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Thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed Conspiracy of Blood. Your kind words and constructive criticism mean a lot to me. And an extra-special thank you to my beta reader, sophie_hatter. She saved me from making some tragic missteps with this chapter. If you enjoy it, why not go read her fantastic story Evolution (M)?

As always, the characters herein belong to JK Rowling.

The screams of Feates Rosier filled the abandoned warehouse as he writhed on the concrete floor, trying in vain to escape the agony. Lying next to him, Clinton McNair and Strafford Rowle gasped for breath, knowing that their turn would come again all too soon. Rosier arched his back, catching a glimpse of the demented face of Jeremy Gamp through swollen eyes. Lady Tenabra’s sadistic underling had been pouring it on for what seemed like hours, although it could have only been seconds.

The three wizards were battered and bruised and their expensive robes were torn and filthy. In a perverse sense, they were the lucky ones. McNair’s cousin Alford had been seriously wounded by shrapnel from the Auror’s reductor curses. Gamp had simply killed him as soon as he learned of their failure. With the tone established, he had laid into the rest of them without mercy.

“Jeremy, explain yourself.” A familiar voice reached them from somewhere nearby. Gamp released Rosier from the curse and shifted his wand warily between McNair and Rowle.

“We were just discussing their failure to kill Harry Potter, my lady,” Gamp replied menacingly.

“I believe you’ve discussed it sufficiently. Rennervate.”

The men groaned as the revitalizing energy pulsed through their bodies, amplifying the residual pain that still hummed in their nerve endings like hornets. Rowle managed to pull himself to his knees and glared at both of them with hate-filled eyes. “Is this how our ‘new world’ is gonna be? I have to say I preferred the old one.”

“Let’s be honest, Mr. Rowle,” Tenabra replied coldly. “You’re now wanted for the attempted murder of the Head Auror. Your prospects in the old world have become quite limited.”

“And our alternative is working for some bitch holding the leash of a bloody psychopath?” Rosier snarled. “Brilliant choice we have here.”

Crucio!” Fresh screams filled the room as Rosier crumpled back to the floor.

After a few seconds, Tenabra intervened. “I said that’s enough, Mr. Gamp.”

Glaring at her out of the corner of his eye, Gamp reluctantly ended Rosier’s agony. Rowle and McNair watched Rosier’s chest heave for several tortured breaths before turning their attention back to Tenabra.

“So sorry,” she said sarcastically. “My leash must have slipped.”

“What do you want from us?” Rowle snarled. In spite of his angry tone, she could see the fear in his eyes.

“The same thing that you claim to want, Mr. Rowle. The overthrow of the Ministry and the restoration of the natural order of our society. If we’re to achieve these goals, we have very little margin for error. In your clumsy attempt to kill the Head Auror, there’s little doubt that you left clues that could jeopardize everything we have accomplished. Worse, your failure emboldens our enemies. I believe that Mr. Gamp is taking this all a bit personally.”

The three pure blood wizards flinched involuntarily as Gamp made a menacing sweep of his wand.

“The three of you have an appointment with a Healer named Ervin at a wizarding clinic in Cokeworth in half an hour. He is sympathetic to our cause, and he will not ask for any information that you do not volunteer. The apparition point is directly outside of the clinic, but I suggest you take steps to protect your identities. When your injuries are healed, return to your homes and await further instructions. That will be all.”

McNair, Rosier and Rowle climbed unsteadily to their feet and disapparated one by one. Tenabra hoped that they didn’t splinch themselves in their weakened condition, but if they did then at least they were going to see a healer. As soon as they were gone, she let out a gasp. At the same instant, Gamp’s hands rose to his temples and he shook his head in confusion.

Stupefy.” With the last of her strength, she stunned Gamp and then fell to her knees, breathing heavily. Controlling him had turned out to be far more taxing than she expected. His mental illness turned his mind into a churning sea of violent impulses and disconnected thoughts. She felt like she was piloting a dinghy through the center of the storm, desperately trying not to capsize.

She frowned as she gathered herself. According to the book, controlling another person should not be this difficult. Herodonthus had taken control of thousands of men simultaneously. Surely there were a few nutters in a crowd that large? She struggled unsteadily to her feet and conjured ropes, binding Gamp securely. Then she levitated him into an empty crate in one of the dark corners of the warehouse. By the time she was done applying the spells that would keep him comatose until he was needed again, she felt strong enough to apparate to her hideout in the rafters.

She set a pot of water on top of the small stove and sank into her armchair with the ancient book. Turning to a section she knew well, she toyed with the ancient runes in her mind. Runes were a metaphorical, almost poetic language and she found that Herodonthus sometimes took a great deal of artistic license as his faltering mind wandered through the pages. Comprehending his message was an exercise in patience, concentration and trying to think like a lunatic.

She focused on on particular passage about the state of oneness. It wasn’t an unusual reference and Herodonthus rambled on about the concept in relation to any number of topics. This one followed a passage about changing the flows of rivers in order to conquer the land of an enemy. He often used that metaphor to describe the process of modifying or controlling the thoughts of another person.

Bend the rivers so their waters flow to your own ends

It is the surest way to conquer the lands of your adversary

As the streams align to your own designs

He will be unable to move his armies against you

When his lands have been reshaped

So their paths lay bare his heart to your assault

Channel the waters of your homeland into his rivers

Beseech the oneness that unites you in purpose

To join the destinies of your lands come drought or plenty


Her attention narrowed the the particular rune that she’d been translating as “beseech.” It seemed rather out of place, and the more she stared at it, the less confident she felt in her translation. She struggled to recall other runes that were similar in appearance. Patronize. Boil. Fondle. Submerge. No, none of those seemed to make any more sense.

Impose. Now there was an interesting possibility. What if “the oneness” wasn’t some ethereal state of being, but rather something that was forced on the target of the curse? She read the passage again. Impose the oneness that unites you in purpose. To join the destinies of your lands. Taken in context, it implied that minds were somehow merged.

She conjured a sheet of parchment and began to rapidly scribble notes. If she was correct, this was the breakthrough that she needed to make the final phase of her plan a reality. She momentarily considered reviving Gamp to test her theory, but the idea of creating such an intimate bond with his twisted mind repulsed her. Better to obliviate him and let him continue to terrorize her other followers.

She thought of another wizard she could attempt the bonding with, one whose mind she already knew quite well, but she decided it would be premature. He was the centerpiece of her end game, and she hadn’t gotten this far by being impulsive. She made up her mind to carefully test the technique on her pawns inside the Minister’s office. If one or two of them suffered permanent damage, the cost to her would be minimal. If her theory was correct, her work was about to get a lot easier.

Harry’s insides flinched painfully as Ron pushed his wheelchair over the gap where St. Mungo’s service lift met the ground floor loading dock, but he refused to let a grimace cross his face. For the past twenty hours, ever since Al and Lily had left the previous evening, he had been carping and cajoling his way out of the hospital. The nurses could barely stand to look at him by the time morning rolled around. When the healer made her morning rounds, Harry met her at the door of his room, supporting his surgically repaired shoulder in a sling he’d fashioned from bed sheets. Instead of earning him the immediate discharge he’d hoped for, she nearly transferred him to the mental ward.

In the end, he had managed to wangle his way out on security grounds. It was safer for all involved, he argued, to leave the hospital a day early with a long list of restrictions and a visiting nurse than to depart at a time that could be easily guessed by potential assassins. Naturally, Ron had still insisted on additional precautions. Harry had not been happy about donating hairs for polyjuice potion, but he gave in after Ron threatened to leave him in the hospital. Twenty minutes before his actual departure, three Ministry cars had pulled away from the hospital with Terry Boot disguised as Harry.

The first restriction on Harry’s list was no apparition or portkeys. Brooms were out of the question for obvious reasons, so the next best option was Ron’s old BMW parked by the hospital’s service entrance. Harry admired the aging four-door car as Ron wheeled him down the ramp to ground level. In spite of its high mileage, Ron kept it in great condition. He had been angling for a new car for nearly ten years, but Hermione consistently vetoed it on the grounds that he hardly ever drove. Harry smirked as he recalled the row that ensued when Ron had first brought the BMW home. “I deserve this,” Ron had been repeating to himself for weeks. He certainly got what he deserved from his wife.

The game plan was to drive Harry to Grimmauld Place and then use the floo to travel back to Harry’s home in Ottery St. Catchpole. “Anyone who figures out you’re not in the Ministry car will expect you to floo from the hospital,” Ron reasoned. “If they’re going to try to intercept you in the floo network, that’s where they’ll do it. The wards around your house are too strong.”

Harry couldn’t help groaning as Ron helped him stand up from the wheelchair. In spite of the pain potions, his injured shoulder throbbed. Each halting step sent sharp jolts of agony shooting down his arm, which was even more frustrating because most of the feeling below his elbow had yet to come back. By the time he gingerly lowered himself into the passenger seat, he was exhausted.

“Hey, boss,” came a cheerful voice from behind him that made him jump and then gasp in pain.

“Justin, I am going to get back at you for that,” Harry groaned, “if it’s the last thing I do.”

Justin chuckled beneath his disillusionment charm. From the other side of the back seat, Susan’s disembodied voice added, “Well, let’s make sure your final act doesn’t happen any time soon, alright?”

“OK, Harry, time to cover up,” Ron said, dropping into the driver’s seat. He pulled the invisibility cloak out of the center console and began to pull it over Harry. “Lean forward a bit, right? It wouldn’t do to drive around with half the passenger seat missing.”

“Where did you get this?” Harry asked, realizing that he had lost track of the cloak after blacking out in the Hogwarts infirmary.

“Neville snagged it out of your robes before they shipped you off to St. Mungo’s,” Ron replied. “He was surprised to find it on you. Based on the relative lack of detentions, he was pretty sure one of your grandchildren had it.”

Harry smiled, but said nothing. He watched as Ron expertly adjusted the heater, the rear-view mirror and the radio while backing out of the loading dock towards the hospital exit. “Ron, why is it that can you operate this car effortlessly when you’re bloody hopeless with every other muggle contraption on earth?”

“The car just makes sense,” Ron replied. “Everything is where I expect it to be and does what it’s supposed to. These German blokes should make computers.”

The drive through London proceeded without incident, although Ron insisted on taking side streets and multiple unadvertised shortcuts. As they drove, he began to fill Harry in on the meeting that one of their Aurors had infiltrated.

“So Philbrick didn’t even have time to call for backup?” Harry asked.

“No. He decided to start working Strafford Rowle after we heard that the Blood Order was recruiting. Rowle is one of the biggest pure blood nutters left on the street, so it made sense, and Philbrick had dealings with him in the past posing as a distant Yaxley cousin who smuggled contraband wands from Bulgaria. They’d just sat down to catch up over drinks when Feates Rosier tapped Rowle on the shoulder and told him about the meeting. Philbrick saw his chance and he took it.”

“Tenabra,” Harry repeated the name, scratching his chin. “It sounds made-up.”

“We’ve already run it through Magical Records and the muggle birth records database,” Susan chimed in from the back seat. “No matches that would make any sense at all.”

“Philbrick managed to stun two of the wizards attending the meeting,” Ron added, “but they didn’t know anything that he hadn’t already found out. Invited by friends of friends.”

As they waited at a traffic light, Harry heard an electronic tinkling sound from the back seat. “Sorry,” came Susan’s voice, “my mobile.” She answered the call and her voice immediately became concerned. “Ron, the decoy motorcade is under attack!”

“What?” Harry snapped before Ron could respond. “Where are they?”

“They took the motorway,” Ron answered, sounding shocked. “Somebody’s attacking them in broad daylight, surrounded by thousands of muggles!”

“How fast can we get there?” Harry demanded. “Did your dad ever enchant this thing to fly?”

“Harry, no. We can’t. I have my orders from the Minister himself,” Ron answered, sounding rather ashamed. “Our priority is to get you safely home.”

“The Minister can sod off!” Harry retorted angrily. “You haven’t seen these people fight, Ron. They’re killers. Terry and his team need our help.”

“Mate, you’re in no condition to help anybody,” Ron insisted. “You can barely walk. You’d be a liability in a fight and you know it.”

“Harry,” Susan said quietly but firmly, “do you trust their training?”

“That’s not the point, Susan!”

“Yes, Harry, it is. If you trust them, then let them do their job. And while you’re at it, let us do ours, which is to deliver you home in one piece.”

The car was silent for several minutes. Finally, Harry asked, “How soon will we know what happened?”

“Backup had already been called in,” Susan answered. “I’m sure Terry will contact me as soon as he’s able.”

They were still waiting anxiously when Harry felt the familiar tingling as they passed through the wards surrounding Grimmauld Place. The Fidelius Charm that once protected the house was long gone, but Harry had replaced it with a wide array of defensive spells. In spite of their safe arrival, everyone’s nerves were still on edge. Ron pulled to a stop in the driveway and Justin and Susan hopped out of the car and began to cast shield charms and revealing spells.

“Ron, I’m sure it’s OK. The wards are still up,” Harry said, pulling the invisibility cloak off of his head.

“I forgot you can feel those,” was all Ron said as he waited for a signal from Justin and Susan. Once they declared the all clear, Ron hopped out of the car and made his way around to Harry’s side. As he and Susan were helping Harry to his feet, her mobile rang again.

“Hello?” she answered it, apprehension covering her features. “Oh, thank Merlin.”

“No casualties,” she relayed to Ron and Harry. “Just a couple of minor injuries.”

Susan listened intently to the person on the other end of the call. “They were attacked by four masked, hooded wizards on brooms. They managed to stun one of them, but he fell into traffic and was struck and killed by a muggle lorry. That turned out to be Kendrick Avery. The other three escaped. The Minister has issued an all-hands alert. Anyone certified to do muggle memory modification is being called in to help the Obliviators undo the damage.”

Ron sighed. “Get the word out. Double shifts for everybody until this bloody mess is cleaned up. You two are here with me on security detail, though. Terry’s in charge in the office.”

Susan passed Ron’s orders along while Justin continued to check the integrity of the wards. Ron helped Harry up the steps and into the house. They made their way to the floo and Ron threw a handful of powder into the low fire. “The Potter Estate.”

Ron stepped through first and Harry followed gingerly behind him. When he emerged in his sitting room, Harry found his friend sweeping the room with revealing spells.

“Will you come off it, Ron? There’s nobody here but us!” Harry snapped in frustration.

He was immediately proved wrong as Hermys appeared in front of them, looking overjoyed.

“Master is home! Master is home!” the elf cried happily as he reached for Harry’s cloak.

“Thank you, Hermys,” Harry replied. “It’s good to see you, too.”

Ron had finished his survey of the room and he pocketed his wand and turned back to Harry. He started to say, “Harry, I need to tell you about...” at the same instant that Hermys chirped, “Hermys has something important for Master...”

“Hermys was not meaning to interrupt Master Ron,” the elf said quickly with a nervous bow.

“It’s alright, Hermys,” Ron replied reassuringly. “Please, go ahead.”

“Oh, no, no, Hermys could not possibly speak before Master’s guest. Master Ron must go first.”

“Really, it’s fine, Hermys. If you have something important for Harry...”

“Come on!” Harry cut them off. “Ron, you go first.”

“Oi, no reason to get hostile,” Ron began, looking slightly hurt. “I was gonna tell you that my lunch with Percy didn’t end well. He got really upset, refused to give us the memory and stormed out of the restaurant leaving me with a twenty quid tab. The git makes almost twice what I do.”

Harry shook his head, looking slightly amused.

“Perhaps,” Hermys said cautiously, “Master Ron’s lunch went better than he realized.” The elf held up a vial filled with a silvery liquid.

“Hermys, is this what I think it is?” Harry asked, taking the vial.

The elf nodded solemnly. “Master Percy summoned Hermys to a filthy muggle tavern in much need of a good cleaning. Master Percy did not look well, but he would not permit Hermys to take him to a healer. Master Percy said that it was important to deliver this to Master as soon as possible.”

Harry took the vial and swirled the contents gently. “Sounds like he had a moment of clarity or something,” Harry mused, looking from the vial to Ron.

“No,” Hermys mumbled quietly. “Not clear.”

“What was that?” Harry asked, noticing the elf’s odd reaction. “Was something wrong with him?”

Hermys stared at his feet for a long moment before meeting Harry’s gaze. “There is a word in the elvish language. It is not easy to explain. Master Percy was... not alone.”

Harry stared at the elf, confused. “You mean there was somebody else there?”

“No, Master,” Hermys replied. “It was only Hermys and Master Percy in the wretched place.” He seemed to be thinking very hard. Then he touched the side of his head. “Master Percy was not alone... here.”

“You mean somebody was inside his head?” Ron asked.

“Not inside,” the elf answered. “Present, but not there. Hermys is ashamed that he cannot explain clearly.”

“It’s alright, Hermys,” Harry replied. “If you think of another way to explain it, let me know. Ron, Susan and Justin will be joining us for dinner.”

The elf nodded obediently. After taking Harry and Ron’s cloaks, he disappeared with a crack.

Ron stared at Harry. “What do you make of that?”

“I’m not sure,” Harry said. “Elves can sense a lot of things, but they aren’t good with words. I think maybe we should have another chat with Percy. In the meantime, do you think Hermione could join us for dinner? The three of us should have a good look at this.” Harry held up the vial, swirling the silvery liquid that he hoped would answer a lot of questions.


As Percy prepared to turn the page of the magical secrecy treaty on the desk in front of him, it dawned on him that his mind had been drifting. He silently cursed and began to backtrack, trying to find the last paragraph that he could actually remember reading. Checking his watch, he realized that it was past dinnertime. He knew that he should probably contact Audrey and let her know that he would be missing the joint counseling session they had scheduled for that evening, but he couldn’t handle the disappointment he was sure to hear in her voice. He hoped that she had heard about the attack. Then she might understand.

He looked through his office door and saw most of his staff still sitting at their desks. Official notifications needed to go out to all of the wizarding nations that were signatories to the International Treaty of Secrecy, alerting them to the severe breach that had occurred along the muggle motorway earlier that day and explaining the steps the Ministry was taking to deal with the incident. Percy thought about the teams of Obliviators, Aurors and Magical Law Enforcement Patrol that were sweeping the M4 corridor, following up on any muggles who reported seeing anything unusual. Their smug self-importance annoyed him. They weren’t the only ones who had to work long hours when the muggles saw something they weren’t supposed to.

Percy’s day had been a complete disaster. He had barely slept the night before. His dreams were plagued by visions of Ginny and Edwin Stoops and, for some strange reason, Harry’s elf. It was the worst night he’d had in a very long time, and he reckoned that the stress of his attempted reconciliation with Audrey must be getting to him. Even now, he longed to skive off to a dark, crowded muggle pub where he could lose himself for a few hours.

As soon as he arrived at work, he had tried to schedule lunch with Arabela. Talking to her always seemed to help him sort out his thoughts. He could hardly believe that a woman as smart and decisive as Arabela tolerated a crumbling wreck of a wizard like himself. But on this day, she could only offer him her sincere regrets. The Minister’s entire staff was working sixteen hour days, helping him stay on top of the situation with the New Blood Order while trying to keep the progressive and pure blood factions of the Wizengamot from tearing the government apart.

He started to read the treaty again, but his mind drifted almost immediately. An idea struck him, and he rolled up the treaty and grabbed his cloak, feeling at ease for the first time all day. There was a muggle coffee shop three streets from the Ministry that featured a jazz quartet on Thursday nights. If he was lucky, he could snag a quiet table and finish his work there. He felt the weight of a dozen pairs of eyes as he closed his office door behind him, so he made a point of carrying the rolls of parchment conspicuously as he strode out towards the lifts.


Justin and Susan left Harry’s house shortly after their relief arrived. They both volunteered to stay the night, but Ron had sent them home, knowing that everyone in the department had long days ahead of them. Once the night security detail settled into the drawing room and Hermys began to accost them with trays of food and drinks, Harry, Ron and Hermione adjourned to the study.

Ron took Harry’s pensieve down from its shelf and set it on the coffee table. It had been a gift from Kingsley to celebrate his promotion to Head Auror, and based on the well-worn stone and the intricate carvings around its rim, Harry guessed that it was both old and expensive. Hermione conjured a thick layer of pillows on the floor around the table as Ron moved the furniture back towards the walls. They couldn’t be too careful, she reckoned, since a paraplegic and an invalid would soon be popping out of the pensieve. When she was satisfied with their landing zone, Harry poured the memory into the stone basin and swirled it with his wand.

“Alright, I’ll go first and you two drop in one at a time,” Ron directed. “Give me a few seconds in between so I can catch both of you.” Then he leaned forward and disappeared into the swirling, silvery memory.

With his one good arm, Harry helped Hermione slide awkwardly forward on her seat until she more or less tumbled into the pensieve headfirst. Harry counted to five, took a deep breath, and leaned forward. He felt the familiar sensation of free-fall, and suddenly a concrete floor was rushing towards him. Both of his arms reflexively reached out, and he felt pain shoot through his injured shoulder. Just before he hit the floor, he was surprised to feel two sets of hands break his fall.

Harry stared at Hermione open-mouthed. She was standing on her own two feet, smiling from ear to ear. “Hermione, you’re...”

“I know!” she replied giddily. “I thought I’d never get to feel this again.”

“What do you reckon it means?” Ron asked. He sounded almost scared to accept what he was seeing, as though the mere act of believing his eyes would send his wife crashing to the floor.

“The French call your presence inside a memory ‘perceived self image’,” Harry said, recalling his advanced memory magic training. “Essentially, you appear the way that you envision yourself in your own mind. If I had to take a guess, I’d say that you’ve never given up on thinking of yourself as able to walk.”

There was a long, awkward moment as they all realized that Harry’s guess was probably the truth. Feeling like he’d been rather insensitive, he lamely added, “I guess I’ve come to terms with my busted shoulder, huh?”

“Let’s get on with this, right?” Ron said, taking Hermione’s hand. He waved his wand and set the memory in motion. Percy appeared at the entrance to the muggle jail. He exchanged a brief greeting with the Obliviator keeping watch, then headed for the doorway that led to the prisoner cells.

The memory moved into the cell block, following Percy’s footsteps. “Pay close attention,” Harry directed. “Any detail could be important.” They studied their surroundings carefully as they walked towards the far end of the room. The walls were made of cinder block and painted a drab, institutional green. Behind the dull steel bars, the paint had been scratched and dirtied by the fingers of countless inmates. Harsh fluorescent lights covered with filthy plastic diffusers bathed the room in a sickly yellow hue. Percy shuddered as he passed cell after cell of muggle criminals who mocked his black cloak and blue robes.

When he reached the end of the row, Percy was confronted with Edwin Stoops, alone in his cell. Stoops sat on the cot against the wall, staring at his shoes. There was an absent look on his face, as though his mind was somewhere else. The tap on the cell’s tiny metal sink dripped intermittently. Percy stood quietly outside the cell, staring. His expression vacillated between despair and rage. Finally, he spoke a single word. “Why?”

Stoops looked up, noticing Percy for the first time. He appeared confused, then amused. He pointed at Percy and started to laugh, first a soft chuckle and then a full belly laugh, rocking back and forth on the cot. Percy’s face twisted with hatred as Stoops slapped his knee and rose to his feet. As Stoops approached the bars separating them, Percy’s arm raised towards the cell and his wand leapt into his hand. “I’ve never seen him do nonverbal magic,” Ron whispered, forgetting that the people in the memory couldn’t hear him.

Stoops pointed at Percy’s wand and laughed as though he’d never seen anything so funny. Hermione shuddered and gripped Ron’s hand tighter, knowing what was coming.

AVADA KEDAVRA” The words rang out like a clap of thunder. The curse erupted from Percy’s wand like a bolt of emerald lightning. A brilliant green glow shone from the center of Edwin Stoops’s chest for a fraction of a second before he disappeared in a blinding explosion.

As the dust settled around the demolished cell, Percy slowly backed away and pocketed his wand. He turned and began to walk back towards the entrance. The memory had taken on a hazy quality, and the details around the periphery of Percy’s field of vision were indistinct. The muggle criminals who had taunted him before now looked at him with fearful eyes, unsure of what had just happened. Their surroundings began to fade as Percy reached the end of the cell block. Ron waved his wand and halted the memory.

“Something’s not right,” Harry murmered, studying their hazy surroundings. “It’s like everything went fuzzy after he killed Stoops.”

“Ron,” Hermione said, thinking carefully, “take us back to the moment just before he cast the killing curse.”

Ron waved his wand and their surroundings shifted. They were once again standing next to Percy as he pointed his wand towards the center of Stoops’s chest. Hermione walked around Percy and stood near the cell bars. She studied the worn chrome fixtures of the cell’s sink. She could make out a hazy reflection of Percy’s red hair. “Move us forward, slowly,” she said.

Stoops’s final moments played out in slow motion. Hermione carefully watched the reflection. Just as the explosion lit up the room, she called out “Stop!”

Ron paused the memory and made a face as he stared at the green light tearing Edwin Stoops apart from within. He and Harry both moved around and followed Hermione’s outstretched finger with their eyes. In the sink fixtures, they could just make out the reflection of a pale female face surrounded by long blond hair and a dark hood.

“It’s gotta be her,” Harry said quietly. “The one from Magical Records, the one who was standing across the street when Ginny died.”

Hermione frowned. “So that means this memory...”

“Is a fake,” Ron said breathlessly. “A bloody fake.”

“Not just a fake,” Harry replied, looking around. “A brilliant fake. I’ve seen forged memories before, but nothing like this. Whoever altered it did a masterful job.”

“Anybody come to mind?” Ron asked. They had sent dark wizards to Azkaban for tampering with the memories of unwitting victims, but the alterations were always crude and easy to spot.

“Nobody,” Harry answered. “The only time I’ve ever seen memories altered this perfectly was during my advanced memory training in France. The French Aurors are the best in the world at it.”

Ron shuddered as he looked at Percy’s hate-filled eyes. “OK, then. Let’s get out of here. This place creeps me out.”

Moments later, they all tumbled out of the pensieve and landed on the mountain of conjured pillows surrounding the table. Ron caught Hermione in a bear hug as she rolled off the table while Harry landed squarely on his injured shoulder and cursed out loud in spite of the softened landing. Ron lifted his wife into a chair and then quickly moved to help Harry to his feet.

“So what do we do?” Hermione asked. “Is there somebody you can show this to who could tell us how it was done and who might have done it?”

Harry stared at Dumbledore’s sleeping portrait uncomfortably. “There is,” he said slowly, “but it’s... awkward.”

Hermione looked confused. “What do you mean, awkward?”

“I mean that she and I have a certain history,” Harry explained. “She’s an Auror in the French Ministry. We did our advanced memory training together, then we spent a lot of time working on a case. This was before Ginny and I were married. In the end, I knew that Ginny was the only one for me, but I think she was hoping for a different outcome.”

“That is awkward,” Hermione agreed.

“So are you gonna send her an owl or something?” asked Ron, earning an immediate glare from his wife. He realized his mistake and mumbled, “I mean, you know, that was a long time ago, right?”

“Yes, I’m sure she’ll help us,” Harry finally replied. “She kind of owes me one.”

Ron yawned and looked at his watch. “It’s been a long day, love. Why don’t we floo home and let Harry get some rest?”

Ron stood up, but Hermione didn’t move. She looked uncertainly from Ron back to Harry, drawing inquisitive stares from both of them. Finally, she took a deep breath and said, “Before we go, there’s one more memory I need to look at. You two are welcome to join me if you like.”

“What is it?” Ron asked.

“Something I discovered while I was trying to understand my problem with the wheelchair,” she replied uneasily. “It’s rather personal, but I think I need some support while I view it.”

“Of course,” Harry said, “anything you need. You know that.” He siphoned Percy’s memory out of the pensive with his wand and returned it to the vial.

While Ron rearranged the pillows on the floor, Hermione touched her wand to her temple. “It was hard to remember this,” she explained. “It happened a long time ago and it isn’t very pleasant, but I think it’s important.” She drew a long, silvery strand with her wand and placed it into the pensieve, where it swirled and expanded to fill the stone basin.

“Ready, love?” Ron asked, embracing her shoulders.

“Yes,” she replied nervously. “Harry, give us a few seconds and we’ll catch you.”

Harry watched his friends disappear into the pensieve and joined them a few seconds later. They caught him as he tumbled precariously towards a floor covered with cheap, institutional carpet. As the memory began to play out, a group of girls in muggle school uniforms came into view. They all appeared by be five or six years old. The memory seemed to focus on three girls who surrounded a fragile-looking youngster with familiar, bushy brown hair.

“Come on, Hermione,” a spindly blond girl was saying. “Are you chicken?” The girl was tall for her age, and towered over young Hermione.

“I’m not chicken,” young Hermione shot back, “it’s just not nice.”

“Nice, shmice,” another girl taunted. “You’re just chicken.”

“I am not chicken!” young Hermione insisted.

“Then prove it,” the blond demanded. “He’s right over there. Just say it and walk away.”

“But, he’s just a nice old man,” young Hermione pleaded. “He hasn’t done anything to us.”

“Chicken, chicken, chicken!” the girls taunted, poking her in the face and chest as they bounced around her. Harry could see the emotion rising in young Hermione’s face. She looked like she might cry at any moment. Finally, she stormed away from the other girls. An elderly man in a wheelchair appeared in the memory, talking to a separate group of girls from the class.

Young Hermione marched right up to him. “Cripple!” she shouted at the top of her lungs. Ron and Harry stared at the scene with their mouths agape, along with most of the children in the memory. Suddenly a teacher charged into view and yanked young Hermione away by the collar of her uniform. There were tears in her eyes as she stared back at the elderly man. Harry though he saw her mouth the words “I’m sorry.”

The classroom dissolved around them and the memory shifted to a muggle bedroom that obviously belonged to a little girl. Harry thought that he recognized the wallpaper from a picture Hermione had shown him. Loud shouts echoed from outside the room. A male and a female voice seemed to be taking turns venting their anger. After a solid five minutes, young Hermione ran into the room and threw herself on the bed, sobbing.

Harry turned to face adult Hermione and found her buried in Ron’s embrace. Her shoulders gently shook as she cried. Ron’s cheek leaned on the top of her head and he was whispering reassuring words to her. After a long few minutes, she pulled her tear-stained face back from Ron’s chest.

“You told me that you never got in trouble when you were little,” Ron said quietly.

“I never did, before that,” she replied. “And afterwards, I couldn’t bear the thought.”

“Who was the man in the wheelchair?” Harry asked.

“He was a World War II veteran who visited my class on Remembrance Day. I never knew his name. My dad’s favorite uncle lost a leg in the war. I should have known better. But they kept teasing me and teasing me. I just wanted them to stop.” Her eyes were shining with tears again. “I had to do something to make them stop! Why couldn’t they just LEAVE ME ALONE?

Ron pulled her into another hug as she started to sob again. Harry stared at her and tears welled in his own eyes. If there was one thing he clearly remembered from his own childhood, it was being bullied.

Hermione cried herself out for a second time and looked up at Ron as though his forgiveness was all that mattered in the world. “I was young and afraid and I didn’t have many friends. So I let them bully me into hurting that poor old man. I was so stupid.”

“Love, you were five,” Ron said matter-of-factly. His eyes were filled with reassurance as he stared down at her. “You know what you did was wrong, and I think it made you a stronger person.”

She stared back at him and seemed to find her resolve. “Let’s find out.” She waved her wand and their surroundings dissolved. Moments later, they all tumbled back into Harry’s study. Harry was relieved when he landed on his good side.

Ron lifted Hermione back into her chair as Harry struggled to his feet. “Do you mind?” Hermione asked Harry, pointing to the chair with her wand.

“Go ahead,” Harry replied.

Hermione closed her eyes and gestured with her wand. The chair began to sprout wheels and handles as the arms narrowed and the bottom rose. When she opened her eyes a few moments later, she was sitting in a simple wheelchair.

“Love, are you OK?” Ron asked nervously.

Hermione took a long time to reply. Her hands were shaking and her breath came in short gasps. Finally, she forced herself to take a steadying breath and look Ron and Harry in the eyes.

“No,” she replied, “but I will be. Let’s let Harry get some rest. I’m going to have a busy day in the office tomorrow.”


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