The last few hours had simply flown by for the inhabitants of number twelve, Grimmauld Place on that unusually grey August morning.
Harry was sure he’d correctly read his watch as 06:23 when he’d nipped down to the kitchen for a bit of toast; however he was horrified to glance down again, at what he was sure was only minutes later, to see 08:57.
Though most of them were sleep deprived, snatching minutes of sleep perched on the arm of the couch, head down on a table or in Ron’s case, propped up by Hermione’s rather large collection of ancient foreign spell books retrieved rather rapidly from who-knows-where, everyone was alert and awake the moment anyone said a word.
Things had fallen quickly into motion the moment Hermione had read aloud Neville’s letter. Harry glanced down at the now dormant treasure lying crumpled on the sofa beside him; the parchment dog-eared, the ink smudged. He sighed as he picked it up again, bleakly hopeful to gain some hidden understanding on his hundredth read.
I don’t really know what to tell you, other than I don’t know what you’re on about. I haven’t sent you anything. I’ve been in Scotland most of my holidays with Gran. Only got in late last night.
Where exactly did you get that photograph of my mother? And what’s a Memory Box?
Write back and let me know what’s going on – I need to know where you got the picture of my mum.
No one had said a word for a full minute before Sirius had let out a pained yet elated howl, reminding everyone of what a dog might sound like should someone step on its paw, but they were happy about it. He’d half cried, half screamed with fury for the next few minutes before Lupin had demanded he shut up so he could think, or he’d hex him to next Wednesday.
“It just makes no logical sense,” he had said, pacing feverishly around the drawing room, “No sense. This Memory Box, though a girlish retro novelty, has distinct and altered magical abilities. They employed guards and advanced charm work on it; it would have had to go to one of their direct descendants. It would never have allowed itself to fall into the hands of anyone else. It just makes no logical sense.”
“Maybe it was passed on to a friend?” suggested Tonks, to the outraged glares thrown wildly at her by Sirius. “I’m sorry, but that is a realistic possibility. I would love nothing more than for even just one of those girls to walk into this room, but we all saw what happened to them.”
“Could it have been Alice?” suggested Ginny hopefully, “She’s still alive, isn’t she?”
It was at that moment, both Lupin and Sirius exploded into action.
“I’ll have Mad-Eye and Kingsley go at once-” blurted Lupin, “We must know they’re safe-”
“Records of all who have visited!” shrieked Sirius wildly, diving out of his armchair and to the doorway and shouting for Mr Weasley. “It would be the first place any of them would go-”
“Dumbledore must be alerted at once,” muttered Lupin, violently hurling a conjured patronus out the drawing room window, “He may be able to assist.”
Harry had watched blankly as Mr Weasley had hurried into the room, eyes wide and alert before listening intently to a rather condensed version of the night’s happenings before nodding, scratching his head and agreeing, “Yes. I thoroughly agree. Alice and Frank Longbottom must have a guard; we cannot be sure the previous possessor of that Memory Box was friend or foe. It’d be a sure fire way to get to Harry, isolate his location and gain his trust. I’ll send an owl to Kingsley who’ll organise two of our best. We must also bring Neville here; he too may not be safe.”
As Sirius nodded him off, he turned to the others and began rather rapidly, “I’m going to search the neighbouring streets as Snuffles; they’ll recognise me-”
“And so will bloody well everyone else!” snapped Lupin, “You stay put Sirius. We both must; on the off chance that one of the girls is trying to reach us this will be the first place they go.”
Sirius simply stood and stared at Lupin. “Mooney…you believe it could be them?”
Lupin shrugged vaguely.
“This is surreal,” whispered Sirius, traces of joy and laughter tickling his hushed tones, “There is a real possibility that one of our girls has come back to us. She could be out there now, trying to get home.”
Lupin muffled a choked breath before nodding, “We mustn’t get our hopes up before we know more. We may be seeing things we only wish were there.”
“A direct descendant!” interrupted Harry, standing up and grinning widely, “You said so yourself, Remus. If that be the case, there are only two people who could have sent it to me and we know it’s not Neville.”
Sirius’ face fell hard for a moment before saying softly, “Cass would believe me to be a murderer. In fact, they all would.”
“But those he would remember and seek out,” said Lupin, his words impeding, “Would know if your innocence. Speaking of-”
He turned to Tonks, who was in the process of shoving as much food in her mouth, all the while following the conversation like a tennis match, “Tonks? We need your mum down here.”
She nodded at once, before gathering herself up, “On it. I’ll grab Mad-Eye on my way; he’ll kick himself if he misses this.”
And in a flash she was out the door and apparating into thin air.
Since then, no one had said more than a few words strung together, fatigue rapidly swallowing the adrenaline that had previously pulsed through their veins. Harry stared down at the letter in his hands before limply throwing it back on the sofa, a frustrated sigh escaping his lips.
Lupin was looking at him from his position at the sloppily reconstructed writing desk that was piled high with papers and books, “What’s happened?”
“Nothing,” replied Harry, shrugging off the alert looks of the others in the room. Ron frowned from his seat on the sofa between Ginny and Hermione, all of them reading dozily from old, weathered pages, “Just tired is all. How are you lot going?”
Hermione leant back in her seat and rubbed her eyes, her book falling slightly from her lap, the aged title Magical Time Capsules; Worthy Feat or Risky Business? briefly reflecting the dull morning light, “There’s a lot of information to sift through here. There’s a small section on Memory Boxes but it’s all useless isn’t it, when you consider the one we’ve got here is so wholly altered from the norm. I’ve found some interesting case studies on witches and wizards who have successfully created some really impressive devices from fad novelties but unfortunately, there are also a lot of unsuccessful ones.”
“Heard from Sirius?” asked Ron conversationally, disrupting everyone around him as he leant forward to choose a biscuit, Ginny spilling her tea and Hermione losing her page in the wake of his gangly limbs, “Not heard a peep from him. He’s still here, isn’t he?”
“He won’t leave,” assured Lupin, setting his book down completely and standing up to stretch his back, “Not when there’s a chance an owner of that box could come flouncing through that door. It’s probably the first time in his life that he’s not been chomping at the bit to leave.” He looked sad for a moment before smiling softly at everyone, “Time for lunch I think, we could all use a break.”
They all murmured in agreement and lazily made their way to the kitchen, immediately perking up as the sound of muffled shouts and raised voices wafted from behind closed doors.
“Oi-” Lupin quickly spotted the extendable ears dangling in front of the door and yanked hard, rolling his eyes as the unmistakable groans and protests from the twins a few flights up, “Molly will have your heads if she sees these.”
“She’s already seen them,” muttered Fred, stomping down the stairs, “She was too distracted to put an impervious on the door this morning though.”
“Mad-Eye’s in there,” motioned George as they all stood idly around the door, “Him and Sirius going for guns. It was just getting good, too.”
Lupin rolled his eyes again before opening the door to see a full kitchen, various Order members sat around the table looking alert, picking at plates of sandwiches, conversations dying off as the others walked in.
Mad-Eye was clomping around the head of the table, snapping loudly at Sirius who was at the other end looking rather red in the face, being gently restrained by a weepy looking Andromeda who had a hand on his shoulder.
“To have even opened it was careless,” Mad-Eye was growling, his wooden leg giving an aggressive soundtrack to his ranting, “What were you lot even thinking? Bloody careless.”
“You think I would put Harry in danger?” spluttered Sirius, “You think Remus and I would for even a second have allowed it to have entered the house if we had suspected it was a dark object?”
“You would have let You Know Who himself in the front door and invited him for tea if you thought it would get her back,” snapped Mad-Eye, “You never did think when it came to that girl. Caution to the wind and stupidity for breakfast the pair of you.”
Sirius almost exploded out of his chair, howling with outrage before Lupin walked over and tried to calm him, saying quietly to Mad-Eye, “That is unfair.”
“Sorry,” muttered Mad-Eye, nodding to Molly who was motioning at Harry and the others who will still stood blankly at the door, “I didn’t mean that.”
“It was more than a decade ago,”growled Sirius, allowing Andromeda to push him back into his chair, “And anything we did was never to harm anyone.”
“Harry,” cut in Andromeda, smiling over the heads of everyone, “It’s been such a very long time.”
There was a pause amongst those who’d been witness to the memories, Hermione and Ginny beaming at Andromeda then Harry, with bright eyes. Ron grinned as the twins nodded to one another. Everyone seemed acutely aware of the significance of Andromeda’s presence, and her position next to Sirius, fighting tirelessly in his corner.
“Hi,” said Harry awkwardly, suddenly feeling quite unsure of how to behave. It was a rather strange feeling to know so much about someone and never really have met them. “I, um, it’s nice to meet you.”
Andromeda chuckled, “You look so much like James, it’s too surreal. I can see Lily in you too. Sit down all of you and have some lunch.”
They all bustled about, finding seats and picking up sandwiches, only Andromeda continuing to chat as they refuelled.
“We’re doing some legwork all around the country,” she was saying, helping Mrs Weasley set down more plates of food, “Emmeline and Sturgis are at St Mungo’s guarding Alice and Frank-”
“Was it-” began Harry, swallowing his sandwich hard, “I mean, was it Alice-”
“No,” replied Andromeda, smiling sadly. “Emmeline is doing her best to try to uncover anything. She’s done well-”
“She was respondent?” cut in Lupin, glancing over a hastily written note, “It says here she was vaguely alert?”
“She showed some signs of recognition,” nodded Andromeda before turning to the others and explaining, “Emmeline is a Healer, trained and mentored young Suzie McKinnon as it happens…” she trailed off, shaking her head, “It’s been a long time since I said that name. Anyway, she specialised in various forms of Muggle medicine which is also considered foreign and she’s been using flash cards. Photographs of the girls, Neville and so on.”
“The charm was buzzing,” offered Sirius, “The crystal that’s been imbedded in her neck these past years. But Dumbledore thinks it could be because Harry made contact with Rahjah earlier-”
“What’s Dumbledore doing about this?” asked Harry at once, “Has he gone to Aurelius?”
“Yes,” said Sirius, picking up a sandwich, “Well, trying to at any rate. Fawkes has been more successful as it happens so Aurelius knows we’re about and wanting a word. Not that it means much…”
Everyone nodded, averting their eyes from Sirius who had begun rather violently poking his sandwich before the door opened and more Order members piled in. Harry recognised a few from the memories, though none by name.
“What a to-do,” sighed one witch, her husky voice immediately identifying her from the memory when Isabella’s grandfather had burst in on an Order meeting, demanding to know where she’d run off to, “Rather exciting though.”
“Any news?” asked Sirius immediately, his eyes scanning the new faces urgently, “What have you found, Lorna?”
“There’s a trail,” responded Lorna, the husky witch, sitting heavily down in a chair and nodding yes to a cup of tea. “There’s a definite trail though we have no idea where it begins or ends. Kingsley’s on his way with Frank and Alice’s boy, a guard around him ten thick. We think they were at his house-”
“Who?” demanded Lupin, “Who was there? What were the signs?”
“Some subtle disruptions,” said an unknown wizard, helping himself to some pumpkin juice, “Though nothing to suggest whether they were. We are fairly sure we’re dealing with friend rather than foe-”
“We must not be complacent,” snapped Mad-Eye, “We cannot let our guard down until we have the facts.”
Lorna cast Mad-Eye with a sideways look before she said with a shrug, “Well, there were signs of protective shielding but from what I’ve heard, it could be the result of that old charm. That’s the trouble with this whole thing; whoever we’re dealing with does not want to be found and doing an excellent job of covering their tracks. We know they’ve been around Neville and put in place heightened protection. Alice and Frank were probably also visited but we don’t know what eventuated. No one can get to Harry-”
“They’re putting their wands in place,” cut in the unknown wizard, looking thoughtful, “We suspect this was the first step; protect and secure. Though what’s in the pipeline is anyone’s guess.”
“What were the signs?” asked Sirius, looking around the room, “Give us some idea and Mooney or I may be able to tell you if they’re familiar.”
Lupin looked sceptical, “Familiar, Padfoot?”
“Well,” said Sirius, folding his arms and leaning back in his chair, “The girls had certain methods. Identifiable characteristics in their magic. Marls was always scatty; hodge-podge with her spells as she usually lost interest in one thing and began immediately on the other. Bella was more strategic; littering her Hogwarts magic with Eastern twangs. Plus they took a lot from one another; Lily had a few good homemade spells they often used whereas Alice was by the book but wielded a fair but of grit behind them.”
“We cannot be sure it’s those girls we’re tracking,” said Lorna softly, looking pleadingly at Sirius. “Don’t get me wrong now, I adored them. I spent a lot of time with Marlene during various patrols and I grew incredibly fond of her; I was devastated when I heard of her death. As for Isabella, I was always a big advocate of you both and what you went through to keep your little boy safe. But we must be realistic; the chances of them reappearing is stuff of dreams.”
“Then who is it?” asked Sirius quietly, staring hard at his hands that were now flat on the table, “Who?”
“We map it out,” announced Mad-Eye loudly, as though he’d been simply waiting to begin a lesson. “We might as well do it here; the kids are pretty switched on and since they’ve seen most of the memories they may pick up on what we don’t.”
Harry had to smile as a blackboard appeared out of thin air, Mad-Eye’s wand slashing about throwing hastily scribbled names all over the board. “And I want contributions that make sense; there’s no time for wish-wash.”
The twins exchanged look as though all their Christmases had come at once, whilst everyone shuffled about, easing into comfortable positions and looking expectantly up at the board.
“Right,” Mad-Eye began tapping his wooden leg at the floor as he pointed to the words Memory Box. “We have a highly magical device that has been sent to Harry under false pretences. Whilst I strongly discourage everyone to become lax, we can probably assume the object is benign. What the issue is here is how the bloody hell it got into this house and into Harry’s possession.”
“Hedwig brought it,” said Hermione at once, “Owl post.”
“Did anyone physically see her deliver it?”
Everyone looked blank.
“I assumed she’d come in with Errol,” began Mrs Weasley, before her face creased in horror, “Good gracious! What could I have done?!”
“Harry,” asked Mr Weasley sharply, “Was Hedwig out last night?”
Harry shrugged, “I think so, but she was hunting.”
“Molly, where was the parcel the first time you saw it?”
“On the kitchen bench,” she said, beginning to get quite upset, “I thought one of the children brought it in.”
Everyone looked at each other, shrugging and shaking their heads.
“Right,” continued Mad-Eye, beginning to clomp in circles, “So. We have no choice but to believe this parcel appeared in the house without the assistance of owl or person. What we need to do now is isolate possible individuals who would have the means and the inclination to plant it here.”
He pointed his wand at the board as he leaned heavily against a chair, “I would consider there to be three main candidates in this equation. I’m going to start with the one who ticks all the boxes-”
A little tingle shivered down Harry’s spine as two scrawled words appeared on the board.
Andromeda drew in a sharp breath, clasping her hands over Sirius’s and looking at Lupin, her expression blazing.
Mad-Eye cleared his throat and rubbed his nose before continuing, “No one knows what truly happened to this boy. From all accounts, he died fourteen years ago, aged almost three years, due to the alleged death of his Eastern mother. The bonds were too strong, said his grandfather at the time, for him to survive when she was on death’s doorstep.”
“Cass had Western blood also,” whispered Andromeda, “And he was always such a strong little thing…”
“He was shielded,” added Sirius, his throat contracting his syllables, “Though in those last memories, he was failing fast. My being in Azkaban was probably what did it…”
Mad-Eye grunted, “But we don’t know for sure. I don’t encourage anyone to get their hopes up but he’s a strong candidate for being behind this. Firstly, he would have been able to rightfully have possession of The Memory Box and its absence from anyone else during these past years would explain it, as no one’s heard hide nor hair from either. Secondly, I have no doubt he’d be highly gifted magically, due to his Eastern and Western blood, easily allowing him to cast the spells around Potter and Longbottom. Thirdly, he would have been able to gain access to this house without exposure and easily planted the box in it for Harry.”
“We would have seen him, surely?” asked Lupin incredulously, “Or had some idea he was here?”
Mr Weasley shook his head, “He would have been able to come and go quite freely whilst we were here without either party having a clue the other was inhabiting. We’re all hidden due to the Fedelius charm and Cassion, being a direct descendant of Sirius would have been able to invoke entry and walk right on in without disturbing anyone.”
“Not anyone,” growled Sirius before once again, appearing to explode out of his chair:
There was a ringing silence before Sirius screamed again, this time Andromeda smacking him lightly on the arm, “For heavens sake! If he’s still knocking about this old house, he’s as old as the hills. Be patient, Sirius!”
"He moves when he needs to,” growled Sirius before they all paused to hear the tell-tale scuffling of an eavesdropper caught out, followed by snide mutterings and the dragging of small feet behind the kitchen boiler.
“GET IN HERE NOW KREACHER!”
“As master wishes…”
Kreacher slowly made his way over, purposely taking his time before stopping a foot away from the table and enquiring, “Yes, master?”
“Was Cassion here?”
“Kreacher does not know who you speak of.”
“You effing well do and I order you to tell me. Now.”
“Kreacher does not know who it is you speak of.”
“Kreacher,” began Andromeda, her voice echoing Sirius’ condescension, “You will tell us.”
He blatantly ignored her question, preferring to croak, “Yet another stain on the filth of this great family has come. Oh, what would my mistress say to know that her mudblood loving niece was-”
“OI!-” Lupin grabbed back Sirius who had lunged for the elf’s neck and struggled to restrain him, “You will not get anything out of him if you continue to lose your temper!”
Sirius was breathing hard through his nose, his teeth grinding with agitation before Mad-Eye clomped over and stared down at the elf, hard.
“He’s still bound by elf law to obey you; you just need to ask the correct question. And be specific.”
Sirius threw a sinister look at the elf who glared angrily back before he said quietly, “Kreacher. Has my son been in this house?”
Kreacher’s eyelids slitted, “As master knows, young Master Black was here once when my mistress-”
There was a silence before the elf flinched and whispered, “Kreacher cannot say.”
Sirius grabbed at Lupin’s cloak sleeve, as though his heart had stopped. “You cannot say because he hasn’t been here or he ordered you not to say?”
“Kreacher cannot say.”
He was cut off as the elf appeared to grab himself around the throat and begin to throttle, muffled wails wheezing through his snout.
“Stop him!” cried Hermione, looking horrified, “Please just STOP HIM!”
Sirius grabbed the elf back, yanking him by his ears and saying, his voice deadly, “Whoever has ordered you not to-Kreacher? Kreacher!”
“Back off a second,” began Lupin, batting Sirius away and inspecting the elf who was throwing hideous glares at everyone, as he clutched himself around the throat. “It’s not his fault; he’s been hexed-”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” snapped Sirius, aiming to kick Kreacher in annoyance, “He’s putting it on.”
“Doubt it,” grunted Mad-Eye peering down over the fray, “He’s been cursed; looks to me like some sort of tongue-tie. This creature couldn’t speak if it wanted to.”
Sirius ground his teeth as his eyes threw daggers at the elf, “You will speak when you can, Kreacher. And don’t move till that happens.”
The elf appeared to freeze in time, barely a wiggle tempting his ear before Lupin rolled his eyes and muttered, “For heaven’s sake put him at ease, Padfoot.”
Sirius took his time getting comfortable before obliging, Hermione grinding her teeth in frustration at the display before Mad-Eye began clomping once more, startling everyone back to the topic at hand.
“Right; we can add that whoever is behind this has put something on this house elf to stop him letting on what they’re doing. Difficult to hinder elf laws but it can be done and unfortunately, by anyone who has a bit of nowse. The major hurdle to get by is the elf’s devout devotion to their master – clearly not too much of a hindrance in this case.”
Lorna glanced at Tonks, biting back a grin before asking, “If it is Cass Black who’s behind this, surely he must have a motive? If we crunch through that, we may have a better shot at finding where he’s hiding out.”
“Revenge,” said Harry at once, without thinking. Everyone swivelled to look at him curiously, Sirius raising an eyebrow. Though his cheeks burned slightly, he furrowed his brow and persevered.
“Well, wherever he’s been for the last few years, he would have probably been wondering what happened to his parents. I mean, he would have had some idea but that was probably tarnished by what he was told. I did.”
“Go on,” said Lupin gently, casting a sideways look at Sirius.
Harry shrugged, “Well, I thought for the first eleven years of my life my mum and dad died in a car crash. My aunt and uncle never spoke about them so I was left to piece together and, often, make-up in my own mind what happened. Cassion may have thought Sirius was a murderer; if he was with his grandfather, that’s probably the case. But he’d still have some memories.”
“Cass worshipped you,” said Andromeda gently to Sirius who never broke gaze at Harry, “No matter what he was taught, nothing could change that.”
“But he was quite protective of his mother,” sighed Lorna, “That I remember most vividly following Marlene’s death and the awful attack of Frank and Alice.”
“He’d have questions,” conceded Lupin, nodding at Harry to continue, “And probably picked sides with regards to his parents. But I’m interested in your theory Harry. Go on.”
“Well suppose he had a certain idea of what happened, then one day he comes across the Memory Box. He would have learnt the truth, wouldn’t he? That Sirius wasn’t a murderer. That it was really Pettigrew who was behind it all. He’d know about me, Neville, our Godmothers and everything that had happened.”
“The walls to The East are closed,” grunted Mad-Eye, “But I’d wager he could have found a way to piece together what he didn’t know.”
“And he’s come back to seek revenge!” added Ron, as though he was the one who singlehandedly had come to this conclusion. “It makes sense! He would only have to be in the country for a few hours before he learnt Harry was still alive; he’d want to seek revenge for his dad, his mum and everyone else!”
“But not without help,” said an unknown witch, who had been biding her time next to Lorna. “He’d have a hard time entering the country unnoticed for a start. Border security is more stringent than ever; imagine Sirius Black’s son strutting through the barriers without even a comment?! Not to mention he would have been picked up by the Ministry for doing underage magic!”
“True,” sighed Mad-Eye, returning to the board and drawing a line through Cassion’s name. “Though able to plant the box without disruption, he would be unable to travel or produce magic without exposure. Which brings us to the next candidate. Marlene McKinnon.”
“Impossible,” whispered Lupin, “She died. I saw it with my own eyes.”
“All the possibilities,” snapped Mad-Eye before marching in circles at the head of the table, “McKinnon was last seen on the Eastern borders fourteen years ago aged twenty one years. She is one of the owners of the Memory Box, thus easily being able to hold possession. As Godmother to both Potter and Longbottom, it’d be logical she’d do what she could to protect them as well as educating them on who she was and her relationship to them.”
“Impossible,” repeated Lupin, more stubbornly than before.
“She fell through the border,” shrugged Tonks, “Her body was never found. You can’t deny that.”
“Marlene would never have stayed away,” said Lupin firmly. “She would have dragged herself through hell and high water to get back for Harry and Neville.”
“McKinnon was a lot of things,” added Sirius, sighing loudly, “But to consider that she stayed away whilst her Godsons were fending for themselves is preposterous.”
“But if she was in The East?” asked Hermione, looking at each person in the room, “Remember; she allegedly died before everything really started to happen. She wouldn’t know-”
“She’d have come back,” said Sirius firmly, “To ease her own nosiness at the very least. She’d want to know what happened.”
“What if she too, opened the Memory Box though?” suggested Andromeda turning to look at him thoughtfully, “She’d know what had happened. And if there was one thing Marlene was, it was loyal. She’d be back in a heartbeat and like Cass, revenge would be a logical motive. Protect her boys first, then seek out her enemies.”
“She’d have made contact,” said Sirius sighing, “And a scene. Even if she didn’t, I’d be very surprised if she hadn’t at least sought out Moony.”
“Remus,” said Mad-Eye, considering him closely, “Anything unusual happen to you lately? Felt like you’re being watched?”
Lupin shook his head softly, “I’ve been here practically since the end of the Triwizard. I came back with Sirius; I’ve barely been out except for full moon.”
“It could be her though,” said Ginny wistfully, “She’d have a plan and maybe she’d want to carry it out before she let on to anyone she was here.”
“She was declared dead,” said Lorna with a shrug, “If she too has been in the East these past years she couldn’t gain re-entry without some sort of enquiry. Or been able to get about for very long without some sort of identification; I mean, you can’t even buy a wand without it these days-”
“Which brings us to candidate number three,” interrupted Mad-Eye, “Someone who would have been able to quite easily enter the country without being seen, been able to survive quite easily without a wand, have possession of the Memory Box as well as the knowledge and know-how to pull something like this off.”
Sirius’ jaw ground together as Mad-Eye finished, “Isabella Masahara Black.”
“Again,” persisted Lupin, “She would never have stayed hidden.”
“She would have been able to enter the country discreetly due to political amnesty,” Mr Weasley offered. “Under all sorts of secrecy and protection. She’d know her way around, easily mask her magic and spell work as well as track down both Godsons and protect them.”
“She would have come for me by now,” said Sirius quietly, “Whether she knew the truth of my innocence or not. I abandoned her and Cass; I’d have to answer for that. And it would in no way be a quiet affair.”
“She’d have been able to gain entry to the house…” began Hermione, her eyebrows knitting together. Harry could have sworn he could hear her brain rapidly processing information before she jumped up suddenly and gurgled, “I read – before, I – never thought of it till now – I’ll just go-”
And she was out of her chair and out the door in a matter of seconds, tearing through the corridors like the speed of light. Harry shared a look of long suffering and understanding with Ron, before shrugging to the rest of the room that simply looked at them both with a mixture of curiosity and confusion.
A smattering of quiet conversation rumbled amongst the kitchen before Hermione came barrelling back, flicking urgently through the pages of her book.
“Hermione?” asked Lupin politely, “Would you be so kind as to share?”
“I read something before,” she said breathlessly, scanning page by page, “I didn’t connect it till now-here;
One of the many flaws of TheWhisper Watch, popular with schoolgirls in the 1950’s, was it’s unstable foundation. Used to keep secrets or messages that could be played back to the recipient, too much misuse caused the channelling to become blurred or invaded. One case, documented by Healer Barnaby Jones, discovered that the mere presence of the individual witch or wizard who placed the message in the watch, disrupted the communication. He notes that one of his patients, a Miss Lyra Dippets, actually became somewhat mentally ‘splinched’ when unbenknownest to herself, her secrets were being listened to by a friend in an ajoining room.
No one said anything, preferring to wait patiently for a bright eyed and excited Hermione to explain the apparent relationship between Lyra Dippets and the matter at hand.
“Don’t you see?” she said after a moment, her face reflecting a long sufferance of slower brains than hers, “Remember when we heard Marlene’s voice? They’ve got the Memory Box? And Isabella’s imprint saying that something was happening but she didn’t know what? I think that could have been this disruption Barnaby Jones had documented. They could have been here the whole time, affecting the broadcast of the memories.”
“I like your theory,” said Lupin slowly, “But surely she could have invoked a stronger or more informative message?”
"If she was weak in some way?” suggested Tonks, but Lupin shook his head, “Izzy was incredibly powerful, even at her weakest. Most especially when it came to protecting one of her own – remember Mulciber?”
“What if we’re looking at this the wrong way?” asked Mr Weasley thoughtfully, turning to Mad-Eye and pointing at the board. “We’re assuming we’re looking for an individual; what if it is all three? Each has a motive, each has the means to assist the other as well as hold them in check.”
Mad-Eye stood for a moment, reflecting on this before marching up to the board and rapping his wand smartly against it, causing the written words to flitter about and make a new circular formation. “Three instead of one. Like the last theory, it has its possibilities as well as its flaws. But staying concealed from those closest to them…”
He beat his wooden leg methodically at the floor as he thought out loud, “Unlike them.”
“It’s not possible,” said Lupin quite loudly, the lines of face going hard, “I would love nothing better than to see Marls, Izzy or Cass walk through that door but they would have made contact by now!”
“What’s our intelligence say about what’s going on within enemy lines?” asked Lorna, chewing on a hangnail, “Because I’d wager they’re after much the same as many of us in this room.”
A few raised an eyebrow before she coughed and reached for her goblet, “Pettigrew.”
“What’s he got to do with anything?” scoffed Sirius nastily, “Either of those girls could have him strung up by his ankles in a five seconds. And if my son grew up to be half the man he was on track to be, he’d have him up in two.”
“No, I see her point,” interjected Tonks, as Lorna glared at Sirius, “It doesn’t take a genius to work out it was probably Pettigrew that blew the whistle the night they moved Neville – just watching the memories told us that much. Plus we all know he is responsible for what happened in Godric’s Hollow. I think it makes perfect sense as to motive; Pettigrew is to blame for what happened to Alice, Frank, James and Lily. And he was responsible for what happened to Marlene, to Isabella and by association Cassion.”
“Good, clean and logical,” grunted Mad-Eye as Tonks beamed, “If we’re thinking they’re going after Pettigrew then we’re further along in this. All three of them have scores to settle and to catch the rat, they’ll have to be strategic. He may be stupid but he’s got big friends. Friends that may not care for him but know his worth. Through knowledge and sheer weakness, he’s made himself invaluable to them. Until he’s caught, they’re limited in movement.”
“They’d protect their most precious assets first,” nodded Mrs Weasley, motioning to Harry, “Ensure there was no way for You Know Who to get at them if their cover is blown. As a mother, it’s what I’d do. No one can get at Harry here and Neville is probably also untouchable. I’d also expect young Cassion wouldn’t be let out of Isabella’s sight as well.”
“Isabella still has a warrant out for her arrest,” piped up the unknown wizard, “Crouch may be gone but Fudge wouldn’t miss an opportunity to bring in Sirius Black’s wife. It’d do wonders for his reputation. Plus Cassion couldn’t go to school or even be seen; I remember the little tyke and I’ll wager he’s the spitting image still of his dad.”
“And Marlene would have to bite her tongue,” said Andromeda slowly, gradually buying into the theory, “Even she’d have to know her own weaknesses. Given half the chance she’d make a godawful scene and blow the whole plan out of the water.”
“But there’s no proof,” said Lupin bitterly, “It’s all well and good to suppose all of this but it could be anyone-”
He was interrupted as unknown movement grew louder from the front of the house; as the noise became more pronounced, Mad-Eye grunted, “That’ll be Kingsley with the Longbottom boy.”
Harry craned his neck to see over Ron’s head as about five witches and wizards crowded into the room, Kingsley at the centre with a strong hand on a rather frightened looking Neville’s shoulder. He watched him give a watery smile to the room before visibly gulping as Professor McGonagall stalked in, looking rather peeved.
“Well we’re here,” she snapped, taking of her cloak and dusting it violently, “And goodness knows that’s saying something.”
“We had a bit of a time with Mrs Longbottom,” provided Kingsley, his deep voice lilting with laughter, “I can’t imagine it was easy being come upon by an armed guard however she didn’t let us off lightly.”
McGonagall snorted angrily, “I would have thought considering the circumstances, we’d have been provided with the utmost assistance!”
“She’s a tough ole’ lady,” coughed a wheezy wizard, dusting off his hat, “A righ’ kook. Bu’ we go’ young Neville out, didn’t we lad?”
“Alright?” asked Ron as Neville was ushered into the seat by Hermione, his face going white as a particularly mean looking Sirius sat opposite.
“How’s it going?” asked Harry, suddenly seeing the resemblance in his friend for the first time. His face was round like Alice’s, his nose and eyes like Frank.
“Y-yeah,” muttered Neville, casting a sideways look at Sirius, “Oi, isn’t that-?”
“Neville,” cut in Lupin, smiling warmly and extending his hand, “Nice to see you again. I’m not sure you’ve met my old friend and Harry’s Godfather, Sirius Black?”
Neville looked like he’d eaten his grandmother’s hat as Sirius strained a smile and said, rather drily, “I gather by your whitish tinge, you’re of the belief I’m a raging homicidal maniac. I can’t answer for first thing in the morning, but I can assure you I’m quite harmless. I was a good friend of your mum and dad’s. Frank was one hell of a man and I was a real fan of old Chambers.”
“He’s been briefed,” said McGonagall, marching up to stand by Mad-Eye at the head of the table and rustling a few items around in a cotton bag in preparation, “And it was clear that he has no idea about this Memory Box nor who sent it. But we did find a few things at the house and he provided us with some interesting information.”
All eyes swivelled to look at Neville who had begun to sweat slightly.
“My room had been touched,” he mumbled, as Mrs Weasley, setting down a plate of sandwiches in front of him asked kindly, “How do you mean, Neville dear?”
“Well, it wasn’t cleaned as such,” he said, picking limply at his meal, “But things were moved. I thought gran’s elf had been in there but…I dunno. It was like someone had rearranged my stuff. And added things.”
“Which I brought…” McGonagall stood staring at the board, mouthing the names silently. She paused for a moment before turning to Lupin and Sirius, “Is it really those girls, do you think?”
Lupin remained cold, “We have no proof they are alive.”
Sirius shrugged lifelessly; Harry caught a tender sympathy touch McGonagall’s expression before she pulled herself up straight, “Well we may have some clues. This was the first foreign item we found-”
She produced a single leaf and briskly dusted it down, its dull edges crumpling slightly. Harry couldn’t help but feel enormously let down.
“Though it appears ordinary,” she began, quite loudly and with annoyance, as everyone snuck sideways looks at one another “We believe this to be a protective charm.”
“Come again?” asked Sirius, echoes of the schoolboy sarcasm lilting his tones, before Lupin asked sharply, “Minerva, let me see that.”
Everyone snapped their eyes to Lupin, who had strode over to McGonagall and grabbed the frail leaf. He studied it for a second, tipping it this way and that, before holding it up to his eyeline and staring along the surface.
Sirius exhaled impatiently before Lupin said quietly, “It’s a leaf from the nest of a Knupcluck.”
Ron snorted at the abstract word as Hermione glared at him, hard.
“A knupcluck?” asked Sirius with an edge to his voice, “The ugliest looking bird in Europe? How is this relevant?”
“The knupcluck,” said Lupin calmly, “Is a highly magical creature, envoking sophisticated protective magic around the nest holding its young.”
“The leaves,” said Sirius rolling his eyes, “Are also good on a curry. Simmer one on top of the sauce before serving. Preferably with chips. Neville’s nan probably liked the same thing.”
“This leaf still holds magic,” and Lupin lightly tapped the leaf with his wand causing it to hum and smoke slightly, “The leaves you like on your curry are stripped. Because if they’re not, it’d kill you quicker than you can say knupcluck. This one is still fresh.”
Sirius still looked unconvinced before Kingsley asked thoughtfully, “Aren’t those creatures almost extinct?”
“Too many curries, you see,” said Sirius in a mock tone to Lupin.
“Everywhere except Bulgaria,” said Lupin loudly, raising an eyebrow at Sirius. “Shut it with the sarcasm Padfoot and have a think about that.”
Sirius stared at him for a moment before saying quietly, “No – she gave up long ago-”
Lupin looked horribly let down as he sat down hard at the table. “But it’s possible they’d have entrusted the memory box to her. Possible that she felt Harry should have it. Possible she did the whole thing.”
Andromeda cast a look at Mrs Weasley before asking softly, “Anyone going to share?”
“It’s Mary,” said Sirius bitterly, pushing his chair back as he stood up violently, “It’s Mary effing McDonald.”
As he stormed angrily out of the room, Harry felt a heavy disappointment wash over him. Bitter, angry disappointment.
Mary McDonald, the close friend of his mother and her friends. Risked her life for them countless times. The friend who had left long ago, unable to face the past.
“But it still could be…?” asked Ginny timidly, looking to Tonks for encouragement.
Tonks simply shrugged and glanced at Mad-Eye who was magicking away his blackboard.
“McDonald,” he said grimly, dusting off his hands, “Even I was blinded.”
“They could have easily given her the box,” said Lupin quietly, his face and voice hollow. “Asked her to keep it for safe keeping. She went back to Bulgaria with her old boyfriend after the first war. The rumblings of Voldemort’s return must have reached her shores. Brought back the old memories.”
“But how did it get into the house?” asked Ron, “We would have seen her.”
“Does it matter?” asked Lupin bitterly. He stood up and ran a hand over his tired face as he whispered, “Blinded by those old memories. Saw what wasn’t there…”
As he turned and walked away, Harry felt the sharp sting of a tear fill his eyes.
He glanced up at his Godfather again, who was staring maddeningly at the large bird perched on the highest corner of the bookshelf