First of all, a big thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed Conspiracy of Blood. As I've mentioned, your reviews make the story better. If you can, please take a minute to offer your thoughts. They mean more than you realize.
As always, the characters herein belong solely to JK Rowling.
The message from the Auror office reached Ron a little before one o’clock on Monday morning. Visiting hours at St. Mungo’s had ended at eight o’clock the prior evening and the nurses had finally convinced him to leave at around half past. He spent another ten minutes fluffing Hermione’s pillows, organizing her room and generally fussing over her before she more or less ordered him out of her room. He thought about visiting the Burrow to see whether there was food left over from the family dinner, but the idea of being badgered to go to bed didn’t appeal to him. Instead, he decided to go home and indulge his insomnia. Ron was about five moves away from checkmating himself for the second time when he learned about the attack on Malfoy Manor.
Susan Bones greeted him as he walked through the front gate. “Morning, Ron. Sorry to drag you out here, but we haven’t been able to get in touch with Harry.”
“It’s OK. I, uh, hadn’t been asleep for very long,” he replied. “What have you found so far?”
“The attack happened just after midnight,” she replied. “Singleton and Windsor were on that wall and Elgin was on the far corner. Windsor and Elgin are at St. Mungo’s and Singleton... well, he didn’t make it.”
Ron winced as he saw the Mediwizards carry away a body covered by a white sheet on a stretcher. To him, Singleton had been a hidden gem, an experienced Auror who had no problem volunteering for assignments that his peers thought were beneath them. Ron spent too much of his time managing type A personalities with big egos and six or seven N.E.W.T.s to their credit. Singleton’s workmanlike approach made him a valuable asset. He had also left behind a wife and two young children. Somebody would have to pay an awful visit to his family in the morning.
“Do we know how Windsor and Elgin are doing?” Ron asked.
“We found Windsor over there,” she answered, gesturing towards the side of the Manor house. “He was hurt really badly. The Mediwizards gave him a little better than a fifty-fifty chance of pulling through. Elgin did brilliantly for a first year. She fought her way past the attackers and made it past the anti-apparition jinxes they cast. She made the first call for help. She lost two fingers and had some really nasty burns, but she wouldn’t let them take her to St. Mungo’s without Windsor. She’s earning her scars early.”
“Anti-apparition jinxes?” Ron replied, looking surprised. “So this wasn’t just a random robbery. They knew we were here.”
“It looks that way,” she replied.
Susan took Ron on a quick tour of the scene, showing him the damage to the inside of the house and the grounds. Ron’s pulse quickened as they surveyed the carnage. Everything about it reminded him of the attack on the Ministry. He found himself wishing that they could prove that the same people were involved. Each clue would bring him one step closer to the wizard who hurt Hermione. One step closer to redeeming himself for the way he had failed to protect her.
“Do we know whether anything was taken?” he asked.
“Not yet. Malfoy and his wife are at her parents’ house. Her father made a floo call to the office about the same time that Elgin raised the alert. I sent Pernicia over to take statements from them, but they refused to talk to her.”
“Refused to talk?” Ron replied incredulously. “They’re material witnesses to a bloody war fought inside their own home. Just drag ‘em in.”
“Ron, maybe we should just give them a little time to calm down,” Susan reasoned. “Knowing Malfoy, he’s probably still storming around and talking rubbish. If we wait ‘til morning, he may be a lot more helpful.”
They heard a crack outside the Manor gates and moments later Harry walked unsteadily through them. His hair was even more unkempt than normal and he looked as though he might vomit at any moment. “Sorry I’m late,” he apologized, “what happened here?”
“What happened to you?” Ron blurted out, unaccustomed to seeing Harry in such a disheveled state. “I thought the house looked bad...”
“I, uh, had a bit of a late night with the dinner and all,” Harry replied, sounding very shaky. “I’ll tell you about it later. Can you please fill me in?”
Susan gave him the rundown on what they knew about the attack. Harry turned and almost retched when she told him about Singleton. Only Ron’s glares kept the other Aurors focused on their tasks instead of how dreadful their boss looked. Once Susan made it through the rest of her synopsis, Ron set her about analyzing the curse damage.
“Seriously, Harry, are you OK?” he asked.
“I’ll live,” Harry replied with a weak smile. At the moment, Ron had his doubts. Before he could express them, Harry changed the subject. “How is Hermione? I felt bad not getting in to see her yesterday.”
“She’s doing a little better,” Ron replied. “They’re letting her elevate the head of her bed just a bit and her vision has improved. Still a long way to go, they’re telling us.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Harry replied. There was a note of anxiety in his voice that Ron found a little odd, considering the progress Hermione was making. He remembered hearing something similar in Hermione’s voice when she told him about Harry’s visit. He reckoned that there was probably a connection he was failing to make.
“So what do you make of all this?” Harry asked.
“Whoever did it wasn’t subtle,” Ron answered, gesturing around the crime scene. “The doors were blasted open. The hallway looks like a bomb went off. The ground is all torn up around the spot where they found Windsor. Once it started, it was all-out war. To me, it looks a lot like the attack on Magical Records. I’ve been wondering whether it’s the same bunch.”
“I have to agree,” Harry replied. “Listen, Ron, let’s go for a walk around the grounds. There are a couple of things you need to know.”
As they circled the house, Harry went over his conversation with Malfoy. Ron felt his bile rising as Harry reached the end of the story. “You mean to tell me that cowardly little git knew that Flint was on the loose the night before Hermione was almost killed and he didn’t say anything?”
“Yes, he did,” Harry replied. “I’ve been keeping this information to myself. I thought it would be safer for everyone if nobody knew that he came to talk to me. It looks like I was wrong.”
Harry was starting to hang his head in the way that he often did when somebody mentioned Fred, Remus or Tonks. If anything, it made Ron angrier. “Mate, don’t you dare take this one on your head. If that bloody little weasel had come clean about all this right away, we probably would have caught them by now.”
“Ron, calm down,” Harry cut him off. “Nobody made Malfoy come talk to me. He was there because he’s scared for his grandchildren. Your grandchildren. If he really wanted to help Flint, he would have just kept his mouth shut.”
Ron supposed that Harry had a point, although he still felt angry at Malfoy. He stifled the feeling for a moment and asked, “So what do you want to do about him? He’s holed up with his wife at old man Greengrass’s house, refusing to talk to us.”
“I’m going to go talk to him,” Harry replied.
“You?” Ron asked in disbelief. “Malfoy hates your guts, right?”
“Maybe not as much as he used to,” Harry replied. “What time are you planning to go see Hermione in the morning?”
“Probably right after breakfast.”
“Good, I’ll meet you at the Ministry cafe at half past seven, then we’ll floo over. There’s something I need to discuss with the two of you. If you find anything else important here, contact me with the mirrors.”
Before Ron could find his voice, Harry turned and disapparated. Ron decided that he might as well stay and help with the investigation, since there was no way he was going to be able to sleep after Harry’s last comment.
The members of the New Blood Order gathered in the abandoned warehouse. They had all been baptized in the same fire, but there remained a deep division between the men who were enjoying a fresh taste of freedom and the ones who had now put theirs at risk. Nott and the other Azkaban escapees were taking great joy in celebrating their exploits at the Manor. Burloch, Pelfry and the other men that Flint had recruited from the outside were far less enthused.
“Did you see me curse that little Auror wench?” Gamp blustered. “Hit her square in the arse. And a fine arse it was, but she won’t be sitting on it for a while.”
Nott and Goyle roared with laughter, clapping Gamp on the back.
“Well look at you lot,” Burloch sneered when the mirth died down. “Assaultin’ a woman and killin’ a couple Aurors. I hope that makes ye a big man in the showers in Azkaban, ‘cause that’d be all that come o’ tonight.”
“Didn’t you hear Flint, you old goat?” Goyle replied, taking a threatening step towards Burloch and the others. “We got the Dark Lord’s journal. Pretty soon, it’ll be the blood traitors taking cold showers in Azkaban. If we let them live.”
“Big words from a second-rate nancy boy that’s mostly just sat in prison half his life,” snarled Pelfrey, moving to Burloch’s side.
The war of words continued to escalate until the men were chest to chest with Gamp’s wand a fraction away from Burloch’s good eye and Pelfry’s knife at Nott’s throat. They barely noticed the emerald serpent that slithered between their feet until it reared into the air with an angry hiss. Both sides jumped back, swearing and firing curses that seemed to deflect harmlessly off of the snake.
“Gentlemen,” Tenabra’s voice boomed through the warehouse, “Please control your tempers.”
She stepped out of the shadows and gestured with her wand. The snake disappeared in a puff of smoke. She held an old, leather-bound book in her arm. The leather was blackened and worn, with ancient runes burned into the cover. “That was but a small sample of the secrets contained within the Dark Lord’s journal.
“Oh, yeah?” Pelfrey shot back, “Well tell me, missy, is there a spell in that book ta turn horse manure into gold? ‘Cause Flint provided us with none o’ tha latter and a shedload o’ tha former.”
“Gold, Mr. Pelfrey?” she sneered. “Might I remind you that one Auror died tonight and another was grievously injured. Gold will be little comfort to you if our cause is not successful.”
She allowed a long moment of silence for her point to sink in. “We are now in this together, come success or failure. I suggest you do what you can to make sure we don’t fail.”
“What happened to Flint?” Nott asked.
“Mr. Flint chose not to heed my warning about the curses protecting the journal,” she replied. “He tried to steal the Dark Lord’s secrets for himself, and he paid the price for his foolish ambition.”
Burloch and his friends chuckled cruelly. Gamp snickered and mumbled, “stupid git.” Only Nott appeared upset at the loss of his friend and ally.
“From now on, we will be following the Dark Lord’s designs. Using his plans to overthrow the leaders that betray us and to assure that wizards, not muggles, control the destiny of our world. The first step is to rally the wizarding world to our cause. To awaken the great, silent majority that abhors the muggle filth that contaminates our culture as surely as it dilutes our very blood. It is time to reveal the New Blood Order to the world, and let the Ministry tremble.”
With that, she conjured a lectern, sat the book upon it, and began to read.
Harry appeared in front of the gates of the Greengrass estate, turned towards the hedges and promptly vomited up the small amount of water he’d managed to drink before he left home. Talking to Malfoy was difficult enough when he was well and at the moment he felt truly awful. But he also knew Draco wasn’t going to trust anyone else. He had to make the first move.
As he approached the gates, he was greeted by one of the cherubs cast into the ironwork. It spoke with a cheerful lilt that stood in sharp contrast to the grim-looking, pitted iron of the old gate.
“Please state your business with the noble house of Greengrass.”
“Head Auror Potter here to speak with Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy,” he replied as crisply as his throbbing head would allow.
The cherub went silent for a couple of minutes. When it spoke again, its voice was decidedly less cheerful.
“I regret to inform you that Mr. Malfoy does not wish to speak with you at this time. Perhaps you could come back later?”
“Please tell Mr. Malfoy that if he would prefer to speak with me at the Ministry, I’ll be happy to return with a warrant.”
After another long pause in which Harry could imagine Draco pacing and fuming, the gates swung open. He walked up the path and found Draco standing on the front porch.
“Make it quick, Potter. I’m not going to stand out here all night.”
“Then perhaps we should go inside,” Harry replied calmly.
“Don’t you get it?” Draco snapped. “I talked to you once already and look what it got me. My home is destroyed and my wife and I were nearly killed. I don’t want any more of your help.”
“I’m not here offering help, Draco,” Harry replied. “I’m here asking for it. I’m going to share something with you that’s not widely known outside of the Ministry. It’s not just Flint. Nott, Goyle, Gamp and half a dozen of their friends have also escaped from Azkaban. One of the Aurors who was guarding your house was killed in the attack and another was critically injured. I need you to tell me everything you know before more people die.”
Malfoy stared at him for a long moment. “I’m sorry to hear about the Auror that died. Please relay our condolences to the family. But I have nothing to add to what I already told you. Flint was looking for a book, one that he believed was left at Malfoy Manor by the Dark Lord. When I told him that it wasn’t there, he got angry and left.”
“Are you sure there’s nothing else?” Harry pressed. “Did he mention anything about how he managed to escape?”
“He said that ‘we’ had a new friend inside the Ministry who had arranged his release,” Draco recalled. “He didn’t offer any more than that.”
Harry rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Malfoy, why didn’t you tell me this before? Is there anything else you omitted?”
“We didn’t have all day, Potter,” Draco shot back. “You know Flint. The bloody wanker never shuts up. He was going on about how the pure bloods were going to take over and chase the muggle lovers and mudbloods out of the Ministry. It’s the same old claptrap that landed him in prison in the first place.”
“We’re going to need you to come back to the house tomorrow and help us figure out whether anything is missing.”
“If they found the Dark Lord’s journal, then I'm happy to be rid of it,” Draco replied.
“If they found it, then they found something that your mother, you and your wife and a team of spell breakers all missed. And they found it in under an hour after surviving a firefight. It’s not impossible, but I’d say it’s unlikely,” Harry reasoned. “If they did take anything, we need to know what.”
Draco thought for a moment, then called out, “Kriffin!” The elf appeared next to him and bowed deeply. “If anything was taken from the house during the attack, would you be able to spot it?”
“Kriffin knows everything in Master’s house,” the elf replied quietly.
“Kriffin, please take Auror Potter back to the house and help him identify anything that is missing,” Draco instructed. Harry didn’t miss the subtle message inherent Malfoy’s orders to the elf.
“We’re still going to need to get statements from you and Astoria,” Harry said quickly, pulling his arm away just before the elf was able to grab it. “But that can wait until morning.”
“Make it early,” Draco replied with a cross look on his face. “The old man has decided that the family is relocating to his ski lodge in the Alps until your lot is able to catch Flint and his friends.”
“We’ll need a way to get in touch with you in case we have more questions,” Harry added as the elf made another grab for his arm.
“Scorpius will know how to find us,” Draco replied. “I would appreciate it if you didn’t make use of that information casually.”
“Of course not,” Harry assured him. “Do you think we should tell Daphne that her husband is on the loose?”
“There’s no point in it,” Draco mused. “Now that she’s as big a cow on the outside as she is on the inside, Gamp wouldn’t have anything to do with her.”
Harry chuckled out loud and realized this was probably the closest he’d ever come to connecting with Malfoy on any level. He saw a cheeky grin on Malfoy’s face just before the elf grabbed his arm and the Greengrass estate spun out of existence.
After a miserably short few hours of sleep, Harry dragged himself into the Ministry cafe on Monday morning. As he crossed the atrium, he reflected on how he was once again coming to work with more questions on his mind than answers. Kriffin had proved difficult to work with, struggling with an overwhelming need to put the contents of the house back in order as he reviewed them. House elves didn’t understand anything about preserving a crime scene. In the end, he was able to identify only one item missing. There was a single, empty spot in the middle of a bookshelf in Malfoy’s study. Harry doubted that anyone else would have noticed it, but the elf zeroed in on it instantly.
“Master is very particular about his books,” Kriffin explained. “Master demands that they are lined up and dusted. Kriffin dusted this shelf many times. Never a gap.”
Unfortunately, that’s where Kriffin’s helpfulness ended. As it turned out, the elf was illiterate. He had no idea about the title of the missing book. Harry hoped that one of the Malfoys would be able to remember something about it. Their departure for the Alps would have to wait.
“Harry, over here, mate,” he heard Ron call from across the cafe. Hermione’s condition was affecting Ron’s sleep, but nothing seemed to be able to touch his appetite. One empty plate sat in the middle of the table while Ron was working on another with gusto. Harry grabbed a coffee and some toast and sat down across from him.
“Did they find anything else after we finished with the elf?” Harry asked. As soon as Kriffin was done, Harry had gone home and collapsed into bed. He was more or less sure that Ron hadn’t slept.
“Susan got preliminary identification on two of the wands used in the attack,” Ron answered. “Our blokes from Magical Records were definitely involved, including the one who cursed Hermione.” Harry noticed Ron tense up. The case had become very personal.
“We’re going to catch them, mate,” Harry offered. “They’ll make a mistake eventually. They always do.”
Ron relaxed just a bit as he chewed a piece of bacon. “The missing book doesn’t make any sense. The spell breakers went over that study with a fine tooth comb. They didn’t find anything aside from that arsehole statue of Headmaster Black.”
Harry nodded in agreement. Ron hadn’t mentioned anything about his and Hermione’s old wands, so Harry was hoping that he’d missed that part of spell breakers’ report in his sleep-deprived state. He just needed to find the right occasion to spring the gift on them. He considered Ron’s point for a few seconds. “Tom Riddle probably forgot more about dark magic than the spell breakers will ever know. It’s possible that he used concealment spells that even they couldn’t get past. But how, then, does a nobhead like Flint manage to find it in half an hour?”
“We know he had help getting out of Azkaban,” Ron reasoned. “Whoever set that up might have told him how to find the journal.”
Before Harry could say anything else, a memo zipped into the cafe and began to circle his head. He snatched it and tore it open, then scanned the contents.
“The Minister’s called a meeting of the department heads today. I’m on the agenda to give an update on the investigation and...” Harry’s voice trailed off and he grimaced. “And the situation at Azkaban.”
“Bloody hell,” Ron moaned. “He’s gonna sack the warden, isn’t he?”
“Probably,” Harry replied. “Well, we knew it might happen. Let’s run up to the office before we floo to the hospital. I’ll send a quick note to the Minister and you contact Richards and let him know what’s coming.”
They rose and made their way out of the cafe. While they were in the lift, Harry went over his plan for when they arrived at St. Mungo’s. Now that the alcohol was out of his system, he felt less sure of himself. But he was sure that he couldn’t go on keeping the truth from his best friends. As long as Hermione was well enough, there would be no more secrets.
Hermione had just finished her morning potions when Ron and Harry arrived. She was finally starting to feel more like herself. Her vision was almost back to normal and she was able to move her arms and head slowly without pain. The healers had allowed her some toast and juice for breakfast, and although she still needed help to eat, it felt good to have an appetite again. They both broke into huge smiles when they saw her reclining against the elevated head of her bed, so she assumed that she must look a bit better, too.
“Hello, love,” Ron beamed, moving to kiss her on the cheek. At the last moment, she turned and caught his lips with hers. He looked at her with surprise, then pleasure as he returned her kiss.
“They finally stopped giving me that potion with nightshade in it,” she explained with a coy smile. “So I can kiss you properly again.”
“Works for me,” Ron replied with a goofy little smirk before planting another kiss on her lips.
“Hey, how about you give somebody else a chance?” Harry asked with a grin. He walked to the other side of her bed and leaned forward to pull her into a gentle hug. She enjoyed Harry’s warm embrace, and the way that her husband looked awkwardly around the room as he tried to avoid staring. There was a part of Ron that couldn’t stop being possessive, even where his best friend was concerned.
“You look much better,” Harry said.
“I feel better,” she replied. “They finally let me eat. I was even thinking of nibbling on one of the sweets you brought.”
“A good appetite is a good sign,” Ron said, nodding approvingly. ”Mum always said that.”
“Ronald, if you ever lost your appetite, I would start by checking your pulse,” she replied with a big smile.
“See, her sense of humor is coming back, too,” Ron beamed. She hadn’t seen him this happy in days. Something was still not right with Harry, though. There was an unmistakable tension beneath his smile.
“I keep hoping I’ll be able to get out of bed soon,” she said, probing for a reaction from Harry. “I just wish the feeling would come back in my feet.”
There was nothing subtle about the change in Harry’s demeanor this time. The look on his face turned from happiness to dread. She stared into his eyes and she thought she could see traces of guilt. They were quickly replaced by another expression she was used to seeing. Resolve.
“They still haven’t told you, have they?” he asked.
Ron’s smile disappeared instantly. “Told her what, Harry?” They both stared at him as he seemed to come to a conclusion.
“Wait here,” Harry said. “I’ll be right back.”
He strode out of the room, turning towards away from the lifts as he entered the hallway. Hermione and Ron mostly just stared at each other as the longest two minutes of her life ticked by. Harry reappeared with Healer Gelbard in his wake. The man was visibly nervous, fidgeting with a clipboard as he entered the room.
“Go ahead,” Harry said in a quiet voice, “tell them.”
Gelbard regarded Harry for a long moment, then took a deep breath and began to explain her condition. She gripped Ron’s hand tightly as he spoke, feeling the tension. The healer seemed to be offering a carefully blended mix of optimism and reality, but the worst case was clearly spelled out. He talked about the treatments they still wanted to try and how they were reaching out to healers in Eastern Europe and the Middle East who treated more dark magical injuries. When he finished speaking, there was a long moment of silence. Everyone seemed to be looking at her and she found that her mind was oddly blank. Ordinarily, she would have been filled with questions after such a lengthy and technical explanation of any topic. Ron asked the only question that was coming to her mind.
“So you’re saying that she may never walk again?”
“I’m afraid that’s correct,” Gelbard replied grimly. He looked at the three of them and started to back towards the door. “This is obviously a lot for you to think about. Take your time and please call for me if you have any other questions.” Then he left the room and closed the door behind him. The sound of the door closing echoed softly in the silent room.
I might never walk again.
Her rational mind kicked into high gear. It’s alright, she told herself. Lots of people in wheelchairs lead very productive lives. That muggle who figured out how the universe was born couldn’t move his arms or his legs. Muggles were doing all sort of amazing things for disabled people these days, and she could always levitate her chair if she had to. Yes, she decided, everything was going to be just fine. So why was she sobbing uncontrollably?
Ron’s arms surrounded her, rocking her slightly from side to side as he tried to whisper reassuring words into her ear. She wasn’t listening to anything that he was saying. The words didn’t matter, only his presence. The dampness of his tears reached the side of her face and she realized that he was also crying. The pain in her chest returned with a vengeance as her feelings shifted from sadness to panic. She tried to tell Ron that they needed to leave, that he needed to take her home, but the words weren’t coming out right. Memories of being trapped in Malfoy Manor invaded her mind. She could almost hear Bellatrix Lestrange's howling cackle.
"Please, Ronald, please take me home!" she tried to yell, but all that came out were garbled sobs.
She was vaguely aware of Harry screaming for help while Ron clutched her as though his life depended on it. The sounds were becoming distant again. Somewhere, a healer shouted something about her blood pressure.
Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley, we need you out of the room!
Hermione! No! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry...
Mr. Weasley, please! Let go!
No! I won’t leave her!
Ron, she needs help! Let go!
After several violent lurches, she felt Ron’s arms release her. Her body fell limply to the bed and she wanted to cry out for him, but all of her strength was gone. She felt a potion slide down her throat. Just before the darkness consumed her, she heard the piercing shriek of a little girl. Cripple!
When he finally finished fielding questions, Harry slumped into his chair and wished he could disappear. His mental state was already in shambles when he left St. Mungo’s and the Minister’s meeting had done nothing to improve it. When Kingsley was Minister of Magic, petty rivalries among the deputy ministers and department heads were never allowed to fester. As soon as he sniffed one out, he would summon the feuding parties into his office and seal the door until a peace was brokered. The current Minister preferred to pit his subordinates against one another, providing covert support to whichever side played to his political advantage. It was a brutal way to run a government.
Harry caught a reassuring smile from Percy, who sat in his customary spot three seats to the Minister’s left. In spite of his recent odd behavior outside of work, Percy continued to have a great deal of influence inside the Ministry. He was one of the longest-tenured deputy ministers and the only one with the Battle of Hogwarts on his CV. In a peculiar twist of fate, the trial that had cost Ron and Harry so much had made Percy something of a legend within the Ministry: the administrator-turned-barrister who had saved the heroes of the Second Wizarding War from a life behind bars. His name often came up when people discussed possible candidates for Minister, which Harry supposed was a big part of why the current Minister preferred to keep him close at hand.
Percy caught up to Harry as he rushed away from the meeting, trying to avoid any follow-up conversations.
“Hello, Harry. Tough meeting, but I think you made out OK.”
“I’m glad one of us feels that way,” Harry replied, maintaining his rapid stride toward the lifts.
“Harry,” Percy caught him by the shoulder, slowing his pace, “there’s nobody following us. Do you want to take a moment and talk about whatever has you so out of sorts?”
Harry looked back and realized that Percy was right. The hallway behind them was empty. He took a deep breath and smiled at his brother-in-law apologetically. “I don’t know if there are enough hours left in the day. For one thing, the Minister’s decision to publicly accuse the warden of corruption while firing him is going to wreak havoc on our investigation at Azkaban. For another, I still owe a visit to the family of the Auror who died in last night’s attack at the Malfoy estate. And to top it all off, Hermione almost had a heart attack this morning because of something that I decided she should know.”
Percy’s expression went from collegial sympathy to a much deeper concern. “I hadn’t heard. Is she alright?”
“The healers were there almost immediately. Once we pried Ron away from her, they gave her sleeping potions and managed to get her blood pressure back to normal.”
“Thank Merlin,” Percy replied. “Listen, I’m due to meet Ms. Dynt for lunch, but I believe I ought to stop by St. Mungo’s later today and see her. If you think that would be alright.”
Harry stared at Percy with raised eyebrows. “You mean Ms. Dynt, the Minister’s personal secretary? Percy, are you sure that’s... wise?”
“Arabela and I have been friends for a long time,” Percy explained. “It’s strictly platonic.”
“I’m sure it is,” Harry replied evenly. “But given your current -- uh, is estrangement the right word? -- from Audrey, I’d think you would want to be extra careful around attractive, widowed witches like Ms. Dynt.”
“Audrey and I have a good understanding right now,” Percy replied, seemingly unconcerned. “She knows that I need some space and she’s been a real dear about indulging me. Like I said, Arabela is a friend. The Minister is well aware that we have lunch together from time to time.”
As they made their way towards the Atrium, Percy filled Harry in on recent events that he couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to otherwise. The stories of political intrigue were somehow more interesting when Percy told them, probably due to his enthusiasm. He was good at political games, unlike Harry.
They were approaching the lifts when a young Auror named Callisto came running up to them.
“Harry! We didn’t send a patronus because we didn’t know whether you were still in the Minister’s meeting. These have been popping up all over the place.”
She handed him a sheet of parchment. It made him cringe before he even began to read the block printed words.
Wizarding people of the world, this is your call to action. For too long we have stood silently by while the muggles pollute our blood and steal our magic. Your government wants you to believe that muggles are like us, that their technology is no threat to our world. We know better. Their lies reveal their true nature. They would enslave us to the muggle world rather than fighting to maintain our culture.
The New Blood Order has arisen to speak for the silent majority. We have struck a blow at the heart of the beast, but there is much to be done. We will not rest until the muggle collaborators are driven from power and wizards, not muggles, control the future of our world. Shall we go quietly into the night, or do we fight to save our very civilization? We shall fight, and we shall prevail!
Beneath the words was the Dark Mark. The serpent writhed menacingly on the page, sending chills up Harry’s spine.
“Harry, it can’t be,” Percy mumbled. “He’s dead. He’s been dead for almost fifty years.”
Harry realized they were both staring at him and quickly regained his composure. “He is dead. This,” he said, touching the scar on his forehead, “would tell me if he wasn’t. But I suppose the feelings that he represents are still very much alive.
“Callisto,” he said, turning to the junior Auror, “get messages out to all the field offices warning them. I have to go speak to the Minister.”
Harry folded the parchment and turned back towards the Minister’s office.
Visiting hours were nearly over by the time Harry made his way back to St. Mungo’s. He found Hermione’s door open and he was stunned to hear laughter coming from inside the room. Hermione’s laughter.
“Hello?” he called cautiously, poking his head through the door.
“Harry!” Hermione croaked loudly. “Harry James Potter! Why I haven’t seen you since... well since I almost died this morning!”
She broke into another fit of giggles as Ron cringed next to her bed. Harry tossed his cloak over the spare seat and stared at her in disbelief. “Hermione, are you... drunk?”
“Ha! Don’t I wish. You can’t get so much as a butterbeer in this place. Did I ever tell you how much I like butterbeer?”
“They gave her some sort of muggle concoction,” Ron explained as she continued to ramble on about butterbeer. “Dizzypam or something like that...”
“That would be diazepam,” Healer Gelbard corrected Ron as he walked into the room. “It’s a muggle anti-anxiety drug. We find that it actually works better than any potion yet discovered. Although in this case I think we might have gotten the dosage a little high.”
“So you’re saying that she had an anxiety attack this morning?” Harry asked.
“We’ve been able to rule out nearly everything else,” Gelbard replied, using a magical silver and glass talisman to check Hermione’s pulse.
“What happens when this dazzypam stuff wears off?” Ron asked.
Gelbard tucked his instruments back into his robe. “I’m planning to keep her on a low dose of it until the healing of her circulatory system is more complete. We were fortunate that help reached her quickly this morning. I don’t want to take any chances until she’s stronger.”
“So, wait, wait, wait,” Hermione interrupted, holding hand to her forehead. “You mean I get to keep taking this dizzyfizzy stuff?”
“That’s right,” Gelbard replied.
Hermione’s physical condition improved over the next few days, but the panic attacks continued to plague her. Once she was no longer loopy on diazepam, she quickly became frustrated. The idea of being dependent on a medication for her sanity was appalling to her. She tore through three books on treating anxiety disorders and tried several leading desensitization techniques, but the mere sight of a wheelchair still made her break out in a cold sweat. No matter how hard she tried to calm her mind, she could not sit in one without hyperventilating.
As her discharge from St. Mungo’s drew near, getting her home became a serious dilemma. On Friday morning, the healers finally declared her well enough to leave. Ron picked her up and eased her into a wing-backed chair that Rose had conjured. Then Rose and Hugo carefully levitated the chair to the lifts while Ron fretted about her falling out and Hermione wanted to die from sheer embarrassment. As soon as the car pulled away from the hospital, she burst into tears and cried for the entire trip.
That evening, Ron and Hermione’s home was filled with activity. Molly and Arthur flooed over with a celebratory feast she had prepared. Hugo and Fiona arrived shortly after five o’clock with baby Amelie and Harry, Al and Lily arrived soon after. Just as they were about to sit down for dinner, Rose, Scorpius and Octavia stepped out of the fireplace.
“Too late, sis, we ate it all already,” Hugo joked as Rose pulled off Octavia’s jumper.
“I’m sorry we’re late,” Rose fretted as she pulled off her own cloak.
“They were snogging!” Octavia announced to the entire room, sparking a chorus of laughter.
Rose’s face turned the customary Weasley shade of red while Scorpius shrugged nonchalantly. “I’ve been gone for a week. She was desperate,” he said with a grin after collecting a brotherly hug from Al. He pulled Al’s wife Jenny into a playful embrace and lifted her off of her feet to shield himself from the hex that Rose was preparing to hit him with.
“Hermione, dear, you must be so happy to be home again,” Molly said as Ron was sliding her chair up to the table.
“Hmmn?” she replied, distracted by the effort of pulling her feet into a proper position under the table. “Oh, yes, very.”
Hugo and Rose exchanged glances across the table. The lack of enthusiasm in her response did not go unnoticed. When dinner ended, Ron carried her to a chair in the living room while the rest of the family cleared the table and tended to the dishes. Behind the smiling facade she put on, he could see the anguish in her eyes. Harry hadn’t missed it either, and he lingered as the other guests began to say their good nights.
“Dear, I can’t imagine how hard this has been on you,” Molly said to Hermione as Ron helped her with her cloak. “You know that Arthur and I love you and we think of you as one of our own. If you ever need anything, please call us straight away.”
“Thank you,” Hermione replied as a single tear ran down her cheek. “That means a lot.” Molly hugged her and kissed her cheek, then followed her husband into the fire.
Harry looked at her with a sad smile. “Tonight was hard, wasn’t it?”
“You have no idea,” she replied, her eyes brimming. He sat on the arm of the chair next to her and pulled her head onto his lap.
Ron returned to the room with beers for himself and Harry and promptly dropped them when he saw her crying. He rushed to kneel in front of her, looking helplessly at Harry as he caressed her shoulder. After a moment, she lifted her upper body off of Harry’s leg and buried her face in Ron’s shoulder.
Harry rose from the chair and retrieved a black felt bag from the pocket of his cloak. “I have something for you two,” he told them. “I found them the other day. I was hoping it might make you feel a bit better.”
Hermione lifted her tear-stained face from Ron’s shoulder and looked at him through damp eyes. Ron was also staring at the bag. “Mate, this had better not be like the last surprise you had for us,” he managed to say, half joking.
“No, this is much better,” Harry replied. He loosened the cord holding the bag closed and held it out to them. “Don’t look. Just reach inside.”
Hermione quickly wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and reached into the bag. She let out a small gasp as her hand made contact with its contents. The connection was immediate. She didn’t need to look.
“Harry, where did you find these?” she asked in wonder. She looked like she was afraid to pull her hand out, as though the miracle might disappear in the light of day.
“In a drawer in the basement of Malfor Manor. The spell breakers found them.”
“And Ron’s is in there, too?”
“My what?” Ron interrupted. “Would you two mind terribly telling me what’s in the bloody bag?”
“Put your hand in,” Hermione replied, her sadness momentarily forgotten.
Harry stretched the opening as wide as it would go to accommodate Ron’s hand alongside Hermione’s. He reached inside and a broad smile crossed his face as he felt the same sense of familiarity.
“Go ahead, take them out!” Harry said impatiently. Slowly, they withdrew the wands from the bag, studying every inch as they emerged. Ron waved his willow wand in a broad circle, creating a ring of blue flames in the air as he went. Hermione twirled the old vine wood between her fingers before conjuring a delicate rose on the arm of the chair.
“Harry, it’s... it’s amazing!” she exclaimed. “I like the wand I got after the war, but it was never quite the same.”
“The wand chooses the wizard,” Harry repeated old Olivander’s words. “Nothing is ever quite like your first real wand.” He absentmindedly touched his holly wand through the fabric of his robes.
Ron cast a patronus and sent it racing around the room. He stared at the shining silver terrier as it barked and yipped happily. “The first time I ever managed to cast this spell was in the Room of Requirement,” he reminisced. “The dog never looked quite right with any other wand.”
Harry felt overjoyed as he watched them cast spells and conjure silly things like a pair of starry-eyed first years. To him, magic had always been about joy and amazement and escaping from the dull realities of life. Watching his best friends forget about their troubles made him feel like a kid again.
Their reverie was interrupted when Susan’s head appeared in the flames of the fireplace. “Ron, Harry, mind if I pop in?”
“Of course not, Susan,” Ron replied, tucking his wand carefully into his pocket. “Please, join us.”
A moment later Susan emerged from the flames and dusted the soot from her robes.
“Hermione, how are you?” Susan cried. She hurried across the room and knelt to pull Hermione into a hug. “Have you been crying?”
“A little,” Hermione admitted with a weak smile. “It’s better now.”
“I’m so glad you’re feeling better,” Susan said, rising to her feet. “I’m sorry we haven’t found a cure for that awful curse yet, but we’re not giving up.”
“Thank you so much for trying,” Hermione replied. “I really appreciate it.”
“It’s the least we can do,” Susan responded. “If I had a galleon for every time you helped us figure something out, I’d be retired already.
“Harry,” Susan said, turning towards him as she pulled a manila envelope from her robes, “this just came back from the muggle crime lab. As soon as I read it, I knew you’d want to see it right away.”
“Susan, I’m really not good with these reports,” he replied. “Maybe you can just tell me what it says?”
“They found a match on the DNA of the witch from the attack on Magical Records,” Susan explained, looking a bit uneasy.
“So do they know who she is?” Ron asked eagerly.
“No, they don’t. But they do know something about her. She...” Susan’s voice trailed off as she struggled for her next words. “I think we’d all better sit down.”
Ron dropped into the armchair next to Hermione while Susan moved to the couch. Hermione conjured an additional chair for Harry, relishing the feeling of her old wand and the way it effortlessly responded to her unspoken spells.
“The witch’s DNA matched a strand of hair that was collected during a murder investigation,” Susan continued. “It was found on the clothes of the man who committed that murder.”
Hermione made the connection before the others. Her face went pale. “Susan, you can’t mean...”
Susan stared into the fire, avoiding Harry’s gaze. “That man was Edwin Michael Stoops.”
Write a Review Harry Potter and the Conspiracy of Blood: No More Secrets