After two knocks on the green front door, it opened a few seconds later. Anya Zabini, still beautiful but slightly exhausted was the one looking back at Albus. She cocked her head to they side and put a hand on her hip but didn’t scowl at him.
“Well, you look really familiar…like a bloke I once knew…seems like so long ago,” she sassed.
“I’m sorry,” Albus said feebly, toying with the zip of his tattered jacket. “I lost track of time.”
“You lost track of the date,” she corrected. “It’s the fifth, you said you’d be here on the second.”
“How time flies,” he tried.
“Hmm,” she nodded allowing him to come inside.
It was a modest flat, nothing like you’d expect a Zabini to be living in. Further evidence that her parents were not pleased that she had given birth to a half-blood child and were only giving her marginal support. As he walked into the living room, he heard Scorpius talking in an incredibly childish voice.
“And a little fold here and a little fold here and…” he saw him lifting up Anya’s giggling baby girl; Hope. “You are cooked.”
He seemed incredibly proud to have changed her nappy all by himself.
“Now, do you think you can go at least an hour without soiling this one?” Scorpius asked the happy baby.
“Gahh,” Hope responded with a drool bubble which Albus suspected meant ‘no’.
Scorpius looked over and saw Albus standing in the doorway with a guilty expression on his face.
“Managed to climb out of the bottle then?”
“I’m sorry…well, I’m not sorry I missed the nappy changing, but you know…”
“Actually, you’ve missed about the last fifteen. How she can poop so much is beyond me,” he said handing Hope to Anya who cradled her in her arms.
“New-borns have delicate digestive systems and the muscles for ‘holding it’ haven’t fully developed yet,” Albus answered automatically.
Anya looked at him quizzically.
“I read a book,” Albus shrugged.
“Well, it’s nice to know that you actually did intend to be here,” she smiled.
“Again, I’m sorry,” Albus said.
“I know you’ve got a lot on your mind,” she sighed. “So, I won’t stop you from dragging him to the ministry.”
“We don’t have to go yet, we can…”
“No, you do need to go. I don’t know if you saw the prophet but –“
“I saw it.”
“If you are going to do something, you better do it fast because they are getting very close to calling the little men in white coats from St. Mungo’s,” Anya warned.
Scorpius straightened out his clothes and walked over to them. He gave Anya a quick peck on the lips followed by a smile. “I’ll floo you once we’re done.”
“Okay. Try to make sure he doesn’t snap at reporters,” she smiled.
“See ya later,” Scorpius grinned and headed out the door with Albus.
They walked down the corridor in silence until they reached the stairs.
“So, what’s it like?”
“What’s what like?”
“Looking after a baby.”
“Haaaarrrrrd work,” Scorpius breathed. Albus had noticed the bags under his eyes and the fact that he hadn’t even bothered to try and do something with his hair. “I’ll never admit it in front of her, but Anya’s stamina is putting mine to shame.”
“I really am sorry…I…your dad caught me sleep walking last night,” Albus admitted.
Scorpius stopped in his tracks looking very worried.
“I thought that couldn’t happen?! You switch off your subconscious when you sleep so how –“
“I don’t know.”
“Well, what do your vault files say about it?”
“Sleep walkers have a lot of repressed aggression, guilt and frustration. And…it’s common among people suffering from PTSD.” Scorpius looked like he was about to say something but Albus interrupted him before he could. “I don’t have PTSD!”
“I never said you did. Of course, it wouldn’t be surprising if you did.”
“Just don’t tell anyone about the sleep walking, okay?”
“Fine,” Scorpius said before grabbing Albus by the shoulder.
The two of them disappeared into a blur of motion and then were gone.
They rematerialized inside the Ministry Atrium, in the designated disapparation area. A few other people were popping out of thin air around them but most were arriving via the floo entrances that lined the walls. They immediately started walking through the crowded Atrium towards the lifts. A lot of wizards and witches recognized Albus instantly and either kept their distances of shot him an odd look before whispering something to the person next to them.
Albus ignored them. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t had to deal with that kind of thing for his entire life at Hogwarts after all.
“You seen Rose lately?” he asked.
“Not recently, you?”
“Yeah, I saw her last week,” Albus said.
“Oh, I must have missed her.”
“Actually, she missed you, purposely.”
“Come on, Scorp. Don’t you think it’s a bit strange that since you and Anya became an item, she’s been avoiding you like Splattergroit?”
“She’s jealous. You’ve stopped chasing after her and she’s suddenly realized how much she enjoyed being pursued,” Albus grinned.
“Wow, that doesn’t make me sound like a stalker at all. Thanks,” Scorpius grumbled.
“You know what I mean. The old saying; you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone?”
“I’m not leaving Anya to go after Rose again, Albus,” Scorpius growled.
“I didn’t say you should. It’s your love life, your decision. I thought you should be informed.”
“Consider me informed,” he huffed as they got into the lift and took it down to level two. Department of Magical Law Enforcement.
They stepped out of the lift and headed towards the main entrance. In front was a large round desk with an irksome looking witch with a awful beehive hair-do behind it. Several interdepartmental memos were zooming through the air with a few stoppings at the desk. The witch looked up and scowled as Albus approached.
“You don’t have an appointment,” she hissed.
“I have a dad. He’s in there right?”
“He’s in a meeting!”
“That’s funny Iris, the last time you said he was in a meeting, I found him having a beer with Ron in the Leaky Cauldron. Exactly what constitutes a meeting to you?” Albus smiled.
Iris hated him and he really didn’t care.
“You shouldn’t be here! You’re hurting your father’s reputation!” she snarled.
“And your ass is hurting national security. If it gets any bigger the Russians are going to think that we’re using it as a mobile launch platform for ICBM’s. I’ll just go in, I’m sure he won’t mind,” Albus said before walking passed her desk and into the Auror offices.
Iris was left with her mouth agape, unable to respond.
The Auror department was twice as big as it once was. Harry’s joining and subsequent rise through the ranks had inspired many other wizards and witches to sign up as well. No one was complaining of course, crime rates in magical Britain had dropped to an all-time low.
They moved through the offices quickly, avoiding the hustle and bustle of the people working there. Everywhere, Aurors were sitting at their desks reviewing paperwork or looking at evidence boards. Some were sending off memos while others chatted amongst themselves. A few of them cast a cautious eye at Albus as he walked passed them.
He couldn’t stop himself from scanning the open cases that they were working on. He singled out one in particular that was laying open on none other than Teddy Lupins desk. Triple murder via the killing curse.
“Huh,” he chuckled. “That’s clever.”
“What?” they turned to see Teddy standing behind them looking a little annoyed. He had opted for his plain light brown hair for a change.
“Oh, nothing,” Albus said quickly. “Where’s my dad?”
“Chatting with Hermione and a few other high-ups,” Teddy said.
“So, he actually is in a meeting? That makes a change.”
“You spotted something about my case, what is it?” Teddy demanded.
“Nothing. I’m not Auror, this is your job, not mine,” he said airily.
“Don’t be an ass, Albus. I know you like reminding everyone how smart you are but three people are dead and –“
“Two,” he corrected.
“Two people are dead.”
“That’s strange because we have three bodies,” Teddy said.
“Where did you bury the third victim?” Albus asked.
“Cemetery outside of Cornwall, why?”
“With his wand?”
“He had no next of kin, of course we buried him with his wand.”
“Might want to check that body again,” Albus suggested.
“Ever seen someone that has voluntarily taken Draft of Living Death? They look just like a corpse. If you get the measurements right, you can even time how long it lasts. And it wouldn’t be difficult for a supposedly dead man to confund the examiner to say that he found nothing in the victim’s system. Aurors don’t guard dead bodies after all. Just take another look at the grave, I wouldn’t be surprised if you find that it’s empty,” he said quickly.
Teddy looked horrified that he hadn’t thought of that.
“Albus.” They all turned to see that Harry had stuck his head through the door of his office. “Come in.”
Albus and Scorpius entered Harry’s office and left Teddy scrambling through his notes, trying to confirm Al’s theory.
Inside, Hermione was sitting on a sofa with Gerty, her overly eager and very free house elf standing next to her. On her other side were two other senior Aurors. Calvis, the larger of the two men seemed to enjoy dressing like a muggle from the nineteen-seventies. He was wearing a large overcoat and flat cap and sported a short mustacho. The smaller man, Blagden, was half-cast middle eastern and had a very neatly maintained goatee.
“Minister,” Scorpius nodded to Hermione.
“Hi Gerty,” Albus smiled.
Gerty always became insanely nervous around Albus and let out a little squeak of acknowledgment before averting her eyes.
“You both look awful,” Hermione said with a disapproving look.
“Babies are hard work,” Scorpius mumbled.
“Understatement,” Harry snorted. “I wish I could say it gets easier but…”
“Wow, a full seven seconds before you started in on me,” Albus scathed. “Gerty, could you inform Guinness, we have a new record.”
“I’m not starting anything, Albus, calm down,” Harry said taking a seat behind his desk.
Albus bit back his temper. “I’m just here for any updates you’ve got, then I’ll get out of your way.”
“You’re going to be disappointed. MACUSA Aurors spotted her three days ago but no one has seen her since,” Harry reported.
“MACUSA? She’s stateside?”
“Yeah, guess where?” Calvis pipped up. “The Grand Canyon. Very popular destination for…you know, tourists.”
“She wasn’t there for the scenery. Nearest city would Flagstaff, does MACUSA have anything in that area?”
“I don’t know. Albus, MACUSA is under no obligation to share information with the British Ministry or with any other Ministry for that matter. They are passing along this information as a personal curtsey to me,” Harry explained. “They’re not investigating her.”
“Why the hell not?!”
“Because she hadn’t done anything wrong!” Blagden said. “They approached her, they asked her a few questions and then let her get back on with her holiday. They said she was cooperative, very pleasant and even signed an autograph for one of them.”
“In other words, not a single member of magic law enforcement in the entire damn world believes me! Terrific!”
“Albus, I’ve had first had experience with possession and –“
“Not this kind!”
“The Imperius curse and dark magic you’ve never seen,” Harry continued over the interruption. “She is showing zero signs of any of it. Her behaviour is perfectly normal, she even floo’s her mother every few days just to chat.”
“Albus, you have to look at the facts,” Hermione weighed in. “She went through a gruelling, exhausting year to win the duelling championship and then, less than two months later, she agreed to teach at Hogwarts and then had to endure all of that madness as well. She’s earned a rest. She deserves to get away from it all for a while and frankly…the only person whose behaviour is off at the moment is yours.”
“You think I’m making this up?!”
“I think you have experienced some truly awful things that no one should have to go through and that it’s taken a toll on you,” she said gently but only managed to enrage Albus even more.
“Albus…you won’t talk to anyone about it. Every time we try, me your mother, Hermione, you stonewall us or avoid the issue completely. You need to talk to someone.”
“Therapy?! You think I need a shrink?!”
Scorpius forced himself to stay silent. He knew this was a bad line to be going down. Gerty looked ready to pass out.
“I’m saying it could do some good.”
“The only thing that is going to do me some good is finding Nemesis and stopping her before she can finish whatever it is that she’s doing!” Albus roared. “Or have you morons not realized, France, Japan, Germany and now America. All places she’s been to in the last few months, all countries with large magical schools and large magical governments!”
“Oh, come on, that’s circumstantial at best,” Calvis snorted.
“This is a very unhealthy obsession, Albus,” Blagden sighed.
“Look, she’s a gorgeous woman and no one likes to be rejected but –“
“My God, you people really did survive the war against Voldemort using nothing but dumb luck, didn’t you?!” Albus growled.
“I do not need therapy!” he yelled before storming out of the office. Scorpius follow quickly.
Harry and the others followed calling his name but he refused to slow down. He needed to get away from them or his temper was going to get the better of him and he would do something bad.
“Albus, stop! Talk to us!” Harry tried again with no success.
“Oi, Albus!” Iris shrill voice rang out as he passed her desk.
“I’m your fathers secretary, not yours! Get your packages delivered to your house, not here!” she yelled waving a small wrapped package at him.
A wave of panic hit him like a bucket of cold water. Everything seemed to stop. There was no way anyone could have predicted the exact time that he would be at the Auror offices since he hadn’t even known when he’d arrive.
“Put it down and step back,” he said, not taking his eyes off the box.
“What? What’s in this thing?”
“Back off now, Iris!”
She heeded his warning, placing the small box on the desk and stepping away just as Harry and the others caught up to him.
“Albus, we just want to –“
He cut his father off by holding up his hand to silence him before slowly approaching the package. Scorpius had his wand out and ready and Harry quickly caught on that something wasn’t right.
Very slowly and with incredible care, Albus examined the box before untying the string that held it together. He felt around the top of the box for anything that could be rigged but found nothing. He removed the lid and took a breath.
His relaxed slightly as he pulled out what was inside.
“A phone?” Scorpius said looking confused.
It was. A muggle phone. Thin and metallic black, Albus tapped the screen with his finger causing it to light up.
“Wha – muggle devices can’t work in the ministry!” Hermione said looking shocked.
“It’s been modified. Reinforced case, shock proof glass, EMP shielded,” Albus mumbled while examining it. The screen was asking for a thump print to unlock it.
Albus pressed his thumb to the screen and it unlocked. No messages, no numbers in the phone book, no wifi connection, no photos, no data of any kind. It was completely blank.
“Why would –“
The suddenly started ringing. The caller I.D. said Unknown.
Albus took a breath then answered, flicking it onto speaker. He knew the voice before it even spoke.
“Hello, Albus…did you miss me?”
Nemesis was back.
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