First off, a huge thank you to my beta reader, sophie_hatter, for her extensive tutorials on the Scottish dialect, the English Premier League and the relative condition of mens versus womens facilities in British pubs. This chapter wouldn't make nearly as much sense without her tireless editing and advice. If you haven't read her story, Evolution (M), then treat yourself to a good read!
As always, the characters herein below to JK Rowling.
Lady Tenabra couldn’t suppress a smile as she stared down from the fire escape clinging to the back of an abandoned muggle tenement. In the alley below, fourteen wizards milled about, waiting for her to make an appearance. Through several intermediaries, she had allowed them to contact her and express their desire to join the New Blood Order. Since two of those intermediaries were now dead, she had no concerns even if an Auror or two had slipped into the group. They would never find their way back to her.
Among this lot she counted the family names of some of the Dark Lord’s most prominent and fanatical supporters: Avery, McNair and Rosier, to name a few. Their forebearers had followed Voldemort to his defeat at the hands of Harry Potter. Most of them had died in Azkaban, regretting that decision. Perhaps lack of vision was a hereditary trait.
Checking her watch, she saw that the appointed time for their meeting had arrived. She calmly sat back and watched her guests become more and more agitated as the minutes ticked away. One thing she had discovered about these aristocratic pure blood types was that punctuality was not a virtue in their eyes. The best way to command their respect was to treat them the same way that they treated their underlings, with an utter lack of regard for their time and dignity. Affording them even the slightest bit of deference was a sign of weakness.
She absentmindedly stroked the face of the signet ring she wore on her left middle finger. It was also a portkey that she could activate with a simple touch. If there did turn out to be Aurors among the wizards gathered in the alley, she would be gone in a flash. Everything had been planned down to the last detail.
After letting them all stew for a good ten minutes, she apparated to a shadowy spot across from the alley and disillusioned herself. She made her way quickly and quietly across the street and took up a position near the entrance to the alley. At the same instant, she revealed herself and spoke. “Good evening, gentlemen.”
All of the men started at her appearance. Several drew their wands. The game was becoming tiresome to her, but it was necessary. Keeping her followers off balance was key to maintaining her psychological edge. And she was going to need more followers. Flint had already met his end and she felt sure that it was only a matter of time before his friends Nott and Goyle followed. Gamp was starting to stare at both of them with an unmistakable malice in his eyes. He would soon take matters into his own hands if their own clumsiness didn’t kill them first.
“I understand that you are interested in joining us as we wipe away the muggle filth that corrodes our civilization and build a new future for the wizarding world,” she continued. “I am Lady Tenabra. I speak for the silent majority. We believe that witches and wizards need to reclaim our destiny from the muggle lovers and blood traitors of the Ministry. If you are willing to take personal responsibility for restoring our birthright then I welcome you to the New Blood Order.”
“Our society needs a good cleansing,” observed a middle-aged wizard that she recognized as Kendrick Avery, “but this sounds like the same bollocks that landed my grandfather in Azkaban. How do we know that you can deliver on all this big talk?”
“If our achievements thus far have not convinced you, then leave,” she replied coldly. “There is no place in our future for men of such limited vision.”
Avery didn’t look convinced, but he kept his peace. She launched into her well-rehearsed tirade against muggles, muggle-born witches and wizards and the progressives within the Ministry who championed their cause. As she spoke, she surveyed their responses from beneath the cowl of her cloak, paying close attention to which points resonated strongly. Refining and targeting her message would be key to drawing more of the pure blood families into the fold. When she finished, she stood quietly and let her message sink in.
Several other wizards asked questions, but they were the sort that a man asked about a broom that had already taken flight in his mind. She noticed one particular wizard who was unfamiliar to her. He remained near the back of the crowd, keeping to himself. His eyes studied the other wizards in attendance, glancing at her only occasionally. She gave no outward sign, but inwardly she was pleased. It appeared that their meeting had been infiltrated. The only question was whether he was alone.
She launched into a new volley of rhetoric and began to circle the group, ostensibly studying each man and making eye contact. She noticed a nervous look on the unknown wizard’s face and he began to maneuver away from her, so that the group of men remained between them. She spotted a clear line through the crowd and continued to circle, moving towards it. She timed her speech so that her condemnation of the Ministry reached a crescendo just as she lined up her shot.
“Auror!” she shouted, firing a stunning spell through the crowd. The interloper easily parried her spell, but it had the desired effect. Pandemonium erupted, and the crush of bodies prevented the Auror from getting any sort of clean shot at her. Pops and cracks filled the air as the pure blood wizards rushed to disapparate to safety. The Auror cursed loudly and began to fire stunning spells at random, trying to take at least one or two prisoners. She laughed loudly as her portkey activated and the alley disappeared in a crushing swirl of motion.
Three apparitions later, she appeared on the roof of the New Blood Order’s warehouse and lowered herself through the trapdoor into her enclave. The evening had exceeded her expectations. The Auror’s clumsy attempt to infiltrate her group would add to the New Blood Order’s credibility with both the pure blood recruits and the Ministry. She poured herself a glass of brandy and toasted to her success.
Hermione sipped her tea as she listened intently to her oldest and dearest friend from Magical Law. Hassie Mulholland had been practicing law in front of the Wizengamot since before Hermione was born, the first witch to ever try a case before wizarding Britain’s highest court. She now worked as a volunteer advocate for indigent and disadvantaged magical beings, a sort of semi-retirement that still consumed the lion’s share of her waking hours. Hermione admired Hassie like few witches she had ever known, and counted herself fortunate to call the elderly barrister a friend. The admiration was mutual, for, as Hassie was given to saying, “without you and your friends, Lord Voldemort would have undone my life’s work in a day.”
Hermione was not entirely surprised by what she was hearing, but the concern in her friend’s voice took her by surprise. Hassie was well known throughout Magical Law for the patient, deliberate approach to problems that only came with age and experience. Now she was suggesting that the Minister was prepared to reverse course on several key policies ensuring the rights of muggle-born wizards in order to keep more of the pure blood families from voicing their support for the aims of the New Blood Order. “Hassie, do you really believe that the Minister is so frightened that he would go to such lengths just to appease a few pure blood dissidents?”
“Dear, I’ve seen a lot of Ministers come and go. This one lacks even the minimal backbone of Cornelius Fudge. If he thinks that rolling back our hardest-won achievements will bring the old families back into the fold, I believe that is a trade-off he’s willing to make.”
Hermione rubbed her eyes and tried to take it all in. She knew from talking to her colleagues that most of the work on purging discriminatory laws from the books had ground to a halt. She had thought, perhaps a bit self-importantly, that her extended absence was the major cause. Maybe there was more to it.
“He still needs the support of the progressives on the Wizengamot,” she replied, trying to remain optimistic. “If they find out that he’s appeasing the pure bloods, the entire government could collapse.”
“That’s why he’s going about things very quietly,” Hassie responded. “Shifting resources here, delaying hearings there, withholding Ministry support for certain inquiries. He’s a cunning politician, if not a brave one. On the surface he’s giving nothing to the pure bloods, as the progressives have demanded. But behind closed doors it’s a very different story.”
“I have to get back to work,” Hermione sighed. “I don’t like where things are heading.”
“Hermione,” Hassie replied, fixing her with a stern gaze, “we need you back, but not until you’re ready. If you push yourself too hard, you could relapse and be away even longer. That really wouldn’t help anyone.”
“I know, I know,” Hermione said, raising her palms. “But it’s not my body that’s stopping me. I’ve healed as much as I’m ever going to. Somehow my mind just can’t make peace with that.”
“The wounds we can’t see always take the longest to heal,” Hassie said with a sympathetic smile. “Sometimes it’s hard to even know where the injury lies. But I know you, dear. You’ll figure it out and find a way to overcome this.”
Hermione smiled in spite of herself. She wished she felt as confident in herself as her mentor seemed to.
“Oh, my, look at the time,” Hassie sighed, rising from her chair. “I’m due at the Ministry to help a young man with lycanthropy who’s being threatened with eviction from his flat.” She stepped over and laid her hands on Hermione’s shoulders. “Believe in yourself, Hermione. You’re a brilliant, resourceful witch and given time, you will beat this.”
Hermione beamed at her friend. “Thank you, Hassie. Your faith means a lot to me.”
“It’s not faith, dear,” the elderly witch replied. “Faith is believing in something you cannot see. I’ve watched you for a long time. I know exactly what you’re capable of.”
As she watched her friend disappear into the floo, Hermione replayed parts of their conversation in her mind. Sometimes it’s hard to even know where the injury lies. She thought back to her last attempt at using a wheelchair. Was there more going on than she had realized?
Slowing down the sequence of events as best she could, she tried to analyze each moment. There was the general anxiety. Then came the feelings of being trapped and confined, followed by the overwhelming need to escape. Her failures always ended with somebody screaming the word cripple. She struggled to remember the sound. It was familiar, yet she couldn’t put a name to the voice. It seemed to belong to a young girl.
An idea began to form in her mind. It was a long shot, but the odds seemed no worse than anything else she had tried. Drawing her wand, she summoned her laptop computer and an album of old photographs. Selecting the class photo from her first year of primary school, she removed it from the album and was pleased to find a listing in her mother’s handwriting on the back. She opened the laptop and began to search for the names.
Harry appeared outside the front gates of Hogwarts and made his way to the main entrance. He looked forward to Wednesday mornings and his lessons with the first year students. Performing magic was still exciting and new to them, and he relished the wonder in their eyes. Since most of the students were nowhere near ready for dueling practice so early in the school year, his lessons revolved around simple spells and story-telling and he reserved a large block of time for simply answering questions. Like their sixth and seventh year schoolmates, they seemed to find him more accessible than their actual professors, so the discussions could wander anywhere from the theory of defensive magic to apprehending dark wizards to tales of what Hogwarts was like before computers and cell phones were allowed in the castle.
As he walked into the entrance hall, a voice called out to him over the low rumble of the students making their way to and from breakfast. “Harry! Harry Potter, how have ye been?” He saw Professor Tennant striding down the stairs towards him and inwardly grimaced. The Defense Against the Dark Arts professor was a former Auror, one that Harry and Ron had “managed out” of the department after Gawain Robards retired. The beefy Scot was, as Ron elegantly put it, “all mouth and no trousers.” In spite of the rather ignominious end to his Auror career, Tennant still insisted on greeting Harry like an old, dear friend.
“Doing well, Professor,” Harry replied, trying to keep a modicum of professional distance. “And yourself?”
“I cannae complain,” Tennant replied with his pronounced lilt. “I hear you’re workin’ a monster of a case with this Blood Order business. If ye need any help, ye know who to call.”
Several students paused to gawk at the conversation, and Harry wondered what they made of their professor’s offer. Based on the frank critiques from his sixth and seventh year students, he knew that many of them wouldn’t mind if he took Tennant up on it. They thought that he spent far too much time droning on about theory and telling stories from his Auror days. As one student observed, “If you could defeat a dark wizard with twelve inches of parchment on the difference between protego maxima and protego totalum, he’d turn out a dozen Aurors a year.”
“Thanks,” Harry replied noncommittally. “It’s nice to know you’re available.”
Harry made a move towards the stairs, but Tennant followed by his side. “Mind if I have a word with ye, Harry?”
“Sure, Rory,” Harry replied, “as long as we can walk and talk at the same time. Wouldn’t want to keep the first years waiting, you know.”
Once they reached the second floor hallway, Rory gave Harry a serious look. “It’s about the Northway lad, Harry. He came to talk to me the other day, wantin’ to study more advanced material.”
“Is that a problem?” Harry asked.
“Well Mr. Northway, hasnae exactly been what you’d call a star pupil up to now.”
“Maybe he wants to change that.” Harry replied quietly, measuring Tennant’s reaction.
“Now Harry, I know yev made this lad some sorta special project, but I cannae take time away from my other teachin’ duties jus ‘cause he met the Great Harry Potter and got stars in his eyes.”
“So you’re saying you won’t help him,” Harry replied plainly.
“I’m sayin’ that I cannae make a special exception for him,” Tennant shrugged. “It’s unfair to the other students.”
“Very well,” Harry replied, and resumed his walk towards the classroom.
Tennant stood in the hallway, watching Harry’s back and looking flummoxed. “So what are you gonnae do?” he asked.
Harry stopped and turned to face him. “I’m going to make a spot for him in my advanced class of sixth and seventh years. It will take a lot of work for him to catch up, but he says he’s willing to put in the hours. I’ll take him at his word unless he proves otherwise.”
“Look, Harry,” Tennant replied, “I know you’re not one for followin’ rules and such, but I dinnae think it appropriate for you to be decidin’ who gets special help around here.”
Harry regarded him almost wistfully. “A very wise man once told me that help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.”** His look hardened. “Dennis wants to change his life for the better. I’m not asking for your help, Rory. Just don’t get in my way.”
Tennant frowned but held his tongue as he watched Harry turn and walk away.
An hour later, Harry made his way back to the Great Hall, reflecting on an excellent lesson with his first year students. With a bit of coaching, most of them had been able to cast a rudimentary shield charm and disarm a dueling dummy. They spent the second half of the hour talking about dragons. The muggle-born students had been especially wide-eyed as Harry told them about outmaneuvering a Hungarian Horntail on his broom to steal an egg from her nest. The discussion made him appreciate what Hagrid’s love of dangerous creatures had added to his education. Most of the current students would never see a Norwegian Ridgeback or a Blast-Ended Skrewt unless their parents took them to a zoo in Eastern Europe.
Harry had one more errand to complete before leaving the school, and he scanned the students gathered in the Great Hall until he spotted James’s younger son Victor leaning over the Hufflepuff table, chatting with two attractive female schoolmates who seemed quite taken with him. Victor had inherited more of his father’s roguish good looks and charm than his brother Artie, who took after his Uncle Al in many ways. Harry felt a little bad about interrupting, but he doubted it would slow his grandson down very much.
“Victor,” he called out, strolling up the aisle that separated the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables.
His grandson looked up and seemed momentarily inconvenienced before a sly smile crossed his lips. “Hi, Grandpa,” he replied cheerfully. “Sonia, Hemithea, this is my grandfather, Harry Potter.” He put a little extra emphasis on Harry’s name, leaving the girls wide-eyed and Harry more than a little annoyed.
“Charmed,” Harry said to the girls, who seemed unable to find words. “Victor, do you know where I might find your brother?”
“He has Transfiguration right now,” Victor replied, “but I think that’s over soon. Should I let him know you’re looking for him?”
“That’s alright,” Harry replied. “I’ll just walk that way and I’m sure I’ll run across him. Take care.” Harry patted his grandson on the back and headed for the stairs. As he walked away, he heard whispers and giggles coming from the two girls who now seemed to hang on Victor’s every word.
He only had to wait outside of the Transfiguration classroom for a few minutes before lessons ended and the sixth year students came streaming out. Artie was among the last to exit, holding the hand of a young witch who definitely had Luna’s eyes.
“Hi, Grandpa,” Artie greeted him, smiling but looking a little confused. “Dueling lessons aren’t until tomorrow, right?”
“That’s right,” Harry replied. “I need to borrow something.”
“From me?” Now his grandson looked thoroughly confused.
“Yes, you recall that bit of your inheritance that your father passed on to you?” Harry asked with a nod.
“Oh, that,” Artie replied, suddenly looking uncomfortable. “Portia, can you excuse us for a moment? I’ll catch up with you at lunch.” He gave her a quick kiss goodbye and turned to find his grandfather already walking towards Gryffindor Tower.
“Uh, Grandpa, do you really need that right now?” Artie asked awkwardly as he hurried to catch up. “You see, Portia and I had plans for tonight, umm, after curfew. Not to... you know... we weren’t planning to... I mean, she’s not that kind of girl. But you see, it’s so hard to get time alone here and we were...”
“Artie,” Harry cut him off with a smile. “So long as you don’t make me a great-grandparent before you graduate, whatever you and Portia get about is between the two of you. But I’m afraid I do need the cloak back for a while.”
Artie looked disappointed, but continued to follow Harry towards the Gryffindor common room. When they arrived, Artie pulled a little ahead and approached the Fat Lady with a grin.
“Do you think it’s alright if he finds out the password?” he asked cheekily.
“Watch your tongue, child,” she snapped. “Your grandfather saved us all from He Who Must Not Be Named. He will always be welcome through any door that I guard.”
“Thank you,” Harry replied earnestly. “But it wouldn’t really be appropriate for a Ministry official to socialize with students in a common room. I’ll wait outside if you don’t mind my company.”
“Of course not, my dear,” the Fat Lady answered, growing slightly red in the cheeks. “Arthur, get inside,” she ordered, swinging inward. Artie rolled his eyes and crawled through the portrait hole. “Now, Harry, how are your little friends, Ronald and Hermione?”
Harry chuckled. “Well, they’re not so little any more, but they’re doing well.”
After several minutes of pleasant if empty conversation, Artie reemerged with the invisibility cloak. He stared after it mournfully as Harry tucked it away in his robes.
“Artie, it’s not forever,” Harry sighed, rolling his eyes.
“I know, Grandpa,” Artie said, looking slightly sheepish. “It’s just that you get used to having something whenever you need it.”
“Exactly how I’ve felt ever since I passed it along to your father,” Harry replied with a grin. “I have to get on my way, but I’ll see you soon. No later than the holidays, anyway.” He pulled his grandson into a hug and then they headed back down the stairs together.
He had nearly reached the main entrance when another voice called his name. He turned to find Ulysses Alderman jogging towards him. “Can I talk to you for a moment?”
“Sure,” Harry replied, glancing at his watch. “Walk with me to the front gates.”
Once they were outside, Ulysses said, “Harry, I’ve been thinking a lot about trying to become an Auror after I graduate and I wanted to ask whether you had any advice.”
Harry smiled inwardly, but tried to maintain an even demeanor. Ulysses was headstrong and self-confident. He probably didn’t need the same sort of encouragement as Veratrice. “I think you should work really hard on earning your N.E.W.T.s and keep up your dueling work,” he answered. “You definitely have a shot at making it, as long as your scores are good.”
Ulysses smiled nervously. “Which of my N.E.W.T.s do you think I should focus most on?” he persisted.
“Well, I don’t think you’re going to have any problems with Defense Against the Dark Arts,” Harry replied. “So between Transfiguration, Charms and Potions, which would you say is your weakest subject?”
“Ugh. Potions,” Ulysses replied with a grimace. “Sometimes I think my cauldron is cursed.”
“Well, there’s your answer, I reckon. Talk to Professor Astor. Tell her that you’d like some extra help to make sure that you do well.”
Ulysses continued to ask Harry questions as they walked. They passed the front gates and Harry stood near the edge of the protective wards and started to say goodbye. A shimmer against the colorful autumn foliage caught his eye. Without thinking, he grabbed Ulysses and hurled him to the ground just as a jet of red light seared the air.
Harry dropped to his knees, wincing in pain. The shoulder of his robes was charred and bloodied and his left arm hung uselessly by his side. His wand snapped into his right hand and he cast a shield charm just in time to block a hail of curses that seemed to come from every direction at the same time.
“Get back inside the gates!” Harry shouted, trying to crawl backwards as he rapidly parried curses. A flash of green light sailed over their heads, making it abundantly clear that the assailants meant business. A curse struck the ground at his knees, sending dirt flying into his face. Blinded, he started to randomly cast shield charms, hoping for a major stroke of luck.
“Crawl backwards!” called a familiar female voice from behind him. Harry dragged himself in the direction of the voice, trying to clear the dirt from his eyes with his one good arm while crawling on his chest and knees. The rapid cracking of spells being fired and deflected filled the air around him, echoing softly off of the distant walls of the castle. He managed to clear his vision just enough to make out Veratrice and Ulysses on either side of him, whipping and slashing their wands as they repelled a barrage of curses.
“What are you doing here?” he shouted at Veratrice in spite of himself.
“Eavesdropping,” she replied. “I think maybe I’ll learn my lesson this time.”
With great effort, Harry stumbled to his feet and performed a quick scourgify on his face and glasses. He was able to distinguish four separate attackers operating from concealed positions surrounding the front gates. In spite of the commendable defense being mounted by his students, he knew that it was only a matter of time until they were worn down. Seizing the initiative, Harry destroyed several trees with reductor curses, forcing their opponents to find new cover.
“Keep moving back,” he shouted over the din of the fight. The relative safety of the perimeter wall was fewer than ten paces away. Harry heard a yelp of pain from his right side as he was blocking another curse and he realized that Ulysses had been hit. He and Veratrice quickly took up protective positions in front of their wounded comrade, who was bleeding profusely from a large slash across his shoulder and upper arm. The three of them continued to retreat towards the gate. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry noticed a wizard in a black robe and mask scrambling towards a position near the wall, trying to outflank them. He cast several spells, forcing the wizard to fall back, but the effort further stretched their defenses.
Veratrice had just knocked one of the assailants backwards when she was struck with a stunning spell. She fell to the ground several paces short of reaching the gate. Ulysses threw his wounded body on top of her, trying to shield her from the onslaught. Harry was struggling valiantly to defend their position, but the attackers were once again moving to surround them and there was no way he could drive them back. Just as a curse from Harry’s left side narrowly missed his students, he heard shouts coming from the direction of the castle. He chanced a look behind him and saw Neville and two other professors running down the path, wands drawn.
Harry fought back with renewed intensity. He managed to hit the attacker on his right with a knockback jinx, reducing the angle he was forced to defend. Moments later, Neville was by his side, and they began to drive their opponents back as the other professors levitated the injured students inside the perimeter wall.
“We have to take them, Neville!” Harry shouted. “We can’t let them get away.” But he was already beginning to feel the effects of exhaustion and blood loss. The attackers also seemed to realize that their moment had passed. With loud pops, the two wizards dueling Neville and Harry disapparated. Harry turned towards the stand of trees where Veratrice had struck one of the assailants with a spell, but his knees buckled as he tried to move.
Professor Astor and the school caretaker were rushing down from the castle by that point, and Neville directed them to begin securing the area around the gates. Then he crouched by Harry, peering at his injured shoulder. “I’m taking you to the hospital wing,” he said bluntly.
“We have to find them,” Harry insisted through gritted teeth, trying to crawl towards the trees.
“Harry, listen to me!” Neville shouted. “You’re going to bleed to death if you don’t get medical attention. I’ll stun you if I have to, but you’re coming with me. Now.”
Harry knew that his old friend was right. He struggled to fight the encroaching darkness as he tried to think of any way to keep pursing the attackers. In the end, his body overruled him. “Alright, let’s go,” he mumbled weakly as he slumped to the ground. He felt Neville’s hand on his shoulder, followed by the sickening crush of side-along apparition. Neville caught him just before he fell to the stone floor of the Hogwarts infirmary and eased him into a bed.
As the school nurse began to cut the scorched robes away from his injured shoulder, Harry gazed at Neville, who appeared to be at the far end of a long, dark tunnel. “Howdja do that?” he mumbled softly.
Neville smiled at him. “Being Headmaster has certain advantages,” he replied just before the walls of the tunnel collapsed into blackness.
Ron was feeling the strangest combination of pride and stress as he exited the phone booth leading to the Ministry of Magic. He had just assumed the role of Acting Head of the Auror Department for the first time in nearly two decades, but the circumstances leading to his battlefield promotion were nothing to celebrate. After the attempt on Harry’s life, the school nurse had stabilized his condition and promptly transferred him to St. Mungo’s. In addition to substantial blood loss, his left shoulder had been badly cursed. Extensive treatment would be needed to purge the dark magic so that the underlying injuries could be healed. He was currently under heavy sedation while the healers worked to repair the damage.
Naturally, Ron hadn’t been able to so much as sit in Harry’s chair before the Minister was demanding an update. He had quickly dispatched a team led by Susan to secure Hogwarts and a second team led by Terry to begin canvassing the residents and merchants of Hogsmeade Village for leads. Then he made his way to the Minister’s office, keeping Harry’s long-standing orders in mind. Each time Ron prepared to open his mouth, he tried to imagine every word as part of a press release. For a plainspoken man like Ron, the effort involved was painful. When the meeting finally ended, he was proud of having said nothing foolish, but his head was splitting.
Ron hurried along towards an Indian restaurant several blocks from the Ministry. He had made plans to have lunch with Percy and he hoped that his brother would be understanding now that he was running over half an hour late. When he finally entered the restaurant, he found Percy sitting at a table near the back, picking at a plate of chicken pakora. “Oi, Ron, what kept you?”
“It’s Harry. Somebody tried to kill him outside the gates of Hogwarts this morning. He’s in surgery at St. Mungo’s,” Ron replied breathlessly as he plopped into the chair opposite Percy and crammed three of the fried dumplings into his mouth.
“What?” Percy cried, dropping his fork. “Have you been to see him?”
“No,” replied Ron crossly. “The bloody Minister had a very important press conference to prepare for. I came here as soon as he finished with me.”
“Well let’s sack off lunch and head over,” Percy said, starting to stand.
Ron reached out and caught his brother’s sleeve. “Actually, Perce, let’s sit for a while. Al and Lily are already there and from what they said, the healers won’t be done with him for at least another hour. Also, I’m just about ready to eat my own shoe.”
Percy sat back down, looking fidgety and uncomfortable. To Ron, this was nothing new, so he casually waved the waiter over and ordered two curries and a pot of tea. When the waiter left, Ron silently cast a muffliato charm over their table.
“We need to ask a favor, Perce,” he said quietly.
“And you drew the short straw?” Percy replied cautiously.
“Yeah, something like that,” Ron answered through another bite of chicken. He carefully worded his next sentence, trying not to say too much or too little. “We think that the attack on the Ministry may be related to Ginny’s murder, but all of the files were sealed after the trial. Harry and I were hoping you could give us your memory from... well, from that night.”
Percy stared back for a long moment with his mouth hanging open. Obvious signs of stress and discomfort appeared on his face. “You mean my memory from the jail? From the night that I...”
“Yeah, that one,” Ron replied quickly before Percy could say any more. “We need to know everything you saw and heard. Any detail could be crucial.”
Percy’s mouth opened and closed several times before he finally spoke. “Ron, I can’t.”
“You’re a wizard, Perce. Of course you can,” Ron replied, looking confused.
“I can’t,” Percy repeated. “I won’t. It’s too much. I can’t relive that again.”
“We’re not asking you to go through it with us,” Ron countered. “We just need the memory. From what I learned in memory training, I think it’ll grow even less distinct in your mind after you’ve extracted it.”
“You’re not listening, Ron,” Percy snapped. “I have spent years trying to forget everything that happened that night. I’m not going to dredge it all up just because you and Harry have some half-baked theory about the New Blood Order killing Ginny.”
“It’s not just some crazy hunch, Percy,” Ron retorted, feeling his temper rise. “We have evidence linking the two. But we need more to go on. For Merlin’s sake, we could be talking about finding out who killed Ginny and who almost killed Hermione.”
Percy abruptly stood up, knocking over his chair. His face was a mask of stress and anger. “I know who killed our sister, Ron. And I know that he’s never going to hurt anyone again. The answer is no and that’s final. Now leave me alone!”
Ron watched as Percy stormed past the startled waiter and out of the restaurant. He started to follow, but the other diners were now staring at him. Although they hadn’t seen any magic, Ron didn’t care for the idea of a restaurant full of muggles recalling the family drama they had just witnessed. He reached into his pocket, grasping his wand and beginning to adjust their memories. By the time his lunch arrived, he realized that his appetite was gone.
Harry opened his eyes just a sliver, trying to recall where he was. He felt very groggy. He had a vague recollection of talking to Neville in the hospital wing, so he reasoned that he must have gotten hurt somehow. Madam Pomfrey was going to be upset with him. He hoped that he wouldn’t have to miss any Quidditch practices on account of whatever had happened.
He felt slender fingers running through his hair, and shifted his gaze slightly to the side. He could make out a blurry image of bright auburn hair. He sighed contentedly, feeling as though some terrible thing that he couldn’t quite recall had turned out to be all in his head.
“Daddy, are you awake?” Lily’s voice sounded slightly muffled, as though his head was inside a barrel. As soon as he realized who she wasn’t, the terrible thing was back, like a great weight on his aching chest. He must have let a frown cross his face.
“What’s wrong?” his daughter asked. “Does something hurt? Should I call the healer?”
Harry shook his head slightly. The truth was that everything hurt, but no one thing hurt especially worse than any other. It was all coming back to him. The conversation with Neville in the Hogwarts infirmary, the firefight, the conversation with Ulysses...
“Students,” he managed to say in a raspy whisper, “alright?”
“Neville says they’re going to be fine, Dad. The girl just needed to be revived, and the school nurse was able to treat the boy in the hospital wing.” She giggled softly. “Neville said they would be the first thing you asked about.”
“Need to talk to Ron,” Harry whispered.
“He said he would be here before visiting hours are over,” Lily replied. “I think the Minister made him come to a briefing. He also said something about getting lunch with Uncle Percy. I’m not sure why that couldn’t wait,” she added with a hint of disapproval.
Harry sighed. So many things that needed to be done and now he was stuck here. “How long?” he whispered.
“You were in surgery for close to two hours and unconscious for another hour after that. Optimistically, the healers think you could be out of here in two days.” He grimaced and immediately felt the weight of what he was sure was a withering glare. “Dad, you’re not twenty years old any more! You need to take it easy and let yourself heal.”
“No time,” Harry whispered. “Everyone in danger.”
“Including you!” she snapped. Harry couldn’t see his daughter’s eyes, but he was sure that they were flashing with anger exactly like her mother’s. After several seconds, he felt the weight of her shoulders and head on his chest. He stroked her hair with his uninjured hand and felt her body shudder slightly. “Daddy,” she whispered, “we’ve already lost Mum. I don’t want to lose you, too.”
Her plea pierced his heart. He lay there for a long moment, considering the unbalanced mess his life had become. As he comforted his baby daughter, he silently cursed the part of himself that wanted nothing more than to let it all go and be with Ginny again. It was only too easy to foresee a moment of weakness when that part would lead him to the exact decision she feared.
“I’ll try, pumpkin,” he whispered. “I’ll try.”
After what seemed like hours of stalking around muggle London in an angry daze, Percy found himself in front of a sports pub. A football match was being shown on the televisions inside and the music was playing just above the level of polite conversation. It was perfect for the type of mood Percy was in and he quickly made his way to the bar.
He marveled at the nerve of Ron and Harry, asking him to relive the worst night of his life just so they could keep chasing wild geese. Why did it seem like he was the only one in the family who’d been able to come to terms with Ginny’s death? Why was he the only one who could let her go?
Well, the fact that you murdered her killer in cold blood did afford you a certain type of closure. Percy winced and flagged the barman down to order a drink. Somewhere along the way, his subconscious mind had become a huge wiseacre. He took a long draw off of his ale and let his mind drift along with the music coming from the speakers hidden throughout the bar.
A muggle man dropped onto the stool beside him, apparently having just returned from the loo. He wore a large white and blue football jersey adorned with a cockerel. Percy took a moment to study the match being shown on the televisions behind the bar and identified the jersey as belonging to a team from Tottenham. The man noticed Percy watching the match and asked, “Who do you favor?”
“Oh, neither side,” Percy replied amicably, “I don’t really follow football. I take it you’re a fan of the, uh, is it Hotspurs?”
“Hotspur,” the man replied, puffing his chest out. “And I’ve been a fan for as long as I can remember. I never miss a game, even if it’s only on the telly.”
Percy studied the game a bit more and realized that the numbers at the bottom of the screen indicated that the Tottenham side was losing rather badly.
“They’re, um, not having a very good match, are they?” Percy asked.
“They’re not having a very good season,” the man replied somberly. “I’d say there’s a good chance we’ll be dropped to the Championship next season if they don’t get their bloody act together.”
“But you still watch every game?” Percy asked, suddenly fascinated. “Even though they’re playing poorly?”
“Too bloody right,” the man answered.
“And you even wear their colors in public?”
“Look, mate,” the man said, suddenly rounding on Percy with a very serious look on his face. “I told you I been following the Spurs since I was a boy. It don’t matter to me whether they’re top of the table or getting a thrashing, they’re my bloody team. It’s called loyalty, and it’s the only real measure of a man.”
Percy shrank back as the man glared at him for a long moment before returning his attention to the game. I’d say he has a point. There his subconscious went again. Honestly, a big part of the appeal of hanging out at bars and concerts was the odd conversations that he seemed to have with himself in the solitude of an unfamiliar crowd. Was he being disloyal to Ron and Harry by refusing to honor their request? No, you’re being disloyal to Ginny by not doing everything you can to help solve her murder. Ouch. Now his subconscious was hitting below the belt.
He downed his ale and ordered another, still turning the situation over in his mind. The music soothed him, and he found it easy to think clearly. As much as it pained him to recall the night of Ginny’s death, it wasn’t as though he never thought about it. In fact, it still haunted his dreams from time to time. Why did he feel so reluctant to help Ron and Harry? Could it be the same reason that you spend all your free time in bars and you’ve barely spoken to your wife in two months?
An uneasy realization dawned on Percy. He had been acting like a complete git to everyone. He wondered why it hadn’t occurred to him before. What was happening to his mind? As quickly as it had come to him, the moment of clarity was beginning to fade. Percy stood up from his barstool abruptly, almost knocking it over. The Spurs fan next to him looked alarmed, as though he expected Percy to slug him, but Percy merely smiled at him and hurried toward the toilets.
After locking the door behind him and applying a colloportus spell, he conjured a small glass vial. He knew that the process wasn’t going to be pleasant, and he leaned against the wall for support. Touching his wand to his temple, he mentally returned to the muggle jail on the night after his baby sister had died.
Being a diplomat, Percy was not a novice when it came to extracting memories. It was the most reliable way to make sure that the essence of a negotiation was captured for posterity. But this was unlike anything he had ever experienced. As he relived each agonizing moment and drew the silvery strands from his temple, it felt like the roots of a deep and pervasive cancer were being ripped from his mind. He struggled to capture every visual, every sound and every smell with perfect clarity. When his mind finally exited the muggle jail after killing Edwin Stoops, he collapsed to the tile floor. With what felt like the last of his strength, he placed the memory into the vial and sealed it.
Percy was beginning to feel very confused. The sense of purpose that had gripped him in the bar was long gone, replaced by a deep ambivalence. His subconscious mind gave him one last kick to complete his task. She listened to you when everybody else in the family had written you off. Don’t let her down.
It occurred to him that he had no idea how to get the memory into Ron and Harry’s hands. At the rate his determination was failing him, he knew that he had very little time. “Hermys,” Percy cried out in a flash of inspiration, “I have something very important for Harry!” He had no idea whether the elf would answer his call, but he had observed that house elves had an uncanny sense for things that were important to their masters.
He breathed a sigh of relief when the elf appeared in front of him with a crack. “Is Master Percy feeling unwell?” the elf asked with a concerned look.
“Hermys, don’t worry about me,” Percy stammered. “All that matters is you must get this to Harry. Do you understand?”
“Hermys understands,” the elf replied, taking the vial. “Please, Master Percy, may Hermys take you to see a healer?”
“No,” Percy replied, drawing a deep breath. He could barely recall why he had just handed his most dangerous memory to the elf, but something deep inside told him that he was doing the right thing. “I just need a moment. I’ll be fine. Just make sure that Harry gets that vial as soon as possible.”
“Master Harry will have it as soon as he’s able,” the elf replied obediently. Then he disappeared with another crack, leaving Percy to ponder his life on the floor of the loo.
** paraphrasing Dumbledore in Chamber of Secrets, pp. 266
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