Chapter 1 : The Choice
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Thanks to BrightEyes @ TDA for the brilliant CI!
Harry walked along the corridor at the Ministry of Magic, his hands shoved deep into his pockets and tension obvious in his taut muscles and stiff shoulders. Deep lines furrowed his forehead as his right hand fingered the small velvet box in his pocket. It had been travelling around in his pocket since the previous week but he had not taken it out even once to look at it. The ring inside had been bought even earlier, about two months ago, but somehow, Harry had found it extremely difficult to give it to her, the person it was intended for.
Her. Ginny. His girlfriend since the past four years. She had been distant with him for the past fortnight and Harry was worried that he knew the explicit cause of her brooding silence and solemn eyes. He knew that she had been expecting it; knew that Hermione had hinted it to Ginny and, above all, he knew that he had been too late and had hurt her unintentionally. He knew he definitely had to do it if he did not want to lose her but he was at a loss as to how or when. He had tried to ask Hermione for help. However, she had been away a lot because of her work and had rendered him unable to ask her for her opinion. Unfortunately, this wasn’t something Harry could dwell on right now; he had to work.
The Minister’s office arrived just as Harry decided to take his mind off his worries for the day. He knocked.
“Come in,” a deep voice answered.
“Hello, Kingsley. How are you?” Harry asked Kingsley Shacklebolt as he stepped in.
“Good, Harry, good.” He rarely wasted time on greetings. “I have a most important assignment for you today. I suggest you keep your eyes and ears open for this one.”
“What happened?” Harry interjected, nerves standing on end. After the years of constant stress and bad news, Harry was now used to these kinds of situations but he never could help feel the tension.
“Nothing bad,” Kingsley replied calmingly. “That Muggle, Rudolph Xenon, who was recently put into Azkaban, just broke out. We have no idea how he did it. Since the first escape, the Ministry has been very particular about the prisoner security. The Muggle, however, is different but you already knew that. After all, you were the one who put him there in the first place.”
Harry nodded and assured him, “No problem. I’ll put him back again.”
“No. We don’t want that, Harry; not this time. This time, we want you to do something much different; much more absolute.”
“I’ll put it simply. We want you to go into the past,” replied Kingsley gravely.
“The past?” Harry asked incredulously just as there was an urgent knock on the door.
“Sorry I’m late, Kingsley, I got-” gasped Ginny, “Harry?”
Ginny? What was she doing here? Harry could not stop staring. It had been three days since he had properly seen her and, even in that short period, she had seemed to change. Her demeanour was much more alert, her eyes cautious and she seemed to look at him like he was a long lost friend she had suddenly stumbled upon, instead of her long-term boyfriend.
“Good, you are here, Ginny,” said Kingsley, “I have a new assignment for you, as well. You’re working with Harry on this one.”
Ginny looked uncertain as she sat down beside Harry.
“But I’ve only had two days off. I thought I had a longer vacation this time,” replied Ginny.
“I know and I’m sorry. But this is important; really important.” Kingsley was suddenly extremely serious again. “I’m sending you both to the past.”
Ginny’s head whipped around to face Harry, just as Harry, who had been sitting silent since her arrival, looked up.
“You have already agreed to this?” she asked unbelievingly.
“No! He didn’t even give me time to digest the mere knowledge, let alone ponder upon it!” exclaimed Harry.
Ginny opened her mouth to reply, but before she could say anything, Kingsley started talking again.
“Exactly. I’m going to give you one day to decide; decide between the choices I’m going to give you. Ginny, you don’t know anything about the man you are going to deal with but I expect Harry to brief you on his profile,” said the Minister. “Harry, you have to decide between two choices. Either you go to the past and stop Xenon’s conversion-”
“Conversion?” interrupted Ginny.
Kingsley turned to her with a stern expression, any traces of informality and friendship with them vanishing on the spot.
“Miss Weasley, if you really expect to receive your mission in time, I advise you to remain silent. As for Xenon’s conversion, I have already told you before that Mr. Potter here will tell you all about it.” He turned back to Harry. “You have to either stop his conversion in the past or find a solid way to eliminate him in the present – I’m giving you the choice. You both can sit and deliberate and let me know your decision by tomorrow. Let me make it very clear that you are being given special treatment on this case due to its sensitiveness and I expect you to respect that and make the better choice that would help the wizarding world more before it helps you. After your decision, I’ll brief you both further, depending on what you decide to do. You may go now.”
Harry and Ginny rose silently; both engrossed in their own thoughts and exited the Minister’s office together. They walked through Level One quietly till they reached the lifts. The lift took them back up to the Atrium and the Floo Networks. There, they transported themselves to Harry’s house in Godric’s Hollow.
Harry paced the room impatiently. He could feel Ginny’s eyes on him from where she was sitting on the sofa, also deep in thought. He could not believe it! He had been asked to go to the past? The past! Did Kingsley realize the repercussions of time travelling? Harry had done it in his third year; with Hermione, using a timeturner. Even after the experience, he had been unable to wrap his head around it. After all, how was one supposed to deal with that? Seeing yourself travelling through the time that you had already lived? It was not easy and certainly not comforting. What was the Minister playing at?
“Harry?” Ginny placed her hand tentatively on his arm, instantly sending a thrill coursing through his veins. It seemed like ages since she’d last touched him. He longed for her touch; her slight caresses and the intimacy they shared. Somehow, due to their work and constant summons to the Ministry, he had lost precious moments with her.
He turned to her, savouring her touch.
“Are you okay?”
He could see the concern in her bright brown eyes; eyes that seemed to penetrate right through him, searching the answer to so many unanswered questions. He took her hand in his.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” He led her back to the sofa and they sat down, a sliver of space between them that had not been there just a few days ago; indicating the slight tension between them.
“Who is Xenon?” she asked, curiosity etched visibly upon her visage.
Harry took a deep breath. Whatever their decision, she had the right to know.
“Rudolph Xenon is a Muggle-“
“Rudolph Xenon? An invented name, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is indeed invented, though nobody knows his real name so he is only referred to as Xenon or The Muggle. But he isn’t just a Muggle. He is a wizard too. Somehow, in the past he converted. That was what Kingsley was talking about. Back in the ‘70s – I don’t know the exact year – Xenon somehow changed. It is said that he stumbled upon a field of concentrated dynamic energy which was not in contact with anything and seemed to be living on its own. As it happens, energy looks for means to transfer itself. When Xenon came upon it, he became the ideal body. The energy, attracted by his body’s internal charge, flowed right into him and it is our just luck that that energy was magical, turning him into a creature that can perform magic; without a wand.” Harry paused. Knowing Ginny, it was foolish to believe that she would remain quiet during a narrative.
Her expression was dubious.
“Is that really even possible?”
“It’s happened. So yes, I would say it really is possible. I have met Xenon. Even though he is not good, he really is an amazing individual,” replied Harry. “And Kingsley is obsessed with him. You don’t know this but Kingsley had a brother living in South Africa and Xenon went into hiding there once; Kingsley asked his brother to go after him and unlike me, his brother turned up dead on a river bank. That is one of the major reasons why Kingsley is so determined to finish him. Vengeance is driving him.”
Ginny’s eyes widened.
“How come we have never heard of him?” She asked.
Harry raised his eyebrows sceptically. “When Voldemort was in power, do you think anybody would have tried to get above him? As far as I know, Xenon was too afraid of Voldemort to announce himself as the next powerful creature. He was lying low in our days at the school.”
Ginny nodded, understanding Kingsley’s motivation and Xenon’s twisted reality at the same time. However she still seemed uncertain.
“So, how exactly is he a threat?” she asked.
“Well, when he realised that something related to the supernatural had just occurred, he began researching. He looked around for clues about the existence of magic and inevitably found many traces due to his new ability and his new-found intuition. He found The Leaky Cauldron, Diagon Alley and even Hogwarts. He found Dumbledore.”
Ginny’s eyes widened with understanding. Of course, if he found Dumbledore, he found everything. He knew everything. He might even have become part of Hogwarts somehow, but that doesn’t explain-
“Why did he turn bad then?”
Harry raised his eyebrows. “Why do you think someone with so much power that even Dumbledore gets baffled, would pose a threat to the world?”
“Hunger for power?” she gasped.
“Yes. Hunger, greed, yearning, longing; whatever you want to call it. He turned evil; tried to rob Gringotts, the Ministry’s treasury, Hogwarts funds and even began stealing from the shops in Hogsmeade. He began to stay away from his own world, becoming increasingly obsessed with ours. In short, he became a nuisance; an unstoppable one when he began to kill people just to show his strength off. On his third murder, I was assigned to his case. He’s really hard to find, mind you. His magic is different than ours. It allows him to shield himself from whomever he wants to stay hidden from. But I did find him. I found him and put him in Azkaban. Now, he’s escaped and I have to find a way to kill him or go back to the time he changed and stop him from ever reaching that site of energy.”
“Killing him won’t be hard. After all, you already captured him once. You can do it again.”
Her constant support in him made him smile.
“I can’t do that Ginny. I can’t kill him. Don’t you think I have tried? I was originally asked to kill him but, like I said, he’s unstoppable. His magic does not allow anyone to stop him from wreaking havoc in the world. And...” He trailed off.
“What?” she asked her dark eyes boring into his.
Fixing his gaze on their intertwined hands, Harry told her what he had not been able to say for so long.
“I won’t let anybody else die. I will not let another person’s death be on my hands. I have lost too many people in this life. I just won’t do it even if it somehow becomes possible.”
Saying it out loud had made it even more real for Harry and had brought back the memories that he had buried deep in his heart. Ginny seemed to understand his discomfort perfectly well as she raised her hand up to his cheek and turned his face so that he could face her, her sympathetic eyes boring into his.
“Harry,” she said, her voice low and husky, “you cannot dwell on the past. You cannot keep blaming yourself for those who have died. They died to save you and their future generations. You have to make sure that they did not die in vain. They helped you to build your future and they helped you become something as great as an Auror; someone who purges the world by fighting in the name of the good that those people died for. Please don’t compare people like Xenon to people like your parents and Remus. He is filth which you have to clean. I promise you that you won’t have to kill him because I won’t let you tear your soul apart. I promise.”
Her eyes, her words, calmed Harry more than anything. He believed every word she had said and he had faith that she meant what she said about protecting him.
“If I’m not going to kill him, how do you propose I get rid of him?” he asked, eyes cast down again.
“The Minister already gave us a solution, Harry. All we have to do is confirm it to him.”
“Are you sure, Ginny?” Harry was extremely uncertain about going to the past and taking Ginny with him. “I can’t put you through so much; not after what you have already been through.”
“I have been through nothing, Harry Potter,” she said, firing up. “If you think I’ll let you go alone and sit back here wondering what happened to you and if you’ll ever come back, then you are sadly mistaken. I’m sorry, but this time, even Kingsley has assigned me with you and you can’t defy his direct orders.”
Harry knew better than to argue. He could have easily asked Kingsley to assign him another Healer to accompany him on his mission but Ginny had finally talked to him after so many days and there was no way in hell he wanted to risk endangering their relationship again.
“Okay. The past it is,” said Harry, standing up. “We’ll tell him tomorrow.”
Kingsley seemed pleased to hear their decision.
“Thanks, Potter. I’m glad that you took your time to decide what you thought was right. I know that you’ll be successful. Now, let’s get to work, shall we?” He clapped his hands enthusiastically.
“You are going to brief us right now?” asked Ginny.
“Yes. There’s no reason not to,” replied the Minister.
Harry did not care about the mission at that moment. He had just realised something. He knew that the question had been nagging at his brain since the previous day and he somehow knew what the answer would be. All he needed was a confirmation.
“Which year are we going to, Kingsley?”
Kingsley looked at Harry with knowing eyes. Harry could see that, somehow, Kingsley knew what Harry was asking and, even before he answered, Harry knew exactly what his answer was going to be.
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