There was a moment of silence as the bright red light disappeared with a snap, before chaos reigned.
Everyone began to shout; Mad-Eye took charge, barking orders of who was to leave the house first and with whom. Mr Weasley was arguing with the twins to stay put as they fought back they were of age to help. Lupin was yelling madly at Sirius who had taken on his Animagus form and was charging violently at anyone who stood in between his way and the door. Andromeda was sending for Dumbledore, Tonks fell onto a pile of plates in her haste to prepare, sending them crashing to the ground like lashings of thunder. Kingsley was attempting a complicated disguise on himself and Order members around him, designed to make their appearance transparent. Mrs Weasley was calling for her children. Lorna was shouting for calm. Ron looked as though he might wet himself with excitement. Hermione looked frightened. Neville looked bewildered.
As Harry felt himself tugged and pulled through the commotion, everyone falling about themselves, Mad-Eye blasted an invisible horn that had everyone wincing and shielding their ears as it threatened to crack their very skulls.
“Will everyone just shut UP! We must stay calm – you will keep your heads and go no where until we have a plan!”
“We should go in groups,” announced McGonagall, looking harassed as Tonks fell about around her trying to clean up the broken dishes. “For heavens sake Nymphadora-”
“I’ll head out first-” called Remus, impatiently pushing his way to the front, “I’ll know-”
“We go in groups,” interrupted Mad-Eye, “Minerva, Arthur – we’ll go together. Tonks; you, Kingsley and Lorna will watch the perimeter, but stay close to the house. Do not let anyone past without a fight. Andromeda– you and Molly will stay with the children and prepare to apparate them out at any sign of attack. Sirius-”
Sirius had transformed quickly back and looked mutinous, “I will not stay indoors-”
Mad-Eye gave an annoyed grunt, “Of course you’re bloody well not. Apart from it being totally pointless to stop you, we need you.”
Sirius looked stunned. He barely blinked as Kingsley pushed past him and stood in Mad-Eye’s face. “Alastor! We can’t risk-what if he’s-?”
“We need him,” grunted Mad-Eye with shrug. “That’s the end of it.”
“You think it wise?!” accused McGonagall sharply, “What if he’s seen-”
“He’ll blow us out of the water!” shouted Lorna, looking to a dumpy wizard for support, “After all the work we’ve done to keep him concealed-”
“Outrageous to even suggest-”
“-with the entire country looking for him-”
Harry noticed a spark erupting behind Sirius’ eyes as the bickering went on; the light of his former self returning. The need to be needed, the need to be back fighting.
“Sirius will leave the house first,” insisted Mad-Eye, waving his hand to shoosh the noise, “And that’s it. He knows the area backwards, and we could use the canine senses. Moreover, if it’s one of those girls, they’ll recognise and trust immediately.”
Harry turned to grin at Sirius as Mad-Eye continued, “But I want no theatrics Black. No risks; any attempt to expose yourself, or this order-”
“Expose the Order?!” spluttered Sirius, “Do you honestly think I would-”
“I think” said Mad-Eye, fighting to keep his tone calm, “That you are a man who before this night, had nothing left to fight for. If you go tearing out there, full guns blazing and it’s You Know Who behind this, you’re done for and will take all of us down with you. He knows a lot about you, Black; your wife was a jewel he badly wanted for his crown and he studied both of you closely, trying to infiltrate. He knows how you think, how you act, how you operate. To fill your head of the past; the memories of the love and happiness you once had and dangle them in front of you? You’re out, like a duck in the firing line within minutes. You need to remember you have ties – whether they’re weak or irreparable, to the Eastern Empire and we can’t be sure your legacy does not live on, entwined with their future-”
“I know Alastor-”
“-and you’re also Harry Potter’s Godfather in case you’d forgotten.”
Sirius gave a derisive snort, “Of course I’ve not-”
“Just mind yourself,” growled Mad-Eye, “It could be a trap and we’re all relying on you-”
Sirius looked appropriately chastised as he said quietly, “I’ll keep myself in check, don’t worry about that.”
Mad-Eye grunted, “If it’s who we think it is out there, they will recognise you first and be more likely to trust you. Remus? You will go with him; I want both of you vigilant and with your wits about you.”
Lupin looked stoic though excited. He exchanged a firm look with Sirius that reflected the significance of what was about to happen.
Mad-Eye regained his grim demeanour, “This is either a rescue mission or a strategic plan of attack. No one is to be a hero; if it is unsafe, retreat. If you get even the smallest inkling of suspicion, raise the alarm.”
Everyone prepared to move, Mrs Weasley ushering her children towards the upstairs, Fred and George looking only slightly placated as Mad-Eye himself told them to stay put as they’d need to help the younger ones apparate if needed. As they moved quietly through the hall and to the stairs, a hand touched Harry’s shoulder and pulled him back.
Sirius had a strange expression, as though he were halfway to euphoria but had stopped short at hesitation. Lupin stood beside him, with a similar look and Harry wasn’t sure what was about to be said.
“Stay safe,” said Sirius gruffly, gripping his shoulder tightly. “If this isn’t-well, if we don’t-”
“We’ll be back,” Lupin finished in quiet, reassuring tones. “We all know what we hope for, but have not forgotten what it is to be at war. Do what is asked of you, Harry. If you must leave, do it.”
“Don’t wait for us,” added Sirius warningly, “Get yourself out.”
Harry nodded, not sure of how he should act as he watched them all prepare to go through the front door. Sirius gave him one last pat on the shoulder before transforming into a dog. He paced for a few moments before glancing up at Lupin and trotting towards the door. Lupin took a deep breath and said softly, “We will only draw up the alarm should there be trouble; if we find them first, we’ll bring them back without signalling. We can’t be sure this place isn’t being watched regardless of what we’ve seen. If we need to take them to shelter, we will.”
Hermione tugged Harry to follow them up the stairs; as they reached the first floor landing he looked back to see the front door open and Sirius and Lupin disappear into the night.
Mad-Eye signalled quietly for the rest to follow and Harry kept moving up the floors of the old, decrepit house.
As they climbed higher, the hallways narrowing and spiralling, dark whispers sounding from hidden portraits, Harry trained his ears to hear what was happening outside. Useless though it was, as they were gaining on three stories above street level, he was desperate to know what was unfolding. He felt a knock behind him – Neville losing his footing.
“Sorry,” mumbled Neville, managing a weak smile, “Preoccupied.”
Harry nodded, sympathising entirely.
As they rounded the final flight of stairs and onto a dark landing lit only with old lamps Mrs Weasley and Andromeda were lighting, Harry briefly took in his surroundings.
It was a small space in absolute disarray. A few boxes looked to have been thrown around, contents spilling out randomly with the smell of old, stale air. As Hermione wrinkled her nose at the state of things, Mrs Weasley muttered furiously, “Just look at the mess he’s made! Clothes, toys-”
“These looked worn in,” interrupted Andromeda sharply, holding up a black jumper and shaking it. “See this here Molly? Stains – gravy by the looks of it.”
Mrs Weasley narrowed her eyes as she leaned into the jumper, giving it a small sniff. She snorted crossly before snatching the jumper and throwing it to Ron, “I don’t know how many times I need to ask you to keep your things tidy. Honestly. We are guests-”
“S’not mine!” exclaimed Ron indignantly, “Never seen it before.”
Mrs Weasley looked unconvinced. “Well it certainly looks like it is-”
“It isn’t,” snapped Ron, turning the jumper over in his hands, “It looks too small. Must be Harry’s.”
Harry picked up the jumper, and held it up, “Not mine. Too big for me.”
“It looks like someone was sleeping here,” cut in Ginny, holding up a worn blanket and gesturing to a pillow next to a box.
“And eating,” added Fred, picking up a muggle cereal box, “These are still fresh.”
Wands were immediately raised, Andromeda muttering homenum incantartum as they all held their breath.
As the flickering light of the old lamps danced across the peeling walls, nothing but the whispers of the old house reached them. Everyone glanced at one another before Ron breathed, “Just us.”
“Do you think whoever delivered The Memory Box was sleeping here?” whispered Hermione suddenly. “None of us have been up here-”
They all shared a knowing look before pouncing on belongings, upturning objects and scouring the floor, desperate for a clue.
“I’d bet my wand this is where the deliverer was staying!” said Ron gleefully, picking up a half eaten box of every flavoured beans, “We could figure out who just by-”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” wheezed Andromeda, helping Mrs Weasley upturn a heavy blanket covering a pile of boxes with much effort, “It could be one of the Order, camping out for all we know.”
“A real nose for mystery this one,” snorted Fred, giving Ron (who was an inch from the carpet as though he were sniffing for clues) a swift kick, “A real Inspector Dectector he is.”
“What is this?” asked Neville, picking up a dusty old book of London streetmaps, “Looks like a bunch of muggle stuff.”
“Could be Sirius’s things,” contemplated Andromeda picking a things in a box, “It could have been him up here. He’d been creeping around this house for months before we all got here-oh!”
She snatched up an old dusty object, its glossy cover briefly twinkling in the light before she hugged it to her. She knelt down, cradling the book before dabbing at her eyes, “It’s-this is all – it’s- ”. She waved her hand at all the boxes, “This is all of Sirius’s old life.”
She held up the book, Harry the Steam Engine.
Harry grinned as she opened the cover to reveal Cassion written a dozen times in barely legible childish scrawl. Food stains covered the dog-eared pages, the battered cover barely holding them all together.
“Oh look,” gushed Mrs Weasley picking up a photo frame, “Oh Harry this must be you!”
Everyone chuckled as the passed the frame to Harry, its contents revealing a young Sirius and James, both giddy with excitement under a banner that read World Cup – 1981. Harry was strapped to James’s chest, a strange contraption restraining all movement except a weak newborn arm whilst Cassion was careering wildly about on Sirius’s shoulders, screaming and shouting silently.
“What’s this?” asked George, picking up a small square-shaped locket. “Looks intriguing.”
“A pendant of some sort?” mused Fred, “Could have been Isabella’s.”
“I know what it is!” cut in Ginny, casting aside a muggle potato peeler, “It’s that memory capsule – remember? Isabella got it for Cassion to-”
Harry grabbed it from George and held it in the palm of his hand, a small fluttering of excitement in his chest. “It has a message,” he murmured, a small smile touching his lips as he unclipped the locket, the anticipation of seeing his Godmother lifting his spirits. “Remember?”
They all fell silent as a small beam burst from the locket as Harry opened it. It quivered as though cold for a few moments, before it exploded silently into a dusty figure.
Harry’s heart accelerated as he saw her shape take form for the second time in 72 hours. More a projected image than patronus-like this time, Isabella flickered to full coloured life, right there on the lounge room floor.
“Bloody hell-” began Ron, jumping in fright as the young woman all but appeared between his legs.
The twins let out a snort of laughter before Ginny smacked George hard on the arm.
Isabella was sitting cross-legged, looking expectant. She behaved like a memory, her movements and attention oblivious to the startled group around her. She hummed for a moment before giving a small sigh, rolling her eyes.
She lifted her arm, urging someone over before she spoke, her voice sounding out as though she were right there in the room:
“Cass? Come on baby, we need to do the message.”
A little noise sounded, just behind an old armchair in the corner. Andromeda immediately went towards it, casting her eyes desperately all over before giving a muffled cry as a little voice called out,
“I’m coming mummy!”
“No now, baby. Quickly.”
She raised her eyebrows to a stern expression before a little figure came running from behind the armchair, a battered wolf tightly in his hands.
Cassion was grinning, as he held up a small toy trumpet and blasted it loudly, following it with a large scream;
“HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAPPY CHRISTMAS DADDY!”
He fell into Isabella in a fit of giggles, arms waving as she laughed softly, smiling up at no one in particular, “Happy Christmas from me too. What else do we want to say?”
“We love you,” grinned Cassion widely, “And you’re the best daddy in the whole big world.”
She gave him a tickle, his baby giggles shrieking happily around the room.
“And what do we want Daddy to know if he’s not here?”
Cassion sat up, looking sad, “That we miss him.”
“That’s right baby. But it’s never too long till he comes home, right?”
She gave a big smile and went to cuddle him only Cassion didn’t move. He just stared blankly at her, watching her go through the movements of holding him and talking to him.
“It isn’t time yet,” he muttered, as though stepping out of a trance. He squatted down on the floor, his little hands twisting and turning around Wolfie’s arm as disappointment swam over his face. “It isn’t time.”
“I know what we can do!” Isabella clucked at him, retrieving a small story book from behind her, “Let’s read daddy a story!”
Cassion looked up to stare anxiously towards the small dirty window, as though he were waiting for someone. He gave a little sigh as he said as an aside, his voice flat and bored, “It’s the one Aunty Mar’s got us.”
“Yes! We all love this one don’t we? Daddy Padfoot and puppy. We can read it together.”
“Okay mummy.” It was as though he were blankly reading lines. “But I get to do the woofs.”
She shuffled around as though nestling him into her lap, and opened the cover. Cassion still hadn’t moved; he just continued to stare into space, anxiety twisting his little features.
“Mummy?” His voice was quiet against her sing-song narration; distracted and worried. “It isn’t the right time. I’m sorry.”
“Once upon a time, Daddy Padfoot…”
Harry cast a glance at the others, his thoughts mirrored in their faces. Something was definitely not right.
Isabella continued, oblivious to her son’s behaviour. Cassion just sat, operating in a completely different sphere from hers.
“What’s going on?” whispered Ginny, her eyes wide, “Is he possessed? Why isn’t she doing something?”
“I don’t know,” murmured Hermione from beside her, squatting down to Cassion’s eye level. “It’s as though he’s not part of the message. He seems to know his role, playing his part as he should, but he’s also removed-”
She stopped short as Cassion stood up, his little face scrunched as he drew Wolfie to his mouth and chewed on his ear.
They all glanced nervously around before he turned right to Hermione and asked, “Where’s my daddy?”
She gave a small yelp and fell backwards into Ginny.
Cassion looked annoyed. He stared around at the others who were backing away in alarm before spotting Mrs Weasley. He toddled over and aimed to tug at her skirt.
“Have you seen my daddy?”
“I’ve been waiting for him.”
He looked upset now, turning on the spot and twisting himself inward, clutching Wolfie in a definitive childish pose. “Want my daddy.”
He ran to Isabella, who was still animatedly reading the story, trying to get her attention, “Mummy’s not here no more. I’m scared. I need to help her.”
“Cass?” Andromeda’s voice was barely visible as she walked towards him and knelt down. Harry felt a little tug on his heart as a lone tear slid down her cheek.
He turned and broke into a little smile when he saw her. He toddled over, his body relaxing as he cupped her face with his baby hands,
“Dromy. Find daddy.”
“He’s-” She struggled for a moment before saying, “He’s just gone out.”
He gave a cross little stamp, throwing wolfie to the ground. “He isn’t. He’s meant to be here.”
“He’s gone out to find-”
“He’s meant to find me fiiiiiiiiiirrrsssst.”
Cassion was breaking into a rage, his eyes filling with tears and his face going red, “No NO. Daddy HERE!”
“Shh now Cass. Can you tell Dromy why mummy can’t hear you?”
“Please Cass?” She looked desperate, watching him hiccup himself into a state, “Cass-”
“I can’t find her.”
“When did you last see her?”
“Don’t know. Can only speak to daddy”
“You can tell me? I’m sure he won’t mind.”
“Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! I’m not allowed to tell no one but daddy!”
Andromeda looked desperately around, searching their faces for a solution.
“Harry,” whispered Hermione from near the armchair, “You try!”
“He won’t recognise Harry!” hissed back Ron, “He remembers him as a baby; what’s he going to do if he-”
“It’s worth a shot!” snapped Ginny quietly, “Harry, talk to him!”
“What can I say?” Harry looked at the memory toddler, crying and shouting, his projected self tearing madly at his jumpsuit. He was gearing up for a big tantrum.
“For heavens sake,” hissed Hermione, “He’s a toddler, he won’t bite you! He’s not even real!”
He glared at her before rolling his eyes and approaching Cassion.
“Er-” He glanced at Andromeda who gave him an encouraging nod, smiling as he crouched beside her, “Um, Cassion?”
He refused to look at him, his face beetroot red and lips puffed into a pout. He huffed on the spot before sulking, “What?”
“Could you maybe tell me?” He took a deep breath, “See, I know your dad-”
Cassion’s surprise had left his tantrum temporarily at bay; he stared into Harry’s face before his brow scrunched into suspicion, “Where’s Aunty ‘ily?”
“I’m not Prongs, Cassion. I’m Harry.”
Cassion stared at him for a moment before he unwound his limbs from his body and tentatively approached him.
“Yes. I’m a bit older now-”
“Where is Neville?”
“I’m er, I’m here.” Neville’s voice was full of surprise. He stepped out of the shadows to crouch next to Harry. “I’m here-”
Cassion froze for a beat before his face broke into a grin. He reached out and seemed to feel the air around his face. He looked to Harry and nodded.
“You are Harry. And you are Neville. Here in daddy’s old house.”
Harry glanced at the others before nodded again. “Yes. Now when you say your mum is hurt-”
“It is time.”
He giggled before turning to Isabella who was still reading, “Daddy will be here soon!”
He turned back and, with an alarming clarity spoke very quickly, “When he arrives, you must call us back. We are the only ones to help.”
And in a flash, he and Isabella disappeared.
There was a humming silence where everyone just stared dumbly at the dormant locket in Harry’s palm.
“Well that was….weird,” began Ron, “I mean, what in the he-”
“I don’t understand?” announced Ginny looking confused, “Does this mean he’s alive? Or is his imprint being used in the same manner as the Memory Box?”
“It’s those two old women,” began Harry, “I think-”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” said Mrs Weasley firmly, “Let’s just wait-”
“It’s definitely them,” said Harry quietly, ignoring the look she shot Andromeda, “I know you don’t think it is, but-”
“It does fit,” needled Hermione, sharing a little grin with Ginny, “And it’s too much of a coincidence-”
“It could all be part of the charms,” said Andromeda hopelessly, “We can’t jump to conclusions. As Ginny said-
Harry snorted angrily, “You saw it! You heard it!”
“I know Harry. But let’s just wait till everyone returns-”
Neville gave a sigh, all attention shifting to him, “The protection they used on us was pretty powerful, wasn’t it? And McGonagall mentioned something about that Isabella woman appearing out of the box swaying she was an imprint. It could be nothing.”
Harry looked at him in disbelief, “What do you mean? It’s obviously-”
“I’m just saying,” muttered Neville despondently, “It’s all a little too good to be true thinking you and I are going to meet our long-lost Godmothers, don’t you think? Things like that just don’t happen. People get hurt. People die. Not everyone gets a happy ending.”
“Neville. You haven’t seen what we have. It can’t all just be nothing-”
“You’re right, I’ve not seen. Let’s just wait until they’re back.”
Harry looked to the others for support but no one would provide. They all watched Neville rub his tired eyes, a sort of defeated sadness radiating from his body. Harry watched him roughly pick up an old photo album and go to the furthest corner, sit down and begin to look through.
“Mate,” said Ron quietly, putting a hand on his shoulder and urging him to stand up, “Let’s just leave it for now, okay?”
“You’re beginning to sound like Sirius,” hissed Hermione crossly, her eyes watching Neville switch himself off from everyone around him. “Just leave it.”
Harry nodded, though he felt anything but in agreement.
The minutes passed slowly in silence, everybody finding somewhere to sit and stretch out. Neville remained where he was, pouring over old photographs, asking Ginny questions every so often about who she recognised from the memories. Ron dozed in the opposite corner, his long gangly legs crossed awkwardly in the confined space. Mrs Weasley sat on an upturned box, folding and repacking the boxes with motherly care. Andromeda sat staring at the flickering light, lost in her thoughts as beside her, Hermione continued to pour over her books on magical capsules and their uses. The twins played a lazy game of cards, both bearing identical bored expressions whilst Harry sat on the ledge of a small, dirty window staring aimlessly into the dark night.
After 2 hours, his eyelids began to get heavy. His mind exhausted with thoughts and worry, his heart giving up hope that the Order would return with any answers. As he stood up to stretch, he caused a disturbance amongst a pile of books at his feet.
“Sorry,” he muttered, as everyone perked up to look at him, “Didn’t see…”
“What time is it?” yawned Ginny, “It feels like we’ve been up here forever.”
“After 3,” sighed Andromeda glancing at her watch, “I wonder what’s keeping them.”
“There’s been no sign, no message,” offered Mrs Weasley, dusting her hands from handling some old books, “I’m sure they’re fine.”
“Any food about?” yawned Ron, unfolding himself awkwardly like a newborn fawn, “I’m starving. I feel like I haven’t eaten for days-”
“You ate that old cereal an hour ago,” said Hermione mildly, “I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
“I should be able to conjure something from the kitchen,” began Mrs Weasley, rising from her seat, “I’ll whip up some-”
She stopped as they all pricked their ears to movement downstairs. With some unknown dormant energy they all jumped up, wands raised before Andromeda waved her hand for silence. They waited in bated breath before they heard Mad-Eye call, “We’re back.”
They thundered down the stairs like elephants, Harry and Neville at the front almost stampeding through the old house. They all but flew into the kitchen where Mad-Eye, Mr Weasley, Kingsley and a handful of the rest of the Order were rubbing their eyes in exhaustion, searching for refreshment and generally looking defeated.
“What happened?” asked Harry breathlessly, “Where’s Sirius?”
“No idea,” muttered Mad-Eye, easing with some difficulty into a chair. He groaned as he rubbed the buckle of his wooden leg, “They sent a signal they were safe and returning a few minutes ago and for us all to retreat back to headquarters. Most of the others went home or back to their patrol points.”
“Have they found them?” demanded Andromeda, looking to Tonks who was yawning widely, “Is it those girls?”
“We don’t know,” sighed McGonagall, accepting a cup of hot tea from Mrs Weasley, “We’ve been prowling for hours out there with no sign or indication of anything. They both disappeared out into the night and we’ve heard nothing but the message before-”
“While you were gone,” began Harry, “We found a pendant-”
“That’ll be them,” sighed Mr Weasley, heaving himself up at the sound of the front door opening, “I’ll meet them on the way in and see you all later. I’m exhausted and need some sleep.”
“Let’s just hope Sirius hasn’t lost it,” muttered Mad-Eye, leaning on his cane to lurch himself up, “That’ll be an event in itself.”
Kinglsey gave him a lift under the elbow before walking towards the corridor, “It’ll be hard on him if it turns out to be nothing.”
“But it is something-” began Harry again desperately, “There was a pendant, and Isa-”
“Good grief-” and Kingsley suddenly broke into a run down the corridor, “Are they hurt-”
“What’s going on!” shouted Mad-Eye running for the corridor, everybody stampeding behind him, “Get back, get back!” he snarled as Ron accidently elbowed him in the ribs.
They all stepped back to allow him through, Andromeda and McGonagall next and watched them run to Sirius and Lupin who were cradling two broken figures between them.
Harry felt his heart jumping in his throat as he saw them carry the two old women to the sitting room. Hurrying behind them, he began to make desperate pleas to higher powers to ensure the safety of the new arrivals. Let them be okay. Let them be okay to tell us what we need to know.
Both women were laid on the sofas, confusion and madness sweeping with hysteria throughout the household. Mr Weasley was calling to the twins to help him light the fire for warmth, and to get extra blankets and pillows for the patients. Mrs Weasley and Andromeda were administering basic healing and calling for Emmeline to assist. Lorna, Mad-Eye and Kingsley were firing questions around various other Order members about what was going on, whilst Harry and his friends absorbed the chaos with dazed faces.
“I’m going back,” called Lupin as Sirius was holding the hand of one of the women, pleading in mixtures of Eastern and English, “To find the others she spoke of!”
“Remus wait!” demanded Mad-Eye, “You can’t-”
“There’s no time,” cut in Sirius, reaching to the other old woman who was stirring and begging at her to start speaking, “This one kept repeating you need to stop them, you need to stop them, they’re going after You-Know-Who.”
“I’ll go with you,” said Kingsley, nodding to Lorna and Sturgis who readily agreed, “We’ll follow you.”
“Do you have a plan?” insisted Mad-Eye, grabbing Lupin by the sleeve of his shirt, “Do you have a place to even start? If they’re out there to find You-Know-Who you will need to be damn sure-”
“There is no time!” shouted Lupin, “They know something but this one’s unconscious and the other is clearly tongue-tied-”
“Then we lift the curse!” called Emmaline, rushing forward with a bag of viles, “Move aside Sirius! I am a healer and-”
“No one leaves!” shouted Mad-Eye pointing his wand at Lupin who had shaken him off, “If they have friends who have gone after You-Know-Who then there is nothing we can do if we don’t know how to intercept! Stay put till we can get some answers-”
“This one is badly injured,” muttered Mrs Weasley, as she tended to the unconscious woman, “See this cut here?” She pointed to the neck of the woman where a dark, vicious wound was oozing and smoking, “This is dark magic-”
Harry moved closer to the unconscious woman, desperate to recognise. She was old; her skin wrinkled and body frail. She lay like a limp ragdoll in oversized plain robes, blood running and dripping from a multitude of cuts over her face and partially exposed arms. Bruises were blossoming on her cheeks and lips. She looked like she’d been beaten repeatedly.
He looked over at the other woman who was vaguely lucid; her eyes were rolling in their sockets as she mumbled and gurgled. She wore the same plain robes, her aged body crumpled in a half heap on the floor as Sirius begged and pleaded with her.
“Who are you?” urged Andromeda, moving from the unconscious woman to allow Lorna and McGonagall through to assist, “Who sent you?”
The old woman looked up, her eye was bleeding and she seemed to understand what was being asked. She babbled something before lifting a weak arm to Lupin. She made a gesture for him to go as she hiccupped back tears, then looked back to Sirius and gave him a weak shove.
“We must go,” began Sirius, stepping away, “The others can care for her-”
“It’s clearly us she wants to go!”
“She needs to be calmed and healed,” shot Mrs Weasley, interrupting any other conversation. She was busily bandaging the many wounds on the unconscious woman and sewing up cuts with her wand, “We cannot be convinced she is aware of anything until-”
“She knows who you are,” cut in Tonks, pulling Sirius back and ushering Lupin over. “Have you met her before, Sirius?”
“Never,” he whispered. He searched the face desperately as the woman babbled, “There’s a familiarity but I can’t put it into words. Please!” He gripped the woman’s hands tightly, “Please! Do you know my wife? My son? Marlene McKinnon?”
The woman babbled, nodding her head and grabbed at her hair. She pulled away from him, standing up and clawing at her hands and face, as though she were trying to get out of her skin.
“She’s not well,” whispered Hermione looking upset, “She’s- she’s-”
“There’s got to be a way we can lift this tongue-tie,” began Emmeline, conjuring books from thin air, “Nothing basic is working-”
They watched her retrieve various viles, passing some over to Mrs Weasley to administer to the unconscious woman, whilst trying to speak soothing words to the other, “Can you tell us your name? Where are you from? Who hurt you?”
The woman gave a panicked sound, continuing to pull at her body.
“We need to get them to St Mungo’s,” said Lorna softly, “Goodness knows what’s happened-”
“Please!” begged Harry, pushing to the front and causing the woman to stop grabbing suddenly. “You know something,” he said, pulling Neville beside him, “Do you know who I am? Who this is?”
The woman nodded, a look of immense heartbreak and happiness mingled in her expression.
“You know about the Memory Box,” he continued, looking to Sirius, “And you know who he is. Please, we want to help!”
The woman began to cry heavily, gasping for air as she started to tear at her throat, and pulling at her tongue as though she could physically unravel it.
“The pendant,” shot Ron suddenly, “Remember what Cassion-”
Hermione was already tearing out the door and up the stairs.
“What about Cassion?” snapped Sirius sharply, “What’s going on?”
“While you were gone,” began Harry, feeling suddenly flustered by his Godfather and Lupin’s piercing stares, “We found that pendant Isabella put a message in for you, that Christmas…”
“What did it say?” demanded Lupin urgently, “Did they give you a clue?”
“Just that he was waiting for you-”
“What did he look like? Is he alive?”
“He was a toddler,” urged Andromeda, standing up to calm Sirius who was beside himself, “And he said that he needed you and to call him back on your return. He said he’s the only one who could help.”
“Let me see it!” called Mad-Eye, grabbing the pendant from Hermione’s hand as she came skidding back into the room. She flinched at the snatch, grumbling to herself as she took up place between Ron and Harry.
Mad-Eye turned it over in his hands, held it up to eye-level and ran his gaze over the surface. “Seems benign…who did you say appeared?”
“Isabella and Cassion-”
“What were they doing?”
“Leaving a Christmas message for Sirius, but-”
“And they looked as you remembered them?”
“No differences? No departures from their memory?”
He glared at the annoyed and impatient looks from everyone in the room. “We shouldn’t be randomly opening objects that we have not yet examined-”
“We’ve NO TIME!” shouted Emmeline, pointed to the conscious woman whose eyes were back to rolling in her head. “She’s barely responsive and minutes away from cardiac arrest. And this one-” she ushered to the unconscious woman, “Has barely a heartbeat. Just open it or we need to move them to St Mungo’s NOW!”
He snorted at Sirius who was dancing on the spot with his hand outstretched. “Fine. But we shouldn’t be-”
Sirius grabbed it and yanked it open; a quiet woosh sounded, but nothing appeared.
“Probably a bloody trap!” growled Mad-Eye, stamping off towards the door before Tonks asked urgently, “Are you sure about this?”
“Where is he then?” asked Lupin, throwing Harry an accusing look, “I thought you said-?”
“This is why,” began Mad-Eye looking thunderous, “We should use proper precautions-”
“For heavens sake Alastor!” shouted Andromeda, “You’re hardly-”
“We should return outdoors and search,” called McGonagall, snapping her travelling cloak on, “And we get these women to Mungo’s-”
“But he said,” began Harry desperately, looking to Ron who just shrugged, “We were to-”
“And what if it was a trap?” snarled Mad-Eye, “I suppose you confirmed your identity did you? I suppose you promised you’d open this pendant which could easily be some tracking device at a particular time-”
“We cannot be sure,” cut in Kingsley, his soothing voice cutting over the din. “I suggest we move immediately-”
“It’ll be alright, Harry,” assured Mr Weasley, following Kingsley’s lead, “Don’t worry-”
Everyone snapped around to look at Ginny who was frozen like a deer in the light.
“Ginny?” asked Mrs Weasley sharply, “What-”
“Shhh!” she hissed again, “He’s here, but you must stop shouting!”
Everyone immediately held their positions like statues. After a few seconds a little whimper sounded from an indeterminate point in the room.
“It’s him,” breathed Lupin, before calling out loudly, “Cass! Cass where are you?”
A little cry sounded again, “Want my daddy, Mooney. I’m scared. Find my daddy Mooney-”
Sirius’ breath caught as he fell to his knees. His face twisted into unspeakable emotion as he called softly, “Cassion?”
There was a pause as a little shuffle sounded, his voice returning with a little more confidence, “Is that you, daddy?”
Sirius’ voice caught, “Yes, mucker, it’s me. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
There was bated breath as everyone stood back in a mis-shaped circle around Sirius who was searching desperately around with his eyes, “I promise, mucker. Please-”
“Everyone’s shouting. Are you cross?”
“No of course I’m not. Come out, I’m here.”
“It’s too late.”
“It isn’t. I promise. Let me see you-”
He gave a sort of choked laugh as a little figure appeared from behind the curtain. Cassion was still only a weak projection, but the smile that burst from his face as he ran to Sirius was enough to draw even a cough of feeling from Mad-Eye himself. Though nothing to a real reunion, it would be enough for everyone to keep forever as a happy ending.
Cassion threw himself across the room, clambering over his father as though a solid creature, Sirius holding him tightly, though his arms going straight through him.
“I was waiting!” shrieked Cassion gleefully, pride rippling through his tone, “I waited and waited and waited!”
“I’ve been waiting, too mucker,” croaked Sirius, “Waiting a long time.”
“Wolfie was scared,” crowed Cassion, “But I was NEVER!”
“Because you’re so brave,” said Lupin softly, crouching down to smile tearfully at the little figure grabbing and pulling at Sirius, “Wolfie is always safe with you.”
Cassion giggled, before pulling back to cup Sirius’ face, “I think I’m too late.”
“What do you mean?”
“Where are they?”
Sirius pointed at the two women. He looked back at Cassion and asked desperately, “Please, mucker, are you-”
“You must administer the sahati- er, the sahraf- no, the…the…the-”
“Sahitra-mati?” asked Sirius quickly.
“So it is as polyjuice!” muttered Lupin jumping up, “An Eastern-”
“I have to go now,” sighed Cassion, jumping back, “That was my job-”
“Wait, Cass, no-”
“I gots to Daddy,” he said, pulling himself up tall, “I promised. I have to go back to mummy now.”
“You can break the promise!” pleaded Sirius, grabbing at Cassion who began to fade, “Please baby boy, where is mummy? Is she hurt? Is she-”
“I was too late. I gots to go daddy. I wasn’t meant to do anything but tell you. I promised.”
And he was gone.
Sirius let out a choke as he clasped at the empty air. “No…”
“Sirius you must administer-”
Lupin yanked him to his feet, dragging him over, “Do you remember?”
Sirius swiped at his face, his body all but hanging from Lupin’s grasp, “I-I don’t-”
“There is nothing we can do without their help!” shouted Lupin, “If Cassion and Izzy are alive, this is how we find them!”
“No time for DON’TS!” shouted Emmeline, bringing everyone’s attention back to the old women, “They will die-”
“How can he just have-” began Sirius before Lorna called out, “We’re going to lose them!”
Sirius shook himself before nodding. He aimed his wand at the uconscious woman on the sofa before muttering, “Sahitra-mati sahitra mehramba…sahitra-mati sahli matra..”
Nothing happened. Sirius kept repeating the spell, but she remained as still as ever.
“Are you saying it correctly?” demanded Lupin, “It has been years-”
“I am doing it right,” snapped Sirius, looking nettled.
“It may be too late for her,” said Emmeline, starting to administer more potions and checking for a pulse, “Try the other woman.”
Sirius nodded blankly, and cast the spell again at the woman who was half off the couch as she slipped into a subdued trance.
At once she began to convulse suddenly, as though she were about to be sick. Her face began to shake; its shape and structure bubbling into another’s.
“Stand back,” demanded Mad-Eye, “We can’t be sure how this will end.”
They all watched as the old woman collapsed to the ground, a grotesque expression haunting the morphing features. Mad-Eye raised a wand, muttering, “Careful now, no quick moves…”
“Is this normal?” breathed Kingsley, as the old woman writhed in pain, her back arching as she became almost inhuman in shape, “She looks-”
“Eastern transfiguration is more complete than western,” offered Lupin, ushering Fred and George, who had crept forward for a better look back behind him, “The very imprint of a person is altered; their inner identity totally scrambled to make the deception harder to trace.”
“Dear God,” whispered Sirius suddenly, as the body on the floor began to calm, a short mane of chestnut hair sweeping over a tired, familiar face. There was a croak of relief, followed by gasps of air as the figure collapsed into an exhausted heap.
The woman looked up, a look of release and exaltation spreading across her worn out face. She nodded.
“What the hell-” he ran over to her, helping her up, “What are you doing? What’s going on? What-”
“Sirius-” cut in Mad-Eye, pulling him back, “She still can’t talk and is clearly addled.”
“Mary?” broached Andromeda, as the woman began to look panicked and try to communicate, “Take a breath, and calm yourself.”
Mary looked close to tears, pointing to the door, to the woman on the couch; she seemed to be begging to go back outside.
“Mary?” asked Lupin, helping Sirius to let her stand, “Are there others out there?”
She nodded, her limp arm flailing towards the door.
“Are they close?”
She shrugged before a gurgling noise sounded from her lips.
“I’m going to go and try to find them, okay?” She nodded as he turned and called to a few others, the room half emptying as he led them running out of the door.
“It’s okay,” assured Sirius, trying to grab her shoulders as she half fell back to the floor, “Mooney is going to find your friends. They’ll bring them back, just relax.”
Mary nodded, taking in what he said before allowing him to help her to a chair. Once seated her tried again, “What happened to you? Try slowly.”
Hr breath came in raw rasps as she looked at Harry and Neville, clutching her heart.
“You’ve found us, yes,” pushed Sirius impatiently, “How did you get here? Did you bring the Memory Box?”
“Here,” said Lorna, pushing beside him with a cup of tea, “Get this into you.” She slowly lifted the cup to Mary’s lips as she chuckled, “It’s been years, McDonald. And you look dreadful. You could have just owled us for a catch-up; was all the mystery really necessary?”
Mary smiled, her body tiring with the effort of one sip. She nodded for another before Mrs Weasley said urgently, “Something’s wrong. You need to tell us what happened to this woman.”
They all looked up to see the unconscious woman begin to shiver, the sewn up cuts unravelling, the body convulsing. No bubbling or transformation was occurring; the woman appeared to be seizing.
“She’s been cursed,” said Mad-Eye, taking in the old, withering body, “It seems the strain of polyjuice they used is wearing off on it’s own, but some spell is stopping it.”
He looked at Mary who had gone pale, “Your friend here will die unless you can tell us what the hell is going on.”
Mary jumped up, panicking and crying, grabbing the old woman’s hands and moaning. She looked at the others, her face and voice pleading with unknown cries.
“We must do something,” said Andromeda getting distressed, “Emmeline? Can’t you-”
“I don’t want to make it worse,” cried Emmeline, grabbing viles absently from her bag, “What if the spells make her sicker? I don’t know what she’s been through; basic healing hasn’t worked.”
“We’re losing her,” said Mrs Weasley, checking for a pulse, “Get the children out of here, they can’t see-”
Mary had jumped up and grabbed Harry in a deadlock around his neck; everyone froze, looking terrified.
“Mary,” said Sirius, his voice dangerous, “Let go of Harry.”
She shook her head and backed away, dragging Harry with her using some unknown strength.
“Let the boy go”, growled Mad-Eye, as the rest of the room raised wands, “Whatever it is you want to do, it won’t help your friend.”
Marry shook her head violently and grabbed at her pocket, fishing out a small piece of cut glass.
“Mary-NO” shouted Sirius, “Don’t you dare lay a finger on him!”
“Mary, please!” begged Lorna, shrieking as Mary drew up the glass and made a small cut Harry’s neck.
They all lunged for her before Ginny shouted out, “LOOK!”
The unconscious woman began to glow, a dormant power humming through her body. She seemed to relax, the effects of the curse rippling off her body.
“What in the hell,” began Ron before Mary shrieked again and aimed to re-pierce Harry.
“You cannot hurt the boy to save your friend!” shouted Mad-Eye, “There must be another way-”
But as she swiped again, with a force meant to harm, a light shot from the woman on the couch, knocking the glass straight from her hand.
The woman’s face began to bubble, her body writhing in agony. “I don’t understand,” begged Harry to Mary as she ran for the glass, “How does hurting me-”
Sirius made a grab for Mary but she hit him hard in the face. He fell back in surprise, knocking into Neville who tripped forward, hitting the floor.
As Mary lunged at him, striking down with the glass, Mad-Eye shot a spell at her, causing her to slam two feet back into a wall.
“What-” began Neville, brushing a small drop of blood from his hand, “I don’t understand-”
“The Maternai Practahto”, whispered Sirius suddenly, his voice catching. He ran to the unconscious woman, who was shimmering gold now, trickles of bright light lilting off her and towards Neville and Harry.
“It’s the Maternai Practahto.”
As he grabbed at his hair, looking panicked he turned to Mary, “Who is it? WHO IS IT?”
Mary was crying now, grabbing at her lips, willing her to speak.
“What. Is. Going. ON?” demanded Mad-Eye before Sirius whispered, “The Eastern shield that protects the wearer from any harm, for the sole pursuit of the protection of another.”
As Harry reached to his neck to feel the cut, he was stunned to feel it already healing over. He looked to Neville who had his hand held out for everyone to see; the soft gold smoke was weaving closed the tiny wound.
Realisation hit the room like a forcefield.
“The shield the four girls wore the night they moved Neville?” asked Tonks at once, staring dumbfounded at the woman whose face was morphing.
“Attacking Harry and Neville is bringing her back to life,” said Hermione before she gasped in delight. “Healing her so she can protect them! That means-”
As the woman’s face began to take the shape of a familiar and much loved figure, Sirius reached out and picked up the shimmering vile that hung around her neck,
“It means one of our girls is finally home.”