The back garden of the Burrow was idyllic. It was almost sickeningly sweet, in his opinion. The sky was cloudless and the sun was shining brightly, birds were singing and everything – the grass, the trees, the bushes – was green. If he could have chosen, this would not have been the environment for the little discussion he was about to have.
“Harry? Molly said you wanted to talk to me about something.” He looked up as she sat down next to him on the grass in front of Arthur's shed.
“Yeah,” Harry replied. “We’ve been going through your house, Andromeda. And we think we can let you move back there now that we’ve made sure it’s safe.”
“We can move back home?” she asked enthusiastically. Harry glanced at her, and then to the window of Ron’s old room.
“You can if you want to. But before you go there, I have to warn you. They really wrecked everything,” he said solemnly. “The second floor was probably the worst.”
“Yes, you already told me. But it’s only the house and my things,” she replied lightly, “the most important thing is that Teddy and I are safe.”
“That’s a good attitude,” said Harry. Those little mistakes in that one answer had just proven his hunch correct, and he wasn’t sure if he should be elated at the progress or extremely concerned. “Unfortunately, I’m here on a little more important business as well. I need to ask you a few things as an Auror.”
“All right, go ahead,” she said, shifting slightly and smiling at him.
“When I got to your house and found it had been broken into, you and Teddy weren’t home. You got there after me. Where were you?” he asked.
“Well, you know Teddy likes to go to that park near our home every now and then. We were there for a few hours – or Teddy was, he played with a friend of his while I ran a few errands,” she answered, sounding very sincere.
“You left him alone with someone his age in a park?” Harry asked, fighting to keep down the resentment he felt. He had to keep telling himself to stay calm, because really he wanted to be shouting and cursing and using his wand instead of just coolly sitting down and talking. And where the hell was Ron? The git should’ve come out by now!
“Of course not. His friend’s mother, whom I trust very much, was there,” she said indignantly. “Was there anything else you needed to know?”
“Well, there is one thing, yeah,” said Harry slowly, mentally cursing Ron again for staying in the house. “Who are you and what have you done to Andromeda Tonks?”
“Excuse me?” The woman visibly faltered as she hastily stood up. Harry got to his feet as well, determined not to let her get away, even though the sudden movement caused a painful twinge in his midriff. “I am Andromeda Tonks!”
“You had us fooled for a few days, but not anymore. You can start talking now, or we can force you to, but either way, I want to know where the real Andromeda is,” he said seriously.
Harry was very nervous and fervently hoping he didn’t look like it; this woman had been listening to some of their most important conversations for a week now and knew full well that his little injury still hadn’t healed. With one well-aimed punch or a kick she could render him completely incapable of following her, and after that, there would be no one to keep her from running outside the wards and Disapparating, since Ron still hadn’t come outside.
“All right, I guess this is it, then,” the woman said with a bright smile. The sudden change in her mood was bewildering to Harry – it was almost as if she thought it was a good joke. “You caught me! But I have to say, I’m proud of myself. I was so good it took you days to figure it out! Just so you know, the Polyjuice should wear out in a few minutes, and...” She eagerly went through her pockets, eventually pulling out a little crumpled envelope that she then handed to Harry. “I was supposed to give you this. How did you figure it out? What did I do wrong?”
“You brushed the destruction of the house off so lightly. Nymphadora’s room was in shambles, and the real Andromeda would have cared about that, at least. Then there was that incident with Teddy. That very short kidnapping,” Harry said distractedly, glancing at the envelope. It looked like another note. “It makes no sense to just take a child and then return him so soon. If they wanted something from Andromeda, Teddy’s the perfect tool for bargaining. Plus, when I took Teddy to the hospital, you stayed at the Burrow. The real Andromeda would have come to St Mungo’s.”
“That was it? You found me out because of those little things?” the woman asked with a laugh. “Well, I guess you really are as good as they say. And I suppose I have to go home now that my part is over.”
“Go home?” repeated Harry, dumbstruck. She just nodded. “Why do you think you can just go home?”
“Well, the game is over now, isn’t it? I was told that I just needed to play along as a part of the game until it was over for me, and I think this is it,” she explained as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. Comprehension dawned on her face as Harry just stared at her; her smile slipped away slowly as she put the pieces together.
“It wasn’t a joke, was it?” she asked finally in a horrified whisper. “It’s all real? Oh my goodness. I’ve been helping them!”
“Do you know where Andromeda is?” asked Harry, purposefully talking slowly and evenly because he didn’t want the woman to panic. Things were bad enough without a hysterical woman to deal with.
“No, I don’t know anything! I was asked to take part in a little game, to pull your leg, and I thought, ‘all right, I’ll be able to tell people I’ve pranked Harry Potter’, so I agreed. I was given that envelope to hand over to you, and then told that none of the stuff I was going to hear about would be real, but they didn’t tell me anything else, I swear!”
Her voice was shrill and she was talking fast, and this time Harry cursed aloud. Ron really had better have a brilliant explanation for letting him handle this alone.
“Calm down. I understand. I’ve got a little insight to these people during the last couple of days and I honestly believe this is just another sick joke of theirs. We’re not accusing you of anything, but I’ll have to take you to the Ministry for a formal questioning. After it’s done, I really think you can go home,” he explained calmly, trying his best to assure her that everything was all right even though things were just about as far from all right as they could get.
Andromeda was missing and this complete stranger had spent a week looking after Teddy. All Harry could think about was that Andromeda was going to slaughter him when they got her home. If they got her home.
“All right. I understand. I think you should read the letter, it seemed to be very important to the people who put me up to this. I’m really, really sorry, Mr Potter, I really am, I had no idea...”
Harry had already turned his attention to the envelope, and when he glanced at her, he realised she was about to cry. Brilliant.
“It’s all right. Let’s get inside and grab Ron, and then you can get to the questioning and Ron will take you home,” he said with a sigh, taking a hold of her shoulder and steering her to the Burrow. He wasn’t even sure anymore that Ron really was inside, because he hadn’t come out at any point even though he was supposed to.
When he saw his best mate sitting at the kitchen table, he almost yelled out loud. Then he saw the rest of the Weasleys gathered around the table and the serious looks on all their faces, and suddenly his intestines tied themselves to a very tight knot. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good news – these people didn’t get so serious for nothing.
“What’s going on?” He looked around, slightly confused. Then he saw the crumpled piece of parchment on Ron’s hand and he felt the knot inside him tightening. He would have bet anything it was another letter from their antagonist.
“You got another note. Well, you and Ginny actually. See for yourself,” replied Ron, tossing the parchment to Harry, who deftly caught it. He straightened the note and quickly read it through.
Dear Mr Potter & Miss Weasley,
Thank you for providing last night’s entertainment! The spectacle between you was highly entertaining. It truly is a shame you chose to go with the Harpies, Miss Weasley, you would have made an outstanding actress.
Mr Potter, unfortunately we are not so impressed with you. You are supposed to be a professional. Neither the Minister for Magic nor the Head of the Auror Office will be pleased with you, either, once they learn about this, as you will soon find out.
We are sorry we have to do this, but a career such as yours is already so impressive that surely you won’t mind if it gets cut short.
Harry let out a string of expletives that made half the Weasleys cringe and earned him disapproving looks from Mrs Weasley and Hermione. He crumpled the parchment in his fist and shoved it to the pocket of his robes. They really hadn’t needed this.
“Right. It looks like I’m moving,” he said shortly, not really feeling like commenting on it more than that.
“If they can find out things like this, then you’d better,” retorted Ron. “We can sort that out later, right now I want to know what you’ll do about Kingsley and Robards.”
“I’ll go and talk to them and hope that I get there before the letters. I don’t have a lot of options, do I? They’re going to find out anyway, it’s better if it comes from me,” said Harry, shaking his head, furious with himself. He really had been an idiot.
“What are you two talking about? What did the letter say?” asked George, voicing what seemed to be on the minds of the Weasleys. Ginny looked like she had an idea, but none of the others had a clue. At the moment, Harry was grateful for it. Even though they would eventually have to explain what was going on, especially if he was reassigned, he didn’t feel like now would be the best time for it.
“It’s nothing that concerns you. It’s just a threat to Harry,” said Ron, turning to his best mate again. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“Yes. Let’s just hope they’re not going to reassign me, or better yet, fire me,” said Harry tensely. “While I take care of that, you need to take the lady to questioning.” Ron nodded, eyeing the impostor through narrowed eyes.
“Let’s get going, then.” Despite of the words coming out of his mouth, Harry really wasn’t very eager to go. “Ginny, you know the rules. Don’t go anywhere alone, don’t go outside without an Auror, keep your wand handy at all times and all that rot. Where’s Teddy?”
“He’s in the living room, playing with Fleur and Victoire. They thought Teddy might want someone his own age to keep him company, especially now that Andromeda won’t be here,” said Bill. Harry looked at him, surprised.
“That’s a good idea. Thank you,” he said. “Ron? Are you coming or not?”
As Ron scrambled out of his seat, Ginny spoke hesitantly. “Harry, can I have a word?”
“Yeah, sure,” replied Harry, somewhat surprised. Ron offered to go ahead and take the impostor with him, and Harry and Ginny followed him outside.
“They’re blackmailing you about last night, aren’t they?” Ginny asked. Harry nodded.
“Not blackmailing, really, just ratting me out,” he said. “It’s very convenient for them that I screwed up, now they can get the Chosen One off their case. If Robards and Kingsley decide to put me on probation or something, I’ll be useless.”
“Kingsley’s your friend and he knows our history. He’s not going to reassign you or put you on probation, and no one in their right mind would fire you,” said Ginny, but she didn’t sound too sure of it herself.
“He’s the Minister for Magic, he can’t start playing favourites and I can’t ask that of him. Any other Auror would be punished, and so will I,” replied Harry. “You know, they commented your story, too.”
It was oddly disconcerting to see Ginny get so pale so swiftly.
“Really? What did they say?” she asked, sounding somewhat choked. She seemed suddenly so nervous Harry didn’t know what to think. She had always been a terrific liar, so she could have really been lying to him last night, but if she thought she had been caught, why would she be so anxious? It was a dead give-away, after all.
“That it’s a shame you decided to play Quidditch because you would’ve made an outstanding actress,” he replied evenly, looking straight into her eyes, challenging her to keep the eye contact. Defiantly, she gazed right back, but didn’t say anything.
“You know, if it turns out you lied to me about something that involves them, I’m going to be really insulted,” Harry continued casually. He didn’t know where the idea had popped into his head, but if Ginny’s departure had something to do with what was going on now and she still hadn’t told him... Lying to him about what had happened would be bad enough as it was, but lying and not telling him something that the people they were up against knew was a whole different thing. That made it a million times worse.
“Everything I said was true,” Ginny replied stiffly. Everything in her appearance screamed resentment; her undertones, the stiffness of her stance, all the subtle signs Harry had once been able to read so well. The glare she shot to the skies, to no one in particular, made Harry even more alert. She wasn’t resentful because of him. “Don’t you ever dare to accuse me of lying to you.”
“If that part of the note is there just to make me doubt you, tell me,” Harry retorted, trying to push her strange behaviour out of his mind and just focus on what she was telling him. Ginny said nothing to his comment.
“So you didn’t lie, but you didn’t give me the whole truth either,” he said incredulously. He had bought it all, she had been so convincing and seemed so sincere. He had trusted her, believed her when she said she was honestly sorry, and now he could lose his job because of it. He had even felt sorry for her because he thought she had been just insecure and made a mistake, even though it didn’t sound anything like her. Kingsley would be so disappointed with his blind faith and acceptance.
The fact that Harry had found the whole story a little dubious all along completely escaped him.
“You don’t have all the facts yet,” said Ginny quietly. “Don’t jump to conclusions before you know what’s going on.”
“Tell me, then!” shot back Harry, almost shouting. Ginny shook her head feebly.
“It’s the part I should have figured out on my own, isn’t it?” he asked her, the volume of his voice dropping dramatically.
“I’ll tell you when you come back from the Ministry, I need to get something first,” answered Ginny, now visibly shaken. If Harry hadn’t been so furious, he would have been very worried about her. “I promise you’ll get the whole story later. Just – just don’t give up on me yet, please.”
“Give up on you yet? Damn it, Ginny, I gave up on you two years ago! Why do you think I never even tried to talk to you, why I never wrote or why I didn’t come to the Burrow for an entire year after you left? I gave up! You were so determined to get out of my life, what else was I supposed to do?” He was yelling so loud he was sure the Weasleys would have heard every word even if they had stayed in the kitchen. As it was, he had a strong suspicion they were all standing behind the door, listening to the heated conversation – not that he could really blame them; no one had told them anything about Harry and Ginny’s break up.
“You know, I was supposed to ask about that. I never thought you were a quitter,” Ginny shot back, obviously hurt by his words. Harry snorted.
“Yeah, well, I never thought you’d do half of the stuff you’ve done to me. Walking out, lying about something like this – I never really saw any of that coming,” he spat.
“I’ve never lied to you!” Ginny cried out indignantly. Somehow, it seemed... half-hearted? That certainly wasn’t the way Ginny Weasley argued, and this was a subject she should be rather passionate about. “I already told you not to accuse me of that ever again. You should know me better than that!”
“You really don’t get it, do you? I don’t know you! Two years ago I thought I did, but you’ve made it abundantly clear in the last two days alone that I didn’t know you even then!” It felt a little odd to Harry to be shouting like that; he hadn’t shouted when she had left, and after it, he hadn’t really cared about anything enough to raise his voice, but he was definitely shouting now.
“And if I didn’t know you then, how could I know you now? You haven’t exactly been around in the last year and a half!” His voice had grown even louder, and he was sure that if there hadn’t been a silencing charm on the wards, the entire Ottery St. Catchpole would have heard his every word.
“What was I supposed to do? Put up a tent next to the door of your flat in the hopes that you might actually get home one night?” shot back Ginny, outraged. There was a fire in her eyes that assured Harry she was undoubtedly passionate about it now.
“Telling me something was wrong in the first place might have been a good start! What the hell happened to you? You could have said something, anything, and maybe we could have avoided this whole mess. Why didn’t you?”
The argument wasn’t about the note’s implications anymore, it was the one they should have had ages ago. It just made things more charged, and Harry was fairly certain this was one of those fights Ron had mentioned; the ones where they fought so furiously it was almost frightening.
“What was I supposed to say? Ask you if you had planned to kick the bucket again?” She was stalling; they had been through this so many times Harry knew their lines by heart, and he knew she was well aware of it. It just aggravated him more – why was she dancing around the real issues?
“Didn’t we have this argument already? When you’ve had to turn yourself in to get murdered because you’ve got a piece of a Dark Lord’s soul inside you, you get to tell me I did the wrong thing!”
“I never said you did the wrong thing, I’m just saying you could have said goodbye first!”
“Was I supposed to come and tell you that I’d be dead in twenty minutes and then just walk away? Do you have any idea how hard that would have been? And should I have given Voldemort more time to kill the rest of the people I cared about? Ron, Hermione, you, the rest of your brothers, maybe? You know how he instructed the Death Eaters! If they had come back, more of you would have died!”
It was the same old argument, the same old, worn out points that never led them anywhere. It was a complete waste of time, but neither one of them was in any hurry to stop.
“Well, it wouldn’t have mattered to you, because you didn’t think you’d be there, did you?”
“Of course it would have! I did what I did so that Voldemort could be stopped, so he wouldn’t kill anyone else, of course I would have cared if he had continued the killing spree! But it’s not the same, I’m not walking to the Forest when I go to work every morning!”
“Yes, you are! Pay attention some day. You keep sacrificing yourself for the greater good, doing what you think is right no matter what the cost, you’ve been doing it since you were eleven! First the Philosopher’s Stone, then saving me, chasing after someone you thought was a mass murderer to save a friend, duelling Riddle in that graveyard, rescuing Sirius – the list goes on and on! In the past few years, it’s gotten so long I can’t even keep track of it anymore!”
Now, this was new – they had never fought about Harry’s job before. She had always understood that it was important to him to do what he did, even if it wasn’t a nine-to-five desk job. Or he had always thought she had understood – it looked like he’d need to update that information, as well.
“You’ve only got yourself to thank for that! What else was I supposed to do with myself after you left? I still don’t understand your logic – if someone’s afraid of heights, they usually don’t jump down from the Astronomy Tower before anyone has the chance to push them down!” He was pushing her further and further, beyond the point of simple anger, but he didn’t really care. She had hurt him so severely he had been dying to pay back some of it, as childish as it was. On some level, he had been itching for a fight the entire week, and she had just provided him a wonderful opportunity – as far as he was concerned, she had asked for it.
“It’s not the same thing!” Her voice broke, but for the first time since Ginny had come back to his life, it wasn’t because she was crying – it was barely controlled fury that caused it, something that proved that she really was the same Ginny, no matter what. Unfortunately, Harry was much too furious himself to be affected by that.
“It’s exactly the same thing! You said you were afraid of losing me, so you decided to just cause it yourself! Would it even have made a difference? If something had happened to me, would it have been any different for you?”
His words were met with ringing silence. Ginny wasn’t looking at him anymore; Harry had a feeling she was crying again, and he could feel something wet running down his own cheeks, too.
“No! It wouldn’t have! It would’ve just made things worse. And this little problem we’ve got in our hands now? If you could have just come to talk to me when you got the first threats, this whole thing might have been over by now!” The shouting sounded much louder after a moment of quiet.
“Are you blaming me for this?” asked Ginny angrily, drying her eyes to the back of her sleeve, now looking livid again.
“Even I wouldn’t be that stupid. I’m just saying I’m glad Ron’s going to be looking after you from now on. It’s what this whole argument has been about; I really don’t know who you are anymore.” Ginny just stared at him. It looked like she had run out of things to say. So had he.
“I need to get to the Ministry. I promise to look out for murderous lunatics lurking in the corridors,” he said sarcastically. He didn’t look back as he walked out of the warded area and Apparated away.
“Potter! Just the man I was looking for!” Harry cringed as he heard Robards’s voice ringing down the corridor. He knew this conversation was inevitable, but he hadn’t been looking forward to it in the slightest.
“Sir,” said Harry, nodding slightly in a way of greeting as he turned around to face his boss. “I was on my way to your office. I think we have something we need to discuss.”
“Yes, I agree,” said Robards solemnly. “Minister Shacklebolt is waiting for us as we speak.”
“You’ve got the letters then, I assume,” replied Harry as the two men continued walking towards Robards’ room.
“Yes. Is it true?” Harry’s boss was unusually serious, and it did not ease Harry’s anxiety in the slightest.
“It depends on what your letter said, but if we’re talking about the same thing, then yes, it’s true,” said Harry with a sigh. “I’m sorry, sir.”
Robards didn’t respond, just kept walking, and Harry didn’t know what to think of it. He was getting more worried by the minute; he had known that there would be consequences, but he hadn’t really thought it would be so serious. He knew it was a big deal, of course, because there was a good reason for the rules he had broken. Aurors were not supposed to get involved so they wouldn’t get subjective, and Harry had been so close already that getting involved with Ginny wasn’t the best of ideas. Then again, with their history, it would hardly change things at all.
When they entered Robards’s office, Kingsley was indeed waiting for them. He was sitting in Robards’s chair, reading a piece of parchment, and didn’t look up when Harry and Robards got in. Neither one of the Aurors sat down; Harry stood directly in front of the desk, while Robards walked next to Kingsley.
“I think you should read this,” Kingsley said and pushed the parchment towards Harry on the desk. Harry picked it up, slightly surprised his hands weren’t shaking.
It has come to our attention that a Mr Potter, one of your Aurors, is breaking the rules concerning physical relations with protégés. His charge, Ginny Weasley, is living in Potter’s home and the pair is even sleeping in the same bed. Auror Weasley can confirm this.
As concerned citizens, we hope you do something about this. We can’t have the law-enforcement breaking their own rules.
“Concerned citizens? That’s an interesting thing to say,” scoffed Harry, tossing the parchment back on the table. “Well, it’s not correct on all points. It’s true that Ginny’s been living with me in my flat so I’ve been able to keep an eye on her. And it’s also true that I’ve broken the rules ‘concerning physical relations’ with her, and yes, Ron can confirm that if you ask him. It only happened once, though, and I can promise it won’t happen again.”
“You slept with Ginny?” asked Kingsley. Harry nodded, swearing silently. Saying this conversation was awkward would be the understatement of the year. The Minister for Magic took a deep breath, and Harry could see he was about to hear his sentence. He decided he would be very grateful if they didn’t fire him. If they didn’t even reassign him he would be eternally grateful, and if they decided Ron should look after Ginny he might even name his firstborn after his bosses. Whatever they did, just getting him slightly further away from Ginny would be a huge relief.
“You’ve been one of our best Aurors for years. Devoted and hard-working, and you’ve completed more assignments than any other Auror after the war. If you’ve made arrests, you’ve arrested the right people. No one’s ever complained before now,” Kingsley said slowly. “We know of your history with Ginny, and we know you two breaking this particular rule isn’t as serious as it would usually be. You and Ron are very close to the case already, and to be fair, getting involved with Ginny will hardly make a difference for you. Just do your best to control yourself from now on, all right? I think you can manage it until the case is closed.”
“That’s it? You’re not even changing her bodyguard?” asked Harry, astonished. He was completely stunned; he had broken the rules, there should be consequences! Telling him to control himself was hardly a punishment.
“Consider it a test,” said Robards. “Are you a professional or not? We still trust you, Potter, so don’t let us down. So, they obviously know what’s going on in your flat. Are you planning on doing something to stop that?”
“Yes. I will – well, Ginny and I will – move to a more secure location. A place protected by the Fidelius Charm,” Harry replied. “Granted, they’ll still know what’s going on in my flat, but it will hardly be of any importance.”
“And you’re still not going to bring Miss Weasley in for a formal questioning?” prompted Robards. “You still trust her?”
Harry wondered if Robards knew that Ginny hadn’t told him the whole truth at any point. He considered the question for a moment. Ginny had promised to give him the entire story later. Would he be able to trust that it was the whole truth this time?
“In all honesty, sir, doing that would still probably do more harm than good. Our relationship is very precarious as it is, and if I dragged her to the Ministry and shoved Veritaserum down her throat... I’m afraid she wouldn’t be as willing to have an Auror as her bodyguard after that,” Harry replied slowly. “But if the situation calls for it, you know I will do it.”
“Good. Don’t let your personal relationship interfere with the investigation,” Robards instructed. “Get back to work and try to make some progress today.”
“Robards was looking for you, have you seen him yet?” asked Ron when Harry entered their office. “And Hermione dropped by, too, on her way to her department. I heard about the fight.”
“I’m really beginning to think I should’ve just gone back to sleep when she rang the doorbell. I have no idea what I’m going to do with her,” retorted Harry as he slumped to his chair, and Ron’s expression turned from concern to surprise.
“Ginny? You’re still her bodyguard?” asked Ron, and Harry nodded.
“Kingsley and Robards got the letters and wanted to talk to me. They just told me not to do it again, and now I can’t even give Ginny to you, since they told me keeping her around is a test to see if I’m really a professional or not.”
“They want to see if you can restrain yourself?” Ron questioned, and Harry replied with another nod.
“No one needs to worry about that happening again, though. I might have a little trouble restraining myself when it comes to seriously injuring her, but other than that, I just want to stay the hell away from her,” he said, shaking his head slightly.
“Watch it, mate. You’re talking about my sister,” retorted Ron, but Harry could see there wasn’t much feeling behind it.
“Did Hermione say what the fight was about?” asked Harry, and Ron shook his head.
“She just said you had a blazing row.”
“I asked your sister what the thing in the note meant. She insisted that she hasn’t been lying, but she hasn’t told the whole truth. And damn it, the people who are threatening us, who tried to kill me twice and kidnapped Andromeda know what it is! I heard from them that she’s lying to me! If you and Hermione were in a situation like this, wouldn’t you feel like she’d stabbed you in the back?” asked Harry. He was really getting frustrated – he didn’t like this turn at all, and there was no telling when he would get rid of Ginny again.
“I think you’re exaggerating just a little. I’m sure Ginny has a reason for it. Just listen to her first and save your judgement for later,” said Ron, but he didn’t sound very sure of himself. “I’m not saying I’m happy with what she’s doing, I just hope I know my sister.”
“That’s the problem! She’s like an entirely different person. If I hadn’t run a million tests to make sure it’s really her, I probably would have arrested her when that bloke said someone around me wasn’t who I thought they were,” retorted Harry bitterly.
“You know, the same can be said for you. You changed a lot when she left, and sometimes even I feel like I don’t know you at all anymore. But at least we all know what happened to you – do you have any idea why Ginny’s like that? It started before you two broke up, so that can’t be it.” Ron hesitated a little as he spoke, obviously wondering whether or not this was a safe subject to stick to.
“No, I haven’t got a clue. She hasn’t really said anything about it – not before she left, and not now. Yesterday she told me she just woke up one day and started thinking about what she’d do if something happened to me or I decided to end things with her, and couldn’t get the thought out of her head after that,” said Harry. It was all just so frustrating to think about – if she had said something, maybe he could have helped. Maybe things would be better now. “But that can’t be why she left – the way she used to see things, I would’ve expected her to make the most of every day we had rather than just cut it short.”
“Maybe – maybe something happened to make her doubt her way of thinking,” offered Ron, still quite hesitantly.
“The thing about growing up with Fred and George is that you sort of start thinking anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.” Years ago, Ginny had basically told him she had got her attitude from her brothers. And what had Ron told her last night? “Go and talk to George.” The twins again.
Keeping that in mind, it wasn’t hard to figure out what might have affected her; Fred had died. For the first year and a half, it seemed he had taken George with him, and that, if anything, would have changed the way Ginny saw her brothers. They had used to seem infallible to everyone – no matter what happened, they always fell on their feet or at least made it look like they had, but there was no concealing how hard losing Fred had been for George.
Ginny had seemed fine at the time – she had helped George as much as she could, trying to make her brother see he was still alive and they needed him. She had stayed strong for everyone else, and Harry only now realised he hadn’t seen Ginny cry once since Fred’s funeral until she reappeared a week ago. Harry had known that she was falling to pieces on the inside, because the twins had been so important for her, but she had concealed it well – perhaps she had continued keeping her problems to herself.
“Bloody Hell,” he said to himself, feeling like an idiot once again. “You knew it all the time, didn’t you?”
“I guessed,” said Ron with a shrug, “but it’s not like she was very forthcoming with the information. I’d really appreciate it if you could talk with her about it. I mean, of us all, you’ve got the most experience dealing with... Well, dealing with losing people you’re close to.”
“If we ever stop turning the conversations into shouting matches, I’ll try,” said Harry, not at all sure he could do anything for Ginny. Maybe it would be best if they focused on what they were supposed to be doing instead of forming theories about Ginny’s possible problems. “Where’s our fake-Andromeda?”
“In one of the holding cells. There’s a Healer doing an evaluation on her, and it seems like she’s been lightly Confounded into thinking this was a good idea, so she can’t be held responsible for what she’s done. She also keeps insisting that you should read the note,” said Ron, now all business and more sure of himself. “Oh, and the Healer said that the Polyjuice Potion should wear out any minute now, so we can identify her.”
“She won’t tell us who she is?” asked Harry absentmindedly as he searched for the envelope he had stuffed in one of his pockets. “When I spoke with her, she seemed very co-operative.”
“The Healer’s not sure, but he said she might be suffering from amnesia – she tried, but she just couldn’t remember her own name, and it didn’t look like she was just faking memory loss. I think whoever put her up to this didn’t really want her to remember anything about them,” replied Ron, staring at Harry thoughtfully. “You know, maybe that thing with you forgetting the attack was deliberate, too.”
“Didn’t the Healers say it wasn’t?” Harry finally pulled out the note.
“They said they couldn’t detect any magic that they know could cause it. The bloke down the hall couldn’t, either, and the fake-Andromeda hasn’t hit her head recently but still doesn’t remember her own name,” explained Ron with a shrug. “What does the note say?”
Harry opened the envelope and pulled out a folded piece of parchment. He cleared his throat and read aloud:
Well done! You have passed another of our little tests. Unfortunately (for you), this was not the last one, but to brighten your day, we have a pleasant surprise in store for all you hard working Aurors.
To reward you for a job well done, we have placed a little present in the Shrieking Shack. The faster you go to collect it, the nicer your visit in the Shack will be.
Have a pleasant day!
PS. The lovely Mrs Tonks would very much like it if you passed the next test as soon as possible. A little hint: you should visit St Mungo’s, Mr Potter.”
Harry read it again with a growing sense of dread. It looked like they were aiming him now, if they meant his still painful injury. While he was grateful no one else – Teddy or the Weasleys, for example – had to suffer, the reference to St Mungo’s made him slightly nauseous.
“I’m going to assume it refers to your injury. It hasn’t healed, has it?” asked Ron quietly, and Harry shook his head in response. “Right. We’ll stop by at the Shrieking Shack, and then we’ll go to the hospital.”
“We can’t just leave our fake-Andromeda here,” protested Harry. “We can go to the Shack together, but then you’ll come back to interview her.”
“All right, but if it’s serious or if it’s going to take more than an hour, send me a Patronus,” said Ron seriously. “The interview won’t take me long, so I’ll come to keep you company after it.”
“You think it’s going to be a trap?” asked Harry as they stood outside the ramshackle house, doing the Humanum revelio-spell to see if there was anyone inside. According to the spell, there wasn’t.
“I’m not sure,” said Ron thoughtfully. “It could very well be one.”
“So we’ll have to be careful,” Harry stated the obvious, and Ron nodded in agreement. “I’ll go in first.”
Blasting a door off its hinges, Harry entered the house, looking around warily. The only thing he could see was a mountain of tin cans piled to the centre of the room. A quick test on curses showed blank, so he beckoned Ron in.
“Tin cans? They’re giving us tins for a job well done?” asked Ron in surprise, moving to take one. “A Feast for the Feline. I’ve fed Crookshanks every now and then for years but I’ve never heard of this brand before.”
“It might be a joke of theirs. The bloke in the Leaky Cauldron called himself the cat, remember?” said Harry. “Don’t open it. We don’t know what’s inside.”
“Wait, there’s an ingredient list on the side,” said Ron, still examining the can. “Bloody Hell! We need to take these and get them properly inspected so we can see if they really are what I think they are.”
“What does it say?” asked Harry, morbidly curious. Ron looked like he was about to be sick as he handed the tin can to Harry.
“All right,” said Harry faintly after reading the side of the can, “I think it’s safe to say we’re not dealing with Death Eaters or their supporters.”
“I think we’re dealing with something worse. Even Voldemort settled for killing his victims, maybe torturing them a bit first – he didn’t slice them up and store them in cans!” exclaimed Ron. “You need to get to St Mungo’s now. The people who did this are the same people who attacked you, so you need to get checked and make sure you’re not going to end up like this.” He half-heartedly gestured to the pile of tin cans.
“I’m not leaving until you are,” said Harry stubbornly. If these people were still around, he wouldn’t leave Ron there by himself. “Let’s just send them to our office and we can get going.”
With a few flicks of Ron’s wand, the cans vanished, and the two Aurors were left standing in an empty room.
“How do we know that that’s all?” asked Harry. “There could still be something else in here.”
Ron looked at him as if he had lost his marbles, but nodded slowly anyway.
“We could walk around the house once to make sure,” he said. Thankfully, they didn’t find any more creepy surprises, just cobwebs and dust and broken furniture that reminded them both of Sirius and Remus, and consequently, Andromeda. The thought of her in the hands of the people who sliced up other human beings didn’t lift the grim mood in the slightest.
“So, get to the hospital and let me know if it’s going to take a while. I’ll go and interrogate the impostor,” said Ron when they finally got outside.
“All right. If nothing new happens, let’s meet at the Burrow once we’re both done. We need to tell Ginny about this so she knows to be more careful, and we have to check on Teddy and explain it wasn’t really her grandma who we took away,” Harry suggested. He knew Ron was aware that Ginny didn’t need to know the intimate details of what was happening, she knew she had to be careful, and Mrs Weasley probably had already explained to Teddy what was going on, but Harry just wanted to make sure everything was alright.
“Agreed. In the Burrow in an hour, then?” asked Ron, and Harry nodded, even though he had a sinking feeling he wouldn’t be able to leave the hospital so quickly.
Ron was convinced it really wasn’t his day when he arrived at the Burrow precisely an hour after he and Harry had parted ways at the Shrieking Shack. First there was that situation between Ginny and Harry; it didn’t look too good, and the last thing Ron wanted was for the two of them to stop talking to each other completely. He had had quite enough of that in the last two years.
Then there were the tin cans. It had been very disturbing, to say the least, to find out that the cans really contained what the ingredient list said they did. Ron had never thought he could actually be disgusted at the thought of a dead Death Eater, especially after what had happened to his brother, but opening one of those cans and seeing for himself what was on the inside...
On a more positive note, they could now stop the search for the escaped fugitives.
The situation with the impostor that had spent a week in their midst annoyed the hell out of Ron, too. She had turned out to be a woman in her mid-thirties, but they hadn’t yet found out who she was. No one had reported her missing, and she still couldn’t tell her name or anything else that would be of any use.
When Ron entered the house and found his mother and Ginny having a cup of tea while Teddy played with his toys on the floor, he was assured that it really wasn’t a good day. There was absolutely no sign of Harry, and Harry would never voluntarily be late for something like this.
“Hello, Ron,” said Ginny, eyeing her brother warily. “Is everything all right?”
“No,” retorted Ron shortly. “Harry hasn’t dropped by, has he?”
“No, he hasn’t,” replied Molly worriedly. “Weren’t you supposed to be at the Ministry together?”
“Yeah, well, he had to go to St Mungo’s,” said Ron with a sigh. “The new note gave us a hint about the next test. It’s about that injury of Harry’s, which hasn’t healed yet although it should have, so we thought he should go to the hospital and see if it’s gotten serious.”
“Uncle Harry’s in the hospital?” asked Teddy, looking up from the floor. It was obvious the little boy was scared. “Is Uncle Harry sick? Where’s grandma?”
“He’ll be fine. He’s going to explain what’s happened to your grandmother when he gets here, and he should come any minute now,” said Ron with an encouraging smile. “We agreed we’d meet here in an hour when we left Hogsmeade. He’ll be here any minute now,” he repeated, almost to himself – Harry was supposed to send a message if it looked like he wouldn’t get there on time.
“What were you doing in Hogsmeade?” asked Ginny. She had paled considerably when Ron had mentioned Harry was in St Mungo’s, and she still seemed upset.
“The note also told us they had decided to give us a reward of a job well done,” replied Ron. “It was in the Shrieking Shack. We now have the escaped Death Eaters in custody.”
“Why do you look like that, then? It’s good news, right?” asked Ginny. Ron shook his head slightly.
“It is, except for the fact that they’re dead. And the identifying is going to take a while,” he said tiredly, trying to convey that it hadn’t been a pretty sight without having to explain it so that Teddy would have nightmares. It seemed Ginny and his mother understood.
“Oh. So these people aren’t with the Death Eaters after all?” asked Molly, and Ron nodded.
“Certainly looks like it. And we couldn’t get anything out of our impostor, either – she doesn’t even remember her own name. So, all in all, not a very good morning,” he replied. There was an uncomfortable silence that was broken by the entrance of Harry’s Patronus.
“The note’s not about me; need you in St Mungo’s.” Harry’s stressed voice rang out in the kitchen, and Ron gulped. Not a lot could make Harry sound like that, and everyone in the kitchen knew it. Something was really wrong.
“I have to go,” Ron said, glancing at his mother apprehensively to see her reaction. She looked very worried, but didn’t do anything to stop him. Perhaps she was getting used to things like this.
“Er – did Harry reassign you?” asked Ginny hesitantly when Ron was about to leave. He halted on his tracks.
“Right – I almost forgot about that!” he said, his tones sounding abnormally cheerful even to his own ears. He really hadn’t wanted to be the one to tell Ginny the news. “He tried to, but Robards wouldn’t let him. Said something like since Harry’s a professional he should be able to push the personal life aside. So, you’re stuck with him. Or he’s stuck with you. Either way, you’re not getting rid of each other.”
“What? He wouldn’t let Harry assign me to someone else?” asked Ginny, stunned. “Is he insane? Look at what I’ve done to Harry! He’s nothing like he used to be because of me! Does Robards want him killed next?”
“You were nothing like you used to be, either,” pointed out Ron, “but look at you now. Getting all hot and bothered and passionate, aren’t you? That’s something I haven’t seen in a while. Harry’s been slowly getting, I don’t know, back to normal again, too. Maybe you’re good for each other.”
“Be careful, Ron, and make sure Harry doesn’t do anything stupid to get himself killed, either. I really need to talk to you both when you get back,” Ginny said quietly.
Saying goodbye to the others, Ron left the Burrow for St Mungo’s, not yet knowing that his day was about to get a lot worse.