pulling out his notes from the day. “Deliveries…employees…there was only one person that I didn’t see leaving.”
“Greg Rafter?” Ron asked, pulling out his own notes. “He actually left not long after his lunch break.”
“Mmm,” Hermione confirmed. “I don’t think his lunch agreed with him, he clocked out and went home.”
“Nothing out of the ordinary then,” Harry agreed, turning to Hermione. “Did you get next week’s roster?”
“Yes,” she answered, shuffling through the parchment and showing it to him. “And the delivery schedule, vault inspection timetable, and a copy of the security timetable. At two o’clock, Davies will have the orientation with me, sorry, I mean Martine. Then he’s got a further job interview scheduled for two thirty, so I’d say he won’t be long with me. As for Albany, he’s got a late start in the morning, and meetings back to back throughout the afternoon.”
“You copied their planners?” Harry confirmed.
“Yes,” Hermione laughed at him. “I know exactly where people will be, at what time, and with whom. Nothing is going to go wrong.”
“Right,” Ron muttered. “So, Monday then?”
“Monday,” Harry said in mutual agreement, secretly relieved. This would give him a reprieve for the entire weekend. “It will be busy...that’s good right?”
“I think it should be fine,” Hermione agreed. “That place runs like clockwork…that at least they learnt from the Goblins.”
“Well, I’ve used two fake identities, and managed to get almost everywhere through the building, except the vaults. But Martine’s vault access will get us in there, and the Goblins will have to take us down. I’ll go to the Orientation on Monday, get the vault access, and then go straight down to the Black vault, and get the cup.”
Restlessly, Harry got to his feet and quickly prepared something for Malfoy to eat. Buttering two pieces of bread, he microwaved a few pieces of bacon and threw it together as a sandwich. Placing it on a plate and taking a glass from the cupboard, he withdrew his wand and slipped out of the kitchen. Entering the upstairs bathroom he placed the plate on the floor and pushed it towards Malfoy, not bothering to look at him. The glass followed the plate, ready to be filled at the bathroom sink whenever he pleased. Harry left quickly, the two of them not exchanging words or glances of any kind.
Rolling his sore shoulders, Harry stifled a laugh when he saw Ron peering deep into the microwave, a few pieces of bacon cooking before his eyes. He turned his attention back to Hermione, who was studying the security timetable with intense concentration, looking from it back to the vault inspection timetable. Harry sat down beside her and waited patiently, still stifling laughter when Ron opened the microwave and swore as he touched the hot bacon.
“I’ll never believe there isn’t magic involved,” Ron muttered as he sat down at the table, setting a plate full of cooked bacon on top of the parchment. “Cripes, it’s bloody hot.”
Despite Ron’s reservations about Muggle technology, the bacon looked quite appetising, and as they waited for Hermione to conclude her thinking, Harry and Ron tucked into it, licking the fat off their fingers and resisting the reflex to wipe their fingers on their trousers.
“What are you thinking, ‘Mione?” Ron asked, licking his lips as he finished the last of the bacon.
“Look at this,” she said, banishing the empty plate and pushing the parchment across the table to them.
Harry and Ron peered at the timetable, which to their dismay, detailed a thorough inspection of the vaults at precisely three o’clock. These inspections appeared random to the public, but were in fact tightly scheduled for various times in the weekly roster.
“Shit,” Harry swore, seeing that they would be deep underground. They had already determined that these inspections took a little over an hour, and from what Hermione could tell, they were quite thorough. He looked at Ron, and was surprised to see he and Hermione exchanging a grin.
“You’re thinking what I’m thinking, aren’t you,” he stated to her, never letting his grin fade.
Hermione nodded. “Are you up for it?” she asked. “It’ll have to be big.”
“Big enough to disrupt the whole day. Big enough to keep security busy enough to cancel a routine inspection.”
“I’m sorry,” Harry said impatiently, waving his hands between the two of them, frustrated that they seemed to be reading each other’s mind and keeping him out of the loop. “Would you like to explain to the rest of us?”
“We can get all you need from the shop,” Hermione continued, ignoring Harry.
“Oh yeah! We’ll need some powder, and a few of those detonators, maybe some fireworks to really confuse things.”
“You’ll have to get past the Probity Probe, I can probably handle that for you though, and the Goblins at the front are just for show.”
“Once I’m inside, I’ll be right.”
“Oi!” Harry shouted, punching Ron in the shoulder. “What are you two talking about?”
“Geez, Harry! I’ll make a ruckus in the public areas of the bank, keep security busy. Keep up, mate!”
Harry swore to himself. “You could have just said that.”
“Right,” Hermione said excitedly, riffling through the parchment again and finding the map she had been constructing. “Here’s what we’ll do.”
By late that evening, everything had been planned down to the very minute. Harry had memorised every corridor, office and broom cupboard Hermione had drawn on the map, and could easily plot the route he and Malfoy would take under the invisibility cloak. Collapsing onto the couch Harry tried not to think about the pleasant task of accompanying Malfoy beneath the cloak, instead focusing on his tasks, and on memorising those of Ron and Hermione. This time wouldn’t be like the Ministry, where they split up from the very beginning and had no idea where the other two would be. If they stuck to their plan exactly, and they would, they would know where the other would be at all times. There would be no room for Malfoy to struggle, without Ron to assist him Harry would have to exert exceptional control. Nothing would go wrong. Now they just had the entire weekend to brood and worry themselves over what would happen, and for Ron to practice his new appearance.
Ron and Hermione were sitting out on the front step, supposedly keeping watch for the night and allowing Harry a full night of sleep. Somehow Harry doubted they would be very vigilant, but found he wasn’t too concerned. They had been living there since February, and as of yet they had not encountered any threat, or even the hint of one. Was it due to Hermione’s excellent charm work, or was no one looking for them here?
At this, Harry’s stomach sank again, and so he propped himself up enough to take a sip of the dwindling whiskey in his glass. He couldn’t shake the fear he felt for Sirius. Tonks’ reassurances were months ago, and since then many things could have happened to his Godfather. It surprised Harry that Sirius had not attempted to look for him here in Surrey, even if Tonks had neglected to mention where they were. It wasn’t like him to let Harry go like this, to allow him to stay on the run in the middle of a war. Taking another sip of the whiskey, Harry settled himself back into the couch, doing his best to distract his thoughts from Sirius, his stomach sinking even lower as he suddenly thought of Ginny.
He shook his head at this, knowing that she was with Remus and Tonks. Safer than she was at Shell Cottage, Remus and Tonks would incredible vigilant with the impending birth of their child. Ginny was safe there, of that Harry was certain. Finishing the glass of whiskey Harry wondered about what had happened to Bill and Fleur. Were they alive? They were likely dead…Ginny didn’t know. Harry filled his glass again, silently thanking his Uncle Vernon for being so well stocked with Muggle alcohol.
It wasn’t long before Harry was asleep on the couch, dreaming the same series of nightmares he was so accustomed to. As he did every time he slept, Harry dreamt of Snape again, holding out his hand to him and offering sanctuary that he still didn’t trust. Jolting awake at the falling sensation, the empty glass slipped from his lacklustre grip and fell to the floor, breaking loudly as Harry came round properly. He swore and rubbed his eyes beneath his glasses, sitting up as Ron came in the front door.
“What broke?” he asked, seeing Harry sitting safely on the couch. He glanced up the stairs to the bathroom.
“Just a glass,” Harry said softly, clearing his throat. He cleared away the broken remnants, not able to focus enough to fix it.
“Right,” Ron accepted this, and quickly ducked upstairs to check on Malfoy.
Awake now, Harry hauled himself to his feet and wandered into the kitchen, fetching a new glass. His scar was burning again, and he could feel an uncomfortable prickling across the back of his neck, making him shudder as he listened to Ron coming down the stairs. His friend came down the hallway and into the kitchen, and Harry stood stock still facing the kitchen cabinets, not turning to look at him.
“He’s asleep,” Ron commented, standing in the doorway awkwardly. “You alright? You look a bit peaky.”
Holding his breath, Harry looked at Ron over his shoulder, feeling intense distrust welling up inside him. Forcing himself to act Harry nodded, turning back to the glass and filling it at the sink on pretence. Looking away now, Harry felt himself relax somewhat, reminding himself that the feeling of danger and mistrust was not real, that Voldemort was doing this to him. He heard Ron leave, and Harry waited until he heard the front door open and close until he tipped out the untouched water and went back into the lounge room.
Sitting back down onto the couch Harry poured himself a generous glass of whiskey, his intentions clear to himself. Voldemort couldn’t influence his thoughts if he were sufficiently intoxicated, and perhaps he would even sleep decently. The last time he had slept without dreaming was when he and Ginny had fallen asleep on this very couch, over a fortnight ago. Taking a sip, Harry felt himself grow dizzy for a moment, his earlier drinks catching up with him.
The alcohol didn’t numb the pain in his scar, and so he slumped into a half sitting position and began work on finishing the glass, which thankfully didn’t take too long. He had enough strength to pour himself another, but found he couldn’t quite bring the glass to his lips, the alcohol finally having the desired effect on his body. Laying back on the couch he pulled a blanket across himself and shifted until he was comfortable, having just enough mind to toss his glasses in the direction of the coffee table. They clattered on the edge and fell off, but Harry was already drifting off to sleep.
When the sun finally rose on Monday morning, Harry was reluctantly sober, Hermione having banished the alcohol after finding him sitting outside early Saturday morning in the cold, still working on finishing his glass of whiskey from the night before. The argument that had ensued was loud enough that by the conclusion, even Malfoy knew the details of what Harry had done, and had taken great pleasure in misbehaving when Harry had brought him a toasted sandwich that evening.
In turn, Harry took even greater pleasure in kicking the empty plate towards Malfoy after he sat down before him and ate the sandwich himself, admonishing about how starving he was. Since then he had not allowed Ron and Hermione to pass him more than a slice of bread, citing that they needed him weakened to heighten his cooperation for Monday afternoon. It was to Harry’s great surprise that even Ron seemed reluctant to do this, now that they didn’t have such a strong purpose to promote his hunger, but Harry stuck to his decision.
With that in mind, Harry had been practicing the Imperious curse until Ron could perform a perfect backflip, until Hermione could not show any resistance to him. It was greatly satisfying to finally get something so right, though Harry and Ron were both suffering from the after effects of the well-practiced Stinging hex that would help keep Malfoy under control. Although he hated to dwell on it, Harry knew that Malfoy was a stronger wizard than they had anticipated; he had already shown them that with his unwarranted attack on Hermione. That said, he was still pale and slightly sickly when Harry checked on him that morning, noting with pleasure that he had lost weight over the seven week period that had had him. Malfoy looked at him with anticipation, hoping for something more substantial to eat, his face falling when Harry tossed him a piece of buttered bread. As they usually did, they refrained from speaking to each other, getting their encounter over and done with as quickly as possible.
Passing the time slowly, Harry, Ron and Hermione sat in the lounge room for most part of the early morning, Harry watching as his friends played cards, checking his watch impatiently. They would leave for Diagon Alley at about one o’clock, leaving them with plenty of time to get what they needed from Weasley Wizards Wheezes, to sabotage the Probity Probes at the front of the bank, and to enter through the employee entrance. None of them spoke, each of them sick of going over the plan and studying timetables and maps. They knew what was going on, they knew what was to happen, and they simply saw no point in discussing it much further.
“Harry?” Hermione said quietly, shuffling the deck of cards. “Why don’t you get some sleep before we go? You were up all night.”
The last thing Harry wanted was sleep, especially without the sedative qualities of the confiscated whiskey, but he jumped at the opportunity to escape the company of his friends, and so nodded and left the lounge. Trudging up to the first floor Harry glanced into the bathroom, where Malfoy was waiting for him expectantly, though he would be disappointed when Harry passed him by. Kicking off his shoes Harry collapsed down onto the spare room bed, the curtains already drawn, and set the alarm on his watch. Laying down now he felt wide awake, and so shuffled under the array of sheets and blankets until he was cocooned, his face pressed into the pillow and his glasses pressing against the bridge of his nose until he tossed them onto the floor. It was nicer to be alone at the moment, where he could freely rub his palm against his scar, or pull strange faces at the thoughts that he processed in his head. For nearly two hours he lay in bed wide awake, but warm and comfortable, and he finally threw back the covers in frustration and hunted around for a fresh set of clothing.
Slipping across the hallway, Harry entered the main bedroom where Ron and Hermione slept, and entered his aunt’s bathroom. Locking the door behind him Harry turned on the shower, checking his watch to keep track of the time before stripping off and stepping inside. Automatically he turned up the heat of the water, relishing in the burn and the steam as he washed his hair, feeling the stubble on his jaw and noting that he ought to shave. The warmth soothed his tense and sore muscles, diminishing the strength of his ever present head ache. He thought ahead to their plan for the day, feeling a twinge of nerves that he had been trying to suppress, though he gained reassurance knowing that his friends were just as nervous. Hermione had to be…her role was the key to her entire plan. If she didn’t get the vault passes at Martine Milligan’s orientation session, they would have no access. They would be forced to return to Privit Drive and re-evaluate. Harry dreaded this possibility. It would be bad enough going out with Malfoy in the first place, but to keep him around and do it all over again would be horrid.
Finishing his shower, Harry stepped out and grabbed his towel, noting that it was nearing closer and closer to one o’clock. He began to dress quickly, and as he turned he caught sight of himself in the bathroom mirror, something he normally carefully avoided. He studied the scars on his front, three long marks down his chest and stomach, a smaller one of his neck and another on his jaw. Although they were closed over, they had not healed well. Jagged and tight, these scars were raised bumps that were sore to the touch. Turning, he twisted his arm behind his back and curiously traced over the red marks there, counting eight horizontal and perfectly straight scars. It was a strange sensation, one that he wasn’t sure he liked, but there was no pain, even when he pressed against them hard. Uncomfortably, Harry knew that Ginny would have scars like these, but he didn’t allow himself to dwell on that for long. She was alright now.
Harry dressed quickly and brushed his teeth, not leaving himself enough time to shave before heading downstairs, where he met with Ron and Hermione. They too were ready. Hermione was dressed in the plain skirt and shirt she had worn as Jennifer Smart, her hair curly and black, leaving just enough of her facial features that he recognised her as herself. He gave a nod of approval, although he preferred her with her natural shades, and turned to Ron, who was similarly disguised. His hair was black and longer, his fringe brushing his eyes as Harry’s did when it grew a little too long. For a fleeting moment Harry thought he looked like a scruffy, younger version of Sirius, but kept quiet.
“Looks good,” Harry commented. “You forgot to do your eyebrows.”
Laughing, Ron fixed up his mistake, waiting for Harry’s nod of approval before he carried on. Taking a bundle of clothing and a fresh towel from the linen press he headed upstairs, Harry and Hermione listening intently as Ron instructed Malfoy to shower and dress quickly. That was the extent of their exchange, and Ron descended the stairs once again with a large grin on his face.
“Nearly wet his pants when he saw me come in,” he laughed, gesturing to his new appearance. “He’ll behave himself now.”
Just as he finished speaking there was the sound of running water from upstairs, and the three of them relaxed a little, knowing that Malfoy was being obedient so far. Impatiently they waited for Malfoy to finish, scanning the map and reading through the security timetables, Harry constantly checking his watch. It was a little after one o’clock when Malfoy finally turned off the shower, and Harry and Ron exchanged a quick glance, giving five minutes for Malfoy to dress before they would go up there.
“He took long enough. You guys ready?” Harry asked quietly. Already he did not have a good feeling about the day, but there was no denying the positive outlook his friends had. “Are you sure we want to do this?”
“Of course,” Hermione smiled nervously, taking his and Ron’s hands in her own. “We need to get the cup…even if it’s not in there, we have to try.”
“Yeah, mate,” Ron assured him. “We’re prepared…and if it goes belly up we blame Hermione.”
“Thanks, Ron,” she remarked lightly, packing up the parchment on the coffee table and hiding it in the drawer. Doing her final check around the property she put the penseive and Sword of Gryffindor away in her beaded bag, which she stowed under the cushions of the couch. They had agreed not to bring any more than they absolutely needed, knowing that the sword and penseive were irreplaceable if lost or stolen. Harry checked the invisibility cloak once more, ensuring the temporary extension charm was properly intact before indicating to his friends that he was ready.
They ascended the staircase, Harry in the lead, and he stopped just outside of the bathroom, its door still slightly ajar. “Are you dressed?” he called out clearly.
“Yes,” came Malfoy’s small reply.
Harry pushed open the door, Ron and Hermione following him up to the landing as he looked Malfoy over. “Put your shoes on,” he instructed impatiently, drawing his wand and indicating to the pair of socks and trainers that lay neglected on the floor.
Rolling his eyes, Harry watched as Malfoy looked him over now, suspiciously noting the dark clothing he wore, his shirt and dark jeans lightweight and easy to move about in. Behind him stood Ron and Hermione, both their appearance and clothing now noticeably different. Malfoy looked suspicious, and perhaps a little apprehensive. “What do I care?” Harry said in exasperation, moving forward and removing the protective charms around Malfoy. “They’re not my feet. C’mon, we’re going.”
“Wait, wait!” Malfoy hastened, scrambling to put them on now that he was getting a clearer picture of the situation.
Behind him Ron and Hermione sighed, but now that the charms were removed Harry did not take his eyes off Malfoy, not wanting to underestimate his desperation for freedom. He understand that desperation all too well, and knew it could bring about strength and power he didn’t know he had. Watching as Malfoy stood up, he regarded him with satisfaction, pleased that he wouldn’t be sharing his cloak with someone who stank of seven weeks of sweat. The moment Malfoy stood straight Harry bound his arms behind his back, and cast a harsh stinging hex on the back of his ankles in warning.
“Wha-?” Malfoy gasped, squirming and using his feet to rub his ankles. “What the hell are you doing, Potter?” he demanded angrily.
“You will do exactly as you are told, or I’ll keep that up all day. No funny shit, I don’t have the patience for it. Just remember that you’ve got plenty more teeth to lose than you already have.”
Ron snickered, remembering with pride the time he had broken Malfoy’s tooth after he had attacked Hermione. For a long moment Malfoy stood looking at the three of them, a look of determination coming across his face that Harry was keen to suppress. Revolting himself he stepped forward and took Malfoy by the arm, practically hauling him out to the hallway where the four of them had a little more room. He nodded to Ron and Hermione, who held hands and apparated away quietly, Harry following suit with Malfoy moments later.
They appeared in their favourite alleyway, and though Malfoy was ready to put up a fight, Ron was adequately prepared, waiting with his wand drawn and a fresh new stinging hex on the tip of his tongue. Malfoy gasped in pain again and lashed out at Ron with his foot, and Harry happily retaliated by connecting his fist with his jaw.
“Shut up,” Harry said forcefully, Hermione helping him to throw the cloak over them. “Or I’ll silence you. If you don’t behave yourself, I’ll Imperius you.”
“What the hell is going on?” Malfoy demanded loudly, his voice quietening immediately as Harry raised his wand in threat.
“Nod if you understand,” Harry instructed lowly.
Malfoy nodded slowly, swallowing thickly with nerves.
Satisfied, Harry turned to observe his friends, who were looking in his general direction. “Let’s go,” he said, reaching through the material of the cloak to put his hand on the back of Ron’s shoulder.
Without another word they set off, Hermione in the lead carrying her briefcase, her high heels clacking against the ground as they exited the alleyway and entered the Muggle street. Beside him Malfoy tried to resist for a moment, but another Stinging hex kept him in line without the use of Unforgivables. Walking behind Ron, Harry kept his hand on his shoulder so that his friend knew where he was, and they walked quickly for a few minutes, turning onto Charing Cross road. Glancing at Malfoy, Harry saw the recognition in his eyes, and knew that he was slowly piecing things together, and so he showed no surprise when they approached the Leaky Cauldron and watched Hermione enter.
Ron and Harry hung back a little, allowing some space to come between them and Hermione before they entered. The pub was blissfully quiet, with only a few patrons sitting up at the bar drinking a larger. The booths were completely empty, and so they found nothing in their way as Ron led them out the back to the brick wall. Entering Diagon Alley, they spotted Hermione a few yards ahead, and so quickly followed her through the street, grateful that there weren’t many witches and wizards out just yet. Afternoon trading would pick up a little after two o’clock they knew. As they walked, Harry spotted one or two wizards he knew from the bank, recalling from the rosters that they would be out on their lunch breaks. They didn’t waste any time meandering down the street, instead marching on down until they found the hidden alley way that would take them behind the shops.
“What are we doing here?” Malfoy asked quietly, once they were out of ear shot in the quiet alley.
“I said shut up,” Harry reprimanded him, casting another Stinging hex. “That’s your last warning.”
“Problems?” Hermione asked them warily as Ron approached her.
“Just the one,” Harry said grumpily, pulling off the cloak and leading Malfoy inside Fred and George’s shop. There was no protection or charms to stop them entering, though Harry suspected it was well protected from others who intended to loot and cause damage. Their shop appeared to have been untouched throughout the war, and provided them with the perfect base to stage their plans. Allowing Ron and Hermione to check the front of the store, Harry and Malfoy hung back a little in the storeroom, waiting for the all clear before they came through.
“Sit down,” Harry said, dragging a stool out from behind the counter and placing it in the centre of the store floor. “Don’t move, don’t speak.”
Malfoy did so obediently, and Harry extended the restraints on his arms to keep him in place, giving him a quick check over.
“I’ll keep an eye on him,” Hermione commented softly, peering out a space in the boarded up window. “You two get what you need.”
Harry and Ron nodded, and together set off around the neglected shop in search of supplies. It was rather gloomy inside the store, the blocked windows allowing only small streams of light in, and they had to light their wands to see properly. Harry coughed as they disturbed the dust that had settled on the displays and shelves, taking note of his exhausted appearance in the mirrored glass shelves along the front of the shop. Moving on he helped Ron find the Decoy Detonators, watching as he stashed a half dozen into the deep pockets of his robes.
“Powder…” Ron muttered to himself, scanning the shelves until he found what he was looking for. “Instant Darkness Powder, still can’t believe they got a permit to sell this kinda’ stuff.”
“Don’t take too much,” Harry insisted quietly, looking over his shoulder at Malfoy. “You don’t want the bank to evacuate.”
“Right,” he agreed, taking only a few packets before moving onto the fireworks. “Grab some Pygmy Puffs…they’re all over the joint.”
Smiling as he thought of Arnold, Ginny’s Pygmy Puff, Harry rounded up the thriving population of Pygmy Puffs that had escaped their cage in search of food, gently slipping them into the shoulder bag that Ron would be carrying with him. Looking over his shoulder, Harry checked on Malfoy, who sat quietly while Hermione watched him intently. Satisfied he carried on, gathering up forty or so variously colour Pygmy Puffs until they began to look a little cramped in the bag. Settling now, they purred gently, Harry feeling the vibrations through the bag.
“Are they the Wildfire line?” Harry asked softly, checking the fireworks as Ron unwrapped one from the packaging and slipped it into his pocket.
“Yeah, I think one will be enough,” he said with the hint of a grin. “Just need a Headless Hat and some Nougat.”
Harry nodded in agreement, slinging the bag of Pygmy Puffs over Ron’s shoulder and going back to where Hermione stood. “Ron’s almost ready.”
“Is he getting the Nougat?” she asked, sparing him a glance. “Just in case?”
“Yeah,” he nodded, checking his watch. It was almost a quarter to two. He had not realised how quickly time had passed.
“Oh, goodness,” Hermione said, voicing his very thoughts. “It’s almost time. Watch him, will you?”
She turned away before she could answer, hauling her briefcase up onto the counter and opening it, checking the contents and the expansion charm one last time. Inside was the scroll of parchment informing Martine Mills of her employment, and the forged documents that she would be required to present. Hermione peered at these one last time, having spent hours over the weekend to ensure that they would pass keen inspection.
“What’s it almost time for?” Malfoy asked, the sound of his voice making Harry want to belt him.
“I didn’t tell you to speak.”
“But what are we doing?”
Harry flicked his wand at him in frustration, silencing his voice and ignoring the look of outrage he bore. Turning red, Malfoy tried to shout at him, but all that Harry heard was the sound of his heavy breathes.
“Cripes,” Ron said, returning to stand by Harry’s side. “Doesn’t he sound better?”
“Far better,” Hermione agreed, taking the Nougat that Ron passed to her. “You’re ready?” she confirmed.
“Yeah,” Ron grinned, hiding his nerves. “Let’s go!”
“Oh, no!” Hermione halted him. “We can’t go yet, I’ll be a little too early.”
“It’s a job orientation,” Harry reminded her, flicking his wand and hauling Malfoy to his feet. He checked the invisible binds on the back of his hands. “Early is good.”
“Oh, right. Early is good,” Hermione repeated to herself, turning and walking through the storeroom and out the back door. “C’mon, then.”
Pushing Malfoy outside, Harry allowed Ron to throw the cloak over the two of them, and he checked the bottom hem vigorously to ensure they were hidden. Keeping one hand clenched around Malfoy’s arm, Harry gripped his wand with the other, keeping it a visible threat to Malfoy. “Good luck, mate,” Harry said to Ron, who was lagging behind inside the store.
“Yes, good luck Ron,” Hermione echoed. For a moment it looked as though she might kiss him goodbye, but restrained herself in front of Malfoy. He didn’t need more information to cause them trouble. “Lock yourself inside.”
“I will, see you guys soon. Don’t come back with the wrong thing.”
Harry resisted a chuckle as he set off, following Hermione out from the alley and back into the main road of Diagon Alley. The sun was bright today, and shone down on them through the cloak, but Harry paid it little attention, carefully dodging the crowd with Malfoy in tow and keeping up with Hermione. For now Malfoy seemed resigned to behaving himself adequately, but Harry knew better than to underestimate him. It seemed relevant what Mad-Eye said now, ‘Constant vigilance.’
Following Hermione, they passed by the entrance to Gringotts, where two security guards stood armed with their Probity Probes. Harry watched with pride as Hermione carefully flexed her wand towards them, casting a few charms to sabotage them. When Ron passed through those doors carrying concealed fireworks and decoys, they would not detect them. With that task done, Hermione slipped down the alleyway that lead to the service entrance, and Harry followed closely, his heart pounding as they approached the two security guards who were checking identification. The alley way was completely deserted, and at the sight of Hermione the guards perked up, pleased to have something to do.
“Ma’am,” they greeted her politely.
“Hello,” Hermione replied. “I’m Martine Mills. I’m here to see Phillip Davies.”
“Have you got your Offer of Employment letter? And I’ll need to see your wand, please.”
Hermione passed over her wand for inspection and opened her briefcase, producing the requested letter. She waited patiently, Harry standing behind her holding his breath. Beside him, Malfoy’s face was impassive, but Harry knew that he was already putting the evidence together. He looked at Harry darkly.
The guard to their left was skimming down a clipboard, giving a slight nod to himself. From his pocket he produced a tag that read ‘Visitor.’ “He you go, Ma’am. You’ll need to attach this to your robes and keep it on you at all times. Davies is expecting you in Meeting Room 14, he’ll be with you for no longer than half an hour.”
“Thank you,” Hermione said, taking back her wand and letter and taking her time to close her briefcase.
Harry moved to stand right behind her, pulling Malfoy closer to him than he liked, throwing him a look of pure warning. Not at all liking the look of determination that had settled over Malfoy, Harry raised his wand to him and cast the Imperius curse. To his relief Malfoy’s eyes rolled a little in his head, turning glassy for a moment, and he and Harry had seamlessly followed Hermione through the door and inside. By the time the guards closed the door behind them Malfoy appeared completely normal yet again, but completely under Harry’s control. Breathing a sigh of relief, Harry began to follow Hermione, unable to believe this small accomplishment.
They were inside.
A/N My apologies for the long delay. I've been travelling interstate frequently for the last three weeks due to family reasons. Sorry to keep you all waiting, please review and let me know what you think.