Harry sat in solitude, an arrangement of parchment and pens scattered over the dark table. He rubbed his forehead absent-mindedly as he scanned the closest piece of parchment in front of him, thinking of the unsolved mystery at his finger tips. The secret room behind Percival’s portrait was silent; many of the current residents of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place were still sleeping in their beds, recovering from the night previous.
The night before was New Year’s Eve and Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny had all travelled to the Burrow for the festivities. Many members of the Order, some of Mr. Weasley’s colleagues at the Ministry and the rest of the Weasley clan were in attendance for the party that continued well in to the early hours of morning. During the celebrations, Ron had been persuaded to try Firewhisky for the very first time and after being initially hesitant to try the concoction, as the night wore on, Ron strangely took a well documented liking to it. Harry chuckled to himself as the image of Ron needing help to apparate back to Grimmauld Place sprung in to his brain.
Having not experimented with Firewhisky the night before, Harry had gotten up early before everyone else had, his mind dragging him out of bed. Ever since he – along with Ron and Hermione – had poured the Swelling Solution over the second message that had accompanied the memory, the growing mystery was all Harry could think about. In front of him were the two messages that had been sent to him along with the notes that Hermione had jotted down on separate pieces of parchment. It was these notes that Harry was examining when Hermione made her way through Percival’s portrait hole and in to the secret meeting room.
‘You couldn’t put a fire on?’ she asked quietly as she stood upright whilst rubbing her shoulders feverishly after ducking under the narrow entrance. Harry merely shrugged, not looking up from the papers in front of him.
‘Why do these messages have to be so vague,’ said Harry gently with a hint of frustration in his voice.
‘Read me the second message again,’ whispered Hermione, placing her hand on her mouth as she concentrated on Harry’s recitation.
‘It exists. It is what the Death Eaters are after. If they were to obtain it, the repercussions would be catastrophic. Find Flamel and the Eye before they do. Continue what your parents started and end Voldemort’s Death Eaters forever. And then just below it... Never odd or even. ’ Harry looked up at Hermione who stared off in to space, her mind undoubtedly racing.
‘Any new ideas?’ he asked her hopefully.
‘Well... we now know that the ‘it’ they are referring to is the Eye of the Posterus. The stone that can apparently enable one to see in to the past, present and future.’
‘Do you think it even exists?’ asked Harry, remembering those who had scoffed at the plausibility of its existence, including his godfather Sirius.
‘I’ve only heard... well, barely anything about it before that memory,’ Hermione said quickly. ‘But don’t you remember the first memory at all? Sirius asked Flamel when they rescued him if her had it. He must have been referring to the Eye.’
‘Then why was Sirius so skeptical about the eye’s existence in the second memory?’ asked Harry. He was glad that Hermione had brought that point up because it was one that Harry could not understand. Hermione took a moment to ponder Harry’s question.
‘We can’t know for certain... but it’s possible that they were never actually shown the Eye. You heard everyone chastising Dumbledore for not giving them enough information. Perhaps the information about the Eye follows the same formula.’
‘Actually, that makes a lot of sense,’ supposed Harry thoughtfully. ‘Now assuming it exists, what do you think the Death Eaters want the Eye for? I mean, I realize being able to look in to the future, present or past is powerful and all... but what specifically do they want it for?’
‘I’m... I’m not sure. They were probably instructed by Voldemort’s portrait before you destroyed it,’ began Hermione slowly. ‘Many of them had probably never even heard of the Eye before Voldemort mentioned it, so this is definitely not an act of their own accordance. It certainly isn’t a common myth that the entire wizarding world is aware of. But Voldemort or no Voldemort, something as powerful as the Eye falling in to the wrong hands... you can imagine how terrible that could be.’
‘We don’t even know how it works... it’s too bad there isn’t any information in some book or something that could at least give us something to work with,’ longed Harry, referring to Hermione’s unsuccessful search through her own personal library. ‘At least now we know that it’s probably not a coincidence that these memories have begun to turn up showing how important Flamel is at the same time that Flamel kills those men and apparently goes rogue.’
‘Agreed,’ nodded Hermione. ‘As taxing as that is, it’s in our best interest to try and figure out these messages. Let’s take a look at the clues again.’
Harry retrieved the first blown-up message and set it down on his left, examining the letters that had been secretly highlighted within its text. Hermione had written down these letters in the corresponding order that they were given in on a separate piece of parchment, making a sort of make-shift puzzle.
‘Add these letters to the puzzle,’ Harry stated as he looked to the magically highlighted letters that Hermione had uncovered in the second message. Hermione seized one of the pens and jotted down the letters that Harry called out. ‘A, eighth spot. E, twelve. O, two. That’s all there is this time.’
‘Still, doesn’t give us much to go on, does it?’ Hermione said, setting down her pen once she had finished writing.
As Harry and Hermione examined the message, they heard Percival’s portrait move once again and after a moment, they saw the ginger head that unquestionably belonged to Ron.
‘Well look who it is!’ Harry asked happily. Ron, dressed in his navy blue robe, smiled embarrassedly, rubbing his eyes with the back of his sleeve.
‘Not a word, you two. I’m still so tired,’ he said, plopping himself down in one of the dark wooded arm chairs that populated the outside of the table and exhaling tiredly.
‘Alright, but look at this first. Those are all of the hidden letters from the two messages assembled in their correct order,’ said Hermione, rubbing Ron’s back and sliding the parchment in front of him.
‘Oh yeah, those bolded... dodgy looking letters with the little numbers below them. Joy, yet another mystery for us to solve,’ Ron said unenthusiastically.
‘Why the snippy attitude, Ron?’ teased Harry. ‘Last night you were in the most joyous of moods. I can’t remember how many times you told me how much you loved me.’
‘The teasing – unnecessary,’ Ron responded in a dead-pan like fashion.
After Harry indicated the parchment once again, Ron put up his hand, examining the puzzle in front of him. Harry leaned over to take one more look at it, holding hope that a new point of view would somehow enable him to understand the secret message.
_O_G _E_A_R_ E_ _ _O_
‘Fantastic,’ Ron said sarcastically. ‘Whoever’s sending us these memories is really giving me the impression that they need our help immediately.’
‘Oh Ron, we’ve discussed this,’ pleaded Hermione. ‘These memories are obviously very secretive – they don’t want them to fall in to the wrong hands. Whoever is sending them is being extremely cautious – very few would have the knowledge to crack the code within the messages. Well, I guess anyone who read every chapter of their seventh year Advanced Ancient Runes textbook would, but it’s not every day you run in to someone who has.’
‘Actually, it is,’ muttered Ron.
‘Don’t forget about the un-rippable paper,’ added Harry. ‘Hermione’s right – they are really going to great lengths to make sure no one gets a hold of these memories.’
‘Alright, alright...’ said Ron, trailing off, holding his head and squinting. ‘It’s just frustrating that’s all. All this work better be worth it...’
Harry turned to the last thing that they had not discussed. At the bottom of each message was a statement somewhat departed and separate from the rest of the paragraph.
‘I thought that the first message was confusing... but now that we have a second – if it’s possible – these riddles seem even more baffling! They don’t seem to relate to each other at all!’
‘Never odd or even...’ whispered Hermione, then turning her attention to the first message’s riddle. ‘Flee to me, remote elf. I’ve got no idea, but they must mean something to be put there so prominently.’ No one else could offer anything else regarding the subject.
For the next quarter of an hour the threesome talked of the night before, playfully teasing Ron about what he could and could not remember. Curious to see who had awoken, the trio left the secret room, rolling up the parchment and fastening it together tightly. Once they had crawled through the opening, they were greeted by Ginny who appeared to have just left her room, arriving on the landing at the same time as Harry, Ron and Hermione.
‘Oh, hello there,’ Ginny said surprised after a brief yawn, shooting Harry a curious look before continuing. ‘I think Mum and Dad are thinking of leaving around noon... we’ve missed breakfast so I guess that means – for us – we’re leaving after brunch...’
‘Leave for what Gin?’ asked Harry as Percival slid back over the entrance to the meeting room.
‘The Longbottoms party, remember Harry?’ answered Hermione who had just come back from returning the messages to Harry and Ron’s room.
‘You weren’t having the same stuff Ron was, right?’ taunted Ginny playfully at Harry’s forgetfulness. ‘Oh no, that’s right. You weren’t running around telling everyone why you fancy them, my mistake...’ Ron shook off down the hall but Harry could see that a small smile had crept on to his friends’ face.
Everyone was quiet throughout the morning as many were still feeling the after effects of the late-night New Year’s Eve party. Kreacher, however, was happily humming a tune to himself as he prepared brunch while Ron appeared to regain some of his lost energy after taking a few swigs of his orange juice and a bite or two of toast and marmalade. After finishing their brunch, the four residents of Grimmauld Place lazily helped Kreacher clean up the kitchen, lounging around the house’s first floor for the next hour or so before beginning to get ready for the Longbottoms’ party.
‘When’s your next game Gin?’ asked Harry as he and Ginny began to slowly ascend the steps.
‘Next weekend. It’s the derby match against Puddlemere. Everyone is getting pretty excited about the game – big rivalry, you know.’
‘Any chance you’ll play?’
‘Not as long as we keep winning,’ sighed Ginny dryly. ‘Wellington has been shaky lately, but she’s still found a way to capture the Snitch. Given us a nice little cushion atop the League standings – right ahead of Montrose and Puddlemere.’
‘I guess that makes the rivalry all the more intense then,’ inquired Harry. ‘Seeing as how both you and them are fighting it out for the top spot in the League.’ Ginny nodded happily as they continued to talk about Quidditch and how the Harpies had amassed a perfect five wins and zero loss record to start the season.
Half an hour later, Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny had all apparated to the Burrow to meet up with the rest of the Weasleys. There, Mr. Weasley had set up a portkey for anyone who wished to travel to the Longbottom residence. After arriving, they only had to wait for a mere fifteen minutes until the portkey – in the form of a white and yellow flowered umbrella – would activate again. As everyone began to crowd around the umbrella, a small popping noise came from just outside the Burrow, Harry leaning his head back through the kitchen window to see a figure trudging up to the house through the snow.
‘Oh, there’s Gawain,’ muttered Mr. Weasley, referring to their fellow Order of the Phoenix member who was also an Auror at the Ministry.
‘There’s still a few who have not come through yet Arthur,’ chimed Mrs. Weasley who perused a piece of parchment that was sitting on the kitchen table. Mrs. Weasley wore the new scarlet reading glasses that Harry and Ron had bought her for Christmas giving Mrs. Weasley the ability to read print on a letter from up to one hundred meters away.
‘There’s four other umbrellas underneath the front stoop – everyone was told,’ replied Mr. Weasley, narrowing his eyebrows as he looked and pointed to the list his wife was holding. ‘Oh, Percy’s not using our portkeys Molly. He went earlier today with Penelope.’
‘Afternoon everyone,’ said Gawain Robards as he entered the Burrow, a brief whip of iciness brushing past Harry’s face as the door swung open. Gawain ran his hand through his thinning blond hair as he entered the Burrow, his green eyes matching his dark green robes that were slightly damp at the bottom from walking through the fallen snow.
‘How’s everything Gawain? I presume your celebrations last night were enjoyable?’ asked Mr. Weasley as Gawain quietly greeted everyone.
‘Celebrations? Well, Aurors in my unit do carry the prided reputation of being the most committed to the job – most demanding unit to work in at the Auror Office... far cry from Williamson’s unit, isn’t it boys?’ Gawain smiled for a second at his joke but instantly thought better of it. ‘Oh, I shouldn’t speak of Williamson like that... not after what he’s gone through...’ Gawain trailed off, looking at his feet.
‘How is he?’ asked Harry quietly. He had not seen his unit Head since the last attack inside the Auror Office by the Imperiused Crawford. Williamson had been hit by a dangerous and violent curse that had knocked him unconscious for several days. ‘I haven’t heard anything about him in a long time.’
‘He’s a lot better,’ replied Gawain. ‘I visited him the other day. Crazy bloke actually spoke of returning soon, if you believe it.’ Gawain chuckled to himself, taking in a brief breath before collecting himself and continuing. ‘Anyway... I wasn’t having a merry New Year’s Eve. Not me. My unit and I were tracking down a few smugglers last night. I really didn’t have much time for any sort of merriment,’ Gawain finished through a haughty laugh.
‘Did you catch them? What were they smuggling?’ asked Harry quickly whose interest had peaked to the same level as Ron and Hermione’s.
‘Oh,’ Gawain said, laughing a little as he spoke. Gawain looked to Harry and Ron and merely whispered his next words. ‘They were smuggling... information.’ Harry wore a puzzled look on his face as Mr. Weasley casually glanced in the direction of the three Aurors.
‘What do you mean... information?’ asked Hermione hesitantly as Mrs. Weasley pulled on her winter coat whilst conversing with George.
‘I’m surprised, Ms. Granger,’ replied Gawain slowly, a hint of surprise in his tone. ‘A bright witch such as you ought to know. See... they were smuggling books.’
‘Books? What were they smuggling books for?’ pondered Ron.
‘It is not the what that is of concern here, but the who,’ answered Gawain. ‘The two wizards who we ended up catching were under the influence of the Imperius curse. From the leads we had learnt, I am fairly sure that they were smuggling those items for the Death Eaters themselves.’
‘Didn’t think they knew how to read,’ commented Ron quietly.
‘Why would the Death Eaters need someone else to get them a book? Could they not do that themselves?’ asked Harry.
‘Not when the books in question are located in the library at the Auror Office.’
Harry glanced over at Ron and then Hermione quickly. Mrs. Weasley stopped fastening her jacket buttons as she overheard the tail end of what Gawain was saying, clutching at her husband’s side in search of the full story.
‘Aha, now you see,’ resumed Gawain after a brief moment of silence. ‘The books we recovered from the two Imperiused wizards are very rare editions – two of them are literally one of a kind. The books themselves don’t offer us much information regarding what they are planning – there’s one on famous witches and wizards of the last thousand years, another on Britain’s largest mountains and an extremely old edition on specific types of dark, complex magic. But at least we know that the Death Eaters have failed in stealing them.’
‘Still... it’s another attack on the Ministry,’ said a clearly worried Mr. Weasley.
‘Exactly. Thankfully no one was hurt this time, but only a fool would categorize this most recent event as a less threatening attack. Never before has anyone broke in to the Ministry successfully with such ease.’
‘And so frequently,’ Hermione added to Gawain’s statement. Harry’s stomach was turning at this notion.
‘Gawain,’ began Harry. ‘Do you think –’
‘Oh! Sorry, you’ll have to save that Harry!’ exclaimed Mrs. Weasley as she clasped her handbag to her side tightly, using her free hand to point at the umbrella that was now glowing blue.
‘Everyone together now,’ muttered Mr. Weasley.
An instant after grasping the glowing umbrella, Harry opened his eyes to find himself on a long beach, the rushing noise of the charging waves drowning out the noise of his footsteps as he followed the small entourage in front of him. Ahead, he saw that Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were leading them to a small, stone cottage at the bottom of a hill situated on the banks of the beach, a little miniature garden hugging its foundation. There were a few nicely dressed witches on the small porch who were sipping some sort of bluish concoction while a half dozen accompanying wizards were arranged in a semi circle at the bottom of the steps. Seeing that Gawain was only a few paces ahead of him, Harry seized the moment to finish what he had started back at the Burrow.
‘Mr. Robards!’ he called over the crashing waves and caws of the seagulls. Gawain turned and waited for Harry to catch up.
‘Yes, Harry. I believe you were interrupted.’
‘Yeah. Er... I wanted to ask you something,’ Harry began, taking a deep breath and pausing for a second before continuing. ‘What I meant to ask you was... was do you think that Mosteban has anything to do with the attacks on the Ministry.’
Harry regretted saying it the moment the sentence had left his lips. Gawain stopped in his tracks, Harry feeling his stomach fall as he saw the puzzled yet somewhat angry expression crawl on to Gawain’s face. Knowing that he was already in too deep to explain his way out of it, Harry begrudgingly pressed on.
‘I just mean... well I’m not accusing him of anything but... who else has that sort of access to the Ministry... to the Auror department? Isn’t it possible that someone inside the department itself could have assisted in these attacks? Please, sir. I’m speaking to you as an Order member now, not an Auror.’
Gawain’s expression softened as he turned to look out at the sea. He squinted his eyes and responded to Harry without looking at him.
‘Weather converting charm. Extremely powerful bit of magic. The Longbottoms wished to look out of their home... and see... the sea – even in the dead of winter. Normally, that type of magic is banned... it has caused catastrophes in the past. Even though the Longbottoms have been gone for so long, the Ministry still would not approve of their requests. Until one man got involved and personally convinced the Minister to overturn their ruling.’ Gawain spoke very silently, the sound of the waves overpowering his voice to the point where Harry had to listen very carefully to understand everything that he was saying. ‘I’ve known Mosteban for a long time... a long time. While I do applaud you for leaving no man unturned in your thought process, I really do not believe he has anything to do with the recent attacks. I too believe that someone inside the Ministry is assisting in these attacks. Sometimes nothing that we know of happens! Like that attack on Christmas Day – the thunderstorm in the Atrium. You do raise an interesting point though Potter,’ Gawain said, turning back to Harry. ‘The things that the attackers have accomplished are no doubt... shocking. We should all be on high alert. Install your trust in only a select few. I assure you... Mosteban is one of those few.’
Feeling slightly dejected, Harry followed Gawain as they continued to set forth towards the small cottage, Harry seeing that Ron, Hermione and Ginny had already arrived at the front stoop.
‘I’ve got to make this quick,’ Gawain said suddenly, his voice back to his regular, commanding tone. ‘I’ve got to visit the Gibbons household before dusk. They’re going to be lifting the seal in another week or two if they don’t find anything.’
‘Gibbons...’ whispered Harry. The name struck a chord with him. ‘Do you mean the Gibbons who was murdered a couple of months ago? The woman who was the caretaker of –’
‘Nicolas Flamel – yes, the same. We haven’t been able to find anything. Nothing. Dead end. Poor old bat deserves to have her murderer brought to justice, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. After you, Potter.’
Gawain extended his arm, prompting Harry to ascend the small flight of steps that led to the front porch. A few of the nicely dressed witches looked over at him as he strode towards the door where Ron, Hermione and Ginny had waited for him, Harry remembering the gruesome Gibbons crime scene he had visited with Williamson and the rest of the unit.
Slowly, Harry followed Ginny in to the Longbottom cottage. A wall of murmuring conversation filled his ears the moment the door was opened, Harry being quite taken aback by just how many witches and wizards had crammed themselves in to the small space. After being prompted to shuffle away from the entrance by Hermione behind him, Harry looked around at the space in front of him, noticing a tiny kitchen tucked away behind a counter, a little dining table – that would be able to seat four at the very most – and a few comfy looking armchairs and coffee table on the opposite side of the kitchen. The cottage was built as one large room sectioned off in to separate living areas, a burgundy rug lining the middle of the floor over the tile. As they weaved their way over to Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Harry noticed the rug had little golden designs and characters on it that seemingly told the story of a witch and wizard fighting in a war. At the far back of the room was a single door that was shut and beside the entranceway, a small staircase leading to the bedrooms.
‘Very crowded in here, isn’t it?’ chimed Mr. Weasley as he nodded kindly at an older couple who was passing by.
‘The Longbottoms were always kind people. They were... and are good friends to many,’ added Mrs. Weasley emotionally. ‘Let’s go see them, Arthur! Oh, but let’s not crowd them. You lot stay here for now, alright?’ Harry watched as the Weasleys bustled off through the crowd and towards the back of the room where the single white door stood.
‘I wonder where Neville is,’ asked Ron as he looked around through the crowd. Before Harry could assist his friend in the search, his eye was forced to someone who comically stood out in the tiny crowded cottage.
‘Hagrid!’ called Hermione who had easily noticed the half-giant as well. ‘Long time no see!’
‘Hey yeh lot! It hasn' been as long since I've seen Frank an' Alice. Everythin' else seems like no time at all,’ replied Hagrid cheerily. Harry could tell he was trying to be gentle, but in the excited Hagrid’s endeavor to make his way across the small, crowded room, he had shoved a pair of witches so forcefully that they nearly lost their footing, looking up at Hagrid with a look of detest on their faces.
‘Have you seen them yet Hagrid?’ asked Ginny.
‘Yeah, jus' now. Only popped in there fer a minute or two... don' want to take up too much o' their time. Plenty o' people here to see 'em. McGonagall was jus' here a little while ago.’
‘Well... Fang's seen better days,’ recited Hagrid, exhaling deeply. ‘He's a bit more cheery now though. As if the school gettin' back to normal has made him feel more at home, or somethin'. Anyway, I got to be goin'. McGonagall wants all o' the Christmas trees down by the time students return an' it's no easy job.’ After bidding him goodbye, Hagrid bounded out of the cottage, shaking the foundation of the tiny house as he left.
‘Hey look, there’s Seamus,’ pointed Hermione. Looking up, Harry saw his former Gryffindor roommate from across the room being accompanied by who Harry guessed was his mother. Remembering that a few years ago, Seamus’ mother did not think too highly of Harry and his claims regarding Lord Voldemort, he could not help but smile as Mrs. Finnegan cheerily waved to them at the same time as Seamus did.
A half hour and a conversation about the current Quidditch League standings with Ernie McMillan later, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley emerged from the door at the back of the room. Mrs. Weasley was dabbing at her eyes with Mr. Weasley’s handkerchief, although she appeared quite pleased. Harry nodded and smiled at Hestia Jones who walked by them with a middle aged couple, the threesome making their way for the door. Looking around, he noticed that even more witches and wizards had jammed their way in to the little cottage, conversing with different groups huddled together, talking and laughing with drinks in hand. Some had conjured up their own chairs and arranged them in little circles which made it difficult for many to navigate the singular room that the cottage was made up in to.
‘Thanks for coming everyone,’ came a quiet voice from behind Harry. Turning his head, Harry saw that it was Neville who looked quite red in the face.
‘Of course Neville!’ said Harry cheerfully.
‘We’re so happy for you,’ added Hermione who hugged Neville, Ron clapping him on the back after she released him.
‘This really is amazing for everyone to come like this... Mum and Dad are so happy... so am I,’ Neville said smilingly. ‘It really does mean a lot. And Ginny – I know you’re busy and all with Quidditch and whatnot... so thanks for taking the time.’
‘Oh, well I didn’t have any practice on today anyway,’ Ginny said slightly flustered, but regaining her strength as she spoke. ‘And if I did... well friends and family come before Quidditch. Not even a contest.’ Neville nodded, glancing happily at his friends and all of the other guests of the small cottage for a few moments.
‘Er... I don’t mean to put you on the spot Harry... but... I was – they were wondering... I mean if you don’t want to then...’
‘What is it Neville?’ asked Harry amusingly.
‘My Mum and Dad... would you mind seeing them for a minute?’ Slightly taken aback, Harry took a moment to respond.
‘Ye-Yeah. I mean, of course Neville. Anything they want.’
‘It’s just through that door.’ Neville indicated the single door at the back of the room, Harry patting him on the back lightly as he began to make his way over.
With butterflies creeping in to his stomach for reasons Harry could not quite explain, he dodged a couple of running children who ducked under the legs of the wizard in front of him. He waved and nodded awkwardly to a family who had recognized him and as he did so, he bumped in to the man in front of him who had stopped abruptly to let a witch pass through.
‘Oh! Sorry about that my fellow – it is a mad house in here, please understand...’ the man began, wheeling around to face Harry. As he did so, the man’s eye’s opened wide as he recognized his former student.
‘Professor Slughorn,’ Harry said, trying to put more enthusiasm in to his voice. ‘How are you sir.’
‘Harry! Very well, very well indeed! My, we have not seen each other for a long time! Did you not receive my Christmas invitation?’ Harry’s heart sunk, remembering how Ron had used it as kindling for the fire they put together while they listened to the last Cannons game.
‘Er... well, you see –’
‘I did have a bad feeling about that owl... I must trust my instincts more often – they are quite good if I may gush. Would you disagree?’ Slughorn asked merrily.
‘Not at all,’ responded Harry. Slughorn beamed.
‘Those very instincts have always served me well. If I may digress... the moment I set eyes on Frank and Alice Longbottom back at Hogwarts, I knew they would do wonderful things. And they did. Such a shame what happened. So happy that they have found their consciousness again.’
‘Well, I must be going sir. Mr. and Mrs. Longbottom – they’ve requested to see me.’
‘Oh yes, yes! I just saw them not half an hour ago! Wonderful people! Take care now Harry. Await my owl!’
Slughorn slowly weaved his way through the sea of visitors as Harry continued to the back of the room. After what felt like an eternity, Harry reached it, a small semi-circle carpet at the foot of threshold. Taking a single breath, Harry reached for the cold, golden handle and wrenched it open.
‘Harry! So good of you to come.’
The murmuring sound from those in the cottage were instantly drowned out the moment Harry closed the door. Looking up, he saw that Neville’s parents were beaming up at him from their armchairs. Alice had short, shoulder length hair and a sort of mousy complexion while her smile and rosy cheeks made her look very kind. Her husband Frank looked quite like Neville but with a receding hair line. He could tell from his smile that his front teeth were slightly larger than the rest, the firelight making his warm, big brown eyes sparkle. As happy as they looked, he could tell there was something wrong by the way they were sitting in their armchairs.
‘It’s a pleasure to meet you Mr. and Mrs. Longbottom.’
‘Please Harry. Call us Frank and Alice,’ said Alice with her sweet, high-pitched voice.
‘I hope you don’t find us rude Harry for not coming out to socialize with everyone all at once,’ managed Frank, extending his arm to the chair in front of him and indicating him to sit. ‘Walking, standing... these are things you take for granted. We’re finding it a bit difficult.’
‘We’ll get there though,’ grinned Alice.
‘Neville’s told us so much about you. From what he’s told us... you really are much like Lily. And now that we’ve seen you... well you are a spitting image of your father!’ exclaimed Frank. His smile completely faded within a couple of seconds. ‘I’m sorry, Harry.’ At first, Harry did not know what Frank meant by his quick apology, but after realizing how long the Longbottoms had been gone for, he understood why.
‘Don’t mention it,’ Harry replied forcing a smile. ‘So how are you? It must have been difficult to... reawaken after all these years.’
Harry felt incredibly awkward as and after he spoke; he did not have the faintest idea how to further a conversation with people who had miraculously re-emerged in to consciousness after being thought of as nearly dead for almost twenty years. He thought he sounded foolish. Thankfully, the Longbottoms did not seem to be the teeniest bit turned off at Harry’s question.
‘We’re coming around slowly,’ said Alice glancing at her husband. ‘The toughest part has been hearing about all that has happened since we... well since we left.’
‘And that’s what we’ve been meaning to talk to you about, if you don’t mind Harry. I promise we won’t keep you long,’ added Frank lightly, trying his best not to sound too presumptuous.
‘Not at all.’ Harry instantly felt some of the tension ooze off of his body. All of a sudden he could feel the warmth of the fire penetrate him as if his senses had just now re-awoken.
‘The war, what Voldemort did to you, how he was gone... how he came back... these are all very confusing things Harry. There’s so much we missed... so many things have happened over the years,’ Alice said slowly. ‘It’s all very hard to understand having not lived through it, you see.’
‘To hear of all the friends we’ve lost...’
Frank could not say anymore, stopping and raising a hand to his mouth as he stared in to the fire for at least a minute. Alice focused on her lap as she began to speak, her voice barely over a whisper.
‘We were devastated when we heard about your parents, Harry. They were some of our best friends and we loved them very much.’
‘Knowing that good people like your parents gave their lives for the very same things we believed in... trust us Harry... we do not take coming back to our senses like this lightly. We only wish we could have been there to help... maybe... save some of their lives.’
‘Don’t take any blame for it,’ Harry said, feeling a lump grow in his throat as he spoke. ‘You’ve... been given a new beginning... live it to the fullest that you can.’
Harry understood where Frank was coming from; it was usually him that thought in this fashion over the years. Still, he felt slightly embarrassed that he – a nineteen year old – was seemingly giving advice to two parents who he barely knew. To his relief, both Alice and Frank nodded in agreement.
‘That’s exactly right. We’ve been given a second chance,’ said Frank. ‘We don’t intend to waste it away.’
‘It most definitely is a new beginning Harry and we cannot dwell on the past for too long – the what ifs and so forth,’ continued Alice. ‘Every new beginning must come from some other beginning’s end. We just had to wait a little longer for ours.’
‘And thanks to you, our new beginning takes place in a world without Voldemort,’ furthered Frank, his voice rising as he spoke passionately. ‘We’ve heard it all, Harry. How brave you are to have done what you did. Your parents would be so proud of you – trust me when I say that. You’ve probably heard it a thousand times but I’d feel wrong if I didn’t say it... thank you.’
‘Many happy returns.’
Both Frank and Alice looked at Harry with an air of admiration in their faces as they lifted up their glasses and took a sip in Harry’s honor. Harry’s face quickly got hot and he was fairly sure it was not because of the fire.
‘I-I had help,’ stuttered Harry feeling quite embarrassed. ‘Including Neville – without him, I’d be dead right now and we never would have defeated him.’ As he spoke, the portrait of Voldemort’s laughing face flashed before his eyes.
‘Where would any of us be without some help from family and friends?’ asked Frank rhetorically, winking at Harry.
‘We know this must be a tad uncomfortable for you dear, so we won’t keep you any longer,’ began Alice sweetly after a minute or two of silence. ‘Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?’
At first, Harry thought it might be best to step out of the room and leave the emotional Longbottoms be for the time being, but his mind stopped him from getting up from his seat. He could only think about the memories and Nicolas Flamel, remembering the Longbottoms being present inside both of the memories he had been sent. He did not want to seem rude, but not knowing when the next time that he would see Frank and Alice Longbottom again, he made up his mind to ask them.
‘Yes... there is one thing I’d like to ask if you don’t mind...’
‘Anything Harry. You’ve listened to us get some things off of our chests... now it’s your turn,’ Alice answered through a smile, Frank nodding in agreement. Harry took a deep breath before speaking.
‘It’s about Nicolas Flamel.’ Frank and Alice’s smiles dimmed slightly, the two of them exchanging curious glances, but focused on Harry just the same. ‘I don’t know if you know... but he’s on the run. And I... I think the Death Eaters are after him – those that are left.’ Harry let his speech sink in for a moment before finishing. ‘What do you know about him?’
Neither Longbottom spoke for a minute, obviously taken aback by Harry’s question. He could see both of their minds racing, trying to think of the best way to answer him. Finally, Frank spoke steadily yet hesitant all at the same time.
‘He was a good friend of Dumbledore. The Order went to great lengths to protect him way back in the day. Powerful man, Flamel was – is. I haven’t the foggiest why he would do that to those three men, whether they were under the Imperius curse or not. But... I could see why the Death Eaters would be after him now...’
‘Because they were before...’ finished Alice quietly. Harry cleared his throat and spoke tentatively.
‘It’s er... the Eye of the Posterus... isn’t it?’ For a few moments, the only sound in the room came from the crackling fireplace. ‘Do you believe it exists?’
‘Dumbledore did,’ answered Alice simply. ‘I’ve never seen it... I never knew anyone that did. But yes. Yes Harry, I do.’
‘The ability to look in to the past, present... and especially future,’ continued Frank shaking his head. ‘Unequivocal and unequalled power. Listen Harry – if what you’re saying is true, you make sure the Death Eaters never get their hands on it. If you or any Auror find Flamel, make sure he’s safe.’
‘I will,’ replied Harry with a great deal of pride as if he had just been given some great quest to accomplish. He rose from his seat and shook hands with both Frank and Alice. ‘Thank you for your time today. I’m glad you’re back. Even though you – his parents – weren’t around to see much of him grow up... your son has turned out to be a good friend... and a great man.’ Both Frank and Alice nodded, a small tear rolling down Alice’s cheek.
Harry made his way to the door, but pulling him back from the door’s handle was the sweet voice of Alice who spoke just loud enough so that Harry could hear.
‘There seems to be a lot of that going around.’
Harry faced the Longbottoms who smiled at him from their seats, Harry taking a second to nod back at them strongly before opening the door and entering the chattering room.
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