Chapter Three - The Ministry Has Fallen
Several days had passed since the Dursleys’ arrival at the mysterious Potter house and Dudley had yet to learn anything of substance about his cousin. However, he had been able to discern that Harry was staying his friends for the better part of the summer, as he had done for several years.
“Isn’t Bill Weasley getting married today?” Hestia asked Diggle from across the table.
“Yes! Yes!” Diggle exclaimed. “To that vela girl from France.”
“Harry will be attending won’t he?” Diggle’s brow furrowed.
“Well, I’d imagine so… It’d be awfully dangerous though.”
Hestia sighed, “And things aren’t going at all well at the ministry these days. Scrimgeour has been acting increasingly odd…”
“DO YOU TWO MIND?” Vernon interrupted the conversation. “Some of us are trying to eat in peace WITHOUT having to listen to you’re lot’s news!”
Dudley rolled his eyes at his father’s outburst immediately glad he had conveniently “forgotten” to inform his father just whose house they were staying at. Vernon would have surely made a scene, thus further embarrassing Dudley in front of his new roommates. He stood up and made to leave the room, anticipating the heated shouting match between Vernon and Diggle that would soon follow. Dudley walked into the seldom-used parlor across the hall seeking solitude. Living in the presence of so much magic was devastating enough without adding the stress brought on by his father’s arguments with Diggle.
As Dudley sank into a crimson armchair, he realized he wasn’t alone. Hazel, Justin’s muggle cousin, was peering at him over the edge of her book. Dudley moved to leave her alone when she stopped him.
“No, you don’t have to go. I’d quite like the company,” she said in a soft voice. She marked her page in her book, “Wuthering Heights,” and turned to face him. Hazel was far from talkative and Dudley never really paid her much attention. Now, as he sank slowly back into his seat, he studied her appearance. Hazel had pale skin with a smattering of freckles across her nose. Her honey-blond hair, which hung in thick curls, stopping just above her shoulders, was held back by an assortment of small clips. Most striking, were her velvety chocolate eyes. They emanated warmth and kindness, two things Dudley had never had much experience with.
“I reckon you find it odd too,” she spoke, startling Dudley out of his reverie, “Being around all this magic.”
Dudley just nodded, never breaking eye contact with the petite girl in front of him.
“I mean… I’ve known about Justin for years, but I never really thought about what the wizarding world and ours ever really intersecting like this. To tell you the truth, I hoped it never would.” Hazel finished in barely a whisper.
“I know what you mean,” Dudley finally spoke up. “Harry never really talked about school and magic and whatnot. Not that he was allowed to, my father would have had a coronary. But… I almost wish I had known a little more coming into all this.”
She sat motionless, scrutinizing him. “I find that hard to believe,” Hazel confessed. She continued after seeing Dudley’s quizzical expression, “Even I know something about what your cousin has done, and I never lived with him.”
“Well… Harry and I… We never really got along,” Dudley struggled to ‘describe’ the utter contempt for one another they had shared without admitting to Hazel he had abused his cousin. She nodded, sensing he didn’t want to go into details.
“I could tell you what I know… If you want that is.”
“Could you?” Dudley asked hopefully. “I’m beginning to feel a bit thick, not knowing what everyone is on about.”
Hazel giggled. Dudley liked it when she giggled; her freckled nose crinkled adorably and her warm brown eyes lit up. “I understand.” She took a deep breath before continuing, “Well, as I said, I don’t know much. But Harry definitely has fought and beaten this Dark Wizard before. In his fourth year, I think Justin said… Oh! And Justin recons Harry is the only person who can actually defeat ‘You Know Who’ for good, on account of him being some sort of ‘Chosen One’.”
Dudley furrowed his brow in confusion. He knew from experience Harry couldn’t win a fight; their entire childhood Dudley had used Harry as a punching bag. If Harry was able to defeat a powerful dark wizard, why hadn’t he been able to shake off Dudley and the other playground bullies back in primary school? Now, instead of understanding his cousin, Dudley felt more bewildered than ever.
“Last summer, Justin talked non-stop about how Harry was brilliant in a duel,” Hazel continued. “He even said that Harry taught the other students self-defense.” She added as an afterthought, “Harry also can talk to snakes, but even Justin seems to think that’s unnatural.”
“It’s downright scary, that is,” Dudley remembered an incident at the zoo six years ago. “He set a boa constrictor on me when we were eleven.”
Hazel’s widened her eyes in terror. “He told a snake to attack you?” she exclaimed.
“Well, I’m not entirely sure, to be honest,” Dudley admitted. “I guess, it was more like Harry set the snake free, because it never really attacked me. If he had wanted to, I’m sure he could have made the snake do other things.”
Hazel was considering this when Justin rushed into the parlor, slamming the door behind him.
“Your parents are MAD!” Justin shouted accusingly at Dudley.
Dudley shrugged, “I know. I live with them, remember?”
“Barking mad!” Justin muttered under his breath. “Don’t understand anything…”
“Hey, Justin?” Hazel asked, pulling her cousin out of he reverie. “How does Harry talk to snakes?”
Justin’s expression darkened, “Well… he’s a Parselmouth. They sort of, inherit the ability to speak to snakes. Not many people can do it or want to do it. Its typically associated with Dark Magic.”
“Why can Harry do it? I thought he was good?” Hazel asked.
“I reckon its got something to do with why ‘You-Know-Who’ couldn’t kill him as a baby… I don’t really know,” he admitted. “But its damn scary when he does it!”
“Does Harry have any other… um… weird… talents?” Dudley asked, genuinely curious.
“I don’t think they’re so much weird… but Harry’s bloody brilliant at quidditch. Even thought he’s a Griffindor I’d have to admit he’s also the best seeker at the school. Harry’s also the best Defense student in our year. You know? He could produce a patronus in THIRD YEAR! As a THIRD YEAR he fought off over a hundred dementors by himself!”
“A hundred?” Dudley squeaked.
“Yeah. Most students can’t master the Patronus Charm until their seventh year. Harry taught me though,” Justin added proudly.
“This, ‘Patronus Charm’, what does it do?”
“It summons your patronus and it fights dementors.”
“Does it look…” Dudley stopped, feeling a bit self-conscious. “Er… silvery?”
Justin screwed up his face in concentration and bellowed, “EXPECTO PATRONUM!”
First, only silvery mist appeared at the tip of Justin’s wand. Then, without warning, a large… something… erupted out of the wand. It seemingly glided through the air, scooting circles around the small group of teenagers, before settling down at Justin’s feet. Only then could Dudley discern that the silvery creature was, in fact, a seal. Dudley stood gaping at the aquatic mammal that was now, seemingly, floating before him. A thought occurred to him, “Why does yours look like that?”
“What do you mean?” Justin sounded offended.
“No!” Dudley hastened to correct his error. “It’s just that Harry’s patroni-thingy didn’t look like that! I don’t think it did anyways.” Dudley was panicking; he REALLY didn’t want to upset a wizard. “There’s nothing wrong with your silver-ish magical spell creature…” Dudley stopped rambling when he realized that Hazel was laughing at him again. “What’s funny NOW?” he asked exasperatedly.
“Nothing…” Hazel squeaked as she stifled another giggle. She had never seen anyone more uncomfortable with magic than she was. It was nice to have someone who could appreciate the oddity of the situation while not necessarily condemning it. As much as her wizarding cousin disagreed, the existence of magic was abnormal at best. Magic was fascinating but she preferred “the muggle way” when going about her daily life.
Justin shook his head before explaining to a now hysterical Dudley, “A Patronus is unique to the wizard who conjured it. While mine takes form as a seal, Harry’s is a stag. As far as I know, no two people can have the same patronus. I could be wrong though, I don’t know that much about it.” Justin admitted.
Dudley took a second to process this information, “So… its like how two people never have the same fingerprints?”
“Sort of. I guess it is,” Justin agreed.
Suddenly, part of what Justin had said hit him, “Wait, did you say Harry TAUGHT you how to do that?” Dudley asked. “Don’t you lot all go to school to learn magic?”
“The Ministry tried to control Hogwarts during our 5th year,” Justin explained. “It’s a rather corrupt institution and the woman they stationed as our teacher wouldn’t let us learn any magic.”
“So… Harry taught you instead?”
“He’s a really good teacher. Much better than some of the other Defense teachers we’ve had.”
Dudley processed this information, trying to make it fit with what he knew about Harry. Finding it still didn’t, Dudley decided he would just have to ask Harry when he saw him again… If he saw him again…
There was a loud shuffle heard outside the parlor door before the room was once again invaded, this time by Vernon Dursley. He had been looking for his son to bring him back into “respectable company”. Vernon did NOT want Dudley, his pride and joy, becoming friendly with any of “Harry’s lot.” As he opened his mouth to shout commands at his son, the room’s decorations caught his eye.
“POTTER’S HOUSE?!?!” he bellowed. Petunia and Hestia rushed into the room to see what the commotion was. “WE HAVE BEEN LIVING IN POTTER’S HOUSE?”
‘Crap,’ thought Dudley. It was no secret to his peers that his parents did not approve of magic. However, as Harry was apparently some sort of hero to these people, he had hoped to downplay quite how unwelcome his cousin had been at the Dursley household. Vernon, who once again had gone purple in the face, was making this increasingly difficult to hide.
“Well, Dad,” Dudley frantically glanced at Hestia hoping she would intervene. It wasn’t like he actually knew WHY they were staying at Harry’s house.
“Only a few houses have been okayed for the Order’s use,” Hestia began. “Because of the shortage of locations, we have opted to use the resources from the first Order of the Phoenix. Since your brother-in-law donated his real-estate during the first war and his heir has yet to recognize his ownership, this injunction stands.”
“But isn’t that like you’re stealing Harry’s house?” Hazel asked the auror. “We can’t just live in someone’s house without their permission, that would make us squatters!” Dudley had to agree with her, their being on Harry’s property was, not only morally wrong, but punishable by law.
“WHO RUDDY WELL CARES ABOUT THE LEGALITIES?” Vernon rejoined the conversation. “WE ARE NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES STAYING IN HIS HOUSE!”
Petunia, who hadn’t spoken a word since entering the parlor, spoke up, “Vernon dear, please calm down.”
“CALM DOWN??? I WON’T…”
“Vernon! It’s the least that boy can do for us after we let him live in OUR house all those years!” Petunia shrieked at her walrus of a husband. “Think about it Vernon! Perhaps this hospitality, if you could call it that, is the boy’s way of showing gratitude!”
“Highly doubt that, seeing as Harry has no clue,” Dudley heard Hestia mumble under her breath. She then said, loud enough for the room to hear, “Diggle left a few minutes ago to get a status report from England. Ol’ Prue here hasn’t been much help the past few days.”
“Why not?” Dudley couldn’t help but ask. He pretended not to notice the disapproving glares his parents were shooting at him.
“Oh… most ministry portraits have been taken down recently, she’s in storage now.”
On that note, Vernon huffed out of the room, still visibly turned off by the fact Harry owned such a nice house. The Dursley seniors were infamously materialistic. One method they had chosen to assert their superiority over Harry was by never giving him anything but Dudley’s hand-me-downs. They had of course realized Harry had to have some inheritance. How else was he paying for that school of his? But this… this wasn’t even Harry’s only house! How wealthy could his cousin be?
Dudley spent the better part of the day with his parents. Vernon had insisted that he keep his contact with the “freaks” to a minimum; he mum had seemed a little hesitant to get behind this decision, perhaps because being in Harry’s house reminded her of her sister.
A few hours before dinner was to be served, Dudley wandered once again into the parlor. It had become a sort of safe haven for him the past couple of days; the rest of the house’s inhabitants preferred to spend time in the great room. Much to his chagrin, Hazel Justin, and Owen already occupied the room. The boys were having talking animatedly to a rather introverted and tortured looking Hazel.
“…and we have Charms class. I’m also a very skilled Charms student though I am much better at Arithemancy…” Owen bragged. Hazel, seeing Dudley enter the room, shot him a look of desperation. Remembering the conversation they had that morning about how uncomfortable magic made both of them, Dudley interrupted Owen’s train of thought.
“Hey, Hazel?” Dudley asked the first thing that popped into his mind. “Where do you live?” ‘WOW,’ he thought to himself. ‘Come up with a lamer conversation opener why don’t you?’
“Oh! My mum and I live in London,” she replied shyly. “My aunt and uncle’s family don’t live far, a few blocks as a matter of fact.”
“That’s interesting. What’s it like living in London?” Dudley made a painful attempt at furthering the conversation.
“It’s nice, I guess.” An awkward silence descended upon the group. The four teenagers shifted uncomfortably, none of them sure what to say. Finally, Justin spoke up.
“Why don’t we go see what’s going on out there?” he gestured towards the parlor door.
“Great idea!” “Okay!” “Lets go!”
There was no one in the kitchen anymore so the small group proceeded into the great room where the rest of their cohabitants resided. Owen’s sisters, Nesta and Lunet were engaging in conversation with Hestia and Hazel’s mum. Their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Llewellyn were also talking, though with Justin’s parents. Only the Dursleys seemed to be removed from the scene, sitting as far as possible in a corner.
Suddenly, Diggle burst into the room with a frantic look on his face. He slammed the door shut and exclaimed; “We have to get out of here NOW!”
Hestia stood up, asking her partner, “WHAT?” at the same time.
“The Ministry has fallen. We need to move to be sure our location isn’t compromised,” Diggle hurriedly responded as he started pulling Dudley and Hazel towards the door. “I have a portkey set up outside. Don’t bring anything, we should be back.”
Dudley felt lost in a tangle of human limbs as he was pushed and prodded towards the exit of the ‘safe-house’. Wasn’t this place supposed to be protected from dark wizards? Why were they leaving then?
Once outside, Diggle instructed all 13 of his charges to gather ‘round. On the count of three, they were supposed to all grab hold of the “portkey.” This “portkey” actually looked much more like a curling iron than a magical object, but Dudley wasn’t about to cause the aurors any MORE grief.
Dudley’s parents, on the other hand, were literally being forced to follow Diggle’s instructions. Hestia held their hands onto the curling iron while they screamed loudly in protest.
Suddenly, there was a strange jerking feeling at Dudley’s navel. It felt like apparation had but less… constricting? This felt like he was being pulled across the universe, by a fishing line, which was attached to his belly button.
Dudley fell heavily to the ground. He tried to calm himself down only to be startled again by the impact of a much smaller person landing on top of him. Hazel quickly rolled off of him, winded and terrified. Dudley sat up to examine his new surroundings.
There was literally NO way this place was safer than Harry’s house. All 15 of them were sitting, mostly unarmed, in the middle of the woods. ‘Great plan Diggle,’ Dudley found himself thinking. ‘Really great plan.’ Diggle, Hestia, and, to Dudley’s surprise, Justin were chanting with their wands out pointed towards the sky. He could only assume they were putting protective spells on their lack of a hiding place. Diggle walked back to the group, presumably after having finished.
“We have to spend the night here before we will know if the safe-house has been compromised,” he began. Only a few people know of its existence or location, but several… severe… interrogation methods could be employed to gain this information. Now that the ministry has fallen, the Order needs to take extra precautionary measures to ensure the safety of muggleborns.”
“Where the bloody hell are we?” Vernon asked in a remarkably quiet tone. Granted, he sounded like he was choking, but the fear of being discovered by wildlife was obviously having its effect.
“We’re still in Italy,” Hestia informed him. “In the Tyrolean Alps near the Austrian border.”
“And we’re expected to just… sleep on the ground until you feel it’s safe?” asked a scathing Petunia. She abhorred dirt of any sort and was not thrilled at the prospect of touching it.
“Yes,” Hestia said dryly. “I do.”
“I was just getting used to the last place,” Dudley’s head shot up and he looked over his shoulder to see who had made this last comment. He came, once again, face to face with Hazel. “I guess camping for one night can’t be too bad right?” she looked fearful.
“I wouldn’t know,” Dudley admitted. “I’ve never been camping before.” The prospect of spending the night in the wild petrified him. “The wizards will keep us safe,” he said surely, hoping that would be true. “That’s why they brought us here, after all.”
“Right,” she rolled her eyes. “Because the woods are the perfect place to be when trying to avoid danger.” Dudley chuckled softly at her attempt to add levity to the situation. Nesta sashayed over to the two, inviting them to rejoin the group for dinner.
Diggle had conjured a creepy blue fire that, supposedly, would not ignite the dry forest floor or start a wild fire. Hestia reached into the rucksack she had grabbed when leaving the house and pulled out several packs of sausage and 15 fire pokers. Everyone gathered round the magical fire to cook their own meal. Even Vernon was hungry enough to partake without much complaint.
Over dinner, Diggle explained to his and Hestia’s charges that, from what he knew, Harry and his friends had gotten away. They were on the run now completing Dumbledore’s mission. The location of their safe-house should remain undiscovered and, barring any night-time developments, they would return to Venice in the morning.
Hestia conjured enough fluffy down sleeping bags for the entire group and instructed them to sleep. She and Diggle would keep watch. This started an argument with Justin, who felt that as a wand-bearer, he should be allowed to keep watch too. Finally, his parents coaxed their only son into his bag, allowing the aurors to do their job in peace.
The bags must have been enchanted because as soon as Dudley crawled into his between Hazel and Owen, the ground became soft as a mattress and his concerns seemed to melt away. Despite his valiant attempt to stay awake all night, Dudley soon found himself drifting off to sleep. The last thought he had, was how soft Hazel’s hair looked.
A/N: Again, I didn't really edit this one. I'm trying to take advantage of the low queue to get the chapters of the story back up as soon as physically possible. I'm still writing chapter 11!