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Chapter 21 : All Too Familiar
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As always, that which you recognize belongs to JK Rowling
Harry peered carefully over the top of his newspaper, studying the crowd in the muggle train station. He was sure that they were somewhere around. They had to be. Next to him, Esme nudged him lightly in the ribs. “There,” she whispered.
He waited for a moment before letting his gaze drift to the left where he spotted two men standing near a drinking fountain, trying to appear nonchalant as they scanned the crowd. Their clothes were just slightly off from the muggles who hurried past: The styles a bit dated, the colors not quite matched. One man wore a brown felt bowler on his head. The other kept stealing glances into a bakery take-out box that almost certainly contained a Sneakoscope.
“What is the plan?” Esme hissed.
“I’m working on it,” Harry replied. They had arrived at the train station disguised as a muggle couple from Little Hangleton who had unwittingly donated a few hairs that morning. Harry was hoping that they’d be able to stroll right past the Ministerial Security officers who were certain to be guarding the station. The Sneakoscope presented a tricky problem, however. If the Ministry realized that they had traveled to France, it would be far more difficult for them to get back into the country. Harry decided that the only sure way was to confund and obliviate the security officers, but he and Esme would have to work quickly before one of them could raise the alarm.
Harry scanned the crowd entering the station, and suddenly spotted what he was looking for. An older muggle man, approximately his height and weight, wearing glasses. “Be ready to wipe their memories,” Harry whispered. He noticed the wizard with the Sneakoscope stiffen. The device was clearly picking up on his devious intentions.
When the muggle man got close enough, Harry began to rapidly cast spells from inside his coat sleeve. He lightly confunded the man, then he transfigured the man’s hair to the same messy, graying-black mop that typically adorned his own head. Finally, he transfigured the man’s spectacles to the round, black-rimmed variety that he favored. He tugged gently at Esme’s elbow, and the two of them fell into step several paces behind the muggle. Harry focused intently on his plan to deceive.
Predictably, the security officers picked Harry’s decoy out of the crowd and moved to surround him. As soon as they fell into step, Harry swiped his wand inside his sleeve. Confundo. The muggle man and the security officers stumbled to a halt in front of them. Esme flicked her wand rapidly inside her overcoat, deftly removing all traces of the encounter from the minds of all three men. While she worked, Harry transfigured the muggle man back to his original appearance. When Esme was finished, she sent the muggle on his way. She and Harry hurried past the dazed officers and made their way through customs. A few minutes later, they found their seats on the passenger train to France.
“That wasn’t too bad,” Harry mumbled, pulling a book out of his travel bag.
“I always wondered ‘ow it would be to make the trip in the muggle fashion,” Esme replied, looking around the inside of the train car. “It seems so slow and cumbersome.”
“True, but it’s a really long way to try to apparate. And it’s a breeze compared to taking a plane or a boat,” Harry observed. He chuckled softly to himself as he recalled the disastrous air travel adventure the family had endured en route to Teddy and Victoire’s wedding. His father-in-law had insisted on taking James, Al, Lily and their cousins on a muggle flight from London to Paris, terming the trip “a once in a lifetime cultural experience.” Everyone involved agreed that it would never be repeated in their lifetimes. After the evacuation of an entire terminal at Heathrow Airport, the Obliviators spent nearly a week sorting things out.
“What is so funny?” Esme asked as the train lurched slightly beneath them and began to pull out of the station.
“Oh, nothing,” Harry replied. “Just remembering my family’s troubles with muggle transportation.”
Harry noticed her stiffen slightly in response to the words, ‘my family.’ He reluctantly came to the conclusion that if he was going to be spending the next few days in her company, it was probably time to start undoing the damage. Only he wasn’t sure where to begin. He tried to replay their angry confrontation over dinner in his mind, but it still didn’t make much sense to him. Perhaps it was best to simply get her talking.
“Do you go back and visit Beauxbâtons often?” Harry asked.
“Occasionally. Mostly when we are recruiting new trainees.”
“Recruiting, yes,” Harry replied a bit stiffly. “That’s usually what takes me back to Hogwarts. Well, that and I teach dueling lessons there. Two different sets of lessons, actually. So, um, yes, I guess I’m there twice a week. But I also do recruiting.” Smooth, Potter. Very smooth.
Esme looked mildly confused, but she seemed to let it go and went back to staring out the window. Harry struggled to think of a way to keep the conversation going. “So how does your recruiting work? What sort of marks do the students need?”
Esme turned and looked at him with a mix of amusement and frustration. “‘arry, do you intend to spend our entire trip making painful small talk, or shall we discuss what is obviously on both of our minds?”
Esme still wasn’t much on idle chatter. Harry drew a deep breath, mostly to buy time. His mind raced as he tried to figure out what to say next. He recalled her saying that she was unsure how he felt about the time they spent together in the Pyrenees. Maybe that would be a good place to start.
“Alright, then. Well, the first thing I want you to know that I don’t regret the things that happened between us,” he said cautiously. “I know it probably seemed like I couldn’t forget about those days fast enough, but it really helped me figure out a lot of things. Made me realize what was really important, what I really cared about.”
“Obviously I was not all that important to you, since you cast me aside and ran ‘ome to England as soon as our work together was over,” she replied bluntly. “But I suppose that was part of what I helped you to figure out, no?”
Harry felt a familiar sense of panic, one that he could recall from as far back as his first, disastrous relationship with Cho. “Esme, you were important to me. I cared about you a lot. I just don’t want you to think that I regret my feelings toward you because of how things ended.”
Esme turned to face him, looking hurt. “So what, you think that I regret the time we spent together?” she said, the tone of her voice conveying a clear warning that he was on very dangerous ground.
“No, no!” Harry replied. “That isn’t what I meant at all. I mean, I guess I could understand if you did. Now that I think about it, I’m sure that it would have upset Ginny a great deal... you know, if I’d mentioned it to her. But I don’t regret it.”
For reasons that completely eluded Harry, the hurt in Esme’s eyes twisted into anger. “Listen to me, you pompous ass, the only thing I regret is that I did not see you for what you were: a lying pig looking for a quick roll in the ‘ay to tide ‘im over until ‘e could return triumphantly ‘ome, marry ‘is school sweet’eart and live ‘appily ever after.”
Harry sighed. This wasn’t going well at all. “Esme, I was very young and confused. I never meant to take advantage of you.”
“Take advantage of me?” Her face had become a mask of barely-contained rage. “I was not some starry-eyed little schoolgirl. I was a grown woman and I knew that I was taking a risk, but that is what I thought it was, a risk. I did not know that you were practically married already!”
“Esme, it wasn’t like that,” he said softly, trying to soothe her anger. “I wasn’t even engaged back then...”
“Oh, it was not like that?” she replied incredulously. “Well ‘ow was it, then? Let us consider the facts, shall we? True or false: you ‘ad a serious girlfriend from the first day we met?”
“True or false: you never ‘ad any intention of leaving ‘er at any point?”
“Well, I suppose that’s true.”
“True or false: you were perfectly aware of these facts as you watched me fall in love with you?”
“Esme, I never had any idea that you were falling in love,” Harry answered quietly.
“Liar!” she shot back, fuming. “Even you are not so dense.” She glared at him for a long moment. When he didn’t answer, she turned away from him in a huff.
The British countryside disappeared as the train entered the Channel Tunnel. They sat in silence under the artificial lights, neither willing to reach across the wall of animosity separating them. Harry was surprised when Esme finally spoke. “‘arry, do you ever intend to explain what you were really thinking?”
Harry stared at the seat back in front of him, then snorted. “Do you really want to know what I was thinking?”
She turned to face him. “I ‘ave wanted to know for forty-four years.”
Harry stared out the window, watching the fluorescent lights on the tunnel walls pass. “Before I found out I was a wizard, I couldn’t remember anyone ever caring about me. My aunt and uncle and cousin hated me. All the kids at school made fun of me and bullied me. I had these hazy memories of my Mum and Dad, and the way I felt when she used to hold me. That was all that kept me going.
“And when I came to Hogwarts, suddenly everybody seemed interested in me. There were a few people who tried to look out for me, like Ron and Hermione and a couple of the teachers, but most of them just wanted to see The Boy Who Lived. I was just a curiosity, someone that let people send an owl home and say, ‘I met Harry Potter in Potions today and he’s shorter than I thought.’
“Then I met Ginny. She was the first person who had ever really been in love with me. I mean, there were plenty of stupid girls who had crushes on me because of what happened when I was a baby, but she wasn’t like that. She was strong and smart and beautiful and good at Quidditch. She could have had any guy she wanted, but she loved me. She loved me for who I really was, not because I was the Boy Who Lived.”
Harry took a moment to collect himself. He felt Esme staring at him, willing him to go on. “When I met you, you were also strong and talented and beautiful and exotic. And when it turned out that you were interested in me... the first time you kissed me... it was too good to be true, you know? The idea that not one but two amazing women could fall in love with me. I was nineteen years old and I felt like two different people living in the same body. There was the Chosen One who beat the Dark Lord and there was the lonely little boy who used to sleep in a cupboard and wear worn out, hand-me-down clothes and get beaten up at school.
“I knew what we were doing was wrong, Esme. I knew that what I was doing to you was wrong. But that little boy who used to sleep in a cupboard... he wasn’t strong enough to say no.” Harry turned and looked directly into her eyes. “For that, I’ll always be sorry. You deserved so much better.”
They rode in silence for a long time, until the daylight suddenly exploded from the mouth of the tunnel ahead of them. As the train made its way into Calais, Esme finally said, “Thank you, ‘arry.”
He looked at her in surprise. “For what?”
“I may never forgive you, but now I think I understand.”
George Weasley strolled calmly down a quiet residential street in Honiton. The stiff breeze momentarily lifted his hat off of his head, ruffling his thinning, red hair. Of all the consequences of his advancing age, he reckoned that losing his hair bothered him the most. True, he wasn’t quite as tall as he used to be, and his joints ached when the damp winter winds blew in off of the ocean, but it was his full head of thick, red hair that he missed each morning when he looked in the mirror. Age had changed him in a lot of ways, he mused. But it hadn’t made him blind.
And he would have needed to be completely blind to not notice the pair of awkward, stiff-looking wizards who were following him. They walked mostly in silence in spite of the fact that they were obviously together, and they constantly changed their pace to match his. It became rather amusing after a while. George walked in a complete circle around the neighborhood, just to see whether it tipped them off that he was onto them. Apparently, it had not.
He glanced quickly at his watch, and realized that it was time for the game of cat and mouse to end. He picked up his pace, looking nervously around. Predictably, his pursuers drew closer, feigning a conversation about the early onset of the winter chill. George pulled an envelope from his inner pocket and pretended to study the contents for a moment. Then, giving one last purposeful look around, he dropped the envelope into an open rubbish bin as he passed.
Sure enough, the two wizards almost fell over each other trying to get to the bin. George continued to walk, grinning devilishly to himself. Just as he reached the next corner, he heard a loud pop behind him, followed by cries for help. He stole a quick look backwards and found the two wizards clothed in frilly, pink ball gowns as the wings that had magically sprouted from their backs lifted them into the air. George felt positive that Instant Faerie Birthday Party Powder was going to be a hit when he rolled it out at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes in the spring. Of course, he’d have to remember to include the flying instructions in the actual product. Otherwise, the party guests would probably all drift away like the two wankers who had tried to tail him.
He turned the corner and quickly spun on his heel, apparating to a different side street he had passed two blocks earlier. He could still hear the distant cries from his pursuers, and was satisfied that they would be occupied for quite a while. He found a manhole cover in the middle of the street that contained several unusual markings discretely imprinted around its rim, and stood in the middle of it.
“I don’t see how Chudley can fail to win the cup this year,” he said to nobody in particular, and suddenly he dropped through the manhole cover. A spell caught him as he fell, and he quickly rebounded upwards. An instant later, he popped up through a different manhole set in the middle of a street where the houses had a distinctly magical appearance. He smiled to himself as he walked up the path to the house formerly owned by his Aunt Muriel. It was really too bad that Ron wouldn’t be joining them. George could almost picture the pain on his younger brother’s face as he forced himself to say the pass-phrase George had selected in spite of the fact that the Cannons had gone winless the prior season.
George found Bill, Fleur, Charlie and Neville already waiting inside the house. He exchanged vigorous hugs with his brothers and warm greetings with the other two.
“No word from Percy?” George asked.
“Afraid not,” Bill replied. They had all hoped that Percy might join them, but the last anyone had heard, he hadn’t responded to the invitation.
George then noticed that the five of them were the only ones who had arrived. “Mum and Dad aren’t here yet? Mum said they were leaving the Burrow forty-five minutes ago.”
“They probably ‘ad unwanted company,” Fleur replied with a grimace. “We certainly did. ‘ow about you?”
“Well, there are a couple of blokes floating over King Street in pink princess dresses, but I wouldn’t know anything about that,” George responded with an innocent look.
They heard voices coming from outside and turned to face the door. Without thinking about it, George reached inside his pocket for his wand. He was surprised how quickly the instincts from the war were coming back to him. In a whirlwind of greying orange hair, their mother swept through the front door and pulled him into a hug before moving on to Charlie. Arthur followed close behind, peering cautiously out the door before closing it behind him.
“Are you all alright?” Molly asked, looking Charlie up and down before turning to Bill and Fleur.
“Yes, Mum, we’re fine,” Charlie answered. “What kept you?”
“We had to take a detour through the muggle hospital to shake the two witches who were following us,” Arthur explained. “Your mother was brilliant, as always. She led them into the psychiatric ward, then disarmed and confunded them. I suspect it will take them a while to convince the muggles in charge of the place that they aren’t patients.”
“Who are we missing?” Bill asked. He immediately seemed to think better of the question when he noticed the pained expression on Molly’s face. George thought about how hard it had been on their parents the last time Percy turned his back on the family. If the prat thought that he was going to do it again, George had every intention of setting him right.
“Well, Hestia and Dedalus were going to join us,” Arthur replied, trying to fill the awkwardness of the moment.
“Luna and Ernie are on their way,” Neville added. “Susan and Justin send their regrets. Apparently all of the senior Aurors are being watched too closely to even risk it. We’ll let the others know about anything we decide tonight.”
Suddenly the door opened again and Percy walked in. There was a brief moment where nobody seemed to know quite what to say, then Molly rushed to pull him into a smothering hug. Even after she was done fussing over him, George still felt a bit uneasy. It wasn’t that he wanted Percy to act like a git, but he had to admit that he expected it.
“Are you sure you weren’t followed, Percy?” Arthur asked. His father hid it well, but George knew that nobody had a lot of confidence in his older brother’s sense of stealth.
“Of course not,” Percy replied confidently. “I was careful to make several extra turns along the way.”
“Did anyone try to follow you?” Bill asked skeptically.
Percy shook his head dismissively. “I don’t think so. Why would anybody bother, anyway?”
The door opened again and Dedalus Diggle marched into the room. George was pretty sure that the diminutive old wizard had shrunk another inch or so since the last time they’d run into each other, but he hadn’t lost any of his fiery personality. Dedalus appeared very agitated as he stepped directly in front of Percy. “Why don’t you ask those two wizards who were watching when you dropped into the manhole?” he asked cantankerously. Hestia Jones had also appeared in the doorway, and she watched the standoff uneasily.
“Do we need to leave?” Arthur asked quietly.
“It’s alright,” replied Hestia. She pulled her hand out of her pocket, revealing a pair of wands. “We stunned and obliviated them before they could contact anyone. Then we left them on park benches in Tiverton. If we’re lucky, maybe the muggle police will arrest them for vagrancy.”
Charlie closed the space between himself and Percy with two long strides. “You have to be more careful!” he admonished. “This isn’t a game, Percy. Ron and Harry are depending on us.”
“Now, Charlie,” Molly interjected, laying her hand on her son’s arm, “your brother doesn’t have as much experience as the rest of us. He’ll do better next time.”
Charlie didn’t look at all convinced and from what George could tell, nearly everyone seemed to share his doubts. But nobody wanted to spark a confrontation with Molly, so they all held their tongues.
“Let’s adjourn to the sitting room, shall we?” Arthur asked, attempting to defuse the lingering tension between Molly and Dedalus, who was still glaring mutinously in Percy’s general direction. “I think we have a lot to talk about.”
As soon as Luna and Ernie arrived, everyone began to relate their experiences since the night that Harry, Ron and Hermione went into hiding. There was no longer any doubt that the trio’s family and close friends were being followed. Even Percy had to admit that. There were also signs of owl post being intercepted and floo calls being monitored. Bill’s superiors at Gringott’s had been quietly contacted by the Ministry with questions about his recent assignments, although the goblins held true to form in their refusal to cooperate.
“Old Ragnok was bragging about how he told off some bloke from the Goblin Liason Office,” Bill mused. “I guess this all makes sense if Magical Law Enforcement thinks that we know where the three of them are hiding out. But it really seems like whoever’s in charge either has no idea what they’re doing or just doesn’t care. I got the same feeling about the monitoring spells on the floo and even the ones I found at Hogwarts. It’s all really amateurish.”
“What happened at Hogwarts?” George asked. He immediately felt unsettled. He and Angelina had three grandchildren currently attending the school, plus all their cousins. Looking around the table, George surmised that he wasn’t the only one caught unaware.
Neville quickly jumped in and explained the monitoring spells they had found. “It’s obviously bad that we have a spy inside the castle,” he surmised grimly, “but we’ve contained them.”
“The spells were so easy to spot,” Bill added. “Somebody was bound to notice, and I wonder whether the spy even cares.”
“They’re not being very subtle at all,” George agreed. “Ministerial Security tried to recruit my secretary to spy on me and Lily. They weren’t even offering her gold, not that I don’t pay her well in the first place. Just some rubbish about ‘helping to preserve the security and stability of the wizarding world.’ She was laughing when she told me about it.”
“Has anyone from Ministerial Security tried to drag Lily in for an interview?” Bill asked. “Victoire told us that Teddy, Al and Hugo all got the third degree.”
“No. Not yet, anyway,” George replied. The mention of Harry and Ron’s children had added an uncomfortable new element to the conversation. Molly looked aghast at the notion of her grandchildren being treated like criminals by the Minister’s personal police force.
“So what about the younger generation?” Bill asked, studying the reactions around the table. “Some of them are bound to want to help. What should we tell them?”
“No, obviously!” Molly replied. Her stern voice and disapproving look made it clear that she didn’t even approve of the question. “They have no business getting involved in all of this.”
“That’s what you said about all of us when Voldemort first resurfaced,” Charlie countered. At times, George envied his brother for spending most of his life in the company of scaly, fire-breathing behemoths. It obviously made their mother seem less threatening.
“That was not the same at all, Charles Weasley,” she shot back. George could see the color rising in his mother’s neck. Anyone who dared to disagree with her was stepping onto dangerous ground. But George had never been one to back down from a challenge.
“How did you work that one out, Mum?” he asked. “Family’s family. If Ron, Harry and Hermione are in trouble then we all have an obligation to help. They’d be the first to step in if it was anyone else.”
There was a general nod of agreement among the members of Dumbledore’s Army, but Molly was unswayed. “Ronald, Harry and Hermione fought a war, along with everyone in this room,” she replied, her voice rising and her eyes flashing dangerously. “And we fought that war so that your children and their children wouldn’t have to suffer the hardships that we did. What do you think the three of them would say if they knew that their children were putting themselves at risk?”
“Look,” George said, lowering his voice and raising his palms, “I don’t want Freddie and Roxie in the middle of this, either. My point is that they’re all adults and no matter what we want, they’re going to make their own decisions. If we accept that, then not sharing what we know isn’t going to make them any safer.”
“If hostilities break out, we’re going to need all the wands we can get,” Dedalus added. “Face it, Molly, we’re getting too old for this.”
“There’s not going to be another war, Dedalus,” Molly roared. “Voldemort is dead. He’s never coming back. We’ll get to the bottom of this Blood Order business soon enough and then things can go back to normal.”
“Molly, people have already died,” Hestia replied quietly. “Dissent is being suppressed, muggle-borns are being terrorized, and it appears that the Minister is complicit in it all. You could say that a conflict has already started, Voldemort or no Voldemort.”
Molly was plainly ready to continue arguing, but Arthur laid his hand on her arm. “Let’s not lose sight of why we’re here. We’re not trying to plan a war. We need to decide how best to help Harry, Ron and Hermione while keeping everyone as safe as possible. Neville, what’s the plan if you manage to uncover this spy?”
“It was to notify Harry,” Neville replied, shaking his head. “I guess that one’s shot.”
“Is there any way to get some extra support inside the castle?” Arthur asked. “Somebody who wouldn’t look terribly out of place?”
“Well,” Neville answered thoughtfully, “we do need somebody to take over Harry’s advanced Defense Against the Dark Arts lessons. I could ask for Susan or Justin.”
“I doubt that will work,” Percy chipped in. “The Minister has all of the Senior Aurors, which is to say all of them that are close to Ron and Harry, on involuntary desk duty.”
George noticed that everyone was suddenly staring intently at Percy. “Is there anything else going on inside the Ministry that we should know about, Perce?” asked Charlie.
“I heard that the Minister is planning to vet each of the senior Aurors one by one, to assure their loyalty,” Percy replied, drawing looks of strong disbelief from around the room. “I also heard that Ministerial Security is bringing on a lot of new hands, since they’ve taken over most of the Aurors’ cases.”
There was an obvious question hanging in the air, and George decided to take one for the team. “No offense, Perce, but I’m surprised they’re not taking more interest in you. Any theories?”
Percy looked thoughtful for a moment. “Some of it is perception, I suppose. Rumor has it that the Minister thinks of me as a potential rival for his job. If he were to come after me, people might assume it was politically motivated.”
“Well, my next question was going to be how we keep track of what’s happening inside the Ministry,” Arthur said thoughtfully. “It seems that we have that one covered.”
Harry and Esme appeared at the front gates of Beauxbâtons with a crack. Harry admired the glittering palace as they strolled along the white stone walkway towards the main entrance. The contrast with Hogwarts, Durmstrang and most other institutions of magical learning could hardly have been more stark. Everything about Beauxbâtons Palace was light and airy and open and artistic. Even the youngest-looking students carried themselves with an air of grace and refinement. The idea of a prankster setting off a dungbomb or a poltergeist showering the students with water balloons and epithets seemed impossibly foreign.
“Professor Turgeon ‘as grown ‘ard of ‘earing, but she compensates by being an extremely gifted Legilimens,” Esme explained as they walked past a marble fountain where water faeries danced and sang. “Be careful what you think.”
Harry began to raise barriers around his innermost thoughts. Occlumency was still not his greatest strength, but he had mastered the basics over the years. He pursued it partly because it was required for his Auror training and partly out of a sense of obligation and gratitude to Professor Snape. Memories of the angry, greasy-haired teacher ruthlessly invading his mind had always helped to motivate him when he needed to shield his thoughts.
They arrived at a classroom on the second floor of the palace and Esme knocked loudly but politely on the polished wooden door. When there was no response, she cautiously opened the door and entered the room. Brilliant sunlight streamed through the high windows, illuminating the rows of neat student desks. Shelves filled with carved stone pensieves lined the wall nearest to the entrance while the back wall was filled with books. Harry stared at the spotless marble floor and the meticulously erased blackboard and thought that no classroom at Hogwarts had ever appeared so clean and orderly.
“‘ello, Miss Osinalde,” came a gravelly, halting voice from the office at the back of the room. “It ‘as been a long time.”
An elderly witch with long, silver hair slowly made her way out of the office, leaning heavily on a polished wooden cane. Her face was deeply wrinked, obscuring her coal-colored eyes, and her hands showed a liberal smattering of age spots. She wore a silver amulet around her neck that had the strong appearance of goblin craft, with its intricate designs and precious gemstones. Harry could not remember ever seeing someone look so old.
“When you reach your one ‘undred and thirty-sixth year, I doubt you will look so good, Mr. Potter,” she replied, surprising him.
She chuckled softly to herself as she walked. “Don’t feel too ashamed. Your occlumency is better than most. It is always ‘ardest to conceal our first reactions to the people we meet.”
She finally reached the front of the room and leaned against the great wooden desk that faced outwards towards the class. “What brings you here today, my dears?”
“We ‘ave a memory I would like to show you,” Esme replied, speaking more loudly than normal. “It ‘as been modified extensively, and the technique is very unusual. I believe that one of your former students did the modifications, which I ‘ope you can confirm.”
The elderly professor stared at Esme. Harry thought he could almost feel the exchange of ideas and information taking place. “What you are describing is quite remarkable,” the professor finally said, closing her eyes in thought. “To do such a thing in a classroom is one matter. To do it under pressure of time and gold, quite another. Are you confident in your analysis?”
“You know that I am, Professor,” Esme said simply.
Professor Turgeon finally opened her eyes. “May I see this memory?”
“Of course,” Esme replied. She drew the glass vial from her coat pocket while the professor gestured towards the wall of pensieves. One of the stone basins glided smoothly through the air and settled on the desk in front of her. Esme poured the memory into the pensieve and Harry noted that its surface looked cloudy and uneven. “It is already quite unstable,” Esme explained. “You may only be able to view it once.”
“That will be sufficient,” the professor responded. She drew her wand from inside her robes and stirred the memory gently. It occurred to Harry to wonder how such a frail person would manage to enter and exit the pensieve without injuring herself. She turned towards him and smiled, appearing to have once again read his thoughts. Then she raised her arms, showing a good deal more strength and dexterity that Harry had given her credit for, and the memory rose out of the pensive and spread into a silvery disc floating in the air. The disc began to spin and widen as it moved above her head. Gradually, she lowered her arms and vanished into the memory as it lowered itself over her ancient frame.
“That... was amazing,” Harry whispered as the memory continued to hover inches above the floor in front of them.
“She is a remarkable witch,” Esme replied. “If anyone can tell us who created this memory, it is ‘er.” She sat down at one of the desks in the front row of the classroom and stared at the blackboard, lost in thought. “‘er class was always my favorite. We worked ‘arder for ‘er than any other teacher, but it never felt like work because the rewards were so great. Learning to walk, my first words, my first birthday... I got to see them all thanks to ‘er.”
Harry sat down at the desk next to her. “You were able to extract memories of all that?”
“Oh, yes,” Esme replied, shaking off her reverie. “Magical children are able to create memories from a very young age. Summoning those memories to the conscious mind, that is the difficult part.”
Harry stared wistfully out the window. “I have these very hazy memories of my parents, from before they died. They’re mostly sensations, feelings, blurry images...”
“Open your mind to me and concentrate on one of them,” Esme replied, drawing her wand. Harry closed his eyes and focused on a particular memory. He could feel the tip of Esme’s wand pressing against his temple and the subtle sensation of her probing his thoughts. In his mind, he could feel his mother’s lips press against his forehead. The smell of her hair filled his nostrils and voices were singing in the background. A single source of light flickered somewhere in the room, illuminating a pair of shining circles that seemed to float in the air in front of him. He vaguely recalled reaching for the circles, trying to catch them and figure out what they were.
Harry started as he opened his eyes. He had dwelled on that particular memory many times, in his spare moments and in his dreams, but the details had never been quite so crisp. Next to him, Esme was slowly twisting her wand, studying a silvery droplet that clung to the end. “Get me a pensieve,” she directed without taking her eyes off of the memory. Harry summoned one of the stone basins and set it on the desk in front of her. Esme allowed the memory to drip into the pensieve, then stirred it with her wand as she continued to mumble incantations under her breath. Finally, she looked up at him.
“I was able to draw out more details and clarify things somewhat,” she said, smiling at him. “I think you will like ‘ow it turned out.”
Harry slowly stood up and took off his coat. “So what I’m going to see in there is...”
“... is your memory,” Esme explained. “You just can’t remember it all. Not without ‘elp.”
Harry looked at the pensieve, then back to Esme. She gave him an encouraging nod, and he carefully leaned into the memory.
He landed on a tile floor in a cozy kitchen that he instantly recognized from the ruined house in Godric’s Hollow. The first thing he noticed was the smell of disinfecting cleaner. There was an immediate familiarity to the smell. It made him think of cold tile floors and woolen pajamas; why, he couldn’t exactly say. The next thing that struck him was how clean and orderly everything was. The countertops were spotless and the dishes were neat and organized in their cabinets. It was a far cry from the dusty, messy wreck he remembered from his visits in later life.
Harry slowly turned, and felt a series of bludgers strike him in the chest as he recognized each of the room’s occupants. First was his father, carefully inserting a single candle into a small, round cake covered with mint green icing. A cat with glowing green eyes was piped onto the top of the cake in jet black icing that matched his father’s unruly hair. Next was Sirius, leaning nonchalantly against the counter as he alternated between sipping a beer and making silly faces. His long, curly hair hung around a bright, smiling face that showed none of the grave-looking lines earned during his imprisonment. Lupin stood next to Sirius, smiling warmly. He chuckled at his friend’s goofy antics, but even then he looked older than the others.
Finally, Harry faced the vision that he was least prepared for. Lily stood at the center of the room, holding a chubby, smiling little boy with black hair and sparkling, green eyes. For a moment, Harry was struck by the feeling that something wasn’t right. Then he realized that the boy’s forehead was perfectly smooth, unblemished by the scar that he had seen in the mirror every day of his life. That realization drove home another, equally painful. In just over three months time, his mother and father would be dead, his godfather imprisoned in Azkaban and the happy little boy would begin his joyless life of torment and isolation with the Dursleys. Harry stumbled back, leaning against the wall to steady himself.
The lights in the room suddenly dimmed, and his father turned to face the others. He held the cake in front of him, the single candle illuminating the round lenses of his glasses. Lily began to softly sing Happy Birthday, and Sirius and Remus joined in with gusto. The little boy gurgled happily as he reached for his father with his chubby hands. Lily kissed him on the forehead as he struggled in her arms.
Harry forced himself to stand, and circled the scene so he could peer into his mother’s face. Joy and love filled her brilliant green eyes as she sang. Laughter mixed into the song as she struggled to hold onto her squirming child, who leaned dangerously close to the candle flame that danced in front of him. When the song came to an end, Remus and Sirius clapped loudly. Little Harry laughed and clapped his hands in response as the memory began to fade.
Moments later, Harry emerged from the pensieve and fell to his knees. He closed his eyes tightly, trying not to lose the image of his mother’s face and the sound of her voice. There were no words to describe the feeling, standing among his parents and their best friends while they celebrated a joyous moment, young, carefree and happy. He didn’t even realize that he was crying until he felt Esme gently pull his head onto her shoulder.
“‘arry,” she said softly, “are you alright?”
Harry sucked down a sharp breath and tried to calm down. “Before today,” he whispered, “I had only ever seen them this way in pictures. I’d never heard them laugh. I’d never seen myself without this scar...” He paused for a moment, unable to find words. “Thank you,” he finally said, throwing his arms around Esme’s shoulders. She stiffened at first, but gradually warmed to his embrace.
When he released her, she held up a stoppered glass vial. “Here,” she smiled, handing it to him, “you can see it again whenever you like.” Harry took the vial with both hands and tucked it carefully into his coat. Its contents were more precious than gold.
Professor Turgeon’s voice interrupted Harry’s expression of gratitude. “I ‘ope that I am not interrupting anything of a personal nature.”
“No, of course not, Professor,” Esme replied, rising to her feet. Harry pulled himself to a standing position beside her.
“I presume you already know whose work we are looking at?” the professor stated, staring at Esme.
“I ‘ave my suspicions, yes,” Esme replied.
“Well, then, they are confirmed. I recognized the technique immediately. It saddens me that Katerina would become involved in such unsavory things.”
“May I ask who Katerina is?” Harry interjected. “And why does her involvement make you sad?”
“Katerina Porcher was one of the most talented pupils to ever pass through Beauxbâtons,” the professor replied with just a hint of a smile on her weathered face. “She was brilliant and driven, adored by ‘er teachers. But she was also a very troubled young woman.” The professor looked pointedly at Esme. “I tried to warn you before you took ‘er into the Aurors, did I not?”
Esme’s usually perfect posture seemed to droop just a bit as the elderly woman stared at her. “I did not ignore your concerns, but there was little I could do,” she protested. “She would ‘ave been accepted into the program on the merits of ‘er test scores alone.”
“Test score do not tell the whole story, Miss Osinalde,” Turgeon chided. “You of all people must know that. Katerina was in many ways still a child. She was not ready to make the commitment you were asking of ‘er.”
“At the time, she believed that she was,” Esme said plainly. “And the committee agreed with ‘er. With the benefit of ‘indsight, it is obvious that you were right.”
“You will recall that I also predicted if she could not find fulfillment in the Aurors, she would turn ‘er talents to less constructive pursuits,” the professor replied. “I pray that I was not right about that, as well.”
“Professor Turgeon, I understand that you have an duty of confidentiality to your students, and I wouldn’t ask you to violate that,” Harry said carefully, “but if there is anything you could tell us that would help us find Katerina, it would be most helpful. We believe that the blond witch in the memory is tied to a violent group of criminals who have already killed several people in Britain.”
“Katerina ‘as a sister; ‘er name is Elena. She lives in a wizarding village near Rouen, with her parents. I must warn you that she is a non-magical person, one you would call a squib.” The professor sounded as though it pained her to say the word. It reminded Harry of the way the Weasleys were loathe to say the word ‘mudblood.’ “It is a very sensitive matter for ‘er father. ‘e might not allow you to speak to ‘er.”
“‘e will if we get a warrant,” Esme replied sharply. For reasons Harry could only guess, she suddenly seemed very angry.
“If you must,” the professor said quietly. “But I would counsel a less confrontational approach if you want to find out anything about ‘er sister.”
Esme nodded slowly, still looking upset.
“Now, if you will excuse me, I must prepare for my afternoon lecture,” Turgeon said. She moved away from her desk and leaned heavily on her cane. “Esme, my dear, it is good to see you. Please stop by more often.” She chuckled softly to herself. “You cannot know how much longer you will be able to.”
“Thank you for your ‘elp, Professor. It is good to see you, as well,” Esme replied warmly, laying her hand on the elderly woman’s shoulder.
“Yes,” Harry added, “thank you for everything.”
“Mr. Potter?” the professor said as they started to leave. Harry turned back to face her. “I am glad you were able to find your mother. She seems like a wonderful woman.”
With a final smile, she turned away and began to hobble towards her office. Harry watched her for a few moments, the followed Esme out the door.
Thanks so much to all of you who have taken the time to read and review Conspiracy of Blood. If you can spare a few minutes to leave a review, I would appreciate it greatly!
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