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Harry Potter and the Conspiracy of Blood by CambAngst
Chapter 8 : Fortunes
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 34


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After seven chapters and almost 500 reads, I am thrilled and humbled by the reception that my story has gotten. To those who have offered reviews, I offer my deepest gratitude. You are helping to make the story better. Extra-special thanks to Beeezie for reviewing every chapter so far.

As always, the characters herein belong to JK Rowling.

 



 
The fall breeze drifted through the rafters of the old warehouse, ruffling the feathers of the pigeons who roosted there. The building was long abandoned, a relic of London’s commercial past. Many of the upper windows had been smashed by vandals with rocks and bottles. It had once been a popular layabout for muggle itinerants. Now it was surrounded by powerful muggle-repelling charms and protective wards.


Flint apparated into the center of the warehouse and turned slowly around. She had brought them here after they escaped from the Ministry. Since the journal was not in the Magical Records vault, Malfoy Manor was still their best bet, she had reasoned. Kidnapping Malfoy’s wife would be the most effective lever to assure his compliance. She was not going to be happy that he had failed.


It occurred to him that he would have probably succeeded if he had brought her here straight away instead of trying to charm her into helping them. Sometimes it was hard to stay focused after so many years in prison. Astoria Greengrass was still as shapely as he remembered her. Malfoy’s suggestion about looking up Zabini in New Zealand popped into his head. Just standing next to Zabini gave you an even money chance of getting some action. He shook his head and banished the thoughts from his mind. She would be here soon and he needed to focus if he was going to talk his way out of this. Once they seized power, he would have more women than he knew what to do with.


Flint shifted uncomfortably and gazed around the warehouse again. He didn’t like to be kept waiting, but if he had to then this place sure beat his old cell in Azkaban. Since he seemed to have a few minutes to spare, he started to remove the spells disguising his face.


“Not yet,” came her voice from somewhere he couldn’t pinpoint. She must be using some sort of spell to conceal her location. He wished that he’d paid more attention to old Flitwick.


“I see that you failed.” Her assessment was simple and to the point.


“I had her,” Flint replied as he turned slowly, trying to discover her location. “Her bloody husband showed up just as I was about to disapparate and mucked things up.”


“So why don’t we have both of them?” she hissed from behind him. He spun around to find himself almost face to face with her. She was wearing the black hooded cloak that she favored. It mostly concealed her features, leaving only her red lips and pointed chin visible. He realized that she had taken off her disguise.


“He surprised me, my lady,” Flint stammered. “He nearly stunned me. It was fortunate that I escaped without being revealed.”


“When your clumsy friend Nott botched the curse that should have killed Potter’s mudblood friend, was that also ‘fortunate’?” she spat. “I’m beginning to question how much more ‘fortune’ our cause can withstand.”


Flint glared at her, but said nothing. Because of her, he was no longer rotting in a prison cell and for that he was grateful. But her sharp tongue and overbearing manner were beginning to wear thin with him. Once the Dark Lord’s journal had been recovered and they were operating in the open, he reckoned that he and Nott and the rest of their friends could easily shove her aside or even dispose of her completely. As long as they were restoring the rightful order of things, women would have to relearn their place, as well.


“Very well,” she sighed. “We will have to do this the hard way. We will go to Malfoy Manor and take the Dark Lord’s journal by force. And by ‘we’, I mean ‘you.’”


“Look, lady,” Flint replied, growing tired of the fake courtliness, “I think it’s a safe bet that between the attack on the Ministry and the attempted kidnapping of Malfoy’s wife, that place is going to be crawling with Aurors.”


“Then perhaps you shouldn’t have failed,” she sneered.


Before Flint could think up a retort, she continued. “Nevertheless, you have a point. We will need additional hands for this mission. I want you to begin recruiting wizards that we can count on to rally around our cause. Do you think you can manage that without my help?”


Life on the run with Zabini was starting to look better by the moment. Nevertheless, Flint was happy about the prospect of bringing more of his old friends into the fold. The sooner he reached a quorum of loyal supporters, the sooner they could eliminate this insufferable harpy and lead a proper revolution.


“Some of them are still in Azkaban,” he replied cautiously.


“Then we’ll just have to arrange for their release. You’d better make it quick. I don’t imagine that your absence will escape Potter’s attention forever.”


“Right away, my lady. How should I contact you when I’m ready,” he asked.


“You needn’t worry about that. I will contact you. And when I do, you had better be ready. Do not fail me again, Flint, or you’ll find yourself longing for the comfort of your prison cell.”


She turned and disappeared, leaving him stewing.
 

 



Harry was still sitting at his desk when Susan Bones returned to the Auror office late in the evening.


“You want to hear it now, or wait for the morning?” she asked from his doorway.


Harry sat down an ancient book of dark spells on top of a pile of similar tomes and rubbed his tired eyes. If he lived to be a hundred years old, he would never understand how Hermione could plow through books like these with boundless enthusiasm.


“Why don’t you give me the fifty word version?”


“We only have three wand signatures aside from Ministerial Security. The curses were ordinary, aside from the one that hit Hermione. Witness accounts all match Ernie’s. Nothing was actually taken from the restricted vault. Nobody could ID the wizard with the petition, but he almost certainly cursed Hermione. OK, boss?”


“Cheeky rotter,” he replied with a wry smile.


“What’s with all the musty, old books?” she asked.


“The healers identified the curse that hit Hermione, at least they think they did. But it’s ancient, dark magic. If it wasn’t for the portrait of old Headmaster Black in Neville’s office, I wouldn’t have known where to start.”


“Any luck?”


“Not so far,” he admitted. “There was nothing in the dark magic books in the restricted section at Hogwarts. These books all came from the Minister’s private library. I had no idea they were kept here until Dumbledore mentioned it to me.”


“What use would the Minister have for books on dark magic?” she mused. “That doesn’t sound particularly helpful for getting reelected.”


Harry chuckled softly at her candor. The current Minister of Magic was indeed a political creature, a sharp contrast from Kingsley Shacklebolt’s tenure. He was the first Minister since Cornelius Fudge who had not risen out of the ranks of the Aurors, having spent most of his career in Magical Transportation. Harry found his leadership to be only modestly preferable to Fudge’s.


“Dumbledore said that he transferred them into the Minstry’s care to keep certain infamous Hogwarts students from getting their hands on them. It does seem strange that they wound up in the Minister’s own library rather than Magical Records or the Auror office,” Harry replied.


“You want some help, Harry? That’s quite a stack you have there.”


“As long as I’m not keeping you from anything important,” he answered, grateful for the help. She shook her head and he slid Blackeƒt Magick of Wizardƒ Moƒt Foul across the desk towards her.


“The curse you’re looking for is called Exussanguis. It’s a blood boiling curse.”


Susan looked horrified. “Poor Hermione. How did she survive that?”


“That’s one thing I’m hoping to find out,” Harry shrugged. “Headmaster Black thinks that the wizard who cast it didn’t know what he was doing. Otherwise, it definitely would have been fatal.”


“Thank Merlin for small favors,” Susan muttered as she opened the book and waved away a small cloud of dust.


They read mostly in silence for an hour, pausing occasionally to discuss some especially nasty bit of dark sorcery. Harry was about to crack open Ancient Secrets of the Dark Wizards of Wales when a charmed memo came zipping into his office. He snatched it out of the air and tore it open, happy to have an excuse to take a break.


“What is it?” Susan asked, noticing the scowl on his face.


“Marcus Flint is missing from Azkaban,” he replied.


“What do you mean, ‘missing’?” she asked incredulously. “Marcus Flint is serving two life sentences for murder. It isn’t like he went for a stroll and got lost or something.”


“It might as well be,” said Harry, tossing the memo onto his desk in disgust. “The warden apparently had no idea that he was missing until I asked about him. There was no breakout, no security breach that anybody is aware of. He’s just gone.”


“Ron!” he shouted towards his office door. He looked sheepishly at Susan when he realized his mistake.


“Susan, I am hereby promoting you to Temporary Replacement Weasley,” he grinned. “Get a team over to Azkaban and find out what the hell is going on. I want a full report on the security situation by morning.”


Susan gestured with her wand and summoned the duty roster from the bulletin board outside of Harry’s office. “I can pull the team away from Malfoy Manor. Their shift just started half an hour ago.”


“Who else is available?” Harry asked. “I’d rather keep that team in place.”


She scanned the rest of the parchment. “The next best option is the security team here at the Ministry, but they’ve been on for five hours now. I could call in their relief early, but that throws tomorrow’s rotation all out of whack.”


“OK,” Harry groaned, rubbing his forehead. “Pull half the team off of Malfoy Manor. That gives us, what, three people in each place?”


“Right,” she replied, rearranging the names on the list with her wand. “I heard that ferret face was in here to see you today. Why the sudden interest? I thought we gave up on him years ago.”


Harry weighed his response carefully. On the one hand, he didn’t want his team coming down too hard on Malfoy. But if word got out that Malfoy was talking to him, it could make things more dangerous for Draco and his family. Now that Flint was on the loose, the risk was that much greater. “I rattled his cage a bit to get him in here,” Harry answered. “It was the same bit of info that led me to ask about Flint.”


“That brain-damaged little git,” Susan groaned. “Of all people, you’d think he would know better than to get involved with Death Eaters again.”


“I didn’t say that he was involved. At least not for sure,” Harry hedged. “I just want to keep an eye on him until I know what his role is in all of this.”


“Alright, Harry. I’ll send Richards, Boxely and Tremaine to Azkaban. If there’s anything wrong, they’re the best in a fight. I’ll leave Windsor, Elgin and Singleton at Malfoy Manor. They’re better at concealment, anyway.”


Harry thought it over. He would have preferred to keep at least one of the better duelists on the security detail, but he wasn’t sure how to suggest it without giving away the true nature of the mission. “That sounds fine,” he replied.


Susan tore off a scrap of parchment and tucked it into Horrifying Hexes and Cataclysmic Curses to mark her place before closing the book and heading off towards the apparition point. Patronuses and owls were too noticeable for surveillance missions, so she would deliver the orders personally.


“Susan,” Harry called after her. “When you’re done with this, go home. I’m beat. I’ll finish with these books tomorrow.”


“Thanks, boss,” she replied. “See you at the morning meeting.”


Harry stood up and stretched, realizing how long he had been sitting at his desk. He considered stopping by St. Mungo’s to see Hermione. It was well past the end of visiting hours, but he could always pretend to be on official business. She was very likely still asleep, he reasoned. The last time he had talked to Ron, the healers had placed her under heavy sedation while they worked to repair the damage to her circulatory system. He decided to wait for morning.


Harry threw on his cloak and grabbed Ancient Secrets of the Dark Wizards of Wales in case he was having trouble sleeping later and headed for the apparition point.

 




There were several owls waiting for Harry when he arrived home. He tossed small snacks from the tray by the door to each as they deposited their deliveries onto the hall table. One of the owls continued to stare at him expectantly, and he rifled through the stack as Hermys took his cloak. “Master is going to bed early tonight? Making up his sleep?” the elf asked earnestly.


Harry smiled at the elf’s concern. “Yes, Hermys, I believe I’ll turn in early tonight.”


“Dinner is ready at Master’s convenience,” the elf replied happily.


Harry turned his attention back to the mail. There was an invitation to a fundraiser, a postcard from Ginny’s cousin Sadie who was traveling in Australia, a bank statement from Gringotts and a sales flyer from Madam Malkin’s. The last message was a simple scrap of parchment. He recognized the writing immediately. Molly was requesting the pleasure of his company at a family dinner on Sunday.


Harry read the invitation with a bevvy of mixed feelings. Family get-togethers reminded him of Ginny. As such, they left him feeling uneasy and vaguely empty. He did love seeing his nieces, nephews, grandchildren and grand-nieces and nephews, but not necessarily all at once. Family dinners at the Burrow were pure chaos. Which was how Molly preferred things, he supposed, since she was never happier than when she had dozens of children running about underfoot. He did some quick math in his head: Bill and Fleur had six grandchildren, Percy and Audrey had four, George and Angelina had four, Ron and Hermione had five and he had five of his own. Throw in the adults and possibly a few family friends like the Scamanders and the Longbottoms and you were easily looking at fifty people.


Harry scribbled his affirmation on the back of Molly's message and handed it back to the remaining owl. He watched it fly away and headed to the dining room, sitting down just as Hermys was serving the soup. After a sumptuous dinner, he decided to turn in. When he came out of the bathroom after changing and brushing his teeth, he found a glass of warm milk and a shot of firewhiskey on the night table. Hermys was pulling out all the stops. He downed them both and curled up in bed, ready to make up for the previous night’s lost sleep. He was surprised at how much better he felt, considering that Magical Records was a crime scene and Hermione was in the hospital. But Hermione was going to be OK and they now had a major investigation on their hands. Maybe that was what he needed in his life, he thought as he drifted off to sleep. A reason to feel needed.

 




Flint pulled the collar of his cloak closer as he stole down Knockturn Alley. He felt very self-conscious about being in public without his disguise, but on this night it was absolutely necessary. He stopped at the entrance to Borgin & Burkes, faced the door and took three large steps to his left. When he stepped forward, the entrance to The Ragged Fang appeared. Nobody in the dark, smoky pub turned to look when he entered. The patrons of this establishment appeared to have plenty of their own troubles and weren’t in a hurry to discover anyone else’s. He quietly made his way to a table near the back.


Three rough-looking wizards already sat around the table, drinking cheap firewhiskey and talking quietly among themselves. They were definitely not the type that Flint had in mind to join his glorious, pure blood revolution. The Death Eaters of old were men of means and refinement. This lot looked as though they barely had two sickles to rub together and they smelled like livestock. Still, he was operating on a tight timeline. He nodded towards the men and took the vacant seat at the table.


“So you’re Flint.” said a middle aged wizard with a pronounced scar than ran beneath the patch over his left eye.


“Depends on who’s asking,” Flint replied, even though it hadn’t been a question. Suddenly he felt something sharp poking him in the ribs. Something that definitely was not a wand. He looked down as much as he dared and caught a slight glint of worn steel.


“I’m asking,” said the one-eyed wizard. “And I’d best like your answer.”


“Yeah,” Flint stammered. “I’m Flint. My friend Ellis Brown told me that I could meet some wizards here that would be interested in helping to reverse the so-called ‘progress’ at the Ministry since the war.”


The one-eyed wizard chuckled mirthlessly, slapping his comrade on the shoulder. Flint felt the knife point dig a little deeper into his ribs. “Well aren’t you a fancy one? Listen, you lace curtain ponce, Brown don’t have friends. N’er do we. E’ry time one of you society types climbs off your high horse and comes round ‘ere, it’s the same story. Glory and gold and fetchin’ muggle women linin’ up to spit shine your boots. Well it ain’t happen’d yet. Men like us wind up dead or in prison when we listen to men like you.”


This wasn’t going well. Flint figured he had one chance to connect with them, and a slim chance at that. He hoped that she was having more luck springing his remaining friends from Azkaban.


“Look, you have me all wrong. I just got out of Azkaban, myself. I spent forty years in there because I got on the wrong side of Shacklebolt and the muggle lovers he brought into the Ministry with him. They’re all a bunch of rich numpties and they’re in league with the muggles and their technology. I think they’re trying to turn us all into slaves. Pretty soon, being a wizard won’t mean a bit more than being a muggle dustman unless you have millions of galleons in your vault.”


The one-eyed wizard nodded slightly, but the knife point continued to dig into his side.


“So what would you have us do about it? Maybe ya haven’t noticed, but we’re not what you’d call electable.”


“We’re not running for office,” Flint retorted. “The time for politics is over. The whole bloody system is too corrupt. We have to take a more... direct approach. People are starting to wake up to what the muggle lovers at the Ministry are about. When the common witches and wizards see somebody stand up to the fusspots and dandies, things are gonna change. Do any of you men listen to Xerxes the Seer?”


“He’s that fellow on the wireless who tells ‘bout how the muggles are takin’ over outer space and all,” blurted the third wizard.


Flint felt the knife point ease back and let out a proper breath for what felt like the first time in hours.


“Did ya know,” asked the wizard with the knife, “that the muggles are workin’ on some contraption that can take you to the moon and back even faster than apparatin?”


Flint smiled ruefully at the other men. Maybe this lot would work out after all.


“Look, this isn’t going to be easy. But I’m not asking you men to take any risks that I won’t take myself. We’re about to make our first move. I’m personally leading a team into the home of a rich, old pure blood family. A family that sold us all out after the war and took up with the muggle lovers at the Ministry to keep themselves out of Azkaban. They’ve squirreled away some things that we need to help our cause. Some things that...” Flint looked conspiratorially at the men and lowered his voice to a whisper, “that belonged to the Dark Lord, himself. And you know how he felt about the muggles and their friends at the Ministry.”


“You make an interestin’ case for yourself, Flint,” said the one-eyed wizard as he rubbed his chin stubble. “But I’m not sold on ya. You’re sure you can’t sweeten the deal for us, considerin’ the risk we’re takin?”


Flint thought fast. He knew that she had gold at her disposal, but she hadn’t given him leave to spend any of it.


“This is a very old, wealthy family we’re talking about. I’m sure they keep plenty of gold lying around the house. In consideration of the risk you’re taking, you’re of course welcome to pocket any that you happen to come upon.”


Looting. Somehow, Flint was fairly sure that the Dark Lord wouldn’t have approved. But these were different times and since he couldn’t rely on history’s most powerful dark wizard to rally the faithful, he had to work with the tools at his disposal.


“The gold had better be there,” the one-eyed wizard replied threateningly. “How do we get in touch with ya?”


“Meet me here on Saturday night at midnight,” Flint replied. “I’ll have further directions then.”


Flint rose to leave, then leaned back over the table. “I didn’t catch your names, by the way.”


“No, you din’t.” the wizard with the knife snorted. The conversation was plainly over.


Flint left the pub and stepped into Knockturn Alley, checking both directions before tightening his cloak around him and walking quickly away. If he managed to survive two more meetings like this one, he would have the men he needed for the raid on Malfoy Manor.


“Bloody Zabini,” he thought, picturing his old schoolmate charming a beautiful woman over a glass of wine in New Zealand.

 




Harry awoke early the next morning.


“Friday,” he thought to himself. “Everyone should be in a good mood today.”


He showered and made his way to the kitchen, where he found his breakfast already sitting on the table. Hermys was facing the stove, stirring a large pot.


“Good morning, Master,” the elf said without turning around. “You slept much better last night?”


“Yes, Hermys, much better,” Harry replied between sausages.


Harry finished his breakfast and apparated to the Ministry, ready to tackle his day. He was surprised to find Ron sitting in his normal seat in the conference room when he arrived for the Aurors’ morning staff meeting.


“Morning, mate,” Harry greeted his friend. “How is she?”


“The healers had her under sedation all night,” Ron replied, looking exhausted. “They said there’s still a lot of damage to be repaired, but they’re hoping to let her wake up for a while today. Audrey and Angelina are with her right now.”


“After the meeting, why don’t you go home and catch some rest? You look like hell,” Harry said frankly.


“And miss all the fun?” Ron replied. “Not likely. I want to catch up on the investigation.”


Harry took a quick headcount and got the meeting underway. First Susan went over her team’s findings from Magical Records, which raised nearly as many questions as answers. The three assailants had left behind no clues as to their identities. The petition that the wizard in the bad toupee had been circulating was in support of a non-existent piece of legislation to create a holiday recognizing the four founders of Hogwarts. Two of the wand signatures matched wands that had been reported stolen in recent weeks, while the third matched nothing they had on record. They had collected some fingerprints and DNA samples that were being processed at a muggle crime lab, but those results would only be helpful if they matched suspects known to the muggle authorities.


“The strangest thing is that it appears that the whole attack was for nothing,” Susan concluded her report. “The contents of the restricted vault were thoroughly catalogued before and after. Nothing was missing. Either they couldn’t find what they were looking for or it was never there in the first place.”


Following Susan was a thoroughly depressing report on the state of affairs at Azkaban. Richards reported that there were now nine prisoners unaccounted for, including convicted murderers Marcus Flint and Theodore Nott and would-be Death Eaters Jeremy Gamp and Gregory Goyle. Three of the guards had also disappeared, suggesting that they were involved somehow with the escape.


“We are currently conducting a room by room search of the entire prison, looking for weapons, contraband, enchanted items and possible escape routes. We’re also scheduling interviews with all of the remaining guards and the kitchen and custodial workers.”


“How long do you expect it to take?” Harry asked. “I spoke to the Minister this morning and he was planning to sack the warden. I asked him to hold off until we were done with our investigation, but he’s itching to make a show of it.”


“If we stay on schedule, we should be done in about four days. Unless, of course, the department can spare some more bodies,” Richards replied, nodding meaningfully towards Harry and Ron.


Harry sighed. Since the end of the war, he and Ron had rebuilt the department almost from scratch. From a low of only fourteen Aurors on the day after Tom Riddle died, their numbers had grown to a solid force of fifty-six field Aurors, investigators, potioneers and trainees. At times, he fielded less than subtle questions from the Minister about why he needed so many people. Now, with two major criminal investigations added to their normal duties, they were stretched quite thin.


He looked at Ron, who shrugged. “We could pull maybe two people off of the Ministry security detail and send along a couple of trainees,” he suggested.


“Do it,” Harry replied.


“Something wrong, Richards?” he asked, noticing the uncomfortable look on the man’s face.


“Sending trainees into Azkaban, sir? If there’s any sort of trouble, it will be hard enough to maintain order without having to look out for a couple of greenies.”


“You needed bodies, you have bodies,” Harry replied. “Pair them off with senior Aurors and do make sure that they come back in one piece.”


The rest of the meeting went quickly. Team leaders gave updates on the more routine cases they were working and Ron handed out patrol and security assignments for the weekend. When the meeting broke, Harry pulled Ron into his office.


“I mean it, mate, you look dead on your feet,” Harry told him. “I don’t think you’re doing anybody much good here. If you want to go over the case files then make copies and do it at home with your feet up.”


Ron started to argue, but Harry silenced him with a raised finger and a grin. “Don’t make me pull rank on you. Or worse still, tell your mum.”


“Oi, alright,” Ron replied. “You didn’t have to go there.”


“If we get any breaks in the case, I’ll let you know right away. Now get on with you,” Harry admonished.


After Ron left, Harry quickly scanned the list of messages and owls waiting on his desk. Finding nothing urgent, he grabbed his cloak and headed out.


“I’ll be at St. Mungo’s if anyone is looking for me,” he told his secretary and then headed for the Ministry Atrium.

 




Hermione’s door was open when Harry arrived and he heard familiar voices coming from inside.


“Still, I don’t see why George couldn’t add school supplies at the Hogsmeade store,” Audrey was saying as he walked in. “Flourish and Blotts have gotten so expensive recently. It would be good to have an alternative.”


“Audrey, it’s a joke shop,” Angelina explained slowly. “If we put in quills and cauldrons, it will bore the customers right out the door.”


Hermione was laying in bed with several of the healers’ magical instruments affixed to her body. Her eyes were closed and she was very pale. He noticed the slow rising and falling of her chest, but otherwise she lay still.


“Ahem,” Harry made a small sound to get the attention of his sisters-in-law.


“Oh, hi, Harry,” Audrey gushed towards him. “So nice of you to come. Hermione was asking about you earlier. Poor thing.”


“How is the patient?” Harry asked.


“She still can’t really talk, but the healers say that she’s doing really well,” replied Angelina, beaming towards Hermione. “They hope that she’ll be out of here in a week or two.”


“Would you ladies mind if we had a few moments alone?” Harry asked.


“Of course not, Harry. I’m sure you have important Auror questions to ask,” Audrey replied. “Just be sure not to push her too hard. The healers say she needs her rest.”


Harry watched the two women close the door behind themselves. He took Hermione’s pale hand and kissed her gently on the forehead.


“How are you feeling?” he asked.


“A little better, but still really fuzzy,” she replied, her voice barely a whisper.


“I thought you couldn’t talk?” Harry asked.


“As far as Audrey knows,” she said with a weak smile.


Harry chuckled at his old friend. “You really are amazing, you know that?”


Hermione smiled again, but then her face turned serious.


“Harry, there are some things I need to tell you. I feel really tired and I don’t want to forget.”


“Only if you feel up to it,” Harry replied. “You need to save your strength.”


“The witch and the wizard who attacked us... they were asking Elvert about sealed records... from the war. They were asking for a journal... kept by one of the Death Eaters.”


Harry nodded slowly. It had to be the same book that Flint was demanding from Malfoy. The pieces were coming together. He squeezed her hand more tightly.


“The wizard... who cursed me... had a petition by the lifts.”


“Hermione, the curse that you were hit with is called Exussanguis. It’s an ancient dark curse that boils your blood. The wizard who cursed you messed it up, otherwise you would have been killed. Do you know anything about it?”


She moved her head very slightly from side to side. Her eyes were closed now and her breathing was slower. The exertion was too much for her. He was surprised to see her lips moving, and he had to lean very close to hear her voice.


“Harry... something is very... very bad... protect our babies... keep them safe.”


Harry stood up and smoothed a stray hair away from her face. He kissed her again on the forehead and quietly left the room.


“She’s asleep,” he said to Audrey and Angelina when he found them sipping tea near the nurse’s station.


“Poor thing,” Audrey cooed. “I hope you catch whoever did this to her and lock them up and throw away the key.”


“We’re trying,” Harry replied. “When she’s feeling better, I’m sure she’ll be able to help us out a lot.”


Harry smiled at Audrey, trying to think of the right way to ask what was happening between her and Percy. He noticed one of the healers staring at him from further down the hall. The man nodded in his direction. “Excuse me, ladies,” Harry said.


The badge on the healer’s robes identified him as Gelbard. “You’re Harry Potter, correct?” the man asked.


“Yes,” Harry answered. “And I take it you’re Healer Gelbard?”


“I believe I treated you after the accident at that warehouse full of counterfeit whizz poppers,” the Healer replied.


“Well, it wasn’t really an accident, but thank you nevertheless. How can I help you?”


“Would you join me in the healer’s lounge for a moment?” the healer asked, gesturing towards a small room with a couch and several chairs.


Once they were seated, Healer Gelbard rested his elbows on his knees and spoke quietly. “You are very close to Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, are you not?”


“We’ve all been best friends since school,” Harry replied. “Is something wrong?”


“We’re not sure yet,” the Healer admitted. “I need to take you into my confidence. I would never share news like this with a patient in Mrs. Weasley’s condition and, frankly, I’m not sure how Mr. Weasley would take it.”


Harry felt impatience and anger welling up inside and suppressed them as best he could. “What's wrong with her? Tell me, please.”


“It's still early in her treatment, but so far we haven’t seen any movement in her legs. Now you need to understand that this is a very unusual curse and we really don’t know what to expect. She might regain the use of them with time and treatment. But right now, the damage looks very severe and the potions aren’t working the way they should. I’m afraid that she may never walk again.”


Harry sat back in his chair, stunned. His mind was reeling. How was he going to explain this to Ron? To Hermione? To Rose and Hugo and the grandchildren?


“How soon will you know for sure?” he asked, staring at the floor.


The Healer shrugged wearily. “Days? Maybe a few weeks? Nobody has seen this curse used in our lifetimes. It’s fortunate that she’s going to live. Beyond that, everything is a guessing game.”


After a long time, Harry looked the healer in the eyes. “You definitely shouldn’t tell Ron yet. I can’t predict how he’ll react.”


“Thank you, Mr. Potter,” replied the Healer. “I will certainly take your advice. Perhaps if we’re very fortunate, I won’t need it.”


He stood and left Harry sitting in the lounge. If there was one thing that Harry was not feeling at the moment, it was fortunate.


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