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Chapter 69 : A Glamourous Day in Diagon Alley
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A/N: Read, Review, Enjoy!
Ron could see that Dudley Dursley was nervous to be left alone with him and the rest of the teens. But Harry and his aunt had sealed themselves away in the parlor and so Molly had suggested they take the boy upstairs to entertain him. Looking over at Hermione, Ron could see that she too was enjoying the fact that Dudley was so uncomfortable... they both knew how cruel he had been to Harry when the two were growing up and didn't hold pleasant thoughts towards him for it. “So... now you're in our world, Dudders.” He said slyly as the other boy jumped.
“You can't do anything to me.” He said with false bravery, his voice wavering with the fear he really felt. “You're parents-”
“They wouldn't care as long as we change you back.” Hermione joined in the teasing as she harmlessly waved her wand at Dudley.
“B-back from what?” He stammered out as he winced in anticipation.
“A big ugly toad!” Fred laughed as he too started playfully pointing his wand.
Ron stepped toward Dudley with an evil grin. “No, I've got it- a slimy slug!”
“You can't!” He yelled in protest.
“Sure we can.” Draco picked up a piece of candy from Ron's desk and threw it on the floor at Dudley's feet before waving his wand with a flourish, transfiguring it into a scorpion. They all laughed as the boy jumped back in surprise after uttering a loud shriek.
“You're so jumpy.” Hermione admonished with a snicker as she used her wand to end Draco's enchantment before it actually became dangerous and stung someone.
Someone came knocking at Ron's door and before any of them could move, Dudley rushed over and threw it open to revel Moody. “They're going to use their magic on me!” He cried upon seeing an adult.
Unfortunately for him, it was the wrong adult. “What do I care? They know better than to hurt you too badly.” Moody looked past him to Ron and Jacey. “I need a moment with you two out in the hall.”
Ignoring the curious looks from the others, they walked out with him. “You have the files.” Jacey said as soon as they were alone. It wasn't a question, she clearly knew the Auror had been successful on their behalf.
“I have.” He opened his coat and dug into a rather large inner pocket, producing a single sheet of long parchment. “I copied everything there was on Vincent Riley... there wasn't much as this isn't his country of origin.”
“He is from Greece, no?” She scanned through the paper to confirm her suspicion.
“Yes. The ministry in Athens would have more.” Moody declared. “Remember, if you use this information to get yourselves in trouble, I will tell Arthur everything.”
“No need. We just want to talk to the guy.” Ron assured him, resisting the urge to cross his fingers behind his back... with that magical eye, Moody would know.
Shooting them a skeptical look, he turned and went back downstairs.
“He is right, there is not much here.” Jacey said as she handed him the paper. “All this tells us is where he was in the past... we need to know where he is right now.”
“Well, the third coven member you guys all want to find is Miles right? He's in Greece and so maybe we can find a way into the ministry while we're there.” Ron suggested.
She quickly shook her head. “No, it will be dangerous enough for me alone to reenter the country... with Harry, Luna and the others with us, provoking the Death Eaters running the ministry is nearly suicidal.”
“Well, then I guess it's down to my plan then.” He said nervously. With second thoughts came the realization that maybe following Lupin wasn't the best idea.
“Obviously not tonight... Lupin may need to be there for Harry when he is done speaking to his aunt.” Jacey replied, proving she was capable of empathy and compassion... at least for those she cared for.
“I'll give him the letter tomorrow.” Doubts or not there was no turning back, he had to see Parvati in order to move beyond so many things holding him in place, including his anger with his friends, Jacey and himself. “Come on, let's go back in and have some more fun with Dudley.” He suggested, wanting something else to think about.
“And you admonish me.” She grinned. “I want to avenge what the vampires did to my village and my family the same way you wish to avenge the way Harry's cousin treated him all those years.”
“Yeah, only Dudders isn't going to wind up dead due to our vengeance... but I never said those vampires didn't deserve it.” He argued, cutting off her objection. “I was simply worried you had gotten yourself involved in a vendetta that in the end, won't make you feel any better and could possibly only make you feel worse.”
“We shall see. I do appreciate your concern though.” She said quietly as she leaned in to kiss his cheek. Then with a coy smile, she walked past him and back into his room where he could hear the others laughing and taunting. Dudley Dursley was a bully and he'd been incredibly horrible to his own cousin for most of their lives. But was bullying him in return the answer? It really wasn't any different than Jacey wanting to get back at those vampires except for the stakes to the heart. It was too large a question to ponder and it was impossible for him to muster any real sympathy for the other boy, and besides... they were all so wound up and upset, they needed a target to unleash on before they wound up turning on each other as they had in previously tense times. So rather than delve into the moral headache of whether it was okay to bully a bully, he shrugged and went back into his room eager to see if they could get Dudley to cry.
Harry waited until Petunia settled before seating himself on the chair across from her. They stared angrily at each other for a moment... he had so much to ask, so much he wanted to say to her that it was all jumbled in his head and he didn't know where to begin. “Well?” She prompted impatiently.
“Did you hate Lily because you knew you were a squib?” He blurted, a bit surprised that question had been his first.
She rolled her eyes and scoffed. “I had many reasons to dislike my sister. The fact that I was spared of this “magic” gene is something I prided myself on. It's certainly brought nothing but trouble for my parents, my sister and you.”
“So you remember life with your parents before Lily was born... you know, before you became the Evans family?”
“I was seven, of course I remember.” She sneered. “They were Richard and Ruby and I was Opal Adler. That is until my parents silly hobby finally got them in enough trouble that they had to assume new identities... they became Harold and Rose Evans and I became Petunia.”
“What hobby got them in trouble?” He asked anxiously.
She uttered a laugh of contempt and lounged back in her chair. “Well, they called it a career. They were historians... they liked to travel the world looking for artifacts from ancient magic freaks and bring them back to sell to magical museums or that silly ministry.”
Harry felt his throat tighten with anticipation. “What kinds of artifacts?”
“All kinds of ridiculous things.” She waved her hand dismissively. “It wasn't until they found that stupid crystal dagger that they really became serious about it.”
“DaLydia's dagger?” He pressed.
Petunia eyed him warily. “So you know about that do you? Well my mother was convinced it was made by our ancestors and that it held some kind of special powers. I held the thing and it was nothing more than a pretty rock carved into the shape of a dagger.” She shook her head and glared at the floor. “I don't know what she expected to happen, but when it didn't, my mother took that stupid rock back and the disappointment in her eyes... to this day I remember it. It's when she realized I wasn't going to be a witch like her...”
Harry pushed all that aside to focus on the issue at hand. “What got them to the point where they had to pretend to be muggles?”
“I don't know... some scrolls or something.” She was growing impatient again, tired of having to relive all the things she'd worked so hard to forget.
“Tell me everything you know about their search for those scrolls and that will be all for tonight.” He promised.
“For tonight?” She smirked. “You do like having this power over me, don't you.”
“Why not?” He returned, unable to stop himself from being goaded. “You sure liked it when the situation was reversed. The only difference was that I was a baby when I showed up on your doorstep needing safety and having nowhere else to go... I had no choice but to put myself in your power because I didn't know the truth until ten years after and in the meantime I had to live by your rules and disciplines without being able to leave. You are in a much different position today... if you don't like the terms of our agreement, you are free to go and take Dudley with you.”
“I didn't have a choice back then either.” Petunia clarified, her eyes softening as she looked at him... it was the first time she'd ever looked at him with anything other than contempt.“That Mr. Dumbledore, he and his friends made sure I took you in... As surely as I was certain my children would be like me, I was positive you were going to turn out like Lily... until she died, she always got what she wanted and she wanted a child that would follow in her footsteps. I was worried and had to hide it from Vernon which was one more thing to cause trouble between us as he was already furious that I insisted we keep you. I already had Dudley to care for, another baby in the house was overwhelming. For all that and more, I began to resent you. Then the closer you got to the age where they'd come back for you, the more scared I was that I would have to tell Vernon everything. I hoped that punishing you for the things you were able to start doing would make it stop... I thought if you didn't want it to happen then it wouldn't. You may only remember a few incidents when you were ten, but up until you were three you showed signs... things floating in the air around you, things flying across the room when you were upset, things just disappearing altogether. But I kept punishing you and then it stopped, and it made me think I had been right and you could choose not to have these abilities. When the signs reemerged a few years later... I figured punishing you would work again but I was proven wrong. So I am sorry that I took my anger with my sister and grief over her death out on you, I'm sorry that neither of us was given a choice as to where you were raised and I'm sorry that I didn't insist that Mr. Dumbledore take you somewhere else that night.”
“Why didn't you?” He asked angrily. “Why did you let your fear of them overcome your desire to be free of this world?”
“I'm not a horrible person!” She cried out, leaping to her feet. “I may not have liked my sister but I loved her! You were her only child, they told me you had seen her die and they promised that if you were a wizard that they'd come back for you quietly and not disrupt my life any more than they already had. But then Vernon saw that first letter and I had to explain... afterward, he kept refusing the letters and owls and everything was so stressful... I regretted letting those people talk me into keeping you. If only you had been normal-”
“I am normal!” He interrupted as he also rose to his feet, determined to never again cower before her or anyone else. “You're the freak! You're the one who doesn't fit in anywhere! Not really a witch but not really a muggle either, are you?! And if anyone in either world knew, you'd be shunned by both! I fit in here, I'm where I belong and you and your family were simply what I had to suffer through until I could find my way here! I saved your lives during the summer and could have lost mine and Luna's in the process. With that and the help I'm giving you now, any debt I may have to you for providing whatever care you gave during those years we were stuck with each other is repaid in full! After you leave here to start a new life, I never want to see you again!”
“I agree wholeheartedly!” She shouted back at him before managing to calm herself. “To look at you is to be reminded of my sister, my parents, the life I had made that was lost when you entered the picture and yes, even my regret at my treatment of you and it's more than I care to deal with.”
Harry sat back down and waited for her to do so as well before speaking. “Then we have an understanding. You are someone I'd like to forget as well and I assure you, we'll be working quickly to get you out.
“The sooner the better.” She agreed. “Going to that ministry wasn't exactly my first choice.”
“Alright then.” He leaned forward and stared at her. “Tell me everything you know about your parents and the scrolls.”
“So they're really all going to work?” Draco asked as he inspected the row of amulets Hermione and Fred had laid out for him to see.
Molly had come to check on them all and Dudley had begged to be taken to his own room where he could go to bed and thus ended their somewhat twisted fun in showing him how bad it felt to be picked on. Despite the lecture Molly had given them for scaring Harry's cousin, Hermione knew they all felt it was worth it and only wished Harry had been there to see and participate in something that had felt so vindicating... Now that a little time had passed and Harry still hadn't come upstairs, she couldn't help but wonder if he was okay downstairs dealing with his aunt. He's fine. Luna assured her as Fred handed over her own amulet.
“They shouldn't work any differently than yours.” Fred told Draco. “You and Harry wanted us each to have one and so here they are.”
“Thank you.” Draco replied with an actual smile. “This makes me feel a lot better.”
“Well, life's all about making you happy.” Fred teased.
Ron, Jacey, Ginny and Luna all grabbed their amulets and with Draco left the room. “Alone at last.” Fred quipped as she turned to him.
“That we are.” She said coyly. With Luna's earlier assurance, Hermione was able to push aside her concern for Harry and whatever emotional turmoil he may be going through to focus on Fred and the fact that only a few hours earlier she had admitted that she loved him. She had said it because she felt it, and after having time to think on it... she wasn't sorry. She was in love with Fred as much as she could be at this point and she was certain that the more they knew each other she would only fall deeper. Maybe it wasn't right to announce that you love someone so quickly, but there was no way to know how much time they had and if Fred, Harry and this whole war had taught her anything it was the importance of living in the moment. She walked up to him and threw her arms around his neck, pulling his face down to hers and capturing his lips.
“Well, that was just wonderful.” He grinned before kissing her again. “No regrets then?”
“I have quite a few... but you are not among them.” She laughed.
He smiled even wider. “Right back at you.” Hermione squealed in delight as he lifted her off her feet and carried her over to his bed. They collapsed in a heap together and he immediately kissed her, but she pushed him away and sat up in concern... she had felt him wince right before they landed.
“Is your leg okay?” She demanded, reaching out to see if she could feel anything wrong.
He pulled away and sat up. “It's fine... I guess I just needed a double dose of the herbs Drake left me.” Fred reached into his pocket and quickly swallowed down another capsule despite having taken one in Harry's room an hour earlier. Then he turned to her with a teasing smile. “Have no fear, you haven't put on any extra weight since being exposed to my mum's cooking so picking you up isn't likely to break any bones.”
He reached out to poke her sides and she couldn't help but laugh... but she resisted his desire to forget his injury and scrambled away. “Be that as it may, you do have to be more careful.” She lightly scolded. “We both have to remember that until we can get to Gabby, you can't do the things you used to.”
“Not while standing anyway.” He grinned, grabbing her arm and pulling her back toward him. She resisted a little for the fun of it before letting herself fall beneath him.
“Okay, we won't talk about it anymore tonight... as long as you know that I know you aren't as okay as you pretend to be.”
“Whatever you say.” He agreed, his grin widening as he leaned down to kiss her and officially end the conversation. Turning off her thoughts completely, Hermione continued to give into the moment and focused only on Fred and the pleasure of her time spent with him. There would be plenty of time to address their worries, but tonight was about the celebration of reaching a new level of intimacy in their relationship. “I love you.” Fred murmured as he nuzzled her cheek, proving that his mind was exactly where her's was.
“I love you too.” She said with ease before crushing her lips to his and letting the night lead them where it would.
Petunia looked down at her hands and shook her head. “I don't know much about the scrolls... Mother had said that they were important documents that had been stolen and the she and dad were tasked with retrieving them.”
“Tasked by who?” Harry asked, eagerly sitting forward in his seat.
“A Mrs. August from the ministry. She came to our house only once and that was to take possession of the scrolls once mum and dad had them.”
“Go on.” He urged.
“It's not like they told their seven-year-old everything they did.” She snapped. The she sighed and sat up stiffly, realizing that to cooperate was the only way for this to end well for her and her son. “I think there was a man who guarded the scrolls... he was murdered I guess and some evil fellow got his hands on the scrolls to use in his cult or whatever he was a part of. Mum and dad had to join the group but they hated it and most of the people in it. Then there was a young lad named Tom Riddle who came around once the evil man had the scrolls... I remember him because the one time he came to our house the very sight of him sent shivers down my spine even though he was very handsome... couldn't have been more than ten himself. He asked my parents if I was a... a squib as you put it... and they told him to mind his own business.”
“You're telling me that Tom Riddle, the future Lord Voldemort who has started this whole war and the last one, the man who killed my parents... he was actually a guest in my grandparents home?” Harry was furious and he found the irony loathsome.
Petunia seemed completely shocked as a range of emotion crossed her face. “Mr. Dumbledore told me that a man named Lord Voldemort was the one to take my sister's life... I had no idea he was the same boy from all those years ago. The least Mr. Dumbledore could've done was tell me the whole story.”
“For once, we agree completely.” He muttered. “Why was Tom ever in your house?”
“Because against mum and dad's will, it was determined that every member of the cult host a meeting in their home... Dad assumed it was to make sure everyone was properly incriminated. They only had them all over once and Tom showed up with one of the others.”
“Who?” He pressed.
She shook her head again. “I don't remember. His appearance alone was enough to rattle me and I spent the whole night in my room. Two weeks later mum and dad had the scrolls and Mrs. August came in the middle of the night to take us away. We spent months in hiding, learning to live without their magic and getting used to our new names. It was during that time that Lily was conceived. After she was born, we were all set up in a nice house in London as the Evans family and that was that.”
“How did they die?” He asked as suddenly as the question came to him.
“Richard and Ruby... Harold and Rose... how did they die?” He repeated steadily. “I know what you told me and Dudley, that grandpa died of a heart attack and grandma slipped and fell. It's not true, is it?”
Petunia took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “No, it's not true. I actually don't know how they died. After I met Vernon, I cut myself off from my family completely. Two weeks after we were married, someone from the ministry showed up to inform me that my parents had died. I didn't ask for any more information... I was so angry with them at the time that I didn't care how or why they were gone, the fact that they were... it was one more thing for me to be angry with them about. I regretted it a few months later but I didn't dare seek out anyone for answers. Lily was in her last year at that school and already ensconced in that world so I figured she could deal with it and I was better off letting it all go. Then years later when you and Dudley began asking about them... I had to tell you both something. So I made up those lies because they were normal ways for normal people to die. It's the same reason I lied to you about how Lily and James died... I just wanted everything to be normal. Maybe you deserved to know the truth about your parents, but I just couldn't be the one to tell you while you were living in our home and could possibly react badly. I am sorry that you lost them, no matter how I felt about them, a child should know their parents.”
Silence hung in the air between them for several minutes as they both thought about what she'd said. Harry wondered briefly whether to tell her that he had gotten to meet his parents but just as quickly dismissed the idea... he didn't want to share Lily with Petunia. At last he broke the silence, wanting to be rid of her and with people he actually cared for. “Thank you.” He quietly told her as he rose to his feet. “I'll show you to your room.”
“Thank you.” She returned, mirroring his stiff civility.
He led the way up the stairs to second floor and down the hall to the last room on the left. Before he could completely open the door for her, Dudley yanked it open to reveal a very small room with a pair of tiny twin size beds and not much else. Apparently, the house didn't feel the need to give them the same comforts as other guests.
“Mum!” Dudley cried, throwing his arms around Petunia and narrowing his eyes in fear as he looked at his cousin. “His friends threatened to curse me!” He accused, though he was probably telling the truth which forced Harry to hide his smile of amusement.
“Not now Dudders.” She tiredly told him,patting him on the back before heading into the room. “I'm sure Harry will talk to his friends and make sure they don't actually use their wands on you.”
“Sure I will.” He turned so they couldn't see him roll his eyes. “Goodnight.” He called as he made his way down the hall. He heard the door close on Dudley's whining... it seemed for Petunia that the heavier her concerns became, the less patience she had for coddling her son.
Harry stopped outside Lupin's door... he could sense that Tonks wasn't in there, perhaps she was called into the office for a late night. Either way, he was glad for a chance to talk alone and knocked on the door. Lupin opened it up and happily invited him in. “So? How did it go?” He asked, producing chairs for them both.
“I'm not sure...” He said hesitantly before breaking down and just telling him everything from his discovery of Richard and Ruby's names to what Henry Macnair, Juniper Lovegood and Aunt Petunia had revealed of his grandparents. “I just wish I could go back in time and warn them of the damage that young Tom Riddle was going to unleash on their family.”
“So they could what? Kill a young boy who's destiny could have still been changed?” Lupin asked gently.
“If it meant the certainty that their daughter wouldn't be murdered in front of their grandson? If it meant their grandson hadn't had to give up years of his life to fight an older Lord Voldemort? I would've.” He shot back crossly, upset that Lupin seemed to somehow be taking Voldemort's side.
“And maybe you would... but you have been through enough with the man to make that feeling justified. He has made it very clear that he intends to end you and no one will shed a tear for him if you get him first. But your grandparents... this evil only started towards the ends of their lives it seems, they wouldn't have had the same conviction to believe you. We can't change the past and the fact that one man has seemed to haunt three generations of your family... well, you know what Luna has to say about fate and destiny.”
“I know.” He sighed. “Juniper and Ruby... two coven descendents unknowingly working together to stop the Scrolls from being used, Jacey's grandfather taking it upon himself to trace all the coven descendents and more stories of the same I'm sure once we get to know the others... I'm beginning to think that things have been aligning for awhile to bring us to where we are now. But...” He hesitated, unsure if speaking his fear aloud would make it true in the end. But Lupin was nodding encouragingly and Harry wanted someone else's opinion on the matter. “Aunt Petunia didn't know how her parents died... what if Tom knew they stole the Scrolls? What if he killed them just like he killed Lily and James?”
He sat back in his chair and brought his hands together under his chin and he thought. “So what if he did? Is one more sin against you going to make a difference? Is it possible for you to hate him anymore than you already do?”
“I hadn't thought so.” He replied slowly.
Lupin nodded. “From the sound of it, Richard and Ruby Adler were archeologists not historians as your aunt claimed and considering they sold their finds to both the ministry and the magical museums, they must have had very well funded expeditions. I would suspect that they probably worked for the Department of Historical Artifact Preservation... it would also explain why Jennitha August was involved with them as she ran the Department of Mysteries at the time and those two departments usually work closely with each other. Records of the Adlers or Evans deaths would most certainly be kept in the ministry although as they were under protection, very few people would have access... someone like Tonks could easily shape her features to resemble one of these people and get this information.”
“I wouldn't want her to get in trouble.” Harry said with a slight smile, amused that all these years later Lupin was still finding ways to get around any form of authority.
“She's done it tons of times to get information for the Order.” He waved off the concern. “I understand that you need to know the truth and I know it's hard on you to continually find out secrets that were either deliberately or unintentionally kept from you. If Tonks and I can help you tie up these loose ends and find you some closure in any form, then I know that we're both more than happy to try. But you need to know... whatever you find out, it will change absolutely nothing outside your own mind. You will still be in the same place, only better informed. If it turns out that Tom, Voldemort- whatever you want to call him- if he killed your grandparents too, it'll be no reason to grow carelessly vengeful because it could only get you or someone else you care about injured. Now is the time to think, plan, and find our best path to victory. You believe it is with this coven and I'm willing to take you at your word, but to go out on your own-”
Harry held up a hand to cut him off. “I won't.” He promised. “You're right, I really do believe the coven is going to be the thing to eventually end all of this.”
Lupin nodded. “Let us hope. Grief is hard to overcome and you've never really been given the chance to live without it. I know personally that grief can make us do some dangerous and stupid things even if we know better.”
“We're too close to leaving... I promise, I won't ruin anything. I just need to know what crimes to attribute to Voldemort when the day comes that I do face him.”
“Okay, then I promise for both Tonks and myself that we'll do everything we can to find answers for you... as long as you don't go looking for them yourself.” He said with a knowing grin. “I'm aware of how you can get impatient, but Arthur really couldn't deal with the trouble that would come from you being in the ministry right now... especially with Nerezza in the same building.”
“I'll consider myself warned.” Harry returned the grin as they both stood. “Thank you for... well, just for being here.” He blurted out and caught up in the emotion of the moment, he stepped forward and warmly hugged Lupin.
“As long as I'm able, I will be here when you need me.” He assured him, tightly hugging him back. Then he pulled away and grabbed Harry's shoulders to look him in the eye. “I'm sorry I couldn't be there for you after your parents were taken from you, I wanted to but they wouldn't let me because of what I was and the fact that Dumbledore knew you were safer with a blood relative even if she was a squib... and a horrid woman.”
“You don't have anything to make up for.” He didn't want to feel like a regret for which Lupin had to atone.
“I know.” He smiled. “You were James and Lily's son, but you belonged to me and Sirius too. We all love you and we all want you to have the best life you can. If you have to fight for your right to that better life, then I want to do anything I can to make it easier for you. I just wanted you to know that you weren't left with your Aunt because you weren't wanted elsewhere. Had Sirius been free to pursue his rights as your godfather, we would have worked together to raise you as our own and we would have kept your parents memory alive for you. But in the end, Albus was right... you wouldn't have been safe with us. It was only recently that werewolves gained any sort of acceptance at all and so you would have had to deal with a life constantly on the move to avoid persecution. And Sirius, despite his desire to be a better person, was always scheming up trouble to keep himself amused. There's no way we would have been able to keep a low profile and you would have been found years before you were ready to defend yourself. You are who you are now because of the life you had, good experiences and bad, and who you are now is someone I am extremely proud of and who I believe in with everything I have. I'm honored that I have the chance to be part of your life even if it is years later than I would have liked. You... you and to my surprise Draco, you boys have become the sons I never had. He may need me more right now, but know that I need you always. You are James and Lily and Sirius, you are my past and everyone's future... you are you and I couldn't make it without Harry Potter.”
It was the perfect balance to the disinterested lack of affection his aunt had brought down on him when they'd admitted that they never wanted to see each other again... He knew he was wanted here in the present, everyone wanted him for one reason or another including his enemies. But to hear that Lupin had tried back then and that Sirius would have fought for him had he not been wrongly accused of murder... to learn that if given the choice, they would have happily cared for him... Of course it was something he'd always assumed after briefly touching on the subject while talking with Sirius years ago and seeing Lupin's actions continually prove his devotion, but it wasn't something he really thought about. Being told flat out that it was all true, it was uplifting to hear.
“I love you Remus.” He said quietly. “You and Arthur have become the father I didn't get the chance to have, but you... you're my link to the past too. You are my James, Lily and Sirius and if I could have chosen between the safe horror of the Dursleys or the reckless endangerment of being with you, I would have gladly taken the risk of being found.”
“I know you would have. Which is why even had you been old enough to be consulted, your preference wouldn't have been taken into consideration... just like mine wasn't. Sometimes, caring about someone isn't enough to keep them safe. And just look at you now, kept alive and preparing to save us all.” He let go of Harry's shoulders and shook his head sadly. “Unfortunately, it was more important that you survive than be happy. But today, this moment, you are on the road to achieving both for yourself and I won't let anyone stand in your way. Whatever feelings from the past your aunt has brought with her, whatever you may learn about your family, wherever you go in this world... it doesn't matter, I will be there.”
“I'll be there for you too.” He promised, once more feeling the surge of emotion in his stomach only this time is was of the more pleasant variety.
“As evidenced by you taking in me and Tonks now that I'm unemployed and we can no longer pay the rent on our flat.” Lupin grinned.
“You don't have to come with me you know... you can stay here with her.” He offered, having always wanted nothing more than for Lupin to be happy.
“Tonks and I have discussed it and we've both agreed that I should go... and if it were anyone else but Arthur as minister, she would quit her job to come with us as well.” He laughed as he recalled the conversation with his wife. “But she is needed here and while I may not be entirely needed on your journey-”
“You are certainly wanted.” Harry interrupted. “I'm glad you decided to come with us.”
“Alright then. I suppose there is nothing left to say tonight.” He grinned again.
“Thanks for talking to me... I needed it after talking to Aunt Petunia.”
Lupin nodded. “Lily used to tell us about her sister... she regretted that they weren't close, but from the stories she told, Petunia had always pretty much been the same person. She must have been pretty desperate to come here for help.”
“And now that I have all the answers I could ever want from her, I am desperate to have her gone.” He muttered.
“Trust me, Arthur went off to contact Albus as soon as you disappeared into the parlor. We all know how much of a strain on your sense of duty it is to have her here and we'd rather get rid of her quickly for you.”
Harry thanked him again and left the room feeling lighter but just as drained as when he'd left his aunt. He dragged his feet up the stairs to his room. He'd experienced almost every emotion possible in the last few hours and it had exhausted him, leaving nothing but the desire to sleep it all away until morning when he'd be able to think clearly. He opened his door and found Luna sitting up in his bed and already putting aside the book she'd been reading. “Ron left his door open so I went through the bookcases.” She smiled softly as she explained her presence.
“I don't care, I'm just glad you're here.” He sighed, climbing in next to her and settling under the covers. She turned out the light and lay down, allowing him to rest his head on her shoulder as she held him. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close, burying his face in her neck and breathing in her sweetly comforting scent. He knew he didn't have to tell her anything, that she would see it all in his tired mind and understand that he didn't want to talk anymore tonight.
“Goodnight Harry.” Her voice was low and soothing as she rested her head against his. He sighed again in complete contentment. No matter what happened to him during the day, having Luna waiting to embrace him each night was just the thing to keep him going... she was that place where he could always find his sanity. Closing his eyes, he felt their breathing fall in sync as they both relaxed and the tensions of the day evaporated. He hadn't thought he'd be able to sleep, that his mind would race until morning... but he knew she was using that other power she had to influence how people felt and he didn't fight it, letting the peaceful aura she wove envelop them and leaving all his worries to tomorrow.
It had only taken two days for Arthur and Dumbledore to find a new life for Harry's relatives and Jacey could not have been happier about it. She had her own stress to deal with and through her link to Harry, she had been nearly crippled under the added weight of his as he dealt with the proximity of two people he had no idea how to feel about. As soon as Petunia and Dudley's minds had been obliviated of the information regarding Harry's location, they had been sent off to who knew where and it was good riddance as far as everyone in the house was concerned. Harry had instantly relaxed though only she and Luna had known just how tense he had been.... but he had not wanted to discuss it and they had both respected his wishes, simply being there to help him bear the brunt of his uncertain emotions.
Now that the Dursleys were gone, it was time for her to focus on herself again. She was waiting for Ron to return from having given Lupin the letter and as soon as she heard him knock on the door, she jumped up to let him in. “Well?” She asked anxiously.
Ron shrugged. “He said he'd do his best to get it out as soon as possible but it could be a few days. You're going to have to monitor his thoughts to see when he plans to go.”
“Well, we had already figured as much. The only problem is that he is very used to shielding his mind and I can not exactly ask Harry and Luna to help me get past his defenses without some kind of explanation.” She sat down at her desk feeling irritated.
“So... why don't you tell them?” He asked, trying to sound easy and casual. “I mean, we both know they would understand your past... maybe Harry more than Luna, but still, neither one of them would turn their backs on you for anything you've done.”
“Be that as it may, I am not ready to tell them.” Jacey replied stubbornly as she crossed her arms. “They are busy uncovering secrets of their families' pasts, they do not need to be burdened with the history of mine as well.”
“Okay fine. Then I guess you'll just have to try your best to get into Lupin's head and I'll do my best to spy on his actions without anyone noticing.” He clearly was not in the mood to fight with her. “Now that we're in London, who knows how long it could take for him to contact his connection... but we'll figure it out.”
“Yes we will.” She smiled to hide her unhappiness. She hated that she and Ron had to tread so carefully with each other to keep from arguing... she hated that the same man would bring them both to the closure they needed and she especially hated that if her closure involved killing Vincent, then Ron may look down on her for it. But she also hated that she understood why he would be disappointed... to kill Vincent now would not be the same as killing in the name of self-preservation in battle- it would be murder no matter how justified she felt in seeking his death. Maybe she could find a way to provoke the vampire into attacking her first... but would that make her any better of a person? Should she care? Ron was the only reason she was having second thoughts at all... why was she concerned with bettering herself for him when he partially blamed her for the reason he felt so stuck in place? All of these were the same thoughts that had been swirling in her head for days.
“Are you okay?” Ron asked, his worry growing with her silence.
She simply smiled wider. “I am fine.” She lied, hoping that once this was behind them it would be true.
Ginny was wary when her father called all the teens into the parlor. She was even more suspicious when she saw Fred standing next to Arthur with a proud, goofy grin across his face. “So, who would like the chance to get out of the house for the day?” Arthur smiled happily at them all.
At once they all clambered to agree that they would love that opportunity. “How?” Harry asked with the excited curiosity they all felt.
“Well, you can thank Fred.” Arthur patted his son on the back. “He has created glamours for all of you.”
Ginny was excited, she knew her brother was exceptionally talented with potions but creating glamours was very difficult and few were able to do it. “And they work?” She couldn't help but ask.
“Of course they do... I tested each one on myself yesterday.” Fred replied indignantly.
“Wait, what are glamours?” Jacey asked. Having not been given the opportunity to attend school, Jacey had to learn a lot on her own and it wasn't surprising that she hadn't come across something like this before as few people were able to create successful ones.
Arthur opened his mouth to answer but as always, Hermione was faster. “They are illusions that give the wearer the appearance that they are someone else.” She quickly explained. “There are two ways to do this, one with with complicated wand work and the other with complicated potion making.”
“And I'm no wand master.” Fred grinned, picking up a tray holding several vials of his potion.
“I've made sure it's safe for you all to take.” Arthur assured them. “So, I suppose I can assume you all want to go?” They all happily agreed and so he went to arrange an escort, leaving them to drink down Fred's concoction. Ginny was happy that her father had seemed to recognize that even with the threat of danger, they all needed a chance to get out and have as normal a day as they could.
“You really didn't help him?” Ron asked Hermione as he stared doubtfully at the vial Fred handed him.
“I had no idea until he asked me to watch him test them all yesterday.” She took her vial and drank down the potion without hesitation to prove her faith in Fred's abilities. They all watched in amazement as Hermione seemed to become taller... her hair grew darker and longer, her facial features lengthened and her eyes shimmered from a rich brown to a dark, stormy blue. Within moments she looked years older and only slightly resembled herself if you knew what to look for. A passing glance made her seem to be someone else entirely. “Good, I was hoping to get this one... I like being tall.” She said in her own voice. Having seen one person survive with no side effects, they all drank from their vials until it seemed there were eight strangers standing in the parlor.
Ginny turned to Draco and laughed in surprise. His bright blonde hair was now a dark brown which seemed to soften all of his features. His eyes were a friendly shade of greenish-hazel and his face had rounded, becoming less sharp. He was still entirely attractive in a more friendly and less startling way... she found it unsettling. “Who would have thought I'd prefer you the way you normally look?” She quietly teased him.
“Am I that ghastly now?” He grinned but the smile wasn't his and didn't hold the same character that it had.
“I just don't like that you don't look like you.” She frowned.
“Right back at you.” He pointed behind her and she turned to see them both staring at themselves in the mirror on the wall. At first her brain refused to believe that she was seeing her own reflection... her hair had turned a rich brown and her eyes were now a deep chocolate color and set slightly further apart. Her face had thinned a bit, her nose was a little wider and all these small changes equaled a face she didn't recognize.
“Yeah, remind me not to look into any more mirrors until I'm me again.” She shuddered as Ron let out a frustrated groan.
“You gave me this one on purpose!” He accused Fred. Ginny covered her mouth to keep from laughing... Ron her youngest and yet tallest brother was now the shortest of them all, his hair grown out in shaggy, dark blond curls and his face much wider.
“Hey, at least you'll be sure no one will recognize you.” Fred snickered.
“Is the scar gone?” Harry asked, turning to Luna in concern. He'd purposely grown his hair longer to hide the lightning shaped scar that marked his destiny and gave away his identity to the entire wizarding world. Fred's potion had made Harry's hair become both lighter and shorter as well as change his bright green eyes to a neutral gray. But along with all the other small changes came the smooth, unscarred skin of his forehead.
“It's gone.” Luna assured him, her long golden locks now shorter and darker and her short stature lengthened a few inches.
Harry reached up to touch his face for himself and shook his head. “I still feel it.”
“Because glamours are only visual.” Fred explained. “They're better than Polyjuice because they last longer... but if someone else were to reach out and touch your head, they'd feel the scar too.”
Luna lightly traced the place they all knew the scar to be. “Yes, it's there... but really, we can't see it.” They all quickly nodded to reassure Harry that he would be almost unrecognizable out there.
“There are incantations that will end a glamour.” Fred reminded them all, his demeanor turning serious. “Just because we all look different now doesn't mean we don't still have to be completely aware of everything and everyone out there.”
“Right you are.” Arthur agreed as he reentered the parlor with Lupin and Tonks. Fred grabbed the last vial and walked over to hand it to Lupin who drank it down without question. Within moments he seemed to be someone else standing there in his clothes. Tonks smiled and simply used her own inherent abilities to change her appearance. “There will be several Aurors watching from afar for signs of trouble... but I am trusting all of you to be able to be cautious and prepared.” Arthur told them.
“We'll be careful.” Ginny promised for them all, not wanting her father to worry any more than necessary. .
He nodded. “Okay, the car is waiting outside... be careful.” He reminded them all one last time before apparating back to the ministry. They were in the car within moments and anxious to be on their way. Ginny felt bad knowing it was her fault they couldn't all just apparate there and couldn't wait until August when she would finally be seventeen and no longer holding her friends back. Tonks settled herself behind the wheel and everyone inside grabbed onto each other as she sped away from the curb.
In what seemed like no time at all, Tonks hastily parked in front of the Leaky Cauldron and without a word, they filed out of the car. As soon as they were all gathered in the alley out back, Kingsley appeared and handed small devices to each of them. “We hadn't expected that you would all want to stick together, that would make things too easy on us.” He joked. “Keep these devices within easy reach... should you get into trouble, push the button and our Auror force will show up immediately to assist you.”
“There will be a lot of us in Diagon Alley today to try and keep an eye on you guys. But do your best not to need us.” Tonks grinned. “And if you do get in trouble, don't try to handle it yourself, use the devices to call us.”
They all readily agreed to whatever was going to give them the most semblance of freedom. As soon as Lupin tapped the bricks and the entrance appeared, the teens eagerly rushed forward and split up. “So, where to?” Draco asked quietly, taking Ginny's hand and looking around nervously.
“Wherever we go, you have got to act more normally.” She teased him.
“I'm no more tense or on guard than anyone else here.” He pointed out.
Looking around, Ginny saw that everyone walking the street was looking around nervously, constantly glancing over their shoulders and altogether looking tiredly fearful. She realized that Diagon Alley didn't have the same atmosphere it had when she was younger and felt sadder for it. “Everyone's so scared.” She lamented.
“Can you blame them?” He answered distractedly as he stared down the street, his face angry.
Looking where he was, Ginny saw someone awfully familiar head into Knockturn Alley. “Was that Pansy?”
“Yes.” He answered with certainty. “She used to hate going down there, said it creeped her out which is why whenever I used to run into her, I would head straight to Knockturn Alley to avoid her.... I wonder what she's up to...”
“We can go find out.” She suggested. “We don't exactly look like ourselves.”
“We don't exactly look like people who belong there either.” Draco argued.
“Hey, it's all about attitude, right?” She grinned.
“Why must you always look for trouble when the opportunity presents itself?” He shook his head but she could see his slight smile.
“Come on, we're going to lose her.” She pulled on his hand to get him moving.
“Fine.” He agreed begrudgingly as his curiosity overwhelmed his common sense. “But remember, no matter what you see or who seems to need help, the rule in there is to mind your own business. Rushing in to anyone's rescue is a dead giveaway that you don't belong there.” He warned as they approached the entrance to the dark, narrow street full of crooked buildings and crooked people. She shivered involuntarily as she recalled her last trip here... it hadn't ended well. But before George was killed, she hadn't really focused on anyone else, too focused on her own friends to worry about what was around her. Now she could see all sorts of people, from the hideously awful to the impossibly beautiful, all merging together as they conducted their business deep in the shadows.
Gripping her hand tighter, Draco led the way in as he picked up on Pansy's scent. Ginny just hoped they weren't making a big mistake and reached into her pocket to reassure herself that she had the device Kingsley had given her... but she had another reason for following Pansy, even if she was just now realizing it... She wanted to find her way back to the place George had died though she couldn't explain why. Until that moment, she hadn't even had the opportunity to remember that it had been just over a year since he'd died. She may still be able to talk to him anytime she wanted, but visiting the last place he had breathed suddenly felt very important.
“Come on.” Luna pulled on Harry's hand, urging him to move faster. But despite the tense aura of danger around them, he was enjoying being able to be out in the world completely unrecognizable. He could for once leisurely stroll the streets without fear... with the glamour, he was just another young wizard walking around with his girlfriend.
He wrapped his arm around her shoulders, happy to be able to do so without worrying about who would see them.“Relax, we have a few hours to take care of whatever you're so insistent about.”
“I just want to be sure we get it.” She replied mysteriously. He was surprised when she pulled him into the bookstore and through the main stacks to the rare and collectable section in the back. She stood there uncertainly for a moment, her eyes becoming unfocused as she used her power to see which book it was that she wanted. At last she came out of her trance and walked straight down the aisle to the last shelf. “Here, this is what we need.” She pulled out a hardcover book that didn't appear that old or well-read.
She handed it over and he studied the words on the cover. Secret Risings of the Dark Society by J.H. “Really?” He couldn't believe it, could this truly contain the missing information they needed.
“It came to me as soon as Arthur mentioned coming here today.” She smiled. “I didn't want to say anything until I was sure the book would really be here.”
“J.H... Julian Heath?” He asked thoughtfully.
She shrugged. “I would assume... If Jennitha is his mother and she really was working to keep the Dark Society from rising, then he would certainly have inside details. It's worth reading at least.”
“Well sure, why else would you have seen it?” He grinned at her, reaching out to squeeze her shoulder. “Even if this stupid book does cost 500 galleons.”
They went up to the counter so he could buy it and Harry hid his amusement as the cashier studied him closely. He wondered if she would be more or less suspicious if he looked like himself. “This is an awfully strange book for someone like you to be buying.”
He sighed and rolled his eyes. “Tell me about it.” He said as if he were being entirely put upon. “I need it for this huge report I have due in History of Magic the minute I return to school... Just like Professor Binns to give so much homework over the holiday. And of course the book I need is the most expensive one here.”
This seemed to appease her and she rang him up. “It's expensive because it's one of only ten copies in the world.” She proudly told them as she took his money.
Luna reached out to take the bag for him and together the walked back out into the snowy sunshine. “So now what?” She smiled, wrapping her arm around his waist as they moved along the street.
He was about to suggest they get lunch when he caught a trace of Draco and Ginny. Turning, he was horrified to find that he was sensing their minds down Knockturn Alley. “What are they up to?” He asked aloud in concern.
Luna also peered down the dark twisted street. “They're following Pansy.”
She shrugged. “They decided to. I think they'll be okay. We can follow them if you want to, but I think Draco at least has a grasp on how dangerous it is for them to be there... And they'll probably learn something important.”
“Probably?” He questioned her choice of words with a teasing smirk.
“Well, I can't be sure something is going to happen unless it's shown to me... and even then I can't be sure.” She shrugged again as she smiled back. “It's okay that you don't want to go down there.” She added, having picked up on his discomfort.
“I can't believe Ginny would...” Harry shook his head to clear it of the memory of the day George died... it had been a year and a week since that terrible day and thanks to the chaos they were all dealing with now, the Weasley family had managed to make it through without letting the anniversary destroy any happiness they had found since.
“But maybe they needed to acknowledge it... maybe we all do” Luna softly answered his thoughts. “Maybe we were all so eager to come here because we all wanted to see the last place George had been alive. And maybe Ginny is subconsciously eager to follow Pansy because she's hoping to confront that place...”
“Maybe.” He again repeated her word but this time with thoughtfulness rather than questioning amusement.
“I think she's strong enough mentally to handle it now... certainly more than she would have been six months ago.” She went on soothingly.
“So, am I strong enough?” He asked, still peering curiously down the eerie street.
“That's up to you to decide... but you better figure it out quickly. We're awfully suspicious standing here uncertainly in front of Knockturn Alley.”
“Okay, let's go. Moody is following us anyway.” He grinned. They'd both sensed the Auror trailing them and had let him, not intending to do anything to cause trouble... did heading to the little side street where George had died count as trouble?
“Only if anyone in there doesn't believe we belong.” Luna once more answered his thoughts.
“Well, today we are anyone we want to be. Let's walk in there with confidence and with the look of constantly plotting someone's demise.” Harry half joked, throwing his arm around her shoulders and leading them into Knockturn Alley. She hadn't said it was a bad idea, was even encouraging of the closure it could provide... so everything should be fine. Even so, he ensured both his wand and the Aurors' device were within easy reach and that Moody was indeed following them. No matter what, he wasn't going to let history repeat itself.
Fred was practically running he was so eager to make it to his shop, which clearly wasn't making Hermione happy. He could feel her struggling to keep up as he practically dragged her down the street and at last she decided to voice her displeasure. “I know you're eager to see Lee, both to check on him after the train battle and to pull some sort of prank-”
“More the latter than the former.” He interrupted with a grin. “I already talked to him several times since the train and I know he's in perfect health.”
“Either way, we just got here and have hours before we have to be back. Calm yourself.” She scolded though a smile played at the corner of her mouth.
To make her happy, he slowed to a leisurely pace... and quickly became bored. “Which one of them do you think is following us?” He leaned in to whisper.
“Probably Kingsley.” She shrugged. It really didn't matter, they both had been through enough to sense when they were being followed and knew one of their Auror friends was keeping an eye on them despite their disguises. At last they reached the Weasley Bros. Health Emporium (name temporarily changed to reflect their wares) and Fred stared eagerly through the window, spying on Lee as he helped a customer. “What exactly are you planning to do?” Hermione asked.
“I'm going to test Lee's ability to manage and secure the store...” He turned to face the door and rubbed his hands together in glee.
“Well, it's nice to see you so happy.” She said as she rolled her eyes and walked past him into the shop, leaving him to perform his antics on his own. He followed her in and looked around as if he'd never been there before.
“Welcome! I'll be right with you both, just finishing up with this lovely young lady.” Lee greeted them in an overly friendly manner as he gushed at a woman who wasn't young and didn't seem all that lovely. Fred recognized the attitude as Lee already being irritated with spending his day in customer service and trying to hide it.
Hermione went to nonchalantly inspect the shelves but Fred merely offered a mischievous smile. “Thanks, but I'll just help myself.” He shielded himself in case Lee tried to stop him and walked straight back into his office.
“Hey!” Lee shouted, chasing after him. He filled the doorway, his wand out as he glared at the apparent stranger before him. “What the bloody hell do you think you're doing? Who are you?” He demanded.
“Your boss, out testing his employees... next time I suggest more action and less talking.” He said firmly as he grinned at his friend's bewildered face... that look was exactly what he'd been looking for and he felt satisfied. “Relax, it's really me Fred... the Grimmauld gang and I are out on a field trip wearing glamours to keep from being recognized. You know how famous we all are.”
“Prove you're you.” Lee insisted, still keeping his wand up. After what Elanya had pulled, Fred couldn't blame him and found it amusing that his joke had turned out better than he thought.
“Back in our first year, you got nervous in front of one of the older girls and dropped the pumpkins we had gathered to carve for Halloween while trying to impress her... when you tried to use your wand to clean up the mess, you did the spell wrong and instead of disappearing, it all expanded until there were pumpkin guts and seeds spilling through the halls. That was the moment George and I knew we wanted to be friends with you.”
He lowered his arm and smiled. “Filch was so mad when Dumbledore let me off with a warning after I told him it was an accident. Good times.”
“Yeah, back when good times were more plentiful.” Fred answered, suddenly feeling saddened by the memory he'd recalled. It had brought him back to a time when things were simple, when no one was afraid, and most importantly... when his twin had still been alive... when both his brothers had been alive for that matter and Percy's betrayal was still far off in the inconceivable future.
“I still can't believe it's you... great job with the glamours. Hey! Maybe you could brew up a batch for us to sell!” Lee said, becoming excited as the idea occurred to him.
“Yeah, like making something that changes your identity readily available to the public is a good plan.” Hermione said as she came into the office.
Lee looked at her suspiciously before grinning. “Hermione, right?”
“If you say so.” She smiled in return as she crossed her arms and leaned against the wall. “Do you really think selling glamours is a good idea? Anyone could grab hold of one including an enemy. Let them figure out how to do it on their own.”
“I agree.” Fred nodded. “And not just because I know better than to argue with her... Just think if someone like Elanya or Elise got a hold of a glamour. It's bad enough Sarah can take over anyone who's unconscious.”
“Excuse me!” They heard the customer Lee had abandoned calling from the front of the store. “Are you coming back?”
Lee rolled his eyes. “Unless you want to do some actual work, you two better get going on to your next stop. I'm going to be awhile with this one... Lady has-”
“I don't want to know.” Hermione interrupted with a cringe. “Her ailment is her business.”
“Yeah, except now she's here to make it mine as well.” He muttered, leaving the office to return to his customer.
Fred sat at his desk and stared off for a moment, not really certain where his thoughts were taking him. “You okay?” Hermione asked, coming up behind him to wrap her arms around his shoulders.
“I guess.” He shrugged. “I just suddenly feel... I don't know... not as happy to be here.”
“I heard the memory you shared to make Lee believe it was you... perhaps it's gotten you thinking about George.” She softly suggested.
“I always think about George.” He protested. “I just talked to him a couple of days ago.”
“Which is perhaps why it's hard to be reminded that he really is gone. It's been a year and coming back here now... well, it certainly reminded me of that day.”
“Come on.” He stood and grabbed her hand to pull her out of the office. “Let's sneak out the back.”
“And go where?” She asked as they emerged into the alley where they were only slightly surprised to see Kingsley lounging against the wall.
“So, you got stuck with us, huh?” Fred grinned at the man.
“No, I chose you two.” Kingsley laughed. “I figured the group with Hermione in it was the least likely to get in trouble... Are you about to prove me wrong?”
“I hope not... Care to see us to Knockturn Alley?” He challenged.
Kingsley nodded knowingly, pulling up the hood of his cloak to hide his face. “Yeah, Arthur figured you kids might want to go there... he said as long as you all have the devices and we stay with you, to let you all go.”
Fred grinned at Hermione as they all three started walking though Kingsley drifted a good distance behind them. “Well, I guess father does know best... and here I thought he had no ulterior motive in asking me to try to brew those glamours.”
“Arthur asked you? I thought you went to him after figuring it out.” She said in surprise.
“No, he came to me two weeks ago after the full moon. He told me to keep it all quiet until I succeeded.”
“I still can't believe you didn't tell me.” She muttered as she shook her head in mock anger, but she couldn't hide her smile.
“Hey, you're the one who made a big deal a few months ago about how you didn't want to be my new business partner.” He teased, wanting to keep the conversation light and pleasant until reaching the actual spot where one of his brothers had killed the other.
“I never said I didn't want to!” She protested. “I just didn't think the offer was appropriate at the time.”
“Well, what about now?” He nudged her playfully.
“Let's just survive the war first, then I can decide what I want to sign my name to.”
“You just don't like that I want it to be a joke shop again someday.” Fred accused. But she didn't answer, instead growing solemn as they approached the entrance to Knockturn Alley. He gripped her hand more tightly and took a deep breath. “You ready?”
“Are you?” She returned quietly.
“As I'll ever be.” He said, striding confidently forward to prove to himself that he could do this.
Ron had spent about five minutes showing Jacey around Diagon Alley before she changed their agenda. “Lupin is supposed to be tailing us.” She reported as she took a stealthy glance over her shoulder.
“Well, we knew someone would.” He shrugged.
“Yes, but he has taken a detour and gone that way.” She pointed towards Gringotts where the glamourized version of Lupin was hurrying along. “He intends to hand off your letter.” She added with certainty.
“Are you sure?” He asked, now getting excited. They had worried that it would be difficult to trace Lupin to his contact and to be given this chance now seemed too good to be true.
“Absolutely. Come on, and try not to let him notice that we are now the ones to follow him.” They casually walked along, letting Lupin get ahead of them since Jacey could mentally keep track of him. “He is turning down that alleyway.”
Carefully, they approached the edge of the building and peered around to catch sight of Lupin talking very closely with a young man. Do you know him? Ron silently asked, not daring to speak aloud.
No, he is not a vampire and I have never seen him. Jacey looked up to the building two doors down... it was a dress shop. When Lupin comes this way, tell him I went in there and you decided to wait outside... stall him until I come back.
“You're going to go talk to that guy by yourself?” He was startled into speaking.
She winked at him. “I can take care of myself.” He didn't doubt her, but he still didn't think it was a good idea for any of them to be alone. I will stay in constant contact with you. Her silent promise crossed through his mind as she read his thoughts.
Sensing Lupin coming back, she quickly ducked into the store so she could sneak through to the alley. “Hey!” Ron called as Lupin emerged.
“What are you doing out here?” He asked suspiciously.
“Waiting for Jacey.” He rolled his eyes as he pointed over his shoulder at the dress shop. “I couldn't stand it in there anymore. What were you doing back there?”
“Talking to a friend.” Lupin answered quickly.
“And here I though you were following us.” Ron teased.
“I am.” He grinned. “And as much as you may not like being patient while she shops, neither of you should be alone. Let's get in there and see how Jacey is getting along.”
“Wait!” He said a little too loudly. His mind whirred as it tried to come up with... something. “Since you're here, I would kind of like your opinion on something.”
“Oh?” The suspicion was back in his voice.
“Well, I was thinking of going to Knockturn Alley...” Ron surprised himself with the statement. He hadn't been aware of thinking any such thing, but apparently it was there somewhere in his head.
Lupin didn't seem surprised at all. “If you feel like you need to, I fully support the decision and will take you there. I understand the need to see the place... after James and Lily died, I often went to their house... the scene of the crime.”
“How did it make you feel?”
“Stronger... every time I was able to walk away with the assurance that I could go on without them, even if nothing would ever again be the same.” He came up and patted him on the shoulder. “It might be harder for you, since you don't really have to be without him... but I think it'll help with the healing to be reminded that he's not really here anymore so you can prepare and strengthen yourself for the day when you can no longer use the ring to talk to him.”
Ron nodded slowly. “Yeah, okay. I want to go there.” He made the decision and was going to stick to it. They'd all been too busy to properly mourn the anniversary of his brother's death... now seemed as good a time as any to confront it and be reminded of why.
Jacey came through the dress shop doors and smiled warmly at Lupin. “So it was you I sensed following us.” She nodded slightly to answer Ron's silent question... she had gotten information. But that was all in the back of his mind now. Today had become about seeking a different kind of closure.
After telling her of his desire to visit Knockturn Alley, she sympathetically agreed to the plan. As they walked, Lupin filled her in on the history and dangers of the place they were venturing but Ron's mind was minutes in the future when he would actually lay eyes on the place... he wasn't sure what he would feel then, he wasn't even sure what he was feeling now but he prepared himself anyway and entered the darkened streets of Knockturn Alley with willful determination.
Less than fifteen minutes they'd been left on their own and already they were following an enemy through someplace they shouldn't be while hoping they wouldn't be recognized through their glamours. Draco wanted to find out what Pansy was up to and get the hell out of there... it was bad enough for him to deal with the memories Knockturn Alley evoked, he couldn't imagine how Ginny must be feeling. The last thing he wanted was for her mind to be on the day he'd been partly responsible for her brother's death.
At last Pansy ducked around the side of a building and pretending to inspect the shop window, Draco and Ginny edged as close as they dared to try and see what was going on. He was able to make out the girl talking to a cloaked figure... focusing on his heightened sense of smell, he picked up a familiar scent. “It's Sarah.” He whispered.
“Makes sense that she would come to meet her cousin.” Ginny whispered back.
Perking his ears and blocking out all other sounds, he closed his eyes and listened for their words. “...They don't know where Talena is. With Macnair in Azkaban, the vampires are unwilling to disclose her location.” Pansy was saying.
“You are useless.” Sarah angrily admonished her. “We need a telepath if we want any real answers it seems... luckily I know the perfect one to recruit if we can find her. If I give you a name can you handle getting your ministry contact to look them up and see where in the world they are?”
“Of course.” Pansy replied, trying to soothe the woman who she was clearly afraid of.
“Nanami Aoki.” Sarah hissed. “The sooner you find her location, the better it will be for you.” And then she was gone, apparated away before Draco could pull out his wand to stop her.
“Come on.” He grabbed Ginny's hand and quickly turned them back toward Diagon Alley so that Pansy wouldn't suspect anyone had been spying. Sure enough, she hurried past them deep in thought and unobservant of anything around her as she stewed over her new mission. Draco quickly filled Ginny in on what he heard.
“Nanami is the influential telepath... she's the one Harry and Luna want to find first all the way in Tokoyo.” She said in concern. “I wonder who Talena is.”
“I don't know, but we have to tell Potter about Nanami.” He insisted.
She pulled to a stop. “Yes we do... but first I have to go somewhere else.”
He knew instantly where she meant and hung his head. “Are you sure?”
“Yes.” She nodded before glancing past him in surprise.
He turned to find Potter and Luna walking towards him, though if he hadn't seen them change in the parlor earlier, he would never have guessed it was them. “What are you guys doing here?” He asked as they approached.
“We wanted to take a moment to remember George.” Luna answered softly.
“Did I sense Sarah here a moment ago?” Potter asked, glancing around warily.
“She left before I could stop her.” Draco quickly explained the exchange they had witnessed.
“Well, we'll just have to be sure the records are on lockdown.” Tonks said, smiling as she emerged from hiding. Potter and Luna didn't seem all that surprised to see her.
“Moody is behind us if you want to tell him.” Luna offered.
“I think I will, and then we can all go to Pheasant Street together.” She returned, walking off to find the disguised Moody.
“You guys really think it's a good idea to go there?” Draco asked, now worried that all of them would remember that he had been the enemy back then.
“Whether or not it is, it's what we want to do.” Potter shrugged. “You don't have to.” He added, having most likely picked up on his reservation and the reasons for it.
Ginny grabbed his hand and pulled him off to the side away from the others. “Come with me?” She asked, lightly squeezing his fingers.
“I don't think I should...” He said slowly. Then he sighed and decided to be honest with how he felt. “I was there that day and I shouldn't have been... or at least I should have warned you all what was waiting. This is your grief and I helped cause it however indirectly... I don't deserve to be there.”
She looked up at him and nodded and he found himself wishing she looked like herself, the he could see her real eyes. But these new ones held the same sincerity as her voice. “But I deserve to have you there.” She argued. “No one made Percy call out the unforgivable... no one even made us all come here that day. It was our decision and the other side made the choice to take advantage... Percy made his own choice to be against us and no matter how hard you try to make it your fault, his decisions aren't your responsibility any more than they are mine. It's going to be hard to face that place today, I need you to be there with me.”
“Okay.” He agreed, taking a deep breath. She simply nodded again and with nothing more to be said, they rejoined the others and as soon as Tonks returned, they made their way to Pheasant Street. He may not want to be there, but he wouldn't allow himself to let Ginny down again. George's death may have been one of the bigger events to finally push him away from his father and Voldemort, but that didn't stop the guilt he felt over it. Ginny's words had helped a little, but know that he knew these people, he could never really forgive himself for being any part in what had happened. He was about to be confronted with memories of his life as it was a year ago and he hoped he came out stronger for it.
Fred slowed his pace as they finally approached Pheasant Street and turned the corner... he remembered last year when he'd been running, chasing after Harry who as it turned out was taken hostage by Percy. None of them knew then that George only had minutes left to live...
“I hear voices.” Hermione said in quiet concern as they approached the dead end.
They carefully peered around the corner and were surprised to see the altered appearances of Harry, Luna, Ginny, Draco and Tonks. “So, great minds really do think alike.” Fred stepped forward with an awkward grin.
“Indeed... Ron and Jacey are on their way here with Lupin.” Luna softly told them while keeping her face unreadable and her gaze on nothing in particular. Clearly she was sad and didn't want to show it... knowing her, she probably felt he, Ron and Ginny deserved the claim to regret that this place evoked. Harry was standing silently next to her, most likely blaming himself for letting Percy bring him here in the first place. Likewise, Fred could see Draco standing uncomfortably with Ginny... he knew Draco had to also be blaming himself in some way.
Taking in the emotions that weren't quite apparent unless you knew the person, Fred realized he was putting off his own feelings by concerning himself with the three people who could have prevented George's death... Was he mad at Luna for getting a vision of Harry's murder only to come prevent it and in effect cause George's? No... how could he? So did he blame Harry for allowing Percy to so easily lead him away to the waiting trap? No... he knew that Harry hadn't known it was Percy, that he was only responding in the moment to threats against his friends when being led out of the store at wandpoint. So then was it Draco's fault for going along with his father and not putting a stop to the plot to get Harry? No, Lucius would have never let his son stop him, even if he had the inner strength then that he did now... and besides, Draco really hadn't done much else but stand there that day.
So whose fault was it? Percy who took his own life? Mostly, yes but it was also Voldemort and Lucius who put that whole day in motion, placing Percy in the position to wildly wave his wand and yell out the killing curse. No matter what any of them felt now, Fred knew that he and his friends weren't responsible for a series of events they just couldn't stop. But like Harry, Luna and Draco, he couldn't help but feel guilty.
“Well, we weren't expecting a party.” Ron said grimly as he rounded the corner with Jacey and Lupin. Now that everyone was there, Tonks turned and waved her wand to block anyone from seeing them.
“Poor George.” Ginny sighed as she leaned her head on Draco's shoulder, her eyes brimming with tears.
“I have a confession.” Jacey said suddenly. “I overheard Arthur making plans for us all to come here this morning and figured eventually Ron would want to come this spot.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out the ring. “I thought it would be helpful if he could talk to George directly.”
“You shouldn't have-” Lupin started with concern but she held up a hand to stop him.
“As long as I am the one using it, the energy output cannot be traced.”
“Are you sure?” Harry asked with eager caution.
“Well, you did not sense that I had it, right?” She returned smugly.
“I'm not sure it's a good idea.” Luna said reluctantly. “What if George doesn't want to be here?”
“There's only one way to find out... So let's call him already.” Fred interrupted, anxious to see his twin after such a grim view of reality without him. He knew George wouldn't be pleased that they were in this spot, but it didn't matter... he just needed to see him.
Lupin and Tonks shared a look and finally nodded, allowing Jacey to proceed. Fred could feel her poking in his mind, gathering memories from him and the others so she could call up someone she'd never actually met. Within moments George materialized before them, brighter and more solid than when any of them had used the ring. “Well, I hadn't expected to see you all here.” George said in surprise as he greeted them all with a wide smile. “What's the occasion?”
“We're remembering you... it's been a year you know.” Fred told him, doing his best not to cry. He could feel Hermione rubbing his back in support and leaned into her touch to feel more grounded.
“Has it? I don't really have a sense of time here you know.” His ghostly twin shot back. He looked around in concern before looking to his siblings. “If you guys are here, then you aren't remembering me, you're remembering the day I died... none of us should have to go through that. I miss you guys, I love you so much and I don't want you to get stuck in such a horrible moment.”
“It's not like we can ever forget it.” Ron answered.
“Maybe not, but it's not what I want you all to think of when you think of me.” George said firmly. “Get out of here, go enjoy your day out in Diagon Alley. Later tonight, I'll talk to you each alone if you like, but not here.”
“Hey!” Jacey yelled as George disappeared. “I did not send him away.” She quickly assured Ron and the others.
“It's okay.” Fred numbly told her. He felt neutral about what had just happened, his emotions suddenly placed on hold until they could be released later when alone with his twin. After a few moments of silence, they all dispersed to go back to Diagon Alley until it was time to head home.
“So?” Hermione asked as they walked.
“I was there, I didn't crumble. Now I never have to go back.” He told her, squeezing her hand.
“And everything else will be sorted out later when I can really talk to him.”
“Until then?” She pushed, smiling as she saw that she was the one irritating him for once.
“Until then, I guess we have some shopping to do.” He forced himself to return her smile while remaining numbly indifferent on the inside until later.
As soon as they all returned home, Jacey handed over the ring and the three Weasley kids ran up to Fred's room to be alone with George. Putting aside all other packages, Harry pulled out the book Luna had helped him find and stared thoughtfully at the cover as he sank into one of the couches in the parlor. “I wonder whether Julian is still alive or not.” He said aloud to think of something other than their dead friend.
“You saw in Edmund's memories that Jayalina admitted to helping him escape.” Hermione pointed out.
“Yes, but the condition he was in was a bit mysterious.” Luna added. Thankfully the glamours were wearing off and she and the others were starting to look like themselves.
Draco shrugged as they all unconsciously looked at him. “I have no idea. I never actually saw him, one day he was at my house and the next he was gone.”
He opened his mouth to reply but was interrupted by the doorbell and Molly rushing from the kitchen to answer it. None of them were all that surprised when she showed Dumbledore into the parlor... but the sight of Dobby and Twizzle behind him was a whole different story. “What happened?” Harry asked warily.
“It seems that Twizzle has news for you.” Dumbledore answered sadly, clearly already knowing what message was coming.
“For me?” He looked to the nervous house elf and carefully knelt in front of her. “What is it? Does Crysta-Belle have something else for me?”
Twizzle sadly nodded her large eyes brimming with tears. And then she burst out sobbing. “Yes, Mistress Crysta-Belle is giving Harry Potter her house.”
“The Shrieking Shack?” Hermione asked in surprise.
“And the store.” Twizzle wailed as Dobby tried unsuccessfully to calm her.
“But why?” Harry asked in utter confusion.
“Because Mistress Crysta-Belle adds it to her Will!” She cried.
“She died?” Luna came to kneel as well, gently rubbing the elf's shoulder.
“No...” Twizzle yelled. “Mistress Crysta-Belle is murdered!
A/N: Ooooooh, now what? More to come soon!
NOTE: Reference to Vernon and refusing the letters from the owls from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling, Chapter 3
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