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Chapter 18 : Percival's Proposition
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‘Look – can’t I do this later?’ pleaded Harry as the nurse of the Auror Department hospital wing frustratingly tried to apply a yellowish ointment to a particularly large cut on Harry’s forehead.
‘All the courtrooms have been checked sir! No sign of the intruder anywhere sir!’ chimed in a pair of Junior Aurors who had burst in to the nearly full hospital wing.
Mosteban grimaced, turning to Williamson and Richter and speaking quietly to them as yet another gurney holding a victim of the attack magically barged in to the wing. Many of the patients who had been affected by the toxic gas had been moved to the small, Auror Department hospital wing, the many Healers on staff bouncing from bed to bed as they checked up on their patients. Those who were in the most dire of conditions had been transported to St. Mungo’s straight away by Ministry officials after they had been recovered from Level Four. The Ministry was in a post-attack whirlwind and it was due to this chaos that Harry’s knowledge was quite limited. All he knew was that Ron had sent down a contingent of Aurors and Healers who retrieved all of the remaining patients from Level Four. However, Harry was only worried about one such patient.
‘I don’t care right now, alright!? My friend was up on Level Four!’ said Harry fiercely, brushing aside the nurse’s arm and heaving himself back on to his feet.
‘Potter! You stay there and let the nurse take care of you,’ said Williamson, pointing back to the bed from which he had risen.
‘But sir! My friend Hermione – I don’t know how she is –’
‘She’s going to be alright Potter! Weasley’s with her now at the end of the wing.’
‘Yes, but I’d still like to –’
‘She’s very groggy Potter. I personally observed her myself – they’ve got her on heavy medication, remedies and potions right now. Just let the Healers work their magic – on her and you.’
Reluctantly, Harry plunked back down on to his bed, relieved that Hermione was alright, but disappointed that he could not see her. He was not in the mood to be dabbed with a stinging liquid that made his cuts feel as if they were on fire.
‘She’s lucky you know,’ the nurse said softly as she continued to dab Harry’s forehead. ‘If you hadn’t got her out of there when you did... well... only a few minutes longer and her condition may have ended up being a lot worse.’
‘What does that stuff do anyway,’ asked Harry after sighing deeply. For the first time since the events, Harry felt as if he could finally relax a little. The hours of not knowing what had become of Hermione had mentally drained him to the point where – coupled with his physical injuries – his head now pulsated in pain.
‘It’s a compound that eats away at the victim’s skin cells,’ the nurse answered calmly. ‘Very difficult to brew, never mind trying to gasify it. Plus, they added an infusion of wolfsbane to boot – you know, in order to have that knock-out effect, rendering all who inhale the deadly concoction unconscious. Ah, what is this world coming to...’
‘Potter! I’m going to ask you once more,’ growled Mosteban as he ran a hand through his hair. ‘Are you sure that who you saw... was Rabastan Lestrange?’
‘I don’t recall stuttering sir,’ replied Harry in a way that attempted to hide his anger. He had been immediately chastised by Mosteban upon relating what he had seen and now, having been asked for the seventh time already, Harry was beginning to grow quite frustrated.
‘Watch your tongue Potter...’ whispered Mosteban as he came face to face with Harry who returned the cold stare that Mosteban was giving.
Curiously, Harry saw Mosteban’s eye twitch after a few moments, and upon realizing that Harry had noticed, Mosteban quickly turned and stormed out of the hospital wing, his dark, leathery cloak disappearing in an instant. There was something not quite right with Mosteban, though Harry could not put his finger on it; he could only stare at the door where Mosteban had left through, unsure of what to think.
‘Ow!’ reacted Harry, bringing him back to his senses. The nurse had just put a fresh bandage that had been soaked in the yellowish liquid on the side of Harry’s head, the stinging sensation temporarily making Harry’s eyes water.
‘There – all done,’ the nurse said, quickly packing up her things and moving to the next bed.
‘This is bad,’ Harry heard Williamson mutter to Richter as a couple of patients yelled out in pain from a couple of beds down from where Harry was. ‘You could see it in his eyes.’
‘He’s beat up and so he should be!’ replied Richter. ‘We all are. Mosteban’s not the only one affected by this. If we weren’t before... well, everyone is on high alert now. Whoever’s doing this... they’ve crossed the line.’
‘Let the panic ensue,’ Williamson mentioned gravely before switching gears, looking around before quietly whispering his question which forced Harry to listen extra carefully. ‘So why did Rabastan destroy all the portraits in the Minister’s hallway then? Did he not want them to see what he was doing?
‘Williamson – I haven’t the slightest idea. All I know is that we’ve got to find out what the Death Eaters are up to and we’ve got to do it fast. To break-in to the Ministry with such... such ease! It doesn’t bode well for Fudge either.’
‘Here’s to hoping that our man on the inside can get back to us soon,’ replied the lanky Williamson. ‘What if they’re taking something? What if they’re getting information? What in the world is their agenda? This just doesn’t seem like the Death Eaters we’ve dealt with in the past.’
‘No it doesn’t and I’ll tell you why they aren’t those same Death Eaters we’ve come to know so well. It’s simple really – desperation. People will go to great lengths when they’re desperate. Seems as if the Death Eaters are at that point now.’
‘Has there been any – any casualties?’ Harry asked hesitantly as he leapt off of his bed, pretending like he had not eavesdropped on their conversation.
‘Two, yes. Many in very terrible conditions,’ replied Williamson somberly. ‘The worst ones were transported to St. Mungo’s.’
‘Still need some work on those non-verbal curses, eh Potter?’ asked Richter stiffly. Harry merely nodded as he walked past the two Unit Heads, remembering how quickly Rabastan had directed his curses at Harry.
Harry walked back in to the Auror Department that was nearly empty, save for a couple of Aurors who were conversing in a semi-circle by the steps having finished their part of the search as Williamson and Richter had. However, Harry’s eyes were not on his fellow Aurors but on Mosteban who had been standing by the entrance in deep thought. Harry stood alone in the middle of the Department, transfixed on Mosteban who appeared to be oblivious to Harry’s stare. Then, as if Mosteban had sensed Harry’s eyes, Mosteban turned and locked eyes with Harry, a moment later bursting through the entrance doors of the Auror Department and out of sight. Harry stood still for a moment or two as he breathed deeply, his mind playing a game of tug of war with itself. Finally, his intrigue won him over and he broke in to a painful run, quickly ascending the steps and out in to the empty Level Two hallway.
There were papers all over the hallway floor, many of the office doors open as a result of the now completed evacuation. Harry tore down the hallway, seeing the very top of the lift before that sunk beneath him. Harry wasted no time as he tore open the gate of the lift that had now replaced it, hitting the Level One button as he noticed the absence of the purple ‘EE’ light’s glow.
Harry was breathing heavily as he stared straight ahead, the tattered Minister’s hallway filling his vision as the lift came to an abrupt stop. He wrenched open the gate to find the empty hallway, pieces of glass and frame littering the purple carpet that lined the floor. Harry looked to his right to see the door that he had crashed through just a couple of hours ago; evidently, no one had cleaned up the destruction since it had occurred. The hallway was silent, a feeling of sheer aloneness making Harry feel as if the walls were closing in on him. However, the eeriness of the hallway was quickly suspended as the Minister’s door at the far end of the room opened with a bang, Harry quickly diving behind an overturned pillar behind one of the arches which concealed him from view.
‘Damn it Fudge!’ roared Mosteban who followed the Minister out of his office. Harry could see that Fudge had his back turned to Mosteban as the Head Auror paced back and forth. ‘For the last time I’m telling you – your security is pointless! The Death Eaters have found a way in time after time after time!’ Fudge swirled around on his heel to face Mosteban.
‘So I see that you have come to the oh-so-illuminating conclusion that the perpetrators are the Death Eaters then?’ he said sarcastically. ‘Well... I’m so relieved that my Head Auror has finally figured that much out after months of attacks. I was beginning to wonder what I was paying you for! Oh – and you can address me as Minister, Mosteban.’
‘Pardon me, Minister,’ said Mosteban calmly with a hint of seething anger in his tone, ‘but I thought that your job was to stop these bloody attacks from happening. I’m fairly certain that your likability in the public now firmly weighs on your attention to ending this series of attacks on the Ministry.’
Mosteban was slowly pacing towards Rufus Fudge now and as he got closer, Harry could see just how much taller the imposing, scarred-face Mosteban was than Fudge.
‘That is correct,’ said Fudge defiantly, doing an admirable job at concealing his trepidation.
‘Then I’d suggest giving me and my Auror Department full power over Ministry security and the ability to carry out our missions without your approval. Sometimes... the best decisions have to be made on the cusp. Need not worry... we would still be keeping you posted... Minister.’
Harry could see Mosteban staring directly in to Fudge’s eyes who reciprocated the stare. Fudge broke first, turning his head and making his way over to one of the portraits, Mosteban not even moving a muscle as the Minister pondered Mosteban’s request.
‘Of course... it would be a good idea to let some more attacks occur while you make up your mind,’ chided Mosteban fiercely. Fudge turned his head, a look of anger creeping on to his face.
‘Alright Mosteban! But let me tell you this – if you as much as dare... conceive as to do something so reckless that it would risk this Ministry’s safety then you’ll be the first one in line at the unemployment office. Understand? Don’t forget who you are working for Mosteban.’
‘The wizarding world... of course,’ Mosteban replied smarmily.
‘However... you only receive this on one condition – you must keep a close watch on the Potter boy. I have the feeling that he may have stolen something from me... he comes across as if... he’s up to something.’
‘Amidst our differences that is one thing I believe we can agree on,’ said Mosteban seriously. ‘However, I’m afraid that I will be unable to do that. The Auror code. Upon Mr. Potter’s acceptance in to the Auror Order he signed a contract, prohibiting all deception amongst Aurors. Surely you would know of it Minister.’
‘To hell with the code!’ yelled Fudge. ‘You’ll uphold my request and that’s final!’ Mosteban stared across at Fudge with his cold, dark eyes, his face white as if all life had been sucked out of it.
‘Be sure that you do. Because unlike Mr. Potter, I am not an Auror, therefore I have no adherence to this Auror code you speak of. In essence, what I am saying to you is simply this – if you don’t want to be followed when you make your routine, secret trips away from the Ministry... you’ll keep an eye on Potter.’
‘Indeed,’ replied Mosteban softly as if Fudge had merely requested a napkin. Fudge began to slowly walk towards Mosteban now as he continued.
‘Where do you go on those trips Mosteban?’ asked Fudge with a small smile on his face. ‘I’d like to know.’ Fudge placed his hands in front of him, palms up, indicating Mosteban’s turn to answer.
Mosteban did not waver in his stare. If Harry had not known any better, he would have thought that Mosteban was simply a statue and that Fudge was a guest, observing some strange artifact. The only thing that Mosteban moved was his lip which slowly curled as he looked directly at a half-smiling Fudge. A full minute passed without either Fudge or Mosteban uttering a single word. Quietly, Fudge broke the silence.
‘I expect regular reports Mosteban.’
With that, Fudge turned and headed straight for the lifts. Harry ducked as low as he could behind the pillar as he saw Fudge walk past quickly, entering the lift which carried him upwards and out of sight. Harry glanced over the top of the pillar to see Mosteban still standing in his fixed position. Suddenly, once the echoing sound of the ascending lift had left the hallway, Mosteban dashed in to an office to his left, pushing open the door without care.
Harry glanced around him to make sure that no one was coming down. Silently, he left his position and crept down the hallway, trying to make as little noise as possible. He came to the office that Mosteban had burst into; the force in which he had hit the door with had caused the door to swing back in to an almost closed position. Through a small crack, Harry could see Mosteban bending down at the far end of the room, putting his head in to the emerald green flames of the fireplace.
‘We’ve got to act faster...’ Harry heard Mosteban whisper, pressing his ear up against the opening in the door. ‘Before things get out of hand that is...’
There was a moment’s pause as Mosteban’s acquaintance spoke from his end of the fireplace. Though Harry could not hear whose voice was answering Mosteban, he could hear a scratchy, whispery voice that was largely inaudible from Harry’s position.
‘I think he’s on to us,’ Mosteban said suddenly. ‘He’s been giving me some odd looks lately, as if he knows more than what he should – I think he knows that I’m up to something... He is... persistent... I’ll give him that. I’m not about to take a chance with him.’ Harry’s eyes widened as he made sure not to bang in to the door while leaning ever closer.
‘I agree,’ Mosteban said again after a moment of silence. ‘We’ve got to find him as soon as possible.’ Mosteban paused for another few seconds before continuing. ‘I think they’re noticing that I’m leaving as often as I am – Fudge just questioned me about it. In the meantime... we have to do something to make him think that I am still on everyone’s side to quell his curiosity of me... as young as he is, I am not going to risk being found out – as much as I hate to say it, he has done some extraordinary things at such a young age. We’ll throw him off our scent. Lead an attack or something... like we talked about.’
Harry did not have much time to move as Mosteban abruptly withdrew his head from the fireplace, quickly pacing towards the door. Harry rolled out of the way as silently as he could, hearing Mosteban’s footsteps approach the door. Harry looked around, his heart beating fast, unsure of where to hide. Then, as Mosteban’s footsteps temporarily stopped, Harry noticed that a small, round hole now characterized the spot on the wall where a portrait had previously been. Without thinking, Harry dove in to the hole that was just large enough for a single person to crawl through. A second later, Mosteban exited the room, looking from left to right and proceeding down to the lifts.
After a moment of feeling relieved, it began to hit Harry how awkward a place he was hiding in. Just after Harry heard the lift ascend, a small breeze quietly knocked what was left of the portrait’s frame back on to the wall from its detached position, the absence of an actual portrait allowing Harry to see out in to the hallway of Level Two. His foot hit something hard behind him. Glancing backwards, he noticed that there was a small pedestal, the light of the hallway half-illuminating it in the darkness.
Over the next couple of days, Hermione’s condition improved drastically. After being moved to St. Mungo’s the day after the attack, she had begun to revert back to her old self, though her skin did have a slightly greenish hue to it. Harry was relieved to see his friend propped up in her bed reading a thick, old looking book as he entered her room at the hospital.
‘Could you give me another five minutes of quiet boys?’ she asked without looking up at them from her book. ‘I’m just getting to the fascinating part.’ Hermione smiled cheekily after a moment, putting down her book as she warmly received her two best friends who sat down on either side of her bed.
After hearing of the attack, Ginny had left Quidditch practice immediately, making it to Grimmauld Place right before they went to visit Hermione for the first time. As happy as he was to see her, Harry could not help but think of the letters addressed to her from Davis that he found in her room, thinking of them nearly every time he looked at her. For the first time in as long as he could remember, he felt as if there was an imaginary wall up between them. Because of this, Harry did not seem to care when Ginny mentioned to him that they had lost another two matches while in the lobby of St. Mungo’s nor did he really listen when she told him how dreadful Wellington – the Harpies’ Seeker – had performed as of late. Harry was thankful that Ginny’s focus on the serious predicament of the attacks allowed him to keep his distance without looking as if he was doing so.
The Order of the Phoenix had called an emergency meeting after the latest attack on the Ministry a couple of days later. The meeting was mostly the same as usual; there was emphasis on security and a focus on investigating any such leads on Death Eater whereabouts, but as usual, the presence of hard facts was mostly absent. The only concrete evidence was provided by Kingsley Shackelbolt (who had requested to work undercover after he was voted out as Minister) and even the fact that Kingsley presented only added to the ambiguous state of the Death Eaters. It was on Kingsley’s account that the Death Eaters had stopped using any hiding or meeting places regularly; instead, they were moving nomadically in order to avoid any trails or patterns that the Order or Aurors could pick up on. Other than that, the only thing that was related were a few improbable rumors that did little to add substance to their conversation.
During the meeting, the only time Harry spoke was when he was asked by Gawain Robards to relate his experience of the Ministry attacks and his subsequent chase of Rabastan Lestrange to the rest of the Order members. Other than that, Harry and Ron mostly kept quiet during the meeting until the ending when they were asked their opinion on letting Ginny Weasley in to the Order who wanted to follow the steps of Hermione. Based on testimony, it was agreed that Ginny too would be inducted at their next meeting. Still, the decision of Ginny’s conclusion was not met without some detractors; many Order members maintained that they were weary of Ginny’s commitment to the Harpies, unsure of whether she could truly benefit the Order.
Throughout the meeting, Harry felt a deep longing in the pit of his stomach to tell the Order of what he had heard and seen in the Minister’s hallway, including Mosteban’s conversation through the Floo Network with the mysterious acquaintance. However, his experiences with rejection caused him to withhold the information, though he did catch Aberforth glaring at him from across the table as Harry instinctively opened his mouth to speak a few times throughout the meeting. In each instance, Harry overcame his wish to relate his post-attack experience from the Minister’s hallway. The only ones who Harry had told were Ron and Hermione and he intended to keep it that way.
‘You have the look of a man who has something on his mind,’ said Aberforth quietly from behind Harry after the meeting had concluded. Everyone was heading for the fireplace of the drawing room, though Aberforth made no motion to follow.
‘What makes you say that?’ asked Harry quietly without looking at him.
‘The fact that you can’t say that to me without looking at your feet,’ Aberforth replied. Harry nodded, looking up in to Aberforth’s face that featured an expression of amusement mixed with seriousness.
‘It’s just that –’
‘Not here – in the other room,’ interrupted Aberforth who indicated the living room off of the kitchen.
‘Goodbye Harry dear,’ said Mrs. Weasley who gave him a quick squeeze before she too headed for the drawing room. ‘Once Hermione is out of St. Mungo’s we’ll have all you lot over for supper, alright?’
‘That sounds great, Mrs. Weasley,’ Harry nodded approvingly.
‘Though we better let George know ahead of time Molly,’ chimed in Mr. Weasley.
‘Oh, that’s right!’ exclaimed Mrs. Weasley turning her attention to Harry. ‘He’s been so busy with that ruddy top secret mission that he’s been on about that we barely see him anymore! He doesn’t even return our owls! Our own son!’
Harry nodded again, following Aberforth in to the empty living room after bidding goodbye to the Weasleys who got lost in the crowd of Order members.
Harry sat down on an armchair, the cold vacancy of it sending a shiver up his spine. Aberforth sat across the coffee table from Harry, pointing his wand at the fireplace and silently starting a roaring fire that instantly seemed to rejuvenate Harry. Exhaling in pleasure, Harry looked in to the cold, grey eyes of Aberforth who placed his wand back in to his inside pocket.
‘They’re becoming more and more pointless lately, aren’t they?’ Harry nodded in response. ‘The Death Eaters are doing a commendable job at staying out of the limelight. Positive for them – frustrating for us...’
Harry did not reply, only raising his eyebrows as he looked deeply in to the fire. He did not feel like talking at the moment; his chest felt as if it had an emptiness to it, his mind focused on Ginny, or rather, the absence of her in both a literal and abstract sense. In addition, Harry was struggling with what he had heard from Fudge and Mosteban. It was plainly obvious that Mosteban had another agenda and it was more troubling that this agenda appeared to be something that Mosteban wanted to hide from Harry himself.
‘Look...’ began Aberforth softly, his speech commanding Harry’s attention. ‘I’m not asking you to tell me what’s on your mind... what’s bothering you. You’ve got many close friends for that. I just wanted to tell you Harry that... that I know what you’re going through.’ Harry looked at Aberforth in confusion. ‘Not be listened to,’ Aberforth elucidated.
‘Yeah,’ breathed Harry, turning his attention back to the fire.
‘I’ve probably been to less than a tenth of the Order meetings since the time of my induction all those years ago and if there’s one fault of the Order that I’ve seen, it is its stubbornness. The ability to listen – to hear what others have to say – that is the mark of a great wizard. It’s not what, or how much you can say. Seems to be something that our elder members of the Order fail to realize.’
‘You’ve got that right,’ retorted Harry to the brief chuckle of Aberforth.
Harry glanced over at him quickly, realizing that this may have been the first time that he had ever heard Aberforth laugh. In his relatively short time of knowing him, Harry had always described Aberforth as an absent, emotionally closed, shy and alone sort of person. The man sitting across from Harry curiously did not appear to embody that description.
‘You’ve had an incident of feeling... closed-off, have you?’ Harry asked awkwardly, trying not to stare at Aberforth for more than a couple of seconds at a time.
Aberforth took in a deep breath, staring out at the fire that reflected brightly in his cold, grey eyes. For a moment, they seemed to be full of passion, their twinkling reminding him of another Dumbledore who he had come to know quite well. Harry thought he had offended Aberforth who did not speak for another minute as he simply stared out in to the fire, apparently in deep thought. When he finally did break the silence, Harry felt relieved.
‘If you’ll indulge me...’ said Aberforth softly, to which Harry nodded, shifting in his seat to better face Aberforth who was still staring out in to the fire. ‘In my experience, my apparent unimportance was not a product of human ignorance – which is what you experience at these Order meetings. Instead, my case was simply due to the fact that I did not have anyone to hear me. Similar to your case when you were a child, if I may be so bold.’
Aberforth’s voice seemed to have a slight hint of hesitation in it, as if these words he spoke were foreign to him and he was having trouble pronouncing them for the first time. His voice was for the most part strong, but Harry noticed that every once in a while, his speech would seem to shake as if he was a Healer who was trying to tell Harry that someone close to him had just passed away while still trying to maintain an image of professionalism.
‘Y-Yeah. Yes,’ stuttered Harry in response, almost forgetting to answer Aberforth’s statement.
‘I’m sure you’ve heard of what happened to my father?’ asked Aberforth directly to which Harry simply nodded. ‘See, I was never close to him or anything. He had... no extraordinary magical gift of any kind. Just a simple magical farmer – this is before we moved to Godric’s Hollow you see. We moved around from place to place, finally settling in Mould-on-the-Wold for a while. While there, he would... well... he’d be physical with us when we were young... with my mother. Obviously none of us liked it, especially Albus who was the only one of us that would stand up to him. When my father – Percival – retaliated against those Muggles who were teasing Ariana, that rage that we had seen inside our household on countless occasions was inflicted out in the open. It sounds terrible to say this now but... we were all – Albus, Ariana, myself and our mother, Kendra – glad to see him go.’
Aberforth paused for a moment before retrieving his wand from his cloak pocket, conjuring up a single, crystal drinking glass with two ice cubes in it. With another swish of his wand, a small, glass bottle that contained an amber-colored liquid appeared beside the glass on the table, Aberforth slowly pouring a small dash of the liquid. He held it out in front of Harry in offering to which Harry shook his head politely. After taking a small sip of the liquid (the ice in the glass rattling softly as he rose it to his mouth) Aberforth continued.
‘As much as I had loathed him while I was living with him, after a while, I began to feel terrible. It’s something Albus and I had many heated arguments about. When he learned that I had visited our father in Azkaban, Albus did not talk to me, nor me to him, for three months.’ Aberforth chuckled slightly as he tilted his head back, taking another sip from his glass. ‘I visited him hundreds of times. Didn’t feel right to let him die in there alone. I probably know that prison better than the prison guards themselves! Spent more time in there than a free man should.’
‘But it mustn’t have been all bad,’ interjected Harry playfully, Aberforth collecting himself before speaking.
‘No, no. It wasn’t. Albus and I just fought more than got on. See, my mother was never the involved type. She always seemed to have her own agenda and left us to our own more often than not.’ Harry playfully thought to himself that this trait from Kendra Dumbledore had undoubtedly been passed down to her two sons in a much grander form. ‘Except for Ariana – my mother always made sure she was taken care of until her... her...’ Aberforth trailed off, Harry looking away as to respect Aberforth’s thoughts of his dead sister; Harry knew that Aberforth felt partially responsible for his sister’s accidental, untimely death. It was something that he knew Albus Dumbledore had regretted greatly as well, the experience all but destroying what was left of Albus’ and Aberforth’s brotherly relationship.
‘Albus became the unofficial head of the family,’ Aberforth continued gruffly after a moment. ‘So naturally you can see my predicament; father in Azkaban, mother emotionally distant and my brother who I did not get along with.’
‘How was he then?’ asked Harry curiously. It was not every day that Harry could be enlightened of Albus Dumbledore’s character by someone who knew him personally.
‘He wasn’t all that bad, now that I look back on it. Still, even now I would bet that we wouldn’t be the best of friends. He was stubborn and so am I – a nasty combination. He had an unnatural thirst for power back in those days. But he was brilliant. I guess all geniuses have to be a little insane, don’t they? Now as far as being the head of the family? He was firm and I detested him because of it. I hated how he thought he had some paternal power over me and I rebelled on more than one occasion. But deep down inside I knew he was to be respected... he was right, more often than not. He tried so hard to keep what was left of our family in line that half the time I felt he was actually our patronizing father using Polyjuice Potion. The best way to describe him is that he made you feel kind of like a kite floating up in the sky. He let you go ahead and you would do your thing, oblivious to the fact that even though he could be far away, he still kept his eye firmly focused on you. And then when you’re finished, at the end of the day, he makes sure to pull you in by the string, never allowing you to get out of his sight. But now I realize... at least you’ve had the enjoyment of the wind.’
Harry observed Aberforth who had nearly finished his glass of amber liquid. He was fairly certain that the illuminating glow of the fire was not the source that made his eyes appear wet. He could see Aberforth’s tongue groping around his lower lip as he breathed heavily, draining the last of his glass and setting it down softly on the coffee table.
‘I’ve got so much regret Harry. So many things that I wish I could take back. I look at you and I see someone who never had the opportunity to have a life with his family. But I did. And I put it all to waste without even realizing what I was doing. I know some of it was out of my control, but it’s not like I did anything to stop any of the terrible things from happening. That’s why when I tell you that I sincerely know how you feel about everything that has gone on in your life... all of it... know now that I mean it.’
Aberforth looked at Harry fondly for a moment. Harry could feel that Aberforth had just told him things that he probably had not spoken of in years and the weight of this made Harry feel a sense of honor. He felt thick for doing nothing except smile meekly and nod his head. As much as he tried to form the words in his brain, nothing came to mind that could properly verbalize how much he appreciated Aberforth for telling him what he did. Silently, Aberforth rose, winked at Harry and turned to leave the room, Harry trying to think of something to say that would stop him. Once Aberforth had nearly reached the kitchen, Harry abandoned all tact and said the only thing that came to mind.
Aberforth turned on the spot, looking at Harry from across the living room. He tilted his head slightly, the fire illuminating his face.
‘I’d like... to tell you what’s on my mind. If... er... if you’d like to hear.’ Aberforth paused, smiled and responded delicately.
‘Gladly,’ replied Aberforth who glided across the room, resuming his seat across from Harry.
A couple of minutes in to Harry’s speech, Harry felt as if these types of conversations had been a routine, recurring occurrence with Aberforth over the years. He told Aberforth about the suspicions he had about Mosteban; the two times he had heard Mosteban speaking to someone through the fireplaces, what Fudge and Mosteban had talked about and the curious hole that he had found behind the portrait in the Minister’s hallway. They talked at length about the missing Flamel and he even told Aberforth about the mysterious letters and memories that he was being sent anonymously. To his surprise, Aberforth did not react like someone from the Order, but more like Ron and Hermione had. Harry could see the curiosity and the hope for finding out more in Aberforth’s eyes; eyes that all of a sudden did not appear to be quite so cold and grey anymore.
Harry was just finishing his retelling of events to Ron when they began to ascend the steps, keen on getting to bed after the tiring Order meeting. Ron had initially seemed hesitant to accept Harry’s divulgence to Aberforth, but after Harry assured him that Aberforth would not tell anybody, he warmed to the situation. Ron yawned, rubbing his eyes as they began to walk up the steps of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place.
‘As long as you’re sure, then I’m sure,’ he managed.
A few moments later, they had reached the landing. Harry could not help but pause and look at the door of Hermione and Ginny’s room that innocently stood ajar by a few inches. Apparently, Ron had noticed Harry’s brief stare.
‘Are you two alright mate?’ he asked tiredly. ‘Ginny mentioned something about you being sorta... off... or something.’
‘We’re fine,’ replied Harry quickly and a little too strongly than what he would have liked. Ron eyed Harry half-suspiciously, a few moments passing without either of them speaking. ‘Feels weird without either of them here,’ continued Harry who smartly changed the subject as he looked towards the propped open door.
‘Yeah. I’ve been thinking... how lucky were we... finding Hermione like we did,’ Ron whispered, looking directly at Harry, wide-eyed. ‘Healers told me earlier today that if we had been only minutes later, the situation could have been a lot more serious.’
‘Let’s be thankful that we found her when we did. Did they say when she might be able to return home?’
‘Couple days. Healers want to do a couple more tests, but she’s doing much better now. Skin’s almost back to normal complexion and color now. No serious internal damage done either. That would have taken days to repair – very specific potion for that sort of damage that’s not available on call.’ Harry considered his friend for a second, shaking his head in anger.
‘We’ve got to find him Ron. We’ve got to stop these Death Eaters before it gets any worse.’
Harry began to walk towards Ron, proceeding to the end of the landing where their bedroom was situated. Ron yawned again which prompted Harry to do the same.
‘How could he have just disappeared like that? It’s impossible. Tell me again what you saw,’ said Ron, tugging at his hair in confusion.
‘Well... he jinxed me... and when I got back on my feet, the portraits were smashed and Rabastan was nowhere to be found.’
‘Indeed, it was most peculiar. Most troubling...’ said a voice from the left of Harry as he crossed the threshold of his room. Harry placed his hand on the door frame in order to stop his forward momentum, quickly looking back at Percival the Pompous’ portrait.
‘How would you know?’ asked Harry quickly.
‘Ignorant lad...’ said Percival while rolling his eyes. ‘Just because I am a portrait my dear boy does not mean I am an idiot.’
‘No, I mean... How do you know what happened?’ Percival looked confused for a moment while Ron stood behind Harry, squinting his eyes in his own tired curiosity.
‘Mmph,’ retorted Percval, sticking his nose up in the air arrogantly. ‘I was there, boy...’
‘There? What do you mean there?’ asked Harry quickly. The lethargic portrait was seriously frustrating Harry whose interest had risen at Percival’s words.
‘I was visiting my old friend Mrs. Babbitch whilst the attack at the Ministry occurred,’ replied Percival slowly. ‘That bloke of a man rapidly shot curse after curse at all the portraits – I was nearly hit!’
‘Did you see him go?’ pressed Harry. Percival seemed utterly perplexed by Harry’s questions.
‘Well, no... I was fearing for my life, you know,’ he responded scathingly. ‘No... one minute he was there and the next... he disappeared. He was focused on one portrait though. Three down from Mrs. Babbitch’s. I did not stay around, but quickly came back here... it was a terrible, terrible experience... one for the ages.’
‘You’re sure he didn’t go anywhere else? You’re positive he stayed on that Level?’
‘Would I be saying this if I wasn’t sure... I am not a liar you ill-mannered ingrate, you!’ Harry turned to Ron, not caring to hear any more of Percival’s over exaggerated insults of him.
‘So if he didn’t go anywhere else, that must mean that –’
‘He somehow exited the Ministry through Level One... the Minister’s hallway...’ finished Ron. Like Harry’s, his mind was racing, wondering what the proper explanation was.
‘Do you think it could have anything to do with that passageway I found behind the portrait frame?’ wondered Harry out loud as Percival continued to insult the pair of them. Ron raised his eyebrows in wonder as the two slowly made their way in to their room. However, once again they were stopped by Percival.
‘Oh there’s one more thing,’ he began slowly, taking delight in Harry and Ron’s suspicions.
‘What is it?’ asked Harry tiredly, his mind focused on what he had just learned.
‘That man... Auror I reckon. Dark hair, dark cloak... man of importance, I believe...’
‘That’s Mosteban – what about him?’ asked Ron.
‘Well... he has taken an unusual fondness for Level One... in all my visits down to Mrs. Babbitch’s, I’ve seen that man simply staring at the portraits. From a couple portraits over – the men at the round table, bless their destroyed souls – the occupants had previously told me he’s been talking to himself, evidently unaware that we portraits can, in fact, hear... ignorant human wretch. From what I’ve heard, he’s been babbling on about sneaking in and out of the Ministry. Does that seem at all out of place to either one of you?’
Neither Harry nor Ron could respond to Percival’s question. It was nearing three in the morning by the time Harry and Ron had fallen asleep that night, remembering back to all the times that Mosteban had not been in the Auror Department. It was Harry who remembered Bumburny’s confusion after Mosteban claimed he had a meeting with Fudge in the Minister’s office right before the Atrium attack earlier that year. Even when Harry fell asleep, his mind did not stop thinking of what Percival had said, his case against Mosteban seemingly growing in his mind with every passing second.
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