Hermione looked up in surprise when Ginny Weasley’s head appeared in her fire, but it was Ron who took the call.
“Ginny? What’s wrong? I thought you were spending the evening with Harry.”
“I thought I was too Ron, but Harry left,” Ginny told him looking angrier than he had seen her in a very long time.
“Why’d he do that, the git! You have one evening off in nearly two weeks and he cuts out on you early? Where’d he go?” Ron demanded.
“He’s on surveillance,” Hermione told him as she knelt beside him to speak into the fire. “He had to work Ginny. Surely he told you that.”
“Yes Hermione he did, but not until after he picked me up! The least he could do was to tell me in advance so we could reschedule.”
“I don’t think he knew until just this afternoon that he’d have to go,” Hermione explained to her friend. “Would it have helped if he’d sent an owl to you then?”
“Not really. The practice coach had us running drills all afternoon. I barely got showered and changed in time to meet Harry for dinner as it was,” Ginny exclaimed. “And then he has the nerve to tell me that we only had two hours. Only two hours Hermione! I haven’t seen him in like ten days and all he can squeeze out for me is two bloody hours!”
“I don’t think he did it on purpose,” Ron replied, but he was looking questioningly at Hermione for confirmation.
“Of course he didn’t. The last I heard though he was only going to have one hour between his meeting with Robards and reporting in. I think he did really well getting away as long as he did,” Hermione explained.
Ginny blinked at them through the fire.
“Where are you Ginny?” Hermione asked when the younger girl didn’t answer. “Do you want us to come stay with you?”
“I’m at Grimmauld Place … alone. I don’t like being here alone Hermione. That’s why I got my own place, but here I am again, bloody freaking alone,” Ginny said in exasperation.
“So … do you want us to come or what?” her brother asked.
“Yes please … could you?” Ginny asked her brother with tears in her eyes.
Ron stared at his sister. It had been a long time since he’d seen his little sister upset enough to cry. Funerals aside where everybody cried, he didn’t think he’d actually seen her cry since those days before Hogwarts when they’d both lived at home.
“I’ll be right there Ginny,” Ron promised and he withdrew his head from the fire. “You coming Hermione?”
Hermione frowned. “Do you think I should? I know Ginny’s upset, but wouldn’t I just be in the way?”
Ron stared at her with a frown of concentration on his face. “You know something don’t you? You know what Harry’s doing.”
“No I don’t.”
“Don’t give me that Hermione. You’re a terrible liar.” He focused his stare at her eyes, and his answer was given when she avoided his gaze. “You do know, don’t you?”
“Not exactly,” Hermione hedged.
“Yes you do,” Ron argued.
“Not everything,” she responded twirling a lock of hair nervously in her fingers.
“But you do know some things,” Ron pressed on in his dig to get to the truth.
Hermione’s frown grew deeper, and with a sigh she relented. “Harry came by to see me today for a few minutes before his meeting with Robards. I know he has something planned, not because he told me, but because he asked my opinion on something. Aside from his question, I really don’t know what he’s doing.”
Ron stared at her. “You really don’t know or you really can’t tell me? Cause there’s a difference Hermione. I may not be your husband yet, but I’m going to be. I’d rather you be truthful to me and just tell me if you can’t say than to try to lie.”
Hermione bit her lip and nodded. “I know Ron and I know some. I mean I’ve been helping sift through the facts in the case. Harry knows more than I do obviously, but what we know is confidential and neither of us can say. As for what Harry is doing … I can guess, but that’s all it would be, a guess. I don’t want to go over there and try to explain that to Ginny. Not tonight. Not until Harry is back.” Hermione’s voice quivered just a bit as she spoke.
“You really are worried about him, aren’t you?” Ron realized. “Whatever he’s about tonight, it’s getting to you.”
“I’m sure Harry will be fine Ron. You go take care of your sister. She needs you,” Hermione said and to Ron’s astonishment she was blinking back tears too.
“Why don’t you come with me Hermione?” Ron asked. “We can all wait together.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m fine. You go on. Take care of Ginny,” Hermione insisted, taking an angry swipe at a stray tear with the sleeve of her blouse. “I’ve got things to do.”
“No, you’re coming too,” Ron said firmly taking her hand.
“I haven’t finished the dishes Ronald!” Hermione protested. “I can come in a bit.”
“No, you’re coming now. We’re both going. We’re going to be there for Ginny and we’re going to watch that bloody wall again.”
Hermione did her best to pull away again but Ron wouldn’t let go. Instead he pulled her into the fire with him as he threw in the powder and shouted “Number Twelve Grimmauld Place!”
Moments later the fireplaces stopped swirling and the couple fell out into the kitchen in front of Ginny. Ron released Hermione and braced himself as his sister rushed into his arms, tears falling down her cheeks.
“Ginny, he didn’t want to leave you. He didn’t,” Ron told her stroking her hair.
“Then why did he Ron? Why is he always rushing off like that? Just a quick roll in the hay, a bite to eat and he’s off,” Ginny whimpered through her tears.
“I thought he was going to take you out to dinner!” Hermione said indignantly.
“Well he was but we hadn’t seen each other in a while and we sort of ended up here instead,” Ginny sniffed.
“And whose idea was that?” Ron asked sharply, clearly wondering if he needed to go after Harry… after he got back of course.
Ginny pulled away from her brother, refusing to meet his eyes as she pulled distractedly at a loose thread on her sleeve.
“Ginny?” Ron prompted “Whose was it? Cause if Harry bailed on dinner after promising you…”
“It was mine,” Ginny squeaked. “I asked him to.”
“Then you can hardly complain can you?” Hermione asked in a bit of a self righteous tone.
“Come off it Hermione. Just because you know things that we don’t, you don’t need to make my sister sound like the heel,” Ron complained.
“I’m not trying to make anyone sound like a heel Ron. I’m just saying that Ginny had her chance to go out to dinner with Harry and chose not to. Harry did tell you he’d have to leave earlier than he’d planned right?” Hermione asked.
“Yes, he did,” Ginny said.
“Just before he left?” Ron asked.
“No, it was the first thing he said to me when he picked me up,” Ginny answered. “Not hello or anything, just ‘I’ve got to leave in two hours’.”
Ron nodded approvingly but Hermione frowned. “What?” Ron asked.
“That was a bit rude, don’t you think?” Hermione questioned.
Ron shrugged. “At least he was upfront with it.”
“Well I agree it was good he didn’t try to hide it, but saying ‘hello’ first would have been better, I agree with Ginny there,” Hermione said now switching sides and supporting Ginny’s point of view.
“Now if you two are through analyzing my fiancé,” Ginny said stomping her foot angrily at the two of them as they argued. “Hermione, do you really know why he’s been called away?”
“What did he tell you?” Hermione asked cautiously.
“Only that he was on surveillance duty in France tonight and he thought he’d be back by morning.”
Hermione nodded. “That’s more than I knew.”
“But you know what it’s about, right?” Ron asked.
Hermione looked thoughtful for a moment. “I think I know, but Harry didn’t say exactly. Only that there was something…they were going to try.”
It was obvious to both Ginny and Ron that she was leaving something out.
“Will it be dangerous?” Ginny asked taking in the other girl’s expression.
“I…I don’t know. It could be,” Hermione said.
Ron stared at her, slightly open mouthed as he tried to put it together.
“Come on Ginny,” he said after a while taking her sister by the hand. “I know Hermione can’t tell us, but we can bloody well watch that wall.”
Ginny’s expression turned from angry and embarrassed to suddenly one of worry at the tone of Ron’s voice. It was just like it had been last spring when Harry had been called away from Teddy’s party. They knew he was out doing something, some of them knew some, but they didn’t know everything which had left plenty of room for worry. She and Ron were already staring at Harry’s name on the wall when Hermione joined them, watching it warily.
“Look. It says he’s traveling,” Ginny said pointing to the tiny broom with the French flag attached to it that appeared beside Harry’s name.
Hermione nodded. “He’s probably not there yet.”
“Did they have to go far?” Ginny asked.
“He had to check in with the French ministry first. They are coordinating things at their end,” Hermione explained.
Ron narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean at their end? And why were you in on it if this is a French ministry case?”
“It’s an international case Ron. You know Harry told us that much, a while ago,” Hermione answered.
“He did?” Ginny asked in surprise. “When did he say that?”
“A couple of weeks ago. He came back by Hermione’s place after leaving you at Holyhead,” Ron explained staring at the symbol which had just changed from a broom to a quill. “I wonder if that means they’re in position?”
“Or maybe they’re just in their meeting there. You know, the mission briefing before they begin?” Hermione suggested.
Ron stared at her. “You really know how this works now, don’t you?”
“I’ve picked up some,” Hermione agreed. “This may take a while. Ginny did you want to finish your dessert? It looked like you were in the middle of it when you called.”
“What? Oh okay,” Ginny said looking up from watching the wall. “Would you like some? Kreacher made pudding.”
“That would be great Gin,” Ron said enthusiastically.
Ginny nodded. “I’ll go have a word with Kreacher. Call me if it changes?”
Hermione nodded watching as Ginny left the room. Twice more the symbol changed from traveling to working before Ginny returned. It wasn’t long after she did though when a faint grey symbol of the dark mark appeared beside the French flag beside Harry’s name.
“Ginny,” Ron called pointing to the wall.
Ginny hurried over to stare at Harry’s name. “Its light grey…isn’t grey a shade of black?” she asked.
Hermione nodded. “It means he’s near dark magic. Harry was right. There is something dark going on.”
Ron and Ginny turned to stare at her. “How dark Hermione?” Ron asked.
Hermione shrugged. “He’s been trying for months to link this to the Death Eaters, but so far, they haven’t been able to. They’ve got the Aurors of two nations looking for clues and they still don’t have all that much, but Harry’s been saying all along that his instincts tell him it’s dark and it looks like he’s right.”
“Bloody hell,” Ron exclaimed quietly his hand opening and closing absently into a fist at his side. “You know Harry’s instincts are always dead on for something like this Hermione. We should be with him.”
“Nonsense Ronald. This is Auror business now. Harry’s not alone, and since we haven’t been trained, we’d just be in his way,” Hermione told him firmly.
“Well I’m going to get trained. I’ve signed the papers. I start September tenth, which is less than two months away. Come September, I’m going to be there to help,” he assured the two women, looking specifically at Ginny expecting that she’d look reassured but she didn’t. “What? Isn’t that a good thing that I’m going to be there to help Harry?”
“And leave the two of us here watching your name too?” Ginny asked rhetorically. “Isn’t it enough that my future husband goes out regularly and puts himself in danger, does my brother have to do that too?”
“I thought you were proud of what Harry does Ginny,” Hermione recalled.
“I am…actually I really am…except on nights like this,” Ginny said as her worried look became a frown. The light grey dark mark was slowly becoming darker. “I hate it when it does that.”
“Has it done that before?” Hermione asked with a start.
Ginny nodded. “It did off and on the whole time he was out in the field in France a couple of weeks ago. A couple of times it even turned green.”
“When?” Hermione asked.
“What do you mean when?” Ginny replied.
“When did it turn green?”
“The week before I left for camp,” Ginny said. “I grew to hate that bloody wall. I love being able to check on him, but maybe it would be better not knowing…” She looked anxiously up at Hermione. “What do you think Hermione? Isn’t it?”
Hermione didn’t say anything but anxiously shook her head. She glanced at the clock. The grey dark mark probably meant Harry and his team were in position. She thought back to the notes she’d read of their work in the field. They were in a barn watching an apparently empty field. Clearly they expected something to happen tonight, something prompted by that note; something Harry hoped would give them a break in the case. If it was as dangerous as Harry had implied, the mark would almost certainly turn green then.
“I think it’s better to know,” Hermione said quietly as the dark mark flickered to a broom briefly then grew darker still. Again she glanced at the clock; it was a quarter to ten London time, which would be a quarter to eleven where Harry was stationed. From what Hermione knew of their plan, if something was going to happen, it would happen very soon.
The clock in the room continued to tick the minutes away and Hermione could feel the Weasley siblings watching her as closely as they were the wall, waiting wordlessly, waiting for the worst to happen.
Harry lay on his stomach on the edge of the green field under his invisibility cloak. As often seemed to happen when working with the French Aurors, Laura was his surveillance partner for the evening and she was hidden beneath the cloak as well, lying beside Harry. While lying motionless under the cloak he recalled the events from earlier in their shift. Soon after arriving, he’d filled her in on what the British ministry learned and of his own plans arranged with Auror Smith and Wendy to try and make the best of both nations’ efforts on the case. Once he’d explained their reasoning, Laura had heartily agreed.
“It’s obvious they know you’re here. We want them to slip, or to otherwise make some mistake that will give us some new information. What better way is there than to try something like this?” Laura had told him.
“Then you agree? You’ll help me do it?” Harry asked.
“I think its brilliant Harry. I’m behind you one hundred percent, and no I won’t tell anyone. Your idea is unorthodox, but it just might get some results.”
Now, under the cloak, Harry couldn’t help but give a small smile at the positive response from Laura to the plan. And so here they were at the appointed time, creeping ever closer to where they knew the boundary of the wards lay, getting ready to release the muggle olfactory tag into the atmosphere. Having identified the exact position of the boundary by tossing bits of the herb-like plants torn from the fields at it, Harry had proceeded to dig down, trying to get beneath its edge where it met the ground. Working with his hands in the soft soil, he created a trench like hole just outside the boundaries of the wards large enough to reach into it with his arm and shoulders, hoping that as he attempted to tunnel beneath the ward’s bottom edge, it wouldn’t simply extend downward into the hole he was creating. Harry paused in his work every time a guard came by, but none of them ever looked down, and as long as he didn’t disturb the actual ward as he had initially with the grass, they didn’t seem to notice. Soon he had the hole large enough to try it. Sure enough, he was able to throw small handfuls of the plant material up into the air from the bottom of the hole and to see them disappear instead of bouncing off of it again. Harry crawled back from the hole as soon as he was certain it was ready.
“Time?” he asked Laura who lay beside him under the cloak.
“Ten fifteen. They said the carpets are usually timed for midnight?” Laura asked.
“Yes,” Harry said. “I expect the canister to last five hours at least, so we’re aiming for an hour an a half before then at most.”
Laura nodded silently as a dark shape appeared a few feet away, disturbing the boundary of the ward. It wavered slightly as though being seen though a heat wave, then once again disappeared.
“Did you sense anything from him?” Laura asked.
“No nothing. Could you?
“No. Sometimes when they appear, my scar burns a little, but not this time.”
Harry nodded, thinking of what he knew of hurting scars.
“Tell me if it does…while we’re here, alright?” he urged, but Laura shook her head. Harry arched his brow.
“No Harry, I will not say anything,” she told him.
“It is personal, my scar. Not to be mixed with work.”
“It’s useful your scar. I think it means something when it burns. Mine did,” Harry said earnestly.
Laura fixed her gaze on him. It wasn’t the usual sort of stare a statement like that earned him, but one of searing indignation. She was right, it was personal. Of course it was and Harry remembered thinking that too years ago, before he’d learned to use that pain, to push through it and to make use of what it was telling him. He frowned as he wondered if Laura would have to go through that same misery. Surely the pain was caused by the presence of the person who had forced the spell to be cast; that had given her the scar in the first place. Harry didn’t know who that person might be, but wasn’t pain in a curse scar a symptom that the caster of the curse was nearby? Wasn’t that how magic like that worked? It certainly was in his experience. Now was not the time to ask Laura those questions, but he yearned to do just that. She was the only other person he knew of in the world who had experienced something like this the way he had. Besides if he was right about how this sort of scar worked, it might help them put an end to this sooner than they could otherwise.
“You’re right. Sorry. I guess I just got used to thinking of mine that way,” he explained.
Laura considered him thoughtfully. “I would like to ask you about it…eventually,” she whispered from her position beside him under the cloak. “But not now, later perhaps?”
Harry nodded as more movement was seen at the edges of the ward a few feet away. Clearly they were running a check on the perimeter again. He held his breath as the men – wizards? – drew nearer. Would they find his hole? Would they be discovered before he’d had time to act? Tension mounted. Again the slender shoulders of a man dressed in black wavered at the edge of the ward. Harry was close enough to him to see his face this time. It was an odd looking face, the eyes especially seemed to have something blank about them, as though the man wasn’t quite all there…or perhaps he was being controlled by somebody else. The look was different from the one he’d seen during training on the man who’d been kissed by a dementor, not quite as vacant, but there was something clearly unnatural about his expression just the same.
The flicker grew closer and Harry heard Laura catch her breath. Silently he turned towards her as her breathing grew ragged and Laura closed her eyes. Sweat broke out on her face and almost involuntarily, she clutched silently at her shoulder. Harry knew the signs. Clearly her scar was burning.
“Time?” Harry whispered, doing his best to give her something else to focus on.
But Laura shook her head. “Not yet, wait for the guard to move,” she murmured, raggedly, clearly fighting to get each word out under her breath to prevent herself from crying out.
Harry watched as the man with the vacant expression appeared, disappeared and reappeared as he walked by them, never looking down, never aware enough to have noticed Harry’s hole. The man was simply going through the motions, as though being controlled like a puppet, a human marionette. With each step he took, Laura seemed to wince with pain. Harry studied both their subject and his partner as closely as he dared, trying to memorize the face of the subject and the reaction of his partner. Was this man a muggle being controlled by the Death Eaters? Or was he one of them, so heady with power he’d become like this? And how could he be the one causing Laura’s pain? Hadn’t she clearly said it had been a witch that was the one who had forced the spell and escaped? It didn’t make any sense, but at least it had presented him with another clue. Now, if he could just force them to give them another, more useful one.
“Now?” Harry asked again as the man moved on.
Laura opened her eyes and consulted her watch.
“Now,” she whispered.
Harry nodded, creeping forward on his belly until he reached the hole.
“Be ready to Apparate away as soon as I throw it in,” he cautioned.
“I will be. Ready?”
Harry nodded, pulled the pin and threw the canister up in into the ward as hard as he could, watching as it silently disappeared. Immediately the strong scent of bananas filled the air. His first thought was that Dudley hadn’t been kidding. That stuff was potent, much more so than Harry had previously imagined. His next thought was to run. Figures were coming towards them, emerging through the edges of the wards on all sides in reaction to the smell as the sound of an eerily familiar, mad sort of laugh reached their ears.
“Run,” Harry exclaimed, rising to his feet as he pulled Laura along with him, making sure to keep a firm grasp on his invisibility cloak.
They ran as best they could using the darkness of the night and the cloak to cover them, but their footsteps in the field of low growing plants gave them away and dark hooded figures were closing in on them from all sides.
“Give me your hand!” Harry cried as Laura stumbled, shaking and clutching at her shoulder as she fell.
But she refused, pushing herself up and staggering forward as she tried to pull away. Instead Harry caught her from behind as she stumbled again, pulling her to her feet as he wrapped an arm around her waist. Harry pulled her against himself as tightly as he dared, and instinctively apparated them both away with Laura facing away from him but held securely in his arms.
Harry landed on a soft, unstable surface and for a moment the shouts around him rang so loudly in his ears he thought in a panic that his Apparition had failed. The disoriented pair of Aurors collapsed together, Laura falling on top of him in the hay. Then his senses caught up with him and he realized what he was hearing were Aurors storming the field around them from the barn. He and Laura may have been watching the field, but an entire legion of French Aurors had been watching them and was now rushing forward to meet the cloaked figures in the field. Spells were fired haphazardly by the small army of black cloaked men emerging from behind the wards, coming towards them from across the fields, trampling everything in their path. Harry stood up with Laura right behind him, and from their elevated position began casting spells furiously, taking out wave after wave of them from his vantage point in the loft of the barn until he became aware that the spells coming back at them weren’t coming from these men.
“They’re decoys!” Harry realized, cursing under his breath. “They’re just something to distract us while the real Death Eaters are getting away!” The spells themselves were still coming from the edges of the wards as figures darted in and out.
“I’m going back,” Harry announced as he abandoned his cloak. “You stay here. Try to stun every man in the field. I’m going after their leader.”
Harry didn’t wait for an answer. He apparated back to the field preparing to fire spells at the next figure that ventured forth.
“Fight damn you, fight!” a male voice challenged another just beyond Harry’s visual range, causing him to realize that voices carried through the ward in places where light and visual images did not.
“Hell no! That’s Potter out there. This bit of dirt’s not worth it.”
Harry rushed towards the hole he’d made earlier, hoping to wiggle through, trying desperately to get a look at these wizards before they could get away. He got through, just as the last of them turned into swirls of dark dust … and disappeared. Panting and out of breath, Harry looked around. Surely there was someone, something left that would give them away. But there was no one, not an upright body in sight, though there appeared to be several dead ones lying here and there. Harry hurried over to them, turning them over. Not wizards certainly, but perhaps more of the missing muggles? He left them where they lay, looking for the living, searching for those responsible for what was happening in this place.
Three buildings lay in front of him, a house, a barn and an outbuilding of some kind. Cautiously, Harry intended to search each one of them, but first he sent a patronus to Laura explaining what he was doing. He whirled around when he heard footsteps approach.
“It’s me Harry,” Laura called. “I found the hole and got in.”
“That was quick.”
Laura shrugged. “Sometimes it’s good to be small.”
Harry nodded. “Good, cover me while I search this,” he nodded towards the out building which proved to be a sort of storage shed. There were farming implements and muggle push brooms stored there, but nothing more incriminating than that. Next was the house. It was now vacant, but there certainly was a lot more to go through than there had been in the shed.
“Now the barn?” Laura asked.
Harry nodded. “Now the barn.” He approached this structure last because there was something about it that made his hair stand up on end. There was evidence of so much dark magic here, that he couldn’t discern one trace of magic from the dozens or possibly hundreds of other traces in the immediate area. Yet even with the sheer volume of magical trace present it was like forcing the sea to give up the secrets it held in its depths. He knew it was there, he could feel it in his bones, but it was impossible to get at. Harry stood frustrated by the scene, as though willing the air itself to reveal to him what had gone on there. He was still standing there, taking in the empty space, trying to capture this feeling that all but eluded him when it happened. The space in the center of the barn glowed blue. Harry raised his wand automatically, and a moment later came face to face with his partner, who cast a patronus as planned as soon as she appeared. It walked six feet and stopped directly in front of him, relaying their well thought out message.
“Wendy? Smith!” Harry exclaimed. “We were right. It took you here.”
Wendy grinned and nodded.
“Get off the rug!” Harry urged.
The two Aurors did as he said, stepping off in the nick of time as the rug glowed blue and transported away, just as it had during the previous trips in their memories.
“Harry what are you doing here? Where are they?”
“They got away Wendy. They’ve left tons behind, so we should be able to get something from all of this, but the Death Eaters are gone.”
“Are you sure they were Death Eaters?” Smith asked.
“If they’re not, then they sure went out of their way to dress and act like them. Black cloaks, masks…everything. Just like in your memories,” Harry told them. “I saw two of them before they got away, not their faces, but I heard their voices and saw them standing not ten feet away when I got in. They panicked and fled when they saw me there.”
Smith nodded. “Just as we expected. They’re scared of you Harry. They want you, you’re a prime target, but not one of them wants to take you on alone.”
“They might be smarter than we thought Edward,” Wendy offered.
Smith nodded. “So where is ‘here’ Harry? Where are we and how did you get in here?” Smith asked.
“Who are these people Harry?” Laura asked from where she stood ten feet behind him her wand raised cautiously towards the newly arrived British Aurors.
“This is Wendy Abbott and Edward Smith of the British Auror Department This is Laura DuPont. She’s been my partner in the field here,” Harry explained. “They’re here as part of their own mission…which just happened to intersect with ours.”
“That’s what the canister was about, wasn’t it?” Laura asked.
“Did it go off?” Wendy asked.
“It worked beautifully. Unfortunately it was a bit too strong. It drove them out and most of them escaped,” Harry explained. “We’ve stunned lots of muggles that were being held by them though. I expect we’ll have a time identifying them.”
“Which means our theory was right,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, that probably means they’ll just set up shop somewhere else.”
“Probably,” Harry agreed. “I doubt they’ll come back here, but at least we’ve rescued that lot. That should count for something.”
“Probably,” Wendy agreed pocketing her wand.
“We should have these wards examined though,” Harry continued. “Try to figure out what spells they’re using. It might come in handy.”
“Right,” Smith said. “We’ll need a good curse breaker for that. Know anyone?”
“I do actually,” Harry said and he promised to contact Bill Weasley on the department’s behalf first thing in the morning.
“So other than the mop up of this site, did we accomplish anything Death Eater wise?” Wendy asked.
“I think we did. Those blokes are going to smell like bananas for a month. Unfortunately, so are we,” Harry said wrinkling his nose at the pungent scent that still filled the air. “Man, that stuff is strong. Who would have believed it?”
“So all we’ve got to do is to look for wizarding strongholds where everyone smells like bananas,” Wendy quipped as she cast another patronus, this one reporting back to Susan Bones at the British ministry who was standing by for the report on their transport attempt.
It took until well after daybreak before the site had been thoroughly investigated and evidence collected to the satisfaction of both ministries. And as soon as it was day break, Harry sent a patronus to Bill Weasley asking for his help. Bill’s answer came almost immediately. He would be there in an hour to help them out.
Harry slumped down on a pile of sweet hay in the barn where they’d staged the stake out to wait. Aurors more skilled than him in evidence evaluation were raking over the site, taking the muggles into custody, getting them medical care, or in the case of the dead ones, getting them to the proper muggle authorities for examination and identification. Unlike himself, Wendy had actually gone home to get some sleep before reporting for her stakeout just before midnight British time, which meant that Harry alone had been up more than twenty four hours. He leaned his head back, just for a moment, unaware that he’d actually dozed off until someone nudged his arm.
“Harry…Harry,” a soft voice said.
Harry’s eyes fluttered open.
“Whaaa? oh hi Laura. Sorry, I must have dozed off.”
The French Auror smiled kindly. “No problem. Fortescue says you can go as soon as you brief your curse breaker.”
“Is he here?” Harry asked sitting up abruptly.
“He’s in the barn…the other barn,” Laura clarified.
Harry nodded. Scrambling to his feet he considered Apparating to the edge of the hole to climb in, but tired as he was, he didn’t think he could concentrate well enough to do it. So instead he climbed down the ladder and trudged the distance through the field on foot before wiggling once again through the hole that would take him beneath the wards.
“Hey there Harry,” Bill said with a grin coming to greet him with an outstretched hand.
“Morning Bill. Thanks for coming and on such short notice too,” Harry said shaking the proffered hand.
“Sure thing. It sounded important from your message.”
“Could be,” Harry agreed. “We’re not there yet, but this could be our biggest clue yet.”
“Alright, so what have we got?” Bill asked.
“That’s what I need you to tell me…or rather us,” Harry said waving a hand at both the British and the French Auror squads who were combing every inch of the protected space for evidence. “What I need to know is, what kind of protective spells have been used on this place to conceal it? What are they, how were they cast, and is there anything distinctive about them enough that would enable us to detect the use of a similar combination of spells in the future,” Harry explained.
Bill studied him seriously. “You think this was their strong hold?”
“I know it was. But now that we’ve forced them to move, they’re bound to set up shop somewhere else. I want to know how to find it, what the weaknesses are likely to be when we do find it. I want to know everything you can tell us about their defenses Bill.”
Bill nodded. He raised his hands and his wand and set to work, walking though the different sections of the protected area, the buildings, the spaces in between and then the perimeter, stopping when he came to the hole Harry had made.
“You got in through here?” Bill asked in surprise.
“Yes I did,” Harry confirmed.
Bill nodded thoughtfully. “These are self limiting wards then. Did you ever see anyone walk through them?”
“All the time,” Harry said and he told him about their daily observations of figures half appearing around the perimeter as though checking for the strength of the wards. Bill frowned as Harry gave his explanation.
“They shouldn’t have been able to do that,” Bill told him ominously.
“I thought maybe they could because they were using the muggles to do it,” Harry suggested.
“Using muggles to test a wizarding ward? Isn’t that illegal?”
“Of course it is, but then so is kidnapping muggles in the first place, which is where this all started,” Harry replied. “But if they’ve already gone that far, I don’t see Death Eaters hesitating in using them to test wards, do you?”
Bill shivered involuntarily. “I wish I could say I couldn’t, but unfortunately I think you’re right. Look Harry, this is what you do. You can already detect concealment charms when they’re removed Dad says, is that right?”
“Yes, I can. And I could detect these when they were in place.”
Bill nodded. “Here’s how you dissect what they are,” and he walked with Harry around the protected area again, helping him to recognize and identify the spells that had been cast and in what order in order to be able to identify them again.
It was nearly noon before their work at the site was complete enough for Harry to even consider going home. He had staggered back to the barn from where they’d staged the stakeout and collapsed into the hay in a quiet corner of the loft for a ten minute break. Closing his eyes, he rested his head in the straw for a moment, trying to count how many hours he’d been awake and nodded off for the second time. He hadn’t quite managed to fall completely asleep when Laura came to find him.
“I’m coming,” Harry mumbled to her, jerking himself awake as she knelt over him to wake him.
“There is no need Monsieur Potter,” Laura advised him, sitting on her knees beside him on the comfortable hay.
Harry frowned as he looked over at her. “You know I hate it when you get all formal like that.”
“Oui, my apologies. It is a habit when I am tired. Monsieur Fortescue has sent word through Monsieur LeBlanc. We are excused from duty at the end of the hour, provided we report back to the ministry first thing tomorrow morning,” she explained.
Harry nodded dully as his mind processed the new instructions.
Laura frowned. “I do not know. I did not think to ask. I’m sure someone will contact you.”
“Okay, right.” He looked down at his watch. “Laura, it’s a quarter to noon now.”
“Oui. That is why I came to tell you. I thought perhaps you might prefer to sleep at home? Oui? Yes?”
Harry grinned sheepishly but made no move to get to his feet. The hay was too soft and comfortable to consider moving before he had to. “Yeah I would actually. Ah…er…Laura, I don’t suppose you could take me back to the ministry could you? I don’t think I can concentrate properly enough to Apparate from here.”
“Oui. I would be happy to Harry Potter,” she said, her eyes tracking to the famous scar on his forehead.
“Er…thanks,” Harry said awkwardly as she continued to stare at him. For the first time in their acquaintance, she was staring at his scar. Harry raised a brow at her. He knew she was well aware of how uncomfortable it was for people to do that. After all, she experienced it too.
“Is something the matter?”
“No. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to stare, but I have been remembering what you said last evening. That your scar sometimes burns.” She changed position, lifting off her knees and settled down into the haystack next to Harry so she was sitting more comfortably.
“Oh that,” Harry said rubbing the offending mark on his forehead out of habit. “It used to. It hasn’t twinged once since Voldemort’s been gone.”
“Oui? Really? Did it ever make you ill?”
“It did actually. That’s how come I knew you were feeling ill last evening,” Harry explained. “When it hurts that bad, it’s hard enough to stay on your feet much less concentrating on anything hard enough to do magic.”
”But how did you know my scar was? Hurting I mean,” Laura asked.
“You were shaking, having trouble breathing, and there was sweat all over your face. Believe me Laura, as many times as it happened to me…I know the signs.”
“And you believe it means that the person who gave it to me is nearby?”
“Not necessarily nearby. In my case I felt it when he was angry too, but I think that was due to something different. The man who cast the spell on you died, didn’t he?” Harry shifted so he was facing her a little more directly.
“Oui, he did. Dropped dead on the floor when the spell bounced off of me. But the witch that directed his hand…she escaped. I can not be certain, but I believe she used the imperius curse to force him to cast the spell.”
Harry turning towards her slightly, arching his brow in interest. “You think she used an unforgivable curse to force a wizard to cast the killing curse?”
“Oui. That is what I think happened. I did not understand it when it happened, but I have read about the blood magic and studied it since then. It is what saved you. And I believe it is what saved me,” Laura replied. .
Harry nodded. “Probably. But mine only hurt because Voldemort didn’t die when he cast that spell. It’s a complicated story. I mean it did kill his body, but he’d protected himself so he didn’t die, not really. In your case though, even though your attacker did die, the power that fed that curse didn’t come from the man who cast it, so maybe your connection isn’t to him but to her.”
“The witch that forced the spell,” Laura clarified.
“Yes, tell me again Laura, what did she look like?”
Laura grimaced. “Do you really believe she could be involved with this? What is happening here, in this field?”
“The way your scar was burning, I believe there must be some connection. But until we know what that connection is, it’s going to be ruddy difficult to sort it all out.” Harry countered.
Laura thought about his assumption, then slowly nodded. “I do not like to think about it…that night mamá died.”
“I understand, believe me,” Harry said encouraging her. “I don’t like to think about the night my mum died either.”
“Oui, I know. It is why I didn’t ask before,” Laura said in an understanding tone.
“You really do know, don’t you?” Harry said feeling a camaraderie with this woman like he’d never felt with anyone before. “You’ve had the same experience I have. The details are different, and you were a bit older, but it was the same.”
“Oui. I think so too. I believe it happened near the same time it happened to you.”
Harry looked startled at that. “You do?”
“Oui. How old were you Harry? When it happened to you?”
“Fifteen months, it happened in October…for you?”
“In November…” Her voice trailed off. “About a month later.”
Harry stared at her dumbstruck. He’d never before considered the idea that not only were their stories similar, but that they might be connected. The idea was beyond intriguing.
”I was very sad when Mamá died. Papa and I missed her terribly,” Laura continued slowly.
Harry nodded, waiting for her to tell the story, knowing that she was vividly witnessing it again in her mind as she did.
“I was very scared when the wizard that killed her turned his wand on me. I did not know what he wanted. They were traveling somewhere, looking for something. The woman behind him had two wands…I remember that. I remember thinking it odd. I still do. And, she was very beautiful…yet very, very terrible and frightening, but still beautiful just the same.” Laura paused in her recitation as she once again lived her nightmare.
“Always before I had associated people who were beautiful as being very good, but she wasn’t. She had told them to kill Mamá and me. She held his hand with the wand, steadying it to point it at me. She whispered into his ear, her own wand pointed into his back with her other hand.” Her voice lowered to a near whisper and slowed to an almost mechanical pace. Her left hand twitched nervously on her knee, a clear testament to the anguish of sharing her most private memory. Harry brushed the back of her wrist lightly with his fingers to soothe her, enabling her to continue, knowing in his heart exactly what his partner was experiencing.
“The spare wand was tucked inside her belt. The wizard fired the spell as she and she drew back just as the light left his wand. It was odd that…Like it happened in slow motion. She forced his hand as he said the words, then pulled back as the spell went off. There was the flash of green light…She jumped back, screeching madly as his body hit the floor…as though she’d been hurt by the rebound of the spell. I remember her wand hand was bleeding…my shoulder was stinging so horribly, and bleeding as well. She stepped over the dead man and forced me to the ground with her bloody hand gripping my shoulder. Then she gasped and ran away. I remember her shouting something about following the teachings of her master and casting the memory charms at her companions and me as she fled, pulling two more wizards out the door after her. I think one was her husband. That’s all I remember…” Laura lifted her watery eyes to catch Harry’s, the silent signal that she was done with the story.
Harry nodded. “Do you remember how they were dressed? The color of her hair? Anything else that might identify them?”
“Do you believe they were Death Eaters?”
“Couldn’t they have been? I heard rumors that some of them fled abroad after Voldemort fell. Couldn’t that have been what brought them here?” Harry asked.
“Just like this time?” Laura mused. “Because they certainly have been active here.”
“That’s what I was thinking, yes,” Harry agreed with her.
Laura nodded. Furrowing her brow slightly, she gave Harry an inquisitive stare. “You sound like you know who she is. Do you?”
“I can’t be certain, but from your description, it sounds like Bellatrix Lestrange. She was very beautiful when she was young, so I’ve heard, and I know she went looking for what was left of Voldemort when he fell, so she could have come here. And I know she was quite desperate, so she wouldn’t have hesitated to kill your mum if she thought she might try to stop her,” Harry explained. “She was quite mad actually when I knew her, and she had this laugh …” he shivered at the memory. “I think it might have been her. But if it was, that just doesn’t fit.”
“Why not?” Laura asked.
“Because Bellatrix died in the final battle, just before Voldemort did. My friend’s mum killed her,” Harry explained.
Laura nodded looking down at her watch. “Then it must have been someone else. Either that or there must be another explanation. Thank you Harry for understanding. No one else ever has,” Laura said gratefully as she shifted her gaze from her watch to his face, leaning forward to kiss him on each cheek in the custom of the French.
Harry smiled at the gesture, turning automatically towards her as she did, brushing the corner of her mouth with one of his own. Laura stared at him.
“Sorry, I suppose I shouldn’t have done that,” he apologized quickly.
“I do not mind,” she assured him. “It is a way of showing gratitude, no?”
“Yes, of course,” Harry said absently still studying her. It was true, he’d never met anyone one else quite like Laura DuPont. Not even he and Ginny had this much in common.
“Come Harry, it is time to go. I will take you to the ministry. You can floo home from there.”
Laura took his hand and pulled him to his feet beside her. After checking in briefly with LeBlanc who was now heading up this area of the investigation, Laura wrapped her arms around his waist and apparated them both away. Harry couldn’t help but notice that as tiny as she was, how well she fit within his arms and how easily her head tucked under his chin, and suddenly as they landed he felt a brief the urge to kiss her again.
Harry shook himself mentally, holding himself stiffly until the urge went away.
“Thank you Laura,” he said when the moment passed. “I doubt I could have done that safely.”
“You are welcome Harry. Until the next time, oui?”
“Yes, absolutely. I look forward to it,” he said genuinely.
Laura grinned. “Good night.” She giggled slightly as it was actually the middle of the day.
“Bye,” Harry smiled and he stepped into the fireplace that would take him to the British ministry on his own.
Harry stepped from the fireplace at the British ministry thinking back on the almost kiss.
“What is wrong with me?” he muttered to himself. “I saw Ginny less than twenty four hours ago, and here I am kissing another woman? What kind of a bloke am I?” he scolded himself mentally, but his mind countered that they were both very tired and it was the French custom to show not only affection but also gratitude by kissing. Did he not sometimes kiss Fleur the same way? His kiss with Laura had been only that and was unlikely to ever occur again. Once he’d convinced himself of this, Harry stepped back into the floo and shouted “Number Twelve Grimmauld Place”.