‘Merry Christmas Harry,’ mumbled Ron as he rubbed his eyes.
Checking his wrist watch that was lying on his dresser, Harry saw that the time was nearly seven o’clock. Neither Harry nor Ron said anything else due to the fact they were on the same wave length in more ways than just one. Though Harry was excited to spend a nice morning with Ginny, Ron, Hermione and the Weasley family – who had all arrived around midday the day before – at this precise moment, Harry was quite content to lie back in his bed and let his mind relax with ease. He remembered his last Christmas and how he had missed the majority of it because of the mission he had been on with the Aurors in Little Hangleton. This made him appreciate the rare morning off, one full of happiness and celebration, even more.
However, he and Ron both knew that this joyous holiday was not all fun and games. Having stayed up quite late the night before to plan their method of attack, Harry, Ron and Hermione knew that today proved to be their best chance at retrieving the memory that Minister Rufus Fudge had stolen. This (coupled with the fact that Harry felt extraordinarily guilty) took away slightly from the day as a whole. It was a guilt that stemmed from the previous night while he had been planning the operation with his friends and it was this guilt that Harry’s mind subconsciously drifted to as he lay in his bed on Christmas morning.
‘OK... we know that there won’t be much interference – the Ministry will be drastically emptier,’ Hermione had yawned while Harry stared at the dwindling fire the previous night. ‘Though the Minister’s floor will surely have at least activity, I’d be surprised if there was more than one or two officials there.’
‘How do we know for certain that Fudge is even going to be there?’ asked Ron.
‘Well... I did a little snooping around –’
‘Hold on,’ Harry interrupted as he and Ron shared an incredulous yet amused glance. ‘You did some snooping around?’
‘As a matter of fact I did, thank you very much. They don’t miss me at all in my department – half the time they probably don’t even notice me! Anyway, I overheard Fudge tell an aide named Hamilton... or Hampton... or something of that effect that he would be coming in to the Ministry for a few hours during the afternoon.’
‘And that was it? That’s all Fudge said?’ asked Ron, clearly wanting more information to go on.
‘Well, no... Hamilton, Hampton or whoever was telling the Minister about his plans for Christmas... something to do with visiting his Uncle Yeardley, a recovering Firewhisky addict. Said he was going to arrive early because last year, Uncle Yeardley lit his house on fire and paraded down the streets chasing carolers. Sad way to spend your Christmas really.’
‘Tragic. I just hope we can get the keys off of Fudge,’ replied a deadpan Harry which drew a snort from Ron.
‘And have enough time in his office to find the right combination of keys, open his vault, get the memory and leave his office before Fudge returns,’ added Ron.
‘Yeah how are we going to lure Fudge away from the office?’ asked Harry.
‘Yes, well... I’m still trying to figure out how to get the keys off of him... perhaps one of you could contribute to the plan.’
‘Piece of cake,’ replied Ron, placing both hands behind his head and leaning back in his comfortable arm chair. ‘I’m not worried – our plans always have an awkward, improvised way of working out.’
‘I guess there’s no real point of us sitting here and planning then,’ grinned Harry to the laughter of Hermione and Ron.
Harry was surprised to see that Ginny was making her way down the stairs. He quickly looked from Hermione to Ron whose smiles faded rather quickly. Ginny stepped in to the room, her face glowing from the firelight as she tiredly looked at the three who stared back at her without saying a word. Harry stared in to her beautiful brown eyes; he wanted to tell her about their plans and for a moment, he opened his mouth to do just that, but then something took over him. Something stopped Harry in his tracks, his whole body seizing up as he sat there for what felt like hours. Though he did not understand why, Harry, thought different of it.
‘We... we were just re-planning our day trip to Hogsmeade. Th-The one that we didn’t take because of the cold last week.’
There was a brief silence between the four of them, Ginny eyeing Harry somewhat curiously as she rested her head on the side of the wall at the threshold of the room. She examined him for a moment, Hermione and Ron trying to avoid her look though they continually glanced up in an indirect way every few seconds. Finally, Ginny spoke in a hoarse whisper that was barely audible over the periodic cracks of the fire.
‘OK, Harry. Sounds good to me. Don’t stay up much later you guys... Mum and I are going to do a little shopping after brunch so we need to get an early start...’
Ginny left without saying another word. No one else spoke until Ginny’s echoing footsteps could no longer be heard, Harry purposely staring away from Hermione and Ron as all of a sudden, he began to feel quite hot – and it was not because of the fire.
‘See you in the morning.’
Harry left the room without taking another look back at his friends, quickly ascending the stairs two at a time. He pretending to be asleep when Ron entered their room half an hour later, though truthfully, underneath the covers, Harry was trying to work out what exactly had come over him.
‘Time to get up I expect...’ grumbled Ron, breaking the silence of the bedroom. Harry nodded.
‘You ready for later?’ Harry asked quietly.
‘Ready as we’ll ever be. Just hope everything goes according to plan... er, whatever that plan is.’ Harry laughed quietly out loud, Ron grinning from ear to ear as he sat up out of bed and let out a long yawn.
Five minutes later, Harry and Ron were met with celebratory greetings from all the Weasleys, Hermione and Ginny, Harry holding his glance with Ginny for an extra second before he was prodded away and clapped on the back by Mr. Weasley. Kreacher – undoubtedly excited about hosting a Christmas morning at Number Twelve Grimmauld Place – was bopping around the kitchen, knocking over pans and the like as he pranced around in his Christmas hat.
‘Any and all presents sent by owl, I have right here,’ Mr. Weasley said proudly, holding out a small sack of presents as everyone slowly made their way in to the living room. ‘George? Would you like to sort them out?’
‘Sure. I hate to take away from all of this but... I can’t stick around long so if we could sort of get a move on this morning...’ George had clearly instantly regretted what he had said, shaking his head and attempting to restart. ‘I just want to be back in plenty of time for the feast tonight, that’s all.’
‘Oh, no need for excuses George,’ replied Mrs. Weasley. ‘I know everyone has other plans on the go, like Percy does with Penelope... or Bill with Fleur... Charlie working abroad... I just want to have one morning together as a family... for old time’s sake.’ Mrs. Weasley started to tear up slightly which prompted Mr. Weasley to place a consoling arm around her.
‘And Bill and Fleur promised that next year they’ll be here for Christmas – it’s tough to juggle two families,’ said Mr. Weasley to which his wife agreed. ‘What do you have going on George? Is there a girl we don’t know about?’ Mr. and Mrs. Weasley both smiled at each other as they prodded their son.
‘I wish, but no,’ replied George. Harry noticed he did not seem quite himself. His eyes had dark circles underneath them and his normally comic demeanor had vanished in favor of a more serious one.
‘Well... What is it George?’ asked Ron as he sat on the arm of a couch beside Hermione.
‘Nothing I can say right now, I’m afraid.’
‘George!’ exclaimed Mrs. Weasley half-seriously, half-playfully. ‘What is it that you can’t say to your family on Christmas morning?’
‘I’m sorry Mum, I’m sworn to secrecy. You’ll know soon enough. Now come on let’s get on with things – I want to see if Ron took my advent calendar’s advice!’ Ron rolled his eyes as he spoke to Harry’s curious look.
‘Remember that ruddy thing he sent me? Yeah... every day the messages that popped out of that thing got more aggressive and eventually quite... let’s say blatant. Anyway, it got to the point where those little figures actually spelled out what he wanted... literally. No you don’t want to know how they did it,’ Ron continued as he saw George throw him a mischievous glance. ‘Threatened to disown me if I didn’t live up to my “brotherly duties” as he put it.’ George winked at Harry before diving in to his own small stack of presents.
For the next hour, everyone rapidly opened their gifts. Mrs. Weasley continued the long tradition of knitting all of her children plus Harry and Hermione jumpers, this time, Harry receiving one of scarlet with a golden ‘H’ on the front.
‘You don’t think we’re getting a bit old for those things?’ asked Ron as he examined his own jumper. ‘I always get maroon... I hate maroon...’ Ron whispered under his breath.
‘Nonsense! As long as you are my son you will be getting one! You too George... Harry...’ replied Mrs. Weasley happily as she watched Ginny open her own package that contained a violet jumper.
After Harry had finished opening his own presents (including a brand new set of work robes from Ginny, numerous assorted sweets from Ron and Hagrid and his own copy of ‘Advanced Techniques for the Auror in all of us’ from Hermione) and watched George open his final present from Ron, (‘A standard size pewter cauldron along with a twenty galleon gift card to Madam Russo’s Apothecary! Ron! How did you know?!’) Harry turned his attention to Ginny and Hermione who were opening up their final gifts from the small sack of presents that had been delivered by owl. Many of the Weasleys were not paying as much attention to the gift opening as they had been before; Ron was still questioning what on earth George wanted a cauldron for, Mrs. Weasley had gone in to the kitchen to help Kreacher with breakfast and Mr. Weasley was reading over the morning’s edition of the Daily Prophet while occasionally looking over the page to smile subconsciously at the happiness in front of him.
‘Who’s that from Ginny?’ asked Harry who had just returned from the bathroom.
‘It doesn’t say... oh!’
Ginny looked surprisingly at the small, elegantly wrapped box. She looked up and opened up her mouth to speak but at first, nothing came out. Hermione had stopped trying to unwrap her present that undoubtedly had come from Hagrid (Harry noticing the vast indulgence of tape used on Hermione’s gift, the same excess that he had tried to rip through to open his own present from the Hogwarts’ gamekeeper) and she had turned to look at Ginny also.
‘It’s from... Davis...’
She looked around the room with a confused expression on her face as she began to unwrap it, Hermione glancing at Harry whose heart was beating quite fast. After she had ripped off the bright red wrapping paper, she held the small, narrow golden box in her hand, opening it slowly so that the cover of it shielded the contents from Harry’s view. Ginny let out a surprised gasp.
‘How did he...’
‘What?’ asked Harry strongly. She paused for a second before responding.
‘It’s the necklace I was set on buying today with Mum!’ said Ginny dumbfounded. ‘It’s so expensive... I knew Mum and Dad or anyone for that matter couldn’t afford it... so I was saving up for it...’
Ginny turned around the small golden box to reveal the most beautiful piece of jewelry Harry had ever seen. The silver necklace sparkled in the morning light which caught even Mr. Weasley’s eye from behind his paper. Hermione was staring at it not in admiration, but in an almost trance-like gaze.
‘It’s got certain magical properties,’ gushed Ginny. ‘It briefly attracts all on-lookers once one has noticed it.’
‘It really is... beautiful Ginny,’ Hermione said incredulously, though she promptly looked to Harry after she had said it.
‘What do you think Ron?’
‘Er... it’s nice,’ he said, answering his sister hesitantly.
‘Kind of fake though is it? Shouldn’t a necklace be beautiful because of its craft and not because it has some charm placed on it?’ Harry’s aggression boiled to the surface in a way that he regretted almost immediately. Ginny eyed him from across the coffee table for a brief moment, no one else saying a word.
‘And all of a sudden you are an expert on jewelry Harry?’ she retorted sturdily. Harry felt his face getting hot; all of a sudden the things he had wanted to say escaped his mind, feeling quite embarrassed as he saw everyone’s eyes hover over to him.
‘No... I’m not... It’s er... wonderful Ginny. I never knew you even wanted it...’ Ginny seemed to be regretting what she had said as well.
‘Oh I’m... I didn’t want to burden you with such an expensive gift Harry. It’s not like you make a fortune.’
‘Gold has nothing to do with it,’ Harry replied in almost a whisper. Mr. Weasley had gotten up from his couch, George following him while Ron and Hermione had slunk to the back of the room. Ginny visibly gulped before she replied.
‘I didn’t want to seem like a little prissy Harry... Gushing about wanting all this expensive stuff,’ responded Ginny throatily who had now dropped the necklace and was staring right in to Harry’s eyes. Harry looked away, not being able to meet his girlfriend’s stare as he spoke again.
‘Well, it looks very nice on you Gin,’ he said quietly, imagining the smiling face of Davis. At that very moment, he wanted nothing more than to talk about his true feelings regarding Ginny’s assistant coach, but he was interrupted by the voice of Mrs. Weasley.
‘Breakfast is ready dears! Let’s go now! I want some time with all of you before everyone heads to their other plans! George, that means you as well!’
In no less than half an hour, everyone had finished their eggs, bacon and toast. Harry had managed to connect a few smiles with Ginny from across the table, successfully concealing his true feelings about Ginny’s expensive present from Davis. He gave her a quick smile and kiss on the cheek as she left that morning with Mrs. Weasley and once she happily waved him goodbye and had left Grimmauld Place, Harry blocked out the image of Davis from his mind and refocused on the task at hand.
‘Bloody hell is that the time!’ exclaimed George once Ginny and Mrs. Weasley had left. ‘I need to be getting back to the Ministry and –’ George’s face quickly sunk and changed to a shade of white.
‘Ministry? What are you doing at the Ministry?’ Ron pressed as George began to back away from the kitchen, a smile beginning to slowly creep on his face.
‘Mind your own business Ron! You’ll find out soon enough... Oh, thanks for the cauldron again, see you later!’
‘What he’s up to, I have no idea...’ Mr. Weasley said while shaking his head, Harry hearing the door of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place slam shut as George left. ‘Hope he’s getting paid well for it... whatever it is. Anyway you three I think I’m going to visit Kingsley this afternoon. See you all later tonight?’
Mr. Weasley bid Harry, Ron and Hermione goodbye and he too left Grimmauld Place. After silently and quickly gathering their things from their bedrooms, the trio reconvened in the narrow front hallway. As Harry waited for Ron to slip on his jacket, he looked in to the living room where just an hour ago, everyone was opening their Christmas presents. He caught the view of his present to Ginny; a small, dark green handbag to match her Quidditch colors that was lying at the foot of the couch, the golden necklace from Davis sitting in its box on top of the handbag.
‘Are you alright Harry?’ asked Hermione. Harry had just now noticed that Hermione and Ron were staring at him. Not knowing how long they had been looking at him, he nodded his head quickly and spun around, carefully avoiding their stares so they would be unable to see his damp eyes.
‘Are you sure Harry? Because if you’re not –’
‘I said I’m fine, thanks,’ stressed Harry. ‘Can we just focus on that memory right now? If we’re worried about how everyone is feeling we’ll lose focus on what’s important. And seeing as how if we’re caught stealing from the Minister of Magic we’ll lose our jobs and probably face some time in Azkaban, focusing is all we should be doing right now.’ Hermione glanced over at Ron who nodded confidently.
‘You’re right,’ he said simply. ‘Let’s do this.’
Exclusive of another word, the three headed outside and apparated in to the cold once they had crossed the street and had been shielded by the heavily wooded area. They systematically made their way to the toilets where they flushed themselves in to the Ministry, each of them to their own thoughts about the task at hand. Though Harry was confident, he could not help but feel slightly nervous. Knowing that Ron and Hermione were feeling the same sharpness of anxiousness, Harry picked himself up, focused on what was ahead.
Before he knew it, they had appeared in the nearly empty Atrium of the Ministry of Magic. Standing together, none of them moved for a few moments; never in the time he had spent in the Ministry’s Atrium had Harry heard it this quiet. There was only one other person in the Atrium with them – a single, purple robed Ministry official that was wearing a clear expression of curiosity and wonder at the arrival of Harry, Ron and Hermione. Their footsteps echoed throughout the large Atrium, their echoes reverberating around it which drew an even greater amount of uncomfortable attention to them, if that was even possible.
‘Your identification cards please,’ the Ministry official called from a few steps away.
Harry and Hermione handed over their cards to be examined. After looking at them closely, the Ministry official peered down at them from over their cards, slowly handing them back. They began to walk past the official, but they were stopped by his raised hand, the official not looking at Harry or Hermione but at Ron who was fumbling in his pockets.
‘Er... oh bloody hell... I-I forgot mine...’ he said lowly as he searched through the same pockets twice.
‘Then I’m afraid you’ll just have to go get it then won’t you?’ the official chimed in somewhat threateningly.
‘We’ll wait here Ron,’ said Harry who began to walk off to the fountain to sit down.
‘No...’ Ron said, stopping Harry in his tracks. ‘No you two go ahead... Just here to pick up a few papers right? I’ll wait back at the house, it’ll be much quicker that way.’ Ron nodded to Harry and Hermione and then at the official, turning on a dime and quickly heading back to the fireplaces. Not understanding what his friend was doing, Harry glanced over at Hermione who pulled him by the arm away from the departing Ron.
‘Hermione! What is he doing?’ Harry whispered as the two made their way to the lifts, their footsteps echoing ever more loudly.
‘Just keep moving,’ she responded, glancing over her shoulder slightly. ‘Don’t worry – he’s the distraction.’
‘Distraction! So what you’re telling me is that we actually have a plan now?’
‘I wouldn’t go that far.’
‘What’s he doing for the distraction – that’s pretty dangerous to do that at the Ministry... in a time like this,’ said Harry cautiously.
‘He knows what he’s doing – we went over it this morning,’ rushed Hermione. ‘He’ll be using the Disillusionment Charm and he’ll –’
‘But Hermione! You know Fudge’s detections will pick up on that charm! Any charm used in concealment in all –’
‘But not if he uses the charm on himself before entering the Atrium! I know that because I helped put the charm in myself.’
‘You did?’ Harry asked as he entered the nearest lift. ‘How’d you manage that?’ Hermione merely shrugged as she closed the gate of the lift.
‘I was bored... They don’t pay attention to me half the time... so sometimes I... er... have the tendency to... wander.’
‘Alright so what’s he going to do then?’ Harry asked after the cool female voice of the lift initiated the sequence that would take them down to the Minister’s level.
‘Well,’ Hermione said as she searched her bag. ‘I’ve left him a little bit of creativity there... I’ve approved all of his choices though so I’ve got some comfort in leaving Ron on his own.’
‘Terrific. All that’s left... is us. Any ideas?’
‘Several. But I was hoping you would have something. You usually do have some... shall I say, less elegant yet surprisingly more effective ways of doing things.’ Harry smiled as the lift continued to descend.
‘I’m way ahead of you.’ Harry opened his cloak to reveal his small, rolled up Invisibility Cloak tucked in to his side pocket.
‘Good. Once I get you in to the office it’s all on you to find the right combination of keys and retrieve the memory.’
‘Yeah about that,’ Harry replied as they arrived at the last floor – the floor that housed the Minister of Magic’s office. ‘I think I’ll be able to get the keys but as to how I’m going to get Fudge alone... I don’t know.’
‘Level One,’ the cool female voice chimed as the gate opened.
‘Follow my lead,’ said Hermione confidently, striding straight ahead out of the lift and in to the long, purple carpeted hallway. ‘I’d put that on now, if I was you.’ Harry flung the invisibility cloak over himself before following Hermione out in to the lavish hallway.
Hermione only took a few steps before veering off to the side, shielding herself from view behind one of the grand archways that was situated every so often along the hallway. Behind her, Harry saw that at the end of the hallway there was a single guard in front of the door to the Minister’s office.
‘If Fudge is here he’ll be in the office... there are no court hearings or anything like that today,’ whispered Harry to which Hermione nodded.
‘Now we just have to wait for a few seconds...’
‘Alright... Hold on, wait for what?’
Hermione turned and looked in the general direction of where Harry was. After a few seconds of holding her stare, Harry heard a low and faint rumble coming from what seemed like miles above them. Hermione smiled slightly, sighing as she looked around the corner at the guard.
‘Leave it to Ron to pick the loudest and most dangerous way.’
‘I’m guessing that’s... the distraction?’
The guard was slowly making his way down the hallway, his wand outstretched. He muttered a barely audible warning to Hermione who feigned concern as he passed. The guard clamored in to the lift and ascended rapidly, disappearing from view.
‘Yes. That’s the distraction.’
The Minister’s office door was wrenched open, Fudge and another one of his guards emerging from it and making their way down the hallway.
‘Is that? Harry Potter?’ a voice from above Harry said. Looking up, Harry could see no person standing there, but as he looked in to the picture frame of Evangeline Orpington, he saw a visiting Percival the Pompous sitting beside the former Minister.
‘Shhhh! Percival be quiet. Go back to your portrait on Level Two by the Auror Department! Or Grimmauld Place! Just away from here!’ Harry’s whispers nearly knocked Percival over in his shock. Fudge was concernedly conversing with his acquaintance and was nearing the end of the hallway where Harry and Hermione were.
‘That was him! I’m sure of it! Harry Potter, where are you?! Not that I really desire to know...’
Harry backed away from the portrait, Hermione taking a few steps back, pretending to examine another nearby portrait as Percival continued to squeak. His dignified voice caught Fudge’s interest.
‘Ah... you go on now son. I want every official up there. Report back to me immediately.’ The official nodded and quickly ran to the lift to explore the Atrium. Harry stood behind Fudge who was wearing his patented emerald green robes. ‘You there. In the portrait. What were you saying? It sounded as if you were talking about Harry Potter.’
‘I was sir,’ Percival responded, clearing his throat quite pompously before he spoke. ‘I could have sworn I heard his voice, Minister.’
‘Is that so, is that so...’ Fudge replied suspiciously. He quickly looked around before re-focusing on the portrait. ‘Would you... look out for me? Make sure nothing happens in this hallway? You’ll be doing the Ministry a great favor, I assure you.’
‘It will be done Minister,’ Percival said proudly as he stuck up his nose and began feverishly looking around him, Evangeline Orpington shaking her head in embarassment. Fudge merely smiled, but his expression vanished once he laid eyes on Hermione who was now observing a portrait on the opposite side of Fudge, directly beside Harry.
‘And what are you doing here?’ Fudge asked directly. Harry could see Hermione breathing heavily as he noticed her, inching forward across the hallway. Hermione looked up slightly, nodding her head before spinning around and talking in fashion that was reminiscent of when she was particularly excited about a great book or an interesting fact.
‘I didn’t want to bother you Minister, but I’ve come here to ask you for something today,’ she said rapidly, moving very close to him rather quickly. Harry slowly crept behind her.
‘And what would that be, Miss?’ Fudge asked curiously slightly taken aback by her forth righteousness.
‘Well... I’d like to... steal your attention for a brief moment. I believe that you, Minister... are one of the keys to our movement’s growth and improvement.’
Harry did not need any further hints from Hermione. Slowly, he crept around the back of Fudge, pulling out his wand from the inside of his own cloak.
‘What movement might this be?’ Fudge’s curiosity had worn off. He was looking around quite lazily, looking upwards and eyeing the lifts at the end of the hall.
‘It’s S.P.E.W. – Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare. Have you heard of it before?’ continued Hermione. Fudge shook his head and she re-launched in to speech.
Harry – as quietly as he could – used a Summoning charm on Fudge’s first pocket. He held his breath as Fudge seemed to feel what had happened, looking down awkwardly at the place where Harry was crouched. Hermione seemed to pick up on this too.
‘ – and to have wizards... merely summoning elves against their will is just plain wrong. It cannot and should not be allowed. No, something else will have to do... That’s where you come in sir.’
Harry whispered ‘Wingardium Leviosa’, pointing his wand in to Fudge’s second back pocket, but nothing emerged. Trying to hold in as many breaths as possible, Harry searched but found no other back pocket in Fudge’s robes. Praying the keys were not being kept in his office or in an inside pocket, he painstakingly crouched between Fudge and Hermione, pointing his wand at one of Fudge’s front pouches. Accidentally, he brushed up against Hermione’s knee.
‘ – one has to be careful when dealing with such touchy subjects. Having elves locked up and thrown away in to cells of torture is something that has to end. As soon as possible.’
After having no luck with the third pocket, Harry turned his attention to the last pocket, carefully avoiding Fudge’s feet as he did so. As he muttered the levitation spell, Harry knew that the keys were in there. Slowly bringing his wand upwards, he noticed a tiny lump in the pocket beginning to ascend higher and higher, a small sight of metal emerging from the pocket’s tip. This caught Hermione’s eye.
‘So I’m pleading with you Mr. Fudge to – oh!’ she gasped as she looked down to see the keys protruding out of Fudge’s pocket. She immediately clasped her mouth. Fudge shook his head as he too looked down. Improvising, Hermione quickly fell over in what Harry thought was the worst acting he had ever seen. She pushed Fudge forward slightly and after tripping over Harry’s outstretched arm, Fudge fell over, the keys silently falling out on to the carpet.
‘Accio keys!’ Harry instinctively whispered as Hermione deliberately toppled on to the fallen Minister. He felt the keys enter his grasp and slowly got to his feet, making sure that the cloak was covering his entire body in the process.
‘You... seriously need to watch your footing Miss!’ Fudge said quite angrily as he struggled to his feet.
‘I’m sorry Minister,’ pleaded Hermione as she too got up and began to fix her hair. ‘All this talk of elves’ rights – or lack of said rights in my opinion – has gotten me all in a huff. I-I should be going now.’
Fudge merely shook his head, angrily walking straight for the lifts and loudly closing the golden gate. Hermione made a few steps forward but doubled back once Fudge’s lift had ascended out of sight.
‘Not bad for improvisation,’ said Harry as he and Hermione both quickly walked down the hall.
‘Though I always favor having a firmly set plan in place, after eight plus years, it’s quite clear we are terrible planners. So what does it matter anyway?’
‘Alohomora,’ whispered Harry, pointing his wand at the door to the Minister’s office.
‘Alright Harry. I don’t know how long they will be, but I’m guessing it won’t be long. I’ll stand guard here. I’ll knock three times if I see anyone coming. Good luck.’
Harry shut the door quietly behind him, taking a brief second to make sure no one else was in the office and to look upwards at the extremely high ceilings of the small, round office. He tossed his cloak on the floor and quickly made his way over to the safe at the far side of the room. Hastily taking the keys out of his cloak pocket, Harry tried a combination of keys, noticing that each key had vastly different weights than one another. He waited for the click that he had heard when Fudge had opened the safe before, but no sound came. Instead, to his great surprise, an ear-piercing screech seemed to emit from the key holes. It was not loud, but very high-pitched, Harry momentarily covering his ears to shield them from the agonizing sound.
He quickly retrieved all three keys and re-arranged them, waiting for the clicking noise, but it did not come. The noise increased in ferocity, making it nearly excruciating for Harry to retrieve the keys once again. His heart was beating out his chest as he took out the keys out of the slots, this time, being much more hesitant in their placement. Finally, he slowly pushed them inwards and to his astonishment, he heard the unlocking clicking noise that he so craved. Instantly, the shrieking noise stopped, the safe’s lid opening upwards to reveal on top of a stack of papers the glowing memory still wrapped in the unrippable paper that Harry knew was destined for him to open. He quickly retrieved the package that contained the memory and closed the safe carefully, a subconscious smile protruding to the surface of Harry’s face.
Suddenly, there were three rapid knocks on the door. Harry – eyeing his invisibility cloak on the floor of the office – stuffed the glowing package in to his pocket and dove to the ground. He seized the cloak and started to pull it over top of him. He could hear footsteps coming closer to the door, their faint echoes growing louder and louder with each step...
Then, as if something had struck him on his forehead, an unbelievably painful sensation hit Harry hard to the point of nearly knocking him backwards. A pain that enveloped his entire body caused Harry to lose focus, his surroundings growing blurry as he fought to pull the cloak over him. He screamed out loud as the pain intensified, but he was unable to hear himself; it was as if his senses had been turned off, the pain too much for his body to function. His hands felt numb and soon, he was not able to feel the magical fabric of the Invisibility Cloak at all. His blurry vision began to turn to one of pure white – a whiteness that began to encompass the entire office around him...
The shadowy figure of Lord Voldemort appeared in front of him, his pale face eliciting a sharp pain that hit Harry like a ton of bricks. The painful vision felt so real and so life-like that Harry actually felt as though he was lying on the floor of the white room himself instead of him merely envisioning it. He painstakingly moved his head around, his dizziness making him feel as if the room was spinning. Even in all his pain Harry could still make out the hideous, pale face of Lord Voldemort, his expression not one of joy or anger... but of fear.
The second figure that Harry had seen in the vision ever since they had started a year and a half ago silently strode up behind Voldemort, the bright light shielding his face from view. However, it was at this point where the bright light began to fade away, the second figure who had always vanished before it could be identified continued to walk forward so that his face penetrated through the light and eventually overtook it. Standing there, dressed all in white, was none other than Harry’s former Headmaster – Albus Dumbledore.
Excruciatingly, Harry reached out with his arm, both Voldemort and Dumbledore turning their heads to look down upon his fallen body. Voldemort quickly turned away and disappeared, but Dumbledore stood still, cocking his head to the side and smiling the very slightest of smiles. Harry began to grow very dizzy again, the whiteness of the room disappearing around him, the footsteps beginning to ring through his ears once again. Before the vision had dissipated completely, Harry saw the figure of Dumbledore nod his head before he too vanished with the vision from whence he came.
When Harry woke up, he was no longer lying on the floor of the Minister’s office, but instead, he was being dragged forward somewhat clumsily. Feeling extraordinarily exhausted, Harry tiredly looked around and saw – to his thankfulness – Ron and Hermione. There was sweat dripping off of Ron’s nose, Harry’s arm draped over his shoulders as he guided him forward. He heard the unmistakable sound of the gate of the lift closing, Ron propping him up against the side of the lift and breathing heavily as he wiped the sweat from his brow.
‘Ron! He’s awake!’ chimed Hermione from his other side. ‘Harry! Are you alright?!’
‘Yeah... yeah I’m... I’m alright.’ Slowly, Harry’s senses were returning to him.
‘What happened in there mate?’ Ron panted. Harry had to think for a moment before responding, the cool female voice of the lift bringing him further back to a state of normalness.
‘I er... I got the memory...’ he responded, feeling the lump of the package inside his robe pocket.
‘We know that Harry,’ said Hermione concernedly, clutching the Invisibility Cloak to her side. She looked to Ron worriedly. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry I knocked on the door Harry! I just saw a lift coming down and I panicked!’ Hermione collected herself, Ron panting still from carrying Harry down the hallway. ‘You collapsed in there – if we hadn’t come to get you when we did... well Fudge was on his way back down and surely would have seen us.’
‘You mean... er... h-how did you get down here?’ Harry babbled as he finally stood up under his own strength, realizing that the footsteps he had heard had luckily belonged to Ron. The pain from the vision was just beginning to subside.
‘Snuck behind Fudge and his officials,’ Ron said quickly. ‘After I set off the thunderstorm in the Atrium a whole lot of those Ministry stooges appeared, looking around for who did it. Fudge only appeared for a second or two – he seemed very wary of leaving his office unattended for any length of time. But Harry... you had another vision didn’t you?’ Harry nodded, looking down at the ascending lift as he swallowed and took in a long breath.
‘It was really powerful this time. I-I saw Dumbledore... he was the second man with Voldemort.’
‘Dumbledore...’ Ron said surprisingly, his mouth hanging open a little.
‘We’ll talk about this later,’ Hermione whispered as the lift had come to a full stop. She retrieved a small stack of papers from her bag before continuing. ‘Let’s go quickly – Harry, are you alright to walk?’
‘Yeah. Quickly now.’
Hermione wrenched open the gate and swiftly led the charge. She handed Ron the Invisibility Cloak without looking at him, Ron quickly placing it over him after he helped Harry out of the lift. Harry could hear voices echoing from the Atrium and once they had turned the corner, he saw the twenty or so Ministry officials who had apparently successfully defeated the thunderstorm that Ron had conjured. The floor was soaking wet, an inch or so of water covering the entire surface of the Atrium. Each step they took drew a small splash from beneath them, Ron pointing his wand in front of himself and muttering the incantation that would stop any trace of his footsteps.
‘Got them here then,’ Hermione smiled brightly as she passed the now drenched official who had allowed them in, raising the small stack of papers above her head. Barely paying any attention, the ministry official briefly glanced over at them before returning to drying off his robes as he propped himself up against the great fountain.
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