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A Time to Live by ladymblack
Chapter 18 : Chapter 18: The New Hideout
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 24


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Chapter 18: The New Hideout

Harry put up the Muffliato Charm and called Kreacher to him.  As the elf appeared, Ron smiled appreciatively.  Harry whispered into the elf’s ear what he wanted and received a nod, the big ears flapping before he disappeared.

Harry and Ron left the room and could feel all eyes on them.  Harry got into a lift and was pleased to find that it didn’t have any Aurors in it.  He ran to Level Four, where he knew Hermione was most likely to be.  There was a small reception desk outside the large oak doors.

Harry approached and said, “Excuse me, but I was looking for Hermione Granger.  Do you know where Mr. Diggory has her working?”

“I don’t have time to look for missing personnel,” she said snippily. 

“She’s not missing, I just need to know where she’s working within the department,” Harry said.

“And for what reason do you need this information?” she asked without looking up.

“Fine, can I see Mr. Diggory?” Harry asked.  He wasn’t sure what else he was supposed to do at that point.

“Do you have an appointment with him?”

“Mr. Diggory will see me,” Harry said heavily.  He knew that Amos Diggory wouldn’t deny a visitation.

She finally looked up at him and seemed to be at a loss for words.  Harry wouldn’t have been surprised if it had been a first for her.  With her recognition she quickly looked in her files.

“Let me see, yes she’s in office B, cubicle 33,” she said, pointing towards a door down the hall.

Harry couldn’t help but roll his eyes and shake his head as he headed in the direction she’d indicated.

She then called, “Could you sign my chocolate frog card?”

Harry paused for a moment.  Since the scene in the Great Hall, he usually just signed people’s cards without another thought.  But she’d angered him with her attitude.  If he’d been anyone but himself, she would have continued with her indifference.  “Perhaps when you learn to be a bit more polite to people,” Harry told her, not bothering to look back, and continued on his way.

Finding Hermione was much easier than he’d thought it might be.  Her hair stood out as she poured over a number of pieces of parchment in her cubicle.  There was already a stack of books around her as he approached her from the front.  They’d all been a bit skittish of anyone sneaking up on them after the last few years and he didn’t wish to alarm her.

“Hey, how’s work going?” he asked as he knelt down next to her.

“Uh, fine, but what are you doing here?  Aren’t you supposed to be in your department?” Hermione asked.

“Nope, we’ve got to disappear until noon tomorrow,” Harry explained.  “We have an hour to plan.”

“Oh,” Hermione said, sitting up straighter.  “Well, you surely can’t think I can go with you!”

“No, but I was hoping you still had the tent in your beaded bag for us to borrow,” Harry said.  He knew it would take a lot for her to part with it.  It was her lifeline.  He explained what they had to do while they were in hiding.

“If not, I understand,” Harry said.  “We’ll figure something else out.”

“You have to answer questions as well?”

Harry nodded, so she said, “Just take the whole thing.”

Harry shook his head.  She pushed it into his hand.  “Hermione, are you going to be okay tonight without it?  Ron and I aren’t coming home, you realize that.”

She nodded and said, “I know, Harry, but I want you to do well.  What if you needed one of the books or something?  Ginny and I will be safe at the house.”

“Thanks, Hermione, that’s really awesome,” Harry said, giving her an appreciative hug as he lowered his robes so as to tuck the beaded bag underneath them.  “Tell Ginny I love her when you see her later.”

She smiled and said, “No problem, but I’m pretty sure she already knows.”

He could feel his face turn red.  As he looked back to wave good-bye, he could still see Hermione smiling knowingly at her desk as he walked through the door back into the corridor.  He completely ignored the nasty girl that sat in the receptionist’s chair and made his way back to the bathroom that he and Ron had agreed to meet in.  Ron was already there when he entered.

“Is there anyone in here?” Harry asked in a whisper.  Ron shook his head, and so Harry threw a Muffliato at the door and barred entrance.

“Kreacher,” Harry said.  The elf appeared, with a worried look on his face, but did as he was bidden.  He took Harry and Ron back into Kingsley’s old office, Harry removing the charm to keep people out of the bathroom just before they disappeared.

“Now, I need you to tell Ginny that we can’t come home tonight.  I don’t know if Gawain really trusts us or not, and he’s bound to check Grimmauld Place to see if we’re there.  No one should act strangely in any way…got it?” Harry asked.  “I may call you to get us out of here quickly if we’re about to be caught.  Is that okay?”

Kreacher nodded conspiratorially before he was gone.  Harry and Ron first set up their spells, testing them to make sure they worked within the Ministry.  Then they erected the tent in the empty corner of the room.

“This one’s really much nicer than the old one,” Harry said as he took a seat at the small table.  “It’s a bit smaller, but at least there’s no smell of cats.  I wish we’d had this one to begin with.”

Ron nodded his agreement, looked down at his watch and said, “Well, we used about half of the hour they gave us.  I say that’s pretty good.”

“We should find out what they’re planning though.  What if they suspect our plan?”  Harry said.

Ron pulled out an Extendable Ear and slipped it towards the door so that they could hear what was going on in the rest of the office.

“You know, I’ve got to give Fred and George credit.  They didn’t just make money; they made some really useful tools!” Ron said.

Just then they heard Gawain say, “Okay, so just because we couldn’t find them last year doesn’t mean we can’t find them now.  I don’t want to even know if any of you found them during that time, but didn’t report it.  I’m glad you didn’t report it if that was the case, but we don’t have any other real leads so let’s find a way to look for our rookies.”

There was a flurry of movement and someone said, “Wouldn’t it be useful if we found out where they stayed last year?”

“Well, I know one of their hideouts, but I’ll check that one myself,” Gawain said.  He seemed to think for a moment and then said, “I think we should ask the Minister and the Senior Undersecretary for help.”

They didn’t hear much else for quite awhile until they heard Kingsley and Arthur enter. the room.

“You said this was of utmost importance, Gawain?” Kingsley asked; his concern apparent.

“Yes, we were wondering if you could tell us where Harry and Ron were hiding out all last year,” Gawain said.

“Well, we know some of the places they stayed,” Arthur explained, “But they moved every few days, so it would be impossible, even for them, to list every place they went.”











There seemed to be some scratching of quills for awhile as they gave the information they had and then a woman said, “So, Minister, we were told to ask you about what sort of objects Harry and Ron were looking for all last year.  What can you tell us about them?”

“I am not at liberty to discuss that matter,” Kingsley said, definitively.

“But Harry told us to ask you,” she said hopefully.

“I’m sure he did, but that mission is considered to be classified to the level that it’s neither written down nor discussed anywhere in this building.  Do I make myself clear?” Kingsley said, his usual calming tone gone.

Harry and Ron supposed that the woman probably nodded in acquiescence.  Arthur then spoke up and asked, “So, how’d my kids do on their physical?”

Gawain gave a guffaw and said, “Well, as the people that were following them through the obstacle course were all stunned, we’re not entirely sure.  They obviously made it through though, and in remarkable time at that.”

“How’d they hold up in their duels?” Kingsley asked interestedly.

“Ah well, Ron did excellent against Savage, but Harry…well….” Gawain trailed off.

“Are you trying to tell me that Harry didn’t do well with his duel?” Kingsley asked with a combination of incredulity and indignation.  “That’s preposterous!

“Absurd!” added Arthur.  “Those boys have been dueling since they were twelve.  Harry won two duels against Voldemort, for goodness sake!”

“I’m just telling you what I saw. For some reason he seemed reluctant to overcome his opponent.  Ron seemed to think that he was scared of himself.  I’m honestly not sure what that was all about.  Harry was trying to…I don’t know…teach her, I suppose?  He was giving her tips and it was just really strange.  We didn’t know what to make of it.  Ron was finally able to talk him around.  Once he did, Harry had the woman’s wand and stunned her in moments.  What do you think was going on?” said Gawain.

There were a few moments of silence during which Harry and Ron were sure that Arthur and Kingsley were communicating only with their eyes.

“I don’t think it’s anything to worry about, Gawain.  Harry’s found himself to be a bit more powerful after that last duel with Voldemort.  I think it will just take some time for him to adjust to everything,” Kingsley said slowly, as though weighing each word carefully.

No one seemed to speak for a moment when the door to the department opened again.

“Dominic, Raleigh, Beulah, you were all released from St. Mungo’s?” called Gawain.

“Yeah, we’re fine,” a woman’s voice said, presumably Beulah.  “Eleanor should be let go tomorrow.  She had a slight concussion.”

“Well, why don’t you sit down and tell us about how Harry and Ron did during the Physical,” Gawain said.  “There’s still some time before we can start going after them anyhow.  Dominic?”

 

“Well, they had absolutely no problem with any of the creatures.  In fact, you might have thought they were out for a stroll.  They’re conversations however, were a bit odd,” Dominic said.

“Odd in what way?” Constance asked.

“Well, they seemed to be talking about Ron’s mother’s soul at first.  I think Ron was worried that his mother’s soul was damaged in some way.  He was asking Harry if he was absolutely certain that she would be okay,” said Dominic.

“What did Harry say?” Arthur asked immediately, an edge apparent in his voice.

“Harry told Ron that her soul would find the Afterlife.  Do you know what they were talking about?”

“I do, but it’s nothing to concern yourselves with,” Kingsley said with finality, clearly trying to deflect the conversation.

“Right, so Harry refused to fight himself and made it through that room in record time.  Ron spent some time fighting himself before he realized it was useless.  Ron had no problem producing a Patronus to fight his Dementor.  Harry, on the other hand, was different.  I don’t know how he got past the Dementor.  Eleanor and I were following him, so I was there.  First he checked to see if it was a Boggart, and then he simply determined to pass it.  It didn’t seem to affect him, but I never saw a Patronus from him.  I really don’t understand what he did,” Dominic confessed.

“That’s okay, Dominic.  Harry has learned how to ward off a Dementor without a Patronus now.  Actually, since his secret is out, we may as well add him to the list of those that we know of that can do that,” Kingsley said, seeming to address Gawain now.

“I didn’t know that was even possible,” Dominic said.  “So, then we had the pool.  We should have used different Merpeople, because Harry already knew the ones that we had.  They refused to attack, and simply let the boys pass.  I don’t know what we can do about that.”

“I forgot about the Triwizard Tournament,” Gawain said in an exasperated tone.  “But they didn’t do anything wrong and I suppose that shows that they are able to deal well with half-humans.”

“So then we had a bit of a problem in the swamp as well.  They seemed to guess that we’d used one of those portable swamps, because they used the spell to simply get rid of it.  That’s our fault as well, I suppose,” Dominic said.

Harry and Ron both couldn’t help but laugh at that, and nearly missed the rest of the conversation.  “Next time we’ll use different spells.  Okay, so could you tell us exactly what happened in the snake room?” said Gawain.

“Well, that’s what we’re not sure of, sir,” Beulah said.  “Ron seemed to expect Harry to just talk to the snakes.  But Harry only spoke in English.  Then Ron said something in Parseltongue, at least I think he did.  There was this strange hissing noise that was coming from his mouth, anyway.  The next thing we knew, all of the snakes had reared and started to go for the boys.  We really thought we were going to have to give ourselves away to help them.  But Harry pushed Ron to the ground, told him to cover his head, and that’s the last thing any of us remembers.  We were hoping you could explain what happened.”

“Bloody hell!” Ron exclaimed.  “Now they’re all going to think I’m a Parselmouth.”

“My son can’t speak Parseltongue,” Arthur mused, although it was clear that he was unsure of that statement.

“All he can say is ‘open up,’ although why, I have no idea.  The boys talked about it a bit after they’d left the room.  We could hear them,” Gawain said.  “So, the real question is what Harry did to get all of those snakes subdued and everyone stunned.”

They talked about it for awhile, with Kingsley and Arthur both asking questions.  “It sounds similar to what Dumbledore did when Dawlish and I were supposed to arrest him in his office.  It’s not much of a surprise though.  Dumbledore was giving Harry private lessons all during his sixth year.  I don’t think there’s anything to worry about,” Kingsley said.

“Was that all you needed help with?” Arthur asked quickly.  “We’ll be seeing you around then, Gawain.  We have a great deal of work to finish before we can go home.

The door to the Department opened once again and Kingsley turned around, saying, “Just a word of warning to all of you; whatever you do, don’t underestimate those two.  I know Hermione’s not there with them, but they’re quite intelligent even without her.”
Constance asked, “Do you think we have a chance of finding them, Minister?”

“Do you want my honest opinion?” asked Kingsley.  She must have nodded, because he said, “I highly doubt it.  It would be unlikely even if they didn’t have Harry’s Invisibility Cloak.”

Once the door closed again, the conversation turned back to tracking Harry and Ron.

“So, this seems almost impossible,” a woman said.  “They could be pretty much anywhere, and I doubt they’d use any of the places they told the Minister or Mr. Weasley about.”

“We’ll have to concentrate on the written test we gave them then.  They’ll need ingredients to brew the potions, so we should stake-out the Apothecaries.  We could also watch for them in the places where they can find answers to some of the questions about the Death Eaters,” Arnold Savage said.

“Has anyone considered that they may already know the answers to those questions?  They may not need to go anywhere for the answers.  Did you hear them talk about the Death Eaters when we were questioning them?  It was as though they knew quite a few of them…personally, almost,” Constance said.

Beulah then responded, “But we don’t know which questions they may or may not have answers to, so I say we keep an eye on any place involved with those people.”

“Agreed,” Gawain’s voice said.  He began to issue out orders for Aurors to cover the most likely spots Harry and Ron might visit.

“Speaking of potions, maybe we should get started on those,” Ron pointed out.

Kreacher had brought them two cauldrons as well as Snape’s Potions Book.  They spent their time, each taking turns to hang onto one of the ends of the Extendable Ear in case the Aurors thought to look for them in Kingsley’s old office, making a list of the ingredients they would need.  Then they sent Kreacher out for said ingredients.  He returned, with Ginny on his arm.

“What are you doing here?” Harry and Ron both asked.

She raised her eyebrows and said airily, “Such a lovely greeting, from my two favorite men!”

“Sorry, you just surprised us, is all,” Harry said, leaning up for a kiss.  Ron deliberately looked down to the parchment he was working on.

“George said I could go home.  Angelina’s there helping him, so at least he isn’t by himself,” she said.  She wriggled her eyebrows suggestively and said, “Maybe I could go into hiding with you this time.”

“I’d love it, Gin, but unfortunately we have to answer all of these questions and brew these two potions by tomorrow,” Harry said, showing her the parchment that was hanging off the edge of the table.  “Besides, I really think it would be better if you were actually at home when Gawain comes to call.  I had to give him our address, so I’m pretty certain he’ll show up to double check we’re not hiding at the house.”

She wrinkled her nose and sighed.  “I wouldn’t want to distract you and make you miss your chance to become Aurors,” said Ginny.

“You’d definitely be a distraction, Ginny,” Ron said.  “Already, Harry’s not paying any attention to what he’s supposed to be doing.”

“The house is going to be so empty with you two gone,” she said.

“Maybe we can all go over to Shell Cottage tomorrow to visit Dobby,” Ron said.

“I’d like that.  I haven’t even seen their place yet, and I’d like to get a chance to say good-bye to Dobby,” Ginny said sadly.  Then she handed Harry a vial, “Here, Harry, you’d better take this tonight.  You haven’t been alone at night in a long time and you don’t want to give yourselves away by having nightmares.”

“Thanks,” he said.  He couldn’t believe he had forgotten that he might need it, not having her comforting presence beside him.  “Why don’t you and Hermione talk about wedding stuff while we’re gone and can’t interrupt you?”

She smiled brilliantly and laughed light-heartedly.  “That’s an excellent idea.  Maybe I’ll invite Mum to dinner.  I think I’ll go and get some of those bridal magazines we saw at that newsstand the last time we were in Muggle London.”

She had a far-away look in her eyes as she kissed Harry good-bye, putting her hand out to take Kreacher’s arm.

“Kreacher will be back shortly with Master’s dinner, sir,” Kreacher said.

“We’ve got food,” said Ron, pointing to the kitchen counter where he’d thrown the supplies he’d gotten from the cafeteria.
 
Kreacher gave a harrumph and snorted.  “Kreacher will bring proper food.”

With that he accepted Ginny’s hand, tucking it into his elbow and left.  Ginny waved merrily just before they popped out of sight.

“Boy, do I miss Hermione at times like these,” Ron said in frustration as they both lit fires beneath the cauldrons.  “She loves doing crap like this!”

Harry laughed and said, “Yeah, but we need to be able to function on our own.  We can’t always go to her for every little thing.  At least we’ve got Snape’s help.”

A while later, they were back to poring over the questions in front of them, while they waited for their potions to stew.  Some of them were rather easy and they answered them with no problem.  Others had them completely stumped and they were going to have to wait until the office was closed for the day before they could raid the filing cabinets.  In the meantime they set to working out the situational problems that required essay-like answers.

“So, how do you reckon that Homenum Revelio spell of Hermione’s works then?” Ron asked, once it seemed as though everyone had gone home.

“I think she said that your wand will vibrate slightly, towards the direction of the person.  Does that sound right?” Harry said.

“Yeah, it does,” said Ron.  “Do you think that’s how Albus knew we were in Hagrid’s hut that night Fudge took him to Azkaban?”

“I doubt it.  We got that weird feeling when Travers used it on us at Luna’s and I don’t remember that happening at Hagrid’s.  He probably just figured we might try to see Hagrid after what happened to Hermione,” Harry said.  He threw the Invisibility Cloak over himself and walked to the door.  He cast the spell, and his wand remained still as he swept it around towards different parts of the Department.  It only vibrated as he aimed it towards Ron, so he was certain it had worked properly.  “Be right back,” Harry whispered.

He assumed there was a Supersensory Charm around the office and countered it, just to be safe.  Then he crept silently towards the room where all of the files were kept.  Just as he was about to close the door behind him, he heard the door to the Department open.  A wizard stood there with a lit wand.  Apparently, removing the Supersensory Charm had caused some sort of alert with the Security Department.

Harry knew he had to act quickly.  He sent a Confundus Charm at the wizard who then exited the Department, scratching his head.  Harry breathed a sigh of relief and decided to leave the door to the file room open while he took what he needed.  His arms weighed down by a pile of parchment, he closed the door as quietly as possible and headed back to Kingsley’s old office.

“I nearly got caught,” he told Ron once he’d entered the safety of the tent, explaining what had happened.

They began going over the files to answer their questions.  The problem was that many of the details that they were finding in the files seemed to be inaccurate.  Ron pulled out a spare bit of parchment and began taking notes on what mistakes they were finding.  Then they put check-marks beside the questions that they were using the files to answer.  A few hours passed before they heard the door to the Department open again.  Harry and Ron looked at each other in question.

Harry threw the Invisibility Cloak over himself once again, cast a silencing charm on the door and opened it a crack.  Another Security Guard in black robes was looking around, as he stealthily made his way to the file room.  He took no trouble to be quiet as he rifled through the cabinets.  He didn’t seem to find what he was looking for and backed out of the room.  Harry thought he heard him mutter, “It would figure they’d have lost the file I need.”

Harry wished more than ever that he could light his wand to find out who this mysterious figure was, but he didn’t dare.

Once the man left the Department, Harry went back into the tent, his heart pounding as he explained what he’d seen to Ron.

“I don’t think he was here just to make sure that everything was secure,” Ron said, “which means he was looking for something.  Why didn’t you stop him?”

“Well, we’d likely be caught.  Even though he seemed to be working alone, that doesn’t mean that he was.  We should stay here the rest of the night and guard the office.  Besides, he didn’t seem to find what he was looking for.”

Harry and Ron both looked down at the files in front of them.  “I’ll bet you whatever he was looking for is right here.  I guess it’s lucky that we decided to hide here then!” Ron exclaimed.

“So, do you think we can figure out what he was looking for?”

They quickly filled in the rest of the answers on their exams and began to go through each file.  They took turns reading aloud from them and wrote down possibilities onto another piece of parchment.  Once they’d finished that they went back to trying to fix the files.  By morning, they didn’t seem to have made much headway and both had fallen asleep there at the kitchen table.  They awoke with a start as people began filing into the outer office. 

“Blimey, Harry!” Ron shouted, looking down at the files.  “We forgot to put them back!”

“Well, it’s too late now,” Harry said.  He shrugged then.  “We may as well just keep working.”

Kreacher came in a short while later with some coffee, tea and a large breakfast for the two men.  “Did Master sleep last night?” Kreacher asked, looking closely at Harry’s face.

Unable to stifle a yawn, Harry said, “Not much, but I think we must have fallen asleep at some point.”

Kreacher shook his head shamefully and rolled his eyes as he scooped up the dirty dishes from the night before and went home.  Harry and Ron put the finishing touches on their potions and put them into flasks before turning back to the files.

They were listening with half an ear to what was going on in the other room.

“Any luck?” Gawain asked the Aurors.  There were only negative replies to his question and he asked for any suggestions on where to try next.  Grumblings answered this request and everyone seemed to be at a loss for what to do next.

Harry and Ron both smiled happily at the news. 

 

“So, I take it they weren’t hiding at their house?” Dawlish asked.

“No, but I really didn’t expect them to take the easy way out anyhow,” Gawain said.  “Ron’s sister, mother and their friend Hermione were there, along with a house-elf.  They all said they hadn’t a clue where Harry and Ron might be.  Even if they did, I doubt they would have told us.  That’s one crazy house, I’ll tell you.  There was quite a lovely library though, and Hermione told me that Harry had bought all of the books for her after the war.  She proudly showed me around and I have to admit that I was surprised when she let me borrow a few of them to look at.”

“Uh, Gawain, we’re supposed to be trying to find Harry and Ron.  Perhaps you can tell us all about this fantastic library later?” Constance suggested.

“Right, got a bit side-tracked, I guess.”

Harry and Ron laughed heartily.  “I think Hermione may have just found a kindred spirit,” said Ron, in between chuckles.

A while later, the door to Kingsley’s old office opened.  Harry and Ron froze momentarily.  They grabbed the Invisibility Cloak and called Kreacher.

“I’ll tell you when, Kreacher,” Harry whispered, although the Muffliato Charm should have prevented any sound from escaping their small dwelling in the empty corner of the room.

Kingsley walked through the door and began looking at the bookcases.  Gawain followed him and said, “Did you or Arthur borrow the file for Dolohov?”

“No, why?” Kingsley said.

“Because we can’t seem to find it anywhere,” Gawain explained.

Kingsley looked at him sharply and said, “Are you sure?”

Gawain nodded and paused.  Finally he said, “It’s perfectly possible that it’s in someone’s drawer and they’ve forgotten it’s there.  You know how things are around here.”

Kingsley sighed and said, “Yeah, I’m well aware of how things are.  That’s why I’m hoping that you’ll let Harry and Ron help you clean the place up.  They’ve been working with Hermione for so long; they’re bound to have learned quite a bit from her.”

He pulled a few books down from the shelf and sent them away, presumably to his new office.  “Why don’t you just take everything, Kingsley?” Gawain asked.

“Maybe that would be easier,” he mused, sending the rest of the items in the room up to his office before he and Gawain left, closing the door behind them.

“That was close,” Ron said, breathing a sigh of relief.  They let Kreacher go home and went back to work.

Then there was a commotion in the other room.  “They haven’t shown up in the Atrium yet?” Gawain asked.

“No, sir, there’s no sign of them anywhere.  You don’t think they’re lost, do you?  They should have been here at least ten minutes ago,” a man said.

Harry and Ron looked at their watches in horror.  It was almost a quarter after noon.  They both jumped up with exams in their hands and gathered up their potions, running out of the tent.  They collapsed the tent and shoved it into the beaded bag, which Harry stuffed down the front of his robes once more.

Ron hurriedly flung the door open.  “Sorry, Gawain, we lost track of time.”

Gawain spun around on the spot to gape at Harry and Ron.  “Where did you come from?”

 

“We’ve been here all along,” Harry said and handed him the potions flasks and test papers.

“Here, as in Kingsley’s old office, here?” he asked incredulously.  Ron waved his wand a few times to remove the enchantments.

“We thought it would be easier to answer the questions if we could just use your files,” Ron said.

Everyone in the Department had stopped what they were doing to stare at Harry and Ron.  Gawain started to chuckle and then was laughing so hard that he fell to his knees, tears of mirth running down his face.

“Are you trying to tell us that our security is awful?” asked Dawlish, a scowl on his face.  “We all saw you leave that room.  How did you get back in without anyone seeing you?”

 

“Kreacher, of course,” Harry said.  “We knew that you still underestimated house-elves, so we had him Apparate us into the room after we made sure no one could hear us.  It was quite simple.”

Gawain had finally stopped laughing and said, breathlessly, “I have to say that this is definitely a first.  No one has ever tried to use the Ministry itself as their hideout.”

“There’s an old muggle saying about hiding in the open,” said Harry.

“So you used our own files to answer questions about the dark wizards?” Gawain asked.

“Well, not really,” Ron said.  “Most of your files have some serious errors.  Have you got them, Harry?”

Harry shook his head and they both groaned.  “I think they’re still on the kitchen table, Ron,” said Harry.

Those that were close looked at them in confusion as Ron threw his head back in annoyance and put a hand out.  Harry pulled the beaded bag out of his robes and passed it over.  Ron opened it and started fishing through it when a loud crash could be heard coming from the depths of the small purse.  “Bloody hell, that’ll be the books falling over again.  Why does she have to keep them in order anyway?”

“Just use a Summoning Charm.  I long ago gave up trying to find anything in there,” said Harry.

Ron finally found the tent and went back into the office.  They heard two loud pops.  He returned a few moments later, Hermione’s bag slung over one shoulder and his arms laden with the files and parchment they’d been poring over.  “I had Kreacher take the breakfast dishes home.  They’d be pretty nasty if we’d left them in there.  Hermione would’ve killed us.  He’s putting Snape’s book back in the library as well,” Ron said.

“So, anyway, like we were saying, there are some things that are wrong.  For instance,” Ron said, flipping through the folders and extracting one.  “Peter Pettigrew, also known as Wormtail, is dead.  We watched him die, so his file should be closed.  There are other errors in his file, but they don’t really matter anymore.”

“His death was never reported, nor a body found,” Dawlish said.

“He’s probably buried somewhere near Malfoy Manor.  Or I suppose they might have just burned it or transfigured it,” Harry said.  “He’s definitely dead though; he strangled himself.”

“People can’t strangle themselves,” Savage pointed out, trying to work out the scenario in his mind.

“Well, he was killed by the silver arm that Voldemort made for him because he started to show some weakness towards Harry.  It’s rather a long story, but Wormtail owed Harry a life debt.” Ron explained.

“Anyway, we’ll show you everything we have figured out so far, but there’s a far more pressing matter.  Would it be possible for us to speak to you in private, Gawain?” Harry said.  Then he turned to his friend and said, “Ron, you look like a prat.  Could you put Hermione’s purse inside your robes?”

Ron turned bright red and stowed the bag.  Gawain led Harry, Ron, Dawlish and Savage into his office, shutting the door behind them.

Harry gave Ron a nod, who proceeded to wave his wand around the room, muttering under his breath.

“What are you doing?” Savage demanded.

“He’s making sure we can’t be overheard.  Now, Gawain, you are absolutely sure that these two can be trusted completely?” Harry said.

“I’m sure, Harry,” Gawain replied.

But Harry still didn’t feel comfortable.  He didn’t know much about Savage, but he knew that Dawlish had been Confunded during the past year (whether continually or repeatedly, he was unsure).  He looked at Dawlish very carefully, trying to determine whether or not the man was in his right mind.  Finally Harry turned back to Gawain and said, “I’m not sure I feel comfortable with this.  I know that John Dawlish was Confunded quite a bit recently.  Can we be sure that he isn’t now?”

“I’ve been trying to work with him on that, Harry, but I will perform the countercharm right now if you would prefer,” Gawain said. 

Harry sighed and said, “I don’t think that’s necessary.  If you think he’s acting of his own accord, then I believe you.”

But Ron emulated Harry, trying to look into Dawlish’s eyes.  “He might not be Confunded, Harry, but he could be Imperiused.”

“I AM NOT CONFUNDED OR IMPERIUSED!” thundered Dawlish, his eyes flashing malevolently, while Harry and Ron both gazed into them.

“No, I’m guessing not,” said Harry to Ron.  “Do you remember Crouch?  Voldemort had him under the Imperius Curse, but you could kind of tell when he was trying to fight it.  Like, when my name came out of the goblet, and he just did as he’d been told to do, but then he got angry and returned to his usual manner.”

He turned to Dawlish and softly asked, “Do you feel carefree at all?  Do you feel like doing something you don’t want to do?”

“No!  And I think you two have some nerve telling me that I might be Imperiused at all!” he snarled.

Harry just nodded his head, taking this to mean that it really was Dawlish himself speaking.  He gave them the details of the mysterious intruder from the night before.  At first they didn’t seem all that worried, especially since Harry had triggered the alarm by removing the Supersensory Charm.  But they were concerned when they understood that this supposed security guard had gone through the files.

“So you think they were after one of these particular files?” Gawain finally asked, as they all contemplated the possibilities.

“Yeah, so we went through them one by one and made a list of the things we thought that someone might want access to,” Ron said.

“The real question is whether or not they know that most of these files have grievous errors in them.  Were they just trying to find out how much the Auror Department knows, or were they looking for information that could help them?” Harry put in.

“I think I’d like to know what makes you think there are errors in those files at all!” Dawlish sneered.

Ron rolled his eyes and replied, “Because we were involved in a lot of the situations that are described and detailed.  Also, Harry learned a good deal when he could see into Voldemort’s mind.  Other than the one instance when Voldemort specifically planted a scene in Harry’s head, they were actual happenings.”

Gawain held his hand up and said, “We’ll worry about the errors later, although they do seem to be extensive.  I think we need to concentrate on the fact that someone tried to get into our files.  You said that the man had security robes on, Harry?”

Harry nodded.  “Should I go and interrogate all of the guards, Gawain?” Dawlish asked.

“It could be anyone that works here, John,” Savage said.

“They don’t even necessarily have to work here,” Ron pointed out.

Dawlish put a very fake sympathetic look on his face and spoke to Ron as though he were a two-year-old child.  “How else would you think they got in here?”

“Uh, maybe the same way we did?  We broke in here when it was being run by Voldemort, didn’t we?  We just used some Puking Pastilles and stunning spells,” said Ron, using the same tone that Dawlish had.

“Exactly, all the person needed to do was get robes that looked like they belonged to a security guard and maybe a few hairs from one of them,” Harry added.

“You’re suggesting Polyjuice Potion?” Savage asked, looking contemplative.  His voice had lost its angry edge as he became involved in the scenario.

“But then it could be just about anybody!” Dawlish said, more frustrated than anything now.

“So, let’s have some suggestions about what we should do to prevent this in the future,” Gawain said, breaking up the impending argument.

“Well we could increase the number of spells we use to guard the department and bar access to the security personnel,” Savage said.

Harry was shaking his head, thinking of spells being broken too easily.  “No, I think that for a department that is supposed to be the best at security, we should be guarding the office ourselves.  It’s one thing for Ron and me to hang out here all night.  Obviously, we wouldn’t do anything to compromise the Ministry.  It’s quite another when others have access to the office, even if they are on the security detail.”

Everyone thought about this for a few moments.  Ron, seeming to think aloud, said, “Are you suspicious about any of the Aurors that currently work for the department?”

Gawain, Dawlish and Savage all shared a look.  “Let’s just say that right now we’re still trying to figure out where everyone stood during the war.  I’ve let about ten people go so far.  On top of that, we can’t really be sure of anything, can we?” said Gawain.

“Let’s take the whole department and break it down.  We’ll make a list dividing those you know to be totally loyal and those you don’t,” Ron said.

This was such a “Hermione-ish” thing to say that Harry snickered, causing Ron to glare at him.  They made up pairs of Aurors, where one was confirmed as being loyal and the other questionable.  The pairs would then take alternating night-shifts.

“Now, I think you two may as well head on home, since it would seem that you’ve been up half the night.  Before you go, just make sure you stop by the outfitting department to have your Auror robes made up for you,” Gawain said, writing instructions onto a piece of parchment.  “We’ll expect you back here tomorrow morning at nine and we’ll get your desks and everything all set up.”

Harry and Ron first stopped at Level Four to see Hermione.  Harry didn’t bother to even greet the secretary just outside the office this time.  It would seem that Hermione had been waiting for them because the moment the door opened she ran towards them. 

“Ron!  Harry!” she exclaimed.  Hermione threw herself at them, throwing her arms around their shoulders and pulling them into a hug that threatened to topple them all over.  Her coworkers all looked on with great interest at the exchange.

“We missed you so much last night!” she cried as she pulled back to look at them.  Harry had been somewhat shocked by her sudden outburst, but Ron put an arm around her.

“We’re fine, ‘Mione,” he said in a comforting voice. Harry could see the other occupants of the office turn down to their work, trying to pretend that they hadn’t watched.

“I was just imagining you being arrested for trespass at the Ministry when Ginny told me what you’d done,” she said fretfully.  Then she looked at them with a proud expression and said, “But obviously, you managed it somehow.”

“All thanks to you,” said Ron, gazing down at her lovingly.

Harry watched closely to see her reaction.  She blushed slightly and said, “Thanks to me?”

“All of those charms you taught us last year, and modifying them the way that you did,” added Harry.  “We could never have done it without you.”

“I think you might want this back,” said Ron softly, handing her the beaded bag.  She looked at it longingly and had a look of relief on her face as she threw it over her arm.  She let Ron kiss her on the cheek before they left, Ron looking at her longingly over his shoulder.  She seemed impervious to it, but Harry could have sworn she saw Ron’s look out of the corner of her eye.  He thought there was a definite knowing smile on her face as she sat back down at her desk.

“If that’s the welcome home I can receive, I ought to go away more often,” muttered Ron in an undertone to Harry as they walked down the hall.

On their way back to the Atrium, they walked into the outfitting office.  Drucilla Baird was the seamstress.  She was quite efficient, and in short order Harry and Ron were ready to go home with their new robes under their arms.

“Let’s stop by the joke shop first,” Harry suggested.

“Yeah, gotta show off our new robes!” Ron said excitedly.  So they Apparated into the alley behind the shop.  They walked into the back room to find Ginny slaving over a number of bubbling cauldrons.  She squealed delightedly and threw herself into Harry’s waiting arms.











“I missed you so much,” she whispered, lifting her face to his for a kiss.

“Mmm, I missed you too,” he replied, accepting her lips eagerly.

Ron cleared his throat and said, “Don’t you want to see our new robes, Gin?”

“So, you made it into the department?” she asked, her voice laced with pride.

Harry and Ron both nodded, holding up their brand new scarlet robes.  Their names had been stitched onto the upper left corners and underneath each said Junior Auror.  Harry opened his to inspect the lining.

“I think we could do with some more pockets,” said Harry.

“But there are already the standard two; what do we need more for?” Ron asked, now looking at his own robes.

“That’s why I wanted to stop here first, I’ll show you.”

“Well, if you think you need more pockets, I’m sure Hermione, Mum or I can help you with the alterations,” Ginny offered, leading them into the store proper.  The store was packed and Angelina was helping a few young girls in the WonderWitch section.  George waved as he finished a sale at the counter.

Looking at his watch he said, “Did you two get out early or are you on a mission?”

“Out early; we were up all night working, so Gawain sent us home,” Harry explained.  “But I wanted to talk to you about any new products you might have that would be helpful to us.”

“Hmm, well, what did you have in mind?  I still haven’t got the Defense Against the Dark Arts section set up,” George said, waving his hand at the room where those products were usually kept.

“Were you able to get any more of that Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder?” Ron asked.

“No, but I put an order in.  We should have it within the next week or so,” said George.

“In the meantime, I’d like to get a range of the Skiving Snackboxes and Decoy Detonators,” Harry said.  “We’ve already got some Extendable Ears, and I guess we’ll have to wait for the Powder.”

“Follow me,” George said to Harry and Ron.  Then he told Angelina and Ginny he’d be back in a few minutes and took the new Aurors upstairs.

“I just went over to Muriel’s last night to pick this stuff up.  We were working on some of these prototypes while we were hiding out there,” George said, opening a box.

He pulled out a small card that looked as though it had come from a Chocolate Frog.  “This is supposed to be a Pensieve Page.  It’ll allow you to view one brief memory, maybe five minutes in length.  It doesn’t really work yet though, cause we never had a chance to actually study a Pensieve.

“Now, these work, but I’ve only got a handful of them.”  George handed each of them a small silver sphere that looked like a rubber band ball.  “They’re called Stunning Snares.  Basically you throw it at your opponent.  It’ll act like a moderate Stunning Spell and then a magical net will fall over them.”

“That’s awesome,” Ron said, clearly seeing the possibilities.

George then pulled out a jar of goopy liquid and said, “These aren’t done either, but they’re supposed to be Polyjuice Pills.  We still haven’t figured out how to get the liquid to stay together.  But the concept is that you would wrap a hair around the pill and you would have about five to ten minutes of use.  The other problem with them was that we weren’t sure if we should sell them to the public or not.”

“Well, George, I think that these sorts of things shouldn’t be sold to the public.  It’s difficult enough to track down dark wizards, without having to worry about what pranks you’ve sold them,” Harry said wryly.  “Actually, I was thinking that I’d like to put down another investment into the shop, but that it would go to these kinds of products.  Maybe you could just sell them to the Auror Department.”

“We could arrange something like that,” George agreed.

“So, what do we owe you for the pranks?” Ron asked, looking at the items that he and Harry had collected.

George rolled his eyes and gave his brother a look of disgust.  “You two are part owners in the shop now.  You’re entitled to anything you want; you just have to remember that it’ll come out of your profits.”

“We’re not worried about profits, George, and I think you should just reinvest any money the shop makes that would go to me or Harry.  We’ll only use the pranks for work,” said Ron.

“We ought to stop by the Apothecary and the magical instruments shop as well.  I want to get a new Sneakoscope, since we lost our old one.  I also want to see if we can buy a few Bezoars.  They might be handy to have around,” suggested Harry.  They said good-bye to George, Ginny and Angelina.  Although the Bezoars were extremely expensive, Harry purchased all five that the Apothecary had in stock.  They also got two Sneakoscopes; one for the house and one for work. 

By the time they’d arrived at Grimmauld Place with their shopping and climbed the steps to their rooms, they were exhausted and decided to try to nap before going to Shell Cottage for dinner.

Harry wasn’t sure if he’d be able to sleep, his mind still puzzling over the intruder at the Ministry of Magic.  He drank the vial of potion that Ginny had given him for the previous night to be sure and just threw himself onto the mattress, not bothering to remove his robes or his glasses.  He was asleep before he hit the pillow.  He was awoken to someone gently blowing his hair from his face.  He looked up to find Ginny smiling down at him.

“Hello there, sleepy-head,” she said.

“What time is it?” asked Harry.

“About five; you should start getting ready if we’re going to Bill and Fleur’s for dinner.”

Harry wrinkled his face at the thought of rising, but did so anyway.  Ron seemed to be in a similar state, yawning as he met Harry in the hallway on their way downstairs.

Ginny and Hermione were waiting for them before the door along with Kreacher and Winky, who had Dobby in her arms.  Harry couldn’t help but notice that Winky’s clothes were much cleaner now.  He wasn’t sure if this was due to Kreacher taking care of her or if she was happier now that she had a new place to live or if she’d changed with the birth of her son.

“I asked Bill if it would be alright for them to join us; I thought they might like to pay their respects as well,” said Ginny, in answer to Harry’s questioning look.  He smiled at the thoughtful gesture on her part.

With the house-elves in tow, they did not need to leave the house at all.  Harry and Ginny took Kreacher’s hand while Ron and Hermione took Winky’s.  They found themselves transported into the kitchen of Shell Cottage.

Fleur, lovely as ever, was working at the stove and Bill was sitting at the long table.  They both looked to the newly-arrived party with smiles of welcome.

“You are in for a very special dinner tonight,” Fleur informed them, indicating the seats at the table.  “I hope you don’t mind if we invite our new guest to join us?  My sister is staying here for the time being, until she begins school again.  My parents have agreed to allow her to come to Hogwarts, now that Voldemort is gone.”

Once they’d all settled at the table, the young Gabrielle came down the stairs, with much of the same glory as her older sister.

“So, how are things going at the shop, Ginny?” said Ron, beginning the dinner conversation.

“Well, quite well so far although we’re still a bit low on things.  Lee Jordan stopped in this morning and said he’d be happy to help a few days a week,” she replied.

“What’s Lee been up to, now that Potterwatch isn’t necessary?” asked Hermione.

“He was offered a talk show on the Wizarding Wireless Network.  He would like to make it more of an interview show so that he can let people talk about their experiences during the war.  Then he thought he would have a discussion on how to deal with those situations and how to prevent them in the future.  I thought it was a really awesome idea, personally,” Ginny said.

“That sounds great.  We’ll all listen,” said Harry.  Although he didn’t really want to know how others had suffered during the war, he did want to support Lee as he had supported Harry.  He felt Ginny’s hand squeeze his knee under the table and knew that she understood.

He moved his attention to the small elf family that was sitting awkwardly at one end of the table.  “Kreacher, I’ve been thinking about our living situation,” Harry began.

The elf’s lip trembled and Harry closed his eyes, regretting his lack of tact.  “What I want to say is that I’d like the three of you to take a bedroom.  I noticed that you left both Sirius’s and Regulus’s bedrooms as they were, probably because you couldn’t get the posters and things off of the walls.  Anyway, what I’d like to say is, if it’s alright with you, I think you should take Regulus’s room for your own.”

Kreacher looked at Harry with mingled shock and delight.  Then he shook his head in shame and said, “No, Master Harry, Kreacher could not.  I is just a house-elf.  We does not get such great rooms as this.  It is not right, sir.”

“It is my wish that you live in comfort, Kreacher.  Do you not wish for better conditions for your wife and son?” asked Harry.

Kreacher seemed to consider this and looked at Winky and Dobby.  He nodded and said, “Yes, Master Harry, we will do as you wish.” 

There was a distinct smile playing on Kreacher’s face throughout the entire meal and Hermione sent an approving expression to Harry.  She sat at the end nearest the elves and was in deep discussion about house-elf magic and rights.

Meanwhile, Fleur’s sister kept sending drooling glances at Harry, which he tried to ignore.  Finally she spoke, asking breathlessly, “So, Harry, are you going to visit me at Hogwarts?”

“Well, he’ll be visiting me, so I suppose he’ll see you during those visits,” said Ginny, her barely concealed threat lingering in the air.  It was now Harry’s turn to give a comforting squeeze to her knee.

“Yes, I’ll be coming to see you, Ginny,” said Harry.  They looked at each other and she grinned sheepishly.  Harry held her gaze, giving her promises with his eyes.

“Gabrielle!” Fleur said sharply.  “I have explained that Harry is already in love with another.”

She looked up at Harry and Ginny who broke their reverie.  She then looked back at Gabrielle and said, “It is not possible to break such a love.  It would not be a good idea also.  You like Harry because he rescued you and because he is young and handsome.  The man who is right for you is out there, and you will find him.”

Ginny seemed to take heart at this as well and said, “There are many young men at Hogwarts, and I’m sure they’ll all just fawn over you.  You’ll see.”

Gabrielle looked uncertainly at Ginny, but then smiled enormously.  “Will you show me around?  I don’t know much about England, but I’ve been studying English ever since Fleur came here.”

Ginny looked at Bill and Fleur, who both had eager looks on their faces, and then smiled as well.  “Of course I will, Gabrielle; you’re family, after all.  I don’t think I’d ever imagined it, but I love your sister.  She’s been a good wife, and she’s been a good sister to me.”

Fleur’s eyes shone with happiness as she gazed upon the youngest Weasley.  “Thank you, Ginny, That means everything to me,” said Fleur, dabbing at her eyes with her napkin and then running out of the room.

Bill sent his own eyes up to the ceiling while the rest of them all looked at him for an explanation.  “Hormones,” he said.  “On top of that, we only found out this morning that because she’s part Veela, the baby won’t be born until the end of April.”

Harry, Ron and Ginny shared a confused look, although Hermione nodded her head in understanding.  “What do you mean?” Ginny finally asked.

“Veela have a different gestational period than normal humans.  It’s a bit longer,” explained Hermione.  “It’s something to do with their metabolisms, I believe.”

“So, have you thought about any names?” asked Ginny.

“We’re still not sure,” said Bill awkwardly.  “If it was a boy I’d love to name him Fred…but…”

“That’s something for George to do,” supplied Ron.

Bill nodded and continued, “So, even if it is a boy, we’re not entirely sure.  I suppose we’ll figure it out along the way.”

Kreacher stood up then and moved to serve the next course, as Fleur had not yet returned.  Bill rose and said, “No, Kreacher, this is our home and we serve our guests.”

Kreacher sat back down in astonishment as Bill moved towards the counter.  Fleur returned, eyes clear and a brilliant smile on her face, by the time they’d gotten to dessert.

Once they’d all had their Rustic Pear Tart, Bill suggested they move into the backyard.  Harry and Ginny rose from their seats, hands clenched firmly together.  Harry had spent nearly a month at Shell Cottage, and had become accustomed to seeing Dobby’s grave, yet this seemed to be different somehow.  He looked at Kreacher, who suddenly appeared apprehensive.  Harry, still holding Ginny’s hand, moved in the opposite direction of the back door.  He put his free hand on Winky’s shoulder.  Of Kreacher and Winky, Harry thought that Winky might need the most help.  Kreacher had already taken Dobby.  Harry could feel Winky trembling and saw her lip starting to twitch.  Ginny released Harry’s hand and he looked at her knowingly.  Harry leaned down and lifted Winky into his arms.

“Do you want to see Dobby?” he asked quietly so that only she could hear.

She looked at him with her eyes wide, fearful and full of tears.  She didn’t seem able to speak.  She simply nodded at him.  Harry could feel Ginny’s hand on the small of his back as he carried Winky out of the house, Kreacher and Dobby the younger at his side.

As they stepped out into the backyard, Harry watched Ginny put her other hand onto Kreacher’s shoulder.  Kreacher looked up at her appreciatively.

Harry led them to where Bill, Fleur, Gabrielle, Ron and Hermione were already sitting on the low garden wall respectfully.

Ron was whispering words to the dead elf which seemed to have put a sad smile on Hermione’s face.

Harry felt Ginny’s hand tighten on his back as she peered at the stone Harry had made to mark the spot.  She smiled up at him and said, “It’s perfect for him.  He helped us a few times last year, you know.”

“Neville and I were working late one night in the common room and Dobby showed up to do some cleaning.  He disappeared almost immediately, when he saw we were there.  But I’d heard all of you talking about him so often; I thought it must be Dobby.  When I said his name, he suddenly appeared again.  He looked at me fearfully, and asked that I not tell anyone that I had seen him.  He seemed to know that we were working for you, Harry, and so he said he would do anything to help us.  I knew he could go places we couldn’t and I knew he could do things we couldn’t.  So I let him, Winky, and I imagine Kreacher as well gather the information we needed to rescue some of the younger students.  Sometimes, Dobby would disappear and not return for a time.  We had no idea what he was doing and he refused to tell us where he was going.”

She shook her head and then said, “We should never have involved him.”

“Dobby was very proud of himself, as he should have been,” said Hermione.  “He would have been more upset if you didn’t let him participate.”

Ginny silently agreed, and said, “Thank you, Dobby.  I’m sorry I was short with you a few times.  I was so worried about what was going to happen to Harry, Ron, Hermione and everyone else that I tried to make you and my closest friends feel my own pain.”

Harry looked down at the bundle in his arms and Winky nodded.  He put Winky down and turned to put an arm around Ginny.  He sat down in front of the now lovely grave, pulling Ginny down with him, her head turned into his shoulder.

“At first I was really upset that you’d actually buried someone here, Harry.  But, I realized there wasn’t another choice.  Now, it doesn’t bother me.  I then thought that orchids would be the loveliest thing to accompany it,” said Fleur.  He looked at the magnificent flowers she’d planted and couldn’t agree more.  Then earnestly she said, “He deserves the best.”

Harry and Ginny both looked at her with gratitude before turning their gaze back towards the grave.  Kreacher and Winky both took cautious steps towards it.  Kreacher looked back at Harry seeming to need approval.

“Kreacher, we wanted you to come here so that you could say good-bye to your friend.  Would you prefer us to leave?” said Harry.

Kreacher shook his head and turned back to Dobby’s grave.  He still had the young Dobby in his arms and urged Winky forward.  She bent down to her knees and said, “Thank you, Dobby.  I knows that you loved me.  And I is sorry that I couldn’t love you back.  But you tried to make me see that I could have a life without Master Barty.”

Kreacher closed his eyes and shook his head.  Harry knew that Kreacher believed that Winky should accept Harry as her new master. 

Then Winky’s voice changed.  She sounded surprised, almost excited, when she said, “But Master Harry is very nice.  He let Kreacher and Winky get married!  I believes that Dobby would be very happy about this!”

Kreacher walked forward with the young Dobby in his arms as though to present his son to the gravestone.

“We named him for you, Dobby,” croaked Kreacher.  He continued on in an eager tone, “Master Harry approves!  He says you really were friends!”

Kreacher hung his head then and said, “Kreacher is sorry he didn’t believe Dobby.  ‘Tis such a strange thing, being friends with a wizard.”

 

“Not so strange, Kreacher,” said Harry.  “Aren’t there other great house-elves out there?”

Kreacher turned to look at Harry behind him.  “Perhaps, sir, but we does not want to be noticed.”

Harry waited because he had the feeling that Kreacher might say something important, and he wasn’t wrong. 

“We would rather be in the background so as to help those whom we serve, sir.  Kreacher is happy if his master is happy.  Kreacher is happy if his master is successful in what he wishes to do,” Kreacher explained.

“But you speak of us being friends with house-elves as though it’s wrong,” interjected Hermione.”

“Not wrong, Miss, but very strange,” said Kreacher.  He said ‘wrong’ as though he didn’t have a better word for what he wanted to say.  He looked at the other humans around him, still gazing at him with interest.  “Kreacher has loved his masters and treated them as he should.  Kreacher has been bad sometimes…”

“Forget about that, Kreacher, we’re not worried about how you treated Sirius or the rest of us before,” said Ron, clearly curious about what Kreacher might say and what it might mean.

“Well, sir, if a house-elf does his job right, then the wizards he serves will do great things.  Kreacher served one great master before Master Harry.  Kreacher served the noble Regulus, and Kreacher has to admit that Master Sirius wasn’t perhaps the devil his mother thought he was.  For, if I was wrong about Master Harry, perhaps I was wrong about Master Sirius too.  Kreacher will always bear the burden of causing Master Harry so much pain.”

“No, Kreacher,” said Harry, clearly appalled that the elf had taken this additional burden upon himself.  He now chose his words with care.  “I was the one who didn’t obey Dumbledore’s orders.  I was the one who chose to go to the Ministry.  You were lured in by people that are very good at that sort of thing.  I don’t think any less of you for it.”

Barely a year ago, Harry couldn’t have imagined himself saying such things.  He couldn’t imagine trying to comfort the elf that had tried to betray them due to the beliefs that had been imbued in him.  Yet he found his arms open once more to the house-elf that he now truly respected, even come to love.

“Master Regulus would be extremely proud of you, Kreacher,” said Harry.  The old elf looked up at him and Harry wondered how he’d ever thought him despicable.

They turned their attention to Winky, who was rattling on to Dobby’s grave about the younger Dobby’s features and accomplishments thus far.  Kreacher looked up at Harry with a very proud smile.  No one said much as they all listened to Winky.

There then came the sound of a voice clearing.  They all turned to find the source of the noise to see Gawain Robards standing a distance behind Harry.

“I’m sorry; I didn’t realize I would be intruding.  I rang at the door, but no one answered,” he said apologetically.  He gazed down at the grave they were all gathered around and said, in an even softer tone, “So this is the brave Dobby?”

Ron caught Harry’s gaze, before rising from his spot on the stone wall, and said, “Yes, we haven’t really been here since…well, since the end, and Harry’s house-elf never got to say a proper good-bye, and so…”

Gawain interrupted and said, “No, you don’t need to give me an explanation about why you’re here.  I was just quite curious.  I spoke with Kingsley earlier and he was able to give me the full account.  I couldn’t resist coming here to see the grave, to be honest.  I think maybe you were right when you said we underestimate house-elves.”

He looked down at the grave and asked, “So it really was a free house-elf?  He had no allegiance to anyone?”

“Yes, of course he was free!” Hermione said hotly, rising to her feet, clearly angry at the insinuation that house-elves didn’t have gender.

“Hermione, he obviously already believes us!  Would he have bothered to come here if he didn’t?  Don’t get mad at him,” pleaded Harry.

She seemed to come to her senses and breathed deeply a few times before saying, “Sorry, I’m just used to being on the defensive.”

Harry could see Kreacher shielding Winky and the young Dobby behind him at the sight of the Ministry official.  “It’s alright, Kreacher, he’s my boss.  Kingsley said it is okay to trust him, and we trust Kingsley,” said Harry.  Kreacher relaxed upon Harry’s gaze, but didn’t relinquish his hold on his new family.

“You and those you consider family are still wary of the Ministry, are you not?” asked Gawain, clearly feeling as though he truly had intruded on something private.  He wasn’t accusatory in his question, and seemed to understand why these people might continue to fear the Ministry as a whole.

“It’s not so much a mistrust of the Ministry…you know that we’re well acquainted with the new Minister.  I would trust him with the lives of my loved ones, or myself, and I have done.  But whether or not the rest of the Ministry can be fully trusted is another story.  I choose to trust Kingsley and therefore I trust you,” said Harry.  “For Kreacher, he remembers us going to the Ministry and not coming back for a very long time.  We discussed this when Ron and I almost quit your tests.  There were too many people that would worry about our sudden disappearance.  Kreacher was one of those people that we were concerned about.”

Gawain just nodded his head, looking at the grave, and then at Kreacher, Winky and the young Dobby.  He knelt down beside Harry and said, “I think you’re right.  I think we might be foolish to doubt them.”

His voice held such a note of awe.  Harry shared a look with all of the others, who had already come to the same conclusion, and felt some respect for his new boss.

“So he really lost his life to save you?” Gawain asked.  Apparently he hadn’t taken Kingsley’s word nor Harry and Ron’s vague description. Kreacher, who had turned back to Dobby’s grave with his wife and child, swiveled his head around towards the conversation.

Harry then realized that although he’d told many people about how Dobby had died, he hadn’t told Dobby’s own friends.  Harry had only told his friends.

And so Harry explained everything to them, including his own sense of helplessness and despair and how he’d found his resolve, for once he got into the telling he couldn’t stop.

Although Kreacher and Winky had tears in their eyes, they also had immense smiles on their faces.  Harry was virtually out of breath as he’d described it, and knew that his friends had been there and he’d explained it to Ginny, but had never given them the details of his thoughts.  He felt a great relief in the telling and felt himself sag deeper into the ground.  He held onto Ginny’s comforting hand in his.

There was a great sense of quiet as they listened to the crickets chirp in the night and the waves from the sea crash into the rocks.

“Dobby was gone, sir,” said Kreacher finally.  “Kreacher wanted to help Master Harry as well, but I didn’t know how.  If Kreacher had known Master was fighting, Kreacher would have made sure that we elves would fight as well.”

“No, Kreacher, we wanted you to get out of there.  We couldn’t let you die to save Hogwarts,” said Ron.

Kreacher didn’t seem to hear him and continued, “Then Kreacher heard that his master was dead.  But, I knew that my master wasn’t dead, I knew he was still alive.  Kreacher knows if his master is alive or dead, because Kreacher can feel it.”

“Even though I would have preferred you to stay hidden and safe, Kreacher, I am immensely proud of your actions that night,” Harry said.

“Thank you, sir, tis the highest praise Master can give Kreacher,” said the elf.

“Well, I think I’ve gate-crashed long enough,” said Gawain, rising to his feet.  Harry and Ron both stood as well, extending their hands.

“Miss Granger, I’ve only just begun looking at that Ancient Runes book you lent to me, but already I am enjoying it immensely,” Gawain said, as he approached Hermione to shake her hand as well.

“You’re very welcome.  Please call me Hermione.  I’m afraid Harry and Ron never took Runes, so I can’t even really discuss it with them.  I’d be happy if you’d let me know what you thought once you’ve finished it,” she said.

“I look forward to such a discussion,” he said eagerly before taking his leave.

They spent some time in the cool summer evening sitting in the garden with some ice-cold pumpkin juice before returning home.  They all had another long day at work beginning the following morning and took no time in wishing each other a good-night before heading for their respective rooms.

A/N: As always, I love the reviews, and I just hope that everyone enjoys the story as it unfolds.

 


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A Time to Live: Chapter 18: The New Hideout

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