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Hunters and Prey by Northumbrian

Format: Novel
Chapters: 21
Word Count: 130,998
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse

Genres: Drama, General, Horror/Dark, Humor, Mystery, Romance, Action/Adventure
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Luna, Neville, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Ron/Hermione, Other Pairing

First Published: 03/29/2019
Last Chapter: 12/23/2019
Last Updated: 12/23/2019

Summary:

February 2000: Newly Qualified (in record time) Auror Harry Potter remains obsessed with “The List.” The ten people still wanted for their part in the Battle of Hogwarts. Their capture is essential. It will bring closure to the events of the past few years. Harry has set himself a target. He wants to see “The Last Death Eater” and the other nine captured before the Second Anniversary of the battle. His attempts to meet his target will bring heartbreak, danger, pain, and a lifechanging injury for one former DA member.



Chapter 1: Prologue: Dogged Pursuit
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Prologue: Dogged Pursuit

 

Ron Weasley glanced up from the report he’d been trying to read. At the desk adjacent to his own, Harry Potter sat in silence, staring. At first Ron thought his friend and fellow Auror was staring at the photographs pinned to the partition screen behind his desk, but Harry’s eyes were unfocussed. Harry was deep in thought.

 

Ron looked at his own partition and smiled. A photograph of Hermione, looking tanned and relaxed in Rhodes Old Town, smiled back. The photograph had been taken two days before the end of their holiday the previous summer. Hermione wore shorts and a cropped vest. Ron gazed at her lean brown limbs and flat brown stomach and ruefully looked at his own pale freckled skin. Hermione and Harry had returned from that holiday well tanned. He and his sister had returned pink-skinned and even more freckled than usual.

 

Harry was still thinking, so Ron looked at the two other pictures behind his desk. First was the latest Weasley Christmas photo. It showed a dozen people: his parents; Bill and Fleur (who had been five months pregnant when the photo was taken); Charlie; Percy; George, with Fleur’s cousin what’s-her-name—Claudine (that relationship had lasted nine weeks, which was a record for George); himself and Hermione and Harry and Ginny. Audrey Midgen had been happy to take the snap, as she refused to appear in front of the camera. Ron had no idea what Percy saw in her.

 

The second picture was the 1999/2000 Chudley Cannons squad—the squad which, last month, had managed the club’s first away win in five seasons. Ginny had been highly amused by Ron’s celebrations, but diehard Cannons fan that he was, Ron knew how important it was to celebrate every small victory. His sister’s comments echoed in his mind: “Because you know full well that you won’t live long enough to see any large victories, Ron.”

 

Ron was bored. He hadn’t realised how boring Auror work would be, sitting at a desk reading reports and occasionally checking out sightings of wanted men which almost invariably led nowhere. Harry seemed to enjoy it, but Ron often found that he had other things on his mind. He needed to persuade George to diversify the business, again.

 

Ron thought back over the past few eventful months. These days, he was spending more time working in the shop than on being an Auror. He’d been looking through the stock while helping George tidy up, and in the process he’d realised that Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes had never been only a joke shop. George hadn’t wanted to hear that, but even during the year they had started the business, Fred and George had sold other stuff: shield cloaks, gloves, and decoy detonators. The business needed to diversify. Magical equipment and Ministry contracts—Ron realised—that was where the money was.

 

When Ron had found the Joke Portbook Fred and George had been working on just before the battle, he’d opened it inside the shop and instantly found himself standing outside in the street, in his underwear. The Portkey office had been less than happy to discover that a trainee Auror had activated an unauthorised Portkey, but it had given Ron an idea; a practical use for Portkeys that were activated by an opening or closing action rather than being time or touch sensitive.

 

It had taken them months to perfect the spell, but the result was the Weasley Portkey Handcuffs, the Portcuffs, as they were now called, had saved George’s business. What began as just another throwaway idea for a joke from Fred had led to a lucrative Ministry contract, and brought Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes back from the brink of bankruptcy.

 

Ron had known that the business had been struggling since the war, but George had stubbornly refused to listen to his little brother. Just last week, after twenty months in the Auror Office, working and training, Ron had finally finished repaying Harry his Triwizard winnings.

 

Harry didn’t need the money, and he’d said so. Ron had fought hard to make his friend accept it, but repaying the money was important for another reason. Whatever Harry thought, the money that he had given to Fred and George to start up the business was a debt. Now Ron had repaid it. And that meant that George owed, not Harry, but Ron.

 

For months Ron had been helping his brother to keep the business afloat. He had been George’s unpaid advisor and assistant, but George refused to acknowledge it. ‘I don’t mind you helping, little Ronnie, but just remember that I am now the sole owner of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes,’ George had told him months earlier, just after the Portcuffs had been launched. Ron knew then that he’d have to force George into accepting him as a partner.

 

‘Are you ever going to repay that startup loan you got from Harry?’ Ron had demanded of George the previous weekend.

‘He’s never asked for it,’ George had said. ‘It was a gift.’

 

‘Gift! It was a thousand Galleons! He won’t ask for it, you know that,’ Ron told his brother scornfully. ‘But don’t worry; I’ve paid him back for you. Now you owe me that money, George.’

 

George had seen the look in Ron’s eye and realised, too late, what had happened. He’d blustered and protested, but it had done no good. Ron had rechecked the books, found what he expected, and demanded a majority share of the business. George had argued, ranted, raged, haggled, and finally even appealed to their parents. After much negotiation Ron finally accepted a fifty percent share and partnership—which was really all he had wanted.

 

Returning from his gloating daydreams, Ron again watched Harry. He was still staring into space. Ron closed his eyes and pictured Harry’s partition. He knew that it was much more cluttered than his own.

 

At the top left was Ginny’s first publicity photo for the Harpies, the one taken on the day she signed her contract. Ginny hated it; she thought that she looked nervous. Harry loved it; he thought that she looked cute. Ron would never tell either of them, but they were both correct. That photograph was one of the few things Harry and Ginny disagreed over.

 

Next to it was a large photo taken at last October’s DA reunion. The DA had met in a private room upstairs at the Leaky Cauldron. Harry had somehow managed to persuade Professor McGonagall to allow their youngest member, Dennis Creevey, who was now in his sixth year, to leave the school for the day in order to attend.

 

Then came the Weasley Christmas photo, the only photo Harry and Ron had in common. Below it was a second Christmas photo, this one of Ginny. Ron’s sister was rather drunk and proudly holding a Ginny Weasley action figure. Beneath that was a photo of Ginny in Rhodes Town. She was wearing a wide-brimmed straw sun hat, a short strappy top and a very short skirt.

 

It was then that Ron realised Harry wasn’t actually looking at the photos, nor was he staring into space; he was looking below them, at “The List”. Like his friend, Ron knew “The List” by heart:

WANTED
By the Auror Office

With Regard to Events at the Battle of Hogwarts

DEATH EATER

Rabastan Lestrange
CAUTION: Extremely Dangerous. Do Not Approach.
Contact Auror Office Immediately!

KNOWN SNATCHERS

Carl Caldecott, Igor Ibbotson, Gordon Payne, Sigbert Scabior, Zachary Youen
CAUTION: dangerous, do not approach.
Contact Auror Office immediately!

OTHER COMBATANTS

Miles Bletchley, Millicent Bullstrode, Marcus Flint, Gregory Goyle
CAUTION: dangerous, do not approach.
Contact Auror Office immediately!

 

Nearly two years had passed since the battle, and there were still ten people to find. Harry was still staring, but now he was smiling grimly. From the look on his friend’s face, Ron was certain of one thing—Harry had an idea.
 



Chapter 2: Interlude: Magpies in Flight
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2. Interlude: Magpies in Flight

 

Harry Apparated into clamour and chaos. His senses were momentarily overwhelmed. The bright full moon cast ghostly shadows across heather, meadow, and mud flats alike. The pungent smells of saltwater, fish and birds coming from the Montrose Basin assailed his nostrils. The cacophony of noise from the geese and gulls was in danger of being drowned out by angry shouts.

 

In the bright moonlight Harry saw dozens of families standing around the wooden tables outside the Basin Bar. It was a ramshackle old pub, one of the favourites of Magpies’ supporters.

 

There was an unreal, monochrome look about the moonlit crowd. Everyone wore black and white scarves and hats; many wore black and white robes. The flickering blue magical flames which both illuminated and heated the tables added dancing shadows to the scene. The noise from both within and without the bar was disturbing the wildfowl; the Muggles would soon notice, if they had not already.

Before moving, Harry cast the largest Anti-Disapparation jinx he could. Anyone wanting to leave the area would need to walk some distance from the pub. Satisfied with the spell, Harry sprinted towards the inn; the long, black cloak-like coat which marked him out as an Auror streamed out behind him.

 

As he got closer to the inn, the stinging pain from his recently bandaged chest and the throbbing aches coursing through his muscles and bones reminded him of the Healer’s warning: “Don’t do anything strenuous.!He shouldn’t be doing this, but Lavender had insisted. As he pressed on, Ron’s voice arrived in his head with a different warning, “Don’t listen to Lavender!” 

 

The pains in his chest were, reassuringly, from physical injuries. They were nothing compared to the last remnants of the Cruciatus Curses he’d been recently subjected to. He heard children crying and, ignoring his own pain, sought out the source. There were three of them, none older than ten. Each of their faces was covered by a Bat-Bogey hex, which their distraught mothers were trying to remove. Cursing softly to himself, Harry approached the children, pulled a small camera from his coat, and quickly photographed them. Then, with a wave of his wand, removed the hexes. Their mothers looked at him reproachfully; their look was the final confirmation. Harry was certain of the identity of the person who had cast the hexes.

 

Fighting to remain calm, Harry approached the pub. He had been undercover for a month, and it was possible his long sought quarry would once again escape. His mission’s success now relied on Lavender Brown of all people. He shook his head in despair, he must have been crazy to leave her, but Lavender had been so persuasive.

 

He had hoped to spend this desperately snatched free time at the Burrow, or, better yet, at Grimmauld Place, celebrating the latest Harpies victory with Ginny. But he’d missed her again. By the time he had arrived at the Magpies ground, the match was over and Ginny had left with two of her teammates to celebrate another victory.

 

The Harpies were now almost certain to win the league. Today’s narrow away victory over Montrose Magpies gave them a nearly unbeatable number of wins and a 930 point lead over their nearest rivals, the previously unstoppable Tutshill Tornadoes. The Harpies’ last match of the season was almost two weeks away, on George’s twenty-second birthday. They were at home against the Chudley Cannons. If they won, regardless of the other results, they would be League Champions. The match day was certain to be an interesting one in the Weasley household, especially for Ron, as the Cannons were—once again—vying with the Wimbourne Wasps for bottom position.

 

The sports pages of the Daily Prophet credited the Harpies’ spectacular success to their two pre-season signings: former Woollongong Wanderers (and current Australian National team) Chaser, 20-year-old Olivia “the Aussie Angel” Aikenhead, and “teen sensation” Ginny Weasley, the highest scoring chaser in the league this year. On the strength of her performance in her first season, Ginny had been selected for the England Under-21 squad. She’d probably be playing in the summer European Tour.

 

As Harry approached the pub, he could hear shouting and singing from inside.

 

‘We are the Harpies, we are the champions,’ cried several drunken voices.

 

Three uniformed Bailliffs from the local Magical Law Enforcement Squad were ahead of Harry, and they were rapidly approaching the source of the disturbance. Before Harry could speak, the lead wizard opened the door to the pub. He was instantly hit in the face by a bat-bogey hex. The wizard reeled backwards in surprise. With a flick of his wand, Harry closed the door and called across to the Law Officers.

 

‘I’ll deal with this.’

 

The witch and the unhexed wizard looked for the source of this order. Harry’s long black coat and Muggle clothing marked him out as an Auror. The uniform alone was enough to make them stop for a moment. Then they recognised him. This was one of those occasions his unwanted fame was useful. The lead wizard was still struggling with the hex when Harry removed it.

 

‘Thanks,’ the wizard spluttered.

 

The grey-haired man seemed vaguely familiar. He looked at Harry, his eyes doing the familiar, but no less annoying, flick up to Harry’s forehead. The man’s colleagues stood silently, watching the exchange and waiting for orders. 

 

‘Sorry about that,’ Harry apologised to the wizard. ‘Do I know you?’

 

‘Nae need tae apologise, Mr Potter, ye didnae hex me.’ The wizard introduced himself. ‘Sheriff Hamish Campbell, frae the Edinburgh office.’

 

Harry looked at the man again. Both name and face were familiar. Where had he met him before?

 

‘Moira Campbell,’ Harry said, as the name suddenly popped into his head. He stopped, desperately embarrassed. It was, he remembered, a name on the memorial for those who had died at Hogwarts. He’d seen Sheriff Campbell at various remembrance ceremonies and events.

 

Campbell’s face registered surprise, and a flicker of grief. The lanky, brown-haired young wizard at Campbell’s side looked suddenly sad and Harry realised that his, too, was a familiar face from the remembrance ceremonies. He wondered who the young man had lost, and looked apologetically at Campbell.

 

‘Your wife?’ he asked uncertainly.

 

Campbell nodded, looking surprised.

 

Harry examined Sheriff Campbell. He was a tall, burly wizard who was perhaps ten years younger than Arthur Weasley. He had a curse-scarred face and was missing three fingers from his left hand.

 

‘Good to meet you again, Sheriff,’ Harry said as he shook his hand. He realised that he was staring at the man’s missing fingers and not into his face. He looked up. ‘Sorry,’ Harry said again.

 

‘Everyone looks,’ Hamish said gruffly, waving his left hand. ‘You get used to it.’

 

‘Really?’ Harry asked, rubbing the lightning shaped scar on his forehead. ‘I still haven’t.’

 

‘Battle o’ Hogwarts,’ Campbell waved his hand again. ‘The Lestrange woman. I was lucky. My wife wasnae,’ he continued sadly.

 

A loud crash from inside the bar brought both men back to the present.

 

‘Would you mind if I went in alone?’ Harry asked. ‘I’d like to try to calm things down.’

 

‘Aye,’ said Campbell dourly. ‘Go right aheed Mr Potter. If ye need any help, we’ll be right here.’

 

‘And could I ask another favour of you and your colleagues?’ Harry requested.

 

Campbell nodded. ‘Bailiffs Heather Huddleston and Mark Moon,’ he introduced the two other law officers. Huddleston was a short, elderly witch with wiry iron-grey hair and a cleft chin. Moon was in his mid-twenties, rather nondescript, and almost as tall and gangling as Ron.

 

‘Could you and your colleagues start taking statements?’ Harry asked. ‘I’d particularly like to know what those families have to say.’ He pointed to the parents whose children had been subjected to the Bat-Bogey hex.

 

‘Aye, we can do that,’ said Campbell. ‘D’ye reckon on making some arrests?’

 

Harry nodded grimly and walked up to the door of the pub. Wand in hand, he reached forwards with his left hand, pushed open the door, deflected the hex aimed at him, and stepped into the bar.

 

‘Oopsh,’ said Ginny, grinning drunkenly at her boyfriend. ‘’Ello, gorjush.’

 

Harry strode into the bar, wand raised. A sudden silence descended over the wreckage of the room.
 



Chapter 3: The Hunt: Wolf Hunt
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3. The Hunt: Wolf Hunt

 

‘Harry,’ Ron hissed urgently, ‘it’s time to get going. We don’t want to be late.’

 

Harry Potter looked up from his desk in the Auror Office and grinned at his friend.

 

You don’t want to be late! Hermione’s been in France for ten days. Is that too long for you two to be apart?’ he teased. He put down his quill. ‘I’ve finished. I’ll just put my report on Robards’ desk and get changed. We can take the Tube. If we walk along to Embankment it’s only two stops on the Bakerloo Line.’

 

‘We could…’

 

‘Ron,’ Harry cut his friend short. ‘The last time we Apparated to the restaurant, we were caught on two Muggle security cameras. We’re not doing it again! I’d rather be a few minutes late than face all that paperwork.’

 

‘You know how much I hate the tube,’ Ron grumbled.

 

It was ten past seven when Harry and Ron arrived at Antonio’s Restaurant on the edge of Soho. They had a regular booking at the Italian restaurant. Once a fortnight, almost without fail, they met their respective girlfriends. They had first visited the restaurant in the confused and grief-stricken days after the Battle of Hogwarts. Despite different shifts, work and Quidditch commitments, the fortnightly meal had become as much of a fixture as their Sunday dinners, which alternated between The Burrow, and Hermione’s parents’ home.

 

Their meals at Antonio’s were a public refuge. A Muggle restaurant in the heart of Muggle London, well away from prying wizarding eyes and wizard press intrusions. Harry loved the place, he loved the Muggle world, mainly because of the welcome anonymity it offered.

 

Hermione and Ginny were already at the restaurant. They sat at their usual table in a secluded corner, and two well-dressed young men were talking to them.

 

A plump, swarthy waiter hurried over to them when they entered. ‘You should never keep beautiful girls waiting,’ he scolded. Hermione waved as Ron and Harry entered the room. The young men looked at Ron and Harry, grinned sheepishly, and returned to their own table.

 

‘Should I be worried?’ Harry asked.

 

‘The dark haired guy was cute,’ Ginny told him as he leaned across the table to kiss her. ‘He asked for my phone number. I gave him the number for the flat, but told him that my name was Lynette Baker.’

 

Harry laughed.

 

The waiter stood politely and waited for the two couples to greet each other. As regular diners and good tippers, Beppe looked after them. ‘Drinks?’ he asked his favourite customers when they’d finished kissing.

 

‘Wine?’ Harry suggested. Ron and Ginny agreed, but Hermione shook her head.

 

‘Orange juice for me please, Beppe.’

 

‘And a bottle of Bardolino,’ Harry added.

 

‘You’re so boring, Hermione,’ Ron scolded.

 

‘I’m tired, and I’m driving,’ Hermione replied. ‘Besides I’m not a big drinker, Ron, you know that. But that reminds me.’ She reached down, pulled two bags from under the table and handed one to Harry and the other to Ginny. ‘Grand Cru Tokay-Pinot Gris,’ she said, as Harry peered into his bag and looked at the bottle of wine it contained. ‘I brought half a dozen bottles home with me. One each for you two, and one each for my mum and dad.’

 

Ron put on a hurt look and held out his hands hopefully.

 

‘I put your bottle in the fridge before I left. It needs to be chilled,’ Hermione told him. Ron leaned sideways and kissed his girlfriend’s cheek.

 

‘Yet another reason why I love you, Hermione,’ he smiled.

 

Hermione beamed, and Ginny pretended to vomit. Harry laughed at his friends.

 

‘How was Strasbourg?’ Harry asked.

 

‘Good. Very good! We’ve got a draft statement prepared on House Elf rights which we expect will be agreed across Europe. Laurent and I…’

 

‘Laurent?’ Ron interrupted, ‘Who’s Laurent?’

 

‘The Belgian representative,’ Hermione explained, ‘We wrote the final draft together. You’d like him.’

 

‘I doubt it,’ Ron grumbled.

 

‘He’s shorter than Ginny, fatter than Slughorn, in his seventies, and I remind him of his favourite granddaughter.’

 

‘Perhaps I will like him.’

 

Beppe returned with their drinks, poured the wine and took their orders. The conversation then turned from Hermione’s trip to “Le Conseil Magique pour l'Europe” in Strasbourg and to Harry’s forthcoming mission.

 

‘How’s the hunt for Lestrange going?’ Hermione asked. ‘Ron says you’re making progress.’

 

Harry nodded.

 

Rabastan Lestrange was the only bearer of a Dark Mark still unaccounted for after the Battle of Hogwarts and The Daily Prophet had, with the typical Wizarding need for grand titles, re-named him “The Last Death Eater.” The second anniversary of the battle was a mere two months away. In the months since the battle, since the original list of those who fought alongside Tom Riddle had been compiled, the number of names had steadily dwindled. Harry, along with his friends and fellow Aurors, had made sure of that.

 

‘Harry’s got the Malfoys involved,’ Ginny said. ‘He’s made a lot of progress while you’ve been away.’

 

Hermione gave Harry a curious look.

 

‘You know that the Gringotts goblins refuse to discuss dormant vaults,’ Harry began. ‘They will only talk to the vault owner or the heir. That gave me an idea. None of the Lestranges had wills—have wills in Rabastan’s case. Rodolphus died first, so his estate went to his wife…’

 

‘Bellatrix,’ Ginny growled.

 

‘Bellatrix,’ Harry agreed. ‘So Rodolphus’ share of what was in the Lestrange vault, and that’s a lot, we’ve seen it.’

 

‘My friends, the bankrobbers,’ said Ginny.

 

‘Rodolphus’ money went to Bellatrix. When she died, her money went equally to her sisters, Andromeda and Narcissa.’

 

‘Andromeda certainly needed the money,’ Hermione observed. Harry nodded.

 

‘And the Malfoys generously gave away most of their share,’ Ginny added vindictively. ‘Narcissa’s share of Bellatrix’s money was used to compensate everyone killed, kidnapped or tortured at Malfoy Manor.’

 

Hermione shuddered. Ron placed a hand over hers, and she tried to smile.

 

‘She donated most of the rest to The Society for the Assistance of Muggleborns and put what was left into a trust for Teddy,’ Ginny reminded them unnecessarily.

 

Harry smiled. He still treasured the look on Lucius Malfoy’s face when his wife told him what she had done with the Lestrange fortune. It was, after all, her money, not her husband’s.

 

Narcissa had been working hard to restore the name Malfoy. Her method, generous donations to good causes and public support of the new regime, was working. Many people were not convinced that this was a genuine change of heart. In Lucius’ case, Harry was certain that it wasn’t. But Lucius was no longer in charge in the Malfoy household, Narcissa was. Harry was prepared to give Narcissa the benefit of the doubt.

 

‘We have no idea where Lestrange is, but he’s a pureblood, so he’s not likely to be out in the Muggle world,’ Harry continued. ‘We’d have found him if he was.

 

‘The money still left in the Lestrange vault is all Rabastan’s. But the goblins wouldn’t tell us if he was accessing the account. He’s the last of the Lestranges, so when he dies his money can only go via Rodolphus to Bellatrix, then to Andromeda and Narcissa.

 

‘We saw Dromeda and Teddy at the Burrow the day after you left, Hermione. I asked her to arrange a meeting with Narcissa. We all met the following day. Narcissa agreed to approach the goblins.’

 

‘Why?’ Hermione asked.

 

‘That’s the clever bit,’ Ron said. ‘It was Harry’s idea.’

 

‘Narcissa went to Gringotts and told the goblins she was going to get Rabastan declared dead.’

 

‘Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes are taking a lot of business from the Malfoys,’ Ron smiled proudly. ‘We’ve just taken another Ministry contract from Lucius.’

 

‘You’ll do even better when we catch Rabastan,’ Harry observed. ‘You can resign from the Auror Office and go full-time with George, instead of trying to fit the business around your Auror work. Nev can quit too, and finally get back to his greenhouses.’

 

‘Neville and I promised that we’d stay until you cleared the list completely. We’re going to catch Colin’s killer, too,’ Ron reminded him.

 

‘Ron,’ Harry told his friend, ‘if we get Lestrange, the only people left are the Snatchers: Caldecott, Ibbotson, Payne, Scabior and Youen; and the four Slytherins: Bletchley, Bulstrode, Flint and Goyle. Neville’s checking out a rumour that Caldecott and Scabior are dead. If they are, then that’s only three Snatchers and the Slytherins. They shouldn’t be hard to find.’

 

‘There hasn’t been a sign of the Slytherins in almost two years,’ Hermione pointed out.

 

‘How can someone as thick as Goyle still be on the run?’ pondered Ron.

 

‘They must be together,’ Ginny supplied her usual theory. ‘You know that Bletchley’s a half-blood, Harry, and he’s the only one with any brains. He’s hiding Flint, Goyle and Bulstrode in the Muggle world.’

 

‘So, what did the goblins do when Narcissa spoke to them?’ Hermione asked.

 

‘The goblins wouldn’t tell her much, but they revealed enough to prove to that Rabastan is alive. He’s authorised regular payments from his vault. His gold is being deposited into the vault of someone called Verulf Lowell. When Narcissa told me that name last Monday, I’d never heard of him. We know a lot about him now.’ Harry looked grim.

 

‘He was a Snatcher who worked alongside Greyback,’ said Ron. ‘You know the Snatchers weren’t regulated, Hermione,  simply bullies and thugs who liked hurting people. Thanks to Riddle and the Ministry, they found a way to get paid doing it. We identified all of the Snatchers who fought at Hogwarts. Most were captured or killed in the Final Battle. The ones who escaped were traced, except for the five on the list. We’ve always known that there were some Snatchers who didn’t go to fight at Hogwarts, and that we’ll probably never track them all down.’

 

Lowell was one of those who wasn’t at the battle. He was never on our list,’ Harry continued. ‘When I found the Greyback connection, I spent a week reading through Remus’ old reports to the Order.’

 

‘He’s been obsessed since you left,’ Ginny told Hermione. ‘Working late, missing meals, generally being…’

 

‘Harry,’ Ron supplied. ‘You knew what he was like, before you started going out with him!’

 

Harry winked at Ginny and ignored the interruption. Everyone else had finished their meals, but Harry had been talking so much that he was only halfway through his.

 

Lowell is another werewolf, and the closest thing to a friend Greyback seems to have had. Narcissa and Draco think that he was one of the Snatchers Bellatrix attacked when we escaped from Malfoy Manor. She hurt him so badly he couldn’t get to Hogwarts. I went to Azkaban and tried to speak to Greyback but he’s…’

 

‘Rabid?’ suggested Ginny acidly.

 

‘I was going to say uncooperative.’ Harry smiled as he finished his Pollo alla Cacciatore and neatly placed his cutlery on the plate. ‘Fortunately, through Remus’ reports, I’m close to finding Lowell. For all his pureblood mania, unlike his sister-in-law, Rabastan was almost friendly with Greyback and his pack.’

 

‘They shared a common interest—hurting people,’ Ginny observed.

 

‘So the Auror Office has a duty to stop them before they hurt anyone else,’ said Harry quietly.

 

Lowell is from a werewolf village in the north, right on the border with Scotland,’ Harry told Hermione, ‘The village is called Shivering Stone. Unfortunately, no one at the Ministry knows where it is. It’s somewhere in an area of about five hundred square miles. There’s an anti-Apparition spell covering an area more than twenty-five miles across. It’s been there for a century ago to keep the werewolves in one place. Tomorrow I’m setting off to find this lost werewolf village. I expect to be gone for at least two weeks.’

 

The conversation stopped when Beppe arrived to clear away the plates and take their dessert order.

 

Over dessert Hermione bombarded Harry with questions and lectured him on methods of discovering magically hidden places, most of which he already knew. His head was spinning when they left the restaurant, climbed into Hermione’s Mini and were driven back to Grimmauld Place.

 

‘Are you coming in for a coffee?’ Harry asked, as he helped Ginny out from the back seat. Ron looked at Hermione, who smiled at him and shook her head.

 

‘My girlfriend left my present in her fridge,’ he said. ‘I’m going over to her place to collect it.’

 

‘So you’ll be back very late,’ said Harry.

 

‘I’m staying here for a coffee,’ Ginny told her brother, grinning. ‘I’ll be spending the night at Hermione’s, of course.’

 

Molly Weasley tried to keep a close eye on her children, despite the fact that they had all left home. Ron, at least in theory, lived at Grimmauld Place with Harry. In fact, he spent most of his time at the Chelsea riverside apartment Hermione was buying with the help of Malfoy’s compensation money. Ginny shared a flat in the village of Menai Bridge with two teammates, Olivia Aikenhead and Lynette Baker. She stayed overnight at Grimmauld Place two or three times a week.

 

Their alibis politely confirmed, Harry and Ginny watched Hermione and Ron drive away.

 

‘I’m sure that Mum knows what we do, you know,’ announced Ginny, as they watched the Mini disappear around the corner. ‘She just doesn’t want Dad to find out.’

 

‘Your dad knows, Ginny. He knows everything and says nothing,’ Harry said.

 

Ginny snorted disbelievingly at her boyfriend. They had discussed and disagreed about this topic far too many times.

 

They entered Harry’s house and walked down into the kitchen, where Kreacher had coffee waiting for them. For a few moments they drank in silence, simply watching each other and smiling.

 

‘Why does it have to be you, Harry?’ asked Ginny, breaking the companionable silence. ‘Couldn’t Robards find someone else?’

 

She put down her empty coffee cup, reached across the well-scrubbed kitchen table and held her boyfriend’s hands tightly.

 

‘You know how this works. I found the original lead and I followed the trail. It’s Auror Office procedure. It’s up to me to investigate until I find something definite. That’s the way the Office works: solo investigations and a minimum of two teams of three on a raid,’ he explained.

 

‘So you’re going to walk into the wilderness, looking for a werewolf village, and you won’t be able to Apparate out. I won’t see or hear from you for days, weeks probably,’ Ginny said. ‘I won’t know whether you’re safe.’

 

‘I’ll have a copy quill; I’ll be in contact with the office. Ron, Nev, Susan and Terry will all know what’s happening, and Ron will tell Hermione. They’ve all promised to pass messages to you.’

 

‘But werewolves!’ Ginny protested.

 

‘Remus was a werewolf,’ Harry pointed out reasonably.

 

‘So is Greyback,’ Ginny replied. ‘Look what happened to Bill! Remember Lavender, she’s been in that wheelchair for two years. She’s in constant pain and, without a breakthrough, the Healers say she’s no chance of recovery!’

 

Harry frowned. He understood his girlfriend’s anxiety; this wasn’t just any mission. He’d been on several dangerous missions since he qualified, but this was different; this was the possibility of scarring, like Bill, or of serious injury, like Lavender; even of contamination. He tried to make light of it.

 

‘It’s been a couple of years since I got a new scar,’ he pointed out, absently scratching the area over his heart.

 

‘Please, Harry, don’t joke.’

 

‘Sorry, Ginny,’ Harry spoke earnestly to his girlfriend, gazing into her worried brown eyes. ‘But try to understand... I did all of the preliminary investigation work. This is my plan, my case. What else can I do? Should I have asked Ron, or Neville?

 

‘Ron,’ for Ginny’s benefit, he held an imaginary conversation with his absent friend, ‘I think that Rabastan Lestrange is in contact with a bunch of werewolves; he’s certainly paying them for something. Would you mind going into a huge area of wilderness to find the location of a werewolf village and see if they’re sheltering him?’ Harry watched Ginny carefully as he spoke. ‘Neville would go if I asked. In fact, he volunteered. I turned him down, because it’s Lestrange. He’s usually very careful and cautious, the perfect Auror, but.…’

 

Ginny sighed and nodded. She knew that Harry was right.

 

‘Why not simply raid the place?’ she tried.

 

‘Because we’re not sure exactly where “the place” is. We will, Ginny, when we’re certain Lestrange is there. When I locate him, the Portkey Office will set up Portcards to get a squad of Aurors past the Anti-Apparition jinx. I’ll be careful, very careful. I’m an Auror, Ginny; it’s my job to catch dark wizards. If you’re worried, I’ll quit after this mission.’

 

‘If you quit, you’ll regret it,’ Ginny blazed. ‘You can’t quit, being an Auror isn’t what you do, it’s what you are! I always knew that there would be days like this. You’re brave, and stubborn, and you don’t give up, Harry, not ever! That’s one of the reasons why I love you.’ She smiled sorrowfully, gazing into his bright green eyes as she spoke.

 

‘I want to see you lift the League Cup in your first season,’ he said, realising that the discussion was over, that Ginny had accepted that he’d be going. ‘And I want to see the girl I love play for England.’

 

He stood, leaned over the kitchen table and kissed her lightly on the forehead. Ginny leapt to her feet, grabbed his shoulders, pulled and twisted.

 

Harry didn’t resist. He found himself being gently lowered onto the tabletop. Lying supine across his kitchen table, he looked up at her. She had been sitting opposite him, so appeared to be upside down. She leaned forward; her hair cascading over her shoulders, creating a fiery curtain around his head. She kissed his nose; he admired her freckled neck. She kissed his chin; he looked up into her freckled cleavage. Finally, she kissed him properly. Her chin brushed the tip of his nose as they shared a long upside down kiss, each hungrily nibbling the other’s lower lip.

 

Eventually, Ginny lifted her head. ‘Perhaps I’d better remind you why you want to come back in one piece, Potter,’ she whispered. She climbed onto the table, turned and settled herself astride his abdomen.

 

‘Perhaps I’d better ask Kreacher to leave the kitchen,’ Harry responded, grabbing her shoulders and pulling her down for another kiss.

 

<hr>

 

‘Be careful,’ Ginny told him the following morning, after she’d finished her last mouthful of toast and marmalade. ‘Come home soon, and come home safe.’

 

‘I’ll do my best,’ replied Harry. ‘Enjoy training, and don’t do anything silly.’

 

‘I’m a sensible girl in training,’ she reassured him. ‘I only break bones during matches. But I’m going to miss my pre-match warm-up kiss. I’d better take it now.’

 

She kissed Harry passionately, running one hand through his tousled hair and squeezing his backside with the other. He tasted marmalade on her tongue and tried to prolong the kiss, but she twisted out of his grasp and told him, ‘Just remember, this belongs to me!’ She gave his bottom a final squeeze. ‘Take care of it.’

 

Reaching into the pot on the mantelpiece, she threw some Floo powder into the kitchen fire, said, ‘Harpies’ training ground, Holyhead,’ and vanished into the green flames.

 

‘I’m likely to be away for a few weeks, Kreacher,’ Harry told his house elf. ‘I can’t tell you when I’ll be back, sorry.’

 

‘Master,’ Kreacher nodded in acknowledgement. Harry pulled on his black Auror coat, checked to make sure that his plain grey tie was straight and threw some Floo powder into the fire.

 

‘Ministry of Magic,’ he said.

 

<hr>

 

Harry strode through the Atrium and past the Obelisk to the Security Arches. The Arches were another Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes product. He, Ron, George, Hermione, Ginny and Percy had spent many long evenings trying to create a new version of the Marauder’s Map. It had proved impossible until Harry discovered some of his father’s and Sirius’ old notes in his vault. That led him to Andromeda Tonks, who had many of Remus Lupin’s papers. The security arches were the final result.

 

The security staff had a magical map of the Atrium that showed the name of the person passing through the area. The map also showed the name they spoke when they passed through one of the arches. The two names at this point should always match. It was a simple but effective system. In the few months since the arches were installed, they had caught several individuals. Invisible people always appeared on the map and were caught walking though an arch without speaking. Those using Polyjuice Potion invariably gave the wrong name. Some were reporters, but over the Christmas holidays most had been teenage autograph hunters looking for Harry—much to Ron’s amusement.

 

‘Harry James Potter,’ said Harry, walking through an arch.

 

He pulled out his battered pocket watch, it was ten to nine. His pre-mission meeting with the Head Auror, Gawain Robards was in ten minutes.

 

Both Head Auror Robards and Neville Longbottom were in the briefing room when Harry arrived. They were joined moments later by Ron, Dominic Strang, Susan Bones, Terry Boot and Senior Auror Aubrey Williamson.

 

Aurors worked in teams of three, and Dominic’s team would be providing support if required. Theoretically, the teams should all be fully qualified Aurors. The Death Eaters had changed all that. The Battle of Hogwarts had left the Auror Office at less than half strength. Even though every trainee was being sent on missions while in training, they were still short-staffed. Harry had been qualified as an Auror for only six weeks, in half the usual time. Neville, Ron, Susan Bones and Terry Boot would be taking their final examinations year earlier than normal.

 

In July, there had been twenty applicants. Kingsley called it “the Potter factor.” Only four of the twenty had passed the preliminary tests. Those four were now working and participating in the new, gruelling, two year on-the-job training programme.

 

Harry’s team consisted of Neville and Ron. Susan and Terry worked with Strang. He was a swarthy black-haired man with a luxuriant goatee beard of which he was very proud. Unfortunately, Strang’s attempt to disguise his rather weak chin simply drew people’s attention to it. The six were all supervised by pony-tailed Senior Auror Williamson, who was also in charge of two other Auror Squads.

 

Harry briefly outlined his proposals to his bosses, colleagues and friends. Robards sat forwards in his chair, his close-bearded chin resting on his walking stick, and listened carefully to Harry as he explained what he had discovered.

 

‘I have only a rough idea where the werewolf village of Shivering Stone is. Unfortunately, although both Dumbledore and Lupin knew where the village was, they didn’t leave any instructions on how to get there. It’s in an area called the Cheviot Hills. I bought myself some Muggle walking gear last weekend. I plan to start in Scotland, at Kirk Yetholm, which is right on the edge of the anti-Apparition jinx, and walk in a clockwise spiral. I’ll be pretending to be a hiker.’

 

‘A what?’ Ron asked.

 

‘Hiker,’ Harry explained. ‘Some Muggles go for long walks, or hikes, in remote places. From what I can see, there aren’t many places more remote than this. According to Remus’ notes, the village is magically hidden so it won’t be easy to find. I hope to find the place within a couple of weeks, but it could take me a month or more.

 

‘I’ll submit regular reports by copy quill. I’ll give my location and a report every twelve hours, at nine and nine. If I miss two contacts, I’m probably trouble. Once I find the place, there isn’t a plan. I’ll just have to see what I find. Any questions?’

 

For a moment, no one spoke.

 

‘Are you thinking of trying out the new Portkey cards, if you find Lestrange?’ Susan asked.

 

‘Yes.’ Harry nodded. His boss rolling his eyes in despair. ‘The Portkey Office can remotely activate our new Auror Identity Cards, and set them to the location of any other card.’ Everyone knew this, but Harry hammered the point home for Robards’s benefit. The Department Head remained unconvinced of the usefulness of the cards. ‘This could be our first real “all Auror” alert.’

 

‘Yes, well, we’ll see,’ Gawain Robards rumbled dismissively. ‘We’ll double check your quill before you go, Potter.’

 

He handed a short length of parchment to Harry.

 

Harry pulled out a raven-feather quill and wrote:

 

“Test report 9:30. Harry Potter.”

 

The six Aurors and their bosses walked back into the main Auror Office. Williamson, after wishing Harry luck, left them to check the copy quill. Neville and Ron walked over to their desks and the others followed. On Ron’s desk was a stack of parchment with a raven-feather quill resting on top. Harry’s message had been magically copied onto the top sheet of parchment. They then edged past Neville’s Devil’s Snare plant to his desk and checked his copy of the message.

 

<hr>

 

Robards looked at his young staff.

 

‘You have organised your shifts, haven’t you?’ he asked. ‘One of you must be here to receive any messages.’

 

‘Yes sir,’ Neville replied. ‘I’m working lates and weekends. Ron’s working early and covering Monday and Tuesday.’

 

‘Dominic, Susan and Terry will cover when we’re both away,’ Ron added, ‘and Fenella Gray has volunteered to cover for us if we’re all busy. She’ll be directly receiving any photographs Harry takes, providing that her remote camera works properly.’

 

Robards grunted noncommittally. He wasn’t happy about some of the crazy ideas his new, young staff were introducing. Portcuffs! The Portkey card was the next development and could, he admitted privately to himself, prove useful, but the camera? The camera was an idea of the Gray girl and hadn’t been properly assessed. What use could it be if Potter took a photograph wherever he was and Gray processed it remotely the moment it was taken? The girl wasn’t even on his staff. She was one of the sixteen who had tried, and failed, to meet Auror entrance requirements last summer. And she was Abraxus Gray’s daughter! He needed to point this out to the youngsters.

 

‘The Gray girl is a junior clerk in the Floo Network Authority,’ he began.

 

‘I’ve arranged a temporary secondment with Mrs Edgecombe,’ said Harry. ‘Fenella’s an Auror Office clerk until I get back.’

 

‘Right, good,’ Gawain Robards grumbled.

 

He had long ago discovered that it was impossible to control Potter. If the boy thought something needed doing, he’d do it. He had no regard for Ministerial bureacracy. The new Muggle-style uniforms were another unnecessary change. Serviceable and effective in both the magical and Muggle worlds, or so Potter and Weasley claimed. The hex-proof coats had certainly proved useful, but black trousers, a white shirt and a grey tie rather than robes? Ridiculous!

 

The Bones girl even wore a skirt! One that showed her knees! Her Aunt Amelia would not have approved, Robards was certain of that. Now, they were trying to persuade him to order wallets with an undetectable extension charm! But Potter was a damn good Auror and, Robards knew, virtually unsackable. Still grumbling to himself, he patted the lad on the shoulder.

 

‘Good luck, Potter. If you get into trouble, sound the alarm. I’ll be in my office if you need me.’ With that, the grizzled old Head Auror limped off to his large office at the end of the room, his walking stick thudding on the floor as he went.

 

<hr>

 

Harry watched Robards return to his office. He was a good man, if very set in his ways. He waited until Robards closed his door before speaking.

 

‘This is for you,’ Harry told Ron as he pulled a parcel and card from his pocket. ‘Not to be opened until your birthday. It looks like I’m going to miss your twentieth.’

 

‘Thanks, Harry,’ said Ron. ‘Why didn’t you leave it with Ginny?’

 

‘We were…’ Harry hesitated, ‘…late getting up this morning, and I forgot.’

 

‘I promise not to open it until my birthday,’ chuckled Ron. ‘Good luck, mate, and be careful. Hermione says to tell you that if things get really sticky you’re to use your Galleon.’

 

‘Good idea,’ Harry said. He waved the raven-feather quill. ‘With this, I can summon a squad of Aurors, but if that’s not enough I can get,’ he said, ticking off a list on his fingers, ‘our favourite official from the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, the world’s most gorgeous Quidditch player, two zoologists, two trainee Unspeakables, a wireless show host and his producer, a charity worker, a trainee Healer, an apprentice wandmaker, a farmer, various businessmen, clerks, shop assistants, one remaining schoolboy and even a barmaid to rush to my rescue.’

 

‘She’s not a barmaid, she’s a trainee publican,’ Neville corrected.

 

‘Trainee publican!’ Harry grinned. ‘Spend a lot of time discussing her career choice, do you, Nev?’

 

Neville looked at the twinkle in Harry’s eyes and realised his friend had been teasing him. ‘Who told you?’ he asked.

 

‘Ginny caught you doing some pretty impressive snogging in the kitchen at our Millenium Party,’ Harry said with a grin. ‘Then you both went very quiet about relationships. Ginny was convinced that you were seeing each other but keeping it quiet. You haven’t been visiting us as often as you used to, Nev, so it was a fairly safe bet that you’d found a new girl.’

 

‘You’re seeing Hannah, eh, Nev?’ Ron smiled. ‘She’s a lot better than Romilda. She was barking! That explains why you like late shifts, too. So you’re working when she is. I was starting to worry that you’re a secret drinker, sneaking off to the pub by yourself during the day. You’re meeting Hannah.’

 

Neville nodded.

 

‘Good for you, mate,’ Ron said. ‘She’s certainly got some impressive barmaidly assets.’

 

‘Bloody hell, Ron!’ spluttered Harry as he watched Neville blush.

 

‘I really don’t know what Hermione sees in you, Ron.’ Susan pursed her lips in silent disapproval at Ron’s words.Terry silently shook his head.

 

‘Well—she has,’ Ron said defensively. ‘Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed, Harry. You’re still a bloke, aren’t you? Ginny hasn’t chopped anything off?’

 

Harry shook his head in disbelief.

 

‘Sensitive as ever, mate. I’ll see you when I get back.’

 

 ‘Before you go, Harry, d’you reckon it’s worth us taking a look at this?’ Ron asked.

 

He pulled a leaflet from his pocket and showed it to Harry. The cover showed a grinning human skull with snakes for hair and its tongue sticking out. The words “Mark D’Arque Unlimited! For All Your Magical Needs” were printed above the skull.

 

‘I don’t think that Riddle’s supporters would use such an obvious name,’ said Harry. ‘What do they sell?’

 

‘Weird posters, t-shirts, love potions, stuff like that,’ Ron said. ‘Plus pumpkin juice which they claim is as potent as a double shot of Firewhisky.’

 

‘Hannah persuaded Tom to stop selling that,’ Neville said. ‘It tastes just like ordinary pumpkin juice. Some young wizards tried using it on their girlfriends without telling them what it was.’

 

‘I might try that on Hermione,' said Ron. ‘It could be good for a laugh.’

 

‘Or she might kill you,’ Harry warned. ‘There’s probably nothing in it, just a controversial name, but check them out if you want. I’ve got to go. I’ve got a Portkey organised for ten o’clock.’ He checked his watch. ‘Let Ginny know how I am, won’t you? And tell your mum that I’ll miss her Sunday dinners.’

 

With that last remark, Harry hurried from the Auror office, his friends’ goodbyes and best wishes following him.

 

Changing into his Muggle hiking clothes, Harry picked up the rucksack he’d prepared the previous day and hurried to collect his Portkey. Until he found the werewolf village, and probably for some time after that, he would be on his own and out of contact. Rabastan Lestrange, the sole remaining Death Eater at large, the man whose continued freedom was preventing his friends from doing what they wanted to do, was in his sights. This time, he’d catch him. Whatever it took.



Chapter 4: The Snare: Tidings of Magpies
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4. The Snare: Tidings of Magpies

 

The moment Harry stepped into the room an absolute, assessing, silence hung in the air.

 

Leaning against the bar were about two dozen young wizards and witches. They all wore Harpies scarves and many wore Harpies robes. They were drinking from bottles and watching the three young women standing in the centre of the room.

 

To Harry’s eyes, the three witches wore too much makeup and showed too much flesh. All had their wands in their hands. Ginny, the smallest by a fraction, stood between black haired Olivia Aikenhead, who was no more than an inch taller, and Lynette Baker, the 25-year-old reserve Beater with whom the two new signings shared a flat. Lynette towered over the others, she was Harry’s height and powerfully built.

 

Livy, Linny and Ginny, the “Harpies Hellions,” as the press had begun calling them, had been “having a good time”—again. Livy and Linny each held a tankard of mead, while Ginny clutched a half-bottle of Firewhisky. There were several broken tables and chairs surrounding the trio. The Magpies supporters still inside the bar were cowering at tables, well away from the Harpies players and fans. Some of the locals were on the floor, fighting with the Bat-Bogey hex; others had been subjected to a Dancing jinx.

 

‘We won,’ Ginny giggled.

 

Harry looked at her in horror. She could hardly stand. Before he could speak, there was a movement from one side of the room. A girl of no more than ten, a young Magpies supporter, was heading towards the door.

 

‘Stay where you are, scum,’ Lynette Baker ordered, bellowing, <i>‘Tarantallegra!’</i> at the fleeing girl.

 

In one fluid move, Harry deflected the jinx, which hit the wall behind the bar and broke a mirror. He then hit Linny with a Full Body Bind curse. She fell to the floor, her arms pinned to her side. He’d reacted automatically, and the sudden movement tore open the wound on his hheavily bandaged chest. Wincing from the pain, Harry wished that he’d had the opportunity to get a few hours rest.

 

‘Bastard,’ Ginny shouted at him. It was a word he’d never heard her use before, certainly not at him. She was drunk, the Harpies were a bad influence.

 

‘Orphan, actually,’ he corrected her angrily, casting a shield spell around the thrio. Ginny began to swear loudly. Several of the Harpies supporters standing at the bar moved to raise their wands.

 

‘Don’t!’ he ordered, swinging his wand round to cover them. Most obeyed; two didn’t.

 

Harry’s silent stunning spells knocked both of the young wizards over the bar before either had managed to cast a spell. Livy and Ginny continued to rant at Harry.

 

‘Oh, shut up!’ he shouted, casting a variant of the Muffliato spell which he’d been practising. It muffled the voices of the drunken Harpies but allowed them to hear what was being said. He then addressed the remaining Harpies supporters.

 

‘Nobody else gets hexed,’ he announced. The “or else” remained unspoken but was made apparent by the fury in his eyes. ‘I’m summonsing you all for breach of the peace,’ he continued. There were a few mutinous murmurs from the Harpies fans, but none of them raised a wand. Keeping a watchful eye on them, he added, ‘If anyone does not want to accept a summons, let me know, and I’ll arrest you instead.’ There was silence. Harry walked round the bar removing the hexes and jinxes from the Magpies fans, reassuring them and asking for calm and quiet.

 

Moving along the bar, he looked for somewhere clear of spilt mead, Butterbeer and Firewhisky. Selecting the driest spot, he pulled a quill, parchment and a large stack of cards from inside his coat. After placing the parchment on the bar, he tapped the quill with his wand. It hovered above the page, ready to begin writing. He motioned the first Harpies fan forward.

 

‘Name?’ he asked.

 

‘John Smith,’ the young wizard said cockily, leering at Harry. ‘Nice tits, your girlfriend, eh?’

 

Harry clenched his jaw, but said nothing. He looked at the quill. It hadn’t moved.

 

‘Quill not working properly?’ the wizard asked, grinning lecherously. ‘Izzat why your girl’s out partyin’?’

 

‘The quill’s working fine,’ Harry replied, somehow managing to repress an overwhelming urge to hex the young man, or at least thump him. ‘Go to the back of the queue, please. We’ll try again later.’

 

He motioned a young witch forwards.

 

‘Jane Smith,’ she said brightly. Again, the quill didn’t move.

 

‘Back of the queue, and try to remember your real name,’ Harry sighed.

 

The same happened to the next two wizards.

 

‘G-grenville P-paylor, sir,’ the wizard fifth in line said. Harry’s quill scratched his name on the parchment.

 

‘Sensible man, Grenville,’ Harry said. ‘Breach of the peace. You’re summoned to appear before the Justiciar at the Edinburgh Assize at two o’clock on Saturday the first of April.’

 

Grenville’s face fell; there was an outcry from the Harpies supporters, cheers from the Magpies fans, and a flash from behind him. Somebody, Olivia Aikenhead, he assumed, had tried to dismiss his shield spell and failed. This didn’t surprise Harry. Only Ron, Hermione and Neville had ever succeeded and it had taken almost half an hour. Neville, to Hermione’s horror, had been the quickest.

 

Harry had expected the protests from the Harpies fans. The date and time of the summons would make Grenville miss the final game of the season. He looked at the young wizard.

 

‘Do you really want me to change the date?’ he asked quietly. The young wizard saw green fire in Harry’s eyes and shook his head, meekly accepting the summons card.

 

‘Good, now go home,’ ordered Harry. Grenville dejectedly left the bar.

 

The next witch was very drunk. She too gave her correct name. When Harry gave her a summons for the same date, she gazed into his eyes in what she obviously thought was an attractive and seductive manner. The smell of stale Butterbeer on her breath more than negated the little charm she had.

 

‘Could you please change the date, just for me?’ she asked.

 

Harry looked at her coldly. ‘Of course,’ he said. ‘Same time the following Saturday, the eighth.’ The Harpies fans were outraged. That was the date of the European Cup semi-final: Holyhead Harpies versus Quiberon Quafflepunchers. The young witch opened her mouth to protest but instead belched loudly. Harry’s expression of distaste was enough to persuade her to remain silent.

 

He handed her a summons card and she left.

 

The rest gave their names quietly and accepted their summons.

 

Eventually “John Smith” approached Harry for the second time.

 

‘Got anything smart to say this time?’ Harry asked. The young wizard shook his head.

 

‘Real name?’ Harry asked. This time, the quill wrote down the name the wizard gave. The young man didn’t protest when Harry issued two separate summonses, one for each of the Saturdays, adding the offence of failure to provide correct details to a Law Officer to his original charge.

 

“Jane Smith” decided to argue.

 

‘You could have summoned him for both offences on the one day,’ she said angrily.

 

‘And you could have provided me with the correct details when asked the first time,’ Harry replied evenly as he issued her with two separate summonses. His expression was enough to knock some sense into her. The protest forming on her lips didn’t make it out into the world.

 

After dealing with the last two conscious fans, Harry stepped behind the bar, removed the wands from the two wizards he’d Stunned and revived them one at a time.

 

‘I’m arresting you for being drunk and disorderly, for breach of the peace, and for attempted assault of a Law Officer.’ Harry said curtly to the first wizard. ‘Name?’ The man mumbled his name and it was recorded by Harry’s quill. Satisfied that the name was correct, Harry revived the man’s companion and arrested him too.

 

‘I usually carry three sets of Portcuffs, but I’ve used them all,’ he told the two young wizards. ‘There are three Law Officers outside. Tell them that I’ve arrested you and ask them to send you to their cells.’

 

The wizards looked at him in amazement. ‘Do it,’ he ordered. ‘I’ve got your names. If you try to run I’ll come after you, and you’ll end up in the Auror Office cells instead.’

 

The two young men appeared to be weighing their options.

 

‘I had three sets of cuffs,’ Harry told them quietly. ‘Like I said, I’ve used them all. If I need to come after you, you’ll go to the Auror cells and believe me, after what I arrested earlier tonight, you will not want to be in the Auror cells next to them.’ The two young men exchanged a horrified glance and walked quietly from the bar.

 

Harry turned to the bar full of Magpies fans, many of whom were cheering. He motioned for quiet.

 

‘I intend to report these three,’ he nodded to the Harpies players still held inside his shield, ‘to the British and Irish Quidditch League for bringing the game into disrepute.’

 

‘They’ve been reported afore, d’ye ken?’ an elderly wizard in a black and white tam o’shanter shouted. ‘It diz nae guid. The league on’y giz ‘em a piddlin’ wee fine.’

 

‘I agree,’ Harry said. ‘That’s why I’m going to suggest to the league that they impose a match ban. I’m also going to arrest them and issue them with the same summons for breach of the peace I’ve given their fans.’

 

As he expected, there were several more flashes from within the shield. The summons would prevent the three witches from playing in the last league match of the season, next Saturday. If a ban was imposed it could also remove them from the Harpies squad for the European Cup semi-final.

 

Without Olivia and Ginny, the Harpies would probably lose to Quiberon Quafflepunchers fan Harry reminded Auror Harry. He ignored his fan side, and the flashes of spellfire within his shield.

 

‘Bans are a matter for the League, so I can’t promise anything, but I will attend the League hearing and do my best for you,’ he told them. ’Now, does anyone wish to press assault charges on these three?’

 

There was a lot of muttering and more flashes of light from behind Harry. Eventually, the elderly wizard spoke.

 

‘If ye dae what ye say,’ he replied, ‘that’s guid eno’ fer me.’

 

‘Thanks,’ Harry said. ‘I expect that the Harpies’ solicitor will be here soon, and he’s likely to try to persuade you to withdraw any complaints.’

 

‘Aye,’ the elderly wizard grunted, ‘an’ guid luck te him.’

 

Harry examined the three drunken Harpies. Someone, Ginny probably, had released Lynette Baker from the Full Body Bind. There was broken glass just inside the shield, between him and Ginny. He presumed that she had thrown her Firewhisky bottle at him, that it had hit the shield and smashed. Looking at the remains of the bottle, he saw very little liquid. He wondered if Ginny had drunk it all.

 

As he began his observations he caught Ginny in the act of hitching her already short skirt up to reveal even more leg. They were very nice legs too. She’d already undone four buttons on her shirt, Harry noticed; it was hard not to.

 

He’d been certain that there would be some sort of assault when he dropped the shield. He had hoped that it wouldn’t be the “chastened but sexy girlfriend” routine. Usually it was fun, but usually, it was private. He was tired, and wounded, and worried. Ginny was just one more in a long series of worries.

 

He removed the Muffliatio spell. Ginny started immediately.

 

‘Harry, darling,’ she slurred, ‘you’re a Harpiesh fan, a match ban ish…’

 

‘Don’t,’ he said curtly. ‘Wands away, all of you.’ Livy and Linny obeyed. Ginny did not. Harry sighed but dropped his shield anyway.

 

‘Harry,’ Ginny began again. She was trying to sway sexily towards him. The swaying part was certainly working; he had never seen her this drunk. He interrupted her.

 

‘I’m arresting all three of you for being drunk and disorderly and for breach of the peace.’ He tried to look Ginny in the eyes, but she was having difficulty focussing on him. ‘And, Ginny, I’m arresting you on the additional charge of hexing a Law Officer.’

 

Ginny took another step towards Harry.

 

‘One more step and I’ll ask the League for a two match ban.’

 

‘My neksht game’sh for the Cup,’ she hiccoughed, looking at Harry in surprise.

 

‘I know, Ginny! Just stop! You’re too drunk to make any sense. And, please, cover yourself up.’

 

‘Harry,’ Ginny implored pathetically. ‘Let’sh go home. I’m sure we can work shomething out …’ She tried to wink but only succeeded in closing both eyes.

 

‘Ginny, do you want me to ask for a three match ban?’

 

Snarling, she raised her wand, and tried to hex him. Drink had dramatically slowed her reflexes, so he was easily able to deflect her Bat Bogey Hex, which ricocheted off the pub walls, breaking a couple of photographs and causing the Magpies fans to duck. Ginny looked wild, furious and almost out of control. She kept her wand pointed at Harry, waiting for his counter-attack. Instead, he put his wand back inside his coat.

 

‘We’ve been together for three years, and until today you’ve never tried to hex me,’ he told her conversationally. ‘You’ve tried twice in the last few minutes.’

 

‘And now you’ve put your wand away,’ Ginny snapped. ‘Sho what happensh when I hekshyoo?’

 

‘I leave,’ Harry replied quietly.

 

Ginny looked puzzled. ‘What?’ she asked. His ambiguous threat was filtering into her alcohol-addled brain.

 

‘I leave,’ Harry repeated. ‘I walk out. Then you deal with the Magical Law Enforcement Squad.’

 

‘Harry,’ Ginny began again. Her attempt at an innocent smile lasted only a couple of seconds, she was too drunk to keep it in place. ‘Why all the fush? After all, we haven’t really hurt anyone.’

 

‘You’ve hexed at least three young kids outside.’

 

‘Well,’ she said, waving an arm dismissively and staggering as she attempted to retain her balance, ‘sho what? It doeshn’t matter, they’re only—’

 

‘“They’re only?”’ Harry shouted, finally losing his patience and interrupting his girlfriend. ‘They’re only waht, Ginny? Only Magpies fans?’ Harry knew what she’d been about to say. ‘Only Mudbloods? Only Muggles? Only blood-traitors? Is that why it doesn’t matter?’

 

He lowered his voice. He’d never shouted at Ginny before, and he didn’t like doing it.

 

‘They’re people, Ginny, Quidditch fans, like me and like you! So! Are you going to hex me? Or are you going to put that wand down?’

 

Ginny’s bottom lip was trembling. He was finally beginning to get through to her.

 

‘Shorry, Harry,’ she sniffed.

 

‘It’s not me you need to apologise to, it’s the Magpies supporters. Especially the children you hexed, and Sheriff Campbell.’ Ginny looked confused by the name.

 

‘The Law Officer you hit with a Bat-Bogey hex when he opened the door, just before I arrived. He’s outside. He’s easy to recognise. He’s the one who lost three fingers on his left hand at the Battle of Hogwarts. He lost his wife there too.’

 

At this revelation, Ginny burst into tears, pushed her wand into her boot, and took a step towards Harry, her arms outstretched. With a huge effort of will, which brought tears to his own eyes, he resisted her advance and stepped back. They’d argued many times, but he’d never reduced her to tears before.

 

Not true! He had once, when she was fifteen. He’d hoped never to do it again. But now he had. She was drunk, she didn’t know what she was doing, and he’d made her cry.

 

‘We’ll talk later, when you’re sober,’ he told her sadly. ‘Outside, all three of you, now.’

 

Harry walked over to open the pub door. As he did so, Lynette Baker put her arm around Ginny.

 

‘I’ve always said that you’d be better off without him,’ she said loudly. ‘I told you. He’s a tight-arse with no sense of humour.’

 

Ginny swung her fist wildly, but the burly Beater released her and stepped back out of range. Ginny stumbled as her swing went wide, and Lynette struck back with a powerful straight arm punch. Ginny’s head snapped back from the blow. She staggered backwards into a table and crashed to the floor. Blood poured from her nose, dripping onto her chest and staining her Harpies shirt. Ginny struggled to reach for her wand, but she was nowhere near it when Linny drew hers.

 

‘<i>Petrificus Totalus.</i>’ Harry, who’d drawn his wand the instant the fight started, was faster by far. Lynette toppled over, bouncing off a bench as she fell. Harry stepped over the Beater and made his way to Ginny. He crouched down and gently helped her back to her feet. As she stood, she collapsed into his arms and buried her head in his chest, smearing blood over his white shirt.

 

‘Olivia, outside. Now,’ Harry ordered as he lifted Ginny into his arms. Olivia opened her mouth to argue.

 

‘Now!’

 

The Australian Seeker looked fearfully at Harry before leaving the pub.

 

Harry gently placed Ginny onto a table and stopped the nosebleed. He checked her face; her nose wasn’t broken, though she’d have a black eye in the morning. Stopping the bleeding was easy; basic first year Auror training. Unfortunately, he was still useless at even simple cleaning spells. He’d never needed to learn how to use them because between them, Kreacher, Molly and Ginny could clean anything. He examined his bloodstained girlfriend and his bloodstained white shirt. That was his last clean uniform shirt. When he’d left the tent Lavender had been wearing the other one, and very little else.

 

Sighing, Harry tried to help Ginny to her feet. She collapsed into his arms. It appeared that she’d lost the use of her legs. Harry caught his girlfriend, lifted her back up into his arms and walked to the door. He looked back at the bar full of Magpies fans, some of whom were looking vengefully at the helpless Linny lying supine on the floor.

 

‘Don’t anyone touch her or hex her,’ he warned the fans. ‘I will arrest you, too.’ He stepped outside.

 

There was a crowd outside the pub, and there were a number of flashes when Harry stepped through the door with Ginny in his arms. Harry groaned; he’d be in the headlines again tomorrow.

 

‘The other one’s in a Full Body Bind inside,’ Harry called as Officers Huddleston and Moon hurried towards him. ‘Be careful. She’s violent.’

 

Harry strode over to one of the outside tables and carefully lowered Ginny onto it. She struggled to sit up, but after a moment she gave up, lay back, closed her eyes and gripped the edges of the table tightly.

 

‘Harry,’ she gasped. ‘Stop rocking the table. It’s making me dizzy.’

 

‘There’s nothing I can do about that, Ginevra,’ he said experimentally. She didn’t bridle, or even acknowledge his use of her full name; she was completely smashed.

 

Bailiffs Huddleston and Moon levitated a still bound Lynette Baker from the bar.

 

‘Could you bring the prisoners over here please,’ Harry called to the two officers. ‘Do you have holding cells in Edinburgh, Sheriff Campbell?’

 

‘Aye, sir.’

 

‘Please, call me Harry,’ said Harry. ‘So that’s where your Portcuffs will take them?’

 

‘Aye, sir—Harry—that’s where the other twa lads have gone.’

 

‘Good. I’d be grateful if I could use your cuffs.’ Harry turned to the three players. ‘Olivia Aikenhead, Lynette Baker, and Ginevra Molly Weasley, I am arresting you for breach of the peace and for being drunk and disorderly.’

 

As he addressed the Harpies, Harry watched Campbell from the corner of his eye. The Sheriff strolled across to his colleagues and began a hasty discussion with them. They were pulling different sets of handcuffs from their robes. Harry grinned in realisation.

 

One of the first innovations he and Ron had made while they were trainee Aurors was to introduce Portkey handcuffs, a variation on a joke iten Fred and George had been working on. The portcuffs, as they soon became known, transported prisoners to specific holding cells when locked and activated.

 

Kingsley Shacklebolt himself had congratulated George on this useful new piece of equipment. The acceptance and introduction of the handcuffs by the Ministry had improved the fortunes of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. Ron’s attempts to persuade his brother to diversify the business had proved successful and they then went on to create the hex-resistant uniforms for the Auror Office.

 

Several months after the portcuffs were first introduced, Harry had spent two months of his Auror training with the Magical Law Enforcement Squad. A memorable three weeks of that time had been with a veteran bailiff named Albert Thynne. One of the most common—and most hated—duties of the Magical Law Enforcement bailiffs, Harry discovered, was dealing with drunks. Portkey travel was often disorientating, but he had been puzzled by the number of drunks who arrived in a cell covered in their own vomit.

 

Thynne had said nothing until the day before Harry finished his duty, when he told him of a “useful” jinx which had passed quickly through the ranks of Law Officers within days of the Portcuffs being introduced. Known as ‘the pukekey,’ the jinx slightly altered the Portcuffs, making the journey much more disorientating and giving any drunk a vomit-inducing ride.

 

‘Better it goes all over them than all over me, son,’ Thynne had confided.

 

‘Auror Potter,’ Hamish Campbell began. ‘If you cuff them, then you’re the arresting officer, and you’ll need to remain on duty until we finish processing them.’

 

‘Please, Hamish, call me Harry.’ He smiled grimly. ‘I know what I’m doing; I’ve done a course on Magical Law. I expect I’ll be in your offices for most of the night.’

 

‘I, er,’ Campbell began.

 

‘Which ones aren’t pukekeyed?’ Harry asked.

 

Startled, Campbell handed over a single set of cuffs.

 

‘Ah,’ Harry said. ‘Well, I can’t play favourites.’ He promptly put the cuffs in his pocket. ‘Three sets of cuffs, please,’ he continued.

 

‘No one would know,’ Campbell assured him.

 

‘I would, and you would,’ Harry replied.

 

Bailiff Huddleston silently handed over three pairs of cuffs.

 

‘Olivia,’ Harry ordered. The subdued Seeker stepped forwards.

 

‘She misses you. She loves you,’ she told Harry, holding her arms out in front of her.

 

‘I know, at least, I hope that I know,’ Harry said sadly as he handcuffed the Seeker and watched her disappear.

 

Harry removed his Full Body Bind from Lynette to allow her to be handcuffed, but the Beater decided to try to fight her arrest. Campbell, Huddleston and Moon forced her to the ground and pulled her hands behind her back. Harry handcuffed her and she, too, vanished.

 

Meanwhile, Ginny had struggled to a sitting position on the table. She was swaying silently, tears pouring down her cheeks. When Harry approached her, she meekly held out her arms. He quickly flicked the handcuffs around her wrists, and she was whisked away to a cell in a halo of blue light.

 

‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ Harry tried to silence the crowd. He failed. He raised his arms and signalled for silence. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he tried again. ‘As you’ve seen, the troublemakers have been either summonsed or arrested. We’ll be leaving in a few minutes. I’m sorry if this has spoiled your evening.’

 

‘Mr Potter,’ a voice called from the crowd ‘I’m from the Daily Prophet. Do you have any comment to make about your arrest of your ex-girlfriend?’

 

‘No,’ Harry replied curtly.

 

He removed his Anti-Apparition jinx from the area, and tried not to show any emotion. The “ex” shook him. He’d been gone for weeks, was there something that he didn’t know? Even if there was, he wasn’t going to ask a Prophet reporter.

 

‘Hamish, could you ask Heather and Mark to return to your office to begin…’ Harry faltered for a moment as the full impact of what he’d just done struck home. He quickly regained his composure, ‘… to begin processing the prisoners?’

 

Campbell gave the order and the two Law Officers Disapparated immediately.

 

‘What are we waiting for, Harry?’ Hamish asked.

 

Harry pointed up the hill towards the road where an immaculately robed wizard in his thirties was strutting towards the bar, his arms clasped behind his back.

 

‘Who’s he?’ Campbell asked.

 

‘Mr Tavistock,’ Harry answered Hamish loudly while simultaneously calling out to the latest arrival. ‘Could you spare a minute to speak to me?’

 

‘Harpies’ solicitor,’ he whispered to Hamish as the well-dressed wizard smiled and walked towards him, hand outstretched in greeting.

 

‘Harry,’ he said, ‘a pleasure as always. A little boisterous overindulgence by the girls again? I’m surprised to see you here. Come to check up on your girlfriend, have you? I’m sure that the publican won’t be pressing any charges.’ The solicitor stopped in front of Harry, his arm still outstretched. Harry did not take it. He did not like Gus Tavistock. He did not like Tavistock’s elegantly coiffured oily black hair; he did not like his arrogant bearing; he did not like his smarmy manner.

 

He’d first been introduced to Tavistock the previous July, at a party in Holyhead to greet the Harpies’ two signings. He and Ginny had joked about the solicitor when they returned to Grimmauld Place afterwards.

 

‘Harry Potter.’ Ginny paced the kitchen, arms behind her back, mimicking Tavistock’s walk as well as his silky, cultured voice. She’d held out her hand to him. ‘I’m Augustus Tavistock, solicitor retained by Holyhead Harpies. I’m so pleased to meet you. I’m as greasy and condescending a bully as Severus Snape and as vain and self-important a publicity seeker as Gilderoy Lockhart. I do hope that we can be friends.’

 

Harry brought himself back to the present. He realised that Tavistock had been talking to him.

 

‘Sorry?’ Harry said.

 

‘Where are my clients?’ Tavistock repeated, rather sharply.

 

‘The overindulgent girls? Jail!’ Harry replied. ‘You’ll be able to speak to them as soon as they’ve been processed.’

 

‘Jail?’ Tavistock rounded on Hamish Campbell. ‘You’ve put three Quidditch players, two of them internationals, in jail. Simply for having a little too much to drink. Hoped to get your name in the papers, I suppose, you jumped up little bumpkin! Well, rest assured, you will. I will be complaining to your superiors, officer! Now, I’ll have your name.’

 

‘Auror Harry James Potter,’ Harry said promptly. Tavistock turned rapidly back to face Harry, quickly replacing his shocked expression with one of concern. The solicitor immediately changed tack.

 

‘Harry,’ he began with an oily smile. ‘Your girlfriend’s getting more famous than you. You’re not getting a little jealous, are you? Or have you had an argument? She’s dumped you, hasn’t she? Are you out for a little revenge by putting her in jail overnight? Just release her—and her friends. What alternative do you have? Think how bad you’ll look when I issue a press release.’

 

‘Oh! Bad press,’ said Harry. ‘I’ve never had that before. How will I cope?’

 

Hamish Campbell gave a snort of laughter.

 

‘So, Mr Tavistock,’ Harry continued, ‘what do you want to do first? Talk to the locals and try to pay them to withdraw their complaints? Or visit your clients in jail?’

 

Tavistock flushed scarlet. ‘You don’t want to make an enemy of me, Potter,’ he blustered. ‘I can be a dangerous man to cross.’

 

‘Oh! A dangerous enemy! I’ve never one of those before!’ Harry snapped fiercely.

 

Realising what he’d said, Tavistock blanched. Lost for words, the solicitor turned on his heels and stormed off towards the inn.

 

‘The pub’s open, and the Harpies solicitor has just gone in there. Why don’t you ask him to buy you a drink or two?’ Harry shouted to the Magpies fans who were still outside.

 

There was a rush towards the door.

 

‘Time to go,’ Harry said. ‘I’d be grateful if you could guide me to your office.

 

As they prepared to Disapparate, Harry worried about how the Portcuffs had affected Ginny. He should have used the untampered ones. He’d thought more about the bad publicity that an accusation of favouritism would have brought than about his girlfriend. He cursed himself.



Chapter 5: The Hunt: Nice Weather for Fish
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5. The Hunt: Nice Weather for Fish

 

The Portkey took Harry to a point about half a mile outside the Scottish village of Kirk Yetholm, on the north-western edge of the Anti-Apparition zone. He found himself standing on a heather-clad hillside overlooking the village. In the distance a young couple, bundled up against the cold, hurried through the windy streets. To the north, above the white-walled and grey-roofed houses, were the Scottish Lowlands and beyond that, in the misty distance, Harry could make out the uneven horizon where the Grampian Hills thrust up into the sky. To both east and south were the Cheviot Hills, the border hills. He adjusted his rucksack and set off walking due east, out of Scotland. He checked his map. Reaching the border would be easy; from where he stood he could go east, south, or even north, and still reach England.

 

It was bitterly cold and the northerly wind was blowing a gale. Dark clouds scudded across an overcast sky. The laden clouds seemed to threaten snow, but Harry was fairly confident that they were bluffing. He walked slowly away from the village and into the hills, stopping regularly to check the area for any trace of magic and to consult his stubbornly still and silent Sneakoscope.

 

After walking for an hour, he left the main path, headed slightly north and slowly climbed a steep hill. His map showed the summit to be the location of an ancient megalithic site called Ring Chesters. The previous evening, while eating dessert in Antonio’s Restaurant, Hermione had lectured him about the importance of ancient sites to the early magical community. She was certain that Shivering Stone was likely to be close to one of them. Unfortunately one look at his map showed that this part of the country had hundreds of such places.

 

Sitting on the hilltop, his back to one of the lichen-covered ancient stones, Harry sheltered from the howling wind, looked out across the bleak rolling landscape, and carried out another check.

 

No luck, there was nothing magical anywhere in the vicinity. He ate his packed lunch; corned beef and pickled onion sandwiches and two apples, then poured himself some tea from his flask.

 

After finishing his food, Harry stood and stretched. Re-packing his rucksack, he walked back down into the valley to rejoin the path. This was a lonely part of the world, he had seen no-one since he had left Kirk Yetholm. As he trudged onwards, he slowly scouted his surroundings.

 

The sun was resting fat and red on the horizon behind him. It was drifting downwards and turning the grey clouds pink, when his hike eastwards eventually brought him to a hill named Yeavering Bell. At the top of this hill, his map told him, were the remains of an Iron Age hill fort. As he clambered up the steep hill the sun became a semicircle, then a segment, then vanished. He reached the summit in the gloaming and again checked for magic. There seemed to be something, as faint traces of power lingered in the ancient stones. They were truly ancient, and nothing magical had happened for centuries.

 

Pitching his tent within the tumbled dry stone wall of the fort, in the saddle between the two low mounds of the hill, he set up his usual protection spells before settling down to cook himself dinner.

 

Over the next few grey and windy days Harry settled into a routine. There were dozens of sites on his map marked as: “settlements,” “earthworks,” “fort” and “stone circle.” Skirting the edge of the small border town of Wooler he turned south, visiting every ancient site he could identify. Once again he wished that he’d paid more attention to Professor Binns’ lessons. He made up for this lack by reading A History of Magic during his long and lonely nights in the tent. It was a boring read, although not as boring as Binns’ lessons.

 

On his third day in the field Harry pitched his tent early, in the middle of the afternoon. Settling down in he pulled the Ginny Weasley action figure he carried from his pocket, and placed her on top of the radio.

 

‘Game’s about to start, Ginny’ he said, switching on the radio.

 

When the whistle went, the model Ginny mounted her broom and flew around his head as he listened to the game. Ginny’s team were playing away to Tutshill Tornadoes. To Harry’s jubilation, they won. He cursed his luck. When he’d set off he’d realised that he would miss Ginny’s matches. This was the first game he’d missed all season, and it was a spectacular victory. He’d miss the post-match celebrations too.

 

As he fantasised about what they would have done after the win, Harry remembered the Ministerial Reception. He checked his watch. The reception would be starting in less than two hours. While he rarely attended such events, he and Ginny had decided that they would attend tonight’s. The invitations were regular, but Harry almost invariably declined. The Minister had scribbled “Harry, it would be useful if you could attend this one, Kingsley” in the corner of this latest official invitation. After a discussion with Ginny, and Ron and Hermione, Harry had accepted.

 

Wondering whether Ginny would attend without him, he stepped outside the tent and looked up at the moon. It was full. He was thankful that he had not yet found the werewolf village.

 

The long threatened snow did not materialise, but as he headed south the following day the clouds dropped lower. Harry found himself walking through a fine mizzle, which restricted visibility to a few dozen yards and deposited a slick, thin, film of moisture over everything. The wind had dropped and the temperature had risen, but now even the air in front of him looked grey.

 

After several more days he turned west. To his relief, the sun finally broke through the clouds. The scenery he was walking through was, he finally discovered, spectacular. Harry often found himself standing, gazing across the wet, empty landscape; a landscape composed mostly of various lush shades of green. He trudged across purple heather. He crept cautiously through dark and ancient lowland copses. He strode over hilltops and through scattered rings of stone dating back to man’s earliest incursions into these ancient hills. He skirted squelching, peaty marshes. The days passed, a week passed; he found nothing.

 

Harry spent his evenings reading. He read and reread the Auror files on werewolves. He ploughed his way through A History of Magic, looking for clues to the whereabouts of the werewolf village. He concentrated on the job at hand and allowed himself only one pleasure; to listen to the Quidditch results and match commentaries on the radio. The Wimbourne Wasps’ visit to Holyhead was disastrous for the visitors, who were thrashed by the Harpies. The commentators, however, noted Ginny’s poor performance. Perhaps she was missing him, Harry thought. He was certainly missing her.

 

Ron’s birthday was Harry’s thirteenth day in the field. That day he started late, as he took some time to turn his regular morning report into a badly drawn birthday card for his friend. After finally breaking camp, he headed west. The skies were once again grey and threatening. This time, Harry was convinced that the threat would be carried out. That evening he camped near a long straight road. He pitched his tent next to a weathered wooden gibbet from which a carved wooden head dangled. The bizarre and gruesome monument did not seem out of place in the wild landscape.

 

After his meal he raised a glass of Butterbeer to Ron. It was two weeks since they had been at the restaurant. His two best friends, and his girlfriend, would all be there, eating fine food, celebrating Ron’s birthday. He was alone, overlooking a gibbet, in the middle of nowhere, and unable to Apparate out. He missed them, especially Ginny.

 

Though he was next to a road, there was little traffic. Only one car passed his tent during the night. Soon after if passed, he drifted into sleep.

 

When he woke the following morning, it was to the noise of rain thundering on canvas. The heavens had opened, the road was like a river and the weed-choked roadside ditches were filling rapidly. The wooden head swung wildly from its chain. It watched him impassively as he took down the tent and packed his rucksack. The chain connecting carved head to gibbet groaned in the wind. The head cried a torrent of tears as the rain streamed down it. Harry was happy to leave it behind.

 


 

Days passed, the rain was incessant, and Harry’s search was ineffective. He had only skirted the outer perimeter of his search area, but he was disappointed. This was taking much longer than he had expected. He wondered if he’d make it back home in time for his godson’s second birthday. He’d have to push on quickly.

 

That Saturday, the Harpies visited Puddlemere. They played poorly and were defeated by the mid-table club. Ginny, Harry knew, would be devastated. He hoped that Ron and Hermione would cheer her up.

 

He continued on through the rain. The moon was now a tiny and rapidly disappearing sliver in the sky. The night of the new moon was approaching. There was a little over two more weeks to the next full moon, and that would not be a good time to find the place he was looking for.

 

The following day, after a week of grey skies, grey clouds, grey rain and bitter winds, the weather decided to show how much more misery it could pour on him. The wind increased in strength; deciding that blowing a gale wasn’t enough, it worked itself up to an angry storm. After blowing and battering him, the clouds, laden with arctic water, decided to unburden themselves of their load.

 

Within an hour of setting off, Harry found himself walking through driving sleet. There was little shelter and the footpaths had turned into running streams of slippery, freezing water. Thankful for the hiking boots, two pairs of socks and the impervious charms he had put on his outer clothing, Harry pressed on. His body remained mostly warm and dry. His face, however, was numb with cold and the weather refused to give up its attack. After more than an hour of determined effort, the freezing water finally found its way in through the tiniest of gaps in his clothing. Cold water trickled down his neck, insinuated its way into his gloves and slowly soaked his socks.

 

Approaching the village of Byrness not long before dusk, and with no sign that the weather would change, Harry decided to spend the night in a bed and breakfast before travelling further north. As he walked along the edge of the slick, black road, a solitary car approached, its headlights a bright reflection on the wet tarmac and the dashes of the central white lines. It drove past at speed, spraying him with dirty, oily water. As he walked dejectedly towards the Muggle village, he saw a lonely old stone farmhouse, a B & B sign swinging from the gate. The word “Vacancies” had been burned, poker carved, into a piece of wood which was hooked below the sign. Passing through a kissing gate, he approached the farm up a long, winding gravel track and knocked at the door. It was opened by a bearded, grizzled, thickset man in his forties.

 

‘Hiking, in this weather?’ the man asked. ‘Jane!’ the man called his stocky, brown-haired wife to the door. She examined Harry curiously before inviting him inside. She watched as he stood under the porch and brushed the sleet from his clothes before stepping inside and carefully taking off his rucksack. The hall was stone flagged and spacious. The bearded man helped Harry as he struggled to remove his wet cagoule.

 

‘Nice weather,’ observed the woman, ‘for fish.’ She smiled as she watched Harry dripping onto her hall floor.

 

‘Sorry,’ he apologised.

 

‘Don’t worry, I’ll have it mopped up in a trice,’ she assured him. ‘I’m Jane Wake and this is my husband, Jack.’

 

Harry was their first visitor of the year he was told, as she made him welcome. Mrs Wake showed him to a room in a side wing of the house, and invited him to join them for their evening meal. Almost apologetically, she told him that this would be five pounds extra. After almost three weeks of solitude Harry would have paid fifty, or even more, just for the simple pleasure of human company.

 

He’d become unused to being alone, he realised.

 

Although he had survived the first, friendless, eleven years of his life, as he looked back, he wondered how he’d done it. Presumably, it was because he’d known nothing else. Now he had friends, lots of friends; and a girlfriend, a beautiful girlfriend. He missed them all desperately. Ginny, he missed most of all. Just before he’d left them, he’d teased Ron for missing Hermione. She’d been absent for only ten days. Now, he had nothing but sympathy. Without Ginny there was an aching void in his life.

 

After changing clothes and hanging up his wet outer-wear to dry, Harry went back downstairs to see his hosts. There was a small guest dining room, but Harry gratefully accepted their offer of sharing their table in the kitchen. During the hearty meal of curried mutton and rice he was cross-examined by Mrs “call me Jane, please” Wake, who obviously enjoyed a good gossip.

 

‘You’re a young lad to be out hiking, and all alone,’ she began, curiously.

 

‘I wanted to explore wild places, and I had to take my holiday before the end of the financial year in April,’ he told her the story he’d discussed with Hermione. ‘I’m nineteen, twenty later this year.’

 

‘Same age as our Annie, our youngest,’ Jane Wake told him, ‘she’s at university, Keel. You’re not a student, then?’

 

‘Civil Servant, I work for the Home Office,’ Harry told her. After long discussions with Hermione they had both agreed that a Civil Service job was the best cover story to tell Muggles. No-one knew what civil servants did, so Harry’s lack of knowledge wouldn’t be a problem.

 

‘I’d like to phone my girlfriend later, if I may?’ As he spoke he remembered the men at the restaurant. Ginny shouldn’t have given out her phone number. He wondered if the “cute” dark-haired guy had phoned Linny.

 

‘Of course,’ Mrs Wake smiled at him. She was a frighteningly skilful interrogator, and by the time Harry had finished his dessert, rhubarb pie and custard, she knew that Harry’s parents were dead, that he had been raised by an aunt and uncle and that his job paid well. Harry knew that the Wakes had two children, both girls and that the elder, Jacqui, was going out with a trainee solicitor from Newcastle.

 

The meal over, he excused himself and phoned Ginny’s flat, which was in a Muggle apartment block overlooking the Menai Strait. The phone was there at Olivia’s insistence. Lynette had initially opposed the idea, but Australian wizards were apparently much happier using Muggle machinery than were the British, and Olivia regularly telephoned her parents in Sydney. It was the only telephone number Harry knew by heart, so he dialled it.

 

‘Hello?’

 

‘Hi, Linny,’ he said, recognising the Beaters voice immediately, ‘is Ginny there? It’s Harry,’ There was a moment’s hesitation from the girl. She and Harry had never really got on, but she’d been a good friend to Ginny; a mentor to the club’s two newcomers.

 

‘No, not at the moment.’ Linny said.

 

‘Oh,’ Harry was disappointed. ‘Will she be back soon?

 

‘A party,’ said Linny, sounding pleased. ‘All night! A “don’t wait up” job.’

 

‘Oh!’ Harry didn’t know what to say. He’d long ago got over any feelings of jealousy, although in fact there were very few occasions when Ginny went out without him. They trusted each other, they told each other everything; but it was Sunday, she should have been at the Burrow all day, and she had training early tomorrow morning. It didn’t sound like Ginny.

 

‘Are you sure?’ he asked.

 

‘Yes,’ said Linny happily. ‘Bye.’ And with that, she hung up. Harry thought about ringing back but, depressed and confused, decided against it.

 

Harry gratefully accepted a cup of tea, told the Wakes that he intended to explore the entire area and risked asking them about interesting places and local history. He was given a brief history of the Border Reivers and recommended dozens of places to visit, most with strange and esoteric names.

 

When Mr Wake mentioned a bastle called Black Midden, Harry first had to ask what a bastle was. After listening to a long and rambling explanation, he took the opportunity to comment on strange place names.

 

‘Plenty of those,’ Mr Wake assured him: ‘Winter’s Gibbet, Windy Gyle, Hungry Law, Ravens Knowe…

 

‘Laws and Knowes are all hills,’ Mrs Wake explained.

 

‘Somebody mentioned a Shivering Stone, too, I think,’ said Harry off-handedly, not really expecting a response.

 

‘Just below Bloodybush Edge,’ Mrs Wake said promptly. ‘And that’s another one! I’ve no idea why that hill is called Bloodybush Edge.’

 

‘Bloodybush Edge?’ he asked curiously, trying not to betray his excitement. ‘Where is that?’

 

‘If you fetch your map, I’ll show you.’

 

Harry hurried up to his room and pulled out his map. Mrs Wake pointed out Bloodybush Edge almost immediately. It was no more than a dozen miles away.

 

‘You’re using a Landranger map,’ she said dismissively. ‘In these hills you’d be better off with a Pathfinder, bigger scale: four centimetres to the kilometre instead of two.’ She scurried over to a sideboard and pulled a map from one of the drawers. To Harry’s amazement, there, marked on the map, about four hundred yards from the summit of Bloodybush Edge, was a small dot marked Shivering Stone.

 

Mrs Wake looked at Harry curiously.

 

‘When I was about Annie’s age,’ she began, ‘I went up that hill with my dad. It’s a bit creepy, not just the name either. For a moment, I thought the stones actually did shiver. I got a glimpse of a third stone, a stone that isn’t there!’

 

‘You’ve never told me that,’ her husband said.

 

‘It was twenty-five years ago, and it’s not important,’ Jane told her husband.

 

‘I’m sure that there are some great local ghost stories,’ said Harry, smiling to hide his joy.

 

‘Ghosts, giants, dragons, wolves,’ Mrs Wake told him.

 

Harry listened to tales of the hills and realised that he’d have found the place much earlier if, instead of relying on wizard documents, he had researched the local Muggle folklore. He would never make that mistake again. When the kitchen clock chimed nine he excused himself, hurried upstairs to his room, locked his door, found his raven-feather quill and some parchment and wrote a short report to the Auror Office.

 

I’m on to something at last. I’m heading for a hill called Bloodybush Edge tomorrow. NT 9022 1434 He gave an Ordnance Survey grid reference – it would be meaningless to Ron, but Hermione would know what it was. Shivering Stone is right next to it, it’s even marked on some Muggle maps! I hope to have more news by this time tomorrow. Is Ginny okay? Give her my love.

 

Harry Potter

 

After a good night’s sleep under a proper roof, Harry felt much happier. Ginny’s absence from the flat was puzzling, but he pushed it to the back of his mind. He’d found his final destination. Once he’d made certain that Lestrange was there, the mission would be all but over. He’d see her soon.

 

However, as he dressed and packed he discovered that the weather was worse than ever. Jane Wake tried her best to persuade him not to leave. She was so concerned for his safety in the hills that he promised to phone her that evening. He put Mrs Wake’s telephone number in his morning report and asked Ron, or Neville, to arrange for someone to telephone her after dusk to tell her that he was okay.

 

Jane Wake provided a hearty breakfast: bacon, eggs, sausages, baked beans, fried tomatoes, mushrooms, black pudding, and something called white pudding which Harry couldn’t readily identify. He overpaid his protesting hostess by ten pounds, said his farewells to her and her husband and set off towards Bloodybush Edge, his hopes high.

 


 

Harry spent most of the day trying to reach his destination. He marched determinedly onwards through the foul weather. There was some respite from the northerly wind when he was in the valleys, but whenever he crested a hill the full, freezing, storm force of the wind hit him. The heavy sleet was horizontal. The wind-driven icy water continued to find every gap in his clothing and exploited them mercilessly. He tightened his collar until he could hardly breathe, but still the water found a way in. Grateful for the huge and filling breakfast he’d had, Harry pressed on, not stopping for lunch.

 

He continued to check for any signs of magic, and checked his Sneakoscope at the same time. Always the results were negative. By mid afternoon Harry was uncomfortably wet and, despite extra clothing, he was cold to the bone. He saw little point in drying and warming himself, as the wind and sleet would soon chill him again. Grateful for the waterproof map case he’d bought with his hiking gear, he re-checked his map; he was close. A vaguely defined path climbed steeply south east towards a forest ahead.

 

After skirting the forest for a few hundred yards, the trees on his right fell steeply away into a valley. There would be shelter from the wind down there. Turning his back on the forest, he looked up at the grass-covered upturned bowl of a hill ahead. He couldn’t see the summit. The land rolled over and flattened, it was more plateau than summit. He didn’t need to climb that far. About halfway between forest and a horizon that was only half a mile away, stood an odd-looking rock outcrop. Two stones jutted from the wind-swept moor. Harry checked. Magic!

 

He approached cautiously. The stones did, indeed, appear to shiver. He kept his distance and circled carefully. The effect was strange and unsettling. There was a third stone, but it was difficult to see. After careful observation he realised that, rather like the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron from Muggle London, Muggles should be unable to see it. Wand in hand, he circled a second time. The third stone, the hidden stone, was concealing a magical entrance. The entrance was similar to the barrier at King’s Cross; it would be easy enough for him to pass through. Unfortunately it was also, like the barrier at King’s Cross, impossible for him to see through. He had no idea what lay on the other side.

 

He was cold, wet and hungry, and it would be dark within the hour. He’d found the place. It wasn’t going to move. He decided to camp overnight and travel through the stone at dawn. Walking back down the hill and into the forest, he began looking for a sheltered spot where he could pitch his tent. His map told him that he was now on Dry Hill. It lied; water was dripping from the trees and the ground underfoot was sodden. He checked his map again. Ahead, apparently, was Sneer Hill. The joke was wearing thin. After much searching he found a clearing that wasn’t completely waterlogged, took off his rucksack and unfastened his tent.

 

Erecto,’ he said, before casting Muggle repelling, protection and alarm spells. After double checking his spells, he opened the flaps and entered. It had been a joy to sleep under a roof last night, but now—as he stood sodden, shivering, and starving—his comfortable tent was a welcome relief from the weather.

 

Inside, the tent appeared to be a small bed-sitting room. A door in the back wall led to a toilet and shower room. On the left wall was a bed, a bedside table and a wardrobe. In the centre of the room was a heater. On the right wall was a larder, two cupboards, a two ring stove, a sink, a small table and two chairs.

 

Harry stripped off his clothes, towelled himself dry and took a change of clothes from the wardrobe. He dressed quickly, pulling on two jumpers, as he knew from experience that it took some time for the tent to get warm. After hanging his wet clothes in front of the heater he stood in front of it himself until he had regained some feeling in his fingers.

 

Finally comfortable, he opened his cupboard and found a tin of beef and gravy and another of mixed vegetables. He emptied both tins into a pan and put it on the stove. It was bubbling in five minutes. After eating the lot straight from the pan he went to the larder, tore a chunk of bread from a loaf and proceeded to scrape the pan clean with the bread. By the time he’d finished, it hardly needed washing.

 

There were still several of Kreacher’s homemade treacle tarts in the larder. They were, in Harry’s opinion, even better than Molly’s. He had more sense than to tell either of them. Both were convinced that they were Harry’s favourite cook and that his praise to the other was simple politeness. Making some hot custard, he poured it over a third of the cold pie, sat on the bed, ate, and planned.

 

Harry’s copy quill report was finished before nine. After writing a detailed report of everything he’d found he sketched a map showing the exact location of the third stone. He reminded his friends to phone Jane Wake, if they hadn’t already. She had told him that she would call out the local mountain rescue team if she didn’t hear from him and he didn’t want the Muggle volunteers looking for a lost hiker, not in this weather. He waited until nine before signing it, as his signature was the act which transferred the report to the desks of Ron and Neville. The next hour was spent tidying and preparing for the following day. After setting his alarm for an hour before dawn, he went to bed.

 


 

A few brave birds were noisily encouraging the sun’s ascent when Harry’s alarm woke him. He peered outside the tent and discovered that after two relentless days the storm had finally blown itself out. After a hasty breakfast, he packed his tent and removed all traces of his presence from Dry Hill. His rucksack on his back, his waterproof jacket open, and wand in hand, he approached the stones. As the wet grass began to mist in the sun’sfeeble rays, he stepped between the two stones and approached the third. There was no way of knowing where he would arrive. Wherever it was, he hoped that everyone was still asleep. He pulled his Invisibility Cloak from his jacket, threw it over himself and stepped through the Shivering Stone.



Chapter 6: The Snare: Three Caged Birds
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6. The Snare: Three Caged Birds

 

Sheriff Campbell twisted and Disapparated.

 

Harry found himself standing in a dimly lit street lined with grey stone houses. In the distance, the imposing walls of Edinburgh Castle loomed, a floodlit gem atop a craggy mount. Hamish Campbell turned to his left and strode along a narrow ginnel between two grey granite walls. The alley ended at an old, grafitti-covered door, which Campbell tapped with his wand. The door immediately swung open to reveal a brightly lit street. Well-worn cobblestones led past a mix of shops and houses. In the distance a sign proclaimed the presence of “The Wand and Thistle – Scotland’s Finest Inn.”

 

‘Welcome to Side Way, Harry,’ Hamish Campbell said.

 

Harry followed the Sheriff along the street to where a small brass plaque discreetly showed the location of the “Ministry of Magic: Scottish Office.” The security wizard glanced up, stared at Harry, and silently watched Hamish lead him through the hallway to an open lift. Hamish pressed the button marked B; the doors closed and the lift made its rattling descent.

 

‘Basement: Magical Law Enforcement,’ a pleasant, voice announced.

 

A long corridor led away from the lifts. Campbell led Harry to the first door on the left, where a wooden sign indicated the “High Sheriff of Scotland – Lothian Law Office.”

 

The large room contained two dozen identical desks in six rows of four. Several WANTED posters covered the wall next to the door. Like the London Law Office, the most prominent position was given to a photograph of a snarling Rabastan Lestrange. His name was at the top of the poster. At its foot were the words “CAUTION: Extremely dangerous, do not approach. Contact Auror Office immediately!”

 

The four bailiffs in the room were standing around a desk near its centre. When Hamish and Harry entered, Heather Huddleston and Mark Moon left the two colleagues they’d been speaking to, and addressed Hamish.

 

‘We’ve handed our preliminary reports to the Fiscal, boss,’ Heather reported. ‘She’s already here and she wants to speak to Mr Potter…’

 

‘Now,’ a clipped, business-like voice said as the door opened behind Harry.

 

Harry turned and examined the elderly, round-faced, white-haired witch who had spoken. She was tiny and plump, but her brusque, business-like demeanour reminded Harry very much of Minerva McGonagall. She held out her hand; Harry shook it warmly.

 

‘Hello Mr Potter, I’m Edna Quarell, the Procurator Fiscal,’ she introduced herself. As she did so Harry, recognising her title, desperately tried to remember his lectures on the differences between the English and Scottish legal systems.

 

‘The Fiscals Office,’ Harry said hesitantly, ‘deal with all prosecutions … and investigations!’ He remembered this with a start.

 

‘Correct Mr Potter, so if you’d hoped to keep control of what happens to your girlfriend, you’ve arrested her in the wrong country,’ she said firmly. ‘We will continue this discussion in my office.’

 

Harry examined her expression, and nodded.

 

‘I’ll expect your statement within the hour, Hamish,’ the Fiscal called out to Sheriff Campbell as she led Harry from the Law Office.

 

‘He’s a guid laddie, ma’am,’ Campbell called, as Harry followed the Fiscal out into the corridor.

 

‘There’s no higher praise than that from Hamish,’ Edna Quarell told Harry as she scuttled along to a door marked “Mrs E M E Quarell – Procurator Fiscal”. She moved around her desk, sat. and motioned Harry to take the seat opposite her.

 

‘Mr Potter,’ she observed. ‘It seems from your expression that you’re unfamiliar with the many differences between the English and Scottish legal systems.’

 

Immediately sensed that, like Professor McGonagall, Mrs Quarell would spot any procrastination or bluff, Harry took the only option available to him. ‘I am,’ he admitted.

 

‘The Procurator Fiscal investigates criminal cases. My office takes the written statements from witnesses and I am responsible for all investigations and prosecutions. As arresting officer, I now require you to provide me with a full statement and formally hand over your prisoners to me.’

 

The Fiscal paused and looked at Harry carefully.

 

‘When you do that, you will no longer be in charge of any investigation. You will not recommend what charges to bring. You will not decide whether or not to prosecute. Those decisions are mine. I will also take responsibility for the safety of the prisoners. I will decide when they can be released. You have two choices, Mr Potter. You can refuse to hand over the prisoners. If you do that, I will assume that there is no case to answer, and I will release them immediately. Alternatively, you can hand the prisoners into my care. I tell you now, if you do hand over the pisoners, I will investigate the case vigorously.’ She spoke firmly and precisely, leaving Harry in no doubt that she would do exactly as she said.

 

‘You know the maximum sentence for hexing a Law Officer?’ she asked.

 

‘A year in Azkaban, depending upon the severity of the hex. For most first offenders it’s usually a fine and some community work,’ Harry replied promptly. ‘As prosecutor, you can make a recommendation to the Justiciar. On the evidence you have, can I ask what you’d be likely to recommend?’

 

‘I would typically ask for a fine equivalent to one month’s wages, and a month’s community service. In this case I might suggest to the Justiciar that the community service be carried out at weekends,’ the Fiscal said, and she gave Harry a wry smile. ‘I’m aware of the summonses you’ve issued to the supporters. An interesting use of a summons as punishment.

 

‘In the interests of fairness, I will be summoning these three to appear before the Justiciar on Saturday week too,’ she said, ‘I’ve already spoken to Justice Herring, he’s the duty Justiciar for the next three weekends. I understand that you contacted him yourself before arriving in Montrose.’

 

Harry nodded.

 

‘So, Mr Potter, now that you know what I’m going to do, are you prepared to hand over your prisoners and make a formal statement about this evening’s events?’

 

‘Mrs Quarell? Fiscal? Harry enquired.

 

‘Fiscal,’ she clarified, ‘is my formal title.’

 

‘Thank you,’ replied Harry. ‘Fiscal, I arrested over a dozen Harpies fans, most of whom were simply drunk. These three women were hexing people, hexing children. Even if I wanted to let them go, I promised dozens of Magpies supporters that I’d see justice done. I’ve left myself no choice. Ginny calls it my noble streak. She tells me that that she loves me for it, although it gets me in trouble. I’m about to find out the hard way, aren’t I?’

 

Edna Quarell nodded.

 

‘This isn’t like Ginny. There’s something wrong. I’ll hand over the prisoners,’ said Harry. ‘Carry out your investigations.’

 

‘I will, but first I need to satisfy myself as to their identities, and state of health. We’ll go to the gaol for the formal hand-over, and then I’ll want your statement within the hour.’

 

Mrs Quarell stood and led Harry back into the central corridor. She turned right and led him away from the lift. The corridor ended in an iron bound door of black oak. The word GAOL was carved on the stone lintel above it. The Fiscal took out her wand and touched the door.

 

‘Edna Mamie Eunice Quarell, Procurator Fiscal,’ she said clearly. The door swung open, revealing a stone staircase leading down. The ancient steps were worn into a bowed shape by centuries of use. ’Careful on the stairs, Mr Potter,’ the Fiscal advised.

 

Harry followed the elderly witch down the stairs. At a landing the stairs turned back on themselves. The Fiscal waited and turned to face Harry.

 

‘When we see the prisoners, simply identify them and hand custody to me,’ she ordered. ‘Now, let’s go and meet the infamous hellions.’

 

After descending the second flight, Harry found himself faced with a second door, identical to the one above. Edna Quarell opened it in the same way. A stocky middle-aged witch, almost as wide as she was tall, stood up when the door opened.

 

‘Fiscal,’ she nodded in greeting, and lifted a massive bunch of keys from a hook on the wall.

 

‘Gaoler,’ Quarell nodded a polite reply.

 

The gaoler looked at Harry, appeared to register who he was, and then completely ignored him. Harry smiled as he watched her unlock the only other door, which led into a damp smelling corridor with eight doors on each side.

 

‘Cell one, Olivia Erin Aikenhead,’ the gaoler said, opening the cell door. Olivia was lying on her side on a thin mattress. A robe had been thrown over her, but she was still in her vomit-stained clothes. The gaoler stepped over and examined her.

 

‘Olivia?’ the Fiscal said. The girl did not stir.

 

‘She’s sleeping it off,’ the gaoler announced, ‘I’ve put up a watching charm to make sure she’s all right.’

 

‘This is Olivia Aikenhead,’ said Harry.

 

‘Drunk and incapable. I’ll be back in the morning,’ advised the Fiscal. The gaoler closed and locked the door.

 

‘Cell three, Lynette Baker,’ the gaoler announced, opening the door to the adjacent cell. Lynette, now wearing a shapeless plain gray robe, leapt at the gaoler, who immediately put up a shield spell. Lynette shouted and swore until she was out of breath.

 

‘Mr Potter?’ the Fiscal asked.

 

‘This is Lynette Baker, Harpies Beater,’ Harry said.

 

‘Thank you, Mr Potter,’ said Mrs Quarell. Lynette began to swear again. ‘I’d advise you to moderate your language and curb your temper, young lady,’ the Fiscal said sharply. ‘Drunk and disorderly. I’ll be back in the morning.’ The gaoler closed the door and then dismissed her shield spell.

 

They moved to the next cell.

 

‘Cell five, Ginevra Molly Weasley,’ the gaoler announced, opening the next door. Ginny was on her hands and knees, leaning over the toilet bowl in the corner of her cell. She was retching. Like Olivia, she was still in her vomit-stained clothes. A clean grey robe lay on the bench on the opposite wall.

 

‘The love of my life.’ Harry spoke softly and sadly to himself. He hadn’t seen her for a month, but in his desperation to find her, he had simply made things worse.

 

Ginny’s hair was dangling into the toilet bowl. He stepped forwards and lifted it out; it was sticky. He cautiously sniffed his fingers and identified a stomach churning mixture of vomit, Firewhisky, Butterbeer and pumpkin juice. He wiped his fingers on his bloodstained shirt.

 

Ginny finished retching, raised her head and struggled to focus. ‘Harry,’ she gasped.

 

Rolling sideways onto the floor she curling up into a ball And began to sob softly. Her skirt was hitched up around her waist, her shirt gaped open. She was showing a great deal of her well-muscled body, but she had never looked more fragile. Harry gently picked her up and carried her to the narrow bench which would serve as her bed. Ginny threw an arm over Harry’s shoulder and nuzzled into his chest, rubbing tears and snot into his already bloodstained shirt. The gaolers words of protest were silenced by the Fiscal.

 

Before he reached the cot, Ginny spasmed, heaved, and added puke to his shirt and to her bloodstained chest. Harry ignored it and carefully lowered her onto the cot. When he began to try to help her out of her vomit covered clothes, however, the Fiscal called a halt.

 

‘Mr Potter … Harry,’ she amended her tone and spoke gently. ‘Under no circumstances can a male Law Officer undress a female prisoner in custody. It doesn’t matter who he is, or who she is. We’ll look after her. Now get out.’

 

For a moment Harry considered arguing. The elderly Fiscal took his arm and, gently but firmly, led him from the cell. When she closed the door, Harry leaned against the cold stone wall, thinking about what he’d just seen, about what he’d done. Tears coursed silently down his cheeks.

 

Why? He wondered. The job? She had been really worried about him this time; that had been obvious on their last night together. Was that it? If so, he’d have to quit; there was no alternative. If it was either Ginny or the job, it was Ginny. He’d finish his current mission, he hoped that she’d understand that, but afterwards he’d resign. With a groan, he slid down the wall and put his head in his hands.

 

The cell door opened. He looked up.

 

‘Harry,’ the Fiscal said gently, ‘you can come back in now.’

 

Ginny was lying on her side, her eyes closed. Her breath came in gasping sobs. She was in clean prison robes. Her face had been washed and her hair Scourgified; it was a tangled mess, but clean. She was shaking. Harry blinked tears from his eyes and looked worriedly at the gaoler.

 

‘Does she need a blanket?’ he asked, concerned. The gaoler shook her head.

 

‘Ye’ve nae seen many serious drunks, have ye?’ she asked. ‘Busy wi’ bigger fish I suppose. She’s no cold, it’s jest the booze. She’ll be shaking most o’ the night, and a good part o’ the morrow. Does she always get this bad?’

 

Harry shook his head.

 

‘She didn’t drink much until she joined the Harpies, and even then, at the start of the season she just had a few shots of Firewhisky. Enough to get …’ Harry searched for a word to describe the fiery, mischievous, fun-loving girl he’d met and taken home after the early games of the season, ‘… playful?’ he tried. ‘I’ve never seen her as drunk as this,’ he sighed.

 

‘When is the last time you saw her?’ the Fiscal asked.

 

‘About a month ago, I’ve been away … I can’t say more, Auror Office business.’

 

‘I see. Well, I need you to let me look after her, Harry.’ The Fiscal reached up and put a consoling hand on Harry’s shoulder.

 

He wiped the tears from his eyes and pulled himself together.

 

‘This is Ginny Weasley,’ Harry said sadly.

 

‘Drunk and incapable,’ said the Fiscal, patting Harry on the shoulder. The gaoler closed and locked the door and looked at Harry.

 

‘I’ve put a watching charm on her, Mr Potter,’ the gaoler told him. ‘Ye’re staying in the building, I’m told. If ye want to check up on her, ye can, but I cannae allow you into the cell.’

 

‘Thank you.’ Harry nodded.

 

She’ll be fine,’ the gaoler told him consolingly. ‘She just needs t’ sleep it aff.’

 

‘I hope so.’

 

‘Well, Harry, you’d best get upstairs and write your report,’ the Fiscal said, ‘I’m away home now, but if you use the statement form I’ll receive a copy as soon as you sign it. And mind you look after yourself, lad; you look exhausted. Get yourself something to eat and a cup of tea; there’s a carry-out just over the road, The Big Bite. And get some sleep.’

 

Edna Quarell led Harry back upstairs and bade him farewell outside the door to the Law Office. He watched her press the lift button and then opened the door into the Law Office. Behind him, he heard the lift doors rattle open and an oily voice order. ‘Out of my way, woman.’

 

Harry turned in the doorway; Gus Tavistock had pushed past the Fiscal. The solicitor saw Harry and strode towards him, a look of revulsion on his face. He was looking at Harry’s chest. Harry looked down at the unpleasant mix of blood, vomit and snot on his shirt.

 

‘Scourgify,’ Harry said, pointing his wand at his shirt. He examined the result, it was a marginal improvement. At least it was dry.

 

‘I demand to see my clients,’ Tavistock began.

 

‘Come in, Mr Tavistock,’ Harry said. ‘This isn’t my office, so I don’t know where everything is.’ He led the Harpies’ solicitor into the Law Office.

 

‘Who’s in charge?’ demanded Tavistock. Harry looked at Sheriff Campbell.

 

‘In charge?’ Hamish Campbell spoke very slowly, and then smiled. ‘Well, that would be the Minister, I expect, but he’s in London, sir.’

 

Tavistock looked ready to explode.

 

‘In charge here,’ he snarled. ‘Who’s in charge of justice in this backwater?’

 

‘By this backwater,’ Campbell asked in a carefully neutral voice. ‘Do you mean the capital city of Scotland and the home of the largest Ministry building outside London?’

 

Harry was trying hard not to laugh.

 

‘Yes!’ shouted Tavistock.

 

‘Ah, well,’ continued Hamish Campbell in the same slow, neutral tone, ‘That … that would be the Procurator Fiscal. Her office is...’ He paused and counted slowly, ‘It’ll be the fifth door down on the other side of this corridor, I’m thinking.’

 

Tavistock turned on his heels and stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind him.

 

‘She’s left, hasn’t she?’ Hamish asked, returning to his normal, brusque, voice.

 

‘He pushed her out of his way when he got out of the lift,’ Harry replied, smiling.

 

‘Aye, well, we’ll be in for an interesting day in court then! Best get started on your report Harry, and be sure to check your spelling, she likes the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed diz oor Edna.’

 

The office door burst open again.

 

‘There’s no one there!’ Tavistock screamed.

 

Hamish slowly pulled out his watch.

 

‘Aye, well, it’s late, the Fiscal will be awaa home.’

 

‘I demand to see my clients! Who’s the senior Law Officer on duty?’ Tavistock shouted, red-faced.

 

Hamish looked carefully through a pile of papers on his desk, looked up at Tavistock and smiled.

 

‘That ‘ud be the jumped up little bumpkin,’ he drawled, identifying himself. ‘Hamish Campbell’s the name, but you can call me Sheriff, or Sir. And yer clients ‘ud be them three wee girrlies,’ he said. Harry noticed with interest that Campbell’s speech was slowing, and his Scots accent was becoming more pronounced and impenetrable the angrier Tavistock became. ‘They’ve been remanded by the Fiscal,’ Campbell continued. ‘They’re to remain in their cells until the morning, when they’re sober.’

 

‘You can’t do that,’ Tavistock yelled.

 

‘The paperwork is all in order. I think you’ll find we can. And we have,’ Campbell replied evenly.

 

‘But according to law…’ Tavistock began.

 

‘I’d remind you that you’re north o’ the border, Mr Tavistock,’ Campbell changed back to his normal, brusque and business-like voice. ‘Perhaps you should consult a local expert. They’d tell you that the lassies are in custody, and in the Fiscal’s care. I can take you to the cells, but it says here,’ he waved the report, ‘that two of them are sleeping it off and the other is violent. So, speak to them if you want, but they’re staying in the cells until the morrow.’

 

‘I’ll be filing for wrongful arrest,’ Tavistock fumed. ‘Expect to receive papers within the hour.’

 

‘Aye, I’ll do that,’ Campbell replied evenly. ‘Do you want to see the prisoners? It would give me a good deal of pleasure to take you down to the cells.’

 

Campbell strode from the room, leaving Gus Tavistock to ponder the double meaning of his words. After snarling at Harry, Tavistock followed.

 

When the door closed Heather Huddleston grinned at Harry.

 

‘Yon Tavistock’s upset both the Fiscal and the boss. Bad move!’ She handed him several forms. ‘You’d best get your statement done now, Mr Potter. We’ll leave you to it. Mark and I need to get back out on patrol. I expect we’ll see you later.’

 


 

Two hours later, the law office was full of the pungent aroma of fish and vinegar. Harry and several local bailiffs sat eating fish and chips..

 

Every half hour he’d been down to check on Ginny. She was sleeping soundly, but still shivering. Lynette Baker, too, was finally asleep, though there was talk of charging her with destruction of Ministry property. She’d made a valiant attempt to destroy her cell.

 

The Harry had strolled across Side Way to the Big Bite and bought haddock and chips for himself and the five law office bailiffs who were at the end of their shift. They were eating their battered haddock and salty chips with their fingers from the newspaper it had been wrapped in.

 

Gus Tavistock had left an hour earlier. He’d spoken to Lynette at length, but he hadn’t been able to talk to the others. He’d tried to wake both Ginny and Olivia, but had been unable to rouse either of them.

 

Ginny was being well looked after. Harry had won the gaoler, Aileen, over by the simple expedient of providing her with a brew and a chew (as the locals called tea and chocolate biscuits) at half past ten and again at half past eleven. She’d declined his offer of fish and chips, telling himthat that she was watching her figure.

 

Harry swallowed the last of his chips and wiped the grease from his fingertips using the newspaper. Crumpling the greasy paper up into a ball, he threw it across the room in a high arc; it landed in a waste bin in the far corner.

 

‘Good shot,’ said Heather Huddleston, breaking off a piece of battered haddock and popping it into her mouth. She stood and stretched.

 

‘I’m done wi’ this,’ she announced, after she swallowed the mouthful. She held up her chips. ‘Anyone want to finish ‘em off?’

 

Mark Moon got there first.

 

‘I expect I’ll see you tomorrow, Harry; goodnight,’ Heather said.

 

She had almost reached the door when it flew open and Hermione scurried into the office. Harry stood; Hermione ran towards him and threw her arms around his neck.

 

‘Oh, Harry,’ she said sadly, kissing his cheek, grabbing his shoulders, and stepping back to look at him. ‘How are you?’ And how’s Ginny?’ Before he answered she released him and took another step back, a look of horror on her face.

 

‘What is that?’ she asked, pointing to the front of his shirt and checking the front of the sober grey business suit she was wearing.

 

‘Oh,’ Harry said, looking down at his badly stained white shirt. ‘It’s a mixture of chip fat, vinegar, snot, blood and vomit.’

 

Hermione recoiled, revolted. ‘Really, Harry,’ she scolded. ‘You’re hopeless; you should take better care of yourself.

 

‘I’m only responsible for the vinegar and chip fat; the rest, I’m sorry to say, are Ginny’s.’ he told her sadly. ‘I’m okay, Hermione, thanks for asking. Ginny is extremely drunk and currently unconscious, sleeping it off. Is Ron with you?’

 

Hermione put on her annoyed face, and shook her head.

 

‘I was at work. I heard the news of Ginny’s arrest on the wireless, at midnight. I didn’t think you’d want to be harassed by a gaggle of Weasleys so I Apparated to your place and woke Ronald up. I sent him off to the Burrow to head off an invasion.’

 

Harry grinned, ‘A gaggle? I’ve always thought of them as a tribe.’ Then he noticed the tone and subtext of what he’d been told; “Ronald” was at his place. Hermione and Ron had obviously fallen out again. He was about to ask, but didn’t get the chance.

 

‘Surely a complication of Weasleys would be a much more appropriate collective noun, Harry?’ came a sing-song voice from the door.

 

‘Luna!’ exclaimed Harry striding over to the blonde witch and hugging her. ‘What on earth are you doing here?’

 

‘I heard that Ginny has been very silly again. I was listening to the wireless in my hide and decided to come to see how you both were,’ Luna said seriously. ‘And while I’m very fond of your hugs Harry, I really don’t appreciate you covering me with whatever you have on your shirt front. This is a new dress.’ She was wearing a long purple dress and a lime green cardigan.

 

Harry put one arm around colourful Luna, and the other around soberly suited Hermione.

 

‘Thanks for coming,’ he said. It was then he realised that he had an audience.

 

‘Go on you lot, get yersel’s awa hame,’ Campbell said. ‘And you should try to get some sleep Harry; there’s no’ much more you can do until morning.’

 

‘I need to keep an eye on Ginny,’ Harry protested.

 

‘She’s not going anywhere, Harry,’ Hermione reminded him. ‘There’s no need to visit her cell every …’

 

‘Half-hour,’ Campbell provided.

 

‘She’s shaking, puking and unconscious,’ said Harry angrily, ‘I want to make sure she’s okay.’

 

‘You need to sleep, Harry,’ Luna advised. ‘You’re too tired to think. You can’t help anyone until you get some rest. I’ll take over the visits. Ginny is my first best friend, you know. If there’s anything wrong, I’ll wake you, I promise.’

 

Harry nodded gratefully.

 

‘Thanks, Luna, I am rather tired. But what about you?’

 

‘I’m wide awake, Harry; I’ve been sleeping during the day for the past week. I’ve been spending my nights observing the sleeping habits of the gernumblies in their natural habitat. I think I can afford to miss one night’s observation.’

 

‘What have you seen?’ Harry asked curiously.

 

‘Sleeping gernumblies, of course,’ Luna said matter-of-factly.

 

Harry couldn’t think of an answer to this.

 

‘Come on, Harry, Neville reckons you’ve been awake for at least twenty-four hours,’ Hermione said, leading him over to two narrow wooden benches which Campbell had been dragging together to create a makeshift bed.

 

‘I’ve slept here often enough masel’ lass,’ Campbell told Hermione as he threw a couple of blankets over the benches. ‘But now, I’m awa hame, goodnight.’

 

He left, leaving Harry, Hermione and Luna alone in the room.

 

‘Ron …’ Harry began.

 

‘Is an arse!’ Hermione interrupted, ‘I do not want to talk about that ginger moron.’ She folded her arms.

 

‘But …’

 

‘No, Harry, you’re dead on your feet,’ Hermione ordered. ‘Get some sleep.’

 

Harry lay down on the bench. Despite his new worries, he was asleep almost immediately.

 


 

He was lying, dozing, in the warm summer sun, listening to the birds, to the wind in the trees and to Ginny’s gentle breathing. She had her back against a tree near the edge of the lake. His head was resting on her lap, his arm was across her legs and holding her hip, and she was running her fingers through his hair. In the distance, he heard Ron.

 

‘What’s going on?’ Ron asked aggressively. Ginny didn’t answer; Hermione did.

 

‘He’s asleep, Ronald. He rolled over into this position about three hours ago and he’s hardly moved since. I didn’t want to disturb him,’ hissed Hermione from above him.

 

Suddenly Harry was aware of his surroundings. The cloth under his stubble shadowed jaw was soft and expensive, not the school robes he’d been dreaming about. The legs under the cloth weren’t muscled like Ginny’s. He flexed his fingers and touched a hip that wasn’t Ginny’s! Panicking, he slowly opened one eye and saw a sober grey business suit.

 

He sat up suddenly, causing Hermione to shriek. He looked around, he was still in the Law Officers’ room. There were a few grinning bailiffs in the room, but there was no sign of Luna.

 

‘Sorry, Hermione,’ Harry blinked and tried to focus. His head throbbed, his ribs ached and his joints were stiff and sore. He needed more sleep, and he’d sat up so quickly that it felt as though he’d left his brain on Hermione’s lap. Both Ron Weasley and Neville Longbottom were staring at him.

 

Harry blushed furiously and glanced at Hermione, she was smirking. She looked like she’d been asleep herself, sitting up in the corner of the room.

 

‘There’s nothing to apologise for, Harry,’ Hermione told him. ‘You’re my friend. You’re concerned because your girlfriend got very drunk and made a fool of herself. That says a lot about you.’

 

Ron’s eyes widened. He was worried, which was obviously how Hermione wanted him. Harry needed to find out what had happened between them. Neville looked pale and rather nervous, too, but right now they were not his top priority.

 

‘Ginny?’ he asked. Everything else could wait.

 

‘Luna has been visiting her every half-hour. She’s there now,’ Hermione said, giving Harry a consoling hug and ignoring Ron’s growl. ‘She’ll be back in a few minutes.’

 

‘You need to see this,’ scowled Ron angrily.

 

He held a copy of the Daily Prophet in front of Harry.

 

The front page headlines read:

 

POTTER ARRESTS WEASLEY

Harpy’s Hellions Demolish Another Bar

Is it all over between the Chosen One and his Chosen One?

Articles on pages 2-6 and 11-15.

 

Harry sighed: the rest of the front page was filled with a large photograph. It showed Harry, looking shocked and angry, with an unconscious Ginny in his arms. The photograph clearly showed Ginny’s bloodstained face, and Harry’s bloodstained shirt.

 

‘Did you hit her?’ asked Ron.



Chapter 7: The Hunt: Den of Wolves
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7. The Hunt: Den of Wolves

 

Harry stepped out into a bubbling beck. Behind him, water rushed from a narrow crack in a high crag. It flowed around the Shivering Stone and splashed over pebbles and gravel in its search for mother sea. The water rushed down into a forest which proudly announced its age and temperament.

 

Ahead was no man-made excuse for a forest. These weren’t the orderly marching rows of pines he had walked through in recent days. This was gnarled ancient oak, beech, holly, ash and elder; trees which did as they pleased. At the forest’s edge gorse and brambles grew in wild profusion. The air was heavy with the smell of wet peat and rotting leaf mulch, smells which mingled with the sweet scent of wildflowers. This was a place where no Muggle had settled, chopped trees or changed the landscape. It reminded Harry of the Forbidden Forest.

 

The world beneath the iron grey sky was shades of green and brown interspersed with patches of purple heather, yellow gorse, lavender foxgloves and bluebells; there were a few snowdrops under the trees too. It would be impossible to walk through the undergrowth without leaving a trail. The trees were sprouting buds, daring winter to return.

 

As Harry carefully picked his way downstream he saw foot-shaped holes in the water. He could also make out the oddly shimmering movement of his cloak hem in the current. The cloak was not much use under the circumstances, but he didn’t remove it.

 

Pebbles skittered underfoot as he splashed his way to the point where the beck tumbled into the forest. The water was moving more rapidly as it entered a narrow glen where it fell five feet into a small pool.

 

To Harry’s right, a narrow path led away from the stream and into the forest. The path was overgrown and obviously little used. He cautiously went to investigate, but could see no more than a hundred yards into the tree-shaded gloom. Nettles and brambles lined the narrow, muddy trail and the forest floor was the brown and yellow of wind-blown leaves.

 

Taking the route through the trees might lead him to the werewolf village, but it was possible that he could meet someone en route. Cautiously, he scouted a short distance down the path.

 

Seeing something moving high in the branches, he stopped and squinted worriedly upwards. The stick like creatures he could see were Bowtruckles. Looking back up the track, he saw his footprints in the peaty soil. The cloak was impractical here, too, because of the thorns and brambles. There was scent to consider too. Remus’ notes, which he’d been reading in his tent, had been a revelation to Harry. Most werewolves, even untransformed, retained an increased olfactory awareness.

 

What he needed, he realised, was a broom. Auror equipment should include a broom, a good broom. It would be unwieldy to carry, unless Aurors had something like Hermione’s beaded bag. A bag, no, a wallet, with an undetectable extension charm. Something an Auror could store whatever equipment they needed to carry out their mission. Harry made a mental note to discuss the idea with Ron when he got back.

 

Standing silently on the path, Harry made his decision. Returning to the stream, he descended the side of the small waterfall Once in the glen he could hear nothing but the babbling beck, and see nothing beyond its steep sides. Stopping, he pulled an Extendable Ear from his pocket, disillusioned it, and sent it vertically up above the edge of the glen. The effect was disconcerting. Through one ear he could hear the stream rushing alongside him, through the other the stream was a distant murmur—he heard the rustle of the trees, nothing else.

 

Taking a few moments to adjust to this unusual auditory information, he carefully examined his surroundings. He was well screened from the forest. For him to be seen, someone would have to look directly over the edge into the rapidly deepening ravine. Grass overhung the edges and dripped water down into the lichen-covered stone sides. The fern and moss covering the edges was steep and slippery. It was unlikely that anyone would approach closely enough to see him, and the water should hide his scent.

 

The weathered stones on both sides of the glen were slick with water. Large growths of sphagnum moss grew on the walls. Several useful types of fern, moss and lichen grew in profusion around him.

 

Harry smiled to himself. Sitting at the next desk to Neville Longbottom for two years had taught him a huge amount about plants both mundane and magical he’d unconsciously absorbed Neville’s enthusiastic chatter. Cupping his hands under a particularly large area of overhanging moss, he leaned forwards and squeezed moss against stone using his forehead. His head and hands tingled with the cold. Lifting the ice-cold, moss-filtered water he’d caught, he drank. It was fresh and a little peaty.

 

Senses alert, Harry continued his descent of the gorge. Once or twice he slipped on moss-covered rocks. At other times he had to cross from one side of the stream to another. He cursed the previous two days’ weather. The rainwater was still trickling its way to the stream, which was swollen and fast flowing. Several times he had to stop to dry his feet after being forced to walk through rushing water to a better path opposite.

 

After walking for at least half an hour, Harry scrambled down the side of a second waterfall, this one a drop of some eight feet. Alongside the cascade was a wide pebble beach. The pool at its foot was deep and the water clear. Pebbles and larger rocks had been thrown into the stream to create a makeshift dam. This, the first sign of human intervention with nature, was a deliberate attempt to make the pool directly beneath the waterfall even deeper. The stream twisted out from this secluded area at a right angle to the falls. He peered carefully around the corner before proceeding.

 

The stream widened, and so did the glen. Travelling downstream became much easier. The cover provided by the glen diminished as the valley opened out into the forest. A faint path led up the right side of the glen and into the trees. Harry decided that it probably led to the village. Putting on his Invisibility Cloak, he clambered carefully up the left side.

 

On the right bank of the stream, the opposite side to where he stood, the forest was coming to an end. On the left the trees continued, stretching high up the hill away from the stream. A precipitous rocky bank, covered in gorse and a few shoots of fern, rose steeply from the water’s edge into the forest. As Harry crept along its edge, he smelled smoke.

 

Stealthily skulking from tree to tussock, Harry followed the water while climbing the hillside, cautiously continuing towards the smoke. The stream was falling away to his right as he followed an apparently little-used trail. Soon, his hillside vantage point gave him a good view of the village. He stopped and carefully assessed what he could see.

 

The buildings were basic and primitive: a motley collection of single-storey wood and plaster cottages with thatched, or in some cases turf, roofs. Outside each cottage was a garden full of vegetables and herbs. There were about two dozen of these buildings scattered in a rough semi-circle along the curve of the stream. At the radial point of the semi-circle, where village met pasture, there was another building; a large two-storey stone farmhouse.

 

Harry tried to keep calm. He’d found the place, but that was only the first part of his mission. Now he had to find somewhere to keep watch. He must locate Lowell and, through Lowell, find Lestrange. As he looked back into the trees, searching for a safe and secure camp site overlooking the village, the door to one of the cottages opened. A dainty little girl, about ten years old, walked out with a wooden bucket in her hand. As Harry stepped backwards he dislodged a stone which slid and clattered down the bank towards the stream. The girl looked up at the noise, and appeared to look directly at Harry.

 

The girl had a pale, oval-shaped face, her reddish-brown hair fell almost to her waist. The stone rattled to a halt under a gorse bush at the edge of the stream. The girl looked towards the noise, shrugged, walked over to the stream and filled the bucket. Harry began breathing again. He waited for the girl to go back indoors before moving cautiously into the trees.

 

He carefully scouted the area, looking for a spot where he would be able to observe the entire village. By the time he had found one the entire village was awake and moving and he did not dare set up camp. Lying in a narrow gap between a fallen elm tree and a flourishing gorse bush he hastily scribbled a note to Ron and Neville.

 

“In safely, beginning observations. More later,” he wrote, before signing the message. Safe, he hoped, under his cloak, Harry pulled out his Omnioculars and began his observations. Even by the end of that first, uncomfortable, day, he had begun to identify the villagers.

 

The butcher was at the far end of the village, downstream of every other property. Harry watched in disbelief as the burly man hobbled a squealing pig, hauled it protesting into the air, and slit its throat with a single cut of a wicked-looking knife. After placing a wooden bucket under the creature to collect the steaming blood, the man left the creature’s still twitching corpse and went to examine several animal skins stretched out on wooden frames.

 

The baker was at the other end of the village. As soon as the door opened, someone from the other cottages, usually a young child, hurried over to collect a loaf. The smell of the fresh-baked bread was carried on the breeze across the stream to Harry, making him hungry. As he watched, a middle-aged woman left the baker’s and hurried over to the stone house. To his surprise, she climbed up some stone steps on the outside of the stone building and knocked on the iron bound oak door on the upper floor. Harry watched closely.

 

A grey-haired crone opened the door, took the basket and closed the door in the woman’s face. This was apparently normal, as the woman descended the steps and returned to the baker’s. Harry looked carefully at the stone house, and recalled his conversation with Mr and Mrs Wake. This was a bastle, a fortified farmhouse.

 

There were three tiny slit-windows on the long wall, and two of them covered the staircase. The stone stairs ended short of the door, and the wooden platform in front of the door was built on a beam cantilevered out from the wall. It appeared to Harry that the platform could be dropped from inside the building. The ground floor had double doors leading into what, Harry remembered from his conversation with the Wakes, would be a low vaulted barn. The building was roofed in thick, rough cut, slate. This would be a difficult building to attack; especially if, as Harry suspected, it was also magically protected. He tried to keep an eye on the door while also watching the rest of the village.

 

A tall, rangy man in his late twenties was walking disconsolately back from the baker’s, a sour look on his face. Meeting the dainty little girl, his face cracked into a reluctant smile. He ruffled her hair affectionately as they passed, and his face again soured. At the dainty girl’s cottage two other girls were now in the garden; they had dragged a cow out from the house and tied it to a post. Harry thought two girls looked to be sisters of the first girl. The eldest appeared twelve or thirteen. She towered over the other, who was perhaps eight years old. Both were stocky. The younger had shoulder length dark brown hair and uneven teeth; the older was round faced and had long, tawny-brown hair. The elder girl took control and began to milk the cow while her little sister stroked the beast’s nose.

 

Harry watched each of the cottages as cows were led out, milked and taken to the pasture; he watched the butcher expertly dismember the pig, and saw him shout.

 

‘Ross!’ The name echoed across the stream moments later. A teenage boy (thirteen or fourteen, Harry estimated) strolled from the cottage and grinned at his father. The butcher picked up the choicest cut of meat, wrapped it in brown paper, then re-wrapped it in newspaper. He handed the package to the boy.

 

Ross was a good-looking boy, and he knew it. He was tall and broad-shouldered and his long black hair flopped over one eye. He strutted through the village until he reached the bastle. As he climbed the stone steps his demeanour changed. He was cowed and nervous when he knocked at the door. The crone opened it, took the meat and slammed the door in his face.

 

Harry continued to watch village life unfold in front of him. Eventually, he saw the mother of the three girls. Her hair was the light tawny brown of her eldest daughter. She was a slight and careworn woman, no taller than her eldest daughter and not as stocky. She had a sadness about her which reminded Harry very much of Andromeda Tonks on one of her bad days.

 

It was then that Harry finally remembered his camera. He photographed everything he could see.

 

It was almost noon before the bastle door opened again. Six people descended the stairs and Harry’s heartrate increased expectantly. He trained his Omnioculars on each of them in turn, but was disappointed; Rabastan Lestrange was not amongst them.

 

He recognised Verulf Lowell from his research. He was a long-haired, yellow-teethed, grey-haired man in his fifties. An imposing looking black-haired woman about ten years his junior clung to Lowell’s arm. One of the other four was instantly familiar to Harry. Scabior, Greyback's henchman from the Snatcher squad who’d taken them to Malfoy Manor looked perfectly at ease. The others were: a short, fat, bald man, who Harry recognised from the wanted posters as Zachary Youen; an unprepossessing-looking woman with wild brown hair who looked as if she might be related to Scabior, and a skinny man with greasy black hair—Gordon Payne.

 

Harry should have been elated; he had found three of the wanted Snatchers, one of whom was supposedly dead. He was not. There was no sign of his main prize, Rabastan Lestrange.

 

Nevertheless, remembering his mission, he photographed them as they swaggered around the village giving orders. They had wands; it appeared that no-one else did. Harry continued watching until dusk, when the animals were brought back indoors.

 


 

That night Harry was very busy. He removed the frame from his rucksack, enlarged it, and levitated it into the air above an area of brambles and between four sturdy trees. Transfiguring the straps into ropes he tied them to the four trees, creating a platform about fifteen feet square and about the same height above the brambles. Clambering up the largest of the four trees, an ancient oak, he stepped across onto the platform and altered the length of the ropes to ensure that the platform was level. Satisfied that the platform was solid and secure he looked over the edge. He would get a much better view of the village from up here.

 

‘Accio rucksack,’ he whispered. It flew up into his hand. Pulling out his tent, he erected it on the platform, and finally disillusioned everything. It was an unsettling feeling, standing on an invisible platform, while invisible himself. Turning, he realised that he couldn’t find the entrance to his tent. Laughing inwardly at his stupidity he removed the spell from the tent, pulled the Ginny Weasley action figure from his pocket and tied it the tent’s zip. He then carefully repeated his Disillusionment charm, leaving the action figure visible. From the ground, no one would be able to see the tiny model Ginny in her green Harpies robes as she flew and looped in front of the zip. After setting up his protection and alarm spells he grabbed the model Ginny, unselfconsciously kissed it and then opened the tent. Once inside he began preparing his first meal since breakfast, almost fifteen hours earlier.

 

He wrote a lengthy report; it was well after nine before it was completed and sent. That done, he went to bed early. It had been a long day and there were likely to be many more ahead.

 


 

The following morning, Harry woke to torrential rain. He looked outside, rain was running across his invisible platform and pouring off one side like a waterfall. Being invisible was no advantage in this weather. He transfigured the thick canvas of the platform he’d created into a fine, strong net. It helped, though the tent itself was still obvious from up close. He spent a miserable, cold, and wet day watching the villagers going through their regular routines.

 

Fortunately, the next day was dry. Donning his Invisibility Cloak, Harry followed Lowell and his henchmen. He was disappointed. They did not lead him to Lestrange; they simply patrolled the fields and meadows beyond the village. The majority of the men from the village were working in the fields. Lowell and his henchmen stopped occasionally and, with casual cruelty, cast the Cruciatus Curse on one or another of the working men. Their vicious acts seemed to be random

 

 Harry’s natural inclination to run in and defend the defenceless found itself at odds with his Auror training. After a struggle, his training won. Revealing his presence now, he knew, would almost certainly alert Lestrange.

 

While following Lowell and his gang, Harry made a grisly discovery. Cantilevered out from the bastle, on the only wall he couldn’t see from his side of the stream, was a man-sized cage. Hanging inside the cage was a mouldering corpse. Little more than a skeleton; the man had been dead for several months. The villagers all avoided looking at the cage. Steeling himself, Harry cautiously took more photographs.

 

After a few more days watching over Shivering Stone, Harry became familiar with the quiet routine of the village. The baker was always the first to rise, his ovens were working just after dawn. When the wind blew in the right direction, the smell of fresh bread was a distraction to Harry, whose magically preserved bread, though not yet stale, was certainly not fresh and warm from the oven. Every day the villagers toiled in the fields; every day Lowell and his henchmen patrolled.

 

By now Harry knew most of the villagers and could guess many relationships. Most of the cottages were home to a single family. The eldest children in the place were Ross, the butcher’s son, and the tawny-haired girl. They were, he assumed, Squibs. If they had magic, both should have been at Hogwarts. The boy and girl pointedly ignored each other. The girls’ mother, he noted, was the only single parent. The rangy, sour-faced and dark-haired man was the only person who lived alone. These two cottages and their residents were shunned by the other villagers.

 

Sunday, Harry’s sixth day watching the village, was the day of the Harpies game against Kenmare Kestrels. Harry did not dare listen to the midday game. He couldn’t risk the noise, and he couldn’t risk missing Lestrange.

 

On that day, a little after noon, he discovered the girls’ names. He had seen the three head out of the village soon after breakfast. He had watched them appear from behind the house furthest upstream, about four hundred yards from his hideout. They had travelled a short distance up the path, taken a side path and reappeared at the foot of the glen he had travelled down almost a week earlier.

 

They returned when the sun was at its zenith, laughing and joking. They did not return to the village, but remained on his side of the stream. Harry watched in trepidation as they passed within twenty yards of his hideout, talking loudly. The eldest girl was Amber; she was in charge, there was no doubt about that. The middle, dainty, girl was Ruby. She was quiet and (Harry noted with concern) her observant eyes were constantly darting everywhere. The youngest was Jade, who was clumsy and, when seen close, much younger than her size suggested. Her sisters mothered her.

 

As they passed the hideout, Ruby looked at the ground, then looked up, straight at Harry.

 

‘What’s that?’ she asked her sisters, squinting and pointing up at Harry. For a second, he panicked, then he realised that she was looking through him, he looked round, and saw the action figure he’d tied to the tent zip. Instantly on his feet, he covered the figure within the folds of his cloak.

 

‘There,’ Ruby was saying, ‘see that big branch, follow it along this way,’ she pointed.

 

‘Oh,’ she said, disappointed, ‘it’s gone.’ She peered up at where Harry was standing, still pointing. The three girls watched for a long time.

 

‘There’s nothing there,’ Amber scolded. ‘I’ll tell Mum you’re telling stories again, making stuff up. Little liar.’

 

‘Am not,’ Ruby retorted angrily. ‘Jade saw it, didn’t you?’

 

Her sisters turned to the youngest girl; Jade looked from one to the other in panic. She didn’t want to choose sides, so burst into tears. Harry expected the two older girls to blame each other for this turn of events. They didn’t; they instantly forgot their argument, comforted their sister and went on their way.

 

That night, lying on his bed in the tent, Harry’s mind wandered as he tried to reassure himself that this job was his. It had to be. It needed a Seeker’s patience. Waiting, watching, looking for the Lestrange-sized Snitch, observing his opponents, and planning his tactics. He wondered how his friends would have coped. Ginny would have revealed herself out of sheer boredom by now. Neville … Neville probably had the patience, Harry admitted, as did Hermione. Ron, he realised grinning, would be getting frustrated simply reading Harry’s reports. Once again he wondered how his friends were, how Ginny was. He longed to talk to her, to hear her voice, see her smile. If only she’d been at home when he had called.

 

The following morning, the imposing looking woman left the village alone. She mounted a broomstick and flew over the woods, heading towards the Shivering Stone. Harry decided not to follow her; if she was going through the barrier he would never catch her on foot. Now convinced of the need for a broom, he scribbled a short report letting his friends know that she’d left, and went back to observing village life. It was almost dusk when the woman returned. Long enough for her to have left, flown outside the anti-Apparition area and gone…anywhere.

 

That night, the moon reached waxing half. There were only seven days left until the full moon. Harry was becoming obsessed by the lunar cycle. It had been another boring day. Ginny, the Quidditch results and the phases of the moon were now occupying his every thought. Yesterday the Harpies had played at home to the Kestrels; he knew their fixture list by heart. Their next game was another Sunday game, a four o’clock start, away to Montrose Magpies. That game was on the full moon night, one week away. Hopefully, he would be home in time to watch it. Until this mission began, he had attended almost every Harpies game. Until last week he’d known all of the results. Curiosity overcame him; he had to know how Ginny’s team had fared against the Kestrels.

 

Having a copy of the Prophet delivered to his hideout was out of the question, but the butcher wrapped his meat in brown paper and then in newspaper. During his observations, Harry had seen several villagers give him their old newspapers to use. Waiting until long after midnight, Harry sneaked down into the village, both disillusioned and under his Invisibility Cloak. He picked up a copy of the Sunday Prophet from the pile of papers kept under a stone outside the butcher’s and crept stealthily back to his tent. Pleased with his success he looked first at the back page and settled down to read the paper.

 

The match report surprised Harry. The Harpies had won, no surprise there, but for only the third match that season Ginny was not the highest scorer. In fact, for the first time she was the lowest scorer of the three chasers. The reporter made several comments about Ginny being off form and speculated about her England place being in jeopardy. The match report ended with a reference to an article on pages three to six. Concerned, Harry turned to the front of the paper.

 

There were several photographs of Ginny, Linny and Livy on pages three and five. In every image they were obviously drunk. In most of the photographs the camera seemed to be focused on their plunging necklines, not their faces. The article headline read “HELLIONS IN TROUBLE AT HOME”. What was going on? Horrified, Harry read on.

 

A lacklustre performance by teen machine Ginny Weasley and antipodean angel Livy Aikenhead did not prevent them from celebrating another victory with fans in the Harpy’s Roost. Joined, as always, by teammate Linny Baker, the Harpies Hellions were only prevented from demolishing their home tavern by the prompt action of Captain Gwenog Jones.

 

It seems that the Harpies stars have again decided to celebrate by getting drunk and wrecking bars. When asked about her teammates’ activities Captain Jones, obviously angry, said, ‘I’ve been ordered not to talk to the press, ask our press office about the young fools.’

 

The Harpies press office told us that the girls were young and needed to let off steam after so many stunning victories, that no significant damage had been done to the Harpy’s Roost, and that no action was to be taken by the club.

 

Readers might like to be reminded of the recent post-match antics of the Harpies Hellions.

 

Harry scowled, “readers might like to be reminded”; this was an excuse to print old photographs and retread old news. He read on.

 

A few high spirits were to be expected after the Harpies narrow away victory over Tutshill Tornadoes three weeks ago. The Tornadoes fans, reeling from their shock defeat were, however, surprised when three Harpies players, along with dozens of fans, turned up at the Tutshill Tavern to celebrate. A fight was avoided by the arrival of several Law Officers who escorted the Harpies from the building.

 

The following week’s home victory against the geriatric Wimbourne Wasps was expected, but the wild celebrations afterwards were not. Aikenhead, Baker and Weasley danced until the small hours with dozens of fans.

 

There were two smaller photographs on the following page; the first showed the three girls shouting at a group of Tornadoes fans, apparently inside a Tornadoes bar by the look of the décor. The caption read “Hellions Make Their Move”. The second, larger photograph was a head and chest shot of the three, arm in arm and very drunk, all three wore very low-cut tops. The banner behind them showed that they were in a Puddlemere bar. The photograph was not flattering; at least, not of their faces. The caption read “Hellions Show Tornadoes What They’re Made Of”.

 

Harry knew, from long and bitter experience, that much of what he was reading was distorted and inaccurate. Despite this, after carefully re-reading the article several times, he realised that Ginny was acting strangely. Perhaps he should have expected something, he thought miserably. He’d been to every home match this season and most of the away games until the Tornadoes game four weeks ago. After every game he’d waited to meet Ginny and they’d gone out to celebrate or commiserate. Her flat-mates, especially Linny Baker, were always trying to persuade her to go out with her team instead of her boyfriend. As he wasn’t there for her, it seemed that she had.

 

Even so, it was unlike Ginny to get drunk. During the Quidditch season she drank only sparingly and even off-season he’d never seen her as drunk as the reports claimed she had been. The reports might be exaggerated, but the photos looked genuine.

 


 

By the following night, Harry was so worried about Ginny that he began to consider leaving. He’d been watching the village for ten days and there had been no sign of Lestrange. Perhaps he was hiding elsewhere. After sending his evening report he again stayed awake. At two in the morning he left his hideout and walked half a mile upstream.

 

Climbing out from the ravine he picked his way carefully through the undergrowth to the path. On his way back down into the village he picked up a fallen branch. The night sky was, for once, cloudless. The moon was waxing gibbous. It hung, shimmering bloated and threatening above the village. Every night its increasing girth reminded him that he was next to a village full of werewolves.

 

Skirting the village, he walked up to the bastle. ‘Homenum Revillio,’ he murmured. There were seven people inside: the six with wands and the crone who seemed to be their only servant. He had suspected that would be the case. It was very unlikely that Lestrange had remained hidden inside the building for over a week, but it was sensible to check. Transfiguring the branch into some stepladders, he climbed up to examine the corpse. There wasn’t much left of the man. He had been big, probably the same size as Lestrange. Was it him? Had Lowell murdered Lestrange in order to slowly steal his wealth? The only way to find out was to ask someone.

 

Disappointed, Harry climbed down and undid the spell. Retracing his route, he dropped the branch back in the forest and returned to his hideout the way he had come. Lying on his bed in the tent, unable to sleep, Harry’s mind wandered. He wondered how his friends were and why they weren’t looking after Ginny.

 

He missed seeing Ron and Neville at work. He missed his lunch breaks with Ron and Hermione. Every day he and Ron hauled Hermione from her office in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Every day she protested that she “was too busy for lunch”, but they dragged her out into Muggle London anyway. Ron bullied her into going home most nights, too. If left to herself, Hermione would work until midnight.

 

Harry missed Molly Weasley’s Sunday dinners and the banter around the dinner table at the Burrow. He missed playing with his godson, now almost two. Most of all he missed Ginny and, after his obsessive re-reading of the Sunday Prophet articles, he worried about her too.

 


 

Harry woke late the following morning, frustrated and disappointed. It was after nine so he scribbled a hasty “no news” report. As he re-read it, his concern for Ginny overwhelmed him. Hastily scribbled “What’s the matter with Ginny?” at the end, he signed his name. After wrapping himself in his cloak, he lay outside watching. The village routine continued as normal. Early in the afternoon the three sisters left and walked upstream, laughing and chattering. Five minutes later the butcher’s boy, Ross, followed them. The boy was moving stealthily and carrying a crossbow.

 

Harry didn’t wait; he didn’t even climb down the tree. He felt for the edge of his invisible platform, grabbed it, lowered himself over, and dropped the remaining three feet into a patch of nettles. His trousers protected him from most of the stings.

 

Wand in hand, Harry raced after the crossbow carrying youth. Ross was on the opposite bank and about four hundred yards ahead of Harry. The dark-haired boy was moving quickly and quietly. Harry ran pell-mell through the undergrowth, but the butcher’s son was soon out of site in the twisting glen. Harry pressed on as quickly as he dared.

 

From his initial journey down the glen, he knew that he was approaching the lower waterfall and pool. As he hurried onwards there was a girl’s scream, then a second, and a third. Sprinting around the corner he saw the youth running straight towards him. Harry was about to Stun the boy when he noticed that the crossbow had not been fired. He hadn’t had the opportunity to reload since the screams. Perhaps something else threatened the girls, something the boy was running from. Harry moved out of the way and let Ross sprint past.

 

As the boy reached the next corner he stumbled on the rocks. The crossbow fell with a clatter.

 

There was a spark and crack on the side of the glen near Harry. He felt an agonising pain in his calf. Looking down he saw several slivers of wood protruding from his lower leg. The crossbow had loosed when it was dropped.

 

Harry’s leg gave way and he fell into the water. He gritted his teeth, trying not to cry out. At least the shock of the cold water was keeping him conscious. He watched his blood mix with the cold, fast flowing stream.

 

The three girls rounded the corner upstream. Jade was struggling to pull her robe straight. Amber looked furious.

 

‘What’s wrong with boys looking at us when we’re swimming?’ Jade asked her older sisters.

 

‘I’m going to tell Mum,’ said Amber with relish. ‘He’s going to be in so much trouble.’

 

‘What’s that?’ Ruby asked, pointing to the vaguely Harry-shaped hole in the water.

 

Harry tried to stagger to his feet, to get out of the water that was revealing his presence. He collapsed in pain. His cloak floated up around his body, partially revealing him to three astonished girls. Rolling sideways onto the pebbles out of the water took him further out of his cloak. He’d been hit by the broken end of the bolt. Re-examining his wound, he saw that three separate splinters of wood were protruding from his calf through. One, the largest, had gone right through the leg. He swore.

 

‘Language!’ Jade exclaimed, hands on hips. Harry looked at the little girl in surprise; being scolded by a small child was a new experience for him. He immediately stopped cursing.

 

Blinking water from his eyes, Harry looked at the girls. Amber and Jade stood and watched him carefully. Amber, he noticed, had picked up a large stone. Ruby was some distance behind them, but was now approaching at a run.

 

‘Sorry,’ he gasped through gritted teeth. ‘This hurts. I really need to take the splinters out.’

 

‘You shouldn’t try to do it yourself,’ Ruby said sternly as she stopped next to her sisters. ‘I’ll go and fetch Mum, shall I?’

 

‘I’ll be all right,’ said Harry, grunting with pain. ‘Just leave me alone.’

 

Ruby edged forwards and reached out with a handful of wet moss. She squeezed the moss and trickled ice-cold water onto Harry’s forehead. It helped to clear his head.

 

‘Mum does this when we’re hurt,’ Ruby told him. Behind her, he saw that Amber had raised her stone, ready to defend her sister.

 

‘Thanks,’ he muttered, ‘but I’d best deal with this myself.’ Amber began to relax.

 

‘I’d be grateful if you didn’t tell anyone you’ve seen me,’ he continued hopefully. ‘I’m not supposed to be here.’

 

‘It’s too late for that,’ a female voice said softly. ‘Don’t make any sudden moves, and put your wand on the ground where I can see it.’

 

Groaning with effort, Harry turned to see the girl’s mother advancing towards him. The sunlight glinted off her tawny brown hair and she was little more than a silhouette. However, he could see enough to realise that she had a crossbow pointed at him.



Chapter 8: The Snare: The Foolish Pride of Lions
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8. The Snare: The Foolish Pride of Lions

 

‘Did I hit Ginny?’ repeated Harry incredulously. ‘Of course I didn’t hit her! Is that what the paper says? Linny Baker thumped her.’

 

‘I told you, Ron,’ said Neville firmly. ‘Harry would never hit Ginny.’

 

‘Linny promised me that she’d keep an eye on her, look after her,’ said Ron, frowning. He stared at Harry and tried to ignore Hermione.

 

‘Linny was baiting Ginny. Ginny lost her temper and took a swing at her, but she was so drunk that she missed. Linny swung back and didn’t.’ Harry told him.

 

‘Baiting Ginny, why?’

 

‘They were both falling down drunk! They said stupid things, did stupid things and then started to fight each other. You’ve been out on patrol with Magical Law Enforcement; you know what can happen when people get drunk.’ Harry retorted.

 

Ron looked stunned. Hermione spoke.

 

‘So, Ron, your sister got falling down drunk and did something stupid, something embarrassing,’ she shrieked furiously. ‘Why aren’t you laughing? It must be a joke, just another very funny Weasley joke!’

 

Ron’s anger evaporated, his face fell. Harry watched his friend’s ears redden as he slumped in defeat and embarrassment.

 

‘What’s going on?’ Harry began.

 

Ron and Hermione both started talking at once. Ron’s heated protestations blended with Hermione’s irate shrieks of explanation making their discordant dissension unintelligible. Before Harry could intervene to try to make sense of their disagreement Luna burst into the room.

 

‘Ginny’s awake and she wants to talk to you, Harry. She’s really hungover but the gaol-witch won’t let me make her a hangover cure.’

 

Harry was on his feet instantly. Ignoring Ron and Hermione, who were now glaring at each other in sullen silence, he headed for the door. He was stopped before he reached it. The Fiscal had followed Luna into the room. The ministry staff and Law Officers, who had been avidly watching Harry and his friends argue, all sat down at their desks and tried to look busy.

 

‘Ah,’ observed Edna Quarell. ‘The gang’s all here, I see! I had to fight my way through the press to get into the building this morning, Auror Potter! You bring chaos in your wake.’

 

Harry turned to his friends.

 

‘This is Edna Quarell, the Procurator Fiscal,’ he began, ‘Fiscal, these are …’

 

‘I read the papers, Potter; I recognise your cronies. Auror Weasley, Auror Longbottom, Miss Granger, Miss Lovegood.’ She nodded a curt greeting.

 

‘The Healer arrived with me. I have asked her to examine the prisoners. She will advise me whether they are fit for interview. The Healer will also administer any potions required, Miss Lovegood. We can’t have friends of the prisoners handing them homemade potions, it could be Polyjuice, or poison, or anything.’

 

The Fiscal waved a copy of the Daily Prophet.

 

‘I need to discuss certain serious allegations with you, Mr Potter. Let’s go to my office.’

 

Harry looked at his friends. Ron and Hermione had concern etched clearly on their faces. Both walked towards him and both opened their mouths to speak. Realising that they’d reach Harry together, they stopped and looked at each other in horror.

 

‘I’ll talk to you two when I’ve finished,’ snapped Harry. He hurried out of the room following the Fiscal along the corridor to her office.

 

‘Sit,’ Edna Quarell ordered brusquely after she’d closed her office door.

 

‘Have you read this?’ she asked.

 

Harry shook his head. ‘Ron brought a copy in with him but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.’

 

‘You attend every Harpies match?’ The Fiscal asked.

 

‘I try to, both home and away,’ Harry confirmed.

 

‘But you’ve missed the last four?’

 

‘Five,’ Harry corrected: ‘Tornadoes away; Wasps home; Puddlemere away, Kenmare home and last night’s away game against the Magpies. I’ve been working; Auror Office business.’

 

Edna Quarell watched him carefully. Harry remembered his training.

 

‘I cannot tell you where I’ve been, or what I’ve been doing,’ Harry parroted. ‘As to do so would prejudice an ongoing Auror Office investigation.’

 

‘Word perfect from the Auror training manual! I suppose I should have expected nothing else,’ the Fiscal sighed. ‘Are you prepared to answer any of my questions, Mr Potter?’

 

‘I’ll answer as many of your questions as I can,’ Harry assured her, ‘Provided that I’m not required to divulge any details of my mission.’

 

The Fiscal nodded.

 

‘Your statement begins “I arrived at the Basin Bar, Montrose”, can you tell me why you went to that particular bar?’ Mrs Quarell asked.

 

‘I’ve only managed to get hold of one copy of the Prophet in the past five weeks. That was after the Kenmare game a week ago. From what I read in the paper, it seemed that—since I left on my mission—Ginny has been celebrating rather too much after her games.’ Harry watched the Fiscal carefully, but her face was impassive. He could read nothing from her expression.

 

‘I always met her after the match. The team would have a post-match analysis and debriefing, then most of them would go for a drink somewhere. I would join Ginny and we would have a drink, maybe two, with the team and then we’d leave. I haven’t been able to attend any matches for the past few weeks. It looks like Ginny has been going out with her flatmates instead. They always asked her—every week—but she always said no. We would usually go out for a quiet meal and, er, things like that. I don’t think Linny ever liked the idea that Ginny left with me instead of going out for a post-match celebration.’

 

‘I hoped to get back for yesterday’s match but things didn’t go according to plan.’ Harry winced and leaned back in his chair, trying to make himself more comfortable. Now that he was up and moving his ribs and chest were hurting again. His injured calf ached a little, too.

 

‘I went to the Magpies grounds, they told me that the Harpies had all returned to Holyhead,’ he continued. ‘I Apparated to the Harpies ground and spoke to Gwenog.’

 

‘Gwenog?’ the Fiscal asked. She obviously didn’t follow Quidditch.

 

‘Gwenog Jones, the Harpies Captain. She told me that Ginny, Linny and Livy hadn’t returned to Holyhead with the rest of the team, although they had been ordered to. All three had disobeyed instructions and had gone off somewhere with a couple of dozen fans. Gwenog was certain that they would be celebrating their victory over the Magpies. So I went back to the Magpies stadium and asked for the names of the pubs popular with fans.

 

‘I tried the Magpies’ Nest in Aberdeen first. It’s popular with the younger, more boisterous fans. When I got there it was a bit of a mess, but the girls had already left. The landlord told me that Livy and Linny were drinking mead and that Ginny was only drinking Butterbeer. But he also said that Ginny was easily the drunkest of the three and that the Harpies fans accompanying them were getting very rowdy.

 

‘Based on the newspaper reports, I was worried that there might be trouble.’ Harry looked into the Fiscal’s stern, impassive face and decided that honesty would be the best policy. ‘I didn’t want any more photos of a drunken Ginny in the papers,’ he admitted. ‘I contacted the Justiciar, and then asked my office to contact the Edinburgh—this—Law Office. I suggested that they send some Officers to the Basin Bar; it was the second pub on my list and I’d been told it was popular with families.’

 

‘By the time I got to the Basin Bar, I was too late,’ Harry concluded miserably.

 

‘And why did you take over control of the situation from Sheriff Campbell?’

 

‘Ginny hexed Sheriff Campbell when he opened the door to the pub. As soon as she did that, I realised they’d have to be arrested. I know all three girls. I hoped that if I went in alone I’d be able to talk some sense into them, to avoid a confrontation. I couldn’t, Most of the fans, calmed down, but Ginny and Linny were too drunk. Also, I knew that the Harpies would send Tavistock, I thought that he would be less likely to complain if I was arresting officer.’

 

The Fiscal’s impassive face finally cracked. She gave Harry a wry smile.

 

‘Was I wrong?’ Harry asked.

 

‘Mr Tavistock has served a formal complaint notice. He is alleging wrongful arrest and misconduct on your part. He has asked for the young ladies to be released without charge,’ Mrs Quarell said. ‘They have already been charged, so I have refused his request. As for his allegations, if the Justiciar finds them not guilty, then the wrongful arrest and misconduct charges will be investigated. You could be in a lot of trouble.

 

‘In addition, one of the Daily Prophet reports from an “anonymous eye-witness” inside the Basin Bar suggests that you physically assaulted your ex-girlfriend, punching and kicking her. The article is very carefully worded, to avoid any allegation of libel.’

 

Harry shook his head in disbelief. He clenched his teeth and struggled to control his temper. If he exploded now, he told himself sternly, he would not be able to see Ginny, and he desperately needed to see her. Together, he hoped, they could sort out this mess. Taking a deep breath, he calmed himself down.

 

‘I provided you with an accurate statement last night, Fiscal. If you want me to prove the truth of what I said, I would be prepared to answer your questions under Veritaserum to prove my honesty,’ said Harry. He looked at the Fiscal in the eyes as he spoke. ‘However, any interview must be in the presence of a senior member of the Auror Office to ensure that I’m not asked any inappropriate questions about my mission.’ Mrs Quarell nodded and scratched a note with her quill.

 

‘I have recorded your offer,’ she told him.

 

‘I apologise for this personal question, Harry,’ the Fiscal said. ‘Did you and Miss Weasley part on good terms?’

 

Harry recalled their last night together at Grimmauld Place and tried not to blush. ‘Yes—she was worried about my mission—but, yes.’

 

Edna Quarell looked carefully at Harry, her eyes boring into his. ‘Miss Weasley knew about your mission. So, despite your unwillingness to discuss any details of your “ongoing Auror Office investigation” with me, you have discussed it with your girlfriend.’

 

Harry cursed himself for his slip, but decided to trust the Fiscal. ‘After Riddle, after the Battle of Hogwarts, I promised Ginny that I’d never keep secrets from her again.’

 

Edna Quarell nodded. ‘Forgive me for these questions, Harry, but the Daily Prophet includes several stories about you, many of which are mutually contradictory. You understand that I must ask about all of these allegations,’ the Fiscal said. ‘You have not broken up with Miss Weasley? You have not been secretly stalking her for the past month, and you are not so jealous of her fame that you arrested her on trumped up charges?’

 

Harry’s face fell. ‘That’s what the Prophet says?’ he asked sadly. ‘I’ve had worse things said about me, but I wish Ginny wasn’t involved. As far as I know, we haven’t broken up, but we haven’t been in contact for over a month.’

 

Harry’s heart was beating fast. She couldn’t have found someone else. He would know, wouldn’t he? He was certain that, somehow, he’d be able to sense it. He needed to see Ginny!

 

Edna Quarell was watching him carefully.

 

‘I’ve been miles from anywhere. I was alone for most of the time so I can’t prove that I wasn’t stalking her but, if things go according to plan, I should be able to answer all of your questions by the time of the Justiciar’s hearing on the first of April. I could never be jealous of Ginny; I’m proud of her. Or, at least, I was,’ he finished, downcast.

 

‘One last question,’ the Fiscal said, turning to a different article. ‘You haven’t run off with a young lady called Lavender Brown, have you?’

 

‘Lavender?’ Harry was astonished. ‘How on earth did they find out about Lavender?’ he asked.

 

‘You have eloped?’ Edna Quarell asked, startled.

 

Harry laughed at the grim absurdity of the situation he found himself in.

 

‘No.’ He sighed. ‘I can’t tell you where Lavender is, as to do so would prejudice an ongoing Auror Office investigation.’

 

‘Hmph!’ the Fiscal grunted and shrugged. ‘Well, if there’s nothing else that you want to tell me, you can go. Get yourself cleaned up, Auror Potter. The Law Officers have a shower room, someone can show you where it is. I want you clean and presentable in Interview Room One at nine o’clock. You have one hour.’

 

Harry turned to leave.

 

‘One more thing, Harry,’ Edna Quarell ordered quietly. ‘You are not to see Miss Weasley until we interview her.’

 

‘But …’ Harry was about to protest.

 

‘It’s for the best, Harry. I don’t want anyone to be able to say that you collaborated with her,’ she interrupted quietly. ‘Think about that. You need to be very careful; you’ve been accused of misconduct. I know that you don’t like it, but “by the book” is the only way, believe me. You are the arresting officer, and she is the prisoner. That’s how you must behave. You can be boyfriend and girlfriend after she’s released.’

 

‘I hope so,’ Harry sighed sadly, realising the sense in Edna Quarrell’s words. The Fiscal stood, walked around her desk and patted his shoulder.

 

He had an hour. He could talk to Ron and Hermione instead. How had they allowed this to happen? There was so much that he didn’t know. Lavender had mentioned something about Ron and Hermione to him the night before last, when she’d been lying in his bed. But he had been much too absorbed in his mission to listen to her.

 

‘Is there a private room I can use?’ he asked Edna Quarell, as he got to his feet. ‘I need to have a conversation with my friends.’

 

‘Ask one of the Law Officers,’ Mrs Quarell said. ‘You can use one of the interview rooms.

 

‘And, Harry,’ she added, ‘don’t forget to get yourself cleaned up before we carry out the interviews. For goodness’ sake get yourself a clean shirt.’

 

‘Yes, Fiscal. Thank you, Fiscal.’

 

Harry smiled to himself as he left her office. Edna Quarell made him feel like he was back at school. She wasn’t afraid to tell him off. He assured himself that this was a good thing. Hardly anyone ever disagreed with him. That was another reason he valued his friends. Ron, Neville, Hermione, Luna, and Ginny—especially Ginny—would always tell him what they really thought.

 

Just being Harry Potter would get him to the front of any queue, a table in a crowded restaurant, he could get almost anything. Most people were deferential; they simply let him do whatever he wanted. He and Ginny had discussed this aspect of his fame. ‘Don’t worry, Harry,’ she’d assured him. ‘If you’re being an arse, I’ll tell you!’

 

Dashing back along the corridor and into the Law Office, he interrupted Hamish Campbell, who was talking to a young witch at a desk near the door. ‘Hamish,’ said Harry apologetically ‘The Fiscal told me to ask if I can use an interview room.’

 

Campbell looked curious, ‘Who’re ye interviewing,’ he asked.

 

‘A private meeting with my friends, that’s all’ Harry told him. Campbell nodded.

 

‘Fine,’ he said, ‘second door on the opposite side of the corridor.’ He handed Harry a key.

 

‘It’s a meeting room, not an interview room, so there are no stenographer spells,’ Sheriff Campbell added.

 

‘Thanks, Hamish.’

 

His four best friends were all sitting on the bench he’d slept on. Neville and Luna sat in the middle, Ron and Hermione were at opposite ends and they were facing away from each other.

 

‘Hello, Harry,’ Luna said brightly. ‘You look sad, don’t be! It will be all right soon, you’ll see.’

 

‘Will it?’ Harry grumbled.

 

‘Of course,’ Luna assured him. She stood, walked up to him and kissed his cheek. ‘You and Ginny will sort things out; you love each other.

 

‘Now,’ she continued practically, ‘you need a clean shirt, and Ginny needs clean clothes. Should I go to your place to collect something for you both?’

 

‘That would be great,’ Harry smiled into Luna’s staring silvery grey eyes. ‘Thanks, Luna.’

 

‘I’ll come too,’ Hermione volunteered. ‘I need to collect some of my clothes from your place, Harry.’

 

‘No, you won’t,’ Harry told Hermione, glowering at his two best friends. ‘You and Ron are coming with me. I need to talk to you both.’

 

Ron and Hermione exchanged a horrified look. They looked frightened. Frightened of each other, and frightened of him. They should be, he thought viciously. He led them out into the corridor and unlocked the door to the meeting room.

 

It was a small room containing a rectangular table and four chairs, two on each of the long sides of the table. Harry ushered his friends inside. They glared at each other. Once inside they moved to opposite corners of the room and scowled at each other. He closed the door.

 

‘You’re not speaking to each other,’ he told them. ‘Whose fault is it?’

 

‘His,’ Hermione spat.

 

‘Mine,’ Ron admitted, shamefaced.

 

‘Well, that’s a start,’ Harry said, surprised at the ease at which Ron had accepted the blame. He looked carefully at them both.

 

‘I don’t really care whose fault it is,’ he said, with deliberate cruelty. Years of experience had shown him that upsetting one or both of them could bring them back together. ‘I care about Ginny, and you’ve both let her down. When did you last see her?’

 

They started speaking simultaneously; stopped at the same moment, and looked worriedly at each other.

 

‘Ron first,’ he ordered. ‘And sit down, both of you. I’m tired, Ginny’s in trouble and you two are more interested in squabbling than helping.’

 

They both began to protest, ‘Sit!’ he saidfirmly.

 

Grabbing a chair, he moved it to the end of the table. Hermione and Ron sat opposite each other, still glowering sulkily.

 

‘Ron!’ said Harry harshly. ‘When did you last see Ginny?’

 

‘My birthday,’ Ron said.

 

‘Almost three weeks ago!’ Harry snapped. ‘Haven’t you been to the Burrow since then?’

 

‘Of course I have, but Ginny hasn’t. She hasn’t been to Mum’s for Sunday lunch since you left.’

 

‘Weren’t you worried about her?’ Harry asked. ‘Didn’t you read the papers?’

 

‘I had other things to worry about!’ Ron admitted, casting an anguished glance at Hermione. ‘Yes, Ginny’s my sister, but she’s got four other brothers—and Mum and Dad! I saw her after the Tornadoes game and again after the Wasps game. I told her that getting drunk was stupid. She told me—she told me that I was an ignorant, insensitive prat and that if I thought I could lecture her about drunkenness I was even stupider than she thought I was. Then she hexed me.’

 

Hermione snorted with laughter.

 

‘Why should I be the only one to run after her?’ Ron pleaded.

 

‘Because I asked you to!’ Harry replied. ‘This isn’t like Ginny. She’s never been falling down drunk before. It can’t just be because I wasn’t around.’

 

‘She wouldn’t let me anywhere near her, Harry. Even after she’d hexed me, she wouldn’t talk to me. She Apparated away and wouldn’t even speak to me on the phone. I spoke to Linny a few times, but she always told me Ginny was out. Linny promised me that she’d keep a close eye on her, promised that she’d look out for her.

 

After the Puddlemere game, Mum went to see her. Apparently, Ginny was really confused, she told Mum she was sorry, and promised that it wouldn’t happen again. But after the Kenmare game, well…’ Ron looked carefully around the room and lowered his voice to a whisper. ‘Dad went to speak to her.’

 

Harry nodded in understanding. He’d known the Weasleys for long enough to know how the family worked. Molly was in charge of day-to-day stuff. When Arthur got involved it meant that something very serious indeed had happened (like the twins trying to get their little brother to make an Unbreakable Vow). Arthur would have, very quietly, told Ginny how disappointed he was in her. That should have been enough to bring Ginny to her senses; Arthur’s intervention usually was.

 

‘What about you, Hermione?’ asked Harry rather more loudly than he’d intended.

 

‘Harry, please don’t shout,’ she begged. She was pale and tearful. With an effort, he calmed himself down.

 

‘Sorry, Hermione,’ he said.

 

‘I threw Ron out the Sunday after you left,’ she told him.

 

Harry’s anger was replaced by astonishment.

 

‘Ginny is the only Weasley I’ve seen since. We met at Antonio’s on the Wednesday before Ron’s birthday. She said I was doing the right thing, that Ron needed a good kicking, needed to be taught a lesson. She offered to hex him for me! She said she missed you, that life was boring without you. She said that without you around she had nothing better to do than to go out with the girls. She was bored and lonely, Harry. I made her promise that if she got fed up, she’d come and see me. I told her that I was lonely too! But she didn’t contact me.

 

‘I tried to talk to her, I really did. I phoned her after the Puddlemere game,’ continued Hermione, pleading, ‘We had a long talk. She was confused; she said she had no idea how, or why, she’d got so drunk. She’d been read the riot act by her captain. But then she did the same thing the next week, after the game against—whoever it was.’

 

‘The Kestrels,’ Harry and Ron chorused, rolling their eyes. Hermione knew, and remembered, everything—except important things like Quidditch fixtures and scores.

 

‘Which team it was is really not important,’ Hermione said. ‘But after the Connemara game I phoned again,’ Ron and Harry looked frustratedly at each other, but held their tongues. It was a sign of how worried Ron was that he didn’t remind Hermione that the Kestrels were from Kenmare, not Connemara.

 

‘Linny answered, and told me that she was out. The following day I was sent back to France, to try to iron out some objections that the Bavarians had to the House Elf Directive. I phoned her every day from France. But every time I did the phone was engaged, or no one answered, or Linny told me that she was out.’

 

Hermione scowled angrily at Ron.

 

‘Getting drunk, losing control, making a fool of yourself in public! I agree it’s not clever, Harry! Although Ron has no idea why you’re so upset. Do you, Ronald?’ Hermione’s shrill voice was rapidly approaching the upper limits of human hearing. ‘It’s such a very funny thing, isn’t it? Just one big joke? At least when Ginny got herself in that state it was her own doing, not her boyfriend’s idea of a joke.’

 

Harry had not seen her so furious with Ron since before they’d got together.

 

‘Alcoholic Pumpkin juice?’ Harry asked, suddenly recalling the conversation he’d had before leaving on his mission. Ron and Hermione both nodded.

 

‘Ron,’ Harry told his friend, understanding Hermione’s anger. ‘You are an idiot!’

 

‘I know,’ Ron shouted, ‘I apologised the next day! I said I was sorry, but she chucked me out anyway!’

 

‘Saying “I’m sorry” isn’t enough, Ron,’ Hermione shouted. ‘You made me look like a drunken fool at a Ministry reception.’

 

‘I know I did a rubbish job with the apology,’ Ron lowered his voice, pleading. ‘But I’d been awake all night, watching you. You were really sick, puking and shaking. I was worried that you might choke or something. When you shouted, I shouted back. I shouldn’t have! I was stupid, I was a prat. But you never gave me a proper chance to say sorry.’ Ron turned to Harry.

 

‘She’s going out with her boss, Jenkins.’ He put his head in his hands, his shoulders were shaking.

 

Harry looked at Hermione. She had a new boyfriend? Was this a ploy to make Ron jealous? He had often wondered at the argumentative and combative nature of his two friends’ relationship. He raised a questioning eyebrow.

 

‘Adrian Jenkins asked me out on the day he found out I’d split up with Ron,’ she said. ‘And he kept asking me. I eventually went out with him on Ron’s birthday.’ Harry looked at her, horrified.

 

‘Did you have a good birthday, Ron?’ Harry asked his friend.

 

‘Everyone knew that I was supposed to be going out with Hermione,’ Ron looked pathetically at Harry. ‘I hoped that I’d be able to persuade her to forgive me,’ he confessed, ‘I went to the restaurant, but no one came, not Hermione, and not Ginny. I ate alone and then went back to Grimmauld Place and just sat there. It was a rubbish day. The next day, in the office, Jenkins collared me and told me where he’d been and what he’d done.’ Ron couldn’t look at either Harry or Hermione when he spoke.

 

‘I didn’t want to spend an evening at home on my own, not on Ron’s birthday. I needed a distraction,’ Hermione explained. ‘Jenkins had been pestering me, so I agreed to go out with him. He was horrible, smarmy, self-important, and much too busy with his hands.’ She shuddered. ‘He tried to get me drunk,’ she glowered angrily at Ron. ‘This worthless prat has made people think that I’m some sort of hopeless drunk. Worse, Jenkins expected to come back to my flat afterwards.’

 

‘He didn’t?’ Ron asked.

 

Hermione looked at Ron in horror, ‘Of course not!’

 

‘But you went to France with him.’

 

‘He’s my boss; of course I did. But I kept well away from him. He was in Paris sucking up to the bigwigs in the Council and I was in Alsace working with Laurent. I only went out with him once.’

 

‘WHAT?’ shouted Ron angrily. ‘He told Dad that you had a great time in France together and that he’s moving in with you!’

 

Hermione’s jaw dropped. She and Ron looked at each other, horrified.

 

‘I’ll kill him,’ they said together.

 

‘So, neither of you have seen much of Ginny over the past few weeks?’ They shook their heads. Harry sighed.

 

‘Sorry, mate.’

 

Sorry, Harry.’

 

‘Apologies accepted,’ he told them sadly. ‘Prolonging this argument isn’t going to help anyone, is it?’

 

Hermione jumped to her feet and threw her arms around his neck.

 

‘Can you give us a few minutes?’ she whispered in his ear. ‘I need to talk to Ron.’

 

She held Harry very tightly for a long time. More than long enough to annoy Ron; though Harry had no sympathy for his friend. This was a situation entirely of his own making. Eventually, Hermione released him. Ron looked unhappier than ever.

 

‘I’ll leave you to beg forgiveness, Ron,’ Harry told his friend. He stood, ‘Don’t come out until you’re at least talking to each other.’

 

He walked across the corridor and back into the Law Office. Neville Longbottom was deep in conversation with Hamish Campbell.

 

‘How are they?’ asked Neville cautiously.

 

Harry shrugged. ‘They’re either arguing with each other, or making up. Probably both. For those two, I’m not sure there’s a difference. Where’s Luna?’

 

‘She’s gone to your place,’ Neville told him, white-faced. ‘She’s gone to collect a change of clothes.’

 

‘Good old Luna,’ Harry smiled, but Neville frowned and the smile dropped from Harry’s face, Neville was worried about something. He had been since he’d got here, and it was more than Ginny, Ron and Hermione.

 

‘What’s up, Nev?’ Harry asked.

 

‘I’ve made a big mistake, Harry,’ confessed Neville, ‘I need to talk to you in private.’

 

‘Hannah?’ Harry said, surprised.

 

‘No,’ Neville was astonished, ‘Hannah’s great, wonderful; it’s nothing to do with her—although she is involved.’

 

He blinked apprehensively at Harry and took a deep breath. Harry watched him carefully.

 

‘When you left, Ron pocketed the leaflet he had. He apparently bought a load of the pumpkin juice and gave it to Hermione on the Saturday evening. You know what happened next,’ Neville said.

 

‘I’ve seen one newspaper in the past month, and that was last week,’ Harry told Neville.

 

‘Ron and Hermione haven’t told you?’ Neville asked.

 

Harry shook his head, ‘I know that Ron got Hermione drunk and she made a fool of herself. But I don’t know any details.’

 

‘Ron and Hermione went to that Ministry reception. Hermione was very drunk and was rude to everyone, really obnoxious. Ron tried to get her home but she wouldn’t go. Hannah and I were there…’ Neville began, and then stopped; the Law Office was silent and everyone was listening to their conversation.

 

‘Hamish, I’ll need another room,’ said Harry.



Chapter 9: The Hunt: She Wolf and Cubs
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9. The Hunt: She-Wolf and Cubs>

 

‘I said don’t make any sudden moves, and put your wand on the ground where I can see it,’ the girls’ mother repeated fiercely, ‘

 

Harry slowly reached inside his shirt, pulled out his mokeskin bag and slid the wand into it. He then handed the bag to Amber.

 

‘Look after it, please,’ he asked. The girl nodded and dropped the rock she’d been carrying.

 

‘What were you going to do with my girls?’ the woman asked fiercely as she advanced; a mother defending her offspring.

 

‘Help them,’ Harry tried to look her in the eyes as she approached. He saw surprise, and recognition on her face.

 

‘I saw the boy, Ross, following the girls. He had a crossbow, that crossbow!’ growled Harry in realisation.

 

‘I decided to follow. This is as far as I got. Your daughters screamed and Ross ran away. He dropped the crossbow. It went off and I took splinters from the bolt.’ Harry stopped, grimaced in pain and sucked on a deep breath. He needed to clear his head.

 

‘My leg hurts, I’m bleeding, and you’ve just disarmed me using an unloaded crossbow!’ he continued ruefully.

 

‘Are you…who I think you are?’ the woman asked.

 

Harry did not reply, he simply lifted up his wet hair to revealing his scar and nodded.

 

‘Harry Potter!’ Amber gasped in surprise; her sisters looked excitedly at each other at the mention of his name.

 

‘Why are you here?’ the woman ignored the excited faces of her daughters and continued to question him.

 

‘I’m looking for someone,’ he admitted, ‘I’m supposed to be undercover.’

 

‘You’re not doing a very good job, are you?’ she said acidly.

 

‘I’ve had better days,’ he confessed, trying not to smile. ‘But I’ve had worse, too.’

 

‘Roll over. Lie on your belly, and put your hands under your head,’ she ordered.

 

Sweating in pain, Harry looked up at the woman defiantly. He did not obey.

 

‘Are you going to hand me over to Verulf Lowell?’ Harry asked as he weighed up his options. The woman raised her eyebrows and then shook her head.

 

‘I wouldn’t hand my worst enemy over to that beast, Mr Potter. I certainly wouldn’t hand him my ticket to freedom. If you’ll let me, I’ll remove these splinters from your leg. I need you to roll over, so that I can examine the wound.’ She knelt beside him and placed the cocked, but unloaded crossbow at her side.

 

‘I’m Dacia Skoll, by the way,’ the woman introduced herself. ‘Amber, keep a tight hold of that bag, and go down to the corner to keep a lookout. If you see anyone coming, shout.’

 

‘Why me?’ Amber asked sulkily, she was staring in fascination at Harry and obviously did not want to move away from him.

 

‘You’re oldest, and quickest, and you’re sensible. Take the crossbow with you. Ross probably brought it to impress you. Jade, see if you can find more of this moss for me, please. Ruby, you clever girl, I’ll need the moss you’ve collected to clean the wound.’ She pulled the large clump of moss in two.

 

‘Will you keep this nice and wet for me?’

 

‘Yes, Mum,’ the dainty girl whispered.

 

‘Thanks, Ruby,’ Harry grunted.

 

‘Now, roll over, Mr Potter.’

 

‘Call … me … Harry,’ he gasped as he rolled onto his belly.

 

‘Fine, call me Dacia,’ she replied brusquely.

 

‘I need to cut your trousers away from your wounds, Harry,’ she told him.

 

She lifted the hem of her robes and pulled a wickedly sharp knife from her boot. ‘Ready?’

 

Harry braced himself and nodded. Her daughters were watching with interest. Harry pushed his few remaining concerns to the back of his mind. He’d watched the family for days. Dacia was a concerned and caring mother. She would not attack him, not in front of the girls. She worked quickly and efficiently, cutting through the trousers and gently lifting them away from the wounds, eliciting a gasp of pain from Harry.

 

‘Sorry,’ she said, ‘I’ll need to pull these out. Ruby, make certain that the moss is good and wet, and keep it in the flowing water, not on the bottom of the burn.’

 

‘Yes, Mum.’

 

‘Got more moss, Mummy,’ Jade announced as she arrived back, dripping wet.

 

‘Give it to your sister, please, and step back.’

 

‘This will hurt, Harry, I’ll need to pull the broken pieces out and then check to see if there are any splinters left inside the wounds.’

 

‘I’ve got some Dittany,’ Harry gasped, hoping to spare himself some pain.

 

‘Not yet, I don’t want to close the wounds until I’m sure there’s nothing left inside. A healed wound with a splinter left inside won’t do you any good, believe me.’

 

Dacia stopped suddenly, raised a hand for silence and looked worriedly downstream. Harry looked around anxiously struggling to get a good view, but Dacia was kneeling on his thigh. While he was distracted, she rapidly pulled the wood shards from his leg. Her actions were swift and certain, and all three were removed almost before he realised what she was doing.

 

‘Moss,’ she ordered, holding out her hand. Ruby handed her mother the moss and the fiery pain in Harry’s calf was momentarily doused by ice cold water.

 

‘There’s no-one coming,’ she said as Harry continued to squint anxiously downstream. ‘I hoped that distracting you would give me the chance to get those shards out quickly.’

 

As she spoke she was taking a second piece of moss from Ruby and cleaning his leg again.

 

‘Good girl, Ruby, thank you. Harry, there’s grit or something in one of these wounds, I’ll need a wand to get it out…’

 

‘You want to use mine?’ Harry asked uncertainly.

 

‘Mine is locked inside the bastle, I could go and ask for it, I suppose,’ her voice dripped with sarcasm. Harry looked at her carefully.

 

‘Use mine,’ he agreed, finally.

 

‘Amber, any sign of anyone?’ Dacia asked. The tawny haired girl shook her head. ‘Good, keep your eyes open. Jade, go and get that bag from Amber, please.’

 

When the youngest of the three sisters returned, Dacia Skoll smiled understandingly at Harry.

 

‘Mokeskin! I thought that you’d given up your wand rather easily.’ She handed him the pouch. He withdrew his wand and rather reluctantly handed it to her.

 

Dacia took the wand, waved it experimentally and muttered a cleaning spell over the wound. Harry felt his skin warming, then winced in pain.

 

‘Gotcha!’ Dacia Skoll announced happily, showing Harry a bloody splinter, less than half an inch long.

 

‘Better out than in, believe me,’ she told him, taking more moss from Ruby and wiping away the blood. ‘Now, Harry, where’s this Dittany?’

 

Harry reached into his jacket and handed her a small metal phial. As she carefully dropped the liquid onto Harry’s wounds, he felt the familiar cool, burning sensation and looked down to see his wounds healing over.

 

‘Thanks,’ Harry said, holding out his hand for his wand. Dacia Skoll took a step backwards and looked at him coolly.

 

‘You owe me,’ she said. She spoke softly and politely but there was no doubt that she was making a demand.

 

‘I suppose I do,’ Harry replied. ‘What do you want?’

 

‘I want you to take me, and my daughters, to safety,’ she told him.

 

‘And Ross,’ Amber called.

 

‘Why aren’t you safe here?’ Harry asked, curiously, struggling to his feet. ‘I assume that you’re werewolves.’

 

‘I am,’ Dacia said. ‘My daughters are not. It’s not hereditary; you should know that.’

 

Harry tested his leg. It still ached where the wood splinters had penetrated the muscle, but the Dittany was working. He watched Dacia Skoll carefully, she was angry, distracted, and holding his wand loosely; he could easily take it from her if he leapt forward. He didn’t.

 

‘I do. My godson is the son of a werewolf; he’s perfectly normal. At least, as normal as his mum was, she was a Metamorphmagus. Tell me what’s wrong, and I’ll try to help you,’ Harry promised.

 

‘Granddad killed Daddy,’ Amber shouted angrily. ‘And they’re going to hunt Ross ‘n’ me on the moon-night. If you’re really Harry Potter, you should help us! You should help us all! You should kill Granddad like you killed You-Know-Who!’

 

‘Amber,’ said Dacia sorrowfully, ‘I want justice for your Dad, not revenge.’

 

Amber looked down at her feet, her eyes full of tears. Her sisters were crying too. Dacia held her arms open and her three daughters dashed towards her. She struggled to hug them while holding onto Harry’s wand. It was almost falling from her grasp. Harry stepped forwards and gently pinched his wand between his finger and thumb. He didn’t take it; he simply waited to see what Dacia Skoll would do. She released it back into his hand. As soon as she did so he swung his wand around his head in a rapid gesture.

 

‘If anyone comes within a hundred yards, an alarm will sound,’ he told Dacia. Kneeling in front of the family, his eyes sought Amber’s. He looked into her unhappy face.

 

‘I’ll help you if I can,’ he told the tawny-haired girl, wondering if she’d been named for her unusual, yellow-brown eyes. ‘But I’m not going to kill anyone. Your mum is right to want justice.’

 

As he moved, there was a stabbing pain in his calf. He looked down at his leg, then at Dacia.

 

‘You should rest that injury,’ she told him. ‘No strenuous exercise for a few days.’

 

‘I may need to disregard that advice, Healer,’ he smiled.

 

‘I am not a Healer,’ she snapped, ‘I have all of the qualifications! I did all of the training, but St. Mungo’s do not employ people with my condition!’

 

‘Sorry, I didn’t know,’ Harry apologised. ‘I’ll let my friend know. That’s something else for her, and for me, to speak to the Minister about. What exactly is happening on the moon night, and what do you want me to do?’

 

‘Verulf Lowell is my father,’ she began. ‘My mother left him when I was eleven, sent me to Hogwarts. Your parents were Head Boy and Head Girl the year I started. A week before the end of my first year, my father had my mother arrested on trumped up charges—they were bad times, as I’m sure you know. When I caught the train back from Hogwarts at the end of my first year, he collected me from King’s Cross and brought me here.’

 

‘During my first year I had passed through puberty. When I got here, I was hunted and turned. It’s the way of this place, Greyback’s law.’

 

‘Hunted? Turned?’ Harry asked.

 

‘I’m a werewolf, my husband was a werewolf, our children aren’t,’ Dacia Skoll explained.

 

Harry nodded and waited for Dacia to continue.

 

‘When he became pack leader, Greyback re-introduced the hunt. It was an ancient custom, barbaric. It had been stopped centuries ago. When our children reach puberty, they are hunted by the pack.’ Dacia Skoll shivered as she spoke. ‘That was my father’s gift to me.’

 

‘My mother was released after … Voldemort …’ she struggled to say the name, ‘disappeared, after he’d killed your parents. My father stayed here with the other werewolves, but my mother refused to go back to him. We left him, and she looked after me until I finished school. Professor Dumbledore allowed me back into school despite my – condition. He even arranged for somewhere to hide on the full moon night. Mother died just before I married. My husband was a werewolf, too. He and I managed to scrape a living and raise our family until last year, when we were driven back here, thanks to Umbridge’s laws.

 

‘My father wasn’t happy to see me, because we refused to join Greyback. They wanted us to join the Snatcher squads. Just before the battle of Hogwarts, my father was injured. He was here, recuperating, on the day V… on the day you won the Battle. I even helped to heal him,’ she said bitterly.

 

‘Greyback was captured and imprisoned, so my father declared himself pack leader. He set a watch on the Stone. Beowulf, my husband, wanted to fight him, but I disagreed,’ she was almost in tears, ‘I didn’t want any more fighting.’

 

‘In the days after the battle, several people arrived through the Stone: Scabior; his sister Yvonne Youen; her husband Zachary; and Rabastan Lestrange. That was when I finally agreed with Beowulf. We fought my father, and we lost. We had waited too long. Since then, no-one but my father and the pack leaders have been allowed to keep their wands. We’re prisoners, slaves. No-one can get through the Shivering Stone without a wand, so we’re trapped here.’ Dacia paused.

 

‘Two days from now, at noon, before the full moon night, my father and the pack leaders will send Amber, and Ross Lykaon, into the forest. That evening, when we change, the beasts we become will hunt them.’

 

‘There’s a chance, about fifty-fifty, that we’ll kill one or both of them. If they survive, they’ll be werewolves, like us. If they die, my father, like Greyback before him, will tell us that it’s because they were weak and undeserving of our gift,’ Dacia Skoll spat the last word venomously. Harry was horrified. He looked at the three girls; they were pale faced, shivering, and huddled together. Dacia looked at her children.

 

‘Girls, I’m going to tell him about Daddy. If you want to, you can leave; go back up to the pool.’

 

The girls looked at each other. Amber looked fierce, angry and prepared to stay; Ruby looked frightened; Jade stood, grabbed both of her sisters by the hand and pulled them away.

 

‘Jade has taken it hardest,’ said Dacia as she watched the girls depart.

 

‘Six months ago my husband’s brother, Wulfric, came to visit us.’ Dacia laughed scornfully, ‘Beowulf and Wulfric Skoll! His parents, like mine, wanted to make sure people know what we are! We hadn’t seen Wulfric in years; he’d fallen out with Greyback and run away. He thought that, with Greyback in jail, it would be safe for him to return. My father and his cronies overpowered him as soon as he arrived. They took his wand.’

 

‘He’d brought his wife and baby with him. He’d married a Muggle. There hadn’t been a hunt for over a year. Ross and Amber are the two oldest children here. My father,’ she spat the word, ‘wanted a hunt. He decided that we should hunt the Muggle. We said no. Everyone in the village said no. We fought again and lost again. Several people were killed. My father killed my husband and put his corpse in the gibbet to remind us what happens to rebels. He’s still there.’

 

‘That’s horrible,’ Harry said, taking Dacia’s hand.

 

‘There’s worse,’ she continued. ‘My father was going to kill Wulfric, too, but Lestrange had a different idea.’

 

‘Where is Lestrange?’ Harry asked.

 

‘Huh,’ grunted Dacia in annoyance. ‘It’s him you’re after, isn’t it? I thought so! You’re not really interested in the petty complaints of filthy werewolves.’

 

‘One of my dad’s best friends was a werewolf,’ protested Harry hotly. ‘I’m godfather to his son, I told you! He was a good man.’

 

Dacia looked at him coolly, he looked into her clear amber eyes; eyes the same colour as her eldest daughter’s.

 

‘I’m sorry for interrupting,’ Harry apologised. ‘I want to help you. But I want to catch Lestrange, too,’ he added honestly.

 

‘On the afternoon before the full moon, they told Wulfric’s wife to run. She did. Then they rounded us all up and locked us in the byre underneath the bastle, all except Wulfric. They … they locked him in a cage … with his baby.’

 

Harry felt a wave of nausea and revulsion wash over him. He stared at Dacia Skoll. She tried to maintain her cold, dispassionate manner, but her eyes betrayed her true emotions as she continued.

 

‘Wulfric tried to kill himself, hung himself with his shirt. But he didn’t do a very good job. My father boasts that he killed Wulfric’s wife but Wulfric killed his own child. I’ve told my girls that their Uncle Wulfric wouldn’t kill anyone, but the beast inside him did.’

 

‘Merlin, that’s—it’s inhuman. I’m sorry,’ said Harry as he struggled to understand what Dacia and her family had been through.

 

‘Did you think that by defeating—Voldemort—that you’d put the entire world to rights?’ Dacia Skoll asked as she glared accusingly at Harry.

 

‘I knew that there was still a lot to do, but I never suspected anything like this,’ Harry admitted. ‘I’ll do everything I can to get you and your girls out of here.’

 

He hesitated, and then asked the question he needed answering. ‘I came looking for Lestrange, do you know where he is?’

 

‘No,’ said Dacia. ‘He isn’t in the valley, but he comes here to pick up cash and provisions every few weeks. He visits my father and stays for a couple of days. Either my father or Doxy…’

 

‘Who?’

 

‘Doxine Gray, the black-haired woman who hangs on my father’s arm,‘ she explained. ‘One of them goes off to collect cash and other things for him.’

 

‘Doxine left on a broomstick early in the morning three days ago and arrived back late in the evening.’ Harry said.

 

‘Then Lestrange will probably be here within the week,’ said Dacia. ‘But he’s unlikely to arrive until after the full moon.’

 

Harry thought quickly. He was confident that Dacia was telling the truth. Through his Auror training, he was becoming reasonably accomplished at Legilimency. Dacia certainly believed she was telling him the truth, that Lestrange would wait until after the full moon before coming to the village.

 

‘I can take you, and your daughters, and Ross, through the Stone,’ Harry decided. ‘When do you want to leave? Tonight?’

 

Before Dacia could answer, there was a tinkling noise.

 

‘That’s my alarm,’ Harry said, picking up his cloak and shaking the water from it. ‘I’ll be right here.’

 

‘Girls,’ Dacia called softly. Her daughters ran back down from the pool.

 

‘Where’s?’ Amber began.

 

‘There is no-one here but us,’ Dacia told her eldest firmly. ‘There never has been, do you all understand?’

 

‘Yes, Mum,’ Amber looked quickly around, she picked up the cut remains of Harry’s trouser leg and the three discarded wood splinters. Wrapping the splinters inside the bloodstained rag she tucked the cloth inside her robes and kicked the bloody moss into the water. She had just finished tidying up when Ross Lykaon peered cautiously around the corner.

 

‘Looking for this, Ross?’ Amber asked sarcastically, holding up the crossbow. ‘Or have you come to see if we’re taking our clothes off again?’

 

Ross looked at the girls and their mother. For a moment it appeared that he would run, but he changed his mind. He stepped across the stream and faced his accuser.

 

‘No-one in their right mind would want to look at you when you’ve got nothing on,’ he shuddered in distaste. Amber bared her teeth. ‘I came up here to show you the crossbow. I thought that it would help us on the hunt. I was trying to be nice, trying to save your life when “the hunt” happens.’

 

Amber tried not to look pleased.

 

‘Not that I think that it’s worth saving,’ he added rudely. ‘If I’d known that you had no clothes on I’d …’

 

‘Have been more sneaky?’ Ruby asked innocently. Under his cloak, Harry suppressed a chuckle.

 

‘I’d have stayed away,’ Ross protested.

 

‘Well,’ said the girls’ mother. ‘This is new; Ross the gallant protector, Ross the saviour of my eldest daughter. Amber, give Ross his crossbow back. We’d best get back home. I might come back here for a swim myself, later, at dusk. You’d better not try to spy on me either. Now, let’s go back down to the village.’

 

Ross looked horrified, ‘I didn’t know they were swimming, Mrs Skoll, honest … I just wanted to see Amber, tell her that I’d got the crossbow.’

 

‘Whose is it?’ Dacia asked ‘Your father’s? Did you ask him for it, or did you steal it?’

 

Ross’s protestations were lost to Harry as the group rounded the corner and disappeared from his sight. After giving them a ten minute head start he limped back down to his tent, changed into dry clothes and pondered on everything that he’d learned. He wrote a long and detailed report and sent it back to the Auror office. He finished by telling them that he might be unable to send a report at nine.

 


 

After watching the sun drop to the tops of the trees Harry headed back up to the bathing pool. He hoped that he hadn’t misunderstood Dacia Skoll. It would be embarrassing if she intended to bathe, so he made certain that he got there first. It was still light when he arrived, and the place was deserted.

 

Harry looked around. The pool was some fifteen feet in diameter. The glen itself was some twenty feet wide. Its sides were slick, wet granite and higher than his upstretched arm. The only ways in or out were the way he’d come, or up the waterfall.

 

It was a good place for an ambush. Perhaps he’d been wrong. If Dacia Skoll was an Occlumens, then there was always the possibility that she intended to betray him. If so, he’d find out soon. He set up an alarm spell. If more than one person approached, he would know.

 

The sun set and Harry waited. He wrapped his invisibility cloak tightly around himself, sat on a rock and continued to linger, but no-one came.

 

He was wondering how long to remain when his alarm spell tinkled. Minutes later, Amber Skoll, pink faced and panting, ran into the large open bowl. She looked round wildly. Harry swept off his cloak. Amber jumped in surprise and gasped.

 

‘Mum can’t come,’ she said, holding her side as she gasped for breath. ‘She’s having an argument with Uncle Wulfric. He’s done something. He’s trying to decoy a witch here to take my place in the hunt. Mum’s trying to persuade him to tell her not to come.’

 

‘They’re arguing about it,’ she added redundantly.

 

‘What does your Mum want me to do?’ Harry asked as Amber struggled to catch her breath.

 

‘Nothing,’ she replied, ‘Mum says we’ll meet you here tomorrow night at the same time, dusk.’

 

Harry’s alarm spell tinkled for a second time.

 

‘Are you expecting anyone?’ Harry asked. Amber shook her head.

 

‘Here,’ Harry ordered. ‘Stand in front of me.’

 

He pulled the girl close in to him and covered them both in his cloak.

 

‘We’ll be safe, so long as you’re quiet,’ he hissed, drawing his wand.

 

They waited in silence. There was a clatter of stones from downstream and soon, clattering and skittering stones as he approached, a figure lurched around the corner, Scabior.

 

Dacia,’ the scruffy, unshaven, wizard called. ‘Someone told me that you’d be here, if you want your runts to live, you’d best be nice to me.’

 

Amber tensed; Harry gave her arm a warning squeeze. She pressed in closer to Harry and slid her arms around him. He could feel her heart thudding against his stomach. Scabior muttered ‘Lumos,’ and peered around the pool. He sniffed the air curiously, but after a few minutes he seemed satisfied that there was no-one there. Cursing and mumbling the dishevelled wizard turned and left.

 

‘This won’t go well for your son, Lykaon,’ Scabior muttered to himself. ‘He’ll die for your lies, be sure of that.’

 

Harry released Amber, but she continued to hold him tightly until her heartbeat returned to normal.

 

‘Good girl,’ Harry murmured, when she finally released him. ‘Now let’s get you safely home. We’ll stay under the cloak.’

 

They slowly and carefully picked their way down the glen. The light from the bloated gibbous moon was bright enough to see by. It was another stark reminder that the full moon was fast approaching. At the outskirts of the village Harry, stopped and looked down the dirt road. The door to the Skoll Cottage opened and the sour-faced rangy man was silhouetted in the light as he left.

 

‘Is that your Uncle Wulfric?’ Harry whispered.

 

Amber nodded.

 

‘I’ll take you to the back door,’ Harry told her. ‘There’s less chance of anyone seeing that door open.’

 

They skirted the neighbouring house and moved through the vegetable garden to the back door.

 

‘Safely home,’ Harry smiled, as Amber unlatched the door. ‘Tell your mum I’m watching over you all. Ruby almost spotted my hideout a few days ago.’

 

‘Bye, Mr Potter,’ Amber whispered. She hugged him, darted through the door and closed it quietly. Harry suddenly found himself alone in the moonlight. Keep your mind on the mission, don’t form attachments, he remembered. That was one of Robard’s rules, but it was one he disagreed with.

 

‘Call me Harry,’ he whispered at the closed door.

 

Still under his cloak, Harry crept silently back through the almost deserted village. This was another unpleasant development. Harry wondered who would be desperate enough to come to a village full of werewolves only two days before the full moon. At the path leading up to the Stone, he paused to set up an alarm charm and he did the same at the entrance to the glen. Clambering up to his hideout he looked back at the village. He saw the door to the bastle open. Even without his Omnioculars Harry recognised the twisted silhouette of Scabior as the odious Snatcher who’d threatened Hermione returned to the solid stone building. It was obvious that Scabior had not gone straight back.

 


 

It was barely even dawn when Harry was woken by one of his alarm charms. He rolled out of bed, pulled on his cloak, grabbed his Omnioculars, and crept out of the tent to investigate. Only the baker should be moving at this hour, but someone else was about. Uncle Wulfric, the sour-faced man, was moving furtively up the path to the Stone.

 

Remembering what he’d been told by Amber, Harry slipped back into his tent and dressed hastily. His stomach rumbled; he picked up half of a not quite stale loaf and went off in pursuit. Wulfric had a head start of five, possibly ten, minutes. The path would probably be quicker, but there was less chance of meeting anyone in the glen. As quickly and quietly as he could, he ran upstream towards the Shivering Stone.

 

It took Harry over forty minutes to reach the stone and, by the time, he got there, his injured calf was reminding him that it needed to rest. He stopped when he saw Wulfric Skoll pacing back and forth on the other side of the beck. The man prowled about like the wolf he was, casting frequent glances at the Stone. Under his cloak, Harry checked his watch, it was just seven in the morning, he still had plenty of time to get back and make a report.

 

Harry’s calf gave another twinge. No strenuous exercise, he reminded himself. He found a large flat stone and carefully sat down, making certain that his cloak still covered him. He watched and waited for some time. He had finished the bread and was scratching his stubbly chin, wondering when he’d get the opportunity to shave, when the Stone shivered and a witch appeared. She wore a deep red cloak, the hood pulled forward, shadowing her face and she rode her broomstick sidesaddle. Hovering above the stream, she looked over towards the rangy man.

 

‘Are you Wulfric Skoll?’ the witch asked.

 

Harry recognised the voice immediately.

 

‘I’m Lavender Brown; you claim to have a cure for werewolf scarring. Is that true?’

 

‘Go,’ Wulfric shouted go now, ‘I was trying to trick you, trap you; I was desperate, I was wrong, you don’t deserve to die like my wife, just …’

 

‘Crucio,’ a malevolent voice came from behind Wulfric. Lavender screamed in agony, fell from her broomstick and landed in the stream, cracking her head on a rock. Harry reacted the second he heard Scabior’s shout.

 

Homenum revelio,’ he shouted, berating himself for not checking when he arrived. Two! Invisible!

 

Stupefy! Stupefy!’ a fraction of a second after the crack of Lavender’s head hitting the rock there were two more cracks as the two invisible individuals were knocked off their feet by Harry’s stunning spells.

 

Finite Incantatem! Finite Incantatem!’ Harry dismissed their disillusionment spells revealing an unconscious Scabior, and his unprepossessing looking sister.

 

Incarcerous! Incarcerous!’ both of Harry’s opponents were bound in thick ropes. Even as he shouted the last incantations, Harry was pulling off his cloak and running towards Lavender. A shocked looking Wulfric watched Harry in bewilderment.

 

‘Don’t just stand there,’ Harry ordered. ‘Help me lift her out of the water.’

 

As he approached, Harry’s stomach lurched; Lavender’s head wound didn’t look too bad, but her robes were covered in blood. Worryingly, it was seeping through from her abdomen, running into the stream and swirling in the water.

 

‘Poor girl,’ wept Wufric, staring in horror at Lavender Brown’s prostrate body. ‘She’s dead, and it’s my fault.’



Chapter 10: The Snare: Snakeslayer and Snakes
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10. The Snare: Snakeslayer and Snakes

 

As memories of Romilda’s cutting critiques of his appearance forced their way to the forefront of his mind, Neville frowned. Examining himself in the mirror, he frowned. He didn’t like wearing dress robes, he never had. He didn’t really like dances either. He couldn’t dance. Romilda had told him that often enough.

 

Glancing at the clock, he realised he was late. Instead of getting ready to take Hannah to the Reception for the new Transylvanian Ambassador, their first public date, he’d been brooding about his ex-girlfriend.

 

Harry rarely attended any of the Minister’s Receptions but he’d intended to take Ginny to this one. For that reason, Neville had asked Hannah. He preferred to attend functions only when Harry did, because then no-one bothered him. When Harry wasn’t there he, Ron and Hermione—the other three “Oh my!”s—were the ones at the centre of press attention.

 

Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger and Neville Longbottom, they were the only three DA members—other than Harry, of course—to have been awarded the Order of Merlin, First Class, after the Battle. He was Neville Longbottom, O.M. I, or as Ron said the first time he’d seen it written down, “Neville Longbottom, oh my!”

 

Ron rather liked the attention. Neville, like Harry, did not. Romilda had loved it, and when they had been together she had dragged him to every reception and ball. He wondered if Hannah would be the same. He’d soon find out; he threw some Floo powder into his fire.

 

‘The Leaky Cauldron,’ he said clearly.

 

Hannah was waiting for him when he stepped out of the flames. She was standing in the pub’s kitchen, nervously adjusting the plunging neckline of her vibrant red robes She looked into his eyes and her round face was all teeth and lips as she smiled nervously. His heart leapt.

 

‘Wow, You look se—s—’ he began and stopped, blushing. He’d been going to say sexy, but he couldn’t bring himself to use the word. ‘S—stunning,’ he concluded.

 

‘Glad you like it,’ she smiled shyly. ‘I’m going to a Ministry Reception with the famous Neville “Snakeslayer” Longbottom, Order of Merlin First Class, Hero of Hogwarts. I thought I’d make an effort.’

 

‘Don’t,’ he protested. He suspected his face was now the same colour as her dress. ‘I—I don’t like that hero stuff and I don’t like “Snakeslayer” either. I just want to take my girlfriend out.’

 

‘Girlfriend?’ she asked, sounding pleased.

 

‘Girlfriend,’ he confirmed. He suddenly panicked. ‘Have I never called you that before?’

 

‘No, not once, but you first kissed me on New Year’s Eve, it’s not long ago,’ she told him.

 

‘Sorry,’ he said.

 

Hannah looked nervous too. She continued to fidget with her décolletage, looking down at her bosom and not at him.

 

‘We’ve never been …out in public, Nev,’ she said in a nervous whisper.

 

It was true, Neville realised. Romilda had dragged him to all of the most fashionable bars, restaurants and parties. Hannah hadn’t dragged him anywhere. She had let him make the decisions, so he’d simply suggested that they do what he liked to do. They went for walks either in his part of Lancashire, her part of Cumbria, or around Muggle London. The only other places he’d ever taken her were his Gran’s allotment garden and greenhouses, and St Mungo’s. She’d visited his parents, unlike Romilda.

 

He’d been hiding Hannah from his friends since the New Year party. He’d even tried to keep his new relationship a secret from Harry and Ron.

 

Hannah was nervous. For some unfathomable reason she was insecure about her appearance. She certainly wasn’t slim, or petite, or even classically good looking. She was almost as tall as he was and decidedly curvy. Her face seemed to be all cheeks, eyes and lips. But in his eyes, she was the most beautiful girl he knew. Nevertheless, she was right; they had never been seen in public together. She must have wondered if he was ashamed to be seen with her. He’d been an idiot, again.

 

‘I haven’t been hiding you,’ he told her. ‘I suppose that I’ve been hiding myself. I really don’t like the fuss, you know?’ he said. He was anxiously fiddling with the invitation card. Hannah laughed, stepped up to him and took the gold edged and embossed card from his hand.

 

‘“Auror Neville Longbottom Order of Merlin, First Class, and Guest”,’ she read, smiling. ‘Are you taking me to the reception Auror Longbottom?’ she asked. ‘Or, should we both chicken out, and have a quiet night in together?’

 

‘A quiet night in with you is very tempting but you look fabulous, so you really should show your dress off,’ he replied.

 

The smile which lit up Hannah’s face trapped the breath in his lungs and made his heart stop. He picked up a double portion of Floo powder from the pot on her mantelpiece and, as she linked her arm through his, he gathered his courage.

 

‘Mage’s Hall,’ he said and they stepped into the flickering green flames together.

 

They were momentarily blinded by camera flashes when they emerged.

 

‘Who’s the blonde, Auror Longbottom?’ one of the reporters shouted as, arm in arm, they walked past the press and into the Hall. Neville didn’t answer. Handing his invitation to the reception witch, he told her the name of his guest and looked around the room. The tables were laid for the banquet. The cavernous room was filling quickly with the usual high-flyers, Ministry big-wigs and businessmen. He always felt lost.

 

Hannah looked around in astonishment, ‘What are we supposed to do?’ she whispered.

 

‘Eat; then there’s music and dancing. We can just sit here,’ Neville told her.

 

‘I wouldn’t have thought that you would like this sort of thing,’ Hannah observed.

 

‘I don’t, but I thought that you might,’ he told her. ‘I wanted to take you out somewhere other than a restaurant, and it seemed daft to suggest a different pub.’ Hannah smiled, though she looked a little ill at ease.

 

‘I’ve done the wrong thing, haven’t I?’ he asked anxiously.

 

‘Don’t worry, Neville,’ she kissed his cheek; ‘I’m with you, I’m sure that I’ll enjoy myself. We can dance.’

 

‘I can’t dance,’ he mumbled, worriedly. This was going to be a disaster!

 

‘Then I’ll have to teach you,’ she smiled. ‘Just relax, Nev.’

 

He found their seats. The placeholder to his left now read “Miss Hannah Abbott O.M. III” From previous experience, he knew that her name would have magically appeared the moment he’d told the reception witch. He looked at the two seats next to him. To his left was “Miss Hermione J Granger O.M. I” and next to her was “Auror Ronald B Weasley O.M. I”. He looked at the seat next to Hannah and read “Head Auror Gawain Robards O.M. II (bar).” She would be sitting next to his boss.

 

As they looked around the room, the seat next to Robards vanished, along with the place setting reading “Guest of Gawain Robards.” The chairs re-arranged themselves and another “Guest” label shuffled along the table. Next to it was the name “Auror Terry J Boot O.M. III” The guest label flickered and changed and as he looked at it, Neville swore, something he rarely did. The label now read “Miss Romilda H Vane.”

 

Hannah looked at his face, then at the card. ‘You can’t avoid her forever, you know,’ she said.

 

‘I know,’ he confirmed glumly.

 

‘We could leave, if you want,’ offered Hannah.

 

We could run away, his thoughts suddenly became clear. I’ve been hiding from Romilda ever since we broke up. Why? I’m not a coward.

 

During the early part of his last year at school, Ginny had told him that he was at his best when he was being a true Gryffindor, brave and honest. Now was the time for both, he decided. He spoke in a breathless rush.

 

‘I’ve been running away from Romilda for far too long. I really don’t know what I ever saw in her. I’m here with you, not her. You’re beautiful and I’m crazy about you and I think that I’ve been hiding you away and I shouldn’t have been, and I wanted to try to impress you by taking you somewhere posh … and I’ve fancied you since we were at school—since before Romilda. I really wanted to ask you out after the Battle, but you were with…’

 

Suddenly, Hannah was kissing him, with more passion, more feeling than she had before. He responded enthusiastically.

 

‘Longbottom?’ Neville recognised the gruff voice of his boss. He and Hannah parted and Neville began to blush again.

 

‘Sir…’ he began, wondering what he could say to his boss. Hannah interrupted him.

 

‘Hello Robbie,’ she smiled at the Head of the Auror Office, ‘I only get one night off a week, don’t spoil it for me.’

 

‘Hannah,’ exclaimed Gawain Robards in surprise. ‘You look lovelier than ever, my dear. If I were fifty years younger, I’d be giving Longbottom a fight.’

 

‘You say that to all the girls, Robbie,’ Hannah teased. ‘You confuse youth with beauty.’

 

‘Not in your case,’ Robards rumbled, ‘eh, Longbottom?’

 

‘No, Sir, but…’ began Neville in confusion.

 

‘Double Firewhisky and a goblet of mead, every night, that’s Granddad Robbie. You never told me what you did for a living, Robbie!’ Hannah smiled mischievously, and turned to Neville. ‘When he’s in the pub, he only ever talks about his grandchildren.’ Turning back, she added, ‘I hope you’re looking after my Neville, Robbie, you don’t want to fall out with your barmaid.’

 

‘Merlin’s beard, lass, I’m going to have to watch myself from now on, aren’t I?’ Robards laughed. It was a throaty bass rumble.

 

Neville was astonished; he’d never heard his boss laugh before. The man seemed almost human.

 

Hannah and Robards were soon talking like old friends and Neville found himself joining in. The three were laughing and joking together when Terry and Romilda arrived. Terry looked worried, Romilda furious.

 

‘Boot,’ Robards nodded formally before turning his back on Romilda and continuing to tell Hannah and Neville about the anticipated arrival of his first great-grandchild. His story was interrupted by the next arrival.

 

‘Oops!’ Hermione Granger staggered and fell against Neville. He moved to steady her and she fell into his arms.

 

‘Hello, lovely Neville,’ she slurred, ‘you seem to be enjoining … I mean enjoying … yourself—good for you. Just ignore that sour-faced slapper and enjoy yourself with Hannah. She’s fancied the arse off you for years, you know. Haven’t you, Hannah?’

 

Neville was astonished, Hannah embarrassed, and Romilda furious.

 

‘What did you call me?’ Romilda shrieked, while Ron desperately tried to shush his girlfriend.

 

‘Can’t remember,’ said Hermione happily. ‘Shomething truthful, I expect. And shtop sussing me Ron, I’m here to have a good time.’

 

‘You’re drunk!’ said Romilda angrily.

 

‘And you’re ugly,’ said Hermione, wagging her finger. ‘But tomorrow I’ll be sober…’ She dissolved into peals of laughter.

 

‘Let’s go home, Hermione,’ Ron suggested desperately.

 

‘We’ve just got here! I wanna party, I wanna dance!’ Hermione giggled.

 

‘Pumpkin juice,’ guessed Neville. Ron nodded in helpless horror.

 

‘Miss Granger…’ Robards began.

 

‘It’s Old Grumpy! Hello, Old Grumpy,’ said Hermione leaning forwards precariously to get closer to her boyfriend’s boss. Ron turned crimson.

 

‘D’you know…’ Hermione began waving her finger in Gawain Robards’ face.

 

‘Shut up, Hermione, please,’ said Ron desperately.

 

‘Don’t you tell me what to do, Ronald Weal-weal-Weaserley I’m here to ‘ave a goodtime.’ Hermione’s voice rose to an eardrum-shattering squeal as she staggered back around and thrust her admonishing finger under Ron’s nose. The hall had fallen silent. Everyone turned to watch the free show.

 

‘You’ve had enough, Hermione,’ said Hannah. ‘You’d better let Ron take you home before you do something that you’ll really regret.’

 

‘Oh, get stuffed, porky,’ Hermione said.

 

‘If I had to guess, Ron,’ Hannah said, matter-of-factly ignoring the insult. ‘I’d have expected Hermione to be a maudlin drunk, not an obnoxious and mouthy one. Do you think it could be a side-effect of the pumpkin juice?’

 

‘Oi, I’m right next to you, I can hear you, you know,’ shrieked Hermione, poking Hannah in the stomach.

 

Ron looked terrified, ‘Sorry, Hannah,’ he began.

 

‘I wanna drink!’ Hermione shouted. Neville could now feel every eye in the hall staring.

 

‘Here,’ Hannah said, opening her handbag and pulling out a small hip flask. Hermione snatched it, opened it and gulped down the contents. She immediately turned green.

 

‘What was that,’ she squawked, holding her stomach and doubling over in pain.

 

‘Sober-up potion, it’s good for bringing recalcitrant customers to their senses.’ Hannah was horrified by Hermione’s reaction. ‘It shouldn’t cause any pain.’

 

Hermione gasped, her stomach gave an unpleasant rumble. Ron grabbed his girlfriend’s shoulders and tried to hold her upright. Hermione lurched, twisted and gave a gasp of pain before puking all over Gawain Robards and collapsing in a faint.

 

‘Oh, Hell! Take her home,’ Hannah told Ron. ‘Keep a close eye on her. You’ll need to watch her to make sure that she doesn’t choke. If she wants anything to drink, give her water, black coffee or black tea, nothing else.’

 

‘Sorry, sorry, sorry,’ was all Ron could stammer as he lifted his feebly groaning girlfriend into his arms.

 

‘Let me sort your robes out for you, Robbie,’ offered Hannah.

 

It was too late. Angry black clouds had gathered on Robards’ face and with lightning flashing from his eyes and a voice like thunder, he dismissed Hannah’s offer and stormed furiously from the room.

 

Robards’ much photographed departure was followed by Ron and Hermione’s. Ron carried his unconscious girlfriend from the silent and watching hall and followed his boss through the barrage of cameras.

 


 

‘Neville,’ Hannah said firmly, ‘Ron got Hermione drunk, you behaved with dignity. You didn’t let Romilda bully you, and you can dance. There is nothing for you to apologise for. After a catastrophic start, that turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable evening. But if you say “sorry” to me once more, I’m going to ask you to leave my room.’

 

Neville gulped, he’d been expecting her to ask him to leave since the moment they arrived, half an hour earlier.

 

Hannah’s room at the Leaky Cauldron was large, but sparsely furnished. There was one comfortable armchair, a small table, a wardrobe and a large bed. Neville, at Hannah’s insistence, was sitting in the chair. Hannah sat on a sheepskin rug on the floor, leaning back against his legs and watching the fire flickering in the grate. They sat in silence for a few moments, thinking about dancing and dinner. Neville admired the way her golden blonde hair shone in the flickering firelight.

 

‘I’ve never seen a reaction like that to a sober-up potion,’ Hannah observed. ‘But I’ve never tried it on someone drunk on alcoholic pumpkin juice before.’

 

‘Ron was talking about looking into the company, Mark D’Arque Unlimited. I don’t expect that he’ll be in the office tomorrow, but I think I’ll get started on an investigation, if you think that it’s a good idea.’

 

‘Me?’ Hannah gave a low, dismissive, laugh, ‘I’m just a silly barmaid without a NEWT to her name. You’re an Auror! You shouldn’t even be talking about possible Auror operations to me.’

 

‘Harry tells Ginny everything,’ Neville told her, ‘and Hermione knows what we’re doing, too, because Ron tells her. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t tell my girlfriend everything.’

 

‘Did you…’ Hannah stopped ‘…forget it, none of my business.’

 

‘Did I tell Romilda? No.’ Neville shook his head. ‘I found out very quickly that she was much too fond of talking to the press. It was her who told the Prophet about the first DA reunion party.’

 

‘She’ll tell them about Hermione, won’t she?’ Hannah asked.

 

‘Definitely,’ Neville confirmed. ‘And she’ll embellish it. Poor Hermione, Ron will be in trouble.’

 

‘He deserves it. I’ve never ever actually seen Hermione drunk, she always keeps herself under control. I’m surprised she was so blunt and rude. She said a few things which she should have kept to herself.’

 

Have you …’ he stopped. ‘Never mind.’

 

‘Have I really fancied you since school?’ Hannah asked and Neville nodded, blushing. Hannah blushed too, turned away from him, and stared into the fire. She looked at the flickering flames for at least a minute before silently nodding. Neither of them spoke for some time.

 

Neville slipped from the chair and lowered himself down to sit on the floor beside her. Placing one arm over her shoulder, he slid the other across her stomach and pulled her close. Leaning in, he kissed her slowly and tenderly. She twisted to better respond, overbalanced, and fell backwards onto the rug.

 

Neville tried to cushion her fall by catching her head before it hit the floor. He succeeded, but the back of his hand took the force of the fall and he too overbalanced. His landing, however, was much softer. He hastily pulled his face from Hannah’s cleavage.

 

‘Sor…’ he began to stammer an apology, saw Hannah’s face and halted mid-word.

 

‘If I say sorry again you’ll make me leave,’ he remembered. Hannah nodded.

 

He pulled his hand from under her head and flexed his fingers.

 

‘Did it hurt when I landed on your hand?’ she asked as she took it and gently kissed his fingers.

 

‘Nothing broken, thanks,’ said Neville. A sudden sense of mischief took over. ‘Did it hurt, when I landed on your…’

 

She laughed and pulled him down for another kiss.

 


 

The bar of the Leaky Cauldron was deserted. It felt unnatural, a room meant to be full, bustling and noisy was silent, empty and echoing. The stale air was laden with the lingering smell of last night’s alcohol.

 

‘I’ve been thinking about last night.’ Neville told Hannah quietly as they ate a late breakfast in a dim recess in the bar. Hannah blushed crimson, making Neville blush in turn.

 

‘About Hermione,’ Neville said hastily.

 

Hannah raised an eyebrow.

 

‘About what happened at the Reception ... I’ve been thinking about us and last night, too, it’s just that…’ Neville realised that he was beginning to babble, so stopped.

 

‘Neville, you’re worried about Ron and Hermione and you’re wondering what to do about the pumpkin juice people, right?’ Hannah interrupted.

 

Neville nodded.

 

‘Have you tested the stuff?’ she asked.

 

‘No. Ron bought some, but he took it home with him. I’ve no idea how much of it Hermione drank.’

 

‘We should have a few bottles left here. I’ll see if I can find it for you once we’ve finished breakfast. What will you do with it?’ she asked.

 

‘I’ll give it to our potions expert, Edmund Byers, as soon as I get into the office.’

 

‘Byers? I don’t think I know him,’ said Hannah. ‘He mustn’t visit the Cauldron.’

 

‘I don’t suppose he does. He’s a grumpy old soul, but good with potions—so good that I’m not sure how long he’ll be will be with us. Professor Slughorn wants to retire, again, so Headmistress McGonagall has asked Byers if he’d be interested in the job.’

 

‘McGonagall will be going soon, too, I’d have thought’ Hannah observed as Neville scraped up the last of the egg yolk from his plate. ‘I’ll find those bottles for you now, Nev, I’ll be back in a few minutes. What time do you need to be at work?’

 

‘Almost two hours ago,’ Neville confessed. Hannah stood, walked around the table and hugged him tightly.

 

‘I won’t be long,’ she said when she released him. And, true to her word, she was back within a few minutes carrying three bottles of the pumpkin juice, which she placed on the table.

 

When she returned Neville was gloomily reading the Daily Prophet.

 

‘What does it say?’ Hannah asked.

 

‘That Hermione behaved disgracefully, insulting attractive young witch Romilda Vane. Whose current beau, readers will be interested to know, is Hogwarts’ hero, the dashing Terry Boot.’

 

‘Dashing?’ Hannah queried.

 

‘Terry would be the first to admit that not even a Prophet reporter could stretch to calling him “handsome,”’ said Neville.

 

‘The paper also says that Auror Ron Weasley is incapable of controlling his wild Muggle-born girlfriend, that Head Auror Robards will be disciplining his young staff, and that several of their proposed “innovations” will be looked at again in light of their behaviour. It also says that … that Auror “Snakeslayer” Longbottom, unable to get a date, was reduced to begging a plain-featured barmaid to attend the ball with him,’ Neville added sadly.

 

Hannah shrank visibly. Neville smiled.

 

‘That spiteful rubbish is direct from Romilda, I’m sure. Unfortunately for the writer, he didn’t check with the society columnist.’ He opened the paper to another page, and showed it to Hannah. There, under the headline “Snakeslayer and Sensational” there was a photograph of them dancing.

 

‘In this article, my new girlfriend is described as sensational, stunning and sensuous,’ he smiled. ‘I think the writer likes alliteration, although she missed sexy, for some reason.’

 

‘Don’t,’ said Hannah. ‘I’m not…’

 

‘I’ll be the judge of that,’ he told her. He pulled the page containing the gossip column from the paper and handed it to Hannah. He then flipped back to the headlines and waved the front page at her. ‘But this sort of thing is the reason I don’t usually go to these Balls. I hate being in the papers and it’s usually biased and wrong.’

 

‘If we get more trade, it might be worth it,’ Hannah said thoughtfully. She smiled as she looked at the photograph of them dancing. ‘I told you that you could dance, Neville. But you’d better go to work, you’re in trouble and you’re late. Don’t forget the bottles.’

 

Neville picked one from the table and examined it carefully.

 

There’s no address on the label,’ he observed.

 

‘I’d noticed that. They operate an owl-order system, just like the twins did during the war. We send an order by owl and pay the delivery people when they arrive with the goods. They operate using cash sales only, too. That’s unusual. Tom does most of his business with our major suppliers through Gringotts. The goblins simply transfer cash from one account to another. But this company doesn’t seem to have an account at Gringotts.’

 

‘So, you send an owl and…’ Neville asked.

 

‘And we get a reply telling us when the stuff will be delivered, and an invoice. We’re expected to have the cash ready for them when they arrive,’ said Hannah.

 

‘Isn’t that a bit suspicious?’ Neville inquired.

 

Hannah kissed his cheek. ‘My poor innocent, Neville. This is the bar-trade. Most of our small suppliers work on a cash-in-hand basis. Why put things through the books? It simply makes the Ministry interested.’

 

Neville pulled a face and Hannah laughed.

 

‘Oh, Neville, I’ve shocked you! Mark D’Arque, or whatever the company is called, are probably fiddling their tax returns. But this is nothing, you’d be horrified at the things that went on during the war.’ Behind her, a clock chimed. ‘Now you are two hours late for work. I don’t want you to leave, but you should. When will I…’

 

‘When are you next free, Hannah? I’ve got a day off tomorrow.’ Neville interrupted as he picked up the bottles and prepared to leave.

 

‘I’m on the evening shift tomorrow. I’ll need to be back here for seven, but we could meet for breakfast and have a day together.’

 

‘Great, we’ll do that, what time?’

 

‘Nine o’clock, I’ll provide the breakfast.’

 

‘Thanks, I love you, Hannah.’

 

‘And I love you, Neville.’

 

They kissed. Neville strode from the pub with a spring in his step. Despite Ron’s problems, he felt better than he had for weeks. He headed for the Ministry full of hope.

 

When Neville finally reached his desk, he discovered that Ron hadn’t arrived. The office gossip was that Robards had received a message from Ron, who was claiming that he was ill.

 

Neville handed the bottles of pumpkin juice over to Byers and created a file for the new case.

 

‘I spent the morning trying to check up on this company, Mark D’Arque,’ Neville told his supervisor, Williamson, when questioned about his lateness.

 

‘Waste of time!’ said Williamson.

 

‘Are you ordering me not to pursue it?’ Neville asked.

 

Williamson gave an indifferent shrug, but said nothing. That was the way Williamson worked. If it came to nothing, then he’d say “I told you it was a waste of time.” If it proved important, he would take the credit. Neville shrugged, and got on with his work.

 


 

It was not until the fourth day of Ron’s “sickness” that Neville received the results of the tests carried out by Auror Edmund Byers. He immediately Apparated to Grimmauld Place and knocked on the door. Kreacher answered and bowed low.

 

‘A scion of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Longbottom is always welcome at the House of Potter,’ said Kreacher, his nose almost touching the ground as he retained his bow. ‘However, I regret to say that my Master…’

 

‘I’m here to see Ron, Kreacher, not Harry,’ said Neville.

 

‘Master Ronald is unavailable…’ Kreacher began.

 

Knowing the house-elf’s loyalties, Neville interrupted.

 

‘Is he here?’ he asked the elf.

 

‘Master Ronald is unavailable…’ Kreacher repeated.

 

‘I don’t care whether or not he’s “available,” Kreacher. Please answer my question. Is he here?’

 

‘Yes,’ Kreacher admitted reluctantly. Neville strode past the elf and into the hallway.

 

‘RON!’ he bellowed. There was silence.

 

‘Ron, you idiot, this is important, it’s about Hermione!’ Neville heard a door open on an upper floor and looked up to see Ron peering down from the second floor balcony. He looked terrible. His eyes were bloodshot and his unkempt ginger beard showed that he hadn’t shaved for days, probably not since the Reception.

 

‘Have you spoken to her? What did she say?’ Ron asked nervously.

 

‘Haven’t you?’ said Neville in surprise. ‘She’s taken the week off, she’s on holiday. If you weren’t here, I was going to try her flat.’

 

‘You can’t, I’ve tried to visit her. She’s put the flat under the Fidelius Charm. I’ve been to her parents’ house, too, but they told me that she wasn’t there and that she hadn’t been in touch. What do you want?’

 

‘I got some of that pumpkin juice from Hannah and I’ve had it tested,’ Neville told him.

 

‘And?’ Ron asked.

 

‘I’m not shouting up the stairs, Ron. I’ll wait for you in the kitchen. Get dressed and get tidied up, I need you back at work.’ With that, Neville marched through the door and down into the basement kitchen.

 

He was drinking tea and eating a ginger biscuit when Ron arrived ten minutes later. He was in his Auror uniform, and clean shaven, but he was dripping blood from a cut on his chin.

 

‘Shaved in a rush,’ he explained as Neville staunched the blood with a healing spell. ‘What’s up? Is Hermione okay? Is Harry okay?’

 

‘Harry’s still looking, he hasn’t found the place yet and no one has seen Hermione, or you, since the ball. I thought that you must be together, working things out,’ admitted Neville.

 

‘I wish we were,’ Ron announced, ‘I haven’t felt this bad since … since I walked out on Harry when we were on the run. In fact, this is worse, because then I could put part of the blame on Tom Riddle. That bloody locket. This time it was just me being an idiot.’

 

‘Yes, but that pumpkin juice has more than just alcohol in it; there’s an alcohol strengthening potion in it, too. It seems to quadruple the strength of any other booze you drink. Butterbeer has almost no alcohol in it, but you could get very drunk on nothing but Butterbeer, if you drank two or three pumpkin juices first. There’s something else in it, too, something Byers hasn’t been able to identify yet. He’s not certain what it is, but I’ve persuaded him to classify it as possible Dark Magic, that way we keep control of the case. I’ve started an investigation of Mark D’Arque Unlimited, and as Harry is still undercover, I need my other partner back at work.’

 

‘Robards will kill me.’

 

‘He should, and so should Hermione, but they can’t both do it. Fortunately “Robbie” Robards is a regular at the Cauldron and Hannah is his favourite barm… trainee publican. She’s been working on him.’

 

‘I doubt it, Hermione was horrible to her, and it’s my fault. I saw the way Hannah looked at me; she thinks I’m an idiot,’ muttered Ron.

 

‘That’s because you are an idiot, Ron, at least some of the time. Robards will give you a reprimand and probably dock your wages, but he won’t sack you. I know he won’t, because Hannah has talked to him about it,’ Neville told him.

 

‘But why would Hannah help me?’

 

‘Because I asked her to, Ron,’ said Neville.

 

‘Thanks, mate, I owe you one,’ said Ron.

 

‘You owe Hannah, not me, now let’s go to work,’ Neville told him.

 


 

The office fell silent when Neville walked in with Ron. Every Auror watched as Ron walked up to Robards’ office, knocked on the door and walked in. He was there for an hour.

 

Neville was talking to their fellow trainees, Terry and Susan, when Ron finally emerged, pale and shaking.

 

‘Well?’ Neville asked.

 

‘I’ve been docked a month’s pay, plus a formal reprimand, and he’s put me on a final warning,’ Ron confessed glumly. ‘Any more nonsense from you, Weasley, and you’re out.’ Ron continued, growling in a passable imitation of Robards’ deep voice.

 

‘Will you never learn, Ron?’ said Susan severely, narrowing her fine blonde brows.

 

‘It was a joke,’ Ron protested. ‘It was a bit of fun, that’s all.’

 

‘No one laughed then, and no one’s laughing now,’ observed Susan, pursing her thin lips. The flaxen-haired girl wore her hair in a tight bun that, combined with her severe expression, made her look years older than her friends.

 

‘Least of all me, Susan,’ Ron admitted. ‘I don’t suppose that you’ve heard from Hermione, have you?’

 

‘No, but I saw Padma in the Department of Mysteries yesterday. Parvati told her that Hermione has been to see Lavender,’ Susan told him.

 

‘Oh, Merlin, I’m doomed,’ groaned Ron. ‘I need to see her, to explain.’

 

‘If she’s hidden her flat, then you can’t, so you might as well help me. Anyway, you didn’t know the effect it would have, Ron,’ Neville reminded him. ‘Let’s see if we can track these people down.’

 


 

The following Monday, the Ministry was buzzing with the news that Hermione had returned to work. The second he found out, Ron was on his feet and dashing for the office door. He was halted by a shout from his boss.

 

‘Weasley,’ Robards called, waving an interdepartmental memo. ‘I have a message here from Mr Jenkins, Head of the Being Division in Magical Creatures. Miss Granger is extremely busy and you are not to interfere with her work or visit her in her office. Not until Jenkins rescinds this request. If you do, both you and she will be disciplined. For you, that means that you’re out of a job. Granger will lose any prospect of promotion.’

 

Neville watched his friend slump despondently.

 

‘You’re already in Hermione’s bad books, Ron,’ Neville reminded him. ‘Do you think she’d thank you if you got the sack and she lost an opportunity for promotion?’

 

Ron sat back down in his seat, stone-faced. He glowered grimly.

 

‘Let’s catch these gits,’ said Ron.

 

The vindictive look Ron gave the empty pumpkin juice bottle on his desk should have been enough to melt the glass. Picking up the crumpled brochure he’d shown Harry eleven days earlier, Ron studied it carefully. Noting the name of the printer, he diverted his energies owards investigating the company he was now holding responsible for his misfortune.

 

Over the next few weeks, Neville kept a very close eye on his friend. Ron was obsessed and not just with the case. Two, three or even four times a day he sent a memo to Hermione. He could not send an owl, as she had magically hidden her flat from everyone. Every day he sent flowers to her office, too. But despite his efforts, Hermione did not respond. Neville knew that his friend had even taken to hanging around the Ministry entrance, but somehow Hermione always eluded him.

 

Weeks of investigation bore very little fruit. Mark D’Arque Unlimited had collected their brochures from the printer, and they had no registered office. They had no address of any kind. The company seemed to be making a reasonable amount of money, all in cash sales. Their income came from a number of joke items as well as from the pumpkin juice. Surprisingly, although the majority of the bottles Ron and Neville bought in pubs up and down the land contained the alcohol strengthening potion, very few contained the other potion.

 

Byers had been unable to identify the mystery potion. He had finally concluded that it was inactive, that it required an additional ingredient, or ingredients, before it would work. He had tried mixing it with other drinks, but had failed to activate it.

 

Neville and Ron hadn’t even been able to identify the company’s delivery men. Descriptions of the men who took the cash and supplied the pumpkin juice varied wildly. It was as if the company employed different people for every delivery. Neville was beginning to lose hope of getting anywhere.

 

Two weeks after Ron’s birthday, Neville was lying on Hannah’s bed, discussing the case with his girlfriend and wondering what to do next. Ron was no longer much help. The longer he’d been out of contact with Hermione, the more distracted and depressed he became. Not only had Hermione still not returned any of his messages, but everyone now knew that she was going out with her boss, Jenkins.

 

Neville had offered to visit Hermione to act as an intermediary, but Ron stubbornly refused.

 

‘I got myself into this mess. I need to get myself out,’ said Ron.

 

Were it not for the fact that both Jenkins and Hermione had gone back to France on Ministry business, Neville was certain that Ron would have ignored Robards’ warning and gone to see her. The fact that they were in France together was driving Ron to distraction. That, coupled with his frustration at the lack of progress on the case, meant that Ron was becoming more irritable and moody with every passing day.

 

Neville was grateful that he had someone else to talk to about the case. He spent every spare moment at the Leaky Cauldron. As they lay on Hannah’s bed, he unburdened himself of his problems. She was a good listener. She claimed that it was an essential part of her job.

 

‘Do you want me to put in an order?’ Hannah asked him when he’d finished.

 

Neville looked at his girlfriend blankly for a second, and then realised what she was suggesting. He kissed her.

 

‘You are a genius, a beautiful genius,’ he told her, pulling her into a tight embrace.

 


 

Two days later, Neville was alone in the office when an internal memo arrived. It bore the message:

Yours, I think! Sent to me in error.

Neville Longstaffe, Magical Games and Sports.

 

Neville looked at the slip of parchment attached to the memo. It was from Hannah and his name was written clearly on it: “Delivery 11:00 a.m. today” was all it said. Neville looked at his watch, it was one minute to eleven!

 

Cursing the inefficiency of the Ministry bureaucracy, he dashed down to the Atrium, drew his wand, said ‘Leaky Cauldron’ and stepped into the fireplace.

 

Hannah was arguing with two men when Neville stepped from the fireplace, wand in hand. One of the men was short and unshaven; the other tall and well-groomed. Neville did not recognise either of them, but as he stepped out from the fireplace and approached, the tall, well-groomed man stared in shocked recognition.

 

The man swore vilely and panicked. He threw the crate he was carrying at Hannah, causing her to stagger backwards and stumble against the bar.

 

‘The Abbot cow’s bin delayin’ us. It’s a trap! C’mon Bletchley,’ the taller man yelled at his companion.

 

The unshaven man raised his wand and silently blasted the ceiling above Hannah.



Chapter 11: The Hunt: Wolves at the Door
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11. The Hunt: Wolves at the Door

 

Lavender was breathing, but only just. Every exhalation was ragged and accompanied by a horrible bubbling noise. Harry used his wand to carefully cut open her blood-stained robes and bandages.

 

His stomach lurched when he saw the full extent of her injuries. She’d been suffering since the battle, two years with the unhealable curse wound Greyback had given her. Her abdomen and right hip were a weeping, bloody mess. This was not something he could deal with.

 

He considered using his Portcuffs to transport her to safety, but dismissed the idea immediately. Given the severity of her wounds, a Portkey journey would probably kill her.

 

‘She was almost killed by Greyback two years ago,’ Harry told Wulfric. ‘Her wounds have re-opened, but she’s surprisingly tough.’

 

‘She’s going to die!’ wailed Wulfric in a panic. ‘We need Dacia.’

 

‘Can you keep her alive?’ Harry asked.

 

‘For a while, we need Dacia,’ moaned Wulfric, tearing at his hair. ‘This is my fault; she’s the third person I’ve brought here to die.’

 

Harry picked up Lavender’s wand and handed it to Wulfric. ‘How long?’ he asked.

 

‘I can slow the bleeding,’ Wulfric said. ‘Ten minutes, fifteen?’ He looked in astonishment at the wand in his hand, and glanced at the Shivering Stone.

 

‘If you leave, and she dies, I will hunt you down,’ Harry told him forcefully.

 

‘I’ll keep her alive for as long as I can,’ Wulfric promised.

 

Harry stared down at Lavender as she lay unconscious on the lush grass at the edge of the stream. She looked peaceful, almost as though she were sleeping. Her flesh was drained of colour; she was as pale as Malfoy and her face was framed by her artistically strewn dark pre-Raphaelite curls.

 

Ginny had once told Harry that image was very important to Lavender. As he looked down it seemed to him that, even while dying, she wanted to strike a pose. The insipid post-dawn light, the dew-covered sward on which she lay, her pallid features, she was a tragic watercolour. Her blood, and the scarlet lipstick she wore, created jarring and almost unreal splashes of brightness in the scene.

 

‘She’s very pretty, isn’t she?’ observed Wulfric.

 

‘Is she?’ Harry asked.

 

He tried to see it, but she was simply Lavender. Wulfric’s question, however, brought him to his senses. He wasn’t looking at a portrait of a dying maiden; this was real.

 

He picked up his cloak and grabbed Lavender’s broom. When he straddled the broom, an old Cleansweep Six, he almost fell off. The cushioning charm had been altered to keep the rider cocooned in a very upright seating position. It would make for an awkward ride, but he didn’t have time to remove it.

 

Greyback’s attack had left her unable to walk. She could not even stand up without reopening her wounds. Almost two years ago she’d admitted that she was in constant pain; she was alive because of strong painkillers and a constant supply of blood replenishing potion. Her curse-injuries had not healed. The severity of her wounds was greater than she’d admitted. Harry wondered if even Parvati knew.

 

‘I’ll get Dacia here as soon as I can. Keep her alive,’ Harry ordered. He pulled on his cloak and flew up over the forest. Leaning forwards to gain more speed was difficult because of the cushioning charm but he flew as fast as he could.

 

Skimming rapidly over the treetops, Harry was soon approaching the village. He slowed down and dropped low as he reached the end of the glen. His invisibility cloak was flapping too much; it revealed the broom and his legs, a stupid mistake. He Disillusioned both himself and the broom, and continued to fly slowly to the back door of Dacia’s cottage. Dismounting, he knocked; Amber opened the door and looked around, puzzled.

 

‘It’s Harry,’ he hissed, ‘I need your mum, urgently.’

 

‘Mum,’ hissed Amber, stepping to one side. Harry edged past her and removed his spells and cloak. He was standing in a dark corridor leading from the back to the front door. A door to one side led into what must be living space; the other, from the smell, led to a barn. Dacia Skoll stepped out from the living area and looked at Harry in surprise and anger.

 

‘How dare you…’

 

‘Emergency,’ said Harry rapidly. ‘A friend of mine is hurt, badly. Wulfric said you were her best hope, come now. She’s dying. Please.’

 

The anguish in Harry’s final “please” transformed Dacia Skoll’s look from anger to decisive action. She moved quickly.

 

‘Ruby, fetch my healing bag,’ she commanded. ‘Amber, look after your sisters. Stay indoors and if anyone calls, do not let them into the house.’ By the time she had issued these instructions Ruby was back with a huge satchel, which Dacia slung over her shoulder. Harry mounted the broom and motioned Dacia to get behind him.

 

‘What’s wrong with this broom?’ asked Dacia as she struggled to sit behind him.

 

‘I’ll explain later, hang on tight,’ Harry ordered.

 

Dacia grabbed him around the waist. After Disillusioning himself, Dacia and the broom, he ordered, ‘Open the door, please, Amber, and stand back.’ The girl did so.

 

Harry kicked off and accelerated as quickly as he could; Dacia tightened her hold. They climbed quickly and sped over the forest towards the Stone. He felt Dacia’s arms slide further around his chest as she leaned into his back to help increase speed.

 

‘I’d almost forgotten the thrill of flying,’ she called sadly over Harry’s shoulder. He said nothing, concentrating on getting them back to Lavender as rapidly as possible. As they approached the Stone, Harry drew his wand and checked to make sure that there wasn’t another invisible surprise waiting for them; the area was clear except for the four people he knew about. They skidded to the ground next to the Stone and Harry removed the Disillusionment spell.

 

Dacia Skoll scowled at her brother-in-law; he had used Lavender’s wand to cut away more of Lavender’s robes and bandages and was desperately trying to slow the bleeding.

 

Dacia Skoll took one look at the wounds and swore.

 

‘Give me that wand,’ she ordered. Wulfric handed it over immediately.

 

‘These wounds aren’t recent!’ observed Dacia. She stared at Harry. ‘Do you know who did this?’

 

‘Greyback,’ Harry answered. ‘She was injured at the Battle of Hogwarts.’

 

‘Damn that monster!’ Dacia cursed. ‘What caused the wounds to re-open?’

 

‘Scabior used the Cruciatus Curse on her,’ said Wulfric.

 

Dacia cursed again.

 

‘I’ll need blood replenishing potion,’ said Dacia. ‘I don’t have anywhere near enough.’

 

‘The girl was carrying some, quite a lot,’ Wulfric said, holding up Lavender’s shoulder bag, which he’d obviously searched.

 

‘And I have some,’ Harry added. Dacia Skoll looked at him shrewdly.

 

‘I need to get her indoors, lying down; I can’t do anything to help her here,’ said Dacia. ‘And I can’t risk keeping her in my cottage.’

 

‘I’ll take you to my hideout,’ said Harry, deciding instantly. He busied himself transfiguring a flat rock into a stretcher. ‘Can you levitate her behind us, using her wand, if I fly us down there, invisible?’

 

Dacia nodded. ‘I’ll slow the bleeding as best I can.’

 

‘What about me?’ Wulfric asked.

 

‘Go to my house and ask Amber to get the jar marked Greyback from the secret place,’ Dacia ordered while beginning to mutter spells over the unconscious girl. ‘I’ll need it.’

 

‘After last night, I don’t think that Amber will listen to me,’ Wulfric frowned.

 

Dacia Skoll stared dismissively at him.

 

‘Do you blame her? This is the girl you were prepared to sacrifice to save her. You’re Amber’s uncle, try to act like it! Tell her that Ha… Tell her that the man who collected me needs our help,’ Dacia told her brother-in-law.

 

Wulfric nodded and ran off down the track.

 

Dacia and Harry used their wands to carefully lift Lavender onto the stretcher and strap her securely onto it.

 

‘I’ll take you to my place now, and then come back and put a memory charm on these two,’ said Harry, remounting the broom. ‘I don’t want them waking up and raising the alarm.’

 

‘Take it slowly,’ Dacia said. ‘We can’t travel as quickly as we did when you brought me here. My spells will keep her stable for about half an hour.’

 

Harry made certain that Dacia had control of the stretcher before Disillusioning everyone.

 

‘Let me know if I go too fast,’ he said.

 

Kicking off carefully, Harry gently and steadily increased his speed. When he reached what he estimated was the halfway point, he began slowly decelerating. As they approached the tent his eyes sought the Ginny action figure tied to the zip. When he found it, he slowed to walking pace and, with a flick of his wand, opened the tent flap.

 

‘Keep your head down,’ he whispered as he flew them straight inside.

 

Dismounting quickly, Harry removed the Disillusionment Charms from Lavender and Dacia and peered outside. No one seemed to have noticed their arrival, so he closed the tent and removed the Charm from himself too. Dacia Skoll was already using Lavender’s wand to lift her onto Harry’s bed.

 

‘My potion ingredients are in here,’ Harry told her, opening a cupboard above the sink. ‘My clean clothes are in the wardrobe. Take whatever you need. There’s fresh bed linen in the bottom drawer of the wardrobe.’

 

‘Harry,’ Dacia was white-faced and tense, ‘I didn’t know that the witch Wulfric decoyed here was a friend of yours. I’m sorry.’

 

‘He tried to send her back to safety. Scabior and his sister ambushed them,’ Harry replied. ‘That is my fault. I saw Scabior prowling about the village last night, he must have overheard something. I need to go and put memory charms on both him and his sister before they raise the alarm. Do you need anything else?’

 

‘Call in at the cottage and collect the Greyback jar before you come back here. I’ll need it, and please make sure my girls are all right. They’ll be worried,’ Dacia told him.

 

She crouched down next to Lavender, and began examining her injuries. Harry hesitated.

 

‘I need to get this girl undressed,’ said Dacia pointedly.

 

‘I’m going,’ replied Harry, ‘I’d like to arrest those two for assault, but if they go missing, Lowell is sure to be suspicious.’

 

Harry’s rapid flight back to the Shivering Stone was uneventful. Scabior and his sister were, as he expected, still unconscious when he arrived. Looking down at them, he once again considered handcuffing them. His Portcuffs would send them to an Auror cell, but they would be missed. If he was going to catch Lestrange the village needed to remain “normal.”

 

Instead, he removed the memory of this encounter, replacing their true memory with the belief that nothing had happened, and they had simply fallen asleep while waiting. There were strict regulations on the use of memory altering charms, but Harry knew them well. He and Hermione had written them. He could justify what he’d done.

 

After carefully arranging the two werewolves under a tree, he removed his other spells from them. They would soon recover consciousness. Remounting the broom, he flew down to Dacia’s cottage. The back door was open and Ruby Skoll was busy in the garden, picking herbs.

 

‘Mr Potter?’ she whispered, when Harry landed in the garden. He’d made a noise, but she didn’t look towards it. Instead she smiled and waved at a distant neighbour.

 

‘Here,’ said Harry in an undertone.

 

‘Just go straight inside,’ she murmured, ‘Uncle Wulfric’s here.’

 

Harry walked into the dingy dwelling and waited in the corridor. Ruby followed him inside and the moment she closed the door, Harry removed his Disillusionment charm.

 

‘Thanks, Ruby,’ Harry smiled at the girl. ‘I need to speak to your Uncle Wulfric. I need something for your Mum.’

 

Ruby opened the door from the corridor. ‘Mr Potter’s here,’ she announced unnecessarily.

 

‘Call me Harry, please,’ he requested.

 

The second he spoke, Harry realised his mistake. Ruby had unthinkingly given away his identity. The three young girls smiled at him, but Wulfric Skoll had a calculating look on his face. The girl’s Uncle kept a tight hold of the small jar in his hand.

 

‘I need that jar for your sister-in-law,’ Harry said.

 

‘And I need you to get us all out of here,’ Wulfric ordered, moving the hand holding the jar behind his back.

 

‘I will,’ Harry told him. ‘I’ll get you all out tonight. But I must get back, now. Lavender is dying.’

 

Wulfric Skoll looked unconvinced, suspicious. Amber stepped behind her uncle, plucked the jar from his hand and threw it at Harry, who caught it easily.

 

‘You little fool,’ Wulfric rounded on his niece.

 

‘He’s Harry Potter!’ Amber told her uncle, her arms folded. ‘And he promised he’ll help us escape.’

 

‘I will, Amber,’ Harry repeated his promise. ‘But now, I have to get this back to your Mum. Be careful, all of you. If anyone finds out I’m here, we’ll all be in danger.’ He smiled at them, and turned to leave.

 

‘I’ll go out first, to open the door for you,’ Amber suggested. Harry smiled his thanks, then Disillusioned himself and followed Amber outside. He flew straight back to his tent and carefully opened the flap.

 

‘It’s Harry,’ he whispered, as he entered.

 

Dacia lowered Lavender’s wand and turned back to her patient. Lavender Brown was lying on top of Harry’s bed. She was deathly white and her breathing was still worryingly shallow. Blood was trickling from her wounds onto the clean, white sheet on which she now lay.

 

Lavender was wearing very little. Dacia had dressed her in one of his clean t-shirts, which was pulled up to just below her breasts. It was a Wychwood Breweries shirt, black, with the white silhouette of a witch on a broomstick on the front. Hermione’s father had bought them as a joke. He’d given one each to Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny. Apart from the t-shirt, all she wore was a pair of frilly pink knickers. Dacia Skoll pulled up a sheet to cover her patient’s pale, thin legs and her groin.

 

‘How is she?’ asked Harry.

 

‘Dying! Slowly and painfully,’ said Dacia, through gritted teeth. ‘I can ease the pain, and possibly even partially close some of these wounds, but she’ll be dead from these injuries within five years or maybe ten, no matter what I do. She can’t survive on a blood replenishing potion forever, Harry. I know of only one way to prevent her from dying.’

 

‘Do it!’ Harry ordered, handing Dacia the jar. She shook her head.

 

‘No, Harry, that decision isn’t mine, or yours. It’s hers and hers alone,’ she said sadly. ‘Help me, we’ll stabilise her and, when she’s ready, I’ll tell her what her options are.’

 

‘But…’

 

‘No questions, Harry, not now. I need blood replenishing potion, wolfsbane, dittany, unicorn hair and the jar you’ve collected, and I need a cauldron. Get them ready for me, then take over here. I need to brew a potion and you need to keep her alive until it is ready. We’re both going to be very busy for several hours.’

 

Walking over to his potions cabinet, Harry pulled out the ingredients Dacia required. Glancing across, she demanded a pestle and mortar, a silver knife, and a set of scales.

 

‘Now get your cauldron ready. I hope it’s clean!’she added.

 

when everything was laid out to her satisfaction, Dacia ordered him to her side and showed him the charm she was using to keep Lavender’s injuries stable. It took almost half an hour before she was convinced that he’d fully mastered the charm.

 

‘I thought Aurors were taught healing magic,’ she grumbled.

 

‘We are,’ Harry admitted. ‘I barely scraped a pass—it’s my worst subject, sorry.’

 

‘You’ll need to concentrate, Harry. The potion will take at least two hours to brew and I’ll need to watch it every second. Your job will be to keep your friend alive while I’m working.’

 

Ignoring his growing hunger, Harry concentrated on the spell he’d been taught. He paid no attention to the splashes and smells coming from his cauldron, or to the mutterings of Dacia Skoll behind him. He looked at the torn, bloody flesh of Lavender’s abdomen and hip and slowly and carefully passed his wand over her wounds. Occasionally, he risked a look at her face. Lavender was pale, paler than ever; now she was almost as pale as Voldemort. Her face was pinched, drawn, and lined; her curly dark brown hair tumbled untidily across his pillow and she laboured to breathe.

 

‘It’s almost ready, Harry,’ announced Dacia finally. She carried the cauldron across to Harry’s bed and placed it on the floor. ‘Don’t stop until I tell you.’

 

Harry nodded, blinking cold sweat from his eyes. Dacia pulled a quantity of dry and flaky moss from her bag and began gently spreading it across Lavender’s wounds while making flicking movements with her wand. Once she was satisfied that the moss covered the wounds evenly, she ladled some of the potion into a bowl, opened the jar marked “Greyback” and dropped a single hair into the yellow-gold liquid in the bowl.

 

The potion bubbled and hissed for almost a minute.

 

‘That was one of Greyback’s hairs,’ Dacia explained. ‘It’s the activator. Without the hair and the moss, this potion won’t do anything. With it, the potion will bind the wounds Greyback caused.’

 

She slowly ladled the contents of the bowl onto the moss, watching it carefully.

 

‘You can stop now, Harry,’ she instructed. Harry watched as moss and potion reacted with each other and bonded with the skin.

 

‘Good, good,’ Dacia murmured to herself as she watched the changes.

 

‘Clean bandages,’ she ordered, holding out a hand. Harry looked around wildly.

 

‘I put them on the table,’ Dacia said crossly. Harry dashed across to pick them up.

 

‘Use your wand, don’t touch them!’ Dacia scolded. ‘Don’t you know anything?’

 

Cursing himself, Harry complied, levitating the bandages to her. He watched, fascinated, as Dacia magically wrapped the bandages around Lavender’s wounds and fastened them tightly.

 

When she’d finished, Harry let out a deep breath. ‘What now?’ he gasped. He hadn’t been aware that he’d been holding his breath.

 

‘Now,’ Dacia Skoll said grimly. ‘You watch her until she wakes up. Make sure she rests.’ She gently pulled the sheet up to Lavender’s neck.

 

‘I’d like to make sure my girls are all right,’ she said.

 

He lifted his invisibility cloak from a peg and handed it to her. ‘Use this to get home; I’ll collect it later. Thank you for your help.’

 

‘Your friend’s dressings will need to be checked later today. I’ll bring your cloak back at five this afternoon. Your friend should be awake by then. I’ll check the bandages and tell her the bad news.’ Dacia looked ruefully at Lavender’s wand before reluctantly placing it on the bedside table. ‘I can’t risk being caught with this.’

 

‘I will get you all out of here tonight,’ Harry promised her.

 

Harry watched her pull on his cloak, then Disillusioned himself and followed her outside. He waited until he saw the door to Dacia’s cottage open and close before returning into his tent. Finding a corned beef and potato pie in his larder, he ate it cold while writing a long, and late, report.

 

After sending his report, he lay back in his chair, closed his eyes, and began to plan his next move. Things were now much too complicated, he decided. He’d made a mistake in not arresting Scabior and his sister. He would have had two less people to deal with.

 

Perhaps Dacia had been right; perhaps he had been more interested in catching Lestrange than in “the petty complaints of filthy werewolves.” Capturing Lestrange was the reason he was here, but there were so many other injustices, and he should be dealing with them. The safety of the innocent villagers was more important than his mission. His priority had to be to get Lavender and the Skoll family out of this place.

 

Harry began to plan. He would get them out through the stone. Once they were safe he could return. He could try to set up an ambush for Lestrange near the Shivering Stone. He needed to carefully think about his options. Harry sat back in the chair and closed his eyes.

 

The next thing he knew, he was being woken by a sharp, gasping, breath. He turned to the source of the noise. Lavender was awake and staring at him, her hand was scrabbling for her wand.

 

‘You’re safe, Lavender,’ he assured her, ‘don’t worry.’

 

‘Harry?’ Lavender stared at him, her violet eyes meeting his green. He grabbed her wildly flailing hand, frightened that she’d re-open her wounds.

 

‘Lie still. You walked into an active Auror operation and got ambushed,’ he told her. ‘You need to rest.’

 

Lavender looked at him suspiciously, ‘If you’re really Harry, tell me who took me to the Yule Ball.’

 

‘Seamus,’ Harry told her. ‘Are you still seeing him?’

 

‘He’s still visiting me,’ Lavender replied neutrally. She lifted the sheet, peered under the bedclothes, and raised a neatly plucked eyebrow.

 

‘It wasn’t me! There’s a healer here … she … I wasn’t even in the tent ... do you need anything?’ Harry asked her nervously, trying to change the subject. He was alone with Lavender. She was in his bed, and in her underwear. He felt uncomfortably hot. Lavender laughed at him.

 

‘You’re Harry,’ she teased. ‘Unless, of course, you’re a Polyjuiced Neville.’

 

‘A drink, food?’ he continued uncertainly.

 

‘A cup of tea would be nice, thanks, Harry.’ Lavender smiled weakly, ignoring his embarrassment.

 

Over a cup of tea they discussed Lavender’s injuries, and Ginny.

 

Lavender was surprisingly blunt.

 

‘I’m not dead yet, Harry,’ she reminded him. ‘Until I am, there’s always the chance of a cure.’

 

Lavender claimed she’d told no one where she was going. But later revealed that “no one” actually meant “no one except Parvati, she’s my best friend, she doesn’t count.” Lavender had also heard lots of gossip. As they talked he suddenly realised that it wasn’t simply gossip, much of it was useful.

 

Lavender was convinced that there was something suspicious about Ginny’s behaviour. As they continued to talk, he realised that Lavender was nowhere near as empty-headed as he’d always assumed. To his surprise, Lavender seemed to pick up on his thoughts.

 

‘You of all people should know that fighting a war changes people, Harry,’ she told him. ‘Being crippled has given me a lot to think about. When I get cured, I’m going to enjoy myself. But I’m going to join the Auror Office too. Susie B doesn’t think that I can do it, but I can.’

 

‘Susie B?’ Harry asked curiously. He suspected that he knew, but it seemed inconceivable.

 

‘The Ice Maiden, Susan Bones,’ Lavender grinned. ‘She’s been letting me see her Auror course notes. She hates it when I call her Susie B, and she hates "Ice Maiden" even more, but the truth hurts. Though not as much as curse scars.’

 

‘You’ve seen her course notes? That’s…’ Harry began.

 

‘Against the rules, I know. Auror training is for Aurors. The course notes don’t leave the building. But Susan is the only girl on the course, because your boss rejected me.’ Lavender grimaced. ‘I admit it, Harry. I persuaded straight-laced Susie to break a rule for me. Are you going to handcuff me?’

 

Harry had never heard anyone put so much inuendo into one word. . Despite his embarrassment, he was impressed. Persuading Susan Bones to break a rules was like persuading the sun not to rise.

 

‘A bit of rule breaking isn’t important, Harry. Ginny is! You need to see her. And you need to sort out Ron and Hermione—they aren’t speaking to each other. At least they weren’t. I told Hermione that she doesn’t appreciate what she’s got. Ron is a moron, and the best thing that’s ever happened to her. He’s crazy about her, he’s even crazier about her than he is about the Chudley bloody Cannons. Perhaps they’ve made up by now.’

 

‘Ron and Hermione are always arguing; they’ve been arguing since the day they first met,’ Harry reminded her impatiently. Hearing Lavender talking about Ron and Hermione was disconcerting.

 

They had finished their tea, and Lavender hadn’t told him everything she knew about Ron and Hermione’s latest tiff. She yawned, so Harry insisted she rest. Disillusioning himself, he left her alone in the tent.

 

Returning to his watching position, he looked up at the sun and realised that it was already well after noon. He looked around the village. Everything seemed normal; he pulled out his Omnioculars and searched the settlement carefully. Wulfric Skoll was slinking back to his cottage. The majority of the villagers were in the fields. Lowell, Payne, Youen and the dark-haired woman Dacia had called Doxine Gray were also in the fields. Harry took a good look at her, and wondered if she was related to Fenella Gray.

 

Harry sat outside, watching carefully, settling into his regular routine. The village residents continued to behave normally but there was an atmosphere about the place. Tonight was the last night before the full moon, his last chance to get everyone away.

 

Once Dacia and her family, and Lavender, were safely through the Stone, he could act. He’d been trained to work alone, because that’s what Aurors had always done. But it was ridiculous, he realised. He had never worked alone. He’d always had someone to help: Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Sirius, Remus … Ginny.

 

Without help he could be undercover for another week or two, possibly more. But would Ginny understand? Would she be all right? His conversation with Lavender had done nothing to ease his mind. He knew what would happen if he asked for help. Robards and Williamson would tell him that he was jeopardising his mission for personal reasons. They’d question his commitment to the Auror training programme. Uneasy, he continued his surveillance.

 

‘Harry,’ Lavender hissed from behind him, a few hours later, ‘Do you want something to eat?’

 

He whirled around; she’d opened the tent flap a fraction, but how had she managed to get out of bed?

 

‘Coming,’ he hissed. He slithered backwards into his tent and closed the zip.

 

Lavender was standing, almost. She’d conjured herself two crutches and had somehow managed to find a pair of his jeans and put them on. They were baggy, and tied around her heavily bandaged waist with his spare Auror uniform tie, but she was standing at the stove, making a cheese and onion omelette.

 

‘I can stand,’ she beamed. ‘For the first time in almost two years, I can stand. I’m so happy I could kiss you!

 

‘I won’t,’ she assured him when she saw his face. ‘Let’s eat! It’s just an omelette and bread and I’m getting tired of standing up, but I cooked!’

 

Harry conjured a second chair, got two plates, and helped Lavender serve her omelette. They sat down and began to eat. Harry had eaten much better omelettes, and none which contained as much eggshell and raw onion. Lavender considered it a great achievement, so he didn’t complain.

 

‘That healer of yours is a miracle worker,’ Lavender said, ‘I haven’t felt this good since … since before the battle. Now, what are you going to do about Ginny?’

 

‘Do?’ Harry asked, ‘That’s the trouble, I’m stuck here. There’s nothing I can do until my mission is over.’

 

‘She’s not behaving normally, Harry,’ insisted Lavender. ‘I’ve been thinking about it. There’s something going on, and you’re the man who needs to sort it out. There’s only one question to answer, Harry. Is what you’re doing here more important than Ginny?’

 

Harry was rather unnerved by the way Lavender had so succinctly expressed his own doubts. Before he could think of a reply, he heard the tinkle of his alarm charm.

 

‘Someone’s coming,’ he hissed, Disillusioning himself, he crept outside. He couldn’t see anyone. He immediately searched for someone invisible, and found them. Two people were approaching, and they were very close together. They were under one cloak; at least that’s what he hoped, as they were heading straight towards him. He waited until they were within ten feet of his hideout.

 

Dacia,’ he hissed.

 

‘I’ve brought Amber with me,’ she replied in a whisper. He felt a sudden movement on his platform, so he stepped back, unzipped his tent and stepped inside.

 

‘It’s me,’ he told Lavender, who was pointing her wand at the open doorway. He made himself visible as Dacia Skoll threw off his cloak.

 

‘Lavender,’ he began. ‘This is Dacia Skoll, and her daughter, Amber.’ The three women looked at each other suspiciously. ‘Dacia saved your life.’

 

‘No, I didn’t,’ said Dacia gruffly, ‘I’ve just prolonged your suffering for a few more years. You’re dying, Miss Brown, you must know that! You’ve got ten years at most before those wounds kill you. Less if you insist on standing up and walking around.’ Dacia glowered at Harry. ‘I told you! She needs rest!’

 

‘But I feel better than I have since I was wounded.’ Lavender protested.

 

‘I’ve closed the wounds as much as I could, to reduce the blood loss,’ said Dacia harshly. ‘But I can’t close them completely, not now. Had I seen you when you were first injured, there was a chance, but all I can do is delay the inevitable. Eventually, you won’t have enough blood left for your potions to replenish. There’s only one way to cure those injuries now. Do you have any idea what it is?’

 

‘No,’ Lavender looked hopefully, excitedly at Dacia Skoll.

 

‘Well, that’s not surprising. The healers at St. Mungo’s wouldn’t think of offering it.’ Dacia Skoll pulled open her robes and revealed her left shoulder. It was covered in a fine tracery of scars. ‘These were almost as bad as yours once,’ she continued. ‘But then I got this.’ She pulled up her right sleeve and revealed a wolf-bite. Lavender, horrified, backed hurriedly away from Dacia.

 

‘No,’ she cried in horror. ‘There must be another way.’

 

‘If there was,’ said Dacia, ‘I would offer it. Accept and you’re condemned to having people look at you the way you just looked at me. And that look hurts, even after all these years. For twenty-eight days I’m a witch,’ she observed bitterly, watching Lavender. ‘For one night I turn into a beast. So what do my fellow witches call me? Witch, or monster? There are times when I can almost understand Greyback!’

 

‘My mum is not a monster,’ Amber Skoll glowered at Lavender, clenching her fists. ‘She saved your life and you’re being horrible.’

 

‘I’m sorry for what I said about your mum.’ Lavender, shamefaced, apologised to Amber, who was not at all mollified by her words.

 

Dacia, however, grimly shook the hand Lavender offered.

 

‘Is it really the only way?’ she asked Dacia.

 

The older witch nodded sadly.

 

‘There’s always the wolfsbane potion,’ Harry ventured.

 

‘It’s not very good, though,’ Lavender said, her eyes sparkling with tears, ‘Professor Lupin always looked ill.’

 

‘It was the best my mother could do at the time,’ Dacia snapped, ‘I was fourteen when I started helping her with it. She was killed not long after that. Damocles Belby, had been providing the ingredients to her, he published her notes and took the credit. I’m experimenting with a new potion now, but it’s very hard for me to get Wolfsbane here.’

 

Her voice softened and she looked sadly at Lavender, ‘It is a curse, but there are worse things. I have no pain from my old werewolf-inflicted wounds, and most of the time I’m as normal as you are. Though you wouldn’t believe that from the reactions you’ll get.

 

‘You don’t need to decide now. You have months, years if I’m allowed to treat you! Unfortunately, I won’t be; werewolves can’t be Healers, even if they’re qualified,’ said Dacia.

 

‘We’ll see about that,’ Harry said grimly.

 

‘I need to check your friend’s bandages and make certain that the poultice is still doing its job,’ Dacia said. ‘I brought Amber to help me.’

 

‘Okay,’ Harry nodded and returned outside to keep watch. Half an hour later, he was called back inside.

 

‘I’m dying, Harry,’ Lavender announced, glancing at Dacia. ‘I have a choice. I can keep taking blood replenishing potions until they don’t work, and then I die. Or, I can become a werewolf.’ She looked him straight in the eyes, ‘What should I do?’

 

‘I can’t tell you, Lavender,’ Harry looked sadly into her deep, violet eyes. ‘But, I will tell you this. If Ginny had to make that choice, I’d tell her that I’d rather she lived than died. Greyback is an evil beast, but Remus Lupin was a good man, and Dacia healed me and saved your life. I don’t think that being a werewolf would change you, unless you let it.’

 

‘I hope you’re right, because I don’t want to die!’ Lavender yawned and lay back on Harry’s bed. ‘Now, you keep changing the subject, but I really need to tell you ‘bout Ron and Herm…’ Lavender stopped talking mid-sentence, closed her eyes and began to breathe heavily.

 

‘I added a sleeping draught to her blood replenishing potion,’ Dacia said. ‘I do not want her moving around; she’ll be unconscious for hours, until I return to check the bandages. She mustn’t move until those wounds have closed further. It’s a miracle that her little trip to your stove did no real damage.’

 

Dacia glanced despairingly at Lavender. ‘You’d think that she had a death wish, the way she’s behaving.’ She shrugged. ‘I suppose that we all think that we’re invincible when we’re young. We need to get back to the village before we’re missed.’

 

‘You’d better use my cloak again. Keep it safe and I’ll meet you at dusk, at the bathing pool. I will get you, your family, and Lavender, out of here.’ Harry assured her.

 

Dacia smiled and squeezed his shoulder.

 

‘You really do want to put the whole world right, don’t you?’ She smiled, ‘I’ll see you later, Harry. Thank you.’

 

Harry watched them disappear under his cloak. When they’d gone, he wrote a long report. He told his office that he intended to escort Dacia and her family through the stone and to take them and Lavender to safety before returning to keep watch. It was an hour before dusk when he sent the message. After warning Ron and Neville that he would not be reporting at nine. he prepared to leave.

 

Before getting Lavender ready, Harry Disillusioned himself and opened his tent. He immediately heard shouting. He didn’t need his Omnioculars to realise that there was a problem, but he pulled them out and rapidly scanned the village. Midway between the cottages and the bastle Dacia Skoll and her daughters were being held by Lowell, Youen, Scabior and Payne. The other villagers were in a wide semicircle, silently watching.

 

Harry ran forwards. By the time he’d found the edge of his platform there was a triumphant shriek. Yvonne Youen strode out from Dacia’s cottage holding something aloft. It was a bloody rag. He recognised it as the remains of the trouser leg Dacia had cut from around his wound. Amber had hidden it from Ross, but she hadn’t destroyed it. Harry dropped from the platform and ran towards the village.

 

‘I smell wizard blood. Your bitch has a secret, Verulf.’ Scabior’s sister shouted triumphantly, her voice carrying clearly across the stream.

 

‘Who’re you hiding?’ Lowell demanded as Harry clattered down the steep embankment to the stream.

 

‘Let them go,’ shouted Wulfric Skoll. ‘Or else.’

 

He stepped forwards and pointed a crossbow at Yvonne Youen. She laughed, turned on him and drew her wand. The second she moved, Wulfric fired the crossbow. Youen’s wife fell, a crossbow bolt through her heart.

 

Avada Kedavra,’ Youen and Scabior shouted the curse simultaneously. Wulfric collapsed, dead. His neices screamed.

 

Harry, horrified, dashed through the stream and into the village. His opponents were scattered and separated, an ideal arrangement. As Harry sprinted past the crowd of villagers, Amber backheeled Scabior in the shin, wriggled from his grasp and ran towards her uncle’s body. Lowell pointed his wand at the running girl.

 

Expelliarmus,’ Harry shouted, disarming Lowell. The rangy grey-haired man looked around wildly, but kept a tight hold of his daughter.

 

Stupefy!’ Harry cried. Doxine Gray tumbled backwards. She had been holding Ruby, and the blast knocked the girl from her feet, too.

 

Scabior and Youen fired stunning spells at what, they hoped from his shout, was Harry’s location. The spells went wild. Harry was Disillusioned and moving much too quickly for them. As he zigzagged towards Scabior his calf gave another twinge.

 

Scabior was almost directly in front of him and looking around wildly. Unable to find the still invisible Harry, Scabior spun around slowly. Harry waited until Scabior had turned away, pulled out a pair of portcuffs and managed, one handed, to handcuff Scabior. At the same time he aimed his wand over the scruffy wizard’s shoulder at Youen.

 

‘Stupefy,’ Harry shouted and Youen tumbled backwards, taking Jade with him. At the same moment Scabior vanished in a blue light. Jade staggered to her feet only yards from her grandfather.

 

Harry heard a shout; Dacia Skoll had raked her father’s face with her nails and was scrambling towards his wand.

 

‘No-one move!’ a gruff voice shouted.

 

Payne! Harry realised that he hadn’t seen the man when the fight started. Had he been invisible in the crowd, or hiding in the bastle? Wherever he’d been, he was holding a struggling Ruby Skoll around the waist. He had a knife pressed to the girl’s throat. Harry hesitated; he was still Disillusioned so he could summon the knife.

 

‘That includes you, daughter,’ Lowell snarled at Dacia. She was inches away from her father’s wand, but didn’t dare take it. He, too, had drawn a knife and was sitting on top of Jade, holding the blade at his granddaughter’s eye.

 

‘Now, my invisible friend, reveal yourself or these children both die,’ he commanded. Harry looked around slowly. Payne was to his left, Lowell to his right. He could save one child, but not both. He had no choice. Amber was standing a few yards behind him. He backed towards her.

 

‘Amber,’ he whispered, she jumped. He pressed his two remaining sets of Portcuffs into her hand.

 

‘These handcuffs will take you to the Auror prison cells, hide them. At least they will get you out of here. It’s the best I can do, I’m sorry.’

 

‘Reveal yourself. Now!’ Lowell repeated. ‘Or these girls die.’

 

Harry stepped quickly away from Amber, removed his Disillusionment spell, and quickly placed his wand into his Mokeskin pouch. Lowell looked at Harry and grinned triumphantly.

 

‘Drop the wand,’ Lowell snarled. He backed towards his daughter, and towards his own wand, his knife at his granddaughter’s throat. Harry placed the bag carefully on the ground.

 

‘Good man,’ said Lowell. He lifted Jade into the air and threw her at Dacia. While Dacia scrambled to catch her youngest daughter, Lowell picked up his wand. Harry immediately moved towards the pouch.

 

‘Don’t,’ Payne ordered. He pricked Ruby’s throat, drawing blood.

 

Ruby screamed and Harry froze.

 

Lowell, his face was contorted with rage, stared at Harry. ‘Crucio!’ he yelled.

 

Harry’s nerves exploded in pain. As he lay gasping on the ground, Lowell strode across to him and viciously kicked him in the ribs; Harry felt them crack.

 

‘On your feet, scum,’ Lowell ordered. Harry hauled himself up. Lowell raked his claw-like fingers across Harry’s chest, he felt his t-shirt rip, and felt the blood flow.

 

‘Now you die,’ Lowell hissed triumphantly.



Chapter 12: The Snare: Legal Lizard
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12. The Snare: Legal Lizard

 

‘Are you sure he said “Bletchley?”’ Harry asked.

 

Neville nodded glumly. ‘I’m positive, Harry. When I got back to the office, I used the Pensieve to double check my memories. The way the tall guy was grunting and mumbling, I think he was probably Goyle. When Bletchley fired a blasting curse at the ceiling, they both made a run for it,’ explained Neville sorrowfully.

 

‘I cast a shield spell over Hannah, because there was a huge beam falling on her. By the time I’d made sure she was safe, they’d both scarpered. They ran out into Muggle London and Disapparated,’ said Neville apologetically. ‘Sorry, Harry, I thought I was going to be questioning a couple of delivery men, not confronting two Death Eaters from our wanted list.’

 

‘I don’t think I’d have done anything differently, especially if Ginny was underneath a collapsing ceiling. Is Hannah okay?’ asked Harry.

 

‘She’s fine, thanks, Harry.’ Neville stared at his feet for a few moments before returning his gaze to Harry and smiling sheepishly. ‘She’s DA and Resistance, remember. She got her Order of Merlin Third Class for a reason! Her shield spell was up almost as quickly as mine. She, er, she got a bit cross with me, reminded me that she can look after herself and told me that I should have been doing my job, trying to catch Bletchley. She was right.’ He shook his head sadly.

 

‘Well, at least we know how they are surviving, and we know that Bletchley is with someone else. We’ll need to track them down. They must be making their stuff somewhere.’ Harry began to make plans.

 

Neville cut him short with a shake of his head. ‘It’s too late for that, Harry. We know a lot more. They’ve closed up shop, and it’s my fault. Owls are being returned saying that they’ve gone out of business. They aren’t sending anyone their money back, of course. There is no more alcoholic pumpkin juice. Mark D’Arque Unlimited apparently closed up their business within the hour.

 

‘When I knew that I’d lost them, I went back into the pub and spoke to Hannah. She told me that they had walked into the Cauldron from the Diagon Alley entrance. But every other pub Ron and I had visited told us that the delivery men had Apparated there.’

 

Harry’s eyes lit up.

 

‘Yes,’ Neville confirmed, ‘Ron and I managed to find their factory pretty quickly. It was a little place on Awls End.’

 

‘Awls End?’ asked Harry, the name was vaguely familiar to him.

 

‘You know it,’ Neville assured him. ‘It’s that little lane right at the bottom of Knockturn Alley. They must have been using Polyjuice potion whenever they went out. They’d left in a hurry, left loads of stuff behind; we picked up a few Galleons, some Polyjuice potion, loads of hairs, and over a hundred bottles of the pumpkin juice. Byers is analysing the potions and the pumpkin juice for me.’

 

‘Well done, Neville,’ said Harry.

 

‘Well done!’ Neville pulled a face. ‘They got away, Harry.’

 

‘But you found their hideout,’ Harry reminded him. ‘I assume that it’s being watched, so now they’re homeless, and they’ve lost what was probably their only way of earning money. They know we’ll investigate any new pumpkin juice suppliers.’

 

‘Yeah, but I could have caught them, Harry. I should have caught them.’ Neville shook his head in regret.

 

‘It sounds like they were settled, and now they’re on the run again,’ said Harry.

 

‘I think you’re right. It looked like they’d been hiding out there for ages. They were leasing the place, and guess who from?’ asked Neville.

 

‘Awls End cuts through to Knowe Place, doesn’t it?’ said Harry. ‘The Parkinsons?’

 

‘Yes,’ Neville confirmed. ‘The building they were using was owned by J. X. Parkinson and Sons. Susan and Terry went to visit Pansy, but they didn’t get anywhere with her. Pansy claims that the place was leased by a company called MDU (Holdings). We’ve checked; MDU (Holdings) don’t exist. Pansy also said that they paid their rent on time, so she didn’t pay any attention to them. Susan is still trying to get some additional information through Theodore Nott. Did you know that they were engaged?’

 

‘Nott and Susan?’ Harry spluttered in disbelief. Neville burst out laughing.

 

‘Blimey, Harry, you’re worse than me at gossip. No, Nott and Pansy! Their engagement was announced in the Daily Prophet a couple of weeks ago. Susan is the only Auror Nott will speak to, you know that. She thinks that she can get Nott to persuade Pansy to tell us everything she knows.’

 

‘It might work,’ said Harry uncertainly. ‘What else did you find at the warehouse?’

 

‘There were three bedrooms in their hideout, two singles and a double. I found hairs in all three and we did a Polyjuice test on them. All four Slytherins had been there. Bulstrode and Flint were sharing a bed.’ Neville shuddered at the thought. ‘You were right; all four of them were together.’

 

‘Bletchley’s the only one with any real brains,’ Harry said. ‘Flint has more brains than Goyle. But, as Ron alwas says, all that means is that Flint knows a few two syllable words. Bletchley’s a half-blood, his dad was a Muggle. They’ve probably disappeared into the Muggle world.’

 

‘I’ve rechecked with the goblins,’ continued Neville dejectedly. ‘None of the four Slytherins have bank accounts in their own names and there is no business account in the name Mark D’Arque. I wondered whether they had been using false names but, when I asked, the goblins got really shirty with me. Apparently “Gringotts magic cannot be fooled by wizard lies.” The Gringotts goblins are absolutely certain that they can’t have opened an account in a false name. The magic of the bank requires the real name of the person, or the business, before it will work.’ Neville shrugged disconsolately. ‘I had them, and I lost them, sorry.’

 

‘Don’t blame yourself, Neville,’ Harry told him. ‘We’ll catch them soon.’

 

‘I hope so,’ Neville said. ‘Sorry, Harry, I shouldn’t have gone to The Cauldron alone. If I had been more careful, if I’d had someone else with me, we could have caught them before you got back.’

 

‘It’s not your fault,’ Harry assured his friend. ‘We’ve been taught to investigate alone, “your investigation, your case, your job, you do it!” that’s what Auror Williamson always says, stupid, isn’t it?’

 

Neville nodded glumly.

 

Harry smiled. ‘Going to the pub alone to meet a couple of delivery men is only marginally stupid, mate. Try infiltrating a werewolf village. We should be working in bigger teams.’ Neville nodded. ‘At least now we know where Bletchley and company have been, we can check the place for clues,’ Harry added thoughtfully.

 

‘We are. Susan, Terry and Dominic are working on it with me, too. But, I’ve got more bad news, Harry. Romilda was skulking in a corner of the office yesterday. She told Williamson that she was looking for Terry. She was there when Parvati delivered her mirror, and we think that she overheard Parvati telling us that Lavender was with you.’

 

‘Well, that explains the elopement story.’ Harry said grimly. ‘I hope that Terry…’

 

‘Terry’s just contacted me,’ Neville interrupted. ‘He and Susan are on their way to see Nott, and Fenella is on her way here. She has your photographs from last night. Terry broke up with Romilda when he saw this morning’s papers..’

 

Neville grinned. It was the first time Harry had ever seen his friend smile while talking about Romilda. Even when they had been going out together.

 

‘Terry reckons she told him he was big, ugly, and stupid. He said if she’d only just noticed that he was big and ugly, she was the stupid one. He must’ve spoken for two minutes. I think that’s a record, other than when he’s forced to give a verbal report,’ said Neville.

 

Harry nodded. Terry was one of the quietest people they knew.

 

‘We’ve compiled quite a file based on the photographs you’ve taken. How’s your plan progressing? I hope you’ve had more luck than I did,’ said Neville anxiously.

 

Harry was about to reply, but there was a knock on the door and Hamish Campbell walked in. ‘The Fiscal asked me to remind you that you need to get cleaned up,’ the Sheriff announced. He looked piercingly at the two young Aurors, ‘There’s something going on, and it’s more than simply your drunk girlfriend,’ he announced. ‘Isn’t it?’

 

Harry looked into the sharp blue eyes of the law officer, ‘I’m still on my mission,’ he admitted. ‘There’s a chance that I could be called away …’

 

‘We could be called away,’ Neville corrected Harry as they left the meeting room and followed Sheriff Campbell back to the Law Office.

 

‘We,’ Harry agreed. ‘There may be an alarm going off. If it does, it will be for an “all available Aurors” response. I can’t say any more than that, please don’t ask me.’

 

‘I can guess,’ Campbell said, ‘Law Office assistance will be available if required, Harry.’

 

‘Thanks, Hamish, we should manage, we’ve got …’ he looked questioningly at Neville.

 

‘At least a dozen Aurors on duty and almost as many on standby.’

 

Sheriff Campbell whistled thoughtfully, but said nothing.

 

‘If we’re called away, I’ll ask Hermione and Luna to stay with Ginny,’ Harry told the Sheriff. ‘Fenella might stay, too.’

 

As if on cue the office door opened and Fenella Gray entered. She was a tall, hook-nosed young woman with long, raven-black hair. Her dark grey eyes were hidden behind thick, black-rimmed spectacles. Fenella, startled by the silence that greeted her arrival, looked uncomfortable. She raised her bushy black eyebrows in surprise and, for a moment, it appeared that she was about to burst into tears.

 

Ron once described Fenella as a shy, pink, and fluffy, girly-girl trapped in a body ten sizes too big for her. She was much too tall to shrink into the background, but despite two years of advice, encouragement and friendship from Ginny and Luna, there were still occasions when she seemed a little uncomfortable in her own body.

 

‘Hello, Harry, hello, Neville,’ she said. Her voice was a high pitched little-girl squeak, and barely more than a whisper.

 

‘Hamish, everyone,’ Harry announced. ‘This is Fenella Gray, our unofficial photographic expert.’

 

Fenella stared at her boots and shuffled nervously under everyone’s gaze. Eventually regaining some composure, she slouching towards to Harry. She was a couple of inches taller than Harry, and her attempts to be smaller forced her into an ungainly hunched posture.

 

‘You’ll need these for today, Harry,’ she said, handing him copies of the photographs he’d taken at the Basin Bar.

 

She put the large folder down on Hamish Campbell’s desk, looking enquiringly at the Law Officer.

 

‘This is Sheriff Hamish Campbell, Fenella,’ Harry said. ‘He’s very kindly letting us disrupt his office.’

 

‘I have copies of the photographs for your files, Sheriff,’ whispered Fenella. ‘Harry took them, so they aren’t very good, I’m afraid. All are very badly composed; he didn’t take account of the poor lighting conditions. One is badly out of focus.’

 

She looked disappointedly at Harry. ‘There’s more to photography than simply pointing and clicking, you know. It took me almost an hour to adjust this photograph.’ Pulling a photograph of one of the hexed children from the folder, she waved it under Harry’s nose.

 

‘They look all right to me, Fenella,’ Neville said.

 

She dismissed his assessment with a withering look, stood up straight and tall, and spoke forcefully. ‘If you’re going to use cameras for evidence gathering, Harry, you need training, or a specialist on call.’

 

Harry looked at her thoughtfully. Sometimes, especially when she was talking about photography, Fenella forgot to be shy.

 

‘I’ll speak to Robards and Kingsley, are you interested in the job?’ he asked her.

 

‘I-I didn’t … I-I wasn’t …’ she stuttered, collapsing back into her usual nervous state.

 

‘Do you want to recommend someone else?’ enquired Harry.

 

She shook her head. ‘I thought … Aunt Doxine … that would … job … no chance … Auror Office,’ she stammered.

 

‘I won’t blame you for your Aunt,’ Harry said, realising who Aunt Doxine was, and managing to make sense of Fenella’s disjointed, stammered phrases, ‘If you don’t blame me for mine.’

 

‘Sign to say that you took these, Harry,’ Campbell thrust a form and quill at Harry. ‘Then I’ll add them to the evidence files.’

 

Harry checked the form and signed it. The door opened, and Ron and Hermione entered. They weren’t quite touching, and exuded the peculiar, scared, silence that invariably followed them making up after an argument.

 

‘Neville,’ began Hermione. ‘Has Ron really been sending a memo to me every day?’

 

‘No,’ Neville said. Hermione hissed and Ron opened his mouth to protest.

 

‘More like two or three, some days even more,’ clarified Neville hastily. ‘He sent flowers every day, too.’

 

‘He told you to say that, didn’t he? Because he knew that Adrian Jenkins was giving me flowers every day,’ said Hermione accusingly.

 

As Neville shook his head, Luna entered, Bailiff Mark Moon behind her. She stared curiously around the silent room.

 

‘I can’t actually guarantee that it was every day,’ Neville admitted. ‘But I can say that it was most days, because I was usually with him when he placed the order.’

 

‘But, Jenkins gave me flowers, every day,’ Hermione said in a small voice.

 

‘He deals with all incoming mail into your Department, Hermione,’ said Neville. ‘I spoke to Lavender through Parvati’s mirror this morning. We were talking about Harry’s case, making arrangements just in case she needs to trigger an alert. She told me all post goes to Jenkins first. She made me promise to tell you as soon as I saw you. I forgot, sorry.’

 

‘He intercepted my memos and pretended my flowers were from him!’ Ron’s eyes were blazing. ‘D’you reckon he’s in on it? The thing that’s affecting Ginny, whatever it is?’

 

‘Possibly, but Lavender reckons he’s fancied Hermione for years, ever since she started at the Ministry,’ Neville said. ‘Maybe he just saw his chance and took it.’

 

‘He what?’ Ron spluttered.

 

‘Banned Ron?’ asked Hermione in disbelief.

 

‘You didn’t know about the ban?’ asked Neville. ‘Everybody in the Auror Office knows. Lavender thought everyone knew about Jenkins, too.’

 

‘I didn’t,’ Harry said.

 

‘Neither did I!’ announced Luna, finally breaking her silence. ‘Relationships are very complicated, aren’t they? Perhaps it would be better if everyone was single and unattached like me, and Fenella.’

 

Fenella blushed.

 

‘It would not, Luna! I’d rather have a complicated relationship than no relationship at all,’ said Ron forcefully. Hermione stepped forwards and hugged him. He happily entangled her in his arms.

 

‘What do you want us to do now, Harry?’ asked Ron, looking over Hermione’s head, and making it clear by his expression that, despite his offer, he had no intention of doing anything other than holding onto Hermione.

 

‘We’re waiting for the interviews,’ Harry told his friends, ‘I’ll be interviewing all three Harpies with the Fiscal, Ginny should be bailed after her interview. Then we can go home.’

 

‘We’ll wait here,’ said Hermione. She was holding Ron as tightly as he was holding her.

 

‘I’ll stay until Ginny is released, too,’ Neville said.

 

‘So will I,’ said Luna. ‘You’ll need some help to get through the press outside this building. I’d still have been stuck if this lovely big man hadn’t helped me.’

 

She beamed at Bailiff Moon who stood behind her carrying a large holdall, which Harry recognised as his own.

 

‘I’ve got clean clothes for you, Hermione, and Ginny,’ said Luna happily, ‘Kreacher helped. He’s wonderful, isn’t he?’

 

‘I suppose he is, yes,’ Harry admitted.

 

‘I wasn’t sure about underwear, Hermione,’ Luna continued, ‘you and Ginny have some very flimsy things. I just brought the practical stuff.’

 

Hermione blushed scarlet, Ron remained determinedly blank-faced.

 

‘Not a topic for public discussion, Luna,’ murmured Harry. Luna looked at him quizzically and he could see the questions forming in her mind. ‘I need to get ready, is there a changing room I can use?’ he hastily asked Campbell before Luna could say anything really embarrassing.

 

Campbell nodded, ‘And showers. Mark can show you.’

 

‘Thanks, Hamish. I’ll go and get cleaned up.’

 


 

Fifteen minutes later, showered, shaved, and in clean clothes, Harry felt better than he had in days. There was still a hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach. It wasn’t hunger; it was a fear that things weren’t right between him and Ginny.

 

Luna (or Kreacher) had packed a good selection of clothes for him, including a clean Auror uniform. After he had dried himself, he put on jeans and a Harpies T-shirt. He’d been about to leave the changing room when he reconsidered. He was going to be conducting interviews, and if the alarm went off, he should be in uniform. He changed into his black trousers, black boots, white shirt and grey tie. Harry Potter, Auror, would carry out the interviews. Harry Potter, Harpies fan and Ginny’s boyfriend, would have to wait to talk to his girl. He checked his watch; it was only minutes before nine o’clock. He did not go back to the Law Office but instead knocked on the Fiscal’s door.

 

‘Come in,’ the Fiscal ordered. She smiled approvingly at the clean and tidy Auror who entered. ‘I’m just waiting for final confirmation from the Healer that the prisoners are fit for interview. I intend to speak to Miss Weasley first.’

 

Harry nodded his agreement though, from her face, it was apparent that the order of interviews was not something he could influence.

 

‘Hamish has given me copies of the photographs,’ Mrs Quarrell said. She pushed a photograph of one of the Bat-bogeyed children in front of Harry. ‘That is an interesting hex. Will Miss Weasley recognise it as her own work?’

 

‘I expect so,’ Harry replied. ‘It’s one of her favourites.’

 

‘I see,’ said the Fiscal. She nodded severely.

 

‘I know that I’m the arresting officer, and that I’ll be a prosecution witness,’ he continued. ‘But this isn’t like Ginny, it really isn’t. Hexing little kids!’ He shook his head sadly.

 

There was a knock at the Fiscal’s door. A round faced, frowzy-haired witch in green Healers robes peered into the room.

 

‘Come in, Alice,’ said Mrs Quarrell.

 

‘All prisoners are fit for interview, Fiscal,’ the Healer reported. She was ignoring Mrs Quarrell and instead staring in rapt admiration at Harry. ‘The Weasley girl has had a huge amount to drink. She has admitted to less than half of what I estimate. The first dose of hangover cure I gave her made her vomit. I’ve given her a second dose, but she’ll likely need more later.’

 

‘Thank you, Alice,’ the Fiscal said. ‘You can go now,’ she added firmly, when the Healer showed some reluctance to leave.

 

Alice slowly backed from the room still staring at Harry, who was unsure whether to be amused, annoyed or embarrassed by the middle-aged woman’s obvious hero-worship. Ignoring her, he returned to more important matters.

 

‘Fiscal,’ Harry said carefully. ‘The Auror Office has been investigating a company selling alcoholic pumpkin juice. We’ve discovered that the company was being run by several people on our wanted list. Their alcoholic pumpkin juice also contains an alcohol strengthening potion. Apparently, taking a sober-up potion made Herm… one of the other people who’d drunk the pumpkin juice violently sick, too.’

 

Edna Quarrell looked at him piercingly. He held her gaze.

 

‘Interesting! Thank you for the information. Now, let’s away, Auror Potter,’ the Fiscal instructed. They walked along to the interview room together.

 

The room was small. The walls, floor and ceiling were white and the only furniture was a round table with four chairs spaced equidistantly around it. The table and the chair closest to the door were fixed to the floor. The chair also had restraint shackles attached to it. Augustus Tavistock was already seated. He had taken the seat on the right of the prisoner’s chair.

 

Tavistock glowered at both Harry and the Fiscal as they entered. Edna Quarrell sat on the chair to the left, opposite Tavistock. Harry walked around the table and took the other seat, the one facing the door, and facing the prisoner. He nervously licked his dry lips, wondering if Tavistock and Mrs Quarrell could hear his hammering heart. The noise was echoing so thunderously in his ears that he thought it would deafen him. As soon as Harry sat, Edna Quarrell spoke.

 

‘Bring in Prisoner: cell five,’ she said clearly, to no-one in particular. ‘We will start with Miss Weasley, Mr Tavistock.’

 

They sat in uneasy silence until the door opened and Ginny, wearing plain grey prison robes, was brought into the room by a gaoler. Harry stood.

 

‘Sit down, Mr Potter,’ the Fiscal said sharply. ‘This is not a social occasion.’

 

Harry ignored her and remained standing until Ginny sat. She barely glanced at him. Harry examined her in horror.

 

She looked dreadful. She was trembling and shaking and she slumped into the chair. She had a huge blue-black bruise under her right eye, both eyes were bloodshot and her skin, under her freckles, was an ashen grey. Her lips were pale and cracked and her cheeks were sunken. Her hair was tangled and untidy, a lifeless mess. Her usually bright brown eyes were dull.

 

It was as though Ginny was not there, as if this was someone else. He tried to stare into her eyes. As he looked, Harry saw Ginny slowly register his anxiety. He read her face as it ruefully showed her own concern for him. She was worried for him. That was enough to kindle the first glimmers of hope. He smiled sorrowfully at her. She smiled back, but winced as her lips cracked. She licked them.

 

‘Oh, Harry,’ she croaked. ‘What’s happened to me?’

 

‘Miss Weasley, as your legal representative I must insist that you remain silent. You should not say anything which may incriminate you,’ Tavistock ordered. ‘My advice is that you do not say anything at all. Allow me to answer all questions put to you.’

 

The Fiscal waited for Tavistock to finish his warnings before reading the list of charges. She then carefully explained to Ginny that this was a formal interview, in order to decide whether to proceed to a prosecution.

 

‘My client pleads not guilty to all charges and wishes to advise you that she will be lodging a formal complaint with regard to her wrongful arrest,’ announced Tavistock, smugly.

 

Ginny glanced at Tavistock before returning her gaze to Harry. He again looked into her dull, bloodshot and watery eyes. She was having difficulty focussing, but she had obviously registered the disquiet in his expression.

 

‘Do I look that bad?’ she whispered, as she again licked her lips. Harry nodded sadly.

 

‘Miss Weasley, silence!’ Tavistock ordered.

 

There was a sudden spark in Ginny’s eyes. Harry stared at her; she was beginning to smoulder. He recognised the signs. How could he fan the flames?

 

‘Why is he here, Harry?’ Ginny asked, glancing towards Tavistock. ‘And who’s she?’ She looked at the Fiscal in interest.

 

‘I will answer that question, Miss Weasley,’ Edna Quarrell said forcefully, before either Harry or Tavistock could speak. ‘Mr Tavistock is, as you know, the solicitor for Holyhead Harpies and is your legal representative. He is here to give you legal advice. I am Edna Quarrell, Procurator Fiscal; I am here to investigate the allegations. Mr Potter is here at my request, as arresting officer.’

 

‘I didn’t dream it then?’ Ginny asked. The flicker of fire in her eyes, which had dimmed the moment she’d looked away from Harry, was suddenly extinguished.

 

‘Miss Weasley, please, I must insist that you neither ask, nor answer, any questions.’ Tavistock interrupted, ‘You have heard the charges. My advice is that you say nothing, simply enter a plea of not guilty. I will arrange for your immediate release. I have a press conference arranged for noon.’

 

The Fiscal looked piercingly at Tavistock. Harry continued to look at Ginny, trying to reconnect with his girl. She was in there somewhere. While Tavistock and Quarrell glared at each other, Harry put his hands on the table, palms uppermost. Ginny immediately reached across and put her hands into his. He squeezed them gently, smiled at her and watched hopefully as the fire began to re-ignite.

 

‘Miss Weasley, I must protest!’ Tavistock spluttered. Ginny threw him a scornful glance.

 

‘Why?’ she asked. This time, Harry realised, the fire was taking hold. Ginny was finding her fighting spirit. He gently stroked his thumbs over the back of her hands.

 

‘Potter arrested you!’ Tavistock told her. ‘You can’t hold his hands! Let go at once.’

 

‘Why?’ asked Ginny.

 

‘As your solicitor I am trying to protect your interests.’ Tavistock snapped.

 

Ginny turned, ‘No, you’re trying to protect the club’s interests,’ Ginny’s bloodshot eyes were now alight, not as bright as they should be, but no longer an empty void. She turned back to Harry.

 

‘Can’t we just go?’ she asked loudly and huskily. ‘Does he have to be here? Does she?’

 

‘You cannot leave this room until you enter a plea, Miss Weasley,’ said the Fiscal firmly. ‘As Procurator Fiscal, I must be here. As arresting officer, Mr Potter may be here at my request. I have the power to ask him to leave. I must warn you that I am considering doing just that.’

 

Tavistock smiled smugly. Ginny tightened her grip on her boyfriend’s hands.

 

‘As a prisoner under charge,’ the Fiscal continued, ‘you must be here too.’ The Fiscal paused. ‘You and I are the only ones who must be here Miss Weasley,’ she told Ginny. ‘It is your right to have a solicitor, or a friend, present to advise you. Your employers have appointed Mr Tavistock to that role.’

 

Harry silently emphasised the Fiscal’s words by gently rubbing the knuckle of Ginny’s ring finger with his thumb.

 

‘You can’t make me leave.’ Tavistock told Edna Quarrell.

 

‘No,’ agreed the Fiscal, ‘I can’t.’

 

Harry saw the glimmer of understanding dawning on Ginny’s face. He was about to rub her knuckle again, but she squeezed his palm, using their “I understand” signal. She was about to do what the Fiscal had very carefully not suggested. Her eyes sparked. She turned angrily to Tavistock.

 

‘Get out,’ she ordered. The solicitor’s arrogant smile vanished instantly.

 

‘What?’ he spluttered in disbelief.

 

‘Get out, Mr Tavistock,’ Ginny said hoarsely, ‘I want you to leave, now!’

 

‘Miss Weasley,’ he said. ‘Don’t be so foolish. You must have a solicitor! Who, other than myself, could possibly represent your best interests at such an emotionally trying time?’

 

Ginny’s eyes flamed dangerously. ‘A friend,’ she snapped. ‘Harry.’

 

Tavistock turned purple so quickly that Harry was unpleasantly reminded of his Uncle Vernon.

 

‘Ridiculous,’ Tavistock blustered angrily. ‘He’s the arresting officer, you little idiot! You can’t!’

 

‘Mr Tavistock,’ the Fiscal said coldly. ‘You have heard Miss Weasley’s wishes. While her choice of representative is … unusual … it is not, so far as I am aware, illegal. I know, and you know, that Miss Weasley can dismiss you. Despite the fact that he is the arresting officer, I know of no reason why she can’t ask Mr Potter to assist her, to act as her friend. Can you quote legal precedent to the contrary?’

 

Tavistock began protesting.

 

‘Miss Weasley,’ the Fiscal asked, cutting across Tavistock. ‘In the interests of clarity, can I ask? Do you wish to dispense with the services of Mr Augustus Tavistock as your legal representative?’

 

‘Yes,’ said Ginny.

 

‘And do you instead wish to receive advice from your … friend … Harry Potter?’ Mrs Quarrell continued.

 

‘Yes,’ said Ginny.

 

‘In the knowledge that he is both arresting officer and a prosecution witness?’ she demanded.

 

‘Yes,’ said Ginny firmly.

 

‘Thank you. Now, get out, Mr Tavistock, or I shall have you forcibly removed. I need say only one word to get Sheriff Campbell in here to take you away. I am certain that he will be happy to help.’

 

Harry looked hopefully at the Fiscal, then at Gus Tavistock before releasing one of Ginny’s hands and reaching into his pocket to take hold of his own wand. Tavistock snapped his mouth shut with an audible clatter of teeth, scowled at Harry, and left the room.

 

‘You’ll regret this, all of you,’ he shouted angrily.

 

When the door slammed shut Ginny stood up and leaned across the table towards Harry. He too, stood. The Fiscal hastily followed suit and pushed them apart.

 

‘I will not have the prisoner kissing the arresting officer,’ she ordered. ‘This is ridiculous.’

 

‘It’s probably just as well,’ admitted Ginny. ‘I haven’t been able to clean my teeth properly this morning. My mouth tastes awful.’

 

Harry reached into his pocket, pulled out a packet of sweets and handed one to her.

 

‘Tooth-flossing stringmints,’ he told her. ‘An essential part of any undercover Auror’s equipment.’

 

‘Mr Potter, Miss Weasley!’ the Fiscal was exasperated. ‘Can we please get back to the matter at hand?’

 

The two sat, smiled and nodded. They again reached across the table. Ginny firmly grasped Harry’s left hand in her right, and Harry watched as his girlfriend fought her way free from whatever had been affecting her.

 

‘Miss Weasley, do you understand the charges?’

 

‘Mmphh, uh-huh,’ nodded Ginny struggling to speak with a stringmint in her mouth.

 

‘For the record, the prisoner indicated yes,’ the Fiscal said clearly.

 

‘Do you have anything to say in your defence, Miss Weasley?’

 

‘Gig I weally hex fwee li’l ki’s ‘n a,’ Ginny gulped down the stringmint. ‘And a law officer?’

 

‘I didn’t see you cast the spell, but I’ve seen that hex often enough.’ Harry told her. The Fiscal slid one of the photographs he’d taken over the table towards her.

 

‘That looks like my hex,’ Ginny whispered sadly.

 

‘The girl’s parents signed a statement identifying you,’ Harry told her.

 

‘A statement they have now formally withdrawn,’ the Fiscal said, ‘As have the parents of a second child. I understand that they received a visit from Mr Tavistock very late last night. These matters may, of course, be unrelated.’

 

‘They’re not,’ Ginny muttered. She turned to Harry. ‘Did I hex you?’

 

‘No, but you tried,’ Harry told her.

 

‘And did you shout at me?’ she asked.

 

‘Yes, sorry.’

 

‘I don’t know what’s wrong, Harry.’ Ginny said in a small voice. ‘It’s almost like, somewhere in the back of my mind, there’s someone who wants to hurt you, physically and mentally. I can’t even understand how I got so drunk. I only had four Butterbeers at that bar in Aberdeen. But I don’t remember what happened after we left.’

 

‘Did you drink anything before you went out?’ The Fiscal asked.

 

‘No,’ Ginny said. ‘Well, only some pumpkin juice.’ Harry glanced at the Edna Quarrell, who nodded.

 

‘Whose idea was that?’ Harry asked.

 

‘Linny’s; it’s a stomach liner, she says. I’ve been doing it for weeks. It doesn’t seem to help much.’

 

Harry sighed, ‘Could it have been the stuff that Ron gave Hermione?’ he asked.

 

‘No!’ she snorted dismissively. ‘I’m not that stupid, Harry. I know what those bottles look like, a couple of fans tried to give me some Mark D’Arque juice weeks ago. I was drinking the club-branded stuff, Harpies Extra-energy Pumpkin Juice. We’ve got a larder full of it.’

 

‘Have you been going out to parties during the week?’ Harry asked.

 

‘During the season? Of course not,’ she snapped.

 

‘Hermione and I both tried to phone you. Hermione tried several times, I only had one chance. Linny told me that you were out, partying, she told Hermione the same thing,’ said Harry.

 

‘When did you phone?’ asked Ginny.

 

Harry shrugged, ‘I’d have to check the date … it was the day before the new moon.’

 

Ginny gasped as realisation struck, she immediately changed the subject.

 

‘Last night was the full moon,’ she stared at him, wide eyed. ‘Are you all right?’

 

‘This conversation is being recorded,’ the Fiscal interjected, looking with renewed interest at Harry.

 

‘I’m here, aren’t I? I’ll tell you all about it later.’ Harry promised. ‘I phoned on a Sunday, it was the day after the Puddlemere game.’

 

‘I was at the flat all night, I’m sure I was.’ Ginny searched her memory, puzzled.

 

‘That’s not what Linny told me.’

 

There was a thoughtful silence, which the Fiscal broke.

 

‘I have allowed this conversation to stray from the matter at hand, Miss Weasley. It is time for us to move forward. You have told me that you understand the charges,’ she said. ‘I would like you to consider what to do next. I am going to ask you to enter a plea. If you plead not guilty, or if you refuse to enter a plea, you will be summoned to appear before the Justiciar a week on Saturday for a preliminary hearing. If you plead guilty you will be summoned for sentencing. Do you understand?’

 

‘Yes.’

 

‘Are you willing to enter a plea?’

 

‘Yes, guilty.’

 

‘Thank you Miss Weasley,’ the Fiscal handed Ginny a summons card. ‘You are free to go. No doubt Mr Tavistock is outside, but you have some friends…’

 

‘I’ve missed you,’ Harry began. Ginny threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. Despite the stringmint her breath was still stale, and her hair smelt of vomit and stale Butterbeer. Harry didn’t care.

 

‘Auror Potter, please! We have two more prisoners to interview. Miss Weasley, your friends are waiting for you. Mr Potter can take you to them. Do it now, Potter, and I want you straight back here!’ the Fiscal ordered.

 

Hand in hand, Harry led Ginny past a protesting Tavistock and into the Law Office, where Neville, Ron and Fenella rushed across to greet her.

 

‘Luna and Hermione are taking showers,’ Ron said. ‘How are you, Ginny? You look bloody awful.’

 

‘Thanks, Ron,’ Ginny replied, ‘I feel terrible, my head is splitting, and I’m in desperate need of a shower.’

 

‘I’ve got to go back, Ginny, sorry,’ Harry said. ‘Ron and everyone will look after you. I hope I won’t be long.’

 

When Harry returned to the interview room, the Fiscal was arguing with Tavistock.

 

‘…unprecedented or not, it’s not illegal, and you are well aware that you cannot prevent someone from refusing your counsel,’ stated Edna Quarrell.

 

‘Now, Auror Potter, who next, do you think?’

 

‘Miss Aikenhead,’ Harry replied.

 

‘I agree, bring in Prisoner: cell one, Olivia Aikenhead.’

 

The door opened a few minutes later and the Harpies’ Seeker was brought into the room by the gaoler. Harry, again, stood.

 

‘Auror Potter,’ the Fiscal reminded Harry. ‘There is no need to stand.’

 

‘It’s not illegal, is it?’ Harry asked. The Fiscal shook her head.

 

Olivia Aikenhead looked around the room in confusion. She too, was in a grey prison robe. She looked to be in better health than Ginny, but frightened and unsure of herself.

 

‘You appear confused, Miss Aikenhead,’ the Fiscal began. ‘Allow me to explain what is going on. I am Edna Quarrell, Procurator Fiscal; I am here to investigate the allegations made against you and to decide whether to prosecute. Auror Potter is here at my request, as arresting officer. Mr Tavistock is solicitor for the Holyhead Harpies and is your legal representative.’

 

The Fiscal then read the list of charges to Olivia.

 

‘I advise you to say nothing, Miss Aikenhead,’ Tavistock spoke very sharply. Olivia looked at him in surprise.

 

‘How’s Ginny?’ she asked Harry.

 

‘Tshaw!’ Tavistock spluttered. ‘Say nothing, please.’

 

Harry looked at the Fiscal, who nodded.

 

‘Ginny is okay, but she’s still very hungover.’

 

‘As I have just explained to Mr Tavistock,’ the Fiscal said quietly, ‘Miss Weasley has chosen to plead guilty to the charges. Mr Tavistock is employed by the Holyhead Harpies to give you legal advice. Miss Weasley chose to disregard that advice. The only defence she gave for her actions was that she was extremely drunk. It would greatly help my investigation if you could tell me how much you all drank at the Magpies Nest in Aberdeen before you left for the Basin Bar, Montrose.’

 

Olivia was on the verge of speaking when Tavistock barked out, ‘My client declines to answer.’

 

The Seeker closed her mouth.

 

‘Miss Aikenhead, Miss Weasley has already entered a plea of guilty; even if you do not wish to answer for yourself, you could help your friend by telling us how much she drank.

 

Olivia nodded her head and began, ‘She …’

 

‘Miss Aikenhead, please,’ Tavistock hissed. ‘My client declines to answer.’

 

The Seeker frowned, but said nothing.

 

‘Miss Weasley claims that she drank only four bottles of Butterbeer at the Magpies Nest, but she was reported to be heavily intoxicated when you all arrived in Montrose,’ the Fiscal continued. ‘Can you offer any explanation for this? It has been suggested that she was given alcoholic pumpkin juice.’

 

Olivia was horrified. She seemed to be close to tears. The Seeker began breathing rapidly and looked down at her clenched fists.

 

‘My client declines to answer,’ Tavistock stated forcefully.

 

‘Livy,’ Harry said quietly. The Seeker didn’t speak, she kept her eyes down.

 

‘Livy, look at me, please,’ he repeated softly.

 

She glanced up nervously and Harry looked her in the eyes. ‘Tell me what you’re worried about,’ he begged.

 

Olivia Aikenhead burst into tears. Tavistock shouted, ‘This is harassment. My client declines to answer any questions.’

 

‘Please, Livy?’ Harry asked again.

 

Over Tavistock’s protests she replied. ‘Linny insisted that we have a few pumpkin juices before we went out, she always brought them with her. Yesterday, after the game, I helped myself to a bottle of “Harpies’ Extra-energy” from her bag. She snatched it from me, gave it to Ginny, and gave me a different bottle. The bottles looked the same to me. I didn’t think much about it yesterday, but now…’ Livy stopped and gave a silent sob.

 

‘But now, you suspect that Linny had some bottles which were especially for Ginny?’ asked Harry.

 

Tavistock continued to protest loudly, trying to shout her down. It was to no avail. Livy nodded.

 

‘Are you prepared to make a statement to that effect?’ Edna Quarrell asked.

 

A red-faced Tavistock desperately shouted, ‘Miss Aikenhead, say nothing, and don’t move your head.’

 

Livy ignored him and nodded again.

 

‘How much did Ginny have?’ Harry asked.

 

‘Three bottles,’ Olivia sobbed.

 

Harry whistled, ‘the equivalent of about six shots of Firewhisky before you even started. And did she drink a half-bottle of Firewhisky at the Basin Bar?’

 

‘Linny and I had a couple of swigs, but Ginny had most of it,’ admitted Livy.

 

‘It’s a wonder she was still standing,’ Harry said. ‘Do you really think that Linny might have been slipping Ginny alcoholic pumpkin juice?’

 

‘Miss Aikenhead, I strongly advise you to make “no comment” or allow me to answer the questions,’ said Tavistock through clenched teeth.

 

‘I can’t be certain,’ said Olivia, but she again nodded her head.

 

‘You’d be prepared to make a statement to that effect?’ asked the Fiscal.

 

‘Yes.’

 

‘Miss Aikenhead—Olivia,’ Tavistock pleaded, ‘I am trying to help you avoid a fine, a criminal record, and probably a match ban.’

 

‘I want to tell the truth,’ said Olivia stubbornly. ‘To tell Harry what happened.’

 

It took some time for Olivia to make her statement, as Augustus Tavistock objected at every point.

 

‘Miss Aikenhead,’ the Fiscal said, ‘I am prepared to charge you with the sole offence of being drunk and disorderly. I am going to ask you to enter a plea. If you plead not guilty, or if you refuse to enter a plea, you will be summoned to appear before the Justiciar for a preliminary hearing. If you plead guilty you will be liable to an immediate fine and, once you’ve completed the paperwork, you will be free to leave. The level of the fine is based upon your earnings. Last night’s escapade will cost you two weeks wages.’

 

‘Is that all?’ Olivia asked. ‘Guilty, and I’m sorry for the trouble we’ve caused.’

 

‘Thank you for the apology, Miss Aikenhead, it has been noted. You may go,’ announced the Fiscal. ‘Auror Potter, please take Miss Aikenhead to the Law Office. There are forms to be filled and prison robes to be returned.’ She motioned for Harry to leave, and turned to address the Harpies’ solicitor. ‘Now, Mr Tavistock, in light of two guilty pleas and the allegations you have just heard, I will grant you additional time to consult with your third client. You may use this room, let me know when you are ready; I’ll be in my office.’

 

With that, the Fiscal followed Harry and Olivia from the interview room.

 

‘Thanks, Olivia,’ Harry said, as he led her along the corridor to the Law Office.

 

‘What happens now?’ she asked.

 

‘You hand in those robes, and you’re free to go.’

 

‘I’ve got to walk out of here in the clothes I wore yesterday? But they’re …’ Olivia shivered in distaste.

 

Harry pushed open the door of the Law Office and was immediately surrounded by his friends. Ginny had showered, and changed out of her prison robes. Her shining hair was brushed back and tied into a ponytail. He smiled at her. His Ginny was back; still subdued, but almost back to normal.

 

Between them, with interruptions and questions from everyone else, Harry told them what had happened. Ginny kissed Harry on the cheek. She’d cleaned her teeth again, as well as washing her hair. She smelled like Ginny again, though her eyes still had not fully regained their sparkle.

 

‘You think Linny was putting alcoholic pumpkin juice into some Harpies bottles?’ asked Ginny angrily.

 

‘And possibly something else, too,’ Ron said grimly.

 

‘I’ve missed you, Harry,’ said Ginny.

 

She threw her arms around his waist and hugged him tightly. He winced. She released him quickly and took a step backwards.

 

‘What haven’t you told me?’ she asked, hands on hips.

 

‘It’s not serious,’ he told her.

 

Ginny folded her arms and stared into his eyes in disbelief. There was still a worrying shadow in the back of her eyes, but in that moment the impetuous, unstoppable, wonderful force that was his Ginny was standing in front of him.

 

‘Well,’ he admitted. ‘A lot of very deep scratches.’

 

‘And?’ she asked threateningly.

 

‘And a couple of broken ribs,’ he confessed. ‘And I took a crossbow bolt to the leg a few days ago, but that’s pretty well healed.’

 

‘Take your shirt off,’ Ginny ordered, looking around at her friends, trying to see what they knew.

 

‘He didn’t say anything to me!’ Hermione said.

 

‘Or me,’ Ron added.

 

‘There was nothing in his last report,’ Neville told her.

 

His friends were worried and Ginny was annoyed. There was no point in protesting. He carefully began to unbutton his shirt. Ginny gently pulled it open.

 

‘What,’ she asked, ‘is that?’

 

She pointed at the moss protruding from the edge of his bandages.

 

‘It’s a poultice, it’s supposed to remove the scarring. The Healer who did it is a werewolf expert,’ Harry reassured her.

 

‘An expert on werewolves, or an expert who is a werewolf?’ Ginny asked acidly.

 

‘Both,’ Harry said. ‘You’ll like her.’

 

‘What else haven’t you told me?’ asked Ginny.

 

‘A lot,’ Harry admitted.



Chapter 13: The Hunt: Tooth and Claw
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13. The Hunt: Tooth and Claw

 

‘Wait!’ Doxine Gray shouted. ‘That’s Harry Potter.’

 

Verulf Lowell paused, ‘Harry Potter?’

 

Ignoring Lowell, Harry looked around the village. Payne and Youen were still unconscious. He had put a lot of power into his Stunning Spells. They would probably be out for hours. Doxine Gray was examining Youen’s wife, and she was crying. Ruby and Jade were being comforted by their mother. Amber, however, was nowhere to be seen.

 

‘Yvonne’s dead,’ Doxine sobbed.

 

Crucio!’ Lowell shouted. As his body arched in pain, Harry felt his broken ribs twist. When the spell ended he feigned unconsciousness.

 

Opening one eye a fraction, he tried to find his mokeskin pouch. He was fairly sure that neither Lowell nor Doxine had picked it up. The Skoll girls were out of immediate danger. If he could just find his wand! He risked moving his head.

 

‘Stupefy,’ Lowell shouted. Harry felt the spell hit him. Unconsciousness would at least mean relief from pain he thought, as everything went black.

 


 

When he awoke, Harry was dangling by his arms. His wrists were bound tightly, and his fingers felt stiff and bloated. His almost immobile fingers were the least of his worries; his shoulders, ribs and chest wounds were competing to see which could be most painful. His shoulders were losing that fight, but if he was left hanging for a few more hours, that might change. Harry didn’t move and didn’t open his eyes; instead, he tried to determine where he was and whether he was being watched.

 

It was bitterly cold and he could feel a breeze; he was almost certainly outdoors. He was hanging by his arms, but his back was resting on rough stone so he was probably hanging from the outer wall of the bastle; it was the only two storey stone building in the area. His nose picked up the unmistakeable odour of cow manure, convincing him that he was correct. It was dark, but not completely. The night was bright with moonlight.

 

He tried to calculate when help would arrive. In his last report, he’d told Ron and Neville that he’d definitely miss the 9:00 p.m. report. For that reason they would count the 9:00 a.m. one as the first one he had actually missed. Tomorrow’s 9:00 p.m. report would be the second, then they would come looking. By then, the full moon would have risen, and he’d have failed everyone.

 

He had to escape. Lifting his head, he opened his eyes. He had correctly guessed his location, but he was being watched by Zachary Youen.

 

‘You killed my wife!’ Youen shouted, ‘Crucio!’

 

‘No!’ Ruby Skoll shouted.

 

‘Silence your whelp, Dacia,’ Youen snarled, his voice high and wild. ‘If you don’t, she’ll get the same!’

 

As the pain subsided, Harry kept his head down and tried to focus on his surroundings. He was right. He’d been hung on the outer wall of the bastle. His t-shirt was ripped and bloody, his jeans covered in mud, and he was barefoot. He looked as far forwards as he dared. An iron cage thirty feet in front of him contained Dacia Skoll and her daughters. The cage was simple and basic, a six foot, barred cube. Youen was standing on top of it.

 

After some time, Harry risked looking up. One glimpse of the night sky told him that it was already after midnight. He’d been unconscious for hours.

 

‘What did you do with Scabior?’ Youen shouted.

 

Harry said nothing.

 

‘Crucio!’

 

Remembering his torture at Tom Riddle’s hands, Harry tried to relax, to remove himself from the pain. This time, it wasn’t so easy. Youen waited for Harry’s muscles to stop twitching before ordering, ‘Tell me. Now!’

 

‘Sigbert Scabior was wanted for questioning by the Auror Office,’ Harry spoke slowly, trying to buy himself some time to recover. ‘I arrested him. I used Portkey handcuffs. He’s in an Auror cell in the Ministry in London.’

 

Youen swore.

 

‘You’re Zachary Youen,’ Harry continued. ‘You, and Gordon Payne, are also wanted by the Auror Office. Give up, turn yourself in.’

 

Youen snarled, and laughed wildly, Harry gritted his teeth. ‘Crucio,’ Youen shouted again.

 

‘If the Auror Office knew where you were, Potter, they’d be here now,’ Youen snapped. ‘I wanted to kill you, but Lowell and Doxy had a better idea. Tomorrow is the hunt. You, the butcher’s boy, and Dacia’s eldest brat will be fine sport for us. If you’re killed, good! If you’re bitten and survive, even better! Lowell thinks that you’re tough enough to survive the hunt, he reckons that Lestrange would give us the entire contents of his vault to get his hands on you. That money will get us a long way from this Merlin-forsaken dump.’

 

The crazed grief and tension was obvious in the man’s stance. Wulfric Skoll had killed Youen’s wife. The man was grief-crazed, he could explode any moment. .

 

Keeping his head down, and remaining still, Harry considered his options. Youen was wrong about the Auror Office. They knew where he was. But the copy quill was ineffective. An Auror should be able to summon help instantly.

 

Hanging from the wall, Harry began to plan. The Portkey Identity cards were untried. He and Ron had proposed them simply as a method of springing a trap, but they could be so much more. The idea had been Ron’s. The Deluminator had been his inspiration. Unfortunately, even with Hermione’s help, they didn’t fully understand the Deluminator’s magic. They had to keep trying. If they could make the Portkey cards work like the Deluminator, they could create a card which was activated by a codeword. One word to summon instant help.

 

Another curse from Youen brought him painfully back to the present. Now wasn’t the time to think of improvements to the Auror Office. If he could not find a way to escape, then he would have failed everyone.

 

One way or another, once the werewolves found that bloodstained piece of clothing, they had found him, Harry realised. Lowell would have threatened the girls, and although Harry liked Dacia, he had little doubt that, like Luna’s father, she would have betrayed him to keep her children safe.

 

His charge into the village to help Dacia and her family had failed spectacularly. He should have called for the Aurors and arrested the wanted Snatchers. His desperation to catch Lestrange at all costs had led him to ignore the more immediate threat. He was a captive, there was the real possibility that he would be killed, or at least bitten. Would Ginny want to be with a werewolf? Did she want him at all?

 

‘There’s plenty of wizards who will be glad to see you dead,’ Youen seemed to know what Harry was thinking. ‘Especially if it’s only a stinking werewolf Lestrange kills. No-one mourns a dead werewolf, Potter. Oh, you’ll suffer! You’ll be begging him for death, unless he Crucios you into insanity first.’

 

Ignoring Youen’s ranting, Harry looked around, trying to find something to help him. His bound wrists were hooked over a long spike driven into the wall. If he could pull himself up, and push with his legs, he’d be able to pull himself from the wall and drop six feet to the ground.

 

‘Crucio,’ Youen shouted again.

 

‘You’re as good as dead, Potter,’ Youen gloated. ‘We have your wand; we took it from Dacia’s eldest, though I don’t know what she thought she could do with it.’

 

Harry’s heart sank. He had hoped that his wand was somewhere safe. Amber must have taken it, tried to hide it from her grandfather, but been caught.

 

‘You tried your best, Amber,’ Harry called.

 

‘I took it out of that bag, and then they caught me; sorry, Mr Potter,’ Amber shouted.

 

Harry slumped, apparently defeated, but in reality trying to hide the gleam in his eye. No-one could take his wand from the Mokeskin pouch. Amber Skoll had fooled them somehow. He wondered how he could continue the conversation with Amber, he must find out what she’d done, and where she’d hidden his wand.

 

‘Shut up, whelp. Crucio!’ said Youen. Harry felt nothing, but Amber screamed.

 

‘Leave her alone,’ Harry shouted angrily. Youen obliged.

 


 

The night passed slowly and painfully for Harry. He was never left alone. Some time later, Gordon Payne took over from Youen. For a while, Payne amused himself by calling Harry names, but he was nervous,  not as vicious as Youen, and a lot less talkative. Harry ignored the taunts and watched him warily. Eventually, Payne fell asleep.

 

Harry took the opportunity to try to lever himself off the wall, but after several failed attempts and a careful look upwards he realised that what he’d initially thought was a hook was a loop. He’d need to cut the rope to escape. He needed his wand.

 

‘Amber,’ Harry hissed.

 

‘The girls are finally sleeping, Harry,’ Dacia whispered.

 

Payne grunted, opened one eye and grumbled, ‘Shut up, or I’ll shut you up.’

 

Harry lapsed into silence, he could not risk Payne overhearing. He closed his eyes and tried to get some sleep, but had little success.

 

Later, just before dawn, Doxine Gray relieved Payne.

 

About half an hour after dawn, the villagers were summoned in front of the bastle. The crowd was on edge. Tension hung in the air like a cloying, poisonous fog.

 

‘Tonight, we hunt,’ Lowell told them. ‘Tonight, we hunt Harry Potter.’

 

‘Then leave my son for next month,’ the butcher pleaded. ‘Potter and Amber will be enough.’

 

‘Crucio,’ Lowell snarled.

 

The butcher fell to the ground, screaming in agony.

 

‘For weeks you’ve lied and begged and schemed to try to save your son,’ Lowell told him.

 

 ‘If I hadn’t told Scabior about the bathing pool, he wouldn’t have overheard Dacia and Wulfric. You would not have known that Wulfric had betrayed us and brought Potter through the Stone.’ The butcher whimpered.

 

‘Scabior watched the Stone, not you. He claimed nothing had happened, but couldn’t explain his bruises. I realised his memory had been altered,’ said Lowell dismissively.

 

Bruises? Harry wondered. He had stunned them and bound them. They should have been unmarked. He had left Wulfric Skoll alone with Scabior and Youen’s wife, two people he had every reason to hate. Wulfric could easily have kicked and beaten the stunned Scabior.

 

‘I checked the Stone and sniffed out traces of blood nearby. Scabior must have injured Potter when he arrived.’ Lowell snarled.

 

Lavender’s blood! Harry realised. He thought quickly. They didn’t know about Lavender; they had mistaken her arrival for his, and thought he’d only been here for a day. Lavender was safe, although she was bed-bound and crippled. How could he get her, and Dacia’s family, safely out of this mess?

 

‘Tonight, we get our revenge. Tonight, we hunt Potter, and the two brats,’ announced Lowell.

 

‘Cut down the prisoner,’ Lowell ordered. The butcher scuttled away and returned with a ladder which he leaned against the wall. Cleaver in hand, Ross’s father clambered unsteadily up the ladder until he was above Harry. The man’s hands were shaking.

 

‘We can afford to lose a couple of fingers,’ Lowell joked. Youen was the only one who laughed.

 

Steadying himself on the ladder, the butcher raised his cleaver, ‘Can you save my son?’ he murmured.

 

‘I can try,’ Harry said. Lykaon nodded and brought down his cleaver heavily. Harry felt the rope part. His hands were free. He landed heavily, but on his feet. Springing forwards, he charged towards Lowell. Harry was only inches away from grabbing the astonished man’s wand when he was hit by three stunning spells, and a Cruciatus Curse from Youen.

 


 

When Harry recovered consciousness again he realised that his head was resting on someone’s lap. He opened his eyes in the vain hope that he’d see Ginny. He was disappointed. Tangled tawny tresses tumbled over the shoulders of Amber Skoll as she peered down at him in concern. Above her, he saw iron bars. He was inside the cage with Amber and her family and the sun was high in the sky. It was already after noon.

 

‘Mum,’ Amber hissed.

 

Harry tried to look around, but Amber held his head and urgently whispered, ‘Don’t move.’

 

‘Everyone’s in the fields,’ Amber continued in an undertone, barely moving her lips. ‘But Youen’s on guard here. He’ll torture you again when he realises you’re awake, so stay still.’

 

‘Wand?’ Harry whispered urgently.

 

‘We hid your cloak. I used it sneak back into the village and grab that moleskin bag,’ said Amber.

 

‘Mokeskin,’ Harry corrected.

 

‘The cloak, the bag and those handcuff things are hidden on a ledge behind the waterfall at our pool,’ the tawny-haired girl continued.

 

‘Why didn’t you use the ‘cuffs to escape?’ asked Harry.

 

‘And leave the great Harry Potter here to die?’ Dacia Skoll murmured from beside him. ‘That’s what you expect from werewolves, is it?’

 

Dacia,’ protested Harry. ‘I gave the ‘cuffs to Amber to give you a chance to escape. You didn’t take it, why?’

 

‘My daughters wouldn’t let me,’ whispered Dacia. ‘Not without you!’

 

‘You could have escaped and brought help!’ Harry murmured.

 

‘Had we gone, they would have killed you and gone on the run,’ said Dacia. ‘My father isn’t stupid. He knows that if I escaped, I’d be back.’ There was a look of lupine aggression in her eyes as she spoke.

 

‘Shh,’ Ruby hissed. Harry closed his eyes. He heard Youen approach.

 

‘He can’t still be unconscious,’ Youen growled.

 

‘Three stunning spells,’ Dacia said. ‘You would be, so would I. You can kill someone with enough stunning spells, you know.’

 

Youen spat through the bars. Harry felt the phlegm land on his face, but didn’t move. He was tired, weak and hungry. He’d eaten nothing since Lavender’s decidedly below-average omelette. If he was to survive and get everyone out, he needed to conserve his strength, not suffer more Cruciatus Curses. He felt someone wipe the spittle from his cheek.

 

‘Hoping that he’s finally finished with that drunken, redheaded tart, are you, Amber?’ Youen scoffed. Harry clenched his fists but, fortunately, Youen did not notice.

 

‘Youen,’ a female voice shouted. ‘I’m taking over. Lowell wants you in the fields.’

 

Grumbling, the short and overweight man left.

 

‘You should be okay now, Harry,’ said Dacia softly. Harry groaned and sat up. He was no longer wearing his t-shirt, he realised. He looked down at his ribs. The t-shirt had been torn into a long bandage and it, along with the remains of some other items of clothing, was wrapped around the claw marks.

 

‘That’s my vest,’ Jade Skoll pointed out proudly, ‘Mummy tore it up to use as a bandage.’

 

‘Thanks, Jade,’ Harry said, wondering why the little girl wasn’t more worried. He looked at Dacia Skoll questioningly.

 

‘My daughters think that you’re some sort of superman, Harry,’ Dacia Skoll explained. ‘They think they’re perfectly safe, so long as you’re around.’

 

Harry sighed. He didn’t like the stories of the famous “Chosen One,” Harry Potter, but this was one of those occasions he wished there was more truth to them. If he was capable of all the amazing things the “Chosen One” had done, his escape would easy. Though, he reminded himself ruefully, if he was as good as the stories, he’d never have been captured in the first place.

 

‘I had help,’ Harry told the girls. ‘I’ve always had help from my friends. I’m not the greatest wizard in the world. Albus Dumbledore was much better. Hermione Granger is much better. We’ve got until dusk, five or six hours, to come up with a plan.’

 

Dacia sighed.

 

‘You know nothing, do you?’ she said. ‘It’s the full moon, not the darkness, that affects the change. Today moonrise is an hour before dusk. That’s ideal for my father and his friends. We can all change the moment the moon rises, if we choose to. My father and his friends certainly will. They like to catch their pray before dusk. With practice we can retain some limited control over our wolf-form during daylight. We must change at sunset.’

 

Dacia lowered her head close to Harry’s ear. ‘My amended potion doesn’t work like that. Hiding from direct moonlight weakens us. That’s what makes us constantly ill. My experimental potion is simply one intense dose to be taken within twenty four hours of moonrise. It won’t prevent the change, but it will stop the beast from taking over, I hope! It’s untried, but I … borrowed … some wolfsbane from your potion stocks while I was working on Miss Brown. I made up a test sample last night, and took it. It’s my last hope, Harry. If it works, I will change physically, but the beast won’t take control. If it works, I’ll defend my daughter from the rest of the pack.’

 

‘When are they likely to release us?’ Harry asked.

 

‘An hour before moonrise, if you’re lucky,’ Dacia told him. That should be long enough for you to get to your wand and keep my daughter safe.’

 

‘We’ve still got Lavender to worry about, too.’ Harry reminded her.

 

‘She won’t be going anywhere,’ Dacia replied. ‘She won’t wake for hours.’

 

‘She’s still got her wand!’ said Harry.

 

Amber Skoll sobbed and shook her head.

 

‘We hid your cloak in the barn. They didn’t find it, when Amber took it and hid your stuff, she took Lavender’s wand from your tent. She realised that, if we’re going to escape, you would need your equipment, so she hid it. She was clever enough to know that her grandfather would look for your wand, so allowed herself to be caught with Lavender’s,’ said Dacia. ‘She took a beating from her grandfather!’

 

Harry looked at the girl’s downcast face and smiled at her. ‘Thank you, Amber. You did the only thing you could to keep my wand safe. Where did Lowell put Lavender’s wand?’ he asked.

 

‘He thinks that it’s yours; he’s carrying it around with him, as a trophy,’ Dacia told him.

 

‘Shh,’ ever watchful Ruby hissed. Doxine Gray was approaching. The tall, dark-haired witch was escorting Ross Lykaon, who carried a loaf of bread, a round of cheese, and a bucket. Payne was with her, too.

 

‘Keep back, or I’ll stun the lot of you,’ Doxine ordered. ‘Get to the back of the cage, away from the door. Now!’

 

Doxine ensured that Harry and Dacia were right at the back of the cage and lined up the three girls in front of them. Finally satisfied, she used her wand to open the door, keeping her distance and ensuring that Ross remained between her and the door.

 

Harry weighed up his chances, but Payne, too, was nervously alert and watching him carefully. He decided to wait. When Ross stepped into the cage Doxine used her wand to slam the door closed and lock it.

 

‘Are you related to Abraxus Gray?’ Harry asked Doxine. She was startled by the question.

 

‘Why?’ she glowered suspiciously.

 

‘You look a little like his daughter, Fenella; she’s on temporary secondment to the Auror Office,’ said Harry.

 

‘Fenella!’ Doxine laughed disbelievingly. ‘She’s scared of her own shadow.’

 

‘Is she? She supplied equipment to the Resistance during the war,’ Harry told her.

 

Doxine Gray stared at him in disbelief.

 

‘I haven’t seen you curse anyone, or kill anyone and you’re not on any wanted list I’ve seen. So why are you here?’ Harry asked.

 

‘I’m a werewolf, Potter. I have nowhere else to go. And if I’m going to be stuck in this dump, I might as well be top of the pile, rather than scrabbling around in the dirt with the others,’ she told him. Turning, she stormed off, leaving Payne to watch them.

 

‘Bread, cheese and water,’ Ross Lykaon stammered. He was uncertain whether to address Dacia or Harry, so he satisfied himself with staring into the space between them.

 

‘Thanks, Ross,’ Harry said.

 

Dacia tore the loaf into six equal pieces and handed it out to her daughters, Harry, and Ross.

 

‘I’ve eaten, thanks,’ Ross stammered. ‘Give it to Amber; she needs to keep her strength up.’

 

‘Have mine, too,’ Ruby offered Harry. ‘I can go hungry for today.’

 

‘No,’ Harry protested.

 

Dacia Skoll rolled her eyes and gave him a derisive look. ‘In some circumstances, that would be gallant, Harry,’ scolded Dacia. ‘But right now, it’s stupid. I’m relying on you to save our lives, you should eat.’

 

She took the bread from Ruby and Ross, halved each piece and gave one piece each to Ruby, Amber and Harry.

 

‘You need to eat something, Ruby. And you need to eat more, Amber, and so do you, Harry,’ she said. She kept the final piece herself.

 

‘I’m keeping this for myself, because I do not want to be hungry tonight. If my potion doesn’t work properly, you don’t want me to be hungry tonight, either.’ She then divided the hard cheese into five pieces, and gave Harry the biggest.

 

Harry took the bread and cheese. They ate in silence, and drank lukewarm, sour tasting water from the bucket.

 

The afternoon passed slowly. By subtle glances Dacia made it obvious that she did not trust Ross. Harry was less certain, but they only had one chance to escape, so he held his tongue.

 

At four o’clock, the beasts were driven in from the fields and secured. At half past four, according to Harry’s battered old pocket watch, the village children were all herded together and taken into the bastle. Ruby and Jade Skoll were removed from the cage to join them.

 

Once the two younger girls were outside, Payne again locked the cage. Youen and Lowell roughly threw the two young girls into the bastle. Once the children were inside, Lowell locked the door.

 

As they were sent inside the solid stone structure, the older children were ordered to look after their siblings and their mothers gave dire, and frighteningly accurate, warnings about what would happen if they tried to leave.

 

The cage door was reopened. Harry, Amber, and Ross looked at each other, then at Dacia. Lowell laughed.

 

‘What are you waiting for?’ he asked, ‘Run!’

 

The villagers cleared a path for their prey. Harry watched the ringleaders, the wand carriers, carefully. Lowell was excited—almost uncontrollably so. Doxine looked worried, as did most of the villagers. Payne was licking his lips. Youen, Harry realised, was nowhere to be seen.

 

The villagers watched Harry and the two children as they raced from the village. He, Amber and Ross headed straight for the glen.

 

‘That’s right, stick together. Make it easy for us,’ Lowell taunted.

 

Harry used Lowell’s mocking words as an opportunity to take one last look back at the village before they were out of sight. Everyone was watching their flight. It seemed that no one had noticed Dacia, who had slipped behind her cottage and was crossing the stream towards his camp.

 

As they ran into the glen and splashed across the beck, Harry slowed. His roughly bandaged chest was still bleeding, his broken ribs made breathing laborious and his bare feet made running painful. Behind him, he heard pebbles moving. The two children had slowed when he did. He motioned them forwards.

 

‘We’re being followed,’ Harry told them. ‘I think that it’s Youen, and he’s probably invisible. If he attacks, he’ll attack me, so you two just run, okay?’

 

For a second Amber looked like she would argue.

 

‘We might not make it to the pool if we stick together, Amber, but you will,’ he told her. Amber nodded grimly.

 

As they ran towards the next bend in the twisting glen, Harry heard a splash behind him. He looked round in time to see a second splash. Squinting, he made out a wet footprint on the rocks.

 

‘Go,’ he shouted to Ross and Amber. He picked up a rock and threw it in the direction of the footprint, hitting an invisible someone.

 

It was only a glancing blow, but it was enough to make Youen swear.

 

Harry turned and dived around the corner into the water. Youen’s shouted Cruciatus Curse whistled over his head.

 

The fresh spring water of the stream was ice cold. Sudden immersion in it helped clear Harry’s head. As Amber and Ross disappeared around the next bend he pushed himself to his feet, picked up a fist-sized rock, and hefted it experimentally.

 

Even that simple act reminded him of Ginny.

 

He really needed her now. She was the Chaser, the thrower. If anyone could throw a rock and hit an invisible opponent, it was his girl. She could literally curve a Quaffle around a Keeper, she could…

 

He brought himself up sharply; he needed to concentrate.

 

He held his breath and waited and watched. He heard pebbles scrunching and rattling as Youen approached. He couldn’t risk a head shot, he’d have to aim for the body and hope. He squinted at the ground and saw pebbles slide. He threw at the same instant Youen cast a spell.

 

Crucio,’ gasped the invisible werewolf.

 

Harry had dived sideways the moment he’d thrown the stone and Youen’s curse once again missed. He saw the stone bounce off his invisible stalker and heard the man’s cry of pain. Youen did not, however, fall. There was no telltale movement of pebbles.

 

Harry again chose flight. Weaving and dodging he had almost reached the safety of the next curve in the glen when Youen spoke again.

 

Locomotor Mortis!’ Youen gasped.

 

Harry tumbled to the ground. The bald, fat man pulled off a ragged invisibility cloak and smiled triumphantly at Harry. Youen was sweating profusely and breathing heavily. Despite the danger, Harry found himself wondering whether the wolf-Youen would also be overweight and unfit.

 

‘You can’t … run … now, Potter,’ Youen panted gloatingly, wiping perspiration from his head. He cautiously crept forwards while he regained his breath.

 

‘I can feel the moon, Potter, you have a matter of minutes before I tear you, rend you, bite you! My wife is dead, her brother’s in a cell, but you will die. Before that, I think I’ll soften you up a bit more.’ Youen was dribbling, licking his puffy red lips in anticipation.

 

Crucio,’ he muttered.

 

Pain once again coursed through Harry’s frame. He heard shouts in the distance.

 

‘Does Lowell know you’re doing this?’ Harry asked. ‘Perhaps he actually wants the hunt, perhaps he wants the money.’

 

‘How much pain can you take, Potter?’ Youen asked, raising his wand.

 

Harry looked into the air directly over Youen’s shoulder and his eyes widened in astonishment.

 

‘I’m not going to fall for that old trick, Potter,’ Youen snarled.

 

‘Oh, good,’ shouted Lavender gleefully.

 

Youen turned and. too late, raised his wand. Lavender threw what appeared to be a paper bag at him. It hit the bald man squarely in the face, and he screamed.

 

‘You keep your potions cupboard well stocked, Harry,’ announced Lavender. ‘But now you’re out of Bulbadox Powder.

 

Harry looked up at Lavender and Dacia; they hovered about fifteen feet in the air—Dacia was flying Lavender’s broom, while Lavender carried a bulging satchel.

 

Youen was swearing at the top of his lungs, but his words were becoming more and more unintelligible as his face sprouted dozens of painful looking and rapidly growing boils. Soon his eyes were closed and he could hardly speak.

 

‘Where’s my daughter? Where’s Amber?’ asked Dacia urgently.

 

‘Here, Mum,’ Amber announced.

 

Harry felt a presence alongside him. Amber Skoll shook off his invisibility cloak and presented him with his mokeskin pouch. His grasping fingers scrabbled for his wand. He could hear other people running towards him.

 

‘Finite Incantatem,’ he shouted, freeing himself from Youen’s spell.

 

‘Stupefy!’ Still lying flat on his back, Harry fired off a stunning spell. Youen was blasted backwards into the stone side of the glen by the force of it.

 

While he struggled to his feet, Dacia and Lavender landed. Dacia dismounted, picked up Youen’s wand and smiled vengefully.

 

There was more commotion further down the valley. Ignoring the warning shouts from Dacia and Lavender, Harry concentrated on Lavender’s wand, remembering those few moments the previous day when he had held it, examined it.

 

Accio Lavender’s wand,’ he shouted. He heard a curse from further down the glen. The wand flew up the valley and into his hand. He threw it across to Lavender, who whooped like a banshee and kicked off into the air.

 

Lowell ran around the corner. He had no time to take in the scene because he was hit by three Stunning Spells, one each from Lavender, Dacia and Harry. The werewolf leader was sent cartwheeling backwards into the stream. Harry heard Payne, who was apparently some distance behind Lowell, swearing loudly. Harry sprinted back downstream towards the sound. Only Payne and Doxine remained free. Dacia followed him, but they were both overtaken by Lavender, who was flying low.

 

Stupefy,’ Lavender shouted again.

 

By the time he rounded the corner, Lavender was hovering in the air on her broom and using the Incarcerous spell on Payne. Now, only Doxine remained. Dacia arrived, looking very edgy.

 

‘Moonrise,’ she hissed, ‘I have an hour before dusk. We don’t have much time, Harry. You two! This way, hurry!’

 

Ross and Amber were dragging the unconscious Youen towards Lowell, Amber was screaming orders and Ross obeying reluctantly.

 

‘Just a minute, Mum,’ Amber shouted. She waved one of the two sets of Portcuffs at her mother.

 

‘We’ll need the other pair for Payne and for Doxine, if we can find her,’ Amber explained.

 

The tawny-haired girl’s gaze suddenly moved to a point somewhere above Harry, she screamed and pointed into the forest. Harry looked around and up.

 

There was a growl from the undergrowth above the glen and Harry saw a dark, almost black, she-wolf launch herself at him from the rocky glen side about ten feet above. Harry raised his wand instantly, but before he could use it Lavender had dived between him and the wolf. She intercepted the snarling black beast in mid-leap. The impact knocked her from her broom, and the wolf sank its teeth into her shoulder.

 

‘Stupefy,’ Harry shouted, the spell bounced off the werewolf and ricocheted off the steep stone side of the glen.

 

The she-wolf released Lavender, growled, and turned to face Harry. Lavender was still conscious, a fact evidenced by the surprisingly foul expletives she was using. As he backed away from the wolf, Harry vaguely registered the fact that he’d never before heard Lavender swear. The black beast padded cautiously forwards, preparing to spring. Fortunately, Harry’s Auror training had taught him what to do.

 

‘Defodio,’ Harry shouted, pointing his wand at the ground under the wolf. The beast tumbled into the magically created pit. Harry looked down. The pit was almost twelve feet deep, but it was rapidly filling with water.

 

Dacia, take Lavender back to the tent, I’ll bring Amber and Ross,’ Harry ordered. ‘Go now, before Doxine can get herself out of the pit. I’ll bring the kids, go! Now!’

 

Dacia helped Lavender onto the broom and flew off down the valley.

 

‘They’ll transform, soon,’ Amber shouted urgently, pointing at Lowell and Youen.

 

Harry levitated the stunned Lowell towards the two children. Amber handcuffed Youen to Lowell, and watched them both vanish.

 

‘You know where the tent is, Amber. Run! Leave Payne to me,’ he ordered.

 

He watched the two children as they edged past the rapidly filling pit. The she-wolf was now swimming, and trying to scramble up the edge. Harry lengthened the pit, and made its sides vertical.

 

Amber handed Harry his cloak and his last pair of Portcuffs. Taking a confused Ross by the hand she ran, dragging the bewildered butcher’s boy behind her.

 

Gasping with the effort, Harry struggled to run after the youngsters. He stopped briefly, handcuffed Payne and watched as he, too, vanished. That was all of them, at least, all but Doxine Gray. Fortunately, the Auror cells were built to hold worse things than werewolves. The wanted Snatchers were all in jail; at least his mission wasn’t a total failure.

 

Jogging down the glen as quickly as he could, Harry kept a close eye on Ross and Amber who were sprinting ahead. Had any of the other villagers transformed? Or were they, like Dacia, holding back until sunset forced the change?

 

They were soon out of the glen and approaching his hideout. Amber was still holding Ross’s hand. She was dragging him towards the invisible tent when Dacia flew from it to collect them. Harry, clenching his teeth against the pain, followed. Because of Dacia’s hasty exit, the tent flap was open, and the large interior hung like a strange rip in reality. Scrambling up the tree, he almost ran into Amber, who had cautiously stepped out onto the invisible platform.

 

‘’I’m fine, Mum,’ Amber was shouting over her shoulder. ‘He’s here!’

 

Amber helped Harry into the tent. Dacia Skoll was busily preparing bandages and reheating the cauldron containing the remains of the golden potion she’d used on Lavender’s wounds.

 

Lavender had pulled off the ripped and bloodied Harpies t-shirt which she’d been wearing. It was another one of his, he realised, and it had been one of his favourites, a present from Ginny. He had no time to regret its loss. Lavender stood in front of the sink bathing her torn and bloody shoulder. Harry undid the makeshift bandages around his waist and joined her at the sink. The lacy pink bra Lavender wore didn’t cover much, but both were more concerned about the impending sunset than about their modesty.

 

‘Well,’ Lavender said cheerfully, as she tried to staunch the bleeding. ‘The choice has been made for me, hasn’t it?’

 

Looking at the shoulder wound Harry was amazed that she was able to ignore the pain. Dacia Skoll assessed them both with a Healer’s eye.

 

‘I know your Healers have you on powerful painkillers, but I’ve never seen anyone stay conscious after a bite like that,’ she told Lavender.

 

‘Will I turn tonight?’ Lavender asked anxiously.

 

‘No, not until next month,’ Dacia reassured her. ‘I’ll treat your wound first, Lavender, then Harry’s. And then I will have to leave you, for your own safety. I need to get out of here before sunset in case my new Wolfsbane potion doesn’t work. I have less than half an hour to treat you both.’ Amber’s mother was anxious and on edge. ‘Amber, help me. Ross! If you don’t stop staring at Miss Brown’s chest, I will blindfold you.’

 

Dacia sat Lavender on the upright kitchen chair and insisted that Harry lie on the bed. She ordered Amber to search through her bag for vials marked “Doxine” and “Father”. While her daughter was doing that, she fixed Harry’s broken ribs with a wave of her wand.

 

It did not take her long to spread moss on Harry’s abdomen and Lavender’s shoulder, to carefully ladle on the potion, and to complete the wound-binding poultices with the addition of a hair from the person who’d inflicted the wound.

 

Once satisfied that she’d done everything she could, and that the bandages were firm, Dacia prepared to leave. Harry rifled through his wardrobe and found himself a clean Auror uniform. Lavender reached past him and plucked out a clean white shirt for herself.

 

‘Auror shirt; it’s hex resistant like the coat, isn’t it?’ Lavender asked.

 

Harry nodded, surprised.

 

‘Suzy-B told me,’ Lavender explained. She looked down at her bandaged shoulder, her bra, and the wet, ripped and dirty jeans she was wearing. The jeans were his too, Harry realised.

 

‘I seem to be wearing, and tearing, a lot of your clothes, Harry,’ said Lavender. ‘Look on the bright side. You’re hopelessly conservative.

 

‘That’s what Ginny says too,’ Harry admitted.

 

‘Then this will give her the opportunity to buy you something more fashionable.’

 

Lavender giggled and, to the obvious disappointment of Ross, buttoned up the shirt. She looked past Harry and nodded worriedly. Dacia was beginning to twitch. They turned to face her.

 

‘I need to leave. Now! But you’ll be safe here,’ Dacia reassured the two children. ‘Wolves can’t climb trees, but stay inside, please.’

 

Harry and Lavender followed Dacia outside.

 

‘Keep them safe,’ Dacia ordered. ‘I’ll stay here. If my potion works, I’ll stay on guard. If it doesn’t, you’ll know immediately.’

 

Lavender lay down on the invisible platform and patted the space at her side. Rather reluctantly, Harry lay down alongside her. In silence they watched as the sun set. Lavender gazed up at the bright full moon and shivered.

 

‘The next time I see that…’ she said.

 

Harry stared sorrowfully, almost moved to hug her. Remembering her bandaged torso, and who she was, he simply patted her uninjured shoulder. Below them, under the moonlight, Dacia Skoll was transforming. As they listened to her screams and the grinding of her bones, Lavender squeezed Harry’s arm tightly.

 

‘It sounds painful,’ she observed.

 

‘Sorry,’ Harry began.

 

‘Oh, bloody hell, Harry, don’t apologise,’ Lavender snapped. ‘You didn’t bite me, and you didn’t attack me at Hogwarts either: that was Greyback. You’re distracted, you have been ever since I got here. I’d like to think that it’s my irresistibly gorgeous good looks and all-around sexiness, but it’s not. You’re worried about Ginny.’

 

Harry contemplated denying his worries, looked into her violet eyes, and immediately dismissed the thought. He nodded. Below them, a wolf growled. They looked down.

 

Dacia,’ Harry asked, ‘is that still you?’

 

The wolf looked up at them and nodded.

 

‘Harry could leave now, couldn’t he?’ Lavender asked the wolf, ‘We’d be safe until morning, and if Lestrange arrives tomorrow, we can let Harry know.’

 

The wolf nodded again.

 

‘I can’t,’ Harry protested. ‘This is my mission! Besides, I’m the only one who can send the message. The copy quill won’t work for anyone else.’

 

Lavender sighed. ‘Could you fetch me my satchel, please, Harry?’ she asked.

 

Harry slithered back inside his tent. The two children looked hopefully at him when he entered.

 

‘Your Mum’s potion is working, Amber,’ said Harry. He picked up Lavender’s bag and slid back outside.

 

‘Thanks,’ Lavender said as she began rifling through her bag. She gave a murmur of success and pulled a small mirror from her bag. Harry rolled his eyes despairingly; she was worried about her appearance! He decided that there were some girls he’d never understand.

 

‘Parvati,’ Lavender said quietly.

 

‘I was starting to get worried.’ Harry heard Lavender’s best friend reply from the mirror a few moments later and realised he had underestimated Lavender again.

 

‘Where are you? And what on earth are you wearing?’ he heard Parvati Patil ask. Lavender looked over the mirror at Harry, a wicked look in her eyes.

 

‘I am lying under the stars, next to Harry Potter,’ she said. ‘And I’m wearing one of his shirts.’

 

‘Then I won’t disturb you,’ Parvati giggled.

 

‘Harry is just about to offer me the chance to apply for a job as an Auror,’ Lavender told her friend seriously.

 

‘Are you cured?’ Parvati gasped.

 

‘I will be, or so I’m told. But it’s a drastic cure,’ Lavender said. ‘I’ll tell you when I see you. Have you any idea how Ginny is?’

 

‘We’ve got the radio on, listening to the Magpies/Harpies game. Ginny’s playing really badly. The announcer says that the reason is “Weasley’s recent split with her long term boyfriend, Harry Potter.” Have they split up? Are you really with him?’

 

‘What?’ Harry snapped, trying to pry the mirror from Lavender.

 

‘I’m with him, but I’m definitely not “with” him,’ said Lavender. ‘He’s Ginny’s, and he certainly doesn’t think that they’ve split up. He needs to see her, so I have to stay here. Can you take your mirror to the Auror office. Then I’ll be able to persuade Harry to leave.’

 

‘I’ll go now,’ Parvati promised.

 

‘Thanks, Parvati,’ Harry called.

 

‘Right, Harry,’ Lavender said. ‘Tell me what’s going on here, and then you can go and sort things out with Ginny.’

 

Half an hour later Harry was using the mirror to explain the suddenly changed situation to a rather subdued Neville. When he’d finished he mounted Lavender’s broom and prepared to leave.

 

‘Thanks, Lavender,’ he muttered. ‘Are you sure that you’ll be all right?’

 

‘Certain,’ she told him. ‘Ginny needs you. So do Ron and Hermione. Go, now, take my broom, leave me here and fly off to see your girlfriend; it’s the sensible thing to do. And, more importantly, it’s the romantic thing to do.’

 

Although he was being teased Harry, suddenly overcome, hugged her, ‘Thank you, Lavender.’

 

She took the opportunity to kiss his cheek.

 

‘Farewell, Prince Harry,’ Lavender declaimed with a tragic sigh, placing the back of her hand on her forehead in the style of a stricken heroine. ‘Leave this poor crippled servant-girl behind! Go, fly off to rescue your princess!’

 

As he flew over the forest towards the Shivering Stone Harry pondered Lavender’s request. Luna Lovegood was a more likely candidate for the Auror Office. Now she was a werewolf, Robards would never allow her in.

 

He would sort out that problem later. If he could fly out of the Anti-Apparition zone, with any luck he’d be able to get to the Magpies ground before the game was over.



Chapter 14: The Snare: Beater Grouses
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14. The Snare: Beater Grouses

 

‘That’s it,’ Harry concluded. ‘My leg isn’t too bad, my ribs are fixed and Dacia reckons that there shouldn’t be much scarring where Lowell clawed me.’

 

‘What about Lavender?’ Hermione asked in concern.

 

‘Dacia believes that, now that she’s been bitten, the claw wounds Greyback gave her at the Battle should finally close properly; it’s something to do with the werewolf curse. Lavender will be scarred but, otherwise, she should make a full recovery. Of course, Dacia will need to keep treating us both with that poultice of hers,’ Harry replied.

 

Harry’s audience had, in the main, listened in silence. He’d tried to gloss over the curses Lowell had inflicted on him, but Ginny had seen through his obfuscation and had demanded the truth. When he’d reluctantly told them what had happened, both Ron and Ginny swore.

 

Harry looked around the meeting room. Ron and Hermione sat side by side on the table. They were holding hands, but they still exuded an intense after-argument aura. Harry had years of familiarity with it. The unresolved tension between his two best friends was like dynamite past its shelf life; the slightest knock could lead to an explosion. Anxiety made the hairs on the back of Harry’s neck prickle nervously. Neville, Fenella and Luna were sitting directly in front of Ron and Hermione and seemed to be unaware of the danger which lurked behind them.

 

Everyone in the room was facing him, silently contemplating everything he’d told them. Harry was sitting on the fourth chair, with Ginny carefully curled in his lap. She was trying to stay as close as possible, while not putting any weight on his wounds.

 

Livy Aikenhead sat at the back of the room, on a chair Harry had conjured. She looked very nervous, and Harry wondered if it had been wise to invite her into the meeting room. He hadn’t wanted to leave her outside, in case Tavistock tried to persuade her to change her story. With Livy’s reluctant agreement, he’d cast a Muffliato spell, to prevent her from hearing the details of what was still an active Auror investigation.

 

‘Poor Lavender,’ said Ginny. ‘At least she’s okay.’

 

‘Okay? She’s hardly okay! She’s a werewolf!’ said Ron. ‘Bloody hell, Lavender can be a pain, but she didn’t deserve that.’

 

‘You should go and relieve her, Harry,’ said Hermione as she squeezed Ron’s leg sympathetically, slightly easing the tension between them. ‘She can’t face Lestrange alone.’

 

‘She won’t, Hermione,’ Harry assured her. ‘It’s daylight. Dacia will have turned back now and they both know the plan; they aren’t stupid. They won’t try to capture him themselves.’

 

‘Yeah, but it’s only a couple of weeks since I was bawled out by Robards, mate,’ said Ron forcefully. ‘You know what he’ll say? He’ll tell you that you’ve left two werewolves, neither of them Aurors, in charge of an important Auror operation, an operation which you should be running! Hermione’s right, you should go back.’

 

Harry sighed; he knew from many previous occasions that it would probably be several weeks before Ron disagreed with Hermione about anything, but he firmly shook his head. ‘We’ve got a lead on the Slyth…’ he paused, glanced at Fenella and tried again: ‘…on Bletchley, Bulstrode, Flint and Goyle, too. I should be here! I can’t be in both places…’

 

‘So you might as well be in the place where my sister is!’ said Ron, shaking his head. ‘Robards will say that to you too.’

 

Harry shrugged. ‘The Fiscal wants me here, because I’m the arresting officer. And I’ve still got one prisoner to interview. It will be some time before I’m finished and the only way I can get back is the way I left; fly to the stone and go through it. If Lestrange is already on his way, he might spot me and simply run for it. If I were him, I’d be regularly checking for invisible people. If I went back, I could jeopardise the plan. Besides, Lavender is…’ Harry stopped, wondering how to describe her.

 

‘Is what?’ Ron asked. ‘Reliable? Sensible? Take it from me, she’s anything but! All she could ever do was gossip and chatter.’

 

‘She saved Harry’s life, Ron,’ said Ginny. ‘And she was in a wheelchair because she fought in the Battle and she almost died. She’s more than the ex-girlfriend you don’t like to talk about.’

 

‘You weren’t at Hogwarts when the Carrows were in charge, Ron,’ Neville added firmly. ‘If you had been, if you’d seen her hex Malfoy, you’d think differently.’

 

‘Neville’s right,’ agreed Ginny.

 

‘She surprised me, Ron,’ said Harry. ‘She was wandless and wounded, but she took down Youen using nothing but a packet of Bulbadox powder. She wants to be an Auror, and honestly, she’s already better than a few of them!’

 

‘I suppose,’ Ron admitted grudgingly.

 

‘So, you’ll do everything you can to help Harry get her into the Auror Office,’ Ginny told him.

 

‘What?’ Ron spluttered.

 

‘I will be recommending her to Robards, Ron, because I’ve made a promise. But it won’t be easy getting her in,’ said Harry.

 

‘I’ll do what I can,’ said Ron reluctantly. He stared earnestly into his friend’s face. ‘But really, Harry, a recommendation from me would probably count against her anyway. After the way Robards tore a strip off me the other week, I’d probably do more good if I told him I thought she was useless!’

 

‘I’ll help, Harry,’ said Neville. ‘And so will Susan and Terry.’

 

‘You’ll need to get Clause Twenty-Seven removed from the Ministry Employee Contract first,’ announced Hermione.

 

‘What?’ asked Harry.

 

‘Clause Twenty-Seven,’ said Hermione, rolling her eyes exasperatedly.

 

Harry glanced at Ron, whose face showed that he, too, had no idea what Hermione was talking about. She looked from Harry, to Ron, and back to Harry—her irritation was obvious.

 

‘Er…’ Harry began.

 

‘You read your employment contracts before you signed them, didn’t you?’ asked Hermione in annoyance. She folded her arms and glared. Harry and Ron exchanged a particularly worried look that they had rarely used since school.

 

‘Remind me, please?’ asked Harry.

 

‘Clause Twenty-Seven states “All Ministry employees must be human witches or wizards as defined in the Wizarding Communities Act of 1766” and you know what that says, don’t you?’ asked Hermione.

 

‘But Lavender is a witch,’ said Ron hastily.

 

‘Not according to the Ministry, Ron. Not from the moment she was bitten. The 1766 Wizarding Communities Act, and the Magical Creatures Regulations of 1814 both classify werewolves as beasts. Beasts are definitely not human. That’s why werewolves have never been allowed to work for the Ministry.’

 

‘What?’ Ron said angrily. ‘That’s bloody outrageous. We’ll have to get that law changed.’

 

Hermione smiled at him. ‘I know, Ron,’ she said. ‘It’s on my list. The legislation Umbridge put in place in the years before the Battle made it almost impossible for them to get work elsewhere. Kingsley has repealed Umbridge’s laws, of course, but he hasn’t had time to carry out the root and branch reorganisation the Ministry needs. Getting those laws repealed is going to be my next project, once I get the house-elf laws passed.’

 

‘I’ll help you, Hermione,’ Harry told her.

 

Despite his pain, and despite the fact that Rabastan Lestrange was still free, for the first time in weeks Harry felt his anxieties leave him. He looked around the room; he was with his friends, and they were working together. Solo missions really were stupid; as he’d told Dacia and her daughters, he had always had help.

 

Now that he’d finished his story, Harry decided that he could safely remove the Muffliato spell. ‘Sorry about that, Livy,’ he apologised. Livy simply nodded.

 

Ginny fidgeted on his lap. It wasn’t her usual shuffle; there was something unnatural about the way she moved. She wasn’t completely right, Harry realised. She was almost Ginny, but she was restless and squirming, there was a tension that should not be there. It was possible that it was just the after-effects of the pumpkin juice, but he needed to be certain.

 

‘Your turn, Ginny,’ he told her, looking into her eyes. ‘There’s still something wrong. What is it?’ he asked quietly.

 

Ginny shuffled again, pressed her lips to his ear and gripped his shoulder painfully tightly.

 

‘It’s the voice in my head, Harry. It’s back, and it’s telling me to finish with you. It’s been there for weeks, whispering. Sometimes it has been very difficult to ignore. It’s worse … it’s worse now … on days like today … on the morning after a game. It’s been like this on the morning after the last few games. I can ignore it, but it’s worrying me; it’s nagging away at me again. I hate it when there’s someone else in my head,’ she whispered.

 

He gently touched her chin and felt her tense. He slowly turned her head and looked deep into her eyes. Concerned, he looked questioningly at his friends.

 

‘The pumpkin juice, could it contain something like an Imperius potion?’ he asked.

 

Neville and Ron shrugged.

 

‘No,’ Hermione spoke with certainty. ‘Because…’

 

‘Yes,’ interrupted Luna, sounding equally sure of her answer.

 

Hermione glared at Luna and pursed her lips. Harry could almost hear her brain whirring. He recognised the signs. Inside Hermione’s head, a lecture was rapidly being prepared.

 

‘Fenella?’ Harry asked, hoping desperately to avoid a long and complicated argument between Hermione and Luna.

 

The tall girl slouched low in her chair when everyone turned to look at her.

 

‘Er,’ she began, ‘um, er, well … er … I don’t think so, not exactly.’

 

Hermione looked triumphant.

 

‘But…’ Fenella stared fixedly at her boots as she continued. ‘I think … er, possibly … both hate, and love potions…’

 

‘Exactly!’ Luna said, ‘hate potions and love potions both…’

 

‘Both affect the emotional state of the imbiber, true,’ Hermione interrupted. ‘But it isn’t possible to duplicate the effect of an Unforgiveable Curse with a potion…’

 

‘Poison kills people, just like a Killing Curse would, Hermione,’ Luna interrupted.

 

‘But it’s not the same. It isn’t a killing curse,’ Hermione protested.

 

‘Harry said “something like” an Imperius potion,’ Luna reminded Hermione. ‘And there are a lot of potions which could force people to do something they wouldn’t normally do, which is exactly what the Imperius Curse does.’

 

‘But it doesn’t allow complete control, Luna,’ Hermione continued to argue.

 

‘Neither does the Imperius Curse, Hermione,’ said Harry. ‘It’s possible to resist it, to break free. I resisted the fake Moody, Barty Crouch Junior resisted his father, and Ginny is resisting whatever has been done to her.’ He placed a hand on his girlfriend’s thigh and squeezed. She smiled, but was obviously uneasy.

 

Hermione’s forehead creased and she pursed her lips as she carefully considered Harry’s words.

 

‘You’re right, Harry, and you too, Luna,’ Hermione admitted reluctantly. ‘How could I have forgotten Snape’s words to us in our very first Potions lesson? He told us about “the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses”, and that’s what you’re really asking, isn’t it, Harry? It is certainly possible to “bewitch the mind” with a potion.’

 

‘And it’s possible for me to resist,’ announced Ginny grimly. ‘But it would be nice if I didn’t have to.’

 

‘But why hasn’t Byers been able to identify it?’ Harry asked.

 

‘Perhaps it’s because there are two potions, plus the pumpkin juice in one bottle,’ suggested Hermione. ‘Byers thought he was looking at an alcohol strengthening potion with a couple of odd ingredients.’

 

‘But he was actually looking at an alcohol strengthening potion plus another potion,’ Ron announced, once again happy to agree with Hermione. ‘And if the second potion had missing ingredients too, that would make it very hard to analyse.’

 

‘Missing ingredients?’ Ginny asked.

 

Luna stood and approached her friend. Motioning for silence, she stared into Ginny’s eyes for some time. Harry, who was unconsciously mimicking Luna’s unblinking stare, felt his eyes watering with the effort.

 

‘You’re almost-Ginny,’ Luna announced eventually. ‘You’re fighting the potion.’

 

‘We know that, Luna,’ said Hermione dismissively. ‘We need to know something useful, like why Byers couldn’t identify the potion.’

 

‘Because love potions require the addition of a part of the person who wants to be loved, and…’ said Luna, still staring into Ginny’s eyes.

 

‘Like Polyjuice, we know that too, Luna,’ Hermione said. ‘A hair from the object of affection is the usual final ingredient.’

 

‘That’s easy to get,’ Ron reminded her. ‘These days, even I could identify a love potion without the activator ingredient; it’s easy. And no one has any difficulty putting one of their own hairs into a love potion; it’s feeding the potion to the victim that’s the difficult bit. Simply lacing some chocolates, for instance! Anybody might eat them!’

 

‘That was years ago, Ron!’ Harry reminded his friend.

 

‘But he nearly died!’ Hermione said. She slipped her arm around Ron’s waist and hugged him. Ron reciprocated.

 

‘What I was going to say is that this isn’t a love potion, or a hate potion,’ said Luna. ‘Ginny loves Harry, and Harry loves Ginny. That’s so obvious that everyone has spotted it, even Ronald.’

 

‘Thanks, Luna,’ said Ron sarcastically. She waved him into silence.

 

‘Because of that, making her hate him is very difficult,’ continued Luna. ‘This potion is making Ginny trust, and maybe even love, Linny, and hate Harry. With hate potions, you require a part of the person to be hated. You’d need some of Harry’s hair…’

 

‘Which you could get from our flat,’ announced Livy excitedly, finally breaking her silence. ‘Harry has visited Ginny there often enough.’

 

‘And some of Linny’s hair, to make Ginny listen to her, obey her orders,’ Luna added.

 

‘Like “drink this, it’ll do you good”,’ said Ginny, suddenly understanding. ‘But that’s three potions in one; alcohol strengthening, sort-of-love, and hate.’

 

‘No, only two, a love/hate potion and an alcohol strengthening potion,’ said Ron.

 

There is no such thing as a love/hate potion, Ron,’ said Hermione severely, removing her arm from around him.

 

‘There is; F-F-Fred and George made one,’ protested Ron, stammering over his dead brother’s name. ‘I found the recipe in an old filing cabinet a couple of months ago, while I was going through the discarded stock with George. We were looking to see if we could find anything else which they had invented and rejected, but could be turned into something saleable, like the Portcuffs.

 

‘Fred and George invented the love/hate potion years ago. It was an early attempt, before they’d even opened the shop. They thought it would be better than an ordinary love potion. They made one test sample, and used it once … it worked, but the twins didn’t like the results. George said that it reduced some Hufflepuff girl to tears at the Yule Ball and that it definitely wasn’t funny, or fun. They didn’t bother to put it into production. They concentrated on making a better love potion instead.’

 

‘How did they make the switch from love to hate?’ Hermione asked.

 

‘It’s not that big a step between love and hate, Hermione,’ said Ron with feeling. He stared into her eyes. ‘It just takes a moment of stupidity and everything can fall apart.’

 

‘I meant within the potion, Ron,’ said Hermione, gently stroking his cheek with the back of her hand. ‘There must be something else to add.’

 

‘Yes. How does the potion know which is which?’ Ginny asked. ‘Do it wrong, and you end up with a potion which makes me hate Linny and love Harry. Let’s face it, that’s pretty useless.’

 

‘The potion actually seems to be making you do whatever Linny asks you to do, Ginny. An “obey Harry unquestioningly” potion might be useful sometimes,’ said Harry grinning.

 

‘This is serious, Harry,’ said Ginny through clenched teeth. ‘This really isn’t pleasant, and it’s getting worse.’

 

‘Yeah, and believe me, you really don’t want to be doing anything that would mess around with the way your girlfriend behaves,’ said Ron firmly. Hermione slid her arm back around his waist.

 

‘Sorry, Ginny,’ Harry apologised. ‘Normally…’

 

‘Normally I can take a joke,’ Ginny said. ‘But now I can’t. Now, I really want to thump you.’

 

‘The twins’ love/hate potion recipe had a note with it,’ said Ron, he paused in thought. ‘Bum glum, or something.’

 

‘Glumbumble Fluid!’ Hermione and Luna spoke simultaneously.

 

‘It’s no wonder your potions expert was having problems, Ron,’ said Hermione excitedly. ‘He was missing three vital ingredients. Add Linny’s hair, and the drinker obeys Linny! Add Glumbumble fluid and the potion reverses effect…’

 

‘And finally, add Harry’s hair to make the drinker hate Harry,’ finished Luna. ‘That’s a really interesting use of the effect-reversal properties of Glumbumble fluid. In fact, it’s extremely clever. Why did your brothers do so badly at their OWLs, Ron?’

 

‘They simply couldn’t be bothered, Luna,’ said Ron. ‘But now we need to re-analyse the pumpkin juice!’

 

‘And find an antidote,’ said Ginny anxiously.

 

‘That should be easy,’ said Luna. ‘I can start on one now. Would you like me to?’

 

‘Easy?’ Hermione asked in surprise. Luna nodded.

 

‘If you can do it, Luna, please do,’ said Ginny.

 

Harry kissed her. For a moment she was tense, but she soon relaxed into his arms.

 

‘That’s better,’ said Ginny when they parted. ‘Kissing helps. But you’ll probably need to do it again, soon.’

 

‘When’ve you two ever needed an excuse for a snog?’ Ron asked sarcastically. Ginny ignored him.

 

‘Wait! We must be wrong,’ Ginny suddenly sprang to her feet, strode across to the wall and thumped it. ‘The potion can’t work that way. After I’d talked to Hermione, weeks ago, I decided that I wouldn’t go drinking with Livy and Linny again. But I drank some pumpkin juice, and Linny persuaded me. It was easy, very easy, for me to obey her because it seemed to be such a reasonable thing for her to ask. So that’s the love, or the “obey,” part of the potion. But while we were out drinking, Linny tried to set me up with other blokes. She tried to persuade me to chuck Harry several times as well. She even tried in the pub last night. I was pretty much out of it, but Harry was there and he was forcing me to choose. I tried to hit her.’

 

‘You were so drunk that you could hardly stand, Ginny,’ said Harry, watching his increasingly agitated girlfriend in alarm.

 

‘That’s not the point, Harry. I chose you! Not her! That’s what I don’t understand. If both potions were in the same bottle, why should I feel worse about you now, the morning after I’ve taken the potion? Now, it wouldn’t take much for me to defend Linny and hit you.’ To emphasise her point she hit the wall again. ‘So yesterday, last night, why did I attack Linny, not you?’ Ginny asked. Harry looked at Hermione for an answer.

 

‘Don’t you know, Ginny?’ Luna sounded surprised. ‘The alcohol has been dampening it. Adding the alcohol strengthening potion was a big mistake. The more you sober up, the more you’ll hate Harry and the more control Linny will have. The love/hate potion will get stronger and stronger as your body gets rid of the alcohol. I think that Linny must have increased the dose. But we know, from what happened to Hermione, that the sober-up potion reacts badly with the Pumpkin juice, which means...’

 

‘Of course!’ exclaimed Hermione, her eyes lighting up in understanding. ‘You’re right, Luna, it should be easy to reverse the effects. We’ll need dog hair, butterscotch, honey-water, one of your hairs, Harry, and one of Linny’s.’

 

‘Have you really figured out an antidote?’ asked Harry.

 

Hermione and Luna looked at each other. ‘Yes,’ they said together.

 

‘So, all we need to do now is decide what we are going to do about Linny Baker?’ said Ron. ‘This is all her fault!’

 

‘And yours, and mine,’ Hermione corrected him.

 

‘We need to search Ginny’s flat for evidence. We might find more bottles to analyse, and we might find more clues,’ suggested Neville. ‘We have enough justification for a raid. The only known suppliers of alcoholic pumpkin juice are all wanted by the Auror Office.’

 

‘Let’s go,’ Ron shouted, leaping to his feet.

 

‘No. Not you, Ron—or you, Nev,’ Harry ordered. Ron stopped in his tracks, and Neville stood in his stead. ‘We’ll contact the office, tell them what we know and ask a different squad to do the search. We’re all personally involved. Tavistock would accuse us of planting evidence.’

 

‘I’ll go back to London now, and organise things,’ Neville offered.

 

‘No!’ Harry changed his mind. ‘I’ve got a better idea. Sheriff Campbell is in charge of the investigation into the Breach of the Peace at the Magpies Nest; he should take the lead. That way it’s a Magical Law Enforcement raid, not the Auror Office.’

 

‘But,’ Ginny began.

 

‘If the Auror Office raid your flat, Ginny, everyone will know. But if Law Office Bailiffs search a flat belonging to the three Quidditch players they’ve arrested for being drunk and disorderly, it might not even make the newspapers, and even if it does, Goyle and his cronies won’t realise exactly how much we know about their involvement. And if Linny thinks that all we know about is the alcohol-strengthening potion, she might try to get some more of the love/hate potion from the Bletchley and the others. They’ve scarpered, and we’ve lost them, but Linny was in touch with them somehow. Thanks to Nev, we know that Flint and his friends were providing the potion. Linny is the only link we have, so if we can make her think that we don’t suspect…’ said Harry.

 

He strode across to his girlfriend and looked into her eyes. ‘But if you want us to arrest her for use of Dark Magic, then that’s what we’ll do.’

 

‘She’s been messing with me; perhaps it’s time that I messed with her,’ said Ginny vindictively. ‘But I wish I knew why she’s been doing it. I thought that she liked me, and you.’

 

‘She has been acting oddly for the past few weeks,’ Livy said. ‘She’s been secretive and she’s been drinking more. She’s been really aggressive in training, hadn’t you noticed?’

 

‘No,’ Ginny admitted.

 

‘Well, you were worried about Harry going off on a dangerous mission, Ginny,’ Livy said. ‘You didn’t notice much in the days before he left.’

 

‘We need to search your flat, Ginny. I’ll go and bring Sheriff Campbell in here and explain,’ said Harry.

 

‘I’ll go,’ suggested Neville. ‘You stay with Ginny.’

 

Harry smiled his thanks and Neville dashed from the room.

 

‘We’ll leave too, Harry,’ said Hermione. ‘Luna and I should get started on this antidote.’

 

‘We should,’ said Luna with certainty, looking worriedly at Ginny. ‘I think that they have increased the dose. The more Ginny sobers up, the more she’ll hate Harry.’

 

Hermione gave Ron a hug and a sorrowful smile, stood, and picked up her bag. As she and Luna opened the door to leave, Neville returned with the Sheriff.

 

Harry rapidly explained the situation to Hamish Campbell.

 

‘I’d be grateful if you would contact the Auror Office and liaise with them,’ said Harry. ‘And could you hand over any pumpkin juice you find to our experts?’

 

The Sheriff nodded. ‘I’ll do that, with pleasure.’

 

‘Take the key to my flat,’ said Ginny, reaching into the pocket of her trousers. ‘You have my permission to search it, not that you need it.’

 

The Sheriff held out his left hand and took the key. Ginny looked at his missing fingers and then at his face.

 

‘You’re the man I hexed,’ she said. ‘I’m very sorry.’

 

‘Aye, well, we all do daft things with the drink inside us and, if... Harry is right, it seems you had a lot more than just the drink to deal with,’ said Campbell gruffly. ‘I’ll get on this right away. I’ll sort out a formal warrant for the flat and let ye know what we find.’ He turned and strode from the room.

 

‘Do you trust him?’ Ron asked. ‘I’m sure I’ve seen him somewhere before.’

 

Harry nodded. ‘You’ve seen him at the memorial ceremonies, Ron. His wife was killed at Hogwarts. He seems like a good man; the Fiscal trusts him, and I trust her.’

 

‘She’s a scary old lady,’ observed Ginny. Livy murmured her agreement.

 

‘The Fiscal won’t do you any favours, Ginny, I’m sorry. But she won’t be vindictive, either. She’ll be fair, and so will the Sheriff.’

 

‘Thanks, Harry,’ said Ginny. Her stomach rumbled.

 

‘When did you last eat?’ Harry asked, concerned.

 

‘Before the game, yesterday lunchtime,’ Ginny admitted.

 

‘You need to get some breakfast,’ he scolded. His traitorous stomach then betrayed his own irregular eating habits.

 

‘When did you last eat, Harry?’ asked Ginny, equally concerned.

 

‘Midnight,’ Harry protested.

 

‘Before that?’

 

‘I had some dry bread and cheese at noon, yesterday,’ he admitted.

 

‘We’ll go together,’ said Ginny. ‘We’ll all go. I’ll treat you all to lunch, to thank you for being here for me.’

 

‘You’ll have to go without me, I’ll be interviewing Linny soon,’ said Harry.

 

‘We’ll wait,’ Ginny told him. ‘But the effects of that potion are getting stronger, Harry. It might be as well if you left me for a while.’

 

I’ll look after her, mate,’ said Ron. ‘Don’t worry.’

 

‘Me too,’ added Neville staunchly.

 

There was a knock at her door, and Bailiff Moon peered in.

 

‘Ah, er, excuse me, Auror Potter, sir,’ the tall young man began. ‘Miss Aikenhead, Miss Weasley, the Sheriff would be grateful if ye could sign this, it’s a statement agreeing to allow the search of your residence. We’ll need to let Swyddfa Cymru, the Welsh Office, and the Gwynedd Sheriff’s Office, know what we’re doing, so we need to keep it all legal.’

 

Ginny and Livy had just signed the statement when the door opened a second time. A young woman peered into the room.

 

‘Auror Potter,’ she said. ‘The Fiscal wants you in the interview room now.’

 

‘Duty calls.’ Harry groaned.

 

Ginny watched in silence as Harry prepared to leave. His ribs were aching again and Ginny seemed to be almost enjoying his suffering. Harry hoped that Luna and Hermione would be able to quickly make an antidote. Leaving his girlfriend in the care of Ron, Neville, Fenella and Livy, he walked along the corridor while retying his tie. Two doors along from the meeting room, the Fiscal was waiting for Harry.

 

‘Mr Tavistock has just informed me that he has finished his discussions with his remaining client,’ said Edna Quarrell. ‘This is likely to be an interesting interview.’

 

‘Fiscal, before we go in…’ Harry began. He quickly told her about their recent discoveries, and that the Sheriff was about to leave to carry out the search. The Fiscal nodded approvingly.

 

‘I don’t see how Mr Tavistock could complain about the search, but it’s as well that you aren’t personally involved. Thank you, Harry,’ the Fiscal smiled grimly. ‘Now, let’s go and hear what Miss Baker has to say for herself.’

 

Gus Tavistock and Linny Baker were sitting in strained silence when Harry opened the interview room door. He ushered the Fiscal inside, then closed the door and took his seat opposite Linny.

 

‘Good morning, Miss Baker,’ the Fiscal introduced herself and Harry, before telling the Beater of the charges against her.

 

Linny Baker didn’t speak.

 

‘My client is aware of the allegations,’ Gus Tavistock said smoothly. ‘She advises me that she has no idea why her friends and flatmates should lie about what happened. She can only assume that Miss Weasley, through misguided loyalty to her boyfriend, wishes to prevent Mr Potter from making a fool of himself. Miss Baker wishes to plead not guilty to all charges. We’ll see you in court, Mrs Quarrell.’

 

‘Miss Baker,’ Edna Quarrell said politely. ‘Before I ask you to formally make a plea, I consider it my duty to give you some additional information. Officers from this Law Office are, with the agreement of both Miss Weasley and Miss Aikenhead, about to conduct a search of the flat you share with them.’

 

Linny Baker opened her mouth to object, but Tavistock spoke first.

 

‘This is outrageous,’ Gus Tavistock protested. ‘My client did not permit any such search.’

 

‘The Scottish Law Office does not require your client’s permission. Miss Baker and her flatmates have been arrested and charged. In the course of our investigations, the Sheriff has received new evidence which led him to believe that a search was required. The Law Office sought a warrant from the Justiciar, which has been granted. In addition to the warrant, we have received written permission from two of the three residents of the property. This is not outrageous, Mr Tavistock. My office has behaved correctly throughout, and if I read any newspaper reports making personal attacks on the integrity of any individual law officer involved in this case, I shall advise that individual to take action.’ Edna Quarrell paused and looked Gus Tavistock in the eyes.

 

‘I am not interested in bluff, bluster and threats, Mr Tavistock. I’m simply interested in getting to the bottom of this unsavoury episode.’ She glared contemptuously at him before turning to Linny Baker.

 

‘Now, Miss Baker, do you have anything else to say?’

 

‘It’s all his fault!’ Linny Baker shouted, pointing at Harry. ‘It isn’t fair! She should hate you, Potter! Why doesn’t she hate you?’

 

‘You know Ginny, she’s stubborn. You can’t force her to do something if she doesn’t want to,’ said Harry proudly. ‘But you live with her, Linny. Ginny liked you, trusted you, and you got her drunk, and tried to split us up. Why?’

 

‘Because I hate you, you arrogant sod,’ Linny began. ‘I think you’re a filthy, Mudblood-loving…’

 

‘Miss Baker…’ Tavistock shouted her down.

 

Linny was silenced, but she glared angrily at Harry, and he managed to catch her eyes. While he was still utterly useless at Occlumency, Harry had done reasonably well in his Auror Legilimency training.

 

As he stared into the Beater’s eyes, he briefly heard a sobbing girl and saw her staring at a happy couple. Harry vaguely recognised the tall and skinny fair-haired boy; he thought that he might have been a Ravenclaw, someone in the twins’ year, but he wasn’t sure. The girl, however, was Daphne Greengrass, and she was looking at him in triumph. She wasn’t looking at him, she was looking at Linny. Suddenly, Harry knew. Linny blinked and shook her head, breaking the connection.

 

Linny had been close to tears, he’d sensed it. Daphne had been wearing dress robes, the boy was tall and Harry thought that some girls would probably think that he was good-looking. The memory had been of the Yule Ball. Linny would have been in her final year. Harry thought quickly. Was it possible that Linny was the girl Ron had told him about? He could not re-establish the connection, as Linny lowered her head and refused to look at him.

 

‘Which house were you in at Hogwarts, Linny?’ Harry asked.

 

‘What on earth does that have to do with anything?’ Tavistock asked.

 

‘You were a Hufflepuff, weren’t you?’ Harry asked. ‘You were a Hufflepuff Beater. Do you know a girl called Daphne Greengrass? We’ll soon be able to prove that there was a potion in the pumpkin juice you were giving Ginny, you must know that.’

 

That was enough to make Linny raise her head. Harry again caught her gaze as she snarled angrily at him.

 

‘So what? You’re not going to do anything about it, Harry. You can’t, because you won’t prosecute your friends!’ She spat the last words venomously. ‘The twins used that potion on Malcolm, they split us up. It was their idea of a joke. It’s a Weasley product. You aren’t really going to arrest Ginny’s brother, are you?’

 

Harry again stared into the Beater’s eyes; he made a connection and tried Legilimency. For a moment, he saw Daphne again; she was being pinned to the wall and he recognised the threatening fist in front of Daphne’s face as Linny’s. ‘The Weasley twins gave it to me,’ Daphne squealed. ‘They said it was a joke.’ Then, confusingly, Linny and Daphne were hugging. ‘I’m sorry,’ Daphne said. ‘I’ll make it up to you, somehow.’

 

As the connection broke Harry saw something else; there was something in Linny’s eyes. It was a peculiar vacancy, an absence which he’d seen before, and very recently.

 

‘If you’ll excuse me, Fiscal, there are several questions I need answering,’ Harry announced.

 

‘See!’ Linny shouted triumphantly. ‘He’s going to try to cover things up. Tell Ginny to drop the charges if she doesn’t want her precious brother to get into trouble.’

 

‘Fiscal, please hold Miss Baker until I return,’ Harry begged. ‘She may be able to assist an ongoing Auror Office case.’ The Fiscal nodded and Harry raced from the Interview Room.



Chapter 15: Prey: Badger and Raven Go Hunting
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15: Prey – Badger and Raven Go Hunting

 

Susan Bones stared into the mirror. Her impossible friend, the person who annoyed and amused her more than any other, stared back. Lavender’s violet eyes were brighter than they’d been since The Battle. They had met only a week earlier but, since that meeting, Lavender had changed almost beyond recognition.

 

The Battle had altered everything. Among the survivors, Lavender was one of the major casualties. After the injuries she’d suffered Lavender had needed friends, a lot of friends. Susan had obliged. Perhaps now that would change, Susan thought, they had not been close before the Battle.

 

A week ago, Susan had been concerned. Lavender had been in the dark depths of one of her increasingly frequent depressions and Susan was certain that she was about to do something stupid. When she’d asked, Lavender had denied it. Now, it was obvious that Lavender had lied.

 

As Lavender stared out from the mirror, her head dancing excitedly from side to side, Susan watched her lively and mischievously animated face. This new Lavender was so different from the pale and listless girl she’d come to know, and Susan was reminded of how annoying Lavender had been before her encounter with Greyback. The reinvigorated Lavender was wearing a man’s white shirt that looked very much like an Auror-issue uniform shirt, and she wore it unbuttoned to the point where the pink lace which created her cleavage was visible. In Susan’s opinion, this was inappropriate.

 

‘Harry’s going to help me become an Auror,’ said Lavender cheerfully, sweeping a tumbling mass of curly brown hair from in front of her eyes and pushing it behind her shoulder as she smiled out from the mirror.

 

As Susan carefully considered her reply, she looked to the edges of the mirror, to the verdant foliage behind and beyond Lavender. Her friend appeared to be standing in mid-air among several trees. Susan pursed her lips, narrowed her fine blonde eyebrows, and chose her words carefully.

 

‘It won’t be easy, Lavender,’ she began cautiously. ‘You know that, don’t you?’

 

‘You’re simply worried that I’ll outshine you,’ Lavender grinned. ‘And you know that I’ll look a lot more stylish, and much sexier, in that uniform than you do! You look like a schoolteacher, Susie.’

 

‘Susan,’ corrected Susan automatically. ‘This is an Auror uniform, Lavender. You can’t possibly be more stylish than me if we’re uniform.’

 

‘I think that you’ll find I can.’ As Lavender preened and pouted, she glanced sideways, past the mirror she was holding, and off into the distance. ‘I’ll have to go soon, Susan, I can see Dacia. She’s on her way up from the village. I hope that you and Big Terry have been taking notes…’ Lavender paused and then waved and shouted from the mirror. ‘Hello, Terry! I know you’re there somewhere. I saw you skulking in the background a few minutes ago. And now I can see Susan looking at a “somebody” in front of her…’

 

Susan again glanced up over top of the mirror at Terry Boot, who was now going through the in-tray they shared with their supervisor. One of Terry’s eyebrows twitched a fraction. He was obviously impressed by the fact that Lavender had known he was there.

 

Lavender looked serious for a moment. ‘I hope that Harry’s plan to catch Lestrange works better than his plan to infiltrate this place. The entire village knows that he’s been here, and that he’s arrested all of the Snatchers. The trouble is, the Snatchers were in charge for so long that I don’t think anyone here knows what to do now they’ve gone. Dacia is talking to everyone, trying to persuade them to help us to trap Lestrange, but I’m not sure how successful she’s going to be, so you’ll all have to move quickly if he actually shows up.’

 

‘We will,’ promised Susan.

 

‘Have you actually tested those Portkey-card things?’ Lavender asked. ‘I’d rather not die horribly at the hands of a Death Eater, especially as it’s only been a few hours since I was cured.’

 

‘Cured?’ asked Susan in disbelief.

 

Lavender arched a fine, well-plucked eyebrow, and Susan cursed herself for that one thoughtless comment. She’d been surprised at the word Lavender had chosen, but should not have shown it. Terry, meanwhile, had pulled a letter from the pile of correspondence and was striding determinedly towards Susan.

 

‘I’m a werewolf, Suze,’ said Lavender, with mock aggression. ‘Got a problem with that?’

 

‘Of course not!’ Susan protested, shaking her head.

 

‘It’s not exactly what I’d planned for my life but neither was being attacked by Greyback,’ said Lavender. ‘I can walk again. I need a bit of practice at it, and my legs look terrible; they’re horribly skinny and stick-like. But if I’ve ever felt better, I can’t remember when. The pain is gone. All of it! And after a few months of dancing, I’ll be back in shape. When I get out of this place, I’ll take you dancing and drinking. We’ll go out to celebrate, and I’ll get very drunk, and I’ll make certain that you get drunk too. You can be a boozy floozy, Susie!’

 

Susan saw Terry Boot roll his eyes, but he was also urgently waving an envelope at her. ‘I bet it took you ages to think of that one,’ said Susan sardonically. ‘You be careful, Lavender. Sound the alarm the moment you spot him. Don’t try to be clever and don’t be silly.’

 

‘When have I ever been silly?’ asked Lavender. ‘Here’s Dacia, I’ve got to go. I’ll let you know what the villagers have decided as soon as I can. Oh! And let me know how Harry and Ginny, and Ron and Hermione are doing the moment you find out, Susan. Recriminations, remorse and reconciliations, I expect, but I want all the gory details, not your usual “they’re okay” or “it’s none of our business” nonsense! Do you know if the brave and handsome, but sometimes a little slow-on-the-uptake, Neville has finally realised that Hannah desperately wants him to shag her senseless? You can ask her. She’s a fellow Hufflepuff, so she’ll probably tell you. Get to work! Find stuff out! You’re an Auror; you should be good at it. Bye big-Boot. Bye Suze.’ She waved again, and then broke the connection.

 

‘Susan,’ said Susan, shaking her head in disbelief. Lifting her head she looked at Terry. He was still silently waving the letter, trying to attract her attention. Terry’s face showed that he, too, despaired at Lavender’s attitude. He held the unopened letter he’d picked up from the in-tray in front of her. Susan squinted at the small, well-formed script.

 

to: Trainee Auror S Bones, Auror Office, Ministry of Magic

 

She recognised the writing instantly, but Terry turned the letter over anyway. On the back Susan read, from: Nott, Pennerley Hall, Shropshire

 

Susan took the letter, broke the black wax seal, which was embossed with the Nott crest, and quickly read the letter.

 

Bones

 

We are, as I’m sure you appreciate, busy people, but as law-abiding citizens, my fiancée and I are always happy to assist the Ministry in general, and the Auror Office in particular. We have information which may be of use to you. Please attend us at Pennerley Hall at 10:00 this morning.

 

I apologise for the short notice.

 

Regards,

 

Nott

 

She handed the letter to Terry, and checked her watch. They had ten minutes.

 

‘Where’s Strang?’ she asked her fellow trainee.

 

Terry shrugged and pulled a face which indicated that he had no idea where their supervisor was.

 

‘Polly,’ Susan called across to the nearest occupied desk, on which a pair of thick-soled black boots adorned with buckles and chains were resting.

 

The dreadlocked, pierced and tattooed Auror whose feet filled the bulky boots was leaning back in her chair as she read a report. ‘Susan,’ she said dryly, looking up from over the parchment.

 

‘We have to go out. It looks like we have a potential lead,’ said Susan. ‘Can you let Strang know that we’re going to Pennerley Hall to speak to Theodore Nott? Will you take care of the mirror? If Lavender calls an alert, then you’ll need to let the Portkey Office know immediately.’

 

‘Okay.’ Polly Protheroe lazily stretched out a hand and took the mirror from Susan. As she did so, Polly’s eyes, startlingly pale under heavy black mascara, black and red eye-shadow and thick, black eye-liner stared piercingly into Susan’s. ‘I know what the plan is, Susan, we all do. But… this ... Lavender … she’s reliable, isn’t she? She was one of your lot, one of Harry’s gang.’

 

‘She was in Dumbledore’s Army, yes,’ said Susan carefully.

 

‘So, she’ll be okay, then?’ Polly asked.

 

‘Yes,’ said Susan, deciding that, unlike Polly’s first question, her second was one she could probably answer in the affirmative.

 

‘You need any help with Nott?’ Polly asked. She jerked her head towards an older man who was laboriously writing a report. ‘I’d volunteer, but I need to double-check this report and get it onto Old Grumpy’s desk within the hour. If Durm has vanished, Spider’s available.’

 

‘Don’t call me “Spider,” Protheroe,’ the man grumbled. ‘And don’t call young Dominic “Durm,” either.’

 

‘Whatever you say, Auror Webb, sir,’ said Polly, pulling a face.

 

‘It’s only Theodore Nott. He was in our year at school. We’ll be fine, won’t we, Terry?’ Susan asked.

 

Terry nodded.

 

‘Well, if you’re sure you can manage, kids, off you go. Just remember, “Be careful out there”.’ She grinned.

 

Retrieving the letter from Terry, Susan placed both it, and the note, on Dominic Strang’s desk.

 

‘Let’s go,’ she said.

 

‘Go?’ asked Terry, curling a lip.

 

It was one word and, apart from a polite “good morning” when he’d arrived, it was the first thing Terry had said.

 

What Susan heard him ask was “Why should we run around after a Death Eater’s son. Why can’t we simply bring him in for questioning?”

 

Sometimes Susan wondered if that was why she enjoyed Lavender’s company. Terry never spoke, whereas Lavender talked enough for at least two people. Nevertheless, she thought ruefully, Terry could somehow turn a one word enquiry into a sentence, while Lavender could talk for twenty minutes and not actually say anything.

 

‘We’ll go to him,’ said Susan firmly. ‘It’s all a game to Nott. He likes to make us run around after him. He does it because he’s rich and important, and we are neither, or so he’d like to think.’ She looked up into Terry’s squashed and jug-eared face and realised from his expression that further explanation was needed. ‘Honestly, it’s easiest and quickest to simply let him lead us on a dance. Nott by name, knot by nature, he’s a difficult man to untangle.’

 

Terry gave a grunt which sounded as if it might possibly have been a laugh and gave her the briefest of smiles. Susan didn’t admit that she’d stolen that joke from Lavender.

 

‘If we get there on time, he’ll probably keep us waiting for ten minutes,’ Susan explained. ‘If we’re late, he’ll keep us waiting half an hour. If we ask him to come here, or call on him unannounced, he’ll be “unable to see us”, or even “out of the country.” It’s annoying, but it’s necessary. I’m fairly certain that, since his engagement, Nott effectively controls the Parkinson businesses as well as his father’s. If he is “happy to assist the Ministry” then it’s because he intends to tell us what we want to know.’

 

‘Why?’ asked Terry, as he followed her from the Auror Office and along to the lifts.

 

‘Good question. If he tells us anything, it will be because it’s the best move for him. I’m not sure why, or how, but he will be gaining from it.’ She paused thoughtfully as they stepped into the lift, and Terry pressed the button to take them to the Atrium.

 

‘Or, at the very least, he won’t be losing from it,’ she said thoughtfully as the lift rattled towards its destination. ‘I’m certain that Pansy does know who paid the original deposit on the warehouse “Mark D’Arque” was using. You were there when I questioned her, Terry. She definitely didn’t tell us everything she knew, did she?’

 

Terry shook his head.

 

‘Pansy claimed that Mark D’Arque Unlimited, or MDU (Holdings), paid a deposit, in cash, for that warehouse in Awl’s End. They’ve been there for almost two years, since a few weeks after the Battle.’ Susan frowned in thought and wished that Terry would say something. She was never sure what he thought of her theorising.

 

The doors opened and they made their way out of the Ministry, heading for the nearest safe Apparation point.

 

‘But how could they pay in cash? We now know where Bletchley, Bulstrode, Flint and Goyle were hiding out after they escaped after the Battle,’ Susan added as they approached the exit. ‘But we also know that none of the four have accessed their Gringotts accounts since they went on the run. So where did those four Slytherins get the money for the deposit?’

 

Terry remained silent and, to her annoyance, Susan was forced to continue her speculations alone. ‘I don’t think that they paid for it. I think that Pansy knew who she was leasing the place to and she let them stay there rent-free. Except Pansy wasn’t in charge! At the time, her father was running the business. Did he know? We should go to Azkaban and ask him.’

 

They stepped out into the street and turned into the adjoining alley.

 

‘Ready?’ Susan asked, holding out her arm.

 

Terry nodded. His big hand encircled her forearm. She Disapparated.

 

Unlike the Malfoys, the Notts had played a clever game. Theodore was not, and had never been, a Death Eater; he was far too clever for that. His father, Thornton, had surrendered without a fight at the end of The Battle. The elder Nott had made a full confession, claiming that he had been forced under duress to return to the Death Eater ranks after Voldemort’s return. At his trial, Thornton Nott had stubbornly maintained that he had done so only to “keep his beloved only son from the clutches of the Dark Lord.”

 

No one had suggested that Theodore had been a Death Eater and, as Susan and Terry knew, in his final year at school, Theodore Nott had remained apart from his fellow Slytherins. He had even refused to join the Inquisitorial Squad in his fifth year, much to Draco Malfoy’s annoyance. Theodore was, it appeared, innocent of everything apart from being the son of a Death Eater, which was not in itself a crime. In the years since the battle Theodore had kept out of the limelight, doing nothing to focus anyone’s attention on him.

 

Terry drew his wand the moment they arrived. Susan, however, was not worried. She watched Terry as he cautiously took in his surroundings. Unlike her teammate, Susan had visited Pennerley Hall on several occasions.

 

The rather ramshackle and eccentric ancestral home of the Notts, Pennerley Hall was almost a millennium old; at least, parts of it were. The building was a strange mix of styles. It appeared that, almost five hundred years ago, one particular Nott had decided that it would be a very good idea to build a Tudor manor house on top of the original medieval stonework. The incongruity of overhanging timbered upper floors above the thousand-year-old stone was bizarre in itself, but a more recent descendant had added a wing in the Georgian style. That latter designer had, presumably, also been responsible for the creation of the ornate gardens and the imposing seven-foot tall ha-ha wall which separated the grounds from the pasture beyond.

 

Susan had Apparated directly outside the entrance to the grounds, and she could see Terry carefully comparing this ancient magical manor house to the only other one he’d seen: Malfoy Manor. The differences were stark; Pennerley Hall was a lot less conventional, and it also appeared to be less well guarded.

 

From a distance, the ha-ha gave the appearance that there were no boundaries between Pennerley Hall and the surrounding countryside. The grey gravel drive crossed the ha-ha by means of an ancient stone bridge without a parapet. Flanking both sides of the bridge were four carved dragons’ heads, so weatherworn and lichen-encrusted that it wasn’t immediately obvious what they were.

 

Susan led Terry onto the bridge, between the first two dragons’ heads. The one to her left spoke.

 

‘Who seeks entry to Pennerley Hall?’ The deep voice rasped and grated as a stone tongue and stone lips ponderously ground out the words. Terry halted and turned to face the stone head, his hand gripping his wand tightly.

 

‘Bones and Boot, Auror Office,’ said Susan. She did not even slow down.

 

‘Enter, Bones and Boot, Auror Office,’ the dragon’s head at the far end of the bridge told them.

 

Terry gave a deep rumbling grunt, which Susan assumed meant that he was impressed.

 

‘I was on the team that raided this place last year,’ Susan told him. ‘We were the only ones who failed to get the element of surprise. We thought that we’d managed to get past those dragons’ heads without alerting them, but we hadn’t.’

 

She checked her watch and quickened her pace. Terry marched silently alongside her. Almost as tall as Ron, and broader at the shoulder than George, he was an imposing sight. He appeared to be sauntering as he matched her stride.

 

Susan imagined working alongside Lavender and considered the difference. Lavender’s voice filled her mind. Unlike silent, lumbering Terry, Lavender would be prattling constantly: “Who would’ve thought the little weed lived in a place like this? Of course, the Notts are rumoured to be one of the Noble and Most Ancient Houses. Perhaps that’s what pug-ugly sees in him. She’s a nasty cow, but she has got big udders. Perhaps that’s what the weed see’s in her. Then again, cows eat weeds. Merlin, that’s a horrible thought. What’s the rush, Susie?”

 

‘I want to reach the front door at exactly ten o’clock,’ said Susan. She smiled to herself, and then realised that she was smiling at an imaginary conversation and answering an imagined question.

 

‘Hmm.’ Terry nodded.

 

A sweeping stone flagged path took them past immaculately manicured lawns and colourfully planted and ornately geometric flower beds. Immediately ahead, the ancient stone walls of Pennerley Hall itself loomed large. The medieval walls were reinforced by stepped buttresses, each over a yard wide and two yards deep at the base. The front door, apparently the only door, was between two of the buttresses.

 

As they approached the black wood doors beneath the tall Romanesque archway, they were enclosed by the buttresses. Terry firmly grasped his wand. From her previous visits, Susan knew why. There was an aura about the buttresses; they invoked the sensation that anyone approaching the age-weathered doors was no more than an insignificant insect which was foolishly flying between two hostile hands.

 

They took one final step and halted; the double doors were now directly ahead of them. They were twice as tall as Terry, and wide enough to allow two horsemen to enter side by side. In a few places it appeared that someone, or something, had struck the doors. The worn black timbers appeared to be as old as the weather-beaten stone around them. The axe-marks, or whatever they were, seemed to be feeble scratches; they were barely deeper than the worn ravines centuries of weather had riven in the grain.

 

Affixed to the centre of the right hand door was a dragon’s head, a ring clenched in its teeth. The carved copper head was an aged patina of pale greens; the dangling ring was black. It was the black of iron which, through centuries of use, had passed beyond rust to a hand-worn shine. Susan lifted it, checked her watch, held it at a right angle to the door for a few more seconds, and let it fall onto the circular strike plate. The worn and ancient steel ring hit the battered and pitted iron disc with a clap like thunder. The door was opened instantly. A young house elf, wearing a tea-towel toga, bowed low.

 

‘You is expected, Aurors Bones and Boot,’ the house elf said, his long nose almost touching the floor. ‘The Master and his betrothed await you in the solar.’

 

He stepped aside and beckoned them into the room.

 

‘Thank you…’ Susan paused in the doorway and, as she hoped, the house elf, rather hesitantly, provided his name.

 

‘Skuttell, madam. I is called Skuttell,’ the house elf said.

 

Susan stepped through the door, following Terry into the echoing and almost empty great hall. The floor was worn stone flags, the ancient walls were unadorned, and the chandeliers simple steel circles hanging from the cross beams. The roof beams and trusses were clearly visible and undecorated. There was nothing at all fancy or ostentatious about the medieval hall. It was a solid stone box illuminated only by narrow shafts of light which cautiously crept through the tall and narrow windows. The room was not even furnished; it simply relied upon its age and height to impress visitors.

 

Skuttell led them across the hall to a set of open wooden stairs cantilevered out from the gable wall. They followed the house elf up the stairs, through an iron-bound door and along a dimly lit corridor. They passed several solid-looking doors before finally reaching the end of the corridor. The door facing them was ornately carved with Celtic knots. Skuttell knocked, entered, and bowed low.

 

‘The Aurors, Master,’ he announced, before backing from the room.

 

After the dingy corridor, Susan and Terry were dazzled by the daylight when the door was opened. As they entered the cosy, wood panelled room, they blinked in the brilliant sunlight which streamed in through the diamond pane windows along one long wall. The wood panels on the other walls were, like the door, decorated with knot work. Affixed to the large central panel above the huge fireplace was an ancient blue shield bearing a dragon’s head, surmounted by two keys and a knot, all painted in gleaming gold. The image, the Nott crest, was the one used to seal Theodore’s letter.

 

Theodore Nott sat, stiff and formal, in an overlarge and uncomfortable looking high-backed wooden chair at the far end of the room. On the chair back, above his head, the same escutcheon was carved into the wood. Pansy Parkinson was at his side. She leaned languorously against the chair, one hand on the back, above Theodore’s head. The couple wore expensive-looking robes; Theodore’s were black and formal; Pansy’s were green, form-fitting, and almost as revealing as the shirt Lavender had been wearing. Pansy Parkinson had a good figure, Susan grudgingly admitted to herself. It had always been Pansy’s best asset. Her face, however, was not as ordinary as Susan remembered. Her features were subtly changed for the better, and Susan suspected that her former classmate was using a Beautifying Potion.

 

‘Trainee Auror Bones, Trainee Auror Boot. Welcome to Pennerley Hall,’ said Theodore Nott. His emphasis on the word trainee was so subtle as to be almost imperceptible, but Pansy smirked.

 

The scene was obviously staged. Everything about it, from Theodore’s throne-like chair to Pansy’s disinterested pose was designed to create an impression of wealth and status. Despite herself, Susan was impressed. Theodore was showing them that this was his house, he was most definitely in charge, that Pansy was subservient to him, and his visitors were beneath even her. Susan wondered if Pansy realised this. Had she readily agreed to stand at his side, posed like a trophy? The two Aurors strode the length of the room.

 

‘What on earth are you wearing, Bones?’ Pansy asked contemptuously.

 

‘This is the new Auror uniform, Miss Parkinson,’ said Susan politely. ‘Muggle clothing because we often need to deal with events in the Muggle world, and if we look like them, they don’t notice us so much. That way there are less people to be Obliviated when we’re done.’

 

‘I bet that Potter’s buck-toothed Mudbl-’ Pansy began acidly.

 

‘Pansy, my dear,’ Theodore spoke sharply. She lapsed into a sullen silence.

 

Theodore Nott stood. He graciously indicated a small round table in front of the window. The four high-backed chairs around it were arranged with geometric precision.

 

‘I was about to take morning coffee,’ he said. ‘Would you care to join us, Auror Bones, Auror Boot?’

 

‘Thank you,’ said Susan.

 

‘Thanks,’ Terry added. He looked coolly at Pansy and clenched his fists with an audible cracking of knuckles. Pansy looked worriedly at him, but Theodore ignored the big man.

 

‘Coffee, please, Skampa,’ Theodore said quietly to no one in particular.

 

Theodore Nott stepped forward and crooked his arm; Pansy obediently slid her hand through it. As she watched them move, Susan realised that Pansy, like her, was in heels. Theodore was by far the smallest person in the room. Even without her heels, Pansy was taller than Nott, and Susan herself had an inch or two on Pansy. Terry dwarfed them all. As Susan contemplated the irony, she wondered what Lavender would say. Something cutting, without a doubt.

 

When Theodore pulled out a chair and ushered Pansy to her seat, Terry gave Susan a questioning look. She glared, making certain he knew that such gentlemanly behaviour from him would not be appreciated.

 

The instant they sat a second house elf, this one female, entered. The elf carried a three tiered cake stand laden with scones, cakes and biscuits; a patterned bone china coffee pot; and four matching coffee cups.

 

‘Thank you, Skampa,’ said Nott. ‘Will you pour, Pansy, my dear? Cake, anyone?’

 

‘Just tell us what you know,’ Terry grumbled.

 

The faintest creases of amusement formed at the sides of Theodore Nott’s mouth, but his thin lips did not continue into a smile. Instead, he simply raised an eyebrow.

 

‘It appears Auror Boot is already becoming impatient, Pansy. Perhaps you should tell them what you told me,’ said Theodore. He pointedly turned to face Susan. Pansy glowered at Terry.

 

‘I do hope that you won’t be angry with Pansy,’ Nott said, staring intently into Susan’s face. ‘You understand that, sometimes, otherwise law-abiding people tell less than the whole truth. Often loyalty and friendship can lead people to lie, and even to commit criminal acts such as theft, simply in order to help their friends.’

 

Susan sighed. ‘We all did some unorthodox, even regrettable, things in our final year at school,’ she said.

 

Susan looked towards Pansy. She had intended to look into the girl’s eyes but was distracted by the  artificially engorged lips and slightly lengthened nose. Susan wondered how long it took Pansy to adjust herself and what Theodore Nott thought of his fiancée’s artificial improvements to her appearance.

 

‘If there is something you forgot to tell me the last time we met, Miss Parkinson, now would be a good time to put the record straight,’ said Susan in a carefully neutral voice. ‘You told me that you had no idea who was behind Mark D’Arque Unlimited and that J. X. Parkinson and Sons, the company you now control, were sent the original deposit by owl. Is that true?’

 

‘Yes,’ said Pansy sullenly. She was carefully studying the plate of cakes in front of her and missed Susan’s surprised expression. Theodore, however, didn’t, and Susan was suddenly concerned that this was no more than an attempt by Theodore to observe how she would question a potential suspect.

 

‘So, what is it that you want to tell us?’ asked Susan.

 

Pansy glanced at Theodore, who took a sip from his coffee cup and nodded. She sighed.

 

‘I didn’t know anything about those Mark D’Arque people when the warehouse was rented,’ said Pansy sullenly. ‘Anyway, it wasn’t me who rented it to them. It was done when my father was in control of the company. But…’ Pansy took a deep breath, stared at Theodore, and continued. ‘I think it was Daphne who paid the deposit. I got an owl from her a few days after the battle. She wrote to me, asking if my father had any vacant premises in Knockturn Alley. She said that she wanted somewhere to set up a new business enterprise. I asked my father and, when he said yes, I told Daphne.’

 

‘Why didn’t you tell me this the last time I asked?’ said Susan.

 

‘I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know that it was the same building.’

 

‘My fiancée did not want to incriminate her best friend,’ said Theodore. ‘I have found something which may interest you. I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to find this, and you do not appear to appreciate my efforts.’

 

He picked up a large leather bound ledger, from which a leather bookmark dangled, and opened it to the bookmarked page.

 

‘Is this the ledger which was “lost” the last time we spoke?’ asked Susan.

 

Pansy nodded unhappily. Terry took the ledger from Theodore and began to run a finger down the page. Susan left him to it. Terry was very good with numbers.

 

‘And now it’s found,’ said Theodore. ‘I’m afraid that the Parkinson business was in something of a mess when Pansy’s father was arrested. I offered to help her with it; that’s what brought us together, isn’t it, my dear?’

 

‘Yes,’ Pansy agreed, although she sounded less than certain.

 

‘The moment we found the ledger, and discovered the truth, we realised that it was our duty as honest citizens to tell you the truth,’ said Theodore.

 

‘Greengrass wrote to you within a week of the battle.’ Terry’s voice was a deep bass, and his words were a statement, not a question.

 

‘Yes. How many times do you want me to say it!’ snapped Pansy.

 

‘And yet your father did not rent any property to her. Nevertheless, within a week of that letter, your father leased a warehouse to Mark D’Arque Unlimited, with cash received from Miss D Greengrass. Receipt her, cross-reference here.’ Terry tapped the ledger twice. ‘Did you ask her why?’

 

‘I told you,’ said Pansy, sighing and staring coldly at Terry. ‘She told me that she was setting up a new business.’

 

‘I’ve looked through the books, Boot,’ said Theodore. ‘As you have discovered, Daphne did indeed pay the deposit. She also paid the lease for the first quarter. After that, the lease was paid promptly by the tenants, MDU (Holdings). There was no reason for Pansy or her father to investigate.’

 

‘Have you spoken to Miss Greengrass about the warehouse?’ Susan asked.

 

‘I hardly ever see her,’ said Pansy sadly, glancing at Theodore. ‘We … well … it’s complicated.’

 

‘Daphne’s younger sister has taken an extreme, and most unreasonable, dislike to Pansy,’ said Theodore. ‘She makes it difficult for my fiancée to visit her old friend.’

 

‘Besides,’ said Pansy, self-importantly, ‘I am very busy at the moment. Someone has to run my father’s businesses. You have no idea what is involved in running a successful warehousing and property business.’

 

‘Storage and fencing of stolen goods, slum landlord,’ Terry observed as he continued to flick back and forth through the ledger.

 

Pansy started forwards angrily, but Theodore Nott gently placed a hand on her arm. She satisfied herself with a sneer of contempt. Susan narrowed her brows and tried to maintain a neutral expression. Terry was not the most subtle of people. While Susan often wished that he’d say more, when he did, she usually ended up wanting him to say less.

 

‘Is there anything else you “forgot to mention”, Pansy?’ asked Susan. Pansy simply looked contemptuous, and shook her head.

 

Terry gave an angry growl and rapidly flicked through the ledger. Upon reaching another page, he looked at it and gave a low throaty grumble which Susan recognised. The rather annoying noise meant that he was searching his prodigious memory for some long forgotten fact.

 

‘It would be useful if you told us everything you know,’ suggested Susan. ‘That way we won’t need to come back and bother you again.’

 

Pansy said nothing. She simply sipped her coffee. Terry closed the ledger with a loud slap and put it down on the table with enough force to rattle the china. Both Pansy and Susan jumped at the noise.

 

‘Easy on the table, please, Boot,’ requested Theodore firmly. ‘It doesn’t look like much, but it’s older than Hogwarts and worth more than you earn in a year.’

 

‘I’ll need to take this,’ said Terry, waving the heavy ledger in one hand. ‘Evidence in an ongoing Auror case. Let’s go, Susan.’

 

Terry lifted up the ledger and, ignoring Pansy’s protests, strode rapidly towards the door.

 

‘But,’ Pansy protested.

 

‘What in Merlin’s name is going on?’ demanded Theodore. His thin face was even paler than usual.

 

‘Additional evidence of the whereabouts of four people wanted by the Auror Office,’ said Terry.

 

Susan watched Theodore and Pansy carefully. Pansy was confused and, unless she was a much better actress than Susan believed, Pansy had no idea what Terry thought he’d found. Theodore, however, was no longer looking smug; he was glancing sideways at Pansy while rapidly weighing his options. Susan wasn’t convinced that this wasn’t part of some complex plan of his.

 

‘In that case, by all means take it,’ said Theodore, his mouth twitched slightly as he spoke.

 

‘We’ll get the ledger back to you as soon as we can,’ said Susan politely. ‘Please excuse us, Mr Nott, Miss Parkinson. We are, as I’m sure you appreciate, busy people.’ As she followed Terry to the door, she looked over her shoulders and caught Pansy glaring angrily at a stony-faced Theodore. When she closed the door to the solar, Susan hesitated, wondering whether to try to eavesdrop. She cocked her ear for a second, but the absolute silence from the other side made it apparent that the door was enchanted to prevent anyone from listening through it. Terry was striding rapidly ahead, so she dashed after him.

 

‘What on earth is going on, Terry?’ she demanded. He’d reached the end of the corridor before she caught him.

 

‘Wait,’ he said.

 

‘The office?’ she asked.

 

‘Listening spells,’ Terry told her firmly.

 

Despite her objections, Terry refused to say any more until they were back in the Auror Office. Even then, he insisted that they carefully check each other for any listening enchantments.

 

‘Well?’ asked Susan as she followed Terry to their desks. Dominic Strang looked up as they approached.

 

‘Where in Merlin’s name have you two been? You know that you are not supposed to go into the field unsupervised,’ Strang said. ‘Why didn’t you come and find me?’

 

‘We had to leave immediately,’ said Susan.

 

‘Good Aurors use initiative, you said,’ Terry observed. ‘We did.’

 

‘And I heard you say it to them, Dom,’ agreed Polly. ‘What you got, kids? Have you found something interesting?’

 

‘Very,’ announced Terry. He placed the ledger on his desk, opened it, and pointed to an entry. Sighing, Auror Strang stood and joined them. Susan stood alongside Terry and followed his finger. To her, the numbers were an almost meaningless jumble.

 

‘Warehouse rental information. Deposit, lease, payments,’ said Terry. ‘Daphne Greengrass paid the original deposit, and the first three months’ lease.’

 

‘Well done, kids,’ said Polly, strolling over to join them. Auror Webb, suddenly interested, also stood and shambled over to look at the ledger.

 

‘More,’ said Terry. He flicked to another page. ‘Receipt for the initial deposit and rent payment. Three months in advance.’ He pointed to a column of figures on another page.

 

‘What’s so important about that?’ asked Dominic Strang.

 

‘I don’t understand, either,’ said Polly. ‘You’ve got proof of payment on the first page; all this does is confirm it.’

 

Auror Webb sighed. It was the sigh of a man who has said “I told you so” far too many times, and could no longer be bothered to express the sentiment. ‘No it doesn’t, it tells us a lot more,’ Webb announced. ‘Well spotted, Terry. Look again, Protheroe, the receipt is for more than the deposit and rent combined. She overpaid. I wonder…’

 

Terry caught the elderly Auror’s eye, flicked further through the ledger and pointed to another page.

 

Auror Webb gave a gleeful barking laugh. ‘I’ve been telling Robards for years that we need to pay more attention to the money. He never listened,’ he announced. ‘Perhaps he’ll listen to you, or Harry.’

 

‘What have you found, Terry?’ asked Susan, trying to make sense of the numbers.

 

‘Ninety-seven Knockturn Alley, flat thirteen,’ said Terry, pointing to one of a very long list of addresses. ‘Daphne Greengrass overpaid the Parkinsons for the warehouse. The extra money was a deposit for this place. Somebody was trying to hide the second transaction within the accounts, but they didn’t do a very good job. Address sounds familiar.’ Terry’s contemplations were interrupted by Polly Protheroe.

 

‘It certainly does,’ said the dreadlocked Auror. ‘Accio Flint file.’

 

The drawer of a filing cabinet on the opposite side of the room flew open and an orange folder hurled itself across the room. Polly snatched the folder from the air. The others watched as, after flicking her tumbling dreadlocks from in front of her eyes, she pulled out the front sheet.

 

‘I may not follow the numbers, Webb, but I’m not stupid,’ she announced. ‘I knew I remembered that address!’ She pointed at the front sheet. ‘It’s the last known residence of Marcus Flint!’

 

Dominic Strang whistled. ‘Now that’s a heck of a coincidence.’

 

Terry flicked back through the ledger. ‘According to this, Daphne Greengrass is still paying the rent, but the current tenants are a Mr and Mrs Buckinghamshire.’

 

‘There’s a town in Buckinghamshire called Bletchley,’ said Auror Webb quietly.

 

‘Pansy and Nott know that we have this. They might be warning Daphne right now,’ said Susan. ‘We should go and speak to her.’

 

‘She’s an accessory,’ said Dominic. ‘She’s implicated, but she’s not our first priority. We can tie two of the four people associated with Mark D’Arque, Flint and Bletchley to this Knockturn Alley address. We need to go there. They might still be there.’

 

‘I’ll come with you,’ offered Polly.

 

‘So will I,’ added Auror Webb, as the door to the Auror Office opened.

 

‘What on earth are you lot up to?’ a voice called from across the office.

 

Susan looked up and saw the plump, matronly figure of Auror Phillipa Fortescue staring across at them.

 

Dominic Strang hastily explained what they had discovered. ‘I’m taking this lot to Knockturn Alley, Phillipa,’ said Dominic. ‘Come on, there’s no time to waste.’ He made his way towards the exit, followed by Polly Protheroe and Auror Webb. Terry and Susan glanced at each other and dashed after the three Aurors.

 

‘Look after this for us,’ said Polly, throwing the mirror towards Phillipa. The plump Auror caught it with an easy grace which was at odds with her appearance. ‘You’re now officially in charge of organising the capture of Lestrange, Pippa. Assuming the werewolves deign to tell us when he arrives,’ added Polly.

 

‘Don’t worry, Phillipa,’ said Auror Webb. ‘I’ll keep an eye on this lot.’

 

‘But who will keep an eye on you, Aloysius,’ said Phillipa quietly, shaking her head.

 

Susan, who was the last to leave, smiled resignedly at Auror Fortescue as she followed the others from the room. Suddenly, she and Terry had been relegated to the back of the line. They had made the initial discovery, but now they were simply tagging along as their supervisor and two other more senior Aurors took control.

 

‘Good luck, Susan, Terry,’ said Phillipa. ‘Keep an eye on them all. Dominic sometimes acts too quickly, Al sometimes acts too slowly, Polly is much too fond of blowing things up.’

 

The three Aurors, followed by Susan and Terry, took the Floo Network from the Ministry to the Leaky Cauldron and strode out into Diagon Alley. When they turned into Knockturn Alley, Dominic Strang and Polly Protheroe pulled out their wands and took the lead. Aloysius Webb stepped aside, ushered Susan and Terry in front of him, and took up a rearguard position.

 

The street was quiet, and it became quieter as the Auror’s moved further down it. The locals recognised the Auror uniforms, and hurried indoors. Susan watched people scurrying away as they continued down the street. She could feel the pressure of dozens of eyes on her back as they made their way to number ninety-seven.

 

The dilapidated tenement was at the furthest end of Knockturn Alley, only a few yards from the turning into Knowe Place. This end of the street was even more dingy than the Diagon Alley end. The neglected properties were crowded together; they were so closely packed that the sun could not reach the cobbled street unless it was directly overhead.

 

Susan and Terry followed Dominic and Polly down a narrow and dark-shadowed side passage. They knew that they were in the right place because the number ninety-seven had been wand-burned on the battered door.

 

Scorched paintwork and a splintered jamb indicated the door had been blasted off its hinges more than once. It had been magically repaired, but not well. Dominic motioned for silence and cautiously pushed the door open. He led them into a dank hallway. They climbed cautiously up four creaking flights of stairs. As they climbed, they passed several doors, each bearing a roughly painted number. The final set of stairs ended at a tiny landing on which there was only one door. The number, badly painted in red paint, was thirteen.

 

Dominic motioned them to a halt and cautiously ran his wand over the door, checking it for traps. Behind him, Polly checked to see if the place was occupied.

 

‘The place isn’t trapped,’ whispered Dominic.

 

‘And there’s no one home,’ announced Polly, noticeably less quietly.

 

With a wave of his wand, Dominic opened the door, and they moved warily into the tiny flat.

 

It was no more than one large room, and it was almost bare of furniture. Built in the roof space, apart from a single dormer window directly ahead, the sloping ceiling reached almost to the floor. In the centre of the gable wall to their right was a large bed. Ahead, in the window space, there were a couple of iron-bound trunks. To the left of the door was a small dining table and, in an alcove beyond, were a sink, a stove and an old-fashioned kitchen cabinet.

 

While Dominic and Polly moved to examine the chests, Susan moved into the alcove. Terry followed her, and they checked the cabinet for traps. Glancing at each other, they nodded in agreement. It was safe. Susan cautiously pulled open one of the doors. Inside were two crates, one containing a dozen bottles of Harpies Extra-Energy Pumpkin Juice; the other, the same quantity of Butterknowle’s Best Butterbeer.

 

Susan peered curiously at the crates. Every bottle of pumpkin juice had an extra label fastened around the neck. Half read “safe” the other half read “for Ginny”. Worried, she checked the Butterbeer. They were similarly labelled, except while half were marked safe, the remainder were marked, “for Linny”. Susan checked the labels carefully, making certain that she hadn’t misread either of them. They were written in the same hand, she realised. She was almost certain that they were meant for two different people. The writing was neat; it wasn’t possible that the L was a badly written G, or vice versa.

 

‘What do you make of these, Terry?’ she asked her companion. Terry hastily motioned her into silence.

 

‘Someone’s coming,’ he mouthed. She heard the stairs creak, and peered out from the alcove into the main part of the room. The three Aurors were all watching the door, their wands ready. She drew her own wand and prepared herself for combat.

 

As she watched, the door began to move. From where she stood, she could see the hand which was pushing the door open. It was a left hand, and it was missing three fingers.

 

The moment the door was opened far enough, Dominic Strang shouted, ‘Stupefy.’



Chapter 16: Prey: Welsh Green and Hebridean Black
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16: Prey: Welsh Green and Hebridean Black

 

Under-Bailiff Mark Moon stepped out from the flaring green flames and into a light and airy atrium.

 

Directly ahead of him a dragon, a Common Welsh Green, was suspended motionless in midair. It was a carving, Mark knew that from the newspaper articles, but the creature was extremely realistic. Just for an instant, as he stepped out from the Floo connection, he panicked.

 

A wide chandelier-like wooden ring was suspended from three silver chains in the creature’s mouth. The ring rotated slowly allowing Mark read the message inscribed on it: Office – Swyddfa Cymraeg – Welsh Office – Swyddfa. He was in the right place, not that there was any doubt about that. The building was almost brand new and had been the subject of numerous newspaper reports and magazine articles. He glanced over his shoulder at the huge fireplace behind him. It was an enormous edifice of grey welsh slate set into a wall of pale oak.

 

Two years earlier, more than fifty witches and wizards, all wanted for questioning by the Muggle-born Registration Commission, had escaped from the Welsh Office cells. Convinced that it was an inside job, Minister Thicknesse had insisted that the Welsh Office be razed to the ground and that all administration be moved to London.

 

Of the many decisions Pius Thicknesse made, that one was the most foolish. It increased the anti-London, and anti-Voldemort, sentiments in the Principality of Wales. In one move, the Minister had managed to alienate an entire nation. Even the few Welsh Purebloods who would likely have been sympathetic to Voldemort’s cause had been turned against Thicknesse’s regime by the Minister’s heavy-handed approach.

 

After the battle the new Minister, Kingsley Shacklebolt, had made it a priority to ensure that the Welsh Office was rebuilt, and that the powers centralised by Thicknesse were devolved back to the Principality. Minister Shacklebolt had alienated Pureblood traditionalists by supporting a new, modern design. The building was a symbol of hope, openness, and progress. It was entirely different to the Ministry building in London and to the dark and Victorian splendour of the Scottish Office. The Welsh Office was now the most modern ministry building in Britain.

 

Mark looked around. To his left, and directly ahead, the wall was huge sheets of elegantly curving glass. The view through the windows was a panorama of Cardiff Bay and of Carntexp Lane, the magically hidden street which housed most of Wales’ largest magical shops and businesses. To his right was a five storey high wall, faced with Welsh oak. The four upper floors were served by a sweeping staircase and a pair of glass lifts. The long curving desk in front of the wall was also oak. A log floated in midair above the desk. On it the words: Reception – Dderbynfa were carved. Mark realised that every sign in the place was going to be written in both English and Welsh.

 

The building was so neat and clean that Mark felt the need to check his uniform robes for any marks or dirt. Assuring himself that they were immaculate, he walked to the reception desk. Immediately behind the desk were wide stairs leading up to the lowest of four balconies. Next to the stairs were a set of double doors marked Staff Only. The girl who looked up at him was curly-haired and dark-eyed. He watched as she recognised his uniform, noted the slight difference in the collar of his robes, and realised that he was not a local law officer.

 

‘Good morning, Bailiff,’ she said cheerfully, her voice a musical lilt. ‘I knew you weren’t local but, from your uniform, you’re not from the Mercia Sheriff’s Office either. What can we be doing for you?’

 

As he walked towards her, she gazed up into his face and smiled. ‘You’re tall, aren’t you?’ she added.

 

‘I try tae be, Cara,’ said Mark, reading her name from the badge she wore. ‘My boss says I should look imposing. I’m from the Scottish Office,’ he added. He reached into his pocket for his Law Office warrant card, discovered that the lining was frayed, and struggled to pull it free. With a far from fluid gesture, he opened the leather wallet and held it up.

 

‘What brings you to Cardiff on this fine morning, Under-Bailiff Mark Moon, of the Scottish Law Office?’ she asked as she checked his official identification under her security sensor.

 

‘I need tae speak tae someone in your Sheriff’s department about the execution of a search warrant,’ he told her. ‘I have a copy of the warrant with me. It’s all authorised, but the High Sheriff of Scotland disnae want us tae tread on any toes. I’m here tae let your people know that we’re working within your jurisdiction.’

 

‘That’s good of you,’ Cara gave him a broad smile. ‘Usually, when the High Sheriff of Mercia wanders across the border, the first we know of it is when he tells us, a week later, what he’s done,’ she said. She pulled out a Visitor Card, picked up a quill, and tapped it on the card. The quill stood expectantly upright, waiting to write. ‘Please state your name clearly,’ she said.

 

‘Mark Moon,’ he said.

 

The quill neatly wrote his name on the badge. Cara picked up the badge and, with a wave of her wand, attached it to his chest.

 

‘Magical Law Enforcement is on this floor. If you take the door directly behind me, their office is through the third door on the left. You can’t miss it. And please don’t take off your visitor badge. If you do, it will set off our alarms.’

 

‘Thanks very much, Cara,’ said Mark. The girl smiled again; it was a sunny, and very friendly smile, and a moment of madness struck him. He’d probably never be here again. ‘Cardiff looks like a nice place. I’m off work tomorrow; would you like to show me around?’

 

She looked him up and down and gave a tinkling laugh. ‘Why not? I’ll see you outside the office at noon, Mark Moon from the Scottish Office.’

 

‘Great,’ said Mark, surprised by both his boldness and the fact that it had paid off. ‘See you tomorrow, Cara. Bye.’

 

‘Not bye, wela i chi, Mark!’ she said.

 

‘Wela i chi, Cara!’ he said, despite not knowing what the words meant.

 

His heart still beating rapidly, he pulled open the door, strode along the corridor, and entered the Law Office. Like the rest of the building, it was new and very bright. There was no dark wood anywhere. The walls were a pale green, and the furniture was oak, buff leather and shining steel.

 

Most of the desks were empty. A dark-haired man, the top of whose head didn’t reach Mark’s shoulder, was walking towards him. The man, a local bailiff by his uniform robes, offered his hand.

 

‘Bailiff Moon,’ the man said. ‘I’m Bailiff Rhys Owen, call me Rhys. Cara tells me that you’re here to see the Sheriff, isn’t it?’

 

Mark stretched out his long and slender hand to Bailiff Owen. It was grabbed and firmly shaken.

 

‘It’s Mark, Rhys,’ said Mark. ‘I’ve a warrant to search a property on the island of Anglesey and written permission from two of the three occupants to search it,’ Mark explained. ‘But my Sheriff doesn’t like it when the English cross the border without telling him, so he sent me tae let your boss know what’s happening.’

 

Anglesey?’ asked Rhys excitedly. ‘This will be about those three Harpies players you have in your cells, I’m expecting. You’d best let the sheriff know. She’s from Gwynedd, look you, so try to remember that it’s Ynys Môn, and not Anglesey.’

 

‘Ynys Môn,’ Mark repeated the name carefully, and Rhys nodded approvingly. ‘Are you a Harpies fan?’ Mark added, suddenly worried that the local Law Office might be unwilling to help.

 

‘I am, yes, but don’t worry about that. There’s not much I can do about the fact that you’ve got two of my team’s star players in your cells, is there? Although, the way they’ve been playing lately, you’re probably doing us a favour locking them up. Quidditch, getting drunk, and partying doesn’t really mix.’ Rhys gave a resigned shrug which was so heartfelt his shoulders became a tidal wave of despondency. ‘Anyway, the Sheriff follows the Catapults, so no matter what I think, she’ll probably be hoping that you’re going to be locking them up, at least until after the game in Caerphilly.’ Rhys stopped and stared up at Mark. ‘Are you?’ he asked.

 

Mark shrugged. ‘No idea. Auror Potter thinks that someone has been spiking their drinks, but…’

 

‘So, Potter’s with them, is he?’ asked Rhys eagerly. ‘The papers said he’d split up with Weasley and arrested her in revenge.’

 

‘He arrested her because she hexed my boss,’ said Mark. ‘I was there.’

 

‘You’ve met him, then? Potter? Arrest her, did he? Split up, have they really?’ Rhys pressed. ‘Half the blokes here would like a shot at her, if she’s single, but…’

 

‘Aye, I’ve met him, and her. And the last time I saw them, she was sitting on his knee,’ said Mark, smiling down at the excited Welshman.

 

Rhys grinned. ‘Well, that’s that, then,’ he said. ‘You’ve been having a busy time, I’m suspecting.’

 

‘Aye, oor office is full. Potter, and most of his friends, arrived in the middle o’ the night, and we’re besieged by reporters and photographers. They even took loads of photos of me, and all I did was help some daft wee blonde lassie though the crowds and intae oor office.’

 

They reached a glass door in which was etched: Dyddgu Phillips (Sheriff/Siryf). Mark looked at the forename in astonishment, and hoped he wouldn’t have to pronounce it. Rhys knocked once, pushed it open, and said, ‘This is Mark Moon, of the Scottish Office, Siryf. Come to let you know about a search warrant, hasn’t he?’

 

<hr>

 

Fifteen minutes later, Mark and Rhys Apparated into the grounds of the large apartment block where the three Quidditch players lived. Mark looked up at the apartment block in surprise. It was a modern and obviously Muggle building. The white-painted structure was at least ten stories high and it overlooked the Menai Straight, the narrow band of water which separated Ynys Môn from the Welsh mainland.

 

Sheriff Campbell was waiting for them. He stepped out from the trees, accompanied by three other Bailiffs. One was Mark’s regular partner, grey-haired Heather Huddleston. The others were a fair-haired man, who was both burly and almost as tall as Mark, and a dark haired middle-aged woman.

 

‘Mark,’ was the only word of greeting the Sheriff said. When he spoke, his eyes were on Rhys.

 

‘This is Bailiff Rhys Owen of the Welsh Office, Sheriff,’ Mark told Hamish Campbell.

 

‘Siryf Phillips asked me to thank you for letting her know what you were doing, sir,’ said Rhys. ‘I’m here to observe.’

 

‘Owen.’ The Sheriff nodded a terse greeting to the stocky young Welshman. ‘These are Bailiffs Erasmuson…’ he indicated the burly fair-haired man, ‘Huddleston, and Kilgour. We’re simply here to search the place for evidence.’

 

‘Yes, sir,’ said Rhys.

 

‘Why dae these kids live amang the Muggles?’ Erasmuson grumbled, glaring up in irritation at the large building.

 

‘Livy Aitkenhead’s Muggleborn,’ said Rhys firmly. From their short conversation, Mark had already recognised the signs of a Quidditch fanatic in the burly little Welshman. Rhys spoke with the authority of a man who could probably quote the Australian Seeker’s Snitch-catch percentage, height, weight, and birthdate.

 

‘This isnae the Highlands, Erasmuson,’ said Heather Huddleston, smiling.

 

‘I live among the Muggles, too,’ said Mark. ‘My flat is in the middle of Edinburgh.’

 

‘Aye, well, if ye’re the expert on Muggle houses, then ye can lead the way, Mark,’ the Sheriff said.

 

Mark nodded, and strode across the car park. The entrance, a single glass door under a white concrete canopy, was in the centre of a long wall of glass. As they approached, Mark examined it closely. There was some form of electronic swipe key on it rather than a mechanical lock. The strangeness of the mechanism might worry some older wizards, but Mark knew that the type of key really didn’t matter; it was merely a Muggle lock. All that mattered was his intention to open it.

 

Mark pulled out his wand as he approached. ‘Alohomora,’ he said firmly. The door swung open, and he led the way into the foyer.

 

The bland, white-walled room wasn’t large. To the right was the steel door of a lift, to the left was a wooden door with the word “Stairs” written above it. Between the lift and stairs, the only colour in the otherwise plain white room was a peculiar painting of the type Muggles preferred to hang in public places. It wasn’t a portrait, a landscape, or even a still life; it was no more than a few random blocks of colour.

 

The Sheriff pulled out a slip of parchment and checked the address. ‘Third floor,’ he announced.

 

Mark pressed the button and the lift door opened. The lift was tiny; it was big enough for four people, five at a pinch, but certainly not six.

 

‘You two are young and fit,’ said Sheriff Campbell nodding to Mark and Rhys. ‘You can take the stairs. And be sure to use Disillusionment Charms. I’d rather not have tae call out the Obliviators. The rest of you, come with me.’

 

Erasmuson, Kilgour and Huddleston stepped into the lift. The Sheriff followed them and pressed the button. Mark hastily Disillusioned himself. Rhys grabbed hold of Mark’s upper arm and did the same.

 

‘We don’t want to bump into each other on the stairs,’ said Rhys quietly. ‘You take the lead, Mark.’

 

‘Aye,’ Mark whispered. He pulled open the door and led the burly Welshman up the enclosed stairs.

 

They had reached the first floor landing and were beginning the ascent to the second floor when Mark heard voices.

 

‘Bloody hell, that was close.’ The man’s voice was quiet, but it carried clearly down the stairwell.

 

‘Who were they?’ a female voice asked.

 

The man gave a cynical, barking laugh. ‘You’ve led a sheltered life, Daff,’ he said. ‘Law Office Bailiffs; obvious from the uniforms.’

 

The footsteps echoed around the stairwell. There were two people, and they were approaching rapidly. Mark halted halfway up the flight of stairs. Rhys came to a halt alongside him and silently squeezed Mark’s arm. It was a gesture which Mark assumed meant that Rhys, too, had heard the approaching voices. Mark reached for his wand, but not quickly enough. Suddenly there was a thump, a grunt, and a clattering noise alongside him.

 

Mark felt Rhys release him and heard two male voices. One of them belonged to the Welsh Bailiff, the other to the man he’d heard approaching, and both were cursing as they tumbled down the stairs and onto the landing.

 

‘Miles!’ a woman shrieked at the top of her voice.

 

Mark was almost deafened by the noise; it was emanating from a point right next to him. Realising that the mysterious couple were also invisible, Mark reached out an arm. He grabbed a handful of cloth and felt soft yielding flesh beneath it. The woman screamed and struck out at him. Her slap was an ineffectual glancing blow against his arm. Nevertheless, Mark’s sudden, embarrassed realisation as to which part of her invisible anatomy he’d grabbed made him momentarily loosen his grip.

 

As the woman desperately tried to escape, Mark’s fumbling fingers closed around a flapping piece of cloth. He grabbed it tightly and pulled. As he did so, it ripped. Mark yanked as hard as he could and the ripped garment fell from the woman’s shoulders. It was an invisibility cloak, and as he pulled it from her, Mark found himself face to face with a tall, fair-haired, rather horse-faced young woman. As Mark stared into her startled face, the woman reached desperately for the remains of the cloak. As she did so, a Stunning Spell flared red from the landing. It stopped only inches from where it had started.

 

‘I think I got him,’ the man shouted. ‘Just leave the bloody cloak, Daff, we’ve got to scarper. Now!’

 

‘There’s two of them,’ she shouted. ‘He’s got my cloak.’

 

The man immediately fired a Stunning Spell past the girl, missing Mark by no more than an inch. Mark ducked, dropped the torn invisibility cloak which the man had targeted, and pushed himself against the wall in order to avoid being hit. Trying to remain silent, Mark drew his wand. As he did so, he took a long, assessing look at the girl. She wore robes of good quality, and she was carrying a bulging shoulder bag. As the girl scampered down the stairs, her companion continued to provide covering spell-fire. Mark was forced backwards to avoid the spells.

 

When she reached the landing, the girl stumbled over Rhys’ prostrate body. The burly little Welshman was slowly becoming visible, proving that he had indeed been stunned.

 

Her companion had stopped firing off spells and had fallen silent. Mark had no idea where the man was, so he aimed for the stumbling girl. His spell, too, missed, because she didn’t fall as he expected. She was caught in mid-fall, hauled into the air, and carried around the corner by his unseen opponent.

 

Mark followed quickly behind them but was met by a barrage of stunning spells being fired up the stairwell at him. The moment the spells stopped, he followed; but by then, he was an entire flight of stairs behind them.

 

There was a clattering sound from above, and Mark knew that, behind him, someone else was rapidly descending the stairs. For a second, he hesitated, but he recognised the loudly cursing male voice as that of Bailiff Olaf Erasmuson. Realising that his fellow Bailiffs were on the way, he dashed down the stairs after the fleeing duo.

 

Mark turned the final corner just in time to see the door into the foyer slam shut. Leaping the last flight from top to bottom, he charged through the door and burst out into the entrance hall an instant after the lift door opened.

 

He expected to be targeted. However, upon hearing the ring of the lift door, the girl and her companion had both turned and blasted the lift with Stunning Spells. Mark was just in time to see Heather Huddleston fall out through the door.

 

Incensed, Mark shouted, ‘Stupefy,’ at his only visible target. His anger appeared to increase the power of his spell, and the bright red beam of the spell knocked the girl from her feet and sent her flying through the air. She hit the full length window next to the door, shattering it. Her unconscious form tumbled out onto the pavement in a glittering shower of glass shards. The bag she’d been carrying fell from her shoulder, bounced off the adjacent window, and landed on the floor alongside the broken pane.

 

It had all happened in an instant. Realising that his invisible opponent would target the spot his spell had come from, Mark dived to one side. He moved just in time.

 

Reducto,’ the man yelled, blasting the spot where Mark had been standing. The blast sent plaster, and the odd painting, flying across the room. When the painting landed on him, Mark knew that he would again have to move quickly. He rolled aside and the painting, which would have given away his position, fell to the floor.

 

The spell he’d been expecting didn’t come. Instead, the girl was lifted into the air and, before Mark could get a clear shot, the duo Disapparated. Mark struggled to his feet and removed his Disillusionment charm. He was still cursing as the Sheriff ran into the small foyer from the bottom of the stairs.

 

Repello Muggletum,’ Sheriff Hamish Campbell shouted. ‘What in Merlin’s name just happened, Mark?’

 

‘Sorry, sir,’ said Mark. ‘There were two of them, one male and one female, both invisible. They were coming down the stairs as we were going up. We didn’t see them, and they didn’t see us. They ran into us. Then the man stunned Rhys. I managed to grab the woman’s cloak, so I got a good look at her. I followed them down here and managed to stun the woman, but he grabbed her and Disapparated with her the moment they left the building’

 

Bailiff Erasmuson silently repaired the window and reached down for the bag. ‘Whit’s this?’ he asked.

 

‘The woman dropped that bag when I stunned her,’ Mark added.

 

‘She did, did she?’ said the Sheriff gruffly as he moved across to the lift and leaned against the door, preventing it from opening and closing on the unconscious Bailiff Huddleston. ‘Hang onto it, Erasmuson. Did ye see who hit Heather, Mark?’

 

‘Both of them,’ said Mark. ‘Like I said, I stunned the woman, but he was invisible and I missed.’

 

‘Aye, well, I know from experience how hard it is to hit an invisible opponent,’ said the Sheriff, raising his maimed left hand. ‘And they’re gone now. I don’t expect they’ll be back. Kilgour, give me a hand with Heather. Erasmuson, go with Mark and collect the wee Welsh laddie. We’ll go to the flat and take a look around; there’s no point in wasting this warrant. We can see what they’ve left us in this bag, as weel.’

 

Mark nodded and moved to carry out his orders. Muttering under his breath, Erasmuson followed.

 

‘Jings, the wee fella’s heavier than ye’d think,’ said Erasmuson as they toiled up the stairs with Rhys between them.

 

When Erasmuson and Mark finally struggled into the flat with Rhys, Erasmuson released him, leaving Mark to struggle into the living room and deposit the still stunned Welshman on one of the easy chairs. Heather had been laid carefully on the sofa.

 

Mark looked around the living room. The place was in a state of chaos; drawers had been tipped onto the floor and the contents were scattered everywhere.

 

‘Merlin, what a mess,’ said Mark

 

‘Aye, the Sheriff said grimly. ‘The place has been turned over guid an’ proper. All three bedrooms are in the same state. I don’t know how they got in, because there were a lot of very sophisticated security spells on the place.’

 

Hamish paused and pushed aside a large book; there was nothing underneath it, so he continued. ‘It’s only to be expected if your boyfriend is an Auror, I suppose. The door is a remarkable piece of work, magically reinforced and with a custom magic lock. If Miss Weasley hadnae given us a key, we’d hae had difficulty getting in. I don’t see how those two could possibly hae got through it.’

 

‘They had a key as weel,’ said Erasmuson. He had been rifling through the dropped bag and held up a key. The Sheriff strode across and made a swift comparison. The two keys were identical.

 

‘What else is in there, Erasmuson?’ Campbell asked.

 

‘A few bottles of Harpies Extra-energy Pumpkin Juice and a few bottles of Bangor Brewery’s Best Butterbeer, nothing else. No, wait, there’s a side pocket here, and there’s a letter inside it.’ Erasmuson pulled out the parchment and unfolded it.

 

‘It’s addressed to Daphne Greengrass, Flat 13, 97 Knockturn Alley,’ said Erasmuson. ‘And it’s dated this morning.’ He read the letter aloud.

 

Daphne,

 

Your friends left far too much behind at the warehouse. The Aurors are involved, and Longbottom isn’t the fool your friends think he is. You should know that. I suggest you forget this half-baked plan. Relying on a single Beater to feed Weasley the potion was never going to work.

 

I’m certain that you will have handled some of the Weasley and Baker bottles. Potter has begun to insist that his people check evidence for fingerprints, so if you have touched them, you could be in trouble. I know that you think that Muggles are useless, but they can teach us a lot, and Potter knows it.

 

If I were you, I’d clear up the evidence and hide.

 

A Friend.

 

‘Perhaps we’ll get some fingerprints,’ Mark suggested.

 

‘Fingerprints?’ Bailiff Kilgour asked.

 

Mark sighed and held up his hands. ‘The lines on your fingertips are fingerprints, and everybody’s are different. My mum’s a Muggle, and she’s a big fan of television cop-shows. Auror Potter is right; the Muggle police can identify people by the prints they leave. If I were you I wouldn’t touch the bottles, Olaf.’

 

‘Daphne Greengrass,’ the Sheriff pondered the name. ‘I wonder if our burglars stole this letter, or if it was in her bag because it’s hers.’

 

‘The girl I saw on the stairs, sir,’ said Mark. ‘The man called her Daff.’

 

‘He did, did he?’ The Sheriff’s eyes blazed. ‘Well, that’s enough for me to assume that she was Daphne Greengrass, or someone Miss Greengrass knows. We certainly know enough to pay this young woman a visit, and she’s kindly left us her address.’

 

Rhys groaned and opened his eyes. ‘Did you catch them?’ he asked. When Mark shook his head the young Bailiff cursed.

 

‘Kilgour, tell him what we’ve just found.’ Sheriff Campbell ordered. ‘Bailiff Owen, once you know what’s going on, I want you to inform your Sheriff. Tell her that she’s got a burglary to investigate, but ye’d best warn her to be very careful because Potter and the Aurors will be crawling all over this place the moment I tell them what we’ve found. In fact, it might be best if she contacts the Aurors herself.’

 

‘Yes, sir,’ said Rhys.

 

The Sheriff turned back to Bailiff Kilgour. ‘After you’ve explained everything to Owen, I want you to stay here with Heather. Guard the place, don’t touch anything, and don’t move anything.’

 

‘But, Sheriff…’ Kilgour began to protest.

 

‘Somebody has to stay,’ said Hamish firmly. ‘And I’m certain that there’s more going on here than a simple burglary. Nothing leaves the place, nothing at all! Understand?’

 

‘Yes, sir,’ Kilgour shrugged in resignation.

 

The Sheriff replaced the letter and the key in the bag. ‘Moon, Erasmuson, we’re away to Knockturn Alley. Follow me.’

 

<hr>

 

‘Keep yer eyes open,’ the Sheriff ordered as he led the two Bailiffs off Diagon Alley and down the grimy side street. ‘And watch for the house numbers.’

 

They had travelled some distance down the silently watching street before anyone acknowledged their presence.

 

‘You ain’t local law,’ someone shouted from a shadowy doorway as they strode down the street.

 

‘Ach, awa an bile yer heid, ya numpty,’ Erasmuson yelled back.

 

Mark looked at Erasmuson, and then at the onlookers. It was obvious that none of them had any idea what Erasmuson had just said. However, his angry shout had certainly quietened them down.

 

‘Ninety-seven,’ Mark called a few moments later. He pointed to the shabby door.

 

‘Right,’ said the Sheriff. ‘There’s an anti-Apparition jinx over the entire area, so if they’re in there, they can’t escape. Follow me, and keep the noise down.

 

Hamish led them into a dingy and damp-smelling hallway and slowly up four flights of stairs. The Sheriff was moving quietly, and placing his feet on the edge of the stairs to reduce creaking. As they continued upwards, they passed several other flats. When they reached the final landing he signalled them to halt.

 

Using his left forefinger, the only complete finger on that hand, the Sheriff pointed up the narrow staircase at the door on which the number thirteen had been roughly scrawled in red paint. The door was slightly ajar and, with a fierce grimace and a finger to his lips, Hamish silently reinforced the need for silence. Mark, who was bringing up the rear, was certain he’d caught a snatch of conversation coming from the room.

 

They moved slowly and were almost at the top when one of the stairs creaked. Erasmuson looked accusingly back at Mark, although Mark was certain that Erasmuson himself had been responsible. If there had been voices, they’d fallen silent.

 

After a disdainful look over his shoulder, the Sheriff continued up the stairs and began to push the door open. He’d only moved the door an inch when, without warning, he was hit by a Stunning Spell.

 

As the Sheriff tumbled down the stairs, Erasmuson stepped aside. Mark, however, reached down and prevented his boss from falling further. Grabbing the unconscious Sheriff, he hauled him around until he was lying halfway down the stairs. Before Mark had straightened up, his colleague had loosed a spell of his own.

 

‘<i>Confringo</i>,’ bellowed Erasmuson. The door was blasted open, and the ensuing explosion made the entire building shake.

 

‘We’re the laa, ye scunners. Yooz hae hexed a Sheriff! Ye’d best geis yer wands afore we get proper malky,’ Erasmuson shouted angrily.

 

In the silence following the explosion, someone in the room spoke.

 

‘Was that English?’ The female voice which asked the question spoke crisply and precisely.

 

From where he stood, Mark could see only a small part of the room. There was no one visible; all he could see was the broken and smouldering remains of a bed.

 

‘We’re Bailiffs from the Scottish Law Office,’ Mark called, deciding that Erasmuson’s thick accent wasn’t helping matters. ‘Daphne Greengrass, we’d like to speak tae ye about an assault on two Law Officers, and the burglary of a property on the island of Anglesea. Ye cannot escape.’

 

‘Shit,’ a female voice said. But the tone wasn’t “Oh, no, we’re trapped”, it was closer to, “Oh, no, what a mess”. Mark thought the voice was coarser than the one he’d first heard. There seemed to be two females in the room. ‘Polly Protheroe, Auror Office,’ the woman continued. ‘You’ve just used a blasting curse on an Auror.’

 

‘Ye fired first, and ye hexed our Sheriff,’ Mark said.

 

‘And why shed we believe ye, ye scunners?’ Erasmuson asked. ‘Show yersels.’

 

‘This place is the last known address of Marcus Flint, who is wanted by the Auror Office. Why should we believe you?’ the woman asked in reply.

 

‘Oh, for goodness sake, Polly,’ the second woman said. There was the sound of movement from inside; a hand appeared around the blasted door, and a small folded leather wallet was thrown out onto the landing. ‘That’s my Warrant. Auror Warrant number nine eight slash double zero two one—Susan Bones

 

Keeping a watchful eye on the door, and with his wand clenched tightly in his right hand, Mark reached forward with his left, grabbed the wallet, and opened it.

 

‘Trainee Auror Susan Bones,’ Mark said, showing the card to Erasmuson. Worryingly, he recognised the surname. Amelia Bones had been Head of Department when he’d joined the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.

 

‘Ach, pish,’ said Erasmuson, then he gave a suspicious glower. ‘They might have stolen it.’

 

‘You managed to knock one of our colleagues out with that Blasting Curse,’ the woman said accusingly. ‘Fortunately, he’s not badly hurt.’

 

‘Aye, well, like I say, ye stunned oor Sheriff, first,’ said Erasmuson angrily. He clenched his fists so tightly that Mark could see the knuckles whitening.

 

Mark motioned Erasmuson into silence. ‘I’m coming in,’ Mark said loudly. ‘Don’t fire.’

 

As he fumbled in his frayed pocket for his own identity card with his left hand, Mark struggled to keep hold of Auror Bones’ card. Finally, he gave up and simply dropped her card into his pocket, making the job a great deal easier. Keeping his wand firmly in his hand, Mark stepped onto the landing. ‘Cover me, just in case,’ he whispered to Erasmuson. The burly highlander nodded, flattened himself against the wall, and pointed his wand at the doorway.

 

Mark pushed open the door and stepped inside, holding out his own identity card. A slender blonde whose hair was tied into a tight bun stepped forwards. She quickly examined his Law Office identity card, waving her wand across it.

 

‘It’s genuine,’ she announced.

 

Mark looked around the room. The girl had three companions, all of whom were pointing wands at him. Like Harry Potter, all wore the new Muggle friendly Auror uniforms. The second woman wore her black hair in dreadlocks. One of the men was gray-haired and rather sour-faced; the other was young, burly, big-eared, and as tall as Mark. A third man lay unconscious on the floor, alongside the blasted remains of the bed.

 

‘It was Strang who stunned your Sheriff,’ said the dreadlocked woman, indicating the unconscious man. ‘I’m Protheroe, warrant ninety slash double zero one five. This is Susan Bones, Terry Boot, and Al Webb.’

 

‘It’s okay, Olaf,’ Mark called.

 

‘Ach, pish,’ said Erasmuson as he dragged the unconscious Sheriff upstairs and into the room.

 

‘You said that you’re from the Scottish Law Office, and that you’re here because of a burglary in Anglesea,’ Auror Webb observed. ‘Care to explain why three Scots Law Officers went to Wales, and then came to London.’

 

‘Auror Potter…’ Mark began.

 

The burly big-eared Terry gave a deep bass chuckle, Polly laughed, and both Susan Bones and Al Webb smiled.

 

‘No further explanation required,’ Protheroe said. ‘Those two words are enough, but I think that we should compare notes.’

 

As succinctly as he could, Mark told the Aurors what had happened.

 

‘Ginny’s flat has been burgled?’ Susan asked. ‘Does Harry know?’

 

‘He should be finding out about now, I hope,’ Mark said.

 

‘Keep talking,’ Al Webb ordered.

 

Mark did as he was told.

 

‘Miles,’ Terry grumbled, as Mark recounted the encounter on the stairwell.

 

‘Bletchley, you reckon?’ Susan asked.

 

Terry nodded.

 

Mark was about to continue with his story when it happened. A female voice echoed around the room.

 

‘Attention, all duty Aurors ... this is an all Auror alert ... attention, all duty Aurors ... this is an all Auror alert … this is not a drill … this is not a drill’

 

‘You two, stay here,’ Polly Protheroe told Mark and Erasmuson.

 

‘Operation Hunter is now active ... target confirmed ... the prey is in the field.’

 

‘We may be some time, so you might want to call for some local assistance,’ she added, reaching into her pocket and pulling out her identity card.

 

‘Operation Hunter is now active ... all duty Aurors prepare for emergency portkey in thirty seconds.’

 

Terry and Al Webb were also pulling their identity cards from their wallets. Susan Bones was looking puzzled. Mark realised that the voice was coming from the cards, and also from his pocket.

 

‘Operation Hunter is now active ... all duty Aurors prepare for emergency portkey in twenty seconds.’

 

‘Give me my identity card, now,’ Susan Bones demanded. She strode up to him and held out her hand demandingly.

 

‘Operation Hunter is now active ... all duty Aurors prepare for emergency portkey in ten seconds.’

 

Mark hastily reached into his pocket, and pulled. He merely managed to tear the lining a little more.

 

‘nine ... eight ...’

 

The card was stuck. He pulled desperately at it. As the countdown continued, Susan thrust her own hand into his pocket. She, too, grabbed the card, and pulled.

 

‘three ... two ... one ... activate.’

 

Four identity cards glowed blue. Four Aurors, and Bailiff Mark Moon, vanished.

 

Mark saw the shocked expression on Erasmuson’s face and heard the Sheriff groan as he began to regain consciousness. Then, instead of standing in a room in Knockturn Alley, he was standing on an open area in front of a large stone farmhouse. Susan Bones pushed him away.

 

‘Take cover, now!’ she ordered.

 

‘Rabastan Lestrange,’ a magically amplified voice shouted. ‘We have you surrounded. Put down your wand and surrender.’

 

‘If anyone moves, this girl dies,’ someone snarled.

 

Mark saw the Auror Office’s most wanted man standing in the door to the farmhouse. The front door was, for some reason, on the upper floor, and the man was holding a girl of about twelve by her tawny-brown hair. He was using her as a shield. Mark watched him flick his wand. The spell flew over everyone’s head, and one of the crude looking cottages surrounding the farmhouse exploded.

 

As Mark turned to watch, the building began to burn and the roof collapsed. As it did so, the door opened and he caught a glimpse of a small figure in torn black trousers and a white shirt. The girl was in her late teens or early twenties, and had masses of curly brown hair. She raised her wand, but too late. She was flattened by a falling timber.

 

Behind him, Mark heard shouting and spell-fire. Ignoring it, he sprinted towards the girl in the burning building.



Chapter 17: Prey: Lioness Snarls, Badger Baited
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17: Prey: Lioness Snarls, Badger Baited

 

When Harry barged into the Law Office, Ginny was sitting between Neville and Ron at the far side of the office. They had been involved in an earnest conversation when he’d entered. It stopped instantly.

 

‘Blimey, that was quick,’ said Ron. ‘Has she admitted everything?’

 

‘Something’s wrong,’ observed Neville.

 

Harry nodded, and moved forwards. As he did so, Ginny tensed, shuddered, and grimaced. Glaring at him, she shook her head and held up her hand, palm out. He immediately halted his approach, and tried to catch her eyes; she averted her gaze.

 

‘You’d better keep your distance, Harry,’ Ginny ordered firmly.

 

He could feelthe tension in her. Waves of emotion rippled across her features. As he watched, her outstretched hand curled itself into a fist. She grabbed her knee with her other hand, apparently attempting to prevent it from doing the same thing. Even though he was on the opposite side of the room, he felt the anger and hostility.

 

‘I was okay until you walked into the room, now I want to hurt you,’ she told him through clenched teeth.

 

Harry stared uncertainly at his girlfriend.

 

‘The Harpies Healer arrived, along with the club’s Press Officer. They insisted that Ginny and Livy each have another Sober-up Potion,’ said Ron. ‘The Healer promised that it would help.’

 

‘It bloody well hasn’t,’ Ginny snapped. ‘I should never have listened to her, or to you, Ron! Luna was right, as usual. Being completely sober has made things worse, a lot worse.’

 

Harry stared sadly at her; she closed her eyes, so he turned to Ron and Neville.

 

‘Where’s everyone else?’ Harry asked.

 

‘Hermione and Luna are upstairs somewhere, trying to work out the exact formula they need to make an antidote for Ginny,’ said Neville. ‘They’ve already tried once, but it didn’t work. It’s proving more complicated than they expected. They think there’s something else in it, so Luna asked Fenella to help. Apparently Fenella got an Outstanding atr NEWT level Potions.’

 

‘Livy?’ asked Harry.

 

‘She’s gone. The Healer, and Clara Vale, the Press Officer, arrived together, not long after you went to interrogate Linny. The Harpies knew that Livy and Ginny had been released. The club have called a press conference and she wanted to brief them.’

 

‘She wants to tell us what we’re going to say to the reporters; and what we can’t tell them,’ growled Ginny. She kept her eyes closed as she spoke.

 

‘When Livy and Ginny said that they were staying, she threatened them with breach of contract,’ said Ron angrily.

 

‘So Livy went with her,’ added Neville. He glanced at Ginny, then turned and smiled at Harry. ‘But Ginny…’

 

‘I refused,’ said Ginny. ‘I told her that I was staying here until you’d finished.’ Her lips curled into a snarl. ‘Merlin knows why, you’re a complete waste of time, Pot…’ She snapped her mouth shut and began to grind her teeth.

 

‘That was before the Healer had given Ginny the potion,’ explained Ron. ‘The Press Officer threatened to fine Ginny a month’s pay, but she stayed anyway.’

 

Neville nodded his agreement. Ginny simply kept her mouth and eyes clamped tightly shut. Her muscles were now so taut that she was beginning to shake.

 

‘Do you need to speak to the others, too?’ asked Neville nervously. ‘I can go and fetch them, or show you where they are.’

 

Harry barely heard him. Ginny had opened her eyes a fraction, but she was staring at his feet. Both hands were now tightly clenched. It seemed she was digging her nails into the palm of her hands. When he took a step forwards, the sibilant cat-like snarl she gave forced him to stop and return to his original position.

 

Harry’s head roiled with conflicting emotions. This was torture worse than the Cruciatus Curse. He wanted to be with Ginny, to comfort her, but her pain was being caused by his presence. He watched as, with considerable effort, she uncurled her fingers and placed her hands under her thighs.

 

‘Not … your … fault … Harry,’ Ginny mumbled through gritted teeth. She took a deep breath, opened her eyes and stared at the floor. ‘Ask your questions, but do it quickly.’

 

‘Thanks, Ginny,’ said Harry. ‘I can ask Hermione and the others later, Neville. And, Ron, I really need to speak to George, too.’

 

‘George?’ asked Ron. ‘Why do you need to speak to George?’ As he spoke he was worriedly casting sidelong glances at his sister, whose fingers were now digging into her thighs.

 

‘M’okay, Ron,’ Ginny mumbled. She gave Harry a quick glance. He was uncertain whether she was angry, sad, or combative. He didn’t have time to decide, because she again looked down at the floor. As he watched, she began to do the Harpies’ pre-match breathing exercises.

 

‘Linny has just admitted to giving Ginny the potion, but for some reason she thinks that it’s a Weasley product. She thinks she’s safe from prosecution, because we’d have to prosecute her supplier, George,’ Harry explained. He kept his eyes on Ginny. The moment he spoke, he saw her body tense.

 

‘What?’ Neville said angrily. ‘That’s ridiculous, Harry. I was there when we found the place. I told you, remember? We know that the pumpkin juice was being manufactured by Mark D’Arque, by Bletchley, Bulstrode, Flint and Goyle.’

 

‘I know, Neville. I believe you.’ Harry turned to address Ron. ‘I need to find out who bought the original potion from the twins. Who did they sell it to, do you know? Does George?’

 

Ron shrugged helplessly. ‘Even if George does know, you can’t ask him. He’s in Peru on a business trip. And, anyway, I doubt he would remember. It’s been months since I talked to him about the potion. Who they’d sold it to wasn’t important; at least, not to me! All I was interested in was figuring out whether or not we could find another use for it.’

 

As Ron scrunched his face in thought, desperately trying to remember, Harry remained silent and kept a concerned eye on Ginny. In the silence, she concentrated on breathing and again began to relax.

 

Ron glanced up at the ceiling before finally shaking his head in resignation. ‘Like I said, Harry, they made one test sample. It reduced some Hufflepuff girl to tears at the Yule Ball. The twins didn’t think that the effects were funny, so they concentrated on a better love potion instead. As for who bought it, all I know is that they sold it to a Slytherin girl for a ridiculous amount of money.’

 

Alongside Ron, Ginny was still staring silently at the floor. Harry watched her carefully as he spoke. She certainly appeared to be regaining some control.

 

‘Are you certain that you don’t know the names of any of the three people? The boy who drank the potion, the Slytherin girl who gave it to him, or the girl who got ditched?’ asked Harry. He decided not to tell Ron his suspicions, at least not until he was certain that Ron couldn’t corroborate them. ‘It could be important, Ron. The boy must have taken the girl who bought it to the Yule Ball.’

 

Ron put his chin in his hands and tried again, staring vacantly into the middle distance. Ginny, meanwhile, had tensed as Harry spoke. Harry looked sadly at the top of her head. The sound of his voice was affecting her. He would have to leave and hope that Hermione, with Luna and Fenella, could brew an antidote.

 

‘The Yule Ball was years ago, Harry,’ Ron said. ‘I talked to George about the potion when I found the recipe, but he didn’t tell me names and I doubt that he’d remember, even if we could ask him. The victim was a girl who’d been going out with a Hufflepuff boy in the twins’ year for months. George said…’ he paused and raised his eyes to the ceiling, deep in thought.

 

Harry again waited in silence, in part to allow his friend time to think, but mainly to allow Ginny to try to relax. When Ron looked back to Harry, there was a gleam in his eyes. ‘George said that the boy was one of the Hufflepuff Chasers! Is that any use to you? And the girl he ditched—she was on his Quidditch team! She was one of their Beaters, a good one—she turned professional when she left school.’ As realisation suddenly dawned, Ron turned to his sister. He shook her shoulders until she raised her head. ‘Ginny, do you think that it was…’

 

‘Before she joined the Harpies, Linny was a Hufflepuff Beater,’ Ginny confirmed. She looked onto her brother’s face, and addressed her reply to him.

 

‘Bollocks,’ said Ron. ‘George said that the girl … that Linny … was in tears, she didn’t even go to the ball, she just ran back to the Hufflepuff common room and stayed there, crying.’

 

Ron slumped forwards and put his chin in his hands, a miserable expression on his face. ‘You know what the twins were like! They loved chaos, anarchy, and making people look stupid. The potion didn’t do any of those things. It made one girl cry and another gloat. No one thought it laughed. So far as they were concerned, it was a complete disaster. But I don’t see how this can be the same stuff, Harry. George hasn’t made it since, and the only people who knew the potion even existed were the twins.’

 

‘At least one other person knows, Ron,’ observed Neville. ‘The person who bought it from them, she knows exactly what it does.’

 

‘Any idea who?’ Harry asked.

 

His friends shook their heads.

 

‘Who do you think it was, Harry?’ Ron asked.

 

‘Daphne Greengrass,’ said Harry. ‘I tried Legilimency while I was interviewing Linny, and I’m sure I saw Daphne. Does anyone know if I’m right?’

 

When Harry spoke, Ginny again tensed. Ron, now caught up in past events, appeared oblivious to his sister’s agitation. He pulled a face; pushing his jaw forward, he sucked in his cheeks, and squinted. ‘Pansy’s friend Daphne?’ he asked. ‘The one who made pug-face look almost attractive in comparison?’

 

Harry decided that he could not risk speaking, so he nodded. Despite his silence, Ginny was getting worse.

 

‘If it was her, she would have told her friends,’ said Neville. He was looking in Harry’s direction, but his eyes were unfocussed as he, too, remembered his schooldays. ‘Pansy and her gang were just like Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle, if they found a weakness in anyone, they would try to exploit it.’

 

‘Perhaps we should ask the others,’ suggested Ron. ‘I’m sure Hermione would know who Daphne was with.’

 

Almost before Ron finished speaking, Ginny was staring angrily into his face.

 

‘Why are you being so horrible to Daphne, Ron? You don’t know it was her. And Hermione won’t know. She was otherwise engaged at the Yule Ball, remember?’ said Ginny sharply. Her brother looked very uncomfortable. ‘She was enjoying herself with one of the best Seekers in the world. As for the others, both Luna and Fenella are in my year. I know that no one invited Luna; she definitely wasn’t at the Ball. I didn’t know Fenella at the time, but…’

 

‘Yeah, it’s not likely anyone asked her is it?’ said Ron. ‘Let’s be honest, she’s never going to win a beauty contest…’

 

‘You’re almost as nasty as him, Ron,’ Ginny snapped, glaring at Harry.

 

‘Can anyone confirm my suspicions?’ asked Harry hastily, hoping to divert Ginny. ‘Does anyone know if it was Daphne? What about you, Neville? Can you remember anything about the Yule Ball?’ He regretted the question the moment he’d asked it.

 

Neville, blushing furiously, looked up at his friend, pulled a rueful and apologetic face, gave Ginny a sidelong glance, and began to stammer an explanation. ‘Sorry, Harry, I was…’

 

‘The lovely Neville was being very attentive towards the girl he’d taken to the Yule Ball,’ said Ginny smugly. ‘He’s so much nicer than you, Potter.’ She linked her arm through Neville’s, and leaned into him.

 

Harry forced himself to keep calm. It’s the potion, he told himself.

 

‘There’s no need to be like that, Ginny,’ snapped Ron. ‘Let Neville go. He’s got a girlfriend.’

 

Neville tried to shake himself free, but Ginny simply tightened her grip. She again turned towards her brother, and stared into his face.

 

‘Ron Weasley and Harry Potter, a pair of losers!’ she snapped. ‘He was moping over Cho bloody Chang and you were simply clueless and gormless in your batty old dress robes. You were so thick that you didn’t even know why you were unhappy, Ron; you complete moron. The two of you sat and moped all night. You did nothing but watch while everyone else had a good time! Did either of you see who … Daphne … was with? No! So why should you expect anyone else to know. Some of us were actually enjoying ourselves. You’re pathetic, Ron, and as for you, Potter!’ She leaned over and kissed Neville’s cheek.

 

Neville was now desperately trying to free himself from Ginny’s grip.

 

Ron finally lost his temper. ‘Me!’ he shouted. ‘I’m not the one who’s acting like a tart. I’m not the one who’s been getting drunk, and getting my photo in the papers looking like a…’

 

Ginny released Neville, sprang to her feet, her eyes flashing fire at her brother. ‘No, Ronald! You’re the one who slipped your girl a Mickey and then took her to a Ministry function so she could make a complete fool of herself…’

 

‘Will you two stop it!’ bellowed Harry. ‘This is important. There’s something else, too. Daphne…’

 

At Harry’s final word, Ginny turned and faced him. As he watched her neck muscles tense, Harry held up his hands. It made no difference.

 

‘Oh, piss off, Potter,’ she yelled.

 

Ginny sprang to her feet and threw Harry a hate-filled glare. He immediately saw the same peculiar blankness in her eyes that he’d seen in Linny’s. His suspicions were confirmed.

 

His girlfriend was in front of him, and yet she wasn’t. Ginny was there, somewhere inside the hate and anger. She was lost, and he wondered if he could find her.

 

Time slowed. Ginny strode towards him, reaching for her wand. He prepared for the unthinkable, a duel against his girlfriend. Unlike their meeting in the Magpie’s Nest, this time Ginny was sober.

 

This is important!’ Ginny yelled. ‘It’s only important because you say so! Bloody Auror stuff takes precedence over everything, doesn’t it? I hate…’

 

He should have left the room earlier. He should not have pressed matters, not with Ginny the way she was. This was his fault; he was doing this to her. His presence was causing his girlfriend to react this way. The loathing written across her face was a dagger in his heart.

 

‘I’m truly sorry, Ginny,’ he began.

 

‘Don’t pretend that you actually care—you insufferable git, Potter,’ Ginny snarled.

 

She stopped, no more than a stride away from him, and raised her wand. As she glared balefully into his face, and prepared to curse him, Harry forced himself to look into her eyes. This time she didn’t look away. He could see the anger building in her expression. Her eyes, however, showed little emotion; their brightness was obscured, they were an overcast sky. Then, behind the clouds, somewhere deep in their chocolate-coloured depths, he caught a glimpse of bright sunlight trying to break through. His girlfriend was in there somewhere, and she was still fighting. He needed to help her.

 

‘Get out of here, Potter,’ Linny shouted angrily. She flew towards him, her Harpies robes streaming out behind her as she swung her Beater’s bat. He clearly heard the thud of bat against Bludger, and saw the black iron ball flying towards him. Puching his broom down, he rolled. The Bludger barely grazed his shoulder.

 

‘You’ll have to do better than that, Linny,’ he called.

 

‘Get rid of him, Ginny,’ Linny ordered.

 

Ginny was fast. Like Linny, she wore the green robes of the Harpies as she charged to attack. She swerved, and suddenly accelerated. Unlike Linny, she managed to second-guess him. Her broom collided with his chest. The wound Lowell had inflicted on him hours, or possibly a lifetime, earlier tore open. He felt the blood flow. Ginny hovered in front of him.

 

‘Fight back,’ commanded Ginny.

 

‘No.’ He shook his head firmly, trying to ignore the pain while staying balanced on his broom.

 

‘Coward,’ she yelled. ‘Harry Potter is a coward.’

 

‘She hates you,’ Linny crowed. ‘Tell him.’

 

‘I hate you,’ confirmed Ginny.

 

‘That’s not you, it’s the potion talking,’ Harry told her.

 

‘Show him,’ Linny ordered. ‘That will get rid of him.’

 

Harry looked around. ‘How did we get to your flat?’ he asked.

 

The room was full. There were half a dozen young men in the place, and two of them had their arms around Ginny. She wasn’t wearing much, a short skirt and a tight t-shirt. One of the men kissed her. He was tall, dark haired, well dressed, and good looking; she didn’t push him away.

 

‘Go on,’ Linny told Ginny. ‘Do it again. You know that you want to.’

 

Ginny responded passionately to the kiss.

 

‘Ginny?’ asked Harry. He reeled in shock, and fell from his broom.

 

As Harry tumbled to his doom, his Gryffindor Quidditch robes fluttering around him like flames, Linny began to laugh.

 

‘Goodbye, Potter,’ Linny crowed gleefully.

 

Ginny put her broom into a full dive, and accelerated towards him. As Harry watched, he wondered how they’d returned to the Quidditch pitch, and why Ginny was now, like him, wearing Gryffindor robes. She stretched out a hand to him. He caught it with his own. For a second, their touch was merely fingertip to fingertip. Heedless of the rapidly approaching ground, she accelerated. The second she pulled him onto her broom, she tried to pull out of the dive. She almost made it, but the nose of her broom struck the grass, and they were thrown from it, bouncing and rolling across the pitch.

 

When Harry picked himself up, he was back in Ginny’s flat, and she was once again in the arms of the tall, dark-haired young man. Now, however, she was trying to extricate herself from him.

 

‘Drink this,’ the man said, offering Ginny a tumbler almost overflowing with Firewhisky.

 

‘Yes, drink it,’ Linny ordered. ‘Drink it all.’

 

Ginny wavered, and then downed the drink. She stepped back and glared up at the man.

 

‘Party’s over,’ she announced.

 

‘C’mon, gorgeous,’ the man said. ‘You’ll have a better time with me than you’ve ever had with Pot … argh!’ He put his hands to his face and attempted to pull the Bat-Bogies from it.’

 

‘I said party’s over,’ Ginny announced she turned to her silently watching audience. ‘Out, now, or you’ll get the same treatment!’

 

There was a scramble for the door.

 

‘No, Ginny,’ ordered Linny.

 

‘Yes, Linny,’ said Ginny. ‘If you want to have a party, go with them! But find somewhere else. You too, Livy.’

 

For the first time, Harry noticed Livy in the crowd.

 

‘I said no, Ginny,’ said Linny forcefully.

 

‘You’re not my mother, and you’re not my Quidditch captain,’ Ginny told her. ‘Now piss off, all of you!’

 

The room cleared rapidly. Within moments, Harry and Ginny were alone. The walls shimmered and faded, and Harry found himself standing in the Gryffindor common room. He was just inside the door, and Ginny was running towards him, she was once again wearing her Quidditch robes, and she was carrying the house cup. He expected a kiss. Instead, he got a question.

 

‘What’s happening, where are we, really?’ she asked.

 

‘I’m not sure,’ he told her. ‘We might be inside your head. You were going to hex me. I tried Legilimency. I knew you were fighting the potion, but I think the potion was fighting back.’

 

‘You’re in my head?’ she asked warily. ‘So why did I move us to the common room?’

 

‘Perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps you’re in my head,’ he said. He looked around the room and smiled at her. ‘After all, this room is very important to me.’

 

Ginny looked around the room, and down at her robes. She smiled. ‘It’s very important to me, too, Harry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry about that bloke.’

 

‘Was that real? Did you really…’

 

‘Yes. It was last weekend. I did snog him.’

 

‘Never mind that,’ said Harry, trying to hide his hurt. ‘Did you Bat-Bogey him and chuck him out?’

 

‘Yes. I’m sorry, Harry. I was tempted, and Linny was encouraging me, but…’

 

‘But even under the influence of a Dark Magic potion, you fought back,’ he told her.

 

 ‘Why did she do it?’

 

‘Linny is being dosed with the same potion as you are, Ginny, or at least something very similar to it,’ said Harry. ‘I’m certain of it. When you first moved in with her, it was obvious that she didn’t like the fact that you had a boyfriend. But she wasn’t nasty, was she?’

 

‘No,’ she admitted. ‘Linny has changed. Why didn’t I notice?’

 

‘She probably ordered you not to,’ said Harry. As he spoke, something else gnawed at the back of his mind. He looked into Ginny’s face; her eyes were almost impossibly bright and brown. ‘Daphne Greengrass,’ he said.

 

‘She has nothing to do with this,’ Linny shouted, as she crashed through the window of Gryffindor tower. ‘Forget all about her, now! Obliv…

 

Expelliarmus,’ shouted Harry.

 

Stupefy,’ Ginny cried.

 

Linny’s wand flew from her hand as she was blasted backwards by Ginny’s Stunning Spell. Harry automatically reached up to catch the wand, but it wasn’t there, nor was Linny. When she hit the wall, the beater evaporated into an inky black mist, which slithered and spread around the walls and surrounded them.

 

The lights grew dim, and the temperature dropped rapidly. Harry felt his fingers become numb with the cold, and watched his breath condense in the cold air. The black mist became black cloaks. Scabbed and slimy grey hands reached towards them.

 

The hands stretched forwards, and Harry once again saw Ginny kissing the good-looking dark-haired man. He was almost overwhelmed by hopelessness, but was distracted by a heart-wrenching wail. Alongside him, Ginny was crying. She was staring at his corpse, and he could hear the faint echo of Voldemort’s gloating cry. ‘Harry Potter is dead!’

 

Harry, once again, felt like he was falling to his death, but this time, Ginny had no broom to save him. In their desperation Harry and Ginny reached out their hands to each other. He grabbed her hand, and held it tightly.

 

‘I love you,’ he said. To his joy, she spoke the same words, at exactly the same time.

 

‘I love you.’ The words danced in the air with each other. The clouds parted, and the sun shone brightly through the common room windows, revealing an impossible mass of Dementors. Their ripped black cloaks fluttered as, momentarily startled by the light, the Dementor’s halted their advance. Harry squeezed Ginny’s hand and she squeezed his. They spoke in unison.

 

‘Expecto Patronum.’

 

Harry blinked, and caught a fleeting glimpse of a silver phoenix as it slowly dispersed into a mist, before vanishing completely. He took a deep breath, and winced in pain. When he looked down at his chest, he saw the reason. His wounds had reopened, and blood had seeped from the bandages to stain his shirt.

 

‘I did that,’ said Ginny, pointing to his chest as she lowered her wand.

 

‘No,’ said Harry. ‘It was Daphne.’

 

‘What in Merlin’s name just happened?’ Ron demanded.

 

‘Good question, mate. You tell me,’ said Harry. ‘Are you okay, Ginny?’

 

She blinked up at him and nodded. ‘It’s like I’ve woken from a nightmare. What happened?’

 

‘We thought you were going to hex Harry,’ Neville replied. ‘But you stopped, and you both just stood there, staring at into each other’s eyes. It was as if you were both in full Body-Binds.’

 

‘Then your wound started bleeding,’ Ron interjected. ‘We didn’t know whether to separate you, or leave you to it.’

 

‘We were getting really worried. Ron sent a Bailiff to fetch Hermione, and a Healer,’ added Neville. ‘And then there were these silver flames between you, and a Phoenix appeared from nowhere.’

 

‘Except it wasn’t a real Phoenix,’ said Ron. ‘It was glowing and silver and almost transparent, more like a…’

 

‘A Patronus?’ asked Ginny.

 

‘Yeah, but whose?’ asked Ron. ‘Harry’s is a stag, and yours is a horse.’

 

Enlightened, Harry took Ginny’s hand, and nodded.

 

Expecto Patronum,’ they said together.

 

A pair of phoenixes flew from their wands. They were still circling the room, flying around each other, when the door burst open. Hermione and Luna dashed into the room. Fenella followed cautiously behind.

 

‘What’s wrong?’ asked Hermione anxiously.

 

‘Oh, your Patronuses have changed,’ said Luna as she watched the phoenixes soar. ‘They are beautiful, aren’t they?’ She walked up to Ginny and stared into her face. ‘And you’ve purged yourself of the potion.’ She looked from Ginny to Harry. ‘With a Patronus?’ she asked.

 

‘I couldn’t have done it without Harry,’ said Ginny.

 

‘A Patronus can’t affect a potion,’ observed Hermione.

 

‘Unless the potion contains Dementor essence,’ added Fenella in horror.

 

‘That’s forbidden,’ said Hermione. ‘It’s Dark Magic, it’s illegal, it’s…’

 

‘We’re Aurors, Hermione,’ Ron reminded her. ‘We know about Dark Magic. But what would Dementor essence do?’

 

‘It would make the imbiber frightened and sad; it would weaken their will,’ said Hermione.

 

‘That sounds about right,’ said Ginny with feeling. Her Patronus glowed brightly, and then vanished. Harry’s did the same as they hugged each other.

 

‘What I saw, was that your worst fear?’ asked Harry. Ginny nodded.

 

‘Yours?’

 

‘Apparently, although I didn’t know until I saw it,’ said Harry, shivering.

 

Luna raised her eyebrows, stared unblinking and unfocussed, and inhaled through flared nostrils. Harry looked at her in amazement, was this Luna losing her temper? Whatever it was, it was something he’d never seen before.

 

‘Evil!’ said Luna grimly. ‘That’s why our first attempt didn’t work, Hermione. This is more than simply the potion the twins made. It has been altered, made darker. It contains Dementor essence, Boggart spit, and who knows what else? We need a sample.’

 

‘If Ginny’s okay, why do we need an antidote?’ asked Ron.

 

‘For Linny,’ said Harry. ‘She’s being controlled, too, remember.’

 

‘The Fiscal wants you back in the interview room, Auror Potter,’ a young woman called from the door.

 

Harry sighed.

 

‘I’ll be okay, now,’ Ginny assured him. She gently kissed his cheek banishing any lingering worries.

 

‘I’m on my way,’ Harry said to the woman. He turned back to his friends. ‘I’ll have to go. Hopefully the Sheriff will find some of the potion at Ginny’s flat, Luna. When he gets back you can start working on an antidote for Linny.’

 

‘That will be nice,’ said Luna.

 

‘Nice?’ asked Harry.

 

She gave Harry and Ginny a bright smile. ‘It’s nice being able to help you both like this. Because that’s what friends do, isn’t it?’

 

‘Sometimes, I could kiss you, Luna,’ Harry admitted.

 

‘Don’t let me stop you,’ said Ginny. ‘Sometimes, I could, too.’

 

Laughing, Harry hugged Luna and kissed her cheek. That done, he turned to Hermione. ‘Do you know who took Daphne Greengrass to the Yule Ball?’ he asked.

 

‘Why?’ asked Hermione.

 

‘I’ll tell you later,’ said Harry. ‘Or Ron can tell you after I’ve gone. Do you know?’

 

Hermione began to search her memory, but before she could answer, Fenella Gray stepped forwards.

 

‘He was a Hufflepuff Chaser called Malcolm Preece,’ Fenella Gray whispered, staring at her boots. She was blushing. ‘Lots of the girls in my year thought he was lovely, almost as good looking as … Cedric Diggory.’ As she spoke the final name, Fenella lowered her already hushed voice to a point where her words were barely audible.

 

‘Thanks, Fenella,’ said Harry. ‘I won’t be long, I hope. See you soon, Ginny.’

 

‘Wait,’ Ginny ordered.

 

Drawing her wand, she gently stroked it across Harry’s chest and muttered a Healing spell. ‘That will staunch the bleeding, but you need to see a Healer, Harry,’ she told him. Placing her hands around his neck she pulled him down and gently touched her lips to his. ‘I’ve missed you,’ she whispered.

 

‘Please, Auror Potter. The Fiscal!’ the young woman at the door reminded him anxiously.

 

‘See you soon, I hope,’ said Harry. He followed the woman out into the corridor and along to the Interview Room. He did not bother to knock, but simply strode back into the room. Silence fell as he entered.

 

‘This is most irregular,’ said Augustus Tavistock, glaring angrily at Harry. ‘You mention the Auror Office, and then storm out of the room. Am I to understand that you are now threatening my client with an Auror Office investigation, Mr Potter? It seems to me that you are prepared to threaten, bully, and break rules in order to defend your girlfriend. Rest assured that I will be speaking to Head Auror Robards about your behaviour.’

 

‘Mr Tavistock has made it very clear that he wants me to release his client,’ said the Fiscal. ‘In your absence, I have charged Miss Baker with being drunk and disorderly, and also with breach of the peace. She has entered a plea of not guilty to both charges, and Mr Tavistock, on behalf of the Holyhead Harpies, has agreed surety. I have summoned her to appear before the Justiciar a week on Saturday for a preliminary hearing. There is no reason for me to hold her. However, given your comments before your abrupt departure…’

 

‘Sorry, Fiscal,’ said Harry. He pulled out his chair and again sat to face Linny.

 

‘I have a few questions regarding your relationship with Daphne Greengrass, Linny,’ said Harry. He saw the Beater recoil at the name. ‘Daphne is the one supplying you with the potion you’re feeding Ginny, isn’t she?’

 

‘No!’ Linny screamed. Her eyes glazed. ‘She’s my friend. I hate her. She didn’t. She did … not … did … not … did!’ Linny arched her back and then rapidly leaned forwards in her chair, bringing her face down hard against the table.

 

Flesh hit wood with a sickening thump, and there was a moment of horrified silence. Tavistock pushed his chair back, and watched in slack-jawed horror. Blood spurted from Linny’s nose, and she again arched her back. Droplets of blood arced through the air and hit Harry’s chest, forming a neat line of red spots up his already bloodstained white shirt. Harry drew his wand and, before she could repeat the action, he shouted, ‘Petrificus Totalus.’

 

Linny went rigid, balanced on the chair at an acute angle. Ignoring Tavistock, Harry dashed around the table and pointed his wand at Linny’s nose.

 

Episkey,’ he said quietly, staunching the blood. Once satisfied that the bleeding had stopped, he turned to face Mrs Quarrell.

 

‘Sorry, Fiscal,’ he said. ‘Daphne! That’s the key word. I should have realised! Saying that name was what drove Ginny to the edge, too. I suspected that Linny was being controlled by Dark Magic. She is.’

 

‘Dark Magic?’ said Tavistock with a sneer. ‘You’re unbalanced, Potter! You’re seeing dangerous enemies everywhere. She’s a Quidditch player. Why would anyone target her?’ asked Tavistock. ‘Whatever it was you’ve just done, it was tantamount to an assault on my client. Rest assured that…’

 

‘Haud yer wheesht—be quiet—Tavistock,’ ordered Edna Quarrell, dropping into a broad Scots accent. ‘I’ve heard enough of your havering. You may not recognise the signs, but I do! What is going on, Harry?’

 

‘I believe that Linny has been fed a potion similar to the one she’s been feeding Ginny,’ said Harry. ‘It’s almost like an Imperius Curse, and it may contain Dementor essence.’

 

Harry pulled out his wand and began to perform a complex Detection Charm. There was a shadow around Linny; it was faint and flickering, but it was there.

 

‘She’s cursed, and until we can manufacture an antidote, I’m afraid that she may try to harm herself,’ said Harry, pointing at the shimmering shadow. ‘I don’t believe that she’s responsible for her actions. I suspect that she was targeted because she shares a flat with Ginny.’

 

‘Preposterous,’ snorted Tavistock. ‘If she was being controlled, why merely get Ginny drunk? Why not simply poison her?’

 

Harry’s stomach twisted at Tavistock’s words.

 

‘Because Miss Baker is not a killer,’ said the Fiscal. ‘You may be a reasonable corporate solicitor, Mr Tavistock, at least, given your work for the Harpies, I assume that you have competency in some part of the law. It’s clear to me that you are no expert at dealing with criminal cases. Even under an Imperius Curse, there is no way anyone with a modicum of backbone could be forced into killing. It strikes me that both Miss Weasley and Miss Baker have nerve, and strength of character. I’d expect that in professional Quidditch players. I agree with Auror Potter. Your client will be held in protective custody until we can transfer her to St Mungo’s where, with luck, they will be able to free her from this curse.’

 

‘But…’ Tavistock began.

 

‘Look at her,’ said Harry, grabbing the Harpies solicitor by the shoulder and dragging him towards the still rigid Beater. ‘Look into her eyes. If I release her from the full Body-Bind, she’ll try to hurt herself.’

 

Tavistock gazed into Linny’s face, saw the dilated pupils and the wildness in her eyes, and staggered away from her. As he looked into Linny’s eyes, Harry saw a slimy grey hand. He reacted almost unthinkingly, pointing his wand at her face.

 

Expecto Patronum,’ said Harry. His new phoenix Patronus flew through Linny’s head, and instantly dissipated. Harry re-examined Linny’s eyes, the wildness was gone.

 

‘She might be okay, Fiscal,’ said Harry uncertainly.

 

‘Don’t release her,’ begged Tavistock, in an abrupt change of attitude.

 

‘Oh, get out, Mr Tavistock,’ ordered the Fiscal. ‘Auror Potter and I will deal with this.’

 

Tavistock fled without a backwards glance. Once the door was closed, Harry removed the full Body-Bind from Linny.

 

She gasped and sucked in a deep breath. ‘Bitch, Bitch, BITCH!’ she screamed, banging the table with her fists.

 

Harry raised his wand, but the Fiscal motioned for him to wait. After a vociferous few minutes of shouting, screaming, and some very creative swearing, Linny Baker finally ran out of breath.

 

‘Feeling any better, Miss Baker?’ the Fiscal asked.

 

‘Yes. No. Yes, a little,’ said Linny. ‘Daphne told me that the potion was an under-the-counter product from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. She was lying, was she?’

 

‘Yes,’ Harry told her.

 

Linny began another rant. Her forthright, graphic, eye-watering, and in Harry’s opinion anatomically impossible, description of her proposed punishment for Daphne took her some time.

 

‘I don’t think that you could actually fit a Bludger in that particular orifice, Miss Baker,’ the Fiscal said quietly. ‘And any attempt on your part to do so would certainly result in a charge of assault. I would advise against it. However, now that Auror Potter has, it appears, returned you to your senses, would you like to reconsider your plea? I’d accept a plea of guilty, and would recommend leniency due to diminished responsibility on your part. Would you like to consult Mr Tavistock?’

 

‘That pillock?’ asked Linny. ‘No chance. Diminished responsibility? It’s a deal.’

 

The Fiscal nodded, and made a note of the change in Linny’s plea.

 

‘Well, Harry, I was right. You bring chaos in your wake,’ the Fiscal said. ‘This has been an interesting twenty-four hours. Miss Baker, you are free to go. I will see you both at Court on the first of April. We’ll need to discuss the case before then, of course, Auror Potter. I’ll have my secretary contact your office later this week.’ Edna Quarrell smiled. ‘I’m sure that you have work to do.’

 

‘I’d like to take Ginny out for a late breakfast,’ said Harry. ‘There’s nothing more important than that. Thank you Mrs Quarrell, it’s been a pleasure to meet you. Are you coming, Linny?’

 

‘Me?’ she asked. ‘After everything…’

 

‘After everything you were forced to do?’ asked Harry. ‘I’ve got a lot of questions for you.’ He opened the door, and ushered Linny and the Fiscal through it.

 

A slim blonde woman was waiting for them in the corridor. ‘You’re coming with me, Baker,’ she ordered. ‘You have a press conference to attend, and it starts in ten minutes.

 

‘But,’ Linny began, bewildered.

 

‘Attendance isn’t an option. If you’re not there, you’ll be dismissed.’ She looked Linny up and down and rolled her eyes in despair. ‘We need to get you clean and presentable. Follow me.’

 

‘But!’

 

‘Just go, Linny,’ said Harry.

 

The Beater shrugged helplessly, turned, and disconsolately followed the blonde woman. Harry watched her leave before hurrying back to the Law Office and his friends.

 

‘Where’s Ginny?’ he asked.

 

‘Gone,’ said Ron. ‘She was given a choice; attend the Harpies press conference, or be sacked.

 

‘She chose to stay,’ said Neville.

 

‘But I persuaded her to go,’ said Luna. ‘She loves Quidditch almost as much as she loves you, Harry. We can all go and keep her company. The Harpies are in a conference room in the Wand and Thistle, it’s the hotel at the end of the street.’ She led them along the corridor to the lift, and they ascended to the street level.

 

‘We’ll take the lead, mate,’ said Ron, taking Hermione by the hand. Harry found himself being flanked by Luna and a very nervous Fenella, with Neville bringing up the rear. ‘It’s bedlam out there, the press are everywhere.’

 

They strode into the street amid a hail of flashes and shouted questions.

 

‘What now, Potter?’

 

‘Who’re your new girlfriends?’

 

‘Whose blood is that on your shirt?’

 

Ignoring the questions, they strode along to the grand hotel at the opposite end of the street. The Harpies Press Conference was clearly signposted but, as they strode along the plush hotel corridor towards the room, they found their way blocked by two enormous, shaven headed wizards wearing “Security” badges.

 

‘Press only,’ said the least troll-like of the two.

 

‘Yeah, Press only,’ the more monstrous one confirmed, nodding.

 

Ron opened his mouth to argue, but before he could utter a word, Luna spoke.

 

‘Would anyone like a job?’ she asked.

 

‘Have you gone mad?’ Ron asked.

 

She looked at Ron coolly, ‘I don’t think so, Ronald. I’m as sane as I’ve always been.’

 

Harry thought that Ron was about to say something sarcastic, but he was thinking more quickly than his friend, so answered her question before Ron could speak. ‘Yes please, Luna.’

 

'Me, too,' Hermione said.

 

'And, me,' Neville added.

 

‘Yes, please,’ Fenella whispered.

 

‘Luna,’ said Ron, as he finally caught on. ‘Next time I tell you you’re mad, just kick me. You’re a genius. Can I have a job, too, please?’

 

‘Certainly, Ronald,’ she told him. ‘But why would I want to kick you? You’re my friend.’

 

‘Yeah,’ said Ron thoughtfully. ‘And you’re mine, Luna.’

 

Luna rifled through her shoulder bag. She took out what looked like a small purple carrot, tried to push it behind her ear, and failed. Handing it to Ron, who took it without complaining, she pulled out her purse, opened it and handed Harry a silver sickle.

 

‘Your starting salary is one sickle a day, paid in advance,’ she told him. You’re now employed as a reporter at large for The Quibbler, here’s your press card.’

 

'And the same for you, Hermione,' Luna repeated the process, 'Neville, Fenella, and, finally, Ronald.' Handing him the card, she took back the purple carrot, and carefully replaced it in her bag.

 

They turned back to face the two security wizards. Harry went first, and showed them his pass. ‘Harry Potter, special correspondent for “The Quibbler”,’ he told them. His friends followed close behind.

 

The two security wizards looked at each other, checked all five passes, shrugged, and opened the door.

 

‘Hi, Harry,’ shouted Ginny. ‘Hello everyone.’ She stood up and waved when they entered the room.

 

She, Livvy and Linny sat in the centre of a long table at the front of the room, to her right was Gus Tavistock; to Linny's left was the blonde woman. A sign identified her as “Clara Vale, Harpies Press Officer.”

 

‘Press only,’ Tavistock shouted, as they entered. ‘Where is security?’

 

Harry held up his press card.

 

‘My friend, Miss Lovegood, has employed us on a temporary contract. We all work for The Quibbler.’

 

That announcement alone was enough for the assembled journalists to begin writing frantically.

 

‘I told you Harry would find a way in,’ Ginny told Tavistock happily. ‘Now, who'd like to ask me a question?’

 

‘No,’ Clara Vale shouted over the hubbub of questions being shouted out by the assembled reporters. ‘As press officer and official spokeswitch for Holyhead Harpies, I will be answering any questions.’

 

‘Can I go, then?’ Ginny asked. ‘If I'm not here to talk, why am I here?’

 

‘Miss Weasley, you are under contract to the Harpies. The club requires your presence.’

 

‘Can I ask, on behalf of the Quibbler,’ Harry shouted over the chaos of questions. ‘Why the players at the centre of this press conference aren't being allowed to speak.’

 

‘I will return to that matter later,’ Clara Vale replied. ‘First, I'd like to read a prepared statement from ...’

 

The press officer was interrupted by a well-spoken female voice, it echoed around the room.

 

‘Attention, all duty Aurors ... this is an all Auror alert ... attention, all duty Aurors ... this is an all Auror alert … this is not a drill … this is not a drill’

 

Harry, Ron and Neville pulled out their Auror identity cards and drew their wands. Hermione, her face suddenly drained of colour, turned and kissed Ron passionately. Ginny had vaulted the table and was running towards Harry.

 

‘Operation Hunter is now active ... target has been confirmed ... the prey is in the field.’

 

The room was silent, except for the flash of cameras.

 

‘Operation Hunter is now active ... all duty Aurors  prepare for emergency Portkey in thirty seconds.’

 

Ginny threw her arms around Harry's neck and kissed him. The cameras continued to flash and click.

 

‘Operation Hunter is now active ... all duty Aurors prepare for emergency Portkey in twenty seconds.’

 

‘No-one is kissing you goodbye, Neville,’ observed Luna evenly. ‘Would...’

 

‘No!’ said Neville, panic-stricken. ‘No! I mean, thanks, Luna, but, no, thanks.’

 

‘Operation Hunter is now active ... all duty Aurors prepare for emergency Portkey in ten seconds.’

 

‘nine ... eight ...’

 

Harry reluctantly broke the kiss.

 

‘Be careful, Harry,’ Ginny said, she stepped back.

 

‘Official Auror Office photographer,’ squeaked Fenella. She reached out and grabbed Neville’s identity card.

 

‘Three ... two ... one ... activate.’

 

Three identity cards glowed blue. Three Aurors, and a frightened looking photographer, vanished.

 

In the stunned silence which followed the sudden disappearance of the three young Aurors, and Fenella, the door from the corridor burst open. The stocky, dark haired man who strode into the room, pursued by the two security wizards, wore the robes of a Law Office Bailiff. After a quick glance around the room, he strode determinedly towards Ginny, who was ignoring Clara Vale’s demand that she return to the table.

 

‘Rhys Owen, Beili'r Siryf Cymru,’ the Bailiff showed Ginny his warrant card. ‘‘I’m sorry to tell you that, less than an hour ago, Sheriff Campbell and his team disturbed some burglars at your flat.’



Chapter 18: Prey: An Owl and Two Alpha Males
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18: Prey: An Owl and two Alpha Males

 

The sun crept over the horizon. Slender splinters of sunlight fought their way through the forest and into the hollow where she lay, slashing its gloom with knife-cuts of light.

 

Doxine Gray pushed herself upright, her body aching from the painful transformation that had woken her. Rising from the dank forest floor, she discovered that the trees were no barrier to the cold wind. It whipped at her bare skin, bringing her out in goose bumps. As she brushed soft pine needles from her body, Doxine shivered, and carefully examined herself.

 

It seemed to Doxine that her legs were hairier than ever, her arms too. The curse did that. Once, when they had still been friends—or at least on speaking terms—Dacia Skoll had told her that it wasn’t the curse. When someone reverted back from the wolf, they returned to their true self any preening, plucking or exfoliation was undone by the change. Dacia had an answer for everything, and was always so smug about it.

 

‘When I turn back, why am I always naked, Dacia?’

 

‘There are two kinds of werewolf, Doxine. Some of us seem to absorb our clothes, and when we change back, we’re fully clothed. Others rip their clothes when they transform and, unless they remove them first, they’re naked when they change back. I have two theories.

 

‘It may be to do with when you were bitten, because most people here were bitten when, or even before, they reached puberty, and they retain their clothing. I can’t be certain of course, because I haven’t conducted a survey and to most of us it’s a very personal question. Alternatively, of course, it may be personality.’

 

‘Personality?’ Doxine asked, knowing that she’d regret the question.

 

‘I’ve often wondered if the more dramatic, or egotistical, the witch or wizard is, the more dramatic their change is. If they rip off their clothes, then obviously they’ll end up naked. Although I have only limited experience, I’ve never heard of anyone moving from one sort of transformation to the other. It seems likely that you’re always going to end up naked, Doxine. All you can do is make contingency plans.’

 

Doxine pulled herself back to the present. This was the dangerous time, she reminded herself; she was naked, wandless, and vulnerable. Stretching, she almost overbalanced. With every moon, it took longer for the wolf to leave her. She moved slowly, refamiliarising herself with her newly bipedal body. Once satisfied that she had control of her limbs, she pulled the twigs from her hair and pushed her long hair over her shoulders. Creeping cautiously through the forest, she tried to get her bearings.

 

In the days before and after the full moon, Doxine’s sense of smell became almost wolf-like. The wood smoke in the air was so distant as to be almost imperceptible. She turned slowly, and decided that she was upwind of the village. The sun told her that she was far to the west of her home. Orientated, she set off to recover her belongings.

 

The damp forest floor was, for the most part, soft beneath her unshod feet. But she was a long way from her den, and the wind’s cooling breath brought with it a great deal of discomfort. Doxine hated that she was getting older. She was forty-three years old, and once taut flesh was becoming flabby. Her forelegs—her arms—ached from the transformation ached from the transformation, as did her back. As she licked her lips, she tasted blood, human blood. Creeping cautiously through the forest, she tried to remember the events of the previous evening.

 

The wolf-memories were difficult. Smells, tastes and instincts overwhelmed sight, rational thought and memory. Doxine had been sixteen when Greyback infected her. She had almost three decades of practice at remembering. Fighting her way through a fog of bestial sensations, she pieced together what had happened.

 

She had tried, and failed, to bite Harry Potter. She’d bitten someone else, someone new, someone unknown. Slowly, she drew out the memories of the wolf. The wolf had tasted blood, the blood of a girl with wild brown hair. A girl who had swooped down in front of the wolf mid leap. The girl had been riding a broom. Potter had attacked the wolf, and saved the girl. That remembrance brought with it another realisation. They had taken his wand from him, yet Potter had somehow found another.

 

It was difficult for the wolf to remember words, but Doxine concentrated. Potter had his own wand, and he’d used it to summon the wand of his female companion. Two Aurors? Dacia and her eldest girl were involved too—the wolf recognised their scent.

 

Fighting her way through smells and sounds, the wolf recalled falling, a flash of blue light, and the unmistakeable stench of magic. Just before they had captured Potter, Scabior had vanished in a blue light. Potter had arrested the creepy and lecherous former Snatcher using Portkey handcuffs. She’d read a Daily Prophet article about them.

 

Scabior was gone, sent directly to a cell by Portkey. Yvonne Youen was dead. After she’d tumbled into the trench which Potter had created beneath her feet, wolf-Doxine had seen another blue glow. She must assume that at least one other person had been captured, and that Potter was still free.

 

As the events of the previous evening fell into place and Doxine, whose pace had been steadily increasing, once again slowed. Her cautious movements became stealthy. Who was left? Youen had gone off alone; he’d obviously failed to capture Potter, perhaps he’d been captured by Potter. What about Payne? What about Verulf?

 

Was Verulf gone? Was she the only wand-holder in this Merlin-forsaken backwater? Verulf had been too confident, too cruel. When had the strong man she’d chosen become so cruel? He was a child-killer. Everyone hated him. There was a chance that she was alone, that she was friendless.

 

They should have fled the moment she’d identified Potter. If Potter knew where they were, then so did the Auror Office. They were found, and killing him would not have undone that fact. The men had been drunk with the idea that they had captured Potter. They had convinced themselves, and her, that he’d make them rich. Like so many of Verulf’s schemes, it had been brilliant when it was an idea.

 

Doxine hadn’t tortured their captive. Could she find Potter and beg for mercy? The thought of going on the run again did not appeal to her, but what choice did she have? The alternative was Azkaban.

 

It took Doxine fifteen minutes to reach a familiar part of the forest. When she got her bearings, she headed towards the clearing, and her secret stash. She moved carefully, alert for danger. Watching, listening and smelling, her senses confirmed the fact that her lair was safe, untouched.

 

Retrieving her clothes and wand from beneath the tangle of roots, she dressed hastily, moved cautiously towards the village and peered across to her home. One glance was enough. The children had been freed, and the villagers had gained access to the Bastle. Dacia Skoll was at the centre of the crowd, trying—and failing—to maintain order. In the centre of the village, a wand shot sparks into the air, confirming that the villagers had found their wands. It seemed likely that she, alone, remained free, but even if that weren’t the case, the balance of power had shifted.

 

She could not hand herself over to the villagers. There was no sign of any of her companions in the village, but no indication that Potter or his girlfriend was there, either. The girl had been bitten, perhaps she’d left; perhaps Potter had taken her to safety.

 

Who was the girl? Was she Potter’s girlfriend? Had she bitten Potter’s girlfriend? That, Doxine realised with a sinking feeling, was probably worse than biting Potter. Harry Potter had destroyed the Dark Lord, and in the few years since the Battle he had gained a reputation as a relentless pursuer of anyone using dark magic. If she had turned his girlfriend, then Potter would be back for her.

 

Doxine mulled over possibilities in her mind, trying to make sense of the events of the previous two days. Scabior had encountered Potter at the stone. Potter had found the hidden village of Shivering Stone and, thanks to the men’s boasting, he also knew that Lestrange was coming.

 

Doxine was trapped. She couldn’t enter the village, as the villagers would attack her, and she couldn’t risk fleeing through the Stone into the Muggle world beyond because it was very likely that Potter, or someone, would be waiting. She had no friends, no one she could rely on, no one to turn to. Unless…

 

It was a desperate hope, but it was all she had. She inched her way back towards the village, not too close, but near enough to be certain that her spell would work.

 

Accio parchment,’ she whispered. ‘Accio quill, Accio ink.’

 

She heard a commotion. Someone in the village had seen the summoned objects leave their resting places. Catching the three items as they flew into her hands, she turned and fled, making certain that she remained upwind of any pursuers.

 

‘Ambisagrus, my friend, I need you now more than ever,’ she said softly as she ran. She moved rapidly heading away from the Shivering Stone. Splashing through the stream, she ignored the water sloshing in her boots and scrambled up towards the escarpment. Doxine ran through the trees until her lungs were bursting and her aching legs refused to keep up the pace her brain demanded of them. As she slowed, she saw him; her only remaining friend was wheeling high above the trees. She stopped, panting, and held out her arm. He swooped down to meet her.

 

‘Hello, my beautiful boy,’ she gasped gratefully as the barn owl firmly grasped her arm with his claws. Exhausted, she flopped down onto the grassy bank, and stroked her owl until she regained her breath.

 

‘You’re all I have left in the world, Ambisagrus,’ she told him. ‘I have nothing but the clothes I’m wearing. I don’t even have an owl treat to give you, I’m sorry. But I do have a job for you.’ Setting out the parchment and ink, she picked up the quill and began to write.

 

‘Take this to my niece, my Goddaughter, Fenella,’ she said when she’d finished.

 

Doxine Gray sat on the rock, watching her owl as he soared up over the treetops. As he shrank into the distance, she whether her nervous niece would help. She was relying on Fenella, things could hardly be worse.

 


 

With every step Dacia Skoll took, the sack she had casually thrown over her shoulder before beginning her ascent seemed to increase incrementally in weight. Not much further, she assured herself.

 

Dacia watched the curly-haired girl with ever increasing annoyance, certain her approach had been noticed, and ignored. Lavender was perched on the edge of an invisible platform in front of an invisible tent. The girl was idly swinging her legs and chattering into a small mirror as if she hadn’t a care in the world. As Dacia got closer, the girl finally finished gossiping and waved energetically into the mirror.

 

‘Bye Suze, bye big-Boot,’ Lavender said. After again waving into the mirror, Lavender put it down, turned her head, and finally acknowledged Dacia’s approach. ‘And hello, Dacia. It’s a glorious morning, isn’t it? I think that spring has arrived; the world smells fresh and new.’ Lavender’s sing-song voice and over-friendly wave grated on the sensibilities of the older woman, making her more annoyed.

 

‘Morning, Lavender,’ Dacia said curtly. ‘You’re a werewolf now, remember. The reason the world smells “fresh and new” is probably the curse. It affects most people’s sense of smell.’

 

‘Oh, I thought it was because I’m feeling better,’ said Lavender, unperturbed. She gestured at the sack Dacia was carrying. ‘That looks really heavy,’ she observed, proving to Dacia that she could state the obvious, too. ‘Do you need help?’

 

‘Thanks, but no,’ said Dacia firmly, panting with the additional effort of speaking. ‘Those wounds of yours need time to heal. No heavy lifting for you. Not for a very long time.’

 

‘That is not what I meant,’ said Lavender. She pulled out her wand, and with a flick of her wrist, lifted the sack out of Dacia’s arms and into the air.

 

Dacia swore, and added smart-arse to the increasingly long list of reasons she found Harry Potter’s friend so irritating. She ruefully pulled her own wand from within her robes, and helped Lavender to lower the sack onto the invisible platform.

 

‘That’s not the wand you were using yesterday,’ Lavender observed.

 

Dacia was surprised that Lavender had noticed, so surprised that she acknowledged the correctness of the young woman’s observation with a curt nod.

 

‘We searched the bastle this morning, everyone’s wands were in a locked chest,’ Dacia explained. ‘Thanks to Harry, and you, everyone in the village has their wand back.’

 

‘That’s good news,’ said Lavender. ‘Your wand wood looks unusual. What is it?’

 

‘Fir,’ said Dacia, her voice was almost a growl. She waited for the inevitable fir/fur pun, but it didn’t come.

 

‘I’ve still got Youen’s wand,’ Dacia said. ‘I expect the Aurors would want to look at it.’ Dacia hitched up her robes and clambered up the tree to join the young witch in Harry’s still invisible, but no longer secret hideout. ‘Unfortunately, I’ve been wandless for so long I’ve forgotten what a wand is for!’

 

‘It won’t take long to remember, Dacia,’ said Lavender. ‘It’s like walking.’ Lavender struggled to her feet, stepped over to Dacia and, to the older woman’s embarrassment, hugged her and kissed her cheek.

 

‘The pain is easing, Dacia, and I can already walk. I owe you my life.’ Lavender stepped back, leaving a trace of expensive perfume lingering under Dacia’s nose. She threw her arms out wide and stared skywards, as if in supplication. ‘You’ve given the world back to me. I can never repay you.’

 

‘Yes you can,’ said Dacia sharply. ‘Promise that you won’t bite anyone else, and then we’ll be even.’

 

‘Not even when I’m human?’ asked Lavender petulantly, her face creasing mischievously. ‘Because I had plans…’

 

Dacia looked curiously at Lavender, trying to get the measure of the girl. She was supposed to be acting as Harry’s proxy, and he seemed to trust her, but it seemed to Dacia that Lavender’s priorities lay in less practical directions. She was immaculately made up, her perfume was delicate and expensive, her glossy lips and nails were an identical shade of pink.

 

Lavender was wearing Muggle clothes, and they were male Muggle clothes. She had, Dacia assumed, taken them from Harry’s wardrobe. The shirt was white; Lavender had turned up the sleeves to make them three-quarter length and the buttons were undone to reveal glimpses of her cleavage. The shirt was untucked, and fastened around her waist with a grey tie in order to emphasise her figure. Her skinny legs were hidden by black trousers, which were tucked into a pair of equestrian boots. The boots must have been Lavender’s. They looked unworn. Dacia was about to comment on that fact, then she remembered that Lavender had been unable to walk until the previous evening.

 

As she looked at the glamorous young witch, Dacia was made painfully aware of her own appearance. Nevertheless, she reassured herself that her patched and shabby robes were, at least, functional.

 

‘I don’t care who you bite when the moon isn’t full,’ said Dacia in resignation. ‘Who were you talking to?’

 

‘I’ve just been in contact with the Auror Office, with Susan Bones.’ said Lavender, picking up the mirror and waving it. ‘Is there anything I need to tell them?’

 

‘We haven’t found Doxine Gray,’ Dacia told her. ‘Everyone else returned to the village not long after sunrise, but…’

 

‘She’s the one who bit me! Do you think that she’ll try to warn Lestrange?’ asked Lavender anxiously.

 

Dacia shrugged. ‘That’s what’s worrying me. Early this morning, someone used an Accio spell to summon parchment, a quill and ink from the village. I can’t be sure it was Doxine, but who else would it be?’

 

‘She lived in that big stone house, didn’t she?’ said Lavender. There was a hint of unease in her voice as she pointed towards the bastle on the other side of the stream. ‘She was one of the few people who had a wand.’ Lavender paused, and looked thoughtfully out over the farmland, hills, and forest. ‘And she is the only one of them who is still free,’ Lavender added thoughtfully. ‘You must have some idea where she is, what she’ll do.’

 

Dacia shrugged.

 

‘Will she warn Lestrange? Could she be persuaded to help us?’ said Lavender.

 

‘I doubt that she’d help,’ said Dacia. ‘She’s much more likely to try to escape. She must realise that if any of the villagers find her, they’re likely to attack. She doesn’t have any friends here, she’s lorded over us for too long, but she may know when Lestrange will arrive. I think we should try to find her.’

 

When Lestrange will arrive?’ Lavender asked. ‘You’re certain he’ll come?’

 

‘Certain? No,’ said Dacia, still wondering whether the girl was capable of deputising for Harry. ‘I’m hopeful that he’ll arrive today, but until we find Doxine, we can’t be certain about anything.’ Dacia indicated the sack she’d carried up the hill. ‘I found all these in the bastle.’ Dacia pulled it open, revealing a collection of phials, jars, boxes and bottles.

 

‘Wow!’ said Lavender, pulling out a couple of bottles.

 

‘There are more potion ingredients here than I’ve seen since I was at Hogwarts,’ said Dacia. ‘Lestrange could make at least a gallon of Polyjuice Potion with this stuff, and who knows what else. Some of the other villagers wanted us to keep it, but I’m pretty sure that some of the stuff in there is illegal. There are five hundred Galleons in cash in the bastle, too. When I left, the others were arguing about what we should do with it.’

 

‘Five hundred Galleons and all of these potion ingredients, it’s no wonder the Aurors haven’t been able to find him,’ said Lavender. ‘With a decent supply of cash and potions, Lestrange could be anywhere, and he could be anyone.’ She shrugged. ‘We’ll put these in Harry’s tent, then we need to organise a search for Doxine.’

 

‘I spoke to everyone while I was handing out the wands. They all want to see Harry. They’re not happy that he’s gone,’ said Dacia. ‘They think he’s abandoned them.’

 

‘They don’t need Harry; they’ve got me, the famous Lavender Brown,’ she said, lifting her chin proudly.

 

‘You’re nobody,’ Dacia told her brusquely. ‘Everybody knows who Harry Potter is, and most people have heard of Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, too. My daughters talk about someone called Neville Longbottom, too. He’s another of Harry’s friends who joined the Auror Office. But you?’ She shrugged dismissively.

 

Lavender pushed out her bottom lip, clasped her hands over her heart, and gave a dramatic sigh. ‘Evewybody fowgets poor wittle Wavender,’ she said in a childish voice, pretending to brush a tear from her cheek. She smiled at Dacia and returned to her normal voice. ‘It really doesn’t matter, does it?’

 

‘It matters, Lavender,’ Dacia told her. ‘These things always matter. Yesterday, they all saw Harry beaten, disarmed and a prisoner. This morning, when they transformed back, they discovered that he’d saved the kids and got rid of our oppressors. He saved the children, and freed us all. You? The villagers have never seen you; they don’t know anything about you. You aren’t even an Auror! You’re no one!’ she finished with deliberate cruelty.

 

‘We’ll go and find out, shall we? After all, I helped Harry last night,’ Lavender protested. ‘And so did you. I know that I’m not the legendary Harry Potter but neither is he, believe me! He’s bad tempered and grumpy and very rude... Especially to people who are snogging his best mate! But he’s rather sweet too,’ she added wistfully. ‘If Harry hadn’t been in my year—in my house—I probably wouldn’t be here now.’

 

‘Your house! You’re a Gryffindor?’ Dacia asked, failing to hide her surprise.

 

‘Where dwell the brave of heart.’ Lavender nodded. ‘No one was more surprised than my parents! Dad’s a Hufflepuff and Mum’s a Slytherin. But somehow, I ended up in Gryffindor.’ She gave a tinkling little laugh. ‘I once asked Dad if my being a Gryffindor had surprised him. He said, “Not as much as I’d be if you were sorted into Ravenclaw, princess.” I had to agree.’ She giggled.

 

‘Harry told me that you got your wounds during the Battle.’ Dacia carefully re-appraised the girl. She had assumed that Lavender had merely been in the wrong place at the wrong time. ‘Did you stay and fight?’

 

Lavender nodded. ‘Lavender Brown, Order of Merlin second class, Hogwarts medal.’ she announced. ‘We’ll go persuade the villagers to help find Doxine. If I talk to them, and explain who I am, and what the plan is, we’ll be fine.’ She again waved the mirror at Dacia. ‘Harry has set up alarm charms around the village, and at the stone and, as I said, all I need to do is speak one word to the person who has this mirror’s twin, and you’ll get almost the entire Auror Office here. It’s a good plan. What could go wrong?’

 

‘If you go down to the village, who will hear the alarm?’ asked Dacia acidly.

 

‘I will,’ said Amber Skoll, stepping out from the trees beneath the platform. ‘I’ll stay here until you get back. I can shout a warning. I can do it, mum. I want to help Harry Potter.’

 


 

Lavender looked helplessly at the villagers and tried to figure out what Harry would do in the same situation.

 

He wouldn’t do anything, she decided, because he wouldn’t find himself in this situation. If Harry were here the villagers would be standing and listening to him. Lavender was having no such luck. They had taken one look at her and, as Dacia had predicted, ignored her.

 

Lavender panicked. Why had she suggested that Harry leave?

 

She knew the answer to that, of course. She’d done it for true love. The Potter/Weasley romance was a real-life page-turner, a true romance, and she was a part of it. Harry had been distraught about Ginny’s behaviour, and he’d been pathetically grateful to her for letting him go. She wondered if he’d found Ginny, and if she’d ever find out what had happened. Susan’s complete lack of interest in gossip meant she’d have to find someone else to tell her.

 

Raised voices brought Lavender back to reality. The squabbling mob were paying no attention to her, instead they broke up into smaller clusters. Some drifted away, but two of the more forceful males were still arguing, trying to assert dominance. Lavender listened, trying to assess their mood. Some wanted to leave the place, others wanted to stay, yet others were trying to organise a search party, to find Doxine.

 

Lavender knew she couldn’t take control the way Harry did. Dacia wasn’t helping, she stared at Lavender, saying nothing, but radiating “I told you so.” If she was to have any credibility she needed to do something. As she wondered what Neville, or Terry, or Susan would do, Lavender remembered Susan’s course notes. Susan had underlined a comment by Auror Phillipa Fortescue—play to your strengths. Susan had used the comment to justify her constant reading and hard work. Lavender, however, suspected that Auror Fortescue had meant something else.

 

Readjusting the collar of the white shirt she was wearing, she ensured that she was showing as much flesh as possible and that the pink lace of her bra could be glimpsed by anyone interested enough to look. Satisfied, she headed towards the younger of the two men who were trying to take control. He was in his late twenties, burly and square-faced with corn-coloured hair, and he seemed to be gathering more people around him than did the older man. Lavender walked up behind him, and tapped him on the shoulder.

 

‘What?’ he asked harshly as he turned to face her. She took a step backwards and allowed her lower lip to tremble a little. Giving him a nervous smile, she looked up into his face. Their eyes did not meet, because his were firmly fixated on her cleavage.

 

Lavender moved closer to her target. There was no point in talking to him. Until she could divert his attention from her breasts, he wouldn’t be listening. Stepping forwards, she pushed her way into his personal space and forced him to acknowledge her as a person.

 

‘I do like a man who can take control,’ she said breathily as she moved closer. Those words were enough for him to look at her face. ‘But, would you mind if I made a teensy-weensy little suggestion? I’m only trying to help.’

 

She smiled, and fluttered her eyelashes. His condescending half-smile showed her that she was succeeding. At least she had his attention.

 

‘I know that I’m just a silly little girl,’ she said quietly. ‘I came here because I was being silly, and Harry rescued me, just like he rescued all of you.’ She opened her eyes wide and stared earnestly up into the man’s face. ‘Sorry, I don’t even know your name.’

 

‘Canus,’ the man said.

 

‘Canus,’ Lavender repeated carefully. ‘Hello, Canus, I’m Lavender and Harry Potter gave me a job to do.’ She tried to put as much awe as possible into the name, saw his expression, and immediately worried that she’d overdone it, ‘I don’t want to let him down. I don’t want to let anyone down. Would you help me, please? I’d be ever so grateful.’

 

‘I’m busy,’ Canus grumbled. She allowed her lower lip to tremble a little. ‘What do you want me to do?’ he asked.

 

‘As Harry Potter, isn’t here, someone will have to organise this lot,’ she said, smiling hopefully at him.

 

‘What do you think that I’m trying to do?’ he said dismissively.

 

‘I know, it’s very brave of you,’ Lavender gushed. She reached forwards and squeezed his arm. ‘Ooh, you’re strong,’ she told him. ‘But, although Lowell and the others have been arrested, Rabastan Lestrange might be on his way, and Doxine might know when he’s going to get here.’

 

‘I’m trying to persuade everyone to help me find her,’ Canus said.

 

‘I’m certain that you’ll succeed, but you do realise that we’ll need her alive and conscious, don’t you?’ She gave him a wide eyed and worried look. ‘I’m a little scared for everyone else, too. I’ll be okay, because Harry has a secret hideout. But you see, don’t you, that this place could be dangerous for the children? If you leave them in the village, and Lestrange arrives…’

 

Lavender paused and watched her words sink in.

 

‘You’ve got to find an excuse to get everybody out of the village,’ she advised. ‘What if you tell them that searching will keep them safe? You could send people out to search, send the children and old folks away from the entrance stone. They’ll be helping, a bit, and they’ll be away from here and out of danger until Harry gets back. Lestrange can’t attack them if they aren’t here, and you can carry out the search for Doxine without worrying about them.’

 

Lavender watched Canus as he mulled over her suggestion. It was obvious that, unlike her, he had not been worrying about the smaller and weaker villagers. After a few moments, Canus grinned and winked at her. ‘Not just a pretty face, are you?’ he said. ‘I’ll see you later, darling.’

 

Turning, Canus addressed the watching crowd. ‘Right, you lot,’ he shouted loudly, ‘I’ve had an idea! Here’s what we’re gonna do…’

 

Lavender strolled across to an astonished Dacia, ‘Mission accomplished,’ she said. ‘If you can keep the women and children safe in the woods somewhere, that would be perfect. Do you think Canus will do as I asked?’

 

‘Yes,’ Dacia nodded, and gave Lavender a wry smile. ‘It’s already his idea. But, Rabastan will be suspicious if the village is deserted.’

 

‘Possibly, but then the Aurors will arrive almost as soon as he gets here,’ Lavender assured her. ‘If they lose him, it’s their fault. But at least no one else will get hurt. I’ll get back to the tent, and send Amber straight back down to you.’

 

Hours passed. Nothing happened. Lavender began to get bored. She began to wonder what would happen if Lestrange did not arrive, or if he arrived late at night. When would Harry return? Had he forgotten her? She again looked out over the village. It was deserted, and the forests were quiet, so she opened her make-up bag and began to carefully clean the pink varnish from her left thumbnail. She would paint it red, and draw the Gryffindor lion on it, she decided. That was when the alarm sounded.

 

Cursing, she Disillusioned herself and stepped out from the tent onto the invisible platform. She looked across the treetops, but could see nothing. Should she wait until she had a confirmed sighting? What if he was using a Polyjuice potion? How would she know if it was really Lestrange?

 

Remembering Harry’s Omnioculars, she dashed back into the tent and grabbed them. Once back out onto the platform, she scanned the sky. Nothing! Looking down into the forest, she saw movement. She picked up the mirror, and as she focussed on the rustling undergrowth she saw, not Lestrange, but Amber Skoll and the boy who’d been with her the previous night, Ross Lykaon. They were hiding in the bushes, watching the village.

 

Suddenly, a tree behind the two youngsters exploded. As they broke cover, a second blast threw Ross into the air. ‘Homenum revelio,’ Lavender muttered. Her spell revealed that an invisible someone was flying towards the children. Her instructions were to make certain that it was Lestrange, but she didn’t have time. Lavender grabbed the mirror and said ‘Hello.’ She found herself staring at a plump middle aged witch. ‘Who are you?’ she asked, startled.

 

‘Auror Fortesque, Miss Brown,’ the woman said crisply. ‘Is this another social call, or…’

 

‘He’s here,’ Lavender said. ‘About two hundred yards west, I think. You’d better get here fast.’ She drew her wand and, when another spell appeared from nowhere, aimed at its source and shouted, ‘Finite Incantatem.’

 

Pocketing the mirror and running towards the edge of the invisible platform, Lavender leapt to the ground. Her newly working legs weren’t up to the landing, and she fell face first into a patch of stinging nettles. Picking herself up, she headed for the village.

 


 

Dropping out from the clouds, Rabastan Lestrange spotted the tall pines of Kidland Forest and, just to the north, the conical mound of Bloodybush Edge. The cold wind whipped his cloak as he pushed his broom into a steep spiralling descent. Safely hidden under a Disillusionment Charm, he was almost at his destination. The Shivering Stone, the entrance to the ramshackle and primitive village of the werewolves, was mere moments away.

 

As he plunged earthwards, Lestrange berated the world. He had no living relatives, no true friends, and no trusted equals. Because of the perfidious duplicity of those damnable Malfoys, there was no one left to help him. Almost before the dust from the Battle had settled, Lucius had spilled his guts to the Aurors. He’d told them everything: names, meeting places, secret hideouts, and even the names of those who had been placed under the Imperius curse. Because of Malfoy’s treachery, every other Death Eater had been rounded up within weeks of the demise of the Dark Lord.

 

Although he thirsted for revenge, Lestrange wasn’t stupid. Freedom was more important. What he really needed were allies. The mysterious messages he’d received from “A Friend”. This anonymous individual had put him in touch with other fugitives, the Pureblood kids. He had tried to organise them. They were prepared to listen, but not to be led. Worse, because they, too, were wanted, they were unable to access his vault.

 

Although he had his suspicions as to the identity of “A Friend”, he had no proof, and he wasn’t about to try to find out. He’d considered contacting the younger Nott, but the boy had claimed innocence. Besides, the Notts were even more slippery than the Malfoys. Even in Azkaban, old man Nott wasn’t someone to annoy. He appeared to be a loyal Death Eater, yet had managed to avoid the indignities heaped on the Malfoys. Old man Nott knew some very dangerous people. The rumours said he was one of the few people who could contact Mr Church and Mr Temple.

 

 

The four youngsters were surviving, and making mischief, but they would be caught. It was astonishing that they were still free. Like his father, Goyle’s dim-witted son was as reliable as a troll; fine if you gave him a simple task, something he enjoyed, like hurting someone or destroying something. But he was incapable of carrying out complex orders.

 

As for the others, the Bulstrode girl and her boyfriend, Flint, were marginally more intelligent than Goyle but even more violent. Their blood was pure, but their families than petty criminals, the dross of Knockturn Alley. As for Bletchley, he was cunning, but couldn’t be trusted. Despite his claims to the contrary, Bletchley’s blood wasn’t pure. Only four generations earlier, a Bletchley had married a half-blood.

 

Here he was, Rabastan, last of the Lestranges. A proud Pureblood family, even older than the Malfoys, reduced to a life on the run, relying on filthy werewolves and foolish youngsters. Thanks to his sister-in-law, the Lestrange family home, Glaven House, was lost to him. He could never return home to the flat marshlands at Cley-next-the-Sea.

 

Werewolves were wretched creatures, beneath contempt. He, his brother, and Bellatrix had counselled the Dark Lord against allying himself with them. As he flew towards their stinking lair, Lestrange cursed his lot in life. Dumbledore, Snape, the Dark Lord, all were all responsible. Potter too. If he could only get his hands on Potter...

 

As he approached the stone, Lestrange pulled out his wand and checked for hidden or invisible enemies. He’d been living in the shadows for almost two years. Caution was essential. On one occasion the Aurors had come within a few seconds of capturing him. Approaching Malfoy Manor had been foolish. Revenge was impossible. Potter, damn him, was hidden. The location of Potter’s house was a secret and the boy seemed to spend most of his time living in the Muggle world, where he was merely one more filthy Muggle among millions.

 

Lestrange wondered whether Bletchley and the others had finally managed to get to the Weasley girl. The youngsters had written to him weeks ago, telling him about a hare-brained scheme to slip her a potion, to make her betray Potter with another man. They had wanted his approval. Targeting the girl had worked. It had done some damage to her reputation, but not enough. She had proved to be as strong-willed and stubborn as her cursed mother’s family. After reading the reports in the Prophet, he’d written to the youngsters suggesting that they try adding Dementor essence to the potion. According to the papers, her behaviour was even more erratic, but the potion still wasn’t working quickly enough.

 

As he walked towards the Shivering Stone, Lestrange wondered what day it was. He had been running for so long he was no longer certain. All he knew was that it was the morning after the full moon, and the werewolf leaders would be expecting him. With wand in one hand, and broom in the other, he stepped through the stone and into the hidden valley.

 

Still hidden under the Disillusionment charm, he flew towards the village. As he approached, he slowed. Something was wrong. The village was deserted, and so were the fields. Pulling his broom to a halt he drew his wand and tried to find out where everyone was.

 

Homenum revelio,’ he muttered.

 

The majority of the villagers were out of range, his spell revealed less than a dozen individuals. The closest were just ahead of him. Two people were hiding in the undergrowth. A third was a little further away, somewhere in the trees on the other side of the stream to the village. The rest were rapidly approaching the village from the opposite direction. Swooping down towards them, he blasted a tree behind the nearest two.

 

They broke cover instantly, but they were only kids. A boy and a girl in their early teens, they were running towards the village. He fired another Blasting Curse at the boy. It knocked him from his feet and he cartwheeled through the air, hit a tree, and slid to the ground in an untidy heap. The boy wasn’t moving. The girl, foolishly, had stopped fleeing and was running to help him. Lestrange dived towards her.

 

Suddenly, he was visible. Because of the distance, the spell hit him before he heard the shouted words.

 

Finite Incantatem,’ a woman’s voice rang out. He looked out through the trees towards the source of the noise and saw a wild-haired girl stumbling down the slope opposite the village. He recognised the white shirt and black trousers of the new Auror uniform, and reacted immediately. Swooping low into the trees, he grabbed the child and lifted her from the ground. The Auror wouldn’t dare attack while he held a hostage. He sped out from the trees and landed in the centre of the village, placing one of the ramshackle cottages the werewolves used as homes between him and the Auror. Snacking the screaming and struggling girl, he stepped sideways so that he could see past the edge of the building, and then blasted the slope, where the Auror was running towards him.

 

The curly-haired girl was hurled into the air by the blast. As she dropped out of sight, a splash told him that she’d landed in the stream. Pity it wasn’t Potter, he thought, wondering if he’d managed to kill her.

 

‘Lavender!’ the girl in his arms screamed. She squirmed and struggled in a desperate attempt to escape.

 

‘Shut up, or I’ll kill you,’ Lestrange ordered, pushing his wand into the girl’s neck. ‘Was that it? One teenage Auror? Or are there more on the way?’

 

‘Release my daughter, now,’ a woman yelled. She had entered the village from the opposite direction, and he realised that she, and the villagers with her, must be the other people he’d detected. They all had wands, but they were merely werewolves, not Aurors.

 

He raised his wand, took aim at the woman, and shouted, ‘Avada Kedavra.’



Chapter 19: Prey: The Strange Snake Bites
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19: Prey: The Strange Snake Bites

 

Lavender’s ears were still ringing from the noise of the explosion when she landed in the stream. The shock of hitting water made her gasp, and she inhaled water so cold that it froze her nostrils. Reflexively pushing her head upwards to escape, she coughed out water and took a desperate breath.

 

The bone-numbing water partially revived her, and Lavender glanced down at herself. Her white shirt was soaking wet, and clinging to her. The werewolf, Canus, would have something even more distracting to look at, she thought light-headedly.

 

It wasn’t until she tried to pick herself up from the bed of the stream that the pain finally hit her. Her left arm was broken. She struggled to stand. The abdominal wounds which had kept her chair-bound for years were hurting for the first time since Dacia had bandaged them. Her back was wet, too, though she wasn’t sure whether it was from water, blood, or both. She’d been broken, bruised and battered by Lestrange’s Blasting Curse. Her trousers—or rather, Harry’s trousers—were ripped; her new boots were badly scuffed and full of water. As she hauled herself to her knees, she realised that, despite everything, she’d somehow managed to hold onto her wand.

 

She’d broken a carefully painted nail, too.

 

Attacked by another Death Eater, but still not dead, she assured herself, trying to slow her galloping heart. Kneeling in the water, she tried to decide what to do.

 

Avada Kedavra!’ The callous voice shouting the Killing Curse left her no option.

 

The harsh sound of those hateful syllables forced her to her feet. The realisation that an Unforgiveable Curse had been cast brought her blast-befuddled brain back to some semblance of sense. Where in Merlin’s name are the Aurors, she wondered angrily.

 

Lavender’s limping exit from the stream was accompanied by the explosive bangs of more Blasting Curses. It sounded as though they were coming from the open area in the centre of the village, from the opposite side of the rough-looking cottage in front of her. Deciding that it would be unwise to show herself, she used her good arm to push open the rear door of the property. She found herself in a dingy corridor with a door on each side, and a third door directly ahead. Since Greyback, she’d had to teach herself to suppress physical pain. Ignoring her injuries, she made her way along the corridor as rapidly as she could.

 

The explosions continued, making the door ahead rattle on its hinges. When she reached it, Lavender faced her next problem. Because of her injured arm, she was forced to open it with her wand hand. Bracing herself, she pulled open the door a fraction and peered out.

 

Lestrange was almost directly ahead of her, but he was more than fifty yards away. He was at the top of the stairs leading up to the bastle. The Auror’s most wanted was trying to open the door, while simultaneously using Amber Skoll as a shield. Lavender raised her wand, blinked away tears she hadn’t realised she was crying, and tried to take aim. Her arm was unsteady and, as she tried to focus on her target, she was distracted by the large number of blue glows which appeared between her and Lestrange.

 

Lavender tried desperately to steady her wand and, for an instant, she thought that she had a clean shot. But she wasn’t quick enough. As she gazed across the glowing space the hate-filled eyes of Rabastan Lestrange bored into hers. He flicked his wand with a flourish and there was an explosion almost directly above her head. The roof of the cottage exploded and caught fire. The blast knocked the partly opened door into her broken arm and, in her agony, she collapsed to the floor. By then the blue glows had resolved themselves into people. Aurors, at least two dozen of them, surrounded Lestrange.

 

‘Rabastan Lestrange,’ the magically amplified voice of Head Auror Gawain Robards reverberated around the village. ‘We have you surrounded. Put down your wand and surrender.’

 

There were Aurors everywhere, perhaps she was safe! Lavender looked around for a familiar face. Susan Bones was the first she saw. She was by far the closest to the cottage where Lavender stood and, to Lavender’s astonishment, straitlaced Susan was in the arms of a very tall brown-haired man. As she watched Susan push the man away, Lavender felt the heat of flames behind and above her. The roof beams burned. Picking up her wand, she struggled to her feet. For an instant, her eyes met those of the man who’d been holding Susan. Apart from his height, he was very ordinary looking.

 

Lavender looked beyond him, towards Lestrange, and once again tried to raise her wand. Before she could even think of a spell there was a cracking noise behind her. The roof fell. A blast of hot air from behind knocked her back to the floor. Then something heavy fell onto her legs. As she desperately tried to move, the panic of being unable to walk again assaulted and overwhelmed her. She saw the tall man, who had turned away from Susan, begin running towards her.

 

‘My hero,’ Lavender murmured. It was her last thought; in order to shut off the pain, her mind opted to leap into the black depths of unconsciousness.

 


 

Dacia was about twenty yards ahead of the others when she spotted the movement. It was some distance away and on the other side of the stream, but she decided not to take any chances. She turned and signalled her companions, silently indicating that they should keep quiet and stay where they were. Once she was satisfied that they understood, she moved cautiously forwards.

 

It took only a moment for her to realise that the disturbance in the foliage was being caused by a group of people, not an individual. It didn’t take much longer for her to identify them.

 

‘Lykaon,’ she called quietly across the water. The group stopped, and the undergrowth quivered. Voices murmured nervously, wands were drawn. They were pointed in several different directions, but the majority were pointing at a large bush slightly upstream from her actual position. As Dacia glanced towards it, she saw a blackbird hop out from beneath its branches.

 

‘It’s, Dacia,’ she told them, forcing them to reassess her location. ‘I’m coming out.’ Even after she stepped out from behind the tree, the half-a-dozen men on the opposite bank did not lower their guard. Dacia gesticulated, and the women and children with her all moved forwards, revealing themselves to the men opposite.

 

The two groups were almost a mile downstream of the village. It was a part of the forest Dacia wasn’t familiar with. When you got close to them, magical boundaries could be difficult and confusing things. The stream, widened by several trickling tributaries and swollen by the recent rains, was fast-flowing. Water and land met and intermingled in a boggy mess of leaf, mulch and mud. On the opposite bank, the stream had been successful in its attempt to undercut the bank. A spider web of tree roots hung out over the water.

 

‘There’s no sign of Doxine over this side,’ said Dacia. ‘Not that I expected to find her.’ The other mothers in the group nodded their agreement. The children with them, including Dacia’s two youngest children, Jade and Ruby, chorused their agreement.

 

‘We haven’t seen hide nor hair of her, either,’ the village butcher, Lykaon said. The five men with him concurred noisily.

 

‘Where are Amber and Ross?’ Ruby Skoll asked, peering around from behind her mother.

 

‘Yes,’ Dacia said, realising that neither her eldest daughter nor the butcher’s son were with the group. ‘Where are they?’

 

‘I was going to ask you,’ said Lykaon. ‘They’re supposed to be with you.’

 

Dacia felt her world tilt. She stared into Lykaon’s face, and realisation hit both parents. Certain that her own face was mirroring the look of panic she could see on Lykaon’s, Dacia spoke the words she knew Ross’ father did not want to hear.

 

‘No,’ she told him. The pit of fear which had opened up in her stomach threatened to swallow her whole. ‘They told me that you’d agreed they could both go with you.’

 

Lykaon cursed. ‘They told me that you’d insisted they stay with you,’ he said angrily.

 

‘Damn them,’ said Dacia. ‘Where in Merlin’s name have they gone?’

 

‘They’re probably back at the village, watching to see what happens,’ Jade Skoll said helpfully. ‘That’s what they wanted to do. I heard them talking, afore Canus told everybody what to do.’

 

Dacia turned angrily on her youngest, but Jade’s fear-filled expression was enough to shield the girl from a scolding.

 

‘It’s not your fault, Jade,’ Dacia said, forcing herself to stay calm. ‘I expect that Amber told you to keep quiet, didn’t she?’ Jade nodded, and Dacia looked earnestly down at her two youngest daughters. ‘You two, stay here with the other mums. Be good girls.’

 

‘But, Mum,’ Ruby began. She got no further, as her mother’s expression forced the girl to silence.

 

‘Look after each other,’ Dacia ordered.

 

Heedless of the discomfort, Dacia squelched her way across the muddy bank, splashed through the knee-deep waters of the stream and tried to clamber up onto the roots on the opposite bank. Lykaon reached down, and she gratefully grasped his helping hand. Past disagreements were swept aside as they made plans to track down their missing children. They managed to persuade three of the other men in Lykaon’s group to go with them. Warning everyone else to stay hidden, the two worried parents trotted towards the village as quickly as they could. Their three companions nervously brought up the rear.

 

They were about a hundred yards from the village when they heard the first explosion. Several trees on the opposite side of the settlement swayed from the force of the blast. The noise added urgency to Dacia and Lykaon’s quest, and they both broke into a run. Their companions, however, were slowing down.

 

Moments after the explosion, Lavender Brown’s voice rang out. ‘Finite Incantatem.’

 

As they ran along the track behind his cottage, Dacia found herself drawing slightly ahead of Lykaon. She could see Lavender running and stumbling down the slope, and she could see the bastle, but her view of the centre of the village was blocked by Lykaon’s cottage, and the animal hides stretched out behind it.

 

There was a second blast. It hit the bank just behind Lavender and, to her horror, Dacia saw Harry’s curly-haired friend being hurled into the air by the force of the blast.

 

‘Lavender!’ Dacia heard her daughter’s anguished shout coming from the other side of the cottage.

 

The sound of Amber’s voice pushed Dacia to even greater speed. She rounded the cottage to see Amber squirming and struggling in the arms of Rabastan Lestrange. Her daughter was desperately trying to escape, but Lestrange was bigger and stronger than the thirteen-year-old.

 

‘Shut up, or I’ll kill you,’ Lestrange ordered.

 

As he thrust his wand into Amber’s neck, Dacia pulled out her wand. Trying to regain her breath, she struggled to remember an offensive spell.

 

‘Was that it? One Auror? Or are there more on the way?’ Lestrange asked Amber.

 

‘Release my daughter, now,’ Dacia shouted angrily. She realised her mistake immediately. Lestrange was lightning fast, and his wand was instantaneously pointing in her direction. She panicked, and froze.

 

‘<i>Avada Kedavra!</i>’ he yelled.

 

As Lestrange shouted the words Dacia’s eyes met Amber’s. Dacia watched her daughter lunge sideways, knocking her captor’s wand arm. In a daze, Dacia watched the green beam pass by her and heard a frightened whimper from behind her. Glancing around, she saw that Ross’ father had caught up with her. From his expression, it appeared the diverted Killing Curse had missed him by the merest fraction.

 

Lestrange swore, clenched his fist, and hit Amber as hard as he could on the side of her head. Dacia watched in horror as her eldest daughter slumped, stunned. Rooted to the spot, Dacia couldn’t think of a spell. She could think of nothing but the cruel death of her husband. She’d seen so much death, and conflict. Why wouldn’t it stop? Lestrange sensed her weakness; giving her a look of contempt, he bent down to retrieve his broom.

 

Accio broom,’ Dacia shouted desperately, forced to her senses by the understanding that—if Lestrange managed to remount his broom—she might never see her daughter again. The broom shot towards her.

 

At the same moment, from alongside her, Lykaon yelled ‘Stupefy.’

 

Lestrange swore, deflected the butcher’s stunning spell, and silently flicked his wand. Dacia watched the glowing orange ball trail smoke as it arced rapidly through the air. She grabbed Lykaon by the arm and pulled him into the rear garden of his cottage just as Lestrange’s blasting curse hit the point where the butcher had been standing. Both Lykaon and Dacia were hit by the force of burning air, blasted earth, and splinters of wood. The wood puzzled Dacia, until Lestrange’s swearing revealed that he’d destroyed his broom in the blast.

 

There was another blast, rapidly followed by several more as Lestrange attempted to demolish the cottage which was now providing cover for Dacia and Lykaon. As they dashed along the rear wall of the cottage parts of the walls and roof fell around them. Flames began to crackle as the timbers caught fire. Upon reaching the other end of the cottage, or what remained of it, Dacia risked glancing around the edge of the building. From her new vantage point she could see the stream; there was no sign of Lavender. Thankful that the girl wasn’t lying dead in the water, Dacia crept along the gable wall, wondering where Lestrange was.

 

Cautiously peering into the centre of the village, Dacia saw Lestrange dragging Amber up the steps to the bastle. She knew that there were at least two brooms inside the building. Gathering all of her courage, Dacia stepped out from behind the cottage. As she did so, Lestrange blasted the roof of another cottage, her own!

 

Dacia’s knees buckled as she watched flames take hold on the roof of her home. As she raised her wand and prepared to make what she suspected would be a futile attack, she saw dozens of blue glows appear between her and Lestrange. Suddenly, the village was full of Aurors.

 


 

Ron’s lips were still tingling from Hermione’s kiss when the Portcard he was holding snatched him away from her. He’d grabbed the card instinctively when the alert had been called, and she’d kissed him!

 

It wasn’t an “all is forgiven” kiss, it was an “I’m worried about you” kiss. He’d been stupid—again—and she was still very annoyed with him, he knew that with a heart-chilling certainty. The kiss had only been dragged from her because he was going into danger; but that meant she still cared enough to be worried about his safety. For the moment, that was enough. There was still hope.

 

When the Portkey hooked him from the Harpies Press Conference, Ron was focussed entirely on Hermione’s kiss. He should have been concentrated on his destination, and his landing. The sudden translocation from the arms of his girl to a ramshackle village in the middle of nowhere left him momentarily bewildered. As the blue glow of the Portkey dropped him onto a patch of well-trodden grass, he stumbled and almost fell. Realising that now wasn’t a good time to be distracted, he scrambled upright and rapidly surveyed the scene.

 

Harry was to his left, looking worriedly at him; Neville was to his right. Fenella Gray had released Neville’s Portcard and she was running for cover. She sprinted between one cottage which was burning and another which was untouched, passing a wild-haired woman as she fled. Ron wondered why Fenella, who’d never seemed to be the most heroic of people, had grabbed the card and come with them. Fenella had claimed to be their photographer and used that as an excuse to join them. Technically, it was true; but she didn’t have a camera with her.

 

‘Rabastan Lestrange, we have you surrounded. Put down your wand and surrender.’ The magically amplified voice of Head Auror Gawain Robards brought Ron rapidly around to the much more important matter of the only remaining Death Eater.

 

‘If anyone moves this girl dies,’ someone snarled, Ron whirled around to face the voice.

 

The last Death Eater was standing at the top of a flight of stone steps, outside a solid looking door. Ron, like every other Auror, raised his wand but did not fire a spell. Lestrange was backed into the arch of the entrance. He had a young teenage girl by the hair and was holding her in front of him, using her as a shield.

 

‘Still not dead, Robards?’ Lestrange taunted, flicking his wand.

 

Gawain Robards swept Lestrange’s Blasting Curse aside with an elegant and almost contemptuous wave of his wand. The spell hit the already mostly demolished cottage. Ron heard the crackle of flames behind him and realised that a second cottage, one near Terry and Susan, was also burning.

 

‘You can’t escape, Rabastan,’ Robards said resolutely.

 

‘Bluff and bluster from a one-legged fat man,’ Lestrange jeered. ‘You can’t attack, can you, Robards? You might hurt this poor pathetic little werewolf pup.’ Lestrange hauled the girl up higher. ‘I’ll give you a choice. You and Potter can put down your wands and walk forwards. Once I’ve killed you both, I’ll turn myself in. Alternatively, your pathetic Aurors lower their wands, I go inside and find a broom, and then I fly out of here with my hostage.’

 

Ron glanced at his best friend. Harry had lowered his wand and was pushing it into his pocket. Ron was about to stop him when, to his relief, Harry drew it again.

 

‘Just let the girl go, Lestrange,’ Harry suggested. ‘And then we can talk.’

 

‘Talk,’ Lestrange laughed maniacally, ‘What is there to talk about? Make up your mind, Potter. Drop your wand and come here! And when you're dead, I'll let the girl go.’

 

‘Release my daughter, now,’ a woman shouted. The voice came from somewhere close to the blasted cottage, from where the wild-haired woman stood. Ron kept his eyes fixed on Lestrange. The Death Eater acted instantly; he flicked his wand in the direction of the voice. Once again Robards deflected the Blasting Curse into the ruined building.

 

‘Fire as many curses as you like, Rabastan,’ said Robards. ‘You’re not going anywhere.’

 

‘Then this filthy little pup will die,’ Lestrange snarled. He looked around and sneered. ‘My brother and his wife would be pleased to see so many old friends here to greet me. Auror Webb! You couldn’t save your filthy Muggle wife, could you? And here’s the Longbottom brat, too. So nice to see you! We turned your parents into dribbling imbeciles. Would you like to join them in Saint Mung… Aargh!’

 

The girl, who Ron had assumed was unconscious, had suddenly elbowed Lestrange in the groin. She tried to free herself, to jump from the top of the stairs. Unfortunately, her manoeuvre didn’t succeed. Showing remarkable strength, Lestrange gripped the still struggling girl tightly by her hair, and dangled her right in front of him.

 

Ron felt the frustration of his colleagues. The Aurors were prepared to strike; they were simply waiting for an opening. Then, from the corner of his eye, Ron saw Harry throw his wand to the ground and step forwards. Lestrange noticed, too, and he raised his wand. Ron’s panic at Harry’s action sparked an idea which instantly burst into flame.

 

Lestrange was holding the girl by the hair! Ron acted the moment the though hit him. It was a spell he’d never used before, but he’d watched his mother use it for as long as he could remember. Hoping that it would work, he silently cast a haircutting charm.

 

It wasn’t elegant, but it had the desired effect. The still struggling girl dropped from Lestrange’s grasp, twisted sideways and plummeted the ten feet to the ground. Lestrange, suddenly left holding nothing but huge clumps of the girl’s hair, tried to cast the Killing Curse at Harry. He wasn’t fast enough.

 

The combat was over before Ron had an opportunity to do anything else. Lestrange had been disarmed by Harry, who had somehow regained his wand. Simultaneously, the bright red beams of a score or more Stunning Spells blasted Lestrange back against the door, which broke under the force.

 


 

As they slipped almost instantly through space from Knockturn Alley to an open area of grass encircled by huts, and a sturdy-looking stone house, Mark Moon found himself face to face, and almost hand in hand, with a furious Susan Bones. Both were clinging to the Portkey card still stuck in his pocket. The moment they landed, Susan pulled her identity card from his pocket, ripping the lining as she did so. She angrily pushed him away. Mark’s rapid glance around took in the large number of Aurors.

 

‘Keep back, and don’t interfere. This is an Auror operation; you’re not supposed to be here,’ she ordered.

 

Spotting the Auror’s most dangerous, and most wanted, fugitive standing atop a flight of stone steps, Mark decided to obey. Lestrange was holding a girl of about twelve by her tawny-brown hair, and was using her as a shield. Mark watched the wanted man flick his wand. The spell flew over everyone’s head before it was diverted into one of the crude looking cottages, where it exploded. Realising that he’d simply be a hindrance to the Aurors, Mark moved.

 

As he turned to look for cover, the roof of the burning building behind him creaked loudly. As it did so, a figure in torn black trousers and a wet white shirt was silhouetted in the doorway. The woman had masses of curly brown hair, and was certainly no older than him. Ignoring the more obvious charms on display, Mark found himself falling into the oceanic depths of a pair of remarkable violet eyes.

 

She was pale, frail, bloody and bedraggled. To Mark, dazzled by her eyes, she looked both vulnerable and determined. As he stared, she looked past him, towards the Aurors, and tried to raise her wand. The creaks coming from the cottage turned into a crack, and the burning roof of the building collapsed.

 

As the roof caved in, Mark was blasted by the hot air expelled through the door. The girl with the violet eyes was floored by the blast, and pinned to the ground by a solid wooden lintel, as the door frame fell onto her legs. Flames flickered behind her. Mark was running towards her even before she had hit the ground. As he did so, he prayed that he wasn’t facing Fiendfyre. She seemed to smile at him through the smoke before collapsing in a faint.

 

The flames appeared normal enough, and Mark’s desperate shout of, ‘Aguamenti,’ had the desired effect. To his relief, the water pouring from his wand was dousing the flames. He concentrated the effect on the area where the girl lay. The moment the flames closest to her were extinguished, he stopped the jet of water and used his wand to lift the wooden beam from her legs.

 

Despite the water, the wood still glowed and smouldered. Mark continued to soak it as he approached. In their creaking and groaning death-throes, the ancient timbers of the building were shooting sparks in every direction. The heat was intense, and a finger-sized ember thrown from a black, tar-covered beam hit Mark’s cheek.

 

When he finally reached the girl, Mark saw the spots of spark-burns reddening her skin. He had to move her, and quickly. It was obvious that her left arm was broken, and Mark wasn’t sure about her legs. When the flames spluttered and fired another ember at him, burning his hand, Mark realised it would take more water than he could conjure to put out the blaze.

 

Pocketing his wand, Mark squatted down next to the girl, grabbed her by her good arm, and carefully lifted her into his arms. As he turned away from the blaze and headed for the door, he saw Rabastan Lestrange being blasted into unconsciousness by the Aurors.

 

Deciding that it was time to leave, Mark concentrated on St Mungo’s and tried to Disapparate. The moment he tried to twist through space, he encountered a treacly resistance from the air itself. Recognising the presence of an Anti-Apparition Jinx, he knew that he couldn’t go anywhere. The girl wasn’t moving, and he couldn’t hear her breathing. Sliding his hand down to the girl’s wrist, Mark fearfully checked for a pulse. It was faint but, to his relief, it was there.

 

‘Healer,’ he called. ‘Help! I need a Healer here! Now!’

 

The majority of the Aurors were moving rapidly towards the building. With them was a wild-haired woman in shabby and muddy robes which were soaked from hem to knees; her hair was the same colour as the girl who’d been held by Lestrange. Despite Mark’s desperate cry, almost everyone ignored him. The wild-haired woman glanced at him, and hesitated for a moment before dashing over to the young girl at the bottom of the stairs. Susan Bones was the only one to turn when he called. When she saw him, shock and horror flushed what little colour there was from the blonde’s face and Susan ran towards him.

 

‘Damn it, Lavender,’ Susan said, addressing the unconscious girl in Mark’s arms. ‘I told you not to do anything clever, or silly!’

 

‘She still has a pulse,’ said Mark desperately. ‘But she needs a Healer.’

 

‘Terry,’ Susan yelled as she pulled off her grey cravat. ‘I’m taking Lavender to St Mungo’s.’

 

The burly young man silently waved an acknowledgement. Susan touched the cravat with her wand, screwed up her face in concentration, and said, ‘Portus.

 

Susan held up the cravat. ‘Hold this,’ she ordered.

 

Mark did as he was told.

 

‘Five, four, three, two, one,’ Susan muttered and, as suddenly as he’d arrived, Mark left the scene of the combat. For the second time in minutes, a Portkey whipped Mark and Susan to another new place. This time, however, he had an unconscious girl in his arms. He had no idea where he’d just been, he realised ruefully, and it was extremely unlikely that the Aurors would tell him.

 

Susan was shouting even before they arrived in the foyer of St Mungo’s. ‘Auror emergency, make way! HEALER. Auror emergency, make way! HEALER.’

 

The few people in the reception area scattered and, in an instant, Mark and Susan were surrounded by several green-robed Healers. A stretcher was conjured, and Lavender was carefully removed from Mark’s arms. He stood and watched as, with Susan at her side, the violet-eyed girl was carried away from him. Deflated, he turned to leave. It was only then that he realised that someone was holding onto his arm, preventing him from moving. He looked down at a portly man in Healer’s robes, and tried to shake himself free.

 

The man was talking. In fact, he seemed to be repeating himself. Mark concentrated, and finally heard the Healer’s words. ‘Come with me, please, Bailiff. Bailiff, you need to come with me, now.’

 

‘Me?’ said Mark stupidly. ‘Why?’

 

‘What’s your name, Bailiff,’ the man asked.

 

‘Me?’ asked Mark. ‘Under-bailiff Mark Moon, Scottish Law Office.’

 

‘I need to clean the dirt from those wounds, Mark,’ the Healer said. ‘And I want to get some Burn-healing Paste onto them, too. Do you want to be scarred for life?’

 

Mark looked at his burnt, blistered and soot blackened hands and staggered. Then he realised that his cheek, too, was throbbing. He lifted his hand to check it, but the Healer stopped him.

 

‘Leave it to me,’ the Healer ordered. Light-headed from the pain, Mark meekly allowed himself to be led away.

 


 

Harry looked worriedly at his friend. Ron had recovered from his stumbling arrival, so he concentrated on the job at hand. His heart sank as he surveyed the scene.

 

Lestrange was, as planned, surrounded by almost two dozen Aurors. Overwhelming spell power and flawless positioning. It should have been perfect. Unfortunately their quarry was standing in the doorway of the bastle, and he was holding Amber Skoll by the hair.

 

As Gawain Robards and Rabastan Lestrange exchanged insults, Harry watched carefully, searching in vain for an opening. None came, but he continued to concentrate on his prey.

 

When Lestrange threatened Amber, Harry lowered his wand. Lestrange noticed the action, and Harry had an idea. There was a short stub of pencil in the pocket of his coat and, when he was sure Lestrange wasn’t watching, Harry transfigured it into a copy of his wand. Pretending to put his wand into his pocket, Harry pushed it up his sleeve. He then took hold of the fake wand, and pulled it out.

 

‘Just let the girl go, Lestrange,’ Harry suggested. ‘And then we can talk.’

 

‘Talk,’ Lestrange laughed maniacally, ‘What is there to talk about? Make up your mind, Potter. Drop your wand and come here! And when you're dead, I'll let the girl go.’

 

Dacia Skoll intervened. Harry cursed. While Dacia’s distraction had presented him with only the slightest of openings, he couldn’t take it, as he’d just disarmed himself. When Lestrange turned his attention to Auror Webb, and to Neville, Harry wondered whether Lestrange would fall for his trick. If he stepped forwards, and dropped the fake wand, surely Lestrange would attack him and surely some of the others would find an opening. Harry was about to make his move when Amber opened an eye, caught his gaze, and elbowed her captor in the groin.

 

Because he was still holding the fake wand, Harry was again unable to take the opening Amber had given him. Everything was going wrong, so he ostentatiously discarded the fake wand and prepared to implement his plan. Lestrange noticed Harry’s act, and moved to attack. Harry lowered his arm and his wand dropped into his hand.

 

Then Amber was free. Someone had severed her hair. Even before the girl had dropped from the top of the stairs, and landed in an untidy heap on the grass, Harry had silently disarmed Lestrange.

 

As Lestrange’s wand flew through the air, the Death Eater was knocked backwards through the bastle door by twenty or more Stunning spells. Catching Lestrange’s wand, Harry sprinted forwards to check on Amber.

 

The girl was already struggling to her feet when he reached her. Her face was badly bruised, and her hair was an uneven and badly cropped mess. Before he could reassure her, he was elbowed aside by Amber’s mother.

 

‘Of all the crazy, stupid, dangerous things you’ve done…’ Dacia said angrily as she swept the girl into her arms. ‘I’m so glad that you’re safe… Don’t ever do anything like this again, ever! My poor girl, are you badly hurt?’

 

‘No,’ said Amber tearfully. ‘But… Ross.’ She grabbed her mother’s arm, pointed, and tried to lead her towards the trees upstream of the village. Ross’ father, who had arrived moments after Dacia, howled in fear, and dashed off in the direction Amber had pointed. Dacia released her daughter, and followed rapidly after Lykaon. Harry was following when someone shouted, ‘Lestrange is dead!’

 

Ignoring the cry Harry followed Lykaon and Dacia into the forest, his heart turning into leaden lump. He was grateful for the fact that Ron trotted up to join him.

 

‘I saw you throw your wand away,’ Ron said. ‘But you’ve still got it! How did you do it?’

 

‘I made a fake wand,’ Harry told his friend. ‘I thought it might distract him.’

 

‘It nearly gave me heart failure, you bloody idiot!’ said Ron angrily. ‘You should have warned me.’

 

‘It was a crazy last-minute idea, Ron. Sorry. And, anyway, it didn’t work. Any idea who cut Amber’s hair? Because that was clever.’

 

‘That was my crazy last-minute idea,’ Ron grinned as he spoke. ‘Mum would’ve done a neater job, but...’ He shrugged, and they sprinted through the trees, heading for an area of burnt undergrowth. ‘Merlin!’ said Ron.

 

The boy, Ross, lay in a crumpled heap in the undergrowth. He was a battered, bloody and broken mess lying at the edge of a circle of blackened and scorched trees. Lykaon looked at his son, collapsed to his knees, and wept.

 

‘QUIET!’ Dacia shouted. Lykaon fell silent, and Harry heard the faint rattle of a breath. Blood dripped from Ross’ mouth, but Dacia pulled out her wand and got to work. ‘He’s not dead yet,’ she said quietly. ‘But I’ll need help; somebody fetch me another Healer.’

 

‘You’re the only Healer here,’ said Harry. ‘We’ll have to—’

 

Dacia didn’t turn, and her voice remained low as she concentrated on keeping Ross alive, but the anger in her voice was almost enough to set fire to the air. ‘Stupid, arrogant, ignorant Aurors,’ she hissed. ‘You bring a Death Eater, and destruction to our village, and you don’t even bring one Healer with you! Don’t innocent children matter? What would you have done if one of your precious Aurors was hurt?’ She swore. ‘Someone keep Amber away,’ she added. ‘I don’t want her to see this.’

 

‘I’ll do it,’ said Ron. He moved to intercept the girl as she limped towards the scene.

 

‘At least Lavender was stable enough to be taken to St Mungo’s by Portkey,’ Dacia muttered as she continued to pass her wand over Ross’ body. ‘I daren’t even move Ross.’

 

‘Lavender’s hurt?’ asked Harry.

 

Dacia hissed in annoyance.

 

‘She was in there,’ Terry Boot indicated the burning remnants of Dacia’s cottage as he walked into the spell-blasted clearing. ‘Robards wants you, Harry.’

 

‘I’m busy,’ said Harry firmly.

 

‘Now,’ said Terry urgently.

 

‘Robards can wait,’ Harry told him. ‘What do you need, Dacia?’

 

‘At least two Healers, preferably three, blood-replenishing potion, and a lot of Burn-healing Paste,’ she told him.

 

‘I may still have some potion—and paste—in my tent,’ said Harry. ‘I’ll get it now. Terry, could you get some Healers here?’

 

Terry looked back at the village, where their boss was waiting, and nodded. ‘Portkey,’ he said. Reaching down and picking up a twig, he pulled out a wand and concentrated.

 

‘Thanks,’ said Harry gratefully. ‘Dumbledore made creating Portkeys look easy. But I still can’t do it.’

 

‘Neither can I, Harry,’ said Neville as he, too, entered the clearing. ‘Robards is going ballistic back there. He wanted Lestrange alive. But twenty-odd Stunning spells, including several to the head and heart, is enough to kill anyone. I was going to ask if any of you have seen Fenella. She’s vanished. I can see that you’re busy here. I’ll try to find her myself.’

 

Portus,’ Terry muttered. He vanished in a blue light.

 

Accio potion, Accio paste,’ said Harry. He pushed his wand into his pocket and prepared to catch the items. ‘What a mess,’ he added sadly.

 

‘Yes,’ Neville agreed. ‘At least we got Lestrange. He won’t be hurting anyone else.’

 

‘And you and Ron can quit,’ Harry said as he plucked the bottle of blood replenishing potion from the air and approached Dacia. ‘The last Death Eater is gone, Neville. You’ve done what you’d promised to do. Thanks.’

 

‘I’ll need that potion now, Harry,’ Dacia ordered urgently. Harry dashed forwards to help her.



Chapter 20: Aftermath: Truth and Consequences
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Aftermath: Truths and Consequences

 

‘You left your post to visit your girlfriend, and you left an untrained civilian—a newly created werewolf—in charge of a secret Auror mission!’ Head Auror Robards bellowed. ‘And what happened? The Brown girl is in St Mungo’s, badly injured, and so is a young boy.’

 

‘Before I went on this mission we agreed to a one minute response time on the Portkey cards,’ Harry responded hotly. ‘Thirty seconds warning, and thirty seconds countdown. Yet it took almost five minutes from Lavender’s call to the cards being activated and the countdown starting. I checked with the Portkey Office. The long delay was because you were so concerned about mission security that you didn’t give the Portkey Office any advance warning. They were surprised when Philippa asked for immediate activation. The Portkey Office did a brilliant job in the circumstances, but that delay could have cost Lavender and Ross their lives.’

 

‘So, it’s my fault, is it?’ Robards demanded. ‘For once in your life take some responsibility, Potter.’

 

‘I didn’t say it was your fault, it was mine! We were lucky it went as well as it did. If Susan hadn’t accidentally brought that Bailiff with her, and if there hadn’t been a competent Healer in the village, both Lavender and Ross would likely be dead! And if Lavender hadn’t persuaded the villagers to leave, there would have been a lot more casualties. We need a Healer on standby for large missions, and we need to coordinate with the Portkey Office.’

 

‘We need…’ snapped Robards sarcastically. ‘You said we needed a photographer, too, Potter! I told you at the time: never trust a Gray! I was right. She’s vanished! Disappeared with that Aunt of hers, hasn’t she? An Auror should be able to live by his wits, an Auror should be able to stand on his own two feet. When I was a young man…’

 

‘When you were a young man, Aurors died! Why can’t we work in teams?’ Harry asked. He took a deep breath and tried to calm himself down. ‘I spent more than four weeks alone in a tent, searching, watching and waiting; it’s ridiculous.’

 

Robards turned to face the other occupant of his office. ‘You see what I have to put up with, Kingsley. Constant insubordination! Failure to follow orders!’ He turned back to Harry, stood, and pointed accusingly into his face. ‘You’re suspended, Potter. Without pay!’

 

‘Fine,’ said Harry, suddenly calm. ‘I’d like some time off. I want to spend some time with Ginny. We’ve got a lot to talk about. Like the fact that she was being fed a mind-control potion by four of the people still on our wanted list!’ He, too, stood.

 

The Minister held up his hands and indicated that both men should sit back down.

 

‘Gawain, Harry, let’s just take a moment to consider our successes, not our failures. Look at what you have achieved!’ said Kingsley Shacklebolt. His slow and thoughtful delivery, was the water required to dampen the flames of a fiery conversation. ‘Lestrange is dead. That’s what’s annoying you, isn’t it Gawain? It’s not Harry, it’s the fact that you wanted Lestrange alive so he could answer your questions.’

 

‘I’m certain he knew what happened to a lot of people who simply vanished,’ said Robards gruffly. There was a weary sadness in his eyes.

 

‘People like your brother’s husband,’ said Kingsley.

 

Robards nodded gloomily. Kingsley’s comment illuminated the shadows of a time before Harry had been born, and his opinion of his boss shifted.

 

‘I didn’t want Lestrange dead either, sir,’ said Harry quietly. ‘That’s why I disarmed him.’

 

‘And,’ Kingsley reminded the Head Auror, ‘Harry single-handedly captured four Snatchers, one of whom used the Killing Curse in Harry’s presence.’

 

‘I had help,’ Harry protested. ‘And I failed to save Dacia’s brother-in-law.’

 

‘I’ve read the report, Harry, there was nothing you could have done,’ observed Kingsley. ‘As for Miss Brown, I spoke to her in hospital. What an interesting young woman she is! What you think of her, Gawain?’

 

‘Brown?’ Robards shrugged. ‘She showed resourcefulness, but Potter should never have left her.’

 

‘From my perspective, Lestrange’s death is the only way in which this mission failed.’ the Minister said. It seems you both agree on that. It would have been preferable had we taken him alive. However, the Wizarding public are not shedding any tears for him. Have you seen the reports? The public regard the mission as an outstanding success.’

 

‘A moderate success,’ said Robards grudgingly. Harry nodded in agreement. Kingsley smiled.

 

‘Lestrange’s death, and everything else that happened at Shivering Stone, was the result of investigative procedures which we must reassess,’ the Minister observed.

 

True,’ said Robards.

 

‘Yes,’ Harry agreed.

 

‘You two have more in common than you think you do,’ the Minister said quietly. ‘Harry, you deserve some time off. However, I’d suggest that you take a week or two in lieu, not a month’s suspension.’ He turned to Robards. ‘Harry needs a rest, Gawain. And you know you can’t suspend him. Remember what our old friend Rufus Scrimgeour used to say at times like these.’

 

‘Public perception is all important,’ Robards grumbled.

 

‘Exactly,’ said Kingsley. ‘Harry tracked and trapped Lestrange, and the Aurors cornered him. The “Last Death Eater” is gone. The press and public are happy about it. I know that it’s getting late, but can we take a little time to discuss the procedures and operational issues this mission has raised?’

 

<br>

 

It was a little after midnight when Harry finally left Robards’ office. As he said a polite goodnight to the Head Auror, and the Minister, Harry’s thoughts finally returned to Ginny. Little more than twenty-four hours earlier, he’d arrested her. It all seemed such a long time ago. It had been after dusk when he’d finally returned to the Auror Office. He had taken Ross to St Mungo’s and checked on Lavender while he was there. Once he’d got back, while supposedly writing his mission report, he’d read the Sheriff’s report from Wales.

 

Ginny’s flat had been burgled; it wasn’t secure. Where would she be? Perhaps, he thought hopefully, she’d be at Grimmauld Place. As he strode out of the office to find out, he wondered how Ginny’s press conference had gone.

 

‘Harry,’ Neville shouted after him.

 

‘Hello, Neville, I’m surprised to see you still here,’ Harry said.

 

‘I’m just leaving.’ Neville trotted across the office and followed Harry into the corridor. ‘I promised Ron and Hermione that I’d wait and give you a message. I didn’t expect you’d be here this late.’

 

‘Ron and Hermione?’ Harry asked.

 

‘Yes. Hermione was waiting for Ron when we finally got back here from Shivering Stone. Fenella and her Aunt have vanished. Robards has put Williamson in charge of the search. He’s furious, wants us back there tomorrow, to conduct another search. Terry and Susan have been sent back there already. Williamson has ordered them to stay in your tent overnight, and resume the search tomorrow.’

 

‘Fenella will turn up, I’m sure,’ said Harry. ‘It’s not like her to do something like this.’

 

‘She broke into the Ministry, remember?’ Neville said.

 

‘True,’ Harry admitted. ‘But she had a good reason. I’m sure she’s got a reason this time, too.’

 

‘How sure?’ Neville asked.

 

‘Luna told me I could trust Fenella, and Ginny agreed,’ said Harry.

 

Neville smiled, ‘Fair enough. Luna is right about that sort of stuff, isn’t she? So is Ginny.’

 

‘So, what’s happening with Ron and Hermione?’ Harry asked.

 

‘Hermione heard about Lestrange, and about Lavender. She came into the office, wanting to know exactly what happened. Ron and I were writing our reports; he told her that he was starving, and if she waited, he would take her out for a meal and tell her. Hermione said that she’d go back to her flat and make them both beef stifado.’

 

‘So, Ron won’t be coming home tonight,’ said Harry.

 

‘That’s what he told me, to tell you. How did you know?’ Neville asked.

 

‘She’s making Beef Stifado! It’s a long story, involving our holiday in Greece,’ said Harry. ‘Do you know where Ginny is?’

 

‘The Harpies booked Livvy, Linny and Ginny into a hotel, until their flat was secure,’ Neville told him. ‘But Ginny didn’t go. Hermione said Mr and Mrs Weasley were waiting outside when everyone left the press conference. Apparently, Mrs Weasley told the Harpies press officer, and that solicitor, exactly what she thought about them. When she’d finished, she told them that Ginny was going home to The Burrow. They didn’t argue. Neither did Ginny.’

 

Harry chuckled. Neville, however, wasn’t smiling and it struck Harry that his friend had been looking tired and downcast since his return from Shivering Stone.

 

‘Thanks, Neville,’ said Harry, pushing the button for the lift. ‘What about you? Are you okay? It’s been a rough day!’

 

‘I think I killed Lestrange,’ said Neville quietly as they stepped into the lift.

 

‘You weren’t the only one to hit him with a Stunning spell,’ Harry told his friend.

 

‘Yeah, but when Lestrange made that crack about my parents, I was really angry. I put everything I had into that spell, and I hit him square in the chest.’

 

‘So did Al Webb. You heard what he said about Al’s wife. Polly hit him hard, too. I expect the other Aurors put everything into their spells,’ Harry reassured his friend. ‘Lestrange was hit by about twenty stunners, Neville. We can’t do that to someone and expect them to survive. Remember our fifth year? McGonagall took four stunning spells to the chest. You know how tough she is! Madam Pomfrey said it was a miracle McGonagall wasn’t killed.’ Looking into Neville’s face, he saw the worry. ‘Do you want to talk about it? We could go for a drink.’

 

‘The pubs will be shut, Harry. It’s long past closing time,’ said Neville. ‘Hannah would let us in, and give us a drink. Hannah would…’ A gleam came to his eye. ‘If it’s okay with you, Harry, I’ll just go and talk to her.’ He brightened up at the thought.

 

‘Okay,’ said Harry.

 

Suddenly lonely, he left the Ministry, Apparated to his front door, and entered number twelve Grimmauld Place for the first time in what seemed to be an eternity.

 

Kreacher appeared instantly, looked up at Harry and demanded, ‘When did Master last eat?’

 

Harry thought carefully, ‘I had fish and chips at about this time last night,’ he said.

 

Kreacher shook his head and began muttering under his breath. ‘Of all the Masters, this one is most foolish. Doesn’t look after himself. Doesn’t sleep.’ He looked up and, acting as though Harry hadn’t been privy to his comments, said, ‘Master’s bed is ready. Kreacher will make supper; then Master must rest.’

 

‘Bed,’ said Harry. A thought struck him. ‘Ginny is at The Burrow, Kreacher. Do you know if she’s still awake?’

 

Kreacher’s bat-like ears twitched. ‘The Mistress is asleep. She has been given a Sleeping Draught by the Molly.’

 

‘Oh, well,’ said Harry, sighing. ‘I’ll see her tomorrow.’

 

‘Kreacher will prepare supper, and bring it up to Master’s room,’ the house elf said. He vanished.

 

Harry climbed up to his bedroom and found clean sheets and freshly laundered pyjamas waiting for him. He had just washed and changed into his night clothes when Kreacher arrived carrying a tray.

 

‘Cheese on toast?’ Harry asked.

 

‘Welsh rarebit.’ Kreacher sounded offended. ‘Good food for a tired and hungry master.’

 


 

Theodore Nott sat in his solar, his back to the window and read the Daily Prophet.

 

It was the morning after the events in the werewolf village of Shivering Stone. The headline read: Last Death Eater Dies Resisting Arrest. They were the only words on the front page. Alongside them was a photograph of a snarling Rabastan Lestrange. It was the photograph the Aurors used in their wanted posters. Theodore had finished the article and was carefully reading an article about a missing werewolf named Doxine Gray, who had evaded capture, when the door to the solar opened. His fiancée walked in wearing her rather revealing nightdress.

 

‘Theo, darling,’ Pansy began.

 

‘No,’ said Theodore firmly. ‘Whatever you’re about to ask me, the answer is no!’

 

‘But…’

 

‘Pansy,’ he explained patiently. ‘You only ever start a conversation “Theo, darling,” when you want me to do something you know I’ll object to, something you believe I will say no to. Let’s not waste any time in pointless discussion. I have no doubt that this has something to do with the letter you have received from your friend Daphne.’ Theodore watched carefully. His fiancée’s expression confirmed his deduction.

 

‘How…’

 

‘I am a Nott, and this is Pennerley Hall; I know everything which happens within these walls,’ he told her. ‘Don’t ever forget that.’

 

‘But, Theo…’

 

‘Only yesterday, we had a visit from the Auror Office, Pansy. I do not want another one.’

 

‘They weren’t real Aurors,’ said Pansy dismissively. ‘It was only…’

 

‘Susan Bones and Terry Boot were members of Dumbledore’s Army, they will be fully qualified Aurors within a few months. Both are committed to Potter’s cause, and thus far their Auror examination results have been better than those of Weasley and Longbottom. And,’ he continued before she could interrupt, ‘despite what you believe, neither Weasley nor Longbottom are dunderheads. All four have daily contact with Potter. When I allowed Boot to see the ledger, I wondered if he would discover the truth. He did, and very quickly. Boot is clever and Bones is tenacious.’

 

‘B-b-b-boot…’ Pansy began scornfully.

 

‘Merlin, Pansy, have you learned nothing?’ said Theodore angrily. ‘Surely you didn’t believe Malfoy when he told us that Potter and his friends were all useless? You can’t still believe it? At school I was never certain whether Draco was underestimating the abilities of his “enemies” or overestimating his own. It was both. It’s no wonder he made such a mess of things.’

 

Pansy stared at him in disbelief; both her mouth and her nightdress were gaping. The latter distracted his attention from the former.

 

‘How many times did Malfoy come off best?’ he asked. ‘Potter didn’t beat the Dark Lord by blind luck. He worked hard, prepared and researched.’

 

Theodore assessed her carefully. She was still wondering whether she’d be able to change his mind. He watched her mouth close and her lower lip tremble. Surely she wouldn’t try tears? She read his expression and, to his surprise, changed her mind.

 

‘I like it when you’re masterful,’ she told him, fluttering her eyelashes.

 

‘Good,’ he told her resolutely. ‘If that’s the case, you can prove it. Sit, listen.’

 

She instantly complied. He was pleased. She was beginning to learn. Pansy was cunning and had social skills and connections which would be useful to him, provided he could control her penchant for petty vindictiveness. Pulling up a chair, she sat opposite him. Leaning forwards, she showed him respectful eyes, rapt attention, and revealing cleavage. Pleased by her compliance, he smiled.

 

‘I did not object to Daphne meeting that half-blood lover of hers in the tenement. A wanted fugitive was using one of our properties, but that could be dismissed as mere happenstance. However…’ he paused to let his words sink in, and realised that he was staring at the rise and fall of her bosom, not reading her expression.

 

‘I allowed the fugitives to rent the property in Awls End through Daphne, too,’ he reminded her, raising his head and concentrating on her expression. ‘But remember what I told you at the time? A second one of our properties linked to the same fugitives was a risk. However, that is enough. There will not be a third occasion.’ He was firm. ‘Currently, we can claim innocence. Daphne was your friend, and we didn’t look closely at what she was doing. But Potter and his friends aren’t stupid.’ He paused, raised his hand, and counted on his fingers. ‘Once, happenstance, twice, coincidence but, if it happens a third time, they will regard it as enemy action. I will not become Potter’s enemy. There is no profit in it.’

 

Pansy nodded in contrite understanding, leaned forwards and gazed up in admiration.

 

‘I’m sorry, my dear. Daphne and her friends are on their own. I will not shelter them again. I’d advise you to sever all ties with them. If the Daily Prophet is correct, and the rumours I’ve heard about Gregory Goyle are true, then…’ Theodore paused and stared into Pansy’s eager face. He hadn’t told her about Goyle; that was a secret he had not been prepared to divulge, but her veneration had made him slip. She now knew there were secrets he had not shared with her.

 

‘My dearest Pansy, I know that you’re fond of Daphne. I’m sure that she will continue to keep in touch with you,’ he said. He decided not to forbid her from contacting Daphne. She would disobey him, and disobedience was a habit he wanted to break her from. ‘Here is my advice. When you reply to her, tell her this. Goyle is the sole surviving member of his family. He hasn’t told his “friends,” but I’m certain that he is now Secret Keeper. He could take them to Goyle Isle, to his family home. It’s hidden under a Fidelius Charm, so no one could find them.’

 

‘How do you know?’ Pansy asked.

 

‘I’m a Nott,’ he said simply. ‘If Goyle won’t help them, then they must abandon him. Immediately!’

 

‘Why?’ Pansy pouted.

 

‘Because, if my deductions are correct, Gregory Goyle is about to reach the top of Potter’s revised “Most Wanted” list. If she wants to remain free, your friend Daphne must distance herself from Potter’s next target. The Aurors will be watching her finances. My sources tell me that is how they found Lestrange. Provided that she trusts that half-blood oaf Bletchley, she should consider marriage.’

 


 

Harry woke from a sleep which had been interspersed by barely remembered dreams. In most of them, he’d been in the Gryffindor Common Room with Ginny. Try as he might, he couldn’t remember any details. He was still tired, but thoughts of Ginny were whirling around his head like pixies, and they pulled him from his bed.

 

‘No breakfast for me, Kreacher,’ he said to his empty bedroom as he walked over to the window and pulled open the curtains. ‘I’m going out.’ As he expected, Kreacher appeared instantly.

 

‘Master must eat,’ the house elf said sternly.

 

‘I know, Kreacher,’ he said. ‘I will. I want to see Ginny, so I’m going straight to The Burrow. Even if I waited for you make my breakfast, the Molly, as you call her, will make me another breakfast.’

 

Kreacher looked hurt. Harry knew that he’d need to do something to make his house elf happy, and he suddenly knew what to do.

 

‘I can’t stop Molly from cooking, Kreacher, sorry. I can’t eat two breakfasts, either,’ Harry told his house elf. ‘Robards wants me to see a Healer this afternoon. I have a two o’clock appointment at St Mungo’s. I’m going to invite Ginny here for dinner tonight. I’d like something special, please. Surprise us.’

 

Kreacher’s bat-like ears twitched happily. ‘Kreacher will prepare a sumptuous feast for the Master and Mistress,’ he promised.

 

Harry washed, dressed, and left for The Burrow.

 

The moment he arrived Harry was told how malnourished he looked, and ordered to sit at the kitchen table. Ginny’s mother grabbed a frying pan, bacon, sausages, eggs, mushrooms and tomatoes, and got to work. As she began cooking, she also started her cross-examination of him. Her husband sat quietly in a corner, glancing over the top of his copy of the Daily Prophet.

 

‘Ginny’s still asleep,’ said Molly. ‘She needs the rest. What were you thinking about, leaving her for a whole month like that? What do you know about this potion she was being given? Do you think she’s fully recovered from it? Who broke into her flat, do you know? What happened with Lestrange? Does it have anything to do with what happened to Ginny? When she came home last night she wasn’t making much sense, she said that her friend Linny had been feeding her the potion, and then she said it was someone else. She was tired and confused, and worried about you, so I gave her a Sleeping Draught.’

 

Buried under an avalanche of questions, Harry found himself unable to decide where to start the story.

 

Well?’ Molly demanded.

 

‘Give Harry a chance to answer, Molly,’ said Arthur. ‘I don’t suppose Harry thought that he was “leaving” Ginny. She had us, and her brothers, and her teammates. We all let her down.’

 

‘At least we tried,’ said Molly, turning to Harry. ‘When she started misbehaving, we visited her several times. But she wouldn’t listen; she’s such a stubborn and headstrong girl.’

 

‘Takes one to know one, Mum,’ said Ginny from the staircase.

 

Harry and Arthur exchanged a worried glance, but Molly didn’t bite.

 

Ginny walked down into the kitchen, halted, and smiled nervously at Harry. She was wearing only a Harpies t-shirt and a pair of old green knickers which were split at the side seam. Harry didn’t know where to look, so he started at her toes and worked his way up to her smiling face.

 

‘I woke up to the smell of bacon, and thought you were cooking my breakfast. I should have realised that it was because your favourite had arrived,’ Ginny said. ‘Morning, Harry.’

 

Molly turned to face her daughter. ‘Not even a dressing gown! It’s positively indecent. You can’t wander around like that, Ginny. Go and put some clothes on. And Harry is not my favourite,’ Molly protested.

 

‘Harry’s seen me wearing less than this,’ said Ginny. She waited for her mother to glare at both her and Harry—and for Harry to blush—before adding, ‘A bikini.’ She winked at Harry. ‘If Harry isn’t your favourite, Mum, who is?’ she asked. ‘Is it me?’

 

‘You’re obviously feeling better,’ said Molly. ‘Go upstairs and get dressed.’

 

‘I’m sure Harry doesn’t mind, seeing me in my nightclothes,’ said Ginny. ‘Do you, Harry?’

 

‘I’m finding it very distracting,’ Harry admitted.

 

Ginny’s eyes twinkled with the promise of mischief. It was taking all Harry’s willpower to stay seated. He desperately wanted to run across the room and carry her upstairs to her bedroom. He had almost regained control when she yawned, stretched, and lifted her arms above her head. The action lifted her t-shirt by inches, revealing more freckled flesh.

 

‘Why…’ Harry’s voice was a high-pitched squeak. He cleared his throat and tried again. ‘Why don’t you go and get dressed, Ginny, and then we can talk. It won’t hurt to do what your mum wants, just for once, will it?’

 

‘You’re an obsequious, creep, Potter!’ Ginny grinned. ‘You’re even worse than Perce. It’s no wonder you’re Mum’s favourite.’

 

‘I don’t have a favourite, Harry is not a creep, nor is Percy,’ Molly scolded. She was talking to Ginny’s back, as her daughter was already scampering up the stairs.

 

‘Worse than Perce, worse than Perce,’ Ginny sang as she left. Harry heard a door slam on the floor above.

 

‘That girl…’ said Molly, shaking her head. She added more sausages and bacon to the frying pan.

 

‘You can tell me, Molly. Ginny is your favourite, isn’t she?’ Harry asked.

 

‘You’re as bad as she is,’ Molly told him, smiling. ‘I’m glad to see you safely back from your mission, dear.’

 

‘I’m glad to see that Ginny is back to normal,’ Harry told her.

 

‘As are we,’ said Arthur. ‘Aren’t we, Molly?’

 

‘If only we’d known,’ said Molly sadly. ‘A potion! One the twins invented. Just wait until George gets back from Peru! What exactly happened, Harry, can you tell us?’

 

‘Can we wait until Ginny is here?’ Harry asked.

 

‘I suppose so,’ said Molly, busying herself at the stove.

 

Harry leaned back in the chair and smiled gratefully. The smell of bacon and sausages, the comforting homeliness of The Burrow, and Ginny’s return to normality were enough to wash away any woes and weariness. When Ginny returned a few minutes later she was wearing tight hipster jeans and a crop top, and she was carrying a letter.

 

‘There was an owl tapping at my window when I got upstairs,’ she announced. ‘The Harpies want me to attend a meeting on Friday afternoon, and a full medical next Monday. They want to be certain that I’m fit before I can resume training. They don’t seem to realise that I’m fine. The good news is that I’m excused training until Monday. What are we going doing today Harry?’

 

‘I’ve got an appointment for St Mungo’s this afternoon,’ said Harry. ‘Robards wants me examined by a qualified Healer.’

 

‘Your wounds!’ exclaimed Ginny. ‘How are they, Harry? Take that shirt off, now.’ Grabbinh Harry’s t-shirt, she tried to lift it. He tried to fight her off, but she was fast and, unlike him, unafraid of her mother. The exciting, mischievous girl he loved was back, and her proximity was overpowering.

 

‘Really, Ginny!’ exclaimed Molly. ‘Leave Harry alone!’

 

‘Not a chance,’ said Ginny. ‘I’ll come to St. Mungo’s with you.’

 

‘Great,’ Harry told her.

 

She stopped trying to lift his t-shirt, and instead stood on tiptoe to give him a passionate kiss. Unable to resist, Harry slipped his arms around her waist and responded in kind. The kiss lingered long enough to make Molly loudly clear her throat.

 

When they parted, both panting, Ginny stepped back and again tugged at his t-shirt. Harry gave in. He allowed her to lift it up, but not off. ‘I’m still bandaged, but Dacia told me that they can come off this afternoon,’ he said. ‘She checked the poultice yesterday, while I was visiting Ross.’

 

‘Ross?’ asked Ginny.

 

‘Long story,’ said Harry. ‘We’ve got a lot to talk about, Ginny. Would you like to come to Grimmauld Place for dinner tonight?’

 

‘I’d love to,’ said Ginny.

 

‘I think that you both have a lot to tell us,’ Molly said, sternly. ‘You could stay here today. I can make dinner, and I could even make up a bed in Ron’s room for you, Harry. You’ve been alone for weeks.’

 

‘Harry and I have been apart for weeks, Mum,’ Ginny said firmly. ‘We can talk now, and then Harry and I will go to St Mungo’s. After that, Harry and I are going out; just the two of us. Like I said, we have a lot of catching up to do.’

 

Molly folded her arms, but before she could speak, her husband cleared his throat loudly, and put down his newspaper.

 

‘I expect you have,’ said Arthur. ‘I know that you were under the influence of a potion, Ginny, but…’ He stared into Harry’s face. ‘What do you know about Ginny’s behaviour while you were away, Harry?’

 

The man who was the closest thing to a father Harry had, looked concerned. And Harry knew he’d have to give an honest an answer as he could.

 

‘Quite a lot,’ Harry admitted. ‘I don’t know if I know too much, or not enough.’

 

Molly was unusually silent as she scooped the huge breakfast onto two plates. She placed the plates on opposite sides of the table, but Ginny moved her plate, sat down next to Harry, and shuffled closer to him.

 

‘You’re both adults, and I’m simply a foolish old man,’ said Arthur. He looked from Harry to his daughter and back again. ‘In my opinion, you don’t know enough. I’m sure that you keep secrets from us, but don’t keep secrets from each other.’ He paused and gave them a rueful smile. ‘There you sit, my little girl and her boyfriend, eating breakfast as though nothing had happened. I think you both know that you need to talk to each other more than you need to talk to us.’

 

Harry nodded.

 

‘Thanks, Dad,’ said Ginny.

 

‘When I say talk, I mean talk.’ Arthur said seriously. ‘You can get some practice by telling us whatever you feel able to.’

 

Having made his point, Arthur lapsed into silence. The void was filled by Molly, who returned to her vigorous cross examination. Harry and Ginny took turns to explain what had been happening. All the while, Molly was gripping her wooden spatula like a sword, jabbing with it every time she wanted to emphasise a point.

 

‘So this beater, Linny Baker, was being given the same potion that she was giving you, Ginny?’ Molly asked.

‘A potion invented by Fred, and George.’

 

‘Ron said that they only made one batch, which they sold to Daphne Greengrass,’ said Harry. ‘We think that she must have kept some of it and analysed it. Thanks to the Law Office Bailiffs, we know that Daphne was with Miles Bletchley at Ginny’s flat. We know that they have been experimenting with the potion, too. The latest version, the one the Bailiffs found, contained some very dark magic. The Dementor Essence wasn’t in the ones Auror Byers first analysed, but it was in the ones Linny was giving Ginny. Luna called it an Imperius Potion, and it seems that she wasn’t far off the mark.’ Harry put down his cutlery and squeezed Ginny’s hand.

 

‘I think they were getting desperate,’ Harry continued. ‘The potion wasn’t working quickly enough for them. It’s a good thing that they didn’t realise that the alcohol was counteracting it. The more Ginny sobered up, the more the potion affected her, until it reached the point…’

 

‘It reached the point where I was horrible to Harry,’ Ginny admitted sadly. ‘Fortunately, he found a way to purge the potion from me.’

 

‘Where is this Greengrass girl now?’ Molly now held the wooden spatula so threateningly that Harry was convinced that she'd need no more potent weapon to bring her daughter’s tormentor to justice.

 

‘She’s disappeared, along with Bletchley and the others,’ said Harry. ‘I read most of the Law Office reports last night, before my meeting with Robards and Kingsley. Robards has put a watch on the Greengrass house, but I don’t think Daphne is stupid enough to go home.’

 

As the discussions continued, Harry told the Weasleys about Dacia, her daughters, and Ross.

 

‘Well, the boy is safe in St Mungo’s now,’ said Molly as Harry concluded the story. ‘And Lestrange is dead! That means Ron can leave the Auror Office and help George in the business, just like he promised. I do wish you’d consider leaving, too, Harry. It’s a dangerous job.’

 


 

Mark Moon sat on one of the slate benches in front of the Welsh Office and wondered if he was doing the right thing. He’d asked her out, and she’d said yes. It would be wrong of him to stand her up.

 

He raised his left hand and examined the bandages. They were orange; the burn-healing paste did that. Mark was lifting his hand to his cheek when he saw her. Cara had entered Carntexp Lane from the Muggle world. He stood up and turned to face her. She stared at his face, hesitated, and then approached cautiously.

 

‘Merlin! You were fine yesterday morning. Bailiff Owen said you’d gone off to Knockturn Alley. What happened?’ She gazed at the orange bandages on his cheek and hands.

 

Mark hesitated. No one from the Auror Office had contacted him, not when he’d been in hospital, nor afterwards. No one had told him to keep quiet. Apart from the Healer, the only person who’d spoken to him at St Mungo’s was a sandy-haired young Irishman. The man had entered the treatment room just as Mark was preparing to leave, and had introduced himself as Lavender’s boyfriend.

 

He was called Seamus Flanagan, or something like that. Mark had stopped paying attention once he’d heard the word boyfriend. Seamus had thanked Mark profusely. But, when Mark asked if he could visit Lavender, Seamus had said no. She had too many visitors. Lavender’s parents were there, as were Susan and two other girls.

 

‘Is it a secret?’ Cara asked, pulling him from the girl he’d been thinking about to the girl in front of him.

 

‘Long story,’ Mark told her. ‘I didn’t get this in Knockturn Alley, I was with the Aurors when they found Lestrange.’

 

Cara squeaked excitedly.

 

‘I wasn’t involved in the actual combat,’ he clarified hastily. ‘I got these when I pulled an Auror out of a burning building.’

 

‘There’s a café just down the street,’ Cara said excitedly. ‘We can have lunch, and you can tell me all about it.’

 


 

‘Who did this to you?’ Healer Bromwich asked as she examined the bandages on Harry’s chest. She shook her head in disbelief as she plucked out a piece of moss from the edge of the wrappings.

 

‘A werewolf named Verulf Lowell,’ Harry told her. ‘He’s in an Auror cell, awaiting trial for murder, among other things. Clawing me definitely wasn’t the worst thing he did.’

 

‘I’m not asking who gave you the scars, Mr Potter,’ Healer Bromwich said as she began to carefully and professionally remove the bandages. ‘I want to know who is responsible for this… this mess.’

 

She indicated the bandages themselves, unable to hide her disgust. Dacia’s once golden poultice had reacted with the moss. The result was a dry and flaky material which bore a resemblance to long-dried cowpats.

 

‘Healer Dacia Skoll,’ Harry said. ‘She checked it for me yesterday, but my boss insisted that I come here to have it removed. The poultice is her own invention, I think.’

 

‘Healer Skoll? I’m sure that she doesn’t work here,’ the Healer said dismissively. ‘I’ve never heard of her.’

 

‘She doesn’t work anywhere, not yet,’ Harry told the broad-shouldered witch. ‘She can’t, she’s a werewolf.’

 

‘Then she can’t call herself a Healer.’ Healer Bromwich narrowed her brows as she used her wand to brush the flaking mess off Harry’s chest. ‘I’m sure that you’ve been warned previously, Mr Potter. I’m afraid that you should expect deep and severe scarring.’ She glanced up at his forehead. ‘Curse injuries always leave a… Oh.’ The Healer moved closer to Harry, bent forward, and peered closely at his chest. ‘Remarkable,’ she said.

 

The Healer’s nose was almost touching his bare chest and Harry could feel her warm breath on his flesh. Ginny had been sitting quietly in the treatment room, listening to the Healer, but no longer.

 

‘Why do you have this effect on mature ladies, Potter?’ Ginny asked. ‘McGonagall, Mrs Quarrell, Dacia, and now this Healer, they all seem to fall for you.’

 

‘Really, Miss Weasley,’ Healer Bromwich protested. ‘I was simply examining Mr Potter’s chest.’

 

‘Exactly,’ said Ginny, folding her arms and glaring. ‘At your age! You should be ashamed of yourself. Examining Harry’s chest is my job.’

 

‘I…’ the Healer protested. Harry came to her rescue before Ginny got into her stride.

 

‘If you’re happy with my recovery, Healer, I’m leaving’ he said, reaching for his shirt.

 

Ginny snatched it from his grasp, moved next to the Healer, and examined his latest scars. ‘They’ve healed well,’ she said, gently brushing her fingers across his chest. ‘I was expecting a lot worse, more like Bill’s, but you can hardly see them. What do you think, Healer?’

 

‘Extraordinary,’ Healer Bromwich admitted grudgingly. ‘Do you have any idea of the recipe for this potion, Mr Potter?’

 

‘No, but you can ask Dacia,’ Harry told her. ‘She’s just along the corridor, in ward forty-two – the Sextus Sempernovem ward.’ The Healer appeared concerned. ‘She’s just visiting,’ Harry explained. A friend of her daughter was hurt yesterday.’

 

‘They’re all here? I’d like to meet them,’ said Ginny.

 

‘I’ll introduce you,’ said Harry.

 


 

When Harry and Ginny stepped out from the fireplace, he was disappointed to discover Ron and Hermione sitting at the large kitchen table in number twelve, Grimmauld Place.

 

‘We heard that you’d both been to St. Mungo’s,’ said Hermione worriedly. ‘Is something wrong? Didn’t the poultice work, Harry? Are you okay, Ginny? We were expecting you back an hour ago.’

 

‘We’re late because, while we were at St Mungo’s, we called in to see how Ross and Lavender were doing.’

 

‘How is he?’ Ron asked.

 

‘Bright orange,’ Ginny replied.

 

‘Ross is doing well; the Healers think that he’ll make a full recovery. His dad hasn’t left his side, he even slept there.’ Harry told Ron and Hermione. ‘Ross’ bones are all mended and the internal injuries are being repaired, but he’s pretty much covered in burn-healing paste. It will be more than a week before the burns are completely healed.’

 

‘What about Amber and Dacia?’ Ron enquired.

 

‘Amber is fine, mostly. Her bruises are all healed and she’s fully recovered, but she won’t forgive you for the haircut.’

 

‘Her hair will grow back,’ Ron protested. ‘Dead is forever.’

 

‘That’s what I told her,’ Harry told his friend. ‘But I don’t think she’ll be happy until it has grown back. Dacia isn’t happy, either.’

 

‘I don’t think she’s ever happy,’ Ron said.

 

‘Her house was destroyed, Ron, and she doesn’t like living on Diagon Alley, even temporarily. She’s worried that Amber will try to sneak off and explore Knockturn Alley,’ Harry said. ‘She’s probably right.’

 

‘I’m fine, the potion’s gone, and Harry’s wounds have healed remarkably well. There is nothing more to tell you,’ said Ginny pointedly, grabbing Harry’s hand. ‘So you might as well leave, now.’

 

 ‘What in Merlin’s name is the matter with you, Ginny?’ Ron began. Harry’s meaningful look simply bounced off him. Fortunately Hermione caught it.

 

‘Okay, Harry,’ Hermione said. ‘Come on, Ron,’ she ordered.

 

‘We’ve been waiting here for an hour, and we’ve seen them for five minutes,’ Ron protested. ‘I haven’t told Harry about Fenella, we still haven’t found her, and… Ow! You hit me, Hermione; I thought we’d agreed. No hitting unless I’m being…’ Ron’s look of annoyance vanished as he looked down into his girlfriend’s frowning face.

 

‘You probably want some time to yourselves, don’t you?’ Hermione asked.

 

Harry nodded.

 

‘Ah, er… Okay, see you later,’ said Ron.

 

‘See you tomorrow, Ron,’ Ginny said firmly.

 

‘You can stay at my place again tonight,’ Hermione told Ron as she led him upstairs.

 

‘Alone at last,’ said Ginny when Ron closed the kitchen door. She slipped her hands around his waist and rested her head against his chest.

 

‘A long time ago, in this house, you made me notice you,’ Harry spoke quietly as he pulled her into a hug. ‘You told me off. You reminded me of what you’d been through, you made me listen to you, and everything you told me was true. That was the moment, Ginny. I know it was. Before that, you were around, but that was the moment you stopped being Ron’s sister. That was when I realised how wonderful you were. We didn’t talk about what had happened to you, not then. In fact it took us years to discuss it.’

 

‘Not now, Harry,’ Ginny said. She held him tightly, and spoke into his chest.

 

‘Why not, Ginny?’ he asked. ‘Now is a good time. It’s the best time. We have more than three hours until dinner, and we have all night.’

 

‘Don’t you want to get ... reacquainted with me,’ Ginny asked breathily, slipping her hands inside his t-shirt.

 

‘Of course I do,’ Harry told her. ‘But we need to talk.’

 

‘Because Dad said so?’

 

‘Yes,’ Harry admitted. ‘I read the newspapers, Ginny. I was worried about you, I was worried about us. But I’m beginning to think that I wasn’t as worried as I should have been. It wasn’t Voldemort, not this time, but for the second time in your life you’ve had someone in your head.’

 

He leaned forwards, and kissed the top of her head.

 

‘When we were in St Mungo’s you asked to see my scars,’ he continued as Ginny remained silent in his arms. ‘What about your scars?’ He gently stroked the side of her head. ‘As you reminded me, all those years ago, who else do you know who has experienced something like that? Who can you talk to?’

 

‘I’m weak. You deserve better,’ she said.

 

‘You are not weak. You needed me and I wasn’t there for you. No one was there for you. If anyone “deserves better,” it’s you,’ he countered.

 

‘Part of me wants to hurt you,’ she told him. ‘The potion showed me that. Part of me has always wanted to hurt you, to make you suffer.’

 

‘That part of you has good reason, Ginny,’ he told her.

 

‘It doesn’t,’ she said. ‘It was pathetic, all those stupid childish thoughts. Because you were such an idiot when you were younger, because you ignored me when I was eleven! Merlin, what sort of an idiot broods over something like that?’

 

‘I think we all do, Ginny. I caught a glimpse of your thoughts, when we…’ Cupping her head in his hands, he lifted it and stared into her deep brown eyes. ‘When I used Legilimency on you yesterday I saw some of that. There are times when you annoy me, Ginny. There must be times when I annoy you. Last night, I spoke to Byers about that potion. He told me that it reinforces the negatives and blocks the positives. Almost everything you like about me was being blocked. And all the little things I do which annoy you were amplified. I’ve tried to imagine what that must be like. Byers warned me that it might take a while for you to come to terms with it.’

 

‘I might have…’

 

‘You didn’t’

 

‘I could have…’

 

‘But you didn’t.’

 

‘How can you be sure, Harry? What if I’m lying to you?’

 

‘Are you?’

 

‘No, but I kissed someone else.’

 

‘You’re strong, Ginny. You fought the potion and, yesterday, we fought it together. You told your mum that I purged the potion from you. It wasn’t me, it was us. We did it together! I had a glimpse inside your head. I saw you at your best and at your worst, and I still love you, even if you kissed a bloke at a party.’ As they stared into each other’s eyes, he saw her realise the truth of his words.

 

‘It wouldn’t have happened if you’d been here,’ Ginny said. ‘New rule: a week apart is the maximum. No long missions for you…’

 

‘And no long tours for you, unless I can come with you.’

 

‘Deal,’ said Ginny. They sealed it with a kiss. ‘Now, let’s go upstairs.’

 

‘We still have a lot to discuss.’

 

‘And we have all night to do it,’ she said.

 

‘When you say “do it”, do you mean talk?’ he asked.

 

‘Among other things.’

 

‘What do you think would happen if we used Legilimency on each other while we were “doing it”?’ he asked.

 

‘Let’s find out.’

 


 

‘What’s that noise?’ Ginny asked.

 

‘It sounds like a gong,’ Harry said. He disentangled himself from her, and from the bedclothes. To his surprise, the bedroom was dark.

 

‘Lumos,’ Ginny murmured. ‘Merlin, it’s seven o’clock, Harry, we’ve been in bed for more than three hours!’

 

‘And we’ve learned a lot about each other,’ he said, leaning over and kissing the base of her spine. ‘That will be the dinner gong; Kreacher’s discreet way of summoning us to the dining room.’

 

‘Perfect timing,’ said Ginny. ‘I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly worked up an appetite.’

 

‘You do know about me,’ Harry told her. ‘And I know about you.’ He staggered across the bedroom and grabbed their dressing gowns from the hook on the door.’

 

‘So we do,’ she agreed. ‘Great minds think alike. Why bother getting dressed for dinner?’

 

They were giggling when they entered the dining room. If Kreacher was surprised by their attire, he didn’t show it.

 

‘Venison with Pear and Walnuts,’ Kreacher announced. ‘And there is a letter for you, Master. It is from Miss Fenella Gray.’

 

Harry took the letter, read it, and swore. ‘Take a look at this, Ginny.’ he passed it across the table.



Chapter 21: Finale: Friends and Foes
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Finale: Friends and Foes

 

Ginny carefully slid her leg out from underneath Harry’s. Moving as quietly as she could, she rolled over and sat up on the edge of the bed. It had been another late night. Glancing at the clock, she was amazed to discovered that it was after eleven.

 

Saturday morning was almost over; as was the short break the Harpies had allowed her. Behind her, Harry sighed and rolled onto his side. Not wanting to disturb him, Ginny decided to remain motionless until his breathing settled. As she breathed in the cool air, she watched motes of dust dancing in the slim sliver of sunshine streaming through a crack on the curtains and thought back over the past few weeks and days.

 

The potion had come close to taking the two most important things in her life from her. There was little doubt that had been the intent. It had failed. Despite her initial doubts, Ginny was beginning to believe that Harry was right. Somewhere, deep inside, the part of her which Harry had called “the real Ginny” had been fighting. With Harry’s help, the fight had been won, she had woken from the nightmare.

 

Despite the potion, she and Harry were together, and they were better than ever. The potion had made her stronger; it had made their relationship stronger. Over the past few days she and Harry had shared more than hopes and fears. They knew each other intimately, in every sense of the word. The haze of alcohol and conflict was banished, her life was back to normal. All was well between her and Harry, unfortunately, a new cloud had appeared to darken their lives. Fenella’s letter had made certain of that.

 

While the most important thing in her life was fixed, Ginny knew that she would need to work on the second most important. She would have to prove herself to the Harpies again. Being signed by the Harpies had been the one of the best things to have happened to her, but her success had almost been snatched away. In two days, she would be back at the stadium for a full physical examination.

 

If all was well, and it certainly seemed to be, she would soon be back in training. The previous afternoon she, Linny and Livvy had met the management, and each other for the first time since the debacle at the press conference. They had spent three hours going over events in the Magpie’s Nest with Nicola Macallan, the Harpies’ new legal advisor.

 

The Harpies were still reeling from the bad publicity but, thankfully, the press had changed targets. The club’s management were now the ones being blamed. Neither the Harpies chairman, manager nor the trainer had realised that Linny and Ginny were under the influence of dark magic. They had failed in their duty to look after their players. The “pay off the complainants” approach had been roundly condemned by the Quidditch press, and had already resulted Gus Tavistock’s dismissal.

 

At the meeting a new strategy had been agreed. Ginny had assured her flatmates that she didn’t bear a grudge. Despite this, Livy—the only one of the trio who had not been under the influence of a potion—remained distant. Linny, in a whispered conversation after the meeting, had told Ginny that the gossip in the Harpies changing room was that their flatmate had put in a transfer request. She wanted to return home to Australia.

 

During the meeting, Linny had been seething, partly with herself, but mostly with Daphne Greengrass. The Harpies Beater who, before she’d been controlled, had been pointedly unimpressed by Harry was now his biggest fan. Despite events, Ginny found herself liking the young woman more and more. However, as Linny had never managed to retain a first team place, the Beater was convinced that she’d soon be fired. “Next session, imagine the Bludger is Daphne Greengrass’ head,” Ginny suggested.

 

George’s birthday, and the Harpies game against the Cannons was now only a week away. She wouldn’t be playing of course. She, Linny and Livy would be appearing in court in Edinburgh. It was possible that the charges against her and Linny would be dropped. Despite this, the club had decided not to object to the Court date. Ginny and her flatmates had issued an apology, and their meeting with the Harpies management had been relatively straightforward, Unlike the two visits she and Harry had made the day before.

 

Ginny’s musings were interrupted when she heard movement echoing up from the lower floors of the house. Ron and Hermione were obviously starting to organise things. She really should get up, get dressed, and go and help them. Saturday had arrived. It was the first day when everyone Harry needed to speak to was available. Soon, their burdensome secret would be out. Their guests would be arriving at three, and there was a lot to do.

 

So far as the world knew, Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley were on holiday. They were “taking a few days off to be together and take stock” according to the reports in the papers. There was speculation as to whether she would remain at the Harpies, which was ridiculous; speculation as to whether Harry would remain in the Auror Office, which was even more ridiculous; and speculation as to whether they were about to split, which was preposterous. They had spent much of their time in Muggle London, enjoying the anonymity it gave them.

 

Ginny glanced over her shoulder at her still sleeping boyfriend, and smiled happily. She and Harry were closer than they had ever been. Her father had been right, although she was certain that he hadn’t intended for them to use Legilimency, to explore each other in both mind and body. She shivered with pleasant memories, and then shivered again when she felt fingers slowly tracing their way down her spine.

 

‘You don’t escape that easily,’ Harry murmured. ‘Not when you’re flaunting your back at me.’

 

‘My back, or my backside?’ she asked. She didn’t turn, but simply enjoyed the gentle caress.

 

‘Can’t see your backside,’ he told her. ‘It’s hidden behind the sheets.’ There was a sudden movement. ‘Now I can see it,’ he muttered. ‘Fine rump, tasty rump.’ She felt him shuffle closer to it.

 

‘It’s almost noon, Harry, and we’re expecting visitors this afternoon,’ she protested.

 

‘Plenty of time,’ he assured her. ‘Anyway, Hermione and Ron can cope. I’ve been watching you. You’ve been sitting there dreaming for ages, you must be cold. I can warm you up.’

 


 

Terry Boot Apparated into the small, well-tended, park directly across the road from Harry’s Grimmauld Place home. He was surrounded by rhododendron bushes and had to push his way through them to reach the grass. Although the bushes were sparse, barely budding, the flower beds were filled with a bright sunshine of daffodils. The square was quiet.

 

As Terry walked out onto the path, he heard a pop behind him. Turning, he was astonished see the “photographer” and wanted fugitive, Fenella Gray pushing her way out from the rhododendrons. No one had seen her since Lestrange’s death several days earlier, and her aunt was the only one of the werewolf leaders from Shivering Stone who was still at large. Immediately suspicious, he drew his wand. Fenella froze on the spot, her face nervous, and her posture slumped and almost servile.

 

Terry waited for her to speak, but she didn’t. She simply stared at him with a sad-eyed weariness. It was as though her back was bent under an unbearable burden. He tried to remember his training, and to push any thoughts of sympathy aside. It wasn’t easy.

 

He had no idea where she’d been, or what she’d been doing. She’d arrived at the werewolf village with Neville, and vanished. After a three day search of the area around Shivering Stone had found nothing, Robards concluded that she had helped her aunt, Doxine Gray, to escape. As a consequence, the Head Auror had added her name to the Auror Office’s wanted list.

 

As they stared in silence at each other, Terry thought back over the events of the past few days. Something had been nagging at him, and he was beginning to realise what it was.

 

No one in the Auror Office had seen Harry since the day after Lestrange had died. Press reports claimed that Harry and Ginny had been together at St. Mungo’s, the day after Lestrange’s death, and they’d been spotted  at Holyhead yesterday. Apart from those two occasions, they had been keeping a low profile. Ron certainly knew where they were, and what was going on, but he wasn’t talking.

 

Ron had been in the office every day. Every day, the moment he arrived, he had asked if there had been any sightings of Goyle, Bletchley, Bulstrode, Flint, or Greengrass. As he pondered, Terry finally realised the reason for his unease. Ron had never asked about Fenella’s whereabouts.

 

Now, she was standing outside Harry’s home. If Fenella knew where Harry lived, then Harry’s secret keeper, Ginny, had told her. Therefore, Harry and Ron had known where she was for some time. There were times when Terry wondered how committed Harry was to the Auror Office. He kept secrets from the Aurors, yet would share them with Ginny and Hermione.

 

For almost a minute, while Terry methodically sorted through what he knew, he and Fenella stared at each other. Neither of them moved. He examined her carefully. She wasn’t conventionally attractive, Terry knew that, but she was certainly striking. He’d watched her with increasing fascination over the weeks she’d been working with them. She had, quietly and efficiently, delivered Harry’s photographs to Robards.

 

Fenella was tall, almost as tall as he was. Her long hair was thick and black, and it glistened like polished jet in the afternoon sun. He’d never seen her wearing anything but very traditional robes but today she wore Muggle clothes. Like him, she seemed a little uncomfortable in them. Her baggy green trousers had lots of patch pockets.

 

An olive green vest was visible under her black denim jacket. The jacket and vest were short, and didn’t quite meet her trousers. Terry found his eyes being drawn down to the inch or two of flat abdominal flesh she was displaying. She noticed, blushed, and tried to hitch up her trousers. They immediately slipped back down onto her hips, and he tried to hide his smile.

 

‘Why are you here?’ Terry asked, finally breaking the silence. ‘You’re wanted.’

 

‘I know,’ she said quietly. She looked a little frightened, but the overwhelming impression he had was of sadness and determination. ‘But some Aurors want me more than others,’ she added.

 

Wh-what?’ Terry asked, suddenly feeling uncomfortable. He was horrified to find his stammer returning.

 

‘Mr Robards doesn’t like my father, so he doesn’t want me in the Auror Office. That’s why he’s put me on the wanted list,’ she explained. ‘I’m here because Harry asked me; he thinks I’ve done the right thing. He’s known where I was since Tuesday, Terry, since the day after you got Lestrange.’ She gave him a sad and nervous smile.

 

‘Bu-but, wh-why?’ he asked. Surprised, and surprisingly pleased by the fact that she’d used his forename.

He stopped and tried to remember his vocal exercises.

 

‘Because I got a letter from my Aunt,’ Fenella said. ‘And when I met her, she told me…’ Fenella got no further. She burst into tears.

 

Terry looked helplessly at her. He knew that he should comfort her, but he wasn’t sure how. As Fenella’s shoulders shook with her sobs, he hesitantly stepped forwards and placed his large hand on her shoulder. Taking a deep breath, he murmured, ‘Th-there, there,’ feeling useless as he said the words.

 

‘What’s wrong, Fenella?’ he spoke slowly.

 

To his surprise, she threw her arms around him, buried her face onto his shoulder, and howled. Terry had no idea what to do, so he simply held her until the sobs subsided. It was a new experience for him. His previous girlfriends, or more correctly the girl friends of Michael Corner’s girlfriends, had been so much smaller than he was. He held her tightly.

 

‘Sorry,’ she whispered into his ear. As she regained control, she loosened her grip on him. He did the same, but didn’t release her. ‘Perhaps it’s a good thing; if I’ve had my cry now, I won’t cry when I meet everyone else,’ she said.

 

There was another popping noise, and Lavender Brown stepped out from the bushes. She wore a very tight-fitting pink sweater, a smart black jacket, an ankle-length black skirt, and a smug and self-satisfied smirk.

 

‘Well, well,’ Lavender purred. ‘Auror Terry Boot caught canoodling with wanted fugitive Fenella Gray. This is news. Just wait until I tell…’ Fenella broke free of Terry’s arms and turned to face the newcomer. Lavender’s expression, and comments, changed instantly. ‘You’ve been crying, Fenella. What’s the matter? Is Harry expecting you? Do you know why he wants to see us?’

 

‘Yes,’ said Fenella. She pulled a handkerchief from one of her many pockets, wiped her tears, blew her nose, and marched determinedly out of the park and across the road. It was fortunate that the road was quiet, as she didn’t check for traffic.

 

Lavender looked quizzically at Terry, apparently expecting him to know which of her questions Fenella had answered. He shrugged, and turned to follow Fenella. Lavender scampered after him, her stilettos a rapid and regular beat on the road. By the time they reached Harry’s front door it had been opened. The three were greeted by Harry’s elderly house elf.

 

‘Miss Gray, Mr Boot, Miss Brown,’ he murmured. ‘The Master’s guests are in the sitting room, we await only one more. Follow me please.

 


 

Harry looked at the kitchen clock. The minute hand clicked forwards to show one minute before three. For the past fifteen minutes his doorbell had been ringing. Kreacher was greeting the visitors and Ron and Hermione were—he hoped—dealing with them. He wasn’t in the mood for small talk; this would be almost as difficult as the visits he and Ginny had made on Thursday.

 

They would now all be in his sitting room, and all but Ron, Hermione and Fenella would be wondering what was going on. He stood, sighed sadly, and strode over to stand in front of the fireplace. Ginny, who had been sitting silently opposite him, also stood. She walked over to stand alongside him, and he felt her hand slide into his own and squeeze it.

 

‘This is why you’re such a good Auror, Harry,’ she told him. ‘You care about people.’

 

‘Thanks,’ he told her, returning the squeeze.

 

They stood in silence, looking at the flames and each taking comfort in the other’s presence. The minute hand clicked forwards once more, and at exactly three o’clock the fire flared green.

 

‘Right on time,’ said Harry as a spinning figure appeared in the flames.

 

‘Of course,’ said Ginny. ‘McGonagall will have set up the connection.’

 

The spinning form slowed, and Dennis Creevey, wearing terrain trousers and a thick, blue-check shirt, stepped out from the fireplace.

 

‘Hello Dennis,’ said Harry. ‘How are you?’ They looked at each other awkwardly, remembering Dennis’ tears when Harry had visited Hogwarts two days earlier.

 

Ginny stepped forwards, hugged Dennis, and kissed his cheek. ‘Ready?’ she asked.

 

‘Hi, Harry; hello, Ginny,’ said Dennis, his voice little more than a mournful whisper. ‘I’m as ready as I can be. Where is everyone?’

 

‘Upstairs in the sitting room, it’s this way,’ said Harry. He led Dennis up the stairs, Ginny brought up the rear.

 

The buzz of conversation emanating from the sitting room stopped the moment Harry opened the door. He motioned for Dennis and Ginny to enter first. As he followed, the room filled with expectant silence. A fire blazed in the hearth, and Hermione had used a Geminio spell to create a second white leather three-seat sofa; even so, Harry’s sitting room was crowded.

 

Ron and Hermione shared one of the white leather armchairs, Ron sprawled across the seat, Hermione perched on an arm, Ron’s forearm draped across her lap. Terry Boot was settling himself onto one of the sofas, flanked by a sad looking Fenella and a surprisingly serious-looking Lavender. On the other sofa Hannah Abbot sat sandwiched between George and Neville. Neville had a proprietary arm around Hannah. Susan Bones sat alone. She had, presumably, conjured the uncomfortable-looking upright chair on which she sat primly erect staring suspiciously at Fenella. Luna sat cross-legged on the floor; looking dreamily into the flickering flames, humming tunelessly to herself and, apparently, ignoring everything. As he entered, Harry looked nervously at his guests; he had no idea how he would start this conversation.

 

‘It’s shorty!’ George bellowed the moment he saw Dennis

 

‘Hello, lugless,’ said Dennis. ‘It’s good to see you.’

 

George shuffled sideways, so that he was hip to hip with Hannah, and patted the space he’d made. ‘Sit here,’ he ordered. ‘How’s Hogwarts, little Den? How on earth did Harry persuade the great McGonagall to let you out?’

 

‘Hogwarts is pretty quiet.’ Dennis smiled sadly. ‘But, what do you expect? No Weasleys, no Harry.’

 

As George and Dennis exchanged greetings, Harry sank into his own armchair, the only unoccupied chair in the room. Ginny immediately dropped onto his lap. Silence fell, and Harry prepared to speak. Luna looked up from the fire, blinked, and looked from person to person. Turning to face Harry, she spoke.

 

‘You’ve finally found out who killed poor Colin, haven’t you, Harry?’ she asked.

 

Susan and Lavender gave a startled gasp; Hermione rolled her eyes in disbelief; Terry, George, Neville and Ron all swore; Fenella and Dennis both sobbed. Harry stifled the laugh he knew was inappropriate under the circumstances.

 

‘Are you sure you don’t want to join the Auror Office, Luna?’ Harry asked, as he stared into Luna’s grey eyes. ‘How?’

 

‘The Auror Office doesn’t need me,’ said Luna confidently, shaking her head. ‘And I don’t need them, either. But whenever my friends need me, I’ll be here.’

 

As Luna turned to face the others, Harry noticed that Terry had an arm around the white-faced and sobbing Fenella.

 

‘It’s obvious,’ Luna continued. She pointed to Harry, Ron, Neville, Terry, Susan and Lavender in turn. ‘Auror, Auror, Auror, Auror, Auror, wants to be an Auror,’ she chorused. ‘Everyone else here, apart from Fenella, was in Dumbledore’s Army. Fenella was Colin’s friend, and you’ve persuaded Headmistress McGonagall to let Dennis out of school. What else could it be?’

 

‘Luna’s right,’ Harry admitted. ‘Do you want me to tell everyone, Fenella? Or do you want to do it?’

 

Fenella leant forwards and peered past Terry in order to directly address Neville. ‘I grabbed your Portkey card because, that morning, I’d received a letter from my aunt. I’m sorry if I got you into trouble,’ she said as she pulled a letter from one of the pockets in her trousers.

 

‘Lots of pockets,’ Luna observed. ‘Pockets are very useful.’

 

Ignoring the blonde girl, Fenella opened the letter and read:

 

My dearest Goddaughter, Fenella,

 

I could hardly believe it when Harry Potter told me that you were working with the Aurors. I hope that it is true, as I now find myself alone and friendless. Yesterday, to add to my other crimes, I bit one of Potter’s friends.

 

If I am caught, I will probably be sent to Azkaban. But I want to retain my freedom, so you are going to help me escape from this place. I can picture the look of horror on your face as you read these words, but you will do it.

 

You will do it because I have information.

 

Your father told me of your friendship with a Mudblood who, like you, was a camera fanatic. According to my brother, this boy was a member of Potter’s gang and was killed during the Battle of Hogwarts. I know who killed him, and where he lives. Help me escape, and I will tell you. You’ll find me hiding at the cliffs south of the village. Come alone.

 

Yours,

 

Aunt Doxine

 

‘Bloody hell,’ said George.

 

‘Why didn’t you tell us, Fenella?’ Neville asked.

 

‘Because her Aunt said “come alone,” and she wasn’t sure that she could trust us,’ said Luna.

 

‘Sorry, everyone,’ Fenella whispered.

 

Fenella slumped down into the sofa and pressed herself backwards. She seemed to be attempting to make the sofa swallow her.

 

‘Ginny and I have already talked to Fenella about what she did,’ said Harry. ‘And Ginny reminded me that over the years, when I was trying to help people, I kept a few secrets from my friends and did a few stupid things.’

 

‘More than a few,’ said Ron.

 

‘Exactly!’ said Ginny decisively. ‘What’s done is done. If we could undo the past, I’d be doing something about the events of the past few weeks. The important thing is that Fenella met Doxine, stunned her, and tied her up.’

 

‘Really?’ asked Lavender, leaning forwards and peering around Terry to reassess the tall girl.

 

Fenella nodded. ‘I didn’t trust her. So I ambushed her, tied her up, took her wand and made her tell me everything.’

 

‘How?’ Susan asked suspiciously.

 

‘I promised that I’d help her escape after she told me,’ Fenella admitted. ‘She knew I’d keep my promise. I did. She told me, and I let her go. I’ve no idea where she is now.’

 

‘Who killed Colin?’ George asked.

 

‘Gregory Goyle,’ said Dennis hotly, unable to remain quiet.

 

Fenella nodded, and Terry clumsily hugged her. George put his arm around Dennis and hugged him.

 

Harry nodded. ‘Ginny and I told Dennis, and his parents, on Thursday,’ he said. ‘Doxine wasn’t at the Battle, but Zachary Youen and his wife both were. They witnessed the killing, and they told Doxine what they saw.’

 

‘Gregory Goyle rode a broom into Colin, and knocked him down. Then he grabbed Dennis’ wand, and used it to cast the Killing Curse on him,’ said Fenella quietly.

 

‘Yesterday, I got permission from Robards to interview Youen under Veritaserum. He confirmed Doxine’s story. There’s no doubt,’ Ron added.

 

‘Fenella has helped a fugitive escape; she’s helped the woman who bit Lavender escape!’ said Susan sternly. She glared at Fenella. ‘And all she’s given you is second-hand information, stuff which Youen would have told us himself, eventually.’

 

‘Doxine had more information,’ Harry told an unhappy-looking Susan. ‘She knew the Goyles, and she told Fenella that they lived on an island off the north coast of Ireland. Unfortunately, it’s been hidden under a Fidelius Charm for years. Fenella has written to Doxine. We’re trying to persuade her to turn herself in, to make a deal, but she’s worried that she’ll be prosecuted for biting Lavender.’

 

‘I won’t testify against her,’ said Lavender forcefully. ‘I feel better than I have in years. I’m actually grateful to her.’

 

‘Thanks, Lavender,’ said Ginny. ‘I’m sure that will help. And I’m certain that, now we know what he’s done, we will all want to find Goyle.’

 

‘Yeah,’ Ron said. He looked across at his brother. ‘You know I said I’d quit the Auror Office after we’d rounded up the last of the Death Eaters. We’ve done it, but I’ve changed my mind.’ He squeezed Hermione’s leg, she nodded in agreement. ‘I’m staying in the Auror Office until we catch Goyle.’

 

‘No problem, Ron,’ said George. ‘What can I do to help?’

 

‘I was going to resign, too. But I’m going to stay,’ Neville announced. ‘I almost had him in the Cauldron, and I let him escape.’ He shook his head sadly.

 

‘That wasn’t your fault, Neville,’ said Hannah staunchly.

 

‘We’ve got nothing to go on,’ Harry admitted. ‘We know that, when Neville found their first hideout in Awl’s End, they moved to a little flat in Knockturn Alley.’

 

‘They weren’t there when we checked,’ said Susan. ‘And they haven’t been back.’

 

‘And after the debacle with that Sheriff, they won’t be,’ said Terry grimly.

 

‘Aunt Doxine said that the Goyles didn’t trust anyone,’ said Fenella quietly. ‘No one ever visited them, and they kept the location of their home very secret. She thinks it’s unlikely that Goyle will have told any of the others where he lives.’

 

‘I’ve checked up on the “Mark D’Arque” account at Gringotts, but it’s almost empty, and it hasn’t been used since Neville found their first hideout,’ said Ron. ‘I’ve checked Gringotts for accounts for Goyle, Bullstrode, Bletchley and Flint, too. But there’s nothing. The only thing we know for certain is they left their last hideout in a hurry, so they won’t have much money.’

 

‘Ron’s been keeping me up to date,’ said Harry. ‘You’re here because most of you are Aurors and I wanted you to be the first to know, but I want everyone else told. Terry…’

 

‘I’ll speak to Michael, and Anthony,’ Terry said.

 

‘I’ll let Parvati, Padma, Seamus and Dean know,’ said Lavender.

 

‘Leave Ernie and Justin to me,’ said Susan.

 

‘I’ll let Lee know,’ said George. ‘He can tell Alicia, and she’ll tell the other girls.’

 

‘When did you last speak to Alicia, Katie, or Angelina?’ Ginny asked her brother.

 

‘Dunno.’ He shrugged.

 

‘Wimp,’ Ginny told him. ‘I’ll deal with Cho, Harry,’

 

‘Thanks,’ Harry said. ‘Tell them that any information will be useful. Let them know everything we know about the potion, too, just in case it turns up again.,If everyone can use their contacts…’

 

‘I’m sure they will,’ said Lavender. ‘We’ll find him, Harry.’

 

‘I hope so,’ Harry told her. ‘But we need to be better prepared. The attempt to capture Lestrange was a shambles. You were injured, Lavender, and if Dacia hadn’t been there, Ross would have died. We need to be better organised, better equipped, and we need better communications. Ginny, Ron, Hermione and I have been talking about it and...’ He nodded to Ron.

 

Ron reached into his pocket, pulled out the Deluminator, and placed it on the table.

 

‘Dumbledore left me this in his will,’ Ron said. ‘If Hermione and I … get separated, when Hermione calls my name I can find her. One click and something like a Portkey appears, and off I go.’

 

‘You know that the Auror Identity Cards can be used like Portkeys,’ Harry said. ‘That’s how we managed to get to Lestrange, eventually. We need to be quicker. I want something better; I want a way for an Auror in trouble to be able to call for immediate assistance using the card. One word and Portkeys are activated to get every available Auror there to help.’

 

‘I’ve been looking at the Deluminator, trying to figure out how it works,’ said Hermione. ‘I haven’t had much luck.’

 

‘Two of the cleverest Ravenclaws I know are sitting in this room,’ said Harry. ‘Will you help us? It will be an outside work project for you, Terry. I want a working prototype of the Emergency Portcard ready to demonstrate to Kingsley before I even suggest it to Robards.’

 

‘Of course I’ll help,’ said Terry. ‘Can I talk to Michael? This is the sort of thing the Department of Mysteries loves.’

 

‘Talk to anyone in the DA, Terry,’ Harry said. ‘But no-one else.’

 

‘This is very interesting,’ said Luna, picking up the Deluminator, she held it to her ear and shook it. ‘I’d be honoured to work on something created by Professor Dumbledore.’

 

‘I’ve been talking to Harry and Hermione about the mirror you used to keep in touch with the Auror Office, Lavender,’ said Ginny. ‘Being out of contact with Harry for a month was ridiculous. The Muggles have these things called…’ she glanced across the room.

 

‘Mobile phones,’ Hermione said. ‘Mum and Dad bought one for me. ‘I’ve left it in my car, because the battery goes flat if I bring it into this house, or into the Burrow. Even so, it’s very useful. I can instantly contact lots of Muggles with it. Honestly, I love owls, but wizard communications are terrible in comparison to Muggle technology. I was wondering if the magic mirror could be turned into something like a mobile phone, with more than one connection.’

 

‘I’ll take a look at it,’ said George. ‘That sounds like it could be a money-maker. I may need some assistance, Hermione.’

 

‘Fine,’ said Hermione, sighing. ‘I seem to be an unpaid design consultant for Weasleys Wizard Wheezes in my spare time.’

 

‘Er,’ Fenella mumbled. Everyone fell silent and stared at her. ‘The magic I used on Harry’s camera, to let me remotely print copies of the photographs he took might be useful. If you want my help.’

 

‘The more the merrier,’ said George.

 

‘Why am I here?’ asked Hannah. ‘I can’t really contribute anything.’

 

‘Perhaps you’re here to keep the lovely Neville safe from predatory girls,’ Lavender suggested.

 

‘She’s here to help you, Lavender,’ said Ginny. ‘And to help the Aurors find Goyle.’

 

‘Me?’ Hannah asked. ‘What can I do?’

 

‘A werewolf in the Auror Office? Preposterous!’ said Ron, mimicking their boss.

 

‘You still see Robards most nights, don’t you?’ Ginny asked. ‘He’s one of your regulars. You can talk to him.’

 

‘If anyone can persuade Robards to let Lavender into the Auror Office, it’s you, Hannah,’ said Neville, hugging his girlfriend.

 

‘Goyle and the others were supporting themselves by manufacturing the alcoholic pumpkin juice,’ said Harry. ‘They may set themselves up under a new name.’

 

‘If they do, I’ll let you know,’ said Hannah. ‘I’ve got contacts in several other pubs. I’ll put the word around.’

 

‘Should I talk to Mum?’ Lavender asked.

 

‘Your mother?’ Harry asked. ‘Why?’

 

‘She’s a Greengrass,’ Lavender told him. ‘At least she was before she married “that common half-blood Donald Brown” and they all stopped speaking to her. Daphne’s my second cousin, or something. A lot of them still hate us but, since the Battle, a few have started speaking to Mum. There might be some family gossip.’

 

‘Great, thanks Lavender. Thanks, everyone,’ said Harry. ‘Oh, and if you’re wondering why you’re all in Muggle clothes. There’s a really good Chinese restaurant not far from here. You’re all invited to dinner, my treat.’



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