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Chapter 1 : Homecoming Surprise
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The fourteen-year-old rolled his stare from the wall to the woman sitting across from him. Her blue eyes danced as she allowed a small smile to cross over her pretty features, tossing back her curly dirty blonde hair over one shoulder. “Where’d you go, just now?”
“Nowhere, honest,” Harry lied easily. The woman lost her smile and looked at him with a motherly, knowing stare. He could only say, “Norah, I promise.”
She blew out air between her thick lips, then forced her eyes upon Harry’s emerald irises. He instinctively pushed back his dark black hair, putting a hand to the scar that had started to throb underneath her stare.
She sighed again and pulled back, stating, “It’s absolutely amazing how much you are like both of your parents.”
This was one of the many reasons Harry enjoyed hanging around Norah. She had been his mother’s best friend, and part of their inner group of friends since she went to school with all of them. Despite being a year younger, Norah had known Harry’s mother better than anyone, and Harry, as an orphan, craved to know everything he could about her, and a good bit about James, his father, as well.
“How so?” Harry asked.
“You get all quiet and thoughtful like Lily, then claim nothing’s the matter and keep everything to yourself like James,” Norah said as she took a last sip from her butterbeer and set the mug back down. Harry had to focus on Norah’s words with all his might, as the chatter from the Hogwarts students around them just bounced off the stone walls of the Three Broomsticks. “Talk to me, Harry.”
“I’m just worried about the next task, is all,” Harry said, the throbbing on his forehead finally fading away. “The third one is always exponentially hard, and I almost didn’t survive the second one.”
Norah rested back in her chair. “I’m sure you’ll do fine, like you always do. And don’t take it from me, but your safety is pretty high on Dumbledore’s lists of priorities. I don’t think you’re going to die in that task, no matter how hard it is.”
“Should I take that as a vote of confidence in my abilities, or not?” Harry asked sarcastically.
Norah laughed, getting up from her chair. “You know I have complete faith in you, Harry. Like I said-- you’re your parents’ son. Let me know when you know anything else about the task, and I’ll do all I can to help. I’ve got to get back to work.”
“Thanks for coming, Norah,” Harry said gratefully. She leant down and kissed the top of his head as she passed, squeezing his shoulder in a farewell as she walked back out of the door, Disapparating once the wind hit her face.
She appeared at her home, and used the Floo network to get back to the Ministry of Magic, heading to the second level and walking straight for the Auror Offices. She found herself staring, as usual, at the first cubicle on her right, where the eyes of a madman watched her everywhere she went. It had been over a year now since he had somehow escaped Azkaban, and still, Sirius Black was on the run.
Norah tightened her fists and her jaw as she walked to her cubicle. A small party stood, waiting for her, and she was surprised to see Cornelius Fudge among them.
“Norah, how are you?” Fudge asked, sending an alert up Norah’s spine. He didn’t make office visits for just anybody or for any small reason; something big must be going on.
“I am doing well, Mr. Minister. Please, take a seat,” Norah said as she sat down in her own chair, the Minister taking a seat opposite of her. “What do I have the pleasure of helping you with today?”
“Ms. Clarke,” Fudge said, shifting uncomfortably in his chair, “we do not think it is appropriate at this time for you to be so close to a case that is so... er, close to you.”
“Pardon?” Norah asked, thinking she had misheard the Minister.
“Sirius Black’s disappearance is becoming more and more suspicious-- how he knows where to move, how he moves. We fear there may be some work from the inside. We are not blaming you,” Fudge said quickly, seeing that Norah was beginning to get upset, “but until we find him, we do not think it to be a good move to have one of his past acquaintances in the same area as his search team.”
Norah’s eyes involuntarily shifted over to Kingsley Shacklebolt’s cubicle, where she could see Sirius’ mugshots leering at her. She turned back to Fudge and said evenly, “I cooperated with you all during the inquisitions. I want him caught just as much as you do. Let me do my job.”
“I fear there has been a vote within the Ministry. We cannot allow you to work here while Black is still missing,” Fudge said, standing up from his chair. “You may resume your work once he is safely captured. Until then, you will be on unpaid leave.”
“So, I’m basically canned?” Norah asked blatantly. Fudge swallowed, looking more uncomfortable by the second.
“You will be able to return to your position when he is caught,” Fudge repeated, turning his bowler hat over in his hand, almost like a nervous tick. “We apologize for any inconvenience this might cause you...”
“No, you know what, don’t worry about it,” Norah said as she stood up from her chair. “The only person who’s going to be inconvenienced is you.”
Fudge blinked at her in surprise. “Pardon?”
“You heard me,” Norah said clearly, making sure her words were strong and to the point. “You’re facing more problems than we’ve had since the First Wizarding War. It is sad that you cannot see for yourself what is happening again.”
Fudge’s associates all looked uncomfortable or surprised that Norah was bitting back at her boss. Meanwhile, Fudge’s eyes narrowed at her cutting back. “And what would that be?”
“The Death Eaters at the Quidditch World Cup? Barty Crouch, Jr. impersonating a Hogwarts professor? Harry Potter’s name entered into the Goblet of Fire?” Norah said, counting the suspicious events on her fingers. “These are all leading up to bigger things. Voldemort might be dead..."
One of Fudge’s companions gasped at the free use of his name, but Norah ignored this and continued on.
“... but someone is still out there, bidding his will. You’re ignoring it because you’re too afraid to face it, plain and simple. You let us, the Aurors, go out and try and solve these problems, then take credit for when they go correctly or blame us when they go wrong. Frankly enough, I think it’s hysterical you claim I’m too attached to a maniac I haven’t seen in fourteen years to do my job properly, when you’re too attached to your position, title, and bank vault to do your job properly,” Norah nearly spat.
“Ms. Clarke!” Fudge exclaimed, turning red with every additional word she spoke. “That is quite enough! You will gather your belongings and vacate the premises immediately!”
Norah curtsied low before him. “With pleasure, Mister Minister.”
Fudge glared at Norah for three long seconds before turning on his heel and exiting her office, followed by his company. Norah bent back up from her curtsy and sighed, waving her wand as she packed all of her office items into her expandable bag, tossing it over her shoulder. Kingsley Shacklebolt came into her office and a bright white smile broke across his dark ebony skin.
“Never knew how to take criticism well, did you?” he asked. Norah sighed, giving him a tired smile.
“It’s not worth it anymore, Kings. Not if I don’t get to do it the way I want to,” she said to him as he escorted her to the elevator. The automated voice chimed as they passed by every level to get back to the lobby. “I thought I might as well give Fudge something to think about before I left.”
Kingsley’s deep laugh echoed through the small elevator as he shook his head. “You haven’t changed from day one, Norah.”
“I’ll take that as a good thing,” Norah said as the elevator opened up to the lobby. “Where are you headed?”
“I was going to go to the Burrow, but I have a feeling I know where you’re going, and I might tag along, too. I need to talk to Remus about a few things,” Kingsley said as they reached the Floo exit. Norah smiled at Kingsley as she stepped inside the fireplace.
“See you there,” she said as she threw the powder down and ended up in the furnace of an apartment. There was a gasp of surprise as a girl with bright pink hair and dainty facial features spied Norah climbing out of her fireplace.
“Tonks, you will not believe the day I’ve had,” Norah sighed, pushing past her into the living room that stretched out before her.
“Norah,” Tonks said in surprise. Kingsley appeared as well, and Tonks straightened up Suddenly, she spoke in a louder voice, “Norah Clarke, what are you doing here! It is such a surprise to see you and Kingsley Shacklebolt!”
“I’ve been dismissed!” Norah said angrily, slamming her bag down onto Tonks’ living room table as she ignored Tonks' weird behavior. “The bloody Ministry thinks I’m hiding Sirius or my knowledge of his whereabouts!”
“Norah...” Tonks said warningly as she followed her to the dining room. Kingsley brushed off his bright purple robes before following the both of them.
“As if I knew! By goblins and ghouls, if I did know where he was, I’d strangle...”
Norah broke off when she took in Tonks’ guests sitting at the dining room table. Remus Lupin shifted uncomfortably in his chair, looking unkempt as usual; Mad Eye Moody whirled his prosthetic eye toward Norah right as she entered the room. But neither of their presences’ concerned her; it was the man who sat between them that caught her eye.
Smiling grimly, Sirius Black asked, “Miss me?”
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