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Chapter 23 : Spreading the News
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Chapter 23 – Spreading the News
After his long nap on Andromeda’s couch and Hermione’s insistence that she apply more Dittany to his wounds before he left, Harry was feeling somewhat reenergized in body, if not in spirit.
He provided Ron with details about the numerous Death Eaters that he had seen while held captive, and while it was only he, Ron and Hermione present, he also told them about what he had witnessed between Draco and Ginny in the garden. Hermione listened quietly with a troubled expression on her face, but Ron’s reaction was much less subtle confirming that Malfoy was indeed fortunate to have left with his mother before Ron arrived. Ron was only slightly mollified when Harry told them about breaking Draco’s nose and he thought he heard Ron mutter something about breaking more than Draco’s nose the next time he saw him.
Harry waited around as long as he could for a chance to see Ginny again, but she had remained asleep and did not come back downstairs. It took a great amount of effort on his part to resist tip-toeing quietly up to peek in on her, for he knew if he were to see her again, he very likely would not be able to tear himself away from her side.
Although he had already allowed more time to elapse than he should have before reporting all he had learned to Director Candlehard and to the rest of his team, there was one stop he had to make before going to the Ministry. It was his fault that the Weasleys had been put through so much grief; therefore, Harry wanted to deliver the miraculous news that Ginny had been found, even if she was not returning to them completely whole.
“Oh, thank the heavens!” Molly exclaimed as she rushed out of the kitchen door to greet him. “Arthur and I feared the worst when Ron and Hermione told us what had happened to you. I can’t believe it! Death Eaters running rampant again! And attacking you right in broad daylight!”
Molly went to hug him, but Harry quickly put his hands up to stop her.
“Harry, are you alright?” Molly asked, looking him over worriedly.
“I’m just a bit sore is all,” Harry explained, trying to keep his tone light. “You know Death Eaters. They always tend to put up a fight.”
“You poor boy!” Molly exclaimed taking his face gently into her hands. Her eyes traveled over his multiple bruises. “Are you sure you’re alright? You’re looking a bit too peaky to suit me.”
“I’ll be fine,” Harry assured her although he wished she would stop scrutinize him so closely. He didn’t want to see the look of horror on her face if she were to learn how badly the Death Eaters had beaten him.
“Will Arthur be able to get here soon?” he asked, changing the subject away from his physical health.
“Any minute,” Molly answered. “I sent a message to him right after you called. I have to say you gave me quite a shock!”
Harry had contacted her from the fireplace at Andromeda’s and, after Molly regained her composure from seeing him, he told her that he wanted to speak to both her and Arthur as soon as possible.
“You sounded so urgent... ” She glanced sideways at him, looking pale and frightened. “You don’t have bad news, do you?”
His message had been purposely cryptic and guilt washed over him for causing Molly even more worry, but he wanted to tell both of Ginny’s parents every bit of the news in person when they were together.
“Err, no,” Harry replied. “I’m sure you won’t consider it bad.”
“Thank heavens,” she said, sounding very relieved. They entered the kitchen and Molly immediately went to the cupboard to get out a plate. “Sit down, Harry, and I’ll make you a sandwich.”
“That will be great, thanks,” Harry said, realizing for the first time that day that he was feeling quite hungry.
Molly flicked her wand and all at once, a knife jumped out of a drawer and began to cut two thick slices off a loaf of bread while an assortment of sandwich fillings, along with a pitcher of pumpkin juice flew from out of the ice box.
Harry’s mouth watered as he watched the sandwich assemble itself until it was at least four inches thick.
“Now I want you to eat every bite,” Molly admonished, pouring pumpkin juice into a glass and handing it to him. “You still haven’t gained back all the weight you lost after—” Molly paused and took a shaky breath. “…after everything that happened.”
Harry found it suddenly difficult to swallow his bite of sandwich and he took a swig of juice to help wash it down.
“It’s been a while since you stopped by for a visit,” she said, the brightness in her voice somewhat forced. Harry knew that Molly’s curiosity about the reason he was there was getting to her, but he was thankful she refrained from pushing for an explanation until her husband arrived.
“I’ll start coming by more often,” Harry promised and took another bite of the sandwich.
“That will make us very happy, dear.” Molly smiled warmly, giving him a motherly pat on the arm. “You know Arthur and I will always consider you part of our family.”
Again, Harry found swallowing difficult, which Molly must have noticed because she got up and began to tidy up the kitchen, leaving him at the table to finish eating.
“Arthur’s here!” Harry heard her say just as he took the last bite of his sandwich.
“I got here as fast as I could,” Arthur said as he entered the kitchen, slightly out of breath. Harry stood up from the table as Molly took her husband’s traveling cloak.
“So good to see you, Harry!” Arthur said, smiling at Harry and shaking his hand vigorously. “Molly and I were both beside ourselves when we learned the Death Eaters had taken you. Hermione informed us that Teddy was unharmed, but you do look a bit worse for wear.”
Arthur may have been trying to sound cheerful but he could not keep his concern and worry from reaching his eyes. “You’ll have to tell us what happened.”
“I will, sir,” Harry replied distractedly, for he was trying to work out how best to begin explaining the purpose for the urgent visit.
“Harry’s assured me that whatever he needs to tell us is not bad news,” Molly said, coming to stand next to her husband and looking at Harry expectantly.
“That’s good to know,” Arthur said. His manner relaxed slightly but when Harry did not immediately launch into an explanation, he prompted, “Well? You don’t want us to die of suspense, do you?”
“No, sir, sorry,” Harry replied. “Why don’t we sit down then, shall we?”
The Weasleys complied, although they continued to watch him anxiously.
“Right then,” Harry inhaled deeply and clasped his hands together tightly on the table in front of him.
“This is going to be a shock –a good shock, mind you— and I wanted to tell you myself when you were both together but… Ginny is alive.”
The silence that filled the room was deafening and time seemed to momentarily stop while both of Ginny’s parents gaped at him as if they did not understand what he had just said. Then Molly, clearly unable to utter a sound, slowly brought her trembling hands up to cover part of her face so that Harry could only see her eyes, so much like Ginny’s, begin to well with astonished tears.
“Did I…” Arthur started hoarsely and he had to clear his throat before he could continue. “Did I just hear you say that our daughter… that Ginny is alive?”
“Yes, sir,” Harry said and went on quickly. “I’ve seen her and I’ve spoken with her and she is alive and unhurt. One of the Death Eaters caught her when she fell during the attack that night, and when they grabbed me at the park, they took me to the same place that they’d been holding her all this time.”
“Oh my…” Molly whispered behind her hands. She continued to stare at Harry and her voice grew louder as his word’s slowly and truly sunk in. “Arthur! Our Ginny is alive! I can’t— Oh my God! Ginny’s alive!
“Ginny’s alive!” Molly cried again and she threw her arms around her husband’s neck repeating the words over and over, sobbing joyfully into her husband’s chest.
Arthur held his wife tightly in his arms, tears of joy of his own wetting his face as well as Molly’s hair.
Feeling like an intruder, Harry kept his gaze glued to his hands in front of him, waiting quietly to deliver the rest of his news.
Finally Arthur sniffed and ran his hand across his face and looked back at Harry. “Where…” he had to clear his throat again, “where is she now? If Ginny is still being held captive, we’ll need to contact the Ministry so we can come up with a plan to get her back.”
“That’s not necessary, she’s safe now,” Harry said. “She’s at Andromeda’s and Ron and Hermione are with her, too.”
“But why didn’t you bring her right here?” Molly questioned, swiping tears from her red, puffy eyes. “Come on, Arthur. I want to see my daughter and bring her home where she belongs!”
“Wait… please,” Harry ran a hand through is messy hair. “She was still sleeping when I left, and Ron and Hermione said they’d bring her here the moment she wakes up.”
“But I want to see my daughter!” Molly insisted.
“Harry,” Arthur said carefully, as if he was afraid to ask the question. “Is there more that you need to tell us?”
“I don’t need to hear anything else!” Molly stated heatedly, pulling out of her husband’s embrace and standing up. “I need to see Ginny right now!”
“Just a moment, Molly,” Arthur replied so sternly that his wife froze and turned her attention back to Harry.
“What else do you have to tell us?” Arthur repeated.
“Trust me that Ginny is fine,” Harry answered, “and she’s in perfect health physically.”
Arthur’s face visibly paled and he frowned across the table at him. “Are you implying that she’s not in perfect health in some other aspect?”
“Ginny’s lost her memory,” Harry stated with a frustrated sigh.
“What do you mean she’s lost her memory?” Molly demanded.
“Just what I said,” Harry replied, beginning to feel somewhat irritated. He knew that some of the news he had to deliver would be difficult for them, but he hoped they’d also understand how difficult this was for him as well.
“Apparently she was unconscious for a while after the attack, and when she awoke, she could not remember anything about herself or about her life. She doesn’t remember anyone from her family, about growing up at The Burrow, about Hogwarts, the war, or that she played for the Harpies or…”
There was an uncomfortable pause and then Arthur finished for him, “Or that she has a fiancé?”
Harry could only nod his head slightly in response and he began to study a hangnail on his thumb. Blinking rapidly, he silently admonished himself for feeling so morose even while delivering the happiest news Ginny’s parents could hear. Ginny was alive and that should be the only thing that mattered.
“I thought,” he took a bracing breath, “it would be better if you heard about everything before you saw her. Like I said, Ginny was still asleep when I left Andromeda’s to come here. She’s been through a lot… she’s learned a lot since just last night. She’s already seen Hermione, and Ron will be there when she wakes up. Hermione and I thought it might be easier if she meets at least one of her brothers first before the rest of the family. I understand how anxious you are to see her, and I don’t mean to make you angry, but I also thought it would be better if I told you everything while Ginny isn’t around; she certainly doesn’t need to hear it all again. And Ron and Hermione promised that they’d bring her home just as soon as she woke up.”
“It probably is a good idea for us to hear about what happened before Ginny arrives,” Arthur said, taking his wife’s hand. “And Harry’s right, dear. Who knows what Ginny has been through? Making her listen to Harry explain it to us could be more traumatizing.”
“Ron and Hermione will bring her here right away?” It was clear that Molly was fighting an internal battle between her desire to see her daughter and heeding her husband’s advice.
“Yes,” Harry acknowledged. “Hermione wanted me to emphasize that she promised. They should be arriving any time now.”
“I suppose…” Molly sighed reluctantly, but reading the look of sadness on Harry’s face she continued, “I should have realized that you’d only have Ginny’s best interest at heart.”
Before he could stop her this time, Molly moved quickly to hug him, but she stepped back when she felt his body tense in her embrace.
“Is it that bad?” Molly said worriedly when Harry was unable to hide his grimace of pain. “Whatever did they do to you?”
With her husband’s urging, Molly took the seat next to him and Harry then went on to explain everything that had happened from Draco Malfoy catching Ginny when she fell during the attack at Shell Cottage up through their escape from Malfoy Manor earlier that morning. He purposely kept the description of his own brutal encounter with the Death Eaters in the carriage house to the barest of details, but, as with Hermione, he was unable to keep Molly from insisting on examining his back.
“Arthur, would you look at what they’ve done to him!” Molly exclaimed, her face becoming a mask of horror, just as Harry had imagined it would. “You should have a Healer take a look at that.”
“It’s already loads better than it was,” Harry said quickly. “Ginny patched up the worst of it earlier this morning, and Hermione applied more Dittany before I left Andromeda’s. Besides, I have to report into the office so we can start looking for Golden Mask’s followers.”
“But—” Molly began to protest, but Harry cut her off.
“It looks worse than it is, really,” he lied, and from the expression on Molly’s face he knew that she did not believe him.
“Of course I can’t make you take care of yourself,” she replied in a disapproving tone, and she reluctantly let the subject go. “But you will come back here tonight for dinner. We’ll contact each of the boys. They’ll all want to get here as soon as they— oh, dear!” Molly jumped up and started rummaging through the cupboards. “If we’re going to have the whole crowd I’ve got to be starting dinner! Let’s see… I should have nearly everything on hand to make most of Ginny’s favorites…”
“Come on, Harry, I’ll walk you outside,” Arthur said, smiling at his wife’s frenzied, but overjoyed excitement.
When they arrived at the Apparition point in the yard, Arthur turned to him, “I think your news has brought my Molly back.”
Harry responded with a slight smile and nod.
“She really is alright, then?” Arthur asked apprehensively, now that his wife was not around. “I mean they haven’t hurt her or, ah, done anything…”
Harry shook his head, understanding Arthur’s concern. “I got the impression Golden Mask wouldn’t let anyone touch her until he could force me to watch it. And while I loathe Malfoy, I don’t think he’s one who’d force himself on a woman.” Take advantage of her, perhaps, Harry added in his mind, but he did not want to get into that subject with Ginny’s father.
“We’ll see you later this evening then?” Arthur asked, looking more relieved.
Harry’s face fell slightly. “It’ll be overwhelming enough for Ginny to see you and all of her brothers without adding someone else to the mix.”
“You’re her fiancé, so you have the right to be here as much as everyone else in the family,” Arthur countered and then a thought seemed to dawn on him. “She does know the two of you were to be married?”
“Yeah,” Harry replied with a sigh. “But I don’t think she was very happy about it. She’s going to need time to sort everything out and I understand that. But unless she gets her memory back, nothing will change the fact that I’m really just a stranger to her now. Actually,” Harry paused, debating for a brief second before deciding he might as well let her father know, “she acts like she’s afraid of me.”
“Afraid of you?” Arthur repeated, his eyebrows rising in surprise. “What on earth makes you say that?”
Harry then explained what Draco had told him about Ginny’s nightmares, and about her reaction to him when he tried to comfort her earlier that day at Andromeda’s cottage.
“Sounds to me like Malfoy may have planted some funny ideas in her head,” Arthur growled angrily. “I wouldn’t put it past him.”
“I wouldn’t, either,” Harry agreed irritably. “But whether he has or not, something about my presence bothers her, and Ginny certainly has enough to be getting on with for a while. I’m afraid that it will only make things harder for her if I’m around, too.”
“If there is one thing that I’m sure has not changed about my daughter, no matter what she has been through, it’s that she is a very strong young woman,” Arthur said, looking Harry in the eyes. “I don’t think you should worry about your presence making it harder on her. You’re a good man, Harry, and the most courageous and decent person that I’ve ever had the privilege to meet.”
Uncomfortable with Mr. Weasley’s accolades, Harry tore his gaze away to look down at ground by his feet.
“I’m not trying to embarrass you,” Arthur continued. “I only want there to be no doubt in your mind that I firmly believe a father could never hope to find someone better for his daughter to fall in love with than you.”
Startled by this open declaration, Harry looked back at Ginny’s father.
“Oh, Harry,” Arthur said, shaking his head at him for a reason Harry did not understand. “What I’m trying to say is that even if Ginny never gets her memory back, I’m confident my daughter will eventually see the tremendous qualities within you that she saw before all this happened and that she’ll go falling head-over-heels with you all over again. However, that cannot possibly happen if you are not around. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir, I think so,” Harry replied, as a smile reappeared on his face.
“Good,” Arthur said, his smile broadening as well. “Now perhaps if I go see what I can do to assist Molly in the kitchen, it will help the time go by faster for me until Ron and Hermione get here with Ginny.”
He turned back toward the house and called back over his shoulder, “See you later tonight, Harry.”
“Yes, sir,” Harry called back and then he Apparated to the Ministry.
Confused by her own reaction to the conversation she had overheard between Harry and Teddy, Ginny made her way quietly back up to the bedroom. She wanted time to sort out her feelings regarding Harry before she was to face him again.
Eventually she could hear people talking in low voices downstairs, but she was unable to make out what was being said; then the front door opened and closed and Harry’s, Hermione’s and another male voice drifted up from outside.
Ginny went to the window and pulled the curtain back ever so slightly so she could see the people below. Harry and Hermione were talking to a tall man with bright red hair whose back was towards her. She assumed him to be her brother Ron, who was married to Hermione. The three of them slowly walked away from the house, with Harry doing most of the talking. It was quite obvious that whatever he was saying was upsetting her brother because every so often the redhead animatingly interrupted whatever Harry was saying or he’d run a hand angrily through is red hair and begin to pace.
Eventually, Harry Disapparated and Hermione and her brother walked back toward the cottage, hand-in-hand. Ginny stepped hastily away from the window, feeling both nervous and excited that she was about to meet one of her brothers.
“Aunt Ginny!” Teddy squealed with delight when he saw her descend the stairs. The boy ran over and wrapped his arms around her legs, hugging her tightly.
“Hi, Teddy,” Ginny replied, bending slightly to return his hug. She then turned her eyes quickly to Hermione and her brother, who both stood up quickly from where they had been conversing quietly on the couch.
“Ginny!” Ron exclaimed under his breath, staring dumbfounded at the sister he thought he would never see again. For the briefest of moments, the tall man whose hair color matched her own, stood frozen in place gapping at her, his blue eyes wide. Then an overjoyed smile split his freckled face and he rushed forward, pulling her into a bone crushing hug.
“It’s really you!” he said with thankful disbelief. “God, Ginny, I can hardly believe it!”
His hug tightened around her, and just as Ginny feared that her ribs were about to crack any second, Hermione came to her rescue.
“Ron, you have to let her breathe!” Hermione admonished, tears of happiness spilling down her face as she witnessed the siblings’ reunion.
Ron relented slightly by stepping back to allow his eyes to travel over Ginny’s face, but he continued to hold her at arm’s length by her shoulders as if reluctant to let her go completely.
“If you haven’t guessed by now,” Hermione sniffed through her tears, “this is your brother, Ron.”
“Hello, Ron,” Ginny replied smiling up at him, as her brother’s infectious joy spread to her. “I know it probably sounds like a strange thing to say, but I’m very happy to meet you.”
“So you honestly don’t remember us at all?” Ron asked sounding disappointed, even though she knew that Hermione and Harry would have prepared him for her loss of memory.
“Not yet, I’m sorry to say,” Ginny replied, shaking her head.
“Oh, well, that will come in time,” Ron said confidently. He then asked with concern, “So how are you, other than your memory loss, I mean.”
“I’m feeling fine,” she answered but added with a slight shiver, “although there were a few scary moments earlier this morning before we escaped—”
“I knew Uncle Hawey would find you!” Teddy interrupted proudly. “I knew it! He’s the bestest Aw-ror ever!”
Ginny smiled down at the boy, “I’m sure he is.”
“Hey, what about me?” Ron demanded, glowering good-naturedly down at the boy. “I’m an Auror now, too, you know!”
“Uncle Hawey’s been and Aw-ror longer,” Teddy declared as Andromeda came into the room.
“Ah, Ginny, you’re awake,” the older woman said. “I thought I’d heard your voice, too. Come along, Teddy, so we can let Aunt Ginny and Uncle Ron talk.”
“Actually, we’re going to take Ginny to The Burrow,” Hermione said. “Harry already left to tell Molly and Arthur the news so they’ll be prepared before they see her. We said we’d take her straight there just as soon as she was awake.”
“Although, it wouldn’t surprise me if Mum appears the second after she finds out,” Ron said and glanced out the window as if expecting to see his mother outside.
“By all means, go on,” Andromeda said as she walked over to Ginny. “I know how excited and impatient I’d be to see my daughter if I learned that she was alive.”
A sad shadow crossed the older woman’s face, but she recovered quickly and gave Ginny an affectionate hug. “I’m sure everything will work itself out with your memory, and I hope that we’ll see you again soon.”
“Thank you and you will,” Ginny replied, hugging Andromeda back.
“See you later, Aunt Ginny!” Teddy said as Ginny bent down to give him another hug has well.
“Bye, Teddy. I’ll visit again soon,” Ginny assured the boy
“Hey! You can help Uncle Hawey teach me to ride a bwoom!”
“Perhaps,” Ginny said smiling and ruffled the boy’s hair.
“You’re still a bit young to ride a broom, Teddy,” Andromeda stated sternly as Hermione, Ron and Ginny turned to leave. “Maybe Harry and Ginny can teach you in another year or so.”
“Awe! But Uncle Hawey said he’d talk you into it!” Teddy retorted.
“He did, did he?” They heard Andromeda reply as the door closed behind them.
“I hope Harry hasn’t promised Teddy something that he shouldn’t have,” Ginny said worriedly.
“Me, too,” Hermione agreed. “Andromeda’s right. Teddy is a bit too young for a broom.”
“Too young?” Ron demanded. “He’s, what, already three? That’s plenty old enough, Hermione.”
“No it isn’t! What if he were to fall?” Hermione stopped with her hands on her hips, looking at Ron incredulously.
“It’s not like he’d fall very far, is it?” Ron shot back. “Harry’s not stupid! He’s not going to let him go very high at first, is he?”
“Ronald Weasley, if I ever catch you trying to teach our children to ride before they are at least five, you’ll have a lot to answer for!”
“Just because you’ve never liked to fly, it doesn’t mean our kids won’t be allowed to ride a broom!” Ron shot back.
“I didn’t say they won’t be allowed,” Hermione returned with an exasperated huff, “I only said that we’re not going to start teaching them until they are old enough!”
The three of them had stopped walking and Ginny found herself in-between the couple, turning her head from one side to the other as they each argued their point.
“So, ah, how many kids do you have?” Ginny asked rather loudly to be heard over them, hoping to stop their argument before it went too much farther.
“What?” Ron said, looking at his sister oddly.
Blushing slightly, Hermione replied, “We don’t have any yet.”
“But you’re already getting mad at each other and arguing about when to teach the children that you don’t yet have to fly?” Ginny found it disheartening that her brother and sister-in-law might be having marital problems so early in their marriage.
“Yeah, well, she’s always been a bit unreasonable about certain things.”
“Ronald…” Hermione growled warningly.
Ginny heard her brother grumble something that sounded like “I’m just saying…” under his breath.
“We’re not mad at each other,” Hermione added.
“Oh, uh… that’s good,” Ginny said, although she was not quite convinced.
“’Course not,” Ron shrugged matter-of-factly as they stepped through the front gate to where they could now Apparate. “We argue like this all the time.”
“We do not, Ron!” Hermione exclaimed and, unable to stop herself, Ginny burst out laughing.
Ron and Hermione stared at her, perplexed, for a moment, until Hermione grinned and then she, too, started to laugh along with her sister-in-law.
“What?” Ron demanded, scowling at both of them until the reason for their mirth finally dawned on him and he joined in.
Ron then took his sister by the hand and, as they Apparated, he thought about how wonderful it felt to finally be able to laugh again.
Harry turned stiffly to see Alicia practically sprinting down the hallway towards him.
“I can’t believe it!” She cried with a wide grin on her face as she gave him hug. In her excitement at seeing Harry alive, she gave him no chance to reply before she continued, “When Ron rushed out earlier, I figured something was up. I’m so glad to see that you’re alright. And wait ‘till you hear about the new lead we have! But first you have to tell me how you managed to get away from the Death Eaters! We were so afraid they—”
He clenched his jaw tightly when Alicia’s hug shot waves of pain across his shoulders, but once she released him, he could not suppress a small grin at her enthusiastic greeting.
“I want to get everyone else together in Candlehard’s office and I’ll explain everything that happened—” he stopped in mid sentence when Alicia’s words finally sunk in. “Hang on. Did you say you have a new lead? What is it?”
“Well,” Alicia answered excitedly, “we’re pretty sure we know how someone found out about Martha Pondergrass sending that owl to you.”
“You do?” Harry asked, feeling a rush of excitement. Between the men he had seen while he was held captive and any additional information his team may have uncovered, they might finally get a break in tracking down Golden Mask’s identity.
“We think it was Devlin Barrett, one of Candlehard’s interns; she’s assigned to review your mail,” Alicia explained. “Seamus and I ran into Stacie, who told us that she recently confronted Devlin because Devlin was the one who opened your letter. Of course Devlin denies telling anyone about it, but Stacie doesn’t believe her.”
“Is Devlin still around?” Harry asked; he hoped Candlehard hadn’t dismissed her because he wanted a chance to talk to her himself.
“Yeah, she’s probably at her desk now,” Alicia answered. “Stacie didn’t want to say anything to Candlehard until she had more proof.”
“Okay, then,” Harry said, “We’ll speak with her in a bit. Let’s grab Kevin, Ben and Seamus and head over to Candlehard’s office. At least some good came out of the Death Eaters capturing me because I now know who some of Golden Mask’s followers are.”
As they headed toward their office Harry decided to tell Alicia his best news.
“I discovered something else, too,” Harry said and the tone of his voice made Alicia look over at him sharply.
“I found Ginny,” Harry stated simply.
“You found…” Alicia froze, looking at him incredulously. “Did I hear you right?”
“You did,” Harry confirmed. “Ginny’s alive.”
“You’re sure?” Alicia asked, her expression somewhere between hope and disbelief. “I mean, you’ve seen her?”
“Not only have I seen her, I’ve spoken to her,” Harry added.
“That’s fabulous!” Alicia practically shouted, beaming, and then she lowered her voice when several people stopped abruptly to stare at Harry, including Harry’s two least-favorite Internal Investigation Aurors, Svenson Jodfree and Jeremy Arnold. Harry gazed back at them coolly before both men turned to walk the other way.
“That’s amazing!” Alicia continued. “Where has she been all this time— Wait, what’s wrong? You don’t seem that excited for a man who’s found his long lost fiancée.”
“There’s, err, a bit of a complication,” Harry replied, noticing that more and more people were now stopping to stare at him. Everyone must have heard about his capture by the Death Eaters at the park. Had that only been two days ago? Somehow it seemed that so much more time had gone by than that.
“I’ll explain everything once we’re in Candlehard’s office.”
They reached the door to their office but before they entered, Alicia said, “There’s something I want to talk to you about without the others around.”
Harry waited expectantly and she clarified, “It’s about Ben.”
“You decided to keep an eye on him, then?” Harry guessed. “I told you before that I don’t like the idea of one member of the team spying on another.”
“I know, but listen,” Alicia said, undeterred. “Ben disappeared not long after we got back from checking out the park where the Death Eaters found you.”
“What do you mean he disappeared?”
“Seamus and I wanted to talk to him and Kevin about what Stacie told us, but Ben was nowhere to be found.”
“Maybe he had to leave early for some reason,” Harry conjectured.
“It’s not just that,” Alicia continued. “It really seemed like he wanted to finish looking around at the park as quickly as possible. He kept saying that we’d seen all there was to see and that we might as well head back. It was like there was somewhere else he wanted to be. I just thought it was an odd way to react right after you’d gone missing.”
“I wouldn’t expect Ben to get all teary-eyed over something happening to me,” Harry said matter-of-factly. “You know he’s never liked me much, especially since that time I landed into him for his crack about Mudbloods.”
“He also got in late today,” Alicia went on as if she hadn’t heard him, “and he was in the foulest mood I’ve ever seen him in. Now here you are having just escaped the Death Eaters…”
“So you think,” Harry speculated with raised eyebrows, “it all means that he’s in league with them?”
Alicia’s suspicions brought to mind Ron’s comment from a few weeks back about whether Hasmond Carrow’s death in the raid several months earlier had really been an accident. Had Ben ensured a potential suspect fell out of the building to his death to keep him from being questioned?
“I’m just pointing out that the Death Eaters made another move but you managed to escape them,” Alicia said, arms crossed. “Now Ben’s been acting strange the past few days. We suspect there’s at least one leak in the Ministry. I just have to wonder whether it’s really just a coincidence.”
Was there merit to Alicia’s suspicions? Harry thought back to his captivity at Malfoy Manor; was it possible Ben had been one of the Death Eaters who had remained masked, or even Golden Mask himself? Having Ben on his team had never felt right to him, and Harry had never wanted him in the first place. The possibility that someone so close to him and the investigation was involved with Golden Mask in some way was extremely unnerving.
“Anything’s possible,” Harry replied slowly. “Let’s keep an eye on him.”
When Harry and Alicia stepped through the door into their office, a hush immediately descended throughout the entire room. Kevin, Ben and Seamus were seated at their desks, and when they saw him, Harry watched Ben’s reaction to his appearance, but he seemed just as surprised as the other two.
“Harry!” Seamus called, “it’s great to see you, mate!”
“Yeah,” Kevin said smiling, “after we found no sign of you, we could only think the worst.”
“How’d you manage to get away from them?” Ben asked, and then he added quickly, “Not that we aren’t all happy to see you, of course.”
“Sure you are,” Alicia mumbled under her breath and Harry shot her a warning look.
“I came by to ask you to come to Candlehard’s office,” Harry said. “I’ll explain everything when we get there.”
“What about Ron?” Seamus asked. “He found a note from Hermione and he left a while ago. He didn’t say when he’d be back.”
“Ron has something to take care of,” Harry replied. “But I’ve already had a chance to fill him in.”
Stacie was overjoyed to see Harry when he walked into the office accompanied by his team, and
several other people called out to him in greeting. The director stepped out of his office to see what all the commotion was about and he, too, was surprised, but pleased at Harry’s presence.
Harry spoke briefly to Stacie in a hushed tone and when she nodded her understanding of his request, he followed the rest of his team into the Director’s office and closed the door. Harry spent the next half hour telling them about finding Ginny alive, her loss of memory and of his encounter with Golden Mask and the other Death Eaters. He also provided them with the names or descriptions of the Death Eaters whose faces he had seen. The only time anyone interrupted him is when he first mentioned that the Death Eaters had taken him to Malfoy Manor and of Draco’s involvement.
“Funny we didn’t hear about Malfoy doing anything suspicious while you were following him,” Alicia said, looking at Ben with a raised eyebrow.
“That’s because he didn’t do or say anything suspicious while I was following him,” Ben snapped irritably, taking obvious exception to Alicia’s comment.
Harry finished by telling them about Malfoy actually being the one who took Ginny and him to safety and what Draco had told him at Andromeda’s.
“Ron and Hermione will be taking Ginny to The Burrow later today and Hermione has made Ginny an appointment at Saint Mungo’s for tomorrow morning. We’re hoping that being in familiar surroundings and having people from her family around her will help her to regain her memory.
“In the meantime,” Harry continued, “I want to split up the names of the Death Eaters I’ve identified and start tracking them down. Of course they know that I’ll be reporting what I saw, so I’m sure they’ll be expecting Aurors to come after them. Therefore, I think it will be safer for us to work in pairs. Starting tomorrow, Alicia, I want you to work with Ben, Kevin with Seamus and I’ll pair up with Ron.”
“Good idea,” Candlehard stated. “I don’t want anyone to confront any of the suspects alone because it may be too dangerous. In the mean time, I’ll send another team out to check out Malfoy Manor.”
“And what about Malfoy?” Seamus asked. “I’m surprised you didn’t arrest the slimy git and bring him in.”
“I was going to, but then I thought better of it,” Harry replied, “at least for now.”
“But from what I’ve heard you say about him,” Kevin interjected, “aren’t you afraid he’ll run? Or that the Death Eaters will try to get to him to keep him from providing any more information?”
“He won’t run,” Harry stated.
“How can you be sure?” Candlehard asked gruffly. “I want him arrested and in custody. The Auror department cannot allow suspects to indiscriminately walk free, Harry.”
“With all due respect, sir,” Harry countered, “I believe Malfoy will be more helpful and safer if he is kept away from the Ministry and somewhere the Death Eaters can’t find him. At least until we find out who around here is working with Golden Mask.”
“Where is he then?” Ben asked curiously.
“Somewhere safe,” Harry replied vaguely and then he addressed Director Candlehard. “He’s staying at an Unplotable location, but I will be able to get in touch with him if we need him. Malfoy’s not the courageous type, so I think it’s highly unlikely he’ll dare go anywhere else if there’s even the slightest chance that they could find him.”
Candlehard considered Harry’s comments for a moment. “Alright, but if it does come time to bring him in and he’s nowhere to be found, it will be on your head.”
“I understand, sir,” Harry acknowledged. He was as certain as he could be that Narcissa would keep her word and that Draco would remain at her cottage. If he was wrong and Malfoy did make a run for it, Harry promised himself that he would not rest until he was caught.
“Okay then, sounds like we have our work cut out for us,” Candlehard replied. “If there is nothing more, I suggest you all start tracking down the Death Eaters Harry’s identified first thing in the morning.”
“There is one more thing, sir,” Harry said. “Alicia and Seamus have some information pertaining to the leak regarding the owl I received from Martha Pondergrass.”
“What is it?” Candlehard asked.
The two Aurors gave a brief account of what Alicia had told Harry earlier and once they were finished, Harry said, “On our way in, I asked Stacie to make sure that Devlin doesn’t leave for the day before I get a chance to speak with her. I’d like to ask her to step in here for a few minutes.”
“Have her come in.” Candlehard was frowning darkly, “Stacie warned me about that girl before we hired her for the intern position. I should have pushed back on her uncle more when he insisted that she be placed in this office!”
Harry poked his head out of the office and gave Stacie a brief nod.
“Go on in, Devlin,” he heard Stacie say.
Devlin Barrett’s blue eyes widened in surprise to see Harry holding the door open for her. She then let out a nervous gasp when she entered the office and saw that Harry’s entire team was in the room as well.
“Good afternoon, Miss Barrett, is it?” Candlehard greeted the girl with cool formality as Harry shut the door and walked over to stand next to the director’s desk.
Devlin only nodded affirmatively, seemingly too nervous to speak.
“Please take a seat,” Candlehard said, indicating a chair he had just conjured in front of his desk.
Devlin was quite young, Harry guessed no more than eighteen or nineteen and her robes were made of a rather expensive material. Her well-manicured hands were trembling and her frightened eyes remained on him as she slowly sank into the chair.
“Hello, Devlin,” Harry said, holding out his hand in greeting and giving her what he hoped came across as a friendly smile. “I’m Auror Potter, although you probably already know that, I suppose?”
“Oh, yes!” Devlin replied breathlessly.
She took Harry’s hand into hers, which he had to pull back with a bit of effort because she seemed most reluctant to let it go.
“And this is the rest of my team,” Harry continued, working to keep the pleasant tone in his voice, “Aurors Finnegan, Spinnet, Anderson and Weaver.
“What? Oh, hello,” she said, turning to the others before quickly looking back at Harry, seemingly quite star-struck.
Harry found the girl’s reaction to him irritating, but since the end of the war he had reluctantly become used to people, especially young witches, looking at him in much the same way. This time, however, he hoped that he could use it to his advantage. Harry assumed Director Candlehard was thinking the same thing since he remained quiet, allowing Harry to do the talking.
“We just have a few question for you, Devlin,” Harry said, pulling his chair around so he could sit directly in front of her. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and kept his eyes focused on hers. “I’m really hoping you’ll be able to help us out.”
“I… S-sure. Anything!” Devlin stammered and her eyes grew even wider. Seamus made an amused sound in the back of his throat which Harry ignored; however, he appreciated the subtle jab in the ribs he saw Alicia give him out of the corner of his eye.
“I’m told that you’re the one who opened the Owl message the other day from someone who said they had information for me about Ginny Weasley.”
Devlin suddenly looked down at her hands and answered in a quiet voice, “Um, yes, I did.”
“I wanted to thank you personally for bringing it to our attention,” Harry said cajolingly. “It turned out to be very helpful.”
“Really? I-it did?” Devlin replied looking back at Harry excitedly. “How?”
“Well, I can’t really go into the details due to our on-going investigation,” Harry replied, reminding himself to smile pleasantly. “You understand.”
“Of course,” Devlin answered, although she looked disappointed.
“Unfortunately,” Harry continued, “someone was able to get to the informant, Martha Pondergrass, before we arrived. She died before she could tell us much.”
“I know,” Devlin said in a small voice, gazing back at her hands again. “I read about it in the paper, and I heard people in the office talking about it.”
“Devlin,” Harry said softly, “did you tell anyone about the owl, maybe in passing or unintentionally?”
Devlin kept her head bowed and she shook her head, but Harry saw several tears drip onto the girl’s hands as she sniffed.
Harry pulled out his wand, conjured a handkerchief and handed it to her. He gave her a moment to collect herself and then he placed his hand gently on hers.
As her tear-filled eyes looked up at him miserably, Harry said, “I’m sure you’d never mean for anything bad to happen, but I need to know if you did tell someone.” Devlin opened her mouth to protest, but Harry continued, “Very few people knew where Martha Pondergrass asked me to meet her. It will mean a lot to me if you help me; if you tell me the truth.”
“I’m so sorry!” Devlin moaned and burst into tears. “I th-thought he c-cared about me! I thought…”
Harry took both of her hands into his, feeling a rush of excitement. Stacie had been right; the girl had given the information to someone.
“Who, Devlin?” Harry coaxed. “Who did you tell?”
“My b-boyfriend,” she sobbed. “We’ve only been g-going out a few months but we really c-clicked, you know?”
“What’s your boyfriend’s name?” Harry asked.
“T-Tim. Tim Jeffrees,” Devlin replied into the handkerchief. “He’s always been so n-nice and th-thoughtful and interested in whatever I wanted to t-talk about! After I realized that the owl really m-meant something to you, I wanted to share the news with Tim and I sent a note right off to him. But I c-can’t believe he’s involved in k-killing someone! He t-told me was falling in love with m-me!”
Devlin began to cry even harder and Harry conjured another handkerchief for her. He looked across the room to the other four Aurors but they all shook their heads in answer to his silent question. None of them had heard of Tim Jeffrees either.
“Devlin…” Harry tried to gain her attention through her continued tears, “Does Tim Jeffrees work in the Ministry?”
“N-no,” she replied shaking her head. “He said he works for some private Wizarding company and he has to travel a lot. We met at one of the pubs nearby.”
“Can you tell me where he lives, then?” Harry asked.
“No,” Devlin said, looking up at Harry, her lips trembling. “He always insisted on picking me up at my parents’ house. I thought he was being gentlemanly, you know?”
Harry fought a hard-won battle to keep from rolling his eyes in frustration. “When was the last time you saw him?”
“We had a date less than a week ago…” Devlin said. “That’s the last time I saw or heard from him because he never—”
Devlin suddenly looked as if she was going to burst into tears again. “He never responded to the owl I sent him about your meeting with Martha Pondergrass! H-he was just using me, wasn’t he? He was only pretending to care so I would give him information!”
Then Devlin flung herself at Harry and she began to cry again in earnest against his shoulder.
“Er… Devlin?” Harry said, patting her on the back uncomfortably and tossing a pleading look toward the members of his team. Not only were her arms putting painful pressure on his wounded shoulders, but he had never figured out how to handle crying girls very well.
Alicia tutted in disgust, although Harry could not tell whether it was directed at Devlin or at him, and she came over to gently pry the younger girl off of him while offering words of sympathy.
As Alicia comforted Devlin, Harry turned to Director Candlehard and said quietly, “I’d like to request permission to pull a memory from her. Then at least we’ll have a face to go with the name.”
“Permission granted,” Candlehard answered, “as long as you get Miss Barrett’s consent.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Alicia said confidently, keeping an arm around Devlin. “I should have his picture ready for distribution first thing tomorrow.”
“Good,” Candlehard said. Once Alicia had taken Devlin out of the office, the director continued, “Issue arrest warrants for the people you were able to positively identify and, Harry, I want daily updates on your team’s progress.”
“Yes, sir,” Harry replied as the rest of them filed out the door.
“Sorry about Ginny’s memory and all, mate,” Seamus said sympathetically as they walked back to their office. “That’s got to be tough. Although who’d have guessed that Malfoy would have enough guts to catch Ginny right under Golden Mask’s nose, not to mention be the one to get you both away from him.”
“I’m still surprised, myself,” Harry replied. “But I guess I have to be grateful to him that he saved her life.”
“As well as yours,” Ben added.
Harry ignored Ben’s comment, but his faced darkened, “It still felt really good to break the bloody bastard’s nose, though.”
“You did?” Seamus exclaimed, grinning suddenly. “Oh, I wish I was there to see that!”
“He may have saved Ginny,” Harry said tersely, “but he should have taken her straight to Saint Mungo’s. If he had, then she would not have been in so much danger and they might have sorted out the problem with her memory by now.”
“True, but you said she’s going in tomorrow,” Kevin said supportively. “I’m sure they’ll still be able to find some way to bring her memory back.”
“I hope you’re right,” Harry replied fervently.
“Hey, it’s getting late,” Ben said abruptly, looking at his watch, “and I have an appointment I need to get to.”
Harry frowned after Ben as he watched him hurry off, and then checked his own watch to find that it was already well past six-thirty. He was going to be very late if he still planned on going to The Burrow for dinner.
“Come on,” Harry said wearily. “Let’s get the paperwork for the arrest warrants done before we leave and that way we’ll be able to distribute them in the morning.”
“You look exhausted, Harry,” Kevin said. “Why don’t you let Seamus and I handle the paperwork?” Seamus opened his mouth like he was about to protest, but Kevin shot him a warning look. “We have the names you gave us, so it really won’t take that long to get it done.”
“Yeah, sure,” Seamus said reluctantly. “We’ll take care of it.”
“Thanks,” Harry said, grateful that he’d now be able to get to The Burrow not to mention get to see Ginny that much sooner. “I’ll start looking into finding Tim Jeffrees in the morning, but I’ll owe you one.”
“Yes you will,” Seamus grumbled.
“Hang in there, Harry,” Kevin said as Harry turned to leave. “Everything will all work out in the end, you’ll see.”
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