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Harry Potter and the Eye of the Posterus by Debo13

Format: Novel
Chapters: 30
Word Count: 217,334
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Contains profanity, Mild violence, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Drama, Mystery, Action/Adventure
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny
Pairings: Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione

First Published: 12/17/2011
Last Chapter: 11/05/2017
Last Updated: 11/05/2017

Summary:
***BOOK 2 in the Harry Potter Sequel Series***

Still shocked at Lord Voldemort's vow of return, Harry Potter knows it is up to him and his friends to stop Voldemort's remaining Death Eaters. As if this was not enough, strange things are beginning to happen at the Ministry and abroad that has the wizarding world on high alert and upon discovering a murder committed by someone who Harry thought to be dead, it appears that dark times are still on the horizon...


Chapter 1: Disorder and Disarray
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A calm breeze rippled the large puddles of water on the outskirts of the marsh, the cloaked man catching a brief glimpse of his reflection on the ground before it disappeared in to the wrinkles of water. He ran his hand over his forearm, lightly massaging it as he stared aimlessly at the quickly darkening horizon. The sky was one of a dull grey which contrasted with the bright colour of the emerging moon’s light. Its light was beginning to cast a faint glow on the man’s face as he stood still, too nervous to move. The coolness of the breeze made the man shiver, his slow, deep breaths helping in his need to quell his anxious disposition.

He was growing nervous for two separate reasons. Glancing at his watch for what seemed like the thousandth time, the man was growing increasingly more frustrated and anxious; he was becoming more and more late by the second. As if his long overdue departure was not enough, the fact that he was standing alone in a wide open marsh was extremely unsettling. Since there were no trees for as long as the eye could see in any direction, he felt a sense of nakedness; there was no source of cover for the man to use to his advantage in the event of an enemy arriving. He could not help but criticize his superiors’ choice of location; he was finding it very hard to be discreet in the middle of nowhere.

As the minutes continued to tick by, the cloaked man began to believe that something must had gone wrong. The fact that he should have left the marsh nearly an hour ago was beginning to cause the man a great deal of nervous panic. Being late in this instance was not a positive thing by any means. The pace of the man’s breath gradually began to quicken as he seriously began to consider leaving the marsh on his own accord and abandoning this dangerous mission altogether. As if his body and mind were on two different wave lengths, the man could not bring himself to break his stance as these thoughts flowed through his mind. Even though he was becoming increasingly anxious, he knew that even the slightest movement could draw attention to himself. Such attention could be disastrous.

Then, before the man could even register what had happened, he heard a small popping noise come from somewhere to his left followed by a small gust of wind. The momentary squall made his eyes water in an instant, temporarily blinding him for a second or two. His heart pounding in his chest, the man quickly scanned his surroundings once the wind had subsided but was unable to detect the source of the noise, the increasing darkness making it hard to see anything of great distance. The cloaked man stood stock still, resisting the urge to call out; instead he began to rapidly scan the area around him for any sort of movement. His eyes rapidly fluttered in every which direction, hoping to get a glimpse of who or what had apparated in to the marsh. Suddenly, the man’s heart rose to his throat at the sound of a rough voice coming from behind him.

‘What’s your name?’ the male voice called out to him, his voice stern and unwavering yet barely over a whisper. The cloaked man jumped at the surprising closeness of it. After a moment of hesitation the cloaked man drew his wand, wheeling around on the spot to identify who the voice belonged to.

‘Who wants to know?’ the cloaked man returned. He could feel a bead of sweat run down his cheek to his temple. After a brief pause, he heard the footsteps draw closer to him, the faint sound of water splashing with each step taken.

‘Show me your arm,’ the voice called out stiffly.

About ten feet away from the cloaked man, there was a tiny light shining from the tip of the unidentified man’s wand. The wand’s illuminated tip was low enough so as to only reveal his torso, his face hidden in shadow. The cloaked man took a few deep breaths, his eyes wide in anxiety. He knew that he was taking a massive risk in showing his forearm, but after a moments’ hesitation, he made his decision. Slowly walking up to the enlightened tip, the cloaked man kept his wand directly in front of him, having a curse on the tip of his tongue in case things went awry. When he got to a close distance, he slowly slid up the piece of cloak that was covering his forearm. The second man pointed his wand tip down at the newly revealed piece of flesh, revealing the symbolic skull and serpent insignia of the Death Eaters tattooed on to his very skin. The first man tried to register a glance at the newly apparated man’s face that was partially concealed by his long, overhanging hood, but upon realizing the cloaked man’s prying eyes, the second man quickly turned away, extinguishing the tip of his wand with a sharp flick.

‘We wait for one other,’ the second man growled softly, quickly turning his head in all directions, undoubtedly scanning the surrounding area for any intruders.

‘Now you show me yours,’ the first man spoke up hesitantly, stopping the now pacing second man in his tracks.

After a brief pause, the second man seemed to be content with the first man’s request, revealing the underside of his forearm for a few moments in order for his counterpart to be satisfied. He continued to pace around the surrounding area after he had done so.

‘So now all we have to do is wait for our lead,’ the first man said, his anxiousness beginning to die away now that a fellow Death Eater had finally come to the meeting spot. He hoped they did not have to wait for much longer as causing a delay would certainly displease his superiors.

‘I am the lead,’ the second man chimed back. ‘We still wait for our second.’

The first cloaked man’s mind began to race, unable to say anything back to his apparent lead. He could only wonder what had happened to his second that would make him so late. In something as strict and particular as this meeting was, the only reasons the first man could think of were all very troubling.

‘So how long do we wait?’

‘Ten minutes until we depart – with or without him,’ the lead replied. ‘Are you Auburn or Ramsay?’

‘Auburn,’ the first man answered.

‘Avery,’ the lead returned.

Neither Auburn nor Avery spoke for several moments, the two Death Eaters resigned to their own thoughts. As Auburn’s mind wandered, he could not help but feel slightly ashamed at the great lengths that the Death Eaters had to stoop to in order to meet without detection. Even though Auburn had only been a member of Lord Voldemort’s followers since just before the Battle of Hogwarts, he knew that current times were radically different from what they once were. To him, the Death Eaters were a body without a head; a large, disorganized group who were fearful about being caught by the investigating Aurors. This constant fear and meeting in secret only bred a lack of confidence amongst the ranks. Still, the less than satisfactory conditions the Death Eaters were currently placed in seemed to evoke a drive in Auburn – and many other Death Eaters alike – to re-instate the times of old and rise to power once again.

A loud pop, similar to the one he had heard only a few minutes ago, interrupted Auburn’s thoughts. Both he and Avery whisked their heads around quickly in order to discover who had apparated to the marsh. Avery drew his wand quickly, Auburn following his lead a half second later as they both stared in the same direction. They quickly saw the cloaked figure emerge from the darkness, their wands unwavering in the presence of the newly apparated.

‘Put your wands down,’ the figure called out as he walked briskly towards Avery and Auburn. He lifted up his cloak, revealing the Dark Mark on his forearm in a casual, tiresome manner. Avery and Auburn took a sideways glance at each other and then slowly lowered their wands.

‘You’re late Ramsay – we were about to leave without you… I’d mind showing your arm so freely in the future as well. You never know who could be watching...’ Avery said coolly, not looking at him.

Ramsay stopped only a few inches away from Avery, Auburn noticing that the newly apparated Death Eater’s eyes were scanning the area as both he and Avery had done earlier. Though it was growing increasingly dark, Auburn could see a few strands of Ramsay’s reddish hair underneath the hood that he wore over his head; a hood that he wore in the same manner that Avery was.

Then, before Auburn could move a muscle, Avery took an unsuspecting Ramsay by the collar, roughly tossing him on to the swampy ground. A large splash of water and mud hit Avery’s face as Ramsay’s body hit the ground hard. Avery hurriedly took out his wand and pointed it squarely at Ramsay’s chest, its tip only a few inches away.

‘What the bloody hell is this?!’ Ramsay protested loudly, not taking his eyes off of Avery’s wand. His cloak was soaked, his face covered in dirty swamp water and mud.

‘Who are you working for?!’ Avery demanded, anger seething in his face as he uttered each word clearly.

‘Working for... are you outside your mind?!’ Ramsay called back in disbelief. ‘I’m a Death Eater you fool! What sort of rubbish is this?!

‘You lie,’ Avery said quickly, his wand moving closer to the downed and soaked Ramsay. ‘How come you were so late getting here? Did you need extra time in order to jinx the real Ramsay and transform in to him?

‘Get that wand out of my face before I give you an actual reason to point it at me…’

‘You have ten seconds to prove to me that you are... who you claim to be! I don’t care how – just do it!’ Avery continued threateningly, positioning his wand closer to Ramsay’s face. Auburn – who had not moved in the slightest since the altercation began – finally spoke, realizing something that he had not at first.

‘Now let’s hold on now Avery,’ he cautioned, raising both his hands in front of him. ‘I believe that there is a very simple way that can tell us if this is the real Ramsay,’ he said quietly, trying not to anger his lead. Still not taking his eyes off his downed adversary, Avery replied, his wand inches away from Ramsay’s nose. Ramsay was trying his best to look defiant in his prone, sitting position on the swampy ground, but Auburn could see his chest rising and falling quickly.

‘And what is that Auburn?’

‘Well... I’ve seen him before... We were both inducted in to the Death Eaters together.’

‘As correct as you could be Auburn, that still does not prove to me that this Ramsay is the real one,’ Avery responded harshly.

‘Would you get that bloody wand out of my face?!’ Ramsay roared at Avery. The lead did not budge.

‘True,’ Auburn replied calmly, trying to diffuse this volatile situation as fast as possible. ‘But if he can answer some simple questions that only I and a few other Death Eaters know the answers to, then he must be the real Ramsay…’

Avery considered the proposal made by Auburn for a moment, tilting his head to the side as he examined Ramsay. After a moment of contemplation, Avery nodded his head slightly, giving Auburn the approval he needed to ask his question.

‘Alright then,’ Auburn began, pacing around Avery and Ramsay for a moment before beginning. ‘How many others were present on the night we were both inducted?’

‘Two,’ Ramsay answered immediately, looking up at Avery unblinkingly after he relayed his answer.

‘Auburn – do you honestly believe that a question as simple as that has left with me no doubt as to this Ramsay’s true allegiance?’ Avery growled as he advanced his wand closer to Ramsay who had made a small attempt at getting up off of the wet and muddy ground.

‘And how many of us were late that night?’ Auburn continued, not taking in to account what Avery had said.

‘None of us,’ Ramsay said loudly, not taking his eyes off of Avery as he spoke. ‘But Rabastan – the one who inducted each of us… he deliberately did not show up on time in order to test our nerves.’

‘These are answers that he could have gotten out of the real –’

‘And what is it that I said to you – the only thing I said to anybody after the ceremony was over?’ Auburn asked, interrupting the flustered Avery. There was a slight pause before Ramsay spoke again, still not unlocking his stare from Avery who still had not withdrawn his wand.

‘It’s time to take back what is ours... it’s time to do the work that Lord Voldemort has requested of us...’

Auburn nodded slowly. None of the three spoke for quite some time, Avery’s face contorted in a way that made him look as if he wanted nothing more than to jinx Ramsay right then and there. Finally, Avery turned away from the downed Ramsay, putting his wand back in to his robes. Hastily, Ramsay propped himself up from the swampy ground, letting out a large gasp as he stood. As he pulled out his wand and began to clean himself up, Ramsay spoke loudly, his voice echoing out in to the empty swamp.

‘And you are the one who is supposedly leading us?’

‘The reason for your lateness... what is it?’ asked Avery vigorously, ignoring Ramsay’s question.

Ramsay merely shook his head at first as he continued to clean his robes. For a moment, Auburn questioned whether Ramsay was going to say anything at all, but was ultimately relieved when he did. The last thing that Auburn wanted was more tension between his fellow Death Eaters; the evening was already full of it.

‘I had a suspicion I was being followed,’ Ramsay said quietly. ‘I did not want to take any chance of giving away our location so I waited until I thought it was proper to apparate here. There. Is that good enough for you, or would you like to question me on that too?’

Auburn grimaced at Ramsay’s response; he knew that Avery was only looking out for the interests of the Death Eaters as a whole, but the short tempered Ramsay seemed to be taking it much more personally than a mere precaution on their leads’ part. Before Auburn could even think of something to say to try and ease the tension, Avery responded.

‘If you two would come here... we are already very late. They will begin to think we have lost our way.’ Auburn admired Avery’s patience. He was thankful that Ramsay’s jibes were not having any sort of detrimental effect on Avery’s ability to lead and to keep the mission in focus.

‘Well let’s wait a second now,’ Ramsay responded loudly. ‘What makes you think that we are just going to trust you? How do we know that you are who you say you are?’ Avery merely shook his head; Auburn could see that he was slowly beginning to grow frustrated with Ramsay.

‘Look,’ Ramsay said to Auburn, ‘he doesn’t even respond! How do we know he can be trusted?!’ Ramsay pulled out his wand, slowly advancing on the unmoving Avery who only stared back.

‘Now listen here,’ Auburn began after gulping so loudly that he could almost hear it. ‘This is not the time for this –’

‘But it was the ‘time for this’ when I show up late, right?’ Ramsay interrupted emphatically. Ramsay was now only a foot away from Avery, his wand held only a few inches away from the lead Death Eater. ‘How do we know that he can be trusted? HOW DO WE KNOW YOU CAN BE TRUSTED?!’

Auburn took a step forward, pausing when he saw Avery take his own wand out of his robes. The two men did not waver from their stance at first, but something about the look in Avery’s cold, unforgiving eyes made Ramsay regress. Ramsay’s angry, focused expression turned to one of tentativeness; he looked somewhat ashamed of what he had done after just a few seconds of locking eyes with Avery. As Ramsay took a step back, lowering his wand as he did so, Avery stood stock still..

‘I am one of Lord Voldemort’s oldest and most trusted Death Eaters. How dare you question me,’ he hissed. Auburn could see Ramsay’s eyes glisten in the moonlight as he took another step backwards, his foot making a large splashing noise as he stepped in to a particularly large puddle. ‘Now – if we can put all of this rubbish behind us.. I think it would be best if we leave this place immediately.’

This time, Ramsay did not need any more prodding. The three put away their wands, Ramsay not having the courage to even look at Avery as he joined him at the arm. Auburn could tell that Ramsay was regretting his questioning of Avery but something told him that there were many issues regarding the Death Eaters that Ramsay was bitter about. He was not sure if it was his rebellious demeanor or the air of cockiness that he gave off from the moment he arrived, but Auburn thought it best to keep his distance from Ramsay for the time being.

Once Auburn had joined Avery on the opposite arm that Ramsay was loosely grasping, he felt the familiar sensation that one felt when apparating. He saw the dark and dreary swamp vanish in front of him and after a moment or two of losing his bearings, he found himself on level ground once again. Looking around at his new surroundings, Auburn quickly realized that he – along with Avery and Ramsay – were in some sort of alleyway. Looking to his left, he could see the images of fluorescent signage that served as the only sources of light in the area. The alley was lined with black metal gates that had to be opened to reach the occasional old and deteriorated door. As Auburn took a step forward, he noticed the ground was wet; a few puddles of water were situated in the spots where the pavement was uneven. The sheer length of the alley forbid any of the distant street noise from reaching the three Death Eaters; Auburn could not detect any other sort of life at either end of the alley.

‘This way,’ Avery whispered, taking out his wand yet again from the inside of his robes. Without hesitation, Auburn and Ramsay followed closely behind their lead.

Neither Auburn nor Ramsay uttered a single word as Avery quickly led them down the alleyway. Following the example of their lead, the two Death Eaters glanced all around them periodically, making sure that no one was following them. Auburn thought back to what Ramsay had said earlier as Avery led them down a side alley that was even darker and narrower than its predecessor. As he followed Avery down the narrow alley to seemingly nowhere, Auburn began to seriously question if Ramsay’s accusation of Avery had some merit to it after all.

These thoughts only elevated when Avery had come to a dead end, his hand pressing against the brick side of a building. Auburn subconsciously began reaching for his wand from the inside of his robes, worriedly glancing over at Ramsay who wore an expression mixed of fear and anger. Ramsay’s next words were said with such force that it nearly made Auburn drop his wand.

‘Hold up! Stop right there!’ Ramsay called loudly, pointing his wand at the back of Avery’s head. ‘I see you retrieving your wand – don’t even think about it!’

Avery stood still for a moment, slowly turning around to face Ramsay. He was holding his wand in his right hand – just as Ramsay had suspected. Auburn had his hand firmly gripped on his wand, not believing that it appeared that Ramsay had been right about Avery this entire time. It was a few moments before either man spoke again.

‘Now listen here,’ Avery began quietly, a hint of impatience traced through his voice. ‘If you allow me to do what I have been instructed to, you will see the reason why we are here.’

Auburn glanced from his right to his left, watching for any drastic move on the part of his two acquaintances. Yet again, Avery was the next to speak.

‘What would you do? Jinx me here in the alley?’ Avery taunted. ‘Sure – that would solve all of our problems, wouldn’t it?’

Obviously knowing his adversary’s mental defeat, Avery turned his back on Ramsay slowly. As Auburn relinquished the hold on his own wand, he noticed that Ramsay had stuffed his wand back in to his robes dejectedly. It was the second time that Avery had slithered his way out of Ramsay’s accusations successfully which to Auburn, showed Avery’s cunningness and intimidating presence. Too afraid and confused to do anything more, Auburn watched Avery as he waved his wand over the wall.

A second later, a bright light enveloped a part of the brick wall. Though the section of enlightened brick was barely large enough for someone to fit through, the power of the light was great, evidenced by the fact that both Auburn and Ramsay had to shield their eyes with their arms. With his wand, Avery tapped the center of the lit-up brick wall, its brightness being extinguished as quickly as it had ignited. For a brief moment nothing happened; the three men all stood there staring at the wall, waiting for something to happen.

They did not have to wait long for that very something to occur. Starting from the top, the wall began to seemingly melt away, a dim light gradually filling the narrow alleyway where Auburn and Ramsay stood curiously. It only took a few seconds for the entire wall to fall in to nothingness, the image of a dingy and dirty looking lavatory filling the views of the three Death Eaters. Without any more hesitation, Avery stepped in to the dimly lit lavatory, Auburn and Ramsay following their lead after a small nod to each other.

They quickly crossed the small, broken tiled lavatory, the wall rebuilding itself after they were all inside. Auburn took one last glance at the small alley outside, knowing that his last chance of escape if things went wrong had just come and gone. Avery slowly opened the opposite door that appeared to lead in to a small hallway; he put up his hand as a way to signal to Auburn and Ramsay that they were to wait where they were.

Neither Death Eater spoke to each other while Avery was gone, wondering where exactly they were. The smelly odor of the lavatory stung Auburn’s nostrils as he examined the broken pieces of wall tile that littered the dirty floor. Auburn was thankful when Avery reappeared from the outside hallway, the lead Death Eater motioning for them to follow him. Old autographed photos lined the narrow hallway that was adorned with an old looking red carpet and ancient looking patterned wallpaper that was chipped and folded over. The photos told Auburn that this was some sort of a Muggle dwelling. The people inside of the frames were not moving.

Rounding a corner, Auburn gasped loudly, Avery flicking his wand instinctively which muted Auburn’s mistake. What lay in front of him was a Muggle; he was wearing an unbuttoned dress shirt and glasses that were slightly askew. They were askew, Auburn noticed, because the Muggle man was undoubtedly fast asleep which disappointed Auburn slightly; he preferred his Muggles dead. The Muggle was sitting at a little reception desk, his right arm propped up on the desk which supported his drooping head. Sighing, Auburn continued to follow Avery past the sleeping Muggle, making another left, but not before taking a glimpse in to a very large room. He could see the shadows of people moving and the noise of glasses clinking. Auburn deduced that they were in some sort of pub.

After passing the sleeping host, they rounded down a flight of stairs in the opposite direction from whence they came, the old and tattered looking red carpet following their feet down the creaking steps. When the three came to the end of the staircase, they were greeted by a man dressed in the same dress shirt that the sleeping host had been wearing. The man (who stood in front of a door marked ‘Storage’) examined Avery expectantly. Avery pulled down the sleeve of his cloak to show the man the image of the Dark Mark on his forearm. With a slight nod, the man opened the door he was guarding, closing it shut behind him once the three Death Eaters were inside.

‘About time...’ a man who Auburn knew as Rodolphous Lestrange called out from the front of the room. Avery left his two companions in order to join him and a small group of others who stood over the rest.

As Auburn and Ramsay took their seats (which were in the form of overturned wine barrels) the slow murmuring of the other Death Eaters slowly died away, the attention of the thirty or so directed at where Rodolphous and his brother Rabastan stood. Joining the Lestrange brothers and Avery at the back of the room were two other head Death Eaters who Auburn knew as Yaxley and Nott. Looking to his left, he noticed the Carrows muttering to each other as the silence reverberated through the storage room. It was not long before the silence was broken by the voice of Rodolphous.

‘We’ve called this meeting here tonight as a way to regroup after last months’... catastrophe...’ he said, his last words uttered with his eyes tightly shut as if the very words themselves pained him greatly. ‘Allowing the Aurors to infiltrate and destroy Riddle House has left us without a permanent home... and as a result, our impromptu meeting takes place here tonight.’

‘I say we go show those Muggles above us a taste of our hospitality,’ Alecto Carrow screeched, pointing up at the low ceiling, her statement being met with a variety of approvals by a group of Death Eaters sitting close by. ‘What I’d do to get my hands on some innocent little Muggles...’

‘It would certainly be something to do Alecto,’ a tall Death Eater Auburn did not recognize replied loudly. ‘We all know how busy we have been lately…’ he finished off sarcastically.

‘That would be ill-advised. Any attention drawn to us would be counter-productive at this point... though in due time, it will be time to take action,’ Avery responded seemingly putting an end to these rebellious thoughts.

‘Though our ranks are not what they once were, as you can see here tonight, our forces are slowly being replenished,’ Nott said.

‘And it seems as if we are about to be joined by one more,’ Yaxley growled quietly.

‘Who’s that?’ a couple of Death Eaters called out at once. Rabastan, after a small grin to his brother, spoke a name that Auburn would never have predicted.

‘Why of course, we are speaking of the offspring of one of our former comrades! Draco Malfoy.’

Malfoy’s name was met with severe protest. Nearly every Death Eater in the room voiced their aversion to Malfoy’s induction all at once. Rabastan put up his hands in an effort to silence the jeers, Avery speaking loudly over them in order to be heard.

‘Now listen up! We met with Draco just the other week! We believe that he has the best of intensions in helping us return to power once again. He could turn out to be a key asset as a spy for us inside the Ministry.’

‘But what makes you think that we all approve of this decision?’ Amycus Carrow called out. ‘Some of us here don’t trust the little Malfoy or the rest of that family!’

‘Unfortunately, your statement is of little to no importance, I regret in stating, Amycus,’ Rabastan replied with a smile, brushing some of his long, dark hair out of his eyes. ‘I suspect that you are of the understanding that Lord Voldemort had communicated through his portrait to us – his most trusted confidants.’

Rabastan spoke in a way that Auburn could only describe as musical. He stressed the harsher letters, giving his speech a sense of strength and harsh fluidity. His speech seemed to carry a tune, lulling his conversational adversary in to a sense of security. Auburn wondered whether the charismatic, showman-like Rabastan would take advantage of this gift; he had heard stories from others that the Lestrange brother – in a sudden instant – could attack like a preying viper upon his prey.

‘Now – I am willing to wager that you yourself would like to be in my knowledgeable position, but let me assure you... this is something that I – like everyone else up here – have undoubtedly earned. Intention is frequent upon all of us here tonight, but capability... that is another question in it of itself. So, to get back to your original statement... it ultimately is of no matter what you believe because put simply, you are not in any position to make such significant decisions! If the Dark Lord wishes to reintroduce the Malfoy boy to our ranks, then that is what will occur. Does this at all seem too harsh? I would really despise myself for quelling any sort of audacity that may exist inside your depths,’ finished Rabastan with a grin that seemed to paradoxically mix kindness with an underlying threat.

‘N-No. Not harsh,’ Amycus stuttered, looking at his feet.

‘That’s a relief!’ Rabastan said joyfully. ‘It really would have been a shame to lose one of our ranks... one who – regrettably – failed to successfully combat a band of unusually powerful... erm... students... a couple of weeks ago...’

No one spoke for a few moments, Rabastan seemingly taking great joy at what he had said. Even some of the head Death Eaters appeared uneasy by Rabastan’s ability to influence another through speech. Though he was still fairly new to the Death Eaters, Auburn had clearly learned over the course of the last year that many of the Death Eaters respected Rabastan above the others – including the other Head Death Eaters. Nott took it upon himself to continue the conversation, speaking of Malfoy once again.

‘Even if he turns out to be a dud, he is one of the prime targets of the Aurors! It would be opportune if we can bring him over to our side before the Aurors can influence him to do the same... at least this way we can keep a better eye on him.’

The protest seemed to die down with these words, no one in the room daring to question the wishes of Lord Voldemort.

‘Mulciber – Jugson… it appears clear to me that you have had little to no success so far at the Ministry – you have not infiltrated the premises as we have requested of you...’ Rodolphous called to a couple of Death Eaters sitting in the front rows.

‘N-No not yet, Rodolphous. Give us just one more chance... We are trying,’ Mulciber responded after glancing at what had to be Jugson. His last sentence was more a plea rather than a statement.

‘Pity...’ Rodolphous responded after a brief moment of examination. ‘It appears as if we are going to have to take over. The distraction... is an integral part of our plan – it is something we need in order for our acquaintance to carry out their work and in turn, work that has been requested of us...’ Rodolphous continued, glancing to his fellow head Death Eaters. ‘It seems as if you two are unable to perform the most simplest of tasks...’

‘What do you mean by “distraction”? What are you talking about Rodolphous?’ Ramsay called out from beside Auburn.

‘That is none of your business right now,’ Avery said quite loudly, his frustration with Ramsay continuing. ‘Once the assignment has been carried out, we will relay the next steps to all of you at that time…’

‘It’s not right to keep us in the dark on everything,’ Ramsay replied, though with less enthusiasm as his previous statement.

‘Here, here,’ Alecto called out enthusiastically, making Ramsay flash a brief smile at the support.

‘Regardless,’ Rabastan interrupted loudly, ignoring Alecto’s statement, ‘assignments will be provided to those who have earned our conviction… though as Mulciber and Jugson have demonstrated to us this evening, even we can be misguided in parlaying that trust from time to time…’

‘Now we all know our primary objective, correct?’ Rodolphous called out roughly, his coarse voice reverberating throughout the room. Auburn worried for a moment that the Muggles above would hear the goings-on of the meeting, but he quickly realized that proper protective enchantments would have been cast throughout the room in order to prevent any sort of attention to it. ‘Good. Then there is no need to repeat it. My brother and I have reason to believe that we are closing in on our target that Lord Voldemort has instructed us to seek out. Soon enough, once we have retrieved him, we shall have the knowledge and the power to bring back the Dark Lord once and for all…’ Rodolphous’ statement was met with positive cheering throughout the room. However, turning around amidst his slow clap, Auburn glanced at the smug Ramsay whose arms were folded in a disapproving manner.

‘Now, forgive me,’ Ramsay said sarcastically, breaking up the cheering as everyone turned in his direction. ‘But how do we know that this will lead to Lord Voldemort’s return?’
Ramsay was speaking in a way that he had not all night thus far. It seemed as if Amycus’ agreement with Ramsay earlier had lit a fire underneath him. He appeared to possess a renewed confidence about himself, allowing him to speak of his true feelings and pursue them further.

‘From when I was just a child I was taught that no magic could ever... ever raise a soul from the dead once they have departed this world. What makes you think we are all just going to go along with your little charade? I think it is time we got some real answers and none of this malarkey that you usually give us.’

No one spoke. Instead, every single Death Eater in the room turned to where Rabastan, Rodolphous and the rest stood. The head Death Eaters were all eying Ramsay with a look of utmost dislike while the rest looked upon him with a mix of approval, disregard and complete shock. Rabastan simply smiled in his direction. Ramsay had said what every other Death Eater had on their mind; even Auburn could not help but side with Ramsay. Still, what he did not side with was the way he was presenting his frustration.

‘That’s the second time now that you have spoken when you should not have, Ramsay,’ Avery responded through gritted teeth. ‘It’s time you learn some –’

‘Keep your head Avery,’ Rabastan interrupted, putting a hand on Avery’s shoulder to curb his obvious frustration with Ramsay that had built up throughout the night. ‘I ask you permission to let me take it from here. Am I correct in suggesting that your journey with Mr. Ramsay to our meeting place this evening was one of... turbulence?’ Avery nodded his head slowly, his eyes still transfixed on Ramsay. Rabastan closed his eyes for a moment as he continued. ‘As I suspected.’

‘Are you going to answer me, or are you going to take care of your boyfriend here while we all wait for answers!’ spat Ramsay roughly.

Rabastan smiled, jumping down off the steps where the head Death Eaters were standing and on to the floor where the rest were sitting. Auburn could feel all the tense eyes of every Death Eater in the room focused on Rabastan who slowly began to pace towards Ramsay. Many Death Eaters took a step or two away from Rabastan as he licked his lips methodically.

‘Even more troubling than your loose tongue, which I must point out is discourteous and ill-timed, are the actual details your loose tongue is speaking of. If you are, in fact, loyal to our righteous cause, then our word should be an example that you should be only too pleased to pursue. Surely not a source of your questioning! I sincerely do hope that there are no underlying problems with any, if not all, of us.’

‘And what if there is? I’m sure that I am not the only one in this room who doesn’t like the way we are being led!’ Ramsay replied forcefully, Auburn subconsciously distancing himself from Ramsay who now stood up off of his overturned wine barrel. ‘Who’s with me?’

His address of the thirty or so other Death Eaters in the room did not prompt anyone to respond. Even the Carrows themselves only looked down in to their laps, either not brave enough to respond or not wanting to cross their leads and by extension, Lord Voldemort himself.

‘It appears,’ Rabastan began, his hand gesturing around the room as he continued to pace closer to Ramsay, ‘that you have underestimated the degree to which your fellow Death Eaters would side with your obscure ideology. There are many routes I can go – concerning what to do with a troubled member of our organization – but which is the right one to travel down? It leaves me utterly disconcerted. Do you have any suggestions?’

Auburn could see a lump grow in Ramsay’s throat as a result of Rabastan’s conversational tactic, his hand moving to the insides of his robes as he took a step backwards, his heel kicking in to the wine barrel that he had previously been sitting on. Ramsay’s eyes were beginning to water, the head Death Eaters not taking their eyes off the retreating Death Eater.

‘Departure is not the way to solve this, if I may answer for you,’ Rabastan whispered as he observed Ramsay’s movement, moving ever closer to him as every Death Eater examined the scene in front of him. ‘Those of us that will be here still have much to discuss before we adjourn tonight.’

‘And what if I do leave!’ Ramsay called back bravely, Auburn seeing that he now had his wand in his hand as he continued to take small steps backwards towards the door. ‘What if I don’t want to play your games anymore?! What if I just want out?!’

‘Hmm. Very well. An unfortunate turn of events...’ Rabastan replied, half-turning to Rodolphous, Avery and Nott who wore serious expressions on their faces. Contrary to them, Rabastan looked to be enjoying himself, his face care-free as he licked his lips yet again. ‘My answer to that would probably be quite simple... Your usefulness to us has been... exhausted.’ Rabastan’s words sent a chill up Auburn’s spine as he looked back at Ramsay, his expression one of downright fear now.

‘N-No... P-Please...’ His wand was now held out in front of him, quivering in his fear.

‘Oh, you must be understanding of our predicament,’ Rabastan continued, taking his wand out of his pocket in a casual fashion, gesturing it to Ramsay loosely. ‘If you leave here tonight, how do we know that you would be truthful to the Aurors who would almost certainly question you? You must realize this decision is completely impersonal, but rather one relating to our enduring function. You mustn’t be distressed. From what I’ve heard – which admittedly, I would take with a rather large pinch of salt, evidenced by the fact that I have never felt this before – you won’t feel this even in the slightest.’

Ramsay opened his mouth to speak, but neither Auburn, nor anyone else in the room heard what he was about to say.

Auburn did not even hear Rabastan’s incantation. A flash of green light later and Ramsay crumpled in to a heap on the dusty ground of the storage room, a cloud rising up from his deceased body. Wide-eyed, Auburn only looked upon the lifeless body of Ramsay, unable to take his eyes off of it. As he exhaled loudly, feeling light-headed all of a sudden, Auburn heard the cheery yet threatening, fluid voice of Rabastan coming from what seemed like a substantial distance away.

‘Now... I pray we can return to our assembly now... That is, of course, unless someone else has anything to say?’


Chapter 2: A Voyage of Change
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Just as Harry Potter was beginning to think that he was about to fall into a deep sleep, he was harshly woken up again, rubbing the top of his head in pain as it bounced off of the adjacent window. As he looked behind him, he could see his friend Ron Weasley rock back and forth as the vehicle drove over a particularly rough patch of road, his mouth hanging wide open as he was jerked from side to side. His other best friend Hermione Granger shot him a dreary look of frustration after Ron’s shoulder bumped in to her, disturbing her futile attempts at slumber. Since the beginning of their trip, Harry had watched his friend begin to drift off to sleep numerous times, only to be pulled back in to consciousness by Ron’s flailing body that was being gently rocked by the rough terrain. The only thing that she could do was fold her arms and try to keep her distance from the loudly snoring Ron.

Looking out of his window, water droplets beading down the outside of the pane, Harry began to have a whole new dislike for automobiles and in this case, large vans in particular. Having been woken up at no later than three o’clock this morning, Harry was looking forward to catching up on his much needed sleep but he and Hermione were finding that the simple act of falling asleep was much harder to do in their present conditions. He found a very small solace in the fact that Ron had somehow achieved this seemingly insurmountable feet. The only thought that kept him from growing jealous at his friend’s enviable slumber was his mind wondering how he had done it amidst the terrible circumstances their van was in. For Harry, the only positive that he could think of was the fact that Ginny – sitting to his immediate left – had now put her head on his shoulder, using it as an impromptu pillow. Even if he could, Harry would not have wanted to fall asleep and ruin this moment.

His birthday evening that had just concluded mere hours ago seemed like it had come from another lifetime entirely. Truthfully, he had a pleasant evening with the Weasleys and Hermione (who had shown up at the Burrow earlier that day) but felt as if he could not enjoy it to its fullest extent because of the impending wakeup call that he would be receiving early the next morning. After eating far more than he should have and staying up far longer than what was wise, Harry had dragged his feet out of bed and in to the van that had been waiting outside the Burrow, his mind thinking of only two things; his nineteenth birthday party the night previously and his longing for sleep.

Since Harry had learned that he was a wizard on his eleventh birthday, it had not been often that he had been transported in the Muggle fashion. He was so used to apparating or using Floo powder by this point that anything other than these methods seemed foreign to him, even though he had spent the first ten years of his life being driven around by his Uncle Vernon. Glancing at the small, green lighted digital clock on the dashboard, Harry saw that they were coming up on their second full hour in the vehicle. Exhaling deeply at the long journey that was still ahead, Harry resigned himself to look out his window, his head bobbing up and down as the van bumbled down the road. Every once in a while he was able to catch a glimpse of the second van that they were following which contained Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, George and Percy.

They were all travelling in this manner not because they fancied automobiles (though Mr. Weasley was particularly excited at the prospect of riding in one) but because it was a necessity. Normally, when wanting to reach the Ministry of Magic, one would only have to apparate to the old, run-down warehouse that acted as a safe house for all Ministry personnel and then walk a short distance from there to the direct entrance point of the Ministry. However, today was the election that would decide who would be the next Minister of Magic where voters would ultimately have to decide between current Minister and Order of the Phoenix member Kingsley Shackelbolt and his adversary Rufus Fudge – who was the one who had initiated the vote. Every single witch and wizard over the age of seventeen years old that lived in Britain would be appearing at the Ministry on this single day to cast their vote. To help with the congestion that this busy day was to bring to the Ministry, Mr. Weasley had volunteered them all to be transported to the Ministry via the Muggle way, much to the chagrin of the Weasley clan. Mr. Weasley had stayed strong in his stance even after objections from Ron, George and even Mrs. Weasley herself, citing the fact that since there was thousands of magic-folk appearing at the Ministry, they should help do their part as Ministry workers to reduce the chance of suspicion amongst the Muggles in the area.

Harry was surprised when he heard that the Ministry had regulated the Floo network to a point where designated times had to be taken in order to avoid overcrowdings and obstruction. Wanting to arrive at the Ministry at a time that the Weasleys desired and not one that was picked out for them by the Ministry was the final straw in solidifying the minds of those that were previously in opposition with Mr. Weasley. Though he kept this particular thought to himself, Harry could not help but wonder if their current situation of waking up hours before they normally would was that much more of a convenience. Nevertheless, even Harry (who did not desire to travel by automobile either) could not help but agree with Mr. Weasley when he said that election day was one of the riskiest days the Ministry would ever have to face, at least in terms of Muggle suspicion of their kind and in turn, proper precaution had to be taken in order for the day to run smoothly.

To Harry, what was lost in the shuffle amidst the commotion of travel was the election itself. No one in the past day or two seemed to be talking about the very real possibility that Rufus Fudge could be the new Minister for Magic in the coming days. Even the mere thought of this realistic outcome made Harry’s stomach uneasy; he had a strong dislike for Fudge, a dislike that he was positive Fudge reciprocated. The thing that mystified Harry the most about Fudge’s wish to overthrow Kingsley as Minister was the fact that he (and seemingly the wizarding public at large) had no idea what Fudge was up to. What his goals and plans were if he ever became Minister was something Harry could not even begin to speculate on and it was because of these clouded intentions that made Harry want Kingsley to be victorious even more. He was unsure what sort of Ministry Fudge would run if he won the election, but based on the tenure that his uncle Cornelius had as Minister, Harry was not optimistic.

In the past month or so, the campaign of Rufus Fudge had picked up drastically. If there was any criticism of Kingsley and his campaign it was the fact that the level of his intensity did not match the level of Fudge’s. It seemed like everywhere Harry went, from Diagon Alley to the Ministry itself, there were numerous Fudge representatives pleading with passers-by to consider Fudge for Minister, passing out pamphlets that featured the winking face of Rufus Fudge as he looked out in to the distance triumphantly. There was something about Fudge that made him attractive to the average magical being; whether it was the way he flashed his smile after kissing a baby’s forehead at St. Mungo’s or the confidence he walked with on a daily basis, Harry did not know.

Harry’s thoughts were broken by the sound of another loud snore from Ron, a clearly frustrated Hermione whacking him hard on the arm after he had exhaled completely. He opened his eyes slightly, his mouth still agape as he looked around for what had smacked him. After a brief moment of this, he returned to his slumber, letting out another large snore a second later much to Hermione’s dismay.

As she put her hands over her ears, Harry flashed a small grin of his own at the idea that he and his friends would have much more time together this year than the last. Hermione had taken up a job inside the Ministry’s Department for Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures after successfully completing her N.E.W.T. year at Hogwarts. Just by having both of his best friends in the same place again had already ensured that this year would promise to be more enjoyable for Harry, at least in terms of their working lives. It felt like this year was a fresh start for Harry and his friends; it was a time where they could get back to being just that – friends. Coupled with the fact that Mosteban (the head Auror at the Ministry) and Williamson (the head of Harry’s Auror unit) were looking to promote a few Junior Aurors to full time and fully fledged Aurors, Harry was counting down the days until he would return to work as an Auror after the election was over. As if this excitement was not enough, both he and Ron had both received letters from Williamson and Blackburn (Ron’s head) just a few days prior, requesting that on election day, they arrive at the Ministry extra early for a meeting. Harry could not help but speculate that the promotions being talked about in the Auror Office for the past month so excessively might be coming his and Ron’s way.

Recently, however, Harry had reflected on all that they had done. He was still dumbstruck that he and his friends had gotten through every obstacle that had been thrown their way; they had almost always been lucky, but something inside told him that maybe there was something more. Not knowing if his and his friends’ accomplishments were the product of the luck that fate had brought him, or some invisible yet untapped potential deep inside of his soul, hazarding a guess, he thought, seemed impractical and useless. This justification helped Harry deal with the understanding that he so desperately sought.

There was one small detail that hampered Harry’s fantasy about becoming a full time Auror. The fact that they had directly disobeyed Gawain Robards – an Auror who also was a part of the Order of the Phoenix – and Williamson’s orders and were then subsequently reprimanded for it did not bode well in Harry’s mind. However, Harry found a hopeful solace in the fact that their actions during the Battle at Riddle House, careless as they may have been, at the very least showed Mosteban what they were capable of. It was with Mosteban himself that they had defeated Gideon Grindelwald, a feat that was not to be overlooked, especially in the Auror Office. When the story had broken in the press, Harry’s reputation received yet another boost. Though he was never thrilled about being in the news, Harry knew that the added recognition could bode well for his and Ron’s possible promotions. Resigned to whatever his fate may bring him, Harry tried not to think about the idea of becoming an Auror after only one year which, he was told, was something that very few Junior Aurors actually ended up achieving. Instead, the images of the Battle at Riddle House and what he had learned during and after it made up the majority of daydreams Harry would subconsciously conjure up in his mind.

Guilt and regret still coursed through his body every time Harry thought of Gideon Grindelwald. Still not knowing the real story behind his true intensions, Harry had helped in bringing him down that fateful night, Grindelwald collapsing and dying on the battlefield before he could even think twice about what he was doing. Even though he did not know the information about Gideon’s true intensions at that time, Harry still felt a considerable hole left in his mind regarding the younger Grindelwald. The only thing that mattered to Harry was the fact that he now knew that Grindelwald – like himself – had been trying to eliminate the Death Eaters once and for all. Harry was still kicking himself for helping in the disposal of an innocent man even though Hermione had kept telling him that there was nothing else he could have done and that it was not his fault. Now that Grindelwald and his Apollyon Society seemed to be dead and gone forever, Harry could not help but think that he had missed a great opportunity to form an alliance with the ones whose goals were the same as his own.

Rain continued to pound the roof of the slowly moving van. The first cracks of dawn were making themselves known on the distant horizon as they entered the outskirts of London. Harry yawned loudly. He knew that the chances of him falling back to sleep now were slim to none. In an attempt to try and rid his mind of its tiredness, he pulled out a tiny action figure that Ron had bought last year at the Quidditch World Cup. Taking out his wand, he muttered, ‘Wingardium Leviosa’, twirling the slowly fading action figure in the air. There was barely any magic left inside the tiny Chaser, but every now and then, it would revert back to its energetic self, giving the effect of someone who was drifting in and out of drunkenness. His fun did not last long however; during one of these frequent outbursts of magic, the figure wildly sped off on its broom, smacking against the window hard. For a moment, the figure laid spread eagled out on the pane of the window before slowly falling down to the ground with a soft thump. Harry tossed the figure back inside his bag, seeing Ginny stir as a single ray of light protruded through his window, finding itself over one of Ginny’s eyes. She shifted to the other side, placing her head on a pillow she had wisely brought from her bed at the Burrow.

As he watched Ginny resettle herself in her seat, the van making a left turn that made Ron’s head fall hard on Hermione’s shoulder, Harry remembered that even though he would see much more of Hermione in the workplace this year, the same could not be said of Ginny. He was proud of the fact that she had been given a tryout by the Holyhead Harpies Quidditch team, but he knew that if he she did in fact make the final cut, she would be on the road for much of the year. Knowing the importance and popularity of professional Quidditch, Harry could only imagine how much work she would have to put in, leaving little time for anything else. Knowing that this unfortunate truth may lay just ahead, Harry vowed to spend as much quality time with Ginny as possible before her final tryout with the Harpies in a week’s time.

It was only a week ago that Harry had learned that there was to be another member added to the Weasley family in nine months time. The idea that Bill and Fleur were pregnant was still a revelation that had caught Harry, Ron, Hermione and the entire Weasley family off guard. When Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had heard the news, Harry could not remember for the life of him a time when Mrs. Weasley looked more happy. Emitting a sincere glow, Bill had stood at the front of the table during the family meal, smiling down upon Fleur as he announced to the entire family that they were going to have a child together. For the rest of the evening, there was scarcely a moment when someone’s face was not beaming. The news of the impending Weasley child – and first grandchild of Mr. and Mrs. Weasley – was met with such a vibrant, contagious enthusiasm that Harry thought it would be impossible for any of them to feel sad ever again. The image of Mrs. Weasley grasping Bill with a tight hug while tears happily slid down her cheeks was a moment that Harry would not soon forget. It was a moment that had made Fleur and even Mr. Weasley tear up; a moment which had prompted Ron to give his big brother a massive embrace, clapping him on the back as he congratulated the soon-to-be-parents.

‘I’m going to be an uncle!’ he remembered Ron exclaim during the rest of the evening.

‘Do you think it’s going to be a boy or a girl?’ Charlie had asked as Mrs. Weasley dove in to her son for another hug.

‘Oh! Well zey had taught us at Beauxbatons a charm zat would tell you the baby’s gender,’ Fleur had replied excitedly. ‘I used it – if it is right, we will be having a little girl.’

‘A Weasley girl – that would be quite the rarity. If it’s true, then Ginny wouldn’t have to be the only girl anymore,’ Percy had said after taking a swig of his punch, smiling sideways at Ginny.

‘But those things can’t be counted on. Its results are no guarantee,’ Hermione had stated matter-of-factly to which Fleur nodded her head. ‘We’ll know in nine months!’

From behind him, Harry heard a seat buckle unclip, Hermione making her way past Harry and in to the row of seating directly in front of him. She did not bother to sit upright in the vacant seats; instead, she turned fully around and faced Harry, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand as her head poked up over the back of the seat. He figured that she had also been reduced to a point of no hope in regards to falling back asleep, proven to Harry in the expression of frustration she wore on her overtired face. His suspicion was confirmed a second later.

‘No use of trying to sleep now,’ she said lazily, eying the peacefully sleeping Ron who suddenly snorted mid snore, catching himself and drifting back off to sleep immediately after. Hermione contorted her face in to a disgusted look. ‘Now see that’s... that’s just inhuman.’ She placed her head on her folded arms, staring off through the window that Harry had been looking through for over an hour now.

‘We must be at least half way there by now... aren’t we?’ Harry asked.

‘Yeah... no more than an hour or so,’ she replied somewhat distantly, not moving her head off of her folded arms.

The two of them both stared out of the window for what felt like hours, neither of them bothering to ruin the silence which they both craved; Ron’s frequent snores had done enough damage already. As the sun continued to peak over the horizon, Hermione yawned loudly, lifting her head off of the back of the seat. Harry heard a crinkle of paper as he saw Hermione searching for something on the floor in front of her. A second later and Harry saw that she was holding a copy of yesterday’s edition of the Daily Prophet, Hermione quickly flipping through the pages as she opened her eyes wide in order to adjust them to the print.

‘I meant to show you this...’ she said faintly, not wanting to disturb the sleeping Ginny who had not moved since retracting her head off of Harry’s shoulder. Finally she came to the page that she wished to show Harry, offering the paper to Harry after pointing out the desired article. Fetching his glasses from his right front pocket of his jeans, Harry took the paper in his hands, examining the headline that Hermione had indicated.


AZKABAN UNDER CONTROL; STOLEN PROPERTY RESURFACES

An intriguing follow-up on the story first reported last June has surfaced. It appears as if the stolen caravan full of Azkaban property has been found, the Prophet reports this morning. The mysterious news of the stolen caravan first broke after a massive explosion killed two Azkaban officials who were on their way to the Azkaban burial ground in order to dispose of recently deceased inmates and criminals that were in the possession of the Ministry.

Though Azkaban officials have refused to point out where the caravan was finally discovered after it had been blown off course, officials have been pleased to tell us that after careful examination, only one deceased body had been lost. Everything else that had been stolen or misplaced had been recovered. Though the culprits who planted the explosion are still yet to be apprehended, Ministry and Azkaban officials alike are pleased with the recovery of the stolen caravan. More on the apprehension of the ones responsible will be made available when further evidence arises.

For a final rundown of the two candidates and any other information you need regarding tomorrow’s election, turn to pages 3, 5-9, 11-13, 15, 17, 19-20, 22-29, 34, 36-38


‘Nice to see they have the election covered...’ Harry said sarcastically, drearily handing back the edition of the Prophet to Hermione.

‘Just never seems like we can have... two weeks straight without something going wrong or something mysterious happening,’ Hermione replied as she set down the newspaper beside her.

‘Of course not, Hermione... that wouldn’t be normal now would it?’ Harry said jokingly, closing his eyes as the sun blinded him for a moment. As the van rounded a corner, Hermione smiled, nodding her head in agreement.

‘I wonder if the day will ever come when we are not surprised any more by this stuff,’ Hermione said.

‘We’re probably almost at that point. We’ve seen everything short of a break-in to Azkaban,’ Harry chuckled.

What Hermione had stated rang true with Harry; it was not as if he had become emotionless with things that he had read about in the Prophet, but he was at a point where at nineteen he had already felt like he had seen it all. Now that he considered this thought in more detail, it dawned on him how terrible that reality actually was. After a moment or two of neither of them speaking, Hermione glanced towards Harry who was surprised to see that her eyes were beginning to glisten.

‘You’re going to miss her... aren’t you Harry?’ she said quietly, wiping both corners of her eyes after she had spoken.

Not being able to look away from his friend’s prying stare, Harry knew that she had thought about it at great length – it was what Hermione did in situations such as these. Like the countless others she had studied previously, Hermione had read him like a book. It had even gotten to a point where Harry was surprised that it had taken her this long to understand his view point on Ginny, but he cut her some slack; after all, the atmosphere inside the Burrow during the days leading up to the election had been extremely hectic. Harry opened his mouth to respond to Hermione, but found no words that could explain to her how he was feeling. He escaped Hermione’s stare quickly after finding nothing to say; he knew that if he showed a great deal of emotion that it would only make Hermione burst out in to a fit of tears which was something that he was not particularly desiring at this moment, especially since he was surrounded by Ginny, Ron and the Ministry driver a few rows of seating in front of him. After trying to contain his true feelings on the subject he turned back to Hermione who broke the silence.

‘I mean... it doesn’t even seem fair doesn’t it? You two haven’t had any sort of time together since the sixth year... and you can hardly count that!’

‘Well, we will have some more time this year... I mean, I know we’ll both be busy and all but... we’ll make it work somehow...’ Harry trailed off, feeling his eyes sting and the strength in his voice leave him.

Hermione let out a small exhale, Harry seeing that a tiny tear was slowly falling down her cheek. She shook her head slightly as she looked up at the roof of the van as a way to hide her tears from Harry. Harry appreciated her bravery immensely, knowing that she wanted to stay strong for him.

‘She’s considering not accepting the Harpies offer you know... that is if she ends up making the team. Did you know that?’ Hermione said through a smile small, her voice one of a higher pitch than her usual speech. ‘She knows that you would never let her though.’

‘She might be surprised then,’ Harry muttered jokingly.

After she collected herself, she turned back to Harry, cocking her head to one side as she examined him.

‘I wish I could tell you now. I really wish I could. But I promised not to unless Ginny was there as well,’ Hermione said quickly, trying to avoid Harry’s eyes as she spat out her sentence all in one breath.

‘Wh-What do you mean? Tell me what?’ Harry asked inquisitively, lowering his voice after he realized he had spoken a bit too loudly in his excitement and curiosity.

‘Oh, nothing... You’ll find out soon enough,’ Hermione whispered back as she winked.

Accepting that Hermione was not going to tell him what she was concealing after a few more minutes of prodding, Harry’s mind briefly wandered away from the topic of Ginny. He was grateful that there was something else to occupy his mind as the trip to the Ministry continued; if he had to think about being away from Ginny for another minute he was sure his head was going to explode.

‘I wonder how many times you’ll be peppered with questions about who you are currently dating,’ Hermione said in an obvious attempt to shift away from the rather somber topic of the previous conversation. ‘If I had to guess it’ll be at least three times.’

‘You’re mad... It’ll be at least half a dozen. Remember when Ron and I took you to the Ministry for your debriefing last month? I’m surprised I got out of there alive...’ Harry responded through the giggles of Hermione, Ron beginning to stir in his seat.

It was true that Harry was finding it more difficult than ever to visit the places he wanted without being hounded by a barrage of eager reporters. Now that a year had passed since Lord Voldemort’s defeat, it seemed to Harry that everyone had put the horrors of the past years behind them. In varying degrees of successfulness, the entire magical world seemed to have moved on in one way or another, closing the book on the past and looking forward to starting a new chapter in their lives. Over the past few months it appeared that the public obsession with Harry had hit an all time high; wherever he went, whoever he saw and whatever he said were things that the general public wanted to know. If it was not for the upcoming election, Harry thought it was entirely possible that he would have graced the front page of the Daily Prophet on a more regular basis.

Though the Prophet had always been focused on delivering the news of the day (or rather their own diluted and biased version of it) they had recently been focused on keeping the public up to date on celebrities and the gossip around them, similar to what the popular tabloid magazine The Stool Pigeon presented in its contents. If anything, this subject matter that the Prophet was now showcasing on a daily basis was reflective on the changing mind-set of the magical world as a whole; a far cry from the disastrous, pessimistic subject matter filled with Death Eaters and fear that characterized the paper for years.

However, with Rita Skeeter’s launch of her own new magazine entitled Rita Skeeter’s ‘Clean Skeet’, competition for reporting daily gossip had hit an all time high. Harry, fresh off of his defeat of Lord Voldemort, was now the main target of all of these magazines’ attention. This new emphasis on Harry and other celebrities like him served as an indicator that he was living in a much more peaceful time, at least on the somewhat misguided surface. The fact that Harry was now being featured more prominently in the pages of the Prophet told him that the amount of noteworthy news had greatly declined since the downfall of Lord Voldemort; now, there barely seemed like enough news to fill the Prophet’s pages. Though Harry was upset about how he was being presented in these stories at first, after he had learned that nobody of great importance put any stock in to what these magazines reported, he was beginning to have fun with the outlandish remarks they were making about him, such as the one he read last week that claimed he had adopted a Burmese boy named Joseph and had quit his job at the Aurors in order to become a single father.

‘Ten times... and that’s with the election going on too... those prats can’t seem to get enough of you...’ the voice of Ron grumbled from the back seat of the car, Harry and Hermione both laughing at Ron’s interjection. Ron had apparently been listening in on the last part of their conversation.

Though he was taking what was being written about him in stride, what bothered him was the way they had reported his final defeat of Lord Voldemort for two very different reasons. The first was that he did not think the subject of Lord Voldemort was one that they should inaccurately report. Being a touchy subject and something that deserved the utmost seriousness and authenticity, Harry knew that virtually every family had been affected in some way by the wrath of Voldemort and his Death Eaters and thought it wrong to speak of this very real subject imprecisely.

The second reason was much more troubling to Harry than the first. Put simply, Harry felt like the story of Lord Voldemort was not over. The articles continually reminded him about what he had experienced just a few months ago. Hearing the Death Eaters and the portrait of Voldemort vow that the Dark Lord would return once again made it impossible for Harry to have proper peace of mind. The man who had taken so much from him in the past did not deserve another chance at life and hearing the confidence that the Death Eaters spoke of his return only infuriated Harry. Though he still was unconvinced as to how Voldemort could ever return from the dead, he thought it wise – as Dumbledore’s portrait had told him – to not put anything past the Death Eaters. The day that Harry could rest free of anxiety was the day that the Death Eaters and Lord Voldemort were a thing of the past for good.

This was the reason why Harry was beginning to feel butterflies in his stomach as the van continued to inch closer to its destination; the prospect of becoming a full time Auror meant that he had more direct control in to the operations of the Aurors as a whole. Having a greater input in to the plans of the Aurors was something that he desperately wanted. Even though he respected every Auror who he met, he still felt that his presence in the Aurors could really help based on the fact that over the past few years, he had spent more time chasing, learning about or dueling Death Eaters than many of the other Auror in the entire office. The last thing that Harry wanted was for Lord Voldemort to implausibly return or the Death Eaters to rise in power while he was still an Auror. Preventing this was something that he felt was required of him; the idea of not fulfilling this self-imposed duty made him feel as if he was letting down his parents, Sirius, Dumbledore, Lupin, Fred, Tonks, Dobby and everyone else who had sacrificed their lives for him, his friends and for the freedom of the magical world.

He had been seeing Voldemort in his mind more and more since last summer. The visions of the plain white room he had periodically experienced since Voldemort’s downfall had indeed become less frequent but in turn, they had become much more potent. They had gotten to a point where Harry had felt that he himself was inside the vision. To his incredulous shock, it was only a few months ago that he had discovered that one of the two mysterious figures he saw in each vision was Lord Voldemort himself. Still nowhere closer to deciphering the meaning of these visions, why he was having them, or who the second figure in the vision was, Harry was worried at what this meant for him. Though Hermione had plausibly speculated that it may be in connection with Harry’s status as ‘Master of Death’, Harry was ultimately not convinced, at least until he had concrete proof on hand that confirmed Hermione’s suspicions.

Nevertheless, Harry was thankful that he would not have to dwell on these disturbing thoughts for any longer. Hardly noticing where the van had travelled to over the past hour, he was surprised when Hermione pointed out of the window, indicating that they were within mere minutes of arriving at the Ministry. Peering out of his own window, Harry could already see flocks of wizards and witches make their way down the busy London streets; he had become quite good at spotting magic-folk in the presence of Muggles. Some were incredibly obvious to point out while others blended in with the rest of the Muggles so fluently that it was not until they were almost out of eyesight that Harry realized that there was something unusual or strange about them. For the most part, they blended in well with the Muggles who were too busy in navigating the bustling crowds to notice the few magical families amongst them.

Harry laughed to himself as he saw one professional looking Muggle carrying a briefcase while conversing on his cell phone. The Muggle took no notice of a clearly obvious magical family (the men dressed in mauve suits wearing horribly matching bright green ties) who were marveling at the device he was holding up to his ear. The youngest boy had begun to stray away from his family; with great interest, he followed the Muggle, poking at the his briefcase playfully. In a rush, the briefcase somehow opened, the business-suit adorned Muggle throwing his hands up in to the air in anger as his papers went flying. Just as the man began looking around for who had opened it, the mauve-suited father quickly snatched up his small son, whisking him away from the Muggle’s view just in time.

Almost directly after Ginny had finally woken up, the van had come to an abrupt stop as it pulled over to the side of road, indicating to them that they had arrived at their destination. The sliding door of the van opened as a smiling Mr. and Mrs. Weasley greeted them.

‘Let’s hurry up now you four,’ Mrs. Weasley said excitingly, ‘we don’t want to be lined up forever!’

As Harry stepped out on to the pavement after making sure he had all of his things with him, he stretched his legs and arms over his head as he let out a concise yawn, the butterflies in his stomach resurfacing almost instantly. Ron, undoubtedly feeling the same way that Harry was, seemed to recognize this.

‘Don’t worry mate – there’s no way Mosteban can overlook us. No matter how much he wants to,’ he said through a yawn.

Joining an obviously very tired and weary Percy and George, Harry, Hermione and the rest of the Weasleys started off in the direction of the lavatory. As the vans drove off in the opposite direction, Harry felt something in his hand, realizing that Ginny had taken his in hers. She yawned before giving him a quick smile. Thinking that there was no better way to enter the Ministry, Harry felt a noticeable happiness with every step he took, the butterflies seemingly flying away out of his system. Along with Ginny, Harry followed Mr. and Mrs. Weasley who beckoned for them to keep up with their pace.


Chapter 3: The Election
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Harry and Ginny were bringing up the rear of their troupe, Ron, Hermione, George and Percy just in front of them. As he glanced around him, Harry was quickly recognizing the sheer volume of magical personnel in the surrounding area. Normally, it would take Harry a moment or two to correctly identify the magic folk disguised as Muggles in the surrounding area, but since the vast majority of people around him were either pointing at him or staring in his direction, he came to the easy conclusion that he was surrounded by witches and wizards. Most of these gawking observers reverted back to their stance of incognito almost immediately in order to rid themselves of any Muggle attention, but Harry was still able to notice their shifting glances as they eyed him in awe.

‘Hurry up now you lot!’ Mrs. Weasley beckoned from a few yards in front of them. Harry did not require a second excuse to speed off in Mrs. Weasley’s direction as a particularly old looking man grasped for his arm.

‘You’re not nervous, are you Ron?’ Harry heard Mr. Weasley say as he caught up to the rest of the Weasleys. Ron shook his head which apparently was not up to the satisfaction of Mr. Weasley. ‘You and Harry have done nothing wrong, I assure you,’ he said, seeing Harry as he caught up to Ron. ‘If they wanted to punish you in any way they would have done so already.’

‘Not really nervous Dad. More anxious then anything,’ Ron replied earnestly.

‘If you two really become full-time Aurors at nineteen, you’ll be the youngest since Barney Richards... although in his day, Auror criteria and regulations were a lot easier to pass through – they’re much more selective nowadays,’ Hermione recited in her characteristic textbook-like fashion.

‘Brilliant. What did this Richards bloke do then in his time as an Auror?’ Ron asked with a fantasy induced grin on his face as the idea of himself as one of the youngest Aurors of all time crept in to his mind.

‘Er… Well… He never made it to his twenty-second birthday, actually,’ Hermione replied tentatively. Ron’s face grew red, his grin extinguished as he shuffled through a few Muggles who were debating a news story in the paper that one of the men held.

Ron did not say a word for the next five minutes or so as they all tried to keep up with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley who were weaving in and around groups of people walking in all different directions. As they got closer and closer to the entrance point of the Ministry, Harry began to notice more witches and wizards amongst them, nearly all of them noticing Harry. He could tell that the crowd was doing their best to suppress their excitement, knowing that if he was anywhere else but a busy Muggle street he would have been bombarded by screaming admirers.

Mr. and Mrs. Weasley seemed to be on high alert of the crowd that seemed to grow with each passing step. The entrance to the lavatory in sight, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley stopped in their tracks, turning on their heels and looking out behind Harry. To his surprise, a large barrage of witches and wizards were closing in on him, some even having the nerve to pull out their cameras. As the group of columnists and photographers tried to complete the impossible task of jostling for position in a non discreet way, Mr. Weasley whispered in Harry’s ear.

‘Take Ginny, Ron and Hermione down to the lavatories... we’ll hold them off here.’ Harry nodded, looking towards his friends who immediately understood. Out of nowhere, four Ministry of Magic security officials (all dressed in plain black Muggle suits and ties) emerged, standing on either side of Mr. and Mrs. Weasley though standing far apart enough as to not create a scene. Ron raised his eyebrows and shook his head, evidently referring back to the comment that he had made regarding the amount of attention Harry was to receive. The foursome darted in the opposite direction of Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, George, Percy and the Ministry officials, quickly descending the steps that led to the lavatory.

‘Just try to blend in,’ Hermione whispered as they stopped in their tracks. The lineup had stretched to the very bottom of the steps as Hermione and Ginny shifted their position in order to join the ladies’ line.

‘Oh, very simple that is,’ Ron exclaimed sarcastically. ‘We’ve only got bloody Harry Potter here with us.’

Ginny made a quick shushing noise that drowned out the end of Ron’s comment, a few wizards turning to look around at them after they had unmistakably heard the mention of Harry’s name. Thankfully, the line had begun to move again and the two wizards were forced to turn around after some forceful prodding from the impatient wizards lined up behind them.

For the next ten minutes only glances were exchanged between the foursome. Finally, after keeping to themselves, they separated in the two opposite directions, Ron and Harry going one way while Hermione and Ginny – with a meek smile and a nod – went off in the other.

‘We’d better try to hurry once we’re in – no lollygagging around. Look,’ whispered Ron who indicated his wristwatch, tapping the face of it twice.

Harry was familiar with the magical watch as it was a near identical replica of the one that he had received on his seventeenth birthday. Currently, Harry’s was safely put away in his seven lock trunk, an item which he had received on his eighteenth birthday from the Weasleys. After observing the time that now read half past seven, Harry knew Ron was right. The butterflies that had temporarily left his stomach were now back in full force.

‘But doesn’t Fudge just seem a little... curious to you?’ Harry heard a wizard ahead of him mutter to a counterpart.

‘Not at all. In fact it’s been quite some time that someone has come along in the realm of politics the way he has. He has my vote, that’s for sure,’ the second wizard said. ‘Finally a politician with a sense of purpose – someone with the teeth to do the job. The not so glamorous parts of it.’

Having done it countless times over his past year of working at the Ministry, Harry was able to subconsciously flush himself; his mind was currently elsewhere. The familiar sensation of this experience barely flustered him and only a few seconds later, he appeared in the Atrium of the Ministry. After stepping out of the fireplace, Harry was immediately run in to by a group of wizards, nearly knocking him to the ground. As he took in his surroundings, Harry could not believe how many people were occupying the Atrium of the Ministry, his eyes opened wide in amazement. Though he always thought the Atrium was very large, it seemed minuscule at this moment; witches and wizards alike were crammed in to the space, though where he was, the crowd was much sparser than it was closer to the great golden fountain.

‘Harry! Over here!’ Harry heard someone call from across the room. Though he was finding it hard to hear the voice over the noise of the crowd, Harry realized that the voice did not belong to Ron, but to another friend he knew by the name of Neville Longbottom.

‘Neville?! Where are you?’ Harry called over the crowd that was rushing towards the front of the Atrium. Harry saw a hand shoot up in to the air, Neville emerging from a small grouping of older looking witches and wizards a second later.

‘Mad in here isn’t it? Good to see you Harry!’ Neville said, shaking Harry’s hand enthusiastically. Neville had always been a good and loyal friend.

‘Good to see you too! I’ve never seen so many people in the Ministry at one time before!’ Harry called back. They both had to speak more loudly than usual amidst the commotion of the Atrium. ‘Do I dare ask who you’re voting for?’ Harry asked, looking throughout the crowd for any sighting of Ron, Hermione or Ginny.

‘Fat chance I’ll be voting for Fudge,’ Neville grumbled. ‘All I needed to know was who his uncle was and that sealed my vote right there. Gran’s too.’

‘Hey Harry! Neville!’ Ron called, shuffling through the witches and wizards who were all moving in the opposite direction Ron was. ‘Seen Hermione or Ginny?’ Harry shook his head as Ron shook Neville’s hand, Ron gasping for breath as he came to a standstill beside his fellow former Gryffindors.

‘Anything new Neville? How’s your summer holidays so far?’ Harry asked.

‘Spent a lot of it in contact with Professor Sprout actually. I’ll be back at Hogwarts in September... as her assistant,’ Neville replied, obviously proud at his achievement.

‘That’s terrific Neville – hard to imagine you specializing in any other subject other than Herbology,’ Ron said with a grin and a pat on Neville’s back.

‘Thanks. Every day I get more and more skeptical about which house I really should have been sorted in – I’m surprised I wasn’t a Hufflepuff the way Professor Sprout and I get on.’

‘Let’s not forget who pulled out the sword of Gryffindor out of the Sorting Hat now Neville,’ Harry replied which only brought a look of pride on to Neville’s face.

His pride dispersed however after a moment, prompting Harry and Ron’s own smiles to fade. As they moved closer to Neville who undoubtedly wanted to speak, Harry could see the difficulties that Neville was having in voicing whatever it was that he was wishing to say. It took a few attempts, but Neville finally spoke quietly, his eyes fluttering between Harry, Ron, oncoming magic folk who were walking by and a space of wall between his two friends.

‘There is one other thing... well it’s nothing interesting really, but... but it’s important to me...’ Neville said slowly as he began to examine the dark floor.

‘If it’s important to you than it’s important to us,’ encouraged Harry, pausing when Neville did not speak. ‘What is it Neville?’ Harry asked after exchanging an inquisitive glance with Ron that told him that Ron knew nothing of what Neville was hinting at. After a moment of silence, Neville spoke bluntly.

‘My parents... they are, er... they’re back. They are conscious again.’

Neville looked up from the floor, tears already forming in his eyes. Harry could not manage to say any words, only staring back in to Neville’s tearful face. Though a tear began to trickle down Neville’s cheek, Harry could tell that he regretted it as he shook his head in an effort to jar him back to his senses; Harry knew Neville wanted to be brave in front of his friends.

‘That’s... That’s amazing Neville... I’m just... so happy for you. How did this – how did it happen?’ Harry stammered, Ron nodding in agreement. Though he knew he was overjoyed for Neville, the shock of the news seemed to have temporarily stopped his brain from working. Neville had one of the most proud and happiest looks on his face that Harry had ever seen on anyone, ever as he spoke again.

‘Only two days ago... at St. Mungo’s. Mum woke up first. She just... woke up. Healers can’t explain it. And as if he could... sense her presence or whatever you want to call it... my Dad woke up as well... just a couple hours later. Their memories are a little foggy – probably never be the same again... but they know me... they know me again.’

Though Neville only spoke in a low tone, Harry’s focus on his friend had blocked out all of the Atrium’s commotion, making Neville’s speech seem magnified. He could not think of a better person for something like this to happen to. Neville’s parents had been in the Order before they were tortured and driven to a state of madness, ultimately left comatose by the now deceased Bellatrix Lestrange along with Rabastan and Rodolphous. Now years later, they had reawakened, leaving Neville in a very obvious state of jubilation. Though he hated to selfishly think like this in wake of Neville’s much deserving second chance, Harry could only think of his own parents and how he would never experience what Neville was feeling right now.

‘They’d love for you to come visit sometime, Harry,’ Neville continued, shedding away his tears fully now. ‘They don’t know much about your defeat... well your defeats of Voldemort yet... haven’t really gotten around to saying much about it... but even still, they’d love to meet you and Ron as well – you two are the sons of my parents’ friends after all.’

‘We’d love to Neville – anytime, we promise,’ Ron said to the approval of Harry.

‘Just give us the word... I’m sure Hermione and Ginny would love to come as well,’ Harry said smiling, giving Neville a small hug, clapping him on his back. Words could not describe how happy he was for his friend as Ron followed.

‘Thanks. Well, I should be getting back to Gran – should be almost time to start the voting soon. I’ll catch you guys later.’ Neville gave them a little wave as he started off in to the packed crowd of the Atrium.

‘Well, you don’t see that every day. Good for Neville,’ Ron said cheerfully, resuming the search for Hermione and Ginny that Harry had already started.

‘I still don’t see them anywhere...’ he said absent-mindedly, noticing that five separate lines were now beginning to form near the fountain of the Atrium.

‘We should probably just move forward. Dad told me earlier to meet near the lifts if we ever got separated.’

Nodding his head in agreement, he followed Ron through the crowd. It took more than double the time that it normally would to reach the lifts but Harry was relieved when he saw the Weasleys, Hermione and Ginny waiting for them on the outskirts of the Atrium.

‘Been wondering where you two were!’ Hermione called out to them as they got closer. Your line must have been moving a lot slower than ours.’

‘We ran in to Neville on the way. I don’t suppose you heard what happened to his parents?’ Harry asked. He and Ron quickly recited what Neville had told them much to the glee of the entire Weasley clan.

‘Oh, we should pay Frank and Alice a visit. After all these years... so many memories...’ Mrs. Weasley said as she pulled out a handkerchief to dab at her eyes, Mr. Weasley holding her tight as his eyes glistened.

‘The chances of that actually happening are astronomical,’ Hermione stated after the initial shock and happiness had worn off. ‘He really is truly lucky. We all are.’

Mr. Weasley had explained to them that there was nothing left to do but wait for the election process to start. Having not normally undergone these circumstances when a new Minister was to take office, Mr. Weasley could not provide all of the answers in regards to this new procedure. However, before he could get in to what he did know, an extremely loud and booming voice rang through the Atrium, almost instantly quieting the rowdy crowd. It seemed to be coming from the fountain itself, Harry and the rest of them moving closer in order to see.

‘Welcome to the Ministry of Magic,’ the male voice said. Harry was unable to recognize whose voice was speaking, inching closer through the crowd to gain a better look. There were many Ministry officials all dressed in bright purple robes, many of whom were stationed at the front of the five lines that were now clearly produced throughout the Atrium. ‘The voting will commence shortly. We apologize in advance for having to conduct the election in such a convoluted manner but with your respectful participation, we predict the day’s events will run smoothly. On behalf of the Ministry of Magic, it is my duty to divulge to you that because of this election’s uniqueness, it was ultimately decided upon to conduct the voting in the flesh. Therefore, confusion at this time would be kept at a minimum.’

Leaning forward now, he could see the eyes of everyone in the Atrium looking directly up at the fountain, apparently listening to the speaker. However, as Harry glanced to the same location, he could see no wizard standing there. After looking harder at where everyone else was staring, he was shocked at his discovery that the golden wizard statue of the fountain itself had suddenly become life like, its mouth opening in line with the words being spoken. Though it still retained its stiff, metal looking demeanor, the voice was anything but; it seemed human.

‘Now, it is our privilege to open the first ever election for Minister of Magic,’ the fountain wizard stated. ‘Good luck to both our candidates Mr. Kingsley Shackelbolt and Mr. Rufus Archibald Fudge. Voting will cease at noon today. Thank-you.’

As the fountain wizard’s speech concluded, two massive curtains fell from behind the fountain; one had the smiling face of Rufus Fudge imprinted on it, whereas the one on the right featured the depiction of Kingsley Shackelbolt. Above their moving faces was a faint golden ‘M’ – the symbol for the Ministry – and beneath each of them were two bright golden zeros. The moment the curtains had dropped, five separate booths appeared from the ground, each booth shielded with its own purple curtain. The election had officially begun.

Harry had not even noticed the five wand makers who stood beside the Ministry officials at the end of each line. As he observed the first voters that walked up to the booth, he saw them present their wand to the wand maker. In Harry’s estimation, this was in order to verify that their wand did in fact belong to them, the voters doing this after they had given their Ministry of Magic identification card to the Ministry official for clearance. A hovering clipboard contained about as many pages as there was in some of the biggest books he had ever seen Hermione browse through. As the Ministry official allowed the voter to pass through – handing them a small card with the faces of Kingsley and Fudge on it – a quill checked their name off of the clipboard’s extraordinarily long list, the pages fluttering as the clipboard found the correct name.

‘Well, we might as well get in line then,’ George said from behind Harry.

Mr. Weasley gave a short nod of approval, ushering Mrs. Weasley and the rest to get in line. His attention turned to Harry and Ron who now appeared by Harry’s side. The noise of the crowd slowly reverted back to its pre-speech noise level.

‘You two better get down to the Auror Office though. I’ll meet you back in the Atrium – we’ll be here all day, of course. Just hope Kingsley can pull it off...’

‘Don’t you need to vote Dad?’ Ron asked his father who was staring up at the curtains which were already showing that Kingsley was in the lead. A bright golden seven sat underneath a smiling Kingsley. Fudge’s face was one of pouting as a golden five sat underneath.

‘Well of course... but I was given this special card, see?’ Mr. Weasley said smiling as he took out a small piece of paper out of his front pocket. ‘I can cut straight to the front of the line whenever I want! You two best be off now.’

‘Good luck you two!’ Ginny called as she was swept away in to the crowd, Harry offering a weak smile back in return.

Harry and Ron set off in the opposite direction of the Atrium, heading towards the lifts and away from the noise of the crowd all at once. Neither of them said anything as they opened the golden gate of the lift and slammed it shut behind them. Every which direction Harry looked he saw the smiling face of Rufus Fudge, his campaign posters covering almost every square inch of the lift’s interior. Nowhere to be seen was any glimpse of Kingsley. ‘Perhaps Kingsley’s posters were all covered’ Harry thought as the lift clamored downward. He knew Ron was feeling the same way as he was, a nervous excitement pounding through their veins at the idea of becoming an Auror. Harry tried to calm himself down by thinking of the election, not wanting himself to get his hopes up too high. They were all alone in the lift as it began to descend downwards, not seeing a single witch or wizard on the next three floors down as they stopped at each one briefly.

‘Level Two, Department of Magical Law Enforcement,’ the cool female voice said.

Harry slid open the golden gate after the lift came to a halt, he and Ron looking out in to the long hallway to see that no one was currently inhabiting it. The only noise that they heard was the whispers of the portraits that called Level Two of the Ministry their home. At the same time, Harry and Ron stepped forward in to the slightly eerie, empty corridor, unknowing of their fate that would meet them once they reached the end of it.

Neither of them uttered a word as they walked down the hallway arriving at the big double black doors that served as the entrance to the Auror Office a moment later. Giving each other a slight nod, they each pushed open one door and walked in to the Auror Office and quickly descended the small staircase that led in to the main foyer.

‘Was wondering when you two would get here,’ a voice who Harry knew to be Williamson’s called out to him. He saw his tall, lanky Head Auror step out of a row of cubicles as he strode towards them, putting a hand through his thinning dark hair. ‘If you would both follow me...’

Harry and Ron both followed closely behind Williamson, not wanting to lose him in the predictably busy Auror department. He could feel the eyes of the occasional Auror inquisitively glancing at them as they passed; Harry tried his best to avoid their curious stares. Having grown accustomed to the Auror Office’s sheer size and level of activity over the past year, he paid little attention to the rows and rows of pensieves on the far side of the Office or the dozen or so fireplaces that Aurors occasionally appeared out of; Harry’s eyes focused only up ahead on Williamson and where he was taking them. Leaving the large square of cubicles situated in the middle of the foyer and past the long row of cubicles that belonged to the Head Aurors, Harry and Ron were led down one of the many long hallways that led off of the Auror Office. Though Harry had been down many of these in his year of being a Junior Auror (including the small hospital wing, simulation area and interrogation room) he had never been down this particular one. He found it to be decorated very nicely; the shiny marble floor echoing every step taken, the walls adorned with portraits of wizards and witches with small golden nameplates underneath them and at the end of the hallway, a single black door with silver trimmings.

As Williamson reached the end of the corridor lighted by a dozen or so floating candles, he reached in to his cloak and pulled out his wand. Watching Williamson closely, they saw him take his wand and place it in the spot where a keyhole was normally placed. This keyhole however, looked different due to the fact that it was perfectly round; the perfect size for a wand to be placed. Williamson slid his own wand entirely in to the keyhole. After a moment of waiting, the door began to glow a faint gold, the light vanishing as soon as it had come. Harry heard a rapid clicking noise as if the door was unlocking and no less than a few seconds later, the door was opened by Williamson.

‘Wait here,’ he said strongly, closing the door behind him.

It was only then that Harry noticed the two chairs sitting on either side of the corridor. Both he and Ron silently took their seats, not uttering a word for what felt like an eternity. Harry looked down the corridor at the Auror Office from whence they had came, seeing the occasional Auror pass by. He could feel the tension in the air, uncertain of his fate beyond the office door. To preoccupy himself, he took to looking at the portraits along the walls of the corridor, quickly realizing that they were none other than the past Chief Aurors. He read the nameplate of the portrait closest to him on the right hand side; ‘Stiggy Wilson’, it read.

‘I never understand why we always have to wait,’ Ron said quietly, his voice barely over a whisper. ‘They tell us to get here for a certain time and then we wait. It’s maddening...’

Harry agreed with Ron’s statement but knew in the back of his mind that this was yet another way that they were being tested. Patience was always something valued by the Aurors, as was a steady and clear mind. Sure enough, it was over an hour later when Williamson finally emerged from the office once more, the door magically holding itself open as they both followed the Auror inside.

‘Unfortunately, Mosteban is out on business,’ Williamson said, walking around the outside of the largest desk that Harry had ever seen. ‘Shut the door if you will Weasley.’

As Ron turned to shut the door, Harry stole a few seconds of inquiry in to what had to be the office of the Chief Auror Mosteban himself. The room’s metallic grey walls reflected the lamp and dimly lit candle in the room brilliantly. Around the outsides of the office stood bookshelves adorned with many little trinkets Harry had not seen before. A foe glass stood on the right side of the room, a small desk sitting in front of it that had countless wands piled upon it. On the opposite side of the room was a stone fireplace, the insignia of the Ministry of Magic carved on to the top of the mantelpiece. After glancing around the room, Harry came to the conclusion that there was not one picture or portrait anywhere in the office.

As Ron shut the door completely, he refocused his attention on the main focal point of the room in the form of the large desk. On it were seemingly thousands of newspaper clippings in English and a variety of different languages. Opened and unopened letters were organized on one of the other sides of the desk, Harry not believing his eyes when he saw the name ‘Dumbledore’ printed on one of these letters.

‘Even with our Head’s absence I assure you he approves of what follows,’ Williamson
declared which tore Harry’s curious eyes away from his former Headmaster’s name.

Williamson was now seated at the large chair on the other side of the desk while Harry and Ron were still standing stock still, the nervous anxiety that filled their minds for weeks returning as fresh as ever.

‘I suppose there is no further need for delay...’ Williamson began slowly, looking up at the two nineteen year olds in front of him, folding his hands on the desk. ‘Let me begin by saying that you two have made quite the... impact... since you arrived here last year.’ Harry was unsure whether or not Williamson’s statement was a good assessment or a bad one. ‘Coming in as Junior Aurors, it was hard for Mosteban, myself, or anyone else for that matter to not expect above average things from you two, judging by what you both have encountered and overcome over the past year and beyond. Needless to say, expectations were quite high, there is no denying that.’

Harry wished that Williamson would get to the point; the elongated exercise was something Harry was not patient for at this particular moment. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Ron look at his feet, a bead of sweat hitting the hard floor after dripping from his nose. Williamson ran a hand through his thinning black hair as he observed the two boys for a moment before continuing.

‘And then... just a couple of months ago... you two have the... the nerve... the audacity... to directly contradict strict orders from your superiors.’ Harry’s heart sank, looking a very serious Williamson directly in the eyes, unable to tear away from his penetrating stare. ‘I do not know whether you two believe you are still back at Hogwarts where breaking the rules merely earns you an hour or two of picking up Blast-Ended Skrewt droppings, but I assure you, it does not work like that here!’

Williamson’s voice shook the room; it was not as if Williamson was screaming or even speaking loudly, but Harry could only describe Williamson’s voice as forceful. He could almost feel Ron tremble beside him. Harry wanted to open his mouth to speak, but Williamson pressed on the moment he felt the urge to.

‘This is... Potter... Weasley… the real world. No matter how impressive the things you have accomplished in the past are, I implore you, undermining the rules and wishes of your superiors will not be condoned here.’ Williamson paused as he looked at both Harry and Ron – this was the farthest thing that Harry had imagined in his mind occurring on this day. His heart was pounding as Williamson began again. ‘Therefore... it has been agreed upon by Mosteban, Blackburn and myself, that you both –’

‘But sir, we really –’ Ron pleaded but he was overridden by Williamson.

‘ – be named full-time Aurors immediately.’

Harry did not react for a few moments; it was as if Williamson had whisked away all of the oxygen out of the room momentarily. Williamson had the faintest of smiles on his face as Harry and Ron finally understood what he had just said, looking at each other in an excitement reminiscent of when they had both entered Hogwarts as eleven year olds.

‘Yes, you both will more than likely create a few headaches along the way for myself and others as you have throughout your entire youth thus far, but it is clear that you two are the best choices to become Aurors. Though your knack for trouble, attitudes and general conduct has been debated upon by your peers since you two began your schooling as I’m sure you are well aware of, what has never been debated upon are the intangible factors that you two undoubtedly possess that make you both terrific and powerful wizards. You both are our unanimous choices for full-time Auror membership.’

Harry could not believe what Williamson was saying even though he had run through this scenario in his mind as a possibility a thousand times over the past weeks. Contrarily, what Williamson said next was something that had never even entered Harry’s brain.

‘And since you two have worked so well together in the past, Blackburn and I have come to the agreement that you should be placed within my unit. Welcome to the Aurors.’

‘Thank you sir... we won’t let you down,’ Harry managed, already in wonder of how things will change now that he had become a true Auror.

‘I’m sure you both won’t. Take some time off to prepare yourselves – I promise that when you return you will both be in for a lot of tough work. A new training regiment will be given to you and you will be debriefed at that time about your new position. While Mosteban is away and the election wraps up it will be too difficult to start such measures right now.’

Williamson nodded his head and flicked his wand which opened the office door signaling for Harry and Ron to leave. As the two boys turned, Williamson called back to them before they had exited Mosteban’s office.

‘The decision had been made for some time now, but I am curious,’ he said with a playful tone in his voice, one that Harry had never heard Williamson speak in before, ‘what did you two think your chances were?’ Harry looked to Ron before speaking to his Head Auror.

‘To be honest sir... we didn’t know what to think,’ Harry replied quite simply.

‘We really didn’t expect anything,’ Ron added. Williamson only shook his head and smiled before answering.

‘Now, how would it look on us if the ones who defeated Lord Voldemort were not allowed to be dark wizard catchers?’

Five minutes later, Harry and Ron were clamoring in to the lift once again. The excitement that had filled both Harry and Ron to the brim had come out in full force the moment they had left the Auror Office. Ron was so busy talking of their increased salaries that neither he nor Harry had noticed that he had punched floors five, six and seven on the panel inside the lift and not the button that would take them to the Atrium of the Ministry.

‘Five hundred galleons per week! Blimey, I don’t even think I’ve seen that much gold before,’ Ron exclaimed excitedly, finally jamming the button that would lead them to the Atrium. The cool female voice of the lifts had a touch of frustration in its voice when she urged the boys to make up their minds, something which went unnoticed by Harry and Ron.

‘I wonder what our new training regiment is going to be... probably going to be very rigorous,’ Harry pointed out, gladly welcoming the new challenge.

‘Nothing we can’t get through mate! Putting us together? Brilliant move on their part! Most likely be a little while before we set out on any case with the Aurors though – at least until we’ve trained up a little.’

Harry agreed with Ron’s assessment, the lift stopping at each individual floor. Neither of them noticed that the slightly annoyed female voice did not even bother to stop at the floor preceding the Atrium since the floors were as empty as they were when Harry and Ron had first entered the lift.

Harry and Ron’s glee was put on hold the moment they returned to the Atrium. A distant noise could be heard from inside the Atrium itself. After exchanging quizzical glances, the two new Aurors sifted through groups of witches and wizards in order to see what was going on.

‘This place is a mad house!’ Ron called back to Harry.

‘Hopefully the lines move fast – I don’t want the election to end before we put in our votes for Kingsley. You’ve got your identification card on you right?’ Harry asked Ron who began to rummage in his pocket in order to find his Ministry card.

‘Dad’s got it. Might be difficult to find him in this mess.’

‘What is that noise?’ Harry asked again as they slowly began to make their way in to the Atrium.

It was not much longer until they found a small clearing by one of the fireplaces where they were able to see a band playing at the base of the fountain, a rather large contingent of the audience clapping vivaciously and enthusiastically. Harry noticed that the lines for each voting station had dispersed somewhat and replacing the long organized lines was an unorganized smattering of witches and wizards, many of whom were jumping up and down or dancing together. On the stage (in front of the band that was playing their upbeat tune) stood none other than Rufus Fudge.

‘Harry... look,’ Ron whispered to Harry indicating the curtains hanging high above the Atrium.

What Harry saw extinguished the good mood he was in. The curtain that featured Kingsley’s face had changed. In it, Kingsley was holding his head in his hands, the purple colour of the curtain now dark and dreary and torn apart. Fudge’s curtain featured silent fireworks adorned with Fudge’s smiling face looking triumphantly in to the distance, a rippling wind passing through his hair. Though the golden numbers below the faces were increasing every now and then, Harry noticed a large banner over top both of the curtains which read ‘Rufus Fudge wins majority’. The election had been decided.

As Harry returned his glance to the stage, he saw an emerald green robed Rufus Fudge shaking hands with his admirers, a contingent of his campaign managers standing triumphantly behind him. His and Ron’s votes would mean nothing now. For the briefest of seconds, Harry’s eyes locked with Fudge’s from across the Atrium, a seething distaste coursing through Harry. Fudge’s smile faded only for a second before tearing his stare away from Harry and returning to his voters. It was in that fleeting moment that Harry realized that the Ministry was about to change forever.


Chapter 4: Louie and Gundrike's
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A week later, the topic of Fudge’s resounding election win was still the hot topic of conversation. As if the Daily Prophet’s constant coverage of the election was not enough, it seemed as if everyone’s lives now revolved around it. Since the election, everyone had more or less moved their daily lives to Grimmauld Place since impromptu Order meetings were occurring on a regular basis. Harry – who along with Ron was now allowed to sit in on these meetings – found this first experience as Order member to be lack luster. By the third meeting conducted during the week, Harry was so disinterested that he found himself daydreaming about Quidditch and the new season that would be starting in the coming weeks. The only questions being raised during the meetings were questions he himself had and frustratingly, nothing new seemed to be produced out of them.

‘Can Fudge be trusted?’

‘How can we oversee what he is doing?’

‘Where do we go from here?’

Harry had heard the debates over and over and was beginning to grow tired of it to the point where he nonchalantly excused himself from the kitchen and escaped to his room. He had only seen Kingsley once and had not spoken a word to him in the days that followed. The former Minister looked defeated yet defiant at the same time; Harry had heard that he would fulfill his last week as transitional Minister before vacating the Ministry completely. The one positive that Harry could see in the election’s outcome was that now Kingsley would be a more regular presence at the Order meetings. As uneasy and disappointed as Harry was with the election results, he was beginning to grow tired of the relentless focus on its outcome.

Even as the meetings came to a conclusion, the entire Weasley family stayed on for a couple more days. Curiously, Hermione, Ginny and Mrs. Weasley made routine trips to undisclosed and obscure locations. Whenever Harry and Ron would ask where they were going, the response was always happily glossed over, leaving Ron to merely shrug his shoulders.

‘Picked this up for you mate,’ Ron said through a yawn as he met the already sitting Harry in the kitchen of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place. ‘Got it while I was at the Ministry earlier today.’ Ron plopped a short stack of letters addressed to him on the table in front of Harry.

‘Is that where you’ve been today?’ Harry asked as he unraveled the string around the letters.

‘S’not all... no,’ Ron said slowly and through yet another well timed yawn, Harry raising his eyebrows which prompted Ron to continue. ‘Just went home to pick up a couple things... that’s all. Not with the girls or anything – for the life of me, I don’t know where they go! Dad doesn’t seem to want to answer either, but he knows something, I suspect...’

‘Were you hexed with a Memory Charm or something?’ Harry asked, a confused look creeping on to Ron’s face. ‘Well, because you’ve been there and back half a dozen times... keep forgetting which things you’ve gone back for?’

‘Ooh, you’ve got your mail as well?’ Ginny said with a bright smile as she came through the kitchen door. ‘I’ve just got mine from home – I think I’ve got a letter from the Harpies!’ She indicated a faded green envelope amidst the small pile of mail she had received over the past week.

Everyone crowded around Ginny as she sat down, slowly tearing open the letter that she had been waiting for. She opened the envelope and took out the letter, quickly shielding the letter’s contents from everyone else’s view with a sheepish grin, her face growing slightly red at the audience she now had after Hermione, George and her parents had entered the kitchen. Harry saw her eyes move rapidly from left to right, clasping the letter to her chest a moment later.

‘Wh-what is it Ginny?’ Harry asked, barely able to contain his excitement. Her eyes met his for a moment, her face full of excitement, before turning to the rest.

‘Well... it’s only in a reserve role... but I made it!’ Ginny’s face turned a shade of scarlet.

She was greeted with applause and a whooping noise by George, Ginny quickly being hugged by all of her family around her. When she came to Harry, he noted that her smile somehow became even wider than it was before. He hugged her tight, giving her a quick peck on the cheek as he released her. A few minutes later, talk was still revolving around Ginny’s news.

‘It really was all Harry – he was the one who told me to switch to the Seeker position last year. With Griffiths’ retirement, the Harpies were looking to fill in the gap at Seeker and I wouldn’t have known that without Harry.’

‘You’d filled in at Seeker before when Umbridge forbid me to play and you were excellent,’ Harry replied placing a hand on Ginny’s shoulder blade.

‘Though you will have some competition Ginny – Holyhead just made a move by signing Wellington, former Kenstrel Seeker. Yeah she’s not up to the standard of an elite Seeker any longer, but it just shows the uncertainty of the position following Griffiths’ retirement.’ Ron followed Quidditch more than anyone else in the kitchen.

‘Even if Gin isn’t named the starter, Wellington isn’t the long term solution. Your time will come sis, sooner or later,’ George said with a smile as he began to exit the kitchen.

‘Oh George aren’t you going to stay?’ Ginny pleaded with her elder brother as he was beginning to cross the threshold, his torso already halfway in to the hallway.

‘Sorry but I can’t. I’ve er, got some work to do...’ Ron raised his eyebrows at the quick-witted George’s unsure answer.

‘What’s the deal, Georgey boy? Mum’s told me you’ve been busy lately... but she doesn’t know what you’re up to.’

‘So let’s keep it that way,’ George replied quickly. ‘I’d tell you but... I’m kind of not allowed to. Sort of a big deal, you know – as in the biggest thing Weasleys Wizard Wheezes has ever worked on.’

‘You can’t even tell your own brother?’

‘No can do – I’m forbidden to. And besides, I probably wouldn’t even if I was allowed to.’ With that, George left the kitchen without another word.

‘Well, I think it seems suitable that we celebrate,’ Hermione said after a moment of silence. ‘What with Ginny’s achievement, Harry and Ron becoming Aurors –’

‘And your new position at the Ministry,’ Ron interjected making Hermione blush.

‘Yes, thank you Ronald. May I suggest... The Flaunting Fwooper?’

‘The Flaunting what?’ Harry asked dumbfounded.

‘Ooh, Hermione. You know that’s expensive,’ Ginny said sweetly, her eyes poking over the top of the Holyhead letter that she was now re-reading.

‘That’s not a problem. Between Harry and Ron’s new salaries we can have a ten course meal!’

‘Hold on. The Flaunting – whatever you said... is some sort of restaurant?’ Harry asked. Glancing at Ron, he saw that his friend now had his head resting on his propped up arm.

‘This is going to cost me a fortune...’ Harry heard him whisper to himself.

‘Not just any restaurant Harry... the most famous wizarding restaurant in the world!’ Ginny answered excitedly.

‘Just came to Britain a couple of months ago!’ Hermione chimed in, seemingly only speaking to Ginny before turning back to the boys and launching in to a breathless speech. ‘Named after the majestic African bird and founded by world-renowned Chef Jean Bouvre, The Flaunting Fwooper was founded in Eighteen Fifty Three after an inspiring trip he took to Af –’

‘And the grub is very good – we understand Hermione,’ Ron interrupted, Hermione looking disheveled after being halted. ‘Could we even get a table? I’ve heard it’s backed up for weeks...’

‘Then we better get moving then!’ Ginny said quickly as she stood up, Hermione getting out of her seat a half second later. ‘You boys be ready in an hour – pack your dress robes!’

And with that, Hermione and Ginny left the kitchen in their excitement, leaving Ron and Harry to only sigh and return to their mail. Though Harry was excited at visiting such a famous wizarding location, he knew his excitement did not match the level of Ginny’s or Hermione’s.

‘Never understood why it takes them so long,’ Ron said to Harry as he opened one of his letters. ‘Me... five minutes. Give or take a minute if I use a comb.’

‘Lucky you bought your new pair of dress robes when you did,’ Harry snickered in reference to Ron’s Diagon Alley purchase that he made the day after he had discovered he was an Auror. ‘I don’t know if I have the stomach to see you again in your old ones.’

‘Shut up Harry,’ Ron replied quietly.

Harry quickly sifted through his short stack of letters, most of which were merely pamphlets given out by the Ministry regarding the election. Harry had crumpled up a pamphlet that he had received which featured Rufus Fudge’s face smiling up at him, the pamphlet informing him of all the changes he was going to be making to the Ministry.

‘Pretty vague aren’t they?’ Ron said as he looked at the exact same pamphlet that Harry had received. ‘I promise to give you a Ministry that you, the important and cherished citizens, can be proud of?’ Ron said as he read from the pamphlet.

‘It’s beyond me,’ Harry replied, casually throwing the pamphlet away, Kreacher bursting in to the kitchen and retrieving the discarded papers barely before they had a chance to hit the floor. ‘Thanks Kreacher,’ Harry muttered as he saw the house-elf gleefully toss them in to the fireplace.

Having reached the bottom of the stack, Harry heedlessly opened the last envelope and tore it open. Opening the letter up, Harry’s eyes immediately sought the bottom of the page where he saw the name ‘Aberforth Dumbledore’ printed.

‘I’ve got a letter from Aberforth!’ Harry said half-surprised, half-excited. Ron glanced over and motioned for Harry to read on, obviously intrigued as Harry was.


Harry,

Apologies for my absence at the Order meetings this week. It seems as if in the post-election week the supporters of Fudge are set on drinking themselves silly in their celebration while the few supporters of Kingsley (regrettably) are drinking to perhaps forget about the week that was.

At the onset of this writing, my wish was to foolishly ask how you were doing after last summer’s fiasco. Now as I write this, I remember you’ve been through much worse in the past and more or less have been alright. Regardless, I felt the need to check in because no matter what you hear from others, I assure you that as long as the Death Eaters still lurk in the darkness, the world is not safe. You must be rolling your eyes right now at an old man’s worrisome warning but even though you are an Auror now, yours and your friends’ safety have always been something I’ve looked out for.

I know that at times, powerful a unit as they may be, the Order can be a little short sighted when it comes to matters of a Death Eater–nature. If at any time you feel the need or want to talk to someone I can always be found at the Hog’s Head. Though I never knew them as much or as well as practically anyone would have liked, I know that your mother and father would have been extremely proud of you Harry, as we all are.

Aberforth


As short as the letter was, the sincerity of the otherwise gruff Aberforth touched Harry in a way he had not expected. He saw Aberforth in a different light; a light that showed the brother of Albus coming out of his shell. There was something about Aberforth that reminded Harry of Albus, Sirius, Lupin and any other figure he had admired during his life. Though he had not known him for long, Harry had come to consider Aberforth as a friend over the past year. Since the Battle of Hogwarts and Voldemort’s demise, Harry had come to know Aberforth quite well. Harry seemed to have peeled off some of the hard outside layers of Aberforth and this letter signified another glimpse in to the true personality of his former Headmaster’s brother.

‘Not much really,’ Harry said, setting down the letter while addressing Ron’s questioning stare. ‘Just wants us to know we can always talk to him if we need. I don’t know if it’s the beard or what... but doesn’t it feel to you... that he seems very much like Albus? Underneath it all, I mean?’ Ron nodded in agreement, Harry staring off in to space.

After a few moments of listening to the fire crackle and watching Fudge’s face slowly deteriorate in the fire, Harry and Ron agreed to get ready for The Flaunting Fwooper. However, as he swung open the door, Harry collided with something that nearly knocked him off his feet.

‘What’s this doing here?’ Harry asked indicating the baggage that was now piled at least four feet in the air.

‘No idea,’ Ron said, stepping around the baggage and eying it curiously. ‘We should go and –’

‘Are you boys getting ready yet?!’ Hermione’s voice echoed from a few floors up. ‘We want to leave soon, you know. The earlier the better!’

Harry began up the stairs, turning to see Mr. and Mrs. Weasley quickly dispose of the baggage in to the next room, Mrs. Weasley lightly smacking Mr. Weasley on the arm who was beginning to grow red at his wife’s cross face. Harry opened his mouth to speak but Ron pulled Harry’s stationary arm, making him trip up the first few steps. He was unable to ask the Weasleys what the baggage was doing in the hallway of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, only watching them levitate the bags and place them in the next room in a quick and orderly fashion.

‘Be safe and try to be discreet – you don’t want a circus surrounding you four all night,’ Mrs. Weasley said half an hour later as the foursome was beginning to leave.

‘We can only do so much, Mum,’ Ron said as he opened the door.

He was closely followed by Harry who waved goodbye to Mrs. Weasley. Harry picked up his pack which magically held his and Ron’s dress robes neatly so they would not look wrinkled upon putting them on.

‘How come we just don’t wear our dress robes when we apparate to The Flaunting whatever-it’s-called?’ Harry asked Hermione who carried her own moleskin bag that Harry was all too familiar with.

‘Because,’ Ginny said as she caught up with both Harry and Ron, ‘we aren’t apparating directly to it.’

‘Don’t worry we’ve got it all under control. I’ve read about the proper etiquette that one should take in travelling to Britain’s Flaunting Fwooper,’ Hermione said, her loose curled hair bouncing which seemingly mimicked her bubbly, excited mood. Harry saw Ron jokingly roll his eyes out of Hermione’s sight as she proceeded in to the trees on the other side of the street.

‘Everyone join in here then,’ Ginny said quietly not wanting any chance of a Muggle overhearing them.

Quickly, the foursome joined hands. Harry took Ginny’s in his, the two exchanging a small, fond glance as they touched. Harry barely heard Hermione whisper ‘Charing Cross Road’; he was mesmerized by Ginny’s kind stare that was only interrupted by the familiar sensation of apparating.

When Harry’s feet hit hard ground once more, his eyes had to adjust to the darkness. He was familiar with this designated apparition area set up by the Ministry having apparated here in order to visit the Leaky Cauldron on occasion last year. As Ginny muttered to everyone to follow her, Harry looked up at the sky that featured a bright shining sun, the rays of which were seemingly unable to penetrate the completely darkened alley. This particularly alleyway had been charmed to fend off any Muggle attention; in fact, Harry wondered if Muggles even noticed the alleyway in the first place.

‘That’s why we couldn’t come in to our dress robes,’ Hermione whispered to Harry. ‘We’ve got to get our reservations first...’ Harry had no idea what Hermione was talking about, but was intrigued at visiting some place that he had never been. Coupled with the fact that he was spending it with his three favourite people in the world and he could not have been happier.

‘Do you have any idea where we are going?’ Ron whispered to Harry as the foursome emerged out of the alley and on to Charing Cross Road.

‘No idea,’ Harry replied with a grin, rushing to catch up with Ginny.

As they crossed Shaftesbury Avenue, conversation continued with Ginny’s accomplishment of making the Holyhead Harpies. As they continued to walk ostensibly without care, Harry and Ginny found themselves together, a little gap separating themselves from Hermione and Ron who were a few paces in front.

‘And I’ll be at loads of your matches – as many as I can make,’ Harry said as he put his arm around Ginny.

‘But I might not even be playing! Definitely not right away, anyway.’

‘Doesn’t matter. Like George said, you’re time will come eventually. We’ve all seen you play – you’ve got loads of talent.’ Ginny blushed at Harry’s compliment.

‘Well if I can make it, then you sure can. You were Gryffindor’s best Seeker in... well, in a really, really long time.’ Harry appreciated the praise Ginny gave him concerning his seeking abilities and after walking a few paces past a packed Muggle café, Ginny continued. ‘I... I wanted to talk to you about my arrangement this year,’ she stumbled somewhat awkwardly. ‘I know it would be tough being... being separated again.’

‘Listen,’ Harry replied not allowing Ginny to continue. He had anticipated a conversation like this and did not want it to ruin their night out together. Harry slowed his pace in order to look more directly at her. ‘This is a big deal and I don’t want you worrying about me. You need to go and not even think twice about it. I’m going to be just fine.’

‘But Harry –’

‘Ginny, please,’ Harry interrupted coming to a full stop and pulling Ginny off to the side gently. ‘We’ll still have our time together when you’re home. You don’t have to worry about me when you’re off – I promise you, I’m not going anywhere.’ Ginny’s agape mouth closed, tilting her head to the side and offering a small smile at Harry’s sincerity.

‘I’ll always be here too. Even when I’m not... if-if that makes any sense,’ Ginny replied softly, regaining her composure with her next words. ‘But Harry I really need to tell you that –’

‘Harry! Ginny! Hurry up here!’ Hermione called from up the street, both Harry and Ginny tearing their glances away from each other in order to see Hermione beckoning for them to follow.

‘Talk more about this later?’ Harry asked quickly. Ginny nodded, but Harry sensed a bit of frustration as the two hurried to catch up to their friends.

‘OK so we just need to sit down over there for a minute and... I’ll get us our reservation,’ Hermione said a little nervously once Harry and Ginny met them.

The summer sun was beginning to grow orange, its light reflecting off of the windshields of the cars and buses driving by. Even though he did not know anything at all about The Flaunting Fwooper he wondered how successful they would be at gaining reservations to such a popular and high-end eatery, knowing that the setting sun signaled the beginning of dinner hour.

Putting his trust in Hermione (for Harry had no idea what exactly they were doing) he followed her to a little wooden bench near the cross-walk. She turned and gave the rest of them a look that said ‘Quiet’, Harry resisting the urge to ask Ron or Ginny why in the world they were making their way to the bench so carefully. The foursome barely fit on the rickety bench as there was an old man with a cane and dark glasses sitting on the end of it, his shaggy, equally as old looking dog sitting beside him staring nonchalantly at the passing cars. The dog looked enjoyable as he sat lazily, chewing on a stick about a foot long. For what seemed like minutes, no one said anything, Harry exchanging an awkward and puzzled glance with Ron who seemed to be just as confused as Harry was. Suddenly, just before Harry was about to lean over and ask Hermione what they were doing in such odd circumstances, she began to speak in a relatively loud yet clear voice.

‘Why is it... that whenever you’re in a hurry, these buses always seem to be running late? It’s like they’re... flaunting their power over us at will. Don’t you agree?’

Harry had no idea what Hermione was doing. He looked at her confused, his eyes wide. Just as Ron made a move towards Hermione (Harry guessing that he was about to seriously ask his girlfriend if she had gone mad) the old man that was sitting on the end of the bench nodded slightly and petted his dog beside him. The old man achingly reached down to the ground and picked up the stick that the dog was chewing on, Harry abruptly realizing that the stick looked oddly similar to a wand.

‘Fetch, boy,’ the old man grumbled.

The man – stick-wand in hand – arched his arm over his head, twirling the wand in his hand four times before throwing it a few feet away. Instantly, Harry felt his right pocket burn hot, putting a hand on his leg at the place of the warm sensation. As he glanced back at the man, he could have sworn that he saw the dog shake his head and roll his eyes at the old man before casually retrieving the stick and bringing it back, slumping back in to his previous position.

‘Thank-you,’ Hermione whispered as she got up from the bench, Ginny mimicking her a moment later. Finally, Harry and Ron followed, having no idea what had just happened.

‘What in the bloody hell was that Hermione,’ Ron said once he and Harry had caught up to her.

‘Shhh!’ Hermione answered. ‘Just making our reservations, that’s all. This way.’

No one spoke as they followed Hermione down Charing Cross Road. Harry turned to see the old man with the dark glasses staring in their direction; he felt uneasy at not knowing what had just gone on but he had no problem putting his faith in Hermione since he had done it so many times before. It was not long before they came to one of the many bookshops that lined the street, this one – as Harry noted from the logo on the paned door – named ‘Border’s’.

‘Check your pockets – but be cautious about it,’ Hermione whispered as she made her way to the back of the shop.

Doing what she told him, Harry felt the inside of his jeans pocket and was shocked to feel an object inside of it. Pulling it out, he saw that it was a small ticket, a fancy double ‘F’ logo printed upon it. At the bottom of the ticket in gold numbering were the digits one hundred and forty-seven. He thrust the ticket back in to his pocket, making his way through a narrow aisle towards the back of the shop.

‘Hello there. Do you have any books on the Clown Triggerfish?’ Hermione said to the lady at the back desk who looked up from her book at the sound of Hermione’s voice. She had her brown hair tied in to a neat bun and wore a navy blue business suit. She nodded her head curtly.

‘Yes, if you’d follow me right this way please.’

Shrugging his shoulders, Harry followed the lady through a door at the back of the shop into what appeared to be the storage room, leaving the cramped book shelves behind. Before him was a maze of shelves of tattered and ancient looking books, some having their spines badly damaged while others had no cover at all.

‘Four of you I presume?’ the lady called from over her shoulder as she made a left.

‘That’s right,’ Hermione replied, looking at the dilapidated books as if they were her own children. Ginny had to bump her from behind in order for her to keep up with the lady that was guiding them.

‘Right, here shall do,’ the lady said, looking around as if to check that no one was watching. ‘Have a good evening.’ She took out her wand and gave it a quick wave in front of the bookshelf, immediately turning around and walking back out of the storage room after she was done.

‘Hermione what’s going –’

But Ron stopped whatever he was saying the moment that the door to the storage room of Border’s book shop was closed. The bookcase in front of the foursome began to move on its own accord, the many books populating its shelves shifting to either side. It was not long before a gap was made in the middle and an archway had been uncovered.

‘Come on, let’s go!’ an excited Ginny beckoned as she followed Hermione through the archway.

Once Harry and Ron had entered the archway, they heard the books repositioning themselves in their rightful places. The odd torch lined the smooth walls of the archway, illuminating the hard path in front of them. Harry had no idea that this place even existed, wondering how much else he still did not know about the wizarding world.

‘Just a little further – I see the opening just ahead!’ Ginny called from a few feet ahead.

Sure enough, she was right. A few moments later and Harry was being helped out of the archway by two wizards with fancy looking gold cloaks; there was a bit of a drop to the cobblestoned road below him. His eyes, like Ron’s, Hermione’s and Ginny’s were moving around the square in every which direction, trying to take everything in at once. There was a semi circle of fancy looking shops and restaurants around the square and right in the middle of all the commotion was The Flaunting Fwooper, identified by the two golden ‘F’s that Harry recognized from his ticket. Populating the square was a plethora of witches and wizards all dressed in their finest dress robes and dresses, almost everyone wearing a wizard’s or witch’s hat.

Classic looking light posts lined the square along the exterior. A few of these were situated throughout the interior of the square, the posts surrounded by rich green plants, golden and scarlet flowers and silver benches. Directly in front of him was one of these light posts, a metal banner connecting to a light post some yards away, the words ‘Primpernelle Square’ forming an arch between the two posts. There was what appeared to be a theater on the far left and many other pubs and restaurants on either side of the Fwooper. Carts zoomed in and out of the crowd left, right and center selling things such as programs for that evening’s performance or giving out free samples of ‘Gerard Bubberstruck’s Famous Brews – over five hundred and forty six delicious concoctions!’ Harry read. Though the entire square was buzzing with life, it seemed like the majority of the mass was crowding in the general vicinity of The Flaunting Fwooper.

‘Pretty wild isn’t it?’ Ginny said over the commotion of the crowd, Harry and Ron both nodding in agreement.

‘I’m just going to check our reservations and see how long of a wait it will be,’ Hermione said loudly, Harry, Ron and Ginny having to crowd around her in order to hear her straight. ‘Then we can find someplace to change in to our dress robes.’

‘Primpernelle Square,’ Ginny said loudly as the three huddled off to the side of the archway and beside a group of elegant looking witches who were conversing about which boutique to visit next. ‘Pretty high class entertainment district. I never cared to come here before but once we heard the Fwooper opened up, I’ve been dying to!’

‘I had no idea this was how you got here!’ a surprised Ron said. ‘Not like Mum or Dad could have ever afforded to take us all here before.’

‘I don’t reckon we’ll have to worry about any reporters here. With a crowd as big as this, we can blend in pretty easily,’ Harry said to the agreement of Ron and Ginny.

It was a few minutes before they spotted Hermione making her way back to them out of the dense crowd, shaking her head in frustration.

‘No use right now. They’re only serving fifty-one at the moment.’ Harry glanced down at his ticket that read one hundred and forty-seven.

‘We should probably find some place to change – maybe get a drink too. We’ll probably be waiting for a while.’ Everyone agreed with Ron’s statement but no one seemed to care about the wait. For Harry, just being able to be out of Grimmauld Place care free with his favourite people in the world was a treat in it of itself.

They made their way through the crowd, the four of them linking together by hand so as to not lose one another. Harry caught a glimpse of the lobby of the Fwooper as they passed, noting the golden carpet and golden-robed waiters who greeted each individual customer as they passed on into the dining rooms. They walked to the right of The Flaunting Fwooper, carefully avoiding the jostling customers who were waiting in line to enter the expensive boutiques. In the windows stood beautiful china, sparkling dresses and leather furniture, Harry glancing at the writing on the top of the window that read ‘Mrs. Anderson’s Antique Artifacts of Exquisiteness.’

‘What about this place? ‘Louie and Gundrike’s’? Ever heard of it Hermione?’ Ron asked.

They had walked for a few minutes and had come to the far end of the square. The crowd was much less populated around here and the shops and boutiques on this side of the square looked to be a bit older and more worn down. Harry observed the shabby and worn out sign hanging over the door which featured a particularly ugly looking cat’s head emerging from a pail.

‘No, I haven’t. Looks like some kind of pub or something.’

‘Let’s take a look,’ Harry said, urging them inside.

The smell of wet dog penetrated Harry’s nostrils the moment he entered the pub, instantly having serious regrets about making this decision. The place was dimly lit, the floor dirty and many of the wooden stools were still on top of the rickety round tables situated throughout. There was no one in the pub, save for an elderly looking woman washing mugs and (perhaps most telling of all) the bartender who was fast asleep, his head resting on the counter as he snored loudly.

‘Harold! We’ve got customers! Harold Gundrike you get over there now! Wake up!’ the old lady yelled from her spot at the sink, the man (who apparently was named Gundrike) awoke from his slumber in an instant, racing over to where Harry and the rest stood.

‘Yeah, well ‘ello there and welcome to ‘Louie and Gundrike’s’,’ he said gruffly, his words strung together as he blinked tiredly. ‘Me name’s Gundrike and I will be your server this evening,’ the still sleepy Gundrike said to the foursome in a blatantly rehearsed manner.

His eyes were bloodshot, his hair thinning and his sideburns which desperately needed to be taken back a bit extended almost down to the corners of his mouth. His eyes (though wild looking) had a sense of tenderness in them, but told the story of a man who had been through a great deal. Though not in the realm of Uncle Vernon, he was grossly overweight and his brown, stained pants were much too tight for his massive thighs. His severely stained white dress shirt was only half-buttoned and even though he had only walked a few paces, he was already beginning to show sweat marks.

‘Oh... well –’ Hermione began as she pointed to the front doors of the pub.

‘No need to be shy there lass,’ Gundrike said taking the bag she was holding and dropping it beside the nearest table. He took a stool off of the top of the table, its red velvet torn in places revealing the inside. Someone had done a very poor job stitching it back in place.

Hermione looked to Ron who shrugged. Defeated, Hermione sat down slowly, giving Gundrike a small smile. As he returned the smile, Harry saw that many of his teeth were missing, Gundrike taking the rest of the stools down and plopping them on the floor loudly. Taking his very uncomfortable seat, Harry looked around to see a stack of what looked to be promotional signage lying in the back corner. Though many of the signs were unreadable due to damage or illegible print, he could make out a few of the messages. ‘House elves eat free tonight!’, ‘Wild, wacky cloak night – dress in your wackiest outfits for a half price discount,’ and ‘Probably the lowest prices in the square!’ were just three of the signs that Harry saw. There were old posters promoting things such as Butterbeer, Gambol and Japes’ joke shop and the four hundred and eighteenth Quidditch World Cup match lining the walls, the odd portrait situated here and there with no subject to be found in any of them. Apparently the occupant of each portrait had left the dingy pub.

‘So, it be the usual then?’ Gundrike asked with a toothless grin, using his sleeve to wipe a few beads of sweat off his brow.

‘Er... well, we’ve never exactly been here before.’ No one looked directly at Gundrike after Ginny had replied, the monstrous figure of Gundrike standing over them without moving a muscle.

‘Oh... right, right, right...’ He looked as if he was about to burst into tears at any moment.

‘We’ll take four... four Butterbeers though,’ Hermione said quickly. Instantly he smiled and then spoke in a voice so loud it nearly knocked Hermione off her seat.

‘AGATHA! FOUR BUTTERBEERS! ON THE DOUBLE! She’ll fill ‘em for yeh – I’ll be back... I’ll go get ‘em and bring ‘em here for yeh.’ He waddled away at a much faster pace than Harry had anticipated.

‘I didn’t know we were going to say,’ Ron said amusingly as he looked around the dimly lit pub. ‘Far cry from The Flaunting Flubber I imagine.’

‘It’s The Flaunting Fwooper Ron you dim-wit,’ Ginny said equally as amusingly. ‘Anyway we’ve got loads of time before our reservation is ready.’

‘Too bad Charlie or Bill couldn’t stay around,’ Harry said changing the topic of conversation. ‘Must have a lot of work to do to leave the day after the election like that.’

‘I was just beginning to forget about that election, thanks Harry,’ a sarcastic Ron replied.

‘Four Butterbeers...’ Gundrike said proudly as he began to set a mug in front of each of them. However, when he got to Harry, his eyes narrowed and he nearly spilled his mug. ‘By Jove! Are you... are you Harry Potter?’ he said quietly, but before Harry could answer he continued. ‘It is you, isn’t it!? Big fan I ‘em here – always supported yeh through and through. HEY AGATHA! I GOT HARRY POTTER IN ME PUB HERE!’ This time Harry covered his ears.

‘Well thank you,’ Harry replied brightly when Gundrike had finished. ‘So if you’re Gundrike... where’s Louie then?’

Gundrike’s smile faded fast; he looked down at his feet and shook his head slightly before looking up. Harry could not tell if it was sweat or tears in his eyes. When he spoke his voice was much lower, barely over a whisper.

‘Oh, Louie. I guess it would be right to fill in my customers on his... situation... Me friend Louie... was sent to Azkaban... er... almost a decade ago. My has it been that long... He’s er... He’s part werewolf yeh see. Got bit as a boy over in Valenciennes.’ Gundrike paused before continuing on. ‘One night... we was busy back in the day yeh see... the stress got to him a wee bit. Forgot to take his monthly brew. He er... attacked some of our customers... killed a boy too. They took him away to Azkaban and he’s been there ever since. I visit him from time to time. Take him some of his favourite brew of Firewhisky with a few billywig stings thrown in for good measure. Though I haven’t been able to bring it back to him in a long time – they won’t let me no more. That made Louie quite sad on me last visit – he loves that brew. Turns out... the brew is one of the only things to burn through the darn doors – burns through the darn enchantments and all! Imagine that!’ Gundrike let out a chuckle that was not convincing as if he was only pretending to laugh to give off the appearance of someone tougher than what he actually was. ‘Yeah Louie always had a taste for the hot ‘n spicy.’ No one said anything, Gundrike looking off in to space, unmoving.

‘Well...’ Hermione began slowly after a few moments, ‘I’m – we are all sorry to hear that. You have a... lovely place here Mr. Gundrike.’ Harry had just noticed that the Butterbeers they had been given had a slight greenish tinge to them.

‘Oh yeah, yeah... Well the place hasn’t been the same for a while now since Louie... But me and Agatha here keep trudging on.’

‘They should tear the place down brick by brick, bolt by bolt!’ Agatha shrieked from the sink.

‘YOU SHUT UP YEH OLD HAG YOU! GET BACK TO YER WASHING! OH!’ Gundrike said suddenly, turning to Harry. He reached in to his back pocket, pulling out a heavily creased bit of paper. ‘Free edition of last Monday’s Prophet for yeh! One thing that has not changed is the way we treat our customers!’ And with a nod, Gundrike turned and waddled to the back.

‘Bit of a nut... but I like him,’ Ron said quietly with a smile, flicking his mug of Butterbeer with his finger.

‘I feel bad for him losing his partner and such,’ Hermione said pushing her own mug in to the center of the broken table that creaked as Harry rested his elbows on its surface.

‘Hey Ginny, what is it that you wanted to tell me? You know, before we got our reservations.’

Harry stared in to her beautiful brown eyes, momentarily forgetting that Ron and Hermione were sitting there with them. She glanced at Hermione for a second who nodded and smiled back. Ron put his hands behind his head, a wide grin spreading across his face; he looked as if he could barely contain himself.

‘I’m so sorry Harry – Hermione and I have wanted to tell you for a long time now but we’ve never found the proper moment...’

‘Ginny... what is it?’ Harry asked intriguingly. His heart was beginning to race, excitement filling his insides as Ron let out a short laugh; he obviously knew already.

‘Well... there’s no easy to put this –’

‘So just put it,’ Harry interrupted impatiently, a smile forming on his face as he spoke. The suspense was killing him now. Finally, barely able to contain her excitement, Ginny finally told him.

‘Hermione and I – we’re moving in with you two. We’re moving in to Grimmauld Place!’

‘What?!’ Harry could not believe his ears.

‘I know! Mum and Dad have agreed on everything! I know I’ll be on the road a lot this year... but at least when I’ll be home we can all be together!’

For the next couple of hours, none of them moved from Louie and Gundrike’s. All mention of The Flaunting Fwooper went out the window. Nothing but the utmost joy coursed through Harry for the duration of the evening. Hermione continued to use her excellent vanishing charms throughout the evening on the old looking Butterbeers and subsequently ordered new ones, which pleased Gundrike so much that he began to yelp with excitement, singing and humming old tunes. It did not seem to matter to Harry where they were, what they ate or how they went about it. The only thing that mattered to him was that they were all together.


Chapter 5: An Old Comfort
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Harry put a hand in front of his face, shielding his eyes from the brightness of the white light. Intrigued, he walked forward towards the two dark figures emerging from the whiteness of the endless room. With his scar on fire, Harry was barely able to keep his balance as he slowly inched closer to the figures. One of these figures was getting closer and closer to him. He quickened his pace, his heart beating out of his chest, fighting against the pain emitting from his forehead. Then, he saw him. The pale face of Lord Voldemort stood out against the hood of his black cloak. Voldemort began laughing a laugh that seemed to penetrate Harry’s very soul, his scar burning white hot as he collapsed to the ground. The laughter grew louder and louder still, Harry barely able to take any more of it. Suddenly the laughter stopped, as the second figure emerged beside Voldemort...

Harry awoke with a start, feeling his pillow drenched in his own sweat. The only noise in his bedroom of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place was the ticking of the clock on his night side table and the occasional snore from Ron. He let out a deep breath and wiped his damp brow with the sleeve of his t-shirt.

‘What is all this...’ Harry thought to himself, staring up at the ceiling of his room.

He had experienced visions such as these for over a year now, each time coming to the same conclusion; meeting the two figures, seeing the laughing face of Voldemort and then collapsing when his scar had reached an unbearable pain. Though he clearly was not in his right mind when he was experiencing the visions, Harry found it unsettling that even after he had awoken, his scar would still be hurting as if he himself had experienced it. However, what was perhaps even more puzzling to Harry was the identity of the second figure he had continually seen inside the vision. Having Voldemort revealed to him last year was troubling enough, but not knowing the identity of the second figure was beginning to prey on Harry’s mind. ‘Well... hopefully it’s just revealed to me at some point... like Voldemort was before...’

After thinking about this for some time, Harry began to hear the rumblings of life throughout the House of Black. The night previously, Ginny and Hermione had finally moved in the last remnants of their belongings and the entire Weasley family had stayed overnight after the celebrations that had lasted well in to the first hours of morning. Ginny and Hermione had moved everything in to the room across the hall, Harry, Ron and Kreacher spending an entire day cleaning up the room in order to make it more inviting for the new house guests. It was remarkable how clean the room looked after their job was done.

Harry and Ron’s excitement had not tapered off one bit in the week that followed the announcement made at Louie and Gundrike’s. Harry had always envisioned something like this occurring, but now that it had actually happened it still felt as if it was only a dream. He was slightly surprised that Mrs. Weasley had given Ginny her blessing so easily, given her past history of restricting privileges and over protectiveness. It told Harry that she was beginning to realize her sons and daughter were young adults now. Even though Harry personally thought that they could handle more than what Mrs. Weasley had always prescribed to them, he was glad that she had come around.

‘Better late than never, I reckon,’ he remembered Ron exclaim brightly as the party had begun the night before.

Harry threw on a pair of jeans that were lying on the top of his dresser, his stirring awaking Ron who soon after followed his lead. They made their way down to the kitchen, not saying much to each other as they were both still fighting through yawns. Sitting at the kitchen table was Hermione and the rest of the Weasleys, all of them looking a little bit worse for wear. Still, it did not deter Ginny from flashing Harry a bright smile as he took a seat next to her.

‘Unlucky today is a Monday then,’ Mr. Weasley said as Ron slumped in to the chair beside his father. ‘It doesn’t look like anyone is going to be productive at the Ministry today.’ Mr. Weasley chuckled as he flipped the pages of his newspaper. Harry looked around, seeing two distinguished dark circles under George’s eyes while Hermione let out a long yawn.

It was mostly quiet during breakfast. It was not long until Mr. Weasley had left Grimmauld Place for the Ministry, but not before making sure that Ginny and Hermione were comfortable in their new setting. After Mr. Weasley’s departure, the commotion increased considerably at Number Twelve Grimmauld Place as everyone began to get ready for the day ahead. Though he was trying not to be picky, Harry could not help but feel sad since he would have to depart from Ginny on their first full day together. While he and Ron had to report to the Auror Office, Ginny was beginning her training camp for the Holyhead Harpies, the beginning of the upcoming League season being just around the corner.

‘Well, it’s time for me to go then,’ Ginny said fifteen minutes later as she bounded down the stairs. ‘Wouldn’t want to be late for the first practice of the season.’

‘Good luck, Gin,’ Ron called from the kitchen.

‘Tell us how it goes tonight, okay?’ Hermione closed the door of the kitchen as she saw Ginny’s attention turn to Harry.

‘Nervous?’ Harry asked her.

‘A little yeah...’ Harry began to walk her to the door, walking as slow as he possibly could.

‘Well don’t be. You’re going to be great. And tonight, you can tell me all about it.’

‘Feels good... to know you’ll be here when I get home. Doesn’t it?’

‘It feels excellent.’

Harry gave her a peck on the cheek as he opened the door for her, letting Ginny out in to the warm sunshine of the morning. She walked down the steps, turning for a moment to see Harry smiling down at her. Once she had crossed the road and apparated, Harry finally tore himself away from the front door and returned to the kitchen.

‘Well, I guess we should get ready as well,’ Ron said as he stretched his arms high over his head. ‘Mosteban would love if we were late on our first day as Aurors, eh Harry?’ Harry nodded, his mind elsewhere.

‘Harry what’s that in your pocket there?’ Hermione asked as Harry sat down to polish off the rest of his bacon. Harry looked down to see an object protruding out of his jeans pocket, Hermione grabbing the object vivaciously as Harry turned to look.

‘Yeah... what is that?’ Ron asked sarcastically. Hermione laid the newspaper on the table, Harry understanding Ron’s sarcasm in an instant. The paper was stained with what appeared to be coffee stains which blurred some of the words on the page. The pages were torn and it looked as if whole sections had been removed.

‘Oh, that’s the newspaper Gundrike gave me last week,’ Harry said blankly returning his attention to the bacon he was working on.

‘Seems about right. You save the entire wizarding world from the most evil wizard of all time... and he repays you with a rotten old edition of the Prophet.’

Ron got up from the table and made his way to the door but he never reached his destination. Hermione had only been casually perusing through the tattered paper for a few moments before she suddenly gasped.

‘Wait a minute! Look here!’ Ron shot Harry a puzzled look before returning to the table, Harry pulling his chair around to get a better look at what Hermione had found.

Hermione pointed to a very small article in the bottom right corner of the paper, sandwiched in between two separate articles; one regarding Fudge’s election win and the subsequent fallout and the other detailing brief biographies of the greatest Ministers of Magic of the last century. Harry’s eyes opened wide as he read the title of the headline, dropping his bacon on the table in order to get a better look at the small print of the article.


NICOLAS FLAMEL ON THE RUN AFTER BODIES FOUND AT HOME


‘What?! I thought he was dead!’ Ron said loudly, Hermione making a loud shushing noise and prompting him to continue on with the article.


Surprising news today as three bodies have been discovered at the famous alchemist’s secret abode. Though Ministry officials would not give out the location of Mr. Flamel’s undisclosed home, they did confirm to us today that Flamel’s wand had been recovered at the scene of the crime.

After a series of tests were conducted last night by Ministry-approved executives, it has been concluded that Flamel’s last spell was the Unforgiveable Curse Avada Kedavra, better known as the Killing Curse. As to where Flamel’s location is at this time, Ministry officials would not disclose, adding that all of their clues would be passed on to the Auror department. In addition, the Department of Magical Law Enforcement is withholding the identities of the three men killed at the scene. It was said that Mr. Flamel’s caretaker discovered the bodies when the caretaker had apparated in to check up on their client.

Nicolas Flamel, exact age unknown, is better known for his successes and numerous discoveries in the field of alchemy, including being credited with inventing the world’s only known Philosopher’s Stone. This dark cloud hanging over the former ‘Alchemy Lifetime Achievement’ (A.L.A.) award winner puts his reputation in considerable doubt as the search for his whereabouts continues. Any witnesses or anyone with information regarding the murders are asked to present their information to either the Department of Magical Law Enforcement or the Auror Department.


‘S-So it couldn’t have been him right?’ Hermione said slowly as she finished the article.

‘Why couldn’t have it been? It’s not like we knew him or anything,’ Harry replied absent-mindedly, dumbfounded by the article.

‘But Dumbledore knew him mate. Shouldn’t that account for anything?’ Ron’s point seemed to have merit.

‘Yeah it should, I guess. But that alone doesn’t prove anything... I... I thought Flamel was dead...’ Harry seemed to be blankly grasping for words.

‘So did I. But the last we ever heard of Flamel was when Dumbledore said that he intended to destroy the stone. Intended. What if he never did?’ Harry considered Hermione’s point for a second before offering his own response.

‘Or what if he did... and he still hasn’t died yet.’

‘So much for the golden years,’ Ron said after glancing at the article once more. ‘On the run at that old? He’s not going to last out there – especially without his bloody wand!’

‘It doesn’t even say what those three men were doing at his... his secret home or whatever. What were they doing there in the first place?’ The question that Hermione posed was one that no one could answer or even speculate on.

After glancing at his watch and discovering that they were growing more late by the second, Harry, Ron and Hermione bounded up the stairs to get ready and less than ten minutes later, they had apparated away from Grimmauld Place.

The discovery of the Flamel article seemed to be on all of their minds as they walked towards the lavatories. Harry had grown accustomed to learning of things such as this over the course of his lifetime though this particular discovery had caught him off guard. The disconcerting thing about the Flamel article was the fact that these sorts of things always seemed to be connected to him in some shape or form. This time, however, Harry was having trouble relating a murder seemingly committed by an aging alchemist that he had never met before back to himself. Something about the Flamel situation seemed wrong to Harry.

‘Odd... isn’t it? Being back in the same place again... all together?’ said Hermione as she put her arms around Harry and Ron as they met up with each other in the Atrium of the Ministry.

‘Familiar... yet fresh. Like a pint of Butterbeer with a friend you haven’t really seen in a while...’

Suddenly, something in the pit of Harry’s stomach seemed to emerge, warming him all over. He looked to his left to see his two friends with him. All his thoughts about Flamel were tossed out of his mind, his only focus on his two friends beside him. He realized how long it really had been since he could live his life with Ron and Hermione without being on the run from Death Eaters and trying to destroy Horcruxes. Together, the threesome walked towards the great fountain in the Ministry Atrium and the lifts.

‘Do you want to check your mail then Harry?’ asked Ron as they reached the fountain. ‘I’ll go get it if you want to stay here.’

Harry agreed, taking a seat with Hermione on one of the benches around the fountain, observing the normal chaotic scene inside the Atrium as witches and wizards whizzed around them in order to get where they needed to be. A younger wizard was handing out editions of that day’s Daily Prophet, exchanging silver sickles and bronze knuts with the buyers.

‘So what exactly are you doing?’ Harry asked referring to Hermione’s new job inside the Department for Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.

‘To be honest... I don’t even know really. I’ve been telling myself to relax all morning –’

‘Wait a minute. You of all people should not be nervous here! You could probably teach your boss a thing or two!’ Harry’s response elicited a smile from Hermione as she blushed slightly. However, her happy expression turned to one of surprise a split second later.

‘Aberforth! What are you doing here!’ she called, noticing their friend a few feet away.

‘Hermione! Harry!’ Aberforth said surprisingly, weaving around a few younger wizards as he made his way over to where they sat. ‘I’m... I’m here for a hearing. I’m a witness.’

‘A witness to what?’ Harry asked as he shook Aberforth’s hand.

‘Oh, just a bar fight in my pub this past summer. Late one night before the election a supporter from Kingsley’s camp and a supporter of Fudge got in to it. I did sell a lot of Firewhisky that night... Anyway, there were a few blows thrown but the real kicker came when the Fudge supporter threw a jinx at the Kingsley supporter... truth is, it actually missed and hit old Mr. Flabbywhether in the back of the head. He’s been at St. Mungo’s for weeks now.’

Something about Aberforth seemed out of place as Hermione gasped. Though he could not put his finger on it, Aberforth seemed somewhat nervous or embarrassed. The only guess Harry could come up with regarding Aberforth’s apprehension was the letter that he had sent him a week ago.

‘I got your letter. Sorry I haven’t written back or anything, just been real busy. I-I appreciate your concern,’ Harry said, looking up at Aberforth who gave a short nod, his eyes shifting away, never properly meeting Harry’s.

‘Not to worry Harry. Just an old man checking up on you is all,’ Aberforth replied quietly, smiling fondly. This appeared to calm Aberforth down considerably, at least to Harry’s eye.

‘You hear about Flamel then?’ asked Hermione, Aberforth taking a deep breath before responding.

‘That I did. Never really met the fellow, but I always heard good things. Doesn’t seem – well from what I’ve heard anyway – like he would do such a thing. Guess we’ll find out soon enough... when you catch him, right Harry?’ Aberforth gave a short laugh, Harry replying with a smile. ‘Well, I should be off. You know how these Ministry folk don’t like to be kept waiting... uptight prunes...’ Aberforth turned to go but turned on a dime and addressed Harry once more, a twinkle in his dark grey eyes that reminded Harry of Aberforth’s elder brother. ‘My pub door is always open Harry. Hermione. Tell Ron I said hello.’

A few minutes later and Ron had returned handing Harry a small stack of letters bound together. Flipping through the addresses on the envelopes as he walked, he noticed that all of his letters had been sent from the Ministry. It was not until the last letter that Harry saw a blank, orange envelope of considerable weight. Harry narrow his eyebrows, intrigued at the fact that the envelope bore no address or identification of any kind. Just as he was about to remove the envelope from the stack, he was interrupted by Ron’s voice.

‘Get in Harry!’ he called, Harry quickly squeezing inside the lift that Ron and Hermione were already standing in.

Almost immediately after Harry had entered the crowded lift, it began to descend downwards. He glanced over at Hermione who was looking upwards, taking deep breaths in and out. Harry remembered his first day at the Ministry one year ago, but at the sight of Hermione’s nervousness, Harry too began to feel anxious as he was reminded that today was his first full day as an Auror. Harry moved to the side of the lift to let a few wizards out after the cool female voice declared that they had arrived on Level Five. As he shut the golden gate once a quartet of witches and wizards entered, they began to descend downwards yet again, Harry hearing Ron’s quiet voice from behind him.

‘Do you want me to walk you to where you need to be?’ he asked Hermione. He knew they were only one floor away from when Hermione would be getting out of the lift.

‘No. No it’s alright,’ answered Hermione after a split-second pause. ‘I can find my way.’

‘Level Four. Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures,’ the cool female voice chimed.

Hermione immediately left the lift with nearly every other occupant, confidently striding in to the lobby of Level Four. Just as the golden gate was being closed by a wizard in front of Harry, he saw Hermione turn and give a small wave to Ron and himself, before disappearing from view as the lift began to move again.

‘Well. Just the two of us down to good old Level Two now Harry,’ Ron exhaled. Before Harry could respond, the wizard in front of Harry who had just closed the lift turned so quickly that Harry felt a brief burst of wind ripple through his hair.

‘Aurors, I presume?’ the young wizard said to the two of them. Harry and Ron glanced quickly at each other; this young wizard was the only other occupant of the lift, apart from themselves. ‘It’s alright! I’m an Auror too. Florian Ducats.’ The young wizard put out his hand, Harry shaking it after Ron had.

‘I don’t recall seeing you in the Auror Office before,’ Ron asked as he examined Florian’s flawless silver robes. Though Harry did not know a great deal about wizard fashion, he could tell that the short, young wizard standing in front of him was dressed impeccably. By the look of him, Harry saw that Florian was slightly overweight, though his impressive cloak did a particularly good job of hiding this fact.

‘Well, I haven’t been there for too long – only about as long as you Harry – big fan by the way,’ Florian said with a smile. ‘Only been a full-time Auror for about a year now.’

‘Today is our first day as Aurors – Williamson’s unit,’ Harry said as a nodding Florian flattened out a crinkle on the sleeve of his robes.

‘Whose department are you in?’ asked Ron.

‘Richter’s – he’s only got a small unit, only about half the size of Williamson’s or Blackburn’s.’ Florian paused for a moment as the lift stopped, but after noticing that no witch or wizard was entering the lift from this floor, Florian closed the gate and the lift continued downwards. ‘What do you think about the pay? A lot better than that cheap salary they were paying us before.’

‘You got that right,’ Ron replied. Harry looked down to see his own distorted reflection in the shiny boots of Florian. Noticing Harry’s stare, Florian continued.

‘That salary is how I afforded this,’ he said pointing to his fine robes and boots. ‘I’ve always said that it’s important to look the part to catch the eye of the head Aurors, that’s for sure. That’s how I got to where I am anyways... Otherwise, you risk just blending in with the rest. Am I right?’

Harry was not willing to offer his own belief that performance was the greatest asset an Auror was looking for and not how one appeared. Instead, he merely nodded his head and smiled, not wanting to start an argument with a new acquaintance as they reached Level Two. Harry followed the brown-haired Florian out of the lift and down the long hallway that led to the Auror Department.

‘Nervous at all?’ Florian asked through a deep breath after they heard the lift clamber upwards once again.

‘Not really,’ Harry responded. For some reason, Harry did not want to show his true nerves to Florian who merely nodded at Harry’s answer.

None of them spoke as they finally got to the big double black doors of the Auror Office, Harry and Ron pulling them upon as the three Aurors entered. The Department looked to be as busy as ever, Harry seeing wizards darting back and forth out of hallways, the occasional Auror emerging out of one of the many fireplaces at the back of the Office.

‘Best of luck to the both of you,’ Florian said brightly. ‘You’ll have to show me that Patronus one time Harry – I’ve heard loads about it,’ he called from over his shoulder, giving the impression of a fake, pompous laugh that made Harry cringe. Ron only shrugged, as he and Harry saw his silvery robes elegantly glide away, the two of them heading off to their cubicles. However, before they made any headway, they were cut off by the unmistakable voice of Mosteban.

‘Potter! Weasley! This way,’ he said from a few feet away, Williamson standing a few paces behind him. Though Harry only saw his face for a few seconds before he had turned around, he saw that Mosteban looked pale, his medium length brown hair looking a little messy as he put a hand through it. ‘Williamson and I are going to get you accustomed with the rest of the Department today, ending with your detailed training regimen. I hope you two boys are up to the challenge.’

Harry and Ron followed their head Aurors as closely as they could as they crossed the office, not wanting to lose them in the sea of Aurors rapidly moving across it. From the moment he had met Mosteban, Harry had been filled with somewhat of a dislike for him. Though he gave Harry the impression of a great and powerful wizard that was incredibly organized and in charge, the gruff, uncaring and somewhat nasty attitude towards him had made him unlikeable. Nevertheless, Harry respected the Head of the Aurors.

‘Here,’ Mosteban called harshly as he came to a hallway Harry had never gone down before, ‘is the Potions Room.’ As Mosteban glanced at Williamson, Harry could tell that Mosteban had something else on his mind; his impatience was as clear as water.

Harry and Ron followed Mosteban and Williamson down the small hallway, arriving at a faded green, double door-knobbed door with the words ‘Potion-Making Room’ printed on a plate above the frame. After Mosteban had waved his wand at the doorknob on the right and Williamson had done the same on the left, the door swung open. A variety of different aromas stung Harry’s nostrils as he moved forward through the stifling room. The room was quite dark, but glowing lights emitting from the countless cauldrons situated throughout gave the room a faint glow of different shades. The square room was quite large, witches and wizards standing around each cauldron either stirring, adding ingredients or inspecting their prospective brews. A single candle hovered over each cauldron illuminating a small desk that held books, papers and glass vials. There were small rows of steps situated throughout the room seemingly at random which led to new levels of cauldrons and neat piles of ingredients that were slowly being inspected by a group of cloaked wizards. Along every side of the room stood five doors, each swinging open every few moments as a potion brewer emerged. As Harry followed Mosteban, different odors made their presence known, Harry not able to decipher what more than half of them were.

‘This is where all of the necessary Potions that we as Aurors require are brewed,’ Mosteban stated, placing his hand on a small cauldron adorned with the label ‘Veritaserum’. ‘I’m sure in your time as Aurors you will find this place especially useful.’

Mosteban made a motion with his hand which told Harry to head back to the entrance of the Potion-Making Room, Harry stealing one more glance at the hazy air that was clouded with the fumes of the cauldrons before exiting all together.

‘Next,’ Mosteban said, pushing his way past Harry and Ron, ‘we go to a room that – I dare say – the two of you may have never stepped foot in before...’

Intrigued, Harry followed Mosteban clockwise around the office, walking past the rows and rows of pensieves as he headed down the next long hallway immediately following the Potion-Making Room. Though Harry had already worked at the Auror Office for an entire year now, he was beginning to realize how little he actually knew about his own workplace. Williamson bringing up the rear, Harry and Ron followed Mosteban down the red-carpeted hallway to a pair of proper looking double-oak doors with golden handles. As Mosteban grasped the handles, Harry was let down by the fact that no magic was required to open these doors; he was always interested to see the various types of magic that was needed in order to gain entrance in to the doors of the Auror Office.

‘The Library,’ said Mosteban simply, allowing Harry and Ron to walk in.

Harry looked directly up, seeing a small circle of light emitting from what looked like hundreds of feet away. The library was not very wide, but it made up for it in height. A golden staircase in the middle of the room twisted and turned upwards, connecting the numerous levels that lay beyond the reach of Harry’s eye. There were a few desks placed on each floor, a few Aurors perusing through some of the old-looking and shabby books that lined the library’s shelves. After briefly admiring the grandeur of the room, Harry now understood the barb that Mosteban had thrown their way.

‘Knowledge and understanding of everything to do with the opponent is a great key to an Auror’s success,’ Mosteban said gruffly as Harry turned, his eyes locking with Mosteban’s. ‘An Auror can only depend on his intuition and... luck... for so long.’

Harry felt like he was staring at Mosteban for hours, being pulled out of his trance-like stare once Mosteban had turned away. With a flash of his cloak he exited the magnificent library, striding out of the hallway at a great pace.

‘You’ve already seen the simulation room,’ Mosteban called from over his shoulder, referencing the shape-shifting room that served as the host of Harry’s trials last year. ‘In there, you will undergo a great deal of training – training that you will see carry through your entire career as an Auror. Though field work is by our own account the greatest way to train yourself, when times are slow, it is imperative that you stay sharp and improve and enhance your skills. There is always room for further improvement.’

They walked past the hallway that led to the simulation room which (to Harry’s memory) rivaled the size of the entire Auror Office itself. Without glancing at the hallway, Mosteban continued on to the very back of the room near the fireplaces. In the middle of the fireplaces was a hallway that Harry had never noticed before. As he got to it, Harry realized that it was barely wide enough for Harry and Ron to walk down side by side. As they walked further down, the hallway grew more and more dark, Harry having to stop himself suddenly when he realized that Mosteban was only about a foot away from him.

‘Wands please,’ Mosteban called, putting a hand out.

Williamson placed his wand in Mosteban’s hand first, Harry and Ron doing the same after their unit Head had done so. Harry saw a small circle surrounding the door knob with small slits in it. He caught a glimpse of Mosteban putting their wands in these divots, Harry remembering how this was similar to when he had entered Mosteban’s office with Williamson and Ron a few weeks ago. Harry heard four quick clicks and a second later, the door seemed to unlock from within. After Mosteban had pushed the door open, he handed the wands back to their owners as they passed.

The room was quite large, illuminated by candles placed on small wooden tables and by the firelight. There were black leather sofas and chairs around the roaring fireplace and the occasional landscape portrait placed every so often along the plain white walls. Overall, the room was quite boring to Harry, the most interesting thing being the back wall that was lined and tacked with posters of various shapes and sizes. There were only two other Aurors in the room, one of whom was sleeping while the other was only staring in to the fire as if in a trance.

‘Auror Lounge. Not very popular amongst us, but it is useful for Aurors who are required to stay on an extended basis per their assignment,’ Mosteban stated, motioning to the two Aurors around the fire.

Taking in to account the grandeur of the rest of the Auror Office, Harry expected something more than what he was seeing to serve as the Auror lounge. Though the couches looked inviting, the room looked bleak, from the boring egg white colour paint to the solid grey carpets underneath the coffee tables. Harry eyed a small basket full of pastries on one of the side tables that looked as if mould had begun to grow on them.

‘Williamson and I have an issue to deal with,’ Mosteban said, indicating the single white door on the right side of the room. ‘Wait here. Williamson will update you on your training schedule once he returns.’

Harry and Ron found themselves all alone with the two Aurors inside the lounge, the only sound being the crackling of the fireplace.

‘Doesn’t look like this place gets much use out of it,’ said Ron looking around detestably.

‘I guess not. But could you blame anyone...’ Ron snorted as he felt the coarse material of the couches, his finger covered in a light layer of dust.

‘That Mosteban’s a piece of work,’ Ron said quietly, not wanting the other two Aurors to overhear. Harry nodded his head in agreement.

‘I just don’t understand why he –’

Harry stopped in his tracks as he looked behind Ron. Something had caught his attention, causing his speech to come to a halt. He brushed past Ron, making his way to the back wall that featured all of the posters and clippings.

‘What is it Harry?’ Ron asked, following Harry to the board.

Harry lifted a piece of parchment that was concealing the poster that he sought. His suspicions proved to be true as he saw the faces of Sirius Black and Severus Snape sneering back at him from the poster. He tugged at the poster, releasing it from its tack and the wall. The headline caught Harry’s eye.


MINISTRY OF MAGIC’S TOP ‘UNDESIRABLE’ LIST


Underneath the pictures of Snape and his godfather were the words ‘deceased’ and ‘success’ with a red cross marking their pictures. Ron looked at the poster, his eyes growing wide. Without even realizing it, Harry began scrunching up the paper in his increasingly strong grip. He felt an insurmountable anger as he held the poster in his hand, unwilling to look away from the two men who he knew to be heroes. He was barely able to read the small blurb underneath their pictures which detailed the reasons as to why they were considered a ‘Top Undesirable’. Harry heard the door open once again, raising his voice uncontrollably as he held the poster in his hand. He did not care who heard him at this point nor did he care whether they approved of his anger.

‘So this is the kind of good work the Aurors have been doing, I presume,’ he said loudly.

When he turned, he was taken aback by the presence of Mosteban, who along with Williamson and Mosteban’s assistant Bumburny had abruptly stopped their conversation at Harry’s raised voice.

‘Excuse me?’ Mosteban said after a moment of silence. He took a step forwards, a tinge of anger already lining his face.

‘Why are Sirius Black and Severus Snape on this list?’ Harry said after a small pause, holding out the poster for Mosteban to see. He merely glanced at it, not taking his fixated stare off Harry for more than a second. Neither Williamson or Bumburny moved a muscle.

‘Sirius Black was an assistant to Lord Voldemort himself –’

‘No he –’

‘ – as was Severus Snape!’ Mosteban barked loudly, overriding Harry’s protest. ‘They were both found to be guilty of their crimes by myself and other Aurors alike, so do NOT stand here and tell me otherwise.’

‘Albus Dumbledore –’

‘ – is dead! Just like the other two! Save it Potter, I’ve heard it all before. I do not need to hear those false claims from the ‘Boy Who Lived’ as well. It’s all a bunch of lies conjured up to protect –’

‘YOU’RE WRONG!’ Harry yelled. ‘Sirius Black was a great man. And Severus Snape was one of the bravest wizards I’ve ever known! How dare you speak of them in that way!’

‘MISTER POTTER!’ Mosteban roared. ‘YOU ARE OUT OF LINE!’

‘So what if I am!’ He was not thinking about anything else other than Sirius, Snape and Dumbledore. Harry did not even care for a moment what repercussions he might face, his face feeling as if it was encased in boiling water. ‘These men fought and DIED to overthrow Voldemort – and look what kind of treatment they are getting now!’

Mosteban opened his mouth wide as if he was about to shout back at Harry, but Williamson put his palm on Mosteban’s chest, speaking in to his ear so that neither Harry nor Ron (whose loud panting breath was the only source of noise in this brief moment of silence) could hear. After a few seconds, Mosteban readdressed Harry, albeit in a much quieter and calmer voice than before. When he spoke, it seemed as if the very words pained him, evidenced by the slow pace in which he spoke with.

‘Potter... I am going to cut you a break today. But do not think for another moment that this sort of behaviour will be tolerated.’ Harry was breathing quickly as he felt the eyes of the two Aurors staring at him. Mosteban looked to Bumburny and Williamson who nodded as he crossed the room. ‘I’m off for my meeting with the Minister.’ He slammed the door of the lounge shut behind him, the sound echoing throughout the room.

‘But... but Mister Mosteban does not have a meeting with the Minister today...’ Bumburny said confused. Harry paid no attention to Bumburny, looking up at the advancing Williamson.

‘You better watch it Potter. Mosteban does not take to criticism of any kind. Do you understand?’ Harry nodded, still panting hard. ‘Alright, you two are done for the day...’ Williamson’s message was loud and clear as he left the lounge. The anger was now only beginning to subside as Harry crumpled the poster in his hand, throwing it in to the fireplace before leaving the lounge with Ron.

‘I had no idea that the Aurors were that thick,’ Hermione said as the threesome was sitting in the Atrium a couple hours later. The conversation had not strayed away from the ‘Undesirable’ poster and the subsequent argument with Mosteban since Hermione had joined them at the end of her workday.

‘I guess they’ve never gotten any proof proving their innocence, haven’t they?’ Ron pondered aloud. Harry had already considered these points and now, after having cooled down considerably, he was left with the empty reminder that Sirius and Dumbledore would never be alive again. Even though he had never liked Snape, the thought of an innocent man dying in the fight against Voldemort infuriated him. He knew the difficult life that Snape had lived in order to play his part in Dumbledore’s plans and the sheer thought of his hardships not being recognized angered Harry beyond belief. He had taken Sirius’ and Snape’s retribution for granted; Harry had never thought that the Ministry would be ignorant to the true realities behind two of the bravest men he had ever known. Harry only wished for the subject of conversation to change.

‘So Hermione tell us about your day,’ Harry said quietly as the three got up from their bench and made their way for the exit. He did not feel like speaking ever again.

‘Well, I’ve got loads to tell,’ Hermione began, a wide smile creeping on to her face. Though Harry tried his best to listen to his friend, he knew it was no hope; his mind was elsewhere.

‘Bloody crowd – let’s get a move on then!’ Ron said loudly as he poked his head over the large crowd that was all heading to the fireplaces.

‘Excuse me, but would you keep your voice down!’ a witch with a pompous voice said. ‘I’ve got a mind-splitting headache – I do work on the Minister’s Level you know!’ the witch turned in the opposite direction, whisking her purse so fast that it clipped Ron in the side of his head. Ron made a face and displayed a rude gesture that Hermione slapped Ron in the shoulder for.

‘Bunch of nitwits we work with here – well apart from you of course Hermione,’ Ron said as he made room for the three of them to move past a few wizards. ‘We’ve got a bunch of Aurors who don’t even know who’s innocent and others who won’t even let the brightest witch at the Ministry do anything more than paper-work.’ Harry briefly remembered Hermione saying something about her job being painfully tedious.

Harry sifted through a few groups of Ministry workers; his only want in the world was to return home with his friends to Ginny and tell her what was on his mind. Harry turned to see Hermione struggling through the group of wizards from where he had just come from.

‘Harry! Wait for a –’

A booming noise rang throughout the Atrium, temporarily making Harry deaf as he was forcefully knocked off of his feet. He fell on top of Ron, a wizard who he did not know and Hermione falling on either side of him. He was stepped on hard, feeling shatters of glass fall on and cutting his face. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion around him as he dazedly looked around. After a moment, he seemed to gain some hearing back as he began to hear the screams of the people around him. Harry lifted his head off of the ground, feeling dizzy as he sat up. He grabbed Ron’s hand to help him up but could not stand up fully; it was as if he had lost all his strength. Finally, Harry managed to stand, confusingly looking around at the scene in the Atrium. Many people were still down, the screams becoming louder with each passing second. His heart began beating very fast when he saw that a few witches and wizards were lying unmoving only a few paces away. He looked to see that small parts of the fountain had been blown off, leaving gaps in the house elf’s head and in the centaur’s hoof.

‘H-Harry... Look!’ Hermione said softly, putting a hand over her mouth.

It was not long before Harry saw what she had indicated amongst the screaming commotion. In the middle of a small huddled and kneeling group lay the witch that had reprimanded Ron for raising his voice only a minute ago. Though he was not a Healer, it was obvious to Harry that she was no more, blood trickling from her mouth and forming a small pool on the Atrium floor.


Chapter 6: The Holyhead Harpies
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‘Arthur? ARTHUR? Have you seen my handbag this morning?’ Mrs. Weasley bellowed from a few floors up. ‘I thought I had it this morning... Oh, perhaps it’s run off again...’

Harry was beginning to develop a mind-splitting headache. The commotion in the Burrow on this particular morning was beginning to reach unbearable heights as everyone was hustling and bustling in order to get ready for Ginny’s first Quidditch match of the season. He was sitting at the kitchen table, his head in his hands, being accompanied by an already dressed and ready Ron and Hermione. Ginny had left Grimmauld Place early that morning to get to the pitch early. They had all left Grimmauld Place in order to meet up with the rest of Ron’s family, but the large Weasley clan was taking much longer to get ready than expected.

‘Oh for heaven’s sake... George! You have five seconds to tell me where your mother’s bag is!’ Mr. Weasley said with a mixture of frustration and pleading. Mr. Weasley entered the kitchen, looking underneath the sink and angrily slamming the cupboard shut when he realized that his wife’s handbag was nowhere to be seen.

‘I didn’t do anything with it Dad!’ George exclaimed through a mischievous smile, Mr. Weasley arching his eyebrows in disbelief. ‘Honestly, why’s it always me? You know – I can’t wait until Bill and Fleur have their baby. Maybe someone else will get blamed for a change.’

‘You’re wrong about that George,’ called down Mrs. Weasley. ‘When Bill and Fleur’s child arrives, it’s going to look up to their uncle! Ooh, that’s a scary thought...’ she trailed off, her feet scattering off in another direction above them.

Mr. Weasley and George strode out of the kitchen together, Ron shaking his head, a small smile forming on his face. Hermione put down the newest edition of the Daily Prophet that she was reading, pointing to a particular article on the front page.

‘Fudge finally responded to the attack on the Ministry,’ she said calmly, Harry leaning over to read the article. Harry only read the first paragraph before turning away from the article all together.

‘Just a bunch of rubbish,’ he said, returning to his seat.

‘I know. He’s been dumbfounded for a week and now that he finally speaks, he doesn’t say anything we don’t know already! What kind of Minister is that?’ Ron questioned.

‘The same as every other Minister we’ve ever had – except Kingsley,’ Harry said quietly. ‘An attack like that happening in the first days of Fudge’s leadership – it looks pretty bad on him.’

‘Good way to welcome him to the Ministry, I reckon. By the looks of the article, the useless prat is having trouble handling the situation,’ added Ron.

It was not long after the attack had occurred that the details surrounding it emerged to the public. Ministry officials had found the traces of a small, deadly, exploding potion inside the purse of the woman. The explosion had instantly killed her, badly injuring eleven others at the scene. In the days that followed, it had caused quite the panic among Ministry workers; even Aurors seemed perplexed by the strange occurrence.

‘We have no reason to believe that Miss Edgecombe had planned the attack herself,’ Ron quoted from the Prophet article. ‘Well thanks a lot Mr. Fudge, I was having trouble working that out for myself!’

‘Fudge is probably under a ton of pressure right now. Things like that just don’t happen at the Ministry of all places! An incident like that hasn’t happened in... well, since our fight in the Department of Mysteries or... or the time we broke in to the Ministry to recover that locket... but those are different,’ Hermione stated, re-positioning herself at her own self-realization, both Ron and Harry shrugging their shoulders at each other comically. ‘I just don’t understand the motive for doing this. That lady was only a secretary in the legal department – she was no one of particular importance that someone would want to get rid of... poor soul.’

‘Yeah, it just seems like whoever wanted to do this did it for the fun of it... I don’t know... maybe that was their only intention – to cause havoc?’ Harry asked skeptically and openly to the answer of no one. Though they had all come to the conclusion that the prime suspects were undoubtedly the Death Eaters, the fact that the crime seemed so strange without a clear, distinct purpose was the real troubling facet about it.

‘All we know is that someone placed that potion in to her purse at some point... but who? And how?’ Any of the possible answers for Ron’s question that Harry had come up with over the past few days were all equally as unsettling.

‘Either a Death Eater somehow got inside the Ministry to place the potion in her purse, she was Imperiused to put the potion in herself, or –’

‘Someone inside the Ministry did it...’ Hermione finished gravely. Harry nodded, quietly returning to his own thoughts.

‘ARTHUR?’ Mrs. Weasley bellowed for a second time. Mr. Weasley, Percy and George burst in to the kitchen once again, Mr. Weasley groaning at the sound of his wife’s voice.

‘It might be best for you lot to be on your way – don’t be late on our accord. Here are your tickets,’ Mr. Weasley said with a sigh, thrusting his hand in to his pants’ pocket. However, the only thing he pulled out was a few packages of melted Fever Fudge. Mr. Weasley, his hand coated in chocolate, looked anything but impressed.

‘OK, now that... that was me, I do have to admit,’ George said pointing at this father’s pocket, beginning to back up a few paces. ‘Thought you could do some advertising at work, if you wouldn’t mind...’

‘Just because you don’t live here anymore doesn’t mean you can do whatever you like!’ Mr. Weasley exclaimed. ‘Sometimes George I wonder – why couldn’t you be more serious like your brother Percy?’

‘And be a responsible little git? Where’s the fun in that, eh Perce?’ George asked, as he backed up through the kitchen door, setting down the trio’s Quidditch tickets on the window sill.

‘Grow up, George. Bill and Charlie are going to meet us there,’ replied Percy, showing his father a slip of paper that had been delivered by a tawny brown owl earlier that morning.

‘Accio tickets,’ muttered Hermione, the three slips of paper flying across the kitchen and in to her hand. ‘We’ve got it from here Mr. Weasley,’ Hermione said with a smile, motioning for the rest of them to follow her out in to the yard of the Burrow.

‘Oh, I do hope it didn’t eat the cat again...’ Mrs. Weasley called out from only a floor above them.

‘Holyhead and Tutshill – opening Quidditch match of the season and my own sister is in it!’ Ron said proudly.

‘Hopefully she gets some playing time,’ Harry said as the three friends formed a circle, Harry seeing a garden gnome mischievously pick a radish and glance around himself before darting back in to a bush.

‘All ready then?’ asked Hermione. They all joined hands and apparated in to the early autumn air, a shower of golden leaves whirling in the wind as they left the Burrow.

The first thing that Harry noticed when he had landed on solid ground once more was the smell of fresh sea air, carried to his nostrils by the relatively strong wind. Looking to his right, he saw the endless sea, turning his head in the opposite direction to see beautiful rolling hills and a town buried in the valley. Only a few yards away from the trio was a rather large sloping mountain, a short, mustached man dressed in green robes standing beside its base.

‘Tickets please!’ he called. ‘Right this way!

Hermione took the three tickets out of her pocket, quickly walking up to the man who seized the tickets, ripped off a small stub and handed them back to Hermione.

‘Right that way!’ he said, pointing to the base of the mountain.

Harry darted past the man quickly, not wanting to be gawked at the moment he had arrived at the match. At first, Harry had made no note of it, but only a few moments after they had walked past the mustached man, Harry wondered where exactly they were going. Looking up ahead, he saw that Hermione was heading directly for a few small bushes on the underside of the mountain. After they had walked a little distance, Harry called out to Hermione who was leading the way.

‘Er Hermione... where are we going?’

‘Just a little further, I think. Wait until you see the stadium...’

‘Holyhead Gardens. State of the art facility,’ Ron mentioned to Harry, clearly having no idea where he was going either. ‘Only a few years old. They had to ditch the last stadium because after the new rails were put in place, train-travelling Muggles began seeing the matches. Dad told me about it. Nightmare for the Obliviators I bet.’

After walking for a few more minutes in silence, Harry began to realize that they were now travelling downhill, the slope coming on without Harry even noticing. After remembering that the mountain was only mere yards away from the ticket man, Harry wondered how this was possible. Slowly, he saw the base of the mountain disappear from view as if he was walking down an invisible staircase, carefully avoiding an overhanging bush branch. After a few more moments, lamps began to line the walls in more and more frequent numbers, the underground walls smoothly painted in a dark green colour, golden railings lining each side. Soon after, the light of day vanished and replacing it was the artificial light of the lamps.

‘There are entrances like this all around the mountain,’ Hermione stated with a smile as she looked around to see Harry and Ron in wonder.

‘So wait a minute...’ Harry said as they continued to descend in to the belly of Holyhead Gardens, ‘do you mean to say that the pitch is inside the mountain?’

‘Exactly,’ replied Hermione who resumed her lead as the ground began to level out.

‘There’s been some criticism about it,’ Ron interjected. ‘Games played here over the past couple years have been – on average – shorter and many attribute this to the enclosed space of the pitch –’

‘ – meaning the Snitch has only so many places to travel. Makes sense I guess,’ Harry concluded to the nodding of Ron.

‘I don’t buy that though,’ Ron said. ‘When you see the size of this place, it’s hardly what you would call enclosed. No, I think it’s the lack of weather. You’ve always got the same weather day in and day out – no rain, snow or high winds. Makes the conditions always ideal.’

Harry had never heard of an indoor Quidditch pitch before but found the concept to be highly interesting. However, he was unable to dwell on it long as before he knew it, the loud rumblings of a massive crowd could be faintly heard. He looked at Ron who lightly hit him on the shoulder out of excitement; Ron was undoubtedly in his element.

Only a moment later, the tunnel came to an abrupt end, Harry, Hermione and Ron stepping out on to a large concourse. There was a sloping roof over the concourse that wrapped around the entire oval-shaped pitch. The tiled, dark green floor matched the pattern of the Harpies logo that was prominently featured along the walls. Harry could see out on to the pitch through slits in between the lifts. Witches and wizards crowded the concourse, heading in all different directions as they made their way around the outside and to the lifts. Around the outside of the concourse stood rather large, stationary carts selling all sorts of foods, treats, souvenirs and various Quidditch items. There were small flying figurines flying around the concourse, shouting out fighting songs and carrying banners on the back of their brooms which flashed certain golden messages in support of the Harpies. The majority of the witches and wizards were dressed in dark green robes emblazoned with a golden talon on the front of it. The occasional supporter of the Tutshill Tornados, adorned in their traditional dark and light blue robes were being jeered at by various groups of the Harpies’ supporters. Many people were either cheering, or singing together in unison, tenders of the carts yelling out advertisements for their products loudly.

‘Pretty wild isn’t it?’ a clearly excited Ron exclaimed. The three looked around wildly in every direction, temporarily mesmerized by the scene in front of them.

‘We should get a program, shouldn’t we?’ Hermione asked loudly. ‘For Ginny’s first match?’ They all agreed and slowly made their way to the nearest souvenir shop directly to their right, taking quite a bit of time to fight through the large crowds.

‘We’ll take one, thanks,’ Hermione said to the man, pointing towards the programs adorned with a Beater of the Harpies violently aiming and then hitting a Bludger in the direction of an unsuspecting Tornado player.

‘We know Ginny Weasley – backup Seeker,’ Ron said brightly as he folded his arms on the table. The vendor turned to retrieve one of the programs from the shelf. ‘Do we get any sort of discount on the goods sold here?’ The man sighed as he handed the program over to Hermione.

‘No discounts of any kind, sir,’ he said lazily, extending a hand out to Hermione as he looked off in to another direction.

‘OK, well... how about a Harry Potter discount then? You wouldn’t even be here without him, so why not show your appreciation?’ Ron asked forcefully and brightly. The man sharply whipped his head around in their direction, eying Harry with great interest. His mouth hung open slightly but upon seeing this, Hermione quickly placed a silver sickle in to the man’s hand, pulling Harry away from the cart immediately.

‘You can’t really be that thick, can you Ron?’ she said somewhat annoyed.

‘What? I was only joking around.’

‘You really want to draw that much attention to Harry in a place as crowded as this? Really?’ Hermione asked as she briskly walked through the crowd in the direction of the lifts. ‘Come on now, the match is going to start in a couple minutes.’

After a few minutes of waiting in line, the three of them stepped in to one of the nearest lifts, a witch dressed in green robes closing the gate of the lift just before it began to ascend. Behind Harry stood a trio of Holyhead fans, their painted faces changing colour between a dark green and a bright gold before finally changing to the Harpies’ logo.

‘This is us,’ Hermione said, beckoning for Harry and Ron to follow her on to the twelfth level.

‘I didn’t know our seats were this good?!’ Ron exclaimed brightly, but Harry could not give an answer as he was nearly trampled over the moment he stepped out of the lift.

‘Mr. Potter! A word this way if you please!’

‘Potter! Potter! Is that your girlfriend over there! Please introduce us!’

‘Are you a fan of the Harpies then Mr. Potter? Come on, don’t be shy!’

Harry was dumbfounded. A small barrage of reporters had encircled him and his two friends asking all sorts of questions, snapping pictures at every angle. After pausing for a moment, he tried to fight his way through the reporters to no avail; there were just too many in his way. He looked around to see Hermione and Ron getting harassed as well, though not to the same extent he was. He saw Hermione reach in to her pocket, not knowing what she was about to do.

He heard a large bang from somewhere in front of him, a large arrangement of lights illuminating the concourse of the twelfth level immediately. All of the reporters turned to see the firework (periodic banging noises drowning out all of their surprised exclamations) slowly begin to form in to a shape. It was only a moment before the shape could be recognized as a Hippogriff. The figure began to quickly soar towards the group of reporters, the firework Hippogriff letting out a loud call which caused the reporters to turn, knocking each other over as they tried to get away. The Hippogriff gained speed, the reporters dropping some of their quills and cameras as the firework chased them down the concourse.

‘I think... it may be wise to bring your Invisibility Cloak when you come to these matches, Harry,’ Hermione said, watching the Hippogriff soar down the concourse, the yells of the reporters making a few Harpies’ fans turn their heads in puzzlement.

‘George give you that?’ Ron asked as the three set off down the concourse.

‘Yes as a matter of fact,’ Hermione said as she scanned her ticket to see which section they were sitting in. The concourse was much less populated here than it was on the main level of the stadium. ‘But let that little incident be a lesson to you – news travels fast you know! There could be more here in minutes!’

‘So how are these two teams looking this year, Ron?’ Harry asked, re-focusing his attention on the match at hand. He had never followed the League as closely as Ron had over the years, but now that Ginny was playing professionally, he wanted to know as much as he could about it.

‘Well, Holyhead always seem to be strong, maybe not at the top of the league, but they are always contenders. Tutshill... well, they are pretty hard to predict. A few years ago, they won the League championship, also winning the Victor’ League as well – that’s when they take each champion and some of the better runners-up from each league around the world and have a tournament to determine who the best side in the world is,’ Ron explained. ‘But then last year, they did not even come close to topping the League. Barely finished ahead of my Cannons which really says something...’

Upon arriving at the correct section, Hermione showed her tickets to the patron who pointed in the direction of their seats. They walked up a couple of rows, taking the three seats on the end of the row. After taking his seat, Harry looked at the grandeur of the pitch. Though Harry guessed that it did not even seat half as many people as the Quidditch World Cup stadium, Harry still admired the intricate detailing of it. A large sign spreading out over the entire pitch on the opposite side read ‘Holyhead Gardens’, advertisements for various products lining either side of it. Harry saw a scoreboard at one end with all of the players’ names on it, the number zeros lining the board which (upon Ron telling him) kept track of the various statistics of the players, including goals, saves and Bludger hits. Another scoreboard on the opposite side had each Quidditch team placed upon it, Harry realizing that this was the board that kept track of the League Standings.

‘Have you ever been to a Cannons game Ron?’ Harry asked as the crowd continued to file in.

‘Never,’ Ron sighed. ‘Now that we’re Aurors, we could definitely afford it though,’ he finished with a smile. Harry felt a tinge of guilt that Ron had never been able to afford to see his favourite Quidditch team play before.

‘Looks like they took a page out of Hogwarts’ book,’ Hermione said brightly, pointing to the ceiling.

Not even noticing until Hermione had pointed it out, Harry was shocked to see the sky and distant rolling hills in the distance all around him. He saw a flock of birds fly overhead, the clouds slowly drifting across the sky in the wind. Harry understood Hermione’s reference to Hogwarts immediately, being reminded of the Great Hall of his former school.

‘We are still inside a mountain, right?’ Harry asked through a smile, Hermione nodding as she admired the illusion. ‘But... but isn’t that dangerous for the players? I mean what if they collide with the top or the side of the mountain?’

‘It’s pretty advanced magic,’ Hermione started, leaning closer to Harry as the noise in the crowd had greatly increased over the past couple of minutes. ‘From a distance, it looks like the plain sky, but when the players fly within a certain distance to it, they can see the inside of the mountain. It’s to give the illusion to everyone that we are actually outside like a normal Quidditch game, that’s all.’

Impressed, Harry turned his attention to his program, scanning the table of contents for anything interesting. He flipped to the page that read ‘Team Outlines’. Once he got there, he saw that on the left page was the captain for the Tornados, a brawn, short man with a black goatee, while on the right page stood the Harpies’ captain Gweong Jones. Harry read the brief history of the Tornados (including the fact that the team was founded in 1520) and underneath the team slogan and logo were the faces of the squad, a small blurb underneath each of the faces which served as a sort of mini biography. Harry turned to the Holyhead side of the page and found Ginny smiling up at him from near the bottom of the page. Underneath her image read:


GINNY WEASELY – SEEKER

A rookie for the Harpies this season, Ginny Weasley was the stand-out Chaser and Seeker for the Gryffindor Quidditch Club at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, captaining the side in her denouement. She looks to make her mark during her first League season with the Harpies.


Harry could not be more proud of Ginny even though her biography was the shortest on her team. Just seeing her image in the program cemented the realization that Ginny was in fact a pro Quidditch player in his mind. However, Harry realized something as he closed the book of the program, addressing Ron with his question.

‘How likely is it that Ginny plays today?’

‘Well... not very likely to be honest. Injuries do happen in Quidditch so there’s always a chance... but if Ginny is going to see much action this year it will most likely have to be because of poor performance of the regular. Wellington is proven, even if she is unspectacular.’ Slightly disappointed, Harry looked blankly out on to the pitch. There was nothing Harry wanted to see more than his girlfriend play in her first League game.

‘We’re here!’ Harry heard the voice of Mr. Weasley call, his face slightly red. Following him was George (who had an expressionless face), Mrs. Weasley, Percy, Bill, Fleur and Charlie, all taking their seats to the left of Harry. ‘Match must be starting soon, I reckon...’ Mr. Weasley’s almost artificial sincerity told Harry that he must have reprimanded George pretty harshly before they had all left the Burrow.

‘Hey Bill, Fleur... Charlie,’ Harry said brightly as Ron’s two eldest brothers sat down, who responded happily.

‘What took you all so long?’ Ron asked, not taking his eyes off of the pitch.

‘Well, once we left the house...’ Mrs. Weasley said with a tad bit of annoyance in her tone as she glanced sideways at George who gave a comical, over exaggerated smile back, ‘we weren’t allowed in the lifts for a quarter of an hour.’

‘Why was that?’ Hermione asked inquisitively.

‘Some nut set off some fireworks on our floor – they had to clear it out before letting anyone up on that level,’ Percy responded with a tone of pompous annoyance.

‘Probably drunk out of their minds... the nerve of those people...’ George said with a tad of sarcasm in his tone as he glanced over to Hermione who was now red in the face. Ron did not seem to notice any of it, his eyes fixated on the referee who was being greeted with a chorus of boos from the sold-out crowd.

‘How are you feeling, Fleur?’ asked Harry to the beautiful, Fleur Delacour.

‘Oh! I have not been sick yet, ‘Arry,’ she said from couple of seats down. ‘But Molly here haz given me some good tips if I do get morning sickness from ze baby!’

Mrs. Weasley patted Fleur’s leg with a smile. Though their relationship had at first been rocky, Fleur and Mrs. Weasley had largely put aside their differences and had become much closer over the past couple years. The announcement of her and Bill’s pregnancy seemed to have solidified their renewed relationship even more strongly.

‘Who would have thought that Bill would be having a child of his own. Are you sure you want to do this, Fleur?’ asked Charlie. ‘When we were young, Bill couldn’t even take care of his own pygmy puff, you know.’

Everyone enjoyed a drowned out laugh at Charlie’s joke. After a few minutes of baby discussion, the topic of conversation shifted back to the impending Quidditch match.

‘Was Ginny nervous this morning?’ Mrs. Weasley asked sincerely.

‘More excited than nervous actually,’ Hermione responded quickly. Mrs. Weasley nodded, but she (like everyone else in the stadium) turned their attention to the pitch at the sound of a booming voice.

‘Ladies and Gentlemen! We welcome you to the opening match for your... HOLYHEAD HARPIES!’ the crowd erupted in cheers from around the stadium, the announcer carrying out the second syllable in the word ‘Holyhead’ for at least ten seconds. ‘Now, I introduce you to the starting lineup for the opponent... the Tutshill Tornados.’ The announcer proceeded to speak the names of the opposing side in a very low, non-excited voice and monotone voice, the audience growing quiet for a second before booing loudly. ‘Finwick, Stanislav, Tamblyn, White, Kross, Schreiber... and Birch.’

Seven blue cloaked figures shot out of a small hole situated on the ground of the left side of the pitch, flying a few quick laps together before separating and lining up in their positions. The announcer paused for a moment before continuing.

‘And now... show your support... for your Harpies starters!’ The crowd exploded in cheers that were nearly deafening, the announcer speaking in a much louder and drawn out tone than before. ‘Glynnis, Morgan, Wellington, Cole, Gaskin, Garber... and returning for her twenty-eighth season... Gweong Jones!’

The referee shook both of the captains hands once the seven, dark green cloaked Harpies flew a few laps around the pitch. Harry, though from a considerable distance away, could see a red-headed figure take a seat on the Harpies’ bench on the pitch. It seemed as if the other Weasleys had noticed Ginny as well, pointing to her sitting beside a few other dark green cloaked figures.

As Harry concentrated fondly on Ginny, the game began, a flurry of action occurring all around the pitch. Through the first minute of action, Harry could see that the Harpies’ Chasers worked extremely well together, but because they flew so fast, Harry had to rely on the announcer (whose voice rang through each individual section but not the entire pitch) to keep track of all of the action’s details.

‘Cole, passes the Quaffle to Gaskin who dodges a Bludger from Stanislav – oh, that was a close call there. Gaskin thrown off balance but – oh what a play! She manages to hand off the Quaffle to Garber who swoops in and – no she doesn’t shoot! She leaves it there for Cole who comes in and puts it home! Oh, simply brilliant! What a Bernini sculpture of a goal! Magnificent!’

Harry saw that the scoreboard directly across from him had changed:


HOLYHEAD – 10 TUTSHILL – 0.


‘I know it’s early... but if Holyhead can keep this up all season, then they are going to give Montrose a run for their money... Someone needs to stop the Magpies from their dominance over the past few seasons and I don’t even care who...’

Before ten minutes had gone by, Holyhead had scored three more times, bringing up the score to a staggering forty to zero. Though he was impressed by the Holyhead Chaser’s obvious skill, he wanted nothing more than for Ginny to play, feeling bad that she had to watch her team play from the sidelines.

The Holyhead Chasers dominated the flow of the game for the next hour, increasing their lead to a score of one hundred fifty to sixty. The Seekers had not shown much life so far, Harry wondering if the skill levels of both Seekers were not up to the same level as the Chaser’s. Though he did not know much about the Tornado’s Seeker, Harry remembered Ron mentioning that the Harpies had just signed an aging Wellington to play Seeker for their squad. ‘Perhaps age is catching up with her...’ Harry thought to himself.

He had apparently thought too soon. The announcer had calmed down in his announcing as the game had settled in to a certain flow but his voice suddenly changed to a much more excited one and Harry could see why. Wellington had begun a tremendous dive from the right side of the pitch to the left, Harry seeing a tiny golden ball only a couple of feet from her hand.

‘Wellington! She’s almost got the Snitch! Out of nowhere she has seen her first glimpse of the Snitch! Tamblyn is right on her tail but he might be too far now! And... and... SHE’S CAUGHT IT! HOLYHEAD WIN!’

The entire crowd at Holyhead Gardens erupted in to a ground quaking cheer. The entire crowd stood as Wellington took a slow victory lap, a small golden object shimmering in her hand. Though everyone was looking at the victorious Seeker, Harry looked to the field where he saw Ginny hugging a figure to her right who was dressed in what appeared to be dress robes. Wondering who the figure was, Harry saw her mount her broom, flying up to congratulate her teammate a second later.

‘What a match! Great start for Holyhead!’ Ron said enthusiastically but his tone soon changed to one that seemed to bring him great pain. ‘Now we just have to rush home to hear Chudley lose their opening match tonight...’

‘Ginny said last night that we could meet her down by the dressing room!’ Charlie said as people began to file out, their cheers echoing from the concourse.

‘We should make our way there then, if we can,’ Mr. Weasley responded, eying the large crowds that seemed to be at a standstill already.

As they made their way in to the lifts, Harry could hear the singing of the victorious team’s supporters from levels above and below, the noise being muffled once the lift began to descend downwards to the bottom most level. Harry was excited to see Ginny, wanting to know all about her first experience as a Quidditch player.

‘This way everyone!’ Mr. Weasley said after asking a patron which way was the correct one. They were one floor under the main level, which was the floor in which the players’ dressing rooms were located. The crowd was sparse down on this level with a few wizards and witches dressed in fancy dress robes and dresses and only a rare Holyhead supporter dressed in dark green robes populating it.

Harry and the rest followed Mr. Weasley down one of the two hallways leading out from the small lobby. The hallway was adorned with a dark green carpet with golden trim and numerous moving photographs from the history of the Holyhead team lining the corridor. The short hallway led to another small lobby, the logo of the Harpies emblazoned on the front of the door at the far end. Mr. Weasley motioned for everyone to take a seat on the comfortable looking green couches, around thirty or so others already seated.

‘Cool...’ Ron muttered in awe as he looked around.

Harry felt happy that Ron was getting a kick out of being this close to the Holyhead dressing room, a place where very few people had the opportunity of visiting. Though Harry was excited to be there too, he knew Ron appreciated it on a whole different level.

‘Ginny!’ Harry heard Hermione exclaim. He turned to see Ginny (who was changed out of her Quidditch robes) emerge from the door among the other Harpies players. Ron snapped out of his gaze as his sister emerged, finally breaking his stare at the Quidditch players that he had previously only read about it.

‘Hey, you won!’ Harry said as he hugged Ginny.

Harry moved to the side to give the rest of her family the chance to congratulate her on her team’s win. After a few minutes of mingling, everyone – aside from Ron and Hermione – made their way back down the hallway, promising to talk more once they had all returned to Number Twelve Grimmauld Place for dinner. Just as Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione were ready to leave Holyhead Gardens, a voice stopped them in their tracks.

‘Hey Ginny! Wait!’ the voice called from the dispersing crowd of friends and family members.

Emerging from the crowd was a tall, rather handsome young man who looked to be around Harry’s age. He had short brown hair and was rather bulky, his impeccable black dress robes and tie standing out amongst the dark green interior of the room. His gelled hair was perfectly symmetrical, his complexion one of great clarity. He flashed an incredibly white smile as he approached the foursome. Harry ran his tongue over his own teeth as the young man approached.

‘Just wanted to let you know – practice is scheduled an hour earlier on Tuesday. Wouldn’t want you to miss it – or be late for that matter,’ he said, flashing yet another smile that seemed to shine.

‘Oh, thanks,’ Ginny said brightly, turning back to the trio. ‘Everyone, this is Davis McCoy – one of our assistant coaches. Davis this is my brother Ron, Hermione and Harry.’

‘Harry Potter, so good to meet you,’ Davis said, forcefully shaking Harry’s hand, taking Hermione’s and Ron’s afterwards. He turned his attention back to Ginny. ‘So are you coming to the team after party? We’re going to celebrate the first win of the season in style!’

‘Er... I can’t Davis – I’ve already got plans,’ Ginny said slowly as she turned back to her friends. Davis’ smile faded, quickly stopping Ginny from turning fully.

‘Your friends are all welcome of course. It would be a real treat if you all could come,’ Davis said quickly.

‘I really can’t but thank you very much... perhaps next time?’ Davis seemed disappointed at Ginny’s answer, but he nodded and smiled all the same.

‘Not a problem, not a problem,’ he said enthusiastically, straightening out his tie as he wore a pleased expression on his face. Ginny gave a small smile before returning to her friends, Davis quickly speaking yet again. ‘Good to get that first win of the season out of the way – the first one is always the toughest.’

‘Yeah, everyone played really well. I think with your coaching we could make a run at the League this year,’ Ginny responded.

‘That’s why I knew you’d be a great addition to the team. Not only are you extremely talented, but you’ve got such a positive attitude. Isn’t she just great?’ Davis said, turning his attention to Harry, Ron and Hermione who all nodded together, eyeing each other hesitantly. ‘So Harry, I heard you’ve become an Auror. Always admire witches and wizards who work in that profession...’

‘Yeah, it’s er... pretty cool really,’ Harry replied, slightly taken aback by Davis addressing him. Harry was about to ask Davis about his job in an effort to make the conversation a little less awkward, but as he opened his mouth, he was beaten to the punch by Davis.

‘Forgive me if this is forthright... but are you and Ginny dating? I’ve read so many different things in those Clean Skeet articles that I don’t know what to believe!’ Davis tilted his head slightly and smiled.

‘Er, yeah. Yeah we are,’ Harry responded somewhat awkwardly, yet confidently.

‘That’s excellent. Well congratulations!’ Davis said brightly after a slight hesitation. ‘An Auror’s lifestyle is pretty harsh really. Coupled with a professional Quidditch player’s daily routines... and time will certainly seem to fly by. Cherish the times you have together... it’s what I’ve learned about relationships over the years...’

Harry merely nodded, not exactly sure what Davis was going on about. However, something about Davis made Harry unsure of whether or not he should like him. It was as if underneath the surface, he was trying to say something to Harry and it was something that Harry felt quite uncomfortable about. He saw Davis’ eyes glance over at Ginny, before returning his stare back to Harry who did not look away, the smile of Davis never leaving his face. After the silence continued for a few more seconds, Harry decided to break it and the awkwardness that came with it.

‘Well... I plan to,’ Harry replied, not looking away from Davis who tilted his head upwards. ‘Nice meeting you Davis.’

‘Not every day you get to meet the Chosen One,’ Davis replied meekly. ‘We’ll see you on Tuesday Gin – Hermione... Ron... nice meeting you two.’

Davis touched Ginny’s arm lightly, backing up a few steps before turning completely and heading back through the door where the players had come from. Ginny waved goodbye to her assistant coach, Harry placing his arm around Ginny’s shoulders as the foursome walked back down the hallway. Something about Davis did not sit right with Harry, but he forgot all about the meeting as he and his friends began to talk about Holyhead’s first win.


****


Harry heard the last of the Weasleys bid goodbye to Ginny from a couple of floors below a few hours later. Harry and Ron had retired to their room, too stuffed with roasted chicken and all the trimmings to barely stay awake. Ron was falling in and out of sleep; every time he drifted too far, he seemed to wake up, his head nearly falling on to his pillow beside him.

‘Great game today, didn’t you think so Harry?’ Ron muttered for the hundredth time.

‘Yeah Ron, it was good,’ Harry replied through a yawn.

‘Glad Hermione finally gave in,’ he muttered as he closed his eyes. ‘If we are all going to be living together, I didn’t want that bloody cat around Grimmauld Place. It tried to eat my rat, if you remember.’

‘Your rat was a man. A Death Eater at that,’ muttered Harry disinterestedly.

‘Yeah, well... on principle, I never liked that furry thing. She’s giving Crookshanks to her parents over the weekend.’

‘Brilliant,’ murmured Harry.

He stood indifferent on the topic of Crookshanks, not giving his opinion either way during the past few days. Ron and Hermione had argued back and forth on whether Crookshanks should stay or go, but after sending an owl to her parents, Hermione had agreed to let her cat stay with them to appease Ron. From the reply that Hermione’s parents had sent back, they seemed thrilled to take care of Crookshanks for the foreseeable future.

‘You... you open your mail yet? It’s been sitting there for days now...’ Ron said, yawning loudly as he turned over on to his side.

Harry glanced to his bedside table, seeing the small stack of letters that Ron had retrieved for him from the Ministry on his first day back as an Auror. Harry seized the stack of letters, taking off the elastics that held the stack together. He quickly opened the envelopes from the Ministry, casually and disinterestedly flipping through countless envelopes containing advertisements or notifications about different events. He finally came to the last envelope, a rather large orange one that felt somewhat heavier than the others. Then, Harry remembered noticing this letter when he had first seen it in his stack, remembering that there was no return address attached to it. Intrigued, he ripped open the envelope, thrusting his hand inside. He dumped the contents of the envelope out on to his bed seeing to his surprise a small, clear flask with a piece of parchment wrapped around it.

‘Hey Ron... Ron!’ Harry beckoned to his friend, not taking his eyes off of the vial. ‘Come take a look at this.’ Ron rolled over on his bed, opening only one of his eyes as he looked to what Harry had indicated. When he saw the glowing flask, he sat up on his bed, rubbing his eyes and looking at it curiously.

‘That looks like some sort... of memory!’ a shocked Ron said, quickly sitting beside Harry.

Harry quickly undid the elastic that held the piece of parchment to the flask. He unfurled it excitedly, disappointed that there was no inscriptions of any kind on either side of it. He tossed the parchment to Ron.

‘Bloody hell...’ Ron said quietly as he too examined the blank piece of parchment, placing it on Harry’s night table as he returned his attention to the vial. Harry held the vial in his hand, feeling the coldness of it. He put it close to his eyes, seeing a small, bluish swirling liquid inside of it. He knew Ron was right.

‘It is a memory Ron! But... from who?’

‘You mean you don’t know who sent it?’ a shocked Ron asked to which Harry shook his head, holding up the blank envelope so Ron could see. ‘Well... then we need to view it at the Auror Office as soon as –’

‘We can’t do that Ron. Those pensieves only contain one person’s memories – you can’t put anyone else’s in to them,’ a frustrated Harry interrupted.

He had no idea who had sent the memory, but the suspense of not knowing what the memory contained was almost too much. Both he and Ron sat in silence as they thought about what to do. Finally, after hearing Ginny and Hermione’s door close, Ron broke the silence.

‘We need to find a pensieve... but where can we find one?’

Harry did not need to think about Ron’s question for very long. He knew exactly where they needed to go.

‘Tell Hermione in the morning. I think it’s time to pay our old school a visit.’


Chapter 7: The Memory
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Harry eyed the Golden Snitch that sat atop the mantelpiece inside the secret room behind the portrait of Percival the Pompous. He was waiting for the moment that would occur at any second; the Snitch would glow blue and upon touching it, the portkey would whisk them away to Hogwarts. It was a Saturday and Harry, Ron and Hermione luckily had the day off while Ginny had awoken in the early hours of the morning for her Quidditch practice with the Harpies. Harry placed the mysterious memory vial safely in Hermione’s bag, his thoughts running wild as to who sent him the memory or what it contained. Hermione seemed to be just as dumbstruck as the others when Harry and Ron had told her about it the very next day.

Feeling somewhat guilty, Harry thought about Ginny and the fact that he had not told her about the memory. Truthfully, the arrangement of Ginny and Hermione moving in to Grimmauld Place had been somewhat of a let-down so far; it seemed as if Harry and Ginny could never manage one evening together. On every single evening so far, either Harry had been held up at work, or Ginny was forced to stay late at the stadium. Since he had not seen her much recently, Harry did not want his precious few moments with her to be filled with talk about such topics as the memory. He desperately wanted to hear of Ginny’s life as a Quidditch player while they simply sat by the fireplace, watching it burn all night while he held her.

Harry turned to see Hermione and Ron come through Percival’s portrait hole, Hermione speaking rapidly and excitedly which told Harry she probably had something important on her mind.

‘Why didn’t you tell me about the piece of parchment?’ she demanded as she walked in, holding the blank piece of parchment in her hand.

‘Hermione... it’s er... blank. There’s nothing there,’ Harry said as he examined both sides of the parchment that Hermione handed him.

‘Wrong! I would have thought you of all people would know about this...’ Hermione said as she snatched back the parchment.

‘What?’ a puzzled Harry replied. Hermione put the piece of parchment in front of him, pointing to certain water-marks and damp spots around the page.

‘See these? These are indicators. Indicators that show us that there is a message imbedded deep within the parchment! I really thought that the Prince would have told you loads about this in that copy of Advanced Potion Making...’

‘So what do we have to do in order to see the message?’ Ron asked, looking to Harry in excitement.

‘We just have to magnify the parchment – whoever sent you this Harry only shrank the parchment size. In its normal state, it was much larger,’ Hermione set the piece of parchment on the table.

‘Brilliant. I’ll do it then. Engor –’

‘NO!’ Hermione yelled knocking Ron’s outstretched wand arm out of the way before he could recite the entire incantation. ‘We can’t use spells on it because whoever sent this didn’t just use a spell to shrink it! If you use your wands, it will just make the parchment in this exact state bigger – it will not reveal the message underneath!’

‘So what do we do then?’ Harry asked impatiently. Hermione exhaled, pausing for a moment before continuing.

‘Well... I don’t think we should go to Hogwarts today. We need to get our hands on some Swelling Solution – not a very common potion you can pick up anywhere, at least in the advanced form that we need it. I don’t think it’s very wise to reveal the memory before we know what the inscription says.’

‘Hermione, we’ve got to see what this is about!’ Harry protested. As he saw Hermione shake her head in disagreement, a thought came to him. ‘I can get some of that potion when we get back. The Potion Making Room at the Auror Department will have it.’

‘Are you sure?’ Hermione asked.

‘Of course! It’s just a memory Hermione – I don’t reckon the inscription will make the memory any more clear. And if it does, then we at least know where to get the potion from. Hold on...’

‘What is it Harry?’ Ron said from across the long oak table.

‘Do you... I mean I could be wrong... but do you think that whoever sent this memory knew I could get that potion because they know I’m an Auror? There must be plenty of other ways to conceal a message.’

‘You could be right Harry. It could be that whoever sent you the memory did not want the message to be read by just anyone,’ Hermione agreed. ‘After all, this is probably one of the more complicated methods of concealment that I know of.’

‘Look,’ Ron said suddenly, pointing to the Golden Snitch that was now beginning to glow a faint bluish colour. Without a moment more of hesitation, the trio all headed for the Snitch, grasping on to it all at the same time.

‘How come I can never get used to that?’ Ron groaned as he lifted himself off the ground after they had all been transported by the Snitch portkey. Harry still marveled at the fact that his Snitch portkey had the ability to transport him inside Hogwarts’ normally impenetrable defensive, protective forces.

‘Hey there Harry! Ron! Hermione! Bin a long time since I’ve seen yeh lot.’ Harry looked up to see the unmistakable image of the half-giant Hagrid, his bloodhound Fang by his side as he walked towards them.

‘Hagrid! So good to see you!’ chimed Hermione. For Harry, seeing Hagrid again evoked so many good memories. It was with Hagrid, after all, who he had shared the moment with when he discovered he was a wizard, consequently taking him away from the Dursleys.

‘How’s term going so far Hagrid?’ asked Harry who had gotten off of the dewy grass, placing the Snitch inside his pocket.

‘Not bad at all,’ Hagrid said brightly. ‘It’s startin’ to feel like Hogwarts o’ old again... though it’s not the same without yeh three... or Dumbledore...’ Harry looked down at his feet, trying to change the subject as quickly as possible, not wanting an emotional Hagrid on his hands.

‘How’s Grawp doing? Haven’t seen him in ages.’ Hagrid seemed to come back to his senses at Harry’s question.

‘Really settled in now. Taught him a bit o’ English I did. Would yeh like to see him?’ Harry looked to Hermione and Ron, none of them speaking for a moment. Their experiences with Hagrid’s half brother in the past had been nothing to write home about.

‘Perhaps next time Hagrid – we’re really pressed for time as it is,’ Hermione finally said, Hagrid smiling through his thick brown beard.

‘Not a problem. Yeh three do what yeh got to do – not like me to hold up a few Ministry workers now, eh?’ the half-giant said with a wink. ‘I’ve got to prepare a lesson fer Monday as it is, an’ later I’ve got lunch with Slughorn. Hope he doesn’ babble on about tha’ thumpin’ Acromantula venom... I’ve told him I’m not gettin’ him anymore...’

Not wishing to hear any more about the giant spiders that had nearly killed them years before, they bid goodbye to Hagrid and made their way up to the giant castle. No one spoke as they walked, each resigned to their own thoughts. It seemed to Harry that as more time went by, he began to miss this place even more greatly. It was only once they had reached the Entrance Hall that Hermione spoke.

‘Still can’t believe they haven’t retrieved Trelawney yet. It’s been a year now, hasn’t it?’

‘Poor old bat,’ Ron said earnestly as they closed the heavy door behind them, seeing a few first year Ravenclaws bound out of the Great Hall. ‘And to think, we almost had her last summer...’

Harry looked off in another direction. It was true that they had almost recovered Trelawney from Riddle House, Harry still not knowing the reason why the Death Eaters had captured her in the first place.

‘We should head to the Headmistress’ office then. We don’t really know anything about the memory or how long it might take to view it.’

Harry and Ron followed Hermione’s lead as she began to ascend up the moving staircases. Looking around at all of the students, Harry could not recognize a single one. He got the occasional stare from a student passing by, but for the most part he went unnoticed, the students too caught up in their day off after a long week of classes to pause for any extended time. Harry waved at a few of the portraits who noticed him, chiming things such as ‘Welcome back!’ or ‘Don’t get in to any mischief now!’ back at them as they passed. It did not take them long to arrive at the Headmistress’ office, being greeted by the winged gargoyles that were placed at the front of the staircase.

‘Mr. Potter! You wish to meet with Headmistress McGonagall today?’ one of the gargoyles squeaked. Harry wished that he had this jolly service when he had actually been attending Hogwarts.

‘Yes, if you wouldn’t mind,’ Harry replied, Hermione and Ron both getting a kick out of the gargoyle’s treatment of Harry.

‘Headmistress will be happy to see the three of you!’ the second gargoyle shrieked as the staircase began to move upwards, Harry, Ron and Hermione striding past the snorting gargoyles as they made their way up the steps.

‘Come in,’ they heard a voice call from within the office the moment they had leapt off of the final step of the staircase. Without hesitating, Harry opened the single door to the office, seeing Professor McGonagall looking directly at them brightly, her half-moon spectacles shining in the daylight that was shining through the window. The Head of Gryffindor House had her hair tied back in her familiar tight bun.

‘I had just been wondering the other day... how many times have you three been in this very office before? I bet it must be some sort of record here at Hogwarts... though James and Sirius may have given you a run for your Galleons,’ McGonagall said brightly as she got up from her seat to greet them. ‘Whatever can I do you for?’

‘Hello Professor, so good to see you,’ Hermione said. Though McGonagall had been extremely strict and tough on them as members of her Gryffindor House, now that they had left the school, Harry had seen a totally different side of his former Head of House.

‘Professor,’ Harry began slowly not wanting to waste any time, not sure of how McGonagall was going to take their request, ‘we were wondering... if it would be alright if we could use that pensieve.’

He pointed towards the corner where the pensieve stood, McGonagall turning around to see what he had indicated, wearing a slightly perplexed look upon her face. McGonagall did not say anything for a few moments as she curled her lip. However, after a few seconds of contemplation, she smiled slightly and shook her head.

‘I suppose that if you don’t tell me why... then my conscience would not bother me for not knowing more...’ she said slowly. ‘It’s not that you could not use it, Potter. It’s just... what you are using it for that is a tad disconcerting. I do hope you three aren’t making too much... noise at the Ministry though...’ she added with a wink as she strode out of the room.

‘Thanks Professor,’ Hermione called, McGonagall responding from over her shoulder as she left her office.

‘Believe me when I say... Please, don’t mention it Miss Granger,’ she turned when she reached the threshold of the door, examining her three former students before leaving entirely. ‘I’m off to watch the Gryffindor Quidditch practice. I dare say that this year we might be looking at a last place finish without Miss Weasley...’ and with that, she closed the door softly, flashing one more smile at the trio before leaving completely.

‘No way she lets us do this a few years ago,’ Ron said as they all made their way over to the pensieve.

‘Would I have?’ a voice called from above them. The three turned, seeing that Dumbledore’s portrait was smiling fondly down at them.

‘No. You would have been the one doing this,’ Harry replied, looking down at the pensieve below him to which Dumbledore’s portrait chuckled.

‘So... three of my most favourite – if you don’t mind me saying – former students all working at the Ministry. I did imagine great things for you three, there’s no doubt about that. But even I have been mistaken regarding how quickly you have achieved those same great things I had once imagined.’ Even in portrait form, a compliment from Albus Dumbledore seemed to be a great deal, a proverbial weight carried with his kind words. ‘I would have thought Harry, that you would have wanted a break from all of... that.’ Dumbledore titled his head as his piercing blue eyes examined him.

‘Not until the job’s done Professor,’ Harry responded strongly, Dumbledore nodding his head in agreement.

‘You have always been a better man than me Harry. Please forgive an old man you three – please resume,’ Dumbledore stated, pausing for a moment before leaving his portrait altogether.

Hermione hurriedly took the flask that contained the memory out of her bag, un-stoppering it and holding it over the pensieve. She looked to Harry and Ron who both eyed the bluish-silver contents inside the vial as it swirled around. Harry knew that both Hermione and Ron were both as anxious as he was in viewing the memory as he glanced over at his two mesmerized friends. Finally, as Hermione began to tip its contents, Harry halted her.

‘Wait. I think... only Ron and I should enter the memory, Hermione. You know... in case something happens – you’ll know what to do ahead of us two.’

‘Oh, a little cautious are we now Harry?’ Hermione said sarcastically. ‘Alright I’ll stay out – but if everything is fine, I’m going in with one of you two afterwards!’

Once she had emptied the entire flask, Harry and Ron glanced at each other and nodded. Feeling some butterflies in his stomach, Harry plunged his face first in to the pensieve, seeing Ron do so out of the corner of his eye a moment later. He fell in to the memory, landing hard on his feet as he watched his surroundings materialize around him.

Almost immediately, Harry could see that they were in some sort of pub. As more and more tables appeared around him, he realized that it was not just any pub they were in, but The Three Broomsticks pub that he had visited many times before in Hogsmeade. The place was as busy as ever, the barman moving quickly through all of the customers, trying to satisfy them all in ample time. He glanced over at Ron who started walking down a row of tables, Harry slowly following behind him. He knew that there was something he was meant to see inside the memory and though he was always amazed by the ability to see in to someone’s past memory, he knew that there was work to be done. He walked by a few tables, glancing at the various people sitting and drinking a variety of brews. Whether he was trying to find someone who he knew or what he was waiting for, he had no idea.

It was not long before Harry quickly found what he was looking for. His body seemed to freeze, tensing up to the point where he could not seem to move a muscle, fixated on a particular table. A few tables away, he saw two people who he had only seen in photographs previously. His heart in his throat, he saw a red-headed woman talking with a man who looked remarkably like himself, his glasses slightly askew on his face and his hair sticking up in different places. The people that were before him were his parents.

‘H-Harry...’ Ron stuttered, his voice barely over a whisper as he looked at Harry who edged closer to his parents.

Harry saw his parents’ mouths move but he heard no words coming from them. His senses seemed to be temporarily failing him, feeling his heart beating incredibly fast. He felt his eyes grow watery, pausing in his advancement when he was only a few feet away from the table they were seated at. He felt Ron behind him, his voice awaking him from the daze he was in.

‘Harry... are you OK?’ Ron asked quietly. Harry thought that if he spoke he would vomit, so he only nodded in reply. His hearing having returned to him, he could now finally hear what his parents were saying.

‘And who are you always writing to?’ a smiling James asked, resting his chin on the palms of his hands as he examined Lily fondly. ‘Only a few months in to marriage and you’re already bored of me, I see.’

‘Of course not James,’ Lily replied, taking a sip of her Butterbeer. ‘I’m in love with you. I’ll love you for as long as I live, that’s a promise.’

‘As will I,’ James replied, taking one of Lily’s hands and kissing it softly. ‘Are you sure you want to do this Lily? I mean if you’re uncomfortable or –’

‘Of course not,’ Lily interrupted strongly. ‘It’s our duty to fight along with all our friends. But...’

‘But – what?’ James inquired as Lily trailed off.

‘I was hoping... Well, I was hoping we could try for a baby soon, that’s all.’ Lily’s statement was met with a moment of hesitation before James replied, taking a sip of his own Butterbeer before he did so.

‘Of course! There’s nothing more in the world I want. But Dumbledore says times will get ugly soon. It would be a bit of a risk.’

‘And when has risk ever been a problem for you? Please James, you don’t have to change your thought process on my account,’ Lily playfully snapped, evoking a broad smile from James. ‘We’re risking our lives now aren’t we? I don’t want to stop living our lives just because of a few Death Eaters.’

‘Well of course, Lily, but it’s the baby I’m thinking of. That’s all. We’ll talk more about this later, I promise we will.’ James took another swig of his Butterbeer, taking a look around before returning to Lily, speaking in a much lower tone than before. ‘Nervous at all for tonight?’

‘Not with you.’

‘Good. I still don’t really understand the importance of this, but if Dumbledore says it is... well I guess he knows better.’

Lily nodded in agreement, her eyes tearing away from James. As she began to look around the pub, her stare eventually set directly on the place where Harry himself was standing. Harry felt a twinge of longing in the pit of his stomach as he saw the green eyes that he inherited stare back at him. Knowing that the memory of Lily could not possibly be looking at him, he turned around to see another familiar face happily striding towards the table.

‘Well, well if it isn’t our best man!’ James said brightly pulling up a chair and letting a much younger looking Sirius Black sit down at their table. Harry had the inclination to reach out to him. It was tremendously bitter-sweet for Harry to see his mother, father and godfather all happily together, a sight he had previously seen only in his dreams.

‘And don’t you forget it,’ Sirius replied, taking a swig out of James’ Butterbeer after he had clapped him on the back hard. ‘We really do have to get moving,’ he continued as he set the nearly empty tanker down on the table loudly.

‘In some sort of rush Sirius?’ Lily quipped. ‘Not like you to be so on edge.’

‘Oh, I’m not. Just another... house calling,’ replied Sirius harshly as he looked down the row of tables.

‘Not again... when are they going to stop bothering you? You know you can stay with us if you like,’ James replied, looking to Lily who nodded approvingly.

‘No, no. It would be rude to move in on a couple of newlyweds, now wouldn’t it? Ever since my run-in with Bellatrix that night, those damned Death Eaters have been trying to teach me a lesson. I ought to take them all on next time, rather than hiding away like you’ve told me to,’ Sirius said through gritted teeth.

‘Well I’m glad you took my advice at least,’ Lily said, James shrugging his shoulders which brought on a smile from Sirius. ‘But you really should move out of there – Dumbledore said you could stay at Hogwarts. You wouldn’t even be touched there.’

‘No, I told you I don’t want Dumbledore’s help. He’s got too much on his plate right now to have to worry about me. I’ll be fine – I’ll just get a new place...’ Sirius said, running a hand through his long hair and grinning a rather devious smile.

‘If you need any help like the last one, just let me know,’ James said, turning to Lily to explain the obvious inside joke between the two friends. ‘Last time we confounded Miss Hamilton to the point where she handed over the deed to Sirius without even thinking twice about it!’ James and Sirius shared a short laugh, Lily looking out the window to see that the sun was now beginning to set.

Suddenly, the memory began to materialize around Harry who was still rooted to the spot. Harry was beginning to question what the memory meant when he miraculously noticed that the memory was not over, but only reshaping itself. The pub quickly dissolved in to a small room that featured no furniture or carpeting. Only a small window along the top of the ceiling was letting in the last few rays of sunlight of the day. As the memory fully materialized, Harry saw James, Lily and Sirius apparate in to the room wearing the same dark coloured robes they had been wearing at The Three Broomsticks. Harry’s heart was beating out of his chest. He was feeling a mix of sorrow, glee and utter shock at the appearance of his parents and Sirius inside the memory, still no closer now as to what its importance was since the moment he had entered it.

‘Fancy seeing you two here!’ Sirius called sarcastically, a small cloud of dust settling back down on the wooden floors after their recent apparition.

‘How are you Frank? Alice?’ James asked, striding across the room to greet the two figures on the opposite side of the room.

Harry did not need any reassurance; he knew that this was Frank and Alice Longbottom, two members of the Order of the Phoenix and the parents of Harry’s friend and former Gryffindor classmate, Neville Longbottom. He saw Lily hug a short-haired, mousy looking woman, her taller husband shaking James’ hand concurrently.

‘Neville’s parents. Blimey I forgot that they finally came to this past summer!’ Ron muttered to Harry as he watched the scene in front of him.

‘Is the distraction in place?’ Frank asked his fellow Order members openly.

‘Yes. We should make our way if we want as much time as possible,’ Sirius responded darkly, eyeing the now completely set sun out of the window.

‘Pity that Dumbledore could not have lifted the protective enchantments surrounding Flamel’s home,’ Alice Longbottom said as the five Order members made their way towards the wooden door. ‘It would have made picking him up a lot easier.’

‘That it would have, but by lifting the enchantments the Death Eaters could apparate here in far greater numbers than we could ever hope to combat,’ Lily answered. Harry took a sideways glance at Ron as he saw James open the front door, holding it open as the four other Order members cautiously made their way out in to the street.

‘Remember – spread out and be cautious!’ Frank whispered as he closed the door behind him.

The cobble-stoned street was lined with many wooden houses, small alleyways intersecting the houses to make a sort of grid-like neighborhood. The streets seemed to be deserted, giving off the strange feeling of a ghost town in its eerie quietness. James and Lily coupled off on to the right side of the street, Sirius following them a few paces behind while Frank and Alice took to the left side, using the new darkness to their advantage. Though Harry did not know the exact context of the situation, he could feel the tension in the air. He remembered that this was a time when Voldemort and his followers were at an all time high in power, evidenced by the fact that his parents and the rest were trying hard not to be detected in a seemingly empty street.

‘James... James!’ Sirius called from behind them. ‘Hold up a minute.’

James muttered a spell under his breath, his wand that he held out in front of him emitting a light from its tip. Harry saw Frank notice this and nod, holding up as he looked around him. No one moved for a moment, the only sound Harry hearing was the occasional dog bark off in the far distance. He saw the wind rippling through Sirius’ hair as he pointed his wand in a different direction, Frank and Alice quickly crossing the street to move in the direction Sirius had indicated.

‘Thought I heard something... we should take a detour,’ Sirius whispered.

They continued down one of these side streets, Harry and Ron having to increase their pace to a slight jog in order to keep up with them. They arrived at a small square, a simple silver fountain placed in the middle of it. The Order members dispersed on either side of the square, quickly meeting up on the other side of the fountain. Once Harry and Ron had arrived there as well, they could hear James giving directions.

‘OK. Flamel’s house is just on the other side of that block. Frank, you and Alice go the long way – make sure no one is trying to surprise us. Lily, Sirius and I will go retrieve him and bring him back here. Let’s do it quickly and swiftly. Got it?’

‘Sounds good to me. Be careful you three,’ Alice said as she and her husband jogged off in the opposite direction, Harry watching them disappear around a corner a block away.

‘Alright are we ready to go?’ Lily asked.

‘Of course we are, Lily. Compared to sneaking around with Remus all those nights every month, this is nothing.’ James laughed at Sirius’ comment.

‘How is Moony by the way? I haven’t seen him since the last meeting a week ago,’ James asked.

‘Oh, same old, same old. Took a chunk out of me last night, but other than that, same old Remus,’ Sirius replied with a grin, lifting his robes to reveal a nasty looking gash on his thigh. Lily made a motion for them to follow her, leading the way around a corner and on to a dark street.

Harry followed his parents and godfather, keeping up with their swift pace. Sirius glanced around him carefully, his wand arm outstretched in front of him. The majority of the light posts lining the streets had their lights extinguished with only the odd one either emitting a faint glow or blinking periodically. James got to the door they were apparently looking for first, standing beside it as he cautiously looked around him. He waited for Lily and Sirius to catch up. Once they had, James spoke quickly and breathlessly.

‘Now you two stay here – I’ll go inside and –’

‘Save it. We’re both coming in with you,’ Lily said seriously to which James nodded slightly, though Harry could see James was reluctant.

‘Yeah, who says you’re the only one who gets to play the hero?’ Sirius said as he looked around him.

‘Alright then, let’s go!’ whispered James, turning to the door and placing his hand on the handle.

Harry and Ron followed close behind Sirius who was the last one to enter the small, shabby house. From what Harry could tell from the darkness, the room had built up a considerable amount of dust, a small cloud forming around their feet as they entered. There was a fireplace crackling loudly along the back wall and a slightly tattered, red velvet armchair placed atop a sectional round carpet. Harry could see the outline of a man’s shadow, his father slowly approaching the chair, Harry and Ron right behind him.

‘Mr. Flamel? Are you ready to go?’ James asked confidently.

Having rounded the armchair, Harry looked to see the image of Nicolas Flamel. His grey hair was slightly wild, his beard overgrown and his eyes had a dash of redness to them. He was fairly frail, extending a withered hand to James who grasped it in an effort to help him up. He stumbled as he took to the floor, a quick flash of pain racing its way across Flamel’s heavily wrinkled face. He wore an old, square, brimless hat which matched the lavender colour of his weathered robes.

‘Yes, I am. I assume the diversion is in place?’ Flamel gruffly said, yet there was an undertone of kindness underneath the way it seemingly pained him to speak.

‘It is, but we can’t depend on it long. We should get moving quickly.’

Flamel nodded at James’ statement, beginning to walk towards the door that Sirius was holding open whilst glancing around outside. His first few steps were slow and carefully made, but by the time Flamel had reached the threshold, he had quickened his pace to that of a normal one.

‘Hello Mr. Flamel. Dumbledore’s told us so much about you,’ Lily said kindly as James closed the door to Flamel’s home. ‘You’ll be happy to know Perenelle is already at the safe house – she’s safe and sound.’ Flamel gave Harry’s mother a weak smile at her assurance.

‘Is it safe to say that you have... it... with you, Mr. Flamel?’ Sirius said as the threesome began to escort Flamel down the street. Harry could tell that Sirius did not want to move at this slow of a pace judging by the tone in his voice that he had heard so many times before.

‘Of course, Sirius,’ Flamel replied. For a man who looked as old as Flamel did, Harry was impressed at the pace he was keeping up.

‘Just a little further – we’ve got to meet our friends,’ James said as they turned the corner they had come around before, resting against a wall that looked out on to the fountain. Flamel nodded as he exhaled loudly, taking a few wheezy breaths afterwards.

‘Are you alright Mr. Flamel?’ Lily asked concerned.

‘Just fine Lily, just fine thank you,’ Flamel replied. ‘When you’re over six hundred years old... even the greatest, most sophisticated magic possible cannot even help you fully. Four hundred I felt like forty... five hundred like fifty... but these past few years have been particularly difficult. Makes apparating all the more complicated.’

Sirius did not seem to be paying any attention to Flamel, his head cocked at an odd angle as he looked out in to the square, making a shushing noise that quieted the rest. James stood beside Sirius, looking in the direction that Sirius was fixated on. Harry looked out in to the square, hearing the falling water as the wind blew by softly. After what felt like a solid minute, James finally broke the silence, whispering so softly that Harry had to move closer in order to hear him correctly.

‘What is it, Sirius? What did you hear?’ Sirius paused for another moment, a calm wind rippling his hair. He turned suddenly, his face calm as he spoke.

‘They’re coming. We have to move. Now.’

‘But what about Frank! And Alice?’ Lily said quickly, taking what Sirius said as an undeniable truth.

‘Dumbledore told us to get Flamel out of here at all costs! They’ll get out of here too if they’re in trouble!’ Sirius retorted, swiftly walking in the opposite direction.

James made a move to follow Sirius, but all four of them stopped abruptly. This time Harry heard it too; a small popping noise could be heard in the near distance. Almost immediately after, Harry jumped at the sound of a large clang coming from behind him; the fountain had been split in to two, water spraying in every direction.

‘RUN! Flamel can’t apparate with us here!’ James exclaimed as half a dozen more popping noises were heard in various places around the square.

James grabbed Flamel roughly, heading down the street they had come previously. Lily stayed behind Flamel, Sirius leading the charge as he jogged at a considerable pace. Even though he was not truly in the situation, Harry’s heart began to beat faster and faster, wishing for his parents and Sirius to run quicker. However, it was not long before Sirius stopped dead in his tracks, Harry and Ron seeing what he had stopped at. A plethora of black dots were running towards them from a distance, a few jets of light already being shot their way.

‘TURN AROUND!’ Sirius yelled back to James, Lily and Flamel. He cast a Protection charm that stopped a few of the hexes as he turned around.

The Death Eaters were gaining ground on them. Sirius continued to block a few more of their spells, firing a couple of his own back at them. They rounded in to the square once again, seeing small groups of Death Eaters making their way to the damaged fountain from all different directions. From Harry’s view, there was no way out of the central square.

‘GET IN THERE!’ Sirius yelled, pointing towards a small pub close to them. James jinxed open the door, blowing it nearly off its hinges, Sirius closing it hard behind him.

‘How long will it take you before you are ready to apparate?’ Lily asked softly through her panting breath.

‘Just... give... me... a minute,’ the heavily wheezing Flamel replied, sinking to his knees as they gave way underneath his weight. Lily looked to James who nodded confidently back, his stare breaking away from his wife’s when one of the window panes shattered, a shard of glass cutting the side of his face.

‘Stupefy!’ Sirius bellowed, shooting his spell out of the broken window. Almost immediately, three more spells hit the other pane of glass in rapid succession, the force of them knocking Sirius off balance.

‘Expelliarmus!’ James yelled, Harry seeing his spell connect with a charging Death Eater. As the Death Eater lost his balance he tripped, a second Death Eater falling over him.

‘We can’t hold them for too long!’ Sirius said impatiently, quickly glancing over at Flamel who was trying to stand up. Lily grabbed on to one of his arms to help him.

The Death Eaters were getting closer; there was at least thirty or so making their way past the fountain, all shooting various spells and jinxes in sequence.

‘Protego Maxima!’ Sirius exclaimed, his protective enchantment rebounding a few spells back at the Death Eaters, though breaking after only a few seconds.

A jet of red light came crashing through the window, squarely hitting Sirius on the chest and knocking him flying backwards at least ten feet.

‘SIRIUS!’ James yelled, seeing his friend lying motionless on the floor of the pub. He made a step towards his friend, crouching down to avoid a few more jets of light that narrowly missed his head.

‘NO! He’ll be fine!’ Lily exclaimed. ‘He’s just stunned!’ James stared at his wife for a moment, turning back quickly and firing a few more stunning spells in the Death Eaters’ direction.

Then, out of nowhere, nearly all of the Death Eaters were knocked sideways as if a great tidal wave had washed them all away. Looking to his left, his eyes wide open, Harry saw the figures of about a dozen or so wizards and witches. After recognizing a rather torn up and pale looking Lupin along with Frank and Alice Longbottom, he realized that the Order members had arrived.

‘It’s the Order! Impedimenta!’ James said, pausing in between spells. Sirius began stirring from his lying down position, Flamel grabbing on to a chair and pulling himself back to his feet.

However, as if a strong wind had suddenly blown in, Flamel and Sirius were both knocked down, Lily and James flying backwards in to an overturned table. James scrambled back to his feet and looked out of one of the broken windows, seeing that nearly every Death Eater and Order member had been knocked off their feet as well. To his horror, Harry saw that none other than Lord Voldemort stood in the center of the square, walking forward to the downed Lupin who looked as if he had been stunned. Voldemort, his face much less pale and his nose much more protruded, strode towards Lupin quickly, his wand outstretched as he laughed maniacally...

‘Stupefy!’ James yelled as he stepped out of the pub. Voldemort blocked the spell just in time, looking puzzled and taken aback as James stepped towards him.

‘My, my... if it isn’t Mr... Potter, am I right?’ Voldemort hissed as he took a few steps sideways. ‘Your nobleness is commendable, but your foolishness... ah, well that will be your downfall...’

Voldemort raised his wand, James raising his at the same time. He saw his mother run out from the pub, her wand raised as well as she stood beside her husband, Voldemort lowering his wand slightly as his attention diverted to Lily. Harry felt Ron’s eyes on him as he looked upon his defiant parents.

‘Stop it right there Voldemort!’ Lily said confidently, unwavering in her stance. All was quiet as the Death Eaters and Order members slowly began to stir around them.

‘How dare you utter my name you filthy Mudblood!’ Voldemort hissed angrily. Without a moment more of hesitation, Voldemort raised his wand yet again. ‘Avada –’

Voldemort was knocked astride, nearly falling over as a blue light impacted his chest. He held it in pain, Harry hearing a familiar voice from behind him.

‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Tom,’ Dumbledore said as he stepped in front of Lily and James. ‘You’ll have to get through myself first.’ Dumbledore, his face full of focus, stared in to Voldemort’s angry face.

Voldemort did not move for a moment, merely looking in to the piercing blue eyes of Dumbledore. Then, screaming in anger, he disappeared in to a cloud of black smoke. Almost immediately the Death Eaters began shooting spells at the Order members, pieces of the fountain flying all over the place. Dumbledore turned to Lily and James his voice calm, yet firm.

‘Get Flamel out of here. We can handle the rest.’ Harry’s parents nodded, Harry following them back inside the pub as Dumbledore shot a few spells that connected with a couple of Death Eaters.

‘You did beautifully James,’ a pained Sirius said as he finally stood up.

James, Sirius and Lily joined hands with Flamel and disapparated with a small pop. Immediately, the memory began to disintegrate around Harry and before he knew it, he looked around to see the inside of the Headmistress’ office at Hogwarts once more, beads of cold sweat running down the sides of his face


Chapter 8: A Dark Mystery
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Speech had escaped them all. It was as if some ghostly, unseen force had silently tied the tongues of Harry, Ron and Hermione as they sat by the crackling fire, the great grandfather clock chiming eleven from down the hall of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place. They had gone over the memory for hours, reciting its content aloud while trying to make sense of its intended message. As caught off guard as Harry was at the memory that displayed the younger versions of his parents and his godfather, his mind had been unable to come up with any logical explanation as to what he was supposed to take from it.

‘You know... the memory had to –’

‘ – have been taken from someone at the scene. Yes, we know Ronald,’ Hermione interrupted lazily from the sofa. Ron was lying down on the sofa as well, a tattered pillow placed on his head.

‘But what could have they wanted with –’

‘Flamel? We don’t know!’ Frustrated with his lack of understanding, Harry punched his pillow lightly as he interrupted Ron, following Hermione’s lead.

‘Don’t you find it odd – now this is new so hear me out – that a memory of Flamel is sent to Harry only a couple weeks after Flamel had supposedly murdered those three blokes? It can’t be just a coincidence, can it?’ Neither Harry nor Hermione answered Ron’s question, not for a lack of interest, but for a sheer lack of knowledge. Another minute passed before Hermione spoke, her voice soft and quiet.

‘I’ve been wondering... you know when the prophecy said something along the lines of ‘born to those that have thrice defied the Dark Lord’ or whatever it was?’ Harry nodded slightly as he glanced up; this had been something Harry had thought of the night before as he dreamt of his parents. ‘Could it be that... the memory was one of those defying moments?’

‘It’s possible,’ Harry muttered, his voice coming out much quieter than he even expected.

For the past two nights since viewing the memory, Harry had dreamt of his parents and of Sirius. The memory had jarred his memory, Harry’s thoughts dwelling on his lost family that he had never truly known. Unable to say anything else on the matter, Harry was utterly relieved when he heard the front door open that would undoubtedly change the topic of conversation.

‘It’s Ginny,’ Hermione muttered as she looked around. Ginny came in to the room, her hair a mess and her robes muddy. She walked with a slight limp and she looked exhausted.

‘Late practice I guess?’ Harry asked her as he got up and helped her take off her Quidditch robes. ‘You didn’t even change?’ he continued with a smile as he sat down with her, slowly massaging the back of her neck.

‘I just wanted to get out of there – I am just... so... tired,’ Ginny replied with a yawn.

Harry saw Hermione nudge Ron on the floor. Her eyes shifted towards the door as Ron wore a look of confusion on his face, his eyelids looking heavy. As she stood up, Hermione kicked him a little harder to gain his full attention.

‘I think we’re going off to bed. Good night you two,’ she said with a smile, Ron putting his arm around Hermione’s shoulders as they left the sitting room. Ginny looked up in to Harry’s eyes as she fell back on to the couch.

‘I-I miss you lately,’ she said quite simply. Harry’s heart instantly began to ache as he looked in to her brown eyes.

‘I know. But... that’s what happens sometimes and we have to be prepared for it. Being an Auror or a Quidditch player demands a lot of your time,’ Harry responded slowly as he stroked Ginny’s hair out of her face.

‘I just didn’t think it would be... this hard, you know? This early. I thought moving in together... we would see more of each other, that’s all.’ Ginny exhaled, staring off in to the fire for a moment before turning back to Harry.

‘It’s only been a month or so Gin. It’ll get better, you’ll see. I’ll tell you what – tomorrow night you’re off, right? How about after supper tomorrow, we go to Hogsmeade together. Just the two of us.’ Ginny smiled and closed her eyes tight.

‘I’d love that Harry.’

‘Let’s call it a date. I promise.’ Harry kissed the top of Ginny’s forehead, helping her up off the couch. ‘Is it legal to work you this hard?’

‘Davis believes we’ve got a championship caliber squad this year, but he says we need to put the work in if we’re going to go places.’ For some reason, Harry felt a sharp pain in his stomach at the mention of Ginny’s assistant coach.

‘Or they could just put you as Seeker and you could have been home hours ago,’ Harry replied that evoked a short, tired laugh from Ginny.

They left the room and began climbing the stairs, not speaking another word to each other as they walked hand in hand. As Harry crawled in to his bed that night, an excitement inside him replaced the frustrated and unknowledgeable state of mind from before. The subject of the memory was cast to the back of his mind; the thought of some much desired time with Ginny eased its way to the forefront.


****


‘And then she tells me I don’t have enough experience to make a criticism like that! Experience? I don’t think you need such a wealth of experience to know the difference between a Shrake and a Plimpy – nor to understand that a Demiguise in no way deserves that sort of danger rating!’

Hermione had barely eaten any lunch at the Leaky Cauldron that day. She had been too busy talking of her recent frustration with her superiors inside the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Harry understood Hermione’s gripe in full; it was just last year when he himself had been in a very similar situation. Being the new person inside the Ministry did come with its growing pains.

Having been particularly busy, Harry, Ron and Hermione had not left for lunch until nearly three o’clock that day. It was not until they had entered the lift on their way back from lunch that Hermione had finally calmed down. Her face was somewhat red as she exhaled loudly, Ron rubbing her shoulders in an effort to calm her down. Still, even though he felt it slightly wrong to criticize a department he knew nothing about, Harry did not quite understand why Hermione’s department heads were giving her such menial and tedious tasks to do. Having come to no other possible answer, Harry’s only theory was simply jealousy on the part of her superiors. ‘Perhaps her bosses want to exert their power over the brightest witch of her age… maybe they feel threatened. It’s not like they don’t know who she is...’ Harry thought to himself as they reentered the Ministry after their lunch.

Though he could have been imagining it, Harry felt as if the entire Atrium had been put on mute. As Hermione continued to go on about her frustrating first days at work, Harry watched the witches and wizards around him, noticing their apparent preference to walk in pairs or small groups. The young man selling editions of that day’s Prophet held up the front page, showing the headline.


FUDGE SPEAKS: MINISTER WEIGHS IN ON RECENT ATTACK; BREAKS SILENCE


Having been well acquainted of the lead article, Harry tried to re-immerse himself in to Hermione’s conversation to no avail. He walked by the exact spot where the exploding potion had gone off, remembering how the entire Ministry had been immediately evacuated as the immediate investigation began. The number of screaming, agonized faces had been moved to St. Mungo’s in as orderly a fashion as Harry thought possible, taking in to account the horror of the moment. As Harry thought back on the attack (noticing the much brisker pace that nearly every Ministry worker was taking as they either entered or exited the Ministry) he subconsciously closed the golden gate of the lift, slamming it close after a few purple memos flew in.

When the lift arrived at Hermione’s level, she bid a quick goodbye to Harry and Ron as she arrived on her floor, stomping her feet quite loudly as she walked down the hall. Within seconds, she disappeared from view, the echoes of her footsteps falling in to nothingness as the lift descended downwards.

‘She’s always been a bit mental,’ Ron said with a playful shrug, defusing the anguish that had been produced with hearing of Hermione’s frustrations.

Though Harry and Ron both obviously cared deeply for Hermione, having to listen to her for an hour straight about the same subject had grown slightly tiresome by their lunch’s end. Ron spoke again about the only other subject Hermione had mentioned during their lunch break as they re-entered the Auror Office a few minutes later.

‘But she’s right – we really need to make a move on the Swelling Solution mate. Deciphering that message could give us some answers about that memory. Who sent it and why.’

Harry nodded as he sat down at his cubicle, glancing towards the corridor that led to the Potion-Making Room. The image of a smiling Florian and his bright magenta and silver robes distracted him for only a moment as he smiled back, turning to look back at Ron. Truthfully, he had been quite busy at the Auror Office over the past few days; Williamson had put them in the Simulation Room every day that week, testing them on their spell knowledge and execution. While rubbing his knee that he had fallen on a dozen times after taking a steady dosage of Stunning Spells (in order to practice his shielding and evasive dodging of the jinx) Harry made a decision.

‘Let’s do it. Who knows – soon, we might not be in the Auror Office. It’s possible Williamson assigns us to some sort of task.’

The chair screeched on the floor as it was kicked back hard. Surprised, Ron looked up at Harry, a brave look quickly overtaking his face as he got up suddenly from his own chair.

‘A-Alright. You’re right – we may not get another chance. Just – er...’

‘What?’ Harry asked as Ron trailed off.

‘Well we... we don’t really know how to get it, is all.’

‘Then we’ll just have to improvise, won’t we?’ Harry said confidently, quickly striding through the rows and rows of cubicles. ‘Not like we haven’t done that before, right?’ Though Harry tried to keep up his confidence, not having the knowledgeable Hermione at a time like this made Harry feel a twinge of uncertainty.

They briskly walked down the corridor, arriving at the faded green door of the Potion-Making Room after a few paces. Remembering how Mosteban and Williamson had entered this room before, Harry and Ron both retrieved their wands from their pockets, each pointing their own at one of the brass handles. Not knowing exactly what to do, Harry mimicked the way in which Williamson had waved his wand, Ron following his lead on the second knob. After a moment, the door clicked and it drew open, Harry exchanging a somewhat relieved look with Ron. The aromas of the room reached his nostrils, its faint, eerie glow enveloping around them as they entered.

‘I guess only Auror recognized wands can open the door. That must be the trick,’ Ron muttered as the door closed behind them.

‘Now all we have to do is find the Swelling Solution,’ Harry said as he looked around at the countless cauldrons and potion brewers around the large room. Seemingly endless rows of cauldrons were being watched over, each concocting a different potion.

‘Maybe we should split up. It might take a while to find it in here,’ said Ron, pointing at all the different levels the cauldrons were sitting on. A couple of wizards whisked by them quickly, a wheelbarrow carrying a variety of plant-like ingredients weaving around the cauldrons as it kept up behind the two wizards.

Harry made his way to the right, quickly scanning the labels of the cauldrons to see what they contained. He nearly ran in to a wizard who was carrying a stack of boxes; at the last minute, Harry lifted his head and dodged the man who came bounding through. Harry ascended up the steps to the next level, noticing that cauldrons on this level were smaller than the ones on the lower level. Unable to see Ron through the misty fog, Harry continued down the row quickly, wondering if his friend had any luck so far. For a moment, he felt light-headed, shaking himself and moving on from the fumes of a small cauldron full of a bluish-grey liquid.

‘Aha,’ Harry muttered to himself as he saw what he was looking for.

A small cauldron labeled ‘Swelling Solution’ stood in front of him, a fairly chubby wizard stirring its contents carefully. Clearing his throat, Harry made his way up to the man, standing a few paces back from him as he continued to stir. After the man had apparently not noticed Harry for a few moments, Harry addressed him, not really knowing what he was doing.

‘Er, excuse me.’ The chubby man glanced up at Harry, continuing to stir his concoction. ‘I was wondering... I mean... well... could I have some, er please?’ The man stopped his stirring, looking up at Harry before shifting to a small desk beside him, a wealth of papers littering the top of it.

‘Do you have an order?’ the man said gruffly as he began to sort through the papers. Harry’s heart sank slightly.

‘Er, no. No, I don’t. I was wondering if I could –’

‘No order, no potion I’m afraid. This order here’s just about done for someone else.’ Harry looked at the man as he returned to his stirring not believing his ears.

‘How long would it take for me to get some if I placed an order now then?’ pressed Harry.

‘It be... at least a fortnight in my estimation. Just need to see your wand and your reasoning as to why you require it,’ the man replied, still not looking up from his cauldron.

Harry was quickly searching his mind for a possible answer – anything that would enable him to obtain some of the Swelling Solution. Frustratingly, he came up empty.

‘Henry! Would you give me a hand with this?!’ a man called from a row above them. Apparently, the man he had been talking to was named Henry as Harry saw the chubby man leave his cauldron of Swelling Solution, jogging down the aisle and up the stairs a few feet away.

Harry shook his head; he was so anxious to reveal the message concealed within the piece of parchment. Now that it appeared that he would be unable to get any of the potion that he needed, he was quickly growing disappointed. Harry looked in to the cauldron, seeing the solution bubbling slightly. Though it was difficult to tell in this light, Harry saw that the potion seemed to be one of a pale orange. He glanced to the desk Henry was working at, seeing a small collection of vials. Looking around him in as inconspicuous a manner as possible, Harry looked down at the potion, seeing it bubble slightly.

Pressing his lips together, Harry made up his mind, retrieving his wand from his pocket and muttered ‘Wingardium Leviosa’. Pointing his wand at one of the vials as he spoke the incantation, Harry cautiously levitated the flask towards his non-wand hand. Quickly glancing around him to see a few wizards focused on their own cauldrons, Harry took the large wooden spoon that had been placed beside the cauldron, thrusting it inside the Swelling Solution and scooping out a healthy dose. He poured it in to the large vial, spilling some of its contents on to the floor below him. Breathing fast, he looked around to make sure that no one was watching, scooping out a second spoonful and relaxing somewhat at how easy his deception seemed to be.

‘Alright, just one more scoop will do it I think,’ Harry thought to himself as he concentrated on filling up the vial right to the brim. He was growing quite excited inside, knowing that he would be able to view the message along with his friends. ‘Just a little more… just a little more… and – ’

‘POTTER!’ Harry nearly dropped the vial at the sound of the voice, dropping the spoon next to the cauldron. ‘Is that you Potter!’

Harry recognized the voice as Williamson’s. He shielded the vial from Williamson’s view, turning his back and crouching as he shoved a cork in to the opening of the vial. Fumbling it slightly, he hung on to the vial slightly as he slowly turned, fearing the worst. He knew that he had been caught. Out of the mist, Harry saw his department head ascend the same stairs that he had just moments earlier, looking quite furious as he made his way across the row.

‘I’ve been looking everywhere for you! Is Weasley with you?’

‘Er, yeah, sir. But what –’

‘There’s been an attack, Potter! We’ve been trying to leave the department but none of us have been able to find you!’ Harry kept a tight grip on the vial of Swelling Solution that he held behind his back, exhaling in relief.

‘Oh, well... my apologies sir... I was just –’

‘WEASLEY! Get over here! You two follow me!’ Williamson interrupted as he motioned for them both to follow him. Harry joined up with Ron on the main level of the room, Ron looking quite white in the face as they arrived in the better light of the Auror Office.

‘I couldn’t find it Harry – did you get it?’ Ron whispered as they followed Williamson from a few paces behind. Harry nodded, flashing the vial of pale orange to Ron before thrusting it in to his pocket.

‘You two go notify Mosteban – he’s probably going to want to be there for this...’ Williamson muttered, shaking his head. ‘Last I heard he was in the Auror lounge. Tell him to meet me by the fireplaces. I’ve got to round up the rest of my unit.’

Harry and Ron made their way to the lounge, stepping in to the narrow hallway and removing their wands from their pockets. They each placed their wands in to one of the divots around the handle, hearing the door unlock. Harry caught himself as he opened the door, seeing something very strange from the left side of the room. By the fireplace, he could see the image of what appeared to be Mosteban, his head firmly entrenched in the fireplace. His eyes wide, Harry closed the door again silently, leaving it open by only a couple inches. He looked around at Ron as he left it open a crack, pressing his ear up to the opening so that he could hear what Mosteban was saying.

‘You better not fail me again – last time was close but we need to do better next time,’ he heard Mosteban mutter, Harry opening the door another inch so he could hear more clearly. ‘We won’t always have chances like that my friend... you know I can only do so much to help... being at the Department and all... Yes I know I’ve got to be careful... No of course I don’t want to arouse any sort of... suspicion... Well, you know who I mean – his position with the both of us makes him quite dangerous. I’m counting on you to deliver…’

Harry saw Mosteban exit the fire, pulling his head out of the emerald flames quickly. It took Harry a moment to clue in. He pulled his head back quickly, hoping that he had not made a noise that would make Mosteban notice them. Without breathing he turned to Ron who wore a blank expression on his face, clearly not knowing what to make of it. He opened his mouth to speak to his friend, but a voice interrupted him.

‘Who’s there? At the door,’ Mosteban growled, quickly pacing across the lounge. Harry opened the door quickly, not wanting Mosteban to know that he had overheard him.

‘Williamson wants you to meet him by the fireplaces – there’s been some sort of attack, I think he said...’ Harry said, looking in to the suspicious eyes of Mosteban.

He could feel the Head of the Aurors consider him for a moment, his expression one mixed with anger and fear. After a moment he stiffly nodded, striding past Harry and Ron and out of the lounge door.

‘That was close mate,’ Ron said once Mosteban’s footsteps had faded away. ‘Who was he talking to through the Floo network? I didn’t know these fireplaces could do that.’

Harry motioned for Ron to stop speaking, pointing at a wizard who appeared to be fast asleep on the couch. He had a tray of some particularly delicious looking danishes sitting on his stomach, some of them half eaten and some of them littering the floor around him.

‘Later,’ Harry replied quietly, turning and leaving the lounge.

Harry and Ron headed back to the fireplaces where Williamson had told them to go, but the thought of what he had just seen occupied Harry’s mind fully. ‘What was Mosteban doing?’ Harry thought to himself as he closed the door to the Auror Lounge behind him, striding down the narrow hallway once again. He did not have much time to dwell on it as Williamson began barking orders immediately after they had arrived at the fireplaces.

‘Alright, listen up everybody! We’ve been called by the Department of Magical Law Enforcement to investigate the scene! They believe the crime has been committed by some dark wizards – possibly even a Death Eater. For all you new Aurors –’ Williamson paused as he eyed a couple members of his unit including Harry and Ron, ‘ – let this serve as your first glimpse in to what we do. Let’s look alive.’

Harry saw Mosteban absent-mindedly stare at the Aurors in Williamson’s unit. Harry was slightly taken aback at the sheer amount of Aurors that were apparently needed for one investigation, not understanding what it was that had happened. After contemplating this for a moment, Harry came to the conclusion that it must be for experience purposes.

‘We’re going by portkey so as to not disturb the crime scene through the Floo Network,’ Mosteban growled.

Now that Harry had gotten a good look at him, he saw that Mosteban’s eyes were bloodshot, dark circles forming under his white, pasty looking skin. He looked as if he had not slept in weeks, a short, scraggly beard occupying his usually clean-shaven face. Mosteban caught Harry staring at him, Harry turning towards Ron once he realized that Mosteban had noticed.

‘Gather around,’ Williamson said as he retrieved a large spatula out of his pocket.

Holding the spatula out in front of him, Harry, Ron and half a dozen members of Williamson’s unit grabbed on to it, the spatula turning to a light blue colour after only a few seconds. Harry felt the familiar sensation of being pulled by his navel as he saw the fireplace of the Auror Office disappear from his view. Instantly upon arriving, Harry felt a cold wind sting his face, looking around to see large, rolling hills disappear in to the darkened horizon.

‘Let’s move,’ Williamson said as he collected himself, pointing towards a small cottage about a hundred feet away.

Harry could see no lights inside the cottage as he began to walk towards it, having no idea what he would find there once he arrived. Knowing that something significant had just occurred there, a sinking feeling enveloped Harry’s insides. He and Ron brought up the rear, following Williamson and Mosteban who were leading the charge.

‘Do you know what’s going on?’ Harry muttered to Ron who merely shrugged his shoulders, both of them focusing on the cottage that was growing closer with every step.

As he got closer, Harry could see that the cottage looked exceptionally old; it looked as if it would blow over at any moment with the wind. As far as Harry could see, there were no other structures in sight along the rolling hills. It seemed to Harry that he and Ron were the only ones who had no idea about what they were walking in to.

‘You look tired, mate. Don’t you get any sleep anymore?’ a tall Auror up ahead of Harry said to his counterpart. To his left walked a thin, pale man who Harry could make out from the moonlight.

‘I... Well I don’t get much sleep this time of the month...’ the Auror trailed off.

Having had a lengthy experience with werewolves in the past, Harry could tell in an instant that this Auror was one. His scraggly beard coupled with his deeply lined and scratched face told him all he needed to know, remembering how Remus Lupin had looked during nights when the moon was nearly full.

‘You sure you should be out here then? Mosteban would have a fit if he sees you here.’ The second Auror nodded at the tall Auror’s statement, turning his face so that Harry could not see him. ‘Just... blend in if you can, that’s what I’d do...’

As another small gust of wind rippled through his messy hair, something sudden caught Harry and Ron off guard that stopped them dead in their tracks. Mosteban and Williamson had disappeared from view in an instant, almost as if they had apparated away silently. Every other Auror in Williamson’s unit made no sudden or surprised move, continuing on the same path that Mosteban and Williamson had. Harry was shocked to see that as the rest of the Aurors walked, they too disappeared in to nothingness, soon leaving Harry and Ron all alone in silence.

‘What the bloody...’ Ron started, unable to finish his sentence in wonder.

‘C’mon, Ron,’ Harry said, grabbing his friend by the arm. ‘We need to follow Williamson’s lead.’ Harry did not want to be viewed as any less of an Auror than the others, though he was still not certain about what would happen to them if they kept walking.

Slowly, Harry and Ron cautiously paced forwards. It was not long until they reached the point where the Aurors had disappeared and after closing his eyes, Harry felt a very awkward sensation. The wind was instantly extinguished and Harry was suddenly much warmer than he had been before. There seemed to be a great deal of chatter around him, opening his eyes to see that there were many wizards and witches walking about in every direction. Perhaps the biggest difference was that the small, old looking cottage had now vanished completely and replacing it was a modern, two story home that looked as if it had been plucked straight out of one of Aunt Petunia’s home magazines.

‘This was the home of Claudia Gibbons,’ Harry heard Williamson call from his right. ‘She was found dead in her home just hours ago when the alarm inside her home went off alerting the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.’

‘Gibbons was an employee of the Ministry, her main objective in her older age being to take care of one Nicolas Flamel,’ Mosteban said, emphasizing the last name to the surprise of Williamson’s unit. ‘Her house was equipped with one of the most complex and sophisticated magical alarms we have – after she had been killed, the house sealed itself off. Meaning that no one – and I mean no one – could apparate in or out, use the Floo network, use a portkey or walk out the bloody front door without us lifting the seal. It has also been used in order to ward off any wandering Muggles. You saw the seal right before your eyes as you walked up here. After checking with the Ministry, we’ve found no record that there were any problems with it whatsoever. They found no killer when they arrived,’ Mosteban continued, referencing the wizards dressed in blue robes to his left, ‘so that’s why we were called. Because this is what we do. Keep your eyes open now.’

Mosteban trudged off in another direction, Williamson leading the rest of his Aurors through the white-picketed fence and up the pathway that led to the front door.

‘That Flamel bloke is popping up everywhere. Pretty good for someone who we thought had been dead,’ Ron said, but Harry was not listening. He was watching Mosteban talk to one of the wizards in blue, looking very tired and uncaring as to what he was hearing from him. There was something about Mosteban that made Harry feel like he was hiding something.

When Harry stepped in to the house, a dozen or so other Ministry wizards and witches were already inspecting it. Harry saw them muttering a few incantations he had never heard of before as they waved their wands over certain pieces of furniture. He saw another wizard with goggles that reminded him of ones he had seen Branson use last year. The house was very dressed up, decorated impeccably with expensive looking linens and carpets. The only thing out of place in the impressive living room was the fact that on the far side of it was the outline of a woman covered in a white blanket, small pools of blood staining certain parts of the sheet. Suddenly, the seriousness of the situation hit Harry hard.

‘Definitely killed through multiple impacts to the head and chest,’ a wizard dressed in blue told Williamson. ‘Someone dueled her to the death and showed no remorse for it – she was probably knocked back in to this window here, before being hit with the Cruciactus Curse, the trauma causing the excessive bleeding.’ Harry glanced at the broken window on the far side of the room, the red velvet drapes flapping slightly in the wind.

‘Now how could they have gotten out – you said your personnel searched the entire home, correct?’ Williamson asked the man who nodded. ‘Maybe... maybe it was someone who had knowledge of the seal? Or worse...’

‘What is it, sir?’ Harry asked his unit head who broke out of his long contemplation at Harry’s question.

‘Or worse, perhaps someone inside the Ministry turned off the seal... But that’s a worst case scenario without any of us knowing.’ Williamson strode off in the other direction, moving over to see the deceased Claudia Gibbons from up close.

‘Bloody hell,’ Ron said, looking at the overturned furniture that was stained with blood and penetrated with shards of glass. ‘Why would someone kill an old lady caretaker for?’

‘I don’t know...’ Harry muttered more so to himself than anything else.

Harry looked along the walls, seeing a great landscape picture of a lake alongside a great mountain that hung over the fireplace. His eyes followed the picture to the mantle where a portrait of an empty, round table of chairs occupied the entirety of its frame.

‘Hey... Hey whose portrait is that?’ Harry said aloud amidst the commotion of the room, striding over to it in order to get a better glimpse. ‘Hello? Is anybody in there?’

‘Second f-floor...’

Harry was taken aback by the whispery voice that he had heard. Ron somehow managed to hear the voice emitting from the frame as well, his eyes opening wide as he looked at the portrait confused. Pushing his way past Harry, Ron closed in on the portrait to the point where his noise was almost touching the canvas.

‘What – Who was that?’ Ron corrected as he addressed the whispery voice, speaking very quietly to the empty frame.

‘I said... s-second floor,’ the whispering voice said again.

This time, there was no doubt to what they had heard. Astounded that no one had noticed this portrait sooner, Harry made an indication with his hand that told Ron to follow him. Harry exited the living room and quickly galloped up the staircase that stood in the main foyer of the house. Jogging up the stairs, Harry saw the same scarlet carpet of the front foyer follow his feet up the wooden stairs, clutching on to the elegant looking wooden railing as he reached the second floor.

‘Over here!’ Harry heard the voice call out as they reached the top. The voice was a little louder but in the darkness it was hard to tell what direction it was coming from.

‘Lumos,’ both Harry and Ron muttered.

Harry quickly found a portrait of a man sitting in a comfortable looking armchair hanging above a small table in the main hallway of the second floor. There was a small pot of slightly wilted roses occupying the tables’ surface. The only difference in this portrait from the one downstairs in the living room was the fact that there was only one single chair placed in front of a black background instead of a round table in a pub. Occupying the singular seat was a black cloaked man. He had naturally wide eyes and dark brown hair that matched his thick goatee. Harry quickly looked down at the nameplate beneath the frame which read in a curving black script ‘Willard the Worrier’.

‘Hello... Willard is it?’ Harry asked politely, seeing the man’s eyes quickly shift in every which direction.

‘Y-Yes, th-that is c-c-correct, s-sir,’ Willard squeaked.

‘What did you see Willard?’ Ron asked softly, his wand tip illuminating the face of Willard who squeaked yet again before answering.

‘I d-did not s-see much, I’m afraid. I was r-r-regrettably t-too afraid to l-l-look! All I s-saw was a m-man... h-he had l-long h-hair and he was w-wearing a mask and a b-black c-cloak! B-But that’s all I-I c-c-can s-say!’ Tearfully, Willard began to exit his frame.

‘Please Willard – we’re trying to find who did this,’ Harry pleaded, causing Willard to reluctantly sit back down in his seat.

‘I d-did hear s-something,’ Willard continued. ‘The m-man was y-yelling and threatening to d-do t-t-terrible things to m-my owner. He kept asking about wh-where N-Nicolas Flamel w-was and wh-where he could f-f-find him. And he s-said if she d-didn’t t-tell him, he was going to k-k-kill... oh!’ Willard shrieked, nervously twitching in his seat as he shifted his look from Harry to Ron.

‘And what happened to this man when Miss Gibbons’ house sealed? Where did this man go?’ asked Harry. Willard took a moment to collect himself before responding.

‘I-I don’t know. B-but I did not h-hear or s-see him l-leave, I assure you of th-that!’ Harry looked to Ron who nodded, his eyes almost as wide-eyed as Willard’s.

‘Thank you Willard, you’ve been a lot of help,’ Harry said quickly with a nod, turning around and bounding back down the stairs before he could hear Willard respond. He and Ron arrived back in the living room after sprinting down the main floor hallway, pausing once they had entered the room as they searched for Williamson. After a few seconds of searching, they eyed Williamson who was standing near the fireplace conversing with a wizard in blue and Mosteban.

‘I just... I don’t see how the killer could have escaped. This one stumps me Mosteban,’ Williamson said, pounding his fist on top of the mantle.

‘Unfortunately I tend to agree – we don’t even have an indication as to who did this, though we could hazard a guess as to who...’ Mosteban replied gruffly, pointing to the scene behind him.

‘It was a male Death Eater, we do know that much,’ Harry said strongly as he strode over to the fireplace. Mosteban shot him a look of great dislike, his eyes squinted as he surveyed Harry.

‘And how do you know this Potter?’ asked Williamson.

‘Willard told us. He’s the one who occupies that portrait just over there – he also has his own portrait on the second floor.’ Williamson’s eyebrows shot upwards, turning to Mosteban with a small smile on his face.

‘You’ve got my attention, Potter,’ a clearly intrigued Williamson continued.

‘Well he didn’t see much... but he said that he saw a masked man with long hair threaten Miss Gibbons. He said the man threatened to kill her if she didn’t tell him where Flamel was...’

‘Sounds like a Death Eater, as we suspected,’ Williamson said with a clap of his hands. ‘From what we’ve learned about the Death Eaters, only the top members are carrying out their tasks. There are only a handful of long haired, experienced Death Eater we know of. Good work you two.’

Williamson patted Harry and Ron on the back as he walked in between them, Mosteban not moving in his stance. However, Harry was not done yet.

‘Oh and sir... we think we know where he is...’ Williamson stopped dead in his tracks, whirling around to look at Harry once again. His face was full of intrigue, a flash of surprise mixed in to his disposition.

‘And where might that be Potter?’ Mosteban growled skeptically from in front of him, Harry meeting his unwavering, cold stare with one of his own.

‘Well if the seal has remained... what if he never left? What if... he’s still in here...’

Most of the Aurors and Ministry personnel had come to a standstill having overheard the tail end of Harry’s speech. Mosteban looked at Harry with a look of disbelief, breaking his stare with Harry as he managed a short laugh that seemed to echo throughout the silent room.

‘Potter... Do you really believe that after all this time we wouldn’t have been absolutely sure... that whoever killed Miss Gibbons was not in this house? That is insulting to not only myself, but to all of us here, including those from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement!’

‘Well sir,’ Harry began as he felt his temper rise, trying hard to keep it under control, ‘as you have already instructed me, no one would even be able to leave the house after it sealed in the first place. After speaking with Willard... there doesn’t seem to be any other explanation.’

‘If you’re so intelligent, then how about you prove it then?’

Mosteban’s question seemed to stump Harry. There was a long pause between Harry and Mosteban, everyone else in the room fixated on the two of them. Looking over Mosteban’s shoulder, Harry saw two blue robed wizards chatting quietly with each other, their eyes focused intently on Harry, small smiles forming on their faces. After searching his brain, Harry was unable to come up with anything, Mosteban seeing this look of disappointment etched across Harry’s face.

‘That’s what I thought... so why don’t you leave the work in the hands of those who are far more experienced and –’

‘You could use the Revealer Charm,’ Ron suddenly interrupted, turning to Harry who shot him a confused look. ‘You know, Homenum Revelio?’ Instantly a spark went off in Harry’s mind after Ron’s brilliant save.

‘Exactly. Take a quick head count and we can cast the charm. If the charm reveals that there is one more human in this house than what we have here then we know a Death Eater is here somewhere,’ Harry finished in a way very reminiscent of Hermione. He nodded at Ron as the commotion started in the room once again, every Auror surprisingly discussing what Harry and Ron had brought up.

‘Twenty of us,’ Williamson said a minute later, whispering something afterwards so that only Harry and Ron could hear. ‘Sometimes as experienced as I am, having seen so much... I tend to forget that sometimes the simplest of things can offer the greatest rewards... In essence... victory has defeated me.’

Harry grinned, seeing Mosteban look in the opposite direction as if he was disinterested in what was going on.

‘I’ll do the honors then,’ a wizard in blue called out, raising his wand in front of him. ‘Homenum Revelio!’

It only took a moment before it happened. Small, liquid-like red lines formed from the tip of the wizard’s wand, forming a tally in front of him. Williamson quickly paced over, counting the lines in his mind. After finishing, he got a second Auror beside him to do the same, nodding his head at Williamson after he was done.

‘Twenty,’ Williamson exhaled. ‘It was a good thought you two – good work today.’

As if all the life and excitement had been sucked out of him, Harry’s eye caught the view of the disgruntled face of Mosteban who shook his head, the rest of the Aurors resuming their previous conversations. He saw Mosteban cross the living room, resting his arm on a pillar situated on the threshold of the hallway. His eyes closed.

‘It was worth a shot mate,’ a disappointed Ron muttered.

Puzzled by the crime, Harry’s mind drifted to Nicolas Flamel, the man who seemed to be showing up everywhere in Harry’s life over the past few weeks. Though he was unable to draw any sort of connection, Harry wondered if the memory, the three murders that Flamel had apparently committed and the crime scene in front of him were related in any way. ‘They have to be, don’t they?’ Harry thought to himself as he stood still beside Ron. Then, he heard a voice that made him jump, not only because of what the voice was saying, but because of how loud it was.

‘SOMEONE’S BEEN KILLED!’ the voice yelled, Harry turning to see that it belonged to an Auror who had just entered the house. Once he had reached the living room, the man stopped as he placed his hands on his knees in apparent exhaustion.

‘Well we can see that Boland!’ retaliated an annoyed Mosteban.

‘No, no – not here! At the Ministry! At the Auror Office! A man in the lounge – poisoned!’ Boland exclaimed in between his long breaths. No one in the living room seemed to know how to properly react. There was a quietness that made Harry’s skin crawl.

‘Wh – that’s impossible!’ Williamson finally managed. ‘What happened?!’

‘They just found him now! Dead! The food that was in the lounge – someone had poisoned it!’

Chaos ensued in the living room; everyone seemed to forget about the task at hand. Some Aurors and Ministry officials apparated away quickly after leaving the house and the seal’s boundaries. Others merely sat down on the furniture while some struck up conversations with another, discussing the mind-blowing events that they had just learned. In the middle of it all was Harry, too dumbfounded to speak or do anything else other than eye the emotionless and straight faced Head Auror from a distance.


Chapter 9: Spy of the Aurors
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It was nearing noon when Harry finally stumbled out of bed the next morning. As his feet hit the floor, his tired eyes noticed something waiting on the floor below him. Bending down to pick it up, he realized it was a folded piece of paper. Unfolding it, he quickly realized the small print on the parchment belonged to the hand of Ginny, Harry closing his eyes as he instantly felt his heart sink in to his stomach.

After last night’s events, Harry and Ron had not returned to Grimmauld Place until the first hours of morning, falling asleep before their heads even hit the pillows. It was an exhausting night; Harry had waited in the Auror Office for hours as Mosteban ran a purging of the department in an attempt to identify who had poisoned the Auror lounge food. After seeing Mosteban suspiciously speak in to the lounge’s fireplace the night before, in Harry’s mind, Mosteban seemed to be the most distrustful of all the Aurors he had questioned.

He had completely forgotten his planned date with Ginny. Being whisked away by Williamson to investigate the murder had made Harry completely forget about his plans with Ginny. Once he realized what he had missed after glancing at his watch around midnight, Harry could not help but feel guilty and extremely upset inside even though he could have done nothing to avoid missing their date. Desperately wanting to hear from Ginny (even in letter form) Harry did not hesitate for a moment more as he quickly read the short message she had left him.


Harry,


Missed you last night. Dad told me about what happened though – seems like we can never catch a break! Really terrible about what happened though. I’m sure your department was chaotic last night.

I’m leaving you this message because not knowing when you will wake up, I might be gone before I get a chance to see you. I’m leaving for my first road trip with the Harpies today at noon and Hermione and I have left for the Burrow where I am going to be picked up. Just so you know, I’ll be taking a rain check on that planned trip to Hogsmeade – nothing is going to stop us from going when I get back in a week!

Anyway, I’d like to see you before I leave, but I’ll understand if you can’t make it. I’ll send a letter to you during the week sometime. Tell Ron we’re going to crush Chudley.

Love,

Ginny


Finishing the letter, Harry quickly tossed it on his night side table, picking up a pair of pants he had recently tossed on the floor.

‘Ron! Get up! We’re leaving in five minutes!’ Harry loudly insisted once he had put his pants on. Ron turned in his bed, giving Harry a tiresome look as he grunted and nodded his head.

There was no way Harry was going to miss seeing Ginny off after he had ruined their plans from the night before. He hopped on one foot as he attempted to put one of his socks on, Percival turning up his nose in disgust as Harry left his room.

Ron made good on his word, he and Harry entering the drawing room of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place no longer than five minutes later. Ron rubbed his eyes tiredly, his shirt’s top most buttons left unfastened as he yawned loudly. Harry grabbed a pinch of Floo Powder out of a small cup on top of the mantle, Ron following his friend’s lead.

‘The Burrow!’ Harry said clearly as he tossed the hand full of Floo Powder at the floor of the fireplace. In a flash of emerald green flames he was gone, the living room of the Burrow appearing before his eyes before he could blink.

‘Harry! You made it!’ Harry heard the moment he stepped out in to the living room. As he tried to gain his bearings, he was nearly knocked off his feet at Ginny’s charge as she wrapped her arms around him and helped him dust off his clothes. ‘Stay here – I’ve just got to make sure my broomstick is fastened safely and I’ll be right down as quick as I can. They’ll be here fairly soon.’ With another embrace, Harry saw Ginny sprint up the stairs, hearing Ron step out of the fireplace as he watched her.

‘So we rush on over here… and there she goes,’ Ron said tiredly as he rubbed the side of his face, plopping down on one of the sofas inside the living room.

‘Got your first good taste of what an Auror actually does last night I bet,’ Mr. Weasley called as he entered the kitchen shaking his head. ‘Terrible that is. In all my years working for the Ministry I’ve never seen or heard of an Auror actually dying inside the department itself. Mad…’

‘And for once, the biggest question is not even who did it,’ Percy said, overhearing his father’s speech, ‘but how they did it.’

‘Poisoned – danishes wasn’t it?’ Mr. Weasley asked as Harry nodded. Mr. Weasley sat down in one of the comfy looking armchairs from across the coffee table, looking out of the window behind Harry. ‘What with the explosion in the Atrium last month and now this… I’m afraid the Ministry is under attack.’ Mr. Weasley’s words were met with a brief silence.

‘But Dad,’ Ron asked, his stare not leaving the floor. ‘What is the point of all of it? No matter how it is being done, it does not explain the reasoning for attacking the Ministry.’

‘Ah, see there Ron lies this answer; perhaps there is no point. Perhaps there is no method to the madness. Perhaps… the Death Eaters are just content to watch the world burn from afar. Perhaps that’s enough for them…’ Mr. Weasley trailed off.

Though Harry was not fully on board with Mr. Weasley’s answer it at least opened up his eyes to the possibility that there might not be an intricate and complex answer to the reasoning behind the attacks. For the first time Harry thought to himself that it was possible that the attacks were meant to draw attention away from something. After all, other than creating chaos and misery, they did not seem to achieve anything else.

‘Did you the Prophet this morning Dad,’ Percy asked as he set down the newspaper he was carrying on the coffee table. There was a large headline at the top of the page that read:


FUDGE TAKES ACTION – SAYS DARK TIMES ARE STILL AMONG US


‘Oh what’s he on about now,’ Ron asked after Mr. Weasley had picked up the paper and scanned the first few lines.

‘Well… something, at least,’ Percy sarcastically responded.

‘You could say that again. Here, look for yourselves.’ Mr. Weasley tossed the edition of the Prophet on to the coffee table, Harry picking it up and holding it in front of them so that he and Ron could both clearly read the article.


‘It appears, my good magical citizens, that dark times are far from being over.’

That is what Mr. Rufus Fudge, new Minister of Magic, emphatically stated this morning after news broke of yet another attack on the Ministry of Magic last night, this time, occurring inside the Auror Department itself.

Mr. Leonard Higgins, age 34, was found poisoned to death inside the Auror lounge last night after apparently consuming contaminated food. A spokesperson of the Auror Department insisted that the food – like all grocery and beverages on tap at the Ministry – was inspected beforehand and upon this inspection was deemed to be safe for consumption.

The second attack inside the Ministry of Magic in as many months has left shock waves across the wizarding public. For the first time since the downfall of You-Know-Who, magic folk are beginning to worry yet again if their world is adequately safe. This growing sentiment was addressed in full by the Minister this morning.

‘I will be instilling new, reinforced security measures inside the Ministry effective immediately. I ask you to be patient – these changes have been made for your own safety.’

The Minister continued on, emotionally evoking a strong response from the group of listeners and reporters on hand at the press conference.

‘Perhaps we have gotten too far ahead of ourselves. Maybe our idea of the idealized post-You-Know-Who world has been premature. There appears to still be evil out there, but I stand by our Law Enforcement and our Aurors, as you should, as they continue their ongoing fight to subdue the evil-doers forever. In the meantime, I urge extreme caution to all. What I know from having dealt with people such as these in the past is that they are remorseless, unforgiving and psychotic. It would be in everyone’s best interests to be on and extremely high alert as your Ministry attempts to suppress this evil and terrible movement.’


‘Is he trying to drive the public mad?’ Harry asked openly as he got to the end of Fudge’s speech. ‘Everyone’s going to be running for the hills if he keeps talking like that!’

‘I agree, Harry,’ Mr. Weasley said somewhat defensively. ‘There’s nothing wrong with letting the public know the truth, but some discretion has to be involved. It’s almost like he wants the public to be scared or something…’

‘It does look quite bad on Fudge though, doesn’t it?’ stated Ron as he too finished the article. ‘I mean… two attacks on the Ministry in his first two months in charge? You said you had not even heard of one before in all your years of working there… Well except for that snake that got you round Christmas that year… but apart from all that…’ The last part of Ron’s speech trailed off, neither Mr. Weasley nor Percy making much notice of it.

‘Though I don’t know if Kingsley would have made any difference, I do hope that the public is beginning to regret voting Fudge in as Minister,’ Mr. Weasley stated grimly.

‘So you two have finally decided to wake up then!’ Hermione said cheekily as she bounded down the stairs and made her way in to the living room. ‘Ginny and I were beginning to wonder if you would make it.’

Hermione took a seat beside Ron, playfully tapping him on his leg as she joined the Weasleys in the living room. Harry had opened his mouth to ask Mr. Weasley about his work at the Ministry, but he was interrupted by the excited shriek of Mrs. Weasley.

‘Oh Ron! Harry! You’re here!’

Before Harry could realize what was going on, he was thrust in to a large hug courtesy of Mrs. Weasley. After being kissed on each cheek, he looked in to Mrs. Weasley’s smiling face, not being clear on what welcomed such an extra warm greeting.

‘Mum… Geroff…’ Ron managed through yet another hug from his mother. ‘You’ve got enough sons to go around! Where’s George?’

‘Oh he comes and goes on a daily basis,’ Mrs. Weasley said breathlessly after releasing Ron and sitting down on the adjacent couch beside her husband. ‘He’s working on something big, he claims. Every time we ask him what it is he shuts right up and either leaves or changes the subject. Doesn’t he Arthur?’ Mr. Weasley nodded in agreement.

‘How come you’re so happy to see us?’ Ron said after considering this point.

‘Oh Ron… I’ve just missed the two of you that’s all… Hermione and Ginny too. Your father and I are still getting used to you four living away from home… how you all have grown up so fast I’ll never know…’ Harry felt a slight twinge somewhere deep inside his heart as Mrs. Weasley trailed off and looked to her husband; Harry was very touched.

As everyone began to strike up their own conversations, Harry saw Ginny enter the kitchen from down the stairs, her trunk in tow. She set it down beside the table, glancing over to Harry who met her eye. She tilted her head to the door, Harry watching her as she slowly walked outside, a small smile on her face as she left. Noticing this, Ron looked in the opposite direction while Hermione merely smirked and nudged Harry who left the couch and crossed the living room quickly.

Ginny was standing a fair distance away from the house, looking out at the grave sites of her brother Fred, Lupin and Tonks as the gusty fall wind blew her hair around. Harry paused, standing still a few paces from Ginny who turned around when she had noticed Harry was there. She managed a smile, jogged over to him and took Harry in her arms, the wind stinging Harry’s eyes and making them water.

‘I don’t want to leave,’ Ginny sputtered as she fought off the oncoming tears. Harry put his hand on Ginny’s head and drew her closer to him as a gust of wind turned up a pile of golden leaves that blew around them.

‘It’s only a week Gin,’ Harry trailed off.

He was trying to be much stronger than what he was truthfully feeling. He wanted to say something else that would be comforting to Ginny’s ears but found nothing truthful to say. Ginny broke apart from Harry and stared deep in to his eyes, both of them dreading the long absence of the other.

‘You don’t need to sugar coat it,’ Ginny said through a forced smile. ‘I’ll miss you.’

Harry did not even bother to offer some sort of comforting speech, knowing that she was right. As another strong gust of wind blew as Harry held Ginny’s hand as he inched closer to Ginny. He did not even care who was watching from the window of the Burrow…

A loud popping noise made Harry jump as he tore his stare away from Ginny. Through an encirclement of blowing leaves, Harry saw someone walking towards them. He was finally able to see who it was once the wind had died down.

‘D-Davis?! What are you doing here?’ Ginny asked slightly dumbfounded as she gently released Harry from her grasp. Davis smiled, flashing his perfectly white teeth in the process as he looked slightly confused at Ginny’s question.

‘Well, I’m here to bring you to the rest of the team, if you are still interested in playing Quidditch,’ Davis said slyly as he stopped a few paces away from the pair of them. ‘Harry,’ Davis said with a slight nod to which Harry reluctantly reciprocated.

‘Oh – yes, of course. I’ve got all my things er… here.’

‘Excellent. Well then we really should be on our way,’ Davis replied with yet another toothy smile, picking up Ginny’s trunk and pulling it towards him. ‘Don’t worry Harry – she’ll be in good hands. You won’t have to worry about a thing,’ Davis continued as he saw Harry look longingly at Ginny.

Before Harry could offer any response, he saw Davis look over his shoulder, Harry turning around to see that Mr. and Mrs. Weasley along with Ron and Hermione had all left the Burrow, undoubtedly to see who had apparated in to their yard.

‘Ah! These must be your parents!’ Davis said as he strode over to them. ‘It’s a great honour to finally meet you! My name is Davis McCoy, one of Ginny’s assistant coaches for the Harpies.’

Mrs. Weasley was caught off guard by Davis’ greeting; he took Mrs. Weasley’s hand, kissing the top of it gently before shaking Mr. Weasley’s hand firmly. Harry saw Mrs. Weasley blush slightly as she stuffed her hand in to one of her pockets, Ron looking at Harry with a look of mixed disgust and confusion.

‘Yes, Ginny has told us lots about yourself and her coaches. You were the one who was adamant on Ginny joining the squad this year, am I right?’ asked Mr. Weasley.

‘That’s right. Our Manager was hesitant on bringing in a rookie this season, but after personally scouting out your daughter here, I told him he would be crazy not to have Ginny! She’s quite the talent!’

‘That she is yes,’ Mrs. Weasley piped up. ‘Would you like to come in for a minute Davis? Have a tea and something to eat to warm you up from this cold weather.’

‘Don’t tempt me Mrs. Weasley,’ Davis replied through a slight laugh. ‘I’ve hear a lot from Ginny about your exceptional culinary abilities and I’m afraid if I come in the rest of the team will wonder where we’ve gone off to! Your offer is most kind.’

‘We insist,’ Mr. Weasley pressed. ‘Without you it is possible Ginny may not even be playing professional Quidditch. It’s the least we could do to repay you.’

‘I’m afraid I can’t Mr. Weasley but thank you again,’ Davis replied. ‘Though I’d love to tell you all about my Muggle uncles’ automobile dealership business in Doncaster; I just know you’d love the one about the broken air conditioning system.’ Mr. Weasley appeared to salivate at Davis’ words.

‘Our Ginny will be taken care of then?’ Mrs. Weasley asked as she looked up in to Davis’ handsome face.

‘Mum!’ Ginny retorted loudly. ‘If I can live on my own now I’m fairly sure I can take care of myself on the road!’

‘Just a worried mother Ginny that’s all,’ Davis replied. ‘What I’d give to have a mother of my own worry about me. See, my mother ran out on my Dad and I when she found out he was a wizard. Never even seen her picture before…’

Harry thought he heard Mrs. Weasley mutter ‘you poor thing’ as Davis trailed off. There was a moment of silence amongst them before Davis broke it in a much more cheerful tone.

‘I assure you I’ll personally take care of your only daughter for you Mrs. Weasley – not that she needs it,’ Davis said as he turned to Ginny defensively. ‘We really do need to get going though I’m afraid.’

‘Well it was a pleasure to finally meet you!’ Mrs. Weasley said, extending her hand to Davis who passed on it, taking Mrs. Weasley in a distant embrace.

‘Davis,’ Mr. Weasley said brightly, shaking Davis’ hand once again. ‘Maybe next time you can tell me that one about the broken air conditioner,’ Mr. Weasley said somewhat quietly.

‘That I will, that I will,’ Davis said as he picked up Ginny’s trunk once again.

‘Goodbye everyone! Goodbye Harry,’ Ginny said as she kissed Harry on the cheek and gave him a small hug, Harry eyeing Davis from over Ginny’s shoulder as he looked on.

‘Don’t you worry Harry – she’ll be fine with me, I assure you,’ Davis said as he flashed another brilliant smile.

‘Oh, I’m not worried. Thanks though,’ Harry said forcefully with a slight hint of sarcasm in his tone.

Harry stared strongly in to Davis’ eyes as he stared back, merely nodding his head slightly before turning and walking with Ginny. Ginny looked over her shoulder and waved to Harry who waved back serenely. His stomach did a back flip when he saw Davis put his arm around Ginny’s midsection, guiding her further and further away from the Burrow and from Harry.


****


Harry did not have to wait long to see Fudge’s new security changes implemented at the Ministry. Only two days after Ginny’s departure, Harry found himself back at the Ministry, his mind wandering away from his daily routines and finding its way to images of Ginny. However, one other image periodically crept in to Harry’s mind; the smiling face of Davis seemed to be permanently tattooed on his brain. He was not even sure why he disliked him, but Harry himself had come to a conceptual conclusion that he merely disliked the idea of him. Harry could not help but feel jealous that someone else was spending quality time with Ginny while he headed back to work.

‘Look at this place – it’s a mad house!’ Ron exclaimed as he and Harry met up with Hermione inside the Atrium at the Ministry.

Ron was right. The Atrium looked not unlike it did this past summer during the election. Groups of people swarmed around the outskirts of the many impromptu lines of Ministry workers that had formed at all different angles. By the fountain, Harry could see purple-robed Ministry officials conducting some sort of procedure to each and every Ministry employee who passed. As Harry, Ron and Hermione joined the closest line, Harry noticed a small, black sign that had been duplicated many times and had been placed in various locations around the Atrium.


PATROL SERVICES
Both public and private (upon request) now available
As mandated by your Minister Mr. Rufus Fudge
“A safer alternative to walking, flying or apparating alone”


‘It’s like they’re trying to control everyone’s mind!’ Ron exclaimed as he too noticed the signs. ‘What’s this here – they’re not searching everyone one of us are they?’

‘It looks like… they are,’ Hermione replied after she stood on her tip-toes, arching her head in order to see to the front.

‘Bloody hell! We’ll be lined up here for hours every day! There goes any sort of sleeping in Harry!’

‘Well you can’t really blame him Ron,’ Hermione responded as the trio moved a few paces forward. ‘With the dead Auror and the exploding handbag, something has got to be done.’

‘Is this going to stop it though Hermione?’ Harry wondered aloud. ‘I mean… it might not be what people are bringing in but the people themselves that are the real danger. And how do you monitor that?’

No one spoke for a few moments as they each silently moved forward in the line. It was growing very hot in the Atrium at this moment and Harry (who had bundled up considerably at the touch of the chilly November morning) was removing layers as he began to sweat.

‘Do you think that the memory and… and the note that you received has anything to do with the attacks?’ Hermione whispered as she looked around her to make sure no one was listening in.

‘If it does, we’ll be able to find out soon won’t we? Got the Swelling Solution up in my room right now,’ Harry replied with a smile, anxiously awaiting the moment when they would be able to read the invisible message.

‘Identification card! Hold out your arms!’ a Ministry official barked to Harry who spun quickly at the closeness of the voice. He had reached the front of the line without even realizing it, fumbling in his pocket for his Ministry card and holding out his arms as he was told to a second later.

The official waved his wand lazily, taking Harry’s card in his hand and observing Harry’s moving picture inside of it. His eyebrows rose slightly as he realized who he was dealing with, giving Harry a little smirk as he waved him past.

‘If we’re going to have to do that every day then I might just seriously consider working for Florean Fortescue,’ Ron joked a few minutes later as they entered the Auror Office.

‘Hopefully there are no more attacks and then Fudge can get rid of all that rubbish,’ Harry replied tiredly as he sank to his cubicle chair, looking at the smiling frame of Ginny that he had set on his desk.

Harry looked to Ron who gave an approving nod, but as he was about to tear his look away, he noticed Ron’s smile fade, seeing his friend sit up straighter in his chair as he looked behind Harry. Harry spun around in his seat and was shocked to see that Williamson was making his way for the two of them.

‘I need a few words with you two,’ Williamson said quietly, Harry and Ron instantly getting up from their chairs. ‘No here’s fine, sit back down. Look… I’ve got something to run by you two. Something that you both could be of great help to.’

‘What is it sir?’ Harry asked as he glanced sideways at Ron who looked equally as confused as Harry was. Williamson sighed deeply before speaking.

‘Well… Mosteban has heard an earful from Fudge over the past couple of weeks. It was at a modest level after the explosion in the Atrium but it grew really severe after the attack here.’

‘What do you mean?’ inquired Ron.

‘Fudge is up in arms. He’s the new Minister and things have not exactly gone his way. As head of the Aurors, Mosteban – in Fudge’s eyes – is responsible. He’s not doing enough to stop this.’

‘Well that’s unfair. He doesn’t have control over what happens – there were no attacks at the Ministry before Fudge was Minister.’ Harry could hardly believe that he was defending Mosteban, not knowing which side to take between two of the wizards who he disliked most.

‘Well that’s true. But either way, Mosteban has had enough. He and I have come up with a little… action plan. It’s radical and very dangerous. It’s not something that we as Aurors do very often because it’s very hard to find someone who wants to do it or is very good at it. There are not many witches or wizards in the world that could even be a candidate.’

‘So you’re asking us if we’d do whatever this is? Is that what you’re asking?’

‘No. I’m merely asking you two if you could help.’

‘Help with what?’ an increasingly impatient Ron interjected. After a second or two of silence, Williamson lowered his voice, obviously not wanting anyone else to hear what he was about to say.

‘We’ve decided to attempt to insert a mole – a double agent – in to the Death Eaters. We need to find out what they’re up to. They’re unfortunately doing a very good job at keeping their actions – if they’re taking any – under wraps and it’s becoming increasingly and painstakingly difficult to try and track them. And they keep getting stronger with every day that goes by. This must be done. Mosteban and I believe… it’s the only way.’ Harry let this sink in for a second as he looked to Ron.

‘Pardon me sir. But I don’t think the Death Eaters would buy Ron or me as someone trying to help them…’ Harry replied somewhat sarcastically, looking up in to Williamson’s face that smiled slightly.

‘Well of course not Potter. I’ve come here to ask you both if you would help me in persuading our target to do the job. We’ve thought for hours who we know of that has some sort of connection to the Death Eaters but at the same time, someone that we can trust. It was actually Mosteban’s idea for me to ask the two of you for your assistance and I can see why. You’ve known them for quite some time and the both of you may be beneficial in our goal of swaying the target to our favour.’

‘Who? Who is the target?’ Harry asked. Williamson looked around him once more, lowering himself to the point where he was nearly touching noses with Harry. Ron leaned in closer as Williamson quietly uttered his answer.

‘Draco. Draco Malfoy.’


****


‘Delicious as usual Kreacher, thank you,’ Harry said, complimenting his house elf later that night.

‘Oh! Thank you Master Harry sir. It is a pleasure and honor to prepare Master and his two friends their supper!’

Kreacher cleared the plates of Harry, Hermione and Ron with a quick snap of his fingers, Harry watching his own plate levitate over to the sink where Kreacher continued his clean-up. The three had wolfed down their supper, eagerly wanting to move on with the night’s events. Harry could barely contain his excitement as he pulled the blank parchment that he had received with the memory out of his pocket. Hermione (after wiping her hands carefully on her napkin) helped Harry unfold the piece of parchment, Ron placing his glass on the top end of it in order to hold down the curling edge.

As Harry looked down on the parchment, his mind ventured off to something that he had wanted to talk about with his friends for quite some time. He watched his friends flatten down the edges of the blank piece of parchment, observing their excited faces. Upon seeing Kreacher leave the kitchen altogether, Harry made the decision to voice his concerns, not being able to wait any longer.

‘I think Mosteban is up to something.’ Hermione glanced over at Ron for a second before she confusedly responded.

‘What do you mean Harry?’

‘He just seems… off. I don’t know how to explain it really,’ Harry managed as he grasped for the words that would explain his point of view. ‘There’s something that’s just different with him. Like when Ron and I overheard him talking to someone in the fireplace.’

‘Wait – you what?’ Hermione turned to Ron looking more confused than ever.

‘Oh-oh yeah… kind of forgot to tell you about that…’

‘He was talking to someone and it sounded like they were… plotting. I don’t know what about,’ Harry continued, Ron nodding as he took over.

‘And that Auror – the one who was found dead in the Auror lounge – he was in there while Mosteban had his head in the fireplace! Do you think… that Auror could have been…’

‘Dead? Yeah. I think it might be possible,’ finished Harry.

‘Hold on. Do you two really think that the Head of the Aurors is actually killing off his own Aurors? That’s ludicrous!’

‘I know how it sounds Hermione but it’s what I heard! He’s just so on edge. And even at the Gibbons investigation he just seemed to have something else on his mind.’

‘Well I don’t doubt what you heard,’ Hermione said after taking a moment to contemplate the situation. ‘But don’t let your dislike of him cloud your judgment. We all know that’s not a wise move to make…’

Harry nodded, looking across to Ron who looked down at the table. Harry reciprocated, staring down at the fine oak of the table, picturing the image of Severus Snape in his mind. Though Harry wanted to talk about Mosteban further, he knew that he had no other evidence to share and came to the conclusion that they should focus on revealing the message within the piece of parchment; something that they had all been greatly anticipating.

‘Got the Swelling Solution?’ Harry asked without looking up, getting up in order to move the chairs around so that the three of them could sit beside each other.

‘Right here,’ Ron replied holding up the vial with the orange solution contained inside.

‘Good. Hermione… er… we’ll let you take over.’

‘What would you two do without me…’ Hermione sighed jokingly as she seized the vial of the Swelling Solution out of Ron’s hand.

Her smile quickly faded as she unstoppered it, brushing her hair away from her face with her free hand. Harry saw her swallow as she lowered her head closer to the table, slowly tilting the vial so that its contents began to pour out of the tip in a very thin line. Hermione dispersed the orange liquid over the surface of the entire piece of parchment. At first, there seemed to be little effect, the parchment looking exactly the same as it did before. However, not long after Hermione had poured the entirety of the vial, the parchment began to move on its own accord. It rapidly began to expand in size, the occasional burst of size occurring every few seconds until the vibrating piece of parchment covered the entire surface of the kitchen table. Even more startling to Harry, Ron and Hermione was the clearly defined lettering that seemed to get clearer and clearer with every passing second.

‘Blimey! It worked Hermione!’ Ron exclaimed as he rounded the table to get a better look at the print.

‘Well of course it worked!’ Hermione said through an excited smile. The trio observed the now large piece of parchment, viewing the faded message in its curvy scripture that had been revealed.


I am sending you these memories in the hope that you find them useful. Something that was thought to be nonexistent and lost is the key. You must retrieve it before they do. It is imperative to your survival. Continue the good legacy of your parents Harry and bring down the Death Eaters and Lord Voldemort once and for all.

‘Flee to me, remote elf.’


‘That’s it?’ Ron broke the silence while Harry was in the process of reading the message for the third time, not believing his eyes. ‘They didn’t even say who they were!’

‘Whoever they are, they obviously are sending these messages and memories in secret Ron,’ Hermione responded as she tore her stare away from the parchment. ‘Though I was hoping for a little more to go on than that…’ Harry was not even paying attention to his friends as he rummaged through his mind, thinking back to the memory.

‘What were my parents doing that night. Retrieving Flamel right?’

‘Yeah. Death Eaters seemed to want him as well,’ Ron responded.

‘But did we ever see what the reasoning was? Wait a minute…’ Harry trailed off.

‘What? What is it?’ Hermione asked quickly.

‘I think I… yes I remember. Sirius mentioned it. He asked Flamel if... if… he had it on him…’

‘What?’ Ron and Hermione said together, Harry not looking at the pair of them for a moment as he thought to himself.

‘Well… I don’t know. But maybe that’s what whoever sent this is talking about.’

‘You’ll probably get another chance to see if you’re right Harry,’ said Hermione. ‘Look here; these memories. As in more than one! Looks like whoever sent the first memory has every intention of sending more.’

‘What’s with that little sentence at the bottom there? What does a remote elf have to do with the message above it?’ asked Harry, looking to Hermione for the answer.

‘Seems out of place doesn’t it? It’s got to be their way of trying to tell us something… like a riddle of some sort…’

‘But what?’ Harry was disappointed that Hermione had no answer for the strange sentence at the bottom of the now large piece of parchment.

‘I do, however, know what these are,’ Hermione said proudly as she pointed to a few of the magnified letters on the parchment.

‘What do you mean, they look like normal letters to me,’ Ron said as he inspected what Hermione was pointing at.

‘How wrong you are Ronald,’ Hermione replied cheerfully, launching in to speech. ‘See these little marks around these letters?’ Hermione pointed to a few specks circling some of the letters.

‘Yeah… those are watermarks Hermione. They’re on every piece of parchment we’ve ever written on!’

‘Wrong again! I learned this in Ancient Runes.’

Hermione took out her wand, muttering something to herself as she tapped four of the letters on the page. Miraculously, Harry saw that the four letters she had tapped seemed to emerge from the page itself, almost pushing their way off of the page. They bolded themselves and aligned themselves at the bottom of the parchment, leaving their regular faded imprints behind in the original message.

‘Blimey! What is that?’ a Ron surprised asked.

‘Those little marks are indicators that these letters are part of a code intentionally left behind the author,’ Hermione said quickly. When neither Harry nor Ron responded in the way that she liked, she frustratingly sighed. ‘Whoever sent these messages is leaving behind some sort of message for us!’

‘A message within a message…’ Harry said quietly.

‘Exactly! With the rest of the messages, we’ll be able to decipher the secret!

Harry observed the four letters that had magically arranged themselves at the bottom of the page, a black ‘O’, ‘E’, ‘R’ and ‘G’. In a very small print, Harry could see the numbers twenty, six, ten and four above each letter respectively, obviously indicating the order that each letter would be placed in the secret message. Harry’s mind was beginning to hurt at the amount of information he was taking in.

‘You must retrieve it before they do. Well it would be nice to know what the thing is if it’s as imperative to our bloody survival as they say it is,’ said a frustrated Ron. ‘Sounds like Dumbledore all over again, doesn’t it?’

‘The answer must lie in the following memories,’ Harry stated confidently. ‘I just wonder who is the one sending them… they’d have to have come from someone –’

‘ – at the scene of the memory, that’s right Harry,’ Hermione finished as she tried to contain her excitement. ‘The only ones in the memory that are not… er… passed on… are the Longbottoms –’

‘Who could have just called me over for tea if they wanted to show me something,’ Harry interjected.

‘ – and… Flamel…’

None of them spoke for what seemed like hours, each reserved to their own thoughts. Harry read and re-read the message countless more times during the rest of their evening, only stopping once Ron and Hermione had fallen asleep on the oak table. Though Harry was glad that he had finally been able to read the hidden message, it felt like the message had opened up more questions than answers. As he rolled in to his bed later that night, his racing mind kept him awake for hours longer, thinking of the countless questions that now occupied his brain.
 
 


Chapter 10: The Recruit
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The next couple of weeks passed by seamlessly and without event. Apart from Ginny arriving back at Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, things were as usual which was especially frustrating for Harry. His mind had occasionally drifted to images of Flamel, the suspicious message and the memory of his parents, not knowing what to exactly make of all of it. Though he was happy that Holyhead had won their last two matches on the road, Harry was just glad to have Ginny back at
home; he thought he would have gone mad if she had been away for another week.

On the day of the first snow of the winter season, Harry had been presented with a makeshift calendar of some sort by Ron who assured Harry it had been given as a gift from George and that no payment was necessary. Seeing the symbol of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes emblazoned on the back of the frame, Harry conceded, noticing that the single frame of the calendar featured a great number of tiny doors of assorted colours and textures. It was this calendar that Harry had placed on his desk at the Auror Office.

‘I’m almost sort of scared to open it,’ chuckled Ron as he examined his own calendar, a dark green one compared to Harry’s scarlet.

‘Let’s give it a go then,’ responded Harry through a smirk.

It seemed as if Fudge’s restrictions at the Ministry had been successful thus far; there had been no attacks nor had anything else occurred that was noteworthy for the Aurors since they had been put in place. It was because of this that Harry now resorted to opening up miniature doors on strange calendars for his entertainment at work.

Harry found the tiny door with the number ‘one’ printed on the door handle and after glancing at Ron briefly, he opened it. Instantly, three tiny figures popped out of the door. Hovering the entire time, a boy and a girl figure dressed in vibrant scarlet stood together while a third male figure dressed in green sniggered loudly a couple of inches away. The green clad figured dangled a candy cane in front of the female, Harry watching as she slowly tore away from her partner and followed the green figure. Noticing this, her red robed partner seemed to grow angry, chasing the sniggering green character around the calendar in a circle. After a few quick laps, the green figure stopped and stood beside the female character who now held the candy cane in her hand, the red, male figurine continuing to rapidly circle the characters. After a few more laps without realizing that he was chasing no one, he suddenly stopped, retrieved his wand, pointed it at his former partner and the green figure and shot sparks in their direction, a loud banging noise catching Harry off guard, making him jump in his cubicle chair. After Harry had opened his eyes again, he saw the three figures standing in a line in front of their door, each of them looking upwards with their eyes closed as they sang in small, squeaky voices.

‘We wish you a Merry Christmas!’ they sang loudly. Another shower of red and green sparks exploded from their wands, a few Aurors turning away from their cubicles to see what was going on. Harry smiled weakly as he saw the three figures zoom back in to their door, the door itself closing and changing colour. A small print appeared out of nowhere on the frame that read ‘twenty-three more days until Christmas!’.

‘Bloody hell! Why does he have to make those things so loud?’ Ron whispered as he smirked embarrassedly and waved to a couple of cross-looking Aurors who passed by.

‘I thought you were opening yours,’ Harry said who roughly thrust the calendar back in his cubicle drawer.

‘I did. But nothing ever –’

The slightly contorted voice of George erupted from the door that Ron had opened, loudly booming throughout the Auror Office with great force.

‘Only twenty-three more days until Christmas Ron, so get me something good alright? Not anything like those stale cauldron cakes... you know, like the ones you got me last year?’ Ron shut the door that now had the same message imprinted on its frame as Harry’s advent calendar.

‘Git,’ Ron muttered to himself as he too stuffed his calendar in to one of the desk's drawers, hiding it from view. Just as he had closed the drawer, Williamson appeared seemingly out of nowhere, startling Harry and Ron with his presence. His thinning black hair was askew and upon his first words of speech, he appeared to be slightly out of breath.

‘It’s time to get going Potter... Weasley,’ he stated panting, looking intensely down upon Harry and Ron from his great height. Harry did not need any more prodding from his Head nor any further information to understand what Williamson was alluding to; he had thought about this moment ever since Williamson presented him with the idea of trying to recruit Draco Malfoy over to their side.

Harry and Ron both got up quickly, following Williamson to the fireplaces at the back of the Auror Office, Williamson nodding at a few Aurors as he passed them. Harry had to catch himself from running in to the backside of Williamson as he stopped very suddenly in order to speak to a particularly tall Auror with long brown hair.

‘Mosteban would like to see you right away Crawford,’ Williamson mumbled. Crawford looked quite taken aback by Mosteban’s apparent request, but he nodded stiffly and quickly changed his direction.

‘Mosteban’s been meeting with the entire Office today it seems,’ Williamson said over his shoulder to Harry and Ron who had resumed their pace.

‘Know what he’s up to?’ Harry asked. He had tried to pose his question nonchalantly – which he did, Harry thought – but he cringed at his poor word choice a fraction of a second after the last word had left his lips. He sounded as if he was questioning Mosteban himself, Harry’s true feelings concerning the Head of the Aurors accidently protruding to the surface.

‘He’s not up to anything, Potter,’ Williamson said gruffly, his eyebrows scrunched together. ‘Being the Head of the Aurors, Mosteban does not need some sort of justification. He marches to the beat of his own drum... and he’s been quite successful with it.’

‘Well... of course, sir,’ recovered Harry, glancing over at Ron who gave Harry a small nod.

Williamson grabbed a handful of Floo powder from a small cup on the fireplace’s mantle, glancing back at Harry and Ron through a narrow stare. Turning to the roaring fire, he said ‘Cellar at the Leaky Cauldron!’ and vanished in a gulf of emerald flames. Ron’s eyebrows rose in surprise.

‘I wouldn’t mind a Butterbeer before being reacquainted with an old slime ball like Malfoy...’ he said, repeating the words of his Head and vanishing in to the fireplace as well. Quickly, Harry did the same and soon found himself in the dingy cellar of the Leaky Cauldron, not having the faintest idea of what they were doing there.

‘Tom should have placed it around here somewhere,’ Williamson muttered to himself, a faint dripping noise echoing throughout the cellar. ‘Aha, here it is...’

Williamson seized a broken glass mug from behind a large wooden barrel, carefully inspecting it before placing it on top of the barrel. Without even asking, Harry knew this was their portkey that would take them to Draco. Having just had a chance to collect himself after his travel, Harry dusted off his robes, glancing behind him to see an old, formerly boarded up fireplace behind him that was barely large enough for him to fit in. Harry saw the beams of wood that had been taken down – probably by Tom the innkeeper – lying innocently next to the eroded, darkened and lifeless fireplace.

‘Sir,’ Ron said hesitantly, ‘Is there any specific reason why we’ve been brought along? Or am I just looking too far in to it?’ Harry had wondered about that very same question for quite some time now. Williamson turned and paused before responding.

‘Not looking close enough rather than too far, I’d say,’ he said with a slight smile, Harry taking a seat on one of the overturned barrels beside the fireplace, a faded ‘Butterbeer’ word mark emblazoned on an angle on the barrels’ side. ‘It is imperative that you two be brought along... you have a history with Draco that may be the deciding factor in to pulling him to our side... that is unless the Death Eaters have got to him already, which I somewhat expect.’

‘Is that the reason why we want him then? Because he might know something about the Death Eaters?’ Harry asked quietly.

‘Partly, yes. Though I am almost certain that he has been contacted by the Death Eaters, if there is a slight chance that he has not, then he could be used as a spy with us taking the offensive. Someone like Draco – a former Death Eater, not incarcerated and having a less than firm loyalty to them – is an extremely rare find. It’s something we need to exploit.’

‘Why would he just join our side then? Just because he is not on the Death Eaters’ side doesn’t mean he will gladly walk over to ours.’ Williamson nodded at Ron’s speech even before he was finished.

‘True but we have many things over him that can be used as bargaining chips... His father in Azkaban... his family’s all but lost fortune... and there’s something that you have on him that we can use as a last resort...’

‘What is –’ Harry started, but was interrupted by Williamson who snapped his fingers and pointed at the now faintly glowing mug.

‘When we get there, do not say much and keep calm,’ he said quickly as he seized the handle. ‘Be careful when you touch it.’

Harry felt the cold glass in his hand, being careful not to touch the jagged, broken edges. After Ron seized the opposite side of the glass, Harry felt the all too familiar sensation of travelling by portkey, whirling around for a moment before plopping down on hard ground once again.

Harry, Ron and Williamson appeared in the shadow of Malfoy Manor. Its iron gate was swinging back and forth in the light breeze, a small squeaking noise touching Harry’s ear with each pendulum-like swing. The manor itself seemed to be in shambles; the hedges were growing wildly out on to the walkway which featured weeds of various sizes protruding from beneath the stone. Some of the windows on the first and second floors had been smashed and many of the bricks seemed to have been somehow blown to pieces, debris littering certain areas along the overgrown grass. As the three began to walk towards the gate, Harry was amazed at how different the house of Malfoy looked compared with his last visit. Even though Harry had not paid astute attention to the house’s features on that unfortunate stay, it was clearly apparent how far the house had sunk in to utter uncared-for decay since then.

‘What this place really needs is a house-elf. Too bad you freed him, eh Harry?’ Ron asked quietly as the three Aurors walked through the iron gate and set off towards the manor. Harry smiled back, thinking fondly of the Malfoy’s former house elf Dobby.

‘Be at the ready,’ Williamson whispered calmly. ‘I’m not exactly sure what to expect once we get inside.’

Williamson’s warning seemed to permeate through Harry and Ron, instantly making them rigid, subconsciously clasping their wands from the inside of their cloaks. As they approached the door, Williamson extended his arm to knock, holding his fist a few inches away from the door and pausing.

‘When we do talk to Draco... don’t wait for my lead. I have the feeling that the two of you will be the difference in convincing Draco to join our side.’

Before Harry could reply, Williamson knocked on the door three times. Harry’s heart rose to his throat as he heard footsteps slowly make their way to the door. After a moment’s pause, Harry heard the lock of the door click, the heavy door slowly opening.

‘Who’s there and what do you want?’ a man’s voice whispered very directly. Harry noticed that the sun was beginning to disappear now.

‘Name is Williamson. I work for the Ministry of Magic, Auror Department.’ Harry could sense the man stiffen at Williamson’s response, especially when he mentioned his occupation. ‘We wish to see Draco Malfoy.’ The door opened an inch or two more. Nothing was said for a few seconds.

‘Whose there with you?’ the voice finally asked.

‘This is Mr. Weasley and Mr. Potter,’ Williamson said, arching his head slightly in an effort to look inside the house through the crack of the door. As if the man had sensed this, the door closed suddenly with a sharp crack. Harry looked over at Ron, Williamson looking straight ahead rigidly and unmoving.

Just then, catching both Harry and Ron off guard, the door swung open quickly. Standing on the threshold was a man of average height, a dark cloak encompassing his body. He had long dark hair tied in to a long pony tail, a fairly large nose and eyes like small pieces of coal. He surveyed the Aurors, Harry following the man’s eyes and eventually, locking himself in a stare with the dark cloaked man.

‘Mr. Malfoy has agreed to see the three of you... briefly...’ he said, placing emphasis on his last word. Williamson stepped past the man who was now holding open the door, Harry and Ron following closely behind. The man closed the door sharply. ‘Follow me.’

The inside of the house mirrored the manor’s outside image. So much dust had been collected on the tops of the little end tables that it looked as if a calm, soft snowfall had somehow taken place indoors. The man led them down the grand hallway after taking an immediate left, guiding them in to an adjacent drawing room. Harry was being extra careful to watch his step; he could barely see his feet in front of him in the pitch black darkness, only a few orange rays of daylight making their presence felt through the mostly closed shutters. Luckily, a couple of worn down candles had been lit, enveloping the drawing room in its faint glow. Then, from somewhere in the near darkness, Harry heard a voice.

‘Bernard,’ it said softly. Harry recognized it instantly. Though it sounded distant and weak, Harry knew that the voice belonged to Draco Malfoy. Sure enough, as Harry scanned the leather couches, he could make out the figure of Draco. Not taking his eyes off of him, Harry found his way to a leather seat on the opposite side of the coffee table, Williamson and Ron sharing a much larger sofa beside him.

No one spoke. After surveying the scene for a few moments, Bernard left the room with a hesitant nod at the indication of Malfoy. Though Malfoy had not looked at Harry since the time he had entered the room, Harry was fixated on his former Hogwarts nemesis. His appearance looked disheveled, his eyes very red and his hair looked somewhat thin and overly greasy. He was not looking at anything in particular, staring someplace between Williamson and Ron, not wavering in his stare. The silence of the room was growing louder and louder by the second, Harry wanting to say something just to stop the nearly overwhelming tension.

‘As you’ve probably guessed, we are from the Ministry of Magic’s Auror Department,’ Williamson said calmly not taking his eyes off Draco. ‘My name is Henry Williamson. This here – as I’m sure you know – is Harry Potter and beside me, Ronald Weasley.’

Draco barely moved, slightly nodding his head as a twang of loathing crept on to his face.

‘I hope that we have found you in good health Mr. Malfoy,’ Williamson continued.

‘I’m fine,’ Draco spat softly. Harry was drawn to Draco’s face as if he had drunken a love potion of Draco Malfoy’s essence. It was not because Draco was nearly the only thing Harry could make out in the extreme darkness, but because of the obvious wall that his former classmate had seemingly erected.

‘Just fine?’ Williamson continued with a hint of playfulness. ‘Being “fine” is not an emotion nor a state of health, but rather a simple declaration of one’s own reluctant acceptance with their situation.’

‘And what situation am I in?’

‘Well, I’m not sure if I know enough to speak on your behalf Mr. Malfoy, but regardless, having understood a little about your hardships, you now understand why I good-naturedly asked of your wellness.’ Draco took his time before responding flatly.

‘I’m... besieged with joy.’

Williamson looked down in to his lap, letting out a short, whispery laugh. He shook his head as if to reset himself.

‘I do apologize for taking up the bulk of your evening Mr. Malfoy – times at the Ministry are... how should I put this... interesting, to say the least.’

‘How much longer are we going to play games, Auror?’ Draco said suddenly, briefly looking directly at Williamson for the first time. ‘You come to my home unannounced – the least you could do is get down to your business or come back another time.’

Though he was not showing it in his expression, Harry could see the anger boiling underneath the surface of Draco. Williamson eyed Draco playfully, putting his hands on his knees as he spoke again.

‘Very well. Do you have any idea why we’re here?’ Williamson pressed softly. Draco’s eyes flashed in Williamson’s direction again before resuming his stare in to nothingness. After a few moments that felt like much longer than what they actually were, Draco kissed his teeth before speaking very hoarsely and coldly, seemingly putting great thought in to every word he spoke.

‘Well I’m not a Seer, so obviously there is no way of me knowing... but if I were to hazard a guess, I would think it would have something to do with my... er... position.’ Draco still did not look at Harry as he spoke softly with a hint of sarcasm and annoyance. Still not wavering in his sitting position, Draco’s eyes met Williamson’s as he tilted his head slightly to one side. ‘I assume you have heard of the bowtruckle before?’

Harry was surprised at the change of pace. Williamson, however, seemed to be amused, firmly locked in his stare that Draco was now reciprocating. Williamson smiled slightly before responding.

‘Yeah. I have Mr. Malfoy.’

‘I thought so. As you know, the bowtruckle is a small, insect-eating tree-dwelling creature,’ Draco began, speaking in a low voice at a drawn out, meticulous pace. ‘Now, as well as its appetite for the insects found inside a certain tree, additionally, the bowtruckle unconsciously feasts upon the tree itself and all of the nutrients that enables it to grow. It feeds and depends on the tree so greatly, that gradually, the tree begins to decompose and eventually, it ultimately ceases to be. But here is the ironic and interesting part. The bowtruckle will defend its tree to any human wishing to chop it down in order to produce lumber or wood used in wand-making, defending it to such a great extent that it will aggressively and violently fight off any intruder. Funny... the bowtruckle will defend the very thing that they themselves are slowly killing, using it only for its own personal gain. It does not care one bit for the tree, but only for the resource that the tree is to them. In the end, the only thing that the bowtruckle should be defending their tree from... is themselves. I tell you this because bowtruckles – in my experience – are in no way different than Aurors. Feasting upon the tree –’ Draco indicated himself, ‘and not caring one bit about it until finally, the tree is destroyed forever... the bowtruckle venturing off to a different tree; the process starting anew. See if a tree is ever to live their life the way they want it – without pain, torment or untimely death – then associating themselves with a bowtruckle is something that they... that I can’t... and won’t do.’

No one spoke nor moved a muscle for a few moments, the flickering candle illuminating Draco’s pale face. Harry had never remembered Draco act in such a way in all of the years he had known him; even when he was under strict and constant pressure from the Death Eaters and Voldemort himself, Draco seemed to crack, nowhere near this calm, cold and calculating demeanor that he was putting forth.

‘Very well,’ Williamson said softly. ‘I see there is no way in convincing you... but if I may... my superior would be quite cross with me if I told him – after coming all this way – that I arrived yet did not even tell you what I have been instructed to propose this evening. So... if you will indulge me?’

Draco retracted, still not even acknowledging that Harry and Ron were in the room. Draco’s audible exhale was apparently the signal that meant that Williamson could continue.

‘I look at you Mr. Malfoy... your most recent past, your family and their connections... and the first thing that comes to mind is your extraordinary predicament and place in this post-Voldemort world that we are so fortunate to live in. To clarify... an ex-Death Eater, proven to be guilty of such a charge, being free to live as they please. It’s not something that many – if any – ex-Death Eaters can boast about.’

Williamson surveyed Draco carefully. Harry, having come to know Draco over the years, could see the first few signs of anger rise up from his heart to his face, but surprisingly, Draco kept that anger repressed when he spoke.

‘My mother... she took the fall for me. Because my crimes were – in the minds of the Ministry – minor... my mother’s presence in Azkaban sufficed their need for two Malfoys to be captured.’

‘I’m aware,’ Williamson responded stiffly. Harry saw Draco’s head sink, his eyes unfocused for a moment as if he was about to pass out, his chest rising and falling at a quicker pace in the candlelight. Harry could sense what Williamson was methodically doing. ‘But to continue... we are here today to offer you a chance at redemption. The Death Eaters in their current form are on their last legs. Though they are resilient, their group in sheer numbers is minor. However, being devoted to catching Death Eaters for years now, I know that it is foolish to judge a Death Eater’s strength on volume alone. That is why we need your help. We need your help to infiltrate the Death Eaters and to see what they are planning. They are becoming increasingly difficult to track. A detrimental factor in there being so few Death Eaters left is that there are far less leads to go on. I promise that you will be properly rewarded for your help to the Aurors.’

‘Help? You want my help?’ Draco asked somewhat incredulously and with a more aggressive tone. ‘I don’t care for any personal redemption Auror, I assure you. And another thing, what makes you think I can just stroll in to a Death Eater’s meeting and fit right in again? Even if I knew where to look for them, you can’t just expect them to allow me right back in to the fold after all that has happened!’

Draco was breathing heavily now though he had still not met the eye of Harry as if Harry had secretly put on his invisibility cloak and not known it. Williamson shifted in his seat so that his head was now closer to Draco’s as he leaned out over the coffee table. Hearing something from behind him, Harry turned his head slightly and saw that Bernard had now re-entered the room.

‘We know that you’ve been contacted by the Death Eaters Draco,’ Williamson said softly yet with force, forgetting the use of his surname this time. ‘If I wanted, I could bring you in to the Ministry for questioning right now, but I hope to avoid such un-pleasantries with you.’

‘That’s right, threaten away,’ Draco said coldly. ‘You have nothing to threaten me with. See, you can’t threaten someone who has nothing left to lose.’

‘It is not my intension for us to bring you in to the Ministry,’ Williamson said quickly and firmly. ‘Having you appear at the Ministry will be picked up by the Prophet and that sort of publicity is crippling to our efforts to have you remain incognito. But I have to disagree with your last statement. Nothing to lose? Draco... people like you have everything to lose.’

Draco put his head in to his hands as he let out a long muffled sigh. Harry turned to look at Ron who was eying Draco with a mix of pity, anger and sorrow. When Draco looked back up again, Harry could see the tears beginning to form in the corners of his bloodshot eyes.

‘You have no idea what it’s like!’ Draco exclaimed, his frowning face twitching as if it was taking a great strength to suppress his emotion. ‘The guilt... that comes with knowing that your parents are slowly dying when you know it should be you in there with them and not off scot-free!’ Draco shook his head, the anger in his face turning to a look of fear and of loss. ‘I-I don’t know how often I’ve thought about going back to when I was younger... wishing I could tell myself and my parents to just... just... stop! To tell them to just move away from all of it! By the time they wanted out it was too late! And then you come in here... wanting me to help the Aurors who sealed our fates that we started all those years ago? Wanting me to return to the Death Eaters – the thing that destroyed my life forever? You do not understand and you will never understand...’

Harry had never heard Draco talk like that with such raw emotion and regret before. To him, it did not seem real; the words that Draco spoke did not match the face that was speaking them. And as he thought this, all of a sudden, as if a bolt of lightning had struck him in the head, Harry’s feelings changed towards Draco. Though he had spent most of his life hating him, something inside Harry seemed to be reaching out at Draco as if for the first time in their lives, the Gryffindor and the Slytherin were not so different after all, even if it was in just a small, insignificant way.

‘You think that you’re the only one?’ Harry found the words escaping his mouth before he even realized it. Draco looked up slightly at the sound of Harry’s voice but did not meet Harry’s stare, still looking out at nothing in particular. ‘You think that you’re the only one who has lost any sort of connection with their parents? How about having your parents – your only family – killed by a madman! And on top of that... having it be entirely your fault!’

Ron was looking at Harry wide-eyed while Williamson solemnly looked down in to his lap as Harry roared. He was bubbling over in anger and frustration at the sight of Malfoy who was now beginning to quiver.

‘Save it!’ Draco said sharply, still not looking at Harry. ‘Don’t try to sell me with your sob story now Potter! You’ve been surrounded by hundreds over the years, bending over backwards for you, interested in you, liking and admiring you without even meeting. I’ve had none of that! I’ve been here alone being constantly ignored unless it concerns the gain of others! You’ve got friends who are practically family – I’ve got none of it! Nothing like the famous Harry Potter ever had!’

‘Then that is why you must help us! Set your mistakes and your family’s mistakes right – get your family out of Azkaban so you can live out the rest of your life without being alone!’ Harry was on the edge of his seat, glancing sideways slightly as he saw Bernard pass by him on his left. Draco shook his head as Harry pressed on. ‘There’s no use sitting and getting angry about it. Trust me, if there was an opportunity for me to get my family back, I would take it... but there isn’t... not for me anyway. But there is one for you. You have it much better than you think so stop sulking about it! Don’t you want to get back at the Death Eaters? We are so close to ending them forever – what better way to erase your family’s mistakes then by –’

‘SHUT UP POTTER!’ yelled Draco. ‘You have no right to speak of my family in that way!’

‘Now Draco, there’s no need to scream – let’s all keep our heads here –’ Williamson began slowly before being interrupted by Draco again.

‘NO! No dirty half-blood is obliged to talk ill of my family – not in the house they built!’

Draco was quivering violently now. Having made it to the side of the sofa where Draco was sitting, Bernard looked down upon him, eyeing Harry intensely. Tears began to cascade down Draco’s face, his whimpers making up the only noise in the otherwise quiet drawing room. Finally, by the time Harry had thought of what to say, Draco spoke, but this time he spoke much more clearly and softer than before.

‘Why’d you have to save me, Potter...’ Draco whimpered. Draco looked up and for the first time, Draco’s wet eyes locked on to Harry’s and suddenly, much of the frustration that Harry had built up inside concerning the brooding Malfoy began to dissipate. ‘I should have died in that fire in the Room of Requirement... Then at least I wouldn’t be in your debt. J-Just the idea of owing you of all people a life debt... is overwhelming.’

‘Well...’ Harry began after swallowing, meeting the cold, red-tinged eyes of Draco, ‘you can call us even if you help us now. If there was a way for me to get rid of my guilt... to get my Mum and Dad back... I’d do it – whatever it is. For you... that thing is ridding the world of the Death Eaters – once and for all. Then you’ll be glad that I saved you from the fire... Because then... then we can redeem our parents and... redeem ourselves.’

All of a sudden Harry felt hot, his eyes stinging as his mind wandered to thoughts of his long deceased parents. He looked at Draco, almost hearing the voice inside Draco’s mind mulling over his options. Williamson sat back, putting his fingers to his mouth as he examined Draco. Bernard looked most unsettled as he looked from Draco to Harry, his eyes widening by the second.

‘No... no, no, no, no, no...’ Draco muttered to himself. With each word he grew more intense, speaking louder and louder. ‘No, I can’t do this... it’s not right. No. No! NO!’

Draco stood up so fast that the wind from his movement ruffled Harry’s already messy hair. Swiftly, Draco removed his wand, pointing it squarely at Harry’s head. Half a second later, Williamson was on his feet as well, pointing his wand at Draco. Bernard jumped back a few paces, clumsily retrieving his wand and aiming it at Williamson while Ron had his wand firmly intended at Bernard.

‘Don’t even try it!’ Draco said loudly as Harry went for his own wand. ‘I’ll curse you so fast you won’t even know what hit you!’

‘Calm down Draco! This won’t end well if you go through with it!’

‘Oh, I have no intention of this going well, Williamson. I’ve put a lot of thought in to it.’

‘Malfoy! Lower your wand and aim it away from Harry! NOW!’ Ron said forcefully.

‘Oh, Weasley. True, Gryffindors are known for their bravery... but they’ve always lacked a certain... intelligence.’

‘Put it away Malfoy,’ Harry said slowly. ‘This doesn’t bring your parents back from Azkaban... it doesn’t help you get any sort of revenge!’

‘That’s where you’re wrong Potter! This is the first step in me getting my revenge!’

Harry’s heart was beating very fast. Harry knew Williamson wanted to jinx Draco right away, but he knew Bernard would conjure up his own killing curse the moment that Williamson opened his mouth to speak the incantation. It was all too risky. Harry had no ideas of what to do. He had thought that he was making progress in convincing Draco to help the Aurors but it seemed that he could not have been more wrong.

‘Are you ready Potter?’ Draco said viciously. Breathing very fast, Harry found no words to say to his adversary. Draco opened his mouth, lifting his wand to strike.

It all happened very fast. Draco span around on the spot, aiming his wand directly at Bernard and yelling ‘Stupefy!’. The curse knocked Bernard back into a side table, shattering the glass. A large cloud of dusty smoke rose around the unconscious Bernard as he lay motionless on the floor.

‘He’s a Death Eater,’ Draco said quietly as he slid his wand back in to his pocket. ‘I could not let him see that I agreed to help you. Breathing a sigh of relief, Ron put his wand away, Williamson leaving his out as he checked on Bernard.

‘Good thinking,’ Williamson replied. ‘We’ll get some of our people to drink some Polyjuice Potion in order to impersonate Bernard and maintain the illusion that he has been unharmed. We’ll have to question you to learn as much as possible about him.’

‘Naturally,’ Draco said coldly. He gave Harry a curt and very brief nod before looking at Bernard once more.

‘Ron you should get the body back to the Auror Department immediately – he’ll be knocked out for at least an hour,’ Williamson said. Ron gulped and looked over at Harry but nodded his head firmly to indicate to Williamson that he understood. ‘Take the portkey from the Leaky Cauldron back – Harry and I will go back through the main entrance. Oh... and that was an impressive Stunning Spell Mr. Malfoy.’ Draco nodded as he sat back down on the sofa.

Clutching the body of Bernard with one hand and the broken glass portkey with the other, Ron vanished from view, Harry giving him one final pat on the back before he left. Harry drew his attention to Draco who once again was staring at nothing in particular. The voice of Williamson drew Harry out of his long fixation upon his former enemy turned ally.

‘We’ll be in close contact with each other,’ Williamson said as he stood across from Draco. ‘Until we meet again in a couple weeks, I suggest you lay low and try to maintain normalcy. Tell the Death Eaters if they come knocking what transpired here – leaving out that you have agreed to help us of course. We’ll have a Bernard impersonator along in a couple days and you can then educate him further. Once we have a more concrete plan in place, I will return and we can go over further details then.’

‘Alright then,’ Draco said simply, glancing between Williamson and Harry but being sure not to focus on either one of them for too long. ‘I’m guessing I’ll be unable to get my family out of Azkaban until after your plan has been carried through... but I will not continue on unless I get a normal visitation schedule.’ Williamson nodded.

‘Don’t worry... you’ll have your family back again soon. You made a wise choice today Mr. Malfoy.’

With that, Williamson smiled, nodded again and left the room, Harry stealing one more exchange with Draco before following his mentor.

It was not until nearly twenty minutes later – after Harry and Williamson had apparated back to London and had flushed themselves in to the Ministry – that Harry finally spoke to his Unit Head once more. He had been taking in the meeting the entire time and still Harry was shocked and surprised at what had just transpired. Having sensed that Williamson was deep in thought as well, Harry was having trouble finding the right moment to ask a question that he had no answer for. Finally, as the golden gate of the lift opened to allow them on to the second floor of the Ministry, Harry asked it.

‘Sir, er... how do we know that we can trust him?’

‘We don’t,’ Williamson said simply. ‘That’s why it’s going to be a gradual process. Once we have a firm confidence in Draco, then – and only then – can we put our plan in to action. But as you saw, when you have something over a person that they are desperately clamoring for... it makes the issue of trust all the more easy...’

‘What are those plans?’ Harry pressed curiously as they entered the Auror Department. Williamson smiled as they began to descend the steps.

‘In time it will be much clearer.’ Harry nodded his head and began to walk towards his cubicle but he was pulled back at Williamson’s calling voice. ‘Oh and Potter. You did an excellent job in there. Not that this is ground-breaking in any way but... you’re well on your way to being an excellent Auror. I think it’s just a matter of –’

A bright flash of blue light forced Harry to shield his eyes momentarily, opening his eyes to see Williamson’s body seemingly being quickly pulled by an invisible rope, tossing him across the room and crashing against the pensieves on the far side of the room. Standing about thirty feet away was Crawford, the wizard Harry had encountered earlier that day, his wand outstretched and a sadistic smile crossing his face. Before Harry could take it all in, another bright flash of blue light erupted from Crawford’s wand, Harry hitting the floor of the Department as he avoided the spell. For a moment, though he could see the images in front of him moving in a sort of slow motion, he could not hear anything that was going on. It was as if he had almost gone deaf, a distant ringing being the only thing Harry could hear.

A barrage of Aurors opened fire on Crawford, each of their stunning spells bouncing off the shielding charm he had cast around himself. Harry looked up to see Crawford cast a killing curse at a couple of Aurors, seeing an Auror named Doncaster yelling and pushing them out of the way just before the spell connected with their bodies. Crawford was walking towards Harry with his wand outstretched as he cast countless spells around the Department which flipped over cubicles, knocking over many unprepared Aurors. Crawford was laughing a cackle that seemed to make Harry’s mind go numb. Fumbling in his pockets as Harry looked for his wand, he seemed unable to concentrate any further, rapidly growing nauseous and lightheaded to the point of passing out...
 
 


Chapter 11: Secrets and Stealing
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

‘Keep drinking that Harry! You’re not going to feel any better unless you finish the entire goblet!’

‘But it tastes like... vomit... Hermione...’ Harry replied, eyeing his goblet with a look of utmost dislike.

Harry was sitting at the kitchen table of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, still not entirely sure how he had got there in the first place. He could remember a number of disjointed, flashing images and he could even recall walking on his own accord, but his memory was foggy to say the least. Ron was in the process of informing Harry of what had happened while Ginny was helping Kreacher with the dishes, eyeing Harry every other second out of concern.

‘Anyway, I heard a lot of yelling and commotion coming from the Auror Office so I rushed out to see what was going on. That’s when I saw Crawford walking towards you, Harry. I hit him with a Stunning Spell just after you were knocked out. Good thing I had to look after Bernard – I would have been affected by his curse as well if I had come with you and Williamson.’

‘Yeah, that curse...’ Harry said after painfully downing the rest of the concoction Hermione had made for him, remembering the bright blue light. ‘I’ve still got no idea what it was he was casting – I’ve never seen that before.’

‘It was a very advanced type of dark magic,’ Hermione jumped in. ‘The Disorientation Curse. It makes all living things in the general vicinity severely dizzy and nauseous, eventually knocking them out entirely. It really is a wonder that Crawford was able to cast it while under the Imperius Curse. Whoever was in control of Crawford must be a really powerful witch or wizard.’ Suddenly, Harry remembered something.

‘Williamson! Is he alright?’

‘Yeah, he’s fine,’ Ron answered. ‘He’ll have to spend a couple weeks in the hospital wing, but his Healers say he will make a full recovery.’

‘So that Crawford... he was under the Imperius Curse,’ Ginny exclaimed from the sink as she flicked her wand at the hovering wash cloth, signaling it to stop. ‘Whoever put that Auror under the Imperius Curse must be the same person who poisoned those snacks in the lounge.’ Harry nodded as Ginny pulled up a chair beside him.

‘I still can’t figure out how intruders are bypassing the security at the Ministry though,’ Hermione said softly. ‘The only way I can think of someone evading Fudge’s security is if they somehow –’

‘ – entered into the Auror Office directly? Yeah. I’ve put some thought in to that,’ Harry finished.

‘You’re not still going on about Mosteban are you mate?’ asked Hermione.

‘Well of course I am! He’s one of the very few who has access to the Auror Department’s Floo Network, we saw him in the lounge right before that Auror was poisoned and if you remember Ron, Mosteban was calling Aurors in to his office right before we left for Malfoy’s – and he met with Crawford then too! He could have jinxed him during their meeting!’ Hermione opened her mouth to retort but found no words to combat Harry’s.

‘Well... I guess there’s no looking around that is there...’ Ron said slowly. ‘You know... I think Harry’s right Hermione. I mean how do we know Mosteban is truly on our side?’ Hermione eyed him with a look of disbelief.

‘Ronald! Mosteban is the Head Auror! You can’t seriously be thinking that he is some sort of traitor!’

‘But why not?’ Harry responded pleadingly. ‘He was appointed that position at a very dark time. He keeps a pretty low profile... Maybe there’s more to him than what everyone thinks.’

‘There are so many possibilities, Hermione,’ Ginny said conclusively. ‘If I were you, I’d be keeping my eyes open around Mosteban you two.’ Harry could not help but smile; having Ginny back up his suspicions was something he was not accustomed to. He had always dealt with only Ron and Hermione in the past about these sorts of things but nevertheless, he welcomed this change of dynamic.

‘Well, I’m glad you’re alright Harry,’ said a slightly frustrated Hermione.

‘Yeah I’m OK too. I only saved Harry’s life today, that’s all.’ Ron stretched out his arms in front of him indicating Harry who nodded and smiled in thanks.

‘Oh, shut up Ronald,’ Hermione said, getting up from the table and pulling out her purse.

‘Yes I’m glad too because I’ve got something exciting to share,’ a smiling Ginny said. ‘Next weekend, the Harpies are having a – what are you doing Hermione?’

‘We’re out of bread and a few other things,’ Hermione said curtly as she strode across the kitchen, a few sickles in her hand.

‘Kreacher can do that can’t he?’ said Ron through a yawn. ‘Come sit down with the rest of us ‘Mione...’

‘Just because Kreacher can does not mean we can sit on our lazy you-know-what’s and not pitch in... he’s not a slave, he’s part of the family,’ Hermione called cheerily, smiling at Kreacher who responded with his own, over-the-top smile. Ron rolled his eyes as he put his hands behind his head, propping his feet up on the long oak kitchen table.

‘Oh, we need some flour too if you wouldn’t mind Hermione,’ Ginny called from the far end of the table. ‘Kreacher and I attempted to make my Mum’s strawberry and rhubarb pie the other day. Needless to say I don’t think I’ve got a knack for baking like Mum does. Isn’t that right Kreacher?’ Kreacher continued to smile, holding out his hands in front of him that – upon close inspection from Harry – were heavily bandaged.

‘The bleeding has mostly stopped now Mistress Ginevra!’ the house-elf squeaked, happily gliding out of the kitchen, his head bobbing back and forth as he hummed a tune.

‘Er, yeah. When we ruined the first pie attempt Kreacher stuck his hands on the burner as a way of self-punishment. I had to douse him with stream after stream of water just to get him to let go. He’s got a deceivingly strong grip...’ Harry chuckled as Hermione bent down to the small fireplace in the corner of the kitchen, tossing a small handful of Floo powder in to the flickering flames that roared to life in a flash of emerald.

‘Two loaves of bread, one bag of flour and a fruit basket please!’ she said clearly in to the flames, tossing the sickles in to the fireplace. After a moment of waiting, out of the fire came Hermione’s order, putting the basket, bag of flour and loaves of bread on the side table and closing the fireplace’s two small iron doors as the emerald flames disappeared.

‘Back to what I was saying,’ Ginny began, Hermione quickly putting away the items and flicking her wand at the tea kettle that instantly started to boil its water. ‘The Harpies are having a Christmas party next weekend and Davis wants all of you to attend! The Weird Sisters are performing and there’s supposed to be a fifty meter long buffet table!’

‘Well, I’m sold. How about you Harry? Hermione?’ Ron said gleefully.

‘It would really mean a lot to me if you came,’ Ginny replied eagerly at Ron’s acceptance.

‘Of course we’ll come Ginny, don’t be silly!’ said Hermione. Harry nodded his head in agreement, but as Ron began to ask Ginny of all the famous Quidditch players that may be in attendance at the party, Harry’s mind strangely drifted to the perfect smile of Davis. Harry laughed to himself as he imagined himself discreetly setting Davis’ perfectly manicured hair on fire.

‘Well, I guess I should write to Mum and Dad,’ Ginny sighed after talk of the Harpies’ party had died down. ‘If I wait until tomorrow to update them on Harry they’d have a panic attack. I’m almost shocked they haven’t made a surprise visit yet...’ Ginny pecked Harry on the cheek and immediately yawned, stretching her arms over her head. ‘These practices are killing me... I should be home for dinner tomorrow night though. Goodnight.’

‘Night, Gin,’ Harry replied as he watched her exit the kitchen.

‘Well, at least we all get the weekend off,’ said Ron softly through the silence of the kitchen, Hermione pouring a small bit of milk in to her tea.

‘Yeah, you two get it off being heroes... I on the other hand, get it off because my department believes that I’m unproductive. Can you believe that?! Me – unproductive? I’ve profiled more endangered creatures for my report that is seeking to construct protected habitats free of wizard poaching than the rest of the department combined. And on top of that –’

‘Alright Hermione I love you and all, but time for bed I think,’ Ron said, his head tilted back and his eyes closed. Harry could see that this had been a topic of conversation that Ron had apparently been through countless times before. Still, having not conversed with Hermione about it as many times as Ron had, Harry could relate to her being frustrated with her new job at the Ministry having just went through similar circumstances last year.

‘Hmmm. Yeah. You’re right Ron. Best not get worked up about it again right before bed,’ Hermione said quietly, though as evidenced by Hermione aggressively setting down her mug of tea on the kitchen table (at least half of its contents spilling over the edge and on to the table in the process) Harry could tell that Hermione was still frustrated about the subject.

‘What are you doing with your weekend off, Harry? You remember Hermione and I are off to Madame Richard’s Witch and Wizard Fashion Festival at Primpernelle Square on Saturday?’ Ron smiled very widely at Hermione as she looked towards him with an excited smile of her own. However, when Hermione was busy mopping up her spilt tea, Ron made a gesture to Harry that involved Ron taking his own wand, placing it near his head and quite theatrically falling back on to the oak table noiselessly.

‘Er, well...’ Harry said as he tried to stifle his own laughter, Hermione looking at him with a look of utmost seriousness. ‘I’m actually thinking of visiting an old friend.’

‘Sounds great Harry,’ Ron replied, now upright again. ‘You have a good time doing that, alright mate? Just be thinking of me looking at dresses and dress robes and funny little hats and fluffy undergarments and –’

‘Oh Ron, I won’t make it that painful for you. We’ll have a good time, I promise.’ Hermione playfully slapped Ron on the shoulder as she strode over to the kitchen sink.

‘I know we will Hermione,’ Ron replied seriously, hugging her from behind for a moment before retreating from the kitchen altogether.

‘Wish I could have a day with Ginny over the weekend,’ Harry said softly once Ron’s echoing footsteps had disappeared.

‘Oh Harry, I know. This doesn’t help things but... it’s really a good test of your relationship. Seeing each other as sparingly as you two do but still maintaining your relationship really shows how strong you two are. And trust me, she’s really looking forward to going to the party with you.’ Harry tilted his head as he looked at Hermione fondly. There was something about her that always made Harry feel better about the situation he was in.

‘You’re going to tire him out... aren’t you?’ Harry asked good-naturedly to which Hermione nodded. ‘Once your day of shopping is finished he’ll barely be awake for dinner Saturday night, I reckon.’

‘Yeah... if he makes it to dinner that is.’ Harry shared one last laugh with Hermione before extinguishing the flickering flames of the candles, putting his arm around his friend as they thought of the weekend ahead.


****


Harry had to put thoughts of his weekend plans on hold as the next morning he found himself back at work again. Upon arriving at the Ministry the next morning, Harry was mobbed by various groups of witches and wizards, some genuinely concerned for Harry’s well being after yesterday’s attack while others merely snuffed and walked away when they saw that he was perfectly fine. The fact that Harry was being congratulated by many passers-by for putting an end to Crawford’s rampage slightly frustrated Ron, but he was still taking it in good spirits even though he was the one who should be congratulated.

‘Once a hero always a hero, eh Harry?’ Ron sad joyfully as he watched yet another group of witches point up at Harry, that morning’s edition of the Daily Prophet clutched at their side. ‘Even if you were on the floor passed out, perhaps seconds away from a terrible fate... you’re still everyone’s hero!’

‘The ruddy Prophet probably thinks it would make a better headline if I was mentioned somewhere in it... no offence or anything,’ a frustrated Harry replied as he and Ron joined one of the long lines that was waiting to be inspected by Fudge’s security.

‘None taken. You can have all the gawkers you want, doesn’t bother me any.’ Ron laughed as he watched a particularly short, old-looking witch speak in a language that Harry could not understand, hugging his waist line as she smiled her toothy grin before moving away from them.

‘Quiet you,’ Harry joked through an embarrassed smile, shoving Ron just enough to knock him off balance. He recovered just in time to avoid colliding with a nearby witch who eyed Ron crossly at his seemingly strange behavior.

The massive Atrium at the Ministry was packed full of anxious witches and wizards who wanted nothing more than to begin their day of work. A couple of wizards behind Harry and Ron were especially frustrated, Harry overhearing their conversation.

‘What’s the point of all this ‘ere if people are gonna be cursed just as often as they had before this was put in place?’ the first voice said gruffly.

‘Well actually, it seems as if witches and wizards are being attacked at an accelerated pace after these restrictions were implemented,’ said the second wizard pompously.

‘Don’t know ‘bout you Thomas... but I wonder if all of this would be going on if Kingsley Shackelbolt was the man running the Ministry. He was an Auror y’know.’

‘I’ve always said that we need to keep our faith in Fudge. But now, even I must admit that if things do not improve soon... perhaps a change might be in order...’ The second wizard whispered the last part of his response as he (like Harry and Ron had) noticed that a Ministry official dressed in flawless purple robes was walking towards them.

‘Potter. Weasley. The Minister of Magic would like the two of you to meet him in his office – immediately.’ Harry and Ron eyed the tall, bearded official curiously, glancing at each other briefly after he had finished his announcement.

‘And why does Mr. Fudge want to meet with the two of us for?’ replied Harry with a hint of mocking in his voice.

‘The Minister did not tell me why – he only told me that the two of you must come as soon as possible. It is urgent.’ With that, the official turned and weaved his way through the line of people, Harry and Ron following the official to the chagrin of many of the Ministry employees in line.

‘Hey! Why do they get to bypass the line!?’ a particularly plump witch called.

‘Margaret! That’s Harry Potter!’ her thin companion said awe-struck.

‘Well Harry Potter or no Harry Potter, I’ve got a whole stack of portkey requests to go through today, including one for the Falmouth Falcons! Any Falconss fans around here? If you want your team to make it to their match against Puddlemere this weekend I suggest you all let me bypass you!’

Before they knew it, Harry and Ron along with the Ministry official had entered the lift that would take them down to the bottom level where the Minister’s office was. Neither of them said a word as the lift descended; curious looks and shakings of the head were the only things exchanged by Harry and Ron who were both coming up empty in their attempts to guess why Fudge had called them to his office.

‘This way please,’ the Ministry official said as he opened the gold gate to let the two of them out.

This floor was by far the most lavish of them all with the purple carpet outlined in gold placed over the wooden floor and the portraits of past Ministers of Magic lining the walls. The archways that formed every few feet were seamlessly woven in with the golden sculptures and architecture, the many oak doors each having their own nameplate off to the side which indicated whose office it was. At the end of the hallway was the Minister’s office, two oak doors with golden handles being guarded by two Ministry officials, one on either side. They nodded at the official as he stepped to the side, Harry and Ron momentarily standing still before the two doormen each opened their own respective door to let them inside.

Having been in this very office when Kingsley was still Minister, Harry was not in awe of the small office’s extremely high ceilings with very tall bookcases, the grand oak desk with the Ministry logo carved on to the front of it or the intricate architecture around the back window that magically showed a backdrop of a bright, snowy day. Nor was Harry interested in the various posters that Fudge had put up of himself, including a framed Prophet front page headlining Fudge’s recent election victory and a golden framed portrait of himself dressed in vibrant emerald robes, his hair ruffling in the breeze as he looked confidently out in to the distance. No, Harry was focused on Fudge who was sitting in his great purple upholstered chair and on the man who flanked him; the Head of the Auror Department, his own boss, Mosteban. Mosteban looked unkempt; his beard was overgrown, his eyes swollen and his black hair was a mess and full of grease.

‘Take a seat Weasley... Potter,’ Fudge said forcefully, his face full of seriousness and focus as Harry and Ron obliged the Minister’s request. On the desk of the Minister was a small, crumpled package wrapped in brown paper, a couple of strings loosened around the outside of it.

‘What are we here for... Minister?’ Harry asked somewhat flatly, adding the last part to his sentence at the very last second after an eye-widening stare from Mosteban.

‘I’ll do the speaking Potter,’ Fudge said directly. ‘I’m a very busy man so I’ll make this short and sweet. If you’ve noticed, these attacks that have been taking place around the Ministry have one thing in common – you. Whether they take place in your presence or in your department, the common denominator is that they have all involved yourself in some way.’

‘Pardon me, Minister, but you can’t seriously be blaming the attacks on me... they are, after all, taking place at your Ministry...’ Fudge began to grow red in the face at Harry’s sarcastic response.

‘One more word out of you Potter and Mosteban here will suspend you before you can say “Impedimenta”.’ The Minister refocused himself, calming himself down before speaking once more. ‘This has gone on for far too long. Tomorrow, I am going to publicly propose to the public a special unit of my own choosing in order to protect the Ministry and all witches and wizards. A small... witch and wizard army if you will. That is, in fact, what I was talking to Mosteban here about... if the Aurors cannot stop the threat... then I will.’

Mosteban was not looking at the Minister, wearing a quite sour expression on his face. Harry could tell that Mosteban was furious with this news just as Harry was. Fudge seemed to take pleasure in the three Aurors’ disapproval, smiling a devious smile as he continued.

‘Furthermore... and this is the real reason why I’ve called the two of you here... I have passed a bill through the Wizengamot that gives the Ministry the authority to seize any suspicious incoming or outgoing mail in order to catch whoever are behind these attacks. Which brings me... to this.’ Fudge indicated the brown package that was sitting on his desk. Now that Harry had focused on it, he could see that something inside the package was glowing the faintest of glows.

‘There’s no address – just your name on it. Both Fudge and I have tried opening it to no avail, obviously,’ Mosteban growled.

Fudge ran his hand through his dirty blond hair, pointing at Ron and then the package. Understanding Fudge’s request, Ron carefully took the package in his hands, looking around for a moment before attempting to rip open the packaging. Ron looked up in shock; no matter how hard he tried he was unable to rip the packaging that seemed as if it was feet thick. Ron took out his wand but Fudge stopped him before he could open his mouth.

‘We’ve tried every charm or curse possible,’ he said frustrated, snatching the package from Ron’s hand once again, placing it in front of him on his desk. ‘Now Potter. Do something useful and tell us who you are corresponding with so mysteriously.’

‘I have no idea,’ Harry responded flatly and truthfully. Fudged kissed his teeth as he eyed down Harry who returned the stare. Fudge was the one to break it, kicking his chair back quickly and picking up the package roughly. He strode across the office, whipping open a small door that was slightly ajar in one of the back corners of the room. After he tossed the package in to the small opening, he slammed it shut, Harry hearing the locks magically click as Fudge – arms behind his back – began to pace the room once more.

‘I’ll be holding on to this, Potter. That is until we find a way to open it,’ Fudge threatened, seizing a small ring of keys from on top of the magical safe and sliding them in to his cloak pocket. ‘And if I find out you lied to me... if I discover you misled me in any way... I will not even bother to go to Mosteban – you will be terminated on the spot! Do you hear me?!’ Harry looked at Fudge expressionlessly speaking in the same vain.

‘Yes I do Minister. In the meantime, good luck in stopping these attacks with your... army, or whatever. For my sake, I hope you find out who’s doing this soon.’ Fudge stopped pacing at Harry’s words. He opened his mouth wide as if he was about to unleash all of his fury on Harry but nothing came out. Instead, growing dangerously scarlet in the face, Fudge looked away from the two of them.

‘Go. Leave us,’ he said simply and quietly. Harry and Ron did not overstay their welcome by a second, silently and quickly leaving the office, Mosteban and Fudge all behind.

‘That’s the second memory, Harry! It has to be!’ Hermione cried later that day after Harry and Ron told her about what happened inside Fudge’s office. The three had constantly talked about the meeting with Fudge from the moment they had met up at the Leaky Cauldron at the end of their day. Now, as they walked up to Number Twelve Grimmauld Place from the apparation point, conversation was now shifting to what they were going to do about it.

‘I know Hermione and he’s got it,’ Harry replied angrily. He wanted nothing more than to view the second memory; ever since he had viewed the first memory that featured his parents and Sirius, his mind had been extraordinarily curious to see the next, wondering who was sending them, what the memory meant and what clues would be embedded in the message.

‘We’ve got to get it back somehow. You know Fudge isn’t going to just hand it over,’ Ron stated as they crossed the street, a cold breeze touching their faces. Harry knew Ron was right.

‘We have to steal it. He’s got it kept in his office in some sort of safe.’ Harry saw his friends nod their heads, each resigned to their own thoughts of ways to steal back the memory that had been sent to Harry. Seeing his friends take his statement so smoothly, a brief thought entered Harry’s mind. Over the years, his friends had done some dangerous things with him, but funnily enough – compared to what they had accomplished before – stealing something from the Minister of Magic seemed rather routine, though as Harry thought, there was truthfully nothing routine about it.

‘Christmas Day. We’ve got to do it on Christmas Day,’ Hermione said suddenly and finally as they began to ascend the steps to Grimmauld Place. ‘The Ministry will be rather empty. From what you said and from what he’s said in the Prophet, he’ll be there. We can steal the keys, sneak in to the office and get back the memory.’

‘Yeah that sounds alright. Easier said than done though, Hermione,’ Ron said casually as he opened the door and let Harry and Hermione in.

‘Well obviously Ron. But it’s just logical – the Ministry is extremely busy around the holidays and there’s no sense in trying to sneak in to the Minister’s office around the busiest time of the year.’

‘How come they couldn’t open the package Hermione?’ Harry asked, remembering how hard Ron had tried. ‘Any ideas?’

‘No ideas. I know how,’ Hermione smiled as she hung up her coat in the closet. ‘Un-rippable parchment. It’s not used around here at all – it’s virtually unknown. The trees they use to make the parchment with grow only in the Amazon jungle... fifteen hundred galleons a pound for the bark, last time I heard.’

‘So how are any of us going to open it?’ Ron asked incredulously.

‘Well, Harry will be able to. Honestly you’re really lucky that they didn’t ask you to open. It would have been as easy as ripping through tin foil for you. See, only the person who the letter or package is addressed to is able to open it. That’s why it’s so valuable.’

‘Brilliant,’ Harry replied with a smile. ‘Whoever’s sending us these memories is an intelligent one.’

‘And a very rich one too, mate,’ added Ron.

‘Yeah. OK but how are we exactly going to steal –’

‘Talk about this later,’ Hermione interrupted, stopping Harry in his tracks. Footsteps were coming from the kitchen and a moment later, Harry saw who they belonged to. Mrs. Weasley – being closely followed by Mr. Weasley, George and Ginny – bounded out of the kitchen, taking Harry in her arms a second later.

‘So glad you’re alright dear!’ she said as she hugged him and moved on to Ron. ‘We don’t mean to intrude or anything, but we thought we’d pay our children a visit.’

‘You couldn’t have sent us an owl Mum?’ Ron asked through forceful kisses from Mrs. Weasley.

‘I’m your mother Ronald Weasley! I don’t need to send a letter! I’m sure you’ll be alright with the arrangements once you finish your roast beef dinner tonight though,’ Mrs. Weasley playfully smirked as Mr. Weasley clapped Harry on the back, guiding him in to the kitchen.

‘How was practice today Ginny?’ Harry asked as he sat down beside her. Ginny gave a short laugh.

‘Two wins and the team thinks they’re invincible. I’m sorry but wins over Tutshill and Caerphilly are hardly any reason to celebrate. We’ve got Puddlemere in a week and that’s going to be a real challenge. Davis thinks we can pull out a victory though.’

‘Davis thinks so eh? Well that’s good then,’ Harry said through gritted teeth.

‘I’m going to go freshen up – anything you need before I go Mrs. Weasley?’ Hermione asked politely.

‘Heavens no dear. You’ve had a hard day at work – you leave the cooking to me,’ Mrs. Weasley replied with a motherly smile as she waved her wand at the dishes which neatly assembled on the kitchen table.

‘Harry, Ron – this might be of some interest to you,’ Mr. Weasley said eagerly, fetching an edition of the Daily Prophet out of his pocket. ‘Page three.’ Harry opened the edition of the Prophet, Ron standing over him as he chomped on a biscuit. At the top of the page, Harry read the headline that told him all he needed to know.


FLAMEL’S VICTIMS WERE UNDER IMPERIUS CURSE, SAYS MINISTRY OFFICIAL


‘That curse is really going around,’ Ron said as he put the rest of his biscuit in to his mouth.

‘That’s good news for Flamel then, isn’t it?’ Harry asked openly. ‘If the men who he killed were under the Imperius curse, then he must have been defending himself. I bet the Death Eaters were the ones to Imperius Flamel’s victims – getting them to do their dirty work for them.’

‘If Flamel was defending himself though Harry, why would he still be on the run from the Ministry? I don’t deny that you may be right, but if he was so innocent he wouldn’t have fled the scene completely, now would he?’

‘Unless he doesn’t want to be found,’ Ginny said darkly.

‘A man his age... he won’t last out there for long unless he’s got someone to take care of him,’ said Mrs. Weasley gravely

Harry thought of Flamel for a while but once Mrs. Weasley’s brilliant cooking had been served, all thoughts of Flamel were wiped clean. He had a pleasant evening, enjoying dinner with the Weasleys while talking of their plans for the weekend, George’s joke shop and Mr. Weasley’s increased responsibilities at the Ministry. Still, as Harry crept in to bed that night, Harry only envisioned the safe inside Fudge’s office, desperately wanting to view the memory that it contained.


****


Once Harry woke the next morning, he quickly leaned over to see that Ron had already left his own bed. Hermione had undoubtedly wanted to get an early start. Not wanting to waste any of his own rare day off, Harry quickly got out of bed and dressed at a quick pace. He bounded down the stairs and entered the kitchen where he found that a plate of eggs, bacon and toast had already been made up for him. Sitting down at the table, he quickly began wolfing down his breakfast, noticing that a few letters had been left opened on the table.

Through a handful of toast and marmalade, Harry quickly browsed through a letter sent from Mr. Weasley which indicated that an Order meeting was to take place sometime after Christmas. Harry could not help but wonder if this meeting had been organized in some sort of accordance with the most recent attack at the Ministry.

Though it was the third such attack at the Ministry in a matter of months (including two inside the Auror Department of all places) Harry was still no closer in discovering the true goal of the attackers. In all of the years he had lived in the wizarding world, he had never experienced anything quite like this. He was astounded at the relative ease and frequency of these attacks, not being able to get over the fact that even with extreme precautions being put in place, the attacks were still continuing. No matter how hard he thought about it, he always kept coming back to Mosteban, convinced he had something to do with it.

Checking his watch, Harry stuffed the last bit of bacon in to his mouth, grabbed his jacket and quickly left Grimmauld Place. Carefully making sure that no one was watching, he crossed the street in to the heavily wooded area and apparated, finding his feet touch down upon snow once again a second later.

Harry began making his way down the hill, walking by Zonko’s Joke Shop and making his way in to the heart of the village. Hogsmeade was beginning to fill with Christmas shoppers, a light snowfall beginning on the chilly December morning. A few groups of happy magic-folk nodded enthusiastically when they noticed him, Harry smiling back as he appreciated the absence of elongated gawking on the part of the passers-by. A merry tune from a small five-piece band assembled outside the Three Broomsticks met Harry’s ear as he looked up at his former school, wondering what sort of classes were on at the moment or if there was a Quidditch match that Gryffindor’s team was preparing for. He strode past the Three Broomsticks and opened the door of the adjacent pub, the Hog’s Head, quickly stamping his feet on the mat to avoid traipsing any excess snow in to the pub. The tune that the band was playing was shut out by the closed wooden door, Harry all of a sudden feeling quite hot now that he was out of the cold.

‘What’ll it be stranger?’ called a voice Harry knew to be Aberforth’s. Harry saw the shadowed figure of Aberforth behind the bar; the rest of the pub was entirely empty.

‘Just a visit will do, if you’ve got the time,’ Harry replied cheerily, removing his jacket and making his way over to the bar. Aberforth laughed silently, quickly pouring a Butterbeer for Harry and setting it down in front of him.

‘How are you doing Harry? Well... apart from being attacked at the work-place, of course...’ Aberforth said slowly and with a hint of humor in his voice.

‘Never been better,’ Harry responded cheekily.

‘Guess you’re right – knowing what you’ve been through, if you’re not in some sort of danger it just wouldn’t seem normal, now would it?’ But Harry did not hear everything Aberforth was saying. He had just now noticed that something was terribly wrong with Aberforth’s face; his entire right side had changed to a ghastly purplish colour, his left eye featuring a fresh-looking cut underneath it. He looked as though he had been in particularly violent duel.

‘Aberforth! What happened!?’ Harry exclaimed, Aberforth’s smile fading as he turned away from Harry, shielding the right side of his face from view.

‘Nothing! Nothing at all,’ Aberforth said gruffly, turning his back to Harry.

‘You can’t seriously be telling me that there’s nothing wrong with you,’ Harry replied concernedly. ‘Are you alright?’

‘I’m fine. I’m sure this will clear up in the coming days.’

‘But how did it – who did this –’ Harry began but he was cut off by Aberforth who responded loudly.

‘Harry there are some things that I just can’t tell you! Not now anyway. Be understanding, boy. Please.’ Harry could see that Aberforth was serious, reluctantly nodding his head in agreement.

As Aberforth opened his mouth to speak, the door of the pub swung open, Harry catching a brief, icy breeze whip by his face before the door closed once again, shielding out the cold weather. A small man who was mumbling to himself limped over to one of the tables, clumsily pulled out one of the little wooden stools and after plopping himself down on to it, let his head hit the table with a loud bang. A moment later, the man was snoring.

‘That’s Horatio... he does this a few times per week. Don’t mind him, he’s harmless.’ Aberforth turned slowly and fully around to Harry who tried not to stare at Aberforth’s ghastly, discoloured face and long, deep cut.

‘Aberforth... did... did you know my parents at all? When you were in the Order last time, I mean.’ Harry could not help ask. He had been dreaming of his parents and their role in the first memory for the past few nights, ever since Fudge had taken what was surely the second memory away from him. He wanted nothing more than to view the stolen memory and see if it contained anything else regarding his parents. Additionally, having seen Nicolas Flamel in the memory along with his parents had wet his curiosity even further, especially since Flamel was still apparently on the run.

‘Not well enough to call them friends, I regret,’ Aberforth said slowly, not looking directly at Harry. ‘But the few times I spent with them... they were really brilliant people Harry, as I’m sure you’ve been told before.’

‘And did they ever work with Nicolas Flamel at all while they were in the Order?’ Aberforth eyed Harry somewhat suspiciously, but after a brief split-second, he reverted back to his normal stance.

‘Not that I’m aware of, no.’

Harry looked away disappointedly; he had hoped that since Aberforth had been an Order member when his parents had been that he could have been some help in trying to shed some light on what had occurred in the memory.

‘But I do know that there was a time – around the time when your parents were in the Order – when Flamel was highly sought after,’ Aberforth continued after a moment. Harry looked up quickly to meet the eye of Aberforth who sat down on a high stool behind the bar. ‘See I was an outside member even then Harry. I was not at all the meetings or in on all the day to day goings-on when Voldemort was still in power. Yet I know that Flamel was in high demand at one point.’

‘Why? What do you mean “in high demand?” Harry asked intrigued.

‘Well he did create the Philosopher’s Stone boy, something very attractive to Voldemort and his Death Eaters as you saw firsthand way back when,’ Aberforth said. ‘But even though that was his greatest creation, that was certainly not all he ever did. I’m no expert on Flamel’s accomplishments but I do know he did more than just create the Philosopher’s Stone – much of which has been kept hushed up by him. I never knew if there was some sort of important reason why he was so highly sought after – in the Order you never stop to ask. We were too busy back then.’

Harry mulled over what Aberforth was saying, remembering the great risk that his parents, Sirius and the Longbottoms had undertaken to help Flamel escape. Why was he so important at that moment? What reason was this high risk worth?

‘Knowing my brother, Albus could have just wanted to help him because they were friends – buddies. Not needing him for the Order but perhaps just getting his old friend out of danger. They were extremely dangerous times, Harry.’

‘What ever happened to Flamel? Do you have any idea why he’s on the run now?’

‘I haven’t heard his name around here for a long time... a long, long time.’ Aberforth looked out in to the non-existent distance as if a plagued memory was hampering him. ‘Truthfully, I was shocked he was still alive, the old bloke. He never, ever did anything wrong, dangerous, against the law or against the Order as long as I’ve ever heard of him. I don’t think he’s guilty of killing those men and if he somehow did, it was for a bloody good reason. He’s a good man, that Flamel.’

‘I don’t think he did either – and I didn’t even know him. If he was trusted by Dumbledore, then that’s good enough for me,’ responded Harry wondering where on earth Flamel was now. He knew it was no coincidence that he was sent a memory of Flamel at the same time that he seemingly had committed a triple murder. Harry was set on finding out why.

Half an hour later, Harry was getting ready to leave the Hog’s Head. Horatio still had not moved from his spot at the far table, snoring ever louder. Harry had caught the eye of Aberforth looking at him awkwardly throughout the rest of the conversation and he knew exactly why. He could not help but think about his parents and the mystery of the memory to a point where he knew he had looked distant from the conversation with Aberforth. Twice he had to ask Aberforth to repeat what he was saying, not hearing what he had said the first time due to the high volume of the thoughts existing in his head. It was as Harry was putting his coat back on that Aberforth came forth with what Harry dreaded.

‘Are you alright Harry? To me, it seems as if something’s on your mind.’

‘I’m fine. Thanks Aberforth,’ Harry said slowly as he began zipping up his jacket.

‘Because an unbiased, open mind is always here for you. Whenever you need it.’ Harry stopped, looking from Aberforth to Horatio who was only a few feet away from where he was standing. He wanted nothing more than to include Aberforth in what was bothering him.

‘I-I have to take something back. Something that’s mine. And I can’t be seen doing it.’

Aberforth’s smile grew from a small one to a much larger one, nodding his head as he beamed at Harry from across the pub.

‘You mean you have to steal something? Well, that shouldn’t be any problem for the son of James Potter, now should it?’

Harry returned the smile, nodding his head before returning to the cold outside the pub.

 
 


Chapter 12: The Party
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Over the next fortnight, the snow and frost seemed to be never-ending. The severity of the winter weather had grown so bad that Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione’s planned trip to Hogsmeade was put on temporary hold; even the simple bubble-head warmth charms that Hermione cast on them were not powerful enough to keep the heat in when going up against the harsh winter winds. Kreacher had taken it upon himself to buy triple the amount of firewood that they would have normally needed which Harry (as it turned out) was very grateful for. The larger fire seemed to penetrate his bones and cure them of their iciness in mere minutes after coming home from the Ministry.

It was this severe frost that Harry was preparing to venture out in to once more. It was a week before Christmas and he was getting dressed for Ginny’s Holyhead Christmas party, debating whether or not one or two pairs of long underwear would be a better choice for under his dress robes.

‘There’s no real need for them,’ Ron said pointing to the long underwear lying on Harry’s bed. ‘Ginny told me we are apparating right in to the reception hall so we won’t have to be out in that mess.’

‘Do shut the door one of you!’ the portrait of Percival the Pompous cried from the landing. ‘I am trying to sleep!’ Ron rolled his eyes as he shut the door, Harry overhearing Percival go on about something to do with a lack of respect as his whiny voice was drowned out.

‘Fudge wasn’t joking... I can’t believe he actually wants to create some sort of army – he’s bonkers!’ Ron said as he pulled on his own dress robes, indicating an edition of the Daily Prophet on his night stand.

‘I thought it would never pass with the public but then I got to thinking – if these attacks on the Ministry continue, many will wonder if it really is the right thing to do. People can be swayed.’ Ron nodded at Harry, pulling his socks up as he sat down on the edge of his bed.

‘You alright mate?’ Ron suddenly asked, catching Harry off guard.

‘Yeah... is – is something wrong?’ Ron eyed Harry curiously who carefully avoided his friend’s prowling eyes.

‘Just seem a little... distant... that’s all. But... knowing you, you’ll never tell me anyway so I’ll just say this – don’t worry about the memory Harry. We’ve got Hermione... there’s no way we won’t be able to get it back from Fudge.’ Ron clapped Harry on the back. ‘Now come on... any longer and the girls will be ready before the both of us... and seeing as how I always complain about Hermione taking hours to get ready... well, I can’t lose credibility on one of my favourite teases.’

Harry was glad Ron did not press the issue any further or mention anything of it to Ginny or Hermione; he was not in the mood to gush about how frustrated he was about losing the memory at the moment. Whether it was intuition or just a piece of Harry’s wishful thinking, he did not know, but (as the last message had stated) he sincerely felt that this memory was the next step in killing any hope of Lord Voldemort’s return.

‘Ah, much better Ron,’ Ginny said playfully as she examined his updated dress robes ten minutes later. ‘No offence, but I don’t know if I’d be too keen on calling you my brother if you were to wear those old dress robes that you used to have.’

‘Shut up Ginny.’

‘Are we all ready then?’ Hermione’s arrival on the landing curbed any further retort from Ron. She was wearing a particularly pretty dark blue dress that had seemed to catch his attention quite well. Harry’s attention was torn away from his friends as he turned to Ginny and her long light yellow dress that Harry thought looked very nice.

‘You’re looking quite handsome Harry,’ Ginny said lightly after she nodded to Hermione.

‘As are you... er, pretty I mean,’ Harry said brightly, returning the compliment and planting a quick kiss on Ginny’s cheek. Harry put his arm around Ginny, bringing her a little closer to him.

‘Oh, completely forgot to tell you! They arranged a connection through the Floo network for the party so no one has to apparate – good for us since it seems as if the cold is going to get worse throughout the night.’

‘Brilliant, Ginny,’ Hermione answered excitedly. The atmosphere and anticipation of the party was apparently right up Hermione’s alley. ‘Where are we travelling to?’

‘Er... one minute...’ Ginny said, fiddling around in her matching yellow purse and pulling out a small piece of parchment. ‘Here it is... Two Twenty-One Whitegate Lane. Seems simple enough. You go first?’

Hermione did not need any more prodding from Ginny. Thrusting her hand in to the small pot of Floo powder, Hermione tossed her handful in to the fire, clearly stating the desired location before entering the emerald flames. After shrugging, Ron followed suit, leaving Harry and Ginny in the drawing room of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place. Ginny raised her eyebrows and began walking to the mantle, but something curious came over Harry. Seeing as how this was the first minute of alone time for the two of them in weeks, Harry could not help but try to prolong their time together, even if it was just for a few extra seconds.

‘Er Gin...’

‘Yes Harry?’ she replied, spinning on her heel. Harry noticed that she was slightly scarlet in the face.

‘Er... I’m really happy... excited to go with you. I’ve missed you and – well... just there never seems to be enough time.’ Harry could feel himself getting hot very quickly, not completely understanding what he himself was saying. ‘I guess what I’m trying to say is that I I’m excited to have some time with you... away from work... away from Quidditch...’

Ginny looked at him, her face now matching her hair. She tilted her head to the side and nodded, examining him for a moment before speaking.

‘Oh Harry I am too... I know we don’t spend much time together. I know it’s not an ideal situation for us, but one day it will be. We just have to get through these tougher times before we become what we want to be... I hate to say it but sometimes I just feel... jealous of Ron and Hermione. They get you much more than I do.’ Ginny said through a laugh. She made her way over to him stopping only a foot away from where he was standing. ‘But tonight, you’re mine.’

Ginny looked at Harry very seriously. Almost instinctively, Harry put his hand on her shoulder and softly kissed her lips, holding himself there for what felt like a lifetime. Pulling himself apart from her, he saw her smile, prompting him to do the same.

‘Come on,’ she said slyly. ‘They’ll be wondering what’s taking us so long.’

Ginny guided him over to the fireplace, tossing some Floo powder in to the fireplace for him. Pecking him on the cheek, Harry stepped in front of the fireplace and exclaimed, ‘Two Twenty-One Whitegate Lane.’ In an instant, he arrived at what he presumed was Whitegate Lane.

‘Harry! Over here!’

Before he could gage his surroundings, Harry heard Hermione’s voice calling him from his left. Once he was joined by Ginny by the hand, he fought through a crowd of people, catching his eye on Hermione’s blue dress and steering them in her direction. The place was packed, hot and very loud.

‘It’s mad in here! I’m guessing this is the reception area!’ Hermione cried over the loud ruckus made by the invited guests.

Finally getting a chance to look around, Harry noticed that they were in a small room that was barely larger than the kitchen at Grimmauld Place. To his left was a small window and as he peeked through the curtains, he noticed that the house that they were apparently in was situated along a crowded, narrow and winding street that stretched out in to the darkness. By viewing the house across the street, Harry guessed that they were in a house considerably smaller than Number Four Privet Drive.

‘We should probably get inside – it’s too crowded in here!’ Ginny called from over her shoulder. ‘Follow me – I’ve got the tickets here.’

The foursome created an impromptu human chain, passing through the crowd at a snail’s pace. They passed by the fireplace of the small living room, Harry now noticing that all of the furniture had been crookedly piled against one of the far walls. They came to the end of the room where two wizards dressed in Holyhead green were waiting to receive the guests.

‘Tickets please, for your friends Miss Weasley,’ one of the wizards said cheerfully, Ginny obliging his request.

With a nod of his head, the wizard let them pass, opening the single wooden door and closing it shut behind him, shutting out all of the noise from the crowd. What was in front of Harry left him in wonder; a massive room with thirty foot high ceilings stood in front of him, at least as long as a Quidditch Pitch. Throughout the room were countless number of tables with flower centerpieces of which Harry had never seen before. As they made their way through the hall, Harry could see little green gnome-like creatures playfully jumping around in the centerpieces, their little bodies glowing a fluorescent green with each leap they took. At the far side of the room stood the stage, a wide and impressive array of awkward looking instruments already set up. The walls were adorned with dark green curtains featuring a golden ‘H’, the curtains matching the robes of the waiters who were bustling through the hall at a rapid pace. Hovering above his head, Harry noticed small golden orbs that gave off a faint glow of light that was just enough to illuminate the room. The hall was about half full with many more guests arriving behind them.

‘This is us here I believe,’ Ginny said brightly indicating the table in front of them. Sure enough, Harry noticed a small green name tag on one of the plates that read ‘Ginny Weasley – Seeker’ in glowing gold font. Beside hers was Hermione’s and Ron’s, indicating that they were Ministry workers. Sitting down at his seat beside Ginny, Harry noticed his own name plate which simply read ‘Guest #23’ on it.

‘Are you going to dance with me later?’ Harry whispered playfully in Ginny’s ear.

‘Of course – I can’t wait!’

‘Good.’ Harry could not help but smile back.

‘Pretty chic isn’t it?’ Hermione said enthusiastically as she pulled up her chair. ‘Who else are we sitting with?’ she asked, indicating the empty two seats at the table.

‘Mrs. Gallagher is one – she’s one of our seamstresses for our uniforms – and the other is –’

‘Hey! Stop them!’

Harry looked over his shoulder while in his seat to see a pair of wizards dressed in green robes chasing down a couple of figures who were heading towards his table. As they got closer, Harry realized that he knew who they were.

‘Dean? Lee?’ he said surprisingly. ‘What’s going on?’

‘H-Harry? Ron!’ an out of breath Dean said as he came to a stop. ‘You’ve got to help us out here Ginny! We only wanted to get an interview or two that’s all!’

‘Hold on – what do you mean?’ asked Harry quickly, seeing the two wizards catching up to them.

‘We’re Quidditch reporters – commentating for Chudley is not the best paying job, that’s for sure. So Dean and I are trying to get our own column started for the Prophet.’

‘So we snuck in the back door over there – don’t think they appreciated it much,’ Dean said, the two wizards stopping at their table.

‘Alright you two, enough of this. It’s time for you to leave,’ the first wizard said panting but sternly, the second bending over as he placed his hands on his knees. Harry looked to Ginny who nodded, looking from Harry to Dean and Lee and back again.

‘They’re with us,’ Harry said calmly getting up from his seat, the two wizards looking at each other incredulously. ‘All of us here know them – they’re not imposters.’

‘These are uninvited guests Mr. Potter – I’m afraid we are going to have to ask them to leave.’ Harry opened his mouth to protest but was interrupted by another man’s voice.

‘Nonsense. Any guest of Ginny is a guest of mine. Now run along you two, though I admire your focus on security.’ Harry looked to see none other than Davis McCoy beaming at Ginny from across the table, Dean and Lee both silently fist pumping at their acceptance in to the party.

‘Thanks mate, we’ll catch up when the Weird Sisters take the stage,’ Dean whispered, clapping Harry on the back as he and Lee rushed off.

‘Well, it looks like I’ll be joining you at your table – fancy that!’ said Davis, flashing his brilliant smile.

Though Harry was no wizard fashion expert, even he could tell that Davis’ dress robes were of the highest quality, his jacket emblazoned with subtle silver thread. He nodded at Hermione and Ron and for a moment; he did not even seem to notice that Harry was standing beside Ginny. Towering over Harry, his smile vanished for a quick second as he placed a hand to his chest.

‘Oh, I’m sorry Harry! I didn’t even notice you there! How are you doing?’

‘Fine, Davis. You?’

‘Undefeated thus far! Even still, if your friend over there keeps putting up performances in practice like she has lately, I may have no other choice but to give her the starting position!’ Ginny blushed as Davis took his seat beside Harry. ‘I do have some more somber news however... I’m afraid Mrs. Gallagher has fallen ill this evening, so she will not be joining us here tonight.’

‘Oh that’s too bad. Who would want to miss a party like this one!’ Hermione said enthusiastically. Davis leaned in before he responded.

‘We are having the most exquisite tenderloin you will ever have this evening,’ he said smiling. ‘Just as good as anything the Flaunting Fwooper and Chef Bouvre has to offer, I assure you. You two ever been to the Fwooper?’ he asked, indicating Ginny and briefly glancing in Harry’s direction.

‘No but I’ve always wanted to go!’ Ginny replied. ‘I’ve heard there’s nearly nothing that compares to it in terms of quality.’

‘You’ve never been taken?’ Davis asked dumbstruck. ‘Does Harry not have a taste for fine dining? I’d expect all you’d have to do is show up Harry and they’d get you a table with no reservation or anything! Nothing like what the rest of us have to endure to get a seat, though being the loyal customer I am, I always seem to be able to find a table...’

‘You ever been to Louie and Gundrike’s Davis? It’s got the best... er... chips in Primpernelle Square,’ Ron asked forcefully, Davis examining him for a minute before responding. Harry could not help but feel some extra admiration for his best friend.

‘No. No I can’t say I have been there Ron,’ he responded smilingly. He shifted in his seat as he attempted to change the subject. ‘So how are your careers going at the Ministry? Lots of tough, long hours I expect?’

‘You don’t know the worst of it...’ Hermione said shaking her head.

‘Ron and I were made Aurors just a few months back,’ stated Harry proudly. ‘Lots of hard work – but probably not as much pressure on us. It’s not like we’re managing a Quidditch team or something.’ Everyone laughed a little around the table, including Davis who nodded his head.

‘Well I am just an assistant,’ he responded cheerfully. ‘Still gives me lots of time to spend with the people who I admire.’ He winked at Harry before glancing over at Ginny, smiling his perfect smile before taking a quick sip of his water. ‘So who were your friends Ginny? The ones I blindly let stay at the party.’

‘Oh, they were just some friends from Hogwarts, Davis.’

‘The tall one was in our year,’ Harry said, indicating Ron and Hermione. ‘Quidditch writers – the other is actually the commentator for the Cannons.’

‘Well I hope they write nice things then,’ Davis said, taking a another sip of his water. ‘Funny. That’s what Ginny wants to do after her Quidditch career is over – a Quidditch columnist, that is. Isn’t that right Gin?’ Ginny fumbled in her seat, looking around the table very quickly before responding

‘Why... why yes that’s right Davis,’ Ginny replied somewhat embarrassedly. Harry quickly looked over at Ginny.

‘I thought you wanted to become the flying instructor and referee at Hogwarts, Ginny?’ Harry asked. ‘Isn’t that what you told me before?’ Harry saw Hermione flash Ron a quick glance.

‘Er... yeah Harry I-I did tell you that... oh, but that was in sixth year... a lot has changed since then and you know... I guess plans change.’ Harry felt his face getting warm, tearing his stare away from Ginny as he noticed the hall was getting very full.

‘That’s the best part about life I believe,’ Davis piped up gleefully. ‘You never know what sort of Snitch is going to be thrown at you!’

‘I think the dinner service is starting...’ Hermione interrupted.

Harry looked up to see that waiters were emerging from all over the place, their wands outstretched as they charmed countless plates to hover above them. The plates were full of delicious smelling food, many of the now seated guests gesturing enthusiastically at the plates that were about to be served. Just as Harry’s napkin magically began to unfold and place itself on his lap, he jumped as a hand was placed on his shoulder, shaking him from side to side.

‘It is him! They were right! Look here, it’s Harry Potter!’ a woman shrieked ecstatically.

Before he could understand what was happening, a thousand hands reaching in his direction blocked out any other view. He could catch snippets of what some of them were saying but most of it was drowned out by the shrieks and yells of those involved.

‘Can I have a picture?! Please!’

‘Just an autograph and I’ll be on my way!’

‘Mr. Potter, would you mind giving a brief interview for the Stool Pigeon?’

‘Please Harry! Just touch my child! Just touch him!’

‘Alright clear out! Clear out I say!’ a man’s voice sounded.

As Harry’s admirers slowly backed away, Harry could see that a wizard dressed in dark green robes had his wand held out in front of him, indicating with it the direction he wished the admirers to move to. Many other guests sitting at the surrounding tables looked on in a mixture of laughter and disgust while others only wished to catch a glimpse of Harry and the action.

‘Back to your seats at once! This sort of behavior will not be tolerated!’ the man continued, turning to Harry and speaking in a much lower voice, the admirers slowly slinking off to their seats but not before stealing one last glimpse of Harry. ‘Are you alright Mr. Potter?’

‘I’m fine,’ Harry replied shortly, nodding his head to show his thanks.

‘That must get annoying I expect,’ said Davis. Harry had just now noticed that Davis had been knocked over in the scuffle, putting his hand on the table as he sat back down in his chair. ‘Must be terrible to have to endure that every time you go out.’

‘Small price to pay really,’ Ginny replied, smiling at Harry who grinned back. Davis quickly looked between the two of them.

‘Finally!’ Ron exclaimed, eyeing the waiter who was now making his way over to their table. ‘I’m starving!’

Each plate magically set itself down on the table, Ron’s expression changing from excited delight to shocked disappointment in an instant. A moment later and Harry could see why; the plate had such a small portion of food on it that Harry wondered if Kreacher could have filled himself with it. In addition, the food was so nicely presented, Harry felt that eating it would somehow disturb a wonderful piece of art.

‘Lovely!’ cried Davis having now fully collected himself. ‘Before we eat I would like to propose a toast –’ Davis picked up his glass and held it aloft, which everyone else followed. ‘To Ginny – may she have a long and wonderful career playing for the Harpies!’ Everyone took a healthy swig of their wine or water.

For the next twenty minutes, conversation shifted largely to Quidditch and the Harpies’ upcoming tough schedule. Harry, however, was only half listening; for at least the first five minutes, he exchanged continued glances with Ron, trying to wordlessly communicate with him in order to understand how to properly eat his dish. He snuck a few side glances at Davis who easily used his fork to combine the various flavors on the plate. Trying to mimic this, Harry found himself stabbing at the concoction in front of him, a few pieces of a green vegetable flying in to his glass of water. While Ginny and Ron tried to contain their laughter, Davis merely looked on in disgust as if someone had just told him a particularly rude joke.

Once they had finished their dinners (or in Harry and Ron’s case, bluntly consumed their plates) Davis pardoned himself, mentioning something about giving a speech before the dance portion of the evening was to take place. Harry let out a long breath, somehow relieved that Davis had left the table as he could now finally spend a few minutes with Ginny and his friends.

‘Absolutely delicious!’ Hermione said as she leaned back in her seat, looking sideways at the stage where a small podium now stood.

‘Yeah it was... once you learned how to eat the bloody thing! Fell apart the moment you touched it, eh Harry?!’ replied Ron who was looking out longingly at the long desert tables that were now appearing along the side wall of the hall.

‘There is going to be a short welcoming from the Manager and then the dance will begin,’ Ginny whispered over to Harry as the bulbs of glowing light began to dim. Before Harry could respond to her, two fairly burly women appeared beside Ginny.

‘Weasley!’ the one with short black hair whispered smilingly. ‘I thought you said you weren’t going to outdo us,’ she said, indicating Ginny’s dress.

‘Once again you make us look bad – can’t you give us a break?’ the other woman said playfully, brushing her longer brown hair out of her face. Both women were taller than Harry and thicker than Ron. Standing near Hermione, they made her look like a small child rather than a young woman.

‘Hey Gloria, Glendella,’ Ginny replied cheerfully. ‘As I recall, at last practice I wasn’t so lucky, so I had to up the ante.’ Both Gloria and Glendella laughed a quite deep, manly laugh. ‘This is my brother Ron, his girlfriend Hermione and here is Harry,’ Ginny said quite proudly. Both Gloria and Glendella shook each of their hands as Ginny indicated them, Harry surprised at the firm grip of both women. ‘Everyone, this here is –’

‘Gloria Richards and Glendella Wimbourne!’ Ron interrupted, Gloria and Glendella looking at each other clearly impressed with Ron. ‘You two are one of the best Beater tandems in English Quidditch history!’

‘Not just one of the best, Ron. The best,’ Glendella said through a haughty laugh. Ron did not seem to understand that she had been joking, responding in a very taken aback fashion as if someone had just insulted him.

‘Well... that’s a rather large statement to make... you’ve got Crooks and Bagman of the Wasps... they won way more championships than the Harpies have... and you can’t forget about –’

‘OK Ron, that’s enough...’ Ginny interrupted fiercely. Ron seemed to protest for a minute, but eyeing the look in his sister’s stare, he thought better of it. Still, he continued to babble to himself quietly, the Harpies Beaters eyeing him half seriously, half playfully.

‘We, er... we should be going – speeches are about to start,’ Gloria said, tearing her eyes away from the jabbering Ron.

‘Nice meeting all of you – see you at practice Weasley,’ added Glendella, giving a curt nod to everyone at the table.

Ginny locked eyes with Ron for a moment before breaking her seriousness, shaking her head and giggling to herself. Before any of them could say anything more, the golden bulbs of light dimmed, a spot light shining on the podium situated in the middle of the stage. Harry’s mind was not focused on the following ten minute, rather tedious speech made by the Harpies manager; instead, his eyes wondered over to Davis who was standing beside the podium. He glanced over at Ginny who seemed to be in a sort of bored stance as well, twirling her hair around in between her fingers.

‘Now... it is my great pleasure and honor... to welcome to the stage for your entertainment... the Weird Sisters!’ the manager shouted, the hall erupting in to a rather loud applause.

‘I’m heading over to the dessert bar, Harry – you want to join me?’ Ron asked immediately as many of the guests made their way over to the dance floor.

‘Yeah, but in a minute...’ Harry replied, eyeing Ginny who smiled in to her shoulder.

‘Hold on... where’s the rest of them?’ Hermione asked as she got out of her chair. Harry wheeled around to look in the direction that Hermione was.

‘Er... what are you looking at Hermione...’

‘The Weird Sisters! There’s only three of them on stage... that’s rather odd...’

‘Yeah, you’re right,’ Ron said, standing on his chair to get a better look over the crowd of people that now occupied the dance floor. The bulbs of light were now changing colour over the stage, casting violet, white and yellow shadows over the hall. ‘Where’s Heathcote Barbary? Gideon Crumb?’

‘Or Herman Wintringham?!’ Ginny added who had now stood on her own chair.

‘You guys didn’t hear?’ came the voice of Dean from behind Harry.

‘Hear what?’ replied Harry.

‘About the problems the Weird Sisters are having... there’s been lots of rumors that they are about to break up for good soon.’

‘Looks like they’re more than half way there already...’ Ron replied as the remaining Weird Sisters members lazily picked up their instruments, the lead singer looking quite disheveled as he wore a jaded expression on his face.

‘How’ve you two been anyway,’ Harry asked his two former Gryffindor alumni. ‘It’s been a while since we’ve –’

‘Ginny!’ a panting Davis interrupted. ‘You’re going to miss the first dance – it’s tradition for all the Harpies players and staff to partake in the first dance of the evening! Quick – I’ll be your partner!’ Davis held out his hand in front of Ginny as the Weird Sisters began tuning their instruments.

‘Er... Well, Davis...’ Ginny responded, looking over at Harry.

‘Oh, pardon me,’ Davis responded. ‘That is, of course, that Harry does not mind. Which I can’t see happening since there’s nothing terribly wrong with two friends sharing a brief dance.’ Davis laughed at his own joke, though no one else did. As much as Harry did not want to see Ginny dance with Davis, he felt that if he was to show Davis that it bothered him, than it would give him some sort of devious satisfaction.

‘No. You two go ahead,’ Harry responded coolly.

‘Are... Are you sure Harry?’ Ginny questioned. Harry turned his head to look her in the eye.

‘I’m sure. I’ll be waiting here.’ Harry tried to feign a smile but it came off as more of a grimace than anything else. Davis smiled back, giving a sort of half nod as he eyed Harry. He took Ginny’s hand and guided her to the dance floor, Ginny looking over her shoulder and smiling back at Harry lovingly. Ron proceeded to call Davis quite a nasty name.

‘Ronald!’ Hermione protested, Lee and Dean laughing out loud as the chords of the Weird Sisters’ first song started up.

‘What! I’m her brother Hermione – he didn’t ask my permission, now did he?’

‘She’s old enough to make decisions on her own now Ron, no offence or anything Harry,’ replied Hermione sternly. ‘And your her brother, Ron! If she’s not trying to do things that you don’t like then something is wrong, isn’t it?!’ Harry thought he heard Hermione whisper something nasty under her breath as she looked in the direction of Ginny and Davis.

‘You want to come to the dessert table with me before we dance, Hermione?’ Ron asked.

‘Yes. Yes let’s go.’

‘Harry? You coming?’ Harry took a moment before responding, not knowing if that pain inside his stomach was Davis’ fault or the menu’s.

‘You two go ahead. I think I’ll just stay here with Dean and Lee for a bit...’ Ron shrugged as he and Hermione made their way over to the long tables of desserts.

‘They’ve got no passion anymore... no life,’ Dean said disappointingly as he pulled up a chair and sat backwards on it, Lee doing the same beside him.

‘What do you mean?’ asked Harry absent-mindedly as he looked out on to the dance floor longingly.

‘The Weird Sisters. They used to be so lively and full of energy onstage. It’s what they were bloody know for! Now... well, take a look.’

Harry looked at the stage after being prompted by Dean and he immediately knew that he was right. The lead singer stood hunched over, reciting his lines rather than singing them. To his left, the guitar player was shooting looks of distaste over at his fellow band mates, sometimes forgetting to play his instrument for a few moments before resuming his riff. Still, the crowd of Harpies personnel did not seem to being paying too much attention as they continued to dance to the ballad, though a few obvious Sisters fans stood at the front of the stage with a look of shock on their faces.

‘I guess not everything is meant to last,’ said Lee, Harry feeling as if he was going to vomit as he caught a glimpse of a smiling Davis dancing with Ginny. Harry turned away quickly, trying to erase the image from his brain.

‘I don’t mean to be rude guys, but would you mind if I got some air?’ he asked the two of them.

‘Course not Harry,’ replied Dean.

‘We’ll catch you later... we should probably get back to our article anyway...’ added Lee to which Dean agreed. They got up from their chairs and with a pat on Harry’s back, began to depart his company.

‘Hold on,’ Harry said suddenly, Dean and Lee turning back around to meet him. ‘Where’s that door you two came in? I reckon that walking through the front door on this Muggle street wouldn’t exactly be prudent...’

‘Just go to the back there, behind the stage. There’s a back door that I’m sure you’ll have no trouble with.’

‘Thanks Lee.’

Harry got up with a start, not looking back at either Dean or Lee. He purposely took a longer way around the stage as to avoid having to look out at it. For some reason, he was panting heavily, slightly dizzy from the flashing lights above him. To the right of the stage where the Weird Sisters were now playing their second song – an up-tempo, funky number that apparently did not feature any lyrics as the singer was now hunched over, fast asleep – Harry saw the door that Lee had mentioned.

Pushing through it hard, he was instantaneously hit with a wall of cold, but he did not care. There was a forest about twenty feet away from the back door that slammed shut behind him. Harry took a few steps out on to the pathway, stopping just before the snow overtook the path completely. He shook his head quickly as if doing this would somehow remove the image of Ginny dancing with Davis from his mind. He felt guilty at the fact that he was upset about the situation, knowing that it was such an insignificant thing. Still, something about Davis just rubbed him the wrong way, making him feel uncomfortable about the whole thing. He knew that if anyone else wanted to dance with Ginny, he would surely have no problems with it.

Harry let out a deep sigh, crossing his arms as he was now beginning to realize how bitterly cold outside it really was. Looking from his right to his left, he saw that this house was the furthest back on the street and the nearest to the forest, small fences plotting out the properties a fair distance away from each other. He could hear the faint echo of the Weird Sisters’ music, deciding that it would be best if he re-entered the party.

However, something caught his eye as a sharp gust of freezing cold wind rushed by his face. Coming from somewhere in the forest was a faint, blinking blue light that stood out in the darkness like a star in the sky. It grabbed Harry’s attention as if it was calling out to him. Instinctively, Harry took out his wand, looking back at the door to the house before stepping out in to the snow. His curiousness overrode his good judgment, entering the shallow forest in pursuit of the light.

The snow was quite deep, swallowing Harry’s foot up to his ankle. He paused for a moment before continuing, ducking under a few branches that jetted out at an awkward angle from a nearby tree. Harry fought through a few more branches, his interest in the light driving him through the narrow opening. The light was not getting any brighter, Harry standing up as he reached an area where the trees were larger. He glanced back at the door that was barely visible through the branches before pressing on in to the forest.

He continued on through the forest for a few minutes more, Harry illuminating his wand with a Lumos spell so he could see his footing. Harry could feel his excitement increase as he saw the light get brighter. He increased his pace, carefully watching his step as the snow crunched loudly below him...

Harry whirled around so fast that he almost lost his balance. There was something moving to his right, he was sure of it. Pausing for a moment, Harry stood stock still as he listened carefully for another sound. A few seconds later, he heard it again; a rustling of the branches and the snow crunching loudly as if someone was running. He aimed his wand in the direction of the sound but only saw a few low branches swaying back and forth.

‘Harry...’ a bone-chilling voice whispered.

Looking all around him for the source of the voice, Harry began to breathe very heavily. There was something moving around him; there was something alive.

Then, a strong gust of freezing wind slashed his face and as he shielded his watery eyes, he heard a faint pop. Standing quite still, the only noise he could hear was the rustling of the branches in the wind. After not moving for many moments, Harry did not hear the whispery voice nor did he have the feeling that something or someone was accompanying him in the forest.

Gulping loudly, Harry looked around, not exactly sure of the direction that he had come from. However, interrupting his search was something quite bright that distracted him; it was the bright light that somehow was now sitting at his feet. Looking down, he could see that the light was actually a piece of rolled up parchment held inside a glass vial that was giving off the eerie blue glow. Seizing it, Harry un-stoppered the vial and dumped out the piece of parchment in to his hand. He hastily unfastened it and saw that the message written on it was very brief.


The memory currently out of your position is the key. It is imperative that you re-obtain it in order to continue. Retrieve it before the year’s end or risk losing the information necessary to defeat the Death Eaters and most importantly, the knowledge needed to stop Lord Voldemort from returning once and for all.


Harry flipped it over to check if anything was written on the back. Realizing there was not, he re-read the message once again before looking around, wishing that whoever was sending him these messages would present themselves to him. Quickly, he stuffed the message in to his robe pocket, setting off in what he thought was the right direction back to the party. Luckily, Harry guessed right, as the cold was beginning to make his toes and fingers go numb.

Ten minutes later, after re-entering the warmth of the party, Harry paid no attention to the dance floor or the stage. Not even the Weird Sisters hurling plums at one another on stage to the jeers of the crowd could un-focus him from finding Ron and Hermione and showing them the message that seemed to open up more questions than give answers.
 
 


Chapter 13: A Risky Operation
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‘Merry Christmas Harry,’ mumbled Ron as he rubbed his eyes.

Checking his wrist watch that was lying on his dresser, Harry saw that the time was nearly seven o’clock. Neither Harry nor Ron said anything else due to the fact they were on the same wave length in more ways than just one. Though Harry was excited to spend a nice morning with Ginny, Ron, Hermione and the Weasley family – who had all arrived around midday the day before – at this precise moment, Harry was quite content to lie back in his bed and let his mind relax with ease. He remembered his last Christmas and how he had missed the majority of it because of the mission he had been on with the Aurors in Little Hangleton. This made him appreciate the rare morning off, one full of happiness and celebration, even more.

However, he and Ron both knew that this joyous holiday was not all fun and games. Having stayed up quite late the night before to plan their method of attack, Harry, Ron and Hermione knew that today proved to be their best chance at retrieving the memory that Minister Rufus Fudge had stolen. This (coupled with the fact that Harry felt extraordinarily guilty) took away slightly from the day as a whole. It was a guilt that stemmed from the previous night while he had been planning the operation with his friends and it was this guilt that Harry’s mind subconsciously drifted to as he lay in his bed on Christmas morning.

‘OK... we know that there won’t be much interference – the Ministry will be drastically emptier,’ Hermione had yawned while Harry stared at the dwindling fire the previous night. ‘Though the Minister’s floor will surely have at least activity, I’d be surprised if there was more than one or two officials there.’

‘How do we know for certain that Fudge is even going to be there?’ asked Ron.

‘Well... I did a little snooping around –’

‘Hold on,’ Harry interrupted as he and Ron shared an incredulous yet amused glance. ‘You did some snooping around?’

‘As a matter of fact I did, thank you very much. They don’t miss me at all in my department – half the time they probably don’t even notice me! Anyway, I overheard Fudge tell an aide named Hamilton... or Hampton... or something of that effect that he would be coming in to the Ministry for a few hours during the afternoon.’

‘And that was it? That’s all Fudge said?’ asked Ron, clearly wanting more information to go on.

‘Well, no... Hamilton, Hampton or whoever was telling the Minister about his plans for Christmas... something to do with visiting his Uncle Yeardley, a recovering Firewhisky addict. Said he was going to arrive early because last year, Uncle Yeardley lit his house on fire and paraded down the streets chasing carolers. Sad way to spend your Christmas really.’

‘Tragic. I just hope we can get the keys off of Fudge,’ replied a deadpan Harry which drew a snort from Ron.

‘And have enough time in his office to find the right combination of keys, open his vault, get the memory and leave his office before Fudge returns,’ added Ron.

‘Yeah how are we going to lure Fudge away from the office?’ asked Harry.

‘Yes, well... I’m still trying to figure out how to get the keys off of him... perhaps one of you could contribute to the plan.’

‘Piece of cake,’ replied Ron, placing both hands behind his head and leaning back in his comfortable arm chair. ‘I’m not worried – our plans always have an awkward, improvised way of working out.’

‘I guess there’s no real point of us sitting here and planning then,’ grinned Harry to the laughter of Hermione and Ron.

‘Plan what?’

Harry was surprised to see that Ginny was making her way down the stairs. He quickly looked from Hermione to Ron whose smiles faded rather quickly. Ginny stepped in to the room, her face glowing from the firelight as she tiredly looked at the three who stared back at her without saying a word. Harry stared in to her beautiful brown eyes; he wanted to tell her about their plans and for a moment, he opened his mouth to do just that, but then something took over him. Something stopped Harry in his tracks, his whole body seizing up as he sat there for what felt like hours. Though he did not understand why, Harry, thought different of it.

‘We... we were just re-planning our day trip to Hogsmeade. Th-The one that we didn’t take because of the cold last week.’

There was a brief silence between the four of them, Ginny eyeing Harry somewhat curiously as she rested her head on the side of the wall at the threshold of the room. She examined him for a moment, Hermione and Ron trying to avoid her look though they continually glanced up in an indirect way every few seconds. Finally, Ginny spoke in a hoarse whisper that was barely audible over the periodic cracks of the fire.

‘OK, Harry. Sounds good to me. Don’t stay up much later you guys... Mum and I are going to do a little shopping after brunch so we need to get an early start...’

Ginny left without saying another word. No one else spoke until Ginny’s echoing footsteps could no longer be heard, Harry purposely staring away from Hermione and Ron as all of a sudden, he began to feel quite hot – and it was not because of the fire.

‘See you in the morning.’

Harry left the room without taking another look back at his friends, quickly ascending the stairs two at a time. He pretending to be asleep when Ron entered their room half an hour later, though truthfully, underneath the covers, Harry was trying to work out what exactly had come over him.

‘Time to get up I expect...’ grumbled Ron, breaking the silence of the bedroom. Harry nodded.

‘You ready for later?’ Harry asked quietly.

‘Ready as we’ll ever be. Just hope everything goes according to plan... er, whatever that plan is.’ Harry laughed quietly out loud, Ron grinning from ear to ear as he sat up out of bed and let out a long yawn.

Five minutes later, Harry and Ron were met with celebratory greetings from all the Weasleys, Hermione and Ginny, Harry holding his glance with Ginny for an extra second before he was prodded away and clapped on the back by Mr. Weasley. Kreacher – undoubtedly excited about hosting a Christmas morning at Number Twelve Grimmauld Place – was bopping around the kitchen, knocking over pans and the like as he pranced around in his Christmas hat.

‘Any and all presents sent by owl, I have right here,’ Mr. Weasley said proudly, holding out a small sack of presents as everyone slowly made their way in to the living room. ‘George? Would you like to sort them out?’

‘Sure. I hate to take away from all of this but... I can’t stick around long so if we could sort of get a move on this morning...’ George had clearly instantly regretted what he had said, shaking his head and attempting to restart. ‘I just want to be back in plenty of time for the feast tonight, that’s all.’

‘Oh, no need for excuses George,’ replied Mrs. Weasley. ‘I know everyone has other plans on the go, like Percy does with Penelope... or Bill with Fleur... Charlie working abroad... I just want to have one morning together as a family... for old time’s sake.’ Mrs. Weasley started to tear up slightly which prompted Mr. Weasley to place a consoling arm around her.

‘And Bill and Fleur promised that next year they’ll be here for Christmas – it’s tough to juggle two families,’ said Mr. Weasley to which his wife agreed. ‘What do you have going on George? Is there a girl we don’t know about?’ Mr. and Mrs. Weasley both smiled at each other as they prodded their son.

‘I wish, but no,’ replied George. Harry noticed he did not seem quite himself. His eyes had dark circles underneath them and his normally comic demeanor had vanished in favor of a more serious one.

‘Well... What is it George?’ asked Ron as he sat on the arm of a couch beside Hermione.

‘Nothing I can say right now, I’m afraid.’

‘George!’ exclaimed Mrs. Weasley half-seriously, half-playfully. ‘What is it that you can’t say to your family on Christmas morning?’

‘I’m sorry Mum, I’m sworn to secrecy. You’ll know soon enough. Now come on let’s get on with things – I want to see if Ron took my advent calendar’s advice!’ Ron rolled his eyes as he spoke to Harry’s curious look.

‘Remember that ruddy thing he sent me? Yeah... every day the messages that popped out of that thing got more aggressive and eventually quite... let’s say blatant. Anyway, it got to the point where those little figures actually spelled out what he wanted... literally. No you don’t want to know how they did it,’ Ron continued as he saw George throw him a mischievous glance. ‘Threatened to disown me if I didn’t live up to my “brotherly duties” as he put it.’ George winked at Harry before diving in to his own small stack of presents.

For the next hour, everyone rapidly opened their gifts. Mrs. Weasley continued the long tradition of knitting all of her children plus Harry and Hermione jumpers, this time, Harry receiving one of scarlet with a golden ‘H’ on the front.

‘You don’t think we’re getting a bit old for those things?’ asked Ron as he examined his own jumper. ‘I always get maroon... I hate maroon...’ Ron whispered under his breath.

‘Nonsense! As long as you are my son you will be getting one! You too George... Harry...’ replied Mrs. Weasley happily as she watched Ginny open her own package that contained a violet jumper.

After Harry had finished opening his own presents (including a brand new set of work robes from Ginny, numerous assorted sweets from Ron and Hagrid and his own copy of ‘Advanced Techniques for the Auror in all of us’ from Hermione) and watched George open his final present from Ron, (‘A standard size pewter cauldron along with a twenty galleon gift card to Madam Russo’s Apothecary! Ron! How did you know?!’) Harry turned his attention to Ginny and Hermione who were opening up their final gifts from the small sack of presents that had been delivered by owl. Many of the Weasleys were not paying as much attention to the gift opening as they had been before; Ron was still questioning what on earth George wanted a cauldron for, Mrs. Weasley had gone in to the kitchen to help Kreacher with breakfast and Mr. Weasley was reading over the morning’s edition of the Daily Prophet while occasionally looking over the page to smile subconsciously at the happiness in front of him.

‘Who’s that from Ginny?’ asked Harry who had just returned from the bathroom.

‘It doesn’t say... oh!’

Ginny looked surprisingly at the small, elegantly wrapped box. She looked up and opened up her mouth to speak but at first, nothing came out. Hermione had stopped trying to unwrap her present that undoubtedly had come from Hagrid (Harry noticing the vast indulgence of tape used on Hermione’s gift, the same excess that he had tried to rip through to open his own present from the Hogwarts’ gamekeeper) and she had turned to look at Ginny also.

‘It’s from... Davis...’

She looked around the room with a confused expression on her face as she began to unwrap it, Hermione glancing at Harry whose heart was beating quite fast. After she had ripped off the bright red wrapping paper, she held the small, narrow golden box in her hand, opening it slowly so that the cover of it shielded the contents from Harry’s view. Ginny let out a surprised gasp.

‘How did he...’

‘What?’ asked Harry strongly. She paused for a second before responding.

‘It’s the necklace I was set on buying today with Mum!’ said Ginny dumbfounded. ‘It’s so expensive... I knew Mum and Dad or anyone for that matter couldn’t afford it... so I was saving up for it...’

Ginny turned around the small golden box to reveal the most beautiful piece of jewelry Harry had ever seen. The silver necklace sparkled in the morning light which caught even Mr. Weasley’s eye from behind his paper. Hermione was staring at it not in admiration, but in an almost trance-like gaze.

‘It’s got certain magical properties,’ gushed Ginny. ‘It briefly attracts all on-lookers once one has noticed it.’

‘It really is... beautiful Ginny,’ Hermione said incredulously, though she promptly looked to Harry after she had said it.

‘What do you think Ron?’

‘Er... it’s nice,’ he said, answering his sister hesitantly.

‘Kind of fake though is it? Shouldn’t a necklace be beautiful because of its craft and not because it has some charm placed on it?’ Harry’s aggression boiled to the surface in a way that he regretted almost immediately. Ginny eyed him from across the coffee table for a brief moment, no one else saying a word.

‘And all of a sudden you are an expert on jewelry Harry?’ she retorted sturdily. Harry felt his face getting hot; all of a sudden the things he had wanted to say escaped his mind, feeling quite embarrassed as he saw everyone’s eyes hover over to him.

‘No... I’m not... It’s er... wonderful Ginny. I never knew you even wanted it...’ Ginny seemed to be regretting what she had said as well.

‘Oh I’m... I didn’t want to burden you with such an expensive gift Harry. It’s not like you make a fortune.’

‘Gold has nothing to do with it,’ Harry replied in almost a whisper. Mr. Weasley had gotten up from his couch, George following him while Ron and Hermione had slunk to the back of the room. Ginny visibly gulped before she replied.

‘I didn’t want to seem like a little prissy Harry... Gushing about wanting all this expensive stuff,’ responded Ginny throatily who had now dropped the necklace and was staring right in to Harry’s eyes. Harry looked away, not being able to meet his girlfriend’s stare as he spoke again.

‘Well, it looks very nice on you Gin,’ he said quietly, imagining the smiling face of Davis. At that very moment, he wanted nothing more than to talk about his true feelings regarding Ginny’s assistant coach, but he was interrupted by the voice of Mrs. Weasley.

‘Breakfast is ready dears! Let’s go now! I want some time with all of you before everyone heads to their other plans! George, that means you as well!’

In no less than half an hour, everyone had finished their eggs, bacon and toast. Harry had managed to connect a few smiles with Ginny from across the table, successfully concealing his true feelings about Ginny’s expensive present from Davis. He gave her a quick smile and kiss on the cheek as she left that morning with Mrs. Weasley and once she happily waved him goodbye and had left Grimmauld Place, Harry blocked out the image of Davis from his mind and refocused on the task at hand.

‘Bloody hell is that the time!’ exclaimed George once Ginny and Mrs. Weasley had left. ‘I need to be getting back to the Ministry and –’ George’s face quickly sunk and changed to a shade of white.

‘Ministry? What are you doing at the Ministry?’ Ron pressed as George began to back away from the kitchen, a smile beginning to slowly creep on his face.

‘Mind your own business Ron! You’ll find out soon enough... Oh, thanks for the cauldron again, see you later!’

‘What he’s up to, I have no idea...’ Mr. Weasley said while shaking his head, Harry hearing the door of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place slam shut as George left. ‘Hope he’s getting paid well for it... whatever it is. Anyway you three I think I’m going to visit Kingsley this afternoon. See you all later tonight?’

Mr. Weasley bid Harry, Ron and Hermione goodbye and he too left Grimmauld Place. After silently and quickly gathering their things from their bedrooms, the trio reconvened in the narrow front hallway. As Harry waited for Ron to slip on his jacket, he looked in to the living room where just an hour ago, everyone was opening their Christmas presents. He caught the view of his present to Ginny; a small, dark green handbag to match her Quidditch colors that was lying at the foot of the couch, the golden necklace from Davis sitting in its box on top of the handbag.

‘Are you alright Harry?’ asked Hermione. Harry had just now noticed that Hermione and Ron were staring at him. Not knowing how long they had been looking at him, he nodded his head quickly and spun around, carefully avoiding their stares so they would be unable to see his damp eyes.

‘I’m fine.’

‘Are you sure Harry? Because if you’re not –’

‘I said I’m fine, thanks,’ stressed Harry. ‘Can we just focus on that memory right now? If we’re worried about how everyone is feeling we’ll lose focus on what’s important. And seeing as how if we’re caught stealing from the Minister of Magic we’ll lose our jobs and probably face some time in Azkaban, focusing is all we should be doing right now.’ Hermione glanced over at Ron who nodded confidently.

‘You’re right,’ he said simply. ‘Let’s do this.’

Exclusive of another word, the three headed outside and apparated in to the cold once they had crossed the street and had been shielded by the heavily wooded area. They systematically made their way to the toilets where they flushed themselves in to the Ministry, each of them to their own thoughts about the task at hand. Though Harry was confident, he could not help but feel slightly nervous. Knowing that Ron and Hermione were feeling the same sharpness of anxiousness, Harry picked himself up, focused on what was ahead.

Before he knew it, they had appeared in the nearly empty Atrium of the Ministry of Magic. Standing together, none of them moved for a few moments; never in the time he had spent in the Ministry’s Atrium had Harry heard it this quiet. There was only one other person in the Atrium with them – a single, purple robed Ministry official that was wearing a clear expression of curiosity and wonder at the arrival of Harry, Ron and Hermione. Their footsteps echoed throughout the large Atrium, their echoes reverberating around it which drew an even greater amount of uncomfortable attention to them, if that was even possible.

‘Your identification cards please,’ the Ministry official called from a few steps away.

Harry and Hermione handed over their cards to be examined. After looking at them closely, the Ministry official peered down at them from over their cards, slowly handing them back. They began to walk past the official, but they were stopped by his raised hand, the official not looking at Harry or Hermione but at Ron who was fumbling in his pockets.

‘Er... oh bloody hell... I-I forgot mine...’ he said lowly as he searched through the same pockets twice.

‘Then I’m afraid you’ll just have to go get it then won’t you?’ the official chimed in somewhat threateningly.

‘We’ll wait here Ron,’ said Harry who began to walk off to the fountain to sit down.

‘No...’ Ron said, stopping Harry in his tracks. ‘No you two go ahead... Just here to pick up a few papers right? I’ll wait back at the house, it’ll be much quicker that way.’ Ron nodded to Harry and Hermione and then at the official, turning on a dime and quickly heading back to the fireplaces. Not understanding what his friend was doing, Harry glanced over at Hermione who pulled him by the arm away from the departing Ron.

‘Hermione! What is he doing?’ Harry whispered as the two made their way to the lifts, their footsteps echoing ever more loudly.

‘Just keep moving,’ she responded, glancing over her shoulder slightly. ‘Don’t worry – he’s the distraction.’

‘Distraction! So what you’re telling me is that we actually have a plan now?’

‘I wouldn’t go that far.’

‘What’s he doing for the distraction – that’s pretty dangerous to do that at the Ministry... in a time like this,’ said Harry cautiously.

‘He knows what he’s doing – we went over it this morning,’ rushed Hermione. ‘He’ll be using the Disillusionment Charm and he’ll –’

‘But Hermione! You know Fudge’s detections will pick up on that charm! Any charm used in concealment in all –’

‘But not if he uses the charm on himself before entering the Atrium! I know that because I helped put the charm in myself.’

‘You did?’ Harry asked as he entered the nearest lift. ‘How’d you manage that?’ Hermione merely shrugged as she closed the gate of the lift.

‘I was bored... They don’t pay attention to me half the time... so sometimes I... er... have the tendency to... wander.’

‘Alright so what’s he going to do then?’ Harry asked after the cool female voice of the lift initiated the sequence that would take them down to the Minister’s level.

‘Well,’ Hermione said as she searched her bag. ‘I’ve left him a little bit of creativity there... I’ve approved all of his choices though so I’ve got some comfort in leaving Ron on his own.’

‘Terrific. All that’s left... is us. Any ideas?’

‘Several. But I was hoping you would have something. You usually do have some... shall I say, less elegant yet surprisingly more effective ways of doing things.’ Harry smiled as the lift continued to descend.

‘I’m way ahead of you.’ Harry opened his cloak to reveal his small, rolled up Invisibility Cloak tucked in to his side pocket.

‘Good. Once I get you in to the office it’s all on you to find the right combination of keys and retrieve the memory.’

‘Yeah about that,’ Harry replied as they arrived at the last floor – the floor that housed the Minister of Magic’s office. ‘I think I’ll be able to get the keys but as to how I’m going to get Fudge alone... I don’t know.’

‘Level One,’ the cool female voice chimed as the gate opened.

‘Follow my lead,’ said Hermione confidently, striding straight ahead out of the lift and in to the long, purple carpeted hallway. ‘I’d put that on now, if I was you.’ Harry flung the invisibility cloak over himself before following Hermione out in to the lavish hallway.

Hermione only took a few steps before veering off to the side, shielding herself from view behind one of the grand archways that was situated every so often along the hallway. Behind her, Harry saw that at the end of the hallway there was a single guard in front of the door to the Minister’s office.

‘If Fudge is here he’ll be in the office... there are no court hearings or anything like that today,’ whispered Harry to which Hermione nodded.

‘Now we just have to wait for a few seconds...’

‘Alright... Hold on, wait for what?’

Hermione turned and looked in the general direction of where Harry was. After a few seconds of holding her stare, Harry heard a low and faint rumble coming from what seemed like miles above them. Hermione smiled slightly, sighing as she looked around the corner at the guard.

‘Leave it to Ron to pick the loudest and most dangerous way.’

‘I’m guessing that’s... the distraction?’

The guard was slowly making his way down the hallway, his wand outstretched. He muttered a barely audible warning to Hermione who feigned concern as he passed. The guard clamored in to the lift and ascended rapidly, disappearing from view.

‘Yes. That’s the distraction.’

The Minister’s office door was wrenched open, Fudge and another one of his guards emerging from it and making their way down the hallway.

‘Is that? Harry Potter?’ a voice from above Harry said. Looking up, Harry could see no person standing there, but as he looked in to the picture frame of Evangeline Orpington, he saw a visiting Percival the Pompous sitting beside the former Minister.

‘Shhhh! Percival be quiet. Go back to your portrait on Level Two by the Auror Department! Or Grimmauld Place! Just away from here!’ Harry’s whispers nearly knocked Percival over in his shock. Fudge was concernedly conversing with his acquaintance and was nearing the end of the hallway where Harry and Hermione were.

‘That was him! I’m sure of it! Harry Potter, where are you?! Not that I really desire to know...’

Harry backed away from the portrait, Hermione taking a few steps back, pretending to examine another nearby portrait as Percival continued to squeak. His dignified voice caught Fudge’s interest.

‘Ah... you go on now son. I want every official up there. Report back to me immediately.’ The official nodded and quickly ran to the lift to explore the Atrium. Harry stood behind Fudge who was wearing his patented emerald green robes. ‘You there. In the portrait. What were you saying? It sounded as if you were talking about Harry Potter.’

‘I was sir,’ Percival responded, clearing his throat quite pompously before he spoke. ‘I could have sworn I heard his voice, Minister.’

‘Is that so, is that so...’ Fudge replied suspiciously. He quickly looked around before re-focusing on the portrait. ‘Would you... look out for me? Make sure nothing happens in this hallway? You’ll be doing the Ministry a great favor, I assure you.’

‘It will be done Minister,’ Percival said proudly as he stuck up his nose and began feverishly looking around him, Evangeline Orpington shaking her head in embarassment. Fudge merely smiled, but his expression vanished once he laid eyes on Hermione who was now observing a portrait on the opposite side of Fudge, directly beside Harry.

‘And what are you doing here?’ Fudge asked directly. Harry could see Hermione breathing heavily as he noticed her, inching forward across the hallway. Hermione looked up slightly, nodding her head before spinning around and talking in fashion that was reminiscent of when she was particularly excited about a great book or an interesting fact.

‘I didn’t want to bother you Minister, but I’ve come here to ask you for something today,’ she said rapidly, moving very close to him rather quickly. Harry slowly crept behind her.

‘And what would that be, Miss?’ Fudge asked curiously slightly taken aback by her forth righteousness.

‘Well... I’d like to... steal your attention for a brief moment. I believe that you, Minister... are one of the keys to our movement’s growth and improvement.’

Harry did not need any further hints from Hermione. Slowly, he crept around the back of Fudge, pulling out his wand from the inside of his own cloak.

‘What movement might this be?’ Fudge’s curiosity had worn off. He was looking around quite lazily, looking upwards and eyeing the lifts at the end of the hall.

‘It’s S.P.E.W. – Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare. Have you heard of it before?’ continued Hermione. Fudge shook his head and she re-launched in to speech.

Harry – as quietly as he could – used a Summoning charm on Fudge’s first pocket. He held his breath as Fudge seemed to feel what had happened, looking down awkwardly at the place where Harry was crouched. Hermione seemed to pick up on this too.

‘ – and to have wizards... merely summoning elves against their will is just plain wrong. It cannot and should not be allowed. No, something else will have to do... That’s where you come in sir.’

Harry whispered ‘Wingardium Leviosa’, pointing his wand in to Fudge’s second back pocket, but nothing emerged. Trying to hold in as many breaths as possible, Harry searched but found no other back pocket in Fudge’s robes. Praying the keys were not being kept in his office or in an inside pocket, he painstakingly crouched between Fudge and Hermione, pointing his wand at one of Fudge’s front pouches. Accidentally, he brushed up against Hermione’s knee.

‘ – one has to be careful when dealing with such touchy subjects. Having elves locked up and thrown away in to cells of torture is something that has to end. As soon as possible.’

After having no luck with the third pocket, Harry turned his attention to the last pocket, carefully avoiding Fudge’s feet as he did so. As he muttered the levitation spell, Harry knew that the keys were in there. Slowly bringing his wand upwards, he noticed a tiny lump in the pocket beginning to ascend higher and higher, a small sight of metal emerging from the pocket’s tip. This caught Hermione’s eye.

‘So I’m pleading with you Mr. Fudge to – oh!’ she gasped as she looked down to see the keys protruding out of Fudge’s pocket. She immediately clasped her mouth. Fudge shook his head as he too looked down. Improvising, Hermione quickly fell over in what Harry thought was the worst acting he had ever seen. She pushed Fudge forward slightly and after tripping over Harry’s outstretched arm, Fudge fell over, the keys silently falling out on to the carpet.

‘Accio keys!’ Harry instinctively whispered as Hermione deliberately toppled on to the fallen Minister. He felt the keys enter his grasp and slowly got to his feet, making sure that the cloak was covering his entire body in the process.

‘You... seriously need to watch your footing Miss!’ Fudge said quite angrily as he struggled to his feet.

‘I’m sorry Minister,’ pleaded Hermione as she too got up and began to fix her hair. ‘All this talk of elves’ rights – or lack of said rights in my opinion – has gotten me all in a huff. I-I should be going now.’

Fudge merely shook his head, angrily walking straight for the lifts and loudly closing the golden gate. Hermione made a few steps forward but doubled back once Fudge’s lift had ascended out of sight.

‘Not bad for improvisation,’ said Harry as he and Hermione both quickly walked down the hall.

‘Though I always favor having a firmly set plan in place, after eight plus years, it’s quite clear we are terrible planners. So what does it matter anyway?’

‘Alohomora,’ whispered Harry, pointing his wand at the door to the Minister’s office.

‘Alright Harry. I don’t know how long they will be, but I’m guessing it won’t be long. I’ll stand guard here. I’ll knock three times if I see anyone coming. Good luck.’

Harry shut the door quietly behind him, taking a brief second to make sure no one else was in the office and to look upwards at the extremely high ceilings of the small, round office. He tossed his cloak on the floor and quickly made his way over to the safe at the far side of the room. Hastily taking the keys out of his cloak pocket, Harry tried a combination of keys, noticing that each key had vastly different weights than one another. He waited for the click that he had heard when Fudge had opened the safe before, but no sound came. Instead, to his great surprise, an ear-piercing screech seemed to emit from the key holes. It was not loud, but very high-pitched, Harry momentarily covering his ears to shield them from the agonizing sound.

He quickly retrieved all three keys and re-arranged them, waiting for the clicking noise, but it did not come. The noise increased in ferocity, making it nearly excruciating for Harry to retrieve the keys once again. His heart was beating out his chest as he took out the keys out of the slots, this time, being much more hesitant in their placement. Finally, he slowly pushed them inwards and to his astonishment, he heard the unlocking clicking noise that he so craved. Instantly, the shrieking noise stopped, the safe’s lid opening upwards to reveal on top of a stack of papers the glowing memory still wrapped in the unrippable paper that Harry knew was destined for him to open. He quickly retrieved the package that contained the memory and closed the safe carefully, a subconscious smile protruding to the surface of Harry’s face.

Suddenly, there were three rapid knocks on the door. Harry – eyeing his invisibility cloak on the floor of the office – stuffed the glowing package in to his pocket and dove to the ground. He seized the cloak and started to pull it over top of him. He could hear footsteps coming closer to the door, their faint echoes growing louder and louder with each step...

Then, as if something had struck him on his forehead, an unbelievably painful sensation hit Harry hard to the point of nearly knocking him backwards. A pain that enveloped his entire body caused Harry to lose focus, his surroundings growing blurry as he fought to pull the cloak over him. He screamed out loud as the pain intensified, but he was unable to hear himself; it was as if his senses had been turned off, the pain too much for his body to function. His hands felt numb and soon, he was not able to feel the magical fabric of the Invisibility Cloak at all. His blurry vision began to turn to one of pure white – a whiteness that began to encompass the entire office around him...

The shadowy figure of Lord Voldemort appeared in front of him, his pale face eliciting a sharp pain that hit Harry like a ton of bricks. The painful vision felt so real and so life-like that Harry actually felt as though he was lying on the floor of the white room himself instead of him merely envisioning it. He painstakingly moved his head around, his dizziness making him feel as if the room was spinning. Even in all his pain Harry could still make out the hideous, pale face of Lord Voldemort, his expression not one of joy or anger... but of fear.

The second figure that Harry had seen in the vision ever since they had started a year and a half ago silently strode up behind Voldemort, the bright light shielding his face from view. However, it was at this point where the bright light began to fade away, the second figure who had always vanished before it could be identified continued to walk forward so that his face penetrated through the light and eventually overtook it. Standing there, dressed all in white, was none other than Harry’s former Headmaster – Albus Dumbledore.

Excruciatingly, Harry reached out with his arm, both Voldemort and Dumbledore turning their heads to look down upon his fallen body. Voldemort quickly turned away and disappeared, but Dumbledore stood still, cocking his head to the side and smiling the very slightest of smiles. Harry began to grow very dizzy again, the whiteness of the room disappearing around him, the footsteps beginning to ring through his ears once again. Before the vision had dissipated completely, Harry saw the figure of Dumbledore nod his head before he too vanished with the vision from whence he came.

When Harry woke up, he was no longer lying on the floor of the Minister’s office, but instead, he was being dragged forward somewhat clumsily. Feeling extraordinarily exhausted, Harry tiredly looked around and saw – to his thankfulness – Ron and Hermione. There was sweat dripping off of Ron’s nose, Harry’s arm draped over his shoulders as he guided him forward. He heard the unmistakable sound of the gate of the lift closing, Ron propping him up against the side of the lift and breathing heavily as he wiped the sweat from his brow.

‘Ron! He’s awake!’ chimed Hermione from his other side. ‘Harry! Are you alright?!’

‘Yeah... yeah I’m... I’m alright.’ Slowly, Harry’s senses were returning to him.

‘What happened in there mate?’ Ron panted. Harry had to think for a moment before responding, the cool female voice of the lift bringing him further back to a state of normalness.

‘I er... I got the memory...’ he responded, feeling the lump of the package inside his robe pocket.

‘We know that Harry,’ said Hermione concernedly, clutching the Invisibility Cloak to her side. She looked to Ron worriedly. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry I knocked on the door Harry! I just saw a lift coming down and I panicked!’ Hermione collected herself, Ron panting still from carrying Harry down the hallway. ‘You collapsed in there – if we hadn’t come to get you when we did... well Fudge was on his way back down and surely would have seen us.’

‘You mean... er... h-how did you get down here?’ Harry babbled as he finally stood up under his own strength, realizing that the footsteps he had heard had luckily belonged to Ron. The pain from the vision was just beginning to subside.

‘Snuck behind Fudge and his officials,’ Ron said quickly. ‘After I set off the thunderstorm in the Atrium a whole lot of those Ministry stooges appeared, looking around for who did it. Fudge only appeared for a second or two – he seemed very wary of leaving his office unattended for any length of time. But Harry... you had another vision didn’t you?’ Harry nodded, looking down at the ascending lift as he swallowed and took in a long breath.

‘It was really powerful this time. I-I saw Dumbledore... he was the second man with Voldemort.’

‘Dumbledore...’ Ron said surprisingly, his mouth hanging open a little.

‘We’ll talk about this later,’ Hermione whispered as the lift had come to a full stop. She retrieved a small stack of papers from her bag before continuing. ‘Let’s go quickly – Harry, are you alright to walk?’

‘Yeah. Quickly now.’

Hermione wrenched open the gate and swiftly led the charge. She handed Ron the Invisibility Cloak without looking at him, Ron quickly placing it over him after he helped Harry out of the lift. Harry could hear voices echoing from the Atrium and once they had turned the corner, he saw the twenty or so Ministry officials who had apparently successfully defeated the thunderstorm that Ron had conjured. The floor was soaking wet, an inch or so of water covering the entire surface of the Atrium. Each step they took drew a small splash from beneath them, Ron pointing his wand in front of himself and muttering the incantation that would stop any trace of his footsteps.

‘Got them here then,’ Hermione smiled brightly as she passed the now drenched official who had allowed them in, raising the small stack of papers above her head. Barely paying any attention, the ministry official briefly glanced over at them before returning to drying off his robes as he propped himself up against the great fountain.
 
 


Chapter 14: The Eye of the Posterus
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The bright early rays of morning light forced Harry to squint as he, Ron and Hermione tore down the long, empty corridor that led to the Headmistress’ Office. The threesome had wasted little time; on Boxing Day morning they woke early, grabbed a quick bite to eat and proceeded to enter the secret meeting room guarded by the portrait of Percival the Pompous that had once belonged to Regulus Black. They were holding on to the Snitch portkey in great anticipation minutes before it began to faintly glow blue. Remembering that the last memory sent to them by the unknown source had dealt with his parents, Harry was excited to view the second memory, hoping that its contents would shed some light on the mysterious and puzzling nature of the first memory and message.

Harry quickly asked the winged gargoyles for permission to visit the Headmistress’ Office. Without a moment of hesitation, the gargoyles happily obliged, resuming their banter about Peeves the Hogwarts poltergeist as if nothing had ever happened. The spiral staircase appeared in front of them as the early cracks of daylight continued to partially light the corridor. Silently, Harry ascended the steps, taking two at a time until he reached the door to the office, knocking lightly before the door magically swung open.

‘Ah, Harry... Ron, Hermione,’ Professor McGonagall said somewhat surprisingly as she saw Ron and Hermione follow up behind Harry. After a moment of hesitation, McGonagall nodded, glancing over at the pensieve on the far side of the room. ‘Oh... I see. Well, I did tell you three that you could you use the pensieve any time you needed it.’

‘If you wouldn’t mind, Professor,’ Harry said quietly. ‘It’s good to see you again. How was first term?’

‘Truthfully... each day gets better and better,’ McGonagall replied brightly. They seemed to have caught her off guard; her hair was not in the tight bun that they were accustomed to, but instead, it was pulled back in a sort of looser fashion. ‘Not even the attacks on the Ministry have been able to put a damper on all of our moods.’ McGonagall left her seat from behind the great oak desk, pacing to the front of it before changing her approach. ‘And how are the three of you doing? It’s fitting isn’t it... you three doing your part in rebuilding after all that has happened... after all you went through here. Still... as odd as this may sound... this school truthfully does miss you.’

Knowing that their old Head of House had never been particularly sentimental, neither Harry, Ron or Hermione knew how to respond to the Headmistress right away. However, after only a few seconds of staring at the expression on McGonagall’s face (one that they had rarely ever seen before), Harry knew where she was coming from. It was something that had occasionally popped in to his mind over the past year and a half, ever since he had left Hogwarts and had begun work at the Auror Office.

‘And we miss it, Professor. Sometimes... sometimes I wish we could go back to those moments where we didn’t have much to worry about other than making your classes on time and playing Quidditch. Life was much simpler back then when we were kids – now we’re just getting old,’ Harry finished with a laugh, to which McGonagall smiled.

‘Not as old as myself, Harry. You don’t even know the definition of what old is. When you get to my age, then you’ll feel old.’ Hermione and Ron laughed along with Harry, McGonagall slowly striding across the room as she made her way to the door. ‘That world that you spoke of Harry... the one where you don’t have to worry about the complex and dangerous things that you have to deal with today. The three of you are making it. Right now... Don’t let me down.’

McGonagall gave one last nod, winking at Harry as she tied her hair back up in her more familiar tight bun, turning away and leaving the office altogether. Harry felt a great sense of pride rise up from his stomach at McGonagall’s words, sharing a warm, small smile with Ron and Hermione as he saw the door close behind them.

‘Never thought McGonagall had the capacity to be so... reflective,’ said Ron once the door was shut.

Harry retrieved the small brown package from his inside pocket and placed it on the side table beside the pensieve. Looking up, he saw that Dumbledore did not currently occupy his portrait, his frame completely empty save for the dark background.

‘Oh, I forgot to mention the letter we received!’ said Hermione as she pranced over to the pensieve. Hermione was clearly full of the same excitement that Harry was currently feeling. ‘Neville’s parents have invited us to their home on New Year’s Day! From the invitation, it seems as if it’s a get together with all the people who they haven’t seen for... well, years.’

‘Brilliant,’ responded Harry who had honestly forgotten that Neville’s parents had been miraculously revived this past summer. ‘We’ll all go together.’

‘I’m sure it’ll be nice for them to see everyone... either again or for the first time, in our case,’ added Ron. Harry nodded, feeling happy for former schoolmate and friend who had endured so much over his childhood. Still, he could not help his mind from drifting over to his own parents, but it was at this thought that Harry was reminded of the task at hand.

‘I guess I’ll have to open that package then, if Hermione is right,’ said Harry, remembering Hermione’s suggestion that whoever had sent the memory had wrapped it in un-rippable paper, magically making Harry the only one would be able to open it.

‘And I am right,’ Hermione furthered with glee.

Harry tore off a strip of the brown packaging, a silvery glow emitting from the ripped edges for a split second. A very concise, warm and faint breeze whipped by his face as he did so, Harry continuing to open the un-rippable paper until all of it was torn away.

‘Told you.’

A few seconds later, Harry had done away with the wrappings, leaving them lying on the office floor in a small crumpled heap. Sure enough, the package contained a single glowing vial and a small piece of parchment wrapped around it. Harry handed this piece of parchment to Ron.

‘We’ll take a look at that afterwards – I brought some Swelling Solution along with me,’ said Hermione.

‘I’ll stay out of the memory this time and make sure that everything is alright out here while you and Harry dive in.’

‘Yeah you better because there’s no way I’m going to wait out here while the two of you get to view the memory first again,’ replied Hermione jokingly.

‘Ready then?’ asked Harry anxiously.

Hermione nodded excitedly, Harry quickly pouring the vial’s contents in to the pensieve. After a quick glance up at Ron and Hermione, Harry dove in head first, feeling the recognizable cool sensation rush by him as he sunk in to the pensieve. Hermione joined him inside the slowly materializing world of the memory a split second later, her eyes quickly meeting his before they began to feverishly scan the area while it gradually formed around them. After a few moments, Harry began to see that they were in some sort of bedroom; the room was small, cramped and was particularly messy. There were a few pieces of clothing littering the floor, the desk beside the window at the back corner overflowed with unused pieces of parchment, pens, textbooks and assorted wrappers. It was at this desk that Harry noticed a red-headed female figure who was sitting in a chair while she looked out in to the darkening sky through the opened window. The young woman had her back turned to where Harry and Hermione were standing, resuming her writing after shutting the window closed. Harry felt Hermione tug on the sleeve of his shirt as she stared out at the figure.

‘Harry is that you’re –’

‘Yeah. It’s my mother.’ Harry could not help but smile as he watched his mother erase something from the page she was writing on.

‘Lily! What are you doing all holed up here? Nearly everyone has arrived!’ came a calling voice from behind them.

Turning around, Harry saw a young man with jet black hair and glasses stride past them and in to the bedroom. He paused, resting his arm on one of the four bed posts as he smiled down upon Lily who had not looked up from her writings. Harry noticed that his father wore a simple gold ring on his left hand.

‘How are you feeling today?’ asked James softly, tilting his head to the side as he watched Lily write, his fingertips running along the smooth surface of the bedpost.

‘Don’t feel as sick as last week,’ Lily replied as she set down her pen and looked up at her husband brightly. As she turned around to face him, Harry was surprised to see that his mother had a particularly round stomach. He watched as she placed a hand on it and smiled, James smiling back at her.

‘I still don’t know how you were able to find that potion,’ said James who shook his head. ‘It’s not anything we ever learned about at Hogwarts... well, not that I’d know...’

‘No you wouldn’t,’ supposed Lily playfully. ‘I guess it pays off to have one of us actually attend the majority of our potions lessons.’ James chuckled briefly, but he quickly reverted back to a much more serious demeanor. He seemed to be at odds with himself, opening his mouth to say something, his eyes scanning the room without looking directly at Lily. Finally, whilst closing his eyes, he bowed his head and spoke.

‘Look – about the other day –’ he started but he was cut-off by Lily who made a face of protest.

‘You don’t need to say anything,’ replied Lily as if she had said this previously a hundred times.

‘Yes I do,’ James said incredulously looking up and in to Lily’s face. ‘I didn’t mean to pin anything on you. Sometimes I guess I get so caught up in all of this Order stuff that I sometimes forget to be a husband first. I want this baby – this family with you more than anything else in the world.’

‘Oh I know you do James! I’m the one who’s wrong, forget we ever even talked about it. It’s not that I don’t want to be a part of the Order or anything like that – it’s important for us to do our part. Like I always told you, we can’t just stop living our lives because of some Death Eaters – even if things have gotten much... much worse since then. But we cannot overlook the point that we are bringing another life in to this world and it’s going to need a mother and a father to be there for it! I guess things change once you start looking after more than just yourself...’

‘I know, I know,’ James said softly as he walked over to his wife, clutching her in a tight embrace. ‘Maybe it’s one of my faults or something. I just don’t want to bring our baby boy in to a world full of Death Eaters and Voldemort and war. Dumbledore thinks he has found a way to beat him – it’s really rather horrifying and I don’t even wholly understand it but if he is right... then I really believe we are getting close to ending this... and ending him.’

‘See all that sounds... great and all. But it’s not worth it – none of it is – unless you come back home to me and our boy at the end of the day. Just... please be careful James. I want us to all grow old... grow up together.’

‘And we will, I promise Lily.’

Harry watched his parents embrace again, Lily tightly squeezing her husband and holding him as close as she could. He felt Hermione move closer to him, feeling her eyes staring not at the memory of his parents in front of him but at him.

‘What?’ he asked Hermione in a whisper. Not saying anything, she reached out and touched his face with her finger, Harry noticing that when she retracted it, her finger appeared damp. Feeling his own face, he realized that he had shed a tear without even realizing it.

‘Who’s owl is that?’ James asked happily in an obvious effort to lighten up the conversation. Wiping the corners of her eyes, Lily turned back to her desk after releasing her husband. She looked out of the window to get a glimpse of the owl who was perched on the ledge.

‘Just a Ministry owl,’ she replied, quickly gathering together her scattered pieces of parchment that occupied the bulk of the desk’s surface. ‘Haven’t got around to paying it for the Prophet it delivered this evening.’ James nodded as he sat back down on the bed across from
Lily.

‘Thought of any more names yet? I was asking Sirius for some help the other day. His top suggestion is Almerick.’ Lily’s eyebrows moved upwards, her eyes widening slightly.

‘Almerick Potter... how thankful I am that Sirius gets no real choice in the matter,’ said Lily lightheartedly. ‘I was looking at something more simple... like Harry, or something.’ James took a second to ponder Lily’s choice.

‘It’s alright I guess. Maybe it’ll grow on me.’

‘I’ll be sure to see that it does.’ James helped Lily out of her seat as he let out an exasperated laugh. ‘You sure I won’t scare away any of the Order members with my appearance?’

‘Stop it! If they can face Death Eaters, werewolves and vampires, I’m quite sure they can make do with you.’

‘Hey! That doesn’t particularly make me feel better!’ responded Lily after she slapped James lightly on the forearm.

‘You look beautiful, Lily.’ James kissed her on the cheek as they walked side by side out of the room. Harry glanced over at Hermione who nodded, the two of them following Harry’s parents down the small flight stairs.

Before they even got half way down, Harry and Hermione could hear many voices conversing from below. Looking out on to the first floor, Harry could see that there were around thirty or so Order members inhabiting the small kitchen area, the great number of people making the small kitchen look tinier than what it actually was.

‘I don’t know about you James, but I really cannot wait until you move in to your new home – it’ll sure make meetings held on your turn of the rotation much easier for all of us to attend.’ Harry knew whose voice it was before he saw his face. Gazing in to the crowd of people gathered around a single, long table, Harry quickly noticed a much younger but equally as ragged Remus Lupin.

‘Just two weeks until we get there Remus,’ Lily said, sighing as she found a seat beside James.

‘Is everyone here then?’ asked a short, red-headed, bearded wizard who Harry had seen in the Order photo. Though he was not sure, Harry thought that this man was Mrs. Weasley’s cousin.

‘No not everyone,’ replied Alice Longbottom. ‘Lily! My word, you’re nearly as large as I am now! At the last Order meeting I could have hardly guessed you were pregnant at all!’

‘Thanks for reminding me,’ replied Lily good-naturedly as she took her seat.

‘Peter’s not here yet... always bloody late that one,’ added Sirius roughly who was sitting on the other side of James.

‘Is Albus not attending tonight?’ asked Elphias Doge who looked around the table for an explanation. Someone at the far end of the table gave a short, tart laugh.

‘He’s probably out on his own business... too important he is for attending these meetings with the rest of us.’ Harry saw Aberforth Dumbledore sitting behind someone he knew to be Marlene Mackinnon, remembering her from the photo of the entire Order of the Phoenix that Sirius had once shown him.

‘Now Aberforth, Albus is the very reason why we have accomplished so much in the fight against the Death Eaters,’ said Lupin softly. ‘You and I both know how busy the man is.’ Aberforth merely snorted before leaning back in his seat.

‘Accomplished...’ he said sarcastically under his breath. ‘We haven’t accomplished anything until the battle is won!’

‘So did she like the name I thought of?’ Sirius whispered to James. Lily, without looking over, merely grinned and looked forward.

‘Er... no Sirius. She hated it,’ James put simply. Sirius’ eyes grew wide for a moment before he shook his head and smiled, looking over at Lupin who was sharing Lily’s rather amused look.

Then, the front door to the small house burst open and in scurried a younger version of someone who Harry had despised practically more than anyone else other than Lord Voldemort. The small figure rushed over to the only other empty seat at the table and plopped himself down in it, panting heavily as he attempted to catch his breath.

‘And where were you Peter?’ asked Sirius coldly, eyeing him with a look of great discontent.

‘Oi! I was... er... I-I lost track of time!’ squeaked Peter.

‘Good to see you Peter,’ Lily said softly as she rubbed her stomach, giving Sirius a wide-eyed look that told Sirius to stop his pestering.

‘Yeah Sirius. It’s not like you or I ever had the best attendance record at Hogwarts,’ James said while smiling mischievously, a smile that Sirius returned.

‘No you most certainly did not!’ teased Professor McGonagall, James shrugging his shoulders and smiling at his former Head of House.

‘Let’s not waste any more time!’ barked Mad-Eye Moody from the head of the table. At Moody’s words, everyone at the table quieted down in almost an instant. ‘First of all – Dumbledore is travelling abroad tonight. He told me to relate to all of you that if his voyage goes well, we may have a greater number of allies on our side. And he’s also set out to confirm his new findings.’

‘What new findings?’ asked a man named Benjy Fenwick, another Order member who Harry had seen in the old photo of the Order.

‘They are none of our business, Fenwick,’ retorted Mad-Eye sharply. ‘Dumbledore has made it clear that when the time is right, we will know.’ Harry saw his father stir uneasily in his seat, looking down at the table as Lily placed her hand on top of his. ‘He believes that what he has found is essential in bringing down Voldemort and his followers for good.’

‘Great. Now we’d all like to know what he found so that we can actually do something about it,’ Benjy forcefully asked. ‘In case you haven’t noticed, our numbers are dwindling. The time for secrets has ended.’

‘I’m sure none of you have forgotten about Dorcas,’ Hestia Jones said softly yet vigorously. ‘It’s foolish not to act upon new information if it means saving more of our lives!’

‘But it’s Dumbledore!’ a less round Mrs. Weasley said from down the table. ‘We must keep our trust and faith in him. If we don’t... then who or what can we trust?’

‘Molly’s right,’ said James confidently. ‘When Dumbledore thinks it’s ready for us to act, we’ll act. Until then, we’ve got to focus on what’s been asked of us. All of us would like to take action more.’ Harry felt proud of his father, even if he was in mere memory form.

‘Exactly,’ growled Mad-Eye. ‘That includes helping any half-blood or Muggle born witches and wizards in any way possible. How did your assignment fare Alice? Frank?’

‘Couldn’t have gone better,’ Frank Longbottom said proudly. ‘We casted the protective enchantments around the Weller household as per the tip provided for us by Sirius. We were able to stop the attack by a pair of Death Eaters and notified the Aurors.’

‘Good work,’ answered Mad-Eye. ‘It’s not wise of us to attack the Death Eaters straight on seeing as how our numbers are barely a quarter of what they have. Are there any other leads?’

‘Not presently,’ replied Professor McGonagall who had her hair tied up in her familiar bun. ‘Though I would advise against Mr. Black making any more attempts to spy on the Death Eaters for some time. It seems as if they are growing more suspicious of his alternate form. May I suggest that another one of our Animagi take up his role for the time being.’

‘You don’t have to look after me any longer Professor – I don’t attend your school anymore,’ growled Sirius. McGonagall gave no indication that she had heard anything Sirius had said and instead, she looked forward, directly at Moody.

‘She’s right Sirius. If the Death Eaters catch one of us spying on them then it would be catastrophic. They must always feel safe and comfortable, not on the lookout for a possible spy – that is the only way that we can truly extract information from them. You can join one of our other defense teams for the time being. Dedalus and Emmeline for now.’ Sirius lightly tapped his fist on the table and looked away from Mad-Eye in obvious frustration, clenching his fist and resting it on his chin.

‘As you wished Alastor, I’ve begun to use Polyjuice Potion to disguise my true identity whenever I am tending to my pub in Hogsmeade,’ Aberforth stated gruffly. ‘I don’t expect any Death Eater to come waltzing in to the Hog’s Head while... he... is so close by, but in the case that they do, I agree, it would be unwise to show them that I am in fact, a Dumbledore.’ Mad-Eye nodded while Elphias and Emmeline grinned at Aberforth’s statement.

‘Right. Well... shall we take inventory then?’ said Dedalus softly.

There was a brief, dead silence around the table. Harry watched the faces of all the members of the Order and saw that many of them instantly sunk. He watched as his parents took a sideways glance at each other, Sirius merely staring blankly at the long table that the Order was situated around. For a moment, even Mad-Eye seemed to lose his harsh outward demeanor as he quickly scanned the faces of the Order as Harry had done. However, with the light, delicate sound of the wind chime coming from outside the near kitchen window, Mad-Eye came back to his senses.

‘Agreed!’ he barked very loudly, many of the Order members, looking up quickly, seemingly woken up from their daze. ‘Longbottoms and Weasleys! We’ll start with your district.’ Frank cleared his throat, pausing for a moment before speaking.

‘Eleven...’ he said softly, though his voice carried throughout the kitchen, making it seem much more loud than what it was.

‘And how many of them were Muggles?’ asked Mad-Eye. Professor McGongall had summoned a piece of parchment and quill out of mid air, the quill magically scribbling something down on to the parchment as Frank spoke again.

‘Seven,’ he answered.

‘Dedalus and Emmeline?’

‘Four – Three Muggles,’ answered Emmeline.

‘Potters and Remus?’

‘Six. All but one Muggles,’ said James quickly.

‘Pettigrew, Fenwick and Mackinnon.’

‘Twenty-Seven.’

‘TWENTY-SEVEN?’ Mad-Eye asked with a mixture of anger and shock in his voice. ‘Twenty-seven dead at the hands of a Death Eater in the past fortnight? What have you three been doing in your district?’ The trio merely shook their heads and looked down, Pettigrew quivering slightly at Mad-Eye’s forth righteousness. ‘And how many of them were Muggles?’

‘A-All of th-them.’

Mad-Eye swore very loudly, pounding his fist on to the table. Every member of the Order looked either defeated or angry, many of them wearing a look that seemed to be a mixture of both. Mad-Eye raised his hand to stop the conversation between the Order members.

‘We tried to stop them!’ exclaimed Marlene Mackinnon quite loudly as she talked over the side conversations. ‘They attacked a pub, Sunday last. We were severely outnumbered. They wiped out the entire establishment more or less!’

‘They don’t have souls these bloody Death Eaters! Evil, psychotic monsters!’ Sirius said, standing up out of his seat. ‘And you want me to stop spying on them because you think I’ll get caught? We need to take some risks if we want to stop them or else they’ll wipe out all of us sooner or later!’

‘And they’ll be quicker in doing that Sirius if you give us away to them,’ McGonagall said sharply.

‘Oh, so what you’re saying is that I’m not doing my job correctly, Professor?’ barked Sirius, Mcgonagall, turning around sharply, staring directly in to his eyes. ‘Is that what you’re saying? Because I assure you I want nothing more than to kill every last one of them!’

‘I realize that Sirius – I am merely saying to you as a warning that –’

‘Stop with the warnings! We have no time to worry about being careful –’

‘THAT’S ENOUGH! Both of you!’ interrupted Mad-Eye sharply. ‘You’re both right, but Sirius, being reckless is not going to get us anywhere! We don’t have the numbers to fight a fully fledged war with them – we have to use our brains not our brawn!’

Sirius stared across the table, his expression softening after a few moments. After sitting down and exhaling deeply, Sirius looked over at McGonagall and nodded in her direction. McGonagall locked eyes with Sirius for a split second moment, returning the nod stiffly.

‘As we discussed last time,’ Mad-Eye continued slowly, ‘next Saturday is our transport day. We need anyone who can be there to do just that – we’ll need as much help as we can get to ensure our mission’s success.’

‘Pardon me Alastor,’ Aberforth said as he raised his hand. ‘But neither Lupin nor myself were in attendance for the last meeting. I was unable to leave my pub and as I recall, the last meeting took place on the night of a full moon.’

‘Very well... Minerva – since Dumbledore told you directly of the situation, will you relate it to Aberforth and Remus?’

McGonagall flicked her wand, the parchment and quill placing themselves in one of her robe pockets. Surprisingly to Harry, instead of losing focus while McGonagall re-told the details of the mission, the members of the Order did the exact opposite. All of the side conversations stopped and strict attention was paid to McGonagall as if she was teaching one of her own Transfiguration classes at Hogwarts.

‘Ten months ago, as you know, we moved Nicolas Flamel from his home to a much safer location as per Dumbledore’s request,’ McGonagall began. ‘It seems as if now... Voldemort and his Death Eaters have gained some information as to where his location is. It has gotten to a point where it is no longer safe for Flamel to stay in his current position. Our mission is to once again successfully move him, this time, to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Though the Death Eaters will never be able to access the safe house directly unless Dumbledore – the Secret Keeper – tells them of its location, their presence in the neighboring areas has made it near impossible for us control the area. Voldemort has used his influence at the Ministry to somehow prohibit any use of the Floo Network over the surrounding area. He’s obviously got someone in the Floo Department at the Ministry.’

‘What’s he to us? I still don’t understand why we’ve got to risk our necks for Flamel,’ Benjy Fenwick interrupted.

‘It’s because that’s Albus’ buddy, that’s why!’ Aberforth called loudly. ‘He expects us to lie our lives on the line so that all of his friends can stay safe!’

‘Aberforth that’s not true!’ barked Mad-Eye.

‘With all due respect Alastor, what is true?’ asked Hestia Jones.

‘Exactly,’ furthered Elphias Doge. ‘I think it might be time for an explanation as to why Nicolas Flamel is so... imperative to our cause and Dumbledore’s plans.’

Mad-Eye looked over at McGonagall, a serious yet hesitant expression on his face. Harry saw his parents, Sirius and Lupin look at Mad-Eye and McGonagall in the same fashion as everyone else did, a clear thirst of knowledge in their gaze. Mad-Eye furrowed his brow and eyed everyone at the table as someone at the opposite end of the table coughed quietly. Harry could feel Hermione tense up beside him as they watched the scene in front of them.

‘There’s a reason why Voldemort wants Flamel,’ said Mad-Eye shortly. ‘Flamel is a powerful man – power is what drives the Dark Lord.’

‘And seeing as how he is the most powerful alchemist of all time, you can easily see why Voldemort so desires him,’ continued McGonagall.

‘The Philosopher’s Stone – I knew it,’ Dedalus Diggle sighed anti-climatically.

‘Of course not Dedalus,’ replied McGonagall piercingly. ‘Voldemort believes he would have no use for something that makes one immortal because he assumes... that he is immortal already. He believes he is too powerful to be killed by anyone or anything. Nor would he desire a stone that would save one from imminent death because Voldemort is absolutely certain that he will never face such a situation. His arrogance is his weakness. No, he is after something else... a magical property that he does not have but so desperately wants. And only Flamel can give it to him.’

‘What is it?’ asked Peter Pettigrew, his eyes wide, his bottom rising off of his chair.

‘The Eye. He’s after the Eye of the Posterus.’

There was a brief silence, a small, cold breeze entering the kitchen through the open window, the stars beginning to emerge in the darkening sky.

‘That’s rubbish...’ Sirius said quietly to himself.

‘Come on now,’ Fenwick said unbelievingly. ‘You don’t actually expect us to believe that the Eye of the Posterus actually exists!’

‘Well it’s what Albus Dumbledore believes, so that should be good enough for all of us!’ said McGonagall passionately. ‘It all makes sense, don’t you see? With the Eye, Voldemort will be able to see... everything! The past, the present... the future! Do you not see how dangerous it could be if the Eye fell in to Voldemort’s hands?!’

‘That’s if it even exists, Minerva,’ questioned Hestia. McGonagall looked crossly at the questioning stares that she and Mad-Eye were receiving.

‘You believe what you want!’ Mad-Eye said threateningly. ‘Even if the Eye does not exist, Flamel is extraordinarily powerful – it would not be wise for us to let him fall under Voldemort’s control.’ ‘Sirius and I will be there,’ James said loudly. ‘Whether or not that thing exists... it’s the right thing to do.’

‘I will be as well,’ added Frank Longbottom.

‘I as well,’ agreed Lupin. Aberforth stiffly nodded from his seat. ‘Good,’ McGonagall replied. She sighed deeply, continuing on very quickly. ‘Albus believes that there is such a thing. He believes that with the Eye of the Posterus under his control, Voldemort will be able to see everything. Things that no one else would know... even could know. Knowing what will happen before it actually happens is something that would make Voldemort... nearly invincible. So believe what you want – but I’ll be sticking by what Albus Dumbledore believes.’

‘Then why hasn’t anyone ever seen it? Why hasn’t anyone wrote about it?’ asked Elphias.

‘That should be obvious, isn’t it?’ replied McGonagall strongly. ‘He wouldn’t want anyone to know about it, now would he? Could you imagine how sought after he would be if he bragged about possessing a stone that could see in to the future? How many people would like to have the power of being all-knowing?’

‘Listen to you Minerva! You devote yourself so strongly to a myth!’ cried Fenwick. ‘Surely a teacher, such as yourself, who bases their career and life around logic and fact would know that believing something so outlandish is unwise! Watch... Remus – have you ever heard of the Eye of the Posterus before?’

‘Er... well I’ve heard about it before... the legend of the Eye is an old wives’ tale...’ Lupin answered, somewhat taken aback.

‘And do you believe it exists? Does anyone really believe it exists?’

However, a large booming noise stopped any member of the Order from answering. Harry noticed that the cool breeze coming from the window had stopped and everything was eerily silent after the echoes of the thunderous sound faded. Again, another even louder noise sounded, shaking the very foundations of the small house. James and Sirius slowly got up from their seats, their hands subconsciously reaching for their wands. A third booming noise nearly knocked them off their footing, a mug on the long kitchen table falling off the surface completely and crashing to the ground. A few of the pots and pans situated on the kitchen counter crashed to the floor, Mad-Eye looking out of the window behind him.

‘Everyone! We need to move! Right –’

Mad-Eye’s speech was drowned out by a horrible screech, the Order members covering their ears in pain. Without warning, jets of black smoke crashed through the house in every which direction, flashing lights obstructing Harry and Hermione’s view. Nearest to him, Harry saw Benjy Fenwick fly through the window beside the front door as more and more jets of smoke hurtled through the kitchen.

‘LILY! GET DOWN!’ Harry heard his father scream.

Along with Sirius and Lupin, James took his wife by the hand and led her out of the house amidst the chaos, carefully avoiding a curse that flew by his head. Lupin cast a shield charm around the four of them as they left the kitchen and made their way outside, the crashing noises and yells of pain filling Harry’s ears.

‘WHY DIDN’T OUR PROTECTIVE CHARMS ACTIVATE?!’ James yelled as he narrowly missed a nearby Death Eater with a hex of his own.

Harry could see more Death Eaters running towards the house, countless hexes being aimed in their direction. Lupin and Sirius fired a barrage of their own stunning spells back at the incoming Death Eaters, knocking a few of them down in the process. Behind them, McGonagall, Mackinnon, Hestia, the Longbottoms and Dedalus all made their way out of the house and fired their own spells at the incoming Death Eaters.

Emerging out of the sea of Death Eaters came a single stream of black smoke, four red jets of light shooting out from it and hitting Dedalus and Mackinnon in the chest which knocked them backwards. Frank Longbottom and Lupin shot their own spells at the cloud of smoke but missed, the cloud setting itself down mere feet away. As the smoke dissipated around the dark figure, Harry could tell instantly that it was Lord Voldemort.

Voldemort continued to walk forward, waving his wand swiftly to one side which knocked Sirius, Frank and Lupin backwards. The charging Death Eaters continued to fire their spells at the house which had now burst in to flames. He looked on as his father stood his ground, pointing his wand directly at the sneering face of Voldemort.

‘Stupefy! STUPEFY!’ cried James with all his might. His last curse caught Voldemort off guard, the Dark Lord having to quickly doge the curse that nearly struck his head. Voldemort’s smile vanished, a look of anger replacing it as he continued to stride forward, his wand held aloft.

‘Expelliarmus!’ James’ wand went flying backwards, Lily standing a few paces behind her husband.

‘Where is Flamel, Potter?!’ Voldemort asked violently as the rest of the Death Eaters stopped a few paces behind the advancing Voldemort.

‘You’ll have to kill me,’ James said strongly, looking directly in to the eyes of Voldemort.

‘Oh, I have no doubt that I will do that by night’s end. But I believe it would be wise that you tell me where the alchemist is... that is, unless you would like to see your wife die as well...’

James’ eyes grew wide in fear. He looked behind him to see a frightened Lily and his fallen Order members who had still not stirred after being cursed by Voldemort. James turned back and locked eyes with Voldemort once again. He opened his mouth to reply to the Dark Lord but interrupting him came a bright, blue explosion that erupted from the burning house. The light extended high in to the air and began to spread out around the house, encompassing a small area around it. The dome of light extended to the ground, finally touching the ground in between where James and Voldemort were standing.

Harry could see Voldemort looking around feverishly, calling to one of his Death Eaters over his shoulder, though he could not hear the sound of his voice. James looked shocked, turning around quickly to see a limping Mad-Eye exit the burning house.

‘He reset the defensive enchantments James,’ panted Lily.

Harry saw a single Death Eater emerge from the pack, stopping once he was standing beside Voldemort. He shook his head slowly, pointing at the dome of light that stood between Voldemort and James. Voldemort appeared to scream, tossing the Death Eater at the shield in his anger. Instantly, the Death Eater vanished, breaking up into many particles of blue light. Voldemort pointed his wand at the shield, screaming as he aimed a dozen curses at the dome, each one bouncing off and flying backwards in to the night sky.

After a moment, Voldemort turned back to James, a small grin growing on Voldemort’s face. James returned the look with a grave stare of his own. Gradually, the smile of Voldemort vanished as he began to dissolve back in to his cloud of smoke, his entire body disappearing from view a few seconds later.

Harry felt himself being tugged out of the memory. As he felt himself being whisked out of the pensieve, he subconsciously reached out with his arms, not wanting to leave his mother and father who stared out at the departing Death Eaters. Before he knew it, Harry found himself back in the Headmistress’ office, a concerned Ron looking directly at him.

‘So? What happened?’ he asked excitedly.

Glancing over at Hermione, Harry paused for a moment, recollecting himself before answering the inquiring Ron.

‘I think we have a few more things to talk about when we visit the Longbottoms on New Year’s Day.’
 
 


Chapter 15: An Evening with the Longbottoms
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Harry sat in solitude, an arrangement of parchment and pens scattered over the dark table. He rubbed his forehead absent-mindedly as he scanned the closest piece of parchment in front of him, thinking of the unsolved mystery at his finger tips. The secret room behind Percival’s portrait was silent; many of the current residents of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place were still sleeping in their beds, recovering from the night previous.

The night before was New Year’s Eve and Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny had all travelled to the Burrow for the festivities. Many members of the Order, some of Mr. Weasley’s colleagues at the Ministry and the rest of the Weasley clan were in attendance for the party that continued well in to the early hours of morning. During the celebrations, Ron had been persuaded to try Firewhisky for the very first time and after being initially hesitant to try the concoction, as the night wore on, Ron strangely took a well documented liking to it. Harry chuckled to himself as the image of Ron needing help to apparate back to Grimmauld Place sprung in to his brain.

Having not experimented with Firewhisky the night before, Harry had gotten up early before everyone else had, his mind dragging him out of bed. Ever since he – along with Ron and Hermione – had poured the Swelling Solution over the second message that had accompanied the memory, the growing mystery was all Harry could think about. In front of him were the two messages that had been sent to him along with the notes that Hermione had jotted down on separate pieces of parchment. It was these notes that Harry was examining when Hermione made her way through Percival’s portrait hole and in to the secret meeting room.

‘You couldn’t put a fire on?’ she asked quietly as she stood upright whilst rubbing her shoulders feverishly after ducking under the narrow entrance. Harry merely shrugged, not looking up from the papers in front of him.

‘Why do these messages have to be so vague,’ said Harry gently with a hint of frustration in his voice.

‘Read me the second message again,’ whispered Hermione, placing her hand on her mouth as she concentrated on Harry’s recitation.

‘It exists. It is what the Death Eaters are after. If they were to obtain it, the repercussions would be catastrophic. Find Flamel and the Eye before they do. Continue what your parents started and end Voldemort’s Death Eaters forever. And then just below it... Never odd or even. ’ Harry looked up at Hermione who stared off in to space, her mind undoubtedly racing.

‘Any new ideas?’ he asked her hopefully.

‘Well... we now know that the ‘it’ they are referring to is the Eye of the Posterus. The stone that can apparently enable one to see in to the past, present and future.’

‘Do you think it even exists?’ asked Harry, remembering those who had scoffed at the plausibility of its existence, including his godfather Sirius.

‘I’ve only heard... well, barely anything about it before that memory,’ Hermione said quickly. ‘But don’t you remember the first memory at all? Sirius asked Flamel when they rescued him if her had it. He must have been referring to the Eye.’

‘Then why was Sirius so skeptical about the eye’s existence in the second memory?’ asked Harry. He was glad that Hermione had brought that point up because it was one that Harry could not understand. Hermione took a moment to ponder Harry’s question.

‘We can’t know for certain... but it’s possible that they were never actually shown the Eye. You heard everyone chastising Dumbledore for not giving them enough information. Perhaps the information about the Eye follows the same formula.’

‘Actually, that makes a lot of sense,’ supposed Harry thoughtfully. ‘Now assuming it exists, what do you think the Death Eaters want the Eye for? I mean, I realize being able to look in to the future, present or past is powerful and all... but what specifically do they want it for?’

‘I’m... I’m not sure. They were probably instructed by Voldemort’s portrait before you destroyed it,’ began Hermione slowly. ‘Many of them had probably never even heard of the Eye before Voldemort mentioned it, so this is definitely not an act of their own accordance. It certainly isn’t a common myth that the entire wizarding world is aware of. But Voldemort or no Voldemort, something as powerful as the Eye falling in to the wrong hands... you can imagine how terrible that could be.’

‘We don’t even know how it works... it’s too bad there isn’t any information in some book or something that could at least give us something to work with,’ longed Harry, referring to Hermione’s unsuccessful search through her own personal library. ‘At least now we know that it’s probably not a coincidence that these memories have begun to turn up showing how important Flamel is at the same time that Flamel kills those men and apparently goes rogue.’

‘Agreed,’ nodded Hermione. ‘As taxing as that is, it’s in our best interest to try and figure out these messages. Let’s take a look at the clues again.’

Harry retrieved the first blown-up message and set it down on his left, examining the letters that had been secretly highlighted within its text. Hermione had written down these letters in the corresponding order that they were given in on a separate piece of parchment, making a sort of make-shift puzzle.

‘Add these letters to the puzzle,’ Harry stated as he looked to the magically highlighted letters that Hermione had uncovered in the second message. Hermione seized one of the pens and jotted down the letters that Harry called out. ‘A, eighth spot. E, twelve. O, two. That’s all there is this time.’

‘Still, doesn’t give us much to go on, does it?’ Hermione said, setting down her pen once she had finished writing.

As Harry and Hermione examined the message, they heard Percival’s portrait move once again and after a moment, they saw the ginger head that unquestionably belonged to Ron.

‘Well look who it is!’ Harry asked happily. Ron, dressed in his navy blue robe, smiled embarrassedly, rubbing his eyes with the back of his sleeve.

‘Not a word, you two. I’m still so tired,’ he said, plopping himself down in one of the dark wooded arm chairs that populated the outside of the table and exhaling tiredly.

‘Alright, but look at this first. Those are all of the hidden letters from the two messages assembled in their correct order,’ said Hermione, rubbing Ron’s back and sliding the parchment in front of him.

‘Oh yeah, those bolded... dodgy looking letters with the little numbers below them. Joy, yet another mystery for us to solve,’ Ron said unenthusiastically.

‘Why the snippy attitude, Ron?’ teased Harry. ‘Last night you were in the most joyous of moods. I can’t remember how many times you told me how much you loved me.’

‘The teasing – unnecessary,’ Ron responded in a dead-pan like fashion.

After Harry indicated the parchment once again, Ron put up his hand, examining the puzzle in front of him. Harry leaned over to take one more look at it, holding hope that a new point of view would somehow enable him to understand the secret message.


_O_G _E_A_R_ E_ _ _O_


‘Fantastic,’ Ron said sarcastically. ‘Whoever’s sending us these memories is really giving me the impression that they need our help immediately.’

‘Oh Ron, we’ve discussed this,’ pleaded Hermione. ‘These memories are obviously very secretive – they don’t want them to fall in to the wrong hands. Whoever is sending them is being extremely cautious – very few would have the knowledge to crack the code within the messages. Well, I guess anyone who read every chapter of their seventh year Advanced Ancient Runes textbook would, but it’s not every day you run in to someone who has.’

‘Actually, it is,’ muttered Ron.

‘Don’t forget about the un-rippable paper,’ added Harry. ‘Hermione’s right – they are really going to great lengths to make sure no one gets a hold of these memories.’

‘Alright, alright...’ said Ron, trailing off, holding his head and squinting. ‘It’s just frustrating that’s all. All this work better be worth it...’

Harry turned to the last thing that they had not discussed. At the bottom of each message was a statement somewhat departed and separate from the rest of the paragraph.

‘I thought that the first message was confusing... but now that we have a second – if it’s possible – these riddles seem even more baffling! They don’t seem to relate to each other at all!’

‘Never odd or even...’ whispered Hermione, then turning her attention to the first message’s riddle. ‘Flee to me, remote elf. I’ve got no idea, but they must mean something to be put there so prominently.’ No one else could offer anything else regarding the subject.

For the next quarter of an hour the threesome talked of the night before, playfully teasing Ron about what he could and could not remember. Curious to see who had awoken, the trio left the secret room, rolling up the parchment and fastening it together tightly. Once they had crawled through the opening, they were greeted by Ginny who appeared to have just left her room, arriving on the landing at the same time as Harry, Ron and Hermione.

‘Oh, hello there,’ Ginny said surprised after a brief yawn, shooting Harry a curious look before continuing. ‘I think Mum and Dad are thinking of leaving around noon... we’ve missed breakfast so I guess that means – for us – we’re leaving after brunch...’

‘Leave for what Gin?’ asked Harry as Percival slid back over the entrance to the meeting room.

‘The Longbottoms party, remember Harry?’ answered Hermione who had just come back from returning the messages to Harry and Ron’s room.

‘You weren’t having the same stuff Ron was, right?’ taunted Ginny playfully at Harry’s forgetfulness. ‘Oh no, that’s right. You weren’t running around telling everyone why you fancy them, my mistake...’ Ron shook off down the hall but Harry could see that a small smile had crept on to his friends’ face.

Everyone was quiet throughout the morning as many were still feeling the after effects of the late-night New Year’s Eve party. Kreacher, however, was happily humming a tune to himself as he prepared brunch while Ron appeared to regain some of his lost energy after taking a few swigs of his orange juice and a bite or two of toast and marmalade. After finishing their brunch, the four residents of Grimmauld Place lazily helped Kreacher clean up the kitchen, lounging around the house’s first floor for the next hour or so before beginning to get ready for the Longbottoms’ party.

‘When’s your next game Gin?’ asked Harry as he and Ginny began to slowly ascend the steps.

‘Next weekend. It’s the derby match against Puddlemere. Everyone is getting pretty excited about the game – big rivalry, you know.’

‘Any chance you’ll play?’

‘Not as long as we keep winning,’ sighed Ginny dryly. ‘Wellington has been shaky lately, but she’s still found a way to capture the Snitch. Given us a nice little cushion atop the League standings – right ahead of Montrose and Puddlemere.’

‘I guess that makes the rivalry all the more intense then,’ inquired Harry. ‘Seeing as how both you and them are fighting it out for the top spot in the League.’ Ginny nodded happily as they continued to talk about Quidditch and how the Harpies had amassed a perfect five wins and zero loss record to start the season.

Half an hour later, Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny had all apparated to the Burrow to meet up with the rest of the Weasleys. There, Mr. Weasley had set up a portkey for anyone who wished to travel to the Longbottom residence. After arriving, they only had to wait for a mere fifteen minutes until the portkey – in the form of a white and yellow flowered umbrella – would activate again. As everyone began to crowd around the umbrella, a small popping noise came from just outside the Burrow, Harry leaning his head back through the kitchen window to see a figure trudging up to the house through the snow.

‘Oh, there’s Gawain,’ muttered Mr. Weasley, referring to their fellow Order of the Phoenix member who was also an Auror at the Ministry.

‘There’s still a few who have not come through yet Arthur,’ chimed Mrs. Weasley who perused a piece of parchment that was sitting on the kitchen table. Mrs. Weasley wore the new scarlet reading glasses that Harry and Ron had bought her for Christmas giving Mrs. Weasley the ability to read print on a letter from up to one hundred meters away.

‘There’s four other umbrellas underneath the front stoop – everyone was told,’ replied Mr. Weasley, narrowing his eyebrows as he looked and pointed to the list his wife was holding. ‘Oh, Percy’s not using our portkeys Molly. He went earlier today with Penelope.’

‘Afternoon everyone,’ said Gawain Robards as he entered the Burrow, a brief whip of iciness brushing past Harry’s face as the door swung open. Gawain ran his hand through his thinning blond hair as he entered the Burrow, his green eyes matching his dark green robes that were slightly damp at the bottom from walking through the fallen snow.

‘How’s everything Gawain? I presume your celebrations last night were enjoyable?’ asked Mr. Weasley as Gawain quietly greeted everyone.

‘Celebrations? Well, Aurors in my unit do carry the prided reputation of being the most committed to the job – most demanding unit to work in at the Auror Office... far cry from Williamson’s unit, isn’t it boys?’ Gawain smiled for a second at his joke but instantly thought better of it. ‘Oh, I shouldn’t speak of Williamson like that... not after what he’s gone through...’ Gawain trailed off, looking at his feet.

‘How is he?’ asked Harry quietly. He had not seen his unit Head since the last attack inside the Auror Office by the Imperiused Crawford. Williamson had been hit by a dangerous and violent curse that had knocked him unconscious for several days. ‘I haven’t heard anything about him in a long time.’

‘He’s a lot better,’ replied Gawain. ‘I visited him the other day. Crazy bloke actually spoke of returning soon, if you believe it.’ Gawain chuckled to himself, taking in a brief breath before collecting himself and continuing. ‘Anyway... I wasn’t having a merry New Year’s Eve. Not me. My unit and I were tracking down a few smugglers last night. I really didn’t have much time for any sort of merriment,’ Gawain finished through a haughty laugh.

‘Did you catch them? What were they smuggling?’ asked Harry quickly whose interest had peaked to the same level as Ron and Hermione’s.

‘Oh,’ Gawain said, laughing a little as he spoke. Gawain looked to Harry and Ron and merely whispered his next words. ‘They were smuggling... information.’ Harry wore a puzzled look on his face as Mr. Weasley casually glanced in the direction of the three Aurors.

‘What do you mean... information?’ asked Hermione hesitantly as Mrs. Weasley pulled on her winter coat whilst conversing with George.

‘I’m surprised, Ms. Granger,’ replied Gawain slowly, a hint of surprise in his tone. ‘A bright witch such as you ought to know. See... they were smuggling books.’

‘Books? What were they smuggling books for?’ pondered Ron.

‘It is not the what that is of concern here, but the who,’ answered Gawain. ‘The two wizards who we ended up catching were under the influence of the Imperius curse. From the leads we had learnt, I am fairly sure that they were smuggling those items for the Death Eaters themselves.’

‘Didn’t think they knew how to read,’ commented Ron quietly.

‘Why would the Death Eaters need someone else to get them a book? Could they not do that themselves?’ asked Harry.

‘Not when the books in question are located in the library at the Auror Office.’

Harry glanced over at Ron and then Hermione quickly. Mrs. Weasley stopped fastening her jacket buttons as she overheard the tail end of what Gawain was saying, clutching at her husband’s side in search of the full story.

‘Aha, now you see,’ resumed Gawain after a brief moment of silence. ‘The books we recovered from the two Imperiused wizards are very rare editions – two of them are literally one of a kind. The books themselves don’t offer us much information regarding what they are planning – there’s one on famous witches and wizards of the last thousand years, another on Britain’s largest mountains and an extremely old edition on specific types of dark, complex magic. But at least we know that the Death Eaters have failed in stealing them.’

‘Still... it’s another attack on the Ministry,’ said a clearly worried Mr. Weasley.

‘Exactly. Thankfully no one was hurt this time, but only a fool would categorize this most recent event as a less threatening attack. Never before has anyone broke in to the Ministry successfully with such ease.’

‘And so frequently,’ Hermione added to Gawain’s statement. Harry’s stomach was turning at this notion.

‘Gawain,’ began Harry. ‘Do you think –’

‘Oh! Sorry, you’ll have to save that Harry!’ exclaimed Mrs. Weasley as she clasped her handbag to her side tightly, using her free hand to point at the umbrella that was now glowing blue.

‘Everyone together now,’ muttered Mr. Weasley.

An instant after grasping the glowing umbrella, Harry opened his eyes to find himself on a long beach, the rushing noise of the charging waves drowning out the noise of his footsteps as he followed the small entourage in front of him. Ahead, he saw that Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were leading them to a small, stone cottage at the bottom of a hill situated on the banks of the beach, a little miniature garden hugging its foundation. There were a few nicely dressed witches on the small porch who were sipping some sort of bluish concoction while a half dozen accompanying wizards were arranged in a semi circle at the bottom of the steps. Seeing that Gawain was only a few paces ahead of him, Harry seized the moment to finish what he had started back at the Burrow.

‘Mr. Robards!’ he called over the crashing waves and caws of the seagulls. Gawain turned and waited for Harry to catch up.

‘Yes, Harry. I believe you were interrupted.’

‘Yeah. Er... I wanted to ask you something,’ Harry began, taking a deep breath and pausing for a second before continuing. ‘What I meant to ask you was... was do you think that Mosteban has anything to do with the attacks on the Ministry.’

Harry regretted saying it the moment the sentence had left his lips. Gawain stopped in his tracks, Harry feeling his stomach fall as he saw the puzzled yet somewhat angry expression crawl on to Gawain’s face. Knowing that he was already in too deep to explain his way out of it, Harry begrudgingly pressed on.

‘I just mean... well I’m not accusing him of anything but... who else has that sort of access to the Ministry... to the Auror department? Isn’t it possible that someone inside the department itself could have assisted in these attacks? Please, sir. I’m speaking to you as an Order member now, not an Auror.’

Gawain’s expression softened as he turned to look out at the sea. He squinted his eyes and responded to Harry without looking at him.

‘Weather converting charm. Extremely powerful bit of magic. The Longbottoms wished to look out of their home... and see... the sea – even in the dead of winter. Normally, that type of magic is banned... it has caused catastrophes in the past. Even though the Longbottoms have been gone for so long, the Ministry still would not approve of their requests. Until one man got involved and personally convinced the Minister to overturn their ruling.’ Gawain spoke very silently, the sound of the waves overpowering his voice to the point where Harry had to listen very carefully to understand everything that he was saying. ‘I’ve known Mosteban for a long time... a long time. While I do applaud you for leaving no man unturned in your thought process, I really do not believe he has anything to do with the recent attacks. I too believe that someone inside the Ministry is assisting in these attacks. Sometimes nothing that we know of happens! Like that attack on Christmas Day – the thunderstorm in the Atrium. You do raise an interesting point though Potter,’ Gawain said, turning back to Harry. ‘The things that the attackers have accomplished are no doubt... shocking. We should all be on high alert. Install your trust in only a select few. I assure you... Mosteban is one of those few.’

Feeling slightly dejected, Harry followed Gawain as they continued to set forth towards the small cottage, Harry seeing that Ron, Hermione and Ginny had already arrived at the front stoop.

‘I’ve got to make this quick,’ Gawain said suddenly, his voice back to his regular, commanding tone. ‘I’ve got to visit the Gibbons household before dusk. They’re going to be lifting the seal in another week or two if they don’t find anything.’

‘Gibbons...’ whispered Harry. The name struck a chord with him. ‘Do you mean the Gibbons who was murdered a couple of months ago? The woman who was the caretaker of –’

‘Nicolas Flamel – yes, the same. We haven’t been able to find anything. Nothing. Dead end. Poor old bat deserves to have her murderer brought to justice, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. After you, Potter.’

Gawain extended his arm, prompting Harry to ascend the small flight of steps that led to the front porch. A few of the nicely dressed witches looked over at him as he strode towards the door where Ron, Hermione and Ginny had waited for him, Harry remembering the gruesome Gibbons crime scene he had visited with Williamson and the rest of the unit.

Slowly, Harry followed Ginny in to the Longbottom cottage. A wall of murmuring conversation filled his ears the moment the door was opened, Harry being quite taken aback by just how many witches and wizards had crammed themselves in to the small space. After being prompted to shuffle away from the entrance by Hermione behind him, Harry looked around at the space in front of him, noticing a tiny kitchen tucked away behind a counter, a little dining table – that would be able to seat four at the very most – and a few comfy looking armchairs and coffee table on the opposite side of the kitchen. The cottage was built as one large room sectioned off in to separate living areas, a burgundy rug lining the middle of the floor over the tile. As they weaved their way over to Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Harry noticed the rug had little golden designs and characters on it that seemingly told the story of a witch and wizard fighting in a war. At the far back of the room was a single door that was shut and beside the entranceway, a small staircase leading to the bedrooms.

‘Very crowded in here, isn’t it?’ chimed Mr. Weasley as he nodded kindly at an older couple who was passing by.

‘The Longbottoms were always kind people. They were... and are good friends to many,’ added Mrs. Weasley emotionally. ‘Let’s go see them, Arthur! Oh, but let’s not crowd them. You lot stay here for now, alright?’ Harry watched as the Weasleys bustled off through the crowd and towards the back of the room where the single white door stood.

‘I wonder where Neville is,’ asked Ron as he looked around through the crowd. Before Harry could assist his friend in the search, his eye was forced to someone who comically stood out in the tiny crowded cottage.

‘Hagrid!’ called Hermione who had easily noticed the half-giant as well. ‘Long time no see!’

‘Hey yeh lot! It hasn' been as long since I've seen Frank an' Alice. Everythin' else seems like no time at all,’ replied Hagrid cheerily. Harry could tell he was trying to be gentle, but in the excited Hagrid’s endeavor to make his way across the small, crowded room, he had shoved a pair of witches so forcefully that they nearly lost their footing, looking up at Hagrid with a look of detest on their faces.

‘Have you seen them yet Hagrid?’ asked Ginny.

‘Yeah, jus' now. Only popped in there fer a minute or two... don' want to take up too much o' their time. Plenty o' people here to see 'em. McGonagall was jus' here a little while ago.’

‘How’s Fang, Hagrid?’ asked Harry, remembering the Hogwarts gamekeeper’s ailing bloodhound.

‘Well... Fang's seen better days,’ recited Hagrid, exhaling deeply. ‘He's a bit more cheery now though. As if the school gettin' back to normal has made him feel more at home, or somethin'. Anyway, I got to be goin'. McGonagall wants all o' the Christmas trees down by the time students return an' it's no easy job.’ After bidding him goodbye, Hagrid bounded out of the cottage, shaking the foundation of the tiny house as he left.

‘Hey look, there’s Seamus,’ pointed Hermione. Looking up, Harry saw his former Gryffindor roommate from across the room being accompanied by who Harry guessed was his mother. Remembering that a few years ago, Seamus’ mother did not think too highly of Harry and his claims regarding Lord Voldemort, he could not help but smile as Mrs. Finnegan cheerily waved to them at the same time as Seamus did.

A half hour and a conversation about the current Quidditch League standings with Ernie McMillan later, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley emerged from the door at the back of the room. Mrs. Weasley was dabbing at her eyes with Mr. Weasley’s handkerchief, although she appeared quite pleased. Harry nodded and smiled at Hestia Jones who walked by them with a middle aged couple, the threesome making their way for the door. Looking around, he noticed that even more witches and wizards had jammed their way in to the little cottage, conversing with different groups huddled together, talking and laughing with drinks in hand. Some had conjured up their own chairs and arranged them in little circles which made it difficult for many to navigate the singular room that the cottage was made up in to.

‘Thanks for coming everyone,’ came a quiet voice from behind Harry. Turning his head, Harry saw that it was Neville who looked quite red in the face.

‘Of course Neville!’ said Harry cheerfully.

‘We’re so happy for you,’ added Hermione who hugged Neville, Ron clapping him on the back after she released him.

‘This really is amazing for everyone to come like this... Mum and Dad are so happy... so am I,’ Neville said smilingly. ‘It really does mean a lot. And Ginny – I know you’re busy and all with Quidditch and whatnot... so thanks for taking the time.’

‘Oh, well I didn’t have any practice on today anyway,’ Ginny said slightly flustered, but regaining her strength as she spoke. ‘And if I did... well friends and family come before Quidditch. Not even a contest.’ Neville nodded, glancing happily at his friends and all of the other guests of the small cottage for a few moments.

‘Er... I don’t mean to put you on the spot Harry... but... I was – they were wondering... I mean if you don’t want to then...’

‘What is it Neville?’ asked Harry amusingly.

‘My Mum and Dad... would you mind seeing them for a minute?’ Slightly taken aback, Harry took a moment to respond.

‘Ye-Yeah. I mean, of course Neville. Anything they want.’

‘It’s just through that door.’ Neville indicated the single door at the back of the room, Harry patting him on the back lightly as he began to make his way over.

With butterflies creeping in to his stomach for reasons Harry could not quite explain, he dodged a couple of running children who ducked under the legs of the wizard in front of him. He waved and nodded awkwardly to a family who had recognized him and as he did so, he bumped in to the man in front of him who had stopped abruptly to let a witch pass through.

‘Oh! Sorry about that my fellow – it is a mad house in here, please understand...’ the man began, wheeling around to face Harry. As he did so, the man’s eye’s opened wide as he recognized his former student.

‘Professor Slughorn,’ Harry said, trying to put more enthusiasm in to his voice. ‘How are you sir.’

‘Harry! Very well, very well indeed! My, we have not seen each other for a long time! Did you not receive my Christmas invitation?’ Harry’s heart sunk, remembering how Ron had used it as kindling for the fire they put together while they listened to the last Cannons game.

‘Er... well, you see –’

‘I did have a bad feeling about that owl... I must trust my instincts more often – they are quite good if I may gush. Would you disagree?’ Slughorn asked merrily.

‘Not at all,’ responded Harry. Slughorn beamed.

‘Those very instincts have always served me well. If I may digress... the moment I set eyes on Frank and Alice Longbottom back at Hogwarts, I knew they would do wonderful things. And they did. Such a shame what happened. So happy that they have found their consciousness again.’

‘Well, I must be going sir. Mr. and Mrs. Longbottom – they’ve requested to see me.’

‘Oh yes, yes! I just saw them not half an hour ago! Wonderful people! Take care now Harry. Await my owl!’

Slughorn slowly weaved his way through the sea of visitors as Harry continued to the back of the room. After what felt like an eternity, Harry reached it, a small semi-circle carpet at the foot of threshold. Taking a single breath, Harry reached for the cold, golden handle and wrenched it open.

‘Harry! So good of you to come.’

The murmuring sound from those in the cottage were instantly drowned out the moment Harry closed the door. Looking up, he saw that Neville’s parents were beaming up at him from their armchairs. Alice had short, shoulder length hair and a sort of mousy complexion while her smile and rosy cheeks made her look very kind. Her husband Frank looked quite like Neville but with a receding hair line. He could tell from his smile that his front teeth were slightly larger than the rest, the firelight making his warm, big brown eyes sparkle. As happy as they looked, he could tell there was something wrong by the way they were sitting in their armchairs.

‘It’s a pleasure to meet you Mr. and Mrs. Longbottom.’

‘Please Harry. Call us Frank and Alice,’ said Alice with her sweet, high-pitched voice.

‘I hope you don’t find us rude Harry for not coming out to socialize with everyone all at once,’ managed Frank, extending his arm to the chair in front of him and indicating him to sit. ‘Walking, standing... these are things you take for granted. We’re finding it a bit difficult.’

‘We’ll get there though,’ grinned Alice.

‘Neville’s told us so much about you. From what he’s told us... you really are much like Lily. And now that we’ve seen you... well you are a spitting image of your father!’ exclaimed Frank. His smile completely faded within a couple of seconds. ‘I’m sorry, Harry.’ At first, Harry did not know what Frank meant by his quick apology, but after realizing how long the Longbottoms had been gone for, he understood why.

‘Don’t mention it,’ Harry replied forcing a smile. ‘So how are you? It must have been difficult to... reawaken after all these years.’

Harry felt incredibly awkward as and after he spoke; he did not have the faintest idea how to further a conversation with people who had miraculously re-emerged in to consciousness after being thought of as nearly dead for almost twenty years. He thought he sounded foolish. Thankfully, the Longbottoms did not seem to be the teeniest bit turned off at Harry’s question.

‘We’re coming around slowly,’ said Alice glancing at her husband. ‘The toughest part has been hearing about all that has happened since we... well since we left.’

‘And that’s what we’ve been meaning to talk to you about, if you don’t mind Harry. I promise we won’t keep you long,’ added Frank lightly, trying his best not to sound too presumptuous.

‘Not at all.’ Harry instantly felt some of the tension ooze off of his body. All of a sudden he could feel the warmth of the fire penetrate him as if his senses had just now re-awoken.

‘The war, what Voldemort did to you, how he was gone... how he came back... these are all very confusing things Harry. There’s so much we missed... so many things have happened over the years,’ Alice said slowly. ‘It’s all very hard to understand having not lived through it, you see.’

‘To hear of all the friends we’ve lost...’

Frank could not say anymore, stopping and raising a hand to his mouth as he stared in to the fire for at least a minute. Alice focused on her lap as she began to speak, her voice barely over a whisper.

‘We were devastated when we heard about your parents, Harry. They were some of our best friends and we loved them very much.’

‘Knowing that good people like your parents gave their lives for the very same things we believed in... trust us Harry... we do not take coming back to our senses like this lightly. We only wish we could have been there to help... maybe... save some of their lives.’

‘Don’t take any blame for it,’ Harry said, feeling a lump grow in his throat as he spoke. ‘You’ve... been given a new beginning... live it to the fullest that you can.’

Harry understood where Frank was coming from; it was usually him that thought in this fashion over the years. Still, he felt slightly embarrassed that he – a nineteen year old – was seemingly giving advice to two parents who he barely knew. To his relief, both Alice and Frank nodded in agreement.

‘That’s exactly right. We’ve been given a second chance,’ said Frank. ‘We don’t intend to waste it away.’

‘It most definitely is a new beginning Harry and we cannot dwell on the past for too long – the what ifs and so forth,’ continued Alice. ‘Every new beginning must come from some other beginning’s end. We just had to wait a little longer for ours.’

‘And thanks to you, our new beginning takes place in a world without Voldemort,’ furthered Frank, his voice rising as he spoke passionately. ‘We’ve heard it all, Harry. How brave you are to have done what you did. Your parents would be so proud of you – trust me when I say that. You’ve probably heard it a thousand times but I’d feel wrong if I didn’t say it... thank you.’

‘Many happy returns.’

Both Frank and Alice looked at Harry with an air of admiration in their faces as they lifted up their glasses and took a sip in Harry’s honor. Harry’s face quickly got hot and he was fairly sure it was not because of the fire.

‘I-I had help,’ stuttered Harry feeling quite embarrassed. ‘Including Neville – without him, I’d be dead right now and we never would have defeated him.’ As he spoke, the portrait of Voldemort’s laughing face flashed before his eyes.

‘Where would any of us be without some help from family and friends?’ asked Frank rhetorically, winking at Harry.

‘We know this must be a tad uncomfortable for you dear, so we won’t keep you any longer,’ began Alice sweetly after a minute or two of silence. ‘Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?’

At first, Harry thought it might be best to step out of the room and leave the emotional Longbottoms be for the time being, but his mind stopped him from getting up from his seat. He could only think about the memories and Nicolas Flamel, remembering the Longbottoms being present inside both of the memories he had been sent. He did not want to seem rude, but not knowing when the next time that he would see Frank and Alice Longbottom again, he made up his mind to ask them.

‘Yes... there is one thing I’d like to ask if you don’t mind...’

‘Anything Harry. You’ve listened to us get some things off of our chests... now it’s your turn,’ Alice answered through a smile, Frank nodding in agreement. Harry took a deep breath before speaking.

‘It’s about Nicolas Flamel.’ Frank and Alice’s smiles dimmed slightly, the two of them exchanging curious glances, but focused on Harry just the same. ‘I don’t know if you know... but he’s on the run. And I... I think the Death Eaters are after him – those that are left.’ Harry let his speech sink in for a moment before finishing. ‘What do you know about him?’

Neither Longbottom spoke for a minute, obviously taken aback by Harry’s question. He could see both of their minds racing, trying to think of the best way to answer him. Finally, Frank spoke steadily yet hesitant all at the same time.

‘He was a good friend of Dumbledore. The Order went to great lengths to protect him way back in the day. Powerful man, Flamel was – is. I haven’t the foggiest why he would do that to those three men, whether they were under the Imperius curse or not. But... I could see why the Death Eaters would be after him now...’

‘Because they were before...’ finished Alice quietly. Harry cleared his throat and spoke tentatively.

‘It’s er... the Eye of the Posterus... isn’t it?’ For a few moments, the only sound in the room came from the crackling fireplace. ‘Do you believe it exists?’

‘Dumbledore did,’ answered Alice simply. ‘I’ve never seen it... I never knew anyone that did. But yes. Yes Harry, I do.’

‘The ability to look in to the past, present... and especially future,’ continued Frank shaking his head. ‘Unequivocal and unequalled power. Listen Harry – if what you’re saying is true, you make sure the Death Eaters never get their hands on it. If you or any Auror find Flamel, make sure he’s safe.’

‘I will,’ replied Harry with a great deal of pride as if he had just been given some great quest to accomplish. He rose from his seat and shook hands with both Frank and Alice. ‘Thank you for your time today. I’m glad you’re back. Even though you – his parents – weren’t around to see much of him grow up... your son has turned out to be a good friend... and a great man.’ Both Frank and Alice nodded, a small tear rolling down Alice’s cheek.

Harry made his way to the door, but pulling him back from the door’s handle was the sweet voice of Alice who spoke just loud enough so that Harry could hear.

‘There seems to be a lot of that going around.’

Harry faced the Longbottoms who smiled at him from their seats, Harry taking a second to nod back at them strongly before opening the door and entering the chattering room.
 
 


Chapter 16: Love and Rejection
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‘Does anyone else have anything noteworthy to mention?’

Harry’s heart began beating harder after Gawain Robards had finished speaking from the head of the table. The Order of the Phoenix meeting had already dealt with many of the major issues that had occupied Harry’s psyche, but there was one personal issue that Harry wanted more than anything to bring up. He quietly drummed his fingers on the long oak table inside the kitchen of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, glancing over at Ron and Hermione who were looking around the table without really looking at anything at all. Some members of the Order began to ascend from their seats which prompted Harry to speak quite forcefully to stop the conclusion of the meeting.

‘I’ve got something to add,’ Harry said in as a strong a voice as he could muster.

Gawain and a few other members of the Order looked somewhat surprised, Aberforth merely placing his hand upon his chin as he leaned back in his seat. Gawain sat back down, waving his hand in front of him for Harry to commence. Harry had not thought of how he would relate his thoughts to the rest of the Order, finding himself tense up as the twenty or so faces all curiously turned to face his him. Harry saw Fabian Prewett – Mrs. Weasley’s nephew – whisper something to Emmeline Vance who nodded silently.

‘At the Auror Office we’ve had to look in to a case – a case regarding Nicolas Flamel’s former caretaker, Mrs. Gibbons... she was murdered a couple of months ago,’ began Harry hesitantly. He looked over at Ron who nodded his head, giving Harry a bit of extra courage as he proceeded. ‘In the process I’ve... come to know a lot about Nicolas Flamel – his past, his importance. All in reference to try and pin-point why exactly he’s in the predicament that he’s in.’ Harry marveled for a moment at how realistic his white lie was sounding, internally smiling at the concerned and serious faces of those at the table.

‘The Order had been of some assistance to Nicolas Flamel in the past, I recollect,’ squeaked Dedalus Diggle.

‘Yeah,’ agreed Harry. ‘And through all that research, I stumbled upon something interesting. Something that I believe, the Death Eaters would be after.’ Hermione’s eyes widened slightly as she stared at Harry unblinking. ‘Do you think it’s possible... that the Death Eaters are after the Eye of the Posterus?’

Harry could feel the tension rise in the room, a few members turning to one another, muttering things that Harry could not hear. Gawain was shaking his head while Mrs. Weasley looked to her husband in confusion. Aberforth did not move, still looking directly at Harry, his stare penetrating right through him.

‘That can’t be though Harry!’ said Doreen Vance incredulously. ‘Put simply, there’s no such thing!’

‘Harry, I’m afraid she’s right,’ added Gawain. He gestured to the rest of the table. ‘The Order went through this last time, am I correct?’

‘Absolutely,’ chimed in Hestia Jones powerfully. ‘Minerva would attest to that if she were here. Look Harry, I know you want to find Flamel as much as the rest of us do, but believing in entirely fictional objects is not going to bring us any closer to him!’

‘But don’t you think –’

‘The Eye of the Posterus does not exist – we were put in charge of guarding Flamel and we never, ever found any trace of evidence that would prove its existence,’ interrupted Emmeline Vance.

‘With all due respect Emmeline,’ said Mrs. Weasley respectfully, ‘we never did actually find anything to prove that it doesn’t exist either.’

‘I’ll believe it when I see it Molly,’ responded Emmeline sharply to which Mrs. Weasley shrugged.

‘How could you discount something that –’

‘It’s merely a legend Harry,’ interrupted Fabian. ‘We really can’t be too focused on things of that nature. Flamel’s disappearance has nothing to do with a fictional object.’ Harry could feel himself getting hot as he was interrupted for the second time.

‘Look, Harry – I’m not trying to discount what you’ve uncovered,’ began Gawain slowly. ‘Last time, the Order went through a long period of time where we did believe in the Eye, so much so that we risked our lives to save Flamel and keep him and the Eye out of Lord Voldemort’s hands. Still, what you’re saying is something that has already been dealt with. Voldemort and the Death Eaters stopped looking for the Eye as they too realized it did not exist. Thank you for speaking your mind, but I have to stop you there. It’s a road that we’ve already been down... further pursuit of it only leads you to one place... A dead end.’

‘So what you’re saying is that we should leave some leads unturned?’ asked Harry in a rush. ‘Flamel disappears under strange circumstances... do you not think that the Death Eaters are involved in some way? I’m telling you that the Eye –’

‘ – is not real!’ Harry heard slight murmurs of laughter coming from around the table as Gawain Robards frustratingly interjected. Harry’s previously drumming fingers had now clenched themselves in to a fist. ‘As much as we do appreciate the input –’

‘THEN LET ME FINISH!’

The table fell silent. Harry had risen from his seat, his hands outstretched on the table in front of him. For some reason, he was breathing heavily, a bead of sweat dripping down the back of his neck.

‘I’m as much an Order member as anyone here! And seeing as how I have been right about things in the past, I think everyone here needs to open up their minds and see the entire picture! Flamel is missing! There’s a reason for it! Until we know what that reason is, I suggest we follow every and any lead that is presented at this table – no matter how outlandish it seems to you!’

‘I agree with Harry,’ came the whispery, yet commanding voice of Aberforth. Having not spoken at all during the meeting, the gravity and weight of his speech seemed to overwhelm all at the table as everyone looked in his direction. ‘Some things go beyond logic and in to the realm of faith. I believe there is an Eye of the Posterus. It is something that the Death Eaters have longed for before... who’s to say that thirst has been quenched?’

‘Aberforth... you do realize what –’ began Gawain but he was cut off by the hand of Aberforth.

‘I do. That’s why I don’t expect all of us here to believe it as an absolute. But do not disregard it. Ignorance is for the foolish. What one of us says must be heard by all – it is irrelevant if you think it’s right. Harry might not always have all the answers... but somehow... in the end... he makes it right.’

Still standing up, his hands outstretched, Harry looked across the table at Aberforth, his stare not wavering. Gawain glanced at Aberforth, closing his eyes tightly after he had done so while Aberforth simply stared out in to the center of the table, paying no attention to all of the skeptical expressions of those situated around it.

‘Very well,’ said Gawain quietly. ‘Until we can disprove anything, keep it in mind. We are so close to ridding ourselves of the Death Eaters forever and though it would obviously be positive if we could bring Flamel home and prove his innocence, it is not our primary objective. I’ll bring further information from the Aurors when we meet again next month. Until then continue to survey our suspected locations where possible Death Eater meetings could take place.’

Everyone got up from the table at once, heading for the fireplace in the adjacent room. Among the commotion, Harry set out to find Aberforth though it was very difficult to navigate the small kitchen space. He could see Ron and Hermione side-stepping the Vances in their attempt to make their way over to Harry.

‘Where’s Aberforth,’ Harry asked them as they met with him.

‘I-I don’t know Harry. You could catch him in the drawing room perhaps,’ answered Hermione.

By the time Harry had reached the drawing room, many of the Order members had already left via the Floo Network. However, as the line cleared and Harry’s sightlines in to the room improved, he noticed the long beard of Aberforth, seeing him grab a fist full of Floo Powder as he stood beside the fireplace.

‘Aberforth!’ cried Harry from the threshold behind Dedalus Diggle.

Aberforth had just tossed in his handful of Floo powder in to the roaring fireplace, an eruption of emerald green flames illuminating the drawing room. Looking up, he noticed Harry as he leaned over Dedalus. As they locked eyes, Harry saw Aberforth’s smile creep up through the depths of his beard, barely noticeable but there all the same. He nodded stiffly at Harry before entering the fireplace and disappearing in the flames.


****


Harry charged forward, leaping over a small boulder, his wand extended in front of him. As soon as he landed, he retracted in to a crouching position, shielding himself from the blasts all around him. Pieces of rock splintered as the curse hit, bits and portions of the debris falling all around him as Harry breathlessly paused for a minute as he planned his next move.

‘I’ve got to keep moving,’ he thought to himself.

He peered over the boulder he was situated behind and caught a glimpse of his two attackers, ducking back down quickly to avoid being noticed.

‘Stupefy!’ he exclaimed, pointing his wand in the first figure’s direction, immediately hitting the second with a Stunning Spell after the first had fallen with a crash.

He ran down the narrow passageway that served as sort of a funnel extending from the larger, boulder-filled room. Harry quickly muttered an illuminating spell, his wand tip brightening the few feet in front of him as he continued down the low ceilinged passageway that seemed as if it was carved out of rock. Before he knew it, Harry had arrived at fork in the passage; there were two separate paths available for him to continue travelling down. He hastily made the decision to travel down the left one, not wanting to waste any more time.

Jogging, Harry found that after only a few paces, the room began to grow in height, the dark ceiling extending upwards and the width of the new path extending outwards. He came to a full stop as he noticed a broomstick propped up beside the wall. Before he could even begin to think of what it was there for, a streak of red light ripped past his head, Harry rooted to the spot for a split second in his surprise.

He leaped for the broomstick, propping it under him and kicking off from the ground as hard as he could as more beams of light barely missed him. The room was quite cold, the iciness making his eyes water as he struggled to see what was in front of him. On either side of him, the skeletal, illuminated figures continually shot spells in his direction, many of the figures emerging from seemingly random places along the dark wall. Harry dodged a low barrier, the passageway getting even narrower as he continued to fly forward.

Looking ahead, he could see two of the figures emerge from either side of the passage. Harry held his breath; he knew he would be an easy target for their spells at such a close range as the passageway had grown extremely narrow. Thinking fast, he glanced down at the ground that surprisingly was a lot closer to him than he thought.

Harry pulled back on his broom handle, rising upwards as fast as he could. He powered through the force of gravity, slowly turning around to the point of him being upside down. He continued to pull back in his full circle, a red flash of light shooting over his head as he began to straighten out. As he made his way to the ground, he jumped off his broom at the last possible moment, hitting the ground harder than he expected, but still finding the time to watch his broom collide with the side of the passageway and fall innocently to the ground.

The two figures jumped down from their perch along the top of the passageway, looking towards the broom in apparent confusion. Harry did not waste his opportunity.

‘Expelliarmus! Stupefy!’ he yelled, pointing his wand at each figure in turn.

The passageway illuminated again and swallowed the two figures in a brief burst of bright light; a light so strong that it forced Harry to shield his eyes. Keeping his wand in front of him, Harry ran forward towards the red blinking lights situated on the ground in the form of a circle. He jumped in to the ring of light, resisting the temptation to rest once he had done so.

Everything around him was silent, the room reverting back to darkness as the only source of light came from the red blinking lights. He looked around him in every which direction but detected no sense of life or movement. He took a sideways glance at the opposing ring of red lights situated a fair distance away and saw that no one was standing in the middle as he was. For at least a full, agonizing minute, nothing happened. Harry began to let down his wand in front of him, finally catching his breath as he looked around in anticipation.

Then, the sound of footsteps caught his attention. Emerging from the shadows came the figure of his opposition. Florian – panting loudly and looking quite disheveled, his hair askew and his sweat making him appear to glisten in the red light – looked up, staring right at Harry who extended his wand. He brushed his brown hair out of his eyes and grimaced at his own tiredness, but he too extended his wand arm.

‘Impedimenta!’ he gasped.

Harry jumped to his left to avoid the incoming curse. Noticing that Florian was still
gasping for breath, Harry quickly formulated a plan.

‘Expelliarmus!’ yelled Harry, purposely aiming his curse a couple of feet away from where Florian was standing, causing Florian to dive.

Harry turned on his heel and ran back down the passageway that he had previously traveled on while riding the broom. He heard the distant groan of Florian as he got back to his feet, Harry hearing a curse crash in to the wall behind him. Back inside the narrow passageway, Harry illuminated his wand tip and feverishly searched for his fallen broom. After locating it, he extinguished his wand and grabbed the handle, continuing to run down the passage as he heard Florian’s panting breath and heavy footsteps growing louder.

Harry murmured a silencing charm at his feet after a few quick paces which enabled him to kick off from the ground on his broom in virtual silence. Remembering how the illuminated figures had stood atop the narrow passageway, Harry searched for the ledges that they stood on. Below him, he could see the illuminated wand of Florian searching the passageway for Harry who quietly leapt off his broom, crouching down on the ledge high above where Florian stood. Harry saw Florian pause, seeing him place his hands on his knees, his wand light illuminating the ground around him. Harry did not hesitate.

‘Expelliarmus!’

He could watch the curse in seemingly slow motion, watching as it knocked Florian from his crouched position, seeing the illuminated wand fly forward and away from its owner. There was a brief pause of silence before the architecture of the entire room began to dissolve around him. Harry found himself calmly rise up from the ledge he was standing on, pleasantly drifting back down to the ground that had now been illuminated by the emerging, bright lights.

‘Very, very good,’ came the voice of Williamson who had just returned to duty at the Auror Department the previous day.

Now back on the ground, Harry turned to see Williamson pacing towards Harry in the massive, open Simulation Room, Florian’s Unit Head Richter walking at his side. Florian was just now getting to his feet, sweat dripping down on to his, damp, but otherwise impressive-looking robes.

‘Excellent use of your surroundings, Potter – that was one of the goals of this exercise. However, let’s try to work on those non-verbal curses. It will increase your ability to stealthily take out your opponents and draw less attention to yourself.’

‘A Hufflepuff would know that,’ panted Florian. ‘Not a Gryffindor... just walking blindly in to a situation without thinking it through.’ Florian winked and nodded at Harry, obviously disappointed that he had lost the duel to him, but still trying to take his loss in good spirits.

‘Time to work on your endurance, Ducats,’ chimed in Richter forcefully. He was a full foot shorter than the lanky Williamson, his dark eyes matching his shoulder length black hair. ‘As I believe Williamson here said, your approach through the maze was conventional and more safe than Harry’s was but still... you did not get to the end point first.’

The foursome walked towards the single door that served as the entrance of the Simulation Room, Harry noticing that the rest of both Williamson’s and Richter’s Auror units stood patiently waiting in two, single file lines. Harry caught the eye of Ron who was three back from the front and gave him a thumbs up to which Ron made a sarcastic, unimpressed gesture towards Florian. As they reached the two lines of Aurors waiting their turn to enter the simulation, Harry could overhear Richter’s words of advice for his Auror, Florian.

‘There are a few things you could have done,’ he stated sternly yet understandingly. ‘For one, you could have used a quick human reveal charm. I’m sure you’re well aware of it – Homenum Revelio.’ Richter guided Florian out of the Simulation Room, but Harry’s attention was grabbed by a couple of Aurors waiting in Richter’s line.

‘Yeah, good luck with that,’ said a tall, blond wizard who eyed Florian as he exited the Simulation Room. ‘Harry here probably wouldn’t even show up if he used that charm! Being this good at such a young age? He’s got to be more than human or something, eh Harry?’

Slightly embarrassed from the older Auror’s flattering comments, Harry opened his mouth to protest, however, he instantly found himself unable to speak. It was as if an invisible bolt of lightning had struck Harry on the top of his head, his entire body seemingly frozen.

‘Isn’t that right Harry?’ came the voice of the blond Auror again, snapping Harry out of his trance. He was looking at Harry as if he was some unique, awe-inspiring artifact rather than a fellow Auror.

‘Er... yeah. Wh-What exactly do you mean by that?’

‘By – what?’ the blond Auror asked confusingly looking to the equally as tall yet older Auror to his right who offered no response.

‘The human reveal charm!’ Harry said as his excitement began to bubble to the surface. ‘Homenum Revelio! What did you mean when you said that I wouldn’t show up?’

‘H-Harry it was just a joke,’ the blond wizard replied, not having the chance to say anymore as Harry cut him off.

‘No! I mean does it actually not work sometimes? Can it be wrong or something?’

‘Well... well yeah. Didn’t you know that?’ Harry shook his head as Williamson looked over to gain an understanding of what was going on. ‘Yeah. I mean... if someone is out of the range of the charm... it doesn’t work on non-humans or half-humans or anything like that.’

‘And what would constitute a non-human or a half-human?’ pressed Harry. Somehow he already knew the answer before the blond wizard replied; he only needed to confirm his suspicions.

‘Er... a ghost... a ghoul... mermaids... werewolves...’

Harry’s stomach did a somersault. In a second, Harry made a beeline for his Unit Head who was looking at the approaching Harry curiously.

‘Sir, we’ve got to go. Now.’ Williamson looked taken aback for a split second before regaining his composure. Many of the Aurors in line now looked over at the scene in front of them.

‘Potter... What do you mean? Go where?’

‘Mr. Flamel’s caretaker... Mrs. Gibbons’ house,’ replied Harry confidently. ‘Her murderer is still there.’

‘Wh-What?!’ Williamson stared in to Harry’s eyes that were strongly fixated upon his Unit Head. After a brief pause, Williamson’s shocked expression vanished, his mouth closed and he nodded stiffly. ‘Lead the way then. You three and Weasley – follow us.’

Harry nodded excitingly, eagerly leading the charge out of the Simulation Room. He made his way to the fireplaces once he had left the corridor that led to the Simulation Room. Many Aurors looked over their cubicles at the small cavalry led by Harry, clearly in wonder at the scene in front of them.

‘And where is everyone off to?’ growled a voice Harry knew to be Mosteban’s.

‘You better come along with us,’ Williamson replied.

‘Is it something to do with Mr. Malfoy?’ Mosteban asked, as he roughly paced beside Williamson, his long dark, leathery cloak flowing behind him.

‘No, Mr. Malfoy is fine. He has just assimilated himself with the Death Eaters and they seem to have accepted him. This is something of Mr. Potter’s doing.’

‘Oh, this should be rather... interesting...’ Mosteban said sarcastically, making Harry’s hair on the back of his neck stand on end. ‘Doncaster! Higgins! Come with me!’ He gestured to a pair of older Aurors who immediately dropped what they were doing and followed the Head Auror.

‘Now – we can use the Floo Network to enter Mrs. Gibbons’ house,’ began Williamson quickly. ‘I can alter the seal that doesn’t allow anyone to enter or exit the house for a moment so that we can enter. Ready?’

Harry nodded anxiously, jumping in to the emerald green flames after Williamson had given the address to the Gibbons household. When Harry entered the living room of the house, he saw that it had been unchanged in its appearance since the night of the murder – the red velvety drapes were still hanging open, the furniture was either turned over or smashed to pieces and the portrait of Willard the Worrier still hung beside the fireplace though Willard himself was nowhere to be seen. The only aspect of the room that was different was the implementation of a thin blue strip of light that lined the outside of the room along the walls. Undoubtedly, this was the seal Williamson had spoke of.

‘Now that we’re here Potter, could you tell me exactly what we are doing?’ asked Williamson once the rest of his unit and Mosteban with his two Aurors had entered the living room.

‘The killer is still in here. I’m sure of it.’ Mosteban shook his head as he glanced at Williamson and turned around, inspecting the mantle of the fireplace. ‘No! I’m sure of it!’

‘How are you so sure Harry? If the murderer really was in here, you really don’t think we would have found them by now?’ Harry took a deep breath and spoke all at once.

‘You’re sure that the seal has never been taken down since the night of the murder?’

‘Absolutely positive,’ replied Williamson.

‘Alright then... Ron – do you remember when we were walking up the path to this house on the night of the murder?’ Ron nodded his head quickly. ‘Do you remember the pair of wizards who were in front of us? One of them was talking about how he hasn’t been able to get much sleep over the past month... he was pale... his face was lined and scratched...’

‘Oh that’s Flynn!’ exclaimed Rotherglen, a witch who Harry knew was also in Williamson’s unit. ‘He is a werewolf you know.’

‘Hardly groundbreaking – we all know this about Flynn!’ roared Mosteban. ‘I oversee each and every Auror that serves in my Department – you don’t think I would know information such as this?’

‘Then you would know,’ continued Harry, his excitement overriding his rising temper, ‘that when we used the human reveal charm that night – Flynn not being considered a full-human by the charm’s interpretation – he would not have showed up when the charm was used. Now if I remember correctly, there were exactly twenty of us here that night – including Flynn. And then, when we used the charm... it told us that the number of humans in the house was... twenty. Flynn would not have counted... yet the charm still told us that there was twenty in the household. Which means –’

‘That there was someone else in the house!’ yelled Ron. Harry merely grinned, watching the face of Mosteban sink in to disbelief. Williamson opened his mouth to speak but no words came out. Instead he retrieved his wand and pointed it in front of him.

‘There’s nine of us here now...’ he whispered under his breath. The entire room was silent as Williamson spoke the incantation. ‘Homenum Revelio!’

Small red lines protruded from each of their heads, forming a tally in front of Williamson. Harry’s heart skipped a beat as he saw that the tally in front of Williamson read the number ten. Williamson – eyes widened so that they almost looked menacing – wheeled around and saw that one of the red lines was coming from the adjacent room to which everyone followed, including Mosteban. The red line led to the living room and more specifically to the tall, china cabinet against the far wall. Williamson stepped around the long wooden table and pointed his wand at the base of the cabinet.

‘Stupefy!’ he cried.

The wood of the cabinet splintered, Harry having to shield his face to avoid being hit with the chips of wood. A blaring, high-pitched noise pulsated throughout the room – the seal had been set off by Williamson’s curse. Amidst all the commotion, Harry could see that a small owl was beginning to flap its wings, its screech overriding the noise made by the seal. Mosteban quickly pointed his wand at the owl as it began to flap its wings, saying a curse that Harry could not make out. Quickly, the owl disappeared in a burst of smoke.

After a moment, Harry could see that a human figure was now laying on the hard floor, immobilized by the stunning curse. He had short, greasy looking dark brown hair, a long pointed nose, dirty, sharp looking fingernails and his eyes and cheeks were sunken slightly which made his pale face look almost ghostly. His eyes were moving all about but his body would not budge; his long dark boots moving back and forth as if he was shivering.

‘That’s... Jugson!’ exhaled a sincerely surprised Mosteban as he fought his way to where the Death Eater was lying. ‘He used his Animagus form when we were here that night... that’s why we didn’t pick up on him.’ Mosteban’s voice was restored to his usual growl as Harry glanced at Ron before refocusing on the fallen Death Eater.

‘Potter!’ Williamson said breathlessly as Mosteban conjured cuffs to keep Jugson from moving once the curse had worn off. ‘How did you... E-Excellent effort. This is massive. Brilliant work!’

Williamson gave Harry a hard clap on the back as he helped Mosteban lift Jugson up, afterwards using a Levitation Charm to move Jugson in any way they desired. As Williamson guided Jugson out of the room, Harry caught Mosteban glancing in his direction, but he turned away quickly as he noticed that Harry was looking at him.

‘You got ‘em mate,’ said Ron half-surprised, half overjoyed.

Mosteban did not even look in Harry’s direction for the rest of the day. When Harry and the rest returned to the Auror Office, he was given a small ovation from many of the Aurors who were still in the Department once they had heard the news of Jugson’s capture. Before Williamson set out to arrange Jugson’s immediate transfer to Azkaban prison, he gave Harry one last look of admiration. Harry merely smiled, walking out of the Department with Ron to a rousing round of applause.


****


The next day, Harry related his tale to Mr. and Mrs. Weasley as well as George who had all come to Number Twelve Grimmauld Place for dinner. Harry could not help but feel overjoyed as he saw Mr. Weasley proudly look down upon him after he had finished, feeling for just a moment that Ron’s father was in fact his own as well.

‘Good on you Harry!’ repeated a beckoning Mr. Weasley for what felt like the hundredth time that night. ‘Hopefully Williamson can get some answers out of him that will lead you all to the rest of those Death Eaters. We may be closing in on the end of Voldemort’s followers as we know them!’ Mrs. Weasley smiled proudly at Harry as she touched his cheek, embracing him in a warm hug.

‘Yeah we’ll need those answers because that prat Malfoy doesn’t seem to be doing much,’ spat Ron to the jeers of George as he followed his parents in to the emerald green flames of the fireplace.

‘You’ve got to give him time, Ron,’ said Harry in defense of Malfoy which was something that he honestly thought he would never do. ‘He can’t be giving away information right after he gets all settled with them – how do you think that would look on him? They’d discover him in a minute and our source would be lost.’

‘He’s right, you know,’ added Hermione. ‘All that work at getting him inside their establishment would have been for nothing. He has to be cautious in the early going and you’ve got to be patient.’

The threesome continued to talk about Malfoy and his positioning inside the Death Eaters until Ginny got home from her late practice. After she had changed, Hermione started a fire in the living room and for the next two hours, they all sat listening to Chudley’s game against Montrose on the wireless radio. As time wore on, the warm room began to make Harry’s eyelids heavy, Harry having to open his eyes wide every few minutes to snap them out of their sleepy gaze.

A while later, Hermione turned down the wireless radio, the sound of the crackling fire nearly drowning out the Quidditch commentator’s post-match judgment on the game that had ended. Ron had fallen asleep once Montrose scored their twenty-first goal and not long after, their Seeker caught the Snitch, sending Chudley to a massive three hundred and ninety to thirty defeat. Hermione grinned from her seat opposite from where Harry and Ginny were sitting as she watched Ron snore loudly.

‘I think it’s time to take him up to bed...’ she whispered.

‘Goodnight Hermione,’ whispered Ginny as she watched Hermione poke Ron in the ribs. He awoke with a start, clutching his side as Hermione pointed at the stairs.

‘See you tomorrow Ron.’

Ron merely nodded at Harry’s farewell, Hermione prodding him in the back, prompting him to increase his glacial pace towards the stairs. Harry and Ginny sat in silence for a moment, watching the fire in front of them start to fade to a few mere embers.

‘Well, let’s hope that Fudge can tone it down now on this whole wizard army thing he’s been on about,’ Ginny said suddenly. ‘Now that you’ve caught a Death Eater, hopefully he can see that as progress rather than as a way to stir up anxiety in the public.’

‘I wouldn’t count on it. Fudge has held a vote every week it seems... and each time he’s slowly gained more and more support though he doesn’t have enough yet. He seems pretty adamant.’ Ginny scoffed at Harry’s remark.

‘We shouldn’t have a leader whose whole stance is to create more war! Does he really think that the Death Eaters will just sit there and take it? Does he seriously believe that they won’t fight back? You know they would go to any lengths to match us, strength for strength. Making them more desperate would only make them stronger!’

‘I guess the only things we can do is keep our faith that he doesn’t get the support.’

‘Or keep our faith in you to stop them before he can get the support,’ grinned Ginny. ‘How many did you say there are left?’

‘Williamson believes around twenty-five... thirty at the very most. Not many Death Eaters are willing to commit to a group without its leader. The ones left are the true loyalists,’ responded Harry.

‘Is... Is that what you were talking about with Ron and Hermione in that room behind the portrait? Before we went to see the Longbottoms?’

Harry looked down in to the face of Ginny, her wide, deep brown eyes reflecting the dying flames from the fireplace. Harry bit his tongue as she looked up at him defiantly, recalling the conversation about the secret messages and memories he had with Ron and Hermione behind the portrait of Percival the Pompous. For a moment, even Harry himself thought he was going to tell her, but at the last possible moment, something that he could not explain overpowered his mind and he thought different of it.

‘That... that was just... Auror stuff. Nothing very interesting, Gin,’ Harry lied.

He felt his skin crawl as he told his fib, all of a sudden feeling slightly light-headed. Ginny did not fluctuate her stare, continuing to stare up at Harry as if she knew he was not telling the truth.

‘Can’t you tell me?’ Her words hit Harry like a Stunning spell.

‘Well... I-I can... it’s all stuff you’ve heard before though. The er... details are really tedious. All about possible locations for the Death Eaters hiding spots and things like that.’

‘Oh... I won’t make you re-hash old news then.’ Feeling a mixture of relief and guilt, Harry quickly changed the topic of conversation, not wanting Ginny to dwell on the subject for too long.

‘There’s been something I’ve wanted to talk to you about Gin,’ he said quickly, breaking Ginny’s thoughts. ‘It’s about... Davis.’

‘Davis? What about him?’

‘Er... well... I’ve noticed that... that you’ve gotten pretty close to him – which is fine and all. But... but after Christmas I – er – began to have this feeling about him.’

‘Which is?’ pressed Ginny strongly.

‘I-I don’t trust him,’ Harry said honestly, staring deep in to Ginny’s eyes. ‘He’s always around you... dancing with you... buying you expensive gifts when you’re just a player on his team. But it’s like... he wants something more or something. And I... just don’t like him.’ Ginny surveyed Harry for a moment, releasing herself from his arm that was draped around her shoulder.

‘That’s fine if you don’t like him Harry,’ Ginny said considerately. ‘But I do. Still, I don’t expect you to like everyone I ever come in to contact with. He’s been nothing but nice to me – helping me with my game and introducing me to life as a Quidditch player.’

‘I know and that’s all well and good but –’

‘You trust me, right?’ interrupted Ginny. ‘You don’t need to trust him, but you do have trust in me I hope.’

‘Ginny I – of course I do!’ responded Harry to which Ginny smiled.

‘Then you have nothing to worry about then,’ she said swiftly, pausing for a moment before eyeing Harry and speaking somewhat hesitantly. ‘I think you’d agree with me when I say that you... you have to trust each other in a relationship. With everything.’

Harry stared at Ginny for a moment without speaking. Ginny’s eyes began to swell and grow bright. It seemed as if she was looking not at Harry on the surface, but penetrating through him, her eyes glimmering even more with every passing second. Harry saw Ginny’s chest rising and falling quickly as she broke her stare and looked away from him at the fireplace.

‘I’m sorry, Gin. I trust you with everything. I promise. I guess... Davis being so successful and everything... just sort of rubbed me the wrong way. I guess I was just... jealous that he gets to spend so much time with you...’ Ginny forced a meek smile as she turned back to him and nodded.

‘Don’t be jealous... and don’t be sorry Harry. I’d have probably thought the same as you did if I was in your situation. I just want you to be able to tell me everything – no matter what it is.’

‘I will – I do,’ replied Harry more strongly than he actually felt.

Ginny smiled broadly. She turned and leaned her back up against his chest. Harry kissed her head gently, resting his chin on the top of her head as he stared out in to the fire, a mild, tingling pain rising up to his throat.

 
 


Chapter 17: A Deadly Discovery
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For Harry, the next few weeks brought much of what he was used to. Hermione continued to voice her frustrations with her position at the Ministry, Fudge persistently clamored for support in his effort to introduce the Ministry’s own army of witches and wizards and Ginny embarked on another road trip with the Harpies. However, this time around, Holyhead’s away matches did not go as well as what they had come to expect after the first section of the season. Communicating with her through the Floo Network, Harry learned that not only had Holyhead lost their two matches (spoiling their previously undefeated record) but they had lost them so decisively that they had plunged from first all the way to fourth place in the League standings.

As upset as Harry was for Ginny, Holyhead’s slipping record was not of the greatest concern to him when they had these infrequent and often short talks. Every time Ginny spoke of the team, the image of Davis’ handsome face and perfectly white and straight teeth sprung in to his mind and an instantaneous pang of jealousy rose up from his depths. Though Harry was sincere when he had told Ginny that he trusted her, there was still something about Davis himself that did not sit right with him.

It was on Valentine’s Day morning that Harry awoke with a start. He had a terrible dream the night before where in it, he saw the vivid image of Ginny and Davis cuddling together by an open fire, Davis stroking her hair as she opened all of the expensive gifts he had bought for her. Magically, he saw the cuddling Ginny and Davis ascend higher and higher and eventually out of his sight as the countless amount of gifts created a makeshift mountain that the two were perched on top of. It was when Ginny waved goodbye to Harry with a carefree smile that he had woken up, his head stinging slightly. After staring at the ceiling for a moment or two, Harry made the decision to get up, hastily pulling a warm sweater over himself as he left his room. As he crossed the landing, he looked up to see the door of Hermione’s and Ginny’s room slightly open, pausing for a moment to take a sideways glance at the ajar door. Harry leaned over the railing of the landing, hearing the muffled voices of Ron and Hermione from the kitchen a couple of floors below him. Glancing back at the room, Harry’s curiosity had already won him over.

He slowly paced towards the door, hearing a small creak as he gently opened it a few inches more. He saw Ginny’s bed all made on the far left of the modest-sized room, her desk mostly bare save for a few envelopes and a picture of Harry and herself. He felt slightly guilty as he continued to look around the room; he ran his hand along the chipped dark green paint on the walls. It was only when he had reached the end of their room and had made the decision to join Ron and Hermione in the kitchen when he noticed that one of the envelopes on her desk bore a name that instantly caught Harry’s attention. He brushed one of the envelopes off of the one that had caught his attention, picking it up and holding it out in front of him. In the upper left corner of the envelope, Harry saw that the letter had been sent by none other than the Holyhead Harpies assistant coach. Glancing back down at the desk, Harry noticed her litter bin that contained another four envelopes; all of them had the same name in the upper left corner – Davis McCoy.

Harry stood without moving even as he heard the muffled voices and footsteps that belonged to Ron and Hermione get louder and louder. He heard them reach the top floor landing, their voices stopping once they noticed that Harry was standing by Ginny’s desk. He still clutched the unopened letter in his hand, not really sure what to think.

‘Harry? What are you doing?’ asked Hermione curiously, but Harry did not answer her question, instead, posing one of his own.

‘Did you know he was sending them?’ he asked unintentionally coldly.

‘Who? Send what?’ Harry took a deep breath.

‘Davis has been sending Ginny some letters. Seems like he’s sent her a lot lately – are you sure you didn’t know?’

‘H-Harry I’m just as surprised as you are,’ replied Hermione defensively. ‘I never pay much attention to Ginny’s side of the room. I had no idea she was being sent anything!’ Harry tossed the letter on the desk, seeing it slide off and fall in to the waste basket in the process.

‘Well aren’t you going to open them then?’ protested Ron once he saw Harry toss the letter. ‘That prat is going behind our backs and sending love letters to my sister! To Harry’s girlfriend!’

‘Ron! Those are private! And come on, do you really think Ginny would initiate something like that? Seriously now.’

‘Well of course not,’ Ron replied loudly, ‘but I wouldn’t put it past him, Hermione.’

Harry looked to his bickering friends, recalling the conversation he and Ginny had a few weeks ago. He held up his hand silently but neither Ron nor Hermione saw it, prompting Harry to interrupt his friends.

‘Hold on you two,’ he said quite loudly stopping their conversation and closing his eyes tightly before speaking. ‘These...’ he said, indicating the letters in the wastebasket, ‘... don’t mean anything. They’re probably just – they are just talking about the Harpies and things like that... nothing to worry about.’

From his spot across the room, Harry stood boldly which appeared to answer his friends’ skeptical stares. Even though he did not quite feel exactly the same on the inside as he was showing on the outside, Harry tried to dismiss the very plausible questions that sprung to his mind.

‘Why couldn’t she just tell me about the letters?’ he thought to himself as he left the room with his friends, trying his best to think of other things whilst feeling his heart sink deeper in to his stomach. He wanted to uphold the promise he had made to Ginny more than anything, but at this point, he was finding it very hard to do so.

An hour later, Harry, Ron and Hermione had made their way through the long lines set up by Ministry security inside the Atrium. As usual, Harry and Ron bid Hermione goodbye as she got out of the lift when it had arrived at Level Four, Hermione letting out a deep sigh as the golden gate closed shut behind her.

‘Back to the lonely abyss,’ she said unenthusiastically as she smiled meekly back at the two boys, a dark cloaked wizard from behind Harry hastily exiting the lift just before the gate shut, setting off quickly down the hallway.

‘I told Hermione the other night that maybe it’s time she looks at some other options,’ whispered Ron as the lift began to descend.

‘How could they not have anything for her though, that’s what I’m trying to wrap my head around,’ replied Harry. ‘With a witch like her at their disposal, you’d think they’d take advantage of it.’

At the next level down, the lift stopped to let in a couple of more wizards. Amongst the Ministry workers who were piling in was Harry and Ron’s fellow Auror Florian Ducats.

‘Did you see the Prophet this morning?’ he asked once he had taken his spot beside Ron and had wiped his slightly sweaty brow with his sleeve.

Harry and Ron both shook their heads which prompted Florian to reach inside his golden yellow robes and retrieve what was presumably that morning’s edition of the Daily Prophet. He flipped through the first couple of pages before folding the paper in half and then in half again and handing it to Ron, pointing at the article he wished for them to see.


FUDGE PUTS PLAN INTO ACTION; ORDERS ORPHAN COMMISSION TO BEGIN IMMEDIATELY

In a bold and widely applauded move, Minister of Magic Rufus Fudge has implemented a new strategy to both narrow the search for the Ministry’s attackers and to help struggling magical orphans. The Commission sets to regulate, document and control all magical orphans and implement them in to a system of Ministry of Magic approved care.

‘The goal of the Orphan Commission that I am proudly announcing today is to stop the undesirable life cycle experienced by the orphans of our world,’ said the Minister in a statement made exclusive to the Prophet.

The inferior and general lack of institutions in the magical community to properly raise orphaned children has been a hot-buttoned issue in the past. Nine years ago, former Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge attempted to implement a bill calling for the implementation of such a commission, but disagreement on what constituted a “magical orphan” in which the Ministry would be responsible of caused the bill to fizzle out. When asked why orphaned children were an area of concern to current Minister Rufus Fudge, the Minister gave a detailed and passionate response that resonated with the small band of reporters from the morning’s press conference.

‘A large percentage of orphans are handed a serious disadvantage due to the simple fact that they do not have their birth parents to guide and care for them. Many of these orphans, for example, quickly find themselves in a world of crime and pain, many of whom have little choice in the matter. It is well documented that a large portion of You-Know-Who’s Death Eaters were orphans from a very young age. It was these misguided and pathless children that You-Know-Who had preyed upon, taking advantage of their absence of morals and their desperation which we all know is an easily manipulative situation to be in. We believe this Orphan Commission will stop that cycle.’

As per the details, the Orphan Commission is to begin operations immediately. Ministry officials will be rounding up all magical orphans from orphanages and secondary care and will intern them at the Ministry for further processing. Mr. Fudge offered one last statement for the press conference ended.

‘For those still adverse to this Commission’s implementation, I pose only this. Our world’s greatest criminal was an orphan from birth. I’m sure I don’t have to mention who that terrible, terrible wizard was.’

A nervous, timid woman rose from her seat, slowly and quietly stating that not all orphans were bad, citing herself and the famous Harry Potter as examples.

‘Well... we have all seen how good he has turned out, now haven’t we?’ the Minister replied.

This is Maude Sylvester signing off for another day. Catch tomorrow’s column as each day I round up the day’s biggest news stories.

For a signed archive of Maude Sylvester’s infamous journalistic work – including her breaking story regarding the Auror Department killing and her weekly “How much DANGER is YOUR community in?” plot maps – simply mail in your request along with the designated fee to the address at the bottom of page 17.


‘Do you reckon she’s some sort of distant relative of Rita Skeeter or something?’ Ron asked once he and Harry had sat down at their respective cubicles.

‘Perhaps a great admirer... a pen pal even...’ replied Harry, tossing the edition of the Daily Prophet in to his wastebasket, letting out a deep exhale as he did so. Ron snorted and leaned back in his chair. ‘How can the public let something like this Orphan Commission fly,’ wondered Harry out loud. Ron regained his composure before replying.

‘Everyone’s running scared... what with these attacks on the Ministry and what not. It’s making people legitimately afraid.’

‘Yeah... I guess you’re right. Seems odd though. These are the very people that had undergone years of Voldemort and his Death Eaters and nothing like an Orphan Commission ever happened. People were going missing or being killed every day of the week back then. Now, after a couple of public attacks, people are running scared to the point where they are accepting things like this. You’d think they’d have a larger threshold for fear.’

‘It’s something against the norm,’ Ron put simply. ‘Dad was telling me the other day that when Voldemort was around, it was a world people accepted after a while... or at least a world that they understood. He told me it wasn’t like this... acting through the shadows. People at least understood what Voldemort was doing, even if it was terrible. This... is something no one understands. The who, what, why... these are things that the public doesn’t know. And that Harry... that is what people are scared of.’

‘And I guess we can’t tell the public that it’s the reemergence of the Death Eaters... until it gets worse, there’s no need to open up that can of worms just yet...’ Ron nodded slowly as he drifted in to his own set of thoughts. ‘The fear of the unknown...’ Harry muttered to himself as he shook his head.

For the next half hour, both Harry and Ron perused their folders of potential leads that was brought to them by their Junior Auror. After Harry had completely read his third long, drawn out report, his mind drifted elsewhere, his eyes going through the words on the page, but their meaning not making it up to his brain.

As Harry was beginning to feel his eyelids grow heavy, something literally shook him in his seat. Initially, he did not register what had happened, but after a second earthquake-like tremble nearly knocked him out of his seat, Harry suddenly stood up, kicking his chair backwards in the process.

‘Harry... what is that?’ murmured Ron who was grasping on to the sides of his chair tightly as a third, greater tremor knocked Harry’s desk light on to the floor.

All of the other Aurors in the department seemed to be on the same page as Harry was. There was a brief silence in the room, an eeriness as the quakes seemed to have subsided. As many of the Aurors began to whisper to each other in confusion, an extraordinarily loud, high-pitched siren began to go off in the Auror Department which prompted both Harry and Ron to cover their ears. After only a brief second of hesitation, Harry saw many of the Aurors quickly heading for the exit.

‘EVERYBODY! MAKE YOUR... THE ATRIUM IMMEDIATELY!’ called the voice of Williamson from behind Harry, his voice being drowned out periodically by the siren. ‘THESE FIREPLACES... BE SHUT DOWN! BE CAREFUL!’

‘What the...’ Ron started, but further speech seemed to escape him as a rush of Aurors whipped by him and Harry, knocking over Harry’s chair as they went.

‘LET’S GO!’ bellowed a confused Harry, Ron nodding as he quickly followed Harry to the exit.

‘Out of the way!’ shouted Richter who was closely followed by Blackburn, their wands raised in front of them. They powered and weaved their way through the conglomeration of Aurors who were making their way in to the hallway of Level Two, just as Harry and Ron were.

‘Harry? What’s going on?’ asked Florian from somewhere in the crowd behind Harry.

‘It’s Fudge’s alarm!’ replied an elderly Auror from Harry’s left. ‘Someone has probably broken in to the Ministry and tripped the security alarm.’

‘Must be pretty serious to have to evacuate the entire Ministry,’ said Ron amidst the chaos. Nearly every door along the second level’s corridor was opened and countless witches and wizards were pouring out at every conceivable angle.

‘This place is a mad house!’ chimed Harry as everyone around him came to a momentary stall as yet another door along the hallway opened, letting out another half-dozen Ministry personnel in to the already crowded hallway.

No one in the hallway seemed to have an idea as to what was going on. By the time Harry, Ron and Florian had found their way in to one of the extraordinarily crowded lifts and had begun to ascend, the blasting, deafening alarm had already given Harry a headache. As he rubbed his forehead, Harry noticed a small purplish light on the lift’s panel that read “EE.”

‘Emergency Express,’ pointed Florian with his head. Due to Harry, Ron and Florian’s sardine-like treatment inside the crowded lift, Florian had lost use of his limbs as they were planted stiffly at his side. ‘All lifts go directly to the Atrium from every floor to get everyone out as soon as possible – there’s no stopping along the way. Once they reach the top, they continue upward in to the storage area to make room for all of the others that come up from underneath Level One. There’s about a dozen lifts for each shaft.’

‘What in the world is going on here...’ whispered Ron to which Harry shrugged, equally as confused.

The alarm had somehow grown louder as Harry and Ron poured out in to the crowded Atrium. Lifts all around them were opening their gates, letting witches and wizards out, the lifts then quickly ascending upwards and out of sight. To his horror, Harry saw that amongst the crowd were countless Healers who were treating many witches and wizards who looked to be unconscious while others were coughing up some sort of greenish steam in fits. Just a little further up, Harry could see a small, makeshift hammock floating in mid air behind two Healers, an unmoving witch laid out in an odd position that made her body look as if it had been broken in many places. Appearing beside the floating hammock were undoubtedly a couple relatives of the injured, evidenced as a young witch (who barely looked old enough to attend Hogwarts) let out a bone chilling shriek that made Harry’s arm hair stand on end. Some of the candles situated on the wall of the circular hall of lifts had gone out while others were flickering.

‘Everybody! Make your way to the Atrium in an orderly fashion please!’ barked a purple robed Ministry worker from somewhere inside the Atrium. ‘The fireplaces have been deemed safe to exit through! Please! Go straight home and be careful!’

Harry was shoved hard from behind after the official had finished, his head roughly slamming in to the shoulder of the tall wizard in front of him. Stunned for a moment, Harry could taste a trickle of blood; he touched his nose and felt that it had erupted upon impact. Seeing this, Ron handed him his handkerchief, Harry quickly cleaning up the mess as he shuffled towards the Atrium. He was knocked into from behind again, Ron nearly falling over as the crowd behind them roughly jostled for better position.

‘Hold back you lot!’ yelled the tall wizard from in front of Harry.

‘This is crazy...’ muttered Ron in Harry’s ear. ‘Harry... start asking around – see if anyone knows what’s going on.’

As if on cue, an older, short wizard with a pointy grey beard, wide, bright blue eyes and a panicked expression literally flew in to their sight. The old wizard was being jostled from every which direction, but he found a safety gap between Harry and Ron as he could comfortably stand between them without being directly pushed.

‘You haven’t heard?’ the old wizard managed, doing a double-take as he realized that he was standing directly behind Harry Potter.

‘No we haven’t,’ replied Harry, turning his head around as much as he could as he continued to press forward. ‘We were down on Level Two – we’ve got no idea what’s caused all this.’

‘Oh... well you wouldn’t have heard then,’ the old wizard muttered, his eyes growing wide as Ron squished the old wizard close to Harry, Ron being pushed from behind yet again.

‘There was some sort of explosion. A couple levels down from here.’

‘Explosion? What sort of explosion?’

‘Some sort of... toxic gas or something has been released in to the air,’ the old wizard managed amidst his wheezing breaths. Ron and Harry briefly glanced at each other. ‘I was on the level that it occurred on. Luckily my office is directly off the lifts so I was able to get out right away. But there are many still down there I reckon... Ministry personnel were going down there as I came up... saved a couple from my view. But I heard one of them say the gas has grown too strong for any charm. They’ve got to round up their entire force in order to collectively blow that gas away.’

‘That could take... minutes,’ struggled Harry.

‘And unfortunately,’ the old wizard wheezed, ‘judging from what that gas has done to people already,’ he pointed to a set of wizards who were coughing up more of the translucent green steam, ‘that might be too long... poor souls.’

‘What floor did you say you were from anyway?’ asked Ron after a brief pause.

‘I didn’t. I came from Level Four.’

It only took a split second for Harry and Ron’s hearts to sink; they instantly stared at each other, the old man peculiarly looking up at each of them as they did so.

‘Hermione...’ whispered Harry. Ron nodded, his eyes growing wide.

‘Let’s go,’ said Ron forcefully to which Harry agreed.

‘Wh-Where are you...’ the old man began, but neither Harry nor Ron heard the rest of what he said as they fought their way through and against the large crowd.

Harry’s heart was beating fast as he thought of Hermione, hoping that she had got out. He knew it was futile to ask the Ministry workers if they had gotten her out; by the time the Ministry workers found out, it may be too late for them to save Hermione if she indeed still was down on Level Four. Having no idea what they were going to do once they got down to Level Four, Harry followed Ron as he aggressively pushed a couple of wizards out of the way, the wizards tumbling backwards which elicited an angry response from all those affected. However, just then Harry remembered something.

‘WAIT RON! We can’t use the lifts!’ he called. Ron paused looking over his shoulder. He knew immediately that Harry was right.

‘Bloody hell... The lifts are in express mode.’

‘They only come upwards without going back down,’ panted Harry as he and Ron both stood along the wall, outside of the crowd.

‘What are we going to do Harry? That’s Hermione down there!’ said a panicked Ron breathlessly, his eyes searching the room for any possible answer to their dilemma. Harry too was stumped, but he remembered something he had heard last year in the Auror Office on one of his first days of orientation.

‘The stairs!’ he bellowed, tugging Ron in the direction he wished to go.

‘This place has stairs?’ inquired Ron who was genuinely surprised.

‘I heard Doncaster and Williamson speak to each other last year. A sort of failsafe to any emergency. An alternate route to and from the Levels. This way!’

Harry ran as fast as he could around the perimeter of the hall of lifts, fighting his way through the outskirts of the crowd in order to reach the stairs. Finally, he saw the gap between two of the lifts, the gap barely wide enough to fit both Harry and Ron at the same time.

‘It’s in here!’ said Harry.

It only took them a few paces to reach the door at the end of the small gap in between the lifts. The door was a dull grey, its golden handle being roughly wrenched open by Harry, Ron shutting the door quickly behind him. Inside the stairwell, the noise of the Atrium was almost fully drowned out.

‘Come on,’ said Harry quietly.

‘I had no idea there were stairs here,’ said Ron quickly as he followed Harry down the steps two at a time. ‘Now Harry... what are we going to do when we get there?’

‘Er... not sure yet,’ replied Harry after a few seconds of serious thought, his hand holding on to the wooden railing of the purple-walled stairwell.

‘Would the bubble-head charm work?’ asked Ron as he and Harry strode past a door that read “Level Seven”.

‘I’m really not sure. You heard what that man said. All charms are apparently ineffective against the toxin.’

‘Could we use more than one? I remember Hermione saying once that more layers of the charm can increase its effectiveness. Something about wizards doing that for deep sea dives.’

‘Yeah I guess that would work... but the layers would probably slowly erode... we’d still have to be quick,’ stated Harry as he leapt the last four steps on to the Level Six landing.

Once they had reached the Level Five landing, Harry and Ron could begin to see the translucent green steam as it was slowly rising upwards. At first sight of it, Harry felt the steam enter his nostrils. He had to pause in order to cough violently, the steam making his entire head feel as if it was burning. Without having to touch his face, Harry could feel that somehow, the green smoke had reopened the small gash underneath Harry’s nose, a fresh trickle of hot blood making its way down in to his mouth.

‘You alright Harry?’

‘Yeah. It’s probably a good time to put that charm on now,’ he grimaced as he wiped some of the fresh blood off of his chin.

Both Harry and Ron produced their own Bubble-Head Charms over and over until their vision was nearly impaired by the numerous, translucent bubbles around their heads.

‘We find... WE FIND HERMIONE AS QUICK AS POSSIBLE,’ shouted Harry after he realized that the strength of the bubbles around his head had drowned out his normal volume of speech entirely. Ron nodded after originally not being able to hear his friend.

‘ALRIGHT HARRY. BE SURE TO GET OUT QUICKLY!’

Harry nodded, looking down at the descending steps in front of him, hoping that their idea would work. He took a hesitant step downwards, quickening his pace when he realized that the charm seemed to be doing the trick for the time being. Still, the quickly growing strength of the greenish gas coupled with the bubbles around their heads was making vision increasingly difficult. It was only a tap on his shoulder from Ron that Harry realized that the door to Level Four was a good ten feet from where his hand was groping for it. He could see the smoke billowing out from all sides of the door frame. With a deep breath, Harry followed Ron in to the hallway after he had opened the door.

The entire hallway was filled with smoke to the point where Harry could not see what was a mere few feet in front of him. To make matters worse, the outside layer of their charm seemed to be dissolving, giving off the illusion that Harry’s eyes were blinded by sweat. Harry wiped the liquefied outer layer of the bubble from off his face in order for him to see better, but in doing so, Harry saw a horrifying sight. His hand was beginning to blister, small green blotches slowly beginning to form along his arm. He only needed to briefly glance at Ron to see that they needed to move fast.

Each of them took a side of the hallway, kicking open the doors hard and scanning the insides of the room as fast as they could. Harry’s wand tip burst in to light as he used a Lumos spell, the light aiding him in his search. Once Harry had opened and unsuccessfully searched through his third office, his heart beat began to quicken. He had locked eyes with Ron as he met him back in the hallway and even though the bubbles around their heads obscured their vision of each other, Harry could clearly identify a large tear dripping down the side of Ron’s face as he grimaced in pain, kicking open a fourth door hard.

‘DIFFINDO!’ Harry screamed as he blew open his next four doors with consecutive curses, overturning the chairs in the next office.

He could hear Ron yelling Hermione’s name to the point where each scream seemed painful for Ron to muster. Harry thought he had found her in his fifth office, but instead, he discovered a much older witch who had been knocked unconscious. He quickly guided her body down to the end of the hall towards the light that signified where the stairwell was. He could no longer see Ron anymore but he could hear his calls for Hermione from up ahead.

‘What if... if we can’t find her,’ thought Harry painfully as he entered his sixth room, again finding two wizards that he did not know with no sign of Hermione. ‘No... no, no, no. Don’t think like that Harry! We’re going to find her! She’s probably already got out... we... we just didn’t see her.’

But no matter how much Harry told himself that she got out, he still kept looking for her. He too began calling out Hermione’s name as he quickly guided the two wizards’ bodies down to the end of the hall. He could see his hand was beginning to grow violently green in places but he did not care. His friend was in danger and he was not going to stop until he or Ron found her.

Harry came to the end of the hallway, the hall splitting off in two different directions. Without seeing a trace of Ron, Harry quickly set off down to his right, blasting the slightly ajar doors open with more curses of his own. He was beginning to feel helpless as he searched another office to no avail. He quickened his pace, flipping over the desk of the next room as he felt a tear drop down in to his mouth, leaving a salty taste behind.

‘HERMIONE! WHERE ARE YOU? HERMIONE!!!’

‘HARRY! HARRY THIS WAY!’

Harry’s eyes opened wide as he heard Ron’s voice calling from somewhere behind him. He ran for the door of the office quickly, tripping over the desk as he ran. Upon getting up, Harry could make out Ron from down the hallway as he slowly made his way towards him. There was something in his arms.

‘I FOUND HER!’ he yelled.

Harry was instantly relieved at Ron’s words, but his momentary state of thankfulness was quickly overcome by fear. As Harry met Ron back where the original hallway sectioned off in two directions, Harry could see a green-faced and surely unconscious Hermione being held in Ron’s arms. Harry could only hope that they were not too late.

‘GO! QUICK!’ he yelled at Ron.

Harry led the way back down the hallway, blasting apart the door that led to the stairwell with one swift stroke of his wand. Back inside the stairwell, Harry ran up the stairs, taking off his own bubble-head charm with his wand and turning to face Ron who let Hermione down on the stairwell once they were out of range from the gas.

‘She’s in bad shape Harry!’ panted Ron once he had taken off his own bubble-head charm, a mix of tears and sweat making his face appear shiny. ‘She’s still breathing but... that stuff’s not doing her any good.’

‘We need to get her to the Healers. Right away,’ replied Harry. He was no Healer but upon looking at Hermione’s greenish tinged, scaly and sweaty looking skin, he knew she was in a dire condition.

‘Let’s carry her together. Careful now,’ said Ron, lifting her upper body up.

Then, a set of running footsteps caused Harry to drop Hermione’s lower body back down on the stairwell. Curious, he ran down a couple steps and glimpsed back out in to the hallway of green smoke and listened, but the footsteps had stopped. He could see a bright light from somewhere deep in the hallway; it was getting brighter with each passing second. Finally, Harry realized it was coming right at him.

‘RON! MOVE!’

The spell slammed into the stairwell, severing the metal connection so that the section where Ron and Hermione were completely collapsed, falling downward. Narrowly escaping the blast, Harry had jumped downward towards the green smoke. Looking behind him, he saw that the entire section that he had previously been standing on had been wiped away completely, a broken piece of curved and broken metal now standing in its place.

‘Are you alright Harry?’

‘Yeah, I’m fine!’ Harry took a moment to view the situation, quickly scanning the damage to the stairs in front of him. ‘I-I don’t think I’ll be able to get back up to you from here Ron, so you go on with Hermione! You need to get her to the Healers right away!’

‘OK, Harry. What was that?’

‘No idea. I think it’s safe to say someone else is down here. The important thing is to get Hermione to the Healers. Then get a group of them to come down here and help anyone else we may have missed. I’m going to see whose down here...’

‘Harry be careful!’ said Ron as he picked up Hermione. ‘I’ll see if I can send some Aurors down too along with the Healers!’

‘I’ll be alright. There’s another stairwell at the end of the hall. But don’t worry about me – you get out of here. Make sure Hermione’s OK. Go. NOW!’ shouted Harry as he used his wand to produce the Bubble-Head Charm once again.

Ron did not need any more prodding to leave, Harry hearing the echoes of his quick footsteps as Ron made his way back up the stairs towards the Atrium. Harry’s heart began to beat fast once again as he cautiously made his was way back in to the smoky hallway, looking each way for who had sent the curse. He could hear his own footsteps as he slowly walked forward, his wand raised in front of him. He glanced in each office as he went past, illuminating his wand in order to see through the greenish fog.

Something was telling Harry that whoever had sent that curse at him was not only the one who had created the deadly gas release on Level Four but he was fairly sure that they had something to do with the attacks on the Ministry over the past few months. Focused, Harry scanned the area in front of him, watching for any sudden movements. Then, a dark shadow appeared from not far in front of him, a burst of bright light quickly getting brighter as it made its way towards him.

‘Stupefy!’ Harry yelled after he had ducked out of the way, the spell that had been sent at him crashing in to the wall somewhere behind him.

Harry saw the shadow grow dimmer, the loud echoes of their footsteps growing fainter. Harry pushed himself up and tore down the hallway, trying to listen closely for the perpetrator’s footsteps over the sound of his own. He turned left down the hallway but as he did so, a jet of bright light was already being sent his way. He narrowly avoided it, slamming himself in to the wall in order to avoid the curse, Harry looking up to see the shadow running down the hallway once again.

Harry sent his own set of spells down the hallway, the light of his spells aiding him in identifying how far up ahead the shadow was. In the distance, Harry could see the faint outline of a door frame; a second later, the door was wrenched open by the shadowy figure, filling the first few feet of the hallway with light before it was absorbed by the fog.

He got to the end of the hallway, slowing down right before he walked through the door, unsure of which direction the shadowy figure had gone. He looked upwards, unable to hear any footsteps or see any trace of the shadowy figure. Harry looked downward, unsure of which direction to go. If he was wrong, he could lose the figure entirely. Pausing, Harry quickly listened for any sort of clue as to where the figure had gone.

Yet another bright light caused Harry to suspend his thoughts. He tried to escape the spell and almost did so, but the spell made contact with his left shoulder and knocked him backwards in to the stairwell. He was momentarily paralyzed from the curse, but through his immobilization, Harry could see the shadowy figure descending the steps as he glanced over the stairwell railing. After a moment, Harry painfully picked himself up, quickly running down the steps and quickly escaping the poisonous, green fog that had leaked out on to the stairwell.

After Harry had gotten down to Level Three, he heard the sound of a door open and close loudly. He quickly glanced down to see that the Level Two door had been propped open. Having no idea why the perpetrator wanted to submerse himself deeper in to the depths of the Ministry, Harry continued past Level Two, his shoulder still sore and his skin becoming increasingly irritated by the green gas.

He wrenched open the door leading out on to Level One where the Minister’s office was located. Seeing that the stairwell had ended, Harry knew that this door was where the perpetrator had gone. It did not take Harry long to identify where the perpetrator was as once Harry found himself in the main hallway, he found himself literally face to face with none other than Rabastan Lestrange who stood only feet away from him.

‘Potter,’ growled Rabastan. His long, wet-looking dark hair blended in to his black robe and he wore a mixed expression of anger and playfulness as he held out his wand in front of him. Harry’s eyes opened wide in shock; for a brief split-second, Harry locked eyes with Rabastan, a curse coming to Harry’s mind as he began to raise his wand.

Rabastan was too fast. Before Harry could speak the incantation, Rabastan pointed his wand directly at Harry, sending three, quick, consecutive stunning spells right for him. Harry was able to escape the trajectory of the first two, but the third hit Harry in the same shoulder as before, knocking him through one of the doors of the hallway and in to an office.

Harry saw the room spinning all around him, the excruciating pain in his shoulder masking the pain he felt as his green-charred skin felt as if it was on fire. Breathing heavily, Harry stumbled as he tried to get up, holding his shoulder with his wand hand. He managed to reemerge through the broken door he had crashed through, but he saw no sign of Rabastan. Looking around, Harry noticed that all of the paintings lining the room had been hit by a curse from Rabastan, the portraits all but destroyed. However, to his immediate left, one destroyed painting still bore one of its occupants. In an upper corner that had not been destroyed by a curse sat a small, brown-haired, polka-dotted dressed girl who was quivering with fear.

‘He’s gone, Mr. Potter sir,’ she squeaked. ‘He hit us all with curses and then... then... he just disappeared.’

Harry sunk to his knees in pain, looking around at all of the broken portraits as they began to fall to the ground in pieces.

 
 


Chapter 18: Percival's Proposition
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‘Would you stay still Mr. Potter!’

‘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.

‘Very well.’

‘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.

‘Wait!’

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.

 
 
 
 


Chapter 19: The Orphan Commission
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With Hermione and Ron in tow, Harry swiftly entered the Atrium of the Ministry, weaving his way in and out of the characteristic traffic of Ministry personnel that occupied the large hall every morning. The threesome were walking with purpose though not in association with their professional obligations but with their growing curiosity with the Minister’s hallway and the revelation that Percival the Pompous had related to them. At first, Hermione had been skeptical about the portrait’s tale involving the Head Auror, but her cynicism gradually dissipated once Harry had told her of the hidden passageway behind one of the portraits.

‘I’d like to say “Glad to be back” earnestly but I can’t bring myself to say it,’ sighed Hermione.

‘You sure you’re alright to start working again?’ asked Ron for the fifth time that morning. It was Hermione’s first day back at work after the attack on the Ministry and Ron was worried that Hermione was coming back too soon.

‘I’d hardly call it working Ron,’ replied Hermione scornfully. ‘More like sitting there, reading up on past cases and then filing and organizing them alphabetically.’

‘Remember the plan?’ whispered Harry to Hermione and Ron. As he looked up at the long, draping curtains and windows surrounding the circular Atrium, he noticed a large, magical advertisement for the Ministry’s escort service which featured two burly Ministry workers easily dismissing laughing, flaming skulls and other disgusting creatures away from a tiny, smiling witch. The two Ministry personnel were travelling from the curtains beside the large portrait of Fudge and on to the windows of the surrounding offices. Harry noticed that the ground they were walking on was actually the Ministry slogan for the ad campaign.

‘Ron and I will go down first and clear the immediate area,’ recited Hermione in a way reminiscent of the way she studied for exams at Hogwarts. ‘Meanwhile, you’ll find Williamson and bring him down. Now are you sure you don’t want to bring anyone else?’ Harry was shaking his head before Hermione had even finished speaking.

‘No, I want to show Williamson first before anyone else. I don’t want to create a massive crowd if I can help it.’

‘Hermione,’ positioned Ron delicately, ‘do you think it’s a wise idea to not report to your office before you come down with me? They’ll be pretty upset with you, won’t they?’

‘Don’t think that my Department Head Mrs. Harvey could be any more upset with me anyway,’ shrugged Hermione. ‘We had an inspection done by Fudge’s Department Supervisor the other day... you should have seen the look on Harvey’s face when I reminded her that the population of Ramora had been upgraded to “Secure” status from “Endangered” last fall as a result of the Hippocampus’s permanent migration as a result of rising water temperatures in the Indian Ocean. I mean, who doesn’t know that the Hippocampus needs a very particular habitat – including a relatively cool water temperature – to thrive! Honestly!’ Ron merely turned to Harry and shrugged to which Harry could only smile.

‘I didn’t know that the Minister appointed a Department Supervisor,’ asked Harry casually as he tried to change the subject from the now secure Ramora. Hermione’s cheerful expression quickly changed to a wide-eyed, surprised one.

‘I know it publishes rubbish more often than not, but don’t the two of you at least glance at the Prophet?’ Hermione pointed to a salesman who was holding up that morning’s edition of the wizarding newspaper. Harry turned to see the top-most copy of the stack of papers gently begin to hover and make its way over to the most recent paying customer.

‘Usually, I guess,’ managed Ron uninterestingly. ‘Not every day or anything like that...’

‘Then I guess it’ll come as quite the shock when I tell you who has been appointed to that prestigious position, won’t it?’

‘Who is it Hermione?’ asked Ron. Hermione sighed deeply, shaking her head before telling the now standing still Harry and Ron.

‘Dolores Umbridge. Yeah I couldn’t believe it either.’

‘How is that even possible after what she did at the Ministry a couple years back!’ exclaimed Harry in outrage, amazed that he had not heard anything about this sooner.

‘I don’t know all the details but I’ve dug up some information. Fudge apparently pulled some strings at her hearing this past summer and reduced her lifelong ban in service and her severe financial fine at the Ministry to a mere brief suspension – a slap on the wrist,’ said Hermione with disdain. ‘Kingsley never could sentence her to Azkaban when he was Minister because she claimed she had no idea that Voldemort was actually running things at the Ministry. They used Veritaserum and her story somehow checked out – she probably had people on the inside who administered those tests, but we’ll never know that. Still, that didn’t stop Kingsley from punishing her severely for her crimes against Muggles. I’ve heard she was sentenced to working in a Muggle orphanage as a janitor – no magic allowed. Something like a six hundred years of community service. But good old Fudge had that reversed.’

‘How can people put up with that though! She’s evil, that woman!’ cried Ron to which Hermione shrugged.

‘Helps that her job is a position not under scrutiny by the public eye. I bet most people don’t even know she’s back to work in the Ministry!’

Harry opened his mouth to agree with Hermione, but the sound of a high-pitched, strangely familiar voice caught his attention. Quickly scanning the immediate area around him amidst the rapidly moving witches and wizards, Harry finally found the source of the voice. Standing atop a small platform that was barely a foot off the ground stood Luna Lovegood, her long, blond hair barely concealing her homemade radish earrings that Harry knew were a favourite of hers.

‘Luna! What are you doing here?’ asked Harry with a mixture of curiosity and delight. Hermione and Ron followed Harry as he weaved in and out of traffic, making his way over to Luna and the great fountain a moment later.

Luna was holding up a fluorescent pink piece of parchment, quickly placing it in to the hands of an unsuspecting passer-by a second later. Harry watched him as he quickly glanced at the parchment, crumpling it up and shaking his head before throwing it in to a trash can that was overflowing with pink.

‘Get your information here in the latest edition of The Quibbler!’ called Luna with her sweet, unique high-pitched tone. ‘Free hand-outs with all you need to know; whose in on it, whose lying and how to know if your gums have been affected! Free sample of preventative dirigible plum antidote for all those already suffering!’

‘Oh bloody hell...’ said Ron under his breath, turning his head away from Luna.

‘Luna? What... What exactly are you doing?’ asked Hermione hesitantly. At first, Luna did not appear to have heard Hermione, but after a moment, she quickly turned to the staring threesome and replied, her expression barely changing.

‘Why hello there!’ she said cheerily. ‘I’m trying to spread the word regarding the Rotfang Conspiracy, of course!’

‘What in the bloody –’

‘The belief that Aurors and other Ministry personnel are trying to take over the Ministry using various tactics, including gum disease,’ read Harry off of one of Luna’s pink pamphlets, interrupting Ron. ‘I remember you telling me about this.’

‘Oh yes, but it’s not a belief Harry,’ replied Luna. ‘It’s a fact.’

Hermione opened her mouth to offer her view on it, but thinking better of it, simply put on a fake smile and nodded to which Luna beamed in reply. Just as quickly however, Luna’s expression turned to one of paradoxical aloof-seriousness; something only Luna Lovegood could pull off.

‘I do hope the two of you are not involved in the Conspiracy,’ she said, indicating Harry and Ron. ‘I have heard that conspirators are branching out in their attempt to bring down the Ministry from within, using many new ghastly tactics.’

‘Such as?’ asked Hermione curiously.

‘Sinus infections of course. I really thought that was common knowledge...’

‘How’d you get this spot anyway Luna,’ pressed Ron which stopped Hermione from arguing against Luna’s outrageous proclamation. ‘I would have thought that Ministry security would have stopped your protest by now.’

‘Oh, that’s unlikely,’ replied Luna who took her wand out from behind her left ear and summoned one of her pamphlets in to the purse of an unsuspecting witch who was walking nearby. ‘I’ve got a permit from Rufus Fudge himself. He’s a big believer in the Conspiracy.’

‘How’d she manage that?’ asked Ron as Luna continued to call out, raising the loudness of her voice using a simple magnifying charm. ‘There’s no way Fudge would believe in this sort of rubbish!’

‘Fudge seems to think we’re all in danger, doesn’t he?’ said Harry quietly, indicating a smaller curtain that was advertising recruitment times for the wizarding army that Fudge had vowed to assemble only weeks ago. Neither Ron nor Hermione spoke as they stared out at the slogan situated beneath the giant Ministry of Magic emblem, which read:


Honorably serving,
Courageously protecting.
Your Ministry of Magic Army.


Beneath the slogan was a scripture detailing what one would need to bring to enlist, as well as suitable times to do so and the list of requirements and tests that one would be put through before being accepted in to the army. Harry could only shake his head as he saw a small group of young wizards excitingly and proudly looking up at the advertisement, taking a pamphlet and burying their heads in to it.

‘It’s wrong,’ muttered Hermione.

‘Oh I don’t mean to accuse all Aurors,’ chimed in Luna, mistaking Hermione’s accusation. ‘Just certain ones. I’m sure there are many Aurors in your department Harry that do not wish for world domination and the destruction of human gums everywhere. ‘Like father always says – you can’t blame the Umgubular Slashkilter if he’s got a case of the Wrackspurts.’

Harry, Ron and Hermione were all uncomfortably silent for a few moments as Luna continued her protest with a faraway look in her eye. To the thankfulness of Harry, Ron broke the silence.

‘Truer words never spoken! She’s got a way with analogies that one, doesn’t she Harry?’ he said sarcastically, nudging Harry with his shoulder and pointing at Luna. ‘Makes everything so much easier to grasp!’ Luna did not appear to pick up on Ron’s blatant use of sarcasm.

‘Potter! Weasley!’ came the sudden voice of Williamson from somewhere in the crowd. ‘We require you down at Level Two immediately!’

Though Williamson’s appearance in the Atrium caught him off guard, Harry knew that whatever he was calling them for was most likely very important.

‘Bye Luna, nice to see you again,’ rattled off Harry quickly as he made his way over to Williamson.

‘Harry!’ whispered back Luna, Harry half-turning back at his friend. ‘Take this. You never know who can be trusted in that Department of yours...’

Harry looked to see what Luna was holding in her hand and was comically touched that she held a tiny vial of the dirigible plum antidote that apparently cured Auror-inflicted gum disease.

‘Yeah. Thanks Luna,’ replied Harry.

‘Keep an eye out for Ron too. I think he might already have a case of it. But don’t tell him I said that. Wouldn’t want him to worry.’

‘I don’t think worrying would be his first response,’ smiled Harry who nodded to Luna again and set forth in catching up with Ron who was already half way to the lifts.

‘We’ll see you later Hermione,’ said Harry quickly. ‘We’ll have to head down to Level One some other time.

‘Alright, see you,’ sighed Hermione who was not looking too rushed in getting to her Department on time.

Using his ginger-haired friend as a guide amongst the crowded Atrium, Harry was able to dart his way through the Atrium, reaching Ron, Williamson and the lifts only a few seconds after they had gotten there themselves. He was slightly out of breath as the golden gate closed, placing one of his hands on his knee whilst noticing yet another sign for the wizard army commissioned by Fudge hanging on the lift wall as he slouched.

‘We’ve got a visit from... him,’ whispered Williamson after glancing around the lift for any eavesdroppers.

At first, Harry did not know who Williamson was speaking of, but only after a couple seconds of staring in to Williamson’s serious face, Harry knew who was paying them a visit. As if Williamson could somehow read his mind, he nodded slowly at Harry before resuming his straightforward stare towards the front of the lift.

‘We’ve got to be quick,’ said Williamson as the last wizard exited the lift at Level Three. ‘He does not have a lot of time.’

‘Sir,’ posed Ron quietly, ‘how come he has taken so long to communicate with us. I mean... it’s been months since we recruited him.’

‘These things take time, Weasley,’ replied Williamson. ‘We needed to give him enough time to mesh with the Death Eaters – enough time so that we could be absolutely sure that he has been fully integrated in to their society.’

‘Do you have any idea what it’s all about?’ asked Harry referring to their upcoming meeting with Malfoy.

‘None at all. All I know is that he’s risking his life by calling us today. We cannot blow his cover. We must be cautious.’

Williamson was the first to exit the lift, walking with purpose down the long, Level Two corridor that concluded with the Auror Department. However, Harry, Ron and Williamson did not walk ten yards before being stopped dead in their tracks by an overwhelming commotion. To their immediate left – the secondary corridor that led to offices of the Wizengamot – was a multitude of people that seemed to extend from the very back of the corridor to the lifts themselves. It took Harry a few takes to realize that the majority of the crowd was in fact children, ranging from what looked like fifth or sixth years to toddlers.

‘What the ruddy hell...’ said Williamson breathlessly, turning towards the uproar and disorder of the line.

‘IF YOU’VE SIGNED THE NECCESSARY DOCUMENTATION ALREADY, PLEASE FORM A SINGLE, ORDERLY LINE HERE,’ shouted a middle aged witch with short black hair. Her voice barely carried over the crowd, many of the children either crying, screaming, or fighting off other Ministry personnel decked out in their usual royal purple robes.

‘YOU WILL EMBARK ONE BY ONE FROM THIS LINE,’ another Ministry worker carrying a clipboard continued.

He indicated two doors, one on either side of the corridor where a few children were being ushered in by yet another Ministry worker. Harry was shocked to see that these children were grasping back at two adults who had tears streaming down their faces.

‘What is this?’ asked a perplexed Ron who had to raise his voice to be heard by Williamson and Harry.

‘This Weasley,’ began Williamson, ‘this is Fudge’s Orphan Commission.’

From Harry’s position, it appeared that the two adults who were being blocked from the pair of children were some sort of parental figure to them, affirmed by the elder witch’s cry a moment later.

‘But those are our children! They aren’t orphans!’

‘Did you give birth to these children madam?’ the Ministry worker asked harshly.

‘N-No,’ the witch stammered. ‘B-But Roger and I-I here h-have taken c-c-care of them their whole l-life! We adopted them wh-when they w-were only b-babies!’

‘The Ministry will decide which parents are fit to adopt a magical child from here on out. Step aside please or we will be forced to take action!’

Harry could see that there were other situations like this one ongoing, even though most of the children did not seem to be accompanied by any sort of guardian. He felt helpless while standing there beside Ron and Williamson. Strangely enough, he had never envisioned what Fudge’s Orphan Commission would look like when he read of its implementation weeks ago, but even if he had, he never thought it would look something like this.

‘Mad house isn’t this?’ Harry heard one of the Commission workers say to another after guiding a couple of crying toddlers in to one of the rooms. Harry could see that the room featured three fireplaces, an illuminating green flame briefly catching Harry’s eye before the door was closed once again.

‘Yeh. They couldn’t ‘ave done this when we was back in them courtrooms on Level Ten?’ a rather uneducated sounding wizard responded with a wipe of his hairy brow. ‘Would’a saved a lot of this commotion, wouldn’it?’

‘Fudge’s orders though,’ the first worker responded, opening the door for a few older boys without even looking at them. ‘After the hearing passing the Commission, he wanted all of them to sign the necessary forms that will document that they were read the Commission and had agreed to it. Plus, then they could leave the Ministry and head to the approved location by using these offices here.’

‘Come on. We’ve got to go,’ said Williamson softly while looking down at his feet.

Even though their Unit Head had just given them an order, for whatever reason, neither Harry nor Ron could move; it was as if their feet had been permanently stuck to the spot of marble floor they were standing on. Williamson did not move either, their eyes transfixed on the slowly dwindling number of orphans that were being guided in to the offices where they were to be transported.

‘Come along now you!’ came the voice of a purple-clad Commission worker, snapping Harry out of his own thoughts. ‘Be a good lad now!’

Most of the children had been ushered in to the offices with only a few groups of huddled together adults consoling each other occupying the now almost empty corridor. The Ministry workers were each rounding up the last of the children, one of which was causing considerable trouble for his respective Commission worker. The boy could have barely been ten, short with wavy black hair. He had a rather large nose and he looked like he had not taken care of his physical appearance whatsoever, evidenced by the fact that no parental figure was attempting to stop the Commission worker from forcing him in to one of the offices. The boy was writhing and kicking the worker with everything he had yet he had an expressionless face. His deep brown eyes were focused on the worker, kicking him hard in the shin as he reached out aggressively.

‘OI!’ the worker yelped, relinquishing his hold of the boy and grasping his knee. ‘Would
someone grab him?!’

‘I got ‘em!’ the uneducated sounding Commission worker stated loudly. The parents and remaining children were now watching the events with interest.

The Commission worker clumsily lunged at the young boy who dodged the worker with surprising agility and quickness. He then quickly retrieved a wand from inside his cloak pocket, pointing it squarely at the man’s forehead with the same expressionless face he had worn throughout the ordeal.

‘I thought we confiscated all of their wands!’ the first Commission worker said with wide-eyed surprise as he fumbled in his pocket for his own wand.

‘Stupefy!’ the young boy cried, sending the wizard crashing through the open office door. ‘Expelliarmus!’ The wand from the second worker flew in to the wall behind him as he turned around to pick it up, the young boy shot another stunning spell at him knocking him too through the same office door.

‘You there! Grab him!’ the short haired witch yelled at Harry, Ron and Williamson from down the hall.

Harry turned to both Ron and Williamson who looked back at him with trepidation. The young boy sprinted down the hall towards them, Harry having to duck out of the way of the short haired witch’s stunning spell which the young boy barely dodged.

‘GET HIM!’ the witch cried again, joined by two of her fellow Commission workers.

Harry could not bear to move a muscle, the young boy giving him a brief glance of recognition as he ran past them towards the lifts. The trio of Commission workers rounded the corner as well, the witch eyeing Harry, Ron and Williamson angrily.

‘Stupefy!’ one of the Commission workers yelled.

‘Protego!’ the boy countered, wrenching open the golden gate of the lift.

However, before the boy could close the gate and punch his desired button, the dark haired witch shot two successive stunning spells, each connecting with the boy’s lower back, sending him face first in to the lift wall. Harry heard an uncomfortable snapping sound and knew instantly that the boy’s nose and perhaps jaw was broken.

‘Nice shot Agatha!’ one of the Commission workers complimented, stowing his own wand and bending down to pick up the stirring boy.

‘Yeah, no thanks to these three,’ Agatha replied, giving a brief look to Harry, Ron and Williamson.

‘What’s his name?’

‘Let’s see here...’ replied Agatha, picking up her fallen clipboard from around the corner. ‘Tobias Turnbull, aged eleven.’

‘Eleven? Bloody hell...’ whispered one of the Commission workers who Tobias had previously stunned as he made his way out of the office rubbing his forehead gently.

‘Up you get Tobias,’ said one of the Commission workers aggressively. Harry saw that Tobias’ face was bleeding so much that his face was a vibrant scarlet.

‘Wait,’ said Harry as the Commission worker who was dragging a dazed Tobias behind him began to turn the corner. Harry retrieved his own wand and pointed it directly at Tobias’ face. ‘Episkey,’ he said, hearing the familiar readjusting snap of Tobias bone structure revert to its normal position.

Tobias winced in pain for a moment, the Commission workers eyeing Harry with disgust before continuing to drag Tobias in to the office. The Commission workers continued to round up the remaining children who had signed all the necessary documents, using a much more strong approach in the process. Harry swore that he saw Tobias look up at him before his bloody face disappeared behind the door of the office.

‘We’ve got to go,’ reminded Williamson hurriedly. ‘We’re going to miss Malfoy.’

‘Right,’ nodded Ron.

Harry followed Williamson and Ron back down the main corridor of Level Two towards the Auror Department, reminded of the real purpose why they were down here. Still, he could not help but think of what he had just witnessed. Judging by the expressions on both Williamson’s and Ron’s faces, they were thinking along the same lines.

‘How can Fudge do something like that?’ asked Ron as they entered the Auror Department and began descending the steps.

‘We are not here to question the Minister of Magic, Weasley,’ retorted Williamson who made his way to his desk.

‘But sir, you must think that this Orphan Commission is wrong at least,’ stated Harry. ‘How can the people allow Fudge to do this!’

‘Fudge wouldn’t do it if it outraged the public,’ said Williamson as he reached his desk, wheeling around to face Harry and Ron. ‘He’s clever enough to have the people believe that it is necessary.’

Williamson spun back around, opening the top drawer of his desk and rummaging through it as he looked for something.

‘He really thinks that orphans are a danger to society,’ said Ron to Harry strongly, followed by a rather nasty curse word which articulated to Harry exactly what Ron thought of their Minister. Harry could not help but nod in agreement.

‘Since you’re not blasting us for speaking of the Minister and the Orphan Commission in that way,’ said Harry with a half-smile towards Williamson, ‘does that mean you agree with us, sir?’ Williamson surveyed Harry for a moment after he had retrieved a small hand mirror from his top drawer. Then, through a half-smile of his own, Williamson replied.

‘I can’t lie to you Potter...’ Harry and Ron gave a small chuckle.

‘You two ready?’ asked Williamson, reverting back to his serious demeanor quickly.

‘Ready,’ Harry and Ron both said together.

Williamson indicated the mirror that was glowing a faint blue.

‘We’re travelling by portkey in here?’ asked Ron.

‘Mosteban has temporarily lifted the enchantments – don’t tell anybody he had done so,’ said Williamson in a rush, using his wand to conjure four grey curtains around his cubicle so that no one would see them vanish. ‘We must be quick – time is of the essence.’

All at once, Harry, Ron and Williamson placed their hands on the mirror. In seconds, Harry found himself to be somewhere completely different, the wind giving him his first indication of how cold it was in the surrounding area. Upon opening his eyes, he saw that he was standing on a hill top, a multitude of evergreen trees providing enough shield to make the spot secluded.

‘I thought you’d forgotten about me,’ came the sly voice of Draco Malfoy.

Harry turned to see the tall, blond young man who had become his nemesis over his school years. It still seemed odd that Malfoy was now working with him and the Aurors instead of against him.

‘What have you got for us Malfoy?’ asked Williamson urgently.

‘Their location... three nights from now,’ whispered Draco so silently that his voice was barely audible over the cold gusts of wind that rustled the evergreen trees.

‘Is that so?’ asked Williamson who seemed to be taken aback by Draco’s important piece of information. ‘You’re absolutely positive you know where.’

‘Of course I am! Would I have prompted your presence here if I wasn’t?’ spat Draco in retort, taking a few steps towards Williamson, the slush beneath his feet spraying up slightly as he walked.

‘We’re just making sure you’re not the lying little git you’ve always been Malfoy, is all,’ chided Ron.

‘That’s enough, Weasley!’ said Williamson loudly before Malfoy could open his mouth. Instead, Malfoy only glared at Ron who stared right back at the former Slytherin.

‘Now... can you give me what you had promised?’ asked Malfoy regaining his composure.

‘Afraid not,’ answered Williamson shortly. ‘And I believe it’s safe to say you won’t get it any time soon.’

‘And why not?’ replied Malfoy, closing his eyes for a moment, clearly not happy by Williamson’s answer.

‘Well, assuming our little operation goes smoothly three nights from now, the odds of us capturing every Death Eater would be unlikely, however desirable it would be. You must continue with your deception.’

Williamson began to walk away towards the hand mirror that sat beneath one of the closest evergreens. Harry stared in to Malfoy’s fuming face that was getting redder by the second. After opening and closing his mouth three times, Malfoy finally found the words he was looking for.

‘Months I’ve spent with these ruddy Death Eaters, trying to get them to bloody trust me! And that’s all the encouragement you can give me?’ Williamson continued to walk away, Harry and Ron not daring to move as they watched the face of Malfoy that was twisting with anger. ‘I can lie to you, you know! What if the information I just gave you will lead you right in to a trap! You know that if you don’t honor my agreement and treat me with some dignity and respect, then I can put you in some real hot water!’

Williamson turned around, staring right back at Malfoy who did not waver in his stance as he breathed in and out heavily, his chest rising and falling and his glaring eyes focused on Williamson.

‘That’s true... we don’t know that we can trust you Malfoy. But if you ever... ever want to see your family –’

‘You don’t need to threaten him Williamson,’ interrupted Harry. Malfoy looked at Harry, his eyebrows crossed and a look of disbelief in his eyes, a look that Williamson now shared. ‘He won’t lie to us.’

‘And who do you think you are to say that Potter?’ retorted Malfoy. ‘You might think you know me, but you don’t! YOU DON’T!’

‘You wouldn’t put yourself through months of agonizing pain as you try to make the Death Eaters trust you if you were just going to lie to us,’ stated Harry calmly, seemingly catching Malfoy off guard. ‘And... you wouldn’t lie to us because you know that would take any chance away of being with your family again. You’re not one of them – the Death Eaters. You never have been. You want to see them dissolved as much as we do – maybe even more so after you have seen what they’ve done to you and your family. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t trust you Malfoy. Probably never will. But I know the position you are in. I know that feeling; that need to be with your family. And that... that I can trust.’

No one spoke for what felt like minutes. Williamson glanced at Draco and Harry as they were locked in stare, Malfoy’s disposition softening from anger to reluctant acceptance. Malfoy began to stare at the wet ground, the wind whistling through the trees and making his eyes sting.

‘Here...’ Malfoy said painstakingly, extending his arm to Williamson and handing him a small piece of parchment. ‘Those are all the details of their location. They are going to meet at nightfall – they’ll be watching the air so be careful.’

‘Very well. Good work Mr. Malfoy,’ said Williamson after perusing the piece of parchment that Malfoy had given him. ‘Now what are you going to do after the attack, providing we don’t snag all the Death Eaters.’

‘No idea,’ sighed Malfoy. For a split second, Harry almost felt sorry for Malfoy. ‘It’s not like they have a stash of Veritaserum or something. I’ll be fine.’

‘Good. I apologize in advance for any curse that may be sent in your direction. Since you’ll obviously be there, it would seem odd if all of the Aurors somehow avoided hitting you with a curse; that would arouse some suspicion, no doubt. I’ll make sure that the curses that hit you won’t be lethal ones.’

‘I’m overjoyed,’ replied Malfoy sarcastically.

With that, he turned and disapparated with a small crack, the noise swallowed up by the howling wind.

‘Basing a whole operation on what Draco Malfoy has to say? Never thought I’d see the day,’ said Ron as he made his way back to the mirror.

‘We’re not Weasley,’ replied Williamson. ‘We’re basing it on what he has to say.’

Williamson pointed at Harry who nodded proudly before touching the glowing mirror, excited at the prospect at administering a severe blow to the Death Eaters’ numbers.


****


The very next day, Harry told Williamson of what he had found behind the portrait on the Minister’s corridor. However, since he had walked to Williamson’s cubicle with a head full of steam due to his excitement, Harry had failed in making sure that no one was close enough to listen in. He kicked himself later for not checking the surrounding area as Mosteban – who had been standing behind the cubicle beside Williamson – had heard Harry’s discovery, demanding that he too be taken to what Harry had found.

It was not long before seemingly half the Auror Department had made their way down to the empty portrait frame. The immediate area around the portrait was sealed off as many suspecting Ministry workers attempted to poke their heads through the crowd of Aurors and Magical Law Enforcement personnel to see why the crowd had gathered. It was Mosteban who pulled back the empty frame that was loose on its hinges in the resulting blast by Rabastan Lestrange. As he slowly pulled back the squeaky hinges of the broken frame and the adjoining metal backing that housed the now destroyed portrait, many of the Aurors gasped in amazement to see the small, round hole staring back at them.

‘It definitely was a portkey,’ sighed Richter, nodding as he held up a tiny stone that had been placed on the small pedestal.

Many Aurors were trying to block off the many Ministry workers that were curiously trying to peer over the array of Law Enforcement personnel that were examining the stone held in Richter’s hand.

‘He must have disabled this one once he had arrived at his destination,’ growled Gawain Robards, eyeing the stone with a look of utmost dislike. ‘This also explains that there may have been more than one breaking in to the Ministry.

‘Agreed. They had multiple portkeys here in case one of them was unable to leave at the same time as another,’ said a short, middle-aged Auror named Herbert that Harry had spoken to before.

‘Damn it, how could we have missed it!’ exclaimed Gawain, pounding his fist on the wall beside the opened portrait frame.

Harry was thinking the same thing as he watched the Quidditch game from his excellent seats that Ginny had arranged for them. Though Ron was still following the action with great pleasure, Harry – never thinking he would ever have thought such a thing – was desperately hoping that the match would end. Holyhead was getting thumped by the Wigtown Wanderers by a score of three hundred and sixty to eighty. If it wasn’t for the sheer incompetence of both Krazinski (the Wanderer Seeker) and Wellington (the aging, former all-star Seeker of Holyhead) then the match would have probably ended an hour and a half ago.

‘Holyhead’s just getting outclassed today – plain and simple,’ sighed Ron, leaning back in his seat as Wigtown added another goal to their total. ‘All Wigtown’s got is their Chasers! After their front trio they are severely outclassed by nearly every other team – Holyhead should have won this one with ease. Oi! There’s another missed Bludger from Cole! And she never misses those! Unbelievable!’

While Harry was disappointed that Holyhead was en route to lose yet another game – Ron noting that a loss today would surely put them out of contention for the League Championship – it was not of a most pressing matter to him. Amidst Ron’s jeering and frequent calls of “Put in Weasley!”, Harry eyed his flaming-haired girlfriend who was sitting on the Holyhead bench. Even from this distance, Harry could see the figure of Davis sitting beside her, occasionally rising from his seat to communicate with either the Head Coach or the Keeper Glynnis. He felt his skin grow hot as he watched Ginny below him, ignoring Ron’s comments about the match at hand. Harry was jarred out of his stare by Ron who shook him forcibly.

‘What?’ asked Harry blinkingly as he snapped out of his gaping transfixion.

‘I said,’ said Ron impatiently for what was apparently the third time, ‘that the match is over. Let’s go.’

Harry had been so focuses on Ginny that he had not even realized that Krazinski had caught the Snitch, sealing a dominating five hundred and fifty to ninety win for the Wanderers. Breaking out of his virtual daydream, Harry looked around to see that the entire stadium was beginning to file out from their seats.

‘We’d better go quick – it’s a bloody nightmare leaving Holyhead Gardens after a match – though many have probably already left early after today’s performance,’ sighed Ron, referencing the fact that the stadium was concealed in a mountain and that protocol for apparating from the stadium was done in small groups in order to lessen suspicion of any wandering Muggle. He motioned for Harry to get going as he stood up out of his seat.

‘W-Wait. You go along Ron,’ said Harry quickly, coming back to reality as if he had just woken up out of a long, deep sleep. ‘I wanted to see Ginny before I left. I’ll meet you back at the house for dinner.’

‘You sure mate? The press here is going to jump at the chance to talk to –’

‘I’ve got it covered,’ interjected Harry with a half-smile, pointing to his bag and revealing a corner of his father’s Invisibility Cloak. Ron smiled, clapping Harry on the back as he walked past him towards the corridor and the lifts.

‘See you later,’ he called over his shoulder as he disappeared in to the crowd of disappointed Holyhead supporters.

Harry quickly made his way to the lavatories, finding an empty cubicle and silently slipping on the Invisibility Cloak. Though Harry had not lied to Ron, he did not exactly tell him the entire truth either; though escaping the onslaught of the relentless press was partially the reason for Harry’s wish of deception, the main, larger reason was because there was something that his curious mind continually worried him about. Already, he could imagine the perfect smiling teeth staring back at him, the image annoying him greatly.

Staying to the perimeter of the crowded corridor of the stadium, Harry was able to bypass a large majority of the crowd quite quickly. The demoralized crowd was mostly quiet, only talking quietly to the person next to them about their team’s loss. He even heard a pair of wizards not much older than himself calling for Ginny to start the next game at Seeker, coming up with other various quick-fixes for their team which included paying off the referee, making up fantastical transfers with other teams and poisoning the opposing team’s drinking water with the Draught of Living Death before a match.

Having been there once before, it did not take Harry long to reach the visitor’s lounge where family members and friends could meet the Holyhead players after the match. He tore down the long, green-carpeted corridor, not even bothering to glance at the portraits and paintings of famous Harpies players that characterized the walls of the long corridor. He slid in through the ajar door emblazoned by a large Harpies’ logo, glancing around to see that only ten or so witches and wizards were occupying the comfortable green couches.

‘I’ve just got to talk to the media and then we’ll be on our way,’ Harry heard the famous Gweong Jones say to what Harry perceived as her husband, Jones pecking him on the cheek and heading down the hallway towards the conference room which Harry had passed on his way down.

Harry hoped he was not too late to see Ginny, his heart pounding as his mind battled with itself over the ethics of his trickery. To take his mind off it, he glanced towards the couches and saw a young girl looking through a magazine. She was answering a series of questions, checking off certain boxes every few moments. Circling behind her, Harry read the title of the article she
was participating in:


WHICH MEMBER OF THE “WEIRD SISTERS” ARE YOU?


Harry had no time to chuckle to himself. Just as he finished reading the title, Ginny, an impeccably dressed Davis and another woman who Harry did not recognize burst through the door that led to the Harpies’ dressing room. They were talking quietly to each other, Ginny bidding her fellow teammate goodbye as she made her way over to the teenage girl who set down her magazine and smiled at her apparent older sister.

‘That’s a tough one, that is,’ Harry heard Davis say as he and Ginny continued to walk towards the exit.

‘Eight in a row Davis,’ sighed Ginny deeply. ‘Some changes are going to have to be made.’

‘I know, I know,’ replied Davis with his hands raised. ‘I keep telling Smitty to put you in, but he’s hesitant. I suspect he’s going to give that option a long, hard look after today’s match, I tell you that much.’

‘Thanks Davis,’ half-smiled Ginny. ‘I just want our team to have success and –’

‘But you would like to play,’ teased Davis, poking fun at her politically correctness. ‘Isn’t that so?’

‘Yeah, it’s so!’ Ginny rolled her eyes as she replied, only speaking after a moment of hesitation to try and not give Davis the satisfaction of speaking the truth. ‘Anyway, I’ve got to be going. I don’t want to be late for dinner tonight.’

Ginny gave Davis a small smile and wave and continued on her way to the door where Harry was now standing. At the same time, Davis’ smile vanished as she strode past him, his arm raised as if he was trying to beckon her towards him.

‘Ginny! Wait!’

Ginny stopped walking at the sound of Davis’ voice. She glanced over her shoulder to look back at him, but he had been so quick that as she did so, she was pulled back forward by her shoulders, Davis already in front of her. Harry watched Ginny’s shocked face, blinking in a flurry as she faced him once again. Davis’ back was to Harry, Ginny’s face visible over Davis’ left shoulder. Out of the corner of his eye Harry saw that the teenage witch and the woman who Ginny had walked out of the dressing room with were preparing to leave.

‘What is it?’ asked Ginny perplexed.

Davis seemed to sigh deeply, Ginny eyeing him curiously as he paused for a few moments.

‘I’ve got to ask you something and I’m a little nervous about doing so,’ began Davis quietly and deeply, his hand stroking the back of his perfectly symmetrical, gelled hair as he spoke. ‘So I hope you spare me if I seem... awkward, or something.’

‘What are you talking about Davis?’ asked Ginny. This time, Davis did not hesitate as he had before.

‘Are you happy?’

The simplicity yet – ironically – the complexity of his question appeared to take Ginny off guard, as it did Harry. He did not even look at the teenage witch and her elder sister as he made room for them to pass through the door. Harry was so perplexed by Davis’ question that he did not notice that the Invisibility Cloak began to slip off his shoulder as he brushed by Ginny’s teammate.

‘Well – well of course I’m not happy,’ managed Ginny tentatively. ‘We just lost our eighth straight! I’m not going to be especially cheerful when –’

‘I’m not talking about that,’ interrupted Davis, inching closer to Ginny. Harry’s heart seemed to jump in to his throat as he did this. ‘I’m talking about you. The real you. Are you happy?’

‘Davis, I’m... I’m not quite sure what you –’

‘I’m asking because I care about you. A lot. Are you happy? With your life. With Quidditch. With your family. With your friends. With your... boyfriend?’

Ginny opened her mouth as if she was going to speak but she could not manage a single word. Her eyes appeared glossy as she struggled with her speech. With each passing second that she was silent for, apparently unable to answer the question, Harry’s heart began to hurt more and more as if it was being squeezed tighter and tighter. He was unable to move as his eyes scanned Ginny’s beautiful, tearful face, Harry wishing and hoping that he could find a trace in it that would answer Davis’ question with a simple “Yes.”

Then, Ginny’s mouth opened wide, her eyebrows narrowing over her eyes and her arm extending forward, pointing towards something behind Davis. It took Harry a second or two to realize that she was pointing at him, Ginny positioning herself better and squinting her eyes to get a better look. Harry was horrified as he looked down, seeing that part of his shoulder and neck had been exposed, the Invisibility Cloak slowly slipping off it.

‘Wh-What is it?’ asked Davis as he placed both of his hands on either of Ginny’s shoulders.

Harry quickly covered up his shoulder with the Cloak, silently walking towards the couches as Ginny continued to stare at the space where Harry had been. She shook off Davis’ hands and walked up to it, shaking her head a moment later.

‘S-Sorry. Thought I saw something. Er, Davis, I’m going to be late,’ said Ginny, suddenly regaining her composure, although Harry saw that when she spoke, she did not look at Davis in the eye. ‘I’m just fine, I promise you. Talk to Coach about any of the changes and let’s get this team back on the right foot.’

She departed without another word. Harry heard her quick, muffled footsteps as she walked down the corridor. He was relieved that she appeared to have not seen him, Harry looking to Davis who finally tore his stare away from the door Ginny had just passed through. The shock of his momentarily revealed shoulder having worn off, the terrible feeling began to resume its stranglehold upon Harry’s insides, Harry angrily kicking the door open a moment later, not caring for the shocked expression of Davis as the door swung open with a bang.

 
 


Chapter 20: Fight in Flight
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

All that Harry knew of the impending mission was that he was to meet at the Auror Department at five o’clock that evening when the Head Aurors would diverge the finer details of their plan to all those participating. He could tell that Ron was looking forward to the mission as well, evidenced by the fact that at around one thirty that morning, Harry peeked over at Ron’s bed to see his friend lying there, his eyes wide open. Neither of them spoke to one another, Harry making the decision to leave themselves in their silent solitude.

Both Ginny and Hermione were reluctant to leave the breakfast table the next morning as they were rushed out of Grimmauld Place in order to make it to Quidditch practice and the Ministry respectively. Harry was feeling disappointed that he could not spend a few minutes with Ginny before she left, so much so that when Ginny gave him a hug that morning, he did not surrender the embrace for a full ten seconds.

‘I see you might be more nervous than I am about your mission,’ said Ginny, pleasantly shocked at Harry’s prolonged clasp.

‘Not nervous no,’ answered Harry out of ear shot of Hermione and Ron who were helping Kreacher clean up the kitchen.

Ginny eyed him curiously for a moment, their eyes locking until Ron came bursting through the kitchen door, tip toeing up the stairs once he saw the state of Harry and Ginny in the narrow front hallway.

‘Just... please be careful Harry,’ said Ginny, echoing Hermione’s sentiment from that morning’s breakfast. ‘I know I told you that I’m not worried about your safety... that you’ll be fine but I... I... I...’

Ginny looked at her feet for a moment. When she returned, Harry noticed that her beautiful brown eyes were glossy, Ginny squinting them to hold in the salty discharge.

‘I know,’ whispered Harry, bowing his head so he could look in to Ginny’s eyes more closely. ‘I love you too.’ Ginny half-smiled, embracing Harry once again.

‘Watch over Ron too,’ said Ginny, brushing her hair out of her eyes once their embrace had concluded. ‘Make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid.’ She grinned more widely this time.

‘I will, I promise,’ replied Harry.

Ginny began to walk backwards away from Harry as if she was trying to savor every moment that they had together. Right when she turned to face the door, she wheeled back around again, her eyebrows raised and her mouth open.

‘Oh Harry I’ve been meaning to ask you...’

‘What is it?’ Ginny bit her lip as she stared at Harry’s chest, running a hand through her hair.

‘You still have the Invisibility Cloak handy right? It’s not in your vault at Gringott’s or something?’

‘Er, yeah. Yeah, of course. Seeing as how I kind of broke in to Gringott’s and destroyed their entire Atrium, I try to stay out of the way of the goblins as much as I can these days. How come your asking?’ Harry was taken aback by Ginny’s question.

‘I just think it might be a good idea,’ she said slowly. ‘To take with you, I mean. Tonight. On the mission.’

‘I’ll do that.’

Ginny took one last glance at Harry, her mouth curling in to the slightest of smiles before she turned, opened the door and strode out in to the early March morning. For some reason, as the rush of cold wind was shut out again by the closing door, Harry’s stomach dropped slightly. However, his time to dwell on it was suspended by Hermione who exited the kitchen and began lecturing Harry once again on the proper way to go about the mission.

‘Hermione, hold on,’ Harry said, stopping Hermione mid-sentence as he held up his hands. ‘I’ve done much more dangerous things like this before – how come you’re so worried?’

‘Yeah, it’s not like we’re taking on Voldemort and a bunch of his cronies, alone, in some creepy graveyard or something. We’ll be fine!’ interrupted Ron loudly as he came down the stairs to bid Hermione goodbye.

‘That’s precisely what I’ve been trying to tell you!’ Hermione replied annoyingly. ‘This is not like those other times! And it has nothing to do with how dangerous it is! Look – what you have on your hands right now is the opportunity to stop the Death Eaters once and for all! Stop them from obtaining the Eye of the Posterus and putting an end to the portrait of Voldemort’s vow of return! That could happen and it could happen tonight.’

Harry looked to Ron who nodded triumphantly, Harry feeling a great sense of anxiousness and bravery erupt from his insides.

‘You’re right Hermione. Even though we don’t even know for a fact that the Eye exists or not –’

‘It doesn’t matter!’ interrupted Hermione once again. ‘It could all end – everything – in just a few short hours. So please... please be careful you two.’ Hermione sighed frustratingly, stomping her foot on the hallway floor in her displeasure. ‘I wish I could come with you.’

‘We wish you were coming too,’ agreed Harry, Ron embracing her.

For the rest of the day, both Harry and Ron stayed in their pajamas, roaming Number Twelve Grimmauld Place in search of something to quell their boredom. For a few hours, Harry felt like he was eight years old again, albeit not locked up in the Dursley household while Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia took Dudley out on some extravagant day trip. He enjoyed the sense of carelessness; the absence of being busy with something was a welcomed change from the normally very hectic life inside Number Twelve Grimmauld Place what with their exhaustive work at the Ministry and Ginny’s Quidditch commitments. The break from it all seemed to have an almost numbing effect on Harry that made everything around him seem happier. Harry had never enjoyed hearing an occasional shrieking complaint from the portrait of Mrs. Black or losing to Ron at wizard chess as much as he was today.

However, evening came all to quickly and by the time that Harry heard Kreacher beginning to prepare the usual late supper for Hermione and Ginny, he knew it was time to depart for the Ministry. The air was colder and more still now than what it usually was during typical March mornings. It felt awkward to venture in to the Ministry at night rather than in the morning, this fact further hitting home when Harry and Ron appeared to be the only ones in the Atrium that were heading towards the lifts instead of away from them.

When they entered the Auror Department, Harry noticed that the flurry of activity that characterized the day-to-day operations was still in full swing. It appeared that no one had left the Department yet; nearly everyone was rushing between cubicles or emerging from one of the hallways that led from the many adjacent rooms carrying vials full of potion, books, or oddly-shaped gadgets. As Harry and Ron were just about to enter the fray, they both simultaneously heard a particularly familiar laugh coming from the hallway that led to Mosteban’s office. Sure enough, they saw none other than George Weasley shaking hands with both Mosteban and Williamson, Mosteban appearing serious as usual while Williamson wore a respectful expression.

‘George? What are you doing here?’ asked Ron quietly as he met up with a beaming George by the steps.

‘This is the big one brother!’ he exclaimed, taking Ron by both his shoulders. ‘The one I’ve waited for! The one that is going to make me rich!’ George shook Harry’s hands feverishly as he exhaled before continuing. ‘Now... if you don’t mind me asking... who is the secret mole you two have on the inside. You know, working with the Death Eaters?’

Harry and Ron exchanged glances, unsure of what to make of George’s forthright question.

‘They wouldn’t tell me either! It’s only because I want to thank the lad – made me quite the rich man today, I tell you!’ George could not help but beam as he continued to look from Ron to Harry, hoping they would reveal the identity. ‘Oh come on, I’m your bloody brother. I won’t say anything!’

‘Oh alright then,’ said Ron caving to his brother’s pleading. ‘But you can’t tell anybody.’ George nodded excitingly. ‘Malfoy.’ George’s face sunk; he looked confused for a moment, but resumed his jovial appearance almost immediately.

‘Well, that’s unforeseen, but all well and good just the same...’ said George trailing off, making his way to the exit.

‘OK, now you’ve got to tell us why you’re here!’ pressed Ron.

‘I’d only be too happy to tell you Ron!’ replied George. ‘You know how I haven’t exactly been around much this year?’

‘Yeah... Mum goes on about it every time I see her,’ replied Ron blandly.

‘Exactly! It’s because...’ George fumbled around in his cloak pocket for a brief moment, retrieving a semi-circular object that fit in to the palm of his hand, ‘...of this.’

Ron took it in his hand, Harry glancing over to find a tiny eyeball staring back at him. George began explaining immediately, apparently eyeing the confused glances on both Harry and Ron’s faces.

‘Remember my Extendable Ears project from a few years back? Great product by the way, almost always sold out of those little buggers...’

‘You didn’t...’ said Ron half-seriously, half-jokingly.

‘I did! Extendable Eyes! You place this over your eye like so...’ George demonstrated, pausing for a moment to do so, ‘someone else puts on the connecting Extendable Eye over their own eye and the connection is completed! Now you can see what they see. It’s brilliant!

George handed Harry another of the tiny eyes and motioned for Harry to put it on. He placed the plastic eye over his own and instantly, he appeared to be seeing two different pictures in front of him. Out of his left, normal eye, Harry could see Ron, staring right back at him but out of his right, Extendable Eye, he could see the rest of the Auror Department from the direction that George was looking in, the image moving about as George quickly turned his head. Harry popped out the Extendable Eye from his own.

‘Wow, George. That is brilliant!’

‘Thank you Harry! The Ministry seems to think so as well! Back in the summer they commissioned me to develop the Eyes for them but began playing hardball when negotiating the price,’ spat George quickly, clearly overcome by excitement. ‘But that all changed when our friend Malfoy revealed the Death Eaters’ location, prompting them to cave to my demands. Fifty Galleons per pair! And they’ve ordered one hundred pairs already with certainly more to come! In various eye colors, of course...’

‘George that’s like... five thousand Galleons!’

‘I know! The sky’s the limit now!’ Georg continued with a sly smile. ‘They are already inquiring about adding a more sophisticated Extendable Ear to their collection plus a bunch of other projects I’m not allowed to speak of at present time. But, if you’ll excuse me, I believe I need to pay my mother a visit. She misses me oh so dearly, you know.’

‘Hey! I want a better Christmas present this year! Not some crummy little fake wand or something that you could get for free!’ Ron called as George skipped away from them. Ron now turned back to Harry as they continued on their own way. ‘How does he get so lucky?’

It did not take long for Harry and Ron to find the rest of their unit. Williamson gave them a quick nod, assuring them that they were in the right place before he turned and talked quietly to the other Head Aurors that would all be participating in the dangerous mission. All of Williamson’s and Richter’s units were huddled together in two separate groups, all of the Head Aurors including Gawain Robards were standing in the wings and Mosteban was whispering with Blackburn, eyeing the crowd in front of him that began to simmer down to mere whispers.

‘Alright let’s get to it then,’ he growled. ‘I’m not going to explain this twice – time is of the essence. So listen up all of you.’ He eyed Harry for half a second which caused Harry to stare back hard at the Head Auror. ‘Your units have been chosen for this mission by me because you have performed admirably in the field and in training thus far. However, all that means nothing if you mess up today. Robards’ unit will be waiting here if we need any further assistance in the mission this evening. The more dangerous and important jobs will be given to the veterans amongst you, a select few will be joining myself and the rest of the Unit Heads in infiltrating the meeting of the Death Eaters that is set to begin in one hour from now. Your Unit Heads will inform you of your task when we get there. Clear?’

A few Aurors in their thirties nodded their heads intensely, obviously anxious at their more strenuous and important jobs during the operation.

Everyone made their way to the fireplaces, Williamson and Richter already standing by them holding a pot of Floo powder in their extended arms. After Mosteban disappeared in to the emerald flames, both units of Williamson’s and Richter’s began to follow suit.

‘Not you Cordry!’ shouted Gawain Robards. ‘We’re only going if we are absolutely needed!’ Harry noticed that Gawain gave him a quick wink and nod before heading in the other direction.

A young Auror in front of Harry pounded his fist in to his other hand, disappointed that he could not at least see the operation unfold. Though he was excited, Harry was still slightly nervous due to the fact that he had no idea what or how big a part he would be playing in the mission. His nervousness had to be temporarily dismissed as Williamson motioned for Harry to grab a handful of the Floo powder.

‘Call “The Portly Penguin, 142 Rochester Lane.”’ Williamson said quietly, already motioning for the next Auror towards the fireplace.

Harry stepped in to the nearest fireplace and called the address that Williamson had instructed. In a flash, Harry was whisked away, finding himself in a dingy, dirty pub in a matter of seconds. He barely had enough time to take in his surroundings as he was ushered to his left roughly by Mosteban, another Auror appearing in the place where Harry had previously stood.

‘Over there, Potter!’ barked Mosteban, pointing to a group of tables with stools overturned on its surface.

Harry watched as Ron appeared, making his way over to Harry and the rest of Williamson’s unit in silence. As Harry began to survey the pub more closely while Aurors continued to arrive, he noticed a small sign by the wooden door. On it stood a quite obese-looking penguin who was sitting on its bottom, a speech bubble emerging from its mouth that read “Closed for Refurbishment.” He rose a hand to his forehead in order to rub it but stopped short of doing so having noticed that his entire hand was caked with a thin layer of dust after resting it on the table top.

‘Right! That’s everyone – listen up!’ called Mosteban.

Harry noticed that all of the Unit Head Aurors had arrived including Blackburn, Carver and Griffin in addition to Williamson and Richter. Some of Mosteban’s key senior Aurors had arrived, Harry noticing that Doncaster and Pewter were conversing with each other behind the Head Auror. Harry anticipated for Mosteban to begin relating the concept of the mission to the rest of the Aurors, but was taken aback by Williamson and Richter who began speaking directly to their respective units.

‘Alright listen closely,’ Williamson began, standing in front of his unit of about fifteen Aurors or so. ‘Myself and the other Auror Heads along with some of the more experienced Aurors in our units are going to be the ones to infiltrate the Death Eater meeting. Quentin, Mitchell, Nichols, that means the three of you. Our mission is to take down and arrest as many Death Eaters as possible.’

Williamson indicated three of the older Aurors of the unit, each of them appearing to be in their late twenties or early thirties. They emerged from the group and stood behind Williamson after he said this, Harry noticing that two Aurors were now standing behind Richter on the other side of the room.

‘That is not to say that anyone else’s job is less dangerous or less important. What you need to know is this – over the past three days, myself and others have created a magical barrier of sorts. Enchantments, used to take away the Death Eaters’ options of escape. While they can apparate into this barrier, they will be unable to apparate out of it. For your own knowledge, the barrier extends around the circumference of the village, about half a mile from the outskirts of the village. A good indicator or reference point for the end of the barrier are hills to the south and west and the river to the north and east.’

‘Brilliant,’ whispered Ron under his breath.

‘When we ultimately put our plan of infiltration in to action,’ Williamson continued, speaking intensely and rapidly, ‘they will be unable to escape. In order to apparate away, they will have to make it to the barrier of these enchantments. These enchantments will be undetectable by the Death Eaters on their way in to the village. As far as the Muggles in the area go – earlier today, Blackburn and Carver both visited every Muggle establishment in the community disguised as door-to-door Muggle salesmen. They were able to administer “free samples” of a very potent Draught of Living Death to each of the four thousand Muggles in the area that will knock them out until tomorrow morning and leave them with no recollection of the events. This is where you come in – to maintain the illusion of a conscious and participant Muggle community, while also serving a function to the mission.’ Williamson took a half-turn towards his companion, speaking loudly over his shoulder. ‘Richter – are you ready?’

‘We’re all set over here! Polyjuice Potion at the ready,’ returned Richter to which Williamson nodded, turning back and examining his unit in front of him.

‘Very well... I’ll begin relating your jobs and stations to you now. First... Potter and Weasley – you’ll be joining Florian Ducats from Richter’s unit. You three are going to operate with the closest proximity to the Death Eaters besides those of us who will infiltrate the meeting.’

Harry abruptly straightened up from his half-hunch over the dusty table, brushing aside a few Aurors in front of him in order to reach Williamson. He caught a glimpse of the rather plump Florian Ducats who was now standing beside Richter by the bar, Harry chuckling to himself when noticing that Florian looked strikingly similar to the penguin that served as the mascot of the pub.

‘Now,’ Williamson continued as both Harry and Ron met their Unit Head, ‘you will be administered some Polyjuice Potion which will turn you in to three Muggles of the area. You will be portraying the outside security to a Muggle establishment – a sort of... dance hall where many people leave while vomiting and starting intoxicated skirmishes.’ Harry tried not to smile at Williamson’s serious description of a Muggle club. ‘Your job is simple – to spy on any Death Eaters that enter the meeting. The establishment you will be situated at is adjacent from the former clothing store that is currently up for rent – this is where the Death Eaters are holding their meeting. We want you to take pairs of these –’

Williamson retrieved two sets of what appeared to be sunglasses from a table behind him and handed them to Harry and Ron who were bewildered as to what function they might serve.

‘These sunglasses have been implemented with Mr. Weasley’s Extendable Eyes. They have been embedded in them so that Doncaster, Pewter and the rest of the Aurors at the command center – here – will be able to identify every Death Eater that attends. This is essential to the timing of our operation. Plus, visual confirmation on any new, lesser known or not as easily identifiable Death Eaters will allow court cases to proceed much more smoothly, accepting the fact that we do indeed capture them.’

‘Williamson – the potions,’ Richter said, handing Williamson two vials containing the muddy looking Polyjuice Potion that Harry was all too familiar with.

‘Here we are – drink up. Quickly now,’ urged Williamson as he handed Harry and Ron the vials.

As Harry swallowed his (feeling the lumpy liquid slide down his throat excruciatingly) Williamson continued to speak, Harry having to keep every ounce of his concentration in order to take in everything that he was saying.

‘We’re placing a pair of Aurors in the establishment you will be outside of, a few that will attempt to enter the establishment and many Aurors surrounding the circumference of the Death Eater meeting place,’ he said rapidly as Harry’s form began changing. Looking down, he noticed that his arms were becoming much larger and simultaneously, much harrier as well. ‘Once the meeting has begun, we won’t wait long to break in. My best advice is to take refuge in the establishment with the other Aurors. Death Eaters may enter after realizing they are unable to apparate so be on guard. Stay there until myself or one of the other Head Aurors comes to retrieve you – many of these Death Eaters are extremely powerful and won’t hesitate in attempting to kill you.’ Harry felt like cutting off Williamson and telling him that he had encountered Death Eaters many times before, but thought better of it and let Williamson finish. ‘However, there are many small windows along the side of the Muggle establishment looking out in to the alley that would serve as excellent points of attack if any Death Eaters decide to use that exit. It will offer you great defense and great, close-up range of the alley where the Death Eaters would be easy targets for you to take down.’

‘They better go,’ called Richter, urging who Harry guessed was Florian towards the door of The Portly Penguin. Williamson checked his watch.

‘Indeed,’ he replied. ‘Doncaster and Pewter will be keeping an eye on you through the Extendable Eyes if you require any assistance. Florian knows where you’re headed.’

Harry nodded, walking with Ron who now stood at least a foot above Harry, a black unibrow and a skinny, lanky figure replacing the body of what used to be Ron’s own. As they approached the door, Harry saw that Florian had grown as well albeit not in the same fashion as Ron; Florian was at least one hundred pounds heavier than what he used to be, his cheeks making his head seem wider than it was length ways. Harry caught a glimpse of himself in one of the empty glass bottles placed along the top of the bar. Even though he was wearing a rather blank expression, Harry’s face still looked utterly terrifying, his pearly white teeth, black eyes and dark, messy hair giving him a ghoulish-like appearance.

Harry felt the cool night breeze rush by his face as Richter opened the door for the threesome. Glancing over his shoulder, Harry saw that Williamson was already explaining the details to the next group of Aurors, stopping his stare as he was prodded in the back by Ron. The door closed with a creek, Harry pausing to look at the village in front of him that was completely scarce of Muggles giving it an eerie, ghostly feel.

‘Of course,’ sighed Florian as he took charge and led both Harry and Ron down a narrow cobblestone road, ‘I had to be the fat one. Seems like a rather nasty way of passing on the not-so-discreet message to me, doesn’t it? I’d rather them just say “Get in shape, puffskin!”’

Ron raised his unibrow at Harry, not knowing how to reply to Florian’s reference to his own mild obesity. Harry examined Florian who was looking at his old, tattered jeans and black sweatshirt that had been given to him by Richter. Harry chuckled to himself at the disgusted expression on Florian’s face, knowing that due to his expensive tastes, this Muggle attire was of serious offense to him. Looking at his own clothing, Harry was reminded of his usual dress while living in the Dursley household, his sweatshirt grey and old while smelling curiously like moth balls.

‘Is that –’

‘Hermione’s charmed bag, yeah,’ answered Harry, Ron noticing it from their travels two years ago. ‘Brought some things with me. Just in case, you know?’

The threesome walked silently, none of them daring to utter a single word in the silent street. Little houses and cottages occupied either side of the cobblestoned street each with a tiny garden that was barely large enough for Harry to lie down on. As Florian took a right down an even narrower street, Harry glanced over his shoulder in a non-committal fashion so as to not attract any suspicious attention in case there were Death Eaters watching them at that very moment. As Harry faced the front again, Florian pointed to his left down a very narrow alleyway.

The bright moonlight could barely penetrate the alleyway as they began to walk down it. Harry could make out a small staircase of three steps on the left hand side that led up to the building that served as the Muggle club that they would be stationed at. To his right, Harry noticed that the windows of the closed-down clothing store had been smashed in, a large sign hastily tacked up to the door that appeared to be slightly off its hinges.

‘Now... seeing as how I’m probably due for yet another heart-attack any moment, I should probably stay the farthest away from the alley. Won’t be quick enough to retrieve my wand if necessary,’ Florian said with a mixture of disdain and sarcasm in reference to his character’s own weight.

‘Agreed. Here’s the Daily Muggle Newspaper to read,’ Ron said, retrieving a folded paper from his inside pocket and handing it to Florian. ‘Will help you look casual if you’re holding it.’

‘Ron and I will stand on either side of the staircase here,’ Harry added as Florian leaned on the railing while pretending to read the paper.

‘And now...’ sighed Ron. ‘We wait.’

‘Stay sharp. It’ll be any time now,’ concluded Florian.

For the next ten minutes, none of them even thought of speaking. Harry found it much more difficult than he thought to do absolutely nothing; staying alert yet looking casual was a paradox that was much more complicated under the trying circumstances. Harry was relieved when Ron tapped him on the shoulder and angled his head in the direction of the street that the alley sectioned off from. A shadow was growing and the sound of light footsteps entered Harry’s ears, his senses on high alert as his anxiousness rose. As the figures rounded the corner, Harry saw a pair of men who he had never seen before, their allegiance identified by the Muggle clothes they wore. Letting out a deep sigh, Harry pointed to their arms which they extended outwards. Harry quickly patted them down, aiming his head in the direction of the door after they had done so.

‘Have fun,’ Florian said a little too cheerily as the two disguised Aurors passed in through the door, Ron shooting him a disapproved look that seemed much more threatening than he had meant it due to his changed appearance. ‘Too much?’

‘A tad,’ replied Ron roughly, looking away from Florian and refocusing on the street once again.

A few minutes later, two more figures appeared. This time, they came in the form of two fairly attractive women who were wearing low cut dresses underneath their furry wintery coats. Florian smiled at the two as they passed.

‘Come right in ladies,’ he said approvingly.

‘It’s Blake and Sebastian, you idiot,’ the first disguised Auror said. ‘We didn’t choose this appearance, you know.’

‘I think it suits you. You should look like this all the time,’ chided Florian.

‘Shut up, Florian,’ whispered Harry. Florian’s smile faded quickly as the two Aurors entered the club, his attention refocusing on his newspaper once again.

‘We should put the glasses on now, eh Harry?’ asked Ron.

Harry nodded as the three put on their Extendable Eye sunglasses, George’s magical device bonding itself with their left eyes while leaving the right one focused on the alley in front of them. Harry could see Doncaster nodding at him out of his left, the threesome realizing that their Extendable Eyes were connected to Pewter’s. Harry saw Doncaster hold up a sign in front of them which Harry could clearly read:

Many are inside. Not many more to come. Ten minutes to infiltration.

Harry turned to Ron, surprised that the infiltration was going to take place so soon. Ron nodded at him intently, his eyes wide with focus as he straightened out his slightly hunched-over, lazy position. A brief, chilly breeze silently stun Harry’s eyes as he stared out in to the street. Silence fell over the alley after the breeze had dissipated, neither Harry, Ron nor Florian even daring to breath heavily so as to not disturb the silence.

Then, coming out of nowhere, a soft popping noise made Harry turn his head a fraction of a degree. Though the noise was soft and distant, it nevertheless echoed throughout the silent alleyway. Harry did not even bother to look behind him at Ron or Florian; he knew they were both staring in the same direction as he was.

Slowly at first and increasing with speed and sound as they came, the echo of footsteps came to Harry’s ears, his senses perking up with the footsteps’ growing closeness. Harry held his breath as he saw a shadow emerge on the cobblestoned drive. After a brief pause where the silence temporarily reemerged in the alley, two figures rounded the corner and began to slowly walk down the alley. Unable to make out the figures, Harry snapped back in to his character, feigning a cough while turning slightly to Ron and pretending to converse with him. He muttered something incoherent to which Ron mouthed “What?” before realizing what Harry was doing. Harry took a sideways glance at the two forthcoming figures. It took nearly everything he had not to pull out his wand and fire a Stunning Spell as Harry remembered the day at the Ministry which nearly cost Hermione her life.

‘Good cold evening, gentlemen,’ came the raspy voice of Rabastan Lestrange from the darkness. No one responded to Rabastan’s creepily friendly greeting, but upon remembering that he was playing a role and seeing how Rabastan was playing his own, Harry responded, albeit shakily.

‘G-good evening.’

‘Slow night of business, I presume,’ continued Rabastan with a crooked smile. The Death Eater beside Rabastan was one that Harry had seen many times before. It was one of Voldemort’s closest servants, Avery. ‘What with the quite chilly circumstances, I’m led to believe that the abundance of guests in your night club is slight, as suggested by the characteristically vacant appearance of its exterior on such a Wednesday evening.’

Rabastan looked somewhat different than the last time he had seen him. His hair was just as long and as dark, but he had now grown a scraggily black beard, his cold, grey eyes highlighted by his otherwise dark complexion. Rabastan spoke with such confidence that it seemed as if he was singing his speech; he stressed the harsher sounding letters such as the “t” or “p”. His quick speech was a lot to take in which confused Harry slightly, but on realizing this, Harry reverted his face to a slight smile and nodded his head in understanding.

‘You’ve got that right. Can I get your name and the name of your friend here?’ he asked, knowing that security usually asked the names of those entering their establishments. Rabastan raised his hand and smiled.

‘Oh, me and my comrade here do not wish to partake in the pastime of the drink,’ he began. ‘Nevertheless, common hospitality dictates an introduction and state of business upon first meeting and I intend to uphold it. My name is Jeremy White and this is my partner Frederick. We are here to survey this building, parallel to this one, in our hopes of purchasing it. Of course, wanting to be home at a decent hour before the evening escapes us, we intend to be quick and seamless so as to not disturb the events of the evening. With your permission, may we proceed?’

‘Go right ahead,’ replied Ron slowly and dully. Rabastan smiled from ear to ear, looking at Avery for a brief moment before nodding his head and continuing down the alley towards the door of the clothing store.

Harry turned around to Ron and nodded, relieved that they had gotten through their conversation unscathed. Florian turned the page of his newspaper, though Harry could see his eyes peering over the top of the page as Rabastan and Florian reached for the door handle. However, Harry saw Rabastan’s hand suspended in mid-air, Avery appearing to engage him in a whispering conversation. Ron had noticed this as well while doing an admirable job at concealing his own stare. Then, Harry saw Rabastan’s hand fall back down to his side, a wide smile returning to his face as he turned back to Harry, Ron and Florian.

‘Forgive me gentlemen, but something has just been brought to my attention by my colleague here.’

‘Make it plain,’ grumbled Florian without even looking up from his newspaper.

‘Thank you, I’ll be sure to be quick,’ Rabastan replied politely. Avery was still standing by the door while Rabastan paced very slowly towards them. ‘Now, it has aroused much curiosity in me that upon telling you my name and stating my business, you three sirs did not uphold common protocol as assigned to you by your profession.’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Ron somewhat hesitantly.

‘As I suspected,’ muttered Rabastan cheerily. ‘I apologize if I was unclear. I pose a question to you. Is it not in a security member’s job outline to ask for any such permit when a third party intends to explore the premises of a building with no current owner? Based on the fact that neither myself or my colleague here have identified a separate legion of security assigned to this building, that responsibility inherently falls squarely on your shoulders. As I recall, neither you, nor you, nor you even began to question me for such a permit, therefore I believe it is a fair question to ask – what could have caused you to forget such a simplistic part of your job outline?’

Harry was dumbfounded. He looked to Ron whose mouth was agape, though no words escaped his lips. He looked out of his left eye and saw a rapid movement – it appeared as if Pewter was moving rapidly, Harry catching a glimpse of Doncaster who appeared to be yelling loudly. He realized that Pewter could see where their predicament was going, Doncaster sending a silvery Patronus through the door in a flash. Knowing that help was coming, Harry thought of something quickly to buy time.

‘And what makes you the expert on our job? With all due respect Mr. White, I must ask you to mind your own business.’

‘No disrespect taken, but I find it imperative to point out that my business, ironically, is precisely your business,’ Rabastan replied, his smile fading to a look of detest. ‘I’m sure your employer would be quite discouraged with the three of you if he does discover your lack of action here tonight.’

‘Well, when we get back to security headquarters, we’ll make sure that we haven’t done anything –’

‘I think we both know which employer I’m suggesting.’ Rabastan’s interruption made Harry’s stomach drop.

Harry could feel the uncertainty rise in Florian and Ron who both stood stock still in the silence, trying to look strong as Rabastan picked them apart. Trying to buy time, Harry did not allow more than a few seconds of silence before replying.

‘No. No, I’m sorry. I don’t,’ Harry said, feigning confusion.

‘I think you do. As an aside, I do admire your courage, foolish as it may be...’ answered Rabastan. ‘Let me elucidate. In cases such as these, you must look at the grander picture. Though your slight misstep in protocol was certainly enlightening, I find your lack of customary introduction – after I initiated myself and my comrade – a sign of nerves or possibly, an incomplete preparation of your deception. I personally believe it was a mixture of both! Plus, seeing your faces delve in to shock by the facts I have relayed to you, paired with your unusual eyewear for such a dark evening encourages me in my deduction that the three of you are not really Muggles at all. Oh, and you’re not really reading that newspaper, but rather using it as a cover. I know this... because it’s upside down.’

Florian looked down at his paper that sure enough was wrong side up, squinting as if he could not believe his mistake. Harry saw Rabastan retrieve his wand from his pocket extraordinarily quickly, Avery doing the same and pointing it squarely at Harry’s head.

‘Now... who wants to die first?’ asked Rabastan threateningly, all cheeriness in his voice now completely drained.

‘Stupefy!’

As if on cue, a small group of Aurors appeared at the end of the alley, firing stunning curses that barely missed their mark. Both Rabastan and Avery dove behind a large, metal trash bin a few paces from Ron, the Aurors doing a good job of not allowing them to enter the building where the rest of the Death Eaters were already stationed.

‘Get in there!’ screamed Williamson, indicating the club that Harry, Ron and Florian were guarding.

Harry jumped the staircase after Ron and Florian had entered, making his way to the windows in order to get a better view of the alley. He saw Rabastan fire a pair of stunning curses over top of the garbage bin, hitting one Auror and knocking him ten feet backwards. He heard a blood-curdling scream erupt from inside the abandoned building, Harry estimating that a Death Eater had probably tried to apparate.

A barrage of shattered glass and bursts of energy knocked Harry backwards. Stumbling back to his feet, he saw that many Death Eaters were attempting to exit through the alleyway, sending a few spells at the windows where Harry, Ron and Florian were looking out of. The Aurors combated them with spells of their own, a few hitting their targets which caused one Death Eater to collide with the metal bin, knocking him unconscious.

‘Accio Broom!’ Harry heard Rabastan distinctly scream above the chaos.

More and more Death Eaters flooded out of the door, their combined force causing the Aurors to pull back behind the wall of the building for cover. A few Death Eaters seized their momentary chance, making a bee line for the stairs that led to the nightclub.

‘You can’t apparate! We need to get as far away from here as possible! The parameters of the enchantment won’t be far!’ Harry heard Avery direct to the rest of the Death Eaters.

‘Ready you three!?’ Harry heard one of the Aurors disguised as a woman call out to him. ‘They’re going to storm in!’

Harry crouched down, aiming his wand at the door as Ron followed suit. The four disguised Aurors all crouched behind over-turned tables arranged in a semi-circle around the door, their wands at the ready.

The door exploded in a flash of light as Death Eaters poured in, taking out two of the Aurors simultaneously with flashes of red and purple light. Harry hit one with a stunning spell, knocking him in to a pair of others. In their disorientation, one of the disguised Aurors hit a Death Eater with a body-binding curse, the Death Eater falling to the floor. In turn, the Auror was hit by a stunning spell, knocking him flying over the bar, breaking glass bottles on his way down.

‘Expelliarmus! Impedimenta!’ fired Harry rapidly, knocking two Death Eaters in to the girls’ bathroom perpendicular to the entrance way.

‘Avada Kedavra!’Avery’s spell connected with one of the Aurors disguised as a woman, the Auror falling to the floor in a heap.‘Expelliarmus!’ Harry felt his wand fly out of his hand and roll across the floor. ‘Avada Ked –’

‘Levicorpus!’

Avery’s incantation was interrupted by an imaginary hook pulling him upwards by the ankle and sending him crashing in to the low-ceilinged roof of the establishment, knocking a few ceiling beams on to a pair of Death Eaters not far away. Harry saw Florian’s wand extended, Florian nodding at Harry before shooting a few more Stunning Spells at a Death Eater who was attempting to exit back in to the alleyway where more Death Eaters were combating Williamson, Richter, Mosteban and the rest of the Head Aurors.

Harry fired a couple of stunning spells out of the windows, narrowly missing a crouched Death Eater. By looking at the amount of Death Eaters who were either unconscious or worse, Harry concluded that the Head Aurors had gained the advantage. To his surprise, Harry saw that Draco Malfoy was lying behind the garbage bin that now featured many large dents in it, barely contributing to the offensive that Rabastan was struggling to lead.

A broom appeared to drop out of the sky, Rabastan catching it in his hand. A second later and a few more broomsticks were seized by a couple of Death Eaters, Harry hearing the growl of Mosteban a second later.

‘Stun them before they can leave!’

‘Avada Kedavra!’ cried Rodolphous Lestrange, Rabastan’s brother.

The Killing Curse, though failing to connect, caused a trio of Aurors to jump backwards to avoid it as it sailed between them which gave an opening for the Death Eater retreat. Rabastan kicked off from the ground and sailed away in to the sky, his brother Rodolphous and a group of other Death Eaters following suit.

‘Stupefy!’

‘Impedimenta!’

‘Petrificus Totalus!’

Every Auror in the area cast at least one well-aimed spell of their own, trying to take advantage of the prone Death Eaters as they tried to escape the apparation enchantments. A couple of spells connected, one Death Eater being subject to the body-bind curse which caused them to fall like a brick off of their broom and crash twenty feet to the hard ground below. Still, more than half of the Death Eaters were able to escape the onslaught of the Aurors’ spells, riding off in to the night.

‘Quick! Round up those that are unconscious!’ came the voice of Mosteban as he lowered
his wand.

‘Do we have any brooms, Mosteban!?’ came the voice of Williamson as Richter and a few other senior Aurors began binding together all of the fallen Death Eaters.

‘Back at “The Portly Penguin.” We weren’t planning on having to intervene here of all places!’ Mosteban said, shooting a look of hatred and frustration towards Harry and then at Williamson.

This blew Harry over the top. He could still see the small group of Death Eaters who were slowly getting away on their old, slow brooms while he and the other Aurors watched. Without even thinking, Harry reached inside Hermione’s bag after retrieving his wand and felt the handle of a broomstick beside an overturned stack of books left over from their previous voyages. He yanked it out, reaching back inside and pulling out Ron’s in quick succession.

‘Let’s go,’ he said to Ron who nodded, picking up his Cleansweep and striding out of the club.

‘We’ll try to slow them down before they get to the barrier!’ called Harry over his shoulder as he mounted his broom. ‘Catch up if you can!’ he continued, looking right at Mosteban as he kicked off and shot in to the sky without a response from his Head Auror, his Firebolt faster than any broom that the Death Eaters were riding.

Harry leaned forward, never wanting his broom to go faster than he did right now. The specks that served as the Death Eaters were growing closer by the second. Looking below, Harry was almost clear of the small village, the rolling hills where the barrier ended in the near distance. Harry could see one of the Death Eaters pause, falling to the ground in a dramatic fashion. Undoubtedly, he had tried to apparate, obviously failing to do so.

‘STUPEFY!’ roared Harry, his long-shot Stunning Spell miraculously hitting one of the Death Eater’s brooms, knocking them spinning towards the ground.

‘Separate!’ Harry heard Rabastan yell. Taking his direction, the Death Eaters began flying in all different directions, one such Death Eater flying directly towards Harry, a jet of red light coming at him quite fast.

Harry dodged the curse to his left, firing back a curse of his own across his body. The Death Eater changed his course, flying towards Harry and shooting more curses towards him. Harry used his speed to encircle the Death Eater and dodge all of the curses. Once he had turned around the Death Eater, the numbers game caught up with him as Ron, now catching up on his Cleansweep, shot a perfect Stunning Spell at his back, knocking him towards the ground. Harry stopped his momentum before he hit the ground, the Death Eater knocked unconscious as Ron sent up red sparks signaling the fallen Death Eater.

‘That way!’ said Ron, pointing to his right.

Harry nodded. Looking to where Ron had pointed, Harry could make out Rabastan looking over his shoulder, turning and flying away as he saw Harry coming in his direction. Harry was gaining on Rabastan, his frame becoming larger and larger. Over his shoulder, Rabastan shot a barrage of spells, Harry skillfully dodging them as if they were Bludgers. A flock of birds erupted from Rabastan’s wand, Harry ascending over top of them before aiming his broom downwards again, Rabastan coming back in to his sight.

Harry was close to Rabastan now, but before he could pull his own wand out to stun him, Rabastan quickly aimed a Stunning Spell that just barely missed Harry. Harry went in for a second attempt but again Rabastan was too quick, Harry having to violently steer his broom downwards in order to avoid the spell.

Rabastan fired more spells below him, Harry having to stop in order to get back to level air and escape the disadvantage of being under his adversary. Rabastan almost hit Harry with yet another spell as he was attempting to fly upwards, a second spell finally hitting Harry’s broom which began to shake tremendously.

Harry forced his handle downwards, the ground only feet away. Harry timed his jump perfectly, rolling on to the grass while his broom continued to shake after hitting the ground hard. Harry shook his head, getting to his feet quickly. He exhaled as he watched Rabastan pause in mid-air, his smile evident even from far away. Rabastan casually turned and continued to ride off in to the distance, Harry stomping his foot on the ground in anger.

As he looked around him, Harry noticed something spectacular. Behind him, about one hundred yards away, were the rolling hills that served as the barrier of the apparation enchantment. Looking back to Rabastan who still was not far away, Harry instantly came up with a risky idea. He closed his eyes, remembering the difficulties he had this past year with mobile apparation; he had struggled, though finally completed in apparating to a moving object before, but it was of a much closer distance and a much slower speed than what was presented now. Taking one last look at his shaking broom, Harry turned to focus on Rabastan, looking intently on him flying through the air. He closed his eyes, focusing on the Death Eater who was getting away...

With a small crack Harry appeared in full on the back of Rabastan’s broom. Harry almost slid off the back of it due to his new weight on the broom but held on tightly with his legs. Rabastan turned around angrily, opening his mouth in shock. This time, Harry had the advantage of surprise.

‘Stupefy!’ he called, pointing his wand directly at the shoulder of Rabastan.

Harry felt as if he was hit with a cannonball. The broom shot vertically towards the ground as Rabastan slouched over. He slid off the end of the broom, Harry being separated from the broom also. He saw the ground coming ever closer, the cold air whipping by his face which made it hard to see properly. He closed his eyes as the ground continued to come in to greater focus.

Harry opened his eyes to find himself suspended in mid-air, his body in an awkward position, but held about five feet off the ground nevertheless. Without warning, he fell the remaining five feet with a soft thud, Harry looking up in slight pain at Rabastan who was lying motionlessly a few feet away.

‘We got ‘em, Harry,’ came the voice of an exasperated Ron who was smiling at Harry.

Harry sunk back to the ground, smiling face down in the grass in relief. He glanced at Ron who was busy binding Rabastan with the necessary curses, hearing the whooshing of Auror brooms overhead as he got to his feet, preparing for the jubilation that was sure to follow.

 
 
 
 


Chapter 21: The Fear of Rufus Fudge
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Harry could hear the pleas of the press from just outside Fudge’s office door. After word had gotten out on the Auror mission’s success, it did not take long for seemingly every reporter in Britain and parts of Europe to flock to the Ministry, hoping to catch a word from Mosteban or the Minister of Magic himself. This manic behavior on the part of the press was compounded when word had somehow leaked that Harry Potter had played an instrumental part in the mission. To Harry’s knowledge, someone from the Ministry had seen a group of Aurors transporting many of the captured Death Eaters to Azkaban, a younger Auror speaking of what Harry had done to contribute to their capture in his elation. Seeing as how it was very late, Harry was half-cursing the name of the Auror who had accidentally revealed this piece of information.

‘So how many Death Eaters have we captured exactly?’ asked Rufus Fudge aloud, pausing his quiet, private conversation with Mosteban. Harry and Williamson were standing on the opposite side of Fudge’s desk, Mosteban hunched over the sitting Minister.

‘We have counted seventeen, Minister,’ growled Mosteban. Harry was confounded as to how Mosteban could still sound angry when he had just led one of the most successful Auror missions in recent memory, but he did not dwell on it. ‘Including two of the four main Death Eaters – Avery and Rabastan are in our custody.’

‘Out of how many Death Eaters?’

‘Thirty-two, to our estimate. Thirty-three if you include Draco Malfoy.’

Fudge put a finger to his lips and sat back in his chair, turning his attention to Harry with a mix of curiosity and dislike in his stare.

‘And... why is he hear again? When I asked you to bring those that were of the utmost importance to the mission I wasn’t speaking sarcastically.’

‘He’s here,’ interjected Williamson respectfully, ‘because Mr. Potter is personally responsible for four of those Death Eaters, doing so single-handedly. Including Rabastan Lestrange, if I may add, who was up until tonight, number one on our “Most Wanted” list.’

‘You speak as a proud father,’ chided Fudge, sitting straight once again. Williamson cleared his throat.

‘Mr. Potter is part of my unit. Now, while I do not take responsibility for his noble actions, I am quite happy that someone from my own unit was able to have such an influence on the mission. I don’t like to gloat but... well... there it is.’

‘I-I had help,’ stated Harry in his defense. ‘Ron Weasley helped me a lot. I wouldn’t have been able to round up all of them if it wasn’t for him.’

‘Surprised the boy is that unassuming,’ responded Fudge gruffly, Mosteban eyeing Harry with squinted eyes, his scarred face gleaming in the lamplight.

‘It’s because of this that the quest for finding my assistant Auror is over,’ continued Williamson as if Fudge had not spoken. ‘I’m appointing Harry to the position formerly held by Branson. He will now be second in command in my unit and will accompany me on all of my work.’

Harry felt an instant, indefinable pang rise up from his stomach. Williamson did not look at Harry as he spoke, Harry feeling a great deal of respect, sudden happiness yet uneasiness at his promotion. Mosteban laid his hand on Fudge’s desk hard, leaning over and staring a hole through Williamson.

‘Even though I do not have a say on who you appoint as your Assistant, Williamson,’ began Mosteban somewhat threateningly, ‘I must urge you to reconsider. I recall you telling me how no one in your unit had stood out yet, making it hard to replace Branson who was killed nearly a year ago.’

‘I remember saying that, Mosteban,’ agreed Williamson. ‘Times change, I guess.’

‘This could be done on your own time,’ interrupted Fudge lazily, putting his hand over his forehead and rubbing it hard. ‘I literally have the entire world’s magical press outside my office door and I am still waiting for the details of what to say in order to appease their appetite for information.’

‘Yes of course, Minister,’ replied Williamson, taking a step back and letting Mosteban take over.

‘It is true that this is a serious blow to the Death Eaters,’ began Mosteban, Fudge nodding as he listened. ‘We have wiped out over half of their ranks and have enough on each of them to put them in Azkaban for a long while.’

‘As for the remaining Death Eaters that still allude capture?’ asked Fudge.

‘We’ve got them right where we want them. Just tell the press that tonight was the beginning of the end for them.’

‘Noted. But not speaking generally... and for my ears only... how close are we to ending them?’

‘The Death Eaters will try to replenish their numbers,’ responded Mosteban. ‘They are too small to do anything of great significance and even if they do decide to carry out any grand plans of theirs, they will be much easier to defeat. Either way, we have a great advantage. I’m putting all of my units on tracking their whereabouts. I think I can safely conclude that they are going to have an enormously difficult task of adding new Death Eaters. After tonight, no one in their right mind would commit to a small, dwindling band on their last legs without a powerful leader. My estimate is that the fifteen that are left is all that will ever be left of them. They’re on their last legs and I am confident that my Department will be able to take them down for good in a matter of months if not weeks.’

Fudge paused for a moment, taking everything that Mosteban had said in. He was staring absent-mindedly at the door of his office, his hand running through his wavy hair.

‘Good. Very good,’ he said finally.

For the next couple of minutes, he sat pondering these thoughts over in his mind, Harry hearing the growing roars of the questioning press who were standing just feet outside Fudge’s office door. Upon fighting through them on his way in to the office, Harry remembered seeing that a podium was already being set up by Fudge’s officials in preparation for the Minister’s address. Neither Mosteban nor Williamson spoke for the duration of Fudge’s quietness, Harry wishing that someone would because at this point in the evening (Harry seeing that by Williamson’s watch that it was sometime just before one o’clock in the morning) he was longing for his soft warm bed and his friends who would undoubtedly be concerned of his and Ron’s safety.

‘Very well...’ said Fudge suddenly, getting up from his seat, ‘if you would follow me, I have a very real concern about leaving people unattended in my office. I had something stolen from me earlier this year and I’m afraid my trust of those in this office has been permanently suspended.’

Fudged glanced at Harry, who saw that Mosteban was staring right at him. As Fudge opened the door, the sound of the questioning press was not enough of a distraction for Mosteban to break his stare. Harry was relieved to file out of the Minister’s office, seeing that nearly the entire hallway was now occupied with members of the press who were carrying pens, notepads and cameras. The constant flashing of the cameras temporarily blinded Harry as he attempted to shield his eyes with his left arm while squinting rapidly.

‘Mr. Fudge is it true that the Aurors have captured nearly half of the remaining Death Eaters this past evening? Tom Dalloway, reporting.’

‘Minister, are those in question actually the previously thought to be extinct Death Eaters, or are they just other criminals operating under that fearful banner?’

‘What part has Mr. Harry Potter played in this evening’s events? Rita Skeeter, “The Clean Skeet.”’

Harry recognized that voice before she even said her name. He glanced in her direction, Rita staring directly at the podium where Fudge stood while defiantly ignoring Harry’s look that she seemed to know he was giving.

‘If everyone will just calm down... I have a statement and then I will proceed to answer a few, short questions,’ answered Fudge calmly, a smile characterizing his handsome face as he placed his hands in a surrendering position.

It took a few moments for the crowd to quiet down. Silence was virtually unattainable due to the press’ excitement at the developing story and Fudge – seemingly accepting this fact – pressed on amidst the frequent murmurs of those in attendance. Harry examined Mosteban who was standing on the far left; he looked quite bored yet uneasy with the large group of inquisitive reporters.

‘Very well,’ smiled Fudge again. ‘It gives me great pleasure to report to you tonight that Mr. Mosteban and his Aurors were successful in delivering a great blow to our enemies.’ Those with cameras were stationed at the very front of the mass of reporters, snapping pictures as Fudge concluded his first, drawn out sentence. ‘Without getting into much detail, they were able to discover their location and were able to penetrate their security. Our success was not met without tragedy. Two Aurors have died with three others in serious conditions at St. Mungo’s. I hope you follow my lead in having them and their families in our deepest thoughts here tonight for their great sacrifice.’

Fudge paused for a moment. Maybe it was Harry’s great dislike for the Minister, but whatever it was, Harry was not a believer in Fudge’s apparent sincerity. Fudge looked down at his feet, nodding his head as many of the reporters snapped pictures of him. He looked back up at the reporters, pausing for dramatic effect before continuing.

‘Now... I heard someone ask on my way in... were these criminals – criminals that good witches and wizards died for tonight – in reality, actually Death Eaters? You have heard me deny any reemergence of the Death Eaters before. In the early hours of this morning, I say to you know that... I am one who owns up to past mistakes. Those captured tonight were in fact, members of the Death Eaters.’ Again, a few reporters snapped pictures, a growing murmur amongst the reporters causing Fudge to pause for silence. ‘Even though You-Know-Who is gone, they have continued to operate amongst the shadows, waiting for their moment to inflict the evil that they so desire upon us all. I regret to say this on such a successful occasion, but the Death Eaters have returned.’

Nearly everyone in the Minister’s hallway of the Ministry was silent now. Williamson angled his head in Fudge’s direction, seemingly uncomfortable with the Minister’s statement. Mosteban had not moved a muscle, a blank expression on his face as he continued to look aimlessly out in to the crowd of reporters.

‘And the danger that has unfortunately characterized our recent history has returned with them. We have reason to believe that all of the attacks on the Ministry that we have terrifyingly experienced this year are related to the Death Eaters. And even though we have negatively impacted their numbers tonight, they have shown great resiliency in the past. It is our collective job – not just the duty of the Aurors – to finally rid ourselves of their existence. I promise to raise the Ministry of Magic’s grand army so that we can swiftly combat the evil forces of the Death Eaters and... so that the people we serve will finally and rightfully have a force that can protect them from our world that is increasingly becoming a cruel, cold place.’

Fudge could barely be heard as he asked for any questions from the press. Many of the reporters were clapping or cheering so loudly that Harry could not hear himself think in the over-crowded hallway. Harry could only marvel at Fudge’s speech that had miraculously taken an overwhelmingly positive occasion and had turned it in to the negative propaganda that had fueled his campaign since the beginning of last summer. Williamson shook his head as well, in disbelief that Fudge was using the Auror’s successful mission to promote the magical army that Fudge was so desperate to create. Though he did not agree with its creation, Harry knew that his stance on the matter was of no importance, confirmed by the cheering, supportive crowd in front of him.

‘Minister! Comment on the function that you foresee this Magical Army playing in Ministry security,’ one such reporter asked over the others. Many of the reporters quieted down; this question was apparently one that had been preying on more than just the asker’s mind.

‘First off,’ began Fudge confidently, ‘let us not call this force a “Wizard Army” or “Magical Army” as you put it, any longer. That is a crude representation of what it will actually do. From now on, the defense force I am commissioning will be known as... “The Unbreakables.” Because that is what they will be. Not only in a physical fashion but in an ideological one as well. You see, all members of the force will partake in making an Unbreakable Vow, sealing their allegiance to the Ministry and its citizens for their entire lives. As well, it will help weed out those not serious in their dedication as well as those untrustworthy. You can never be too careful in this troubling day and age. Those initiated in to “The Unbreakables” will be paid handsomely as a sign of our gratitude to their devotion.’

‘Manipulation through fear,’ whispered Williamson without restraint which was something Harry was not used to hearing from his Head Auror. ‘A tactic used many times before. But as to why Fudge is using it now... that is unclear.’

‘What do you think he’s up to, sir?’ asked Harry as the murmur of reporters rose in their excitement to ask the next question.

‘I’m not sure, Potter,’ responded Williamson. ‘But I’m sure we’ll be having more of these conversations, now that you are my right-hand man. I hope I didn’t take you aback by your promotion.’

‘No sir,’ lied Harry. ‘I’m looking forward to the opportunity.’ Harry’s quick, politically correct answer impressed even himself, taking in to consideration how exhausted he was.

‘That’s the spirit. I expect great things, Potter. You have exceeded my expectations since the last time I said that to you. I’m confident you’ll keep that up.’

‘And what is it that Harry Potter did to contribute to the events this evening?’ asked Rita Skeeter, breaking Williamson away from Harry. Many reporters turned their focused attention on Fudge who turned slightly towards Harry.

‘With all due respect to Mr. Potter, Aurors do not view themselves as individuals but as a group so in essence, it does not matter what Mr. Potter did,’ said Fudge fluently.

But Harry did not catch all of Fudge’s blatant disrespect. Something else had caught his eye and it came in the form of Gawain Robards who was pushing his way to the podium where Fudge stood. A bewildered Fudge watched as Gawain strode right past him and headed right for Mosteban, the press refocusing on Fudge after Gawain’s momentary disruption.

‘What’s this about...’ murmured Williamson who crossed behind Fudge as he continued to answer questions, Harry following his Head Auror’s path.

‘What do you mean you’ve caught him!’ whispered Mosteban intensely as Harry came within earshot of their conversation.

‘I’m telling you we did!’ answered Gawain. Harry could see that he was sweating profusely as he spoke. ‘An hour after you got back to the Ministry, one of my unit encountered him in a pub! Just sitting there, drinking! Can you believe that?!’

‘We’re looking for him for bloody months and one of your unit just happens to meet him in a pub?’ replied Mosteban trying to understand Gawain’s story.

‘Yeah! My Auror was out celebrating last night’s events and literally ran in to him! Was able to hex him before the old bugger could get away! I’ve already fast-tracked the paperwork so he’s on his way to Azkaban as we speak.’

‘Good. Send me anything I’ll need to sign right away. We’ll keep him there until his trial,’ said Mosteban nodding. Harry had to cut in, his curiosity getting the best of him.

‘Excuse me, Gawain. But who did your Auror catch?’ he asked. Gawain wiped his brow clean of the built-up sweat, his voice sounding exasperated as he uttered the name that Harry had almost forgotten about.

‘Why... Nicolas Flamel, of course.’


****


Ron sneezed for what felt like the thousandth time. He sat up slightly as he patted his nose, discarding his tissue in to the wastebasket that was already overflowing with the rags full of his snotty discharge. Hermione helped him settle back down, pulling the blanket up under his neck. However, this was to no avail as only five seconds later, Ron sneezed yet again in to the tissue held in his hand, the blanket falling silently to the floor in front of the roaring fire.

‘Is he going to be questioned? Taking in to consideration your new position, it would put us at a great advantage if he was – you could ask some questions about the Eye and what the Death Eaters want with it!’

‘He’s not being questioned, Hermione. Not yet anyway,’ answered Harry, shaking his head. ‘The Aurors want to avoid the circus of having Flamel appear in a public court.’

‘Maybe you could talk to Williamson about it?’ asked Hermione after thinking to herself. ‘Maybe he’ll let you in to Azkaban to let you talk to him.’

‘I’ve already tried that,’ replied a frustrated Harry. ‘Williamson can’t do anything – his hands are tied. Flamel is in lockdown mode. No visitors of any kind – Auror or otherwise – until his hearing.’

‘And who put that in place?’ asked a congested Ron, his sickly voice muffled by the tissues he held up in front of his nose.

‘Mosteban,’ replied Harry frustratingly. ‘He’s the only one who can lift the ban. No one is getting to see Flamel with all the protective measures they have put in place.’

‘Fudge warning Mosteban of his devious activities... speaking to someone via the Floo Network... all of the attacks on the Ministry and Auror department... and now placing this ban on visiting Flamel? You know, Harry, I’m beginning to be a big believer in your thought that Mosteban is up to something.’

‘Glad it only took you a few months, Hermione,’ Harry answered sarcastically, Hermione turning up her nose playfully. Harry resumed his more serious position. ‘He’s definitely up to something... but what?!’

Harry stomped on the floor of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place’s living room as he got to his feet, pacing in front of the warm fire. As if the warmth somehow stimulated his brain to work at an accelerated speed, Harry remembered something, amazed that he had not thought of it before.

‘Kreacher!’ Harry bellowed. ‘Where are you Kreacher?’

‘What’s up, Harry?’ asked Ron through a cough.

‘How could I have been so thick,’ said Harry aloud. ‘I’ve got my own house elf now...’

‘Here, sir,’ came the scratchy yet happy voice of Kreacher who had turned over a new leaf after Harry had taken control of Grimmauld Place.

‘Kreacher, I’ve got a little job for you,’ Harry started enthusiastically.

‘Harry! That’s dangerous! It may have worked with Dobby and Malfoy before, but this is the Head Auror we’re talking about!’

‘I’ll leave the decision up to Kreacher then.’

‘Without being rude, master,’ began Kreacher with a bow that saw his long nose nearly touch the floor, ‘but your wish is my command. What Mr. Potter wants of Kreacher, Kreacher will do.’

‘I thank you for that Kreacher, but this is serious – and dangerous. I could never force you to do something like this without knowing you were alright with it.’

‘Your thoughtful concern is heart-warming to Kreacher,’ replied the house-elf with another bow, Ron sneezing through Kreacher’s sentence. ‘What is the job, Master Potter?’

‘It’s simple and complex at the same time,’ began Harry slowly, crouching down on one knee in order to come face to face with Kreacher. ‘I need you to follow Mosteban – he’s the Head Auror. Do you know who he is?’

‘Oooooooh,’ replied Kreacher excitedly, catching Harry slightly off guard. ‘Such an important mission for Kreacher! Yes, yes, I do know who he is!’

‘Good. Now, I don’t want you to get caught. I just want you to report back to me if you see him doing anything... suspicious. Anything at all. Come to me as soon as you can if you do, understand?’

‘Yes of course, Master Potter,’ answered Kreacher, a wide smile characterizing his face.

‘Thank you, Kreacher. Remember – don’t do anything to get yourself caught,’ warned Harry, putting each of his hands on Kreacher’s shoulders. ‘He’s a powerful wizard – you’re going to have to be at your best.’

‘Kreacher will be, Master Potter,’ replied Kreacher with sudden great pride. ‘Kreacher will do the best job possible, Master Potter, or Kreacher will die trying!’

‘OK, well you don’t need to go that far,’ said Harry uneasily while standing up from his crouched position. ‘I want you to start following him this week.’ Kreacher nodded, bowing yet again before waddling out of the living room, whistling a happy tune. ‘There, you see? Taken care of.’

‘Hope the little bugger is alright,’ said Ron after blowing his nose. ‘This bloody cold won’t shake!’

‘I reckon you’re not coming to Ginny’s match today?’ asked Harry, plopping himself down on the couch opposite to Ron’s. Ron shook his head regretfully. ‘Do you want to come Hermione? Shame to waste a free ticket.’

‘I’ll see – I probably will, if it’s alright with Ron. You go first and I’ll meet you there if I decide to come,’ Hermione responded. ‘Just don’t be apparating on to a moving broom or something on your way there... you’ll give me a heart attack...’

‘Oh, come on, we’ve been over this,’ replied Harry lightheartedly. ‘We were able to catch Rabastan and that’s all that should matter.’

‘Yeah and you could have killed yourself, Harry! Mobile apparation is incredibly risky!’

‘I guess the risk paid off this time then,’ replied Harry, putting an end to Hermione’s argument.

‘You just be careful – if you don’t need to risk your life, then don’t go looking for ways to do so.’ Harry was thankful for his friend worrying about him in such a fashion.

‘Smart git, that Rabastan...’ muttered Ron, barely over a whisper. ‘Didn’t think Death Eaters acted like him. Thought they were all grunting, thick, cronies doing anything Voldemort wished.’ Ron was obviously exaggerating, but Harry understood his point in full. Rabastan’s charismatic and intellectual persona was misleading when he had encountered him during the Auror mission. This persona made Rabastan seem all the more menacing as underneath all of the savvy charisma, he was a powerful, wild viper waiting to strike. ‘Glad we were able to put him away, above everyone else.’

‘Agreed,’ nodded Harry, thinking back to his confrontation with Rabastan.

‘You should go now Harry. You don’t want to be late. I’ll listen to the game here,’ said Ron, pausing to cough mid-sentence. ‘Hermione you should go too – you haven’t gone since the first match of the season.’

‘Well, I’m going to make sure you’re settled first before I decide whether or not to go. You go ahead Harry.’

Harry bid his two friends goodbye, apparating to the Harpies’ stadium Holyhead Gardens in anticipation of watching Ginny’s Quidditch match. As Harry walked deeper through the in-ground entrance that led to the stadium held within the mountain, holding on to the golden banister as he descended, the thought of what had occurred last time he was in this stadium sprung to mind. He shook his head as if to rid this memory, hoping that it would fall out of his head altogether. By the time that Harry arrived on the stadium’s concourse, however, his mind was forcibly rid of these thoughts as the familiar chaotic noise of the Holyhead supporters grew deafening.

‘We might have a chance to win today! Finally Westlocke is listening to our demands!’ shouted a possibly inebriated Harpies supporter who was dressed in Holyhead’s characteristic green. Harry stepped out on to the tiled concourse, waiting for a trolley that was selling Harpies clothing pass before he followed the supporter.

‘Why’s that?’ grumbled his overweight friend as he took a large swig of a concoction held inside a flask reminiscent of Mad-Eye Moody’s.

‘You – You didn’t hear?’ answered his friend in shock. ‘They’ve finally taken Wellington out! That transaction to bring her in was the worst thing Westlocke has ever done! No – go young, I say! Develop our Seeker of the future! Now that contention for the League title has vaporized and any hope for a berth in the Victors League is all but lost, Westlocke is starting Weasley today!’

Harry paused in pleasant shock. He had no idea that Ginny was going to be playing in her first ever professional Quidditch match, feeling bad that Ron was going to miss it. He took a detour from the pair of Holyhead supporters and found his usual seats rather quickly, eagerly anticipating the match even more than he thought he would.

‘And now... your Holyhead starters!’ came the booming voice over the large, cheering crowd of thousands. ‘Glynnis, Morgan, Jones, Cole, Gaskin, Garber… and appearing in her first match of her career, your Seeker... Weasley!’

The crowd cheered and applauded to the point where Harry thought he was going to go deaf. As he let out a whistle of his own, Harry realized that the sentiment the Harpies fan had stated regarding Wellington was obviously shared amongst most Holyhead supporters. Harry saw Ginny fly out on to the pitch, doing a quick lap before slowing down and taking her place. She was barely noticeable, given away however by her flaming red hair which stood out against the Harpies’ green uniforms.

‘Hey! Have I missed anything?’ came Hermione’s voice from behind Harry who shuffled aside, letting her pass.

‘Didn’t think you’d be here so soon! Er... no, not much... except the fact that Ginny is playing!’ Harry said excitingly as the roars of the crowd continued. Hermione’s eyes opened wide.

‘G-Ginny? As in Ron Weasley’s sister?’ the shock apparently took Hermione aback, Harry nodding as he watched her line up beside the Montrose Magpie Seeker. ‘Wow! And Ron... he’s missing it... right?’

‘Well, yeah... that is unless you miraculously cured him,’ replied Harry, half-listening. ‘Don’t know how you could do that... don’t answer that,’ Harry added hastily.

‘What a match for Ginny to get her first start in,’ began Hermione as she settled in to her seat. ‘Montrose is top of the league – well on their way to yet another League title. Threat to win the Victors League too, I suspect.’ Harry raised his eyebrows.

‘Didn’t realize you knew that much about Quidditch.’

‘Oh, Ron’s been teaching me,’ replied Hermione, brushing her hair out of her eyes. ‘This Montrose Seeker, Hoffman, he’s a legend. Five League Championships. Plus, a two-time Victory League Champion as well. Unprecedented for a Seeker... or so Ron says...’

Impressed by Hermione’s newly found knowledge of Quidditch that easily beat out his own, Harry focused on Ginny as the match started, the roar of the crowd drowning out his thoughts. However, the game did not start well for Ginny’s side; Montrose had scored five goals to Holyhead’s one within the first ten minutes of action.

‘You alright, Hermione?’ asked Harry, eyeing Hermione out of the corner of his eye. She was rocking back and forth in her seat, looking around her every few seconds.

‘What? Yeah! Yeah, I’m fine, I just... I’ve got to go to the bathroom but I don’t want to miss much of Ginny!’

‘I’d go quick – from what I can tell, Ginny and this Hoffman bloke are engaged in a pretty stiff battle. Seem to be putting as much effort in combating each other as they are in finding the Snitch.’

Hermione quickly shimmied her way down the row of seating towards the lavatories, many paying fans groaning as they sat up to let her pass, stretching their necks in order to get the best view of the match as Hermione passed them. From his point of view, it appeared to be the veteran Hoffman – obviously knowing of Ginny’s inexperience – who was initiating a lot of the contact with Ginny. Though he hated him for it, he could understand the motive of wanting to get an inexperienced Seeker off her game early. As if on cue, the referee called a penalty on Hoffman as he bumped in to Ginny rather hard, throwing her off course. Skillfully, Ginny was able to guide her broom away from the stands, arousing a polite applause from the Holyhead fans.

‘That’s it, Weasley!’ yelled a Holyhead fan from a couple of rows above Harry. ‘Don’t take any of that nonsense from him!’ Another fan answered the first with a particularly rude comment insulting Hoffman’s masculinity which caused those in the general area to applaud, laugh and in some cases, shake their heads embarrassingly.

After Holyhead had scored a goal off the penalty, witches and wizards dressed in Holyhead green and gold began pacing down the aisles, their wands held in front of them. They were levitating large trays of snacks including sodas, Butterbeers, chocolate frogs, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, licorice wands and an assortment of other tasty treats, calling out the prices of each item. Harry, at first, had no wish to purchase any snack, his attention focused directly ahead of him, but something glowing the faintest glow caught his eye.

Inside what appeared to be a twist-tied package of peanuts came the familiar bluish glow that had caused Harry so many questions. He opened his mouth to call out to the young wizard levitating the respective tray, but was beat to the punch by a balding wizard sitting directly one row below him.

‘I’ll take some of those peanuts there!’ he called, his eyes never leaving the rapid action of the match as one Montrose Chaser rang the Quaffle off of an iron hoop which aroused a collective, relieved sigh from the audience.

‘One peanuts!’ the concession wizard called out.

‘I’ll take one too!’ Harry called, standing up out of his seat. A pair of green-adorned witches tugged at his shoulders, urging him to sit down with a barrage of insults that never reached Harry’s ears.

‘Two peanuts!’ the concession wizard corrected, but his face sunk as he levitated the tray towards himself. ‘‘Fraid I’ve got only one right now!’ the wizard called out to Harry as he levitated the glowing bag of peanuts to the wizard below him. ‘Can I interest you in some Self-Popping Corn? Same saltiness, more entertaining.’

Harry ignored the concession wizard, timing his lunge perfectly and snatching the glowing bag of peanuts out of mid-air before they reached the balding wizard below him.

‘Hey! You give those back!’ the balding wizard implored, turning around in his seat. A father and young son turned around too while a pair of witches’ eyes fluttered in the direction of the predicament.

‘Listen, I really, really need this –’

‘You give those back son or I’ll have to kick you out of here! He bought them first, you know!’ the concession wizard bellowed.

‘You get your own bloody peanuts!’ the balding wizard pressed, now turning fully around in his seat, Harry clutching the bag tightly in his hand. He could feel the memory vial inside the bag.

‘Please... just let me –’

‘This is your last chance, son!’ the concession wizard prodded. The balding wizard squinted as he looked at Harry, finally realizing who it was who had stolen his precious bag of peanuts. A wide, toothless smile crept on to his face, his expression lightening and his large dimples giving him a goofy look.

‘Why... you’re Harry Potter!’

‘Yes, I am,’ said Harry relieved. ‘And I’d really, really appreciate it if I could have this bag of –’

‘Harry Potter stole my bag of peanuts!’ the balding man exclaimed. Harry thought that he jumped a foot off his seat as he spoke, the young Holyhead fan, pointing at Harry and whispering excitingly to his father.

‘Is everything alright, sir?’ asked the now confused concession wizard.

‘Yeah, yeah, of course!’ replied the balding wizard in front of Harry, his hand distractedly shooing the concession wizard away. ‘Imagine my luck! Harry Potter wanting my bag of peanuts! Fancy that?! This will be one to tell the grandkids about – well, providing that my lazy daughter ever meets a decent man! The youth today!’

‘Er... right,’ Harry responded apprehensively, having no idea how to take the odd wizard who was beaming in to Harry’s face.

Harry tossed a silver Sickle and a couple of Knuts to the concession wizard who eyed Harry and the balding wizard oddly, shaking his head and continuing to sell his products after he had walked back to his still levitating tray.

‘Look everybody! It’s Harry –’

‘And here’s something for you, as long as you don’t finish that sentence.’

Harry placed a Galleon inside the man’s opened hand, the crowd roaring around him as Holyhead scored another goal. The man looked down at his hand, his mouth wide open in shock. Silence seemed to overcome him, Harry smiling in return, but the man’s obnoxiousness continued half a moment later.

‘Harry Potter gives me a Galleon! What a generous lad! Brilliant lad!’

Harry sat back down in his seat, looking in the opposite direction of the balding man. Harry had no idea how much longer he would have to endure the man’s splendor at meeting him, but his question was answered by something that hit him hard in the back of the head, knocking him forwards in his chair.

The entire section gasped as a man tumbled down into the next row, knocking the balding man down in the process. The entire row stood up, helping those up who had been knocked down. Everyone in the area was either pointing, opening their mouths in shock or whispering to each other at the scene in front of them. A pair of men helped up the man who had tumbled a few rows down, his eyes closed in his apparent unconsciousness. In his hand, he held an entire bottle of Firewhisky that had barely a sip left in it.

‘Bloody drunkards! It’s a wonder they still allow drinking at these matches!’ Harry heard the father a row below him say as he made sure his son was alright. Harry noticed that in the unconscious wizard’s other hand was his wand, though this seemed to go unnoticed by the rest of those in the immediate area.

‘What I miss?’ asked Hermione who at that very moment shimmied her way back down the row. Everyone was still chattering about the drunk man who was now being carried off by a pair of Holyhead security wizards. Wanting to get back in to the action, Harry dismissed the question.

‘Tell you later,’ he said simply. ‘Though we did have a call from our... er... friend.’

‘F-friend?’ Hermione stammered, obviously not catching Harry’s drift. Harry stared at her, not knowing how to explain it amongst a large crowd. Defeated of responses, he decided to show her what he meant.

‘See?’ he said, directing her attention down at his pocket as he slipped the glowing bag of peanuts out a couple of inches. ‘Our friend. Must have given up sending me these through the mail at the Ministry. Ever since Fudge increased security it must be pretty hard to send in anything unchecked. Maybe they knew we had to steal it back from Fudge the last time? Wouldn’t put it past them, seeing as how they somehow hid it inside a bag of peanuts at a Quidditch match. They must be here, whoever they are...’

Hermione nodded vaguely, her eyes fixated on the glowing bag even after Harry had slipped it back in to his pocket. For a few moments, Harry didn’t comment on Hermione’s stare. He glanced over at her plainly, Hermione retracting her own look of curiosity as she attempted to refocus on the match, not doing a good job at hiding her lingering inquisitiveness.

‘Look!’ a fan yelled, yanking Harry out of his daze. ‘I think Weasley’s caught sight of the Snitch!’

Sure enough, Harry looked up just in time to see Ginny propel herself in to a tremendous dive from well above the pitch, Harry almost having to crane his neck in order to see her properly at first. A jet of black followed close behind her; the darkly clad Magpie Seeker Hoffman was hot on her tail. Many of the other fans in the massive stadium had noticed it too; only a few jeers were produced by the crowd as Montrose scored another goal, making the score one hundred to forty in their favor.

Ginny swung around behind the Montrose hoops, their Keeper trying to keep up with the match in front of him yet being slightly preoccupied (as the crowd was) with the two zooming Seekers. Hoffman seemed to take the lead but just as he began to extend his arm, he came to an abrupt stop; Gweong Jones – the all-star Holyhead Beater – had perfectly directed a Bludger in Hoffman’s direction, expertly aiming it so that it would not hinder Ginny’s trajectory. Harry’s eyes were fixated on Ginny as she was all alone, Hoffman losing track of his bearings as he looked around him, trying to find Ginny and the Snitch once again. Harry’s heart was beating fast as he subconsciously began to get up out of his seat as Ginny whirled back upwards towards the artificial sky...

‘SHE CAUGHT IT!’

The Holyhead fan’s roaring exclamation broke the crowd’s tense anticipation, nearly everyone in the stadium erupting with a thunderous ovation. Harry exhaled deeply as if he had somehow experienced Ginny’s catch with her. Fans in Harry’s row were hugging each other, the balding man in front of him screaming wildly and hugging anyone in his immediate vicinity. While hollering and clapping along with the rest of the stadium, Harry watched Ginny descend on to the field, the entire Holyhead team rushing over to her.

Harry looked up at the magical screen that showed replays of the action during the match. The screen was showing the chaotic celebration of the elated crowd, changing its picture to Ginny. He smiled broadly as she was mobbed by her teammates, Ginny holding the Snitch in her hand above her head. He wanted nothing more than to grab Ginny in his biggest hug and tell her how proud of her he was, wishing he was down on the pitch with her at that very moment. However, Harry’s smile was almost instantly taken away.

‘Harry, I should get going!’ said Hermione loudly in to Harry’s ear. ‘I’ve got to see how Ron’s doing and if I stick around, I’ll be waiting for hours to get home! I’ll meet back with Ginny tonight!’

Harry nodded and gave Hermione a pat on the back, not even watching her go as she navigated through the overjoyed Harpies fans. His eyes were fixated on the screen, viewing the sight that made his stomach turn. Davis was holding Ginny in his arms, hugging her tightly. He lifted one of her arms as he relinquished his embrace, staring right at her as she looked around at the crowd. Harry took one last look at the screen, turning around and leaving the hectic, joyous atmosphere of Holyhead Gardens.

Harry knew he had to do something. He knew it would be hard to confront Ginny yet again about Davis, remembering Ginny’s dismissal of his worry the last time he mentioned Davis to her, but he felt as if he had to. The expensive Christmas present, the dancing, the letters that he had sent her (that Ginny had not told him about) and Harry’s general dislike of Davis’ seemingly artificial character were all things that had bothered him. Though he felt as if he could maturely get over these bothers, they collectively made Harry sincerely worry. As if this was not enough, because he had not spent a lot of time at home with Ginny due to their busy schedules, Harry was not entirely confident that he could continue to give their relationship the benefit of the doubt. His mind was rapidly thinking of these things, his focus on this anger causing him to trip up the steps of the underground passageway that led to Holyhead Gardens causing him to punch the ground hard as he propped himself up. He quickly apparated back to Grimmauld Place, his mind still preoccupied with nasty thoughts of Davis McCoy.

‘Hey,’ he said quietly as he entered the living room. Ron was in the exact same place as he was when Harry had left. ‘How are you feeling?’ Ron coughed loudly for at least ten seconds straight. ‘I see...’ Harry saw his friend nod as he began to leave the room. He just wanted to lie in his bed for the rest of the night, not caring for the dinner Kreacher had meticulously made.

‘Yeah, he’s not doing so well,’ said Hermione with a small smile as she patted the top of Ron’s head. Harry continued to walk out of the living room. ‘He’s quite the baby when he’s sick. Been telling me all afternoon to get this and get that. I’ll remember this the next time, I’m sick. Expect the same treatment, you know.’

‘I’m just going to go up to my room for a bit,’ muttered Harry over his shoulder.

‘OK, sounds good. We’ll call you for dinner,’ answered Hermione, sitting down on the couch opposite Ron and pulling out a large, heavy textbook from underneath the coffee table. ‘Oh, I nearly forgot! Great match today! Had no idea Ginny was going to start! Ron and I were floored when they announced she was starting against Montrose! We listened to the whole match right here on the radio. We’ll have to have a little celebration when Ginny gets in!’

Harry continued to walk out of the living room, barely listening to what Hermione was saying. He walked a full four paces before he stopped abruptly, placing his hand on the railing of the steps and turning around quickly.

‘Hold on...’ he said quietly to himself. He smiled slightly at Hermione’s apparent joke. ‘You weren’t listening to it on the radio, Hermione. You were there! With me!’

‘Er, Harry. How many Butterbeers did you have at the match,’ replied Hermione in jest, her eyes and nose appearing from over the front of the book. ‘I’ve been here with Ron this whole time! Don’t tell me you’re catching the same thing that Ron has! I can’t deal with two baby boys in this house –’

‘Hermione, stop kidding!’ Harry interrupted seriously. ‘I saw you there! I was talking with you!’ Harry was growing confused as Hermione lowered the book a little more.

‘OK Harry, that’s enough. It’s not funny.’

‘Does Master Hermione wish for a hot tea to follow your tarts?’ came the voice of Kreacher from the kitchen.

‘No thank you, Kreacher! Thanks for asking though – those tarts are delicious though! Hopefully Ron can keep his down!’

Harry’s eyes grew wide. For the first time, he noticed that Hermione was wearing a pair of jeans and a sweater that was entirely different from the clothes she was wearing at the Quidditch match. After a moment of silence, Hermione put down her book, curiously staring at Harry who did not move a muscle, his hand firmly gripping the railing.

‘What is it, Harry?’ asked Hermione. Harry gulped, clearing his throat and speaking quietly, yet very clearly.

‘You guys... I think we have a serious problem.’
 
 


Chapter 22: An Unlikely Benefactor
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Harry strode past Nearly-Headless Nick who was conversing with a couple of Gryffindor fourth years, Ron and Hermione taking the time to greet their former house’s ghost with a courteous nod which Nick returned smilingly. Harry had barely even noticed their transparent friend; the memory vial was clutched tightly in his hand, the slightly crumpled accompanying note stuffed in to his pocket. Ron and Hermione were having a tough time keeping up with Harry who walked down the crowded halls of Hogwarts amidst the occasional stare, pointing out and gasp from the students.

Though his curiosity did not need any more fuel, the note that had been sent with the memory had added some intrigue in to what was apparently the final memory they would be receiving. Harry remembered the note that had been wrapped around the memory, the faded blue glow of it being hampered by the piece of brown parchment.


This is the last memory you will receive. After this, you will have the knowledge and know the great importance of the Eye of the Posterus and the lengths you parents went to in order to preserve it. It is imperative that you find it before the Death Eaters do. Flamel’s capture was not coincidence. You must not let him fall in to the hands of the Death Eaters.


‘OK, Harry. Fill in these letters in the message,’ Hermione had said that morning as they were waiting for the Snitch portkey to activate, pouring the Swelling Solution over the face of the parchment. ‘R, fifth position... E, ninth position... T, fourteenth position... R, fifteenth position... That’s it.’

‘What’s the dodgy little riddle again... the one underneath the vague, unhelpful, extraordinarily frustrating message,’ sighed Ron, placing his hand on his forehead and rubbing it hard, his eyes squinted as Harry spoke.

‘Some men interpret nine memos... Yeah, I have no idea,’ said Harry dejectedly, laying the enlarged parchment with the water-marked letters on the long, dark table of the secret room. He glanced at the piece of parchment that he was using to fill in the indicated letters.


_O_G RE_AER_ E_ T RO_


‘If this is the last memory we’re getting,’ said a defeated Harry as the Snitch began to glow blue that morning, ‘then we’re never going to solve this little puzzle.’

‘There must be something we’re missing,’ whispered Hermione almost to herself as she began perusing the other two messages that had been sent with the previous memories.

‘Well, we can do that later,’ interrupted Ron, pointing to the glowing Snitch. Hermione sighed as she left the messages behind.

‘Whoever is sending these things sure has a creative way of doing it,’ she said, reaching for the Snitch. ‘Doing so in a setting crowded with people is incredibly daring.’

‘Maybe they don’t need to be careful?’ posed Ron as he too got up from his seat.

‘That’s more scary too, when you think about it,’ returned Hermione as the trio grasped the Snitch that whisked them away to Hogwarts.

Harry made a left down a corridor, Professor Flitwick not even noticing the trio’s presence as he was intensely conversing with a pair of older students about the day’s lesson. Ron and Hermione increased their effort to catch up with Harry, Hermione calling out to him in the hope that he would slow down.

‘Whoever was impersonating me must have done a good enough job to fool you.’ Harry stopped, pausing before speaking in a low voice so that only his friends could hear him.

‘Being in a rowdy Quidditch stadium didn’t exactly allow me to hear or really focus on you – well, whoever was impersonating you – very well. Still wish that I hadn’t mentioned the memory – or the Eye, for that matter. Now that I think about it, you did seem a little... off. Didn’t think anything of it though.’

‘Wasn’t your fault mate,’ Ron said quietly. ‘Who would want to impersonate Hermione? And how did they get part of you to use in the Polyjuice Potion?’

‘And how did they know that Harry and not myself was going to be there?’ added Hermione. Harry shook his head in frustration.

‘We can’t do anything about it. Let’s just view this memory and hopefully, we can answer some questions. If this is the last one we’re being sent then there shouldn’t be any questions left after we’ve seen it.’

Harry was let in to the spiral staircase which led to the Headmistresses’ office by the two winged-gargoyles who guarded it. After reaching the top, Harry knocked on the door twice, waiting for a response. He glanced sideways at Ron after a few moments, knocking again to no avail.

‘Should we just... go in?’ Harry asked to his friends.

‘I don’t see why not,’ answered Ron shrugging. ‘McGonagall did say we were welcome at anytime.’

‘Never thought I’d actually think that breaking in to McGonagall’s office was something that she encouraged, but anyway...’ Hermione thought out loud, eliciting a grin from Harry as he opened the door.

As he suspected, the office was devoid of any presence. He looked upwards to see the portrait of Dumbledore was sleeping silently as he took out the memory and message which he laid down on the small desk beside the pensieve.

‘We’ve decided that both of us are coming in,’ said Hermione aloud.

‘Yeah – now that McGonagall knows we’ve been coming to use the pensieve, I don’t suspect she’d be outraged now,’ added Ron.

‘Sounds good – should we get right in to it then?’ replied Harry, barely listening to his friend’s justification, his focus and excitement with the memory overpowering his senses.

‘Don’t see why not – hopefully by the time it’s over everything will be much clearer.’

In moments, Harry, Ron and Hermione entered the pensieve, seeing the familiar, slow materialization of their surroundings erect around them. Harry’s heart was pounding as the scene began to slowly form. As the images around Harry became more concrete, Harry could make out his parents sitting together on a couch, a comfortable looking living room with a roaring fire materializing around his parents. His heart skipped a beat as he watched them fully appear. Even though this was now the third time he had perceived them in such a manner, seeing them in such a full, realistic way was something that never failed to touch his heartstrings.

‘Are you sure that you don’t want to do it, Sirius?’ asked Lily. Harry noticed that sitting across from them was his deceased godfather, his handsomeness still evident. His appearance’s gradual decline was something that at this moment in time, he had not been faced with.

‘I don’t trust myself with such a responsibility!’ cried Sirius exasperatedly. ‘I’m not fit for something like that, nor do I deserve the honor.’

‘Oh, Sirius, of course you are!’ answered Lily in a loving fashion. ‘But we’ll respect your wishes, of course.’ Sirius shifted in his seat, unnerved by Lily’s showing of understanding. Harry could feel the staring eyes of Ron and Hermione behind him – he knew that they were beginning to clue in to what the conversation at hand was actually about.

‘I know Dumbledore’s... great and all,’ managed Sirius, ‘but are you sure it’s the right thing to do?’ James was nodding before Sirius had even finished.

‘I don’t like the idea of going in to hiding Sirius – believe me. But Dumbledore has specifically told us to find a Secret Keeper because You-Know-Who is going to try to uphold this prophecy that he believes, is about Harry here.’

Instantly, Harry looked in to the bassinette that he just realized was sitting beside Lily. Inside, he could see his infant, sleeping self. Lily leaned over to check on him, taking the blankets and shifting them upwards in order to better cover her baby.

‘So that only leaves Peter,’ continued James, adjusting his glasses as he sat back, placing his arm around Lily. ‘You were our first choice, Sirius. Remus is obviously out – he’s got more on his plate than even he could handle.’ Sirius bowed his head in apparent shame.

‘I just... I don’t want to let you down. I love you two too much. You’d be mad to place all your trust in me like that – I can barely stand on my own two feet.’

‘Listen, Sirius...’ said Lily leaning in. ‘We’re not going to make you do anything you’re not comfortable with. Things are going to get better with you – you’ll find what you want to do and everything is going to turn out just fine. You’ll see.’

Sirius could only hold Lily’s stare for a moment or two, his eyes flashing around the couch where Lily and James were sitting. He took a deep swig of his drink, looking out of the window that was letting in the day’s last few rays of sunlight.

‘So what do you think Sirius,’ piped up James suddenly with his characteristic grin. ‘Do you think I could get Harry on a broom before we go in to this hiding business?’

‘I think it goes without saying,’ replied Sirius mischievously.

‘Lily thinks he’s a bit young –’

‘A bit young?’ Lily interrupted jokingly, playing in to her husband’s half-sarcasm.

‘See what I mean?’ continued James. ‘Bought this little, self-steering broom from Diagon Alley the other week. Never too early to learn how to ride!’

‘Especially if he’s going to break all your Gryffindor Seeker records at Hogwarts in eleven years’ time,’ interjected Lily which made Sirius laugh out loud.

‘One thing at a time, Lily,’ answered James, his hands out in front of him in a defensive fashion. ‘Those records are very prestigious – they could stand the test of time! If I do recall, their impressiveness got me my first date with you...’ Lily let out a sarcastic, short laugh.

‘You had to beg me to go out with you! And I don’t care about those silly Quidditch records. Harry here is going to go to work for the Ministry. Spread some real good and defend those that can’t defend themselves.’

‘My boy’s not going to work for those propaganda-spreading, lying politicians!’ replied James laughingly. ‘He’s going to be a star.’

‘Well why don’t you be a star and change Harry’s diaper...’ replied Lily quietly after sniffing Harry’s bassinette.

James, Lily and Sirius joined together in brief laughter. Soon after, the quietness of the living room took over once again. It was as if they could not escape the very grave undertones that characterized their entire lives; even conversation was not safe from the situation at hand. Sirius coughed, his eyes scanning his two friends as he thought of a way to restart the conversation that seemed to be preying upon his mind. Harry saw his parents shift in their seats, focusing on Sirius as if they knew what was coming because it was on their own minds as well.

‘Prophecy,’ Sirius snorted, leaning back in his seat. ‘Basing your life on the word of some batty old witch? I hope Dumbledore know what he’s doing...’

James looked at his wife uneasily, tilting his head at Lily, pressing his lips together and raising his eyebrows. Lily shot her husband a tired look in response.

‘I don’t believe in that rubbish – only reason why I’m not tearing a strip off you two for abiding by it is because Dumbledore is the one mandating the ruddy thing! And I still don’t like it!’

‘That’s exactly what I said Sirius,’ replied James while leaning in closer. Lily wore a discontented look on her face as she absent-mindedly adjusted the blankets of the bassinette once again. ‘Dumbledore’s always got his secrets... how do we know he’s telling us the full truth about this prophecy? We didn’t hear it!’

‘I’m going to take Harry out for some fresh air.’

Lily suddenly got up from her seat, slowly picking up Harry out of the bassinette and carrying him out of the room to the silence of James and Sirius.

‘L-Lily?! Harry’s sleeping!’

After a moment of no response from his departing wife, James hastily got up from his seat, Sirius slowly following his friend but pausing at the threshold of the living room. James met up with Lily as she began to pull on her autumn jacket, Sirius standing with his back to the wall of the living room as James and Lily began conversing by the front door.

‘Hey! You want me to come with?’ asked James cheerily. Lily’s expression did not change.

‘If you’d like.’

‘Is er... is something wrong?’ James pressed as Lily made sure Harry was settled in his stroller. Lily merely looked up at James who sighed. ‘OK, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, alright? We’ll take every precaution possible.’

Lily shifted closer to James who took her in his arms, Lily smiling slightly which made James laugh.

‘We all peachy then?’ said Sirius through a turn as he made his way out of the living room.

‘You want to come for a walk with us Sirius?’ said James quietly as he released his wife.

‘I would but... but are you sure it’s wise to go walking about at night... providing the circumstances.’

James raised his eyebrows at Sirius’ uncharacteristic stress on safety. Sirius shifted uneasily, looking at his feet as his two friends began laughing.

‘What? I’m not getting on Lily’s bad side, James. You saw what happened when we had to cook dinner last weekend...’

‘Well said, Sirius – if only James can clue in to that logic, he’d be perfect!’ Lily playfully tapped James on his forearm as she opened the front door, James letting Sirius exit before himself, clapping him hard on the back before closing the door behind the trio.

Harry walked directly through the door, the outer street of Godric’s Hollow appearing before him. James was holding open the gate for Lily to push Harry’s stroller through, Sirius hopping the waist-high gate altogether. Harry quickly caught up with them, looking behind him
briefly to see his old house fully intact.

‘Cold night,’ said James softly.

Harry instantly felt a cool rush encompassing his body which shocked him greatly, taking a deep breath as he was momentarily engulfed in the wind. Being quite familiar with memories and pensieves, Harry came to his own conclusion that this was the memory’s way of setting up the scene; whoever the memory had belonged to had obviously noticed how cold it was at this very moment after James had indicated it was so.

‘Hope I brought enough blankets for Harry...’ muttered Lily as she examined her son.

James, Lily and Sirius walked in silence for a few minutes, venturing down the sidewalk which led them pass a series of townhouses and eventually, the Hollow’s pub. Harry could see the small clouds of his parents’ and godfather’s breath in the cold air; the cloud appeared from their noses and mouths for a brief moment, the visual, foggy breath disappearing as quickly as it had appeared before Harry could fully recognize it. Sirius spoke abruptly as if his thoughts had been building up for a few quiet minutes.

‘Well there has to be a reason for this so-called prophecy and for Harry’s place in it – there is a reason for everything! Nothing just... is.’

‘Dumbledore doesn’t even know,’ continued Lily quietly. ‘All we know is that Harry is the one who You-Know-Who believes will fulfill the prophecy that has foretold his demise. Nothing about why this is... this all according to Dumbledore.’

‘And how does Dumbledore know what Voldemort thinks?’ asked Sirius skeptically. James merely shrugged his shoulders, while curiously, Lily focused on Harry, trying to pay no attention to Sirius’ question. ‘I’d... er... very much like to stay with you two once your protective enchantments with Wormtail have been finalized,’ continued Sirius, Lily looking up with wetness in the corners of her eyes. ‘From what you’ve told me, I’m not going to be able to visit you anymore once the enchantments have been cast if I live away from you. I... I don’t think I could bear not seeing you for any elongated period of time.’

‘Look, Sirius –’

‘I’m sorry,’ interrupted Lily, James taking a sideways glance at his wife’s interruption. ‘But... y-you can’t stay.’ Her stammering, coupled with the tears that now began falling down her cheeks took both Sirius and James (as well as Harry, Ron and Hermione) by surprise. ‘It’s... too dangerous for you to stay. I’d never forgive myself if something ever happened to you.’

‘Nothing would happen to me, Lily!’ replied Sirius as he tried to cheer his friend up. ‘I want to do my part in protecting you! Having Wormtail as your last line of defense is something I don’t feel comfortable about, with all due respect!’

‘No, Sirius. I don’t want your life to be defined by a prophecy that is already defining ours. It’s –’

‘My friends,’ retorted Sirius strongly, ‘are my life. You’re all I have and I’ll be damned if I’m just going to sit on the sidelines and watch events unfold! It’s wrong for me to be your Secret Keeper, but I can sure as well give everything I’ve got to protect you from that animal and the evil he brings!’ Lily only shook her head, offering a very quiet response as James comforted her, stopping the stroller as Lily looked upwards in to Sirius’ face.

‘No... It... It can’t be done. But thank you. We’ll always... We love you very much.’

Lily held her look with Sirius for a moment or two before continuing to push Harry, James nodding his head in agreement with his wife before following her. Harry strode past his father and godfather, jogging to catch up with his mother. She came to a stop, walking a few paces off the pathway in to a small, forested area, sitting on a bench as she continued to cry. Looking around him, he could see that they had entered the graveyard of Godric’s Hollow – the very graveyard that in modern times, housed the graves and the final resting place of Harry’s parents.

He sat on the same bench as his crying mother as she wiped her eyes with her sleeve, looking around her after she had done so. She took a deep breath and looked down at the infant Harry and smiled sweetly, yet another tear sliding down her cheek; she furrowed her eyebrows and wiped it away while kissing her teeth. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ron and Hermione in the near distance, Ron placing his arm around Hermione as they watched Harry from afar. He left a little distance between him and his mother, the stroller that held his much younger self being a mere few inches way from where Harry now sat.

‘I’m sorry you have to see me like this Harry,’ she said softly, sniffling after she had finished her sentence.

Harry’s eyes were drawn to his mother’s caring face. Even though he knew that she could not see him, he felt as if she was speaking directly to him as the angle that his mother was taking in speaking to his infant self made it appear so. Though she was not directly looking at him, Harry’s focus remained directly on his mother who – fighting through tears – continued to speak to her son.

‘I’d be lying to you and to myself if I said that I was not scared at all. I think your Dad is... does a good job of hiding it though.’ Lily smiled sweetly yet again. She did not even bother to wipe yet another tear that gracefully drifted down her cheek and fell to the cold bench. ‘But I want you to know Harry – you need to know that you’re worth it. You are worth every bit of it. Never feel as if this is your fault... because your father and I... we love you so very much. And whatever happens – whatever arises out of this... will all be worth making sure that you, Harry, get through it all okay.’

Harry watched as his mother leaned in to give his infant self a small peck on the cheek. Harry could see that he stirred inside the stroller, his eyes fluttering as he was momentarily disturbed from his slumber. Lily beamed down at her son, looking sideways to see that both James and Sirius had entered the graveyard, strolling towards where Lily sat with her son. She leaned in close to her son, Harry having to do the same to pick up on his mother’s soft speech.

‘We’ll get through this together. As a family. And one day... when this is all over... me... and you... and your father and Sirius and Remus and everyone... we will all be a proper family again. I promise.’

‘You alright Lily?’ asked James who sat beside his wife on the bench, looking at her with concern.

‘I’m fine,’ she answered earnestly. ‘Just... hard, you know?’ James seemed to understand, placing his hand on his wife’s and smiling broadly.

‘Shall we go back to the house then?’ asked James, looking between his wife and Sirius. ‘I’ve invited Sirius in for the night and then tomorrow, we’ll bring Peter over and ask him to be our Secret Keeper.’ Lily nodded with a mixture of happiness and reluctance.

‘We should get Harry in to bed and out of this cold as well.’

As Lily got up from the bench, a small popping sound echoed throughout the still graveyard. Harry saw his father and Sirius instinctively reach for their wands as they searched the dark area for the source of the sound. Then, a few more popping sounds reverberated from seemingly all around them. Ron and Hermione jogged over to Harry as they curiously looked around them as if they too were in the same time frame as Harry’s parents and godfather. Then, a voice that Harry had unfortunately grown quite familiar with rose over the darkness. Its charisma, feigned cheeriness and stress on every harsh sounding syllable was magnified by the extreme quietness of the scene, giving Harry goose bumps.

‘Good cold evening, gentlemen... Oh! How my manners have escaped me... to the exquisite damsel as well!’ Rabastan turned to Lily, giving her a small, courteous bow as he continued speaking. ‘Living among savage brutes such as those who have accompanied me here tonight, one’s gentlemanly conduct can have momentary instances of suspension.’

Appearing out of the darkness were four other Death Eaters dressed in dark robes, silver masks hiding their identities from Harry.

‘Rabastan Lestrange...’ growled Sirius, his wand extended. James was shielding both Lily and Harry, his own wand pointed at a pair of unidentified Death Eaters. ‘Why don’t you do yourself a favor and take your cronies out of this graveyard before I get a chance to kill them.’

‘Your philanthropy is duly noted and well received,’ replied Rabastan, his eyes closed and his hand raised. He still had not retrieved his wand as he spoke. ‘Though I have to say I am quite off-putted by your... lethal brand of problem solving. I am only here tonight to ask you a simple favor. That boy,’ Rabastan pointed at Harry, not taking his stare off of Sirius, ‘must come with me tonight... And all your lives will be spared.’

‘You’re mad if you think we’re just going to hand over Harry!’ called James bravely. ‘You’ll have to kill us if you want him and believe me, we have no intention of dying here tonight.’

‘Well...’sighed Rabastan, ‘Doing the good work of the Lord, I was hoping that the evening’s events would not have to come to such a standard... but alas...’ Rabastan placed his hands out in front of him. Harry noticed that his dark eyes and hair seemed even darker, his face more full than what he had seen in Rabastan during the Auror mission. ‘I feel it inhumane to not point out your present circumstantial predicament that you have somehow, incredulously, failed to realize. There are one... two... three of you... and there is – currently – ... one... two... three... four... five of us! I’m no Muggle mathematician but it appears as if we have a slight numerical advantage. Now... if you do not want to die a tragic and most painful death in this graveyard that can quite symbolically become your permanent home, then I suggest you take my most final offer and hand over the child. Let diplomacy have its day.’

‘The only way you’re taking my son from me you bloody psychopath,’ began Lily seriously, Rabastan turning his head in her direction, ‘is if you pry him from my deceased hands. And like my husband said to you... we have no intention of that happening.’

Rabastan sighed once again, glancing behind him at his cronies and smiling. When he turned around, his smile had faded, a serious, ugly expression characterizing his face.

‘That will be remembered as the last mistake you ever make...’

In a flash that made Harry’s heart skip more than one beat, Rabastan retrieved his wand expertly, sending a flash of red light directly at Lily’s head; the only part of her that was not shielded by James.

‘LILY!’

Sirius fired a pair of stunning spells at Rabastan but he was able to apparate away from them just in time, one of the spells connecting with one of the Death Eaters whose wand was raised above his head.

‘JAMES! HELP ME! Protego!’ Sirius exclaimed, blocking a trio of spells that came from three separate directions.

‘Confundo!’ cried James from his crouched position as he shielded the fallen Lily who was yet to stir after taking the brunt of Rabastan’s stunning spell.

James’ spell hit one of the Death Eaters in the head, knocking him to the ground. Quickly, he dodged a disarming spell from one of the other Death Eaters, Sirius hitting him with a disarming spell of his own a half-second after. James wheeled the stroller behind a gravestone a few feet away, shooting more spells over the stroller as he did so. The Death Eater that had been hit with the Confundus Charm had now gotten up dizzily, looking as if he was about to topple over at any moment.

‘Ah!’ cried Sirius as he winced over in pain. Harry looked around to see a Death Eater’s wand that was still pointing in Sirius direction.

‘Stupefy!’ cried James, his curse connecting. James ran over to the downed Sirius, helping him up.

Behind them, Rabastan had reappeared. Harry opened his mouth, wanting to yell a warning to his father and godfather, but he caught himself, realizing that it was pointless. He watched helplessly as Rabastan – devious grin and all – inched closer to the pair, Sirius wincing as he got back to his feet. He raised his wand, his mouth opening, his eyes wide.

Rabastan was knocked in to a gravestone by a bright white light. The confused Death Eater had hit Rabastan with a spell, continuing to fire various curses all around him in a disjointed circle. The Death Eaters all ducked for cover, two of them apparating away after they narrowly dodged a third spell. The only remaining, conscious Death Eater snuck up behind the confounded one, grabbing his arm and apparating him out of the graveyard. Rabastan was coming to by the gravestone, his eyes opening wide as he realized that he was the only Death Eater remaining.

The gravestone behind him cracked by the force of a spell. Lily had reawaken. Her wand was outstretched in front of her from her lying down position. Though she had a trickle of blood that blended in with her already reddish hair, she looked defiant and sharp as ever, her curse having nearly made contact with Rabastan. His wide-eyed look turned in to snarl as he got up in pain.

‘Good luck,’ he said threateningly. With that, he apparated from the graveyard, Sirius crumpling to the ground after he had left.

‘You alright, Sirius?’ asked Lily as she got up too, making her way over to the carriage that held Harry.

‘Fine, just took a Severing Charm to the leg. Good thing it didn’t hit any tendons... How are you?’

‘Never better...’ she replied after making sure that Harry was alright. ‘Probably going to have a bit of a headache the next couple days, I suspect.’

‘Sirius – I think we need to fetch Wormtail right away,’ said James seriously, glancing in to the carriage and viewing his now awake son. ‘This needs to be done tonight.’

‘Yeah... Yeah, I guess it does,’ agreed Sirius. ‘I’ll go now.’

He apparated without another word, James marched over to Lily who pushed the stroller back on to the narrow pathway. His foggy exhales were beginning to come in less frequent bursts as he regained his breath.

‘Hopefully that doesn’t leave a scar,’ he said, pointing to his wife’s head. ‘Is this still going to be a good enough location to hide away? Now that they apparently know where we live, I mean...’

‘According to Dumbledore, yes it will be,’ replied Lily while rubbing her head. ‘As long as the exact location has not been given away... we’ll be fine...’

Harry looked to Hermione whose eyes were glistening, Ron staring at Harry’s parents in a trance-like state. He watched as his parents slowly got everything in order after the surprise attack by Rabastan Lestrange and the Death Eaters. A minute later, they appeared to be ready to leave, the stroller being pushed by James as Lily clung to his forearm. However, once again, a small popping noise interrupted their retreat.

‘James and Lily Potter... be so kind as to remain in my company. Your presence here is still of necessity...’

Harry knew who had delivered the low, whispery, hissing voice before he was able to see the body that the voice matched up with. As the dark cloaked figure emerged from the shadows, Harry saw that the appearance of the man seemed fuller and less snake-like than what he had been accustomed to. No longer were the red slits for eyes that characterized his complexion and his face – though ugly and inhumane as if his inner ugliness had somehow seeped to the outer surface of his skin – no longer showed a trace of the handsome young man who Harry had previously encountered inside Dumbledore’s pensieve. His hair was thinning and his fingers were as white as his pale skin as if he had not seen the sun in years. His nails overgrown, a pointy, toothy smile characterizing his face, Lord Voldemort stepped in to the moonlight of the graveyard.

‘We’re not giving up the boy, Voldemort!’ called James bravely, stepping in front of Harry and Lily who stepped to the side of her husband, drawing her wand as well.

‘How brave of you to use my name like that, foolish as it may be...’ hissed Voldemort, drawing his own wand from his cloak. ‘This wand,’ he continued, examining his wand that he held up above his head, ‘has taken more lives and has been the instrument of insurmountable power that the two of you cannot even fathom. Do not make me add to that total here tonight. Give me the boy and I will show you mercy.’

‘Never!’ cried Lily. Harry saw that slowly, a couple of tears were cascading down her face.

‘You’ll have to get through the both of us!’ added James.

‘Oh, I have no doubt. That much is inevitable.’ Voldemort’s care-free, simplistic answer sent a chill up Harry’s spine. Voldemort changed course. ‘It is to my knowledge that the two of you were integral in securing Nicolas Flamel in a secret location almost one year ago. The location of Flamel is something that I would very much like to know...’

‘Look we’re not giving you Harry and we’re not telling you where Flamel is, got it?’ roared Jams defiantly. Voldemort merely chuckled.

‘If you’re not going to tell me where Flamel is, throwing away the chance at saving your son’s life in the process... then – for your own sakes – I implore you to tell me where he is keeping the Eye of the Posterus. Being a merciful Lord, I give you one... last... chance... to give the right answer.’

‘We’re not fools, Voldemort! We know you’re word means nothing! You honestly think we’d simply tell you where the Eye is? Do you think we’re mad? We’re not cowards – we’re not afraid of you! A mad man such as yourself in possession of the Eye? What makes you think we would give in to this?’ James was smiling now in his defiance and frustration of Voldemort. ‘You’re just distressed because there are things in this world that you... don’t... know. You’re powerless to time – it rules you! We fought to keep Flamel and the Eye safe from your clutches. People died in doing so. Good people. Something you wouldn’t understand. We wouldn’t want to give you unlimited power and throw all of that sacrifice away by simply handing over the Eye, now would we?’ Voldemort looked as if he was about to explode with anger but somehow, he kept it inside, scowling as he replied to James.

‘It is true that I thought you would be more cooperative, understanding the circumstances... but even someone as intelligent as myself can be wrong from time to time... it is only fitting that I kill the boy first... make you watch him die right in front of you!’

‘Why do you want Harry?’ asked Lily somewhat pleadingly, her wand defiantly held out in front of her. ‘He’s just a baby! He hasn’t done anything!’

‘But he will, as foretold by the prophecy,’ answered Voldemort in a hiss. ‘Though I find it hard to believe that anybody could conceivably stand up to my powers, this has been foretold. The boy must die. And the boy must die... now.’

‘Stupefy!’ yelled James, a scowling Voldemort easily dismissing the Stunning curse with a wave his wand.

‘Your defense is useless!’ ridiculed Voldemort.

‘We are not letting you take our son!’ retorted James. Voldemort snorted quietly, shaking
his head before replying.

‘This is the very reason why I know I am correct in knowing that you are the correct birth-givers.’

‘Wh-What?’ stuttered a confused Lily. Voldemort clenched his fist in frustration, but quickly launched in to a furious, angry speech.

‘The prophecy spoke of a child born at the end of July and to those who have defied myself three times. I am right in knowing that the prophecy applies to the both of you because even I must admit, your fortitude is more than what my usual victims show. Only the most powerful and resilient parents could possibly produce such a threat to my powers. However... no prophecy can rule Lord Voldemort’s fate. That is why... tonight... I seek to destroy the prophecy before it even has the chance to be fulfilled. The two of you have escaped me twice thus far, meaning that as of now, your son cannot hope to bring me down, foolish as that notion may be. As of now, the criteria of the prophecy has not been fulfilled. Tonight, I intend to kill you both before you can defy me for a third time... thus, rendering the prophecy obsolete. Once again, Lord Voldemort will reign supreme. My power is so great... that not even something as commanding as a prophecy has the power to influence me. I choose what is and what is not! I choose my own fate and the fates of those around me! And I choose to kill the Potters here tonight!’

Voldemort sent two stunningly quick curses at James and Lily that connected in full, knocking them both to the ground. Voldemort sneered, quickly walking over to the both of them, their scared eyes staring up at Voldemort who angrily stared down at them. Voldemort peered in to the carriage, his wand mere inches from Harry who was beginning to cry in his carriage. Voldemort smiled insanely, his mouth opening and his wand raised.

‘Not so fast, Tom!’

Voldemort wheeled around, his wand pointed out at the darkness. His eyes scanned the immediate area, panic characterizing his face. Harry’s carriage instantly disappeared, appearing on the opposite side of the graveyard not even a second later. A great white figure emerged, wand arm extended. The first thing Harry noticed were the piercing blue eyes that currently, were not full of kindness and warmth like Harry was used to, but of intense focus. Dumbledore’s long white beard was tied at the end, a long white and gold cloak standing out in the moonlight. Dumbledore placed a hand inside the carriage, examining Harry who had stopped crying.

‘Step away from the Potters, Tom... and leave Godric’s Hollow with your pitiful life still intact.’

‘P-Pitiful?’ asked Voldemort rhetorically through a disbelieved cackle. ‘I live a pitiful life? How about yours, Dumbledore? Babysitting a castle full of Mudblood children, let alone looking after every need of those around you? Someone with as much power as yourself... you’ve rendered yourself... insignificant. You’re a blip, Dumbledore. You have become... nothing. Unimportant... Useless... Powerless... That’s your life, Dumbledore.’

‘Look at yours... chasing down an innocent boy and his family? Despite your best efforts, they all still remain and will remain far after you, I may add. There is still much that you have to learn, Tom, before you can rightfully claim the titles that you so confidently instill on yourself. Only then will you have the so-called power needed to achieve all of the nasty business that you wish to accomplish. As of now... you’re nothing, Tom. I’m giving you a chance – leave tonight and your life as you know it will be spared.’

Dumbledore’s speech seemed to incense Voldemort whose face was one of extreme infuriation. He seemed to be breathing so heavily that he was having trouble in forming any coherent speech, Dumbledore calmly yet seriously pointing his wand straight at Voldemort’s chest. Both Lily and James had painfully moved while Dumbledore was speaking, taking refuge from behind a couple of gravestones after retrieving Harry’s carriage. Voldemort had no retort other than a destructive one.

‘Avada Kedavra!’

Amazingly, Dumbledore somehow stopped the jet of green light with a wall of golden light which appeared to take much strength on the part of Dumbledore to cast. After a moment, the wall disappeared, the graveyard becoming dark once again. Voldemort sneered, pointing his wand at the ground, casting what had to be a silent curse. The ground began to crack all around Dumbledore, fire appearing in the cracks beneath him. Waving his wand calmly, Dumbledore extinguished the fire, another wall of golden light repairing the cracked ground which was pieced back together after the light had vanished. Voldemort’s panting could be heard in the silence, small puffs of cloudy exhales shielding his face from being plainly seen. After a moment of silence, Voldemort sent at least a dozen non-verbal curses (including many of the killing variety) at Dumbledore, but in a lightning quick fashion, Dumbledore was able to stop or dodge them all, flashes of light ricocheting the curses in every which direction. A pair of gravestones erupted, breaking apart at the force of the curse, debris showering Dumbledore. Dumbledore waved his wand, a grand tidal wave emerging from his wand tip and showering Voldemort. Voldemort did not budge at the force of the wave, the water never touching his cloak as it fell harmlessly to the ground with a simple wave of his own wand.

‘We could do this all night, Tom! I’m prepared to do so. Are you?’

Voldemort and Dumbledore stared at each other unwaveringly. After what felt like a full minute, Voldemort let out a painful scream, disappearing from the graveyard in a puff of black smoke. Dumbledore turned to where Harry’s parents and the stroller were, a look of concern on his face. However, the memory began to deconstruct as Dumbledore strode over to them, Harry looking to his parents for one last glance at them. However, the memory did not appear to be ending as evidenced by the fact that he was not sent out of the pensieve and back in to the Headmistress’ office at Hogwarts. Instead, he appeared back in his parents’ house in Godric’s Hollow. Judging from his mother’s still bleeding head, he deciphered that this was still the same night as the Voldemort encounter.

‘Wormtail’s on his way,’ Harry heard Sirius say. ‘I guess this is goodbye, for now...’ James gave Sirius a hug after nodding, Sirius making his way over to Lily and giving her a small peck on the cheek.

‘Look – Sirius,’ said Lily softly as he began to make his way to the door. ‘I want to tell you something. James and I... if... anything was to happen to us... we’re counting on you to take care of our boy for us –’

‘Lily, nothing’s going to –’

‘Can you promise me, Sirius? Can you promise us that you’ll make sure Harry is OK?’

Sirius glanced at James who was sitting on the arm of the couch nodding his head. He closed his already squinted eyes and bowed his head.

‘Of course I will... I’d die for that boy. I promise I’ll look after him.’

Harry watched as his father and Sirius made their way to the front door.

‘Look after Moony.’ Harry could tell that James was trying to be light-hearted, but the way his sentence came out made him sound extraordinarily gloomy as if every bit of life had been sucked out of James.

‘I’ll miss you James.’

Sirius and James shook hands strongly, Sirius taking one last look at his best friend before turning and leaving the house altogether.

‘I think I’m going to go lie down for a few moments, if that’s OK. I’ll put Harry down before Peter gets here.’

James nodded as he sat down on the couch, already lost in the very grave thoughts that were occupying his mind. Harry, Ron and Hermione followed Lily up the stairs as she carried Harry in her arms. She took a left at the top of the hall, making her way in to the bedroom. She laid Harry down in his crib, sitting down in her wooden chair by her desk by the open window that was letting in a very soft breeze. Harry glanced at his friends, indicating to them that they should go back down the stairs, the memory’s importance possibly taking place back in the living room, but a soft popping sound interrupted these thoughts. The trio looked at the window, the curtain fluttering in the breeze. Lily looked upwards silently, her eyes wide as she slowly peered out of the window.

‘It’s OK. The coast is clear.’

After a moment, a dark figure appeared outside the window, a long, dark-cloaked leg emerging over the sill, the foot resting upon the desk. A second leg plopped down beside its twin, the bottom of the figure resting on the ledge of the window. The man’s pale face appeared in the open window, his hands guiding him down to a comfortable position. The man’s shoulder length black hair and large hooked nose appeared in Lily’s lamplight.

‘You haven’t visited me in a while, Severus.’

‘The Dark Lord is keeping a close eye on all of his followers – it is a time of great unrest.’ Harry’s mouth subconsciously opened slightly, gazing at the much younger, former Potions master at Hogwarts that Harry had learned to hate so much over his schooling years. ‘Moments of escape are few and far between.’ Snape’s eyes fluttered to the bloody head of Lily. ‘Did he hurt you? Are you alright, Lily?’ The affection in Snape’s voice did not fit the personality that Harry was so familiar with.

‘I’m fine. We don’t have much time. I wanted to see you because we’re about to cast the Fidelius Charm on this house. You won’t be able to see me for a while after this – until we’ve defeated him at least.’

‘Oh, Lily,’ Snape gulped, looking down at his feet, his eyebrows raised and his mouth slightly agape as he looked back up at Lily. He quickly resumed his previous expression. ‘I hope you have put your trust in the right person to do such a thing. I wish I could do it...’

‘Well, you can’t, so no good in talking of that,’ sighed Lily as she rubbed the side of her head painfully. ‘I know your time is short, so I won’t keep you. I was wondering if you could so something for me. I know I can trust you.’

‘Anything... anything at all,’ assured Snape.

‘I want you to take my memories... memories of my childhood... memories of the work James and our friends have done... memories of Harry... I want you to take them just in case... in case James and I don’t make it. In case anything happens to us during this dangerous time. That way... one day... you can show our son his parents and all the things we have done. And how much we loved him. Could you do that for me, Severus?’

‘Why... yes, of course I will!’ replied Severus who was taken aback by Lily’s request. ‘But... why me? Why not give them to Black or any of James’ friends?’ Lily closed her eyes, extracting some of her memories and placing them in a vial which she had retrieved off of her desk.

‘Because...’ she said handing him the memories. ‘I want you to have a relationship with Harry, one day. Sirius, Remus... they will all have their time with him. But it might not be so easy for you. If you can send him these memories... it might convince Harry of the good person that I know that you are. Hopefully, he can see through the influence that James and the rest might put on him. I want him to see the real you. For everything that you are... and everything that you’ve done for me.’

Severus grasped the memories in his hand tightly, a small tear falling down his cheek as he hugged Lily briefly.

‘Send them to him when the moment is right. And if You-Know-Who lives longer than the pair of us... use them to give Harry the information that only few of us know that can be extremely useful in bringing him down. I’m counting on you Severus.’ Snape nodded tearfully, locking himself in a stare with Lily. Just then, Harry heard footsteps from the stairs.

‘You’ve got to go now!’

‘Lily – I promise I will do this for you if the occasion arises. I-I love –’

‘GO!’ urged Lily whisperingly, ushering Severus out of the window sill as she said so.

The memory began to de-materialize as Snape exited the window sill and Lily resumed her position at her desk. Harry could only look at Ron and Hermione as he felt the memory’s end coming, their shocked expressions matching his own. Ron managed a few words before being taken out of the pensieve entirely.

‘Is Snape... alive?’

 
 


Chapter 23: The Littlest Lupin
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Harry welcomed the change in weather over the next month. Having undergone a long, cold winter, the gradual change to the sunny, warmer days of April was a welcome respite. On this particular Saturday, these altered conditions were in full swing, causing the trio to spend the majority of their afternoon in Diagon Alley. They had just left Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour and were enjoying the fairly crowded street that was bursting with energy, many other magic folk evidently having the same idea as Harry, Ron and Hermione had.

‘Hardly the ideal weather for ice cream,’ shrugged Hermione as she took a lick of her mint-chocolate chip. Ron snorted.

‘Compared to the temperature we’ve had the last few months, this is beach weather!’ Still, Ron zipped up his light jacket up to his neck after another April breeze met their faces.

‘I’m just glad it’s not raining – we’ve been pretty lucky so far,’ added Harry. He looked at the overhanging Flourish and Blott’s sign, jarring his memory to the real reason why they were in Diagon Alley. ‘What does a two-year old want to play with anyway?’

‘Well, apparently we can’t get Teddy a book, an astronomy set or an Instructional Quill – you know, to help him write and all.’

‘Blimey Hermione, he’s not preparing for his N.E.W.T. year or something!’ laughed Ron. ‘And besides this is Harry’s godson! We’ve got to get him something cool!’

‘Maybe we could stop by George’s?’ offered Harry. ‘There’s loads of stuff in there.’

‘Not for a two year old, there isn’t!’ replied Hermione, some of her ice cream slowly beginning to slide down the cone and on to her hand which for the time being, went unnoticed.

‘How about we take a vote?’ asked Ron, looking at Harry with a crooked smile. ‘All in favor of getting Teddy a book or something else horribly educational?’

Hermione’s hand shot up in to the air, her smile and stretched out arm beginning to fade almost immediately as Harry and Ron shook their heads at her. She sighed as she put down her hand back at her side.

‘Nothing horribly wrong with starting one’s education early, you two. But of course, by all means get him something that will rot his mind and teeth, blow up or otherwise cause some sort of mischief! Model godparent!’

‘I thought so – only looking out for what’s best for Harry is all,’ responded Ron as if he had completely ignored the dejected Hermione. ‘Now let’s finish up and head down to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes!’

Half an hour later, Harry had picked out the present that he would give to Teddy Lupin, but he had never reached George’s joke shop. Remembering the most recent memory of his parents that was still fresh in his mind, something in the window of the Quidditch shop had caught his eye. Featured at a low, discounted price was a small broom, just large enough for a toddler or small child to sit on. A little sign boasted about the improved safety features and easy maneuverability and upon remembering his own father and godfather’s plans for his much younger self that would never come to fruition, he felt compelled to buy the broom for his godson. Not even Hermione interjected with her thoughtful, applicable concerns, letting Harry buy it without protest. Harry placed the rather large box that contained the broom in to Hermione’s charmed bag, allowing it to be more easily carried for the rest of the day. Harry’s sentimental thoughts were interrupted by Hermione who was tugging on his sleeve urgently.

‘Harry!’ she whispered, pointing at his pocket that was beginning to pulsate in very dull, white light through his jeans.

Harry stopped in the middle of the busy Diagon Alley, handing Ron the bag and pulling a pair of sunglasses out of his pocket. He slipped them on, surprisingly seeing that the up-close face of Draco Malfoy was staring straight at him out of the left eye. He hurriedly slipped them off, placing them back in his pocket as quickly as he could.

‘We’ve got to leave – now.’

Both Ron and Hermione nodded seriously, making their way to the sidewalk and apparating away from Diagon Alley and on to the street of Grimmauld Place. As they ran across the street from the forested park opposite Number Twelve, Harry’s mind flashed to Williamson’s instruction from days ago.

‘I’ve given Malfoy the corresponding Extendable Eye and Extendable Ear to the one embedded in this pair of sunglasses and to this Ear here respectively,’ he had said after calling Harry – his new assistant Auror – in to his office just days after the successful Auror Mission. ‘I’m leaving you in charge of Malfoy. The sunglasses will glow a faint white when he is trying to connect with you. Slip on this Extendable Ear in order to hear what he is saying or showing you. We’ve had Weasley modify the size of the ear in to a tiny flesh-coloured bud – you’d need a magnifying charm to detect it. Arranging times and places to meet face to face are much riskier now after the mission. It will be virtually impossible to make contact with him in any way other than this. Don’t view what he is showing you in public. No matter the circumstances, get back to your home pr other secure area as quickly as possible. He might not be able to hold the connection for long. Whatever he wants to show you is going to be important. I’ve instructed him to not beckon for you otherwise.’

Harry clutched these very sunglasses in his hand as he made his way in to the opening hallway of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, nearly running in to the living room and slipping on the Extendable Eye sunglasses as he sat down.

‘I need the Ear! It’s on my bedside table!’ called Harry, forgetting that he had not taken his corresponding Ear with him that day. Ron ran up the stairs two at a time, his friend’s clunking footsteps mimicking the sound of his increasing heartbeat.

The still image in his left eye was grainy at first, a dark brown encompassing the entirety of Harry’s sight. After a moment, it appeared as if Draco had picked up his eye off of a table, Harry having to adjust his own eye to the darkened room that was lit only by candlelight. Ron bounded down the stairs as Draco opened a door, Harry seeing that the entire room was inhabited by the remaining Death Eaters. They all sat at a dark table, a single candelabra lighting the faces of the few that were arranged around it.

‘Here,’ panted Ron breathlessly as he handed Harry the ear. He hastily fastened it over his own ear, the noise of murmured chatting and footsteps echoing obscurely all around him.

‘What is it Harry?’ whispered Hermione. Harry (having trouble hearing what was being said) made a face that told Hermione of his predicament, holding up a hand as he focused on the scene in front of him.

‘They know about the Eye. They are taking its existence more seriously, it appears,’ came the voice of Rodolphous Lestrange. The voices were slightly muffled, his vision obscured by the sudden movements of Malfoy. Tracking the image from Draco’s point of view felt like following a Snitch during a Quidditch match.

‘The last time it was Dumbledore’s influence that caused them to hide Flamel away from us,’ added Amycus Carrow who was sitting directly beside Draco. The voice was much louder than Rodolphous’ due to the closer proximity. ‘Looks as if the Order has not put as much importance on Flamel’s life like they did last time!’

‘Correct,’ came the whispery voice of Rodolphous. ‘Their ignorance has allowed Flamel to fall in to the hands of the Ministry. He is held in a place where they will have great difficulty in penetrating. Azkaban.’

‘How has our undercover operation gone?’ asked Auburn. ‘The one with the Potter boy.’ A few scowls came from the small contingent that made up the remaining Death Eaters.

‘We were able to retrieve some useful information,’ answered Rodolphous. ‘We know he is one of the few who knows of the Eye’s importance. We also know he has been communicated by an unknown source who – we have deduced – has enlightened him of the Eye’s importance which falls in direct opposition to the Order’s agenda. Without Dumbledore imploring them to do so, they have a much lesser care for retrieving Flamel. We know he is quite alone in his quest for retrieving Flamel – the Order will most likely play a limited or non-existent role in trying to retrieve him. That gives us the advantage.’

‘Excuse me, Rodolphous,’ came the voice of Draco Malfoy. ‘But it seems as if you have hinted at possibly trying to infiltrate Azkaban prison.’

‘You heard me right,’ Rodolphous replied strongly. Standing beside Rodolphous was Yaxley who was frowning during the Lestrange brother’s speech. ‘Having Flamel and by extension the Eye in our control will make us extraordinarily powerful and will also fulfill the Dark Lord’s greatest request of us. As well, it may be possible to retrieve some of our fallen brethren who have been placed inside Azkaban.’

‘Why don’t we just kill the Potter boy!’ shrieked Alecto. ‘Wipe out any competition that might get in the way of us and Flamel! What a great gesture to the Dark Lord! Marking his long-awaited return with the murder of Potter!’ Many of the Death Eaters muttered their approval.

‘His time will come. He has been recently promoted in the Auror Department as a result of his role in the very mission that saw our numbers greatly reduced.’ Rodolphous was carefully choosing his words, slowly speaking as if this realization was something that greatly pained him to admit. ‘We will have our revenge on Potter and the Aurors.’

‘So when do we act?’ asked Auburn hesitantly.

‘Soon,’ croaked Yaxley with his raspy voice. ‘Once our inside man has sufficient information on Flamel’s imprisonment... we will extract the information that will lead us to the Eye and then...’

‘We’ll kill him,’ finished Rodolphous darkly. ‘Then... our recent failure will be redeemed!’ Draco appeared to be looking down at the table as for a few moments, Harry could not see Rodolphous as he spoke. ‘We’ve got to come together – right now! We must not disappoint the wishes of the Dark Lord any longer!’ Many cheers were coming from the small grouping of Death Eaters. The sound of their rapture ringing in Harry’s Extendable Ear caused him to hold it away from his own ear by a couple inches, squinting in the momentary pain brought on by the overwhelming loudness.

‘Oi! What are you doing there boy?’ came the voice of a bald, particularly ugly Death Eater. Harry tried to refocus on the scene as Draco suddenly looked upwards, the picture through the Extendable Eye disorienting Harry.

‘Are... you talking to me?’ asked Draco openly, trying to maintain a calm, collected composure.

‘What are you fiddling with there?’ the bald Death Eater pressed.

‘Yeah – I see what you mean there, Rackert!’ exclaimed Alecto. ‘What you doing there, Malfoy?’

‘Nothing... just... caught something in my eye.’ Harry could tell the Death Eaters were not convinced by Draco’s retort. For a moment, Draco’s finger obscured Harry’s vision as he pretended to check his eye. However as he did so, Harry could tell that the Extendable Eye had become detached from Draco’s own, the source of his vision quietly falling to the table so that Harry was now able to see the horrified face of Draco Malfoy looking down at him.

‘What the bloody hell is that!’ Harry heard Amcycus shout perplexingly.

Draco’s eyes fluttered throughout the room, Harry watching as Draco’s chest began to rise and fall more dramatically. Harry felt his own body go still and numb, realizing that he was holding his breath as he watched a clearly scared Draco examine the Death Eaters in the room, even though Harry could not see them. Suddenly, Draco made a dash to scoop up the eye but a bright flash of red light knocked his hand as well as his entire body backwards by a few feet.

‘Harry! Harry, what’s happening?!’ asked Hermione with a tug on his arm.

‘They’ve got him!’ replied Harry, unable to move from his seated position.

A soft thud entered his own ear through the Extendable addition, Harry realizing that the small, fleshed coloured Extendable Ear that Draco had worn must have popped out of Draco’s ear from the Stunning Spell’s impact. The picture in front of him was still. Harry heard the muffled voices of Death Eaters in the background, chairs moving across the wood floor and groans that signaled that they were picking up the stunned Malfoy. Harry felt helpless, knowing that he was of no help to Malfoy. He sat there on pins and needles, waiting for the image in front of him to change, hoping that somehow, miraculously, Malfoy could escape.

‘What’s going on Harry?’ asked a concerned Ron. ‘What are they doing with him?’

‘I can’t see a thing. I’ve got no idea... Wait...’

Harry’s response was interrupted by the sudden moving picture that now occupied the vision via the Extendable Eye. The Eye appeared to have been picked up, turning slightly from side to side as if being examined by the onlooker. The eye was facing the wall away from the table, the sound of moving feet and quiet murmurs filling Harry’s ears. Then, Harry’s vision slowly began to turn until he was literally face to face with Rodolphous Lestrange who wore a seething expression. Behind him stood Yaxley as well as the Carrows. Malfoy was nowhere to be found. Harry’s heart skipped a beat as Rodolphous scowled directly at Harry.

‘I don’t know if you can hear me, who I am assuming is Mr. Potter,’ Rodolphous began. Because of the Extendable Ear’s distance, his voice was muffled, Harry having to press the Extendable Ear tightly to his own ear in order to hear properly. ‘We have your little rat! You think you can spy on us without consequence? We’ll show Mr. Malfoy here the same treatment as we will undoubtedly show you upon our next meeting.’ Rodolphous continued angrily, a scowl erupting out of his scarred, bearded face. ‘If you want your rat back, I offer you a transaction. Retrieve both Nicolas Flamel and the Eye of the Posterus and we will return Mr. Malfoy to you. And if you are unsuccessful... well, you can still retrieve your rat. Rather... what’s left of him.’

The Carrows cackled, Alecto grasping the face of Draco Malfoy from behind her so that Harry could see. Draco appeared to still be feeling the effects of the Stunning Spell as he groggily looked at the Extendable Eye that Rodolphous was holding. Still visibly fuming, Rodolphous eyed Harry once again.

‘I hope you make the right decision Mr. Potter. However, upon our next meeting, neither myself or any of the Death Eaters will be so forgiving. The next time we meet, Potter, my brother and I will exact the Dark Lord’s revenge on you. Prepare to meet your death Potter! Diffindo!’

Harry’s vision was completely cut off in a burst of yellow light. Rodolphous had destroyed the Extendable Eye and even though he could hear the cackles of Amycus and Alecto for a few seconds after, the sound of the Death Eaters all but departed a few moments later. Not knowing what to think, Harry put down the glasses on the coffee table, taking out the Extendable Ear out of his own.

‘Wh-What happened? Is Malfoy alright?’

‘No, Hermione. He’s not,’ replied Harry. ‘They’re holding him hostage. They want us... to trade Flamel and the Eye for him.’ Hermione scrunched her eyebrows.

‘But Harry that’s impossible! Flamel is held in the most fortified wing of Azkaban prison, you told me that yourself! And even if we could somehow negotiate his release –’

‘I know what I said.’ Harry was not trying to take his frustration out on Hermione who was only trying to help, but he could not help it. He knew the lengths and the danger that his parents had gone through in protecting the Eye and he did not want to simply hand Flamel and the Eye over after their years of keeping him and his creation safe. Still, he felt guilty that Malfoy was now in the custody of the Death Eaters, not wanting him to die after doing something so brave.

‘Sorry mate, but I’ve got to agree with Hermione,’ piped up Ron. ‘You know we’ll be getting questions from Fudge and Mosteban even if we were able to get him out. Maybe we should run it by Williamson first... see what he says.’

‘We’ll tell him about Malfoy’s capture... nothing else,’ replied Harry while looking at his feet.

‘Maybe... if we tell them about the Eye, the Ministry would be more willing to release Flamel?’ said Ron to which Hermione seemed to agree. Harry was already shaking his head before launching in to an outburst.

‘Did we ever go to McGonagall or Dumbledore before doing any of the stuff we did back at Hogwarts? And when we did... did anything really come of it?’ answered Harry frustratingly, knowing he was speaking irrationally. ‘Why should we start now?’

‘But Harry this is really different. This is the Ministry here!’

‘Hermione... the Order... Sirius... my parents... these are the people who fought to keep Flamel and the Eye safe. Not the Ministry. They put their lives in danger every day. It’s the reason why Voldemort even thought that my parents could even fulfill the prophecy! Born to parents who have thrice defied him! It’s because of the Eye that they even had the chance in escaping him! I’m not negotiating with the Death Eaters to make some sort of agreement with them over something my parents were willing to and did die for. I’m just not, can you understand that? Please, you guys?’ Both Ron and Hermione nodded, looking at each other with appreciative looks. ‘Thank you.’

‘But Harry... you sounded as if... as if we’re doing something,’ began Hermione slowly in her attempt to tiptoe around Harry’s passionate frustration. ‘When you spoke of not going to McGonagall or Dumbledore... Why should we start now... What did you mean by that?’

‘We’re not going to hand over Flamel and the Eye. The Aurors can get back Malfoy. We need to retrieve Flamel, get that Eye and destroy it so that the Death Eaters can never have its power.’

‘Yeah mate. See, that sounds all well and good but... how are we going to retrieve Flamel?’ asked Ron hesitantly. Harry breathed out deeply as he sat on the arm of the sofa. He looked sideways at Ron and Hermione as they waited for his response.

‘Well... how do you two feel about breaking in to Azkaban and getting him ourselves?’

The shock on Hermione and Ron’s faces only flashed by. It was as if the pair of them had clued in on the inevitability of the request that Harry had already realized.


****


Mr. and Mrs. Weasley arrived at Number Twelve Grimmauld Place early. The first Order meeting in over a month was scheduled for that night, preparations already beginning around lunch time that afternoon. Harry had to improvise an answer for Mrs. Weasley when at around tea time, she asked Harry where Kreacher had run off to. He did not feel it wise to tell Mrs. Weasley that Kreacher was spying on the Head of the Aurors as he had done so over the past few weeks. Nothing as of yet was worth reporting, according to Kreacher.

‘He’s out... gaining inspiration for a colour change for this kitchen here,’ Harry rattled off. Even he was surprised at what had come out of his mouth. Happily, the excuse seemed to work.

‘Good idea,’ Mrs. Weasley replied as she waved her wand and began preparing the evening’s dinner. ‘This place needs a little lift. Good on you Harry for letting Kreacher participate in the redecoration of this place. He’s been here longer than anyone.’

Harry, Ginny, Ron, Hermione and George all helped Mrs. Weasley set the table and such as evening crept in. The Order had strategically chosen the night of Teddy Lupin’s birthday party as the night for the meeting; since nearly the entire Order was attending the birthday party, many felt they could hit two birds with one stone and do both on the same night. After the meeting’s conclusion, everyone would congregate and celebrate the second birthday of the son of Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks.

‘You alright there Gin?’ asked Harry as he handed her the washed vegetables that she proceeded to cut, waving her wand at the knife that began slicing.

‘Yeah... Yeah, I’m fine Harry. Just a bit of a headache,’ she replied, placing her hand on her forehead. ‘I’ve been getting them more and more lately over the past few months. Really painful.’

‘Oh don’t be a baby little sis,’ chided George playfully as he walked through the kitchen. ‘I thought Quidditch players were supposed to be tough!’

Ginny did not even respond to George’s joke as she rested her elbows down on the countertop.

‘It’s from all that lack of sleep,’ Mr. Weasley chimed in. ‘I tell you they need to rest their players more if they want the best result. It’s no wonder Holyhead has taken a tumble down the standings! Oh, sorry Gin.’ Mr. Weasley grew slightly red in the face as Ginny eyed her father with a look discontent.

As Ginny continued to help her mother in the kitchen and as George, Ron and Mr. Weasley went off in to the living room in order to listen to the Chudley Cannon Quidditch match, Harry stole off with Hermione in order to practice his non-verbal curses. They met up in the drawing room, the stylized Black family tree adorning the walls with the occasional black spot wiping out the previously undesirable lineages.

‘You know Harry, we still haven’t had the chance to talk about what we saw in that last memory,’ whispered Hermione after Harry had guided a vase of lilies across the room using a non-verbal levitation spell. Though it was a fairly simple spell, not having words at his disposal made the charm that much more difficult to maintain.

‘What do you mean?’ asked Harry after the vase reached the floor with a soft clink.

Hermione looked around at the door that was adjacent from the kitchen. The muffled voices of Mrs. Weasley and Ginny prompted Hermione to only mouth her response to Harry’s question. She had to mouth it twice, Harry picking up on her second attempt that she was actually mouthing “Snape.”

‘Oh right,’ replied Harry thoughtfully. ‘You don’t really think he could be sending those memories, do you?’

‘We watched him die! Right in front of us!’ whispered Hermione, striding across the drawing room as she did so. ‘There’s no way he could have sent them!’

‘But we saw my mother give them to him Hermione! If Snape is dead, who could he have given them to? You saw how much he cared for my mother. He wouldn’t just give away her memories as if they were nothing. He made her a promise.’

‘Is, Harry. Snape is dead. Not if.’

Hermione considered Harry’s point for a moment, nodding her head repeatedly, finding no fault in Harry’s logic. As Harry began practicing other simple non-verbal charms such as enlargement and shrinking charms, Hermione stayed in silence.

‘For the most part I think I’ve got these charms down,’ said Harry as he shrunk the vase back to its regular size. ‘But curses are a whole different matter. Other than great focus, how can I maximize the curse’s effectiveness? Hermione?’

‘Y-Yeah, you’re doing fine, Harry,’ replied a clearly not listening Hermione. Harry looked at her with raised eyebrows, prompting her to launch in to speech. ‘I’m just thinking about what you said, Harry. About breaking in to Azkaban and all. I mean... that’s a big deal! If we were to get caught we could find ourselves calling that place home for a long, long time! And besides that, how could we ever gain enough knowledge to properly navigate it – while incognito, nonetheless!’

Hermione had many great points. Truthfully, Harry had never really thought about any of this before he had mentioned the Flamel rescue mission. Though he considered the points that his friend raised, he continually came back to the conclusion that the risk would be worth stopping Voldemort and the Death Eaters forever. Regardless, he knew they would have to gain a lot of insight in to the inner workings of Azkaban before following through with such a grand plan in order to assure its success.

Before he could offer any verbal response, the front door to Number Twelve Grimmauld Place opened to let in members of the Order. Only seconds later, Percy Weasley, Neville Longbottom and his parents Alice and Frank emerged through the emerald flamed fireplace, greeting both Harry and Hermione warmly. As more members of the Order arrived, Harry was greeted with increasing frequency by congratulatory claps on the back and words of wisdom in regards to his promotion inside the Auror Office. Harry had almost forgotten of his promotion to Williamson’s assistant, but after his hand was yet again feverishly grasped and pulled in to a tight shake by Dedalus Diggle, he finally understood how big of a deal his promotion actually was to members of the Order. As the meeting started, Harry felt a renewed sense of pride in his relative success during the early going in his career as an Auror.

The meeting itself was more light-hearted than previous gatherings; the dwindling numbers of the Death Eaters had obviously played a part in this change of tone. However, Harry did not get the sense from any of his fellow members that they had won the war against the Death Eaters. It was still hard to overlook the great success of the Auror mission and coupled with the returning Longbottoms to the Order after nearly a two decade long absence, morale was at a high not seen since Voldemort himself had been defeated.

‘Would you care to give us a brief report, Kingsley?’

Harry had not seen Kingsley very much since he was beat out by Rufus Fudge in the election that dethroned him as Minister of Magic. As Kingsley cleared his throat to respond to Gawain Robards’ question, all eyes were drawn to him, Harry realizing how out of place Kingsley seemed at the long kitchen table of Grimmauld Place due to his long absence.

‘For months I’ve been following various leads in my attempt to track down the meeting points of the remaining Death Eaters, but alas, I will try to make a long story short,’ Kingsley began with his deep, booming voice. ‘I believe I have cracked the code of the Death Eaters’ complicated pattern of meeting points. Suffice to say... the next time they meet, we will know where. Harry – could you gain information on the next meeting time? Though I know where the meeting is likely to take place, the time between their meetings has been inconsistent.’

‘Actually Kingsley,’ began Harry slowly, ‘Draco has been apprehended by the Death Eaters. They know he’s a spy.’ A few shocked gasps filled the quieted kitchen.

‘Do... do the Aurors have a plan to rectify the situation?’ asked Hestia Jones.

‘Not as of yet,’ replied Harry. ‘But I’m sure we’ll think of something quickly.’

Over the next few minutes, the mood surrounding the meeting reverted to the more characteristic serious one. News of Draco’s capture was a great misfortune as many members of the Order were keen on ending the dwindling Death Eaters once and for all. Upon hearing Kingsley’s cracking of the Death Eater meeting location code, the report of Draco’s capture was especially disheartening. Having both the place and time of Death Eater meetings was a combined piece of enviable information that the Order would never have.

‘What are your plans now, Kingsley?’ asked Mrs. Weasley’s nephew Fabian after the topic of the captured Draco had come to a standstill.

‘I can answer that,’ interjected Gawain Robards. ‘Mosteban himself has agreed to reinstate Kingsley as an executive Auror.’

‘That’s terrific!’ exclaimed Doreen Vance. ‘You can join Gawain and Harry!’

‘Excellent news, Kingsley! We need someone like you back in the Auror Office!’ added Percy.

‘Thank you everyone,’ nodded Kingsley. ‘I needed a little break from the Ministry after Fudge won the election this past summer.’

‘I propose a toast,’ said Mr. Weasley suddenly as he stood up from the table. ‘For two separate reasons. One – for Kingsley Shackelbolt. The Aurors have been deficient of your presence for too long. And two – for Frank and Alice Longbottom. How we have missed you. How we are so overjoyed to see the both of you return to the Order of the Phoenix. As you are reunited with your son and family... you are also reunited with ours.’

Everyone rose their glasses and drank, Mrs. Weasley having a few tears that she carefully wiped away from the corners of her eyes as she too joined in the celebration. Both Frank and Alice were genuinely touched by Mr. Weasley’s gesture, Neville looking on at his parents very proudly.

‘Where’s Aberforth tonight?’ asked Harry as the meeting came to a close and many Order members joyfully made their way to the living and drawing rooms.

‘His obligation to his role as innkeeper for the Hog’s Head has prevented him from attending,’ uttered Gawain Robards in response. ‘Always a busy time of year for him once the weather begins to turn for the better. More tourists and all.’

Any further communication between Harry and Gawain was interrupted by the sudden sound of excited greeting coming from the drawing room. Curious, Harry made his way to the drawing room to see that an older witch dressed in long, dark purple robes was holding hands with a young boy who was shyly smiling at his greeters, clutching at the elder witch’s upper waist. Harry’s godson Teddy, who was now showing signs that he had carried on his mother’s Metamorphmagus (as evidenced by the different hair colours that Harry had seen Teddy wear in the frequent pictures that he was sent) was standing in Number Twelve Grimmauld Place for the first time. Harry could not help but grin absentmindedly at his godson’s meek, yet hesitantly brave posture. His current hair colour was of a fairly normal dark brown, even though Harry could have sworn that he had seen a brief, glowing flash course throughout his hair as he smiled at the friendly greeting of Mr. and Mrs. Weasley.

‘So good to see you again Harry!’ greeted Andromeda – grandmother of Teddy Lupin – kindly, taking him in a brief, gentle embrace and smiling sweetly. ‘I hope you received those photographs in the mail easily?’

‘Not until just recently. Yeah, the Ministry is pretty tight in regulating the post nowadays.’

Andromeda rolled her eyes playfully, smiling again at Harry before moving on to her next greeter.

‘And Hermione! How are you my dear? I was tremendously worried when I heard you were involved in that atrocious attack on the Ministry!’

‘Oh! Yes... Well I’m lucky that there are some magnificent Healers at St. Mungo’s that took good care of me. I was fortunate that they got to me early,’ answered Hermione politely, taken aback by the showing of concern on Andromeda’s part. ‘I was only in St. Mungo’s for a few days before they had relieved me of the consequences from that gas that was released. Some other poor souls were down there for an hour before they were pulled out.’

‘And they are still there recovering,’ sighed Andromeda while shaking her head. ‘Inhumane, is what it is. To do that to someone else! Anyways, I’m glad to see that you’ve got no lingering effects from that attack. After reading about what many have had to go through as a result of it in the Prophet... I’m just glad you’re not one of them, dear.’

The next hour and a half was a jubilant time full of story-telling, laughs and the opening of presents by a very excited Teddy. It seemed as if for only a short period of time, everyone temporarily forgot of all the troubles that the modern wizarding world was going through, replacing these thoughts with more joyous ones. It did not take long for Teddy to open the bulk of his presents. Harry eyed the scene in front of him anxiously, watching his godson lunge for the present that he had bought for him. He watched with a certain trepidation as Teddy ripped open the Quidditch themed wrapping paper that he had clumsily used in wrapping the box containing the broom. Leaning against the frame of the doorway, his arm being used as leverage as it rose over his head, Harry smiled as he saw the wide-eyed, excited expression of Teddy amidst the backdrop of semi-artificial gasps from those watching.

‘What do you say to your godfather, Teddy?’ asked Andromeda from her armchair as she smilingly watched Teddy’s marveled face, his eyes not tearing away from the small broom that was just big enough to seat his two year old body.

Though he did not utter a word, Teddy’s response was clear enough. With his short legs rapidly galloping across the room (nearly knocking over a surprised Percy Weasley in the process) Teddy gave Harry a brief, open-armed embrace. He quickly looked up at Harry and smiled, his chubby cheeks puffed out at the wideness of his smirk. He galloped back to his present where Mr. Weasley had already taken the broom out of its box. Teddy clapped as the broom sprung in to action, hovering a foot off the ground as it waited for him to hop on.

After being helped on by Mr. Weasley, the entire crowd of people cheered enthusiastically as the broom slowly began flying around the room. Ginny and Hermione were laughing hysterically with each other on the opposite side of the room as they saw Teddy’s seemingly permanent smirk grow in to an uncontrollable fit of giggles. As he was about to hover in to the wall, the broom automatically and gracefully turned, continuing on in its predetermined path.

It was at this moment of joy that Harry felt a small tug on his pant leg. Like the rest of the Weasleys, his friends and the members of the Order, Harry too had forgotten of his work as an Auror, the Death Eaters, Draco, Flamel, Fudge and Mosteban. However, that brief tugging on his jeans was the catalyst that sprung him back in to the real world. He looked down to see that Kreacher was looking up at him concernedly, his long, bony finger motioning for Harry to follow him in to the kitchen. With one last look at his flying godson, Harry followed the house-elf, closing the door behind him and by extension, on all of the enjoyment he was having.

‘What’s going on, Kreacher,’ asked Harry slightly agitatedly.

‘Master Potter told Kreacher to follow the Auror. Mosteban,’ panted Kreacher. ‘Kreacher has found him doing something most suspicious tonight. Most suspicious indeed!’

‘What is it?’ pressed Harry. A cold chill ran from his head to his toes as he focused on the tired, contorted face of Kreacher.

‘He is in Hogsmeade, Master Potter,’ answered Kreacher. ‘And he is with someone.’

‘Who?’

‘Kreacher does not know. But Kreacher heard the man that Mosteban is with say that he is a Death Eater.’ Harry perked up in his chair.

‘A Death Eater? Mosteban is with him? What are they doing?’

‘Kreacher again does not know. They are planning... something. Kreacher can take you there now if Master Potter would like.’

‘No, it’s OK, Kreacher. You stay here, I’ll go myself. Where exactly did you see them?’

‘By the Shrieking Shack, Kreacher saw them. Talking most secretly.’ Harry nodded, getting up from his seat and heading towards the front door.

‘You’ve done a great job, Kreacher. Thank you,’ he called over his shoulder as he left the kitchen.

‘Thank you, Master Potter! Kreacher is ever so –’

But Harry heard no more as he bounded down the long, narrow entrance hallway. He made a pit stop and seized his Invisibility Cloak from his room before heading out in to the windy evening. He ran across the street and in to the forested area where he apparated, finding himself in an empty Hogsmeade village a moment later. Harry glanced at his watch. It was after eleven o’clock; the shops were closed and whoever was still in Hogsmeade village would be turning in for the night shortly.

Slowly at first, but then increasing his pace rapidly, Harry jogged in the direction of the Shrieking Shack. His ears were not accustomed to the virtual silence of his surroundings; his occasional louder footstep along with his steady panting breath served as quite the opposition to the much noisier elation that was still ongoing at Grimmauld Place. In mid-jog, Harry slipped the Invisibility Cloak on, a cool spring breeze making its way through the empty, dim lighted Hogsmeade. His mind was racing through all of the suspicions that he had about Mosteban throughout the year, Harry remembering the conversations that Mosteban had participated in through the Floo Network as well as his tense meeting with the Minister of Magic. All of Mosteban’s talk of deception and secrecy had convinced Harry that the Head Auror was not to be trusted and this his own personal agenda was something that was needed to be found out. He also remembered his recent viewing of the Death Eater meeting before Draco had been apprehended, recalling to himself that the Death Eaters had mentioned the fact that they had a spy of their own who was spying on Harry, making his suspicions of Mosteban even more engaging. This was the moment that Harry had been waiting for.

The presence of the two dark cloaked figures took Harry aback, interrupting the many examples of Mosteban’s deception that he was going over. Harry stopped his pace in a sudden instant, holding his breath as he hoped that the two figures emerging from the path to the Shrieking Shack had not heard his footsteps. He stepped back a few paces, waiting for the two figures to get closer. After only seconds, Harry’s stomach did a back flip as he saw that indeed it was Mosteban who was walking in to the heart of Hogsmeade village. Harry quickly scanned the face of his accompaniment, almost instantly recognizing him as Rackert, the bald Death Eater from the meeting that he had spied on. His heart beat increased its pace as Mosteban and Rackert neared.

‘Just down the way here...’ muttered Mosteban in a manner that made Harry struggle to fully hear it.

Both Mosteban and Rackert passed Harry who waited a few seconds before silently following them in to the lighted Hogsmeade village, bypassing the popular Three Broomsticks. Through the window, Harry could see a smiling Madam Rosmerta cleaning the top of a nearby table, but refocused his attention on the pair in front of him who were quickly and carefully treading down the street.

‘We must be quick and as quiet as possible,’ added Mosteban over the light, cool breeze. ‘He must be taken down without a fuss. Stunning spells first – I’d like to get some information on Flamel and the Eye before we kill him.’

‘Is it wise to do this in such a public place, Mosteban?’ asked Rackert quietly. Mosteban paused.

‘It was your idea to spring in to action while the rest of the Death Eaters are in sustained queue. This will help us move forward in our movement. Taking out members of the Order of the Phoenix one by one will increase our odds drastically. The risk is worth it.’

Rackert considered this for a moment before nodding. The pair continued on their brisk walk, Harry carefully following behind them. He felt a mixture of excitement and pleasure yet shock and horror at what appeared to be the affirmation of his distrust of the Head Auror, but chose to stay focused on not dwell on it now.

‘It is,’ nodded Rackert. ‘But what if there are others?’

‘There won’t be,’ answered Mosteban stiffly. ‘I’ll open the door, you enter first. Don’t waste a second.’

Mosteban’s last line of speech was more threatening than encouraging, Rackert eyeing him seriously for an extra second as Mosteban continued down the street. He made a small gesture with his finger which signaled Rackert in the appropriate direction. Mosteban looked around him as he reached the door, nodding to Rackert who retrieved his wand out of his side pocket. His hand on his own wand, Harry watched as Mosteban stared at Rackert calmly, Rackert licking his lips and breathing hard before heading towards the door with a full head of steam. Harry narrowed his eyes as he watched Rackert stride towards the door, unsure of whether to intervene now or wait to see what unfolds first. It was at this very moment that Harry realized where they were. His eyes noticed the overhanging sign that lopsidedly hung above the door of the Hog’s Head.

‘Stupefy!’

Harry was instantly brought back to his senses. He charged pass Mosteban, knocking him aside as he entered the pub. He saw the unmoving feet and legs of Aberforth, the rest of his body hidden by the overturned table that had been knocked over by the force of Rackert’s spell. Rackert was grinning broadly as he inched closer to Aberforth. Harry jumped as the knocked over table flew across the room, Aberforth suddenly standing up and directing his own wand at Rackert.

‘Expelliarmus! Impedimenta!’ Aberforth bellowed.

‘Crucio!’ shouted Mosteban from the threshold, ducking under one of Aberforth’s own spells.

With the agility of someone much younger than himself, Aberforth dove behind the bar. Rackert and Mosteban shifted their attention to Aberforth’s new location, sending curse after curse at the bar. Glasses and bottles of amber, clear and dark liquid burst and shattered upon impact, showering the entire area in glass and beverages.

‘Get up Aberforth!’ called Mosteban in between spells.

Harry saw that Aberforth was stirring behind the bar, sending up shielding spells that temporarily blocked the spells of Mosteban and Rackert. Mosteban stopped his onslaught, prompting Rackert to follow his lead.

‘You’re outmatched Aberforth! Come out from behind there and at least die with some dignity! Not like a swine – a Muggle! Hiding from its superiors!’

‘Expelliarmus!’ said Harry, pointing his wand at the pair of them.

Rackert literally jumped as his wand flew out of the air towards Harry. He and Mosteban spun around in shock, looking in Harry’s general direction. Mosteban resumed his focus, pointing his wand in short, fast waves, unknowing of Harry’s exact location. Harry picked up Rackert’s wand, slipping it in to his own pocket, never taking his eyes off the scarred face and deep, black eyes of Mosteban.

‘Who goes there?!’ exclaimed Mosteban threateningly as he ran a hand through his dark hair. ‘So it was someone pushing me aside... under a Disillusionment Charm? Or perhaps... something more advanced,’ he growled as his eyes fluttered and scanned for movement rapidly.

Before Mosteban could inch any closer, Aberforth shot a stunning spell that just barely missed Mosteban, crashing in to a the mounted hog’s head on the far side of the room.

‘Stupefy!’

Harry’s spell caused the pair to lose their balance as they both fell to the floor. Mosteban leaped out of the way of another spell from Aberforth, Rackert pushing over a pair of tables as he exited the Hog’s Head altogether. Mosteban quickly followed suit, Harry sending one last stunning spell that just missed the leaping feet of Mosteban. Harry ran forward towards the door just in time to see both Mosteban and Rackert apparate away from Hogsmeade with a small crack, leaving Hogsmeade in silence once again.

‘Harry?’ came the gruff voice of Aberforth who seized him by the shoulders, bringing him back inside the pub.

‘Yeah, it’s me,’ he replied, taking off the Invisibility Cloak and tossing it on to one of the still upright tables.

‘What on earth are you doing here?’ he bellowed. Aberforth had a few cuts on his face from the falling glass, his grey cloak stained in places from the spilt beverages..

‘I’ve had my house elf Kreacher follow Mosteban for the past few weeks. He told me Mosteban was up to something, so I came here.’ Aberforth breathed and exhaled heavily.

‘Just like you to follow through on your suspicions. I can respect that,’ added Aberforth through a grin. ‘And now that I’ve experienced an attack on my life, I’m also thankful for those suspicions.’

‘Looks as if they were right too.’

‘Seems like it.’

‘We’ve got to turn him in. Tonight.’ Aberforth instantly put up a hand to protest.

‘Now hold on there, Harry. We’ve got to pursue this case a little further in order to properly –’

‘He just attacked you with a Death Eater! What more do we need!’

‘I understand that Harry but you have to realize just how powerful Mosteban is!’ growled Aberforth as he sat down on a nearby stool. ‘He’s the Head Auror! Do you think he is so easily susceptible to any and all accusations, real or not? No offense, but your word is no good over his.’

‘But I’ve got you as a witness!’

‘Harry! You’re not looking at the big picture! If a second year Auror and a shady pub owner accuse the Head Auror and one of the most respected wizards in Britain of betrayal, it’s not going to stick! Let’s wait and see what else he’s up to! Get more personnel on the case!’

‘Just another thing everyone can say I’m lying or wrong about...’ Harry said agitatedly, shaking his head in frustration. ‘I knew he was up to something. He poisoned that Auror in the lounge, he knew about Mrs. Gibbons murder and Jugson who was hiding out in her house and he arranged the Auror mission in order to restore belief in me and all those suspicious of him that he is loyal to the Aurors. But he’s not! He’s one of them! We’ve got to stop him before he can kill anyone else and get the Death Eaters what they are looking for!’

‘I agree, but we have to be smart about it,’ pressed Aberforth. ‘You, me, Hermione and Ron. We’ll investigate him. Follow his every move.’ Harry raised his eyebrows.

‘You’ll help us?’

‘That’s what I said, wasn’t it?’ Harry smiled slightly as he nodded. ‘What is it?’

‘I’m just glad you said that. Because I thought I’d be hard pressed to convince you to pledge that sort of allegiance.’

‘And why’s that?’ questioned Aberforth.

‘Because if Mosteban is a Death Eater while simultaneously being Head Auror, he has a power over Azkaban prison and everyone in it. Including Nicolas Flamel. Even if we tried, we wouldn’t be able to get a meeting with Flamel – Mosteban would never allow it. That’s clear to me now. That’s why we have come to the conclusion that we need to break in to Azkaban prison and get the information about the Eye’s location from Flamel himself. We need to destroy it before the Death Eaters can obtain it and after what has just happened, I think it’s pretty safe to say that they will know everything they want to know about the Eye just as soon as Mosteban decides to retrieve it from Flamel. We need your help to break-in to Azkaban. You said yourself you know the place extraordinarily well from visiting your father over the years. We need your help and we need it fast.’

Aberforth looked directly in to Harry’s eyes as he spoke, never wavering in his stare. He looked down at the table and then around at his surrounding pub; glass, alcoholic liquid, broken tables and pieces of fragmented wood scattered the area. He looked back up at Harry who had not moved. Aberforth cleared his throat and spoke softly.

‘Then we need to start planning straight away.’

Aberforth left his seat without another word, waving his wand at the broken glass which began to repair immediately. Harry’s thoughts drifted back to the events that had just occurred, the ramifications of which had not fully sank in yet. After realizing that it indeed must have been Mosteban who had impersonated Hermione at the Harpies’ Quidditch match in order to spy on him, he came to an uneasy conclusion; the Head Auror was a Death Eater. If Mosteban did indeed know that Harry had an Invisibility Cloak, Harry thought it would be best to be on high alert at work in the already tense Auror Department.


Chapter 24: Bat-Bogeys and Broken Spirits
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After years of being recognized wherever he went, Harry considered the strangely pompous thought that he should be used to all of the unwanted glamour he was given by gawking onlookers. However, as he sat in the Atrium at the end of the work week with Ron, he still felt the uncomfortable feeling that was brought on by the many witches and wizards who stopped by to point out at him. Nowadays, everyone walked in pairs at the very least and today was no exception. It was when a conglomerate of fumbling, oddly hysterical younger witches approached Harry that he had finally had enough, only wanting to wait for his friend like any other normal person would. The groups’ usual, focused bee-line for the exit of the Atrium (taking the model of the majority of Ministry workers) was suspended momentarily in lieu of the opportunity to meet Harry Potter.

‘Can’t we just go find Hermione?’ said Harry out of the corner of his mouth as he hastily signed his name.

Ron was reading that morning’s edition of the Daily Prophet, his tall, lanky figure leaning up against a wall just beyond the lifts. He flipped the page, having paid little to no attention to the usual onslaught of onlookers who had disturbed their brief bursts of conversation. However, at Harry’s comment, Ron took a more active approach.

‘Alright that’s enough. Blimey, he’s not an exhibit – move along!’

Two of the witches – giggling all the way – quickly tiptoed away from Harry and Ron who smirked as he resumed the Prophet article that he had put on hold. Harry examined the Atrium, noticing that there was hardly a stray witch or wizard who was walking by themselves. Apart from the cheerful witches who had asked for his autograph, everyone was wearing expressions of great focus as they quickly tore down the Atrium and out of the Ministry. Around the perimeter situated every so often stood pairs of royal purple clad Ministry officials who were observing the Atrium as Harry was, keeping their eyes open for anyone or anything suspicious.

‘Oi! Almost forgot to tell you – Mum told me that Charlie’s going to be moving back home this summer,’ said Ron suddenly. ‘He’s got enough seniority now that he’s been given the option. Said he misses home after all these years working in Romania and such.’

‘Brilliant. Any idea what he’s going to do?’

‘Yeah. Going to work for the Ministry next year – on Hermione’s level. Going to be the Field Assistant in the Dragon Unit. Big opportunity for him.’

Harry nodded his approval. He had always liked Charlie but amongst the assorted Weasleys, he had probably seen the least of Charlie. Harry imagined the summer ahead where all of the Weasleys would be in the same place at the same time – a feat that Harry knew should not be understated.

Another pair of gawkers broke Harry from his thoughts. The elder of the two Ministry workers tore the younger away from his excited stare, Harry looking uncomfortably around as if to shake the feeling. Ron seemed to have noticed.

‘Don’t take any offense to this mate,’ said Ron after a pause, ‘but you just keep getting more interesting. You defeat Voldemort – again – save the wizarding world – again – and now, you become an assistant Auror after you play a vital part in the mission that nearly destroyed the Death Eaters – again. Er... Sort of. To boot, you still haven’t really given a detailed account of your journey – well, our journey but you know how these things get muddled.’ Harry exhaled and nodded after concluding that his friend was unfortunately right.

‘Alright, I’m going to find Hermione. Are you coming?’

‘Yeah, let’s go find her. She’s nearly an hour late isn’t she? She did say five o’clock, right?’

‘You know Ron, for the boyfriend, you’re really seeming to lack in the listening department.’ Ron turned a light shade of red around the ears in a matter of seconds.

‘Have you and Hermione been talking,’ he asked seriously, his eyes growing slightly wider as they emerged over the Daily Prophet. When he spoke next, it was only to himself, his eyes slowly reverting back to the paper. ‘Got to work on that.’

Harry laughed at Ron overlooking his teasing joke, but pulled back after a moment when he realized that he had possibly touched on a very real, serious aspect of his two friends’ personal relationship. For Harry, it still felt a tad awkward to think of things like that, forgetting every once in a while that they were more than just friends. It made him think of Ginny, but Davis’ smiling face interrupted any further thought on his own girlfriend.

‘Did you see this?’ asked Ron as he and Harry passed a Ministry official handing out safety pamphlets that featured a question check-list that promised to weed out the traitors of the Ministry from the loyalists. Harry refused one as he passed the wizard who frowned. Harry caught the back of the pamphlet which was giving information on the great success of the Orphan Commission, an array of strange statistics apparently proving its current triumph. The pair found an empty lift to take down and once inside, Ron handed Harry his edition of the Prophet, indicating a rather large article on the second page. The picture above the text showcased two burly wizards holding a single, limp wizard underneath both of his arms. Harry’s eyebrows perked up when he realized that the middle wizard was in fact Crawford.

‘He’s the one who nearly killed me in the Auror Office! The Imperiused one, right?’

‘That’s right,’ nodded Ron. ‘They found him dead in his home last night. From what the article says, they say he could have been dead for days before they found him.’

Harry glanced back at the article, quickly browsing the details of the deceased Crawford’s finding. One particular sentence near the bottom of the article caught his eye.

‘He successfully regained his memory?’ asked Harry.

‘Said he had bits and pieces of information on his attacker. His hearing was supposed to be Monday morning too, look.’ Ron pointed to the next paragraph while Harry shook his head in disbelief.

‘It was Mosteban,’ Harry muttered under his breath. ‘He got him before Crawford could reveal information on him!’

‘Looks that way,’ admitted Ron, folding up the paper and stuffing it in to his cloak pocket.

‘I wish we could just... say something,’ said Harry frustratingly.

However, any further speculation on Mosteban was halted as the lift arrived at Level Four. Before they even lifted the golden gate to let themselves out of the lift, what sounded like screaming, arguing voices could be heard from somewhere in the distance. Their echoes caused Harry and Ron to glance at each other, quickly exiting the lift in search of Hermione.

‘Someone’s not taking getting sacked too well,’ commented Ron as they took a left down the hallway towards the office in which Hermione worked and past a door that featured a small sign that read Pest Advisory Board. Underneath was a smaller, hastily taped sign that had the handwritten message Currently Out of Office.

‘Not showing up?’ said Harry questioningly as he pointed to the sign. Ron nodded.

‘Dad told me that on some days, some don’t even come in to the Ministry. Too afraid, I reckon. Like Montgomery Pickard on Dad’s floor – team of M.L.E.S. officials had to check on his house in East Sussex to see if he was still alive.’

‘Some of the smaller offices can’t function if people don’t show up,’ muttered Harry to himself as he imagined personnel from the Magical Law Enforcement Squad ringing on Montgomery Pickard.

Harry found it curious that the echoing, arguing voices were growing louder as they continued to walk deeper in to Level Four. They took yet another left and found that the voices grew even louder still. Walking at a slightly slower pace, Harry noticed that the voices seemed to be coming from a door that stood ajar. Above the door read a sign that said Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures: Beast Division. A bearded Ministry official walked by perplexed, curious as to what the grand argument was all about just as Harry was. Harry and Ron both came to an abrupt stop when they heard what could only be Hermione’s voice. Though they knew it was their friend, the sheer anger in her tone of voice was one that both of them had not encountered often in their years of knowing her.

‘What’s this all about?’ asked Ron concerned.

He began to step in the direction of the open door but was stopped dead in his tracks as Hermione burst through the door in a fit of rage. The door swung open, crashing hard against the wall as she stepped back out in to the hallway, her hair bouncing up and down with each purposeful step she took. Looking up, she appeared shocked to see her two friends standing just feet outside the office door. She opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted by yet another voice that Harry instantly recognized.

‘Do not expect to be welcomed back, Miss Granger!’ came the high-pitched voice that instantly set Harry’s teeth on edge.

‘Well I haven’t been welcomed at all since I started, so not much is changing, is there?’ shot back Hermione.

Stepping out in to the hallway, adorned in her characteristic pink was Dolores Umbridge, her short, stocky body and pig-like face instantly infuriating Harry. She opened her mouth to speak, but after noticing that Hermione now stood with Harry and Ron, she stopped in full, her eyes growing wide, both of her hands grasped firmly on her hips. For the second time, she opened her mouth to speak but as in her first attempt, speech escaped her. Umbridge’s face grew red and with a final exhalation of frustration, she turned on her heel and strode off down the hallway.

‘Let’s go!’ spat Hermione, tugging Ron and Harry by the arms.

‘Hold on! Hermione!’ uttered Harry as he turned to follow his friend who – with a head full of steam – was walking quickly towards the lifts. ‘What was all that about?’

‘What was what about?’

‘You – Umbridge – loud voices?’ asked a disjointed Ron.

‘Nothing Ronald! Nothing happened at all!’

By the time the trio had arrived at Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, Hermione had calmed down enough to explain the true reason why she had never been given a chance in her new position at the Ministry. According to Hermione, Umbridge had been using her new position under Fudge to squander her chances of taking an active role in the Beast Division. Umbridge’s obvious prejudice against her had clearly made the subduing a priority in her new position.

‘And she would have tried to get the two of you as well, but because you both had worked at the Ministry for a year prior, it made it more difficult for her to have her say. Plus, even for her esteemed position of Employee Overseer, the Auror Department would have been a much tougher egg to crack.’

Harry sat down at the kitchen table, Kreacher bringing him over a glass of orange juice the moment he had been seated. Harry greeted his house elf with a small smile.

‘Never understood why they had you filing paperwork for these past months. You really are too brilliant for that,’ said Harry to which Hermione beamed for only a second.

‘Thanks Harry.’ Hermione rubbed her forehead as she rested her elbows on the hard oak table. ‘She just wants to get back at me – at us. Rotten women she is. If the public knew what we knew and were told she was working in such a high position at the Ministry, they’d be outraged. Don’t know what I’m to do though. Grin and bear it? I don’t know...’

‘We all know that Umbridge is a piece of work,’ added Ron. ‘She’s lucky that she’s even employed and not in Azkaban for life. Bloody Fudge,’ Ron called Umbridge a nasty name that neither Harry nor Hermione took any protest with.

For the next fifteen minutes, conversation comically swayed in the direction of brainstorming outlandish methods that the threesome could take in order to get rid of Umbridge altogether. Even Hermione participated in the discussion, shedding her anger and stress of the situation. As laughter was hitting its height, Kreacher stepped in to the room, cleared his throat and spoke his froggy, toad-like voice when Ron had finished his own long process that had included something to do with an invasion of garden gnomes and Honeydukes’ licorice wands.

‘Master Potter sir. Mistress Weasley had asked me to inform you of her whereabouts this evening. After the match –’

‘The match!’ interrupted Harry. He had completely forgotten about Ginny’s last Quidditch game of the season where their Victor’s League fate was on the line. ‘Did she tell you if she won Kreacher?!’

‘She did indeed, Master Potter,’ grinned Kreacher. ‘By my recollection, Holyhead defeated Caerphilly by a score of four hundred and forty to one hundred and ninety.’

‘That’s enough for them to squeak in to the Victor’s League!’ exclaimed Ron, getting up from the table quickly. ‘Not going to get them a League title obviously... they’re too far back for that... but they’ve qualified for the worldwide tournament that crowns the best Quidditch team in the world! Not bad for a team that looked out of the running just a few weeks ago!’

‘That’s brilliant!’ Harry could not help but smile, knowing that as the team’s Seeker, Ginny must have played an integral role in ensuring Holyhead’s birth in the Victor’s League.

‘Master Potter, there’s more sir,’ continued Kreacher. Harry had been lost in the happiness after hearing of Holyhead’s victory and had forgotten that Kreacher had more to say. ‘Mistress Ginny wanted me to instruct you that she has gone to Primpernelle Square’s The Blubbering Bastion. She and the team have gone there for celebrations and she would very much like you to attend.’

‘That’s some sort of club, isn’t it?’ asked Ron aloud to which Hermione nodded. She was looking right at Harry with the same, serious expression that Harry was wearing, Ron aloof to the thoughts that both Harry and Hermione shared. ‘We should all go! Let’s go celebrate – we’ve got nothing on the go for tomorrow morning, do we?’

‘I’m... I’m actually pretty tired, Ron,’ said Hermione without looking away from Harry. ‘I think we should give Harry and Ginny some space. Let them celebrate with the team.’

‘Hermione! We’ve got to go! Come on, don’t be a –’

‘I think you should stay with me Ron. Doesn’t Chudley play tonight?’

‘Oh, what’s the point,’ replied Ron, much of his excitement draining out of him with the mention of his winless Quidditch team. ‘They’re just going to lose again...’

‘Keep the faith Ron! Come on, I’ll listen in with you.’

Hermione winked at Harry who nodded thankfully at Hermione’s understanding. Harry quietly left Grimmauld Place as Hermione ushered Ron into the living room, the faint sounds of the radio turning on echoing from the room as Harry closed the front door. He was barely thinking as he apparated to Charing Cross Road, took a detour down Shaftesbury Avenue and arrived at the bookshop named Border’s that served as the entranceway to Primpernelle Square. All the while, Harry could not help but think of Davis. He thought it unhealthy to be so consumed with thoughts of the rich, handsome assistant coach of the Holyhead Harpies but he could not help it. He was not about to let Davis spend an entire night out with Ginny when he himself barely had enough time to spend with her. The female cashier inside Border’s led Harry back in to the stock room, tapping her wand on a particular shelf. By the time she had left the storage room, many of the books had already shifted to either side to reveal the wooden archway that led to Primpernelle Square. Harry tore down the narrow hallway, hearing the commotion of the crowd grow louder as he continued to pace forwards. He ignored the two golden-robed officials who offered to help him step down out of the passageway and into the square, instead quickly glancing around him in search for The Blubbering Bastion.

It did not take him long to find it. A couple of shops down from The Flaunting Fwooper stood the vertical sign indicating the location of the large club. Harry sifted his way between members of the crowd, small huddles of witches and wizards all dressed in their finest occupying spaces around the cobblestoned square. To his chagrin, he noticed that various members of the press were crowding around a large, silver fountain situated in the middle of the square interviewing a rather round, balding wizard who Harry had never seen before. The blond curls of Rita Skeeter stood out like a sore thumb, Harry grabbing on to the nearest, classical looking lamppost to sway his great momentum in another direction. He weaved through a gathering of floating musical instruments, bagpipes, trumpets, clarinets and a multitude of others that were being conducted by a short, white-haired wizard, his soft, flowing movements mimicking the calm, tune they were pleasantly playing. The sun was setting on the square, the small, semi-circle of restaurants, theaters, pubs and fashion shops brimming with life.

Harry gave no attention to anything other than the front door of the club. In his focus, he nearly knocked down a pair of young witches who were excitingly standing in the line for those entering The Flaunting Fwooper. Without looking back at the sound of the angry calls the two girls drew, Harry avoiding yet another self-moving cart selling assorted wines and other beverages, he finally arrived at the double glass doors that served as the entranceway to The Blubbering Bastion.

The head of steam that Harry had upon entering the club momentarily and quickly fizzled. He was engrossed in a sea of movement; trays with mugs and glasses of various liquids zoomed across the room, a small dance floor in the middle of the darkly lit room occupied with what seemed to be hundreds of personnel. A thousand beams of bright light rocketed around the ceiling of the establishment, their rays lighting the dark room in countless, flashing colours that continuously alternated. An undertone of dancing music was being played by a trio of wizards atop a tiny stage that barely fit their unusual looking instruments and the three of them themselves. There were asymmetrical armchairs, couches of all different materials and little, narrow tables situated around the perimeter of the dance floor and on the outskirts of the bar that featured small stools, of which nearly all were claimed. Harry felt his stomach drop as he somehow noticed the familiar red-haired head of Ginny who was currently sitting at the bar, talking feverishly with none other than Davis.

Immediately, he set off in their direction, having to halt himself after only two steps as three consecutive trays zoomed in front of him. With his eye still on Ginny, he took a detour around the bar. He was not even sure why he was doing this and not simply meeting Ginny face- to-face, but his mind was telling him that this was the proper way to go about his business and without questioning it, he accepted this fact. Harry kept his head down so as not to be seen and began circling the bar. He noticed a Chaser from Holyhead conversing with one of the Harpies’ Beaters Glendella Wimbourne, strategically moving behind Glendella’s rather manly frame in order to better shield himself from Ginny’s vision. Miraculously, he noticed an empty stool just a few stools down from where Ginny was, her back facing Harry as she continued to converse with Davis. All in one motion, Harry sat on the chair, looking about the bar before glancing to his left where Ginny was.

‘Cliff! Cliff! It’s time for you to shuffle out, mate! Come back tomorrow, if you like,’ called the bartender who was wearing a plain, black t-shirt, his wand working feverishly as if it was just another limb of his body.

The bartender was calling to a man who Harry presumed to be Cliff. He had barely any hair and from his tired, agape mouth, Harry could not make out a single tooth. His glasses were askew as he woke from his apparent slumber, his right hand still firmly grasped on to his smoky concoction that smelt awfully of sulfur.

‘Y’know Jim?’

‘It’s Dan, Cliff.’

‘Stan! I will have another. I will... and I’m not going to feel guilty about it neither! Because... life... it’s just so short, innit? No time for, for, worry? Or, er... obligations! This damn Prophet has us all so worked up about this... this... well, whatever it is! Well you know what Bobby? I’m not letting it upset me anymore. Oh no, siree! And I’ll tell you another thing... I... er...’

With that, Cliff’s speech came to an abrupt end. He quickly slunk back down to his sleeping position, falling face first into a bowl of colorful, glowing candies that was sitting atop the bar. Dan the bartender merely raised his eyebrows and walked off as another customer called him over. He waved his wand behind him as the customer related to him what their desired drink was, Harry watching as a pair of bottles automatically began pouring and mixing in to a single glass, a few pomegranate seeds quietly dropping in to the glass and a slice of lemon being added to the brim after which the entire mixed concoction (that with another flick of Dan’s wand burst in to flames momentarily, giving it an enflamed texture) began to float over to the paying customer.

Harry positioned himself closer to Cliff, leaning in as he attempted to listen in on what Davis was saying to Ginny. At first, amidst the noise of the music and the hundreds of people conversing, Harry thought it would be an impossible task to try and listen in, but a break in the song allowed him a very brief window.

‘I’ve just got to tell you again, you were marvelous yet again today,’ came the voice of Davis, a glass of his own clutched in his hand. ‘The main reason why we’ve got a shot in the Victor’s League. A fifth place finish should be good enough to gain us entry and now with you as Seeker and the team playing with a lot of confidence, I think we can really do some damage.’

‘Thanks Davis. I really couldn’t have done it without your persistence and help,’ replied Ginny. ‘You’ve been a big supporter of me the whole way. I just... I appreciate you believing in me, that’s all.’

‘Someone’s got to,’ answered Davis with a grin and a sip of his drink. ‘But let’s not rest on our laurels. We’ve got a lot of work to do to win us a World Championship. Sure, the League title would have been nice, but I truly think that the two of us –’ Harry gritted his teeth as he watched Davis put his hand over Ginny’s, ‘ – can accomplish anything.’

Harry watched as Ginny sat in silence, her hand slowly moving away uneasily back to her side. She looked downwards, taking a sip of her own small glass, pursing her lips as she did so.

‘I wonder if Harry is coming...’ she wondered aloud. ‘I told Kreacher to tell him, Ron and Hermione to come when they get in. Normally they are home by half past five.’

‘Can’t even come to your big celebration,’ joked Davis whilst shaking his head. ‘I don’t think he realizes how lucky he is, that boy.’ Ginny smiled.

‘He does. I feel quite lucky to be with him as well.’

‘Oh, Ginny,’ began Davis loudly after draining the last of his drink, ‘don’t let all the glitz, glam and fame blind you. There’s tons of girls who would love to be in your position just because of the allure his persona brings.’

‘That’s not true, Davis. Sure those things are appealing to the average girl, but I don’t think I’m an average girl. Or am I?’ joked Ginny.

‘You most certainly are not. But come on, think about it Gin – he never comes to see you after the games! Blimey, he can’t even bother to come to the party after the biggest game of your professional Quidditch life! You told me yourself you two don’t spend a lot of time together! You two live in the same bloody house!’

‘Yeah, I know,’ replied Ginny quietly. ‘He’s busy and –’

‘Too busy for his own girlfriend? If I was in his shoes, I most certainly would be spending every moment that I possibly could with you!’ Ginny grasped her forehead and began rubbing it as Davis talked.

‘Could... Could you excuse me for a moment? I’ve just got to use the loo.’

‘Of course, of course,’ answered Davis exasperatingly, his free hand motioning to the washroom behind the bar.

Harry watched as Ginny strode off in the direction of the washrooms, Davis ordering another drink once she disappeared from view. Harry was fuming. He had not felt this much rage at one person in a long time and even though he knew Davis had some points, he found it unbelievable that he could so conveniently forget about all the time that Quidditch had taken up in Ginny’s own life. His legs were tingling in their seat. Finally, Harry could not help but get up, his eyes fixated on the back of Davis’ head as the music started up again.

‘Hey there,’ greeted Harry stiffly, taking the seat that Ginny had previously sat in.

‘Oi! Well, look who made it? How are you Harry? Can I buy you a drink,’ asked Davis who seemed genuinely surprised that Harry was sitting in front of him.

‘I’m fine.’

‘Oh come one, you’ve got to have something when you come to the The Blubbering Bastion! It’s on me!’ Davis motioned for the bartender but before he could relate what Harry’s drink of choice would be, Harry interrupted.

‘I’m not here to drink anything, Davis. I’m here to ask you why you think you have the authority to stick your nose in business that you should have no concern of.’

Harry was not even thinking of what he was going to say, it was all coming out naturally. He watched as Davis raised his eyebrows, looked around him and then smiled his perfect smile, leaning in closer to Harry than what he had been before.

‘If I have come across as... as... standoffish in the past, then I do apologize for that but –’

‘Enough,’ interrupted Harry yet again. ‘I know what you’ve said, so don’t try and hide anything. Be plain and answer my question.’

Davis’ mouth opened slightly, his lip curling after he took a large swig of his drink, all the while never looking away from Harry. Something happened in his face after he had gulped down his drink; it was as if he had shed his artificial mask, a slightly sneering face replacing his usual good-natured one.

‘Well Harry, if we are going to lay our cards out on the table... I believe that I’m a better fit for Ginny than you are. There. Is that plain enough for you?’ For some reason, Harry was not at all taken aback by Davis’ forth-righteousness. He leaned in closer, his entire body tingling.

‘Well, you’re not. But I’m curious, what makes your tiny brain think such a thing?’

‘Because I show that I care about her! And she cares about me! And I don’t like the fact that you of all people get such a good wrap from the entire world when at heart, you’re nothing more than a talentless, overrated, never-was!’

‘Buying her expensive things, sending her love letters and devoting all of your time to her when it’s your job to be around her is not caring for her you idiot,’ replied Harry who spoke calmly, yet forcefully. ‘Regardless, you’re judging us on the material and the external – things that don’t matter!’

‘External reflects internal,’ stated Davis simply.

‘Being an Auror and a Quidditch player is tough – it doesn’t mean we don’t love each other and... I don’t even know why I’m explaining this to you. You’re not even worth it! You’re just jealous and upset that a great girl like Ginny is with me while you’re all alone! So stop trying to get her to like you when she’s with someone else! Doing so when you know she is taken is really low, mate. If you had any bit of class you’d –’

‘How come you never brought this to my attention sooner, Harry?’ interrupted Davis firmly. ‘You obviously are quite adamant in your beliefs. What’s with the delay? You’ve known me for... six, seven, eight months now!’ Harry exhaled, wanting nothing more now than to walk away from Davis in his boiled over frustration.

‘Because Ginny asked me to trust her – which I do – but it’s clear that I was right about you. She didn’t want to disturb your relationship with her.’

‘Aha! You see? Already she puts such a high value on our relationship to the point where she asks you to curb your concerns!’

‘No, it’s not like that at all, Davis. She was asking me to trust –’

‘Truth of the matter is, Harry... deep down inside... Ginny wants to be with me rather than you. And she’s slowly realizing that. She tells me how you’re never around and how you hide things from her that you only talk about with your friends! All those times that she overhears the three of you whispering, wondering why she’s not included in her own boyfriends’ life! One day she’ll realize all of this that I’m telling her – how she deserves so much better. Then she’ll leave you and come to me... ask me to hold her... and snog her too... From what she’s told me about your constant absence, she needs a good snogging... I’m sure I could fit the bill...’

Harry instantly felt for his wand, taking it out of his pocket and pointing it at Davis from beneath his seat. Davis seemed to have noticed this, looking underneath as Harry, seething, breathed heavier and quicker.

‘Wh-What are you going to do?!’ asked Davis with a laugh. ‘That’ll look good! I could see the headline now – Auror goes nuts, put away in Azkaban for good! You could kiss your beloved career goodbye, Harry. Come on, have it then! Are you going to jinx me?’

‘No...’

‘No?’

‘I’m going to do this...’

Without thinking about it twice, Harry clenched his fist and dove at Davis, punching him as hard as he could. His fist came in to contact with Davis’ cheek so hard that Harry thought he broke more than one knuckle. He came tumbling down on top of Davis who fell to the ground hard, blood instantly running down from his nose. A few witches and wizards close by exclaimed for help as a small group gathered around the fallen Davis, Harry getting to his feet off of his crouched position, panting hard. He thought heard someone say his name but his overwhelming anger was disallowing his senses from properly functioning for a few moments. Soon, many took notice of the incident, stopping their dancing and coming over to see what had happened.

‘Ow! You’ll pay for that Potter!’

‘Come on then! Get up!’

Davis struggled to get to his feet, ultimately falling back down. Harry’s punch had disoriented Davis, the drinks that he had consumed not helping in his attempt. He fell back down, knocking over a small side table and the drinks on top of it. A few younger wizards laughed at Davis’ attempts, Harry surprisingly hearing the voices of Seamus Finnigan and Dean Thomas.

‘Nice one Harry!’

‘He got ‘em good, didn’t he?’

Harry nodded absent-mindedly as he turned, slightly regretting his rash action now that he had done it.

‘That is Harry Potter!’ Harry heard a girl whisper to her friend as he turned to leave.

‘Really? Why’d he do that for?’

‘Must have been something bad for Harry to do that! He’s a hero! Too good to be true!’

‘That other boy must have really deserved it.’

‘Maybe he insulted me and Harry didn’t like that!’

‘Oh stop, you priss!’

‘Harry?!’ came a familiar voice, turning Harry around. Ginny was looking at the fallen down Davis who just now had got to his feet.

‘Ginny, I can explain it all...’

Ginny struggled for words as she stood within a few feet of Harry. The slowly dispersing crowd stopped in their leave of the situation, taking renewed interest in what was in front of them.

‘Y-You mean... You mean you did... that,’ she pointed at Davis who was rubbing his cheek in pain.

Harry nodded but any further explanation was interrupted by a wave of bright flashing lights and the emergence of a group of voices. A higher pitched voice overrode all the others.

‘Make way! Make way, please! Clean Skeet personnel on the move!’ came the sound of Rita Skeeter’s voice.

‘Why?’ asked Ginny exasperated, evidently having no idea as to what had gone on while she had been in the loo. Harry realized he was sweating slightly.

‘Because of Davis!’ he replied. ‘I was right all along, Gin. He hates me and he hates that we’re together. He’s been trying to steal you away from me for months!’

‘He... He said that?’

‘Yeah! Told me right to my face!’

Ginny turned and shot a look at Davis that made him look as if he had an unsuspected bowel movement.

‘Look Ginny, I can explain –’

Before Davis could utter another word, Ginny walked over and slapped Davis in the cheek so loudly that everyone in the vicinity let out a gasp. She paced back to Harry, calling over her shoulder.

‘Already got one explanation on the go Davis – can’t take another one! So you –’

‘Punched him? Yeah.’

‘And you’re proud of that, are you?’

‘Yeah. Well er, I mean, no. I’m not. But he asked for it, Ginny! I was right about him all along!’

‘That doesn’t matter Harry!’ Ginny said, stomping her foot in frustration. ‘I asked you to trust me! And you haven’t!’

‘Wh-What are you talking about Gin,’ replied Harry, shielding his face as another flash of a camera in the distance took a picture. Harry looked over his shoulder to see that Rita Skeeter had entered the club. ‘I trust you!’

‘No you most certainly don’t! Don’t act like you don’t know Harry James Potter! I saw you that day after my Quidditch match! You were underneath that... well... you were there, weren’t you! I saw your face slip out by the door. You were spying on me! ME! Your own girlfriend! What kind of trusting relationship is that?!’

‘Look, I’m sorry but I was worried about Davis!’

‘FORGET DAVIS, HARRY! This is about me and you! Remember that day that I asked you why you were going to Hogwarts and you told me it was to visit Hagrid? Hermione let it slip accidentally that it was actually to use McGonagall’s pensieve! You lied to me! I wonder what else you’ve lied to me about this year?! And why you needed a pensieve – another lie! Or at least something you are choosing not to tell me! You’ve been in my room back home too, haven’t you? Going through my mail on my desk! I found the unopened letters in the trash. It was you, wasn’t it?’ Harry remembered knocking her letters by accident in to the trash bin and not putting them back on her desk. His frustration with Ginny quickly outweighed thoughts on this particular guilt.

‘Yeah, so what if it was? Why’s he sending you letters anyway? You think I’m just going to let some coach try to steal you away from me while I sit here and do nothing?’

‘They were just letters of encouragement, nothing more. You can actually trust me – I’m not going to lie to you. You really think he’d steal you away from me?’

‘No. Well, up until the day I spied on you two after the Quidditch match that is. You said to Davis... DAVIS of all people, that you weren’t happy! That there’s something wrong! You can’t even tell ME those things. How do you think it makes me feel when I hear that you have your own little relationship with this guy that is MORE IMPORTANT THAN OUR OWN! You’ve got no understanding how I might feel when I see him treating you the way he does! My feelings never seem to come in to account!’

‘And how do you think it makes ME feel,’ retorted Ginny angrily, her cheeks flush, ‘when I overhear you, Ron and Hermione talking and instantly go quiet when I enter the room?! I’m all for you having your own relationship with your friends, but how come I’m ALWAYS the one to be left out?! You really must not trust me one bit! Or maybe you just don’t love me as much as I thought you did... All I know is that I want to be a part of your life and you CONSTANTLY shut me out! WITH EVERYTHING! YOU HIDE EVERYTHING FROM ME AND I’M TIRED OF IT!’

‘Well maybe I’m tired of it too!’ Harry felt his throat swell as he saw Ginny’s face contort in to one of rage. A few tears were beginning to fall down her face now which caused Harry’s own response to fall flat. He wanted nothing more than to reach out and bring her close to him, but his anger with her, Davis and of the entire situation was too much for him to extend the olive branch.

‘FINE!’ yelled Ginny after a moment. Everyone around Harry and Ginny had gone silent.

‘Fine!’ answered Harry stiffly.

‘Fine...’

No one in the immediate area uttered a word. Harry examined Ginny, her chest rising and falling as she wiped the corners of her eyes. She tore her stare away from Harry. Harry could hear Rita Skeeter’s Quick Quotes Quill feverishly scribbling on her notepad, the distant laugh of Davis interrupting the relative silence.

‘See! I told you Ginny! Harry’s nothing but ignorant! You deserve so much better than him!’

Harry watched as all in one motion, Ginny retrieved her wand out of her pocket, turned and hit Davis in the face with her own Bat-Bogey-Hex. The hex connected with Davis’ face, knocking him off balance. The crowd began laughing as Davis immediately began emitting giant, greenish bogeys out of his nostrils, Ginny turning and striding out of the pub without turning to look back. Harry glanced sideways as she walked right past him without a look or a word.

‘My that was... engaging...’ came the voice of Rita Skeeter in Harry’s ear, making him turn to face her as he watched Ginny disappear in to the crowd of Primpernelle Square. ‘Can I get a quote or two on it? Perhaps we can arrange a little sit-down where you can give your exclusive insight and retell what is sure to be the best-selling journey of how you defeated You-Know-Who?’

Harry shook his head and walked off before Rita even finished. He kicked open the door of The Blubbering Bastion and entered the warm night, the sound of growing laughter falling away into nothingness as Harry lost himself in his own thoughts.


****


The living room of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place featured two distinct absences the very next night. One was that the only sound that could be heard was the seconds of the clock ticking away which was abnormal due to the usual spirited conversation that encompassed that very room on such a Saturday night. The second was that Ginny was nowhere to be found; she had not returned to Grimmauld Place the night before nor did she arrive the next morning either. Ron had paid a visit to the Burrow earlier that afternoon and had discovered that Ginny was staying there and had no intention of returning.

‘Her and Mum had a row about it too,’ Ron had said when he had arrived back at Grimmauld Place before dinner. ‘It was bad. Mum told her she needs to talk it out with you and that she’s being childish, but she’s not listening to that apparently. Stubborn girl.’

‘Why don’t you go see her, Harry,’ asked Hermione. ‘I’m sure the two of you could work it out.’

‘If she doesn’t want to see me then I’m not about to go over to see her. Plain and simple,’ replied Harry who had not gotten a good night’s sleep the night before.

Harry was watching the clock tick away. Hermione was over by the piano and Ron was lying on the floor, his arms behind his head.

‘I could always go to Hagrid’s for a visit,’ Harry thought to himself. He did not want to be sitting in on his Saturday night with nothing to do. Ron seemed to echo Harry’s sentiment.

‘George is out on a date tonight as is Percy. Bill, Fleur and Victoire are at Mum and Dad’s with Fleur’s parents... don’t expect you’d like to attend that mash-up.’

‘Not particularly,’ answered Harry glumly. ‘Is it wrong to say that I wish it wasn’t my Saturday off?’

‘Extremely,’ added Ron. ‘Well, not unless we could investigate Umbridge while we’re at work. That would make it alright.’

‘Would you stop, you two!’ interjected Hermione.

‘What?!’ Hermione made her way over to the couch from the piano.

‘This is ridiculous. Harry – just go and visit her! You’ll both be thankful that you did when you get this all sorted out!’

‘Would you stop it Hermione?’ said Ron, reverting back to a crouching position. ‘She’s mad out of line, Ginny is. Harry was right about that Davis bloke all along! He’s got every right to be protective and to want to find out what he’s doing! It wasn’t like Ginny was listening to Harry’s concerns.’ Though the last part was not entirely true, Harry appreciated his friend standing up for him.

‘Right, but Ginny’s got a point too, Ron!’ fired back Hermione. ‘Ginny’s a major part of Harry’s life and in turn... of our life. Harry needs to trust her unconditionally.’

‘So you don’t think I do either?’ shot Harry.

‘No, I do. But... let’s be honest now... Ginny’s not completely wrong either. Snooping around and following her was not the wisest thing to do, Harry.’

Though he knew she was right, he was not ready to admit his wrongs, his fight with Ginny still so fresh in his mind.

‘Bloody right it was! If some bloke was trying to get with you like Davis was, you’d better believe I’d be right there!’

‘I can take care of myself thanks. I realize what you’re saying Ronald – and for what it’s worth, I don’t blame you Harry – but you’re not looking at the big picture and the context that Harry and Ginny are in. There are some more important things underneath the surface rather than just Davis.’

‘Listen Hermione... you’ve got to be barking if –’

‘Alright I think that’s enough you two,’ cut-off Harry. ‘All this talk is making you two upset and I’m not going to listen to the pair of you bicker about me all night, so just... cool out. Alright?’ Both Ron and Hermione nodded, not looking at each other as they resumed their comfortable positions.

About half an hour passed without any conversation. Harry saw Kreacher in the kitchen through the crack of the door as he tried to clean the uppermost corner between the ceiling and the cupboard, falling down as he stretched his little bony arm outwards towards the cobweb and knocking down his self-made ladder as he fell. Harry was beginning to drift off in to sleep when a noise from the drawing room woke him up.

‘Did you hear that?’ he asked Ron and Hermione who both nodded.

Sure enough, after a moment or two, footsteps could be heard from the drawing room. The distant door creaked open ominously, slow footsteps growing louder.

‘Whose there?’ called Harry as he stood up.

The door of the kitchen opened slowly, Aberforth walking in to the living room to the surprise of the trio.

‘Aberforth! What are you doing here?’

The brother of Albus Dumbledore did not sit, instead electing to stand by the fireplace so that Harry, Ron and Hermione could see him plainly. Instantly, Kreacher happily walked in to the living room with a tray of treats, though no one seemed to notice its presence.

‘If we are to enact our plan to break in to Azkaban prison, we must do it immediately. As soon as possible.’

‘A-Alright. Sure. But why? What’s happened?’ asked Harry confused, eyeing Hermione for any answers.

‘Nicolas Flamel has been sentenced to the Dementor’s Kiss. Yes, Rufus Fudge has brought back the Dementors for what he believes is a case of the “utmost importance in order to weed out those who are undesirable to our great community.” We have to act now. We have no other choice in the matter. Are you three ready?’

‘Doesn’t seem like we have much of a choice, does it?’ answered Ron.

All of Harry’s frustration was put to the back of his mind. As he looked in to Aberforth’s grey eyes, he realized what exactly was at hand. The thought of the Dementors, of Azkaban and of Flamel filled his thoughts as he slowly massaged his right hand, his knuckles paining him at the slightest touch. The time had come. It was time to act.


Chapter 25: A Perilous Plan
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Silently, stilly, Harry lie awake in his bed, the first few rays of sunshine penetrating through his bedroom’s curtained window. He had been awoken in the middle of the night by the same extraordinarily vivid vision; the usual brightness of the white room and the personnel inside of it were constant. Albus Dumbledore and Lord Voldemort stood apart, looking directly at him. He awoke in a cold sweat, having truly believed that he actually was standing beside both Dumbledore and Voldemort; the visions had grown to be extraordinarily real over the past few months. These visions had occurred ever since Voldemort’s downfall, slowing in frequency but rising in vivid impact over time. In fact, he could barely remember the last time he had such a vision, but unwelcomed its irritating, frustrating and painful presence all the same. Harry felt helpless. It was as if even in death, Voldemort would not let Harry be. All Harry could do was wonder why these visions were still ongoing, his head and scar bursting with pain whenever they occurred.

‘Lumos,’ muttered Harry, his wand-tip igniting with light.

As he did every morning nowadays, Harry lay in his bed for hours, waiting for his friends to wake. Occasionally, he retrieved his Marauder’s map to pass the time, partaking in a few minutes of entertainment as he watched the little ink dot representing Professor Sprout possibly tending to her Venomous Tentacula in greenhouse three or Professor McGonagall in her office, perhaps enjoying a warm tea to begin her day. After a few minutes he would stuff the map away, taking out from beneath his bed the messages that they had been sent. The now much longer sheets would take up much of Harry’s time as he reread the messages and the riddles beneath it.

‘Flee to me, remote elf... Never odd or even... Some men interpret nine memos... what do these mean!’ thought Harry as he grabbed his hair and pulled on it hard as he tried to solve the riddles. On a separate piece of parchment, he had filled in all of the letters of the message that had been marked by the sender, revealing an apparent phrase that was indecipherable to him, Ron and even Hermione.


_O_G RE_AER_ E_ T RO_


It had been a long while since they were last sent a message from the mysterious communicator who had sent them the memories. With everything else going on, Harry considered the true meaning of the riddles and messages as a dead end. Not knowing if they had missed something in one of the messages or had missed a message itself altogether, Harry resigned himself to defeat on the subject, regretful that he had been unable to solve the mystery that possibly could have been of help in their quest to retrieve the Eye. He stuffed the pieces of parchment back under his bed, folding and cramming the last piece of parchment back in to the drawer of the night-side table.

‘Nox,’ muttered Harry, extinguishing his wand and rolling on to his side.

He thought of Malfoy and wondered if he was still alive. He wondered who in the world could have impersonated Hermione at the Holyhead match and why. Perhaps greatest of all, he asked himself the question of how he was going to reveal Mosteban as a Death Eater to the public based on his word alone. Even more important and worrisome was the fact that Mosteban was continually operating in conjunction with the Death Eaters with zero opposition at all, possibly getting closer to his end goals with every passing day. Now that Harry had thought about it, perhaps Fudge himself was catching on to Mosteban’s dual identity, remembering the confrontation between Fudge and Mosteban that he had witnessed earlier that year.

It was only a few days since Aberforth’s abrupt arrival in Number Twelve Grimmauld Place. Though their meeting was short, Harry had tremendous and unquestioned confidence in Aberforth to guide them through the wizarding prison in search of Nicolas Flamel. Aberforth had not revealed much of the prison, only advising them that if they all stayed close to him and did exactly as he instructed, with a little luck, they would get through. One thing that bothered and by his own admission worried Harry was Aberforth’s brief detailing of the prison’s infrastructure itself. It was stories tall with a range of dark, protective enchantments and hexes that continuously changed to prohibit any prisoners from finding a pattern. However, Aberforth’s greatest worry was the high-level of security. Even though Harry needed no further analysis on Azkaban’s well documented defense, as Aberforth instructed, it was amongst the greatest in the entire magical world. Harry remembered seeing Ron gulp as Aberforth said this, looking from Hermione to Harry as if he was about to be sick.

‘I can’t find any other historical example detailing a complete break-in to Azkaban,’ said Hermione the next morning, a stack of thick, old and tattered looking textbooks littered across the kitchen’s oak table as she furiously flipped the pages of one such book. ‘It doesn’t seem – ooh! Oh... never mind...’

‘What is it?’ asked an interested Ron.

‘Well, I did find one...’ continued Hermione slowly. ‘Barnabus Willcombe. He er...’

‘What?!’ pressed Harry.

‘Well... he was actually caught by the Dementors...’

‘That’s not half bad. Well... as bad goes in Azkaban prison. At least he could have expected that, couldn’t he?’ Hermione rose her hand to stop Ron’s relief.

‘After he had been drowned, stunned, beaten, broken his leg and all of his ribs, tortured by the Cruciactus Curse... oh and nearly decapitated.’

‘Lovely,’ added Harry brightly, knifing his egg with a bit more force than usual. Ron did not say another word throughout the remainder of the breakfast.

It took a few days, but once they had passed, Harry began missing Ginny as if she had been out of his life for years. He requested as much physical practice in the Auror Department’s Simulation Room as possible to the point where Williamson began questioning Harry’s grounds. There was something about using his wand and practicing his non-verbal magic that proved to be good therapy for Harry’s state of mind. It