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Minutes Of A War by _Leo_

Format: Novel
Chapters: 17
Word Count: 85,136
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Mild Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Horror/Dark, Action/Adventure, Angst
Characters: Lupin, Tonks, Arthur, Bill, Charlie, Molly, Percy, Fleur, Fred, George
Pairings: Arthur/Molly, Bill/Fleur, Remus/Tonks, Other Pairing

First Published: 11/11/2011
Last Chapter: 12/24/2014
Last Updated: 12/24/2014

Summary:
Magnificent banner by PhoenixAlthor @ tda
Golden Paw Awards 2012 - Best War story






From the instant Kingsley's Patronus interrupted Bill and Fleur's wedding to the moment an Expelliarmus spell ended the life of the darkest wizard of all time.

- As told from the point of view of members of the Order of the Phoenix, the DA, and others -


Chapter 1: Wedding Interrupted
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A/N: I know, yet another story. The other ones will still be updated, I’ve been writing up a storm lately. I hope I haven’t jinxed it now :P
Anyway, enjoy and please let me know what you think. This is what I think happened to the rest of the Order, the Weasleys, and even the Dursleys.

Disclaimer: Joanne K. Rowling is the genius behind Harry Potter, I’m only exploring another angle of her story. I’ll try to work with the canon facts we’re given, though some things are open to interpretation.





Fleur was soaking up the moment with every fibre of her being. The past month alone had shown her how easily things could change. It had been a month that Albus Dumbledore had died, when she’d almost lost Bill … Shuddering, she pulled her mind away from that particular train of thought. That was definitely not something she wanted to dwell on on her wedding day.

“You okay, love?” Bill asked as he pulled her closer, not interrupting their rounds on the dance floor.

Fleur looked up, the scars that now marred his beloved strong face paling next to the emotions she could see in his blue eyes. His arms gave her a feeling of security like nothing else could; and positive he wouldn’t let go, Fleur leaned back even further and smiled lovingly up at him. “I am. Je t’aime, tu sais? You know I love you, don’t you?” True to her promise, she tried to express herself in the - in her opinion - harsher-sounding English tongue. Fleur leaned in closer again, enjoying the sensation of being swept away.

“I love you too.” She heard his voice, his breath tickling her hair. She could clearly hear it, soft yet intense over the for once light and happy chatter in the tent. Laughter rang through the enclosed space, glasses were clinked against others, blurs of colour danced by her. It all was set off by the romantic tones of music the band in the golden jackets – the clothing was definitely not her choice, but she did not want to argue about that on her perfect day. Not even the sharp voice of Bill’s Great-Aunt Muriel, who was talking rather animatedly with Elphias Doge and oh, was that the poly-juiced Harry? – could take away her happiness. A silver gleams caught her eye, and one after one, the couples on the dance floor stopped, following its process.


‘The Ministry has fallen. Scrimgeour is dead.’


Kingsley’s voice reverberated around the tent, announcing the unthinkable. ’They are coming.‘


Every eye was drawn to the spot where the silver lynx had disintegrated into thin air, the silence spreading like an ominous presence. A single scream cut through the unreality of it all. This first sign of horror served as a trigger for everyone else, the members of the Order of Phoenix jerked themselves out of their horrified stupor, looking around for anyone to take charge. The obvious choice would have been Mad-Eye, after Dumbledore’s death. But the grizzly Auror had lost his life over Little Whinging, and no body had been recovered yet. A loud pop had them all launching for their wands, getting ready to counter spells sent by Death Eaters.

But the only things they could see were panicking wedding guests who were getting ready to apparate. Bill had seized his wife’s hand and was rushing over to where his parents stood, with their wands drawn. Molly was searching the crowd for her children, nodding at Bill, before jerking to another flash of red as Ginny pushed through the chaos.

“Where are they? Where’s Ron?” Molly knew immediately her daughter wasn’t only asking for Ron, but didn’t dare speak Harry’s name out loud.

Her eyes swept around again, willing for the trio to appear in her field of vision. They might not even there anymore, they’d gone to execute whatever they’d been planning all summer, and what she’d tried to avert. Time seemed to slow down painfully, when masked and cloaked figures started appearing amongst them.

She pulled Ginny next to her, and sought her husband’s eyes as he gasped, “The wards are down!”

This was met with several shouts and outbursts. Molly and Ginny were intent on getting closer to Arthur, and then Remus and Tonks were in her line of vision, wands raised, as they shouted protective spells and blocked several of the spells that where all of a sudden whizzing over people’s heads. Protego was echoed all around the tent.

And then, her breath caught in her throat. The lilac dress she had fussed over hours before when she had made sure Ginny and Hermione were ready had caught her eye; and of course there was that curly red hair Harry had for the day. Torn between relief and sorrow as to where they were headed, she saw another tall red-head, how Hermione stretched out her hand for him – and then they were gone.

“No.” Molly breathed. She felt Ginny, who could not have seen it or she surely would have run for the spot the other three had vanished, tug her in the opposite direction, and found herself next to her husband before she knew it. Her twins just popped up too, and it was all she could do from hugging each of her children close to her. They were all there – except for Ron and Percy.
“Ron’s gone, the other two too,” she stated quietly, surprised how neural her voice sounded.

“I’m sure the Death Eaters will come here soon. But they can’t do anything as long as they don’t find the Boy-Who-Lived with us. It’s good they’re gone for now,” Arthur replied between clenched teeth. Molly would have been of the same opinion, if only she could believe that is was their intention to come back.

“Put down your wands, and nothing will happen! We’re here on the Ministry’s order to look for known usurpers! Make no mistake!” A cold, cruel voice commanded.

Molly watched, her hand wound tightly around her raised wand. Hearing Arthur take a deep breath, she then heard him speak in a forcibly-measured voice, “On what grounds? I am not opposing the Ministry, but I want to know why my wards have been taken down without prior notice.”

“Harry Potter is wanted for questioning on the death of Albus Dumbledore. It was brought to our attention that he stayed here before.”

“So the Ministry’s really fallen …” Bill’s almost inaudible whisper met her ears when he lowered his wand.

“There’s too many,” Remus Lupin said over them, yet softly enough not to be heard by their new ‘guests’. And if they have the Ministry behind them, there’ll be more.”

“Put your wands down, or you will be arrested for obstruction of the course of justice.” One of them, seemingly their leader, stepped forward with an air of importance. It was the same man who had spoken before.

“I’ll show you obstruction!” Fred replied hotly.

“Silence!” thundered the other man, about to attack. Then, he seemed to reconsider, straightened up and lowered the hood of his cloak with a haughty gesture. “I am Dolohov, and you are suspected to harbour Harry Potter under your roof. You are to surrender him. By order of the Ministry of Magic.” He leered as he spoke the last words, relishing them.

Molly had gone pale, as she was sure everyone else had. Arthur’s fingers were clenched tightly around his wand, his body taut. That was all she could currently see from him, as he stood between them and the Death Eaters. Charlie, Fred and George were moving to retaliate. Tonks and Fleur seemed to be of the same mind, and many Order members had an angry spark in their eyes.

“Times are changing, Weasley. You will soon see the rights you have. Hand over Potter, and we’ll leave you be. For now.”

Molly was sure spells and curses would fly any moment now. A few steps from her, movement caught her frantic eyes, and she saw Remus shake himself from his rigid stance. He hadn’t moved from his spot, but spoke in a flat, measured voice, “We do not want cause trouble. You won’t find Harry Potter here. This is a harmless family gathering, nothing more.”

Dolohov gave him a condescending, hateful look. “How thick do you think I am, Lupin? He has clearly ties to you. But as you wish, we will search this property and you will answer our questions. Anyone – man, woman or child – found to be in cohorts with Potter, will deeply regret it. – And as for you, half-breed, I am sure this is not the last time we’ve met.”

He shouted orders to his men, who proceeded to split up; some entering the house while the rest narrowed the circle around them. Suppressing the boiling anger she felt inside herself, Molly helped Arthur calm her boys down, forced to watch those Death Eaters turn her home upside down. “Now is not the time to retaliate,” Arthur was conjuring them, his face stony. This expression was mirrored on all of their faces when they endured the often callous and downright impertinent questions.




Patronus message from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pg. 133 “The Wedding”


Chapter 2: Innocence Lost
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Disclaimer: Nothing you recognise is mine!

So here's chapter two :) Enjoy, and let me know what you thought about it. Please?




Nymphadora Tonks was at a loss. Everything seemed to fall apart. She’d lost her cousin who she had just come to get to know, and last June they’d lost Dumbledore. Then Mad-Eye, and now the Minister and the Ministry. Nobody seemed to know what to do.

They were still at the Burrow, or rather on the slope in front of it, in the tent that had been erected to shelter the wedding guests of Bill and Fleur. After hearing Kingsley’s message, lots of the guests had left in panic, or at least those who got away in the split second they’d had. She could still see Avery’s leering expression as he had questioned her about the whereabouts of Harry Potter, or the Undesirable Number One as he’d been christened. They’d basked in it, she knew it. None of them had been outright accused of anything, but if the Death Eaters didn’t suspect where the Weasleys’ and their few remaining guests loyalty lay they deserved to be quartered and hung. And where was her husband? She worried about him, so much. He’d been so moody lately, one should think he was the one expecting a baby.

“They’re gone,” Arthur announced in a flat voice as he stepped out of the door. He’d gone to check the house for stragglers or spying devices.

“Constant vigilance, Arthur,” Tonks tried to joke in a weak voice.

He grimaced at her, then turned to Molly, who hovering expectantly at his side. “I’ll send them a message to stay where they are, for now. The house seems safe, but I bet my collection of plugs they keep tabs on us from now on.”

Tonks immediately understood who ‘they’ were. As Arthur’s silver weasel patronus streaked out of his wand and vanished just before it reached the newly-cast boundaries, the light illuminated Remus's serious face as he stepped out of the house too. She immediately stepped next to him and took his hand. She thought he stiffened for the briefest second, but she must have been mistaken. For she always felt safer next to him.

It was then that she caught sight of another patronus, this one quite familiar to her. Andromeda Tonks’s eagle patronus sailed effortlessly through the protective wards, landing at her feet. We got home safely. Wards down as well. Bellatrix called to ‘question’ us. We are okay. Received summons to appear before the Muggleborn Registration Committee.

She stared, uncomprehendingly, at the spot her mother’s patronus had been. It was terribly predictable that Bellatrix wouldn’t let the opportunity slip by her to take a shot at her disowned sister, and Tonks was sure there was more to that visit than mere questioning. If the ‘Ministry officials’ at the Burrow had been rude and spiteful, then what would Bellatrix have been like?

“What’s the Muggleborn Registration Commission?” The voice of her old classmate Charlie brought her out of her stupor, and she focused back on the present.

“Beast and Beings Commission for Muggleborns, I should say,” Remus guessed flatly, pent-up frustration and bitterness coming off him in waves. “They sure don’t waste time remodelling the Ministry.”

Arthur nodded, deep creases on his fore-head. “And I fear it’s not the last change.”

Nymphadora couldn’t think about that now. “Do you think it’s safe visiting my parents now?” she asked her husband in small voice.

He started a bit, and took a few seconds to think about it. “It’s likely they’re watching the houses they searched. Even though, no one can say anything against you visiting your parents. Let’s attempt it.”

Nymphadora nodded gratefully. Charlie offered to accompany them, which they declined. After promising to sent word and a quick discussion with the working adults whether it made sense to even go to work, Remus and Tonks left the Burrow, a last steeling look passing between them before they apparated.

*

The wedding had been yesterday. Only 24 hours ago, everything seemed tough, but still they had managed. Now, nothing seemed safe anymore. Nymphadora would go back to work today, see if there even still was work for her anymore. Her parents had been visibly shaken yesterday, but seemed alright on the whole, and when they had come back home afterwards, they found their own wards collapsed and someone had clearly been there.

“I’m leaving, sweetheart.” She tried to sound as cheerful as possible as she hugged Remus tightly from behind. He was still sitting at the breakfast table.

Instead of offering her his lips for a kiss goodbye, he grasped her arm and looked her intently in the eye. “You don’t have to go. Not in your condition. Call in sick.”

“We’ve been over this. Several times, Remus. I’ll be fine, and it’ll be evening before you know it.” She wasn’t so sure herself, but the last thing she wanted was to increase the worry that was clearly evident on his face.

She’d found out some days ago that she was expecting a child, but it was still early on. They had intended to share the news once the wedding was over, so as not to spoil Bill and Fleur’s big day. Tonks had felt over the moon about it, and hadn’t been able to keep the smile off her face. She thought Remus might still be in shock because he had been strangely absent-minded over the last days, but she took his words as a sign that he cared. But as long as she could, she would do her best to thwart those Death Eaters.

She hugged her husband once more, breathing in his familiar scent before hurrying outside, before she could give in to the urge to just stick her head in the sand, and stay with him. But that would never do, they needed to know what was going on.



When Nymphadora entered the Atrium, the usually bustling place seemed strangely subdued. No chattering ambitious hopefuls, no busy-looking employees. Instead, a strange air of apprehension. The way to the lift seemed to take ages, and the knots in her belly tightened. Her Auror instincts told her to turn around on the spot, and when the lift came to a halt in front of her, she knew why. Travers. Travers the Death Eater in the middle of the lift, as if he belonged there. Her fingers were itching for her wand, but then she caught sight of Kingsley who was in the lift as welll, giving her the briefest signal with his eyes. She braced herself and got in, trying to not let it show how wound up she was.

She got out on Level Two, heading for the Auror Department. She felt like there were a thousand eyes on her, and many faces were unfamiliar to her. Hammering noises could be heard from Magical Law Enforcement, and boxes were carried in and out. When she entered her department, it was a lot less busy than usual. Some cubicles seemed to have been deserted in a hurry, others were completely cleaned out.

“What’s going on?” she mouthed to her neighbour as she slid into her chair.

“Tonks!” David Romney gasped, albeit not too loudly. “It’s bad, and no one knows what to expect. – You are a half-blood, right?”

Tonks was surprised by the question, as Romney had never stricken her as prejudiced. Seeing Gavain Robards, Scrimgeour’s successor as Head Auror and apparently still in that function if his badge was any indication, she wandered over to him to report back.

“Auror Tonks! Back already? I suppose you haven’t done the evaluation then?”

She only shook her head. What ‘evaluation’?

She was directed towards one of the conference rooms. There wasn’t the usual rows of chairs with the Podium up front like for their briefings, but only a grand desk with a hard-backed chair in front of it. One eyebrow rose as she likened it to the courtrooms down on Level Ten.

Seconds later, the door opened and Albert Runcorn, one of the more extremist members of the Wizengamot, entered. He beckoned for her to sit down, and pretentiously took a seat behind the desk, shuffling his papers.

“Nymphadora Tonks, is that right?”

Tonks nodded and wanted to add more, but he didn’t let her speak.

“Ancestry?”

Now both eyebrows shot up at the sharp tone. But she kept quiet about it and answered, “My father is Ted Tonks, my mother Andromeda Tonks.”

“Née Black?” he enquired further, looking down at his file. At her confirmation, he concluded, “A half-blood then. That wouldn’t be too bad, if one’s conduct was acceptable. – Say, Auror Tonks, where does your loyalty lie?”

Careful now, she decided on saying, “My loyalties are with everyone who deserves them.”

“Like your husband?” His gaze was piercing now, calculating. “He is registered in the Beast Division, isn’t he?” She refrained from closing her eyes in agitation, as it would only betray her frustration. So it was official now, classification as Being was no longer an option. She should have expected it.

“I want to be honest, Nymphadora,” he leaned closer in an overly intimate fashion. “Your aunt hates you. But if you choose the right side, choose to renounce ties with your Mudblood father and that mutt of a husband, you’d be an asset for us. After all, you are quite talented. And he would hold his hand over you.”

It cost her all her will power to stay seated, her fingernails digging into her palms and her teeth gritting together. How dare he! Remus and her dad were the most honourable men she knew, and the same couldn’t be said of any of the Death Eaters or pureblood extremists, at least those she had met. And if that wasn’t enough, her dear aunt had tried to kill her more than once.

He’d left her alone, with a last “Think about it!” that barely penetrated the angry haze she was in.

She stayed seated for a couple more minutes, trying to calm her breathing as her mind went into overdrive. Going conform with what they wanted wasn’t an option, but she doubted she’d make it even to the Atrium if anyone suspected she was bailing.

“I’ll get through this,” she told herself under her breath, over and over.

Calmer, she went out to the main area again. Runcorn was talking to the Head Auror. She nodded at him, keeping her face carefully blank. She hoped he didn’t know Legilimency, otherwise he’d see the traitorous thoughts. As she sat down again in her cubicle, she swept her eyes around. Auror Fox was not there. Nor was Smithson. Dawlish sat diligently at his desk, scribbling away. Now that she had a better opportunity, she thought Robards eyes looked rather glossy. Imperius curse? Probably.

“Going to the loo,” she announced to no one in particular. She needed a break.

She took five minutes where she splashed her face with water, but had to return eventually. On her way back, she ran into Arthur Weasley.

He hailed her with a file, and she thankfully leaned over it as if reading the page. “They’ve questioned me. They want me to severe ties with my family.” She hissed, her temper still too close at the surface.

“They’re singling us out. Tonks, not here.” he cautioned her quietly. “How about a cup of tea with me and Molly tonight?”

Tonks knew that herself. Pull yourself together, she told herself. Drawing a deep breath, she straightened up again. “Seems legit to me, Mr. Weasley,” she said more loudly, indicating the file, and then turned away with a small affirmative nod in answer to his question and left.

It was one of the longest days she’d lived through yet, and she had to endure many a ‘visit’ from Albert Runcorn.

*
Nymphadora apparated to the front-step of Remus’s cottage – now hers as well, as she reminded herself. Because he was a registered werewolf, they weren’t allowed to put up anti-apparition wards and only the most basic of protective wards around the little house.

She hated it so much, the restrictions their so-called government put on people like him. She could understand if the likes of Greyback caused fear among the wizarding community, but why could they not see that had less to do with him being a werewolf, and everything with being malicious. She had prepared to go against the Ministry and fight for her husband’s right. Only in the current climate, that would be even more futile. And ironically not because of his lycanthropy as before, but because of his former connection to Dumbledore and the late James Potter.

She found him in the sitting room reading a book on the couch. Approaching from behind, she gave him a hug, and asked about his day when her greeting kiss didn’t land on his cheek as intended but into the air.

“Not much to do for me, is there?” She dismissed his waspish tone as cabin fever; they’d often enough seen it with Sirius. She supposed he was starting to feel equally as useless.

Nymphadora needed a change of topic, and started chatting about the only happy thing she could think of at the moment – the tiny being in her stomach. “I’m hoping to find out the gender. Usually, I’d just go to St. Mungo’s, have them find out … But with things as they are, it would probably spill over, and no one knows yet at the Ministry. – Do you want to eat? I have the strangest urge to cook something. Who knows, I might learn it yet, even though it’ll be nowhere as good as Molly’s.”

“Not hungry,” he said, extracting himself from her arms, then cleared his throat. “Sorry, I had tea earlier. Kingsley’s sent a message, he wants us to meet later.”

Before he disappeared through the door, Remus turned around briefly, “You shouldn’t have to do this,” and was gone.

Huh? Do what? Cooking? The baby? Nymphadora thought confusedly, before her thoughts turned back to her day. Surveillance was tight, and Arthur and her had been constantly on their toes. And we have to be, she thought, not many Order members left. They used the talking patronuses from time to time, only speaking on code. Although Dumbledore’s alteration of the spell seemed still only known to Order members, she didn’t trust Snape to have kept it quiet. Why should he? The questions chased each other in her head, and she only managed to grab an apple before Remus returned to remind her it was time for them to leave.

*

Tonks passed through the new protective charms of the Burrow, closely followed by Remus. Arthur was waiting for her, and completed some complicated wand movements.

“Sorry, I’ve altered the wards so one of the inhabitants has to put them down personally. Not exactly Ministry-approved, but I can put up with that risk. Elphias and Kingsley are already there.”

Tonks and Kingsley related what had transpired during the day at the Ministry. Kingsley was still shadowing the Prime Minister as assigned by Dumbledore and Scrimgeour, but how long until the new Ministry got wind of it, or acted on it? Minister Scrimgeour had personally authorised it, after the Ministry finally admitted to the truth. The alternative would have been to leave the Muggle Prime Minister unprotected, which could prove disastrous.

And how many of them were there still? With Dumbledore and Mad-Eye, the Order had lost their most powerful members, the leaders.

She could take it no longer and escaped to the sitting room. She thought she caught movement at the door, and called out wearily, “Come back in, I can’t blame you for wanting to know what’s going on.”

Hesitantly, Ginny’s figure appeared in the door, asking, “How did you know I was there?”

She hadn’t known it was Ginny, but that was all the same. “Secret of the Auror trade,” she said, a ghost of a smirk on her face.

Ginny watched her sceptically for a moment before shrugging it off and taking a seat next to Tonks on the couch.

“What’s going to happen to us, Tonks?” she asked, bluntly. Tonks had to admire the girl’s nerve. She wasn’t breaking, but addressed the matter head on.

Tonks shrugged helplessly.

Ginny pondered this for a bit, but when she lifted her head again, she had a fierce look in her eyes. “I hope wherever Harry is, he’ll manage what he set out to do.”

Tonks considered her. “You trust him that much?”

“You don’t?” Ginny replied. “Of course, I do”, she continued decisively. “Wouldn’t you trust Remus the same way? – And I’m not being naïve or young, Tonks. That’s long since over. I just know he’ll be back when it’s time to fight. And whatever he’s doing, I think it’s something Dumbledore told him to do.”

Tonks had no answer for that.


The discussion honed in on their current situation. The homes of known Order members and many of their safe-houses had been searched for the whereabouts of Harry Potter, the inhabitants just having gotten there in time after the hasty departure from the Burrow. After Kingsley, Tonks and Arthur had given their accounts about what had transpired that day in the Ministry – Kingsley related everything he knew about the newly-appointed Minister Pius Thicknese, and his suspicion about a well-placed Imperius - they brought up and dismissed several courses of action.

“There’s nothing for it. We can’t know what’s going to happen, and we’re not enough to take any effective action at the moment. As hard as it might be, we have to wait for a more suitable point of time.” Kingsley was breathing hard, as if he couldn’t believe what he was saying.

“Any news about Potter?” Elphias Doge questioned.

Several headshakes meet this, and Kingsley went on, “We believe he’s been given a mission by Dumbledore himself. Though why we can’t help is beyond me. – Remus, did he mention anything to you?”

The man addressed didn’t look up from where he was drumming his fingers on the table, but only shook his head.

“Then I move to conclude this meeting for now. We think communicating via our talking patronuses is still safe as it was Dumbledore’s twist of the spell. Although I cannot fathom why Snape hasn’t told about that yet, and they prevented it long ago. Finding the remaining members of the Order must be top-priority, I should assume. – We’ll try to come up with something else, and meetings only in high-emergencies. For now, we’re all on our own.”

The meeting broke up soon after, no one was in the mood to linger for much longer. Although they didn’t know when and if they would be together like this again.

“Reminds me too much of the first war,” Hestia Jones was saying to Remus as she vanished into the dark night ahead of them.

“Let’s go home,” Tonks whispered, taking his arm. They went to bed silently that night, making love with fervour as if it was their last time. And with things as they were, every day could very well be their last.

*

When Tonks opened her eyes some hours later, pale sunlight was streaming through the gap in the curtains. The bed beside her was vacant, and seemed to have been for some time, because the sheets had already grown cold.

Focusing her eyes, she saw the parchment on Remus’s pillow.

The words swam in front of her eyes, she tried to blink them away, willing for the words to change, trying to tell herself she had misread something.

How had she not seen it coming? She had taken his reclusiveness to be due to the fall of the Ministry, Dumbledore’s and Moody’s deaths. They had had a discussion, which involved the old argument about him being a werewolf and his fear the child would be affected too. Hadn’t they settled that matter, over and over again?

But here it was again, how he didn’t want to drag her down, and how sorry he was for giving his curse to an innocent child?

“You don’t know that,” she sobbed, as she rocked back and forth. “You don’t know that, you stubborn git. Please come back to me. Remus.”

Rationally, she knew he couldn’t hear her. She held the letter to her chest as the tears flowed freely.

Normally, she wouldn’t have rested until she found him, letting her pain and anger drive her. Yet if she knew anything about him, it was that he could make himself invisible if he wanted to. Just as he had written, “Go back to your parents. They’ll be delighted to have you back, and you are better off without me anyway. I won’t be coming back, but my thoughts’ll stay with you forever.

Always yours, Remus


“You idiot!” she croaked under tears. “But why then, would you just up and leave us?”

She went to work that day, keeping up pretences, but inside, she felt terribly vacant, just like the other side of the bed that morning.

*
Arthur, Molly, Bill and Fleur, Charlie, Fred, George and Ginny were in the Burrow’s kitchen, serious expressions marring their faces. In the midst of the table was Ginny’s and Ron’s Hogwarts letters, crumbled but then smoothed out again. Letters, signed by Minerva McGonagall, had arrived as usual at the end of July, containing the usual shopping lists and a reminder of the Hogwarts Express leaving on time. But there had been new ones. Signed by Alecto and Amycus Carrow, with the requirement to provide a documented family history.

At first, they had thrown them away, seriously contemplating keeping Ginny home. Arthur wasn’t going to send his only daughter into the Death Eaters’ hands. With the Death Eaters in control and without Dumbledore, he didn’t dare imagine what would become of Hogwarts.

It came as another blow when only hours after the dispatching of the letters came a ministerial decree that attendance would be mandatory. He had still been prepared to risk it.

Today, he’d come home, disillusioned once again.

“They’ve arrested Robert Gerard, one of the Unspeakables. For crimes against the true wizarding race. He attempted to leave the country with his son, that’s all he did. And they're pure-blood.” He was still in shock about it.

Fred, George and Charlie were loudly making suggestions how they could trick that new decree. Ginny had lowered her head while being hugged by Molly, who kept saying it wouldn’t come to that. Bill and Fleur were looking at each other, seemingly holding a conversation by looks only.

Arthur had known it would turn worse, but he’d never expected that kind of helplessness. He’d experienced Voldemort’s first rise to power, and even more closely the recent one. But it was whole new level now; with the Ministry officially backing his actions. If it hadn’t proved to be so disastrous for him personally, he’d have had to admire Voldemort’s move not to seize power personally but through his puppets, because this might have caused stronger resistance from those who could still pretend that the darkest wizard who had ever lived hadn’t taken over.

“Dad?” His baby girl’s voice got his attention, and he wished he could reassure her, as he always had.

“We have to think it through. Gin, I – I wish I could tell you you don’t have to go. Let’s not rush things. – Boys!” he boomed to nip his sons’ objections in the bud. “Don’t you think I feel the same? Do you think it’s easy for me keeping my head down? We can’t go rush things now. They’d massacre us, without a single thought. I – I need some space.”

Feeling incredibly inadequate, Arthur left the kitchen and headed for his shed. Once there, he brought his fist, which he hadn’t noticed he’d clenched until his fingernails dug into his palms, down hard on the table where he’d sat hours tinkering with Muggle appliances. What was he supposed to do? Who could tell them what to do? Order members were picked one by one, with no apparent explanation of how they had been discovered; protections were failing unless cast illegally – for it had been declared thus to cast wards without Ministry approval.

“Harry, Ron, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, I hope you, at least, know what you’re doing. And do it fast.” He had every confidence in his son and the boy he regarded as one of his own. Even though he didn’t have a clue what it was they were doing.


*

Kingsley hadn’t known he could function on so little sleep. He had returned to the Ministry, resuming his role as spy for the Order. Arthur and Tonks were still there too, although Tonks looked like she wasn’t there half of the time. This whole situation seemed to be taking a toll on her; or was there something more? Thinks weren’t looking good for them, though. In a few weeks, Hogwarts would open up again. There hadn’t been announcements to the contrary, no there was even talk that it would become mandatory. On top of his Ministry job, he shared the duty of guarding the Muggle Prime Minister with Hestia Jones and Dedalus Diggle now. Hestia was doing the day shifts, while he and Dedalus alternated at nights. He could only do it in heavy disguise, for it had been an official mission during the last year when the Ministry had worked in league with Dumbledore, but now with the new regime, he had had a hard time dispelling the suspicions and remaining inconspicuous as it was. He’d often had to bite his tongue. And it had only been a few weeks since the Death Eaters had come out into the open. Oh, Voldemort was clever, he thought. He didn’t come out straight away and alert everyone. His name was still feared enough by everyone who had lived through his first reign, which had come back full force. He remained an ominous presence this time, instilling fear through his minions, instead of provoking a full-out resistance.

“Curse you, Voldemort. Leave us in peace already,” he murmured under his breath as he rounded the corner to move into Downing Street. He stopped when he heard two plops, immediately suspecting the Muggle guard. But why would they shoot? At whom?

“Remember Mad-Eye,” he continued his quiet soliloquy, before tapping himself with his wand. He felt ripples go through his body as he became one with his surroundings.
But he’d been too slow, as he became aware when a sharp wand cut in his side.

“And who might you be?” A voice poured next to his ear. He kept his position, only let his eyes wander. When he couldn’t see anything but a few ripples in the still night air, he felt like coursing himself. He wasn’t the only one who knew how to apply a disillusionment charm. But how …? He’d done his customary checks, and all the spells had come back negative. Why had they apparated to where he was when they did?

The counter spell was spoken in a taunting voice, while ropes wound around his hands. He was becoming visible again, and as his opponent looked triumphantly over Kingsley’s own wand at him, Rookwood took shape in front of him.

“Tsk tsk tsk. Not only disillusioned, but also disguised. Won’t you show me your face before I kill you? Surely no honest pure-blood would sneak around like that.”

“Indeed. Disillusionment is not for the honest,” Kingsley fired right back, seeing the others eyes light up with anger as the comment registered.

“You better watch yourself! – Shacklebolt!” It sounded gleeful, astounded, cruel as the former Ministry worker recognised him.

“Don’t sound so surprised, Rookwood!” Kingsley shot back. Using the other’s momentary slight, he threw himself backwards with all his might, which caused him to stumble back and take his companion down with him. His wand had been thrown upwards in a high arch. He darted forward, leaning forward when he was directly below it and felt it sail into his hand. A quick look showed him that the Death Eaters were just getting to their feet; he turned on the spot and reappeared some distance away. He didn’t dare trying to cut the ropes for fear of slicing himself, and after only a short breath, he was gone again. How had they found him? And he only hoped Dedalus was more careful than he had been.


Chapter 3: Growing Awareness
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Remus had managed to talk himself into believing that this was for the best, even though every now and then, the image of his sleeping wife would steal back to the fore-front of his mind. He pushed the thought away again, certain the sooner he forgot about it all, the sooner the longing would go away. She was better off without him, and hopefully look at it after some time as a careless fling. He would always shut up the nagging little voice that told there was still the tiny little detail of their marriage and their child. The thing that always worked with that was when he recalled that it had been Umbridge in the first place who came up with the laws which complicated it for werewolves to marry and find employment; he’d heard that she was still in high favour with the new regime. Shouldn’t be too difficult for her to get a divorce. As for the child … He shuddered again, his mind going blank. It would only lead him back to the point of telling himself that he shouldn’t have allowed this to happen. A romantic relationship was one thing, but a marriage and a child?

After several hours of wandering around aimlessly, he decided he might as well go look for Harry, maybe he’d be of some use in whatever it was the boy was doing. He certainly felt like he wasn’t of much use in any other aspect of his life.

Hogwarts and Godric’s Hollow had been his first bet, but school was not in session, and there wasn’t anything or anyone there for him at the moment. And he doubted any of the three teenagers had ever been to Godric’s Hollow before, he had not found a trace of them in any case. What he did see, however, were Death Eaters on the lookout. That’s when he had thought of Grimmauld Place, however much Harry might detest the place, it was actually his, and in addition to that heavily protected by magic. Alastor had also cast additional protection against Snape after Dumbledore’s death.

Tthere were Death Eaters stationed outside as well where he could clearly see the old Black house, whereas they apparently couldn’t. Watching them, he saw what they saw – from time to time, they would jump up after catching glimpses of a hand or occasionally an elbow suspended in mid-air. Remus, in contrast to them, would also see the door open and close seconds later. To his frustration, their constant presence also meant he could not just go in.

Finally, it was the third day he had been watching Death Eaters and the house alike, the pair watching the space between numbers eleven and thirteen seemed to grow bored with their task and took to play a few heated rounds of Exploding Snap. Concentrating very hard on the top step, he turned on the spot, appearing moments later where he had wanted to be and tapped the door in the complicated pattern that had always opened the door before. It creaked open ominously, and as soon as he stepped over the threshold, an invisible gust of wind picked up, and dust rose up all around him. His tongue felt like it was folding up in his mouth, and the figure of Albus Dumbledore rose out of the shadows and dust. He managed to disable the enchantment, but was stopped in his movement by a firm voice coming out of the dark. “Don’t move!”

With his eyes a bit more adjusted to the diffuse lighting in the hall and the dust still swirling around, he could now make out the three people he’d been looking for. He raised his hands and said his name. Hermione and Ron averted their wands, shutting up Mrs Black’s portrait as she had started screaming obscenities again at hearing the voices. Harry, however, did not lower his wand, and asked for further identification. With an appreciating nod, he moved in the light, and listed off various facts about himself. Apparently, it was good enough, as he was allowed to move forward, and then they rushed towards him. ‘Thank God, they’re okay,’ he thought, and rushed into an explanation how he had got there, and then suggested going down into the kitchen. He was rather curious what had happened after they left The Burrow, and he could tell they were just as curious.

Pulling out several bottles of butterbeer he had bought during a stint to the Leaky Cauldron, he started his inquiry. He almost choked on the sip he’d taken when Harry told him they’d run into a couple of Death Eaters on Tottenham Court Road. “What?”

After hearing the tale, he could absolutely not fathom how Death Eaters could have found them as fast as they did. It was something that really worried him; it reminded him too much of others being caught in the exact same unprepared way.

The matter was cast aside when Harry asked what had happened after they left. He told them about the interrogations, and the failure of the wards. Seeing the disbelief on their faces, Remus pulled out a copy of the Daily Prophet he had picked up that morning, which held an article about Harry as suspect in Dumbledore’s murder.

“The coup has been smooth and virtually silent,” he said. Officially, it had been announced that Scrimgeour resigned; and had been replaced by Pius Thicknese. Although the Order strongly supposed the latter was under the Imperius Curse.

Devastating as it was for them, it was a clever move on their part, as he also explained when Ron said Voldemort should have just declared himself minister. People would whisper about the drastic changes, but the ministry was still seen as the governing body, not as the villain. Remus pointed out the article about the Muggle-born Register, as he was quiet certain they did not know about that either. His expression darkened when he thought about the letter his father-in-law had received; he was to attend a hearing to determine how he had obtained his magical powers. ‘Invitation to an interview’, they were calling it, but it couldn’t have been clearer what it really was.

Ron’s reaction at this had him smile, it was apparent he would go to great lengths to protect Hermione. She seemed grateful, squeezing his hand affectionately, but dismissed it and aske dabout Hogwarts. That was another thing that worried him greatly, attendance had become obligatory, with required documentation of Blood Status. He’d seen how worried Arthur and Molly had been about letting Ginny go for the school year, and really couldn’t blame them. Yet another reason, he thought, why he should have been more careful.

A lapse in the conversation followed when they all pondered this latest blow. Remus hesitated, then addressed why he had come in the first place; the mission Harry had supposedly been left by Albus Dumbledore.

Harry confirmed as much, but would not budge when asked what exactly that entailed. He’d known he’d receive that answer, but still felt disappointed. Suppressing the feeling, he offered them his company and protection all the same.

Harry seemed tempted; Hermione asked into the pause, perplexed, if Tonks would be okay with that. He staved off the question whether everything was alright between them. Everything is just as it should be, he thought, suppressing every other notion. Almost against his better judgment, he voiced what he hadn’t told anyone before, “Tonks is going to have a baby.”

The response was immediate, the trio broke out in congratulations and well-wishes. Trying to change the topic again, he repeated his offer.

He, as well as Ron and Hermione, looked at Harry. Just as he himself and Sirius and Peter would have looked at James for the final say.

Harry’s voice sounded strangely emotionless as he recapped Remus’s own words, and as the thought of joining them took root in him, he marshalled what he thought the best argument – James. He’d look after Harry for his old friend; as all of the three other Marauders had sworn the day of Harry’s birth.

Harry’s next words didn’t sink in immediately, but when they did, he felt like a bucket of ice-cold water had been dumped over his head.

“I’m pretty sure my father would have wanted to know why you aren’t sticking with your own kid, actually.”

He tried defending his decision, addressing the dark-haired boy as much as his own thoughts or Dora, had he had the courage to tell her in person. He didn’t know when he had actually jumped up, all his fears for this unborn child gathering and pouring out in one breath.

Hermione’s words of encouragement could not reach him, but Harry’s calm words would become engrained in his memory.

“Oh, I don’t know, Hermione. I’d be pretty ashamed of him.”

The rest of the conversation – no, it was actually an argument – seemed too unreal to actually be happening. He stumbled about his words, disbelieving and totally taken off guard by the cutting words he was hearing.

Coward. The word set him off, he had his wands pointed at the boy he thought he knew before he could even process what he was doing. Harry was thrown back; Remus took no head as he stormed up the stairs and out of the house, disapparating the second he reached the top step. It did not matter where he was going; all he knew he needed air. Air and space. His breathing was laboured, even though he hadn’t done anything physically exhausting.

He fell to his knees, not caring where he was, he might have landed in the middle of a Death Eater meeting and he wouldn’t have cared. No, no, no. Shut up. Shut up. Harry’s words would not go away, no matter how hard he pushed his hands against his ears. He was gasping for air, and it still didn’t seem enough. “Shut up. You have no idea what it’s like.” He shouted it, then he rolled up in a foetal position, whispering it to himself like a mantra.

A coward. His son would be ashamed of him. Of course, who wouldn’t be ashamed to call a werewolf father?

Remus staggered to his feet again, grasping his wand tightly, before he disapparated again. He needed something stronger than butterbeer now, the word Coward! ringing in his head once more. His stomach felt like it was filled with lead. He hadn’t known how much Harry’s regard had meant to him, not until he’d lost it. He almost wished it really had been a Death Eater meeting where he had apparated first. It certainly felt like there was nothing left for him.

*

Dudley was getting bored. He’d always thought wizards were freaky, because that was all he’d ever heard from his parents. But when he watched them use their ridiculous sticks – wands, as he had come to refer to them more reverently, and had seen what one could do with them – he was awestruck. The few children around the house – he had no idea where they actually where because they weren’t allowed outside, which only contributed to his boredom – seemed to be making an effort, and when he had asked why they didn’t use their wands like the adults did or if they could show him how to do it, they had brushed him off. It had taken him some time to recall that although Harry had threatened to hex him, he’d had received an official warning when he had. Did that mean one had to have some kind of licence? Because the adults clearly did it all the time.

The boy realised he didn’t really know anything. Everything his parents had ever told him about that strangely fascinating world was derogative. Questions over questions overwhelmed him. Why hadn’t he ever asked Harry about it, back when his cousin was home for the summer holidays? Everyone seemed to know his scrawny little cousin, and spoke highly of him. He wasn’t used to that. He was used to his parents’ admiration, and cowering from his peers. As Dudley’s self-confidence had taken a hard blow during those first weeks when that had changed so drastically, he’d started thinking. What else was there to do, really?

Back home, he had been in school – or at least he had left the house when it was time for school, but didn’t always make it there – and had bullied his peers until no one dared oppose him, he’d been the leader of his own select group. If he didn’t like someone, he didn’t have to deal with them. Now, it seemed, he was the odd one out. No one to back him, and relying on his superior physical skills, they still all had wands.

Furthermore, now that he was stuck with his parents for most of the time, he realised how stuck they were in their own ways. Was he headed in the same way?

It all came back to the same thing: Why hadn’t he made peace with his cousin, had asked him all the questions he only realised he had? Who was he and what were his strengths, underneath his big, threatening posture? He wasn’t even that smart, he admitted as he wallowed in his self-pitying thoughts; he hadn’t really tried that hard in school. And he’d certainly never spared a thought for his future, he’d naively assumed he’d be able to go on like this forever, spoilt and everything nasty taken care of, and strangely, that picture had included Harry with them during the summers.

Some of those thoughts had started taking root in his mind after his experience with the dementi-thingies. No one could really explain to him what they really were. The days immediately after the event during last summer, he’d been to out of it still to confront the only wizard he knew – Harry. And then his cousin had been gone again, sooner than all the summers before. And during this last summer, there had been an air of determination and serenity about his cousin, he hadn’t dared approach him. He’d left him food in front of his door, a cup of tea here or a sandwich there, because he had always chickened out at the last second to actually go into the room. And now, everything had changed. Would he ever see Harry again? Would he ever go back to Little Whinging? Did he want to?

Dudley retreated from the window, when the sun peaked over the surrounding hills. The man called Dedalus had appeared out of thin air, and striding towards the house through the morning mist. As he had done many mornings before. Maybe he should start getting to know those wizards at least. If they let him.

*

Percy kept his head low, bent over his desk. Since Thicknese had been declared Minister, he had been demoted. The change had brought a lot of new Ministry personnel also, and not of the kind Scrimgeour or even Fudge would have hired. They hadn’t been bad men, for that he would stand. But could they have averted the current situation, had they taken action? Or – he couldn’t believe he was saying that – if they had listened to Dumbledore? Did he himself have a part in it?

One thing was for sure – and it was purely egoistical on his part – he’d bet on the wrong broom, and it hadn’t played out. He’d only lost his family. He hadn’t known that would even matter to him as much as it did, not too long ago he would have sacrificed everything for his career. Now, he even missed the tricks they used to play on him. Ambition and perfection had always been his little niche, his way of standing out amongst his brothers, and of course his sister, the first girl for generations, who for that fact alone had always been special.

His desk was tucked away in a corner. He worked diligently and without causing a fuss, watching and keeping his ears pricked. There had been many incidents when he had been halfway out of his chair to intervene, before sinking back down. It was the easier thing to do, to keep one’s head down and hope for the nightmare to pass. His Gryffindor spirit was rearing its head, was warring with his more rational side. And still, he hesitated. He did not support all those new measures, was suspicious of the glazed eyes of some of his superiors, and watched with an extremely uncomfortable feeling how former co-workers did not return to their desks, or the leaflets that were now flooding their world. Yet, there was nothing really tangible to go against.

He was only one small human being, and accusing Pius Thicknese, long-serving Ministry employee, former Head of Magical Law Enforcement and newly-elected Minister of Magic, of committing crimes against other wizards. He just had no proof of anything yet, only a bad, unshakeable feeling. The Daily Prophet’s reporting did not help either, nothing negative was being reported about the new personnel, and he’d been following them long enough to at least know that that was highly unusual.

When Yaxley passed by the open doors, he returned to his current file. He would bide his time, and sincerely hoped others were doing the same, and not just keeping quiet because they genuinely agreed with all the new politics.

*

Andromeda Tonks wandered her house in the early hours of the morning. Sleep evaded her these days. She wondered how Ted did it, she couldn’t count the times when she was lying awake, just listening to his calm rhythmic breathing.

They’d lived through the first wave of You-Know-Who’s attacks back when they were young; would they make it through another? Bella had always been on her case, but now she was backed, apparently, through the whole Ministry. The summoning to appear before the Muggle-born Registration Commission addressed to her husband weighed heavily on her mind. Already there were rumours that several Muggle-borns, who had unwittingly and full of faith in the Ministry, followed the summons, and were never seen again.

Just yesterday, Nymphadora had sent a family over, entrusting them in her parents care. Andromeda did not mind; she had come far from the Black family’s beliefs. She’d seen her fair share of grief, not least of which was caused by people she had grown up next to. She didn’t exactly know how; first they had only agreed to help her cousin Sirius’s godson, and now they were providing shelter for others who were on the run. The Creeveys, who had arrived yesterday, had two boys of Hogwarts age. Gryffindors, she thought with a mix of fondness and exaggeration, likening them to her favourite late cousin. Both seemed to have accepted, however grudgingly, that they would not return this year, but at the same time, were not ready to accept that it was the end. For anyone so young, they were quite confident that they could and would fight before all was over.

The task of preparing herself a cup of tea kept her busy, the individual steps longsince familiar since she had left her childhood home and made one for herself and her little family, she let her thoughts stray to Sirius, which had happened more frequently since Colin and Denis were dragging up similarities. Sirius had never been one to sit around either, and she could very well imagine him being right in the thick of it all. If he hadn’t died. She felt her heart clench when she thought that she had so readily accepted the reports of his betrayal of the Potters. She of all people should have known better, of all his family. And then she had not been given the opportunity to apologise, to reacquaint herself with him. It was only after his death fourteen month earlier that Nymphadora and Dumbledore had revealed the truth, and the events after his escape from Azkaban. Followed by the revelation that her only child was a member of that organisation as well. Would the same fate lie ahead for her daughter? Her fingers tightened around her tea cup. Andromeda made a conscious effort to loosen them, simultaneously chasing the thoughts away. She could not think like that, it was too horrendous a thought to follow through.

She had lost so much already. Friends from school. She had been disowned over those prejudices, and even though she had never regretted the decision for Ted, there were still those moments where she wondered how it could have been. Passionate, mischievous Sirius, lost to Azkaban through the betrayal of a friend and killed through the direct involvement of his cousin, her own sister. Who surely would not hesitate to do the same to her or Ted or Nymphadora, she had no illusions there. Bellatrix was lost to madness. Narcissa, always too compliant and approval-seeking, would never rebel against her husband’s beliefs. Ambitious, troubled Regulus, never heard of again after joining the Dark Lord.

Watching the sky lighten, the dark retreating back behind the horizon, she prayed for her husband and her daughter.

Nymphadora, who so suddenly had moved back in with them. She would only say Remus had gone away on an Order mission, refusing every other comment. Though Andromeda could not help seeing her daughter’s almost manic determination when she would get ready for work, and the expectant jerk of the head whenever there was news from the outside. It could as easily have been attributed to worrying about the success of his mission, but Andromeda felt like there was more. And she knew, if it was any normal situation, that no marriage worked without some effort put into it, and arguments could happen, and she really shouldn’t get involved. With circumstances as tight as they were, tensions were to be expected. What worried her was that they weren’t trying to work them out, weren’t even living under the same roof. Nymphadora had been too ecstatic when she had presented them with her husband to just give up like that. Even though she would have never expected one of Sirius’s old friends as her son-in-law, she could not dislike him. If Sirius had been able to see beyond the werewolf thing, so could she. But if he hurt Nymphadora, that was a different matter entirely. She sincerely hoped he would put things right again, and soon.

Draining her cup when the first noises came from upstairs, Andromeda prepared for another day. They’d have to get through one day at a time, as hard as it might seem.






dialogue from the Grimmauld scene in parts from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Bribe, pg. 166
Let me know what you think about it ;)

Chapter 4: Perceptions Altered
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Here comes the standard disclaimer: Everything you recognise belongs to Joanne K. Rowling!
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To Ginny, it felt strange. She would be the only Weasley boarding the train that day. Granted, Fred and George hadn’t been there the year before either. But Ron was supposed to be here and get ready for his final year, and with him his best friends.

Instead, Ron was supposedly ill with Spattergroit, unable to leave the house. Some weeks ago, a Ministry decree had been released making Hogwarts attendance a obligatory, and with it came the requirement to document one’s blood status.

Although her family wasn’t considered respectable, they could still trace their ancestors way back. A fact that was so highly regarded and craved these days, but sometimes she wished it wasn’t so – she wanted no part of what they did, or be remotely linked to elitist pure-bloods like the Malfoys.

Speaking of the devil. The blonde Slytherin cut through the crowd, looking haughty and unapproachable. Did he have rings beneath his eyes? No, surely she was only imagining things. That’s what he always wanted, wasn’t it? The elder Malfoys said their goodbyes loudly. Ginny recoiled upon seeing the pale face of Lucius Malfoy. He was supposed to be in Azkaban, and seeing him in place like this really hit home. She looked at her mother and father who had accompanied her to the platform, and wished she didn’t know to place the feelings she saw – worry and horror. If a former Azkaban inmate could take a gander to Platform nine and three quarters, what would await them at Hogwarts?

Her travelling gaze got caught by a rather notorious hat that seemed to float above the crowd like a boat on water, the stuffed vulture teetering up and down in tune with the hat’s owner’s movement. Verifying that it was really Augusta Longbottom who emerged in her line of sight with a dismissive, scornful expression on her face, Neville Longbottom appeared behind her shoulder. Ginny’s eyebrows rose, making her forget their current whereabouts for a minute. He had grown quite a bit over the summer, lankier than she’d ever seen him, but his face still belonged to the same, familiar, unpretentious Neville she knew. Giving her mother’s arm a squeeze, Ginny left with a nod in the Longbottoms’ direction, letting them know where she was going.

“Neville!” she exclaimed, giving in the urge to hug him briefly. As she could have predicted, he hadn’t expected that greeting and stood there awkwardly. He’d always preferred the background, and still, she knew she could count on him to be there if needed.

“Erg, hey Ginny. Where’s everyone else?” he asked.

“Ron’s ill,” she said loudly, adding as quietly as quietly as she could, “but ask me again later.”

Her parents had joined them in the meantime, exchanging a few words with Neville’s grandmother.

“Criminals. Unbelievable. The nerve of them!” The elderly lady was muttering under her breath, looking for the world like she was not currently cursing the officially-clad people among the crowd of parents.

“Gran’s not amused about our new government,” Neville commented off-handedly, and Ginny had to look twice at him to find out whether that statement was supposed to be sarcastic or not. As far as she could discern, he was as horrified and incredulous as herself about the presence of Death Eaters and trying to mask it, doing a remarkable job of appearing as casual about it as his Gran. His clenched fists, however, told her he was anything but calm.

That’s new, she thought. This Neville resembled the one who had attacked the Inquisitorial Squad with her and subsequently went to the Department of Mysteries without hesitation. Or fought Death Eaters the evening of Dumbledore’s death in the halls of Hogwarts. The one who lived up to the tales about his parents, the once famous and powerful Aurors.

Ginny could sympathise with the frustration, anger and the urge to fight back, although the grip her friend had on himself seemed to have caught on her as well. Too many people here, too many innocent children. A single dark curse could do so much harm.

“There’s Luna,” Ginny said, pulling herself out of her thoughts as she waved her friend over. Luna’s serene face made her calm down even more; now that she knew she wasn’t going to be alone, even with her Harry and her brother and Hermione gone.

She hugged Luna too, the light yet reassuring touch and the scent of moonflowers comforting her.

“Ginny! How nice to see you!” Luna’s father was clad just as spacey as his daughter, as usual trying to present her with one of his copies of the Quibbler. She took it gladly, though, convinced whatever was in there would make way more sense than the Daily Prophet, even if there was nothing else in it but Snorkacks and Nargles.

A teary Molly pulled her back for the last goodbyes when the warning bells rang, and she felt her father’s arms go around the two of them. This was not at all how it was supposed to be, and even for the smallest amount of time, she let herself think of what was going to happen to all of them; whether she would see all the people she loved so much again, together and safe. It was brief, though. Ginny was not prepared to give up that easily, and so she steeled herself when she extracted herself from the tight hug and smiled at her parents with a determined glint in her eye.

“I’ll be seeing you. That’s a promise, Mum. I love you both so much, and Bill and Charlie and Fred and George and Ron. And even Percy.”

Molly started tearing up again, though Ginny wouldn’t let her, leaving her to her father’s arms. She’d break down herself if she did, and she needed all her famed stubbornness and resilience for the upcoming year, for she had the distinct feeling it would be anything but easy.

Ginny boarded the train with her head held high, the feeling of a walk to the guillotine eerily present and at the same time too surreal to be allowed any room; closely followed by Neville and Luna.


*

Remus had been warring with himself, avoiding wizards and Muggles alike. He had tried to outrun human company as much as his own thoughts. Yet, Harry’s words were coming back again and again. He just couldn’t get away from it all.

When he simply couldn’t run anymore – both physically and mentally – he just collapsed where he stood. The grass and every bump of the ground was tangible beneath his back, and as his breathing calmed down, he concentrated on feeling it. The stars twinkled above him, reminding him of his former professor’s eyes, which had lost their twinkle forever only last June. That devastating loss also brought on thoughts of Sirius and James. Which led him back to Harry’s words.

“Would you really be ashamed of me, James?”

He listened into the night for an answer, but of course there wasn’t one. Back in their schooldays, his friends used to tell him he was being stupid whenever he sank into a bout of self-pity, or just distract him by cooking up some elaborate prank he then needed to steer back on the right track. The friends he knew back then would also have encouraged him about having a family.

But none of them were there now. James and Sirius dead. He’d also come to respect Lily’s opinion a great deal, but of course that wasn’t a possibility either. And of course Wormtail wasn’t even an option anymore, although he was the only one still alive. They’d have called his doubts, talked him out of it. Maybe. He thought they would have. Trouble was, after he had learned through Sirius about their distrust of him during the last few months before the Potters had gone into hiding, those niggling little doubts had settled back somewhere in his subconsciousness. He’d never trusted easily, and it had only got worse with that knowledge.

And now he had severely hurt the only woman who had taken up with his many moods, and hadn’t been deterred by his affliction or the wall he had built around himself.

He never would have followed up on his attraction to her if she hadn’t taken the first step. Which irked him more than he was prepared to admit to himself. He’d been brought up to be a gentleman, and she just refused to take up the role of the distressed damsel. She was younger, more than a dozen years – and what was more, she was Sirius’s baby cousin. Sirius had shown them pictures of her in diapers during seemingly endless History of Magic lessons, for Merlin’s sake! He wondered what Padfoot would have had to say about the current situation. The whole baby thing in general, and then about him running out.

He had never been able to predict his friend’s actions, between a nonchalant dismissal and a full-out blow-up everything had been possible.

“It’s hopeless. I’m hopeless. Why can’t I stop living in the past, or questioning everything? Really, it would make things so much easier.”

He sat up, propping his elbows on his knees so his chin was now resting on his hands. Sarcasm had become his second nature, had to be after he’d been bitten by Greyback. As had the self-consciousness and pensiveness.

He had long ago had to become used to the fact that werewolves didn’t have normal lives, or families. The Ministry’s laws included exact provisions for that.

“Why do I let their laws interfere? Now, where they’re practically synonymous to Death Eaters? Why did I push away the one thing I always wanted, but never thought I could have?”

He would go to her, beg if he had to. He wouldn’t blame her if she didn’t take him back, but that would be his own fault. Harry’s words still stung, but it was nothing less than he deserved. Driving home the facts like a friend would have done.

“I’m going back,” he said aloud, wishing he could tell the black-haired boy – no, he corrected his own thoughts, he’s not a boy anymore – that he could tell the young man that he had been right. “And I wish you’d be here to give your opinion on how to fix this mess. Though I do hope you don’t have James’s talent with girls.” He could just imagine Padfoot laughing out loud at the last comment, while Prongs would narrow his eyes at them.

“Although James did get the girl in the end. So I shall take a leaf out of his book and be persistent. And most of all, I’m going to stop the monologues.”

With a last exaggerated sigh at himself, Remus got back on his feet, a quick glance to the skies above, before he began his journey home.

*

He knew that Dora had moved back in with her parents; apart from providing company, it was also a safe house of the Order. Or had been, before the approved wards had been taken down with the fall of the old Ministry. In the meantime, the protection had been put up again, providing shelter to a couple of refugees. Remus was sure she must have told her parents about their break-up when she moved back home, and they hadn’t been too thrilled about the relationship in the first place. How wise was it to show up at the place? Probably not very much.

He could see the outline of the house. He might not be able to cross the new wards, but he had been told the location. His wolf patronus shot off, and took into the air some distance from the house, vanishing through the walls of the upper story. Which probably meant Dora was in her room.

A weak sheen of light had gleamed through one of the windows and was extinguished at that moment. He could detect no further sign of life, not in that window or in any other. Nor did her patronus apppear with an answer. Remus nodded to himself, he shouldn’t have expected that she came flying back into his arms.


His cottage was deserted and cold, and after a cursory search that no one was inside, he laid down on his bed.

“Not even Death Eaters want to live here, apparently,” he said to himself, remembering his resolution not to talk with himself. “Old habits …”

Remus spent the remainder of the night mostly awake, only now and then did he fall into a fitful slumber. Most wizards and witches had disconnected their floo connection, and it was unlikely he would be able to send a letter via owl. Another patronus was his best bet, although he might not get her alone.

When the sun had finally risen, he pulled out his wand once more, whispering the incantation and his wolf cantered out of the room. “Please give me a chance to explain.”

He didn’t get an answer, nor the next time he tried. As much as he cursed himself, it didn’t change anything.

Late in the afternoon, he decided he couldn’t wait anymore to share the theory about Voldemort’s name with the rest of the Order.

He would try Elphias’s first, then the Weasleys.

Doge housed several Muggleborns and their families, including the Dursleys. When he had greeted the older man, he looked up at the entrance of a tall man.

“Kingsley!” he exclaimed in suprise, offering his hand.

“Remus. How are you? Where have you been?”

“I’ve been better.” Surely everyone knew he’d run out on his wife? He winced slightly at how it made him sound – how had Harry phrased it? – like a coward.

“I’ve seen Harry. – And that’s part of why I’m here,” he carried on before Kingsley or Elphias could ask the questions he could see were on the tip of their tongues. “I’ve been hoping to run into you. Did you, by any chance, mention You-Know-Who’s name before they ambushed you? The one no one dares to say?”

“What Vol-“ Kingsley stopped abruptly when Remus shook his head wildly, and eyed him oddly. Then he continued more slowly, “I – I’m not quite sure. I might have cursed Vo- him under my breath.” His frown disappeared and his eyes went wide as a thought struck him. “You don’t think it has anything to do with that, do you?”

“Actually, I only thought about it after I connected your misfortune with Harry’s story. It’s only a theory at the moment which I wanted to run by you. The three of them ran into Death Eaters, seemingly out of the blue. He reckoned he still had the trace on him, but what if it was something else that triggered it?”

The other two were silent for a bit, trying to comprehend the magnitude of that information. “I’m not an expert on that … different department … but … but if you’re right ...” Kingsley looked horror-struck.

Elphias found his voice, although it was rendered high and terrified by the news. “I’ve been advisor to the Wizengamot long enough to say one thing: magical traces weren’t only used on minors, but sometimes as a precaution, or to keep petty criminals from leaving or entering certain areas …”

They looked at each other, the suspicion turning into conviction.

“We said no Order meetings unless there’s an emergency. Well, if this doesn’t qualify as one, I don’t know what does. Only persons close to Dumbledore would use the name.”

“I call them here.” Elphias said, scurrying off.

“Well, welcome back.” Kingsley told Remus, heaving a dry sigh.

*

Molly twisted the dishcloth in her hand, looking out of the window. Arthur was late. All the other times he had been late, it hadn’t boded well. He’d brought bad news, or on Harry’s birthday, the minister himself.

She tried to calm down. It didn’t have to mean anything. She tried to tell herself she was so nervous because she didn’t have her children with her. Bill and Fleur had moved to Aunt Muriel’s little cottage near Tinsworth; she’d always had a soft spot for her oldest. Percy … but she didn’t want to go there. Ron – she hadn’t heard anything new since Remus came back from his stint to Grimmauld Place, and although she wished she could go there, she knew too many visitors would only draw attention. Fred and George were running their shop, and Charlie was at work too, having decided to take a long leave of absence from his work in Romania for the time being. And her little girl had gone to Hogwarts, having little choice but to follow the new ruling.

It was growing dark, but she could see a figure pop out of thin air. With two steps, she had opened the back door, seeing the strained expression on his face. She couldn’t quite place it. Was it fear, glee, or something else?

“Arthur! Arthur, what happened?” she asked as soon as he was near enough, grasping his hand to pull him in.

He didn’t answer immediately, closing the door with a relieved sigh, before telling her quietly to sit down.

“There’ve been intruders at the Ministry,” he said.

Molly wanted to jump up again, a thousand questions on the tip of her tongue. Arthur continued in the same soft voice as before, “Muggleborns have been freed, Molly. Reg Cattermole just about made it out, his wife was among the group that had managed to escape. Albert Runcorn was discovered bound and gagged, and it suspected that the one who was in today was someone else under the guise of Polyjuice.”

Molly had her hand in front of her mouth, trying to possess what he was saying. “Who?” she whispered.

“Molly, whoever it was had to pass dementors. They had a stag patronus,” he told her, his voice had picked up volume and she could hear the same bubbling excitement she felt.

“Harry? And Ron and Hermione? They … oh my Merlin! Did they … what happened?”

“No one has been captured yet,” Arthur continued, his hands on her shoulders. “I think – I’ve talked to … I think I’ve talked to both Ron and Harry.”

“When? What did they say?”

“I was in the lift, Reg Cattermole came stumbling in, asking for a spell. I didn’t think much about him stuttering at the time – but I think he just about stopped himself from calling me Dad!” He had replayed those minutes in the lift countless times, trying to see more than he had at the time. Percy’s short appearance felt like a pinprick to the hope it was giving him.
“Reg’s wife was heard calling out to him in the Atrium, while the doppelganger pulled her into the fireplace. The second Reg – who I think shouldn’t have shown up according to their plan, the real one – acted more quick-witted than I’ve ever seen him, getting away just in time. They haven’t brought the Cattermoles back yet, or any of the others who escaped. At least Tonks hadn’t heard differently when we parted.”

“Oh Ronnie!” Molly sighed, her hand now resting on her heart. What could have made them go into the Ministry? “And when did you talk to Harry?”

“I figured it out afterwards. I thought at the time Runcorn was threatening me. – Oh, right. Runcorn was already in the lift when Ron – Cattermole – got in, and dashed out again. Runcorn wanted to leave when I stopped him about Dirk Cresswell. He played dumb, which enraged me even more. But then – he told me I was being watched. Of course I thought he was threatening me. But if it really was Harry, he must have seen something. They tried to hush it up, but Mad-Eye’s eye went missing from Umbridge’s office, so he must have been in there.”

At Molly’s questioning look, he remembered that Tonks and he had agreed not to mention that gory and cruel detail. Sheepishly, he explained, “You remember Mad-Eye’s artificial eye? She stuck it on her door, like the little looking glasses Muggles sometimes have at their doors.”

“And Hermione?” Molly asked.

Arthur shook his head. “I don’t think I’ve seen her. But Mafalda Hopkirk was reported missing when they ordered everyone into the Atrium for checking attendance and questioning. That could have been Hermione, someone said Mafalda had transcripted at today’s hearings.”

“They’ve got away,” Molly summed up the only thing that seemed clear, and most important to her. At his nod, she pulled him close, whispering, “I just want my children back safely.”

Instead of offering reassuring words he knew they didn’t believe in anymore, he tightened his hold, sending silent prayers that her wish would come true.

*

He’d settled into a monotone routine, spending his days wandering the safe house. That way, he didn’t have to spent time in the two rooms allotted to them, where his father would be found, complaining all day long about the ‘freaks’’ general freakishness and their rudeness of not even providing them with television in their rooms. His mother would scrub down the rooms every day, before sitting down, eerily silent and absent-minded, fiddling her thumbs. Dudley just couldn’t stand it in there. Other kids and their children had joined them, some of them had magic, and others apparently didn’t – those who did, called themselves ‘Muggle-Borns’. He had memorised the word, just as he had gathered that he, apparently, was referred to as a ‘Muggle’. The words didn’t make sense to him, and he’d often thought about asking some of the others, just as he had often thought about getting to know that foreign and yet so strangely fascinating world. He’d chickened out every time, just at the last minute. The clenching of stomach was entirely new to him – he was Dudley Dursley, after all, people were afraid of him, not the other way round. Well, he recalled with a shudder, with one exception, obviously. The dementor incident came to mind. There was another new word which he had learned to pronounce correctly, but its sense still eluded him completely. He just knew that he owed that dementor the most horrible experience of his life, and that he wouldn’t be able to defend himself with his boxing skills since he couldn’t even see it. And it had registered that he himself was a Muggle, but it still eluded him whether that was an insult, or what it implied. So he kept watching, trying to gather little nuggets of information.

Two days ago, some of the children – everyone who referred to themselves as ‘Muggle-Born’ had been particularly down-spirited and tense, spoiling yet another of his so carefully, but eventually abandoned attempts to approach one of them. Something about start of the school year, which they weren’t allowed to go to. Based on his own experiences, it wasn’t a big deal; he’d skip school whenever he felt like it and look for some other entertainment instead. Though, he supposed it would be pretty cool to learn how to let a bottle of coke or lemonade zoom into his hand instead of having to get up and get it from the fridge himself. Not that they had those kinds of beverages here. In his zeal to learn as much as he could, he’d tried that pumpkin juice, spitting it out immediately. To his misfortune, he’d sprayed one of the Muggle-Born boys who had been getting some himself, earning him a nasty look, and too flustered to apologise – something he’d never had thought necessary before – he had hurried away, a strange hot feeling rising in his cheeks.

Yesterday, there’d been another commotion to break the monotone. Hestia Jones, the witch who had brought them here, and all the other wizard adults had hurried about, whispering frantically. He’d only managed to snatch some snippets of their conversations, which included ‘Potter’, ‘break-in’ or ‘uproar’. He’d mulled it over for the whole night, not finding much sleep. Wasn’t Harry supposed to be the good guy? Why would he break in anywhere?

Thus, he was once again looking for answers the next day. He’d been lurking around the common room for some time now, and he had gathered that there had indeed been a break-in, involving his cousin. The wildest theories were flying around the room, but no one seemed to know for certain. The arrival of a tall, red-haired man with longuish hair had everyone in a dither again. Bill, as Hestia had called him, hadn’t stayed long and apparently couldn’t solve the mystery either, but he brought several papers with him. They were scooped up immediately, and Dudley wrinkled his brow in annoyance; it’d be ages before he’d get to read them. He’d seen newspapers with the same headpiece seen lying around before, though he had given up trying to read them since it only held boring politics stuff and rubbish about Harry, which he didn’t believe in the slightest. Harry had saved him although he had no reason to, and he couldn’t bring that together with the things that that paper said. The voices had grown so loud, several conversations and discussions mingling, that it was rather hard making sense of it.

“Stupid rag!” A loud voice yelled, and the paper he thought was one of those unfriendly Daily Prophets sailed across the room, hitting the wall with a loud ‘thud’.

Looking around from his place in the corner, he waited for someone to pick it up, but no one did. Slowly, he inched closer, snatching it up and putting it behind his back as if someone would pry it out of his fingers again. Apparently, he needn’t have worried; no one seemed to pay him much attention. It had irked him at first, not being the centre of attention, although he’d gotten over that quickly recalling that giant man and the red-haired twins he’d encountered before. He scurried back to his chair in the corner, unfolding the crippled paper. He didn’t have to search; there on the front page, he could see his cousin in clothes belonging to a much bigger person, in the act of turning his back to the onlooker, running full-speed into what looked like a fire-place with green flames, the action repeating itself over and over again. Dudley started to read.

Ministry Infiltrated

Yesterday, Harry Potter revealed his true intentions and objectives. The Ministry of Magic was infiltrated in a heinous attempt to usurp the new policies of ensuring the survival of the true wizarding race. The Undesirable Number One took out and assumed the identity of one of the Ministry’s most respected officials, breaking into the innermost circles and setting loose a group of suspected Muggle-borns, supposedly to have them join his attempts of taking over power and enforce his continued worshipping by a misinformed public (see all about Dumbledore’s ploy to lift the Potter boy into hero status, and the Ministry’s successful strike to foil that heinous plan on page 3). Head of Muggle-Born Registration Commission Dolores Umbridge, escaping Potter’s miscreant assault only by an admirable show of bravery and skill, described his appearance as malevolent and deranged. “He has clearly gone over the edge, being revealed as the liar he is,” the former Hogwarts Headmistress stated. Rewards for Potter’s capture have been set. The Ministry advises not to support Potter, and report any sightings immediately.


Dudley pulled a face. Who would want to struggle through those words? They didn’t make half-sense to him. He didn’t think Harry looked deranged, but the woman, who was gazing out of another picture captured as Dolores Umbridge with a sickly smile, looked anything but nice to him.

Before he could dwell further on it, a girl of about his own age had appeared next to him, sinking down the wall, mostly hidden by a coffee table. As soon as she sat, she pulled out a magazine from under her sweater where seemed to have hidden it. Dudley blinked twice as she opened it, and could just make out the title page, which once again featured his cousin. In large neon green letters, the caption read HARRY POTTER THWARTS THICKNESE.

Faster than he thought he could move, Dudley had moved around the little table, kneeling next to her. “What does it say?” he asked hurriedly, too curious to care for his usual anxiety. He felt her eyes on him for a few seconds, before she motioned for him to sit down next to her, holding the magazine so they could both read.

Yesterday, employees and present wizard folks were gathered in the Ministry’s Atrium and subjected to questioning. The reason: the impregnable Ministry had been broken into, by none other than Harry Potter. It is unknown what exactly The-Boy-Who-Lived was looking for in the Ministry, but this paper can reveal that several Muggle-Borns escaped the certain fate of being imprisoned for allegedly stealing magic in the wake of Harry Potter’s stunt and are leaving the country as we speak. The Ministry may have upped security, but yet again The Chosen One has demonstrated that he is very well capable of thwarting their attempts, and will do so again when he has achieved what he set out to do. It is believed that Albus Dumbledore himself, the vanquisher of Gellert Grindelwald, set Potter across his path, and we all wish him luck in his quest. Support Harry Potter, I encourage you all, for he is giving us hope in this abysmal.

“So he did break in? What does it mean?” Dudley mumbled to himself, whipping his head around at the scoff beside him.

“Wouldn’t we all like to know? But since the Ministry’s the bad guy in this, it’s rather certain he had to have had a good reason,” she said, her pale blue eyes seeming to x-ray him again behind her glasses.

“Huh. And I always ignored Dad when he ranted about corrupt governments,” he said mostly to himself, feeling inexplicably relieved to have it confirmed that Harry was not, in fact, criminal. Contrary to what his father had sprouted for most of Dudley’s life, he couldn’t believe that about Harry anymore, and ever since the dementor experience Dudley had actually started to question a lot of what his father had to say. It was just easier not to say that out loud.

She let out an involuntary snort. “In this case, he’d be right. Is this the Prophet?” she gestured to the paper still clutched in his hand.

Dudley handed it over, an awkward feeling settling in now that he had time to think again. So he just stared as she read through the article. She seemed indeed about the same age as him, her hair a mousy brown, and a plain face. Although her eyes were sharp and intelligent when she looked back up. “That is a lot of rubbish. Who do they think is going to buy that?”

He shrugged his shoulders, hoping it sufficed. How was he to keep the conversation going? Though it didn’t seem necessary, as she voiced her theories out loud. “A lot of Muggle-Borns never returned from their hearings, which is why a lot of them went into hiding or left the country altogether. The group they’re talking about was most likely doomed for a stint to Azkaban, if not worse. And nothing good can come from Umbridge. Maybe they were trying to annoy her? Or trying to make a statement? Or they could have been after something from the Department of Mysteries, which would make sense since they had to pass Courtroom Number Ten on the way down. Or ..., Oh, sorry, need to go. Maybe I’ll see you around. Mind if I take them?”

She’d jumped up at the call of her name (‘Lucia!”), pushing both the magazine and the paper back under her sweater before hurrying off towards a small group of teenagers, and all of them disappeared.

Dudley was left behind with even more questions. For the first time in his life, he felt the need to take notes so as to not forget the things chasing each other inside his head. Department of Mysteries? Azkaban? The last one rang a bell, though couldn’t recall what it was. He hoped she had been serious about seeing him around, and he’d get to ask her about it. At least it didn’t seem like Harry had done something wrong.




So, let me know what you think? How was the Dudley bit - want more or not?
Thank you to anyone who read, and reviewed of course!


Chapter 5: Prejudices Revised
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Disclaimer: Nothing you recognise is mine; it's only my interpretation what might have happened with the rest of JKR's characters.




Hagrid received the three students he was supposed to supervise for this detention. They were accompanied by Professor Snape, the new headmaster. His face was impassive, the sinking sun casting dark shadows over it, and appeared more drawn than he’d ever seen it. The giant man thought this very strange; shouldn’t the Death Eater be ecstatic? He had received headmastership for his betrayal; he’d got rid of Harry. Wasn’t this his every dream come true?

Now he was marching Ginny Weasley, Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood down from the castle.

The other teachers had plunged into a flurry of frantic, whispered conversations when Gryffindor and Ravenclaw’s hourglasses suddenly held no more jewels to display their standing in the House Cup; and a silent hush had fallen over the assembled student body when everyone was summoned out of their beds close to midnight just the day before to be presented with the perpetrators, along with a severe, hissed warning against anyone even thinking about following their example. Hagrid had been the one assigned to supervise the string of detentions set by the headmaster, which would lead them into the Forbidden Forest.

Hagrid looked at the man the great Albus Dumbledore had trusted, as had he. It was not far from where he stood, near the front steps of his hut, that an eleven-year-old Harry had apparently had more sense than them, the teachers, put together, when the boy expressed his doubts about the man actually working for the good side.

Not bothering to hide his hate, Hagrid took over the two Gryffindors and the Ravenclaw from Snape silently, and stomped towards the Forbidden Forest.

“Hey Hagrid!” Luna greeted him in an eerily cheerful voice. “Is it the Plimpies that put you in such a mood? Or Snape?”

“Ter tell yeh the truth, Luna, don’ know what Plimpies are, but I prefer them ter Snape any day!” he scowled.

“Don’t we all?” Hagrid peered into Ginny Weasley’s face, detecting the anger in her eyes. They trudged along in silence for a while, until they were swallowed by the forest, the weak evening only breaking the dense canopy of leaves in a few places, and Hagrid turned his attention to the trusty ritual of lighting his lamp by hand.

“Why did yer break into the office?” he asked, without looking at the three students.

A brief silence followed this, in which he supposed they exchanged glances. To his surprise, it wasn’t one of the girls who answered. “It had to be done. It was not some stupid and random act of defiance as Snape said; but if he wants to think that, we’re more than happy to let them believe it.”

Neville’s expression was unreadable, but firm. It may have been a trick of the lamplight, but Neville resembled his father a lot; as Hagrid had known him from some of the Order meetings during the first war. Those kids had seen and suffered through worse things than most people; they should not have to go through anything like this, and even though they were not yet beaten.

“Just be careful. The staff –“ and Hagrid did not include the Carrows or Snape in this, making it obvious to them with following choice of words, “- can only protect yer so much from those ruddy Death Eaters.”

“It will not stay that way!” Ginny’s eyes had lit up at her words, glinting determinedly in the semi-darkness.

Neville said something under his breath, before pulling the red-head further along the path.

“We will be, Hagrid,” Luna promised in a serene tone of voice. “The forest is beautiful at night. So calm. Isn’t it odd, that this is supposed to be a detention?”

He watched her skip after the other two. He’d wondered that too, if he was honest. And he wouldn’t have said calm; it was more like the inhabitants of the forest knew not to leave the innermost depths of it these days. At least he’d passed along the warning, as Minerva and Filius had also said they would. Many whispers had been exchanged during the day between the staff, and they were ready for the occupation to come to an end. He would resume his silent watching, which was absolutely not in his nature, but as Minerva had pointed out, in the current situation the only thing they could do for the time being. Keep their wits together and try to keep the students as safe as they could be. The wizarding world was in turmoil, Hogwarts was its own right now.

*

It had been another exhausting day for Nymphadora, and she did not feel like returning home immediately. She opted to go visit the Weasleys instead, hoping Charlie would be in. She knew he had taken a leave of absence from his job in Romania to try and recruit members for the Order, and even that had been put on hold with Dumbledore’s death and the fall of the Ministry barely a month after, because it basically meant that the Order ceased to exist. It was only ever disjointed operations these days, not a combined effort.

She was still working, for the time being. It cost her a lot of effort to keep calm and not shout her opinion for everyone to hear, or appear as if she wasn’t purposefully avoiding an answer to Runcorn’s offer – more like an ultimatum – to join them. Voldemort’s name hadn’t been mentioned directly, but it had been all too clear.

On top of that, Remus was back. He’d taken to send her messages via patronus, or leave little notes or sweet nothings for her whenever there would be a meeting at one of the safe houses, which admittedly hadn’t been often. She had resisted his pleas to give him a chance to explain, because she could imagine what his reasons had been. The same reasons she had thought they had put behind when they married. She was telling Charlie as much, the only person she had told about their break-up some days ago, although she suspected other had become aware, even with visits being complicated, that her and Remus were not living together at the moment.

“So you’re giving up? You just got married, and now, after barely two months, that’s it?” Charlie asked her bluntly. He was leaning against a tree in the Weasleys’ orchard with his arms crossed in front of his chest, while Nymphadora went back and forth, her eyes fixed on the grass beneath her feet.

“It’s not just that.” She waved her hands around in agitation. “He can’t just come and go like he wants if he gets in one of his moods. I get that it’s not easy dealing with lycanthropy. We could have talked, but he didn’t even give me the chance!” That was what frustrated her the most, that he in his need of wanting to protect her took those decisions from her. But she did not want to be protected, not like this.

“Did – did something else happen?” Charlie asked tentatively. It was not like the easy-going Tonks he knew from school stew on anything for that long. But he also had never seen her in love.

Nymphadora worried her lips, contemplating whether she should share that other piece of news. First, they hadn’t told because there had been enough on everyone’s mind with extracting Harry from Privet Drive, Mad-Eye’s death, and finally the wedding and the Ministry, but now? She was eight weeks pregnant now, and she’d have to make a decision soon. “I’m pregnant,” she tried out the words in a whisper.

Charlie had to ask again before the words really registered. His first reaction would have been to congratulate his friend, but she looked untypically solemn. “Isn’t that a good thing?”

“Apparently, it isn’t. We decided we wouldn’t tell anyone yet. I was so excited, and thought he must be too. Then he left. You’re the first person I have told, not even my parents know.”

“Oh Tonks.” Charlie moved in her way, hugging her awkwardly. He was no good when it came to emotions, yet it felt like it was the thing to be done in such situations. Not that he had ever been in a similar one. His intuition was proven right when he felt her hold on tighter, like she had waited to let herself fall. “Can we pretend you’re not crying, because I’d be running for the hills if you were? Okay? Okay. So what are you going to do now?”

He felt like an idiot for asking that when he felt the shaking of her body become stronger; she obviously didn’t know. Maybe it wasn’t a half-bad idea to just stay put and wait till she had cried herself out? It certainly felt like she had kept it all in before.

After a few minutes, she seemed to gather herself again, and he thought it safe to ask, “So, erg, don’t start the waterworks again, but maybe you should at least talk to your mother? Or, you know, Remus?”

“To what end? I know what he’s going to say: It shouldn’t have happened, the baby’s going to be a monster just like him, and it’s generally all his fault. As for mum, I think she might already suspect something.”

Charlie cleared his throat. “Hm. I just thought – well, she might be better at this stuff than me. I can discuss mating dragons all day, but this is slightly different. And I don’t suppose you fancy being compared to a gravid Romanian Ridgeback. – Ouch!” He rubbed his arm where she had cuffed him, but he was still glad to see a trace of a smile on her face. “Pregnant women!” he complained.

“Don’t be mean! That’s not fair!” Nymphadora couldn’t deny she felt a lot better.

“Yeah, yeah. How far along are you?”

“Going on nine weeks now.”

He let out a breath. “Are you going to talk to Remus? He’s back, and can’t have been gone for long. No one talked about an argument, only lately that you seem estranged. – He does know, doesn’t he?

“Yes, I told you we didn’t want to say something at first. He’s been asking to talk to me, but I’m not ready to face him again. What if he wants a divorce?”

Scoffing, Charlie answered, “A divorce? He could just file one and have the papers served to you. – Okay, maybe I’m doing a rubbish job at sticking up for you, but I have to say this. I can kind of understand where he’s coming from. Not to mention the unsafe world we’re living in, there’s a lot of complications coming your way. Even with the most well-meaning of Ministries, there still a very high possibility that the child might inherit his infliction. I may have specialised in dragons, but trust me, we had to learn a fair deal about magical creatures and the applicable laws. And what with Greyback attacking Bill … I’ve read up on werewolves, after that. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, but to imagine passing it on to my children …”

“I know! I’ve read up on it as well, as soon as I realised that my feelings for him wouldn’t just go away, and I wanted to understand him! It’s a possibility, but there’ve also been cases where the child turned out alright. There haven’t been nearly enough cases to generalise that theory. And there’s absolutely no way I’d kill off my baby just because of a possibility!”

“I know!” Charlie placated her. “No one said you should. I’m just trying to say that he must know better than anyone what it could mean, not only in terms of physical pain, but also the social consequences for the child. Hell, for you as well.”

“I don’t care!” Despite her best efforts, the words came out louder and harsher as she had intended. “I don’t care what everyone else would have said! He proved that it is possible. We could have dealt with the problem when, and if, the baby turned out like him! And there’s the Wolfsbane potion now, and who knows what’s possible in the future?”

“Nymphadora!” Now he seized her shoulders. “I’m not the one you should be telling this! Go to Remus, give him a good tongue-lashing by all means, but listen to him! You both make sense to me, but that’s not helping anything! Maybe he’s already seen that he was too quick, why else would he be back? And asking for a talk? I’ve worked with a lot of guys who freaked when they learned they were going to be a father. Maybe he needed some time to himself, just like you needed a good cry? Even though I will deny should you ever mention this to anyone, you hear me?”

Her mouth, which had been open to interrupt, fell shut, and her arms fell to her sides again. Charlie seemed flustered, and she even felt a bit guilty for dumping all her issues on him. He was right with at least one thing though: it felt good to have talked about it, and get it all off her chest. When she was honest with herself, beside the excitement, there had always been fear, not only for her baby’s safety, but also because it would be her first. Had he felt it, and taken it the wrong way? The marriage had been a big step for him, and children had never been discussed between them.

“I won’t. Mention it, I mean,” she said meekly. “And I will talk to Remus, eventually. Just give me a few more days.” Now, she wanted a good, long soak in the familiar bathtub at her childhood home, and some hot chocolate. And then, maybe a good long talk with her mother was in order.

Charlie held up his hands, smirk returning to his face. “Don’t tell me. The only thing I need to know is whether I’m taking on a fully-grown werewolf for hurting you. Although I really preferred not to; I’d have to run to my big brother for help in that case.”

*

Nora didn’t know what she was doing, or where to go next. She held onto her father, apparating all over the country. He was losing blood rather quickly from a nasty arm injury. She’d have to stop somewhere, and soon, to perform a healing charm. She was an only child, and her mum had died years ago. She wouldn’t let her father die too. The events from earlier played repeated themselves like a broken record in her head, muted but there nonetheless.


Times were dark, and it didn’t seem like that would change anytime soon. The Ministry had fallen some weeks ago, and Britain’s magical community was seeing the changes already. Nora had found the Potterwatch programme not too long afterwards, and their reports made much more sense than the Daily Prophet or the Ministry’s announcements had in a long time.

They were both pure-bloods, and maybe her father and her could have sat it out, but at what cost? Look on as others were tortured? Early this morning, only hours before - but it already seemed like a lifetime ago - they’d heard unusual noises from their neighbour’s house. They were Muggles, but Mr and Mrs Lang were the nicest couple she knew, always tinkering away in their garden and Mrs Lang didn’t tire of chatting about her grandchildren whenever Nora would pass their property. So when they heard the bangs and screams, Nora’s father had gone to investigate, Nora watching from the window. She’d seen the spells through the window, then after a moment of hesitation sprinted over too to try and help. Just in time too, she’d jumped in to support her father who had been shielding the elderly couple. They stunned the Death Eaters, then did a quick assessment of the situation. They needed to obliviate the Langs’ memories, give them the idea to move in with their son in France, and quick.

They had just been back to their home, packing and shrinking an emergency bag, when the front door had been blasted away. Her father had confronted them, and that’s when one of them had lost his cloak, revealing him as Cole Warrington. Nora knew him all too well, a Slytherin in the year above her. She knew there was talk in the Common Room among the more radical of the Slytherins about supporting the Dark Lord and joining the Death Eaters, but really seeing it was another matter entirely. As if in slow-motion, she’d seen her father sink to his knees, and Warrington’s still masked companion had used the Cruciatus on him. Acting purely on instinct, Nora threw a chair at them, crouched down next to her father, pushed his wand in his hand and commanded him, in a much firmer voice than she thought possible to reach him in his pain-induced state, to lower the anti-apparition charm. Seconds later, she’d disappeared, foregoing the proper circle.

At the first stop, she’d noticed with horror that this had caused his arm to be almost splinched off, it was bleeding severely. She quickly checked herself and tried to stem the worst of it, but had to disapparate once more at the tell-tale sound of another apparition nearby and the two cloaked and masked figures appeared.

Nora decided she couldn’t put it off anymore and at her next destination, she stopped for a minute, banished her travelling cloak to somewhere in Scotland and spun once more, only to appear a few hundred metres away. Peering out from behind a rock, she saw the two Death Eaters appear, perform a spell most likely to locate the most recent disappearances at this place, and dissapparate. She waited with baited breath, ready for them to pop out of thin air right behind her, but they didn’t.

She took a deep breath, and looked at her father. He was unconscious; Nora lost no more time to heal the wound properly, giving him the blood-replenishing potion she’d packed. Who knew they’d really need that so soon.

She did the best she could. He was breathing easier now and the wound was already healing, and she sank back on her heels. With the injury taken care off, thoughts of what would happen next stormed in on her. It only hit her now that they were probably wanted right now for helping Muggles. Where should they go? Did her father have a certain place in mind when he told her to pack? She would have turned to the Ministry, or Hogwarts, or Dumbledore only months before, but neither was an option now. Did the much-rumoured society of Dumbledore’s, the Order of the Phoenix, still exist? Where would she find them, and would they even be willing to help a former Slytherin?

Nora shook herself. Maybe she was dramatizing things. What had they done, really? Stopped Death Eaters from hurting two Muggles; that couldn’t be so bad right? It wasn’t as if they’d hidden Potter or defied the Dark Lord personally or something like that.

Right, but maybe they’d just have to stay away from home for a while. That also meant they would need money. Thinking quickly, she reckoned she could just apparate to Diagon Alley, get money from her Gringotts vault and come back, before her father woke up. She nodded determinedly to herself, then cast protective charms around her father, before she vanished with an almost inaudible ‘crack’.

*

Diagon Alley looked – deserted. Only a few people seemed brave enough to venture here. Was this what their world had come to? Nora had graduated last June, and then with Dumbledore’s death everything had happened so fast. She hadn’t gone on her Europe trip as planned, because she agreed with her father that now was not the time. They had spent most of the last three months in their home, not wanting to take sides. Her father had done most of their shopping, claiming he was used to it. Hadn’t he wanted her to see this? The picture Potterwatch painted seemed spot-on.

There were wanted-signs everywhere, most showing Harry Potter. A lot of cafes she’d sat in only the summer before were boarded up. So was Fortescue’s. Nora was shocked to the core. She wasn’t as radical as others about the whole ‘magic is for purebloods only’ doctrine, was shocked how fanatic they got on the matter, but could somehow see where they were coming from, being a pure-blood herself and coming from a somewhat respected family. But this? If this was how a pureblood-only magical world looked like, how liveable was it? So deserted, bleak, grey … so depressing?

She wandered around a bit, growing more and more incredulous seeing what had become of the once so busy and lively Diagon Alley. She had even forgotten why she came here in the first place.

A spot of colour in the otherwise desolate grey caught her eye; an explosion of orange. The building wasn’t anything special, but the display window showed orange streamers, and huge writing on the window pane invited the passers-by to have a look. It seemed freshly-painted, as if someone had just cleaned the window and painstakingly renewed the cheerful writing. A picture appeared before her inner eye: it was last summer, the opening of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes which her friends had scoffed at, but which had attracted the crowd in doves. The display window was mostly empty save for the streamers, and in smaller print, it said: Pure laughter.

Curious, Nora went to try the door, and it was really open.

- - - -


When he heard the jingle of the bell, announcing a customer, he jumped up from his position on the floor in the backroom. He hastily concealed the object he’d been working on; after all it wouldn’t do good for some Ministry ‘officials’ to catch him working on that particular product, which was for the defence product line.

Fred walked into the store, his – and George’s, of course – pride and joy. Lately, there weren’t many customers, not counting the Order members in disguise who bought only products of that particular line.

The girl who was now looking around at their merchandise seemed somehow familiar. He thought she must have been at Hogwarts too, and she looked like she was around his age. She had a pretty face, although rather pale at the moment. Her brown eyes, however, looked haunted.

“May I help you?” he enquired in his best shop-owner voice.

She flinched, then shrugged her shoulders in a would-be casual manner. “I am sorry, sir, I just needed a moment to escape all the grey.”

“Ah, I see,” Fred answered knowingly. “Grey’s not something you’ll find here.”

He withdrew behind the counter, although he kept an eye on her. She wasn’t looking for anything particular it seemed, only wandered through the aisles. Suddenly, she became rigid, and started for the door.

“Where’s the fire?” he called, stepping in front of the door.

The girl tried dodging him, but he stepped to the side as well. “No fire,” she said. “I need to get money, then back to Father. I’ve left him alone for too long already.” She shifted her eyes around nervously.

Fred thought he’d seen that kind of look far too often lately. Usually, they were very careful, in case it was a trap by Death Eaters, overzealous pure-blood idealist Ministry officials, or other who hoped to gain from bringing in sympathisers. But there was something about her, and he just had to trust her. “Are you in trouble?” he breathed.

Her eyes snapped toward his, her gaze intense. She seemed to search his soul and innermost thoughts. Finally, she nodded briefly.

“Then I wouldn’t advise going to Gringotts, they have ‘security’,” he made air quotes at this, “stationed at every entrance. If you can’t be seen, Gringotts is not the place you want to seek out now.”

“Oh,” she formed the words, at a loss. Where should she get money from now? Could she trust one of the Weasley twins? But one little question couldn’t hurt, right?

“If we said – hypothetically – that someone had disturbed two Death Eaters while torturing Muggles, would that count as not wanting to be seen?” she asked.

Fred’s eyebrows rose up. “I’d say. They won’t care about the number, and it certainly wouldn’t have ended with torturing.” He saw her gasp; obviously she hadn’t assumed that. “You’ve already run away from them, right?” He proceeded cautiously.

Once again she studied him with narrowed eyes. Then, a small nod. “My father is hurt,” she supplied almost inaudible.

Fred didn’t know why he did it, but he wanted to help that girl. He thought quickly, then grabbed one of their improved invisibility cloaks from behind the counter. “Here, I’m sure you know what it is. Can you apparate with him? Good. Bring him here. Tap on the window, and I’ll let you in.”

She started to protest, but he cut her off and sent her on her way. The girl obliged, her eyes wide and apprehensive.

Then he waited, hoping he hadn’t just done something very, very stupid. Fred didn’t know if he even wanted her to return, it seemed more risky every minute he thought about it. Usually, he could trust his gut feeling, but had he gone too far? He would have to inform his twin, in the very least, because it was their shop and flat the trace of that girl led to. He ran his hand through his hair and sighed, frustrated at himself. He hadn’t even asked her name.

- - -

Nora breathed a deep sigh of relief when she found her father exactly how she had left him. His breathing was still not back to normal, and he wasn’t conscious. She would need a proper bed, and someone who knew more about Healing, or had better potion supplies than her. She wished she could discuss this with him. But, she realised, she wasn’t a little girl anymore who could run to her father for protection and a few words that would make it all better. This was really happening, and she had to look out for both of them at the moment.

Weasley – she didn’t even know which one she had talked to – was her best bet, and although she’d mostly rolled her eyes at their antics while at Hogwarts, she decided to take his offer. The thought briefly crossed her mind that he might want to help his own standing by turning in traitorous pure-bloods, but she dismissed it quickly. She’d seen nothing evil or remotely vindictive in his eyes earlier, and she would just have to trust her instincts.

Who would have thought it might ever come to this, that she'd asked a Gryffindor for help? And a Weasley no less.




If you recognised Nora, you're my new favourite person, because it means you read the WIP I started on her and Fred. I deleted it; because it was too close to what I had in mind for this story, and they'll make an appearance in 'Minutes Of A War'. Fred will get some romance - because I can't seem to avoid it altogether ;) - as will some of the other Weasley boys.
Let me know what you think please; does it work for you?

Oh, and before I forget: Merry Christmas!


Chapter 6: Players Set
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“No, but seriously, Kingsley, what can I do to help?“ Lee persisted. “I mean, look at what those bastards did! Saving the magic world for pure-bloods? The way it is now, they destroyed it for all of us, and that includes pure-bloods! What is the magical world without Quidditch, and Hogwarts, and a bustling Diagon Alley? Diagon Alley almost died out, Quidditch has been cancelled. What’s the point?”

“You don’t need to tell me, Lee. We’re not the ones who need convincing. I’m counting on it that eventually, even his followers will see it that way. Only I’m losing faith on when this will be …” he trailed off, both disappointed and dejected. “I’m hoping Cresswell’s got away alright, after we’ve taken that risk just now.”

“The worst thing is that no one seems to know anymore. We get what the Death Eaters feed us through the Prophet. Xeno’s been great, though he doesn’t have the largest circulation, and Mum went to check on him last week, as she sometimes does since Mrs Lovegood died. He wouldn’t stop complaining about the state of his owls, blamed some strange creature.” George shook his shoulders.

“Good ol’ Xeno,” Fred added. “Though that’s just another point: you can’t even send letters anymore via owls without them getting searched. And the Floo Network is a no-go, as well.”

“Don’t forget you can’t even call Moldywarts a malicious snakehead when you feel like it,” George quipped.

“Yeah, but can you say that three times fast?” Fred interjected out of habit.

“My point is: I lost my job with Puddlemere when Quidditch was cancelled. No need for a commentator when there’s no matches,” Lee continued sourly. “I wish I could cast a Sonorous and tell them exactly what’s on my mind. Probably wouldn’t do that more than once, though.”

“Probably. If you were thick enough to get caught,” Fred sniggered at this friend.

“With a Sonorous Charm, you’d still only get the people in a certain radius. Not worth the risk,” Kingsley had listened to the boys’ banter with an amused face. They only rarely had fun those days.

“We hijack the Wizarding Wireless Network, then. Ditch Celestina Warbeck, I know a certain new Weasley who’d be only too thrilled about that,” George said lightly.

“Like a pirate radio station, you mean?” Lee pounced on the idea. As the three pure-bloods looked at him curiously, Lee - who had a Muggle father - rolled his eyes. “A radio station, but it’s illegal, most often not government-conform and often changes location.”

“Sounds like exactly what we need. Ha, I’d like to see their faces! That would be brilliant!” Fred slapped his thigh, ideas springing up in his mind.

“Boys!” Kingsley cautioned. “That’s all nice and funny to talk about and distract from the current climate, but it would be just too dangerous to carry out.”

“You forgot to say that we’re too young and don’t know what we’re dealing with. But Kingsley, we do. We stopped being innocent the moment we saw Cedric’s body fall down from the sky.” George’s voice and face were serious.

“And we weren’t exactly being Ministry-conform today, were we?” Lee put in.

Kingsley held his hands up in a ‘stop it’ gesture. “Hold your hippogriffs! I can’t wrap my head around this! You really aren’t kidding anymore, are you?”

The former Gryffindors looked at each other, their eyes showing nothing but determination. “If we don’t do anything, how can we expect anyone else to?” Fred said, almost challengingly.

When Kingsley looked a bit confused, George elaborated with a sarcastic little smile, “Well, that’s what we all took away with us from a slightly illegal little study group and that obnoxiously moody altruistic black-haired git we’re not going to name here because who knows if they’ve put a trace on his name as well.”

“Besides, maybe he hears us and knows to hurry up. He can’t have more information than the general public, and it might come in helpful. I think it’s time that people know what’s really going on,” Lee supplied.

Kingsley let out an exasperated breath. “Sometimes, I wonder what you lot got up to at Hogwarts. I swear I was never that troublesome.”

“Is that a yes?” Fred called him out.

“I’m not saying that. We’d have to sort out the equipment first, and figure out how to do it with a semblance of a plan, and an escape plan. – And don’t snort at me, I’m not jumping into anything blindly, we don’t need to take avoidable risks.”

Lee said he had a pretty good idea about how to work the broadcasting equipment as needed, from Hogwarts and more importantly from professional Quidditch, as Puddlemere had had a state-of-the-art commentator’s box. “Get crackin’, boys. Put your heads to use, we need an agenda,” he told his red-headed friends, while Kingsley told them he’d look into the logistics of it all, and that he would call on them for further discussions.

The Auror left first, and Fred smiled wistfully. “Who knew he’d be willing to help break the law, big bad Auror that he is?”

“Ex-Auror, though,” George inserted.

“True. Their loss, and I bet they know it. Right, any suggestions as to names? Any good show needs a catchy title. - I quite like ‘Fred’s Fantastic Revelation Frenzy’,” the second red-head proposed, batting his eyelashes comically.

George flicked the little paper ball he’d been perfecting during the conversation at his twin. “Boo! Major fail on the alliteration there, Freddie!”

“I was under pressure!” Fred complained, raising his hands in a ‘what-can-you-do’ gesture.

“Well, come up with something better,” Lee said in a business-like voice, before he too left.

*

A squeal had already half-way risen in her throat, but she caught herself just in time; her hand hovering over her wand she’d stuck behind her ear.

“Merlin, Remus, one of these days …” Nymphadora couldn’t muster the anger that had fuelled her during the first weeks after he’d left her. His pearly-white wolf patronus was hovering a little ways away, just watching her. There had been one every day, which should have made her expect it, but she still almost jumped out of her skin every time. And given the nature of that particular spell, the patronus would invariably appear where she was at any given time. Though thankfully, he seemed to limit it to those times when she was at home. She didn’t dare question how he knew where she was – and more importantly, whether any given Death Eater could get the same information about her – but they hadn’t had any unwanted visitors breach the wards since August 1st.

The young witch closed the fridge where she had been rummaging around for an early-morning snack – she was sure she was the first one up, since the sun hadn’t even risen yet above the horizon. But the baby had certain cravings, and that’s what she stuck with. It was certainly not her who suddenly found the combination of medium rare steaks topped with caramel sauce appetizing.

Wandering toward the familiar patronus with a weary sigh, she passed her hand through the misty shape. “Maybe you do have a certain point fearing the baby might be affected in some way. By Dumbledore’s purple dress robes, I’ve never even been that fond of steak, not even well done. I wish you would have talked to me instead of making that decision over my head.”

The apparition shifted as if it wanted to lean into her touch, but there was nothing there for her to touch except air and a white mist.

“I’ll be in Carlisle tonight at seven.” Her husband’s slightly hoarse voice rang around the room, before the wolf evaporated in front of her, leaving her hand hanging uselessly in midair.

There was always a message. Sometimes, he’d recite a poem, or just sprout some sappy nonsense –which she couldn’t deny she loved secretly. He’d asked to meet her with his first messages; lately he only stated where he would be at a certain time with every other message. “Don’t do that. Just about anyone could hear you. Just what am I going to do with you?”

*

Percy had no idea what had triggered the sensation; but the Ministry seemed even more daunting than usual. Thicknese looked like he had been run over by a hippogriff. Had the man been subjected to torture? He could only suspect, but it looked like someone wasn’t satisfied with the results of the search for Harry Potter, as Thicknese had announced even harsher measures against ‘opponents of the rightful regime’ and increased the manpower behind the search for the Undesirable Number One tenfold. You-Know-Who was getting impatient, it seemed.

“Weasley!” His head shot up at the sharp voice, and there was Yaxley, beckoning him to follow. What could the Head of Magical Law Enforcement want with him?

Yaxley’s office was richly equipped, yet the man felt out of place. Percy was forcefully reminded of when he visited the former heads Scrimgeour or Thicknese – back when the man hadn’t had that glazed look in his eyes – here. Both had not proved up the job when they were made Minister, but in this office he’d found them competent enough and deserving of respect. Yaxley just didn’t fit there, having been appointed out of nowhere. Percy filed the impression away with all the things that had furthered his doubts in their rule. He could no longer pretend he was working for the right side.

He almost jumped out of his skin when someone else was led in. Percy tried to keep his face blank and sat with his back ramrod straight when his father took the seat next to him.

“So, Arthur,” Yaxley leaned towards his father as if they were the best of friends, “I hear your son’s still ill. Any chance of him getting better soon? We care about our employees’ families,” here he stroked his chin languidly, and Percy, who had followed the movement of the hand, could clearly make out the smug grin, “- and intend to make sure personally of his current condition. He IS a friend of Harry Potter’s, isn’t he?”

Percy felt a wave of emotions wash over him, so tangled he couldn’t place them all, as his father answered in a tense voice, “He is still ill, Mr Yaxley. Your concern is appreciated, but I fear there is no change from your previous visit. It is still not advisable to approach his bedstead.”

Percy was pretty sure Ron would be wherever Harry was. Or could he really be ill? Before he could dwell anymore on the fact that his last encounters with his youngest brother were nothing but hostile, Yaxley addressed him. “I am sure Mr Weasley would also like to learn if his brother was ill, and I am sure –“ he paused significantly, “- he would take care to verify his brother’s genuine state of health. Isn’t that so, Mr Weasley?”

So again, he was asked to spy on his family; was being used for their ends. Only this time, there was no way he could appease his own conscience by satisfying it with ulterior motives. “Mr Yaxley, I am sure you are aware that I chose sides long ago. For anyone who is ill like you say my brother is, I am quite sure is best with as much rest as possible, and I am confident my mother will make sure he gets that.” He didn’t dare glance at his father. He was sure he had just severed another tie to him, hurt him with his words. But this time, he was doing it for them.

“Very well,” Yaxley commented with an sardonic twist to his mouth,” given the circumstances, I can’t really say I fault you for your decision. - Arthur, I shall take your word for it, but do not assume that the matter won’t be looked into further. Mr Weasley, you will stay with me for another few minutes, won’t you?”

Percy could feel his father’s gaze on him for some fleeting seconds, then he was alone with Yaxley.

“I am aware you severed ties with your family to advance your career. I cannot be denied that your descent is pure, although some of your family display traitorous tendencies. This would have been an easy opportunity for you to show your loyalties. Yet, I can understand your desire to get away from that. Who would want to live in such an, ah, embarrassing … home?”

I would, Percy thought inwardly, wishing nothing more than to be back in his old room and pull his blanket over his head.

“Dolores Umbridge asked for you, she remembered you from a certain hearing before the Wizengamot some years ago, and the previous Ministers seemed to value your service as Assistant. Do not give us a reason to doubt you. You might not have connections with your family at the moment, but surely you would not be … thrilled … to hear something happened to them because of your failure to follow? I am positive your ailing brother and your parents would enjoy a little, let’s say, breather?”

The way Yaxley paused, and worded this so-called ‘opportunity’, Percy knew he had no other choice but to give his okay. He felt completely numb as he returned to his desk and moved his things to his new work placement.

So he hadn’t lost enough already. Still, the most confusing feelings were warring inside him, but above them all he could feel a fury that propelled him over the day. So they were making him Assistant? Who said they could use him that easily? He wasn’t foolish enough to think he could thwart the Ministry all on his own, but maybe he could intervene here and there in smaller ways.

*

The doors of the lift shifted closed in front of her; Arthur Weasley was just loosening his tie beside her, breathing rather heavily since he had sprinted to slip in at the last second. “Sorry, sorry,” he said loudly, addressing those around them. “was running rather late … lots of work …”

“Wouldn’t want you to miss dinner, now, would we?” Tonks quipped, inciting a few nervous chuckles around her.

“Tsk,” someone hissed disparagingly at the back of the lift, and a quick glance told her that Rookwood was leaning casually against the wall.

“Indeed, Auror Tonks,” Arthur told her brightly. “As always, my day wouldn’t be complete without your notorious obligatory comment.”

Both turned to face the front again. She’d always had a loose mouth, and nowadays, it had become a habit between Arthur and herself to kind of boost their moral that way whenever they’d cross path during work.

She weaved her way through the people around the Atrium to reach the fire-places, keeping a distance between her and Arthur on purpose.

As soon as she appeared on the other side and had exited the public restroom that served as the portal into the Ministry, she quickened her steps to catch up with the balding red-head.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to be give him an opportunity to scoff at you,” she said sheepishly.

An amused glance was sent her way. “We’ve been over this, Tonks. There’s barely a place in the Ministry nowadays were you’re not overheard. I know how to take it; and frankly, I’d rather enjoy the change away from the pure-blood talk.”

“Okay then,” she relented, turning to send a smile his way. Arthur extended his arm and pulled her to the side a bit; which had her avoid a group of teenagers they passed on the sidewalk instead of running straight into them.

“Oops. Nice safe.” Tonks pulled away to turn into a less busy alley so they could apparate. “Well, goodbye, I gue-, erg, Arthur?”

He had stopped, and was pacing, apparently something was on his mind. “I, erg, I wanted to address this for a few days, actually. Tonks, are you okay?”

“What? Why wouldn’t I be?” She felt her features slip into the indifferent mask she had come to define as her ‘work mode’, and immediately regretted it. Nice, not suspicious at all, she thought.

Arthur raked a hand through his receding hairline, before giving their surroundings cautious glances. “Let’s go somewhere else, yes?” He offered his arm for a side-along apparition. She considered her options, but finally took it, and felt the familiar feeling of being forced through a narrow tube.

They reappeared on a grassy field, which offered an unobstructed view in all directions. Still, it didn’t mean that someone couldn’t have been around under the guise of an Invisibility Cloak or disillusionment charm. And I’m becoming as paranoid as Mad-Eye, Tonks chided herself.

“We’re near Bath, I’ve once spent a holiday here when I was a child,” Arthur said, anticipating her question. “So, erg, there’s no way I can ask this without feeling awkward, but, erg, …” Instead of finishing his sentence, his eyes travelled downward and came to rest on her stomach.

Heat rose in her cheeks, which she was sure were beet-red. “Did Charlie …?”

“Charlie? What? Oh no, he didn’t!” He turned impulsively, prepared to storm away. Tonks wondered what she could probably have missed, since she only wanted to ask whether Charlie had blabbed about her pregnancy, when the realisation caused her eyes to go as wide as saucers.

“Arthur! Stop! Not that!” she exclaimed, feeling horribly torn between wanting to explain and break out into hysterical peals of laughter.

Arthur faced her again, and she could see all kinds of emotions on his face. “What do you mean, not that? I was talking about, uhm, …”

“You were trying to ask me ‘discreetly’ whether I’m going to pop a baby anytime soon?” Tonks decided to help him out of his misery. His expression turned to mortified, but she had to hand it to him; he caught himself quickly.

“Not very successful, was I? – Well, I’m not the most observant guy; but I saw it with Molly, seven times. I wasn’t sure though … And what did you mention Charlie for? He’s not the father, is he? Because if he is, he has another thing coming … A married woman …”

Tonks noticed how his voice had darkened at the idea of that possibility, and the resonant disappointment. “No, no, not that,” she interrupted quickly. “I told him, but I asked him to keep it quiet for now. I’m not already showing, am I?” She peeked at her mid-riff, trying to discern a difference. Not that there would be any since that morning when she had last checked.

“So, is it Remus’s? I’ve mostly seen you at work only, but you seem … distant lately? And it seems the Ministry thinks you’ve come to your senses and separated …”

Once again, he proceeded cautiously. She guessed he was a gun-shy, since Molly’s temper was formidable on any normal day, but she couldn’t imagine her high on those blasted hormones. “It is. We’ve had some … differences. But we’re working on it,” Tonks hastened to add at seeing his immediate worry. And it wasn’t a complete lie, since she had contemplated all day going to Carlisle. “He’s worried the child might be affected by his condition. I’m not having it. And the Ministry can just go stick their noses somewhere else!” And, she concluded for herself, indeed she would not have it.

“Well. So, I take it it’s okay if I congratulate you? And you’ve got my full faith that you’ll work it out with Remus.”

She accepted his well-wishes, hoping his words would come true.

“But seriously, Tonks. You cannot keep working … in your condition.”

Arthur’s face was worried; but she had the strange urge to laugh. So I have a condition, now, as well? Take that, Remus!

“I know,” she answered instead, softly. “Yet another point of contention. – But after Kingsley got busted, I didn’t want to desert ship. You –“

Arthur lifted his hands in disagreement. “Don’t. I will be fine. True, I’ll miss your jibes, but all we’ve been doing lately was watching and gathering information, anyway. You have other priorities, right now.”

“I just want to help,” Tonks said in a small voice. She was inwardly cursing her mood-swings, but this was really the only thing that made her go in day after day. That she could help prevent arrests or attacks by warning off the people in question. “Mum and Dad have been saying the same, but I just …”

“Believe me, I can relate on that account,” he smiled sadly in understanding. “But if it was my daughter in your place … I just had to ask …”

Tonks nodded in understanding, turning to take in the sight around her. She felt a calmness overcome her which she had lacked since her world had been rocked in early August.

Feeling eerily confident and a manic drive, she turned her head. “Thanks for asking, at any rate. I’m sure Molly’s about ready to send out a search party at this point, and about that dinner …, well I wouldn’t want to keep you. Send my regards to Charlie, will you? I think I have to be somewhere else, right now.”

*

It had been a week since Nora wandered into the shop, lost and confused. Her father had gained consciousness again, but he was too weak to travel by floo or apparition again. The times she had apparated with him after the splinching incident had taken its toll already and caused the long unconsciousness afterwards. And during that week she had also learned they were now wanted for aiding Muggles; so this meant if they left their current hide-out, they’d have to leave the country if they wanted to be safe.

Fred treated her politely, his twin George was suspicious, but they let them stay. Nora felt torn; she knew they couldn’t stay and endanger the Weasleys even more – she suspected there was more than they let on, they were most likely under suspicion by the Ministry as well already – but she had her father to consider.

One day, she was just sitting near the window in the early hours of the morning, concealed by the thick red curtain, when she saw a woman hurry by on the street below, a small girl on her hand.

The cause of her urgency became apparent soon; a black-cloaked man strode along the street behind her. He caught up directly below her window, lowering his hood some so she could see his sneer in the pale light of dawn.

“Now my pretty, where to so fast? Why don’t you keep me company for a bit?” he leered at her.

“Just home,” she answered politely, her voice level.

“Home, ay? Where would that be? You’re not some Mudblood trying to infiltrate Diagon Alley? Gotta make sure, you know, as a proud pureblood myself.” Encouraged by her silence, he continued in an oily voice. “I could be persuaded to turn a blind eye, though. Wouldn’t cost you much, only some of your … time.”

The woman’s face hardened as she looked at him, pressing her child closer to her body. She tried backing away slowly, but the man followed her.

Nora sprang into action; she jumped to her feet and grabbed her wand, flying down the stairs and through the showroom. Fred poked his head out of the back room, immediately following when she didn’t react to his calls.

She heard his voice again, and then two sets of feet behind on her. She had almost reached the door, as someone grabbed her from behind. She wanted to protest, but two almost identical hissing noises stopped her. “Bastard,” Fred breathed, his eyes trained on the group outside, which they could now see through the display windows, only barely concealed by the blinds.

“What are we going to do?” George whispered, flattening himself against the column between door and window to have a covert look outside. Nora briefly thought how they seemed to take it for granted that something would have to be done.

“It’s only one, and it’s early enough so we could get away with it without being seen,” Fred mused as if he’d just issued an invitation for tea. His eyes were ablaze, though.

“Are you completely mad?” Nora cut in sharply.

George shot her an appreciative look. “Says the girl who was prepared to charge outside without any kind of plan.”

Nora would later remember that it was the first time he addressed her personally, and even with some kind of respect. Now, she just rolled her eyes, listening to what the notorious Weasley twins were cooking up. Acting quickly, the threesome jumped into action.

George stepped outside, yawning as he made as if to pick up the milk bottles.

The pair didn’t spare him a glance, one too engrossed in his bullying, the woman had all her focus on her assailant, prepared for anything. Only the little girl was peeking out from behind her mother; eyes wide, and George smiled encouragingly at her.

He gave the arranged go-ahead signal behind his back, since he couldn’t see anyone else around.

Fred disappeared under one of their hats, immediately vanishing from sight. She could just see a faint outline move for the door. “Impressive,” she whispered to herself, thinking she must try one of those particular hats herself. Fred seemed to be in position, as George slunk back into the shadow of the building. Taking her cue, Nora set of a Whizzing Frisbee.

Two red jets of light, one from out of thin air and the other from where she guessed George had retreated, hit the dark-clad man squarely in the chest. They had the man stunned in a matter of seconds.

Nora had been ready to jump in if necessary, but they’d made quick work of it. She took care to put a silencing charm over the mother and her daughter to prevent them from drawing attention to what had just occurred. “Quick, come in!” she urged them, hoping that her face would be deemed trustworthy enough to let the pair follow without a fuss.

“I’m going to remove the spell, all I’m asking is that you don’t scream.” Nora did as she had said, and guided them to a chair to let them catch their breath. Some explaining words were exchanged, when they heard a soft knock on the door.

Nora signalled for her companions to be quiet, but the tell-tale red hair she could see by peeking through the blinds. Nevertheless, she’d learned to be careful. “Identify yourselves.”

“Bloody Slytherin hijacking our shop!” Someone cursed under their breath, and she promptly deduced that had been George, because a second voice answered in a rather amused tone, “You stumbled into our shop on accident, instead of going to Gringotts where you’d have met a bunch of lovely Ministry personnel.”

Satisfied, Nora let them in, giving George a stare from narrowed eyes. “Bloody Gryffindor, always the big mouth.”

“How are you, Madam? And the little Miss?” Fred cut in loudly.

“Thanks to you, we’re fine. How can I possibly thank you?”

“Oh, you’ve nothing to thank us for. It was really nothing.” George answered this time.

The woman acknowledged his modest rejection of her praise, and asked instead, “What happened to that man? Is it safe to leave? We were just preparing to meet with my husband, who …, uh, cannot be seen, and leave the country.”

The husband was most likely a Muggle-Born, Nora deduced, sidling over to the check-out desk where she knew the twins always kept some chocolate frogs for special guests, and chucked one of the sweets at the girl, after calling out to her. She gave the girl a grin, when she caught it skilfully.

“… deposited him at the entrance to Knockturn Alley, with some empty fire whiskey bottles. No worries, he’s obliviated; won’t remember a thing, “ Fred was saying to the mother.

“Would you allow me?” George asked, stepping closer, indicating first his wand and then the woman’s head. “I’ll take away the memory of our faces, and then you can be on your way.”

The woman hesitated, clearly uncomfortable to have an unknown man, even if he had just saved her life, meddle with her head.

“He could have done it without warning you,” Nora supplied helpfully. It’s what she would have done; it would have certainly saved them the hassle. Bloody Gryffindors. Though the sentiment was tinged with fondness this time.

The woman relented, deciding to trust them.

Nora climbed the stairs first, stopping in the door to her current room. Her father slept on the make-shift bed, his face still sickly pale. The events of the morning had shaken her more than she cared to admit, and it was only now sinking in what they had done. Or what could have happened if they hadn’t done what they did.

She had her wand and could defend herself, but what about her father? The approaching footsteps from the hall had her whirl around. “Is there anywhere safe for him to hide?” Practically, she was already hiding, but it was only a matter of time until they were caught , living in the middle of Diagon Alley.

“Going for the safe route, after all?” George sounded almost disappointed, while Fred just kept quiet.

Nora didn’t take the bait, just watching them patiently. The evening of the very same day, a ‘friend’ who introduced himself as Ted invited them to his home.

Nora was surprised at the strength of the magical border she crossed safely, owing to her hosts instructions. She shuddered what the spells and enchantments would have done to them if they had tried going in without the guidance.

“Fred and George vouched for you. ‘tis good enough for me, so consider yourself at home for the time being.” She didn’t intend to stay for long though, only making sure her father was settled in before she said her goodbyes.

*

Nymphadora was picking her way through Carlisle’s streets. He hadn’t given a specific location, but she was pretty sure where she would find him. They’d had been here before, some time after she had first joined the Order, and he’d given her information from one of his werewolf missions to pass on to Dumbledore.

The small Muggle café was still there, overlooking a rectangular square where the Muggles were going about their business.

The confidence from her talk with Arthur Weasley was still cursing through her, and carried her right through the door. The interior hadn’t changed, the upholstery of the of the seats showing signs of wear and tear, a reminder that people had sat, eaten and laughed here. A wall showed pictures of couples or celebrities, and a black and white mural featured Carlisle Castle.

The table they’d sat at the last time was tucked away behind a large potted plant, but she had no difficulties making out the man with the sandy-brown hair.

She was sure he’d kept an eye on the entrance, since he got to his feet as soon as she was within a ten feet radius. “You came,” he stated instead of a greeting.

Nymphadora wordlessly slipped onto the bench, nodding shortly when he said something about ordering her a coffee. The cakes and pastries on display did look delicious, but she restrained herself, knowing now was not the time. The time until her coffee was served was spent in charged silence, made more obvious by him drumming his fingers on the table, although he did not seem to realise he was doing it. Once or twice, he shot her a glance, and looked like he was about to say something before clamping his mouth shut again.

The coffee smelled delicious, and the oversize mug it was served in warmed her hands when she wrapped them around it, serving as a kind of anchor for her feelings. She really hadn’t known when she received his message this morning whether she should go or not. The talk with Arthur was still fresh in her mind, which had given her a strange sense of certainty, as she contemplated Remus in silence. What had drawn her to this man, who was actually closer in age to her parents than to herself? The loss of his friends, prejudice and two wars had left their marks on him, making him look even older than he actually was. Not even thirty-eight yet, she recalled. Dark moods and self-depreciation, but he’d never turned dark himself. He easily could have turned out like Greyback, but he still tried to do what was right, even if she was not in agreement with this particular decision. His regular patronus messages had given her the feeling that he really did care for her, and the child as well, and she could acknowledge now what she couldn’t immediately after he left; that he had done it out of a warped sense of honour. Remus Lupin, constantly at war with his own impossibly high expectations for himself. She had been over the moon – ironic phrase, really, if she thought about it – when they had married in July, sure they had worked through his issue with his lycanthropy. She should have realised that, just like the moon and the invariable transformation, it would come up again; since it had been a part of his life for so long and must be engrained much too deep to just disappear. But he also could be incredibly witty and insightful, and she loved when his wry sense of humour broke through. She tended have to a sarcastic streak herself, and she missed those moments terribly, when their eyes would meet and she knew exactly that they were thinking the same.

The fact that he seemed actually nervous – or how else was she supposed to interpret his fidgeting? – made her feel like she had had a healthy swig of Felix Felicis. The talk with Arthur came back; Charlie’s encouragement as well as her mother’s assurances, both soothing and outraged on her behalf, and her father’s silent support boosted the feeling even more. She could make him stew some more, but she realised that she didn’t want to.

“Of course I came. Someone has to tell you that just about anyone could have overheard you saying where you’d be at a certain time.” Challengingly, she raised an eyebrow.

“Pardon?” Now he sounded just as out of his depth as he looked.

“You. Possibly setting yourself up. – But never mind that now. Why am I here?”

One last da dam on the table top followed, before he seemed to come to the decision to just get on with it. “I didn’t think you’d actually come. I was hoping, of course, but after you didn’t react all the other times … If you still want to hear them, I can give you the reasons why I up and left, something I should have done all along. That’s the least I could have done, and I understand if you don’t even want to hear it now. And then … it’s up to you of course … if it is at all possible … maybe you’d give me the chance to make it up to you.”

Tonks pressed her lips together and let go with a popping sound, taking it he had finished. Because she didn’t trust herself to just jump the gun and spare him the apology by jumping into his arms right away, she put her hand on his. Immediately, a spark seemed to spring over, reminding her how good they had been together.

Oh yeah; she’d missed that too. But she knew she had to let him finish; it would be important to him to do it properly. “So let me get this straight. You’re asking me to let you explain, and decide whether I let you back in?”

Remus was starring at her hand on his, then turned his, and their fingers entwined. He looked up and nodded jerkily. “I’m so sorry, Dora. I could barely wrap my head around the fact that we were married. It was already making me feel guilty; but still, I tried to believe that you could handle it. I was selfish enough to want that. And then, you told me you were pregnant.” He dropped his gaze, and she wanted nothing more than to contradict, say it would be alright. With an agitated jerk, he looked up again, but his anger was clearly not directed at her. “Hell, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’d never have a family myself. Sirius nailed it on the head when he said James would probably be the only one of us to ever reproduce, the day we went to see Harry for the first time.”

Tonks couldn’t suppress the snort; she could just picture her cousin saying something along those lines. Her reaction caused the corners of his mouth to twitch upward briefly, but she had caught it. It reminded her how much she loved to make him smile.

“Have you thought about it, though?” It was a strange feeling, but she had more than herself to consider now. If he still had reservations about Little Squirt, she’d put the baby’s happiness above hers.

“I did,” he conceded. Remus bit his lip before ploughing on. “Dora, I wouldn’t wish my fate on my worst enemy, let alone an innocent baby. So how can I subject my own kin to something like that? Even if it’s only a possibility, even if there’s Wolfsbane now, and they might even invent a cure in the future. How could I …?”

“You make it sound like it’s your fault,” Tonks reasoned softly.

“He – she – might see that differently.”

“We might not be able to influence whether the baby turns out to be inflicted. Which we don’t know yet; none of the check-ups has shown anything out of the ordinary. But we can influence how the baby thinks about you. If that’s even an issue when the time comes. - So, answer the question.”

“You said we,” he whispered. Tonks just raised her eyebrow again to remind him she still needed an answer. Just say it, she urged him silently. She thought she knew the answer from the course of the conversation, but she still wanted to hear it from him, and it took all her Auror training to keep from bouncing in her seat.

“I love you, Dora. Even though I told myself that it was for the best, I missed you as soon as I was out of the door. I don’t know how to be a father, but I would try to love our child just as much.”

Only seconds before, she had felt a sort of elated anticipation, only to find it replaced now by an overwhelming emotion. Her vision blurred, and she only noticed that she was crying when he squeezed onto the bench next to her.

“Dora?” He sounded so hesitant, only touching her shoulders lightly as if he was afraid he might break her. Did he think she was crying because she was upset?

“No, no, no!” She protested wildly, almost knocking him on the nose with her hands, before throwing her arms around his neck without further ado.

“Dora? What’s going on?”

He sounded confused and worried, his voice reverberating in his chest, but he held on tighter nonetheless.

Damn those mood swings! She pulled away slightly, fishing in her pockets for a tissue, but made do with a napkin Remus held out for her. She blew her nose noisily, noticing that they had attracted the attention of the few other guests.

“Pregnant,” she mouthed, gesturing at herself. It seemed to satisfy them, since they got back to what they had been doing before.

Turning back to the matter at hand, she saw him watching her. “Gah, I’m a mess.” That wasn’t how she had intended to do this, her skin all blotchy and eyes red from crying. If only she had a way of fixing it quickly - oh, wait.. She scrunched up her face, careful to keep Remus between herself and the rest of the café, and felt immediately refreshed.

“One more try?” Tonks asked hopefully, looking up through her lashes at Remus.

He gave a short laughter, which she took to mean ‘If you must’.

Feeling bold, Nymphadora took his face between his hands. “I’m not upset. I was crying because you said the L-word. I just love, love, love you so much.”

“I said it because I mean it.”

“I know you wouldn’t have said it otherwise. And you’ll try to love Little Squirt. We’re a package deal now, so that’s good.”

“Little Squirt.” She could hear the trace of mockery in his voice, and swatted him on the arm before embracing him again with a carefree laugh. The feeling of exhilaration was back full force. Werewolf, metamorphagus, magical or not, her baby would have the best dad she could imagine.







A/N: Nothing you recognise is mine.

As always, I'm dying to know what you all think ;)
As for the Percy bit, he's been growing on me - I kind of like exploring what made him go from the brat who ditched his family for his career to the man who came charging into the Room of Requirement, eager to fight.

Happy 2012!



Chapter 7: Lives Changed
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Dora had been staying with her parents, which was why she’d suggested they should just move in with them for the time being. It made sense; she’d have her parents – both Healers – close by, and with all the disappearances and Death Eaters roaming their world freely, they could stick together. The Tonks’s house was also used as a safe house again, which meant it had all kinds of wards.

Still, Remus did not look forward to meeting his parents-in-law again. He could just imagine what they might have to say about his disappearing act. True, he’d been back for a while, but kept mostly to himself. So it was with a feeling of heavy anticipation that he followed his wife through the wards, and up to the front door.

“We’ll have to include you into the admittance list for the wards again,” Dora was saying, keeping up a constant flow of chatter.

He didn’t want to worry her, since she seemed positive that her parents would for some reason be thrilled about his return and welcome him with open arms – just she had done, to his amazement.

She opened the door simply by touching it; and they made it into the hall before Ted Tonks came strolling out of the sitting room. “Dora! We were starting to get worried!” He swooped her up in a big hug, which she found clearly embarrassing. Not heeding her, Ted narrowed his eyes at Remus. “Remus.”

Ouch.. He knew he had messed up when he heard the other man’s cold voice. Ted had been nothing but jovial with him, even though it wasn’t everyday one’s daughter married an older werewolf.

“Come on in then,” Ted said, throwing an arm around his daughter as he led her in. Remus pulled a grimace, feeling foolish and unwelcome as he stood there alone in the hall. “Well, it’s not like I can blame him,” he muttered.

Dora was sitting on the couch with her father, shooting him smile that held a mixture of uncertainty and encouragement. He chose the chair nearest to her, and he’d barely sat down when someone else came in.

“You! Whatever did you think you were doing? Screwing with my daughter’s mind and heart like you did?”

Remus barely noted Dora shooting up from her seat, as he had his attention on the woman who approached him. With her grey ablaze with fury, she was reminiscent of both Bellatrix and Sirius.

“Mum!” Remus caught his wife’s arm to stop her from interfering. Andromeda had every right to ask those questions. How could what he had thought was a reasonable decision turn out that catastrophic? When the witch ranted how torn up Dora had been, he felt even worse about it. Of course, the witch in question was trying to protest that it hadn’t been that bad.

“So? What do you have to say for yourself?” Andromeda had finally calmed down enough.

What could he say, really? “I am so sorry, you have no idea how much I regret that decision. I thought it would be better to have a quick, clean cut, instead of putting her through being associated with me.”

“And you think that justifies it?” she thundered.

“Mum! Please, I asked you to be polite. And that’s entirely my decision!” Dora argued.

Andromeda snapped her mouth shut, albeit grudgingly. Instead, she announced, “Dinner is almost ready.”

The meal was spent in a tense silence, and even Dora gave up after a while trying to make conversation. They exchanged a glance, ready to retreat to their rooms, when Ted’s voice stopped them. “Remus, a word, please.”

The last word couldn’t disguise that it was far from a request. Once again, Dora wanted to stay by him, but he had to do this alone; so he merely squeezed her hand in reassurance before following his father-in-law outside.

Ted was pacing. “I’m not one for violence, but I have a good mind to punch you square in the face.”

“And I wish I could say that I wouldn’t deserve it,” Remus answered just as solemnly.

“You know, I’m torn,” Ted stated, stopping just a feet in front of him, looking him directly in the eye. “I know how it is to be the one who possibly put the woman you love in danger. – Don’t be surprised. I’m suspended from my work at St. Mungo’s pending my hearing before the Registry, and these days, being a Muggle-Born is equal to being a half-breed.
Our start wasn’t uuncomplicated, either. After all, I’m the Muggle-Born who snatched a daughter of one of the oldest and most notorious pure-blood families. Believe me, her family did not look upon that fact kindly. But the important thing was that she chose me and this life.
And it’s safe to say Dora had made her decision, for you.”

“I could never believe she’d picked me. She could have done so much better.” It was hard saying those things out loud, but he had known when he came back that nothing but brutal honesty would work in his favour.

Ted nodded pensively. He hadn’t forgiven the younger man for hurting his daughter, but it couldn’t be denied that Dora had been positively glowing when she showed up the day before to tell them the news. And back in July, It had been a shock, to say the least, when she had announced her relationship and the impending wedding only days after the death of Albus Dumbledore.

“I’ll never think that’s anyone’s quite good enough for her. But, she has made her decision; And she is too much her mother’s daughter to change her mind once it’s made up. As long as she’s happy, I’ll put up with it. I don’t know what good it would have done if I’d said this before, but: If you hurt her again, I won’t heed her pleas to be nice to you.”

“Understood.”

“Just a word of warning: We’re reserving judgment, because Dora asked us too. And as for Dromeda, she’ll want to let off some steam. She’s not through with you yet, but I think you know that. We’ll see what the future brings.”

All in all, Remus mused as he climbed the stairs, it had gone well. Hopefully, he’d manage to mend the relationship with his in-laws with time.

*

Fred was moving around the room the Slytherin girl and her father had been staying in, straightening it up, while George did the same downstairs in their shop. He had seen her around at Hogwarts, of course, but she was only ever registered as that quiet girl from the Snake house, someone he didn’t care to socialise with. When she had wandered in that day, he just had wanted to help her, without really knowing anything about her. When he found out about her house at Hogwarts, it had come as quite a surprise, one which he didn’t get over quickly.

He had been in a sulking mood too. Which was entirely uncharacteristic for him. And then she’d stormed by him, and he’d barely made it to her side, when he saw why. The mixture of emotion was something new to him, anger at the man who molested a single mother, but also appreciation that she would want to go help immediately; and yet he had to keep her from rushing into something stupid. The same kind of stupid thing she must have done before, to even get herself in a position where she had to run from her former house mates.

After that, there had been too much going on what with them needing to get the woman and her child to safety, and then Nora and her father leaving. It was curious he would miss someone he wouldn’t have considered exchanging a friendly word with only a month before, who he hadn’t, in all honesty, spoken to often during the week she’d spent with them. What was wrong with him? He tried shaking himself out of his mood, when he heard the door chime start of again, only it was interrupted immediately, supposedly by his brother.

He heard George rush someone in, and when he darted out the door, he already saw his brother’s bulky figure - followed by another, smaller one – head up the stairs. His eyes widened as he realised it was the very same girl he hadn’t managed to get out of his head for the whole day.

Fred backed into the room again, throwing a quick glance over his shoulder to make sure the blinds were drawn and dimmed the light. His gaze returned and stayed unwaveringly at Nora’s face, while George offered her a seat and asked if anything had gone wrong or why else she would be back. Nora moved her gaze to George to answer his question, which left him feeling strangely cold. There was something there, a cold determination he hadn’t seen before.

“I want to help in the fight. And don’t tell me don’t know anything about it, because I know you do,” she cut them off as both had opened their mouths simultaneously.

Fred blinked incredulously, not sure what to think of that Slytherin girl, at all.

-

George gaped at her, but caught himself fairly quickly. Fred seemed currently unable of an answer, so he took matters in his own hands.

“Right, we helped you some days ago, and helped that poor woman. That doesn’t mean we are organised fighters. Who says you’re not just trying to gain our trust, trying to get us into trouble and find something on us. Which there isn’t,” he added a bit too fast.

“I think you know where to find the Order of the Phoenix,” she ploughed on. There had been lots of talk about Dumbledore’s rumoured society, and not a pleasant one, in the Slytherin Common Room. So that meant they were not on the pure-blood extremists’ side.

George narrowed his eyes at her. “Take a sip of Veritaserum, and then ask again.” He held his hands up in anticipation of Fred’s interruption. “I don’t care that you think you can trust her, I want to be sure. Now, do you agree?” He addressed Nora again with his last words.

Fred and George seemed to have a whole conversation between them without having to utter a single word, and Nora watched them with interest. George, who still had a large band-aid at the right side of his head, seemed to be the more level-headed, whereas Fred was the drive and intuition behind their antics. She had learned to tell them apart, without having to consult their ears. She shook herself, this was not the time for drifting off. “I agree,” she answered firmly, causing both twins to snap their heads back at her.

Fred disappeared in the next room, returning shortly afterwards with a glass and a sip of a clear liquid in it while George watched her warily. Nora was suddenly positive she had struck gold, and was slightly apprehensive what they would do if she didn’t pass the test. Surely they would want to guard the secret.

Fred stepped in front of her, pushing the glass into her hand with an unreadable expression on his face. She brought it to her lips and drank, her eyes never leaving his.

Her mind blanked out after that, and when she came to again, she was sitting on the sofa in the corner, her head had sunken to her chest. She lifted and shook it to get rid of the residual mist in her head, and then spotted Fred and George sitting at the table; stew already ready to be served.

“Miss Arrows, you passed with flying colours,” George said with a much lighter tone than he’d ever used before with her. She tried to return his grin, but she needed to know now.

“So, did I come to you in vain?” she asked, following his inviting hand gesture to join them.

They were dodging her questions for a little longer, digging into their meal instead. Then, George excused himself with a smug laugh, “I’ll leave to it, bro. Fill her in, don’t do anything I wouldn’t, you ‘ear?” And to Nora he said, “He’s got a soft spot for you, did you know that?”

Fred cursed his brother, and threw the bread basket after him, which bounced loudly from closed door. Nora chose to ignore George’s last statement, certain he was only trying to make her uncomfortable.

She put her cutlery down, drawing Fred’s attention back to her.

“Oh, yes, sorry. I should probably apologise for subjecting you to that, but we cannot take risks in what we say. Our father is under enough suspicion as it is, and in extension, so are we. And your upbringing and Hogwarts house don’t speak for you …”

“Isn’t that very hypocritical of you? You think Slytherins are all the same and that they judge others because of their blood, but you condemn all Slytherins, stereotyping and generalising them?” she interrupted him hotly. It felt like this had been brewing for a while in her, she’d always had to contend with that ‘reverse prejudice’ during her school years. “Can’t I condemn torture and abuse, of any human being, and be ambitious and cunning at the same time?”

“Of course you can,” Fred replied just as hotly. Just because she intrigued him didn’t mean he’d let her put him in the defensive. And in the same vein, he needed to pay back George for the earlier quip. He focused back on the matter at hand. “Maybe you’re an exception, but that doesn’t change the fact that so many of you turned bad …”

“So you lump us all together in one, generic, evil Slytherin, yes? Because Gryffindors are all brave and noble? Did you even attempt to get to know a Slytherin before you wrote them all off as Death Eaters in the making?”

Fred’s pride was nettled. “What for? Malfoy’s constantly discrediting my dad, put my sister in mortal danger, my oldest brother was mauled by a bloody werewolf, and my twin was almost killed by the former Head of Slytherin. Why should I?”

Nora cooled almost instantly. She drew her hand through her locks, frustrated. “Listen, I didn’t come here to fight with you. Just tell me where to turn to.”

Fred closed his eyes for a moment, drawing a calming breath. “Okay okay, as I wanted to say, we also questioned you for your motives. We believe you, and after hearing your tale again, I probably shouldn’t have thrown you in a cauldron with them. I’m just frustrated, because there isn’t much we can do, you know?” No, Nora didn’t know, but she didn’t have the opportunity to say so because he already continued. “After Dumbledore’s death, the Order kind of disbanded, only inner core is still around. Also, it’s dangerous arranging get-togethers or any organised actions. The last time we tried to pull something off, was my brother’s wedding, and that was the day the Ministry fell. Officially. It’s even more impossible now, because they can do whatever they please under the pretence of Ministry business. We’ve been helping out any way we can, like you already did yesterday. Then there’s Potterwatch …” “That’s you!” she interrupted, flummoxed. “Why yes,” he couldn’t resist the jest. “I’ll be givin’ out autographs later; there’s enough for everyone. – No, really, but that’s something you cannot, under any circumstances, repeat. This wasn’t discussed with George, he’ll most likely have my head for it.”

“I promise,” she answered solemnly. “So, what can I do?”

Fred shook his head. “You’re on the run from the Ministry yourself, it’s probably best you stay at a safe-house. You should have just stayed with your father, helped out there. That’s what most of us are doing, anyway.”

Nora nodded with a heavy heart. “I’m just endangering you more, right?”

“I wish it wasn’t so, but yes.”

Nora heaved a sigh. “I – I shouldn’t have come. I just – I don’t know why I thought I could do something, something more, but just sitting back …” She shook her head, frustrated. Fred’s hand hovered over hers for a bit, but then he laid it upon hers.

“I know how you feel. It doesn’t feel like enough.”

“Exactly.” She confirmed. Then she stood up with a conviction “I’m going back, do what I can in the safety house. Thanks for helping me in the first place.”

“I’ll bring you.” Fred said it impulsively.

“No, it’s not … I know my way back, you don’t have to take me again.”

“Nonsense,” he waved off her remark. “I couldn’t leave a young lady to fend for her own. Mum would be scandalised.”

He showed her his lopsided grin again, and Nora relented.

*

They appeared near a group of trees, and Fred barely managed to pull her down on the ground with him. Two figures strolled by, not bothering to keep their voices down. One of them swayed in the pale light of the stars, doing an odd sort of jig while she kept abreast with her more sombre companion, as if she had no care in the world.

“Yaxley Yaxley Yaxley,” she was saying in a condescending voice, that sounded entirely too high-pitched and artificial. “I can be as childish as I want. And you know why? My dearest sister lives here, just here. She’s hiding, she is. Thinks her little Fidelius is enough. Little naive Anromeda, but she’ll have to come out at some point. And then, “ her eyes lit up manically. “I’ll say hello to her, and to my dearest niece, and her mudblood of a husband. Give her my regard, you see, for all the happy family gatherings I missed.”

She went on in that vein in a kind of malicious glee as the pair continued on their way, her dancing her way around something only they seemed to see. Nora shivered, and Fred had grown tense upon hearing her voice. “Bellatrix Lestrange,” he bit out, but not loud enough to be heard. “How I wish I could go after her!”

“We could,” Nora whispered, just as wound up. “She sounds completely deranged, and I’d hate to know she’s free to roam the streets, with no one stopping her.” She didn’t get an answer from him, but she had the distinct feeling he was watching her intensely.




Fred was once again caught off guard by this girl. How could she not have been a Gryffindor? he wondered, and in his world, that was a pretty high compliment.

“We can’t underestimate her. Anyway, we’ll have to go in, and warn them that the location is not a secret any longer, only the Fidelius Charm is protecting them now. Follow me, okay? Only a few people know how to get into a safe house, and this isn’t the way we’ll usually get fugitives in.”

They cautiously got to their feet, and Nora held onto his hand tightly. They crept forward as silently as possible, until he pulled her closer, and she could hear him mutter something as they passed some invisible barrier.

“Come on, we need to find one of the Tonkses.” Nora followed Fred into the house that had suddenly popped into existence some distance away, and led her in. He hurriedly greeted the one or other lone night-time stroller, and Nora wondered how many people there were. Too many for a night, but then she too couldn’t sleep with all that was happening. She wasn’t sure about the number of people the Tonkses accommodated, as she’d only been here long enough to make sure her father was comfortable. In any case, the size of interior of the house seemed decidedly at odds with the exterior.

Fred led her to what a room which he explained was reserved for the family. He knocked, and they entered on the quiet “Enter”.

“Good evening everyone, or should I say good night? Tonksie, Remus!” He greeted easily.

There were questions what he was doing here or if something had happened.

“We got notified someone with the proper identification had crossed our wards, but why are you here in the middle of the night? Oh, and Miss …? I’m sorry, you were here today with your father?” Tonks asked them.

“Yes, I’ve brought her back,” Fred told her, but waved off further questions with his hand. “Your Auntie-dear is taking a midnight stroll outside, looking for a way in.”

Andromeda gave a strangled noise, and Ted put a hand on her shoulder before standing to exit.
“We should probably check and enforce our wards,” Remus agreed, following his father-in-law.

Tonks looked torn between following her husband and father, but then went to her mother to calm her. “You need that room, after all?” She said to Nora, who nodded gratefully. “Are you okay finding it by yourself or should I …? Okay then, I’ll meet you tomorrow, I’ll go see how they’re progressing. Fred, you’re coming?”

“I can help too,” Nora said fiercely. Fred nodded at Tonks and Andromeda in confirmation.

“I trust her,” he said.

Tonks, Fred and Nora went outside, finding Remus and Ted and some others busy patrolling along the perimeter of the wards, checking and recasting wards under the light of the stars. At some point, Nora thought she heard footsteps outside, and held her breath. Fred was beside her, and she was all too aware of his presence. It sent strange shivers down her spine; something she hadn’t felt ever before.

Finally, the group called it a night. Fred held her back when everyone went inside. He shuffled his feet a little, before clearing his throat. He ploughed ahead, despite how uncomfortable he felt under her curious gaze.

“I think I need to apologise again, for judging you. I’ve learned a lot about you today, and if you wanted to as well …” he stopped, and ruffled his hair. He’d never had problems before talking to others, boy or girl. “… I mean, we could talk sometimes, I’ll probably be over here now and then …”

“We could … I’d like that. Very much,” she answered shyly.

“Oh, okay then,” Fred breathed, giving into the urge and leaned down slightly, not sure how she’d react.

Nora had felt the charged air all day, thinking nothing of it, as she had felt like she was riding on an emotional roller-coaster since her and her father had heard their neighbours’ screams. Seeing him bent down to her, and feeling his warm body so close to hers – she couldn’t recall when that had happened – she stood up on her tip-toes and closed the distance to his mouth.

The kiss grew more intense, making them dizzy with desire. Nora wondered briefly where it had come from, but that didn’t seem important, only the boy – man – she wanted to get closer to still.

They gave into the temptation, forgetting about the fact that they had been separated by prejudice, that they were outside only protected by the dark of the night and a thin magical ward, with a notorious pair of Death Eaters probably still patrolling only meters away. The tension they’d both been under since Dumbledore’s death melted away, the fear they both harboured deep down that they did not show to their loved ones, as they both let loose for the moment.

*

Percy debated the wiseness of moving to Hogsmeade of all places when he apparated at the newly-created, Ministry-approved – and Ministry-watched – apparition point. Yet, the small flat which had been his home since he moved to London for his job, did not feel right anymore. The room had been advertised in the Daily Prophet, and as good an opportunity as any. At least, he told himself, he could have a look at it.

Searching his pockets for the newspaper clipping to verify the address again, he barely looked at his surroundings. He didn’t think there would be much for him to see anyway.

The cottage was located at the outskirts of the village, which suited him just fine. Tucked away a little from the road, it was surrounded by low hedges, and the stone walls covered with strands of ivy.

The image alone made him stop; having grown up in the country himself, the feeling the house emanated reminded him a lot of The Burrow. Not in size, but certainly with the homely feeling.

“Let’s hope that image is not deceiving,” he murmured to himself.

In answer to his knock, a man’s voice answered him firmly, “What’s your business?”

“I’ve come for the room you advertised.”

The door was opened a crack, and he saw half a face peering at him over a wand point. He could not say he blamed the man for being cautious.

“Come in, Sir,” the man answered after some deliberation.

“That’s a nice house you have there, Sir,” Percy commented politely, meaning it.

“Aye, that I have. But flattery won’t get you the room, young man. You work at the Ministry?” He eyed Percy’s work robes with a critical eye.

Somehow, this glance reassured him more than words could. “That wasn’t why I said it. My name is Percy Weasley, and I currently work at the Ministry, yes.”

“Arthur’s son?” he asked pensively, to which Percy nodded slightly. How ironic was it that the family he had turned away from was proving to be more helpful than the persons he had sought his luck with? “Well, I show you round, let’s see whether it’s to your liking or not. I am Aaron Kendrick, by the way.”

Percy climbed a flight of stairs behind the other man.

The hall was rather dark, and so it was quite a shock to his eyes when he entered his potential new flat first.

It wasn’t overly spacious, but just as the exterior, the room seemed to immediately welcome him. A comfortable looking couch, next to a small table that held a wizarding wireless and a bunch of Charmed Camellias in a delicate vase. One wall was completely covered by shelves, which currently held some decorative knick-knack but would be perfect for his books, and was only broken by the door, which he guessed led to a bedroom. Another corner held a small kitchenette, a slender brunette was just straightening up; it seemed he had caught her in the act of putting the finishing touches to her cleaning.

“You gave a bit of a short notice, we’ve only just given it a quick clean. It’s not much, which is one of the reasons I haven’t yet found a new tenant. There’s the bedroom, and a small ensuite bath. It’s fully equipped, though you can opt to pay for board and lodging both. We run – or should I say we used to run – a guesthouse. – Are you finished, Audrey? Good. Mr Weasley, this is my daughter, Audrey, she must be around your age, if I’m not mistaken.”

The girl moved closer to shake his offered hand, which caused her to stand in front of the window. The view alone was breath-taking, since the window showcase both the Hogsmeade high-street and further away, the unmistakable towers of Hogwarts, bathed in the various shades of a sinking sun, and left Audrey in a nimbus of light.

Shaking his head briefly, the apparition was gone, and he chided himself a romantic fool. Instead, he shook her hand, which was small and warm in his.

“Miss Kendrick,” Percy said, keeping a level voice.

“It’s a pleasure, Mr Weasley,” she answered him in a melodic voice, a certain something dancing in her eyes which he couldn’t place. It might have been mischief, but her smile only showed politeness.

The bed and the bathroom were practical and would fit his needs, so he waited for the Kendrick’s final decision, as Mr Kendrick consulted his wife in the downstairs kitchen. Audrey was standing with them, and added a few quiet words of her own, not even looking at him. Percy tried not to appear as if he was eavesdropping, but couldn’t help the odd surreptious glance at the three of them. He wondered what the young brunette was saying about him; they had most likely attended Hogwarts at the same time, which meant she knew of him. If only he could remember her, too.

After a round of nods and noises of agreement, Mrs Kendrick stepped towards him, opening her arms in a welcome-gesture. “You got yourself a room, Sir. We’re not renting to just anyone these days. If you’re still interested, Aaron will prepare the papers.”

Akwardly, he asked himself whether she would go and hug him, but then offered her hand instead. He shook with her, and then with Mr Kendrick.

Not my own family, Percy mused when he set his signature on the lease, but it felt certainly better than his posh – and empty - little flat in London which he had come to despise.

*

The door of the kitchen fell closed behind him, and Ted put his satchel down, both relieved he had made it seemingly without waking anyone, and sad he’d have to leave like that. Just when he was telling himself that it was for the best while stuffing some food into his bag, the door was pulled open slowly.

By the dim light of his wand, he saw a slim figure slip in, and found himself enveloped in a fierce hug.

“Dromeda,” he murmured, tightening his arms around her waist. He’d left her in their bed, aware that she must be awake from the rhythm of her breathing, though they had agreed they wouldn’t say a final goodbye.

Tucking her head in the burrow of his neck, Ted nestled his chin atop her hair, breathing in the familiar scent of lavender. His eyes had fallen closed on their own accord, and despite his best efforts not to let the fear that this might be the last time he ever got to do that overwhelm him, he stored the scent and feel of his wife away in his memory.

“How can I let you go?” Andromeda whispered into his chest.

With a calmness he didn’t know he had left he answered her, “What is the alternative? I’ve already ignored the reminder of their invitation. Soon, they’ll come to get me, and I’ll be damned if I let them take my wand away and chucked into Azkaban like we heard happened to so many others.”

“I’ll come with you.”

“And Dora?” He knew that was the best argument to get her to stay. As much as he would miss his little family, he did not feel guilty to use his unborn grandchild if it meant they were all safe. Or as safe as they could be; and he knew Andromeda wouldn’t leave Dora.

Andromeda response wasn’t with words; rather she lifted herself up on her tiptoes and kissed him softly, first on the fore-head, then the nose and then his mouth. Their lips found the other’s with the ease of a life spent together, and yet in a fierce, passionate kiss.

He – very reluctantly – pulled away, although he kept his fore-head pressed to hers. “Promise me one thing, will you? Please don’t give up, I’ll never be too far gone, even if I cannot physically be with you for a time. I love you, you know that, right?”

“And I love you. You taught me what love is.” They both stepped a step back, letting go as if in slow-motion.

A thick lump formed in his throat, but he managed to press a few words out. “I’ll be back before you know it.” Ted hitched a fake-smile on his lips, before turning sharply on his heel.

“I’ll be right here. And know that I don’t regret a single second I’ve spent with you,” Andromeda whispered after his fading footsteps.



A/N: Another chapter! Hope you enjoyed, and I think it's time for a big thank you to everyone who reviewed! You always make my day :)
On another note, I originally planned to have only members of the Order of the Phoenix. But then, Percy does not fall in that category, nor do Ginny or Dudley. So, is there any other character/ scene you'd like to see? Maybe I can squeeze it into my outline ;)

Thanks for reading!


DIsclaimer:I don't own Harry Potter in any way, shape, or form.

Chapter 8: Ties Forged
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A/N: So another chapter! First off, a huge thank you to The Last Marauder and Akussa who reviewed every single chapter! And everyone else who read and reviewed too, of course :)
I'm not really sure when to place the meeting of Dean and Ted with the other three, and their subsequent conversation Harry, Ron and Hermione overhear which causes Ron to leave (Deahtly Hallows, chapter 15), but my best guess is sometime during October. Anyway, let me know if you disagree, and why :)
So, enjoy!






A surprised squeal was on the tip of his tongue, when he felt like he’d been dumped with a bucketful of water, and Dean cursed his bad luck when he saw the pair of Dementors come gliding up the street. Just what he needed; he’d stayed with an elderly lady in exchange for helping her out around the house, but the area was getting too crowded with Ministry officials, Death Eaters, and others. Like now. The creatures swept closer; the Muggles they passed were shuddering and pulling their jackets tighter around them before hurrying on. Dean reached into his pocket, gripping the handle of his wand tightly. He knew he should either run for it or cast the protective spell. He knew how it worked; remembered Harry showing them all in their fifth year. But it was another thing entirely to be confronted with the real thing.

Deciding not to take the chance that the spell might not work as intended and he’d only manage to draw the Dementors’ attention to him, Dean backed up, taking a turn to the right at the next cross-road.

Something bright white almost passed right through him, or so it seemed to him. He could just make out a large, gambolling shape when his head snapped back in the direction he just came from.

“A patronus,” Dean gasped, as comprehension dawned. When his curiosity won out, Dean sprinted back to the corner, peeking into the street he’d just been in. The pearly-white shape he thought looked like one of the bears he had seen at the zoo or circus was charging at the Dementors, making them change their course. He watched as the apparition came looping back, presumably to rejoin its caster.

It was coming towards him. Dean recoiled, realising it must mean whoever cast the ‘Expecto Patronum’ must be near, and he didn’t know who it was. It could be someone from the Order, but it could just as easily be a Death Eater who just wasn’t too fond of the creatures’ presence and chased it off for their own comfort. Dean drew his wand, wanting to be prepared.

Too late he felt someone close to him, and in the next second a hand was covering his mouth. Dean kicked his feet, but was dragged into a more deserted space between two houses. Someone whispered into his ear, “Quiet, son. If you’re not going to attack me, you have nothing to fear from me.”

Dean ceased his movements; the man’s voice sounded mellow and trustworthy even at a whisper. He did not, however, loosen the grip on his wand. Feeling firm ground under his feet again and the hand move away, Dean jumped away immediately, rounding on his attacker.

“Who are you?” Dean questioned, holding his wand at the ready.

The other man raised his hand, showing his own wand. “If I had wanted to incapacitate you, I could have done so ages ago. – A wizard, erg?”

Dean did not lower his own wand. “Maybe I just enjoy carrying wooden sticks around; I have it from the authorities that I am, indeed, not a wizard.”

The man chuckled humourlessly. “Apparently, nor am I. Ted Tonks, Muggle-Born. Would you tell me your name?”

Still wary, Dean complied. “Dean Thomas, Muggle-Born. I’d be a seventh year, if I had gone. – How do I know you’re not just trying to gain my trust? You could be a Snatcher for all I know.”

“Granted,” the older man nodded. “Listen, why don’t we go to the park I saw back there? It’s fairly easy to keep an eye on our surroundings, and we could talk some more.”

“I’m not putting away my wand, though,” Dean negotiated after some contemplation. He just lowered it enough so it wouldn’t immediately be spotted by the passers-by. He thought the man’s – Ted’s – earlier statement had some truth in it; he could have killed him on the spot instead of waiting until now; and surely he wouldn’t be alone if he was a follower of You-Know-Who.

“So, I’m Ted, as I said,” Ted Tonks continued when they had sat down on a bank overlooking the path. “I’ve decided to run for it a couple of days ago, what with Death Eaters lurking around my home and after ignoring Umbridge’s gracious summons. It was only a matter of time until they’d have come for me.”

“I’m on the run since August. Immediately when the letter came, with the provision of supplying my ancestry, I knew I had to disappear. It wasn’t explicitly said, but after what happened last June and sharing a dorm with Harry for six years, how could I not suspect anything?”

“Harry? You know Harry Potter?”

“Gryffindor,” Dean supplied, as if that explained everything.

Ted shrugged, seemingly needing no more explanation. “So, what do you say – you want to join forces with me? We could help each other out. Four eyes see more than two, or so they say.”

Dean considered it, eventually taking the other’s hand. “Well, where should we turn to next?”

*

Dean and Ted had agreed to leave the town, and seek their luck elsewhere. Dean didn’t count the days anymore, rather he stuck to measuring time by going from one meal to the next, or the routine of setting a foot in front of the other and finding a nice place to set up tent for the night. They’d pitched the small, inconspicuous tent three times already, and the sun was sinking lower in the sky, meaning they’d have to do so for the fifth time. Dean wondered what Seamus might be doing right that moment; or Harry, Ron and Hermione, Neville and Ginny and the rest of the DA.

“Ssh,” Ted cautioned, rousing him from his reverie. Dean stopped too, next to Ted on the narrow path that led through the copse of trees. He didn’t need to ask what Ted meant, for he could now hear it himself: somewhere to their right, someone was making the fallen autumn-coloured leaves rustle. It sounded like it was caused by something bigger than a rodent or any other native animal, so it was probably a human.

Ted touched his wand to Dean’s head, who felt a cold gush of wind wash over himself. Looking down at himself, he could only see a faint outline which seemed to melt into his surroundings; and only seconds later, Ted had also disappeared. Edging closer to the side of the path, they waited to see if their suspicions were correct.

They didn’t have to wait long; the shuffling grew steadily louder. Then, a tall figure emerged onto the path, followed by two smaller, squat ones. The first was wearing casual Muggle clothing and a dark anorak, the others clearly wore robes. Goblins! Dean thought, recalling his visits to Gringotts where he would exchange money before every new start of term. He looked at where he assumed Ted had to be to possibly get an inclination of what to do, when the other man’s voice rang out, a tad too loud and with obvious surprise, “Cresswell!”

Dean’s eyes went wide with surprise at the imprudence, instinctively casting a shield charm around them. A stunner bounced off it only moments later, making him thankful for the DA lessons, once again. Assuming a defensive position, he got ready to fight.

“Dirk Cresswell! We’re not Death Eaters, cease the spells!” Dean heard Ted’s voice again, louder this time.

“Who are you that you know me? And wouldn’t a Death Eater say the very thing just to gain our trust?” Dean would have appreciated the irony in any other situation; he’d said the same thing to Ted only a few days before. The three individuals across the way had disappeared behind tree trunks, only bits of them visible and Dean wondered whether he could still land a spell or another if need be. Despite their disillusioned state and the shield charm, the fact remained that they were still standing in the open, while the others didn’t need to concentrate on holding up an invisible protection.

“Mind giving me a second to show myself, son?” Ted whispered, taking Dean’s disbelieving hiss as a go-ahead sign.

As soon as he’d lifted the disillusionment, the same voice as before was heard again. “Ted Tonks?”

“Yes, it is me. And addressing your earlier concern: I was a couple of years ahead of you at Hogwarts, and I remember a time I caught you out after hours, coming out of a broom closet, complete with hickey on your neck. I can give the name of the girl, if you need more proof.”

“That’s alright,” the other, Dirk Cresswell, inserted hastily. “Okay, my turn I guess. Erg, okay, I’ve got something. My third year, someone had bewitched the suit of armour at the entrance to the dungeons to serenade Slughorn whenever he passed. I saw you do it the night before. Brilliant piece of magic, by the way.”

“That really was me, I never got caught for it either,” Ted muttered, whether for his own or Dean’s benefit, the Gryffindor did not know.

Meanwhile, Cresswell emerged from his hiding spot, the Goblins following behind more reluctantly. Ted stepped forward as well to meet them, and Dean followed, pushing the shield to stay up in front of them.

Ted and Cresswell shook hands, and then Ted introduced him, taking off Dean’s disillusionment as well. He nodded at their new company, compromising by taking down the shield but never lowering his wand all the way. The Goblins whispered with their heads together in Gobbledegook, and eventually seemed to deem them trustworthy enough.

“I know the area a bit, there should be a river ahead, maybe another hour or so away. We were heading there, catch us a salmon if we were lucky,” Ted commented.

It was decided that they’d stay together for the time being, although Dean vowed to keep his eyes peeled until convinced otherwise.

*

Dudley wondered. He wondered what was going on outside, and how long they would have possibly have to stay in their current hiding place. The novelty of magic still hadn’t worn off completely. There were others like him; family to wizards who were brought here for safety and who did not know how to do magic. Then, there were the ‘Muggle-Borns’, who had normal people as parents, but could do magic. For some reason he couldn’t comprehend, the bad guy who was after Harry was also after them.

“Hey Dennis.” He approached the younger boy he had talked to a few time before. Dennis had answered some of his questions, when he wasn’t off somewhere with the other teenagers in the house.

“Hey Dudley. How’s things?”

Dudley shrugged. He never knew how to answer those questions. There wasn’t much to do safe for trying to satisfy his curiosity.

Dennis went back to his book, which was titled ‘Fifty Ways of Disarming Your Opponent’, but looked up again.

“Dudley, I don’t want to be rude. But I saw you yesterday, it looked like you were trying to hide behind the big flower pot upstairs.”

Dudley’s face grew hot. He had done that, with the intention of not being seen. He’d fancied himself the hero of a spy movie, trying to gain new information, listening to a conversation of Dennis and his friends. To Dennis’s blunt words, he didn’t manage anything but unintelligible sounds.

“You were looking for answers again, weren’t you?”

Dudley wasn’t sure, but it looked like the other boy was amused at the thought. That little prat! Dudley’s hand folded into fists. No one was making fun of him, he always got to them before they could even get up the nerve to try. Only the thought of Dennis’ wand stopped him.

Dennis seemed to take the silence as confirmation. “Well, we wondered. It’s fine if you want to stick to yourself, after all, your parents do too. But next time, just sit with us; we usually don’t bite.” Waving, Dennis got up to join his brother at the other side of the room.

He looked after him, perplexed. No one had ever invited him just like that. Piers Polkiss had always sought the larger boy’s protection, as had his former group of ‘friends’. What could possibly be in it for Dennis? His high opinion of himself had taken a serious beating, and he really didn’t consider himself all that interesting to all those people. They had magic, what could he possibly offer them?

*

Percy hunched his shoulders when he left the lifts to cross the Ministry’s Atrium. He got in line to wait for a fireplace to floo out and apparate from there, as only the most senior staff had their own floo connections. Even though he’d been made Umbridge’s personal assistant, he wasn’t treated any better than anyone else. He’d seen many names he knew in the files, and although he was very tempted to amend the information contained in there, the one file he wanted to erase most was the one most closely watched. His eyes drilled holes in the man’s head in front of him while he still mulled the problem over. There had to be a way.

The man with the short light-brown hair scratched his head as if he felt an itch. As it didn’t seem to cure the itching sufficiently, he turned around.

Both showed instant signs of recognition, although neither seemed overly excited.

“Weasley!” The brown-haired man exclaimed.

“How are you, Oliver?” Percy asked politely, falling back on his perfected indifference. He’d shared a dormitory with Oliver Wood for seven years, but they couldn’t have been more different; each at home and deeply immersed in their own domains – Quidditch and academics, respectively.

Oliver looked around, before accepting Percy’s hand and answering, “Fine. Percy.” Percy was sure Oliver had had his surname ‘Weasley’ on the tongue again, only opting for his first name in the last minute. He motioned for his former class mate to go on ahead and use the now empty fireplace.

Oliver nodded and disappeared, hesitating only for a bit.

Percy didn’t think anything about it, and was therefore caught completely by surprise when he almost stumbled into Oliver again.

“Listen, Percy. Would you want to join me for a drink? I’m in the mood for some company.”

Percy was highly suspicious. Now of all times he wanted to catch up? There wasn’t anything for them catch up on anyway.

Then again, why not? He didn’t have plans for the evening, he never had. Plus, even if was being observed and word got back to his supervisors, Oliver Wood was a pure-blood and, as far as he knew, not listed as suspicious. If he wanted to be of any help to anyone, it was important to remain above reproach.

“I do have some time,” he said, falling back into old behavioural patterns. Oliver must have thought so too, but kept quiet. Instead, he told him to meet in front of the Leaky Cauldron.


When Percy entered the once so busy and lively pub after Oliver some minutes later, he was shocked to see how different it looked. It seemed quieter and less busy, for once. Tom the barman was standing behind his counter, looking glum. He perked up on seeing Oliver, but shot a short warning look towards a table in the back. With a jolt, Percy recognised Ministry robes, and some colleagues he would class as Ministry-loyal and career-minded, not Death Eaters, but also not about to stand up against injustice. A group, all in all, he would have fit into not too long ago.

He nodded blankly at them, choosing a table a little away, but not so much to rouse the suspicion they were avoiding the Ministry group.

Oliver grumbled about them under his breath, his eyes shooting fire. “Cowardly gits. Not an ounce of spine.”

“Loosing your temper in front of them isn’t going to help any,” Percy couldn’t help but say, earning himself a sharp, curious look from the other man. He realised it might have sounded a bit more criticising than he was prepared to show in public, and was glad that Tom’s arrival with their butterbeers won him some time.

“So, what did you want from me? Don’t tell me you’re doing it out of a school friendship, because we never were friends.”

“Was I that obvious?” Oliver asked, still looking slightly curious, before dismissing the matter. “As you know, gatherings of huge crowds have been forbidden since, well, basically since Thicknese became Minister. That does include Quidditch, too. Do you have any idea what they’re planning about that?”

Percy raised an eyebrow, sceptically. So Oliver was still as Quidditch-obsessed as ever. They were once again interrupted by a new arrival. Angelina Johnson and Roger Davies sank into the last two chairs, shooting incredulous glances between Oliver and Percy.

“Oliver, when you said you would get answers today, I didn’t think you’d bring him!” Angelina bit out, acting as if he wasn’t there.

“I wasn’t either. Nevertheless, it’s too good an opportunity to pass up.” Oliver insisted.

Percy had known Oliver hadn’t invited him for old times’ sake or even friendship; and that Angelina was most likely on his brothers’ side where he was concerned, but it hurt nonetheless. He was being used as a means to an end, once again. Even if this was something comparably harmless. To this group, at least, he didn’t need to keep up appearances.

He stood up. “I am not an opportunity. And if your only concern is Quidditch, I should feel deeply sorry for you.”

He had only taken two steps away when Roger caught his arm, exclaiming loudly, “Stay here, we can tell Tom from here we want two more butterbeers.” He signalled with two fingers in the innkeeper’s direction, then pulled Percy down again.
“They didn’t mean anything,” he explained hastily in a much quieter voice, “and it’s not just Quidditch. It’s also an outlet, a chance to escape the current climate.”

“What do you want with me, anyway?” Percy asked, ignoring Roger’s objection. His temper had been spiked which didn’t happen often, but he could be as stubborn as any of his brothers if he wanted to. “I’m hardly the right source if you wanted information about Magical Sports.”

“You have to understand that it’s our job, and we’ve simply been forbidden from it. Crowds apparently arouse suspicion nowadays,” Roger spoke up again. “According to the cycle, the World Cup should take place again next year, and that with our national league suspended, it’s unlikely Britain will compete this time. The three of us volunteered to ask into the matter, and submit a petition from the professional Quidditch teams if necessary. You worked in the Department of International Cooperation once, surely you still have contacts there.”

“As I said, I’ve been unceremoniously turned away today,” Oliver said, as much to Percy as it was information for the other two.

Still under Angelina’s glare, Percy answered, measuring his words carefully. What if it was all a test after all? To see how he treated some seemingly insignificant information as that of Quidditch. “Well, I don’t work there anymore. And no changes in the Ministry’s latest decisions in the matter have come to my ears.” There, he thought, that was innocuous-sounding enough, and still told them what they wanted to know.

He looked at them once more. “Thanks,” said Oliver, “there is only one other person who we could have gone to …”

“And we’re not endangering him more for every little piece of information!” Angelina interrupted him fiercely. Percy met her eyes, and immediately knew she was talking about his father.

“No, you’re definitely not. He should be more careful than ever because they are tightening the watch.” For a moment, he saw understanding and appreciation mingle with the determination in her eyes. While fastening his cloak, he added softly. “So should Lovegood; there’s something going on. Oh, and you better don’t mention where this information came from; it won’t do any good.”

Percy left after that, soon followed by Roger, and when it was only Oliver and Angelina, Oliver murmured, “I know neither Fred nor George have forgiven their brother, but I think Percy is more willing to help than they give him credit for.”

Angelina nodded her agreement. The Order of the Phoenix was as good as disbanded, but still its former members as well as the DA and likely-minded people were biding their time. They’d suspected that Arthur was being watched, not least through the fake-Runcorn’s warning, but maybe there was another Weasley who could help them.

*


Fred had checked in with the members of the Order at the Tonks safe house after visiting Elphias’s. Thankfully, George had chosen to go to Aunt Muriel’s and the Longbottoms’, which left this errand to him. Taking the steps two at a time, he beat down the now reasonably familiar path, straightening his shirt and hair before knocking softly. William Arrows and his daughter sat on the couch, both with a book in their hand.

“Good evening, young friend. How have you been?” The older man inquired, and Fred answered politely. The Slytherin seemed to reserve judgement about the thing Nora and he had – he didn’t know how to define what they had himself, as they didn’t talk about that. He was aware that Mr Arrows was not overly enthusiastic about seeing his daughter with a Weasley and a former Gryffindor, but was also too smart to show his dislike openly.

The girl who occupied a lot of his thoughts lately hadn’t said much, and after Mr Arrows excused himself to go to bed, Fred sidled up to her on the couch. “Missed me?” he asked coyly, nudging her in the side.

Nora shot the door to her father’s adjacent room a cautious glance, and then sideways at him. His demeanour was joking and flirtatious, a side of him she had come to expect. His eyes though, had a certain weariness that he didn’t manage to conceal wholly.

“What’s going on outside?” she asked instead, and only because she was already studying him did she see the second his eyes flashed before instantly settling back in that poorly-concealed weariness. There was always a copy of The Daily Prophet, which Andromeda took just to keep up to date with the Ministry’s schemes, and the Quibbler, which would reveal the details the Daily Prophet left out, but even though, the arrival of one of the Weasleys or other Order members would mean that something happened, usually also bringing a new addition to the safe house. Thank Merlin they were magical, otherwise the house would be bursting at the seams already. “New attacks? By Salazar, Fred, tell me what happened!”

Fred took her hands in his before she could talk herself in a frenzy. “Nothing of the sort. A disturbance at Gringotts, we just about saw a horde of masked and cloaked men hurry up into the bank; and then … they came back, just about ransacked every shop along the street, as if we’d hidden some Goblin behind the counter.” He laughed out loud bitterly, raking his hands through his hair.

It took her a little, as she painted the scene in her head, seeing the cloaked men upturn shelves and products, in the few shops that still held out in the nowadays so bleak Diagon Alley. “Your shop! They didn’t!” But of course, they must have, and her heart broke a little thinking of the bright, defiant splash of colour Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes had been some months ago.

Stubbornly, Fred shook his head. “We’ll build it back up; they haven’t broken us yet. It’s only the inventory, anyway.”

“No one was hurt, though, right?” she asked softly, coaxing her arms around him, hugging him sideways. “Is George okay?”

“No. No, we weren’t hurt. Just my pride, because I would have liked nothing better than to give them a piece of my mind.”

Nora buried her head in the side of his neck. Of course he would; the way she had got to know him in a few short weeks’ time, he would rather be jumping into action than just pick up the pieces in the Death Eaters’ wake.

“I’m sorry,” Fred said suddenly, twisting so he sat sideways too, facing her. “I didn’t want to unload this; I wanted some distraction and get away from that for a bit. – I was aiming to be all witty and charming and maybe snag a kiss for it,” he said, the last bit clearly an attempt at his usual humour, and Nora watched him make a conscious effort to regain his composure.

“Were you, now?” she replied, deciding to play along for his sake. It unnerved her to see Fred Weasley so vulnerable. “I guess I’ll have to give you one just for trying.” Nora brought her face close to his, keeping her eyes purposefully on his mouth as he wet his lips. Just when they were only a breath away from each other, she turned her head quickly, pecking him on the cheek.

“Oi!” Fred exclaimed automatically.

“Maybe you should try harder,” Nora whispered teasingly, nibbling on his earlobe. Since she had put her hands on his shoulders to brace herself, she could feel how tense they were. She didn’t know when she had come to care this much about a former Gryffindor, red-head and son of one of the most well-known blood-traitor families, or whether it was just the extraordinary circumstances; but she did.

Nora felt around for her wand, flicking it slightly before tossing it in the direction of the table. The room was plunged in darkness, which didn’t stop either of them.

*

Angelina entered the Wheezes’ showroom tentatively. Fred and George had told Lee about the rampage, and he had ranted to her about it. Angelina had immediately suggested that they should look in on their friends, and thus they found themselves standing in the middle of the joke shop.

“Fred? George?” Angelina called out.

Her eyes widened in surprise when she found herself suddenly faced with a wand pointing at her, and then she looked up to see George, in Muggle clothing and hair dishevelled.

“Oh.” George lowered his wand, grimacing. “Angelina, Lee. Sorry, I was just finishing up here – uh, was the door open? I thought I’d locked up.”

“It was. This doesn’t look so bad, does it? I thought, from what you told me …,” Lee replied.

George crossed the space to the door, bolting it before casting a spell at it. Shaking his head, he said, “Apparently, I’m still a bit out of it – I wanted to lock it, but apparently I didn’t. – No, we’ve already put most things back in order, before passing on the news. I just came back, too.”

“Are you alone? Where’s Fred?” Angelina wanted to know, looking around. No sign of the other twin, but from what she could see, the shelves were all back in place, but not properly stocked as was the norm. Knowing from countless hours when she’d helped out, she knew that neither of the boys went to bed unless everything was ready for a new day of sales.

“Hot date,” George answered, and she didn’t know how to interpret the accompanying expression of his face.

“Ah. You should have said, and we’d been here sooner,” Lee scolded him lightly. “Do you need us to help with anything?”

George seemed to consider the suggestion, raking a hand through his hair. “Actually, I was going to restock; there’s some boxes I’ve been hauling in when you showed up, and more in the storage room.”

Angelina soon found herself up to her neck in joke items. She was just levitating a bunch of Cheer-Up Potions into one of the display cases, when she saw George on the other side, where he was about to fill it from the other side.

Leaning against it, she folded her hands on the shelf level with her face, putting her chin on her hands. “George?”

“Hm?” he questioned absent-mindedly, concentrated on his task.

“Are you okay? Do you think they’ll come again?”

She thought he might not answer, but then he mirrored her position, so they were looking at each other through the display case. “Physically, yes. Still a bit shaken, though. I didn’t even close up, did I?”

“And you think they’ll be back,” she stated, watching him closely. George looked weary, which in itself was something she wasn’t used to. She also saw him trying to shrug it off.

“We’d be doing something wrong if they wouldn’t.”

“Don’t try to joke it off. You could get seriously hurt next time. As if you didn’t do enough already, as it is.”

“I’m definitely not going to sit back and twiddle my thumbs while they go about and do as they please,” George said agitatedly.

“I didn’t think you would. Just don’t try to attract trouble, okay?” The thought alone made her stomach squirm, and she added after a moment of consideration, “Both of you.”

He started to reply, when Lee poked his head into the aisle George was standing in. “Oi, you want me to store up on the love potions as well? I don’t reckon there’s a high demand for it right now.”

George pulled back from his current position, following Lee to the other side of the shop. Angelina finished up with the section she was in, looking for the other two to see what else George wanted her to do. In doing so, Angelina noticed the scorch marks on the floor, and pulled out her wand to try and remove them.

“Leave it,” George stopped her, coming up from behind. “We’ve decided to keep the marks on the floor, as a reminder and sort of commendation. They thought us bothersome enough to try and shut us up, but they won’t.”

Just when she wanted to reprimand him that that was exactly the kind of thing she’d talked about earlier, he continued, “Listen, Lee suggested to call it a day, he wanted to stay in the spare room upstairs, and finish tomorrow. Usually, I’d finish up, but …”

“I think he’s got a point there, it’s rather late. Uh, do you want me stay as well?”

“We’ve got it, no need to trouble you …”

Angelina wanted to remind him that she was not a weak little girl, but his friend and just as capable as Lee, but decided on another approach. He looked ready to drop at any second. “Well, in that case, I’m sure you don’t mind if I get home. Alone, you know. Seeing as Lee is staying overnight …”

Maybe she shouldn’t have said the bit with ‘going home alone’, but he must really be rather exhausted as he didn’t seem to pick up on the obviousness. “No! Absolutely not! You can - you can use my bed, I’ll sleep in Fred’s room.”

Satisfied with the answer, she linked her arm with his, dragging him towards the stairs, flicking her wand to switch off the lights as she went. He insisted on changing the bedding for her, which she used to prepare three sandwiches, leaving one with Lee and practically forcing one in George’s hand. “Eat, then go to bed. Tomorrow’s another day.”

She shooed him off, changing into one of his shirts he’d lend her. As Angelina snuggled into the bed, she was debating whether or not she should tell him about her and Oliver’s meeting with Percy. The mention of his brother alone could set him off these days. On the other hand, Percy had seemed genuinely changed, and lonely. But George, and Fred, had a lot of things on their mind as it was. “Tomorrow’s another day,” she recited her own advice, as her mind grew heavy with sleep.


Chapter 9: New Developments
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A/N: Sorry guys, it's been a while. Life's a bit crazy right now, but I've finally managed to put this chapter up! Thanks for staying with me :)





The border Hermione’s spells would ensconce their respective hiding place with felt like he was passing a thin sheet of water. Shaking his head like a wet dog, Ron purposefully strode away. But where his strides had been determined when he’d started out, they were getting weaker and weaker by the moment. His chest was both feeling lighter and heavier than it had only minutes before. Looking down, the difference came to him immediately – he wasn’t wearing the locket anymore. Harry or Hermione must have it now. His friends – who he’d just abandoned. What am I doing? he asked himself, turning back on his heel. The area was woodsy, as they had preferred it recently. Had he passed the burly oak tree over there on his way? He must have, since it was in the path which lay behind him, and he’d kept straight on, hadn’t he?

Ron didn’t understand what had just possessed him. Of course he’d been upset hearing about his family. And then Harry and Hermione going off on some tangent about those bloody Horcruxes, and the Sword. They had been off in their own sphere again; somewhere he was of no help, at all. It stung to see them come up with theories, while he was worried sick about Ginny and everyone else.

An ironic snort escaped him when he realised that he wasn’t going to find his way back. How could he hope to match the brilliance of those protective spells? They were Hermione’s, after all. “And now what? It’s not as if I’m much use, can’t even apparate without splinching myself. And going home? Yeah, right. Where everyone would give their left hand for being able to help.”

He stumbled around in the dark for a bit more, his only light coming from the stars and the moon that broke through the canopy of trees. But it was fruitless; the wards which had given him protection him over the last few months would now hide his friends away from him, and they weren’t going to come for him, probably thinking he had longsince gone back to where there was food.

With furtive glances at this surroundings, Ron conjured himself a blanket. He might as well rest his body a bit, though he doubted he could sleep at all. He’d have a better chance at finding the camping spot again with more light, or if they decided to leave, he might catch them when they took the spells down.

*

“Damn it, Weasley! Just stick with one of the names, and we’ll be good!” Lee was used to Fred and George’s tendency to joke and make light of things, but this was getting ridiculous. “You know what, I’ll just keep calling you Rodent. It’s what you decided on first.”

“But now I want to be Rapier!” Fred insisted mulishly. He would have taken pity on his friend, who was checking and double-checking his broadcasting equipment. It needed to be set up just right, and at the same time be ready to be packed away at a moments notice. Yet he trusted Lee Jordan with that kind of thing, and was distracting him with meaningless banter, knowing the other would perform flawlessly when needed.

“I don’t know why you shot down my feature on Voldy either. Name the Nameless would have been a hit! We could have even had prices!” George chimed in, producing a parchment out of his pocket which unrolled all the way down to the floor. “Here, I’ve even come up with examples! There’s Uh-No-Poo, of course, …”

“Which is a bad idea because we’re supposed to be incognito …,” Fred commented.

“…, The Undead One …”

“Well, he can fly …”

“…, snake-face …”

“Lame!”

“Why did I ask them again?” Lee asked no one in particular, and Kingsley took his seat next to Lee with a light chuckle.

“Because they are entertaining?”

“Only in small dosages. I would know, trust me. – Everything set?”

“We’re ready. Let’s see how it goes, then. I’ll activate the code to tune us in, you set the wavelengths. Pretty simple, actually.”

“Oh come, you can do better!” Fred’s voice rang out again.

“Ha, you bet I can! Death-Eater-in-Chief!”

Remus took the seat on Lee’s other side. “Death-Eater-in-Chief? What’s this about?”

“Nicknames for our new éminence grise. – Oh, do you two mind if I borrow that? It’s kind of catchy.” Kingsley addressed the twins.

Fred and George exchanged a glance, acting as if they had to deliberate the matter.

“But only because it’s you. You are hereby granted a non-exclusive, universal licence to spread the term via Potterwatch.”

“Ready?” Lee interrupted, and received a nod from Kingsley.

“Hello and welcome to Potterwatch, good Wizards, Witches, Muggle-Borns, Half-Bloods, Half-Breeds, House Elves, Centaurs, Hippogriff or Magical Creature not mentioned and persecuted by our Ministry. Hello to any unsuspecting Muggle who might have tuned in on accident! My name is River and I am your host today!

You might ask yourself: Who are you and what in the name of Dumbledore’s beard is Potterwatch? And the answer is: I am your worst nightmare –“

He stopped briefly to flip his best friends the bird, who held up a parchment saying, “Let’s be serious, here!”, and returned to his commentary, feeling in his element.

“- well, not really, but what did you think I was going to say?”

“Potterwatch, on the other hand, is designed to spread the news that would otherwise be kept under wraps, news that we’re not supposed to hear. News we’re entitled to and would safe many a life, and encourage others to hang on.” Remus spoke into the magi-phone, rolling his eyes at the other adult in the room.

“Thank you, Romulus, for clearing that up. And before we have more smart-ass replies by our other two friends here, let’s get down to those news. River?”

“Right you are, Royal. First off, let’s take a minute in thought at those who perished in the name of an alleged better and purer society. Muggle news report cases of sudden, unexplained deaths in the Northhumbrian area; Liam Dawson, an Unspeakable, was found dead with his new Muggle-Wife of ten months, the couple had been expecting their first child. At our current count, ten Muggles are also dead, having the misfortune of carrying the same last name as the wizard. No conclusive proof was uncovered by our correspondents as to the culprits. On the same vein, we can report sightings of the Lestrange couple from up there; and it might be a good idea to keep an eye out for them; especially if you too are a Lawson. Remember, better safe than sorry. May Mr and Mrs Lawson and the ten unfortunate Muggles, whose names can be supplied if any of our listeners like to learn more, rest in peace.”

Lee paused for a bit. “ Hogwarts is still under tight security, where Severus Snape rules with iron grip, and two of his boss’s lapdogs.

On the Potter front, we have yet to hear news since the Break-in at the Ministry. Which in itself is a good thing, since it tells us that The-Boy-Who-Lived is avoiding our lovely new friends, the Snatchers. – What is a Snatcher, you ask? My, aren’t we full of questions today? But do not fear, we are here to give answers. Royal?”

“A Snatcher is a wizard or a witch, most often one who did not yet reach the rank of a Death Eater or is otherwise deemed not important enough by their esteemed master. They travel in packs and aim to snatch – as the name suggests – Muggle-Borns or Undesirables wherever they find them. So beware, and try to warn any Muggle-Born who is still out and about and might not have caught this broadcast.”

“Very insightful. As our Dark Wizards expert, what would you suggest to our listeners they do?”

“At the moment, just try to keep your head down, which does not equal indifference. Don’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself but try to keep yourself and those around you safe, and you never know, they might do the same for you.”

“Thank you, Royal, for that piece of advice. – Now, over to Romulus, and his section “Pals of Potter”. You have dedicated yourself to our friend on the run.”

“That would be right, River. As you already said, the whereabouts of the Boy-Who-Lives are currently unknown. The spectacular break-in back in September had the Ministry on edge, yet all their intelligence work has apparently yielded nothing, or we’d be sure to be confronted with that piece of news ad nauseam. To those of you getting desperate, keep in mind that he’d only be a seventh year himself if things were in any way like they are supposed to be, and even though he displayed his capability quite admirably during the last years, allow him the time he needs. Whatever he is doing, I am sure it’s for our common goal. Everything else would be a complete turn-around from everything he’s ever done, and would play into the cards of our new regime, who would like nothing more than to discredit and discourage any hope we have left.”

“Hence ‘Potterwatch’. In this case, we can apply the saying ‘no news is good news’; as long as the Ministry-controlled Prophet doesn’t report anything but the never-changing propaganda lies about Harry Potter, it is safe to assume that he is still out there and fighting for us. – In the meantime, friends of Harry Potter have taken it upon themselves to keep the spirit alive. Can you tell us some more?”

“Well, a strong supporter of Harry Potter is the editor of the Quibbler. If you want some true news these days, you could try The Quibbler. Xeno Lovegood has been under severe threats to discontinue his magazine. The latest issue, however, is not holding back and a testament to freedom of press. A word of advice to our brave friend, though, is to strengthen his security measures and to keep on his toes. It’s safe to assume that they won’t sit back forever.”

“I’d never thought I’d say that, but it would be a shame to lose The Quibbler. – Now, what do you say to …,” Lee stopped abruptly when George poked his head into the kitchen of the abondonned house they’d chosen as their base, giving the “Abandon” sign. He had started to worry when the twins had disappeared some minutes ago, since Fred was supposed to go on air that night as well, and he had been casting around his notes to bridge the time with Royal and Romulus. The two of them were pushing back their seats, tapping equipment as they went to send it to their safe place.

Lee held the magi-phone high, while the others bustled around him.“Well, dear listeners, always be prepared – like we are now. We are receiving a lovely house-call as we speak. Keep twiddling with those dials; we’ll be sure to be back. Keep each other safe; keep faith. Until next time.”

“Hold on,” Remus shouted, already grabbing Lee. They saw Kingsley and the twins vanish as the mismatched shoe in their hands glowed red; and were whisked away by their own – slightly illegal – portkey just as the door of the old house burst open.

*

When Yaxley, Umbridge and Auror Dawlish approached, Percy ducked his head so as not to betray himself with the glare he felt coming on.

“The Minister in?” Yaxley asked shortly, barely acknowledging Percy’s curt, affirmative reply before sweeping by. The Auror followed close behind, but the short, squat woman stopped next to his desk and surveyed him with a sickenly sweet look. “Weasley, right? Good position you have there, wouldn’t want to lose it, now, don’t you?”

The words made his blood starting to boil, which was instantly replaced by disbelief when he heard her mutter “Imperio!” and the order not to pay any attention to their conversation.

Percy gritted his teeth, holding on to the feeling of anger he’d felt only moments before which threatened to slip away and give room to the inviting obliviousness. They obviously didn’t want him to overhear what was being discussed. Percy furrowed his brow. Why? It had never sat well with him to be kept in the dark about something. He blinked, and the memory of hearing the spell he suspected was used quite commonly these days in the Ministry slid back into place.

But he wasn’t called a bookworm and nerd for nothing; he’d done his research those past few months. Not that he had that much to do, anyway. He’d found a spell which would enable him to listen in to a conversation, if it wasn’t being warded. It would be more effective if he had something to place it on which would be physically inside the room, but he’d have to make do. After hitting the door with the spell while keeping his wand carefully out of view of any passer-by, Percy sat up straight.

“It’s settled, then,” Yaxley was saying, and Percy had to hide his disappointment. He’d apparently tuned out long enough to miss the most important part, and made a mental note to find out whether there was a protection against the Imperius Charm other than his own fury.

Though it appeared he was in luck when Thicknese’s voice could be heard again. “It certainly is. Auror Dawlish, you have my express permission to investigate the simultaneous disappearance of Auror Tonks and her mother, Healer Tonks. After the Mudblood Ted Tonks didn’t show up for his hearing, who knows what he could have done to two skilled witches in retaliation! It might have been his perfidious plan to rob them of their magic all along, and we’ll create an example out of his case! You have every liberty to gain results. Dimissed, Dawlish. – Yaxley, Dolores, please stay for a beat, I have to obtain your opinion on the new monument in honour of upstanding pure-bloods.”

Percy cancelled his spell just in time before the Auror exited the office. With two quick glances, he ascertained that the door had fallen closed again, and that the anteroom he was in was actually empty. Grabbing a parchment and his wand, he hastened after the Auror quickly.

“Dawlish? This yours?” he asked, casually he hoped, waving the file he’d just retrieved.

The other man glanced at it shortly, then back at him. “Definitely not. Are you sure you’re up to the job, misplacing fi-… ah.”

A quick, nonverbal Confundus Charm had Dawlish’s eyes slide out of focus.

“Well, I won’t hold you off, John, and let you go back to completing your report on your visit to the Tonkses. The Minister would want it soon, I suspect.” He was hoping desperately that he could go through with the bluff.

“The report? Oh, ah, yes of course. He was pretty adamant about it, wasn’t he? I, uh, remember … erg, what happened there?”

“John.” Percy said in his most reproachful voice. “Are you sure you’re still up to the job? You just told me you didn’t find anything particularly suspicious And that you just had to put it on paper when I asked you if the report was ready. You do remember that it has top priority, don’t you? And we don’t want to keep the Minster waiting.”

“Yes, yes. I’m on to it. Delay him for ten more minutes, will you? I’ll owe you one. I’ll just … I’m sure it’ll come to me, … yes, yes, I remember now …” Dawlish scurried off, whipping his brow frantically while muttering to himself.

Percy was barely back in his seat when the other three exited, Umbridge shooting him a scrutinising glance to which he only stared blankly ahead, while Thicknese informed him they’d be out all afternoon to check on the progress of the monument. With a relieved sigh, he relaxed his shoulders some. Now he only had to make sure to intercept Dawlish’s report and pass it on himself. It wouldn’t do for anyone to notice Dawlish’ confunded state. It had worked before, and he wondered quietly how often one could be subjected to the spell before it showed lasting effects.

*

His small apartment with the Kendricks’ had become kind of a sanctuary. They left him well alone unless he sought them out if he felt like talking. The best thing was by far that he didn’t have to pretend, and they didn’t pry for any more information or wanted him to spy.

Books were spread all around him in the small sitting room, and he’d just been skimming one of the books on healing spells from when he’d had his mind set on becoming a Healer during his third year. The desire to join the St.Mungo’s staff had long gone, but he kept the books.

A Strengthening Solution would help nicely against the effects of excess Confundus Charms, if he had to fall back on it too often for one person. Since he hadn’t anything against Dawlish personally and a perpetually glazed look could draw unnecessary attention, he should probably brew some of it, just in case. To be used when the withdrawal of the Charm couldn’t undo what he’d wanted the other to forget in the first place, of course.

As soon as he would have set up a smell-absorbing charm and his cauldron, he could get started. Finger following the list of ingredients, he ticked them off mentally. “Powdered Asphodel,” Percy muttered, remembering he’d used the last batch a week ago. It looked like he’d had to wait another day and refurbish his supplies first. Unless …

Without further thought, Percy went downstairs, where he was sure to find Mrs Kendrick. She wasn’t alone, however; her daughter was working on the counter.

“Good afternoon,” the elder woman returned his greeting, waving her spatula at him good-naturedly. “And I told you to call me Violet. Would you like some cookies, dear? We’ve just left a batch out to cool down.”

It smelled heavenly, but he always felt a bit overwhelmed by the woman’s kindness. It reminded him too much of home. “No, … erg, thank you though. However, if you could help me out with some asphodel, I’d be very grateful.”

“Asphodel? Audrey, dear, didn’t you just restock? If you didn’t need too much …?” she asked into the room.

“No, no, two roots, if you have it. And if it’s not an inconvenience, of course. I should be able to replace it tomorrow.”

“Nonsense. Whenever you get to it, that’s fine. – Audrey? And pack some cookies, while you’re at it, why don’t you?”

Percy had avoided looking at her, but now he was able to without appearing obvious. She always seemed to regard him with a little smile as if she knew something he didn’t. Well, she must remember the pompous prefect from Hogwarts, he thought glumly. What else could it possibly be?

“Well, she’s certainly taken a liking to you,” Audrey remarked, pushing a plate and a white cloth with the asphodel in it in his hands.

Feeling sheepish since he had no intelligent answer for her, Percy just nodded and managed to say, “Thank you, both of you. It’s appreciated.”

He hurried back up into his own rooms, only feeling safe when he’d closed the door behind him. Why did he always have to be so socially awkward?


Audrey was left looking after his retreating figure, shaking her head. She didn’t even know why she was as intrigued as she was by curly red hair, horn-rimmed glassses and an fuddy-duddy attitude.

*

“Stop wiggling.” Andromeda was sat next to her daughter, scanning her wand over her daughter’s belly. She wasn’t specialised in gynaecology, but she knew enough to cast the spell. Dora and Remus didn’t trust the results of the scanning to be kept away from the wrong eyes if they did it at St. Mungo’s, which was why her Healer training came in useful.

Her son-in-law was hovering anxiously at the foot of the bed Dora was lying on, torn between wanting to give his wife privacy and wanting to stay close. Nymphadora too was restless, and extended a hand towards her husband while Andromeda was waving her wand in an intricate pattern.

“Mum, is my baby okay? Do you see something?” Nymphadora was incredibly nervous herself, and yet she tried to not let it show too much. Remus worried enough for both of them as it was. She reached out her hand for him, and he hesitantly followed the prompt.

“Patience, Dora. Those things can’t be rushed. I should see something in … ah, here it is,” she interrupted herself, as the little bump glowed a magical, almost translucent orange. “See? There’s the head, the body. The limps seem to be formed just fine.”

“Do you … Is there anything … any indication of …?” Remus asked anxiously.

Andromeda shook her shoulders. “It looks normal, just like it should. I’ll probably run an aconite-sensitivity test on you again, Dora. If the baby has lycanthropy genes, you should react to it as well.”
Nymphadora nodded solemnly, squeezing Remus’s hand. She was peering down at her belly, her other hand hovering over the orange-glowing bump. She was glad her mother was handling the whole thing so calmly, she had expected her to react with more outbursts. She guessed her father had talked to her before he left.

“Incidentally, I cannot tell you about the lycanthropy, but the baby’s turned around a little since last time, giving us a different view. It’s been eighteen weeks so I can tell the sex with some certainty.”

“You can?” Nymphadora yelped, almost jumping out of the bed to see better. Remus’s hand stopped her, and she sank sheepishly back into her pillows. Of course, they were trying to see something inside her, she would barely be able stick her head any closer.

“Do you want to know?” Andromeda asked once again. “As we already established, this is not the field I worked in, but I’m fairly certain about what I see.”

Nymphadora locked eyes with Remus. He looked unsure, but also kind of relieved. She guessed it was because there weren’t any obvious signs of his infliction. Though she seriously doubted they’d see fur and claws on the scan.

“You decide,” he answered her silent question hoarsely.

“Okay, tell me,” Nymphadora answered on impulse.

The corners of Andromeda’s mouth twichted briefly. “Well, from everything I learned, I’d say you’re having a boy.”

“A boy?” Nymphadora and Remus asked both at the same time. Now she sat up, and hugged him tightly, tears springing to her eyes.

“A little boy,” he whispered once more, as if saying it out loud would make it more real.

“How I wish I could see Dad’s face,” she whispered. Her mother’s strangled sob reminded her of her presence, but when they faced her, she showed them a hastily composed face.

“He’ll be back. I’m sure of it.” She bustled out of the room, as if on the run.

Nymphadora felt Remus’s hold on her tighten, before he asked softly, “How do you feel about Ted as a first or second name?”

A wave of affection flashed through her as she looked up into his eyes. “Love it,” she replied, incredibly touched, and added stubbornly, “I cannot wait to see Dad’s face when he sees his grandson. His completely healthy grandson.”

Things would turn out alright. Everything else was too cruel to imagine.

*

Students were filing into the Room of Requirement slowly. They couldn’t be too careful these days, and took care not to frequent the seventh floor corridor in suspicious crowds. Neville watched as another group climbed through the door; the whole remaining group of seventh year Hufflepuffs, some of their sixth and two fifth years. There had been a fierce debate who they should admit into the DA and how they should go about it. Or who would train them.

It had been Luna in one of her surprising bouts of clarity who had suggested to let the ‘DA veterans’, which was mostly the seventh years, vouch for the younger members of their house, and the teaching fell to the seventh years as well who were taking turns in organising short practice sequences for each meeting.

When Seamus, who had been loitering outside, stepped into the room, it was Ginny’s cue to start the meeting, and Neville followed her hand signal only reluctantly. He did not>/i> feel comfortable standing in front of people, but to his own astonishment, he had found that everyone was listening to him. Like he had to Harry, Ron and Hermione, back in his fifth year. Still, Neville was glad that Ginny was doing most of the talking.

Ginny cleared her throat, which got her the attention of the students in the room. “Okay, everyone. It might not have been easy, and at the same time not seem like enough, but we’ve done good. We’re not just giving in. I know this is probably our last meeting before Christmas, since we’re leaving the day after tomorrow, and there’s nothing for us to plan. So, Ernie and Anthony have agreed to show us some hexes; nothing on a Death Eater scale, but probably useful to distract your opponent just a little.”

“Please tell me it’s something nasty. I should have slipped them some appropriate reference material.” Seamus quipped over Neville’s right shoulder when the students spread out around the Hufflepuff and the Ravenclaw prefect. Seamus rubbed his left shoulder unconsciously, where the latest ‘practice’ duel with Crabbe in Dark Arts had left its mark. Neville hummed non-commitedly; everything had already been said over and over again during the nights they spent discussing their current situation over the three glaringly empty beds in their dorm.

“Ernie’s got a knack for picking out some pretty good ones,” Neville commented instead. And for teaching, he thought, as he watched the Hufflepuff explain the paragraph about the Mouth-Zip Hex in more detail. Professor Lupin or Harry couldn’t have done it better.

“Useful, yes. But not mean enough for them,” Seamus grumbled, copying the wand movements.

“You don’t think it’s mean having your mouth glued shut?” Lavender inserted, stepping up next to the boys.

When Anthony signalled that they could now take turns trying the hex out on their partner, Seamus shot her a mischievous look. “Aye, of course you’d think so, Lav-Lav.” With a flick of his wand, he set off, dodging his way through the other pairs. It took Lavender only a second, before she took up pursuit, glaring daggers at the Irish boy.

Neville felt a laugh rise in his chest, something that he’d done far too rarely that school year, as he watched Lavender bear upon Seamus in forced silence, her eyes promising revenge. “Ouch! At least it helps you practice Non-Verbal Spells,” Neville said to no one in particular.

“I don’t see real teachers introduce it as teaching method, though.” Hannah had approached him, lifting her wand at him with an inviting gesture. Neville had partnered her on occasion before, and had grown comfortable enough around her to not clamp up like he used to.

He faced her with an appreciative grin, but before either could try the hex on the other, his coin grew hot and cold again, which was the sign of their look-out that they were coming in, as opposed to hot, cold, hot, which was the sign for danger; a handy little improvement of Luna’s.

Terry and Ginny were at the door almost instantly, peering out and then Terry jumped outside, only to help sixth year Shelly Quinn drag in the barely conscious Garret Adler, the two Ravenclaw prefects who had been ‘patroling’ the halls – or the area of the seventh floor corridor, to be precise.

“Slytherins out to play,” Shelly informed them between heavy breaths, which for the DA automatically implied that the Carrows were probably too lazy that evening, turning a blind eye to their star pupils’ antics. “They hit Garret pretty badly when he insisted we were doing rounds, and only Malfoy’s sudden desire for treacle tarts prevented worse.”

Terry lowered his fellow Ravenclaw to the ground, where a stack of fluffy large pillows had appeared out of nowhere. Ginny, Seamus, Ernie and Susan were already halfway to the door, but Neville had other thoughts. “Right, Parvati, Padma? Did you look up those Healing Spells as you said you would? Ginny, let’s not do something hasty, just take over patrol.” He sounded more certain than he felt, but it seemed to do the trick.

The rest of the DA stood by as the Patil twins worked, only sank down on her knees next to them with an assortment of potion flasks. “Terry, the Pepper-Up Potion is almost gone, and we also need some more Essence of Dittany soon, if anyone still has a relative who doesn’t know what to give.”

Terry nodded, saying he’d take care of restocking their potions supply over Christmas. They could only sneak up into the hospital wing so often. He was in charge of it; the best brewer in their year after Malfoy, Hermione and Harry’s surprising aptitude last year.

Neville met Ginny and Luna near the door, Ginny campaigning heatedly for some last minute retaliation before they left. “Not in hot blood,” Neville cautioned, listening to Ginny’s arguments while he watched the group around Garret Adler. The Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff worked effectively, and Parvati could soon give them a thumps-up.

After that, it was unanimously agreed by the present members of the DA that there might just have to be a little reminder of their existence, after all. “Shame, and we’re going not to give them hell so close to the Joyous Season.” Ginny concluded in mock-earnestness.

“And a Merry Harry Christmas they’ll have, if I have anything to say about it!” Seamus joined in. Neville could agree with the sentiment, opting to listen to possible suggestions and shooting down the more outrageous and obvious ones. They couldn’t show all their cards yet, he was sure it would get worse before it got better.

After some more plotting, he wrapped the meeting up. “Good luck tomorrow! Remember to stay safe, try to unwind some and enjoy the holidays. It was great working alongside you those past months!”

“You too!” was echoed around the room, which he accepted as mere politeness. One wish of Merry Christmas, though, unconsciously stayed with him when he went to bed that night.





Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter or the plot of Deathly Hallows or Potterwatch (see Chapter 22 of DH), that's all Joanne K. Rowlings!
What did you think about the Potterwatch episode? I could pretend that I had the idea to include the it all along, but it was actually a suggestion by one of my lovely reviewers :) Thanks for that!




Chapter 10: Christmas Overshadowed
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Clearly, the characters belong to Joanne K. Rowling and not me; I was only wondering what exactly the rest of the wizarding world might have gone through while Harry, Ron and Hermione were on the hunt for Horcruxes.

Though it's already February, here comes the Christmas chapter, which is possibly the longest yet ;)
Enjoy, and I'd love to hear your opinion :)




The rural landscape had long given way to ever more densely populated areas. Industrial sites and drab neighbourhoods lined the tracks as the steaming scarlet train approached London. It was sights like these that had played nicely into the views that had been drilled into him all seventeen and a half years of his life – that Muggles were dirty and unrefined. It was snowing, but not the thick, fairytale snow; rather thin, tiny flakes, barely powdering the roofs of the edifices they passed, and promptly whisked away again in the colds winds. Unseen by the Muggles, the train crossed the invisible barrier into Platform Nine and Three Quarters, a loud bell sound signalling the end of their journey. All around him, the other occupants of the compartment were gathering their things; while he kept staring outside, watching the people outside. He didn’t like the rush, and for the first time, he didn’t look forward to spending his Christmas break at home. Not since his home wasn’t his own any more, since he shared – or should he say, since he was made to give up – the comfort of Malfoy Manor with and by The Dark Lord.

Death Eaters and other allies of their master were in and out all day, whether The Dark Lord was present or away for whatever he did. Everyone seemed to think of it as understood that Malfoy Manor would serve as a guesthouse, essentially not bothering to hide their contempt for the formerly so proud and influential Lucius Malfoy, revelling in their own importance and not even sparing a thought for how fragile their own current standing might be. He dreaded going back there, to the gloom of his summer break, where he had to witness people being killed and tortured. The anguished face of the former Muggle Studies teacher flashed before his eyes, her body revolving above the dining room table before the image was rigorously suppressed again. Murder. The theory of a society of pure-bloods had been alluring, but he’d realised back in June that he was not cut out for murder.

“Have a nice holiday, Malfoy!” The words meant nothing, twisted to imply the opposite as Crabbe’s beady little eyes appraised him maliciously. The two brutish boys who had once bent over backwards at his every whim had developed a mind of their own, emboldened by the Carrows’ regime, drunk on their borrowed power. With his father’s fall into disgrace and his own failure to go through with Dumbledore’s murder, he had sunken in the social hierarchy among his peers. Where he had been hailed last year for taking the mark, he was now just a normal Slytherin; pure-blood but not of particular importance or regard, a dispensable link in The Dark Lord’s great plan. Fools, he thought, like you’re any better. You’ll learn the hard way, like I did. He was far from speaking his mind like Potter, or like that fool Longbottom had taken up to doing; that was for brash Gryffindors. It was just bloody foolish to go against those in power, for however long they might be in that position. What was more, he felt overwhelmed by the developments.

Inclining his head in a demure fashion, carefully masking every other emotion, he waited for them to clear out. Pansy Parkinson seemed at a loss for what to do; though after giving him a regretful glance, she lifted her head and rushed after Crabbe and Goyle. Apparently, he wasn’t the only one who went with the flow. He couldn’t say he blamed her; she’d just more to gain from sticking with the popular kids. They’d seen first-hand what happened to those who thought differently, and showed it.

The crowd outside was thinning out; no one was eager to stay and exchange Christmas wishes or idle chatter with acquainted families, instead gathering their returning children close and hurrying through the Death-Eater-guarded gate which would admit them into the noisy Muggle station. He should be able to see his own parents by now; but he didn’t. For a moment, he thought the blonde man rushing by outside, stopping every now and then to ask the remaining wizards and witches something with urgent hand gestures, could be his father, but then he saw the bright orange robes which Lucius Malfoy wouldn’t be caught dead in.

Grimacing, he figured he wouldn’t be able to put it off any longer, and stood to retrieve his carry-on bag. Draco moved slowly, just short of dragging his feet. In front of him, Blaise Zabini, Theo Nott and Daphne Greengrass didn’t seem in a hurry either, conversing quietly. Zabini had always managed to stay above the everyday hustle and bustle of school, avoiding all kind of strings or attachment. That had basically still stayed the same, and the other two had also managed to keep a low profile so far. They hadn’t procured the teachers’ wrath with refusals, nor had they said their opinion on any of the goings-on. He was doing the same; only the Carrows and his former sidekicks – for he used to take his father’s doctrine Malfoys didn’t have friends; they had connections to heart – enjoyed egging him on into doling out punishments. And for whatever reason, Snape had reinstated him as a prefect, much to Crabbe and Goyle’s chagrin.

From his elevated vantage point on the train, poised to climb down to the platform, he could still see the blond, orange-clad man, but he looked unfamiliar. Nor was there any sign of his mother, or even his aunt Bellatrix. Footsteps sounded from behind him; and Draco shrank back as far as he could into the shadows. His eyes widened when he recognised Longbottom and Lovegood; he’d thought he might have been one of the last if not the last to leave the train.

“Seems like everyone made it out alright,” Longbottom was saying.

The blond girl hummed in agreement. “I suppose I’ll catch up with my dad, he seems to be chasing after Moon Frogs. Oh, Ginny and Seamus are over there …”

“I’ll let them know,” the boy said, not needing for her to complete the sentence when she trailed off. “Well, Luna, have a good holiday.”

“You too, Neville,” she said, blinking up at him from where she stood on the platform, while he was still on the steps above her. “You’re holding up brilliantly.”

Draco watched as Longbottom ran a hand through his hair in an embarrassed fashion, then disappeared in the direction of the gate, stopping shortly where he could see Ginny Weasley’s telltale red hair. Lovegood seemed to contemplate one of the pillars, or whatever she might have seen there. He’d just set his foot on the last step to descend, tired of waiting for her to move, when more Death Eaters showed up, not from the gate but from beyond the locomotive. In a heartbeat, they had reached the girl. Despite her reported dreaminess, he was surprised to see the wand in her hand as quickly as he did, but she had no chance to dodge or deflect all three stunners sent her way and crumbled under the impact of the one that hit her.

“Well done keeping a watch on her; had no idea you were in on the plan, Malfoy.” The voice was undoubtedly Macnair’s, an old family friend. “Making up for your father, eh? – You are to come with us, by the way. Your mother was, ah, unable to come, she’s needed in the house.”

Unable. More like not allowed to leave. So things hadn’t really changed, they were still prisoners in their own house. His eyes, however, remained glued to the prone figure of Luna Lovegood one of the masked men was swinging over his shoulder. Macnair seemed to take his silence as confirmation, though.

Draco was grabbed by the arm, and then Macnair called down the platform, “Lovegood! You missing something? Heed a warning, why don’t you?”

Draco saw the orange-clad man storming towards them with a war-cry, but he was already yanked into side-apparition, and almost fell down upon landing. The sight of the outer fence of the Malfoy estate greeted his eyes, the house looming in the distance. Dolohov lifted his hood, striding through the gates with the Ravenclaw on his shoulder. Draco followed numbly, wishing to wake up from that nightmare.

*

For Neville, being back in his childhood bedroom felt strange. Not at all like a safe refuge, but something from a different life. His Gran was puttering around downstairs, and generally, the silence he was used to was interrupted by doors closing and footsteps muffled by the thick red carpets. His family was by no means rich, but his parents had made good money as Aurors, not to mention the estate tied to the Longbottom name, which ensured that his Gran and he wouldn’t have to suffer any want. When he had left on September 1st, they had one ‘house guest’, as a favour to McGonagall, but, as his Gran had informed him casually when they crossed over the magical wards, they’d be sharing their roof with several other people for the foreseeable future.

“People?” he had asked.

“Yes, Neville, people. Human beings. Some of them are Muggle-Borns and their families, or otherwise wanted by the Ministry.”

Like a safe-house, it flashed across his mind, not being giving the opportunity to reply as Augusta Longbottom lengthened her strides.

Now back in his room, he was just finishing unpacking the few things he brought back for the holidays, when a knock sounded on the door. “Come in,” Neville answered, curious as to whom it would be. It definitely wasn’t his Gran’s demanding knock.

A dark head was poked inside, followed by a tall, broad-shouldered body. “Neville. Are you busy?”

Neville blinked in surprise at the boy, someone he had talked to occasionally in Herbology, and during their shared DA sessions, and who he hadn’t seen since Dumbledore’s funeral in June. “Justin?”

“Yeah. How are you? Is that – is that a bruise?”

Neville touched his cheek self-consciously. A souvenir from his last encounter with the Slytherins, but he barely noticed it any more. Justin had extended his hand in greeting before stopping when he took in Neville’s appearance. Neville felt a bit awkward standing there; always had when it came to greeting people; though being stared at felt even more awkward, so he grabbed Justin’s hand instead.

“Erg, do you really want to know? – Scratch that, I guess that’s why you’re here in the first place, isn’t it? To know what’s going on? It’s a bruise, but nothing serious, I just didn’t agree with Goyle and he thought to show his annoyance with me.” He stopped himself, realising he was rambling.

Justin started, then seemed to come back to the present. “Goodness, Neville, what’s going on at Hogwarts? What are they doing to you? How’s everyone?”

“I think we better sit down,” he answered, gesturing towards the group of leather armchairs near the window, before hurrying over to put away his jacket and spare robes he’d dumped there during his unpacking.

Justin didn’t seem to care, sitting on the edge of an armchair, eager to hear what Neville would have to say.

“First, who else is here that I know?” Neville asked. He was trying to think logical, like how Luna or Hermione would approach the subject.

The Hufflepuff, for once, hated having to be reasonable, but could see the point of the question. “Mostly older people. Kevin Whitby, a Ravenclaw fourth year, and a young girl from Gryffindor, Elisa Simmons. I didn’t know them before. Two Muggle-Born boys with their families who should have started first year; they’d only received the initial letters McGonagall send out before the Death Eaters took over and would have run into the Death Eaters if it wasn’t for your Mrs Longbottom.”

“I guess they have questions as well. First, though, would you trust the older children enough to say they’re DA material?”

Justin’s eyes widened. “So it’s true, then? There were rumours about graffiti all over the castle, but we never …”

Neville chuckled darkly. “Yes, the graffiti. Not the most subtle of actions, but we wanted to take a stand. Ginny knows just the sticking spell, same as the Portable Swamp, I suppose, and the one near the kitchen’s is still there. Has been painted over several times by Filch, but it’s coming through every time.”

Justin took deep breath, ordering his thoughts for a moment. “They are against You-Know-Who, of course; but I wouldn’t send them into a duel. That would be just be cruel. – How is everyone holding up? Ernie and Susan? Have you heard of Hannah?”

Neville could have smacked himself; of course Justin wanted to know about that first. “Right, sorry. Ernie is holding up fine; trying not to show the strain and keeping up the spirits. Susan wants to see this through, more than anything fuelled by anger and bitterness. I don’t need to re-hash the Bones’ family history, do I?” Justin’s baring of his teeth was enough to let him know he was right. Who didn’t know the story about the murder of Edgar Bones and his family, and Amelia Bones, the former Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, turning up dead last summer? Though maybe that was just him; those things were always kept alive in the Longbottom household. “Ernie’s keeping her in check, though. She can’t let those emotions show, or she’d be done for.”

“What about Hannah? She never returned after she had to leave following her mother’s murder.”

“The Ministry’s edict about mandatory attendance for Pure-Bloods and Half-Bloods meant she had to, this year. – Honestly, I don’t know if she’d have been better off at home. Take that as a hint; Hogwarts is nothing like it used to be. Hannah’s been doing a lot of work in the background, like nursing our bruises, supplies, or just lending an ear if anyone needs it.”

“Sounds like her. How’s this going to end? Where are we headed?”

Neville gave the answer he always gave to that question, the only thing that was clear to him. “Harry will be back. And when he does, we’re ready to fight.”

Justin contemplated the boy opposite him. “You sound so sure. How do you know?”

Neville shrugged. “I just do. Harry wouldn’t leave us hanging. That’s the difference, you know? He cares. And until he’s back, we’re doing what we can, we look after each other, and we prepare.”

“I could use a sparing partner,” Justin said impulsively, taking heart from the absolute trust he could see in the Gryffindor’s eyes, “you know, because I’m planning on being there as well. Could we practice a bit while you’re here?

“Of course! I don’t know how good I’ll be …”

Justin waved him off. “You’re plenty good. It’s probably me who needs to catch up. Maybe I can get someone in the house to mock-duel with me; there’d only be the issue of knowing when it’s time.”

Neville felt an unfamiliar smirk on his face, which he could very well imagine on Ron’s or Ginny’s face. “Just hang on to your DA coin, why don’t you? You still have it, haven’t you?”

Justin’s face broke out into a grin as well. “In my trunk. I just never looked at it, since, well, the dates haven’t changed in two years.”

“Luna modified them a bit. Not all of them are given the same message, since some coins were lost, and we don’t know who has them nowadays. I’ll make sure to add yours to the list, though.”

“Sounds good to me.” Justin grinned again, and they kept their heads together until it was time for dinner, sharing their experiences. Neville felt glad the whereabouts of another of his classmates had become clear, and promised the other boy to take back letters and Christmas gifts for the other Hufflepuffs when he had to go back.

*

Bill watched his brother, who was staring into the roaring fire with a morose expression. The quaint little seaside cottage, formerly used as a get-away by members of the Prewett family, was now his and Fleur’s as a wedding gift from Great-Aunt Muriel, since for some unfathomable reason she favoured him.

They’d put up a small Christmas tree, although no one was really in the mood for it. They’d probably just have gone to The Burrow, but things had changed when Ron showed up some weeks prior and crashed on the sofa. Knowing his brother, Bill had waited for him to spill the beans, which hadn’t taken too long. Ron seemed pretty torn up about it already, and Bill could see why when Ron had finally told how he had left the other two in a short-lived rage, and how he’d immediately regretted it. And how he had searched their previous camping sites for days on end, until the weather forced him to discontinue his search. Since he had shown up, Ron had disappeared several times, intent on finding his friends again, only to return, each time more desperate.

Bill didn’t know what the fight was about, nor did he interrogate too far into the kind of mission they were doing. He held back his disapproval and admonitions, as it was pretty obvious that Ron knew all of that already.

It was his first Christmas as a married man, and so his parents hadn’t seen it as too strange when had announced he would spent it with Fleur at their new home. Which had, of course, incited the expected comments from Fred, George and Charlie. The only other choice would have been to reveal the reason Ron was back to everyone, and both knew the reactions this was likely to produce from the other members of their family. Ginny in particular would tear him to pieces.

The crackling of the fire was the only noise to breach the silence, and occasionally the strong breeze from the sea howling outside the cottage. Bill looked up warmly at his wife when he felt her presence next to the couch. She handed Ron a mug of steaming cocoa, then settled down next to him, holding one of the remaining cups out to him.

“Thanks, love,” he said quietly, holding his mug aloft until she had settled herself into the crook of his arm.

Ron cleared his throat awkwardly, for once oblivious to his sister-in-law’s attraction. “So what do you reckon? Any chance Dad might stay home after all? I mean, Harry saw the file they have on him …”

Bill didn’t miss a beat, continuing the conversation they’d had before Fleur came in. “Not yet. He’s still keeping his eyes peeled, although it really was hard on us when Tonks had to quit, and Kingsley was found out. That jinx was a rather hard blow for us.”

Ron nodded. He’d reverted back to calling Voldemort You-Know-Who, even when he’d still been with Harry and Hermione, never all too comfortable about Harry’s insistence that it was only a name. He was hoping his hot-tempered friend wasn’t unwittingly calling Death Eaters to him again; but so far, there was no mention of the apprehension of the Undesirable No. 1. “I was just so worried about you; all of you. And I had no way of knowing. We happened, ah, we heard that Ginny had tried to steal something from Snape, and was punished.”

Bill grimaced; they’d gone over the point already since it was one of the first things Ron had asked when he showed up. “I think it was rather lenient; all in all. But she seems to keep her head down now, since we there weren’t any more detentions. Though it’s always a possibility that we simply haven’t heard. Security around Hogwarts is pretty tight; mail is monitored again. When she came home some days ago, she would only say most teachers are trying to cover for them as much as possible, but also caution them to be careful.”

Ron could just about imagine that; recalling McGonagall around Umbridge. Only it seemed a lot worse even with the little information he had. He was sorely tempted to just face his family’s disappointment in him just to see with his own eyes that they were alright. “But still, Dad …”

“I know. He’s not going to budge, not unless forced. Where do you think we’ve got our stubbornness from?” The question was rhetorical of course, when they shared an exasperated glance, knowing all too well that it was true. Bill could admit to himself that he wasn’t facing a child anymore, the youngest brother he had had to babysit in the past had grown into an equal. “Take me; I’m still at Gringotts. The Goblins might be angry and embittered at the ‘Wand-Bearers’ interference, though at the moment things are only simmering. Charlie is here as much as he can …”

“I wish you would take a ‘oliday, Bill,” Fleur interrupted, and Ron had the feeling they’d already talked the issue over many times. “You made me stay ‘ome, after all.”

“Mum’s on Fleur’s side on this one,” Bill put in for Ron’s benefit, who felt his features pull into a rare smile. “But as I said, I’m just as stubborn as Dad. It would cause even more suspicion if we all dropped off the face of the earth. Fred and George are the same; their shop is still open.”

Ron snorted darkly, thinking back to a few short months ago. “Let’s just hope they’re not selling Instant-Darkness Powder to Death Eaters again. Same goes for their defensive line of products.”

“Oh, zat reminds me. We wanted to try and find Potterwatch, oui?” Fleur summoned the wireless from the sideboard. When she switched it on, The Weird Sisters were blaring through the room.

“Not Celestina Warbeck, then?” Ron asked in amusement.

Bill didn’t really know what the joke was, but Fleur seemed to know what his brother was getting at. “Eet is not really my style, non.”

“Anyway,” Bill said loudly, tapping the wireless with his wand while fiddling with the …, “any guesses? I didn’t catch the last one, unfortunately, and the one before was cut short due to that unexpected ‘house-call’.”

“Dumbledore? Phoenix?” Fleur launched a few guesses.

Ron had heard about the Potterwatch broadcasts, but had yet to listen to one. “Potter?”

“Too obvious,” Bill replied, thinking. “It’s got to be more subtle, yet meaningful to the resistance. – Moody!” He said decisively, tapping the wireless.

The magical receiver crackled, until a voice grew clearer.

“… back here with us, and our very decimated crew. This is River, and I am glad to see Royal with me on Christmas Eve. How are ya, Royal?”

“But that’s …,” Ron gaped. Bill nodded, shushing him with his hands. All three of them had huddled around the receiver.

“Fine, and you? A Happy Christmas to all of you celebrating. We wanted to take the time to honour everyone who fell victim to or had to suffer from this madness. I won’t read out names this time, since there’s too many to include them all, and who is to say a Muggle-Born who is denied education and seeking salvation in running or their abandoned family is less affected than those who lost their lives, or their relatives? Or the wizard next door who has to watch their every step in fear of being deported or reported for some alleged misdemeanour? Let us remember, and hope to see this threat gone by the time next year’s festivities roll around. Let’s think about those we lost, those we love, and who love us.”

There was silence, and Ron closed his eyes briefly. Kingsley’s voice had always had a confidence-inspiring quality to it, and his speech had a heartfelt ring. Ron’s mind flitted to Dumbledore lying motionlessly at the foot of the castle, to Harry’s grief after Sirius’s death, or the photographs of his Uncles Fabian and Gideon, and how his mother would always have tears in her eyes when she saw them. Bill’s scars were illuminated eerily in the candle-light, just in front of him, but his expression was open and soft as he returned Fleur’s embrace. Ron knew who he wanted to hold just like that, and Fleur’s veela charms had nothing on her. He had to find her.

Royal was talking again. “… sacrifices. Remember to be on your toes, people. You’re not alone, even if you might think so.

“In other news, for all of you Quidditch nutters out there, we don’t have good ones for you,” River added solemnly. “It is now official that Quidditch can be counted among the victims of the pure-blood mania as well. Quidditch matches are and will remain classified as potential sources of uprising, and huge crowd gatherings are to be avoided under threat of an Azkaban sentence. A Ministry of Magic spokesperson announced this this morning, adding that ‘due to the continued resistance towards our rightful regime’-,” Ron could practically hear the disdain in Lee’s voice as he quoted the ministry official, “- the British, Welsh or Scottish national teams are to withdraw from the final rounds and return home immediately.”

“We know that this piece of news can be read in the Daily Prophet as well,” Kingsley added. “But they won’t add that various Quidditch players have disappeared off the face of the earth. We can now confirm that those who were reported missing are ‘incidentally’ of Muggle-Born descent.”

“That brings us to the one question again everyone should be asking themselves. If you’re a Pure-Blood or Half-Blood still indecisive about the matter, please ponder this: What good is it to bow to an institution that has taken to ridding the Wizarding World of anything supposedly non-magical if it means losing what makes our world what it is in the first place? Imagine a world without Quidditch, without a lively, bustling Diagon Alley. But oh hey, you don’t need to imagine, just take a look outside.”

Silence followed this; Ron, Bill and Fleur looking at each other in absolute conviction. “I couldn’t have said it better,” Bill breathed, feeling like he would be taking from the impact if he spoke any louder.

Shuffling of notes sounded from the speakers of the wireless, then Royal’s deep voice was back. “By taking a look outside, you might also have noticed the presence of Dementors, who have taken the liberty to roam the British Isles freely, while innocent wizards are being apprehended left, right, and centre. Thus, it might be useful to revise the workings of the Patronus Charm, the only spell that helps you get rid of Dementors. So, now, the first thing you want to do is …”

“This is brilliant!” Ron breathed, while he half-listened to Kingsley’s words, which basically were a rehash of what Harry had taught them in fifth year.

“It is. You know, it would be interesting to have a Death Eater answer that question.”

Ron snorted. “I don’t think they thought about that at all. Take Malfoy, always wanting to one-up Gryffindor in Quidditch, but then he sacrifices that in order to carry out You-Know-Who’s order last year.”

“You’re talking about the son, I take it? Well, he’s a kid, he wouldn’t have been any match to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.”

“He’s my age. He’s Harry’s age. And he’s a Death Eater!” Ron was set in his opinion, not understanding how one could condone murder.

Bill sighed. “Ron, not everyone has such a strict distinction of right and wrong you have. We’re lucky Mum and Dad raised us the way they did. Sometimes, what seemed right at first or entered into in the heat of the moment turns out wrong in the end. – Sound familiar?”

Ron wanted to deny, but lowered his head shamefully. Still, how was his situation in any way similar to Malfoy’s? Just because they came from all-wizarding families? He rather tuned in River and Royal’s speculations on the whereabouts of Harry Potter.

“Ha, they know as much as I do,” Ron tried to change the subject. Fleur gathered the mugs to put them away, and Bill broached anther subject that had been weighing on his mind for some time.

“Ron? Did you think of Percy at all, earlier?”

Ron wanted to negate that immediately, but stopped. Of course he had thought of his family, but as them as a whole. His Mum and Dad of course, and Ginny who would always stick out as the only girl and closest to him in age. The twins with their boisterous personalities, and Charlie and Bill, who he had always looked up to. Fleur had been included in that picture too, as of late. And of course he also thought of Harry and Hermione as part of his family, though his feelings for Hermione had taken on a whole different quality. Percy had always been the one he felt the least connection too, always quieter than the others, most often registering in Ron’s sphere as the annoying, overly-correct know-it-all. But if he was honest with himself, Percy was still included in that picture as well, even if he felt anger and disappointment with him. “Another case of a decision turning out wrong?” Ron asked wryly, not ready to forgive his brother for the hurt he had caused their parents. “He could just quit, if he really wanted to.”

“Could he?” Bill let the question hanging; wondering again as he had done during the past months whether Percy was staying where he was for conviction or to try and wither it out as so many did. He liked to believe the latter, but did he even still know his brother? Almost six years in age separated them, almost as much as he had on Fleur.

“It’s strange, not being able to do what I want when I want it, or thinking about why others do what they do,” Ron admitted hesitantly, as if the realisation wasn’t entirely welcome. Then he added in an annoyed tone, just as out of the blue, “Is this what it feels like as a grown up? If it is, it can bugger off again.”

Bill couldn’t hold back the laugh, which he didn’t attempt to suppress as he watched Ron attack the dying fire with the poker. “It’s a bummer, isn’t it? No more hiding and sulking, at least not where anyone can see.”

Bill laughed again, feeling the brotherly bond between them warm his insides. “So, you’re off again, soon?”

“Yes, tomorrow, or the day after at the latest. No offence to you, but I need to get back to Harry and Hermione soon.”

“I ‘ope you find zem,” Fleur said from the door, where she’d caught the last exchange, summoned by her husband’s laughter, just as River was wrapping up Potterwatch with the codeword for the next broadcast.

“I hope so too. Night you two, I’m going to bed.”

*

Bill hadn’t been able to sleep a wink; the emotions brought to the surface by Potterwatch keeping him awake. His conversation with Ron had led him to contemplate all of his family members. He had faith in all of them to pull through somehow because they would stand together no matter what. Yet there was Percy … His big brother instinct wanted to make sure the other was alright; even with the rift that currently existed between them. He thought he still knew where Percy had rented that flat in London, and it couldn’t hurt if he just happened to walk through that area, could it?

As the new day dawned and Fleur slept with her head on his shoulder, he could still see the sheen of light from the guest bedroom go on and off; in time with the clicking of the deluminator, he was sure. He wasn’t the only one awake that night.

It was some time later when he heard muffled noises from Ron’s room. He was reluctant to leave his warm bed, but when Bill went to investigate, he found his brother gone. A hastily-scribbled note told him he had a hunch and to trust him.

“Just be careful, Ron.”

*

Ginny’s eyes opened, and she was instantly aware of her surroundings, skipping the wake-up phase. She was in her own bed, not the one in Gryffindor Tower. Pale light filtered in through the shutters, telling her it must be the early hours of the morning. Not just any morning, but Christmas morning. Her instinct would have been to jump out of bed to try and wake up Ron; she’d done it before their Hogwarts years, and whenever they would spend Christmas at the Burrow instead of Hogwarts. It had developed into a challenge waking him up as he grew older, claiming that he needed his sleep. It hadn’t stopped her, and she’d called him a lazy teenage prick for it. The sadness was overwhelming, and she sighed into her familiar room. Last year, she had snuck up there again, determined to get her lazy brother out of bed for their Christmas routine. She hadn’t exactly forgotten Harry, but she was so used to ignoring her feelings for him, she was halfway across the room before rustling from the extra bed had caught her attention. Tufts of black hair had stuck out from where he was buried deep into his blankets, and she’d had to fight the desire to jump onto his bed instead of Ron’s, a whole other motive than pranking on her mind. She’d left quickly after that.

“That was a year ago, get a grip,” Ginny told herself. She knew why he had broken up with her and why she couldn’t have gone with them; with her trace still active, she’d be more of a burden than an asset.

Her brother and Hermione were completely forgotten as Ginny allowed her thoughts to drift back to sunny, lazy afternoons spent on the shore of the Black Lake.

”Ginny! You’re on strict orders to make a dent into those Charms notes! Hermione will have my head!” Harry was sitting against the trunk of an old, burly oak, and Ginny felt snug and comfortable as she leant against his chest.

Tilting her head so he would catch her grin, she replied, “Well, mister, it’s your own fault for being so distracting! Besides, I know most of this stuff; you don’t sit next to Luna Lovegood for years without catching the one or other trick.”

“How am I being distracting?” Ginny watched as his eyebrows climbed higher on his face, drawing closer together a little in confusion. His brilliant emerald-green eyes weren’t guarded for once and held curiosity, nothing of the wariness that they had acquired over the course of the previous years, especially after his godfather’s death. She thought it meant that she really had a chance with him, after waiting for what felt like all her life.

“Okay, maybe more like cute,” she amended, feeling mischievous.

Harry wrinkled his nose on instinct, before opening his mouth to protest. She loved seeing the different emotions in his eyes, and thought she might never get tired just watching them.

“It’s true, don’t fight it,” Ginny cut him off, straightening up a bit to press a light, teasing kiss on his lips. The little interlude wasn’t supposed to leave her wanting more, which it did.

Harry licked his lips, then tapped her on the nose. “You, Ginny Weasley, are a tease.” He barely hesitated to replace his finger with his lips, as he would have done right at the beginning of their relationship. Both of them moved their heads in mutual understanding, Charms notes completely forgotten, as their lips met again.


Ginny sighed again, wistful. They had shared their last kiss in this very room on Harry’s seventeenth birthday. She had done pretty well to try and avoid thinking about their short time together, the snogs, the talks, or just hanging out. If she did, she could feel the tears pricking the back of her eyes. The magnitude of her feelings scared her sometimes; how could she feel so much for another human being? She was only sixteen, but somehow, she couldn’t imagine a life where he was not present in some way; be it in her mother’s goodnight stories, her childhood fantasies, as her brother’s friend, or more. She could even see little messy-haired boys looking up at her with wondering, bright green eyes.

“Enough!” Ginny jumped out of her bed, wiping furiously over her eyes. She usually didn’t allow herself to think along those lines for a very good reason; because it was hurting too much. At Hogwarts, she put her energy into the DA instead, and simply getting through each day. She breathed in deeply in anticipation of the day. If the evening before was any indication, the glaring absence of those who should have been there would have them all tense, while trying put up a cheerful face for the others. She hadn’t actually seen her mother sit down since she arrived, arranging and rearranging Christmas decorations, tending to biscuits in various stages of completion or fussing over the twins, Charlie and herself. She was a bit cross at Bill for holing up at Shell Cottage with Fleur, since he had always been the best at calming their mother.

Pacing back and forth brought her closer to her bedroom door than she would have been had she still stayed in bed. This was probably the reason she heard the whispers outside her door. Picking up her wand, Ginny moved closer on tiptoes, and pressed her ear against the wood.

“Hold it still! I need to put the glue on …”

“Hurry up! It’s no use if it starts drying off …”

Ginny’s eyebrows rose, she definitely knew those voices. A third one chimed in, a little louder. “I still think it would be a better idea to raid Mum’s biscuit stash;’s not like she wouldn’t be making new ones before we can as much as blink.”

“Sshh!” The former voices and ensuing pushing could be heard. Ginny shook her head; Fred and George must be loosing their touch if they took to pranking her. They should know better, but she guessed the two of them were just as keyed-up and impatient as her.

“I can’t hear anything,” someone whispered.

“What are we waiting for, then? The stuff’s starting to look off; are we sure we want to launch it yet? Or use it on our sister-dearest for that matter?”

“Right, that’s it, I’m out. There are biscuits calling my name while you get yourselves into deep dragon dung.” A set of footsteps shuffled away, while the other two once again made shushing noises. Ginny could hear scraping against the wood from the other side, guessing they were mirroring her own position with their ears against the door. She wasn’t surprised they weren’t using Extendable Ears; since they’d learned the hard way she had sealed that little loophole ever since they’d all tried the same thing on the Order at Grimmauld Place.

Grinning wildly, Ginny stepped back to stand to allow for the door to open, and waved her wand quickly at the handle. The door snapped open, admitting two stocky, broad-shouldered red-heads tumbling down on her carpet.

In the tangle of limps and string of expletives, she made out what she thought was a red cap lined with white fur and a fake white beard. A quick Expelliarmus had two wands soar into her left hand, while she pointed her own back at her brothers. “That was rather pathetic. What do you have to say for yourselves?”

“I told you so,” a smug voice sounded from the open door, and a quick glance showed her Charlie was leaning against the doorjamb with his arms crossed.

“In our defence, we needed to test the Glitter Goo Glue …“

“… but Charlie is too light a sleeper …”

“… and our favourite test subjects …”

“… or make that our favourite guinea-pig and our favourite prank victim …”

“… are currently not available.”

Ginny then cocked her head in a mock-thoughtful manner at Fred and George. “I see.” She accio’ed the items which indeed turned out to be a Santa’s hat and a white beard. The glue – which indeed looked like some glittering, gooey blob – was already half-caked. “Does this stuff come off again?”

“Uh,” the twins shared a look as if trying to determine which answer would cause the least damage to them, “it does?”

Ginny shot Charlie a quick grin, supplying the rest of the sentence; it probably would, they only hadn’t said when. “Well then, you won’t mind trying it out yourselves, will you?”

Fred and George shared another, wide-eyed, glance, before scrambling to their feet, but Ginny was equally as fast. Shooting the hat and the beard at them was the work of only a few moments and a flick of her wand, and she could hear a sucking noise as the goo attached itself to their heads.

“It’s on a bit loop-sided,” George pointed out, examining the hat on his twin’s head, the white bobble swinging jauntily in Fred’s face.

“Damn, I thought she was supposed to have a good aim,” Fred joked, pulling on George’s beard probingly. When Ginny advanced on them again, they shot out of her room.

“Eeviiil,” they shouted gleefully, already racing down the stairs.

“Ladies and gentlemen, here you see representatives of the wizarding world’s current and future entrepreneurs.” Charlie remarked, before taking off himself, muttering something about breakfast.

“Brothers,” Ginny commented flatly, taking the stairs two at a time on her way down. She almost crashed into three broad backs blocking the stairs. Charlie turned around, a fingers on his lips. Ginny elbowed him, to make him move and let her see.

From their perch on the stairs, they had a direct view into the sitting room. Arthur Weasley sat on the worn couch, body slumped a bit forward in sleep, with his head on his wife’s head, while she had her arms wrapped around his upper body. The fire must have flickered out sometime during the night, with a little warmth and a smoky note still lingering in the room. A maroon woollen blanket covered their legs, revealing yesterday’s clothes. As if to cement the fact that their parents hadn’t gone up to bed at all were the used tea mugs on the table, right next to their father’s glasses.

Ginny felt her whole countenance soften as she watched her parents sleep; content in the oblivion of sleep and the comfort of the other’s arms. Still, there was sadness tugging at her heart; wishing she were in Harry’s arms at that moment for however brief it would be.

“Come on, you lot, let’s see whether we can produce a decent breakfast. And without causing a ruckus or blowing something up,” Ginny said quietly, poking her brothers in the ribs. She glanced behind her for another moment before following Fred, George and Charlie to the kitchen. She’d take what her parents over any pure, arranged alliance any day.


Chapter 11: Year Gone By
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Nothing you recognise is mine!



Remus greeted the family of four from Dorset in passing; the man was a Muggle-Born married to a Muggle and they’d been there since October. The inhabitants of the safe house had shared a Christmas lunch, and then most had excused themselves after some forcibly cheerful conversation.

He entered the family room again, and found only his wife, Andromeda and Nora Arrows in deep conversation.

“… feel bad your father had to leave while you give refuge to others,” Nora was saying. Remus noticed that Andromeda’s gaze was fixed on the tambour frame in her hand, but her hand with the needle was hovering motionlessly over it.

Tonks answered, “No, no, he wouldn’t want that. He knew it was only a matter of time before they came for him, so he went and showed himself to a group of Ministry workers before disappearing. There are families here, some with little children, and where would they go?”

“Maybe they’ll have no choice,” Remus inserted, stepping up behind the sofa Tonks was lounging on, and put a hand on her shoulder since he knew just how worried she was about her dad. He felt three questioning glances on him for an explanation. “Someone’s tried to get in again; and they seem to have vented their anger on the ground and nearby bushes when the protection held.”

“Bellatrix?” Andromeda whispered, lowering her needlework into her lap.

Remus grimaced. “I wouldn’t bet on it; but it looked pretty vicious. And it wouldn’t be the first time she tried to get in.”

“Will she ever stop? She’s been my demon since we were little, what else’ll she take from me?” Agitated, she stormed out of the room, to do what, Remus wasn’t sure. The mix of emotions - betrayal, hurt, frustration, helplessness, disbelief - he’d heard in her voice would be enough to send anyone reeling.

“What are we going to do?” Dora interrupted his observation, motioning for him to sit down with her.

“I don’t know. It might be a good idea to move everyone before they actually manage to get in. Elphias’s, or Dedalus’s place, perhaps. I’ll talk to Kingsley, next time we’re planning to go on-air.”

“I just wish you’d let me come. I’m not disabled, you know. Just pregnant with your child. And I’m going stir-crazy here! What if you don’t come back, and I can’t do anything about it?”

“Dora.” Remus pulled her into a gentle embrace, and he could feel the tension and frustration in her shoulders. “Don’t go rushing off somewhere. We don’t want another Ministry debacle. Least of all on my account.” Those Blacks were much too impulsive for their own good, however distant or reluctant their connection might be, he thought.

“But …”

“Any idea when the next Potterwatch is? Fred didn’t know when we last spoke,” Nora interrupted softly.

Remus shook his head in the negative. “Not yet; but Kingsley and Lee forbade us from showing up for yesterday’s. I suspect they’ll be in touch. – Is Fred coming over?”

“He said he might not be able to, since his mother apparently won’t let them out of their sight. And since we’re practically under lock-down …”

He knew all too well what she meant. It had become increasingly difficult to hold this particular safe house; and more importantly, use it. Bellatrix Lestrange in particular seemed eager to get in, and he had come to the grim realisation that Andromeda might not be too far off the mark with her earlier exclamation. He hadn’t believed it, but Bellatrix toppling Sirius into the Veil of Death and her preceding duel with Dora showed that she seemed to have some kind of twisted crusade against her – in her eyes – dishonouring relatives. He had had to be extremely careful whenever he left, more so since he wasn’t the most Desireable person either.

“My father also was talking about leaving … but I don’t know …,” Nora spoke up again, having followed her own line of thoughts.

He nodded. “I thought so. I’ll talk to him, let’s see what we can do. But you don’t seem too eager?” It had become quite obvious, at least to the inhabitants of the Tonks household, that one of Molly and Arthur’s kids and Nora had some kind of relationship, even if it wasn’t openly addressed.

“No, I’d much rather stay,” Nora replied wryly, showing that she knew that he knew.

Tonks looked at her husband, then back at their house guest. “We might consider moving the families to a safer place, but another skilled wand wouldn’t go amiss.”

“Who says we’d be staying?” Remus interrupted loudly, as the two women seemed to reach a silent understanding. “If Lestrange is indeed after you and your mother …”

“Exactly. And she’d be sure to go looking for us again. And then we might lose another safe house.”

“Dora.” Remus said her name again, this time with a hint of weariness. He felt another bone of contention coming up.

“No, no, listen. We … oh!” Her eyes had gone wide, and he was ready to jump up to do – well, whatever needed to be done, but she grabbed his hand. “Do you feel it? Tell me you feel it?”

Remus didn’t need to ask what she meant. He could feel the baby move against his hand on her belly. His werewolf instincts, usually more dormant during phases of the waning or new moon, let him perceive the beat of a tiny heart.

“Little Teddy’s awake,” Tonks murmured gently, stroking her five-and-a-half-months-pregnant baby bump.

“I’d say he agrees with me,” Remus said casually, eyes not moving from her midriff. His comment earned him a jab in the ribs.

“As if. He’s going to be a Mummy’s boy, just so you know! And he’s probably hungry for the leftover chicken from earlier.”

“If he’s anything like me, it’s probably chocolate. Don’t blame your cravings on my innocent son. But hang on, all this talk about safe houses distracted me. I wanted …,” Remus fished in his pockets for the parcel he’d retrieved earlier from underneath their bed – a spot she hadn’t been able to check for Christmas presents in her current state. “… here. Your Christmas present.”

“But you already gave me something. Oh, what the hell, give it here.” She lounged for it, then moaned about how Teddy didn’t seem to appreciate being disturbed.

Nora thought it prudent to give the couple some privacy, and closed the door on Tonks’s delighted exclamations about a delicate necklace.

*

She was lying on a rather coarse surface. As she became aware of her surroundings, she noticed the cold stone and dust beneath her fingertips and her cheek. Luna pushed herself up and sat back on her knees, stretching languidly.

“I see you’re awake.”

Luna turned her head, curious who might have spoken to her. The white hair was the first thing she saw, then an old, withered face came into view.

“Who are you?” she asked, cocking her head. No warning bells went off in her belly like had been around the Carrows.

“My name’s Ollivander, Garrick Ollivander. But dear child, what have you done to land yourself here?”

Of course she knew who he was. The peculiar old man who had sold her her wand. “People say you are dead,” she stated blandly.

“Do they?” Ollivander chuckled humourlessly. “I could very well be, but he still thinks I can help him. Say, what day is it?”

Luna pursed her lips in thoughts. “The last thing I remember is watching the moon frogs on Platform Nine and Three Quarters, the day we went home for Christmas.”

“December, then. It certainly seems a lot longer. Merlin knows whether we will ever see the light of day again.”

“Oh, but we will,” Luna said as if it was obvious, looking directly at her fellow prisoner.

The Nargles always told her things, inhabiting objects around her and guiding her faithfully. They were her instinct, and currently, the two little faces peering at her curiously from the crevice over the stone pillar were whispering to her to be patient and to hold out. She only hoped they were sending the same message to her poor father and that she would be back eventually; she hated leaving him all alone. But everything worked out in the end, even if one couldn’t see it happening at the present.

She was absent-mindedly drawing a star into the dust, and then Luna looked up with a serene smile. “My friends will come and get me, but not now. There’s other things they have to do first, and we’ll have to be patient. I’m sure of it. I have waited all my life for them; and they won’t fail me this time either. In the end, everything will fall into place.”

Mr Ollivander watched her doubtfully, but she didn’t listen anymore. Luna started humming a tune to herself that reminded her of her mother and the smell of cinnamon and candles and fresh fir sprigs. In her heart, she reached out to her Daddy, to Harry, Ron and Hermione, and to Ginny and Neville, who would have to manage on their own now. She had helped them the best she could, and had no doubt they’d continue their work just fine.

*

The tall red-head was bent low over the forest ground, clutching a wooden and stick and examining the sunken leaves and low shrubbery and the churned remains of what must have been a decently-sized fire the night before. At least Ron thought it was from the night before. He never cared for camping much, even if it was the only holiday activity they could afford, and never cared for the surrounding nature much when they did go on a camping trip. The only source he could base his estimate on was a rather heated and in-depth – more than he had cared for at the time – discussion between Dean and Seamus during their fourth year, when he’d fallen out with Harry. Again. he thought, exasperated at himself. Ron would have vehemently denied it previously if someone accused him of being stuck-up and spoiled; but in a way, he was. The time with Bill had shown him something, though; he might not have been spoiled in the way Malfoy was, for example, but he’d taken too many things for granted.

Sighing, Ron straightened up, checking the clearing for people. “Nothing here for me,” he muttered under his breath, and proceeded to use his Deluminator. The bright light sprung up at once. Ron squeezed his eyes shut; picturing the young man with the brilliant green eyes, poking fun at him reading out advice from his “Twelve Fail-Safe Ways To Charm Witches” to him. And the girl with the deep brown eyes, whacking him over the head with one of her precious book when he had tried to sneak off to get something to eat while they were supposed to be packing the day before Harry’s birthday; her surprised, but delighted expression when he had asked her to dance and how she had felt in his arms. “Take me to Hermione and Harry, please.”

The light from the Deluminator seemed to guide him in his apparition once more, the usual compressing sensation and his anxiety lessened by his determination to go where he needed to go.

Once again, he reappeared near a copse of trees. Ron looked up at the sky sceptically, it was already getting darker by the minute, and he was sure the wards were already in place and once again separating him from where he wanted to be the most. His neck tingled, and Ron whipped around to peer more closely amidst the trees. There was nothing conspicious to be seen, but if it was a wizard, that didn’t have to mean anything. Ron tapped himself on the head, silently thanking Bill silently for practicing disillusionment charms with him whenever they had had the time.

Ron moved around for almost half an hour, trying to make as little sound as possible, while keeping his ears pricked and eyes peeled for potential attackers and signs of his friends alike. Suddenly, leaves rustled again a little way to his right, just behind the group of trees standing close together. Then, something emerged from behind the cover of the tree trunks – and Ron would have almost given away his position, rendering his disillusionment futile, by shouting out loud in surprise. It was some kind of deer – and his heart soared. Ron quickened his steps, eyes trained on the patronus. He couldn’t see it fully, since there were always one or more tree trunks in his line of sight. He saw a shadow – most likely the caster.

He remembered that he was still disillusioned, and if it was Harry, he wouldn’t be able to see him. The second it took him to undo the charm on himself, the patronus disappeared into thin air. “No,” Ron breathed, breath fogging in the crisp evening air. He turned on the spot where he’d seen the apparition disappear, hoping to find a trace – any trace – of its caster.

But the only thing he saw was some sort of pond, at the foot of the slope where he now stood. A dark shape was sliding into the water, ice creaking from the movement. Three long strides brought him to the pond’s edge, and he only got a glimpse of a something light, possibly skin, against the darker water dive deeper. Ron felt frozen; who’d go diving into a pond in the middle of winter? His eyes swivelled this way and that; landing on a heap of fabric.

“Bloody hell!” he exclaimed, fingers digging into the soft green material, when he held it up for inspection. He’d bet his Cudley Cannons bedding that his own mother had knitted the jumper, giving it to …, “Harry.” Ron sank down to his knees to peer into the dark waters again. Nothing. “Come on, come on, come on.”

A string of curse words was on the tip of his tongue. Ron fumbled for his watch, his Uncle Gideon’s, the twin to Harry’s watch, then he put it back when he realised that he didn’t have an idea when he’d seen Harry jump in in the first place. A second jumper was still on the ground, and if there had been any doubt before, the glasses lying on it confirmed who it was.

“It’s been entirely too long …,” Ron moaned aloud. Without hesitation, he got rid of his travel cloak and his own jumper, still unable to believe what he was about to do.

With a last shake of his head, Ron slid into the water as he’d seen his friend do. The water was icy, instantly pressing down on his lungs. Gritting his teeth, Ron pushed on downwards. When he thought he couldn’t stand it any longer, a bright glint caught his eye, and then he thought he saw the same pale spot as earlier, lighter than the water in any case.

A body, he thought. It was limp, just floating there. Before he knew it, he had reached him, seizing him under the arms. He was on the verge of cursing again when he saw the black hair, and the traitorous chain around his friend’s neck. Another thing he couldn’t explain was the sword, almost hidden in the darkness amidst the sea weed. Seizing it, Ron cut the chain that held the horcrux, just about holding on to it before it slipped away. But already he could feel some feeble movement in the body he was clutching to his chest.

Sword and locket now in one hand, the other around Harry, Ron pushed himself off the slippery ground. There was some kind of resistance from the thing in his hand, to which he paid no mind, and after a brief struggle, he was propelling them upwards.

He didn’t remember how they must have dragged themselves out of the water; only that he heard coughing and heaving next to him, while he too struggled for air. At the moment, his discarded clothes looked more tempting than anything else, and he lost no time to seek what little warmth his clothes could afford him now.

Ron found his wand, and though it took him three times to have the spell come across his trembling lips, he finally managed to dry himself somewhat.

“You git! Are you completely of your rocker?” Ron ranted, rounding on Harry, who was just struggling into his second jumper.

“R-Ron?” Two bright green eyes peeked out from the opening for the head of the garment in wonder.

“No, it’s actually Percy taking a night stroll. Who else would it be?” Ron deadpanned, taking pity and performing a second drying spell.

“Thanks.”

They stared at each other, breaking into a wide grin at the same time. Then, their gazes simultaneously went to the horcrux that was now lying completely still on the forest ground.

“So, what do we do with it?” Ron questioned casually, knowing he’d been welcomed back. And he wouldn’t be leaving again anytime soon.

*

When Hermione settled back in her bunk, she kept her back to the boys’ talking in low voices. She was sure she wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep, her brain wired with thoughts about the story she’d just heard. There was now one less Horcrux that needed to be destroyed, and they also had the Sword.

But most of all, Ron was back. She wasn’t going to go easy on him, not after she’d been that miserable for the past weeks. He would have to work to get back in her good graces. But she couldn’t deny either, that when she had flown at him earlier, she had been torn between venting her frustration by punching him or snogging him. Her anger had eventually won out.

Even though, she could tell that his return had lifted Harry’s spirit considerably. And yes, her own as well.


*

A little earlier

After he had positioned the sword so that Potter, even with his father’s genes hampering Lily’s brilliance, would be able to get it, he retreated behind two oaks to watch. It would be easy enough to retrieve it, though he’d taken care to cast at least an Anti-Summoning Charm. After all, the Sword of Gryffindor wouldn’t just be lying around like that, and even Potter would get suspicious.

Distant movement interrupted his waiting. Checking his disillusionment once more, he closed in on the approaching person. He would have almost missed whoever it was, but then he saw a faint outline, only ripples in the early night air. The spell wasn’t done too shoddily, but then he rolled his eyes in weary exasperation when the disillusioned person cursed under their breath. Where in Salazar’s name is Weasley sneaking off to? Once again, he asked himself why he believed Dumbledore’s words that those children where their only hope. Lily’s son, maybe, but how Weasley and the brash fools at his school played into it, he couldn’t even fathom.

He decided to give the clueless boy a little help, and once again called on his patronus, picturing the day Lily had given him a new set of scales for his thirteenth birthday. He guided his patronus towards where he’d left the sword, always just out of Weasley’s reach, and to where the other doe should be leading Potter as well.

They’d reached the crest of the little slope, at the foot of which the pool of water was located. Weasley stopped, and he could see why. Someone was just lowering themselves into the icy waters, and he looked pointedly away. He didn’t need to see that; and Weasley’s muttered “Harry” was enough to tell him what he wanted to know.

Seconds later, the red-head, even taller than he remembered, emerged from under the spell and was bolting towards the pond. Time ticked by, and just when he was contemplating whether he needed to intervene again, Weasley took off his clothes as well, and he too dived into the pond.

“Honestly?” he asked no one in particular. Gryffindors. I mean, why not just figure out the protective enchantments and dismantle them? How those two had managed to score the highest marks in Defence was beyond him.

Once again, he was contemplating to just step in, when two spluttering and wheezing wizards emerged from the water, pushing themselves out on all fours to collapse on the forest floor.

With a last glance to verify they had secured Gryffindor’s Sword, he turned on his heel, apparating at a safe distance to the gates of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He yearned for a good night’s rest, which he wouldn’t be likely to get as soon as school was back in session in a few days; when he’d have to watch that those troublesome Potter wannabes wouldn’t get themselves killed by the resident Death Eaters.


*

Dudley tiptoed down the stairs, although he couldn’t entirely avoid that the wood underneath his feet squeaked from time to time. It was the middle of the night, but he’d fallen asleep on his bed, still in his jogging pants and trainers, before he’d had the opportunity to get his usual night time snack. Then he had woken up, tossing and turning until he brazed himself to just sneak down to the kitchen. After all, he reasoned, it was still several hours until breakfast, and his stomach just wasn’t used to going that long without a meal. The adults in the house, took turns preparing meals for everyone, and never batted an eyelid when he asked for seconds or snacks.

He finally reached his destination, making a beeline for the fridge. Dudley was deliberating between the shepherd’s pie and the chocolate cake, when he heard footsteps on the stairs, and whoever was coming down wasn’t trying to be quiet like he had been.

He sent the pie and the cake a last regretful glance, before grabbing a glass to fill it with some water. Not that he was afraid to get in trouble with the wizards, but it still felt somehow wrong to get caught red-handed. Another new feeling for him.

“So you said Dedalus had the snow removed last night?” a young voice asked. Dudley immediately recognised Dennis, who he had been talking to frequently.

“He did, when he was checking the wards. Good thing it didn’t snow again over night,” someone else said, who Dudley guessed was Dennis’s brother.

Suddenly, the quiet conversation halted, and he wondered what the brothers were doing, taking a step towards the door to check.

“Don’t move,” Colin’s voice came in a commanding tone, and then he was looking cross-eyed at one of those wands when the other boy appeared suddenly in front of him.

“Dudley!” Dennis said from beside his brother, lowering his own wand when he recognised who it was. “What are you doing here? We thought there was an intruder!”

He peeked nervously at the wands, never too comfortable with them no matter the amount of time he had now spent around witches and wizards, and lifted his glass up in front of him as an explanation.

“Oh, sorry,” Colin said, pocketing his wand again, then eyed Dudley’s outfit. “I guess we’re all just a little bit jumpy. – Were you planning to go running too? You can join us, if you want to.”

“Huh?” Dudley felt foolish, until he looked down at himself. Right, the pants and the trainers. When he’d started boxing, his coach also insisted he go running, which he had mostly ignored unless it was supervised; since he enjoyed the actual punching and posing the most. On the other hand, maybe he could befriend those two if he went with them …

“I, erg, it’s probably cold, and I’d need to find …,” he motioned to his plain shirt.

“Eric isn’t joining us today, we generally leave our stuff in the hall. So, you’re coming?” Colin asked, absent-mindedly starting to stretch his arms over his head.

“Honestly, boys, you’re all paranoid.” It was a girl who had spoken, and only seconds later, Dennis and the girl he had spoken to over the Ministry article entered the kitchen. She, too, was dressed in sports clothes. “Oh, hey. Dennis told me it was only you.”

Dudley did not fancy running around in the cold outside when he could get back under his warm covers, preferably with a filled stomach, but her tone irked him and his ego still did not take kindly to being addressed in anything but a submissive tone. “If you’re sure I can have the jacket, I’d love to come.”

Colin took it in stride, while Dennis watched in surprise and the girl – he thought her name was Lucia – pulled a face. Determined, Dudley walked out into the hall, asking which jacket he was supposed to take.

It was rather large, but it fitted him. Eric must be the tall boy he’d seen with Dennis and the others then, he concluded, and followed Colin outside. It wasn’t as cold as he’d thought, and indeed the grass seemed to have been cleared of snow.

“Sadly, we’re not supposed to leave the perimeter of the house, so we’re just running circles around it. It’s still enough to stretch your legs a bit.”

The four teenagers did their warm-ups in silence, for which he was glad. He thought Lucia was watching him, which he found he didn’t like at all.

He had done no exercises at all since the end of July, but he found he still knew what to do. It felt stiff at first, but then he found his routine.

The other three had obviously done this before, since they took off in a light jog easily. Dudley huffed and puffed after the first steps already. Control your breathing! Steady! In tune! The voice of his former coach barked inside his head, and he grunted in annoyance. He had to correct his former thoughts, he hadn’t just disliked that part of this weekly activity; he’d hated it, often ignoring the barked advice or have his mother write him a note that he couldn’t go running. Then the little annoying voice that had been criticising most of his actions lately decided to speak up again; reminding him that nothing was the same anymore and why he wouldn’t just try it. Thinking it couldn’t harm, he followed the previously-ignored advice.

The breathing thing seemed to work, at least, and it got better after he didn’t need to gasp for air all the time. Sadly, there was now nothing to distract him from the burning in his legs. Another reason why he’d tried to get out of those stupid laps as often as possible. For some reason, though, he didn’t want to appear like a quitter or weakling in front of the brothers and Lucia. Dudley pumped on, concentrating on putting on foot in front of the other and keeping his breath as level as possible. He was sweating profoundly.

The others were ahead of him, though all at different distances, so it apparently wasn’t just a light jog while they chatted, but serious exercise. At some point, he lost count of how often he’d passed the front door, but he was sure it wasn’t as long as it seemed to him. Dudley didn’t feel his legs anymore, but he kept on out of pure spite. He was too stubborn to back out now.

“I didn’t think you’d actually go through with it.” Lucia commented lightly from his side. She had just lapped him, again. “For that, I’m sorry.”

“Haven’t – done – this – in – a while …” Dudley choked out.

He thought he saw her nod from his peripheral vision, but didn’t bother looking at her. He had all his energy focused on the path in front of him.

“You certainly look like you have an idea what you’re doing, if only a bit rusty.”

Dudley snorted despite his stupor. Rusty.

To her curious, “What?”, he answered between breaths, “Always hated it. And the jerk blowing his whistle at us from his perch on his camping stool.”

A giggling sound was his answer, and he noticed belatedly that she wasn’t at his side anymore. Stupidly, he stopped, and immediately felt like he had jelly for legs. Groaning, he sunk to the ground.

She was now doubled over in laughter. The familiar annoyance reared its head inside him, but then he just pulled up his knees to hold his legs in place and maybe squeeze the trembling and aching out of them.

“You can’t just collapse, you have to take it slow,” she said, now circling him slowly. After some time of him refusing to let go of his legs and her watching with intrigue, she crouched down.

“At least get up, let’s head back. Colin and Dennis are giving us shrewd looks already. But they’ll be at this for a bit more; say they need it.”

She grabbed his hands as if to pull him up. Though, with her tiny built, he doubted she would be able to move him at all, and he somehow managed to climb to his feet.

“Personally, I never did it before. But being holed up like we are, it seemed like a good idea, and then Colin and Dennis, insistent little buggers that they are, made us join them. Never would have thought such a Muggle thing would help.”

Dudley didn’t have a problem anymore identifying that particular term. Before he could stop himself, he had asked her why if it was strange for a witch to do Muggle things. Harry did Muggle things all the time when at Privet Drive, after all.

To his surprise, she sent him a most peculiar look. “I’m not a witch, and not a Muggle either. I’m a squib.” Lucia looked away, all traces of her former casualness gone.

“A what?”

She sped up, and he groaned at the thought of having to walk any faster. “Hey, stop? What did I say?”

At the door, she finally turned back to him. “Dennis said you were a Muggle, which is why I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. – A squib is someone born to magical parents, but no magic to him or herself at all. The opposite to a Muggle-Born, so to speak.”

She was gone before he could answer or ask anything else. In the house, the smell of fresh coffee had him drag himself into the kitchen.

Hestia Jones greeted him cheerfully, offering him a seat and a pot of the hot beverage when she saw his appearance.

“Hestia, why is being a - a squib a bad thing?” he finally asked, completely cutting off her monologue about the weather.

She peered at him over her mug of coffee. “You talked to Lucia, then? – Well, a squib is someone who can’t do magic, won’t ever go to school with everyone else or be able to find a decent job in our world. Nowadays, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, Muggle-Borns are accused of stealing magic. And there they’ve created themselves a paradox, which should really open some people’s eyes already.
On one hand, they are accusing perfectly-able witches and wizards of theft of magical powers, and on the other hand squibs in pure-blood families are hidden away and often even disowned. Their status is a bit in limbo at the moment, though I’ve heard that they are being ‘accommodated for their own safety’ or some such rubbish. Most likely as testing subjects, if you ask me. People like the Blacks or the Macnairs certainly wouldn’t stand up for their squib kids, most likely disown them if they could.
I don’t know what exactly happened to Lucia, but she turned up here on Filius’s advocacy.”

Dudley contemplated this new information as he made his slow way to his room, and when he sank down on his heavenly-soft mattress, not bothering to undress. “Urg.” He exclaimed, having intended to roll over on his side which brought his nose in dangerous vicinity of his arm-pits. He decided a shower would be a rather good idea, exhaustion or no exhaustion.

But he couldn’t stop pondering what he’d learned that morning. So there were witches who couldn’t do magic?

*

Molly stood in the backdoor of her home, leaning against the door jamb, while watching the stars outside. Her children, or those she was lucky enough to have home, had all gone upstairs, but she knew better than to believe that they were asleep. She was glad Bill and Fleur had decided to spent Christmas Day with them after all. What a different scenario from the year before, when she’d looked with dislike at her son’s then-girlfriend.

If she had anything to say about it, her boys would stay at home for as long as this lasted. She knew, as much as she hated to see them in danger, they wouldn’t stay put when the time for fighting came. Just like her brothers had.

The Lovegood’s house had erupted in flames that day; and no one knew to say what exactly had happened. Arthur’s best guess had been that the Death Eaters had had finally lost patience with the editor of the Quibbler, even if he had ceased his publications since before Christmas. Fact was that Xeno was reportedly in Azkaban, but no one had seen hide nor hair of Luna. The house was in ruins, and she’d tried to convince her little girl as much as herself that Luna had been able to escape. A large extra issue of the Daily Prophet had been announced for the next day, and though it wouldn’t hold the whole truth, it could give them at least an indication.

“Molly? Come on, let’s go to bed, it’s really late.” Her husband’s trusted voice reached her ears. “Tomorrow’s another day.”

She cast a last glance at the star-lit sky. “A new day, and a new year. If there’s one thing I can wish for, let my children return safely.”






A/N: That’s the year 1997 over with; next will be January. Nothing much is happening in the book with the trio up until March when they listen to Potterwatch and Harry triggers the taboo again. Which means a lot of DA, Percy and co :)
What did you think about Luna? I’ve always had trouble writing her, but she so belongs in this story. And what about Lucia?
Let me know :)




Chapter 12: Beginning
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Nothing you recognise is mine; this is only my interpretation what might have happened while Harry was obsessing over the Deathly Hallows and Ron and Hermione tried to think of the location of another Horcrux.

I don't like this chapter very much, but I decided to just get it out. Tell me what you think, anyway ;)





“Would you stop fidgeting, Rubeus?” The stern-looking witch commented mildly, addressing her huge colleague, while her eyes didn’t deter for a minute from the two Ministry officials further down the platform. The Carrows hadn’t bothered to come down to Hogsmeade themselves to brave the crisp Scottish January air and instead opted to have Ministry personnel ‘ensure the students safety’.

Minerva snorted loudly, not the least bit intimidated as she stoically returned the wizards’ narrowed gazes. The Ministry was doing anything but ensuring the students safety.

“They’re comin’, Minerva,” Hagrid announced, having spotted the steam of the Hogwarts Express earlier due to his height advantage.

“That is the second time since I started teaching that I do not enjoy seeing the students come back.” The resentment was clear in her voice. Surprisingly, Potions-Master-turned-Headmaster-by-Voldemort’s-grace Snape hadn’t denied her request to welcome the students on the platform, which – with the exception for first years every September - wasn’t customary, let alone when they returned after Christmas break. Granted, students would sometimes opt to stay at Hogwarts for Christmas and the scarlet train would usually be half-empty. This year, each and every student had gone home or found someone to stay with.

“Should’ve told them ter stay away,” Hagrid replied.

She could relate to the feeling, but had to contradict nonetheless. “And sent them into the arms of those Snatchers? And Rubeus,” Minerva lowered her voice, “don’t provoke the Carrows unnecessarily this term by showing your loyalty that openly. No support parties, or any such thing. We cannot afford to lose anyone.”

“’s a matter of time, Minerva. Me dad bein’ a wizard is the only reason I’m still here.”

Loud whistling announced the arrival of the steaming scarlet train. The two teachers ceased their conversation over the heaving noise, watching it pull into the station. Minerva pulled her cloak tighter around herself when the steam engine cast its shadow ominously over them.

Much too reluctant for a crowd of teenagers who had just been through a season of presents and plenty of good food, the doors opened and released the returning Hogwarts students. Minerva scanned the faces, singling out particular face here and there. Finnigan seemed to have healed just fine; but for how long his face would remain that way was anyone’s guess. He tipped an invisible hat to them in passing, which incited sharp twinges of exasperation, worry and amusement in her. Surprisingly – or maybe not, seeing as they were the only two boys of her seventh year Gryffindor boys left – Longbottom was striding alongside him, holding himself straight. A group of Hufflepuffs seemed to act as guides for the more intimidated children. Actually, she observed to herself, the older students, seventh and sixth years mostly, seemed to have taken the lead as the crowd trooped towards the carriages. Some students were pushing ahead without consideration for their peers, and it didn’t surprise her that many of them sported green and silver lined robes, which had her click her tongue. Don’t judge, Minerva. Most of them are probably just drunk on their momentary power. She hoped they weren’t beyond saving yet, and would eventually come to see the light.

Sending the Ministry wizards a tight-lipped smile, Minerva led the way as they patrolled the train from front to back. She accepted Hagrid’s hand gratefully when he finally helped her into the last carriage.

“So far, so good. Now to survive another term.”

*


“We need to talk.” Terry Boot hissed, pulling another chair to the Gryffindor boys’ table in the library, two younger girls in tow.

Seamus and Neville exchanged a look, before they turned back to the threesome whose badges identified them as Ravenclaws.

“It’s about Luna. She’s still not back yet.”

Once again, the Gryffindors shared a look, thinking back on a discussion from the night before. Ginny had been beside herself with worry when it became clear that Luna really hadn’t come back. After Xeno Lovegood’s arrest, which had been all over the Prophet, they’d tried to tell themselves that Luna would hopefully return after the holidays, since technically she wasn’t wanted and apparently hadn’t been caught. Then, when she hadn’t been on the train, they’d hoped to see her sitting on the Ravenclaw table with her thoughts clearly elsewhere, but as safe and sound as possible. The last, desperate, attempt at hope against hope was that she might at least return in time for classes.

“Foolish,” Neville mumbled, then clarified. “Foolish to think she might just come wandering into the Great Hall, when clearly circumstances denote otherwise.”

“It was either that, or admit this is beyond our power and go sparse,” Seamus muttered, placing a comforting hand on Neville’s shoulder. He turned towards the others. “Ginny’s gone to try and catch McGonagall alone.”

“She won’t know anything more than Flitwick. And he couldn’t tell us anything new.” One of the girls said.

“This is Caroline Connor, one of Luna’s dorm mates,” Shelly said. She was the sixth year Ravenclaw prefect and had joined the revived DA shortly after the beginning of the school year. On Luna’s intercession, as Neville recalled with a pang.

“I want in,” Caroline spoke up again, looking firmly into Neville’s eyes. “We weren’t close friends, but Luna’s always been nice to me. I’m not the greatest fighter, but if you need me, I’d be glad to help in any way I can. If not, forget I ever asked, as will I.”

Neville felt uncomfortable when all eyes went to him expectantly. “Erg, you know what you’re asking, right?”

“I’m asking in the matter of and in response to the writing near the kitchens.”

Dumbledore’s Army, still recruiting. With a little help of Ginny’s knowledge of her brothers’ inventions, they’d managed to charm the now infamous slogan to remain there permanently.

“Then, I mentioned it in our dorm, and Shelly brought me to Terry. And here I am.”

“I, uh, I thought we can use all the help we can get, and seeing as usually Luna introduced new members, we’d go straight to you.”

Neville bit his lip. “Do you trust her?”

“What, I?” Terry jumped in surprise.

“Of course. You’re in her house, and you brought her here.”

Terry dragged a hand through his hair, looking at both girls, then back at the Gryffindors. “I do.”

“I do too, if that means anything, or I wouldn’t have taken Caroline to Terry in the first place,” Shelly added with conviction.

“Right. If you are really sure …“ - Caroline nodded in confirmation at this – “… we might give you a try. But first … oh, there she comes.”

They all looked up as Ginny stormed into the library, earning herself a reproachful look from Madam Pince. Her features were set, eyes blazing. “No luck. No bloody trace since she departed the train. But we were there.”

With a sinking feeling, Neville thought of how he’d searched the train with Luna for any left-behind and/ or bullied younger students, before disappearing through the guarded entrance into the Muggle world. He’d been the last person to see her, and who could probably have helped her. Should have helped her.

“Uhm, Ginny, do you have the list?” Seamus interrupted the glum silence pointedly, shooting Neville a peculiar look.

Ginny’s eyes travelled over the group, then zoomed in on the only one the question could be referring to. “Caroline?” and then to Neville, “You accepted?”

Neville nodded vaguely, thoughts still back on the platform and what he could have done differently.

“Well then.” Ginny produced a blank parchment out of the pocket of her robes. “There’s no turning back after you sign this. Before that, let’s simply assume we’ve just been chatting about our Gobstones club.”

Caroline didn’t question Ginny’s behaviour, but signed quickly where the other girl had indicated, a good way down the parchment. As soon as she’d finished the ‘r’ of Connor, more names appeared above hers, plus the heading “Defence Association – Dumbledore’s Army”.

Seamus grinned devilishly. “Remember Marietta Edgecomb a few years back? We will know if you snitched on us. If you value your skin and your peace of mind, you’d better not try us. No hard feelings, though.”

“No hard feelings,” Caroline deadpanned, before looking expectantly back at Ginny and Neville.

“Why?” Ginny questioned.

The Ravenclaw girl knew immediately what Ginny was getting at. “For Luna. I’ve been keeping my thoughts to myself so far, but how can I stay calm and sit back any longer in good conscience? And though Luna and I were never close, she was always nice to us.”

The others nodded solemnly. “My thoughts, exactly.” Terry added. “Listen, do you have anything planned? I mean, are we going to take this hands down, or raise a little hell for Luna?”

“Are we?” Seamus leaned forward eagerly with a new gleam in his eye.

Ginny had opened her mouth already to reply when Neville stood up decisively. “I was going to ask for a meeting tomorrow anyway, at least with the Ravenclaws.”

“Perfect, just include the other two houses as well.” Seamus was rubbing his hands, ideas already forming in his head.

“And Terry,” Neville held the boy back for a second, “I’d appreciate it if the seventh years could show up a bit earlier.”

Terry nodded, curious what Neville could want from them.

*

Dudley strode over to the coffee table in the common room, where the newest editions of newspapers would be as soon as someone could get a hold of them. Something was clearly going on, the wizard folks seemed in a tizzy once again, and temporarily dispelled his former desire to learn more about squibs and Lucia’s behaviour. The pang of joy at realising that the strange Quibbler magazine was for once available was quenched when he saw the front page.

UNDESIRABLE NUMBER ONE was emblazoned across photo of Harry.

What did it mean? He looked around the room frantically, until his gaze came to rest on Dennis and his brother.

“What does this mean?” he demanded to know, not bothering with small talk, as he thrust The Quibbler in front of their noses.

Both boys looked over the headline. Colin’s expression darkened instantly, and Dennis scowled. “No one really knows what really happened. Shacklebolt was here, and we heard him talk to Dedalus, Hestia and Doge. He reckons Xeno Lovegood, that’s the editor, was forced to write this.”

“Kingsley also said that according to Arthur Weasley, Luna didn’t return to Hogwarts after the holidays. She’s Lovegood’s daughter, and was in my year.” Colin added through clenched teeth.”

“What’s more, Lovegood was taken to Azkaban, for harbouring Harry Potter –“

“Harry was seen?” Dudley interrupted, quickly.

Both brothers eyed him strangely. “Yes. Apparently, Harry and his friend Hermione got away at the last second. But we’re pretty sure Ron was there as well.”

Dudley was repeating what he’d just heard under his breath, trying to make sense of it.

“Helloooo.” Colin waved his hand in front of Dudley’s face to catch the other boy’s attention. “What’s going on? Why do you care about Harry? You’re a Muggle, aren’t you?”

“Are you sure Harry got away?” Dudley countered with a question of her own.

“Yeah, we are. The reward for him has been raised since then, and we’d be sure to know if the other side had really got a hold of their largest opponent. But seriously, what’s it to you?”

He felt the tips of his ears turn red for reasons he couldn’t name. Was it shame for how he’d treated his cousin, when he knew by now how much everyone in this strange world looked up to him? Or how the brothers would think about him if they knew?

Mortified, confused, relieved – Dudley didn’t know to place his exact feelings, and bounded out of the room as fast as he could manage.

Colin blinked at his brother. “What exactly do you know about this Dudley person?”

Dennis shook his head, at a loss about the other boy’s behaviour. “Only what I told you already. He’s a Muggle, and apparently had to go into hiding because of a relative. Other than that, he seemed reluctant to talk about his family I took pity on him when I saw how he seemed uncomfortable about his parents, you know, the couple who mostly stays up in their room and turns up their noses if they ever come out. Or the man, mostly. Asked an awful lot of questions, didn’t seem to know a lot of our world. And he seemed harmless, a bit slow maybe, but eager to please.”

“So he’s got a witch or wizard in the family, who’s apparently wanted,” Colin concluded. “But what’s that got to do with Harry …”

He trailed off, and they looked at each other with wide eyes. “Dedalus!” Both boys jumped up, off to demand some answers themselves.

-

Dudley had needed to get away. Though, where to was another question. In the end, he thought he would just go and hide away in his room for a bit, and hopefully the brothers would forget about his peculiar behaviour.

He was half-way up the stairs when the door of Elphias’s office opened, and a brown-haired man stepped out, having just said his goodbyes. As the office door closed, the another door opened – admitting Petunia Dursley into the dark hallway.

Dudley tried to climb the rest of the stairs silently and quickly, for he was definitely not in the mood to be fussed over. However, his mother’s attention was on the other man.

“Remus Lupin.” Her voice came out strangely hoarse and pressed. It was her tone of voice that stopped Dudley in his tracks, and he sank down to watch through the bars of the banister.

It didn’t seem to take him long to recover. “Petunia. Long time, no see. When was it, Lily and James’s wedding? Or no, it was on the platform, when you got Harry after his fifth year, wasn’t it?”

Dudley saw her put her hand on her chest, but no sound came out of her slightly open mouth.

“Well then, I am glad to see you’re okay. I hope for you that it won’t be too long until you can return to your own life. It will hopefully mean that we can do the same.” The man, Lupin, nodded at her and went to exit through the front door.

“Wait,” she croaked, seizing his arm. “Tell me why. Why is this happening? Why did my sister have to die? Because of the boy?”

Light brown eyes searched washed-out green ones. “Harry’s got nothing to do with it. If anything, he’s the only one who’ll be able to rid us of the madman. Don’t blame him, blame You-Know-Who.”

“Lily died for him.” It wasn’t a question, it was a statement.

Remus shook his head lightly. “I don’t suppose you mean You-Know-Who, right? – Never mind,” he amended his attempt at a joke, seeing her confusion. “Just ask yourself one thing: wouldn’t you do the same for your son? I know I would for mine, and he’s not even born yet.”

“She wasn’t supposed to die. We were meant to make up at some point.”

My Aunt, Dudley mouthed to himself, still watching the exchange in the hall below, as Lupin struggled for something to say, but eventually decided there wasn’t anything to make it better. His mother didn’t seem to expect an answer either, taking a few hesitant steps into the hall.

Then –

“Do you know where he is?”

Dudley half expected Lupin to reply again in that dry tone, asking whom she meant with ‘he’. He didn’t.

“Harry was at the Lovegoods’ some days ago. That’s all we know. Yet, he escaped before the Death Eaters could get to him. He’s alive.” As if in afterthought, he added, “And the last article in Lovegood’s magazine was manipulated as well, just like those in The Daily Prophet. And you might want to listen in to the radio with some wizards some time; it’s as good a source as we got now. The word’s ‘Prewett’.”

Still watching intently, Dudley filed that information away to ask Hestia, or maybe even Dennis, later. At the moment, his gaze was transfixed by his mother, who he’d never seen with such anguish on her face. He retreated when she moved again, and only vaguely registered Dennis’s shouted, “Professor Lupin!”


Petunia was pacing in front of the room she shared with Vernon. She needed to calm down before she faced him. Hadn’t she kept all her regrets, as small as they might have been at the beginning, under wraps for years now?

“Mum.”

She almost jumped out of her skin at being addressed, until she could see her son peering at her.

“Diddy! I was … I was just ….”

Dudley took a deep breath. It was now or ever if she ever would reveal how much she knew. “Harry’s mum. My aunt. Was she a – a witch? How did she get to be one?”

And at any other point, she would have tried to divert his attention, and he wouldn’t have resisted. But he wasn’t having it. “Tell me. Please? How come some normal people get to learn magic, and some magic people don’t have it?”

Ironically, the letter she’d written to Lily’s headmaster years and years ago begging to be allowed to learn magic swam in front of her eyes. “If only I knew, Diddykins, if only I knew …”

Petunia promptly burst into tears, regarding her son through misty eyes. All those people were wrong; he was the sweetest young man. Dudley watched her in alarm, and then the opposite door, hoping Vernon Dursley was too lazy to go check what the ruckus was about. Though he might, just to have another reason to complain. He pulled his mother into his own room, sitting her down on his bed.

We were supposed to make up.

He felt terrified of her tears, at a loss for what to do. Still, her earlier words were engrained in his mind. Dudley pulled out an old box, which contained his notes and other memorabilia. “Look, that’s all I’ve managed to gather. Not much, but I get the gist of what they’re talking about.” On top of his collection was The Quibbler reporting the Ministry infiltration from a few months back.

“Oh Diddykins!” she wept even harder. Dudley tensed; he’d thought she might feel better if he shared his knowledge, and stop crying.

There was only one thing he could think of. “Erg, Mum? What did she look like? Like Harry?”

That elicited a small laugh. “They have the same eyes, yes. Not the hair, though. Definitely not the hair.”

Wistfully, she dabbed her eyes and blew her nose. “I brought my photo album. The one where we’re children. When it was only me and her, and neither of those boys. I need to show you at some point.”

Dudley didn’t understand what boys she was talking about, but he thought he’d averted the worst of the crisis when she told him about a family outing to the zoo, a soft expression on her face. It felt strangely good to listen to his mum talk about an aunt he’d never known; and, or so he thought, she sounded immensely different from Aunt Marge.

*

“I still don’t think this a good idea.” Ginny folded her arms stubbornly in front of her chest, tapping her foot as she watched Neville fuss over chairs – which the Room of Requirement had provided for them on entrance, as always.

“What else can we do? Closing our eyes and hoping she’d be back miraculously didn’t work out.”

“That’s beside the point. But …”

“Why are you so against this, Ginny? We won’t replace Luna; but we still need someone inside Ravenclaw.”

She closed her mouth, and her brow furrowed as she had to acknowledge the truth. She missed her friend terribly, not only as their liaison to Ravenclaw, but because it had been Luna who’d brought her out of her funks when she let herself too much on Harry, Ron and Hermione. Harry mostly. Luna’s optimism and clear-sightedness had given her strength. But when had Neville come to execute that sense of quiet confidence and thoughtfulness?

Ginny didn’t have to answer when the spyglass – a Christmas gift from Fred and George – announced several newcomers. Seconds later, the seventh year Ravenclaws clambered through the door as requested.

“You wanted to talk to us?” Terry spoke up first.

“Right, erg, okay let’s get right to it then.” Neville cleared his throat nervously. Ginny still felt raw about Luna’s ‘replacement’, but she gave him the go-ahead with a nod of her head. To his and everyone’s surprise, he’d proven rather intuitive in his decisions.

“We didn’t want to acknowledge that we’d might lose one of our own. But we should have; after all, we’re preparing for a fight. Luna’s disappearance drove home something: Even we, who were deemed ‘worthy’ enough, are not beyond stricter sanctions, apparently. Up until now, they left it at punishments and verbal abuse, but for how long?”

“We know,” Padma acknowledged quietly; and he recalled how often the Patil twins had treated minor injuries of DA members.

“What Neville’s trying to say is that we need someone to take over Luna’s role.” Ginny pursed her lips as her gaze went appraisingly over the group. “As a confidante for your house. As middle man or woman to the rest of us.”

“That’s why I asked you whether you could vouch for the girl you brought today,” Neville addressed Terry, before continuing more severely, “And that person should be aware that Luna’s fate could be their own.”

“Any volunteers?” Ginny asked drily. She pushed her earlier resentments back; yet another thing the circumstances took from her was her friend Luna.

Terry, Anthony, Michael and Padma shared cautious looks.

“We would,” Anthony and Padma, the prefects, replied. “So would we,” the other two added.

Neville nodded to himself. “I was hoping you’d say that. Padma, you and Parvati do a lot already; and I fear we might need your services even more in the months to come. Anthony, Michael, Terry, I don’t expect you to decide immediately …”

“We don’t need time to decide,” Michael interrupted hotly, and the other two nodded.

“… nonetheless, I want you to think about it. One of you has to be in charge, while the others act kind of like wingmen. That way, if anything happens, there’s always, erg, backup. Not that I hope it’s necessary, but, uh, …”

“We understand.” Terry’s voice was quiet, but determined.

“Good. On another note, I also think we need to step up our training, especially for the new students.”

“You never said,” Ginny interrupted in surprise.

“I was going to, later. Justin …”

Once again, the spyglass announced new arrivals. Seamus with Lavender and Parvati joined them a minute later.

“So what’re you cocking up, Cap’n?” he asked animatedly, looking at Neville expectedly.

Neville felt his cheeks flush. “I told you not to call me that.”

“Yeah, what’re we going to do? Even though you want us to think about the Ravenclaw liaison thing, I think I can speak for all of us that we won’t just sit back and take it,” Michael chimed in.

“Even Lisa and Morag, who haven’t yet joined us, say they’d love to put cockroaches and as many Wrackspurts as they can possibly dream up in certain people’s breakfast,” Padma added.

“Why not poison it and get rid of them altogether,” Susan Bones inserted with flashing eyes, dashing into the room followed by Ernie and Hannah, and the latter immediately tried to calm her friend. Just as he’d said to Justin, Neville thought; Susan was still rather upset about the death of her favourite aunt, and it often took both of her friends to reign her in. Ernie was also their middle men for Hufflepuff, and he intended to ask Hannah to help him with that. But could he really place her in that much more danger? He’d asked the same from the Ravenclaws earlier, too, but his stomach lurched at the thought of putting Hannah in that position …

“Stop, stop, stop.” Neville lifted his hand; the discussion seemed to have taken on a life of it’s own, one suggestion more daring than the other. “Oi!” Hannah exclaimed, dragging Susan with her away from the thick of it as she stood next to Neville.

“Right, so what are we going to do?” Ginny seemed to have accepted that they couldn’t bring back Luna at the moment, but she readily spoke up for the group now. And they all wanted revenge. And if he was honest, somewhere within him, he was furious too. Maybe he wasn’t in the wrong house at all, because he felt a little reckless too.

-

Terry and Michael slipped in among the last students at breakfast the next day; this part of the previous night’s discussion had been unanimously accepted by everyone. Terry shot a wink in the direction of the Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs, as the ultimate execution had been left to the Ravenclaws.

When the boys sat down, Padma took her cue, and squealed, pushing her plate far away from her. More shrieks could be heard from two other tables, and Ginny even went as far as to tumble backwards out of her seat.

“Nargles! Wrackspurts!” Susan Bones shrieked, and then Padma chimed in in the same volume, “Wrackspurts in my porridge!”

Terry looked at Lisa and Morag, who had unknowingly provided the idea, and Padma had even warned them that breakfast should be good. He grinned to himself when both girls joined in the outrage they were creating, and he could see many students around the hall check their own plates for the elusive creatures.

“No, no, no! Wrackspurts love to hide in mistletoe!” Michael had jumped up on the bench, hollering over the heads over everyone else.

“And then they float into your brain and make your brain go fuzzy!” Anthony supplied, using his hands like a megaphone.

“There’s one in my eggs too!” Milicent Bulstrode shrieked over the chaos, and she, Pansy and Daphne pushed their plates away as well.

“Silence, you imbeciles!”

It had come from the staff table, but although Snape was standing with an unreadable expression on his face, it was Amycus Carrow who was waving his wand around in agitation.

“What’s this nonsense? You all put shame ter proper pure-blood education! No breakfast for this be’aviour!”

With a wave of his wand, everything except the plates and cutlery vanished. Goyle cursed loudly when he bit into his empty spoon, and Crabbe was eyeing his suspiciously.

“’eads! Make your students be’ave!” Alecto added in support of her brother, and Professors McGonagall, Sprout, Flitwick and Slughorn swept down from the high table.

Flitwick bustled along the lines of his students, stopping near the group of seventh years to make sure Padma was alright. Michael couldn’t stop himself, and tipped an invisible hat cheekily, like he’d done Seamus do several times the previous evening, much to Neville’s annoyance. “’s alright, Professor. We just miss our dear friend, and someone has to keep up pointing out what’s invisible to everyone else.”

They left the Great Hall, and Flitwick roused himself from his momentary stupor. “My, my. That’s certainly interesting.” He continued to rush everyone to class, noticing that, although the Christmas season was over, mistletoe decorated various crevices near the ceilings.

“My ear’s buzzing,” Caroline Connor exclaimed, itching said part, as she hurried past a group of Slytherins with Shelly Quinn and Garrett Adler on her way to History of Magic.

The bags of the members of the DA were filled to the brim with mistletoe they had spent hours bewitching the night before, and which the caretaker, and the Carrows when they weren’t in class, took down, was miraculously replaced again and again. Adding to that, many students complained about buzzing ears, which seemed to spread among those who caught on or started hearing it by force of imagination.

The seventh year prefects Anthony and Padma returned that evening into their Common Room from a hastily convened prefect meeting.

“Snape announced, over the Carrows mutinous objections, that Hogwarts must indeed be subject to an – and I quote “irksome infestation of incompetent imbeciles and invidious insects”,” Anthony reported, his lips twitching.

“He’s more right than he knows,” Michael supplied.

“Anyway,” Padma took up the narration, “since apparently he’s been badgered by students and teachers alike about the problem – I think I heard something about Flitwick not being able to hear properly or something like that – mistletoe is now banned from Hogwarts, and he doesn’t care who we take this to, but he doesn’t want to be approached with the matter again, under the threat of punishment. He was especially addressing the Carrows at that point.”

“Poor Wrackspurts, no one want to acknowledge them!” Morag exclaimed mockingly, to the surprise of her house mates.

“My, my. I hope they get rid of the infestation in the Defence and Muggle Studies classrooms!” Terry added in the same vein.

“Yeah!” Michael spoke up, catching on. “We’re not allowed to say something. Still, no one can stop me from rubbing my ears!”

“All in good measure,” Anthony managed to caution, letting his eyes trail over his fellow Ravenclaws. He found it disconcerting having to gauge the reactions and behaviour of the people he practically lived with, but he saw why it was necessary. Though, at that moment, he didn’t see anyone who didn’t seemed pleased at seeing the Carrows being put down a notch.



Chapter 13: Warming Up
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Ginny observed the seven green and silver blurs over the Quidditch pitch through narrowed eyes. They had just entered the stadium and taken right to the air.

“It’s so unfair!” Jimmy Peakes voiced her exact thoughts, while drumming his fingers angrily against his thigh.

“You can say that again!” Demelza Robins chimed in, though her eyes swept over the vicinity to ascertain who might hear. They were leaning against the bare woodwork of the grandstands, the absence of colourful banners and decorations allowing them a good view of the Slytherins high above them.

“It’s all turning into a right travesty.” Ginny sounded bitter. “Imagine that: having the Muggle Studies teacher approve Quidditch teams!”

“That’s why Gryffindor’s long out of the running. As is Ravenclaw. Didn’t you hear? They forfeited the Ravenclaw/Slytherin match in February, since they can’t find a decent Seeker. Cho’s no longer here, and the possible reserve Seekers, like Turpin, were never allowed back for this year.” Ginny’s friend Vanessa, a slim brown-haired girl spoke up.

“That’s convenient. I wonder who’ll possibly win the Cup this year?” Jimmy interjected sarcastically.

“It really is a shame. Half of our team missing …,” Demelza muttered. “Of course, there’s our two Undesireables … Dean would have made the team this year for sure since Bell graduated last year, but he’s Muggle-Born. Same as Coote.”

“Doesn’t matter either way. The way Seamus – most of us, really – have taken to mouthing off towards the Carrows, we’d all be suspended anyway,” Ginny inserted, her blood starting to boil at the thought of the ban that had been issued over the whole house when point deductions had proven fruitless.

“I still say we should have tried to talk to McGonagall …” Peakes objected hotly, but was silenced by his classmates’ flashing eyes.

“And then what? I hate that they’ve taken Quidditch from us just as much as you do. But there’s more at stake; and we can’t put her into that position. You heard Neville. We’ll need her before this is over, Jimmy.” Ginny was loath to admit it, but Neville had been right. He so often was those days, and she was sure she’d have acted on her temper countless times this year – and would’ve found herself knee-deep in trouble – if it hadn’t been for his talking sense into her.

Jimmy huffed angrily, but said no more.

Vanessa put her hand on his elbow calmingly. “It’s not just Hogwarts Quidditch. The League’s been suspended too.”

“Is this supposed to make me feel better?” he exploded.

“It isn’t,” Demelza defended the other girl. “She just stated a fact. But really, I’m just waiting for the day the Death Eaters get fed up themselves. I mean, people like the Malfoys seemed pretty into it it, didn’t they?”

The group of Gryffindors automatically lifted their eyes to the lone player who circled above everyone else, a sliver of light hair distinguishing him from his team mates.

“He’s losing his touch. He moves that much, he’ll never spot the Snitch,” Ginny commented snidely.

“Don’t know why Snape didn’t take his captain’s badge. It’s not like Crabbe and Goyle listen all that much to him anymore.” The two beaters were beating the Bludgers around, aiming for sheer force as they practically hovered in one place.

“Must be hard,” Jimmy said mockingly. “His cronies growing a mind of their own. Mind you, I liked it better when he had full control of them. Less random.” He rubbed his hip where Crabbe had got him with a nasty stinging hex.

“Mind of their own? Taste for cruelty and a like-minded teacher is more like it. Carrow probably puts them up to it.” Ginny took a deep breath, suggesting they return to the Common Room. She’d tortured herself enough, watching the Slytherin team practice when she couldn’t.

“There’s now a bigger bully on the playground,” Demelza agreed solemnly.

“Shouldn’t the others be finished too, if Malfoy and cronies are out of class?” Vanessa asked, sounding slightly worried as she fell in step with Ginny.

The Gryffindor seventh years had trouped off to one of the dreaded Dark Arts lessons after lunch. Ginny hated those Wednesday afternoons, because since she had a free period, it left a lot of time to worry.

“Hey, isn’t that Sally-Anne?” Demelza pointed to a small mousy-haired girl in red-lined robes who was practically hurtling out of the entrance doors and came towards the group when she saw them.

“But … where are the others?” Ginny could immediately tell that something was wrong.

“Carrow is making the others stay back. I don’t know what to do” She was practically crying.

Taking charge, Ginny stepped closer and steadied the girl with both hands. Although she must be at least a year younger and had inherited the short Weasley genes, she was an inch taller than the other girl. “Breathe. What’s wrong?”

“Carrow … he was picking on me. Said I didn’t have proper magic in me, that I’m weak, and didn’t deserve to be called a pure-blood. I-I thought if I just stayed quiet … he had to let up at some point, didn’t he? But he never d-did.” She lifted huge, upset eyes to Ginny’s.

“This wasn’t the first time, was it?” Ginny realised, a rush of disgust rocketing through her stomach.

Sally-Anne shook her head, words tumbling out of her mouth. “Neville – he – he moved in front of me, and said that – that Carrow was a pathetic excuse for a human being and to stop picking on children. Of course Seamus backed him up immediately. Everyone started shouting and swearing. Neville said I was doing magnificent for someone who had been ill for as long as I was. I-I didn’t know he knew.” Vanessa enveloped her in a hug then, and Ginny needn’t ask the question when Sally-Anne continued, “I fell ill after third year, and Mum wanted to keep me home. This year, that wasn’t an option.”

“He kept everyone?” Jimmy drew the attention back to the original problem.

Sally-Anne nodded, still pale as a ghost. “Yes. He said-he … he said since everyone was so quick to jump to my defence, they should be prepared to bear the consequences. Then he sent me to go. He sounded so gleeful.”

“That vile little …” Ginny didn’t finish, and she had to pry her hands away from Sally-Anne’s shoulders when she saw the flash of pain she must have caused as she tightened her grip. The now familiar ball of fury was gathering in her stomach. Blinking, she saw Demelza blocking Jimmy with all her body weight, and Vanessa who was trying to get her attention while still holding a trembling Sally-Anne.

“We should let the others houses know,” Vanessa suggested, her voice sounding tight but otherwise emotionless.

Ginny suspected it was to not fuel her anger anymore and do something stupid. Jimmy’s anger and Vanessa’s forced calm made her clamp down on her own emotions. Harry would jump right in, Hermione would have a plan, Luna would present a startlingly brilliant aspect no one else thought of, and Neville would get them to calm down. What could she do? She couldn’t do it alone. “Jimmy, you come with me. Demi, Van, tell the Claw and Puff’s sixth year prefects. Without attracting attention.”

“What can I do?” Sally-Anne asked quietly when the two other girls left swiftly, hurrying to add at seeing Ginny’s hesitant expression. “I realise you don’t know me, but I want to help too.”

Instinctively, Ginny looked around, searching for Neville or Luna to consult with, but of course they weren’t there. “We probably need some healing potions,” she ventured finally, mentally taking stock of their supply in the Room of Requirement. They’d just refilled it, but who knew … “How good are you at brewing? If they are punished by Carrow, they won’t be allowed to go to the Hospital Wing, in order to ‘learn their lesson the hard way’.” She sincerely hoped that punishment only involved lines, though past experience showed otherwise. Filch was probably having a field day.

“Enough for my needs. But I could go to Pomfrey. I do have permission to consult with her for my medication, so I could just claim ...”

“Still suspicious, since they might guess who it’s for,” Jimmy piped up, and his voice betrayed how worried he seemed, too.

“Go with her. Use the short-cuts I showed you Say you found her being sick in the halls or something when you’re stopped.” Ginny signalled her class mate. “Then bring Sally-Anne to The Room, I’ll get it ready and wait for anyone to arrive.”

Stopping them once more, Ginny extended her hand to Sally-Anne. “Swear to me you will keep quiet about everything that happened after you came through those doors. And what you’re about to see. And I will come after you if you don’t.”

Sally-Anne’s eyes were huge in her drawn face, but she kept them firmly on Ginny’s. “I swear on my life. Not when someone gets possibly injured on my behalf.”

Ginny watched them go, before jumping into action herself. She spared a last glance toward the green-and-silver Quidditch players. “Have fun, then. The day I’ll get up there again is the day we win.”

*

“Come on, tell me!” Dudley wheedled, walking along at Lucia’s shoulder. She sent him an irritated glance, as she’d done all morning but he still hadn’t given up. It annoyed him she wouldn’t tell him more about herself and the squib-business; and Hestia hadn’t revealed any more than what she’d already told him. She’d just sent him along with a snack and a pat on the arm.

He would have been quite content with that once; let himself be distracted and live happily in obliviousness, indulging his appetite and own needs. He was suddenly fascinated with it all, and the questions wouldn’t stop spewing out of his mouth. “Why can’t some of you do magic? Why can some Muggles do it and turn into wizards and witches and others don’t?” Here, the faded photography self of his seven-year-old aunt swam briefly in front of his eyes; what had made her different than her sister? “Why do some wizards kill the others? What’s the difference?” That still stumped him, and no one had yet been able to make it clear to him.

Lucia stopped in her tracks, facing him with her hands on her hips. “Look, Dudley, …” Before she could say any more, two mousy-haired boys headed straight for them, looking determined.

“You!” Colin shouted, his pointer finger lifted in Dudley’s direction. Dudley felt like looking around to see whether Colin was addressing him or someone else. If he hadn’t tried to get answers from Lucia, he’d dodged the Creevey brothers, who had seemed quite intent on cornering him.

“What?” he asked, annoyed. He didn’t like the accusing tone; feeling the familiar urge to pound first and ask questions later, which he’d done so often not too long ago when someone as much as looked at him askew.

“Who are you?” Colin wagged his finger in his face, managing to look intimidating despite being a head smaller and considerably skinnier than Dudley. “Professor Lupin wouldn’t confirm anything; he said to ask you.”

Dudley was more apprehensive of the wands peeking out of Colin’s and Dennis’ belts than the younger boys. His brow knitted, and his next sentence sounded more like a question than a statement. “Uh, Dudley Dursley?”

Lucia snorted quietly next to him, and Dennis also cracked a smile – which made Dudley’s expression darken considerably - but Colin wasn’t deterred.

“Are you or are you not related to –“

Once again, his conversation partner was cut off, when the bell in the hall jingled and glowed a soft blue, announcing a visitor who hadn’t been rejected by the wards.

“Ah, here they come!” Elphias Doge stepped out of his office, clapping his hands once. Adults came out of the living room, among them the elder Creeveys, Hestia and Dedalus. The latter two went outside, ushering in a group of people, some dressed normally – or what he would call normal – and three of them in those long robes. Last, and closing the door as he did so, was the man his mother had called Lupin, and a dark-skinned wizard, who directed the newcomers to Elphias, who promptly assigned them a room.

“More fugitives?” Dennis murmured under his breath.

Dudley surveyed the group, wondering how they were supposed to fit into the house as well. But then, he shouldn’t really be surprised at anything anymore. An elderly woman came into his line of vision when a rather large man moved; she was clutching an old, big handbag and a grey-and-black-flecked cat to her chest.

“Mrs Figg!” Dudley’s jaw dropped as he gasped.


*

Percy was breathing normally, making a conscious effort to put the events of yet another excruciating day to the back of his mind. He couldn’t dwell on it; rather he should be preparing some kind of resilience. But still, the theories that were cursing around would almost seem ridiculous if the effects didn’t prove to be so disastrous. On top of it, he’d also run into his father in the lift again, making for a very awkward few minutes.

Passing the identity checks at the newly-installed apparition point next to the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade, he shook his head at the exaggerated security. He’d never considered Ron to be particularly clever, but he doubted even his brother would be dense or daring enough to apparate directly into Hogsmeade. Then again, the ministry break-in some months ago had been attributed to Harry Potter, and he – and with him Ron and Hermione, Percy was sure – had shown he wasn’t deterred by the Ministry’s security measures.

Siphoning the wetness left by molten snow-flakes off his cloak, he closed the front door behind him. As he took the stairs in a measured pace, he had to stop half-way up to let the landlord’s daughter pass. She gave him a chipper “Hello!”, to which he reacted with a polite nod and tipped his hat. Her mouth twitched suspiciously, but he had already hurried on.

Back in his small room, he neatly hung his cloak and hat, and changed out of his Ministry robes, thoughts mingling at random in his mind.

They’d recently discovered that they had ‘met’ before. She had been a year below him, and in Hufflepuff. They’d been eleven and twelve, respectively.

A lone girl in the corridors, nearing curfew. Feeling righteous, he strode up to her, narrowing his eyes and asking in an attempt to copy Bill’s authoritarian Head Boy voice, “Who’s there? It’s already past curfew!”

For some reason, she looked annoyed at him, then pointed upwards. “I tried to tell you not to come closer. Now we’re both stuck.”

Following her pointing, he raised his eyes, taking in the mistletoe. Sure enough, he felt like he’d been glued to the spot. Surreptitiously glancing around, he was positive that at any moment now, two identical scrawny red-heads would burst forward, laughing like hyenas and, if his experience was anything to go by, equipped with a Magi-Camera to document their prank. Nonsense, he mentally scolded himself. The twins weren’t even at Hogwarts yet. “Do you know what this means?” he asked her in an attempt to sound nonchalant.

He had stiffened unconsciously, and neither had he noticed that she took the last steps that separated them. “Let’s just get this over with,” she murmured, and brushed her lips over his cheek.

Caught off guard, he stood rigidly, in the middle of the hall. She, however, took a cautious step backwards, scoped up her things from the floor, and was gone. He thought he heard soft giggling from her retreating figure, but couldn’t be sure.

Percy scrunched up his face, feeling bewildered and embarrassed. Naturally, his cheeks had heated up, and he hated feeling out of his depth.

He, too, wheeled around and disappeared in the direction he’d come from, taking the long route up to Gryffindor tower and barely managed to avoid bumping into the Gryffindor prefects. He made a point to avoid thinking about the incident, and Huffepuffs in general, for the rest of his Hogwarts career.


Percy felt twelve again just thinking about it now. Apparently girls weren’t his forte. Not at all.

He hadn’t recognised Audrey; she’d changed quite a bit. She had mentioned it some days ago. Now she wasn’t just his landlord’s daughter, whom he could greet with a polite hello; but someone who knew him and knew exactly who he was. And, he thought, he probably hadn’t left the best of impressions back then, nor was he doing a better job now. And why in Merlin’s name did he even care about what a girl thought of him? There were other things going on which he should concentrate on. Though, it felt good that there was still a shred of normality in the world, even if it made him feel less than comfortable.

Percy purposely grabbed “The Workings of Our World” by Grogan Stump from his book shelf, and immersed himself in the former minister’s ideas until it was time. Checking his pocket watch – an heirloom that had previously belonged to his maternal grandfather – to gauge the time, he eventually put it aside. Oliver had asked to meet him.


The Hogs Head. Percy wrinkled his nose at the seedy building. Grimy windows and rundown front, the shop sign clinging onto the horizontal wooden beam above the door by two rusty chains. He had never once stepped foot into the infamous pub, even when his dorm mates – and his brothers – had declared him a pansy and worse for it.

“Oliver.” Percy nodded in greeting, sitting down at a chair after making his way through the almost empty barroom.

“Perce.” Oliver returned the nod.

Percy flinched. Fred had called him that when he would tease him. Clearing his throat, he said, “What happened to Weasley?”

“I figured we were beyond a last name basis. And since Percy just screams the attribute “Prefect”, and Percival is … well, just a bit old-fashioned. No offence, mate. Anyway, you call me Oliver.”

“I’ve always called you Oliver.” Percy stated, raising his eyebrows over his horn-rimmed glasses.

Oliver dragged a hand through his hair. “You did. Can we, I dunno, put the past behind us?”

“I guess,” Percy replied dubiously, accepting the other’s calloused hand. During his school years, he’d only talk the bare minimum with popular Quidditch player Oliver Wood, despite sharing a dorm with him for seven years.

“Your hints proved very useful so far,” Oliver began hesitantly, and Percy cut his gaze to his face sharply.

“What do you want now? I’d have contacted you the usual way if there’d been anything …”

Oliver waved his hands placatingly. “Nothing of the sort. Or everything. Depends on how you see it.”

Before he could ask Oliver to elaborate, a shadow loomed over them. Aberforth set down two glasses of fire-whisky. “Make it quick, Wood. Curfew’s close, and I’ll not have that blasted charm go off again.” He shuffled away, grumbling to himself about stubborn kids and old fools.

“Ah, here they are.” Oliver paid the old barkeeper no mind, waving to three people in heavy cloaks. They sat down in near silence. Percy’s eyebrows shot up again, on their own accord.

Oliver put his wand on the table in a casual movement, giving Percy a calculating look. “How far would you go to get rid of our lovely occupiers?”

“Is this a rephrasing of your earlier question?” Percy asked shrewdly.

“Have you ever heard about the Order of the Phoenix?” Two of their new companions had lowered their hoods; a younger and an elderly man. Percy thought he might have seen the older one around, but couldn’t really put a name to the face. The man pulled out a top-hat and positioned it meticulously on his head.

“Diggle!” Aberforth’s voice boomed around the room, which was now completely empty except for their table.

“Don’t get your wand in a twist, Abe. We’ve put up an alert before we entered, no one’s going to overhear. So.” The man, Diggle, turned toward him again, more cheerful. “You’re Arthur’s boy, right? Shows. – Anyway, the Order’s not exactly recruiting right now -,” Oliver scoffed in irritation at this. “- but we’re trying to keep in contact with anyone who might want to help when the time’s right. Don’t know why Oliver’s been suggesting you, not your father or your brothers.”

Percy flinched for the second time that evening, while Dedalus only shrugged and focused on his shot of fire-whisky. Percy thought he might need one too.

He raised his eyes in question at Oliver, who replied with a shrug of his shoulders, “Audrey thought so too.”

The smallest of his companions lowered her wood, watching him with amused eyes. It felt like he’d been struck by lightning.

It cost Percy a conscious effort to look back at Oliver and Dedalus, who was casually playing with his wand. “What exactly would that entail?”

“What you’ve been doing already. Have an open ear, and open eyes.” Dedalus said with a cheerful smile.

“Spying,” Percy concluded, not really know whether to feel offended about the assumption. But as Diggle had said; he’d been doing it for several months now, only he’d thought of it more of ‘warning’.

“And you’d be in touch with everything,” Audrey inserted. “When the fighting starts …”

“You’re not fighting,” the dark-haired wizard beside her snapped, glowering at the girl.

“Nick.”

Percy’s eyes narrowed at the protective glance the man was sending Audrey, finding he disliked him immensely.
“I’ll do it,” he said quickly, nodding in Diggle’s direction.

Diggle pushed a parchment in his direction. On Percy’s questioning glance, he explained, “Your brother George actually suggested it, said it was inspired by a very smart young witch and proved useful before. Basically, it will let us know exactly if and who told.”

He signed his name with a flourish. Diggle explained once again that he would basically just passing on information to Oliver as before, and keep in touch with the resistance.

Oliver thumped on the shoulder on his way out, and Diggle and the other wizard left, which left only him and Audrey.

“Are you really going to fight if needed?” he asked.

Audrey regarded him with a somewhat amused look, which he interpreted to mean ‘Stupid question’, before she said, “We should hurry up; barely five minutes for the Caterwauling Charm to activate.”

His stomach did a violent flip when he thought of her in the line of various spells. Nonetheless, he couldn’t help but admire her certainty. As if it was the most natural thing in the world to stand up to wrong.

An image of the cottage appeared in front of his eyes; how there’d always be food outside on one of the windowsills, lately in charmed bags due to the temperature. And how those bags always seemed to disappear without anyone taking offence. There were apparently more ways than one to help. And I just had to chose this cottage, wanting to lie low. Percy rolled his eyes at his pot luck.

*

Nymphadora sat at the kitchen table, twirling her wand and watching the knife cut the carrot into uneven pieces over the pot on the stove.

“Cut them more evenly, will you?” Andromeda observed mildly.

She was about to state that it hardly mattered what size the carrots were, as long as they were edible, but her mother turned around, put her hand onto the small of her back with a sigh. “I am sorry, Nymphadora. At least you can’t hurt yourself that way.”

She’d brightened at the first words, then her expression darkened. “I’m not clumsy, I’m not,” she muttered mulishly under her breath, slashing her wand in agitation. The knife jerked, chopping the hovering carrot in half; which sent the pieces crashing into the boiling water and sent it flying everywhere.

Andromeda let out a startled squeak, taking another step back. She pinched the bridge of her nose wearily. Nora, who had been sitting beside her silently up to that point, busy supervising the bread dough that was kneading itself on the counter, said soothingly, “Mrs Tonks, how about you rest for a minute until the stew’s ready? I’ll take care of it.” She put a calming hand on Nymphadora’s shoulder, and got up to take up position in front of the stove.

“I probably should,” Andromeda conceded, leaving with a grateful sigh to go sit in the living room. Nymphadora looked after her mother with a grimace; she’d noticed the dark circles under her mother’s eyes since her father left. They hadn’t heard from him in over three months. Which was probably a good thing, she assured herself. If he’d ended up in the news, it probably wouldn’t be for any good reason.

A shudder went through her at the thought of what she’d do if she’d lose her own husband. Again, and not because he was being ridiculous. He was gone at the moment, saying something about Kingsley … Both of the men were wanted, and still Remus went away doing Order things … If only she could come …

“Nora? Can you switch on the wire-less?” she asked, remembering.

“Oh, is it the time?” The auburn-haired witch glanced over at the clock, before doing as she had been asked. A flick of her wand had the stew bubbling away on the stove, and she went to fiddle around with the dials of the wireless. She muttered the code word under her breath, until they could hear voices among the crackling.

“We almost missed it,” Nymphadora wheezed heaving herself up from her chair to stand closer. Two more months of this, she thought in aggravation. And a week. But she didn’t count that week, because surely, one could round that off? Two months sounded better than two months and a week. Or nine weeks, for that matter.

“River,” Nora breathed, interrupting Nymphadora’s inner ranting. The pink-haired witch knew her friend was waiting for Fred to come on air, who’d said he might be on this broadcast if he could make it to the abandoned warehouse they’d currently stationed their equipment. She herself was rather anxious to hear Remus’s voice, even though he’d only left the day before yesterday.

“… and now back to our trusted correspondent, Royal. What news do you have for us today?”

“Well, River, this is a sad day for all fans of the popular band “The Weird Sisters”. As was confirmed today, bassist Donaghan Tremlett’s appeal to the Wizengamot has been dismissed. Tremlett, a Muggle-Born, has now been summoned before the Muggle-Born Registration Commission. The band has appeared for several performances during their bassist’s probation pending the court’s decision, humouring its provisions. As our faithful listeners will know, this past September, the whole band has been prohibited from leaving the country and their repertoire censored.

Tremlett was unavailable for a statement, and this crew is rooting for him to stay undetected for a while longer. His colleagues were seen storming out of the Ministry of Magic in a rush. We shall keep you updated on whether the remaining Sisters will be likely to sing He-Who-Doesn’t-Care’s praises.”

“We shall indeed. In case they are not, they’d find guaranteed air time with us,” River spoke up again. “As a side note, a special thanks goes to Rapier for the newest nickname. – Next, I want to extend a warm welcome to Romulus, who has joined us again this fine day. And as always, that means it’s time for Pals of Potter.”

“Thank you, River. If you’re still a subscriber of The Daily Prophet, I am sure you will have noticed the article about the arrest of Xenophilius Lovegood on the grounds of harbouring Harry Potter.”

Nymphadora’s hands came to rest on her belly, feeling her baby kick up against her palms. She was sure he could recognise his father’s voice, just like she would recognise it anywhere. That slightly hoarse timbre always sent shivers down her spine, while it soothed over her heart like balm at the same time. She couldn’t bear to be separated from her husband; where she couldn’t make sure with her own eyes and everything in her power that he didn’t suffer any harm. He had experienced so much grief and hurt already, if she wasn’t responsible for two lives at that very moment, she would be wherever he was. After their falling out, he had promised to try his best, even if he still insisted that he hadn’t much to offer. She preferred it over anything else.

“… confirmed that Lovegood’s daughter has also disappeared, with no clue as to her whereabouts. We and the whole resistance hope that this bright girl is not lost to us, for believing in the right values.”

“Poor girl,” Nora murmured from her perch against the table, just a few steps away from Nymphadora.

They don’t care she’s only a girl,” the pink-haired witch seethed, eyes flashing. If only she’d get the chance to get her hands on some Death Eater neck …

“Meanwhile, there are no further sightings of Harry Potter and Hermione Granger. It has been confirmed that they were at the Lovegood’s, where they reportedly made a last-minute escape, and which ensured Xeno the relatively lenient punishment and preservation of his life. As discussed in our last issue, we still believe that sighting to be legitimate, although the reason still remains a mystery. They alone know what was behind it, and since they Ministry are not making any promising moves besides tightening their security measures even more, they are none the wiser, either. Xeno Lovegood, keep your secret for a little while longer. To Harry, Hermione and everyone out there, all of our prayers are with you.”

“Though we wouldn’t mind if you’d hurry up just a little,” River took up the commentating again.

The wireless started crackling and whizzing ominously, just then, making both women swear in frustration. Nora tried fiddling with the dials again, hoping it was just an atmospheric disturbance, but it was no use. Seemingly out of nowhere, thunder sounded over them, although the sky outside was still a pale blue.

A creaking sound, like a rusty door opening, rent the air. Loud footsteps could be heard from the other room, and then Andromeda Tonks’ s voice came from the hallway, “Someone’s tampering with the wards again! Dora, go!”

“I don’t bloody think so!” she muttered agitatedly, heaving her heavy body after Nora who already disappeared through the door. There was a floo-connection, solely connected to Minerva McGonagall’s summer home, and the only way out of the house, but she wouldn’t be using that one and leave her mother and her houseguest-turned-confidante all on their own. Being pregnant didn’t mean she could suddenly not execute spells anymore. Panting, she paused under the front door, and, leaning on the door jamb for support, lifted her wand high into the air to cast reinforcements at the weakening magical protection.

They’d hold out just a little longer.





Cue the long and winding Author's Note:

I am so sorry for taking so horribly long to update, and to respond to those lovely reviews. Thank you so much for them, they kept me going :D
There's a lot going on, decisions had to be taken, so sadly, that left little time to edit and tweak those chapters up to par :(
Now there's nothing left but hope for the best. At the moment though, it feels pretty good! Wish me luck!
On the up-side, a lot of that tension went into bits and pieces I was dreading to write, so there'll definitely be updates. Hopefully, everything will calm down a little.

Oh, and of course, I am not Joanne K. Rowling, and none of the canon characters and settings are mine.

As for the story, this chapter is a bit of a filler. Still, Dudley's back, as is Percy. The bits about Quidditch and The Weird Sisters is just speculation on my part. Next time, there'll be a glimpse into one of the other houses ;)
By the way, would anyone want to see Nora and Fred again?


Chapter 14: Developments
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A pale winter’s sun send its rays through the wide window, slanting across the freshly-painted eastern wall and casting patterns in the pale yellow; and the noise behind her had her turn her head. Dora and Remus were side by side, halfway done with the next wall. Dora had insisted on painting by hand – overriding Remus and Andromeda’s reasons to do it by magic. Now the currently blue haired witch was looking down with a dismayed expression at her t-shirt, the writing marred by a yellow glob which starkly stood out against the black cloth.

“Still convinced we should paint Muggle-style?” Remus teased mildly, gaze fixed on the spot of wall before him, applying his paint roller with more practiced ease by that point than he had at the beginning.

Nymphadora sniffed, put out. “That was one of my favourites.”

After getting a non-committal grunt, a mischievous spark could be seen in her eyes, one which Andromeda knew only too well. Putting her own paint roller away, only too readily distracted from task forced upon her – which she had failed dismally at, to her chagrin – she watched as Dora threw her own painting tool over her shoulder, plastering herself to her husband’s chest with a smug grin. “Oops?!”

Remus gaped at her when she started wriggling and rubbing the paint into his shirt, asking innocently, “This isn’t, by chance, your favourite?”

Against his will, Remus had to laugh. “I didn’t think it wise to wear my favourite shirt when painting a room. So, no, it isn’t.”

“Humph.” Nymphadora slid her arms around his neck. “Couldn’t you have imparted that piece of wisdom a bit earlier?”

“I did,” he answered drily.

Andromeda cleared her throat, muttering, “So did I,” under her breath before adding more loudly, and hopefully, “One spell and one wave of the wand, and we’d be finished.”

“Mu-um,” Nymphadora whined, “I told you it has to be done this way. All the TV shows say so.”

While Andromeda registered her son-in-law’s carefully impassive countenance, she felt a slight twinge, remembering Dora’s and Ted’s fascination with the Muggle contraption, and her own exasperation with it.

“Yours wasn’t painted that way,” she quipped prickly, before lifting her hand, uttering an apology. “I’m sorry, I just … Would you want a cup of tea? I’ll make some.”

Andromeda slipped from the room without waiting for a reply. She wouldn’t grudge her daughter her happiness; especially not now. It could be gone far too fast. Everything these days reminded her of Ted, and that she’d never before been separated from him for so long.

Ted, who had been her salvation. She firmly believed that, for she was rather certain if she’d let herself be browbeaten by her family to commit to a loveless marriage of convenience for the sake blood purity, she’d have hardened and possibly even meekly gone along with everything.

And Ted had loved fussing over her when she’d been pregnant with Dora. She would bet he would be just as excited if he were with them. She wondered what he what he was doing, if thought of her as he did of him. From all they’d learned, he hadn’t made contact with any of the Order members who still went out in public.

Andromeda tiptoed through the now almost deserted house. Those who had sought and found refuge under her roof had been moved for the most part, either with Elphias Doge or smuggled out of the country altogether. She didn’t know just how they’d done it; but apparently Kingsley hadn’t just sat in the Muggle Prime Minister’s front office and twiddled his thumps. He’d reactivated some of those connections as of late – too late for her Ted.

Forcing those glum thoughts away, she made her way to the kitchen. She was only glad Remus had come to his senses and come back to Dora. Although her son-in-law wasn’t at all what she’d imagined – as long as Dora had that happy gleam in her eye, she’d accept him. When he’d gone and run some months before, she hadn’t felt so inclined, but he was slowly atoning in her eyes. Watching them always brought back her own memories of herself and Ted, but still she was glad there was at least some happiness in their lives, even with the threat of Voldemort and his Death Eaters hanging over them. And she prayed for her own happy ending.

*

Charlie narrowed his eyes, watching as the two cloaked figures disapparated with a soft ‘pop’. He had noticed them first when he’d stopped outside Bath to adjust the destination of his Apparition which he had mucked up as he’d been distracted by running his hand through his - in his opinion – still too short hair to get rid of an itch; just before apparating to Exeter where he was supposed to meet Kingsley and Dedalus with their charges. A wild-goose chase all over the country had followed, with him acting as the goose. He waited another minute to ensure they didn’t return; casting one last look around, Charlie disapparated for his original destination.

On touching the ground, Charlie immediately felt a shiver go through his body – and he was no longer able to move.

Then, he heard a muttered curse, and his brother’s face, scars standing out from the darker planes under the light of the stars, appeared in front of him. “Where the hell have you been? I was already preparing how to tell Mum you’d gone missing!”

Charlie, still immobile, felt the urge to raise his eyebrows.

“Stop playing around boys, and get moving. Incidentally, where have you been?” Kingsley’s deep voice interrupted.

Freed from the spell, Charlie sent Bill a look that promised retribution, quickly did a “Homenum Revelio”, then launched into his report.

“Where’s everyone?” he added, having expected to find a group of refugees.

“Send back when you didn’t show up. Safety measure.” Kingsley kept it brief, frowning in thought.

“Are we still going ahead as planned, then?” Bill asked.

Kingsley was silent for a few seconds, then nodded decisively. “Give the go-ahead.”

In answer to the patronus message, several people arrived via portkey. Charlie saw Fleur immediately join Bill’s side, while Dedalus strode toward the two other men.

“Ze sign,” Fleur pointed out quietly.

“At least they’re punctual,” Dedalus quipped.

“Seems like it,” Charlie commented. “By the way, that was a stroke of genius to make contact with the French department for games and sports, and have them contact Madam Maxim.”

“Not at all. I may worked out the final kinks, but the real mastermind is Dedalus here,” Kingsley deflected while they watched a blond, heavy-set wizard approach.

“Not me. W -, erg, Oliver Wood and friends came up with the idea, and, erg, suggested who had been involved in organising that infernal Tournament and how the wards for international apparition were adjusted back then to accommodate all the foreign officials during the organising and meetings.”

“Yes, I’ve meant to ask, who told you …,” Bill interrupted himself when Kingsley stepped forward to greet the new arrival. Charlie scowled; he’d have liked to have that answer himself. Dedalus had been oddly evasive about that point, claiming the person had demanded anonymity.

The second sign went off, and Charlie stepped away from the group, greeting his old partner Stebbins, one of the best dragon tamers he knew.

“If you’re all ready, then?” Kingsley asked into the circle, receiving positive replies.

“Be safe,” Charlie called after his brother and his wife, who were herding half of the group toward the French official.

Bill nodded grimly, returning the sentiment. “We bring them to Professeur Maxime, and return tout de suite,” Fleur assured him as well.

“Let’s get moving,” Stebbins growled, and Charlie clapped his hands, turning his attention to the huddled figures some way behind them.

Ushering them away, Charlie hoped the living quarters of the Romanian dragon reserve and the grounds of the Beauxbatons Academy were far enough away to offer them protection.

*

Dudley watched from his position on the doorstep, where he’d sat down. He was taking his time doing up his shoelaces, watching Lucia run enthusiastically despite the chilly weather. He would far preferred staying indoors, but he had wanted to talk to her. The conversation with Mrs Figg was still on his mind.

“Elphias said you’re a squib.” Slipping into the small upstairs parlour, Dudley positioned himself in front of Arabella Figg.

Startled, she observed him, then narrowed her eyes. “I do not appreciate that tone, boy.”

“What does it mean?” Dudley insisted mulishly.

Mrs Figg straightened stiffly, lifting her cat from the chair’s armrest to her arms. “I am, indeed a squib. Meaning I have no magical powers, although my parents were wizards. Now, my little kitty is hungry, if you’ll …”

Dudley gestured impatiently. “I know that. But what does it mean?”

“What do you mean, ‘what does it mean’?” Mrs Figg regarded him as if she thought he was slow off the mark.

“How do they come about? Where’s their magic? Why are you and Lucia hiding?” The last question especially had occupied him a lot.

“Humpf. What do you think? Harry Potter is undesireable, and I’ve been known not only to testify for him. Not to mention that I supported Dumbledore. I do think it’s for my loyalties, not so much for my being a squib that I ended up here.”

Dudley blinked, sorting through the bits of information he’d gathered. “The headmaster? With the white beard?”

Resigned, Mrs Figg settled back into the armchair. “Why the change of attitude all of a sudden?”

“Dementors.” The one word was enough to make him shudder again, and oddly enough, her as well, and from somewhere he conjured up an image of a hysterical Mrs Figg, flapping her large handbag.

“So you are on Harry’s side? But why don’t you have magic? And my aunt did, although my grandparents were like me?”

“Ah, there you have it.” Elphias stepped into the small room, rocking on his toes when he came to a halt. “He-Without-A-Name took the same facts, and came to the conclusion that the Muggle-Borns must have stolen the magic. Consequently, his doctrine should declare squibs the ones who had been stolen from. Instead, they are ostracised; not spoken about or even disowned. Just look at the Blacks.”

He didn’t dawdle on the question of the Blacks might be, it was just another thing he’d have to find out. “Yes, but how?”

“That, dear boy, is a question no one has an answer to.” Elphias patted Dudley’s arm indulgently.

“But what about …”

“Of course, there are the other squibs,” Elphias continued over Dudley’s question. He had a disapproving expression on his face. “Those who try to buy their lives by offering to act the victims.” He pursed his lips. “Arthur mentioned one such case. But the man in question has disappeared; rumour has it he was scheduled to undergo experiments to prove the connection we were talking about. Between the stolen magic and the magicless wizards. He must have got scared, and run away. I know I would have, with Umbridge in charge of the project.”


As Dudley got to his feet to join Lucia in her rounds, he felt glad she was there. At least no one was using her as a guinea pig.

*

Susan’s jaw ached from having to clench her teeth to stop herself from shouting at Alecto. Carrow was spouting the most nonsensical drivel she’d ever heard – and that was saying something given she’d listened to some of Ernie’s tall tales or Luna’s declarations during both of her participations in Dumbledore’s Army. In fact, she’d gladly take a story of a purple-fanged geranium or some conspiration that worked through a combination of Dark Magic and gum disease over claims that one had to wash after touching Muggles or that Crabbe was worthier than Justin.

A soft touch on her arm had her turn her head to her right. Hannah was looking worried; but that was nothing new. Hannah was always worrying these days. Susan faked a tight-lipped smile, knowing she would fool no one. But also knew she wouldn’t really smile again until their oppressors were be gone again. And she intended to be helping with that. How could she not? The first war had seen her uncle Edgar and his family dead; this one had already claimed her aunt Amelia.

“Muggles are inferior to us, as evidenced in their lack of magic and attempts to steal it,” she recited flatly when Alecto Carrow called on her, while her eyes were narrowed in disgust. Inferior? The woman shouldn’t be talking – literally. Her grammar was far from superior, at least in Susan’s opinion. Muggle Studies used to be fun while everyone tried to make sense of strange appliances and habits, livened up by practical lessons where they got to try out said appliances.

She would have said something then; to wipe the smug look from her wannabe teacher’s face at her easy compliance for once, but Ernie’s and Hannah’s rigid posture on either side of her made her bite her tongue. She knew she had the most volatile temper between them, and how easy it was to get into trouble these days. Professor Sprout’s quite interference could only be relied upon so often.

Relived when the teacher’s malicious gaze moved on, Susan relaxed slightly. The whole of their year – or what remained of it after the “purifying” – was crammed into one of the formerly unused bigger classrooms on the ground floor with its dais. Eyes roaming the classroom, and sought out Neville, who stood just as stoically as she supposed she had done just moments before. Seamus wiry frame was somewhat stooped, no doubt from having to scrub the teacher’s toilet on his knees last evening. She snorted at the message. Purebloods were superior – which currently included them seeing as they’d been allowed an education – and as long as they did as dictated by one despot and if not, they could be happily subjected to Muggle work – that is, inferior work, according to them.

Her derisive snort was sufficiently covered by Megan Jones adjusting her chair, scraping it across the stone floor. Accident or not, Susan wondered. Either way, she probably had been saved a detention or dressing down herself. She guessed the former when the girl she had shared a dormitory with for almost seven years and her partner surreptitiously peeked in her direction, and Susan made a mental note to thank Megan later.

“Would you care to repeat that, Boot?” Alecto had advanced upon Terry Boot, clearly delighted she had a chance to “exercise her authority”.

“Gladly. I said: Bullshit.” Terry had launched back in his chair, clearly enunciating each word, and all chair scraping couldn’t have covered his words. Several indrawn breaths could be heard, as well as disbelieving gasps from the Slytherins’ corner at Terry’s audacity to contradict Carrow – whether they agreed with it or not. Susan wondered herself what had driven usually-levelheaded Terry to this cheek. But remembering her earlier agitation, she supposed it was only a matter of time until she snapped herself.

“Uh uh,” Hannah murmured beside her. “This is not good.”

Hannah was proven right, Susan surmised later. Terry, with a note in hand and spine proudly rigid, departed the classroom for the Dark Arts classroom.

“Don’t go, don’t go,” Hannah chanted under her breath.

“And then what?” Ernie whispered grimly.

They fell silent. They all knew the consequences for disobedience.

“I feel a little rebellious today. “ Susan stated, watching Alecto go off on a tangent about insolent students. From what she could see, her fellow DA members all had a look of mutiny in their eyes, and the more impulsive among them seemed to be plotting already. Michael Corner especially looked fit to burst, while the more sensible Anthony Goldstein was scribbling furiously, keeping the parchment in the line of Michael’s eyes.

“It will do Terry no good if we get ourselves in trouble too,” Hannah tried to calm her, singing the same tune Susan supposed Anthony was trying.

“You’re Half-Blood, aren’t you, Hannah?” Susan though aloud. “What’s something that immediately comes to mind, when you think ‘Muggle’?”

“Susan!” Hannah hissed in warning. “Ernie! Do something!”

“It couldn’t be too obvious,” Ernie said quietly, instead.

Susan felt smug for a second, then refocused. “Not to Pure-Bloods, anyway.” She blew out a breath. “Which means I have no idea.”

“A football reference, maybe,” came a quiet voice. Susan narrowed her eyes, partly in thought, partly in surprise at Kevin Entwhistle, who sat at the other side of Megan Jones. He too was a Half-Blood, but almost never spoke up. And, she admitted, she’d usually only spent time with Justin, Ernie and Hannah. “Or films, maybe. Muggle music.”

“As Muggle Studies teacher, she should know that,” Susan almost cackled evilly, her tone clearly implying she didn’t think that was the case. The end-of-class noise brought her back from her plotting, and Susan was rushing and towing away Kevin and Ernie quickly.

Hannah followed reluctantly, saying urgently, “It won’t even do Terry any good. Or our cause. It won’t be more than a prank.”

“What do you suggest? The time for fighting, as we all agree however grudgingly, hasn’t yet come.”

“But Susan …”

“I’ll think of something,” Susan said placatingly, thoughts whirling in her head.

Hannah briefly considered warning Neville off. Or Ginny, she added, feeling guilty for forgetting her.

Two days later, Hannah gathered her supplies of ointments and salves while waiting for Susan, Ernie, Kevin, and two sixth years to come back from detention. They’d been caught spelling names and catchy phrases onto the walls of the detention hall. Filch and the Carrows hadn’t been able to make sense of it and had given them their punishment for wilful vandalism. Though Hannah was sure she’d seen many of the names in advertisements of magazines her mother used to read.

*

Ted was poking and prodding the dying embers of the fire in front of him with a stick. He couldn’t explain the dark mood. Not that his mood had been particularly good during the previous months; always on the run, always on the lookout for pursuers. But the gloomy feeling seemed to intensify with every day.

A copse of trees had been chosen as this day’s shelter, the wind rustling the empty branches, the noises from the nearby middle-sized town just a faint noise. He had planned to stop there the next day, together with Dean and Dirk. The Goblins would have to stay back and wait; they were just too noticeable to take the chance. But the three humans, all familiar with Muggle culture and also the slightest bit deprived of it, would chance the venture. There had to be a supermarket somewhere. He looked up when one of the tents was zipped open, and closed again after a tall, rangy body slide out of it.

“All quiet?” Dean enquired, sidling up next to him, blowing into his hands. The tents had long-lasting warming spells on them, which proved invaluable in the cold February air, but with the dying fire, he’d really prefer staying snuggled in his sleeping bag. They had agreed to use magic only when necessary, lest they attract some unwanted attention. Who knew what spells the Death Eaters had at their disposal to hunt Muggle-Borns down, what with the Ministry behind them …

“Let’s hope it stays that way.” Ted reverted his gaze back to his prodding.

Dean too watched the embers, even as his mind pictured the crackling, warming fire in the Gryffindor Common Room. Maybe Seamus would be sitting in front of it, right at that moment, coming up with something as ridiculous as trying to roast marshmallows in the middle of the night. He only hoped someone would make sure he wouldn’t cause any explosion, in his absence. He sighed wistfully.

“Something wrong, son?” Ted asked, recognising the ominous tone.

Dean shrugged. “Wishing this was all just a nightmare, and being woken up by my mates getting ready for the day – Seamus annoyingly cheerful, Ron grumbling. Hell, Neville chasing that toad of his, banging into chairs and trunks. Or by my step-siblings coming to tell me breakfast’s ready.”

Ted thought of his own mornings. For almost twenty-five years, he’d woken up next to the same woman, usually watching her regal features before tackling a new day, so dear to him and so similar and yet different from her sisters’. The usually pink-haired, boisterous bundle of energy that was his daughter jumping on his stomach years ago when she demanded he play with her.

“Can I ask you a favour?” Ted kept his gaze carefully on the wood in front of him, almost completely burned down to ashes. He caught the nod in his peripheral vision. “If I don’t get back, please tell my wife and my Dora … tell them I love them. Always did, always will.”

Dean fought off the ill-omened feeling that threatened to overwhelm him. “You’ll tell them yourself. I’m sure of it.”

“Still. Will you promise me?” Ted was adamant.

“Okay,” Dean replied softly after a few seconds of silence. “And will you promise to tell Seamus Finnigan that I’m sorry for leaving him hanging. And if he could be the one to tell Mum.”

They shook on it solemnly.

“Why are you still here? Why not … I don’t know, leave the country?” Ted asked, giving into his curiosity.

Dean simply gazed at him. “Because I’m needed here. I want to fight when it’s time. Besides, I doubt we still could get out.”

“International Apparating is watched heavily even under normal circumstances, yes,” Ted agreed.

“Why didn’t you leave when there was still time?” Dean returned the question.

Ted smiled, as assured as Dean had done when answering the question. “Because everyone I love is here. Dora was adamant; and that was that. I wasn’t a Hufflepuff for nothing.”

“We’re in till the end, then,” Dean stated.

“That we are, son,” Ted concluded. “That we are.” They sat there in silence till the black night gave way to blood-red, orange and violet hues tinting the sky. How much longer would they be able to stay a step ahead of Snatchers?






Author’s Note – written from behind the shelter of a rather large sofa to avoid foul vegetables thrown her way:

Between moving and an ensuing writer’s block, I didn’t get much writing or editing done. However, a brief stint to the Gryffindor Common Room at the forums convinced me it was past time for another chapter – possibly before the imminent queue closure. Winner of a Golden Paw Award for Best War Story? You guys left me quite speechless. But it couldn’t have come at a better time. Thank you, so soo sooo much, for those votes!

So, here it is, and I hope you enjoyed. My favourite and at the same time the hardest bit to write was Ted’s and Andromeda’s. I wrote them here the way I pictured them for “Pure”, and I’m sad for the losses Andromeda will have to face.
As for Charlie, as far as I know, he was recruiting foreign wizards on Dumbledore’s orders before returning to act as Bill’s best man. Did he actually go back afterwards? In the books, he reappears in the final battle, bringing in reinforcements with Slughorn after Neville killed Nagini. For the purpose of this story, I imagine him wanting to stay close to his family and helping out the resistance.

Oh, and is Dudley getting too insightful and grown up, too soon? He would have had to mature some during his forced stay at a safe house. I had an idea for him in a next-gen story, and he’s well on his way there. The squib thing is purely my speculation.


Chapter 15: Dwindling Hope?
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Nothing you recognise is mine.



“Are you sure this is such a good idea?” Morag was looking anxiously on as her classmate kept muttering incantations under his breath.

“Do you know any other spells that might work?” Michael asked, not responding to her question.

“Alohomora. But you tried that already, didn’t you? How about Diffindo? No?”

Terry kept an eye on Morag and Michael, and another on the hallway.

They had been sitting in the library, having attained permission from Madam Pince to do so and having their reading choice approved. They had overheard a group of fifth-year Slytherins sniggering about their latest “success”. Apparently, two of the first years had been sneaking up to the Owlery and tried to send off an unapproved letter. Amycus Carrow, summoned by the older students, had opened the offending letter and discovered the first years’ plea to their parents to take them home.

One of the Slytherins had then enacted, oozing with derision, the professor’s words. “’You know what that means? That means detention. Thousands would kill to be admitted and be taught under the brilliant guidance of The Dark Lord’s most loyal followers, and to be judged worthy enough to use their acquired skills in his service. But do you appreciate it? No you do not, you insolent children. But you will learn, you will.”

And then, a smirking boy had told the others quite loudly that the offenders had been incarcerated in one of the old dungeons until further notice, and that their case was to be taken before Snape, as soon as Carrow could get a hold of him.

“We should have told someone,” Morag insisted, then added, “Have you tried Confringo?”

“Who? Besides, you wanted in,” Michael asked laconically, before giving a satisfied ‘whoop’, and the unmistakeable crunch of a door scratching over a stone floor could be heard.

“Get a move on,” Terry hissed over his shoulder.

He could hear no more, and when he peaked into the dead-end hall again, the door was half-ajar and his friends were gone. But it was true. They could not tell any of the teachers – Snape and the Carrows were not an option for obvious reasons, and all the others were covering for them often enough as it was. The prefects were at their weekly prefect meeting, or “sermons”, as it had been dubbed by the DA. And Neville, and Ginny too, was skating on a precariously thin ice as it was.

Besides, they were still only first years. He imagined his younger cousins being treated that way, and he had voted with Michael to do something immediately.

A draft of air alerted him, and then he thought he heard a door falling into its lock. The door at the other end of the corridor, he realised with a jolt.

“Guys,” he whispered in a low voice in the direction of the door, and pressed down hard on the galleon in his left pocket so it would heat up its two companions they had connected earlier.

Michael and Morag were by his side at once, both dragging a first year with them, who still had torn of strings of chains on their arms.

“Let’s go find a safer place to get those off, then,” Michael said commandingly.

Morag was looking frantically for a way to escape. Terry cocked his head, saying measuredly, “Whoever it is, they are not approaching hurriedly. We might just make it to the tapestry of the two-headed dragon. You remember the one, Michael? Where we hid Anthony’s Transfiguration book in third year?”

“Lead the way, then,” Michael replied jovially.

Both boys snatched one of the first years, and stealthily hurried down the hallway, in the direction where the sound of footsteps was coming from.

Terry nodded for Morag to lift the tapestry when they reached it, and she slanted them a wide-eyed look when a nook in the wall was revealed.

It was a tight fit, and Terry held his breath with anticipation. The boy in his arms had grown stiff, clutching Terry’s arm, but having enough sense to try and control his breathing.

Two persons were passing their hiding-spot, and then it seemed they were entering the very dungeon the Ravenclaws had just left.

“They cannot have gone far. I’ll search out every nook an’ cranny, every inch of wall, an’ then they will be sorry!”

Morag gasped, and the other young boy started shuddering noticeably.

Terry was turning his head to look at his friend and see whether that might trigger an idea, or anything useful. But then he was shocked into motionlessness, when he watched Michael push the first year onto Morag, and slipped nimbly out of their hiding spot.

Terry heard an appalled gasp outside – too loud to be natural.

“There is one of them brats!” Carrow wheezed, then adding a stunning spell to it.

“Crucio!”

Terry was gripping the first year, Morag beside him had turned the other boy’s face to her shoulder, and sank down the wall which she had been leaning against.

Bangs and shouts had preceded that word, but it fell into a space of several seconds of silence. Then, someone was heard trashing on the ground, and someone else was laughing shrilly.

“I hope,” a bored, monotonous voice drawled, and the trashing stopped several seconds later. “that you can provide me with the names of the two first years you are now unable to show to me, Professor Carrow. And hopefully before you send a student to the state of a gibbering wreck were he might not be able to tell us anything either. Or why he happened to be here in the first place.”

“Why else would he have been here? And why should I remember the names of two imbeciles?” Professor Carrow asked contemptuously, his voice growing fainter as he followed what must have been Snape’s departing footsteps.

“I’ll …,” Terry licked his dry lips. “I’ll alert Anthony and Padma. Stay here”

He gripped his wand tightly, used the numbness he felt to act with a cool head. When he reached his friend’s unmoving body, he sank to his knees, feeling detached, as if his body wasn’t his own. Michael’s pulse was weak but steady. His face had suffered several deep cuts, and he was bleeding from several places. His muscles looked cramped.

“Steady now. I’ll get Padma to patch you up. And then she can fuss over you. And you can swear at her, or pretend to be in need of more cooing, whatever you prefer.” He searched once more for his DA coin, sending out a message to everyone, asking Padma and Anthony to come here, and everyone to be careful.


A short while later, Terry was on his way to the Room of Requirement, when he heard footsteps behind him; he relaxed his tense shoulders when he caught sight of Neville.

“What happened?” Neville asked without further ado.

“We attempted – and managed to spring free two first years. They’d been chained up for wanting to leave. Michael got hurt, and Anthony, Garrett and Padma are with him in the Room. I’ve just been checking on Morag and the first years, and they are recovering.”

“Carrow’s been putting Ravenclaw even further in the negative in the running for the House Cup,” Neville’s face expressed unfamiliar sarcasm. “After your message, and that deduction of points, we wondered. How bad is it?”

“Cruciatus,” was all Terry said, from between clenched teeth.

Neville exhaled loudly. “Carrow mentioned first years, but he was more adamant about seventh year Ravenclaw boys.”

Terry scoffed. “Can’t be bothered to remember names, now? A fine teacher we have. But he must have realised the student he crucio’ed had the Ravenclaw badge on his uniform. If it hadn’t been for Snape deeming it all beneath him and gliding off, who knows what would have happened. I … Neville, I panicked. I couldn’t move. Michael’s my best friend, and I couldn’t move a muscle to help him. I let him sacrifice himself.”

Terry thought Neville wasn’t going to answer. But then …

“Attacking two teachers head-on? The two of you, and I suppose, frightened first-years with you? You’d all have ended up crucio’ed. That’s the nature of a sacrifice, Terry. The protected one will think up hundreds of ways how it could have turned out differently. But what is done, cannot be changed. You can only go on.”

“When have you become so wise?” Terry asked, having mulled over the other’s words, however unwillingly.

Neville shrugged, then pointed ahead. “We’re here. And maybe we should consider lying low for a bit. Some of our newer recruits have approached me already, asking whether they might be singled out like this as well.”

Terry’s stomach, already tied into knots, felt heavy with dread. That wasn’t good.

*

George swept into the hall on his way to the sitting room, meaning to holler up the stairs for his twin hurry up, whatever he was doing. He stopped short, though, at the picture that presented itself to him.

Fred and Nora were sitting on the second but last stair, heads close together. He felt an inexplicable pang in his chest. It wasn’t seeing his brother sitting with a girl. They’d both perfected the art of flirting, of making others laugh. But Nora wasn’t laughing, she was smiling serenely up at Fred.

Fred had often volunteered to look in in this particular safe house when more people had been here, now only Nora had remained, having befriended Tonks through her time here and refused to leave the country when it had still been possible. Maybe, George mussed, there had been another reason. And Fred looked happy too, relaxed even. How could he share his twin with someone else?

He retreated back into the kitchen.

“By then, Tonks. Give that belly a pat from me,” he announced loudly, poking out his tongue good-naturedly when she raised her eyebrows in question and regaled him with a queer glance. “And goodbye, Remus. I have nothing whatsoever to tell you anymore. Because I’m ready to lee-e-eaav-v-ve.”

Ending in an exaggerated crescendo and almost stumbling over his v’s , which ensured him a low chuckle from behind, he stepped into the hall.

Fred was just turning away from Nora, standing up with a flourish. “That. Was. Painful.”

“What was?”

“Your singing was.”

George pulled a face. “Are you ready to leave yet?”

“You’ve made sure he is,” Nora said stoically, standing up too and smoothing down her skirt.

“Let’s go on, then. I’ll see you when I see you.” Fred winked at her, then stepped into the sitting room.

George could practically see the process as Nora’s expression turned wistful.

“Take care,” he said over his shoulder, following his brother into the green flames in the fireplace.


“Urg! Every time!” George coughed dramatically, after a quick, cautionary glance around. “I hate this fireplace. I always end up in the middle of nowhere, and never in the same place.”

“That’s kind of the purpose,” Fred answered, already siphoning off the sooth from his clothes. “And the best thing, it’s not Ministry-registered. Clever idea, if you think about it.”

“Do you think Remus would condescend working for us, as soon as WWW’s properly up and running again?”

“’Properly’ meaning without any possibility of some pompous ministry-official-slash-Death-Eater coming to censure us?”

“Yes. I’d even take Percy at this point.”

George shook his head wistfully. “That’s where it’s all come to. Now you only have to wish for Ron to come sailing into the shop demanding free samples.” He had meant it to sound mocking, but there was no trace of sarcasm in his voice.

In silence, they both turned to leave the old barn they’d arrived in, surveying the country-side for any sign of recognition.

“Where next? Elphias, Aunt Muriel’s, or Augusta Longbottom’s?”

Fred snorted. “It’s a pity patronus messages have been consigned for emergencies only; Aunt’ Muriel’s would be over and done with so much faster. She’s bound to lecture us on proper clothing.”

“You prefer having Mrs Longbottom bearing down on us?”

“Elphias’ place it is. Oh, and there is our dear brother’s best friend’s favourite cousin to look forward to!”

“What are you trying to do to him? But couldn’t you just have named Dudley? What if I had thought you meant Charlie’s best friend’s favourite cousin?” George lifted his wand, performing the by-now ingrained movements of doing a check for traces and jinxes over his brother.

Fred shuddered. “Why would you have thought such a thing? We might have ended up at the Malfoys’.” He copied George’s wand movements, continuing in his train of thought without a break. “Tonks being one of Charlie’s best friends, and her cousin being … our favourite ferret.” He shuddered again as he let his voice trail off.

“Okay okay, that round goes to you.” George conceded, picturing the secure apparition spot that would enable them to access Doge’s safe house.

When Fred and he had cleared all the safety hurdles, he asked solemnly, “Hey Fred. How serious are you about her?”

Fred kept looking straight ahead, while George tried to decipher his facial expressions. For the first time in his life, he found it difficult.

“I don’t really know,” Fred replied softly. “Maybe it’s just the circumstances. Extraordinary circumstances.”

George said nothing. Then, he saw movement on the garden path, and decided it was time for a lighter mood again. “Look who it is. The favourite cousin. Or only cousin.”

“And not alone. Our favourite photographer and also our sister’s friend. Do you suppose he’s got a cousin too?”

“Whom we are going to visit? I think that Dad might like that more.” George laughed, falling into a jog behind Fred.

*

“Snatchers! Ru-“

The shrill u-sound trundled out, echoing among the copse of trees. Yet another, as Ted had observed so drily just this evening when they had unpacked their camping gear.

It was Gornuk’s voice, the goblin. It must have been his turn to sit watch, Dean estimated as he rolled out of his cot, somehow snatching up his wand in the process. They had all taken to sleeping in pants and shirt to be ready at a moment’s notice. He bolted out of the tent, ready to shoot spells at attackers.

“And let me guess,” a man drawled, effectively illuminated by a nearby bush which had been set aflame. “You must be a Gryffindor. Foolish foolish, storming out here like you did.”

Gornuk was lying facedown on the ground while his companion was gagged and bound, shooting nasty glances at the band of men who were circled around their campsite as far as he could see; most likely also in his back.

“But of course he is, Scabior. A deliciously young one, at that.” Another man, untidy and an air of negligence about him, the whisps of his facial hair unkempt and untamed, skulked in a predator’s gait around the first man who must have been the leader of the group.

“He’s not for you, Greyback. You know our orders. ‘Bring the Mudbloods back to the manor’.”

“Oh, but surely one little Mudblood will not be missed,” the wild man whinged.

Dean shuddered, tightening the hold on his wand which he was still holding, pointing uselessly at the ground with his tense, outstretched arm. But Greyback was here …

He had, of course, heard about the man, the werewolf, who had been part of the group of Death Eaters that invaded Hogwarts when Dumbledore died. Nothing official had been said, but the story had been carried from one to the other during Dumbledore’s funeral. Ginny even had watched her brother being maimed by the monster.

“Enough, Greyback. - Now, be a good Mudblood and give us your wand,” the first man demanded.

Dean snapped to attention, jerking his wand upward and shouting out,”Protego!” and a conjunctivitis charm in short succession. “Get me, then,” he ground out, preparing every second for the sting of a spell that would surely take him out.

But at his back, he could suddenly hear commotion. “Foolish boy,” Dirk Cresswell hissed, appearing at his side, Ted at his other.

Cresswell took some steps forward, throwing a series of spells at their opponents. Dean heard a startled cry, and saw the man crumble to the ground.

“No!” Dean shouted.

Ted’s unusually sharp voice stopped him short. “Dean! Protect my back!”

Back to back with Ted, Dean’s wand viciously sliced the air; he was throwing every course or spell he had ever heard of at the Snatchers. Verbal and non-verbal almost faded into the other.

But they were only two, and while he also tried to keep his shield charm up, the Snatchers could take turns.

He felt a sharp sting in his right upper arm, and instinctively pressed his left hand to it.

“Stupefy!”

Dean looked up just in time to see the scarlet ray of light heading for him before he went down, his vision fixed on the gnarled roots of a tree as his head had come to lie sideways on the ground.

The shouting seemed to continue endlessly, before he was picked up and roughly thrown over a shoulder.

When the men trouped away from the trees, loudly jeering about their victory and cursing Mudbloods, Dean’s eyes were fixed on the three prone bodies that had been left lying on the forest ground.




A/N: Real life kept getting in the way yet again. Still, slipping back into the world of Harry Potter and fanfiction is like putting on a comfortable glove; it hasn't lost its 'magic' for me.
During the second part of this, I felt decidedly like fooling around ;) Opinions on chapter 15?

Chapter 16: Calm Before the Storm
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A pale green glow emanated from overhead. The Slytherin Common Room was located directly underneath the Black Lake, and only a sheet of glass enforced by magic separated the students from thousands of litres of water. Despite the name, the water didn’t seem black at all from Astoria’s vantage point. The chandeliers around the room sent their light into the murky depths above as well as into the common room, lighting up the dark water to a murky green for several feet. Every other week, she’d see movement up there; Merpeople gliding disinterestedly over the glass, long used to see a bunch of finless people, except for the odd youngling still curious about the goings-on below their habitat. Or there’d be a Grindylow, poised on the ornate casing and prepared to push up toward unsuspecting prey. Yet, even the creatures of the lake seemed to hold their breath as much as everyone else in their world, it seemed to her.

Frowning, Astoria returned her attention to the small gathering in the middle of the room. Two boys stood in the centre, one broad and tall, the other looking weedy and slightly stooped. Astoria couldn’t place the feeling, but he always sent chills down her spine. It was probably the eyes – they were cold with a certain maliciousness.

“Slughorn is such a failure!” Clarke Craven, the taller of the two ranted. Astoria thought he was always ranting about something or other, and tried to steer well clear of him. She’d managed so far, since she was only a fifth year and he a year above her. “He’s way too soft! What’s he doing anyway, almost locked up in his room? Why didn’t Snape appoint us another Head of House? Amycus, for example, has the right idea anyway!”

“Figures they’d be on a first-name basis,” Astoria’s friend Derra murmured next to her. Astoria only gave a tiny nod of her head, but she couldn’t agree more.

“He should be issuing the Durmstrang card any moment now … Ah, there he goes.” Astoria furrowed her brow in irritation.

“… shame, really. Father’d been so thrilled when he heard about the developments here. Durmstrang was becoming too lenient towards all that Muggle-loving scum, and we’d hoped Hogwarts would enforce its once laudable policies.”

“To be fair, though, there’s been a lot of changes,” the other boy said, a calculating look in his eyes. Astoria could feel her spine tingle at the nasty sound of his voice.

“Should have stayed at Durmstrang, then.” Daphne gracefully sank down in the armchair with Astoria, fluffing out her robes. She sounded bored, and started examining her nails. Astoria shuffled to the side a bit. She knew her sister was more annoyed at the new boys for hogging all the attention, than at what they said. Then again, Daphne had never cared for anything that much, except for her own needs. As long as she had a few boys cluttering for her attention, she hadn’t cared about their blood. Though only those well-off and with the right background – invariably Purebloods - had been worthy of receiving some attention in turn. A different kind of prejudiced, Astoria surmised wryly. But that was just the way Daphne had always been.

“Pansy’s all awestruck by their speeches, though,” Daphne continued in the same quiet voice. “She’s been shunning Tracey when Craven started going on about Half-Bloods, too.” Astoria looked from the pug-nosed girl, whispering with Milicent Bulstrode as they kept their eyes on the boys in the middle of the circle, to Tracey Davies, who occupied an armchair over in the corner of the common room, half hidden by the shadows. Tracey was a Half-Blood, and although well-accepted in her sister’s group of friends during the first years, the standing in their house had gradually shifted over the last few years, with the take-over of the Ministry giving one last, more significant shake to it. Though Half-Bloods were not that uncommon for Slytherin, their blood automatically gave them a setback these days. In addition, Slytherin had seen an increase in students that year; others like Craven and his buddy Kendon Villefort, either attracted by the government’s and in extension the Hogwarts governors new ‘Magic for the Pure’ policy or the mandatory attendance ruling. Before this year, some more radical pure-blood families had preferred to home-school their children than sent them into the care of Albus Dumbledore.

“Parkinson is not the only one,” Derra observed. She indicated a group of students a few persons down from the girl. “I think Crabbe and Goyle have found new idols. No wonder Malfoy’s always looking so pinched these days.”

Astoria’s eyes wandered, yet again, to the new subject of her friend and sister’s whispered commentary. Draco Malfoy had come back much more subdued this year. She’d have thought, what with his previous superior attitude, he’d milk the situation for what it was worth, lording the fact that his home was the Dark Lord’s headquarters over everyone else. Instead, he glowered at anyone who approached him. He still held power if for no other reason than the fear that one word from him at home might cause the Dark Lord to target the offender. But he wasn’t the Slytherin Prince anymore. The demotion of his father had certainly contributed to that. Her eyes bored into his nowadays impenetrable mask, the features itself still the same of the boy she’d had a crush on in her third year.

“What do you think, Astoria?” Daphne poked her, looking expectant, before rolling her eyes when she noticed the younger girl hadn’t paid attention.

“She is thinking about whether or not to get Deverill to go out with her,” Derra explained lightheartedly.

“Deverill?” Astoria saw the sixth year in deep discussion with Harper. The pair didn’t seem to pay attention to the now enlivened discussion, where Vaisey and Zabini had got involved. “He’s a sixth year,” Astoria stated plainly.

Daphne lifted her eyebrows questioningly. “So what? He’s good-looking, and from a respected family. Not so invested in this pure-blood talk he’d bore one to death, and from what I can tell, not too clingy.”

“Why are you even asking me, then?” Astoria fluttered her hands in irritation, sinking down in the chair so she could go back to her lake-gazing. She heard Derra giggle and Daphne huff agitatedly.

“Poor boy,” Derra mused aloud, excusing herself to the dorm. Astoria swept her gaze once more over the assorted groups of Slytherins. Even though those clad in green-and-silver-lined robes were perceived as one and the same by the other houses, it was clear in the confines of their own common room that there were distinct differences in the ranking. Shaking her head, she stood, saying, “I might get up and see Pomfrey; see if she has a tonic for my stomach.”

“You feel it too?” Daphne responded plaintively. “Must be those house-elves; I am telling you they’ve been slacking.”

Astoria suppressed any comment; simply turned toward the common room entrance, listening to Daphne make a spectacle of announcing they were on their way to the hospital wing.

“We’d better escort you up, ladies. You never know what’s out there.”

Astoria whipped around at the cold voice. Craven had positioned himself in their path, and Daphne was all but draped over his arm. “… and of course we’d feel much safer under your protection.”

Astoria almost rolled her eyes at her sister. Granted, her sister was two years older than her, and she herself might see the appeal before long, but right at that moment, the blatant flirtation was grating on her nerves.

“Much safer,” a deep growl had Astoria wiping around. Great, didn’t Goyle have some worshipping to do?

Craven led the way out. “Two Pure-Blood girls shouldn’t be out alone these days. Hostility everywhere. It’s a shame, really. But the problem will be seen to, I am sure. And we will be there to see it all; we will be envied by generations to come for this historical opportunity of living in a time where everything is set to rights.”

As he droned on, Astoria watched the familiar portraits on the walls, the tapestry and nooks and crevices she knew so well. Walking up to the Hospital Wing to get a potion had never been a problem before.

“Who’s there? Wandering … oh, you’re Slytherins. Where’re you headed to?”

“Hospital Wing, sir.” Craven replied diligently, as Amycus Carrow regarded him with a would-be benevolent expression, an abrupt change from just moments before, where he’d sported unholy glee and meanness at the prospect of finding students out after hours.

Astoria could barely hold back from rolling her eyes. Now they were making mountains out of molehills. She’d only wanted a little potion.

“’m on a mission, you must know. Blackguards messed with that damn swamp in the first floor corridor. Same ‘un those troublemakers left behind years ago, that caretaker tells me.”

Goyle piped in, rubbing his hands, “We might be able to help. Bet it was those Gryffindors again.”

Astoria was about to object, when her eyes came to rest on a pair of brown, wide ones in the denser shadow of the corridor. Looking more closely, she could indeed see two Gryffindors.

Ginny Weasley and her friend.

If the professor caught them, they would be in trouble indeed.

Astoria quickly cast a glance towards the group, seeing Carrow and the two boys getting ready to chase the culprits. Goyle’s liking for doling out punishments for his new favourite teachers was widely known.

Unsure, she cast a glance back at the two girls, hidden behind the tapestry. Vanessa’s expression had turned pleading, Ginny’s grim.

Astoria looked back, licked her lips.

Then she went with instinct.

Astoria threw a hand to her brow, sighed dramatically, and sank to the floor. Then she opened one eye.

The men were still debating. Impatiently, she let out a most unladylike snort, which drew her sister’s attention.

“Oh no! Poor Astoria!”

Her sister was on her knees, beside her, in a heartbeat, exclaiming. This obviously drew the other’s attention.

“Oh, she needed to go to the Hospital Wing. Damn those Gryffindors!”

Someone had obviously conjured a stretcher, because Astoria found herself lifted on it. She debated miming regaining consciousness, then decided she might get to her destination quicker this way.

She looked back, saw one anxious and one speculating pair of eyes looking back at her.

*

“Weasley. How are the kids?”

Trying not to show his chagrin, Arthur fixed a pleasant smile on his face before turning around. Walden Macnair, the Ministry’s henchman.

“Walden,” he replied, putting particular emphasis on the first name. “You know, the kids are fine. Good of you to ask.”

The other’s face morphed into a mocking grimace. “My duty as a decent wizard, you see. Wouldn’t want them to go astray.”

The grill’s of the lift opened, and Arthur squeezed in with an obligatory greeting, not meeting anyone’s eye. Macnair followed closely on his heels.

He was finding it hard not to lash out; his temper could prove disastrous if provoked enough and he usually kept a tight leash on it. Concentrating on the contents of his robe pockets, he would nod his head while Macnair was talking.

“… that radio station is a bloody nuisance … telling them to get rid of it …”

Arthur fussed with the roll of Spell-o-tape; he’d picked it up the day for Molly and hadn’t yet given it to her. Someone sneezed behind him, making him feel around for an handkerchief. Of course, it was wedged into the very bottom of the pocket.

“… those Mudbloods think they can just be like us …”

As his fingers came across a couple of paperclips, he bore down on them, twisting them apart with a vengeance.

Macnair, too, got out, as well as a couple of others. “Well then, Weasley, stay on the right path. – Meanwhile, I have business here.”

Arthur watched him walk away, took a deep breath. Thought to himself that Macnair had walked away at the right moment, for he had come across another Muggle trinket in his pocket, and he would have been sorry if he had squashed the light-bulb before being able to give it a good look.

He shook his head at the absurdity of it all, and turned around.

The tall young man stood slightly in the shadows, watching, as he had done, as Macnair disappeared down the hallway. One eyebrow was lifted as if in – disapproval?

With a sinking heart, Arthur realised that he must have ridden in the same elevator as his son without realising it. He’d give all his Muggle trinkets in a heartbeat if only his kids were really all fine, and together once more.

“Percy?” he whispered, tentatively.

The redhead gave a start, and for a moment closed his eyes. Arthur thought Percy would reply, when clanging and banging and the unmistakeable female voice in elevator shaft announced the imminent arrival of people.

With a stiff nod, Percy strode away, disappearing into one of the doorways someway down the hall.

Arthur found his way to his desk without any recollection of getting there. He threw the paperclips into his bin, smashed the light-bulb in his hand in helpless frustration. Calmer, he swept his wand over his hand with a healing incantation, and vanished the broken bulb with the cynical thought that someone might actually have the bright idea to search his rubbish.

With an absent-minded gesture, he pushed at his glasses, and sat down. Arthur stopped short, and seized once more into his pocket. There hadn’t been a parchment in it when he’d rummaged around in it in the elevator. But then he’d felt one when he’d grabbed the light-bulb.

Slowly, he produced the item in question and unrolled it; it had been tightly folded.

Ted Tonks, Dirk Cresswell and goblin Gornuk killed by a gang of Snatchers. Official reports of deaths by the Daily Prophet discontinued.

Arthur sat staring at the piece of parchment, unable to catch his breath. He knew those names – and what it would mean to their loved ones. The thought of who had given the note to him and of its authenticity reared its head briefly and was pushed away again.

More likely than not, that piece of bad news would turn out to be true.

*

“Overconfident, optimistic folk.” Wiping his brow as if to get rid of a bothersome thought, Aberforth shuffled to the door, sliding the bolt home with a quick, determined motion before producing a long, thick wand from behind his ear. He then slid the curtain aside so he could peer out after the last stragglers; they would be hard-pressed to reach the apparition point before curfew. Aberforth furrowed his brow; if nothing else, those so-called preservers of wizardkind were bad for business.

Shaking his head after the disappearing people, he swept the street with one last, suspicious glower, then retreated to his private rooms over the dingy little pub.

“See, sweet, Albus’s friends were here again. Don’t know what they are playing at, invitin’ trouble as they are.” As he was talking, Aberforth shuffled over to his fireplace, laboriously lit the candle stumps on the mantle. The girl, clad in a flowery summer dress and strawberry-blond hair caught in two long braids, giggled merrily.

“You like them, Abey.”

“Like them, pah!” Grumbling under his breath, Aberforth proceeded to put the kettle on. “It’s just like Albus; inspiring those young fools were there is no hope.”

“Grumpy Abey. But I know you keep the miiiror.” Chanting, the girl danced around as far as the confines of her frame let her.

“Mirror, mirror. Don’t know what Albus was thinking, leaving me Black’s mirror. Mind you, Black’s always been amusing, sneaking into the Hog’s Head as he did. A shame, really. Should have stayed where he was.”

Vexed, he shoved his hands into his pockets, felt in the depth of them the very item Ariana had just teased him about. Aberforth humphed in annoyance. He had indeed kept it close, as Albus had asked of him.

“Cheeky girl.” Still annoyed, he pulled the mirror out. Wiped at it with the scruff of his sleeve. “Still no sign of the boy.” He shook the ornately decorated looking glass. “Maybe it’s broken.”

“Why would Albey give you something broken?” Ariana queried, sounding genuinely confused.

Aberforth shrugged his shoulders, reminding himself of Ariana’s innocence. Why, indeed.

Aberforth poked the reflecting surface again. “Nothing is happening. I should be able to at least see Potter.”

“Does he know how to use it?” Ariana asked in all seriousness.

“…” Aberforth closed his already opened mouth. Surely someone must have ... surely Albus had told the boy to use the mirror to contact Aberforth if he needed him?

Uttering expletives under his breath that had Ariana cover her ears and run for cover behind one of the bushes at the side of her portrait, Aberforth flung the mirror down so it skidded over the carpet. Cursing even louder, he stalked across his living area, snatched up the mirror and shoved it back into his pockets. That would be just so typical …

As he scowled back towards Ariana, he saw her peeking over the bush.

“You can come out. I’m all done.”

“Good. You are not supposed to use those words, Abey. See, he’s finally coming; I knew it.” Giggling, Ariana hopped back into sight and began smoothing down her skirt.

“Who’s coming?” Absently, Aberforth started preparing his tea.

Ariana lifted up on her tiptoes, shaded her eyes. “Nevvy. I talk to him sometimes, he sleeps now in the Ever-Changing Room.”

“The Ever-Changing Room? What are you talking about?”

Aberforth felt his jaw drop, as the tiny spot he hadn’t really paid attention to but which Ariana had observed grew steadily larger, until it looked like a stick-figure. And still it grew.

“I invited him, and he came.” Ariana was all smiles. Momentarily flummoxed, Aberforth watched the boy’s progress.

“Longbottom,” he muttered, recognising the family likeness and remembering the disastrous little meeting Potter had held at his pub years ago.

Then, they boy’s gangly frame seemed to fill the whole canvas, and Ariana’s chant of “open up! Open up!” recalled him to the present, and to his surprise, the portrait swung forward with the lightest pull, causing the boy to tumble out.

“I expect a reasonable explanation, boy, for showing up in this unusual – even for a wizard – way in my living room.”

Neville jumped immediately to his feet, blushing profusely. “I am sorry, sir, ... erg. Ariana, erg, the girl in the picture, she said to come. She, uh, actually was quite adamant, and praising your cooking.”

Aberforth put his hands on his hips, puffing out a breath. “Longbottom, didn’t your grandmother teach you better manners? Stumbling into another’s four own walls, then stumbling over your tongue? – And for future reference, it is Aberforth Dumbledore.”

Neville gasped. “Dumbledore? You are Dumbledore’s brother.”

“And Dumbledore’s son. Alas, not Dumbledore’s father, though, as that would require me having sired a son.”

Aberforth found that he was starting to enjoy himself. Meanwhile, young Longbottom was shaking his head, looking to Ariana for help, who was smiling benighly.

“But … you are Professor Dumbledore’s brother. And you, uh, well …”

“Own a dumpster of a pub. Yes, quite astute. – Now, what might lead you here today? The desire for food, or an escape route, maybe? I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until tomorrow morning, when that dratted charm will be taken off.”

Neville gaped at his unwilling host, before shrugging his shoulders; then he indicated one of the chairs. “Might I sit? – My name is Neville Longbottom, but Neville is fine. I have been talking to Ariana quite a lot, and today, while I was contemplating how to get my hands on something to eat, the little black door appeared, and the tunnel led me straight here. Where Ariana mentioned food was to be had. – But do you know my Gran?”

Aberforth grimaced. “I do indeed. She’d probably be after me with her handbag if she learned I had left her grandson go hungry. – I’ll prepare something for the both of us.”

Neville mumbled a thank you, fidgeting some with his hands before putting them on his knees. “Uh, sir, why do you own a pub?”

Aberforth sent a mild look over his shoulder. “Why ever not? – Tell me, the two of you, how could there be a door leading to my home? Are you sure you are not some Death Eater in disguise?”

Neville denied that vehemently, then launched into his story. “It is that room. If you wish for the right thing, it will appear. I was picturing a cozy room to while away time, plot some, even live comfortably without being able to be found. And there was this room, that had a sleeping cot, books, a desk. It looked like someone might just have left it yesterday, with pots of ink and parchment scattered around, a stack of books. And that portrait of three children that was leaning against the desk. I put it up on the wall, and then …”

Neville gasped, eyes widening in realisation. “You are one of the boys. You are Ariana’s brother.”

Gruffily, Aberforth affirmed that, “That would be so. I had often wondered where that picture had disappeared to.”

“Then the other boy …”

“And you think nothing of entering strange pathways? Not very considerate, boy.” Aberforth started ladling soup into two bowls and carried them over. They were eating in silence, and yet he could feel the boy’s eyes at him from time to time.

Shoving his bowl aside, Aberforth went to his fireplace, plucked a jar from the mantle. “So, I might not be Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, but I do have some tricks left in my sleeve. I can see you safely home to your Gran.”

Neville rose slowly. He looked at the jar in Aberforth’s hand, and back at the open portrait. Aberforth felt humbled when the boy’s – no, the man’s eyes swept back to his. “My time, my place. This is where I am supposed to be when he’ll be back. I can feel it. Will you be there with us?”

After moments of silence, Neville said his goodbyes and clambered back into the tunnel.

“Whenever you’re hungry, here’s more,” Aberforth called grumpily, and watched the portrait swing shut. Ariana sent him a confused glance, then hurried to Neville’s side to accompany him back.

He stoically put the jar back into its place, started tidying up. “Bloody optimistic fools. A lot of good they are going to be on the run and under lock. – I am so not going to talk to Augusta for the time being.”





A/N:
Momentarily surfacing from the rock I’ve crawled under – might as well have for the limited internet access I had. I never realised how dependent I had become on being able to just pop in and look something up or whatever. Signs of addiction? ;)

Astoria’s friend Derra is from one of my one-shots, so the one or other of you might recognise her. The Slytherin bit really got me thinking about what it would have been like for them “behind the scenes”.
The portrait of the Dumbledore siblings is a figment of my imagination, yet everything else is, of course, Joanne K. Rowling's.

Thanks for the continued interest, guys!!!




The sky was tinted with golden light, driving away the last vestiges of night and bathing the Hogwarts grounds into hues only the early, clear hours of a day could.

Light streamed in through the high French windows, though someone looking for them from the outside wouldn’t have been able to locate them.

The young man peering out through one of the windows was engrossed in his thoughts, contemplating the display, as he had done since the first rays of sunshine had broken through won out against the darkness. His gaze was thoughtful.

“A new morning, pure like there wasn’t any evil in the world.” Neville spread his hands against the cool window pane, let them trail down when he heard steps approaching from behind, and half-turned.

“A new morning, like the one that will come for us. – Feeling philosophical today, Neville?”

Hannah sported an indulgent, teasing smile; still Neville felt caught out and felt the blood rising to his face. He hoped the sun behind him cast his face in shadows, masking his embarrassment.

He cleared his throat; making too much noise, even in his own mind. “Uuh, good morning Hannah. I expected Seamus with some breakfast.”

Hannah cocked her head. “He’s on his way. I offered to go ahead, bringing you this.” She offered a small basket, making it appear as out of thin air as she wiped off the now visible silvery cloth that had hidden it.

“The latest of The Wheezes’ defensive range?” Neville stated the obvious.

Hannah smiled, and absent-mindedly started setting up.

Neville watched her for a bit, searching his mind for a topic that hadn’t got anything to do with Death Eaters, death and oppression.

Both of them jumped a little when the door opened. Neville’s grip on his wand, which he had pulled automatically out of his pocket, loosened when he recalled the Sneakoscope hadn’t gone off, and he relaxed fully when the Foe-glass only showed Seamus and a younger Gryffindor.

Seamus poked his head around the door, shooting a glance at Neville’s wand. “I knew it! Getting jumpy these days, Nev? Anyway, I come in peace and all that.” As if to demonstrate, he held up his hands and stepped in.

“Richie? What’s wrong?” Strangely enough, Neville mused, he felt much more in charge in this kind of situation – but he wouldn’t have only one short year ago.

“Are you okay? Have a bite to eat first, yes?” Hannah pulled the younger Gryffindor to the table and sat him down, then looked up at Neville. “That goes for you too. Go eat.”

“So much for feeling in charge,” Neville mumbled under his breath, but sat down quickly and ducked his head as Hannah looked questioningly at him.

Breaking a bread roll, he repeated his question to Richie Coote.

“They are looking for them.” The younger boy was shaking.

“Come again?”

Seamus, having filled up a plate for himself, swallowed quickly and said, “Some Slytherins were making noise about the Cootes’s being on the run. Apparently, the Ministry didn’t like them standing up for their Muggle neighbours. They are looking for them.”

“I don’t know where they could be. Mum and Dad, I mean. I … I have to go looking for them. But …”

“They might get you too.” Neville inserted quietly. Unbidden, he recalled the taunting words of Severus Snape that Augusta Longbottom would need to be questioned if he, Neville, did not tidy up his act.

“That’s what I was thinking,” Seamus commented between bites. “So I made myself scarce, got Hannah here to deliver the food while I got Richie. – So, Nev, we not only need to get you out of here, but Richie too. And then off with the both of you to a safe house.”

Neville watched Hannah fuss over Richie, and Seamus getting ready to go back outside. He’d start putting in action the plan that they had concocted. The plan to ferry him safely out of Hogwarts, which he had let them go ahead with.

Neville looked around the room, considered. “I’m not going. Instead, you go ahead as planned with Ritchie in my place.”

“What do you mean, you’re not going?”

“That I’m not going to some safe house, where I’ll be treated like a defenceless child. I won’t be able to fight or help. Here, I can; even if it is just from inside this room. I’ll stay here.”

“Neville, they’ll catch you. And this time, they’ll not be content with a few hexes,” Seamus pleaded, repeating the arguments they’d run over before.

Neville looked directly back, at the barely healed scratch on his friend’s cheek. “You can really talk, Seamus. Would you go?”

In a corner of his mind, Neville noticed that Richie looked at him with wide eyes and Hannah sinking back to her seat. But he only had eyes for his dorm mate.

Seamus raked a hand through his hair. “You really believe Harry will come back and make it all right again? Fight for us?”

“If there’s any way to do it, he’ll find it. You are still fighting, aren’t you?”

“Because it’s the right thing to do. And because someone has to. Harry’s a good guy, but we can’t just put all our hope into one man.”

“Then put it in me. I’m here, and I’ll stay here.”

Seamus lifted his hands, let them fall in aggravation. “You are just as stubborn as Harry. Where did you hide that all those years, eh? – So now what? We keep sneaking you food?”

Neville smiled to himself. “Let that be my concern. And Richie, there might be a way to learn something more. I have – I have a friend I’ll contact.”

“You’d do that? And – Neville, could I stay with you? Could you teach me some stuff? I could help.”

“For the time being, I intend to just keep my eyes open. See what transpires, and what those Death Eaters are up to.”

“Now I almost wish I’d stay here too for the holidays.” Seamus said. “But then, I need a break from this place. - I should go. Better make sure Ginny doesn’t get a hold of you before she’s cooled down enough. Which might not be before we’re back from Easter break.”

In answer to Seamus grin, Neville saluted him.

Hannah had packed up the basket, and handed it to him with the words to keep it anyway. Now she turned half-way back. “You be careful. Don’t go taking any unnecessary risks.”

Neville took a step after her, but stopped when Richie spoke, eagerness now in his voice. “So what are we going to do? How can I get in contact with my parents?”

“Hold it, okay? First, we need a place for you to sleep.” Pursing his lips, Neville started to tell the room exactly what they needed as Hannah and Seamus left, luckily unseen, and prepared to depart for their break.

*

Overhead, the arches were showing cracks, testament that indeed the house, and the family who owned it, must have been around for some time. A narrow, grilled window, high up in the wall but actually level with the ground told Luna that it was indeed daylight outside. It had rained earlier, she had heard the raindrops bounce off the paved path that lead from the gate to the house, and also cascading from leaves to bushes to grass. Now, if one looked, one could see the sunlight, being broken in the tiny water drops, and creating a kaleidoscope of colours.

“Don’t you think it looks magical, Mr Ollivander?” Luna mused aloud.

When there was no answer, Luna swivelled around on her perch on her cot, made out of the blankets they had been given. Her brow puckered; the wand-maker was getting weaker by the day, and her attempts to rouse him from the state of melancholia he had fallen into were proven futile more and more often.

Echoing steps had her sit up. They were drawing nearer; yet she did not think it was time for their meagre meal yet. Which could only mean that they would get company – or that one of them was about to be questioned, or worse.

The door was pulled open, scratching loudly over the stone floor, and a rather misshapen shape – one broad, square person, or several leaning on each other? - was pushed inside. It was too dark to make out anything definite.

“Hermione!” The cry, the pure anguish of it almost slew her, and now she also registered the wailing and raised voices, as if from somewhere above. Luna sat up straight, her hand reaching automatically for her ear, but of course her wand was not there.

A second voice tried to reason with the first, get him to calm down and help come up with a plan. Best of all, she knew those voices.

“Harry?” Luna managed. “Oh no, they got you too, did they? I was hoping …”

Of course they had not expected her to be here. She helped them to get the ropes binding them off by using an old nail. All the while, they could hear Bellatrix inquire in an almost panicked voice about some sword, while Hermione – for Luna now recognised her voice, too – denied knowing anything.

“Why didn’t you say so?” Luna commented mildly as she retrieved Ron’s Deluminator from his pocket, when he paused in his worrying about Hermione long enough to inform her he still had it. With a bit more light, Luna noticed the other two. A goblin. And Seamus’s Gryffindor friend, Dean. And where else would he have turned up, but there in the dungeon?

Luna sat there, watching the boys with growing uneasiness. Something had to be done, but she didn’t think banging at the door would do it. Maybe …

A flash of reflected sunlight caught her eye. Harry was standing still, tension emanating from him, as he shouted something at the object cradled in his hands. What, she couldn’t hear, since Ron was still shouting at the top of his lungs and was running around like a chicken without its head. They had attempted to find a way out many times, she and Mister Ollivander, and she said so aloud. But Luna did not feel Ron was paying her any mind.

Then they heard Bellatrix demanding the Goblin be brought to her to verify the authenticity of the sword. The pale blond boy, Draco Malfoy, Slytherin Prince, bade them stand back. Luna was not sure Ron would cooperate and miss the opportunity, but Draco left with his prisoner without incident. She was more preoccupied with the loud crack that sounded just as the cellar door was pushed shut.

A house elf, his large ears flapping, stood in the light of the Deluminator Ron had deployed again. She started forward when Harry uttered the most unthinkable notion. Dean, Mr. Ollivander and she should leave with Dobby, the house-elf.

“Harry, we want to help you**,” Luna insisted, supported by Dean.

Yet Luna had to concede they weren’t of much help without a wand, and she finally went as Harry had asked.

In seconds, the tiny house-elf whisked them away. Luna blinked open her eyes, catching sight of a cloudy sky over blue-grey waves. Seagulls drew their circles overhead, and the air smelt of salt.

She turned around when Dean tugged her hand just as Dobby disappeared again with a loud crack.

A tall redhead came hurrying towards them, and Luna was stricken by his appearance. “Ron in older.” The thought escaped her, as she saw the eldest of the neighbour boys rushing up.

“Luna. How can you be here? What …?”

Luna peered solemnly back. “Dobby will bring Ron, Harry, Hermione, and Mr Ollivander. This is Dean. Would you mind if we stepped in until they arrive?”

Luna continued on her way, greeting Fleur as she stepped into the kitchen, while Dean explained to a bemused and increasingly alarmed Bill Weasley in hurried words that they had escaped from Malfoy Manor only moments before.

*

He felt like there were a thousand ants crawling in his stomach, and if he were to give in to it, he would run.

“But where to?”

The stout little man dragged his feet, and yet it was no use. He was in front of the door already. His silver hand gleamed in the lights in the wall sconces, and he watched, almost detached, as it pushed the handle down.

His instincts were screaming at him to run. They were what had kept him alive until that moment. With a shouted warning, he entered the cellar. His heart beat a nervous tattoo, though he ploughed ahead. Too great was the fear of what he’d have to face if he didn’t bring Potter.

Potter. As in James Potter.

He took a step, and another.

Suddenly, a weight plummeted into him; he was falling to the floor. Two bodies pinned him down, and he struggled to get away. His new hand got a-hold of someone and squeezed.

“You’re going to kill me? […] You owe me, Wormtail.”** He realised he had someone by the throat, and the choked-out words and the face above him confirmed his darkest suspicions. The light flickered and was barely enough to lighten up the cellar and the face was slightly distorted. Still, it was recognisable enough.

Unbidden, another face swam in front of his vision, so very similar and yet different. That other boy, in another time altogether, had had glasses as well. That boy had been laughing over their first meal at Hogwarts, where he, Peter, had ended up right opposite.

‘I’m James. We’d best be friends, since we’re going to share a dorm for years and years to come.’

James had accompanied that with grand gestures, nearly knocking the sickly-looking boy next to him forward into his plate.


“You owe me.” Now two voices were echoing the words back at him, though he couldn’t have said whether they were real or just his guilty conscience.

The urge to survive reared its head, warring with the memories of his teenage years. His new hand twitched with indecision.

“Wormy will sooner end up killing himself.”

The words, coming out of his past, conjured up the memory of another dark-haired boy, with mocking, grey eyes.

As he tried to overcome the familiar spite and anger at what the other boy had seen as teasing, but which hadn’t been for him, the silver hand shot out towards his own face; the fingers spread out.

As it came around his throat and clamped shut with an iron grip, he barely noticed the two young men who were crouching over him, trying to pry the hand loose.

His last thought was of a moment in the Hogwarts grounds. Remus had wanted to try out his new camera, a birthday gift, and cleverly manipulated with charms. It had been poised in mid-air, waiting to be activated. James and Sirius had been goofing off, and he’d been standing next to them, thrilled he’d be included, and to have a tangible proof that he belonged.

*

Several sphinx patronuses were headed for different parts of the country, one for each of the members of the caster’s family.

Molly was directing her laundry to hang itself in the garden, preferring to trap the first wisps of spring in her bed linen to sped-drying it by magic.

“I could help. Seventeen is just a number, I can too do magic,” Ginny maintained stubbornly, arms folded over her chest. “I’ll be seventeen soon enough.” She didn’t know what to do with herself, feeling inadequate and helpless. The whole day since she got off the Hogwarts Express for her Easter break she’d been antsy and wound up tight, although she couldn’t pinpoint the exact reason.

Ginny thought she heard her mother say something about dirty dishes, which she choose to ignore, too occupied by the unfairness of it all. Two tiny spots of light appeared before them, rapidly growing bigger. The two balls of light soared around them.

“Surrounding-sensitive patronuses,” Molly whispered, drawing her wand from her apron and also peered around. Then she flicked her wand to make the patronuses release their message.

Two sphinxes materialised. “Bill.” She gasped in alarm, paling.

“Mum.” “Ginny.” The sphinxes continued in unison. “The Burrow, now. Activate every ward. Prepare to leave soon , Ron’s been seen. I’ll be there shortly.”

If Ginny thought her mother had been pale before, it was nothing in comparison to how she looked then. She herself felt like a giant plunger had been forced over her, all noise and air gone. What did that message even mean?

A ‘crack’ rent the air; causing air to rush back into her lungs; colours seemed to blur around her from the lack of oxygen. The wards hadn’t thrown off whoever had apparated. Molly gasped for air, hurrying on shaky legs across the lawn. When she turned the corner of the house, Charlie was sprinting for the door, but veered of in her direction. He grasped both of them by the shoulders, although he too seemed to be shaking.

“I was just preparing to do some reconnaissance with Moody’s cloak. What’s that message supposed to mean?”

“We don’t know,” Ginny managed, her voice oddly high-pitched. Molly gulped; the vicinity of two of her children bringing back the urgency with which her eldest son had spoken.

“Charlie, activate the extra protection your father showed you. I’ll meet you half-way. Ginny –“

“What?” Ginny cut her off, fearing she knew what was coming.

Molly looked around, praying for another ‘crack’ to announce the rest of her family. If Bill had given her any indication of where to go, she’d make sure personally that Ron was okay. It cost her to stay and wait as he’d said. “Ginny, go get some clothes ready for everyone, take your trunk.”

Ginny breathed heavily. She had half a mind to run, cross the wards and apparate – where? Surely were Ron was, there were Harry and Hermione too. What did it mean, Ron had been seen?

Molly caught her daughter’s arm, one brown set of eyes drilling into the other. Ginny’s whole body sagged in defeat before she turned on her heel to do as she was told, a desperate prayer on her lips.

Two more figures popped into existence simultaneously, and Molly found herself engulfed in four leather-clad arms.

“What happened?” Fred urged.

Molly pulled away reluctantly after a second, shaking her head. “Help your brother, he’s back behind the house. I’ll rather go pack some things. Are you all set?”

She didn’t really wait for answer, pushing the twins to where Charlie was working.

Fred and George exchanged a look. “Surely he didn’t mean us too?”

“Go into hiding?” Fred asked, disgusted by the thought.

“If Ron’s was really dumb enough to show his face to those Mask-Wearing Wannabes …” George let thought hang in the air.

They were silent for a breath as they turned the corner, when Fred started smirking. “Well, one thing’s for sure. Even though we left yesterday not knowing we wouldn’t be back this morning, it won’t do anyone with less than nice intentions any good to come looking for him at the shop.”

“Small consolation, that,” George said wryly, shouting out to Charlie. Together, they put up the extra wards pretty quickly and were just about finished, when their father materialised out of thin air.

“Got delayed, the patronus could only materialise when I took a break for the loo and Travers had, uh, well, finished. They might send in a search party for me any time now. - Is Bill there?”

All three shook their heads, impatience and worry mounting as there was nothing more left to do.

“Arthur!” Molly came tearing out of the door, making a beeline for her husband. Ginny, following close on her heels, found herself tucked under the twins’ arms.

“Are you packed?”

“I packed clothes. Merlin Arthur, do we take food? Where are we going to go?” Molly fretted, giving in to the raging fear a little now that her husband was there. “Where’s Bill? Doesn’t he realise we’re going out of our minds with worry?”

“We don’t know what it means yet, it could be a precaution for all we know.” Charlie said with a calm he didn’t really feel.

“Might be,” Fred agreed heartily. “We practice a hasty retreat all the time at Potter Watch.”

“We just finished packing the last of the equipment to move to the next place, after discussing a basic outline for next broadcast,” George said, just to occupy his mother’s mind. “Remus, Kingsley and Lee said to go, but I’m sure they are curious as well.”

“Almost came with us, too,” Fred added.

Arthur furrowed his brow. “You shouldn’t go bandying about with that kind of info-. What in Merlin’s name …?”

Once more, a sphinx took shape in front of them. “Old Bat’s place. Meet you there.”

The Weasleys stood motionless, waiting for more information that was never to come. Then, Arthur clapped into his hands. “Right, let’s get moving. Everything locked up?”

“We can’t just leave everything.” Molly clasped her husband’s arm and held his gaze. Then she closed her eyes briefly. “I’m being silly. Of course we can. Everyone go now. Ginny you’re with your father.”

Making sure her daughter heeded her words, Molly disapparated, followed immediately by Charlie.

“Go!” Arthur urged the twins, performing the final wand movements that would seal his ancestral home off after them.

“The Old Bat’s place?” Fred chortled, stepping forward.

“Bill should be careful she doesn’t learn he’s said that, or it’s disownment for him.” George followed his brother, and they disappeared simultaneously.

“Everything’s alright as long as they have a fib to tell,” Ginny tried to make light of it all, accepting her father’s arm before she was overcome by the sensation of being pressed through a narrow tube.

They were promptly ushered into Great-Aunt Muriel’s neat little house upon landing. Great-Aunt Muriel had taken the adults aside to demand an explanation of her Great-Nephew Bill’s alarming message.

Ginny wandered from window to window, watching out for her eldest brother. “How can he do that? Send a message like that, and then leave us hanging like this?” she muttered under her breath. What in Morgana’s name had happened? What was happening even now?

“Gin Gin. Wearing a hole in Great-Auntie’s carpet?”

“Way to go, sister dearest!”

Ginny spared only a glance for her brothers before returning to gazing outside. Fred and George moved to either side of her, their tension belying their casual teasing.

Ginny levelled her eyes on George. “Do you have any idea what’s going on?”

He shook his head. “Not a clue. Although …”

“Although it sounded pretty urgent.”

Ginny digested that, when a thought hit her like lightning. “Maybe Ron’s with Bill. How else would he know? Maybe they’re coming back.”

“Maybe.” George sounded evasive.

Ginny caught the exchange of glances that went on over her head. She was used to that from them; they often did that when words weren’t necessary between them. Still, usually their faces wouldn’t be so solemn.

“There.” Fred pointed to the steps of the porch, where a tall figure spun into existence.

“It’s Bill.” Ginny suppressed her disappointment that it was only one person appearing; then she followed in her brothers’ wake.

Entering the living room, Ginny saw Bill, beset by her mother who was talking rapidly. Her father was standing in front of the fireplace, an expectant expression on his face. Charlie had been pacing, and Great-Aunt Muriel was putting her needles down.

“What’s going on?” Ginny cut through the din.

“Yes, please tell us what happened to your brother. – Molly, please, let the boy talk.”

At her father’s words, the Weasleys all looked at Bill in expectation.

“Okay. Don’t interrupt. Dad, can you try get a message to Kingsley, pronto? I have to get back. So here’s what I know. – Earlier this afternoon, several people showed up on my doorstep: Ron, Harry, Hermione, Luna, Dean Thomas and Garrick Ollivander.”

Ginny felt like echoing her mother’s gasp, and she listened with baited breath, hands folded before her lips, as Bill recounted what he knew. It was very brief, with a reminder that they needed to take precautions since Ron, and in extension his family, was now officially on the run.

“So that’s it,” he concluded. “You’ll have to decide what to do; it’d be suicide to be out and about and continue as usual. Not to mention what Ginny would face at Hogwarts. – I’ll need to get back, keep the contact at a minimum. I’d rather I contact you since too much traffic back and forth might draw attention. Now –“

He was cut off by a chorus of contradictions. Ginny was pushing forward, adding her own. “Luna’s there, why can’t I be?”

“Dad?” Bill appealed to the Weasley patriarch.

With an effort, Arthur gathered himself. “We’ll do as you suggested. We wait here – no, no talking back, Ginny – we wait here, sent out word to the order and our allies that Harry Potter escaped from Malfoy Manor and is still resisting. Then we wait. We cannot rush this now. Go – and be careful.”

Bill nodded, and disappeared with long strides.

Gnashing her teeth, Ginny grabbed a vase that was in her way, and hurled it towards the wall.

Before she exited the room, she heard George whistle and say, “This changes everything. Don’t you think?”

But Fred, uncharacteristically, didn’t add a jab of his own. He seemed deep in thought.

*

“Weasley.”

Percy lifted his head slowly from his paperwork. Travers and Runcorn were blocking out all the light from his tiny space, glancing at him with narrowed eyes.

“Good day, Travers. Good day, Runcorn. What brings you here?”

“Questions, Weasley. The whereabouts of your youngest brother, for instance.”

Percy had grown quite adapt at dissembling, and had needed it at more than one occasion. The particular manner of this one, though, sent an ice-cold shudder along his spine.

“I wouldn’t know. We haven’t seen eye to eye for some time now, as we established time and again.”

Travers leaned over the desk. “Don’t try being smart with me, Weasley. You better not keep any information from us.”

With a last menacing glance, Travers swept out of the room, followed by Runcorn, who used his size to look forbidding.

Information regarding what? Percy kept his head lowered, having to clamp down the urge to jump up and learn what had happened.

During the following hours, people kept poking their heads in for no apparent reason, and there was constant traffic in the hallway outside with people whispering conspicuously.

When he got up to get himself a cup of what was sold as coffee from a vending machine, Percy couldn’t stand the prickling sensation in his neck anymore. Deciding against the coffee, he veered instead for the men’s toilet.

He got into a cubicle, and leaned his head against the cool wall. Something was going on, and it concerned Ron. Which must mean, of course, Harry Potter as well. Rushing home wouldn’t help anything, and most likely do more harm than good.

Someone was washing their hands, and left the toilets.

Percy was marshalling himself to go back and wait out the rest of his working day, when a tiny light appeared in front of him, and materialised in the form of a sphinx.

“This message can’t be tracked. Regardless of which side you’re on, here goes. Do with it what you want, brother. Ron’s been seen and is on the run. You won’t be able to contact any of us.”

Percy stood stock still, electrified. He had guessed as much, but still he felt stunned.

“This is just not right,” he mumbled. Ron was supposed to be preparing for his NEWTS even now, not running from the Ministry. Then he gave a short, bitter laugh. “Why am I not surprised?”

No, he realised, he wasn’t. He knew he could no longer hope it would all blow over, with him maintaining the position he had given up so much for. Yet, could he act alone? With quiet determination, he recalled his cool head and went back to his little desk.

When, after a full working day, he was finally able to leave without arousing suspicion, Percy made directly for Hogsmeade, always on the lookout as he scurried through the streets. Then, he took a detour to one particular pub. “I want in,” Percy told the scruffy barkeeper.

*

“Don’t you dare go … Fred Weasley!” As his mother’s voice rose in pitch before trailing off, Fred whirled through space. As he turned up on the same location he’d waited for Remus only hours before, he did not hesitate to send an urgent summons to his former teacher and co-commentator on Potter Watch. He did not have to wait long.

“Merlin above! What’s the hurry?” Remus sounded breathless, as he appeared next to Fred. “Didn’t you just leave?”

Fred nodded impatiently. “Yes, yes, I did. – Listen, I have to talk to Nora, quickly. We have to go into hiding, all of us.”

“What do you mean, ‘all of us’? What …”

“No time, no time at all. They’ve been seen. Ron, Harry and Hermione. They went to Bill’s place, but there’s no saying what’s going to happen next. I have to …”

Remus gripped him by the shoulders, hard. “Are they okay? Harry?”

“Bill said yes. Come on, let’s go. I’ll tell you what I know on the way in. Mind you, it’s not much. He only took the time to warn us, tell us they are safe. But Mum and Dad will learn more, trust me.”

Fred followed as Remus forced himself to focus on clearing the way into the house. He paid no mind to the general hubbub that broke out in his wake as Remus related the scant information he had just received himself to the other inhabitants of the Tonks’ safe house gathering in the hallway. He was intend on reaching Nora’s room.

He took the steps two at a time. There was no time, and he knew he was risking that the tale had already spread; not only among the resistance, but also among the Death Eaters. Before, he might already have been suspected; now they would hex first, ask questions later. His little brother was one of the Undesireables, after all. And they had proof now. No one would believe any longer that Ron was at home with Spattergroit.

Her door opened, and she looked anxiously out; wand at the ready. Such were the times, he mused, that one couldn’t even leave a room without it. “Did you hear?” he asked.

She shook her head. “What happened? I’ve just come back from visiting Tonks. She’s getting more difficult and impatient by the minute, I swear.”

“My brother’s escaped from Malfoy Manor. We all need to hide, and that means it’s too dangerous for me to go out too often. In fact, we’re closing the shop, and have orders to stay put at a safe place. Not here, though.”

She looked at him with her large eyes and he saw comprehension dawn. He didn’t need to spell it out for her; as much as he disliked Slytherins on principle – with one notable exception - no one had ever said they were slow on the uptake. “You won’t be coming around anymore then.”

“Not in the foreseeable future, no. But listen, this cannot continue for forever. And once they’ve forgotten about Ron … Something new will crop up.” He did not know what kind of event would trump having found a trace of the Undesirables, which would surely lead to a renewed hunt for them, but … No, he didn’t even want to imagine. “This is not goodbye. I just wanted to say … Till we meet again, Nora …”

The muscles in her face worked, she swallowed. Then she echoed his sentiment, and sealed her lips to his. For a moment he felt icy fingers stroke down his spine. Foreboding? But no. He would not allow ominous thoughts to steal this moment from him.


________

A/N: This chapter is for those of you who kept asking for another update, and I hope you have an opportunity to read this one. A Very Merry Christmas to you!

The scenes in the Malfoy’s dungeon contain quotes (**) from JKR’s The Deathly Hallows, chapter 23 “Malfoy Manor”.
If the scene between Nora and Fred seems familiar to you, I wrote her view of it in my short story collection “A Family Album”. Everything else you recognise belongs to Ms. Rowling!



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