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Chapter 75: Red Herring
Arthur, Nate, and Misty decided to have a picnic on the lawn at lunchtime, instead of eating in the hall. It was a beautiful afternoon, with plenty of sun, no clouds, and a fresh light breeze. Arthur asked Honey to make them up a basket. The elf happily did so and the three students took the large picnic hamper outside and made their way near the lake, where several large willows and aspens provided shade.
While Misty spread out the blanket and dug in the basket for food, utensils, and plates, the two boys threw bread to the squid and argued over their latest Quidditch game.
Beneath a trembling aspen close by sat a thirteen-year-old Slytherin with dark hair and silver eyes. This was Rhys Morgan, Slytherin’s resident Seer. He had been trying to study for History of Magic, but grew bored and nodded off over the text. Now he was awakened by the trio’s voices and he looked about warily. Seeing the three students, and recognizing Grimsby by his scarred visage, he relaxed. He knew that Nate was not a troublemaker, and neither was the Ravenclaw girl or the younger boy, whom he recalled was Professor Snape’s ward.
Misty looked over and waved at the Slytherin. “Hello! Care to join us?”
Rhys looked surprised. “Uh . . . if you think your friends won’t mind?”
Misty smiled at him. “They won’t. You’re Rhys Morgan, right? The one who Saw Hogsmeade burning?”
Rhys nodded. He tucked his book under his arm and rose, coming over to the girl. “Yes. Would you like some help?”
Misty indicated the picnic basket. “If you’d like. Honey packed us enough food for ten students.” She began removing food from the hamper.
Rhys knelt and took out a large pitcher of lemonade and another of pumpkin juice.
Misty set out platters of sandwiches. There was tuna salad, roast beef and cheese, and ham with pickles. There was a pasta salad and large dill pickles, sliced cheddar, and potato crisps. There were pieces of chocolate cake with dark chocolate frosting and shortbread with jam in the middle.
Rhys’ eyebrow rose. “Merlin! You weren’t kidding! That elf must surely like you.”
“She likes Art. And Professor Snape. When Art was hurt with a hex, she helped take care of him,” Misty explained.
“Oh. Well, that’s a good thing,” Rhys said. “I heard about what Wyverly did. That was so stupid, I’m surprised Snape didn't hex his backside to the moon.”
“I’m sure he wanted to.”
“I sure wanted to,” remarked Arthur, returning to the blanket. He gazed curiously at the other boy. “Hello. I’m Arthur Stephens.” He held out a hand.
“Rhys Morgan. You’re the professor’s ward, aren’t you?”
“Yes. And aren’t you related to Professor Trelawney?”
“She’s my aunt.”
“Hey, Morgan.” Nate greeted. “Seen anything interesting lately?” He sat down next to Misty.
The Slytherin shook his head. “No. The Sight hasn’t shown me anything since that night. It comes and goes, Grimsby.”
“That must be frustrating,” Misty said sympathetically.
Rhys shrugged. “It’s always been like that. The Sight does what it will, and it’s difficult to control and difficult to interpret too. Except when I dreamed of Hogsmeade. Then I knew exactly what would happen and when.”
“Good thing too. Otherwise a lot of people would have gotten killed,” Arthur said, eating a roast beef sandwich. “Like Severus’ wife, Zoey.”
“But I thought she wasn’t in Hogsmeade when the fire started?” Rhys stated.
“She wasn’t, but we didn’t know that then. For all anybody knew, she was there and could have died. Her and the baby,” Arthur reminded him.
“So your talent’s actually useful,” Nate remarked.
“I suppose so,” he sighed. “Except now people think I’m like a crystal ball. They keep coming over to me and asking me to see their future. Like if they’re going to go out with whoever, or get a good grade on a test, or win a bet. It doesn’t work like that. The Sight only comes when it’s something important. Something that I need to know. But when I tell them that, they get mad.”
“People are stupid sometimes,” Misty snorted. “They want to believe what they want to believe, and not the facts.”
“You can say that again,” Arthur said. “Some of my idiot Housemates tried to say that my parents must have done something to make the Death Eaters attack them. I damn near punched them out. My family were Muggles and all they knew about the wizarding world was Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, and Platform 9 and ¾’s. They didn’t even know about You-Know-Who, the war, or anything else, because it didn’t matter to them. They told everybody on our street that I was accepted to a gifted and talented boarding school in Scotland, where only the genius kids went. Because in the Muggle world, saying your kid can do magic will get you put away in a psychiatric institute for being crazy. Magic’s not real in their world, it’s all smoke and mirrors. That’s why wizards can hide in plain sight, because ordinary people don’t believe magic exists. We’d have a much harder time if people still believed, like they did centuries ago. And the only thing my parents were guilty of was having a magical son, according to Death Eater philosophy.”
Nate rolled his eyes. “Y’know, Art, sometimes I wonder about Gryffindors in general. They’re supposed to be brave and chivalric and yet they’re the first to point figures and accuse people of things, even their own. Most of them don’t even give you the benefit of the doubt. It’s terrible! Now I know my house has a reputation for being . . . nice and pushovers, but at least we know the meaning of loyalty and House pride. Us Puffs stick together, come what may, and we’re the last ones to ever condemn somebody who was a victim of the bloody Death Eaters. I mean, how stupid can you get? Nobody deserves what those bastards dish out, they’re criminals, for heaven’s sake!”
“Slytherins are like that too. I know we have the reputation of being ruthless and selfish and only out to better ourselves, but that’s where everybody’s wrong. We have ambition and pride and the cunning to deal with the real world, where almost everybody’s out to cheat you or take advantage of you, but we always stick together. Because when half the school’s against you, your Housemates are all you’ve got.” Rhys said.
“It’s only logical that you support your own House and its people,” Misty added.
Arthur sighed. “My house is hardly logical, Misty. Don’t get me wrong, there’re good people in Gryffindor, but we do have a problem seeing the world—and people—in shades of grey. Don’t ask me why. We tend to categorize people and put them in these narrow little holes. Ever since I went to live with Severus, I learned that not everyone fits into those little categories and you ought to judge a person by their actions and not what House they’re from. I mean, when I needed somebody to take me in, it was the Slytherin Head who offered me a home, not Dumbledore or McGonagall.”
“Professor Snape is a good man, and a brilliant teacher,” declared Misty, and from a Ravenclaw that was high praise indeed. He was also compassionate, though she would never reveal how he had helped her through her first monthly.
“He’s also a good Head. He really watches out for us and cares about the choices we make,” Rhys said softly. “He’s the only teacher besides Aunt Sybill I trust to tell about my visions.”
“You can say that again. If it weren’t for him and his potions, I would still be in Mungos, wrapped up like a mummy and scarred like a monster,” Nate stated. “And alone. He was the only professor save for Sprout who came to visit me.”
“And he brought me along with him,” Art added. “I hope Zoey’s baby’s a girl.”
“Why? Afraid of being replaced?” Nate teased.
“No. It’s just that Severus’ really good with little girls. You should see him with his sister. It cracks me up.”
He’s good with big girls too, thought Misty, pouring herself some more lemonade to hide her blush. “So, who’s your favorite teacher besides Professor Snape? Mine’s Professor Marsh. He’s incredible.”
Nate thought for a moment. “I love Herbology so mine’s Professor Sprout.”
Arthur also enjoyed Dickon’s class, but didn’t want to seem like a copycat, so he said, “I like Charms, so my second favorite is Flitwick.”
Rhys remained quiet for several more minutes. Finally he said, “I probably should pick my aunt, but the truth is she’s not a really good teacher, she follows books too much and Divination’s more of an interpretive subject. I’d like Defense if we ever got a decent teacher, but since we don’t . . . I’d have to say Professor Kettleburn.” He also knew that her talent was minimal at best, he had more of it than she did, and she could not teach him anything about it that he didn’t already know. She tried, but her methods were flawed and most often her “visions” were false, mere conjurer’s tricks that any Gypsy fortune teller at a Muggle fair could perform. Though she would never admit it, Rhys knew she envied him his clear Sight, and that did not sit well with him and so he spent more time away from her than not. He wished wistfully to find a true teacher, one who had real talent, then maybe he could learn how to control his mercurial gift.
As they continued eating, their talk turned to favorite subjects and familiars, Misty had a grey cat called Smoke, Nate a brown owl named Fern, and Rhys had a pretty gold and white cat named Bronwyn. Only Arthur didn’t have a familiar yet, his parents hadn’t gotten around to buying one and Arthur hadn’t dared suggest one after they were gone and he was the Snapes’ ward. But now he wished he would have, because a familiar would have been a good companion. Perhaps for his birthday he would hint at it.
They had just finished their chocolate cake when the bell rang and Nate cleaned up with a quick charm. “I’ll bring the basket back to the kitchens later. Right now I’ve got Herbology.”
The others waved and sprinted back to the castle, none of them wanted to be late and risk a detention.
James and Orion arrived at Hogsmeade and did a routine patrol, but found nothing. They then assisted the village in the rebuilding and clean up; James was frustrated that they had no real leads to go on to catch those responsible and grumbled about it until Orion said shortly, “Potter, those are the breaks. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I’m sure they’ll be back, if not here, then somewhere else, and we’ll find them. We just have to be patient.”
James sighed. He didn’t want to wait for the enemy to make the first move, he wanted to catch them before they had a chance to hurt innocent people. But since that was about as likely as Voldemort dancing the polka, he had to just suck it up and bear it.
Orion, sensing his young partner’s impatience, redirected the conversation. “So, how is Petunia doing? She should be almost ready to have the baby by now.”
“Yes, it’s getting down to the end game. She’s over at the hospital today, doing her volunteer work. It’s the best place for her. If she does happen to go into labor early, they can take care of her until I get there.”
“That’s a wise decision. I remember when Walla was at that stage . . . I drove myself crazy, I didn’t want to leave her, but I had to go to work. But I hated leaving her alone, even for a few hours. That was when she was pregnant with Sirius. With Regulus, I took a month’s leave at the end and was right there when she started having contractions. You might want to do that, James.”
“I probably will, and thanks for the advice, Orion,” James said. “Uh, mind if I ask you how nervous you were the first time?”
Orion chuckled. “I wasn’t nervous, James, I was a bleeding wreck. I was terrified I was going to lose my wife, the baby, or both of them. The only reason I didn’t pass out was because Walla would have killed me for leaving her alone.” He patted the younger man’s shoulder. “It gets better with the second one, trust me. For now, just take it one day at a time. In the end you’ll have the best gift ever.”
“I know that. But the waiting is hell,” James admitted, and he wasn’t sure if he was speaking about Petunia or the cases he was working on in the department.
It was nearing the end of their shift, and almost time to report back to headquarters for their next assignment when Orion received a letter from Alastor Moody. After reading it, he looked grave. “We’re being sent out again on a distress call. A Muggleborn family in London are being assaulted by Death Eaters. Let’s move!”
“Right. You have the address?”
“The letter has a Locator spell on it. Grab it and then Apparate,” Orion ordered.
James obeyed and they were whisked away to a quiet avenue called St. Michael’s Square. When they arrived, wands drawn, they found the area oddly quiet, no signs of a struggle or an attack.
James was all for running up the porch stairs and breaking down the door.
Orion grabbed his shoulder. “Hold it, Potter. There’s something strange going on here. If we got a distress call, where is everyone?”
“Maybe they overpowered the family and killed them. Like last time,” James said, a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He pulled free of the senior Auror.
“I don’t know . . . this doesn’t feel right.” Orion shook his head. “Proceed with caution.” He followed his partner up the porch stairs. His instincts were tingling like mad, warning him that all was not as it appeared. He cast several Revealing Charms, scouting for traps, but the charms registered nothing hostile in the house or the surrounding area.
James reached the door, tried the knob, it was locked. He cast an Unlocking charm and then shoved the door open. “Nobody move!” he yelled, a Stunning hex at the ready.
Except the house was empty. There was no one to confront, no one to save, nothing save a silent quartet of rooms. And there was nothing to indicate a struggle or a fight, everything was neat and in order. “Hello? Anybody home? We’re an Auror patrol.”
No answer. James turned and stared at Orion, puzzled. “I don’t get it. Where’s all the people? There’s nobody home.”
“Let’s search the house, see if they’re hiding or something,” Orion suggested. But his instincts were yelling that there was no one to be found. “I’ll take down here and you go upstairs.”
James leaped up the stairs praying to find someone and yet at the same time praying they wouldn’t be dead.
Orion continued to look in the four rooms on the first floor—kitchen, living room, bathroom, and small dining room. All were pristine and empty of occupents. The elder Auror shook his head. He was beginning to think they were had.
“Anything?” James asked.
“Nothing. Could the Death Eaters have taken the family somewhere?”
“I doubt it. That’s not their style. And they would have left someone behind. I’m starting to think this was a red herring. We were given false information. This is a Muggle residence, but I’m almost positive no one ever came here.”
“You mean, Moody sent us on a wild Snark hunt?”
“Not intentionally. I’ll bet you anything this is a decoy and the real situation is somewhere else.”
Before James could say anything further, there came a pop and writing appeared on the wall.
Fooled you! Fooled you! If you want to find your children still alive, remember your nursery rhymes.
Ring around a rosy, pocket full of posies,
In the blink of an eye, the writing vanished.
“Orion, bloody hell!” James swore.
“They’re at the nursery school on Rose Street,” Orion cried.
“Positive. Let’s go, Potter!”
Once again they Apparated.
This time when they popped in, it was like entering the gates of hell.
Smoke and small fires were burning and children were crying as five figures in masks and charcoal gray robes shot hexes at them and the three teachers. The nursery school was burning, and at least one of the adult witches was down, lying still on the pavement.
“Orion, we need back up!” James cried, firing off a Burning hex at the Death Eater nearest him. It set the other’s robes on fire.
“I know!” the elder Auror panted, trying to clear away some of the smoke. He sent out his Patronus, a leopard, to call for help. Orion moved to try and protect the children, most of whom were clustered in a corner by a large oak tree, sobbing.
“Move, woman!” Orion bellowed at one of the teachers. “Get them away from here, go!”
The young woman looked to be in shock, but she jumped when Orion yelled at her and started to get the kids moving.
“Naughty, naughty, uncle!” tisked a Death Eater, laughing mockingly.
Orion froze, convinced he recognized his niece Bellatrix. But then he brought up his wand and deflected her curse.
James managed to knock the wand from the Death Eater he’d set on fire’s hand. He then tried to cast a Binding spell, but the Death Eater suddenly DisApparated. “Damn it!” he swore. As he turned to find a new target, two more Death Eaters Apparated in.
Suddenly, James was fighting for his life, edging slowly backwards until he had the brick wall at his back. A few yards distant, Orion dueled Bellatrix, managing to deflect all her hastily cast spells, including the Torture Curse, using his personal ward spells.
Sweat dripped into Orion’s eyes, but he never looked away from his opponent. He knew he had to focus, Bella was too dangerous an opponent to become distracted. On the periphery of his awareness he knew James was in trouble, that they were being overwhelmed, but he continued to fight his insane niece to a standstill.
He twirled his wand counterclockwise and flicked it hard. A ribbon of blue light exploded from his wand tip and looped about her wand, yanking it hard.
Bellatrix’s wand flew from her hand and clattered at Orion’s feet.
Before she could do anything, Orion had cast a Binding Charm. Ropes shot out of his wand and wrapped about her like a mummy. She spat at him and he quickly cast a Silencing Charm and a Stunning hex on her as well. Then he smiled grimly and picked up her wand. “That’s one down. Need some help, James?”
Orion whirled to Stun a Death Eater attacking James from the side.
But even as that one fell, James spotted another creeping up on his partner from behind.
“Orion, watch your back!” he yelled, trying to hit the sneaky dark wizard.
But the Death Eater suddenly collapsed, hit by a curse from another of the dark brotherhood.
Orion whirled to face this new attacker.
The silver masked figure hesitated, shaking its head slightly.
A red bolt of killing energy flew past the hesitating Death Eater and struck Orion, carving a neat line across chest and abdomen. Blood bloomed like a rare flower on the senior Auror’s uniform and Orion gave a garbled scream and sank to the ground.
“NO!” James howled in disbelief, his cry echoed by another.
Before he could defend himself, he was caught by a Stunning hex and everything went dark as he crumpled to the ground. His last thoughts were of Petunia and his child.
Orion lay still, one hand covering the gaping wound, trying futilely to stem the blood leaking from the Cutting Curse. He knew he was bleeding out, and everything was becoming hazy. He knew he was dying, and he kept going in and out of consciousness, wondering where the backup he’d sent for was.
He could hear the mocking sneers of the remaining three Death Eaters, and then one was kneeling by him, clamping a hand over his abdomen. He moaned in agony.
“Shh. You’re going to be all right, Dad,” whispered a familiar voice.
Orion was sure he was hallucinating. “Regulus?” he hissed, gasping.
“Lie still.” Behind the mask, Regulus wept. He had arrived as soon as he had learned of the mission Bellatrix, the Lestrange brothers, Mulciber, and a new initiate had been sent on. Apparently, Lucius had received inside information about Auror patrols from a new operative that was close to James and Sirius, and decided to set a trap for whatever Aurors were on patrol that afternoon. But he had not been fast enough. He pressed down on his father’s chest, but blood continued to leak out through his fingers, staining his hands crimson.
“Oi, Black! What’re you doing with him? He’s done for!” giggled Rabastan.
“Slit from stem to stern,” guffawed his twin.
“We should take one alive, you jackass!” Regulus snarled.
“Good shot, Torvald!”
Regulus’ eyes narrowed to slits and he let the white rage consume him. Quick as thought, he pointed a finger and lightning exploded from his hand and struck the gloating Torvald, incinerating him.
“Huh? What’d you do that for?” cried Rudolphus.
“Because I felt like it. He was an idiot.”
“You stupid bugger! He was one of us!” shouted Rabastan.
Just then there came a flash of light and Sirius Apparated in. He fired off a Stunning hex and Rabastan fell, then he began to duel his twin.
“Thank Merlin!” Regulus gasped. He yanked his mask off and banished it, he refused to let his father’s last sight be of that abomination. “Dad, listen to me. It’s Reg, I’m trying to help you . . .” He began to chant a Blood Halt spell, all the while knowing it wouldn’t be enough. Tears glittered in his eyes.
Orion’s eyes met his, and he clasped his youngest’s hand. “Reg . . . why? Why?”
Regulus winced at the sorrow and disbelief in his father’s eyes. “Dad, it’s not what it looks like. I’m not one of them. I’m a spy, Dad. Dumbledore’s spy.”
As he spoke the words, he felt a great weight lifted off his shoulders. Now at last Orion knew the truth.
Orion blinked, comprehension etched into his features. He coughed and whimpered. “Ahh . . . I understand . . . that’s good, son . . .” He patted Regulus’s hand lightly. “Don’t . . . waste time . . . Reg . . .”
Regulus traced a healing charm over Orion, trying desperately to keep the life within Orion’s body. “Hang on, Dad. Don’t give up. Okay? Okay, Dad?” he whispered, his voice gone hoarse with fear and dread. He began to chant softly, but he could feel Orion’s life force flickering out like a guttered candle even as he did so.
“Get off him, you rotten son-of-a-bitch!”
A rough hand shoved at Regulus, who looked up to see Sirius’ furious face. “Siri, stop it! I’m trying to save him!”
Sirius staggered back a step, horrified. “Reg? What have you done? Merlin’s balls, you . . . you’re one of them! You bloody traitor!” He brought up his wand.
“I’m not, you stupid ass!” Regulus shouted, knowing he could not defend himself, or else his father would die.
“Liar! I’m going to hex you into pieces! I trusted you!”
“You still can, Siri. I’m not a Death Eater.”
“Sirius . . . listen . . .” Orion cried, half-sitting up, an arm cradling his stomach.
“Dad, don’t!” Regulus cried. “You’ll make it worse.” He tried to push Orion back down.
“Can’t get much worse . . .” he gave his son a faint smile.
“Don’t touch him, you bastard!” Sirius snarled, clenching a fist.
“No! No fighting!” Orion growled, a hint of his old commanding presence in his voice. He grabbed Sirius’ fist with his other hand, smearing it with blood. “Sirius, listen . . . your brother . . . is a spy . . . working for Dumbledore . . .”
Sirius darted a glance at Regulus. “Fuck, Reg! That true?”
Regulus nodded. “I’m a member of the Order of the Phoenix. Have been for years, since I was . . . fourteen . . .” His hazel eyes met Sirius’. “Top secret, Albus wouldn’t let me tell . . .”
Sirius felt as if he’d been run over by the Hogwarts Express for the second time that day. “Merlin, Reg . . . All this time . . .” His eyes blurred with tears.
Orion stirred, grimacing. “Bloody Dumbledore! If . . . I had ten minutes with him . . . he’d regret it . . .”
“Dad, please! Lie still, you’re losing too much blood,” Regulus pleaded.
Orion coughed. “Nothing . . . can stop that now. . .remember . . .you’re family . . . stick together . . . promise . . .” He tugged Sirius’ hand and indicated Regulus other hand.
Regulus clasped his brother’s hand. “I promise. Siri?”
“Me too.” Sirius’ voice was rough with unshed tears.
“Good . . . boys . . . tell Walla I love . . . her . . .love you . . .Sorry . . . I can’t . . .” his breath rasped and then ceased as he breathed his last, his head falling limply against his chest.
“Dad?” Regulus called, his voice sounding lost and scared. He shook Orion slightly. “Daddy, come back! Come back!” He tried to rouse the limp form.
“Reg, stop. He’s gone.” Sirius managed to say through a lump in his throat. He gently released Orion and grabbed his brother’s shoulder. “You got to let him go, Reg.”
Regulus shook his head stubbornly. “No. No. I can save him. I can! It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.” He started to chant another healing spell.
Sirius swallowed hard, then pulled his brother away from their father’s body. “Regulus Arcturus Black! Damn it, kid, listen to me! He’s dead! He’s never coming back, understand!” He shook his brother hard and slapped him across the face.
Regulus blinked, his eyes wide and fearful, like a child afraid of the dark. “He’s really gone, Siri?”
“Yeah.” Sudden tears streaked Sirius’ face.
Regulus shook his head. “Merlin, what are we going to tell Mum?”
“The truth. That he died in the line of duty . . . a hero,” Sirius murmured. Then he clasped his brother to him.
Regulus clung to him and wept, his shoulders shaking with sobs, as he grieved for the father he had lost, and struggled with the guilt that he could have done something to prevent the tragedy that had occurred.
Sirius cried also, for not arriving sooner, and for wasting all those years arguing with his father, and he too wondered what would become of them without Orion, who had been the glue that held the family together.