Ron vacantly studied the entrance to the Ministry of Magic.
It had been almost nine months since the three of them had infiltrated the building, yet it felt like it happened so long ago it might as well have been in another lifetime.
The Magic is Might statue had been destroyed in the days following You Know Who’s fall – and in its place stood a gigantic memorial in tribute of all those who lost their lives to defeat him.
There wasn’t quite the same hustle and bustle that Ron was used to seeing when he’d visited the Ministry in the past with his Dad, but there was still a considerable work-force back to help run Wizarding Britain - and Ron, Hermione and Harry were attracting lots of attention from those who did walk past them.
Ron caught the eye of one of Kingsley’s aides and flagged him down.
“Is Kingsl– the Minister for Magic around?” he asked hopefully.
“The Minister is booked out for the next fortnight,” the young man replied nervously. “But I’m sure he might make an exception to see you,” he quickly added, before scurrying off quickly.
“And you wanted to come and see him on your own Hermione,” Ron said sarcastically. “That guy took one look at the famous Ron Weasley and-
“Ronald!” Hermione grumbled, as Harry laughed slightly.
“Well I’m sure Ron’s dad is technically his boss now,” Harry added.
Ron was pleased his dad had eventually relented and accepted Kingsley’s offer to be Permanent secretary to help run the Ministry, but even after just three days in the job he’d barely seen him at home, such was the vast workload.
It had made the three of them feel guilty about not getting involved in helping themselves, but they had been busy packing for their potentially long summer-trip around Australia to help Hermione find her parents.
“Ah. Mister Potter, we meet again.”
Ron saw the stern-faced Head of Magical Law Enforcement, Gawain Robards, who they’d met at Hogwarts in the aftermath of the battle.
“Mister Weasley. Miss Granger,” he said politely, as he shook both of their hands after Harry’s.
“Have to say the Minister and I thought the three of you might have taken a longer break before getting back into the swing of things. Certainly earned it. Nothing wrong with a strong work-ethic though, I like that,” he said, as Ron pondered the prospect of taking a break.
If he was honest it was one that was in-fact very appealing to him, especially given his nightmares and struggles with grief, but he would never admit it to Harry or Hermione.
He had to put on a brave face.
“We are going on a break Mister Robards. Well sort of,” Harry said.
“Oh. I see,” the Head of Magical Law Enforcement responded with a slightly disappointed look on his face.
“I did have some information I thought could be of use to you though, you know, in your hunt for the escaped Death Eaters,” Harry added.
Gawain’s eyes lit up and Ron thought it looked like the Head of Magical Law Enforcement’s mind was racing. Robards ran his hand through the beard on the bottom of his chin.
“Follow me to my office,” he barked quietly. “Can’t be too sure about what you say even in the hallways and corridors,” Gawain added, as his eyes shifted around the large open space.
“Constant vigilance,” Ron uttered in his best Alastor Moody impression.
Hermione and Harry laughed softly and even Gawain raised a brief smile.
“I miss that mad bastard,” Robards muttered as he and Harry swiftly walked away.
“What do you make of him, Ron?” Hermione asked curiously.
“Who? Mister Robards? I dunno, seems pretty alright I guess,” Ron replied.
“Do you not think it’s a little odd though? I was under the impression he was always a Scrimgeour man. Kingsley seems to be placing an awful lot of trust in him. If he was such good friends with Mad-Eye why was he never in The Order?” she reasoned, with a concerned look on her face.
“I don’t know, but I know Dad said it was never a good move politically to be a known member if you worked here. Didn’t give you a particularly long life expectancy either, especially in the old days.”
“I still don’t think we should trust him,” Hermione countered.
“Perhaps not. But I think we should play our cards a bit closer to our chest. We’re part of it now… aren’t we?” Ron asked rhetorically.
“Part of what… the Ministry?”
“The Game,” Ron whispered. “We’re pieces on the board now. Dad said working here is like one big game of chess. It’s like we’re back in that chamber in our first year. We might not want to be – but we’re pieces now, whether we like it or not. It’s time to start playing.”
“Ooh, what are you playing? Can I join?”
Ron and Hermione turned round in surprise at being interrupted by the female voice.
Ron almost didn’t recognize her at first. He’d only ever seen Hestia Jones in casual clothes before, but the dark-haired witch looked very smart in her black robes, which complimented her mocha skin and piercing brown eyes.
“Hi guys. Fancy seeing you here, ehh?” Hestia said warmly, before giving them both a quick hug.
Ron felt quite awkward when she gave him a slight kiss on the cheek, but he relaxed slightly when he saw her do the same to Hermione. He thought he caught a slight raised eyebrow from Hermione, but maybe he just imagined it.
“First day at work in the Auror office is it?” she asked.
“Not just yet,” Ron replied. “We’re just here to see Kingsl- the Minister,” he fumbled, as he corrected himself for the second time in the space of a few minutes. He felt his cheeks blushing slightly as Hestia smiled at his error.
“Well you’ll be lucky, Ron,” Hestia said sarcastically. “I’m waiting to see him myself later. We’re quite short staffed up in Obliviator HQ. Even just a few extra trainees to help with inbound news would really lift the workload. I don’t suppose you two know any half-decent muggle-borns or half-bloods that are looking for a job? They wouldn’t see much action, but the pay isn’t bad for what you have to do,” Hestia asked in a slightly jokey manner, but Ron could sense there may well have been serious undertones in her request for suggestions.
Ron mused slightly.
“Well I don’t know if they’re planning to go back to Hogwarts next year, but you could always try Seamus Finnigan and Dean Thomas. They both fought in the battle. They’re good guys.”
“They must be very good guys to have Ron Weasley speak so highly of them,” Hestia replied with a wink, which made Ron blush further. Hermione shot him a funny look.
“I best be off. Very busy up there. They’ll all be wondering where I’ve got to!” she added, sounding quite rushed.
“There was just one thing, Hestia. If you could spare another minute,” Hermione blurted quickly.
“Of course!” Hestia replied instantly, smiling at her.
“It’s just… I’ve read a lot about bewitching and memory charms, but I was wondering, if you would know… if you bewitch someone’s memory… does the length of time that they’re bewitched have any impact on being able to reverse the spell?” Hermione asked.
Hestia pondered for a moment.
“Well…” she began softly. “There’s no exact science to it, Hermione... there’s lots of extenuating factors that can influence it. If someone’s mind is vehemently opposed to the idea or memory being implanted on them, then, depending on the strength of the person’s mind, sometimes over a prolonged period of time the mind can slowly fight back and resist it-
“Sort of like when someone’s fighting back against the Imperius curse?” Ron blurted out.
“Yes, Ron. Exactly like that,” replied Hestia.
Hermione looked at Hestia hopefully.
“That’s why when implanting or removing a memory via bewitching or obliviation it is best to do so in a way that the person’s mind wouldn’t naturally resist to. For example, it is often quite easy to obliviate the memory of a muggle who has seen something they shouldn’t… like a dragon or a giant… because their mind thinks that seeing something like that is impossible to start with. If you are altering or implanting a memory in someone’s mind… it’s always best to alter it to something very similar, or if you’re implanting a memory or a thought in someone’s mind… it’s much less difficult if it’s something that that person’s mind would want to or has previously seen. To bewitch someone to have a completely independent thought or memory as if it was their own… inception… that is a very difficult art, which very few witches or wizards have ever successfully mastered. That’s why so many dark wizards just use the Imperius curse if they want to take control of someone’s mind. ”
“That’s why I bewitched my parents to move to Australia. I read that it was easier to bewitch people into doing or thinking something that they’d thought of before – and they always said they wanted to retire to Australia after I finished school. So it made perfect sense. It’s just… I don’t know if I’ll be able to reverse the bewitching of their memory to forget I existed,” she said with a worrying look on her face.
Hestia studied her for a few moments.
“It’s very difficult to make somebody permanently forget about people that they love, or have loved, even with obliviation. You can bewitch or obliviate someone’s conscious mind and memory of someone, but if it is someone very important to them, who they have known for years… then the memory of that person will still exist in their subconscious… in their dreams… and one little dream can trigger an avalanche of memories in that person’s mind. I think even just seeing you again could break part of the enchantment you cast on them, Hermione. I’m sure it will all work out just fine.”
Hermione thanked Hestia, who gave her a slight hug and smiled at Ron before rushing off back to work.
“See,” Ron began. “Nothing to worry about. I told you.”
“I’m still not totally convinced, Ron. I’m sure Hestia knows a lot more about bewitching and memory charms than I do, but when she tried to alter The Dursley’s memory so that they’d respect and love Harry-
“But that’s just what she said, isn’t it? Their minds were probably so adverse to the idea of loving Harry after hating him all his life that it backfired and went wrong. And I still reckon she did him a favour if you ask me…”
“Ronald!” Hermione groaned.
The aide that Harry had flagged down earlier was now sprinting over to them, looking completely out of breath.
“The Min…ist….er….can…see…see you now!” he panted, as he doubled over.
They thanked him before he began leading them to Kingsley’s office.
“I think Harry should stay here… if he wants to,” Hermione said quietly, as she tried to speak to Ron without Kingsley’s aide hearing her.
“What?! That’s ridiculous!” Ron began. “He wants to come and help. Besides… you’ve just spent the best part of a year on the run living in a tent to help Harry defeat You Know Who. The least he can do to return the favour is come with us to Australia to help find your par-
“But Ron, don’t you see? I didn’t do all of that as a big favour to Harry… it was to help defeat You Know Who, yes, of course, that helped Harry, but that benefitted me too…and you… and everyone in the wizarding world – and the muggle one too. It would be different if they’d all been caught… but…
Hermione looked at him fearfully as she lowered her voice even lower.
“…there’s still Death Eaters out there, Ron. Murderers. And Harry can help catch them better than anyone… you know that. Whilst they’re still out there nobody is safe, not really. Not me… you… or-
“Ernie!!” Ron uttered excitedly as he saw his former Hufflepuff classmate heading out of Kingsley’s office door with a tall man, who judging by his long ponytail Ron thought must be the Auror, Robert Williamson.
“Good to see you both looking so well!” Ernie exclaimed in his typical bombastic manner. “No doubt you’ve both been recruited to join the ranks of the Aurors too…” he said knowingly. “My Uncle would be so proud that I’ve been personally head-hunted to-
“Now, now, Mister MacMillan,” Willamson tutted. “Your Uncle Albert was indeed a very proud man… and a very talented Auror… but if he taught me anything when I was a young recruit it was the fundamental importance of both modesty and respect. I endeavour to teach you both of those traits, if it’s the last thing that I do…”
Ernie made a comical face that said just what he thought of Williamson’s suggestion, before bidding Ron and Hermione farewell as he flanked his large companion.
Ron gave Hermione a bemused look as they entered Kingsley’s chambers.
The room itself was fairly dimly lit, quite large and appeared to have had a makeover since Kingsley had taken office.
There were many large moving portraits of magical creatures dotted around the walls, with the most impressive being of a giant Thunderbird flying around what Ron assumed was an African desert. Ron also shuddered slightly at an Acromantula skeleton that was transfixed on the ceiling – and noted in the far corner of the room a giant triangular grey flag with a squawking black falcon on it.
“I never knew you were a Falmouth fan!” Ron exclaimed, as Kingsley looked up from the piece of parchment he had been studying.
“Let us win, but if we cannot win… let us break a few heads,” Kingsley uttered the Falmouth Falcons’ motto, which caused Hermione to raise her eyebrow a bit, presumably not understanding the reference.
Ron noted there were moving pictures of several famous Falcons players dotted near the flag too. He recognized the infamous beaters, Karl and Kevin, the infamously brutal Broadmoor brothers of the 1960s, yet he did not recognize the fairly youthful looking dark-skinned man with dreadlocks aloft a broom on a separate picture above them.
“You’ll be pleased to know that is purely my attitude to Quidditch and not to politics, Miss Granger,” the Minister for Magic laughed, which seemed to reassure her a bit. “Although if the rumours are to be believed politics and Quidditch may well be intertwining in the coming months.”
Ron was unsure what to make of that last remark, but Kingsley quickly pressed on and changed the subject before he could think too deeply into it.
“Now… to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit? You’ve not changed your mind about my offer have you?” Kingsley asked as he addressed Hermione.
Ron saw his girlfriend hesitate slightly.
“It’s not… it’s not that I don’t want to… it’s just… my… I need to…”
“I totally understand if you kids want to take some time off. You of all people deserve it more than anyone. You shouldn’t rush into-
“I need to find my parents!” Hermione blurted out. “I bewitched them to move to Australia and forget they ever had a daughter. All I know is the names I gave them and that they flew out to Sydney…I thought if I knew anything more about where they were going it could be tortured out of me. It could take weeks, if not months, years even to find them. I don’t know if I’ll ever find them and if they’ll even remember me when I do and-
Ron held Hermione tight to him as she broke down slightly. Kingsley looked on with quite a concerned look on his face.
“Do you have a picture of your parents, Hermione?” Kingsley asked calmly.
“Not…not on me. I didn’t take one with me when we were on the run… just in-case. But I put a lot of our belongings and family things in a safe place. I could easily get a picture from there.”
“Then don’t worry, Hermione. I have a connection or two in the Australian ministry. If you can get me a picture of your parents by tonight, then I can get their faces on every muggle television and magical newspaper in Australia by the time the sun comes up down under. I can probably even sort you out a Portkey from here to Sydney… we’ll have you reunited within a few days,” Kingsley said calmly.
“You… you can do all of that? Just like that?” Hermione’s voice cracked slightly as Ron saw what he thought were tears of joy.
“Hey, it pays to have a friend as Minister for Magic, ehh? You got nothing to worry about, Hermione,” Kingsley replied, with a wink.
“But…but how could I ever repay you?” she said, sniffing slightly.
“The wizarding world is already forever in your debt, more than most will ever know. Consider this a thank-you for everything you have done,” he said solemnly. “There are far inferior witches and wizards who have deemed themselves worthy of far higher rewards than simply having some help in tracking down lost parents.”
“So let me get this straight, Hermione,” Ron began as the two of them walked out from The Big Yellow Self Storage facility where Hermione had retrieved a few family photos.
“Some muggles have so much stuff that they pay other muggles to hold onto all of the stuff that they want, but don’t have room in their house for? I thought that was what lofts or sheds were for? Do muggles not have lofts or sheds?”
Ron really couldn’t get his head around it.
“Yes. Yes they do have lofts and sheds, but sometimes there’s not enough room in them,” Hermione began, pausing slightly as she noticed Ron’s bemused expression. “Most of the time people don’t put things into these storage units for very long. It’s usually just when they’re in the middle of moving house or have had a divorce or something.”
The idea of a divorce was just as foreign to Ron as the self-storage facility.
They were extremely rare in the wizarding world – so much so that a wizarding couple getting a divorce in Britain was practically a front-page news story every time it happened.
The only example Ron could think of was the divorce of Dolores Umbridge’s parents, which had happened well before he was born – perhaps that had been part of the reason why she grew up to be such an evil cow.
“Where are we walking to?” Ron asked, as he noticed Hermione was leading them down a side-street. He had been under the impression they were going to apparate straight back to the Ministry.
“My Mum and Dad’s isn’t far from here. Only a five minute walk or so. I thought we could stop by, not necessarily pop in, but just have a look outside perhaps. I’m just curious, that’s all,” Hermione replied and Ron muttered in agreement. He’d never actually been to Hermione’s house before, so it would be interesting even just to see it from the outside.
Ron couldn’t help but notice that the cul-de-sac wasn’t a million miles away from Privet Drive in appearance. He wondered if all muggle neighbourhoods had this same sort of generic template. Every single house on the street looked exactly the same. There was sometimes a different colour door or garage, but for the most part they were all absolutely identical.
The street itself was practically deserted. There was an old man in the distance walking a little dog – and a stray cat chasing a bird in someone’s front garden, but other than that it was very quiet.
Almost too quiet.
“But. That’s impossible. How can-
“What is it?” Ron asked, a bit worried at the sound of concern in Hermione’s tone.
“There’s a ‘For Sale’ sign outside their house. But they would’ve only moved out less than a year ago. It took absolutely ages to sort out selling their house, what with the onward chains and what not… even then I had to use a bit of magic to speed it all up. Why would the new owners already want to… Oh Ron you don’t think-
“Hermione!” Ron exclaimed as he chased after his girlfriend who had now sped up, almost into a full sprint to the house she had grown up in.
“Maybe the new owners just didn’t like the area,” Ron mused. “I don’t like it much. Gardens can’t be that big, can they? Be a struggle to have a proper game of Quidditch in one of those.”
“Ronald Weasley!” Hermione began. “For once in your life could you please think about something other than Quidditch,” she pleaded loudly.
“Quid ditch? What’s that, then? New slang word for money is it? Old codger like me can nevva keep up.”
The two of them had been caught off guard by the interruption, but Ron noticed at once that it was the little old muggle he’d seen walking the yappy little dog who had addressed them.
“What do you two make of it, then? I’m guessing that’s why you’re ‘ere, ain’t it? ‘aving a butchers at the ‘ouse where the Twickenham Torturer made his name for ‘is-self?”
Ron and Hermione exchanged confused looks.
“I’m sorry… we don’t know what you mean. We’re just here to look at the-” Hermione begun, before the old man butted in.
“You don’t mean you’re actually ‘ere to view the ‘ouse for sale?! Christ. I know they must be selling it quite cheap by now to try and flog it, but bloomin’ ‘eck, surely you wouldn’t actually wanna live in a place where four people were murdered?!”
“Mu-mu…murdered?” Hermione gasped.
“Yeah. You two been living under a rock or something, ‘ave ya? It was a national story. Put us on the map it did. Bloody nightmare. Taken about 10 grand off the value of my ‘ouse, that has. ‘appened about 7 or 8 months ago. A family of four bought the ‘ouse off this nice couple who moved to Australia. ‘ad the right idea they did – this country’s gone to the dogs now anyway, what with Labour in they’ll have all the bloody foreigners coming ova’ now. But yeah nice young couple moved in…Mum and a Dad…two lovely young kids… little boy and a little girl, think the youngest was only 3.”
“And they…. They were murdered?! The children too?!” Hermione asked, utterly horrified. Ron too was bewildered by what he was hearing.
“Oh yeah! Nasty business it was, but ‘ere’s the thing that nobody could figure out. They’d all been tortured they had. The wife… the ‘usband… especially the little girl and the little boy. But none of the doctors or police could figure out ‘ow they died. None of them ‘ad any stab wounds or blunt force trauma to the ‘ead… nothing. The coroners all concluded that the torture alone should not ‘ave been enough to kill ‘em.”
“So they never found out who did it?” Ron asked.
“You what? Never found out who did it?! Corr blimey you two ‘ave been living under a rock, ain’t ya! The police were stumped for weeks weren’t they, but then they found out the bloke’s brother had a spare set of keys, didn’t he?”
“And so he…” Ron began, but the old man was too eager to finish his story.
“So one day ‘e just lost it, didn’t ‘e? ‘e’d only just been discharged from Iraq for a few months, they reckon ‘e was struggling to get back to civilian life. Post-traumatic stress or whatever it is they call it. ‘is missus left ‘im and they reckon ‘e walked in one day and just went nuts at them. Ain’t sure if ‘e was ‘aving visions or flashbacks or whatever… but ‘e tortured them all and then managed to kill them all. That’s the funny part though… police couldn’t actually find ‘is DNA on any of them, but course ‘is DNA was all over their gaff where ‘e sometimes popped in and out.”
“So they convicted him? Even though there was no concrete evidence that he did it?” Hermione asked in horror.
“It couldn’t ‘ave been anyone else though. No sign of a break in. ‘e’s the only person with a key. ‘ad to be ‘im. ‘ad to be,” the old man concluded.
“What if it wasn’t him? He’ll spend the rest of his life behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit and-
"Won’t be much danger of that. Fella ‘ung ‘imself the night he got convicted. Spent the whole trial in tears adamant that ‘e didn’t do it. Felt bad for ‘im in a way. Probably didn’t even remember doing it. Anyway I best be off, won’t keep you kids no longer, ‘er at ‘ome will ‘ave me guts for garters if I’m not back soon.”
The old man sauntered off down the road merrily as if he’d been cheerily discussing the weather, rather than a brutal homicide.
Hermione looked haunted by what he had told them.
Of course it was obvious what had really happened.
Ron had thought Hermione had perhaps been a bit over-cautious in hiding her parents on the other side of the world, but she had been very clever- and very right in what she had chosen to do.
She always was.
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